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The Truth's Worth

Chapter Text

It starts, poetically, with a storm.

It’s an omen Yoongi will not consider until much, much later.

He never thought he would find himself in the premises of the royal palace on a Saturday evening, but he learned with time and adversity that he tends not to find himself where he expected to be. Still, it feels a bit odd, to sit in the reception hall amidst guests whose sole birthright would have denied him a seat there had he not poured sweat, blood and tears to earn his place among them and achieve what his younger self had deemed an unreachable dream.

Even his younger self, though, in all his innocence, naivety and preposterous ambition couldn’t have envisioned the true luxury of the palace, a striking parallel to the life he now leads, sometimes against his own will, jaded by the opulence of the upper crust even more now that he has climbed high enough to be considered one of them.

In another life, Yoongi might have fit among this crowd. He might have oozed the same sense of overbearing arrogance they hold themselves with, might have dutifully and deliberately kept himself away from the reality of the world beyond golden gates and silver talks. As it is, he knows too much of the struggles of hunger and cold and unreachable dreams to feel anything but contempt toward these people who treat money like a friend and people like tools.

He’s always distinctly aware of his own success, because at times it feels like he’s earned it and at others not at all. It’s always there, in a corner of his mind, the road paved with traps and lures and the bridges he’s had to cross. He knows he doesn’t belong in this world, in these walls of brilliant white ornate with ostentatious gold. He knew it the moment he stepped in and the expensive leather of his dress shoes somehow felt out of place in this microcosm where status isn’t earned and fought for but freely given to those born under the right stars.

He’s seen the curiosity in the gazes of a few of the guests, the barely disguised judgment, the unbridled disgust. He might as well have worn a sweater with the words ‘nouveau riche’ embroidered on it.

Perhaps it is why he isn’t having as bad of a time as he expected to.

It’s always a small victory of his own, to break apart those symbolic barriers and hold his chin up proudly, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips as he defies the expectations they have of him. They dwell into their own corner of the world, unable to grasp the meaning of his presence among them, unwilling to see that as everything changes around them, they stay afoot, focused on their own privileges, shunning those who deserve them more. It sets him above them, whether they know it or not, the fact that he doesn’t care what they think, even takes pleasure in their foolish hope that it could affect him at all.

They don’t understand that he’s already vanquished the odds, stacked against him as they were, and that their judgment means nothing in the face of it.

They will never understand that it fuels him, enrages him enough to continue to be exactly what they want him to be –separate, untouchable, free.

Or free enough, anyway.

“Stop glaring at people.”

Yoongi blinks, turning to his side to glance at Hoseok, who isn’t even looking at him, too busy casting a highly skeptical look at the piece of art that was just rolled onto the stage. It’s an abstract sculpture of a bronze stick, long and thin, arrogantly titled ‘The Value of Time’ as if the people in this room have any idea of the weight and meaning time can carry beyond their own reality.

“I’m not glaring at people,” he says, which is a blatant lie.

Hoseok lifts a single, dubious eyebrow.

“What the fuck is this anyway?” Yoongi hisses under his breath, waving a hand at the sculpture. The auction has started, and it’s already above fifty thousand American dollars. It doesn’t help with his glaring situation.

“Art,” Hoseok murmurs, but he sounds unsure. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.”

“You mean in their wallet and connections.”

Hoseok hums in agreement and tears his gaze away from the sculpture, resting his elbows on the table.

“Stop glaring at people,” he parrots, but it’s more amused than chastising. “I want to be invited to these things again.”

“Why?”

Yoongi knows the chagrin in his voice is a bit hypocritical –he came, after all, against his better judgement– but Hoseok won’t hold it against him. He knows Yoongi had his own reasons to accept the invitation, even though he was understandably shocked to receive one in the first place.

“Because the food is exceptional, and I just love to terrorize the lords and ladies of this world with my terrible manners,” Hoseok replies, matter-of-fact, chugging his glass of champagne down to ensure his point is made.

Yoongi has to concede it is an irrefutable argument.

“And I know you’re actually having fun,” Hoseok continues a little too loudly, unbothered by the disapproving gazes it attracts. He winks at a lady wrapped in an immaculate fur coat, grin widening when she turns up her nose and quickly looks away. “I heard you mumbling about how good the wine was earlier. You can’t fool me. I see all and I hear all.”

“Maybe turn down the God complex when you’re in one of these crowds,” Yoongi grumbles. “You might accidentally start a cult. Again.”

Hoseok laughs, the sound ricocheting in the otherwise quiet room. Thankfully, the attention is diverted from their table by the loud bang of the auction hammer.

“That was fun,” he says, with pride Yoongi doesn’t think he’s entitled to feel at the reminder. “See the bright side, Yoonie, you won that painting that caught your eye and you got an opportunity to do your favorite thing in the world: looking tough and scary.” He leans forward to gently pat Yoongi’s forearm. “I think some of these people are even actually scared of you. They’re not just pretending to be nice like Jimin and I.”

Yoongi gives him a small, adoring smile as he lays his hand on top of Hoseok’s, immediately digging his nails into the tender skin above his radius.

Hoseok yelps, pulling his hand away. “You’re the worst best friend I’ve ever had,” he hisses, glowering.

Yoongi nods placatingly, his eyes drifting back to the stage where they are rolling in the next art piece. It’s a painting of a hyper-realistic duck dressed into a pink and white apron. He barely holds back a groan.

“I need a cigarette,” he huffs begrudgingly.

Hoseok waves him off with a flourish, motioning a passing waiter for a refill of champagne. Yoongi stands up just as the waiter reaches their table and Hoseok pats his hand in gratitude, giving him a sweet but determined smile as he tells him to leave the bottle. Yoongi walks away with a resigned shake of his head.

They were notified upon their arrival that they only have access to a restricted area of the palace, but that it included the wide gardens, so Yoongi lets his feet lead him there. He has to go through a wide terrace to get there, where a smaller group of guests are scattered, chatting about the magnificent art they got a chance to purchase tonight and how delightful it is for Prince Jeongguk to be there to oversee the auction and how curious –though they say it more like it is suspicious– that Prince Seokjin didn’t attend his own brother’s charity gala. Yoongi ignores them completely. The painting he won earlier –after an exhausting back and forth with an anonymous bidder who stubbornly tried to outbit Yoongi and then gave up entirely– was very clearly the best out of the proposed selection, but he doubts any of them would be able to tell.

The stair rails are ornate mahogany, and he spares a thought for the poor soul who has to maintain it in pristine condition before he ventures further into the darkness, away from the gaudy event and the abundant gold that makes him worry about a potential headache blooming in his temples.

A royal guard stares at him as he walks by, grip tight on the shotgun resting at his hip, eyes cold, but he doesn’t try to stop him, so Yoongi lights his cigarette and steps into the maze of expertly trimmed bushes and masterfully crafted sculptures of what he surmises are ancestors of the royal family. The smoke burns on its way down his throat as he inhales deeply, and he lets himself revel in it for a moment, casting a glance back at the palace. It’s brightly lit, the building standing imposingly against the blackness of the night.

He’s seen it before, even remembers visiting its grounds when he was an easily impressionable child on a field trip. It had seemed immense back then, blinding in its opulence, the white stone walls glistening under the summer sun. It feels smaller now that he is an adult, but it still screams with the sickening superiority and perquisite of its inhabitants.

Yoongi wonders if the King is roaming the hallways right now, watching the city spreading beneath his feet, struggling to survive while he sits at the top of his hill, boasting about all that he has and never fought a day in his life for.

He is reaching the central fountain when he feels the first drop of rain. 

He looks up, and only notices then the heavy clouds that have gathered in the sky, a dark grey that swallows the stars, commandeering the night.

Another drop falls on his cheek, rolling down to his neck.

“Fuck,” he whispers to himself, just as a loud growl of thunder tears through the quietness he had found so far away from the glamour of the reception hall.

A breeze blows across his face violently, and then it is as though floodgates have opened right above his head, rain pouring over to wash the world anew and drench him in the process.

He runs for shelter, heading back towards the palace, but he quickly realizes he won’t make it back inside before his very bones are soaked –and his outfit ruined, which Hoseok would surely find more disagreeable than the former. He ducks under the statue of an odd-looking lord of some sort riding an even odder-looking horse and takes a moment to survey his surroundings. There is still a whole yard between him and the terrace he exited from earlier.

There is another building, smaller than the main body of the palace but just as opulent, and most importantly, closer.

Yoongi knows they are technically not allowed to venture this way, but he’s sure they can make an exception when there’s a storm raging. It’s not his fault that their land is so damn ginormous that he has to run a marathon under the rain to get back to the reception hall. And it won’t be a problem at all if he doesn’t get caught. If he does, they’ll probably suspect he wanted to steal something like the disgusting peasant he is, and he can definitely work with that. It’ll make a nice story to tell in the very few parties he attends, even though it’d be sure to ban them forever from ever attending one of these soirées and Hoseok might never forgive him.

He makes a split decision, because even his friendship with Hoseok isn’t worth catching pneumonia, all twenty-one years of it. He squints to see through the rain and spots a deserted terrace not too far, feeble light trickling from a French window to illuminate it dimly. It’s probably a terrible idea, but it has a roof, so it’s currently the best terrible idea he has.

Yoongi shrugs off his suit jacket, holding it over his head in a poor ersatz of an umbrella, and dashes forward. 

He has never been afraid of a little rain. As a boy, he remembers being severely scolded by his mother for running outside at the slightest drop from the sky, mouth wide open to collect the rain as though he was parched from walking through the desert for days. He remembers staring mournfully from the window after being punished for ruining yet another set of clothes but still enjoying the beating of the rain against the glass and the whistling of the wind slipping through the cracks his mother never had the means to fix, seemingly singing a song only he could decipher.

He remembers the rush of excitement washing over him then and feels none of it now, waterfalls pouring over his head as if to make it up to the child who wasn’t allowed to raise his head against the storms and feel stronger for it.

He reaches the terrace quickly, jumping over the mahogany fence that separates it from the garden, and lets his arms fall to his sides, catching his breath. His shoes are ruined, his pants tight against his legs and his shirt is stuck uncomfortably against his skin, but it’s not as bad as it could have been. He sends a mental thank you to the horse statue for the feeble and ephemeral but somewhat efficient refuge it provided.

He looks down at his hand. His barely consumed cigarette is out, the paper soaked and translucid, and he sighs heavily, looking back towards the reception hall. The rain is so heavy he can hardly see through it, so he’ll just have to wait here until it simmers down enough for him to head back to his car, because there is simply no way he’s going to walk back to that reception hall looking like he went through a washing machine. There’s only so much disdain he can take before he snaps.

Waiting for the storm to pass it is, then.

He takes a step back, moving away from the rain completely, and plucks his silver cigarette holder from his pocket, taking another one. They’re safe, thankfully, and he lights it quickly, inhaling deeply, letting himself relax as he listens to the heavy downpour, like the flow of a wild river punctuated with the roar of thunder.

“Could I bother you for one?”

Yoongi startles, the voice so unexpected against the relative peace of his mind that it takes every bit of his self-control not to let out a high-pitched yelp.

“Shit man, you scared me!” he exclaims accusingly as he swirls around.

And promptly freezes.

Because whoever he was expecting –most likely, another fool like himself who was caught by surprise by the storm and found refuge here– it was not the goddamn Duke of Whatever, Lord High Commissioner of All Living Beings, Prince of Everything, heir to the throne Kim Seokjin.

His first thought, entirely and alarmingly unhelpful, is Holy fuck.

His second thought, no more worthy of merit, is that none of the pictures he’s seen before have actually done him justice –and he has seen many, because the prince’s face is plastered all over magazines and tabloids on a monthly basis, usually with a tacky headline fawning over his handsomeness and his number one sought after bachelor status.

He does look handsome in those pictures, perfect to a fault, but they pale in comparison to how gorgeous he truly is, all plump lips and striking brown eyes and sharp jawline. He’s wearing a white buttoned-down shirt, the top buttons open on smooth, golden skin, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, tucked into a pair of dress pants with a thin leather belt.

“Oh,” Yoongi breathes out, rather eloquently.

He hopes for a moment that the storm might drown it out, but the prince’s lips jump with the beginning of an amused smile, and his third thought, now that the shock has somewhat subdued, is that providence can go fuck itself.

Yoongi clears his throat.

“Sorry,” he says, straightening his back as he bows diligently. “Your Highness.” He pauses and looks up at the prince, body still curved toward the ground, to quirk an eyebrow. “Your Majesty?”

Something akin to mirth flashes in his eyes, but it doesn’t reach the elegant curve of his lips this time.

“Both wrong,” the prince says, but he doesn’t sound particularly dismayed. “And I honestly liked it better when you weren’t so formal. I don’t think we’ve reached the ‘shit man’ stage yet and it might be a little offensive in the long run, but Seokjin works fine.”

Yoongi has been in the presence of enough falsely modest wannabe socialites and wealthy hypocrites to see right through it, but he has also learned that nothing irks them more than actually playing into it.

He should have bowed deeper, apologized for the intrusion, thanked the royal family for all their benevolence and spewed out eternal regret over his lack of knowledge of protocols and proper decorum.

Instead, he straightens back up and shrugs. If he’s going to get arrested and thrown in jail for trespassing and whatever else they’ll find to accuse him of, he might as well go out with a bang.

“Seokjin,” he says with a nod, testing the name on his lips. It flows more easily than he thought it would.

To his surprise, Seokjin doesn’t wince or show any sign that his request for Yoongi to use his name was mere politeness. He smiles, pleased, his eyes crinkling lightly at the corner.

He has a charming smile, something innocent about it that can only be staged, carefully crafted by his years of bearing the name and status he does. Seokjin’s job description is to be charming, and Yoongi refuses to let himself be fooled.

“Min Yoongi,” he says flatly.

“I know who you are,” Seokjin replies, and Yoongi has to make a conscious effort to keep the shock from taking over his traitorous face. He doesn’t think he is very successful. “My brother is a fan.”

“He is?” Yoongi hears himself ask bemusedly.

Seokjin nods. “That’s why he invited you to his charity gala, after all.”

He waves an elegant hand towards the reception hall, and Yoongi stares, dumbfounded.

“Oh.”

He didn’t know, until now, why he got an invitation in the first place. He had simply assumed, as had Hoseok and the people at his label, that his name –and wallet– had become big enough in the entertainment industry to earn him a seat in this sea of heirs and heiresses of fortunes whose ancestry he can barely fathom. He has been known to work with charities, after all, and to be a connoisseur of art –probably the only one who actually attended tonight’s event, if the fact that there was only one person who disputed him the breathtaking painting he won at the auction is anything to go by. He never entertained for a second the idea that his invitation had more to do with who he is as an artist and less with the number of zeros on his latest Forbes estimation.

Even more shocking, he never imagined that a member of the royal family –second in line for the throne, with that– would actually listen to his music, and like it

He can’t picture it, Prince Jeongguk, with his wide innocent eyes and juvenile smile, jamming to Yoongi’s claim that he is the king, when he could very well be just that one day, if not for his older brother standing in front of Yoongi right now. The mental image is so ludicrous his mind can hardly conjure it.

“So,” Seokjin says when the silence stretches beyond comfort, “about that cigarette?”

Yoongi blinks, too stunned to formulate a coherent answer, and digs in his pocket for his silver case, holding it open for Seokjin. For the prince. Whom he is standing in front of, wet bangs sticking to his forehead, his suit soaked and rumpled.

Because all of this is his life, apparently.

Seokjin smiles again and delicately picks a cigarette from the case, slipping it between his lips. He stares expectantly at Yoongi, who manages to shake himself back to this odd reality before the atmosphere turns awkward again. He takes a cautious step forward, keeping a reasonable distance between them, and flicks at his lighter.

Seokjin leans in, close enough for Yoongi to catch a whiff of his cologne, minty and sweet. The flame casts ethereal shadows over his face, dancing idly into the warm pools of his eyes. They meet Yoongi’s almost inadvertently as he sucks on the cigarette to light it, and Yoongi’s breath catches in his throat.

He takes a step back as soon as the cigarette is lit, resisting the urge to clear his throat and make the dangerous thought that flashed through his mind painfully obvious. That would sure earn him more trouble than this experience has been worth.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Yoongi says, glancing over his shoulder at the pouring rain.

His face pulls into a grimace without him meaning to.

Seokjin curves an eyebrow, a corner of his mouth tugging upward. “I’m used to people either wanting to run away or overstay their welcome, but I don’t think anyone has ever been so eager to get away from me that they’d willingly choose to brave a thunderstorm.”

There is something almost somber to his tone even though the smile doesn’t leave his face. Something deeper that Yoongi wants to explore and flee from with equal verve. Something of himself he recognizes but doesn’t want to name. Something lonely, but resigned.

He points a finger at the open door in Seokjin’s back. “Can I go back to the reception hall this way?”

“You can,” Seokjin says. “But I’d rather you didn’t, if you don’t mind.”

A surge of excitement drums at the tip of Yoongi’s fingers, but he chases it away hastily, rubbing them together and leveling the prince with an inquisitive look.

Seokjin winces, but even that doesn’t manage to affect his naturally good looks. “There is security posted at the door,” he eludes quietly. “It would be a disservice to us both to make your presence here known. They would probably spend the rest of the night interrogating you, which I’m sure you’d rather avoid, and that would result in my personal security being reinforced because of the clear breach, and that’s something I’d rather avoid. I don’t particularly fancy losing what little peace and freedom I’ve managed to negotiate.”

Yoongi wets his lips, huffing a quiet sigh. “Okay. So what?”

“You can stay here until the storm passes,” Seokjin offers.

Yoongi takes a long drag of his cigarette, blowing the smoke up in the air until it dissolves into nothingness. When he glances back at Seokjin, he thinks he catches his gaze on the curve of his throat, but it might very well be a product of this parallel reality he has clearly stepped into, so he dismisses it.

“Okay,” he hears himself reply.

Seokjin beams, wide and beautiful and Yoongi immediately regrets not flinging himself over the fence and pushing against the storm.

“Do you want a drink? As a thank you,” Seokjin asks, as though he’s not the one doing Yoongi a favor by letting him stay here instead of forcing him into the battering rain or saving him from a bruised ego and reputation after spending a night locked up by the royal guard. “I have whiskey and gin.”

“Whiskey,” Yoongi answers.

“Come in.”

Seokjin swirls on his heels before Yoongi can fully comprehend the request, walking inside, cigarette in hand. Yoongi pointedly urges himself not to let his eyes skim down his figure, keeping them firmly set at the back of his head instead. Hoseok would be proud of him –that’s a lie, he would be extremely disappointed.

Seokjin turns around when Yoongi doesn’t follow, curving a brow. “Is everything okay?”

Yoongi motions wordlessly at his still burning cigarette. Realization flashes on Seokjin’s features, a playful smile tugging at his mouth as he brings his own cigarette up to his lips, takes a long drag and expels a wide cloud of smoke inside the room.

There is something decisively defiant about it, as though such a simple action could spark a revolution and he wouldn’t truly care, his brown eyes sparkling with a challenge. Yoongi surmises that he probably isn’t used to being scolded, what with being royalty, but there is also something else there, an underlining proclivity for rebellion that shouldn’t be so attractive but is.

Yoongi’s feet take him inside without leaving his mind time to catch up.

It’s a beautiful room, smaller than it looked from the outside. Books are lined against the wall to his right, old volumes mixing with glossed newer ones, an imposing oak desk sitting in front of the shelves. On the other side of the room, two wide plasma screens are broadcasting what Yoongi is surprised to realize is live footage from the reception hall. One of the TVs is showing the stage, the auctioneer currently talking about the next piece up for grabs. The other screen shows the guests, sitting at their respective tables in a conciliatory and desperately dull silence. Yoongi tries to spot Hoseok in the crowd, his friend usually standing out no matter the number of attendants –he is, after all, wearing a velvet purple suit in a sea of plain tuxedos– but he’s distracted from his investigation by the strong drift of a minty cologne and slender, elegant fingers presenting him with a glass.

“Thank you,” Yoongi says, meeting Seokjin’s eyes as he bows lightly.

He takes a sip of whiskey, barely stopping himself from downing the whole thing to assuage his still ticking nerves. It burns at his throat, hard, strong, a hint bittersweet. It’s one of the best whiskeys he’s ever had, and a welcome relief.

His gaze drifts back to the screen, catching a glimpse of Prince Jeongguk sitting at the very front of the room near the stage, chatting politely with someone Yoongi can only assume is a baron of some sort. He recognizes another member of the royal family at Jeongguk’s table, Kim Taehyung, their first cousin, and curiosity sparks in his chest and out of his mouth before he can stop it.

“Why aren’t you at the gala?”

Seokjin looks surprised, if not at the question at least at his bluntness. He turns around and walks up to the liquor cart, putting out his cigarette in the ashtray resting there.

Yoongi follows to do the same, feeling Seokjin’s gaze on him even when he pointedly doesn’t meet it.

“It’s my brother’s night,” Seokjin says matter-of-factly.

It isn’t much of an explanation, but Yoongi can’t blame him for the deflection. They don’t know each other, and though Yoongi tries to live his life as honestly as possible no matter the person in front of him, he knows it’s a hardly acquired luxury, to be able to get away with the consequences. He doesn’t imagine Kim Seokjin, first of his name, has many opportunities for honesty, considering the world he was born into.

Still, Yoongi reads the papers regularly enough to piece some things together. It is commonly known that the Kim brothers have a strained relationship. Yoongi doesn’t know what theory holds the more truth, the one tabloids favor, raving about their rivalry over the throne in melodramatic fashion worthy of the worst TV shows, or the more serious sources that claim the tension between them stems from the childhood trauma that slowly made them drift apart. He doesn’t really care, if he is completely honest. Royal squabbles are just that, squabbles, and the only reason he knows about it in the first place is because of Jimin and Hoseok’s regular argument over whose team they favor.

Hoseok is a fervent supporter of Team Seokjin, because ‘Jeongguk is too innocent and precious to be jealous of his brother, but Seokjin looks like he could charm you into giving him the moon while stabbing you in the back at the same time and you know I love a man who knows how to fight dirty.’

Looking at him now, Yoongi thinks Hoseok couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Seokjin doesn’t look like he could hurt anyone, his skin too clear, his smile too pure.

Yoongi knows it has to be an act, the facade of perfection he’s been taught to cultivate throughout the years of grooming he’s received to prepare him into inheriting the kingdom. There is no stain in his public image, no scandalous party with friends, no poorly made decision while he was abroad to study, no hushed rumor of misbehavior of any sort.

There is only the small, speculative taint of his relationship with his younger brother, barely of enough substance to stand any ground when faced with the image of excellence he nurtures.

Yoongi never believed in perfection; it’s a flawed concept in itself.

“You know that’s not gonna help with the fact that the press thinks you two hate each other, right?”

Seokjin goes very still, sucking in a quiet but sharp breath, and for a second Yoongi sees it, the slightest crack, a breach of humanity through the mask. There’s anger, bewilderment, a scorching fire dancing in the deep brown of his eyes, and then there is nothing of substance, the staged, charming smile back on his lips and this unsettling carefree attitude, like nothing can affect him.

Yoongi expects himself to sneer internally at the superiority it exudes, but somehow he doesn’t. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like a display of authority and supremacy. It feels like witnessing the disclosure of a secret jealously guarded, only for it to be snatched away at the slightest hint of a long forgotten truth.

“You’re a bit rude, Min Yoongi.”

Seokjin doesn’t sound particularly thwarted, rather amused.

“I’m not rude, I’m honest,” Yoongi retorts. “Maybe you’re just not used to it.”

There is a silence, heavy but miraculously not uncomfortable.

“Maybe you’re right,” Seokjin says, voice barely over a murmur.

The air feels subtly electric, alive with an obscure sense of excitement for what is to come that Yoongi knows he can’t blame solely on the storm still raging outside.

It’s in the way Seokjin’s dark eyes linger on his face for a moment and he fails to conceal the intensity they contain. It’s in the way his fingers traipse over the hem of his glass absentmindedly, and Yoongi feels his pulse throbbing against his temples. It’s in the way Seokjin’s throat visibly quavers as he swallows, turning back to the screen.

And Yoongi might not always be perceptive –which is why, Jimin tells him, his bluntness tends to hurt people who are not prepared for it– but he knows how to spot interest in someone’s eyes.

It’s a dizzying thought, but it compels him.

His mouth goes dry, so he takes another sip of whiskey and tries not to lose his mind over the fact that the heir to the throne might be royally not straight. 

Seokjin’s gaze softens, oblivious to his internal turmoil, and Yoongi follows it to find him carefully watching Prince Jeongguk, who is leaning across the table to speak to his cousin Prince Taehyung, smiling broadly.

“I’m always watched and scrutinized at these events, my every move dissected and pulled back together to fit a narrative I have no control over,” he says, voice distant. Yoongi wonders whether he even realizes he is not talking to himself. “Tonight is important to him. I didn’t want the press to make it about me.”

He clears his throat, and his ears flush in embarrassment, as though that bit of unaltered truth he just shared with Yoongi is a source of shame. “But mostly I have to let others shine every now and then. My handsome face tends to erase all competition.”

Yoongi tries to prevent his lips from curving into the ghost of a smile, but his brain has seemingly been rendered inoperative.

“I’m sure it does, Your Excellency,” he says, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Seokjin snorts, surprisingly uncouth. “Still wrong,” he says offhandedly. “Why come to a formal event at the royal palace if you don’t even know how to address a royal properly?”

“I didn’t exactly expect to meet one of you,” Yoongi points out. He didn’t expect any of what his evening turned out to be. “And I’ve never been one for decorum.”

It’s not quite a smile that blooms on Seokjin’s face then. A corner of his mouth quirks up, eyes flickering with something unidentifiable that makes a shiver run down Yoongi’s spine.

“So I’ve gathered.”

Yoongi is about to reply something he will most certainly later regret when they are interrupted by the light ring of a phone. Seokjin’s gaze roams across the room, falling on the small table sitting next to the brown-leather couch facing the screen.

“My apologies,” he tells Yoongi, before grabbing it and answering. “Hello?”

His eyes drift back to the screen, the one showing the stage. The auctioneer is presenting a large painting of a blooming cherry tree. It’s a beautiful piece –definitely standing out in the sea of awful works Yoongi has been submitted to throughout the evening– with radiant colors that somehow don’t take away from its overall harmony. If Yoongi were inside, he might have placed a bid on this one, even though he is already greatly satisfied with the painting he won earlier. 

“What’s the current situation?” Seokjin asks. There is a silence as the person on the other side of the line answers. “Let Tae have it, then. He’ll know what to do with it better than I would. I think I’m done for the night anyway. I don’t want Gukkie to know.”

Yoongi’s brows dip into a light frown as his eyes fall on the small table by the couch. There is the program for the night, the same one he received along with his invitation, listing the various pieces being auctioned. Some of them are crossed out, others underlined or circled.

He glances back up at Seokjin when he hangs up, depositing his phone back on the table.

“You’re bidding,” Yoongi says, a statement rather than a question.

Seokjin purses his lips, chewing on his bottom lip. Yoongi feels like he’s just uncovered one of his deepest secrets, and then he ponders on the thought that unwillingly crossed his mind earlier, on the way the hair at the back of his neck seems to tingle every time he feels Seokjin’s gaze on him. He wonders if the accumulating shocks of the night have clouded his mind enough for him to read between lines that aren’t even drawn.

That would be an actual secret, one that cannot be priced or appraised. If Yoongi’s instincts are true –and they seldom fail him– this is a secret that can tear Seokjin apart and leave him bare for the world to witness, the deceitful mask of perfection and uniformity shattered at his feet.

He knows what it feels like, to hide, to fear, to forget how to be.

He knows better than most, and his heart pangs with sympathy for the man standing in front of him, not a royal, not the fabricated embodiment of excellence, but a man with a secret bigger than most can carry. A man whose whole existence is a lie.

“Yes,” Seokjin says finally, pulling Yoongi out of his meandering thoughts.

Yoongi snorts and picks up the program, scanning the list rapidly. There is the painting he won earlier, circled twice.

Silver linings. It’s a beautiful abstract piece, an explosion of colors on a black background, and a single silver line curling across the canvas, seemingly tying it all together.

He narrows his eyes on Seokjin. “Are you the one who made me spend fifty extra grand for my painting?”

Seokjin gives him an apologetic smile, but it is belied by the amused glint in his gaze. “In my defence, I really liked it. And those fifty extra grand are going to charity, Yoongi. Are you telling me you regret giving money to charity?”

Yoongi throws him a pointed glare, emboldened by the playfulness he can read in Seokjin’s gaze. He ignores the foolish flutter in his chest at the sound of his name uttered in Seokjin’s regal lilt.

Seokjin answers with a wink. It nearly knocks the air out of Yoongi’s lungs.

He ducks his head to hide the bashful smile curling on his mouth, gaze flicking back to the list. His lips pull into a grimace of disgust. “Beyond the stars, really?” he huffs, with little to no effort to conceal his disdain.

“Hey!” Seokjin exclaims, and it’s so strikingly different to the proper, well-mannered way he has behaved up until now that it makes Yoongi’s head whip back up. His neck aches a little, but he doesn’t regret it because it allows him to witness the expression of utter affront on Seokjin’s face, eyes wide and lips parted. “It’s a beautiful piece!”

“Just because it’s beautiful doesn’t mean it’s good,” Yoongi quips, deadpan.

“I don’t care if it’s good, I care if it moves me,” Seokjin replies. “I like art that touches me. Who cares if it’s technically perfect if it has no spirit? True beauty speaks beyond aesthetics.”

Yoongi digs his teeth in his bottom lip to suppress another smile. It’s another spectacular failure.

“Alright, Your Imperialness,” he says teasingly. “I’m sorry.”

Seokjin tips his chin up, satisfied, and although Yoongi is convinced he must have people fusing apologies on their knees at the slightest hindrance, he can’t bring himself to feel annoyed at the pettiness of it.

Seokjin plucks the list out of his hand, putting it away. “You’re still wrong. That one doesn’t even exist.”

Yoongi shrugs unapologetically, taking a sip of his forgotten whiskey. “You could just tell me what the right one is.”

“I could,” Seokjin replies, and leaves it at that, a malicious twinkle in his eyes.

Yoongi tells himself the thrill coursing through his veins is a direct consequence of standing in such close proximity with the heir to the throne, though he knows all previous discomfort has been washed away by Seokjin’s amiable smile and oddly relaxed posture.

“So, why are you bidding? Couldn’t you just ask for whatever piece you wanted?” he asks, before he lets himself entertain the idea of unveiling the lies Seokjin tells himself for what they are.

“I don’t actually buy much,” Seokjin says, looking a bit contrite at the admission. “I just want to make sure the event is a success, because Jeongguk worked hard on it and it’s important to him.”

“What if you win?”

Seokjin shrugs. “Then I win and if I don’t want to keep it, I donate it anonymously to a museum.”

Yoongi tries really hard not to groan out loud. This perfect act must be tiring even for Seokjin himself, and it’s definitely dismantling every expectation Yoongi had of him. He doesn’t like this feeling. It’s unpredictable and unsettling, how effortlessly Seokjin is defying everything Yoongi thought he knew about people like him in such a short amount of time. He was more at ease when he was just another blue-blooded roturier locked up in his gaudy palace. He’s too human now, too real, reachable.

“I usually don’t win, though,” Seokjin continues as if he read through Yoongi’s mind. “I mostly bid to make the prices rise.”

There’s a glimmer of mischief in his gaze, and Yoongi tells himself it is not an attractive trait. It’s far from the first lie he told himself tonight.

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“Are you going to tell?” Seokjin fires back.

Yoongi would have to be a fool not to grasp the double meaning of the words, but it’s made all the more clearer by the intensity of the gaze Seokjin fixes him with.

An intoxicating silence settles between them, charged with implications Yoongi now has no choice but to consider.

He licks his lips, hesitating, and when Seokjin’s eyes flicker to his mouth, a brisk movement Yoongi would have missed entirely was he not staring back just as brazenly, he finds he is unable to look away from the fire they contain.

Yoongi’s fingers shake against his glass. He tightens his grip.

Seokjin is holding his breath, waiting for him to answer, concerned and guarded, but equally hopeful. Yoongi wants to tell him the trust he seems to have placed in him is unwarranted, but that would be another lie.

There’s another storm happening, right in front of him, pulling apart defenses and leaving nothing standing but the depth of this secret they now share.

“No,” Yoongi finally replies, his voice low and intense to his own ears. “I’m not.”

Seokjin breathes out, quiet but battered. There is something devastatingly sad about it, about the way he still looks utterly gorgeous even as he crumbles under the weight of the relief on his shoulders, still looks impenetrable even when they both know the veil has fallen.

“It stopped raining,” Seokjin murmurs, though it cuts through the tension between them like a cry of agony.

Yoongi glances away at the window. Seokjin is right. The air is still humid, but it feels lighter, a telltale sign that the worst of the storm has come to pass.

“I should go,” Yoongi says faintly.

Seokjin hums absently, and when Yoongi looks back at him, his gaze is fixed into nothingness, his brows furrowed. He seems far away and yet closer than he’s ever been tonight.

He tilts his head slightly to the side, catching Yoongi’s eyes.

He still looks perfect, and something powerful surges in Yoongi’s chest, a compulsion to find the crack in a seemingly immaculate canvas and ruin it. That’s art, the kind none of the people he’s met tonight could understand –touching imperfections, desecrating purity. Baring truths.

Even if it’s just for him to see, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. He wants to ruin it, that lie that stands in front of him and wants him to believe this advertised perfection is not a mask to fool the world.

Perhaps it’s even simpler than that. Perhaps he just wants, and after years of being deprived of the things he desired, of being told he was foolish for wanting more than the condition he was born into, Yoongi feels entitled to it. To demanding and taking, and taking, and taking, until he’s satiated.

He never truly is.

He leans forward a little, watches as the movement makes Seokjin hesitate for a moment, his fingers twitching nervously in the air between them.

“I won’t tell,” he promises, a truth in all the lies they told each other and themselves.

Seokjin blinks once and stares at him blankly. He goes still, fingers tightening on his glass, posture impressively straight. Yoongi wonders if his boldness will get him more of a reaction for a moment, until he sees Seokjin’s ears, brightly flushed. His lips part, and the breath he expels is heavy with something Yoongi can’t quite decipher, rough and electrifying.

And then Seokjin moves, so aggressively quick that Yoongi thinks for a moment he will either punch him or deliver him to the security team he said was posted behind the door for a much bleaker fate. He takes a step forward, looking down at him with undisguised heat, from fear or something else entirely. His long, elegant fingers curl at the collar of Yoongi’s shirt, pulling harshly, pulling hopelessly, pulling.

Yoongi goes, unable to resist the call –unwilling, perhaps.

“If you do, I will ruin you,” Seokjin says, words urgent against Yoongi’s illusory nonchalance.

Yoongi barely has time to acknowledge the way his body shivers at the unbridled threat.

His world crashes, not with a fist he expected to punish him for his bluntness, but with a mouth pressing against his own, warm and demanding and fucking regal.

His mind provides him with one thought, one single, earth-shattering thought before his mind lets itself be fully overwhelmed by the lips nibbling at his own like they already know the things that make him tick.

What the fuck.

Seokjin kisses him like a drowning man holding onto the smallest flicker of hope for survival, and Yoongi blindly reaches behind him to put his glass down so he can grip at his waist, tethering him to the ground they stand on, shaking but stable. Alive.

Seokjin’s hand cups his neck, pulling him closer until their chests collide and Yoongi’s mind ceases to function, giving into it completely. He licks at Seokjin’s bottom lip, greedily collects the sharp intake of breath he’s rewarded with. His fingers pull at Seokjin’s shirt, yanking until he can slip his hand underneath, feeling the smooth skin of his narrow waist burning under his touch. 

He grips, hard, and Seokjin retaliates by clutching at his hair, pulling just enough to make a litany of curses clutter Yoongi’s already clouded mind.

Yoongi pulls back, dizzy, breath crashing against Seokjin’s mouth in billowing pants. He looks up into his eyes, darkened with the same raw desire Yoongi feels raging in his chest, and tugs him down into another all-consuming kiss. Seokjin presses forward and Yoongi steps back with the force of it, the back of his knees hitting the couch’s armrest.

He sits, tugging Seokjin down with him by the collar of his shirt, his free hand fiddling with the buckle of his belt. Seokjin moans, and the sound is so unexpected and so overwhelmingly obscene that Yoongi stops kissing him altogether.

“Sorry,” Seokjin murmurs, voice wrecked already, looking flushed and disheveled and perfect in all his imperfections.

Yoongi frowns, failing to catch his breath. “Why are you apologizing?”

“I haven’t done this in a while,” Seokjin says quietly.

Yoongi finds himself smiling, softer at the edges than he would normally allow himself. “Well, you could just lie back and think of England.”

Seokjin freezes and blinks at him, lips parting in stupor. And then, his face breaks into a grin and he giggles, fucking giggles, crystal in a world of gold, his shoulders shaking with it. Yoongi ignores the pride that flutters in his chest as he captures the sound with his lips.

He stops thinking entirely when they fall upon the couch, his mind overrun as clothes are peeled off and his hands travel up the length of Seokjin’s body, spread out and naked and shivering with unbridled hunger. His ears fill with the sound of his smart, upper-class accent whispering profanities against Yoongi’s hair, lips trailing burning paths against his face, his neck, his shoulders.

It all feels unreal. He knows it can’t be happening, not really.

He feels drunk, on whiskey, on the aftermath of the storm lingering in the air, on the warm body flushed against his own.

There is only one thought left in his mind, smothering and all-powerful.

Seokjin, Seokjin, Seokjin.

Yoongi finds Hoseok exactly where he left him, with the notable difference that there is now an empty bottle of champagne sitting in front of him, and another one well on its way there.

He sinks into his chair, barely aware of his surroundings.

“Where the hell have you been? I almost had to arm wrestle the waiter for another bottle because I didn’t have you to scare him into complying.”

“We need to leave,” Yoongi breathes out. His voice is hoarse, foreign to his own ears.

Hoseok stares at him, eyes roaming over him. He’s made a decent job of looking presentable. He knows his clothes aren’t too rumpled, or at least just enough that he could blame it on the storm. His cheeks are back to their natural, pale complexion, not flushed with desire and exhausted pleasure anymore. He knows, rationally, that there is no neon sign with the words ‘I just had sex with the crown prince’ flashing over his head. It just feels that way.

He grabs the bottle of champagne by the neck, taking a long swing of it, judgmental gazes be damned.

“Why do you look like you just had an encounter with a ghost and gave it a blowjob?” Hoseok asks, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

Yoongi chokes on champagne, coughing and spilling half of it over the front of his shirt.

Hoseok’s eyes widen, and he leans forward to slap Yoongi’s arm with more vigor than he should be capable of after all the alcohol he’s consumed to make the evening bearable.

“You filthy animal!” he yelps, face breaking into a wide, ecstatic grin. “Who did you fuck?”

“No one!” Yoongi replies, a beat too quickly.

Hoseok slaps his arm again. “Liar! Was it a lord? A baroness?” He leans heavily against the table, hands moving agitatedly.

Yoongi groans, burying his head in his hands. He heaves out a deep breath and pulls them back on his knees, rubbing his fists against the material of his pants. It’s almost dry now.

“Hobi,” he says gravely, “we need to leave. Now.”

Hoseok frowns, but he seems to perceive the urgency in Yoongi’s tone for what it is —desperate— because he nods, pushing himself to his feet with unsettling grace.

“If we’re never invited again, I’ll blame your dick,” he says matter-of-factly.

Yoongi darts a glance at the guests sending them hostile glares at the nearby tables.

“Yeah, I’m sure it won’t have anything to do with the fact that you singlehandedly emptied the palace’s stocks of champagne.”

He pushes Hoseok toward the exit, heart still racing.

“Seriously though, did you actually fuck a ghost or something? You’re being weird. Weirder.”

Perhaps he is, Yoongi ponders to himself. But with the evening he’s had, he thinks he’s allowed to lose his fucking mind.

Chapter Text

Seokjin is proud of three things above all else in his life.

His incredibly smart, kind-hearted, prodigious little brother.

His ability to look good even after a sleepless night, accumulating hours of jet lag and shaking clammy hands for a week.

His proof-tested, unparalleled self-control.

In this order.

So it’s understandable that a week after Jeongguk’s charity gala, he still hasn’t managed to find his footing back.

The night has been replaying in his mind incessantly, while he is in the middle of a diplomatic meeting, while he pours himself a glass of whiskey, while he watches his brother supervising the delivery of the pieces that have been bought during the auction.

It’s there, all the time, Min Yoongi’s piercing eyes and arrogant smirk dancing before him, toying with his nerves, meticulously depleting all his efforts to forget. It would be relatively okay if the memories of that night were just that, an already distant phantom of a decision he made in that moment, careless of the consequences, reckless and foolish and distracted by the raw desire he could read in those eyes. It was true, sincere, and Seokjin has met enough liars and fabulists in his lifetime to appreciate honesty, as brutal as it can be, when it is offered to him freely. It would be okay, really, if every flashing thought of that night wasn’t immediately followed by the suffocating clutch of fear in his chest.

He’s spent years carefully cultivating that control, refusing to allow himself even a moment of weakness, and Min Yoongi came in, drenched and blunt and beautiful, and blew it all to smithereens.

Years of hiding, years of stern discipline and restraint, years of loneliness.

All to give in to a spontaneous lapse of judgment, for a night that means nothing, for a touch that now feels inconsequential.

He spends a week frantically checking the news every day, waking in the middle of the night from a restless sleep to refresh news feeds and press releases, hunting for his name in every article, adrenaline flaring through his veins at the slightest mention.

He waits for the bombshell, for the headline that will uncloak for all to see the secret he’s burned so much time and energy burying that it feels like there is always dirt under his flawlessly manicured nails.

It doesn’t come, but still he waits in agony.

Every day that passes and doesn’t expose his truth to the world brings a new wave of relief, but it starts all over again the next day, a new tempest clogging his lungs, drowning the flakes of hope he’s trying to hold onto.

He should have taken the storm for what it was; a warning.

He knew better than to act on impulse. That’s a luxury reserved for people who can be unapologetically themselves without fear of being ripped apart for it. For people like Min Yoongi, who can hold his chin up and sneer at the ones who try to belittle him.

Seokjin knows better. He should have known better.

He understood he was gay very early in his life, although he couldn’t quite comprehend what it meant then. He also understood very early on that it was a problem, not because of the fact itself –which is a part of him like any other– but because of who he was, who he still is, now a fully grown adult with disproportionately grown responsibilities and the weight of a restless, lonely future resting on his shoulders.

For a while, during the rebellious phase of teenagehood even he went through, he had cultivated the idea that it could be something beyond a shamefully guarded secret. He had watched the world change around him, had envied the pride he had seen people like him brandishing like an invincible shield. He had fancied himself a pioneer, a light through the darkness for people who felt shunned by a world that still failed to recognize their grace.

He was seventeen. Seventeen and foolish and angry at the conventions that dictated him to stay hidden, to stay miserable, to stay silent.

There was a boy. Lee Jaehwan. He was the son of an austere, conservative businessman, just a year older than him, and Seokjin loved him. He loved him like a breath of fresh air in the first hours of the morning. He loved him like he was a buoy in a world designed to drown him. He loved him, and Jaehwan loved him back.

They had loved the way children do, uncompromisingly, feeding themselves delusions about the future, about their own fortitude. They had made plans of coming out, hand in hand, facing the rest of the world and defeating those who would deny and dismiss their essence with the force of their love. He would renounce the throne if that was the price to pay for their freedom. Jeongguk was just a child but he would understand with time, and he would make a great leader in his stead. And if their plans derailed, if the flame of their dream didn’t burn quite as brightly as they had imagined, they would run away. They would find a place, away from the rest of the world, where they would be forgotten but happy. Together, never again alone.

Seokjin’s great uncle had done it; he could do it too.

That’s all they had been –children fancying themselves adults, dreamers wishing they could be doers.

Jaehwan had been dangerous, because he had allowed Seokjin to nurture a hope that he could be more than what the etiquette he was born into ordered him to be. That he could be free from the golden cage he had been assigned at birth, free from the secrets, the lies, the daily performances. That he could simply be Kim Seokjin, and not the heir to the throne.

They had been together for over a year when Seokjin got the call.

He was eighteen, then. A child still.

He has obscure memories of that night, like a landscape whose lines are blurred by heavy fog but still tracing vaguely distinguishable shapes. He remembers the giddiness spawned by the alcohol they had sneaked into Jaehwan’s house while his father was away on business. Seokjin had learned how to drink alcohol reasonably and politely from the tender age of thirteen, but there had been no decorum that night, alcohol flowing with as many promises of eternal affection and tender tomorrows.

He had ignored his phone ringing the first time. And again the second and third times.

The fourth time, he had picked up, music blasting behind him, lips pressing warmly against his neck, a giggle tumbling from his mouth.

He can never remember that night precisely when he thinks back on it. He only remembers the few words that were breathed into his ear by his mother’s main attendant, and the abrupt fall afterwards, the dive from feeling like he was on top of the world, free and invincible and in love, to watching it falling apart, powerless to stop it.

It had felt somehow louder than the bass in the background, a shout endlessly echoing in an empty cave.

His world had collapsed in a matter of minutes, taking along his dreams, his hope for better days, his innocence.

He had wanted to scream, to thrash against Jaehwan’s hold around his waist, but his body had refused to comply, numbing everything but the somber realization that it was all over now. There wouldn’t ever be a world where he could be who he was openly. Where he could be free.

He was eighteen, there was a boy, and then there was nothing.

No promises to change the world, no commitment to fight for a future where they would be proud.

Perhaps it is what he saw in Min Yoongi, that night a week ago. No promises, no commitment, but a moment of respite, a glimpse of something he had once believed in. Perhaps it is why he slipped and fell after a decade of never allowing himself even the sliver of a dream.

He should have known better. He should have been more careful.

He knows what happens when he forgets who he is meant to be, when he forgets what matters, what truly matters.

The only thing that matters will always be Jeongguk.

He fights against the ugly sobs clogging his throat and pulls himself upright on the couch. The same couch where a week ago, clever lips whispered words of worship that had nothing to do with his titles against his ear and deft hands travelled the planes of his body like it was more than an illusion of perfection to project to the world.

Seokjin wants to burn it to ashes, the couch, the whole room, the image etched into his brain.

He wants to forget the desire in Yoongi’s eyes was mirrored in his own.

He picks up his phone, opens his news app again, refreshes the page.

Nothing.

And barely a fragment of relief in his chest.

“Jin, this is the fifth time you’ve checked your phone in the last fifteen minutes. One more time and I’ll think I’m boring you.”

Seokjin blinks, looking up from the couch at Namjoon, who is looking back intently, standing by the window where Yoongi showed up a week ago like an apparition. His eyes are sparkling like they do whenever he is talking about something he is passionate about, and Seokjin feels a little guilty for not listening, for letting his thoughts escape him completely, again.

“I’m sorry,” he says, pursing his lips. “What were you saying? Dispatch published another article about how I didn’t go to Gukkie’s gala because he secretly tried to have me murdered and we hate them. Right?”

Namjoon’s brows dip into a frown. “That was half an hour ago.” He puts away the tablet in his hand, giving him the serious, concerned look Seokjin fears above all else. It means Namjoon will want to make him talk about his feelings, and Seokjin would be hard-pressed to refuse Namjoon anything, even that. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Seokjin replies too quickly, too poorly performed, too artificial for his oldest friend not to read right through it.

Namjoon stares dubiously. “Why do you look like you think the world is going to end then?”

“I don’t.”

“You keep checking your phone and you look relieved every time, and then you start stressing out all over again. You’re so anxious you’re making me anxious, and I meditated today. For an hour. What’s wrong?”

Seokjin contemplates framing him for treason for a moment.

He would, if he wasn’t painfully aware of how absolutely essential Namjoon is to his sanity.

“Can I talk to you as my best friend and not my personal advisor?” Seokjin asks, voice small and hopeful.

Gravity settles on Namjoon’s features as he nods. Seokjin feels a pang of affection tug at his heart.

“I did something stupid,” he blurts out, the words slipping out of his mouth before he can consider them.

“It can’t be worse than the time you and Jeongguk sneaked out and got drunk and I had to chase a paparazzi for six blocks and pay him off a fortune to buy his camera and delete the pictures,” Namjoon points out, always one for pragmatism.

Seokjin winces, but the memory manages to bring a feeble smile to his lips. Jeongguk had just turned eighteen then, and Seokjin had wanted them to forget they weren’t like any other pair of brothers for a night. It could have been a disaster –mainly because Taehyung had insisted they both wear pink, fluffy tiaras while performing very drunkenly a too low-pitched song at karaoke– but Namjoon had saved the day and that night had remained a private, cherished memory for them all.

“It’s worse,” Seokjin says faintly, running a hand over his features. His head feels heavy, like his neck doesn’t have the strength to carry it anymore. “It’s so much worse.”

Worry crosses Namjoon’s features, but he doesn’t say a word, encouraging him to go on with a minute nod.

“I made a mistake, Joon,” Seokjin says, his voice barely over a whisper. “A serious mistake and now I might be exposed.”

He watches as realization slowly dawns on his friend’s features, his eyes widening slightly, brows raising to his hairline.

“What’s his name?” he asks.

Seokjin shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter,” he mutters. “It was a one-time thing. It happened in the spur of the moment.”

“When was it?”

“Last week,” Seokjin mumbles with a deep, shattering sigh. “During the gala. He somehow got on the terrace to shelter himself from the storm and… well, we talked, we had sex, we agreed it was time for him to leave. It was… stupid.” It isn’t the first word that popped into his brain, and he thinks Namjoon knows it, but he respects Seokjin too much to call him out on it. “And I can’t stop checking the news because I’m waiting for some scandalous headline about the crown prince being gay.”

“Do you think he might out you?” Namjoon asks, a calm, placating presence cutting through Seokjin’s ungovernable agitation.

“Yes. No. I don’t know!” Seokjin heaves out, pinching at the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know. I don’t know him. I didn’t think about getting to know him. I didn’t think, Joonie!”

“You say that like thinking is something you usually do instead of paying me to do it for you,” Namjoon quips, a glint of mischief in his eyes.

Seokjin chuckles despite himself, shoving at him more aggressively than Namjoon’s poorly timed joke probably warranted for.

“Okay, take a deep breath,” Namjoon instructs, gentle. Seokjin complies. “Exhale. Now, let’s try again. Really think about it and tell me: do you think he might out you?”

Seokjin thinks about it, about the unapologetic way Yoongi spoke, about the rebellious edge of his smile and the uncompromising value of his character.

“No,” he says, and he finds himself believing it.

He knows Namjoon can easily surmise the shadow of vulnerability he’s trying to conceal.

“Then why don’t you trust yourself?” he asks, not unkindly. “You have good instincts about people.”

Seokjin laughs without humor. “I have terrible instincts about people. I like everyone on principle.”

Namjoon smiles something affectionate, like he admits the truth of Seokjin’s statement but can’t bring himself to judge him for it.

“We both know that’s not true.”

“It is,” Seokjin insists. “I’m an awful judge of character. That’s why I have Taehyung.”

Namjoon snorts, but his amusement is fleeting, quickly replaced by a mask of gravity. “I know you asked to talk about it with your friend, but you know I have to ask as your Head of PR,” he says, hesitant. He waits for Seokjin to sigh and nod curtly before he continues, “Do you want me to do something about it? I can find him and make sure he’ll stay silent.”

Seokjin grimaces. “Why do you have to make it sound like you’re going to have him killed?”

Namjoon grins. “Because I’ve missed my chance at being a secret agent and this is the next best thing. Be a good friend and let me have this.”

Seokjin rolls his eyes, the gesture devoid of animosity. His gaze drops to his phone, watches his reflection in the black screen. He looks tired. He feels worse.

“No,” he says softly. “It’s best to leave it alone. Maybe it was just another perfectly normal night for him and he’s already forgotten about it.”

It sounds foolish even to his own ears. If it was the other way around, he doesn’t think he would so easily dismiss the fact that he had sex with the crown prince, who is very much straight as far as public opinion is concerned.

When he meets Namjoon’s eyes, however, there is no imminent rebuttal there, but rather a teasing smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. Seokjin immediately regrets ever telling him anything.

“You were that bad, uh?”

Seokjin throws a pillow at his face, but it does nothing to muffle Namjoon’s loud laughter.

Seokjin lets himself sink deeper into the couch, the ghost of a smile playing on his lips. He feels a little lighter, like he managed to alleviate some of the weight on his shoulders by sharing a part of his burden with Namjoon.

They dive back into what Namjoon was talking about before Seokjin’s mind drifted off completely, the news roundup of the day, and Seokjin forces himself to push his worry aside and truly listen this time.

When Namjoon leaves, a couple of hours later, he lasts five whole minutes before he picks up his phone and unlocks it, finding it open on the latest news.

He refreshes the page, waits for the cruelty he’s prepared himself for.

It doesn’t come.

There are a few things the media get completely wrong about Seokjin.

First and foremost, the fact that he is straight, but he’s played a big role in perpetuating that carefully fabricated lie, so he can’t blame them for it. Second, the ludicrous idea that he is his grandfather’s favorite. The reigning king doesn’t have a favorite, because he doesn’t care enough about any of his grandchildren to pick one. If he ever had his grandfather’s favors, it is purely and solely because Seokjin is set to inherit the throne after him, and if anything, it only means his grandfather was always harder on Seokjin than he was on the rest of them. Third, the no less ridiculous misconception about his complete disinterest over politics. They are not allowed to get involved in national politics, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t assiduously follow the current government’s plans and pull a few strings when he deems it important. He’s familiar with the shadows, has made them unlikely friends his whole life, and he’s clever enough to navigate the line between strategic and unconstitutional without getting caught.

Then, there are half-truths, fractions of facts journalists who don’t deserve the title have amplified and distorted and presented as news without ever grasping at a figment of the actual story.

His relationship with his brother is one of those.

There is a half-truth –their relationship with each other is tense– and a whole lie –they hate each other.

Seokjin doesn’t think anyone, even if he were to tell them, could understand how absolutely and unconditionally he loves Jeongguk. He doesn’t particularly care to anyway.

The rumors started the day of their mother’s funeral.

Jeongguk was crying, unable and unwilling to hold his sorrow in front of the cameras, and Seokjin was standing next to him, stoic, composed, a mask of indifference. He hadn’t reached for Jeongguk, hadn’t offered words of solace for the world to hear, hadn’t dried Jeongguk’s tears with a comforting smile. And the world decided that they just weren’t that close, that his lack of sympathy could only be explained by either apathy on his part, a cold heart barely functioning in his chest, or a mutual hatred they had barely disguised.

It was wrong, then. It still is today.

Seokjin had felt powerless that day. They had lost their father a year prior. Their mother a week ago.

Jeongguk was devastated, inconsolable, and Seokjin simply had no idea what to say or do to make it better, even more so with the whole world watching, ready to pick apart his every word.

His little brother had been through hell, more than any of the bystanders could imagine, deeper into its maze than they could ever fathom, and there was nothing Seokjin could do to guide him back to the surface.

Not ridden with guilt and grief as he was.

The rumors simply grew from there. They were rarely seen together in public. When they were, they seldom spoke. It would have been okay if Seokjin had found the words behind closed doors, when the cameras were away and he had every opportunity to express how sorry he truly was. How he wished he could have taken Jeongguk’s pain and make it his own.

It should have been him, that day.

It should have been his pain to carry. His trauma, his haunted eyes, his restless nights.

The only solution he had found then was to let Jeongguk climb into his bed in the middle of the night and curl up against him, holding him as he sobbed, as he grieved, as he suffered.

Ten years later, it doesn’t happen so often anymore.

But Jeongguk is twenty-three now and Seokjin doesn’t think he rests peacefully still.

He personally doesn’t.

Sometimes he looks at his brother and pretends his light didn’t die with their mother. He pretends he is still carefree, shining bright even when the night is at its darkest. He pretends he doesn’t know the tears they have both shed upon the ground, Jeongguk for the nightmares that haunt him, Seokjin for his inability to chase them away.

A couple of months after their mother passed, Seokjin understood what it all meant for him.

He had been solely focused on Jeongguk, on conveying with actions what he couldn’t find the words to disclose, so much so that he hadn’t considered the consequences for him beyond the night she had died and his dreams crumbling like a house of cards.

Jeongguk could not rule. Not now, not ever. He had seen too much, had suffered too greatly. And it could only mean one thing for Seokjin: there was no renouncing the throne. No stepping aside from his title and leaving it to someone better equipped than himself.

Jeongguk would never do the same, all stubborn that he was. If he were to rule, he would let himself be submerged and consumed by the weight of it before he’d admit he can’t carry it at all.

Seokjin had failed him once already. He couldn’t allow himself to do it again.

It put a strain on their relationship, he knows, the decision he made back then.

Jeongguk is smart, smart enough that he quickly understood that there wasn’t anything Seokjin wasn’t ready to do to protect him. He’s also hardheaded enough to resent him for it.

Seokjin can live with that.

They have moments where they forget, where they don’t have to think about it to remember they are brothers, that the conflicts always brewing between them were born out of love. In those moments, Seokjin can almost forget the image of his thirteen-year old brother huddled against him, shaking so vehemently he couldn’t recall how to breathe. He can almost forgive himself for his absence.

Jeongguk likes to be alone, can lock himself up in his quarters for days on end without speaking to a living soul, but Seokjin remains the exception, even in their worst moments, the ones where words fail them again, not because they are unspoken but because they are uttered senselessly. Even on those days Jeongguk needs to be alone with himself, Seokjin has always been the only one who can tether him to the outside world.

It is on one of those days that he finds Jeongguk in his workshop, wearing a pair of washed-up jeans and a white t-shirt that are already covered with splatters of paint. His hair is a mess, falling in his eyes, and his mouth is turned down in a grimace of concentration.

It makes Seokjin smile, the way Jeongguk can lose himself completely into a task.

They have yet to find something Jeongguk isn’t maddeningly good at. He throws everything he has into everything he does; it’s almost dizzying. It used to scare Seokjin, how deeply Jeongguk could dive into the things he was passionate about, how he could lose himself in the process. One day, he understood that it was because it didn’t leave any space left for the dangerous thoughts that sometimes cloud his eyes and leave his mind foggy. Seokjin made sure to encourage any passion that would allow his brother a semblance of peace ever since.

He took on more responsibilities to ensure Jeongguk has all the free time in the world to pursue everything he sets his mind to. He sits on countless meetings, runs various committees, keeps an eye on the royal family’s finances and shakes hands until his bones feel like they could crack, all so Jeongguk doesn’t have to relinquish even a modicum of his freedom. He had to negotiate long and hard with his grandparents to take on duties and responsibilities that should fall to them both, but even the interminable days and rising pressure aren’t enough for him to regret his decision. Not when Jeongguk’s big eyes are wide with excitement every time he gets invested in a new activity.

He’s been painting a lot, lately, beautiful landscapes and abstract compositions and expressionist pieces. He excels at them all.

Seokjin wants to ask for one of them for his house on the outskirts of the city, but it feels like too big of a favor to ask, too intimate for Jeongguk for him to share it with anyone but himself.

The room is silent but for the brush sweeping across the canvas, and it’s easy for Seokjin to fathom why his brother finds it so soothing. He can feel the tension seeping from his shoulders just by watching him.

“If you’re here for your earnings, I’m afraid you’re too late,” Jeongguk says, his voice cutting through the quiet. “I’ve already donated them for you.”

Seokjin hadn’t realized he was aware of his presence by the door, leaning against the threshold in quiet observation.

There is an annoyed edge to Jeongguk’s voice that makes him hold back a sigh.

“What do you mean?”

Jeongguk looks away from his canvas and over his shoulder at him. His eyes bear into Seokjin’s coldly.

It’s one of those days, then.

“I know you bid during the auction,” he says. “Namjoon really wasn’t the best cover. He kept standing up and talking on the phone or typing a text before he placed a bid. I’m not an idiot.”

Seokjin braces himself with a deep breath. “Am I not allowed to collect art?”

“I know what kind of art you like,” Jeongguk retorts. “You wouldn’t have bought any of these pieces normally. You hate hyper-realism.”

“It’s for charity, Gukkie,” Seokjin sighs. “What does it matter whether I actually like them or not?”

“Yeah, charity.” Jeongguk snorts, lips pulled into a thin line. “Toward scientific research or toward me?”

Seokjin rubs at the bridge of his nose, gritting his teeth.

He takes a cautious step forward, heart rattling in his chest. He doesn’t want to do this, not today, not anymore.

He hasn’t been sleeping well since the gala, anxiety spiking up in his chest at random moments of the day or the night, clogging his lungs and clouding his mind. He’s been walking around like an empty shell of himself, performing his duties on near automatism. He inaugurated a new museum, listened to a debrief on their current geopolitical situation, went over his schedule for the next few weeks with Namjoon. He’s been doing things exactly the way he always does, but with that overwhelming lump lodged in his throat, heavier than it usually is.

“I don’t want to fight,” he says, almost pleading.

Something on his face must give away more than he intends to, because the fight leaves Jeongguk at once, swiftly replaced by concern.

“Are you okay?”

“Just tired,” Seokjin lies. It flits off his lips with deconcerting ease. “I came by to see how you’re doing before I leave for Japan. I have a meeting with the WTO committee.”

Jeongguk frowns. “I’m fine. And isn’t that next week?”

Seokjin shakes his head, surprised Jeongguk would even know that much. He doesn’t tend to get involved in politics or anything remotely related to business and most of the time, he dutifully avoids anything that requires him to show his face in public. “I’m meeting them before the official event. I’m not attending the summit, I have to be back here for Grandfather’s birthday.”

“I could replace you with a dummy and he wouldn’t even notice,” Jeongguk says dryly.

Seokjin laughs, loud in the peaceful quietude of the room. “Now I think I might try that to skip Christmas dinner.”

Jeongguk glares at him, but it holds no actual heat. “If you abandon me for Christmas dinner, I will tell on you.”

Seokjin fakes offense, reaching out to gently pat his shoulder. “As if we could ever fool Grandmother anyway. She’d find us wherever we hide and drag us back to the palace before we can even think of an escape plan.”

“She would,” Jeongguk replies, barely concealing a shudder.

Seokjin’s gaze drifts across the room, over the painting his brother is currently working on, a wide black and white portrait of an unidentifiable woman looking at something in the distance. There is a tenderness to her eyes that makes Seokjin’s stomach churn painfully.

He moves to the next painting, resting against the wall over white tarpaulin to dry. This one is a depiction of the view of the garden from Jeongguk’s quarters, trimmed bushes mazing across the grass to frame the majestic marble fountain in the middle. There is Seokjin’s office on the other side, and he recognizes his own silhouette hunched over the fence, his features unrecognizable. Still, Seokjin knows it’s him, from the broadness of the shoulders to the distant aura that emanates from him, something lonely and beaten in the silhouette.

It hurts a little, to know this is how Jeongguk sees him, but Seokjin can’t blame him. Jeongguk has an artist’s eye; he sees more than he tells. There is something gentle about the brush of the paint, though, like each stroke came from a place of meticulous care.

“Can I have it?” he asks before he can stop himself. He doesn’t know where it comes from.

Jeongguk blinks up at him, as though pulled out of a daydream, and follows his gaze. “The painting?”

Seokjin nods. “I wanted to add some art to the lodge. I’d be honored if it were yours.”

Jeongguk shrugs, but Seokjin knows when his brother is staging nonchalance. “Sure,” he says, bashful. “I can have it framed and delivered while you’re away.”

Seokjin’s face breaks into a grin, moving forward to ruffle his hair, ignoring his cry of protest. “Thanks, Gukkie.”

Jeongguk swats his hand away. “Alright, alright,” he huffs. “Go away now. Enjoy Japan. Bring me back some snacks. Don’t accidentally cause a diplomatic incident. You know the drill.”

“I’m going.” He raises both his hands in pitiful defence, stepping backwards. “Try not to do anything stupid while I’m gone.”

“Taehyung is in Dubai for the next couple of weeks, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Seokjin shakes his head fondly, but stops his retreat, tilting his head to the side. “Will you be okay? I can arrange for you to come to Japan with me if you want. Or I can probably postpone it. They–”

“Jinnie, I’m fine,” Jeongguk cuts in, leveling him with a grave look. “I’m an adult, I don’t need you to babysit me. Never did.”

Seokjin takes the blow with a gracious smile. “Okay,” he says. “Just call me if you change your mind.”

“Will do,” Jeongguk says, already turning back to his painting. “But I won’t.”

Seokjin wonders if it helps him to ignore how he’s needed Seokjin to pull him out of the darkest corners of his mind more often than they can count. Is it better for him to disregard the fact that Seokjin still is, despite everything, one of the two people he allows himself to feel safe with? Without him or Taehyung around, Seokjin can’t help but worry.

It’s been a while since the last episode, but they always come by surprise, when they’ve let their guard down, when Jeongguk starts believing he might be rid of them at last.

He can’t imagine how things would be, were the burden of monarchy to fall on Jeongguk’s shoulders.

“I’ll text you when I land,” Seokjin says as he turns around to exit the room.

He hears his brother humming at his retreating back, and then loud music filling the room that was a haven of calm just moments ago. It’s an enticing melody, upbeat but clashing with the rapper’s sobering flow.

Seokjin pointedly refuses to ask who the artist is, or to let his mind wander to the face he knows would be his answer.

He has many things he wishes he could forget, and right now Min Yoongi’s piercing eyes are on the podium.

“Hey, Jinnie!”

He stops in his steps right as he reaches the door, turning back to face his brother.

“I love you,” Jeongguk says, eyes wide with sincerity.

Seokjin smiles, but struggles to swallow past the lump in his throat.

“I love you too, Gukkie.”

He doesn’t think even Jeongguk could understand how absolutely and unconditionally he does, even if he were to tell him.

Chapter Text

Taehyung is Seokjin’s favorite cousin.

He has many cousins –that’s the thing with royal families– but not a single one who can come close to Taehyung.

The problem is, Taehyung knows he’s Seokjin’s favorite cousin.

He knows the power he holds on his heart, and how easily Seokjin can be swayed by his imploring eyes and pouting lips. And he has no qualm exploiting that power.

“Tae, I don’t want to go out,” he protests, his voice coming out as a plaintive cry.

“But we haven’t seen each other in so long,” Tae says, lips puckering. Seokjin swears his eyes are brimming with tears. “When was the last time you spent time with me? And I really want to go to that gallery opening. Please.” 

“My security team hasn’t been notified of me going out tonight,” Seokjin tries, though he knows it’s a losing battle.

“All the more reason to come with me!” Taehyung exclaims, cheerful. “You hate being swarmed with security.”

Seokjin sinks deeper into his couch, a feeble attempt at assuaging Taehyung’s determination with cuteness. They’re at his lodge outside the city, away from the palace. Taehyung showed up without warning, as he often does, and promptly started harassing him into going out with him. Seokjin is dressed in sweatpants and an oversized pink hoodie, there’s a fuming cup of chamomille in front of him and a pillow with his name on it resting against the couch’s armrest. It’s his first night off in two weeks, and he didn’t plan on doing anything but curl up in front of a movie he’d pay no attention to.

“Ask Gukkie,” he pleads.

Taehyung shows no modicum of mercy. “But it’s you I want to spend time with, Seokjinnie,” he cries, lips puckered, the final nail in the coffin of Seokjin’s quiet and peaceful evening.

He groans out loud, and he can see Taehyung knows he’s won and is fighting back a triumphant grin. He’s doing a poor job at it.

“Two hours top,” Seokjin mumbles. “I’m calling Namjoon so he warns the gallery we’re coming. And you’re apologizing to my bodyguards for bringing them back to work on their night off.”

Taehyung nods vigorously, bouncing away happily. “I got you a silk robe to match mine!”

Seokjin can’t bring himself to feel annoyed, even as he walks into his bedroom and strips off his comfortable clothes to trade them for formal wear.

Taehyung briefs him about the gallery on the way there. It’s a great project put together by female artists who wanted to fight back against the underrepresentation they faced in their field. They found investors, started online fundraisers, recruited both lesser known and well-established artists and built this beautiful adventure.

The theme of the opening night is ‘Art and the Feminist revolution.’

Seokjin can’t deny that the way Taehyung talks about it, eyes sparkling with excitement, makes him eager to see the place. There’s just one small hitch in his cousin’s palpable trepidation.

“Tae, that’s borderline political.”

Taehyung lifts an eyebrow at the gravity of his tone. Whether it’s confused or entirely unbothered, Seokjin can’t tell for sure. He shrugs, and the answer is somewhat clearer.

“No one’s asking you to show up with an equality bill,” Taehyung states.

“Still, my presence there makes my position on it quite obvious, and you know the media will try to twist it into some sort of political statement. You know the republicans will.”

Mischief dances in Taehyung’s eyes. “Aren’t you a republican? I do remember that night last year where you were drunk and going on and on about monarchy being nothing but absolute bullshit, you know.”

Seokjin’s eyes widen and he leans over the backseat to slam a hand against Taehyung’s mouth. “Do you want me to be forced to abdicate or something? You can’t say things like that!”

Taehyung barks out a laugh, throwing his head back. “I didn’t say it, you did. I’m just repeating it to torture you.”

Seokjin flicks him on the forehead before falling back into his seat, rolling his eyes. “I’ll have you thrown in the dungeons,” he mutters. “We’ll see how you cope without your Gucci jackets.”

The car comes to a stop a little while later, and the door is opened for him as soon as Seokjin has unbuckled his seatbelt. Namjoon’s head pokes inside.

“You told him to come?” Taehyung says with a pout, though it lacks any real heat.

“Someone has to clean up whatever mess you’re going to create,” Namjoon retorts without missing a beat.

“If you don’t manage to break something first,” Taehyung quips back.

Namjoon pulls a face at him, which makes Taehyung grimace in return and Seokjin seriously consider why a man in his position is surrounded by people who so spectacularly fail at behaving themselves.

Namjoon quickly sobers up, gazing at Seokjin. “This is borderline political, by the way,” he says, deadpan.

“That’s what I was telling him!” Seokjin exclaims, a little too loud. He turns to Taehyung, doesn’t even try to conceal the triumph in his gaze. They truly bring out the worst in him.

“It’s amazing, though,” Namjoon says, as if he hadn’t voiced a true matter of concern just a moment ago. “Come on. The gallery owners said there is a back door we can use.”

Seokjin keeps his mouth shut as Taehyung all but shoves him out of the car, giggling like a child on Christmas morning.

The air is chill for September, and Taehyung immediately huddles against him, hooking their arms together as he tugs Seokjin after Namjoon. They go through a door, make polite small talk with the three women who introduce themselves as the gallery owners, leave their coats with the extra bodyguards Namjoon insisted on bringing, and are quickly ushered to the main room.

The gallery is located in the heart of the city, in a neighborhood that used to be mostly working-class but has now become one of the most expensive areas. Still, there is an industrial charm to the place, something both impressive and unique in its architecture, the blend of old and new, traditional and modern. Seokjin is instantly charmed, and he hasn’t even seen the art yet.

The art pieces displayed are not categorized by artist or by medium, but they tell a story. They speak of the feminine condition, of oppression and struggles, and end in an explosion of love and hope.

“Hey,” Seokjin murmurs quietly, eyes roaming over the room. “Thank you for forcing me to come.”

Taehyung beams something wide and boyish. “Aren’t you glad I’m your favorite cousin?”

Seokjin pats the hand resting on his biceps affectionately. “Every single day.”

Taehyung’s answering grin is almost blinding.

They’ve barely taken two steps into the gallery, following the directions indicated by one of the gallery owners as she explains each piece in scrupulous and passionate detail, when the familiar hush of murmurs rises around them.

Seokjin turns a blind eye to the cameras that start flashing around them, pulling his features into a polite, carefully practiced smile. 

Excited voices greet them, marvelling over their presence. A reporter is already brandishing a notepad and a pen, ready to assail him with questions, but Namjoon stops them with a firm grip on their wrist and a stern shake of his head. It’s surprisingly effective, and exactly why Namjoon is not only his oldest friend but also his most trusted advisor. He’s always perfectly polite, but he exudes an air of authority that compels everyone around them in an effortless way even Seokjin’s titles sometimes fail to convey.

A small audience gathers around them, kept at bay by the security agents, but it isn’t asphyxiating. There aren't enough people here for it to be, and Seokjin gives them a polite smile, returning the greetings.

Taehyung is pinned against Seokjin’s side, basking in the attention. He’s used to it just as much as Seokjin is, although for different reasons. Taehyung attracts attention because of his aura, the passion of his spirit and glow of his soul that transpires through his mere presence in a room. Eyes follow him anywhere he goes, and it’s always been a self-indulgent and somewhat selfish pleasure for Seokjin to have him by his side during public events, not only because Taehyung’s company is one he cherishes and adores, but because it’s always a relief from having all gazes settled on him.

Taehyung knows it and doesn’t shy away from using it when it’s needed.

It’s one of the many reasons why he is Seokjin’s favorite cousin.

That, and the fact that he is one of the few people who look at Seokjin like he’s more than his name, like he sees him, all of him, and still loves him for it.

The small crowd dissipates slowly, and just as Seokjin turns his head back to the gallery owner, about to ask more precisions about the piece they are standing in front of, a glass shatters behind him.

He, Taehyung, and Namjoon all turn around in the same movement, a Pavlovian reaction of alarm coerced into them from too many security drills. Namjoon moves in front of him, the movement barely noticeable.

Seokjin searches the room to find the source of the sound. Three people are arguing over the broken glass at their feet in quiet voices. One of them has his back turned to them, dressed in all black, silver hair artfully tousled. His shoulders are broadened by the snug fit of his leather jacket, and there’s something familiar about the way the man holds himself, self-assured and lithe all at once.

He turns towards them, lips parted in mid-argument.

Seokjin goes still as their eyes meet.

It’s been three months since he last saw them, but even across the room, Min Yoongi’s eyes seem to pierce right through him and bare his soul for himself alone to greedily consume.

A thousand emotions swirl in Seokjin’s mind. Anxiety wells up in his chest, and then there’s more; anger, fear, shock, desire, and subsequent horror. It takes every ounce of Seokjin’s self-control not to let any of it show on his face.

The last three months since the gala have been relatively uneventful. After a month had gone and there was still no sign of Min Yoongi disclosing one of his deepest secrets to the world, Seokjin allowed himself to push it aside, compartmentalized in a corner of his brain where he stores the worries that don’t represent an imminent threat that is essential to him being functional on a daily basis.

He didn’t forget, but the memory of that night ceased to flood his consciousness with every waking moment.

It became more distant, less real as the feel of Yoongi’s lips against the shell of his ear turned into a ghost of the past.

It all comes crashing back on him then, the absolute terror that had warred through his whole body for days after the gala, the tingle of his fingers as though he could still feel the burn of naked skin at their tips.

His stomach lurches, nausea climbing up his throat.

It would be okay, if all that came back were those days spent in agony, waiting for his secret to be torn away from him, every morning a new trial. But as their eyes lock together over the crowd, even for a fraction of a second, Seokjin feels the pull in his body, inexorable and suffocating.

He forces himself to look away, releasing a quivering breath.

Taehyung squeezes his arm lightly, silently asking if the tension he must have felt rising through Seokjin’s body is a source of worry.

Seokjin nods gingerly, a gesture he addresses the woman guiding them through the gallery but that is meant for Taehyung, who relaxes against him.

He has to wait for almost fifteen minutes –fifteen interminable, agonizing minutes– before he lets Taehyung work his charms on the small audience that has gathered around them and he can pull Namjoon aside, away from prying eyes and ears.

“I need you to pull someone aside for me and find us somewhere we can talk in private,” he says, the words darting out of his mouth in a rush. His eyes are fixated on the painting in front of them, a safe alternative from letting them roam over the room to meet Yoongi’s again.

Namjoon frowns, confused. “Is everything okay?”

“Namjoon, I need you to do it, and I need you to do it quickly,” Seokjin says, in a tone he hardly ever employs with him, the one he has been groomed into using since he was barely old enough to speak. It’s authoritative, almost cold. Regal.

“Who?” Namjoon asks, thankfully not one for misplaced sensitivity.

“By the East wall, next to the man with the yellow jacket. Silver hair, leather jacket.”

Namjoon peeks discreetly over his shoulder. “That’s Agust D,” he whispers matter-of-factly. Seokjin wonders if he can feel his panic pouring out through the firm grip he has on Namjoon’s forearm. “Your brother is obsessed with him.”

Namjoon,” he chokes out. “I need to talk to him. Alone. Somewhere we can’t be seen or heard.”

A silence passes, heavy with tension on Seokjin’s part and realization on Namjoon’s.

“Oh. Oh.” His eyes widen slightly, but he quickly schools his features. “He’s the–”

“Yes.”

“The night of Jeongguk’s–”

Yes.

“I’m on it,” Namjoon says.

Seokjin heaves out. “Thank you.”

He makes his way back to Taehyung, who is marvelling his audience with tales of the museums he’s visited in Europe. He refuses to allow himself to follow Namjoon with his eyes, but he still catches him leaning down to whisper something at one of the gallery owners, probably spewing some lie about the crown prince needing privacy to deal with an urgent issue. It’s the magic word; people always do their best to satisfy any demand when they are reminded of his status.

There are many different kinds of people, and almost as many differences as to how they behave with royalty. Most of the time, they are ecstatic to meet someone famous, and it doesn’t have a lot to do with his titles and more with the odd fascination people have for public figures. There are the occasional royal family zealots, who look at him like he’s the one feeding their starving mouths. Seokjin never allows those encounters to last very long. There are the ones who make it a point to follow decorum and protocols like it was drilled into them as intensely as it was into Seokjin. There are the ones who are, whether it’s sincere or not, deeply unimpressed.

There are very few people who actually bother to scratch at the surface, to try and figure out what lies beneath Seokjin’s impeccable exterior, not because they are searching for something scandalous to gossip over, but out of either genuine interest or morbid curiosity. He hadn’t thought about it until now, because he’s made conscious efforts to push all thoughts of him out of his mind, but he thinks Min Yoongi might be one of those. It’s not that he’s not impressed, it’s just that he cares more about who Seokjin is a person and less about what formality he ought to employ when addressing him.

Perhaps that’s why he didn’t say a word about Seokjin, didn’t leak the scandal to the press and left him to be torn apart by the sharks.

Whatever his reasons are, Seokjin owes him a thank you, and feels entitled to request that his secret remains what it was always meant to be; buried, invisible, just like who he truly is.

“Explain this to me again, please. And make it make sense this time.”

Hoseok glowers at him, and it’s actually pretty intimidating, although Yoongi would never tell him that. Next to them, nursing his fourth glass of champagne like it’s water, Jimin giggles.

“I’m going on strike,” Hoseok says for the third time, slowly.

“You’re going on strike,” Yoongi parrots disbelievingly.

Hoseok nods firmly. “On strike from dating.”

Yoongi stares at his hand as it makes a flourish between them. “So you’re wearing a wedding ring,” he says, making sure his tone conveys the absurdity of it all.

“Yes,” Hoseok replies, exasperated. It nearly makes Yoongi feel like he’s the one who doesn’t make sense in this whole ordeal. Nearly. “To ward people off from hitting on me. I’m pretty irresistible, Yoongles. It had to be done.”

“Of course you are,” he says placatingly. “But you like people hitting on you.”

Hoseok rolls his eyes. “Not anymore! I’m a new man.”

Jimin leans toward Yoongi, whispering. “He had a really bad date last night.”

“Ah,” Yoongi mumbles, still puzzled. He turns back to Hoseok. “So now you’re wearing a wedding ring.”

“Yes,” Hoseok sighs, like he can’t believe he has to spell it out. “A wedding ring is like a magic weapon. You become invisible.” He leans forward to poke a finger at Yoongi’s cheek. “Dating. Strike. You should understand the concept, you’ve been on one since you were born.”

“I dated Jiminie,” he protests weakly.

“Jimin doesn’t count,” Hoseok declares before he’s done talking, and promptly refuses to elaborate.

Yoongi glares at him, nose scrunching up in false annoyance. “Fifty bucks he lasts two days,” he says, still staring at Hoseok but talking to Jimin.

Jimin laughs, unabashedly derisive. “A hundred he’s taking it off before the end of the night,” he replies in a heartbeat.

Yoongi thinks his own bet might have been off, and Jimin’s closer to what will inevitably happen.

Hoseok purses his lips at them, showing his teeth in a growl. “I can’t believe this. I take you on a nice night out, to one of the hottest places in the city right now. An art gallery, no less, because I know how much you two are nerds for this stuff, and that’s how you repay me. You make a mockery of my feelings. You invalidate everything I am going through right now.”

“Tonight was Jimin’s idea,” Yoongi states blankly.

“And Yoongi paid for the car,” Jimin adds.

“I pay for your petit fours, I pay for your champagne,” Hoseok continues to complain in a frankly horrid French accent, oblivious to their intervention. “I give you everything, and all I get in return is this.”

“It’s an open bar,” Yoongi and Jimin remind him in the same voice.

Hoseok looks down at his hand, cradling his ring finger adoringly. “That’s why I need you. You’ll protect me from having my heart broken again. Even my so-called friends cause me nothing but endless torment. We’ll get through this strike together. We’ll come out stronger.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, resting his elbow on the tall, round table they have gathered around. He reaches forward to pat Hoseok’s shoulder.

“This is bad,” he says unapologetically. “Give me that guy’s name. Just say the word and I’ll pay him a visit.”

“What guy?”

“The guy you went on a date with last night who prompted this mental breakdown.” 

“Oh, him,” Hoseok scoffs. “Don’t worry about it. I ditched him after half an hour because he couldn’t listen to a word I said. It just made me reflect on the fact that men are shit and I should go on strike from them. If they can’t appreciate how fabulous I and every word that comes out of my mouth are, they don’t deserve to be graced with my presence.”

There is a commotion somewhere in Yoongi’s back, a hush of whispers rising in the room that prompts him to turn back and see what is going on. A buzz of excitement travels between the guests and a small crowd is gathered somewhere near the door Yoongi knows leads backstage and to the owners’ offices. 

He wonders absently what kind of celebrity has decided to show up unannounced to create such agitation that he can’t even see who is at the center of it all.

“See? And now you’re not listening to me either,” Hoseok laments, hitting him on the shoulder. “You’re–”

Just then, the small crowd shifts as the guests start bowing reverently, one after the other. In the middle of it all, wearing a charming smile and a contrite expression, as though he isn’t used to people almost breaking their backs bowing to him, stands Kim Seokjin. 

“Holy shit!” Hoseok hisses, previous qualms forgotten. He hits Yoongi’s shoulder again, harder and several times. “What is the Crown Prince doing here? And can he have my babies? God, he’s so hot I have palpitations. I’ll make an exception on my no sleeping with straight men rule for him.”

Yoongi doesn’t reply, rooted to the ground, his heart rummaging wildly in his chest.

They weren’t supposed to see each other again. Ever.

The last three months have been frantic. Yoongi spent them working without hardly taking a break, writing songs for the mixtape he wants to release soon, producing Jimin’s upcoming album, arguing with his label about the direction he wants to take and they refuse to allow. It’s been harrowing, but a good distraction from the flashes of golden skin, of breathy moans against his ear, of fingers digging desperately at his hips that invade his mind when he isn’t careful.

He’s been doing a good job at forgetting about it, however.

Up until this point, he had convinced himself that night was the product of a fevered dream he had caught while battling the storm. It ceases to be anything but real as his eyes settle on Seokjin again.

He looks ethereal under the dim lights of the gallery, wearing dress pants and a white shirt like the night they met, but with a silk, lilac robe over it that matches the green one of his cousin Taehyung, who is hanging at his arm like he’s showing Seokjin off proudly. When Seokjin smiles at his cousin, it is warm and adoring, too sincere to be staged for the cameras.

He looks gorgeous, something more casual about him than the formal photos usually disclose to the public, his eyes glistening with something soft and natural, genuine. He looks a lot like he did that night, and Yoongi can’t fool himself anymore into believing it wasn’t real.

The sight of him is too familiar, as is the feeling of his stomach plummeting.

“Yoon, are you okay?” he hears Jimin’s soft voice asking, layered with concern, but he can’t bring himself to reply, eyes still riveted on the other side of the room.

“I think he’s had a malfunction,” Hoseok chimes in. “That can happen when you’re a robot.” He grins at Jimin, something wide and terrifying. “Don’t worry, I know where the switch is.”

And with that, he promptly slaps Yoongi’s ass. Yoongi is so shocked his already feeble grip on his glass slackens entirely, and he watches in horror as it slips out of his hand and shatters on the ground, the sound cutting through the ringing in his ears.

He whirls toward Hoseok. “Hobi, what the fuck!” he hisses, before turning to Jimin. “Why didn’t you stop him?”

Jimin scoffs in offense. “Since when did any of us have any control over Hobi’s actions?”

“That’s right, losers,” Hoseok huffs proudly. “I’m a free spirit. Too wild to be tamed. You wish you were me.”

“Right now, I wish for a good alibi when I finally kill you,” Yoongi groans, glancing at the glass scattered at his feet and the drops of champagne on his fancy shoes.

The silence that has settled over the room is deafening, and he can feel the eyes fixed on them, on him. He tells himself not to, but it’s a Pavlovian reflex, a habit of defiance ingrained into his brain from years of affronting aporetic gazes.

His head turns. Their eyes meet over the crowd before Yoongi can conjure the full strength of his character.

Time is a funny thing. Yoongi knows the moment doesn’t last more than a second, but it feels like an endless stretch, like an invisible rope being weaved between them, silver into this room of gold, tying them together. He sees the flash of panic in Seokjin’s eyes, even from the distance, even in its ephemeral existence.

Yoongi forces himself to breathe in and out, but he feels like he’s standing under that storm three months ago, deciding whether he should take the arduous path that will leave him drenched but innocent, or the tumultuous one that will have him safe from the storm but rebelling against preset rules he never agreed to.

It was a mistake, to take what he did that night, to enable himself to break an invisible barrier that had been erected with reason.

It was a mistake, to give in to his urge to ruin something beautiful, to scrape at the displayed perfection to bring out what lies underneath.

It was selfish, and dangerous, and fucking intoxicating.

He sees the slight twitch of Seokjin’s jaw as he looks away. Yoongi forces himself to do the same.

Hoseok is staring back at him, an eyebrow lifted in inquiry. “What’s wrong with you?” he asks, while Jimin apologizes profusely on their behalf to the man who ushers to them to clean the mess at their feet.

He wants to tell him they should leave, now before the air grows even more awkward, but he knows he can’t do that without having to explain himself, not with both Hoseok and Jimin gawking at him like the friendly, overly caring people they are. They won’t let him get away with it; they’re not nearly drunk enough for that.

He’ll just have to settle for avoiding Seokjin’s gaze until Hoseok decides he’s bored and they should leave and he drags them –mostly Yoongi, Jimin doesn’t need much dragging– to his favorite club of the month.

Yoongi composes himself, falling back into a dry persona with ease. “Everything?” he says, batting his eyelashes at his friend.

“Why do you think I dumped him?” Jimin chimes in like the demon he is.

Yoongi gasps, resting a hand over his heart with an exaggerated grimace of pain. “Ouch, Jiminie. I thought it was mutual.”

Jimin smirks something equally devilish and delicate. “No, you got dumped, honey.”

They fall into familiar banter after that, and Yoongi finds it makes it easier for him to resist the urge to look over his shoulder at the small crowd still gathered on the West side of the gallery, gaping at the royal guests like starved dogs waiting for their master to feed them and eagerly devouring the smallest crumb.

He tunes out completely, focusing his entire attention on Jimin and Hoseok’s antics. He takes a selfie with them when Jimin insists on posting it on Instagram and Twitter, downs a glass of champagne a little too quickly, silently wishes they would serve something stronger.

When he voices it out loud, Hoseok nods in fervent agreement. “I think we stayed long enough,” he says, and Yoongi almost reaches out to pull him into a hug. “There’s this new bar that–”

“Yes, let’s go there,” Yoongi cuts in.

Hoseok quirks a dubious eyebrow at him. “Oh no, I think you’re malfunctioning again.”

“If you slap my ass, I’ll kill you and they’ll never find your body,” Yoongi deadpans.

Hoseok hums noncommittally. His eyes widen as he looks over Yoongi’s shoulder. A long shiver runs down Yoongi’s spine, his heart racing furiously in his chest.

Hoseok looks down at his hand and quickly pulls off his fake wedding ring, shoving it in Yoongi’s hand.

“Hide this, quick!”

Yoongi frowns, but obediently slides it in his pocket as Hoseok leans against the high table, plastering a seductive smile on his lips.

Someone clears their throat behind him. Yoongi’s shoulders rise in anticipation.

“Gentlemen.”

He barely holds back a sigh of relief. This isn’t the soft, august voice he expected, although this one sounds noble and dignified too.

He turns around and returns the bow the man gives them. He’s seen him before, in those gossip magazines Hoseok and Jimin gush over and Yoongi pretends not to read when he’s bored out of his mind. He’s always flanked by the Prince’s side, a shadow to his every step.

“I’m Kim Namjoon,” he says with a polite smile.

Hoseok pushes himself forward with a flirtatious smile. “Hello, Kim Namjoon. I’m Jung Hoseok. Yes, I’m single. Yes, I’d love to go on a date with you.”

Yoongi runs a hand over his face, sighing heavily. Jimin laughs, loud and carefree. Kim Namjoon blinks wordlessly, lips parting in shock and cheeks dusting with a furious blush.

“I… Uh,” he says eloquently.

Jimin is a demon, but he has too good a heart to let this poor man gape at them longer. “Can we help you with something?” he asks gently.

Namjoon shakes his head, tearing himself out of his stupor. 

His gaze falls on Yoongi, and the air is knocked out of his lungs.

“Could I borrow you for a moment?” he says, words clipped in an official tone. 

“Him?” Hoseok laments. “Why him?”

Namjoon politely ignores him. Yoongi flips him off behind his back.

“Please,” Namjoon presses, although it takes nothing away from the properness of his tone or manners. “It shouldn’t be long.”

Yoongi braces himself with a deep breath and nods curtly. Namjoon smiles, but it rings untrue, a cheap counterfeit to the real thing.

“Follow me.”

Yoongi moves to do so, but not before Hoseok grabs his arm, tugging firmly.

“Why do you always get the prettiest ones, you asshole?” he asks without any real heat. “I was ready to marry him. Tonight!”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, gently uncurling Hoseok’s fingers from his biceps one by one. “You’re on strike,” he says.

“From dating,” Hoseok clarifies, gripping the sleeve of his jacket this time. “I never said anything about marriage.”

Jimin wraps his arms around Hoseok’s shoulders, patting his head gently. “Come on, Hobi,” he says softly, like a parent trying to explain something to a confused child. “Let the man go. We’ll find you a pretty husband some day.”

Hoseok pouts, but he lets himself be pulled away.

Yoongi shakes his head, and suddenly feels very grateful to his six year-old self for befriending this idiot.

Namjoon takes him backstage where various art pieces are gathered but not yet exposed, protected by white sheets and through another backroom that serves as a workshop for the resident artists.

He stops in front of a door where a gigantic, stern-looking man is standing, gaze focused in front of him, earpiece plugged in and arms crossed over his chest. There’s a gun holstered at his hip.

Yoongi turns to Namjoon.

“If you try to kill me, I’m going to scream,” he warns. “Very loudly. And he may not seem like it, but Jimin over there knows at least a hundred ways to kill a man and only half of them involve his smirk.”

Namjoon smiles and narrows his eyes on him. Yoongi feels like he’s being examined under a microscope, shrewd gaze puncturing the composed facade he’s struggling to keep up. He knows who is waiting for him behind this door; his mind vacillates at the prospect nonetheless.

Finally, Namjoon reaches out for the doorknob.

“You have fifteen minutes,” he says as he twists it open, loud enough that Yoongi knows it isn’t meant for him.

Yoongi’s feet pull him inside on their own accord, and he tries to chase away the overwhelming impression of déjà vu that washes over him.

Seokjin is frozen in the middle of the room, like he was interrupted in the midst of nervously pacing back and forth.

He blinks at Yoongi, and the shaky breath he expels is a small albeit selfish relief. Yoongi doesn’t like to lose the upper hand, so it is somewhat reassuring to know he isn’t the only one who can’t quite find his footing in how to navigate this impromptu meeting.

“Hi,” Seokjin says.

“Hey,” Yoongi says, his voice barely over a murmur.

An uncomfortable silence falls between them, and Yoongi lets his eyes roam over the room. It’s an office, probably one of the owners’, who eagerly made it available upon royal request. He studiously inspects every corner, lingers over pointless details –an envelope left abandoned over a printer, a framed photograph of two women kissing on the desk, the cap of a pen not properly pulled over its head– until he runs out of excuses not to look into Seokjin’s eyes.

“Your hair is silver,” Seokjin blurts out, uncharacteristically skittish.

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow, confusion marring his features.

“It looks good,” he adds quickly.

“Thank you,” Yoongi replies, although it sounds more like a question. “Did you make me come here to compliment my hair?”

Seokjin shakes his head and starts pacing again, quick steps of his long legs that make Yoongi feel almost dizzy.

“I’m sorry,” Seokjin says. “I shouldn’t have pulled you away from your friends, but I wanted to talk to you and–”

“Could you talk to me without the constant pacing?” Yoongi cuts in with a small, amused smile. “You’re making me dizzy.”

“Yeah,” Seokjin mutters, mostly to himself. “Yes. Sure, I can do that.”

He moves to the desk, delicately moving a pen aside before he leans back against it, crossing his arms over his chest. He sucks in a sharp breath, and Yoongi regrets opening his mouth, because the almost charming trepidation is gone, replaced by the mask Seokjin seemingly wears like a second skin.

“I wanted to thank you,” he says, and his tone is more controlled now, confident almost. Yoongi definitely feels light-headed with how effortlessly he can go from one to the other.

He doesn’t have time to ponder on it, though, because Seokjin’s words crash over him like a ton of bricks.

“Thank me?” he echoes, dumbfounded.

Seokjin nods and hesitates for a moment, chewing on his bottom lip. Yoongi wishes he wouldn’t.

“For… not saying anything,” he eludes.

He doesn’t say anything else, but Yoongi can easily fathom the unspoken words. The fragments of fear he saw that night, the almost authoritative edge of his tone when he had asked Yoongi whether he would tell, the threat he had uttered before their first kiss, substantive even while veiled with desire, the guilt and terror that had seemed to fall upon him as they had put their clothes back on afterwards.

His brows dip into a frown.

“Did you think I was going to out you?”

He sounds colder than he intended to, but the barely disguised implication makes anger churn in his chest before he can stop it.

If he is surprised by the tone, Seokjin doesn’t let it show on his face. Yoongi wonders, idly, how easily he could make the mask fall this time. If he could at all. What it would take to make the barrier crumble. It’s a dangerous train of thought, but he lets himself entertain it anyway.

“I didn’t have a reason to think you wouldn’t,” Seokjin replies, perfectly courteous and gracious.

It does nothing to tame Yoongi’s rising anger.

“You didn’t have a reason to think I would,” he grits out through clenched teeth.

He doesn’t know why he’s mad. He doesn’t know why he feels any of the things he feels around Seokjin, the inexplicable pull deep in his stomach, the tingling at the tip of his fingers, yearning to reach out and touch.

Seokjin doesn’t lower his eyes, shoulders squared and posture straight. He looks regal then, a true king in the making. He levels Yoongi with an air of dominance that turns his anger into rage. There is cowardice in his behavior, whether he is willing to admit it or not. Yoongi could never see anything but cowardice in people who fall back into their position of power to assert their superiority and protect themselves and the lies they tell the world.

“If you want to live a lie, it’s your own fucking choice,” he taunts. “Not mine to make. I don’t care enough for that and I would never out anyone.”

He knows it isn’t fair, but he doesn’t particularly care, not when he’s being accused of being someone he could never be.

Seokjin laughs without humor. “Do you think I have a choice?” he asks, his voice cracking slightly.

“People like you have nothing but choices,” Yoongi fires back.

“You’re a fool if you truly believe that.”

“And you’re a fool if you think I want your thank you’s for showing basic human decency.”

Seokjin’s jaw flexes with irritation and he blows out a frustrated sigh. “Do you have to make it so difficult?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Your Royal Highness,” Yoongi sneers, voice heavy with sarcasm. “Did I hurt your feelings?”

Seokjin stares at him for a moment, arms crossed protectively over his chest.

Silence engulfs them, tense and electric.

And then a smile pokes at the corner of Seokjin’s mouth, like he can’t quite control it but it breaks through his impenetrable stance without him meaning to.

“You looked it up.” When Yoongi’s frown deepens, he makes a flourish of his hand. “How to properly address me.”

Yoongi’s anger depletes, thrown into the wind.

“Don’t flatter yourself, I was just curious,” he grumbles.

Seokjin’s smile morphs into a smirk. “Far from me the idea that you would do anything to flatter me, Min Yoongi. You’ve made that very clear.”

Yoongi doesn’t reply, shoving his hands in his pockets and fixing him with an impassive glance.

Seokjin throws his head back and grumbles something Yoongi can’t hear. He isn’t sure he would have anyway, because his eyes fall on the exposed throat on near automatism, following the sharp line of Seokjin’s jaw, the elegant curve of his neck, the knot of his Adam’s apple.

“I didn’t mean anything bad by it,” Seokjin says, more vulnerable than Yoongi has had a chance to see before, not even that first night three months ago when he was writhing under Yoongi’s exploring hands. “I still can’t really make sense of what happened that night. I… lost control, and bad things usually happen when I do. I spent the next weeks waiting for cruelty and it never came. You might not want to hear it, but it isn’t a personal attack, it’s genuine gratitude.”

Yoongi takes a moment to take it all in, but he nods shortly, licking his lips.

“Your secret is safe with me.”

Something undecipherable flits across his face, and Yoongi realizes he doesn’t know the half of it. 

Seokjin smiles ruefully. “Secrets are never safe unless they’re in the hands of their owner.”

Yoongi gives him a long glance, feeling it hardening as he realizes exactly how deeply Seokjin’s insecurities run. He can understand how difficult it must be, for someone in his position to trust an almost perfect stranger. To trust at all.

“Did the last one blackmail you?”

Seokjin frowns like he doesn’t understand the question. “I don’t… indulge,” he says, as though he isn’t quite sure it is the right word.

Yoongi lifts a dubious eyebrow. “It clearly wasn’t the first time, though.”

“It was.”

Yoongi’s brain stutters for a moment, and his whole body freezes as the words catch up with his brain. Cold washes over him, draining the color from his face.

“What?” he breathes out, voice strained, face ashen.

Seokjin’s eyes widen, and he shakes his head vigorously. “No! Not that first time!” he says, voice rising to a high pitch. He quickly sobers up, though, rubbing at his left ear nervously. “It was the first time I did something like that… spontaneously, I suppose. I’m usually good at reining in my impulses. It comes with the job description.”

Yoongi feels a pang of sadness in his chest on his behalf, and then guilt for his earlier outburst. He doesn’t know what Seokjin has faced because of who he is, how hard it must be to be who he is when his circumstances dictate him to be someone else. He can relate, though, on his own level.

“Did you like it?” Yoongi asks, because he’s a fucking idiot. “Doing something spontaneous?”

Seokjin carts air into his lungs, and the room goes silent.

Quiet creeps all around them, pure like a winter morning after the first snow. It wraps around them so completely Yoongi can feel his ears becoming more accustomed to it, tuning to the low rise and fall of Seokjin’s chest, of their breathing adjusting into a united chorus.

“Yes.”

The word hangs in the air for a moment, a bare murmur that settles in the space between them, taunting and heavy with meaning they both know they shouldn’t explore.

What you know and what you do with it are two very different things.

Yoongi can’t tell which one of them moves first. He knows one moment he is standing two feet away from Seokjin, staring back with a challenge in his eyes, hands tucked safely in his pockets, and the next his back hits a wall and his fingers are carding through Seokjin’s hair, tugging him closer as their mouths crash together.

It’s hot and slick and Seokjin’s hands are everywhere, pulling him harshly against him and simultaneously pushing him harder against the wall. Their bodies shift together like magnets, immune to gravity but unable to resist each other, like they exist only as joined.

It’s so intrinsically sensual he feels dizzy with it, with the unwavering passion coursing through his veins, with the warmth of Seokjin’s skin beneath his touch as his fingers travel down to the nape of his neck, holding on as if he’s holding on to the last shred of his sanity.

Seokjin kisses almost aggressively, like he’s been deprived of it for so long he feels as entitled to it as everything else in his life. Yoongi doesn’t really mind, because it gives him a glimpse of what he saw that night three months ago, something more than a dutiful prince, something worth the mindless clouding of his consciousness.

Yoongi wants to keep kissing him until he forgets how to talk, until he forgets his name, his pompous title, the unfair prestige of his birthright. He wants to keep kissing him until Yoongi’s name is the only thing on his lips, on his mind, in his whole fucking world of privileges.

There’s a rap at the door, soft but firm.

“Your Royal Highness,” Kim Namjoon’s voice comes immediately after.

Seokjin pulls away from him, and Yoongi thinks he is going to step away, but he rests his forehead on Yoongi’s shoulder instead, breathing heavily. Yoongi untangles his fingers from his hair, letting them trail down his neck, his shoulder, curling around his biceps.

“We have that… thing, remember?” Namjoon says, muffled by the door, voice hesitant.

Yoongi snorts, unable to help himself. It’s a poor attempt at a lie. His lips brush against Seokjin’s pulse point, tugging upward into a smirk when he sees the shiver running across the skin of his neck.

“Give me two minutes, Joon,” Seokjin croaks back, voice rough and hazy. It makes another wave of desire billow deep in Yoongi’s stomach.

“Two minutes,” Namjoon repeats firmly.

Seokjin waits for the sound of his footsteps moving away from them before he takes a step back, holding his hands up like he needs to put a physical barrier between them.

“I can’t,” he murmurs, choking a little on the word. He licks his lips, a little swollen but not enough to raise suspicion. “I can’t do spontaneous.”

There is resignation woven through each word, more determination than confidence.

“It’s okay,” Yoongi says, because it feels like Seokjin is apologizing for something he has no control over. He doesn’t know him all that well, or at all, but it seems like something he does often.

Yoongi isn’t a particularly spontaneous person. He likes his routines, likes the comfort that comes with them, the sense of safety that wraps around him when he walks a beaten path.

It helps him heal, to have these constants in his life.

It helps him focus.

It is a bit lonely, but he is used to that.

Perhaps that’s why he recognizes it in Seokjin so effortlessly.

Perhaps that’s why he tears himself off the wall, walks around Seokjin and up to the desk, grabbing a piece of paper and a pen. He scribbles down a few words and numbers without giving himself time to think about it, to ponder on the consequences, the odds.

When he puts the pen back down, Seokjin is giving him a puzzled look.

His hair is a mess and Yoongi crosses the distance between them, reaching out to curb it back into something presentable to the outside world.

He slips the paper in the front pocket of Seokjin’s dress pants.

“In case of an urge for… doing something spontaneous,” he says, voice husky and deeper than usual, a playful smirk on his lips.

Seokjin’s brown eyes flare with something lewd and dangerous, but another rap at the door comes before they can turn it into more.

Seokjin smiles at him, feeble but sincere.

“Goodbye, Yoongi,” he says.

Yoongi finds himself smiling back.

“Goodbye, Your Royal Highness.”

It makes Seokjin’s shoulders shake with quiet laughter as he walks away and out of the door.

A voice at the back of Yoongi’s mind questions what the fuck he is doing with his life, but it sounds too much like Hoseok, so he tunes it out completely.

Seokjin is an idiot.

He had the best tutors on this side of the world, went to one of the most elitist colleges in the world, graduated with the highest honors, speaks several languages fluently, is an avid reader and learner, has many and various interests.

But still, he’s an idiot.

It’s the only reason he can find to explain why he is sitting in his car after having sneaked away from his security team at two in the morning, in a fancy neighborhood of the city, a crumpled piece of paper in his hand.

He’s read the words over a hundred times already. The moment he stepped out of the office in the gallery, that was all he could think of. He joined Taehyung for a glass of champagne, and that was all he could think of. They shook hands with the owners, thanked them for the quick but thorough tour, congratulated them on their achievement, and that was all he could think of.

Even Namjoon’s overbearing concerned glances couldn’t pull his attention from the piece of paper in his pocket. It felt like he could physically feel it in his pocket, heavy with meaning, with possibilities, with madness.

This is madness, pure and simple.

He can’t be here.

Taehyung drove him to his lodge outside the city before heading back to his own home not too far, and the moment Seokjin was finally alone, his hand darted in his pocket on its own accord to pluck it out.

And there it was. An address. A passcode. A chance.

He should have thrown it away the moment he opened it.

He should not have changed into a pair of black jeans, a black hoodie, put on a black cap and a black mask and skipped away from the security guards patrolling around the estate to drive away at one in the morning, swiftly informing them that he was heading to Taehyung’s, who lives near enough, and didn’t want them to follow him.

It was a stupid decision, and he’s an idiot.

It’s two now, the night dark and deep around him, and he’s been parked down the building for half an hour already, reading the words over and over to the point they’re now etched into his brain and he knows he won’t be able to forget them.

He should have left it in his pocket.

He should not get out of his car and let his instincts guide him into making another mistake.

He’s already stepped out, his heart in his throat, his whole body quivering with anticipation. He walks up to the front door, enters the first passcode without having to check the paper. A doorman is dozing off at the front desk, and he barely gives Seokjin a second glance, bowing his head in a tired greeting. Seokjin nods back and makes a beeline for the elevator before he can be recognized.

He holds on to the paper in his hand tightly, like it might flow away with the rest of his sanity, clinging to it like it might save him.

It’s from himself that he needs saving, he ponders somberly.

He should have burned it to ashes.

He steps into the elevator, presses the button for the last floor without having to look down and read the instructions scribbled in a hasty scrawl.

He should turn away now. He still can.

He should, he should, he should.

The elevator dings as he reaches the floor. The wide hallway is deserted, nothing to decorate it but a small mahogany table with a large bouquet of lilies. There is only one door. Seokjin already knows the code, but he doesn’t want to type it in.

He shouldn’t, he shouldn’t, he shouldn’t.

He knocks.

His ears start ringing, his heart beating frenziedly in his chest, and Seokjin is so incredibly stupid.

The doorknob twists.

Seokjin thinks poets could write sonnets on the virtue of spontaneity for this moment alone.

Yoongi stands before him, face bare of the light makeup he wore tonight, clad in a wide t-shirt but the same sinfully tight jeans he had on earlier, and Seokjin is only human, even though he was told he is meant to be more.

He should walk away now, before the door closes behind him and he knows there will be no going back.

Yoongi studies him silently for a moment, surprise plainly written on his features, like he never expected Seokjin to actually take him up on his offer. He waits, patiently, for Seokjin to say something, to do something, to take a step forward or back.

He looks down at the crumpled paper in his hand.

He should have let the storm in his mind take it and rip it apart.

It’s two in the morning, and no wise decisions are ever made so late into the night.

But Seokjin is an idiot.

And Yoongi is unbearably attractive.

He’s there, offering Seokjin the one thing he never got to have. An outlet. A step out of the path that has been traced for him from birth. A peek out of the cage. 

And he is tired, tonight. Tired of fighting, tired of hiding, tired of lying.

Seokjin pulls his mask down to his chin, wets his lips.

“I want to do something spontaneous and incredibly stupid.”

Yoongi’s face shifts, one corner of his mouth tugging upward into the teasing smirk that makes Seokjin feel out of place in his own body.

Seokjin walks in before giving him a chance to reply, muffling Yoongi’s undoubtedly arrogant response with his lips.

Yoongi slams the door shut and pushes him against it, kissing him deeper, harder, kissing him until Seokjin forgets about shoulds and shouldn’ts, kissing him stupid.

Chapter Text

Yoongi wakes up to an empty bed and a growling stomach.

He stretches out, pushing his fingers against the headboard until his joints pop back into place, groaning at the soreness in his body. He sits up in his bed, feeling groggy, eyes squinting as he takes in his surroundings. 

His clothes are neatly folded at the end of the bed, and he knows he certainly wasn’t the one to pick them up from where they had been scattered across his apartment in a rush the night before. He snorts to himself, rolling out of the comfort of his bed to pull on a pair of sweatpants.

A loud bang coming from outside the bedroom has him freezing mid-movement, brows dipping in confusion.

Surely, Seokjin can’t still be here. Yoongi was pretty out of it after they finally crashed into bed, panting heavily, their naked bodies glistening with a thin layer of perspiration, but he is certain that even though he fell asleep embarrassingly quickly, he heard Seokjin slip out of bed in the early hours of the morning. He remembers his eyes fluttering open and watching sleepily as Seokjin shrugged his clothes on, movements rushed but somehow elegant.

He remembers falling back asleep as soon as the door had clicked shut, Seokjin disappearing into the darkness like a mirage.

Another bang pulls him out of his thoughts, and Yoongi pads his way to the kitchen where the sounds are coming from to investigate.

Whatever he expected to find, he knows he shouldn’t be surprised that it is Hoseok standing in his kitchen, wearing Yoongi’s plain apron and a smile that is far too jovial for this hour of the morning.

“Morning, sleepy head,” he greets cheerfully.

Yoongi groans in response. “What are you doing here?” he asks, voice raspy and low.

“I called you like a thousand times,” Hoseok says. “You weren’t replying, so I came by.”

One day, Yoongi will have a long talk with his best friend about boundaries. Today is not this day, because Hoseok actually got the coffee machine running and his mind is too foggy and craving for it not to let extreme gratitude overpower the annoyance he knows he is entitled to feel.

Yoongi grabs a mug from the cupboard –the one with Mr. Cheerful on it that Jimin gifted him as a joke– and pours himself a coffee.

“That doesn’t tell me why you’re here,” he replies as he takes a sip, revelling in the bitterness too much to wait until it doesn’t risk burning his tongue.

Hoseok lays a plate of bean sprout rice down on the counter, gesturing for him to take a seat like he owns the place and Yoongi is merely visiting.

Hoseok waits until Yoongi has taken his first bite, eyes studying him diligently.

“You had sex,” he blurts out.

Yoongi chokes on his food, but quickly composes himself, wiping at his mouth. “No, I didn’t.”

Hoseok stares at him in profound disbelief. “You were acting weird last night after the love of my life pulled you aside,” he states. “You went too quiet.”

“I’m always quiet,” Yoongi argues.

“Bullshit. You’re the loudest quiet person I’ve ever met.”

Yoongi glares at him, but it does nothing to alleviate Hoseok’s determination.

“I can forgive you for stealing a hot piece of ass from me–”

“I don’t even know him,” Yoongi mutters, knowing full well Hoseok is referring to Kim Namjoon and not the other hot piece of ass he actually spent the night with.

It dawns on him right then, that Kim Seokjin, the same Kim Seokjin who will likely be king some day in the future, who is actual fucking royalty, was in his apartment last night. And they had sex. Very good, very passionate sex.

He does his best not to let the array of emotions that washes over him show on his face, but Hoseok isn’t paying him attention, too busy ranting to himself.

“But I can’t forgive you for lying to me,” he is saying. “You’re supposed to be my best friend. My found family. The one who will marry me if we’re still single by thirty. Which is coming at us quick, by the way.”

“I never agreed to that,” Yoongi says wryly.

“And you just lie to my face like that.” Hoseok sighs dramatically. “After everything I’ve done for you.”

They stare at each other over the counter, gazes challenging each other.

“I love you?” Yoongi tries, a strategy that has proven to save him from Hoseok’s dramatic tendencies before.

Hoseok coos, a hand resting over his heart. For a moment, Yoongi thinks it will be enough to get him off the hook.

Hoseok might have made it a life goal to crush all of his dreams without Yoongi being made aware of it.

“I love you too,” he says, his gaze hardening as soon as the words are out of his mouth. “But I still know you had sex.”

“I didn’t,” Yoongi lies.

Hoseok sprawls over the counter to reach over, digging a finger at Yoongi’s hip with a ruthless grin. Yoongi hisses in pain, jumping away from the touch, and his eyes shoot down, only to widen when he sees what Hoseok is pointing at.

“What’s this, then?”

Yoongi stares at the small bruises that have begun to form on his hip in the shape of Seokjin’s delicate but surprisingly strong hands. He inwardly curses his easily bruising pale skin.

“I… banged into a door?”

“On both your hips?”

Yoongi squares his shoulders. “Yes.”

Hoseok glares at him. “Okay,” he says, and Yoongi recognizes this look in his eyes, the one that says he is going for the kill. He gulps. “Who’s J, then?”

Yoongi feels the colors drain from his face. “What?”

Hoseok beams triumphantly and digs in his pocket, plucking out a neatly folded piece of paper and slamming it on the counter between them.

“This was on the counter when I arrived,” he says.

Yoongi picks it up carefully, urging himself to stay perfectly impassive as he opens it under Hoseok’s inquisitive eyes.

The handwriting is unfamiliar. The cursive is confident, but there is a certain grace to the way the lines are drawn, strong strokes of the pen that curl in impetuous flourishes at the edges. There is something so intrinsically Seokjin about it that Yoongi thinks he would have recognized it even under different circumstances.

Yoongi,

I’m sorry for leaving like that, and for showing up unannounced last night. I promise I usually have better manners.

Am I supposed to apologize? I don’t know how this works. I should probably get some reading done on the topic, but then again, I doubt any example would be fitting to our particular case, what with… everything about it.

And what do people write when they leave notes? I am terribly out of my element here.

(Now that I think about it, should I be leaving a note? Again, I have no idea.)

I think you really do make me stupid.

Thank you for last night.

Regards,

J.

Yoongi has to conjure all of his self-control not to let the laughter bumbling in his chest tumble out of his mouth, because did His Royal Highness Prince Seokjin of Whatever really just ‘regards’ him after they spent the night leaving subtle bruises on each other’s bodies? After they’ve had each other’s dicks in their mouths?

It is not quite laughter, but he can feel that at least one corner of his mouth has launched a successful uprising against his will.

“So, who are they?” Hoseok asks, pulling him out of his second reading of the note. “Is it a J for NamJoon ? I promise I will only hate you a little bit if it is.”

Yoongi blinks up at Hoseok and shakes his head. “Hobi,” he says gently, “please drop it.”

Hoseok pouts, clearly unhappy with his answer, but his shoulders slouch in defeat. “Fine,” he mutters reluctantly. “Keep your secrets, asshole. I don’t care.”

Yoongi snorts and proceeds to devour the rest of his breakfast. When Hoseok starts talking animatedly about the articles that are being published this morning about the art gallery opening and the princes’ impromptu visit, he makes sure to keep his face perfectly impassive.

Apparently, some papers are calling it a political statement and some particularly conservative politicians are screaming about the potentially unconstitutional status of the princes’ attendance to a feminist event. Others are raving over Seokjin’s and Taehyung’s matching silk robes and half of Twitter is losing it over royal genes, which is a trending hashtag.

Hoseok shoves his phone in his face to show him one of the pictures that is circulating, Seokjin and his cousin smiling warmly at each other, the two of them looking so ethereally gorgeous they fucking glow.

Seokjin looks relaxed there, but Yoongi is starting to understand that he never really is, never fully. He stands tall on his feet, back straight, posture impeccable but Yoongi can see the truth behind it, Atlas’ body crumbling under the oppressive weight of the burden resting on his shoulders.

Still, he glows.

It’s a little sad, Yoongi thinks, how he’s taught himself to be a blinding light for people to focus on while he hides in the dark.

Yoongi isn’t always great at making good decisions, as can be evidenced by his track record.

When he was six, he decided to bake his mother a cake, thinking it would make her happy the way baked goods usually made him happy. His experiment resulted in an inedible, thick layer of charcoal, his mother’s favorite porcelain tray being absolutely ruined, and the realization, for the first time in his life, that nothing he could do would ever make her happy.

When he was ten, Yoongi decided to run away. He didn’t know where he was going, but he just wanted to be gone. Away. Far away. He made it all the way to the train station under the battering rain before a police officer stopped him, gave him a severe scolding and wrapped him in a safety blanket before ushering him in the back of his car to drive him back home. Yoongi had immediately missed the rain and the vigorous wind that had valiantly and vainly tried to guide him to freedom.

When he was seventeen, Yoongi ran away again. This time, no one came looking for him, and he knew where he was going. He took a train to the city and navigated his way through wide avenues and towers reaching the sky, determination steering his every step. It took hours to find the right building. They all looked the same to him, and the rage of the city was disorienting, bursting to his delicate musician eardrums. It was a dingy tower of steel, blocking out the sun like it could hold its power.

When he was seventeen, Yoongi met his father for the first time. That was a bad decision in itself.

When he was nineteen, Yoongi realized that, contrary to what he and societal conventions had previously convinced him of, he was very much not straight. Opening his eyes and admitting his bisexuality to himself had been an excellent decision. Getting in a relationship with a man twenty years older than him, who regularly joked about Yoongi’s daddy issues and treated him like he was a child –which he was, in retrospect– probably should have earned him a prize for Best Worst Decision of the Decade.

When he was twenty-one, Yoongi faced his father for the second time to beg for help to bury his recently deceased mother. It is universally regarded in his group of close friends –meaning Hoseok and Jimin– as a terrible decision.

When he was twenty-three, he started dating Jimin. Namely, that hadn’t been his decision alone, but it was a bad one regardless. Not because of the relationship in itself but because he had used it to convince himself that Jimin could be an anchor against the overwhelming loneliness and depression that had followed him his whole life. At some point, it became impossible to disentangle the genuineness of his feelings from his paralyzing fear of letting go of the one thing that seemed to keep him afloat. It hadn’t been fair to Jimin, to put that kind of pressure on his shoulders, and he knows that he has Jimin’s kind heart and unwavering stubbornness to thank for the fact that their friendship managed to get out of the trainwreck of Yoongi’s deeply-rooted insecurities mostly unscathed.

He hasn’t yet decided where sleeping with the closeted Crown Prince falls on the spectrum of his abysmal track record, but he suspects he will find out quicker than he wants to. It’s usually how it happens.

Now twenty-seven, he thinks it is probably the too numerous mistakes scattered throughout his past that prevent him from making another bad decision. Because punching the smug smile off the face of the man sitting across from him right now would undoubtedly be one. Or that’s what he has been telling himself for the past hour anyway.

When he first signed into WSB at twenty, he didn’t know how to decipher a contract, his head filled with dreams and illusions about the music industry. He had just wanted to make music, to write songs and turn into art the rage that had become his second nature. Still, it had been one of the few decisions even time didn’t fully manage to shadow into a bad one. Kim Jihoon, the former CEO, had been kind and he had taken Yoongi under his wings without a second thought; generous in sharing both his knowledge and experience and selfless in his endorsement of Yoongi’s most somber idiosyncrasies. He had offered him room to grow from a teenager with big dreams to a man who only had to reach out to touch the stars and display the full range of his abilities.

Yoongi never expected it would turn into this seven years later. When Kim Jihoon died two years ago, Yoongi had nurtured the foolish hope that his son Daehee taking over wouldn’t tarnish Jihoon’s heritage, built on respect for his artists and the creative freedom he granted them so long as he saw in them potential to grow wings of their own. Two years later, that hope has been crushed.

Daehee has proved it time and time again, placing his incompetent friends in positions of power they haven’t earned and pushing to the sidelines people his father gifted with too much independence in their work for him to trust them.

Hoseok, who had steadily worked his way from the company’s main choreographer to an artist and producer in his own right, has been relegated to the dance studio full time and the studio Jihoon had assigned him freely offered to another rookie artist who had everything to prove and nothing to justify such an honor but the fact that he is one of Daehee’s party buddies. Suran, who had started in the company at the same time Yoongi did and had retired from her singing career to become a redoubtable businesswoman with Jihoon’s guidance, hardly has a chance to talk in most meetings Yoongi attends, despite her position as Head of Artist Development.

These days, Yoongi spends less time creating music than he does fighting with label executives over whom he wants to collaborate with or not. And he most certainly does not want to collaborate with the asshole singer who needs to get music out quickly to publicly redeem himself from getting caught doing cocaine in the backroom of a shitty night club and harassing a group of women to the point he had to get kicked out.

“No,” Yoongi says, for what seems to be the millionth time in the past hour.

“It fits with your public image,” the penguin sitting in front of him, Park Hayoon, argues. He’s one of the particularly bad ones, kissing Daehee’s ass at every opportunity to hide the fact that he doesn’t know the first thing about the music industry. It’s particularly jarring to fathom that he is the Head of the Marketing department and has so little comprehension of Yoongi’s public image.

“The hell it does,” Yoongi snaps. “I’m not some kind of humanitarian for your bad vocalists with an addiction problem who can’t take no for an answer.”

“You’re a rapper who writes about going against the flow and the media being vultures and how bad the system is,” he argues, frustratingly calm in the face of Yoongi’s rising anger.

He says it matter-of-factly, as though he is explaining to Yoongi what his own music is about. As if that’s all there is to it. As if he understands even a modicum of what Yoongi’s songs are about. As if Yoongi doesn’t.

“He’s being torn apart by the media right now and being flanked like a victim of the system. It fits with your public image and it would be great publicity for both of you.”

Yoongi is going to punch him. He doesn’t even think it will classify as a bad decision, all things considered.

“Say that one more time,” he grits out between clenched teeth, doing no effort to conceal the threat from his gaze. “I fucking dare you.”

Hayoon sighs, shaking his head like he’s scolding a child.

Yoongi would have to jump over the table to punch him, but it would be oh so worth it.

“You have a contract, Yoongi,” he says matter-of-factly. “It clearly stipulates that you have to collaborate with other artists signed with us and write songs for them.”

How easy it would be, to make him swallow both his vile words and his artificially white teeth.

“I collaborate with Park Jimin and Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi replies coldly. “I wrote all of Jimin’s songs. I produced that shitty Christmas album for your new band you wanted me to. I wrote a song about fucking fireworks because you asked me to. And if you’re going to talk about my contract, it also clearly states I have creative freedom over my songs. I’m exercising my creative freedom by telling you there is no way this piece of shit gets anywhere near one of my songs.”

Hayoon frowns this time, lips pursed in frustration. “He just needs a little help, we’re not asking you to produce a whole album, for god’s sake.”

“You want to help him?” Yoongi echoes with a derisive snort. “Get him into rehab and the professional help he needs.” He pushes himself off his chair, fists balled tightly at his sides. “I’m not writing a single word for him, and I’m certainly not putting myself on the line because you need a savior.”

“The CEO would really like you to reconsider,” Hayoon says, a vague threat in his placid monotone.

“Tell Daehee I’ve reconsidered and he can fuck off,” Yoongi retorts, and walks out of the room before leaving Hayoon a chance to answer, slamming the door shut behind him so violently it rattles in its hinges.

He stomps his way to the elevator and down to the creative floor, crossing the open space lounge without sparing a second glance for the people who gawk at him like they’re afraid he might bite if they dare to utter a word.

Suran is standing by the desk of one of their lawyers and she frowns when she spots him, side-stepping to block his way.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m going to murder Daehee and all of his fucking minions if they ask me to collab with one more of the shitty rappers they brought in without bothering to run a background check,” he says heatedly in half pants of rage.

“Smart move, talking about murdering the CEO in front of one of our lawyers,” Suran says, pointing over her shoulder at Jieun.

Yoongi glances briefly at Jieun, who smiles at him somewhat sheepishly, before focusing back on Suran, fixing her with an unwavering gaze. “She’s not going to tell because she hates his guts just as much as I do,” he says confidently. “She might even help me hide his body.”

Yoongi doesn’t know Jieun much, though she’s always eager to help and look into legal matters for him when he asks her to. He knows, from the few discussions they’ve had, that she graduated from a top university in both Law and Business, valedictorian of her class in, that she’s overqualified for her job and that when Jihoon hired her, he had every intention for her to take over the Law department once the current head had retired. Instead, he was shown the door and replaced by the friend of a friend of Daehee, who bought his Law degree from an American university and is leaving it to his subordinates to run the department for him anyway, though they certainly don’t earn a third of what he does.

“He’s not wrong,” Jieun says, unapologetic.

“Yes, we get it, he’s an asshole,” Suran says. “What’s the matter?”

“They want me to write, produce and record a song with that kid who’s all over Twitter to save his ass,” Yoongi grits out through clenched teeth. “I said no. They told me to reconsider. I told them to fuck off. It was a very productive meeting.”

Suran heaves out a deep sigh. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“What you can do is join our murder party,” Yoongi says.

“I’m sure we’d have no problem luring him into international waters,” Jieun points out.

Suran rolls her eyes, flicking a finger at Yoongi’s forehead. “I’ll see what I can do,” she repeats firmly. “Now go write another diss song about him so you can evacuate some of that anger before the next board meeting.”

Yoongi groans, gives them both a curt nod and makes a beeline for his studio, crossing the rest of the open area without a glance for anyone.

He storms in and locks himself in, taking deep breaths that fail to soothe the tremors of rage that shake his body.

He lights a cigarette, inhales deeply and shuts his eyes, willing the stress away.

He’s barely managed to calm the wild throbbing in his temples when there is a knock at the door. He doesn’t answer, because whoever is on the other side probably doesn’t deserve to be a collateral victim in his recurrent feud with label executives. At least, it is what he tells himself until he hears the telltale sound of the passcode being pinned in. If he snaps, the poor soul will only have themselves to blame for it. The people who work in this building know him enough by now to know what a locked door means.

Jimin’s head pokes in, concern etched on his features. “Is it safe to come in or are you going to bite my head off?”

Yoongi shakes his head with a sigh, the tension seeping off his shoulders. “Come in at your peril.”

Jimin chuckles, shutting the door behind him. “Want to tell me why you just dashed through the lounge like you were going to war?”

“Let’s just say the meeting didn’t go well,” Yoongi says elusively. “They want me to write a song for that asshole who’s been all over social media lately for some pathetic redemptive publicity and I said no.”

Sympathy flashes across Jimin’s face and he sinks into the couch, spreading his legs in front of him.

“So, when are we leaving?” he asks, almost nonchalantly.

Yoongi tosses a quick glance over his shoulder, although he knows the door is locked and no one can hear them thanks to the soundproof walls. It still worries him that his plans for the future might make it to the wrong ears. They would have no qualms ruining them and punishing him for wanting more, wanting better. They’re already doing it.

He turns to Jimin, leaning forward as he drops his voice. “You know you don’t have to follow me,” he says, making sure the sincerity transpires through each word. “You’re not miserable here, I am. I won’t hold it against you if you change your mind.”

Jimin shakes his head like the mere idea of him not following Yoongi through the precarious paths ahead of them is ludicrous. “If you go, I go. I told you that already. Stop making me repeat myself, you’re annoying.”

Yoongi takes a long drag of his cigarette and rolls his eyes, but he can’t help the tinge of affection tugging at his chest. 

Jimin is loyal to a fault, even when it isn’t in his best interest.

That’s why Yoongi loves him, why he never protested Jimin’s efforts for them to remain friends after breaking up, even if it hurt for a while.

“So,” Jimin says, “you haven’t answered.”

“I don’t know,” Yoongi says, wishing he could give him a different answer, something to feed the unwarranted faith he seems to have placed in him. “I’m still trying to untangle the legal aspect of it. I can’t exactly ask the legal department for help and it doesn’t help that I never listened during my Law lessons.”

Jimin smirks something devilish. “Was the teacher hot?”

Yoongi snorts, shaking his head fondly. “She was, but it’s mostly that I spent all my classes writing lyrics instead of actual notes.”

“I think those lessons were very beneficial then,” Jimin says, subtly supportive. It’s how he works, subtle in his affection when he’s truly sincere about it, but fierce all the same.

“I know I was pretty wasted when I made you that promise, but I’ll figure it out,” Yoongi pledges, not for the first time.

He has been thinking about it for a while, leaving WSB.

He feels trapped here, cornered.

He has ever since Jihoon died.

It used to be his home, a haven of peace where he could explore the full scope of his creativity, testing new genres if he felt like it, writing songs until his fingers were permanently marked with ink. It used to be a place of benevolence, where the CEO’s door was always open for him to vent out his frustrations and worries. Today it’s a small miracle to even find Kim Daehee in the building instead of partying his youth away on his yacht off the coast.

Yoongi isn’t sure what hurts most; to watch this spoiled child waste away his departed father’s hard work, or to be cast aside and used as a mere publicity tool for other artists because of the household name he’s forged for himself when he was still both respected as an artist and as a trusted advisor for the label’s affairs.

What he does know with absolute certitude is that he can’t take it much longer. His patience hangs by a thread, weakened and damaged by the last two years of witnessing powerlessly the dismantlement of his mentor’s lifework, and it’s dangerously close to snapping. He has to do it the right way, though.

He’s had plans to open his own label for a while, from the moment he realized exactly what kind of damage Kim Daehee could do to this company Yoongi had come to consider as a part of himself.

It was an idea in a corner of his mind, but he never truly entertained it until a few months ago. He wrote a song for Jimin, something deeply personal, about the struggles Jimin had to face to accept himself, to heal himself, to learn to love himself, and they decided to give it to another singer instead and turned it into some indigest pop song for their debut album, drained of its substance. The problem wasn’t so much that they desecrated his work. It was that they pillaged the true meaning of the song, of what it meant to Jimin, and never even bothered to ask or apologize.

They just took it, like they take him for granted, picking his brain for ideas they then claim credit for. It’s nothing new, but Yoongi never realized how deeply the problem ran until the higher-ups started to put together the numbers of their best-selling albums throughout the past decade and realized that they all had one name in common, Yoongi’s.

From then on, all they seemed to see in him was a goose with golden eggs, and no more the artist he fought tooth and nail to be recognized as. The artist this very company had allowed him to become.

He can’t do it anymore.

He started looking into leaving after that, bringing back to the front this idea to do his own thing, with his own rules, with a contract that would bind him only to himself. It is easier said than done, though, because although he knows music and songwriting better than most, can produce a hit song with his hands tied behind his back, the business part of it still remains a lot more cloudy. He can discuss album concepts and song meanings to his heart’s content, but he’s had Suran, who started in this label around the same time he did, supervising the business side of things for him for as long as he can remember. He regrets it today, how he always trusted both Suran and Kim Jihoo enough that he never looked further into both the business and the legal aspects of operations at WSB. He has years of indifference to make up for now that his fate is in much bleaker hands.

He’s been reading so much about it in the past few months, but it still doesn’t feel like enough.

And then, there is the matter of Jimin and Hoseok, who in their unwavering devotion promised to leave with him, sharing his rage like righteous friends. To be the first artists signed on his label once it exists beyond this idealistic corner of his brain. But they all have contracts, and getting out of them is proving to be more of a headache than Yoongi initially anticipated.

He still doesn’t know how to get out of his contract with them without reaping colossal damages, and that’s not considering the consequences that spread beyond the financial aspect.

Kim Daehee, despite all his partying and overall spoilt attitude, is still the CEO of one of the biggest entertainment companies in the country and as such has power and influence in spheres that could ruin Yoongi’s reputation for the rest of his life and have him blacklisted even with the name he’s managed to carve for himself in the industry.

And of course there is the matter of money. The business plan he drew up in support of his dream made him almost nauseous with anxiety. He needs to find investors, for safety, but he needs to do it discreetly so the label doesn't find out and try to jeopardize his plans.

If this gets out before Yoongi is fully prepared, both the public and legal backlash would be terrible. It could ruin them.

So, no pressure, really.

Jimin pokes at his thigh with the tip of his fancy shoe, smiling reassuringly. “I know you will. We don’t call you a genius just to flatter you, you know.”

Yoongi is about to reply, but his phone buzzes in his pocket, and he grimaces apologetically at Jimin, shuffling to get it. He expects a stern text from his CEO, after Hayoon whined about Yoongi’s lack of cooperation. In the rare occasions they get to see each other, when Kim Daehee graces the building with his obnoxious presence, he never wastes an opportunity to remind Yoongi that he owns his whole life or something along those lines. 

His brows dip into a frown when he sees it is from an unknown number. He quickly opens it.

Hello, Yoongi. I know it has been a couple of days already, but I’m simply writing to formally apologize. I’ve been doing some reading, and it seems I shouldn’t have left a note. I am clearly painfully inept at this whole spontaneous thing. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble. Enjoy the rest of your day. J.

Yoongi smirks at the ceremonious tone of the text. He wonders whether Seokjin realizes how absolutely pompous he sounds, or if it’s so ingrained into him he does it without thinking.

He has a fleeting thought for the amount of money he would have been willing to spend to see the face Seokjin made when he googled ‘how to do casual sex’ before he types a quick answer.

how did you get my number? and i liked the note. it was very formal.

He puts his phone back down, looking up at Jimin, who is staring at him with a quirked eyebrow.

“Good news?”

“Nothing important,” Yoongi replies offhandedly with a quick shake of his head. “Just one of the trainees being funny.”

He cringes inwardly at how easily the lie rolled off his tongue. He doesn’t like lying, especially not to Jimin, but he also can recognize when he doesn’t have a choice. He can’t exactly tell Jimin that he’s smiling to himself because he made fun of the heir to the throne, who is apparently now texting him.

His phone is buzzing in his hand again before he can fully ponder on it.

I have my ways. And I know you were mocking me just now. I’ll let it slide this once because I aim to be known as Seokjin the Generous some day.

Yoongi scoffs out a quiet laugh.

it does have a nice ring to it.

Validation from The Min Yoongi? I think I might be seeing things.

well it sure won’t be Seokjin the Humble, so it’s probably the next best thing.

Oh, Min Yoongi. You wound me. Humility is my main quality.

clearly.

His fingers are itching with the need to write something else, something more, but Jimin clears his throat in front of him, pulling Yoongi’s attention back to him.

“Sorry,” he says quickly, locking the screen. “Did you say something?”

Jimin shakes his head, standing from the couch. “Nothing worth repeating. Do you feel better?”

Yoongi struggles to make sense of the question for a moment, and then he remembers the meeting, his anger, both forgotten already.

His phone buzzes in his hand, but he ignores it this time, his focus on Jimin when he replies, “Yeah. Thanks, Jiminie.”

“Good,” Jimin says. “Keep texting your trainee, I’ll see you later.”

“Not my trainee!” Yoongi calls back, but Jimin is already walking out of the room, light laughter trickling after him.

Yoongi counts to ten in his head before he unlocks his phone and reads the text waiting for him.

It was listed along with the personal information you had to fill in for my brother’s gala, by the way. Your phone number. I didn’t ask for secret services to do a background check on you or anything like that.

Yoongi licks his lips, a smirk tugging at them when he imagines Seokjin purposely looking for his phone number to send him an apology for leaving a silly note on his kitchen counter.

so how many huffpost articles about how to do casual sex have you read before you decided to text me?

… too many. I could probably write a whole thesis.

very spontaneous, indeed…

What did we say about making fun of me?

you said, i didn’t listen. want me to write you a note to formally apologize?

I’ll have you arrested for treason.

kinky.

Yoongi watches as the three dots indicating Seokjin is typing a response appear, then disappear and appear again. He smiles to himself, biting gingerly on the tip of his thumb to stop it from taking over his whole face.

Can we do this again?

Yoongi’s fingers hover over the keyboard for a second before he texts back, texting?

The spontaneous thing, comes Seokjin’s reply barely ten seconds later.

Yoongi hesitates, heart thumping violently in his chest. 

It’s very likely a bad decision. Even if it’s just casual sex, it’s literally with the Crown Prince, the nation’s darling Kim Seokjin Duke of Pretty Lips and Broad Shoulders.

“Ugh,” he groans out loud, thankful for soundproof walls.

It’s easy to let himself be tempted by the offer. They both know there won’t ever be more to it than this, meaningless flirting and spontaneous sex that feeds off the obvious attraction between them. There is no pressure for romance, because the chance of it ever becoming more is nonexistent. There will be no drawing of bubble baths in a candle-lit bathroom, no reciting poetry to each other, no frantic chasing of the other in a crowded airport.

It’s easy, but it isn’t, because Seokjin is who he is, and Yoongi is who he is.

A master at making bad decisions.

we can, he texts back.

They agree that Yoongi’s apartment, although very comfortable, isn’t the best place to meet, especially if this starts happening periodically. The building is luxurious enough to have twenty-four seven security and is located in a higher-end neighborhood, but the risk of Seokjin being recognized is still too great. Yoongi doesn’t know many of his neighbors and rarely runs into them, but he suspects they might make more regular appearances if his Royal Handsomeness starts showing up in his building frequently. So if his apartment can be used on some occasions, it’s still not the most viable option.

can you do hotels? he texts Seokjin after they’ve concluded that Yoongi’s apartment is unsuitable if this is going to happen more than once.

Yoongi isn’t sure how they got directly to the mutual understanding that it would. He has no clue where they are going with this. If they are even going somewhere. But he knows he isn’t alone to feel that pull in his stomach, the one that drives him to Seokjin. Their bodies are opposite poles attracted to each other like magnets, a kinetic energy too strong to be resisted.

No, Seokjin answers. Too many different employees, too many chances to be recognized.

Yoongi grimaces. i’m guessing the palace is out of the question.

That would be correct. I may have a place, but I need to be sure I can rely on your discretion. It’s strictly off any records.

we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place if you couldn’t rely on my discretion, your royal highness.

Point taken.

That’s how Yoongi finds himself in his car on his way out of work, driving to the outskirts of the city. He tries not to ponder too much on where he is heading, gazing straight ahead, focusing on the pattern of traffic lights instead. He manages to avoid the worst of the traffic, rush hour already long over. The instructions Seokjin gave him lead him to sinuous roads snaking uphill, higher and higher until he wonders whether he’s lost.

He’s been driving through deserted roads for five minutes when he finally spots the narrow private road Seokjin mentioned. There are a couple of heavily armed guards by the entrance, which is a good enough clue that he is at the right place. They don’t try to stop him, which suddenly clarifies why Seokjin asked him details about the brand of his car and his registration number.

He maneuvers the car to follow the road, squinting at the surrounding darkness until finally a house rears into view. It’s not nearly as impressive as the palace, something muted and surprisingly modern about it that makes it seem more like a lodge away from the rest of the world than the display of wealth and dominance the palace is. Yoongi guesses that it’s exactly the point.

It’s a beautiful structure, though, the whole place ablaze with lights pouring from the casement windows. He can see Seokjin standing in the foyer, facing away from the alleyway, gazing at the lawn sprawling at his feet. Yoongi makes a quick job of parking and stepping out of his car, grabbing his bag.

He feels a bit out of his depth as he knocks, but Seokjin is quick to open the door, and his welcoming smile makes Yoongi’s turmoil vanish with disconcerting ease.

“Yoongi, hi.”

“Hey.”

Seokjin steps aside, motioning for him to come in.

Yoongi does, toeing his shoes off by the front door and letting his eyes roam across the place. It feels bigger from inside, a large open area with high ceilings that make the whole room wider. The living room looks cozy, a green-velvet art deco divan sitting amidst mismatched ottomans grouped into an intimate seating area, facing a circular fireplace placed in the middle of the room. A set of comfortable-looking wicker club chairs are turned toward the window. From up there, they can see the lights of the city flickering in the distance, offering an unparalleled, breathtaking view of the skyline.

Somehow, Yoongi’s attention is rather caught by the large painting hanging against the wall in a beautiful wooden frame. Yoongi easily recognizes the palace’s garden. He feels oddly intimate with the place, perhaps because he now can’t help but associate it with pouring rain and Seokjin’s flushed skin under his lips. The trimmed bushes circling the fountain are portrayed meticulously, but it’s something else that catches his eye. There is Seokjin’s office on the right half of the painting and even from the distance the painter took, his silhouette is easily recognizable, hunched against the fence of the terrace, gaze lost into the maze of bushes. There is something almost tender about the way Seokjin is represented there, a certain melancholia to each stroke.

“This is beautiful,” Yoongi says, the word feeling painfully inadequate.

Seokjin follows his gaze, and his face melts into a look of utter tenderness. “Yeah,” he mutters fondly, as though the painting is an intimate friend. “The artist is very talented.”

“Did you commission it?” Yoongi asks, curious as to how that would even work. Does the royal family have a list of pre-approved artists they can use? They have personal physicians and nutritionists and chefs, so it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think they house private artists or whatever else strikes their fancy too.

“Not exactly,” Seokjin says, a soft smile poking at the corner of his mouth. “I politely asked for it and the painter said yes.”

“You should pay artists,” Yoongi says, chastising. “They don’t live off their love for the arts, you know.”

“Really?” Seokjin quips, with a look of staged marvel. “Here I thought it was your sole passion for your craft that paid for your penthouse.” Yoongi narrows his gaze on him. Seokjin rolls his eyes, clearly amused. “Relax, Min Yoongi. The painter is my brother. It was a gift. But if it makes you feel better, I can write him a check the next time I see him. I’m sure he’ll love that.”

“Sarcasm isn’t a good look on you,” Yoongi replies, unable to think of something more clever to say after being called out for jumping to conclusions.

“Every look is a good look on me,” Seokjin retorts with a playful wink. “And I’m not just saying that. I got it from a reliable source. A very serious article my assistant showed me today. It was titled ‘23 Times Prince Seokjin Ruined All Other Men For Us.’”

Yoongi’s mouth quirks at the corner. “Ah, Buzzfeed. A reliable source indeed. My friend Hoseok once made me take one of their quizzes to know which rapper I am. I didn’t get myself.”

Seokjin’s laughter trickles in the air between them. “Who did you get?”

“I’ll never tell,” Yoongi says gloomily. “I’ll take it to my grave. Probably beyond the afterlife too.”

Seokjin laughs again, a loud, hiccuping sound that is disarmingly contagious.

“Do you want a drink?” he asks as he walks up to the bar standing in the corner by the window. 

Yoongi nods absently, eyes darting away to continue his silent exploration. “Don’t you have a butler to do this for you or something?”

Seokjin scoffs out a small laugh. “Not here,” he says. “I told you, this place is off the map. I make sure it has as little staff as possible. There’s only the guards you saw when you arrived, the housekeeper and the gardener.”

Yoongi brushes a hand over the leaves of a large potted night-blooming jasmine, realizing this is where the enticing scent flooding the room is coming from.

“Oh, I’m sorry, that sounds awful,” he sneers. “How do you ever manage to cope?”

Seokjin rolls his eyes, leveling him with an impassive look. “I think about your annoyed face and it makes everything better,” he says, deadpan.

Yoongi smiles, but it quickly vanishes as a thought flashes through his mind and he frowns as he turns to face Seokjin, who is handing him a glass of amber liquid.

“What?” Seokjin asks, lifting an eyebrow.

Yoongi’s nose scrunches in discomfort. “Please tell me public taxes aren’t paying for us to fuck,” he says bluntly.

Seokjin’s jaw drops and he blinks at Yoongi bemusedly for a moment, the tip of his ears flushing a furious red.

“Must you put it like that?” He sighs heavily when Yoongi doesn’t reply, holding his gaze defiantly. “Public taxes aren’t paying for this place,” he eludes. “It’s mine. I pay for it with my own money.”

It does little to mitigate Yoongi’s skepticism. “Do you even have your own money?” he asks.

Seokjin rolls his eyes, shoving the glass in Yoongi’s hand.

“Of course I do,” he grumbles, his impeccable manners momentarily forgotten in the face of irritation. “Did you come here to discuss my finances? Had I known I would have brought my latest bank statements.”

Yoongi takes a sip of whiskey, if only to hide how delighted he secretly is to see Seokjin bite back. It’s still an odd feeling, to even share a conversation with him when he lets himself think about it. Sometimes it feels like every interaction he has with Seokjin is the result of him astral projecting out of his body and witnessing the exchange from afar, his consciousness barely catching up.

“We need to work on your dirty talk.”

Seokjin’s gaze darkens when he catches the mischief glimmering in Yoongi’s eyes, and he groans. Fucking groans, out loud, like Yoongi is simultaneously the most infuriating and the most attractive person he’s ever set eyes on. It’s exhilarating.

“You’re very irritating,” Seokjin says as he crosses the meager distance between them, towering over Yoongi like he’s deliberately making himself taller.

“Because I don’t bow at your feet and sing your praises like everyone else in your life?” Yoongi replies, tipping his chin up in challenge.

“That’s something else we can work on,” Seokjin says, a malicious glint in his eyes.

His breath is warm against Yoongi’s lips, and the intensity of his gaze steals the air from Yoongi’s lungs. Steals his awareness of their surroundings and the clever retort from his tongue. It leaves nothing in its wake but the irrepressible urge to touch the perfect skin, to wipe the arrogance off his noble features, to wreck, and take, and take.

So Yoongi does, grasping the back of Seokjin’s neck to tug him down, catching his sharp intake of breath with his mouth.

In that moment, it doesn’t feel like such a bad decision.

Chapter Text

Seokjin rolls on his back, breathing labored, blinking quickly to get rid of the black dots dancing in front of his eyes. He lays a hand over his chest, feels his heart drumming wildly against his fingertips.

Yoongi chuckles lowly at his side, and Seokjin doesn’t need to look at him to know he’s smirking.

“You okay there, Your Royal Highness?” he asks, a little too cheekily for Seokjin’s taste. He takes comfort in the fact that Yoongi sounds just as wrecked as he feels.

“Shut up,” he replies, but he’s smiling too. “I think you broke my brain.”

Yoongi laughs, and the sound is so unexpected it makes Seokjin’s head whip to him to catch it. Yoongi looks younger when he laughs, joyful and free. It’s a good look on him, less arrogant and serious than he usually makes himself to be.

It’s the third time Yoongi has been over in the past two weeks, and they’re both starting to slowly relax into this new norm they’ve managed to settle in. Yoongi usually comes over around nine on his way out of work and they bicker for a while before crashing up in bed where they have wild, passionate sex. He goes home not long after, not without leaving Seokjin a note, because he apparently lives to torture him, whether by annoying him mercilessly or with a just as merciless but dreadfully sensual brush of his tongue.

The first one he left, after his first visit to Seokjin’s lodge, was very simple, but to the point.

Your Royal Highness Prince Seokjin of The Lodge On Top Of The Hill,

Would have been worth the public taxes, if you ask me.

Kind regards,

Y.

Ps: This pen is pretty amazing. I might steal it some day, you’ve been warned.

Seokjin had found it stuck to his fridge with a magnet when he had gotten up for an iced glass of water an hour after Yoongi had left. He had rolled his eyes, but allowed himself a small, private smile.

The second note, five days later, he had found delicately deposited on the pillow next to Seokjin’s when he had woken up the next morning.

Your Royal Highness Prince Seokjin of Fuckable Lips,

Yes, I wrote that just to annoy you. That’ll teach you to fall asleep on me.

Y.

Ps: I see you’ve hidden the pen. I’m offended. I’ll steal it when you’ve lowered your guard, though. Just so you know.

PPs: I’m joking, you clearly needed sleep. Hope you got some rest.

This was probably the nicest thing Yoongi had told him ever since their impromptu meeting –breathless praises susurred against his ear aside– so Seokjin had decided to forgo the first line entirely. He had been particularly exhausted that day, stuck in meetings all day to discuss the royal finances.

He did wake up surprisingly rested, though. He had forgotten the feeling.

There are many things he seems to forget, these days, and he refuses to examine how the brush of Yoongi’s lips against his own is usually the catalyst for it.

“Can I ask you a question?” Yoongi asks. His voice is a little raspy, low in ways that would make Seokjin’s body shiver if he could summon the energy for that right now.

Seokjin sits up in the bed and runs a hand over his face before looking over his shoulder to face him. Yoongi is still spread out on his bed, his pale skin clashing prettily against the darkness of the sheets, a lazy grin on his lips. It’s an attractive look on him, carefree and pliant the way he never allows himself to be when they stand in front of each other and breathe the same air.

“It seems we are indeed making progress on your abysmal manners,” Seokjin replies teasingly, carefully building back the walls between them that invariably collapse with every inch of skin they uncover in the heat of the moment. “You’ve never bothered to ask for permission before.”

Yoongi doesn’t reply immediately, fixing him with one of his hard glares instead. It would be a lot more threatening if he wasn’t naked and flushed and looking like an epicurean wet dream.

“My manners are just fine,” he says eventually, which is a blatant lie. Many of Seokjin’s acquaintances would bristle at half the things that come out of Yoongi’s mouth. They would choke and gasp in affront at the other half.

“Of course they are.” Seokjin reaches out to pat his calf placatingly, with just enough condescension that he knows Yoongi is going to kick him before he does. He chuckles, curling his fingers around Yoongi’s ankle in answer. “Ask away, Min Yoongi.”

“Who else knows?” he asks, with that same bluntness Seokjin finds equally attractive and terrifying.

Seokjin rarely pretends to be dumber than he is. He used to do it a lot, when he thought it could save him from overwhelming obligations (he’s learned that it doesn’t), when he thought it would make him more likeable (he’s learned that it does, but also that he doesn’t want to be liked by people whose reciprocated affection rests on the twisted condition that they’ll find a way to somehow rise above him), when he thought it would make it easier for his actions to be justified (he’s learned that that tends to put a dent on relationships, even ones that seemed untouchable.)

He doesn’t know why he feels the need to act right now. He knows what Yoongi is asking, and he knew the question would come eventually. They don’t talk much, not really, not of things that matter, but it’s natural for Yoongi to be curious. It’s reassuring even; it proves that Min Yoongi is just a human being like any other, and not just the frustrating, sensual, nonchalantly seductive walking temptation Seokjin has built up in his mind and that sometimes haunts him at random moments of the day.

He thinks it might just be that he’s too used to it by now, the lies, the games. He’s becoming so good at acting he sometimes can’t tell when he’s doing it himself.

It just comes, as natural as breathing, and he lets it because it’s who he is now, who he will always be, fatally.

“Knows what?” he replies lightheartedly. “How deadly handsome I look naked? Many people, I’d say, although I’m sure their own fantasies either can’t do me justice or are kinder than I truly deserve.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “I meant about you being...not straight. I don’t know what you identify as, if you identify as anything,” he says softly, like he’s laying a warm blanket over Seokjin’s shoulders with the words and telling him it’s all going to be okay.

Seokjin’s stomach lurches, different words with the same meaning echoing in his mind. He urges them away with the same verve he always does.

“I’m gay,” he says in lieu of an answer.

The words hurt on their way out, like they come directly from his chest and not the tip of his tongue, like they’re not always there, waiting to be uttered, to be shouted, to be cried out, like they’re not truly his but belong to a part of himself he has long buried.

It’s not so much that he wishes he could change that about himself. He knows he can’t, and he doesn’t particularly want to, or ever did. It’s more that he wishes it didn’t hold the importance that it does, that it wouldn’t forever be associated with loneliness and that inescapable ache in his chest.

He just wishes that this part of himself wasn’t ultimately designed to hurt him and the one person he loves the most.

“Okay,” Yoongi replies, frustratingly gentle about it. “Then I was asking who else knows about you being gay.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, his fingers curling tighter around Yoongi’s ankle without him meaning to. 

There’s a pause, another brick piling on the wall between them.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Yoongi says, and he sounds sincere, a lot different from his usual snarky self that seems to know how to push all of Seokjin’s buttons and does it ruthlessly. Seokjin hates that it is exactly what makes him want to tell.

He supposes that’s what happens, when you wrap yourself in your secrets your whole life and you finally get a chance to unveil them, even if it’s just a fraction of it, nowhere near the true depth of the shadows that follow Seokjin everywhere.

He blows out a sigh, a little shakier than he should let himself.

“Do you have a cigarette?” he asks, forcing himself back into neutral composure, even though he’s painfully aware that Yoongi’s sharp eyes pierce right through it.

He’s dreadfully perceptive and deadly intelligent. That’s how they ended up in this mess in the first place.

Yoongi gazes at him blankly for a moment, his face unreadable, but eventually he nods, rolling out of bed with about as much grace as a child taking their first steps.

They shrug their clothes back on silently, walking out into the living room. Yoongi picks up his jacket from where it was discarded over the couch earlier, and plucks his silver case out of the pocket. He tugs a cigarette between his lips, lights it and takes a long drag, blowing the smoke into the air before handing it to Seokjin.

Seokjin takes it with a quiet thank you, and he knows Yoongi is biting his tongue on a remark about the impeccable manners he likes to tease Seokjin about when his nose scrunches up in amusement.

The smoke burns on its way down his lungs. Seokjin is not a regular smoker by any means; he never had the chance or the opportunity to be. He thinks that might be the appeal he finds there. He doesn’t allow himself to cave to many of the things that have been forbidden to him. Smoking seems harmless in comparison to the rest. Inconsequential.

“Namjoon knows,” he says when he catches Yoongi watching him. It’s not so much expectant as it is interested, like he’s trying to pick the cogs of Seokjin’s soul apart and piece them back together. Seokjin wishes him good luck with that, because he knows he’s lost a few of them along the way. “He’s my personal advisor, but also my oldest friend. His mother was my mother’s main attendant. We grew up together. He was the first person I told. It was a catastrophic conversation, because Namjoon had figured it out before I did, but he didn’t want to tell me that he did because he didn’t want to take away from what it meant for me to tell him. Except he’s a terrible actor, so his reaction was strained and sounded fake and I panicked and thought he was rejecting me. We both ended up crying a lot.”

Yoongi smiles, something distant in his gaze like he’s imagining it and can’t help but feel fond of the mental image.

“Just for the record, I look handsome even when I cry,” Seokjin states for good measure.

Yoongi’s face shifts, and it’s a smirk that tugs at his lips now, familiar and safe. Seokjin holds back a sigh of relief.

“No one looks pretty when they cry unless they’re faking it,” he says flatly.

“I do, Yoongi,” Seokjin retorts immediately. “But you’ll never find out.”

“Maybe I’ll break your heart just to prove you wrong.”

Seokjin laughs, and it’s unbridled, genuine. There is a smile on his face when he replies, “You don’t have that kind of power.”

Yoongi doesn’t need to know that he can’t break something that’s already broken.

He takes a drag of the cigarette, grimacing when he realizes he’s forgotten it and the ashes are dangerously close to falling directly on his imported carpet.

He flicks it into the fireplace, and turns back to Yoongi.

“Anyway, he and my cousin Taehyung are the only ones I’ve explicitly told,” he says, and for reasons he fails to comprehend, adds, “the only ones alive anyway.”

Yoongi’s brows dip into a frown, but Seokjin knows how easy he just made it to come to the one possible conclusion.

Yoongi must know. Everyone knows.

The whole nation stopped breathing when his mother died. They acted like she was their family, the fallen princess, their beloved sovereign gone too soon. It was plastered on every news channel on every continent, and it comes back every year on the anniversary of her death like the inexorable flow of the tide, swallowing all the progress Seokjin thinks he’s made in the months between each reminder.

Even Yoongi, who says he doesn’t care about the world Seokjin was brought up in and seems to truly mean it, can’t ignore it. It’s part of the story the media tells about him, about Jeongguk, about the two of them as brothers. They can barely breathe Seokjin’s name without mentioning the tragic loss of his mother before he had even had a chance to get over the no-less tragic loss of his father. It’s part of the myth they’ve built around them.

The Royal Orphans, some particularly cruel journalists have taken to calling them.

“I’m sorry,” Yoongi says, the words hanging heavily between them.

Seokjin has heard those same words in this same context many, many times.

For a while, they made him angry. What did they even have to be sorry for, these hypocrites who couldn’t have a single clue what he was going through? Were they apologizing for his loss, for his pain, or for their awkwardness in the face of both? Why did they look at him like he was going to burst into tears, like he was breakable?

Now, he understands it better. Sometimes, it’s just hard to find the right thing to say, because the right thing to say doesn’t exist. Because the pain is too grand to be conquered with words, too profound to grasp at the surface.

His anger had been too great to see the powerlessness one’s grief can cause in others. It was not sympathy or compassion he had read in their eyes, then, but pity. And pity and comfort remain incompatible for him to this day.

It’s not pity he reads in Yoongi’s eyes, however. It’s not quite sympathy either. It’s something deeper, that muted sense of understanding he’s only ever witnessed in those who have experienced a similar kind of pain, too brutal and too raw to be quelled by even the most powerful of words. Words are a powerful weapon, but even they sometimes fail to fully render the essence of the human soul. Even they can’t explain exactly what it feels like to carry a pain so substantial it becomes a part of who you are, almost all that you are.

Maybe he’ll ask, someday, why Yoongi looks like he knows, and if he’s aware that he does.

But it’s too much, too hard, too painful still.

Seokjin has worked too hard on pushing it aside to let it take over now.

He shrugs dismissively. “My ex-boyfriend obviously knows too.”

It seems to spark enough interest to chase away the shadows from Yoongi’s face.

“You have an ex-boyfriend?”

“I’m a bit offended by the tone of surprise,” Seokjin says, eyes narrowing accusingly. Yoongi gives him a pointed glare, and Seokjin rolls back on his heels. “Yes, I do. It was a long time ago, and I haven’t seen him in years.”

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow, taking the cigarette from Seokjin’s fingers to take a last drag of it before tossing it into the fireplace to burn away. “How did it work out?”

“Terribly is probably an understatement,” Seokjin says. “I think I hurt him deeply. But we were both children playing a game we didn’t understand and it’s been a while. We write to each other every now and then and never talk about it. He isn’t out either, and his situation doesn’t make it probable that he’ll ever be.”

A beat passes as they stand silently, Yoongi clearly mulling over a thought. He seems to hesitate, tongue poking out to lick at his bottom lip and at the inside of his cheek.

Seokjin huffs. “Just ask.”

“What about your brother? You haven’t mentioned him.”

Seokjin goes still, his lungs contracting painfully in his chest, but he compels himself to keep an impassive expression on his face. He doesn’t like talking about Jeongguk, especially not with strangers, and although they’re beginning to learn the curves and planes of each other’s bodies with acute precision, it’s what Yoongi remains. A stranger. An escape. A semblance of respite in the constant storm of Seokjin’s convoluted life.

“I never told him, but he knows,” he tells him, and wonders inwardly why he does. “I know he knows. And he knows that I know. We just don’t talk about it.”

“That sounds complicated.”

That’s another understatement, but Seokjin plasters a polite smile on his face, hoping it isn’t as shaky at the edges as it feels.

“We have a complicated relationship.”

Yoongi hums, but doesn’t pry further, clearly sensing that Seokjin’s reluctant honesty ends there. He doesn’t even know what more there would be to say.

They have a complicated relationship, and they don’t work through it quite as much as they should, because Seokjin would rather let Jeongguk be mad at him than to break the promise he’s made himself nearly a decade ago. It’s easier to accept his resentment than it would be to live with himself if he were the reason for Jeongguk getting hurt again.

But he can’t voice any of that out loud, because Yoongi knows about what happened to them, like everyone does, but no one knows the whole truth. No one knows the extent of the ugly secrets they hide, the clouds that always hover close to their minds, the tears they were not allowed to shed because it would have become a public matter.

A scandal, instead of the devastation of a loss.

There aren’t many things that Seokjin’s grandparents abhor more than scandals, especially when the strains on their reputation threaten to be as sustainable as this would have been.

“And there was that one other guy I slept with while I was in Cambridge,” Seokjin lies lightly, coercing heedlessness into his voice, “but I had him killed to keep his mouth shut. Just in case you needed further incentive.”

Yoongi looks at him blankly for a moment, eyes glazing over his face like he’s physically watching Seokjin put the mask back on. Seokjin knows this is the appeal Yoongi finds in their relationship, the thrill he feels when he thinks he has uncovered a part of Seokjin he maintains carefully concealed, but it’s just another mask, another performance even if it’s for an audience of one.

It’s not as meticulously crafted as the ones Seokjin has learned to wear his whole life –the dutiful prince, the brilliant diplomat, the perfect son-in-law, the unattainable bachelor, the empty shell of a man that was born to be more than the rest of them– but it’s a mask nonetheless. It’s just one of the many faces he bears to make sure the true content of his heart is unreachable. It would ruin him. It would ruin everything, if they knew the ugliness he hides beneath. The hollowness in the cavity of his chest.

Yoongi chuckles, outfoxed like many before him.

“I’ll come back to haunt you,” he says, playful and teasing and a feeble salvation, “whispering over your shoulder about your royal manners and you being a pawn to capitalism and the relatively tolerable product of imperialism.”

Seokjin hums in acknowledgement, amused against his best will, and has a foolish thought. Perhaps he’ll give him a glimpse, just for the hell of it. Yoongi already knows one of the biggest secrets he’s lost himself trying to hide anyway, so this won’t make much of a difference.

“You do know how to seduce a man, Min Yoongi. Relatively tolerable is by far the nicest thing you’ve called me while neither of our dicks are in some way or form inside the other’s body.”

Yoongi’s eyes widen, his lips parting slightly in a look of utter shock Seokjin tries not to take too much pride in.

“I think this is the crudest I’ve ever heard you be,” he says, bemused. “I’m surprised you didn’t spontaneously combust as soon as the words were out of your mouth. Do you kiss your grandmother the Queen with that mouth, you absolute anarchist?”

“Oh, fuck you, Yoongi,” Seokjin blurts out, and it’s so unexpected even for himself that it makes his eyes widen too.

But when Yoongi laughs, wild and carefree and delighted, the grin on his face broad enough to show his gums, Seokjin laughs with him.

 ♔

Seokjin finds another note on his way to bed, an hour or so after Yoongi has left. This one is tucked under the bottle of lube sitting on the night table that Seokjin forgot to put away in his earlier haze. So obviously Yoongi thought it was the best place to hide it in plain sight. Seokjin isn’t remotely surprised, although he does wonder when Yoongi found the time to write and plant it there between their conversation and his departure.

Your Royal Highness Prince Seokjin of Denial Over His Crying Face,

Rest assured I won’t say a word about your anarchist tendencies, even though I think they’re thoroughly wasted. Imagine the chaos you could create, it’d be beautiful.

Best wishes,

Y.

Yoongi doesn’t even know half of it, Seokjin thinks. Still, he smiles as he tucks the note away with the others.

 ♔

Chaos does erupt two days later.

It’s entirely Seokjin’s fault, and he fails to see the beauty in it.

Not when his eyes roam over the headlines, Namjoon pacing nervously at his side. 

There is no beauty in his own anger being mirrored back at him from the TV screen, his shoulders hunched forward as he and his brother yell at each other in the middle of the palace’s gardens in low quality recording.

He hadn’t known there were visitors that day.

He hadn’t known they would be filming.

If he had, he wouldn’t have sought Jeongguk out at all, but he had been right there when Seokjin had gotten the news, taking his morning run on the palace’s estate. In retrospect, Seokjin probably overreacted.

“No, Jin,” Namjoon tells him, because he’s a terrible friend. “You definitely overreacted.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, too busy reading the variety of colorful headlines that have been circulating since their fight was caught in the morning. It’s been an incessant onslaught ever since.

ROYAL FEUD ESCALATES ON PALACE’S GROUND

WATCH THE VIDEO OF PRINCE SEOKJIN AND PRINCE JEONGGUK’S FIGHT (WITH ENG SUBTITLES)

THE CROWN IN CRISIS: CAN THE ROYAL ORPHANS COME BACK FROM THIS?

PRINCE SEOKJIN: HOMOPHOBE?

Seokjin feels seasick, ruthlessly shaken up by ferocious waves that keep coming, and coming, and coming, unbothered by the fact that the air has already deserted his lungs.

He hasn’t opened social media –he very rarely does, lets Namjoon handle that for him the way he handles everything else that would risk tearing apart the last thread of Seokjin’s sanity– but he knows it’s bad. He knows it looks bad, his brother and him yelling at each other over the former’s attendance to a gala organized by associations for the defense of LGBTQ+ rights.

But this morning, Seokjin saw the event on Jeongguk’s updated schedule, like the ones they get for each member of the royal family at the beginning of every week, and he just stopped thinking. He panicked.

And as much as he tried to argue that it could easily be interpreted as a political statement and that they were already on thin ice since he let Taehyung drag him to that art gallery opening, he knew it wasn’t the reason. Because despite the strains and the struggles and the words they dare not say, Seokjin knows his brother, and he knows Jeongguk hates public events enough to carefully choose the ones he does attend. And Jeongguk never attends anything for political reasons, it’s his heart that guides his choices. That’s why he didn’t think of the consequences of this one.

Perhaps if they still knew how to talk to each other, to communicate without veiled accusations and guarded caution, none of this would have happened. Because then, Seokjin would have told Jeongguk the truth a long time ago, Jeongguk wouldn’t have to come to that conclusion by himself, and he wouldn’t have the stupid idea to show his support in cataclysmic ways whose consequences ripple further than he can surmise.

There was a lot more to that conversation than what is shown by the media now, but it’s always how it works. They always find the one thing that matters, pull it out of context and spin it until it loses its substance entirely and becomes something else.

Today, it’s a knife, sinking between Seokjin’s ribs and twisting until he feels like he’s bleeding out in the open.

“You can’t go to an LGBT event, Jeongguk,” he watches himself spit in his brother’s face. The experts on microexpressions they invited to the TV set are all talking at length about the anger in his features, but they fail to see what truly lies beneath.

Fear. Helplessness. A hint of jealousy Seokjin will never admit to.

Because sometimes he remembers his idealistic younger self, who had truly believed he could change the world, and he wishes he could still be that boy, who dreamed of attending an event like this one proudly, with a man who loved him by his side.

He dreamed of being someone his brother could be proud of. Nowadays, all he dreams of is being someone the world can pry on, so Jeongguk doesn’t have to be. An embodiment of perfection, so Jeongguk’s shortcomings and setbacks are easily overlooked.

Seokjin became this person by choice. He forged this facade, this armor on purpose.

But still, it hurts. Even though it’s better than the alternative, it hurts.

It’s one thing to have rumors circulating about their stained relationship, and another altogether to have it advertised for the whole world to see. It’s one thing to have to conceal who he is, and another to be publicly branded a homophobe.

There is a certain irony there, Seokjin thinks. He might even laugh about it, some day in the distant future.

But even when Yoongi texts him that afternoon, fyi your homophobia is particularly glaring when we’re fucking, his own convoluted way of asking how–if–he is holding up against the storm submerging him, Seokjin fails to see the humor in it.

He can’t, because he feels sick, and most of all, exhausted.

“We can do some damage control,” Namjoon says, and Seokjin hums absently. “I’ll work on a statement saying your words were taken out of context and you were urging Jeongguk to consider the political interpretation of his actions.”

Seokjin barely listens to him, because he’s too busy watching Jeongguk’s face on the screen, his youthful features marred with anger but wide eyes brimming with tears of frustration only Seokjin can see. He knows Jeongguk’s tears too well, has dried them too often.

There’s a rap at the door, quiet and hesitant, and Seokjin runs a hand over his face, bracing himself for what’s to come. He’s probably being summoned by his grandfather for some sermon he will simply bow his head and nod at.

Namjoon walks to the door and opens it. His wide frame blocks Seokjin’s view from their visitor’s face, but his whole posture straightens when he catches a pair of sweatpants-clad legs rocking from side to side behind Namjoon’s.

Namjoon doesn’t ask Seokjin permission and simply steps outside, letting Jeongguk walk in his stead.

And then they are staring at each other, just for a short moment before Jeongguk’s eyes move to the TV screens.

The lower third has changed to IS PRINCE SEOKJIN TRULY HOMOPHOBIC? and a group of political and cultural experts Seokjin has never seen or heard of are discussing whether or not his outburst was based on political strategy to stifle the rumors that have been saying he’s trying to modernize the monarchy or plain old homophobia.

Seokjin wants to scream, or cry, or an ugly mixture of both.

Instead, he glances back at his brother, whose big eyes are welled up with tears.

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk murmurs, voice cracking on the words.

Seokjin shakes his head, heart clutching in his chest. “I should be the one apologizing. This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.”

Jeongguk doesn’t reply, surely because he knows this will turn into a competition of who should apologize the most if he does. Instead, he sinks down on the couch next to Seokjin and wraps his arms around him, burying his face in his shoulder.

Seokjin leans his head against Jeongguk’s hair and sighs, both in relief and exhaustion.

“I’m gay,” he whispers, just for the two of them.

He knows it’s pointless, that Jeongguk already knows and loves him all the same.

And the words hurt again as they come out of his mouth. He hears them as though they are spoken by someone else, someone stronger than himself, braver. But it’s his own pain that’s reflected through them, and though they are just words, they’re also all he has.

“I love you. I wish you wouldn’t think your feelings have to come last,” Jeongguk mutters against his shoulder, words a little muffled, a little wobbly. “I wish you would talk to me about the things that matter.”

Seokjin doesn’t know how to tell him he’s forgotten how. He just holds him tighter.

Family meetings are never, ever a joyful affair.

The only highlight is usually that Seokjin gets to see Taehyung be perpetually and artfully unbothered by the reprimands he receives on each occasion. This time, it is about the fact that he was caught on camera –horror of all horrors– grimacing at a stuffy dignitary billionaire who came over for a ‘diplomatic visit’ that was actually very much business and very little diplomacy.

Seokjin knows, because he’s the one who actually conducted the meeting, unlike Taehyung who simply tagged along because he was bored that day and his idea of fun is making prickly people uncomfortable with shameless innuendos that are too subtle to be considered as such. Seokjin equally loves and hates it, because it makes his job both easier and a lot harder.

Family meetings, thankfully, only occur once every few months, leaving just enough time between each for them to get over the previous one and whatever rancor it provoked to be dulled into a slight vexation they are far too polished to address. Or at least, that’s what Seokjin tells himself as he watches his uncle Seonjo scowl rather obviously at his aunt Bora, Taehyung’s mother, who suggested last time that perhaps he wouldn’t be so quick to reprimand her son if he hadn’t given up on saving his own children from themselves.

So overall, the last meeting had gone great.

Jeongguk playfully calls these gatherings The Courtroom, and he isn’t too far from the truth, although their judge, sitting at the end of the long table with a disinterested expression, usually doesn’t let a jury deliberate before he takes decisions that can potentially impact all of their lives.

Seokjin doesn’t think the King is entirely apathetic, not exactly.

He’s a stern man, made of traditions, a skewed sense of justice and an emotional indifference he offers equally to everyone Seokjin has ever seen him interact with.

Seokjin used to try to mimic his stoicism when he was a child and his tutors were drilling into him the dos and don’ts of being a good ruler.

“You’ll be like your grandfather. A true leader, like him,” they’d say. “Strong and powerful and–”

–and whatever great quality they associated with him that day.

Seokjin hadn’t wanted to be strong and powerful; he had wanted to be loyal and honorable and free. Free enough that some days, he could be disloyal and unhonorable and weak and powerless, and anything else that would allow him a taste of what it was to be normal. To be ordinary. Mostly, he had wanted to eat his ice cream without being berated over the straightness of his posture and the horror it would be if he were to stain his fancy new trousers.

The King clears his throat, and all eyes fall on him automatically. All but Seokjin’s, who knows better than most of the people he shares blood and genes with where to look. Silence falls over the room, and Seokjin feels Jeongguk straighten up in his chair next to him, eyes wide and expectant.

They’re all a bit on edge today. Because family meetings are never a pleasant thing but they’re always –always– planned in advance. This meeting was scheduled at the last minute, and Namjoon barely had the time to warn Seokjin about it before an intendant was coming to get him and Jeongguk from Seokjin’s quarters at the palace where they have been discussing how to fix the whole mess of their public argument to guide them to this conference room where all important meetings take place. At least he didn’t have to be flown back from Singapore like Uncle Seonjo.

“I have called this meeting to discuss an important matter,” the King says, his voice strong and powerful.

He always speaks like the words coming out of his mouth hold the answers to questions that haven’t even been asked. Even when it’s void of substance, his speech captures an audience’s attention with nothing but a click of the tongue. A sort of natural charisma through the dullness.

It took Seokjin a long while to understand the two most important things there were to understand about his grandfather.

The first one is that anyone in his position would be deemed strong and powerful. It comes with the job description. Before Seokjin could string two coherent words together, he had strength and power. Because those come with the titles, and the money, and the walls of gold he grew up in. Strength and power lie in the perception of others, and most people are too dazzled by the shine of monarchy to question their veracity.

The second one is that his grandfather is not –and never was– a great man, and a great leader even less. He is strong and powerful, and mostly indifferent to the world around him.

Seokjin had worshipped him as a child, like he had been taught to, but he had understood eventually, a little late perhaps, that even worship didn’t interest him. The King took decisions when he had to, studying each file presented to him diligently, listening to his advisors with a distant look in his eyes, and he took them all with the same monotone. The only things that truly seem to interest him are chess and the strolls he takes every evening at midnight like clockwork.

Seokjin was a teenager when his mother pulled him aside after his lessons, brushed his hair back tenderly, and told him the truth.

That the true power in their family never did lie in the King’s hands, though they were the ones which signed treaties and could compel a whole room into silence with just a raise of a finger.

And once he knew, he could never forget. He could never unsee it.

So as his family waits for the King to speak with bated breath, Seokjin’s gaze falls on his grandmother, sitting at her husband’s side as always, lips pinched into an unreadable expression. He’s learned to decipher the many nuances of her countenance, though, once he knew where to look. He knows whatever they are about to discuss, it isn’t the King’s doing at all.

It’s hers. It’s always hers.

She meets Seokjin’s gaze over the table, unconcerned by the anticipation that is hanging in the air between them, and the corner of her wrinkled mouth tips just slightly upward, but enough to make him shudder.

Seokjin struggles to maintain the casual nonchalance he’s learned to cultivate from her, but he does, even when his hands shake under the table as the King opens his mouth to speak again.

“I will step down from the tour next month,” he says firmly. “Jeongguk will go in my stead.”

Seokjin’s heart stops in his chest, his blood turning to ice in his veins.

The Queen clears her throat, leaning over the table to whisper something to her husband.

He blinks, realization dawning on his features. “Oh, right. I meant Seokjin.”

Seokjin’s gaze hardens on his grandmother, but she doesn’t look at him, chin held up as she takes in the silence that fell over the room.

He wishes she didn’t make her intentions so painfully obvious.

She’s punishing him for the bad publicity, for the pictures of him and Jeongguk that will make the headlines for weeks, for his outing with Taehyung which made waves in a more subdued way, through whispers travelling the halls of Parliament, claiming he took a political stance just for standing among artworks depicting the struggle of modern women.

His grandmother was never big on modernization.

She doesn’t share their blood, but she is from a royal family too, even though she was estranged from them after she married Seokjin’s grandfather. He wonders, at times, how it was for them, and if she hates the life she’s lived enough that she punishes everyone close enough for it. Perhaps that’s why she never particularly liked Seokjin, because he was too easily distracted from his duties as a child, too rebellious as a teenager, too unilaterally focused on his brother rather than traditions as an adult. He knows she thinks he’s spoiled, too far gone already to be salvaged for the throne.

He knows too much of her darker sides to be manipulated into obedience. It’s not always a good thing, however, because she is deadly clever and unrepentant when it comes to finding creative ways of getting what she wants.

And what she wants is the status quo. Traditions respected, ancestral institutions upheld, secrets buried.

It’s Jeongguk who speaks first, even though he rarely does in family meetings, “Why?”

Their uncle snorts from his side of the table. “Take a wild guess, kid,” he says, but there is no sarcasm in his voice, just an overbearing sense of superiority.

Seokjin clenches his teeth, schooling his features in a cold, distant demeanor.

“Don’t patronize him,” he tells Seonjo, before turning back to the head of the table. He ignores Jeongguk’s quiet huff at his side. “You know I never leave the country for longer than a week,” he says, as calmly as he can.

His grandfather barely grants him a second glance. “For silly reasons. You’re to be the king, and after the mess you caused, we need to solidify your position and authority as a leader. All you look like right now is an irascible, petulant child.” He says the words without an ounce of emotions, like they’re carefully rehearsed.

Seokjin digs his nails into his knees under the table, but when he speaks next, it’s with a cool voice, and directly to his grandmother. “I can’t leave that long. I have meetings scheduled every week next month. And I need to be here in case of an emergency.”

The ‘I can’t leave Jeongguk’ is left unsaid, but he knows she hears it plainly.

The Queen leans back into her chair and levels him with a cold, impassive look. “Your needs are irrelevant, Seokjin. Your needs put us in this situation to begin with. You will do what is necessary to fix it, unless you have other priorities than your inborn duty.”

Unless you want Jeongguk and Taehyung to be punished for your mistakes, she’s truly saying, but he’s the only one whose ears are trained to decipher it.

“I’ll take over for you. For your meetings here,” Taehyung says, because he knows. He’s the only one who cares enough to know that it’s never about meetings and schedules, not for them.

Seokjin bites on the tip of his tongue to refrain himself from thanking him here, in front of everyone. He’ll do it later, when they are behind closed doors and he can let himself fully feel the anger that is boiling under his skin.

He plasters a smile on his face instead and turns to his grandfather. He nods once and ignores the satisfaction he knows his grandmother is trying to conceal.

He hates that this is all a game to her, and that she knows the rules so much better than he does.

She’s always pulling the strings, playing them all like puppets in her sinister theater.

He can feel Jeongguk’s urge to protest at his side, so he quickly turns his head to him.

This isn’t the time to go to war, Seokjin tells him with his eyes. This isn’t worth fighting for.

Wars are the greatest wickedness, whether they happen out in the open or behind closed doors.

Seokjin has always lost all of his battles against his grandmother and his life was always worse for it, because she knows his weaknesses better than he does hers and she’s ruthless enough to exploit them.

She knows the art of war, and Seokjin’s strategy has always been to defend what he can rather than fight back. That’s how he can protect Jeongguk, and so long as his brother’s safety is also on the line, Seokjin won’t fight back.

There’s a solution for that, and she just unknowingly gave him a perfect opening to getting one step closer to it.

She knows the art of war. The only advantage Seokjin has is that they’re not fighting the same one, and she doesn’t know it yet. He doesn’t plan on letting her know any time soon.

When Seokjin shows up on Yoongi’s doorstep that evening, clad in his all-black camouflage clothes and a black mask he’s pulled too high on his face to make sure he wouldn’t be recognized, he feels drained.

Yoongi doesn’t look particularly surprised to see him, and Seokjin wonders what that says about him. Or perhaps it says more about Yoongi and the way he’s so careful with the emotions he allows to show on his face or so observant of the ones that slip through Seokjin’s carefully fabricated mask of neutrality.

“I had a really bad day,” Seokjin says when Yoongi shuffles aside to let him in, body buzzing with the rashness of every decision that has led him to this moment, lost in time and space. The door shuts after him with a finality he doesn’t want to ponder on. “And I’m about to have a really bad month. I need you to fuck me until I forget all about it.”

He’s too tired to be polite about it, too angry at the world to be anything but honest, too broken to deserve more than the roughness he came here for.

Yoongi licks his lips. He doesn’t ask. Seokjin allows himself to be grateful for it.

“I can do that.”

Seokjin tells himself that the sigh that dies in the back of his throat when Yoongi kisses him, hard and scathing, is relief.

He tells himself a lot of things that aren’t true.

Chapter Text

Yoongi’s mother always told him his recklessness would bring him nothing but troubles.

His mother was wrong about a lot of things, but not that.

He’s aware of it now more than ever, because Seokjin has a world of trouble warring in his eyes, and Yoongi wants to explore every part of it.

Every moment he spends with Seokjin is a moment of recklessness, he has come to realize, a kind of vandalism like the one he was warned against when he was a rowdy teenager getting into fights to catch the attention of people who didn’t deserve it.

That’s where the trouble begins. Because he is starting to think, fool that he is, that Seokjin may be deserving of it.

Yoongi was greedy in his pursuit of him, selfish in the way he let his hands undress Seokjin with audacity, selfish in the way he thrived on the desire dancing in Seokjin’s eyes, selfish in the way he wanted to own the moans and profanities he managed to draw from his lips.

It isn’t love or even affection, far from it, but it’s something else Seokjin has earned from him, a sort of muted respect Yoongi is usually hesitant to allot.

Because Seokjin is more than what the outside world has pegged him as, and Yoongi has felt kinship towards people who are told they can only be one thing and decide not to be.

Seokjin is not just infuriatingly proper manners, unfettered charm and a commanding presence that draws people to him like moths to a flame. He’s smart beyond his education, a little broken, and kind despite it all, even when it doesn’t help him. Yoongi knows firsthand that the world is an awful, awful place, so it takes a special brand of person to remain kind when you are served nothing but cruelty in return, when your kindness is constantly at risk of being picked apart and used as a weapon against you.

It’s the problem, really, because Seokjin doesn’t seem to realize that the world will never be worthy of him, of people like them who go against the tidal norms, but still he tries so hard to be worthy of it instead.

And in that dark corner of his mind that is reckless and self-aware of his own selfishness, Yoongi is grateful for Seokjin’s ignorance, because it means he doesn’t know Yoongi isn’t deserving of his attention any more than the rest of the world.

It means he can have him like this, pliant under his hands, desperate against his lips, unhinged at his every touch.

He hates himself a little for it, for using Seokjin the way everyone else is, but he used to hate himself most of the time, so he’s sure his therapist will count that as progress. Or something. He’s learned to live with it.

Yoongi has never claimed to be a good person, and Seokjin never asked him to be. This isn’t the arrangement they have. All they have is teasing banter that always rings like foreplay, a secret too big to be assessed and an ephemeral and superficial cure to their loneliness.

Yoongi thinks he might write a song about it.

There’s a groan against his ear, vibrating through his body, and Yoongi blinks as Seokjin pulls back from where he was busy nipping at the sensitive point between his shoulder and his neck.

“What?” Yoongi asks, tightening his grip on Seokjin’s thighs as he leans back completely, fixing him with a hard glare.

“Am I boring you?” Seokjin huffs in lieu of an answer.

He crosses his arms over his chest, lifting a defiant eyebrow, and Yoongi bites his lip to suppress a smile, but he can feel one corner of his mouth has refused to comply.

“No, sorry,” he says, amused against his will. “I was just thinking.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” Seokjin scoffs, but it doesn’t sound too disparaged. “So just tell me what’s bothering you so we can talk about it, and then we can get to the fucking part of our arrangement.”

Yoongi blinks at him, wishing he could escape the way Seokjin looks when he swears, debauched even when there isn’t the slightest dent in his mask of perfection, not a single crease on his shirt, not a single hair out of place. Yoongi really must have been more out of it than he thought if he hasn’t already employed all of his diligence into messing up Seokjin’s hair the way he always wants to.

“I was just thinking about the fact that I’m going to burn in hell for all eternity for all the things I’ve done to you,” Yoongi says, which isn’t entirely a lie.

Seokjin smirks, which is disarmingly sexy, and leans in to give him a downright filthy kiss, which is just fucking rude.

“We’ll burn together,” he murmurs when he pulls back, and Yoongi almost whines, but catches himself in time. He thinks Seokjin knows anyway, because there is pure mischief in his eyes when he watches Yoongi chasing after his lips.

“You didn’t fuck the future king, though,” he retorts when his brain allows him to catch up.

“Didn’t I?” Seokjin retorts, laughter dancing in his gaze. “Because from what I’ve gathered, you sure like claiming the title, Agust D.”

Yoongi blinks up at him, lips parting. Seokjin takes the opportunity to kiss them with a giggle, but Yoongi is too shocked to reciprocate.

“Did you listen to my music?” he hears himself ask.

“I did. I told you my brother is a fan. He told me about you releasing a surprise mixtape and I was curious, so I asked him for a playlist. He was too eager to comply. He even told me what order I had to listen to enjoy it to the fullest.”

He says the last words with emphasis, as if he’s quoting them directly from his brother’s mouth.

“What did you think?”

“I think,” Seokjin murmurs against his lips, grinning, fingers fiddling with the buckle of Yoongi’s belt, hovering, teasing, “you’re very smart about the way you write, and that’s very hot.”

His breath is warm against Yoongi’s mouth, scorching, and Yoongi knows it means this conversation won’t last much longer, no matter which of them will cave first. So he tugs him a little closer, deftly opening the bottom button of his shirt, fingers deliberately brushing against Seokjin’s crotch.

“Is that it?” he asks, a little smug.

Seokjin snorts, and Yoongi loves the sound, because it’s improper and vulgar and everything Seokjin never allows himself to be unless he’s slowly unraveling under Yoongi’s ministrations.

“Are you fishing for compliments, Min Yoongi?” he says, half chastising and half amused.

“Mmh. Maybe.”

Yoongi opens another button and slips a hand under Seokjin’s shirt, skimming just above the warm skin, waiting.

Seokjin shakes his head, his own fingers gliding to the back of Yoongi’s head and carding through his hair.

“I don’t know enough about your genre of music to comment on the technicality of it. My music lessons weirdly didn’t cover hip-hop and rap. I paid more attention to the words, because that’s something I know. How to play with them and manipulate them and make them sing the right tune,” he says, and Yoongi thinks it’s the closest he’s ever been to admitting the many disguises he wears. “But I liked it. I really did. I even caught myself bobbing my head to it, but if you ever mention it again, I will deny it.”

Yoongi smirks, brushing his thumb over Seokjin’s hipbone. “I shall mention it every time we see each other again.”

Seokjin rolls his eyes. “Guess it’s time to put an end to this then. We had a good run and I will miss your mouth terribly, Min Yoongi. Too bad you never know when to shut it.”

Yoongi’s free hand works two more buttons open and tugs on the lapel of Seokjin’s shirt to pull him down so he can lick and nip at his jawline.

“You love it,” he whispers, smiling against his skin.

“I’ll deny that too,” Seokjin replies, voice deep and raspy.

Yoongi grins triumphantly against his neck, and Seokjin must sense it because he tugs at his hair a little harder than necessary, tearing a breathless gasp from Yoongi’s mouth, until Yoongi understands what he wants and lifts his head so Seokjin can kiss him, hard and demanding, the way he does when Yoongi teases a little too much.

The next minutes are a flurry of hands tugging at clothes and breaths being stolen and caution being thrown to the wind.

It’s hot and all-consuming, and Yoongi’s whole body is ready to lose itself to Seokjin entirely.

It makes it all the more dizzying when it all comes to an abrupt stop.

Because one minute he’s sitting on the couch with a lap full of Seokjin and there are warm lips against his pulse point and his hands are exploring the hard planes of Seokjin’s chest like he’s discovering them for the first time, and the next there’s a loud clamor at his back, the front door banging open and two distinct voices arguing with each other but stopping abruptly as they come closer.

Seokjin yelps, something impressively high-pitched, and pulls back from Yoongi. He almost falls on his ass, but Yoongi still has a semblance of reflexes and he catches him by the waist before he can tip backwards.

It gives him the best vantage point to witness the way Seokjin’s face drains of colors in seconds, his eyes wide.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he yells, and it seems to pull him back from his haze because he pushes himself off Yoongi’s lap to stand.

His shirt is still open on his chest, flushed and panting, but he doesn’t make a move to close it.

He doesn’t get a reply, at least not a proper one. Instead, a raucous bout of laughter emerges from somewhere behind Yoongi, so loud it ricochets across the room like an echo through a cave, destined to laugh at them forever.

Yoongi has his back to the impromptu visitors, and he has to employ all of his self-control not to take a peek over his shoulder to see who it is.

He just hopes it isn’t the King, because he doesn’t fancy being beheaded while he’s still hard in his pants. Or ever, really, but particularly not when he’s still hard in his pants.

“Way to go, Seokjinnie!” an unfamiliar deep voice exclaims, laden with mirth. “I knew you were more of a rebel than you let on!”

Seokjin groans, running a hand over his face. Horror is still plainly written on his features, the tip of his ears a furious crimson, his shirt hanging open allowing Yoongi to see the blush travels all the way down to his chest.

“Please tell me what you’re doing here,” Seokjin says, voice a little choked still.

“I could ask you the same thing!” another unfamiliar voice chimes in.

“This is my place!” Seokjin exclaims with an offended scoff, head shaking a little in indignation. “I don’t need a reason to be here, unlike you two!”

“Who’s that?”

Yoongi goes very, very still, because he doesn’t need to be facing them to feel the finger pointing at the back of his head. He shuts his eyes, willing the ground to open up under the couch and swallow him whole. The center of the Earth seems like a more hospitable place to be than the here and now, especially considering the tone whoever is standing behind him just used.

Beheading it is, then.

“This is–” Seokjin starts, his voice trailing off.

Yoongi wishes he could move, if only to run out the door and never think about this moment again, but that means he would have to turn around to get to the alley where his car is parked and that’s not happening. Not ever if he can help it.

“–a man,” Seokjin finishes lamely, and Yoongi finally looks up at him to lift an eyebrow in an expression that very much means what the fuck, Seokjin?

The same laugh from earlier erupts again, just as loud and exuberant.

“Tae, I swear I will kick your ass,” Seokjin says, deadpan.

Oh, Yoongi thinks, digging his fingers in his knees. Oh.

Tae. Taehyung. As in Seokjin’s cousin Taehyung. As in another member of the royal family. As in actual royalty.

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says, although he doesn’t sound like he is. “This is literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s better than the time Namjoon dropped his phone in horse shit and had to retrieve it himself because he felt bad asking someone to do it for him.”

“I can see it’s a man,” the second voice says angrily, clearly unbothered by Taehyung’s boisterous cheerfulness. “I’m asking who he is and why he’s here and what you were doing.”

“I think the last one was pretty self-explanatory,” Yoongi says, because he’s an idiot and he can’t help himself. He clears his throat and wets his lips. “Jin, maybe you could button up your shirt and we can pretend this never happened.”

Seokjin’s head whips down to him and he gives him a look that very much means what the fuck, Yoongi? or at least the more polite, Shakesperian, Seokjinian alternative. Something closer to Yoongi, you egg!

Yoongi is glad they’re on the same wavelength on this, but he sends him an apologetic smile anyway.

“Why is he calling you Jin?” the voice that isn’t Taehyung scoffs like he’s personally offended.

It’s a valid question, Yoongi ponders to himself, because he’s never done it before and he’s truly wondering himself. 

Seokjin quickly buttons up his shirt, heaves out a deep sigh, and looks back at Taehyung and the other visitor.

“Because it’s my name. You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”

“Your name is not Jin,” the second voice opines pointlessly. “Why does he get to call you that?”

“You’re leaving in two days,” Taehyung says, and Yoongi swears he can hear a pout in his voice but he doesn’t turn around to find out if he’s right. “We wanted to spend an evening with you before you’re ripped away from us forever.”

“I’m not being ripped away from you, stop being dramatic. It’s only a month.”

“Thirty-five days,” Taehyung corrects.

Seokjin rolls his eyes.

“We brought Mario Kart and beer,” the second voice says, and it’s still strained and cold and Yoongi will happily die, right here and right now, if it can get him out of this situation.

Hoseok will write a beautiful eulogy about him, and he’s sure the royal family has the means to disguise his death into something less embarrassing than this. At least he’s definitely not hard anymore, so there’s that.

“How about tomorrow?” Seokjin says with a shaky smile. “I can stay up with you tomorrow and I’ll sleep on the plane.”

There’s a silence, heavy with tension, and Yoongi sinks deeper into the couch, waiting.

And then comes the most twisted, cruel and deeply staggering combination of words he’s ever heard.

“No. I want to meet him.”

It’s the second voice, the one that isn’t Taehyung’s and this time Yoongi does move, not to swirl around but to send Seokjin a look of complete horror.

“Gukkie,” Seokjin says warningly, and yes, Yoongi would very much like to die now, because he knows who Seokjin calls Gukkie and he knows he very much does not want to meet him.

He had actually planned on never meeting him, because he’s fucking his brother on a regular basis, and he hasn’t read on the subject like Seokjin, but he knows meeting your fuck buddy’s family is usually out of the question, even if the fuck buddy in question is from a royal family. Especially if the fuck buddy in question is from a royal family.

“I want him to turn around so I can see his face and decide whether I want to punch it or not,” Jeongguk seethes.

He sounds closer than he was a moment ago. Yoongi represses the urge to flinch. 

Seokjin’s face morphs into an expression that sends a shrill through Yoongi’s body, his brows dipping into determination, lips pulled into a thin line.

“No.”

It hangs in the air like he hadn’t spoken at all.

Yes,” Jeongguk bites back stubbornly.

“Oh, fuck it,” Yoongi murmurs under his breath, because if he wants to turn around, he’ll turn around and he’s not about to let Their Royal Highnesses decide whether or not he’s allowed to move, and since the ground is uncooperative and has apparently refused to swallow him whole like he’s been hoping for the past five minutes, he’s taking matters into his own hand.

It might put an end to this whole mess more quickly, and then he can probably run out of the country and lay low for a while.

So he swirls around, ignoring Seokjin’s imploring eyes, and finds himself looking directly at His Royal Highness Prince Jeongguk of Brattyland.

“You’re not punching me, kid,” he says firmly, although his heart is rattling wildly in his chest. 

He realizes a beat too late he should probably be addressing him as Your Royal Highness too, and not with the teasingly unbothered tone he employs when he’s aiming the words at Seokjin, but it’s too late to take it back.

“Oh my God,” Taehyung gasps, the quietest he’s been so far.

He can pinpoint the exact moment Jeongguk recognizes him. His big, round eyes widen even more, and his features slack down in a mirror of shock. He blinks, looking back at Seokjin, and then back at Yoongi, and then at Seokjin again.

“You–He’s–You!” He sucks in a deep breath. “Jinnie!”

“What?”

“Do you know who he is?”

“Of course I know who he is!” Seokjin fires back, exasperated. “You just walked in on us in a very compromising position. Why would I not know who he is?”

“What the hell?”

“This is truly the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Taehyung chirps, delighted, and then he’s laughing again, wild and loud.

“I should go,” Yoongi says, turning back to Seokjin, who gives him a contrite smile and a quick nod.

“I swear on Jinnie’s head, if you try to get up from this couch, I will punch you,” Jeongguk says coldly.

Yoongi promptly freezes, because he’s been in enough fights in his time to recognize a true threat from a meaningless jab.

“Don’t swear on my head, you brat! And no, you won’t,” Seokjin tells his brother, piqued.

“Try me,” Jeongguk growls, marching around the couch to sit down right next to Yoongi, jaw flexing angrily. “What are you doing here?” he asks, his whole attention on Yoongi now.

“Like I said,” Yoongi says, gesturing vaguely between him and Seokjin. “Self-explanatory.”

“Are you dating my brother? What are your intentions towards him? Do you even know what you’re getting into?”

Before Yoongi can answer something incredibly stupid like ‘on good days, his ass’, Taehyung sits down on his other side, gently poking Yoongi’s shoulder to grab his attention.

“What’s your astrological sign?”

Yoongi sputters, rubbing at his temples where a stress headache is already percolating.

“Oh my God,” Seokjin groans. He grabs his brother by the sleeve of his sweater and, in an unexpected show of strength, unceremoniously pulls him to his feet.

“Leave him alone.” He jabs a finger at Taehyung. “You too. Yoongi and I are not dating.”

Jeongguk’s brows dip into a frown, although he doesn’t look as impressive as he did a moment ago now that his brother is holding on to his sleeve like he’s a little child who wants to get into a fight on a playground.

“Why not?” he spits out, glaring at Yoongi. “Is my brother not good enough for you?”

Seokjin flicks a finger at his forehead, and Jeongguk yelps, rubbing at the spot.

“I’m the future king and I’m gay. I can’t afford dating or romance,” Seokjin says, calm and far more collected than the situation should call for. “I can afford convenience, though, and someone for whom a purely physical arrangement is mutually beneficial. What I have with Yoongi is good. Convenient.”

“Can’t you just say ‘fuck buddy’ like the rest of us?” Taehyung groans, somehow both frustrated and still deeply amused. At Seokjin’s pointed glare, he grins, wide and saccharine, and adds, “Your Royal Highness,” with a derisive bow.

Jeongguk grimaces in horror. “I can’t believe you have a fuck buddy. I can’t believe Agust D is your fuck buddy. I need to stop saying fuck buddy.” He blanches even more and fixes Seokjin with accusing eyes. “What if we had come in five minutes later?”

“Then maybe you two would finally learn to warn me before you show up here.”

Taehyung moves from behind the couch to stand next to Seokjin, patting his back soothingly. “Keep dreaming, Jinnie.”

Yoongi thinks he may like him, a little bit.

That is, until Taehyung turns to face him, something sharp cutting through the sweetness of his smile and playing under the curtains of his eyelashes. He looks remarkably more threatening than Jeongguk does, even though Jeongguk looks like he could easily pick Yoongi up and throw him across the room without breaking a sweat.

“Look, as long as everyone is having fun, I think it’s great,” Taehyung says, but he isn’t smiling anymore. “I’m more curious as to how this even started. I don’t think you evolve quite in the same crowds.”

There’s a double entendre to his words, and although it’s subtle, Yoongi picks up on it easily. He can understand it; he doubts most people approaching Seokjin have the best intentions to heart. He can’t say he does either, but the difference is that he has no intentions at all. He doesn’t want anything from Seokjin. They don’t expect anything from each other; that’s why it works. There is no possibility of romance, no world where this could exist beyond the walls of Seokjin’s lodge or Yoongi’s apartment. It makes things easier, even though nothing initially suggested it could be.

Yoongi shifts uncomfortably in his seat, feeling like Taehyung’s eyes are boring through his soul and trying to pick up on the darkest parts of him to expose them to the world.

It’s no wonder he’s one of the few people Seokjin has told his secret; he doesn’t think Kim Taehyung can be lied to.

Which means Yoongi is now racking his brain for an answer that isn’t ‘I met your cousin and half an hour later we were fucking on the couch of his office in the royal palace and then we didn’t see each other for three months and did it again. And now we’ve been fucking each other’s brains out twice or thrice a week for about a month and a half. It’s been great. Peace.’

Seokjin answers for him, thankfully.

“We met the night of Gukkie’s gala.”

Jeongguk blinks at his brother. “You weren’t there.”

“I know. I was in my office. It was raining heavily, Yoongi needed shelter, I took pity on him and invited him in.”

“Pity?” Yoongi echoes with an indignant scoff he can’t hold back. “Is that what you want to call it?”

Their eyes meet, and Seokjin’s lips pull into a private smile. It holds a hidden meaning aimed at Yoongi alone.

“Did you think it was something else?”

“Yeah,” Yoongi huffs, leaning back into his seat to level him with a defiant look. “That’s not how I remember things happening.”

“You were probably feverish from the cold, you poor thing,” Seokjin retorts, with the same mischievous glimmer in his gaze that usually drives Yoongi mad with desire and frustration and an untamable urge to wipe it off Seokjin’s stupid ethereal face.

“Really?” he says dryly. “Because from what I recall, from the instant we met it was pretty clear you wanted to fu–”

“Yoongi!” Seokjin snaps before he can finish, the smugness successfully washed away from his features.

Yoongi smirks, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Ooh, the sexual tension!” Taehyung coos, clapping his hands in excitement, eyes lit up with glee. “I love it!”

“I don’t,” Jeongguk says flatly, and they lapse into an awkward silence, before he narrows his eyes on Yoongi, lips pursed in anger. “Do you at least use protection?”

“Mario Kart!” Seokjin yells, so loud and strangled that Yoongi, Jeongguk and Taehyung all startle at the same time. “Great idea! Let’s play Mario Kart and never talk about my sex life ever again.”

That’s how Yoongi finds himself sitting down in a leather armchair in Seokjin’s television room downstairs, Jeongguk sitting between them like an overly muscular chaperon, nursing a beer he had to fight-stare him for.

He did try to leave, but the moment he grabbed his jacket, Jeongguk ripped it out of his hands.

“You’re not leaving,” he said, pointing a threatening finger at Yoongi’s nose. “I’m watching you.”

“You’re fucking weird,” Yoongi told him.

Your Royal Highness,” Jeongguk hissed between clenched teeth. “It’s Your Royal Highness to you, asshole.”

“You’re fucking weird, Your Royal Highness,” Yoongi parroted, voice heavy with sarcasm, which he realizes now probably wasn’t the best response if he wanted to escape this whole situation.

So he’s playing Mario Kart, which is something he has done a total of three times before in his life and is now deeply regretting, because it means he sucks and that his fuck buddy’s bratty little brother of a prince is taking great pleasure in annihilating him with each new round after having essentially sequestred him in a house barely anyone in the country knows of.

His only saving grace is that Taehyung is a worse player than he is, because he spends half of each game driving backwards and laughing his obnoxious yet oddly elegant laugh every time one of them overtakes his character.

“Your last mixtape wasn’t that great,” Jeongguk grumbles, after Yoongi manages to miraculously escape the red shell he threw at him. Even though he was in second place, right behind Seokjin. He literally stopped driving so he could wait for Yoongi and attack him, and now Yoongi stole his second place. Oh, the sweet, sweet taste of revenge.

“Yes, it was,” Yoongi replies.

He released it two weeks ago with little to no advertising and it’s already broken records.

It has also almost broken the vein that runs down his CEO’s forehead, but that’s another matter entirely, and Yoongi comes to Seokjin’s to forget about the label and everything happening there, so he pushes the thought out of his mind. 

“Whatever,” Jeongguk grouses.

Yoongi smiles to himself, rolling his eyes.

At their side, Seokjin tries to patiently explain to Taehyung that the characters can’t swim and he has to stop trying to drive in the water. Taehyung cackles and does it anyway.

It’s all a bit chaotic, extremely loud and surprisingly cheerful. He doesn’t know what he expected. Well, he did not expect to ever find himself playing Mario Kart with three very prominent, very influential members of the royal family, but that’s too much to unpack and Yoongi can only deal with one existential crisis at a time. He did not expect that it would be like this, though, Taehyung sprawled on the floor munching on chips, Jeongguk punching the buttons like his life depends on it, and Seokjin’s curled on the other side of the couch, his rich, hiccuping laugh rippling through the room and snuffling every other sound. He did not expect that he wouldn’t completely hate it.

They’re waiting for Taehyung, who went upstairs to replenish his stock of chips and Seokjin’s personal supply of gummies, when Seokjin reaches over his brother’s back to gently tap on Yoongi’s shoulder to catch his attention. Yoongi glances at him and Seokjin gives him a small smile, apologetic.

Are you okay? his eyes ask.

His fingers curl at the back of Yoongi’s neck almost absently, searching for tender spots that would betray his discomfort.

He doesn’t find any, and no one is more surprised about this than Yoongi himself.

He covers it with a shrug. Seokjin’s smile eases into something a little more serene, eyes crinkling at the corner.

Yeah, Yoongi silently replies with a smile of his own, leaning into the touch. I’m okay.

Seokjin’s thumb brushes against his pulse point and travels up to the back of his ear, applying just enough pressure for Yoongi to know it’s intentional without having to search for the teasing flicker in Seokjin’s eyes.

Yoongi wants to glare at him, but he kind of likes this side of Seokjin, relaxed and a little wild, better suited to chaos than to conventions and protocols. 

“No touching!” Jeongguk shouts as he turns around and quite literally murders Yoongi with his eyes.

Yoongi scowls at him and takes a sip of his beer.

“Gukkie,” Seokjin says flatly. His usually noble accent is a little slurred, like he’s too relaxed to bother maintaining it. “I’ve had his dick in my mouth. I think you can get over me touching his neck.”

Yoongi chokes on his beer, his eyes watering as he starts coughing, afraid he might spit out one of his lungs. Jeongguk doesn’t fare much better, yelling incoherently as he covers both his ears. 

Taehyung walks back into the room, shoves a bowl of gummies in Seokjin’s lap and grins something wicked.

“That’s why you’re my favorite cousin.”

“Hey!” Jeongguk protests.

Seokjin leans back on the couch with a smirk, pulling his hand away.

As he dabs at his cheeks with the paws of his sweatshirt, Yoongi thinks this might be the kind of trouble his mother had warned him about.

When Yoongi leaves the next morning, far later than he usually allows himself to stay, the rising sun peeking in the horizon, he scribbles down a quick note and leaves it in Seokjin’s ensuite bathroom, the only place he doesn’t think Jeongguk and Taehyung are likely to snoop. 

They’re all asleep downstairs, sprawled around the television room in various uncomfortable positions, but they look like they won’t wake for at least the rest of the morning, in the case of the younger ones anyway. Yoongi knows by now that Seokjin’s sleeping patterns aren’t particularly healthier than his own.

He hadn’t realized Seokjin even found his notes because they never talk about it, until he found one the morning after Seokjin showed up on his doorstep looking like he had gone through hell that day to have a meeting with Hades himself.

It read:

Yoongi,

Bad day almost forgotten. Emphasis on ‘almost’ because I don’t want to add to that already over-inflated ego of yours, it’s really not as sexy as you think.

Thank you for not asking.

Kind regards,

J.

It was stupid. Leaving notes to each other is stupid, and Yoongi doesn’t know why he’s still doing it. Maybe because everything about this is stupid from beginning to whatever chaos will stir when it ends. It’s not just about making fun of Seokjin’s ridiculous manners anymore, but Yoongi thinks it has morphed into a complement to the whole ritual they have of driving each other crazy and constantly wrestling for the last word. He’s not about to let Seokjin win; that’s all there is to it.

Your Royal Highness Prince Seokjin of Cockblocking Little Brothers,

On a scale from one to ‘you should write a will and do it fast’, what are the chances your brother would pay a hitman to have me killed? Just so I can get my things in order.

See you next month if I didn’t suspiciously die under inexplicable circumstances by then. Have fun on your trip to take over the world. Try not to let all the sycophants get to your head, although I know you don’t need them to boost your own ego.

Yours in a convenient, purely physical and mutually beneficial arrangement (seriously, you make it sound so sexy),

Y.

Yoongi’s studio is sacred ground.

It’s his personal haven, and even the higher-ups of the label know not to come in without being invited to. The only exceptions to that rule are Hoseok and Jimin, who earned the right to barge in through years of building trust and a lot of begging, bribing and grovelling. And stealing the passcode, in Hoseok’s case.

It’s nothing particularly luxurious, even though his equipment is the latest and best on the market. It doesn’t really matter, because Yoongi still works on his songs the way he did when the idea of having his own studio in a big music company felt like a ludicrous dream. Most of the time, it’s just him with his notebook on his lap, nibbling on a pen or typing furiously on his laptop when inspiration strikes. He doesn’t need an actual studio, with powerful speakers, soundproof walls and multiple screens for this step of his creating process. The beauty of making music is that it can happen anywhere, from the forgotten comfort of his childhood bedroom to padded walls in one of the tallest buildings in the city.

He likes working here, though. He likes going to work every morning and locking himself in his studio, because this is where he can feel it the most, how real it all is, how a thought drawn from his mind can transform into the eerie but concrete shape of a song.

Even through the clusterfuck that has become his relationship with the people that actually own the building and most of the equipment he works with here, it’s still a safe haven. They know that if they don’t want things to aggravate even more than they already have, his studio must remain neutral ground in the cold war that is brewing.

He probably shouldn’t have released his new mixtape without warning them, but he doesn’t regret it, because it’s his. Just his.

He may have browsed some of the ideas for it right here, slouched into his couch and his brain running on too much caffeine to rest, but he did all of the recordings in his studio at home, with his instruments, his words, his voice. He did post- and pre-production, smiling at the nostalgia it brought along of his humble beginnings. It’s his work, from start to finish, and he made sure no one but him could claim credit for it.

The label didn’t like it, and that was just another source of unbridled joy.

Because the mixtape has been doing numbers, high and groundbreaking for an artist like himself, especially with little to no promotion. Jimin wrote a tweet, and that was it. He knows the label executives have been trying to find a way to claim ownership over it, but they can’t.

He wished he could have seen the CEO’s face when he first got the news about it. Daehee likes to think he doesn’t own only Yoongi’s producing skills but also his whole life, and he isn’t used to people fighting back, especially not artists that are signed on his label, especially not people who had as good and respectful a relationship with his father as Yoongi did.

Yoongi has been summoned for three different meetings since he released the mixtape. They have threatened him in various degrees of subtlety, and Yoongi has walked out of each of them a little delirious because it feels like he finally won, finally regained some of the freedom and momentum that had seemingly died along with Kim Jihoon.

He would have expected a visit from Daehee for the occasion, but Yoongi sincerely doubts Daehee even knows where his studio is.

It’s all been a lot to take in, to go through with his chin up and an impassive mask on because even if it feels like a victory, Yoongi knows it’s unwise to celebrate until it’s carved into stone. And he’s far from there for now.

His studio is sacred ground because once the door is closed and Yoongi is locked in, he doesn’t have to think about anything else. His worries are washed away. He didn’t think he would ever find comfort in a place, but it’s attached to the thing he loves the most in the world, to the passion that has been driving him on a sinuous but fulfilling path for his whole life, so it makes sense.

And it makes sense, too, that he doesn’t completely hate it when Hoseok shows up unannounced because he usually brings food and the warmth of his person to brighten Yoongi’s even gloomiest days.

Hoseok is not usually a quiet person, but he knows when to be. He knows when Yoongi just needs a presence by his side, a silent form of support that is here but not overbearing. He supposes it’s the kind of comfort people can find in one’s presence when they have known each other for as long as Yoongi and Hoseok have.

Hoseok just sits by his side, scrolling down his phone and occasionally giggling to himself when he finds a particularly funny meme. His new hobby is to find side by side pictures of Yoongi and various kittens and to rate their resemblance from one to ten. None of them has gotten a grade below seven so far, which is a little offensive, but Yoongi doesn’t mind because Hoseok’s giggles fill the room and the holes in Yoongi’s chest when he is at his worst. It’s an oddly relaxing sound.

They’ve had a quiet afternoon overall, and the office is mostly deserted by now, the work day long over for most people who don't camp here like Yoongi does too often.

That’s why he startles when there’s a knock at the door.

He thinks for a moment that it could be Jimin, but Jimin is doing a press tour this week and getting as much sleep as he can whenever the occasion arises, so the possibility is thin. Plus, Jimin knocks but always pins the passcode in immediately afterwards, which Yoongi has argued countless times makes the knocking quite counterproductive. Jimin insists he is the epitome of politeness nonetheless. And he is, most of the time, but he’s also a little devilish and definitely unbothered by Yoongi’s occasional sourness.

The thought of it being yet another label executive wanting to pester him into obedience crosses Yoongi’s mind, but he knows none of them are quite brave enough to seek him out when he’s been locked out in his studio for almost twelve hours with hardly a peek outside.

He and Hoseok share a puzzled look, before Hoseok huffs out a laugh.

“I can’t believe you scare people so much we’re shocked when someone knocks on your door. We need to work on your manners.”

A flash of Seokjin uttering the same words pops into Yoongi’s mind, but he chases it away, rolling his chair to the door to open it.

“What?” he snaps in lieu of a greeting.

Yoongi’s eyes widen as he recognizes the man sheepishly standing at his door.

“Good evening,” he says with a quick bow. “Could I bother you for a moment of your time?”

There’s a shriek at Yoongi’s back. His dream of a peaceful and quiet evening withers and dies with it.

“You can bother us for all eternity,” Hoseok exclaims, unceremoniously pushing Yoongi’s chair out of the way as he shoves the door open.

He almost knocks Yoongi out with it, and Yoongi doesn’t think Hoseok would have noticed if it had, because he’s already fluttering his eyelashes at Kim Namjoon. He leans against the threshold, hip propped up in a posture Yoongi imagines he wants to be seductive.

“Hello, Dimples. Long time no see.”

He’s purring. Yoongi hates him.

“Oh, hello,” Namjoon says, blinking at Hoseok like he’s not the one who showed up at Yoongi’s studio uninvited. His eyes meet Yoongi’s. “I thought I’d be able to catch you alone. My sources said you often stay here late at night.”

“Your sources?” Yoongi echoes dryly. “Are you spying on me now?”

“No!” Namjoon says, eyes widening like the mere idea is ridiculous. Like the people he works for don’t have the means to make it happen if they want to. Yoongi wonders inwardly if Namjoon is truly that innocent or if he’s just really good at pretending. He’s spent enough time with Seokjin by now to settle on the latter. “I’m not spying on you. I just wanted to make sure I caught you alone.”

Hoseok makes a noise in the back of his throat that is pure agony.

“Didn’t you leave yesterday?” Yoongi asks.

Seokjin did, and Yoongi has trouble computing with the fact that Namjoon is standing there in front of him at ten in the evening instead of halfway across the world following Seokjin like a taller, governing shadow.

“I’m joining him tomorrow,” Namjoon says. “I had some business to attend to beforehand.”

Yoongi’s brows dip into a frown. “Am I a part of that business?”

“Yes,” Namjoon says. “Can I come in?”

“No. Did he send you?”

Hoseok huffs and swats at his shoulder, harsher than necessary.

“Come in, Dimples,” he says cheerfully, fully ignoring the look of absolute betrayal on Yoongi’s face. “Take a seat,” he adds as he slouches into a chair, patting his lap in a clear invitation.

Namjoon’s brows disappear behind his hairline, color rushing to his face, and the corner of Yoongi’s mouth lifts in a lopsided smile he hides behind his hand.

“I– Uh,” he mutters, before taking a cautious seat on Yoongi’s couch, as far from Hoseok as physically possible. “I was hoping I could talk to you,” he tells Yoongi, eyes darting quickly to Hoseok, who is now pouting. “Alone.”

Hoseok pouts harder.

“Did he send you?” Yoongi parrots, crossing his arms over his chest.

“No, he didn't,” Namjoon says. “He doesn’t know I’m here.”

“So, what’s up with you talking in riddles? Who’s this ominous He?” Hoseok chimes in, before turning back to point an accusatory finger at Yoongi. “Did you get involved in some sketchy shit? Without asking me to join? What kind of best friend gets sucked up in some sketchy drama and doesn’t drag his best friend in? You know I’ve always wanted to live a super secret double life.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “You wouldn’t last a day before accidentally revealing your secret identity on Twitter.”

“I would have made a great crime lord and you know it,” Hoseok retorts.

“That’s...concerning,” Namjoon says.

Hoseok leans forward to pat his knee, smiling seductively. “Don’t worry, sweetcheeks, the only illegal things I get involved in happen in the bedroom.”

“I do not find this reassuring at all,” Namjoon says, gulping.

“Not yet,” Hoseok replies with a wink.

Namjoon ducks his head and clears his throat before glancing back at Yoongi. Yoongi stares back, refusing to budge. He’s already had one particularly assertive –and unnecessary– shovel talk from Seokjin’s brother; he’s not about to make it easy for his best friend to do the same.

He holds Namjoon’s gaze defiantly, lips pursed in annoyance.

Namjoon frowns. “You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”

“No.”

Namjoon heaves out a deep sigh and grumbles something under his breath that sounds a lot like ‘why is this my life?’ before leveling Yoongi with a stern look.

“Could we at least do this in private?” Namjoon asks.

Yoongi doesn’t reply.

“You know, I’m starting to think this is some kind of weird escape room situation I haven’t been made aware of,” Hoseok says, confused. He turns to Namjoon. “But if you’re here, I’m not sure I want to escape.” He pauses and casts a quick look at Yoongi. “You need to go, though.”

Yoongi glowers. “This is my studio,” he says, deadpan, his eyes not leaving Namjoon’s. “This isn’t the palace and unlike most people you probably encounter in your life, I don’t answer to you. Or to him, for that matter. If you’re going to barge in my studio and make demands, you’re going to have to go by my rules. Hoseok stays. So unless what you have to say can be said in front of a third party, you know where the door is.”

Namjoon blinks at him, before shaking his head and shuffling into the briefcase he’s carrying with him. Yoongi swears he sees the hint of a smile on his face as he does, but he’s just spent the most part of twelve hours locked up in a room without windows, so it might be the isolation finally getting to him.

Namjoon pulls out a small stack of paper, and when his eyes settle back on Yoongi, there is no amiability or false politeness left between them. His lips are pulled into a thin line.

“I need to ask you a few questions and I need to make you sign an NDA.”

“An NDA?” Hoseok echoes, casting a mildly concerned look at Yoongi. “Seriously, what did you do? Are you secretly an assassin for the Crown? You know I wouldn’t love you any less if you were. I might even love you more.”

Yoongi’s lips jump with a smile, but he doesn’t reply, rummaging on his desk for a pen.

“Give it to me.”

Namjoon looks surprised with his lack of resistance. “Really?”

“I’ll sign your fucking NDA,” Yoongi says coolly. “I’m not going to tell anyone. If I were, I would have done so back in June. This isn’t my secret to tell and I don’t make it a habit to publicize my sex life.”

“It’s true,” Hoseok says forlornly, clearly fishing for sympathy in Namjoon’s decisively uncooperative presence. “He sucks as a best friend. I only keep him around because he makes up with his lack of sex talk by listening to mine for hours without complaining. Actually, he complains a lot, but I don’t really care.”

“Fuck off,” Yoongi grumbles, plucking the paper out of Namjoon’s hands, eyes skimming quickly over its content.

Hoseok pauses, his lips parting to shape a perfect ‘o’ and his posture so still it would be worrying if Yoongi wasn’t so used to the whole palette of his mannerisms. “Wait, what sex life? Who are you fucking?”

“Your dad,” Yoongi grumbles, earning himself a well-deserved kick to the leg. He winces, rubbing at the spot.

Namjoon clears his throat again. Yoongi’s head whips up and he squints at him, eyeing his uncomfortable posture suspiciously. “Speaking of sex life, I said I had a few questions.”

Yoongi blinks and feels himself blanching. This is so not happening. “Please don’t ask me what position we fuck in because I will kick your ass so hard you won’t need a plane to get there tomorrow, you’ll fucking fly on your own.”

Namjoon doesn’t seem particularly scared, but something flickers on his face akin to amusement that is much more unsettling. “At least I know why it’s you,” he says, humming as though he’s just uncovered the secrets of the universe. “No, I need to know if you’re exclusive.”

Yoongi frowns. “Are you asking me if I’m fucking other people?”

“Yes, precisely.”

“Why?”

“Because if you do, we need to have an uncomfortable conversation about your STI status and safe sex.”

“Yeah, because nothing about this conversation has been uncomfortable so far.”

“For you and I both,” Namjoon replies dryly, and it’s the first glimpse at an actual personality he’s shown in the total of two interactions they’ve had with each other. Yoongi finds it oddly reassuring, familiar in the same way he does when Seokjin lowers his guard just slightly enough for Yoongi to see the man hiding behind the facade of perfection and prestige.

“No, I haven’t been with anyone else since June. And I got tested after the last one before that. I’m negative.”

“Good,” Namjoon says. “It would be better for all parties involved if it stayed this way.”

Yoongi doesn’t have the opportunity to answer.

A loud gasp pulls both of their attention away from each other and back to Hoseok. 

For a moment, silence falls between them and they watch as Hoseok’s brain seems to stutter, his eye twitching like a cartoon robot whose update didn’t quite go as planned. And then, he catches up all at once and he shrieks, the sound so loud and piercing Namjoon startles and almost falls off the couch.

Yoongi just blinks at him, wishing he wasn’t so used to it, it doesn’t affect him anymore.

“Dude, are you fucking a royal?” he all but yells, and Yoongi has never been so grateful for soundproof walls. Hoseok doesn’t wait for a reply, turning to Namjoon to slap his shoulder repeatedly, not quite hard enough to hurt but still enough to have Namjoon looking like he’s fearing for his life. “Is he fucking a royal?” Another gasp slips out of his mouth as the association seems to be made in his mind. He slaps Namjoon’s shoulder again. “You’re Prince Seokjin’s best friend! Oh my God, is he fucking Kim Seokjin?” And then turns to Yoongi again. “Are you banging Kim Seokjin?”

Yoongi sucks in his lips and lays the paper in his hand on the desk, quickly inscribing his initials at the bottom and signing it.

“I can’t say,” he replies dryly. “I just signed an NDA.”

“Oh my God!” Hoseok yells to the ceiling. “Oh my God! The gala! You disappeared for a whole hour and you came back reeking of sex!”

“I can’t deny nor confirm–”

“Shut up! Oh my God, I hate you! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

Yoongi chances a glance at Namjoon, who looks like the weight of the world just fell on his shoulders. But he’s the one who showed up uninvited and unannounced in Yoongi’s studio to make him sign an NDA like he needs a piece of paper to prevent him from spilling the future king’s best kept secret, so really, that’s on him.

“Was there something else?”

Namjoon looks positively discouraged. He doesn’t reply, digging into his briefcase for something instead. He plucks out another stack of paper and a pen and turns to Hoseok with a look of complete desolation.

“Jung Hoseok, was it?”

Hoseok nods, and it says a lot about how shocked he truly is that he doesn’t take the opportunity to purr about Namjoon remembering his name or come up with another equally terrible pick-up line.

Namjoon scribbles something down and hands it over to Hoseok. “You’re signing one too.”

Hoseok curves an eyebrow, suddenly very serious. “Can I talk about it with Yoongi?”

“I’m not telling you about my sex life,” Yoongi says matter-of-factly.

“Yes,” Namjoon sighs.

Hoseok shrieks happily and signs without further ado, using his knee as support. He glances back up, his lips curving into a smirk. “Need my number with that?”

“I already have it,” Namjoon says flatly, still looking like he was just run over by a truck. “Did a background check on Yoongi and you came up a lot.” He looks up at Yoongi, as though he didn’t just admit to snooping into Yoongi’s past. “Which is also something I wanted to ask you about.”

Yoongi grits his teeth. “Seokjin told me he didn’t do a background check.”

Seokjin,” Hoseok echoes disbelievingly under his breath.

“He didn’t,” Namjoon says. “I did. Because it’s my job to cover his back and because if things were to come out, I need to be prepared to handle anything that would be thrown at him. So, is there anything I should know about your past?”

Yoongi feels himself go still with shock, his ribcage constricting until the air from his lungs becomes vain. Namjoon doesn’t seem to realize. His face doesn’t show any particular sign of caution, though. That’s what Yoongi tells himself anyway, wondering how deep exactly Namjoon dug. What he found out. What power he employed to unravel Yoongi’s dirty secrets and make sure he couldn’t hurt Seokjin with them. As though they can hurt anyone but himself.

“Didn’t you just say you did a background check?” Yoongi asks in lieu of an answer, resisting the urge to nibble at the skin around his nail.

“There are things that don’t come up in official files,” Namjoon says. “Jealous ex-lovers, private pictures that might end up on social media, a secret sextape...”

Yoongi throws him a dubious look. “Do I look like I have a secret sextape?”

“Kind of.”

“Yeah, you really do, babe,” Hoseok butts in.

Yoongi glares at the two of them.

“I had a shitty ex when I was nineteen and was exploring my sexuality. He was a lot older than me and turned out to be an overall creep. But he died something like five years ago. Heart attack. That’s all I can think of.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says thoughtfully. “I can work with that.” His face relaxes in a grin, showing off his dimples. Hoseok sighs dreamily. “You passed. Congratulations.”

Yoongi wets his lips to conceal the relief pouring through him in waves. If Namjoon picks up on it, he hopes he attributes it to Yoongi passing his surprise test with flying rainbow colors and not the lingering fear of what exactly he might have uncovered, of what might come to the surface if they dig too deep.

“Aw,” Hoseok coos, glancing at Yoongi with a gaze filled with pride. “Can he get a little diploma to hang next to his awards? Something about him being qualified to fuck royalty?”

“Not really,” Namjoon says, blinking.

Hoseok’s lips pucker. “You royals are no fun.”

“I’m not a royal.”

Yoongi has a moment to feel a pang of sympathy for Namjoon before Hoseok is leaning in, plastering a flirtatious smile on his face. “You should be, Dimples.”

“Let’s stop here before you unknowingly commit treason,” Yoongi says, pulling Hoseok back with a firm hand on his shoulder. “Or make the prince’s most trusted advisor unintentionally commit treason.”

Namjoon clears his throat, pushing himself on his feet and back to his full height. “Thank you, and sorry for showing up like this. Seokjinnie wouldn’t have let me come if he knew.”

Seokjinnie,” Hoseok mouths at Yoongi behind Namjoon’s back, slamming a hand over his chest and feigning dizziness.

Yoongi scoffs. “You know I’m gonna tell him, right?”

“Yes,” Namjoon says, fixing him with shrewd eyes. “That’s why you passed.” He bows, giving them a last nod. “Thank you for your time.”

And with that, he is gone, disappearing through the deserted office like he was never even there.

“He’s totally in love with me,” Hoseok states matter-of-factly, gazing pensively after him.

He blinks and Yoongi winces, already knowing what’s to come before it happens. Hoseok shrieks at the top of his lungs, leaping off his chair and directly on Yoongi’s lap, ignoring his stifled protests. 

“You’re fucking Prince Seokjin!”

Now that Hoseok knows, Yoongi figures he should probably be relieved.

He doesn’t mind keeping secrets, has been doing so for so long he forgot what it felt like not to nurture the cramped, dark part of his soul that never grew meaningless with the years despite his best hopes and regular therapy sessions.

This was different, though, because it didn’t affect him alone. It was a secret he shared, and some day in the future, he hopes its existence will become irrelevant, but the fact that he kept it will not.

Yoongi knows better than most the power of secrets, the armor they build around you, preventing people from seeing the truest parts. It’s always the truth people try to hide, always the parts that matter, the secrets that hold power and worth. He doesn’t know exactly why Seokjin is so adamant about keeping his sexuality as deeply buried as he does. They’ve never really talked about it, and Yoongi doesn’t feel like he has any right to ask anyway.

It did cross his mind, the fact that Seokjin’s influence and status should protect him from the things that happen to people who deviate from the norm and defy the status quo, but Yoongi also knows that there is more to it. The odds are not the same when Seokjin isn’t, has never been and will never be just a random private citizen. When he’s been groomed into producing an heir and keeping his political opinions to himself while the essence of who he is could be considered a political statement.

It’s all politics and power games Yoongi wants no part of, not when he can see the results so clearly, in the many masks he’s seen Seokjin bearing like they’re inherent to his person and he would collapse without them.

At least his secrets only have power over his own heart and don’t threaten the stability of a millenial empire.

It’s different to be sharing it with someone, another kind of burden, another kind of privilege. At times it felt like he might burst from the pressure of it, from the fear of slipping up and betraying a trust that is all that they have. But it also feels precious, somehow, like he’s hoarding gold in a corner of his mind but it doesn’t belong to him alone.

It’s a little bit ridiculous, then, that he feels bad, almost guilty, from knowing something Seokjin has spent most of his life hiding and for being the one who saw through it like it was out in the open, plain for anyone to see. He doesn’t know why it’s him. Why after years of self-restraint and rightful paranoia, Seokjin caved that night.

If he’s quite honest, Yoongi doesn’t know why he did either.

He’s a secret himself, so he knows better than most why some things are better left untold and out of reach.

He doesn’t know why that thing between him and Seokjin happened. There is no rational explanation for it.

Which is what he tells Hoseok, for what must be the thousandth time in the five days he’s known about it.

“That’s a bullshit answer.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes and wonders if there is a customer service equivalent for best friends, because he wants to return this one and possibly get a refund.

“That’s my answer, though,” he says.

He’s sitting with his legs crossed in front of the TV, Hoseok sprawled on his couch like he’s reenacting a scene from Titanic. Neither of them are paying much attention to the movie playing, because for the umpteenth time this week, Hoseok has decided to roast him over his latest discovery.

“You’re telling me this man has been keeping it in his pants for a whole decade and then he just saw you and decided to throw away his purity ring. Just like that?”

“I don’t like how skeptical you sound,” Yoongi mumbles. “I’m hot.”

Hoseok grins, poking Yoongi’s cheek with his big toe. “Of course you are, you sexy little thing. You’re a catch, babe.”

Yoongi swats his foot away with a grimace of disgust.

“But no offense, I think he’s met his fair share of hot men, starting with his main advisor,” Hoseok points out matter-of-factly, gaze turning a bit glassy at the mention of Kim Namjoon before he pulls himself together and focuses on Yoongi again. “And I’m sure you weren’t the first one who thought he’d try his luck at jumping into bed with him.” He inhales sharply. “I still can’t believe you’re banging the future king.”

“So you’ve said. At least a thousand times in the past five days.”

Hoseok pokes his toe at his shoulder this time. “Come on.”

Yoongi huffs out a deep sigh, throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation. “I don’t know, Hobi. There was a connection, I guess.”

Hoseok coos. “Was it love at first sight?” he asks, because he’s a hopeless romantic beneath all the trash talking and disastrous dating record.

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “No. It was lust, a bit of alcohol and a lot of bad judgment.”

“Aha! Why are you still doing it if it’s bad judgment?” Hoseok says, in a tone that insinuates he is very much aware of his own shrewdness.

Yoongi casts a quick glance at the painting he bought the night of the auction, hanging over his piano in a corner of the room. Darkness, an explosion of colors and a silver line following a sinuous path around the canvas.

Silver lining.

He shrugs, focusing back on the screen. “Because the sex is good.”

Hoseok snorts. “Or because you’re terrified of commitment and you know it’s doomed from the start because of who he is so you don’t have to put your heart on the line.”

“Stop pretending you’re a therapist because you’ve listened to two podcasts,” Yoongi says dryly.

“I didn’t hear a denial, though.”

“Because I’m not acknowledging you anymore. It gives you motivation.”

Hoseok goes quiet for a while, and Yoongi thinks he’ll finally have some semblance of peace to catch up with the plot of the movie even though he has no idea what is going on anymore.

Peace and Hoseok are usually incompatible.

So he groans loudly, and Yoongi groans too, but quietly and to himself, like a decent person.

“Do you think Kim Namjoon would let me take a nap on his chest? It doesn’t even have to be sexual, I just want to use him as a pillow. He looks like he makes a good pillow.”

Yoongi should be glad the topic deviated from his non-existent relationship with Seokjin. He should, except this is also the thousandth time Hoseok has been daydreaming about Kim Namjoon in the past five days, and there’s only so much he can take.

“I’ll make you eat a pillow if you mention him again,” he grunts.

“I’m pining, Yoongles!” Hoseok exclaims dramatically. “Have some fucking sympathy for your pining best friend, you monster!” 

Yoongi doesn’t reply, because he’ll be very rude if he does. He picks up his phone instead and opens a thread of messages that is mostly clinical arrangements and business-like talks about schedules, and types furiously, hitting send before he can think twice about it.

i need your guard dog’s phone number.

He doesn’t know in which country Seokjin is at the moment, or what time of the day or the night it is there, but his answer comes in a matter of seconds.

Namjoon?

yes

The next reply doesn’t come as fast, and Yoongi waits, glaring pointedly at his phone like it could urge Seokjin to type faster.

I haven’t been gone a week and you’re already looking for a replacement? With my closest friend no less? I’m devastated.

He feels the smile curling at the corner of his lips, the indulgent exasperation he’s come to associate with Seokjin tugging at his chest.

It’s this, the connection he told Hoseok about. He doesn’t think he can explain it better than this. Seokjin drives him crazy with his stupid wit as much as he does with his stupid good looks. It’s all just very stupid, but it seems to be working for the both of them.

it’s not you, it’s me </3, he replies, and immediately sends another text. but it’s actually for my friend hoseok… he’s “pining” and if i hear him say the words “palpable titties” one more time i don’t know what i’ll do but it won’t be legal

Yoongi spares a glance at Hoseok, who is pouting to himself, silent at last.

Well, we can’t have that. You’re too pretty to go to jail.

It’s followed by another text a few seconds later, and Yoongi swirls around, throwing his phone on Hoseok’s stomach, who jumps in surprise.

“Don’t say I’ve never done anything for you.”

Hoseok frowns, intrigued, and his eyes widen as he reads Seokjin’s last text and scrolls up to understand what the number is for.

His eyes fall on Yoongi then, full of affection and sickening fondness. “You love me,” he says, resting a hand over his chest as he pretends to be choking up. “You really do love me.”

“With my whole heart,” Yoongi says flatly, but he reaches out to gently squeeze Hoseok’s knee anyway.

Hoseok smiles and quickly copies the number into his phone. Yoongi stares absently back at the TV, watching the end credits roll up and mournfully wondering what the movie was even about. When he turns back to Hoseok, hand reaching out expectantly for his phone, there is a mischievous glimmer in his friend’s eyes.

“Do not save Seokjin’s phone number,” he warns.

Hoseok freezes like a child caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. “I wasn’t going to,” he squeaks.

Yoongi lifts a dubious eyebrow, wiggling his fingers.

Hoseok heaves out a deep sigh. “You’re no fun. I read your conversations and I thought I was reading some transcript of a business transaction,” he laments, as though this is a perfectly normal thing to do. “I can’t believe you managed to make being fuck buddies with goddamn Prince Seokjin boring.”

“I don’t know how else I’m supposed to tell you that it’s all just sex for you to understand.”

He snatches his phone from Hoseok’s hand, rolling his eyes when he realizes the traitor managed to scroll back almost all the way up the thread. 

Hoseok doesn’t look remotely apologetic. “He sounds pretty funny, though.”

Yoongi hums absently, quickly typing another text: thank you. you just saved a life.

“I didn’t expect him to be funny,” Hoseok presses.

Yoongi smiles to himself, because he can admit that he still hasn’t quite wrapped his mind around the fact that Seokjin has a sense of humor buried under the perfect picture of seriousness he carries at all times. A cutting, vitrified one with that.

“Me neither,” he says because it’s true.

Seokjin’s reply comes in a matter of seconds: Yours or your friend’s?

probably both. do i need to sign another NDA or are we good?

He doesn’t know why he writes it. Maybe he’s still a little bitter about the whole thing, maybe he just wants Seokjin to feel bad for Kim Namjoon invading his personal space. Maybe he doesn’t want the conversation to end just yet.

This reply takes longer to come.

Namjoon told me what happened, Seokjin writes. I’m sorry. I told him it wasn’t necessary. He tends to be a little overzealous when it comes to protecting my integrity.

what integrity? i thought i had taken care of that.

Yoongi, Seokjin texts back, and Yoongi can almost hear the amusement laden through the berating tone, curling around a dignified accent. I’m in a meeting. Let’s not talk about what you do or don’t do to my integrity, thank you.

why are you texting me if you’re in a meeting?

Seokjin’s answer takes a little longer to come: Because it’s with Namjoon, who is reviewing my schedule for tomorrow for the third time today and reminding me of protocols that I’ve known by heart since I was five. I think your friend texted him by the way, because his phone buzzed and he’s been stuttering ever since. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stuttering before.

hobi has that effect on people.

Anyway, I’m really sorry about the NDA. It’s useless and he and I both know it. He just wants to protect me by any means available. He’s not always smart about it, even though he’s the most intelligent person I know.

That manages to tear a small smile from Yoongi.

it’s okay. it’s his job. i’m glad you have someone who looks after you. a little less glad that it means he’s stalking me but i’ll survive.

Hey, that just means you truly made it! All popstars deserving of the name have a stalker at one point or another.

Yoongi snorts, rolling his eyes at his phone. did you just call me a popstar? because finding a replacement suddenly sounds very appealing

You can’t be bothered to remember my actual title but you’re drawing the line at me calling you a popstar?

yes

That’s in bad taste, Yoongi. But just so you know, out of all the popstars I’ve met, you’re my favorite one.

A smirk tugs at the corner of his lips as Yoongi types his reply: that’s because my dick sucking isn’t metaphorical.

When you put it like that, I can only concede your point.

what? nothing about my ‘abysmal manners’?

You’re a lost cause, Min Yoongi. I know you like watching me bristle at your crassness too much to stop. I’ll just have to take you as you are, filthy mouth and all.

Yoongi pauses, thumbs hovering over the screen for a moment, before he squints at his phone.

“Oh, you bastard,” he mutters to himself –and mostly Seokjin, whom he realizes can’t hear him. But still, it’s the intention that matters.

maybe when you’re back, he texts back.

;)

didn’t know you knew how to use emojis. how very plebeian of you, your royal highness.

Seokjin answers with a single eggplant emoji and the laugh that slips out of Yoongi’s mouth is so unexpected he nearly replies to Hoseok’s look of complete surprise with a matching one.

He bites on his tongue instead.

“What?”

Hoseok grins.

“Just sex, uh?”

Yoongi flips him off, and wonders mournfully how after all these years he still sometimes forgets his best friend is an absolutely terrible person.

Chapter Text

Please tell your friend Hoseok to stop sexting Namjoon when we’re sitting in a meeting with the French president. I have to concentrate to understand his English and having Namjoon squirming next to me truly isn’t helping.

you’re just mad i’m not sexting you, chéri.

There’s not much that can get me going as effectively as three hours of speeches on the irreversible doom of climate change.

i take offense

Because you’re very into speeches about climate change?

because i can definitely get you going more effectively and i don’t need 3 hours. or to speak at all, actually.

You’re an insufferable demon.

so i have a question.

No, darling, I will not marry you.

there go my plans for the future. i would have started a revolution for you </3

As if you needed incentive to want to start a revolution.

touché.

What’s your question, you neomarxist little devil? I’m trying to sleep.

shit sorry, did i wake you?

No, I’m going through my flashcards for tomorrow’s meeting. I’m just hoping I’ll fall asleep halfway through because I’m exhausted.

where are you now? still europe?

Yes, Belgium. Gorging myself on waffles. Leaving for Washington D.C. the day after tomorrow. So, your question?

how did you know you were gay?

Are you trying to come out to me, Yoongi? Because if so, I have to tell you I already know you’re not straight. I’m sorry if I’m stepping on your moment, but I started getting a hunch about it after the second or third time we had sex.

sometimes i try to understand how your brain works and the only plausible conclusion i’ve come up with is that you’re the product of centuries of incestuous marriages.

Ha. You’re hilarious.

i know. you haven’t answered my question tho.

Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I was thirteen. Don’t judge me.

that’s a very valid gay awakening, i would never.

What was yours?

i’m bi.

You know what I meant. Don’t play dumb with me, you gremlin.

i was older. nineteen. hobi dragged me to a gay club to celebrate our “friendiversary” and it was just… a lot, but also all of a sudden i felt like i belonged? idk how to explain it. it was like one moment i was lost and the next i just knew.

That sounds nice. I’m glad it was a positive experience for you. I have to go. Need to finish reading these flashcards before tomorrow’s meeting and I know you think I’m a robot but even robots need to sleep.

i don’t think you’re a robot. at least not in private. are you okay?

That’s good to know. Good night, Yoongi. Or good day, I don’t know what time it is for you right now. I don’t even know what time it is for me.

… okay. good night seokjin.

There are protests happening in front of the White House when Seokjin’s car drives in. They’re being kept to the side by over-armed police officers and metal gates, but Seokjin sees them all the same. It’s a small crowd, but it’s hard to miss, people wearing matching T-shirts with pro-LGBT slogans and a sea of flags being waved about like political weapons.

They pass them in a blur, the car not even slowing down as it maneuvers through the main gate, but Seokjin catches sight of one of the signs anyway.

GOD HATES HOMOPHOBES, it reads in huge, glittery letters.

Seokjin isn’t much of a believer, doesn’t think his life story would allow him to be. If there’s a God, he wouldn’t be on good terms with them anyway. It stings all the same.

He shuts his eyes before he can see more, leaning his head back against the headrest and sucking in a sharp breath.

Namjoon doesn’t say a word, but he lays a gentle hand on Seokjin’s knee, a small anchor to ground him back to the surface before he can spiral too far down. It usually works, but Seokjin is tired, has been travelling for ten days already, and he can’t summon the energy to soak up the strength he knows Namjoon is trying to conjure with the touch.

He misses Jeongguk, and he wishes he could tell him, but they haven’t done much talking since he left, just the occasional text here and there. He’s been relying more on Taehyung’s daily updates –and increasingly odd but endearing selfies.

He hears a couple of interns whispering between themselves as he and Namjoon follow the president down the halls, gushing over them and fooling themselves into believing they are discreet about it. Seokjin gives them one of his winning smiles as he passes them, because this is what he does, even when the storm is raging.

Smile. Charm. Pretend he isn’t torn apart from the inside. Act.

He’s had an ugly feeling churning in the pit of his stomach ever since he and Yoongi texted two days ago and Yoongi told him about how he came to realize he wasn’t straight.

It’s stupid, but Seokjin felt irrationally mad for a moment, and jealous for longer. It’s not Yoongi’s fault that he never got to experience this: gay clubs, nonchalance in the face of the public eye, and a sense of belonging.

The only place Seokjin has ever been told he belonged in is a cage with walls of gold and lies to hold them together.

It’s not jealousy, he tells himself. Not exactly. Perhaps it’s just hope that in his next life, if there is such a thing, he won’t be the person he is in this one, built on compromises and deceit, on buried pain and secrets that follow him with every step.

Yoongi doesn’t compromise who he is, and that’s all Seokjin has ever known to do.

He’ll never belong with people like him. He’ll never belong with people who have the courage to defend who they are to the world, to rise up against the tide with multi-colored flags in their hands and a clear idea of where they want the future to go.

So Seokjin does what he does best. He forgets about the people outside screaming at him that he’s a fraud. He forgets about the pain lancing through his chest when he’s foolish enough to let himself dream of better tomorrows.

He’s not a dreamer anymore. He’s grown out of it.

He’s been walking through darkness for too long not to be wary of the light.

just saw the news, Yoongi texts him in the middle of the night, although it’s probably the afternoon for him. you okay?

Seokjin wants to ask him why he cares, wants to urge him not to, wants to tell him that no, he isn’t, but that this is the one constant he can trust in his life. That he’s never okay, never truly, never fully.

He wants to cry, but the tears don’t come. They never do.

Americans, Yoongi, he writes back. That’s all I can say on the matter. Anything more might warrant a diplomatic incident.

The ring of his phone that follows is so unexpected that Seokjin almost drops it.

He blinks at the screen blearily, watching Yoongi’s contact name –myg demon– flashing back at him.

He waits for a bit, for Yoongi to realize he’s made a mistake in calling him and for the call to disconnect. When it stops and then immediately starts ringing again, he answers.

“Hello?”

His voice is hoarse with the sleep he hasn’t been getting, hesitant with this new odd territory of speaking on the phone with this man who remains a stranger on every level but physical.

“You know, for someone who probably knows enough state secrets to bring entire countries down, you’re shit at deflecting.”

Seokjin scoffs. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s the second time I ask you if you’re okay and you change the subject,” Yoongi says, with just a hint of his insufferable arrogance. He always sounds like he can see right through every single one of Seokjin’s lies, even when they both know he doesn’t. He can’t even fathom their true depth.

“Since when do you care?”

He can almost hear Yoongi rolling his eyes through the phone. “Since I saw you on the news and you looked dead on your feet.”

“I looked gorgeous and you know it.”

“Yes, just like corpses when they’re embalmed before a funeral.”

“For a moment, I almost thought you were being nice to me.”

Yoongi chuckles, a short, light sound that echoes through Seokjin’s mind endlessly as he stares at the ceiling. “Take it back,” he says, but the words are woven with amusement. “I’m not nice. My whole thing is being mean.”

Seokjin hums, the ghost of a smile tugging at his mouth. “It’s cute that you want me to believe that after you texted me just to get a phone number for your friend.”

“The fact that you’re insinuating I didn’t do it for completely selfish reasons regarding my own peace of mind and Hobi shutting up about your guard dog’s dimples is deeply vexing.”

“The fact that you think I don’t know you did it to make him happy is too,” Seokjin replies, rolling over on his stomach and following the intricate patterns of the wooden headboard with his eyes.

Yoongi huffs and Seokjin hears the telltale sound of a piano note being pressed gently and the flick of a lighter before he speaks again, “So, what’s wrong? Apart from the fact that the American president tried to set you up with his daughter in front of a whole room of journalists today.”

Seokjin laughs without meaning to. “Of course that’s what you’d pick up on.”

“It’s all over the news here,” Yoongi says, and he clearly sounds more amused than sorry. “News channels are speculating on whether it means something or not. So far the general consensus is that you wouldn’t stoop so low, so congratulations on that. What I did pick up on is Kim Namjoon trying to hide his laughter by crouching behind your back and coughing in his fist.”

“He’s been teasing me about it all evening,” Seokjin groans. “But at least it wasn’t Taehyung with me. His poker face is the worst and I can assure you tomorrow’s headlines would be his disgusted face plastered everywhere.”

“Oh, I believe that,” Yoongi says, voice coming out raspy as he takes a drag of his cigarette. “I’ve met him.”

“He liked you,” Seokjin says, for a reason beyond him. “He doesn’t like many people.”

“I’m honored.” He doesn’t sound sarcastic this time, and Seokjin truly wonders why he thinks he can hold up this false bad boy persona when he is so obvious about the gentleness of his soul. “Now stop fucking around. What’s wrong?”

Seokjin sighs heavily. He can’t believe he actually considered the goodness of Yoongi’s heart for a moment, even fleeting as it were. Yoongi is a unmitigated demon sent on Earth to torture him with his straightforward attitude and indecent mouth. It’s probably better that he is, now that he thinks about it. It’s easier to deal with than the alternative. Seokjin hardly knows what to do with kindness when it’s genuine and offered to him without expectations of him giving back.

“I’m fine,” he says.

There is a silence, the soft frizzle of a cigarette burning, a somber melody being played on a piano, rising and blooming, bold and intense until it stops altogether.

“Is it because of what I said the other day?” Yoongi asks, voice muted, deliberate but careful. “About belonging? I realized later that it might have been insensitive.”

Seokjin shakes his head, scrunching his eyes shut and opening them again to glance up at the ceiling, black dots dancing across the surface.

“It wasn’t,” he says. “You were sharing your experience, there’s nothing insensitive about that. It just happened to be different from mine.”

Yoongi plays again, something different but still heavy, almost dark, like he’s painting the depth of Seokjin’s burden with the keys.

“If you were a private person, just a regular citizen for a day, what would you do?”

Seokjin struggles to swallow past the lump in his throat.

“I try not to think about that.”

“Why not?”

It’s the middle of the night, and there is no one but Yoongi there with him. He’s far away from home, in another country, another bed, in a moment that suspends his grasp with reality. He lets himself be shielded by the poetry woven through the music, each note a soothing symphony, a beautiful lie.

“Because then I think of how different my life would be,” Seokjin says, barely recognizing his voice as his own. It’s hard to remember how he sounds when he’s telling the truth. “And it hurts a little too much.”

The music stops; silence reigns for a moment.

Seokjin resists the urge to ask Yoongi to play again, to fill the hole with something other than the pitiful pieces of his heart and the low tremor in his voice.

He doesn’t have to.

The music starts again, a new beginning. It’s a little lighter, an echo of droplets of water against the pavement after a storm. Seokjin’s chest rises and falls along with every measure, tuning in to the melody, to the quiet nuances hidden in each note.

“I would go to a concert,” Seokjin says, so low he doesn’t think Yoongi will hear him.

His eyes burn, his chest hurts but he knows there’s nothing to be done about it. It’s phantom pain, the remnants of the hopes and dreams he gave up on a decade ago. Of a heart that once was naive and whole.

“I think I’d do something very mundane. Eat ice cream by the beach or ride a rollercoaster and scream my lungs out. Sit in a restaurant with Gukkie without having to book a private room and solicit a whole security team. Go on a date to the movies and try that stupid move where you pretend to yawn to put your arm over the shoulders of the person next to you. It’s so stupid, why do heterosexual people do that?”

There’s a light chuckle coming out of his phone, but the music doesn’t stop.

“I think I’d be good with just holding hands, though,” he says, a murmur lost into the night. “I’d like to hold hands with someone that I love and who loves me back.”

He groans out loud, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“This is pathetic. Please forget everything I just said and let’s go back to this weird never-ending foreplay of ours where you call me a privileged jerk and I graciously pretend you don’t own an apartment that’s worth a few millions.”

“It’s not pathetic. You’re allowed to wish for more, Seokjin,” Yoongi says.

It’s another kind of music, the way he says his name. Yoongi doesn’t say it often, not unless they’re in the heat of passion and that’s all they can still say to each other –their names, whispered and moaned and sighed like a prayer until they feel consecrated.

“I can’t, Yoongi,” Seokjin says, and wonders if the way he utters his name holds more weight than it should too. “I’ll just wake up in the morning and be reminded that none of it is real.”

“Do you want it to be real?”

Seokjin just wants to be able to tell the difference.

He curls up on his side, watching the darkness spreading through the window. The moon is full, a silver beam entering the room in a pristine glow. He raises a hand, tries to catch it and fails, inevitably.

He takes a long time to answer, and he knows his silence is a testimony to the lie that will cross his lips soon. There’s only Yoongi in this room with him, despite the oceans between them, and Seokjin’s collection of secrets.

“No,” he says softly.

He doesn’t know who he is anymore, without the lies and the secrets. He doesn’t want to find out.

The music lulls, permeated with melancholia and possibilities Seokjin will never allow himself to explore.

“I need to stop talking now,” he says quietly. “You know too much already and I clearly shouldn’t be expected to make rational choices after 3am.”

“Maybe I’ll make sure all of our conversations happen after 3am from now on,” Yoongi says, an offer of respite.

Seokjin takes it.

“I’ll just add that to the evidence I’ve been gathering to validate my theory about you.”

“Alright, I’ll bite,” Yoongi says after a beat. “What theory?”

“That you’re a demon from hell sent here to tempt me until I cave and both my life and my kingdom are left in complete chaos.”

“At least you get orgasms out of it.”

Seokjin chuckles, rolling onto his back. “I suppose I could do worse.”

“Yeah, you could be fucking the daughter of the American president.”

“I’m hanging up on you.”

Yoongi laughs, breathy and pure in the dead of the night. Seokjin waits until he is done before he hangs up, shaking his head as he shuts his eyes, a smile curling at the corner of his lips.

He falls into a dreamless sleep.

have you really never been to a concert?

Good afternoon to you too, darling. I’m doing fine, thank you. How about you?

yeah, yeah. i have terrible manners and i’m a sexy demon, so you’ve said. last night, you said you’d like to go to a concert. have you really never been to one?

I never said sexy but I’ll let you have it because you’re sadly right. And of course I have. Never by choice, though. Always classical music. I don’t mind it, but it usually means I have to sit straight for two hours like I’ve got a stick up my ass.

don’t.

Even though we both know I’m not opposed to that ;)

i hate you.

</3

“I’m not very familiar with your family’s history, but isn’t he pretty much the ugly duckling?” Yoongi asks when they call each other a week later.

Seokjin doesn’t really know how it happened. He just landed in New Zealand a few hours ago and as he locked himself in the royal suite, truly alone for the first time in a week, he had felt the urge to talk to someone before the loneliness could fully creep on him.

He supposes it makes sense that it was Yoongi he called. It all started because Seokjin was lonely and emotionally vulnerable, which are two things Yoongi seems to be frighteningly good at both noticing and chasing away. There’s also the fact that he never seems to sleep, no matter the time of night or day.

“Stop lying, I know you spend your free time googling us,” Seokjin retorts as he dips his toe in the fuming bath he ran for himself, phone safely resting against the marble counter on speaker. “You’re obsessed with me.”

“Good thing I don’t have a lot of free time then,” Yoongi quips back. “Wasn’t he disowned?”

“He abdicated first. That’s why he’s my favorite. I like a rebel, you should know.”

“I have about ten jokes about incest in mind right now.”

“I’ll hang up on you again,” Seokjin threatens.

Yoongi chuckles, clearly unaffected. “Are you even allowed to visit him?”

Seokjin sinks into the bath, expelling a deep sigh of content as warmth envelops him. “Technically, I have a free afternoon,” he says. “If I just so happen to spend it visiting the countryside and coming across my great uncle’s home, it’s all purely coincidental.”

“Who’s the rebel now?” Yoongi whistles, something almost proud in his voice.

“Are you turned on yet, baby?” Seokjin asks teasingly, grinning at the little choked noise he always manages to tear out of Yoongi when he doesn’t try to cage this side of him; a little mischievous, something other than the insipid, picture-perfect prince Yoongi had thought he’d meet that night.

“I have a meeting with label executives in twenty minutes and I’ve been spending all morning convincing myself I shouldn’t punch them, so I’m afraid not, but it has nothing to do with you, I promise.”

Seokjin shuts his eyes, a smile tugging at his lips. “Of course not, I’m irresistible.”

“I’m never introducing you to Hoseok,” Yoongi says, deadpan.

“I think Namjoon might end up doing that anyway,” Seokjin points out, which earns him a quiet hum of agreement. “Trouble in paradise with your label?”

Yoongi laughs, but there is no humor to it. It’s both biting and bitter.

“It hasn’t been paradise for a while,” he says. “But it’s been worse since I released my mixtape without them.”

Seokjin opens his eyes, turning to look at the phone laying on the counter, picturing the way Yoongi’s eyebrows dip into a frown when he’s upset.

“A problem with your contract?”

“No,” Yoongi says, and he sounds tired all of a sudden. “I’m signed as a songwriter and producer, not an individual artist, so they legally don’t have control over what I release on my own. I consulted a lawyer and made sure there was nothing they could do to me before I released it. I just didn’t consider that they would find other creative ways of punishing me.”

“That sounds like a healthy professional relationship.”

“Oh, that’s an understatement,” Yoongi grumbles. “I was very close with the former CEO, but his son took over after he passed and it’s been...dire. He can’t be bothered to get involved and the people he left in charge are incompetent assholes who only care about making money and not about making music. I usually work exclusively with Hoseok and Jimin, who are also my closest friends. They’re the people I was with that night at the art gallery. Hoseok is a choreographer but he’s a great producer too, although the label doesn’t seem to realize that because he’s criminally underused. Anyway, the label is pushing me to the sidelines by trying to force Jimin to work with someone else on his next album. They rejected all thirty-one songs I presented them with. I even offered Jimin to use two of my songs without putting my name on it but they somehow must have figured out they were mine because they rejected them too.”

“Did they give a reason for it?”

“Nope,” Yoongi says, failing at sounding as nonchalant as he was probably aiming for. “They also miraculously found a way to make Hoseok collab with a dancer he’s been wanting to work with for a very long time, but told him he had to scratch one of his current projects to make room for it. I’ll let you guess who Hoseok was working with on the project they insisted he strike out.”

“Did he?”

“No, because he’s an idiot,” Yoongi sighs.

“A loyal idiot,” Seokjin amends.

“Yeah.” He sounds like he doesn’t know whether he should feel bad about it or thankful for the sacrifice his friend made for him.

“So they’re using your friends to get to you,” Seokjin says. “Sounds like something my grandmother would do.”

“Your grandmother? The Queen?”

Seokjin hums faintly in acknowledgement. “That’s why I went on this trip in the first place. She likes to play mind games and it was either that or she would have found a way to punish Gukkie and Tae for my mistakes.”

“That sounds like a healthy relationship too,” Yoongi says.

Seokjin scoffs out a humorless laugh. “I was expecting a joke about how very plebeian of us it is to be just like any other dysfunctional family. I’m a bit disappointed, Yoongi.”

“It’s just that my evil plan is finally coming to fruition, I don’t even have to say it anymore. You do it yourself. Soon enough, you’ll be basic like the rest of us.”

Seokjin lets out a dramatic gasp, but it’s belied by the amusement layered through it. “Take it back!”

“No,” Yoongi says through a quiet laugh.

“About your label problem,” Seokjin says, “I can’t say I know enough about your industry to speak on it with confidence, but I do know a thing or two about mind games and military strategy.”

“Is this where you tell me that in order to know my enemy, I must become my enemy?” Yoongi asks, voice laden with sarcasm.

“Almost,” Seokjin chuckles. “I never understood why this is what people chose to remember from Sun Tzu when there are so many much more important lessons we could have taken from him. Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

“That doesn’t sound like a very honest way to live.”

“You don’t win battles with honesty.”

“So what? I should let them walk all over me?” Yoongi bites, his voice rising. “Take the loss and stop fighting?”

“It’s only a loss if you let it be,” Seokjin says with a shrug. “Sometimes, you have to take a loss to make your enemy believe they won the war. It’s when they’re convinced that they have the upper hand that people become predictable. Arrogance makes them lower their guard, and that’s when you can break their resistance without tiring yourself with pointless arguments and endless fights. It makes them angrier when you start fighting again, and anger makes for poor decisions.”

Yoongi hums thoughtfully, and the line is silent for a long moment before his voice comes, firm again.

“Hey, Seokjin?”

“Mmh?”

“Your relationship with your grandmother sounds fucked up,” Yoongi says matter-of-factly.

Seokjin laughs, in surprise more than amusement.

“Oh, you have no idea.”

Yoongi watches as Jimin paces back and forth in front of him, his jaw flexing with irritation. He doesn’t dare to say a word, whether to urge him to stop moving because he’s making him dizzy or to attempt to placate the anger he is exuding so fiercely it seems to take over every available inch of space.

Yoongi doesn’t scare easily, but Jimin is normally so nice and delicate that it is absolutely terrifying when he does get angry. He has to suppress the urge to flinch when Jimin finally stops pacing to look at him, his eyes rigid and cold.

In a moment of bravery, Yoongi opens his mouth to talk, but Jimin shoots him such a venomous glare that he clamps it shut almost immediately.

“I am so mad at you right now,” he finally says, voice wavering as evidence. “I can’t believe you did this.”

“I had to!”

“Where did that even come from?” Jimin snaps, throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation. “Last time I talked to you, you were ready to go to war. It’s like all your resolve went up in smoke the moment you walked into the room.”

“I had a talk with a friend who helped me see things in a new light,” Yoongi explains carefully.

From his spot on the couch, Hoseok looks up from his phone and gives him a knowing glance that Yoongi wisely chooses to ignore.

“You don’t have friends outside the two of us,” Jimin says, seething. “And what kind of friend advises you to give up? You caved in to all of their demands! And you didn’t tell me anything about what you were planning to do!”

“First of all, ouch. And secondly, I didn’t have time to tell you about it,” Yoongi valiantly tries to argue.

“I saw you two hours ago!” Jimin explodes, his hard gaze burning through Yoongi like he’s tearing him apart with his bare hands in his head. It’s a very probable scenario. “We had a battle plan ready, and I had to sit there getting whisplash while you just took all the blame and said yes and amen to all the shit they want to make you do!”

Yoongi knows, reasonably, that Jimin isn’t truly angry at him, but for him. Jimin rarely gets angry on his own behalf. He saves his battles for the people he cares for; it’s one of the things about him that attracted Yoongi in the first place, perhaps because it was something he felt could inspire him to do better. It’s also one of the things they ended up fighting about constantly before they finally called it quits.

Yoongi sucks in a sharp breath, rubbing at his eyebrow. “Our battle plan was bad, Jimin,” he sighs. “It was just saying no to everything.”

“Well, I’m pretty fucking good at saying no,” Jimin says. “I’m great at it, actually. Ask me if I like you right now and you’ll see.”

Hoseok snorts quietly, but Jimin’s head whips to him and whatever he reads on his face makes Hoseok slouch down on the couch like he’s trying to sink into it, making a zipping motion in front of his mouth.

Jimin glances back at Yoongi.

“Look,” Yoongi sighs, “I’m sorry I blindsided you. I realized we needed a change of strategy too late and there was no time to warn you. By the time I made it to the meeting room, you were already inside.”

“What kind of strategy are you talking about? Giving up is not a strategy.”

“I’m not giving up,” Yoongi says firmly. “Look, I can’t keep doing this. It’s been going on for months and it’s only gotten worse since I released my mixtape without telling them.”

“What do you mean?” Jimin asks, and he sounds calmer now, the only reminiscing evidence of his anger in the frown he is sporting.

“I’m tired of fighting them all the time,” Yoongi says. From the corner of his eye, he sees Hoseok putting away his phone, leaning forward to show he’s listening too. “They’ve been pulling all kinds of clauses from my contract to make me do shit I don’t want to do. They rejected every single one of the songs I wrote for you. They forgot to send me the concept idea for the new band. They sent me the wrong guide for the OST they made me work on so I showed up to the meeting unprepared and looked like an idiot when I realized halfway through we were not talking about the same track. I wouldn’t write a song for their fucking idol who was caught doing cocaine in that shitty club so they made him do a cover of one of my old songs instead. A song where I talk about my depression and my struggles, which is deeply personal to me. And I can’t do shit about it because they own the rights for it so they could turn it into a fucking yodeling track if they wanted to.”

He breathes out a tired sigh, tugging forcefully at the hem of his sleeves. He inhales sharply, and sets apologetic eyes on Jimin.

“I’ve been fighting them at every corner, it’s been getting me nowhere, and I just can’t do it anymore. I don’t have the time or the mental energy for it, not if I want to spend them on something actually productive like figuring out how to get the fuck out of here without getting sued or ruined or both. It used to be easy. When Jihoon was in charge, I never had to worry about my integrity as an artist being threatened. I don’t know how to deal with this. I need time to think, and I can’t have it if I spend every waking moment fighting Daehee’s fucking minions who don’t know the first thing about making music.”

Jimin’s features soften into something sympathetic. It’s somehow more daunting than his earlier wrath. He steps closer, kneeling in front of the couch until he’s at eye level with Yoongi. Hoseok scoots closer. He doesn’t say a word, but he rests his head on Yoongi’s shoulder and lays a hand on his knee in silent support.

Yoongi finds he breathes a little more easily.

“Have you tried talking to Suran?” Hoseok asks softly.

Yoongi shakes his head. “She’s too smart,” he replies. “She might understand why I’m asking and she might be on my side most of the time, but she still has high stakes in this company. She was just as close to Jihoon as I was. She’ll want to protect his heritage, out of respect for him, and that means acting in the company’s interest first. We might have known each other for a long time and been sort of friends before Jihoon died, but it’s all business to her, and she’s still ruthless when she needs to be.”

Hoseok heaves out a deep sigh. “I love her.”

Yoongi snorts, patting Hoseok’s hand on his lap.

“Why did you say yes to everything, though?” Jimin asks, his voice more gentle but his brows still furrowed.

“Because if I say yes, they might get off my back and cut me some slack,” Yoongi says. “That’s all I need right now. I need them to stop scrutinizing my every move and giving me hell whenever I breathe so I can figure out how to terminate our contracts without getting all of us dragged through the mud.” He pauses, hesitant. “That is if you still want to–”

“I swear on my entire Gucci collection, if you ask us one more time if we still want to do this with you, I will shove that whole keyboard down your throat and kick you in the gut until you play me a song.”

Yoongi blinks, lips parting.

“What he said,” Hoseok chimes in, much more cheerfully.

Yoongi wants to be offended, but he can’t. He shakes his head instead, ducking his head to hide the small smile tugging at his lips.

It wasn’t how he saw things play out, and he doesn’t know why he took Seokjin’s advice exactly. He figures that Seokjin was probably right about one thing; he knows more about cunning strategies and manipulation than Yoongi does.

Yoongi has always been too straightforward, too blunt, too raw to play the same game as the snakes and foxes that surround him. It reminds him too much of everything he always refused to be, of the lies he grew up with, the coldness he endured, arms wrapped around himself in a vain search of warmth.

It appears he’s not quite done braving storms.

Kim Sanghoon is an odd character.

There is something off-key about him, his external proper appearance always clashing with his loud, exuberant personality. Seokjin never knows what he’ll say or what he’ll do next, and although it is a bit unsettling, it’s refreshing too.

“I still don’t think this is a good idea,” Namjoon says as he gets out of the car, his eyes scanning their surroundings quickly. “He doesn’t like me.”

“Everyone likes you,” Seokjin argues, stepping out.

“Min Yoongi doesn’t.”

“You had a total of two interactions with him and you were giving him orders both times. What did you expect?”

“I expected you to grow out of your bad boy phase,” Namjoon snorts.

Seokjin narrows his eyes on him in a glare that Namjoon answers with a wide grin, dimples popping off to accentuate the innocence he is going for.

“Jaehwan wasn’t a bad boy,” he mumbles, ignoring Namjoon’s scoff of laughter.

He starts walking along the pathway to the palatial white-walled villa spreading before them, taking in the familiar scenery and the innate sense of peace that comes with it.

“That’s why Sanghoon hates you,” Seokjin says, smirk hidden behind the mask covering his lower face.

Namjoon’s eyes widen in horror. “He does?” he asks, blanching. His tone grows more desperate when Seokjin doesn’t reply. “Jinnie! He does?”

“My boy!” a loud, boisterous voice calls from the patio.

Seokjin stops to look in that direction, easily spotting his great uncle standing there, arms spread wide, grinning. His wild grey hair is tussled, and he looks nothing like the royal he used to be, wearing a short-sleeved flowery shirt, khaki pants and flip-flops. Most of Seokjin’s relatives would bristle at the sight of him –although they would do that regardless of his attire.

“Come here, you little shit!” Sanghoon yells cheerfully.

It’s so overtly against every protocol Seokjin had ingrained into him from birth that he can’t help but grin too. It turns into a laugh when Sanghoon trots down the steps to meet him on the pathway, shooing off the security guards who try to stop him.

He pulls Seokjin into a strong, bone-crushing hug before stepping away, holding him at arms’ length.

“You look like shit.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Uncle,” Seokjin laughs.

Sanghoon peeks over his shoulder at Namjoon. “Did you have to bring your chaperon?”

Namjoon lets out a noise that is embarrassingly close to a squeak.

“Be nice,” Seokjin says, too amused to be truly chastising.

Sanghoon rolls his eyes, ushering them inside. “Come to the patio, I have tea brewing.”

The late-afternoon sun hangs over the hills, suffusing everything in a golden haze. The patio is hidden away from the rest of the world by luxuriant nature, creating a secluded canopy that looks straight out of one of Jeongguk’s paintings.

Seokjin takes a moment to relax, leaning back into the chair. It’s the first time in nearly three weeks he has a meeting he actually wants to sit in.

His respite is short-lived, because Sanghoon was never one to beat around the bush.

This is largely why he became persona non grata at the palace, or anywhere near royal family ground.

“So, why are you really here?” Sanghoon asks.

Seokjin licks his lips, his ephemeral peace already forgotten, and takes a sip of his jasmine tea. “Can’t I just visit my favorite great uncle?”

Sanghoon gives him a deeply unimpressed look. “You can, if you want to piss off your grandmother when she inevitably finds out.”

Seokjin winks in lieu of an answer, and Sanghoon barks out a laugh, head thrown back in delight.

“I was surprised when I saw on the news that my brother had stepped down from the tour and you were going instead, but I suppose it makes sense. What did you do to piss her off? Is this about your public fight with your brother?”

“That, and my going with Taehyungie to a feminist event,” Seokjin says more seriously. “She thinks I’m trying to modernize the monarchy, and we both know how fond she is of the idea.”

Sanghoon hums. “We wouldn’t need to meet clandestinely if I didn’t,” he says.

“Sometimes I wish you hadn’t renounced your titles.”

Sanghoon waves the comment off. “I would have been miserable, and a miserable man makes a poor king,” he says. Seokjin tries not to make the twitch in his jaw too obvious. Sanghoon is nothing if not observant, however, and his face falls into a rare mask of gravity. “Is this what this is about? Your visit? 

Seokjin shakes his head. “I’m not miserable.”

“Then what is it?”

“I need your advice,” Seokjin says, sucking in a sharp breath. “I want to get Jeongguk out of there. Possibly Taehyung too, if I can. You’re the only person I know who managed to live a somewhat normal life after stepping away from the family.”

Sanghoon frowns and he casts a surprised look at Namjoon, who is standing a few feet away from them, fingers playing idly with the leaves of a majestic dendrobium orchid, before looking back at Seokjin.

“He knows why I’m here,” Seokjin says, although Namjoon doesn’t give any indication that he’s listening to them. “He knows everything there is to know about me.”

“Do you trust him?” Sanghoon asks, his face pulled into a dubious grimace. “He was raised to be loyal to the throne.”

“So was I,” Seokjin replies. “We all have our disillusions. There is no one I trust more in this world than Namjoon. Not even my brother. Not even you.”

“That’s good,” Sanghoon says, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. “You shouldn’t trust me. I’m an evil rascal who ran away from my responsibilities for a commoner, remember?”

Seokjin rolls his eyes, but he can’t help but smile.

He remembers the spring days when his mother would usher him and his brother into their clothes and say they were visiting their great uncle. He remembers the excitement he felt back then, because Sanghoon’s house was a ground without rules.

They were allowed to run outside without jackets, to roll around in the grass and laugh as loudly and obnoxiously as they wanted to. He remembers lying down, struggling to catch his breath, Jeongguk by his side, his five year old legs struggling to keep up with Seokjin’s but trying, always trying. He remembers the warm sunlight caressing his face, his father laughing from the patio with Sanghoon, his mother looking happy, a rare sight.

This garden was a miracle for him. The rest of the world would only see the magnificence of the wild nature, but it is so much more to him. He can still remember climbing up the tree and his father climbing after him with a laugh, huddling in there with him to discuss vitally important things –they had seemed to be, to ten year old Seokjin; he can’t remember what they were now. He can remember his mother’s eyes, though, filled with affection as she playfully scolded them for ripping their clothes, and Sanghoon’s wife, sweet, gentle Byeol telling her that she could sew them back together for them.

He doesn’t remember the exact shade of his mother’s eyes, the exact tone of her voice –time is ruthless that way– but he remembers the love on her face, the sense of peace she had found here, for the few days they managed to visit.

It was a hide-out, Seokjin realized much later, when the royal life was a little too much.

A part of him wishes they could have stayed here forever.

“Jeongguk and Taehyung,” Sanghoon says, tearing him out of his thoughts. There is a distant look on his features, though, and Seokjin wonders if he is seeing them too, the ghosts of the people that once roamed his ground with happiness in their steps. “Do you want them to renounce their titles?”

Seokjin shrugs, looking back at him. “If that’s what it takes. If I have to step down or if something happens to me, I don’t want Jeongguk to rule. I know Taehyung is further down the line of access to the throne, but I’d rather get him out too.”

“Do you see them renouncing their privileges?” Sanghoon asks, and before Seokjin can reply, “Their personal chef? Their security team? Their allowances?”

“I’ll look after them.”

“And who will look after you?” Sanghoon asks with a scoff.

“You know I can fend for myself.”

“I know that’s what you like to tell yourself,” his uncle replies, and Seokjin’s annoyance must show on his face because he makes a dismissive motion with his hand. “I also know your brother and cousin are stronger than what you give them credit for. You might condemn them to a worse fate.”

“It can’t be worse than this,” Seokjin breathes out through the lump clogged in his throat. “It’s too much. The constant pressure, the public eyes always on them, the lies.”

Sanghoon smiles something fond. “I thought I had you all figured out, you know,” he says, not unkindly. “I never pegged you for being naive.”

Seokjin frowns, and he’s about to reply, but Sanghoon beats him to it. “Do you think any of it will stop just because they’re not officially part of the royal family anymore?” he inquires, gaze more cynical even than the words. “It’s in the blood, my boy, not in the titles. I am well situated to speak about it, I should have been king. When I left, I left everything behind. Not just my crown. I left my country, the few friends I had, my favorite niece.”

Something filled with affection flits in his eyes, but Seokjin can’t summon a responding smile. All that ever comes at any mention of his mother is the suffocating pain in his chest, the crushing remorse, the words he should have found.

“Do you regret it?” he asks instead.

“No,” Sanghoon replies without hesitation. “But it’s a lonely life to live, Seokjin. You don’t just renounce the title and miraculously live a normal life. You don’t become a commoner. People still know who you are, where you’re from, what you were meant to be. It took years for the public to lose interest in me, and those were not peaceful years. It would be worse for your generation, the attention you get is more intense than what I ever knew.”

“But you were happy,” Seokjin says, fully aware he is grasping at straws that haven’t been extended to him.

“I like to believe I was,” Sanghoon says pensively. “I wasn’t unhappy anyway. I had your aunt by my side, and she was my rock. She was the pillar of my existence, holding everything together in a semblance of coherence. She made it all worth it, Jinnie. You have to understand that.”

“Sometimes I truly wish you hadn’t abdicated,” Seokjin says again, knowing the thought alone is selfish. He gives him an apologetic smile. “I know you would have been miserable, and I’m sorry for even thinking it, but then Grandfather wouldn’t have become king, and Jeongguk and I wouldn’t be next in line. Your son would have been king instead.”

Sanghoon laughs derisively. “My son is an idiot. He would’ve ruined the country.”

Seokjin’s lips pull into a sardonic smile. “Haven’t we done that anyway?”

Surprise flashes on his uncle’s features, and he puts down his tea to lean forward. “Seokjin, you need to be careful,” he says gravely, worry marring the wrinkles at the corner of his dark eyes. “If you think your life is miserable now, I bristle at what your grandmother would do if she heard a quarter of what you just told me. These are dangerous waters you’re navigating.”

“Which is exactly why I want Jeongguk and Taehyung as far away as possible when it blows up,” Seokjin says steadily. “I know it will. It’s only a matter of time. She doesn’t want me on the throne, because I’m not as easily malleable as she’d like me to be. She thinks I care too much, as if that hadn’t been ripped from me a long time ago.”

Sanghoon smiles, reaching out. Seokjin puts down his tea to take his hand. It feels like worn leather against Seokjin’s smooth skin, forged and callused by years of working for the life he built. Seokjin’s hands are ludicrous in comparison, his nails clear and clean, his fingers long and elegant, albeit a little crooked, a testimony to everything he hasn’t been taught to do because it was assumed he would never have to on his own.

“It’s insane how much you look like your father. Sungjin was a handsome man too,” Sanghoon says, his other hand patting his cheek gently. Seokjin’s breath hitches in his throat. “But sometimes when I hear you talk, all I see is your mother. She wasn’t very rebellious when she was young, but everything changed after she met your father. She started questioning things. I don’t know that it was a good thing for her. When you start asking questions, you also start seeing the bleak reality for what it is, and she always had too good a heart to be able to handle the truth in all its ugliness. Not all truths are worth the price you must pay for knowing them.”

Seokjin looks away, slipping his hand out of his uncle’s hold. “She should have renounced her titles too,” he says, and it comes out more bitter than he intended it. “Maybe things would have been different then.”

Sanghoon shakes his head, and his smile wavers a little. “You wanted my advice: here it is. I chose to quit the game, because I was alone. There was no one to stand by me within the family. But you’re not alone, and you could use that to change the game instead. Rewrite the rules.”

“You just want revenge for what they put you through,” Seokjin remarks, scoffing.

Sanghoon hums noncommittally. “Maybe,” he says. “But I think I won, in the end, because I didn’t compromise who I wanted to be for them. I lived the life I did by choice. I left to be with the woman I loved, and we lived a happy life together. Even then, it was always there in a corner of my mind, what I had left behind. What I had to abandon in the name of love. And it was bearable because I made that choice for a reason. I could live with the guilt because Byeol was worth every second of it. If you do this, you don’t know what fate you could condemn Jeongguk and Taehyung to. It might be better. It might be worse. But what I know with absolute certitude is that it will make things worse for you. Being king is lonely, Seokjin. It’s hard and terribly cruel. It will be even more if you push away the people who could make it easier.”

Seokjin blinks.

There are tears burning at the corner of his eyes. He doesn’t allow them to roll down his cheeks.

“I’ll be fine,” he says, a blatant lie. “I’m always fine.”

“They’ll resent you if you make that decision for them, Seokjin.”

“I know,” he says, and if his voice quavers a little, Sanghoon is kind enough not to comment on it. “But what matters is that they’re safe. Away from it all. I’d rather live knowing they’re safe and have a chance at happiness but hate me, rather than the alternative.” He looks up at his uncle. “I can’t go through it again, Uncle. This is the one thing I would not be able to live with. If it happened again, with Jeongguk. He needs the freedom to take care of himself, and our grandparents won’t allow it because they fear the public backlash.”

Sanghoon sighs, and it’s heavy with grief and sorrow. “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t abdicated too,” he says. “It would have spared you.”

Seokjin smiles. “I don’t blame you for doing it,” he says, trying for humor but his tone falling flat. “Sometimes I think I would do it too, if I could.”

Sanghoon smirks. “I hope you get to fall madly in love like I did,” he says. “It doesn’t take away the burden of the crown, but it does make it lighter. Love makes everything lighter.”

“Ah, Uncle,” Seokjin replies, scornful, “I don’t think that’s in the cards for me.”

He looks away, back at the majestic hills of New Zealand.

Somewhere in the distance, a storm is brewing.

Chapter Text

Yoongi has a complicated relationship with money.

This is what happens, he supposes, when you grow up without it.

He’s still learning how to live without having to worry about how he is going to eat the next week. He still has to remind himself that he doesn’t have to keep his grocery shopping budget low enough to buy the secondhand equipment he needs to make a living. It’s been a while since he needed to count every penny, but it’s a hard habit to shake off.

It’s hard to forget the years when he had the desire and the rage to live to the fullest but not the resources for it. Money was an unpredictable good. He knows he saves too much because of it. He doesn’t have debts anymore, but the possibility still sometimes crosses his mind before he allows himself to relax and enjoy life for a moment. He has stopped burning his money away the moment his balance shows a new check came in, but it took years for him to do so. It was too scary, too bizarre at first, to suddenly have money, and he would spend it within a couple of weeks before it could be taken away from him, living off instant ramen for the rest of the month.

It’s hard to shake off the tables empty of food and the inevitable comparison he would draw in his mind whenever he was invited for dinner at some of his classmates’. Even Hoseok’s parents, who lived pay-check to pay-check and never went on holiday, had felt like they were living like royalty. It took him a while to understand that it was because they took extreme care to make sure he never needed of anything whenever he was over, not even affection.

Now that he regularly evolves among crowds that have no sense of that reality, it’s even harder to witness false charity and not be enraged by it. That’s why he usually avoids events that have no purpose other than to give a better conscience to people who have none the rest of the time.

But he took Seokjin’s advice, and he’s starting to think it might be a bad decision because now he finds himself standing in one of those crowds, accepted like he is one of them, like he wasn’t not so long ago one of the rejects of society they look down on.

The label has been trying to get him to attend those parties for months; they’re good for networking, they say, as though he’s going to meet people who have the slightest clue about what making music is about in a sea of tuxedos, crystal and porcelain tableware and white-gloved servants. He hates every second of it. He hates that he’s wearing a tuxedo too, the expensive material prickling like needles against his skin.

He wonders, briefly, if this is what Seokjin’s upbringing was like, so strikingly different from his own. Party after party after party, and a world of wealth and luxuriance to fall back on in between. But he doesn’t think it’s quite it, because not even these people, old money and nouveau riches who managed to earn themselves the right to be here, can lock horns with royalty. They are just desperate to pretend they can.

He’s been standing alone in the veranda for half an hour, curling his lips at the snippets of party chatter he’s catching around him, when Jimin finds him.

Jimin works these crowds as effortlessly as he does a stadium full of screeching fans. He can charm an audience without even trying, with just a suggestive quirk of his eyebrow or a graceful twirl of his body. At times, Yoongi is envious of his ability to be seemingly comfortable in any setting, to be able to wrap around his perfectly manicured fingers even the most recalcitrant of upper-crust people who fancy themselves nobility. It would make things easier for him, if Yoongi could just put on a mask and pretend he doesn’t loathe everything they and their stupid parties represent, a world that was forbidden to him up until not so long ago.

It was easier when the people looking him up and down, whether boldly or contemptuously, didn’t act like their realities are the same. Like Yoongi doesn’t carry with him the trauma of having to fend for himself in a world that was designed to ambush him at every corner.

“Wow, Hoseok was right,” Jimin sighs as he plucks Yoongi’s glass out of his hand and downs his red wine in one gulp. “You do glare at people all night long.”

“I hate it here,” Yoongi grumbles. “I want to go home.”

“Well then you shouldn’t have said yes when the label told you to come,” Jimin says, because he’s forgiven Yoongi for the last meeting they had, but he’s petty enough to act like he’s done him a favor in doing so.

When Yoongi doesn’t reply, he gently knocks their shoulders together.

“Come on, talk to people. Some of them are pretty nice.”

“Of course they’re nice,” Yoongi scoffs. “Everyone is nice when they have to be. And they have to be if they want to fuck you.” He ignores Jimin’s gasp, giving him a pointed look instead. “Why do you think we’re even here, Jiminie? This is a circus and we’re the entertainment. I told the label I’d be here, so I am, but I’m not going to juggle for these fuckers.”

“Yoongi, my sweet, beautiful ray of sunshine,” Jimin says, deliberately syrupy. Yoongi gives him a wide smile, showing him a carefully chosen finger. Jimin catches it within his fist, shaking his head with a long-suffering expression. “I know you’d rather stay in your corner being all cynical and grumpy about capitalism and the terrible state of the world, but consider this: these people have money. So much money they probably wipe their ass implants with it.”

Yoongi frowns, surprised by the change of tone their conversation took.

Jimin lets out a heavy sigh and reaches out to cup his face between his tiny hands. Yoongi lets him.

“For a smart person, you can be really dumb sometimes,” he says with a lenient expression that makes Yoongi glare at him. “You’re going to need investors, Yoon. We need a back-up plan to fall back on if our own investments aren’t enough to keep your label afloat. You know the first months and probably years are going to be hard. So you need investors, and this–” he lets go of Yoongi’s cheek to gesture gracefully over his shoulder “–is how you find investors. By networking and biting your tongue and being nice when you have to be.”

Yoongi sucks his bottom lip in his mouth, and Jimin rolls his eyes. “Stop pouting, you big baby,” he chastises, but it’s belied by the affection in his gaze. “I know you hate it, but you might be surprised. Maybe you’ll even end up enjoying yourself.”

“I can’t go around talking about needing investors,” Yoongi whispers, casting a quick look over his shoulder. “Kim Daehee is here. I saw him snapping at a waiter earlier about the pineapple tarts not being exactly the same as the ones he had in Europe.”

Jimin squishes his cheeks a little harder. “I’m not telling you to straight up ask who would be interested to help you fuck over your current boss, but it doesn’t cost you anything to accept a bunch of business cards. We can look into them later.”

Yoongi heaves. “Fine,” he says, swatting Jimin’s hand away. “But if I end up punching someone, it’s on you.”

“If you do, please make sure it’s the guy who unironically asked me if I’d be interested in buying one of his planes,” Jimin says, and Yoongi really, really loves him, even when he tries to push him out of his comfort zone.

“Will do.”

Jimin hooks their arms together and all but drags Yoongi out of the veranda and into the crowd, grabbing two glasses of overpriced wine for them in a graceful movement. Jimin navigates through them like they are too precious to be touched, flowing like he’s almost dancing, captivating the attention of anyone in a short enough distance to hear the subtle lilt of his voice, the accent he’s fabricated just for them.

Yoongi stands by his side mostly in silence, but he smiles when he has to, throws compliments he doesn’t mean and cordially accepts business cards when they’re handed to them. Seokjin would be so proud of his incredible manners, he thinks, a smirk tugging at his lips that easily passes as an amiable smile.

He still hates every second of it, but Jimin makes it significantly better just by holding his arm and giving him subtle side glances whenever one of the socialites they find themselves talking to makes a remark that would normally make him reconsider the worth of humanity’s survival.

Jimin is a social butterfly and every interaction seems to power him up, to fill him with enough energy that he could probably supply electricity for the whole city. After an hour of socializing, though, Yoongi feels drained, and when he excuses himself for a cigarette, Jimin doesn’t try to stop him.

The thing about growing up poor is that you develop an acute sense for recognizing extreme wealth. When Yoongi steps outside, lighting up his cigarette, there is a group of men standing a few feet from him, puffing away at their cigars and swirling their goblets of whatever fancy alcohol they’re drinking. They look every bit like caricatures of how Yoongi’s younger self imagined the ultra rich to be, so he’s not particularly surprised to recognize his CEO among them. He’s learned, in the years that he’s started to frequent these crowds, that as troublesome as some clichés can be, they’re not always far from the truth.

Yoongi is contemplating whether he should run away before he can be roped into a conversation with them where Kim Daehee sings his praises as though his minions aren’t actively trying to make Yoongi’s life as difficult as it can be when the one closest to him turns around.

The world stops spinning.

The thing is, Yoongi knows he wouldn’t have such a complicated relationship with money if he hadn’t learned at seventeen that none of his wretched upbringing was a fatality. If he wasn’t so aware that if his biological father wasn’t as big an asshole as he is, he would have belonged in this world. He would have ignored the hardships he endured, the physical pain of hunger, the small injuries that never fully healed because of the expenses they implied, the scars, visible and invisible, that could have been avoided.

If when he was seventeen, he wasn’t turned away by this same man standing a few feet away from him now, oblivious of his existence by his own volition.

The problem with trying to rationalize the truth with vague statements about the roughness of your childhood is that it only serves to mask the real chronic devastation beneath. And when you’re faced with the reason behind it all, even if it isn’t for the first time, it’s like all the fragments of memories you tried to usher away are suddenly pushed back together, too quick for your mind or body to catch up.

This is what happens then.

It all comes crashing down in a second, the knowledge Yoongi exerted himself to bury, the hollowness in his chest, the anger at himself for even letting it have a hold on him. It intrudes him all in an unexpected way, stealing the air from his lungs, making his hands shake with the compulsion to do something incredibly stupid or incredibly violent, and through it all, this inexplicable rage for this shadow of a parent, this vulgar ideal. It lives just outside of his consciousness, all the illusions he once had, all the pain they cultivated, all the tiny shards stabbing at his heart with such consistency he barely notices anymore.

He can feel himself spiralling, his head swimming already with everything and nothing, with panic and anger and despair.

He tries to remember the technique he learned from his therapist to deal with panic attacks, and it takes all of his energy to summon the will to blink the torpor away and find something else to focus on.

Ground yourself, he thinks with all his might. Five things you can see.

He inhales sharply –a dark green sofa sitting at the edge of the garden– and exhales –the gentle trickle of a marble fountain carved with lotus flowers. His brows furrow as his eyes scan the area, finding something else to focus on.

A petite woman draped in a gold cocktail dress, jewelry dangling from her wrists and catching the lights.

A shadow sauntering toward him.

“Min Yoongi! Is that you?” a voice calls, and from the corner of his eye, Yoongi sees his father startle and turn around at the name.

Their eyes meet for just a second before Yoongi looks away to see who called him. The fog clouding his mind clears up just enough for him to recognize the owner of the voice.

This night is truly turning out to be nothing like he expected it to be.

Taehyung laughs when Yoongi blinks at him, the same loud but graceful laugh that still haunts him when Yoongi remembers the circumstances of their first meeting. Yoongi doesn’t have time to understand what is going on before he finds himself pulled into a strong hug, the shock so grand he drops his cigarette. He catches the same surprise mirrored on the face of the security guard following Taehyung.

“Small world, isn’t it?” Taehyung says when he pulls back, grinning a boxy smile.

“Not small enough, apparently,” Yoongi grumbles, forcing himself not to turn around to see if his father is looking at them. His eyes widen when he realizes what he said. “Not you! I just saw someone I really didn’t want to see.”

Taehyung leans forward, a mischievous glimmer in his eyes. “That’s what these events are about, seeing people you don’t want to see and pretending you’re absolutely thrilled to see them. Although Seokjin and Namjoon always tell me I’m not very good at pretending.”

Yoongi smiles, but he knows it’s feeble and barely convincing.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. “I doubt you need to do much networking. You’re a whole network all by yourself.”

Taehyung laughs, delighted and completely unbothered by the gazes fixed on them. The pearl green of his jacket is striking in the sea of plain black tuxedos, but it’s his eyes that differ the most, dark and genuine amidst all the hypocrisy Yoongi has been surrounded with all night.

“I always receive invitations to all these events, because people want to boast over the royal who attended their parties to their grandchildren who aren’t even born yet,” he explains, like he’s not talking about himself but a different Taehyung, one that barely exists, one that lives as a token of what he is meant to represent rather than a fully-fleshed human being. It’s the first time Yoongi sees clearly that he and Seokjin are related, and it makes his heart pang with sympathy, knowing that this is what brings them closer. “I wasn’t planning on coming, but Jeongguk ditched me to lock himself in his workshop so I decided to go.”

“I can’t say I’m disappointed he didn’t come with you,” Yoongi says, lips curving into a smirk. “I’m having a pretty shitty night, and I don’t think him glaring at me all evening would have made it better.”

Taehyung grins, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder. “He wouldn’t have.” He must sense Yoongi’s dubiousness because he chuckles, “Not all evening long anyway. Just long enough to make you believe he’s plotting ways to poison your drinks.”

To his own surprise, Yoongi laughs. “Yeah, that I do believe.”

“He was in a good mood today, though,” Taehyung says, his dark eyes sparkling with glee. “Jinnie is coming back tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I know,” Yoongi says, and he realizes a beat too late that this is more than he should probably share.

He and Seokjin have been talking a lot in the month he has been gone, but he doesn’t know if Seokjin told anyone about it. He doesn’t know if he wants to. It opens the door for questions to be asked, and Yoongi would rather keep the answers to himself.

He thinks for a moment that Taehyung didn’t notice his slight mishap, but he realizes he is mistaken when his mouth tips upward.

“Do you now?”

Yoongi dismisses the teasing glimmer of his gaze with a shrug. “We talk,” he says, and decides to leave it at that.

Taehyung hums like he knows the secrets of the universe, and Yoongi is a little worried when he realizes that he actually might. He doesn’t have time to ponder on it further, though, because there’s a tap on his shoulder and when he swirls around, Jimin is standing there, looking stricken.

Concern lurches in Yoongi’s stomach.

“What’s wrong?”

“We should go,” Jimin says. He moves a little to his right, blocking Yoongi’s view to the rest of the garden. “We’ve done enough networking for tonight I think. We need to get out of here now.”

His demeanor is too obvious, as is the ‘get you out of here’ he leaves unsaid. It doesn’t take much for Yoongi to know he saw his father and thinks Yoongi hasn’t yet. 

“I’m okay,” he promises.

Realization flashes on Jimin’s features. Yoongi turns back to Taehyung, who is staring at Jimin. He can’t quite decipher his expression. It could be annoyance at the interruption, or something else entirely; Yoongi can’t tell, and that too reminds him of Seokjin, of the way he effortlessly can school his face into impassivity, how easily he can hide in plain sight.

“Jimin, this is Taehyung.” He pulls a face. “I don’t know your full title, sorry.”

Jimin gives him a deep bow, and it’s only because he knows him very well that Yoongi can see that he is freaking out inside.

“Your Royal Highness, I’m very sorry for interrupting,” he says politely, because of course he knows the proper decorum. Taehyung is undoubtedly not the first royal Jimin has met. He’s probably spent a few holidays partying with various royalty across the globe.

Taehyung blinks, a small smile gracing his regal features, almost shy.

“No need for formalities,” he says. “Any friend of Yoongi is a friend of mine.”

Jimin straightens back up and gives Yoongi a side glance, cocking an eyebrow. “Really?” he asks. Yoongi tries not to be offended, and fails, huffing under his breath. “This Yoongi? My Yoongi?”

“Are we friends?” Yoongi asks Taehyung, because he can’t say in all honesty that he isn’t surprised by this turn of events himself.

Taehyung shrugs, but even that is imbued with elegance. “I like you. You like me. Is that not how this works?”

Yoongi is afraid to ask if he is serious, so he doesn’t. He’s seen enough of Seokjin to know that for all their extreme politeness and properness, royals don’t seem to know much about human relationships within the real world. Not when the human in question is actually trying to take up their measure as an individual and not a physical manifestation of a distant dream that turns out to be real.

They have impeccable manners, but they are somewhat lacking in letting go of them in more casual settings. Yoongi can hardly blame them for it.

“I suppose it does,” he says. “We’re getting out of here. Do you want to come have a drink with us at my place?”

Taehyung brightens, and he almost looks innocent then, a kind of boyish wonder on his face that shouldn’t belong there but fits perfectly.

“I’d love to, if it’s no bother. I don’t want to disrupt your plans.”

“Our plans were to go home and get wasted while talking shit about everyone we met tonight,” Yoongi says.

“Yoongi,” Jimin hisses, elbowing him in the ribs before giving Taehyung a polite albeit shaky smile. “He’s kidding, Your Royal Highness. We don’t do that. We were just going to go home and maybe get one last drink before going to bed like reasonable people.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says. His lips pucker into a disappointed pout. “I liked the first option better. I have a lot of shit talking to do.”

Yoongi laughs, his mirth only increasing as he watches Jimin sputter, the sight of him being taken aback so rare that it makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

As they get back inside to get their coats, Yoongi feels a gaze burning at the back of his skull.

He doesn’t turn around.

When the plane finally lands, Seokjin shuts his eyes and leans back in his seat. The late afternoon sun is slowly beginning its descent and as Seokjin gets up and shakes his legs up to get rid of the numbness of being seated for too long, exhaustion catches up with him all at once.

The month of travelling, the constant jet-lag, the homesickness. All over for now.

Relief pours through him in waves and he lets a smile spread on his face as he stretches his arms over his head, working the knots out of his lower back and shoulders.

“What the–” Namjoon begins, his voice trailing off.

Seokjin frowns, his short-lived relief immediately replaced with worry. “What is it?”

Namjoon doesn’t reply, motioning for him to look through the window. Seokjin crouches next to him and blinks a couple of times to make sure he isn’t seeing things.

“What are they doing here?”

On the tarmac, standing up straight a few feet away from the habitual flock of reporters, stand Taehyung and Jeongguk.

They’re both wearing relatively informal clothes, at least by their standards. Taehyung is clad in a red polo shirt and a midnight blue beret with bright yellow stars embroidered on it, and Jeongguk is dressed in black from head to toe.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Namjoon says, sounding as fond as Seokjin feels.

He realizes, right then, watching through the window as Jeongguk leans towards Taehyung to whisper something in his ear that makes Taehyung grin merrily, exactly how much he missed them. He doesn’t remember the last time they were apart for so long. It was probably when he did his semester abroad in Cambridge but even then, he had made arrangements for them to visit and him to go back home often enough that the distance between them felt trivial.

It only grew with time, even among the walls they shared. Especially among the walls they shared.

He forgets, sometimes, how stubborn they both are. How no matter how he tries to cultivate the cold distance he wants to cling onto for their own sake, they thrash against it with the devastating intensity of a wave. They’re always here to guide him back to the land, pulling him away from the depth of the lonely ocean he’s willingly drifting to.

Seokjin usually fights against it, but today he is tired, jet-lagged and homesick, and when he sees them, he finds he is none of those things.

He’s just home. For a moment in time, he’s at peace.

He steps out of the plane, salutes the royal guards waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs, and heads directly to his brother and cousin, ignoring the rapturous photographers scrutinizing their every move.

“What are you two doing here?” he asks them. “This is against probably twenty safety protocols.”

“We missed you,” Taehyung says, throwing himself into his arms, which is against about as many protocols, though those have little to do with safety.

Seokjin hugs him tightly nonetheless, grateful that his face is out of reach of the cameras.

“I missed you too,” he whispers against Taehyung’s ear.

He pulls back, turning to Jeongguk. They haven’t talked much while he was away, and he doesn’t really know what to say now that Jeongguk is standing in front of him, looking at him like he’s waiting for him to speak first, to screw up like Seokjin always does when it comes to their relationship.

After a moment of silence, Jeongguk just huffs and reaches out, tugging impatiently at Seokjin’s sleeve until he steps forward and he can wrap his arms around Seokjin’s waist. Seokjin hears the flutter of the cameras in his back, knows this will be all over the evening news, and forgets to care about it.

He hugs his brother and if the world sees, if the world speculates, if the world judges, he hopes they get their good profile.

“We need to talk,” Jeongguk whispers.

It was nice while it lasted, Seokjin thinks as he pats Jeongguk’s back.

“Later,” he promises.

It turns out Taehyung is more resourceful and cunning than previously anticipated, because he managed to convince the competent authorities, by some miracle, that he should be the one driving Seokjin back home. He also managed to convince them that he doesn’t need to get back to the palace before the next morning and for that alone, Seokjin will be eternally grateful.

After a month overseas, he wants nothing but to be home, and home isn’t the palace, not since he was old enough to care for his own place. So Taehyung drives them to the lodge, all the while telling Seokjin about everything he missed during his month away.

They can almost pretend Taehyung’s car isn’t escorted by three police cars. It’s just the four of them, Namjoon and Jeongguk sitting in the back, Namjoon already dozing off and Jeongguk’s gazing through the window. There’s music blasting from the speakers and Taehyung speaking loudly instead of lowering the volume. It feels almost mundane, almost like a life they could have lived.

A new song starts playing, and Seokjin recognizes it immediately. He’s been listening to Jeongguk’s playlist a lot while he was traveling, although he won’t admit it to Yoongi. He’s already enough of a smug bastard without Seokjin supplying him with further reason to be. He’s brilliant, though. Even an urban music neophyte like Seokjin can recognize as much.

“Oh, I saw Yoongi last night!” Taehyung says cheerfully when the first words spit out from Agust D’s mouth through the radio. He says it in the same tone he did everything else, from the latest piece of art he added to his ever growing collection to the meal he and Jeongguk had together three days ago in a private room of a new restaurant downtown.

Seokjin arches an eyebrow in surprise, but it’s Jeongguk who speaks first:

“What?”

“I ran into him at a party and we started talking and went back to his place to have a drink. He introduced me to his friend, Jimin, who’s now my friend too. He’s an angel. We’re going to the spa together tomorrow.” He pauses, gazing away from the road to give Seokjin a look. It makes Seokjin frown before he can even brace himself for what comes next. “They totally used to fuck, by the way. Yoongi and Jimin. Maybe date, I don’t know. You should look into it.”

“Eyes on the road,” Seokjin says firmly. “Let’s not kill three potential heirs to the throne and the one person whose absence would actually make the country collapse in one go.”

“Is that me?” Namjoon mumbles, but he doesn’t bother to open his eyes. “You’re damn right.”

Seokjin suppresses a smile, his attention on Taehyung. “Why would I look into it?”

Taehyung scoffs like the mere question is ridiculous. “Just in case,” he says elusively.

“In case what?” Seokjin presses.

“Yeah, in case what?” Jeongguk echoes from the back seat, leaning forward to rest his chin on the driver’s seat.

Taehyung gives him a knowing, deadpan look that Seokjin answers with a quirked eyebrow.

“In case there’s still feelings there,” Taehyung says pointedly, but Seokjin thinks this might not be what he truly meant. “You don’t want to get involved in this kind of mess.”

“I don’t want to get involved in anything,” Seokjin retorts, a little petulantly. If he’s asked, he’ll justify it with how tired and confused he is right now.

“He doesn’t want to get involved in anything with this asshole,” Jeongguk parrots, very petulantly. Seokjin isn’t sure what his excuse is.

Seokjin rolls his eyes. “And I’m not. It’s not my problem whether he still has feelings for his ex or not. Or if he’s his ex at all.”

“He is,” Namjoon chimes in, far too collected for someone who appeared to be sleeping a minute ago. “They dated for a year. Parted on good terms, they’re still friends.”

“I told you not to run a background check,” Seokjin groans, running a hand over his features.

“You also told me it was a one-time thing and that it wouldn’t happen again,” Namjoon states matter-of-factly. Jeongguk gives an exaggerated nod that Seokjin chooses to ignore. “And I didn’t learn any of that with the background check. Hoseok told me.”

Seokjin swirls around in his seat, pointing an accusing finger at Namjoon. “Namjoon has a boyfriend, why isn’t anyone grilling him?”

“You do?” Jeongguk asks, voice much softer than it was when Seokjin was the center of the attention a minute ago.

“No!” Namjoon chokes out. “We’re just texting.”

“Texting or sexting?” Taehyung asks unabashedly, looking at him through the rearview mirror.

Namjoon flushes, ducking his head bashfully. 

“Both then,” Taehyung concludes, gaze shining with mischief.

“No!” Namjoon protests. “Just texting. Not even that much. He just sends me selfies of him doing random things and I usually reply with what I’m looking at when I get them. It was mostly a lot of pictures of landscapes.”

“That’s cute,” Jeongguk says with a smile.

Seokjin resists the urge to comment on the blatant difference of tone from the accusing one he used just moments ago when the discussion centered around Yoongi.

Sure, cute is probably not the best suited word to describe what he has with Yoongi, but he could do without the accusatory remarks and narrowing eyes whenever his name is mentioned.

He doesn’t even know why Jeongguk is so against the idea of him seeing Yoongi when he used to worship the ground he grumpily stomped on before he knew about them being involved. Jeongguk is clever enough to know Seokjin can’t have more than this, can’t want more than this. This is all he’s allowed to have, this arrangement where they come together when they can, have sex and then go back to their own life and their own problems. There is no room for confusion, no threat to the fragile equilibrium Seokjin must maintain for all of their sakes.

Perhaps Jeongguk is just protective; they tend to be a little obtusely defensive of each other, the two of them. But something tells him there is more to it than just that, and Seokjin can’t read through the lines. It’s a painful verdict in itself. He used to be able to decipher the slightest shift in Jeongguk’s expressions, but the distance he put between them in anticipation of his morose future quashed all the knowledge he gleaned throughout the years. He can’t begin to fathom why the fact that it is Yoongi in particular he has gotten involved with seems to bother Jeongguk so much.

He doesn’t want to think about it too much. He has made it a general rule not to think about Yoongi too much outside of the borrowed time they spend together.

The less he thinks about him, the less he contemplates on the odd, unconventional friendship they seem to have built while he was away, on the heart-wrenching confessions Yoongi seems to be able to tear out of him, on the even odder smiles he manages to provoke even when Seokjin feels like he has no reason or will to.

It’s much better that he does not think about that, ever.

So, of course, this is when his phone buzzes in his pocket with a new text.

you shouldn’t be allowed to look so good after stepping out of a plane. fuck all of us normal people, uh?

Seokjin bites his bottom lip on a smile and ignores the inquisitive look Taehyung gives him, head immediately whipping to the side like he owns some sort of radar for Seokjin’s facial expressions.

“Eyes on the road,” he reminds him flatly, typing an answer.

Taehyung reaches out to fiddle with the bridge of his ear, which Seokjin knows has reddened. He swats his hand away.

I hardly have enough time or stamina for that, darling, but I do love a challenge. I have a free afternoon tomorrow. I can start with you.

Yoongi’s reply comes in a matter of seconds: …pls never talk to me again.

Shut up, I know you laughed.

mmh. i’d like to see you try to prove it. i have to work tomorrow afternoon. some of us have to do that, your royal highness, we don’t all live off public taxes.

Seokjin is typing a reply when the second text comes: but if you think you can get away with coming over, i can work from home.

I don’t know if that’s possible. The night factor usually helps, I don’t know how reasonable it is to sneak in during the day.

i can give you access to the underground parking, there’s a service elevator there that goes directly to the tenth floor where you can take the other elevator to my floor. i can meet you in the parking lot. it’s usually deserted. if you come during lunch hour, the chances are even greater.

You make a pretty convincing case.

wouldn’t want to be the reason you failed your challenge before you got a fighting chance.

Seokjin smiles to himself, chewing on his lip. But lunch hour, are you sure? I don’t want to distract you while you work.

just make sure you look as ugly as you can and we should be good.

Now you just demand the impossible.

that’s how i got everything i have in life, so i’m sticking with that strategy

Seokjin startles when the car comes to a stop, blinking up to see they have arrived. The doors are already slamming after Namjoon and Jeongguk.

Taehyung gives him a knowing glance, lips curved into a smirk. “It’s a good look on you, you know.”

Seokjin lifts an eyebrow in inquiry.

“This smile,” Taehyung eludes, although the flicker in his gaze remains an enigma. “It’s been a while since I last saw it.”

“I smile all the time,” Seokjin retorts as he steps out of the car, pocketing his phone.

“You do,” Taehyung says, in a placating tone Seokjin doesn’t understand.

He reaches out to take his hand, swinging their arms between them as he walks up the front door after Namjoon and Jeongguk.

“But truly, you don’t,” he says, giving Seokjin a small smile. “Not easily.”

Seokjin chooses not to question it, although he knows, deep down, what Taehyung means. He knows he doesn’t make it easy for them to be close to him, because it will only hurt more when he puts in motion what he’s been planning for the past few months, what their uncle Sanghoon is going to help him with, albeit reluctantly. He learned a long time ago not to question Taehyung’s quirks. He’s too perspective for his own good, and half of the things he sees, Seokjin needs twice as much time to catch a mere glimpse of.

He supposes this is one of those instances.

Easy was never an option for him.

The only easy thing he has in his life right now is this weird relationship with Yoongi that isn’t truly one, their teasing back-and-forth, and the knowledge that there are no expectations for it to be more than that.

It’s easy to keep doing it, to be mindless of the consequences, to forget what they can’t be.

It’s easy to make a choice, and Seokjin has been chasing easy long enough to know he doesn’t want to let it go.

See you tomorrow.

Yoongi watches as a second car follows the first one that parks next to his own car. He grows antsy for a moment, thinking their whole plan is about to fail before they even have a chance to see each other, but when Seokjin steps out of the backseat, he gives a quick wave to the driver of the second car before lowering the cap on his head and walking up to where they agreed to meet, away even from the drivers’ eyes.

He must see the hesitation on his features, because he gives him a smile that Yoongi can’t see behind the mask but surmises from the slight crinkle of his brown eyes. 

“I had a press conference this morning so I was leaving the palace, which usually means extra security,” he explains. “I told them I was visiting a friend. They won’t intrude as long as I update them regularly. They’ll mostly be patrolling outside.”

Yoongi nods. “Have we moved on to the friend stage?” he asks, smiling back. “Does that mean I can finally drop the honorifics?”

“When did you ever use them?” Seokjin retorts, voice filled with humor as he follows Yoongi to the service elevator. “You literally looked it up just to make fun of me.”

Yoongi scans their surroundings, making sure the parking lot is deserted before he steps inside the elevator, Seokjin on his heels.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Your Royal Highness. I was always perfectly well-behaved.”

Seokjin snorts, eyes darting over the ceiling of the elevator. “Cameras?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “Not in this one,” he says. 

Seokjin takes off his sunglasses and pulls down the mask covering the lower half of his face until it rests at his chin. 

“Good,” he mutters, and Yoongi barely has time to blink before his back hits the wall and Seokjin’s lips are covering his own.

The moan that slips out of his mouth is embarrassingly loud, but he’s already past caring. His arms wrap around Seokjin’s shoulders as he tugs him closer, rediscovering the press of Seokjin’s lips, the soft skin of his nape under Yoongi’s fingers, the way his brain seems to overrun and short-circuit with every kiss. He leans forward, pushing against Seokjin’s weight pressing him against the wall, and refuses to consider why kissing Seokjin always feels different and new, always feels steady and huge, like it encompasses every part of him and every part of Seokjin and pulls them together until the rest of the world feels like it morphs and shapes into something brand new and staggering.

Just as suddenly as he kissed him, Seokjin releases him and takes a step back, eyes dark, cheeks flushed, so beautiful Yoongi forgets how to breathe for a moment.

“Hi,” Seokjin pants against his mouth, pulling his mask back up.

Yoongi blinks, licking his lips. “Um. Hey.”

Seokjin chuckles, the soft, hiccuping sound that Yoongi realizes he has grown accustomed to –and a little fond of, perhaps. Seokjin’s eyes shine with satisfaction as he puts his sunglasses back on his nose.

“Did I finally manage to make you speechless?” His voice is lower than it usually is, and Yoongi feels a pull in his stomach, a growing urge to wreck him until his lilted accent is roughened with pleasure. “I didn’t think I’d live to see the day.”

“Keep being a little shit and maybe you won’t live to see another,” Yoongi grumbles, tongue poking at the inside of his cheek as he levels Seokjin with a pointed look through his eyelashes.

“Are you threatening to sex me to death?”

“Imagine the headlines tomorrow,” Yoongi says, just as the doors open on the tenth floor. “The history books will talk about it through the centuries.”

Seokjin laughs quietly as Yoongi peeks his head out of the elevator to check if the corridor is empty. Satisfied, his fingers curl around Seokjin’s and he drags him to the second elevator, pressing the button to call it.

“Well, I suppose it’s better than my ancestor who died because he was attacked by a horde of monkeys,” Seokjin whispers, his thumb pressing absently at the junction between Yoongi’s thumb and index finger. It’s oddly distracting. “At least I’ll forever be the fallen prince who died because he had too much sex.”

Yoongi looks up at him. “I’ll probably be beheaded for my part in it, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if it helps you make history.”

“Your sacrifice is greatly appreciated, Yoongi.”

The elevator dings as the doors open, and Yoongi expels a relieved breath when he sees it’s empty. They walk in, and he presses the button for the last floor, turning to face Seokjin.

“How have you been?” he asks, hating how awkward he sounds. Seokjin is too polite to call him out on it anyway.

He lifts a perfect eyebrow behind his sunglasses. “Are you making small talk with me?” he asks, and Yoongi has either misjudged him entirely, or has a worse influence on him than he previously anticipated. Or maybe Seokjin has always been a closeted asshole.

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Could you please just answer the fucking question, Your Royal Highness?”

Seokjin seems to hesitate for a moment, his eyes drifting to the lights indicating the floors passing by. Yoongi can’t see them through the sunglasses, but he can easily surmise the distant, far-away way they flicker when Seokjin doesn’t try so hard to keep up the pretense. He doesn’t know when he began to decipher Seokjin’s expressions even when he can’t properly see them.

“So much for being well-behaved,” he mumbles with a small, amused smile. “I’ve been okay. I’m glad to be home. It was a long month. ”

Yoongi is a bit of an idiot, at times, but he fancies himself a brave one, so he presses, “You haven’t been okay, and that’s fine. You’re allowed to be honest about it. You don’t have to lie to me.”

Seokjin’s head whips back to him and although his face is mostly concealed by his ridiculous disguise, this time Yoongi can see his shock through the almost imperceptible jerk of his throat.

He knows Seokjin probably doesn’t even read them as lies anymore. They slip through his mouth as easily as breathing, a second nature he’s forced himself to cultivate. He’s easier to read than he knows, though, perhaps because Yoongi has seen him in ways few people have, perhaps because he’s looking where others don’t. Seokjin is good at diverting the attention, at leading it exactly where he wants it, but they wouldn’t be where they are right now if Yoongi wasn’t stubborn enough to look exactly where Seokjin doesn’t want him to.

Seokjin inhales sharply, and Yoongi thinks he is going to speak, but he tightens his hold on Yoongi’s hand instead and lets out a breath, slowly, like every inch of it is a knife sinking deeper into his chest. Yoongi forgot their fingers were still locked together, but now he can’t help but notice how deceptively warm Seokjin’s hand feels against his own eternally cold one.

Words echo in his mind, uttered in the dead of the night in the hope it would lessen their meaning.

I think I’d be good with just holding hands, though. I’d like to hold hands with someone that I love and who loves me back.

Yoongi can’t love him. And Seokjin can’t love Yoongi either. They both know it. It’s the firm ground they have based this arrangement on. Seokjin will never be out, Yoongi will never want more from him, and they can speak about the things they never speak of because they know their confessions will never exist beyond the moments they manage to steal, both by necessity and by choice.

It’s easy to confide in someone when you know they have no game to play, no gain to reap if the truth unfolds.

Yoongi knows, more than anything else, that Seokjin avoids the truth because of how easily it can hurt him. He wonders if Seokjin knows it too.

Seokjin walks around Yoongi’s apartment like he hasn’t been there before, eyes scanning every corner as though he’s discovering the place. And Yoongi realizes that he is, because he actually never got to give him a tour. Seokjin has been there twice, and both times ended with them rushing to the bedroom and Seokjin leaving before the sky had started to clear with the idea of dawn.

Watching him explore the place now, Yoongi feels a bit restless, for reasons beyond reason. 

He loves his apartment. He bought it a couple of years ago now and Yoongi has turned it into a home, slowly. It took a while for him to settle into the idea that it was actually his and that it wouldn’t be ripped away when his life would collapse and he’d finally be told that all of it was a carefully constructed prank and he should go back to eating instant ramen five days a week. He settled in step by step, building his home studio first, then adding his instruments, the art pieces on the walls and the houseplants that would probably wither and die if Hoseok wasn’t there to remind him to water them. Then came the memories that fully established it as a home, the laughing fits with Hoseok in the kitchen, the playful fights with Jimin over what movie to watch in the living room, the stain on his office walls from when he tried his hand at painting and realized too late he should have covered them before trumping himself up to a modern Jackson Pollock.

Seokjin has taken his shoes off at the door, along with his ridiculous disguise and his oversized black hoodie, and now he just stands by Yoongi’s grand piano, wearing a white t-shirt and dark slacks, looking disarmingly comfortable in Yoongi’s home.

And it’s strange, how not strange at all it is to have Seokjin in his apartment.

He fits in, like he’s been taught to fit everywhere, disguising himself all the time to blend into the environment he’s thrown in in the name of duty. He absorbs his surroundings and adapts in consequence. It’s odd how he tries to be banal, to be unnoticable when he never got the opportunity to be.

But right now, Seokjin just looks relaxed in a way Yoongi only sees him be when he’s in his own home, in his lodge hidden from the rest of the world, where he can forgo the masks and try to remember how to be himself, even though it’s obvious to Yoongi he’s forgotten how.

He walks to the kitchen, Yoongi on his heels, and it feels too natural.

Seokjin’s gaze falls on the envelope on the counter, his name written on it in Yoongi’s sloppy cursive.

Surprise flashes on his features.

“Isn’t it my time to leave a note?” he asks, lightly teasing, and Yoongi realizes it is the first time either of them has talked ever since they exited the elevator.

Yoongi smiles, shaking his head. “Open it.”

Seokjin doesn’t need to be told twice. Yoongi watches with poorly concealed mirth as he eagerly opens the envelope, curiosity getting the best out of his characteristic courtesy.

He blinks at Yoongi with confusion, holding up the tickets in his hand like he doesn’t know what they are.

“You said you’ve never been to a concert you wanted to go to,” Yoongi says, inexplicably embarrassed. He doesn’t even know why he asked for them. He never needs more than one or two personal invites, but when he was asked how many he needed this time, his answer had changed before he could ponder on it. “I don’t know if this qualifies as such, but I’ve got a concert with Jimin coming up and the offer is here if you want it.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, his eyes fixed on the tickets in his hand.

Yoongi doesn’t know what to make of it, so he shifts on his feet as he continues to explain, “There’s a private room overlooking the stage at this venue where you could go not to be spotted. Hoseok will be there too, so the second ticket is for your guard dog, if you want to take him. You won’t actually need the tickets because we’d have to sneak you in through the back door, but I thought you’d want the full experience.”

Seokjin still doesn’t reply, but when he finally looks up at Yoongi, the intensity of his gaze knocks the air out of his lungs. He inhales sharply, and Yoongi realizes his hand is shaking. Seokjin tightens it into a fist, his moment of vulnerability fleeting, already buried by the force of the control and poise he exerts on himself at all times. It doesn’t seem to be enough, because he lowers his head, reading the inscriptions on the tickets again, and the smile that paints across his ethereal features is something new, something Yoongi has never seen before.

Seokjin always looks gorgeous. Even with the exhaustion that makes his shoulders hunch forward a little, the jet-lag lingering in the small bruises under his eyes, the constant burden he seems to carry around like armor, he looks breathtaking. But Yoongi can never part from the idea that Seokjin looks beautiful because that’s all he allows himself to be –perfect, irreproachable, an illusion of realness for the world to see. It’s a cold beauty, something dark about it; corrupted in all the wrong ways.

But then there are those moments. Those moments where Seokjin doesn’t try to be something for the sake of others, forgets to contain the fire that burns inside of him and can so easily consume his cold mask of neutrality. Those moments, ephemeral as they are, where he stands as a whole person and not as the fragments he’s accumulated and put together to please the world. Those moments where Yoongi can see clearly why Seokjin is truly tired, beyond the travels and the responsibilities, because he’s fighting –himself and everyone else– for every inch of his life, every sliver of hope he can hold onto, even when he doesn’t realize he’s reaching for it.

In those moments, Yoongi thinks Seokjin might be the most beautiful man in the world, and it’s a little sad that he only exists behind closed doors.

In those moments, Yoongi has songs and entire symphonies playing in his mind.

“I hate it when you’re nice to me,” Seokjin whispers finally, a little breathless.

Yoongi smiles, shrugging. “We can explore your masochist kink when I’m done working, if you want.”

Seokjin giggles, a light, crystalline sound that Yoongi finds himself cataloguing in a corner of his mind before he can question why.

He puts down the tickets on the counter and smiles. “I’d love to go,” he says, earnest in ways Yoongi isn’t used to. “Thank you, Yoongi.”

His eyes are shining with amber under the artificial lights of the kitchen, and Yoongi decides asking for those extra tickets might have been the best decision he’s ever made.

And if it comes back to bite him in the ass later, like most of the decisions he makes, this one might prove to be worth the hassle.

Chapter Text

Seokjin’s life is loud.

Silence is fragile, easily destroyed. When he finds it, it never lasts for long. There’s always howling, screeching, talking, whistling to bolster his ego. The essence of his life was never compatible with quiet. Perhaps it’s why it sometimes feels like he doesn’t remember who he is; it’s in the silence within him that he used to find it, and he hasn’t felt it in years. Perhaps it’s why he can never fathom what the future will be like; nothing durable is built on clamor.

Silence used to be a refuge, a balm against the inevitable wounds life brings in its wake. But it’s been almost ten years, and Seokjin’s life is loud, even when he’s alone.

Even when he doesn’t speak, his ever growing cowardice forcing him to be quiet about the things he feels and the things he wants, his mind never fully quiets. He can always hear the thoughts he doesn’t allow himself to forget, the murmur of Jeongguk’s sobs against his chest, the loud music blasting in his ears when he got the call, the broken promises that were made to him and, louder, the ones he made in consequence.

The seclusion he has taught himself to live in should be soundless, should be peaceful, but when he is face to face with himself, Seokjin’s life gets too loud, his heart thundering in his chest to remind him of the peace he’s given up on. It’s what he tries to shield himself from, with busyness and perpetual noise. There’s too much to ponder on, when he doesn’t dedicate every bit of his withering energy into distracting himself from his own mind.

So he doesn’t know how to feel, now.

Because sitting on the couch in Yoongi’s apartment, the world feels quiet.

He leaves Yoongi to his work, settling in the living room with a book he’s borrowed from a shelf. He can hear Yoongi moving around punctually. He can hear the slide of his pen across paper, the soft pad of his bare feet against the floorboards, the faint humming that resonates and echoes through the apartment.

And still, it’s quiet.

Peaceful.

It must have been two hours since they last spoke a word to each other, and Seokjin has been waiting with baited breath for the tumult, for the storm that always follows him. But everything is transfixed, suspended in time like a garden at the first hours of dawn when nothing breathes but nature.

He doesn’t remember the last time it didn’t feel daunting, to be silent; to be alone without feeling lonely.

It was a conscious choice he made, to be always surrounded with noise, but it’s barely a choice now, to let himself be enveloped in this space where he can lull his own thoughts, to let himself feel the knots in his stomach slowly loosen, to let himself remember a time he wasn’t afraid of silence but rather cherished it.

He doesn’t feel the need to fill the void with meaningless words or careless lies.

When Yoongi finally emerges from his studio and comes up to him, looking impossibly soft in his oversized clothes, silver hair poking into his eyes, it still feels blissfully quiet, even when he speaks.

“I’m going to sit at the piano for a while,” he tells him, almost a whisper. “I need to work through this melody. Do you mind?”

Seokjin shakes his head with a smile, fearing any spoken words would hurt his throat on their way out, break the feeble peace he’s let himself have.

He watches as Yoongi pads his way to the bench and puts a pillow on top of it. He has a clever jab about Yoongi’s height at the tip of his tongue, but he refrains from voicing it out loud. It would inevitably lead to banter, which usually leads to sex. And it’s why he’s here, why they see each other in the first place, but he wants to bask in this moment a little longer, in this silence that feels more pure than any of the diamonds and jewels on a king’s crown.

Yoongi sits down, wiggling a little until he’s comfortable. Seokjin focuses on the keys being revealed as he opens the fall board to distract himself from the irrational flutter his heart uncooperatively makes in his chest at the sight.

Yoongi lays his hands over the keys, finds a note, then another, as though dipping a toe in the ocean to test the waters. His posture is straight, honed by years of practice, but there is something a bit wild in his eyes, undisguised passion. He stops every now and then to scribble something in a notebook, but his fingers are quick to find their rightful place on the keys again.

It’s the first time Seokjin sees him play; he’s heard him before, on the phone, but there is something utterly breathtaking about witnessing it. Yoongi is in his element there, music unfurling from his hands.

They’re a little rough for pianist hands, torn from Yoongi’s bad habit of nipping at them when he’s bored or nervous, calloused from being overused, veiny and masculine and elegant all at once.

From where he sits, Seokjin can see how effortlessly they move over the keys, masterfully lacing notes together until they form a melody, weaving poetry into the silence. He relaxes against the back of the couch, book resting on his stomach, forgotten, and watches and listens as Yoongi creates a world where his fears, his past, his pain feel inconsequential.

Seokjin falls asleep on the couch, exhaustion catching up on him all at once, the thrum in his mind reduced to white noise.

Seokjin’s life is quiet.

When he opens his eyes again, it’s to the feeling of his phone vibrating under him where he discarded it on the couch.

It’s dark outside, and Seokjin blinks drowsily at his surroundings, remembering where he is and why, rolling on his side and patting blindly behind him to find the device.

He opens the text from his security team and quickly replies with his coded update before they barge into Yoongi's apartment and ransack the place claiming he kidnapped the prince.

Which makes him realize Yoongi is not sitting at the piano anymore and nowhere to be seen.

Seokjin runs a hand over his face to wipe away the remnants of slumber still lingering in his heavy eyes and pushes himself to his feet, following the quiet sounds emitting from the kitchen.

He stops in the threshold, leaning against the door as he watches Yoongi move around his kitchen with equal focus and volatility, like he doesn’t quite know what he wants to make but is confident in his ability to do it. There is music playing lightly from a speaker and a muted TV broadcasting the evening news.

Yoongi pays attention to neither, chopping green onions quietly.

“I didn’t know you cooked,” Seokjin says, his voice rough like he’s speaking his first words in years.

Yoongi startles, his shoulders slouching when their eyes meet. His lips curve into a smirk, and Seokjin knows what he’s going to say before the words are out of his mouth.

“Not all of us have personal chefs, Your Royal Highness,” he quips. “We have to learn how to cook to survive.”

Seokjin scoffs, rolling up his sleeves and moving to the sink to wash his hands. “I’ll have you know I’m a great cook.”

“You are?” Yoongi says, dubious.

Seokjin hums. “My father insisted that we learn.”

Yoongi glances up from the onions to tilt his head at him, his eyes squinted and wet. It makes Seokjin smile.

“How was he, your father? All I know is that he was a rising conductor but gave it up to be with your mother because they fell in love,” Yoongi says, as naturally as ever, as if it were a normal occurrence for them to talk about these things. 

Perhaps it’s slowly becoming so, Seokjin ponders, and he must still be stuck in the bubble of calm he’s been wrapped in since he stepped into Yoongi’s apartment in the early afternoon, because he finds it easy to reply.

“He was fun,” he says, hearing the hint of nostalgia in his own voice.

He gestures for Yoongi to give him something to do, and Yoongi hesitates for a moment before complying, handing him a knife, a cutting board and a couple of carrots.

“He was good at taking the pressure away from our lives,” Seokjin continues as he starts peeling. “He didn’t grow up in a palace like the rest of my family, though he didn’t grow up needing of anything at all, but it’s a unique mindset, you know? It’s a secluded upbringing, and he knew how easily we could grow to be disconnected from the rest of the world. He saw it in my mother when they first met. He used to joke that when he met her, my mother didn’t even know what real life was and that’s why he wooed her with his homemade burgers.”

Yoongi scoffs out a small laugh, his eyes crinkling at the corner.

Seokjin smiles to himself. “He made sure we always had a firm understanding of what the world was like outside the walls of the palace. He never made it a chore or a strict lesson, though. He made it seem like he was taking us on the greatest adventure, even if it was just taking us to pick our own berries from the garden. Or watching him make his homemade burgers for the third time that month.”

Seokjin feels the ghost of a smile on his lips, focusing his whole attention on chopping the carrots in front of him, unsure he wants to meet Yoongi’s gaze when he knows there is no wall standing between them to shield him from the aftermath of the truths spilling from his mouth.

“He taught me how to cook because he said sharing a good meal was the cement of a family and it had no value if we were just being served food we hadn’t made. We didn’t do it every day, but he made sure we had a meal all together at least once a week.”

“That’s nice,” Yoongi says softly, cautiously.

“It was,” Seokjin replies, swallowing hard. “I don’t cook as often as I used to, but I still do it occasionally. Especially when I don’t sleep at the palace. My grandparents would never allow me to cook for myself. I doubt they even know how to use a kettle to make tea.”

He hands over his neatly chopped carrots and Yoongi gives him bacon to mince instead as he starts on the sauce, mixing soy sauce, honey and chilli flakes together in a bowl.

“What about you?” he asks. “Where did you learn how to cook?”

Yoongi licks his lips, shrugging one shoulder. “Told you,” he says elusively. “Some of us have to learn to survive.”

Seokjin cocks an eyebrow, sending him a pointed glare. “Elaborate, Yoongi. That’s how a conversation works.”

The corner of Yoongi’s mouth jumps in a semblance of a smile before he turns his back on Seokjin to grab rice vinegar from one of the cupboards.

“It was just my mother and I, growing up,” he says, something a little distant in his voice and yet equally raw. “She was not the most...caring person. But at least I can somewhat comfort myself with the fact that she was as bad at taking care of herself as she was at taking care of me. I had a few stepfathers and most of them didn’t exactly have my wellbeing at heart either. I had to learn to fend for myself early on.”

“I’m sorry,” Seokjin says, hoping his sincerity is fully conveyed in his gaze.

“I’m glad I did,” Yoongi says soberly. “You need to reach a breaking point to learn how to be unbreakable. When you learn to adapt and bend from a young age, you become harder to break.”

Seokjin hands him the diced bacon. “It doesn’t sound like such a good thing.”

“Are you really going to lecture me about becoming someone I needed to be to survive, Seokjin?” Yoongi says, matter-of-fact but not unkind.

Seokjin wants to protest, to claim he is an open book like he would in front of anyone else, but he knows by now that it is pointless when he’s facing Yoongi.

He purses his lips, hears the staccato of his heart thrumming in his temples.

“I suppose that would be hypocritical of me,” he admits.

Yoongi shrugs, a small, benevolent smile curving his mouth upward.

“It would,” he says without guile.

Seokjin finds himself smiling back before he can register his reaction. He watches as Yoongi works quietly for a while, taking a seat at the kitchen island when Yoongi motions for him to do so. Eventually, Yoongi serves the udon noodle stir fry into two plates and pours them glasses of wine before taking a seat in front of Seokjin.

As they start eating, Seokjin waits.

He does it a lot, waiting for the time when breathing will be easy rather than essential, waiting for the moment he will realize he became the person he didn’t want to become, waiting for his secrets to be unveiled to the world. Waiting for life to begin, or to stop, whichever comes first.

He doesn’t know what he waits for around Yoongi. Most of the time, he doesn’t have to wait at all, because Yoongi never leaves him hanging for long, saying what he wants to say exactly when he wants to say it. That’s why he waits, usually. Because there’s always something that will be expected of him, always the reminder of his title hovering over his head, the expectations his upbringing has set for him.

He knows, by now, that Yoongi is different. Yoongi deviates from patterns Seokjin has internalized like he was born with unpredictability running through his veins.

And perhaps it’s because he feels rested for the first time in a month, perhaps it’s the lingering exhaustion rendering him vulnerable, but he decides that just this once, perhaps waiting is futile.

“Do you still see her? Your mother?”

Yoongi blinks, his hair poking at his eyes. “She passed away six years ago. Cancer.”

Seokjin wonders if this is the kinship that drew him to Yoongi first, if perhaps his heart knew, not only of Yoongi’s grief but also of his solitude.

Perhaps it’s what he truly met, that stormy night all those months ago, a solitude to match his own.

Grief is a lonely endeavor, and it forged the people they are today, lost souls and kindred spirits.

Grief comes in waves, a merciless ocean, pulling and pulling until it threatens to consume everything there is to consume, hope and warmth and rationality.

Seokjin wonders if Yoongi felt it too, the smothering darkness, the impetuous storm, the hopeless lack of respite.

He doesn’t dare to ask.

He reaches out, tentatively, and Yoongi hesitates for a moment but meets him halfway, slipping his hand in Seokjin’s. Seokjin runs his thumb over Yoongi’s knuckles gently, smiling. When he tries to let go, Yoongi holds on tighter, causing a stutter in Seokjin’s chest.

So Seokjin holds on tighter too, electricity coursing from the tip of his fingers throughout his whole body in wild abandon.

He still doesn’t understand it, this power Yoongi seems to have over him, this clash between an overwhelming sense of tranquility and the inextinguishable burn of attraction that makes him gravitate closer, closer, closer.

They don’t talk much after that, but it’s a while before either of them allows the other to let go.

Seokjin doesn’t know who does first, though he suspects it might be him.

It’s quiet, peaceful, even when they finally fall in bed after dinner.

Even then, their fingers are still intertwined, the grip solid, driving them higher and higher against the mattress until there is nowhere higher to go.

Yoongi’s head lifts from the pillow, seeking, and Seokjin can only indulge him –and himself– and press their mouths together, slow and languid.

It’s then, kissing Yoongi and driving into him, precise but lazy, that Seokjin realizes that his life can be quiet, and it can be slow, too.

Because there are moments where everything is as it needs to be, nothing to fix and no reason to rush. It’s intangible, but he feels it deep in his stomach, tight around his heart, and he breathes a little easier as he lets himself be enveloped into the essence of who Yoongi is, of how seamlessly they fit together, of what it feels like to be seen, to be understood.

It’s a staggering feeling.

Seokjin lets himself live it to the fullest.

Yoongi,

I don’t know what to write. I don’t have anything witty to say, but it feels like I should. Write something. Find something to say. Even if they’re meaningless words.

It’s a hard habit to beat when you are not often allowed silence and are too often asked for lies to fill it.

I had forgotten silence could be something of a miracle rather than a catalyst for disaster and hardship.

Thank you for the reminder.

I think I missed you, after all.

J.

If Seokjin is grateful for anything regarding his relationship with Yoongi, it is that at least Jeongguk seems to have finally learned to warn him before he shows up at the lodge.

Sure, it’s just a text saying I’m on my way to the lodge. Need to talk. Be there. Without the tiny asshole please. but it’s more than Seokjin could ask for before the Mario Kart incident. 

At least it gives him time to mentally prepare himself because he has no idea what his brother wants to talk to him about, but he doesn’t think he’s going to like it. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a conversation preceded by the words “we need to talk” is seldom pleasant for all parties involved.

So he pours himself a whiskey —only pausing mildly as he does, wondering when he started drinking whiskey at all— and waits.

With Jeongguk, he’s always waiting.

Waiting for the next breakdown, for the next fight, for the tears they never discuss.

There’s a grave expression on Jeongguk’s face as he walks in, his nose scrunched up in determination. Seokjin knows he shouldn’t smile, so he takes a sip of whiskey instead.

Jeongguk unceremoniously drops into one of the decorative ottomans around the fireplace —even though there’s a perfectly good, much more comfortable sofa available— and fixes him with impassive eyes.

Seokjin sees something of himself in his brother’s gaze, a cold neutrality he’s painstakingly cultivated, through enough blood and sweat and tears to know he doesn’t want it for Jeongguk.

“I don’t want to fight,” Jeongguk says bluntly.

Seokjin arches an eyebrow. “That’s good, Guk. I don’t particularly like fighting with you.”

“Debatable,” Jeongguk says, because royalty or not, tension thicker than blood at times or not, he remains Seokjin’s little brother; the same annoying boy who used to borrow and lose Seokjin’s speakers so often Seokjin has been gifting him a new set of them for Christmas every single year for thirteen years.

“What did you want to talk about?” Seokjin asks, shifting a little in his seat.

“The list is endless,” Jeongguk says offhandedly. “But first of all, you know I love you, right?”

Ah, damn him, Seokjin thinks, his heart clenching painfully in his chest.

“I do. And I love you too.”

Jeongguk nods, seemingly satisfied. He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees and looking up at Seokjin through the curtains of his thick eyelashes. It makes him look innocent, more innocent than either of them will ever get a chance to be.

“You know I haven’t had an episode in a long time, right?” Jeongguk says, voice steady, eyes firm.

Seokjin knows. He knows it’s been nine months since the last one. He knows it was so bad he felt powerless to stop it for the first time and almost called the palace’s physician to help. He knows Jeongguk gripped onto his hand so tightly Seokjin’s palm was marked with the dents left by his nails for two days. He knows it was the day he decided he would have to do this alone. It was the day he asked Namjoon to look into what exactly could be done.

“I know,” he says carefully. “What I don’t know is where you’re going with this.”

Jeongguk inhales sharply. “I’ve been doing okay,” he says, gaze drifting to the painting he gave Seokjin. He traces with his eyes the same lines he traced with his brush, and there’s a flash of sadness in his gaze as he does. Seokjin doesn’t quite understand where it’s coming from, but he knows he wants to chase it away. “You haven’t, though, and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.”

It’s that moment in the movies Taehyung likes to make him watch, using the excuse that Seokjin has a television room to show up uninvited—unlike Jeongguk, the Mario Kart incident doesn’t seem to have deterred him—the moment where the hero is confronted with the truth, and it all makes sense all of a sudden.

Except Seokjin is no hero at all, and nothing makes sense.

This conversation usually goes the other way around, Seokjin worrying over Jeongguk’s health and well-being to the point he becomes overbearing, and Jeongguk waving him off with a groan when he’s feeling okay and not saying a word when he isn’t.

It’s been a decade of this, of Seokjin assuming a hundred roles with Jeongguk, always protecting him from hurt, shielding him from being submitted to more cruelty than what he has already endured. It’s been a decade, and although Seokjin knows Jeongguk worries too, wants to protect him just as fiercely, he’s never voiced it out loud so clearly.

Seokjin frowns, too taken aback to laugh it out with a scoff like he normally would.

“Where is this coming from?”

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but it only became clear after that night where Tae and I walked in on you and...you know.”

Seokjin’s scowl deepens. “Is this about Yoongi?”

“Yes and no,” Jeongguk replies unhelpfully.

Seokjin heaves out a deep sigh. “Can we just agree that you should stay out of my sex life please? I know you don’t approve, but I don’t need your approval. It’s not like we’re in love and on our way to the altar, Guk.”

“Exactly!” Jeongguk exclaims, throwing his arms up in the air.

Seokjin startles. “What?”

Jeongguk makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, moving forward again until the tip of his sneakers is poking at Seokjin’s dress shoes.

“Answer me this: why him?”

Seokjin opens his mouth to answer, but falters when nothing comes out.

“Why not him?” he retorts instead, clearing his throat. “I don’t know why you’re so vehemently against the idea of him when not so long ago you were singing his praises with every breath you took.”

Jeongguk doesn’t even try to conceal the roll of his eyes. “Don’t do that politician shit with me. I know you think I’m still your innocent baby brother, but I can actually tell when I’m being bullshitted. Especially when it’s by my own brother. Answer the question.”

Seokjin pointedly refuses to look ashamed at being discovered. He licks his lips instead, twirling the glass in his hand and listening to the ice cubes clinking, an oddly melodious sound, almost too light to belong in this heavy atmosphere.

“What do you want me to say, Gukkie?” he asks.

Jeongguk’s face is impassable. “The truth, for once.”

It stings. No matter how accurate it is, how rightful and justifiable. It stings, and Seokjin waits for it to pass, as always, but it doesn’t.

“Why him?” Jeongguk probs.

“Because it’s easy,” Seokjin confesses, struggling to swallow past the lump in his throat. “Because I’ve had a lifetime of complicated already, and I want that one easy thing that doesn’t demand of me more than I can give. Because he’s rude and irritating as all hell and  I can’t stand him sometimes, but he doesn’t want anything from me so I don’t have to feel guilty about not giving anything away.”

Jeongguk looks crestfallen; the silence stretches until it fills every inch of space available between them.

“And that’s exactly why I disapprove,” he says, quieter now, sadder.

“Because I made an easy choice?”

“Because you’re willingly choosing to stay unhappy!” Jeongguk snaps, his voice wavering uncontrollably. He buries his face in his hands and groans in frustration, fingers gripping at his hair tightly. 

Seokjin’s eyes widen and he immediately reaches out to grab them, slowly uncurling them one by one.

Jeongguk looks up at him, shaking his head. He doesn’t pull his hands away, though, so Seokjin doesn’t either.

“It’s him because you know it’s impossible for it to be more,” he says.

“Yes, Jeongguk, that’s the point,” Seokjin says, placid.

“But you deserve more!” Jeongguk says vehemently. His grip on Seokjin’s hands is unforgiving, like he’s trying to push the words into him with sheer force.

It’s that moment in the movies, where the hero lies down on the rails and there’s the sound of a train coming in the distance. There’s glimpses and flashes, and a solution found in either a miraculous strike of dumb luck or an unrealistic display of unsuspected intelligence. There’s the adventure that makes the movie a thrilling experience.

This isn’t one of Taehyung’s movies. Because Seokjin’s life is not at its climax; it’s not a hero’s life. At most, he feels like a pedestrian watching the action unfold, the excitement palpable but too scary to touch.

Seokjin doesn’t know how to explain to his brother that the train is long gone, that it crushed what had to be crushed in its wake.

“I appreciate your concern,” he says, barely recognizing his voice as his own. “I really do, but—”

“I’m not just concerned,” Jeongguk cuts in. “I’m angry! You keep making choices that leave you more miserable because you’ve convinced yourself your happiness is somehow inversely related to the people around you. To mine. You think I don’t notice it but I know why you stopped talking to me, Jinnie. I know why we’re not what we used to be.”

Seokjin’s brows knit together, but he doesn’t reply.

“I can’t keep being an excuse for you to make yourself unhappy,” he says, and the words are so brutal Seokjin has to consciously draw air into his lungs. “I can’t keep being the reason you’re always acting and pretending.” Jeongguk fixes him with a steadfast gaze. “I think you should come out. Publicly.”

When Seokjin was ten, he climbed up a tree in the palace’s garden to escape his tutors.

He had no patience for the interminable lessons that day. His father had just come back from a long trip overseas and if he wasn’t going to be allowed to see him right away, then he sure as hell wouldn’t comply and let himself be dragged into a three-hour lesson on English grammar. He stayed there for what felt like hours, motionless, watching the palace’s staff running around, calling his name, growing more and more desperate with each passing minute. It was a nice day, the sun shining high in the sky, and he clearly remembers finally seeing his father, stepping into the garden with a throng of attendants around him, speaking frantically. He remembers the endless litany of Your Grace, Your Grace, Your Grace, as they tried to beg for forgiveness for Seokjin’s actions, even though his father wasn’t mad but worried.

As soon as he saw him, Seokjin decided it was finally time to come out of hiding so he could run up to him and give him one of the saccharine grins his father couldn’t resist. It would be easy to convince him to let him stay with him for the rest of the day, then. Their father always had a hard time telling Seokjin and Jeongguk no when their demands regarded spending time with him.

It was like he knew that they operated on borrowed time, the requirements befallen on Seokjin for being next in line after his mother weighing heavily on his heart’s desire already. Their father had always been good at charming his ways out of obligations, dodging the reprimands with a smile or a wink or both when desperate times called for desperate measures. And Seokjin was desperate that day. He hadn’t seen him for too long, had missed how his father was always the only one, along with Jeongguk for he was still too young to do so, who didn’t treat him like he was breakable, like the whole purpose of his existence revolved around the crown he was born to wear. He was too eager, jiggly with excitement, and missed a branch on his way down, falling ten feet to the ground on his back.

The impact had knocked every wisp of air from his lungs and he had laid there, urging himself to remember how to breathe.

This is exactly how he feels now, unable to speak, stunned beyond words. Aching and short-breathed.

Jeongguk’s gaze is gentle as he gets up from the ottoman and takes a step closer. Gentle in the same way their father had been when he had brushed Seokjin’s hair off his forehead, instructing him to stay still while they called for the palace’s physician.

Jeongguk’s dark eyes are filled with the same unconditional love, the same affection layered with perpetual worry at Seokjin’s stubbornness that always ends up hurting him. He doesn’t know how to tell his brother that he doesn’t deserve the warmth he tries to bestow him. 

Jeongguk reaches out to take his hand between his own; Seokjin lets him, every part of him on pause.

“I know you’re scared, Jinnie, but don’t you think it could help you? We’re already forced to lie about so many things, maybe you could unburden yourself from at least one of them. To be yourself a little more. I will stand by your side. So will Tae.”

Seokjin’s body shudders as if in spasm, and the lurch of his stomach pulls him back to reality.

He swallows hard.

“No.”

Jeongguk pales a little, but his eyes don’t waver, set in determination.

“Jinnie, you must be tired of living a lie. If what worries you is the public’s opinion–”

Seokjin laughs without humor, the sound spilling out of him at once, and Jeongguk abruptly clamps his mouth shut, scowling.

“I don’t care about the public’s opinion,” Seokjin says, more harshly than he intends to. It’s not entirely true, but it’s not a lie either. The line is thinner than Jeongguk surmises. “Public opinion can easily be swayed one side or the other as long as you know how to frame a story, and Namjoon is the best story teller there is. But even with Namjoon’s brain and our status on my side, I can’t control what they’ll say about me. Terrible things are said about me no matter what I do, that’s the price to pay when you’re a public figure. I would never get anything done if I cared about it.”

Jeongguk frowns. “Then what is it?”

Seokjin pulls his hand out of his grip to rub at the bridge of his nose instead. He heaves out a deep sigh and schools his features into the same controlled neutrality he’s learned to maintain in political situations.

Because what Jeongguk seemingly fails to understand is that their very existence is political.

“They would make me abdicate, Guk,” he says, lips pulled into a thin line. “As a sovereign, my main purpose remains to produce an heir. And I don’t know if you’re aware, but the whole being gay thing makes it a little difficult. I don’t think the most conservative, monarchist branch of the Parliament is going to like that very much.”

“They’re a minority group,” Jeongguk interjects.

“Are they?” Seokjin scoffs out, voice heavy with sarcasm. “Everyone thinks they’re progressive until they’re faced with something truly new. Accepting a gay king isn’t like accepting your distant relative or your talk-show host that makes you laugh just enough for you to forget your own bigotry. Opposition brings attention, and we both know the first people the media will invite to their TV sets are the ones who will be the loudest about rejecting me. It would be giving them the perfect platform to spread their hatred towards me and the entire community I would automatically represent, and they suffer enough as it is. And then how long before some of the supposedly less conservative members of Parliament join their ranks? How long before they show up with pitchforks and torches at the palace demanding my head on a spike?  We’re supposed to represent traditional and conventional values. Me being gay doesn’t exactly fit the bill.”

“Then let’s change the bill,” Jeongguk exclaims vehemently, but none of the heat behind his words is directed at Seokjin.

It reminds him of a time when he too thought he could change the world by simply claiming, loud and strong, who he was as an individual.

He sighs, fixing Jeongguk with a grave look. “We can’t,” he says, and raises a hand to abort his brother’s instinctive protest. “It’s not just a matter of internal affairs, Gukkie. How many trade agreements do we lose with business partners abroad? How many political partners will consider dropping out of deals or stop answering the phone when we call? How long before the veil drops and we’re shown our supposed allies’ true faces? It doesn’t matter if they claimed to be progressive. They’ll adjust accordingly to the opinion of their majority, and if it’s negative, we’re doomed. We’re too small to fight back on our own. Our economy might not survive it.”

The anger vallicates on Jeongguk’s features, and Seokjin can see he tries to hold onto it, but it’s already being clouded by hesitation, by the indisputable logic of Seokjin’s arguments.

“And that’s not considering that many would frame it as a political statement. I don’t think I have to lecture you again on our constitutional duty to remain neutral on political matters.”

“Who you are is not a political statement,” Jeongguk argues, and Seokjin ignores the pang of affection that clutches at his heart, giving him a feeble smile instead.

“Of course it is,” he says. He hears in his own voice the same gentleness his parents used to employ to placate his childish naivety. Jeongguk must hear it too, because his eyes soften, if gingerly. “Even if the public opinion has greatly shifted on the matter, being different in today’s world is still a political statement in itself. The mere existence of people like me is still criticized and demonized. If we lived in a better world, me coming out would not be controversial at all, but we have to be realistic here. You have to be realistic. This is a facet of my identity whose ramifications go beyond my own person, Jeongguk.”

“If you abdicated, all of this wouldn’t be a problem anymore,” Jeongguk says, but Seokjin can see he’s just grasping at straws now, trying to hold onto hope for his sake.

He doesn’t know like Seokjin does that hope is a foolish pursuit.

He hasn’t done everything he has done to spare Jeongguk, hasn’t endured what he has to give up on the throne now. He’d rather wait for his turn to come and burn it down to ashes than to leave it to his little brother.

“I’m not going to abdicate,” Seokjin says firmly. “Ever. I can’t. I won’t.”

A beat passes, and Jeongguk lowers his head, pressing his fingers against his temples.

“Okay,” he mumbles, surprisingly pliant.

Seokjin frowns. “Okay?”

“Okay. But you have to promise me something.”

Seokjin motions for him to speak.

“You have to promise me we’ll be okay,” Jeongguk says firmly. “Not just me. Not just the two of us as brothers. But you too, personally. I can’t be okay knowing that you’re not.” He pauses, straightening his back, eyes boring right into Seokjin’s, jaw set in determination. “You can’t control everything, Jinnie. There are things that even you can’t have power over. I need you to stop trying to protect me all the time, it’s not helping either of us. I don’t want you to set your life up around me. I just want you to be happy.”

Seokjin smiles, affection washing over him in waves. He leans in to where Jeongguk is balancing himself with his legs crossed on the ottoman and reaches out to ruffle his hair.

“I’ll do my best.”

Jeongguk’s shoulders slouch a little in relief, and he looks up at him with big, round eyes.

“I know you will. I trust you.”

There’s a voice in the back of Seokjin’s mind, uttering the same words back to him, a decade ago. A flash of his mother’s eyes comes with it, so strikingly like Jeongguk’s, dark and wide and filled with pain that can’t quite be contained. 

It quells the silence, swallows it entirely, until all that remains is her voice, the lie she told him that night, the promise she broke.

I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.

Seokjin’s best wasn’t enough then; he doubts it will be this time around.

It’s why he lies to his brother. It’s why he won’t rest until Jeongguk is safe and happy, even if it means he gets to be those without Seokjin.

Jeongguk looks up at him, mischief dancing in his gaze. “Even if the best you can do is a neomarxist rapper. That’s just sad, Jinnie.”

Seokjin laughs, the sound bubbling out of his chest with a new wave of guilt.

“What can I say?” he jokes. “I’ve always had a soft spot for rebels.”

Yoongi has learned to accept with time that the front door of his apartment is mostly decorative. He doesn’t get many visitors and with the notable exception of Seokjin, who is far too polite to intrude, they usually let themselves in. Giving Hoseok and Jimin the passcode might have been a mistake, but Yoongi would be lying if he said he didn’t find some form of comfort in their impromptu visits.

So when there is a knock at his door in the late afternoon, he is rightfully surprised.

His mind goes to Seokjin at once, though he was there just two days ago, and they haven’t planned on seeing each other until the next day.

A smirk is already curving on his lips as he makes his way to the door and he schools his features into the smug expression Seokjin pretends to loathe as he swings it open.

“Your obsession with me is starting to show, Your R–”

The words die on the barrier of his lips, choked by the array of emotions that assault him at once.

“Yoongi.”

Yoongi takes one long look at the man standing in front of him, tightening his grip on the doorknob.

“No,” he spits out, and slams the door to his father’s face.

This isn’t happening.

It’s just his mind playing a trick on him because he saw his father a few days ago and he hasn’t allowed himself to process it yet. Taehyung had provided a good distraction for the rest of the evening, and the alcohol and subsequent hangover numbed his brain enough that the whole night turned into a jumbled mess.

It all comes crashing back on him now, and panic swarms his mind, sucks the air out of his lungs. It plugs in his abdomen, tension coursing through his whole body until it paralyzes him entirely.

The sound of his ears ringing almost swallows the impatient knock at his back.

“Yoongi, don’t be childish,” his father calls from behind the door. “Open the door.”

Yoongi can feel his breathing becoming more rapid, more shallow, useless little pants that fail to bring any sort of alleviation.

He plucks his phone out of his pocket, fingers trembling uncontrollably as he opens his text app to find his group chat with Hoseok and Jimin.

my father just showed up at my apartment, he manages to type after a few failed attempts. 

The knock comes again, louder, stronger, the door seemingly shaking against Yoongi’s back. He wants to slide down and curl up until the world vanishes around him, until the trembling of his limbs gives way to sleep. 

“Yoongi, I just want to talk,” his father says, voice cutting through the strident buzz in his mind.

Yoongi opens his eyes, scanning his surroundings for something to tether him back to reality.

He can feel the panic attack crawling in, suffocating, and he forces himself to remember his therapist’s instruction.

He closes his eyes, takes deep breaths in and out through his mouth, feels the air fill his lungs and slowly leave them again. 

His phone vibrates in his hand with a new text, but his vision is too blurry to properly read and he pockets it with a shaking hand, looking up through the window at the sky, the softening sun bathing the clouds in ethereal pinks and purples.

He counts them in his head then traces their shape in his mind, noting each curve and change in their hues until the ringing in his ear finally subdues and he can hear each of his breaths, rasping through the silence.

When he feels a little more in control of his own body, he straightens up against the door, glancing at the ceiling until the tears in his eyes aren’t threatening to spill down his cheeks anymore.

Another knock.

Yoongi clenches his teeth, slaps both his cheeks to bring some color back to his face and turns around to face the door.

Bracing himself with a sharp breath, he pulls it open, eyes thunderous.

His father is still standing on the other side, looking deeply unamused.

Yoongi’s phone buzzes in his pocket, but he ignores it.

“What are you doing here?” he asks coolly, thankful that his voice doesn’t waver.

“I just want to talk,” his father says.

“You’re about twenty-seven years late,” Yoongi retorts, acerb. “I have nothing to say to you.”

He moves to shut the door again, but his father steps forward, blocking it with his foot.

“I was wrong about you.”

It makes Yoongi pause, although he knows it shouldn’t.

They’re empty words, void of answers.

There are too many questions that still plague him at times, that keep him awake at night when there are no distractions to prevent him from letting them take over. He wants to know why his childhood wasn’t filled with colorful memories of growing up surrounded with love and unconditional acceptance, why it was hollowness and loneliness that carried his every step instead. Why he has to live with the knowledge that he wasn’t ever wanted, that his mere existence was an unlucky accident. He wants to know why the idea of a father has always been a distant shadow to him, a vague concept somewhere off-screen, absent from the very beginning.

And yet so overwhelmingly present, in his mother’s dejected words, in the constant reminder of how alike they were that she breathed through most of their interactions. Yoongi had his dark eyes, his pale skin, his hot temper, and sometimes his mother could barely stomach it.

Yoongi has missed too much because of him, has craved the mundane things most people take for granted, has envied the children who were taken to the park to play. He remembers the suffocating yearning in his chest as he stood on the sidewalk after school, watching as fathers came to pick their children up and gushed over their latest schoolwork. He remembers filing the information about his parents at the beginning of each year and always feeling awkward and distressed when he left the father part blank.

He remembers the unease that turned into rage, the rage that turned into self-hatred. Because he missed him without ever knowing him, and how fucking stupid did he have to be, to crave the presence of someone who never wanted to know him in the first place? Who never even asked for his name until Yoongi showed up at his door at seventeen, begging for help he felt ashamed for needing? 

Yoongi remembers how fiercely he had wanted to be noticed, then. How he threw himself into his passion wholeheartedly because he wanted to prove to this stranger that his existence had value, that he could make something of himself without help or support from anyone. And all the bad decisions he made to get there, to fill the void his absence had left, all the diversions he sought to distract himself from the pain of being eternally left behind.

He wants to tell him how it shaped the way he sees the world, selfish and cunning and bound to disappoint him. How often he had hoped that someone would find him, standing alone among the buzzing streets of the city, and reach out for his hand, tell him he didn’t have to let the darkness follow him everywhere, a perpetual shadow.

He wants to tell him he didn’t need him to find a clan where he belongs, to find affection and closeness in people, to find friends to help him work through the mountain of life trauma he accumulated because of this absent part of himself.

He wants to tell him he doesn’t need him today still, not when he’s grown into a man all on his own, when he’s achieved his dreams all by himself, without the help he pleaded for, down on his knees, when he was seventeen and met him for the first time, wiry from not eating enough, a constant split lip from getting into too many fights to release some of the rage burning in his ribcage.

He needed him then, but all he got was rejection and barely disguised disdain. This father, who looked him up and down like he would have a stray dog on the street, taking in his torn clothes and bleached hair, and told him blood alone couldn’t make him his son, and that he had no obligation to honor any of the implicit debt a hot-headed younger Yoongi had claimed he owed him.

He doesn’t need him anymore.

Yoongi knows it, rationally. He owns a penthouse in one of the wealthiest parts of the city, has a successful career, has made a name for himself –his own name and not the one this man refused to give him. He knows it, and still his heart slams against his ribcage when he hears the words coming out of his father’s mouth.

“I’m sorry?” he breathes out, although he refuses to let his hold on the door slacken.

“I was wrong about you,” his father repeats, his face a mask of gravity. “I realized that the other night, when I saw you at that party.”

“You saw me for two seconds, Huijae,” Yoongi replies with a derisive scoff.

“Long enough to know.”

Yoongi tries to replay that night in his mind, but everything that surrounds the shock that came with being faced with his father, whom he hadn’t seen in six years, is a bit of a blur. 

After Taehyung tackled him with a hug and they decided to leave, he only remembers getting drunk out of his mind and being a bit confused by how quickly Jimin and Taehyung had seemingly taken to each other, sharing private jokes after an hour like they had known each other their whole lives.

There wasn’t anything about him that night that could possibly warrant his father’s presence on the threshold of his apartment, nothing but his presence there, the clear claim that he now belongs in these upper-class circles Huijae had been terrified of being shunned from had the existence of his bastard son been public.

“What are you doing here?” Yoongi asks, pulling all of his energy into keeping his voice steady.

Yoongi’s phone buzzes in his pocket again but he doesn’t move to grab it. He knows Jimin and Hoseok are probably letting him know that they are on their way and asking if he needs anything. It’s ironic, how his found family knows how utterly draining any interaction with his biological family is to him more than the man standing in front of him.

“I thought it was time for us to reconnect,” Huijae says. “You’ve proven to be more resourceful than I anticipated. I removed myself from your life because I didn’t want to have someone be dependent on me, but I’m glad to see you made it on your own. You made friends in high places and built a strong network. I’m proud of you.”

Yoongi goes still. His heart starts hammering in his chest again as he fully takes in the true meaning barely veiled behind his father’s words. He had longed for these words, once, uttered from this voice he had been desperate to hear, the same voice that had unknowingly drove him to dream big, to work tirelessly to achieve his goals and prove himself to someone who didn’t even care.

He thought they would keep him from drowning entirely, but now that they hang between them, meaningless and forged to flatter him, it only feels like his head is being pushed back under water without giving him time to catch his breath.

It makes sense now, why he is standing here, why he even bothered acknowledging Yoongi’s existence when he made it abundantly clear it held so significance to him beforehand.

In the glimpse he caught of Yoongi at that party a few days ago, he saw him talking to Taehyung. Prince Taehyung. Cousin to Prince Seokjin and Prince Jeongguk, the direct heirs to the throne. And Yoongi doesn’t know his father much, doesn’t know him at all if he’s quite honest, but he knows there isn’t much he values more than the empire he has built and the connections he made in high places along the way. He prides himself in the names he can drop with false nonchalance, but it seems Yoongi has succeeded where he failed, in making ties with the royal family.

He wants to laugh, to tell him he didn’t even try, that it all happened because of bad weather and a magnetic pull in his stomach he wasn’t able to resist. But all that comes out is the hatred that rips his heart open and makes his face harden, his voice quiver.

“I see. I’m afraid my friends in high places and strong network aren’t for sale,” he says, ice woven through each word, “and neither am I.”

“That’s not what I’m offering,” Huijae replies. “We could work together–”

“Hard pass,” Yoongi cuts in. “I didn’t work my ass off to get where I am for you to come and reap the benefits when you suddenly remember I exist.”

“I always knew that.”

Yoongi gives a humorless laugh, anger pooling in the pit of his stomach.

“No, you didn’t. The only person who saw my potential is dead, and he was more of a father to me than you ever were or cared to be until you saw me interacting with Taehyung.”

“Taehyung?” Huijae echoes, lifting an eyebrow. “That’s quite informal. How close are you?”

“You know what else is informal?” Yoongi hisses. “Me telling you to fuck right off.”

“Yoongi,” his father says, voice lowering to a scolding undertone. As if he has any right to scold Yoongi now when he wasn’t there to do it when he was a hotheaded teenager with too much pent-up rage to release. It makes the anger running through Yoongi’s veins burn anew. “I remember when you first found me all those years ago. You asked for my help and I didn’t believe in you then. But I do now, and I want to fix this.”

“You want to use me for your own benefit,” Yoongi amends, “and I’m not interested. So I’ll say to you what you said to me back then: learn to get by on your own, it’s the only way you’ll ever do anything worthy of your life. No relative of mine needs to beg to learn to be a man.”

Huijae’s eyes darken as he takes the determined set of Yoongi’s jawline in.

“You’re still the same capricious child that barged into my office and demanded an audience like it was owed to him.”

“And you’re still the same asshole who let my mother and I go hungry while sitting on a fucking empire,” Yoongi retorts. “Who I had to beg for money so I could give her a proper funeral and still said no. Glad to see nothing has changed. Let’s keep it that way and stay removed from each other’s lives.”

“You’re being unreasonable. I’ve been staying away because I didn’t want to get involved, but you don’t want to cross me.”

Yoongi laughs, bitter. “Or what? You’ll abandon me again?”

Huijae’s lips pull into a thin line. “Do you think I don’t know about your current conflicts with your company? That’s all that idiot Kim Daehee was talking about that night, how he has you on a leash. He was boasting about how you were at his beck and call. It was pathetic. I’ve seen your temper, Yoongi. I’m sure you’re thinking of leaving. I don’t think it’ll be so easy once I get word around that you’re still an irascible child who confuses sentiments with business.”

Yoongi’s stomach drops, but he steels his composure, his jaw flexing with an irritated twitch. “Fuck you.”

Huijae’s gaze flashes with fury. “Show me some respect, boy.”

“It’s not like I had a great role model to teach me better,” Yoongi says with a shrug, plastering a fake smile on his face. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have about a hundred things to do that are more interesting to me than continuing this conversation. Like banging my head against a wall to forget it ever happened. I suggest you leave. You’ve always been good at that, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how it works.”

He pushes harshly against the door until his father has no choice but to step back and remove his foot lest he wants to have it squashed, before he slams it to his face.

It takes approximately five seconds after he’s heard the sound of footsteps retreating for him to slide against the door and the cold impassivity he’s forced himself to uphold throughout their conversation to be washed away by smoldering anger and raging sorrow.

His phone slips out of his pocket as he does and Yoongi picks it up with trembling fingers. It buzzes in his hand immediately, the screen lighting up with a new text.

Yoongi frowns as he sees the name displayed there.

anarchist in chief (6)

Seokjin never sends several texts in a row. He’s more the very long, sort of eloquent, over-wordy type, communication skills framed by years of political training even in mundane interactions.

He feels himself relax a little as he opens the text. Seokjin has that odd effect on him, he’s come to notice. That unique ability to urge away the clutter in Yoongi’s mind to replace it with an inexplicable quiet, comfortable enough that Yoongi chooses not to question it.

Is that a bad thing? 

Yoongi?

Are you okay?

Yoongi frowns, confused, and scrolls back up the conversation, groaning at himself when he realizes he didn’t send the text about his father’s impromptu visit to Hoseok and Jimin like he thought, but to Seokjin instead. He scrolls back down, reading the latest texts.

I’m stuck in a diplomatic dinner but I can drop by afterwards if you want, though it’d be late.

I’m getting worried. You’re usually glued to your phone.

I asked Namjoon to warn your friend Hoseok. I hope you don’t mind. Let me know if I can do anything to help.

Something shifts in Yoongi’s chest, a tinge of affection for this man who thinks he’s so good at hiding who he is but so obvious about the true content of his heart.

Seokjin can wear as many masks as he wants, can let the lies roll off his tongue like they’ve become a second nature to him, but Yoongi sees him clearly. The way he tries to use his influence to fix the wrongs he witnesses on a daily basis, the way he inadvertently lets slip some parts of himself when it’s just the two of them and the secret they share, the way his perfect manners are not just the result of his uptight upbringing but an inherent part of the person he is, someone who gives respect and an equal ground to the people he meets because he values them as humans and not as pawns on a chessboard he was born to conquer. The way he cares for people without ever wanting them to find out.

Yoongi knows wicked and crooked, and Kim Seokjin is none of those things.

He sucks in a deep breath, notes how lighter it feels as he lets it out and types an answer.

I’m sorry, my previous text wasn’t meant for you. It’s not a good thing, but he’s gone now. Don’t drop by, I’ll see you tomorrow as planned. Sorry for worrying you.

He feels a sudden urge to add more, to explain, to put into words the ache that has taken over his body, the painful clutch of his heart, the invisible hand holding him underwater. But this isn’t the kind of relationship they have. They’ve shared some things, they’ve opened up a little to each other, but although there’s a hesitant friendship blooming there, it remains a physical, mutually convenient arrangement before it is anything else.

And Yoongi doesn’t feel like losing that just yet, which might very well happen if he starts dumping all of his existential problems on Seokjin. He has enough problems of his own without having to worry about Yoongi’s.

Hobi’s name flashes on top of the screen. Yoongi clicks on the notification to distract himself from the three dots showing Seokjin is replying.

On my way, just making a stop to pick Jimin up first. If you kill daddy dearest, he’ll know how to make the body disappear. I’ll provide the alibi. Love you.

Yoongi doesn’t have time to answer because his phone is buzzing with a new call. He frowns at the screen, but picks up anyway.

“I thought you were stuck in a diplomatic dinner,” he says in lieu of a greeting.

“I said I had to step out for a moment to take an important call,” Seokjin replies, a smile in his voice. “People tend to be impressed by that so they don’t ask questions. They’re probably imagining I’m talking to the Queen of England right now.”

“I do hope that’s not a nickname you want to try on me next time we’re in bed because I’m vetoing it.”

Seokjin chuckles, the sound light and soothing. Yoongi feels his shoulders sag a little against the door. He stretches his legs in front of him, tipping his head back to gaze at the ceiling.

“Duly noted,” Seokjin says. His voice drops to a low, grave undertone, almost a whisper. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. It was nothing, really. I don’t know why you got worried.”

“Well, you never mention your father but considering what you’ve told me about your childhood before, I gathered that you don’t have a good relationship with him. If any.”

“If any,” Yoongi echoes, the words bitter on his tongue. “But really, Jin, I’m fine.”

“You used proper punctuation and capitalization,” Seokjin says, voice playful but layered with a dash of concern Yoongi doesn’t know what to make of. “In the last text you sent me. As delighted as I am, I can’t help but think it’s not a good sign. And if you’re not okay, that’s fine. You’re allowed to be honest about it. You don’t have to lie to me.”

“Oh, that’s low,” Yoongi hisses, but he can feel a smile curling at the corner of his lips. “Using my own words against me.”

“Rhetorics 101,” Seokjin retorts, mirth evident in his voice. “I’ve had years of training. You can’t win, Yoongi.”

Yoongi hums absently, shutting his eyes as he draws a deep breath.

“I’m an unhappy accident,” he says, the words burning on their way up his throat.

“What do you mean?”

“My parents never meant for me to happen,” Yoongi eludes. “My mother was just a waitress. My father is Lee Huijae.”

There’s a pause, and Seokjin sounds genuinely surprised when he asks, “The tech tycoon?”

Yoongi hums.

“Yeah. They met because my mother was part of the catering staff for a corporate event his company had organized. He was married then. They had an affair. He never wanted to have children, which was one of the reasons why his marriage was on its last legs. My mother never wanted children either, so it worked fine for them, I guess. Except that she got pregnant with me anyway. He didn’t want a bastard son and refused to acknowledge me, and she only kept me because she hoped it would make him change his mind. He left her and made sure she couldn’t contact him, so she had to raise me on her own. She was in love with him, though, for some reason beyond me. And she resented me because she thought I was the reason why he had left her and not, I don’t know, the fact that he’s a cruel and unmitigated asshole.”

“I’m sorry, Yoongi,” Seokjin says, his fancy accent almost entirely erased by the gentle lilt of his voice.

“I never knew any of it until I was seventeen,” he continues, unsure why the words are just pouring out of him. He can’t stop himself now that he’s allowed the floodgates to open. “I was looking for a secret spot to hide my stash of weed –shut up, I don’t believe for a second that you and Tae never got high in your rooms in the palace while contemplating world domination–”

Seokjin laughs, but hums placatingly in lieu of an answer, silently encouraging him to go on. From his spot on the ground, Yoongi rummages in the pocket of his coat hanging by the door, plucking his silver case and a lighter out. He doesn’t light a cigarette, twirling the case between his fingers absently.

“I found a bunch of letters in a hidden drawer in our living room. They were addressed to him and they had been sent back to the sender, my mother, unopened. I read one of them, and that’s how I found out.” He pauses, sucks in a sharp breath. “My mother and I… we struggled a lot financially when I was growing up. She was always between jobs, and I had to work from an early age to help her put food on our table and a little extra to buy the secondhand equipment I needed to make music. She had a lot of boyfriends… Let’s just say not all of them were good to me and leave it at that. The one she had at the time was the worst one, though. He looked at me like I was dirt on his shoe. He kept telling her I was wasting away her resources to pursue a foolish dream, because I would never make it in the music industry if I didn’t have someone to act as some kind of sponsor. That you needed to be born in money to make money in the arts. So when I realized my biological father was this...fucking billionaire, I thought I would never have to go a single day without eating again and that he could be that sponsor for me. I was an idiot.”

“You were a child,” Seokjin cuts in softly, and Yoongi almost startles at the sound of his voice, having nearly forgotten he wasn’t talking to himself. It feels like a soothing balm on a wound freshly reopened. “And it was a very fair assumption to make.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi scoffs self-deprecatingly. “I told my mother and her boyfriend I was leaving forever and shoved my stuff in a duffel bag while he was yelling at me what a useless piece of shit I was and she was crying about how ungrateful I was. I spent half of the money I had saved from delivering food to get a train ticket to the city. I thought once my father saw me and I told him who I was, he would welcome me with open arms and promise me that even though he had missed such a big part of my life, he’d be there for the rest of it. Needless to say, it didn’t go like that.”

He brings a hand up to nibble at his thumb, but stops himself.

“I managed to find him at the headquarters of his company. He refused to help me and kicked me out, telling me he didn’t take in strays and that the fact that we shared blood didn’t mean I was his son or that he had any obligation towards me, especially not when I was pathetic enough to beg for help because true men don’t do that. He said he wouldn’t risk his reputation for a mistake he made eighteen years ago.”

Seokjin makes a sound of disgust. “He sounds delightful,” he says, voice heavy with sarcasm.

“I couldn’t go back home after the speech I had given my mother and her boyfriend, so Hoseok’s parents took me in until I auditioned for WSB and Kim Jihoon saw the potential in me. He gave me a job and enough money to get a roof over my head while I waited for my first pay. It was meager at first, so when my mother died, I couldn’t pay for her funeral. I went to my father’s again to ask for his help because I was too proud to ask anyone else. He kicked me out again. Jihoon found out and ended up paying for it. Made me promise I would pay back every penny because he knew I wouldn’t have accepted otherwise. I never saw my father again until a few days ago.”

Yoongi can’t see Seokjin, but he can picture the sympathy on his face just from the stuttered breathing coming through the phone. When Seokjin clears his throat, it sounds solemn, but not because of who he is. Because he is giving Yoongi all the gravity and attention the situation seems to call for. Yoongi isn’t sure why it makes warmth spread through his chest, enveloping the cold cage of his heart protectively.

“I attended dinners where he was there a few times, but I never talked to him directly. Now I’m glad I didn’t.”

“Oh, he would have been delightful to you.” Yoongi snorts. “His wide network is his first and only pride. That’s actually why he visited me today.”

“What do you mean?”

“The other night, when Taehyung and I ran into each other at that party… I had just stepped outside to have a cigarette because I needed a break from people. He was there. He didn’t see me and I intended to keep it that way but that’s when Taehyung found me and he pretty much shouted my name and jumped into my arms.”

“Sounds like Tae,” Seokjin remarks fondly.

Yoongi gives a feeble smile. “It caught my father’s attention, I guess. He showed up here today to tell me we should work together because I finally made him proud. He didn’t mean me, though. He meant the fact that I have ties with the royal family.”

“So he wants to use you to get to us? For what? It’s not like we’re going to make business deals with him. We’re public figures, not a company.”

“But you sit in meetings that influence the economy and business laws and international trade, and thus his company,” Yoongi says flatly. “I know you’re not supposed to have political opinions or whatever, but we both know that’s bullshit. You have more political influence than he could ever hope for. He’s been friends with many ministers and various political leaders, but they’re all passing. They don’t stay in power eternally. You do. Your family remains the one sphere of influence he hasn’t been able to reach.”

There’s absolute stillness, and Yoongi’s gaze drifts back to the window, contemplative.

The night has fallen now and it’s snowing outside, the first snow of the year. It’s soundless around him, only Seokjin’s quiet breathing cutting through the silence, but it sounds like it’s emanating from a far off distance. It’s an eerie sort of tranquility that comes after spilling secrets and opening wounds that never properly healed. Yoongi’s senses feel heightened in the face of it all, hyper aware of his surroundings, wrapped in a cocoon shunned away from the rest of the world, only Seokjin to tether him back to the outside.

“I’m sorry,” he says as Yoongi pulls himself back to his feet, plucking a cigarette out of the case and lighting it. It’s so low he almost misses it.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Yoongi tells him.

“It feels like I do,” Seokjin replies, stubborn. Yoongi has begun to grow accustomed to it. “You wouldn’t have to deal with this if you didn’t have ties with me in the first place. I can’t imagine this has been easy for you, and it feels like I’m at least partly responsible for it. You wouldn’t know Taehyung if not for me, and–”

“Stop.”

“But–”

“I know you like to beat yourself up because you think you’re responsible for everyone’s problems, but don’t do that shit with me, Seokjin,” Yoongi says, and is surprised to hear the vehemence in his own voice as he all but chastise the crown prince, who is apparently letting him. “You can’t claim responsibility for my shitty father and the shitty things he does and the pain he made me go through. That’s my story. And if you take responsibility for it, it ceases to be.”

“I–” Seokjin starts, his voice trailing off. “I never thought of it like that.”

“Sometimes people need the pain,” Yoongi says. “It keeps us alive. Don’t try to steal it away from us, you have plenty of your own.”

A beat passes, and Seokjin lets out a beleaguered sigh.

“It’s not after 3 am, why are we having such a deep conversation? We had a deal, Yoongi.”

Yoongi smiles, lets it take over his face fully with no one to witness it. “You started it.”

“Really? That’s the comeback you’re going with?”

“Aren’t you supposed to suck some diplomats’ dicks right now? Why are you still talking to me?” Yoongi quips back.

“You’re infinitely more interesting,” Seokjin says, and Yoongi frowns when his stomach flutters at the words. “And we went over this already, but the dick sucking not being metaphorical is a great bonus.”

Yoongi bites his lip on a laugh, shaking his head.

“But I actually do have to go,” Seokjin says with a sigh. “Namjoon has been giving me that look where he’s extremely annoyed with me but thinks he’s subtle about it for the past ten minutes.”

“You should give him a raise,” Yoongi says.

“I’ll think about it,” Seokjin replies, chuckling. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” His voice trails off at the end, tilting up in a clear question.

“Tomorrow,” Yoongi confirms.

He can hear noise coming from outside his apartment, knows Hoseok and Jimin are about to barge in to distract him with loudness and affection and comfort, and realizes with a start he doesn’t feel the need for it anymore, not as much as he thought he would.

“And, Yoongi?” Seokjin calls softly.

“Mmh?”

“You’re not an unhappy accident,” he says, intense and confident, the words so penetrating Yoongi finds himself smiling and wanting to hold onto them, to let them cradle him into the kindness they offer.

Something sparks to life inside his chest, warm and unfamiliar but not entirely unpleasant, something he’s come to identify with a spontaneous, indomitable reaction to Seokjin. In these moments, it’s easy to forget the cold truth of who they are, an impossible idea, slaves to the tick of time passing, perishable like flowers.

“I know,” Yoongi replies, although it feels like he needed the reminder.

He hears the telltale sound of the pin being entered at his front door and turns just in time to see it open, Hoseok and Jimin both looking ready to go to war.

“See you tomorrow,” Seokjin says, and he hangs up before Yoongi has time to answer.

Yoongi pockets his phone, facing his friends who are still standing in the hallway, looking at him like they’re wondering whether he’s going to fall apart before them.

“Why are you smiling?” Hoseok asks, breaking through the silence with a concerned dip of his brows. Yoongi chooses to overlook the fact that he’s holding an actual baseball bat in his hand. “Did you really kill him? We didn’t bring a shovel to bury the body.”

Jimin rolls up his sleeves, eyes narrowing. “Where’s the bastard?”

Yoongi shakes his head, feels the smile spread wider on his lips until he’s laughing. It’s timid at first, like his mind hasn’t caught up yet, and then it comes out louder, from somewhere deep inside his chest.

Hoseok gives Jimin a very concerned look. “He’s lost it.”

Yoongi walks up to them, patting them on the back as he pushes them further into the apartment.

“You know that feeling when you knew something for a long time and it’s suddenly confirmed and you feel extremely vindicated?”

“No,” Jimin says, sounding a bit worried.

“Well, I already knew my father was an asshole, but I just got it confirmed today. Let’s get very drunk.”

Hoseok shoulders his backpack off, a loud, clinking sound emitting with the gesture.

“Way ahead of you there, honey.”

Chapter Text

“Are we ever going to talk about the fact that whatever is going on between Min Yoongi and you isn’t just about sex anymore?”

Seokjin frowns, pulling his gaze away from the passing roads to peer at his best friend. 

“What?”

Namjoon gives him a deeply unimpressed look. “We’re going to his concert right now,” he states matter-of-factly. “You text him a lot. A lot. The other day, you made me come up with an excuse so you could step out of a dinner with our ambassador in Australia to call him. I know he started to have dinner with you instead of coming around later in the evening. And–”

“I get the overall idea,” Seokjin interrupts, sending him a pointed glare.

Namjoon nods, seemingly satisfied. “So, are we going to talk about it?”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Seokjin replies, turning to gaze back out the window.

They’re driving through the city. It’s already dark and the streets are nearly deserted, the biting cold of the emerging winter having chased away even the bravest souls. Still, Seokjin feels a warmth akin to excitement burning through his whole body, shielding him from the cold.

It’s a bit silly, he thinks, for him to be so enthusiastic at the idea of going to a concert. It makes him feel oddly mundane, though, and it’s a sensation he experiences rarely enough to cherish it when he does.

“I just need to be prepared,” Namjoon says. “In case things change, so I can protect you as best as I can.”

The car pulls to a stop at a red light, and Seokjin smiles to himself, gaze stopping on a family huddled together against the cold. Two children are running around, chasing each other in wild circles, brandishing snowballs in their gloved hands, their juvenile faces twisted with unabashed laughter.

“The only thing that changed is that we’re becoming friends,” Seokjin admits when the car starts driving again, leaving the happy family behind. He turns to face Namjoon again, whose dubious gaze is thankfully fixed on the road, and reaches out to pat his knee, a mischievous smile tugging at his lips. “Don’t worry, though, you’re still my favorite.”

Namjoon glares at him, but it isn’t quite enough to conceal the amusement layered there. “I bristle at what the country would think if they knew the future king is an absolute idiot.”

Namjoon’s phone buzzes and he looks down at the screen on the dashboard, only for his cheeks to dust in a light shade of pink, a bashful smile taking over his face, wide enough to show his dimples.

Seokjin doesn’t want to pry, but he can’t help but catch sight of the name flashing. Jung Hoseok.

He smirks. “And that his most trusted advisor can’t even bring himself to ask out the guy he so obviously is infatuated with.”

“I’m not,” Namjoon protests weakly. “It’s just…” His voice drops to something soft Seokjin has rarely heard before, “He uses a lot of emojis. And he calls me Dimples.”

Seokjin smiles and gently squeezes his knee. “And you’re not dating him because?”

Namjoon shrugs. “I don’t have time to date.”

There’s an edge of sadness in his usually serene gaze, a certain distance as he glances at his phone almost dreamily, like it holds the essence of the man that is making his gaze soften like this. It pulls at Seokjin’s heartstrings, guilt soaring through his veins with renewed fervor. 

He’s been too preoccupied lately, and he never took the time to check up on Namjoon. He knows this life he leads isn’t demanding only on him but on his best friend as well, because Namjoon made a conscious choice to follow Seokjin past the gates of Hell if he had to.

He’s been a constant presence for long enough that Seokjin can’t imagine his life without him, a pillar of strength when the foundations of his sense of reality threaten to collapse, an anchor against the most tumultuous storms.

And Seokjin has been a bad friend, assuming it didn’t affect Namjoon the way it did himself, because if Seokjin has been raised and groomed into becoming someone befitting of the eminence of his titles, Namjoon is a born leader, working in silent ways to unburden him as much as possible, leading with the kindness of his heart and his fierce will to protect him from things that thanks to him never reach the brink of Seokjin’s awareness.

He never stopped to ponder, though, how taxing it must be for him. For every sacrifice Seokjin has to make to meet expectations, Namjoon must match the offering to keep the promise he made to himself when he chose to dedicate his life to aiding Seokjin in this innate, unshakable commitment to his people.

At all times, Namjoon always has a hundred scenarios flitting around in his mind, and twice as many solutions for all of them, but they all revolve around Seokjin, his future, his misfortune, his demons. It’s why his loyalty knows no bounds, but Seokjin also knows it’s why he’s pushed his own life and his own desires to the sidelines for so long.

“Alright then,” Seokjin says flatly. “You’re fired.”

Namjoon gasps, eyes widening. He is speechless for a moment, taking in Seokjin’s arms crossed over his chest, the air of gravity he struggles to maintain. His eyes drop to Seokjin’s mouth, which is curling with the beginning of a smile.

“You wouldn’t survive a day without me,” he says, deadpan.

“Give me some credit,” Seokjin huffs in affront. “I would survive at least a week.”

Namjoon winces sympathetically. “Twelve hours, at most.”

Seokjin rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling fully now. “Just ask him out, Joon,” he says, weaving authority into his voice. “You clearly like him. Let yourself be happy, would you?”

The venue is coming into sight, the front lines already deserted. They purposely arrived a little late so as to avoid the crowds gathered at the doors. The wide square facing the venue’s entrance is empty, but Namjoon still drives around to get to the back entrance, scrupulously following the instructions they received.

When they get there, a man is already waiting for them, huddled in a multi-colored patchwork winter coat, a yellow beanie on his head.

“You should take your own advice every now and then,” Namjoon says shrewdly before stepping out of the car.

The stranger positively beams when he spots Namjoon, waving frantically. Namjoon smiles shyly as he trots up to him, his shoulders tensing up as if they could protect him from the cold. They stand in front of each other, Namjoon shifting on his feet awkwardly while his companion, whom Seokjin can only assume is the infamous Hoseok, gestures broadly towards the venue.

They make an odd couple, he thinks idly, complementary in unexpected ways. Hoseok’s enthusiasm and cheerfulness are a bold contrast to Namjoon’s deceptively calm exterior. Seokjin wonders how long it will be before he lets out the part of himself only very few people are privy to, the one that is accidentally loud, endearingly gauche and very much not calm.

Namjoon takes a peripheral look around the area and, when he’s certain their security team has taken their positions and the coast is clear, motions for Seokjin to get out of the car.

Seokjin pulls his mask up and his black cap down to cover most of his face and steps out of the car too, jogging to meet them at the door.

Hoseok bows deeply, his eyes crinkling in the corner when he smiles politely. It’s a genuine smile; Seokjin has learned to spot the difference. It makes it easy to smile back.

“Your Royal Highness,” he greets. “I’m Jung Hoseok.”

“Let’s skip the formalities,” Seokjin says quickly, almost automatically, offering his hand. Hoseok shakes it swiftly, his grip surprisingly strong. “Yoongi told me you’ve found quite colorful monikers for me, but I’d rather skip these too, if you don’t mind. Let’s go with Seokjin.”

Hoseok’s eyes widen, and a raging blush blossoms on his cheeks at once, spreading from the roots of his dyed red hair all the way down where his neck is covered by a thick scarf.

“I’ll kill him,” he says, and Seokjin is worried for a second that he actually means it.

Namjoon frowns, quirking an eyebrow at them. “What?”

A smirk tugs at Seokjin’s lips. “Apparently they needed a way to talk about me without talking about me. Hoseok had very… creative ideas.”

Seokjin’s personal favorite had been His Royal Handsomeness, but Yoongi had argued that it didn’t exactly help with the matter of hiding his identity, which was a fair point.

Hoseok looks mortified. “Did Yoongi put you up to this? Is he using you to get revenge? And revenge for what, by the way? My list of offenses against him is very long. For example, he’d be very offended if I told you how often he cries watching videos of rescued animals.”

Seokjin grins behind his mask and winks at him, but doesn’t reply, gesturing to the door instead. “Shall we?”

Hoseok purses his lips and narrows his eyes, looking at him like he’s hesitating between annoyance and acceptance.

Namjoon clears his throat, puffing out a shaky breath that materializes in a cloud of smoke between them. “Please. It’s freezing.”

Hoseok immediately forgets all about Seokjin, hooking his arm with Namjoon’s to pull him inside, merely gesturing at Seokjin to follow, almost like an afterthought.

It’s unexpected and nearly disrespectful, and Seokjin understands two things very clearly in that moment: why Hoseok and Yoongi are friends, and why Hoseok might very well be perfect for Namjoon.

Hoseok guides them through mostly deserted corridors, flashing a blinding smile to the few staff members they walk by, who are thankfully either too focused on doing their job or too distracted by Hoseok’s sunny disposition to pay much attention to the two people accompanying him, dressed in black from head to toe and hiding behind masks and caps lowered over their eyes. They pass by a few doors, and Seokjin spots Yoongi’s dressing room on their way, the name Agust D taped on the door.

Hoseok doesn’t stop, though, continuing his progress down the corridor until they’re making a right and going up a set of stairs by the side of the stage. It gives directly into a private room that overlooks the rest of the venue, protected from view by tinted windows.

Seokjin steps forward, and his breath hitches in his throat as he takes in the crowd. The pit is already filled to the brim, people huddled together as though they’re trying to get as close to the stage as possible. At both sides of the standing area, there are two cocktail bars, staff members running back and forth to take in orders, beers being passed around with such mastery the scene looks choreographed.

There’s palpable excitement waving through the crowd and even from the distance and his secluded position, Seokjin can feel it seeping through his bones, contagious. His fingers are twitching nervously, his body tense with anticipation. 

He turns to Hoseok, who has taken his coat off and made himself comfortable on the plush sofa facing the stage.

“When is it starting?” he asks.

As if on cue, the lights go off through the whole venue. The entire crowd erupts into cheers, their excitement rippling through the walls, a collective roar of euphoria. A loud bass emits the first notes, the crowd hollers louder, and Seokjin bewilderedly feels the ground trembling under his feet.

The lights to the stage flare on and off, matching their movements with the rhythm of the music. A wide screen is showing a close-up of the stage for the people at the back of the venue, and Seokjin doesn’t know where to look anymore, whether at the stage, or the screen, or Hoseok, or the crowd. The lights turn off again, and Seokjin feels a presence at his side, realizing that Hoseok is now standing with him, his own excitement shuddering through his body as he grins wildly.

“This is always my favorite part,” he says, clapping his hands.

The lights turn on, and Yoongi’s there, in the middle of the stage.

Seokjin promptly forgets how to breathe.

He saw Yoongi two days ago and he still had silver hair then. It’s back to a more natural black now, artfully tousled with a few light curls. He’s wearing a black silk shirt that reflects the lights around him, bathing him in blue and purple hues, and ripped black jeans that hug his legs tightly. Silver jewelry is dangling from his ears and curling around his wrists and fingers.

He lifts the mic to his mouth, a hint of an almost seductive smirk playing there, and as soon as the first lyrics are out, spilling from his lips like sparks, the crowd is ignited.

It’s beyond words, too wild for Seokjin to put into something cohesive, too mesmerizing to be grasped beyond this moment in time.

Yoongi moves on the stage like it’s his territory, and although he plays with the audience, sharing with them what seems to be private jokes and grins that are too broad to be faked, it’s clear it’s he who owns the moment. Time seems to hang at the edge of his lips, warped and reshaped, syncopated to fit the tempo Yoongi has set.

It’s breathtaking, and when Seokjin turns to Hoseok, he thinks the shock must register on his features, because Hoseok laughs as he pats his shoulder and puts a glass of an unidentified drink in his hand.

“I might change it to Your Royal Horniness,” Hoseok considers.

Namjoon barks out an obnoxious laugh behind them, loud and unabashed, a side of him he rarely shows to outsiders of their golden world.

Seokjin gapes at the two of them, at a loss for words, unsure what to do or say.

He takes a sip of his drink instead, savoring the burn of gin down his throat. He gulps it down in one go, ignoring Hoseok’s cackle as he walks up to the bar at the back of the room to get himself another, finally shuffling off his coat as he goes. He takes off the cap and mask too, though it doesn’t seem to help him breathe any better, and lays them neatly on an empty chair.

Satisfied with the indecent amount of gin in his glass, he walks back to the window. Yoongi is walking across the stage, body hitting every note flawlessly. Seokjin finds himself a little lost in the feelings of everyone around him, the thrill of the crowd tangible and shiver-inducing, so powerful Seokjin has trouble finding his footing in this new experience.

He goes through three songs like this, in a bit of a trance as he watches Yoongi perform, owning the stage, a kingdom of his own, the audience hanging to every word spitting from his mouth with perfect diction and raw intensity.

Seokjin tries very hard not to think about another context where he knows Yoongi’s dark eyes get so fierce and his presence so all-consuming and magnetic, when his back hits Seokjin’s mattress and his hands roam over his skin without restraint or patience, taking what he wants and Seokjin is willing to give, but his mind is a little overwhelmed, unguarded by a foolish sense of safety, and decisively uncooperative.

Seokjin almost chokes on his drink when Yoongi throws his head back, exposing the jut of his jaw and the tantalizing lines of his neck, glimmering with a thin layer of perspiration already.

Thankfully, he gets a break after the third song and his second glass of gin. Yoongi says a few words to the crowd, greeting them and thanking them for being there –each sentence is met with a deafening roar– before introducing Jimin to the stage and disappearing down a set of stairs behind the side curtains.

Seokjin turns around in a bit of a daze. Hoseok is dancing on his own to Jimin’s song, body swirling and twirling with astonishing grace. He beams when their eyes meet.

“You okay there, Your Royal Highness?”

He doesn’t say it like Yoongi does, woven with mischief and teasing playfulness that usually leads them to bed. Instead, his tone is light and friendly, like it’s something to be appreciated about Seokjin and not revered or feared. It’s dizzyingly refreshing.

Seokjin nods and yelps when Hoseok flicks a finger between his brows. “Then why are you frowning?”

“That’s his default expression,” Namjoon chimes in from where he is standing behind the bar, mixing drinks together. Seokjin doesn’t know who allowed this to happen, but he thinks they might regret it very soon.

That is, until Hoseok reaches out, grabs the glass Namjoon just filled with a weird, orangey concoction and downs it with one gulp. He gives an exaggerated sigh as he slams it back on the bar, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“That’s really good, Dimples,” he says with a supportive smile.

Seokjin knows it’s not true without having to taste it, but he isn’t sure whether Hoseok actually liked it or is lying to protect Namjoon’s feelings. Either way, it makes it more obvious that Namjoon should probably ask him out already, especially when his proud grin gets big enough that his dimples might develop dimples of their own.

Hoseok makes a pained noise at the sight, but quickly diverts his attention back to Seokjin.

“Are you having fun?” he asks. “Do you want to dance?”

“Unless it’s a waltz, I’m afraid I’m painfully inept at it.”

Hoseok waves his answer off dramatically. “Nonsense.”

“And I’m not even that good at waltzing either,” Seokjin feels the need to add, scratching at the back of his head. “My ballroom dancing lessons weirdly didn’t cover hip-hop.”

Hoseok laughs, grabs three shot glasses from the bar, fills them with some beverage Seokjin doesn’t want to ask about and shoves one in his hand and one in Namjoon’s.

“Bottoms up, hotties,” he says cheerfully. “You royal people clearly don’t know how to have fun but don’t worry, I’ll be your guide. I will help you find the path to fun. I’ll be your padawan. Or your Jedi. Or whatever it is, I’ve never actually seen Star Trek. Either way, your life will never be the same again.”

Seokjin chuckles, suddenly understanding what Yoongi meant when he said Hoseok had missed his calling in drama.

“I’m not a royal,” Namjoon points out. “And it’s Star Wars.”

Hoseok huffs out a long-suffering sigh. “I said what I said, Dimples.”

He turns to Seokjin, eyes narrowing on him as if challenging him to argue. Seokjin is a bit dumbfounded but finds himself nodding quickly and downing his shot.

Hoseok grins, satisfied, and takes the glass from him to put it back on the bar before grabbing both his hands. He starts swaying them along to the music, an upbeat pop song, Jimin’s voice pouring from all around them.

“It’s all in the hips,” he tells Seokjin, moving his own hips to the beat. “You have to loosen up a little. Let the music take over instead of trying to follow it.”

Seokjin feels a little ridiculous, but his innate need to please and do good takes over, perhaps because the alcohol is already helping him relax. He tries to do as instructed, but his body is stiff, prudery honed into his bones from years of stern lessons on conventions and formalities. Hoseok nods encouragingly, though, undeterred by the tension Seokjin’s body is displaying.

“That’s good,” he says supportively, and Seokjin doesn’t know why he feels proud, but he’ll later blame the alcohol for it. “Dancing is a little like sex.”

Seokjin sputters, a blush rising up his neck.

Hoseok looks unperturbed by his expression of equal horror and confusion. “It’s about feeling, not thinking.”

Seokjin almost tells him everything is about thinking for him, but Hoseok lets go of one of his hands and spins him around, giggling, and Seokjin finds the sentiment to be contagious, a quiet laugh bubbling out of his chest as he lets himself be twirled.

“That wasn’t in any of my ballroom dancing lessons either,” he remarks when he’s recovered from the shock.

“But imagine how much more fun they would have been if it had,” Hoseok says with a shameless wink.

Seokjin laughs again, and it’s easy, trouble-free, thoughtless.

The next hour passes in a bit of a blur. Seokjin drinks and dances and forgets and remembers. Remembers how it feels to let go, to be buoyant with glee, to just be. His face and body are on fire, he’s giddy with trepidation and Hoseok must be a better mentor than he anticipated because he’s having fun, more so than he can recall having in the past decade.

Seokjin is heady with all the sensations and new experiences around him, with the alcohol running through his veins and the magnetism Yoongi emanates naturally every time he steps on stage. At some point, he starts drinking directly from a bottle that Namjoon hands him, and Seokjin is not sober enough to goad him for it, so he just laughs, and dances, and drinks some more.

By the end of the first hour, the three of them are shouting along with the rest of the crowd, bouncing up and down like a bunch of hyperactive bunnies and Seokjin has half a mind to forget protocols and the secrets he carries and join the pit, feel the press of bodies against his own as he forgets his own name and lets Yoongi’s voice become a bubble of protection around him.

He doesn’t, of course, but the mere idea is enough to rile him up, to feel his whole world dangerously stumble on the edge of a cliff, vertigo washing over him.

Yoongi is unbearably attractive as he moves around the stage, sweat on his brow, an inferno in his eyes that matches the fire laced through every word that comes out of his mouth.

The concert lasts another half hour, and when Yoongi announces the last song, the crowd goes positively mad. He and Jimin share the stage, playing around with each other, grinning through each note and seemingly lost to anything outside their performance.

Seokjin’s stomach lurches a little painfully, but it can’t temper his good mood or the thrill coursing through his veins.

When the stage is finally empty, the lights of the venue blaring back on, almost blinding, Seokjin realizes he’s panting. People start to leave, but there is still this inexplicable tension in the air, a sort of collective post-climax concert high that Seokjin never thought he’d get to experience. They wait until the pit has completely emptied and they can see the staff moving around to clean up before Hoseok announces it’s probably safe for them to sneak backstage now.

Seokjin doesn’t wait. He feels like a teenager again, buzzing with arousal and alcohol and too many feelings he can’t name. He grabs his cap and his mask and storms out of the private room, taking the steps two at a time as he puts them back on, ignoring Namjoon’s loud cackle behind him as he rushes to where he spotted Yoongi’s dressing room on the way in.

He ducks his head when he walks past a group of staff members, but they’re too busy throwing orders around and working to make the place be void of any evidence of what happened tonight to pay him any attention.

He navigates through the busy corridor, head and shoulders low until he finds Yoongi’s dressing room and slips in, his whole body tingling.

Yoongi swirls around as he walks in. His face breaks into a grin that steals the air from Seokjin’s lungs with more ease than anything he’s experienced tonight.

He’s still wearing the same clothes, but there’s a cloth hanging around his neck and the top buttons of his shirt are opened on milky skin, offering a glimpse of collarbones.

The dressing room is thankfully empty, which Seokjin realizes a bit too late he should have checked beforehand.

“Hey,” Yoongi says, voice rough from overuse.

Seokjin loses it.

He slams the door shut behind him and pulls his mask down before he dashes forward, grabs him by the collar and tugs until Yoongi is crashing against him. He kisses him sloppily, giggling through it, lightheaded and free, so free. He wants to hold onto this feeling for the rest of the night, for as long as he can, at least until the morning comes and reality catches up on him. Yoongi moans in surprise but kisses back, smiling against his mouth.

“I take it you enjoyed your first concert,” he chuckles lowly, slinging his arms around Seokjin’s neck.

Seokjin’s lips drift to the corner of his mouth, down to his jaw, the hollow of his neck and back up to his cheek, trailing kisses along Yoongi’s warm skin.

“I really want to suck you off,” he whispers against his ear, tongue flicking out to trace the shell. His speech is a bit slurred, he realizes, but he doesn’t really care.

Yoongi makes a choked noise in the back of his throat. “Fuck,” he breathes out, shoving Seokjin’s cap off so he can card his fingers through his hair, which is already uncombed and an absolute mess. “What’s gotten into you?”

“You were really hot,” Seokjin says, nipping lightly at the sensitive point behind Yoongi’s ear. “You are really hot. I want to fuck you. Or you me. It doesn’t matter. Let’s fuck.”

With the way he’s pressed up against him, Seokjin can feel the hitch in Yoongi’s throat, the quiet moan that rises in his chest, his hot breath against the side of his head. He knows by now how to make Yoongi tick, knows the things that can make him dizzy with desire and his body shake with anticipation. He knows how and where to kiss him to invoke these flames that burn within him, like Seokjin is the match that can start a wildfire. Seokjin knows Yoongi has a thing for him being crude. It never fails to ignite a spark and it amuses Seokjin, how forgoing his manners in Yoongi’s presence can darken his gaze with a thirst only Seokjin can quench in a matter of seconds.

He thinks it might be because it makes him more real in Yoongi’s eyes, tangible and human, breakable like the rest of them. Yoongi appreciates honesty, determines worth in people based on the imperfections he can surmise. Seokjin can give him that, especially if it distracts Yoongi from digging deeper, from dismantling the last barrier standing between him and who Seokjin truly is. Even Yoongi, who likes people a little broken, who likes the challenge of unfurling enigmas and complicated patterns, would foil at the ugliness of it.

And Seokjin knows, deep down, why he chose Yoongi. He chose him because he isn’t his type, because he was offering something easy, because Seokjin’s first impression of him was that Yoongi would never fit into his world. He was too honest, too raw, too good.

But things have begun to change, Namjoon was right. Seokjin is starting to realize Yoongi doesn’t care where he fits or not; he’s perfectly comfortable remodeling the place until it adapts to him rather than the contrary.

When the whole world seems to be urging him to change, to learn these new codes, to conform, Yoongi stands steadily against the tide, sure of his own values, holding onto the content of his own heart.

Seokjin is a little jealous of him, at times, of how unapologetically Yoongi gets to be himself.

Most of the time, though, he likes that about him.

He likes it a lot.

Perhaps it’s why he’s so eager to be close to him right now, disinhibited and rendered honest by the alcohol coursing through his veins, because standing on that stage, baring his heart to people who barely know him, sharing the dark thoughts that plague him through songs that cease to belong to him the moment he offers them to his audience, Yoongi was more himself than Seokjin can even fathom.

From Seokjin’s experience, people who aren’t afraid to stand alone as who they are are beautiful and rare, elusive and splendid.

And Yoongi is beautiful the way fire is, captivating, warm, but only safe from a distance.

Tonight, Seokjin wants to burn himself.

So he kisses Yoongi again, hard and more demanding than he normally allows himself to be, and the greatest thing about it is that Yoongi lets him, pulls him closer, kisses him back like he’s drunk and slightly feverish too.

It’s incredibly stupid, because this is a very public place. Vaguely, distantly, Seokjin can hear people coming and going outside the closed door of the dressing room, white noise his brain has chosen to muffle to favor the sound of Yoongi breathing against him, the barely detectable shuffle of fabric when Yoongi curls his fingers at the collar of Seokjin’s black sweater.

Adrenaline is running rampant through his whole body, and when Yoongi pulls back, panting a little, it drives Seokjin to keep pressing kisses against his heated skin, to the curve of his cheekbone, the strong jut of his jaw, the glistening slope of his neck.

Yoongi gasps when Seokjin’s teeth sink where his neck meets his shoulder, tongue poking out to lick at the tendon stretching there and immediately soothe the pain he caused.

“Jin,” Yoongi murmurs, grip tightening into his hair.

He pulls his head back, a little harsh but still careful. Seokjin winces, but Yoongi brings their mouths together again hungrily.

Seokjin wants to chant his name back at him, his senses overwhelmed by all of Yoongi, the smoothness of his skin and the silk of his shirt under his touch, the drum of his heart he can feel beating under the tip of his fingers, the sharp, taunting dig of his teeth into Seokjin’s bottom lip. His mind is blanking, void of the thoughts that follow him like an eternal, glooming shadow. All that is left is scorching desire, mindless passion and a beautiful litany of Yoongi, Yoongi, Yoongi.

“Come home with me,” Seokjin pants, leaning into him, making himself smaller so their bodies are slotting together.

Yoongi nods against his face, their noses knocking together, tearing senseless giggles from the both of them.

Seokjin pecks his lips lightly, before burying his face back into Yoongi’s neck.

“Not that I’m complaining or anything like that,” Yoongi says, head lolling backwards as Seokjin licks deftly at his Adam’s apple, “but I don’t think either of us would like the headlines tomorrow if someone walked in right now.”

“I think you’d like it at least a little bit, Agust D,” Seokjin replies easily, inhaling deeply, his senses swarmed by Yoongi’s peculiar scent of citrus. “The monarchy would fall and you’d use the chaos to steal from the rich and redistribute the wealth or something.”

Yoongi huffs out a little laugh that reverbates against Seokjin’s lips, making them tingle with warmth. “You say that like it’s a bad thing but I know you’d be watching it burn with a glass of bourbon in your hand like the true anarchist you are,” he retorts.

“Let’s get caught then,” Seokjin says with a scoff. “Fuck it.”

It makes Yoongi pause, his brows dipping into a frown as he pulls back and gives him a hard, scrutinizing look that makes Seokjin feel like he’s the one who just bared his heart in front of thousands of strangers. His eyes roam over Seokjin’s face like he’s just now seeing him, before narrowing, his lips pulling into an expression of suspicion.

“Are you drunk?”

“Probably,” Seokjin says with a pout, hooking a finger in the loop of Yoongi’s jeans to pull him closer.

There’s a rap at the door, Seokjin staggers backward in a rush, but it’s all the warning they get before the door opens with a clamor, Hoseok swinging in with a hand over his eyes, Namjoon hovering behind him.

“I really hope you are wearing clothes,” Hoseok announces loudly, in a tone that suggests otherwise. The fact that he is very obviously peeking through his fingers isn’t exactly convincing either.

Namjoon shuts the door after him, looking everywhere but at them.

“I thought you might use a reminder that this is a public place and the risk of getting caught is… really huge, according to my calculations,” Namjoon slurs. His face is red, his eyes a little wider than usual.

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow, gazing between Seokjin and Namjoon before settling on Hoseok. 

“What did you do?” he asks, deadpan.

Hoseok shrugs. “I gave our friends here an important life lesson on how to have fun.”

Yoongi looks deeply unimpressed. “You got them drunk.”

“He got us drunk,” Namjoon agrees, a syrupy grin spreading on his face. “We had a lot of fun.”

“I had a lot of fun,” Seokjin confirms with a nod.

Yoongi gives him a pinched smile, like he tried to hold it back but failed. It’s evident in his eyes though, how they soften on him. It makes Seokjin’s stomach flutter, and he knows he can’t blame the alcohol for it.

“Next time, I’ll teach you how to pop it, lock it and drop it, darling,” Hoseok says with a mischievous grin, walking up to them to pat Seokjin on the shoulder.

Seokjin nods benevolently, scowling when Yoongi swats Hoseok’s hand away from him.

“Oh my God,” he hisses, rolling his eyes. “No, you won’t, what the fuck.”

“Look,” Hoseok says, and Yoongi immediately cringes at the tone, “with hips and a waist like his, it’d be criminal not to. I’m only fixing a great injustice.”

“Why are we friends?”

Hoseok wraps an arm around Yoongi’s shoulders and gives him a staged look of sympathy, pressing a wet kiss against his cheek.

“Because I’m the only one who finds you tolerable enough.”

“I think you’re very tolerable,” Seokjin chimes in, for a reason beyond him. He frowns to himself as soon as the words are out of his mouth.

Hoseok coos, laying a hand over his heart. Seokjin hiccups loudly, and promptly freezes, slamming a hand over his mouth, mortification coursing through him.

Yoongi chuckles, amused at his expense, and reaches out to curl his fingers around Seokjin’s wrist. It’s nice, grounding. Seokjin wishes he were sober enough to appreciate it more, because now that they’re not kissing anymore, it feels like all the alcohol he consumed earlier is catching up on him all at once and hijacking his brain.

“Let’s get you home, Your Royal Drunkenness.”

Namjoon sways forward, pointing a finger at Yoongi. “I drove us here.”

Yoongi gives him a placating look, like he’s facing a child who really wants to do something incredibly dangerous and doesn’t understand why he’s forbidden to. “And you’re not driving back anywhere. Jiminie can take you and Hobi home. I’ll take care of Seokjin.”

“Yeah,” Hoseok butts in, dragging the word out in a gravelly undertone, a glint of mischief shining in his eyes. “He’ll take real good care of him.”

He wiggles his eyebrows exaggeratedly.

Yoongi glares at him, before turning to Namjoon and holding out a hand. “Give me your keys. I’ll take your car to the lodge. We’ll figure out how you can get it back tomorrow.”

“Ooh, the lodge,” Hoseok says with a lewd grin. “That sounds very sexy and mysterious. Is it some kind of sex dungeon?”

“Ew. That was my father’s home, please,” Seokjin says with a grimace. Yoongi gives him a look of surprise, but Seokjin ignores it, the corner of his mouth quirking in a mischievous smirk. “My sex dungeon is obviously in the palace.”

Hoseok barks out a laugh while Namjoon pinches the bridge of his nose with a long-suffering sigh and mumbles something about not being paid enough under his breath. He’s smiling, though, more relaxed than Seokjin has seen him in a long while. It might be the alcohol, but he thinks Hoseok’s presence by his side and the hand he’s been keeping on Namjoon’s biceps –perhaps not for entirely innocent purposes, Seokjin ponders to himself– might help a little as well.

“For the record, there is no sex dungeon in the palace,” Namjoon amends.

“Not that you know of,” Seokjin pipes in. “Who knows what’s really in the underground tunnels? Some of my ancestors were wild.”

Namjoon sighs, looking like he’s close to breaking. “You’re not supposed to tell people about the underground tunnels.”

“I’m not supposed to tell people I’m gay either,” Seokjin retorts, gesturing vaguely at Yoongi. “But here we are.”

“At least I know they won’t kill you, though,” Namjoon says briskly, like it’s a dark joke whose punchline is Seokjin and not a very real possibility that they’ve talked about at length were he to ever come out.

“Yoongi did threaten to sex me to death once,” Seokjin says, because it’s easier than to dive into the true magnitude of it all.

Hoseok giggles at Yoongi’s look of complete horror, but a knock at the door prevents either of them from responding.

“Yoongi?” a voice Seokjin can’t identify calls from the other side. “Are you ready to go home? I’m starving.”

The door starts to open but Namjoon slams it close, leaning his whole weight against it, almost headbutting it in the process. His gaze shifts between Seokjin, Yoongi and Hoseok, widening in panic.

“That’s Jimin,” Hoseok whispers like he’s sharing with them a great secret, ogling Namjoon’s biceps as he pushes against the door to keep it close.

“Yoongi?” Jimin asks, worry woven in his voice. “Is everything okay?”

“Does Jimin know?” Namjoon asks. Seokjin shouldn’t be surprised that he is seemingly ready to materialize another NDA out of thin air if the occasion presents itself.

“No,” Yoongi says quietly, casting a cautious glance at Seokjin, “but he’s best friends with Taehyung these days and I don’t know what your cousin has told him about how he and I know each other.”

“Probably nothing,” Seokjin says. “Taehyung is well aware of why it needs to stay a secret.”

“Yoongi, I swear to God, if you’re ignoring me because you’re jerking off, I’ll chop your dick off,” Jimin chimes in, and the harshness of the words is at odds with the sweet, chanting lilt of his voice. “Get it over with. I want dumplings.”

Seokjin doesn’t know why it’s the moment Taehyung’s voice echoes in his mind, taunting and playful. It’s often how it works, though. Taehyung has this unique ability of shaking the ground people stand on with his words, not because they’re astringent or intrusive, but because they’re stunning enough, in the way he utters them and always means them, that they stay with you for a while.

He’s light on the outside, flashing his boxy smile to people even when they don’t deserve it, but it’s the intangible side of him that truly matters, the one that’s surprisingly profound, wiser than his years should entail.

You should look into it. Just in case.

Seokjin clears his throat, facing Yoongi. “Do you trust him?”

Namjoon heaves out a deep sigh.

Yoongi doesn’t hesitate. “With my life.”

It’s Namjoon who replies, suddenly looking surprisingly sober, his eyes dark and serious as they settle on Yoongi.

“But do you trust him with his?” he asks, jerking his chin at Seokjin.

Yoongi nods.

Namjoon sighs again. “I was hoping your answer would be different.” He looks at Seokjin, half glaring and half smiling. It’s an odd combination but he somehow makes it work. “Does the offer of firing me still stand? I might take you up on it after all lest I go bald before my thirties.”

“I’ll pay for your hair implants, Joonie,” Seokjin says with a wink.

Namjoon rolls his eyes, but pushes off the door anyway, opening it. Jimin stumbles inside, but manages to find his balance with an oddly graceful twirl before he can faceplant. He blinks in surprise as Namjoon shuts the door after him again, his gaze finding Hoseok first, and then the rest of them. His lips part in a comical expression of stupor as he and Seokjin lock eyes.

“I am...so confused,” he breathes out. He gives Seokjin a bow in near automatism, before turning to Yoongi. “Taehyungie told me the circumstances of your meeting were hilarious but that I shouldn’t question it. I have a lot of questions, though. First in line being what the hell is going on and why are there suddenly so many royals around you you’d think you’ve been promoted to court troubadour?”

Yoongi hums in acknowledgment, but swiftly changes the topic. “This is Kim Namjoon,” he says, pointing at him, before moving to Seokjin. “And this is Kim Seokjin. Seokjin, Jimin. Jimin, Seokjin. Everyone’s glad to meet each other, this is great.” He doesn’t let any of them time to say anything before he adds, his whole attention on Jimin, “Can you take Namjoon and Hobi home?” he asks. “They’re too drunk to drive.”

It does nothing to quell the confusion on Jimin’s features.

He’s pretty, Seokjin’s mind unhelpfully provides. All soft features and plump lips and kind eyes. There’s a sense of genuine goodness about him, something deeply sweet that’s only belied by the fact that Seokjin knows people who look kind can be deceptive, but that’s on him and his own disillusions and not Jimin. The fact that Seokjin knows Taehyung is very fond of him is a mental barrier against his own pessimism; Taehyung is the best judge of character Seokjin knows and despite what people think of him, he doesn’t grant affection easily.

Jimin nods, wets his lips, opens his mouth to talk, but he takes one look at Seokjin and clamps it shut instead.

“I won’t ask,” he says, in a tone that suggests he doesn’t need to, and that he definitely will, but later when he and Yoongi don’t have an audience.

“You were really good tonight,” Seokjin says politely. Flattery is one of the most effective forms of deflection he knows. He plasters a charming smile on his face and ignores the ringing in his ears when Jimin’s gaze finds Yoongi’s again before glancing back at Seokjin. “I had a lot of fun.”

Jimin bows, smiling cordially. “I’m glad you did, Your Royal Highness.”

His tone almost makes Seokjin frown, but he schools his features into a frozen mask of allure and unshakable composure instead. It’s a tone he knows well, affable and deferential with a layer of awe. He shouldn’t be fazed by it. It’s just that he isn’t used to hearing it around Yoongi, who mostly uses Seokjin’s title as a taunt. Even Hoseok, whom he’s only met tonight, added a friendly edge to it that made it sound a lot less daunting.

When he’s with Yoongi, it’s easy to forget who he is, the crown hovering above his head like a sword of Damocles, because Yoongi doesn’t care about any of it and made it very clear from the first time they met, flung into a storm that would throw Seokjin’s world off its axis.

Jimin’s tone is a stark reminder, not unkind but distant enough that it feels like he actually used the full range of Seokjin’s titles, all eight of them.

“Do you need a ride too, Your Royal Highness?” Jimin asks him stiffly. Seokjin wonders if that’s how he talks to Taehyung too, but he doubts Taehyung would be friends with anyone who talks to him like he’s barely a person beyond his tiles –all four of them.

Seokjin can’t quite help himself. “I’ve got the riding part covered,” he says, a tad smugly. “But thank you.”

Hoseok guffaws loudly, throwing himself in Namjoon’s arms and almost dragging him down as he does.

Yoongi rolls his eyes, extending a hand toward Namjoon. “Keys,” he demands. “You go first and text us if it’s safe for us to go.”

Namjoon complies, looking a little dumbfounded. Whether it’s because of Hoseok still hanging onto him like Namjoon is his personal lifeline, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, or because he was plainly given an order by Yoongi, Seokjin isn’t sure. He supposes it might be a little bit of both.

They bid their goodbyes, Jimin still looking apprehensive as he bows to Seokjin and Seokjin gives a small bow back. He gives Yoongi a quick hug, the gesture so naturally affectionate that Seokjin feels like he’s intruding on a moment he shouldn’t be witnessing.

As soon as the door is shut, Yoongi sends Seokjin a stern look, lips pursed.

“Jimin isn’t an idiot,” he says flatly. “He’s going to figure it out.”

Seokjin shrugs, and he knows it’s the alcohol speaking when he replies, “You said you trusted him. So is it a problem?”

He doesn’t know why he’s trying for nonchalance. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t mind Jimin knowing, why a part of him wants Jimin to figure it out. It will come back to haunt him tomorrow, and will undoubtedly provoke a spike of anxiety that will leave him short-breathed for a few hours. It’s the alcohol, he tells himself. It has to be.

Yoongi’s brows knit together, nose scrunching in mild annoyance, which would look more impressive if Seokjin wasn’t towering over him and drunk enough that the only reaction his brain manages to summon is cute.

He sighs instead. “You’re being weird, and I don’t know if it’s because you’re drunk, horny, or actually an anarchist.”

“Why can’t I be all of that?” Seokjin retorts dramatically. “I’m a multi-faceted man, Yoongi. I contain multitudes! Don’t try to restrict me to just one thing. I expected it from everyone else, but not from you.”

“If you’re one thing, it’s an asshole,” Yoongi says, but he’s smiling, this fond, almost chagrined smile he gets when he fails to pretend he hates Seokjin’s sense of humor.

It makes Seokjin’s heart tug painfully in his chest.

“You like that about me, though,” he says, because he apparently has no sense of self-preservation when he’s drunk.

There’s a silence, Yoongi looking at him like he doesn’t know how to reply, how to even begin to comprehend what Seokjin is saying. Seokjin doesn’t know himself, so he doesn’t hold it against him.

There’s the soft ding of a text message from somewhere in the room and Yoongi moves away from Seokjin to grab his phone.

“Hobi says we can go. Most of the staff is still busy and your security team kept the fans who tried to gather at the back entrance away.” He’s glaring at his phone, and Seokjin gets a sense that this isn’t all Hoseok wrote, but he doesn’t ask.

He grabs his coat, which Namjoon left on the dressing room’s couch for him, surely to prove Seokjin truly wouldn’t survive a day without him, and shrugs it on.

“You like that about me, right?” he hears himself ask, which is immediately followed by an internal string of curses mostly aimed at himself.

His tone is light, playful like it’s still carrying on a joke that he refuses to let die. But he knows there is something vulnerable about it too, something desperate for validation that he hates, because he shouldn’t need it, not from anyone in particular, but especially not from Yoongi.

And he hates that he’s waiting for the answer with bated breath, as if Yoongi holds power of life or death over him based on whether or not he likes the one true part of himself Seokjin allows him to see.

Yoongi looks stricken for a moment, hesitant, like he knows, too, the weight his answer could carry, but more on himself than Seokjin. Like it’s not just a question for Seokjin to be comforted about his own worth, but something that speaks of Yoongi’s as well.

“Yeah,” he says, wetting his lips. Seokjin’s mouth feels dry too. “I like that about you.”

Yoongi never stopped to contemplate the fact that the road to Seokjin’s lodge now feels as familiar as the one to his own apartment before tonight. He knows the streets he has to cross by heart, the twists and turns of the sinuous path that leads up to the top of the hill where the lodge looks over the rest of the city.

He never took time to think about the ease with which he navigates the route to Seokjin’s home, mindlessly and without a hint of hesitation, but it feels different this time, somehow. He could pretend it’s because this isn’t his car, because it’s later into the night than when he usually gets there, but he tries to make it a point not to lie to himself, and he knows, deep down, that it has more to do with the fact that Seokjin is sitting in the passenger seat next to him. It’s different because he knows he won’t have sex with Seokjin tonight, decided against it the moment he realized Seokjin was drunk. It’s different because it feels nearly domestic, the two of them heading home after a night out.

It’s not what either of them signed up for.

They have been doing this for around three months, and Yoongi likes to think he knows how to handle Seokjin by now, or at least some of his multiple facets. Perhaps it’s a perk that comes with how often they fall into bed together. It bares more than just the body, the kind of intimacy they share, not just for the connection it creates between them, but because it’s a part of Seokjin that he knows he’s only the second person to witness.

He knows he’s been allowed a window into who Seokjin truly is, as minuscule as it is, hardly a full-fetched glimpse. He didn’t lie, though. He likes the parts of Seokjin that feel genuine. He likes when Seokjin laughs at his own jokes and his cascading, squeaky laugh that feels out of place coming out of his regal mouth, but only for a second before it just feels contagious, tearing smiles from Yoongi even when he’s not particularly amused. He likes how Seokjin maintains a cold, authoritative, seamlessly composed persona at all times but can be rendered pliant and soft when Yoongi’s hands travel against his skin, mapping paths he’s alone to explore. He likes how Seokjin’s eyes soften when he talks about his brother or his cousin, even more so because he never seems to realize it. It’s nearly imperceptible but it’s there, under the clouds of concern and deep-rooted fear that veil the brightness his eyes could hold.

All of it would be okay if Yoongi didn’t find himself liking the other parts of Seokjin too, the ones he unknowingly exposes when he thinks Yoongi isn’t paying attention. He likes the way Seokjin makes himself smaller when Yoongi asks how he is doing and makes sure Seokjin knows he cares about the answer. He likes the way his voice becomes less distant, more sincere when Seokjin lets the mask drop, even for a second. He likes, selfishly, that Seokjin seems to be slowly learning that his lies don’t fool Yoongi at all and that he can go without them when it’s just the two of them. He likes that Seokjin knows the power words can carry and never spits them out irresponsibly, even though Yoongi knows it must have to do with how profoundly he’s been hurt by them before.

The problem is that Yoongi has always felt a sort of kinship for broken people, has always found a delicate beauty in them, something delightfully wry and comforting in the fact that broken people often are not fragile. Perhaps it’s because he’s a little broken too that Yoongi finds it relatively easy to look past the cracks and fault lines Seokjin valiantly brandishes as as many defences and see what lies underneath, the fragments forming an entirety, the pain whose magnitude Seokjin refuses to acknowledge.

Yoongi isn’t sure if it’s brave or cowardly of him; he understands it’s necessary either way. He understands the dominion of survival instincts better than most.

So, Yoongi is becoming more and more familiar with all the parts of Seokjin, even the ones Seokjin doesn’t know he’s showing, but this is new territory.

Seokjin is drunk. That much is obvious. It’s in the slight flush of his cheeks, the barely perceptible dropping of his eyes, but it’s mostly in the way he’s running his mouth without a single care in the world. Yoongi isn’t used to this unguarded, careless side of Seokjin, without a filter or an unshakable will to keep the walls between them up even if it’s eating him alive.

Yoongi knows how to handle Seokjin by now: with heavy sarcasm, flirting disguised as bickering, a constant waging war between them, and the occasional but appropriate amount of care.

So he isn’t remotely prepared when Seokjin breaks the silence as Yoongi engages the car on the highway, and it’s nothing he’s come to know of him.

“You know, if you want to stop, you just have to say the word.”

It’s quiet, lacking confidence.

Yoongi is taken by surprise. His mind blanks entirely, eyes stubbornly fixed on the road ahead of them. He doesn’t know what to say, what to ask, how this is what Seokjin gathered from tonight after they very eagerly made out in Yoongi’s dressing room and Yoongi agreed to go home with him even though they hadn’t planned for it beforehand.

It’s almost always planned in advance, has been for as long as they’ve been doing this regularly, the only exception being that time Seokjin showed up on Yoongi’s doorstep late at night looking like he had barely escaped the gates of Hell and asked Yoongi to help him forget his own name.

At a loss, Yoongi opts for the safe way-out.

“What makes you think I want to stop?”

Seokjin shrugs in staged nonchalance. Yoongi isn’t fooled for a second.

“I’m just saying. I promise I’m not going to go all Mad King on you and burn the country to the ground.”

“If you make Game of Thrones jokes, I’m gonna have to bring back the incest ones,” Yoongi says flatly.

“You never stopped making incest jokes,” Seokjin retorts. “You literally made one two days ago when I was bragging about being a good kisser and you said, I quote, ‘that’s probably because you royals get an early start, what with kissing your cousins and all that’. That’s a direct quote, Yoongi. From two days ago.”

“Which means it’s been two whole days,” Yoongi answers, smiling innocently when Seokjin sends him a scathing glare. “I’m bringing back the incest jokes.”

“You know what? I think I want it to stop,” Seokjin says, but they both know it’s a lie. “After tonight, I never want to hear from you again, you insufferable little goblin.”

“After tonight, huh?”

“I’m horny, shut up.”

“We’re not gonna fuck,” Yoongi says. “You’re drunk.”

Seokjin fucking whines. Yoongi almost misses the exit.

“You’re a terrible person,” the goddamn Crown Prince huffs petulantly. “So what? You’re gonna tuck me in bed and kiss my forehead? Why are you coming home with me if we’re not going to fuck, Yoongi?”

Yoongi blinks, shuffling uncomfortably in the driver’s seat. He leans forward in his seat to pretend he’s squinting to see through the darkness the sinuous path that snakes up to the lodge.

He clearly highly overestimated his ability to deal with drunk Seokjin. He should have overanalyzed the apologetic look Namjoon gave him before handing over his car keys. He’s usually good at overanalyzing. Overanalyzing has never been a problem before. Yoongi is naturally good at it. It’s a talent.

“You asked me to,” he grumbles. “But I can drop you off here if you want to walk the rest of the way, Your Royal Highness. I’m sure your security team tailing us would love that.”

“You’re not answering my question,” Seokjin says calmly.

“It’s a stupid question.”

“No more stupid than your stupid face.”

“What are you? Five?”

Seokjin scoffs, crossing his arms over his chest and pouting, which only serves to prove Yoongi’s point.

Yoongi inhales sharply, his heart in his throat. “Is this your fucked up way of telling me you want to stop? Because if so, you can just fucking say it. Don’t do this weird thing of yours where you try to protect my feelings by keeping what you’re actually thinking in. It’s not like you usually have a problem telling me off, so you shouldn’t have a problem doing it when it actually matters.”

Seokjin uncrosses his arms, rubbing at his knees instead, gaze shifting to the window to take in the darkness engulfing them.

He stays silent for so long Yoongi almost thinks he’s going to change the subject entirely when he finally speaks.

“I don’t want to be keeping you from something you really want,” he says, suddenly miles away.

“And what is it you think I really want?” Yoongi asks, the words bitter on his tongue. He doesn’t know how they got to that point, but he’s annoyed, because the air in the car feels a little suffocating now, because he didn’t prepare himself for any of this, because Seokjin makes it so damn difficult to speak overtly when he’s constantly trying to please and to charm and to hide.

“I don’t know,” Seokjin says, reserved.

“Yes, you do,” Yoongi says. His eyes drift to Seokjin, but he isn’t looking at him, blinking nervously at his hands instead. Yoongi softens at the sight, his voice lower when he asks, “What is it you think I want so bad?”

A beat passes.

“Jimin.”

It sounds more like a question than Seokjin probably intended for, but it makes Yoongi’s mouth drop all the same.

Seokjin waves absently at the security guard at the gate of the lodge and they sit in silence as Yoongi lowers his window to type in the passcode to open the gates so he can drive up the alleyway, leaving them behind in the darkness.

Yoongi parks the car, shuts down the engine, and shifts in his seat so he can face Seokjin, who is still stubbornly gazing through the window.

“How do you know about me and Jimin?”

Seokjin’s jaw flexes gingerly. “Tae. Namjoon confirmed it.”

“Did they tell you we broke up ages ago?”

Seokjin hums absently, but doesn’t reply.

“Look at me, you royal pain in the ass,” Yoongi mumbles grumpily. Seokjin screws up his face in irritation at the tone, but complies nonetheless. “Why do you think I want to be with Jimin?”

Seokjin groans out loud, throwing his head back against the headrest, glaring at the roof of the car.

“Do we have to talk about it? Honestly, I was hoping you’d just ignore me.”

Yoongi can’t quite hold back a smile. “You brought it up.”

“I’m drunk and highly unreliable even when sober,” Seokjin argues.

“Seokjin.”

“Yoongi.”

Seokjin.”

Seokjin groans again, turning his glare to Yoongi.

“I can’t stand you,” he says, but Yoongi knows that’s a lie, too.

“Same here, babe,” Yoongi says placatingly. “What’s the matter?”

Seokjin sighs, finally.

“You’re so...real,” he mutters. His gaze loses its focus, though it’s still fixed on Yoongi. “You stood on that stage tonight and you were so unapologetic about who you are and what you feel and you were everything I can never be. I can’t be real. I don’t really exist. Kim Seokjin doesn’t exist.”

Yoongi wants to interrupt, if only to voice his protest, but he also knows when he should be quiet, so he shifts a little more to the side instead, giving Seokjin his unwavering attention.

“You’re loved for being real and I’m revered and respected for aspects of me that are anything but,” he says quietly. Yoongi’s heart constricts in his chest, a dull ache that slithers beneath his skin and settles there. “I can’t imagine that’s highly appealing to you. I know that this whole thing between us started because you were excited at the prospect of seeing what more I could be. I’m not a fool. I don’t know if it was to prove something to yourself or something else, and I don’t care, to be honest.”

Yoongi is willing to admit to himself Seokjin is right, but he didn’t know Seokjin knew, even less that he had accepted it the way he has to accept how people see him and judge him without ever witnessing the man he is beyond the public figure, the worth he has on his own name and not the titles.

“But you’re real, and I’m not; and you act like you’re not, but you’re a good person, Yoongi. I think you deserve something real. Something someone who exists beyond a collective imagination can give you. Someone like Jimin. I can’t offer you that.”

Yoongi doesn’t want to be one of these people, but he knows that’s what he was, that very first night. Someone who didn’t see this world that revolves around Seokjin as real and who wanted to prove it to himself by reaching out and touching it the way one dreams of touching the stars while knowing it’s an unreachable goal.

Yoongi has touched the stars in ways very few people have, has felt their luminescence in the very core of his soul, and still he denies their existence, sometimes. Still he ponders on their truth.

Guilt gnaws at Yoongi’s insides.

He doesn’t want to be one of these people, who seek flaws in the façade to prove they were right all along, who dismiss what Seokjin may be and take what he has to present himself as at face value.

He knows Seokjin is more than that. He should be allowed to be more than that.

Yoongi waits for a beat, to make sure Seokjin is done talking. When his lips remain shut, his eyes still unfocused on a point over Yoongi’s shoulders, his face scrunched up as though speaking truthfully has made him uncomfortable in his own skin, Yoongi reaches out to flick a finger between his brows.

Seokjin yelps, rubbing at the spot. “You’re the second person who does that tonight. What kind of disrespect–”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, and slams a hand over Seokjin’s mouth before he can go on one of his now infamous rants.

“I’m not asking you for anything,” he says firmly, pulling his hand back when he’s sure he has Seokjin’s attention. “I don’t want anything more from you than what we have right now. I’m not looking for the whole package of committed relationship and a white picket fence and domesticity or any of that heteronormative bullshit. I’m not gonna cry about wanting something real when I knew what I was getting into from the first time I gave you the access codes to my apartment. You may be used to people fawning to tell you exactly what you want to hear, but I’m not here because I’m either scared of you or bowing down at your feet until I break my back. I’m here because I want to. If I wanted to be anywhere else or with anyone else, I would be. If I wanted something real, I would be looking for it myself. And that wouldn’t be with Jimin, because as much as I loved him and still do in different ways, we were terrible together. I was terrible for him. But none of that matters right now, because I’m here and even if we’re not having sex tonight, I think I want to take a shower and crawl into bed with you for a while and wait until you stop feeling like you have to be anyone other than yourself when you’re with me before I go home. I don’t need anything more from you, Seokjin. That’s good enough for me.” He pauses, licks his lips, and tuts his chin in the vicinity of the lodge. “Is that good enough for you?”

Seokjin’s eyes bear into his own with an unreadable expression. His cheeks are still flushed and his eyes a little red but Yoongi can’t tell if it’s the alcohol or something else entirely.

He smiles, then, and it’s a little offkey, like he’s too focused on making it ring true, but tonight has already been more than Yoongi ever thought they’d dive into without drowning, so he lets it slide.

“I think that’s the most words I’ve ever heard from you,” Seokjin says. “All of our previous interactions combined.”

“Don’t make me regret them.”

“I won’t,” Seokjin says, serious again. “That’s good enough for me.”

Yoongi nods, mostly for something to do with himself.

Seokjin doesn’t let the silence settle between them. He leans in, his lips curling into something devilish, more familiar and safe.

“Do you want to come in for a coffee?” he asks, wiggling his eyebrows.

Yoongi hates how fond he is of him. He snorts in laughter, unbuckling his own seatbelt before doing the same with Seokjin’s.

“You’re not slick, Your Royal Highness. Lead the way.”

Seokjin is already half asleep when Yoongi gets out of the bathroom, freshly showered and feeling a little less like he’s been rubbed raw.

He’s spread across the bed, face half hidden by the pink hood of the sweater Yoongi forced him to change into before he left to shower. It’s ridiculously oversized, reaching halfway to Seokjin’s naked thighs despite his height. He looks small, breakable, beautiful in a vulnerable way that makes Yoongi pause on his way to the bed.

He should leave. He’s never stayed before, not for long enough for either of them to question it. Perhaps it’s because he’s been reminded recently of the invisible wounds that people leaving can create, or perhaps it’s a little more selfish, to assuage the wild thrum of his raving heart, but still, he wants to stay.

He wants to be there when Seokjin opens his eyes in the morning, wants to see his lips pucker into a pout as he rubs the sleep from his eyes, wants to hear his voice rough from slumber in the quiet that surrounds them.

“Come here,” Seokjin mutters, extending a hand toward him.

“We’re not having sex,” Yoongi warns, but he takes the offered hand anyway and lets himself be pulled in until his knees knock against the mattress and he has no other choice but to climb onto the bed and sit on his heels next to Seokjin.

“Give me five minutes to sober up and I’ll change your mind.”

“That’s not how alcohol works.”

“Then let me cuddle you, you abominable gremlin,” Seokjin huffs in annoyance.

“Big talk coming from a fucking tree,” Yoongi retorts as he lays down next to him.

Seokjin giggles and shuffles closer, pressing his nose into Yoongi’s shoulder. He hums contentedly as he does, and Yoongi’s stomach does a somersault.

“It’s Your Royal High Tree to you, asshole.”

“Jerk,” Yoongi grumbles, kicking at the covers until he can slide them over their bodies and maneuver them both into their warmth.

Seokjin sighs happily, eyes scrunching shut.

“You’re too warm,” Yoongi whines, mostly for something to say, because he fears the quiet might expose how wildly his heart is rummaging in his chest.

“And you’re too cold,” Seokjin answers, hissing as he hooks his ankle around Yoongi’s and their feet brush together. “Can’t believe I’m fucking a vampire. The teenage fanboy in me is thrilled.”

“I’m not the one allergic to garlic,” Yoongi deadpans.

“I can eat garlic. I’m allergic to you though.”

“Didn’t seem like it when you were begging to suck my dick and fuck me earlier tonight.”

“I think you’re running a fever, Yoongi. I would never say such a thing and I most certainly don’t beg, I’m very well-mannered. You’re imagining things again. You should really get it checked out.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“But you like that about me,” Seokjin retorts in a sleepy but teasing murmur, the smile evident in his voice, and Yoongi hates that he gave him the ammunition, and the gun, and showed him how to aim and shoot right at his feeble heart.

“Not right now I don’t,” Yoongi mumbles, but curls his fingers around Seokjin’s biceps nonetheless.

He should leave.

But he can’t stop thinking about what Seokjin said. About how he thinks he doesn’t exist, how he thinks he isn’t real. 

It’s easy to surmise how he could feel that way after all the effort he’s put into hiding his true self from the world. He was bound to lose himself along the way, when all he allowed himself to show others was the masks he constructed. It’s odd, though, how the masks Seokjin wears seem to tell just as much about who he is as the few moments of saving grace when he reluctantly drops them. He’s protecting himself, of course, but Yoongi thinks they’re a lot more solid and the walls definitely harder to break when they’re meant to protect others. He isn’t sure whether it’s from himself or something else entirely that Seokjin is trying to shield people from with his lies and pretences, but what he knows is that it doesn’t make him fake, or intangible. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.

If anything, it just makes him human, how breakable he is.

People are breakable; Yoongi knows because he’s still actively seeking to piece himself back together, and he doesn’t always succeed, but that’s part of it too. To try against stacked odds, to stumble, to fall, to get back up to face another day. To start it all over again the next day.

Seokjin is real, because despite it all, he’s still standing. Trying. Every single day.

“Hey, Seokjin?” he whispers into the night.

His only answer is a noncommittal grunt against his ear and the delicate brush of a thumb against his hip bone.

“You’re real to me,” Yoongi says, struggling to swallow past the lump in his throat.

When he turns his head to look at him, a soft, sleepy smile breaks on Seokjin’s face, though he doesn’t open his eyes, lashes casting ethereal shadows against his cheeks. His fingers tremble slightly over Yoongi’s stomach. Yoongi pretends he doesn’t notice.

He’s real, and beautiful, and broken.

And he makes Yoongi want to stay.

“Stop thinking, you’re annoying,” Seokjin murmurs into his pillow, tightening his hold on Yoongi’s waist and pulling him closer, burying his nose in his hair. He presses a kiss against Yoongi’s temple and he’s asleep the next moment, breaths evening, crashing against the tender skin of Yoongi’s neck.

So Yoongi stays.

Chapter Text

It’s snowing when Yoongi wakes up.

It takes him a moment to understand where he is, or why it’s a shuffle next to him that tore him from his sleep. It’s still dark outside, but it doesn’t help him figure out the time, because the days have been deceptively short lately, and it could be four in the morning just as well as eight.

He groans, reaching out to grab his phone from the night table and check the time. It’s not seven yet. He blinks away from the aggressive light of the screen, eyes falling on Seokjin’s apologetic and sleepy face. He’s sitting up, pink hood pulled over his face, cheek marked with pillow creases.

“Sorry I woke you,” he mumbles, voice hoarse and gravelly. “My internal clock doesn’t care that I drank too much last night.”

“Tell your internal clock I will murder it,” Yoongi replies, cantankerous. He tries to focus on Seokjin, but his eyes are uncooperative and he can barely keep them open. “How are you feeling?”

“Like something died in my mouth,” Seokjin answers. “I need to brush my teeth.”

“How’s your head?”

“It’s fantastic. I’m very skilled. You should know, Yoongi. You’ve been on the receiving end of it.”

Yoongi scoffs in amusement, which he blames on being barely awake.

“I’m gonna go take a shower. I’ll be right back.”

Yoongi hums evasively, curling up on his side. His efforts to appear nonchalant are obliterated when Seokjin adjusts the comforter to cover Yoongi up to his neck and squeezes his shoulder gently, absently, before walking to the bathroom. 

He tries to go back to sleep but his mind doesn’t let him. He feels oddly rested despite the little sleep they both got, smothered in an unintelligible sense of peace. He watches as flakes come down outside, a striking white against the darkness slowly giving way to a new day.

There’s anxiety building up in his throat, though, a churning fear in his stomach that comes with the realization that he is getting too comfortable around Seokjin, too attached to the soft smile that graces his features when he looks at Yoongi, a little exasperated, a little fond, entirely cryptic.

He thinks of the night before, of how easily he caved and crawled into bed with Seokjin, of how absolute his desire to stay had been.

Too many things have happened the night before, and now that he’s alone, wrapped in warm sheets and the lingering scent of Seokjin on the pillow, they swirl into his mind like a storm of their own.

His body feels sore, though they didn’t have sex.

It’s not that Yoongi minds –he was exhausted and Seokjin clearly drunk– but sex is the shaky ground their arrangement rests on. Yoongi willfully forgot about it the night before and let himself be cloaked into the warmth of Seokjin’s body against his own and lulled to sleep by his soft, steady breathing against his ear.

It’s a little ironic, he thinks, how Seokjin felt bad for keeping Yoongi away from the things he may want when all he seems to want these days is more of this, more of the calmness, more of watching snow falling by the window and feeling untouchable, secluded from the rest of the world. More of Seokjin.

It’s a fantasy, an ephemeral delusion, and Yoongi knows he should be smarter about it, but he doesn’t want to. He hasn’t been smart about this from the very beginning. Had he, he would have braved the storm that first night and left Seokjin and his many masks and salvaging lies behind.

The door to the bedroom opens and Seokjin walks in, wearing a loose pair of sweatpants, a towel hanging from his neck, hair wet and water dripping along the defined lines of his chest.

Something flares deep in Yoongi’s chest, the same pull in his stomach that drew them into this arrangement in the first place, but there is something different about it this time. Something terrifying and equally warm, an invisible thread curling around his heart and closing in, stealing the breath from his lungs.

His fingers curl into fists under the comforter when Seokjin smiles at him before flopping down on the bed gracelessly.

“Can we stay in bed all day?” he mumbles into the pillow.

A light shiver runs over the naked skin of his back when Yoongi shifts to look at him. He reaches out before he can think of stopping himself, digging his fingers in the knots of Seokjin’s neck and massaging gently. Seokjin groans, turning his head away from the pillow to gaze back at Yoongi.

“I have nowhere to be,” he says with a shrug, hoping the steadiness of his voice successfully conceals the array of conflicting emotions raging in his mind.

Seokjin smiles and holds a hand up to brush Yoongi’s black hair off his forehead, thumb brushing softly against the bridge of his ear.

“You changed your hair again,” he says. His voice is less rough than it was a moment ago, but it makes Yoongi’s spine tingle in anticipation all the same. “I like it. You look beautiful.”

Yoongi’s breath catches in his throat.

It’s too early for any of this.

“Fuck off,” he grumbles, shuffling away from Seokjin’s inquisitive eyes and gentle touch and turning his back to him to hide the blush traitorously rising up his neck.

Seokjin laughs, a little too loud against the quietude outside, and Yoongi is glad he just turned away and is unable to witness the way Seokjin’s face lights up when he does.

“Big bad rapper Agust D,” Seokjin chants teasingly, moving closer until he can snake an arm around Yoongi’s waist and pull him closer, whispering against his ear. He’s mostly dry from his shower, but Yoongi groans for good measure anyway. “Give him one compliment and he turns into a blushing mess, uh? This is such false advertising.”

“All advertising is false. It’s just a tool of capitalism to make us want things we don’t need.”

Seokjin snorts, pressing warm lips at the nape of Yoongi’s neck. Yoongi can feel his grin against his skin when he replies, “That pretty blush of yours is definitely making me want things.”

“I’m not blushing,” Yoongi huffs out.

Seokjin titters, nuzzling against the slope of Yoongi’s neck.

“What?”

“You’re kind of cute when you’re grumpy,” Seokjin murmurs, mischief woven into his voice. 

“It’s still dark outside and I’m awake. I have every right to be grumpy and you’re a terrible person for making fun of me.”

Seokjin’s fingers slip under Yoongi’s t-shirt, skimming idly over the sensitive skin of his lower stomach.

“So cute,” he repeats, a playful murmur against Yoongi’s ear.

Yoongi scrunches up his nose and turns his head to glare at Seokjin, who looks disappointingly unimpressed. Instead, he smiles, eyes crinkling lightly at the corner. A remaining drop of water slips from Seokjin’s hair and directly on Yoongi’s cheek, rolling down to the slope of his nose. Yoongi hates how the slowly rising sun illuminates his golden skin with a pink hue, the falling snow adding to the breathtaking glow of his skin.

“Why do you have to be a morning person?” Yoongi grouses. “We should eradicate all of you.”

“All of us morning people or all of us royals?”

“Yes.”

Seokjin chuckles, a fond glimmer in his gaze. “I put the coffee machine on,” he says.

Yoongi studies him for a moment and sighs. “Fine. I guess you can stay.”

“This is my home,” Seokjin points out.

“So is everything the light touches, Your Royal Highness.”

“Did you just quote the Lion King at me?”

“Yes, and just so we’re clear, everything would have been a lot easier if the lions had shared some of their resources with the hyenas instead of hoarding them.”

Seokjin releases a beleaguered sigh, his minty breath crashing against Yoongi’s skin, but it’s belied by the smile dancing in the amber of his eyes. “Why am I even attracted to you, you insufferable little shit?”

Yoongi kisses the smile off his lips, just because he can. “Because I’m hot, and you secretly have a thing for anticapitalism and being told off.”

“You know, your neomarxist discourse would have a lot more weight if you weren’t filthy rich yourself,” Seokjin comments. 

“Hey, I give back. You should do it too. Give back in the form of coffee and maybe the blowjob you were so eager to give me last night.”

Seokjin makes a noise halfway between a laugh and a groan. “Is that all, Your Majesty?” he asks, voice heavy with sarcasm, but the tip of his fingers slip under the elastic of Yoongi’s briefs anyway. “Would you like me to feed you grapes and run you a bath too?”

Yoongi grins lazily.

“Actually, that’d be really nice. Can y–”

The words are strangled in his throat before he can finish, turned into a yelp by Seokjin ruthlessly pinching at his hipbone in retaliation. It dissolves into a laugh, and Yoongi thinks Seokjin might be more powerful than he first realized because he doesn’t remember the last time he laughed before the sun was properly up.

Yoongi doesn’t know who seeks the other’s kiss first, but their laughter is muffled by their mouths finding each other, although it still trickles between them like a warm summer breeze, clashing with the biting cold outside.

It’s the morning after. He feels less vulnerable in his own skin than he does directly after a concert, raw from exposing the darkest parts of himself through lyrics he wrote as a form of catharsis. He’s rested. Fresh and level-headed after a good night's sleep.

And still, even then, he wants to stay.

They do end up spending most of the day in bed.

It’s not how Seokjin had planned for this particular day to go. He usually spends his rare days off either with Jeongguk, Taehyung or both, but they’re having dinner together with Namjoon tonight, and for some reason he doesn’t regret it because there is something comforting about Yoongi’s presence in his home.

There’s gold at the tip of Yoongi’s fingers, whether they skim over a keyboard or Seokjin’s burning skin. But it’s the ease with which their hands slot seamlessly together that makes him want to hold on a little longer every time.

Yoongi is always unbearably attractive –that’s why they ended up in this mess in the first place, after all– but he’s never more beautiful than he is like this, spent and naked and content. The gravity and false arrogance fucked out of him until all there is left is the truth, bare for Seokjin to see.

He’s impossibly soft, underneath it all, gentle and caring in fierce but silent ways.

He fits in Seokjin’s life in ways he probably shouldn’t. It’s too easy, almost, and Seokjin is usually suspicious of easy –he should be– but Yoongi has the uncanny ability to make him forget about what he should or shouldn’t do, and even more about what he should or shouldn’t be.

He also has the uncanny ability to make Seokjin talk about things he normally doesn’t, and he isn’t sure what to make of it. He thinks it might be because he’s understood by now that whatever he says won’t be met with judgement or a stern injunction to bottle it all up until he feels like exploding.

Which is why, perhaps, he doesn’t try to dodge when Yoongi gives him a questioning look some time in the middle of the afternoon.

“You said last night that this was your father’s home.”

He says it like it’s a question, but there is no room for Seokjin to deny it.

He finds he doesn’t want to anyway.

“It was,” he says. “He bought it for when he needed to get away for a while. He wasn’t born into nobility, and he adapted to it fairly well but it was still a little too much for him at times. He used to bring me here when he could feel I needed a break from the pressure. I inherited it when he died.”

Yoongi fixes him with shrewd eyes. “You spend a lot of time here.”

Seokjin shrugs and it’s a little weird to do so while he’s lying flat on his back, but it’s the best way he can think of to conceal the grief clutching at his heart.

“I like it better than the palace.”

“Doesn’t it get lonely?”

Seokjin smiles without meaning to, folding his hands over his stomach. “Being king is lonely. I might as well get used to it.”

Yoongi rolls onto his side to face him; the light pouring through the window catches on the black of his hair, forming a halo around his head.

“You’re not alone, though,” he says. Seokjin doubts he realizes how painful the words are to hear. “You’ve got your brother and Taehyung and Namjoon. I don’t know them much, but from what I do know, I doubt they’ll let you go through it alone.”

“Ah,” Seokjin breathes out, with an edge of resignation he hopes Yoongi doesn’t read into. “I won’t have them forever. That’s not what I want for them.”

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow, concern flashing in his pretty eyes.

“And what do they want?”

When Seokjin doesn’t reply, his brows dip into a frown.

“Maybe you should stop making assumptions about what people want and start asking them.”

“Alright,” Seokjin says, irritation building up in his throat.

He doesn’t want to talk about it. Yoongi doesn’t need to know what his plans for the future are. He doesn’t need to know it’s not a matter of assumptions being made but of necessity. He doesn’t need to know that Seokjin has measured the weight of the consequences more times than he can count, and the loneliness it condemns him to is imperative to the safety of his loved ones. He doesn’t need to know of the demons that plague his family, of the true toll they paid.

And no one needs to know Seokjin’s plan is already set in motion; he’s only waiting for his great-uncle Sanghoon’s confirmation to move on to the next step.

“What do you want, Min Yoongi?” he asks instead.

He’s good at deflecting, at turning a conversation away from himself, at breaking defences without fighting. It’s how he’s survived in this world without wavering for so long.

Yoongi doesn’t look unnerved, though.

“Freedom,” he says without hesitation.

“Don’t you already have it?” Seokjin scoffs, but it’s mournful rather than derisive. “I doubt anyone can make you do anything you don’t want to. You get to choose.”

“Freedom isn’t just about making choices,” Yoongi says. “It’s also about accepting the consequences of these choices. I think it’s less about doing anything you want and more about doing what’s right even when it’s not easy.”

Maybe if he was free to do as he pleases, Seokjin would answer him differently. Maybe today, out of all days, he could take that leap of faith with Yoongi and do what feels right instead of what is necessary. Maybe he would admit that he likes spending time with Yoongi a little too much, that the fears the alcohol made him voice out loud the night before rest on the fact that every moment he spends with him feels a little too real, and he’s lost the strength to decipher real from his own tangles of lies.

Maybe in another world, he would remember how to speak the truth, his truth, and be confident that this is often, always, the right thing to do.

In this world, in this reality, Seokjin’s life is what it is, and caring for doing the right thing is a bridge he crossed a long time ago.

Seokjin shuffles a little closer, close enough that he can see the dust of freckles on Yoongi’s nose.

“So do the right thing and ask me what I want.”

“You’ll lie if I do,” Yoongi replies without missing a beat.

There’s a gravity to it, and Seokjin must be going crazy, because nothing in Yoongi’s gaze indicates that he thinks any less of Seokjin for it.

“I’ve never told you anything that isn’t a lie, Yoongi.”

“I think that’s a lie too,” Yoongi says, softly. “But that’s okay. I know you’re more than just the lies.”

Seokjin wants to believe him. He wants to burrow himself in Yoongi’s unwavering kindness and forget he doesn’t deserve it.

“Try it,” Yoongi whispers. “Tell me something true.”

A silence lingers between them.

Yoongi stares at him defiantly, a challenge Seokjin can’t quite resist.

He sighs. “Today’s my birthday.”

Yoongi freezes, eyes widening. “What?”

Seokjin shrugs. He hasn’t celebrated much in the past few years. It’s just another year passing, another promise of time healing his wounds that will end up broken. 

“My father used to take me here and make me rice cakes. It was his grandmother’s recipe and he insisted that the palace’s chefs could not make it as good as he could because he was making it with love. They were honestly not very good.”

He smiles, the ghosts of the past permeating that freedom he gifts himself.

“After my parents passed, Jeongguk and Taehyung tried to continue the tradition but they almost blew up the palace’s kitchens once so they’re not allowed in anymore. That’s the only celebration we ever privately did for my birthday, because it was usually a whole public event. I asked the palace to stop it a couple of years after they died, and I haven’t really celebrated since. I have dinner with Jeongguk, Taehyung and Namjoon every year, but they graciously pretend it’s just a regular dinner on a regular day because they know I usually don’t feel like celebrating.”

“Why not?” Yoongi asks. His voice is muted, gentle, too soothing.

“On my last birthday before he died, my father and I got into a fight,” Seokjin says. “I had just started seeing my ex-boyfriend then, and I wanted to spend the day with him. So I refused to go with him when he tried to take me here. I was...very rude to him. He died in the accident three days later and we were still not talking because I refused to apologize to him. It was our moment every year, a rare occasion to be just the two of us and I blew it off like it was nothing for an artificial taste of freedom. It doesn’t feel like anything worth celebrating.”

Yoongi is silent for a long time, eyes skimming over Seokjin’s face like he’s searching for a hint of insincerity. Seokjin stays still, holds his breath under his scrutiny, because he knows Yoongi will find none. And he knows Yoongi will see it easily.

Seokjin is used to people looking at him but he isn’t used to people seeing him.

It’s an addictive and absolutely terrifying feeling.

“When my mother died, I hadn’t talked to her in five months,” Yoongi murmurs.

There is something haunted in his gaze, something Seokjin can relate to so deeply it might as well be his own demons mirrored back at him.

“I didn’t even know she was sick, because she refused to see a doctor and I didn’t even realize there was something wrong. I had left that life behind because I was miserable and I made sure to cut any connection that could link me back to it except for Hobi. I never called her and when she called me, I never talked to her for longer than strictly necessary.”

He wets his lips, his eyes riveted to the ceiling of Seokjin’s bedroom.

“That’s a guilt I still live with.”

The confession feels loud in the quiet of the room, Seokjin surmises baring a part of yourself always does. His fingers twitch against the mattress, edging closer to Yoongi’s, brushing without touching.

“We didn’t have the best relationship and we grew even more distant after I moved out here with Hoseok,” Yoongi continues, his pinkie hooking with Seokjin’s absently. “My career had started to take off. I wasn’t nearly as well off as I am today but I made enough to pay half of the rent and stock the fridge semi-regularly. She only called me when she needed money, which happened often enough that I couldn’t save any money for myself aside from my basic expenses, but I didn’t care. I’d give it to her every time because I thought it would make it easier. That I wouldn’t have to deal with her more than I had to if I just agreed to her demands and that was worth tightening my belt for a month.”

He sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I got the call about her death completely out of the blue. They had to break into her apartment because she didn’t come in to work and her boss had tried to call her but she didn’t pick up so she got worried.”

“Yoongi, I’m so sorry,” Seokjin whispers.

Yoongi shrugs, dismissive, but Seokjin can see the heaviness binding him down to the mattress. “I was angry at her for a long time. For not telling me, for making it so hard to be her son, for making me want so badly to stay away from her even when she needed me the most. That’s also something I still live with sometimes. But I found an outlet in my music, and I went to therapy after a lot of not so gentle nudging from Hobi and Jimin, and eventually I realized I couldn’t be angry all the time. Not because I didn’t have reasons to be, but because it was eating me alive. So I forgave her for everything, for not being able to love me. And then I learned to forgive myself too, for being someone who was so hard to love.”

Seokjin wants to protest, to tell him he isn’t hard to love at all, that his presence is never a hardship, but he clamps his mouth shut. He can’t afford to say it, to give in to the words threatening to tumble out of him. They could mean more than he intends them to. They could bare truths that aren’t worth contemplating.

Yoongi must have an idea that a rebuttal is building in Seokjin’s mind, though, because he shakes his head, gazing back at Seokjin to give him a feeble smile.

“From what you’ve told me, it wasn’t the same for you,” he says, his pinkie shifting idly against Seokjin’s. “I can’t speak for you or your father, but it seems pretty obvious that you loved each other. So no matter what you said to him that day, I’m sure he had already forgiven you the next day, that it wasn’t even something he needed to question. It’s not something you should feel guilty about, not when it’s so obvious in the way you speak about him that he loved you and your brother to pieces. That’s what you do when you love someone. You forgive them, even when they show you the worst parts of themselves. Even when they don’t think they deserve your forgiveness. Even when they can’t forgive themselves. I know how guilt and regrets can strangle you from the inside, but it’s something you have to let go by yourself or it will steal everything from you and it’s a long road to recover from.”

When he’s certain Yoongi is done, Seokjin laces their fingers properly.

He steels his composure. He can’t let Yoongi know how deeply his words are digging in his chest, how it feels like Yoongi has torn it open, leaving him bare and vulnerable, readable in all the ways he tries not to be.

“You’re a stronger man than I am, Min Yoongi,” he says with a smile that he knows to be sad at the edges.

Yoongi only shrugs. “Not really.”

“It takes a strong person to go through everything you went through and remain as good as you are.”

A faint blush blooms on Yoongi’s cheeks, a striking pink against the immaculate white of Seokjin’s sheets. He shakes his head, dismissing Seokjin’s remark with a wave of his hand.

“I just woke up one day and realized I couldn’t go on like this. I also have a good support system. You do too, I think. Even if you don’t realize it.”

Seokjin chooses to ignore that. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that.”

Yoongi gives him a small smile, not broad enough to show his gums but bright-eyed and genuine nonetheless. “I’m not. It’s what made me who I am today, and I don’t hate who that is so much anymore. I’m pretty fucking amazing.”

Seokjin scoffs out a laugh, mulling over thoughts he wants to share but knows too well he shouldn’t. Even with the ease he finds himself talking to Yoongi, there are secrets he can’t tell because they aren’t his alone, words he can’t voice out loud for fear of making them real, indomptable storms he could unleash with the truths he has buried.

The following silence is short-lived, because Yoongi moves fast enough to give him whiplash. He grabs Seokjin’s hand as he hops out of bed, still naked and flushed and beautiful.

“Come on, I’m making you rice cakes.”

Seokjin’s breath catches in his throat. Yoongi tugs on his hand with a little more force, effectively pulling him into a seating position.

“Yoongi, you don’t have to–”

“I don’t have to do anything,” Yoongi quips back before he can even finish. “I make great rice cakes, though, and we skipped lunch so I’m starving. Get your royal ass out of bed and into some clothes and come help me.”

And Seokjin, against his better judgment, does.

Your Royal Highness Prince Seokjin of Forgetting His Manners when Stuffing His Royal Mouth with Rice Cakes,

Just because you don’t like the truest parts of yourself doesn’t mean they’re unlikable.

Happy birthday.

Y.

“What is that on your face?” Taehyung gasps, eyes wide with dread as Seokjin takes a seat in front of him in a private room of Taehyung’s favorite restaurant.

Seokjin frowns, rubbing at his face.

“What?”

“Oh my God, Namjoonie,” Taehyung whispers dramatically, still staring at Seokjin’s face like he’s seeing it for the first time. “Please tell me you see it too.”

Namjoon nods placatingly, though he doesn’t look up from the menu in his hands. “I see it too, Tae.”

“What?” Seokjin repeats, lost.

“What’s on his face?” Jeongguk chimes in, looking just as confused as Seokjin feels.

Taehyung leans forward and pinches Seokjin’s cheek between his thumb and his index. 

“Jinnie, it’s a smile,” he says in a tone of absolute wonder. “You’re smiling. And we haven’t even ordered food yet.”

He pulls his hand back to grab his phone with a dramatic flourish and takes a picture before Seokjin can say or do anything.

He rolls his eyes at Taehyung and turns to Jeongguk for sympathy, but all he finds is a pair of dark eyes squinted at him.

“He’s right,” Jeongguk says, suspicion woven into his voice. “Why are you smiling?”

Seokjin scoffs in annoyance. “It’s my birthday! Am I not allowed to smile on my birthday while I’m having dinner with my three favorite people in the world?”

Taehyung coos, but it only lasts for a brief moment before he schools his features into seriousness again. “Of course you are, Jinnie,” he says with a saccharine smile that is sort of terrifying. “But you just willingly mentioned that it’s your birthday, which makes it more suspicious. We usually pretend our schedules are just coincidentally all cleared out on this date.”

“He’s right,” Jeongguk parrots, nodding vigorously.

“Maybe I’m just in a good mood, which isn’t going to last for long if you two don’t stop pestering me!” Seokjin snaps, although it lacks any real heat.

Jeongguk and Taehyung sink back into their seats with matching scolded faces, pouting.

Namjoon snorts and lowers the menu down to his nose, glancing at Seokjin with eyes filled with malice.

“Or maybe,” he says in a singing voice, “it’s because he spent the day with Min Yoongi.”

“Don’t say his name,” Jeongguk grouses in near automatism. “You might summon him.”

“Snitch,” Seokjin grits out between clenched teeth, kicking at Namjoon’s calf under the table, before he adds louder, “How do you even know I spent the day with Yoongi? You have no–”

“He called me in the late afternoon to tell me he was bringing me my car back,” Namjoon says, rubbing at his leg with a pained grimace. It’s what he deserves for being a terrible best friend, Seokjin decides. “He took my car last night because we were both too drunk to drive after the concert.”

“You got drunk without us?” Taehyung asks, affronted.

“Wait, no, hold up, you went to a concert? With Yoongi?” Jeongguk probes, covering Taehyung’s mouth with his hand, sounding just as utterly betrayed.

By Yoongi,” Seokjin clarifies, glaring at Namjoon.

Jeongguk huffs in indignation. “You didn’t even know his music before you two started doing...being...”

“Fuck buddies, Gukkie,” Taehyung supplies unhelpfully, pulling Jeongguk’s hand off his mouth and patting the back of it gently. “They’re fuck buddies.”

“Why do you care?” Seokjin says. “Don’t you hate him?”

Jeongguk grumbles something inaudible, lips puckering into a pout.

“I’ll ask him to get you a ticket next time,” Seokjin says with a smirk.

“Whatever. I don’t care.”

“You don’t sound like you don’t care. I can get you his autograph if you want.”

“Stop it,” Jeongguk whines, more annoyed than angry.

“Let’s get back to what truly matters,” Taehyung says, his voice booming in the private room.

“Yes,” Seokjin agrees, looking down at the menu in front of him. “I’ll have the lobster bisque.”

“Not what I meant,” Taehyung deadpans. “Who are you and what have you done with my cousin who hates fun things?”

“Hey, I’m fun.”

A collection of derisive scoffs greets his statement.

“I hate all of you,” he states reasonably.

“You haven’t been fun since you accidentally ate the space cakes I sneaked into the palace,” Taehyung comments.

Seokjin grimaces at the memory. “That was a disaster.”

“It was hilarious,” Namjoon argues.

“Agree to disagree.”

“You should invite him and his friends for Christmas,” Taehyung says, like it’s a perfectly normal thing to do.

Three gazes are immediately fixed on him, but Taehyung remains unfazed by the attention.

“Why would you want to spend Christmas with the Grinch?” Jeongguk mumbles.

Seokjin rolls his eyes, before setting them on his cousin across the table. “We have dinner at the palace. I doubt Grandmother would be thrilled at the guest addition.”

“That would be hilarious, though,” Taehyung says, because he thrives for chaos on most days. “But I meant afterwards, when we get to the lodge. All we do every year is drink and murder songs at karaoke. It could be fun to have them over.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Namjoon pipes up innocently. If he thinks Seokjin forgot how he stabbed him in the back not five minutes ago, he’s gravely mistaken.

“You’re just saying that because you know it means Hoseok will be there,” Seokjin says flatly.

“Oh, I want to meet Namjoonie’s boyfriend!” Taehyung exclaims with a wide grin.

“Not my boyfriend,” Namjoon replies, blushing furiously.

“I don’t know if you’re being oblivious or stubborn,” Seokjin says.

“I don’t think you should lecture me on being oblivious,” Namjoon retorts.

“I’m the future king, I can lecture you on anything I want.”

Three synchronized groans of disgust are his only answer, along with Jeongguk pulling the collar of his sweater up until Seokjin’s face is buried underneath, his laughter muffled by the fabric.

The rest of their dinner goes by in the same joyous chaos. It’s relaxed and tumultuous. The food is delicious and by the end of the night, Seokjin’s stomach hurts both from eating and laughing too much. 

From Taehyung’s boisterous laughter, the shake of Namjoon’s shoulders as he chuckles, to Jeongguk hitting his head against the wall as he throws it back at one of Seokjin’s jokes, there are good vibrations all around him, tempering his inner storm and turning it into a soothing breeze. Something lovely and happy, if only for a while, a whistling melody chanting in his ears.

When they leave the restaurant, pretending not to see the photographers snapping pictures of them from a distance, Seokjin can’t bring himself to be particularly bothered.

It’s what should worry him, because he knows it’s when he lets himself be happy that he starts to lose focus. Bad things happen when he does, but for tonight, he allows himself this moment.

So when Jeongguk gives him a back hug, squeezing his waist tightly, complaining about the cold, all he can do is laugh and pat his hands around his waist.

“I agree with Tae,” his brother says softly as they walk to the car, just for Seokjin’s ears.

“About what? His theory that Grandfather takes walks at midnight to play Pokemon Go, or his praises about the food here?”

“The Christmas thing,” Jeongguk replies quietly. “I promise I won’t threaten to punch him this time.”

Seokjin blinks, surprised. “You’ll poison his drink instead?”

“Please, that’s so uncreative,” Jeongguk huffs in offense. “I’ll frame him for murder or something. Maybe accuse him of planning a coup against the Crown.”

Seokjin chuckles, pushing off of him to climb into the car taking them back to the palace. “That might not be far from the truth.”

“But seriously,” Jeongguk says, peering at him, in a tone he wants to be nonchalant but that comes out gentle instead, “if you want to invite them for Christmas, I’d be okay with that. I still can’t believe he’s your type, though. He’s so different from you.”

Seokjin is still thinking about it as he lays into his bed in his quarters of the palace an hour later.

He doesn’t quite understand where the shift came from, but he’s not going to question it.

What are you doing for Christmas?

It’s already late into the night, but he knows the chances that Yoongi is still awake are high. They don’t seem to do much sleeping, the two of them. 

don’t know, we haven’t talked about it yet with hobi and jimin, but usually we have junk food, exchange gifts, and then drink until we fall asleep on top of each other. why are you asking?

The boys and I have a mandatory dinner at the palace with my extended family (and a few politicians, because it’s an excuse for my grandparents to move their pawns for the upcoming year), but it’s over by 10 so we always end the night at the lodge to celebrate between us. Taehyung suggested I invite you and your friends too this year. If you’re up for it.

taehyung suggested it, uh?

That’s what I said.

so you’re just inviting us because taehyung suggested it?

Yes, Yoongi, I’m glad to know you can read. Keep going like that and maybe you’ll learn to tie your shoes on your own soon.

i’m not opposed to you showing me how to, maybe we can use that tieing up expertise of yours for something else :)

You’re a demon.

I’ll keep that in mind for next time, though.

good to know, good to know. so, christmas? your cousin taehyung, whom i’ve met a total of four times, wants me there, uh?

Why do you have to be so difficult all the time?

because that’s the only way i get genuine reactions out of you.

I can’t stand you. But fine, I guess I’ll be okay with you being there, too. It could be nice.

please tone down the enthusiasm, this is a bit too much

I’ll block your number.

you’re such a romantic <3

Asshole.

i’ll check with hobi and jimin first, but i’m sure we can make some room in our busy schedules for their royal highnesses. can you promise me your brother won’t try to murder me tho?

I was planning on protecting you, but I think I might just let him after all. 

the royal family murdering the heir’s secret lover to shut him up? that’s just cliché, seokjin.

More cliché than shaking your butt to Taylor Swift while you’re baking?

that’s low. you can’t prove anything.

I took a video, baby. Be nice to me or it might accidentally end up in the wrong hands. Or on the Internet.

that’s blackmail.

I know how to fight dirty.

ngl that’s kinda hot.

I don’t know how to react to this. The things you find attractive about me…

don’t kinkshame me, it’s rude.

Here I thought me being rude was also one of those things you find attractive...

change of plans, i’m going to kill you.

Yes, I think you just might.

The breath Seokjin releases as he presses send is unsteady. It’s past 3am again, and he doesn’t know why it’s when he feels the most honest.

i think you like that about me ;)

Seokjin chews on his bottom lip and all but throws his phone on the night table, afraid he might reply something that would hold more meaning than their initial arrangement unofficially allows.

He could have told Jeongguk the truth earlier. The truth he knows about Yoongi, about the inner storm his eyes can ignite in his stomach, about this choice he made for himself, selfishly and mindlessly, because it felt right. Because it tasted like freedom.

Yoongi was an easy choice, because he isn’t his type.

He’s a bit rude, rough at the edges, and speaks like he believes he’s smarter than everyone else in the room. The problem is, Seokjin is starting to learn that Yoongi is a lot more than just that. He’s more complicated, a lot harder to decipher now that Seokjin has pushed past his initial impression. Because Yoongi isn’t as simple to read as he appears to be. Because Yoongi talks about his friends like he can’t bear their existence but with undisguisable affection in his piercing eyes. Because Yoongi’s presence is magnetic and intense, but sometimes he’s unbearably soft, caring in quiet but fierce ways. Because Yoongi challenges Seokjin’s wit with equal verve and unrepentant sarcasm, but there is always disarming honesty and genuine interest in both his voice and his gaze when he asks him how he is. Because Yoongi fucks with unbridled passion, like he could ignite wildfires with a twist of his fingers, but kisses like he could guide lost souls back to shore, devoted and benevolent.

These two visions of Yoongi coexist in Seokjin’s mind. Yoongi, the man in the storm. Yoongi, the man in his bed. He thinks it’s a good thing he doesn’t know how to love people, because he might end up loving one of them.

If he could at all, if he wasn’t so careful with his own heart, he might even end up loving both.

Yoongi is only slightly surprised when he gets home to his apartment and finds Jimin lounging in his living room with a glass of wine, an episode of one of those horror shows he adores playing on the TV.

His eyes set on Yoongi when he freezes at the door, discarding the bag of yesterday’s clothes towards the hallway that leads to his bedroom. He feels oddly out of place in his own home, Jimin’s piercing eyes roaming up and down his body, scrutinizing him and the cardigan Yoongi’s wearing over a white t-shirt. It’s Seokjin’s, and Yoongi knows Jimin will not be fooled into disregarding it the moment he cocks an eyebrow. 

“So you are alive,” Jimin says, in a tone that almost makes Yoongi regret it.

“I am.”

“Did you lose your phone?”

Yoongi shakes his head, patting the back pocket of his jeans as though Jimin could see it through the fabric.

Jimin’s eyebrows rise behind his hairline. “Then I very much would like to know why you haven’t answered any of my texts, after you made me be the taxi for Hobi and the Crown Prince’s main advisor because you had to take said Crown Prince home. After he secretly attended our concert.”

“I was busy,” Yoongi says. “I didn’t check my phone.”

Jimin gives him a pointed glare, kicking his legs up on the couch’s armrests and crossing his arms over his chest.

“I ordered us food. Start talking.”

Yoongi feels cornered, which he knows was probably Jimin’s intention. He knows Yoongi too well not to have well-honed strategies to obtain answers at this point.

Food and subtly veiled threats laden with good intentions usually do the job, even though Yoongi only begrudgingly admits it.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he valiantly tries.

Jimin heaves out a deep sigh, like he knew exactly what Yoongi would say but is disappointed nonetheless. He pulls his legs back to his chest and makes a flourish toward the empty spot he just created on the couch. Yoongi reluctantly sinks at his side.

“I knew you were seeing someone,” Jimin says. “I just didn’t imagine it was… well, him.”

“How did you know?” Yoongi asks through a pout.

Jimin smiles, and it’s fond, almost amused. “You’re really not as subtle as you think you are, you know?” Yoongi frowns, opening his mouth to argue, but Jimin stops him by raising a hand. “Also, the cardigan you’re wearing right now is definitely too big for you.”

Yoongi pulls a face, looking down at himself. He didn’t plan on spending the night at Seokjin’s, which meant he had to borrow some clothes when they finally did put clothes on without feeling the urge to peel them off the next minute.

“I don’t mean the fact that it’s him in particular,” Jimin continues, unperturbed. “I didn’t figure that part out until last night. I mean the fact that you’re in a relationship.”

Yoongi makes a pinched face. “We’re not in a relationship.”

Jimin frowns. “You’re not?”

“We’re not. We’re sort of friends who have sex. It’s just casual.”

Jimin blinks, as though he can’t quite make sense of the words that just came out of Yoongi’s mouth. He pulls himself straighter, crossing his legs in front of him, and stares mutely at Yoongi for a while, brows furrowed.

The silence stretches for long enough that Yoongi eventually shakes his hand in front of Jimin’s eyes, just to check if his brain is still functioning.

Which turns out to be a mistake because the moment he does, Jimin explodes.

What?”

Yoongi startles, cowering back in shock.

Jimin pinches the bridge of his nose. “Of all the people you could have casual sex with, you chose the fucking Crown Prince? Seriously, you can’t tell me this isn’t a recipe for disaster. He’s the future king!”

“I’m aware.”

“You can’t have casual sex with the future king, there’s nothing casual about any of it!”

“Well, we can call it great sex instead if you want,” Yoongi retorts with a smirk, lulling his head to the side. “Or friends with benefits. Whatever suits you best.”

Jimin snorts. “You’re not friends with him.”

Yoongi doesn’t know why he feels as insulted as he does, but he loses the smirk so fast Jimin curves an eyebrow at him.

“What? So you can be friends with Taehyung but I can’t be friends with Seokjin?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Jimin scoffs. He gives him a placating look, almost apologetic. “Yoongi, why do you think I noticed you were seeing someone?”

“Because you’re annoyingly perceptive, have no concept of boundaries, and you need to know everything all the time so you can blackmail people into doing what you want.”

Jimin casts a disconcerted glance at him, releasing a long-suffering sigh. He reaches out, taking one of Yoongi’s hands into his own and patting its back gently.

“Are you being safe?” he asks.

“Of course we’re safe. He can’t have this coming out. I usually go to him and if I don’t, he wears a disguise and–”

“Yoongi,” Jimin grunts, throwing his head back in exasperation, although he doesn’t let go of his hand. “I didn’t mean safe from getting caught. I’m sure the closeted heir to the throne isn’t flaunting your semi-relationship about.” He fixes Yoongi with an unwavering gaze, and Yoongi wants to squirm at the concern it contains, but remains immobile. “I’m worried. I don’t want you to get your heart broken, Yoon.”

Yoongi almost laughs. “What is that supposed to mean? That’s not gonna happen, Jiminie. I just told you: it’s casual.”

Jimin sighs. “Do I need to spell it out for you?”

“I know how to spell casual.”

Jimin hits him on the shoulder, which Yoongi surmises he probably deserves.

“Yoongi, you have feelings for the man.”

Yoongi chokes on his own spit. “No, I don’t,” he retorts, more vehemently than he probably should.

The thing is, for someone who knows so well how painful people leaving can be, Yoongi is dreadfully good at it. He’s been the sole guardian of his heart for too long not to be hesitant of letting others claim it as their own.

He’s never been one for relationships, always leaving before things could get too serious. It’s easy to pretend he doesn’t have time for it, to say no one ever catches his attention for long enough, but the truth is Yoongi has seen how obliterating love can be, how it can blur your priorities, skew your essence to adapt to another person who might not appreciate it. He doesn’t want to be changed against his will, molded into a person that fits standards he hasn’t set for himself. He doesn’t want to lose himself to someone else.

He doesn’t want to love anyone again the way he loved Jimin, once. Love hurts too much when it withers away.

So he leaves, and it works.

For a while, he had hoped Jimin could be an exception, but that was the whole problem. Jimin deserved to be more than an exception in Yoongi’s wide range of insecurities and messed up ideas of love. Jimin deserved someone who loved him on purpose, and not because he felt safe when nothing else did. Jimin deserved someone who wasn’t scared of loving him. Even though it was Jimin who put the final nail in the coffin of their relationship, Yoongi knows he had already started to leave before Jimin did.

And he knows, no matter how terrified he is of admitting it, that Seokjin is different, because Seokjin doesn’t make him want to run. He makes him want to stay.

But Yoongi has spent his whole life putting his feelings aside because the world didn’t care for them, and he can keep doing it. He’s good at it.

There’s no balance to be found in romantic feelings. It’s always chaos, an explosion of colors that has no sense or harmony. It doesn’t matter if Seokjin feels like a sliver of stability in the midst of it all. Like the silver lining of a raging storm.

He averts his gaze from Jimin to the wall, where hangs the painting he bought what feels like an eternity ago, when it all started.

Darkness, an explosion of colors and a silver line following a sinuous path, a constant through the chaos.

It feels like it’s just rippling across the surface, mapping something vast and unknown, something with the power to shine a light over it all, to make sense of the nonsensical.

It has the power to rip him open, this silver line, Yoongi thinks. It has more power than he has ever let anything or anyone have over him in a long, long time.

He understands its title a little better now.

“You can deny it all you want, but I know you, Yoon,” Jimin says, gentle. Yoongi barely listens to him, lost into the wild flutter of his heart, the lurch of his stomach. “I know how you are when you’re falling.”

Jimin is wrong. He’s not just falling, he realizes. He’s hanging off the edge of a cliff without knowing what awaits him when he reaches the ground. It could be a warm embrace, saving him from a heart-wrenching crash, or it could be solid concrete, unforgiving and pitiless to the pathetic flutter of his heart.

He’s not just falling; he’s diving, leaping, collapsing.

He can’t pinpoint the moment of freefall, when he should have known.

Perhaps it was that very first night. He should have been wary of the storm.

Storms seldom are good omens.

Jimin’s gaze shifts over his face, searching for an answer, but Yoongi doesn’t have one for him.

Jimin seems to find it either way, because his hold tightens on Yoongi’s hand and he smiles, sympathetic.

“Oh, Yoongi,” he sighs, condoling.

“Chim,” Yoongi whispers, horror woven into his voice. “Shit.”

He’s not just falling.

He’s fallen.

Chapter Text

The thing with admitting he has feelings for Seokjin is that now that he has rid himself of the mental barrier that kept the truth at bay, Yoongi can’t stop thinking about it.

Seokjin is everywhere, in his dreams and in every single one of his waken thoughts. He’s on his mind all the time, when he brushes his teeth, when he drinks his morning coffee, when he takes the elevator down to the underground parking. Most of all, he’s there every time Yoongi tries to write a song, letters dancing in front of his eyes and forming words he can’t scribble down. When he sits at the piano, composing melodies, they sound like his laugh, unpredictable, a little odd, but warm and comforting.

It’s starting to become a problem.

But at least, Yoongi can find comfort in the fact that his best friend would never stoop so low as to tell him ‘I told you so.’

“I told you so.”

Nevermind then.

Yoongi glowers at him.

“Seriously, Yoongles,” Hoseok continues, unperturbed. “I love you but you’re an idiot. He’s agonizingly hot, smart, funny and busts a nut when you go off about capitalism being the doom of society. You didn’t stand a chance.”

“You didn’t tell me any of this,” Yoongi argues pointlessly.

“It was implied,” Hoseok retorts. “I can be subtle.”

“You’ve never been subtle a day in your life. I don’t understand how Kim Namjoon still hasn’t understood you’re not joking when you say you’ve already planned your wedding.”

Hoseok’s face comically merges in a mixture of absolute fondness and profound annoyance. 

“He’s a lost cause,” he sighs heavily. “He keeps doing the sweetest things and then he acts like it’s all perfectly platonic. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes all ‘no homo’ on me one of these days.”

Yoongi winces. “That’s harsh.”

Hoseok pouts. “Like on the night of your concert, I asked him to dance and he said he was having fun just watching me… which, fine, okay, that’s understandable because I’m a delight to watch but can he marry me already?”

“Unacceptable,” Yoongi agrees, mostly because he wants to be a good friend, but also partly because if he makes sure Hoseok keeps talking about Kim Namjoon, they won’t revert back to talking about Seokjin.

Luckily, Hoseok can talk about Kim Namjoon for hours.

“Right?” Hoseok exclaims, flailing his arms. “Just the other day, I asked him if he wanted to get coffee, you know? He said yes, but had to cancel last minute because of your stupid prince–” He must catch the dip of Yoongi’s brows, because he makes a dismissive flourish of his hand and rolls his eyes, “–shut up, you know I love him, I’m team Seokjin all the way, but he’s the villain in this story. So Dimples cancels, right? Which, again, is fine, I know he’s busy saving the world from the shadows on a daily basis, or whatever it is he does when he’s not changing royal diapers. I know we both have hectic schedules, and I expect that sometimes one of us will have to cancel at the last minute. But this idiot, this gorgeous, absolute dumbass of a man got coffee and pastries delivered to my apartment to apologize. What am I supposed to do, Yoongles? Not fall in love with the man? I’m only human!”

He sprawls himself across the couch, sighing dramatically. “I don’t know if he’s intentionally obtuse or if he doesn’t know how to let me down gently but I’m this close to just sending him nudes so he finally understands my intentions are very much not pure. But then he’d probably reply something about how lovely I look –which, again, very true.”

“Have you tried asking him out?” Yoongi offers. “On an actual date.”

Hoseok groans, but perks up the next moment, mouth parting to shape a perfect ‘o’. “Or I could kidnap him and force him to admit I’m the best thing that has ever happened to him.”

“Or you could ask him out,” Yoongi replies, deadpan.

“I’m going to kidnap him,” Hoseok says, as though he hadn’t spoken at all.

Yoongi sighs, shaking his head. “I’m not bailing you out of jail when they arrest you.”

“Yes, you will.”

Yoongi purses his lips, but concedes. “Yes, I will.”

Hoseok grins, reaching forward to smash his cheeks between his hands, squishing Yoongi’s face.

“Congratulations on remembering you have a heart,” he says, cooing. “I think your groundbreaking realization that was groundbreaking to no one but yourself is already turning you into a better man.”

“I don’t know why I thought coming to you for advice was a good idea,” Yoongi laments, smacking his hands off his face.

Hoseok huffs in offense. “When have you ever taken my advice anyway? You’ll just end up doing your own thing. In this case, it probably means never talking about it with Seokjin and waiting until he either confesses first or breaks your heart. He might do both at the same time, considering the situation.”

Yoongi thinks of the last few months, how slowly things seemed to evolve, so slowly he didn’t catch on until it was too late. His heart is already on the line, and for all his self-confidence that he can see through Seokjin’s many lies pretty accurately, he has no clue if whatever it is he is feeling is reciprocated. Seokjin smiles a lot around him, he’s noticed, but there is no way for him to know if it’s a result of his presence or just diplomacy and grace being honed into him from birth.

Seokjin has many smiles, and he wears them all like armor.

He thinks back to the night of the concert, of a drunken Seokjin reluctantly voicing his concerns on their way back to the lodge. He asked about Jimin, and although Yoongi didn’t look too deep into it back then, it’s all he can think about now. No matter how he cranes his mind around this conversation, he can’t tell if it was jealousy on Seokjin’s part, or just a genuine will to free Yoongi from their senseless arrangement so he could find happiness elsewhere.

He should have questioned it more, should have asked Seokjin exactly why it bothered him at all, but instead he gave him a speech about heteronormativity and keeping things casual and… he doesn’t know what his newfound feelings mean. He doesn’t know if it means he should put an end to this. He doesn’t know if he still wants the same things he did before he suddenly decided to become honest, at least with himself, about the content of his heart.

Yoongi sighs heavily, because in the end, he knows that it doesn’t really matter whether Seokjin reciprocates his feelings. It doesn’t matter if he suddenly wants more, because he can’t have it.

That’s an immutable fact. Seokjin will never be out, he’s made that very clear, and although Yoongi has been fine being his dirty little secret up until now, he also knows he won’t be okay with it forever. He’s never felt the urge to publicly come out, but he doesn’t lie about his sexual orientation either if asked, nor does he shy away from talking about it in subtle turns of phrases in his songs –or less subtle ones, if Hoseok and Jimin are to be believed, which they are absolutely not.

He’s always been an intensely private person, but there’s a big difference between valuing his independence and hiding while others in worse situations than him suffer for their truth.

Which doesn’t matter anyway in this context, because he and Seokjin will never be more than what they are right now.

Yoongi leaps to his feet, circling around his studio like a lion in a cage. Hoseok watches him in silence, brows furrowed in concern, his usual buoyance forgotten.

Yoongi is an idiot. An absolute fool. A fucking mess.

This will probably go down in his ever-growing collection of bad decisions as the worst one. He should have put limits around his relationship with Seokjin from the start. He was the one who asked intimate questions, who pushed to know more of him, all of him. He should have taken the walls around Seokjin’s heart for what they were, an extension of the palace’s walls, a reminder of who he is and the limitations of who he is allowed to be.

But now, Yoongi knows what he looks like when he wakes up in the morning, eyes puffy but unbearably soft, hair tousled, and lips a little chapped. Now, he knows how miserable Seokjin is letting himself be because he thinks it will help others be happier. Now, he knows how vulnerable the truth makes him and that still Seokjin allows Yoongi glimpses of it. With every single one, Yoongi falls deeper, harder, moderation and caution thrown into the memory of the storm that started it all.

There’s no turning back.

Perhaps he caught himself early enough, though.

“I should end it,” Yoongi says in a whisper. The thought alone is wrenching.

His phone buzzes in his pocket as if on cue and he plucks it out, reading the notification and opening the message before he can think twice about it.

Visiting an animal shelter with Tae and they have a cat that looks like you, look, Seokjin’s text reads. Attached is a picture of a tabby cat, fur a light grey, eyes closed in bliss as Seokjin’s unmistakable crooked fingers scratch between its ears.

Another text comes in a second later, It even purrs like you!

Yoongi smiles. He can’t help it.

“Might want to start by not buying this super expensive Christmas present I know you’ve been browsing for for the past hour.” Hoseok points a finger at the laptop Yoongi abandoned on his studio couch in favor of pacing around.

Yoongi slams it shut.

“I’m gonna end it.”

Hoseok sighs.

“Babe, I think it’s too late for that,” he says, not unkindly. 

He reaches a hand out. Yoongi takes it, his whole body aching for it, for the comfort he won’t ask for but that Hoseok always knows when to provide.

“I can end it,” he says with a determined nod. “I’ve done it a hundred times before, I can leave him.”

Hoseok smiles forlornly. “Yoongi, I’m more worried about the part of yourself you might leave behind with him.”

Yoongi ignores the discomfort in his chest.

“I’ll get over it.”

That evening, Yoongi meets Seokjin at the lodge with firm intentions to put an end to it. Whatever it is.

His resolve falters the moment Seokjin opens the door and greets him with a wide grin. He’s not wearing his usual dress shirt, but a flowy pastel pink shirt instead, tucked into a pair of white dress pants. He’s wearing light makeup, which is a rare occurrence.

He’s unfairly beautiful, bright and captivating; Yoongi commits the sight to memory and thinks he might hold onto it for the next few days, weeks, hopeful they won’t turn into months. 

“Yoongi!” he exclaims happily, grabbing at his sleeve to unceremoniously pull him inside. “I have something I need to talk to you about!”

“Me too,” Yoongi replies with far less enthusiasm, wetting his lips as Seokjin all but drags him to the fireplace, where flames are already curling and swaying, crackling as they lick at dry wood.

Seokjin freezes, blinking at Yoongi. His brows dip into a frown, concern etched on his features.

“Are you okay?”

His eyes are big and sincere, expectant, a little worried. Yoongi wonders how he ever thought his heart could remain impassive to Seokjin. He likes Seokjin in ways he can’t quite comprehend, in ways he could never explain or write about. It’s funny, almost, that Seokjin wants the world to believe he doesn’t care, when it’s so painfully obvious to anyone who gets close enough to see the subtle lines of his face shift that he actually cares too much.

Yoongi nods, breath stuttering out of his throat. “Just hit another wall with a potential investor for my label,” he sighs, which isn’t a lie, just a mere part of the reasons behind the defeated slouch of his shoulders.

He’s not about to drop it all on Seokjin at once though. He needs to ease it into the conversation, how it’s better for both of them to stop seeing each other. The thought makes Yoongi’s stomach lurch, but he can do this. He’s spent the whole afternoon hyping himself up to do this.

“My father put a word around to his rich friends not to do business with me because he wants me to grovel back to him. And I’m worried it’ll get to my current CEO’s ears, even though he’s probably too busy partying in America to pay much attention to what’s being whispered through the grapevine about me here.”

Seokjin’s grin widens.

Yoongi frowns, arching an eyebrow at him. “Is my misery funny to you or did I miss something?”

Seokjin shakes his head.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about!” he exclaims, grabbing Yoongi by the shoulders to guide him to sit on the couch, taking the ottoman in front of him. “Do you know Lee Jaehwan?”

“Vaguely,” Yoongi replies. “His name is familiar. I’ve heard it before, but I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”

“I attended a fundraiser earlier today, after the animal shelter. I just got back half an hour before you got here. Jaehwan was there so we caught up,” he says, seemingly oblivious to Yoongi’s confusion. “His father died a couple of weeks ago.”

He doesn’t look particularly disparaged by the news.

“Is that a good thing?” Yoongi asks dubiously.

Seokjin grimaces, like speaking ill of the dead pains him, but still he answers honestly, “He was abusive and controlling and overall an awful man. I’m glad Jaehwan is free of him. Anyway, Jaehwan was his only child, which means he’s inheriting his father’s fortune. And he told me he wanted to reinvest some of that money in new projects. He’s always been passionate about music and I’m sure he’d be interested in investing in your label and he really couldn’t care less about what your father has to say about you! He said we should have dinner together to properly catch up and I can try talking to him about it if you want me to, but I wanted to talk to you about it first, obviously.”

Yoongi feels the flutter of his heart against his ribs but pointedly ignores it in favor of narrowing his eyes on Seokjin. He wonders if that is all there is, if this news alone warranted the excitement Seokjin greeted him with, and realizes that was it when Seokjin doesn’t add anything, looking expectantly at him like he’s gauging every minute reaction on Yoongi’s face.

“You know a whole lot about this Lee Jaehwan,” Yoongi says quietly, head tilting to the side in inquiry. “How do you know him?”

Seokjin shrugs, which does very little to pacify Yoongi’s warring emotions. “He’s my ex-boyfriend,” he says, like it’s just a meaningless fact, along with Lee Jaehwan being passionate about music and now sitting on a fortune.

“Your ex-boyfriend,” Yoongi parrots, deadpan.

Seokjin nods. “The one I told you about. From when I was seventeen.”

“Your ex-boyfriend.”

Seokjin reaches out, frowning, and lays a hand on Yoongi’s wrist, his fingers curling around it almost tenderly.

Yoongi’s heartbeat thunders against his temples, where he can already feel a headache percolating. He pinches the bridge of his nose, forcing himself not to glare when he pins Seokjin with a steady look.

“You want your ex-boyfriend to invest in my label?” he says again, just to make sure he cannot misunderstand Seokjin’s intent, drowned under the ringing in his ears. Seokjin nods, still beaming. “Let me rephrase this: you want the guy you used to sleep with to invest money in the guy you’re currently sleeping with?”

Seokjin purses his lips. “When you put it like that…” His voice trails off at the end, and he scratches at the back of his head.

Yoongi shakes his head, but he can’t help the fond smile poking at the corner of his lips. 

“You’re an idiot,” he says, but he leans forward all the same, slotting their mouths together. 

Seokjin makes a small noise of surprise, but hums in content the next moment, pressing forward. He blinks hazily at Yoongi when he pulls back.

“I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t think this is your brightest idea, Seokjin,” Yoongi murmurs, smirking.

Seokjin’s cheeks dust with a soft pink. “It was a decade ago and he’s a good man. Him being my ex wouldn’t get in the way,” he says, pouting a little. “We’ve moved on.”

Yoongi studies him in silence, and wonders if Seokjin truly believes that. Wonders if Seokjin realizes how hard it would be to move on from him. How deceptively easy it is to fall into him, into the anchor he unknowingly provides and the warmth his smiles promise.

He surmises Seokjin probably doesn’t know, because he’s spent too long convincing himself of the contrary to grasp how effortlessly lovable he is. His mind is a palace of its own, filled with treasures and priceless wonders, a boundless maze; Yoongi wants to explore every corner of it. He doubts anyone who ever had a chance at the slightest glimpse of Seokjin’s true essence could willingly walk away from it.

He doesn’t know why he thought he could just end this like that. He’s too far gone already. When it ends –because Yoongi isn’t enough of a fool not to be intimately convinced it will– he knows he will crash and burn. He knows the landing will be brutal and cruel on his battered heart.

But Yoongi is just enough of a fool to want to enjoy it while it lasts, for as long as it does.

He smiles, mischief dancing in his gaze as he looks at Seokjin. “Yeah, the fact that he asked you out for dinner makes that very transparent,” he says, voice heavy with sarcasm.

Seokjin rolls his eyes, shoving gently at Yoongi’s shoulder in exasperation. “Don’t be silly. It’s been over ten years. I’d feel sorry for him if he still loved me now.”

“Why do you think it’s something to be sorry for?” Yoongi asks before he can stop himself.

Seokjin doesn’t reply, instead turning away to look at the fire, a far-away look in his eyes. When he looks back at Yoongi, the haunted glimmer his eyes contained mere seconds ago is already gone.

He smiles, and Yoongi doesn’t feel sorry for the fool who loves him; it’s never done him any good, feeling sorry for himself.

“I did think of another option,” Seokjin muses, looking hesitant. “I don’t think you’ll like it either, though.”

“What is it?”

“I could lend you the money,” Seokjin offers, and lays two fingers on Yoongi’s lips when he immediately goes to rebut. “Not public money, my own money. I’ve already told you I have my own finances. Jeongguk and I inherited from my father’s side of the family. That’s why I rejected my annual allowance, aside from all the imperialist implications. I don’t need it. But still, most of my expenses are covered when they’re justified by my status and it’s not like I get to spend it so… well, I could lend you some money.”

He might as well just rip Yoongi’s heart out and run away with it, at this point. Now that he’s aware of his own feelings, although he’s still reluctant to put a name on them, Yoongi can’t help but ponder on how spectacularly arrogant he was to think he could be immune to Seokjin’s charm, to think his heart had hardened enough to stay unaffected.

Yoongi curls his fingers at the back of his head and leans forward again, capturing his lips in a kiss. There is no rush to it, and Yoongi thinks, idly, that it’s been a while since they felt the need to rush this, to tear at each other’s clothes and crash together with sharp desperation. It’s soft and certain, teeming with affection. Seokjin’s hand rests on his chest, fingertips skimming lightly over Yoongi’s collarbone.

“Is that a yes?” Seokjin murmurs, pulling back just slightly, pressing a kiss to Yoongi’s lips that doesn’t last but makes them tingle.

“Hell no,” Yoongi replies in a whisper, dropping kisses at the corner of Seokjin’s mouth, his cheek, his jawline. “I’m not taking money from you.”

Seokjin draws back, a little breathless, eyes already darker, looking equally confused and dejected. “At least let Namjoon have a look at your contract and see if he c–”

“Seokjin,” Yoongi says firmly. “Shut up.”

Seokjin’s bottom lip puckers into a pout. “I know this has been stressing you out. I just want to help.”

“Stop trying to fix everyone’s problems for them,” Yoongi replies, cupping his face between his hands. He pecks his pouting lips. “I’ve told you before, you can’t take people’s agency away from them. When I tell you about the stuff I have going on, I’m asking for an outlet, perhaps your advice or opinion, but not for you to find a solution for me. I can find my own answers, Seokjin.”

Seokjin’s mournful looks shifts into something almost bashful, acceptant and abashed. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles. “Jaehwan told me about this and I thought it could be a good idea. I know we’ve talked about it before. I’m just used to… fixing things, and I don’t think I know how to stop.”

Yoongi gives him a small smile, cupping his cheek into his hand and brushing the tip of his thumb against his bottom lip.

“I know,” Yoongi allows, shifting a little closer to the edge of the couch, closer to Seokjin’s intoxicating presence. “Just… trust me to know what’s best for me, okay?”

Seokjin nods. “Yeah. Okay.”

Yoongi smiles and kisses him, hard and desperate and resigned. Seokjin moans against his mouth and there is nothing shy left about him when he snakes an arm around Yoongi’s waist and pulls him against his chest, barely keeping them steady.

Yoongi falls into him, head first into the storm; he does so willingly, and he knows there is no falling out to be hoped for when it comes to Kim Seokjin.

If Yoongi knows anything about what is best for him, he knows this surely isn’t it.

But knowing it and acting on it are two very different things. He’s not ready to leave just yet.

When they get to the lodge on Christmas Eve, it’s almost eleven already.

Seokjin insisted Yoongi and his friends could get there early, because he knew they wouldn’t get there any earlier without raising either suspicion or great offense and he didn’t want them to have to drive up to the lodge too late. He knew, too, that as long as Yoongi was there, the security guards wouldn’t blink an eye. Seokjin has made sure they know Yoongi has full clearance, and they don’t question his presence anymore. It should make Seokjin pause, but it somehow doesn’t. It’s oddly comforting to know he can have someone in his life who can bypass the harrowing security protocols to spend time with him and who isn’t family, by blood or circumstances.

Yoongi argued that it was a bad idea, because Hoseok has very little respect for boundaries and would have even less so in Seokjin’s absence. Seokjin had laughed it off, poking fun at Yoongi’s grave expression until it melted into familiar exasperation and then the ghost of a smile he never quite manages to conceal, these days.

Yoongi warned him, repeatedly.

Still, Seokjin doesn’t expect the sight that greets them as Taehyung pulls into the alleyway. His mouth drops open in shock.

It’s not that Seokjin doesn’t like Christmas. He just never really has the time to fully embrace the festive spirit. They have a public event at the palace every year where they distribute presents to a group of children and decorate the humongous Christmas tree that stands proudly in the main hall with them. Christmas is a time of performances.

Seokjin, Jeongguk and Taehyung pretend they take great joy in every event that surrounds the holiday and are passionate about Christmas decorating as though the palace wasn’t decorated by the staff. This year, Seokjin almost created a national crisis when a kid asked him why Jeongguk –his favorite, he had said– wasn’t there to help them and Seokjin replied that he should ask the reporters present, since journalists always seem to know better about his brother and their relationship than himself. A collective gasp skimmed over the room, and Seokjin, oddly, couldn’t bring himself to care. The kid didn’t seem to understand it for the jab that it was because he turned to the nearest journalist and repeated the question, only to be met by bemused sputtering. Seokjin smirked to himself and reassured the kid that Jeongguk was simply busy making sure Santa had everything ready for tonight.

When Seokjin saw Jeongguk later that day, his brother was still laughing about it. It was all the validation Seokjin needed, especially when Namjoon threatened to drop him off on a deserted island and leave him there, watching mournfully as the news channels rambled on and on and on about Seokjin’s emboldened moment and speculated on its deeper meaning.

Which is ironically that Seokjin is tired of reporters speculating on the deeper meaning of everything he says and does, specifically when it comes to Jeongguk.

Their grandmother had looked far less amused, sending him dirty looks throughout dinner, which had been more rewarding than Seokjin would ever admit out loud. He’s petty, sometimes, and he truly loves watching her fume with rage when there is nothing she can do about it. It was supposed to be her day. Every year, without fault, the media rave over the dinner she organizes and the very selective invites that are distributed for the occasion. Getting one is like getting dubbed a knight, without the ceremonious kneeling or having a heavy sword hanging over your head. Physically, at least. Seokjin knows that being in the Queen’s good graces for a year doesn’t mean you’ll be there forever. He had been her favorite, once. They had been close, for as long as he didn’t dare to question her and to defy her words.

But apart from scathing glares that might have burned the side of his face at the dinner table, it was all a very proper affair. The food was delicious, the conversation was dreadfully boring and everyone was on their best behavior.

Taehyung’s mother Bora, who is undoubtedly Seokjin’s favorite aunt –not only because she is the only one– pulled him aside as they were on their way out and murmured, eyes a little glazed over with alcohol, “I liked that little stunt you pulled earlier, kid. I was with Mother when she turned on the TV and you should’ve seen her face when it was your smirking face on the screen instead of the annual fawning over her choice of wine for the evening.”

His aunt had never been particularly vocal in Seokjin’s subtle conflict with his grandmother and never took a side when the reasons behind it became blatant. Her show of support, as meager as it was, had been unexpected but welcome. He highly suspects Taehyung might have something to do with it. Taehyung has always been more observant and more clever than people give him credit for, Seokjin included.

So Seokjin is in a festive mood, although it only partly has to do with Christmas itself and despite the hectic few weeks he just shouldered through.

All in all, December is often a busy month for him, mostly because he makes it so to avoid leaving any room for the gloomy thoughts that often occur with the end of the year. The lodge is usually void of the infamous festive spirit, because he never takes the time to hang decorations or ask staff to do it. It never truly mattered to him. To the royal family, the Christmas spirit is, as most things, something artificial and shallow.

Which is why his eyes widen as he takes in the sight before him.

“What the–” he murmurs under his breath, too stunned to finish his sentence.

Yoongi warned him, but still he can’t quite believe this is real. There are string lights hanging around the lodge’s exterior walls, glimmering with bright colors into the night. Even from inside the car, Seokjin can see a Christmas tree is standing by the window which definitely wasn’t there when he left in the early morning.

There’s even a Christmas wreath at his door as Yoongi opens it for them, giving Seokjin an apologetic grimace.

“Keep in mind that I actually managed to restrain him a bit,” he says in lieu of a greeting.

Seokjin blinks at his living room, which has pretty much transformed into Santa’s den, big, red socks hanging around the circular fireplace and mistletoe dangling from the ceiling in abundance. Seokjin wonders if it’s meant to be decoration or a hardly subtle hint at Namjoon on Hoseok’s part.

“I told you it was a bad idea for us to get here early,” Yoongi comments, chewing on his bottom lip as he eyes him worriedly. “You gave him an opportunity and he already had a motive and means.”

Seokjin snorts, shrugging his coat off. “I like it,” he says, smiling. “It looks... festive.”

“It looks like Rudolph puked all over your place,” Yoongi answers with a grimace. “I’m sorry.”

Seokjin wants to kiss him, to chase the worry away from Yoongi’s flushed face, but he doesn’t get a chance to, because Jeongguk slips between them, narrowing his eyes on Yoongi.

“Hey,” he grits out through clenched teeth.

Yoongi, to his credit, doesn’t look very scared for someone who has asked Seokjin several times whether he should actually be worried for his life because of his little brother.

“Hey.”

“You’re here.”

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow. “I was invited.”

“Not by me,” Jeongguk says coolly.

Seokjin rolls his eyes, covering his brother’s face with his hand to push him away from Yoongi, ignoring his cry of outrage.

“You said you’d behave,” he admonishes.

Jeongguk gives him a wicked grin that makes him question why people ever deem him innocent. “I said I wouldn’t punch him,” he amends, before squinting his eyes at Yoongi. “I still don’t like you.”

Yoongi’s lips pull into a smirk, and Seokjin truly wishes he’d be the bigger person here –at least maturity wise– but Yoongi doesn’t seem particularly cooperative.

“Don’t worry, Your Royal Highness, I’ll get you tickets too next time,” he says, looking every bit as smug as he did when Seokjin first told him he thought he had spotted more disappointment than true horror on his brother’s face when he mentioned attending Yoongi’s concert.

Jeongguk gives Seokjin a look of utter betrayal and huffs. Their bickering is cut short by a loud, joyful exclamation, making all three of them all startle as one.

“Jiminie!”

Seokjin watches in stupor as Park Jimin walks in from the kitchen with a bowl of candy in his hands. He almost drops it in his enthusiasm when his eyes meet Taehyung’s across the room and he shouts a boisterous, “Taehyungie!” back, before they’re all but running toward each other and collapsing into a messy hug, candy flying like rain drops around them.

Seokjin blinks at Yoongi, shocked. “I knew they were friends but… what?”

Yoongi seems equally confused, so all he offers is a shrug.

Seokjin shakes his head, gazing away from Jimin and Taehyung who are excitedly talking to each other about what they had for dinner, as though Taehyung hadn’t been surreptitiously texting Jimin updates the whole time. His eyes skim over the heavily decorated room again.

“Where’s Hoseok?” he asks.

“In your kitchen,” Yoongi says with a grimace. “I’m sorry.”

Seokjin frowns, his stomach dropping in anticipation, and he walks wearily to the kitchen, Yoongi, Namjoon and Jeongguk on his toes. He doesn’t spot Hoseok immediately, the room seemingly deserted. There is chaos all around, though, boxes and boxes of food and spices and cans scattered over Seokjin’s counters.

Yoongi clears his throat, running a hand at the nape of his neck. “Hobi, they’re here.”

There’s a high-pitched noise of joy coming from Seokjin’s pantry, which he just now realizes is open. Hoseok’s head pokes out and he grins cheerfully. He’s wearing a red Christmas sweater, fake antlers on his head and the most joyful expression Seokjin has seen in a person, probably ever.

“Merry Christmas!” he exclaims. “I’ll be with you in ten minutes.” He takes a look at the mess on the counter. “Maybe twenty.”

His eyes are a little droopier than normally, but his smile is bright.

Seokjin takes a step forward, brows furrowed. “What are you doing?” he asks, pointing a finger at the chaos of food piled up on his counter.

“Oh, I’m reorganizing your pantry,” Hoseok says matter-of-factly, like it’s a perfectly normal occurrence. “Honestly, I don’t know how you find anything in there, Seokjin. I can accept a little bit of disorder, but this is sheer chaos. No offense but it’s kinda obvious how you’ve been used to having people to organize your stuff for you. But don’t worry, I’ve got you. I’m reorganizing everything by size and alphabetical order.”

And with that, he disappears back into the pantry, humming to himself, leaving Seokjin gaping after him.

“Oh no,” Namjoon whispers behind him, mostly to himself. “I think I’m in love with him.”

Several things happen that night that Seokjin will consider, later, as what should have been omens to what would unravel next. A countdown to a new end.

Five.

Once Taehyung is done greeting Jimin like they have been forcefully ripped apart for years even though Seokjin knows they saw each other just a few days ago, Seokjin gets the karaoke machine set up.

Jimin saunters over to help him, giving him a bashful smile.

“Do you need help, Your Royal Highness?”

Seokjin takes a long look at Jimin, his eyes bright and kind, and swallows down the insecurities that seem to blossom in his chest whenever he considers all the ways they are different. He casts a quick side look at Taehyung, who is standing behind Jimin. Taehyung smiles and nods as if to vouch for Jimin’s good intentions, and Seokjin decides that he should rely on Taehyung’s instincts more than his own fickle doubts.

He smiles at Jimin, and if it’s a little shaky, Jimin doesn’t seem to notice or is gracious enough to pretend he doesn’t, his own grin widening until his eyes disappear.

“Sure,” Seokjin says, before clearing his throat. He licks his lips, and pointedly refuses to glance at Yoongi when he adds, softly, “Please call me Seokjin.”

Jimin giggles, grabbing one of the mic to connect it to the machine. “Aren’t you scared to play karaoke against three professional musicians?” he asks and it’s playful, teasing.

Seokjin smirks. “It’s not my competitive side you should be worried about,” he answers. “It’s Jeongguk’s.”

Taehyung drapes an arm over Jimin’s shoulders, grinning his boxy smile. “I hope you’re ready to deal with his whining when Jiminie wipes the floor with him.”

“I heard that!” Jeongguk yells from the other side of the room, which Taehyung replies to by sticking his tongue out at him.

Seokjin shakes his head and returns his focus to the machine, smiling fondly to himself.

Karaoke has become something of a tradition throughout the years. After a harrowing dinner at the palace, they always end the night with too much alcohol and far too high belted notes. Most years, they fall asleep in a heap on Seokjin’s bed and wake up with raging headaches and increasingly harsher back pains as the years go by.

Every year, without fail, Jeongguk wins karaoke. He’s got a truly lovely voice, equally airy and steady, a good analogy to the kind of person he is. A dreamer with both feet firmly on the ground.

Tonight, though, like Taehyung predicted, Jeongguk’s endearing arrogance and ludicrous animosity toward Yoongi get the best of him.

When he picks one of Yoongi’s songs, there’s a smirk at the corner of his lips, which is directly matched by Yoongi’s own as he crosses his arms over his chest and leans into Seokjin’s side in a clear challenge. Seokjin lets him, because Yoongi is warm and his hair soft as it tickles against his neck and maybe he enjoys teasing his little brother a little too much. He wraps an arm around Yoongi’s shoulders, mostly because he wants to.

By the time the song is over, Jeongguk is breathless, his cheeks flushed and he has forgone the glare he usually directs at Yoongi in favor of a wide-eyed, dumbstruck expression.

“How the hell do you rap so fast?” he grunts as he sinks gracelessly on one of the ottomans, right beside them. The score flashes on the screen, and it’s not terrible, but it’s far under the prowesses Jeongguk is accustomed to.

Yoongi leans away from Seokjin and forward to pat Jeongguk’s shoulder. “I have unparalleled tongue technology,” he replies smugly.

And well, Seokjin could keep his mouth shut but he doesn’t really want to.

“I concur,” he says with a smirk of his own, taking a sip of the glass of whisky he and Yoongi have been sharing.

The smugness is wiped off Yoongi’s face, replaced by a deep blush as he buries it into his hands with a groan. Jeongguk gasps in horror while Namjoon and Taehyung pretend to gag. 

Jimin, who is maybe turning out to be Seokjin’s favorite, guffaws loudly.

“Get it, Your Royal Highness,” Hoseok shouts cheerfully, hopping off his seat to give Seokjin a high-five and Jimin a direct contendent to his status as favorite.

“No more drinking for you,” Yoongi grouses, plucking the glass out of Seokjin’s hand in a valiant effort at saving face.

Seokjin can’t help the laugh that bubbles in his chest, cascading out of him on its own accord and he thinks, fleetingly, that he might not know what happiness feels like anymore, but this comes strikingly close to the memories he’s forbidden himself to contemplate.

Four.

Namjoon just finished a surprisingly great rendition of Lose Yourself by Eminem when Hoseok marches up to him, brows furrowed angrily.

He pokes his chest with a threatening finger and Namjoon looks more terrified than Seokjin has ever seen him, which is saying a lot considering they once went through an entire spiritualist seance to entertain Taehyung’s latest whim and Namjoon almost had a heart attack when their great-grandfather supposedly tried to communicate with them –to this day, Seokjin still hasn’t told him that it was actually him scratching the heel of his shoe against the ground.

They also dodged an actual murder attempt on Seokjin’s life once and had to hide in a closet for two hours while waiting for the security team’s clearance, but Taehyung’s spiritualist seance was probably scarier to Namjoon. He’s odd like that.

Namjoon squeaks under Hoseok’s hard glare, making himself smaller as he cowers back.

“Listen, Dimples, you have a choice to make. You either–”

“May I kiss you?” Namjoon blurts out before he can finish.

Hoseok gapes, clearly not having expected to be interrupted mid-rant. He stays silent for a long moment, long enough that Yoongi eventually stretches in his seat so he can poke at Hoseok’s butt with his toe, a little harsher than strictly necessary. Hoseok yelps, but continues to stare at Namjoon wordlessly. 

Namjoon shifts awkwardly on his feet and points a finger over their heads. Hoseok looks up, blinking rapidly, and five more pairs of eyes follow the movement.

Seokjin wonders if this is how Namjoon had imagined finally admitting to his attraction –and very likely, feelings– but he doubts it is, considering Namjoon is often reserved about these things. Either way, Seokjin doesn’t think he wanted to have an audience for it.

“Mistletoe,” Namjoon says faintly, with a shy smile that is all dimples and the sure sign of Hoseok’s doom.

Seokjin resists the urge to facepalm.

Taehyung, who is lounging on the couch next to him, feet propped up on Seokjin’s lap, doesn’t.

“I can’t watch this, it’s too painful,” he murmurs, slamming a hand over his eyes.

“Oh my God, you insufferable, gorgeous, adorable idiot,” Hoseok exclaims, throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation and looping them around Namjoon’s neck the next moment, kissing him hard on the mouth.

Namjoon stumbles backward with the force of it but manages to find his balance again, gently holding on to Hoseok’s waist.

“There are children here,” Yoongi snarls, but he’s having a hard time concealing the smile curving at the corner of his lips.

Seokjin rolls his eyes and stretches his leg to kick at his shin, which makes Taehyung whine at the sudden movement and Yoongi give him a look of complete offense.

“Let them be,” Seokjin hisses at him.

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow. “You’ll regret this in exactly five minutes.”

Seokjin’s confusion vanishes when, exactly five minutes later, Namjoon and Hoseok lock themselves in his bedroom after Hoseok strongly advises them to turn the volume of the music up.

“That’s...my bedroom,” Seokjin tries, but the door shuts with a finality he can’t fight.

Yoongi, who got up to refill his glass, leans against the back of Seokjin’s seat and grins against his ear.

“Let them be, baby,” he murmurs, voice heavy with sarcasm.

Seokjin knows it’s what they call each other to rile each other up but there is something about the way the pet name curls tenderly on Yoongi’s tongue that makes his heart tighten in his chest nonetheless.

They don’t see Hoseok and Namjoon again for the rest of the night.

Three.

Around two in the morning, Seokjin finds himself leaning back onto the counter of the bar, sharing a cigarette with Yoongi while he watches quietly as Jimin, Taehyung and Jeongguk chortle their hearts out as they take picture after picture on Jimin’s phone, testing filters that distort their faces or adorn them with various animal ears.

Jeongguk is grinning, his dark eyes glistening with something Seokjin hasn’t seen in a long time; pure, unbridled happiness. It makes it easy to relax, more so than he ever thought it would. It’s easy, then, to forget the road paved with obstacles they had to brave through to allow this smile to find its way to his little brother’s face again.

Yoongi is sitting on a bar stool at his side, their fingers brushing every now and then, each feeble touch making Seokjin’s stomach lurch and flit, sending shivers coursing through his body.

His eyes flutter close when Yoongi leans in to press a swift, gentle kiss against the curve of his jaw and takes the cigarette from Seokjin’s hand. He pulls back a second later, and Seokjin wants to draw him back in, wants to abdicate his usual weariness when faced with even such a restricted audience and wrap his arm around him to pull him flush against his side, but Yoongi is speaking before he can act on the imprudent thought.

“What’s on your mind?”

His voice is soft, slightly deeper than it normally is. Instead of kindling the pit of desire Yoongi’s voice against his ear never fails to ignite, it seems to envelop Seokjin in warmth, coating him with a sense of comfort that even the fire burning in the fireplace couldn’t match.

Jeongguk looks up and meets his eyes. His gaze drifts to Yoongi for a second and then back to Seokjin, and he defies all of Seokjin’s expectations when instead of a scowl, it’s a soft smile that takes over his face. He shakes his head, almost fondly, and then leans back into Jimin’s side to pull a face at the camera.

He must take too long to reply, because Yoongi’s finger brush against his own with more intent and he hooks his foot around Seokjin’s ankle as he turns around to put out the cigarette.

“Tell me something true,” he demands, tone low and secretive.

Seokjin can’t do that, because he’s afraid that if he does, he might collapse. Confessing to the foreign feeling in his chest would make it real, and Seokjin hasn’t known happiness to be real in too long. He doesn’t recognize the taste, but he knows voicing it out loud would make tears brim into his eyes. He hasn’t allowed that to happen in a long, long time either.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he says instead, and it’s not a lie, he realizes. He wants to believe otherwise, but the truth is he doesn't recall the last time he told Yoongi a lie. “I’m glad I met you.”

Yoongi grins at him, wide enough to show his gums; Seokjin almost cries this time.

“Can I post this one?” Jimin’s voice booms, surprisingly loud over the music that is still blaring from Seokjin’s speakers to protect their innocent ears from whatever is happening in his bedroom.

Jeongguk squints at the screen of Jimin’s phone, chewing on his lip thoughtfully.

“We’re not allowed to have an online presence besides the official accounts. And there’s Yoongi smiling at my brother in the background. It’s gross.”

“Oh, you’re right,” Jimin says with a pout. “I didn’t think about that, sorry.”

He’s back to grinning the next moment, and Seokjin wonders if it could have been so simple for them before, had he not made conscious efforts to shield Jeongguk from the outside world. Would they have been able to share a night like this one, filled with laughter and careless happiness?

To be young before they were forced to grow up. To be, quite simply. To live.

“Post it if you want to, Jimin,” Seokjin hears himself saying. He will remember, later, that this is usually why Namjoon hardly leaves his side, particularly when he’s had a few drinks. “Who cares who we spend Christmas Eve with?”

“Famous last words,” Taehyung says wisely, but he plucks the phone out of Jimin’s hand and taps on the screen with an expression that never bodes for anything good.

“Are you sure?” Yoongi asks, eyes widening.

Seokjin shrugs, and thinks for a moment that Yoongi might be right about him. Maybe sometimes all he wants is to watch the world crash and burn and pay a toll for all the heartache it made them go through. Maybe he is, deep down, something more than the man he was told to become.

Yoongi’s phone pings in his pocket and he grabs it, showing Seokjin the post Taehyung just uploaded. He posted it on his own account instead of Jimin’s, which is bound to bring even more chaos. It’s a nice picture and there is nothing incriminating about it.

Jimin’s cheeks are squished between Jeongguk’s and Taehyung’s, their smiles wide and happy. In the background, Seokjin is standing next to Yoongi’s stool, looking at him as Yoongi grins. It doesn’t show how Yoongi’s foot is still hooked intimately with Seokjin’s ankle. It doesn’t show the brush of their fingers or the goosebumps travelling Seokjin’s skin every time they touch more deliberately.

It shows something of them that is rare for the public to see, something human and real, and in that moment, Seokjin has no regret. It’s a token to the realness of this night, of these prized moments they are creating and that Seokjin wants to commit into memory. 

It’s a nice picture, untraditional, normal, and extraordinary for it, with a simple caption.

I hope you are celebrating surrounded by good people like we are. Merry Christmas. Prince Taehyung.

“What if people speculate?” Yoongi whispers, just for him.

“People will speculate no matter what we do or say,” Seokjin replies. “I might as well control what they can speak on.”

“What if they speculate about us?” Yoongi clarifies, though they both know Seokjin knew what he was asking the first time.

Seokjin feels a smirk pull at his lips. “It’d be the first time they would be right about me.”

Yoongi snorts, shaking his head. “You’re impossible.”

Seokjin winks. “We both know the truth is much too far from the heteronormative explanation they will seek for them to even come close.”

“You’re starting to sound like me, I might tear up.”

Seokjin chuckles, and leans in to kiss him, because he feels a bit reckless, a bit hypersensitive from the unrecognizable emotions that have been washing over him all night, a bit addicted to the way they make him feel.

Yoongi, in all his goodness that makes Seokjin always long for more, kisses him back.

Two.

Jeongguk, Taehyung and Jimin huddle themselves into the guest room some time around five in the morning. Their tiredness seems to come all of a sudden, like children on a sugar rush whose effect has finally passed.

They disappear before Seokjin can think of stopping them and by the time he gets upstairs with a pair of extra blankets, he finds them soundly asleep, half on top of each other, Taehyung’s bare foot smashed against Jeongguk’s face, Jimin curled up against the headboard. Seokjin snorts, allows himself a fond eyeroll with no one to witness it, and drapes the blankets over them before shuffling back downstairs.

He finds Yoongi throwing empty soju bottles into a large trash bag, humming under his breath now that they have finally lowered the music to a soft, background hush.

The lodge is eerily silent, quiet after the storm.

“You don’t have to do this.”

Yoongi looks up at him and shrugs. “I don’t mind. I’m used to cleaning up the chaos after Jimin and Hoseok come over. This isn’t very different, except for the fact that your brother and cousin are equally messy. I’m not doing the dishes, though.”

“The housekeeper is supposed to come around tomorrow afternoon,” Seokjin replies, reaching out to take the bag out of his hands, slotting their fingers together instead.

“On Christmas day?” Yoongi huffs, lifting an eyebrow, and Seokjin realizes it might have been the wrong thing to say.

Seokjin tugs on his hand, gazing at him through the curtains of his lashes, knowing this usually is a very effective strategy.

“Come to bed with me.”

“What bed?” Yoongi says. “Both your bedrooms are currently occupied and I don’t think I ever want to step foot into your room again, no offense.”

Seokjin grimaces and tugs a little harder, until Yoongi is forced to take a step closer to him. “None taken, I’m going to ask the housekeeper to deep clean it and I’ll burn the bed and the sheets as soon as they are out.”

“If they ever come out,” Yoongi scoffs.

“They will if they don’t want me to call the royal guard on them,” Seokjin says playfully, but it falls flat when he can’t hold back a yawn.

Yoongi smirks. “We’re cleaning up a bit in the morning. It’s already bad enough that you’re making your housekeeper work on Christmas day,” he says firmly, and Seokjin can’t bring himself to feel annoyed. There’s a pang of affection in his chest instead.

“Grab some blankets from the cupboard under the stairs,” he says. “I’ll go make the bed.”

“Where are we sleeping?”

“The television room. The couch is a pull-out.”

Yoongi walks in as Seokjin finishes setting the bed. He drops a couple of blankets on it, and turns to Seokjin, nervously chewing on his bottom lip.

“What is it?”

“I got you something,” Yoongi says, with a flash of something Seokjin can’t decipher in his eyes. He doesn’t wait for Seokjin to answer, shoving a neatly wrapped box against his chest instead.

Seokjin blinks, surprised, but before he can think of saying something, Yoongi slips under the covers and turns his back to him, curling up on himself.

“Okay, good night.”

Seokjin chuckles. He takes a seat next to him on the bed, meticulously untying the ribbon and the wrap. It’s a velvet box, sealed with an elegant leather hook. He lifts the cover and his breath catches in his throat. Blood rushes to his head, his ears burning as he runs the pad of his thumb over the screen of the watch.

“Yoongi,” he murmurs.

Yoongi doesn’t say anything, but he peers over his shoulder at Seokjin, and even through the darkness of the room, Seokjin can see the pink flush of his cheeks.

“This is too much,” he laments, but his grip tightens on the box. “All I got you is a pen because you keep threatening to steal mine.”

Yoongi gives him a lopsided grin, an amused glint in his dark eyes. “I’ll take it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop threatening to steal yours.”

Seokjin smiles, looking down at the watch again. “It’s beautiful.”

Yoongi inhales sharply and sits up next to him, scratching nervously at the back of his head. “The bezel glows under certain lights,” he explains lowly.

Seokjin frowns and moves the watch toward the trickle of moonlight filtering from the window. True to Yoongi’s words, the bezel shifts, changing from the metallic grey to a soft glow of rainbow colors.

“It’s a pride limited edition,” Yoongi says, his voice sounding a little distant to the ringing in Seokjin’s ears. “It looks like a regular watch to everyone else but… you’ll know, I suppose. That you can carry this truth with you, even if it’s not out in the open or for anyone else to see.”

Seokjin can’t bring himself to look back at Yoongi, his gaze riveted on the pretty rainbow shifting around the bezel, reflecting against the moonlight. He blinks hard, but it does nothing to chase away the dampness in his eyes.

“It’s okay if you hate it,” Yoongi says tentatively. “I also got you gummies, because I knew I couldn’t go wrong with them.”

“I–” Seokjin whispers, but it comes out strangled and he stops himself, bracing himself with a deep breath before turning to Yoongi. “Thank you.”

He wants to tell him more, to put words into the warmth spreading through his chest, into the desperate clench of his heart, but he realizes he doesn’t need to. He never really needed to put words into his thoughts when it comes to Yoongi.

That should terrify him more than it does at that moment.

“You’re allowed to steal one pen,” he murmurs, a feeble attempt at a joke.

Yoongi grins all the same and if he notices that Seokjin’s eyes are a little moist, he’s kind enough not to mention it.

“Merry Christmas, Seokjin.”

Seokjin leans in and presses a kiss to the corner of Yoongi’s mouth, gripping his hand that’s resting over the cover a little too tight.

“Merry Christmas, Yoongi.”

Even Yoongi’s head pillowed against his chest and his soft, peaceful breathing can’t lull him to sleep that night.

One.

His phone buzzes at precisely six o’clock.

He hasn’t been able to sleep at all but it still takes him a moment to decipher the words, blinking blearily at his phone.

From: Office of the Royal Secretary

Subject: On behalf of His Majesty the King

His Majesty the King requests an audience with His Royal Highness Prince Seokjin tomorrow at 11:30. More details will follow.

END.

It’s an email, and it comes from one of his grandmother’s assistants. Seokjin almost laughs. It seems that whatever he did to anger her this time was bad enough that she didn’t try very hard to pretend the injunction actually came from the king rather than her.

He has half a heart to reply something along the lines of No, thanks, but he knows better than to throw oil on an already indomitable fire. He doesn’t reply at all, knowing it will be taken as assent.

It’s nothing unusual, but as his fingers card through Yoongi’s hair, feeling the softness under his touch, the tingle of his skin where Yoongi is holding onto his waist, he can’t help the sensation of impending doom that falls over him.

But that’s nothing unusual, either. He’s learned to prepare himself for the worst and to live with the anxiety it causes. He’s learned to listen to his gut feeling, for it is rarely wrong. He’s learned that things tend to go dire when he doesn’t listen to reason.

With trembling fingers, he scrolls down his emails and reads again the one he received the day before that made him feel oddly bold, bold enough that he didn’t care about angering his grandmother by hogging the attention with a clever remark.

From: Kim Sanghoon

Subject: You owe me a feast.

It’s done, kiddo. I’ll send all the details to Namjoon.

Let me know if I can be of further assistance, unless it means I have to talk to your grandmother or to my brother. If that’s the case, you’re on your own. 

Love,

Uncle Sanghoon.

There’s a voice in Seokjin’s mind that tells him, at all times, what he must never forget.

All good things come to pass.

It was once his grandmother’s voice, cold and cruel on a day he needed everything but. Nowadays, it’s his own voice, and it grew sterner with time, harsher against his weaknesses, ruthless on his own heart.

Seokjin is an atheist —privately at least— but sometimes he thinks he’s survived on the foolish hope that perhaps there is something waiting for him in the next life. Something simpler, with fewer responsibilities resting on his shoulders and more freedom to embrace the content of his heart fully. Perhaps in this next life, he lives a simpler life, where he’s no prince at all, where there’s no crown for him to crumble under. He doesn’t believe in much of anything, but when he chooses to for a moment, it’s where he likes to place his faith. In this dream, unreachable and beautiful, where his name means nothing to anyone but himself.

The voice always brings him back to reality.

Or at least, it used to.

He doesn’t know when it stopped, when he stopped feeling an inevitable sense of dread whenever he let his guard down even for a moment, when he stopped counting on his masks to pretend he doesn’t wish for another life than this one.

But that’s another mask he wears, he thinks a little sourly, another lie he tells himself. Because he knows when it stopped. He knows why it stopped. It lays in the cradle of his arms, a reassuring weight against his chest.

Because there’s something good in his life, and it’s drowning out the voice, even though it’s been a companion to his every step for the better part of a decade. Even though Seokjin doesn’t know what to do with the good things in his life; he’s forgotten how to take care of them, how to take care of himself.

He supposes he can only blame himself because he couldn’t see what was right in front of him. He refused to believe what he now feels to be an indisputable truth.

Min Yoongi tumbled into his life in the middle of a storm, smelling of citrus and smoke and looking like a deadly temptation, all smirks and deceptive arrogance.

He drives Seokjin mad half of the time, with irritation or desire, and pulls him afloat with unbearable kindness both of them refuse to acknowledge the other half. He thinks he can hide his true essence, the pure content of his heart even though it shines through his eyes when they soften on Seokjin. He’s a walking contradiction; a nightmare and a dream; darkness and light colliding.

But he is a good thing.

He’s the best thing.

And Seokjin knows the voice is right.

All good things come to pass.

Chapter Text

Seokjin would have liked to bring Namjoon along to the royal wing for both tactical and moral support, but the moment they walk through the golden doors of the palace, Namjoon is stopped by an attendant and asked to wait outside. It’s rude but not unexpected. Seokjin knows this is how his grandmother prefers him to be, alone and cornered, trapped into a cage of gold while she dangles the keys in front of his eyes.

As he walks down the corridor leading to the tea room, Seokjin paces himself and tries to summon fond memories of the place. He doesn’t have many. This place is cemented into his brain with the image of his mother, tired and beaten under pressure, scarred by the admonishment she always received for deviating from traditions.

He was often confused, whenever she came back to their quarters from the wing, looking increasingly sadder each time.

She married a commoner, he remembers his father telling him, with a smile he meant as teasing but that never came off as anything other than deeply bitter. It doesn’t matter that I make her happy. Happiness is a deadly offense around here, especially if it means going against norms and traditions.

Years later, long after they were both gone, Seokjin had come to hear the words for the understatement they truly were.

Deviation from the norm, in the world he lives in, isn’t just frowned upon; it’s reproved, punished, and never forgiven.

But you’ll know better, Sungjin had continued, ruffling his hair with a conniving wink. You’ll show them better. You won’t let this world change you.

He was yet another person Seokjin had failed, in the end.

Because he hasn’t had a chance to prove he can do better. Because he can’t let go of power lest he forces his brother to crumble under its weight in his stead. In that alone this world has managed to change him, to make him someone who holds onto power instead of watching things unravel on their own without hindrance.

Time flew, and he’s no longer the child that waddled through these corridors, intimated by the oil portraits of his long dead ancestors staring back at him, afraid of the power they bestowed upon him.

The tea room is empty when he walks in. He’s not particularly surprised.

The attendant offers him tea and although he’s tempted to ask for their strongest alcohol instead, he accepts it with a staged smile. His tea served, he’s left alone in this wide room. 

It’s supposed to be his, some day. This room, these walls, the paintings and the gold. 

The palace, the crown, the power and the dominion.

It’s been a long, long time since he last allowed himself to think, privately and to himself, that he doesn’t want any of it.

That he’ll take them, the responsibilities and the encumbrance of his mind, solely to ensure it doesn’t fall into hands he’d rather cradle into his own for comfort.

His gaze drifts to the side, to the beautiful rose bushes that are still naked at this time of the year, coated with a thin layer of snow. He wonders if spring will ever come for him, if he will get to bloom like the white roses of the garden inevitably do, beautiful and majestic, before his heart finally snaps like a flower’s stem.

The side door swings open without preamble and despite the wave of hypocrisy that surges through his veins as he does, Seokjin rises to his feet and bows.

“Grandmother,” he says.

“Seokjin.”

She smiles. To the untrained eye, it could almost seem like she is happy to see him. But it’s a smile Seokjin knows too well, calculating and pleased. It makes his stomach churn painfully. It’s a smile that doesn’t bode well, that speaks of things he doesn’t know, things that have the potential to destroy him and everything he’s fighting for.

To his own surprise, Seokjin’s mind drifts to Yoongi, hoping against all hope that he isn’t the reason behind the colluding edge of her smile. He pushes the thought aside, knowing it would convey a weakness his grandmother would be too glad to feast on.

“Please take a seat. We have a lot to discuss and I would like to be done before lunch is served. I hate talking about official matters at the dining table. It’s very middle-class.”

When Seokjin thinks of Yoongi this time, it is to unhelpfully ponder that he would absolutely detest her.

The show of friendliness is unsettling, but Seokjin doesn’t let it show on his face as he sits down on one of the armchairs. She takes the seat in front of him, back straight and hands elegantly folded over her knees.

“I was told Grandfather was the one requesting my presence this morning,” Seokjin says. “Will he be joining us?”

She seems to know Seokjin had no true expectation in that regard, because she barely acknowledges his question.

“He’s otherwise busy.”

Seokjin almost asks what exactly it is the King is busy with, considering he’s been nowhere to be seen for months now aside from official events he can’t avoid, hiding away in his chambers while Seokjin takes on meetings that should be his responsibility, but he bites his tongue. Namjoon advised him to stay focused on the matter at hand, and they both had no doubt on the fact that whatever his grandmother wanted with him had little to do with the King’s silence. She is directly profiting from it after all, taking over public affairs on his behalf while she normally operated from the shadows. 

She clears her throat, levelling him with a grave look.

“How was your Christmas celebration, Seokjin?”

Ah, he thinks. So that’s what this is about.

The picture Taehyung posted on social media stirred a bit of a commotion in the country. Jimin and Taehyung’s newfangled friendship was no surprise. They have been spotted together before, and Taehyung even took Jimin with him to a party thrown by some celebrated food chain heiress who wanted to be sure her soirée was featured in one of the big shot gossip websites Seokjin never bothers to read. Photographs of the two of them together were all over the news the next day.

For Seokjin and Jeongguk, who are rumored recluses and hardly ever seen in their free time with anyone outside of their restricted family circle, it was another story.

When Namjoon finally emerged from Seokjin’s bedroom on Christmas day, he bore an alarming case of bed hair, a fresh hickey below his jaw and an expression of complete horror. Seokjin was sitting at the kitchen counter with Yoongi and Taehyung, sipping coffee, none the wiser to the chaos that was brewing online. The look Namjoon gave both Seokjin and Taehyung was as close to scolding as he could ever be.

“I leave you alone for one night and you manage to break the Internet. One. Night,” he said, punctuating each word with a poke at Seokjin’s chest, his phone clutched in his hand. “It’s too late to delete it and it would make it worse anyway, but please do tell me what you were thinking. Actually no, I know you weren’t thinking when you allowed this to happen. Just tell me what the fuck I am supposed to reply to the horde of journalists who have been asking me for an official statement on your relation to the idol industry ever since I opened my eyes. Merry fucking Christmas, Namjoonie!”

Namjoon rarely swears, and he looked so tired that Seokjin actually felt guilty. Not for what had happened exactly, but for the fact that it was transparent, then, that whenever Seokjin seeks a modicum of freedom, there is always someone he loves suffering the consequences. It often is Namjoon who has to pay the bill and pick up the pieces after the fallout.

Even for something as small as this. Even for something as trivial as a picture.

“‘m not an idol,” Yoongi chimed in nonchalantly through a mouthful of vegetable omelet.

“Shouldn’t you be doing some damage control with your manager?” Namjoon retorted, lips pursed in annoyance. “I doubt your label doesn’t have their fair share of questions regarding this whole mess.”

“I’m my own manager. They don’t have enough resources to assign one to me anymore,” Yoongi said, tone heavy with sarcasm. “So fuck them anyway.”

Namjoon huffed and turned to Seokjin. “I’ve got a statement drafted. I can have you read through it or we can wait for it to die down.” His phone buzzed in his hand and he showed it to Seokjin accusingly, exasperation creased between his brows. “I doubt the media will be satisfied with radio silence, though.”

Seokjin was silent for a moment, but eventually he shrugged, pointing at Yoongi with his thumb. “Fuck them.”

It wasn’t the answer Namjoon had hoped for, surely, but it seemed to have been the one he was expecting because he didn’t say anything else and just furiously typed down on his phone, swirling around to head back to the bedroom, yelling over his shoulder,

“I want a raise! And a vacation! And a goddamn knighthood, you asshole!”

Seokjin snorted and went back to his breakfast, ignoring the odd and ugly feeling of doom twisting in his stomach.

There was no damage control to be done, even though Seokjin knows Namjoon could have done it if necessary. There was no damage to begin with. Of course the media would gorge on this for a while, as they often did as soon as Seokjin, Jeongguk or Taehyung showed a glimpse of something other than the perfectly crafted image they have cultivated, but it would pass, as always.

He imagines Yoongi’s label –and fans– are confused about this whole thing too, but Yoongi is unapologetic about not giving a single fuck about what people think of him, which is something Seokjin has always found equally attractive, disorienting and a source of envy.

Still, despite the apparent nonchalance he put on in front of Namjoon the morning before, he didn’t expect this would be enough of a burning topic for his grandmother to bring it up. She usually doesn’t bother herself with matters of trending topics and hot gossip. Or at least, she never mentions it, even though Seokjin is well aware that she knows everything so long as it involves one of their names.

His thumb skims over the bezel of his watch, nerves churning deep in his stomach, but he doesn’t let any tension make its way to his features. He smiles, calm and collected, and leans back in the armchair.

“It was very pleasant,” he says.

She fixes him with sharp eyes. “Yes, I imagine you are very pleased with yourself,” she seethes. “Tell me, Seokjin, will you ever stop acting like a petulant child and remember your duty or am I still nurturing a lost cause?”

“I don’t remember you ever doing much nurturing,” Seokjin replies, folding his hands over his knees. “But I don’t blame you, it’s never been in your nature to care for your family, has it?”

“You’ve never understood what being part of this family means,” she says coldly. “I suppose that was to be expected. I never should have allowed your father to be such a great part of your upbringing. It was already far too late for you by the time Sungjin was gone.”

Seokjin grits his teeth, jaw flexing in irritation, but doesn’t reply.

“He’s the one who put all these foolish ideas of ruling with your heart instead of your head in your and your mother’s heads,” she continues, unperturbed. “He never considered the consequences of such preposterous thinking for the greater good of this country. I should have been more strict with your mother when she went against our word for the sake of sentimentality.” She shakes her head, heaving out a deep sigh, “Oh, Sinhye. What a waste.”

There is little emotion on her face as she talks, rather a lingering annoyance she doesn’t bother to cover, even though the source of her grief, Seokjin’s parents, have been gone for a decade. Anger streams in his veins and he tightens the grip of his own hands over his knees to stop them from shaking.

“Do I need to remind you how she died?” he asks, thankful his voice doesn’t break. “I think it’s enough proof of exactly how strict you were, Grandmother. You pushed her to–”

“I never pushed her to do anything but what she was born to do,” she says sharply.

“You made her miserable. She needed–”

“When will you understand your lives are not about what you need?” she interrupts again, her voice rising just slightly enough for him to clamp his mouth shut, his temples throbbing with how hard he’s clenching his teeth. “You stupid, selfish child. Your emotional needs are irrelevant, if not hindrances. But I don’t expect you to understand that. It’s too late for you already. You’re too much like your father; fickle and idealistic.”

Unpredictable, she doesn’t say, but Seokjin knows how to read between her spiteful lines.

“You think the Crown should adapt to you instead of the other way around.”

He wants to laugh, there. He almost does.

She doesn’t know the sacrifices he had to make for this Crown she praises. She doesn’t know the lies he’s told and the masks he’s crafted. She doesn’t know how he broke his own heart, wore his own bones down, tore apart his conscience to adapt to a world that doesn’t want him.

She doesn’t know that this is why he isn’t afraid of what she can do to him; there are few tortures she can have him endure that he hasn’t put himself through already.

But there is always something. She knows his ultimate weakness. She knows how to compel him into obedience. At the end of the day, that’s what keeps him awake at night.

“I have discussed an arrangement with the King,” she says, her ephemeral show of anger already forgotten. “It has been clear that you have been distracted from your duties these past few months. We thought it would be better for all of us if you would at last remember your priorities and the consequences of your actions for this family.”

Seokjin barely resists the urge to roll his eyes. “So what, are you going to send me away for another month? With what justification? You’re unhappy with my choice of friends?”

The Queen purses her lips, her voice going icy, “Nouveau riche would-be artists with dubious family backgrounds? Your friends?” She scoffs. “They’re not your friends. They’re indulging you at best and taking advantage of you at worst. I’m sure the little stunt you and Taehyung pulled with that picture was great publicity for them.”

Seokjin’s brows dip into a frown. He can’t quite register the last of it. He knows it’s meaningless jabs, nothing he should acknowledge, but there’s something else, something that has worry and apprehension curling in his stomach.

“What do you know of their family backgrounds?”

She lifts an eyebrow. “Did you think I was going to let it go without making sure they can’t harm this family? They’re not suitable, Seokjin. They don’t come from appropriate backgrounds.”

“Nobody will ever come from appropriate backgrounds,” Seokjin retorts callously. “We’re royals, the bar is a little too high for anyone, Grandmother.”

“You do not understand. They will always be outsiders. Or you will always be an outsider to them. You probably don’t know half of all the horrible things I heard about them.”

“I don’t care,” Seokjin cuts in before she can continue.

“Sometimes you sound just like your mother,” she snarls, an ugly grimace pulling at her wrinkled face. “It didn’t help her to be an idealist. The fall can only be as hard as the dreams are high. It killed her in the end.”

Seokjin’s hands curl into fists over his knees. “We both know that’s not true.”

The Queen holds up her hand, flicking her wrist in a dismissive gesture. “You may not like it, Seokjin, but both you and your mother were born to rule. You are just as ungrateful as she was if you pretend it is a burden rather than a privilege. Your brother understands it better than you do.”

Seokjin bristles. “Leave Jeongguk out of this.”

“That’s your grievance, not mine.”

Seokjin frowns, but before he can voice his confusion, she reaches at her side and grabs a thin sheet of paper. She hands it to him and Seokjin takes it warily.

Air leaves his lungs as he takes in the picture.

“Do you think I don’t know what you’re planning to do, my dear boy?” There’s something eerie about her tone, something that has anxiety crawling up his throat, thrashing its way out in rapid, shuddering breaths. “I know you must have considered the consequences for your uncle if he helps you any more than he already has by purchasing this house for you and for your friend Kim Namjoon for helping you plot against the Crown. Consider them again, Seokjin. I don’t have to tell you the damage stripping your brother from his titles would do to our reputation and the reputation of the monarchy.”

His heart thrums violently in his chest. He doesn’t care much for reputation, not when his loved ones’ well-being is on the line, but he knows she won’t understand it even if he explains. She never cared much for sentimentality.

“So you’ll understand that I can’t let that happen,” she says, leaning forward just slightly enough that she can stare right into his eyes. “The King and I have arranged for your brother to play a more prominent role in our affairs from now on.”

Seokjin shakes his head, his ears ringing painfully. “Jeongguk isn’t prepared for this.”

“He’s had political and diplomatic training just as you did. We’ve allowed his various hobbies, but they have been distracting him from his duties long enough. You have been distracting him from his duties long enough, and we didn’t forbid it because although you were never orthodox in your methods, you were never actively acting against the Crown up until recently. Your latest friendships and recent endeavor to plot against your own blood are proof of your unsuitability for the role. You will be stepping down in return. We will do it progressively so as not to attract unwanted attention from the press, at the risk of disappointing you. I know you like the spotlight. We will ensure your brother doesn’t follow in your footsteps. Starting next week.”

“No,” Seokjin snaps, his voice so stern and authoritative he hardly recognizes it as his own. “You can’t force him to do this.”

“We won’t. He’ll do it on his own volition, because it’s his duty.” His grandmother’s face hardens. “You need to stop treating him like he’s breakable.”

“But he is,” Seokjin insists, growing more desperate with each word coming out of his mouth. “He hasn’t had a chance to heal. You’ve refused him the chance. You can’t do this to him. He can’t handle the pressure.”

“He will have to endure it. Just like we all do.”

“And what if he can’t? What if he has an episode in the middle of a meeting you’ve forced him to attend? What if it happens in front of cameras? What will you do to hide the truth then?”

“And what if he can?” she responds, lips pulled into a thin line. “If he can be stripped from his titles, so can you.”

“I’m the heir to the throne,” Seokjin spits out. “You just got lucky in marriage. You have no authority on my degree of involvement in the Crown’s affairs. Perhaps you should consider that before you try threatening me.”

“I’m not threatening you, my boy,” she huffs. “I’m showing you the direct consequences of your recklessness. I’m urging you to stop now before you bring all of us to our ruin. I haven’t sacrificed as much as I did to watch you bring it all to waste.”

“Sacrificed?” Seokjin echoes bitterly. “What exactly have you sacrificed, sitting in your golden palace, throwing galas in public and pulling the strings from the shadows? What have you sacrificed, sending your daughter to the wolves when you knew she couldn’t handle it and then blaming her for her grief? What have you sacrificed, holding on to a system that’s already on its last breath?”

The Queen winces when he stands up abruptly, kicking the chair behind him in his outburst. She blinks at him silently when he is done, impassive and cold. When she finally moves, it is to pick up her porcelain tea cup and take a sip, calm and composed like none of Seokjin’s ire has reached her.

“We’re going to have an official ceremony in the Reception room for the tenth anniversary of her death, to honor her,” she says, placid. “A charity gala for cardiac research. Jeongguk will supervise it and he will give the introductory speech. It will be the first step in his new involvement in the Crown’s affairs.”

Nausea creeps up his throat so violently Seokjin is surprised he doesn’t retch at her feet.

A wave of complete, unadulterated horror washes over him.

“No,” Seokjin says, his voice breaking. “No. I’ll do it. Grandmother, if you have any sort of affection in your heart for me or Jeongguk, you can’t force him to do this. Especially not something about her. He’s been doing good. You don’t realize the damage it could do.”

It’s the wrong thing to say, he knows. Because he is pleading, a blatant show of weakness, and because he is appealing to her heart when she only responds to order and carefully calculated designs. Still, it’s all he can think of then, when years of efforts to shield Jeongguk from this world seem to vanish into thin air before him. Years of trying to push away the memories of that night from Jeongguk’s mind, of distracting him from the truth of what he had seen, of the trauma he lives with.

Years of pain and sacrifices, of lies and misery, all blown to smithereens.

Seokjin has been stupid. So incredibly stupid.

“I’ll beg you on my knees if that’s what you want from me,” he says, the words choked.

Her lips turn up in a grimace of disdain. “You’re pathetic. Your blood may be royal, but your heart is as lowborn as your father was. Maybe you should have died in that car crash with him. You would have spared us all the disaster of your existence.”

Seokjin is too battered to take the blow gracefully.

“Please,” he implores. “Don’t make him do this.”

“I will not hear one more word from you on this,” the Queen says, voice woven with all the cruelty Seokjin deserves for letting himself be distracted from what always should have mattered above all else. “You will be there. Your brother will take care of everything with the staff. He will be notified later today. If any of you behaves in a manner that I do not see fit of what is expected of you, I will tell him and Taehyung what you had planned. If you keep up this ludicrous charade of teaching them to rebel and make friends with people who could destroy everything we stand for, I will tell them. If you so much as breathe or step in a way I do not deem appropriate, I will tell them. Don’t underestimate the consequences of what you’ve done. You plotted against your family with someone who never had its best interest at heart. We’ll see how long you hold on to the throne if this comes out.”

The words hang over his head with the sharp edge of a Damocles sword.

Her eyes bear into his own, merciless, the same shade of deep brown that used to welcome Seokjin home, filled with the warmth only a mother could offer. She looks too much like his mother, her features sharp and aristocratic, her posture straight and imposing. A twisted part of Seokjin thinks it is unfair, that the Queen got to grow old, to deepen the lines that wrinkle her forehead and the stern upturn of her mouth, to rule over the rest of their family with an iron grip, when their own parents never got to see Jeongguk turn eighteen. They never got to witness them rising back from the hardships they endured.

They never got to see what Seokjin became, fragile and weak and miserable.

It’s probably a good thing they died when they did, he thinks sourly. They would have been disappointed with the man the boy became.

They never got to protect them from the vices and the evils of the life they were born into.

Seokjin is too young to endorse that role, and yet he’s been doing it for so long he bears it like armor.

But he failed, again. That’s all he’s ever done, failing his father, failing his mother, failing his brother.

Failing, failing, falling.

His grandmother peers at the antique clock on the wall, a vestige from another time, just like her. Seokjin never realized exactly how resilient the old times could be when they fear the present until now.

“Lunch will be served soon,” she says.

Bile rises up his throat.

“I’ve lost my appetite,” he answers.

She doesn’t seem particularly fazed, a small smile curling on her lips.

He lost, Seokjin realizes. He never even had a fighting chance.

He leaves the tea room, doesn’t look at any of the old paintings staring down on him as he crosses the corridor and locks himself in the nearest bathroom, sinking down to his knees and retching his disgust with himself.

When Yoongi steps through the doors of WSB on the day after Christmas, it feels like he’s been transported to a parallel universe.

The receptionist glances at him from behind her glass desk adorned with the logo of the label and her eyes widen slightly with recognition. She immediately reaches for the phone, pressing a single button. He nods at her in greeting, confused, but doesn’t stop, striding to the elevator without thinking further of it.

His studio is on the fifth floor and he spends the quick ride up going through the work he wants to do today in his head. He was asked –ordered– to produce an OST for an upcoming drama starring one of the label’s rising idols, and he needs to get things ready for the recording later this week. He’s been lagging lately, too preoccupied by his sudden realization about his own feelings and the even more bitter realization that his plans for starting his own label have been pushed aside in the frenzy of the past few months. He’s given up on finding investors. His father’s influence runs as deep as his wallet and is too wide for Yoongi to avoid unless he starts looking abroad and he knows better than to bring Western investors into his project if he wants to make sure it stays his.

Even stuck in his own head as he tends to get when he slips into work mode, it is impossible not to feel the eerie atmosphere that floats over the place when he takes his first step into the lounge. He wavers in his determination to get to his studio as quickly as possible to exploit his surge of inspiration to its full potential.

The lounge is a large open space and it’s always buzzing, interns running around to execute often irrational demands, informal meetings being held around the kitchen area, laughter emanating from the ping pong table or loud chatter coming from the more zealous idols who parade around like peacocks, boasting under the attention. It’s one of the reasons why Yoongi is impossibly grateful for the soundproof walls of his studio, and also one of the reasons why he continues to come here to work even though he has a perfectly working and fully equipped studio at home. Occasionally, he likes the buzzing energy of the place, the never resting excitation. It keeps him on his toes.

One thing the lounge isn’t ever, however, is quiet. Even when Yoongi stays locked in his studio until ungodly hours, there’s usually the sound of a vacuum being used to break the monotone silence of the place without the constant ringing of phones if he leaves the door open.

And yet, right then the silence is paralyzing, forcing him to halt at the door.

Gazes turn to him all at once, so painfully indiscreet that he almost wonders for a moment if he came to work naked or with a giant blaring neon sign over his head.

The quietness is short-lived, but he almost misses it the moment it is replaced by a wave of whispers when he starts moving again, eyes following his every movement like hawks waiting for their prey to lower its guard.

He wants to lock himself in his studio, but the sudden, unwarranted attention is making anxiety spike up in his chest and his fingers twitch with unease. He feels like he’s doing the walk of shame, somehow, hungover and ridden with bad decisions he can’t quite grasp. He doesn’t know what is happening, but he doesn’t like it and he changes course at the last minute, heading for the terrace instead with rushed steps, needing the fresh air.

He inhales deeply as soon as he is outside, grateful that no one else dared braving the winter, filling his lungs until they burn with the cold air of the end of the year. He rummages in his pocket, plucking out his cigarette case, and lights one.

He’s barely had a single puff when the terrace doors open again. Yoongi turns around, irritated at the interruption of his feeble moment of peace, and promptly freezes.

Kim Daehee rarely graces the walls of WSB with his presence.

Yoongi can count on one hand the times he has seen him in the two years he took over as CEO after his father’s passing. When he needs to discuss concept ideas or business plans, Yoongi is sent to talk to the many assistants Daehee has delegated to avoid actually fulfilling his role as CEO as much as possible. 

The last time Yoongi saw him was at the party he was forced to attend, when he was boasting about whatever exploit he took credit for that day within the same group of insufferable rich men Yoongi’s father was a part of. Yoongi would have more chances running into his CEO in these kinds of parties than he does if he knocks on his office door.

It’s odd to see him here too, outside his office on the last floor of the building where he can look down on the rest of the world, which Yoongi surmises is high on his list of favorite hobbies along with cheating on his fiancée and pretending to know shit.

Right after him follows a woman in a pale blue pantsuit and although Yoongi hasn’t seen her in a long time, relief washes over him as the sight. Suran has been on his side –most of the time, because she has no qualms letting him know when Yoongi is acting like an idiot– whenever he’s had a conflict with the higher-up executives of the label. She’s a former idol, an actual artist and Yoongi always suspected it was why she was always sympathetic to his fight for creative control where Kim Daehee called it a quirk.

But it’s more than that, too. They started in this company together, both young and scared and filled with dreams. Kim Jihoon took them under his wings and pushed them to grow, to dream bigger, to reach further. To be more than pawns on a company’s chessboard.

That’s how Suran became the businesswoman she is now, having retired from performing under the spotlight to do the hard work needed in the shadows instead. She’s still an artist, though. Seeing her standing by the CEO’s side makes Yoongi wonder if she’s forgotten that side of herself, the one that strived for excellence rather than profit, that fought back against prejudice instead of accepting it as a fatality, a means to an end.

He knows she would probably slap him if he dared to voice his inner thoughts out loud. She had as much love and respect for Kim Jihoon as he did, and he can’t imagine she loves watching Daehee meticulously dismantle everything their mentor worked for.

Yoongi can’t reconcile the two in his mind, and he doubts she can either, but it’s been a while since they talked. It’s been a while since they were close. Jihoon’s death seemed to cement the fact that he was all they ever had in common, their love for their art aside, despite Yoongi’s belief that they had once been friends. They spent a lot of time together, once, without it being necessarily for professional reasons. She introduced him to Jimin and he remembers the grin she had sported when they got together, as though that had been her plan all along. He feels inadequate now, incapable of knowing with certitude that she’ll have his back if he needs her to.

He doesn’t know what trouble is brewing but worst comes to worst, he could appeal to her sympathy, to their common history and the heritage they represent for this company. She doesn’t seem very sympathetic now, though, brows furrowed and lips pressed firmly together. He wonders how much of her palpable irritation is aimed at him, but Daehee tends to incite this kind of reaction in people.

Daehee has his arms crossed over his chest as he stares at Yoongi, jaw clenched tight. Yoongi stares back without fear.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“I’ll ask the questions,” Daehee says, seething. “Do you want to tell me why you and Park Jimin are all over the news with the royal trio?”

Yoongi’s gaze shifts to Suran, and then back to the CEO. “Not really, no.”

The vein on Daehee’s forehead seems about to pop, his porcelain features twisting into something ugly and truer to his inner self than his usual pristine appearance. Yoongi forces himself not to look directly at it, fixing a point between his furrowed brows instead.

“Why did you never tell us you had ties with the royal family?” the CEO hisses.

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow. “I don’t know when I would’ve had the occasion to when you never set foot in this building. But most importantly, my private life is none of your business.”

Daehee scoffs, sending a disbelieving gaze to Suran for support. She doesn’t return it, so he turns back to Yoongi, pointing a menacing finger at him.

“I own your fucking life, Min. Every aspect of it. My father took you in and gave you a chance when you were just a scrawny kid who could barely afford a meal a day. We made you, and I can end you just as easily. Don’t play with me.”

“Don’t compare yourself to your father,” Yoongi says, scornful. “You’re not half the man he was.”

Daehee narrows his eyes on him, dark eyes flashing with disdain. “Just because he had a soft spot for you doesn’t mean I do. I don’t care that you think you’re all that.”

“I must be pretty close if I was enough to make you come out of your bachelor pad and remember you’re actually supposed to run this company.”

Daehee takes a step closer, mouth twitching with irritation. “You don’t want to get on my bad side, Min.”

A smirk pulls at Yoongi’s lips. “You don’t want to see what happens if you get on mine, Kim.”

“Boys,” Suran chimes in. “Can we be mature about this?”

Yoongi darts his eyes at her, studying the soft knot between her brows and the stern line of her shoulders. He sighs, turning back to Daehee.

“What even is it to you whether I have ties with them or not?”

Daehee sneers. “Do you realize the kind of engagement they create? Support from the royal family would make us untouchable. Did you know Prince Jeongguk single-handedly saved a small local designer from bankruptcy just by wearing one of their damn sweaters?”

Yoongi almost hears his own father’s voice coming out of Daehee’s mouth for a moment and he has to resist the urge to roll his eyes.

He misses Jihoon. He misses the true passion that motivated his actions in the company. He misses the time where this label felt like a wide field to explore rather than a fancy cage.

“So what?” he spits out. “You want me to ask the Crown Prince to write a tweet endorsing us or something? Maybe a video about how he worships the ground you walk on? I’m sure he’d love that.”

“You two certainly seem chummy enough,” he replies, shoving his phone in Yoongi’s face. “Whatever you do, you need to keep doing this.”

It’s opened on the Instagram post that is already proving to have more cataclysmic consequences than they ever anticipated. Yoongi should have known better than to drink beyond reason. He should have known better than to feel emboldened by Seokjin’s sudden lapse of judgment. It was stupid of him, to smile at the thought that Seokjin didn’t want to hide. Seokjin had too much to drink and Yoongi has seen firsthand how alcohol loosens his tongue and meticulously unravels his usual inhibitions.

The thing is, Yoongi is weak for those moments where Seokjin doesn’t try so hard to be perfect, those moments where he almost seems to forget who he is supposed to be and allows himself to be who he is instead, a glimpse of his flawed essence that speaks directly to Yoongi’s heart.

Yoongi loves him like this; mindless, relaxed, true. Himself.

“And you need to make it clear that when he’s smiling at you, it’s actually me His Highness is smiling at, because we at WSB love the royal family and they love us right back.”

Daehee gives Yoongi a saccharine smile. It feels wrong on him, as though his face itself is rebelling against the nonsense coming out of his mouth. He looks desperate, eyes wide with agitation, lips pursed.

Yoongi glowers at him, suppressing a shiver of discomfort.

“I’m not going to sell my friends out to give you free publicity.”

The CEO takes an abrupt step forward and for a moment, Yoongi thinks he might try to hit him, his body tensing in anticipation, but Suran swiftly grabs Daehee’s arm and pulls him back.

“Daehee,” she says, tone sharp.

He huffs, harshly tugging his arm out of her grip, and levels Yoongi with a seething look.

“I’ve had enough of your insolence,” he says tersely, as though he has any right to scold Yoongi, as though he isn’t younger and less experienced and overall a contemptible person. “You think we’ve made your life hard by rejecting your songs and pushing you to the sidelines and making you attend some parties but you have no idea how much harder I can make things for you. You’ve been with us for a long time, and your public image is directly attached to my company’s name. If you know what’s good for you and your friends, you’ll do what you’re told. I have a team that’s already working on a marketing plan for this. You’ve gone behind my back once, Min, and you’re still reaping the consequences. How would you like being retrograded to that studio in the basement you started in? I’m sure you’ll fit right in with the street rats, considering that’s where my father found you.”

Yoongi blinks, too angry to feel hurt. “Fuck you.”

“Yoongi,” Suran hisses this time, a warning to her tone.

Somehow, it feels less chastising than the tone implies, even more so when he meets her eyes and they’re widened with a silent plea, an unspoken ‘please don’t make things worse than they already are’. It would be the reasonable thing to do, he knows, to keep quiet for now and come back with a real battle plan based on logic and a layered argument on the impossibility of what Daehee is asking of him.

Yoongi doesn’t want to be reasoned with, and it’s hard to put things into perspective when fresh anger is streaming through his veins, made bolder by months of powerlessness and biting his own tongue.

He’s been okay with suffering the consequences. He could withstand the blows so long as he knew, in his own mind, that it was only a matter of time before he was out of this mess. He didn’t mind feigning to be weakened by their many attempts at punishing him for fighting for his art. He didn’t mind pretending not to feel heartbroken at what they made of WSB, the place where he grew, prospered, thrived. He could handle the dejection raging through his chest whenever he thought of Jihoon and of what he would think if he were still here to witness the situation.

He can’t do it anymore.

Not when he’s being asked to use one of the most precious things in his life for the benefits of vultures and sharks. For reasons that have nothing to do with art but everything with publicity and clout and how long they can have their names trending on Twitter alongside the royal trio’s.

Seokjin has been used as a window of excellence his whole life, has had his essence torn apart and his integrity compromised so that his staged smile would become a paragon of his family’s supremacy and power. He’s been forced to lie, to deceive, to forget who he was for the sake of others. He let it gnaw at his insides until all there was left was the empty shell of the man he could have been had he been dealt more clement cards.

Yoongi will be damned if he becomes one of those people who’ve only ever seen in him a convenient vessel to boost their own ego.

“No,” Yoongi says firmly, voice shaking with anger. “I don’t give a fuck what you do to me. My relationship with the royal family is my business and it’s not for sale. And call me a street rat again, see what happens.”

“Yoongi, please–” Suran says placatingly.

“What?” Daehee spits out, raising a hand to compel her into silence. A new wave of rage washes over Yoongi. “That’s where you’re always going to belong, no matter how much you earn. You can buy all the fancy shit you want and pretend you fit in with royalty, but you’re always going to be the worthless kid who couldn’t pay for his mother’s own funeral. I wonder what the royal trio even gets from your company, but they’ve always been known to do charity work.”

It all happens very fast.

It’s because Yoongi has taken many punches in his life that he knows how to throw one. Sometimes, it comes as a defensive instinct, a reflex of anger that he had thought far behind him. Sometimes, he can still hear the voices of his mother’s boyfriends, leaving scars that never marked his skin.

His therapist is going to be very disappointed in him, but Yoongi can’t feel an ounce of regret as he watches Daehee stagger backwards with a shout and blood spilling out of his nose. His knuckles burn after impact. Yoongi shakes it off. It’s a cathartic kind of pain; he’s known worse kinds.

“Be grateful I was charitable enough to only break your fucking nose,” he seethes, his whole body trembling with rage. “I’m not going to compromise who I am for you. I will not use my personal relations so you can get some clout for your shitty label. They’re human beings, asshole, not pawns to serve your pathetic power trip. And the next time you speak to me like this, I’m the one who will fucking ruin you. Don’t test me, Daehee. I was mentored by your father; I know a thing or two about which strings to pull to ruin somebody’s life in this industry. But I suppose you wouldn’t know, considering he couldn’t stomach you long enough to teach you not to run your mouth.”

Daehee narrows his eyes on him, hands cupped around his bleeding nose.

“You’re fired. Clear out your studio and get the fuck out of here before I have you thrown out by security.”

“Good,” Yoongi hisses, fingers curling into tight fists at his sides.

He could throw another punch before he leaves. He should, really. It’s a matter of pride at this point and the charges for assault are already impending, so it’s not like he has more to lose.

Before he can make a final decision on the matter, a voice chimes from the terrace’s door.

“Is this a bad time?”

Yoongi’s eyes widen when he recognizes it, his anger depleting into shock, but his expression is surely not as comical as Daehee’s when he swirls around, still fuming, to face the intruder. Colors drain from his face quicker than he can say ‘profit’. He splutters for a second, looking ridiculous with blood spilling from his nose.

It’s almost enough for Yoongi’s own surprise to be vanquished and swiftly replaced by twisted satisfaction.

Because just a few feet away from them, by the door of the terrace, stands Prince Jeongguk.

He’s dressed fairly casually, in dark slacks and a cream turtleneck under a thick woolen coat. He looks both elegant and comfortable, a striking contrast with the two ginormous bodyguards flanked at his sides, clad in stern black from head to toe. It’s an odd outfit to reconcile with him, and Yoongi realizes with a start that he’s never met Jeongguk in a formal setting before. He paints a big contrast with the outfits Yoongi has seen him prefer every time they’ve met, oversized hoodies and sweatpants and a devious smile that turns sweet and adoring when it’s addressed to Seokjin.

“Your Highness.” Daeehe rushes the words out, bowing deeply. “It’s an honor to–”

“I’m not interested in hearing it,” Jeongguk says icily.

He looks so much like his brother right then, features schooled into a mask of neutral composure, though Seokjin’s trademark cold indifference is traded for a casual air of boredom Yoongi suspects Jeongguk doesn’t have to feign.

“What are you doing here, kid?” Yoongi asks.

He knows Jeongguk doesn’t like it when Yoongi addresses him informally, and absolutely hates it when he calls him ‘kid’ –which is probably why Yoongi hasn’t stopped doing it. It’s usually followed by a boisterous ‘it’s Your Royal Highness to you, asshat’ but Yoongi is hoping Jeongguk heard enough of his unpleasant conversation with his CEO –former CEO, he forcefully tells himself– to forgive the familiarity just this once.

His doe eyes set on Yoongi. “Am I not allowed to visit my dear friend?” he says airily, a smirk in his voice that he doesn’t let transpire on his face.

The CEO looks between the two of them, lips parted comically.

“You can come with me while I pack up,” Yoongi says with a smirk. “I just got fired for refusing to treat you like a circus freak.”

Daehee gasps, glaring daggers at Yoongi, who pointedly refuses to spare him a glance.

“I heard,” Jeongguk answers. “Much appreciated. Lead the way, then. I’ll help.”

Yoongi nods, gives one last scathing glance at his former boss and takes a step toward Jeongguk. A soft grip on his wrist stops him before he can exit the terrace.

When his eyes meet Suran’s, they’re probing, not cold but impassive.

“Yoongi,” she says, and there is something in her eyes that makes him pause. “Can we talk? Please. You can’t just leave like that, not after all this time.”

He thinks of the years they have spent together, of the tacit rivalry that had sometimes brewed between them to gain Jihoon’s favors, of the agreement they came to that they didn’t have to compete for his affection when he had always made an effort to treat them both equally. He thinks of the talk they had on the day of his funeral, sorrow making them promise each other to continue on the path Jihoon had encouraged them to follow, to honor his memory by doing what he had always urged them to do; art in its purest form, passion materialized at the tip of a pen or the steady falsetto of a voice that can’t be silenced.

It’s a promise Yoongi can’t keep anymore. He tried, and he failed, and he’ll make his peace with that on his own time.

Away from this place that was once a home, tarnished by people who think of profit and reputation before they consider why Yoongi or any of the other artists working for them have turned to music in the first place.

“I don’t work for this label anymore,” Yoongi says, tone falling flat.

He softens a little, remembering the countless meetings where Suran quietly but firmly chose his side, backed him when his integrity as an artist was being threatened. She’s one of the few extraordinary people he’s met in his years of working here, even though her influence, once colossal, has been diminished and belittled by the mindless marketing goons Daehee has hired to do the job for him.

“You have my number if you want to call me,” he says.

“Yeah, she’ll call you with a lawsuit,” Daehee barks.

Yoongi casts one last disdainful look at him before following Jeongguk inside.

The hush of whispers hasn’t stopped. If anything, it grows exponentially worse as Yoongi guides Jeongguk and his bodyguards across the lounge to where his studio is situated. 

“Seriously, what are you doing here?” Yoongi asks in a low voice, glaring at a group of people gawking at them.

Jeongguk looks unperturbed by the attention, and Yoongi wonders if he’s grown so accustomed to it that it doesn’t affect him anymore or if it’s a facade he’s constructed the same way Seokjin has.

“We need to talk.”

Jeongguk motions for his bodyguard to stay outside, and as Yoongi types in the passcode to unlock his studio, it hits him all at once. It will be the last time he does it.

Nostalgia washes over him as he steps inside.

He can’t feel entirely thwarted to be rid of Kim Daehee. He would be happy never to cross paths with him again, but he feels different about the place. He’s spent too many hours locked in this room not to feel inherently attached to it.

It’s a clear upgrade from his very first studio, down in the basement with outdated equipment and the occasional cockroach. It was only after Yoongi proved his talent and ambition and started making a name for himself that he was moved to a bigger one with better, more powerful equipment that served his appetite more appropriately.

He moved into this one just two years ago, a couple of months before Kim Jihoon’s passing. Jihoon had made it a surprise, having bribed Jimin into his schemes to drag Yoongi there. He remembers the grin on Jihoon’s face when Yoongi had walked in for the first time, his brown eyes crinkling with satisfaction, grey hair disheveled like it always was.

“I thought you might finally want a place big enough to fit your ambitions,” Jihoon had said with a small, affectionate smile.

“Or his ginormous ego,” Jimin had added under his breath.

Yoongi remembers roaming this space that was all his for the first time, unable to stop touching everything, the padded soundproof walls, the empty shelves waiting for his awards, the plaque Jihoon had engraved with the words ‘genius lab’ in bold letters by the door.

It seems crazy how quickly he went from feeling untouchable and on top of the world to where he is now, unemployed and uncomfortable in a place that was once his saving grace.

He wishes he could have seen it coming after Jihoon passed. He had met Daehee before and had no lost affection for him. It had always been clear to him that he wasn’t fit to succeed his father, but Jihoon had thought otherwise, apparently, and Yoongi hadn’t thought it was his place to claim differently.

He regrets it now. 

It didn’t take long for Daehee’s minions to realize Yoongi was the common denominator to many of the label’s biggest hits. It was, in a way, the beginning of the end. Once they realized that Yoongi could create gold under the most dire circumstances, they stopped seeing him as an artist and started seeking to exploit and milk his talent for all it was worth. By the time Yoongi figured out what was happening, he had already renewed his contract for two more years.

It’s been bleaker in the past two years, but it will never be enough to erase the fond memories Yoongi guards jealously of this place. It’s where he met Jimin. Where he was given a chance to thrive. Where his dream materialized into something tangible.

And it all fits into this room. He made magic here, built worlds with the tip of his fingers, shaped melodies that are currently hummed by thousands. 

His eyes flick around the studio, assessing the awards resting on a shelf against the wall, the coffee stain on the white desk that he was never able to fully wipe off after another of Hoseok’s attack hugs, the piles and piles of notebooks filling the drawers.

There is a stack of cardboard boxes behind the door that he hasn’t had a chance to throw away yet. He grabs one and starts looking around, unsure where to begin.

“Are you okay?” Jeongguk asks, head tilting to the side.

Yoongi’s hand flexes around the box, still throbbing with pain from hitting Daehee.

“I don’t know,” he says truthfully. “It feels weird. I’ve been working here for eight years. I’m...I don’t know.”

Jeongguk hums in acknowledgment. “What are you going to do?”

Yoongi shrugs. He’s got plans, of course, but he isn’t sure how they’ll pan out now. Getting fired never came in his calculations before. It makes getting out of his contract a lot easier than he had anticipated, but he’s facing a fait accompli now. He’s free, at last, and yet he doesn’t know what to do with this newly found freedom. It’s too fresh, too buoyant. It feels unreal, too many opportunities battling in his head.

It means he can’t push back the idea of starting his own label anymore. And now that he doesn’t have it anymore, he can admit, at least to himself, that the attachment he still feels towards WSB is probably what made him postpone it time and time again.

It felt like a betrayal to Jihoon’s memory, to abandon the boat while it was sinking.

It felt like foul play, but the promise he and Suran made to each other never accounted for this, for what the past two years have been.

They never considered it would be an end for one of them, and now that it’s come, Yoongi can’t help but feel lost.

He doesn’t know where to start.

“I’ll probably start with drinking myself into oblivion,” he answers.

Jeongguk snorts, picking up one of the awards from the shelf. His thumb brushes over Yoongi’s name engraved into the glass sculpture.

He’s silent for a moment, but when his eyes rake over the rest of Yoongi’s awards, they’re focused, determined.

“You know, if I were to ask him to stop seeing you, he would,” he says in an absentminded tone that doesn’t quite fit the gravity of the words.

He doesn’t need to say Seokjin’s name; he’s all they have in common, but there still is something eerie about the fact that he doesn’t, like even in his absence, Seokjin’s presence in their life is so fundamental that his name doesn’t need to be uttered to make itself tangible.

Jeongguk puts the award into the box Yoongi is holding, fixing him with shrewd eyes. Yoongi never quite realized how intelligent Jeongguk’s eyes are until now. He never really had the opportunity to pay attention beyond Jeongguk’s open disdain and evasive threats.

“If I implied it would be better for my happiness.”

He trails off, and although the words might seem menacing, Yoongi thinks he reads something else instead, like Jeongguk is trying to take his measure as an individual rather than cast the shadow of his immense influence –on his brother, and on everything he sets his mind to– over him.

“But you won’t,” Yoongi says, summoning a confidence he isn’t sure he should feel.

“What makes you so certain?”

Yoongi thinks of what Seokjin told him about Taehyung, how he sees things most people would overlook, how he can decide in a second whether people are worthy of his attention or not and is never wrong about them, how he always knows more than he tells.

Seokjin is never short of praises on his brother either, but it strikes Yoongi, then, that everyone seems to be underestimating Jeongguk. He seems too good to be playing political games, too innocent to partake in the art of manipulation, too virtuous to put his morality at risk.

But it is abundantly clear in that moment that the Kim brothers have that in common that everything comes second to their love for each other, and they wouldn’t shy away from commonly immoral deeds in the name of it.

So Yoongi is fairly confident when he answers, a little breathless, “I think you and your brother are more alike than you are both willing to admit. You won’t do anything that might make him unhappy.”

Jeongguk lifts an eyebrow. “And you think you make him happy?”

Yoongi swallows past the lump in his throat, busying himself with shoving his various notebooks into the box so he doesn’t have to look into Jeongguk’s eyes and see the things he doesn’t want to see, read the unspoken words he doesn’t want to read.

“No one can make your brother happy until he decides he deserves to be,” he says, voice low, hesitant. “But I’d like to help, if he let me.”

It’s more honest than Yoongi has ever been when talking about Seokjin. It’s more than he admitted even to Hoseok and Jimin. It’s more than he admitted to himself until just a moment ago.

Jeongguk blinks at him silently, considering.

“I’m more worried about his stubbornness than yours,” Yoongi confesses, his stomach twisting painfully.

Jeongguk scoffs out a soft, quiet laugh, a reluctant smile curving at the corner of his mouth. He eyes Yoongi warily, like he isn’t quite sure what to make of him, like he’s trying to pick his soul apart and find the pieces that would redeem him in his eyes.

They tell stories, his eyes, more so than his mouth ever could. They have his kinship with Seokjin written all over them, the affection he fails to contain, the worry that plagues him, the same haunting look Yoongi wishes he could chase away when he catches it in Seokjin’s. He doesn’t know what demons they enclose, but Yoongi hopes they will both find a way to set them free.

“You’re in love with him,” Jeongguk says.

It’s not a question. It’s a statement, indisputable and earth-shattering.

Yoongi’s heart slams against his ribcage, words of denial crashing against the barrier of his mouth and failing to come out.

He wonders if Seokjin knows too, if he can read it as easily as everyone else seems to be able to, if he will say something about it if he does.

Yoongi carts air into his lungs, slowly easing.

“I am.”

It feels so loud into the quiet walls of this studio that will soon cease to be his. Perhaps because Yoongi’s heart is speaking for him. Perhaps because the truth always feels loud in the tangled web of silent lies that bind their worlds together.

It’s the immovable truth. It’s terrifying, admitting it out loud, but it is nothing more than this; the truth.

He knows it when Seokjin smiles at him and the rest of the world around him flutters beautifully. He knows it when Seokjin’s endearingly crooked fingers travel across his spine, mapping shapeless words against his skin and Yoongi wants to chase after the touch until he hears them echoing in his mind. He knows it when he can’t look away, his gaze darting to Seokjin too often to be subtle, tracing the lines of his face like he wants to burn it into his brain. He knows it when Seokjin inadvertently bumps his shoulder with Yoongi’s, their bodies drawn together like opposite poles. He knows it when the slightest shift of muscle draws his gaze and, too often, catches his breath. He knows it in the mornings, when the sun pours through the window of the lodge, bathing Seokjin’s golden skin in an ethereal glow and Yoongi’s lungs defect.

He knows it all the time, despite himself, despite his initial reluctance and the paralyzing fear of what it entails, to love.

He loves Seokjin, and it hurts.

Because it’s doomed.

Because it’s pointless.

Because it’s a folly.

And still he loves him anyway.

“It’s not very smart, you know, to love one of us,” Jeongguk says in a distant voice, but his gaze has softened, and there’s sadness at the edge of his smile, hard won wisdom on every regal line of his face. “We’re hard to love.”

“Not nearly as much as you think you are,” Yoongi says, resigned to this fate he didn’t choose and yet unwittingly embraced. “If loving your brother wasn’t as easy as it is, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

His arms are straining with the weight of the box and his knuckles throbbing, his body already tired despite the fairly early hour, his mind worn down by the sudden discharge of his confession.

“I think you’re good for him,” Jeongguk says, and the admission seems to cost him too, although Yoongi can’t pinpoint the exact magnitude of it. “I noticed something the other day, watching him be around you. It’s good for him, whatever weird relationship you two have.”

Yoongi licks his lips, his stubborn heart still refusing to cooperate and give back his eloquence.

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Me neither.”

Jeongguk shrugs, and there is something almost vulnerable about it, an admission of ignorance that must be rare for him. He doesn’t strike Yoongi as someone who often lets things get out of his control. He’s similar to Seokjin in that way too.

They share a glance, heavy with meaning, with hopes they can’t nurture and a tragic resignation to the uncertainty of the future.

“If you hurt him, I will end you,” Jeongguk says.

Yoongi’s lips curl into a forlorn smile.

“Somehow, I don’t think that’s how things are going to play out, Your Royal Highness.”

Jeongguk tilts his head to the side, a small smile on his lips, studying him silently.

“You can call me Jeongguk,” he says, lifting the box from Yoongi’s arms with disconcerting ease and walking away, opening the door without further ado. “Where’s your car? We can help you charge it,” he adds matter-of-factly, jerking his chin in the general vicinity of his bodyguards like their whole conversation is already forgotten. “I have an appointment at the palace but it’s not for another hour.”

“In the basement parking lot,” Yoongi says, a little dumbfounded.

Jeongguk nods. “Meet you there,” and he disappears through the door, carrying the box with him, his bodyguards scurrying after him.

got fired for punching daehee, he texts Hobi and Jimin when the door is shut and he’s had a moment to gather himself.

OMG!!!!!! Hoseok replies almost immediately. I CAN’T CELEBRATE TODAY BECAUSE I’M WORKING LATE BUT YOU’RE MY HERO, YOONGLES! BUILDING A SHRINE IN YOUR HONOR AS WE SPEAK!!! TOMORROW WE GET WASTED!!! I’M BUYING CHAMPAGNE!!!!!!!!

also just realized i’m in love with seokjin and these newfound feelings might be more than a glitch in the matrix, Yoongi texts back.

OMG!!!!!! Jimin sends, followed by a dizzying streak of shocked emojis that Yoongi suspects are ironic. I’M BUYING VODKA!!!!!!!!

i love and hate you both

Yoongi pockets his phone after replying and heaves out a deep sigh, eyes flicking over the room, the shelves of awards already half emptied.

It feels grotesque, how easily such a big part of his life can be discarded, tucked into boxes and left behind.

He misses WSB already, but he realizes as he leaves the building with finality churning in his stomach that he has missed it for two years.

He wonders for a moment if he will regret this, but knows he won’t find out until it is too late, until grief is already gnawing at his insides, pouring down on him like an untamable storm.

He can only wish it won’t come with what ifs, but he isn’t so naive as to be blind to the bleak fate that awaits his tempered heart.

Still coming over tonight?

yup

Good. Maybe you can explain to me why there are pictures of my brother visiting your label today all over social media.

i’m not at liberty to say.

He told me he spoke to you and that you two are ‘cool’ now. That is the exact word he used. Cool.

don’t worry baby, you’re still the coolest in his eyes. tho that might change next time when i offer an exclusive first listen to the new song i’ve been working on.

Ha. Using the fan card. Smart.

thanks, i try.

If he winds up liking you more than me, I’ll be really upset, just so you know.

noted. you’ll still be my favorite tho.

…… Get your perfect ass here so I can kiss your stupid nose.

be there in 20.

Yoongi throws his phone on the passenger seat, hitting his forehead against the wheel a couple of times for good measure.

He inhales sharply, presses the button to start the car and wonders, absently, if this is what livestock being guided to the slaughterhouse feel like.

“Are you sure about this?” Namjoon asks, sounding very much like he expects Seokjin to say no.

“I am,” Seokjin replies. “Just...deal with this, please? And with his boss. Former boss. I just want to make sure things will be okay for him.”

“If you’re sure,” Namjoon sighs. “I’ll see what I can dig up on that Kim Daehee.”

“Thanks, Joonie. See you tomorrow.”

Namjoon hums absently and hangs up.

Seokjin puts his phone down on the counter, twirling the glass in his hand until he hears the satisfying clutter of the ice cubes.

His conversation with his grandmother is playing over and over in his mind, but it’s slowly being overpowered by the one that followed later in the afternoon, when Jeongguk asked him to join him in his workshop.

He got fired today defending you. Also because he punched his boss, but it only escalated because he was defending you. Please don’t be an idiot about this.

Something sparked to life inside Seokjin, something he tried to escape for the rest of the day, but alone in his kitchen, secluded from the rest of the world on the top of his hill, waiting for Yoongi to join him and curl up in his arms until he’s all Seokjin can think about, he can’t run from it anymore.

It’s there, coursing through his blood, a voice in his head, steady and warm, words of devotion uttered against the shell of his ear.

It’s in the bezel of his watch, shining with rainbow colors under the dim lights of the room, a fragile promise of better days to come, a folly of its own volition.

“Ah,” Seokjin murmurs under his breath, and in a moment of horrifying and mind-blowing clarity, he forgets his manners. “Fuck.”

Chapter Text

“Your turn.”

Seokjin feels a smile tug at the corner of his lips as Yoongi rolls onto his back, lifting an eyebrow.

“Your turn,” Seokjin echoes, more firmly this time. “You can’t expect me to spill all of my secrets to you all the time and not be willing to give back. Come on, Yoongi. A truth for a truth. Tell me something true.”

Yoongi huffs at Seokjin’s poor attempt at imitating his voice, his head turning lazily toward Seokjin, who props himself up on his elbow, his hand playing absently with Yoongi’s. He doesn’t realize he is doing it until Yoongi’s fingers go lax under his touch.

“I know I said I was glad I got fired because it means I’m finally free from my contract and I can focus on other projects I’ve been postponing for too long,” Yoongi says, his voice trailing off at the end.

His nose scrunches up in a grimace of discomfort, like it often does when he’s unveiling parts of himself the rest of the world isn’t privy to. Seokjin smiles softly, squeezing his fingers in silent support.

“And it’s true, to a certain extent. But it also made me realize that I kept pushing it back, using my contract as an excuse to leave things as they were. Not only because I had a lingering attachment for WSB, but also because now I don’t really have a choice, I can’t run away from it anymore and I’m...I’m terrified I’ll fuck this up,” he murmurs with a shattering sigh. “Hoseok and Jimin are ready to follow me to the end of the world, and I’m worried I’m guiding us straight into a whirlpool without having ever learned to steer a boat. I don’t know how to navigate a fucking boat, Seokjin.”

Seokjin leans in to press a kiss against Yoongi’s forehead. “I do,” he murmurs against his skin.

Yoongi groans, pushing him off playfully. “Of course you do, Your Royal Highness. Aren’t you Commander of the Underworld and all sea creatures? Should I call you Captain?”

“If that’s something you’re into.”

Seokjin giggles when Yoongi rolls his eyes, but it is belied by lingering fondness flashing in his gaze.

“I was trying to extend your metaphor,” Seokjin says placatingly. “I didn’t mean it literally. Though for the record, I do know how to steer a boat.” Yoongi hits him on the shoulder, but Seokjin grabs his hand and lifts it to his mouth, pressing a swift but tender kiss against the bruised knuckles. “I understand that it’s scary, especially after you spent most of your adult life working for the same company, but you don’t have to figure it out alone, you know? There are people who are ready to learn with you and help you when you need it. You don’t know what the future will be made of, but if you are going to lead them into this, your goal is not to erase your doubts, your uncertainty and your insecurities, it’s to navigate them and adjust the sails when it’s needed.”

“What if I can’t?” Yoongi muses out loud, a frown etched between his brows.

Seokjin presses a kiss there too.

“Then I can be your sugar daddy.”

Yoongi makes a noise of affront at the back of his throat, ruthlessly kicking at Seokjin’s shin when he lets out a boisterous laugh.

“I hate that Hobi is teaching you these things,” he mumbles. “And you can’t afford my services anyway.”

“Big words for someone who just sucked my dick for free,” Seokjin retorts with a smirk, moving his leg back before Yoongi can kick him again. “Stop hitting me, you gremlin. That’s lèse-majesté.”

“Then stop making me want to hit you, asshole.”

Seokjin chuckles, shuffling a little closer. “I’ll tell you something true,” he says, voice lowering. “I can’t predict the future but I have no doubt you’ll be absolutely brilliant at whatever you set your mind to, including but not limited to being CEO of your own label. You’ve waited long enough, it’s your time now.”

Yoongi blinks at him, swollen lips parted slightly, eyes glistening with something Seokjin can’t decipher as they flick up at him, head resting against a fluffy pillow, black hair tousled and messy. He smiles, something shy and small first, before it spreads across his face, making his eyes crinkle at the corner and exposing his gums.

And Seokjin… Well, Seokjin wonders how he ever thought he could protect his heart from this stupid, infuriating, beautiful man.

Yoongi fits seamlessly into the hollow abyss where his heart beats to remind him he is alive, still standing despite it all. He fits like he was molded just for Seokjin, to be a replacement for the pieces he’s lost along the way.

“Go back to making me want to hit you,” Yoongi says, pink dusted over his cheeks. “It’s better than the alternative.”

Seokjin smiles, a little smug, a little dazed.

“What’s the alternative?”

Yoongi gives him a pointed look.

“Kiss me.”

The demanding tone leaves them both unfazed.

Seokjin leans in and complies.

He doesn’t remember falling asleep when he wakes up the next morning, Yoongi’s cheek smudged against his shoulder, breathing peacefully. Seokjin cards his fingers through his hair, staring up at the ceiling.

Time, he’s come to realize, has its own flow when he is with Yoongi. Minutes stretch into hours before he can remind himself to savor them, and yet they always feel like a beginning, like the prelude to something more, every kiss a promise, every touch a soothing balm, every whisper a rebellion.

Time, he’s come to learn, is just another cage, a caution of doom that passes before he can find the courage to live in the moment.

Seokjin has been training his whole life.

He’s trained to sit in a proper way, to talk in public, to negotiate treaties, to win. He’s trained to wave, to smile, to be exactly what the Crown needs him to be and what the world wants from him.

Every training session used to feel like walking straight into a trap. Today, though, it felt like marching into battle without the slimmest chance at victory.

Today, it felt like a defeat, watching his brother coordinate the rehearsal for the official charity event tomorrow, witnessing the slight slouch of his shoulders, the upturn curve of his mouth, the strain in his movements. Jeongguk is a paragon of professionalism throughout it all, but Seokjin knows better.

He’s also been trained, by himself and circumstances, to recognize the lies his brother tells, to hear the truth behind the I’m fine’s he whispers for Seokjin’s sake.

It’s January, and no matter how hard he tries, Seokjin is never quite prepared for what it brings in its wake.

The painful memories, the tumultuous nights, the agonizing flow of time that never does what it promised and heals.

It’s when his resolve is the thinnest, when the lingering ache at the back of his mind comes back to the front to remind him that it is, in fact, an everlasting pain.

It’s not usually a problem. He stays behind closed doors, replays the last conversation he ever had with his mother in his mind and picks apart the things he did wrong. He lies down, stares at the ceiling and lets his stomach lurch when he realizes he has forgotten the exact shade of her eyes and the soft lilt of her voice when she was talking to him and his brother. 

It’s the only time of the year he allows himself this moment, to feel the true magnitude of his loss, to feel at all, to feel bitter about the fact that life went on without her. Time had stopped solely for her, and he had to run to catch up, always breathless, to fill the gap she left behind, the glaring absence that survived her.

In January, Seokjin allows himself to drown, to forget, for a night, any semblance of coherence or rationality in the face of his grief. It comes in waves, merciless and all-powerful like a storm, a master of his soul.

This year, he has no time for it.

He spends the day before the anniversary of her death fighting. Against himself, against the shards threatening to rip at his heart, against the anger churning in his veins.

He hasn’t been trained for this kind of fight. For watching his brother take a place that should be his, to carry a burden that’s bigger than anyone can fathom. He hasn’t been trained to let go, to forgive life for what it put them through.

It shouldn’t be so easy, thus, to forget the whole thing as soon as Yoongi steps into his home and kisses him, to let the more bruised parts of himself be healed by the slightest physical contact between them. He doesn’t know what to make of it and has never been taught the worth of a touch holding the pieces of himself together when everything else seems to crumble around him.

He hasn’t been trained to be selfish, to be distracted, but it’s too easy to let himself be both when he’s held so tightly, when words of reverence are whispered against his ear in the heat of passion and he finds himself clutching at them like an anchor.

Things with Yoongi always seem too easy, too light, too good.

“Hey,” Yoongi whispers, sprawled on the couch at his side.

They didn’t make it to the bedroom. Clothes were peeled off the moment Yoongi arrived, and the bed seemed too far, the distance too great to quell Seokjin’s desperation to feel better, to feel anything that wasn’t the impediment sense of doom that has been guiding his every step ever since his lunch with his grandmother.

There is a satiated grin on his face, silver in the glimmer of his eyes, something rare and beautiful.

Seokjin can feel words tumbling against the closed barrier of his mouth. He’s never been trained to utter them out loud.

He settles for a smile he hopes is sincere. He’s long abandoned the idea of being anything else when Yoongi looks at him like this, like he sees all of him and still doesn’t wish to be anywhere else.

He’s too good, accepting all of Seokjin’s faults as though they’re not his own doing, as though they won’t be his demise. 

There are some things one can never be trained enough for. Things one can’t be trained for at all.

Seokjin was never trained for the ravages Min Yoongi would cause to his heart. He dismantled the walls Seokjin had built with such meticulous care he never even saw it coming, never realized what Yoongi was doing until it was too late. He saw his world spinning, crashing and pulling at his heart strings until it hung by a thread, and all Yoongi had to do was reach out to him to keep him centered, to shield him against the fall, slowly filling the pit inside Seokjin’s chest with kind words and promises neither of them can keep.

Seokjin was never trained to be happy, but when he looks at Yoongi and the realm of possibilities he offers, he can almost believe it’s right there, the freedom he once dreamt of, the idea of happiness he forced himself to leave behind.

If he could only reach out, if he could only bring himself to believe he deserves it.

“Jin,” Yoongi calls out.

Seokjin sits at the edge of the couch, his eyes raking up Yoongi’s naked form until he finds his eyes. He brings a hand up, brushing fingers of gold along Seokjin’s spine, waking shivers in his path.

“Come here,” he murmurs.

Seokjin blinks at him, feels tears burning at the corner of his eyes but he shakes them off and lies back down, burying his face in the crook of Yoongi’s neck. Yoongi wraps his arms around him, fingers carding through Seokjin’s hair gently.

He can feel himself relax in his embrace, the tension seeping out of his bones until his heart hurts just a little less, until the swelling in his throat subdues enough for him to inhale deeply, breathing Yoongi in until his lungs are willing to accept this as a new form of life drawn into them.

And Yoongi just takes him in, cradles him into his arms and buries his nose in Seokjin’s hair.

Seokjin should let go, restore the distance between them that they’ve crossed when he wasn’t looking, unguarded and honest. He should make up a lie, tell words he doesn’t mean, make vows he cannot keep. It’s what he does, what he’s trained himself to be in order to survive, but he can’t.

The pull of his heart to be close, to obliterate the distance between them and work to be closer still vastly outweighs what muscle memory has been honed into him.

Keep away from people, be focused, be perfect.

Keep away, keep away, keep away.

Keep me close.

Tell me you’re here. Tell me I’m real. Tell me you see me.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Yoongi asks after a while, his voice low. His fingers haven’t stopped brushing against the bare skin of his back or combing through his hair.

Seokjin’s heart clenches in his chest. He isn’t sure what to attribute it to.

“Do you want to run away to New Zealand with me?” he whispers in a momentum of madness, of the dreamer he once was rising from the ashes. “I just bought a house there. My great uncle will give us the tour.”

Yoongi nuzzles along his hairline. “Okay,” he murmurs.

They both know it won’t happen. It’s impossible, a reality that could be theirs if they bore different names, if they led different lives, but for a moment of suspended grace, Seokjin allows himself the thought. The mental image of Yoongi in his uncle’s garden, twilight reflecting on his face as the sky rips itself into streaks of breathtaking colors. A life outside the cage, Yoongi’s hand into his own, and each day a new revolution. A life he could take pride in, even hidden away, having ruptured the string of fate.

“You know I’m joking, right?” he asks, still.

Yoongi presses a kiss against his forehead and says, “I know,” but his voice is quiet and laden with this possibility Seokjin wants to hold onto, that if he were to offer, really offer, Yoongi’s answer would stay the same.

Seokjin heaves and draws his head back from his hiding spot. Yoongi goes a little crossed-eyed as he looks at him, the two of them so close, limbs and souls intertwined. Their noses brush together softly. Seokjin’s heart soars against his ribcage, screaming out words his head compels into silence.

Let me have this, he begs to himself, to a world that won’t listen, to a dream that cannot be. Let me have him.

He opens his mouth to say something, anything, but he can’t utter a single word before the loud sound of a horn being hit blares from the alley outside. It makes them jump apart in shock.

“I’m going to kill them,” Seokjin grits out through clenched teeth.

Yoongi’s lips pull into a smirk. “You know, they might stop doing this kind of shit if you didn’t let them get away with everything.”

Seokjin glares at him as he slips into the pair of sweatpants that were carelessly discarded earlier, grabbing the first thing he can find to cover himself with. “I don’t.”

“You really do,” Yoongi retorts, unrepentant. “For someone who has as much authority as you do, you’re incapable of using it on the people close to you. It’s very cute.”

Seokjin rolls his eyes, but the annoyed expression clears off his face when Yoongi tugs at the lapel of the hoodie he just shrugged on –Yoongi’s, he notes inwardly, warmth pooling in his stomach– and plants a swift kiss to his lips.

“I’ll show you authority later, you little shit,” Seokjin whispers impishly against his mouth.

Yoongi chuckles, undeterred, and swats at Seokjin’s ass when he walks away to get to the door.

It swings open just as Seokjin is zipping up the hoodie, a feeble attempt at modesty considering he is still shirtless underneath.

The words of reprimand hanging on his tongue die in the back of his throat when Taehyung storms in. Seokjin has a whole rant prepared in his head about showing up unannounced and uninvited but the moment he notices the body flushed against Taehyung’s side, his heart stutters in his chest.

Jeongguk looks so shaken his skin is grey and he tumbles inside after Taehyung, one arm flung over his shoulders, the other falling limply at his side.

Cold washes over Seokjin as he runs up to them, cupping Jeongguk’s face between his hands.

His eyes are open but unfocused and they look at Seokjin without seemingly seeing him, void of the spark of life that always wraps Seokjin in the comfort of knowing his brother’s essence hasn’t been tarnished enough that it’s been ripped from his ever-telling eyes. Fresh tear marks are staining his cheeks, but he isn’t crying anymore, though Seokjin suspects it might be because he simply doesn’t have the energy for it.

Taehyung’s eyes brim with tears as they settle on him.

“I can’t get through to him,” he says, voice shaking. “We were in my living room after the rehearsal this afternoon and I left for a minute to get us something to drink and I heard some noise so I rushed back and he was curled up on the ground heaving. I managed to get him back to breathing normally but he’s been out of it since then and I couldn’t...I-I tried–”

“It’s okay, Tae,” Seokjin tells him, but he thinks Taehyung must hear the panic in his voice because the tears he was holding back roll down his cheeks.

“I tried to call you,” Taehyung says, voice wavering. It’s not accusatory, not even disappointed. It’s matter-of-fact, like another piece of information his cousin needs to share for this to make sense. “You wouldn’t answer. I didn’t know what to do, so I got us into my car and drove here.”

Seokjin nods, but words fail him when he tries to answer. Jeongguk is shaking under his touch and despite the paleness of his skin, he’s burning up. 

“Hey, Gukkie? It’s me,” Seokjin whispers, gently pushing back the hair falling messily on his forehead, stuck there with sweat.

“Jinnie?” Jeongguk’s voice sounds like that of an old man, and his face is ashen, but there is a semblance of recognition in his eyes as they settle on him.

Seokjin nods. “I’m here. Do you want to sit down? It’s your call.” 

He blinks blearily at Seokjin, opening his mouth to talk, but words fail him and he ends up nodding instead.

Seokjin pulls back slightly, motioning at Taehyung to help him but before he can raise to his full height, Jeongguk grips his wrist, so hard Seokjin knows it will leave marks.

“I’m here,” he says immediately, coaxing reassurance into his voice. “I’m not going anywhere, Guk.”

“Don’t leave,” Jeongguk pleads, his voice breaking on the words.

A cold hand grips at Seokjin’s heart, clutching at it until he finds it hard to breathe. He keeps a brave face on, though, drawing his hand back to grasp Jeongguk’s. His gaze meets Yoongi’s for a moment, and he doesn’t know what he expects –confusion, fear, pity, rejection– but all he can read on Yoongi’s face is gravity, his mouth turned down and his brows drawn into a frown. He licks his lips and kicks two of the ottomans out of the way to create a path to the armchair facing the fireplace.

“I’m here,” Seokjin says as he hoists Jeongguk up and guides him there. “Come on, let’s get you seated, okay?”

He helps him down, kneeling in front of him without letting go of his hand. Jeongguk doesn’t resist, but he doesn’t help either, letting himself be manhandled into the armchair with seemingly no awareness of moving at all.

Taehyung, still looking crestfallen and a little lost, takes the seat next to Jeongguk on the armrest, keeping a distance between them that Seokjin knows must be costing him. Taehyung hates seeing people being miserable, especially people he loves, and he always tries to bring comfort in subtle ways, with the warmth of a touch, a brush of shoulders, a hand cradled tight into his palms. Seokjin can see this is exactly what he wants to do now, to pull Jeongguk into his side and shield him from further pain with an embrace. But he knows it won’t work, just like Seokjin does, because he’s learned it with time.

When he gets like this, Jeongguk needs to be talked down, brought back to their bleak reality with careful words. When he needs the comfort of a touch beyond the grip of Seokjin’s hand into his own, he will seek it out himself.

Yoongi slips behind him and lays a hesitant hand on Seokjin’s shoulder, handing him a glass of water silently.

Seokjin meets his gaze for a second and his stomach twists.

He doesn’t dare to grab his phone, to see the missed calls from Taehyung, the frantic voice mails he might have left. It’s too familiar, this moment. It takes him back to another time when he was too distracted to pick up, so lost in his own desires and needs that he forgot he wasn’t allowed to have them, much less to indulge into them.

Jeongguk paid the consequences for his heedlessness, and he continues to pay them still.

Seokjin did it again, a decade later. He thought he had learned. He never imagined Yoongi would make him forget the lessons he so painstakingly endured.

“Thanks,” he murmurs, barely recognizing his voice as his own.

Yoongi nods, squeezes his shoulder in silent support and disappears into the kitchen, undoubtedly to give them some semblance of privacy. Seokjin turns back to Jeongguk, pressing the water into his hand and guiding it to his mouth.

Jeongguk takes a sip, swallows.

“I’m sorry,” he croaks out, a sob ripping out of his mouth.

Seokjin shakes his head firmly. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Gukkie.”

“I don’t want to be like this,” he murmurs, tears flooding his eyes again. “I want it to stop.”

He looks so much like their mother like this; powerless, torn apart, grief-stricken and crumbling.

“It’s okay, Gukkie,” Seokjin murmurs. He can almost hear his heart breaking in his chest, loud like the snap of a flower’s stem in the dead of winter. “You’re safe. You’re with me and Tae.”

Jeongguk’s eyes roam across the room, but they don’t seem to focus on anything in particular until they stop abruptly on the painting he gave Seokjin all these months ago, hanging proudly against the wall.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats mutely, biting his trembling bottom lip to hold back more tears. They roll down his cheeks anyway, painting streaks over his soft features, a blatant exhibit of Seokjin’s shortcomings. He should have been there. He should have canceled with Yoongi. He should have stayed by Jeongguk’s side after the rehearsal.

Guilt twisting in his gut, Seokjin shakes his head, squeezing his hand hard.

“Keep breathing,” he says softly. “You’re doing a great job, Gukkie. Focus on breathing, okay?”

Jeongguk obeys shakily, carding air into his lungs laboriously. 

“You’re not in danger. You’re safe with us,” Seokjin continues. “Can you tell me where you are?”

Jeongguk nods, brows furrowed in concentration. “Dad’s lodge,” he says. He blinks quickly, brows furrowing in a self-deprecating frown. “Your lodge. I was at Tae’s house. He took us here.”

“Good job,” Seokjin says, squeezing his hand. “You’re doing great, Gukkie.”

“I can’t do this alone,” Jeongguk chokes out, ignoring the praise. “It’s too hard.”

“You’re not alone,” Seokjin and Taehyung say in the same voice, though their tones differ. Where Taehyung is certain, assertive, Seokjin’s is crestfallen, ashamed.

He should have been there.

He wonders inwardly when he will ever stop failing the ones he loves.

“We’re always together, okay?” Seokjin whispers. He reaches out a hand, and Taehyung grabs it instinctively, acquiescing heartily. “You, me and Tae. The three of us. Always.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. It’s a feeble movement, nothing firm enough to match the full force of the sadness warring inside of him, but it pulls at Seokjin’s heart strings all the same. 

“I’ll lose you like I lost them and–and–” He heaves, his breath coming out in short pants, each more painful than the previous ones, clawing at Seokjin’s chest, gripping and pulling and ripping him apart from the inside.

“Hey, no,” Seokjin urges, voice trembling. “You’re not going to lose me. If anything, you’ll grow tired of me and be sorry you can’t be rid of me soon enough.”

Jeongguk sucks in a sharp breath and his face twists with discomfort. “It hurts,” he chokes out, wiping at his wet cheeks furiously.

Taehyung shuffles closer, lips pursed into a pout, and runs a comforting hand through Jeongguk’s hair as he works on evening his breathing.

“I know, Gukkie. I wish I could make it stop hurting.”

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk repeats, sobbing. “I didn’t want it to happen. I tried to stop it, I swear. I tried not to let it get to me. I’m so sorry.”

“Gukkie, it’s okay,” Seokjin says, weaving as much assurance in his voice as he can. “It’s not your fault. You’re doing your best.”

“It’s just...too much, this whole thing. The charity gala for her. And cardiac research?” He huffs, the sound bitter and harsh. “Why are they making me do this, Jinnie? I just want to forget. I just want it to end.”

“I know,” Seokjin says, even though he doesn’t, not really, not fully, and he’ll always blame himself for it. “I’m sorry, Gukkie. It’s all my fault. The mandate came from Grandfather and they announced it to the press before I could do anything to stop it.”

“It’s not your fault,” Jeongguk huffs. “I should be able to do this. It’s not hard. It’s just a speech. Not everything is your fault. I’m the stupid one who can’t even get through a stupid rehearsal without having a stupid panic attack.”

“There’s nothing stupid about that,” Seokjin says. “You’re not ready. I–I’ll give the speech, okay? I’ll do it. It’s okay. You don’t have to do it.”

“But Grandmother–”

“I’ll deal with Grandmother,” Seokjin interjects, keeping his voice steady. “Don’t worry about it.”

He knows what she threatened him with. He knows what she might do. But he would rather have his brother hate him than suffer the agony of reliving his most traumatizing memories a second longer.

Jeongguk’s brows dip into a frown. “I don’t want you to do it. It’s not any easier for you than it is for me.”

“We both know it is,” Seokjin replies, though he makes sure not to sound judgmental about it. It’s simply a fact. “I don’t carry the same trauma you do.”

Because he let himself be distracted, once, and that was his fault, nobody else’s. 

His failure, his responsibility.

“Don’t you?” Jeongguk scoffs, sounding dubious. When Seokjin doesn’t reply, struggling to swallow past the lump clogging his throat, he runs a hand over his face, emitting a small noise of frustration. “Why are you not angry at me all the time?” he asks, his voice barely over a murmur. “I’m so fucking useless. Why don’t you hate me? You should hate me.”

Seokjin’s heart shatters in his chest, pathetic and useless. Taehyung squeezes his hand, but Seokjin barely feels it, numb in his own body, a stranger in front of his only family that matters, the only people whom he knows with absolute certitude he would lay down his life for.

“Never,” he murmurs. “You’re extraordinary and I’m not angry at you, Gukkie, I swear. I love you so much. You don’t know the lengths I would go to because of it.”

Jeongguk’s eyes brim with fresh tears and Seokjin inwardly curses himself. It’s almost ironic, how he was trained to deliver speeches flawlessly and to charm anybody into eating out of the palm of his hand when he can’t even find the right words to say to his own brother when he needs to be reassured.

“I don’t understand you anymore,” Jeongguk murmurs. “I don’t understand what you want.”

Seokjin goes still, and it takes more energy than he thought he could summon to not let out an ugly sob. He fights back the guilt and the shame and faces Jeongguk with as much gentleness as he can.

“I want you safe and happy,” he answers. “For as long as I breathe, this is all I will ever want.”

A tear slips down Jeongguk’s face as he finds his eyes at last. “Your life would be so much easier without me, wouldn’t it?”

No. Please no.

“Listen to me very carefully, Jeongguk,” Seokjin whispers through trembling lips, slipping his hand out of Taehyung’s hold so he can cup his face instead. “My life would be a tragedy without you in it. You were and have always been the only thing that kept me from becoming the worst version of myself. I’m sorry if it was not enough.”

Jeongguk is silent for a long time. “It was always good enough, Jinnie. You were always good enough. I wish you would see that.”

“This isn’t about me,” Seokjin says. “This is about you. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

Jeongguk heaves out a deep sigh. It’s less labored, but still laden with sadness. “Just…” He looks about to say something but must think better of it because he shakes his head and sighs again. “Can I stay here tonight? I don’t want to sleep at the palace.”

“Of course,” Seokjin replies at once. “Tonight. Tomorrow. Any time you want and for as long as you want to.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk mumbles. He turns to Taehyung who is staring at them with a slight pout. “I think I want a hug now.”

Taehyung beams and opens his arms wide, shuffling closer until he can wrap them around Jeongguk. He looks relieved when he looks at Seokjin and the two of them share a glance.

When Seokjin is certain Jeongguk has calmed down enough, safely tucked in Taehyung’s embrace, he rises back up on his feet, his knee joints cracking with the prolonged uncomfortable position. He replies to Taehyung’s smile with a feeble one of his own before heading to the kitchen.

“I’ll be right back,” he says, ruffling their hair with both hands.

He walks to the kitchen feeling like he’s sinking into quicksand with each step.

He remembers the sensation too well.

When he was younger, a couple of weeks after his mother’s funeral, Seokjin broke Jaehwan’s heart.

He was eighteen, there was a boy.

He opened the door for him, invited him in and, despite that feeling that his heart was big enough to love infinitely, he told him they would not be seeing each other again and lied when Jaehwan asked if he didn’t love him anymore.

He cried himself to sleep that night and then moved on, because it was what he had to do, because he had to suppress distractions and make sure his whole attention was devoted to never making the same mistakes again and forgetting that there was only one person who would matter from then on: Jeongguk.

He was eighteen, there was a boy, and then there was nothing.

He cried himself to sleep that night and moved on, because he loves Jeongguk. He loves him more than he can eloquently express, more than he loves himself, more than he ever will or did.

He loves him too much, and it still doesn’t feel like enough.

He’s marched a thousand miles on lonely and difficult roads to build up something better for Jeongguk. He can’t stop now. He can’t drift away and borrow the easy path if it means he’ll have wasted all this time. It will only lead to more pain when his soles walk against new and unfamiliar terrain and he catches a glimpse of the freedom waiting for him at the end, unreachable, corruptive. 

All the roads he’s taken for himself have always led to broken hearts.

There is no moving forward for him; he’s stuck in this time loop forever, a forever stagnant present of a life that doesn’t change, of a dream that turns into ashes in the palm of his hand when he tries to hold onto it.

All the roads he’s taken for himself have always led to quicksand.

He’s twenty-nine, there is a man.

Yoongi is sitting on the counter by the sink, earphones plugged in to give them a veneer of intimacy. He’s wearing Seokjin’s silky white shirt, the sleeves too long for his arms, hands tucked in so that one of the lapels has glided down his shoulder, revealing a smooth patch of milky skin. He looks gorgeous under the golden lights of the falling sun, every bit of the ruins of a domestic dream.

When their eyes meet, Yoongi clicks on his phone, gripped tightly in his hand, and takes off the earphones.

“Is he okay?”

Seokjin nods curtly.

“For now.”

His voice comes out hoarse and croaked; he feels parched, drained, and he accepts the glass of water Yoongi hands him wordlessly, a pang of affection tugging at his chest. He downs it and puts it in the sink, fingers curling tightly at the counter.

“I could teach him the grounding technique my therapist taught me to deal with panic attacks if you want,” Yoongi says, voice soft and tentative. “It helps a lot.”

Seokjin shuts his eyes, fighting back tears. “Yeah. Maybe.”

He heaves out deeply, a surge of cold travelling from his palms to his wrists, all the way up to his shoulders. He can feel his body going limp but he fights the exhaustion off, putting what energy he can summon in standing upright, his knuckles blanching with the pressure.

“I did it again,” he whispers. The words taste bitter on his tongue, heavy with a meaning Yoongi can’t understand. There are things he hasn’t shared even with him, things that he’ll keep buried six feet under even on his deathbed.

Yoongi reaches out, lays a hand on his nape. A shiver runs down Seokjin’s spine.

“I promised myself,” Seokjin hears himself say, barely over a murmur. “I promised myself I wouldn’t, and I did it again.”

Tears burn behind his eyelids, but he refuses to allow them to roll down his cheeks, bracing himself with a deep breath.

“What did you do?” Yoongi asks, too soft, too gentle, too kind for what Seokjin deserves. 

He wonders, idly, if Yoongi would remain as kind if he knew the ugly truths that remain an inherent part of Seokjin even when he refuses to acknowledge them, even when he desperately wishes they didn’t make him the man he has become.

Bad things happen when he allows himself to wish for more, to get distracted, and it’s always Jeongguk paying the price. It always results in him breaking unspoken vows he ought to hold himself accountable for.

“Seokjin,” Yoongi says, his fingers toying gently with the small hairs at the back of his head. “What did you do?”

Seokjin shifts his gaze to Yoongi, taking in the concern in his piercing eyes, the temptation they always enclose, the magnetic pull they invoke deep in his stomach.

Seokjin wants to lean closer, to slot himself between Yoongi’s legs and let himself be enveloped into his warmth, comforted by the shield his arms provide.

He takes a step back, putting some distance between them.

“I–” he starts, wets his lips when the words refuse to come out. He barely manages to force them past the lump in his throat, “I need you to go, Yoongi.”

Stay, his heart screams. Stay and hold me. Stay and love me.

Hurt flashes through Yoongi’s eyes but it doesn’t last, quickly replaced by understanding and, dreadfully, a tenderness Seokjin can’t bring himself to accept.

Yoongi nods silently. He reaches out, cups Seokjin’s cheek into his cold hand, thumb brushing against Seokjin’s cheekbone. Seokjin leans into it, into this touch that doesn’t feel like it can tear him apart even though it has the power to, into this man who took his heart and made him believe he could have this, into this kindness he didn’t earn, didn’t deserve, didn’t want.

“Call me if you need anything, okay?” Yoongi murmurs. He’s too good, too good, too good.

His thumb scrapes lightly under Seokjin’s eyelid, as though brushing off tears Seokjin will never allow himself to shed.

“You or the kid,” he adds, jerking his chin toward the living room.

Seokjin nods, worrying at his bottom lip, but he already knows he won’t.

He already knows the bubble has burst open and the dream he foolishly clung to has been conquered yet again by his bleak reality.

He thinks Yoongi knows too, because there is an ocean of sorrow swimming in his eyes and no life line for Seokjin to pull him back to shore, not when he’s lost into the tumultuous waters himself, not when he’s drowning.

“I–” Yoongi says, but he stops himself.

Seokjin’s heart slams against his ribcage, reading words of reverence in his gaze, powerful words, words that would bring substance to something that was never meant to go this far, that would shape in Seokjin’s mind the dangerous silhouette of a doomed dream of the past.

“I’ll see you soon,” he murmurs, rising on his tiptoes to press a kiss at the corner of Seokjin’s mouth.

When he’s gone, Seokjin allows himself a moment.

It will be the last time, he tells himself, that he gives himself that, a moment to think, to regret what could have been, the things he should have done differently, the opportunities he could have gleaned from the flutter of his heart were he brave enough to exploit it.

January has always been a month of loss and grief, and it feels no different, somehow, to hear Yoongi exchange a few words with Taehyung and the door close after him. The sound of his car starting is distant, the crush of gravel under the wheels a mere echo in his mind against the painful thud of his heart in his chest.

He lets himself feel it for a moment, the immense sorrow, the suffocating heartache. 

And then he inhales deeply, straightens his back, lifts his chin up, and walks back into the living room, leaving it all behind.

“Mario Kart and beer?” he offers when Jeongguk and Taehyung look up at him with matching inquisitive gazes, still huddled together on an armchair that is far too small for two grown adults.

Taehyung frowns. “Didn’t Yoongi want to stay? I thought he was getting better at it.”

“He had somewhere to be,” Seokjin says with a smile, the lie rolling off his tongue seamlessly after years of training.

“I’m playing Mario,” Jeongguk says, tone light and cheerful, as though the last hour has been a fragment of their collective imagination.

Seokjin huffs. “I’d like to see you try.”

Jeongguk smiles, his eyes shining with life, with love, with a will to fight for another day.

When Seokjin forces himself to smile back, he tells himself it is a small price to pay, to rip his own heart out to ensure this spark never leaves his brother’s eyes again. He’s paid higher tolls than this, has suffered greater losses, has made vaster sacrifices.

It’s worth losing himself. It’s worth losing the one chance at happiness he’s found for himself in the past ten years.

The last time Seokjin let himself dream, he wound up with a phone call from the palace informing him his mother had died and his brother had found her body.

He should know better, by now, than to let himself be distracted by unreachable stars.

All the training in the world can’t save him from the inevitable.

All good things come to pass.

He is twenty-nine, there was a man.

The note is tucked under the ashtray by the fireplace.

Seokjin,

Please forgive my indecipherable handwriting, I’m writing this in a hurry.

There are words I would like to say, but I don’t think either of us is equipped to hear them spoken out loud just yet, or perhaps I just don’t know how to bring them to life outside of my own mind. I hope you know that doesn’t make them any less true.

You’ve always been deceptively good at listening to everything I don’t say out loud, so you probably heard them anyway.

I’m here if you need me.

I’m here even if you think you don’t.

Yours,

Yoongi.

And then there is nothing.

Chapter Text

One of the least fortunate heritages Yoongi gleaned from his upbringing is that he is greedy.

It’s a flaw that manifests the most strongly when he reaches for the things he is told he can’t have. It fuels a fire in the pit of his stomach, a deep-rooted will to fight the whole world to prove them wrong.

From the moment he decided he wanted it all, it was what drove his every step.

Now that he does, it’s all he can do to hold onto it.

He has the money, the penthouse, the expensive watches, the comfort of a never hungry stomach. He took the crown from people less deserving than he was, forced respect out of people who used to belittle him.

The problem is his heart only grew greedier with time. He hasn’t learned, despite the numerous heartbreaks paved along his way. Once he begins taking, he only wants more, more, more.

It’s why he stayed the night after his concert, why he failed to put an end to whatever he and Seokjin started doing afterwards even though his head kept screaming at him that it was the logical, sensible thing to do. It’s why he refuses to accept that it’s been two weeks since he last saw Seokjin, two weeks since he watched him crumble before him, powerless to stop it, and two weeks since any of his texts or calls got dignified with an answer.

For the least fortunate heritages Yoongi gleaned from his upbringing is something else entirely, his inability to let go. He’s been unhappy too often, riddled with depression, gnawed on by remorse, so when he finds sources of happiness, even feeble and objectively ill-fated, his greedy heart latches onto them and refuses to loosen its grip.

He has come to learn, however, that when he refuses to let go, life usually does it for him.

Jimin was a prime example, although he clearly isn’t the latest anymore.

It’s always left him in awe, how Jimin was able to forgo all of that and stay by his side even though he knows Yoongi more deeply than most, the ugliest and darkest sides of him.

It’s why, undoubtedly, Jimin always knows when Yoongi is spiralling.

It’s why, when Yoongi tells him offhandedly that he hasn’t heard from Seokjin ever since the official ceremony and following charity event he and his brother were forced to attend to pay tribute to their mother, Jimin easily reads through the double entendre of his gritted teeth. The whole country watched Seokjin give a robotic, emotionless speech to honor her that was initially advertised to be given by Jeongguk, and it rekindled rumors on their supposed rivalry, on Seokjin’s refusal to let Jeongguk be involved in the Crown’s affairs, on the control Seokjin exerts over his brother’s life.

Yoongi watched it and saw the truth for what it was, Seokjin braving the storm so Jeongguk wouldn’t have to, bearing it all despite knowing what it would look like, what would be said about him.

And he could see him faltering. Yoongi could see him crumbling, because he knows him, the hunch of his shoulders, the twitch of his lips, the downcast of his eyes. He knows it all, and he wants to be the one to alleviate it, to wrap Seokjin into his arms and promise him the silence he deserves.

But Seokjin is pushing away and selfishly, greedily, Yoongi wants to pull him back. 

“Yoon,” Jimin says softly, “maybe he’s just very busy.”

“It’s never prevented him from talking to me before,” Yoongi replies, his throat tight and sore. Every part of his body aches like he’s run a marathon, but it’s his heart that hurts the most, beating wildly within the cradle of his chest. “He’s stepped out of a fucking diplomatic dinner to call me. I know he’s probably preoccupied with more important matters than answering his fuck buddy’s text messages but this… This is radio silence. This is him ignoring me, not being busy.”

“I’m sure you’ll hear from him soon,” Jimin says, but there is an apologetic glimmer in his gaze that makes Yoongi pause.

He levels him with a grave look, brows knitting together. “What did Taehyung tell you?”

Jimin hesitates for a moment, lips pursed together. He shrugs, but it’s less nonchalant than he was surely aiming for.

“He worries about Seokjin too. And Jeongguk. The Crown wanted Jeongguk to be more involved in public affairs, but Seokjin took it upon himself to prevent it. I don’t know what exactly because it’s not Tae’s place to tell me, but there is more at stake than just power play. Plus, they got a lot of shit for being associated with us, especially as of late. I also know there’s a reason why Seokjin is so adamant about not letting Jeongguk rule, and about submitting to his grandmother’s word. I’m guessing the two are connected, but I can’t know for sure.”

Yoongi heaves out a deep sigh, running a hand through his hair. “When did we become so invested in royal squabbles?” he asks mournfully.

Jimin smiles, something small but comforting.

“I think at the end of the day, Taehyung is scared of what Seokjin might do to himself in order to protect him and Jeongguk,” he says tentatively. “Because he’ll stay unhappy forever if it means they get a chance to live more freely than he does. I don’t think he realizes Taehyung knows what he’s doing, though. He’s too centered on what he wants to do to protect them to ask if it’s what he needs to do.”

Yoongi chews on his nails, staring at the ground like it could give him the answers he seeks or feed him more of the foolish hope he’s caught himself harboring more often than not lately. He twirls his lighter between his fingers.

“I don’t know what to do,” he whispers. It hurts, to watch powerlessly as the man he loves –God, what an idiot he is to love him at all, what a complete folly, what an absolute thrill– crumbles a little more every day with the weight of the fate that was assigned to him at birth.

He’s been greedy for so long, he sometimes forgets it’s a luxury not everyone can afford, not even Seokjin, who should be protected by the very thing that is threatening to consume him whole, his crown, his name, his status in the world.

Seokjin can’t be greedy.

He’d lose his throne, his position, his nearly immaculate public image, his brother, and all the things he values more than the truth.

It means Yoongi can’t be greedy about this either. No matter how he truly wants to be deep down, no matter if the prospect it opens the door to is grim, no matter if it means he’ll be left alone to mend his broken heart again.

He’d fight the whole world, though, if it meant he could have this, the smiles in the early hours of the morning, the whispers in the dead of the night.

He’d fight the Crown itself.

“You can be there for him,” Jimin says. “You can love him. But you have to be aware of the sacrifices it will demand of you if you do.”

“I don’t know how to do that,” Yoongi admits, struggling to swallow past the lump in his throat. “I don’t know how to love people.”

Jimin laughs, but it’s not mocking or derisive. His eyes are gentle when they find his own. 

“What would you know about it? You’ve never felt what it’s like to be loved by you. I have. And I know Seokjin has too. You may not be expansive about it, but you don’t need to be, because you make us feel it so deeply it follows us everywhere. You never let us doubt it.” He takes Yoongi’s hand, gently pulling it away from his teeth ruthlessly nipping at the skin, and forces Yoongi to meet his gaze, giving him a comforting smile. “You’re a lot better at loving than you give yourself credit for.”

Yoongi can feel tears brimming in his eyes, but he chases them away, leaning back into the couch and staring up at the ceiling.

“You broke up with me,” he says teasingly, because he’s not ready to admit Jimin might be right, because he’s rejected the notion of love and what it entails for too long to allow himself to become another one of its victims. Knowing it’s too late doesn’t help. “Clearly, I wasn’t that good at it.”

“I didn’t break up with you because you didn’t know how to love me,” Jimin answers. “I broke up with you because you didn’t know how to do it while leaving room for yourself to exist. I don’t know him as well as you do, but I think that’s something you share with Seokjin. I didn’t know how to love either, back then. It wasn’t your fault. I don’t think it was mine either. It wasn’t the right timing for us. We just weren’t made for each other.”

Yoongi huffs out a derisive laugh. “It’s a nice backward way of telling me he and I are screwed.”

Jimin shrugs. “I don’t think you are. I think he needs to learn to let go. To save some of his strength to fight for himself rather than always doing it for others. You’ve already learned, Yoon, even if you don’t realize it. You couldn’t give me what you didn’t know how to be yet. But you’re a different person today than you were back then. You’ve had more opportunities to love and put yourself under the risk it implies than he has. You know how to take care of yourself, even if it’s hard for you sometimes. You know how to love without letting it take away from you. From what Taehyung tells me, I gather Seokjin doesn’t.”

“And what should I do?” Yoongi scoffs self-deprecatingly. “Teach him? I can’t do that. It’s not my place and if I’ve learned anything from our relationship, it’s that you shouldn’t expect people to fix you no more than you should try to fix them. I can’t make him happy. And it’s probably for the best, because what do I really have to offer him? Nothing. Do I write him a song and then we live happily ever after? There’s no happy ending to this story, Chim. I’m terrible at this. I’m terrible for him.”

Jimin frowns, the corner of his eye twitching with something like anger. Yoongi winces inwardly. An angry Jimin is always a terrifying prospect.

“Yoon, I barely know the man and even I can tell you make him happy,” he says, his tone stern enough that it leaves no room for negotiation. “Taehyung can tell. Hell, Jeongguk went past his initial distrust and risked public exposure to talk to you even though he hates it, all because he can tell. The matter is not whether or not you make him happy, it’s whether or not he’ll let you.”

Yoongi stares down at his phone, the screen stubbornly remaining dark.

“He won’t.”

“I’m not done,” Jimin says, scowling. Yoongi leans back into his seat with a pout. “Whatever happens, this relationship involves two people. You and him. If it fails, it fails, but that’s not only on you and it won’t be because you’re terrible at this. It will be because sometimes love might not be enough and it’s sad, of course, but that’s not your fault, Yoon. You have done nothing wrong.”

Yoongi swallows hard, but he doesn’t look up at Jimin.

“I think there’s only one thing that matters here,” Jimin mutters. “It all comes down to this: do you truly love him? If the answer is no, then it’ll hurt for a while and you’ll move on. If the answer is yes, you need to figure out what you want to make of it. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be really fucking hard because let’s be honest, you didn’t choose the easiest man to fall in love with and I’m not even talking about the fact that he’s the future king. But if it works out, it will be worth it. If you fight for it and you win, it will be worth every second of it.”

It should scare him, that he already knows the answer, that he hardly needs to think about it.

Had he thought about it more that very first night, he would have known from the moment the storm ushered him to safety into the warmth of Seokjin’s arms. He would have known when he was drenched and battered, staring into a stranger’s eyes, and his heart started a journey his head struggled to catch up with.

It was only later that he started craving more of the gentler touches, the fingers curling at his nape, shakingly tracing the curve of his cheeks, mapping the contours of his face like something precious and treasured.

But it began that night, under the pouring rain, the careless fugue of his heart, the breathless whisper of his soul telling him this is it, this is him, you can rest now.

There is no going back from a storm like this one, no escape route, no conceivable rescue.

He was already giving in before he knew to resist the pull in his body, the call in his mind.

But Jimin is wrong, because he’s omitting a rather important point.

“What makes you think he loves me back?” Yoongi huffs, the words lashing at his throat on their way out. “You kind of forgot to take that into account in your calculations.”

“No, I didn’t,” Jimin replies without faltering.

There’s a knowing glint in his eyes, not exactly mischievous but almost there.

Yoongi groans. “When did you become so wise?”

He expected it to be stronger than the battered whisper it winds up being.

Jimin reaches out, slots his fingers through Yoongi’s hair, smiling a smile that he hasn’t seen in a long time, contrite but hopeful for the future.

“I’ve learned a thing or two from being in love with someone who refused to be happy,” he says with a conniving smile Yoongi struggles to reciprocate.

He gives himself a moment to mull the thought, before releasing a deep, shattering breath.

“Can’t we just get back together?” he asks offhandedly, cheeks puffing out in frustration. “It was a lot easier.”

Jimin rolls his eyes, his hand vanishing from his hair to slap him at the back of the head instead.

“You’re an idiot.”

Yoongi rubs at the spot with a pout. “Probably.”

Yoongi doesn’t know how long he spends staring at the black screen of his phone after Jimin leaves. He keeps waiting with bated breath, like a condemned man whose fate rests in a hangman’s hands. He already knows what is going to happen, can feel it deep in his chest, could see it in Seokjin’s eyes when he last saw him and he asked him to go.

There was something definite about it, something broken but resolute. Something selfless, because even now, even after everything, Seokjin still makes decisions for himself based on their consequences for others.

Yoongi knew from the start how it would end. It was why his heart ached when he realized the true magnitude of his feelings, why he decided to make the most of every moment spent with Seokjin and agonize over each second while he was absent.

Still, despite it all, he wishes Seokjin would offer him more than the silence he’s been enduring for the past two weeks. He had thought –foolishly, perhaps– that their relationship had evolved into something meaningful enough to earn him the decency of a clean break. He didn’t expect more than this, but he can’t help the bitterness gathering in his stomach, dark and ugly.

Even now, it is overpowered by the need to see Seokjin one last time, to beg for one last night. There is a foolish part of him that thinks he should demand it, that he deserves that much, but the greed coursing through his veins is weaker than the lessons that paved his life.

People leave him, eventually. It always circles back to this.

Yoongi may know how to love them, how to make them feel like he does, but it never was enough to make them stay and to earn their love in return.

It’s stupid to regret something he’s always known about himself. It’s stupid to have wished Seokjin would be different. Their circumstances never gave Yoongi a chance to break the curse.

He’s always been a hard person to love and an easy person to leave behind.

His eyes roam over the living room, and it’s stupid for him to remember how Seokjin looked lying on his couch, a book resting on his chest, his features soothed into slumber. It’s stupid to yearn for something he never truly had, to miss a silence and agonize over another. It’s stupid to let himself dive into memories of an afternoon where they had felt untouchable, invincible, when it was already clear back then that Yoongi’s home would never be enough to accommodate the burden Seokjin carries around.

It’s stupid to want to call him, hear his voice and whisper for him to come back, to leave it all behind, to exist on his own.

It’s stupid to still choose hope, to hold on to the possibility of one more time, one more day.

They were always operating on borrowed time, flaws in masks of perfection, delicacy in the midst of impetuous storms.

One more day was never an option to begin with.

Tears burn at the corner of his eyes when he unlocks his phone, his thread of text messages with Seokjin glaring back at him.

tell me something true, he writes.

He hesitates, his fingers trembling over the screen. When he presses send, he does it with his eyes closed and his heart clutching, with a sense of fatality that hatches from knowing an outcome before it occurs.

He knew it would come, eventually. He has prepared himself for it.

It doesn’t mean it hurts any less when he receives Seokjin’s text the next morning.

I’m sorry, it reads. I can’t see you anymore.

It’s stupid to mourn something that never was, but Yoongi is a stupid, stupid man, so he lets himself cry.

Seokjin remembers the first time he saw Yoongi very clearly.

He had felt lonely that night, watching through a flat screen as his little brother enjoyed a night meant to be his, Taehyung and Namjoon at his side for support. He had felt lonely and had only had himself to blame for it, isolated on his own volition.

He remembers regretting for a while not going, and then thinking that it wouldn’t have served to assuage his loneliness. Those kinds of crowds never helped him feel less isolated; they rather tended to emphasize the feeling. He learned with time that loneliness is not a matter of being surrounded, but rather of who he is surrounded by. Some people fill the gaps without even trying to, without words or particular gestures. Some people just exist as his side, and their presence is enough to drive the darkness away, if only for a little while.

When the wind started blowing more fiercely, he remembers getting up to close the window, which he had left open for an illusion of fresh air to breathe.

That’s when he had seen him for the first time, running under the battering rain, struggling against the weather. He had jumped over the fence to shield himself from the storm without a second of hesitation, and that had felt like a rebellion in itself. Seokjin had contemplated immediately calling in the security team posted at the door. It was a fleeting thought, and he pushed it aside the moment he realized the man in the storm wasn’t coming for him but simply seeking shelter.

In that moment, the true depth of his loneliness had hit him with such force the air had been knocked out of his lungs, because in the flash of an instant, he could feel nothing but fear, not for his safety, but at the prospect that chasing away the only human interaction he could possibly entertain that night seemed frighteningly more catastrophic.

He remembers thinking someday he would look back on this moment when he stepped out onto the terrace and asked this perfect stranger for a cigarette with the full momentum of regret.

More frightening than anything else that night was that at some point during their conversation, Seokjin realized he had ceased to feel lonely, too captivated, too enticed by Yoongi’s striking dark eyes not to be tethered by the strong pull that sought to drive him closer. He had felt Yoongi’s odd power for the first time, this ability to ignite a comfortable warmth in his chest with just a flash of teeth or a cutting retort.

He should have taken it for the bad omen that it was.

Being king is lonely; there is no other alternative, no salvaging grace.

It’s backs bowed until they break, necks bent until they crack, smiles faked until they carve into skin.

There never was any room for Yoongi in Seokjin’s life. He’s too raw, too honest, too good.

And Seokjin is too dishonest, too broken, too much.

Life went on before Yoongi barged into his heart and threw his whole world off its axis; it will go on after Seokjin forces it back into equilibrium.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Yoongi’s eyes he sees when he closes his own. It doesn’t matter if it feels like he condemned himself to more of this fated loneliness. It doesn’t matter if he goes back to feeling like an empty shell, a pretty face to show the world and a deliberately obtuse smile he has to rip from the darkest parts of himself.

There was never meant to be more of him than this. His life ceased to be his own when his name was carved into the crown in lieu of his mother’s one night of January.

Kim Seokjin doesn’t exist in this life. He never will.

The door to his office opens with a loud commotion, and it’s a testimony to how long Seokjin has known him that he doesn’t flinch when Namjoon walks in. His best friend was never one for refinement when the space they share isn’t polluted by public expectations.

Namjoon walks up to him, dropping a small stack of papers on his desk.

“Your schedule for the next two weeks,” he says. “I managed to cram in all these extra meetings you asked me to. I had to tweak things around with some committees because some meetings were taking place at the same time, and I had to call in a few favors to make sure your grandmother doesn’t hear about this, but I got Jeongguk’s schedule entirely cleared up. He’s not pleased about it, by the way.”

Seokjin quickly skims through the pages. There is no blank space anymore, the color-coded cases filling every minute of his days from eight in the morning to eleven in the evening.

“Thanks,” he says with a dismissive nod, gazing back down to the report he’s been forcing himself to digest for the past half hour.

He swallows a sigh when Namjoon doesn’t move to leave, remaining on the other side of his desk with his arms crossed over his chest.

Seokjin leans back into his seat.

“Say what you came to say,” he says, tone even.

“I talked to Hoseok,” Namjoon replies without waiting.

“I would expect so, Namjoon,” Seokjin retorts stolidly. “He is your boyfriend, is he not?”

Namjoon purses his lips, looking at him through narrowed eyes. “Don’t use the Diplomatic Rhetorics 101 tone with me, you know I hate it. I’m your friend, not just another one of your staff. I talked to Hoseok about Yoongi.”

Seokjin has to employ the entirety of his self-control not to look down or shudder at the name.

“What about Yoongi?” he asks, and he knows he does a stellar job at sounding indifferent, but he can feel the scattered pieces of his heart tremble in his chest, as though the name alone could be enough to mend them back together.

It’s not. It wasn’t. It never will be. 

“You broke up with him.”

Seokjin shakes his head, his hand dancing between them in a dismissive flourish. “There was nothing to break up. We were never together.”

“What happened?” Namjoon asks, incomprehension written plainly on his features.

“Nothing happened,” Seokjin answers firmly. “I don’t have time for recreational pastimes anymore.”

“Recreational–” Namjoon trails off with a scoff, his eyes widening with disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

Seokjin lifts an eyebrow. “It’s what it was, Joon. I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“How about the truth?” Namjoon fires back, jaw flexing in irritation. “I know you, Jin. I know you better than anyone else. You love him.”

It is sharper than Seokjin expected of him. Namjoon is calm to a fault, never one to raise his voice or speak out of line unless the subject matters. But it doesn’t matter, Seokjin reminds himself forcefully. It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s over. It’s done. It’s a fluke of the past. Another entry in his long list of failures.

Nausea creeps up Seokjin’s throat.

Of course I do, he wants to scream. 

He wants to tell Namjoon the truth. That he loves Yoongi so much he let himself forget why he wasn’t allowed to in the first place. That with every inch of his body Yoongi conquered, he soothed wounds that run so deep Seokjin thought they were inexpugnable. That it’s terrifying, to think that the temporary relief Yoongi brings him could become more tangible, could linger in the smiles he provokes, could last even in his absence. That he reminded Seokjin of who he was before he had to be someone else, who he could be if his name didn’t hold the power it does.

He wants to tell Namjoon all of it, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s over and it’s for the best.

It stings but if they meet again in a decade or two, inside the dim-lighted walls of an art gallery or in the middle of a raging storm, maybe then it will hurt less. Maybe Seokjin will smile, ask Yoongi if he’s happy and accept the answer. Maybe then, he’ll get to admit that he loved him, when he was there with Seokjin in the past, when he is absent now in the present, and wherever he will be in the future.

It doesn’t matter, because Seokjin can’t love him. Seokjin can’t love anyone. His heart has ebbed too much with his own efforts not to feel, and he doesn’t have room for anything outside the placating familiarity of Jeongguk and Taehyung and Namjoon. It’s already crammed in his chest, between them and the memories of his parents’ affection that he refuses to let go of.

What good would it do him, to love one more, to indulge into the sparks in his heart that shine so bright they could shape galaxies?

There is no future for them.

There is only more deception, more lies, more ache. Pain that turns into resentment, resentment that turns into anger, anger that burns into hatred.

It’s better if Yoongi hates him now. Even if it wrecks the parts of him that weren’t already fractured.

He’s only rushing the inevitable.

What good would it do him, to wait in agony for it to come at its own pace?

What good would it do Jeongguk, if Seokjin were to lose himself to love again? How many more times can he pay the price for Seokjin’s unforgivable absence?

He could tell Namjoon all of that. Namjoon would try to understand, would try to give him sensible advice.

But Namjoon is a romantic at heart, and he’s only ever had Seokjin’s well-being in mind.

He will never accept that Seokjin’s well-being is a triviality.

Namjoon would tell him to love, to forgive himself, to reclaim the name he has willingly let slip through his fingers.

Namjoon would tell him to be happy, and Seokjin doesn’t want to hear it.

What good would it do him, to believe he deserves to be anything other than alone?

So he swallows back the words, the cry of despair tearing through his chest, and scoffs out a scornful laugh instead.

“I don’t,” he says, the lie rolling off his tongue with practiced ease.

He ignores the pang in his heart when he sees the disappointment reflected in Namjoon’s eyes.

“He loves you,” Namjoon presses.

Seokjin shakes his head again. “No, he doesn’t. How could he love me when he doesn’t know me?”

“This isn’t who you are,” Namjoon replies, with a finality that makes Seokjin want to crawl under the desk and curl up on himself while he waits for the ache to pass. “I wouldn’t have stayed by your side as long as I have if it were.”

It hurts more than Seokjin will ever admit, self-revulsion coiling in his gut and up his throat, choking the resolve out of him. He knows he’s had darkness looming over him for a while, shadows lurking to swallow him whole, demons he never fully managed to shake off. He knows he’s surrendered to them, has been too weary of the light not to give up on fighting for himself. Yoongi offered a feeble spark of light with the fire he ignited with the smallest of touches, and Seokjin blew it out with desperation.

Perhaps he’s been in the dark for too long. He doesn’t know how to live under the light. He doesn’t want to if it’s going to blind him, to guide him into the unknown, into a depth he might grow addicted to, might not be able to walk away from when the time inexorably comes.

There are still sources of light in his life, feeble beacons willing to guide him out of the darkness. Seokjin doesn’t want them either, doesn’t deserve them, never did, never did, never did.

“It seems you were wrong to, then. I’m sorry to disappoint, Namjoon,” Seokjin says, voice clipped into an official tone he doesn’t remember ever using with his oldest friend. “I’ll make it easier for us both. You’re fired.”

Namjoon flicks his eyes down to him, lips parting with shock. “What?”

Seokjin doesn’t look at him, ducking his head to put away the schedule and focus back on the report on his desk. The words blur into nothingness, indecipherable.

“You heard me.”

“Jinnie, this isn’t funny,” Namjoon says, choked out.

“It’s a good thing I’m not joking then,” Seokjin replies. “That will be all, Namjoon. You’re dismissed.”

He doesn’t look up when Namjoon calls his name again, doesn’t look up when he feels him staring for a long moment, taking in the stubborn set of Seokjin’s jaw, the tense line of his shoulders, doesn’t look up when he hears him stepping away at last until the door clicks shut after him.

Then, he finally glances up at the ceiling and urges himself not to cry.

When he is absolutely certain traitorous tears aren’t threatening to spill down his cheeks, he exhales a long sigh, letting himself be fully engulfed in the darkness.

He looks to the side at the palace’s garden stretching beyond view, remembers a miracle of light making his way to him and renders him into a mere ghost of the past in his mind.

He’s back at the beginning.

Locked in his office, misery creeping in every available inch of his body, an endless spell of loneliness gnawing at his heart.

It was how things were always supposed to be.

The sky is clear of clouds, and Seokjin misses the storm.

Fundraisers are the kind of events Seokjin could do in his sleep.

It’s not very difficult as long as he knows enough about the charity itself and the issue it deals with and he’s been given a briefing on their representatives, be them the directors or the celebrities that are attached to it.

Fundraisers are, for the most part, uneventful.

Seokjin doesn’t need to be in a good mood to go through them. They wash over him like water. It’s always the same tenet: shake hands, congratulate people on their philanthropic work, applaud after speeches, shake more hands, make polite small talk after unnecessarily long introductions, pose for pictures, applaud some more, shake a few more hands and finally, escape, go home, have one last drink and sleep the weariness away.

It gets trickier if his memory fails him, but that’s a rare occurrence. He used to have Namjoon for that, always hovering behind him and ready to intervene if he sensed the slightest hesitation on Seokjin’s part. His new main advisor, Park Chunghee, a top-university graduate, fresh out of a private company where he tended to professional athletes mostly, is very efficient. He’s got Seokjin’s schedules ready months in advance and can magically tweak timelines to allow him a lunch break. He has a charming smile, which Seokjin figures helps a lot, and an appraisal for formality that is perfect to remind Seokjin that his main advisor shouldn’t be his best friend if he wants him to do the job coldly.

Except doing the job coldly means Park Chunghee doesn’t know the subtle twists and turns of Seokjin’s world. He doesn’t understand everything it entails nor know the ghosts of the past permanently floating over Seokjin’s head.

Park Chunghee is absolutely brilliant at his job, or he would be if his job was to tend to anyone but Seokjin. Because the problem is, Park Chunghee doesn’t know Seokjin. He doesn’t know the things someone in his position should know about Seokjin, the things Seokjin never had to voice out loud with Namjoon because they grew up together and Namjoon had a front seat to every single one of Seokjin’s struggles.

He doesn’t know about Seokjin’s conflicted relationship with the Queen.

He doesn’t know what she warned him against, nor that Seokjin has been waiting for her to carry out her threat ever since he took Jeongguk’s place as the introductory speaker at the tribute ceremony for their mother –if it can even be dignified with the term tribute, though Seokjin has taken to rather call it a spectacle in his mind.

Park Chunghee doesn’t know that if Seokjin’s schedule is as packed as it is, it’s because he’s forced his way into every single activity or committee that his grandparents intended to put on Jeongguk’s shoulders.

He doesn’t know that it is imperative that the Queen stays blissfully ignorant of it all or the havoc she could wreck if she knew.

He doesn’t know that Namjoon had an arrangement with the Queen’s main attendant, to make sure that Seokjin was always aware of her next move before she touched a single pawn on the board.

It wasn’t Park Chunghee’s fault, thus, that Seokjin’s late morning was punctuated by an unexpected and dreadful confrontation with his grandmother when she walked into a meeting on royal finances expecting to meet Jeongguk and saw Seokjin instead.

It all went downhill from here.

He spent his afternoon pointlessly arguing with her, trying to prevent her from forcing Jeongguk back onto more committees and more public appearances, his mind swarmed with memories of Jeongguk’s latest episode and his phone overflowing with missed calls from Taehyung, and of telling Yoongi to go while so desperately hoping he could stay. Then he had to reassure Park Chunghee, who looked mortified and about to quit. He didn’t, but Seokjin knows he won’t last long here. It’s a more demanding position than most people are prepared for. All in all, he had a rather abysmal day.

Still, Seokjin showed up at the private manor where the fundraiser is hosted, waiting in agony concealed with a winning smile for her next move. He knows she won’t leave this alone. He knows she noticed the exhaustion on his features and the defeated slouch of his shoulders. She saw weakness, and it’s why he knows she’ll strike soon.

He doesn’t expect it to be that soon, though.

It comes right after the speeches are over but before dinner is served, and although Seokjin never doubts his grandmother’s cruelty and her capacity to wield emotions like weapons and stir crises at the worst possible time, it is beyond what he had imagined. Because she holds their reputation and public image as paragons of their virtue and worth, so he never expected her to deliberately manipulate their private feud into a public scandal.

He is auto-piloting a conversation with a big-shot politician he knows for a fact to be corrupted, smiling politely like he doesn’t know exactly what blood the hands he’s gesturing broadly in front of Seokjin’s face have amassed when a hush runs over the crowd, gazes shifting slowly to a same direction.

Jeongguk and Taehyung stand at the entrance, which wouldn’t be surprising in itself if they weren’t wearing very informal clothes, both clad in black hoodies and jeans, and not supposed to attend, Seokjin being the sole representative of the royal family tonight. Taehyung’s hair is a mess of curls and Jeongguk’s is poking in his eyes, longer than they would normally be allowed to wear in public settings.

Seokjin’s stomach drops, worry churning in his gut until Jeongguk finds Seokjin over the crowd and his gaze hardens, a flash of determination flitting in his dark eyes. 

He crosses the room to reach Seokjin, Taehyung on his toes, the both of them ignoring the backs bowed and the quiet formal greetings whispered in their wake.

Jeongguk stops in front of him, his jaw flexing angrily. He gives the man at Seokjin’s side a withering look.

“I need to talk to my brother.”

The man blinks in stupor, but gives a quick bow before taking his leave.

“What are you doing?” Seokjin hisses through the fake smile plastered on his face.

He can almost hear the reporters in the room scribbling in their notebooks and he’s struggling not to blink under the obnoxious flashes of the cameras pointed at them.

“Did you conspire with Uncle Sanghoon to have our titles stripped away?”

Seokjin’s eyes widen, his smile dropping immediately. Jeongguk thankfully kept his voice low enough that only Seokjin could hear, but he can feel the excitement in the room, everyone holding their breaths, eager to witness another instance of the Royal Feud.

Another clamor whifts through the room, shifting the attention to the doors when a group of men Seokjin recognizes as Jeongguk’s and Taehyung’s security teams barge in, breathing heavily as though they had to run a marathon to follow them here.

Seokjin uses the ephemeral distraction to grab Jeongguk’s arm and drag him out through a side door, knowing Taehyung will follow.

He gives a quick glance at the security guard tailing them. “Clear the space,” he orders. “We’re going outside, make sure no one is around. This is already going to be all over the news tomorrow, we don’t need to give them more content than the usual tacky headlines.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Once he is certain they are alone, he turns to face them, but the words die on his lips as he catches the looks on their faces. Even Taehyung, who tends to be less annoyed with Seokjin’s overly controlling and protective tendencies, has his mouth turned down into a frown and his brows furrowed. Jeongguk simply looks furious.

“Listen–”

“Don’t try to sweet talk your way out of this one,” Jeongguk cuts in, stoic. “Is it true? Yes or no.”

Seokjin considers lying, but if he knows his grandmother at all, he knows she didn’t leave him any room for denial.

“Yes.”

“And you asked Uncle Sanghoon to help you?”

Seokjin inhales sharply. “He only helped me buy a house for you near his estate.”

He expects shouts. Anger, harsh words hurled at his face, accusations that run deep and that he’s heard before.

Selfish. Inconsiderate. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He gets none of it, and somehow it is all the more daunting.

Jeongguk stares at him, disappointment and hurt battling for dominance on his face. Seokjin isn’t sure which wins, but he knows he is the true loser of this game when Jeongguk’s eyes fill with tears and his mouth opens on words that refuse to come out.

“Were you going to do it? Were you going to go through with it?”

Seokjin swallows hard.

“Yes. But if you could just consider–”

“Don’t,” Jeongguk says forcefully, though his voice dims down to a feeble whisper the next moment, “Please don’t.”

Seokjin clamps his mouth shut, horror washing over him as he watches a single tear slipping down his brother’s cheek.

“I don’t know who you are,” he whispers, the words choked out. “I don’t know who it is you think you should be, but this person you’re becoming…” He pauses, sucks in a deep breath. Seokjin’s heart stutters in his chest when Jeongguk meets his eyes, his own brimming with tears that slowly slither down his cheeks. He doesn’t make an effort to wipe them off, doesn’t look away, as though he wants to ensure Seokjin will perceive the true magnitude of his devastation. “I don’t like him. I don’t like him at all.”

He turns away without another word, hands tucked in his pockets, hood hung over his face.

Seokjin watches him leave, his heart in his throat, and waits until his brother has joined his security team waiting at the door before he turns to Taehyung.

“What about you?” he asks, with a bitterness to his tone he knows he isn’t entitled to.

Taehyung stares at him unwaveringly for a long moment before he curves an eyebrow, seemingly unimpressed.

“Walk with me,” he says, and doesn’t wait for an answer, linking his arm with Seokjin and pulling him further into the depth of the garden.

It has a different aura from the ones in the palace, something wilder about it that hints at the possibility of nature taking over and turning the area into woodlands. It reminds him of New Zealand, of fond childhood memories that have long been buried, of a time when things had yet to become so complicated. It makes him think of the house he recently bought there near his Uncle Sanghoon, a house where Jeongguk and Taehyung could have lived, away from the pressure and the lies. A ground for them to be free.

“Why do you think I go to so many parties, Jinnie?” Taehyung asks.

Seokjin’s brows dip into a frown. Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t this.

“I...don’t know,” he replies, sounding just as perplexed as he feels. “You like socializing.”

The smile that curves on Taehyung’s lips is sad, resigned. “Do you think I enjoy being gaped at like I’m some kind of circus freak? Or that I like being paraded around like a trophy the host won’t get tired of brandishing relentlessly for the next ten years?”

It sounds rhetorical enough that Seokjin doesn’t offer a response.

Taehyung pulls them to a stop under the naked column of a cherry tree and looks at him, piercing eyes boring in Seokjin’s ones.

“Do you think you’ve been playing this game alone, Jinnie?” he asks. “Do you think we don’t know the world we grew up in? The reality of the life that awaits us?”

“I–” Seokjin starts, but words fail him and he blinks down at the ground sheepishly. 

“I go to these parties because it allows me to make friends in circles of power neither you nor Gukkie bother to get in touch with,” Taehyung says. “Because I know that someday you’re going to need it.”

His voice is steady, nothing like the boyish lilt it sometimes holds when they’re doing a poor job at playing video games or even the august timbre he employs during family meetings or official business. It’s something else, something Seokjin has never heard before. It’s regal, grave, commanding. It’s everything Seokjin wanted to protect them from, everything he hadn’t realized they already were.

“You can try as hard as you want, but you’re not going to change who we are. You’re not going to change who you are deep down and the only thing you’ll reap by trying is more pain.” Taehyung lifts his hands and cups Seokjin’s face between his own, somehow equally tender and firm. “You could change the world, if you didn’t waste so much time and energy trying to protect us from it, Jinnie. You could change the world, and you wouldn’t have to do it alone.”

“Tae,” Seokjin whispers. “I don’t want to change the world. All I can do is protect you from it.”

“You can’t protect me from it,” Taehyung says, and it’s almost as heartbreaking as the disappointment on Jeongguk’s face, the surrender in Yoongi’s expression, the cold, lonely walls of his office. “I don’t want you to. I want to stumble and fall. I want to hurt sometimes. I want to feel the bad things, too. How else am I supposed to appreciate the good ones?”

“What good ones?” Seokjin breathes out, a hint of desperation woven into his voice. “Where are they? In the people we’ve lost? In the help we’re not allowed to ask for? In the lies we’re forced to tell?” He sighs, resigned. “I just want you to be happy. I want you to be free.”

Taehyung’s thumb skims over his cheekbone and he smiles something older than his years.

“What if I feel perfectly happy and free as it is?”

“Do you?” Seokjin scoffs and gestures at the darkness where Jeongguk disappeared. “Does he?”

Taehyung shrugs. “When have you bothered asking us before you tried to control our lives for us?”

Seokjin ducks his head down bashfully.

“Do you not realize how this life controls everything you are?” he murmurs, crestfallen. “Everything that you could become? Every little bit of liberty you think you have earned? It took everything from me, Tae. I refuse to let it do the same to you. I refuse to fail someone I love again.”

“You never once failed us, Jinnie,” Taehyung replies. “You could only fail us by pushing us away and that’s what you’re doing now. You can’t do this alone and be happy, Jinnie. You can’t do this alone and be yourself.”

“That was never an option,” Seokjin says mutely, though he means every word. “I was never meant to be happy. Why would I want to be when my own brother was robbed of his chance because of me?”

Taehyung heaves out a shuddering breath and waits patiently for Seokjin to look up and meet his eyes, giving him a grave look. His eyes are a little wet, but unlike Jeongguk’s, the tears don’t slip out, his gaze brimming like fading constellations.

“You need to forgive yourself, Jinnie. You need to let it go before you cross a line you won’t be able to come back from. You need to let yourself heal.” 

The night is cold, spring having yet to fully chase winter away.

When Seokjin answers, it is with more honesty than he remembers speaking in the last ten years, “I don’t think I can do that.”

Taehyung lets go of his face and reaches down to squeeze his hand before he releases him entirely. 

“Find a way,” he says soberly. “Because there’s only so much Jeongguk and I are willing to forgive, and someday you’re going to push too hard and you’ll lose us both. You don’t want to be alone as much as you’ve convinced yourself you do.”

Taehyung regards him placidly before turning on his heels, walking away the same way Jeongguk did.

Seokjin watches the building in the distance, a marvel of white stones clashing against the darkness surrounding him.

He finds himself wanting to reach out, to call out for the people who love him despite his worst habits, his strongest defences. But both Taehyung and Jeongguk have disappeared, and he’s pushed Namjoon and Yoongi too far, out of grasp.

So he stands here for a while, a brutal reminder of the isolation he’s condemned himself to on his own volition.

He wonders if he can rise again from the ashes regardless of how broken he feels, if he’ll ever remember what it was like to feed on the fire rather than let it consume him whole.

He looks down at the watch on his wrist, but it doesn’t shine with a promise of better tomorrows. The bezel stays dark, no moonlight to remind Seokjin of the truth Yoongi wanted him to cherish, to carry proudly.

He wonders why he’s worked so hard to be alone, and why now that he’s achieved it, it feels like another failure to add to his perpetually growing list, why it feels like his heart has fallen in a bottomless abyss, down and down and down.

It takes a while, but eventually he braces himself with a deep breath and walks back to the reception hall.

He smiles for the cameras, he lies for the sake of appearances, he charms people whose love is conditional.

He buries Kim Seokjin, too deep for even him to reach, and lets the Crown savor its triumph.

Because it was how things were meant to be.

Him, alone.

Him, invisible.

Him, broken.

He smiles some more.

He carries on.

Chapter Text

Yoongi jerks awake to the boisterous sound of his bedroom door being shoved open. He rubs at his eyes, blinking at his surroundings until his gaze settles on a silhouette standing at the end of his bed. Hoseok frowns down at him, hands on his hip, a scowl discernable in the darkness of the room.

“Go away,” he grouses, curling up on himself.

The covers are ripped from his body and he whines, murmuring a string of colorful words under his breath.

“Get up, you troll,” Hoseok orders, poking at Yoongi’s backside with his foot. “We’re going out for coffee.”

“No.”

His voice is hoarse and his eyes feel heavy with sleep and the migraine he hasn’t been able to get rid of for the past few days.

“Get up,” Hoseok repeats, grabbing one of the pillows to shove it at Yoongi’s head. “I’ve let you wallow in self-pity for days because I respect that you needed some time, but this is getting too far. You smell like smoke and sweat and misery, Yoongles. You stink.”

“Maybe it’s just that your nose is too close to that big mouth of yours,” he grumbles weakly in response.

“I doubt it considering I’m not the one who’s forgotten about basic hygiene because Prince Dickhead decided to be an asshole.”

Yoongi heaves out a deep sigh. “He’s not an asshole,” he says. “And I know you like him, you don’t have to pretend for my sake.”

Hoseok stomps his foot down angrily. “I liked him, then he broke your heart and now I hate him. Funny how fast things can change. Get up.”

“No,” Yoongi moans, burying his head under the pillow Hoseok threw at him.

“I’m not going to let you wither away because of a man who doesn’t deserve you,” Hoseok says, voice firm. “If you’re going to let yourself go, it should be when I die at a very old age and you realize you can’t live without me.”

“I’d thrive without you,” Yoongi argues. “I’d get so much sleep I could probably conquer the world with how rested I’d be.”

“You’d have to get out of your apartment for that.”

“Cancel my world domination plans then. I want to be alone.”

He hears more than he sees Hoseok move away and his blinds being opened. Bright light assaults his closed lids. Yoongi groans, blinking up to see the afternoon sun peering outside his window.

“And I want my dumbass best friend back, so we’re at a standstill here.” Hoseok walks back to the bed and unceremoniously drops right on top of Yoongi, poking at his cheek until Yoongi glares at him. “Get up before I dump iced water on your face.”

“I hate you,” Yoongi says reasonably.

“Lies and more lies,” Hoseok sighs dramatically. “You love me so much. You’d die for me. As any reasonable human being should.”

Yoongi shuts his eyes again, urging the ache in his chest away. It’s been a constant in the past few weeks, a dull throb in his chest that feels like phantom pain at this point, always threatening to clutch at his heart and steal the air from his lungs.

Hoseok sighs, this time with less theatrics, and cards his fingers through Yoongi’s hair. The touch is gentle, soothing, and it makes Yoongi tear up before he can suppress the urge.

“Come on,” Hoseok says, placating. “Shower and then coffee. We can talk about Seokjin if you want. Or we can talk about anything else and pretend he never happened. But I’m not leaving this apartment before you’ve at least cleaned up and gotten some food into you. I know you forget to eat when you’re sad.”

It’s sort of crazy how everything seems to remind him of Seokjin these days. How stepping into his kitchen immediately brings forth memories of them cooking together and talking about their clashing upbringings that one time, talking about things neither of them was used to open up about. How he has managed to fool himself into believing Seokjin’s smell still lingers in his sheets even though he never stayed long enough for it to catch.

His mind refuses to let him rest, and even though he’s spent the better part of the last two weeks in his bed, he feels exhausted. Drained. Hollow.

“I miss him,” Yoongi whispers. His voice cracks at the end, the admission hurting somewhere deeper than he can fathom.

Hoseok wraps his arms around him, enveloping him in a tight embrace, and presses a soft kiss at the crown of his head. “I know, babe. I know.”

Yoongi inhales deeply, breathes out and gives Hoseok a feeble nod.

“Okay,” he says, voice still hoarse. “Okay.”

Hoseok beams, squishes his cheeks for good measure and finally rolls down to his side so Yoongi can get up.

He gives himself a few more minutes to collect his bearings before he does.

Somehow, he manages to get through a long shower without having a breakdown. He doesn’t feel washed anew afterwards or like his troubles were magically scrubbed away. Thoughts of Seokjin sniffing at his hair and murmuring into his ear how he loved the smell of his shampoo still flash into his mind when he rubs at his scalp, but he feels a little better, even if it’s a minute relief. He feels a little more alive, at least.

He doesn’t bother drying his hair, dresses in the first oversized clothes he can get his hands on, pointedly refusing to look at the silk shirt hanging in his wardrobe from the last time he saw Seokjin and they accidentally swapped clothes in a rush to be presentable.

It makes his stomach lurch painfully, but still he can’t bring himself to blame Seokjin for how he handled things. He saw Jeongguk that day, saw the despair in Seokjin’s eyes when he took in his brother’s state, saw the weight of the world crashing on his shoulders, Atlas’ body crumbling under its toll.

He hopes Jeongguk is doing better.

He hopes he gave himself the means to.

Hoseok takes him to a coffee shop in a residential area, away from the busier business district or fancy neighborhood where Yoongi lives. It’s already late afternoon when they get there. It’s not really an appropriate time for coffee anymore, but Yoongi’s sleeping schedule is messed up enough that any time is a good time for coffee at this point.

“Why did we have to come all the way here?” Yoongi asks when Hoseok runs around his parked car to link their arms together and guide them toward the entrance.

“It’s quiet and I’ve heard the pastries are to die for,” Hoseok replies, but Yoongi realizes it’s a half-truth the moment they step in and his eyes catch on the man sitting in a corner by the window, peering curiously at a tabby cat curled up on the window’s ledge.

He goes still, his breath catching in his lungs.

“Hobi, what the fuck,” he hisses. “Is this a fucking ambush? Did you know he’d be there?”

Hoseok’s eyes widen. “It’s not an ambush! And of course I knew, I invited him.”

“And you didn’t tell me because?”

Hoseok has the decency of looking apologetic. “I knew you wouldn’t come,” he admits begrudgingly. “But Joonie is my boyfriend now and I want you two to get to know each other outside of some fucked up business relationship where you’re seeing his boss and he’s making you sign NDAs, okay?”

When Yoongi doesn’t reply, he tugs a little on his arm to drag him forward. “Plus, Namjoonie has just as much reason to be mad at Seokjin as you do, so you can trash talk him together. In my experience, it’s the best way to form a friendship for life.”

“Maybe we’ll trash talk you instead,” Yoongi grumbles. Then Hoseok’s words start to make a little more sense and he frowns, confused. “What are you even talking about? He’s basically Seokjin’s lapdog.”

Hoseok glares at him, and it’s threatening enough that Yoongi feels compelled to give him a contrite smile in return.

“Prince Dickhead fired him,” Hoseok says before letting go of Yoongi’s arm and heading to the secluded table in the corner, a warm grin on his face. “Dimples!”

Namjoon gazes away from the cat and his eyes soften as soon as they settle on Hoseok, though even the adoration on his face can’t quite conceal the fatigue that makes his whole body slouch, perfect manners forgotten.

Yoongi knows the shock is easily readable on his features as he drags himself forward to their table. When it finally subdues, it is swiftly replaced by concern.

There are very few people Yoongi has heard Seokjin talk about with as much affection and respect as he does about Namjoon. It’s more than just a brotherly bond forged by growing up and sticking together for most of their lives. Seokjin values Namjoon’s opinion, apprehends his judgment and cherishes his friendship. Yoongi remembers very distinctly Seokjin telling him that on his busiest weeks, where he’s dragged from diplomatic dinner to diplomatic dinner and from business meeting to business meeting, it is often thanks to Namjoon that he manages to hold on to the last thread of his sanity and not let himself be overwhelmed by it all.

Namjoon was the first person he came out to, the one who has been with him through thick and thin, the shoulder he leans on when he struggles to stand upright by himself.

It doesn’t make sense for Seokjin to fire him, to push him away.

Or maybe it does, but the implications are too grim for Yoongi to want to contemplate them.

“Hi,” Namjoon says, and Yoongi blinks, realizing that he’s been silent for too long not to make it uncomfortable.

“Hey,” Yoongi replies as he takes a seat in front of the couple.

Another silence follows, one Hoseok is all too happy to abruptly interrupt with a grimace.

“This is awkward.”

“This was your idea,” Yoongi points out.

Hoseok rolls his eyes. “Come on, let’s rot out the evil.” He scoffs when they both blink at him mutely. “That means Seokjin. He’s the evil in this scenario. I’ll let you air this all out while I get us some coffee and something to eat.”

Yoongi throws him a sharp look, which leaves Hoseok decidedly unimpressed, before turning to Namjoon, twisting his fingers nervously in his lap. “How is he?”

Namjoon looks stricken. “I don’t know,” he sighs. “I haven’t talked to him in two weeks. Not since the day he fired me, and I’ve been informed I’m now persona non grata at the palace.”

Yoongi frowns. “Did he–” he starts, but his voice trails off before he can properly voice his concern out loud.

“I don’t know,” Namjoon replies anyway. “But there aren’t many people who have the clearance level to forbid me from going near the palace. Seokjin is definitely one of them. I’ve tried to call him but he refuses to talk to me.”

Yoongi chews on his bottom lip. “What about Jeongguk and Taehyung?”

“He doesn’t really talk to them either. They’ve had a fight and it’s not the first time but apparently it was a bad one this time. They’re also mad at me for helping him, so the information I’m getting from them is pretty scarce,” Namjoon says, and he sounds just as crestfallen as Yoongi feels. “I got in touch with one of the palace attendants I was on good terms with. She told me Seokjin has been locked in his office and he only gets out to come and go from the lodge. She said he doesn’t really talk to anyone other than palace officials or diplomatic partners.”

“So he’s an ass,” Hoseok concludes as he walks back to their table with a small tray.

“He’s...lost,” Namjoon says with a sigh, accepting the muffin Hoseok hands him with a small smile.

“Well, he’s not helping himself by pushing away everyone who cares about him. I doubt palace officials and diplomatic partners give a shit whether he’s miserable or not,” Hoseok retorts with a petulant huff. “Eat,” he adds, pointing a menacing finger at Yoongi.

Yoongi shakes his head, but does take a bite from the overflowing plate of pastries Hoseok deposited in front of him. His stomach growls in gratitude.

“I understand that he needs help,” Hoseok continues, “but it doesn’t justify him hurting people like he hurt the two of you.”

“He doesn’t owe me anything,” Yoongi says scornfully.

“Bullshit,” Hoseok snaps. “He owes you basic human decency, and there was none of that when he ghosted you for two weeks and then dumped you with a shitty text.”

“Hobi,” Yoongi sighs.

“Why are you not angry about this?” Hoseok asks, throwing his hands up in the air. “I know why Joonie isn’t angry. He’s an absolute saint. But why are you not angry about this? Getting angry is like half of your personality.”

He’s a little louder than he should be, but the coffee shop is deserted but for the bored teenager manning the counter, and she’s got earpieces in, bobbing her head to music and blissfully ignorant to the royal drama happening at their table.

“First of all, fuck you,” he replies, vaguely aware that this is probably proving Hoseok’s point. Hoseok makes a kissy face at him. Yoongi sighs, shrugging. “He never promised me anything. We were supposed to be casual. It’s not his fault I was stupid enough to catch feelings.”

“It’s not like you were the only one,” Namjoon says through a mouthful of puff pastry. There is something devastatingly nonchalant about the way he says it, an established fact rather than a revelation.

“What do you mean?”

Namjoon lifts an eyebrow. “He’s got feelings for you too, you know?”

“No, he doesn’t,” Yoongi says firmly, though he can feel his heart flutter imprudently in his chest.

He doesn’t want to think about it. He can accept the fact that Seokjin simply didn’t feel the same way, that Yoongi’s affection is one-sided and hopeless. But if what Namjoon is saying is true, it opens the door for questions Yoongi isn’t sure he wants answers to. It means that even that wasn’t enough, even love couldn’t help them.

And then what do they have?

Where can they go?

Namjoon levels him with a grave look, sucking in his bottom lip before shaking his head.

“I’ve known Seokjin my whole life,” he says. “I’ve worked for him for half that. I was with him when he lost both of his parents in the span of a year and for everything he’s been through after that. It means I know exactly why he does everything that he does and the true reasons behind the way that he is. That’s why I’m not angry. Because I know. Because I understand. I know him better than anyone else, probably even his own brother.”

Namjoon pauses, reaching out to scratch his fingers between the cat’s ears, gaze lost in the quiet streets and the dull lights of the late afternoon.

He doesn’t look at Yoongi when he continues speaking, “So trust me when I tell you he does have feelings for you. It’s probably why he did what he did, even. He’s got a skewed sense of priorities and he’s inflexible when he’s got an idea in mind. I’d wager my severance pay that he thinks his feelings for you are a distraction that he needs to kill in the bud.”

Yoongi scoffs out a quiet laugh, if only to disguise the way his brain seems to have ceased to supply his mind with enough willpower to answer and divert it all to the wild thrum of his heart in his chest. He can feel a sob climbing up his throat but he swallows it down.

“If that’s true, I hope he has better luck at that than I did,” he mutters. He sounds bitter, but he doesn’t particularly care at this point. He is bitter. He wanted more. He wanted it all.

Namjoon smiles sadly at the cat, who purrs under his ministrations. “It’s why he asked me to look into your situation with your label,” he says casually. “He knew it was bothering you. He wouldn’t have asked me to if he didn’t care.”

There’s a pause, and it takes a second for Namjoon’s words to make sense in Yoongi’s sleep-deprived, fuddled mind. 

“He did what?” Hoseok gasps, voicing Yoongi’s surprise before he can.

Namjoon seems to be confused by their reaction.

“I...thought you knew,” he says hesitantly, though it sounds like a question. “Why do you think Kim Daehee didn’t press charges after you broke his nose in front of half of his staff?”

“I–” Yoongi stares blankly at Hoseok, who doesn’t seem to be faring much better. “I thought Suran managed to convince him to drop it.”

Namjoon snorts. “You know him better than I do but do you really think he can be convinced not to do something he thinks he’s entitled to do?”

Yoongi pulls a face, compelled to agree.

“He’s an idiot who thinks he’s above the law,” Namjoon scoffs. “It wasn’t exactly hard to find some material to persuade him it was better for him to let it go. He didn’t drop it. I made him drop it.”

“Oh my God,” Hoseok whines. “That’s so hot, honey. I really want to suck your dick right now.”

“Please don’t,” Yoongi mumbles, before narrowing his eyes on Namjoon. “You mean you blackmailed him.”

Namjoon shrugs, unapologetic. “My job was to make life easier for Jin, and this was a problem for you, which means it was bothering him. While we’re at it–” He bends down to grab the small briefcase at his feet, digging out a stack of papers neatly tucked into a folder. He lays it on the table between them. “–I don’t know if he still wanted me to do it, but I’ve had some free time on my hands so I finished this. It was better than sitting around doing nothing. And I think I found a solution for you to go around your troubles with finding investors. It’s a much cheaper option than starting from the ground up.”

Only silence answers him.

Hoseok is gaping, and Yoongi… Yoongi doesn’t know what he’s thinking. His mind feels frozen, unable to catch up and make sense of the words Namjoon is saying. It’s like he’s spoken in a foreign language.

When he finally replies, it is with a tremor in his voice. “What are you talking about?”

“Your label,” Namjoon replies, almost nonchalant. “I looked into your situation. Found you a better alternative which I think you should consider.”

“Wait, wait,” Yoongi mutters, holding a hand up. Namjoon tilts his head to the side, blinking. “Why would you do this?”

Namjoon quirks an eyebrow. “Because Seokjin asked me to.”

Yoongi sucks in a deep breath, teeth clenched hard enough to tighten his jaw, “I specifically asked him not to get involved. I told him to let me deal with it.”

Namjoon laughs without humor. “Yeah, that’s not exactly his style.”

Yoongi’s fingers tremble over his knees and he curls them into fists, but it does nothing to tame the anger he can feel leisurely seeping through his bones.

“So he’s okay with ignoring me and sending me a fucking text to tell me he can’t see me anymore without as much as an explanation but he can’t respect my wish when I ask him not to meddle in my business?”

“There it is,” Hoseok pipes up, matter-of-fact.

“Who the fuck does he think he is?” Yoongi hisses, glaring at the papers like they personally offended him.

“Let it all out, buddy,” Hoseok says, reaching over the table to pat his shoulder.

Yoongi fixes Namjoon with cool eyes. “Give me your car keys.”

That seems to snap Hoseok out of his burgeoning glee, because he blinks, lips parting in shock. “What?”

“We took your car so I don’t have mine.”

“I’m not sure how that’s–”

“Give me your fucking car keys,” Yoongi cuts in before Namjoon can finish. “Or I’ll just take a taxi to take me as close to the lodge as possible and finish on foot if I have to. I’ll call Taehyung on the way for the new passcode.”

“Do what he says, Joonie,” Hoseok whispers, because if Namjoon knows how stubborn Seokjin is, Hoseok knows he’s got nothing on Yoongi’s own obstinacy.

He digs into the pocket of his coat resting on the back of his chair and hands them over hesitantly, concern crossing his features.

“Don’t drive it into the gates. Please.”

Yoongi grabs his coat, fingers gripping at the material tightly. “No promises.”

He storms off, catching just a snippet of their conversation as he does.

“He’s not going to wreck my car, right?”

“Don’t ask me to make you promises I can’t keep, Dimples. Or at least wait until we’re married.”

Seokjin is exhausted.

The constant inflow of meetings has worn him to the bone, and he’s been running on very little sleep and even less respite. 

He’s just managed to get to the lodge, and it’s solely because the diplomatic dinner he was supposed to attend tonight has been cancelled by his grandmother under the claim that the King couldn’t attend it, as though his grandfather has attended any sort of official event in months. He’s too tired to fight her this time, and he doesn’t want to involve the King in the escalated conflict with his grandmother; he knows it won’t bring anything but another headache for him to suffer through.

He let it go because it gave him the opportunity to catch up with Sanghoon and keep him posted on the latest developments. He just got off the phone with him, and he wasn’t able to ignore the concern woven in his great uncle’s voice when he explained that Jeongguk and Taehyung haven’t been talking to him because they learned of Seokjin’s plans.

Sanghoon didn’t know what to do about it any more than Seokjin does, and there was a sense of doom hanging between them when Seokjin mentioned the family meeting that has been called in the next few days. They both know that whatever comes out of it, it doesn’t bode well for Seokjin. His grandmother is done being subtle about her disapproval over Seokjin’s general existence.

He pours himself a glass of whiskey but he doesn’t get to enjoy a first sip before a clamor pulls his attention away from that feeble relief.

He hears a commotion outside, voices shouting over the habitual quiet surrounding the lodge. All safety protocols would normally urge him to hide away behind the armored door of the basement until he’s given the clear by the security guards, but there is a wicked feeling twisting in his guts and it guides him to walk outside instead.

The sight that greets him is so unexpected that he halts in his steps on top of the stairs that lead to the alley, lips parting in shock.

The two guards that normally cover the entrance of the estate are right next to a black car that Seokjin recognizes as Namjoon’s, though it is not Namjoon they are pointing their guns at but Yoongi, who has his hands raised over his head and his jaw set into a furious line.

His eyes meet Seokjin’s, cold and emotionless, and he takes a step forward but is halted by a strong voice.

“Stay where you are!” one of the guards shouts at him.

Seokjin blinks, his heart rummaging wildly in his chest.

“What’s going on?” he asks when the shock subdues enough for his mind to kick back into gear.

“Sir, please go back inside,” the guard closest to Yoongi says. “We have an intruder on the premises.”

Seokjin cocks an eyebrow. “I can see that, Sungho,” he says, deadpan.

“He had the new passcode, but we took this car off the list of authorized vehicles,” Sungho says sternly, though his eyes don’t leave Yoongi. “Back away.”

Seokjin turns to Yoongi, swallowing hard. “What are you doing here?”

An angry flush is slowly rising on Yoongi’s face with every passing second. “Are you going to let them shoot me so you don’t have to talk to me?” he snaps.

The genuine wrath behind his words makes Seokjin pause. He’s heard anger in Yoongi’s voice before, when he talked about his father or about his ex-CEO, but never like this, never so prominent that it turns his eyes into rings of fire, fury dancing into them ominously.

Seokjin doesn’t know how to react to it. He isn’t often faced with people’s anger. They tend to walk on eggs around him too much, and good diplomats are too smart to let it show further than snarky comments and subtly veiled threats. Bad diplomats aren’t usually smart enough to know to get angry. He’s witnessed resentment in Jeongguk when they fight, but it’s often drowned out by Seokjin convincing himself that he’s doing the right thing, and that Jeongguk’s ire, albeit deserved, is the result of Seokjin working in the shadows for his sake. He’s seen his grandmother angry, but she’s too attached to decorum and their window of perfection to ever let it show beyond the flexing of her jaw and the minute ticks his eyes are trained to recognize.

The anger on Yoongi’s features, though, is something else. It’s raw, bold and brazen, which shouldn’t take Seokjin by surprise considering it is a reflection of Yoongi himself

 He turns to the guards slowly. “It’s alright. Get back to your posts.”

“But Your Royal Highness, he–”

“That’s an order,” Seokjin cuts in with a curt nod. “Get back to your posts.”

There is hesitation in their stances as they lower their guns, clearly skeptical at having to do so. Sungho casts one last look at Seokjin standing at the top of the stairs before walking away, motioning for his colleague to follow him.

Yoongi waits before they have disappeared behind the tall bushes trimming the alley before he lowers his hands.

He fixes Seokjin with tempestuous eyes. 

“What are you doing here?” Seokjin asks again, hoping against all hope that his voice doesn’t betray the hurricane of emotions raging through his whole body.

Yoongi walks away from the car, but stops at the bottom of the stairs, his lips turned down in a firm scowl.

He looks furious, wild and rough and beautiful and God, Seokjin missed him.

Seokjin misses him right now.

“You’re an asshole, you know that?” Yoongi grits out, seemingly growing angrier now that they are alone and the distance between them is lesser.

Seokjin struggles to swallow past the lump in his throat, but he does, inhaling deeply. “Did you come all the way here to insult me?”

“Yes.”

“Well, thank you for your input,” Seokjin replies, blinking away. In the distance, the sun is slowly setting. “If that was all, you can go now.”

Yoongi climbs a couple of steps, and Seokjin forces himself not to look down at him, afraid of what he might do if he does, of what he might forget again. He holds on to the self-control he’s forced himself to fabricate, to the impassivity he’s cultivated, to the dearth of emotions that has saved him from more perilous situations before.

“Drop the fucking act already,” Yoongi seethes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Yoongi. I don’t have an act. I think you should leave now.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll leave as soon as I’ve said what I have to say, Your Royal Highness.”

It hurts. Seokjin has heard those same words from Yoongi’s mouth a hundred times before, teasing words, playful words, light words that managed to alleviate their true meaning. It’s never been like this, filled with disdain and animosity, like they mean something else entirely, like they are the very source of the abyss being dredged between them.

“I asked you to let me deal with my business. I asked you to let me figure it out on my own. Why did you ask Namjoon to look into it?”

Seokjin clenches his teeth. “That was before we ended…” He trails off, unsure how to finish.

We,” Yoongi echoes with a scornful chuckle. “There was no ‘we’. You ended it. You chose to dump me with a fucking text after ghosting me for two weeks. And it doesn’t matter whether it was before or after. I told you not to do it. I’ve told you I don’t know how many times to stop trying to steer everyone’s lives for them. You’re not the fucking captain of my life. Or anyone else’s but your own.”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Seokjin sighs, letting irritation claw its way up his throat. It’s a safer option than the rest of the array of emotions rousing through his body and mind. “It’s not that big of a deal. It doesn’t matter anyway. You can just throw whatever Namjoon has found away and pretend it never happened. Actually, let’s pretend none of it ever happened, alright? Would that make you feel better?”

He can feel Yoongi’s eyes boring into the side of his head, but he still pointedly refuses to look at him.

“Pretending to make yourself feel better is not my style,” Yoongi says coolly. “It’s yours.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, but his heart clutches painfully in his chest, ripping at his resolve.

“Look at me,” Yoongi demands.

Seokjin could refuse, but it would only serve to prove to Yoongi that he is lying, that of course it mattered, of course it still matters. It would only make it crystal clear to them both that Seokjin isn’t pretending, not with Yoongi, not for a long, long time.

So he turns his head and meets his eyes. Yoongi is closer now, only two steps down to where Seokjin is standing, wondering inwardly what force of the universe is maintaining him upright when all he wants to do is let the woe take over his body and weaken his knees so he can beg for a forgiveness he doesn’t deserve, for words of reverence he hears like cruel echoes when he lays in bed at night.

“You can’t pretend that because you have built this wall of lies around you it means none of it is real,” Yoongi says, dark eyes piercing into Seokjin’s. “I’m real. I’m fucking real.”

I know, Seokjin screams in the cage of his own mind. You’re so real. You’re too real.

“When you hurt the people who care about you, that’s real and that’s on you. Not circumstances.”

It’s for the best, Seokjin tells himself. Yoongi might be mad now, but he’ll get over it eventually, when he realizes it was in his best interest to get away from Seokjin as soon as possible. Seokjin can handle the heartbreak, can suffer the loneliness and the tears that seem to always be a whisper away these days, ready to be shed, waiting for a permission Seokjin won’t give himself. Seokjin is used to the pain, to bearing the unbearable, to the ruthless squeeze of his heart in his chest.

He’s used to failing the ones he cares for, to hurting them beyond repair, beyond redemption.

“I’m sorry if I hurt you,” Seokjin says, employing the entirety of his hard earned self-control to keep his voice steady. “I don’t know why you’re hurt, though. It was fun, but it was never meant to last.”

They were perishable like flowers, butterflies lucky enough to have been granted more than one day.

Yoongi huffs, shaking his head. “We both know it wasn’t all fun, Jin.”

“Ah, it’s a bit late to voice complaints, isn’t it?”

“Cut the bullshit,” Yoongi hisses through gritted teeth. “It was more. It became more.”

There is a flicker of anticipation in his eyes, hope playing under the curtains of his lashes.

This is exactly what Seokjin has always tried to avoid, to be appointed to this kind of position where his actions play a too important role, where he owns power over someone’s heart. It inevitably leads to disappointment when they realize Seokjin isn’t good enough.

He wasn’t good enough ten years ago; he certainly isn’t now when he’s willfully corrupted his essence to avoid being abandoned again.

Seokjin steels his resolve, clears his throat and lets the lie roll off his tongue.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“It was,” Yoongi replies, unwavering. “It was real. You can lie all you want, to me and to yourself, but it doesn’t change the truth. All your lies can never alter the truth, and the truth is I lo–”

“Don’t!” Seokjin cuts in abruptly, with an edge of panic he can’t control.

His heart seizes in his chest.

He can’t hear it. He can’t bear to hear it.

There are lies he can suffer, slander he can endure, deception he can brave through.

But this...this, he can’t allow. He can’t have these words echoing in his mind when he struggles to sleep at night, can’t imagine Yoongi’s low baritone whispering them into his ear, can’t grant them the power they would hold over him, over his weak and desperate heart.

It’s a string of words that would mean too much to him, and though Yoongi might mean them now, he won’t for long, not when he realizes they were wasted on Seokjin. But to Seokjin they would last a lifetime, reverberating in the lonely fortress of his mind, again and again and again until he’s an old, tired king with nothing left but a careless confession from decades ago and the memory of a storm that once felt like a saving grace.

Yoongi startles, but his gaze hardens on Seokjin. “Just because you refuse to hear it doesn’t mean it’s not real. I l–”

“No, you don’t,” Seokjin says forcefully. “You can’t. You don’t know me.”

Yoongi’s mouth pulls into a thin line, his body twitching in irritation. “You’re a fucking coward.”

Seokjin presses his lips together, if only to make sure Yoongi won’t be able to notice them trembling.

“You think you live in a cage, that you don’t have a choice, but the truth is you forged that cage yourself, Seokjin. You locked yourself in there and you threw away the key because you’re scared of what’s outside of it. You’re fucking terrified of it. The truth is you’re a coward, and you’d rather hide than let the world see you for who you are because you think who you really are isn’t worthy of merit.”

“There isn’t another me hidden in there, Yoongi,” Seokjin says, as nonchalantly as he can muster. It takes all the energy he has left. He opens his arms as if to present himself for judgment, but he knows none will be harsher than the one he casts upon himself. “This is who I am.”

“No, it’s not,” Yoongi huffs out.

Seokjin laughs without meaning to, the sound bitter and low. “You don’t–”

“I know because I’ve seen who you really are,” Yoongi says, calmer now, almost sympathetic. Seokjin hates it. He wants Yoongi to yell at him, to be mad, to loathe him. He deserves it. He doesn’t deserve anything more. “You know I did. That’s why you’re pushing me away. That’s why you fired Namjoon. That’s why you treat your little brother like shit and pretend it’s for his own good. Because it’s easier to give us reasons to despise you the way you despise yourself than to accept that we can see past it when you can’t.”

Yoongi’s gruff mood in the morning when he wraps himself around Seokjin in the pretence of seeking his warmth. Yoongi’s smile after Seokjin kissed him, his eyes closed for a second longer, the soft, content breath he unknowingly expels every time. Yoongi’s fingers tipped with gold when they brush over Seokjin’s skin like he’s something to be cherished. Yoongi’s gaze, piercing and hurt and broken, holding onto the last thread linking them together as Seokjin cuts it off with each word coming out of his mouth.

Namjoon at fourteen, reaching out to him when Seokjin choked on his confession, establishing the foundation of trust that would mold into an eternal bond of friendship with time. Namjoon at twenty-six, reaching out still, offering handfuls of affection when Seokjin needs it the most and an ear to listen when he doesn’t think he does. Namjoon, fearless in front of monarchs and sovereigns, unafraid to burn himself if it means Seokjin will be protected from the fire. Namjoon’s constant state of fatigue. Namjoon’s betrayed look. Namjoon, gone.

His father, urging him to be more than what this life would make of him. His father, trusting him blindly to take care of his family. His father, disappointed in Seokjin’s refusal to give him time when that was all he ever asked for and all he never had. His mother, fierce as she embraced him after Seokjin’s confession, promising him she wouldn’t let anything prevent him from being who he was fully. His mother, surrounded with nature, bathing in the New Zealand sun, a rare smile on her face as Seokjin pledged to her he would always take care of her. His mother, haunted. His mother, haunting.

His parents, gone before he could beg for them to stay.

Jeongguk, once his best friend, his only friend in the whole world. Jeongguk, running around a flourishing garden, exuberant with happiness. Jeongguk, climbing into his bed to pester Seokjin into playing with him, bedtime forgotten. Jeongguk’s light vanishing. Jeongguk’s sobs ripping through the night. Jeongguk’s depleting mental health. Jeongguk’s demons. Jeongguk’s trauma.

Seokjin’s fault.

His fault.

His failures.

There is nothing to see past; this is all that he is.

“Maybe I’m the only one who sees who I really am,” he says, and he means every word. “Maybe you fooled yourself into believing there was more to see because you want to believe I’m better than I am. I’m sorry I can’t be that person. I’m sorry I can’t meet yet another person’s unreachable expectations for me.”

Seokjin doesn’t know what Yoongi sees in his face. He doesn’t know what he reads, what he understands, but Yoongi’s anger evanesces and he smiles, torn, forlorn.

“Seokjin,” he whispers, a hint of desperation in the unwavering depth of his eyes. “Don’t do this to yourself. You need help. We can help you. Please let us help.”

Seokjin struggles to stay grounded. His whole body is screaming in pain, urging him to cave, to collapse, to cry.

He braces himself to push forward, to end this. To be who he was always meant to be; strong and powerful.

A true leader, like his grandfather.

A King, stern and indifferent.

“I don’t need your help,” he says, levelling Yoongi with a resolve he doesn’t feel. “You didn’t want my help, did you? That’s why you came here to yell at me. So why the fuck should I want yours? What could I possibly want from you?”

Yoongi staggers backwards in shock. The distance between them, the steps separating them make it easy for Seokjin to look down on him, the way Yoongi always teased him about.

Something somber flickers on Yoongi’s features, defeated. He flexes his jaw and trains his dark, piercing eyes on Seokjin, determination and stubbornness warring on his face.

“Tell me something true, Seokjin,” he says, just raw enough to steal the breath from Seokjin’s lungs, to make his heart strings pull painfully in his chest, trying to reach out, to heal what can be healed, to hold on.

Yoongi looks at him expectantly, eyes shining with tears, unbidden. How brave one must be, to allow themselves that kind of vulnerability.

Seokjin isn’t brave. He’s never been brave enough to face storms and live within them. He’s safer on shore, existing. Holding on to a throne that’s ripped everything from him before he’s had a chance to sit on it.

It’s all he can do, because this world kills the gentle and the good and the brave impartially, and he can’t be any of these things if he wants to protect the ones he loves, even if they hate him for it, even if he has to endure a life that doesn’t feel like living without Yoongi by his side.

He has too much to lose, and he’s already broken beyond repair, so it doesn’t matter if he breaks more, if the last of his determination to carry on with his head high snaps in half.

He needs to find balance again in everything Yoongi turned over.

“No,” he answers, expelling a rattling breath.

Seokjin feels sick to his stomach, watching the misery settle on Yoongi’s face. He looks like he would sell his soul for Seokjin’s answer to be different, for an opportunity to get back to that moment just a few weeks ago, when they had curled up together on the couch and Seokjin foolishly, stupidly, had talked of New Zealand.

He looks like Seokjin would feel, had he earned the right.

He’s an empty shell, a collection of failures, a pretty shield.

He’s long learned to stand on his own.

It’s how he was always meant to be.

“Goodbye, Yoongi.”

He forces the words past the lump in his throat, voice clipped in a cold, official tone he never used with him before, not even at the very beginning.

Yoongi doesn’t move for a while, but when he does, it is only to take a step back. He scoffs, a small, sardonic smile curling at the corner of his thin lips, eyes wet.

He laughs, but it is soulless, nothing like the soft, pillowy sound that makes his whole face light up, nothing like the Yoongi Seokjin had let lure him into a sense of peace, a sense of tomorrows that could map a brighter path.

“You know, I didn’t think I could get my heart broken again, after everything. After I’ve worked so hard to shield myself from that kind of pain. I was wrong.” Yoongi looks up, tilting his chin up in the defiance that used to make Seokjin’s blood boil in his veins. In that moment, the weight of Yoongi’s words hanging over his head like a Damocles sword, it turns it to ice. “But I would still walk onto that terrace and give you that cigarette, given the chance. I would do it all over again. Because it was worth it. You were worth it.”

He shakes his head, defeated, and steps back again until he is at the bottom of the stairs.

“Goodbye, Your Royal Highness,” he says quietly. 

 Seokjin watches Yoongi leave.

The silence lingers for a moment after he’s gone.

And then his ears are ringing and it’s loud, loud, loud as he falls to his knees.

Yoongi waits until he is certain the car is out of sight from the guards before he stops it on the side of the road.

He takes a deep breath, fingers gripping tightly at the wheel.

And he lets the sobs rake over his whole body, crying tears he feels too drained to shed, mourning a love that never was.

Chapter Text

Yoongi isn’t a morning person, but there’s a certain charm to be found in the quietness of the city in the first hours of the day. It’s quiet, but not quiet enough for him to be alone with his thoughts. He focuses his attention on the streets waking up around him instead, pushing the gloominess out of his mind until he reaches Hoseok’s apartment building.

The security guard is dozing off at the entrance but he jerks awake when Yoongi comes in and waves at him in a feeble attempt at saving face.

Yoongi waves back in automatism and heads to the elevator.

A memory flashes through his mind, Seokjin’s face hidden by a mask, sunglasses and a cap on his head, but his eyes shining with something undecipherable when he had chucked his disguise off, after over a month without the two of them seeing each other. He remembers the way he had kissed him, desperate and full of teasing smiles.

Yoongi’s stomach lurches and he pushes the thoughts away as he walks out of the elevator on Hoseok’s floor and knocks on the door because unlike his closest friends, he does have a modicum of decency in him and doesn’t barge in without warning.

He doesn’t know why he is surprised when it isn’t Hoseok who opens the door but Namjoon instead.

“Oh, thank God,” Namjoon breathes in, immediately moving aside to let Yoongi in. “Hobi was worried sick. I kept trying to tell him it wasn’t possible but he somehow got himself convinced you were killed by the royal guard and–”

Yoongi snorts. “Came pretty close.”

Namjoon frowns. “Did you get any sleep? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look–” He trails off and doesn’t finish his sentence, giving an awkward flourish of his hand instead, his face pulling into a grimace at the prospect of potentially offending him.

Yoongi wonders if it is an aftermath of spending as much time around royalty as Namjoon has, this constant need to be proper and polite, displaying a façade of kindness to hide the true darkness that lies within.

“Like shit?” Yoongi finishes for him. “Yeah. I feel like it too.”

He has enough self-awareness in his own state to know how he must look, face pale, eyes puffy and rimmed with dark bags. After leaving the lodge, he lost track of how long he stayed sitting in Namjoon’s car, crying for a love that never stood a chance in the first place. He had to wait until he stopped trembling and could finally see the road ahead before he started the car again. He isn’t sure what time it was, but the night had reflected the blackness growing in his chest.

Once he was back in the city, he knew he didn’t want to go home. He felt exhausted and yet restless, so he parked Namjoon’s car near Hoseok’s building and went for a walk, mulling over his conversation with Seokjin, mourning the pieces of his heart he knows he won’t recover.

He stopped by a 24-hour convenience store, bought a bottle of lukewarm beer and a notebook and walked to the nearest park, sitting down on a bench and scribbling words down furiously, lyrics pouring out of him as though freshly freed from confinement. He wrote until the pages were black with scrawls and strikes. There was a certain catharsis in using the pen Seokjin got him for Christmas to write about him, he found. A poetic irony he will laugh about someday, perhaps, when his heart no longer feels like it was ripped out of his chest and crushed in Seokjin’s iron grip.

He was barely conscious of the words coming out of him, shining light on the darkest parts of himself, throwing life-rings into the stormy sea of his mind, saving him from letting it take over entirely. It keeps him upright, to be able to put it all down on paper, to find an outlet for the words Seokjin refused to let him say out loud, the words he wishes didn’t burn still at the barrier of his lips even when aborted and rejected.

He hadn’t written much since Daehee fired him from the label, but he supposes he isn’t the first songwriter to channel heartbreak into inspiration.

It wasn’t until dawn was peaking in the horizon that he decided to head to Hoseok’s, having ignored his various text messages and calls to allow himself some time to grieve.

It feels ridiculous to employ such a vast word for what he is feeling, but Yoongi has been through it before, has known his whole life the brutal ocean warring inside, the shortness of breath, the devastation raking through his body, so he can recognize the signs.

With heartbreak comes experience, however, and Yoongi knows that the best way he’s found to usher the pain aside, if only for a little while, is to find a distraction, to write it out until his soul is bare on paper and he’s put it down again, and again, and again, until he has written the rage and sorrow out of him.

This shouldn’t be any different. He won’t allow it to be, or he’ll know he might never move on. He wonders if Lee Jaehwan ever did. Perhaps he knows how, or perhaps he knows it’s impossible, as Yoongi suspects, to move on from Kim Seokjin.

“I need coffee,” he says flatly.

“Did you–” Namjoon sighs, scratching at the back of his neck. “Did you see him?”

Yoongi hums, heading to Hoseok’s kitchen to pour himself a coffee. Namjoon already has a fuming pot brewing, although he seems to favor tea himself, a mug already sitting on the kitchen island where he has papers spread across the surface.

“Did you already find another job?”

“I haven’t been looking,” Namjoon replies while Yoongi rummages in the cupboard for a mug. “These are offers that were sent to me after news got out that I wasn’t working for the palace anymore. I was just looking into them when you knocked. How was he?”

“You’re in high demand,” Yoongi comments absently, adding milk and sugar to his coffee.

“Yoongi,” Namjoon says, too polite to be truly stern but more firmly than a moment ago. “How was he?”

“Perfectly content to break my heart,” Yoongi says, the words tasting bitter in his mouth. He takes a sip of coffee, burning his tongue.

He looked perfect, a lot like he did on the night they met. Too perfect, for someone who broke Yoongi’s heart without ever warning him he had the power to in the first place. Too perfect, for someone real enough to wreak havoc on a cloudless night.

Namjoon casts an apologetic gaze at him. “You know that’s not true.”

“Do I?”

Namjoon opens his mouth to answer but Yoongi raises a hand to stop him, heaving. “I really don’t want to talk about it right now,” he says, sounding more vulnerable than he intended to. “Can we talk about literally anything else?”

Namjoon hesitates for a moment, chewing on his bottom lip, but he eventually nods. He moves to the mess of papers on the counter, plucking out a small file from underneath the pile.

“Want to talk about your future label?”

Yoongi arcs an eyebrow. “Are you fucking serious?”

“I graduated in business and law,” Namjoon says, dismissing his bitter tone with a wave. “I’m good at this, and I think the fact that I was actually separated from the situation helped a lot. It gave me an outside perspective you, Hoseok and Jimin are lacking when it comes to this. This is a good idea. You should at least look into it.”

“Outside perspective from what?” Yoongi scoffs. “We’re starting from scratch. There’s no inside yet.”

“That’s actually where you’re wrong, I think.”

Yoongi’s interest is piqued, and he desperately needs a distraction.

“What do you mean?”

“Hoseok told me your initial plan is to create an entirely new structure,” Namjoon says, voice clipped into a professional tone. For a fleeting moment, Yoongi wonders if this is the same tone he employed with Seokjin, official but not unkind, firm but equally considerate. It’s an odd combination, but it works with everything Yoongi has come to know about Namjoon. “But you have to consider the overall costs of that. You’d have to find accomodation, and considering the expanse of labels nowadays, a simple studio won’t be enough. You’re going to need a vast space.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi replies. “Jimin and I have been looking at some buildings downtown.”

“To buy or to rent?”

Yoongi shrugs. “Whatever ends up most beneficial for us. But most likely to buy. It’s been hard to find investors… I’ve had four different banks rejecting my business plan. My father got word around to his upper-crust friends that I shouldn’t be aided and word travels fast in these circles.”

“Tell me about it,” Namjoon says with a long-suffering sigh. “But anyway, that’s just considering accommodation. You’d also need to account for equipment, new enough that it doesn’t need to be changed in six months, and staff, of course. If you’re taking in Jimin and Hoseok as your first signed artists, you’ll need to pay them plus the fees to break their current contracts with WSB. And I know enough about you to know you won’t want to pay them below what they are earning right now at WSB. You’ll have to scout for more artists to bring in if you want the label to stay afloat, too. Which implies marketing costs, and as a newcomer you’re going to need to engage a lot on that front to be competitive with other labels. And with the legal and business aspect of it all, you probably won’t have time to produce everything, unless you’re ready to give up on both your mental and your physical health. And...sleep, probably. Neither will Hoseok, but I wouldn’t let you do that to him anyway. So you’ll need to hire at least one other producer. And that’s without mentioning managers for your artists, lawyers, graphists for the cover arts and displays, marketing and promotion agents, people to overlook retail sales...and I’m sure I’m missing some.”

Namjoon finally stops and glances at Yoongi, as though he didn’t just dump on him all the reasons why Yoongi’s dreams might very well turn into ash into the palm of his hand.

They seem to be doing that more often than his heart can handle it lately.

“Yeah, it does sound like your research has been lacking.” Yoongi says, matter-of-fact. He purses his lips, running a hand over his tired features. “So basically, what you’re saying is I’m fucked and I should give up already?”

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Of course not,” he huffs out.

“Good, because I’m not giving this up too,” Yoongi says. He ignores Namjoon’s sympathetic smile. “Where are you going with this then?”

“What I’m saying is starting from scratch will be taxing, mentally, physically and financially. But you don’t necessarily have to.”

He slides the file toward Yoongi.

Yoongi opens it and scurries through quickly, but Namjoon’s next words pull his focus back to him.

“You own shares in WSB, right?”

Yoongi blinks. “Uh, yeah. I was planning on selling them to invest the money in my label.”

“How much?”

“17%,” Yoongi replies, confused. “Kim Jihoon gave me shares when I was promoted to main producer for the label, and he left me some more when he passed.”

“Hoseok and Jimin own shares too,” Namjoon says matter-of-factly, as though Yoongi isn’t aware. “With the three of you combined, it brings you to 25%.”

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow. “Get to the point, Namjoon.”

“I think instead of creating your own label and betting on a novel, unreliable structure, you could buy out enough shares to become the majority stock owner of WSB and take control over the company.”

Yoongi’s mouth drops open. “I– What?”

“Taking over your former label instead of starting your own and having to deal with all the expenses that implies and the fierce competition of your market,” Namjoon eludes, though he was abundantly clear before. “Basically, showing your ex-boss the door and taking his place.”

“Can I do that?” Yoongi asks, and before Namjoon can start giving him a lecture on the stock market, “I mean, I know how much my shares are worth. That’s a lot of fucking money. Can I even afford to buy out the shares I’d need to do what you’re suggesting?”

Namjoon taps a finger on the papers Yoongi has discarded. “You could if you follow this.”

“Give me the round up,” Yoongi says. “I’ll read it later.”

Namjoon’s eyes light up, and Yoongi doesn’t know whether it is because he is truly passionate about fucking Kim Daehee over or because he feels useful, but he appreciates it either way.

“WSB is a mess,” Namjoon says. When Yoongi’s frown deepens, a small smile pokes at the corner of his mouth, deepening his dimples. It’s a good thing Hoseok is still asleep, Yoongi thinks absently, because all hope for a productive exchange would have been abandoned had Hoseok witnessed that smile. “Why do you think Kim Daehee was so desperate for publicity? Or a tacit endorsement from the royal family?”

“Because he’s an asshole,” Yoongi replies, deadpan.

Namjoon gives a grimace that suggests he is inclined to agree. “That probably plays a big part,” he admits, “but I think it has more to do with the fact that he’s desperate.”

“Why?”

“He’s made some terrible choices in the past few months. Ever since his father died and he took over, he’s been delegating everything and removing himself from actually doing any ground work. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that he’s more interested in partying and providing for his many mistresses than he is in actually working to keep his company afloat. The people he left in charge have very clearly no idea what they’re doing. They’re investing resources in pointless projects. They’re spending ridiculous amounts of money on booking ostentatious venues without making sure the artist will be able to fill even half of it first. I mean, they shunned their most prolific and successful producer. He fired you, and you were one of the label's biggest moneymakers. I’m certain you’re not the only artist that they’ve brought to a snapping point.”

Yoongi hums, and although he can feel resentment toward Kim Daehee building in his chest, it’s mostly quenched by the bitterness of the consequences of his actions. WSB had been his home for a long time, the work of Kim Jihoon’s lifetime, a place of trust and buoyant creativity and appreciation for artists. There’s a twisted feeling in his stomach, a sort of sick satisfaction at seeing his son fail after all the trouble he’s put Yoongi through, but he can’t help but feel regretful when he sees all the hard work his former mentor put into building this label being blown off by Daehee’s recklessness.

“At this rate, the label won’t survive another year, no matter its reputation or history, and I think Kim Jihoon knew his son wasn’t fit for the job.”

“He hoped taking new responsibilities would make him grow more mature,” Yoongi says with a grimace.

“That didn’t go so well,” Namjoon remarks placidly. “But I think that’s why Kim Jihoon didn’t give him more than the 40% of shares he currently owns. He’s only the majority owner because the rest of you shareholders own less than he does. Which means that if you buy just enough to own more than him, the company is yours for the taking. I do recommend going up to 51% to be safe, though.”

Yoongi heaves out a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. “How do I do that?”

“The other main shareholders are Kim Hyunwoo –who is out of the question because he’s too close to Daehee–, Lee Jiwoo who doesn’t own enough to make a difference, Shin Suran and Lee Hangyeol, who died recently and left all of his shares to his son Jaehwan.”

“Lee Jaehwan as in…”

“Yes,” Namjoon confirms.

“Fuck,” Yoongi groans.

“I’m sure Jimin and Hoseok will be on board, so that’s not an issue. But if you get him and Shin Suran to sell their shares to you, you’ll be at 51%. That’s all you need.”

“I could talk to Suran,” Yoongi says, chewing on his bottom lip. He pauses, shaking his head. “Wait, am I actually considering this?”

“Yes, you are,” Hoseok chimes in from the door.

Namjoon and Yoongi startle, turning to face him.

“Because Dimples is a genius and if he says it’s the best solution, I believe him,” he adds, padding his way to his boyfriend, eyes still half shut with sleep. He yanks at Namjoon’s arm to slither his way underneath and all but molds himself into his embrace, burying his face in Namjoon’s neck with a happy sigh.

A flush creeps up Namjoon’s face but he does a decent job at keeping a professional demeanor apart from that glaring evidence and the hand he rubs up and down Hoseok’s back.

“The bonus is that since they own the shares, they can sell them at whatever price they want, even if it’s below market price. In other words, you wouldn’t have to use all the money you planned to invest in starting your own label, and you can use most of it to fix the mess Daehee has made instead. I suggest starting with firing all of his personal friends in management positions he is clearly overpaying.”

Yoongi nods absently, running a hand through his hair. “I’ll call Suran.”

He grabs his phone, but it’s snatched out of his hands before he can unlock it.

“It’s eight in the fucking morning, Yoongles,” Hoseok says, tone sharp. “On a Sunday. Get some sleep, you look like a zombie. I’ll run you a bath when you wake up and then we can talk about the next step. Namjoon and I will work on a battle plan while you rest.”

Yoongi goes to protest, but Hoseok shoots him down with a scathing glare. “Rest. Guest bedroom. Now.”

Yoongi sighs, but gives a sheepish nod. “Okay,” he mumbles. He stops on his way to the door, heaving out a deep breath.

Hoseok tilts his head to the side. “Do you want to talk about what happened last night?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “No… Maybe later. Just…” He sighs again and rummages in his pocket for the notebook he’s spent most of his night pouring his feelings into. He fiddles with it for a moment, before handing it to Hoseok. “Could you take a look at these lyrics and tell me what you think? I’d like you to work on it with me. I’m not sure I want to do it alone.”

Hoseok gives him a small, gentle smile. “Of course.”

Yoongi nods curtly, shifting on his feet. “Thank you.”

“Anytime, babe,” Hoseok says, with a more cheerful grin. “Now get some sleep or I’ll have Namjoonie knock you out with these big strong arms of his,” Hoseok says with an obnoxious wink, fondling Namjoon’s biceps for good measure.

“Hobi,” Namjoon murmurs under his breath, mortified.

Yoongi chuckles. “Yeah, okay.”

♔ 

The insistent buzz of his phone pulls Yoongi out of an umpteenth rewriting session, the first notes he’s composed blaring loudly against the soundproof walls of his home studio.

He grabs it, reading the text flashing on his screen absently.

If you don’t open the door right now, I’m posting all the embarrassing pictures I have of you on all my social media accounts. Including the maid one.

Ah, Suran. The Suran he knows, outside of business meetings and office hours. Fierce and lethal, unapologetic about who she is. Yoongi kind of missed her.

He peels himself off the blanket slung over him and pushes up his desk chair, padding to the front door.

She unceremoniously shoves her way inside as soon as he opens it; her face is a little red, framed by bright green hair.

“I’ve been ringing the bell for two hours,” she complains.

Yoongi knows it was probably closer to two minutes, but he doesn’t point it out. She would have probably kicked the door down had she waited more than ten.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “I was locked in my studio, I didn’t hear it.”

Suran casts a glance over his living room as she sinks into the couch, crossing her arms over her chest. There are a few clothes scattered here and there, the leftovers of his dinner last night he didn’t throw away when he couldn’t go past the third bite, a wine stain on the coffee table that he didn’t bother wiping off and that it’s probably too late to clean now.

She quirks a judgmental eyebrow at him.

“Unemployment doesn’t suit you.”

“Thanks,” Yoongi says. “Do you want something to drink?”

“No, but I’m guessing I’ll need it,” Suran replies. “Do you have stuff for a martini?”

“Vodka or gin?”

She huffs. “Gin. I’m not an animal.”

Yoongi scoffs, a smile poking at the corner of his lips despite himself, and moves to the kitchen to pour them both drinks.

“You know I’ve been calling you for weeks, right?” she calls from the living room. Yoongi grimaces to himself, glad she can’t see him. “I thought you were finally calling me back, but it turns out you need something from me. I hope you’re ready to grovel, Min Yoongi.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes as he walks back to the living room, making sure she sees him this time. She takes the glass from his hand, taking a sip and sighing in satisfaction.

“The last few weeks have been rough,” he says, which feels like a staggering understatement.

Her stern composure drops, brows knitting in concern. “Are you okay?”

Yoongi picks at the hole in his ripped jeans, mouth twisting. “Are you asking to be polite?”

Suran frowns. “I’m asking because you look terrible, and I’ve been baiting you since I got here and you haven’t told me to fuck off once, which is very disappointing and out of character for you. Also, have I mentioned you look terrible?”

“I’m not doing great,” he admits, shrugging, “but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Suran leans forward, reaching out to touch his knee and squeeze gently. “You can talk to me if you want to, though,” she says. “I also just bought a new car if you want me to run it over whoever broke your heart. You know I’d be happy to.”

Yoongi sniffs, looking away at the window. “How do you know someone broke my heart?”

“You’ve got that look in your eyes,” she replies. “Like you’ve lost something but you still can’t stop looking for it.”

Yoongi sucks in his bottom lip, his heart slamming painfully against his ribcage.

She’s wrong. He’s not looking for Seokjin. He’s heard the message loud and clear and he’s trying to let go, even though it means he has to fight his own instincts every morning. Even though he’s failing.

He clears his throat, straightens on his seat. “So,” he says, voice deceptively light. Suran doesn’t seem fooled, but she lets him get away with it. “On a scale from one to ten, how badly do you want to fuck Kim Daehee over?”

Her eyes sparkle with interest. “The hatred I feel for this man knows no bounds. Go on.”

Yoongi relates Namjoon’s idea, bluntly and honestly, knowing this is the only way he can win her over. He tries to keep his resentment for Daehee out of his voice, but he knows she picks up on it anyway. It’s impossible for her to ignore. She was there when he fired Yoongi, when Yoongi punched him, and she knows Yoongi enough to be aware that he wouldn’t need to be baited into it too much to punch Daehee again if the opportunity presented itself.

When he’s done, she levels him with impassive eyes.

“You want to buy my shares?”

“Yes.”

Susan takes a long sip of her martini before putting her glass down and fixing him with cool eyes.

“No.”

Yoongi’s stomach drops. If he is quite honest with himself, he didn’t expect much. He knows it’s asking a lot from Suran to give up her ties to a company that means as much to her as it did to Yoongi, once. If the situation was reversed, he wouldn’t let go so easily.

He still isn’t entirely sure he has. It’s been over a month since Daehee fired him and he still occasionally wakes up missing it. It’s an odd feeling, especially considering how miserable he had been in the last two years he spent working there. His therapist hasn’t said the words Stockholm syndrome, but Yoongi has been thinking them anyway. He thought it would be enough to make him want to stay as far away from WSB as possible, removed from the inevitable, gloomy outcome Daehee would bring along in his wake.

But Namjoon planted a seed in his mind with his idea, and now he can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop thinking about Kim Jihoon and the passion and love he had for his company, can’t stop thinking about what he could do if it were him at the helm instead of Daehee. He has so many ideas, so many new talents he could bring in, so much passion still for his craft, untouched and preserved from the attacks WSB launched at him in the past couple of years.

He can’t let it slip away from him, not now. He’s lost too much lately already. His job, his second home, his heart. Seokjin.

Seokjin, Seokjin, Seokjin.

This is barely the sliver of a dream, still the embryonic notion of an actual plan, but he wants it. And Yoongi has learned that his greed doesn’t always serve him, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t try again, harder, until he can reach out and touch it.

He can’t lose this too.

“Suran,” he starts firmly. 

She smirks, watching determination cross his features. “That’s more like the Min Yoongi I know,” she says, equally amused and fond. “You didn’t look like you believed in the idea yourself until now. My answer is still no.”

“I’d give you a good price for them,” Yoongi continues, leaning forward.

Suran shakes her head. “Still no.”

Yoongi sighs heavily. “What do you want?”

Her smirk widens as she leans back into the couch. “I want to keep my shares,” she replies, and lifts a hand before he can try to persuade her otherwise again. “I want us to do this together. For Jihoon.”

Yoongi blinks. “What do you mean?”

“I know we haven’t been as close as we used to be since he died,” she says, nostalgia and something distant he can’t identify painting her features. “But Yoongi, you can’t possibly think I’m happy with the way things turned out.”

Yoongi shrugs. “I don’t know, I can’t say things seem to have changed a lot for you,” he says sincerely.

Suran frowns. “You’ve always been a bit self-centered but that’s a whole new level.”

She ignores Yoongi glowering at her, waving it off with a flourish of her hand.

“I used to be Jihoon’s right-hand woman when it came to business decisions, Yoongi. You were the one he went to for artistic matters, but I was the one running the company with him. I was making the shots and I didn’t have to battle anyone for my authority to be recognized. It was legitimate and the fact that he recognized it meant that everyone else did too. Ever since Daehee took over, I’ve been relegated to some secretary de luxe . Do you know how many times someone talked over me at the last operating affairs meeting I attended? Seventeen. I counted. It’s never been easy, being a woman with ambitions in this industry, but it’s never been that hard either.”

Yoongi feels like an idiot now. The thought did cross his mind, of course. He knows how Daehee works, and even more so the goons he’s strategically placed in the highest ranks of the company. He’s heard them talk about some of the female artists they have signed and couldn’t suppress a grimace of disgust.

But he supposes he always put Suran at the same level he put himself within the label; a legacy of Jihoon’s influence and thus, untouchable.

It was wrong for him. He should have known it was wrong for her too, even though they suffered from it in very different ways.

“Jihoon was a great man, but he was a terrible father to his son,” Suran continues. “He put everything he had in his company and his family life was pushed to the background. He never prepared Daehee for any of this, never taught him what he taught us. There’s a reason why he hates you so much, Yoongi. Jihoon treated you more like a son than he ever did his own blood.”

“That’s not my fault, though,” Yoongi replies, because it feels like he should defend himself.

“I didn’t say it was,” Suran says with a wave of her hand. Her nails are painted an electric blue. “But do you really think Daehee cares? He’s a spoiled child who grew into a poor excuse of a man who thinks he can blame everyone but himself for the problems he creates. And to be honest, I don’t care if he had a lonely childhood counting the silver spoons in their maid’s kitchen. WSB is more ours than it ever was his. He never cared about it the way we do and he never will. So that’s what I want. If you want to do this, I’ll do it with you but we’ll do it together. Half of the 51% shares each. Also, I get to tell him he’s fired. And maybe slap his ass as he leaves. For payback.”

Yoongi snorts, licking his lips. He thinks it should probably be a harder decision to make, but he finds that it isn't. It comes easily, like a foregone conclusion to their journey, together and apart, within WSB.

“Yeah, okay. Let’s do this together.”

Suran nods, satisfied. 

“And I want the COO position.”

Yoongi fully chuckles this time, shaking his head in disbelief. It’s a no-brainer, though. She’s right about one thing; she was always better at handling the business side of things. Yoongi belongs to studios and stages, not the cold impersonal walls of an office overlooking the city.

“It’s yours.”

Suran smirks and reaches forward with her drink. “Let’s ruin the little bastard.”

Yoongi clinks his glass with hers and feels himself smiling.

This, he can have.

This, he will have.

Lee Jaehwan is very different from what Yoongi expected, although he isn’t sure himself of exactly that was.

All he knows about him is that he is Seokjin’s ex-boyfriend, that his father passed away recently and left him with a fortune and that he consequently owns 9% of WSB, which is what they need to make a difference and buy it out.

Perhaps it is his knowledge of the past he shares with Seokjin that built Yoongi’s expectations of the man, someone strict and perfectly mannered like everyone surrounding the Crown Prince with the exception of Namjoon, a little uptight, definitely boring, and probably condescending.

Lee Jaehwan turns out to be none of that.

When Yoongi and Suran walk into the restaurant where they agreed to meet, he grins widely and waves at them enthusiastically, attracting the gazes of other patrons around them despite the privacy of the table they booked without seemingly a care in the world.

“Suran,” he exclaims when they get to the table, standing up to give her a quick hug. “It’s good to see you again.”

Suran did warn Yoongi that she already knew Jaehwan and that they were friendly, but he still feels like an outsider watching them greet each other like long lost friends, matching grins on their faces.

It doesn’t last long.

Jaehwan pulls back, not without telling Suran how absolutely gorgeous she looks, before turning to Yoongi, extending a hand without departing himself from his cheerful smile.

“Agust D!” he exclaims before Yoongi can introduce himself. “It’s great to meet you. I’m a big fan.”

“Oh,” Yoongi replies, taken aback. “I didn’t know you listened to my music.”

Jaehwan laughs, a little too loud to be appropriate, and swats at Yoongi’s shoulder like they are long friends reunited and not strangers who just met.

“I couldn’t escape it even if I tried,” he says, somehow not unkindly. “Your music plays everywhere I go. You’re our national pride!”

Yoongi’s eyes dart to Suran, who looks very amused by the flush creeping up Yoongi’s neck, before settling back on Jaehwan’s smiling face.

“Sorry?” he offers sheepishly.

Jaehwan laughs again, just as loud and exuberant and Yoongi’s stomach twists before he can understand what is happening.

He tries to push them away, but thoughts of Seokjin invade his mind, his own trickling laugh echoing through his mind, a phantom of the past. He’s been doing a half decent job at keeping them at bay during the day, leaving the torment they bring along for his long sleepless nights.

He’s buried himself into work, into the song he’s working on with Hoseok, the plan he’s been building up with Suran and Namjoon, into sharing ideas with Jimin about everything they could do once this dream becomes more tangible. He’s been doing everything he can to busy himself enough during the day so that he doesn’t think about Seokjin all the time and to exhaust himself to the point that he’s too tired to think at all when he finally crawls into bed at night.

His success has been moderate.

But now, sitting in front of this man while Suran explains the situation to him, all his efforts feel vain. Jaehwan doesn’t know that Yoongi knows about him, about his past with Seokjin, about the tragic first love story they share, but as he studies him and every single one of his reactions, it’s all Yoongi can think about.

He can’t help it, because Jaehwan is warm and cheerful, friendly and put together, buoyant and charming.

Even then, ten years ago, he had something more. Something that was enough to make Seokjin love him. Yoongi knows, because Seokjin told him. Seokjin told him he once loved Jaehwan, ardently enough that he considered abdicating for him, that he almost came out for him.

Yoongi never asked for that much, but it doesn’t prevent the green monster clawing at his chest, desperate to know, to understand why Seokjin loved this man but couldn’t love Yoongi enough to ask him to stay.

It feels like his answer is right there, though.

Jaehwan is everything Yoongi is not.

It makes a bitter feeling creep up his throat, the truth of how absolutely obtuse and blind he has been. It was stupid of him to even think he could deserve anything but the response –or lack thereof– Seokjin gave him. What could Yoongi give him but sour moods in the mornings, grand speeches about rich people that conveniently ignore that he is one of them and a lifetime of insecurities and deep-rooted issues his regular therapy sessions haven’t even broached the surface of?

He never deserved him.

He only ever got involved with Seokjin in the first place because he wanted to see if he could ruin something beautiful, something perfect. If he could break a facade that was there for reasons he could hardly reckon.

He never deserved him.

Seokjin deserves someone like Jaehwan, someone warm and positive, someone who can deal with the many downsides of diplomacy without sneering or curling his lips in disgust, someone who charms a room with a smile and holds a world of possibilities in the palm of his hand.

All Yoongi ever had to offer was his own hand to hold, and it’s cold, calloused. It doesn’t belong in Seokjin’s, warm and elegant, crooked and a little odd but only in outstanding ways, just like Seokjin himself.

He’s been so incredibly stupid, to ever think his feelings could be reciprocated, to buy into Namjoon’s assurance that they were.

He blinks out of his daze when Suran unceremoniously plants the heel of her stiletto in his foot under the table, making him jump in his seat and swallow a pained moan.

“What?” he blurts out.

Both Suran and Jaehwan are staring at him, although she is the only one frowning, with either concern or disapproval, he can’t quite tell.

She sighs. “Did you hear a word we just said?” she asks.

Yoongi gives them an apologetic grimace. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “I was just...thinking.”

Spiralling is probably closest, but he plasters a feeble smile on his face, knowing it probably makes him look like a lunatic.

If Suran’s expression is any indication, it does.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” she says, sending a look to Yoongi that is just as efficient as it would have been for her to hurl the words ‘don’t fuck this up’ in his face.

The moment she is gone, silence falls between them, and Yoongi shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

This was a terrible idea. He should have listened to Jimin when he said he should have let Suran do this alone.

Why does he never listen to Jimin?

“I heard we have a friend in common,” Jaehwan says softly, swirling the red wine in his glass.

Yoongi blinks. “You...heard?”

Jaehwan shrugs, and it’s nonchalant but also almost teasing, and Yoongi wonders if it serves him to be as friendly as he appears to be in the kind of circles he evolves in. 

“More like I opened Twitter after Christmas and you were all over the news,” he admits with a lighthearted shrug. He leans forward, playing it off like he is sharing with Yoongi a great confession.

Yoongi’s heart leaps in his chest. He really should have used his brain a little harder that night. He should have stopped Taehyung from posting that picture on Instagram. He should not have let himself feel emboldened by Seokjin’s sudden disregard on whether or not their relationship was made public, or at least the surface of it, intangible and incomprehensible to the world. He should have protected the most important part of it, hidden behind closed doors but safe and happy, or at least a distorted mirror of it. It’s when everything started to fall apart.

All for a picture, for the smiles on their faces that were deemed offenses.

Yoongi inhales sharply and regains his composure, tipping his chin up. “Don’t believe everything you see online,” he answers. “You might learn you have three months left to live the next time you have a headache.”

Jaehwan gives a delighted smile. “Ah, did Namjoonie make you sign an NDA? I have a collection of those too. Though we were younger so they probably don’t have much legal value. He’s always been overzealous with his self-proclaimed mission of protecting Seokjin, even when we were kids. It was adorable.”

Yoongi frowns, irritation crawling under his skin. “What are you doing?”

Jaehwan looks surprised, but not deterred. “You do know Jinnie, don’t you?” he asks, something fickle in his tone that makes his oblivious act less believable. “You were with him in that picture.”

Jinnie.

Jinnie.

“You know it was me,” Yoongi replies, deadpan. “Everyone knows it was me. Why are you mentioning him right now? We’re here to talk business, not… Not…” He trails off, unsure how to finish this without incriminating himself. “I’m not here to gossip about the royal family,” he finishes in a breath.

“I suppose you’re right,” Jaehwan says with a smile, nodding. “I apologize if I overstepped. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him in a long time. I’ve been trying to get in contact with him in the last few weeks but I don’t have his private phone number and when I called the palace I was told he doesn’t take personal calls at the moment.”

Something ugly roars in Yoongi’s chest and he wants to snap, to scream, to thrash against the thoughts burgeoning in his mind.

What if Jaehwan is all Seokjin has been waiting for, this long-lost love, this tragic story that never had closure?

What if the problem wasn’t circumstances or Seokjin’s self-sacrificing tendencies, like Namjoon has tacitly told him, but Yoongi himself?

What if he simply couldn’t compare to a man who, ten years later, still calls him Jinnie, still talks about him with tenderness in his voice, still reaches out to him despite the walls Seokjin has erected and the heavy burden of his regal name?

Yoongi swallows hard, urging his heart to refrain from letting it all show on his face, lest Jaehwan will know the heartbreak they share, the absence they both endure.

“I don’t know why you’d think I’d have an answer for you,” he says, keeping his voice steady.

“I thought you were close,” Jaehwan replies, blind to Yoongi’s inner turmoil. “You seemed close. I hadn’t seen him smile like he was in that picture for a long time. But again, I’m really sorry if I was out of line. I just wanted to make sure he’s happy, you know?”

His smile has vanished, his lips turned down into a frown.

Bitterly, Yoongi wonders if this is where he will be in ten years.

Still in love with this idea of Seokjin in his mind, still longing for days where what they had felt real, important.

Still picking up the pieces Seokjin scattered in his wake and snuffing out the slightest glimpse of him.

He doesn’t know if he hopes otherwise.

He doesn’t know if he wants to stop loving him. It feels bigger than what his chest can contain, bigger than himself even. It feels like a continuous storm, and somehow he can’t bring himself to run away from it, to shield himself from the ruins it will leave once it’s gone.

“It’s like I said,” Yoongi mumbles, mostly to himself, “don’t believe everything you see online.”

“Mmh. My bad.” Jaehwan quickly recovers, the smile back on his features. “So, let’s get the unsavory bits out of the way. Their crème brûlée is to die for and I’d hate to talk business during dessert, it would just ruin it. Why should I sell my shares to you?”

“The current CEO has been mismanaging the company ever since he took over,” Yoongi mumbles. “Suran and I are trying to take over and fix the mess he created before he ruins a label we both love beyond repair. Your 9% would allow us to go up to 51%.”

Yoongi lays down the arguments he, Suran and Namjoon worked on together, perfectly rehearsed, too perfectly perhaps. He sounds robotic, but it’s all he can manage when he can’t stop thinking of Seokjin in broad daylight, when he can’t confine those thoughts to the darkness of his bedroom or the tip of his pen furiously rushing against paper.

“Min Yoongi,” Jaehwan says, the name rolling off his tongue with a conniving grin.

He leans forward, and Yoongi moves back instinctively, but Jaehwan doesn’t seem to notice or care. He doesn’t seem to have much care for personal space. He reminds Yoongi of Seokjin in that way too.

“I own more than 9%.”

“What? But–”

“Daehee is burning through his inheritance,” Jaehwan says, and unlike many people from the supercilious jet set Yoongi has met, he doesn’t sound like he is trying to conceal his eagerness at being the first spreader of gossip that will inevitably travel through the whole network. “He’s not thinking in a long term perspective right now. I saw him at a party a few weeks back. I told him I was interested in investing more in the music industry because this is something I’ve always been passionate about. He immediately offered to sell me some of his shares and to sit on the board. I said yes.”

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow.

“I own 14%,” Jaehwan clarifies. “He’s down at 35%.”

Anger coils in Yoongi’s stomach, a revived resentment towards Kim Daehee, who is selling over his father’s heritage with an ease that implies it means nothing, that WSB is trivial and not something to be cherished and protected. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised anymore when Daehee keeps proving time and time again how little he cares for what Jihoon spent a lifetime building.

“He doesn’t care about this company the way you and Suran do,” Jaehwan says, as though he can read his mind. “It’s all business to him, and he’s not a good businessman. He didn’t even reevaluate his shares before selling them to me and he didn’t even try to negotiate. I’m not going to make the same mistake, Yoongi, no matter how good-hearted your intentions are.”

Yoongi licks his lips, leaning forward. “We’re not trying to fuck you over,” he says bluntly.

Jaehwan laughs, buoyant. “I would hope not,” he replies. “You misunderstood me, though.” When Yoongi doesn’t reply, a scowl settling between his brows, he continues, “My father used to invest in any company he deemed stable enough to bring in money. I’ve been selling a lot of his shares in companies I want nothing to do with. There’s a reason I haven’t sold his shares in WSB despite the mismanagement you pointed out and why I was even interested in buying Daehee’s in the first place. The music industry has way more interest for me in the future than the unethical multinationals my father had a foot in.”

“If you think this industry is a world of ethics, you might want to reconsider,” Yoongi says soberly.

Jaehwan chuckles again. “I’m just wondering what’s in it for me, Yoongi.”

“We’re willing to buy your shares over market price.”

“I don’t care about the money,” Jaehwan says, eyes boring right into Yoongi’s. “I’m not looking for profit. I don’t need to.”

“What do you want then?” Yoongi asks.

“I’m looking for projects that will excite me. What do you have to offer me that would excite me, Min Yoongi?” he asks, resting his elbow on the table and his chin on his palm. Yoongi swears he sees Jaehwan’s eyelashes fluttering. “I’m at a turning point in my life. I’ve lost a lot of time and I’m not willing to waste any more of it.”

Yoongi’s scowl deepens. He’s too straightforward for mind games, and he’s positive Jaehwan isn’t flirting with him but just trying to appraise him, to find something in his expression that will turn his rebuttal into a yes.

He probably should have chosen a better target than Yoongi for this. Yoongi doesn’t want to play mind games with anyone, much less flirt when all of his thoughts are still permeated by plump lips and broad shoulders and a cascading laugh.

“I’m getting a vibe that you didn’t have the best relationship with your father.” Yoongi knows that for a fact, but Jaehwan doesn’t need to know that. Jaehwan frowns, surprised by the change of tone, Yoongi’s stern and calculated. “That makes two of us. I originally wanted to build my own label from the ground up, but my own father, who has refused to acknowledge my existence my entire life, decided to fuck me over by getting the word around to all of his 1% top friends –your father included, I’m guessing– not to invest in anything I had to offer, no matter how solid my business plan was. He did that because I stood up to him and he wants me to grovel back to him, especially now that I’ve been fired from WSB. He wants me to beg for help so he can control me even if he never gave a single fuck about me. I don’t know you, but I have an inkling that you can understand how passionate I am about not letting that happen. So, from one man with a shitty father to another, would it be exciting enough for you to know you’ve helped me send a big ‘fuck you’ to mine?”

Jaehwan stares at him for a long time, his face impassive.

A smile breaks on his face and he laughs, louder and more genuine than anything Yoongi has heard so far, head thrown back and hand resting on his stomach.

“Oh, I like you,” he says after a minute, amused. “I really like you.”

Yoongi suppresses a sigh of relief. 

By the time Suran joins them again, apologizing for her absence with a claim she had to take a phone call, they have come to an agreement and Yoongi is one step closer to his goal. He should feel relieved. He should feel at peace.

He feels restless instead.

Seokjin thinks things can’t possibly get worse. So, of course, they do.

A week after Taehyung and Jeongguk confronted him at the fundraiser, a family meeting is called.

“The King can’t attend this meeting,” the Queen reports from her seat at the end of the table. “I will be conducting it in his stead.”

“Is Father okay?” Seokjin’s uncle Seonjo asks. “We haven’t seen him in a while.”

It’s probably the most sensible thing Seokjin has ever heard him say.

The Queen gives her son a reassuring smile that turns Seokjin’s blood into ice. “The news we need to discuss today upset him more than we anticipated. He is resting.”

Her eyes settle on Seokjin, as if to make sure he feels properly guilty for putting his grandfather on bed rest, and he forces himself not to bristle under the coldness they convey. He knows it’s a lie, that whatever is keeping the king away from this meeting has more to do with his grandmother than anything else, but he keeps his mouth shut. He doesn’t want to further incite her wrath after the latest disaster.

Jeongguk has jokingly called family meetings the Courtroom for a long time, but this is the first time it actually feels exactly like one. Seokjin never imagined they would someday be host to his own trial.

“Does it have anything to do with these three stirring yet another firestorm in the media?” Seonjo says flatly, gesturing evasively at Seokjin, Jeongguk and Taehyung. “Some royal trio you three make.”

“Jeongguk and Taehyung reacted rashly, but their anger was justified,” the Queen sniffs, lips pursed, as though it wasn’t exactly her intention so that Seokjin would appear isolated to the public’s eye.

He scoffs out a scornful laugh, but the look Jeongguk sends him, still furious and betrayed, has his amusement, even sardonic, vanishing in a matter of seconds.

Seonjo frowns, his dark eyes drifting between the Queen and Seokjin.

“Are we going to be told what’s happening or should we guess what Seokjin has done this time to warrant this meeting?”

The Queen’s lips pull into a stern line. “Would you like to tell them or should I?”

“I wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to gloat away from you, Grandmother,” Seokjin replies flatly.

His defiance is met with silence. He can see his uncle’s eyes widen with shock. Taehyung’s mother Bora, sitting by the Queen’s side, tenses, eyes drifting to her son in a muted question. Taehyung doesn’t look back at her, his shrewd eyes set on Seokjin instead.

“Jin tried to have my and Taehyung’s titles stripped away,” Jeongguk cuts in, features schooled into careful neutrality.

The Queen nods, satisfied. “And he enlisted the help of Sanghoon to do so.”

A quiet gasp travels across the room. Seokjin struggles to maintain his composure but he stays impassive as the gazes around the table settle on him as one, waiting for a denial he doesn’t offer.

When the silence is finally broken, it is by Seonjo chuckling, his lips curling up in disdain.

“Give me a moment,” he says, his obnoxious laughter cutting through the thick tension in the room.

“No one is laughing, Seonjo,” Bora snaps. “This isn’t some kind of intricate farce.”

Seonjo’s eyes widen again, his mirth leisurely fading away before he turns them to Seokjin.

“Damn kid, I didn’t think you had it in you. First you’re taking political stances, then displaying public homophobia, and now stabbing your own family in the back. Have you been taking political lessons from European royalty? What’s next? Dating an actress?”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, his jaw flexing in irritation.

“Quiet, Seonjo,” the Queen says, exasperated. Her son leans back in his seat obediently, but a smirk lingers at the corner of his lips. “I called this meeting so we can decide together what to make of this before it gets to the press. This can’t go unpunished.”

“Are you going to say something to defend yourself?” Bora asks him. Her eyes are unreadable, but there is no animosity there either.

Seokjin allows himself to feel a pang of affection towards her.

“No,” he says.

She blinks, surprised, and heaves out a deep sigh.

“I think I would like to hear what Jeongguk and Taehyung have to say about this,” she says, reaching out to grab Taehyung’s hand over the table. “They are the ones concerned after all.”

“I think all of this is unnecessary and should be discussed between Seokjin and us,” Taehyung says calmly, though he pointedly refuses to meet Seokjin’s eyes. At the end of the table, their grandmother doesn’t seem pleased with Taehyung’s intervention. “I think these meetings should have more worth than settling disputes between us. They could serve a real purpose, such as actually discussing national issues and how to solve them. That being said, I don’t want him to be punished.”

“Of course you don’t,” Seonjo says, rolling his eyes and unsurprisingly ignoring the very valid point Taehyung attempted to make. “He could try to have you both killed and you two would still worship the ground he walks on. You can’t be trusted to have an unbiased opinion on anything that concerns him.”

“With all due respect, Uncle,” Taehyung replies, eerily placid, “our affection for Seokjin isn’t the matter of this meeting. Though this is a strange comment, coming from a man who’s been less than discreet about his intentions to be made heir to the throne in lieu of Seokjin before his mother had a chance to be buried. Can you be trusted to have an unbiased opinion?”

Seonjo’s expression turns positively murderous. “You’re too blinded to see the bigger picture. Seokjin was a child–”

“He was eighteen.”

“–and it would have been the right thing to do had something happened to the King. He wasn’t ready.”

“But nothing did happen to the King, and you still tried to climb your way up the succession line,” Taehyung opines, his voice leaving no room for negotiation.

“I’ve only ever acted in our best interest and the interest of the monarchy. Can he say the same?” Seonjo snaps, jabbing a finger in Seokjin’s direction. “All of our last family meetings have been to discuss damage control because of his actions. He has no respect for the Crown. If the last months have proven anything, it is that he’s too reckless to reign, just like his mother before him.”

Seokjin clenches his teeth, his fingers curling into tight fists over his knees.

“And yet he’s still closer to the throne than you’ve ever been,” Taehyung retorts calmly, “or will ever be.”

“He’s not suited to rule,” Seonjo concludes, fuming. “He should abdicate. How’s that for a punishment?”

Seokjin would laugh at the irony, would tell them it would be no punishment but rather a saving grace if only he could find the will and energy to fight today.

“I disagree,” Bora cuts in firmly, gaze flickering to Seokjin. “We can’t have people abdicating every time they do something we disapprove of, or none of us would be in line for the throne. And I must insist that we ask Seokjin why he tried to do what he did. Why are we skipping directly to punishment without having heard Seokjin’s side?”

“You’ve heard him,” Seonjo says. “He doesn’t have anything to say for his defense.”

She ignores him, eyes flitting to Seokjin’s on the other side of the table.

“Seokjinnie,” Bora calls softly. She looks too much like his mother then, gaze tender and patient. The word tears at his chest. “What happened? Why would you do this?”

Seokjin fixes her with unwavering eyes, tight-lipped. He inhales sharply, teeth gritting with irritation. “Are you all really going to pretend you don’t know why I could want to free them from this life? Have you been lying for so long that you’ve forgotten?”

Seonjo huffs. “Are you going to give us your mental health speech again? Please save your breath. Not all of us are that weak.”

“Oh, shut up, Seonjo,” Taehyung snarls, honorifics forgotten. “You’ve never had a hard day in your life, that’s easy for you to say.”

Seonjo gasps in affront. “How dare you, you litt–”

“Enough!” the Queen says, annoyance woven into her voice.

Seokjin smirks to himself. “Sorry, Grandmother. Sometimes blood doesn’t run thicker than water, does it?”

It’s a barely concealed jab at her heritage, of her royal status that lies only on marriage. Seokjin doesn’t care about how blue her blood truly is, never did, but he knows how much she does and he’s done taking the higher road when she keeps dragging him down to congested paths.

From the tension that falls over the room, he can tell everyone has heard it for what it was.

“I think Seokjin knows as well as any of us what sacrifices being King requires,” Bora says, calmer. “And even if he didn’t, it’s not our place to speak on it. He’s the heir to the throne, whether we like it or not, and we can’t talk of respecting the monarchy if we disregard that fact.” 

“The King and I agree with Seonjo,” the Queen says, a glint of something bitter shimmering in the corner of her wrinkled eyes. She barely acknowledges her daughter, but Seokjin isn’t surprised. She never was very good at listening to her daughters when what they said didn’t please her. “Seokjin should abdicate.”

There’s silence for a moment, heavy and foreboding, and Seokjin forces himself to stay impassive when all the gazes turn to his brother.

Jeongguk straightens up in his seat, his eyes finding Seokjin’s across the table. He regards him coolly, something apathetic playing under his lashes, like he’s playing the same game they all are, like he has been for longer than Seokjin can fathom.

There is no anger or hesitation in his stance, both put aside to let the truth pierce through.

He’s painted and he’s cried and he’s fought; and he did it with his eyes open all along.

“I agree,” he says.

Seonjo smiles triumphantly.

Seokjin’s stomach lurches.

His phone buzzes on the table, and his eyes drift to it automatically, seeking a distraction from the disappointment and betrayal he can read in his brother’s.

He would normally disregard it, especially in the situation he is facing, but he catches a glimpse of words on the screen and it’s enough to make him pause. It’s from Namjoon, and though he seemed to have given up on his attempts to contact Seokjin in the last few days, there is a certain urgency to his tone.

I know you don’t want to talk to me but I just saw the news about Jaehwan. Are you okay? Did you know? Has it been dealt with? Call me if you need me.

Seokjin frowns, picking up the phone to unlock it.

He opens the first news app he finds and doesn’t even have to scroll down to see what Namjoon is talking about.

It’s right there on the front page.

Lee Jaehwan, son of late conservative politician Lee Hangyeol and heir to the Lee empire, comes out as gay in public statement; “I don’t want to hide anything anymore.”

The world stops spinning.

Seokjin’s breath catches in his throat, his mind blanks, and in a matter of seconds, all that is left is fear, and this eternal companion of his, a deep, intangible sorrow that washes over him and turns everything else into a blur.

Fear for what Jaehwan might have said, for what people might be able to read between the lines, for the past that might resurface, for the collateral damage Jaehwan’s courage might cause for him.

But smothering it all, sorrow.

Sorrow for the dream they once had, for this life Seokjin will never live, this truth he will never tell.

For the energy he wasted away.

For the peace of mind he gave up on.

For the life he craves but can’t have.

For the love he lost.

He doesn’t know why this is it, the thing that brings it all up to the surface. Why Jaehwan coming out, on his own terms, free from his father’s shackles, is what makes him feel like he finally tipped over the edge, unable to get up, to see past the darkness, to fight to salvage what he can.

He’s exhausted.

He’s drained.

He gets up, his whole body trembling as he heads to the door.

“What are you doing?” the Queen calls, voice hitching up with outrage. “You can’t walk away from this meeting. This is about you.”

Seokjin’s fingers shake over the door knob.

“You can’t make me abdicate and I won’t, so I suggest you find something else to punish me with. I recommend another one of these meetings, they’re punishment enough,” he tells them, unable to keep his voice from wavering. “I’ve done more for the Crown than you will ever know. I’ve given it everything, so I don’t really give a fuck about what you have to say.”

He storms out before any of them can stop him, ignoring the gasps of offense he can vaguely distinguish through the ringing in his ears. He thinks he hears Taehyung and Jeongguk calling out his name but he doesn’t stop. He can’t stop.

He needs to be alone for this. He needs to lock himself away while his last line of defence crumbles like a house of cards.

He makes it to his office in record time.

“Don’t let anyone in,” he tells the security guard posted at the door, frantic.

He slams the door behind him, breathing labored. His eyes roam over the room, seeking something he can’t name, a refuge he can’t find, a storm that doesn’t come.

He doesn’t know what to do with himself, how to be, how to live like this anymore.

He barely registers the clashing voices behind the door, doesn’t turn around when it opens at his back with a clamor, not until a gentle hand lays down on his shoulder, firm, grounding.

Seokjin turns around, eyes brimming with tears, soul torn apart.

Jeongguk watches him warily, concern and fear warring on his face, panting a little from having run after him.

“I can’t breathe,” Seokjin chokes out, but his words are aborted by a sob ripping through his chest. “I can’t–”

“I’m here, Jinnie,” Jeongguk murmurs. “I’m always here.”

A cry breaks out of him, and another, and another, until his body heaves with each one, burning, dizzy with the heat of pain, of shame, of the energy to fight and stand upright he can no longer muster.

“I can’t do this anymore,” he weeps, long, wrenching cries rupturing years of pretence, the masks falling at his feet all at once. “It hurts so much.” He grips at Jeongguk’s sleeve, holding tight. “It hurts so much.” He heaves, but the air refuses to flow back to his lungs. “It hurts too much.”

When he falls, Jeongguk catches him.

It’s a twist Seokjin didn’t see coming.

Chapter Text

When Seokjin opens his eyes, all he sees are bright lights.

He feels warm, his body neatly wrapped in white sheets. It takes him a moment to realize he is in the VIP wing of a hospital he knows too well.

It takes him even longer to notice Namjoon is there, sitting on a heavy clinical chair at his side, dozing off, cheek squished against his fist to support his head.

He stirs lightly in the bed, but it’s enough to make Namjoon jerk awake. He blinks blarily at Seokjin for a moment.

“Hey,” he says, voice hoarse. “How are you feeling?”

His brain conjures up a lie, ready for him to use to assuage the worry in Namjoon’s eyes.

But he’s tired of the lies, tired of fighting against his own instincts, tired of denying himself the comfort he could so easily be given if he accepted the hands extended to him.

So Seokjin forces it down.

“Exhausted,” he croaks out.

Namjoon smiles in sympathy, knowing what Seokjin truly means without him needing to voice it out loud.

“Heartbroken,” he adds in a whisper, struggling to swallow past the lump in his throat. He glances up, catching the eyes of his oldest friend. They are teeming with affection and understanding. “Sorry.”

He tries to formulate something more coherent, but words fail him, tears threatening to spill over his lashes, lungs defecting.

“I’m so sorry, Joonie,” he manages to choke out.

Namjoon leaps out of his chair, eyes wide. “Hey, it’s okay,” he pledges, voice equally soft and firm. “Jinnie, it’s okay.”

Seokjin shakes his head, but it’s all he can do before Namjoon wraps his arms around him and pulls him into a hug. It’s a little uncomfortable, with the hospital bed and Seokjin lying down and crying, but he melts into it nonetheless, letting Namjoon rock him back and forth to the rhythm of the “I’m sorry'' Seokjin whispers against his shoulder in a mournful litany.

He feels a grip against his hand in his sleep.

It’s strong, grounding, perhaps a little desperate.

I’m here, Jinnie. I’m always here.

It soothes him into a deeper rest.

When he opens his eyes again, Namjoon is gone and it is Taehyung sitting by his bed.

Seokjin feels a pang of guilt at the crestfallen look Taehyung gives him when their gazes meet.

Seokjin opens his mouth to apologize, but Taehyung pokes his hip under the covers and speaks before Seokjin can.

“Make some room for me,” he demands. “I want to cuddle.”

Seokjin huffs, the ghost of a smile playing on his lips, but obediently scoots aside so Taehyung can climb on the bed and curl up against him. If he holds Seokjin’s waist a little too tight, a hint of fear in the grip of his hand, Seokjin isn’t about to point it out.

“You had a vasovagal syncope,” Taehyung explains after a while. The room is quiet, filled only by the sound of footsteps behind the door and their soft breathing. “The doctor said it was caused by stress and exhaustion. She said it could be triggered by strong emotional distress.”

Seokjin hums absently, resting his cheek on top of Taehyung’s head.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Seokjin gulps, but lets himself be soothed by the familiar aroma of Taehyung’s flowery shampoo tickling at his nose.

“I need to talk to Jaehwan,” he says quietly.

“I’ll ask Namjoon to organize a meeting,” Taehyung says, “but you need to rest first.”

“Okay,” Seokjin murmurs. “I need to talk to Gukkie too.”

“You do,” Taehyung replies. “He’s been visiting a lot but you were sleeping and he took over your meetings, so he can’t be here all the time.”

Seokjin’s breath stutters, his chest constricting painfully. Taehyung must sense it because he is quick to reassure him.

“He’s doing okay,” he promises. “He’s just worried about you. We all are. But he can handle it, Jinnie. You need to stop coddling him.”

“He’s never reacted well to social obligations being forced on him,” Seokjin argues, though it lacks any real heat; he’s still too tired to summon much more than a defeated whisper.

“This wasn’t forced on him,” Taehyung answers. “He chose to. For you. So you can rest for a while. You need to stop underestimating his ability to choose for himself. He knows what’s best for him. You can’t always try to protect us without ever considering how we would choose if you left us the opportunity to do so.”

Taehyung pulls back to look at him. “You told me you wanted us to be free, so let us be. Let us make our own choices and deal with the consequences on our own terms. Let us learn. You’re only hurting yourself and us trying to carry it all on your shoulders. It’s too much for you. It’s too much for anyone. You need to share some of the burden with us, Jinnie. We’re a lot stronger than you give us credit for.”

“I know,” Seokjin admits sheepishly. “I love you. You know that, right?”

Taehyung bumps their heads together. “I love you, too. Even when you’re being a stubborn asshole.”

Seokjin chuckles, but the sound is aborted by another wave of regret and sorrow churning through his stomach.

“I just don’t want you to go through what I have to,” he murmurs, tears flooding his eyes again. His throat throbs when he tries to hold them back. “I just want you to be allowed to be yourselves.”

“It’s not incompatible,” Taehyung says with a forlorn smile. “We can do what’s expected of us and still be ourselves.”

“I can’t,” Seokjin says breathily.

A tear rolls down Seokjin’s cheek but Taehyung catches it with his thumb, carding his fingers through his hair softly.

“It’s not compatible for me,” he insists. “I can’t be myself and be heir to the throne, Tae. You know it’s impossible.”

Taehyung shakes his head, resuming his previous position, rubbing his cheek against Seokjin’s shoulder until he’s comfortable.

“You’re braver than you think,” he says after a moment of silence.

Seokjin scoffs, but warmth spreads through his chest, his lips curving slightly upward. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

He can feel Taehyung smile against his shoulder. “Sometimes you need to believe it to see it.”

Seokjin is released from the hospital two days later.

He gives a quick statement to the journalists camping on the parking lot, assuring them that it was just a minor scare and that he feels perfectly fine, Namjoon and Taehyung flanked on both his sides in silent support.

They ask if Namjoon is back to working for the palace, but Seokjin doesn’t give them an answer. He’s asked Namjoon already, and Namjoon said yes without much hesitation, but he wants to leave him a window of opportunity if he changes his mind. He wouldn’t blame him if he did. He doesn’t think he would have been so quick to forgive himself were the roles reversed, but Namjoon is the best man he knows and though Seokjin thinks he deserves better than a lifetime of hiding secrets for his sake, he’s done trying to choose for the people he loves what he thinks is best for them.

It hasn’t done him any good and, worse, it hasn’t helped achieve any of the goals he had set for them either. He needs to learn to let go, as Taehyung repeatedly told him to, and the mere idea of it seems unfeasible, but he needs to try if he wants to salvage what can be.

He needs to be better.

He spends the next five days holed up in the lodge, forced to step back from his duties by both the doctors and Namjoon and Taehyung, who refuse to update him on anything that has remotely to do with the palace until he’s taken at least a whole week off.

The free time, he finds, is both a blessing and a curse.

Without the distraction of a constant inflow of work and the exhaustion of running from meeting to meeting, there is nothing to keep his mind from going rampant, bringing forth everything he tried valiantly and foolishly to bury as deep as possible.

And when he finally has room to think, his thoughts are inevitably plagued with Yoongi.

When he slips into bed at night or lazes there in the morning, he thinks of Yoongi’s cold feet curled around his ankles, of his smart mouth brushing against Seokjin’s collarbone, of his reluctant smiles in the first lights of dawn and the pride that had filled Seokjin when he could entice it to grow wide enough to show Yoongi’s gums.

When he sits by the window, watching the horizon and trying to summon a storm with the force of his will, he lets his eyes drift down naturally to the watch around his wrist and tries to catch the right lights until the bezel shines with breathtaking rainbow colors. His heart pangs, longing for the tender curl of Yoongi’s lips when he had explained its purpose.

When his mind drifts to deeper, bleaker thoughts, he thinks of Yoongi’s open heart and how easily he had made Seokjin yearn to divulge all of his truths, even the ones he had forgotten himself. He thinks of the warmth that had spread through his chest every time Yoongi had asked him how he was and shown with a look alone that he cared for the answer, no matter what it was.

He tries to keep himself busy, reads books he had put aside for too long, catches up on a drama Taehyung has been telling him to watch for ages, writes down in a notebook everything he needs to tell Jeongguk but hasn’t quite found the courage for yet.

There are some days when he can’t bring himself to get out of bed at all, but he tries not to feel too guilty about it by reminding himself that this is the first week off he has taken in a very long time and that his last time off otherwise was the day of his birthday, and the minute respite he had found in Yoongi’s arms. He tells himself it’s okay, thus, not to know what to do with free time when he’s alone with himself and still convinced it is not great company.

On the sixth day, he receives a visitor who is neither Namjoon nor Taehyung.

Jaehwan smiles at him as soon as he steps out of his car, but it's a little hesitant, a little wary, as though he expects Seokjin to collapse at his feet with exhaustion.

“I’m fine,” Seokjin says before he can ask. “It was truly minor.”

Jaehwan nods in acknowledgement, pulling a face. “I was worried,” he admits. “You know I’m well aware of the lengths the Crown is willing to go to to hide the truth about your family’s health.”

Seokjin sometimes forgets.

He never forgave himself for being distracted on that night that turned out to be the worst of his life, but it’s easy to let it morph into a blur of guilt and agony and omit the fact that it was Jaehwan, in particular, that had preoccupied all of his thoughts. That it was his presence, his lips against his neck, his promises to fight the whole world for Seokjin, that had kept him from noticing the things he should have, from staying at the palace just this once.

“You’re right,” Seokjin says, motioning for him to come in. “You do.”

Jaehwan toes off his shoes at the door, eyes travelling across the lodge. “So, what did you want to talk to me about?” he asks, never one to beat around the bush.

He’s of a naturally curious disposition, and he was never good with the build up that sometimes leads to great revelations.

Seokjin walks to the bar by the window. “Whiskey?” he asks, carting air into his lungs.

“I don’t drink,” Jaehwan answers.

Seokjin nods, pouring himself a glass anyway. He takes a long sip, tastes the bitterness on his tongue and licks his lips before mustering enough courage to talk.

“I think congratulations are in order.”

Jaehwan blinks, surprised, though realization quickly dawns on his features. “Oh, Jin.” He sighs, looking stricken. “I tried to warn you I was going to come out,” he says. “I tried to contact you, but the palace told me you weren’t taking any personal calls.”

“I–” Seokjin huffs. “That was my grandmother’s doing. She also made Namjoon persona non grata the moment she learned I had been stupid enough to fire him. It’s been giving me the worst headache undoing it the past few days. Turns out even I am vulnerable to the twists and turns of administration.”

“The Queen remains lovely as ever, I see,” Jaehwan says, deadpan.

Seokjin shrugs. “Nothing I shouldn’t have expected. But I didn’t ask you to come here to lay all my problems on you. I just wanted to make sure...”

“I won’t say a word,” Jaehwan finishes when Seokjin hesitates. “Just because we’ve been long over doesn’t mean the promise I made you is. You know I would never do anything to wrong you.”

Seokjin allows relief to wash over him for a moment, taking another sip of his drink.

“How are you feeling?”

“Honestly? I’ve never felt better in my life,” Jaehwan says, almost apologetic.

Seokjin smiles, and he finds he doesn’t have to fake this one. “I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you, Jin,” Jaehwan says. “How about you? How have you been doing?”

Seokjin plops down on the couch, staring blankly at the ceiling. Jaehwan sits down next to him, waiting patiently for Seokjin to gather his thoughts.

“If we’re being honest, I don’t know. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I could bear it all on my own, and I wanted to push the people I love away so they would be safe from this life, at least as much as possible. I think I was wrong. And now I’m not sure how to fix it.”

Jaehwan leans forward with an inquisitive look. “Is there someone in particular?” he asks, a glimmer of interest in his eyes. “Someone you love? Or do you mean Jeongguk and Taehyung?”

Seokjin pinches the bridge of his nose, sucking in a sharp breath. “There was,” he murmurs, relieved to know he can talk about it with Jaehwan, because even after a decade, even after everything, he still knows Seokjin better than most. And Seokjin still trusts him to keep his darkest secrets. “I drove him away too. But it’s for the best. He deserves better than what I have to offer him. This life...My life, it’s too much. It’s not worth it.”

“Jin, can I tell you something as someone who once loved you?” Jaehwan asks, something careful in his tone.

Seokjin hesitates but nods, finishing his drink in one gulp to distract himself from the flashes of dark, piercing eyes and wide, adoring smiles crossing through his mind.

“You tend to underestimate your importance in people’s lives and when you’re scared you might become too important to them, you push them away,” Jaehwan says, so kindly Seokjin feels his heart stutter in his chest. “The problem is you’re often too late for that. Because you’re you, and it’s hard not to love you.”

He reaches out to take Seokjin’s hand and Seokjin lets him, basking in the ephemeral comfort it offers. “Anyone who loves you knows what it entails. It’s impossible to ignore everything that it means. And trust me when I tell you it doesn’t go away because you choose to leave for others’ sake. It hurts more when you leave than it could ever hurt to bear it all with you.”

Seokjin is tired of the tears that seem to constantly sting at his eyes these days. He’s been holding them back for so long, it seems he’s lost the strength to keep them at bay any longer.

They burn at his eyelids, always a whisper away.

“I never did apologize for breaking your heart, did I?” he mutters self-deprecatingly.

Jaehwan shrugs, a benevolent smile dancing in his eyes. “You had more important matters on your mind back then. You were grieving. You became the direct heir to the throne. I never blamed you for ending things between us. I was just sad that I couldn’t be there for you. I wanted to help you get through it.”

Seokjin shakes his head. “It was my burden to bear, not yours.”

“See?” Jaehwan chuckles, but it’s sadder than amused. “This is exactly what I mean. You always insist on doing all of it alone, but you don’t have to. The people we surround ourselves with, the ones we love unconditionally and who love us back, they’re not just here to share the good times. They’re here for the bad ones too.”

Jaehwan squeezes his fingers gently. Seokjin squeezes back.

“It lessens the pain, even if it stays yours. It will always stay yours. But maybe you can share pieces of it with the people you trust to take good care of them.”

“I haven’t done anything to earn such loyalty,” Seokjin murmurs, the words hanging heavily in the air between them. 

Jaehwan rolls his eyes, but it’s more playful than annoyed. “That’s not your decision to make.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, pressing his lips together.

Jaehwan scoots closer on the couch, laying his other hand atop their linked fingers.

“You’re worth it, Jin,” he says softly. “And so is everything that comes with loving you, even if it’s a hardship sometimes. It’s not always your place to decide whether it is worth it or not for others to take that leap.”

Yoongi’s deep voice echoes in his mind, firm and tender despite Seokjin willfully breaking his heart and stomping on the pieces scattered between them.

It was worth it. You were worth it.

“If Min Yoongi is half as smart as he thinks he is, he’s probably already decided that it is.”

The shock is so grand it halts the tears threatening to roll down his cheeks, his eyes broadening with shock as he turns to look at Jaehwan.

“How do you–”

Jaehwan is smirking, smugness at the edge of his mouth.

“I met him.”

Seokjin blinks. “What?”

“I made business with him,” Jaehwan eludes. “Sold him part of my shares in WSB against a position in the company. Yoongi and one of his friends are planning on taking over by buying out enough shares. They needed my father’s shares to move forward, so we met. I already had a hunch after seeing that picture on Instagram that was all over the news, and the way you were looking at him… I just knew. I asked him about you. I mentioned that we had a friend in common, but he shot me down and acted like it was all in my head. I could see he was lying, though. He was very clearly heartbroken. You really did a number on him.”

“Fuck,” Seokjin whispers under his breath, guilt gnawing at his insides. “I miss him. I miss him so much.”

Jaehwan lifts an eyebrow. “Then what’s stopping you?”

Seokjin’s stomach twists painfully.

“Myself. Nothing. Everything.”

“Is he worth risking everything?”

“Yes,” Seokjin says. “I think he is.”

The late days of February bring along clement weather and as the season starts to change, Seokjin feels himself changing along with it.

As nature braces itself for a new bloom, he contemplates his mistakes and decides to make amends for the ones he can.

Seokjin arrives at the palace as a group of correspondents is escorted outside by Jeongguk and Taehyung, courteous smiles painted on their faces. Namjoon did tell him they were holding the palace’s monthly press conference today, an ordeal that normally falls upon him, but Seokjin thought it would be long over by now. Jeongguk rarely gives press conferences and when he did in the past, he was always in a rush to finish them as soon as possible.

He can see the moment he is spotted, one of the reporters moving towards him on near automatism but quickly deterred by the security guards flanked at his side.

“Your Royal Highness,” one of the braver ones calls as Seokjin approaches them.

Seokjin recognizes her as one of the palace correspondents for a trendy news website he’s heard Taehyung say good things about before. He remembers reading her piece about the feminist event he and Taehyung attended what feels like a lifetime ago; her article had been mostly positive and supportive of their alleged efforts to modernize the monarchy. He smiles at her.

“We were just told your break might be extended.”

Seokjin’s smile turns cunning. “I still live here, don’t I?” he asks, though it is far from the truth. He doesn’t remember the last time he thought of the palace as his home.

“Will you be back soon?” she inquires.

“You’ll hear from me eventually,” he says. “Though you and your colleagues usually don’t need to to write stories about me.” He meets Jeongguk’s eyes for a second before focusing back on her. “Or any of us, truly.”

He knows it’s a little mean, especially considering she has never been one of those. She’s a thorough reporter, from what he can tell, and he can’t recall reading anything particularly offensive or inaccurate in any of her articles. He says it more for the array of reporters lingering to witness their exchange, hanging on to his every word like he’s about to spill state secrets.

“I like to make sure my sources are reliable,” she fires back without missing a beat.

“I hope you two heard that,” he tells Jeongguk and Taehyung teasingly, a smirk pulling at his lips. “I’m more reliable than you.” 

“That’s not–” the journalist sputters, clearly not expecting this turn of events.

She’s about to blabber an apology when Jeongguk rolls his eyes, reaching out to grab Seokjin’s arm and pull him forward and away from the horde of reporters.

“If only they knew how heartlessly you betray me every time we play video games,” Jeongguk declares, with a dramatic edge to his tone that is all for show.

“Jeongguk wins every time anyway,” Taehyung whispers to the reporters with a sympathetic grimace, though it is loud enough for all of them to hear.

“I resent that!” Seokjin exclaims, pointing a finger at the journalist. “Let the record show that this is a blatant lie.”

“I’m not sure this will make it to the article, Your Royal Highness,” she says politely.

Seokjin knows it to be untrue. The royal trio, reunited and teasing each other on the palace’s front staircase? This is going to be the headline of tonight’s news unless something bigger happens until then –namely, the American president doing something reckless and stupid, as it happens more often than Seokjin or anyone is comfortable with.

“Just make sure to mention how handsome I look,” he tells her with a wink, before walking inside, Taehyung and Jeongguk on his heels.

He peels the grin off his face as soon as the doors are closed. They stop in the middle of the hall.

“What are you truly doing here?” Taehyung asks airily.

He already knows what Seokjin is doing here. He helped him gather his wits just the night before between meaningless jabs and smothering hugs.

“I came to talk to you,” Seokjin says, tilting his head to catch Jeongguk’s eyes.

His brother doesn’t reply, the two of them staring each other down with matching frowns.

Taehyung huffs, shaking his head. “You two are absolute idiots,” he says, linking each of his arms with one of theirs and yanking them in the direction of Jeongguk’s workshop. “I’ve never seen two people who love each other as much as you two and are so utterly bad at expressing it. I am going to lock you in Gukkie’s workshop and you’re going to communicate. You’re not getting out until you’re back to being my favorite annoying cousins. I don’t care if I get arrested for sequestering two of the idiots ahead of me in line for the throne. That’ll make some better headlines than ‘Prince Seokjin is back and yes, he is still handsome.’”

“I am very handsome, though,” Seokjin interjects, arching a brow.

“We know,” Taehyung and Jeongguk grunt in the same voice. 

As soon as they get to the workshop, Taehyung all but hurls them inside, shutting the door behind them.

“I’m not here,” he tells them, plopping down on the couch in the corner, plugging his earphones in and plucking out his phone to give them a semblance of intimacy. “You do your thing.”

Seokjin shifts uncomfortably on his feet, but a look at Jeongguk tells him he isn’t fending much better.

“I–” they start at the same time, only to chuckle awkwardly.

Seokjin flits his hand in an encouraging motion. “Go ahead.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “No, you first.”

An uncomfortable silence hangs between them.

“Oh my God!” Taehyung exclaims loudly, groaning in exasperation. He glares at them over his phone. “You two are the worst. Aren’t you supposed to be communication experts? Did all our training go to waste?”

“Shut up!” Jeongguk protests, though it comes out as more of a whine.

“I’m not here,” Taehyung reminds them with a downright devilish grin. “But if I were here, I’d tell you to get your shit together and stop walking on eggshells.”

Seokjin doesn’t know Jimin much, but he’s heard Yoongi talking about him at length, and he wonders if Jimin has anything to do with the absolutely unapologetic way Taehyung is telling them off. There was never much formality between them, but Taehyung was never quite so brazen about calling them out until recently.

He shakes his head, unable to conceal his fondness as he watches Taehyung and Jeongguk sticking their tongues at each other.

“Let’s sit,” Seokjin offers, gesturing vaguely towards the small table against one of the windows that gives on the palace’s garden.

Jeongguk tears his gaze away from Taehyung and back at him. He gives him a small smile and nods. Seokjin lets his eyes drift to the garden for a moment. He can see the terrace of his office from there, and he can’t help but think of Yoongi for a fleeting moment, the place forever permeated by his presence that night all those months ago. He can almost smell the distinct blend of petrichor and smoke and citrus that still haunt him.

From the corner of his eye, he can see Jeongguk leaning forward, and he turns back to face him, bracing himself with a deep breath.

“I’ll go first, okay?” he asks softly.

Jeongguk twines his fingers between them on the table, nodding.

“I’m very sorry,” Seokjin ventures, enunciating each syllable with as much sincerity as he can muster. “For everything.”

Jeongguk purses his lips, giving a minute gesture of his hand for Seokjin to continue.

“I know it isn’t enough,” Seokjin says, the words weighing heavily on his chest. “I know it doesn’t make up for everything, but I’m truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing. Well… Maybe that’s not entirely true. I knew it was wrong, but I thought it was the only option I had to save you from this life.”

There is a silence, cut through by Jeongguk’s sharp intake of air. He levels Seokjin with firm but gentle eyes.

“Seokjin, I know it’s not perfect. I know it’s tough, and yes, sometimes it feels like too much. Yes, sometimes I want to throw it all away because I’m tired and too mentally drained to have the patience to sit through pointless meetings about whether or not we’re allowed to go to a damn art gallery opening or speak our mind on the subjects that matter the most. But despite all of that, I don’t hate this life. You do.”

Seokjin frowns, a rebuttal already forming on his lips.

“Please don’t lie to me,” Jeongguk says before he can. “I can’t handle any more lies.”

Seokjin ducks his head, a pang of guilt washing over him.

“You hate it,” Jeongguk says, leaving no room for Seokjin to argue. “But still you refuse to let go of even a modicum of it. You refuse to be any less than what is expected of you, even though it’s killing you. It can’t go on like this, Jin.” He sucks in a deep breath, reaching out to take Seokjin’s hand between his own. “I didn’t agree that you should abdicate because I think you should be punished. I know why you did what you did. I know that everything you do, you do with my well-being in mind, even when it’s so blatantly far from it. I agreed because you need to be protected too. I agreed because you’re so scared I’m going to break that you can’t even see you’re the one breaking in front of us.” He sucks in a sharp breath, and his voice wavers when he says, low and crestfallen, “Jinnie, you’re killing yourself. Even if it’s slowly and subtly, that’s what you’re doing and I can’t let you go on like this. You need to take a step back and give yourself time to get better.”

Seokjin’s hand grips at his hair, tight enough that it’s almost painful.

“I’m fine,” he answers automatically.

“I asked you not to lie to me,” Jeongguk counters, gently entangling Seokjin’s fingers from his hair, one by one. “You’re not fine, Jinnie. Because you chose to be unhappy for my sake.” There are tears gathering in his eyes, a quiver to his lips as he speaks. “Do you have any idea how harrowing that is? To know that the person I love the most decided his happiness was trivial compared to mine?”

“But it’s all my fault,” Seokjin whispers, tears of his own clogging his throat. “If you’re unhappy, it’s all my fault. The episodes. The nightmares. I have to make up for it somehow. It’s all my fault.”

Jeongguk blinks, his lips turning down. “Why do you think that?”

Seokjin uses his free hand to run it across his face, gritting his teeth to prevent the tears from spilling, so hard it makes his jaw ache.

“It should have been me that night,” he says, the scattered pieces of his heart cracking in his chest. “I should have been there. It should have been me finding her.”

Realization crosses Jeongguk’s face. “Oh, Jinnie,” he whispers, his voice wavering. “It’s not your fault. None of it is your fault.”

“Do you know where I was that night?” Seokjin says harshly, though none of the heat is directed at Jeongguk. He must know it, because he tightens his hold on Seokjin’s hand. “I was with Jaehwan, getting drunk off my mind. I was… I was having the time of my fucking life with my boyfriend when you found her. It took the palace four tries to reach me because I was so distracted I couldn’t even pick up my damn phone. I wasn’t there for you. I wasn’t there for her.”

“Jinnie,” Jeongguk murmurs, “you weren’t doing anything wrong.”

Seokjin looks up sharply. “Of course I was!” he snaps, years of pent up resentment seeping through his tone.

“If this had been any other night, it wouldn’t have mattered, so why should it now?”

“Because it wasn’t any other night!” Seokjin bursts out. “I was there every other night! I was the one talking her down when she was spiralling. I was the one telling her that what happened to Father wasn’t her fault. I was the one reminding her that we were there for her. I should’ve been there that night too. I could’ve– I should’ve–”

His voice trails off, voice quieting as a sob rip through his composure.

“Seokjin, listen to me,” Jeongguk asserts, eyes bearing into his own, his cheeks marked with fresh tears. “There is nothing you could have done.”

“It should have been me instead of you,” Seokjin insists. “It should have been my nightmares to bear, not yours.”

“And then it would be me sitting where you are, wishing things could have been different,” Jeongguk sniffs. “But it wasn’t, and it’s okay. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault either, or even Grandmother’s. It’s not anyone’s fault. It just is.”

Seokjin shakes his head. “It was too much for her,” he says, wiping at his nose with the sleeve of his hoodie. Yoongi’s hoodie. God, he is such a mess. “I don’t want it to be too much for you too. I’m the heir, and it’s not something we have to share. You don’t have to abide by any of the social obligations I do if you don’t want to. I’ve worked so hard to make sure you don’t. I’ve sacrificed so much.”

“I never wanted you to,” Jeongguk murmurs. “I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. So I tried to show you, but you’ve planted all these ideas in your head about what I can and can’t handle, and you never gave me a chance to prove to you they were wrong.”

Seokjin swallows hard to keep more tears from coming, looking up at him.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t throw myself into everything I do to be the best,” Jeongguk says, gesturing broadly at the collection of projects he has accumulated in his workshop throughout the years.

Paintings and drawings, the row of mirrors hung up against the wall from his dancing phase, the hand-painted chess set resting on a table by the next window. There are tokens of Jeongguk’s many passions in the past years scattered through the room, symbols of his excellence in every domain he sets his mind to. Relics of the past they tried to erase rather than accept.

“I do it because I’m hoping it will help you see that you don’t have to try so hard to protect me anymore. I’m doing okay. And on the days that I’m not, you should know I will be. Of course I still need you sometimes. You’re my brother and I love you, and sometimes I need to know I can count on you to pull me back from the dark places my mind wanders to. But you don’t have to put your whole life on hold for me. I don’t want that. I don’t need that.”

Jeongguk squeezes his hand, and Seokjin grips it tightly, sniffing pitifully. Matching feeble smiles break through their faces when their eyes meet.

“I’m not perfect,” Jeongguk insists, voice firm despite the tears still pooling in his eyes. “I’m not good at everything. But I try, so you don’t have to be. I work hard so you’ll allow yourself to be weak and vulnerable too at times. So you can lean on me just as I lean on you when it gets hard to stand on my own.”

“But are you happy?” Seokjin asks, because it’s all that matters, all that’s ever mattered.

A beat passes, Jeongguk chewing nervously on his bottom lip. Seokjin waits in agony, praying to gods he doesn’t believe in that the answer will ease the ache in his chest.

“I started going to therapy,” he exhales in a breath. 

He doesn’t say it in a particularly grand way, stating the words like it’s something normal and expected, but Seokjin’s mouth still drops open in shock. “What?” 

“I started going to therapy,” Jeongguk parrots. “It’s been a few weeks.”

“But...how?” Seokjin asks, hoping Jeongguk doesn’t mistake his surprise with disapproval. He squeezes his fingers to ensure the sentiment is clear. “We’re not allowed to hire external medical help and the physicians here would sooner let all of us go mad than suffer Grandmother’s wrath if they even dared to talk about something as trivial as mental health. I know, because I tried. I tried so hard, Gukkie. She stopped me every time.”

Jeongguk grimaces, but nods in ascent. “After my last episode, that night Taehyungie brought me over when you were with Yoongi…” Seokjin flinches a little at the name, his heart seizing in his chest, but Jeongguk only gives him a sympathetic look before he goes on, “Yoongi contacted Namjoon a couple of days later and asked him to give me the name and number of a therapist he thought could help. It’s someone who’s used to working with famous people and the discretion it demands. I’ve been talking to him twice a week. Namjoon helped me draft an authorization sheet pretending Dr Moon is helping me on a charity project.”

“Yoongi did...” Seokjin murmurs, but can’t bring himself to finish his sentence, the words fighting a losing battle against the magnitude of his grief.

Jeongguk gives him a smile laden with chagrin. “He cares a lot about you,” he says, matter-of-fact. “And he knows how much you care about me. He wanted to help.”

A headache is beginning to throb at Seokjin’s temples, a direct aftermath from all the tears he has spilled lately and that he had held back for too long.

“So I don’t know if I’m happy, but I’m getting there,” Jeongguk says with a shrug. “I’m working on it. I’m trying very hard to be, anyway. I would be happier if you let yourself be too.”

“I don’t know how to do that,” Seokjin admits in a murmur, though the sole idea is enough to bring forth an image of a half-asleep smiling Yoongi to the front of his mind. “I don’t know how to be happy without fearing the consequences it would have for you.”

“Then we’ll deal with the consequences, no matter what they are. Together,” Jeongguk says firmly. “If I have to fight for you, I will. If I want to get more involved in the Crown’s affairs, I will, no matter what you or Grandmother have to say about it. You need to trust me, that’s all I’m asking from you. If I think I can’t handle it or if it feels like too much, I will tell you. But it will be my choice, Jinnie. And if I end up being wrong, it will be my mistake. My lesson to learn from. My chance to get back up and face another day.” His gaze drifts to Taehyung for a moment, who is doing a half-decent job at pretending he isn’t eavesdropping, before settling back on Seokjin. “But you can’t ask us to watch you harm yourself the way you have and accept it. That’s more painful than anything else we could go through. So please, please, let go. I know I just said I didn’t want you to do things for me, but can you do this? For me? Can you let go?”

Seokjin swallows hard. “I can try,” he promises. “I can do my best.”

Jeongguk smiles, big eyes shining with satisfaction and care. “Your best is good enough,” he says, assertive. “Your best has always been good enough. You have always been good enough to me. I never needed more than just you.”

Fresh tears gather at Seokjin’s eyelashes. He feels spent, worn down by years of believing otherwise, a decade of seeking perfection and never reaching the bar of enough.

Seokjin has been often told he is great –a great prince, a great diplomat, a great face to point at so the world doesn’t look where it should be looking instead, a great fantasy of perfection. He doesn’t often get told he’s good enough. That Kim Seokjin is good enough without all the lies and the artifices.

He begins to sob, muffling the sounds into the sleeve of Yoongi’s hoodie.

It doesn’t smell like him anymore, it hasn’t for a long time, but he can pretend it does for a little while, can yearn for the comfort it would bring if Seokjin had allowed it to linger, to become as important as his heart had longed for.

Jeongguk is up from his seat in a matter of seconds, walking around the table to kneel by Seokjin’s side, nudging at his sleeve until Seokjin follows. Jeongguk wraps his arms around him, an unsuspecting anchor in the tumultuous storm Seokjin’s life has become.

So Seokjin lets himself go, his sobs echoing through the room like a wrenching chorus.

He feels a hand stroking his hair, recognizes Taehyung’s touch, Jeongguk’s arms wrapped tightly around his waist, the three of them kneeling on the floor now.

“It’s been so hard,” he hears himself confess.

Jeongguk’s arms tighten around him. “I know.” 

It takes a while for him to stop crying, but when he does, blinking up from where he has buried his head in his own hands, he finds Jeongguk and Taehyung gazing back at him, tears rolling on their own cheeks.

The three of them are still kneeling on the floor, and Seokjin doesn’t know where it comes from, but he laughs, visualizing the picture they must paint, three princes in direct line for the throne, sobbing their heart content away.

“We must look ridiculous,” he chuckles tearfully.

“I might call that journalist back to finally expose to the world that you don’t look great in every circumstance,” Jeoongguk says cheekily.

Seokjin laughs, wiping at his nose. “Shut up, I have an amazing crying face.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, but it’s playful, fond, miles away from the true exasperation Seokjin has seen addressed to him before. He sits back on his heels, though his hand doesn’t leave Seokjin’s shoulder.

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Seokjin says honestly. “I really don’t know.”

Taehyung clears his throat, drawing their attention back to him and his own crying face, lips sucked in and fingers covering his mouth.

“Not to add to this cry fest,” he sniffs, and stops to heave out. He blinks, a few remaining tears rolling down his cheeks, before he finally speaks again, “but Yoongi just released a song on his Soundcloud and you should listen to it.”

He unplugs his earphones from his phone and hands it over to him without another word, and Seokjin barely has time to register the shock and the words that just came out of Taehyung’s mouth before he’s looking down at the screen and seeing a picture of Yoongi, looking up at the sky with a smirk on his face. He stands in complete darkness except for the faded lights brushing over his delicate features in soft rainbow colors.

Seokjin absently rubs at the bezel of his watch.

Outro: Tear, the first line reads. Produced by Agust D, j-hope. Lyrics by Agust D, j-hope.

Your truth is worth the tears you endure and the fears you conquer to get there, the caption says, and then, for a suspended moment, there is nothing between Seokjin and Yoongi but a button on a screen.

He only has to press it, but as his thumb hovers over the icon, he finds himself hesitating and wholly unprepared for what awaits him.

“Do you want to be alone for this?” Taehyung asks gently.

“No,” Seokjin whispers urgently. “God, no, please.”

Jeongguk smiles and shuffles a little closer while Taehyung rests his cheek on his shoulder, rubbing his back in silent support.

Seokjin swallows hard, sucks in a shaky breath, and presses play.

His chest starts aching the moment he hears Yoongi’s voice. It’s been so long, too long already. He misses it, whispering against his ear, teasing him relentlessly, grousing at him or easing his worries. He misses it, small when he dares to share his insecurities, strong when he reassures Seokjin on his own. He misses Yoongi, and it is tearing him apart.

My heart is torn, please burn it instead

So that pain and regret, none of that would be left

But this… this is so much worse than just missing him. Because missing him is Seokjin’s burden and his fault. He’s the one who pushed Yoongi away, who crushed his heart.

To hear it in a song, Yoongi’s voice, his words, his plea, raw and emotional and broken, it’s something else entirely.

Because Seokjin never realized the true magnitude of the heartbreak he has caused until now. He thought he had stomped on his own heart to preserve Yoongi from exactly what his lyrics are depicting now; devastation, torment, grief. Doom.

He thought he was doing the right thing, for Jeongguk’s sake but for Yoongi’s sake too.

Because why would he be worth fighting for? Why would they have to endure the hardships that befall upon him?

It isn’t fair to them. But God, why would it be fair to him? Why couldn’t he allow himself this breath of fresh air, this smile that soothes, these words that heal wounds that run deeper than he can fathom? 

Why couldn’t they be afforded this sole luxury?

There’s no such thing as beautiful goodbyes

Seokjin is tired of goodbyes.

Nothing that hurts this much can be right.

No pain so unbearable can be just.

Woo take it easy, slowly carve out my heart

That’s right, that’s right, gently step on the shards that have shattered

Seokjin only manages to breathe when Hoseok’s voice takes over. It is no less heart-wrenching, each word still desolated and sinking further into the hollowness in Seokjin’s chest, but at least it isn’t Yoongi telling them anymore, spitting them like his life depends on it, like the heartbreak is still fresh and tangible, like the time that has passed since they last saw each other only served to reveal their loss for what it was.

I’ve woken up from the sweet dream and I close my eyes

This is the real you and this is the real me

No, Seokjin wants to cry out. It wasn’t me. You know it wasn’t me.

You know me. You know the real me.

The song ends, and Seokjin feels oddly terrified.

Terrified because he knows there will be no moving on from this, from Yoongi. Because he knows that it doesn’t matter that it’s been a month, for in ten years still, he will be thinking of him. Because he knows the weight of regret, the burden of guilt, and he is stubborn enough to carry this pain for as long as it takes for Yoongi to vanish from his mind, but he won’t. He can’t.

Terrified because he knows his life was always meant to be one of sacrifices and compromises, of negotiated freedom and tedious isolation, and he finds himself wanting to fight it.

Terrified because above all, he fears that what he has done is irreparable, that the lies he told Yoongi in the end were unforgivable ones, that no extended hand will be able to create a bridge over the abyss he’s forged between them.

He is terrified that he has lost him entirely, and doesn’t know how to survive it if he has.

“Fuck,” he murmurs to himself, tugging on his hair in despair. “Fuck. Fuck.”

“What are you going to do?” Jeongguk asks again, gently unfurling Seokjin’s fingers from his hair. There is something hopeful about it this time, encouraging.

“I love him.”

“We know,” Taehyung says, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“I’ve made so many sacrifices,” Seokjin murmurs. “I don’t want him to be one of them.”

“Good.” Jeongguk smiles. “Don’t tell him I said that, but I like him. And he makes you happy. You’ve earned it, Jinnie. You’ve more than earned the right to let yourself be happy now.”

“I’m going to tell him I love him.”

“That’s a good start,” Taehyung agrees.

“And I’m going to try and get him back.”

“Good boy,” Jeongguk says, patting his head cheekily.

Seokjin halfheartedly swats his hand away, but he can’t help the excitement and overbearing hope that courses through his veins.

And though he doesn’t believe in any god, having been churned too often, he prays he isn’t too late.

He prays he gets a chance, if Yoongi allows it, to tell him he is worth fighting for. 

He’s worth more than all the crowns and all the lies in the world.

He’s worth enduring the tears, conquering the fears and baring the truths he was told to bury.

A dream takes shape in his mind, reborn from a fire he had long put out.

Seokjin feels it burn through his whole body. He doesn’t run away from it.

Chapter Text

Kim Daehee is silent.

“Mr. Kim?” his executive assistant says, surveying him warily.

He doesn’t reply, his eyes shifting from Yoongi to Suran and back to Yoongi. His jaw is set in an angry line, his breathing sporadic and loud in the otherwise empty room.

Daehee glances swiftly at Jaehwan, looking for either support or sympathy, Yoongi never cared to know him well enough to be able to tell the difference.

“I signed 9% of my shares over to them yesterday,” Jaehwan says placidly. He is far from the man Yoongi had lunch with just a few weeks ago, friendly and playful. His demeanor now is the opposite, apathetic, sturdy. “Between the two of them, they now own over 51% of the company, Daehee.”

Daehee’s face shifts and his eyes widen, as if the ground just opened up beneath his feet and he’s expecting to fall down the thirty floors and crash on the street below.

“You can’t do this,” he finally spits out, anger punctuating every word.

“It’s already done,” Yoongi says.

“And you’re fired, sweetheart,” Suran adds with a saccharine smile.

She looks a little too satisfied with herself, but Yoongi can’t begin to imagine how many unwelcome ‘sweethearts’ she’s been on the receiving end of in the past two years, so he’s more than happy to let her have this.

“I don’t believe you,” Daehee hisses, leaping to his feet. “This company is worth billions. You can’t afford to buy it over me. You’re nobodies .”

There aren’t many people in the room. Jimin and Hoseok are both present but they have been silent throughout the whole thing. Yoongi isn’t exactly surprised, considering they were both very clear about being there for the sole purpose of seeing the look on Daehee’s face when he’d realized he lost, perhaps for the first time in his life. 

Kim Hyunwoo, who is one of Daehee’s oldest allies, has fallen silent too, though Yoongi surmises that it has more to do with saving his own ass. He’s always been more clever than Daehee, and Yoongi is sure he’s understood already that he shouldn’t be making enemies out of Yoongi and Suran because they are taking over, no matter how much Daehee whines and cries about it.

“You should be careful who you call nobodies, Daehee,” Yoongi says. “Nobodies know how to earn their dues more than you ever will.”

“Earn?” Daehee echoes with a derisive laugh. “Is that what you want to call it? What happens if I fight back? You’ll ask your little royal friends to blackmail me again?”

Yoongi ignores the puzzled look Suran gives him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“All your talk about admiring my father and respecting his integrity and you’re just going to ignore his last will and steal this company from his son?” Daehee says, almost shrieking.

Yoongi feels a wave of guilt washing over him, but he ushers it away. Jihoon may have wanted his son to take over WSB, but he couldn’t have imagined what disaster his decision would have brought upon his life work. Maybe he had hoped Daehee would grow from the experience, but the past two years have proven how misplaced his faith had been.

Daehee looks like a child, even now, even when he is finally facing the consequences for his actions. 

And Yoongi realizes in that moment that perhaps that had been Jihoon’s plan all along, perhaps that was why he left both Yoongi and Suran such important shares of the company when he passed. If he had truly believed Daehee capable of assuming his responsibilities as CEO without running the label into the ground, he would have left WSB to him outright, without dividing it up, without leaving anyone else the possibility to take over. 

“I don’t think we’re ignoring his legacy by making sure you don’t bring it to its ruin,” Yoongi says placidly. “I think you know that as well as I do.”

Daehee doesn’t reply, silently seething.

“You’ve got many other income-producing assets,” Suran pipes up. “You can ruin those if you want, but we’re not going to let you do that to this company.”

Daehee quickly gathers his stuff –which isn’t much, considering he never did come prepared to those meetings– and throws them one last murderous glare.

“This isn’t over.”

But as the door slams shut after him, Yoongi knows it is.

He expels a long sigh of relief and swivels his chair around to face Hyunwoo, who straightens up on his seat.

“We’re going to vote to elect a new board of directors,” he says. “Considering his absence, Daehee’s vote will be null. Would you like to follow him or will you be staying?”

Hyunwoo ducks his head, shifting uncomfortably on his seat. “I think I’ll stay.”

Jimin pops open a bottle of Deutz champagne and begins pouring it into tall flutes, spilling half of the liquid on the conference table.

“To making Kim Daehee cry!” Hoseok declares, raising his glass without a hint of sympathy in his voice.

Yoongi lifts an eyebrow. “He didn’t cry,” he points out.

“That’s not the boring story I will be telling,” Hoseok retorts.

Yoongi rolls his eyes, but he can’t quite contain the small smile curling at the corner of his lips.

“He may not have cried in front of us, but I’ll assume that’s why he ran away when he did,” Suran says. “If I’m asked, I’ll back Hobi’s story.”

“You two made a grown man cry,” Hoseok insists, a hint of pride seeping through his voice.

Yoongi huffs, but he doesn’t try to argue further. He knows a lost cause when he sees one.

“If anything, Suran would be the one who made him cry,” he opines, flicking his gaze to her.

“Making grown men cry is indeed a talent I try to cultivate,” she agrees, tipping her flute in his direction, gazing up from her phone for just long enough to reciprocate Yoongi’s smile.

Hoseok’s eyes crease with laughter before he leaps out of his chair and sashays his way to where Yoongi is still sitting mutely. He places both his hands on Yoongi’s cheeks, squeezes and beams at him brilliantly.

“Congratulations, Yoongles,” he says. “You are now CEO of WSB Entertainment.”

Yoongi hums.

He knows it will take a few hours –perhaps a few days– for realization to d