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namjoon is trying very hard not to stare, really. but the way the rapper on stage is spitting out his verses – as though it’s the only thing keeping him from potential insanity, has him gripping his glass tightly enough that his knuckles have turned white. the words spilling onto the stage are harsh, blunt, none of the sweet sugarcoated verses namjoon has become more-than-accustomed to.

“worried about the competition, man?” ikje laughs, taking his glass from him and refilling it.

namjoon shakes his head, unwilling to take his eyes away from the stage. he’s not worried. worried is the wrong word to describe what he’s feeling. before he can properly place a word to the emotion coursing through him, he’s made his way to the front of the stage, grabbing a mic from beside the stairs, and he’s taken said stairs two at a time until he’s facing the rapper, a challenge in his eyes and anticipation (that was the word) tingling at his fingertips.

the rapper cocks an eyebrow, hidden under mint green hair, and flips up the hood of his oversized jacket, turning to face namjoon with a single hand raised – the signal to stop the beat, and smirks, accepting the unspoken challenge.

 

the battle ends with the mint-haired rapper defending his title as crowd-favourite, and namjoon notes his own deteriorating ability to freestyle with a twinge of regret.

ikje laughs in his face when he goes back to the bar and namjoon flips him off with a sour expression.

“here,” a joint and lighter is slid over the counter, “use the back door, joon”

it’s got to do with practice and experience, namjoon concludes, letting smoke curl out of his mouth in gentle wisps - standing in front of a studio mic and only spitting prewritten lines for the past two years would no doubt take a toll on his ability to freestyle in the underground. on the other hand, the rappers who stayed underground…

“yo, nam, shouldn’t you be more careful ‘bout your image?”

the mint-haired rapper namjoon just lost the battle to is leaning against the back door, small figure almost completely swallowed up by his far-too-large-on-him jacket.

namjoon scowls, drops the joint, extinguishes it with the heel of his shoe.

“you’re the only one here, ‘gi”

yoongi pushes himself off the door, takes a step forward.

“yeah.”

he takes another step forward - namjoon can feel the shorter’s breath ghosting over his jaw line. and, involuntarily, he shivers.

“yeah, i am,”

yoongi’s voice drops, takes on a rougher, huskier quality.

namjoon does his best to suppress the second shiver but yoongi’s quick eyes catch it anyway and he smirks, waits.

he half considers leaving, taking a purposeful misstep in the routine they’ve danced so many times it’s all muscle memory at this point (but really, even this hesitance is part of it all)

yoongi tilts his head to the side, lets his tongue run across his lower lip.

namjoon takes another step forward (there’s only a few millimetres left now), convinces himself that one more time won’t hurt (it doesn’t mean anything) and presses his lips against the older’s.

 

namjoon tastes like smoke and hard liquor, but yoongi doesn’t. yoongi tastes clean, almost sweet, and the irony isn’t lost on either rapper. their kiss isn’t sweet though, it’s rough, harsh - namjoon nips at yoongi’s bottom lip and yoongi’s teeth graze namjoon’s chapped ones.

he’s clumsy (always has been), he overestimates, bites down too hard and yoongi growls, the sound coming from the back of his throat, “you tryna kiss me or eat me, joon-ah?”

at the nickname, he presses the shorter into the wall, one hand coming up to tangle in mint green hair, “both, hyung.” his lips travel past yoongi’s jaw line, teeth grazing at his throat, replaced by his tongue mere moments later, soothing the crimson roses that bloom against milky-white. “want to do both.”

yoongi groans at the implication, hips arching off the wall in search for friction, and hooks two fingers into the waistband on namjoon’s jeans, “do it.”

namjoon’s finger’s slip beneath the rapper’s many layers of clothing, cool fingers on hot skin and yoongi trembles, breathing losing it’s regular rhythm.

“could’ve done this so much more if you’d just stayed, ‘gi,”

yoongi shudders, digs blunt fingernails into namjoon’s hips, tries like hell to pretend he doesn’t regret it - leaving big hit, leaving bts, leaving namjoon.

“shouldn’t be doing this a-at all,” he manages between unsteady breaths. namjoon’s hands are gliding across his stomach, fingers toying with his waistband, slipping beneath skin-tight denim.

“last time, hyung, i swear.”

namjoon presses the promise almost painfully into kiss-bruised lips, convinces himself that this is really the last time, knows already that he’ll be back, seeking yoongi out on his next schedule-free day, wishing they could have something longer than one night, something more than sweet nothings in the dark and empty beds by first light.

he slips the jacket off yoongi’s shoulder’s, letting it hang from the older’s elbows, an awkward weight (though neither cares at this point). yoongi’s wearing an oversized white t-shirt underneath, collarbones beautifully exposed to him and namjoon hisses, bites down hard - sharp teeth on sharp bones.

“last time,” he repeats into the roses that blossom under his touch, cerise on alabaster.

“y-yeah,” yoongi stutters, head falling back as sweaty fingers fumble with metal zippers, “l-last time,”

cold air hits heated skin, sweat trickling over a tensed abdomen, past sharp hipbones and yoongi lets his hands fall to his sides, fingers scraping against the brick wall, searching for purchase, namjoon’s name falling past his lips like a prayer (like a sin).

namjoon responds in kind, curses mingling with broken syllables of yoongi’s name, muffled against the crook of his neck and both of them fall, fall and pretend.

yoongi pretends he doesn’t want to burn namjoon’s skin with matching roses, pretends it’s okay when he can only mark the places others can’t see. namjoon pretends it’s all physical, pretends it’s just pleasure seeking, pretends he doesn’t love the way his name spills past yoongi’s lips (it sounds better than any song he’s ever written).

 

yoongi will ask namjoon to come home with him; it’s not a plea (it is).

namjoon will link their fingers together in silent consent; he can say no, if he wants (he can’t).

 

more roses will be painted across moonlit skin; in places they can see, and places they can’t.

more promises made; some will be kept, and some won’t.

namjoon will have left by sunrise and yoongi’s skin, peppered with bruises, will fade back to milky-white.

they’ll fall out of sync.

 

months later, on a different stage, namjoon will find yoongi again.

 

more promises.

 

“this is the last time”

(it’s not)

 

they’ll fall into step, again.

(it’s a dance they know by heart)

 

Chapter Text

it starts the way most things start. accidentally.

 

namjoon comes back to the dorm early one night, when the rest of the members are out eating dinner - something he’d opted out of in favour of hanging back to finish up his verse for cypher, when he hears his name being uttered softly from the general direction of the room the seven of them share. coming to the conclusion that yoongi, who’d returned to the dorms straight after practice, had probably heard the key in the lock, he makes his way to their room and opens the door without knocking.

the question about why the rapper had been calling for him dies on his lips as he takes in the figure stretched out on top of the innermost bunk. yoongi has his head thrown back and eyes squeezed shut, one hand disappearing beneath the waistband of loose basketball shorts and broken syllables of namjoon’s name slipping from between slightly-parted lips.

he clearly doesn’t realise that the owner of said name is standing at the doorway, too far gone in his search for release to even register how namjoon’s breathing is becoming louder and heavier the longer he stays in the suddenly-too-small bedroom. he should leave, he really should, before yoongi gets a chance to open his eyes and find himself less alone that he assumed he’d be, but namjoon is rooted to the spot, breathing growing more and more irregular as yoongi’s movements become more and more frantic. yoongi’s own breathing hitches and namjoon tries not to watch when his fingers and toes curl into the sheets, shoulders shuddering as sharp teeth come down onto his bottom lip, biting off a low moan that mostly sounds like fuck, but part of it sounds like joon-ah.

namjoon leaves before yoongi can realise he’s there, forcing himself into the kitchen and downing three glasses of ice-cold water, doing his best to ignore the soft footfalls behind him.

“you’re back early, nam.”

namjoon can’t look yoongi in the eye when all he can think about is how “joon-ah” sounds so much better than “nam”, so he settles for the spot above the older’s shoulder and tries not to notice the pretty red flush across yoongi’s cheeks.

“yeah, thought i’d wash up before the others get back.”

yoongi shrugs and jerks his head towards the shower as though he’s saying “well, what are you waiting for?” and namjoon hurries past the rapper, grateful that yoongi seems to have missed how his jeans are sitting uncomfortably tight around his waist.

namjoon spends the next month surfing all the website recommendations from ikje that he’d ignored until now, and the studio computer becomes littered with viruses - pictures of well-endowed bikini clad girls covering the multiple cubase windows that are permanently open on the device. he analyses and over-analyses, tries to imprint the pictures of the pretty beach girls into his memory (because namjoon likes girls, always has and always will). he pretends not to hear the name that slips out of his own lips, drowned out by the sound of cold water hitting bathroom tiles and desperately ignores the picture his mind paints behind tightly closed eyelids - of milky-white skin and soft, brown hair, falling into half-lidded, sleepy eyes.

 

he’s toeing the edge of the precipice and really, it’s only a matter of time before he oversteps, slips, and falls.

 

the delicate balance tips much in the same way the entire situation started - by chance, almost like déjà vu.

same room, same bed, same pale skin and flushed cheeks, same basketball shorts and milky-white thighs. but this time around, namjoon’s head is full of how yoongi looked the last time he came. he wants to hear his name swallowed up by the breathy sounds that fall past sweat-slicked lips, wants to watch yoongi unravel under him, because of him.

he doesn’t stop to consider the consequences, closing and locking the door behind him.

yoongi’s eyes open, wide and glazed-over, surprise not yet registering, “joon-ah?”

his voice is raw, hoarse, heavy with all the words he’d never say, and something in namjoon simultaneously breaks and overflows. swallowing the air caught in his throat, he makes his way to the bed and climbs on top of the older, shorter rapper, lips latching onto the unmarked expanse of ivory, leaving a trail of biting bruises between yoongi’s thighs, along his hip bone - marks where no one else will see.

“nam-”

yoongi’s words are breathy and no louder than a whisper.

“wait, namj- sh-shit-,”

the curse escapes between clenched teeth as namjoon reaches down, a large hand wrapping around a slightly smaller one, pressing bruising kisses behind the shorter’s ear. all protests die, drowned out by husky moans and namjoon resists the urge to swallow every single one of the broken sounds, instead he pushes yoongi over the edge - watches him fall…then follows after him.

they fall into a routine, seeking each other out whenever the frustration from wanting to debut becomes too much. they become each other’s outlet - yoongi, on his knees with namjoon’s fingers tangled in his hair, tugging and pulling at the strands as the younger steadily loses control, leaving the older rapper’s throat sore and voice raspy for days after, and namjoon, pressing open-mouthed kisses and empty promises up and down yoongi’s thighs, over yoongi’s stomach, his chest, collarbone, all the places people can’t see, anywhere but his lips. it’s all physical, after all…an arrangement born out of convenience, not desire…no, definitely not desire.

 

there’s no desire, no affection…so why is yoongi lingering? why is he trailing kisses along namjoon’s jaw line, closer and closer to his lips, feather-light brushes that sends his heart thumping uncomfortably loud against his ribs. yoongi pulls back, searches namjoon’s eyes for something (permission, maybe) then leans back in and namjoon swears he can hear his heartbeat, swears his heart is going to jump out of his chest and lodge itself in his throat. he turns his head with centimetres to spare and yoongi’s lips land on his jaw.

“we promised no feelings, 'gi,”

namjoon’s voice is quiet, measured, shutters falling over his eyes.

there’s a fumbling motion and yoongi pushes himself off the bed, fingers clumsily doing up the buttons of the too-big shirt draped over his petite frame. it’s his shirt, namjoon realises with a start, and he almost makes a grab for the sleeve hanging by yoongi’s side, so long it completely covers his fingers.

yoongi has his back to namjoon and one hand on the handle of the door.

“i-i know,” he chokes on the words, voice thick with something that sounds a lot like tears. “i know and i broke it. i’m s-,” the syllable breaks, reconnects at a whisper, “i’m sorry.”

 

the next day yoongi leaves, blows up at their ceo and calls it quits. hoseok tells namjoon that yoongi had refused to remain a trainee if it meant needing to learn how to dance and be an idol.

namjoon remains silent, forces himself to believe the explanation yoongi left behind. he convinces himself that the tightness in his chest is only because he’s pushed himself through the choreography one too many times, and definitely not because of the single lyric he finds at the front of his notebook, six words in a messy scrawl that is unmistakably yoongi’s.

 

this is me keeping our promise

 

Chapter Text

namjoon finds yoongi again a year after, under the bustling streets of hongdae, in nirvana, amongst flashing neon lights and a thumping, too-loud bass. it's a complete accident (like most things about them seem to be) and for a moment namjoon is convinced that it’s a different person – the short rapper that is standing off to one side of the stage has a much lighter hair colour than the yoongi he remembers, and much sharper features. but then the rapper moves from the side of the stage onto the platform, microphone held lazily between slim fingers, and namjoon would recognise that low rasp, a mix of seoul and daegu, anywhere.

“that’s suga,” ikje tells him from behind the bar counter. “used to be called gloss when he was a part of daegu’s d-town.” the bartender leans in closer, dropping his voice. “few people know his real name. it’s m—” 

“min yoongi.”

the name sounds both foreign and familiar between namjoon lips.

ikje raises an eyebrow. if he notices the way namjoon blinks one too many times, eyes seemingly reflecting the club lights, he doesn’t comment on it.

“yeah. min yoongi.” he doesn’t ask how namjoon knows the rapper’s name either, simply wiping down the bar top, eyes trained on the stage. “he’s pretty new to the scene, in seoul, at least. gloss is pretty well known in daegu, left that scene almost five years ago though. no one knows what he was doing in the interim.”

sneaking onto idol company rooftops at midnight and staying till first lightmaking mistake after mistake in dimly-lit rooms with too-loud voices. playing a game they didn't know how to play; because even though the rules were never made to be broken, they broke them anyway.

instead namjoon says, “he’s good. i like the lyrics.”

ikje nods, “yeah, you should battle him sometime. he has another set after this one and then they’ll be calling for challengers.”

namjoon pretends not to hear the implied “you should sign up”, downing the glass in front of him in one shot and pushing himself off the stool with both hands, stumbling as he tries to stand.

ikje looks up surprised. “going so soon?”

namjoon just manages to catch himself on the edge of the counter before he topples face-first into the dirty vinyl flooring.

“yeah.”

“thought you were planning to stay for the battles?”

“nah.” he aims for nonchalant but it comes out choked. “better get back before they realise i'm missing.”

namjoon tries to ignore the “man, still can't believe you became an idol ” as he stumbles towards the exit because neither can he. but he is now and yoongi is not and he should leave and not come back, before he fucks everything up. again.

he must looked as exhausted as he feels because seokjin lets him pass with no more than a “sorry, hyung” when he returns to the dorm at 1am. he collapses into his bed fully clothed not minutes after but it’s hours until sleep finally claims him, tossing and turning and feeling far too restless.

 

he’s back the week after, and if he’s being honest with himself, he’s not even surprised. ikje slides him a glass of something bright blue with a questioning eyebrow but namjoon’s not here for the alcohol.

he stays for yoongi’s entire set, half-hidden in the back of the club, where he’s sure yoongi wouldn’t be able to see him, and leaves before the challenges begin, glass untouched.

 

he lasts three days without thinking about nirvana, going to nirvana, or thinking about yoongi, but by the fourth, he’s back again.

ikje doesn’t even bat an eyelash this time when namjoon orders some random drink off the menu before disappearing to the back of club.

he stays for the entire set and leaves halfway through the battles.

 

***

 

“going out again ?” 

“yeah.” namjoon grabs his jacket from the back of the studio room chair and turns to face a thoroughly amused jung hoseok.

“you're lucky we have no schedules for the rest of the month.”

“yeah.”

“this girl must be hella pretty for you to go every night.”

“yeah,” namjoon mutters, closing the door behind him, “girl.”

 

“did you know that you’ve been coming here every night for two fucking weeks when i couldn't even get you to visit last year?” ikje comments, pulling out an empty glass. “pick your poison, kim.”

“nothing. not drinking tonight.”

ikje returns the glass with a wide grin. “you finally going to show suga how it's done then?”

namjoon stays silent, turning towards the stage just as the mc announces nirvana’s nightly performer and reigning champion.

min yoongi takes the stage with the same confidence namjoon’s been seeing for the past two weeks but unlike every other night where he’d been torn between staying and leaving, tonight he's itching for a mic in his hands.

maybe it’s because the setlist for tonight is slower, less hip-hop, more rnb; less spitfire, more low rasp and half-lidded eyes. less suga, more min yoongi. a year later and it still sends a fire curling in the pit of namjoon’s stomach and he fucking hates it.

he sits through the battles until the very end, and when the call for last-minute challengers comes, he’s already in front of the stage, taking the mic from the last challenger, taking the stairs two at a time before the mc can even think to introduce him.

then yoongi is coming towards him from the other side of the stage, face half-shadowed by his snapback, strands of dark-brown hair poking through (shit, when did he dye it back?), small figure almost swallowed up by an over-sized t-shirt. and he looks so much like he did the first time namjoon saw him, leaning awkwardly against the studio door and suddenly namjoon’s shaking and sweating, the hand around the mic slipping in his too-tight grip and fucking hell it hurts .

yoongi lifts his head up and namjoon just catches the heartbreakingly pained expression that flits over yoongi’s face for the split second his guard is down, and then shutters fall over his eyes and namjoon is left trying to gather his bearings as yoongi drops the mic with an ear-splitting screech, and stalks off the stage.  

 

“yoongi. yoongi .”

namjoon’s never been more grateful for his longer legs when he catches up to the shorter rapper, wrapping a hand around yoongi’s wrist like he’s seen the male leads do in those overrated melodramas his ex used to cry over.

but yoongi isn't some blushing female lead and he yanks his wrist away, glaring. “the fuck ?”

namjoon pretends not to notice the dried tear tracks on the older’s face, tries to ignore the guilt eating away at him. “why’d you ditch our battle?”

yoongi’s eyes narrow into slits and shit that’s not what he wanted to say. “what?”

“fuck. no— that’s not—”

namjoon’s stumbling over his words and where the fuck did his intelligence quotient of 148 go?

“that’s not what i meant. hyung—”

“don’t call me that.”

the words sound thick and choked up and a part of namjoon breaks, falls, shatters into a million tiny pieces.

he squeezes his eyes shut, air leaving him in shuddering breaths.

“i miss you.”

there’s a pause and a shaky breath.

“fuck off, kim namjoon.”

the words are quiet, nearly swallowed up by the bass spilling out of hongdae’s underground and fuck when did it get so hard to breathe ?

 

by the time namjoon gathers enough courage to open his eyes, all that’s left of min yoongi is the imprint of his wrist in namjoon’s right hand and the ghost of his breath in the chilly night air.

 

Chapter Text

yoongi is sixteen when he meets kim namjoon for the first time. 

namjoon is one year younger than him, at least half a head taller, and leans against the door of the recording studio with a confidence yoongi’s seen far too many times back in daegu. it’s the type of cockiness gloss would crush with a couple of well-timed lines, lips curled and fingers wrapped loosely around a worn out microphone.

namjoon pushes himself off the door with a lazy smile, one hand outstretched. “i look forward to working with you, yoongi-hyung.”

the words are polite but namjoon’s eyes glint with a dangerous fire and yoongi grips the offered hand harder than he needs to, one side of his lips pulled upwards. “likewise.”

he meets jung hoseok the same day – the trainee who passed the same audition as him, for different reasons. they exchange handshakes that don’t almost crush yoongi’s fingers. hoseok grins at him, something bright and blinding that reminds yoongi of the sun, and he finds comfort in the friendly lilt of the street dancer’s jeollado accent.

kim namjoon speaks like he’s born and bred in seoul (grew up in ilsan, yoongi finds out from hoseok later, when the two of them go out for dukbokki at midnight) and yoongi struggles to keep up.

he ends up falling behind, out of breath.

 

“hyung, what the fuck did you do to this bit?”

namjoon’s staring at the studio monitor, eyes narrowed and headphones hung loose around his neck.

yoongi glances up from his notebook, ballpoint hovering over the half-filled page. “which bit?”

the younger rapper glares, one hand reaching for the stereo plug and yanking it out roughly, low bass immediately filling the room, namjoon’s voice riding on top of the beat.

he shrugs, going back to scribbling in his notebook. “just tweaked the bass a little.”

namjoon scoffs, “a little?” he kills the music with a harsh tap of the mixer and turns to face yoongi completely. “you replaced the whole track!”

“not the whole track.”

“yeah. you didn’t replace my voice .” he pauses. “bet you would’ve if you could though.”

yoongi can’t see the sneer on namjoon’s lips but he can hear it in his voice, dripping with equal parts irritation and arrogance.

“excuse me?”

“oh just. y’know.” namjoon shrugs and turns back to the computer, but the metaphorical fire has just been started and yoongi’s damned if he just lets it burn.

“i scrapped your backing track ‘cause it sounds like the bubblegum-pop shit idols release.”

namjoon pushes himself off the chair, stalks over to yoongi, towers over him. “ what ?”

the older rapper stands up, leaving his notebook on the table, eyes meeting the younger’s, lips curled up in a challenge

“you heard me.”

and because namjoon is far too arrogant to confess he actually likes the way the backing sounds now – more muted and less cluttered, allowing namjoon’s voice to carry the verses. and yoongi has too much pride to admit that yes, namjoon’s voice fitsthis song better than his own ever could. and because fists speak better their twisted words ever seem to, they end up with matching bruises above their jawline and more blooming across their cheeks.  

 

hoseok tells yoongi that it’s been a long time coming, as the older presses his bruised cheek into the mirror of the dance studio, and yoongi raises an eyebrow at the dancer’s reflection.

“well,” he starts, sinking onto the cold wooden floorboards next to the rapper, “i mean, it used to be alright you know? like, it was bad… but bearable.”

“seok-ah, i don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

hoseok sighs, leans back against the mirror and tilts his face towards the ceiling. “i mean you and namjoon. there’s just this…” he waves his hands through the air. “... tension , between you two… and it only got worse when they told us namjoonie would be leader.”

yoongi tries not to frown at the nickname (when had hoseok started calling him that ?) and instead opts to sigh loudly. “yeah, well. between the three of us he’s the youngest .”

“but he’s got the most experience.”

yoongi scoffs. “yeah. in seoul maybe. if we battled i’d wipe the floor with him.”

hoseok raises an eyebrow at him. “do you want to be leader then?”

he shakes his head, deflating instantly. “nah. ‘s not like that.”

hoseok turns on his side, propping himself up with an elbow. “what do you want then?”

yoongi shrugs. “i’d like to be civil but considering we just gave each other these —” he gestures to his lip, swollen and sporting a nasty cut. “— i’d say that’s pretty much an impossibility right now.”

“what’s your problem with him anyway?” hoseok has shifted onto his back, glancing at yoongi out of the corner of his eye.

“he’s too cocky.” yoongi says immediately, “arrogant. thinks that he’s right about everything—”

“you do that too.”

“i do not.”

hoseok rolls his eyes.

“fine,” yoongi sighs, “but not as much as him. besides, he’s annoying and smirks too much—”

“you have an issue with his smirk ?”

“—and he has these stupidly deep dimples—”

hoseok bursts out into raucous laughter, palm slapping against the wooden floor, and yoongi shoots the dancer a severely unimpressed look. “what?”

“you—” more laughter, tears forming at the corners of his eyes. “—you have a problem with his dimples ?”

yoongi stares at him blankly, like he doesn’t understand hoseok’s amusement (he doesn’t). “yeah?”

hoseok wipes the back of his hand over his eyes, turning to yoongi with a brilliant grin. “i think you two will get along just fine.”

it sounds like there’s more behind hoseok’s words than he’s letting on, but yoongi isn’t bothered enough to try and figure it out.

he leans back against the mirror, eyes fixed on the fluorescent lighting. “hope you’re right.”

 

there aren’t many things min yoongi can say he’s intimate with (aren’t many people, either), but the glow of the monitor two hours past midnight, empty paper cups crumpled over torn out notebooks, arteries pumping caffeine instead of blood and fingers that itch to write with nothing to say — he’s intimate with that.

he brings his fifth paper cup to his lips, frowning at the last three drops of bitter liquid. pushing himself up with a low groan he shuffles to the vending machine in the corridor, beats bouncing and clashing in his head.

some part of him knows that pulling this many late nights can’t be a good idea and many a time he’s had to defend his less-than-ideal sleeping patterns to a frowning hoseok. the dancer, of course, had struggled with yoongi’s justification of his weekly all-nighters, simply nodding his head with an “as long as you know what you’re doing, yoongi-hyung”.

he’d grinned at hoseok – a curve of the lips he hoped was reassuring, and nodded, taking the younger’s offered hand and pulling himself away from the cold floor-to-ceiling mirrors. they’d spent the rest of dance practice the way they always did, with hoseok patiently going over move after move with yoongi, and neither brought up the topic again. now, though, with his forehead cool against the glass of the coffee vendor and eyes stubbornly refusing to stay open, hoseok’s words weaving between the cacophony of  sounds in his head, yoongi wonders – not for the first time – if he really has any idea what he’s doing.

“isn’t this your sixth cup? seventh?”

his eyes snap open immediately and he turns around, glaring and instantly more awake.

“what’s it to you?”

as soon as the words are about of his mouth, he regrets them. civil, yoongi. you said you wanted to be civil .

“i mean—” he glances down, carefully taking his cup of coffee from the dispenser. “yeah, sixth. i think.”

“you shouldn’t do that.”

the words are as intrusive as ever and yoongi’s about to tell namjoon he can do whatever he damn well pleases, fuck being civil – but namjoon’s voice lacks the usual edge of bitterness it has whenever he talks to the older and there are shadows under his eyes that rival yoongi’s own.

“when’d you go to bed last night?”

namjoon blinks, twice. “what?”

yoongi sighs. “have you seen yourself? you look like death.”

namjoon winces and yoongi grimaces ( so much for being civil ), opening his mouth to apologise when the younger shakes his head slowly, eyes flickering to the ground, then back up.

“i didn’t.” he shrugs. “couldn’t sleep.”

yoongi stares. “go sleep now then.”

a flicker of annoyance passes across namjoon’s features and yoongi would’ve missed it if he hadn’t seen the exact same look time and time again – each time ending up with the two of them at each other’s throats, pride wounded and egos bruised.

“i would if i could.”

there’s the slightest edge to namjoon’s voice and vaguely yoongi thinks this is where he usually responds with some cutting remark. instead, he turns back to the coffee vendor, punches a few buttons and carefully holds out a steaming paper cup to namjoon, a couple of too-silent minutes later.

the younger boy takes it with both hands and a confused tilt of the head yoongi ignores in favour of turning towards the fire stairs. “c’mon.”

 

yoongi is panting by the time he reaches the roof of the company building, greedily gulping down the chilly night air. it tastes like over-population and fragile dreams. it tastes better than the many cups of coffee he’d swallowed down just hours before. he sets his paper cup on the concrete ground and pulls a lighter from his pocket, leaning over the metal railings. the weight of the joint feels almost as familiar as his ballpoint pen, hanging loosely between his middle and index. the smoke that curls against his tongue tastes like dimly-lit stages and gyeongsangdo vowels, rough and blunt to the point of cutting.

“you shouldn’t do that.”

he moves it away from his lips, raises an eyebrow and tilts his head. “stop me, then.”

namjoon stares and narrows his eyes, mouth opening, then pressing his lips together with a shake of the head. “nevermind.”

yoongi brings the joint back to his lips and turns away. the seoul lights look like stars against the city scape, but there isn’t a single star in the sky to wish on. he zeroes in on a neon-blue pin prick instead and throws the mess of beats and lyrics in his head– the gap between dreams and reality – over the edge.

he stubs out the rest of the joint on the dusty metal railing, lights a new one and holds it out to namjoon. the younger boy looks at him for a couple of heavy beats, before shrugging ever so slightly and taking it cautiously between his fingers.

yoongi watches as namjoon balances the cigarette and gingerly draws in a breath, immediately hacking and coughing up smoke. he doubles over laughing, one hand against namjoon’s back, the other clutching the railings.

namjoon coughs, one hand thumping his chest. “that’s disgusting. how can you stand that?”

yoongi cackles, taking the joint back from him. “practice.”

he turns to namjoon, studying the younger boy for a moment before tilting his head, lips tugging upwards crookedly. “open your mouth.”

namjoon raises an eyebrow at him but complies, lips parting ever so slightly.

he brings the filter to his lips, damp from namjoon’s failed attempt, and inhales smoke, holding it in his lungs as he takes a step forward. he leans in, both hands on the rail behind namjoon, and exhales, smoke curling past his lips and against the younger’s tongue.

they’re close enough that yoongi can see the way namjoon’s eyes water from the hazy sting, can hear the quiet intake of breath. they’re close enough that the toes of their sneakers are touching and if yoongi leant forward just a little more, so would the fabric of their shirts. they’re close enough that their lips are inches apart – but it’s not a kiss.

it’s not a kiss and yoongi takes a step back, removes his hands from the railing and grins like the proximity was nothing, like his heartbeat isn’t thundering in his ears – racing too fast for his mind to keep up.

“how was that?”

namjoon blinks, pulls a face, runs his tongue over his teeth. “bitter as hell.”

yoongi laughs, nodding, “first time always is.”

there’s a question on namjoon’s lips, a question yoongi can see in namjoon’s eyes – probably something scathing about why yoongi smokes in the first place – but he runs his tongue over his teeth again and parts his lips, leaning towards yoongi ever so slightly.

yoongi’s eyes widen. then he grins, a cheshire cat curl of the lips with crescent-moon eyes, bringing the joint up and inhaling, holding the smoke in his lungs. he takes a step closer, rest his hands on the railing, just like before, and exhales into namjoon’s mouth.

the smoke passes between them and namjoon moves another half a step, caged between yoongi’s arms. it’s the lightest of kisses – barely even a brush of the lips, but they pull away from each other as though burnt.

namjoon plays it off as an accident and yoongi plays along.

they finish the joint between them, tendrils of smoke curling into night, and silently blame the biting cold for the flush across their cheeks.

 

“so what’s the deal with you and namjoonie?”

yoongi tenses, one hand wrapped around a plastic water bottle. “what?”

“you and namjoon.”

he straightens up, tossing the water bottle to hoseok and twisting open the cap of another, leaning against the mirrored wall with a sigh. “what about us?”

hoseok’s catches the bottle with the ease of a dancer and sits down next to yoongi. “well. you’re not constantly at each other’s throats all the time—”

“i did say i was going to try and be civil.”

“yeah, but—” hoseok rests his head against the mirror, turns to look at yoongi. “—this is more than just civil, hyung. i mean, i saw namjoonie outside the studio last week, past midnight, making coffee. two cups . one for you and one for him, apparently. what’s up with that?”

yoongi avoids the question, downs half the bottle, droplets of water mixing with the perspiration that clings to his neck. “well, is that a bad thing?”

“nah.” hoseok finishes off the rest of the water. “just different, i guess.” he pauses. “there’s still tension, but it’s… different.” he shrugs. “i don’t really know how to describe it.”

yoongi does. he knows exactly what hoseok is referring to but the word is caught in his throat – caught under the bitter smoke he’s been inhaling for the past however many nights.

at first it was him by himself, when the glow of the monitor from too many consecutive sleepless nights started mimicking the glare of the summer sun. he'd throw his notebook down with a frustrated groan, avoiding namjoon’s curious eyes as he methodically shuts down speaker after speaker, then slips out onto the rooftop without so much as a glance at the younger.

after the third or so night with only the glow of the city lights and the flame of his lighter for company, namjoon joins him, silently, without celebration, quietly closing down his many open documents. he leans against the railings, back facing the city scape, elbows resting against the dusty metal and watches yoongi watch seoul – the city of dreams, the big city – lit up in colourful neon shades.

“why’d you join this company?”

yoongi raises an eyebrow, flicks the lighter on and watches the flame lick his fingertips. “same reason as you, i guess.” he shrugs, flicks the lighter off and faces namjoon. “wanted to do music.”

namjoon frowns – yoongi’s answer is too vague. “but why this one? why not some other company?”

“what about you then?” yoongi flicks open his lighter again, holds the orange flame against the flickering city lights.

“want to do my own thing. make my own music. write my own verses.”

“you can do that underground.”

namjoon shrugs, tilts his head up and watches the starless sky. it's nothing he hasn't heard before. “yeah. i could. i’d make music and do my own thing, but no-one would listen. i could write the best fucking verse but underground isn't gonna get me an audience. the general public don't know shit about real music. there's nothing real about today’s music. i want to change that. i want to bridge that gap. i want to be heard. not just by rappers – i want to be heard by everyone.”

he draws in a breath, tears his eyes away from the expanse of velvet indigo and turns to find yoongi’s eyes on him, unblinking and far too close .

“same.”

it's less of a word and more of an exhale, and they’re close enough that the air dances over namjoon’s jaw, feather-light and warm. he shivers. there's a full moon out tonight, and maybe it's their proximity or maybe it's because everything feels more intimate in low light but yoongi looks near-ethereal under the soft glow and namjoon’s fingers itch for something to write with.

his eyes fall on the joint hanging loosely between yoongi’s thumb and index, still unlit even as the older’s right hand is methodically flicking his lighter on, then off.

it's lighter than a ballpoint and far less sturdy but it’ll do. namjoon inhales the smoke yoongi exhales and learns to replace the itch between his fingers with a cigarette whenever the urge to write descends upon him. his black ballpoint sits in his left jacket pocket and the joint hangs between the index and thumb of his right hand. there are a million songs he could write about yoongi, but he keeps the words locked behind the smoke in his lungs, never making it past his lips.

 

Chapter Text

when namjoon is sixteen-going-on-seventeen and yoongi is newly-turned eighteen, they all go out to eden, an underground club in downtown seoul — sneak namjoon in because god knows he's tall enough — and drink themselves silly. namjoon and yoongi stumble back to the dorms later than everyone else, pushing and shoving each other the whole way up to the rooftop. winter hasn’t completely left yet, and it’s still cold at night, forcing them to huddle close together, worn throw-over covering both their legs and tension crackling like electricity between them.

there’s a pause when namjoon catches the eye of the older rapper and yoongi looks raw, exposed…tired and namjoon doesn’t think, doesn’t consider the consequences, he just leans in, covering baby-soft lips with his own, chapped from the winter wind.

yoongi doesn’t remember much from that night, save for namjoon’s warmth and the taste of liquor on his tongue.

namjoon remembers more. he remembers the broken conversation, the tears, the laughter, the heady scent of a combination of liquor and cologne, and too many cups of unsweetened coffee tinged with under notes of musk. he remembers being no where near intoxicated enough to not regret his choices that night and he remembers avoiding yoongi, purposely booking his studio times so that there’s no way he would run into the older, even accidentally.

 

two months later, when namjoon and yoongi have still only exchanged less than a handful of words since the rooftop incident, as namjoon had silently coined it, both rappers and hoseok are called into the main office.

“you’re getting a dorm,” bang shihyuk tells them, “and two new members.”

 

they’re introduced to kim taehyung and jeon jungkook the day after. they move into the dorm the weekend after that, and it only becomes harder for namjoon to avoid yoongi, so much so that even the two newest members easily clue in to the unspoken tension between the two rappers.

“are namjoon and yoongi…”

jungkook let’s his sentence trail off before fully forming the question and hoseok grimaces, eyebrows furrowing together momentarily.

“nah,” hoseok mumbles eventually, one hand seeping sweaty bangs off his forehead, “i don’t think so.”

 

it’s not any of his business, really. what namjoon and yoongi choose to do with their free time doesn’t concern hoseok at all. but, if it’s gotten to the point where the other members are asking questions, then maybe it’s getting a bit out of hand. or at least, that’s the reasoning hoseok uses to justify cornering namjoon in the studio after a recording session.

“are you and yoongi…” hoseok starts, arms crossed over his chest and leaning against the doorway, effectively blocking off namjoon’s only exit.

namjoon frowns. “are me and yoongi what?”

“you know.” hoseok shrugs, eyes flicking over to the seat yoongi usually uses. “are you guys fighting, or something?”

namjoon tenses, finger hovering over the power button. “aren’t we always?”

there’s something bitter in his voice, something that shouldn’t be there at all.

“this is different to being at each other’s throats all the time,” hoseok quips, unfolding his arms and fixing namjoon with hard eyes. “don’t think i haven’t noticed joon. you’re avoiding him. why?”

“fuck off, jung. i’m not.”

he is. he knows he is. but namjoon just isn’t ready to give in to the ever-present tension between them. the same tension that weighs heavy in the space of cigarette smoke and too-long heartbeats.

“okay, fine.” hoseok relents, moving from the doorway with a long-suffering sigh. “just get your shit together fast. jungkook and taehyung have already caught on to your longing gazes.”

he leaves namjoon red and spluttering behind him, and stalks out of the studio, slamming the door straight into a flushed, cursing yoongi.


it gets better after that. if exchanging single-sentence conversation can be counted as “getting better”. and namjoon does his best to ignore the distance yoongi places between them, only ever addressing namjoon with the first half of his name, just casual enough for pretend familiarity. they get two more members who learn about the lingering tension between the two rappers but who say nothing on the subject. yoongi stops frequenting the company rooftop and namjoon frequents it all the more, cigarette between his fingers to replace the songs he won’t write and the words he can’t say.

 

Chapter Text

here’s the thing.

yoongi knows.

he’s known since way back, when he would sneak out in the middle of the night, namjoon only ever a couple of steps behind him. he's known since before jungkook and jimin and taehyung joined, since before jin switched from acting to singing when it was just him, namjoon and hoseok. he’d feel it lodged in his throat as  their debut date drew closer and closer and he spent more and more time locked up in the studio. he stopped smoking, couldn't inhale anything past namjoon, caught behind his lungs, in his beats, in his bed and god—

so, yes. yoongi knows. he’d known then and he knows now and he doesn't regret it.

 

he doesn't.

 

***

 

“hyung?”

yoongi sighs, pushes himself off the wall he'd been leaning on. “thought i told you not to call me that.”

namjoon looks like he's been slapped and yoongi almost, almost takes it back. instead he steels himself and fixes namjoon with a glare. “i’m not rapping at nirvana anymore. so stop annoying the fuck out of ikje.”

namjoon gapes at him and yoongi sighs. “that's all i came to say.” he hesitates, then adds. “good luck with your comeback.” then he turns and leaves before he can say something stupid like “ i miss you ”.

he doesn't regret it.

 

***

 

“fuck,” yoongi groans, head hitting the back of the bathroom stall, tangling in blonde locks, dry from too much bleaching, “ god .”

he doesn't know the name of the guy at his feet, just that he has a pair of full, pouty lips and he's more than willing to help yoongi ride out his performance high. he feels lightheaded, like he's still drowning in the sheer ecstasy of the stage, of the music.

blondie does something with his tongue, nails digging into his hipbones and yoongi growls, dragging him up and crashing their lips together. he can taste vodka, tongue pushing past chapped lips and hands deftly slipping under rough denim. blondie groans and yoongi smirks, swallows the sound. this is good. he can work with this, he can—

“what the fuck?”

yoongi growls, nips on the other guy's lip and pulls away, fully intending to tell whoever it is to fuck off — it isn't like what their doing is exactly unusual. it comes part and parcel with the underground.

the words die on his tongue as he turns around and yoongi can see the exactly moment namjoon registers exactly who he interrupted.

“hyung.”

he doesn't even bother telling namjoon off, guilt constricting his lungs, tight and completely irrational . he isn't namjoon’s, they aren't together. they aren't anything . yoongi made sure of that.

“why the fuck are you here?”

hurt flashes across namjoon's face and yoongi curses, low, and pushes himself off the wall, crossing his hands over his chest. blondie looks between them, probably decides he'd rather not get tangled in what might be a fight, and leaves.

yoongi groans, zips himself up with some difficulty, walks past namjoon and turns the tap on full blast. he washes his hands, with soap, twice, splashes cold water over his face and turns back to namjoon. “well?”

his voice comes out sharper than he intended and namjoon flinches. yoongi sighs, drying his hands on the paper towel and throwing it into the wastebasket. “come on.”

he turns around and leaves without checking to see if namjoon is following. yoongi knows he will — he has a reputation to uphold now after all, and a public bathroom in the back of a hongdae club is far too risky and yoongi knows namjoon knows this.

so he walks. slips out through the back entrance and buys a plate of dubeokki from one of the nearby stalls. he walks until he gets to a small park, abandoned this late at night, and sits down on one of the benches.

namjoon sits down, shoulders not quite touching and looks anywhere that isn't yoongi.

“hyung, i—”

“what do you want from me joon?” yoongi sighs, cutting the younger off unapologetically. he's too tired, too exhausted and he's let this go on for far too long.

namjoon glances at him, and yoongi thinks he's going to try to apologise again, but instead he says, “who was the guy?”, voice tight with accusation.

yoongi shrugs, swallows down the “what's it to you?” and takes a bite of dubeokki. “no idea.”

“hyung,” namjoon starts, and from the inflection in the tone yoongi can sense the beginnings of a lecture.

“it doesn't matter,” yoongi interjects, quick and sharp.

“doesn't matter,” namjoon echoes, and his voice sounds hollow.

“it doesn't mean anything,” yoongi says, because it doesn't, none of them do.

something flashes through namjoon's eyes, too quick for yoongi to put a name to, then he's shifting closer, until their shoulders touch, turning around and pressing their foreheads together.

and yoongi lets him.

“this doesn't mean anything,” namjoon murmurs against yoongi's lips, face flushed and breathing heavy.

this doesn't mean anything , yoongi reminds himself, as he parts wind-chapped lips and grants namjoon access, just as he always has.

“i missed you,” namjoon sighs against yoongi’s throat, as though missing yoongi is now a thing of the past, as though he won't be missing yoongi anymore.

you're here and i still miss you, yoongi doesn't say.

instead, he tilts his head back and gives, doesn't resist because he never has, doesn't know if he even can.

 

it doesn't mean anything .

Chapter Text

“hyung?”

he blinks, hoseok’s voice, familiar but not, laced with incredulity, cutting through his thoughts.

“seok-ah.” the nickname falls past his lips easily.

hoseok lingers by the doorway, there's sweat glistening on his forehead and dripping down his neck. he looks like he'd just come back from dance practice.

“yoongi-hyung?” there's the faintest hint of shock in jungkook’s voice and when yoongi looks up he yelps and half-hides behind hoseok, staring at the sofa as though he can't believe it's really yoongi there.

yoongi smiles, the barest twitch of lips. “hey kiddo.”

jungkook frowns. “i’m not a kid anymore.”

and he's not. he might've been a kid when yoongi left, heart in his throat and running in the only way that made sense at the time, but two years have worked wonders and jungkook is very clearly no longer a child.

“no,” he acknowledges, lips pressing together to fight the frown threatening to turn the corners down, “you’re not. sorry kookie.”

he turns to face hoseok, still hovering in the doorway, lean body blocking yoongi’s only way out. not that he’s planning to leave. at least, not yet.

“hyung,” jungkook starts, coming into view again and stepping under the light and god — when did he get so tall? “how come you’re here?”

“joon—, ah, namjoon wanted some help with his mixtape, so he…” yoongi trails off. as far as excuses go, he could’ve done way better, but jungkook doesn't seem to question it too much, slipping into his room with a “i’m gonna wash up first, hyung.”

hoseok mumbles some acknowledgement back and then turns around to face yoongi properly, face unreadable.

he tenses. “what?”

hoseok sighs, but says nothing, moving to sit beside yoongi, still with that unreadable expression. the silence stretches, long, but not necessarily uncomfortable and yoongi draws his knees up to his chest, watching hoseok in his peripheral.

 

a click of the lock and the sound of running water travels down the hallway and hoseok shifts to face yoongi. “why’re you really here hyung?”

he stiffens, it’s such a simple question. straightforward in the way hoseok's always been, and yoongi almost folds. but there's nothing, nothing straightforward about yoongi and namjoon. there’s nothing simple about messy kisses and even messier confessions on the tip of his tongue. even if hoseok’s been there since the beginning. even if he's seen both him and namjoon at their very worst, and their very best. even if he's felt the ever-present tension, cackling like wildfire between them since day one, yoongi hesitates.

hoseok sighs, again, worry creasing his eyebrows. “i just hope you know what you're doing, hyung.”

it’s an echo of what hoseok's told him many times before: i hope you know what you're doing, hyung; please think about what you're doing hyung; hyung, did you think this through? but not when yoongi left. when yoongi left it was “hyung, stay.” and he's suddenly hit with a wave of nostalgia, so strong that for one blinding moment he wishes, hopelessly, pointlessly, that he never left.

“i do,” he says.

he doesn't, and hoseok doesn't believe him either, yoongi can tell, but they both pretend that yoongi has his shit together and he's not headed for self destruction, anyway.

“okay,” hoseok acquiesces, then, “are you staying for dinner?”

he almost says yes.

“no,” he stands up, leans down to press a light kiss to hoseok's cheek, “i should go. tell kookie i said good luck for the comeback.”

“okay.”

he’s halfway to the door when—

“hyung.”

yoongi pauses, turns around.

“will you come back?”

yes, yes, because he always does. yes because he's never really been able to stay away.

“maybe.”

he has his hand on the doorknob and one foot outside when he turns back around, an apology, explanation, something on his lips.

“i missed you, hyung,” hoseok mumbles, before yoongi can say a word.

he swallows, eyes burning unnaturally hot, and forces a smile. “missed you too seok-ah.”

and then he's gone.

Chapter Text

kim namjoon is fourteen and he's got the world at his feet.

he finishes the battle triumphant, grinning ear to ear and shedding runch randa as he steps off the stage and slips back into the crowd. donghyuk is beside him in a second, clapping him on the back and pushing a glass into his hands — no alcohol, 'cause they can't risk getting caught tonight.

“you completely wiped the floor with that last one namjoon-ah”, donghyuk yells into his ear.

namjoon grins “you think?”

hunchul claps his back, palm resting comfortably on his right shoulder. “we know .”

it’s familiar; the lights, the noise, the sharpness of heavy alcohol laced through with sex and sweat. it's a little bit dirty and a lot crowded, air humming with restless ambition, beating just a little out of time with the rolling bass beats. it's a warzone and it's the kingdom he chose and he's damn well going to build a castle here.

 

his fourteenth year is spent laying down the foundations. he makes a name, skips classes to prepare for gigs and rotates through seoul’s selection of nightclubs so often that he could probably navigate the underground with hands tied and both eyes closed. he auditions, at small indie labels and big idol companies, even when hunchul doesn't join him, refusing to “sell out”. but they haven't sold anything yet and namjoon wants to, badly. he wants to create something that will be listened to and desired, something that will be played over and over again until the lyrics become muscle memory and the song a bgm. so he auditions. he doesn't make any of the big-name ones — barely even makes it past the first round, and is always, always eliminated by the second.

“you have the wrong image,” they tell him, careless and quietly dismissive.

“sorry, not what we're looking for,” they say, when he confesses he has no intention of singing, and even less inclination to dance, to say nothing of his actual skill; or lack thereof.

some don't apologise at all, just dismiss him with a wave of the hand and a sharp “next!”

 

“just give it up, namjoon-ah,” hunchul tells him, sprawled carelessly across the worn sofa in their rented studio, “it's not like you're idol material to begin with.”

he chucks an empty cigarette packet at hunchul's head, barely turning from the monitor as he does so. “good things come to those who wait.”

hunchul sighs and shrugs, a non-verbal, “well if you must, but leave me out of it.”

his chance comes two weeks after. it's a small company, mostly individual artists and easily forgotten names. the one group they tried to debut disbanded not half a year after. namjoon doesn't care. he grabs the chance with both hands, knuckles white, and drags hunchul into with him as well. a hip-hop duo, bang shihyuk says they'll be, of the likes to rival dynamic duo. it's a dream; big talk, big words. namjoon grins — he can do it.

if he doesn't dream big, he may as well not even dream at all.

 

the next day, namjoon goes to check out the– their studio, by himself — hunchul works part time, and, honestly, namjoon's ditched school so many times the past year he probably has more absences than he does attendance. the first thing namjoon notices is that it's small, barely larger than a child's bedroom, and yet, there's so much — three desks pressed edge to edge against the left wall, two screens angled towards each other at the center and multiple speakers on either side. there's a small door on the adjacent wall, just big enough to lead into a recording space, no doubt soundproofed with multiple layers of thick glass. on the opposite wall, there's a worn, black leather couch – just big enough for namjoon to sleep on, and a metal display shelf – empty and waiting to be filled.

a black rolling chair is tucked in underneath the middle desk, and it only takes namjoon a second before he's crossing the room and sliding it out, flopping ungracefully against the mesh backing.

so this is what it'd be like if i debuted .

in all honesty, there's not much difference. rented studio or company studio, the basic makeup of the space is the same: speakers, computers, recording booth, desk, chair… but there's something, something about the promise of more , that has namjoon handling his headphones with a carefulness he rarely shows, fingertips tingling with want .

he's fifteen, now, and seoul winters taste like bass beats and black ink that spills from his fingertips, across snow-white pages.

 

kim namjoon is sixteen and seoul winters are bitter and cold.

it's the end of february and there's an icy chill in the air, lingering like an unwanted guest who has overstayed his welcome, one foot out the door with no intention of leaving.

the wind howls, nipping at flushed, red cheeks and namjoon ducks his head, wrapping his arms tighter around himself. it's the type of cold that seeps through skin and bones, the type of sunless day that prompts half-awake pleas for just five more minutes, mum , as yet another nameless boy burrows his head further into layers of blankets that cocoon around him in a protective shield. he's warm, safe from the nonexistent monsters under his bed.

outside, namjoon is exposed, protected only by his black hoodie – a reasonably thick, oversized piece he'd picked up from one of the less expensive stalls in itaewon. he could do with a jacket, maybe a scarf and another layer of protection, but he's long since learnt that the only real monsters are the ones inside his head. besides, the hoodie is soft, if not as warm as it could be, and the wind isn't howling as loudly as it was before.

he hides his hands inside too-long sleeves, and walks a little faster.

 

“we have three new trainees,” bang shi hyuk tells him, as soon as he enters the studio, tugging his hood down and running cold fingers through slightly damp hair. “they joined through the auditions last week.

namjoon pauses,  “are they rappers?”

“one of them isn't, one of them could be, one of them is.” shi hyuk rattles off, ticking each one off on his fingers in turn.

“are they joining us?”

he doesn't mean the company.

“they might.” shi hyuk stops, regards namjoon evenly. “if they increase the chance of yours and hunchul’s debut, isn't that a good thing?”

it’s a none-too-subtle reminder, and namjoon's instinctive protest dies in his throat.

“they be coming up today to see the studio and meet with the other trainees.”

namjoon nods. sinking into the studio chair and clicking open the file he's been working on for weeks now.

“i’ll be here.”

 

the first trainee is a theatre student. or trained in acting. or something. kim seokjin is nice, grew up in anyang and older than namjoon by two years — but he's also going to be in a completely different section of the company, and definitely not a threat.

jung hoseok is next, jeollado accent thick and bubbly, rolling his vowels with a mellow lilt. hoseok is the same age as namjoon, with a smile that’s wide and shows his teeth, eyes crinkling into happy crescents. he’s a street dancer, popping and locking, but he likes hip-hop, has rapped a couple of times, though he’s not looking to make a career out of it. even if he probably could, if he wanted. hoseok is friendly and easy to talk to and namjoon finds himself smiling in response.

then there's min yoongi. yoongi’s from down south — busan, if namjoon had to guess (daegu, hoseok tells him later, much later, over dukbokki and sticky fingers) — and yoongi; yoongi is a rapper. at least half a head shorter than namjoon, with a silent confidence that more than makes up for. yoongi bites off his words before they can finish, gyeongsangdo accent rough and eyes sparking. yoongi is a challenge and namjoon almost crushes his fingers with that first handshake.

he gives yoongi a smile that stretches lazily across his cheeks. he calls him “yoongi-hyung” and offers to show him around the company building.

he doesn't apologise.

 

hunchul leaves with the unseasonably long winter, at the end of march, half-formed excuses on his lips and false bravado in his voice. he offers namjoon an out – come with: they can start again as a duo, like they were meant to, he adds, with some bitterness — underground and small, much smaller, but they’ll be the kings of their own world.

but namjoon is no longer satisfied with just building a kingdom of his own. he wants to pressed ink-stained hands on people's chests, until the tattoo seeps past skin and remains imprinted on their hearts.

namjoon is greedy. he stays.

 

inevitably, he struggles. with hunchul out of the game, he’s on his own again, duo effectively dissolved. if he wants to debut as a duo again, it'll have to be with yoongi.

yoongi, not 'yoongi-hyung’, because tacking on the honourific to the end of the  rapper's name feels like losing for reasons namjoon can't explain. yoongi is rough and sharp edges, more producer than rapper, really, and namjoon itches with a chance to battle, to fight.

so he stays away from yoongi, sticks around hoseok instead. he'll never be a dancer but he enjoys watching hoseok practice, body twisting into fluid curves as the dancer transitions effortlessly from one position to another. hoseok captivates – charismatic in a way that silently draws everyone towards him and it's easy for namjoon to bring his notebook into the rehearsal room when yoongi uses the studio, back against the cold mirrors and fingers tapping on hardwood floor. he gets distracted more than once, when hoseok’s playlist shuffles onto kanye or kendrick, or asap rocky. then namjoon's on his feet, tongue curling around foreign english sounds, worn familiar with the number of times he's rapped along to the exact same songs. sometimes hoseok will join in and they'll take a verse each, rapping at each other until the other gives. hoseok has no street cred, and rapping is clearly not his priority, but it isn't hard to see what bang shi hyuk meant when he said “one of them could be”.

 

“when d'ya start?” hoseok asks him one afternoon, nodding jerkily to the notebook balanced on namjoon's knees.

“middle school.” he doesn't even have to think. elementary is when he discovered music, middle school, rap and hip hop and many, many late nights hunched over heavy textbooks, desperately trying to teach himself english and rhyming structures. he'd discovered song after song, falling in love with nas and 2pac, epik high and dy duo, rapped the songs of legends until he could do it in his sleep – and then he started writing his own.

“what about you?”

hoseok flashes him a grin, “since i could walk”

“yeah,” namjoon says immediately, “i can believe that.”

hoseok laughs. “yoongi-hyung said the same.”

hoseok says 'yoongi-hyung’ carelessly, syllables soft and not threatening in the least. he's not comparing namjoon to yoongi or yoongi to namjoon but namjoon tenses all the same, an echo of his reaction whenever yoongi is in the studio.

if hoseok notices, he says nothing, putting the music back on and jumping to his feet.

 

he doesn't remember what this is about – probably some track or the other. it could be about the leadership. he doesn't know, doesn't care – can barely think past the raised voices and ringing in his ears.

namjoon sees red, strikes first, knuckles colliding with yoongi's jaw.

“fuck,” yoongi spits, wiping the back of his hand across his jaw.

he lunges, catapulting his, admittedly much lighter body towards namjoon, the force and unexpectedness sending namjoon to the floor, arms and legs folding at awkward, slightly uncomfortable angles. wasting no time, yoongi lands astride namjoon, fists flying into his chest, cheek, shoulder. he's angry – frustrated, most likely. summer came suddenly this year, an entire month early. she descended rapidly at the beginning of may, spiking temperatures to near unbearable heights, and with the studio's a/c out of order for at least another week or, tensions had been running especially high that past week. namjoon grabs both of yoongi's wrists, pushing back with his body weight until the shorter has no choice but to yield, falling onto his back and effectively reversing their positions.

yoongi snarls, sweat beading on the sides of his forehead and sliding down his jaw. “get the fuck off.”

namjoon glares. the back of his shirt is damp with perspiration, with more sliding down his neck and pooling at his collar.

he rolls to the side, lying flat on his back, spread-eagle and staring at the studio ceiling. beside him, yoongi gets up without a word, sits back down in front of the monitor and slides his massive headphones back on.

it happens again, and again. may, june, and into the beginning of july. sometimes namjoon starts it, sometimes yoongi. it always ends the same way; yoongi in his studio chair and namjoon on the floor, listening to the harmony of his breathing and the heavy bass that inevitably leaks from yoongi's massive headphones.

it’s the heat, namjoon tells himself, tells hoseok as well, when he asks, all genuine curiosity and wanting to help.

“he nice, namjoon-ah. i bet you would get along with him just fine if you guys didn't have this weird competition thing going on.”

but they did. they were competing, whether it it was intentional or not, and tension runs a live current under every single one of their interactions, just waiting for one or the other to cross that metaphorical line, for barbed words to turn into clenched fists and knuckles colliding with jaws.

 

ironically enough, it almost becomes routine — namjoon's week isn't complete without at least one of them ending up on the floor, new bruises blooming over ones that are just starting to fade. it's good stress relief, he thinks, especially when the other type is so hard to come by, what with the vast majority of his days and most of his nights spent either in the studio or in a meeting with bang shi hyuk, discussing what the next step towards debut is going to be.

 

“i think we should debut you as an idol group,” shihyuk says, thoughtful and careful, measuring namjoon's reaction with his eyes.

“an idol group ?” namjoon splutters.

he thinks of the popular idol groups that debuted recently: cn blue & infinite, and the ones the year before: mblaq, beast, 2ne1. pop, and electronic dance.

“none of the tracks we're working on sound anything like that,” he protests. both he and yoongi, and donghyuk-hyung take their sound from old-school hip-hop, low bass and fast rap and idol could not be farther from the image namjoon intended.

“we're thinking you could probably keep most of the tracks you're working on — it's not a sound people will be expecting to hear from idols. that could work in your favour.”

he tells shihyuk he'll think about it, talk it over with hoseok and yoongi — if they do form a group, there's no question of who the members will be. hunchul won't be coming back and donghyuk-hyung never even properly joined.

he simmers down, and they go from verbal and physical fights every other day to mostly verbal sparring and the rare bruise on occasions when tensions have been left to build for just a little too long.

july burns and namjoon experiments. he trades out hard bass lines for lighter, airy melodies. he records himself rapping: hard, fast, familiar, and soft and slow, paced. he records himself singing, pop and soul, rnb and— he trashes those immediately.

july burns, ends on an usually cold summer night with min yoongi and the company rooftop, tongues scaled on hot coffee and smoke in their lungs.

 

he’s seventeen when they all move into a dorm together. they're joined by kim taehyung and jeon jungkook, both younger and both able to get along with yoongi far, far better than namjoon was able to. jungkook is ambitious; hungry for debut and willing to put the effort in to get there. taehyung is less so, but he's charismatic where jungkook is awkward, naturally drawing people around him, like a moth to flame. he wouldn't be out of place on a spot-lit stage, and namjoon wouldn't mind being up there with him, he thinks.

 

kidoh leaves with the first snow, quietly. he says goodbye to namjoon, yoongi and hoseok – the three who were there since the beginning, then walks out the door. donghyuk almost leaves as well, and namjoon spends many nights by the light of the studio monitor, all but begging him to stay. two more trainees join. they stay long enough to unpack their bags, before packing them all up again. namjoon doesn't even remember their faces, let alone their names.

the door of the dorm opens and closes. namjoon watches trainees walk in, then out, yoongi at his side and hoseok on the other. their safe haven – the dorm – becomes shaky ground. hoseok escapes to the studio, drags taehyung and jungkook with him – they, at least, haven't left ( yet , he reminds himself), and namjoon watches yoongi watch the door, anxiety clinging to the older like a second skin.

they don't fight as much now. yoongi quiets, and namjoon, aware as ever of the older rapper, responds in kind. yoongi watches more, speaks when spoken to and escapes to the studio whenever he can. namjoon joins him sometimes, now that they're no longer intentionally avoiding each other – or, namjoon isn't intentionally avoiding yoongi. they share their space; sitting side-by-side at adjacent monitors, or on either end of the worn, leather sofa, notebooks or laptops propped against their knees. occasionally yoongi will tug out his headphone jack, tapping namjoon's shoulder to request his opinion on this tempo or that bass line. in response, namjoon shows yoongi his lyrics, requests feedback from the older.

they write a song together; low rap verses interwoven with rolling rnb melodies. neither of them can sing, but yoongi gives it his best shot in the guide, voice a low rasp, a little breathy, drawing at something – reaching deep inside namjoon and pulling it pasts his lungs and to the surface. the yoongi that is lit by monitor screens hours past midnight is soft, in a way that namjoon thinks he always knew but is only now beginning to notice.

 

winter melts into spring and and they celebrate yoongi's birthday. his second spring in seoul, he confesses. hoseok clinks glasses with him because it's his second too, and they drink to more springs in seoul and they drink to debut.

yoongi is eighteen now, and namjoon is still seventeen. seventeen, and realising, in a wave of inebriated clarity – a paradox of the likes only possible when alcohol is a part of the equation, that he wants yoongi to stay. he wants to debut with yoongi and write songs with yoongi and – fuck it, be in an idol group with yoongi, if it means the older won't end up walking out the door like so many of them do.

they end up on the roof of the company building. just the two of them, worn throw-over wrapped around namjoon's shoulders, and yoongi's head on his thigh, face turned towards the starless sky. namjoon cards his fingers through the older hair the way he's seen hoseok do countless times.

“you should dye it,” he comments, absentmindedly tugging on a dark brown strand.

yoongi tilts his head towards him, eyes half-lidded – he's practically asleep at this point – “yeah?”

“yeah,” namjoon hums. “a lighter colour,” he decides, “maybe blonde?”

yoongi snorts, sitting up and tugging half of the throw-over off namjoon's shoulder into himself. “i would look horrible in blonde.”

“nah,” namjoon mumbles, “i think you would look pretty.”

his mind-to-mouth filter is thoroughly shot through.

yoongi doesn't seem to hear him. “i think you should dye your hair blonde.”

namjoon chuckles, pinches his own hair and brings the dark strands in front of his eyes. “maybe i will.”

“do you think we'll ever get to debut?” yoongi asks after a while. he has his head against namjoon's shoulder, lids fluttering closed over his eyes. he looks tired.

“hope so,” namjoon replies. the throwover is slipping off the side of yoongi's shoulder. he pulls it back on, keeps his arm around the older and pulls him just a little closer. he doesn't dare to promise anything – trying to debut is like trying to hold snowflakes in the palm of his hand; a chance that's consistent only in how it melts between his fingers.

“do you think tae and jungkookie will leave?”

“no.” it's a relatively easy question, considering both jungkook and tae are ambitious enough to stay, probably.

“do you think they should?”

that’s a harder question. “probably” namjoon wants to say, because that's what he should say. jungkook is even younger than namjoon was when he first entered the industry – they shouldn't be taking away his youth in the cold calculated way the idol industry is notorious for.

“i think it's up to them,” namjoon says, eventually.

“do you want to leave?”

another hard question.

namjoon at fourteen, at fifteen would've said no, without any hesitation at all. give up his one chance to make a name for himself? to reach as many people as he possibly can? unthinkable. namjoon at sixteen didn't leave, even when he thought about doing so, inevitably, when hunchul left and yoongi joined and their entire group dynamic changed, shifted into something unknown, terrifying. he didn't leave though, so he supposes it's sort of useless to brood over it now.

namjoon at seventeen isn't so sure. not when he's built a home for himself here. a home, not a castle, but it's his. it's a place he's carved out for himself, scraping away piece by painstaking piece until there was a namjoon-shaped hole in the foundations of their group, between a hoseok-shaped and yoongi-shaped one. but the uncertainty of debut presses upon them, heavy enough to be a tangible weight; a pair of hands tight around his ribcage – constricting his lungs and he can't breathe and what if, what if, what if—

“maybe,” he says, eventually.

yoongi tenses against namjoon's shoulder, presses his face into worn cotton and breathes.

“don't.”

he doesn't specify what – they both know.

namjoon turns his head ever so slightly, presses his forehead to yoongi’s and tilts the older’s face with an index finger to his chin, feather-soft.

“okay.”

 

namjoon is seventeen when he kisses yoongi for the first time, sweet, and a little intoxicated; warm – a memory that lingers only as long as he allows it to.

 

nothing good between them can last. namjoon knows this. knew it at seventeen, when he spent weeks and months going backwards , relearning how to avoid yoongi again after a year of forgetting how to. he knows this at eighteen, when he climbs into yoongi's bed, tension a living thing beneath his bones and near crushing them both with the weight of it. eighteen is when he becomes restless, when he gives in, but only with the safety net of rules and contracts and no strings attached strung below him – in case he forgets himself. in case he goes too far. he forgets to account for yoongi though. yoongi, who, as much as he pretends otherwise, feels keenly and vividly, raw emotion pouring into his lyrics, spilling over into music when words alone can’t hold the weight of his heart. yoongi who leaves, after telling namjoon not too, because that same emotion is written all over his face, open and honest and comfortable. because that’s what they are now – what they’ve become.

and namjoon at eighteen is scared – terrified – of what they’ve become.

 

he finds yoongi again at nineteen, a month after debut, and it's summer, again. a full circle, he thinks. 

 

 

he’s twenty when he realises he's been measuring his time against yoongi's, like mapping the intersections of parallel lines. he doesn't know when it started.

(he doesn't know how to stop).