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(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

Chapter Text

“I hope you realise how lucky you’ve got.” Song Hobeom - thirty eight, verging on pouchy, dark suit and hair a knife-edge away from funereally severe - pauses halfway up the wide, glossy staircase and fixes Seokjin with a beady black gaze which twinkles just enough to stop Seokjin’s stomach from dropping into his new shoes (shining Italian leather, worth more than the rent on his old apartment for an entire year). Despite facing this question approximately four times a day for the last two hectic weeks, ever since he first clapped eyes on Hobeom’s ironic clam-shell of a face, Seokjin still has no idea of how to respond to it.

He settles, like every time before, with a, “Yes, sir,” which makes it sound like he’s swallowed one of his cufflinks. Hobeom’s gaze rakes him down and back up again, and he clicks his tongue a few times. It might be at the stubborn lick of hair Seokjin couldn’t wrangle into lying flat on his head, or the way his eyes are nervously blown so wide that they’re trembling at the edges, but if he finds fault with anything he kindly refrains from saying so. Seokjin appreciates it. The two weeks of rigorous training he’s just gone through has blasted his self confidence into rubble, and they’re only a few feet away now from the beginning of a whole new life for him. He’d like to start it off with at least a shred of self-respect.

“The Min family have a great deal invested in their children. Ensuring their happiness and security is one of the paramount concerns of the team here. From today, this will be a direct responsibility for you - and please bear in mind that in normal circumstances, you wouldn’t even be hired to guard their pet cat.”

“That’s enough, Hobeom.” This comes from the patriarch of the family himself, already at the top of the stairs and waiting for the two of them to follow. He’s not what Seokjin would expect a business magnate to be - small, with a round, gentle face and a steady voice still thick with the accent of his home city. He looks almost out of place in the middle of this gilded granduer, like he’d be more at home in a tapestry armchair with a house plant for company. He looks past Hobeom’s square shoulder with a smile, and Seokjin’s stomach settles a bit. “Our young man comes to us with the highest credentials. You were only a few years older than him when you started with us.”

Hobeom does an interesting thing with his eyebrows which manages to express acceptance, scepticism and amusement all at the same time. “I just want to ensure that Seokjin knows what he’s agreeing to.”

Something in the curl at the corner of his mouth makes Seokjin’s stomach start to sink again. He’d read his contract thoroughly, from back to front. He’d asked whenever he came across a phrase he didn’t understand. He had everything straight and clear in his mind. Why is Hobeom smirking like he knows something Seokjin doesn’t?

The answer comes in a rustle of bedsheets, the flip of a glossy magazine from one limp hand to the plushly carpeted floor, and a derisive smacking sound as Min Senior pushes open a bedroom door and announces their entry.

“Seokjin, this is my son,” he says, “Yoongi.” There’s silence from the hillocks of cream-coloured duvet peaked on the enormous bed. The magazine lies face-down on the carpet; Seokjin recognizes a young film star on the front cover, pressed close to a shadowy male figure with pixels blurring his face. “Yoongi,” the older man says again, with the carefully diplomatic tone of a parent who lost patience about ten minutes after the birth of his child and has never quite regained it. “Sit up and meet your new gua - companion.”

“My new babysitter,” someone drawls from the centre of the bed. The voice is thin and mocking and so thoroughly drawling that Seokjin gets a distinct feeling of sliding helplessly down the slimy moss on a cliff wall. The duvet hushes and pishes as Yoongi flops over and sits up, enough that a pale, pointed face becomes visible in the midst of the mounds. The glimpse Seokjin catches shows him scornful eyes and a sneer which encompasses the entire face. He hasn’t ever seen sneering eyebrows before, but Min Yoongi has them.

The sneer remains visible for about thirty seconds before Yoongi collapses back onto his bed, cuts a loud scoff up to the ceiling, and waves one thin hand in his father’s direction. “No, thanks.”

“Yoongi,” his father says again. He’s clearly perfected the art of saying his son’s name in a way most likely to force him to listen. “Remember what we spoke about.”

Seokjin’s heard enough of the story to know what Min Senior might be referring to. The little Hobeom told him on the car ride over was that Yoongi was his own age - getting too old for a bodyguard who would follow his every move, and beginning to feel stifled by the constant attention. “The family thought it would be nicer for him if they hired someone he could talk to. I guess the kid’s been getting lonely - he’s not allowed out much, not since that first abduction. They want a kind of cross between a valet and a guard. You happen to have all the relevant skills, and be in the right age bracket, so I hope you realise how lucky you’ve gotten.”

Seokjin looks at Yoongi. He’s heaving himself upright on the bed, like moving his thread-thin frame commands a huge amount of effort. His face is pallid and pissed off looking, with a cross little furrow between his eyebrows and his small mouth pouted out, like it doesn’t know any other way to be. He’s wearing a thin white dressing gown, monogrammed in gold thread on the pocket, and one red and gold signet ring the size of his nose. He’s barely looking at Seokjin from the corners of his half-lidded eyes. His expression is somewhere between revolted - in the manner of someone who’s just accidentally eaten a mouldy piece of bread and is contemplating their own teethmarks in the greenish fuzz - and bored, in the way someone stacking shelves at a supermarket is bored.

“Well. Hello Mr. Muscle,” Yoongi drawls. His father breathes out through his nose hard enough to extinguish a small fire; the sound of Hobeom restraining his eyes from rolling is almost audible behind Seokjin. Seokjin himself, he looks from the diamond earrings catching the sunlight through the colossal slanting window, to the curl of Yoongi’s upper lip, and it begins to dawn on him exactly how lucky he’s gotten.

Min Senior closes the bedroom door behind himself and Hobeom. His, “I’ll leave you two to get to know each other,” hangs in the air as the most jarring, futile expectation perhaps ever expressed in human history. Yoongi, still cross-legged like a genie on his bed, looks like he’d be more prepared to get to know the dirt under his own toenails than Seokjin. Seokjin, for his own part and as unprofessional as it might be, feels little more towards his new charge than a violent desire to throw things at his pinched, supercilious expression. He can understand very well why Yoongi needs a bodyguard so much.

Neither of them say anything for a good few minutes. Seokjin can see the cogs turning behind Yoongi’s eyes, sleepy as they may be, as he sizes him up, and he musters every inch of stoicism he developed in his training academy and keeps a poker face. He thinks he has the advantage, if only slightly; he’s been chosen and employed for this role. He’s being paid to be there. Yoongi, however much money he may have at his disposal, has no choice but to be there. He’s going to have to get used to Seokjin - not the other way around.

(Weeks later, Seokjin will look back on this state of mind with sheer wonder at his own stupidity - as if he’d thought Yoongi was some kind of spoiled house pet who only had to be cossetted into obedience.)

The bed creaks a bit as Yoongi settles himself more comfortably. Seokjin’s new shiny shoes squeak when he brings them neatly in line, folding his hands in the stance he’s been taught. He wishes he had some dark glasses to hide behind, but in their absence he tries to level and steady his gaze, keep his eyes on one spot so he won’t be distracted by the opulence around him, by the height and breadth of the bed Yoongi’s lounging in, by the tangle of technology a few feet away from him, each piece of which looks like it costs enough to feed a family for months -

And then he sees Yoongi’s narrow eyebrows flicker, and his eyes perform this slow, sticky blink like a snake sighting its prey. The already familiar smack of the lips sounds in the space between them and Yoongi tips himself off onto one side, propped on his elbow, deceptively casual.

“You’re kind of cute.” He deploys his first strike with studied nonchalance; sweeps his eyes over Seokjin’s figure again with a glance that comes close to approving. Seokjin might be green, but he’s not naive. He holds himself in, waits for the knife to twist. “You’d be cuter if it weren’t so obvious that that’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever worn.”

It’s a cheap first shot, but Seokjin has to acknowledge it. He knows he’s still a bit clumsy in the perfectly tailored suit, still stepping with care in case he scratches the shoes that would have cost him every wage packet he’s ever earned in his life. Yoongi comes from money. He doesn’t. He’s almost disappointed; he’d expected something more original. He hopes the way he blinks in response and slants his eyes off to a corner of the ceiling looks suitably unintimidated, but if it does Yoongi barely has to twitch to shake it off.

“How much are they paying you for this child minding gig, anyway?” The silence begins to ring every time Seokjin keeps his mouth shut. “Probably not enough, considering all the extra shit they’re expecting. You know, how you’re meant to be my,” and Yoongi flicks his fingers in the slowest, most sarcastic air-quotes Seokjin’s ever seen, “‘personal aide’.”

“Apparently you’re too old for a bodyguard now,” Seokjin says. He tries to layer on the sarcasm, looking over Yoongi’s skinny frame and sneering, teenage face. It’s hard for him to believe that there’s only a few months between the two of them.

“Is that what they told you?” Like something’s got him interested Yoongi leans forward, one hand tracing patterns on the sheets, and his canine teeth show in the closest Seokjin can imagine him getting to a smile. “Nah, that’s not it. They just couldn’t get anyone to stick around.”

Seokjin’s throat is sticky, and the mouthful of spit and air he swallows down almost chokes him. “Then I hope I’ll succeed where they’ve failed.”

Yoongi folds his lips, lays one hand over his heart, and turns his eyes to the ceiling as his face assumes an expression of such mocking piety that his eyes almost tear up. “Such dedication to one’s work. God I admire your ethic. I can see you’re just dying to get started with this job.” His expression sours faster than milk in the sun. He falls backwards into the pillows, crucified against the sheet under the weight of his own colossal boredom, and one hand outstretched to indicate with a tapering finger the dresser across the room. “There’s your first task.”

The dresser is of course stuffed with clothing so expensive that Seokjin’s afraid to touch it, and wrecked so thoroughly that someone might have released an angry ferret into one of the drawers. Seokjin looks between it and Yoongi’s sprawled figure on the bed, just the tips of his toes visible in the expanse of duvet. Arranging someone’s dresser might not be the ideal way to earn a wage, but it still beats staring down the barrel of a gun.

Chapter Text

Since Yoongi’s room is roughly big enough to contain Seokjin’s entire childhood home, one and a half times over, it doesn’t surprise him that he’s kept busy with menial cleaning jobs almost solidly for the first week of his employment. The conditions stipulated by Min Senior are fairly straightforward: it’s Seokjin’s duty to wake Yoongi in the morning, organise his breakfast (which seems a bit indulgent but if he had family this rich he’d probably have breakfast in bed most mornings) and then stay around him for the rest of the day, until the young master decides it’s time to sling his top of the range laptop to the floor, burrow into his bed-nest and yell for Seokjin to put the light out. On the face of it, the job’s a piece of a cake, and while he doesn’t exactly relish the hours he spends on the first day matching up pairs of Egyptian cotton socks and picking through Hermes boxer shorts of dubious cleanliness, it’s sort of fascinating to see how the other side live.

On the other hand, despite all the lessons about money not buying you happiness, good manners or good sense, he’d never quite believed that costly fabrics and high end luxuries could go hand in hand with this sort of loathsomeness.

“Be careful with my shit,” Yoongi says, levering his torso away from the mattress for long enough to send a glower over to where Seokjin’s kneeled by his dresser. Seokjin considers asking who it was who’d strewn all of Yoongi’s oh-so-precious and expensive clothing across the floor, if it demanded so much care, but he’s established pretty firmly by now where the smell of bullshit in the room is coming from. He hooks up a pair of pants by the waistband, a wrinkle crossing his nose at the smell. No amount of money can mask the smell of unwashed boy.

“Are these silk?” he asks, morbid curiosity getting the better of his resolution not to betray any cracks in his armour. “Why would you need silk underwear?”

“I have sensitive skin,” Yoongi sniffs. He holds Seokjin’s gaze, imperious and half-lidded, for just long enough to make Seokjin start to feel itchy under his starched shirt. Then his eyes fall away, back into vacancy, and he flaps his hand again. “Get on with it.”

This is the only thing (at the same time a rather small and an incredibly large Thing) which disrupts what could otherwise be a near-perfect job. Seokjin doesn’t recall there being a clause in his contract that obliged him to be at Yoongi’s beck and call for every little whim he chanced upon. Yoongi, it seems, received just the opposite message.

“What else would you be good for?” he says, when Seokjin dares to bring this up as a point of contention. It’s not that he objects to polishing shoes; he’s actually got quite a knack for it. But Yoongi has a separate closet just for his shoes, and they all seem pretty well polished already, not to mention that Seokjin has yet to see Yoongi’s feet step off the carpet of his bedroom floor. He said something thundery on the second day about his mother, hinting that their relationship might not be wholly amicable at the moment (it took a level of self-control beyond anything Seokjin’s training had taught him to hold back the, “I can’t imagine why,” that shot into his mouth) but Seokjin’s more inclined to believe Yoongi has all his meals in bed for the same reason he’s making him polish shoes he doesn’t wear: for the simple sake of being contrary.

The easy, blindingly cruel way Yoongi responds to his protests tells him everything he needs to know.

“Look at it this way,” and Yoongi tips his head to one side, adopting the pastiche of benevolence which he’s already perfected. “I’m just finding ways for you to fairly earn your wage. Otherwise you’d just be sitting around here all useless.”

For the briefest of seconds Seokjin thinks of reminding Yoongi that he’s meant to be there for company. He almost reels at his own idiocy. Instead he shrugs with one shoulder, looking into the depths of the cupboard where a hundred pristine patent toes glisten back at him. He’s out of his depth. “Don’t you have maids for this sort of thing?”

Yoongi’s already lost interest again, flopping back into the chair he’s collapsed over. He still hasn’t got dressed, his white robe falling open across his bony sternum. The sight of it makes Seokjin bite hard into his lip, tightening his grip on the tin of shoe polish. He could snap Yoongi in half over his knee but instead he can feel the weight of his thorough inferiority crushing him back to his knees. “Ugh. Them. They don’t clean in here any more. One of them broke one of my equalizers.” A beat, in which the air conditioning whirs and Yoongi’s toes drag through the carpet and Seokjin thinks about his home and family and how hard he wants to punch Hobeom in the face for not telling him anything about what he was agreeing to. “Well. Get on with it.”

That white robe would look far more satisfying with lumps of shoe polish streaked across it, but Seokjin can see Yoongi’s eyes flickering in his direction, sly under their heavy lids. He knows it’s a dare, ignores the prickling running up and down his arms, and turns his back. He thinks he hears a huff from behind him. The shoe polish smells foul, and his wrists are still aching from the hours spent untangling the myriad cables connecting all the recording equipment (and brushing the dust off it) but there’s a small glow of satisfaction every time he gently turns down the challenge Yoongi thrusts at him. After just a few days he can understand why no one’s managed to stick around, but he can also begin to see how he might succeed. Unlike all his predecessors, Seokjin’s not old and experienced enough that his pride is irreparably bruised by this treatment.

He’s got patience in spadefuls. Yoongi will run out of menial tasks for him eventually. He hopes.

 

Chapter Text

Eight days pass - eight days of slogging his way through dog eared back issues of gossip magazines and limited edition albums left out of their cases and an entire drawer containing a snarled mess of jewellery. Yoongi goes between flat-out ignoring him when he’s not needed, and employing his voice like a large needle in Seokjin’s ears whenever things aren’t done to his specifications. Eight days of running elaborate baths, picking up the wrappers of boutique sweets and relieving himself by disassembling his gun piece by piece every evening. Then two things happen.

The first thing is a message from Hobeom, inviting Seokjin for breakfast. He considers ignoring it - he still hasn’t quite forgiven the older man for blindsiding him so ruthlessly, and besides, breakfast has been the only time in the last week when he’s been able to grab a few minutes to himself, since Yoongi doesn’t bother opening his eyes until long past eleven p.m. Still, Hobeom’s head of security and therefore Seokjin answers to him, so after his regular hour-long stint in the gym, during which he slams his fists into the punching bags and imagines the gratifying sound Yoongi’s nose would make as it broke, he showers and heads down to Hobeom’s rooms.

As a senior member of staff he’s got a self-contained flat in the east wing of the building. Behind the door is a squared off little paradise of privacy. The air is so cool that it tastes sharp, and Seokjin breathes it deep. His own quarters, shared with various other young employees, has that anonymous scent that all communal areas have, somewhere between stale cereal and the dust impregnated in the sofa cushions, and Yoongi’s room is always so warm that the air clogs in his throat. Hobeom turns from the gleaming counter with two cups of coffee, and Seokjin almost forgives him just for the peace provided by his home.

“So, how are you getting on with our young master?” Hobeom’s looking over the rim of his cup with this dark little grin, eyebrows poised expectantly. Seokjin’s fist tightens around the handle of his cup. If Hobeom’s expecting him to start ranting, he’s going to be disappointed, he decides. A week with Yoongi is more than enough to perfect his poker face.

“It’s just fine. He doesn’t really want much looking after.” Seokjin wonders if Hobeom can see the muscles twitching in his eye. It’s partly true; Yoongi certainly doesn’t want him to sit around and attend to him, talk to him, take him anywhere. He derives all the entertainment he could want from watching Seokjin apply himself to useless jobs while he lounges around goggling at his computer. “We’re getting on,” he adds, when Hobeom’s eyebrow lifts a fraction of an inch.

“Is that so?” Hobeom sips at his coffee and Seokjin goes to do the same, thinking he’s got away with it, before a loud snort interrupts him. He opens his mouth in defense, shuts it again at a look that tells him to cutt he shit. “You’re an impressive liar. They teach you that in the academy? We both know the kid’s the very definition of a festering asshole. There’s a reason we’ve had trouble filling this position.”

Hobeom gives Seokjin a few minutes to mop up the coffee he’s spat out over himself. The sudden jolt of laughter does him good, and he sits back down feeling like a knot has loosened somewhere. “Yeah. Okay. He’s pretty awful. I don’t know why they thought someone his age would be any better for him. He just thinks I’m…some kind of glorified maid.”

Saying it like that sobers him. He looks down into his coffee, the same colour as the dirt he spent ten minutes scrubbing out of his nails the night before, because after thinking long and hard about it Yoongi had decided there was definitely something under his bed he’d lost, and he had to have it back right now (right now, at twenty minutes to  in the morning, when Seokjin’s eyes were turning the words in his book into defiant little ants swarming along the page). He’d spent nearly half an hour hunkered down with his back screaming in protest, scrabbling through the jam-packed rubbish that had been shoved beneath the mattress. Then, right when he’d been about to announce his intentions of giving up, he’d felt something slide through his hair and push down on the top of his head. It took a second to register that it was Yoongi’s toes tapping against his scalp. When he stiffened, the foot was removed. He sat back up with blood rushing to his cheeks to find Yoongi withdrawing one skinny leg back into his duvet with a glimmer of triumph in his otherwise blank face.

The money, despite Yoongi’s jabs on the first day, is almost twice what anyone else in his graduating year would be earning, and the prestige of the family name will guarantee his career for life. Whether that is enough to compensate for living with dislike so naked it’s bordering on pornographic, Seokjin isn’t sure. It’s a question he’s been pushing to the back of his head for the past week, but now it’s written on Hobeom’s face.

Years from now, Seokjin will still never be sure if Hobeom wanted him to stick around or not. If he did, then the next thing he says is exactly the right bait for a younger brother with a history of academic achievement, a strong sense of self-confidence, and a secret desire to own a building by the time he’s thirty.

“If you can’t handle it,” Hobeom says, “there’s a break clause in your contract. Up to one month.”

Even though Hobeom’s beetle-shiny eyes are nothing like the flat void of a gaze Yoongi turns on him every day, like he’s just a stain on the white wall of his bedroom, Seokjin thinks immediately about Yoongi’s snide comment that no one had been able to stick it out with him. He thinks of the million small indignities and insults he’s had poured on him in just the first week of his employment, and how Yoongi looks like there’s an itchy tag in his underwear whenever Seokjin reins in his instinct to respond. And even though part of him is howling at his own stupidity, it happens: his spine snaps straight and he tugs his guard up, makes himsef as impenetrable as possible, and looks Hobeom dead in the face.

“I can handle it.” And by God he’s going to.

The second thing that happens is that Yoongi runs out of menial jobs to give him.

He arrives at his bedroom door at around half ten, tray in hand. Of all the unpleasant parts of his job, bringing Yoongi his breakfast might be the worst; as if it isn’t humiliating enough to carry a tray to the sprawled out figure and stand there for anything up to fifteen minutes while Yoongi huffs and groans and rearranges himself into something approaching a sitting position, he then has to sit in the armchair nearby, pretending to read and trying to ignore the disdainful chink of cutlery pushing food around the bowl and evaluating the quality of the coffee with way too many obscene words for that time of the morning. After his breakfast, Seokjin feels up to handling the usual dismissive treatment. He knocks before entering. For the first time there’s a response: an unrestrained groan loud enough to be heard through the bedroom door.

For a second he thinks Yoongi must be beating off, but the gross intimacy Seokjin’s had with his personal possessions has been notably lacking of anything which might suggest a libido of any form. Besides, Yoongi barely has the energy to shovel his chocolate puff cereal into his mouth at this time. Seokjin opens the door, his, “Good morning Yoongi!” as forced as ever.

He’s struck by the difference of the room since he first entered it. The expensive gadgets and consoles are shelved in ordered rows underneath the television; both closets are firmly shut; the rugs are fluffy and white again. Maybe Yoongi’s upset because now he’ll have to get out of bed to mess it all up again. He doesn’t say anything to Seokjin, just lies in a face-down heap on the pillows. If he hadn’t made any noise, Seokjin could have had a pleasant thirty seconds of thinking he was dead.

“I asked them to roast the coffee beans a bit more this morning, so maybe you’ll like it better. And there’s soya milk with your cereal today.” Still finding it hard to believe that anyone this well off could be this cranky all the time, Seokjin has conceived a plan of cutting out certain foods without Yoongi noticing. Maybe it’s the dairy making him so irritable; he spends enough time in the toilet (although Seokjin does sometimes hear him in there yelling into his phone, often about Seokjin himself). He puts the tray down on the bedside table, wondering whether to indulge himself today and give the lump under the duvet the good jab in the ribs he’s been wanting.

“Are you still here?” Yoongi’s tone runs the full spectrum from genuine disbelief to pantomime horror. Seokjin makes the most unpleasant face he can manage at the blanket bundle.

“Why wouldn’t I be? Come on, your cereal will get soggy.” And then, Seokjin adds mentally, you might flip the spoon across the bed and refuse to eat it and then spend the rest of the afternoon complaining about being hungry. He knows exactly why Yoongi’s awaiting his disappearance. His heart steels again. He can handle it.

Without responding, Yoongi turns over in his bed and inches his way upright. It’s as miserable a sight as ever. Every one of Seokjin’s fingers itch to reach out and shake him. As expected, Yoongi drops his spoon into his bowl, mock-gagging. “Soya milk tastes like piss. What the hell is this?” It sounds mechanical, like his heart’s not really in it.

Seokjin leaves him to it, striding over to open the curtains. “Doesn’t it take a lot of energy to be so negative all the time?” He looks on top of the dresser for the book he was reading the night before, not really expecting it to be there. It isn’t.

“It’s pretty easy when I have to be around you all day.” Seokjin hears the slop of milk as Yoongi shoves the tray away from himself. It gives him a sharp satisfaction to walk back to his usual chair without sparing a single glance to the fuming bundle in the bed. “Do you know how fucked up it is to have someone watching you all damn day?”

Seokjin’s fingers still on the page. Yoongi has a fair point: for all the wealth that surrounds him, his parents don’t allow him an inch of privacy. He still isn’t sure why; his own intuition tells him it must be something to do with this abduction that Yoongi likes to mention occasionally. Kidnap is only second on his list of favourite topics to ‘peculiar ways in which he might be murdered’. Still, it would be difficult for anyone to kidnap Yoongi when he barely leaves his room. The near-twenty four hour surveillance seems unwarranted. “Look,” he says eventually, since Yoongi keeps staring like he expects an answer. “I don’t want to interfere with your - with you. We don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. I’ll just do my job - ”

“Your job,” Yoongi slices in, “is useless. And you’re useless. Ever killed a man?”

Seokjin drops his book. “No?”

“The guy before you - don’t remember his name - he was ex-Marines. He killed loads of men. And you think you’re gonna do a better job than him?” Regal in the centre of his plush white kingdom, Yoongi’s eyes are like two black wells drilled into a sheet of ice. A shiver twists in Seokjin’s stomach and he sits up straight, looking away, at the organised dresser and the sunlight pouring through the windows.

“Your coffee’s getting cold,” he says.

Chapter Text

From that morning onwards, something shifts in the way Yoongi treats him. It’s not quite that he comes to realise that Seokjin is a human just like him; more like he comes to see him in the way one might see a pet who has gained the power of speech. From being something to which Yoongi would ascribe no more feelings to than a vacuum cleaner, he starts to slice through Seokjin systematically. There’s a curious, cold precision in the way he approaches everything, from his taunting to teasing apart his dinner in search of alien elements. He employs the same surgical eye to Seokjin, finding each and every limit and pushing on it with the steady, unemotional pressure of a child slowly squashing an insect.

“Seokjin,” Yoongi says. It clangs into the silence that’s been gathering for nearly four hours. Seokjin flinches. It’s the first time Yoongi’s ever used his name. Yoongi’s on the rug in front of his bed, legs splayed out with his laptop balanced on his stomach. As usual the air is muggy; Yoongi keeps the temperature high, perhaps so he can bother with as little clothing as posible while Seokjin sweats into his collar.

Seokjin looks up to find that indolent look trained on him. Even with his head lolling, Yoongi looks about the most interested Seokjin’s ever seen, so he humours him and puts his book down. “Yes?”

A long, heavy exhale precedes the next sentence. “I guess if you’re planning on sticking around, I should get to know you.” Every word slips stickily out of Yoongi’s mouth, insincere and sneering. Seokjin shifts in his chair, draws his stomach in.

“Okay. What do you want to know?”

Already Yoongi’s looking away from him, rolling his name around his mouth like it tastes ridiculous. “Seokjin. Seokjin. I’m gonna call you Jin. Don’t you think that’s more cosy?”

“I don’t - ”

“So, Jinnie.” Yoongi sits up, cocking a hideous, flat smile up at Seokjin. “Tell me about yourself. You’re my age, right?”

“Three months older,” Seokjin says. Not even half a year between them but so much else separates them. Three years of graduating, rigorous physical training, top marks in maths, sciences and foreign languages, training in hand to hand combat and firearm use, Seokjin thinks to himself. Earning twice the average graduate wage, helping to support his family, independent at twenty two. An ex-girlfriend who is now a model, an ex-boyfriend who is now an idol, and a master in the kitchen. However much money lies in the balance, he’s twice as much in every way as the noodle-limbed brat on the carpet in front of him. He looks right at him and thinks, do your best, rich boy.

Like he senses the surge in assurance, Yoongi mellows back into nonchalance, letting his lip curl. “Boy, and look at you. Little wonderchild. What got you into this business? Didn’t you want to be, I dunno, an actor or an underwear model?”

“I have an uncle who works as security for the Park family in Busan - the ones who own that big entertainment company. He thought I’d be good at it, and it’s pretty good money so - ”

“Ahh, the money. Of course. You have a dear ailing mother to support? Or some little accident from your high school dance?”

“No. I don’t have a trust fund either.”

Yoongi laughs - or chokes on something, but Seokjin’s pretty sure it’s a laugh. He can’t help but be pleased with himself. It dies a second later as Yoongi lets one hand fall between his legs and starts scratching his crotch. Seokjin lets his eyes drift away as subtly as possible. “Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Cute pet dog?”

“Nope. Just - ”

“Well, you are just so dedicated.” Every word is punctuated by a derisive pause. “Mr. Job Comes First. I’m honoured. It does make you terribly boring though.”

Seokjin will take being boring over giving Yoongi any ammunition for his jerk-gun. “Alright. I guess I’m boring then.”

“Some companion you’ll be.” Giving up all bodily effort with a gratified grunt, Yoongi slides right down onto the carpet, arching one foot towards the en-suite bathroom. “Bath.”

Bath, at least, means he’ll have a bit of peace for an hour or so. Seokjin’s almost glad to go in there and start the taps. Yoongi yells something about which soak he wants today. There’s a cabinet as broad as Seokjin’s shoulders full of hair, skin and scent products, half of them still with the plastic wrapping on. At least they’re all organised now. Seokjin looks at the rows of bottles again, still as confused by the range as the first time he laid eyes on them. “You know, all these products you’re using are probably making your skin worse, not better.”

“What would you know about it?” Yoongi appears, leaning against the door frame, already with his robe stripped off. The casual way in which he displays his skinny, pasty body says a lot about how much of his life he’s spent being watched. He looks like he wants to snatch away the face scrub Seokjin’s holding, this petulant “that’s mine” expression forming on his face, but he’s too aware of Seokjin’s height advantage. Instead he slides past him and sits on the rim of the tub, defiantly not trying to hide the breakout on his chin. Seokjin risks his forefinger and points at it.

“If you wash too much, your skin gets oilier to compensate. Then you get spots. You should know better, with your sensitive skin.” He picks out the bottle of bath soak and leans over to pour some into the rushing water. Yoongi doesn’t move out of his way. Seokjin feels his disdain up close. It’s like every muscle is prickling to pull away but locked in place by a stubborn exertion of will.

“You,” Yoongi says, and Seokjin feels his breath on his cheek and suddenly feels like he wants to dive into the bath headfirst. “Are just full of surprises.”

There’s something about him that is so unpleasant. Seokjin isn’t sure if it’s just the hideous things he says and does, or if it’s something burnt deep into his character. His petulance, arrogance, mean comments and constant complaints could almost be read as plain irritability born from being cooped up and fussed over for his whole life. A week ago, Seokjin was still ready to believe that there could be something more underneath it; that he just had to prove he wasn’t going to be scared away. Instead, as soon as his resolution to stay becomes clear, Yoongi turns up the notches on everything to maximum. He manages to radiate loathing through thin air, until Seokjin can feel the hair on his arms standing up. If he knew why, it might be easier to deal with. As it is, he can’t see a single reason for it. The only justification he can come up with is that Yoongi dislikes him on principle: for being of a lower social class, for not being as wealthy as him, because he works for Yoongi and Yoongi doesn’t work, full stop. Sometimes, when Yoongi is trying to shred him with a fuming little monologue about his bath being too hot or his lunch too cold, Seokjin thinks about how deeply this bigotry might be embedded and it’s all he can do to keep his fists at his sides.

Then again, there are some ways in which Yoongi is oddly helpless. Despite his distaste for Seokjin’s company, he doesn’t ever ask him to leave - which Seokjin can only assume he’d be within his rights to do. He knows that Seokjin can’t leave until he’s dismissed, a fact which Yoongi uses every evening to scrape away further at Seokjin’s nerves by staying up until the birds start singing again. Nor does he try to wake up before Seokjin arrives in the morning, to snatch the little time out of his company. He doesn’t ever ask to go elsewhere, see something other than the stark walls of his bedroom, although Seokjin finds out why this is halfway through the second week.

Yoongi is in the middle of one of his drawling monologues about abduction. It had started with a thoughtless comment from Seokjin about the expanse of the windows and how he was nervous about leaning on them too heavily.

“Oh yeah. They’d smash easily. They wanted to put this grating up, a year ago, but I told them no - who puts bars on their kid’s bedroom window?” And he’s off, reciting every attempted and possible kidnapping he has or thinks he has avoided in his life and how utterly all of his guards failed in their duties. “There was this one guy who used to just let me run round the park while he sat on the bench and read the newspaper, so one day I ran off, right, just hopped the fence to go get some sweets, and I was gone like two hours, and then I went and called my dad’s office and told him I was lost in town and they came round and picked me up, and the guy got fired - and then, this other time - ”

“You really think that many people are out to kidnap you?” Seokjin, halfway through folding a pile of laundry, is genuinely curious. The Min family are vomit-inducingly wealthy, that’s well known, but they’re guarded about their family. Seokjin didn’t even know they had a younger son until he’d been interviewed for the position.

“Not people looking for ransom money really, but like.” Yoongi’s eyes trail off to one side, towards the window. He’s got that thousand-mile stare on again; Seokjin’s been picking up more on the small dramatics he indulges in. They add a much needed edge of humour to Yoongi’s general unpleasantness. “Other business, rivals, that kind of person. Like, my dad’s got this patent pending for this new drug and it’d fuck so many people’s profits up if it came on the market so, I dunno.”

“I guess he’s got nothing to worry about then. You can’t be kidnapped if you never leave your room.”

“He’d probably let them cut my throat. Just doesn’t want the bad press. You’re probably here to stop me doing it myself.”

Seokjin puts down the vest he’s holding and looks over. Yoongi doesn’t look serious, but then he never looks much of anything. His head dropped to one shoulder, he’s looking out into the rolling grounds beyond the window, one hand dangling limp from the arm of his chair. “I hope not.”

“Probably. I’m not allowed out right now anyway so what’s even the point of you being here, unless you just love folding my underwear that much.” The sardonic glint comes back into Yoongi’s face.

“It’s truly the highlight of my day. Why aren’t you allowed out?”

“Reason my last guard got fired. I skipped out on him down at the shopping centre. Well.” The sardonic glint turns wicked. “I might’ve done it a couple of times. Maybe more like six. Last time I did it he just had this breakdown when he couldn’t find me, started screaming and crying about how he’d failed his job and he was going to end it all.” He sniggers, and Seokjin watches with a sort of sick fascination. There’s a thought out maliciousness in Yoongi’s actions, something which is sharp and aimed directly at something, but what Yoongi’s trying to excise from himself, Seokjin isn’t sure. He’s not sure Yoongi quite knows either.

“So you lost a man his job and mental stability. Seems like fair reason to be grounded.”

Yoongi’s expression snaps straight into pettishness. “Don’t get so smart, Jinnie. You’re not allowed out til I am.”

Chapter Text

To mark his first month of working with (or more accurately, in spite of) Yoongi, he presents Seokjin with a handmade card. The front is a picture Yoongi must have snapped secretly, of him in his usual chair frowning over a book. In big red bubble-writing across it is the word, “Chump”. Seokjin thinks of the figures on the payslip he got in the post that morning and musters a smile.

“Charming. A hand made present always means the most.”

As usual Yoongi’s eyes get hard like a polished stone surface when he’s deprived of the reaction he was looking for. His efforts to knock Seokjin’s grip on his self control get more inventive with each week, but imagination can only draw on the fuel it’s fed. Yoongi’s life is sheltered and his ideas, likewise, are petty and short-focused. Seokjin, if he keeps his eyes on the reward that awaits him after a year or so of sticking this out, can weather the bouts of fussiness and the temperamental outbursts. After a month, it’s starting to become routine; he’s even managed to phase out the sound of Yoongi moaning over his breakfast.

It helps that Yoongi is slowly running out of things to complain about. Hardly a meal goes by without him commenting with distaste on the plate’s colour, the food’s arrangement and the chef’s choice of vegetables, but Seokjin’s spent so much time sorting things out with the kitchen staff that they’ve ended up quite good friends. It helps that the head cook is a motherly woman with deep sympathy for Seokjin’s position and a dearly held desire to give Yoongi “a good spanking”. Through no influence of his own, Yoongi’s meals are of better quality than they’ve been for a while. Seokjin’s exerted himself enough to keep everything in the enormous room put to rights, after it had taken him so long to do so, and Yoongi hadn’t yet managed to stir from his languor for long enough to make a mess of it again. He’s figured out how Yoongi likes his bath (just hot enough to make him pink as soon as he steps into it) and his coffee (roasted almost to the point of being burnt) and he’s even found a detergent for his underwear that’s stopped him from scratching his balls so much.

Seokjin looks at the snide little flap of paper and then at Yoongi, brooding on the velvet loveseat underneath one window. If he weren’t such a fucking blister, he’d almost feel sorry for him. Seokjin’s not just refused to be driven out of his job. He’s actually getting very good at it. Of course he still has his calendar up in his own room with the past month crossed out in large red marker pen: one down, eleven to go. That’s mostly for the sake of his own sanity.

“I’m bored,” Yoongi says. He doesn’t need to announce it; every line of his slumped body expresses his mood. Seokjin picks up the thirtieth book he’s started that month (that is one true mystery, where Yoongi’s been hiding all of them) and kicks out his legs to cross them at the ankles. He’s not heard Yoongi admit so much before, but it comes as no surprise.

“Occupy yourself. You’ve got enough stuff in here. Read a book. Use some of that fancy equipment you’re so precious about. You must have some kind of a hobby.” Other than sitting around in his pants staring at the computer, that is. He keeps his headphones in most of the time and Seokjin’s never been able to catch a glimpse of what he’s doing the whole time, but given the presence of the mixing boards and so on, he assumes it must be music of a sort.

“Hobbies are something people do to forget about their shitty jobs. I don’t have a shitty job to forget about.” Seokjin’s almost impressed by this level of self awareness.

“Aren’t you studying or anything? What are you going to do - ”

“What are your hobbies, Jinnie?” Yoongi steps on the friendly overture like he’s putting out a dropped cigarette: a casual, careless mash down with his heel. For the hundredth time Seokjin looks across the room at him, pale and dispassionate, and finds himself baffled in the face of this total abnegation. Something about that thorough dissociation is awful yet fascinating. Seokjin’s always cared and worried and been absorbed in things; living, for him, is interest and effort, which is perhaps why he takes Yoongi’s finicky demands as a challenge. He’s always wondered if it’s possible for anyone to truly not care about anything, and now he thinks he’s facing just that. Sometimes the hollow way Yoongi’s face catches in the shadows is frightening.

Averting his eyes before he starts to feel that internal tremor again, Seokjin shrugs. It doesn’t matter what he says; Yoongi won’t listen. “I like reading. You probably guessed. I like cooking, although I don’t get much of a chance to do it here. I try to work out every morning - I used to go - ”

“Gym bunny?” Yoongi’s eyes travel from their lazy surveillance of the sky to Seokjin’s feet, and rake their way up his body, pushing his clothes aside with indifference. The pink point of a tongue creeps out to wet Yoongi’s lips, and Seokjin holds back a shudder. “Are you all buff under that suit? All like, swole?”

“If someone broke in here right now, I’d either have to fight them off or grab you and escape,” Seokjin snaps, suddenly nettled. “I’ve got to stay in shape. I doubt you could run more than two metres without getting breathless.”

“I had this personal trainer once. What a fucking dope he was. Wouldn’t stop smiling, ugh.”

“Do you ever wonder where you’ll be in five years’ time?” The snap is still harsh in Seokjin’s voice. He’s not really sure why he said it, regrets it as soon as he sees Yoongi tilting his head, snake-like, and smirking up like he’s won something.

“Probably still right here, Jinnie. Talking to another faceless muscle in a suit.”

It doesn’t surprise Seokjin in the slightest that now Yoongi knows about his morning gym sessions, he proceeds to keep them both up for as long as possible. He ends up dozing off in his chair, neck knotting at a horrible angle, and wakes up at the soft thud of a cushion in his face. It’s getting near to five in the morning and Yoongi’s face hovers ghost-like, lit blue by his laptop screen. “I take it I’m dismissed,” Seokjin deadpans, getting to his feet and rolling back his shoulders to unstick his shirt from his back. His exhausted body and the already stifling room makes everything clammy.

“Wouldn’t want to cut into your precious beauty sleep,” Yoongi says. His own eyelids are drooping but he looks vicious in his triumph.

“Right.” The dull, hateful glare slices into Seokjin all the way across the room. The fuzzy insides of his brain burn; the heat and heaviness and tension shrink-wrapping the air around him. Yoongi’s loathing is scorching him from the inside and he doesn’t know why. The question is halfway across his tongue before he half-turns and sees the limp white figure sprawled on the bed. He’s bitten his tongue so many times it’s beginning to detach at the root. Yoongi’s not going to win, not for a second. “I’ll see you Monday,” he says instead.

Yoongi’s voice floats back, leaden. “Tomorrow’s Sunday, idiot.”

“Tomorrow’s my day off. I’ll be back on Monday.” It’s his most longed for moment of each day, but Seokjin hesitates in closing the door. Behind him there’s a disturbance, and when he glances back he finds Yoongi upright again. It’s not much - just a downturn in the mouth, a small crease about the eyebrows - but he’s as far from apathetic as Seokjin’s ever seen him.

“Who said you get a day off?”

“My contract. And employment laws.” Even with his sheltered life, Yoongi could be fairly expected to know about these things, he thinks.

“Who’s going to watch me?” His complaint is so outrageous it’s funny: this thin, white-clad little prince in the middle of his bed, fuming and imperious, demanding the presence of someone he’s spent a month trying to get rid of. Seokjin’s too tired to laugh so he just shakes his head gently. If he stuck around for twelve years he doesn’t think he’d begin to understand this boy’s self-indulgent little brain.

“I’m sure Hobeom will find someone to cover. Thought you’d be glad to get rid of me for one day.”

Something flickers across Yoongi’s face. Seokjin might almost think it were panic, if Yoongi didn’t drop straight back into his duvet with one of his singularly expressive groans. “Whatever. Enjoy your super exciting life, I guess.”

He’d enjoy it a lot more if he were able to make up for the lack of sleep. As it is, he catches just a couple of hours before someone wakes him up to introduce his replacement for the day. Once he’s done briefing the other on his duties (he doesn’t need to ask why Hobeom didn’t give the job to another one of the security staff) it’s nearly nine thirty, and he has just enough time to shower and dress before he’s due to meet an old friend from his training academy. One small perk of the job is that the family’s huge range of cars and drivers are at the disposal of their staff, when not otherwise in use. He rolls up to the coffee shop in style, arranges to be picked up at ten that evening, and heads in.

Namjoon’s tilted back on two legs of his chair, staring open-mouthed as the Mercedes pulls away. “Sweet ride!” he says, and then as Seokjin drops into the chair opposite, “You look like hell.”

“Just left. It’s great weather there at the moment.” He orders the largest, strongest coffee the machine can crank out, three muffins and a Danish pastry, and sinks back into the round little chair, letting his eyes shut for a blissful moment. He knows Namjoon is goggling, dying to hear his gossip. It’s satisfying to know he’s going to be listened to for once.

Namjoon’s kind enough to allow five minutes for Seokjin to drink half his coffee and demolish two muffins before he starts to prod. “So, what’s it been like? Up at the mansion? Sounds like this kid’s kind of a - ”

“A shit,” Seokjin finishes, and despite his mouthful of crumbs and the despair with which he’s coming to regard his circumstances, he starts giggling at the way Namjoon’s eyebrows fly up. He’s so tired and aching all over and it feels fucking great to laugh at Yoongi’s expense. “Oh my god, Namjoon, you have no idea - he’s the nastiest, most indulged little bastard that’s ever - he’s horrible, I can’t even explain how horrible he is.”  He gives it his very best shot though. Spilling everything to Namjoon puts a little soothing balm on his punched-out pride. By the time he’s reached the childishness of the previous morning, he’s laughing in earnest.

“If I saw it on television, I wouldn’t believe it.” Namjoon’s mouth is wide open; he’s a very satisfying audience and he’s swallowing up the tales of Yoongi’s hideous behaviour quicker than his stone cold coffee.

“I know, it seems like something out of a story, right?” Seokjin flourishes one hand to express the tragedy of his plight. “I’m like. Jinderella.”

Namjoon’s expression darkens a touch. “If Cinderella had lived in a time of employment laws, things might have been different. Have you talked to anyone about this? I mean it’s funny here and now, but I’m sure there’s gotta be laws against this kind of - ”

“He’s just a brat, Namjoon.” The look in Namjoon’s face is all too familiar: it’s the one he would get when they trained together as soon as anyone mentioned the social or political implications of their future careers. He’d held lectures up for nearly an hour before, arguing with the tutor over whether they could be legally bound to prevent harm to someone who caused harm, no matter how unlikely it was that Namjoon would ever end up defending a political dictator. Seokjin knows that glint and he knows when it’s time to divert the topic from anything class-related. “He’s just spoiled and trying to get under my skin. He’s bored. He’ll get over it.”

“You’re just going to let him get away with it then?”

Seokjin doesn’t know why that makes him want to squirm. Sure, he’d been employed on the surface of it as a companion - something approaching an equal, but it was clear from the start that Yoongi had no intentions of treating him as such, and it’s impossible that Hobeom hadn’t known that. As far as he can make out, his position is a compromise between the family’s need to have their son watched over, and Yoongi’s insistence that he didn’t need a guard any more. Yoongi’s parents, despite the amount of money they showered on him, didn’t listen to him, and Yoongi, in turn, showed the same disregard to Seokjin. The problems of the wealthy are many and bizarre. Seokjin’s willing to accept the paycheck, even if the work he does is somewhat different to what Hobeom had described to him on that very first day.

“It’s not about letting him get away with it.” He avoids Namjoon’s quizzical eyebrow, diverting his attention to his pastry. “He’s only three months younger than me. It’s not like I can order him about.”

“Exactly. He knows he’s got the power in the situation and he’s taking advantage of it.” Even as Seokjin focuses on the fruit glaze covering his fingers, Namjoon dips his head down and tries to catch his eye. The laughter’s gone from his expression; he looks almost angry, and it’s just what Seokjin doesn’t want to deal with on his day off. “It’s disgusting - don’t you think you should do something? You’re not being paid to be his doormat, are you?”

Indignation burns up Seokjin’s spine. He drops his pastry down and glares back at Namjoon and it feels so good to be able to express every inch of the insult for once that he maybe revels in the feeling a little too much. It stings, though. A month of biting back retorts and remaining unruffled in the face of tantrums and biting comments, of doing everything he can to prove (to himself, to Yoongi, to Hobeom) that he can handle it, that he’s equal to his job. To his eyes, he’s been nothing short of a hero. To Namjoon, apparently, all this effort and self-restraint makes him exactly what Yoongi had branded him on the front of his nasty little card: a chump.

“I’m not a doormat. I’m not going to let a childish, spoilt little rich kid force me out of a job that’s going to set me up for life.” He fills his mouth with pastry before Namjoon can reply, hoping that makes it clear that the conversation’s over. He regrets it ten seconds later when his phone starts ringing. Luckily the girl on the other end sounds far too flustered to notice his muffled chewing.

“I wouldn’t call if it wasn’t urgent,” she almost sobs into his ear, and Seokjin groans and hangs up. Namjoon’s already tilting back in his chair again, arms crossed over his chest.

“It’s your day off. Are you kidding?”

Seokjin tightens his jaw, replaces the last muffin with a few crumpled notes and pulls his coat over his shoulders. “I just want to do the best job I can.”

Chapter Text

The car whips him back to the house, and he’s hurrying for the side door with the muscles in his neck wrenched tight when Hobeom greets him. “Is everything alright? Are the rooms secured - ”

Hobeom gives him a look flatter than the topography of the Netherlands, and starts up this chain-saw burr of a laugh. Seokjin’s hand is halfway to his gun before he realises he’s not carrying it. His head is still spinning from getting out of the car too quickly, the sun is stabbing into his dried out eyes, and the realisation is already clanging against his skull like a cracked old bell.

“Your month is up,” Hobeom says, and Seokjin shoves past him and heads for the stairs. He’s not sure what he’s going to do, but if Yoongi wasn’t actually in any immediate danger, he may well be now.

He just restrains himself from crashing through the bedroom door, but he does let it fly open hard enough to hit the wall. On his first step something crunches under his foot. It’s the dial from some kind of mixing unit. The rest of the machine is abandoned on the carpet, the back broken off and showing a prickle of exposed wires. Every single drawer of the dresser is upturned with clothes strewn around and underneath. The entire desk has been pulled over and lurches against the loveseat with the compartments gaping and a flurry of paper obscuring the legs. In the middle of this chaos, in the centre of his foamy white sheets, sits Yoongi: heavy eyelids, pursed smirk and punch-worthy look of pride. Seokjin’s never been this close to actual violence.

“Is this your emergency?”

“My room’s a fucking mess. That’s pretty much an emergency.”

Less than half an hour ago he was facing down Namjoon, congratulating himself on his self control, telling himself it was something to take pride in, that he wasn’t letting Yoongi walk all over him. Now, Seokjin looks down to see his fist clenched at his side, shaking, and Yoongi’s eyes are flashing with excitement even while his mouth remains an inexpressive line. He can hardly unclench his teeth enough to speak. “It was my day off.”

“You get paid enough, don’t you?”

Seokjin feels something inside him go limp. “You really are disgusting,” he says, but there’s no fire in his words, only shell-shock. Yoongi’s expression sets into its usual sneer, cutting at Seokjin from across the room.

“Don’t talk to me like that. Go run my bath.”

Only the fact that Yoongi’s eyes are intent on him pushes him away from the doorway and into the bathroom. He turns the taps on full and relieves himself of a few explosive bursts of obscenity before the door clicks behind him. He straightens up. Something in him feels flattened, blown over by the unnatural force of Yoongi’s nastiness. It’s something he’s not used to: the ironed out emptiness of defeat. Yoongi patters up behind him and pushes past. The proximity of his sallow skin stretched over his bony ribcage makes Seokjin’s stomach heave.

“So sorry to have interrupted your super exciting day.” The tip of his tongue darts into the corner of his mouth; oily-dark eyes flick up under the derisive arch of his eyebrows. He’s toe to toe with Seokjin, not giving him an inch of space to breathe, and his sticky lips make that repulsive smacking sound as he leans in. “Had you just got the tip in?”

Seokjin slams the door on the rasping laughter and presses his back to the wall. Despite the heat of the room he’s in a cold sweat.

By the time Yoongi reappears he’s managed to wrestle back a bit of self control. He’s sitting straight-backed in his chair, legs crossed, hoping he can stick to a position which hides how repulsion is twisting around his body. Between the lack of sleep, the fury and the stomach empty but for three muffins and a Danish pastry, Seokjin’s nauseous and hardly thinking straight. He catches the pale glow of Yoongi’s damp body crossing the room and forces himself to train his eyes on his book.

Yoongi ‘stops in front of his dresser. “Where’s my pyjamas?”

“You turned your drawers out,” Seokjin says through his teeth. “You tell me.” He doesn’t look up but he’s familiar enough with the following noises to know that Yoongi’s snorted and thrown himself down on his rug.

“Ugh. Don’t sulk, that’s pathetic. You can’t have been doing anything that important.” Seokjin wouldn’t grace him with a response even if he could force words past the furious knot in his throat. With a groan, Yoongi turns onto his back and kicks his feet up, drumming his heels on one upside-down drawer. “Fine. Try the silent treatment. I’m bored of your voice anyway.”

The hours that follow are the most unpleasant Seokjin has ever spent in his life. He can see Yoongi glancing over, and the way his eyes are flashing, but he doesn’t say another word and Seokjin’s not going to be the first to speak either. Especially not when anything likely to leave his mouth could risk him his job. The clock turns over, from three in the afternoon to three in the morning. Yoongi barely shifts from his sprawled position on the floor, not even to demand dinner. Seokjin holds himself tight. He feels like he’s strapped into position, and the loosening of a single bond will leave him crumbling to the carpet. He won’t. He won’t let Yoongi have the satisfaction.

It’s only when the minute hand edges towards four that his grip becomes slippery. Yoongi’s frowning at his computer screen, making that face where he forces his eyes wide, determined not to allow either of them any rest until the last possible minute. The second his lips part to yawn, Seokjin pounces. The slam of his book shutting makes Yoongi look round, and by then Seokjin’s already on his feet.

“You’re tired. I’m tired. Go to bed.” There’s more of a plea in his voice than he can stand, but he’s swaying back and forth on the spot and Yoongi’s just wriggling around so he’s in a better position to smirk upwards, and Seokjin lets himself think, for a dangerous moment, about how close his foot is to Yoongi’s head.

“I’m not tired. Sit down.”

Without thinking about it Seokjin jerks forward. Any other time it would be gratifying to see Yoongi shuffle back instinctively, to see the shadow Seokjin’s broad frame is throwing over his pallid face. Tonight, in the dim, muggy air of that destestable bedroom, Seokjin lets himself feel for once the physical advantage he has. It’s a savage pleasure, almost frightening to grasp. “I have had two hours sleep,” he says.

Maybe Yoongi sees the warning in Seokjin’s eyes and ignores it; maybe he really is so self-obsessed that he doesn’t notice the growl in his tone, like the creaking of ropes straining to hold up an immense weight. Maybe he thinks that this will be the final showdown, that he’s finally pushed Seokjin beyond the limits of what he can endure. He sits there on the rug a metre away from Seokjin’s feet, a snarled up bundle of spiky angles and insolence, and he sends back that smirk like an invitation. “How is that my problem?”

Seokjin shuts his eyes for a long moment. The room is beginning to white out around him. “I know what you’re trying to do.”

“You don’t know anything.”

His jaw clamps shut and his knees almost give with the surge of sheer ferocity that hits him. Yoongi’s skinny arm is so brittle in his hand and he weighs nothing. Seokjin tosses him onto his bed and leaves him to bounce there, already halfway to the door before Yoongi finds his voice and lets loose with an outraged yell.

“How dare you - ”

“Goodnight.” Seokjin slams the door behind him, sinks back against the wall and waits for his hands to stop trembling. It takes him half an hour to get back to his own rooms, his heart pounding so hard he feels like passing out. He falls into bed with all his clothes on and abandons himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

The curtains didn't get drawn last night. Too-early morning sun stings in the room, jabbing its way under the layers of duvet and pillow Yoongi's buried his head underneath. Even though he presses his sticky eyelids more tightly together and tries to pretend it's not there, he can't trick himself into going back to sleep. Now he's blinking at the bleach-clean underside of his duvet, breathing in the remnants of that white lily and jasmine fabric softener which is still cloyingly artificial but preferable to the 'spring breeze' shit which smelt like orangeade. Out of defiance to the early hour he keeps his face hidden, even though he can feel the moisture beginning to curl out of his skin. He lies there and gets damp and he feels like a piece of fungus mouldering away in a rotten corner.

The light must be slanting at a particular angle, one he's not usually awake to see, because he can feel a single beam piercing through his duvet at the back of his neck. It's focused and intent, one accusatory eye, but he won't let himself be intimidated by it. Nothing he's done has ever had much consequence, and whether he sees Jin today or a different pair of broad shoulders and immaculate shirt cuffs, his day won't change one bit. The sunlight and the early hour and the gnawing in his stomach can all go to hell; Yoongi's routine doesn't change. His father likes to say that business is all about flexibility but he's one to talk, with his dinner at nine and his bath at ten and the secretary who's as old as he is. Flexibility is for people who can't afford to have things the way they want them.

Yoongi curls tighter together, even though it makes his tight calves ache. When he was younger and a lot smaller, he'd curled up like this under the bed for hours and grinned to himself watching frantic pairs of feet stomping around his bedroom trying to find him. Maybe huddling like this will make Jin panic, just for a second. He'd deserve it. Yoongi can't see properly under the duvet but he's sure there's a bruise where Jin grabbed his arm the night before. He can get a good few days of penance out of that, he's sure. Jin's just that sort to be swept away by a guilt trip and Yoongi is precious goods to be handling so roughly.

Heat prickles up his arms as the sun rises, turning every exhale into a steam bath. His need to breathe properly is just about to win over his reluctance to move when a noise comes from outside his cocoon: the bedroom door opening. His ears prick up.

He hears the click of smart footsteps towards his bed, the soft clatter as the tray is set down. And then, without warning or apology, firm hands tear the duvet away from him and his whole world explodes into blinding white light.

For a second he's utterly insensible, spitting and swearing as he claws for his covers. It's the sight of Jin that slaps his mouth shut. He's standing as tall and mundane as ever, this solid and hatefully unignorable presence in his morbid ugly suit; he has Yoongi's duvet bunched in his hands, and lets it drop to the foot of the bed without a single look towards Yoongi himself. As ever he's as put together as a fresh newspaper, only the purpling shadows under his eyes betraying his lack of sleep. He doesn't say good morning, just turns and sits himself in the chair which is beginning to mould to the shape of his thighs. It's just past eight in the morning.

"What," Yoongi croaks out, has to take a moment to clear his throat of the shock. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Jin takes a slim paperback out of one jacket pocket, crosses his legs at the knees and says nothing. His mouth is drawn about as thinly as is possible and he's so impassable, like a mountain, like a gnarled and tremendous tree which Yoongi can't get through or over or anywhere near and he hates it. It's trying enough to have someone crammed in your personal space all the time. It's twice as hideous when they seem immune to you.

A pulse beats in Yoongi's stomach which he tries to ignore. He slaps the bed with one hand, hearing his voice pitch up. "Hey. I'm talking to you Jinnie."

"Eat your breakfast," Jin drones at him. He still doesn't look up and his black-clad figure is starting to get fuzzy in Yoongi's itchy vision, coming to pieces; there was more yesterday, he knows there was and this isn't how things are supposed to go. Jin is still here but he's less here than he was. It doesn't make any sense.

"I don't want any fucking breakfast." He doesn't spare a glance for the coffee and cereal waiting for him; his stomach is one knotted ball of muscle. Jin's supposed to sigh, and remind him he hasn't eaten since yesterday morning, and ask if he'd rather have toast today. Instead he licks a finger, turns a page of his book. Yoongi doesn't think twice before reaching out and slapping the bowl off the bedside table. Milk and chocolate puffs slop to the floor. Jin still doesn't move.

"If Master Yoongi doesn't feel like his cocoa puffs today, I can ask the chef to make him a little omlet."

There's this folded-in thing Jin does with his big mouth when he's risking a joke at Yoongi's expense. Yoongi's noted it, lets it slip by when he's in a better mood; sometimes it's fun to play with your food. Today Jin's mouth stays in its single, neutral tuck. Just in case, Yoongi smashes his coffee cup over as well. It doesn't raise a single eyebrow hair.

"You're pathetic," he spits. The sunlight burns onto a forehead which feels three times too big and he can hardly keep his eyelids from blinding him. Jin reads on. With nothing else to do, Yoongi wrestles the duvet back over his head and curls back into a muggy lump.

Despite the increasingly soggy mattress, Yoongi manages to doze off again for a few hours. He wakes to find the sky has clouded over, which is one small mercy. His tall, narrow windows cut the shadows into long stippled patterns, throwing Jin's corner with his chair into shade. It makes the hollows around his eyes look deeper, his high cheekbones more gaunt. Yoongi feels a small sense of justice at seeing him look less than wholesome for once. He still doesn't look up as Yoongi throws the duvet back, but now he's slept a bit more it doesn't seem to matter so much.

The mess by his bed has been cleaned up, he notices. So that proves it: this attempt at the silent treatment is an act. Jin will give it up if he doesn't get a reaction. Better men than him have tried to sulk and wheedle and shame Yoongi into being more co-operative; he's come to pride himself on his immovable centre. It's not for him to bend and give. Jin has his goals and his mind set on the future and his better things to look forward to. He wanted this job. Yoongi's not obliged to make it easy for him - and anyway, why should he? It's like his father says: it was different fifty years ago, when people would stay with their companies, with their families, for their whole lives. Now everyone's just looking for a leg up to their next big thing. Yoongi's not here to be stepped on, and if that's anyone's intention he's going to make sure he slashes up the soles of their feet.

The carpet squelches when he stands up. He wobbles, unsteady and lightheaded with his empty stomach, wonders briefly if Jin would give up his cold front if he passed out, but he doesn't like the idea of hitting his head. Instead he heads for his favourite spot on the rug. He doesn't need to pass so close to Jin's chair but he does, and catches a brief flicker of his eyes upwards. The rug doesn't feel as inviting as normal. He sits with his back to the bed, drags his laptop onto his thighs and stares at the cluttered desktop screen.

It's not as if he and Jin talk a lot - Jin doesn't talk at all, really, unless to ask Yoongi how he wants something, or to reply to a question. He's gratifyingly mute, because if there's one thing Yoongi dislikes more than this constant intrusion in his space, it's a domestic who can't keep their mouth shut. That was the problem with that personal trainer his mother had concieved the mad idea of making him work with. He'd stuck it out for a little over an hour before the guy's relentless monologuing about the importance of a healthy lifestyle induced Yoongi to drop a dumb bell on his foot and walk out. Mindless chatter digs under his skin like burrowing insects: the meaningless verbal relay of two people who don't care in the slightest what the other has to say. It's why he stopped having dinner with his parents, why he'll do anything and everything to avoid the rare social events they expect him to attend. Jin's like a big dumb statue most of the time, and that's one thing Yoongi can admit to liking about him.

This silence is not a mutually agreed one. There's nothing easy and calm about it; there's something lurking behind it. It's a pressed-on silence, a constructed silence. The deluge of unspoken thoughts clangs in the air and deafens him. It doesn't feel like Jin is even there. Or maybe it's Yoongi who's not really there.

He glances around the room to reassure himself: his clothes all over the floor, his recording units jumbled in a belly-up heap, his notebooks slithering along the floor under the capsized desk with his hard, spiky handwriting blackening the pages. It's his room, he tells himself, and Jin's finally figured out that he doesn't belong here. He looks again to the mute, dark figure sitting straight-backed.

Just in case, he slides one leg out and points his foot towards the bathroom, holding the pose for long enough that Jin will have to look at him. "I want a bath. With that hibiscus and rose stuff, and don't skimp on it like last time. And make sure the tub's properly clean, yesterday I found some gross hairs in it - "

Jin disappears into the bathroom without a word. Down on the floor, Yoongi's toes curl into the pile of the carpet and heat surges in his stomach. He almost trips over his pyjama trousers, scrambling out of them on his way over.

Steam is already coiling across the tiles. Yoongi's cheeks flush red but somehow Jin remains composed despite the ragged, sleepless edges. Shimmering red bath soak streams into the water, and for the first time in recent memory Yoongi can find nothing to say as he watches Jin empty out the entire bottle and set it down on the sink. His eyes are round and glassy but there's a savage edge hidden behind them, and Yoongi has to fight not to take a step back.

"Will that be all, Master Yoongi?" he says. He leaves without waiting for an answer. Ignoring the juddering in his ribcage, Yoongi steps into the bath and sinks down. The water scalds him.

Chapter Text

For lunch that day there's this thin, bland broth with some egg thrown on top. A headache is pounding around Yoongi's ears and for a second he contemplates tossing the whole thing across the room at Jin's back. It might get a reaction but the granite in Jin's eyes today stops his hand. Up until now Jin's been an easy toy to play around with; even if he holds back from responding to Yoongi's various tricks, he can't stop the tops of his ears going pink with outrage, or the flushed patches that appear on his cheeks. If it's not quite the reaction Yoongi's hoping for, it's still something. He knows he's having an impact. There's a fine line though, and today he has a feeling that Jin might tip well beyond throwing back a few choice phrases which Yoongi could gather up and flaunt in his face. The poise and quiet of the big figure in the dark suit made Yoongi almost forget why Jin's doing this job in the first place. He remembers how Jin's hand easily made a fist around his bicep, and he stays in the middle of his bed and fumes.

"What's this junk?" His spoon lands with a splash and dark spots scatter onto his sheets. "I'm not a fucking invalid. Why haven't they made me a proper meal?"

Only Jin's back is visible: the seams of his jacket straining across his shoulders, the upturned soles of his shoes. He's kneeling by the dresser, restoring it to a state of order. "Your parents want you to dine with them tonight," he says, and Yoongi doesn't hesitate further in upturning his bowl. It lands with a sick splatter on his mattress and the stain seeps outwards. He's already up on his knees, ready to hurl pillows at that unresponsive back.

"What? Why? Who says? Like hell - like hell am I going to eat with them." His voice sounds reedy and futile even to himself. This has nothing to do with Jin, he already knows. If his parents have requested him at the meal, he'll have to be there, and no amount of protesting will save him. That doesn't mean he's not going to try. Of all the days for his presence to be demanded, when he's already itching at his too-hot skin and feeling nauseous bubbles rise from his empty stomach, when he feels like he's dissolving into the air, a ghost in his own bedroom. "I don't want to," he says. He can hear the weak crack in his words.

"They're eating at nine, so you should think about getting dressed soon." Jin balls up socks like a factory line, doesn't turn even an inch, which makes anything Yoongi might do redundant. The sickness swells in his stomach until his eyes feel like they're going to pop out of his head. Reaching through the heated air is like swimming in oil but he does it anyway, hefts up the nearest pillow and focuses all his strength on propelling it into the back of Jin's head.

Jin stiffens, for the briefest of seconds. Yoongi thinks about the time he'd made Jin search around under his bed, trying to jab past the weighted layer of his endurance, and the drop-lipped undone look on Jin's face when he'd just shaken Yoongi's foot off his head. It couldn't be possible for someone to harden so quickly in such a short time. He sees Jin's hand reach out and pick up the next pair of socks, fumble for a second and then drop another perfect ball on the heap to his left.

"I won't go," he declares, and sprawls back in his bed, tucking his legs out of the mess. Jin finishes with the socks and starts on his underwear. Half an hour later each drawer is back in place and Jin straightens the duvet, covering up the soup stains, and lays a pair of trousers and a shirt down.

After so long spent lounging in his dressing gown, Yoongi chokes in the ironed collar. He slinks into the dining room just before nine, already regretting shoving the suit jacket out of Jin's hands; an icy breeze rolls off the marble floor, and goosebumps pop up on his arms. He slides into his seat opposite his elder brother, engaged in one of those grave, lowered-eyebrow kind of conversations with his father. Yoongi tips half an ear to it, gives up when he doesn't understand half the words, and glowers at his plate.

"It's nice of you to join us Yoongi," his mother says. Even though she's right beside him she doesn't spare a look, too busy twitching the cutlery straight on her napkin. "Sit up properly, please."

His brother's fire poker posture reminds him of the way Jin's spine has been stretched out pylon-straight for the whole day. Yoongi does his best to mimic it but his muscles refuse to co-operate, and his drained out head is pounding. He uses the arms of the chair to prop himself at the table, watching as the maids lay out the first dishes. Scents of seared beef and nuts and anchovies and that wet soy-salt tang drift across the table and Yoongi's stomach flips.

If he could sneak his phone out of his pocket without his mother chiding him for it, he could at least estimate how much longer he had to endure this. As it is, the only reference he has is the way the dishes slowly empty. Then something else will be brought to the table: a cavalcade of things he doesn't want, stringy bits of spinach catching in his throat and slimy egg yolks bleeding over pinkish meat. His father and brother continue their conversation, punctuated by satisfied grunts and lip-smacks. His mother fiddles at her food, all glacial smile and vacant eyes. It's not until the main courses are almost picked clean that Yoongi hears his name again.

"And Yoongi," his father says, like he'd only just arrived. He looks up across the table, like a turtle with the blank discs of his glasses. He's still churning around a mouthful of food. Yoongi wants to gag. "What have you been doing lately?"

"Working on my mixtape." They hadn't refused him the mixing desks and recording units - and even if they had, they'd blessed Yoongi with a credit card far too early in life - but Yoongi knows his parents would rather have him lying around idle than involving himself in that unpleasant sort of music. His father didn't have to know about the lack of completed tracks on his computer. Yoongi's just satisfied to see his lips thin out a trifle.

"Oh, that famous mixtape." His brother sips at his wine, self-satisfaction catching at every corner of his face. The disdain in his words is sharpened by the complete disinterest in his tone, and Yoongi thinks again of that solid, mute pair of shoulders. His shaking muscles mutiny for a moment and he flips his knife off the table.

"Pick that up please," his mother drones.

"And how are you getting on with - ah, with your new companion?" Another bite shovelled into his father's mouth, the eyes unwavering under a troughed brow. He doesn't even remember Jin's name. Yoongi presses his fingers against his forearm. No bruise had appeared after all; there's just the lingering heat of strong, furious fingers closing in.

"Like the rest of them. He's a dope."

"He seems like a good man," his brother says - says it to their father, not to Yoongi. The knuckles of Yoongi's toes crack as he curls his feet in, as his brother gives his useless opinion on the brief time he encountered Jin somewhere around the house, and then the conversation turns to the quality of the servants' quarters, and the impenetrable words pile up again. His mother inclines her head towards him, the first time she's done so for the whole meal.

"I hope you're looking after yourself." Yoongi's heard that tone directed to enough distant relations and casual acquaintances at too many social functions. He makes it through the rest of dinner with his fingernails clawing at the underside of the table, shrinking in his cold skin. As soon as his father produces his cigarettes, Yoongi splinters away.

He's shivering when he gets back to his own room. Stiff fingers worry at his shirt buttons, and one pops off and pings against Jin's leg. Jin flicks through to the last page of his book, not sparing a glance as Yoongi struggles and scrapes his way out of his clothes. From the ice of the dining room to the tropical fug of his bedroom, he can feel his blood come boiling back to life, sending sharp prickles through his extremities. It makes his feet numb and he stutters his way to his bed, landing hard on one knee and gnawing into his tongue to hold back the yelp. He gets his head under the duvet and then lets rip. The scream sets his own ears ringing but he doesn't hear a sound from outside.

The sheets are clean, scraping stiffly against his skin. They don't smell like they should though, and the feathers of his duvet have gathered in lumps in the corners like it hasn't been shaken out. His exposed skin feels like it's beginning to slough off. Yoongi shifts and wriggles until the goosebumps return. Orangeade stench and four hundred thread count cotton snagging at his leg hair. He can't quite believe it.

Silence pulses around the room when he finally pops his head out. Jin's finished with his book and has his hands folded neatly in his lap, his long legs stretched out and his head tipped back. It's unclear whether or not he's actually asleep, but his indifference to Yoongi's discomfort is wholly apparent in the serene lines of his face. The pillow Yoongi threw earlier is still in front of the dresser. There was one man, several years before Jin showed up, who spent most of his time sleeping. Yoongi still shudders when he recalls those wet, dragging snores which would reverberate around the room. There was another who would sit and stare into the mid-distance, unresponsive until Yoongi snapped his fingers right in front of his face. There was the one Yoongi remembers in his sleep to this day, the one who unlocked the door at three in the morning, carried him downstairs and through the side door and into the car, and although he had been indulgent before, once they'd left his home Yoongi only saw raw, cold metal in his face. A lot of men have sat where Jin is sitting. All of them have been upright, impassive, absent to him. He didn't expect Jin to become another one of those men.

Something sour and fragile is on the tip of his tongue. Jin huffs out a peaceful breath, the corners of his mouth tipping up. There's that rosy flush that's always on his cheekbones and he's opened the top button of his shirt. With lips and tongue trembling, Yoongi fists his hands into the duvet and hauls it over his head again. He doesn't plan to surface ever again.

Chapter Text

Somewhere in the baking cave of his sheets, Yoongi tumbles in and out of fractious dozes. Sometimes he could swear he has his eyes open but what appears in his vision isn't the familiar walls of his bedroom but somewhere smaller, danker, where there are clutters and clanks in the corners and low voices parceling him out. Then he wakes, with his lashes glued together, to trammelling silence and the heaping darkness provided by his blackout curtains. Jin left the room hours ago, before Yoongi was really ready to sleep. He hadn't surfaced to protest; what finally brings him out of his burrow, at ten to five in the morning, is the greasy churning in his stomach. Sweating feet and hands slip on the tile of the bathroom but he makes it there just in time. Then he leans his head against the cool porcelain bowl and lets the shivers slam through him. He could fossilise right here, a stony little lump of pains, and no one would know or care.

The sudden influx of rich food makes a couple more reappearances before he's ready to wobble back to his bed. It's getting on for eight now, the sun managing to steal around the cracks of the curtains. Maybe Jin won't bother turning up at all today. Yoongi pitches himself down, all skin and sheets clammy and clinging together, and throws one hand to the side table for his phone. There's one thing he is very good at, and that's ascertaining his own probable causes of death. If no one comes to watch him today, will he live to see the evening? He brings up an online symptoms checker and starts his search.

Halfway through an article about peptic ulcers, the door clicks and Jin enters. Yoongi steals a look from under his lowered eyes: it seems that Jin's using the time freed up by not caring any more on sleeping and eating properly. Even compared to yesterday he looks fresher, a vital kind of glow in his face which reminds Yoongi of the first day they met. He's probably back to his morning workouts, now he's decided not to care. Yoongi slithers down against his pillows a little more, his soaked-through shirt peeling up his back, and goes back to his phone. There's still no word as Jin places the breakfast tray down, but he does pause by the bedside for a moment. A faint cross etches itself betwen his eyebrows as he looks down.

"Are you okay?" His nostrils flare out as the stink of puke from the bathroom arrives in his air space. "Did you get sick?"

"No," Yoongi snaps. If Jin lays that big palm on Yoongi's forehead like he's trying to do, he thinks he might puke again, except this time an organ will come out. He squirms away, curls in on his phone. Aches and unpleasantries criss-cross his ribcage and crush it. The sympathy drops straight out of Jin's face; with a clipped exhale he turns and heads for the curtains. The acidic reek suffocates the air. Yoongi flicks to an article about ricin poisoning and barely reads a word of it.

Of course Jin goes from opening the curtains straight to the mess of a bathroom. Of course he sheds his suit jacket and rolls up his sleeves and gets to work cleaning. It's what he's being paid to do. Yoongi huddles with his cup of much too milky coffee rested on his knees, straining to one side so he can see Jin's back through the doorway. He doesn't make a sound when he works, not even a groan of disgust. It's like he's taken every single bit of that open, eager humanity which was so easy to prod at, and locked it all somewhere in his own room. It's like he's become the dark suit, the sombre figure in the corner.

Yoongi can't remember a time in his life when there wasn't some dark figure looming in the corner of his vision. Between that grave avatar, and the stifling locked up rooms; the weightlessness, rootlessness, and the shrunk down, dangling-thread feeling of being only the second son, it's not really so surprising that Yoongi thinks so much about his own demise. It was good to have something else to think about, even if it was only where he was going to hide Jin's books.

Jin's shoes squeak on the tiles as he leaves the bathroom. He looks to the heap of Yoongi in the bed, his lips pushed out like he might say something, but clearly something in Yoongi's ashy face and hollow eyes dissuades him. He sits down instead, takes another paperback out of his pocket. It's the same colour as the one from yesterday, maybe part of a series. Yoongi hadn't been able to find any common links between Jin's books before; they all had the stamp of the house's library, and the variety was eclectic in an amusingly whimsical way, as if Jin had picked them out according to what appeared in his dream the night before: whale watching, steam trains, old detective novels, religious poetry. The one he has today has a green cover but Yoongi can't read the title.

The article about ricin poisoning is still up on his phone screen. Yoongi tucks his feet closer under him and opens a new tab. His fingers hover over the keypad for a second while he tears into his lower lip with his teeth. This is new territory for him. A fluttering pulse is beating behind his ribcage. He remembers it urging him on before: to slip away and hide in the expanse of the shopping mall, unable to stand the dark wool and worry of the man pinned up against him; it had been there keeping him still and silent while the men in the dark room barked demands into the phone. It's a rare, insistent beat which tells him to act, so he musters strength into his hands and clicks to the search bar.

How to make someone like you again.

His first search doesn't turn up anything of use. He wants his sheets to be soft and his coffee well roasted and for this awful silence to be over, not for Jin to fall in love with him. He tries adding the qualifier "as a friend", finds much of it depends on having been friends in the first place. The headline "how to get anyone to like you instantly" makes his heart jump for a second, until he realises he can't smile or use these empathetic statements if Jin already won't talk to him, or even look at him.

A second search, about what to do when you've made someone angry, turns up a little more information: talk of intentions and admitting that your behaviour has consequences. It makes a sort of sense, but Yoongi's head is spinning by the second article. Just trying to untangle his own intentions is enough to make his already aching head pound harder, without straining beyond that for empathy. Jin, he can only assume, is angry because he didn't get to have his day off - but Yoongi can't turn back time and put up with the horrible coffee he'd been brought that morning by Jin's replacement, or explain how the quiet of the room had been so awful, static and humming like a broken airconditioner. He knew, then, that Jin would come back if he insisted on it. Now he doesn't think insisting will do anything.

He glances up and catches Jin do his half-hour check: a swift, blank look in the general direction of the bed, making sure the Yoongi-shaped lump is still present before he returns to his book. He thinks he hears a heavier than usual exhale of breath but it might be his own. The last of his coffee stings the burnt back of his throat; his skull feels like it's contracting, his eyes too tiny and raw to process the words on the screen. Empathy. Emotional resistance. Accountability. The words pile up just like they had at the dinner table and he's ready to choke on them.

How to make someone stop ignoring you.

All through his clicking Yoongi spares snatched looks up at Jin. He's composed and still and removed; there's nothing embarrassed about him at all, like Yoongi's sure there would be if he were in the wrong. Something starts to flake away in his stomach. It leaves this horrid hollow where something mocking and shameful begins to clang, and he can feel all his indignation at his treatment beginning to drop away because -

Yoongi bites into his tongue, lets his heavy head fall back against the pillows and types in: how to say sorry.

It's a long and complex process, by the looks of things. A single word would have been preferable; Yoongi would spit it out there and then if it were that simple, but it seems that's not how things are done. He remembers, long ago before he'd been pulled out of school for good, being forced to apologise to a classmate for breaking his watch. The teacher had been right next to him, spitting the words into his ear for him to repeat. He feels like he needs a gang of at least twenty men armed with pick axes just to smash this prolonged silence. Jin licks his finger, turns a page. He doesn't know what's thumping in Yoongi's head and he couldn't care less. The distance is for Yoongi reach out, with his weak arms and weak heart and aching eyes, and he's sure he's going to shatter on the floor between the two of them as soon as he tries but he has to try.

Yoongi's never expected himself to live that long. That he made it past his twentieth birthday was an unpleasant enough surprise, and now he's wallowing in the vacuous hinterland of his twenty second year, and before Jin came along he was scraped red raw and ready to evaporate. Every shift in the wind, every tug on his skin, and a bit more peeled away, until he felt like a naked bundle of nerves. Something about Jin's presence blanketed everything, made it softer and gentler and easier to bear. Yoongi was convinced at first that it was all an act, that Jin would crack soon enough just like the others. He didn't - and then he did, and the small glimmer that had begun to glow from the way ahead was firmly out.

If Yoongi's struggling body is going to string him along like this, keep him itching and hurting and feeling for years to come, this atmosphere - this silence where there was fullness - will choke him every step of the way. And with Jin there, he'll never escape. The reaper who watches him, ironically, is the one barring his way from egress.

He can't wrap his head around his own misdeeds, or how he's going to go about this business of 'reparations', or whether it's likely that Jin will forgive him even the smallest bit. Unlike the half-finished tracks in his music program and his manners at the dinner table and his untrained muscles, he has to try.

When Jin leaves the room to fetch his lunch - casting a quizzical eyebrow towards the bed, presumably because of the unnatural docility of its occupant - Yoongi clambers down from the mattress and patters over to his shoe cupboard. The kitchen's a fifteen minute walk from his room, so he has plenty of time to extract the books from their hiding places in the shoeboxes piled at the back. He turns his face away from Jin when he comes back, although he can hear his footsteps still in one place for longer than usual. The clunk of him putting down the tray is more gentle. Yoongi screws his hands tight into his duvet, a breath caught in the bottom of his throat and his cheeks scorched.

He feels Jin hovering there for a moment, hears his half-amused, half-bewildered noise and the movement of his hand halfway to Yoongi's shoulder before he thinks better of it. "Thanks," he says. He doesn't say anything for the rest of the evening, but when Yoongi finally brings himself to look up he sees the smallest trace of a smile.

Chapter Text

Yoongi still feels queasy when the lights go out, but there aren’t many evenings that he doesn’t feel a little bit queasy, whether from a particularly heavy dinner or some earlier upset. He curls around his groaning belly and tries to distract himself thinking about how Jin had finished off the detective novel that evening and the satisfaction curling into his mouth when he found out how it ended. The quiet call of ‘goodnight’ despite the late hour almost makes up for the fact that Yoongi’s clean underwear is irritating his skin just the way it used to. Not for long, he assures himself, piling the duvet in heaps around him as if its heavy softness could press the sickness out of him. There’s a warm sort of feeling around his middle despite his gurgling stomach. He thinks of his sleeping family scattered across the house and manages a spiteful smile. He’s going to manage this all by himself.

By five in the morning the pain has engorged until it feels like it’s carving him in two. The sheets are soaked through and his limbs exhausted by the time the sickness comes. He hardly makes it off the bed, tips his head at a limp angle and lets himself be swallowed by each heave.

He lies there for the rest of the night, pitching between searing, sweating skin and bone-deep tremors, kicking his duvet on and off himself so many times that it loses all shape. The carpet gets sticky and solid; the hothouse air reeks. The joints and cogs of his mind scorch and sunder, scatter and screech about, set every semi-conscious thought spinning. He can’t keep a sentence straight in his head, looks towards the door and thinks he sees it open, sees twin pillars of black-suited legs striding towards him, someone in the corner talking fast into a phone about him and the piled towers of Jin’s returned books mutiply into an insurmountable wall closing in around him. His heart jumps weakly beneath the ruined gold monogram on his pyjama shirt.

This is it; this must be it. The end at last. And he was going to try: he says it with parched lips to the ceiling. For once, he was going to try.

He lies there until morning, on the very edge of consciousness, never quite managing the final step off the edge. Every time his eyelids flutter down, a fresh pain jerks through him, so he’s awake to hear his breakfast tray smash to the floor. Nothing beyond that registers much: there’s a warm, looming presence, gentle hands propping him upright. The wet towel wiped over his face is so deliciously refreshing he almost cries. Without really thinking he grabs out for the first thing he can find. His hands are clammy to the point of sponginess and covered in sick where he’d tried to stopper his own mouth. Jin folds his fingers into Yoongi’s and holds on.

He withdraws a few moments later, hooks one arm under his knees and lifts him back onto his bed, arranging him on his side with the sort of touch he’d use to for a vase of flowers. Yoongi’s eyes feel like they have sand in them when he cracks them open a slit. Everything spins except for Jin’s face, his eyes occupied over Yoongi’s left shoulder, organising his pillows; his mouth is drawn to one side like he’s biting into his cheek. He crouches down, brings his face level with Yoongi. The concern in his gaze makes the pain spike harder in Yoongi’s stomach. If he had the strength, he’d roll away.

“You’re really not well,” Jin says. Sympathy reaches out to Yoongi through everything, the tone of his voice and his big palm covering Yoongi’s forehead and the twist of his mouth. Yoongi’s torso floods with heat and sickness. “Why didn’t you call for me?”

The panic button is right behind the curtains which surmount his headboard. It pipes an emergency signal straight into Jin’s rooms; Yoongi had insisted himself on having it installed a few years ago, after a night spent in sleepless terror watching an unfamiliar shadow prowl about his walls (the housekeeper’s cat, who had somehow made its way into Yoongi’s bedroom and, come morning and the revelation of the truth, made its way out again via the window) and he had contemplated it a lot over the last month. Logic doesn’t answer to fever though. In the delirious heat of his sickness, Yoongi remembered only Jin’s silence.

“You wouldn’t come,” he croaks, and then a hot rush prickles up either side of his nose and he bunches in around his throbbing insides.

The sheets rustle as Jin leans over him, calls his name, pushes soaked and stinking hair out of his forehead. Yoongi doesn’t respond. He feels like a blister that’s popped, a tree that’s been swelling from the rot eating up the insides, where the bark has finally cracked open and putrescence gushes out. His thin arms clasped around his stomach, he wets the sheets further with his tears and every sob that drags through his burnt up throat is like a mouth drawing venom from a bite.

Jin’s weight disappears from the bed. A moment later and Yoongi finds his tears frozen to his cheeks; his whole body pauses. A pure, fresh, icy breeze sweeps through the room. Notebooks crackle as their pages flip; the curtains billow out; his robe, hanging on the wardrobe door, fills out and dances gleefully. Yoongi feels the prickle of cold fingers ruffling his hair. The sound of Jin breathing deeply seems to make the very walls expand and contract along with him.

“That’s so much better, isn’t it? It smelt horrible in here.” He comes back to the bed, and Yoongi stares up. There’s something red and damp about Jin’s eyes; he brushes something off his cheek with one shirt sleeve and sits back down, every movement delicate. “Do you think you can sit up? It might hurt less.”

The clean air trickles down into his lungs as Yoongi turns over. Jin fumbles in his pocket and passes him some tissues, keeping his head dipped until he’s wiped his face, stacking pillows against the headboard for him to lean against. Despite his throbbing head and the eyes that feel puffed up to twice their normal size, something in Yoongi is clear and still like never before. He can actually feel the swept-clean space in the centre of his ribs; if he tapped it, he thinks it would sound hollow. Even though he can hardly hold his head upright he makes himself look at Jin, properly this time.

After all the articles he’d read and the nerves he’d built up, it turns out apologising isn’t something you have to learn. It comes to his mouth as readily as the puke had a few hours ago, but it’s much less painful coming out. “Sorry.”

Jin’s focused on dabbing at something crusted into Yoongi’s hair; his expression, when he glances upwards, suggests he’s on the verge of making a joke. Instead he puts his lips together, the same precise way he folds Yoongi’s sheets onto his bed. “It’s alright. You can’t help getting sick.”

Somehow his hand finds Yoongi’s and he presses it, just enough to let him know that he gets it. Then he gets to his feet.

“No. Stay here.”

“I was just going to run you a bath. You don’t want to sit there all gross, do you?” Jin untangles Yoongi’s fingers from his jacket, drops his hand back to the bed, but he doesn’t turn his back so firmly or finally as before.

A stream of soothing chatter from the bathroom syncopates with the gushing of the water, and when it’s ready Jin comes back and hefts Yoongi up in his arms again, heedless of what’s getting smeared all over his smart jacket. The bath, cool and greenish with aloe vera and mint bath soak, encloses and cools him like a little swamp. Yoongi lets his feet float to the surface, lays his head back and starts to breathe properly again.

“I’m going to get this room sorted out. I’ll be right outside the door though. If you need me just yell, okay?” He leaves the door cracked open and the fresh air keeps sweeping in, snatching steam off the mirrors and making Yoongi’s exposed toes tingle. The pain in his stomach has started to ebb away, and he feels drained, as limp and floppy as a ragdoll, but somehow the weariness which sets through his flesh isn’t an unpleasant one.

When Jin leads him back to bed, the sheets are spotless and there’s barely a stain on the carpet. It’s impressively fast work but then, that’s what servants are paid to do, Yoongi reminds himself. The scent of his sheets, however, tells him that Jin’s finally found a non-scented fabric softener, and there’s a range of light snacks and drinks on the side table, and he has Yoongi’s favourite pyjamas laid out even though Yoongi’s never told him which ones are his favourites. Jin’s being paid to watch; instead, he pays attention. The realisation swims into Yoongi’s light head and sinks itself firmly into his washed out thoughts. He lies back and watches Jin’s hands peel an orange for him.

“Who’s usually here when you get ill?” Yoongi pulls at the inside of his lip with his teeth and says nothing. Jin’s fingers still. “I see.”

It takes some choking to get it out, but Yoongi feels like he owes Jin something: some little piece of his newly settled self, because Jin worked hard when he could have walked away. He could have left Yoongi on the floor in a stinking heap and called someone else to take care of it. He could have figured out the little Yoongi’s worth and traded out a few years of real work for a quick profit. Yoongi thinks that maybe he owes him the same effort. He dredges the truth up like a heap of accidentally swallowed bones. “They don’t like me. No one likes me.”

Jin’s eyebrow twitches up, just enough to let Yoongi know what his first thought is. Lying a little to save Yoongi’s feelings; that’s another thing he doesn’t have to do. “That can’t be true.”

“It is. You know it is. I’m not important to them.” He doesn’t know who he’s referring to any more: the household, his parents, or society at large. The fact remains the same, whichever way it’s tilted. No one needs him to be happy, or involved, or even healthy. All he needs to be is alive and all the men in their dark suits who have trampled their way through his life, their only purpose has been to keep him that way.

He half-expects Jin to come out with some comforting platitude: that everyone is important, that he’s sure Yoongi’s parents love him even if they don’t always show it. Instead he folds his mouth up again and looks down at his lap, at the half-peeled orange, and a funny little hum comes through his nose. “I’ve always thought your life was just - horrible. Right from the first day. I don’t know how you can stand it.”

The huge room enclosing them glitters with expensive toys and exquisite clothing and one of a kind pieces of furniture from all across the globe. The bed they’re sitting on was hand-designed and built to Yoongi’s own specifications. He owns a wristwatch which cost enough money to keep a working class family in stability for maybe four years. Jin has someone else’s vomit on a shirt which he didn’t pay for, and the hair which always escapes from its slicked-back formality and flops into his eyes giving an edge of unswervable sincerity to his expression. And he looks sorry, truly sorry, for Yoongi in his costly hothouse, sickening and withering in the air he himself has staled and sucked dry.

Yoongi pulls his knees into his chest, watches Jin finish his methodical work. “I thought you were just here for the money.”

“I’m here to a do job, of course.” Jin must find something amusing in Yoongi’s guarded expression, because his eyes crinkle at the corners. It’s not his shorter height and younger age which makes Yoongi feel like a child, huddled there on the bed. “Just because money’s involved, why does that have to mean someone doesn’t care at all?”

It only takes him a second look around the room to realise his mistake. Yoongi watches his eyes travel and the twinkle drop out of his eyes.

“When I was abducted that one time,” he says, and wishes he hadn’t told so many lies about it to get his own way. He sees the minute shift in Jin’s eyebrows which signals scepticism. “I overheard them talking about whether my family would rather deal with the press or them. How they could pitch their demands so it would be less expensive than the bad publicity they’d get if they just let me be killed. And how it was a shame they couldn’t get my older brother. He would have been worth a lot more.”

“Yoongi,” Jin says, like a single tentative step.

“The guy who set it all up, he was probably the nicest guy I’d had around until then. He seemed like he cared.”

“Yoongi,” and this one presses in more firmly.

“I believe you. I don’t think you’re faking it. I just don’t get why. If it’s not fake then you must be crazy.” Yoongi screws the duvet into his fists and forces himself to look up. Incredibly, Jin has that same look on his face: calm, reflective, infinitely sympathetic. It makes Yoongi’s chest ache.

After a long moment, Jin puts his hands on Yoongi’s knees, hovers there for a second until he’s sure he’s not going to be kicked away. Despite all the baths and breakfast in bed, it feels like the most intimate they’ve ever been. “Maybe you don’t understand because you’ve never had to care about anything,” Jin says. His gaze is so steady and Yoongi’s sure he can see his words sinking into his mind and beginning their slow digestion. He pats Yoongi’s knees and gets up from the bed. “Will you be alright for a bit while I go change?”

Yoongi replies, “Sure,” without thinking about it. The sound of his voice unmarred by sneers or frustration catches him like a sudden sweet scent. Jin smiles like he hasn’t in weeks.

Chapter Text

A week or so later, when Yoongi's slept enough to recover from his sickness, Jin approaches the bed, clears away the breakfast things and lays out a pair of jeans and a shirt. He's holding his lower lip between his teeth, tentative but resolute. Yoongi picks a bit of cereal out of his back tooth and quirks an eyebrow.

"I get it. You want me to wear clothes from now on." He's never had occasion to feel self-conscious before, not even when Jin had picked him up and he'd felt the strength of his broad chest compared to Yoongi's own xylophone ribcage, but he's had a lot of half-awake time to mull things over. It's not his state of near nudity which makes Jin's nose wrinkle; it's the way it underscores the gap between them. "To do you the courtesy of not making you see my thighs all the time."

Jin's eyes crinkle up in a smile, and Yoongi feels a little internal glow. He's found, as he tries to strip away the nastiness which he's found embedded unpleasantly deep in everything that he does, that what remains is a brusque matter of factness, so acidic that it gets a laugh out of Jin more than he'd expected. Maybe it's also that Jin doesn't feel worried about laughing at him any more. Even though somewhere it still rankles - and he knows it will for a while, because like Jin keeps reassuring him, people can't change overnight - there's a beautiful, bewildering feeling that comes along with making someone laugh. Comparing the two effects he's had on Jin, the stone-faced silence with this warm crease of a smile, Yoongi can start to see the use Jin's always found in positivity.

"Not quite. I mean, not that I wouldn't appreciate you covering up a bit more - and you're going to need to, because I'm never closing those windows again." The breeze still flows in, strong and peppered with the floral scent of the garden, a husk of diesel from the garages on the ground floor, a pinch of cooking spices from the kitchen - a whole palate of new smells wafting around Yoongi as he'd lain in bed. They bring assurance that the world exists beyond his bedroom, and for the first time he's excited about it.

"I don't have to go have dinner with my parents again?"

"No - it's just, since you've been ill I haven't been able to get the carpet properly cleaned. I've got the housekeeper to take care of it this afternoon, and it'll be easier if we're elsewhere. I thought we could go out somewhere. Take a walk or something. Whatever you feel like."

The breeze rakes through the hair on Yoongi's arms. His stomach drops, just a little, and he diverts his gaze down to the bed. The mattress creaks as Jin sits down, tipping his head into Yoongi's eyeline. "I'd rather not."

"We don't need to go outside the grounds, even. Just into the garden."

He wants to say no and kick his clothes onto the floor and hide away under his duvet. But Jin's big hands are firm on his knees, his voice steady as he makes a hundred promises that nothing will happen: "That's what I'm here for, remember?" And he promised the listening air, in his delirium, that he deserved to be saved because he was going to try, so he crawls out of bed and gets dressed, grounding himself in the way Jin's smile spreads across his face when he comes back from his own rooms to see Yoongi lacing up his trainers.

He's changed out of his dark suit; that's the compromise they've made. There's no point being in the sunlight and fresh air with a funereal presence at your side. In a baseball shirt and fraying jeans, with his hair toppling out of its stiff coiffure, Jin somehow looks bigger, softer and stronger, all at the same time. Maybe this was what his father was hoping he would see: someone of his own age, who he could depend on but also connect with.

"I hope Hobeom doesn't see me like this."

Yoongi brushes his concern away. "Psh. I'll tell him I said it was okay. I like you much better like this."

"As demanding as I've seen you be, I'd really like to watch you face Hobeom down." Jin stretches, rolls his arms back, boyishly sloppy now he's not constricted by a collar. "Come on then. They're coming to do the carpet in fifteen minutes."

They take a long route through the house, bypassing the kitchen where Yoongi lurks behind Jin as he charms his way into a bag with sandwiches and fruit for them. Yoongi's ears start to burn when he hears the way the cooks flatter and flirt with Jin; the disapproving glances they throw catch on his skin, and he thinks of the bowls of cereal overturned, the lunches sent back barely picked at. If Jin had a secret plan to show him just where all of his pent up frustration had been littering, it's working. He can hardly breathe when they break through the back door, and heads immediately for the shade of the big trees which crowd the back wall. The sun is high, crackling autumn orange, and the lawn so green it makes something that isn't his eyes ache. He skulks by one trunk, as big as six of him tied together, and waits for Jin to catch up.

"What's wrong?"

It takes Yoongi a second of squinting through the leaves and scuffing one toe in the dirt before he can form his question. "What's it like? When people are like that with you - when they're pleased to see you and want to do stuff for you? Why are they like that with you?" He sounds angrier than he feels, like Jin's popularity with the kitchen staff is a personal affront on him. Really, he's only angry at himself. He glances up; Jin doesn't look insulted, just pensive. He takes his time answering as well, wandering out of the shade enough that Yoongi has to follow him.

"You know, we're almost perfect opposites." He looks down, the sunlight slanting across his face and bronzing his skin, and without a word he hands Yoongi a pair of sunglasses, right as his eyes start to water. "Not just because you're wealthy and I'm not but - I suppose this sort of thing comes naturally to me. I grew up knowing people cared about me, and I've always cared about people. I knew that there were people in the world who didn't care about anyone, but I'd never met one before."

Yoongi opens his mouth to protest, doesn't get further than the first sound. There's a friendly flatness in Jin's expression telling him not to bother. He's insulted because it sounds like an insult, not because it's untrue. Instead he gives an awkward one-shouldered shrug and nudges them on a little further into the garden, where the manicured lawn is broken up by blossom-laced hedges. A man only a few years older than the two of them stands halfway up a ladder, pumping insect spray across the top branches. Getting rid of pests, Yoongi thinks, and remembers again all his father's platitudes about flexibility which aren't borne out by his own lifestyle. Having money means you can always have things your own way.

"Is it a rich person thing? Does having money make you like this?"

"I don't think so," Jin says. "If I got wealthy tomorrow, I don't think I'd be like that. And there's lots of wealthy people who do good things with their money. No, I think the biggest thing is ignorance."

The grounds stretch far further than Yoongi remembers. The last time he wandered out here, he must have been ten or so, just before that terrifying night with the blinded bumpy car ride and the cold granite floor of the basement. Despite the lack of human noise, the air is full of movement: humming insects, whispering leaves, birds trilling, and beyond that an irresistable dynamic sense of growth. If he shuts his eyes he can feel the earth move beneath his feet, roots searching and animals burrowing and even the creak as they turn through space. Far in the distance, beyond the trim edges of hedge and lawn, there are trees bristling into the sweet blue sky. He breathes, sucks it all deep in and it almost overwhelms him.

At his side Jin's never looked more at peace, sturdy frame planted against the ground, hauling clean air into his lungs. Yoongi's designer jeans and brand-name sweatshirt don't stop him from feeling small and grubby. Like he can sense his discomfiture, Jin drops one hand on Yoongi's shoulder. When it's not shaken away, he tightens his fingers.

"I know you want there to be a quick fix. But it's really surprisingly easy, learning how to be good to the world, especially when you find out how much good there is in it. I think it must take a lot more effort to find ways to be unpleasant to it."

Yoongi's not sure that's true - or maybe it's just the habits he's fallen into. He can think of a hundred ways to spoil this moment, some of them so wickedly amusing that it takes concerted effort to hold himself back. It takes much longer, however - nearly ten minutes, during which Jin raises his face to the sun and points out a butterfly and leans closer to the rose bushes to nuzzle at the blooms - to think up something good. Then there's another effort needed, not to scowl and stamp off because Jin's smothering a smile at the way he shuffles and tugs at his sleeve.

"Don't laugh at me, you'll like this."

"I'm not laughing at you," Jin says. He is, but he follows Yoongi through the walkways and past the rows of pear trees without a word. The summerhouse is still there, overgrown and forgotten with the rotting wooden seat where Yoongi had fallen asleep during the summer heat which kept him away from school, and the dank little stone patio with the dappled shadows where he'd hidden from nannies and guards until one of them told his parents it was unsafe and had him banned from going there. His heart starts to feel too big from his chest as he watches Jin look over every inch of the place with unsuppressed delight. "That statue looks like me," he grins, tracing the features of the stone boy crouched on the edge of the pool.

"Anatomically correct too?" Yoongi tries. His laughter escapes him just a second after Jin's, blasting the cobwebs from the bottom of his belly and stretching his chest to make room for everything blossoming inside him.

Chapter Text

From Seokjin's view at the top of the stairs, the reception room below blooms like a tropical hothouse. Jewels wink like shining insects; parrot-bright colours swoop in and out among the pillars of sombre black and blue; the twit and trill of chatter hops about glossy peaks of hair. Seokjin runs a finger around his collar and breathes in the conmingling of a hundred different perfumes and dishes and flowers. His head sizzles as he breathes out. Yoongi laughs at the way his hands tighten on the banister.

"Scared?" He gleams up at Seokjin, playful but not a step beyond teasing. Seokjin takes the light punch aimed at his upper arm without a word of complaint.

"As much as ever." Leaning further across the balastrade, Seokjin watches the procession of costly dresses and elegant champagne flutes swirl around the reception room to a graceful measure. It's not the first social function he's been to in the last year, not even the biggest, but it's certainly the most impressive. When Yoongi's reclusive family open their doors, they do it with the consummate elegance of royalty. Only the cream of society are invited, and even those favoured few are tremulously aware of the rarity of the event. Compared to the other parties Seokjin's accompanied Yoongi to, where there were more guests and no sense of being invited to glimpse past the veil, this gathering has an atmosphere he's never encountered before. It hums lightly above the heads of the attendees, a sort of diffuse light touching each of them from the amber glow of the chandeliers and the rich reddish tints in the woodwork. It's otherworldly. It's like they've been invited into a fairy palace.

At his side Yoongi looks every inch the prince of this realm. He's still small and slender, but the slow burgeoning of his vital instincts has brought a new colour to his cheeks, a vibrance to his eyes which were so dead when Seokjin had first met him. If he manages himself correctly he can make anyone watching forget about his size. His new self-possession, the upright posture of his spine and the jut of his chin, chime perfectly with his immaculate black suit and grey brocaded dress coat. Yoongi had certainly matured in the last year but he retains a flair for the dramatic which keeps his temper just on the interesting side.

Seokjin himself has been out of the black suit for long enough that his collar is chafing after only ten minutes. He tugs at it again, sends down a sideways glare when Yoongi pinches him hard on the waist. "Stop fidgeting. Everyone will think you have fleas."

"I'm fine," he protests - and he is, he's spent over a year now in this sort of company, dealing with every attitude from imperious to dismissive to repulsed, and if that hadn't shorn up his self assurance he'd have been condemned for life. But he's not going into this company as a servant to be looked down on. This time he's entering in Yoongi's company, at his side and dressed with equal care, because Yoongi had insisted so, had refused to show up at one more function if Seokjin had to trail around behind him with, 'that disgusting looking ear piece'.

Seokjin isn't sure what makes him more nervous: the idea of entering the party down below as an equal, or the fact that Yoongi had been the one to insist on it.

They've both come a long way. The last year has been a beautiful process of learning and growing, and while Seokjin can do his job now with far less obstruction, and Yoongi has finally found a way to live without sinking into stupor, there are still bridges they've not had time to cross. It was a milestone when Yoongi allowed for the first time that Seokjin might be more to him than an employee. For over a year Seokjin has brought Yoongi his breakfast, nursed him through illness, even chastised him when he misbehaved - and they talk now, more than Seokjin would ever had thought possible in that first miserable week. That Yoongi had anything to talk about beyond petty complaints - and that he would ever value Seokjin's replies - he wouldn't ever have predicted. These days when they stay up until three am it's usually because neither of them have noticed the time. Still, a distance remains. Seokjin can't complain about it, because it does respect the propriety demanded by their relevant positions. That doesn't mean he doesn't harbour hopes of bypassing it, someday.

Those hopes looked like they might be fulfilled when this function was announced. The message had been delivered in the usual way: Min Senior's secretary, always with a thin spindle of drool sliding from one side of his cracked mouth, hands over an envelope to Seokjin and disappear from the dim passage where he'd come. Seokjin hands the letter on to Yoongi and waits to see his reaction. He's seen just about every expression of contempt Yoongi can muster for his parents' wishes, from tearing the paper into small pieces and spitting on them, to turning over in bed and going directly back to sleep.

He'd never seen Yoongi just limply let the letter drift to the sheets. When Yoongi asked him to read it himself, his sudden white-cheeked look of resignation made sense. The upcoming function sounded terrifying, and he wasn't the one who was going to be 'presented' at it.

So he's there, at Yoongi's request. Partly, he knows he is responsible for Yoongi's transformation into such a reasonable, near-stable young man that his father had considered him finally worthy of presentation. Partly - mostly - he's there out of genuine sympathy for Yoongi. Seokjin had been nervous enough about taking the stage at his graduation ceremony, one in a long line of identically dressed and broad-shouldered young men. Being alone on the enormous platform at the far end of the reception room, with every twinkling eye tweezing off parts of you for judgement - he understands the uncharacteristic quaver of Yoongi's voice when he asked for Seokjin to come with him.

And he understands this now as well: the semi-conscious way Yoongi's fingers worry into his side, and the quirk of his mouth as he chews at the inside of his lip. Seokjin's nervous but he's nowhere near as nervous as Yoongi, so he submits to being prodded at and tries to smile his most reassuring smile back. It seems to work; Yoongi drops the invasive fingers and stands still, toes cocked inwards, looking down on the crowded floor like he's listening for something.

"I guess we should get down there and start mingling."

"It's about time," someone says from behind them. It's Hobeom, particular and dark as always with the comb tracks embedded in his slicked back hair. He gives Seokjin's own loose fringe a once over, clicks his tongue disapprovingly, but the sight of Yoongi so active and out of his bedroom is far more interesting than Seokjin's mop of hair. "You look well, Master Yoongi."

Despite the remove of his words there's real warmth in his tone. Seokjin watches Yoongi roll his eyes and shove at Hobeom's arm, and it's an effort to stop his jaw from dropping. "Where have you been old man? Not seen you since that time at the shopping centre."

"When I had to explain to the city police why a grown man was having a mental breakdown in the centre of the main court? I apologise if I wasn't clamouring to see you again after that."

"What happened to that guy?"

Hobeom fixes Yoongi with a sharp glare. "He took early retirement. Moved to the country with his wife and children. I won't expect you to express remorse." Yoongi folds his lips, looks cheeky.

"You mean the guy who had my job before me?" Seokjin's having trouble keeping up; he'd certainly had no idea during his initial interviews that Hobeom had ever been so closely involved in Yoongi's personal security - although, looking back, he probably should have guessed.

"I've been meaning to congratulate you for a while. You've taken a very tedious job off my perennial to-do list by sticking around."

"Hiring Jin was probably the smartest thing you've done in your life," Yoongi says, smirking and dodging away as Hobeom's hand lifts, as if by instinct, into the air by his ear. Seokjin chokes on a breath which he's still struggling to regain as Hobeom turns them by their elbows and directs them gently but firmly towards the stairs.

"You'd better make me proud tonight," he says, and Seokjin doesn't know if he's speaking to him or Yoongi. Yoongi turns, blows a kiss over his shoulder and cackles.

"Old Hobeom. Always good for a laugh. I was pretty horrible to him last time we spoke but I've missed him."

Seokjin turns just in time to see that crabby awkwardness shade Yoongi's cheeks, the way it still does whenever he admits to feeling anything beyond ennui and spite. It's one habit that will take a long time to break. He lets Yoongi gather his composure before he presses. "He's always hired your guards, then?"

"Yeah. Well, he's head of security, it's his job, but he always took it extra seriously. Especially after that one guy who - you know." Yoongi shivers a little as they descend the staircase; it's either that or the crush of the crowd that presses him up into Seokjin's side, until he can feel Yoongi's elbow against his hip. "He'd usually come and check up on them all the time but he never did with you. I thought it was just because I called him so many names last time we spoke. Maybe he didn't think you needed checking up on."

Seokjin recalls the few conversations he'd had with Hobeom since taking the post: the silent challenges, the subtle hints of how easy it would be to quit; the peculiar, almost excited gleam in Hobeom's eyes when he'd determined to stick around. He'd wanted a mentor so badly, at the beginning, had hated feeling abandoned to the whims of this horribly over-indulged little rich boy, but once Hobeom had registered his distance that had turned into a single minded determination that verged on bloodymindedness. He had fought his way through the dense brambles of Yoongi's personality with nothing but his own strength to sustain him, reufsing to be scared off or driven away. And the result had been this: Yoongi trotting at his side, making easy conversation even while his gaze slid around the crowd, measuring and judging and always ready to share his observations with Seokjin. He'd worked and pushed and stood in silence and after a year, they are here: somewhere beyond employee and employer, beyond master and servant. The way Yoongi fixes his fingers into the crook of Seokjin's elbow and tugs him in the direction of the buffet says 'friend'.

They load up two plates: Yoongi pokes fun at how wide Seokjin's eyes go when he looks over the range and quality of the food on offer; Seokjin laughs back and shows Yoongi how he can clasp his fingers around one upper arm.

"You need to eat more. Have another piece of pork belly."

"Like you need to get meatier." Yoongi pulls at a glass of champagne and Seokjin's so busy laughing at the face he makes when the bubbles shoot the wrong way up his nose that neither of them notice the approach of Min Senior.

"Are you boys having fun?" With his round glasses and shiny dark suit, he looks like an inquisitive elderly turtle. Seokjin would start laughing again if he didn't notice the way Yoongi's drawn himself in and pulled stiff. He's never seen Yoongi with his parents before; at previous functions they'd always pulled him off to one side, and Seokjin, still restricted in his role as a servant, had kept discreetly in the shadows despite his hunger to eavesdrop. Now Min Senior's watery eyes are swimming between them as if he can't quite remember which of them sprung from his loins.

"The food is excellent," Seokjin says, just to cover up the awkward silence. Embarrassing as it is, it's worth it for the way Yoongi's shoulders drop again and he shakes his head.

"We could have Park Geun-hye here and all you'd care about would be how much steak you could get in your mouth before you had to drink a toast to her."

Maybe it's the acidic bite of Yoongi's voice that rings a bell; his father's eyebrows come together in a tiny 'aha!' moment and he fixes his eyes on his son triumphantly. "Yoongi, don't tease our guests like that. I'm pleased to hear our hospitality is appreciated." He creaks to a halt there, like he's waiting for someone to put coins in a slot. From behind, slicing like a shark through the swathes of people, comes Hobeom's razor-sharp collar; he leans into Min Senior's ear and mutters something. The old man jolts back to life. "Seokjin."

Seokjin blinks rapidly between the absently hospitable eyes behind the glasses and the barely repressed hilarity on Yoongi's face, and then settles somewhere over one bowed down shoulder at Hobeom, resting his forehead in his palm. "I'm - it's a pleasure, sir," he stutters. Yoongi turns back to the buffet table and bends over a salad bowl, catching his breath in harsh gasps.

"It's nice for my son to have someone here his own age," Min Senior continues, nodding amiably now he thinks he's figured out who Seokjin is. "These functions can be a little dry for young people. I recall when I was your age - "

Whether it's the desperate look from Seokjin or the wild snort from Yoongi, Hobeom coughs against his shirt cuff and taps the old man on the shoulder. "Excuse me sir, Seo Jung-Jin has arrived."

The swimming gaze dims away from Seokjin. He lets himself breathe, edges to one side so he can gently crush Yoongi's foot under his own. "Excellent. Well, you boys enjoy the rest of the evening. Yoongi, Hobeom will give you your instructions when it's time. You will make me proud. And Seokjin, do tell your father I'm looking forward to hearing of the new improvements on data blocking, it's been rather a fraught few months for - yes yes, I'm on my way." The crisp noise Min Senior makes in the back of his throat as Hobeom urges him away is pure Yoongi, plus fifty years and a great many lessons in patience. Seokjin looks down at Yoongi's watering eyes and bitten down bottom lip and he doesn't quite know what to say first.

"Who does he think I am?"

"I have no idea." It's not terribly dignified to have Yoongi howling with laughter like that, but once he's done the nerves have been jostled out of him and he stands far more easily at Seokjin's side. "Hey, you might be the least wealthy person in this room, but you probably have the best grip on reality." A quick pause, a skimming over of Seokjin's suited figure, standing out sturdy and large among the delicacy surrounding them. "You're definitely the best looking as well."

Seokjin's eyebrows fly up at Yoongi's turned-away shoulder. He's perfectly at ease when he turns back, cocking his head to one side as he layers another thick slice of pork onto Seokjin's plate. Seokjin foregoes whatever he was going to say to keep that relaxed expression in place, and diverts his attention to his plate instead. "I hope I at least wear my suits less clumsily."

"Yep. And this one's way more flattering than the undertaker get up." Fingering at the hem of Seokjin's dove coloured waistcoat, Yoongi's intent eyes suggest he's studying the cut of the outfit he'd personally overseen, making sure every stitch is where he'd dictated. If it were just the two of them, Seokjin might call attention to the light pink flush on the rims of Yoongi's ears. Instead he cuts his eyes across the table to the ornate metalwork clock and lets Yoongi twitch his buttons straight. "What's the time?"

"Fifteen minutes to."

The build up for the big moment is beginning. With glasses in hand, floor-length skirts swirl and shining toecaps click across to one side of the hall, and the lights across the raised platform dim to molten gold. Piercing through the crowd again, Hobeom's shining head appears, cutting a path straight for them. Yoongi twists away from his approach, using Seokjin's chest as a shield. In his year of employment, Seokjin's seen nearly every shade of refusal from Yoongi: fuming muteness, furious projectiles, floods of almost poetic obscenities, even flailing tantrums which would put a toddler to shame. This is the first time he almost misses it. With hair falling across his cheeks and his gaze turned to the floor, Yoongi speaks right against the soft fabric of Seokjin's waistcoat: "I don't want to do this."

Hobeom spots them, slips gracefully past an elderly woman in a lilac dress, raises his hand to the two of them. Seokjin sucks in a breath, feeling the tremors in Yoongi's outwardly steady frame through the palm of his hand. He presses his fingers into the bones of his shoulder and leans down. "It's going to be okay. You've got this."

"I mean, I don't want to do this." He jerks his head up and Seokjin feels a twist near his stomach where Yoongi's screwed a fist into the front of his clothes. White-knuckled and damp about the eyes, he looks as terrified as the night when he'd thought he was dying. "All these people - this society, Jin. I don't want to join it. I don't want to be like my parents."

Over his shoulder, Seokjin locks eyes with Hobeom. He halts a few steps away from them, looks from the visible tufts of Yoongi's hair to Seokjin's curled over torso. His locked safe of a face creaks open, just an inch, and Seokjin thinks the way his mouth twists is the closest he can get to expressing affection. Then, with a brief nod, he melts back into the crowd.

"You don't need to be like them. It's just - "

"You know that's not true." It's quick and fierce, but not angry, and Yoongi tugs at the front of Seokjin's shirt, imploring him to listen. "You know once I do this they'll want me to go to all sorts of things. Get involved in the business. Maybe even get married, like my brother. It's not fair. They didn't care before and now they think I'm useful, they'll try to take over everything. I don't want to be like that. I don't want to - "

He takes one savage breath in, glaring up, and all Seokjin can think about is how much in his eyes has changed. Back on that first day, when Yoongi looked half-dead, when all his face expressed was scorn or boredom, and Seokjin had tried so hard to lock himself up in his dark suit, and neither of them had really understood. Seokjin knows now that Yoongi was watching him far more closely than he was Yoongi; he's seen the secretly snapped pictures, been snowed in by the most trivial of questions about his life which Yoongi's sheltered mind had spun wild stories about. He wonders how he never saw that, how Yoongi's eyes only ever seemed like zeroes to him: round, blank, malevolently empty.

Today they're wide open and piercing, deep brown catching the golden light of their surroundings, and they're as full as the window beyond. There's a future there, newborn and in need of protection. Everything behind Seokjin is dusty and predictable and all that is beyond the wide window sprawls, peacefu and inviting. Yoongi tilts his face towards it and looks back to Seokjin, begging his understanding.

Seokjin's hands close over Yoongi's fist full of cloth. "I can't do anything about your parents. You know that. But I'll keep doing what I'm here to do."

There's the talks that last for hours, and books to be finished, and the garden always waiting for them to breathe in and feel the pulse of the sustaining earth. There's infinitely more beyond the carved poise of the reception room and their choking collars. Seokjin doesn't think in poetic terms often, but as Yoongi clutches his hands it occurs to him that he was employed to protect a life, and ended up rescuing it. He doesn't dress like an undertaker any more. He won't be responsible for burying anything again.

The clock ticks towards seven, and Hobeom glides just as silently out of the crowd and takes Seokjin's elbow. If he notices their clasped hands, he doesn't show it. "It's time."

Their palms press together one more time and Seokjin watches Yoongi ascend the steps of the platform, watches everyone grow silent and turn towards him, watches his father and mother at the other side of the room hold their heads at angles of polite interest as he begins to speak. It's not the Yoongi he knows, spitting bile or lacing together delicate webs of untruths or slinging insults casually like he has unlimited ammunition; the boy on the stage is as put together as the clock on the wall, mechanical and unfaltering. But all the self-possession in the world couldn't erase the wicked glint of Yoongi's eyes when he catches Seokjin staring up from the expanse of bobbing heads.

He finishes his speech with a stiff little bow, but he's not quite out of reach of the microphone when he starts laughing. The sound of Seokjin's big hands clapping together ricochets off the high ceiling. Crystal glasses shiver, diamond earrings chink, and only Hobeom's broad back covers the two of them as they slip away, flushed and giddy, from the clamour of the hothouse, to the cool peace of the garden.