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It's been a long time since Seokjin ate something so spicy it made his eyes water. As he chews through the tteokbokki, he can feel the pepper making his lips swell. He dabs at his eyes with a flimsy tissue, wincing and exhaling sharply to let out some of the steam. "Hot," he huffs, swallowing down his bite and scrambling for his tea.

Taehyung grins, his own lips bright red and tender. He was smart enough not to order the tteokbokki, and more than delighted to goad his cousin into ordering a bowl. "I told you it was spicy, hyung. Everything's hotter here." He takes a long sip of his strawberry smoothie, chewing on the end of the straw.

"That sounds like something locals make up to lure in unwitting tourists." He gulps the rest of his tea and eyes Taehyung's smoothie. "Please? For hyung?"

Taehyung obliges, sliding the cup toward him. "Maybe this wasn't a great place to start our food tour."

"Are you kidding?" Seokjin pauses to take a long sip of the smoothie. It's icy and overly sweet, the sugar so cloying, he almost gags. "Now my tastebuds are obliterated, and I can eat anything I want."

"This doesn't sound like something a chef would say," Taehyung teases, reaching for his smoothie. He frowns to find the cup empty.

"I'm off the clock," Seokjin says, pushing the bowl away. "I'm just a man visiting his cousin in a new city, trying out the local cuisine."

"Don't say local cuisine." Taehyung grabs the bowl and the little bits of trash from the table. "Come on, we'll grab some nabjak mandu at the next stall."

Seomun Market is lively as ever, bustling with locals pouring out of the subway station, and wide-eyed tourists wandering past each stall. Seokjin's always loved these markets—the noise and stench of it all, vendors hawking greasy snacks tucked into thin waxed paper, the smell of oil and garlic permeating the air.

He remembers visiting the markets with his mother when he was younger. When he was still a child, she put him in a little harness with a leash, letting him wander off within arm's length to stare at the produce and fresh fish. The shimmering, metallic fish stared back with their large, glassy eyes, and Seokjin stared at them in wonder, trying hard to imagine them under the waves, drifting with the currents until they were snatched out of the water.

As he grew older, he learned to weigh an eggplant in his hands, to touch it gently, pressing his thumbs into its firmness, testing for freshness. His mother taught him how to haggle—just enough to show he was a respectable customer, but not too much to insult the vendor. She let him sample the dried anchovies and chestnuts from the baskets arranged on folding tables.

So much of that excitement drained away when he went to culinary school, leaving him with the rote memory of chopping and julienning carrots and leeks, but very little of the joy. He liked the days when they could go to the market and pick out ingredients for their classes. He liked to chat with the farmers over heads of large, leafy cabbages, fingers brushing over the fanned edges.

"You'll like these mandu," Taehyung calls, glancing over his shoulder. He gestures at a small stall tucked between a tea merchant and someone selling bags of dried beans.

Seokjin nods, grateful that his cousin didn't bat an eye when Seokjin called him two weeks ago, begging for a place to stay with no other details. He couldn't bring himself to explain his sudden escape from Seoul. Saying it out loud might make it feel too real.

And like all good food, the dumplings erase his worries, filling his head with nothing but the joy of biting into freshly steamed dumpling skin. The filling is piping hot, but delicate in flavor with the blend of aromatic leeks, green onions, and carrots. Seokjin and Taehyung each order a tray, shoveling the hot dumplings into their mouths, laughing and blowing out hot air with each bite.

This feels like summers past when they were old enough to weave through the markets alone—Taehyung with his wild laugh and unruly hair, eyes widening at the sight of red bean pastries pulled from huge ovens, glistening with sugar. Taehyung often visited Seokjin in Seoul during the summer, but those visits eventually tapered off as they got older.

It's been a couple years since Seokjin last saw Taehyung, and he feels a pang of regret as he dips his dumpling into black vinegar. He can't help but wonder how many moments like this he's missed out on. He opens his mouth to speak, but Taehyung waves him off, dropping his last dumpling into Seokjin’s paper tray.

"I can tell you're going to say something cheesy, hyung," Taehyung says gently. "Don't." He's always been the intuitive one in the family, sensing a shift in the family's mood before anyone else. He was the great mediator at all family gatherings; it's nice to see him just as aware now that he's older.

"Okay," Seokjin says. He swallows the last bite, licks the drip of black vinegar off his lips. "Where to next?"

"Okay, so this last place, it's supposed to be really cool—"

"—please don't take me somewhere cool, Taehyung," Seokjin groans. "None of this upscale fusion pretentious shit. I want questionable meat temperatures and re-used oil and dirty hands handling my food."

Laughing, Taehyung mutters under his breath, "gross," and hands his phone over to Seokjin. "You should appreciate this place then."

Seokjin takes his phone and zooms in, uninterested in the hazy purple lighting and minimal page design. He knows these places. Seoul is full of them. Small bars that serve street food that's been fussed with—Korean ingredients swapped in for western flavors. Sesame paste traded for sugary American peanut butter, yuja traded for some syrupy lemon concoction imported from Italy. It's all fine and good, but he's tired of those places. He still has the scars on his hands from working the line at a snobby bistro in Seoul that touted an American menu that was boring, unimaginative, and overpriced. They only ever sat weary American tourists and curious local teenagers spending their parents' money and dreaming of studying abroad.

The phone buzzes in Seokjin's hand, startling him. He hands it over to Taehyung, and he watches his cousin's face twist in understanding as he takes the call. Seokjin turns away, trying to give him a bit of privacy. He knows vaguely that Taehyung works at a law firm, but he's embarrassed that he doesn't know much else about cousin’s current life. He should cook him dinner, he decides. Have a proper heart-to-heart without Taehyung feeling like he has to play host the entire time.

Sighing, Taehyung pockets his phone. "Hyung, I'm so sorry, but I have to go to the office. Our client has really made a mess of this settlement negotiation." He frowns, smoothing his hands along the sticky plastic table. "I can call them back?"

Seokjin shakes his head. "Nah, that's okay. Don't worry about me. I'll keep wandering around if that's okay? Grab a cab or a train back?"

"You sure, hyung?" Taehyung asks.

"Of course," he nods.

"Thank you, hyung, and I'm sorry," he says, looking genuinely upset that their time has been cut short. "You have the keypad code, yeah?"

Nodding, Seokjin shoos him away. "Yes, go. Hyung can take care of himself." When Taehyung finally leaves, he feels a bit sad to lose his company.

He wanders through the market, pausing to inspect the vegetables lining the tables in neat rows. He runs his fingers along the pea pods in wicker baskets, presses the tips of his fingers against the flesh of tomatoes. He likes summers best of all—the produce swollen and curved, filled with sunshine and seeds, almost sexy in the way they burst with every bite. He remembers telling his ex-girlfriend that once; she rolled her eyes and asked for something "with a little less flavor," when he offered her a bite of a pepper dipped in gochujang and salt.

Sad, he thinks, to move through life wanting less flavor.

He knows he'll have to tell Taehyung soon why he came to Daegu in a panic, why he showed up with a suitcase and a backpack and a milk crate filled with kitchen tools in the middle of the night. He can't figure out how exactly to say it. I was going to propose to my girlfriend and then she told me she was leaving me for another man?

It feels dramatic in a way it wasn't. He had only blinked, listened to her wail and explain herself, and he realized he didn't care. Couldn't care. The dramatics came after, when he saw them together in what used to be their favorite restaurant. When he saw the man standing at the front of his restaurant, ordering take-out, entirely unaware that Seokjin was watching him from the kitchen.

It was the final nudge to take the leap he had been pondering. The proposal was going to be his last-ditch attempt to stay in Seoul, to stay on the very predictable, uninspired path toward working in someone else's kitchen serving someone else's food. What he wanted was to start a restaurant, to show that the burns on his arms and calluses on his hands meant something, that they went toward building something of his own, not toiling for someone else.

So he bought a train ticket without a second thought. Packed his bags, panicked, called Taehyung, and hours later arrived at his cousin's apartment with no explanation. Taehyung didn't ask, just offered him a beer and made him ramyun without asking.

Sad, he thinks again, shaking his head at himself. He's in a brand new city exploring a food market feeling sorry for himself when he should be peering into storefronts, looking for work, chatting with the vendors and forging new connections.

✧ ✧ ✧

When Seokjin began culinary school, he was utterly infatuated with a chef on Youtube. He was young, around Seokjin's age, but wickedly smart and skilled with a knife. He posted dozens of videos of him showing off his knife collection, offering tips for how best to cut short ribs, the fastest way for slicing purple yams, the cleanest way to scale a fish. He developed a bit of a cult following, each video earning tens of thousands of hits within the first few hours of posting.

Seokjin first found him late at night when he was practicing his knife skills, determined to cut his onions faster, in sharper, cleaner strokes than his classmates. Propelled by performance anxiety and fierce determination, he spent the last of his paltry paychecks on buying rotten onions from the vegetable stall on the corner near his apartment. He'd wait until his roommates were gone or asleep, and he'd set out to cut the onions until they were diced in uniform cubes.

The chef, who went by the name Suga, felt like a friend after a while. Charming and self-deprecating, voice a low, gravely drawl, thick with a Daegu accent, he was just the kind of calming energy Seokjin needed on those late nights.

"You need to curl your fingers like this," Suga instructed, holding his hand up to the camera. "Your knuckles are your safe-guard." His hands were large, knobby and pink at the knuckles, his skin almost translucent when held up to the camera. He gave a flick of his knife that was more showmanship than Seokjin would ever dare to try, and he set about dicing onions in steady, swift motions.

Seokjin followed along, night after night, the words of the video becoming so ingrained, he recited them along with Suga. He couldn't help but wish he had a classmate like Suga—someone unbothered but focused, firm with advice but gentle with reminders that practice takes time.

He watched him for months on end, returning to the videos over and over whenever he needed some comfort or a familiar voice to drown out the silence of his cramped apartment. Until one day, Suga's stopped posting and his channel seemed to be frozen in time.

✧ ✧ ✧

There's little glamor to being a chef. Seokjin knows this, and yet he still hopes to open a restaurant some day. He often daydreams of crafting menus filled with his favorite foods, pairing different flavors and textures, coaxing diners to try a new dish. He likes the magic of it all: placing a dish in front of someone, watching their eyes scan over the meal, the careful way they cut into the food and take a bite.

The moment after the first bite is his favorite moment. If he's done his job well, he'll watch the person's eyes flutter closed as if by reflex, their jaw slowing down as they chew more thoughtfully. Sometimes they'll sigh, or their shoulders will relax, the tension melting away like buttery marrow melting on their tongue. That's all he wants, really. To feed people and make them forget about the world for a moment, to make them slow down and savor.

A restaurant would be nice. Nothing flashy, just a humble shop with limited seating and an even more limited menu. He's not interested in flipping tables or chasing trends. He knows it won't make much of a profit if he operates that way, but he likes to dream about it anyway. He's always been modest, too afraid to dream of anything extraordinary, but a restaurant of his own? It's the one thing he allows himself to dream about.

The streets surrounding the market are awakening with the dinner crowds. It's later than he realized. He hates that Taehyung was pulled away by work so late, but he does enjoy the chance to wander through the streets, peering into the glass storefronts.

It's a little strange to wander without purpose. He knows there's a metaphor in there—something glib and pedestrian about the state of his life right now. He never expected to end up in Daegu with his cousin, nursing a fresh heartbreak and carrying everything he owns along with him.

When he finds himself staring at a small, unassuming bar's sign, he doesn't fight the urge to enter and seat himself at the counter. Usually not one to drink alone, he feels the urge now. Maybe because he's feeling melancholy, ready to lean into the creeping self-pity he can feel rising in his chest. He flags down the bartender and orders a beer and some mungtigi.

Once his drink arrives, he takes a long gulp, relishing in the icy foam washing down his throat. The sun has already set, but it's still hot. Sweat clings to his hairline, makes his shirt stick to his back. He swivels in his stool, taking in his surroundings.

It looks like nearly every unpretentious bar with dark wood paneling, low lighting, neon signs for Kloud beer buzzing on the wall. Posters of idols touting soju smile back at him. Nothing special, but not trying to be anything other than what it really is. Seokjin respects that.

He turns back to the counter as the bartender returns, carrying a plate of mungtigi and a small dish of spicy chilled cucumbers. "Your order," she says, sliding it across the bar to him.

"Thank you," he says warmly. "May I have another?" He gestures at his empty beer, and she nods, leaving to retrieve another drink.

He's always enjoyed eating alone. His ex-girlfriend teased him, suggesting it was something about his "true nature," some broken, antisocial thing about him. But Seokjin didn't see it that way at all. He enjoyed the chance to take in all the sensations of a good meal: the crunch of cabbage, tangy vinegar on his tongue, soft rice cakes with a little bit of chew to them. Eating alone meant he could experience it all without the distraction of small talk.

For so many people, eating is perfunctory, a thing they have to do and get out of the way before they move on to the next thing. For Seokjin, he saw it as something bigger—restorative, powerful. A good meal can become a memory that lasts well beyond the plate of food. It tangles itself with other memories, resurfaces later when the same flavor is encountered again. Eating always felt like some magic spell to Seokjin, conjuring up past memories and opening the door for future ones.

Over time, Seokjin learned he preferred to eat alone if his companion didn't feel the same about food. He knew it was mildly obsessive, even a bit off-putting to be such a snob about things, but so much of his life was devoted to cooking and creating new dishes. How could he possibly live without that spilling into his personal life? He tries not to think about his ex right now as he eats.

Instead, he focuses on the mungtigi: tender, flavorful, fresh. Even without the dipping sauce, the raw beef is filled with a robust taste. It's the sort of dish that might cost two or three time as much at some upscale restaurant, especially one abroad. But here, it's served on a humble dish in a dimly lit bar, no fanfare involved. The sesame oil and chili garlic sauce is pungent and sharp, complementing the cuts of beef. Seokjin can't help himself when he lets out a loud groan of pleasure.

He can't even allow himself to be embarrassed, not when the food is so simple but delicious. Uncluttered flavors without any pretense or attempt to gussy them up into something more elaborate than they need to be. This is what he craves in a good meal: pure flavor, emphasis on the natural harmonies of ingredients.

"Enjoying your food?" The bartender teases from the far side of the bar. She grins at Seokjin as she wipes down pint glasses.

Seokjin nods, waving a thumbs up as he swallows a large bite. "It's incredible. My compliments to the chef."

"I'll be sure to pass it along," she answers.

"Is the chef here? Maybe I could tell them myself?" He dabs at his mouth with his napkin, aware that his lips must be a bit swollen from the spicy oil.

The bartender shakes her head, offering a sad smile. "He's not in tonight. But I will pass along your message." She turns her attention to another rack of glasses and begins to rinse and dry them.

Seokjin pulls out his phone and snaps a picture of the bar, then he turns to take a picture of the rest of the interior. There's nothing to really set the bar apart from other places—no catchy name, no branded merchandise clinging to the walls. He opens the map on his phone and drops a pin so he can remember the place in the future. He'd like to bring Taehyung here to share a few drinks and have a nice meal together. He feels like he owes him something for taking him in without question. He didn’t even hesitate or have to consider it; he simply said, “okay, hyung. See you soon.” And that was that.

Just as Seokjin pulls out his wallet to pay, he spots movement behind the bar: a fluttering of the curtains separating the kitchen from the pick-up station at the counter. A face pokes through the curtains, and Seokjin feels a jolt of recognition. Him. He knows that face. It's been years since Seokjin's seen a new video from Suga, but he would recognize him anywhere.

It seems impossible that Seokjin would find him here in this unassuming place. Suga had a huge following on YouTube, had an array of culinary awards and entertainment buzz surrounding him. Of all the places Seokjin imagined him, he never pictured a place like this. Suga was exceptionally skilled, humble and hardworking, captivating with his quiet charm. Seokjin had always assumed he disappeared into the back of some Michelin-ranked restaurant, pushing his way to the top of the culinary world.

His eyes flick over to Seokjin, and just as quickly, he disappears behind the curtains. The bartender returns to Seokjin with his bill. "Take your time," she says.

Seokjin clears his throat, fumbling for cash in his wallet. "Was that the chef?" he asks carefully.

"Oh him? Nah, he's nobody," she answers quickly, waving toward the curtains.

"Ah," Seokjin hums. "That's too bad." He lays down his cash and smiles at her. "Thank you for the excellent service and excellent food. I hope to be back."

She nods. "We'd love to have you back. So glad you enjoyed your meal. Have a good night."

He hesitates for a moment, considering whether or not to ask about the man behind the curtain. He thinks better of it and gives a polite nod, slipping off his bar stool. The streets have a new vibrance now that it's later: neon lights buzzing all around him, music spilling out of the bars, a steady hum of motorbikes whizzing through the alleys making deliveries.

It's hard to know what to do with this discovery. Seokjin has always wondered what happened to Suga, and now he's pretty sure he's found him tucked away in some quiet bar in Daegu. He knows enough about Suga to know he's from the area, so it's not too far fetched to believe he'd end up back here.

On the train back to Taehyung's apartment, Seokjin pulls up one of his favorite Suga videos. He's barefaced and looks a little sleepy, but he's padding around his tiny apartment, gesturing at his wide windows overlooking the city. He fumbles with the camera a bit and enters the kitchen, flicking on the lights. While the rest of the apartment is sparse and humble, the kitchen is crowded with appliances and ingredients, cutting boards propped against the backsplash by the oven, shelves neatly arranged with spice jars and bottles of oils and vinegar.

This video became a favorite of Seokjin's. He always returned to this video when he couldn't fall asleep. He liked to imagine Suga as his friend, showing him around his apartment with his bashful laughter and sparkling eyes. Even with the video muted, Seokjin can remember the way Suga sounded as he pulled down small glass jars and plastic tubs of spices, cracking them open to inhale dramatically and talk about a trip abroad where he collected them. He was always so unabashedly enthusiastic about cooking, always eager to share his latest find from a flea market or farm visit.

The loudspeaker in the train chimes, alerting passengers to the next stop. Seokjin pockets his phone and makes his way to the doors. For a moment, he can imagine himself living here, carving out a new life in Daegu. It's not so hard, he thinks, to start over, to create something new with the scraps of his old life. It's a lot like cooking, he thinks: transforming bits and pieces of separate items into something cohesive, harmonious, delicious.

The thought carries him back to Taehyung's apartment. He takes in the buildings around him—laundry hanging from lines to dry, overgrown house plants curling their way around the balconies, the distant sounds of televisions and chatter floating through open windows. This could be home. This could be a place that welcomes him and gives him space to thrive. He has his cousin for company and a new city to explore. He can make a life here.

It's the first time in a long time that Seokjin has felt optimistic about the future. A tiny part of him is also clinging to the hope that the man at the bar is really Suga. Could he befriend him? He nearly laughs at himself as he climbs the stairs to Taehyung's apartment. Maybe just knowing Suga is out there, still cooking, hopefully happy is enough.

When Seokjin settles onto the sofa that Taehyung set up for him, he pulls up the fridge tour video again, this time with the sound just loud enough he can hear Suga's voice. "And coffee," he says, laughing and gesturing at the variety of bottles lining his fridge door. "I couldn't function without coffee."

Seokjin pauses the video right as Suga tilts the camera toward his face. He's grinning from ear to ear, his hair fluffy and swept across his forehead. He looks like he's having fun just showing around a few of his closest friends. Seokjin loves these videos the most: the ease and calm that come with Suga's rambling about his kitchen, the animated way he talks about a new coffee contraption he acquired in Tokyo or some smoked paprika he picked up in Valencia.

Where does that joy go? Seokjin wonders. How does a person go from thousands of followers to disappearing without any warning? Suga looked so happy sharing his kitchen tips and cooking tutorials. Seokjin never really dug deeper when the channel stopped updating. He assumed Suga had moved on, maybe finding something better.

He flicks open his browser window and types in Suga YouTube chef, and scrolls through a few links talking about his rise to relative stardom. "Min Yoongi," Seokjin whispers, savoring the syllables as he says his name aloud. "Yoongi."

The articles at first are almost breathless with curiosity—headlines speculating on Yoongi's whereabouts, unidentified sources guessing about his disappearance, former colleagues offering little about Yoongi's final days in the kitchen with them. It makes Seokjin a bit angry to read the barely-contained glee about Yoongi's disappearance. He hadn't realized what a big deal Yoongi was in the culinary world.

The story Seokjin pieces together is simple: Yoongi, hailing from Daegu, landed a coveted spot at Le Cordon Bleu-Sookmyung Academy when he was barely twenty years old. He excelled in regional cuisines and earned a scholarship to attend a program overseas. Conflicting reports suggested he spent time in Paris, some suggested Rome, while others insisted his time was spent in New York. Whatever time he spent abroad was filled with earning accolades until he returned home, working his way through Seoul's elite kitchens before landing at Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul, an upscale French restaurant known for its exorbitant menu prices and extraordinary food and service.

Somehow, through it all, Yoongi had created an online persona: Suga . On his YouTube channel, he was the accessible, friendly, down-to-earth cook who offered helpful advice and friendly encouragement. Seokjin didn't know about the other stuff. He had only heard Yoongi make offhanded comments about his culinary experience—vague tales about kitchen mishaps, jokes about burning béchamel because he'd daydream about his own restaurant someday, or showing off a particularly nasty scar from a grease fire burn.

Now Seokjin is sure that it was Yoongi at the bar. He looked a little older, of course, but he had the same playful eyes and soft way of speaking. Seokjin has some piece-meal story of Yoongi's disappearance—only it wasn't to some elite restaurant on the other side of the world. He had returned home, shedding his public persona and fading from the limelight.

Seokjin could hardly blame Yoongi. It's what everyone craves: returning to the place that feels safest, where things feel simple and comfortable, where everyone understands you most. It's exactly what Seokjin hopes to create here in Daegu with his cousin. A home. A place to figure himself out.

Tomorrow, he'll look for jobs and wander the area surrounding Taehyung's apartment. He wants to explore and find the places that will one day become his favorites. He'll make another stop at Yoongi's bar, too. Just to get another look.


Taehyung, Seokjin discovers, is a loud morning person. He's not chipper and bright, but he grumbles and groans his way through his morning routine. Drawers close with too much force, chopsticks rattle in the cutlery trays. Groggily, Seokjin sits up, watching as Taehyung scratches his stomach and digs through the refrigerator in search of food.

"Let me make breakfast," Seokjin says, stretching overhead with a loud yawn. "Hyung will do it."

Taehyung shakes his head, waving him off. "It's fine. I don't have much in the fridge. Need to go shopping."

"I'll do that today too, then," Seokjin replies. He rolls off the sofa, tugging at his undershirt. He staggers into the kitchen and shoos Taehyung out of the way. "You have rice?"

Embarrassed, Taehyung gestures at the cabinet. "Instant," he answers.

Seokjin takes a deep breath, closing his eyes as if he's gathering all his strength. "You don't own a rice cooker?"

"I do!" Taehyung says quickly. "I just never use it." He frowns, his forehead wrinkling in distress. "Please don't judge me, hyung. I'm just a bachelor trying to make it through each day in one piece."

"Yah, and you'll die a bachelor if you can't even use a rice maker," Seokjin mutters, reaching for the packages of rice. "Do you have any eggs? Do I dare look in this fridge?"

Biting his lip, Taehyung glances down at the floor. "No eggs either."

"Taehyung," Seokjin sighs, rubbing his forehead. "What do you normally do for breakfast?"

"Rice? Leftovers? Grab a pastry at Tous Les Jours?" He swats at Seokjin and laughs. "Don't look at me like that. It's fine. I'm fine."

"I'm shopping today, and you can't stop me. This is ridiculous. No wonder you're so skinny." Seokjin puts the rice back into the cabinet and leans against the counter.

Taehyung smiles—and Seokjin can still see a glimpse of his cousin from childhood: impish with long eyelashes and a wide, beaming smile. "You sound like Eomma."

Rolling his eyes, Seokjin ruffles his hair and glances at the clock on the microwave. "I'm sorry. You know how we all worry about you. I'll try to be less... severe."

Grinning, Taehyung shrugs. "It's fine, hyung. And if it means I get you as my personal chef, I don't mind."

"Brat!" Seokjin shrieks. "You're paying for groceries, though."

"Gladly," Taehyung laughs. "I'm glad you're here, hyung. I mean, I know the circumstances aren't great, but I'm glad you're staying with me. I've missed you."

"Ah, don't get all sentimental," Seokjin says, waving him off. "You'll get sick of me soon." He feels a flutter in his chest at the thought of Taehyung missing him. They'd spent too much time apart, and Seokjin wasn't really aware of how much he missed his cousin until now, standing together in the cramped kitchen of his apartment.

Before the moment can get too saccharine, Taehyung's phone rings, and he hurries to his bedroom to answer it. Seokjin washes up in the bathroom, changes clothes, and studies the threadbare cupboard in the kitchen. He practically has to start from scratch, he realizes, shaking a nearly-empty container of sesame seeds. There's a half-full bottle of soy sauce, a tub of gochujang so old it's turned black, and a few bottles of iced barley tea.

Seokjin shakes his head and tuts, scribbling down a list of pantry staples alongside the list of produce and meat he wants to pick up. When Taehyung emerges, he's dressed in an expensive suit, his hair brushed off his forehead in a thick swoop of pomade.

"Alright," he says, patting his breast pocket. "I'm heading out. You sure you don't want to ride with me? It's the company driver, he won't mind."

"Nah," Seokjin says, shaking his head. "I'll just be around the corner. I looked up a few spots I want to check out."

"Alright then." Taehyung reaches for his wallet and pulls out some cash. Unlike his crisp, tailored suit, Taehyung's wallet is raggedy and cracked, worn out and holding little more than his ID, his T-money card, and a couple credit cards.

"Oh, you know what? I got this," Seokjin says, pushing Taehyung's hand away. "I remembered Eomma sent me some money before I left town. She told me to treat you to dinner. So we'll call it even?" It's a lie, and he hopes Taehyung will accept. Seokjin remembers the days of barely scraping by all too clearly. He can't take Taehyung's money.

Sounding mildly relieved, Taehyung nods, slipping the cash back into his wallet. "Okay. Thanks, hyung. I'll get the next round."

They part ways at the corner of the street. Taehyung waves and calls goodbye as he slips into a sleek, black sedan. Seokjin watches as it rolls away, then he turns and makes his way toward a supermarket a few blocks away.

It's late enough in the morning that the rush hour crowd has dissipated. Most of the people bustling around on the sidewalk are young mothers pushing strollers, old ladies walking their dogs, elderly men shuffling slowly along the pavement with a newspaper tucked under their arm. The pace is slower, not as frenzied as the early morning hours. Seokjin doesn't miss that about Seoul at all: grueling early mornings setting up the prep stations at the restaurant, fighting to get past drunkards on the train, or shoving past distracted office workers staring at their phones.

Seokjin enters the Lotte through the whooshing automatic doors and takes in the sights of the supermarket. When he worked at the restaurant in Seoul, he hated grocery shopping for himself. He preferred to shop for the restaurant or when he knew he was cooking for someone at home. There was something almost spiritual to cooking for friends and family—something transcendental that felt more important than any meal he'd cook for a customer. Watching their eyes light up as he placed a plate in front of them, observing the way they took their first bite—that's what Seokjin loved most. To cook for someone was to offer a bit of himself to them, to hand them something tangible that he created, that came from his imagination and his desire to nourish them.

(He has similarly neurotic, snobbish feelings about picky eaters, too, though he rarely shared them out loud. He'd learned the hard way with his own ex-girlfriend. Unadventurous, uninspired. He tried not to connect her unrefined palate with their relationship, but it was hard not to see it as some sort of metaphor for the life they might share as time went on.)

The lights in the grocery store are too bright, casting everything in a garish, washed out sheen. The food court smells heavenly, and Seokjin's stomach rumbles at the prospect of dak bulgogi. He promises himself some takeout once he finishes his task at hand. It's dangerous to shop when hungry—a rule he learned early with his mother—but he decides to power through.

As he pushes his cart through the market, he takes his time, perusing the sales leaflet and checking it against his grocery list. When he rounds the corner to the aisle with sacks of rice, he stops in his tracks. Crouched at the far end of the aisle is Suga— Yoongi—and it's definitely him, Seokjin's sure of it. Yoongi's gnawing on his thumbnail, glancing at a list and comparing it to the sales tags along the shelves.

There are two ways to go about this, Seokjin reasons. He can approach Yoongi with giddy, unhinged excitement and humiliate himself by rattling off how much he adores his cooking videos. Or he can walk by slowly, play it cool, save his fanboy squealing for another time when he's all alone.

A third option he didn't consider: his wheel catches on the tail of Yoongi's hoodie, yanking him from his crouched position onto the floor. "The hell?" Yoongi gasps, scrambling to his feet.

"Oh my God, I am so sorry," Seokjin stammers. More like mortified. A memory to haunt him every night as he falls asleep. Humiliating. "I have terrible depth perception."

Yoongi cracks a smile. "You mean you couldn't see me huddled by the bottom shelf muttering to myself about the rising cost of rice in this country?"

Seokjin can't help but laugh. "I may have been lost in my own thoughts about rising grocery costs."

"Ah, a man after my own heart," Yoongi laughs. His cheeks grow pink, and he clears his throat, waving his list. "Anyway, sorry. I mean you bumped into me, but sorry for being in your way."

"I'm really sorry again. I was lost in my own little world. Getting used to the layout of the market," Seokjin says.

"New here?" Yoongi asks, turning his attention back to the rice. He grabs a bag and hoists it over his shoulder, wincing a bit when the weight hits him.

"Yeah, brand new," Seokjin says. He nudges Yoongi slightly with the shopping cart. "Here, you don't have to carry that. It's the least I can do for running you over."

Grinning, Yoongi drops the bag into the cart. "I hope I can recover," he teases. "So new in town, huh? What brings you to Daegu?" He gestures at Seokjin, his cheeks still flushed. "Your accent is pretty strong. I know you're not from here."

Seokjin pushes the cart and tries to ignore the electricity zipping through him as they walk together through the aisles. (If the memory of running over Yoongi with a shopping cart plagues him forever, he hopes this memory might stick around awhile, too: the pair shopping together, talking like old friends.)

"My cousin lives here," Seokjin explains, pausing to grab a bottle of sesame oil. "I needed a change."

"So you came here?" Yoongi laughs.

"I cook, so I can go anywhere," Seokjin answers. He's unsure how to mention he's a chef or that he knows about Yoongi's career.

"Cool," Yoongi answers, stuffing his hands in his hoodie. He doesn't seem interested in that line of conversation. "I work at a bar, dabble a bit in the kitchen."

"You cook too, huh?" Seokjin asks.

Yoongi shrugs. "I said I dabble."

They eventually come to a stop in the aisle filled with doenjang and gochujang. Seokjin studies the sales flyer for a moment, searching for the best price. He reaches for the green tub of soy bean paste, but Yoongi shakes his head, swatting his hand away. "Not that one. Too salty. It'll ruin anything you make with it. The mouthfeel—"

"—the mouthfeel? " Seokjin teases. "Just a cook, huh?"

Sighing, Yoongi grabs the tub from the shelf and drops it into the cart. "Okay, okay, you caught me. I'm a cook too. A decent one."

Seokjin grins. "Well, thanks for the tip. Hope you aren't sabotaging my future meals with this choice."

"And waste food? Never."

They reach the front of the store, and Yoongi glances into the cart, reaching for the bag of rice. "Hey, I don't know if this is too forward, or whatever, but if you want to grab dinner sometime or visit a few places, I might be able to give you some leads on jobs around town?" He chews his bottom lip—an action Seokjin has seen on video countless times, but it endears him just the same.

"Yeah," Seokjin says, nodding, "that would be really great, actually. My cousin might actually find a way to murder me in my sleep if I lecture him again about proper rice cooking techniques."

"Oh my God, he can't cook rice?" Yoongi gasps, clutching his chest in mock distress. "He must be single."

Laughing, Seokjin nods. "That's what I said."

A loud chime startles Yoongi, and he fumbles to grab his phone from his back pocket. "Ah, work. Gotta take this. Hey, let me grab your number and I'll text you?" He holds out his phone to Seokjin. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name."

"Seokjin," he says, typing his number into Yoongi's phone. "You can call me hyung if you'd like."

"What makes you think you're older?" Yoongi asks, raising an eyebrow.

Because I read your entire biography yesterday and spent countless hours watching videos of you, Seokjin doesn't say. Instead, he forces out an awkward laugh. "1992. Am I wrong?"

Rolling his eyes, Yoongi grabs his phone away and shoves it in his pocket. "Alright, okay," he grumbles, fighting off a smile. "Hyung it is. Nice to meet you, Seokjin. I'm Yoongi."

"Nice to meet you, Yoongi-ssi," Seokjin answers. And it is nice to meet him—better than he ever imagined. Seokjin always assumed it was his loneliness making him believe he might be friends with Yoongi, some parasocial relationship amplified by isolation and working long, exhausting hours. But this feels pretty easy—Seokjin will hold tight to that feeling as long as he can before overthinking it later.

✧ ✧ ✧

The afternoon feels dreamy. Seokjin loses himself in unpacking groceries, stocking Taehyung's cabinets, and preparing vegetables and some easy-to-reheat dishes for the week. This is the kind of steady, mindless work Seokjin enjoys. Even back in culinary school, he was one of the few who enjoyed the meditative quality of preparing twenty pounds of onions for the service line. Seokjin enjoyed having something quantifiable in front of him after hours of work. A pile of onions, perfectly julienned carrots, tofu pressed and cubed, waiting for soup.

Cooking is something Seokjin can count on no matter his mood. Nursing a heartache? Japchae. Hungover? Sundubu-jjigae. Celebrating? Hotteok eaten straight from the pan, fingers sizzling with burnt sugar drippings. It felt a little like magic. Reach for a variety of ingredients, bring them together in the right combination, and bam! A dish to ease someone's pain or bring them more joy.

Seokjin spends the afternoon sorting Taehyung's mismatched Tupperware and measuring out portions of soup and rice to be tucked in the freezer. It's a small thank you for Taehyung taking him in without question. Gratitude—another thing Seokjin likes to express with food.

As Seokjin works, he props up his phone against the counter and returns to Yoongi's channel. He's seen every video, can quote the jokes Yoongi makes before the simple introduction tune. He's watching one of his favorite videos: Yoongi walking viewers through making anpan. Patiently, Yoongi explains tangzhong—a method of making a sticky roux before beginning the dough. He mixes the flour and water, humming to himself, then pausing to show off the sticky, glue-like mixture to the camera.

"Trust me," Seokjin parrots with the video, "it tastes better than it looks." He's never made the recipe, but he's watched the video countless times. He likes a moment mid-way through the video when Yoongi pauses, eyebrows knit in frustration as he stares down at his dough and his hands covered with smears of butter. A smudge of flour is swept across his forehead, and he looks like some sort of kitchen elf. Seokjin loves this video.

A small part of Seokjin feels a little weird about knowing this secret—having some insider knowledge of where Youtube chef Suga is, but more specifically, knowing it's Yoongi. He doesn't want to encroach on Yoongi's privacy, not when they hit it off so effortlessly. Something to consider later, he tells himself.

Seokjin is standing over a large pot—picked up mid-day when he realized his cousin didn't even own a sauce pan. His hands are still tingling from the salt and gochugaru he massaged into the cabbage for homemade kimchi. (He vows not to tell his mother or Taehyung's mother that the man didn't even have kimchi in his fridge.)

He's decided that dinner will be simple: a few packets of ramyun, some fresh mandu, chilled seaweed and potato salad. The door to the apartment opens, and he glances over his shoulder, watching as Taehyung steps in.

"Hyung?" he calls, hurrying into the kitchen. "It smells amazing. What are you making?"

"Simple stuff. Just ramyun, some salad in the fridge." Seokjin turns around, dangling a few noodles twirled around his chopsticks. "This good?"

Leaning in, Taehyung happily accepts the bite, nodding as he swallows. "Perfect. I'm starving." He shrugs off his jacket and starts loosening his tie. "Ah, you know, I should've grabbed beer on the way home."

"Fridge," Seokjin says, nodding toward it.

"Please live with me forever," Taehyung sighs, reaching into the fridge for two bottles. He twists off the caps and offers one to Seokjin. "You are way too nice to me."

Shrugging, Seokjin cuts the stove off and ladles the ramyun into some bowls. "You let me literally move in without question. I think I owe you." He smiles, handing a bowl to Taehyung.

After grabbing the other dishes, they settle at the little table set off the side of the kitchen. They eat in silence for a few minutes, both of them sighing and humming between bites, pausing to take long swigs from their beer. "So," Taehyung says, pushing his empty bowl away, "how was your day? Besides being the best hyung ever."

Laughing, Seokjin slurps the rest of his broth and sets his bowl down. "Really, I don't mind. I think imo would murder me if she knew I came here and didn't feed you a proper meal."

"I think she'd just be happy you're here and happy," Taehyung says gently. "Want another beer?" Seokjin hums in response. Taehyung returns from the kitchen and slides the beer toward Seokjin. "So are you going to tell me why you're here? Like for real?"

Sighing, Seokjin studies the label on his beer, picking at the corner with his thumbnail. "I mean... we broke up. Now I'm here."

"Yeah, but, hyung," he pleads. He doesn't say the rest: you showed up in the middle of the night with all your shit in tow.

"I was supposed to propose, you know?" Seokjin glances up, wincing at the look of shock on Taehyung's face. "Ring and everything."

"Shit," Taehyung mutters under his breath.

"Yeah," Seokjin agrees. "But she found someone else. Had been with him for a while." He laughs bitterly and takes a drink. "And the weird part? I almost didn't really care. Isn't that nuts? Three years with someone and I couldn't even be bothered to get angry about it."

Shaking his head, Taehyung says, "Seokjin, hyung, I don't know what to say."

"So now I'm here. Cooking for my baby cousin so he doesn't starve to death or kick me out for being a freeloader." Seokjin forces a laugh. "I'm okay, really."

"You do seem... happy." Taehyung raises an eyebrow. "Like, surprisingly happy for someone who just got out of a relationship."

"I kind of needed the push, I think. Get out of Seoul, forge my own path, find a new restaurant, new people to be around." He downs the rest of his beer and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "It's fine, really. I'm glad to be here. It feels good to start over."

"Good," Taehyung says, nodding, "good. So what did you do today? I hope you didn't spend all day cooking for me."

"I watched some cooking videos, took my time at the store. My perfect day, really." It's the truth: he had the kind of unstructured day he so desperately craved back in Seoul. Time to wander aisles of cooking supplies, lose himself in a Youtube black hole, organize and arrange cabinets until he was satisfied. "Actually," he pauses, wondering if it's weird to tell Taehyung this, "I met someone."

Taehyung slams his hands on the table, startling Seokjin. "Hyung!" he shrieks. "This seems like very important information you've withheld from me. Details, now. Wait, let me grab another beer. You want?" Seokjin nods, laughing as Taehyung scrambles to grab more drinks. "Okay," he huffs, placing a beer in front of Seokjin, "talk."

"Okay, so it might sound weird—"

"—I love weird, go on," Taehyung interrupts.

Grinning, Seokjin takes his time with a long sip of his beer, watching as Taehyung grows more eager to hear his story. "There's a chef I've always liked on Youtube. I went to a bar last night after you left, and I swear I saw him there." He clears his throat. "So then, I'm shopping today, and I hit someone with my cart, and honest to God, it was him. The chef from Youtube."

"No shit," Taehyung gasps. "Of all the places..."

"Yeah," Seokjin answers breathlessly. "He was big on Youtube, a pretty big chef, too, and then," he pauses to snap his fingers, " poof, he just disappears without a trace. No scandal, no goodbye, no farewell press tour. Nothing. Gone."

"But you found him. Here? At the market?" Taehyung laughs, shaking his head incredulously. "Hyung, this is fate."

"Coincidence," Seokjin corrects him. He won't admit he had the same thought, too—that some larger, invisible power drew the two of them together in that rice aisle. "He's cool. I think I might text him."

"If you don't, I will smother you in your sleep, hyung." Taehyung grins—wide and boyish, a hint of mischief in his eyes. "This is really cool. Your first new friend in town."

"Okay, don't get all weird about it," Seokjin groans, laughing him off.

"I have to get to bed early, big meeting across town tomorrow morning," Taehyung says, rising from his chair. "You should text him. I won't even give you a curfew, hyung," he teases. He collects the bowls from the table and carries them to the kitchen sink.

"Leave 'em," Seokjin calls, leaning back in his chair. "I'll wash them. You go ahead. I don't mind, really."

"You sure?" Taehyung pokes his head out from the kitchen. "Thanks, hyung." He smiles. "I'm really glad you're here."

"So you've said," Seokjin laughs. He waves good night to his cousin and reaches for his phone. It's barely nine o'clock, and Yoongi is probably at work. He opens a text and taps out something banal and boring, staring at the message on screen.

The image Seokjin has of YouTube persona Suga still looms large in his mind: affable, cool, kind. There's no reason to think Yoongi isn't like that, but still, Seokjin is nervous. He doesn't want to come on too strong, doesn't want to let it slip that he's familiar with Yoongi's past work. Something else makes Seokjin want to know Yoongi: his easy attitude, how kind and receptive he had been in the grocery store. Neither version seem like the type to blow Seokjin off, no matter how dull his text might be.

Taking a deep breath, he sends a simple message: hey, it's Seokjin. Would love to take you up on that dinner offer.

Before he's put his phone away, it buzzes with Yoongi's reply: working tonight. Have to hit the fish market tomorrow at 5 am. Wanna come?

✧ ✧ ✧

That's how Seokjin winds up at the fish market at 4:53 a.m., shivering and hungry, face puffy from all the salt the night before. His teeth chatter as he shoves his hands into his windbreaker. He wanted to be early to impress Yoongi, and now he wonders if he should've accepted his offer for a ride.


Seokjin turns, squinting to make out the shape of Yoongi walking closer. He's dressed all in black, a tattered black ball cap pulled low on his head. His cheeks look a little puffy too, and it's cute, really cute, but Seokjin doesn't comment. Just files that detail away to think about later when he's lost in meal prep for Taehyung.

"Shit, it's cold for June," Yoongi mutters, kicking at the pavement. "Thanks for meeting me. I was mostly kidding." He glances at Seokjin and smirks.

"And miss out on an insider's tour of the fish market?" Seokjin scoffs. "No way."

"Well, thanks for coming along to help me do grunt work for the boss." Yoongi stuffs his hands into his hoodie. "They're supposed to have a decent selection of yellow corvina and red snapper today."

"Noted," Seokjin replies. "Does your boss tell you what to pick up or do you get to decide?"

Yoongi shrugs. "He's a bit of a pushover. I can make the call."

Seokjin hums in response, fighting the urge to tell Yoongi he doesn't have to pretend anymore. Instead, he says, "I'm decent with fish. Sashimi, really. I can fillet a fish in about two and a half minutes."

"Bullshit," Yoongi gasps, eyes widening. "That's like, world record fast."

"I know. And one day I will defeat Gordon Ramsey. One day." He looks off in the distance with a scowl and shakes a fist at the air.

"Maybe I should hire you for my kitchen," Yoongi murmurs.

"Oh you have that power?" Seokjin asks, turning back to Yoongi.

Shaking his head, Yoongi laughs awkwardly. "No, I mean, I don't have the power, but my recommendations do carry some weight with the boss."

"I do need a job, so if you're serious—"

"—I'll put in a good word for you," Yoongi says. "Alright, let's go." He pats Seokjin's arm and nods toward the gate. It opens with a loud clang, and several other people gathered outside push their way in.

It's been awhile since Seokjin visited a fish market. It was never a regular task for him at his old restaurant. He didn't mind it like some of the other cooks. The smell of briny seawater and fish guts never bothered him. He always appreciated the order of it all: fish lined up in dazzling, iridescent rows, the pavement glossy and slick from the melting ice trays and leaky hoses, the steady banter of haggling back and forth.

Yoongi seems to have similar feelings: grinning openly as they pass the stalls, pausing occasionally to lean in close and sniff a stack of fish or run his hands through a tub of fresh water oysters. He doesn't flinch at the trembling sea urchins or pinching crabs. His touch is gentle, never rough or careless as he turns over a live lobster, inspecting its tail.

"The good stuff is in the back by the loading bay," Yoongi says, looking up from a tray of shucked oysters. "Want one?" he offers, reaching for his wallet.

"Yeah, thanks," Seokjin answers. They reach for two large oysters and accept a squeeze of lemon from the man working the table.

"To new friends," Yoongi says, smiling so wide, his eyes are shut.

"To new friends," Seokjin repeats. He taps his shell against Yoongi's, and they slurp down the oysters quickly. It's sharp and cold like a salty icicle washing down his throat. Seokjin drops his shell into the bin on the table and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Nothing better than fresh oysters," Yoongi sighs, tossing his shell into the pile. "We'll get a proper meal after this. But first." He nods toward the back of the market.

They meander through the rows of stalls and tables, pausing to look briefly, but Yoongi is determined to get to the back area. The tables are swarmed with people waving orders and calling out offers. "Stay here," Yoongi says. He pushes through the swarm before Seokjin can answer.

With ease, he appears on the other side of the crowd, waving out to an elderly man weighing whole fish on an enormous table scale. "Ahjussi," he greets.

The man glances up at Yoongi and immediately smiles in recognition. "Over there," he gestures.

Yoongi bows in thanks and squeezes through a gap between two folded tables. There's a large tray of ice with a couple dozen fish laid out for inspection. Their scales are pearlescent—silver with flashes of yellow. Seokjin cranes his neck to watch as Yoongi picks up each fish, weighing it in his hands before moving to the next one. He turns and says something inaudible to the man, and before long, he's returning to Seokjin with a large foam cooler in his hands.

"Ready?" he asks, shifting the cooler in his hands.

"Yeah, here, let hyung do it," Seokjin answers, taking the cooler from Yoongi. He makes a fuss but quickly gives in. "To the restaurant?"

"Yeah," Yoongi answers. "Let's take a cab. I'm freezing and starving." He pulls out his phone and requests a car before they step out onto the sidewalk. It's still dark out, but the sun is starting to rise, and the clouds are turning pink and orange as the dawn breaks. The early morning energy reminds Seokjin of the times they stayed late after a long night of dinner service, scrubbing the kitchen clean until their hands were chapped and their knees ached. He and his fellow cooks would emerge from the restaurant smelling like lemon cleaner and grease, exhausted but proud of their hard work.

A pang of nostalgia for his old life surprises Seokjin. Even if things weren't great with his ex-girlfriend, Seokjin had a steady, reliable job, one in which he could excel and be proud of his work most of the time. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was safe, certain. He tries not to think about that when Yoongi's chatting away about the fish in the cooler as they shove into the backseat of a cab.

The ride to the restaurant is stop-and-go with the start of rush hour traffic. Seokjin and Yoongi fall into a comfortable silence—the kind before one might close their eyes and drift off to sleep. Eventually, they arrive at the restaurant, and Yoongi helps Seokjin climb out of the car and balance the cooler.

Yoongi leads them to the back of the restaurant to the service doors and pulls out a set of keys, picking through them until he finds the right one. "If you're serious about the job, I'm happy to pass that along to the boss," Yoongi says, unlocking the door. He holds it open as Seokjin steps through.

Seokjin can't imagine how the ruse would continue: some imaginary boss making decisions, relaying them through Yoongi. "I thought you were going to make me breakfast, not put me to work," he teases, following Yoongi to the kitchen.

Laughing, Yoongi flicks on the lights, and they buzz to life. The kitchen is smaller than Seokjin expected, but every stainless steel surface shines under the bright lights—clean and organized and ready for the day's work. "You're right, I did promise you a meal." He gestures toward the counter. "Let me get this stuff put away and then I can make you breakfast. It's the least I can do for you joining me so early."

Seokjin leans back against a counter and watches as Yoongi pulls out the fish, inspecting them once more before lining them along a large sheet pan. "Really my pleasure," he answers. "Felt good to feel a bit normal again."

"Normal?" Yoongi asks, still focused on the fish.

"I moved here after a break-up. Just packed my stuff and caught a train and here I am. Left my job at a restaurant, left my life." Seokjin shrugs. "It's not all that bad, really. Just strange to be out of my routine."

Yoongi places the last fish on the tray and turns to a large basin sink to wash his hands. "Routine is good, but sometimes breaking it is better."

"And you have experience with that?" Seokjin asks.

Laughing, Yoongi reaches for a paper towel and dries his hands. "Yeah, I mean, I've found myself caught in a loop before and needed to break out for a bit. It was good. Then I found a new routine and things settled. It was like a reset. I needed that."

Seokjin chews his lip. "A romantic reset or—"

"—professional," Yoongi interrupts. "Come on, let's see what's in the fridge for breakfast." He waves at Seokjin to follow him, and they step into the large walk-in to inspect the offerings. "I was experimenting with some marinades the other day. "Haneul thought it tasted weird, so she wouldn't let me serve it."

"Your boss?" Seokjin asks, peering into the shelves of labeled tubs and jars.

"Oh God, no," Yoongi scoffs. "She works the bar. You'll see her if you ever stop by." He stands on his toes and reaches for a canister on an upper shelf. "Here," he says, peeling off the lid. "Take a whiff."

Seokjin inhales deeply, eyes lighting up. "What is that?" The fragrance is all at once salty and spicy, something rich and indecipherable underneath.

"Fermented beef, I'm really into lacto-fermentation these days. I'm not sure if it's totally safe for customers—"

"—but you'll feed it to a stranger?" Seokjin teases. Only then does he realize how closely they're standing, heads bowed toward the container. He clears his throat and stands up straight. "Let's do it."

Yoongi grins. "An adventurous eater. I love it." He puts the lid back on and turns around, reaching for a bowl of eggs and a bundle of scallions. "You wanna set up the rice cooker? It'll be good to have a batch ready when the staff gets in later."

"You got it," Seokjin answers. He follows Yoongi out to the kitchen and listens as Yoongi rattles off directions and the whereabouts for the rice and the rice cooker.

As much as Seokjin enjoys the solitude of cooking alone, he much prefers to cook alongside someone else. There's an easy ebb and flow to cooking with someone who knows their way around a kitchen. They pass one another with ease—"behind!"—two synchronous dancers. Seokjin doesn't have to pause and check on Yoongi the way he might with a kitchen novice. Unsurprisingly, Yoongi is meticulous and neat with his workstation, organizing cutting boards and ingredients and moving swiftly between them.

The rice maker dings, and Seokjin scoops out two bowls of rice, sliding them down the counter to Yoongi. He tops them with the fermented beef he's seared and adds a fresh poached egg before sprinkling with green onions and toasted sesame seeds. "Now, we feast. Come, let's sit." He nods toward a tiny table wedged in a back corner near a mini fridge and stacks of cardboard produce boxes. "Most exclusive table in the place," he jokes.

Seokjin laughs and joins him, squeezing into the tight space. They eat in silence, humming and making small noises of approval. "Yoongi-yah, this is divine," he sighs, plucking a piece of beef from his bowl. "What did you call this?"

"Lacto-fermentation, it's this process—"

"—no, no," Seokjin interrupts. "Don't spoil the magic. Just let me revel in the mystery of this delicious beef."

Yoongi smiles, a fleck of rice stuck to his cheek. "Glad you like it, hyung."

Seokjin swallows, feeling a flutter in his belly. He could easily gesture at the rice, let Yoongi know he's got something on his face. Or he could reach over, flick it off himself. He's not sure what makes the most sense.

"You're staring, hyung," Yoongi says, averting his eyes. His cheeks flush pink, and Seokjin can't help but mirror his blush.

"Sorry, you've got a little," he leans forward, brushing his fingertips at the piece of rice.

Yoongi flushes a deeper shade of pink, and Seokjin's heart does a thing he hasn't felt in ages. "Thanks," he murmurs, poking at the scraps of meat in his bowl.

"Sorry, shit," Seokjin mutters, pulling his hand away like he's been burned. "Was that weird? Did I make it weird?"

Yoongi shakes his head quickly, looking up with a small smile. "No, not weird. Just..." he trails off, focusing intently on picking up a grain of rice in his bowl. He sighs, setting down his chopsticks. "This is so fast but I feel like we have something going here?"

Seokjin blinks. Something.

"Or not? And I'm misreading?"

Seokjin shakes his head, waving his hands in protest. "No, sorry, I just..." He laughs, groaning as he rubs his face. "I feel it too, I think, but we just met, and I wasn't sure if you were just being nice."

"Not everyone would get a breakfast from an award winning chef after an early morning fish market tour," Yoongi jokes.

"Award winning chef, huh?" Seokjin asks, quirking an eyebrow. "Thought you said you were just a cook."

"Maybe I'm exaggerating as a way to win you over so I can ask you on a proper date." Yoongi grins. He looks a little more confident now, the blush on his cheeks fading.

"It's working." Seokjin smiles brightly, fully aware that his cheeks and ears must be bright red with delighted embarrassment.

Nodding, Yoongi stands from the table, grabbing their empty bowls and chopsticks. "I'm gonna have to clock in soon and get ready for prep, but I'll text you to make plans."

"I am 100% free, so really, whatever is best for you. I know how precious the days off from the kitchen can be," Seokjin says, turning to watch Yoongi.

"So now the tricky part," Yoongi muses. "Finding a place to satisfy your sophisticated palate, hyung."

Seokjin scoffs. "How about you take me to your favorite spot in town? I don't need anything fancy. I'd much rather see where you like to go in your free time."

"Perfect. I can work with that." He turns on the faucet and starts rinsing the bowls. "Thanks for everything."

"Any time," Seokjin answers. He pushes in their chairs at the small table and makes his way over to Yoongi. "Can I help clean up?"

"Nah, it's faster if I do it. You've done plenty." He cuts the water and looks up at Seokjin with a beaming smile. "Thank you for a great morning. Like, a really great one."

Seokjin ducks his head, aware that he's still blushing and only getting hotter under Yoongi's gaze. "Just wait until you see me at night," he jokes, wiggling his eyebrows.

Yoongi laughs—loud and airy—and pats his hands dry. "What does that even mean?"

Shrugging, Seokjin makes a funny face. "Guess you'll find out on our date."

✧ ✧ ✧

It’s several days before Yoongi finally asks Seokjin on a date, but it doesn’t feel like much time has passed since their last meeting. Seokjin has kept busy with searching for jobs, caring for Taehyung’s apartment, and cooking for the two of them. He and Yoongi text regularly; it’s so easy to talk to Yoongi. Seokjin doesn’t have to decipher his messages or try to decode them in some way. When he says he’s busy with restaurant stuff, Seokjin knows it’s true.

They go back and forth each day sharing messages and pictures, sending along playlists and video links. Even Taehyung notices the shift in Seokjin’s demeanor: relaxed, excitable.

"Is this your lover boy, hyung?" Taehyung teases, slipping off his shoes. His hours have been later and later each day, and Seokjin has had to find new ways to keep himself busy while he's at work. He sighs and collapses on the couch next to Seokjin. "You're smiling so hard." He leans over to try and steal a glance at Seokjin's phone.

"Get outta here," Seokjin shrieks, clutching his phone to his chest.

"I live here." Taehyung grins. "So it is your lover boy. How's it going?"

"We're making plans for our date, actually," Seokjin replies. He pulls his phone away and glances down at the message. "He's given me two options."

"Alright, let's hear 'em," Taehyung answers, readjusting so he's seated on his knees. His eyes are wide and curious, and he looks so eager, it makes Seokjin smile fondly in return.

"I can meet him in an hour or wait until Thursday," Seokjin answers.

"Like an hour from now ?" Taehyung glances at his watch. "Hyung, it's nearly ten. That's not a date. That's a booty call."

Seokjin sputters. "No, it's just..." He frowns. A booty call hadn't crossed his mind. "I told him to take me to his favorite place. What if it's one of those diners open late? Or a cool bar or something?"

Taehyung nods, considering it. "Well, he did give you an option. That's good. So if you don't accept the booty call—"

"—it's not a booty call."

"—then you can still have a respectable date on Thursday," Taehyung finishes.

"So it's not respectable if I do go over tonight?" He glances down at his phone again. Yoongi's message stares back at him, the question marks and winking face like a dare.

"Not dressed like that, no," Taehyung says, getting off the couch. "Come on." He tugs at Seokjin's hand until he finally scrambles to his feet, following Taehyung into his bedroom. "The trick is not to look like you are trying too hard."

Seokjin glances down at his clothes: ripped jeans and an oversized black sweater. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"

"I dunno," Taehyung says, stepping into his closet, "it's just a little boring, I guess." He steps out and offers two hangers to Seokjin. "The jeans are fine. Hot, actually, but maybe something else on top? How's your underwear?"

Seokjin frowns. "You are not picking out my underwear."

"Nothing with cartoon characters, right?" Taehyung reaches for Seokjin's hips, but he ducks out of the way. "Alright, suit yourself."

"Am I trying to get laid or am I trying to go on a date?" Seokjin asks, glancing at the shirts.

Taehyung blinks. "Is there a difference?"

Seokjin groans. "God, I haven't been on a date in years , Taehyung. How do I even do this?" He tosses the shirts on the bed and sits down with a sigh. "Been even longer since I've been with a guy."

"Don't worry about the sex stuff. You never forget that," Taehyung says, settling next to Seokjin. "And look, you're a catch, hyung. I've held my tongue about how stupid your ex-girlfriend is—"

"—watch it," Seokjin interjects feebly.

"—but you are so funny and generous and smart. Anyone would be lucky to have you. And if you go on this date and it doesn't work out, so what? You've done the hard part of branching out in a new city." He squeezes Seokjin's shoulder. "I'm proud of you." He smiles, and he has a sentimental look on his face that makes Seokjin swallow down tears.

"Yeah, okay," he says, nudging Taehyung gently. "Good pep talk, Taehyung." He stands, gesturing at the clothes on the bed. "Think I'm gonna stick with this outfit. I've made it this far somehow. If I scare him off because of a sweater, then so be it."

Taehyung grins, clapping as he rises to his feet. "That's the spirit, hyung. Go get him!"

✧ ✧ ✧

The ride to Yoongi's apartment is long enough to settle Seokjin's nerves, but close enough for him to daydream about the odds of running into one another again at the supermarket. The city feels smaller now that Seokjin knows Yoongi. He can now make sense of his online maps, now dotted with all the places Yoongi has recommended.

When Seokjin reaches Yoongi's door, he hesitates before knocking, taking one last look at his outfit. Taehyung assured him he looked good, although he did ambush him with a spritz of cologne before he hurried out of the apartment. Taking a deep breath, Seokjin knocks on the door and steps back.

The door swings open, and Yoongi's smiling face appears. "Welcome, hyung," he says, opening the door wider. "Come in. The food's almost done."

Seokjin steps in, greeted by the scent of garlic and sesame oil. He slips off his shoes and follows Yoongi toward the kitchen. "I thought you were taking me to your favorite spot in town."

Yoongi glances over his shoulder and grins. "I am." He gestures at the airy space of his kitchen. The kitchen is wide and spacious, with muted pewter-colored walls and white cabinets. The chrome fixtures sparkle under the recessed lighting, and Yoongi has an array of ingredients laid out, each of them perfectly portioned and piled on the cutting boards. "My favorite place to eat is at home," he says, nodding at a bar stool for Seokjin to sit.

Seokjin laughs, sliding onto a seat. He leans over the counter to inspect the ingredients. "How very misanthropic of you," he teases.

"Shit, is it weird?" Yoongi asks. His face drops, and Seokjin quickly waves him off.

"No, I like it. I get it, too. Working in a restaurant makes dining out a drag sometimes." He reaches for a strip of pepper and crunches on it thoughtfully. "This is nice, actually. Thanks for inviting me over."

"And I'm sorry it's so late," Yoongi mutters, busying himself with his knife and an onion, cutting into it with steady, precise motions. "Sorry if that was weird or whatever."

At that moment, Seokjin realizes Yoongi must be feeling shy about his invitation, pondering its meaning just like Seokjin did before coming over. He laughs gently. "Yoongi-yah, are you feeling self-conscious?"

"Ah, don't tease me, hyung," he mumbles, focusing on his task. His cheeks are flushed pink, and he worries at his bottom lip.

"But you look so cute when you're teased," Seokjin murmurs.

Yoongi looks up, wide-eyed and a little bewildered. "Are you flirting with me, hyung?"

It's Seokjin's turn to blush. He clears his throat. "This is a date, right?"

"I had hoped so, yes," Yoongi says, setting down the knife. He glances at all the prepared ingredients in front of him. "I'm realizing now maybe I should have planned a sexier dish for us."

"It's sexy because you're making it."

Yoongi groans, clutching his chest dramatically. "Okay, that was bad, hyung."

Pleased with himself, Seokjin throws his head back and laughs. "You have no idea how truly terrible I am as a flirt. Get ready. I can dial it up if you want."

"Have mercy on me, I beg," Yoongi answers. He grins, maintaining eye contact with Seokjin. "You look good in my kitchen."

"Yeah?" Seokjin asks, watching as Yoongi slinks around the counter.

Stepping closer, Yoongi licks his lips. "Yeah, like really good." He glances down at Seokjin's legs. "May I?"

"And rub onion juice all over my expensive jeans?" Seokjin scoffs. Yoongi turns to make his way to the sink, but Seokjin grabs the tail of his shirt, yanking him back. "It would be my pleasure."

"You are a terrible flirt," Yoongi hums, stepping closer once more.

The air between them is charged. Yoongi's blush has faded, but Seokjin feels like his entire being is on fire. "And yet..." He licks his lips, mirroring Yoongi's actions.

"And yet." Yoongi's voice dips low, sending a shiver down Seokjin's spine. He smooths his palms along Seokjin's jeans, fingers catching on the spots of bare skin between the patches of denim. "Can I kiss you, hyung?"

Seokjin nods. "You better."

As far as first kisses go, there are no sparks, no involuntary oh that escapes from either of their lips. But it is warm and soft—with the kind of hesitation that signals a deeper desire. That they both want to kiss longer, harder, but they’re holding back. And that is enough for Seokjin—the slight hint that Yoongi might want to kiss him a bit longer, to taste his lips a bit more.

When they kiss, Seokjin sees splashes of red—bright peonies blooming behind his eyelids. It’s the trace of pinot noir on Yoongi’s lips that tastes like crimson. Red like saffron before it hits a sizzling pan, dissolving into golden sunshine. Not the flash of red that comes with heat and passion, but the comforting, warmth of red brick patios splashed in sunlight.

Their first kiss is comfortable. Seokjin would like to stay like this forever.

"Food's burning," Yoongi murmurs, pulling back. "Let me be a good host and feed you a proper meal."

"To give me some energy for what's after dinner?" Seokjin teases, raising an eyebrow.

"Hyung!" Yoongi gasps, pretending to be scandalized. He turns to the stove, stirring the pan and reaching for ingredients to toss in. "I just invited you here for a wholesome meal. I don't know what you have in mind."

Seokjin snorts. "Who's the terrible flirt now?" He studies Yoongi as he stirs the food, shaking the pan with quick, confident flicks of his wrist. Seokjin slips off the bar stool and steps into the kitchen. He steps behind Yoongi and reaches for the knob on the stove. He doesn't want dinner.

"Hyung," Yoongi murmurs. It's not a protest, just an acknowledgement. He drops the wooden spoon into the spoon rest and pushes the pan away.

"Tell me to stop if you want," Seokjin says softly, smoothing his hands down Yoongi's back. He hopes Yoongi can't feel the trembling in his hands. It's been so long since he's flirted like this, since he felt the heat of another's gaze, felt the warmth of someone's lips against his own. He wants more.

"Don't," Yoongi answers. He relaxes at Seokjin's touch, his own hands gripping the edge of the counter.

"I don't know what it is about you," Seokjin murmurs, leaning in to nose along Yoongi's neck. You make me feel bold, he wants to say. The words aren't quite there yet—shy and stuck in his throat.

"I wondered if you liked me like this," Yoongi says. His eyes flutter closed as Seokjin presses a soft kiss to his neck. "Wasn't sure if you were into guys."

"Guys, good people, whatever," he answers. It's not something he's thought much about, really. Seokjin finds himself attracted to anyone who's interesting and kind, and Yoongi is no exception. "I like you a lot."

Yoongi turns around, lifting his eyes to meet Seokjin's. "I like you too," he exhales. He licks his lips again. Waits.

Seokjin leans in, kisses Yoongi so hard they both startle and laugh. "I'm sorry," he says sheepishly.

"Don't be." Yoongi wraps his arms around Seokjin's neck and pulls him closer. He hums into the kiss, lips parting slightly as Seokjin presses his tongue into his mouth. The kiss grows deeper, both of them growing a bit breathless as they push back and forth. Yoongi allows one hand to glide down Seokjin's back, settling onto his waist. He clings to Seokjin's sweater like he's trying to ground himself.

"I know you wanna cook me dinner," Seokjin says, breaking their kiss, "but I really want to keep making out with you instead."

Yoongi laughs, dropping his forehead against Seokjin's shoulder. "Yeah, dinner isn't even on my mind right now."

"Yeah?" Seokjin feels a little dizzy, breathless with how much he likes the feeling of Yoongi curled against him. "What's on your mind, Yoongi-yah?"

Yoongi blushes, rubbing his forehead against Seokjin's sweater. "Is it too soon to say I would totally blow you?"

Seokjin laughs—loud peals of laughter shaking his entire body. "I mean it's the proper thing to do as host, right?"

Gasping, Yoongi pounds Seokjin's chest with a loose fist. "You heathen." He looks up at Seokjin, his face shifting so quickly, it nearly startles him. "You look so good, hyung, make me feel good. Just wanna make you feel good too." He groans, shaking his head. "Am I moving too fast? I'm being weird."

"Not weird," Seokjin murmurs, thumbing at Yoongi's cheek. "We have good energy." He watches as Yoongi sinks to his knees, palms smoothing down Seokjin's thighs.

Yoongi lifts the hem of Seokjin's sweater, reaching for the button and fly of his jeans. "You sure?"

"Yeah," he answers quickly, nodding enthusiastically. "Totally, completely, absolutely sure."

Grinning, Yoongi tugs at Seokjin's jeans. "Good."

Seokjin wants to say something clever about the kitchen and health codes, but all thoughts leave his mind once he feels Yoongi's lips wrapping around his cock. Yoongi is eager—quick and skilled—and his hands move along Seokjin's length, pumping and slicking him all over. Reflexively, Seokjin reaches to thread his fingers through Yoongi's hair, gasping as he takes Seokjin's cock deeper in his mouth.

The experience is overwhelming: the heat of the stove still radiating next to him, Yoongi's graceful fingers jerking him off, his tongue lolling along the tip of Seokjin's cock, eyes playful and intense as he looks up at Seokjin through his bangs. Never has someone seemed so enthusiastic about sucking his cock, and Seokjin's socked toes scrunch against the floor, fighting off the full-bodied shiver that threatens to wash over him.

"Shit, Yoongi, I don't know—"

Seokjin's words are cut off by a particularly powerful suck, Yoongi's nose pressed into the dark hair surrounding the base of Seokjin's cock. He's shameless: cheeks hollowed out as he sucks, sucks, sucks Seokjin down, gagging and sliding his wet palm along Seokjin's length. Before he can warn Yoongi, his body seizes—lightning ripping through him as he spills in Yoongi's mouth. He can't help but grip his hair a bit tighter as the waves wash over him relentlessly.

"Oh my God," Seokjin huffs, leaning against the counter for support.

Yoongi lifts to his feet, wiping at his chin with his sleeve. He looks as blissed out as Seokjin feels: cheeks flushed and lips raw and tender. "Good?"

Nodding, Seokjin can barely form words. "Great," he croaks out, waving a weak thumbs up. "Talk about an amuse-bouche."

Yoongi groans, turning as if he's leaving. "That was terrible, hyung. I think I might have to leave my own apartment for that one."

"Don't," he says gently, tugging at Yoongi's elbow. "Come here." He leans in, eager to kiss Yoongi, to feel the lips that made him feel so good. Yoongi protests, scrunching his nose, but Seokjin silences him with a kiss. "That was amazing. You're amazing."

"How about I order some take-out and then you return the favor?" Yoongi teases. He slips his arms around Seokjin's waist and hugs him closer, tilting his head to rest on his shoulder.

"Anything you want," he answers, pressing a kiss to Yoongi's head. It's probably too early to imagine himself here always, reaching into a cabinet to retrieve his favorite coffee mug. Probably too soon to imagine standing beside Yoongi, chopping vegetables and discussing their work days. Definitely too early for Seokjin to feel whatever is unfurling inside his chest as he sways gently with Yoongi.

✧ ✧ ✧

Spending time with Yoongi is easy. Seokjin loses count of the days and weeks spent texting him or meeting Yoongi after work. Some evenings, Seokjin visits the bar, ordering just enough drinks and food to keep Haneul happy that he's taking up precious bar space. Only occasionally does Yoongi mention his boss and a possible job for Seokjin, but he's made a point not to really ask about it. He's had some luck with odd jobs: catering gigs, short-term help at the supermarket, preparing meals for a few elderly neighbors.

Seokjin's mother isn't too pleased that he's barely making a decent living, certainly not as much as he used to make, but she seems to appreciate his attention to Taehyung, helping him eat well and keeping him company. Seokjin has more than enough in his savings to make it another couple of months without a steady job. For now, he enjoys the routine he's set for himself: cooking for Taehyung and himself, accompanying Yoongi to the fish market, odd jobs around the neighborhood. Seokjin follows his whims—something he has never been wont to do but enjoys now.

He especially enjoys days like these: rainy Sundays when the bar is closed and Yoongi is off work. The two of them intertwined in Yoongi's bed, sipping coffee and making plans for what meal to cook together. A tiny part of Seokjin wonders if it's all a bit fast, but those worries disappear when Yoongi kisses him slowly, murmuring to him with his rough morning voice.

"Hyung," he says, mouth pressed to Seokjin's bare shoulder, "what if we skip the expo? Stay in?" They had plans to attend a kitchenware expo across the city—something with loud demos and packed convention halls of vendors hawking rust-free cooking equipment and useless single-use tools. Yoongi had proposed it—"for the boss."

"Will the boss allow it?" Seokjin teases, tracing his fingertips along Yoongi's neck. Sometimes he thinks Yoongi must be on to him, that he must know the pretense is all but over, but he still isn't sure. Broaching the topic never seems like an option, either.

"Yeah, he can deal," Yoongi answers, nestling closer. He links his hand with Seokjin's, lacing their fingers together. Everything had been so simple with Yoongi: kissing, touching, Seokjin rediscovering how his body felt with another man.

There had been others before his ex-girlfriend, but they felt so long ago, far away like they happened to another person entirely. Back when those relationships were shrouded in secrecy and uncertainty. Now, Seokjin feels liberated—just as comfortable and desired as he had felt with his ex. And then something else that he couldn't quite name, but it felt electric and new. Yoongi was dazzling in every way: a charming laugh, a playful way he raked his nails across Seokjin's skin, kisses so feverish and eager, Seokjin thought Yoongi might one day devour him.

Easy. Things have been so easy with Yoongi. Almost like Seokjin had been rewarded for taking the risk, leaving behind his broken heart and his old life in search of something else. Yoongi feels like a prize Seokjin doesn't quite deserve.

"And what will we do if we stay in?" Seokjin asks, watching as Yoongi shifts, climbing into Seokjin's lap.

"I have some ideas," Yoongi murmurs, settling his weight. He's warm and soft all over, thighs plush as Seokjin squeezes gently with his thumbs. Yoongi licks his lips and leans in, capturing Seokjin in a kiss. It's slow, unhurried like the morning ahead of them.

Gray morning light cascades through the blinds. The rain taps steadily against the window, competing only with the sound of Seokjin's heartbeat thrumming in his ears. Yoongi feels good, so good in Seokjin's arms. He slips his hands under Yoongi's shirt, tugging it overhead. In the dim light of the morning, Yoongi looks dreamlike, a flash of a ghost in his paleness.

Kissing Yoongi feels heavenly, but fucking Yoongi is otherworldly. Seokjin shivers when Yoongi shifts, tugging off his boxers. He scrambles to undress, watching as Yoongi reaches for condoms and lube. He moved with such confidence, Seokjin never felt like he had time to feel embarrassed or exposed. With the same earnest patience Yoongi used in his cooking tutorials, he had done the same for teaching Seokjin how to prepare them both for sex: encouraging and moving slowly to allow Seokjin to learn and feel for himself. Nearly thirty, Seokjin felt grateful for the lessons, grateful that Yoongi didn't laugh at him except for when Seokjin had squeezed the lube too hard, blasting it across the bedroom in a streak that splattered against the dresser.

Yoongi helps Seokjin prep him, rocking slowly against Seokjin's fingers so he could feel Yoongi taking him little by little. Seokjin wonders if he should be ashamed at how worked up he gets just fingering Yoongi open, but the sweat along Yoongi's hairline and pinched expression on his face tells Seokjin he's just as turned on.

Before long, they're finally fucking—Yoongi taking his time to slowly rock up and down on Seokjin's cock, his hands linked behind his neck, keeping their chests pressed together. Seokjin's hands settle on Yoongi's waist, his vision a bit shaky as he tries to take in the sight of Yoongi riding him. Pink —pink all over and sensitive to the touch, Yoongi let little gasps and sighs escape any time they kissed, and the sounds grew more urgent and intense even now.

"Hyung," Yoongi sighs, pressing his nose to Seokjin's. His body is slick with sweat, his cheeks flushed, and damp his hair clings to his forehead. He tangles his fingers in the long hair at Seokjin's nape, pressing his mouth to Seokjin's in a flurry of haphazard kisses.

"Yoongi-yah," Seokjin answers. What else can he say? He feels caught in a dream—half-awake and half-asleep, his body warm and soft. Yoongi's body warm and soft. The two of them moving together with the same ease they found in the kitchen together time and time again.

How Seokjin got so lucky, he'll never know. For now, he accepts the good fortune, allows himself to feel grateful to have Yoongi like this: sighing his name, wrapped in his arms, lips tasting him over and over again.

✧ ✧ ✧

"Some things you should know about Taehyung," Seokjin says, shifting the bag of groceries in his arms. "He's terribly handsome. Like annoyingly handsome. I'm warning you because I know you're helpless to my charms, so you might fall for his too in your weakened state."

Yoongi scoffs, bumping Seokjin with his shoulder. "I don't know here you got this idea that you are so good-looking. I know I've never said such a thing."

Seokjin rolls his eyes. "If I recall correctly, you said I had a 'pretty cock' just last night—"

"— shit, hyung," Yoongi hisses, glancing around the hallway. "Your neighbors."

Grinning, Seokjin punches the code into the keypad and lets them into the apartment. "It's the truth. If the neighbors can't handle it, that's not my problem."

"You are disgusting," Yoongi grumbles, slipping off his shoes. He follows Seokjin into the kitchen and sets down his bag of groceries.

"And still," Seokjin hums, leaning toward him for a kiss. "I haven't scared you off yet."

"Maybe it's because of your pretty cock," Yoongi answers, grabbing at Seokjin's ass. He squeezes him hard, laughing when Seokjin yelps.

Four months, two weeks, three days. That's how long they've been together. Seokjin didn't mean to keep a running calculation. It just sort of happened. He's always been one to note anniversaries or track time. Something he picked up in school, maybe. Taehyung had been the one to point out how long Seokjin and Yoongi had been talking—dating, whatever—accidentally. He had gently brought up the possibility of Seokjin finding his own place or even moving in with Yoongi. It was then Seokjin realized how long he had been at Taehyung's place, crashing on his couch.

At this point, he spent more than half his time at Yoongi's place. Taehyung had remained kind and patient, never pushing Seokjin to move out. Seokjin knew he must be wearing out his welcome though. He felt a bit embarrassed when Taehyung asked why he never brought Yoongi over, so Seokjin promised they'd meet and have a meal together.

"So this is the space you're working with," Yoongi asks, looking around the cramped kitchen. "Not made for a cook, really." He opens cabinets and drawers, inspecting the contents.

"I know. Why do you think I'm always at your place?" Seokjin teases. He squeezes past Yoongi and pulls out some pots and pans.

"I always suspected you were using me for my appliances," Yoongi says wistfully.

"Secret's out." Seokjin leans in for another kiss, and Yoongi happily gives in, dipping back as Seokjin chases after his mouth.

"Surely this is some sort safety hazard," Taehyung interrupts.

Seokjin pulls away from Yoongi, a fiery blush washing over him. "At least a dozen," he says, wiping his mouth.

"Yoongi-ssi, nice to meet you," Taehyung says warmly, stepping into the tight space of the kitchen.

"You can call me hyung," Yoongi says, extending a hand. Seokjin doesn't miss the blush on his cheeks, too. Adorable.

"I've heard a lot about you, hyung," Taehyung says. He grins and raises an eyebrow, watching Seokjin for any sort of reaction.

"Salacious, horrible things I hope?" Yoongi jokes.

"Downright filthy," Taehyung agrees.

"Oh, is this how it's gonna go?" Seokjin asks. "Are we moments away from you two ganging up on me?"

Yoongi grins, slipping his arm around Seokjin's waist. "Feels like it, yeah."

"You know, you're just like Seokjin described," Taehyung says, waving a finger at Yoongi. "I mean the YouTube videos are one thing—"

Seokjin winces, waving at Taehyung to stop talking, but he's so lost in his commentary he doesn't notice. Yoongi bristles beside Seokjin, his arm slipping away as he forces a tight smile.

"—so cool that you're like this amazing chef and you're here, you know. Like what are the odds that you two would meet? You know Seokjin-hyung is like your biggest fan, right? Just like, over the moon crazy about you," Taehyung continues.

Seokjin has never thought much about souls, but he's pretty sure he can feel his slipping away as Taehyung talks, unaware that Seokjin is dying a slow, agonizing death right in front of him.

"Ah," Yoongi hums. "Yeah, I had no idea hyung was such a fan." He turns to Seokjin warily, raising his eyebrows in question. "Funny how he's never brought it up?"

"Seriously?" Taehyung gasps. "Oh my God, when he first met you at the store, it's all he talked about. Made me sit and watch so many videos after that. I looked you up, too. You really had an impressive career for someone so young."

As Taehyung babbles on, Seokjin takes in the details of the scene: Yoongi's energy dissipating, his mouth drawn in a fraught, tight smile, his hands shoved awkwardly into his jean pockets. "Yeah," he agrees. "Impressive. Sure."

Seokjin clears his throat. "Maybe we talk about something else now?"

Yoongi sighs, scratching his cheek right where he has a tiny mole. Seokjin had only recently discovered it, loved to press kisses there before they fell asleep. "You know what? I just remembered I need to be somewhere tonight. I totally double-booked myself. Sorry." He brushes past Seokjin and hesitates at the threshold of the kitchen.

"Did I say something wrong?" Taehyung asks, his glee deflating. He frowns, shooting a glance at Seokjin.

"No, no, it's fine," Yoongi says, waving him off. "I just realized I was supposed to do something for work. You just reminded me."

"Oh." Taehyung nods. "Well, I'm glad we could meet. We'll plan another time for us to get together."

"Sure," Yoongi answers.

"I'll walk you out," Seokjin says, hurrying after Yoongi.

"It's fine, hyung, I'm in a hurry," Yoongi says, reaching for his shoes. He slips them on, and Seokjin follows him anyway.

As soon as the door shuts behind them, Yoongi turns to Seokjin, eyes narrowed. "You've known about me this whole time? When were you going to tell me?"

"I didn't know how," Seokjin admits.

"Is that how you found me? Searched me up and tracked me down. Thought maybe I could help you make a name for yourself?" Yoongi shakes his head, scoffing. "I know your type." He marches down the hallway, still muttering to himself. "You find yourself in my bar and just happen to be a chef. I've met people like you countless times." He jabs the elevator button and folds his arms.

"Yoongi, I promise, it's nothing like that." Seokjin keeps his distance, watching as Yoongi clenches and unclenches his jaw. "Really. It was pure coincidence that I found your bar. I was never looking for you."

Yoongi snorts. "I don't believe you." The elevator dings and the doors open. Yoongi steps in, reaching to hold the doors open just long enough to duck his head out. "Don't follow me. Don't call me. Don't come to the bar."

"Yoongi, please," Seokjin pleads, stepping closer.

"Don't," he says. The doors close.

✧ ✧ ✧

Five months and six days. That's how long Seokjin has known Yoongi, and more specifically, he's spent two weeks and five days giving Yoongi his space. The elevator doors closed, and Seokjin stood there, watching the numbers count down as the lift descended to the lobby floor. Seokjin wondered if he should have chased after Yoongi, but he knew it was pointless. Yoongi wasn't one for loud declarations or dramatic scenes. He was quiet, humble, reserved—things that Seokjin found endearing and magnetic about him.

The days without talking to Yoongi felt endless: vast and empty, void of laughter. He tried not to mope around Taehyung's apartment, accepting any job he could just to fill his time.

Taehyung apologized every chance he could, bringing home pastries from the bakery on the corner or ordering take-out just to make it up to Seokjin. Tonight, he's brought home enough fried chicken to feed an entire soccer team. "Extra crispy, spicy, and garlic," he says, pulling out one container after the next. "Please, hyung, come eat with me."

Seokjin sighs and sits up. He feels like he's become one with the sofa any time he's at the apartment. Grumpy, unwilling to move, generally not good company. "Thanks, Taehyung. Smells good."

"Have you heard from him today?" He lifts a chicken thigh with his chopsticks and gnaws at the end of it.

"Nothing," Seokjin sighs. He bites into an extra crispy drumstick, exhaling hot steam. "Fresh," he mumbles around the hot bite.

Grinning, Taehyung nods. "Yeah, good, huh?" It's a small gesture—Taehyung trying to console Seokjin with food—and it makes Seokjin smile.

"Delicious," he agrees. Things had been going so well, he should have anticipated this. He had kept something a secret from someone he cared about, and it was bound to explode in his face. Taehyung, of course, felt wholly responsible for their fall-out, but Seokjin assured him it was bound to happen if he never admitted knowing Yoongi's secret identity.

"I think you should call him, hyung," Taehyung says. He wipes his fingers with a few napkins, dabbing at his lips to soak up the grease. "Enough time has passed. He's got to be cooled off by now."

Seokjin sighs. "I lied to him. I don't blame him if he never wants to see me again."

"Well, you heard him," Taehyung answers, "he's used to people trying to use him. I would be wary, too."

"But I wasn't using him," Seokjin replies. "That wasn't my intention at all. If anything, it was like he passed a vibe check since I already knew him."

Taehyung frowns, reaching for another piece of chicken. "Don't say 'vibe check,' hyung."

"You know what I mean." Seokjin cracks a smile and reaches for another piece of chicken. "Is it too early to call him my soulmate?"

"I thought you didn't believe in fate," Taehyung says, pointing his chicken wing at his cousin. "Now you're talking about soulmates?"

Seokjin blushes. "It's silly I know. We just clicked, though. I've never met anyone like him."

"And that's why you need to call him, hyung," Taehyung says gently. "Don't wait any longer."

"So wise, Taehyung-ah," Seokjin teases."When are you going to find someone of your own?"

Taehyung blushes, ducking his head. "I've found someone, hyung," he mumbles.

"Sorry, what?" Seokjin asks.

"It's still new," Taehyung says sheepishly. "But I like him a lot. You'd like him too."

Seokjin rubs his chin, pondering for a moment. "So what I'm hearing is that I need to fix things with Yoongi so we can have a double date?"

"Sure," Taehyung laughs. "That's exactly what I'm saying."

✧ ✧ ✧

The door opens, and Yoongi frowns. "Hi."

"Hi," Seokjin answers meekly. He doesn't have the heart to tease Yoongi, not even when he's drowning in oversized sweats, hair fluffy and damp from a shower. He looks like a soft kitten, and Seokjin wishes things were different, wishes he could push into Yoongi's apartment like he used to and kiss him silly until they're both laughing and breathless.

"Come in if you want," Yoongi says, stepping away from the door. He's always so kind, it seems like an act, like he has to will himself to be gruff and aloof. Seokjin tries not to smile.

"Thanks." He enters and slips off his shoes, waits awkwardly in the entryway.

"I'm cooking," Yoongi says. A statement, not an offering.

Seokjin follows him to the kitchen and leans against the counter to watch. It feels reminiscent of the first time Seokjin ever came over, but all the warmth and fondness is gone. Yoongi looks so tired, shoulders drooping as he stirs his bubbling pot on the stove.

"What are you making?" Seokjin asks.

"Sundubu," he answers.

"Thanks for letting me come over." Seokjin clears his throat. "For hearing me out."

Yoongi grunts, his attention still on the bubbling soup.

"Yoongi-yah," Seokjin says gently. "You have to know how sorry I am. I promise you I was never searching for you or trying to use you. I was a huge fan of your channel but didn't know the other stuff until I got here."

Yoongi turns around, eyes glassy. It startles Seokjin to see him looking so sad, so tired. "In all your research did you find out why I left when I did?"

Seokjin shakes his head. "No. I didn't really dig that deep," he admits.

Yoongi rubs his forehead and leans back agains the counter. "I had a bit of a breakdown. It was a lot of pressure being this hot shot chef or whatever stupid title they gave me on whatever day. I lost the joy of cooking. It was all about endorsing condiments or judging TV competitions. I didn't feel like myself anymore, just some sort of commodity. " He grimaces. "That sounds so ridiculous, right? To complain about being famous."

"Not at all," Seokjin answers. "Especially if it took away from something you loved doing."

"I just sort of snapped, burned my business relationships, canceled my contracts." He glances at Seokjin. "Stopped my channel." He shrugs and shakes his head. "Just gave it all up. Somehow that was better than what I had been doing."

Seokjin nods. "Makes sense."

"But people found me anyway, followed me. I got so many people trying to get an apprenticeship with me, asking for deals or introductions. I mean, shit. That wasn't why I started cooking. Pissed me off to see so many people pursuing that instead of good food." He scoffs. "You're a snob, you get it."

The comment makes Seokjin crack a smile. "I am a snob, yes."

"Why didn't you say anything?" Yoongi asks softly, his shoulders relaxing in what looks like defeat.

"Didn't know how," Seokjin admits. "I didn't want to freak you out that I knew, but it also didn't seem to matter. I don't know if it's fate or coincidence or what, exactly, but I'm glad we found each other. I don't care about the other stuff."

"I just wish you had told me. I hate that we both lied." He chews his lip and stares at the floor, toeing along the seam between the tiles.

"I might have scared you off if I told you how much your videos meant to me," Seokjin admits. He steps around the counter, drifting closer to Yoongi. "I think I've watched your fridge tour about a thousand times."

"Yeah?" Yoongi laughs.

"Swear," Seokjin says solemnly. "I watched your videos when I was going through culinary school. I was so lonely and so determined, but I had your videos. They helped me so much." He steps closer, waiting for Yoongi to move away or lean closer. "You helped me so much."

Yoongi smiles, laughing as he swipes at his eyes. "I'm not crying. It's the onions."

There are no onions anywhere near them, but Seokjin doesn't point that out. He nods. "Onions. Definitely."

Yoongi reaches for him, pulling him into a hug. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Seokjin answers, hugging him tight to his chest. "I should have told you." He kisses the top of Yoongi's head, inhaling his soft citrus shampoo scent. "These past few months have been amazing. You have been amazing. I don't want to mess that up."

Yoongi mumbles something in response against Seokjin's chest and squeezes him tighter. He feels light in Seokjin's arms, nestled closely where he's meant to be. "Stay the night?"

Seokjin smiles, giving Yoongi another squeeze. "Of course."

✧ ✧ ✧

Seokjin wakes to the smell of coffee drifting through the air. The coffeemaker sputters and hisses in the kitchen, and it pulls Seokjin out of his sleep. He rolls over, smiling to find Yoongi nestled among the pillows, his lips parted as he snores softly. They spent the night eating and talking, turning toward the future instead of their bumpy pasts. They fell into bed with ease and urgency, both of them hellbent on proving their hunger for the other.

Seokjin still feels the sting of a hickey on his neck as he runs his fingers over the bruise. Yoongi's marked just the same—Seokjin a little overzealous with his love bites and tickling, leaving a smattering of bruises along Yoongi's thighs. "Sugar spots, like a banana," he'd joked, sucking another bruise on Yoongi's leg.

He leans over and kisses Yoongi gently, surprised when Yoongi kisses him back. "Morning," he hums, brushing the hair out of Yoongi's eyes. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Mmhmm," Yoongi nods. He wraps his arms around Seokjin's neck and pulls him closer. They kiss over and over again, slow dips of their tongues curling into each other's mouths like cream curling into coffee. Warm, sweet, mingling.

Seokjin slips his hand underneath the sheets, smoothing it down Yoongi's bare leg, dipping it between Yoongi's cheeks. "Can I?"

"You better," Yoongi huffs, lifting his hips to meet Seokjin's touch.

With careful fingers, Seokjin rubs at Yoongi's rim, delighted by how responsive Yoongi is even as he's emerging from sleep. He's still loose from the night before, taking one finger, then two with ease. "You feel so good, so soft," Seokjin murmurs. He presses kiss after kiss to Yoongi's belly, moving his fingers in slow, steady motions to pull delicious whines from Yoongi.

Yoongi's back arches with a particular deep thrust from Seokjin, and he grapples at the bedside table for lube before tossing it at Seokjin. "Please, hyung, more."

Laughing, Seokjin takes the bottle and slicks his hand, dribbling the excess all over Yoongi's thighs and cock. He strokes him a few times, more to tease than offer any relief. Again, Yoongi whines, and Seokjin relents. "Okay, okay." He scoots up to kiss Yoongi, laughing as Yoongi pouts through the kiss.

"Hyung, don't make me beg," Yoongi says between kisses. He twirls his fingers through Seokjin's hair.

"You're not really giving me a good reason not to make you beg," Seokjin jokes. He kisses Yoongi again and reaches for a condom. "It's impossible not to pick on you when you look so cute and grumpy."

"Be good to me hyung, and I'll put in a good word with the boss," Yoongi purrs, gliding his hand down Seokjin's chest. He grins and gives Seokjin's nipple a sharp pinch, laughing when Seokjin howls in surprise.

Seokjin sniffs, shaking his head. "I don't know if I can work under these conditions."

"How about these work conditions?" Yoongi's fingers grip Seokjin's cock, sliding them with quick pressure along his length.

"Yes, I can work with this," he stammers. He shivers and pulls away just enough to slide on a condom, his fingers trembling as he tries to move quickly. Yoongi's gaze is hungry, and a full body shiver of anticipation and delight washes over Seokjin.

When their bodies finally, finally connect, Seokjin sighs, dropping his head into the crook of Yoongi's neck. They go slow at first—Seokjin pressing Yoongi's thighs open, thrusting into him slowly, watching as the blood rushes to Yoongi's face and chest. Pink speckling him all over as he sighs and whimpers.

Whether it was fate or coincidence that brought them together, Seokjin is grateful to be here in Yoongi's bed. Grateful to know what sounds he makes when his toes are curling. Grateful to taste the salt on Yoongi's skin as he licks along the dips in his clavicle. Grateful to feel the ripple of his ribs under his palm. Grateful to know that when they both catch their breaths and their hearts settle, there will be more waiting for him: conversation and food, the desire to nourish one another in countless ways.