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seems like it was just yesterday (we grew up a lot)

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Min Yoongi is five and in art class when he makes a girl cry for the first time.

The teacher pulls him aside, tells him what he said wasn’t very nice and asks him to apologise for hurting her feelings. Yoongi shakes her hand carefully, and obediently mumbles out a ‘sorry for hurting your feelings’. What he really wants to ask is how being nice has anything to do with what Yoongi thinks of the girl’s painting — but the teacher is smiling and the girl has stopped crying so he keeps his mouth shut and goes back to smearing streaks of black across his sheet of A3 paper.

When he makes a boy cry for the first time he’s still five, but it’s on the playground instead of art class.

Thankfully, the teacher intervenes before punches are thrown and asks Yoongi to apologise again. Yoongi doesn’t understand what’s wrong with telling the boy that he doesn’t want to join in on their handball game because the rules don’t make sense, and this time he doesn’t bother biting his tongue. The teacher sighs and tells him ‘you should try and be friends with your classmates, Yoongi-yah’. Yoongi asks her how he can do that and she writes him a list and a letter for his mother.

He doesn’t understand most of what his teacher writes on the sheet of A4 paper pinned up in his room, but he does try.

 

Yoongi is sitting cross-legged in the classroom, all his attention focused on the book in his lap when a shadow falls across the too-small print.

“Do you want to join our reading group?”

He glances up at the intruder – a boy with a wide grin and pearly white teeth, and then looks back down, shaking his head. “Those books are too easy for me.” Yoongi’s eyes flicker over to the group of children huddled at the front of the classroom and back down to his book. “You should go back to them.”

“What about you then?”

Yoongi turns the page with a bit more force than necessary, flimsy paper almost tearing under his chubby fingers. “I’m okay.”

The boy leaves and Yoongi turns another page, slowly and with more care than before. He should be happy – the boy didn’t cry or get angry like the boys in his class sometimes did, but he didn’t become Yoongi’s friend either and there’s something on his tongue he doesn’t know how to name yet.

He’s turned about five pages before a shadow falls over the words again, and the boy from before plops down next to him, cross-legged with a picture book in his lap.

Yoongi stares in astonishment and the boy responds with a smile that looks like summer sunshine. “I’m Jung Hoseok. I’m five years old.”

“Min Yoongi,” he responds automatically, “I’m six.”

Hoseok points to the book in Yoongi’s lap. “Is that why you’re reading the big-boy books?”

Yoongi nods slowly, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Hoseok has apparently chosen to sit with Yoongi instead of with the rest of their class.

“What’s the book about?”

“Huh?”

“The book,” Hoseok repeats, his own picture book long forgotten, “What’s it about?”

“Magic,” Yoongi replies, “witches and wizards.”

They spend the rest of reading group with Yoongi describing to Hoseok what a ‘wand’ is and how to use it to cast magic. Hoseok grins a total of twenty-three times – Yoongi counted, and each time Yoongi would respond with his own shy smile and occasional giggle.  

It’s the most Yoongi has laughed since the beginning of the year and he finds himself hoping that Hoseok stays around just a little bit longer.

 

Yoongi asks Hoseok to be his friend after their seventh reading group together.

They’re leaning against the beanbags in the far corner of the room - the one furthest from the door. Yoongi is onto his third book in the series about witches and wizards and Hoseok has once again abandoned his picture book to the side, opting to instead listen to Yoongi retell the story of how, in the second book (the one he was reading last week), the boy saved his best friend’s sister from the gigantic snake.

“And then he used the sword and killed the monster and saved his best friend’s sister!” Yoongi finishes off, lifting his head up to find Hoseok watching him with his hands flat against the carpet, supporting his weight as he leans forward.

Nobody has ever paid such close attention to what Yoongi says and something warm unfurls in his chest.

“Hoseok-ah, will you be my friend?”

The words are out before he can stop them and Hoseok is staring at him wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Yoongi holds his breath and waits.

Hoseok tilts his head to the side and grins, “I thought we were already best friends,” he says, a worried frown pinching his eyebrows together briefly, “was I wrong?”

“No!” In his panic, it sounds like he's screaming and he quickly works to soften his tone and lower the volume of his voice, glancing at their teacher. “We're best friends,” he affirms with a nod and a shy, crescent-eyed smile.

Hoseok responds with his own sunshine-bright grin and leans forward. “So what happened to the boy's other best friend? The girl who got p– pa—”

“Paralyzed?” Yoongi finishes off in a question.

Hoseok nods vigorously and Yoongi resumes his story telling.

“Well…”

 

“Grade two students aren’t big enough to join school band.”

Yoongi looks up from his black display folder to see a boy in front of him, right hand gripping what looks like wooden sticks and left hand holding a couple of sheets of paper.

“I’m in grade three.”

The boy looks Yoongi up and down in a way that makes him want to narrow his eyes – but Hoseok told him last year that he looks scary when he does that, so Yoongi settles for crossing his arms. “I’m ten.”

“But you’re so short!”

Yoongi, glares reflexively, immediately regretting it when the boy flinches. He turns back to the sheet music in his hand – this is usually where the other kids get angry or start crying and Yoongi would rather not watch it happen. Hoseok is the only person Yoongi knows that didn’t do either, but three years with the younger boy and countless ‘I know, Yoongi-yah, but Hoseok is different and most children won’t like it if you do that’ have taught Yoongi that Hoseok is the exception, not the rule.

“Sorry.”

The word is mumbled and quiet, but the boy has his head down, still standing in the same spot as before and Yoongi looks up at him in surprise, much like the way he did when Hoseok first came to him, three years ago, picture book in hand and, for some reason, not bothered by Yoongi’s more advanced reading level.

“It’s okay,” he says, because it is and because he doesn’t know how else to respond. He’s usually the one apologising, not the other way around.

“I’m Kim Namjoon,” the boy continues, “I’m nine years old.”

“You’re really tall for a nine year old.”

It’s different from the answer he’s been taught to respond with and for a second Yoongi panics. But then Namjoon smiles crookedly, eyes curving into crescents behind thick-rimmed glasses, dimples appearing in his cheeks. “I know.” He pauses and tilts his head. “You’re really short for a ten year old.”

Yoongi flushes and ducks his head. “I know.”

When Namjoon makes no move to leave anytime soon, he holds out his hand, the way he’d spent countless afternoons practicing. “I’m Min Yoongi. I’m auditioning for the keyboard.”

Namjoon ignores the offered hand and grins instead, all teeth and dimples. It’s different from the way Hoseok smiles and it reminds Yoongi vaguely of the puppy that sat next to him last year as he practiced how to ask someone about their favourite animals. Yoongi’s favourite animal is a puppy and he decides he likes Namjoon’s smile – maybe almost as much as he likes Hoseok’s sunshine one.

“I’m auditioning for the keyboard too!” He waves his left hand around and it’s only now that Yoongi recognises the sheets of paper clutched between his Namjoon’s as sheet music, not unlike the ones slipped in the clear plastic sleeves of his own black folder. “What song are you going to play?”

Kiss the Rain.

“By Yiruma?”

“You know Yiruma?”

“Of course!” Namjoon grins, “I’m playing If I Could See You Again.”

For a moment, Yoongi’s too shocked that someone other than his piano teacher, someone around his age, knows about the Korean composer and he stands there gaping at Namjoon in a way that could easily be mistaken for something else. But then his lessons kick in and his lips curve into a smile, all gums and crescent-moon eyes.

“I love that song!”

Namjoon blinks at him a couple of times, and Yoongi panics that he was too enthusiastic, but then the younger boy’s lips pull into what Yoongi comes to call Namjoon’s dimpled, puppy grin.

He finds out much later, after Namjoon is assigned to percussion, and he, to keyboard, that their junior band only allows one keyboardist at a time. Yoongi never says it outright – Hoseok taught him that sometimes you don’t need to say it – but that’s when Namjoon becomes his second friend.  

 

Jung Hoseok meets Kim Namjoon when they’re both ten and Yoongi is newly-turned eleven.

Yoongi had been excitedly relaying stories of the boy who plays with him in the school band for a couple of weeks already and Hoseok’s natural curiosity can only be teased for so long before he yields.

“So when do I get to meet him then?”

Yoongi stutters in the middle of a story about something funny that happened during rehearsal last week.

“—What?”

“Your friend. Kim Namjoon,” Hoseok clarifies. “When do I get to meet him?”

It never occurred to Yoongi that Hoseok would want to meet Namjoon and he stares, blatant surprise written all over his face. “You want to...meet him?”

Hoseok nods quickly and enthusiastically. “Yep!”

“Uh…” It takes Yoongi a while, but eventually he replies carefully, “Maybe after the bell rings? We can eat lunch together?”

“Okay!”

Yoongi returns Hoseok’s bright grin with a tentative smile and resumes his story, this time with a mixture of nerves and excitement tingling through his body.

 

The nice lady Yoongi still sometimes goes to see after school had taught him many things about how to introduce himself to new people. She had, however, completely forgotten to teach him how to introduce two new people to each other and Yoongi is standing in between Namjoon and Hoseok without a clue about what he should do.

The silence stretches on and Yoongi is just about to apologise to Namjoon and drag Hoseok away, promising to introduce them tomorrow after he’s learnt how, when Hoseok takes a step forward and extends his hand.

“Hi! I'm Jung Hoseok. You must be Joonie, right?”

A look of surprise flits across Namjoon’s face briefly, likely from the nickname, but he takes Hoseok outstretched hand with a grin, dimples popping out. “Kim Namjoon. Yoongi-hyung talks about you a lot,” he adds, with a cheeky glance at the boy in question.

Yoongi flushes pink immediately, to be exposed like that, but Hoseok just laughs. “He talks about you a lot too,” he says, and Yoongi narrows his eyes at his traitorous friends.

Hoseok and Namjoon start talking right away, becoming fast friends, and even as the frown stays on Yoongi's face when the pair start exchanging the different stories Yoongi has shared with them about the other, complete with ridiculous imitations of his unique brand of storytelling, secretly, he's relieved that his two best friends get along so well.

 

They fall into some sort of routine.

Mornings are spent apart, Yoongi in 3/4B, Hoseok in 3/4A and Namjoon in 3/4J. Then right before the morning break is reading group, which Yoongi's class takes with Hoseok’s. He's long since advanced from the fantasy novels he used to read, choosing instead to move on to some well known classics his teacher recommends to him.

Hoseok and Yoongi always leave reading group as soon as the bell rings, running down the corridor to stand outside Namjoon’s classroom, so that they can walk to the playground together. Then it's back to their classes until lunchtime, where all three children meet by the big old oak at the back of the playground and share their food secretly, away from any nosy teachers who tell them it's unhygienic, whatever that means (Yoongi’s mum says it means dirty – but that can't be right, because how is sharing food dirty?).

On Wednesdays and Fridays, when Yoongi and Namjoon have band practice, Hoseok goes to the art club, drawing and painting various pictures until four o’clock, and then the three of them walk home together, stopping first at Namjoon’s house, then at Yoongi’s, then at Hoseok’s.

 

‘Where’s Seok-ah?’ are the first words out of Namjoon’s mouth when he sees Yoongi leaning outside his classroom, very obviously missing one Jung Hoseok.

Yoongi shrugs, pushing himself off the wall and heading in the direction of the playground. He walks fast, but Namjoon has longer legs, and keeps up easily. “Sunshine didn’t come today.”

It’s Yoongi’s nickname for Hoseok, taken from the way the older boy describes the younger’s smile. It’s been that way since before Namjoon met them both, and in third grade, when everything new and unusual is funny, Namjoon used to laugh about it (Yoongi would call him ‘Baby’ in retaliation, after the name of his old therapist’s puppy). Now though, more than halfway through sixth grade with only a couple more months until they graduate, Namjoon’s grown so used to the nickname that he no longer finds it funny or unusual, and occasionally uses it himself.

What isn’t funny but is unusual, however, is Jung Hoseok not coming to school, and Namjoon raises a curious eyebrow. “Maybe he’s sick?”

Yoongi scoffs, “He never gets sick.” Which is true. Unlike Yoongi, whose immune system constantly fails him, especially in the bitter cold winters, Namjoon has seen Hoseok sick a grand total of one time in the entire three-and-a-bit years he's known him for. “And besides,” the older continues bitterly, “If it's not life threatening I bet his dad would still make him come.” Which is also true, and also (Namjoon knows even if neither boy has said it) the reason they always hang out at Yoongi’s house and never his, or Hoseok’s.

“Let's go over after school,” Namjoon suggests quickly, watching Yoongi's face grow darker the longer the older thinks about it.

It doesn't smooth out all of the worried lines in Yoongi's face but he turns to Namjoon and smiles anyway, a small quirk of the lips to show his appreciation. “Okay.”

 

“Hoseok isn’t feeling too well,” Mrs. Jung rushes out, struggling to cover most of the doorway from the children's curious eyes.

“Is he sick?” Namjoon asks immediately, beating Yoongi by a couple of seconds.

Mrs. Jung nods, lower lip between her teeth.

“Can we see him?” Yoongi follows up, craning his neck and standing on tip-toe.

She hesitates, teeth worrying at the chapped skin on her lips and eyes darting over her shoulder. If the two boys had been any older they would've recognised the tell-tale signs of something not being right. As it happens, the small gestures go unnoticed, even as she stutters out a, “N– no. He's contagious.”

They've heard the word a couple of times, enough to know it means that no, they can't see Hoseok but Yoongi presses forward anyway. “We don't care.” Namjoon nods vigorously next to him. “Please let us see him!”

Mrs. Jung sighs, exasperated, “I can't!” Both children flinch at the harder tone but stand their ground and she tries a different approach. “What would your parents think, Namjoon?” The younger boy’s eyes grow wide, shoulders slumping and she just barely suppresses a sigh of relief, continuing in a slightly softer tone. “And what would your mother think, Yoongi?”

It's unnecessary, really, the threat of Namjoon's parents already sending both boys a step backwards, but Yoongi's face smooths out at the mention of his mother, angry lines melting, and he takes another step back, falling into a ninety-degree bow. Namjoon mimics him with an added mumbled apology and she doesn't bother suppressing her sigh of relief this time, as the two boys link hands and walk away, shoulders slumped dejectedly.

 

Hoseok doesn’t come to school for the rest of the week, or the next week, or the week after that, and Namjoon and Yoongi stop going over to his house halfway through the second week, when Hoseok’s dad opens the door and threatens to tell Namjoon’s parents about their daily afternoon visits.

 

“Hoseok hasn’t been to school in almost a month,” Yoongi tells his mother over dinner after the fourth week of spending lunchtime with only Namjoon.

Mrs. Min’s chopsticks hover over a plate of bulgogi. “He’s probably still sick, Yoongi-yah.”

“He’s been sick for a month now and Namjoon and I still can’t go and see him?”

The last part is phrased as question and she bites her lip, places her chopsticks on the table and waits for Yoongi to do the same. “We’ve been through this Yoongi. What did I tell you?”

Yoongi’s lower lip juts out slightly under his upper one as he mumbles, “If we go and see him we’ll get sick as well.”

“Exactly.” She picks up her chopsticks again, signalling an end to the conversation, frowning when Yoongi doesn’t follow. “What’s the matter?”

“When is he going to get better?”

She pauses, chopsticks hovering over the food again and sighs. “Hopefully soon.”

It's not enough for Yoongi, whose food stays untouched.

“Maybe next week, maybe the week after.” She flicks her chopsticks at Yoongi's plate. “Eat more Yoongi-yah. No wonder Namjoon is almost a head taller than you.”

Yoongi pouts but swallows another mouthful of rice, grumbling about Namjoon just being a giant and how he’s almost the same height as Hoseok so who cares.

Mrs. Min smiles faintly, conversation successfully diverted, and reminds Yoongi to eat his vegetables as well.

 

Despite reassurances from both Namjoon’s parents and Yoongi’s mother, Hoseok is not back at school next week, or the week after so Yoongi raises his hand in the middle of reading group one day to ask his teacher.

“Hoseok?”

She looks down at him quizzically and Yoongi nods, C.S Lewis open on his lap.

“Hoseok stopped coming to school more than a month ago.”

Yoongi waves his hands impatiently, it's a bit rude but he wants to get to the point. “I know. He's sick. I wanna know when he's coming back.”

His teacher is still looking at him with the same quizzical look and Yoongi doesn't understand why his words are so hard to understand.

“He's not coming back to school, Yoongi.”

There's a scrambling inside Yoongi’s mind  and his thoughts feel like the error messages they sometimes get on the school computers. “What?”

The quizzical look has morphed into a more concerned one, worry pulling the corners of his teacher's lips downwards. “Hoseok moved schools, Yoongi. Didn’t he tell you?”

The error message flips to a blue screen and a sharp pang of something Yoongi doesn't recognise hits him hard in the chest. He does, however, recognise the lump stuck in his throat. “N– no…” He swallows, fighting the urge to rub the back of his hand over his eyes, “He didn't say anything.”

Thankfully, his teacher doesn't comment on the now rather obvious, but previously withheld information, instead passing the boy a couple of tissues that Yoongi takes gratefully.

“Which sch—” The words break, swallowed by traitorous tears. “—Which school did he move to?”

 

Kim Namjoon is the sort of student who sits at the front of the classroom, raises his hand to answer all the teacher's questions, and passes all his exams with flying colours. He's the sort of student who’s never skipped a single lesson in the entirety of his six years of schooling.

Min Yoongi’s tear-streaked face appearing in his classroom window, very clearly distressed and needing Namjoon is all it takes for the younger boy to raise his hand and ask for permission to visit the sick bay, lies about a headache and sore stomach easily spilling past his lips. Had it been any other student asking to leave the classroom so abruptly, the teacher would have, without a doubt, refused. Namjoon, however, simply receives a nod of acknowledgement before he’s out of his seat and taking Yoongi's hand, tugging the older boy into an empty classroom and then pulling him into a hug.

He doesn't ask after why Yoongi is crying — what matters is simply that Yoongi is crying, head buried in Namjoon’s chest and shoulders shuddering, fingers curling into the well-ironed cotton of Namjoon's shirt, fabric crumpling in between them.

Eventually, when Namjoon's shirt is stained through with tears, Yoongi tucked protectively under his arm as they sit against the door of the empty classroom, the older boy calms down enough to press broken syllables into the curve of Namjoon’s shoulder. He barely strings together enough words to form a coherent sentence but Namjoon understands him all the same, chest tightening painfully.

“He left…”

The arm around Yoongi's shoulder pulls him closer, his other arm coming to wrap around the older’s waist, lips pressing into his hair.

“Why did he leave, Joon-ah?”

Namjoon doesn’t know, so he pulls Yoongi against his chest and holds the older boy there.

It’s a silent promise, to himself and to Yoongi.

I’m here.

I won’t leave.

 

 

●          ●          ●

 

 

[08:25 Received] where are you?

[08:26 Sent] outside the gates, you?

[08:26 Received] homeroom

[08:27 Sent] coming

 

Namjoon makes it to class one minute before it officially starts, sliding into his seat in front of Yoongi and resting his cheek against the wooden table, swallowing down large gulps of air as though his life depends on it. There’s a vibration in his back pocket and he pulls his phone out, checking the device under the table.

[08:30 Received] i can’t believe you ditched me on the first day

He makes a face at the text and turns in his seat, checking over his shoulder and muttering from the corner of his mouth, “I’m here now, aren’t I?”

Yoongi merely responds by pulling his pretty pink lips into a pout and Namjoon silently curses himself for being so goddamn weak when it comes to Yoongi.

[08:33 Sent] i’m sorry. i’ll make it up to you.

He watches from the corner of his eye as the older boy pulls his phone out and checks his screen, pout immediately pulling into his signature smile – all gums and crescent-moon eyes. He winks at Namjoon and mouths a you better, and Namjoon swallows, throat suddenly dry, even as he knows that Yoongi most definitely doesn’t mean it like that.

Thankfully, their teacher chooses that moment to walk into class, five minutes later than she should be, and Namjoon’s discomfort subsides as they rush through roll call and start-of-term announcements.

Sometimes he’s really grateful that he sits in front of Yoongi, and not behind him, especially in Literature. Last year, when they didn’t have to sit in the alphabetical order of their last names, Namjoon sat beside Yoongi and his grades in the latter half of the year had reflected the many times Namjoon would try to pay attention in Literature, only to end up watching as Yoongi retold part of their core text in that adorable way he’s been doing since they were both kids.

At least when he’s sitting in front of Yoongi, the older boy isn’t in his immediate field of vision and it’s a lot easier for Namjoon to concentrate on the teacher this way.

 

“You promised to make it up to me,” Yoongi singsongs as soon as the bell for lunch rings, one arm coming up to sling around Namjoon’s neck. Despite both of them hitting their growth spurts rather early on, Yoongi has remained shorter than him by a stubborn half a head or so and the gesture tends to make Namjoon look like a tree with a rather large, very pale koala hanging off him.

He steps to the side, ducking out of Yoongi’s arm, and brings his own around the older boy’s shoulders, tucking him in against his side, other arm sliding into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet and sliding it into Yoongi’s hand.

“There.” He gives the older a look of mock-exasperation and gets a playful grin in return.

Yoongi leans up on tip-toe and drops a kiss just shy of Namjoon’s cheek. “Perfect. Love ya’, Joonie.” Namjoon lets his arm fall to side, watching as Yoongi heads to the cafeteria with a wave, calling over his shoulder, “Meet you at our usual!”

He does his best to ignore the heat flaring under his skin, grateful that Yoongi still hasn’t seemed to pick up on what the habitual gesture does to Namjoon’s heart and general coherency.

He knows Yoongi doesn’t mean it the way Namjoon desperately wants it to — for Yoongi it’s as simple as ‘he wants to do it, therefore he does’, and the chaotic mess of labels and ‘but what does this mean?’ that people usually mull over for days on end, is practically non-existent for the older boy.

He’s so busy trying to ignore the dull ache in his chest, tiny stabs under his skin that seem to only disappear when he’s with Yoongi, that he barely registers the figure crashing into him, books and loose sheets of paper flying everywhere.

Shit. Sorry.”

Namjoon’s on his knees immediately, hands gathering up anything within his immediate reach. There’s a map of the school amongst the papers and idly he wonders if the person he crashed into is a transfer student.

“It’s okay,” the maybe-transfer student mumbles, pushing himself up off the floor and holding his hands out for the bundle of papers Namjoon gathered together. There’s the undertone of something familiar in his voice but Namjoon doesn’t manage to place what it is until he looks up, loose leaf papers falling to the floor again.

“Nam—,” Hoseok’s voice has dropped into something far from the bright, perpetually-happy thing it used to be, and his cheeks have lost nearly all the baby fat, giving him more angles and a sharp jaw-line that rivals Namjoon’s own. If Namjoon hadn’t spent every day of the latter half of elementary school with him, Hoseok would’ve been near-unrecognisable.

“Why the fuck are you here?”

It comes out sounding a lot more hurt than Namjoon intended and his hands curl into fists at his sides, Hoseok’s books and papers forgotten.

He gets a blank stare in return, and something bitter curls at the back of Namjoon’s tongue. “I transferred in. Today’s my first day.”

The voice in Namjoon’s head that sounds suspiciously like a ten year old Hoseok is telling him he should at least attempt to be civil. The voice is probably right, but it’s a lot easier said than done when Yoongi’s tear-streaked face is near-permanently imprinted on the back of Namjoon’s eyelids — vivid as though it only happened yesterday.

“Where have you been?”

The words are passive enough but Namjoon bites them out past gritted teeth, sharp and venomous.

Even so, Hoseok barely flinches, expression the same blank slate it’s been since he realised exactly who it was that he’d crashed into.

“America.”

Namjoon’s jaw drops, surprise too strong for him to remember he’s supposed to be playing nonchalant. “America? And you didn’t bother letting Yoongi-hyung know?!”

The mention of Yoongi gets the barest of reactions — Hoseok’s lips tightening a fraction and eyes steeling into something cold, though his voice stays the same, nearly-but-not-quite disinterested monotone.

“How is Yoongi, anyway?”

Namjoon is too angry to notice the ease with which Hoseok sidesteps the question, eyes narrowing into slits. “Better, now. He was a mess for the rest of elementary.” He glances up, scanning the older boy’s face for some hint of remorse or regret, pursing his lips when he finds none. “You should pray you don’t run into him.”

Hoseok scoffs, a mocking sound that feeds straight into the red haze steadily clouding Namjoon’s vision. “Why? Is he gonna k—”

What exactly it is Hoseok thinks Yoongi might do if they run into each other, Namjoon doesn’t find out, because right at that moment, a hand wraps around Namjoon’s wrist and tugs him none-too-gently away from the shell-shocked boy. He doesn’t even have enough time to appreciate the presence of some sort of emotion on Hoseok’s face, before Yoongi is dragging him into an empty classroom, small fists falling onto his chest, face flushed an angry red and spitting all manner of curses in one, barely-coherent string.

“Yoongi. Gi. Hyung,” Namjoon cries, both of his significantly larger hands wrapping around Yoongi’s balled up ones, preventing the older from inflicting any more painful hits.

What?”

“That fucking— Ow!” Namjoon loses his grip for a second and Yoongi’s fist comes flying into his shoulder. “—Hurts!” He finishes, both arms wrapping around the shorter boy and pulling him into his chest, nearly crushing Yoongi’s shoulders from the force of the hug.

Yoongi doesn’t give in nearly as easy as he used to — arms pressing futilely against Namjoon’s grip, thrashing around as choked sob after choked sob is wrenched from his throat.

Namjoon holds him through it, even when he forgets for a moment and Yoongi’s arm flies into the side of his face. He holds him even as insult after scathing insult is hurled into his chest, pressing low, soothing murmurs of sweet nothings into the older’s hair in response.

He holds him until Yoongi’s exhausted himself fighting, falling limp in the younger’s arms, and a little bit of Namjoon’s heart breaks, falls, and shatters to pieces.

 

“Joonie. Hey, Joonie,” comes from his immediate right, Hoseok muttering the nickname out of the corner of his mouth.

He can feel Yoongi’s eyes burning holes into the back of his head, classwork forgotten, and he makes a vague shushing gesture without looking at either of the two boys.

“Namjoonie,” Hoseok tries again, taunting lilt to his voice, frowning when the younger boy keeps his eyes on the blackboard. “Baby.”

He whirls around, pencil snapping in his fist. “What the fuck?

Yoongi hisses behind him and Hoseok’s lips curl into a smirk, dropping his eyes to his book and focusing on the teacher for the rest of the lesson.

 

It’s always been really easy to tell when Yoongi is upset — especially when they were younger. The older boy has always been too honest to play society’s game of hidden meanings and unspoken rules, and it shows in the emotions that flit across his face like an open book. As they got older, Yoongi became better at hiding behind the mask of nonchalance that he’d adopted shortly after their first month of middle school, but Namjoon hasn’t spent the last however-many years beside the boy with nothing to show for it. Namjoon stays silent the entire way home, Yoongi staring out the bus window with narrowed eyes.

He doesn’t say anything until they’re standing outside Namjoon’s front lawn, backpack straps clutched tightly between his fingers, and shifting his weight from one foot to the other, lower lip between his teeth.

“What the fuck was that, Namjoon?”

He knows exactly what Yoongi means but he tilts his head to the side anyway. “What was what?”

A pair of eyes, reminiscent of an arctic fox, narrow in his direction. “You know what I mean.”

He does, but he also doesn’t want to say it, so he fakes exasperation. “Just tell me, ‘Gi.”

He drops the ‘hyung’ and Yoongi crosses his arms over his chest, right over left and spits out between clenched teeth. “What’s been going on with you and Jung Hoseok and why does he keep talking to you in class?”

To be perfectly honest, Namjoon also wants to know the answer to that question. Ever since they ran into each other outside the school office, Hoseok has been incessantly trying to get his attention during class (made worse by the fact that Jung and Kim are seated side-by-side in the alphabet), only stopping when Namjoon throws out one biting remark or another, or when the bell rings.

Usually, he does a pretty good job of ignoring the jabs until the end of class, today, however, the older boy had thrown out his old nickname, Yoongi’s nickname for Namjoon and he hadn’t been able to stop the reflex response, splinters from his pencil digging into his palm.

“How the fuck should I know?”

There’s an edge to his voice that, logically speaking, shouldn’t be there, but Namjoon is tired and confused and Yoongi is being really fucking unreasonable.

The older scoffs, dry, humourless, and sounding all too out of place coming from those soft, pink lips. “How about the fact that he’s been trying to talk to you since he entered the fucking school?”

“Yeah. He’s the one trying to talk to me. Not the other way around.”

“Well, maybe you should let him fucking talk to you then.”

Yoongi uncrosses his arms and walks away, something bitter coating his tongue, and Namjoon watches with his hands balled into fists at his sides, too tired to stop him.

 

Yoongi isn’t at their usual rooftop meeting place the next day, or the day after that, and Namjoon knows enough to know that there’s no point confronting the older about it — Yoongi will come to him when he’s ready, and pressuring him only serves push the boy further back into his metaphorical shell.

There’s no point hanging out at the roof if Yoongi isn’t there, so Namjoon heads back down the fire stairs, ducking behind the boy’s bathroom and shrugging his backpack off his shoulders.

He’s already got one hand reaching into the bottom of his backpack, where he keeps his lighter and cigarettes, fingers deftly flipping open the paper packaging when he hears footsteps and a low chuckle.

“Who would’ve thought, huh?”

He whirls around, dropping the unlit joint and slings his bag over his right shoulder, still partially unzipped.

“Fuck off, Jung.”

Hoseok is wearing the top two buttons of their uniform undone, blazer hanging off the crook of his elbow and a smirk wide enough to break his face. There’s a black marker balanced between his thumb and index, and a couple more in varying shades of grey littering the concrete around them.

Something that looks like the barrel of a gun is coming to life on the wall behind him, a single black bullet slicing across the edge of the white-washed wooden panels, bursting into the beginnings of what looks like a storm cloud.  

“Give me one reason to, Kim,” Hoseok counters in a near-perfect imitation of Namjoon, eyes dancing  But it's nothing like the playful cheek he used to have as a child — this is a straight up challenge.

Namjoon narrows his eyes, shifting his weight onto his back foot and crossing his arms over his chest. “Why the fuck do you keep pestering me?”

“You wound me, Joonie,” Hoseok gasps, that fucking smirk still plastered on his face, “I thought we were friends.”

It hurts more than Namjoon will ever admit and he grits his teeth. “Yeah. Were, not are. Friends don't abandon each other without so much as a warning. Or a goodbye.”

That strikes a nerve, the briefest flash of what looks like regret flickering past Hoseok’s eyes. Then he blinks, and it disappears, replaced with ice-cold onyx and a smug curl to his lips. “I thought you were supposed to be smart, Joonie? Or do you always go around assuming shit without the proper facts?”

“I don’t need the ‘proper facts’ to know you were a jerk for doing what you did. Do you have any idea how much Yoon—”

“Oh my god.”

Hoseok has both arms wrapped around his middle, doubled over in piercing laughter and Namjoon stops, narrows his eyes so thin his pupils are barely visible.

What?”

“Do you fucking hear yourself?” He finally manages out, straightening up and wiping a tear from the corner of his eyes. “You’re so fucking whipped, aren’t you?”

Namjoon freezes, denial already on the tip of his tongue. “What the fuck, man?”

It’s like Hoseok doesn’t hear him at all, shit-eating grin slipping into something just a bit cruel. “Does hyung know? He doesn’t, right?”

Hoseok, don’t you fucking dare.”

If possible, the older’s grin grows even wider, lips curling over pearly white teeth. “Why? Is he still too much of a baby to—”

There’s the sound of bone crunching under impact and Hoseok jumps back, both hands flying up to cradle his face. “What the fuck?

Namjoon looks like he’s already regretting his actions but there’s no way Hoseok would let that slide, accident or not, and he grins when he feels his knuckles collide with Namjoon’s ridiculously sharp jawline.

He swipes the back of his hand over his lips, head tilted in that purposely infuriating way he’d mastered right after he taught himself how to fight.

Namjoon’s never been one to turn down a challenge and Hoseok figures this should be no exception.

 

“So,” Yoongi starts, waving a hand in Namjoon’s general direction, “care to explain how the hell you ended up with these?”

They’re in the older’s bedroom, sitting cross-legged on top of his comforter, first aid kit open between them and Yoongi has looked Namjoon in the eye a grand total of one time, even as his thumb is running along the younger’s jaw, tender and all-too-familiar.

“I fell.”

Yoongi snorts. “As if. I know what it looks like when you fall, Joon.”

He stays silent, praying that Yoongi doesn’t push it and tilts his head into the curve of his palm.

“Hoseok looked pretty beat up as well,” Yoongi comments quietly, gently dabbing at Namjoon’s split lip with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball.

Namjoon winces, eyebrows pinching together, then exhales. “Don’t worry about it, hyung.”

“Y’know I said you should talk to him, not break his jaw.”

He turns his head slightly, slipping away from Yoongi’s fingers. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Baby, there’s no way I won’t worry.”

Yoongi’s eyes are locked on his, for the second time that afternoon, and Namjoon wonders if the older realises how impossibly weak he is for that pet name. He wonders why he bothered resisting when he’s never really been able to resist Yoongi.

“I punched him, but I don’t think I broke his jaw.”

“What a pity.”

He can’t quite tell if Yoongi  is being serious or not — he sounds like he is, but he also doesn’t sound like Yoongi, so he settles for tilting his chin up and staying still as the cream is applied to his cuts and bruises, cool and somewhat relaxing against his flushed cheeks.

“There’s something off about him, ‘Gi,” Namjoon mumbles, turning his head to the side to give Yoongi more room to work with the bruises, “He’s not like the Hoseok we used to know.”

“The Hoseok we used to know would never try to start a fight,” Yoongi counters, half-bitten fingernails fumbling with the plaster packaging.

“It feels like more than that though.” Namjoon takes the bandage from Yoongi and easily unwraps it, handing it back to the older and shifting to give him a better angle. “He feels… reckless… and the only time he’s giving me a reaction other than his fucking grin, is when I bring up your name.”

Yoongi’s fingers freeze over Namjoon’s right cheek, plaster hovering just above the cut. “You talked about me?”

“Yeah.”

Too late, he realises where this might be going, and Namjoon isn't ready for Yoongi to find out the contents of that particular conversation just yet.

“What…” Yoongi’s voice is small, scared, and just a little bit hopeful. “What did he sa—”

“Nothing important.”

It’s cruel, maybe, to shut the older down like that, but Namjoon can’t lie, has never really been able to lie to Yoongi, and he’s not fucking ready for Yoongi to find out the truth.

“Oh…”

It gets the desired effect — Yoongi’s lips pulling into a frown, fingers distractedly smoothing out the plaster over Namjoon’s cut.

“All finished,” he murmurs, standing up, and Namjoon recognises it as a silent plea for him to leave.

It hurts, somewhat, to be kicked out like that, but he mostly brought it on himself, so he gets off the bed on shaky legs and lingers at the doorway. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” He’s not looking at Namjoon, too focused on cleaning up the first-aid kit.

Namjoon pretends like he can’t see how badly Yoongi’s shoulders are shaking, quietly closing the door on the older’s hunched up figure.

 

Yoongi isn't at the rooftop the day after — not that Namjoon really expected him to be, and he ends up behind the boy’s bathroom again, digging into the bottom of his bag.

“So, do the teachers know their star student frequently hides out here during lunchtime? Or am I just lucky, huh?”

“I’m not hiding.”

Hoseok scoffs, uncrossing his arms and pushing himself off the wall, white, chalky powder clinging to his school blazer. “What are you doing then?”

Briefly, he contemplates bruising the left side of Hoseok’s jaw, to match his right, but he doesn’t think he can stand another afternoon in Yoongi’s bedroom, with the older in such close proximity to him.

He brings the filter up and draws in a breath, watching the smoke fall past his lips in warm, white clouds. “What does it look like?”

“It looks like you’re trying to give yourself cancer before you hit the twenties.”

Namjoon rolls his eyes, the familiar inhale, exhale already working to loosen his shoulders. “Bingo.”

“You’re not scared I’ll tell someone? Kim Namjoon, class president, caught smoking behind the boy’s bathroom?”

If it wasn’t for the shit-eating grin seemingly etched on Hoseok’s lips, Namjoon might’ve thought he was concerned.

“How about Jung Hoseok, transfer student, caught vandalising the demountables?”

Hoseok sniffs, spinning a red marker between his fingers. “It’s not vandalism. It’s art.”

There’s a grip and cylinder connected to the barrel of the gun, red fingerprints blooming across the black, curling around the trigger. He’s added red to the storm cloud as well — a crimson lining that drips off the curves in long thin strings, more like blood and less like rain, pooling in puddles near the ground.

The attention to detail is startling and Namjoon would be lying if he said he wasn’t impressed.

“Yeah okay, I’ll give you that much.”

Hoseok’s eyes betray his surprise, a soft smile flitting over his face for the briefest second, reminding Namjoon vividly of the kid who skipped ‘Namjoon’ and went straight to ‘Joonie’ on their first meeting. Then it’s gone, replaced with what’s fast becoming Hoseok’s signature, smug grin. “It’s pretty good huh?

“What’s it of?”

Hoseok hesitates, grin falling just a bit, and Namjoon inhales, nicotine-smoke wrapping around his tongue, exhales.

“What do you think?” His grin is back, even if it’s a bit shaky around the edges. “A gun, of course.”

He turns around, popping the lid of the marker with his teeth and Namjoon watches as he neatly pens in a series of numbers along the side of the grip — 160612, then kneels down to add four letters in a rushed cursive to the right of one of the strings of red.

“Hope, huh?” Namjoon comments after Hoseok stands back up, hastily brushing the dirt off his knees.

“Yeah.”  

“What happened to Sunshine?”

There’s a flicker of something, annoyance, maybe, and a little bit of regret, but then Hoseok presses his lips together, recaps the marker and shrugs. “Sunshine’s dead.”

Namjoon looks at Hoseok, really looks at him — takes in the shadows under his eyes, half-hidden by his too-long fringe, takes in the way his arms are folded over his chest, hunched in on himself and yeah, the ten-year old sunshine really does look dead.

Except, Namjoon has seen glimpses — the lighting-fast flashes that he would’ve never picked up if he hadn’t seen them before, mimicked almost perfectly on Yoongi’s face, months into their first year of middle school.

But he doesn’t know quite how to explain that, knows he wasn’t meant to see those brief flickers at all, so instead he shakes his head, drops the cigarette between his fingers and stubs it out with the toe of his sneakers. “Gotta wake him up then, don’t we?”

Hoseok snorts. “He’s dead. Namjoon. Not sleeping. It’s not a fucking fairytale.”

Namjoon doesn’t know where the surge of confidence comes from, doesn’t know why he suddenly really wants to try, but he slings his bag over his shoulder and faces Hoseok with an imitation of the older’s signature grin. “I’ll figure something out.”

If he had just stayed a couple of seconds longer, he would have seen Hoseok drop his marker in surprise, a soft, barely-there smile curling the corners of lips upwards.

 

Yoongi never locks his front door — a habit he’d picked up from elementary, when having Namjoon and Hoseok over every other afternoon meant that all three boys tended to focus on playing, and a lot less on boring, mundane things like locking the door. As a result, Namjoon has started treating Yoongi’s as though it’s his own. It may as well be — the only thing he uses his own house for is sleeping (much to the annoyance of both his parents), and occasionally he does that at Yoongi’s house as well.

Usually, Kim Namjoon barging into Min Yoongi’s bedroom unannounced isn’t a problem. Today, however, isn’t a usual day.

“Why are you here?”

Yoongi barely looks up from the book open on his lap, knees bent and leaning against the headboard. Almost subconsciously, Namjoon scans the older’s face, in particular, his eyes, but thankfully doesn’t find any of the telltale redness.

Why are you here?”

“I—” Namjoon shakes his head, trying to ignore the clenching in his chest. “Where else would I be?”

It’s the wrong thing to say, and Yoongi snaps his head up, something cruel twisting his lips and it looks so wrong. “I don’t know? With Jung Hoseok, maybe?”

“Yoongi,” Namjoon starts, eyes widening just a bit because shit, is Yoongi jealous? “Sunshine is—”

Sunshine’s dead.”

Yoongi spits out the words in a perfect imitation of the way Hoseok said it, down to the tone and inflection, and Namjoon freezes.

“You— You were there?”

He stares at Namjoon for a good couple of seconds, then turns back to his book, flipping the page and keeping his eyes firmly on the words. “Go away, Namjoon.”

Briefly he considers staying, considers telling Yoongi how goddamn unreasonable he’s being, considers sitting down on the edge of Yoongi’s bed and forcing an explanation out of the older. But it’s the first time in a long, long time since Namjoon has last been confronted with this sort of Yoongi, and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t just a tiny bit scared.

The door closes behind him with a soft click and Namjoon does his best to convince himself that everything will fall back into place tomorrow.

 

There’s no point going up to the rooftop when he knows Yoongi isn’t going to be there, and, truth be told, Namjoon doesn’t know if he really wants to see the older boy anyway. He’s halfway to the boy’s bathroom, again, when he realises he finished up his last joint on the way home from Yoongi’s, yesterday night, the glowing ember tip and curling smoke clouds warm and oddly comforting between his fingers.

He ends up in the library, hidden between the rows and rows of nonfiction, stacked high and steadily collecting dust.

“Is this your definition of figuring something out? By following me everywhere?”

It’s Hoseok, of course it is, and Namjoon sighs, “It’s starting to seem like the other way around.”

Surprisingly, Hoseok laughs, lowering himself to lie stomach-down beside Namjoon, The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron propped up against the shelf with all the other useless self-help books. “Nah, it’s not.”

Namjoon watches curiously as Hoseok flips to a random page, leaning up on his elbows and uncaps a black ballpoint with his teeth. “School bathrooms aren’t enough for you?”

He expects Hoseok to get angry, maybe grit his teeth, throw back a snide comment or something, but the older boy merely shrugs, already working in the light sketch of a flower over a step-by-step guide to a highly fulfilling life. “I can’t use my ballpoints on the bathrooms.”

“So you decided to use them to deface the library books instead?”

Hoseok chuckles quietly, hums in what might be agreement, and starts working in the outline of several more smaller flowers, clustered around first one.

It’s different, it’s weird. Without even realising it, he’d come to expect Hoseok to be snide, snarky, all sharp corners and harsh edges. Hoseok isn’t exactly rainbows and fairy floss, but they’re having what Namjoon might classify as a semi-civil conversation and it throws him off.

“You’re not scared I’ll tell someone?”

It’s a pretty stupid question. Namjoon isn't going to tell. Hoseok knows Namjoon isn't going to tell.

“Not unless you want the teachers to check the bottom of your school bag.”

Namjoon sighs, falls back against the bookshelf and crosses out the lyrics he’d written before Hoseok had arrived, adding a couple of edits to the previous lines. “Fair point.”

It’s unexpectedly easy, comfortable, even, to spend the rest of lunchtime like that, Hoseok gradually filling in the petals of his flowers, and Namjoon falling into the familiar rhythm of write, edit, repeat, that he’d learnt from Yoongi back in middle school.

They don’t exchange any words until the bell rings, Hoseok leaning up slightly to skim over the verse Namjoon had managed to write, squinting somewhat at the crossed out words.

“It’s good.”

He doesn’t ask Namjoon who the lyrics are about and Namjoon doesn’t tell him, instead glancing over at Hoseok’s sketch, the flowers’ petals shaded in a pastel pink that blurs into a dark red centre.

“What’s it of?”

“Pink carnations,” Hoseok replies, “Never forget.”

The last part is whispered, as he bends down to add his tag and the same string of numbers as before.

Namjoon raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment, standing up when Hoseok does, and leaving with a half-wave over his shoulder.

 

The next time Namjoon catches Hoseok in the middle of one of his creations (as he’d started to call them in his head), it’s not in the library, or behind the bathrooms.

Hoseok has a black mask covering half his face and several spray cans littering the ground around him, the beginning of a storm cloud erupting beneath his feet, reminiscent of the one raining tears of blood against the wall of the boys’ bathroom.

“What are you going to do if Yoongi decides to come up here?”

Hoseok barely glances at Namjoon when he tosses a mask in the younger boy’s general direction. “He won’t. You two are still fighting.”

Hoseok sounds so sure of himself and Namjoon grits his teeth. “We’re not—”

“Not what? Fighting?” He scoffs, turning to face Namjoon properly. “You’ve exchanged the bare minimum conversation with him for the past month and you’re trying to tell me you’re not fighting?”

“I—” Hoseok cocks an eyebrow and Namjoon presses his lips together, sighing. “Okay, yeah. Yeah. We’re fighting.”

They’ve fought before — over stupid things and not so stupid things, but never once have their fights lasted this long and Namjoon still doesn’t quite understand what went so wrong.

He tells Hoseok as much, in a moment of unchecked stupidity and the older boy fixes Namjoon with an unimpressed look. “How the fuck should I know, Joon?”

Namjoon shrugs, blames the toxic fumes from Hoseok’s spray cans for his next words. “You were friends with him first, weren’t you?”

Hoseok locks his jaw, hissing — the most hostility he’s displayed in over a month.

“And you knew him,” Namjoon continues.

The older boy deflates, a soft smile — one that Namjoon can only vaguely recall from elementary school, playing on his lips. “Yeah, I did.”

Hoseok doesn’t say anything after that, choosing to turn back to his storm cloud, dashing streaks of white through the grey, giving it the illusion of being split in half.

They spend the rest of lunchtime in relative silence, broken only by the clicking and hissing of the spray cans and Hoseok’s occasional spurts of self-commentary. Namjoon doesn’t realise he’s spent over an hour just watching the older paint, until the bell rings and Hoseok drops the cans into the bottom of his bag, tugging his face mask down and turning to Namjoon with an almost unsure smile.

“If you really want to fix things with Yoongi, go and talk to him, don’t wait for him to come to you.”

It’s almost the complete flipside to what Namjoon’s learnt about Yoongi and he’s just about to say so when Hoseok turns away, slinging his bag over his shoulder and adding in a much quieter voice, “Because he might not know how.”

 

Namjoon can't recall the last time he'd actually rung Yoongi's doorbell — probably some time back in the beginning of middle school, and he presses the white button with with something close to apprehension fluttering in his stomach.

Yoongi's mother opens the door on the third ring, head tilted curiously and no doubt wondering why Namjoon isn't just walking up the stairs like he usually does.

“Is Yoongi home?”

She stares at him in silence for a good few seconds and Namjoon shuffles his feet.

“Yeah,” she finally says, “He's in his room.”

“Thanks,” Namjoon mumbles quietly, already ducking up the stairs.

The awkward atmosphere vaguely makes him feel like he's Yoongi's boyfriend, or something, but Namjoon quickly banishes that thought before it can show on his face, drawing in a shaky breath before knocking on the door.

“Come in.”

Yoongi’s voice is muffled and when Namjoon opens the door, he can just barely make out the vaguely Yoongi-shaped bundle of blankets on his bed. “Are you sick?”

The older boy sits up, a the bundle of blankets falling off him and stares at Namjoon with wide eyes.

Yoongi licks his lips nervously and Namjoon watches as happiness, hurt, anger and confusion flit across the older’s face in succession, unchecked and vulnerable, finally settling on some mix of wariness and curiosity, as Yoongi shakes his head slowly. “No, I was just taking a nap.”

He stands up then, rolling onto his side and shuffling to his closet and Namjoon tries very hard not to stare because shit, that’s his shirt, one of the many that he carelessly leaves lying around Yoongi’s house after their spontaneous sleepovers.

It’s too big on him, swamping Yoongi’s small frame in soft, white cotton. The sleeves are too long, easily covering his hands, the hem falls too low, almost halfway down his thigh and looking more like a dress than a shirt, and collar is too wide, slipping off his left shoulder. Yoongi’s hair looks like he’s run his fingers through it one too many times, adorably messy and unkempt and Namjoon’s body reacts before he can — blood rushing to his face and heat blooming under his skin.

He takes a step forward, keeping his eyes on his feet as the door clicks shut behind him. “What’d you do today?”

Yoongi sits back down on his bed, having pulled on a pair of black sweatpants, hesitating a bit before patting the space in front of him. “Not much, actually.” The older boy’s voice is still slightly husky from sleep and Namjoon has to force himself to focus on Yoongi’s words, instead of what the low rasp is doing to his heartbeat.

“Are you sure you’re not sick?” Namjoon mumbles, moving to sit opposite Yoongi after a moments consideration, crossing his legs underneath him.

Yoongi rolls his eyes and leans back against the wall, a smile playing on his lips. “I’m not that delicate, Joonie.”

Yoongi looks like they didn’t spend over a month stuck in a silent spell and Namjoon’s too scared to bring it up just yet. He lifts a hand and slides his fingers between Yoongi’s hair, ruffling the soft brown locks with an affectionate grin. “You’re still plenty delicate though, hyung.”

The older boy narrows his eyes at him, but there’s a distinct impishness about the entire thing that has Namjoon wanting to see what will happen if he takes it another step further.

“You’re also plenty…” he starts, already shuffling backwards as Yoongi narrows his eyes further, leaning towards the younger in what is probably meant to be a threatening manner.

“Joon, don’t you da—”

“Short!” Namjoon finishes with a cheeky grin, yelping and scrambling away as Yoongi lunges forward, hissing and cursing under his breath as he backs Namjoon against the end of the bed. He manages to corner Namjoon for all of two seconds before the younger boy hooks an arm around the older’s neck, sending them, and Yoongi’s blankets, tumbling to the floor.

There’s something almost achingly nostalgic in the way Yoongi childishly wraps his legs around Namjoon’s waist in retaliation, rolling them both over, and Namjoon finds himself caught, squirming and protesting between breathless laughter as Yoongi’s hands find their way under his shirt, attacking his sides with cold fingers.

“H– hyung! St— Stop!”

Yoongi’s fingers hover over Namjoon’s hips, head tilted to one side and lips pursed, as though he’s stuck in a serious dilemma. Then he blinks, shoots Namjoon a grin worthy of the Chesire Cat, and shakes his head. “Don’t wanna.”

He gets about a second's warning before Yoongi’s fingers resume their assault on his hips and he curses loudly, a hand each wrapping around the older’s wrists, and rolls them both over, pinning Yoongi’s legs between his own and growling out playfully, “I said, stop!”

Soft brown eyes blink up at him, pale roses bloom under creamy skin and Yoongi leans up slightly, tongue darting out to run over his lower lip and Namjoon’s eyes follow the movement with poorly hidden desire.

One side of Yoongi’s pretty pink lips quirk up in a smirk and Namjoon freezes, tries, and fails, to tear his eyes away. “Make me, baby.

A shiver runs down his spine at the pet name, at Yoongi’s low drawl, heat washing over him from head to toe and suddenly everything is too hot, too cramped and Yoongi is far too close.

Namjoon leans closer without really realising what he’s doing, eyes taking in Yoongi’s hair, even more messed up from their roughhousing, and his shirt, collar-bones beautifully exposed by that ridiculously low neckline.

He’s been fighting it for a couple of years now, a slow, budding attraction that quickly blossomed into an almost painful yearning, frightening in its ferocity and, truth be told, Namjoon thinks he never really stood a chance.

He closes the last few millimeters between them in a leap of faith, eyes fluttering shut and free hand moving to tangle gently in Yoongi’s hair.

The kiss is chaste, sweet and innocent, until Yoongi slips an arm around Namjoon’s waist, fingers dancing over the exposed skin, and Namjoon’s body reacts on it’s own, teeth grazing over Yoongi’s lips and tentatively licking into the older’s mouth.

There’s something remarkably simple about the way Yoongi opens up for him, honest, pure and fearlessly trusting, and Namjoon freezes, pushes himself off the older’s bedroom floor with a couple of bitten-off apologies and runs out the door with his heart threatening to beat out of his chest.

 

“I thought you were gonna talk to Yoongi?” Hoseok asks Namjoon as soon as he steps onto the rooftop the week after, already hooking a black mask around his ears and slipping his bag off his shoulders.

“How do you know I haven’t?” Namjoon counters, just barely managing to catch the mask Hoseok tosses at him.

Hoseok drops his bag to the floor, rattling the various spray cans that are no doubt hidden at the bottom, and gestures around them. “Well, you're here, aren't you?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You should talk to him, Joon,” Hoseok sighs, already lining his spray cans up against one side of the concrete beam, turning and regarding the ground with a critical eye.

“I did talk to him though,” Namjoon blurts, words out before he can stop them, and Hoseok raises an eyebrow, turning to face him properly.

“Why’re you here then?”

He looks down, keeping his eyes on the scuffed toes of his leather school shoes, painfully aware of how red his face must be.

“I… might've… kissed him…”

“You what?”

“... and then… left…without saying anything…”

He expects Hoseok yell at him, maybe punch him, the way he did behind the boy’s bathroom, knuckles connecting with Namjoon's jaw, knocking his teeth against his split lip. He would probably just take it, if Hoseok punched him (he kind of wants to punch himself too), take it without argument.

There’s a snort, a broken chuckle, and then Hoseok doubles over, hands on his knees and loud, raucous laughter bubbling from his throat as Namjoon just stares in blatant confusion.

“You— You’re hopeless,” he finally manages to choke out, eyes tearing up from the force of his laughter, and Namjoon doesn’t know if he should be relieved or offended.

Offended seems like the safer option, so he folds his arms over his chest and presses his lips into a thin line. “Excuse me?”

Hoseok shrugs, wipes the tears from his eyes in an overly dramatic gesture, then bends down to pick up a can, popping the lid and shaking it in preparation. “You heard me.”

Namjoon splutters, face burning, and settles himself on the low concrete wall, fingers digging hard into the edge. “How am I hopeless?”

“How are you not is the real question,” Hoseok snickers, bending down to spray in the rough outline of a gun.

“I—” Namjoon starts, opening and closing his mouth a couple of times before pressing his lips together, heels kicking against the side of the concrete wall.

Exactly,” Hoseok quips, throwing Namjoon a smug grin over his shoulder.

“But it’s Yoongi,” Namjoon all but whines, tilting his head back and leaning over the wall in a way that’s far too dangerous given his previous track record and too-long limbs. “He’s just so—” He cuts himself off, flushing even darker and shakes his head. “Nevermind. You won’t understand.”

Silence falls between them, broken only by the rattling and hissing of the spray cans as Hoseok starts filling in the barrel of the gun, lower lip between his teeth and looking unusually distracted.

“Nah,” he finally says, so quietly that Namjoon has to lean forward to hear it. “I’m pretty sure I do.”

Hoseok keeps his back to Namjoon, switches the black spray can for the red, and lets the silence fall, quieter than before.

 

To say Yoongi has been distracted since last weekend is the understatement of the fucking century. He’s been downright dazed, borderline hallucinatory (he keeps seeing Namjoon everywhere), and convinced he’s running a fever, heat crashing over him in random intervals and dusting his cheeks in a pale pink.

He tells Taehyung as much, lying stomach-down on the edge of the sports field, arms folded beneath his chin and eyebrows drawn together in mild irritation.

“I don’t get it!” Yoongi grumbles, plucking random strands of grass out of the ground and turning towards Taehyung, tossing them absentmindedly into the younger’s lap. “Why did he… Why did he k– ki—” he stutters over the words, blush steadily growing darker and darker.

“Kiss you?” Taehyung supplies with a cheeky grin, leaning back to dodge the fist that comes flying his way. Yoongi has a habit of getting violent when he gets embarrassed and Taehyung rather likes his face thank you very much.

Yoongi scowls, but doesn’t try for another punch, face flushed from neck up and half-buried between his arms.

“Well?” Taehyung prompts, grin widening and prodding Yoongi’s arm with a finger.

He hesitates for a second, before lifting his head slightly and nodding.

“Well,” Taehyung starts, sitting up straighter and leaning forward. “Usually,” he continues, drawing the word out with a shit-eating grin. Yoongi regards the younger boy with a mildly irritated frown, eyes shooting daggers and Taehyung laughs, arms coming up in the universal gesture for surrender. “Usually, you kiss people because you like them!”

He’s already scrambling backwards when Yoongi’s fist comes flying in his direction a second time, hands coming up to cover his face on reflex.

“Wow hyung, so violent,” Taehyung teases, leaning forward once he’s sure the older boy isn’t going to try and aim for his face again. Yoongi glares at him and Taehyung giggles, lying down next on the grass and rolls onto his side. “It’s true though,” he starts in a quieter voice, “Namjoon-hyung probably kissed you because he likes you.”

He expects Yoongi to try and hit him again, already rolling over to dodge the attack, hands covering his face.

“But he ran away.”

Yoongi’s voice is small, words muffled by his sleeve, and he has his face turned away from Taehyung, knees pulled up to his chest.

Taehyung regards the older boy curiously, takes in the way Yoongi seems to be shivering even as the sun burns brightly above them. “Do you like him?” He finally says, sitting up and leaning back.

Yoongi stays silent for so long that Taehyung thinks he might’ve fallen asleep.

“I don’t know,” he whispers eventually, curling tighter into himself. “Maybe I do.”

 

Hoseok curses under his breath, working in a second layer of red paint, cursing again when the red splatters onto his sleeves, and he hastily rolls them up to the elbows.  

“What are you going to do if the teachers come up here?”

He spins around, half expecting to see Namjoon, even though he knows Namjoon went home as soon as school ended.

It’s not Namjoon. It’s Yoongi, and Hoseok freezes, eyes darting to the spray can in his hand, the ones scattered on the ground, and then up to Yoongi’s face, eyebrows pulled together in obvious concern.

His chest clenches in a way that’s all too familiar, even as he turns away, shaking the red spray paint. “What’s it to you?”

It’s not what he means to say, not by a long shot, but the words spill out of him anyway, rough and unreasonably bitter.

Yoongi stares at him for a long moment, looking like he’s torn between leaving and staying, finally taking a tentative step forward and leaning against the door. “I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

It’s not fair. Hoseok isn't being fair, and he knows that, really, but Yoongi is still so oblivious and Hoseok is still as lost as he was six years ago, falling so damn hard even as everything he’d ever known was being pulled out from under his feet. He’s still confused, but it isn’t Yoongi’s fault, it isn’t Yoongi’s fault, it isn’t Y—

“Since when the fuck did you care whether or not I got in trouble?”

There’s a million other words stuck in his throat but Hoseok swallows them back — it’s bad enough he fucked up once, he really doesn’t want to fuck up again.

Yoongi folds his arms over his chest and Hoseok half expects him to curse and leave.

He does curse, under his breath in a low growl, but he doesn’t leave, taking another step forward. The Yoongi he knew would’ve left at the first sign of hostility, and Hoseok wonders whether Namjoon realises just how much influence he’s had on the older boy.

“I do care,” Yoongi finally says, mumbling the words to his feet, and Hoseok laughs, a dry, humourless sound.

The fuck you care.

Yoongi turns his back on the younger boy but doesn’t say anything, doesn’t walk away either, and for a long time the only sound Hoseok can hear over the static in his head is the hissing of the aerosol hitting the concrete.

 

“I made Yoongi cry,” Hoseok blurts out, as soon as the door opens, sky gradually growing darker behind him.

Namjoon's first instinct is to slam the door shut in the older’s face but then he catches sight of the swollen lids, eyes bloodshot and glazed over in a way that’s oddly reminiscent of a ten-year old Hoseok. He glances behind him — his father is probably in the study and his mother is fussing around in the kitchen, neither would notice if he disappeared for a bit.

Namjoon steps out and closes the door behind him, folding his arms over his chest. “What did you do?”

Hoseok shifts his weight from one foot to another, shoulders slumped and worrying at his lower lip. “I don't know…”

“When did you even see him?” Namjoon mutters bitterly, mostly to himself. Yoongi usually goes straight home after school, never lingering around unless it's to wait for Namjoon. He's not jealous, per se, that Hoseok managed to see Yoongi outside of class time, he's just— okay, so maybe he is a little jealous.

“After school, just then.” Hoseok replies, seemingly oblivious to the acid in the younger's tone.

“Why did you come here?”

It comes out a lot sharper than he intended and Hoseok takes a step back, raising his hands defensively. “I can leave?”

“No— I…” Namjoon trails off, tension hanging heavy in the air between them. “Sorry,” he finally says, pulling his lower lip between his teeth, “I didn't mean it like that.”

Hoseok lets his hands fall back to his sides, lets the silence fall between them again, and Namjoon doesn't bother trying to break it.

The sky fades from blue to red, to purple, and the words stay caught in their throats, locked behind chapped lips and stifling silence.

Hoseok sighs as the street lights start flickering on, bathing the two boys in a warm yellow glow. “I should go home now.”

“I'll walk you.” Namjoon replies immediately, swallowing down the words he didn't say.

Hoseok looks like he wants to protest, lips already parted and shoulders unusually tense, but he deflates at the look Namjoon gives him, nodding and watching as Namjoon disappears back into the house, only to come back out moments later with a hoodie wrapped around his shoulders and another in his hand.

“What did you tell them?” Hoseok asks, taking the offered hoodie with a small smile.

Namjoon shrugs, locking the door behind him and shoving his hands in his pockets. “Same thing I always do.” He gets a curious look in return and Namjoon grins. “I tell them I'm going to the library.”

“That still works?”

Namjoon shrugs and Hoseok laughs, falling into step beside the younger boy, mumbling something about Namjoon using the same old lie he's used since elementary school.

They forget, for a moment, that they're in high school, not elementary, they forget that six years have passed, they forget that Hoseok left, and Hoseok forgets why he had to leave.

It isn't until Namjoon is ringing his doorbell that he remembers — remembers that Namjoon doesn't know, and he panics.

“Wait, Joon it's fine. You can go now.”

His words are maybe a tad too forceful and Namjoon frowns, eyebrows pinching together in confusion. “I should at least greet your parents.”

“She's still working.”

“What about your dad?”

Hoseok panics, freezes up at the mention of his father and the sheer intensity of his expression knocks Namjoon off balance for a good few seconds.

“Sunshine, what—”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

Namjoon is restless. He'd waited through the entire school day, sitting on the very edge of his seat, fingers fiddling incessantly with his pens, scribbling random words in the margins of his workbook and glancing to his right every couple of minutes, glaring daggers when the seat next to him remains stubbornly empty.

“Why the fuck did you ditch class?” Namjoon spits out, the second he reaches the rooftop.

Hoseok is already there, empty spray cans scattered around him and carefully working in the now-familiar string of numbers into the grip of the gun.

“Wanted to finish this.”

He doesn't even look up, switching the white spray paint for a flaming orange, and tagging the artwork with a final flourish.

Namjoon can feel his initial anger slipping, ebbing away with the hissing of the aerosol. He sighs, taking a couple of steps forward, and hoists himself onto the concrete wall, eyeing the finished artwork with undisguised awe.

On the surface, it's simply a more colourful, larger version of the permanent marker doodle on the wall of the boys’ bathroom. Up close though, it's not the same, not by a long shot. Where the storm cloud there had been intact, and dripping tears of blood down the powdery white-wash, the storm cloud here is being torn apart by a white bullet, exploding into a myriad of flower petals. They spiral around the gun in six shades of the rainbow, clustering around bloody fingerprints in a six-petaled flower. It’s hopeful, Namjoon realises, with a start. Where the first drawing had been as dark as it was intriguing, this masterpiece is beautiful in a way he could never hope to capture on paper.

Hoseok joins him on the wall after he’s finished tossing away the aerosol cans, resting his hands against the concrete and leaning back, head tilted to the sky.

“Is it an AR-15?” Namjoon finally asks, after rejecting multiple conversation starters.

“It’s an MCX,” Hoseok replies, without looking away from the sky.

“Are you gonna tell me what happened now?”

Namjoon doesn’t specify and Hoseok doesn’t ask, watching the clouds pass over them, slow and unhurried.

Eventually he sighs, expression melting from reluctance to resignation. “Yeah, I suppose I should.”

Hoseok turns away from the clouds and looks towards his artwork, eyes lingering on the handle of the gun.

He talks until the sun sets over their rooftop escape, and Namjoon stays, and listens.

 

Namjoon doesn’t expect his mother to knock on his door after school, not when he’s already been down for dinner, and he’s about to tell her so, when he catches sight of Yoongi, shuffling his feet nervously in the doorway and clutching his school bag to his chest like a lifeline.

He hasn’t seen Yoongi, hasn’t properly seen him since he’d— since their kiss and there’s something buzzing in the space between them that hadn’t been there before.

“Hey,” Namjoon says, because he has no idea what he should say.

Yoongi closes the door behind him after a moment's hesitation and drops his bag on Namjoon’s floor. He stays on the other side of the room, arms folded across his chest and there’s a nervousness locked in the tense of his shoulders that Namjoon decides he really, really doesn’t like.

“I’m not gonna…” he shrugs, trailing off and waving his hands around haphazardly, far too on-edge to notice the slight drop in Yoongi’s expression.

Namjoon watches as Yoongi shifts his weight from one foot to the other, uncrossing his arms and running a hand through his hair.

“D– do you like me?” Yoongi finally stutters out, cheeks immediately flushing a couple shades darker.

Yes, the voice in Namjoon’s head screams — it sounds a lot like Hoseok, the ten-year old one. Yes, he wants to say, fuck yes, but the words stay trapped behind his tongue, the look of Hoseok’s face as he talked about Yoongi, bathed in the glow of the setting sun, burning bright behind his eyes.

“Not as much as Hoseok does,” he finds himself saying.

It doesn’t hurt as much as he expects it to, the way Yoongi’s eyes snap up at the mention of Hoseok’s name. There’s a light pink dusting across the older boy’s cheeks and Namjoon swallows back the bitter aftertaste of his words.

“In that way?” Yoongi clarifies, worrying at his lower lip.

Namjoon nods, focusing his eyes on the spot over Yoongi’s shoulder to try and keep them from straying to the older’s lips.

“Then why did you…” Yoongi trails off, and Namjoon hates how easily he blushes.

“An accident.”

It’s the safest answer. The correct answer, even if it’s not the truth.

“Oh.”

Namjoon sighs, bites back the other ten million things he wants to say, and gives Yoongi what might be an apologetic smile.

“Yeah.”

 

The last person Hoseok expects to see, when he goes up to the rooftop after school, is Min Yoongi. He’s leaning against the concrete wall, elbows resting against the rough surface, and examining Hoseok’s artwork with soft, almost fond, look.

Yoongi snaps his head up at the sound of footsteps, and the lack of hostility in his expression throws Hoseok off balance for a good couple of seconds, heart jumping to his throat.

“Hey, sunshine.”

There's something warm in Yoongi's voice, something achingly familiar and it finally clicks. “Namjoon told you, didn't he?”

Yoongi nods, eyes scanning Hoseok’s face warily for his reaction. “He didn’t tell me everything though — said I should ask you for the full story myself.”

“Oh.”

In all honesty, he had kind of expected Namjoon to tell Yoongi everything, he’d been prepared for it. Namjoon had never really been able to keep anything from Yoongi, even when they were children.

“You should have just told me.” Yoongi says, quietly studying the cracks in the concrete.

“I couldn’t,” Hoseok counters immediately, though not harshly, pulling himself up next to Yoongi and dangling his legs over the edge. “We moved before I had a chance.”

Yoongi sighs, bringing his eyes up to Hoseok’s. “I meant, after you came back.”

He narrows his eyes and bites back the acidic response that hangs off his tongue like a habit. “I was… scared. And besides, you didn’t exactly give me a chance to.” He keeps his words quiet, subdued, fighting back the instinctive hostility he’d picked up in America.

“That’s true,” Yoongi concedes, lips twitching into a half-smile, “Sorry.”

Hoseok kicks his heels against the concrete wall, watching the older boy from the corner of his eye — when did Yoongi become so mature? “Don’t be,” he mumbles, glancing away when Yoongi looks at him. “I probably wouldn’t have told you, then, anyway.”

Yoongi hums in what might be agreement. “Would you tell me now?”

He makes the mistake of turning around. Yoongi looks unsure, scared, and a little hopeful, eyes not moving from away from Hoseok’s and he— he can’t say no.

“Yeah,” he says instead, lips curling upwards in response to the smile that blooms across Yoongi’s face. “I suppose I should.”

 

 

●          ●          ●

 

 

Yoongi and Hoseok officially get together in their last year of high school, at the beginning of Spring, exchanging confessions amidst relieved laughter and bright smiles. The news spreads through their school like wildfire, and together, Hoseok and Namjoon protect Yoongi from the inevitable backlash.

It doesn’t hurt as much as he expects it to, but it still hurts.

He slips up too, especially when Hoseok isn’t around to remind him why he shouldn’t. He’ll forget himself from time to time, walking with Yoongi between classes, arm instinctively wrapping around the shorter boy’s shoulders, tucking him in against his side. Hoseok, to his credit, never says a word about it, simply sliding an arm around Yoongi’s waist and giving Namjoon a bright grin, both of them ignoring Yoongi’s protests about feeling dwarfed.

Nothing much changes, really. They still pile into Yoongi’s bedroom after school, although now there are various textbooks and Namjoon’s meticulously penned study notes strewn over the bed and floor. Occasionally, Hoseok will give up on studying, sidling up to Yoongi and nuzzling into the older boy’s side, ignoring his half-hearted protests about needing to study.

From time to time, after Yoongi finally gives in and drops a chaste kiss to the corner of Hoseok’s lips (Namjoon pretends to focus on his notes, fingers curling tighter around his ballpoint), Hoseok will come and bother Namjoon in the same way, draping his long arms over the younger boy's shoulders. Once, Namjoon swears he feels Hoseok’s lips on the back of his neck, but when he spins around, Yoongi is watching them with an almost contemplative look, eyes impossibly soft, and the question dies on his tongue.

 

November brings with it the beginnings of a Winter chill, the crunch of maple leaves as they walk home, and the Entrance Exams.

They graduate high school together, for the first time, fingers linked together. In some ways, it’s not so different to elementary school, but there’s a bittersweetness to the entire thing, and a fear that settles at the back of their throats.

 

 

●          ●          ●

 

 

They’re lying stomach-down across Yoongi’s bed, huddled under layers and layers of blankets to combat the biting cold, listening as Hoseok chatters enthusiastically about how he hopes he’ll get into the same university as Yoongi, and Namjoon locks his smile in place, desperately trying to ignore the look Yoongi is giving him.

It had started appearing more and more often on the older’s face — a soft smile and even softer eyes, reminiscent of their middle school years, the period of time when there was just Namjoon and Yoongi. Yoongi’s never been very good at hiding his expressions, and the depth behind this one has been growing heavier and heavier.

He’s not sure if Yoongi realises the implications, but he knows Hoseok does — sharp eyes flickering from Yoongi to Namjoon, and back. Namjoon half expects to be told off, or to at least be on the receiving end of one of Hoseok’s rare scowls, but Hoseok merely gives Namjoon a crooked smile, and an occasional wink that sends him reeling.

“It’d be nice if we all ended up in the same university,” Yoongi interjects quietly, not taking his eyes off Namjoon and no, that’s not fair.

He turns to Hoseok with the beginnings of a frown, only to have the same affection mirrored in Hoseok’s expression, and Namjoon freezes, tries to place a different name to the tension crackling through the space between them, and comes up empty.

“Yoongi and I are thinking of going to see the New Year’s fireworks,” Hoseok says eventually, the intensity in his eyes not letting up in the slightest, and Namjoon’s breath catches in his throat. “Want to join?”

Yes.

“No, I—,” Namjoon stammers instead, too flustered to notice Yoongi’s lips drop into a dejected frown. “I don’t want to intrude…” He trails off, suddenly wanting very much to leave, chest aching in a way he’s become far too intimate with.

He’s already struggling with the covers, figuring he can just go home and pretend this conversation never happened, when Hoseok wraps an arm around his waist and pulls him back, effectively trapping Yoongi between their chests.

“You can be so clueless sometimes, Joonie.”

Hoseok’s voice is fond, even if it’s thick with amusement, and Yoongi’s looking up at Namjoon with the same eyes that are usually reserved for Hoseok, and there are words caught in his throat that he’s too afraid to say.

“What—”

“I realised ages ago, you know,” Hoseok continues, and he looks like he’s having a tad too much fun messing with Namjoon’s heart. “That for all the shit you told me about don’t worry, I’ll get over it, you’re still as whipped as you were the first time I saw you,” he pauses, glancing between Yoongi and Namjoon. “If not more.”

“Oh,” Namjoon says, because there are so many reasons this is not okay, and Hoseok, selfless as he is, should still be angry and upset — not this mind-blowing combination of fond and amused.

They let the silence fall between them, buzzing with the beginnings of something and Namjoon looks at both boys, speechless.

We want you to join, baby” Yoongi finally says, breaking the silence with a feather-light kiss, dropped just shy of Namjoon’s lips.

There’s a hidden meaning behind Yoongi’s seemingly innocent words and Namjoon’s heart feels like it’s about to beat out of his chest.

“Only if you want,” Hoseok adds, uncertainty slipping into the crease of his eyebrows, even as the arm around Namjoon’s waist pulls him even closer.

He glances from one boy to the other, and the words fall past his lips without hesitation.

“I do.”