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For Now, Forever

Chapter Text

“Goodbye to this place
that we grew attached to
Let’s move now
to a higher place.”
Move, BTS

March 2015

Madness arrives in the form of packing boxes, college registration, and the impending release of Rap Monster's mixtape. In the midst of Japanese translations and Red Bullet concerts bracketing the month of March, their managers announce that they are moving.

Sure, yes, it's a monumental dream come true. No more communal bunks, no more cramped kitchen, no more musty ondol or piles of shoes outside their door. But, the logistics of packing the accumulated belongings of seven people within a time frame diced up by classes, choreo practice, and concerts seems like a task worthy of Hercules.

Add to this a text from Minyeong about an impromptu inspection, and Namjoon thinks his head might explode.

The dorm buzzes with activity as Namjoon minces through a labyrinth of boxes, a notepad in one hand, his phone in the other. Seokjin and Taehyung huddle in the kitchen, bubble-wrapping bowls and plates. He motions for them to follow, and they do, squeezing around the barricade of boxes to join the others in the bunkroom. They walk in on an argument between Jimin and Yoongi over what constitutes a keepsake versus what is trash. So far, stuffed animals have made the cut, whereas movie stubs and delivery menus have met with the garbage bin.

“Hey, guys,” Namjoon says. “Minyeong-nim's on his way over.”

They all tense, each for different reasons. Taehyung growls, “Why him?”

Seokjin's eye twitches as he answers, “You know why.”

Namjoon doesn't know the specifics of what happened after Tokyo, but he can guess this means Seokjin finally told Taehyung about Minyeong's visit in Singapore and his vague threats to expose them.

“So...” Namjoon continues, “I'd like you all to go for coffee. Hang out a while, get dinner, wait for my all-clear. Okay?”

Yoongi purses his lips. “What are you up to, Joon?” he asks.

“I want to meet with him alone,” Namjoon says. “To find out what he knows.”

Namjoon fully expects a conflict over this. He's outlined a dozen responses to their possible objections, so he's vaguely disappointed when they all just readily agree.

Though perhaps he should have guessed. It's mid-March. The cherry blossoms have burst into fragrant brilliance, and they've been trapped indoors for days, elbows-deep in packing crates.

So they bustle into the stale hallway, leaving Namjoon to wait, bouncing on his heels for a bothersome stretch of minutes before Minyeong finally arrives.

Park Minyeong is not a tall man. But as he slips from his shoes in the small foyer, Namjoon notes that he tends to inflate himself into the available space. He angles to greet Namjoon, chin raised, chest puffed, and then pauses to tilt his head.

“The others have gone out,” Namjoon says in response to Minyeong's unspoken question. Minyeong's jaw tightens. His nostrils flare. Namjoon understands that Minyeong must adjust his tactics, which is what Namjoon wants: a one-on-one conversation, man to man.

“Ah, well,” Minyeong says, stepping past Namjoon into the kitchen. “They aren't necessary to my mission today.” He peers into boxes, nodding to himself as he moves into the common room.

“And what is your mission, sir?” Namjoon asks.

Minyeong riffles through the box of receipts Hoseok had been organizing. He smears his finger along the top of the TV and rubs the dust into his thumb. He says, “I'm checking your progress. Seems you have a long way to go. Will you be ready by the 26th?”

“Of course, sir,” Namjoon answers.

“Of course,” Minyeong echoes, but the phrase sounds acidic on his tongue. He brushes into the bunkroom, hands laced behind his back, hunting for something to criticize. If he finds evidence of them slacking, he can report back to Bang PD that he had to crack the whip to get them moving.

But Namjoon knows that they are, in fact, ahead of their schedule. They followed Hoseok's suggestion, concentrating their efforts on getting from point A to point B, knowing they'll have more time to unpack later. They worked long into the night since Friday, moving most of their personal belongings into the new dorm before dawn.

Still, Minyeong glowers, like he smells something foul. Probably the ondol, Namjoon thinks, which reeks of onions and feet, and will be one of a thousand things he won't miss about this place.

Minyeong turns to catch Namjoon grinning. He snatches upon it like an owl seizing prey. “I fail to find humor in your lack of progress,” Minyeong says. “You'll need to clean this place once everything is moved, and with the number of boxes remaining, you'll need an extension into May to get it all done.”

“No, sir,” Namjoon answers, in a voice that seems calm. “We will meet the deadline of the 26th, and the dorm will be spotless.”

Minyeong glares at Namjoon, as if searching for a challenge in his words. Namjoon has observed Minyeong long enough to know that he needs only to answer his questions, to speak respectfully, and to volunteer nothing. Minyeong likes to ruffle them. He likes to see them flustered. Complaints and back-talk make Minyeong feel justified, and Namjoon knows better than to add fuel to that fire.

So he waits. Minyeong shuffles around in the kitchen, rummaging through cabinets, picking through bins. He inspects the bathroom tile. He lifts the toilet lid with his toe. He grouses over a dent in the common room wall, the remnant of a b-boy contest gone wrong. Namjoon weathers Minyeong's litany of remarks, fighting the urge to speak in defense of the others. He knows how futile it would be, so he follows, biting his tongue while biding his time.

When they return at last to the foyer, Minyeong hovers, picking at his nails. He says, “I will need to see the room manifest before the move is finalized.”

Ah. There it is. Namjoon says, “I have it here, actually.”

Namjoon passes the notepad to Minyeong, flipping past several scribbles of incomplete songs to the sketched floor plan of their new place.

Minyeong steps in, far too close, to study the sketch. “There are four bedrooms,” he says. “Why is this one empty?”

“We're using it for storage now,” Namjoon answers. “Once we've unpacked, we'll decide who gets it.”

“I see you've separated Kim Seokjin and Kim Taehyung,” Minyeong says.

“Yes, sir,” Namjoon says.

Minyeong coughs a small chuckle. He says, “I imagine they disliked that arrangement.”

They had. Taehyung had railed for days to share with Seokjin, but Yoongi finally silenced him by saying, “You don't get to room with the guy you're banging, Taehyung. At least not on paper.”

Seokjin consoled Taehyung by assuring him that they could swap with Yoongi whenever they liked. Plus Taehyung got to bunk with Jimin and Hoseok. The whole lot of them were loud, cuddly night people, so the compromise worked in everyone's favor.

But Namjoon says, “No, sir. Seokjin-hyung's a light sleeper, and Taehyung-ie talks in his sleep.”

Minyeong chews as he considers this. He says, “We have to look out for them, you see.”

Namjoon quells a small flicker of alarm. He asks, “What do you mean, sir?”

Minyeong runs his tongue along his bottom teeth. “They aren't like you and me,” he says. “They don't see the bigger picture. But you know how things can appear to an outsider's eye. How... treacherous it can be.”

A chill slides like ice down Namjoon's spine. Interesting choice of words, treacherous. Far more sinister than dangerous or uncertain. Far more pointed, and Namjoon understands the implication behind it. “Yes, sir,” he answers.

Minyeong pats Namjoon's shoulder as he toes back into his shoes. He says, “I will report your progress to Bang PD-nim, but nothing more.” As he opens the door, he adds, “For now.”

Once Minyeong is gone, Namjoon sends a text to the group chat calling everyone home. They return quickly, bearing Burger King for him like it's an offering.

Namjoon feels a sense of rightness as he ranges them around the common room, among the half-packed boxes of their former life. In so many ways, once they leave this dorm, they part forever from the childhood of their trainee days. So maybe it's wise to talk about their future now, as a safeguard against the things that may come.

Without preamble, Namjoon says, “Minyeong-nim probably knows about you two.” And then, before they can react, he moves from discussion to action. “It's time, I think, for us to implement some rules of our own, so that we'll be able to keep each other safe.”

 

Chapter Text

“If there’s a chance, I’ll catch you
I’m running, it’s starting, count down
I’m ready to be cut by your rose-like embrace,
as I hold you again.”
Hold Me Tight, BTS – written by Kim Taehyung

April 2015, Part One

Seokjin is loud.

At first, Taehyung thought this was solely for his benefit – Seokjin's way of letting him know his work is appreciated. Over time, Taehyung has learned it's more than that. It's defiant, territorial; his way of staking claim.

But only when it's allowed. When Seokjin's certain they're alone. And by alone, he means there are no members or managers in the adjacent rooms. But when they're certain no one can hear them, Seokjin yowls like a kid on a roller coaster.

Taehyung loves it. It makes him feel wanted, exalted, adored.

And after, once Seokjin dissolves into stunned laughter and they curl together, Taehyung clings to the echo in his ears.

Seokjin drapes his arm around Taehyung's shoulders. The room sighs around them, dust motes and pine pollen adrift on the soft air from the open window. Street sounds fill in the blanks as they slowly breathe themselves back down to the world.

“I wish—” Taehyung says it before he's really thought it through.

Seokjin smooths his thumb along the curve of Taehyung's jaw. “What does my VV wish?”

Taehyung shifts his weight to rest his chin on Seokjin's collarbone. “I want them to hear us,” he says.

“Who?” Seokjin asks.

“Them,” Taehyung answers. “Everyone. I want the whole world to be wild with envy.”

Seokjin knuckles Taehyung's ribs, and he convulses with laughter. Seokjin catches him, pulls him tight against his chest. The blanket he hugs to their shoulders smells of candle wax. It feels scratchy against Taehyung's bare skin, but in a good way. He likes the salty starch of the sheets, the way they feel damp from the humidity.

“They would be wild with envy,” Seokjin muses. “You have the best tongue on the planet.”

Taehyung bites his lip. He says, “Tell me more.”

Seokjin props up on his elbows. “There should be a point-rank system of some kind – a championship, maybe? – because you would definitely take first place.”

Taehyung laughs. “Next challenger on Korea's Top Tongue—”

“—Not just Korea,” Seokjin cuts in. “The whole world.”

“Well, I'd have to qualify first. There would be finals and then semi-finals, multiple rounds of competition—”

“—No.” Seokjin turns sullen. “No, I changed my mind.”

“But I'm a contender,” Taehyung teases. “You said I have a real shot.”

Seokjin pouts. “I don't want to share.”

“Aw, my silky prince is jealous.” Taehyung arches up to bite Seokjin's chin.

“I am not jealous,” Seokjin says. His eyes twitch.

Taehyung goes, “Aww,” and Seokjin jabs him in the hipbone, prompting a spasm that almost catapults them from the bed.

“Don't touch the floor,” Seokjin warns, dragging Taehyung back to the center. “It's sticky.” Then his lips curl into a smile as he says, “Hey, Taehyung-ah—”

“—No, hyung,” Taehyung says, trying to cut him off, but...

“What's brown and sticky?”

“No.” Taehyung shakes his head for emphasis.

But Seokjin says, “A stick.”

And Taehyung groans as Seokjin honks like a goose.

“That's it, I'm leaving,” Taehyung says, but Seokjin snags his wrist.

“You're my prisoner,” he says, “And you have to be grateful for me, and love me for the rest of your life.”

Though Seokjin's tone sounds playful, Taehyung detects the tremble beneath the words. He notices it more now since Tokyo, and it makes him think of jagged rocks beneath the surface of a calm pool of water.

“I am,” Taehyung assures him. “And I will be.”

“Promise?”

“I promise,” he says.

Taehyung rests his head on Seokjin's chest. For a moment, he listens to Seokjin's heartbeat, which is slightly elevated, even though he's pretending to be calm. From this angle, Taehyung can see an empty chips packet beneath the vanity table. He hopes Seokjin doesn't see it. That kind of thing bothers him more than he lets on.

They've used this love hotel several times, but it's greasy in the way that Seokjin hates. The last time they were here, he insisted they switch rooms after finding a clot of yellow hair clogging the bathtub drain. The carpet bears cigarette burns, and the TV only plays Japanese porn. But the ahjussi at the desk wouldn't know Bangtan from Beethoven, so it's a safer option than the high-quality place in Myeongdong. Two weeks ago, some Brazilian tourists recognized him and Seokjin in the lobby. Said tourists tried to convince the concierge to sneak them up to their room, hence their return to the shabby-yet-familiar hovel in Sinsadong.

The Myeongdong place better fits Seokjin's tastes. Yet he chooses to be here because it's the only way they can be alone. This tugs on Taehyung's heart like the dull edge of a razor blade.

“I really do wish they could hear us,” Taehyung says.

“The whole world, you mean?” Seokjin asks. He's tracing lazy circles on Taehyung's shoulder with his thumb.

“I mean, I wish it didn't matter,” Taehyung says. “Like, we have rules now for where we stand and how we touch in public, and I wish... we didn't.”

“It's to keep us safe,” Seokjin says.

As if Taehyung doesn't already know.

As if that makes it all okay.

As if it's something he'll just accept.

Because of course he will. They both will. Taehyung knows how the world works. And he loves the others too much to risk everything just because he wants to hold hands with his boyfriend on the street.

Plus, there's the possibility that Minyeong knows. If he does, he could take the information to Bang Sihyuk, and then he and Seokjin could be replaced for violating the dating clause in their contract. So they're trapped.

Taehyung almost says, I hate this, but he catches himself. He knows how much it would hurt Seokjin, and anyway, it's not true. He loves his life and his friends so much that it aches. But in a good way.

He does hate the hiding, though. And the wishing. The wishing sucks.

“Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin whispers.

“Hm?”

“I wanted to tell you, I really like your song.”

Taehyung began writing his song on the train to Osaka the morning after their horrible night in Tokyo. A week later, he showed it to Namjoon, who coaxed him to continue. A week after that, they brought in Yoongi and Hoseok, and the four of them breathed life into Taehyung's first fully-formed piece of music.

“My parts are about us,” Taehyung says.

“I know they are.”

“Good.”

Taehyung grinds through the memory of that night – the ice in his lungs, the fear in Seokjin's eyes, the thought that this could be over. So much of that anguish ended up in his lyrics. He says, “Maybe...” But he trails off, chasing the idea through his head as Seokjin threads his fingers through his hair.

“Maybe?” Seokjin prompts.

He says, “Maybe that's how they can hear us. With our songs.”

“I would hope so,” Seokjin says. “That is the point of our existence.”

“I mean—”

“—I know what you mean,” Seokjin says. He tilts Taehyung's jaw so that they can see each other. He asks, “But is it enough? It's still a kind of hiding, just hiding behind words.”

It isn't enough, Taehyung knows. But for now, it's all that they can have.

 

Chapter Text

“Kiss me on the mouth and set me free,
But please don't bite.”
Bite, Troye Sivan

April 2015, Part Two

Jimin didn't see the first time Minyeong hit Jungkook, but he heard it.

He didn't see the second and third times either, but he witnessed the aftermath: the moments when Jungkook had to sit down to massage the back of his head, or lean against the wall with his eyes shut, his teeth gritted against the pain.

Yet when Jimin asked Jungkook what happened, Jungkook blew it off. We were playing around, he'd say, or That's just Minyeong-nim's way. Or whatever...

After the fourth time, Jimin decided they needed to do something. Still, Jungkook refused.

“But I don't understand,” Jimin had protested. “It's not fair that he treats you that way...”

Jungkook had looked up at him from locker room bench, an expression of loathing and resignation mixed upon his face.

“Minyeong-nim is doing his job,” Jungkook told him. “It's his job to push us.”

“Not physically,” Jimin said. He meant it as a joke, an attempt to get Jungkook to smile.

Jungkook made no reaction as he finished tying his laces. He said, “Jimin, you weren't here in the beginning, so you don't know. But I've really improved since then, and a lot of it is because of him.”

“He's just so mean,” Jimin said.

“So is Jin-hyung, but you don't say anything about him,” Jungkook said. He stood up, brushed himself down, and started for the locker room door like he hadn't just suffered blunt trauma to the back of his head.

“Jin-hyung makes us do dishes,” Jimin had said. “He doesn't hit us.”

“Sometimes he does,” Jungkook said. They exited the gym together, bags slung over their shoulders, and Jimin knew he'd already lost the argument.

“Yeah, when you tweak his nipples,” Jimin had agreed.

Then Jungkook had tweaked Jimin's nipple.

“Do you wanna die?” Jimin asked.

“If you think you can catch me,” Jungkook said. And with that, the matter was dropped.

Mostly...

Later, Jimin mentioned Minyeong's abuse to Namjoon via their private chat, and it went something like this—

Jimin: I think Minyeong is abusive to Jungkook.

Namjoon: What do you mean?

Jimin: I didn't see it, but the other day, Jungkook was holding the back of his head after...

Namjoon: But you didn't see it?

Jimin: Well, he was really dizzy, and once, I heard Minyeong smack him.

Namjoon: Why isn't JK telling me this?

Jimin: I don't know, maybe he's embarrassed?

Namjoon: Jimin-ie, Minyeong is like our boss. If we have a grievance, we have to have proof.

Jimin: Like, a photo?

Namjoon: A recording would be better. And I'll keep a lookout, too, all right? We don't want anyone hurting our members.

—Which, Jimin wasn't surprised. But he did feel disappointed that they couldn't do more. He consoled himself with the fact that they now had a chat log they could file in case they ever made a formal complaint.

The thing with Minyeong, though, is that he's sneaky. Jimin keeps his phone on him at all times, trying to catch Minyeong in one of his tirades. But it's like Minyeong knows when Jimin's watching him and will wait for hours before he strikes. And when Minyeong does act, it's calculated and quick, and Jimin always misses it.

Jimin hates to admit it, but he actually felt relieved when Minyeong shifted his focus to Seokjin. For a brief span of months, Jungkook enjoyed a respite from Minyeong's rage, long enough for Jimin to believe they might be in the clear.

Then, after Minyeong's inspection of the old dorm turned up nothing he could use against them, the manager's temper became inflamed.

Jimin feels certain that he'll catch him. Minyeong's so mad all the time, he's bound to slip up.

Only Jimin doesn't catch him.

He catches the aftermath.

It's a Thursday night, and he and Jungkook have been staying late all week to work on the choreo for I Need U. Sometimes, though it's rare these days, Taehyung joins. But tonight, it's Jimin and Jungkook side by side in the practice room. They work for hours, perfecting a series of moves, and they both decide, as if they're one mind, when it's time to call it for the night. Jimin offers to go get them some water while Jungkook cleans up the practice room. He only leaves Jungkook because Jimin believes they're alone...

On his way back from the break room, Jimin hears shouting. He runs in the direction of the sound, but in his haste, he fumbles his phone and the water bottles, kicking one of them to wobble off down the hall. He scoops up his phone and has his hand on the door when Minyeong steps through.

“Ah, Jimin-sshi,” he says. He straightens his shirt hem and touches a finger to his glasses. “Working late as always.”

“Is Jungkook in there?” Jimin asks.

Minyeong's eyes drift to the phone in Jimin's hand. “Of course,” he answers. He gives him a pinched smile. “Why wouldn't he be?”

“I heard yelling,” Jimin says.

“Music,” Minyeong says. “Jungkook played some music.”

Minyeong remains in the doorway, his hand on the jamb. Jimin skirts him to retrieve the dropped water bottles. “Well I better...” he begins.

“Right.” Minyeong pushes the door back for Jimin to step through. “Keep up the good work.”

Jimin rushes into the practice room to find it empty and dark.

“Jungkookie?” he says. He despises the tremor in his voice.

He hears a scrape of movement and heads toward it. He finds Jungkook on the floor of the sound room, his knees to his chest, his face resting on his folded arms. He sounds calm when he says, “I don't know why he hates me so much.”

Immediately, Jimin begins to cry. He drops to his knees beside Jungkook and demands, “What did he do?”

“I ate pizza,” Jungkook mutters. “He expects better.”

Jimin shoves the water bottles onto an office chair and places his cold hands on Jungkook's forearms. “What did he do?” he says again, putting gentle force behind the words.

Jungkook stares dully ahead but doesn't answer.

“Did he hit you?”

Jungkook doesn't move for so long, Jimin wonders if maybe he didn't hear the question. Then, with careful deliberation, Jungkook reaches tentative fingers to touch the back of his head. “I fell,” he answers. “I tripped on the chair, and I fell.”

Jimin shifts his body to get around Jungkook, to get a better look at the place he's hiding beneath his hand. He presses his own fingertips to the spot and feels a lump on Jungkook's scalp the size of a quail's egg.

Rage catches in his gut like quickfire and he's up and heading for the door again before Jungkook has a chance to react.

“We have to do something,” Jimin spits. “We have to stop—”

“—Don't,” Jungkook shouts. It's such a sharp syllable that Jimin turns in an instant to meet Jungkook's eyes. “Please, hyung, don't. Just sit with me.”

Jimin does as he asks. They sit together in the quiet dark, each caught up in their own thoughts, until it's too late for them to catch the last train. Jimin takes out his phone and says, “I'm going to call Jin-hyung—”

“—I thought you were still mad at him,” Jungkook says. He looks on the verge of panic.

“I am,” Jimin admits. “He really upset Taehyung-ie. But he can come get us, so...”

Jimin makes the call using the fewest words possible. When he hangs up, Jungkook says, “Don't tell him.”

“He might understand,” Jimin says. “He could help us catch Minyeong.”

“We will never catch him,” Jungkook says. “And even if we do...” he rolls his shoulders in a gesture that seems to Jimin like a surrender. “This is how the industry is. It's how it works. Believe me, I know.”

Jimin considers for a moment Jungkook's experience – his whole lifetime of it – and wonders about the cruelties he must have seen, from parents, and agents, and directors, and managers.

“That's not how it is here,” Jimin says. “Not with us.”

Jungkook hisses a derisive noise through his nose. “Not with you.” He coughs a small laugh and says, “Remember how we used to make fun of you when you first got here?”

“Yeah,” Jimin says, making a point to roll his eyes.

“But Minyeong always liked you, took up for you, gave you extra—”

“—No he didn't.”

“Yeah he did,” Jungkook says. “To me, he did. It's like he wanted to balance the scales. Or to, I dunno, keep you safe.”

“From what?” Jimin asks.

Jungkook stares at him for a long, really long time. Jimin wants to lean in, to meet his lips and melt in his eyes.

But Jungkook pushes him away. “Let's get our stuff,” he says, “Jin-hyung will be here soon.”

Jimin knows that Jungkook is shaking as he gets to his feet. He hopes that it's from whatever it was that just passed between them and not the lingering effects of a head injury. But as Jimin gathers his bag and his phone charger and his phone, he realizes that neither prospect can possibly end well.

 

Chapter Text

“How beautiful is this life?
How painful is this life?”
멘붕- CL Solo, 2NE1

May 2015

Jungkook watches them from across the breakfast buffet. They're snapping at each other with metal tongs, pretending like they're lobsters or something. Seokjin snags all of the melon from Taehyung's plate. Taehyung retaliates by drizzling chili sauce across Seokjin's thumb.

Seokjin huffs in mock offense. Then he says, “I'll still eat it, though.”

“I know,” Taehyung says, arching one brow. “You'll eat anything.”

Jimin giggles along, louder than necessary. Jungkook feels 150 percent certain that if he can hear them flirting, then surely the staff can, too.

“Don't encourage them,” Jungkook whispers. “They're gonna get in trouble.”

Jimin gives him that look. The one that simultaneously says Make me and You're doing it again.

Seokjin brushes around Taehyung. Their interaction amounts to less than twenty seconds, falling into their pre-defined categories of 'safe' and 'platonic.' But Jungkook hears, with perfect clarity, when Seokjin whispers “I love you,” into Taehyung's ear before crossing the ballroom to join Yoongi and Hoseok.

Jimin says, “Taehyung-ie, you should sit with us.”

Taehyung peers after Seokjin. He says, “Yeah, sure, okay.” But Jungkook knows Taehyung wouldn't be able to repeat Jimin's words back to him if his life hung in the balance.

“Hyung, we have five minutes left to eat,” Jungkook says.

“So?” Jimin says.

“So I'm hungry,” Jungkook says.

Jimin refuses to move. He plants his feet, resolved to hold his ground. “Now we have four and a half minutes, Kookie,” he sings.

Jungkook sucks air over his teeth.

And Jimin says, “Now we have four.”

Jungkook bumps his hip, and then is momentarily mortified by the emphatic shade of pink that floods Jimin's face. He rushes around Jimin, scraping random, mismatched items of food onto his plate. He joins Taehyung and Namjoon at their table, where he watches how Taehyung and Seokjin make eyes at each other while they talk to everyone else. Once Jungkook sits down, though, Taehyung's attention shifts to him and Jimin and Namjoon. He gabbles nonstop about riding an elephant, a practice Namjoon finds barbaric, but which Jimin thinks would be awesome.

“We'll go to Thailand and ride elephants,” Jimin tells Taehyung. “Or maybe India.”

“Oh, if we go to India, we could ride a flying carpet,” Taehyung says.

“You do know those aren't real, right?” Namjoon asks.

“They're not real yet,” Taehyung says.

Jimin laughs along as Taehyung and Namjoon debate first the practicality and then the logistics of inventing an airborne area rug. Meanwhile, Jungkook steals every sausage from Jimin's plate. And all but his last piece of dragonfruit. Even with this assistance, Jimin is the last one still eating when the staff comes to collect them.

This would normally bother Jungkook, but the hyungs go off on their own, leaving him and Taehyung to mildly tease Jimin for always being so slow.

The three of them leave the hotel buffet, weaving along the grassy walkway toward the shuttle that will take them to the zoo. The sun basks down, baking the broad leaves of the banana trees to pulpy sweetness. The humid air glows around them, hazy, brilliant, and bright. They board the shuttle, all seven of them plus a few staff. And even though the cameras aren't rolling, Jungkook sees that they're all smiling.

They're happy. For the first time in forever, his hyungs seem truly happy.

And for the first time in a while, Jungkook feels like things are returning to normal.

 

Their last day on Kota Kinabalu, the staff goes home except for two managers, the kind ones: Sejin and Sanghyun. Namjoon lazes by the pool, listening to music and scribbling lyrics. Hoseok wheedles Yoongi onto a two-man paddle bike. Seokjin and Taehyung just disappear. This leaves Jimin and Jungkook to spend the day together as they please, goofing off with the self-cam and chasing each other around the resort.

They have no schedule. They eat when they're hungry. They swim, they play mini-golf, they race lizards along the shoreline. He and Jimin fall asleep in a hammock, and when they wake, Jimin is horrified by the jaggy imprint the mesh welts across his cheek.

When Jungkook smooths his thumb over the ridges of Jimin's skin, he thinks it's probably not natural the way he feels about the bumpy texture of Jimin's cheek. Or the way Jimin smiles when Jungkook tells him it'll be all right. But Jungkook thinks about it for the rest of the day. More than he probably should.

As if on some unspoken cue, they all drift together late in the afternoon. Namjoon says, “I found out about this one place...”

So after dinner, they hike through a jungle shimmering with birds and bugs to a hollow on a hilltop overlooking the beach. They drag up driftwood, and Jungkook helps Yoongi and Taehyung build a bonfire. The sun settles, fat and orange into the horizon, and the sky spins out a spiral of stars. They set the driftwood ablaze, and for a long time, they're all quiet as they breathe in the scents of woodsmoke and the sea.

Jungkook rests against a smooth, round stone. Jimin leans his head against his shoulder. Taehyung trails his feet across Jungkook's thighs and leans his back against Seokjin. Yoongi, Hoseok, and Namjoon sit together, their features blurred by the heat of the fire.

He's listening to the waves and the whisper of the wind when Jimin angles toward Namjoon to better hear the conversation. Jungkook focuses for a moment, long enough to understand they're talking again about their goals.

Namjoon spends a lot of time talking about goals. It's one of the things Jungkook loves most about their leader, how focused he always seems to be. Only tonight, Jungkook's content with the feeling of the fire baking against his shins and the weight of Taehyung's legs on his, and Jimin...

Jimin says, “I think I'm just struggling to keep up with Hoseokie-hyung. He's making so much progress—”

“—No, no, Jimin.” Hoseok beams. “That's too much. It's too much.”

Jungkook thinks he can feel Hoseok's blush increase the heat of the fire. He feels Jimin shrug against him.

Jimin says, “I want to do a solo stage one day.”

“You will,” Namjoon says.

“I think probably soon,” Taehyung agrees.

“I would just like to remember the choreography,” Seokjin says. They all laugh because it's such a Seokjin thing to say.

“You do just fine,” Hoseok assures him. “I mean, we all have our strengths—”

“—Do I, though?” Seokjin cuts in. It's sharper than what Jungkook's used to, sharper still given the softness of their surroundings. He leans forward to gauge Seokjin's expression, but the firelight paints his profile in shadow.

Seokjin exhales. He says, “You're all so good at so many things. I see you all improving every day, and I'm... not. No matter how hard I work, no matter how much I push, I can't... keep up. You're all so talented, and I think maybe I'm just... normal.”

“You've been fucking Taehyung for a year,” Yoongi scoffs. “Tell us again how you're normal.”

Stunned silence spools between them into which Jimin utters a weak, uncertain laugh. Taehyung sits up to squeeze closer to Seokjin.

Yoongi nods, certain he's got their attention. “None of us are normal,” he says. “We left that road a long time ago, if we were ever even on it to begin with. And trust me, Jin-hyung, it's best to abandon that label.”

Seokjin wipes his eyes. “That's not what I meant,” he says. “I think I meant, ordinary. I feel like I'm... ordinary.”

Namjoon shakes his head. He says, “How can you even think that?”

And Yoongi says, “Hyung, of a thousand words I could use to describe you, ordinary would never make the list.”

Seokjin puts his hands over his eyes.

Jungkook's throat fills with tears. It's too much, just way too much, to see him in that pain. He wants to get up, to run away, to sit alone on the beach and try to think his way through this. But beside him, Jimin swallows a sob.

Jungkook still feels the tingle in his thumb from when he touched Jimin's face. He thinks about a month ago, sitting with Jimin on the sound room floor, feeling Jimin's fingers touch the bruise on the back of his head. Then he thinks about what Yoongi said, about them not being normal, and he knows – has known – that it's the truth. They are closer to each other than normal people, more alike in their singularity. And then he remembers back to all the things he's been called since childhood: phenomenal, talented, gifted, extraordinary. He's the Golden Maknae. All these things make him separate from the world, but they let him fit in with them.

Jungkook realizes he's missed part of the conversation when Taehyung reaches for his hand. Jimin does the same and then links his fingers with Namjoon. They form a circle around the fire, and Namjoon, his dimples deepening, says, “Okay, so we can agree, none of us are normal. None of us are ordinary.”

The tension runs the width of the ring as they squeeze hands in agreement.

“Then this is our pact, to love and protect each other,” Namjoon says. “As we are now, and as we will be. From now on. This, what we have... it's sacred.”

Hoseok raises the hand he's linked with Yoongi's and kisses his knuckles.

They each repeat the action around the circle: A seal upon a promise that will bind them as long as they live.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Gimme that, gimme that, your lips.”
Ice Cream Cake, Red Velvet

June 2015

Seokjin cannot remember a hotter, more sticky June morning. The sky above is baked-brick red. Molten bronze clouds plait the gaps between the haze-smudged skyline. He and Hoseok wilt against the vinyl interior of the van while in front of them, Taehyung cranes sideways in the middle seat as if testing the limits of his seat belt.

“Red sky in morning, sailor take warning,” Taehyung says, sounding ominous and far too awake for the five-hour car trip they're about to endure.

“What's this nonsense?” Seokjin asks. He wipes his forehead with the condensation from the side of his green tea latte.

“It means danger,” Taehyung says. “If you have red clouds at dawn, you can expect something bad to happen.”

“I don't like the sound of that,” Hoseok mutters.

“It's not real,” Seokjin insists. “Where did you hear that?”

“My grandfather says it all the time,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin waves a languidly dismissive hand. “Oh, well, if he said it—”

The passenger door of the van opens. Minyeong bundles inside, clutching printouts and phone chargers to his puffy chest. He peers over the headrest and groans. To the driver, he mumbles something that sounds like, “Lucky us. We got the funny ones.”

Seokjin's throat tightens. Hoseok squeezes his knee, and Taehyung begins to sullenly untangle his headphones from his pocket.

An hour into the trip, Seokjin receives a text from Taehyung: A close up of one of Taehyung's nipples, which Seokjin took on their last day in Indonesia. Seokjin squints up to find Taehyung blithely scrolling through his Twitter feed and humming along to Ice Cream Cake.

Stop that, Seokjin writes.

Taehyung's chin lifts in defiance. He sends back, Nope. And then a wink.

Seokjin draws a long sip from his melting latte. He chews it, thoughtfully, as he contemplates his revenge. He thumbs through the photo archive on his own phone, feeling a tingle of heat in his neck at seeing some of them in the light of day.

After a few moments, Hoseok becomes his unwitting accomplice when he says, “Oh look, the clouds have burned off. It's going to be really nice at the filming location.”

Seokjin says, “See, V-sshi, your red clouds warning was all wrong.”

Taehyung smiles. “No it wasn't.”

“Yes it was,” Seokjin says.

Taehyung says, “Well it's my opinion, so it can't be wrong,” just as Seokjin locates the folder for November on his phone.

Hoseok gives Taehyung a pondering look. He says, “I'm not sure it works that way.”

“Hobi's right,” Seokjin says, keeping his tone even. “It's a superstition, an incorrect fact, and you can absolutely be wrong about it.” Seokjin's thumb glides through the photo archive. They did a lot in November, but he's searching for one picture in particular...

“My grandfather has always been right,” Taehyung says. He plucks a carrot stick from the front pocket of his bag and pops it in his mouth.

“Doesn't your grandfather believe you can't keep pets in a room with a ceiling fan?” Seokjin asks.

Hoseok taps his chin. “Is that not true?”

“It is true,” Taehyung insists.

Ah ha. Seokjin finds it – a picture of him, bare-shouldered and asleep, with the crimson imprint of a lipstick kiss pressed into his skin. Taehyung had done the kissing and then the photographing. Seokjin loads it into his KKT window and presses send.

Taehyung chokes on his carrot. His eyes narrow, and Seokjin enjoys a moment of sheer pleasure at seeing him squirm.

“No, it isn't true,” Seokjin says. He pushes his voice, making it sound overblown and incredulous. “Why would it be true?”

Taehyung doesn't answer. He's fixed on his phone, swiping furiously through his gallery.

“Well, I heard that a ceiling fan cuts the oxygen,” Hoseok says. “But saying it out loud does make it seem pretty implausible.”

“Exactly,” Seokjin says.

Taehyung's response is off-handed. He says, “It's my opinion that a red sky means something bad is coming—”

“—Look,” Seokjin interrupts. “You can have opinions about preferences. You can say 'I like pink better than blue' or 'I like chocolate better than vanilla' and no one can tell you you're wrong because it's your opinion.”

“Right,” Taehyung says. It doesn't take him nearly as long to find a response in his phone. He winks over his screen. Seokjin holds his breath and waits.

Meanwhile, Hoseok takes up the argument. “But a fact is a fact,” he says. “If you say the sky is blue, that's a fact. No one can dispute it. Like, two plus two equals four or fish need water to survive. But if you say the sky is purple, it's wrong because it's a fact that can't be argued...”

Taehyung holds up a finger. “Sometimes the sky is purple.”

Hoseok considers and then nods. Seokjin checks his phone and for a long, long moment, he is rigid with shock.

Taehyung coughs and then continues. “And who decides what is blue?” he asks. “What if I'm colorblind? The way I see blue would be different from the way you see it. So if my opinion is that the sky looks purple, then I can't be wrong, because to me, it's a fact.” He prods Seokjin's ankle with the toe of his boot. “Right, Jin-hyung?”

Seokjin's gaze drifts from his phone to meet Minyeong's eyes in the rearview mirror. There's a dizzy half minute of freefall as Seokjin's thoughts swerve from getting Taehyung into the nearest washroom to a place of cold sanity where Minyeong probably knows about them. Yet here they are, frivolously sexting in the back seat of a company van.

Not really sexting, he reminds himself. Just sending nude pictures of each other.

Not even nudes, just near nudes.

Except for the last one, which was so naked. But in the tasteful, non-explicit sort of way.

Minyeong grimaces and picks something from his teeth. Though Seokjin's heart is pounding, he slowly realizes that Minyeong probably wasn't even looking at him. And even if he was, what could he know? He and Taehyung are in a private chat. No one can see what they're doing, not even Hoseok.

Even so, Seokjin writes to Taehyung, We have to stop. He's watching us.

Taehyung nibbles a carrot. He texts, I don't care. Let him. Creepy old perv.

Now it's Seokjin's turn to choke.

Hoseok eyes him with the pinch of a smile on his lips. Based on that expression alone, Seokjin knows that Hoseok's keen to what's been playing out between him and Taehyung.

Hoseok says, “We'll just ask Namjoon.”

“Yes, ask him,” Taehyung says, like it's some kind of triumph.

“He'll agree with me,” Seokjin says. “Because we are both educated men who are wise in the ways of the world.”

At that moment, Minyeong signals to the driver to pull into the parking lot of a convenience store. Their van skims alongside the petrol pump, followed by the second van containing Jungkook, Jimin, Yoongi, and Namjoon.

“Should I fill the tank?” the driver asks. She's new and overly anxious to get things right.

Minyeong rolls his eyes. “Might as well,” he grumbles. Then he crawfishes from the passenger seat, keeping his eyes on Seokjin's as he yanks open the loading doors. “But these three can't ride together anymore. Their brainless gibberish may cause you to run off the road and kill us all.”

The driver makes a minuscule squeak of distress. Minyeong stands aside and gestures them out of the van.

Hoseok frowns as he gathers his bag. “Red sky in morning,” he murmurs as he climbs from the seat. 

And Taehyung leans close to murmur into Seokjin's ear, “See. I told you.”

Minyeong eyes Seokjin through the whole exchange, and Seokjin gets a distinct and dizzying feeling that someday, Minyeong will make him pay for this.

 

 

Chapter Text

“It's good to realize there is someone within us who knows everything.”
Max Demian to Emil Sinclair
Demian, by Hermann Hesse

June 2015, Part Two

Namjoon holds his breath while the call rings through, finally exhaling once Mr. Choi answers. The older man appears pleasantly rumpled in his natty brown cardigan, his slate-gray hair disheveled beneath a green knit cap. His bottle-glass lenses reflect the lights of his computer screen, making him seem like a kindly android from a 1970s sit-com.

“Good morning, Mr. Choi,” Namjoon says.

There's a delay on the connection, so Mr. Choi's response lags. But he says, “Good morning, Joon. How are you?”

“I'm fine, sir. Thank you for taking my call,” he says. “It's even earlier for you there, so I know it's probably inconvenient.”

“No, no, Joon, of course not,” Mr. Choi says. He folds his hands over the keyboard. “Tell me, how are you today?”

Namjoon rolls onto his back, pinwheeling the camera's view along with him. He stuffs the pillow under his shoulder and tucks his beanie over his bangs. “Jet lagged, for sure,” he says. “Clean, though. Well fed. The hotel is nice.”

“Basic needs met,” Mr. Choi says.

“Most of them,” Namjoon says. Then he flushes dull pink. “I mean... You know what I mean.”

Mr. Choi nods. “I dimly recall my twenties,” he says.

“Of course,” Namjoon smiles. “I'm uh... sharing a room with—” He glances at the door. “I'm rooming with one of the managers, so I don't have much time.”

Mr. Choi inclines his head toward the screen, as if by doing so, he can see further into the room. He says, “Is this the manager you've mentioned before?”

“Yes, sir,” Namjoon says. He scratches his chin. “He treats me differently, so I volunteer to share with him. It's um...”

Namjoon shifts on the bed, jostling the camera in a dizzying arc.

Mr. Choi says, “Is he the reason you wanted to talk?”

“Partly,” Namjoon says. He breathes out a steady stream of air. “So. I have these two friends. They're together. They're – actually, they're in love. Though they broke up recently 'cause one of them thought – or maybe still thinks? – that it's too risky to continue. Anyway, things have been tense between them, and it's really...” Namjoon grimaces. “It's painful to see them hurting.”

“May I ask,” Mr. Choi begins. “What is the nature of this relationship that makes it risky?”

Namjoon rocks forward. He moves the pillow to his lap. He hesitates long enough that Mr. Choi moves on.

“So the concern for your friends weighs on your heart,” Mr. Choi says. “And this manager...?”

“Tends to make things difficult,” Namjoon says. “Some of the members say he's cruel to them. He belittles them, threatens them. There was a recent incident on a trip where he basically called a few of them stupid in front of one of our drivers. And they say he's hit them, too...”

“Do you think he has?”

“I doubt they would lie,” Namjoon says.

“But going by the way he treats you...?”

“Right, right.” Namjoon sits up, banging the camera on the headboard. He resets it on the mount, giving Mr. Choi a screen full of Namjoon's fingers as he jiggles the camera back into place. “I can only go by what I see. This manager is demanding and very strict. And he's our superior, so he's obligated to tell certain things.”

There's a subtle shift in the angle of Mr. Choi's head. Even though Namjoon can't see his eyes through the glow on his glasses, he can read the set of the man's brow like it's a page from his favorite book.

“Your friends who are in love,” Mr. Choi says. “They're part of your group.”

Relief washes over Namjoon's body. He's grateful for Mr. Choi's astute nature, for his ability to read situations, and for his gift of saying the things that need to be said.

“I shouldn't talk about it,” Namjoon quietly confides. “It isn't my story to tell. But.” He scrapes his beanie over his forehead. “But I'm worried for them.”

“As you should be, Joonie,” Mr. Choi says. “They are in a precarious position.”

“They're aware enough to know it,” Namjoon says. “They kept it a secret for so long. And now, they've entrusted us, so... it's all our secret.”

Namjoon lapses into a moment of contemplation. Mr. Choi waits, likewise silent, before deciding to speak.

“You know, Joon,” he says. “It's not as uncommon as you might think. It is, in fact, natural for young men who spend so much time together to develop such meaningful bonds. Centuries ago, Spartans encouraged these types of relationships. Their culture believed that soldiers would fight harder with someone they love at their side. Throughout history, around the world, there are similar examples of fraternal, romantic bonds between men who train, study, or fight alongside each other.”

“I've heard about this,” Namjoon says. “And remember in Demian? Max and Emil share a kiss.”

“And that was during Max's military service. Hesse knew his history, and Demian fits the prevailing pattern,” Mr. Choi says. “Frankly, I don't see that there's much difference between what those men experienced and what you as idols go through every day. Do you?”

Namjoon turns this over in his mind for a while before he asks, “Then why is it so... treacherous for them now? Why must they hide? Who made up these rules?”

Mr. Choi shrugs. “Societal norms are like a pendulum swing,” he says. “But your generation can shift its direction, Joon. You have the power to change the world.”

The outer door clicks. Namjoon abruptly sits forward.

“I gotta go, Mr. Choi,” he says. “But you've helped me so much as always.”

“Anytime, Joonie,” Mr. Choi says as Namjoon ends the call.

Minyeong sidles into the room bearing a cardboard tray with two coffees and a paper sack stenciled with a smiling muffin. “The energetic one is already awake,” he says, meaning Hoseok. He sets the tray on the table. “I found donuts.”

“Thank you, sir,” Namjoon says. He opens the sack to find two cinnamon sugar donuts, one for each of them.

But now he wonders. Would this be a baited trap for the others? And if so, would they even tell Namjoon? The story would start with, He gave me a donut. And then what? Would Minyeong count it against their calories for the week in some twisted kind of power play?

Namjoon dislikes to entertain these thoughts, but he knows now that he has to.

“Long day today,” Minyeong says, breezily, as he walks toward the bathroom. Then he pauses to hover in the hallway. He asks, “You had a call?”

Namjoon glances at the phone in his hand. “Yes sir,” he answers. “A friend back in Seoul.”

“Bit early for a call to Seoul,” Minyeong says. “Don't you think?”

Namjoon continues to chew, but the sugar feels like sand on his tongue. It's a clever trick, this subtle attempt at intimidation. And even though Namjoon sees it for what it is, he still feels its thorns snag at him.

“No, sir,” Namjoon answers, simply. “I don't think it is.”

Minyeong remains unmoved a moment more. Then he smiles. “If you say so,” he says, and he ducks into the washroom.

 

Chapter Text

“Sometimes falling feels like flying.”
Kim Taehyung

July 2015 - Seoul

Being with Taehyung means falling in love with him over and over again.

It's taken a while for Seokjin to understand this. Previously, he believed love was this one-time, happily-ever-after kind of deal. You fell and you stayed fallen.

Maybe it is that way for other people. Maybe other people don't have a Taehyung, who goes from insightful to ridiculous to brain-numbingly sexy, all within the time it takes normal people to brush their teeth.

Or run through a single round of choreography, as is the case today. Taehyung has managed to sneak a hand up Seokjin's shirt, lick his neck, and cop a feel all within the last four minutes. He smells like sweat and cherry chapstick, a near-lethal combination, so Seokjin's almost disappointed when the song ends and they have to stop.

Hoseok raises his arms. “Okay, okay, okay,” he says, all business. “I see where we're getting off. Jungkook-ie, when Yoongi-hyung steps back, let's try holding the count for—”

Taehyung dips his head. When Seokjin meets his eye, Taehyung runs his tongue over his lips in the way that makes Seokjin forget the country of his birth.

“—And then Taehyung-ie,” Hoseok continues. Taehyung whips to attention, and Hoseok guides him by the wrist over to Seokjin. “This will be your mark right here, and then Jin-hyung, you do a quarter turn so you're almost facing—”

Behind Hoseok, Jimin and Jungkook pantomime a slow motion shootout that ends with Jungkook flailing in exaggerated death throes across the prop bed.

Namjoon claps his hands, once. “Okay,” he says. “Let's run through it again.”

Jimin cues the music, and they all re-take their marks.

Seokjin thinks of the Blanket Kick choreography as both a kind of torture and a godsend. It's as though the choreographer paired them up on purpose, which raises some serious questions about how much their dance teacher knows. Taehyung has blown this off by saying, “We're visuals and vocal line; of course they put us together.”

But it gives them so many opportunities to fool around that Seokjin must actively rein himself in just to safeguard his sanity.

One minute into the song and already, Taehyung is giggling. When they come to Yoongi's part – the part where they're supposed to improvise – Taehyung pins Seokjin against the wall and kisses him breathless.

This breaks all of their rules. Seokjin's knees buckle. His eyesight blurs. He blunders through the rest of the song, mostly on muscle memory. When the song ends, Jimin, Taehyung, and Jungkook heave onto the bed, howling with laughter.

“Yes, yes, very funny,” Yoongi deadpans. Angling on Taehyung, he says, “Just make sure you don't do that on stage.”

“Please, hyung, can you trust me?” Taehyung says.

Yoongi flashes a pained smile, like he's not certain he can.

“Anyway, that was better,” Hoseok says. “We're still coming in early when Jungkook emerges from the bed—”

Jimin waves a hand. “I think that's my fault,” he says. “I almost hit the wall every time.”

“Hm.” Hoseok purses his lips. “The stage will probably be bigger, so it may not be an issue. But let's run through it again, only this time—”

The day progresses thus for five more hours. Each time they arrive at the improvised part, Taehyung pushes a little further, moving from one breathless kiss to a full-frontal onslaught featuring his fingers, lips, teeth at one point, and finally, his tongue.

Seokjin knows they shouldn't be messing around like this. Technically, it's safe. They're among friends, and they aren't filming. And they aren't so distracted that it's messing up their work. In fact, Seokjin would wager that their playfulness has encouraged Jimin and Jungkook to be more loose and flirty in their interactions with Hoseok and Namjoon.

But... it's risky.

Because every time Taehyung sweeps his lips so close to Seokjin's, he wants to follow through, and the temptation is overwhelming.

And every time, Seokjin falls a little bit more in love.

 

They finish things in their hotel room across town, and by then, they're both too exhausted to join the others for dinner. They order delivery and cuddle naked beneath the itchy duvet. Through the open window, a hush of summer rain patters, smelling of clay and petrol. Seokjin feels floaty and dazed, like he's spent a day swimming or basking in the sun. Or, more accurately, like he's shared a day with Taehyung.

This may be their last time together for a while. When they leave for the next leg of their tour, their lives cease to be their own. They rarely know what their sleeping arrangements may be when they're in other countries. So even though neither of them speaks it aloud, they're clinging to every second as if that can tide them over until the next time.

Which makes the Blanket Kick choreo even more maddening...

“We should be more careful when we practice,” Seokjin muses. “If we slip up...”

Taehyung snorts. “You? Slip up?”

“It could happen, VV,” Seokjin says with mock gravity. “I'm very slippery.”

Taehyung narrows his eyes. But instead of taking the bait, he says, “I think our choreographer ships us.”

“Stop it.” Seokjin jostles his shoulder. “Don't say that.”

Taehyung walks his fingers across Seokjin's chest. “He's not the only one,” he says.

“Games and foolishness,” Seokjin says. “They don't know anything.”

He smooths his palm along the hollow of Seokjin's throat. He says, “Minyeong knows.”

Seokjin forces out a breath. “He suspects. I don't think he knows.”

Taehyung lifts up to peer into Seokjin's face. “Even if he did know,” he says. “Even if he told, I think people would understand.”

Seokjin shivers beneath the blanket. He says, “But our families? Other idols? Bang PD?”

Taehyung collapses against the pillows, his arms over his head. “I know,” he mutters.

Seokjin sits up, pooling the sheets around his waist. “My parents aren't like yours, Taehyung. My father would never—”

“—I know,” Taehyung says again. He grips Seokjin's hands, rubbing them to chafe warmth into his fingers.

Seokjin's father might never... but would his Mom? She's as proper as his Dad, perhaps more so, but she's always been the gentler hand when dealing with her sons. Seokjin wishes he could talk to her about this. They talk about everything else. But in every conversation they've had recently, his mother mentions their family friends, the Hahns, and their daughter, Minha, who is close to Seokjin's age. So maybe his Mom wouldn't understand after all.

“Jinnie,” Taehyung says, his voice soft-edged and drowsy. “What are you thinking about?”

“My Mom,” Seokjin says. Taehyung's brow furrows, and Seokjin becomes violently aware of their nakedness. He swallows hard and struggles to explain. “I mean, not my Mom, but about how we're here on this filthy mattress in a seedy love hotel, and she lives in this whole other world of ski vacations and monogrammed towels. And I wish I could ask her advice because I don't know how to do this.”

“I think you do it perfectly,” Taehyung says.

“Not that,” Seokjin says. “But thank you.”

Taehyung kisses his wrist.

Seokjin asks, “Are your parents in love?”

“Yes,” Taehyung answers. Automatically, like it's a basic fact.

“I'm not sure about mine,” Seokjin admits. “I mean, they met at university, their families knew each other. They dated, graduated, got married, had kids. Just me and Jung-hyung, nothing... extravagant.”

“Not like my Mom and Dad who went and had three?” Taehyung says.

“Exactly,” Seokjin says. “Your parents are In Love, but mine are people who liked each other a lot and did what was expected.”

Taehyung folds Seokjin's arm around him. “I'm glad you don't do what's expected,” he says.

Seokjin has his doubts about that. Isn't he the responsible one? Boring, predictable Seokjin. The one with the pretty face and the lame Dad jokes?

Except, really, Seokjin is a different person when he's with the others. Last month, they went bungee jumping. The month before that, they went parasailing and played with snakes.

Seokjin says, “Maybe I'm braver when I'm with you?”

There's a knock on the door, and they both freeze. Seconds later, there's the sharp call of, “Delivery.”

Seokjin slides from the bed, tugging on his shirt and shorts. “Be still,” he says.

“As a sloth,” Taehyung agrees.

When Seokjin returns with their food – Burger King, because Taehyung – he finds him burrowed into the blanket with only the oval of his face peeking out. “Did you get ketchup?” he asks.

“Yes I got ketchup,” Seokjin sighs.

Taehyung throws off the blanket, sitting up and ready like it's the best news he's heard in a year.

And just like that, Seokjin falls for him again.

 

Chapter Text

“Should I go or not? Then I went.
Should I do it or not? Then I did it.”
Embarrassed, BTS

July 29, 2015

Yoongi always said the heart was the concert.

If the heart is also a place of heat and light, then Seokjin believes that this is true.

Which is why, when the moment arrives and the lights make him blind, he tastes Taehyung's lips and realizes, a breath too late, that he kissed him.

Taehyung grips Seokjin's wrist, and it grounds him. There's a glint of surprise in his boxy smile, but the song carries them forward. It's just a moment. A heartbeat. A brush of skin so soft, Seokjin wonders if it happened at all. Maybe, he thinks wildly, maybe I'm dreaming.

The lights pound like a fever in his brain. The show ends, and he leaves the stage. He calls to the staff, claims that he needs air, and then he swerves through a labyrinth of halls until he's lost. There, in a blank corridor chilled by a rattling vent, he presses his burning face to the damp concrete wall and struggles to breathe.

Then someone catches his arm and spins him. Seokjin brings his hands up in defense, but it's Taehyung. Taehyung, who shoves him against the wall, who knots his fists in his shirt. He kisses him and kisses him until all Seokjin can hear is his own blood like wingbeats in his ears.

“Did we—? Did I—?” Seokjin manages to say between... it's not kissing now so much as ragged sobs. “What did I—?”

But Taehyung is laughing. “Jin-hyung,” he says. “You kissed me.”

Seokjin touches his fingers to his lips, and the tension flows out of him like a ribbon. “I did,” he says. “I kissed you. In public.” He exhales a weak laugh and shrugs. “Well, it's not the first time.”

Their fingers entwine. Taehyung pulls him along, leading them back. “Don't worry,” he says. “No one saw us.”

Seokjin sniffs. “There are five thousand Mexicans out there.”

“It was two, maybe three seconds,” Taehyung says.

“But our lips touched...”

Taehyung clicks his tongue. “I don't see what the big deal is about lips. If we touch elbows, no one makes a big deal about it. Why are our lips any different?”

“Elbows, Taehyung? Do you even know what you're saying right now?”

“Yes, hyung, I know,” Taehyung says. He stops to brush their lips together, the briefest demonstration. “Besides,” he continues, “Everyone was probably watching Chim Chim and Hobi-hyung.”

“Why? Were they—?”

“—Yeah, Jimin-ie's working through some things,” Taehyung says.

“Really?” Seokjin says.

Taehyung hums an affirmative, and they move on. Cheers flood the hallway ahead, bouncing around them like water sounds. The others have the left the stage, and if Hoseok's pterodactyl screeching is any indication, they are beyond ecstatic.

“See,” Taehyung says. “It's okay, we're okay.”

Seokjin drags them to a stop. He cups Taehyung's face with his hands. Taehyung's eyes are like pools of stars, shining and wide. He smells of heat and cherries, and his hair is plastered to his forehead. He's the same person, but something about him has changed. Seokjin considers a dozen words and discards them. Not tougher, not more rigid, but... different. How has he not seen it before?

Seokjin says, “How many times are you going to come and save me?”

Taehyung answers like its simple. “Every time.”

Seokjin nudges Taehyung's forehead with his own. He realizes, then, that he's exhausted and starving, so he lets Taehyung lead them back to where the others are waiting. They fold them into their noisy conversations without wariness or suspicion. None of them mention anything amiss about their performance, so Seokjin begins to believe that they are safe.

The evening ends with food and light and laughter. Everyone glows, like they're all a little bit in love. And it is as Yoongi says: The heart is the concert. So maybe it's understandable that they got a little swept away.

 

“Is it possible to feel hungover,” Yoongi growls, “Without even having a drink?”

“It is both possible and gravely unfair,” Namjoon agrees.

They huddle together on the stiff vinyl seats of the airport terminal, the pair of them wearing matching sunglasses and expressions of wan disdain.

Meanwhile, Jungkook pushes Jimin and Taehyung around the open concourse on a baggage trolley while Hoseok lopes alongside them with a self-cam. The staff observes from a safe distance, sipping various teas and lattes. They've learned that it's best to let Hoseok and Taehyung expend some of their energy before boarding a plane. Therefore, provided they don't crash into anything, the managers have all silently agreed not to interfere.

Seokjin perches across from Namjoon. “You should always drink two glasses of water before going to bed,” he says, waving at them with his cactus-coconut smoothie, which is much tastier than he thought it would be.

“Nah, then I'd have to get up and pee,” Yoongi says. “I'd rather suffer in the morning than sacrifice my sleep.”

“Same,” Namjoon says. He begins scrolling idly through his phone.

“You could always meditate,” Seokjin says. He's mostly just teasing Yoongi now, because Hoseok's been encouraging Yoongi down that path for years only to encounter the same formidable shrug of resistance.

“I'll pass, Mister King of Push Ups,” Yoongi says.

“Mister King?” Seokjin laughs. “I'm going to require you to call me this from now on.”

“It's a step up in rank from what Taehyung calls you,” Yoongi says. “What is it? Silky Prince?”

Seokjin makes an unflattering squawk of protest. “When have you heard that?”

Yoongi says, “You and I share a room, hyung.”

“But we haven't—he hasn't—”

“—Relax,” Yoongi says. “He said it on a broadcast.”

“Like, years ago.”

Yoongi smirks. “Yeah, so?”

Namjoon sits abruptly forward. “Jin-hyung,” he says. “Have you seen this?”

He turns his phone so that three of them can witness what plays out on the screen: Sixteen seconds of shaky fan-cam showing Seokjin kissing Taehyung.

“Oh,” Seokjin says. His eyes dart to Taehyung, who is currently riding Jungkook piggyback and winning in a race against Jimin and Hoseok.

Namjoon peels the sunglasses from his face. He sits forward to meet Seokjin's eyes. “Did you kiss him? On stage?”

“Kind of?” he says.

Yoongi coughs. “You... did what?”

Seokjin scrubs a hand over his face. “I got carried away,” he admits in a rush. “But we barely touched. Maybe two or three seconds is all, and then—”

“—Oh fuck,” Yoongi says. They watch the video replay. But then he says, “It's not that bad.”

“Not that bad?” Namjoon echoes. He leans in and whispers, “Minyeong already suspects—”

“—No, but look,” Yoongi says, jabbing with his thumb. “The camera pans over to Jimin and J-Hope. It's blurry at best. There's nothing to see.”

“Nothing to see,” Seokjin breathes. The video loops. From his point of view, it's fairly damning. He closes his eyes and recalls the heat of it, the brush of their skin, his own heartbeat flooding his ears. He knows it's more than nothing.

Namjoon squeezes Seokjin's knee. “It didn't happen, okay? If anyone asks, it's a trick of the light, a tromp l'oeil, understand?”

Seokjin nods.

“And you have to be more careful,” Namjoon says. “I know we all play around, but you two...”

“I know,” Seokjin says. He clasps his cup to keep his hands from shaking. “I know.”

An announcement from the PA system informs them that their gate is open. The staff surges forward to begin the priority boarding procedures. Hoseok and the maknaes trundle over, sweaty and laughing until they see the looks on the others' faces.

“What is it?” Jimin asks, leaning in between them to peek.

Namjoon pockets his phone. “We'll talk about it later,” he says, nodding in the direction of Sejin, who is coming over to collect them.

For a moment, there's the rush of bags and paperwork as they fall into the queue. Taehyung drifts up beside Seokjin. He's intuitive enough to sense that something's wrong, and persistent enough to coax it out of him, so Seokjin does what he does best.

“Do you have your passport?” he asks. He despises the icy edge to his tone.

Taehyung makes a face. “Of course,” he answers.

“Good,” Seokjin says. “Don't lose it.”

Taehyung exhales through his nose. He says, “Hyung, can I sit with you?”

And Seokjin says, “Maybe it's best if you don't.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“I say it like a habit:
We won’t work in the end
Even so, I keep hoping.”
House of Cards, BTS

August 2015 – Bangkok

Jimin still hasn't forgiven Seokjin for what he did to Taehyung in Tokyo.

Taehyung, he forgave almost instantly. Before he even bolted through the elevator doors. Yes, Taehyung left him without any explanation to chase after Seokjin. But Taehyung had his reasons, and Jimin understood.

He does not understand Taehyung right now, and what Seokjin is doing is unforgivable.

Right now, Taehyung is slumped against the headboard of Jimin's hotel bed, one hand resting on Jungkook's shoulder, the other loosely cradling his phone. The door to the balcony lolls open, nudged by a thick breeze wafting up from the canal. Their hotel rambles along the bank of the Chao Phraya, and from Jimin's room, they can smell the fresh-cut lilies and forget-me-nots of the flower market. The river tingles with a hundred harbor sounds: tin-whistles, foghorns, and clanging bells. The whole city feels wildly awake, and Jimin's itching to get out and see it.

“Come out with us,” Jimin says, his tone narrowly missing a pleading pitch. “We have permission to go to the Khao San night market by ourselves. It may be a whole year before we'll come back to Bangkok.”

Jungkook, who is scanning maps on his own phone, says, “The subway here is called BTS,” which elicits a kind of frowny smile from Taehyung.

“What are you going to do?” Taehyung asks, and Jimin brightens. It's not an outright dismissal, which Jimin views as progress.

“Shopping, obviously,” Jimin says.

“And eating,” Jungkook adds. He shows Taehyung some pictures from his phone. “They have khao kha moo.”

Taehyung glances at his own phone. Then, halfheartedly, he asks, “What is that?” and for a moment he and Jungkook become engrossed in an in-depth discussion about the differences between cow's feet cakes and pig's feet cakes.

Jimin sighs heavily and interrupts them. “We can take a rice boat from the hotel, and then ride a tuk-tuk all the way to Khao San.”

Jungkook says, “Can we all three ride in one tuk-tuk?”

“I would think so,” Jimin says.

And Taehyung wilts. He says, “I don't want to go.”

“No, Tae-Tae. Why?” Jimin cries. “We'll have so much fun, and it's our last night—”

“—I know,” Taehyung growls.

Jungkook cuts his eyes to Jimin, and Jimin gets it, he does. Normally, Seokjin would go with them. Seokjin's better at navigating big cities. He's the best at finding good food, the best at haggling, the best at helping them forget to be afraid.

But ever since Mexico, since the whole kissing fiasco, Seokjin has been all standoffish and weird. Just like he was back in February when he first broke Taehyung's heart. And this, Jimin cannot comprehend.

“I hate the way he treats you,” Jimin hisses.

“Jimin-ah,” Jungkook says, quietly cautioning.

“Don't, okay,” Taehyung says. “Just don't.”

“What, so it's okay that Jin-hyung retreats to his room every night?” Jimin says. “That he doesn't even respond to your texts?”

Taehyung glares. “It's not—”

“—So go out with us,” Jimin insists. “Remember me, your best friend, Jimin? If he's not going to go out and have some fun, then why shouldn't you?”

The text alert on Taehyung's phone bleeps. Jimin cringes at the flash of relief in Taehyung's eyes. The moment is short-lived, though, as Taehyung scans the message. His features cloud as he mutters, “But... what?

Jimin snatches the phone from his hand.

The message is from Namjoon:

SJ & TH, erase your phones. All photos & texts, including this one. Do it now. I'll explain later.

Jungkook crowds in to read the message over Jimin's shoulder.

“Why would you have to erase your phone?” Jimin wonders, but even as he speaks the words, he knows.

“Minyeong-nim,” Jungkook says. Jimin catches the quaver in his voice, the failed attempt to conceal his fear. Minyeong has struck Taehyung and Jungkook on multiple occasions over the years, but he seems to hold a special loathing for the maknae.

“No,” Taehyung says. He stands up, paces toward the balcony, then turns to face them. His teeth chatter in spite of the heat. “I can't—” Taehyung's throat pinches shut. He swallows and tries again. “It's all I have.”

“Forward it to me,” Jimin says in a rush.

“Jimin-ah,” Jungkook says, again cautioning, again without honorifics.

Jimin ignores him. He says, “Send it all to me, Tae-Tae. I'll keep it safe.”

“This is a bad idea,” Jungkook says.

But Taehyung's flipping through his galleries. “How?” he says. “There are like... six hundred photos.”

“Six hundred?” Jimin shouts. He shakes his head. “Doesn't matter. Email them. Delete as you go. Hurry.”

“You can't look,” Taehyung says.

Jimin feels a sharp twist of pain. “You used to share everything with me,” he says.

Taehyung meets his gaze. “Not this.”

“Fine,” Jimin says.

The first five messages download into Jimin's inbox. Five messages, six images each. This was going to take forever.

And then someone knocks on the door.

“Shit,” Jungkook mutters. He starts herding Jimin and Taehyung in the direction of the bathroom. Jimin can feel his own pulse in the bottoms of his feet, so he's halfway to the toilet before he remembers that this is his room.

A voice calls out from the hallway, “Jimin-ah, let us in. It's just me and Hope.”

“Yoongi-hyung,” Jungkook breathes. He cuts around Jimin and goes for the door.

But Jimin's only partly relieved. He checks his inbox: Fourteen unread messages. Taehyung's face blanches to the white of the room's gauzy curtains.

“Keep sending them,” Jimin soothes. “It's gonna be okay.”

Yoongi scans the room as he enters. “So Jin-hyung's not here?” he asks.

“We don't know where he is,” Jungkook tells him. And at the same time, Taehyung demands, “What's going on?”

Hoseok and Yoongi exchange a look. “Well,” Hoseok says. “Jin-hyung disappeared—”

“—Which needs to stop, by the way,” Yoongi adds.

“Hyung, it's not Tae's fault,” Jimin says.

“Never said it was,” Yoongi points out. “Merely stating fact. Minyeong's on his way to collect their phones, which are company phones, you may remember. All part of our contract.”

Taehyung busies himself with sending files, but he asks, “Why does he want them? Why now?”

Yoongi's jaw clenches. Jimin leans over to remind Taehyung about his manners, but before he can speak, Hoseok explains, “Someone sent a video file to Bang PD.”

“The kiss,” Taehyung moans.

“Yes,” Hoseok says. “Most likely. Minyeong probably thinks there's more of that stored in your chat files. And he's probably right, isn't he?”

Taehyung tightly trains his focus to his phone.

“Hyung,” Jimin says. “Can you stall Minyeong-nim? Please?” Twenty-six unread messages. Twenty-six times six. “We just need some time.”

“So you can do... what, exactly?” Yoongi asks.

Taehyung begins to shake his head, a slow, fervent denial.

“Yes, we'll stall him,” Hoseok says. He hooks an arm in Yoongi's to guide him toward the door. “We'll find Minyeong-nim, and we'll tell Namjoon, too. And if you happen to see Jin-hyung—”

“—We'll let him know,” Jimin says.

With the door firmly closed, Jimin returns to Taehyung and Jungkook.

“How much is left?” Jungkook asks.

“Halfway,” Taehyung answers.

A strained silence slinks between them. Jungkook swings his fists in restless arcs around his body. He bounces out the tension in his legs. When Taehyung's phone rings, Jimin lets out an embarrassing yelp of surprise.

Taehyung answers, listens, says, “Hyung, where are you?”

Jimin reaches for his phone. “Taehyung-ie, don't you dare—”

And Jungkook says, “Jimin-ah,” for a third time.

Taehyung twists away. “Pier Eight,” he says. “Okay. Stay there.”

He ends the call and turns back to them, his eyes fiercely alight.

Jimin shoves him, hard to enough to send him back a step. “You can't keep doing this,” he grates out. “It's not fair.”

Taehyung's chest rises and falls. His shoulders lift. He says, “I have to.”

Jungkook lays a hand on Jimin's wrist. “Go,” he says to Taehyung. “Go find him.”

Taehyung checks his phone, and then he leaves.

Jimin's throat burns with un-shed tears. He whirls on Jungkook, and then he falters.

Because Jungkook stares at him, his lips parted, his eyebrows arched. He looks angry and hurt and afraid, and Jimin sobs, “What? What is it?”

“You,” Jungkook breathes. He steps in, so close that Jimin can see the flecks of gold in his eyes. “I want you,” he says.

And then he brings his mouth to his.

 

Chapter Text

“As long as I’m with you in the end as well, I’m okay.”
House of Cards, BTS

August 2015 – Part Two

It's not like it was before. Taehyung refuses to let it be the way it was before.

Even so, he's ducking through the dusky, teeming streets of a foreign city, calling out Seokjin's name. Instead of Seollal pilgrims, he passes street food vendors, three mongrel cats, and one huge, greasy rooster. This time, heat braces his lungs instead of snow, and instead of finding Seokjin in a shrine, he finds him on the bank of the river.

Taehyung bounds onto the pier just as a rice boat hauls into berth. A bevy of sweaty tourists disembarks to swarm the dock, and he parts through them, a salmon among the trout. The boat departs with a tinny trill, and the crowd disperses, bound for the Reclining Buddha and the shopping arcade. Taehyung scans the vacant space, his heartbeat in his throat, feeling again that he's too late, that they've somehow crossed paths, that he won't find him. But then—

Seokjin stands alone, a dark cutout against the matte black sky. His shoulders curve like he's protecting some tender part of his body. Taehyung approaches the way you would a wounded animal, gently and with his arms outstretched. The boards of the pier creak beneath his steps, but Seokjin doesn't turn.

Once he's within earshot, Taehyung hears Seokjin mutter, “I can't—”

“—No,” Taehyung growls. Before he can stop himself, before he can think. “NO, hyung, you promised.”

Taehyung grips Seokjin's shoulder. He pulls him, but Seokjin's body rigidly resists. The muscles in his arm bunch taut as piano wire, and Taehyung can't move him.

Seokjin glances at him with only his eyes. “I can't do it,” he says.

Bitterness never sat comfortably on Seokjin's tongue, and the words feel broken and brittle. He lowers his head, the barest fraction, and Taehyung follows his gaze to the phone clutched tightly in Seokjin's hand.

“When we get home, I'll go to PD-nim myself,” he says. He gulps, like he's choking. “I'm the one who kissed you. I'll explain that it's not your fault—”

“—Hyung!—”

“I'll tell them,” Seokjin says. “And I'll leave if I have to, so we can be together—”

“—No, don't.” Taehyung tries again to turn him. Once again, Seokjin resists.

“But I can't,” Seokjin bites out. His shoulders shake, a temporary tremble, but he tightens his jaw and keeps going. “They can't have this.”

Seokjin turns the phone over in his palm. The display screen lights up, blinding against the gloom: a selfie of them at Christmas, Taehyung with plush reindeer on his head.

“It's us,” Seokjin whispers.

Taehyung feels the tension bleed out of him as comprehension dials into place. Seokjin's not heartsick or afraid. He's angry. Finally angry.

“Yes,” Taehyung nods. “Good.” He wipes his face. “But you can't leave.”

“Taehyung-ah, how is this supposed to work?” he asks. “We live our lives in front of screens—”

“—I don't care,” Taehyung cuts in. “We'll hide if we have to, we'll play pretend. Whatever it takes.”

“The others,” Seokjin says. “It isn't fair to them—”

“—We made a vow, remember? That's as strong as a pinky swear or a blood oath before God. It's like a marriage.”

Seokjin sniffs a laugh in spite of himself.

Taehyung keeps going. “We promised, Jinnie. To love and protect each other. You. Me. All of us. So, if you go to Bang PD... then I'm going, too.”

They're quiet a moment. A ferry churns past, bobbing with singing tourists and twinkle lights. The Bangkok skyline blurs with muted halos of blue and green and gold.

“Fuck,” Seokjin breathes. Then, more emphatically, “Fuck!

And then Seokjin throws his phone.

It arcs out over the water, a brightly spinning star. It strikes the river's surface with a hollow thunk and then sinks in a slow, glowing spiral before winking out in the murk.

“Oh dear,” Seokjin says in a calculated monotone. “I dropped my phone again.”

After a moment of stunned silence, Taehyung exhales a breathy laugh. “That slipped right out of your hand,” he says.

Seokjin tsks. “Clumsy me.”

Then he tilts his chin to the sky and breathes in the loamy night. There's a long silence once Seokjin slides his arm around Taehyung's waist to pull him close.

Safe, Taehyung thinks. We're safe, it's okay. It's going to be okay.

A shuttle boat noses toward the pier, spangling them with a spotlight's beam. Seokjin guides Taehyung from the water's edge, backing them toward the street. A crowd bustles up the gangway, eight Western couples in paper leis and plastic hats. The group divides around them, and Taehyung feels buoyed by their smiles as they glance first at his and Seokjin's faces and then note their linked hands.

In Korea, this would be dismissed as skinship or blasted as shipping fodder across every fansite on the planet. But in Bangkok, where they're mostly unknown, they are simply two men in love.

They slip down a busy alley hunched between a meat market and a temple gilded in gold. The scents of fried dumplings and red pepper fill Taehyung's nose. Seokjin buys them pig's feet cakes and they rest upon a dimly-lit bulwark a stone's (or phone's) throw from an elderly couple cleaning mussels on a tarp between their feet.

Wistfully, Seokjin says, “If only we had the night...”

“I know,” Taehyung sighs. They have to return, soon. They have to face Minyeong and the others. They have to explain about Seokjin's phone.

“What will we do about your phone?” Seokjin asks, as if reading Taehyung's thoughts.

“Oh I sent everything to Jimin,” Taehyung says.

This earns a gaping, speechless stare from Seokjin.

Taehyung pats his chest to calm him. “It's fine, hyung, we can trust him,” he says. “He won't look.”

Seokjin's eyes widen. “I would,” he says.

“You would?”

“Oh, definitely,” Seokjin says. “You wouldn't?”

A blush burns Taehyung's cheeks. “Yeah,” he admits. “I probably would.”

They laugh, loud and long enough to earn disapproving remarks from the mussels couple, but it's in Thai, which neither of them speak, so the censure only sparks more laughter.

But when it ends, when Seokjin dabs tears from the corners of his eyes, his tone takes on more gravity. “It's too dangerous for Jimin to keep them,” he says. “Who knows when Minyeong might come asking for all of our phones?”

“True,” Taehyung says. “So we'll copy them to some place safe when we get home.”

“Where is safe?” Seokjin asks.

“I have an idea,” Taehyung answers. He doesn't, not yet, but he will figure it out.

Seokjin leans his head on Taehyung's shoulder. Taehyung rests his hand on Seokjin's thigh. They let their feet dangle over Chao Phraya, the soles of their shoes skimming the baffled surface, and Taehyung thinks it feels a little like flying.

Seokjin asks, “May I kiss you?”

This sends a small jolt of thrill through Taehyung. “Always,” he answers.

Seokjin moves close so their noses brush. “Even when I'm old like them and have hair growing out of my ears?” he asks.

“I'll buy a comb so I can braid it,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin knuckles his shoulder. Then he cups Taehyung's jaw and kisses him, soft at first, and then with a hungry kind of abandon.

It's the kind of kiss that makes him blind, that makes him remember, and makes him forget, and it makes Taehyung wonder, will they ever have enough?

 

Chapter Text

“I had come home again to myself.”
Emil Sinclair from Demian by Hermann Hesse

September 2015

When he first took the train south to Gwacheon, Namjoon's chest felt as if it was bound up with constricting metal bands. Their schedule is tight these days. They would be home in Korea for one week before going back on tour, and during that time their itinerary contains charity broadcasts, concert rehearsals, and the quiet occasion of his twenty-first birthday.

Namjoon was certain he couldn't spare a full day for hiking with Mr. Choi.

But now, with the two of them perched on the bleached white stone of Gwanaksan, overlooking the broad, golden sweep of Seoul, Namjoon can at last feel the air in his lungs. Scatters of red and orange rustle among the trees, the first hints of autumn's arrival. From this distance, the city seems veiled in blue, and even though Namjoon knows it's pollution, it makes the landscape appear ethereal and strange, like the drowned kingdom of Atlantis.

Mr. Choi rummages two rolls of kimbap, a lychee green tea, and a lemonade from his pack. Namjoon feels absurdly touched, stirred almost to the point of tears, at the fact that this man still remembers Namjoon's favorite drink.

“I missed the smell of this city,” Namjoon says, once they're settled and eating.

“Does Seoul smell differently from other places?” Mr. Choi asks.

“Oh, yes sir, it does,” Namjoon says. He feels himself smiling, and it feels odd. He wonders how long it's been since he smiled so freely. “It's as though you can smell the kimchi and the river here. It's a very distinctive scent.”

Mr. Choi inhales and nods appreciatively. The city lights bevel across the thick lenses of his glasses, making him seem more spaceman than human. Namjoon enjoys that thought, of Mr. Choi floating in orbit, both benevolent and untouchable.

“So what are you reading these days?” Mr. Choi asks.

“Only short stories,” Namjoon admits. “We're so busy, we rarely get time for ourselves. But I did read one that sticks with me. It's called The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

“By Ursula K. Le Guin,” Mr. Choi says. “Yes, I'm familiar with it.”

“Yes?” Again, Namjoon smiles. “I found it quite thought-provoking.”

“Hmm. Tell me,” Mr. Choi says. “Who are you in this story?”

Namjoon leans back to stretch his arms. Above them, the Korean flag snaps in a steady breeze, and two dozen people, maybe more, scramble over the rocks around the flag's emplacement. Every face seems happy. Every conversation seems light. Even though Namjoon knows it's a generalization, it appears to be true that most people wander through their lives in a kind of blissful abyss: happily ignorant, or ignorantly happy.

In the story, the happiness of everyone in Omelas is paid for by the suffering of one small child. Namjoon wonders, as he has often wondered since reading the story: Who has bought their happiness? Who has ransomed their bliss?

Namjoon answers, “I am definitely not the child.”

“But?” Mr. Choi prods.

“But I think...” Namjoon nods, certain of the answer even as he speaks it. “I think I'm one of the ones who walk away.”

Mr. Choi's face lights with a bittersweet smile. “Yes,” he agrees. “Yes, you are.”

Tears sting Namjoon's eyes. He physically forces them back by pressing his knuckles to his eyelids. Even so, he feels them trying to escape into his nose and throat. He sniffs them back and clenches his teeth until he regains control.

And then he says, “I never imagined this would be so hard.”

Mr. Choi says, gently, “Tell me about that.”

Namjoon doesn't know where to begin. Mr. Choi knows some of it already. The email Namjoon sent requesting this meeting bordered on desperate and detailed in brief the confrontation between Seokjin and Minyeong over the cell phone Seokjin lost in Thailand. Minyeong clearly expected to meet with Seokjin and Taehyung, and had been visibly inflamed when Seokjin arrived with Namjoon instead. Minyeong's temper darkened when they presented Taehyung's phone for inspection, and Namjoon saw for the first time what Jimin hinted at months ago, that Minyeong might be more than deceitful, that he might in fact be dangerous.

The idea that this man could hurt them – had hurt them – under Namjoon's watch is more than he can bear.

And this business with Minyeong is only the most recent of his worries.

“Joonie,” Mr. Choi says. “You're doing a lot of not talking.”

Namjoon manages a strangled chuckle. “You're right sir. I was just thinking... that we have been too busy lately to deal with the issues that really matter. Like Hobi-hyung's anxiety, and Yoongi-hyung's mental state. I mean, Yoongi hasn't mentioned taking his own life in like, a year, but I worry about it constantly. And I suspect that Taehyung struggles with depression too, though he never says anything. And Jimin and Jungkook are going through... something. I mean, I guess we all are in a way, but it's just... so much all at once.”

Mr. Choi nods. “Success can be a double-edged sword.”

“Precisely,” Namjoon says. “It cuts both ways.” He ponders these words before continuing. “On the one side, it's like a scythe cutting a path for us. But the other side, its constant jaggedness is hurting my friends.”

“And you?”

“And me too,” Namjoon says. “Yes. But I hurt when they hurt.”

Again, tears well in his throat. Again, he chokes them down.

Mr. Choi studies him, carefully. Namjoon knows he's a man who doesn't miss much.

He says, “This Minyeong you mentioned in your email, I wonder about him.”

“Yes sir?” Namjoon asks.

“He says that he knows things, that he suspects something going on between two of your members, but he has yet to report it to Bang Sihyuk?”

“That's right,” Namjoon says. He has a flash of clarity, like he's been swimming through the dark only to brush momentarily against something solid.

“What is it that Minyeong seeks to gain?” Mr. Choi asks.

Again, Namjoon feels a tangible handhold. If he can grip it, if he can pull himself closer, then he can finally move from the agony of introspection into the realm of rational thought.

“Jimin has told me, multiple times in the past, about Minyeong's treatment of the maknaes, mostly Jungkook, but Taehyung, too,” Namjoon says.

“And you told him you needed proof,” Mr. Choi says.

“Right,” Namjoon says. “We can't take action until we have something to substantiate Jimin's claim.”

“Which is wise,” Mr. Choi says. “Otherwise, you'd be crying wolf—”

“—Exactly,” Namjoon says. “But Minyeong is sneaky. He never does anything on camera, or where the other managers can see.”

“But you believe Jimin?” Mr. Choi asks.

“Oh yes sir,” Namjoon says. He chews his lip. “And Seokjin, too. I believe Minyeong-nim has abused them. It's just...”

And there it is: Namjoon's epiphany. It took this session, this hike out of the city to get above the chaos of their life to finally see it.

“He wants leverage,” Namjoon says. “Minyeong hopes to use evidence of their relationship as leverage in case we ever have proof of his abuse.” He steeples his fingers over his face, breathing through his fear to find relief. “He was angry in Bangkok because Taehyung's phone was clean and Seokjin lost his...” And with this, Namjoon smiles. “I mean, of course, I already knew Seokjin didn't just lose his phone.”

“He got rid of it,” Mr. Choi guesses.

“His wasn't a company phone anyway,” Namjoon says. “His parents paid for the phone. They've already sent a replacement. Big Hit only provided his carrier service. But yes, he got rid of it.”

“So they've thwarted Minyeong for now,” Mr. Choi says.

“But he was so angry, Mr. Choi,” Namjoon says. “If I hadn't been there...”

“Anger makes a man irrational,” Mr. Choi says. “And unpredictable.”

Namjoon sits forward, his elbows on his knees. “I know what we need to do,” he says.

Mr. Choi tilts his head. “I thought you might.”

Namjoon stands up. He feels light-headed with the decision, and with the plans that are already taking shape in his brain. He reaches down to help Mr. Choi to his feet.

“Thank you,” Namjoon says.

“Any time, Joon,” Mr. Choi says. “I hope you always know that.”

They pick their way back along the stony path, down the mountain and through the wooded climb that leads them past the small temple of the Gwacheon Confucian school.

They part ways at Sadang station, where Mr. Choi places his hand on Namjoon's shoulder and says, “I'm very glad the Omelas story found its way to you. It happens often, you know. The perfect story will come to you at the moment when you need it most.”

All the way back to the dorm, Namjoon feels comforted by the knowledge that this will always be true.

 

Chapter Text

“And my hopes, they are high, I must keep them small.
Though I try to resist, I still want it all.”
Fools, Troye Sivan

October 2015 – Part One

Hoseok doesn't know how Seokjin cooked in the old kitchen. The one in their new dorm is two times larger, yet every time he turns around, he's elbowing into Jungkook or Jimin, or for the love of all sanity, Yoongi, and they are running out of time.

“Yoongi-hyung,” Jimin says. “I don't think you have to stir them constantly.”

Yoongi quirks a brow. “Do you think that I'd make regular noodles?” he asks. “These are not an average man's noodles. They must be stirred constantly to achieve perfection.”

“Perfection Noodles,” Hoseok says. “Is that what you'll call them?” He rubs his nose with the back of his hand, finally stifling the sneeze that's been tingling behind his eyes since he first started mincing the garlic.

“They're Genius Noodles,” Yoongi deadpans.

Jimin, who is dutifully dicing carrots, begins to giggle.

Jungkook, beside Jimin, slides in with a cutting board full of sliced chicken breast. “What I think he means to say, hyung, is that you're in Hobi-hyung's way.”

Yoongi sidesteps but continues to swirl the noodles with his tongs.

Hoseok scrapes the chicken into the pan. It spits and crackles, filling the kitchen with the savory scent of crisping flesh, and Hoseok's stomach twists. He moans, “Why didn't we just order fried chicken?”

“Because we want our hyungs to have healthy food after...” Jungkook says.

And this has been their pattern for days. They skate right up to the edge of the thing, but then quickly back away from actually saying what it is: a meeting with their CEO that could bring permanent changes for them as a group.

“How long do we have?” Jimin asks.

Hoseok fishes his phone from his pocket. “Twelve, maybe fifteen minutes,” he says.

Jimin frowns at his carrots. “We should get one of those food processors, you know, the kind with the rotating blades?”

“Just the thing to lop off all of Joonie's fingers,” Yoongi says. Then he sniffs. “Uh, Hobi—”

“—Hyung,” Jungkook says, hip-bumping Hoseok out of the way. “You're burning it.” He snatches the spatula from his hand and proceeds to unstick the chicken from the pan.

Yoongi juts his chin at Hoseok. “Constant stirring,” he says.

Hoseok palms his hair from his forehead. “Yeah, well your Genius Noodles seem a bit like your rhymes these days.”

“Awesomely perfect,” Yoongi states.

“More like overdone,” Hoseok says.

Amid their jeers and commemorations, their phones chirp with the message they've all been waiting for. Four words from Namjoon: On our way up.

Jimin stares, wide-eyed. He says, “Does that mean it went well?”

Hoseok wants to give him assurance, but he also doesn't want to lie.

Instead, he snaps, “Jimin-ie, get the colander. Drain the noodles, mix in the black bean paste. I'll set the table. Kook-ie, you've got the chicken?”

“Yes, hyung,” he says.

For four and a half minutes, they bustle around in overly-polite silence, rattling out plates and cups and chopsticks and spoons. When the door opens at 7:58, they're all sitting at the table, compulsively checking their phones and trying not to think too hard about their fate.

 

During dinner, Seokjin and Taehyung look shell-shocked. They spoon Yoongi's Genius Noodles into their bowls with all the enthusiasm of a robotic crane game. Hoseok feels the nagging push-pull of eagerness and hesitation as they small-talk through the start of their meal. Hoseok understands that they're grateful for dinner, but he's desperate to know how the meeting went. Yet at the same time, he doesn't wish to begin a line of questioning that may result in the worst news of their careers.

Naturally, Yoongi's the one to breach the divide. “Well, Joon, let's have it,” he says. “Put us out of our misery.”

Namjoon lays his chopsticks across his bowl. He says, “It wasn't... too bad.” He glances at Seokjin for confirmation. Seokjin's eyes twitch, never a good sign, and Namjoon continues with a resigned sigh. “Well. It could have been worse.”

“He did listen to us,” Seokjin says.

“Though at one point Bang PD did say, Have you tried not being gay?” Namjoon says.

Yoongi hisses over his teeth. “Ah, the cry of the hetero-normative male.”

“So what did you say?” Jimin asks.

We didn't say anything,” Seokjin says, gesturing between him and Taehyung with his chopsticks. “But Joon told him that we live together, and that we're in love, so we can't just end our relationship.”

Hoseok says, “But he wanted you to?”

“He asked us to, yes,” Seokjin says. “He asked if we could, if we were forced to choose. For the sake of...all of us.” He pokes absently through his noodles. “Then Joon told him about how we've been together for almost two years and...”

Namjoon squeezes Seokjin's wrist. “He seemed impressed, actually, at the length of time you've kept this secret.”

“And then,” Seokjin says, and he covers his mouth as he softly chuckles. “Then, he asked if there were any others in the group we needed to address.”

At that moment, Jungkook chokes on his soda. The narrative gets lost in the scramble of passing napkins and pounding between Jungkook's shoulder blades. But Hoseok pays attention to the interaction between him and Jimin. He may be making something from nothing, but he has picked up on a certain closeness between them recently. He'd chalked it up to them bonding over the argument they had with Taehyung in Thailand.

But now he wonders...

Hoseok makes a mental note to talk later with Jimin. Because tonight is about Seokjin and Taehyung, and right now Namjoon is moving them forward.

He says, “Bang PD says he'll investigate our claims against Minyeong. In that regard, our plan worked. Bang PD knows about Jin-hyung and Tae, so Minyeong doesn't have that power over us anymore.”

“Cheers,” Hoseok says, raising his glass, and everyone follows his lead.

Namjoon nods and continues. “Bang PD also told us that he takes no issue whatsoever with who we are in our private lives. But, he reminded us that when we're in front of the cameras, we must always maintain a certain facade. I mean, we already knew this, but it will only become more so if our popularity continues.”

Not if, Hoseok expects, but when. They're due for a comeback next month, and their latest work has flowed from them like life-blood straight from their hearts. As hard as they've worked, as many tears as they've cried, their new songs make it feel as though it's all been worth it.

Hoseok's attention drifts around the table, to the faces of his friends lit by the glow of Seoul through the windows. They're subdued tonight, worn ragged from their whirlwind ride across America last month, and then from the anticipation of this meeting.

That's when Hoseok notices that Taehyung has lapsed into a drifty kind of non-verbal state. In that way, he and Taehyung are alike. Sometimes, they lose their voices beneath all the noise.

Throwing him a line, Hoseok asks, “How about you, Taehyung-ie? How do you feel?”

Taehyung brightens, like he's relieved that someone's noticed him. But he's also oddly shy, like there's so much he wants to say, he doesn't know where to begin. So he shrugs and says, “I'm just glad we're home.”

This gets swallowed up by the reactions around the table. They pet his shoulders and touch his hands. Seokjin kisses his forehead. They all say how glad they are to have him to remind them of what's really important.

But Taehyung looks... lost, like he's still bracing for bad news.

Or maybe he's just exhausted. Hoseok reaches for Taehyung's hand, and as he clasps it, his phone vibrates in his pocket.

Everyone's phones, Hoseok realizes. A Twitter notification.

After a moment's puzzling, Namjoon says, “Bang PD tweeted a song from Troye Sivan?”

“Oh, I like him,” Jungkook says.

And Jimin says, “Is he that one—?”

“—No, but Troye Sivan...” Namjoon says. He sweeps a gaze around the table, expecting everyone to understand a connection that only he has made. “He's an openly gay singer. Which means... You know what this means, right?”

Taehyung lifts his head. “He's okay with us,” he says. He smiles as he closes his eyes. “It means that we're okay.”

 

Chapter Text

“Living is all about the choices you make moment by moment.”
Samchunpo, Reply 1994

October 2015, Part Two

Yoongi spends a lot of time reclining on the couch in the recording room, contemplating the complexity of life and the inevitability of death. Tonight, he doesn't bother kicking off his shoes, but stretches out on top of the crackling vinyl, watching the patterned light from the hallway jag across the ceiling tiles. Even though they're all here this evening, doing their various whatevers, Yoongi is enjoying this rare moment of undisturbed introspection.

Which is not meditation, no matter how often Hoseok says it is...

But Yoongi's listening to the backing piano track for one of their recent songs, letting it loosen the bindings of his mind, when Hoseok appears at the door. He's hugging a tablet to his chest and looks... troubled, but in a hopeful sort of way.

Yoongi props on his elbows and tugs out his earbuds. “What's up?”

Hoseok comes to sit beside him. “I think I found something,” he says. He flips the tablet to rest on their knees. “It may be nothing, but it could be something, too, and I need your opinion before I can take it to Joon or Bang PD.”

“Well," Yoongi says. "Then let's have it.”

Hoseok pulls up a clip from this year's Season's Greetings video. In it, Seokjin departs from the van and talks amiably to one of the camera crew as they walk toward the filming location. It's thirty seconds long and seems dull as newsprint. When it ends, Yoongi can only shrug in response.

“What am I missing?” he asks.

“Watch it again,” Hoseok says. “This time, pay attention to the background.”

So Yoongi does.

And then he sees it.

“Oh shit,” Yoongi breathes. “Minyeong raised his hand, did you see that?”

“That's what I thought,” Hoseok says. “He was gonna hit Jungkook, right?”

Yoongi stands up. “Are they still here? Jimin and Jungkook?”

Hoseok gets to his feet, too. “In the practice room.”

“I think we need to ask them what was going on,” Yoongi says.

 

When they reach the practice room, Hoseok tugs Yoongi's sleeve, gesturing for them to watch Jimin and Jungkook through the small window as the pair runs through a new piece of choreo.

“Well. They really are in sync,” Yoongi observes. He eyes Hoseok sidewise, and Hoseok gives him a knowing nod.

“You know what I think?” Hoseok asks.

“Probably what I've been thinking since Chicago,” Yoongi answers.

"Yeah." Hoseok's forehead bunches up as he says, “There's something going on between them.”

Yoongi watches them a minute more. Jimin misses a step in the dance, and Jungkook gives him a playful shove. That, Yoongi could chalk up to boy-on-boy posturing, and who among them hasn't done that? But then Jimin knots his fist in Jungkook's shirt, hauling him so close their noses touch. Yoongi can see Jungkook's lips moving. He can't hear what he's saying, only that Jimin's head rocks back with laughter. They push apart, like the opposite poles of magnets, and Jungkook goes to the stereo to reset their music.

At that moment, Hoseok opens the door. But he makes a fuss of it, giving them plenty of warning. By the time Yoongi and Hoseok actually enter, Jimin and Jungkook have paced several meters apart, and look, for all the world, like teenagers caught vandalizing the school bathroom.

Before Hoseok can even speak, Jimin says, “Nothing, hyung.”

And Jungkook says, “What?”

Hoseok glances back at Yoongi, who mouths, “Smooth.”

In a surprisingly stern voice, Hoseok says, “You two should probably sit down.” He holds the tablet in the bend of his elbow like a book, probably a gesture he learned from his father, the professor.

Jimin blanches. He says, “Are we in trouble, Hoseokie-hyung?”

Jungkook's eyes are huge as he drags up two chairs from the corner and slaps the back of one for Jimin to take.

“You're not in trouble,” Yoongi assures them. “We just have a few questions.” He's trying not to be amused given the nature of the video he's just seen, but Christ, could they be more obvious?

Jungkook and Jimin sit. Hoseok turns the tablet over, holding it out between them. “Do you remember the Season's Greetings video?”

“Yes,” they say at exactly the same time.

Hoseok plays the video. When it ends, Jungkook tips back and scrubs his fingers along his cheekbone.

“You're not in trouble,” Yoongi tells him again. “But, Kook-ah... why didn't you tell us?”

“He's told people before, we both have,” Jimin says, his voice verging on shrill. “They always say the same thing. We can't do anything without proof.”

Jungkook mashes his lips together. He says, “But this is proof. Right? Can this be proof?”

Hoseok twists the tablet over to re-watch the video. “It's definitely a start,” he says.

“Bang PD's investigating Minyeong-nim,” Yoongi says. “This is evidence toward that. What we need to know, though, is what happened before and after? We've got this small bit on film, but what is the full story?”

“Minyeong hates us,” Jimin says.

Yoongi rubs his neck. “Not exactly helpful, Jimin-ie. We need facts, okay? A story, actions, motives. Can you do that?”

“Minyeong said to get out of his face while he was still being nice,” Jungkook says. “We were playing around in the van, y'know, just teasing, and he... got angry.”

“Angry enough to hit you?” Hoseok says.

“Not on camera,” Jungkook says. He stares at the space between his shoes. “Never on camera.”

Hoseok nods and chews the inside of his cheek.

Yoongi says, “Okay, look. Bang PD asked Tae and Jin-hyung if the other members had anything that needed to be addressed. Remember?”

Jimin and Jungkook each give him a cautious nod.

“Taehyung and Seokjin came out to Bang PD in order to take away whatever leverage Minyeong thought he had,” Yoongi continues. “But if he has something on the two of you,” he gestures between them with his finger and thumb, “then you need to let us know.”

“There's nothing,” Jimin says.

But at the same time, Jungkook says, “I kissed him.”

“Once,” Jimin sputters. “Hyung, it was just once.”

“Okay, okay, calm down,” Hoseok says.

“Twice,” Jungkook adds.

“That time didn't count,” Jimin snaps.

“All right,” Yoongi says. “Does Minyeong know? Can he possibly know?”

“No way,” Jimin answers.

“No,” Jungkook agrees.

“But he suspects something because you play around?” Hoseok asks.

Again, they both nod.

Yoongi releases a long, shallow sigh. “So you kissed. It happens, believe me.” He rolls his eyes. “It's up to the two of you to share or not share, but in the matters of Minyeong, we have to be perfectly clear. If he raises his voice to you, threatens you, comes at you in any way, you need to let us know. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Yoongi-hyung,” Jimin says.

And Jungkook echoes with, “Yes, hyung.”

Hoseok squeezes Jungkook's shoulder. He says, “Okay. I'll forward this to Bang Sihyuk. The more we have on Minyeong, the quicker we can be rid of him.”

“Thank you,” Jungkook whispers, and his throat sounds groggy and hoarse.

“You can get back to your dance thing,” Yoongi says.

He leaves, and Hoseok follows. Once they're in the hall, Hoseok brushes his hair from his forehead. “Oh good lord,” he mutters. “Jimin and Kook-ie, too? Should we tell Joon?”

“I mean, eventually, yeah, they'll have to.” Yoongi chuckles. “And you wonder why I drink so much.”

Hoseok stands at the recording room door, watching as Yoongi lowers himself back onto the vinyl sofa. "You know, I remember that filming day. It was that time when Minyeong made us switch vans, remember? The day he called us brainless. I think maybe Jin-hyung and Tae's bantering just started him off, because Minyeong-nim was in a foul mood that whole afternoon. So... Yeah. Tonight I think I will join you for a drink."

"You're always welcome, of course." Yoongi opens one eye. "But only one drink..."

Hoseok gives him the smile that makes every second of contemplating the complexity of life and the inevitability of death worth it. "I'll go send this and see you in a bit. Then we'll drink a toast to our probable demise."

"Nah," Yoongi says. "We'll be fine. We have each other."

Hoseok squints like he's trying to determine the level of Yoongi's seriousness. But after a few seconds, he dismisses it with a click of his tongue. "You're right," he says. Then he strides off down the hall, leaving Yoongi alone with his thoughts.

Which turn to Jungkook and Minyeong. Yoongi has to clench his teeth against the dull flame of anger in his gut. Yoongi knows this one video won't be enough. But it is a start, and that can give them hope.

 

Chapter Text

“Your love comes true in the first snow fall.”
Korean saying

“Please hold me. Please catch me.”
I Love You, cover by Kim Seokjin

November 2015

On his pillow in Seokjin's room, Taehyung finds a purple plushie octopus with the strip of paper pinned to a tentacle.

Jimin swipes it up and asks, “What is this?”

Taehyung snatches it from his hands. “Mine,” he says. He reads the strip of paper aloud: “Take me to the Orange, all the way to Hongdae. At the end, you will find my friend. Love from the Sheep. Thanks, Nature.”

Jimin knees onto Seokjin's bed. “Well that makes no sense,” he announces. “So, what do you think? Ice cream? Movies?”

“It's a clue,” Taehyung says.

“The movies are a clue?” Jimin asks.

“No. Pabo,” Taehyung says. “It's a hint from Jin.”

“Taehyung-ie,” Jimin whines. “I thought we were going to hang out.”

Taehyung thumbs through the subway app on his phone, tracing the purple line to the orange. “I hung out with you in Busan,” Taehyung says as he scrolls.

“Three weeks ago,” Jimin says.

“And at the Chinese music festival thing, remember?” Taehyung says.

Jimin smirks. “Oh yeah.”

“Yeah, and Jinnie-hyung fell asleep while he was waiting up for me,” Taehyung says.

“So?” Jimin says.

Taehyung cuts his eyes at Jimin. He knows what Jimin wants to say. It's the same thing he's been saying since the start of August, about how it's not okay for Seokjin to go all Cone of Silence every time he gets upset. It's the something he doesn't want Jimin to start in on tonight because they've been through enough with coming out to Bang Sihyuk and constantly avoiding Minyeong, not to mention their regular promotions and broadcasts and performances. So instead of engaging, he tabs to Naver and types in the keywords Hongdae, Nature, and Sheep.

“Ah,” he says at the first result on the list. “A sheep cafe.”

“There's a sheep cafe?” they say at the same time.

“Taehyung-ie,” Jimin says. “It's so cute.”

“Well.” Taehyung unpins the message from the plushie's arm. “Bye.”

Jimin bounds up from the bed. “I'm going, too.”

“No, you... can't.”

“I can and I will,” Jimin says. He follows Taehyung to the door, going through the motions of putting on his heavy coat before Taehyung catches his forearm.

“He just finished his last midterm for the year,” he explains. “And we haven't had a night out alone since July.”

“Since Mexico?” Jimin says.

Taehyung threads a scarf around his neck. He pats his pockets to make sure he has a face mask. “Yes,” he answers. “Since then.”

“Let me come with you,” Jimin says. “I'll help you solve the clues.”

“My boyfriend, my treasure hunt.”

Jimin bats his eyelashes, literally bats them.

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says. “Jinnie does this because it invites too many questions when we're seen out alone in public.”

“So?”

“So you can't come with me. Then it'll look like we're out together in public.”

“We go out together all the time,” Jimin says.

“Not like this.”

Jimin pudges out his bottom lip. Remorse snags at Taehyung's heart, and he wishes there was some way to appease them both. But it's Seokjin, and riddles, and a sheep cafe, and Taehyung can't stand him up again like he accidentally did last month in Beijing.

“Fine. Go,” Jimin says as he shucks off his coat. “Have fun with your sheep.”

 

The streets in Hongdae smell of smoked eel and burnt sugar candy. The air crisps around the Christmas lights, making them sharp and bright, and despite the plummeting cold, hundreds of people mill around, sipping hot drinks and listening to the street performers sing. Taehyung tugs the face mask over his nose, snugs his wool cap over his forehead, and joins the anonymous crowds.

He finds the Thanks Nature Cafe in the basement level of Seogyo-dong, and as promised, there's a paddock filled with warm, wooly sheep. He makes a quick sweep of the cafe itself, nosing around for anything Seokjin might have left for him. But instinct tells Taehyung that he'll find his next clue with the sheep themselves.

He kneels beside the pen amid a gaggle of squealing middle schoolers. He lets the sheep nibble at his fingers and the cuffs of his coat. And there, tucked into the collar of the largest, fluffiest sheep, he sees a rolled up strip of paper.

Taehyung scans the pen as he unfurls the message, wondering how far ahead of him Seokjin might be. Not too far ahead, probably; someone might have found his message first.

The page contains two lines of text and a cartoon drawing of Princess Daisy.

It reads: You saved me, but your Prince is in another Castle.

Then there's an address and Floor #7 scrawled beneath.

Taehyung feels all pins and needles as he stands to enter the coordinates into his phone. It plots a walking course to a boutique hotel called The Alcazar.

He locates the hotel on the edge of Hongdae, a sleek building of black and gold. But when he enters the elevator, he finds that there are only six floors. He double checks the message: No mistake there, Seokjin wrote #7. So he presses the button for six and rides to the top.

The sixth floor has four rooms, all behind matte-black doors with brass number fixtures, and a fifth door with a photo taped to it. Not a photo, Taehyung sees upon closer inspection, but the cutout of a house held aloft by a cluster of colorful balloons.

Taehyung grins as he thumbs off his mask. “Up,” he whispers. He lifts the door latch and takes the stairs to the roof.

He steps from the stairwell into a glittering fairy-scape wreathed in white twinkle lights and sparkling with fresh-fallen snow. A high, black fence borders three sides of the rooftop, leaving the fourth open to frame a wide sweep of the skyline, which glows like an earthbound galaxy. A small iron table sits in the corner beneath a canopy draped in holly. On it rests a bottle of chilled champagne and a small cake with two candles softly shedding sparks.

Taehyung approaches carefully, his boots crunching on the thin snow. Seokjin must be nearby, but there's no sign of him. No footprints, no broad-shouldered shadow lurking to leap out in surprise.

Only the cake, which reads in gold letters: Happy AnniVersary.

Taehyung spins a slow circle, letting the downy snowflakes fall into his upturned face. And then he finds Seokjin, framed in the amber gleam of the doorway, a pair of crystal champagne flutes crooked between his fingers.

He crosses the rooftop, an awed smile playing on his lips. Halfway to Taehyung he says, “I wish I could take credit for the snow.”

“You can,” Taehyung says, closing the distance. “You should.”

Seokjin slides his free hand into Taehyung's coat. They kiss the tender, relieved kiss of lovers reuniting, and everything sounds distant – the rush of the trains, the hush of the crowds – as though the world is a million miles away.

Taehyung feels himself melting into the scene and the kiss and his warmth, but there's just one thing... “Jin-hyung,” he says. “It's not our anniversary.”

“Yes it is,” Seokjin answers. “Of the day I fell for you.”

And Taehyung whispers, “Hyung... that's gay.”

Seokjin bumps him with his shoulder. “I'm a few days off,” he admits. “It was the 22nd of November, two years ago. I have video evidence if you'd like to see it.”

“I would like to see it,” Taehyung says.

“We'll watch it later,” Seokjin says.

“So we have a room?”

“The whole night if you want it.”

Taehyung takes his hand. “Of course I want it.”

They walk together to the table and watch as the candles gutter beneath the gently falling snow.

“It's so beautiful,” Taehyung says. “I wish...” But he stops himself. Because really, doesn't he have enough? What could he possibly wish for, in the light of all that he has?

But Seokjin nods. “I know,” he says. “I wanted to send pictures of this to my Mom. But she would think...”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says. “Yes.”

Seokjin says, “It's the first snowfall.” His eyes glisten with stolen fairy light.

Taehyung pulls him into his arms, and they hold each other as the snow drifts like feathers from the sky.

 

Chapter Text

“Loving someone doesn't make them deserve you.”
R. H. Sin

KAKAOTALK
27 December
9:42 p.m.

BigHit Taehyung: Jinnie, we're going out, come with us

Jinnie: Now? I've just showered.

BigHit Taehyung: Good, perfect. Come out with us

Jinnie: Who's going?

BigHit Taehyung: Me, Jimin-ie, Jungkook-ie

Jinnie: No, it's cold. Also I don't want to.
You go, though. Have fun. Be careful.

BigHit Taehyung: Can those things be done simultaneously?

Jinnie: C:ミ You octopi my thoughts.

BigHit Taehyung: Keep that up and I'll come banging on your door

Jinnie: VV, you come bang on my door anytime you like.

 

Seokjin wakes up to banging on his door. He spends twenty seconds scrambling in panic, checking for incriminating items of clothing or stray bottles of lube. Then he remembers. Minyeong's not on this trip. There's an investigation into his conduct, and as of last week, Minyeong's officially suspended.

Yet someone's still knocking, and it's...

He checks his phone. 1:47 a.m.

Seokjin pulls on his robe and goes to the door to find Jimin with an extremely intoxicated Taehyung slung over his shoulder.

“Let me in, Jin-hyung,” Jimin says. There's a tight stitch of worry in his voice.

He opens the door and steps back. Jimin stumbles in, panting, and Seokjin gets under Taehyung's limp body to help bear him to the bed. His hair reeks of sake and cigarette smoke. His skin appears paper-pale and vaguely green.

Anger ripples under the surface of Seokjin's heart. He presses his palm to Taehyung's cheek. Taehyung cringes away.

“He's burning up,” Seokjin says. “What did you do?”

“Me?” Jimin cries. “I didn't... He only had two drinks.”

Seokjin whirls on him in the tight space. “That you saw,” he hisses. “Once he's had a few, he'll go for anything he can get his hands on. You have to watch him constantly.”

Jimin blinks. He presses a hand to his chest. “Do you think I wouldn't?” he says. “You think you can tell me how to care for him? My best friend?”

“Is this taking care of him?” Seokjin asks. “How often have you both turned up like this in the last few months? Hm? Eight times? Ten?”

“Not ten,” Jimin bites out.

Taehyung groans. He reaches out to weakly clasp Seokjin's hand. His palms feel dry, his skin tight. The first tinge of alarm creeps beneath Seokjin's cool resolve.

“Was there anything else?” Seokjin asks. “Besides alcohol.”

Jimin narrows his eyes. “No, hyung.”

“Nothing that might have been slipped into his drink?”

Jimin flicks a glance at Taehyung. “I don't know.”

“Get him up,” Seokjin says. He wrests his arm beneath Taehyung to haul him upright.

“What?”

“I said get him up!”

They stagger-slide to the bathroom, Taehyung's head lolling bonelessly on his shoulders.

“Nothing got into his drink,” Jimin insists.

But Seokjin barely hears him. He crouches with Taehyung over the toilet and whispers, “You have to vomit now, okay?”

Taehyung rolls his eyes to Seokjin's. “No, hyung,” he slurs. “I don't wanna.”

“What are you doing?” Jimin moans.

“If there was something in his drink, he has to throw it up,” Seokjin says. “You have to throw it up, VV. You'll feel better.”

“No,” Jimin says. “Stop it, he doesn't want to.”

“Look, if you want to help, go get Namjoon or call for a doctor. But don't just hover there being useless,” Seokjin says.

“There was nothing in his drink,” Jimin hurls back. “We watched him.”

But there are tears in Taehyung's eyes and a thin scrim of yellow outlining his lips.

“You'll feel better,” Seokjin soothes.

Taehyung nods. “Okay.”

Seokjin holds his shoulders. He shoves his fingers down Taehyung's throat. Taehyung heaves and vomits and it's gross and gets all over both of them. But Seokjin says, “Good, it's good. You're okay.”

And Jimin cries, “Stop it, you're killing him!”

“I am not killing him,” Seokjin says in a voice that is still and steady and cold as a blade. “He'll be fine once this is out of his system.”

“There is nothing in his system, hyung, we only had two drinks,” Jimin wails.

“You don't know,” Seokjin says. “The places you go, who knows what could happen?”

Taehyung is quaking when he rocks back against Seokjin. He mumbles, “Water.”

“Go get water,” Seokjin snaps at Jimin.

Jimin disappears around the corner.

Seokjin whispers, “Do you feel better? Are you okay?”

“It hurts,” Taehyung says.

“What hurts?”

He hugs his sides. “Everything.”

Jimin returns with a water glass. Seokjin tips it to Taehyung's mouth. “Go slow. Slow sips.”

And Taehyung vomits again.

“Fuck,” Seokjin breathes, raking towels down from the shelf. “Call Namjoon.”

“I already sent Jungkook,” Jimin says.

“Good.” Seokjin meets Jimin's eye in the mirror above the sink. “That's good.”

“You know, you're not the only one who cares for him,” Jimin says, his voice hitching.

“I know that—”

“—I was there for him when you abandoned him,” Jimin spits.

“—What? Abandoned?—”

“—You broke his heart,” Jimin shouts.

“How?” Seokjin balks. “We're still together.”

“You really think that because you made amends that you didn't still destroy him?” Jimin says, “Jungkook is right. You two shouldn't be together—”

“—Jungkook said that?—”

“—You don't treat him well,” Jimin says. “Not like he deserves.”

Seokjin is dumbstruck. He says, “You think I don't love him?”

“I know you don't,” Jimin snarls. “Not the way he loves you.”

Seokjin's mouth works in wordless circles. He cradles Taehyung against his chest, but he feels weak, like he's not enough, like he'll never be able to hang on.

“He cries at night,” Jimin yells. “Did you know that? Tokyo was horrible, but then after Mexico. You wouldn't talk to him, wouldn't return his texts. How dare you.”

Taehyung reaches a listless hand to touch Seokjin's neck. Seokjin feels heat behind his eyes, so hot he's almost blind with it.

“How dare I?” he says, at last raising his voice. “You bring him to me like this, and you want to talk about how I treat him?”

“If you cared so much—”

And then Hoseok's reflection appears behind Jimin's. “Why are we yelling?” he asks. “You left the door open. Everyone can hear you.” He steps alongside Jimin, placing his hands on his shoulders to peer into the bathroom. “Oh no, Taehyung-ie's sick, too?”

“Too?” Jimin asks. His eyes widen. “Who else?”

“Yoongi-hyung,” Hoseok says. “I informed the staff, they're sending a medic. Namjoon's with Jungkook-ie—”

“—But he's fine, right?” Jimin asks.

“Yes. I thought only Yoongi was sick,” Hoseok says. He takes in the whole bathroom tableau and makes his trademark face of concern. “Aw, poor Taehyung-ie.”

“Jin-hyung made him vomit,” Jimin says.

Hoseok rolls his shoulders. “Yoongi did his on his own,” he says. “We'll send the medic this way. Let's let Jin-hyung get Tae all cleaned up.” He cups Jimin's shoulder, hoping to guide him out, but Jimin remains rigid in the bathroom doorway.

He says, “I'm not leaving him.”

Seokjin dips his nose to the top of Taehyung's head, which still smells, in spite of everything, like honey and snow. “At least get his clothes,” he says. “They're in my bag at the end of the bed.”

After another second's resistance, Jimin storms from the room.

“I'll be right back,” Hoseok tells Seokjin's reflection in the mirror.

“Thank you,” he says. Then he shifts Taehyung forward to carefully work his ruined shirt over his head. 

 

Chapter Text

“You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve.
And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.”
Flaws, Bastille

December 2015 - Kobe, Japan

“Was it the mussels?” Jungkook asks.

“No, I had those,” Hoseok answers.

“Me too,” Seokjin says. “They tasted good.”

They lapse into contemplation, their knees all brushing the edges of a low metal table in the hospital lobby. Earlier, a doctor suggested food contamination might account for some of Yoongi's and Taehyung's symptoms. Everyone immediately began to list the foods they ate at the buffet the night before. If they could figure out what Taehyung and Yoongi ate that the rest of them didn't, then maybe...

“Maybe the prawns?” Namjoon ventures. “Did anyone eat them?”

“I didn't,” Jimin says.

Jungkook and Hoseok each shake their heads.

Seokjin shrugs. “Maybe?”

Jimin cuts his eyes at him.

“I wanted to try everything,” Seokjin explains.

Jimin breathes a word beneath his breath. It sounds suspiciously like Pig.

“What did you say?” Namjoon asks.

“Nothing,” Jimin answers. He sits back, folds his arms, and sulks.

Seokjin rests his face against his folded hands. He still smells like puke. His hands. His hair. His clothes. Everything. He wonders if it counts for something that he's not thoroughly repulsed, or that when the moment came, he acted without hesitation to help his friend.

Not his friend. His boyfriend, Taehyung. The fucking love of his life.

It counts for nothing. If he broke Taehyung's heart, destroyed him, as Jimin said, then he is worse than a pig. He's the selfish asshole monster he's always feared he'd become.

But for the record, not that Jimin cares, he and Taehyung both wept after that terrible night in Tokyo. And after the kiss captured on camera, well, Seokjin was so scared he'd messed everything up forever, he didn't know what else to do but hide.

And what does Jimin know, anyway? Seokjin thinks. He and Taehyung have been the ones hiding, the ones dodging Minyeong to keep what they have safe. Jimin can't understand that. He doesn't know what it's done to them, how it's changed them. How much it hurts.

But Jimin does know Taehyung. And Taehyung tells him everything.

Seokjin scrubs his face. He needs a shower. He needs—

“Did they serve fugu?” Jungkook asks.

Hoseok perks up. “Puffer fish?”

“Yeah,” Jungkook says. “I've heard it can make people sick if it's not prepared correctly.”

“That's good thinking,” Namjoon says. He palms his phone and begins searching the restaurant's online menu.

Hoseok meets Seokjin's eyes. “Puffer fish can be deadly.”

Seokjin stands up. He paces three steps and freezes. He slips out his own phone and opens a text window for his Mom. He wants to tell her everything, about him and Taehyung, about how much he loves him, about how afraid and useless he feels right now. He stares a long time at the blinking cursor on the screen, hearing Hoseok's last word echo in his head. Deadly. Deadly?

Namjoon says, “They don't serve fugu. Has to be something else.”

Seokjin nearly collapses from relief.

But then Jimin says, “Maybe it's easier to ask Jin-hyung what he didn't eat.”

Guilt drops into his gut like a weight. “I ate everything,” Seokjin says. And then he walks out.

 

At best, Seokjin has a grade schooler's grasp of written Japanese. None of the hospital signage makes any sense to him. His spoken Japanese turns out to be more conversational than he might have guessed, too. Taehyung's the one who speaks Japanese. Well, and Namjoon, too, but Seokjin can't find him, or anyone. So he wanders, lost, and feeling vaguely guilty about how hungry he is.

Until Namjoon texts him: Jin-hyung, are you okay?

He resists his first impulse, which is to respond with, No, I feel like I'm imploding because I can't remember ever being so afraid in all of my life, and texts back instead:

Sorry. Yes. I needed air.

I understand, Namjoon answers. Then, Jimin apologized.

Seokjin writes, Fuck Jimin. Then he backspaces.

Because he knows that Jimin is just as scared as he is. Jimin responds out of emotion to everything. On some level, Seokjin even knows that Jimin's anger is the only thing keeping Jimin from losing it over Yoongi and Taehyung. If that's what it takes for Jimin, then Seokjin's willing to let it slide... for now.

Seokjin texts, What is TH's room #?

Namjoon answers, They said only family can visit RN

Which is dumb anyway because Taehyung's family is in Daegu, a whole country away. His friends are the closest family he has. Seokjin is the closest family Taehyung has.

I know that. Seokjin sends back. I need to see him.

After a moment, Namjoon texts, It's 243. If you get caught, just tell them you're lost.

I will, Seokjin writes. Anyway, it's the truth.

 

Seokjin manages to find the room. He's relieved to see that it's not just Taehyung, but Yoongi, too: Both sleeping, both hooked up to machines that blip in time with their heartbeats. It's terrifying and yet somehow comforting, all at once.

Seokjin wheels up a padded stool between the beds, hoping that the angle of Taehyung's will provide cover from the door if anyone peeks in.

When he's finally sure that it's quiet and safe, he takes Taehyung's toast-warm hand between his own, and he begins to cry.

“I don't...” he whispers. Then, “Sometimes when I look at you, I—” He swipes at his eyes. “I shouldn't—It's so stupid. A bedside confession? You deserve so much better than this.”

He stops himself. He's aware of Yoongi asleep behind him. He wonders why is it that they are never alone...

And here, another lie. They are alone, frequently. It's just that they don't usually talk during those times. They're so hungry for every stolen moment that they expend their last sparks of energy on the things they can't indulge during the day.

Seokjin lowers his head to their linked hands.

“I know he's right,” he mutters. “Jimin is. I don't... deserve you, or any of this. I'm a fake and a pretender and I'm so... lost.” He rubs his eyes on the coarse blanket. “But I... I will protect us. No matter what.”

Speaking it aloud makes it feel more possible, more real. The stranglehold of his panic loosens enough that he can finally exhale.

He says, “Taehyung-ah... You are what I never knew I always wanted. And I'll tell you all of this again, I promise, once you're awake and we're back home. But that's your end of the deal, okay? You have to get well.”

Seokjin drops his head to their hands again. He rests that way for a long while, letting his mind whirl around in a tempest of exhaustion, worry, doubt, and fear.

He feels a hand brush his hair, hears a rough voice croak, “Jimin-ah?”

There's a spike of pain and a stab of joy as Seokjin lifts his head. “No, it's me,” he says.

Taehyung breathes out his relief. “Oh. Jinnie.” He licks his lips and gives him a thin smile. “I told him not to tell you.”

You should have told me,” Seokjin says.

“But I was just...”

“Shh.” Seokjin smooths him back down. “Not now, okay? We'll talk when we're home. Can I get you anything?”

“How about a muzzle?” Yoongi groans from his bed. “I mean, really, what does it take for a guy to get some peace around here?”

Seokjin's so surprised he blurts out an involuntary burst of laughter.

“Seriously, not so loud,” Yoongi says, trying to sit up and failing. “There's this whole projectile vomiting thing I never want to experience again.”

“Do you need anything?” Seokjin asks. “I can get a—”

The doctor clips into the room, probably summoned by their noise. Though she's maybe 150 centimeters tall in heels, she cuts a formidable shape with her austere black bun and flawless skin. In perfect Korean, she says, “I thought I was quite clear about only family visiting this room.”

“He's the brother,” Yoongi answers automatically. “Kim Seokjin.”

“Brothers.” She purses her lips. It's clear she doesn't buy it, but she steps up to Taehyung's bed and proceeds to check his pulse. “I already told your managers. The thing you need most now is rest.” She presses along Taehyung's collarbones and behind his ears. “You both had a severe shellfish reaction, exacerbated by extreme dehydration and exhaustion. I've ordered a minimum of four days' rest. A week would be nice. Two would be ideal.”

“But we have shows,” Taehyung says. He moves like he's going to get out of bed and get ready for them right this moment. Seokjin eases him back.

“You'll have to cancel your shows,” the doctor says. “After all, your health is more important. How many shows can you perform if you're dead?”

“Marry me,” Yoongi says.

Seokjin coughs a laugh. “He's delirious.”

The doctor gives them a tight-lipped smile. “Now if you will, Mr. Kim,” she says. “We'll let these two get back to healing.”

Seokjin squeezes Taehyung's hand, and then Yoongi's, too, before he lets the doctor lead him from the room.

 

Chapter Text

“Sometimes reality is crueler than lies.”
Na Jung, Reply 1994

January 2016

The wind slices like knives against Seokjin's bare face. He burrows deeper into his goosedown coat, grateful for the heat packs in his pockets, and skip-runs the final steps to the front doors of the studio building. The offices are closed today, officially, but his Mom sent him a package for his birthday, and he's only just now had the time to pick it up.

Seokjin feels good. After returning from Japan, Taehyung moved permanently into Seokjin's bed. Anything more intimate than a kiss they save for when they're alone, these days at the Alcazar, or when they're on tour and they can sneak in the time, but waking up with Taehyung in their own bed has become Seokjin's new most favorite thing.

And things are somewhat better with Jimin. He's still not talking to Seokjin, which makes their morning workouts all icily polite and quietly awkward. So maybe they're not on great terms after all... But today, Seokjin feels well-rested and healthy. His muscles are pleasantly sore and elastic. He's meeting Taehyung and Namjoon for coffee later. Afterward, they'll see Taehyung off to Seoul Station, where he'll take the train to Daegu for a well-earned visit home.

He stamps snow from his boots before stepping into the oven-warm lobby of the studio. The receptionist, Yeonbi, pokes up her head, startling him, but he plays it off like he's slipped on the snow melt.

“Jin-sshi-ah,” she grins. “I didn't mean to scare you.”

“Oh, no, it's...” Seokjin waves. “Are you all by yourself today?”

“There are a few upstairs, cleaning and stuff,” she says. “What brings you by?”

“Mail,” he says. “My Mom can never remember the address to our new apartment.”

Yeonbi shrugs. “Mine can never remember my boyfriends' names.”

“That's because you have too many,” Seokjin says.

Yeonbi bites her thumbnail. “Hm. You may have a point.”

“I know I do,” Seokjin singsongs. He shoots finger hearts at her as he rounds the reception desk. He goes to the elevator and hits the button.

“See you in a bit,” Yeonbi says.

“Yep.” Seokjin steps inside, spins, and gives her a thumbs up as the elevator doors slide closed.

Spacious is the word Seokjin uses to describe their studio. Hoseok calls it spooky, and that fits, too, especially during the holiday, when BigHit works on a skeleton crew of Yeonbi and a handful of diligent custodians.

The elevator door parts, and Seokjin steps onto the fourth floor. The power-save lighting makes the corridors feel dim and echo-y. They've turned off the heating system, so it's dank and shivery and smells of plastic packing tape.

Seokjin thinks of swimming pools after closing time – a creepy thought, the blame for which he pins squarely on Jungkook and his penchant for slasher films, which he has been making them watch over the break. Just go in and come back out, Seokjin tells himself. The sooner you get back into the sunlight, the better.

Seokjin rushes to their office, inwardly chiding himself for being so jumpy. He finds a sack of fan mail, too big to carry all at once, so he rakes out a few dozen to take home. He rattles his mother's package, which is small, rectangular, and obvious. Unable to wait, he opens it to find his guess is correct: a glossy pink phone case identical to the one he lost in Thailand.

He removes the temporary case from his replacement phone, clicking the new one into place. He hefts it in his palm, testing its weight, feeling instantly calmed by its familiarity. He recalls with sparkling clarity the moment his old phone left his fingers, how it flipped end over end across the water. How his heart seized at the realization that all of their pictures — every conversation, every confession — went with it into the depths.

But Taehyung had saved them. Again. He sent almost everything to Jimin, and then, days later, copied them onto an SD card to download onto Seokjin's personal laptop at home.

They've been more careful since then. No more couples photos on their company phones. And Seokjin misses them.

He stuffs the fan mail into his pockets and hems back into the shadowy hallway. At the elevator, he bounces on his heels. Mist clouds from his mouth when he breathes. He scrunches the heat packs in his pockets between his fingers and curses the elevator's slowness.

The doors open. He steps inside, bumps the button for the first floor through his coat pocket, silently swearing when he taps the button for the second floor as well. The doors slide closed but jounce back open as an enormous box juts between them. The door's alarm emits a nasal whine as a man shambles inside. Though he's partially obscured by the box, Seokjin recognizes the smell. Hand sanitizer and nicotine.

Minyeong's normally lustrous hair looks slick and unkempt. A lit cigarette dangles from his fingers, flecking ash onto the elevator floor. He makes a meaty noise in his throat, and Seokjin cringes. He scans his phone, praying that Minyeong won't turn around, won't see him there—

“Oh look,” Minyeong deadpans as the doors slip closed. “It's the funny one.”

When Seokjin can only stammer, the older man snorts.

“No witty comeback?” he says. “There's a surprise.”

The elevator begins its descent. Cigarette smoke coils into Seokjin's mouth and nose.

“They said you've been removed,” Seokjin says. He clenches his teeth to keep them from chattering.

“I have been re-purposed,” Minyeong says.

“I-I'm glad,” Seokjin says. “All those things you said to us, all your threats—”

“—You and I both know my claims aren't unfounded,” Minyeong says. He pivots on Seokjin, jostling the box into his chest. “Bad enough, you sneaking around with the little freak, but you corrupted the other ones, too.”

Seokjin stammers. His throat burns dry. “What?”

Minyeong gestures tightly with his cigarette. Seokjin stares at the long tube of ash, the vile orange of its ember. “I always knew Jungkook was a grimy little queer,” Minyeong says. “But Jimin... what a disappointment.”

“Jimin-ah—?” Seokjin whispers.

The elevator stops. The doors peel back to reveal the empty second floor. Seokjin dodges for it, but Minyeong throws out his elbows. “Ah-ah, what's this? Running away again?”

Seokjin can feel his pulse in his ears. He grips his phone so hard it leaves red gashes across his palm. “The others are waiting for me,” is all he manages to say.

“Aren't they always?” Minyeong grunts. He shifts the box so that he can take a hard drag from his cigarette. He exhales, sharply, into Seokjin's face. “You know,” he continues. “I've been in this business a long time, and there's always one who gets left behind. That's you, little boy.” He sniffs. “Twenty years from now, you'll be the fat has-been host on some third-circuit reality show. You'll grow your hair long to hide your flabby jowls. You'll tell your asinine jokes and laugh your idiot laugh, and you'll be alone. Because that's who you are, Kim Seokjin. The one who gets left behind.”

Finally, finally the elevator reaches the first floor. The doors open but Minyeong remains as he is, his shoulders squared, the box thrust beneath Seokjin's chin. He says, “You have a nice little life there, kid.”

Minyeong backs from the elevator and steps out into the lobby.

Seokjin hears Yeonbi's feathery voice as Minyeong passes by. “So sorry to see you go, Mr. Park,” she says. “Things won't be the same around here without you.”

“I won't be a stranger,” he tells her. “I'm moving departments, not leaving the country.”

Yeonbi giggles. “Well, that's true,” she says. “You tell Ms. Park hello from me, okay? And have a Happy New Year.”

“Yep. Happy New Year,” Minyeong echoes before pressing out into the busy street.

He's gone, Seokjin tells himself. He whispers it aloud, hoping that hearing the words will make them feel real. But he thinks of a dozen street corners and blind alleys between here and the dorm, and he can't move.

After a moment, the elevator alarm whines, jolting him to action. He darts through the front doors, ignoring Yeonbi's farewell as he folds into the bustling crowd. But no amount of noise can drown out the sound of Minyeong's words. Seokjin knows he'll continue to hear them for the rest of his life, because that's the way with things that are true.

Chapter Text

“Honey just put your sweet lips on my lips
We could just kiss like real people do.”
Like Real People Do, Hozier

February 2016

They stay at The Alcazar now. It's clean, quiet, out-of-the-way, and owned by a discreet older couple who immigrated to Seoul from Pakistan a decade ago. Taehyung loves the faux-gold filigree of the décor, and the fact that the gentleman who runs the place has eyebrows and a mustache like a matched set of caterpillars. Seokjin likes the massive whirlpool bath, which has two settings: scalding and volcanic. They both love the way the lobby smells of cinnamon and curry, and how the scents invariably get into their hair and their clothes.

Seokjin sits in the bed beside him, the sheet pooled around his thighs. He's busily texting someone. Maybe his childhood friend Minha, who goes by Minnie and usually sends him silly memes. But she mostly texts him in the mornings, and it's too late at night to be texting with his Mom.

“Jinnie-hyung,” Taehyung says, pinching the hairs on his knees. “Play with me.”

“Ow, hang on,” he says. “I will, I will...”

Seokjin continues to tap with his quick-fire thumbs. Judging by the way Seokjin purses his lips, the message seems really absorbing.

“Who is it?” Taehyung asks.

“What?” Seokjin asks.

“Who are you texting?”

Seokjin peers over his phone. The glow of it paints his eyes pale blue. “It's Ken,” he says. “We're having dinner next week.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says. Then, “Just you two?”

“I doubt he'll bring all of Vixx with him,” Seokjin quips. “The restaurant's not that big.”

Taehyung dislikes the sudden tightness in his throat. He folds his arms across his chest.

Again, Seokjin glances down. Then he lowers his phone. “VV, are you jealous?”

“Um, insanely,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin knees Taehyung's hip. “You go out with Jimin every week.”

Taehyung pouts. “That's with Jimin.”

Seokjin sets the phone aside and slides against Taehyung, cocooning the sheet around their shoulders. “You think, after all this time, after all we've been through, that I could even look at someone else?”

“No,” he says, and it sounds hollow, even to his own ears.

Seokjin lifts Taehyung's jaw with his fingers, tipping his head to meet his eyes. “What's going on in that head of yours?” he asks.

“It's just... I hate that we get sick and old, that one day we'll die,” Taehyung says.

“Oh...kay,” Seokjin says. “Why are you thinking about that? We're both young and very attractive.”

Taehyung laughs. Because that's what Seokjin wants.

Only, Seokjin's having none of it.

“Taehyung-ah, you should talk to me,” he says. “You should tell me if something troubles you.”

Taehyung smooths a hand to rest at Seokjin's hip. “What if you don't like what I'm going to say?” he asks.

Seokjin goes very still. He says, “What are you going to say?”

Taehyung inhales and says, “I went to see my family last month—”

“—Oof, you are all over the place tonight,” Seokjin says.

“Do you want me to talk or not?”

“Yes,” Seokjin says. “Sorry. Please.”

“I just.” He rubs his thumb along Seokjin's collarbone. “I feel like I'm lying. When I see them.”

“Because of us.”

Taehyung nods. “I have all of these amazing, good, fantastic, wonderful things in my life right now—”

“—Like your part in Hwarang,” Seokjin says.

“Yes, like Hwarang.” Taehyung smiles. “But. The very best, most happiest part...” He touches his thumb to Seokjin's lips. “I can't share it.”

Seokjin rolls onto his back. He props one arm beneath the pillows and stares at the glitter-flecked ceiling. “Taehyung-ah,” he says. “I'm working on a plan.”

You have a plan?”

Seokjin glances over. “Yes, me. Sometimes I have plans.”

Taehyung says, “Sometimes your plans result in chicken breasts for three meals a day.”

“That plan is working,” Seokjin says. “Have you seen my body?”

Taehyung scratches his nails down Seokjin's chest. “Was it not obvious earlier?”

“Yes.” Seokjin catches his hand and kisses each of his fingertips. “I definitely felt your appreciation.”

Taehyung rests his chin on Seokjin's shoulder. “So. You have a plan.”

“I just enrolled for my last year's courses at Konkuk,” Seokjin says. “So I think, after graduation, maybe I'll just keep going. I'll get my master's, maybe even my doctorate—”

“—A doctor?” Taehyung asks. “Of acting?”

“A professor, maybe,” Seokjin says. “Or I could run my own business, like Bang PD, or do something with cooking. And I'll save all my money and after our military service, I'll get us a house where we can come and go as we please, and nobody would say anything about us living together—”

“—But it's still hiding,” Taehyung says.

“You said, remember?” Seokjin says, his voice suddenly reedy. “In Bangkok, you said we'll hide if we have to, so long as we're together.”

“I know what I said,” Taehyung tells him. “But that was before.”

Seokjin swallows again. “Before your visit home?”

“Before I got sick,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin slowly shakes his head, “I don't—”

“—Nothing can protect us, hyung,” Taehyung says. “Hiding in hotel rooms, stealing kisses in bathroom stalls. We're still going to get sick or hurt, we're still going to grow old and die, and we shouldn't have to keep secrets for the rest of our lives.”

“We won't,” Seokjin says. “We can't be idols forever.”

“I think we will be,” Taehyung says.

“You, probably.” Seokjin's eye twitches. “Me?” He scrubs his cheek against Taehyung's hair. “Not me. Anyway. I want us to be together when all of this ends.”

To Taehyung, hearing those words is like missing a step on a high mountain pass, only instead of the inevitable plummet to his death, he catches a vine at the last second and swings to safety. He hears himself whisper in disbelief: “You do?”

“Yes, Pabo. Didn't you just hear my plan?”

Tears sting his eyes. When he blinks, they spill down his cheeks and into his ears. “You've never said so before,” he says.

Seokjin squints. “I must have.”

“No,” Taehyung says. His throat feels thick.

Seokjin rolls onto his back. “Well, then,” he says. “I really am a dumbass.”

“Hyung, don't say that,” Taehyung says.

They shift to their sides so they're aligned eye to eye. Seokjin says, “Sometimes, I look at you and...” He shuts his eyes. “It's like the whole world shifts. My knees go weak, and I get dizzy – literally dizzy – and I think, how do I get to be this lucky?”

“See?” Taehyung says, shoving him. “I want everyone to see that. I want the whole world to know how we feel.” He sifts his fingers through Seokjin's hair. “And that's why I'm jealous of your dinner with Ken.”

“What?”

“Because it's some harmless stupid dinner,” Taehyung says, “But he gets to be out with you. In public. And I don't.”

Seokjin cups his face. “Oh, my VV,” he whispers, brushing the words to his lips. “You certainly like to take the scenic route.”

“Jin-hyung,” Taehyung says. “Tell me again.”

And Seokjin sighs as he smiles. He says, “You are what I never knew I always wanted.”

Taehyung closes his eyes and savors the words, which warm him deep into his heart. “Yeah,” he whispers. “That's more like it.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Love can rebuild the world.”
Khafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

March 2016 - Abu Dhabi

“What do you mean, never?” Jimin asks.

Taehyung gives him this sage look, like he's possessed of all knowledge, and Jimin is merely an infant sitting at his feet. “I mean never,” Taehyung answers. He walks ahead a few steps, keeping an easy gait so Jimin can catch up.

They're all strolling calmly along a fever-lit promenade in a foreign country with a funny name. Because it's a conservative city, the managers, Sanghyun and Hobeom, plus a few added security guys, keep a close watch on them at all times. They've been strictly instructed to keep their hands to themselves, a feat that has proven more challenging than even Yoongi and Namjoon might have imagined.

Jimin skips a few steps to match pace again with Taehyung. They weave along the most pristine street they've ever seen, looking at but not touching the multitude of flower-colored silk shirts and scarves, racks of embroidered slippers, and carousels of glittering cigarette cases.

Though they're in Abu Dhabi for Kcon, BigHit extended their stay for the remainder of the week in order to film their summer package in Dubai. The schedule is tight, though, because Taehyung will start filming Hwarang soon, which means their lives are going to change. Taehyung won't be in the dorm or at practice as much in the next few months, and Jimin needs him. Taehyung's the only person who can explain to him how all this stuff is supposed to work. Well, and Seokjin, too, but Jimin's still upset with him.

Seokjin and Namjoon take point alongside their guide, Abdel, who speaks both English and passable Korean. So far, they've asked about a thousand questions, which the guide seems to love beyond reason. Hoseok and Yoongi tend to drift off as far as the staff allows, enthusing over the market's assorted treasures. Jungkook points his camera at everything, snapping photos and listening intently to everything Jimin and Taehyung have to say.

Jimin says, “So in two years together—”

“—Two years, one month, and twenty-four days,” Taehyung corrects.

“Whatever,” Jimin says, “You're saying that you and Jin have never... done that.”

“I have,” Taehyung says. “He hasn't.”

“After two years? Not once?”

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung groans. Then, quieter, he adds, “Leave it alone.”

But Jimin... can't. What Taehyung's saying cannot be true. He's probably protecting Seokjin, keeping their secrets a secret, like he always does. Jimin meets eyes with Jungkook, who gives him a noncommittal shrug, before Jimin hurries back to join Taehyung.

But now Hoseok and Yoongi are with him. They're all poking at an elegant wicker cage filled with raucous green and yellow parrots. Hoseok struts toward the cage, head low, elbows jaunting out, to shriek at them in Hobi-speak. This drives the birds into a frenzy. Which then drives the staff into a frenzy. Security brisks them out of the busy market and into the busier corridor. Yoongi and Jungkook double over laughing even as Hoseok apologizes to the guards and to Abdel, and finally, to the birds themselves.

Seokjin and Namjoon amble over, each bearing a silver pan filled with fragrant fried things that look like donuts but smell like curry and garlic. Hobeom and Sanghyun join them, carrying segmented dishes filled with creamy brown and yellow sauces.

“It's called vada,” Abdel tells them. “It's one of our very best street foods.”

Seokjin breaks one of the donuts in half, dips it in the curry sauce, and passes it to Taehyung, who eats it straight from Seokjin's fingers. Taehyung growls his appreciation, and the others follow, each taking half a vada for themselves.

And it's good, like chewy and savory and just the right amount of sweet. But Jimin notices that Seokjin doesn't take a portion for himself. Instead, he plays the part of the smiling host, saying, “What kind of fruit can be also a bed?” And without giving them a chance to respond, he answers, “An apricot.”

They all moan, appropriately, and Seokjin laughs. And Jimin can't help it; he laughs, too. Because it's so dumb, but so funny, and Yoongi gives him a look that says Don't encourage him, which makes Jimin laugh even more.

Then the staff ushers them forward, toward the end of the market hall, which opens in a black half-oval pricked with distant stars. Jungkook juts his camera in the direction of the lights. “Is that the beach?” he asks. Before the guide speaks, he says, “Can we go to the beach?”

“That is next on the list,” Namjoon says.

“Can we get in the water?” Taehyung asks.

Sanghyun looks to Hobeom, and they both shrug. “Up to your knees, I guess?” Sanghyun says.

Taehyung and Jungkook howl. They race off in the direction of the beach, oblivious to the calls of the security guards, who trot half-heartedly after them.

“Watch out for your phones,” Hobeom adds before he, too, joins the chase.

Yoongi says, “Probably should have waited til we were closer.”

“Maybe,” Namjoon says. But they smile like doting uncles as they continue along at a more civilized stride.

Jimin feels torn. On the one hand, he's simmering over the fact that Jungkook and Taehyung took off without even looking back at him. On the other, he's still frustratingly concerned about Seokjin.

So Jimin hangs back, pretending like he chose to remain with his hyungs.

Seokjin goes with the guide to return their empty plates to the food vendor's stall. They lag behind, chatting amicably, the guide gesturing with pride at the sweeping, curved arches of the airy market hall.

Jimin falls into step with them, feigning interest until he's up to speed with their conversation. Then Namjoon asks a question, drawing Abdel away to leave Jimin alone with Seokjin.

An icy silence crisps between them. Fitting, since they've avoided talking to each other for the last three months.

But Seokjin's the one to break it. He says, “It's beautiful here.”

“Smells like money,” Jimin agrees.

Seokjin smiles. “And petrol.”

They're quiet a few steps more. A breeze lilts in from the waterfront, a light and briny wind.

“I keep thinking,” Seokjin says. “What if you're right?"

Jimin cocks his head in genuine confusion. “Hm? What?”

“You.” Seokjin slows his footsteps. “What if you're right? What if I don't deserve him?”

Jimin's stomach backflips. “Oh.”

“I've thought a lot about it, actually,” Seokjin says.

“Are we doing this now?” Jimin asks. He can see the mouth of the market hall, the soft sand shoals beyond. Taehyung and Jungkook have already kicked off their shoes—

“It's as fine a place as any,” Seokjin says. “Anyway, I'm sorry.”

“You should be,” Jimin shoots back.

“I over-reacted in Japan. I thought—”

“—I know what you thought,” Jimin spits. “You thought I let someone roofie his drink.”

“We were both wrong,” Seokjin says, keeping an even tone. “And I'm glad because if we lost him...” He pauses as if to catch his balance. Then heaves out a breath and begins to walk again.

Despite Taehyung's words in his ears to leave it alone, Jimin rushes to catch up. “Hyung, we're still not okay,” he says.

“I don't care,” Seokjin says. “You think what you want: That I'm not good enough, that he deserves better. It doesn't make it true.”

“You broke his heart.”

They stand beneath the final arch, overlooking the spread of the shore, the dark waves lapping beneath a hazy scatter of stars. Taehyung and Jungkook splash at the water's edge. Yoongi and Namjoon chase after crabs while Hoseok skims like a sandpiper along the foam.

“I did,” Seokjin agrees. “I thought—” He shakes his head. “I thought like you did, like he'd be better off without me.”

“And now?”

Seokjin heels off his shoes, placing them in the row beside the others. “And now I don't,” he says. Then he lopes off down the hard-packed sand, catching Hoseok's elbow to spin him into a clumsy half-hug.

“We're not supposed to—” Jimin shouts. But it's no use; they can't hear him over the sound of their own amusement. Jimin scuffs a seashell with the toe of his sandal and mutters a sulky little swear.

It's Taehyung who finally notices Jimin lingering alone on the sidewalk. And Taehyung who charges up at him, spattering Jimin with warm sand and seawater.

But Jimin winces out of his grasp, stumbling back to the safety of the market's marble floors.

“Jimin-ie,” Taehyung sings. “Come play with me.”

“Why won't you tell me?” Jimin cries. “You shared all your pictures. I know you trust me. Why won't you just tell me why you and hyung haven't—”

“—Because he doesn't want to hurt me,” Taehyung says. “All right?”

“But that means...” Jimin stands there, hands loose at his sides. “Does he put his... on your...You know?

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung sighs, “If you can't say the words, then maybe you're not ready.” He gives Jimin a faint smile. “You have this idea of how it's supposed to work, but with Jin-hyung and me, we kinda just... make our own rules.”

Jimin scoffs. “For two years?”

“And one month. And twenty-four days.”

“Twenty-five,” Jimin says. “It's after midnight.”

“Bet,” Taehyung says.

But as they reach for their phones, Jungkook comes galloping toward them. He's not even out of breath when he reaches the marble steps. He says, “Hobi-hyung made a wig out of seaweed. We're gonna make Jin-hyung wear it if we can catch him, and there are these little clam things that burrow in the sand, and they feel so weird on your feet.”

“Chim Chim,” Taehyung says, his eyes alight. “Come play with us.”

Ignoring Jimin's reluctance, Jungkook takes his hand. He hauls him from the sidewalk, dragging him down toward the water. Jimin protests, crying to the full capacity of his lungs about the way the sand gets into his shoes.

Yet the way Jungkook keeps sneaking looks at his lips thrills Jimin beyond words, so he decides to finally just go along.

 

Chapter Text

“I knew that your salvation
Is a part of my life,
and the only helping hand
that will embrace my pain.”
Save Me, BTS

March 2016 - Yeonsinnae

The cherry blossoms are two, maybe three days from breaking into bloom, but Hoseok can already smell their fragrance on the air. The night has a liquid lightness to it, like the expectation of rain, and he's had a strong melodic hook stuck in his head for days. Everything feels like it's on the verge of bursting, which, for Hoseok, is the greatest feeling in the world.

Yoongi stuffs his phone in his pocket and grips the hand-loop before the subway doors hush closed.

“So what'd he say?” Hoseok asks.

“He says BRT,” Yoongi scoffs. And then he and Hoseok smile and go, “Brrrt!” at exactly the same time.

They continue to grin even as the Line Three train whooshes into Jongno station to take on another hundred or so passengers. Yoongi thumbs his mask over his face when a few people stare at him a little over-long, but Hoseok leaves his in his pocket. He continues to smile here and there at the people who peer up at him from their seats. Advertisements for Puma Blaze plaster the walls of the subway these days, and in Euljiro Sam-ga, there is a full-sized billboard for Yoongi – a gift from their fans for his birthday. So it's very likely that some people know who they are.

They disembark at Yeonsinnae, muddling through the weekend crowd to street level, where a live band featuring an aging trot singer belts out hits from their parents' days. Pop-up market tents shoulder tightly to the sidewalk, featuring pyramids of whole fried chickens, skewers of fishcakes, and steamy cups of tteokbokki. But beneath the rich, spicy scents of sesame oil and red chili, Hoseok can smell garbage and what he thinks might be, unfortunately, urine.

He sneers as Yoongi directs him along a side street toward the address Namjoon sent. It's one of the few remaining ping pong bars in the city, but that's only part of its appeal. Yeonsinnae sits far enough from the city center that, even on a Friday night, they'll be able to pass through the neighborhood without being recognized.

The bricked street glistens with slick gunk that clots in oily clumps along the gutters. Throngs of inner-city kids dressed in either urban gangster clothes or school uniforms flock to the noisy street-games and arcades. Bouncers dressed in greasy black t-shirts stand outside gentleman's clubs and beer bars, their arms crossed forbiddingly over their meaty chests.

“It's a little trashy here,” Hoseok observes.

Yoongi shrugs. “Yeah, but the Jimin standee in front of the Myeongdong H&M is just... it's too much.”

Hoseok laughs so hard he has to hang on Yoongi's arm. “Wait,” he snorts. “It's not as bad as the Bam Bam and Jackson ones at the Tony Moly in Hongdae.”

Yoongi presses the back of his hand to his masked face to stifle his laughter. “They made them both SO tall,” he chuckles. “Why did they make them so tall?”

Hoseok thinks he catches a glimpse of a familiar beanie-clad head through the crowd. “Oh!” he says, waving. “There he is. Joon-ah!”

But the figure ducks from view, peeling into a slender alley between two gray-bricked apartment buildings.

They follow for a few more paces when Yoongi catches Hoseok's arm, slinging him to a stop. He presses them both flat against the slimy alley wall to hide behind a dumpster like a pair of very poorly-trained spies.

Confused, Hoseok goes, “What, is that not him?”

Yoongi's eyes narrow. He says, “No, it is him, but...”

Chills quiver along the back of Hoseok's neck as he watches the figure at the end of the block. Namjoon steps into the recessed alcove of the building's lobby, and then a girl steps up with him, her dark curls backlit by the lights of the adjacent street. She puts her arms around him and they brush their lips in a kiss.

“Well... that's new,” Yoongi says. He bumps Hoseok's shoulder, and they jostle into the alley, keeping their distance until the girl turns to disappear inside. A few seconds later, Namjoon drops from the stoop, hands deep in his pockets, as he turns to face his hyungs.

At first, they say nothing. Hoseok takes Yoongi's lead, flanking Namjoon as they head out of the alley and into the boisterous street. From what Hoseok can see from the corner of his eye, Namjoon's face is an almost luminous shade of pink. And the way he's smiling, Hoseok thinks that if they're not careful, they might actually fall into Namjoon's dimples.

Two blocks up, Hoseok finally gives in. He says, “So... who's your friend?”

“Her name is Amica.” Namjoon touches his forehead. “And she's brilliant.”

“Hm,” Yoongi says. “American?”

“Australian,” Namjoon answers.

“A student?” Hoseok says.

“International business major at Hongik,” Namjoon says. “She's in her first year.”

They arrive at the entrance to the bar and descend the steps into the basement. It's damp and smoky inside – a real hole – and it smells of cedar shavings and decades-old sweat. A dozen or so patrons of various ages hover in the semi-dark, talking over the 80s pop soundtrack while sipping Japanese beer from mismatched cups. It's not the kind of place any of them would ever frequent, well, except maybe Yoongi if his life had taken another path. But if they want to have drinks together without getting mobbed, then a bar in Yeonsinnae is their safest bet.

Yoongi orders their drinks while Namjoon and Hoseok scope out an open ping pong table in the back. Once they're all settled in with their pints and paddles, Yoongi and Namjoon strike up their first match.

“Is Jin-hyung coming?” Namjoon asks as Yoongi serves.

“Nope,” Hoseok answers. “He says he's studying.”

“Ah, right,” Namjoon says. “We should all be as disciplined as Kim Seokjin.”

Yoongi goes, “Yes, sure. But there is such a thing as working too hard.”

“Not that you'd know anything about that,” Namjoon quips, and Yoongi flips him off.

“Anyway,” Hoseok interjects, “Jin-hyung's back on that chicken breast thing.”

“Wait? He did that before?” Namjoon asks. They volley back and forth until Namjoon sends the ball into the net again.

“Yeah, remember?” Yoongi says, serving once more. “Back before debut, when Minyeong was up all our asses about our weight.”

“Right, right,” Namjoon says. “Damn, I forgot all about that.”

“Or blocked it out,” Yoongi smirks.

Namjoon chuckles. “That is highly likely.”

Hoseok raises his glass. “But Minyeong is gone,” he says.

“Cheers,” Yoongi and Namjoon say. They clink their glasses together, and the three of them drain the rest of their drinks in one go.

 

After Yoongi wins a game each against Namjoon and Hoseok, they move on to another club where they drink shots from glow-in-the-dark test tubes. They then venture into a bar that plays nothing but vinyl records and serves “infinite cocktails” until 2 a.m. Yoongi and Namjoon proceed to drink themselves blind while Hoseok does his best to hold onto everything Namjoon should be keeping in his pockets.

They miss the last train in Bulgwang and find themselves blundering around a grimy city park, sort of looking for a cab, but also sort of enjoying the night out with just the three of them.

At the peak of an overpass, Yoongi stumbles and decides it's time for them all to take a rest. They sit, their legs dangling into the spring air, as they press their faces to the chilly metal of the bridge's fretwork. The moon hovers, half-full and melon pink, above the silhouette of Bukhansan.

Again, Hoseok feels the swell of something brushing inside him, eager to break free. The song churns inside his head and in his heart, a pleasantly persistent aching. After a minute, Yoongi's head drops to rest on Hoseok's shoulder.

“Rap line til we die, huh?” he says.

Namjoon glances over with only his eyes. “Man, why we always gotta talk about dyin'?” he slurs.

“Because thinking about death makes me remember why I'm alive,” Yoongi answers. He grips Hoseok's arm and gives it a feral little shake. “It's you,” he says. “All of you. Us. That's why I'm alive.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees. “I know it is.”

“And that's why we gotta be careful as fuck, Joon-ah,” Yoongi goes on. “Like I know you just met her and she's not even Korean, so she's probably the safest, best girl for you to date. But, you know, kissing her on the street like that – even in Yeonsinnae – that is one helluva risk.”

Hoseok rubs his nose. “They weren't really in the street,” he says.

“Eh, close enough,” Yoongi says. “I mean, we saw 'em.”

Hoseok goes, “But we were looking for him—”

“—No, he's right,” Namjoon says.

Hoseok opens his mouth to object but then shuts it.

“He's right,” Namjoon repeats. “If we've learned anything from Jin-hyung and Tae, it's that we have to keep our private lives private. It's just... where do we even draw the line? Can we go out for coffee? Or to the movies? Can we date? And is that even fair to her?”

Hoseok peers between the bars to the freeway below. Even though it's late, a steady stream of cars and buses hum beneath them, bound for wherever home might be for those inside.

“So what will you do?” Hoseok asks.

“I want to keep dating her,” Namjoon says. “But... I guess, for now, we should keep it a secret. I mean, I don't even know if there's anything beyond magnetism and attraction. You know?”

“Secrets, Joon?” Yoongi grates out. “Man, this is why I don't even think about dating right now. There's time for all that when we're older. After our enlistment, when we're no longer young and cute and cool any more...”

“I hear what you're saying.” Namjoon rolls his shoulders. Then he says, “But I just now met her.” And the disappointment in his voice is what finally drives Hoseok over the edge.

“All right,” he says, getting briskly to his feet. He reaches a hand down first to Yoongi and then to Namjoon, pulling them each to their feet. “Maybe it's time we found our way home.”

Yoongi grins at him through half-masted eyes. “But Hope,” he says. “I already have.”

Hoseok cuts his eyes to Namjoon and says, “This is why I don't drink.” Then he gets his shoulder beneath Yoongi's and begins to limp him along toward the edge of the road.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Nothing comes even close
To half of you.”
Half Moon, Dean

April 2016 – Part One

No sooner than Taehyung puts down his bag, he is beset upon by the ecstatically handsy duo of Park Jimin and Jeon Jungkook. They buoy him into the dorm on a wave of excitement, Jimin already shoving him in the direction of the bathroom with the command to shower and change.

“We have plans,” Jimin says. “They start now.”

Taehyung ducks from his sleeves, leaving Jimin to hold the empty skin of his windbreaker. Jimin scoffs as he tosses the jacket to Jungkook, who folds it neatly over the back of a chair.

Jimin says, “It's Thursday night. You've been gone all week. We're taking you out.”

Taehyung stretches. The familiar laundry and body spray smell of their room soothes his senses. He wants nothing more than to flop down on Hoseok's bed to swim around in that scent while he waits for Seokjin to get home from class.

Taehyung sits on the edge of the bed. “I don't wanna go out. I just got home—”

“—Agh, no,” Jimin says. “Jungkook-ie, tell him.”

Jungkook picks up a Yoshi plushie and tosses it to Taehyung. He explains, “There's this new club in Gangnam—”

“—Because that worked out so well for us last time,” Taehyung says. He under-hands the Yoshi to Jimin, who catches it and raises his hands.

“Donghyuk-ssi says he can get us in the back entrance,” Jimin says. He passes the Yoshi to Jungkook. “No sasaengs, I promise.”

Taehyung meets Jungkook's eye. They both nod because they know Jimin can't make good on that promise. They can't go anywhere these days without someone recognizing them. Their faces are plastered across billboards and storefronts, which makes them easy targets even with their face masks on. Taehyung doesn't usually mind the attention, but Jungkook does, and if he's honest with himself, Jimin does, too.

But they're dealing with Agenda Jimin tonight, and Agenda Jimin overlooks details like professional paparazzi and iPhone-wielding fangirls.

Jimin notes the exchanged look between Taehyung and Jungkook and adjusts his tack. “You should want to go out with us, Taehyung-ie,” he says. “You're young. You're famous. The whole city is at your feet.”

“My feet are tired,” Taehyung says.

Jungkook shoots the Yoshi at Taehyung. “He's been filming all week, Jimin, he's probably exhausted.”

Jimin gives Jungkook the squint of death. “I don't understand you.” Then he whirls on Taehyung. “You used to be the one who always wanted to go out, remember? We'd sneak out, Minyeong would catch us, we'd get into trouble?”

Taehyung lobs Yoshi back to Jungkook. “Oh yeah, you're really selling this.”

“We had fun, right?” Jimin says.

“We did,” Taehyung says.

“We still do,” Jimin says.

“I like it better in Osaka, where no one knows who we are,” Taehyung says. He holds up his hands to show Jungkook that he's open, but when Jungkook makes the throw, Jimin snatches it out of the air.

Jimin carefully slices out each syllable when he says, “We won't be in Osaka again until the middle of July.”

“Then it's a date.” Taehyung smiles.

Jimin pops the Yoshi at Taehyung, who bats it onto Hoseok's bed.

“So you're gonna do what tonight?” Jimin asks. “Play Mario? Watch American movies? That's all you guys do these days.”

Jungkook twitches the sheets to drag Yoshi toward him. “We could play Mario,” he suggests, but Jimin dismisses it with a shake of his head.

Not even a year ago, Taehyung would have wanted nothing more than to run through the back alleys of Seoul, dodging their managers for the chance of drinks and dancing with Jungkook and Jimin. But after filming all week, he's thought of almost nothing beyond eating ramen and watching foreign films with Seokjin in the bed they now share.

“So what if we do, Jimin-ie?” Taehyung asks. “We like it.”

Jimin grates out a noise of disgust. “Oh god, are you forty?”

“I like it,” Taehyung says again. Jungkook lobs Yoshi in an arc over Jimin's head. Taehyung swipes it before Jimin gets a chance. “Plus, I want Jin-hyung to cook for me.”

“Yeah,” Jimin snorts. “Good luck with that. What's for lunch, Jungkook-ie?”

Jungkook answers like a broadcast MC: “Chicken breast.”

“And what's for dinner?” Jimin asks.

“Chicken breast,” Jungkook says again.

“And how about for breakfast?”

They shout together, “Chicken breast!”

Taehyung chucks the Yoshi at Jimin's head. Jimin catches and slings it at Jungkook in one swift sweep.

“Jinnie will cook for me,” Taehyung says.

“Like I said, good luck,” Jimin says.

They're tensely silent a while as they toss the Yoshi between the three of them. Jungkook, who looks increasingly less comfortable with each pass, finally offers, “Maybe we can go out tomorrow night?”

“We have a fansign tomorrow,” Jimin says.

“Also I have plans,” Taehyung says.

“With Jinnie-hyung?” Jimin sulks.

“No,” Taehyung answers. “With my Hwarang hyungs. We have a dinner thing.”

Jungkook pitches Yoshi, but Jimin makes no move to catch it. And he doesn't try to disguise the hurt in his voice when he says, “You're going out with them but not us?”

“It's kind of a work thing,” Taehyung explains. “I can't not go. They're my hyungs.”

“I'm your hyung, too,” Jimin says. “Don't you want to hang out with me?”

“Jimin-ah, we hang out all the time. Like, every week,” Taehyung says.

Jimin purses his lips as he thinks this over. Then he says, “Not last week.”

Taehyung has to count back, but then he remembers. “I had a Hwarang photo shoot—”

“—Not the week before either,” Jimin hurries to remind him.

“We were in Dubai the week before,” Jungkook adds, earning another slice from Jimin's lethal side-eyes. Jungkook backs off, raising his hands in surrender.

The five-note trill of the keyless entry rings. Seokjin's voice fills the foyer a second later as he greets Namjoon and Hoseok in the common room.

Taehyung leaps up. “Jin-hyung-ie's home,” he says.

Jimin drops to his bed. “Fine. Go,” he says. “I guess I'll see you whenever...”

Taehyung feels a tug like a fishhook in his heart. “That's not fair, Jimin-ah. Aren't you happy for me?”

“He is,” Jungkook says. “We all are.”

Seokjin calls, “Taehyung-ah?”

“In here,” Taehyung answers.

Jungkook pushes the plushie into Taehyung's hand and gives it a squeeze. “I got him,” he whispers. “You go.”

After a second, Taehyung nods and goes to meet Seokjin.

 

Chapter Text

“So paint your solace
And hold what's honest
Glory doesn't come for those who wait."
Fading, Vallis Alps

April 2016

I miss you.

Seokjin types the message sixty times a day, only to erase it because, Seriously, how lame can he be? They see each other every other day. Almost every other day. And usually so late at night that everyone is asleep already, even him, but—

At least we still see each other, Seokjin reminds himself. There may be times in the future when one or both of us will film on location, so we should be grateful for what we have now. And I should be – I am – happy for Taehyung. He's realizing a lifelong dream by starring in this epic period drama thing, and it's an important stone in the foundation of the life we hope to build. But

He misses him.

Seokjin sits cross-legged in the middle of his bed, his laptop on one knee, a notepad on the other. He skims through the jumble of syllables onscreen that is supposed to, at some point, magically morph into a song. Across the room, Yoongi reclines in his own bed, his head bobbing to the triphop in his headphones. The beat jars with the tenuous melody in Seokjin's head, and he's beginning to believe he should just table the effort and try to sleep.

Seokjin checks his phone. He responds to the thread he's got going with Hunchul and Kidoh: All surface chat about flower festivals and weekend plans. Nothing too demanding. Not like the nagging struggle of conjuring up music. And why are they even doing this? They have a songwriting team, so why would they need lyrics from him?

He doesn't know whose idea it was during the last production meeting, but one of them – quite possibly Jungkook – suggested they write individual songs for their next album.

What an idea. Solo songs. From all of them.

Jungkook and Taehyung pounced on the idea, because why wouldn't they? Both have penned lyrics that passed Namjoon's and Bang Sihyuk's muster to land in a previous album's track list. And Seokjin has written lyrics before. He's contributed to several of their songs in the past, but a whole song? About himself?

For Seokjin, this feels like yet another thing at which he can fail.

He shoves the laptop off his knee.

Yoongi glances up with only his eyes. After a moment's scrutiny, he sits up, tugs out his earbuds, and says, “What've you got?”

“Nothing.” Seokjin chuckles. “I've got nothing.”

Yoongi gestures toward the notepad. “Your scribbles suggest otherwise.”

Seokjin shoves it under his pillow. “Worse than nothing,” he tells Yoongi.

“Song writing's not easy,” Yoongi says. He drags air through his teeth. “Let me amend: Good song writing is not easy. Anyone can write a vapid pop tune, but getting into the heart takes—”

“—More than I've got,” Seokjin says.

Now Yoongi swings his legs over the side of the bed. He leans his elbows on his knees. “Not true, hyung. Just more than you're willing to share.” Yoongi's brows arch beneath his bangs. “For now.”

Seokjin's phone rustles with notifications. Anticipation swells in him, but it's only Kidoh and Hunchul rhapsodizing over the cherry blossom festival in Changwon.

Yoongi pushes up from his bed. “I'm gonna order pizza. You want anything?”

“No, I already ate.”

“Did you?” Yoongi asks.

“Earlier,” Seokjin says. He tugs out his notebook to trace his thumb over the indentations of his hen scratch.

Yoongi touches Seokjin's shoulder. “Message me if you change your mind.”

Seokjin flicks to a blank page. “Okay,” he says. Then he tries again to write.

 

Some minutes later, Jungkook steals into Seokjin's room in a tangle of his own thoughts. He twists into Yoongi's bed, something he would never do if Yoongi was there, and rams his pillow under his chin. Seokjin shuts his laptop and sets it aside. He wedges his glasses up to rub the tender spots on his nose, and he waits. Jungkook chews the inside of his cheek. He scrubs the flats of his nails with his thumbs. He plucks at a feather poking from Yoongi's pillowcase.

After several seconds of this, Seokjin asks, “What's up, Kook-ah?” He doesn't look at Jungkook, not yet. He knows from experience that Jungkook will open up when he's ready. Pressing him will only push him away.

“What're you doing?” Jungkook asks.

Seokjin taps the notebook page with his pen. “Trying to write a song, apparently.”

Jungkook digs his chin further into Yoongi's pillow. “Got anything good?”

“Yes,” Seokjin says. “I have this. Are you ready?”

Jungkook gives him the side-eye of suspicion. “Am I?”

Seokjin clears his throat. He says, “Would someone call a trumpet instructor... a tutor?”

Jungkook groans. “Ugh, why?”

Seokjin shrugs. “It is all that I have.”

Jungkook flips onto his back. He darts a look at Seokjin's bed, and Seokjin reads it. He edges over and pats the vacated space. “You wanna slide over here?”

He does. In a flail of over-long limbs, Jungkook joins Seokjin. He tucks his shoulders up against the headboard, and Seokjin re-settles beside him. He can no longer see Jungkook's face, not without uncomfortably craning his neck, which he won't do. Jungkook needs the closeness, but sometimes, he also needs to hide.

Jungkook draws his knees up. He nibbles his nails. He says, “Your first time with Taehyung... Did it hurt?”

“Oh.” Seokjin's mind reels. He'd be lying if he hadn't expected some variation of this. But still. Hearing it out loud. It's kind of... much. No one's ever asked him this question before.

There's a subtle shift in Jungkook's weight, like he may actually bolt for the door. Seokjin's thoughts dial back into place. “Yes,” he answers. “Yeah, it did.”

Jungkook licks his lips. He says, “Jimin-ah—”

Then he trails off, and for an instant, Seokjin's back in the elevator, Minyeong's cigarette smoke twisting in his lungs. You corrupted the other ones, too, he'd said. I always knew that Jungkook was... But Jimin. What a disappointment.

Seokjin feels the sweat on his scalp. He'd swear he can still smell that cigarette. He says, “Are you and Jimin—?”

“No.” Too quickly.

“Jungkook-ah.”

He exhales. “Not yet.” He glances sidelong at Seokjin's face. “I want to, but...”

Seokjin understands. In this moment, Seokjin could end it all. A few choice words, a delicate push, and he could nudge Jungkook from this path, maybe forever. Because Jungkook knows Seokjin has already walked it. He knows the perils and the pitfalls. He's lived with the cost of hiding. Seokjin could quell this corruption before it further takes its hold.

Maybe that would be the mature and merciful thing to do.

Except.

Who would Seokjin be now if not for Taehyung? There are a million small moments alive in his heart which, taken separately, would amount to less than whispers. But placed together, they have sustained him for years. The reassuring glances across the stage. The brush of their hands. The warmth of his breath. The weight of his sleeping body entwined with his. Taehyung listens to his worries and fears. He laughs at his stupid jokes. Taehyung's the one person who thinks that Seokjin is smart.

If Jungkook can find this with Jimin, if he has even the slightest chance for it, how could Seokjin or anyone dare to stand in its way?

So really, only one question remains. “Do you love him?” Seokjin asks.

“Yes.” Jungkook's shoulders lift. “I mean, who wouldn't?”

Seokjin squeezes Jungkook's hands. “Well then you should tell him,” he says.

Jungkook hugs his knees to his chest. “Really?” he says.

“Yes, really.”

Jungkook riffles the edge of Seokjin's notebook. “But it'll change everything.”

Seokjin thinks and then nods. “It will,” he says. “You don't have to rush into anything. If it's like it was with me and Taehyung-ah, it will always be there.”

Jungkook pinches the sheets between his finger and thumb. “Okay,” he says.

Seokjin says, “And you know you can ask me anything, right? Any time. I'm always here.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” Seokjin answers. “Always.”

Jungkook remains ensconced with Seokjin, Jungkook asking questions and Seokjin answering, until Yoongi makes the all-call for pizza. Then Jungkook vaults from the bed, only pausing at the door to turn and whisper his thanks.

Seokjin retrieves his phone. Kidoh and Hunchul have made plans to attend the Lotus Lantern Festival for Chopail, and Seokjin chimes in that he would like to join them.

He pulls up his chat with Taehyung and reads his last message: My shoulders hyung, my god, my honey butter prince, I count the minutes until I come home.

Sentimental dork, Seokjin thinks. But he types, I miss you, and then he presses send.

 

Chapter Text

“Yesterday, today, tomorrow,
We’ll be like this from now on.”
Primary, Gondry

KAKAOTALK
2016 May 2
9:04 a.m.

Minnie Mouse: Hey Jin-oppa. I've got a question.

Prince Jin: I'll probably have an answer.

Minnie Mouse: Counting on it, World Traveling Man.

Prince Jin: You're one to talk. Weren't you just in Italy?

Minnie Mouse: Our Moms' reconnaissance must be slipping. I was on a bike tour in France over the break. Also I gained 12 kilos from eating nothing but chocolate croissants.

Prince Jin: How does one gain weight on a bike tour?

Minnie Mouse: Do you remember nothing from our childhood? I do not ride bikes. No, I took photos from the back of the van and laughed at the cyclists when they slipped in the mud.

Prince Jin: Hey Min, I gotta go soon. You had a question?

Minnie Mouse: Oof, yes. Do you know of a decent hotel close enough to the city to get around, but far enough away to avoid all the touristy junk?

Prince Jin: Mmm. You and Mr. Arts Professor planning a naughty weekend out?

Minnie Mouse: No, perv. My brother's attending an architecture conference at the DDP next month, and you know him, he doesn't know how to do... anything.

Minnie Mouse: And BTW, it's Dr. Arts Professor.

Prince Jin: Fancy that... a doctor of art! 

Prince Jin: Okay so I do know the perfect place. It's a boutique hotel in Hongdae called the Alcazar. I'm sending you the Naver link. <external link: Hongdae Hotel Alcazar> Got it?

Minnie Mouse: Yep. And it's on the subway? Easy to find? Do they serve breakfast?

Prince Jin: Yes, yes, and yes. Very nice, very clean. He'll love it.

Minnie Mouse: Thank you, Jin-oppa. You're a saint.

Prince Jin: Really not...

Minnie Mouse: Fooling no one, my dear. I'll let you go, but TTY soon K? Byyyeeee.

 

Chapter Text

“But there is really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten. Life can always start up anew.”
Time to Pretend, MGMT

May 2016 - Seoul

On paper, Bon Voyage is an awesome idea. A granted wish, really. A dream come true.

In reality, though, it could be a bit of a nightmare.

As in, for example, the scheduling mishap that has Taehyung traveling by himself to Bergen a full day after the others. A fact with which Taehyung is having some trouble.

Taehyung boxed them into the shower when he saw Seokjin duck in for his shampoo and now they huddle so close, Seokjin can smell the citrus scent of Taehyung's facial scrub. After several stolen kisses, Taehyung whispers, “Why can't they wait one more day?”

Seokjin brushes Taehyung's bangs from his forehead. His hair is fire engine red now, shaggy over his brows, making him appear a like a cartoon puppy dog. “They must've bought these tickets months ago,” Seokjin tells him.

“Like I know that, but...” Taehyung exhales in frustration.

Someone knocks on the door.

He and Taehyung freeze instinctively. Not without reason; there are staff in the dorm, the interns, the cameramen. But it's Hoseok's voice that follows.

“Everything okay in there?” he asks.

“Yep,” Seokjin says. “Just getting my shampoo.”

“Okay,” Hoseok says. “They want to film again in about five minutes, so...”

“All right.” Seokjin checks his phone and sighs. “That leaves thirty-two minutes for packing.”

“Well. You don't have to worry about me this time,” Taehyung says, falsely bright.

Seokjin wants to say that he always worries about Taehyung. At the same time, he doesn't want Taehyung to think Seokjin doesn't have any faith in him. So he kisses him instead.

“Take my pink shirt,” Taehyung says. “You can sleep in it tonight.”

“Yeah,” Seokjin says. “Jimin has it.”

Therein lies two-thirds of the trip's potential for disaster. Seokjin and Jimin have remained on metaphorical quicksand since December. One second, Jimin is fussing at Seokjin for fussing at Taehyung (which, honestly, it's not healthy for anyone to eat three bags of sour worms during a photo shoot, and if Seokjin didn't say something, the staff probably would have). The next second, Jimin is fussing at Taehyung for wasting his youth on movies and games when he should be going out with him and Jungkook (and so what if Taehyung wants to watch Shaun of the Dead with his boyfriend after a week of 14-hour filming days? It's Taehyung's choice, and even if it's absolutely terrifying, Seokjin isn't about to deny him).

This back-and-forth has gone on for months.

Another soft-knuckled rap sounds on the bathroom door. This time, Namjoon says, “Hyung, are you in there?”

Taehyung squeezes Seokjin's elbow. “Go ahead,” he says. “I'll get the shirt.”

“Yes, I'm in here,” Seokjin answers. He hefts his shampoo bottle, realizing in that moment that it's too big to pack in a carry-on bag. Which means his hair will be a horrid, frizzy mess, and they won't have stylists on this trip.

“Hats,” Taehyung responds, as if arriving at the same conclusion at the same time. “We'll pack hats. Cute ones, with animals on them.”

“I'll just bring my hoodie,” Seokjin sighs, resigned to his fate. “But I'm quietly despising this, just so you know.”

Now Taehyung ruffles Seokjin's hair. “Aw, Jinnie-hyung. You'll still be the handsomest man in all of Norway,” he says.

“Yes,” Seokjin says, airily. “That is true.”

“Anyway,” Taehyung says. “I'm just one day behind you.”

“Hm.” Seokjin narrows his eyes. “I like it when you're behind me.”

Namjoon knocks again. “Jin-hyung?”

“Dammit,” Seokjin breathes. “Yes. Okay. I'm coming out.”

And Taehyung mutters, “Ha, I wish.”

Anyway, it ruffles Seokjin. He joins the others at the table, where he barely hears the manager's instructions over the static in his head. Twenty-three minutes later, Seokjin dimly registers when Taehyung tucks the pink t-shirt into his bag.

Seokjin wants to hug him goodbye.

He wants to kiss him, to tell him that he loves him, out loud, in front of everyone.

But now it's time to act grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Time to smile for the cameras, to wave and play pretend.

He doesn't even look back as they wheel away from the curb in their company vans.

It's not until they reach Incheon Airport that Seokjin realizes what he's done. He's shut down on Taehyung in exactly the way Jimin accuses him of doing. He left him – abandoned him – without reassurance of any kind, and now Taehyung will travel alone to Bergen with the weight of Seokjin's rejection on his heart.

Taehyung will obviously think it's because Seokjin doesn't share Taehyung's feelings about coming out, but it's never been about that. It's about knowing that for the next week, they will have no clandestine trips to their safehaven at the Alcazar. They'll have no quiet nights ensconced in Seokjin's bed, playing games and watching anime.

Instead, they'll have the well-rehearsed dance of ignoring each other and not interacting, because even the smallest amount of eye contact makes their connection all too obvious. It's about putting up partitions in his heart to hide behind, about closing off the open spaces to keep them safe. It's because he loves Taehyung so much, but for the next week, he won't be able to show it.

Seokjin takes out his phone and pulls up the chat window. But when he glances up, he finds Jimin glaring at him over his own phone's screen.

Jimin looks more grieved than disapproving.

Like he's seen this all before, and he's just done.

And Seokjin's afraid – deeply afraid – that one day soon Taehyung will feel the same.

 

Chapter Text

“Yeah, how long must you wait for it?”
In My Place, Coldplay

May 2016 – Bergen

Beyond the fact that they have traveled halfway across the world to a country where English is not the dominant tongue, the members are all acting weird. In front of the camera, they smile and laugh like they always do. But the moment they're switched off, they break into whispering little cadres and it's driving Jungkook insane.

Also, it seems like they're avoiding him? But he's probably being paranoid. Nothing ever feels very real when they do reality shows. Namjoon would tell him that's ironic, if Namjoon wasn't off at the market with Seokjin.

Seokjin, who went off on his own for three hours because of something that happened with Jimin. Jimin, who is still upset with Seokjin over something to do with Taehyung. But no one can talk about that right now because there's too much they can't say on camera, and the cameras are everywhere.

So Jungkook does the thing he normally does when his head is too full to focus on what is in front of him. He does the laundry.

Only, the machine's instructions are in Norwegian.

Is that even a language? Maybe it's... Nordic? Or Scandinavian? Thor-speak?

He crouches on the laundry room floor and rubs his hands through his still damp hair. At least he could wash his hair without the language barrier getting in the way. He stares for a long time at the bank of dials on the washing machine (he hopes it's a washing machine), glaring at them until the numbers blur into red and green smears.

He opens Naver and types the words into the dictionary. No matches found. He toggles through various languages until he locates Norwegian and...

Nope. He still needs help. He gets up, his ankles creaking like an old man's, and heads into the kitchen. Namjoon and Seokjin are back from the store, and they all immediately fall silent when he enters. Then they get all small-talky, and it's stupidly obvious that they have completely changed the subject now that he's in the room. But the camera crew jostles mics and handcams around them, so Jungkook has to play along.

Namjoon and Yoongi slide to the window, scanning something on Namjoon's phone. Jimin and Seokjin stand together at the stove, cooking slabs of pork that smell so good Jungkook thinks he might fall over from hunger.

Yet he maintains his focus. “I'm trying to do some laundry,” he says. “But I'm lost.”

“Oh, ask Rap Monster,” Hoseok suggests.

“Only it's not in English,” Jungkook explains. “It's Norwegian.”

“What? Norwegian?” Hoseok says.

Feeling useless for having interrupted Hoseok, Jungkook brushes it off. “It can wait until after we eat,” he says.

But Hoseok grins. “Come on,” he says. “We'll get this done first.”

“I uh—” He watches as Seokjin feeds a hunk of meat to Jimin. Jimin groans, and the sound of it makes parts of Jungkook's body feel frustratingly tight.

Hoseok maneuvers between him and Jimin. “What about the laundry?” he asks as he edges Jungkook toward the hall. Once they're gone, the conversation in the kitchen drops again to an inaudible level.

Just when Jungkook thinks he can get a moment's privacy with Hoseok, one of the secondary camera people skirts around them to film the whole laundry ordeal. They finally resort to a complicated combination of translated snapshots and guesswork, but he and Hoseok manage to get the washing machine started.

The camera person, satisfied with his footage, leaves them with a nod. Jungkook immediately bends to Hoseok's ear.

“What is going on?” he asks.

Hoseok would be unable to lie to save his own mother's life, so he freezes for a few seconds before simply relaying the facts as he knows them. “Jin-hyung and Taehyung-ie had a teeny spat before we left, nothing too drastic, but Jimin-ie is upset over it.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Jungkook says. But Hoseok's still stiff and twitchy as a wind-up toy, so Jungkook pushes for more. “So what else?”

“Also, Seokjin-ah's mad about having to share a room with Joon-ah—”

“—And you won't trade with him?” Jungkook guesses.

“How can I?” Hoseok whispers. “They're recording everything.”

Jungkook's thoughts flash to Jimin, and to his hopes of getting some alone time with him on this trip. But the impossibility of it seems at once immense and all-consuming.

He and Jimin have been flirting with this for half a year – a stolen kiss here and there, the uncommon above-the-clothes touching, and the even more rare adventures beneath zippers and under hemlines, but Jungkook wants more. He's certain Jimin does, too. It's just... where do they find the time?

Jungkook comprehends now more than ever the struggles Seokjin and Taehyung have faced. All that want and repression – it must drive them both out of their skulls. His own desire for Jimin's about to force him over some fjord if they don't do something soon, and they aren't even together in the way that Taehyung and Seokjin have been.

Seokjin's laughter erupts in the kitchen. His real laughter, not the fake, boomy kind he reserves for broadcasts.

“That must mean it's time,” Hoseok says.

Jungkook eyes him side-wise. “Time for what?”

“Nothing,” Hoseok blurts, but as he slides from the laundry room, he adds, “Food.”

And it's not just food, but a cake and candles and singing. That, plus the flood of relief that comes with understanding. All the conspiratorial conversation amounts to a celebration for his Coming of Age. Months too early, by the way, but Jimin explains that this is what makes it a surprise.

 

But the best surprise comes later, when he and Jimin decide to bend the rules. Technically, Jungkook shares a room with Yoongi. But Yoongi knows about him and Jimin, so he doesn't say anything when Jungkook forgets to come to bed. The sectional couches accommodate them both, Jimin on one and Jungkook on the other, and that's how the camera crew will find them the next morning, innocently asleep on separate sofas.

The night before, though, in the span of twilit hours between midnight and dawn when the Arctic sun never fully sets, Jimin lets Jungkook touch him. He lets him press their lips together. He lets Jungkook explore.

Jimin goes from demure to pliant beneath Jungkook's fingers. Jungkook is careful and deliberate, and when he asks permission, Jimin grants it. They go as far as they can, which is further than they've ever gone before, but Jungkook stops them.

“I don't know...” he says, in response to Jimin's half-strangled sigh.

“Yes, you do,” Jimin says. His eyes slip closed. In the half-light, his eyelids look like the delicate, veined wings of a dragonfly. Jungkook thinks wistfully of his camera, of how the lens would capture the persimmon of Jimin's lips in contrast with his velvet dark hair. He lays there, quietly patient, a gift waiting to be opened, and Jungkook knows it is a simple truth, when he allows himself to see it.

He wants Jimin. He wants him.

“You move me,” Jungkook whispers. The words falter, his voice cracks.

Jimin's eyes flutter open. “I... what?

Jungkook clears his throat. “Just kiss me,” he says, and he doesn't have to ask twice.

Chapter Text

“I wanted to be stronger.
I wanted to be everything for you.
If I could be stronger
Would you believe
that I could love you like you want me to?”
Stronger, Clean Bandit

 

May 2016 - Bergen

 

KAKAOTALK
2016 May 17
18:03

BigHit Taehyung: Haha, were you surprised when I found you

Jinnie: How did you find us? Your last message was hours ago.

BigHit Taehyung: Hobi-hyung and I planned it, he told me where you were and I found it on the map all by myself so are you happy?

Jinnie: Happy. Surprised. Afraid.

BigHit Taehyung: (˘̩╭╮˘̩) Afraid why

Jinnie: When we get to the restaurant, excuse yourself to the washroom. I'll meet you.

BigHit Taehyung: Ok ok

 

Over his phone screen, Taehyung meets Seokjin's gaze. Seokjin nods and puts his own phone away. He looks as though he's eaten a plateful of bad oysters, and his skin is a livid shade of chartreuse. Taehyung regrets his prank of showing up at the tram station unexpectedly, even if it was meant to be a tiny surprise, because he's upset Seokjin (again), and that's the opposite of what he ever hopes to do.

After their reunion at the tram station, they split into two groups for dinner: Team Steak, which is Jimin, Hoseok, and Namjoon; and Team Seafood: him, Jungkook, and Seokjin. Yoongi, who is still jet-lagged, remained behind to rest and probably work on some songs.

At the restaurant, Taehyung slings his bag into the chair. He's all trembly from hunger and worry, but Jungkook seems too engrossed in their surroundings to care. He's already in the window seat, gazing out over the chilly, gray drizzle of the Bergen city block.

Before Taehyung can slip off, Jungkook peers up, dazed, and asks, “Where's hyung?”

“Uh, washroom,” Taehyung says. “Actually, I'm gonna go, too. Order me a cola, please?”

Jungkook pans a distracted look in his direction. “And for Jin-hyung?”

Taehyung, already three meters away, pauses and pivots. “Um. Water,” he says.

The washroom is a tiny cubicle with one stall and a urinal. It smells of ammonia and pine and is scrubbed as clean as a naval ship. Seokjin peers from behind the stall's door so that Taehyung can only see his eye and a slice of his face, but that's all it takes to turn his knees to water. Taehyung springs at the door, slamming it shut behind him, and then Seokjin's arms slide tight around him.

Seokjin kisses his neck. He smells clean, like strong soap and rain, so before Taehyung knows it, he's whispering, “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” against Seokjin's skin.

Seokjin jerks away like the words burn him. “Why are you sorry?” he asks.

Taehyung feels genuinely perplexed. “Because I scared you, and because of what I said back at the dorm. Because I keep pushing,” he says. “Because I know you don't want to be out, that you can't be out but I—”

“—You have no reason to apologize.” Seokjin squares him against the stall door, both of his hands pressing Taehyung's shoulders back. “You always think it's your fault.”

“You always think it's your fault,” Taehyung counters.

“It is my fault,” Seokjin says, his voice sharp against the patter of rainfall. Then, quieter, he asks, “You're not mad at me?”

“You're not mad at me?” Taehyung repeats.

“No. Never.” Then he amends with, “Rarely.”

“When?” Taehyung challenges.

Seokjin nuzzles behind Taehyung's ear in a way that makes Taehyung wish they were already back in Seoul. By way of an answer, Seokjin says, “I got you some jellies.”

“Oh, so you think you can buy me off with candy?” Taehyung teases.

“And various favors,” Seokjin whispers.

“Well,” Taehyung says, melting into his touch. “Okay.”

Seokjin trails tentative fingers through Taehyung's honey-brown hair. “They dyed it,” he says.

“They thought the red would draw attention,” Taehyung says.

“It's not just your hair that will do that,” Seokjin whispers against his mouth. Taehyung sneaks his hands beneath Seokjin's shirt. His thumbs trace up his ribs and to his nipples, which makes Seokjin shudder. He hauls Taehyung closer, deepening their kiss until they're both breathless and desperate and hungry. 

"I want you," Taehyung mutters into Seokjin's throat.

"I always want you," Seokjin answers. His voice is a ragged edge. "Always, always, always."

Taehyung gets lost in his kisses, like he always does, and the time slips away so that when his phone buzzes, it tugs them both forcefully back down to earth.

Taehyung wipes his mouth and checks the text. “It's Jungkook-ah,” he groans. “The staff are wondering where we are.”

“Ah, of course.” Seokjin takes a moment to steady his breath and brush down Taehyung's hair. Then he adjusts the hem of his hoodie. Taehyung feels both surprised and impressed at how quickly Seokjin puts himself back together. Seokjin asks, “You first, or me?”

Taehyung is thumbing a response to Jungkook as he answers, “You, please. I'll count to twenty.”

Seokjin squeezes around him through the door. Taehyung can tell he wants to kiss him again, but he doesn't. Seokjin is the Prince of Restraint. Instead, he says, “This is going to be an interesting trip, Taehyung-ah.”

“Hyung, it always is,” Taehyung says.

Then he waits for the door to close before he begins to count.

Chapter Text

“I may fall down and get hurt,
But I still run endlessly toward my dreams.”
Young Forever, BTS

May 2016 – Stockholm

Namjoon feels like a superhero. He feels invincible, unstoppable, like he's the literal king of the world. They are in Sweden, on the crown of the earth, and he managed to swing a discount on his and Yoongi's train passes because of his wits and his grasp of the English language.

The weather is great, he looks great, he feels great.

He looks to Yoongi, who wears a neutral expression tinged with the barest trace of annoyance. If Namjoon had to assign one word to Yoongi today, that word would be disdain. It's not the real Yoongi, but the cultivated one he's chosen to show to the people of Sweden. A way of keeping them distant, of keeping himself removed.

As obvious foreigners, they have zero hope of blending in, which can sometimes illicit comments and staring. Add in their handcams and the hovering staff, and they make easy targets for unsolicited conversation and the occasional crowd of rampaging fangirls, which actually happened to them yesterday, to everyone's complete surprise.

Namjoon glances again at Yoongi. His upper lip curls in a permanent sneer as if he thinks everyone around him smells like cheese. If Namjoon didn't know Yoongi, he would definitely steer clear of him.

But he does know Yoongi. Through years of butting heads and shaking hands, through bouts of anxiety and depression and doubt and fear, they have constructed a solid partnership built on trust. Namjoon knows Yoongi plays things close. He doesn't lie, but he can and will keep secrets. His own, to be sure, but also those of the members. And, recently, a few of Namjoon's.

“Who would you be?” Yoongi asks, forcing Namjoon to cycle back through his thoughts to get to the last thing he and Yoongi spoke out loud. It's been several minutes and half a dozen train stops, but Namjoon finally recalls. The Avengers. They called themselves the Avengers, which led Namjoon to think of himself as a superhero.

But which one?

“Hm,” Namjoon says, rubbing his chin. “Iron Man, I think.”

Yoongi squints, appreciatively. “I knew you'd pick him.”

“Oh? Why?” Namjoon says.

“Who else would you choose, Genius Playboy?”

Namjoon feels the heat of his blush creep up between his shoulder blades. “Playboy?” he balks.

A smirk twists Yoongi's lip. “You sure as hell aren't Captain America.”

Namjoon uncrosses his legs. “All right, who would you be?”

“Hawkeye,” Yoongi answers, like he's already given this answer an abundance of thought. Before Namjoon can object, Yoongi pantomimes hoisting a bow and firing an arrow. “I am the East Wind,” Yoongi says, blowing across his fingertips. “My aim is always true.”

“All right, all right,” Namjoon says. The name of their stop scrolls across the display, and they exit the train. As they leave the tube station, Namjoon congratulates himself again on his grasp of English as they emerge onto the city street. They navigate easily to the Stockholm outlet, where Yoongi hopes to buy some clothes. It's a good thing, too. Yoongi's pants could probably walk themselves to the mall at this point. But they add to the overall effect of his Crusty Disgruntled Traveler facade, so Yoongi hasn't complained.

As they meander through the store's aisles toward the registers, Namjoon asks, “So which one is Hobi-hyung?”

“Hm?” Yoongi grunts.

“Which Avenger?”

Yoongi swipes his card to pay for a pair of black pants identical to the ones he's wearing. In lieu of exchanging pleasantries with the cashier, he says, “J-Hope is Black Widow.”

“Huh?” Namjoon laughs. “How do you figure?”

They leave the store, pausing briefly on the curb to get their bearings. Yoongi says, “J-Hope has the moves, ergo, he's the Black Widow.”

They take up a comfortable pace, walking from shop to shop, breathing in the wintergreen scent of the air that mixes from time to time with leather from the shoe shop or a pleasant blend of department store perfumes.

“I would figure Jimin-ah for Black Widow,” Namjoon says.

“Uh, no,” Yoongi says. “Jimin is The Hulk.”

“What? No way.”

“Gentle, soft-spoken young man,” Yoongi explains. “Until you make him angry.”

“Ah, that part is true,” Namjoon muses.

After a few steps, Yoongi says, “Jungkook is Thor, but he wants to be Iron Man.”

Namjoon sniffs a laugh. “Also true.”

“Taehyung-ah...” Yoongi begins, but then he trails off. He sucks air over his teeth. “He's Rocket Raccoon.”

Chuckling, Namjoon asks, “And Jin-hyung?”

“He is Groot,” Yoongi says, affecting a surprisingly accurate imitation of Groot-speak.

Namjoon laughs so hard he hurts himself. As he recovers, Namjoon remembers their handcams. “We should have recorded all of that,” he murmurs. “That's V-Live gold right there. Classic Min Yoongi.”

Namjoon digs out his camera rig, adjusting it as they go, when Yoongi juts his chin toward the bus stop.

“Incoming,” he mutters.

Namjoon glares against the sun to spy Jimin on the sidewalk, looking lost as he consults his phone for directions.

“Should we attempt to evade?” Yoongi asks.

Namjoon says, “You realize that you may actually be Loki, right?”

Yoongi shrugs but doesn't argue. Namjoon switches his camera on just as Jimin turns to find them.

 

The three of them ease into a casual gait as they stroll along a sun-splashed Stockholm plaza. After half a block, Jimin says, “Jin-hyung was in a bad mood all afternoon.”

Namjoon knows things have been dicey between Jimin and Seokjin since December. He worried about them splitting off as a team, and now it seems that concern has borne fruit. So he shuts off his camera to give Jimin some space to complain.

“Well, what happened?” Namjoon asks.

“He made us walk, like, fifty miles,” Jimin says. “And then, when we finally got food, he ate so much he made himself sick.”

Yoongi catches Namjoon's eye. They'll discuss that point later on, because they've both noticed the way Seokjin's been eating (and not eating), but for now, they let Jimin vent.

“So once you found your hotel,” Namjoon asks. “Then what?”

“He kicked me out of our room, said I have to share with you,” Jimin explains. “And then he went to lie down. He's probably asleep. Seokjin-ah?” he groans. “More like Sulk-Jin-ah.” Then he looks up, as if remembering himself, and flushes a vivid, veiny pink. “I'm sorry, hyungs. He's so frustrating sometimes, and I just get really mad.”

“And you wouldn't like him when he's angry,” Yoongi mutters. Namjoon has to bite back his smile.

“So hang out with us,” Namjoon says. “We'll shop a while, and then we'll meet Kook-ah and Hobi-hyung at this Korean place for dinner. Cool?”

“Cool,” Jimin agrees, beaming.

They turn their cameras back on to record them plotting their way back to town via subway. Again, Namjoon has this air of importance. He's a problem-solver, a leader, someone who helps others feel better about themselves. He feels good. Strong. Confident. Like he can conquer the world.

The cameras go off again once they're settled, and Yoongi directs his attention to Jimin. He says, “You been working on your song?”

Jimin's nose wrinkles. He holds a hand aloft to shake his fist. “Jeon Jungkook,” he growls. “Why did he ever suggest that we should write our own songs?”

“Because he can do everything well,” Yoongi answers, “So naturally he believes that you can, too.”

Jimin's cheeks blush pink over Yoongi's words. “I have been working on it,” he says.

“Yeah?” Namjoon asks. “What's it about?”

Jimin gives a coy reply. “Things I've observed,” he says.

“About... what?” Namjoon nudges again.

Jimin lifts his shoulders in a shrug. “Things,” he answers, breezily. “What about you? What's yours about?”

Clever Park Jimin, Namjoon thinks. He tips his head and says, “Mine is about me, you know? The dichotomy of self. How you can be one person outwardly and another completely different person on the inside.”

Jimin nods appreciatively before they both turn expectant eyes to Yoongi, who watches them through his half-masted eyelids.

Yoongi says, simply, “Mine is about my first love.”

Namjoon and Jimin crane toward him, but Yoongi continues to pointedly ignore their attention. He has alluded to this devastating first love of his on every album since their debut, but after six years, Namjoon lacks even a name to go with the story.

“Come on,” Namjoon nudges. “You can tell us. I tell you everything.”

Yoongi arches one brow. “That, my friend, is on you,” he says.

Jimin says, “Yoongi-hyung's the best at keeping secrets, right hyung?”

Yoongi drawls out a long exhale. “Apparently,” he answers.

Namjoon pans a look between them. “What secrets?” he asks.

When Jimin can only stammer in response, Yoongi reaches up to flick the switch of Namjoon's camera back on. He waves to one of the staff and asks, “Any word from Taehyung-sshi?”

“Yeah,” the manager answers, sounding surprised by Yoongi's sudden interest. “He's lost. Took the wrong bus out of the city, didn't realize it til he was about two hours away.”

“Taehyung-ie's lost?” Jimin cries. He takes out his phone and immediately dials Taehyung. The cameraman zooms his focus on Jimin, knowing from experience that their conversation will be infinitely more interesting than whatever Namjoon or Yoongi will have to say.

So Namjoon takes advantage of the time out of the spotlight. “What secrets?” he whispers.

Yoongi waves, dismissively. “He'll tell you when he's ready,” he says. “Just like you'll tell them when you're ready. Right?”

Namjoon rubs his lips together, pensively, as he considers his friend Min Yoongi, the covert mastermind of their little band of heroes. “Definitely Loki,” Namjoon concludes.

“You think so?” Yoongi says.

Namjoon answers, “Without a doubt.”

And he's so consumed with these thoughts, and the thoughts of Taehyung getting lost, and his handcam and all of his purchases, plus his own secrets, and Yoongi's, and now Jimin's too, that Namjoon doesn't even see when his passport drops between the seats.

 

Chapter Text

“You know that you could have me
over and over again.
Yeah I can feel you under my skin.”
Body, Eric Nam

May 2016 – Stockholm

In the rarest shuffle of the cards, Taehyung and Seokjin share a room in Stockholm. Actually, Taehyung overheard Jimin telling Yoongi at dinner that Seokjin threw a fit over it, so it wasn't so much luck as Seokjin's outright insistence. 

Taehyung feels ludicrously grateful for this after his own stubbornness landed him on the wrong bus, which then took him to the wrong place, forcing the company to send a private car to collect him. And as beautiful and exciting as being out in the unexplored wilderness on his own might have been, the error cost him his allowance for the day, as well as a chunk of his pride.

At the end of the day, once all the cameras are turned off, Taehyung and Seokjin shower together, playing with the fancy Norwegian shower head in every way they can possibly imagine, and a few ways Taehyung never would have guessed Seokjin might enjoy. Afterward, they lay wrapped in warm robes on Seokjin's bed, their legs and arms loosely entangled around each other's bodies.

Seokjin recounts to him the events of his day with Jimin, who spent most of their time together complaining about having to spend so much time together. Taehyung's attention wanes in and out of focus as he's lulled by Seokjin's voice and the scent of the hotel's cedarwood and camphor shampoo. By the time Seokjin gets to Namjoon's missing passport, Taehyung is fighting back sleep.

Also, Seokjin's playing with Taehyung's hands, sliding his fingers to interlock with his. Seokjin's hands feel bonier than normal, colder, somehow, and brittle as twigs. Taehyung becomes fixated by this and by the repetitive motion of Seokjin's hands, so he arrives several seconds late to the realization that Seokjin has stopped talking.

He glances up, feeling a sheepish smile creep into his face. He says, “Can you repeat the last thing you said, please?”

“You spaced out, huh?” Seokjin says.

“A little,” he admits.

“Then I don't want to tell you.”

Taehyung pudges out his lip. “Don't make me beg you, hyung. You know I will.”

“You know what that leads to,” Seokjin answers, at once sultry and cautioning.

“Again?” Taehyung asks. He kisses the tip of Seokjin's finger. “I wouldn't say no.”

Seokjin tightens his grip on their hands. “You should get lost in the wilds more often—”

“—We could do that thing we talked about,” Taehyung says.

“Hmm, no,” Seokjin says, parting Taehyung's hair over his brows.

“It's my turn, hyung,” Taehyung pouts. “I've waited sooo long.”

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “Yeah, Taehyung-ah, I think I'm done for the night.”

“Old,” Taehyung says. He sidles onto his hip to watch Seokjin's expression.

Seokjin says, “Do you wanna hear what I said or not?”

Taehyung nods, once. “Tell me.”

“I said, we could live here, you and me.”

Taehyung considers for a long moment the possibility that Seokjin might be teasing him. He's been talking a lot lately about moving somewhere else, about getting a house, about leaving South Korea altogether. All plans for the future, but Seokjin spends a lot of time living in that distant would-be place, and Taehyung's not sure how he feels about it.

But he decides for tonight to play along. He asks, “What about the others?”

“Them, too,” Seokjin answers. “We'll have houses all over the world. Summer houses, winter houses. Houses for all the things we collect, like art and clothes and stuff.”

“I want a spring house for my grandma,” Taehyung says. “With a flower garden full of butterflies.”

“We'll visit her every March,” Seokjin says. “We'll bring her strawberries.”

“She already has strawberries,” Taehyung points out.

“Then we'll bring her roses,” Seokjin says. “The pink kind that grows here. We'll bring her those.”

So Seokjin is serious, Taehyung decides. This isn't an imagined future but a tangible reality. This is a place where they could be together, out in the open, and no one would try to harm them. After a moment of silence, Taehyung says, “What will we do here?”

Seokjin's mouth pulls into a lopsided smile, like he was hoping Taehyung would ask this question. “You're a filmmaker.”

“I am?” Taehyung asks.

“Mm-hm,” Seokjin says. “You know how you always pay attention to the filming and the cameras when we make videos?”

“Yeah.”

“It's because you're secretly a director.”

“Me? Kim Taehyung?”

“Yes. You like to tell stories,” Seokjin says. “All of this is after your hugely successful career as an international film star, of course.”

“Well, yes,” Taehyung nods. “And what about you?”

“Oh, I'm a chef,” Seokjin answers. “I make Korean fusion with every kind of food.”

“Korean fusion ice cream,” Taehyung says.

“Kimchi ice cream,” Seokjin says, and then he laughs for three full minutes at the face that Taehyung makes. Then he goes, “Of course, this is after the octopus overlords conquer the world.”

“Of course,” Taehyung concurs. “They like us, so we get first pick at all the good stuff.”

Seokjin stretches his arms up to the headboard. “We're their pets,” he says.

Taehyung jabs his thumb into Seokjin's ribs. He retracts with a savage hiss before bending low to Taehyung's throat. He whispers, darkly, “I will destroy you.”

“Catch me first,” Taehyung says. He makes no move to leave the bed or give chase, so Seokjin leans back, crossing his feet at his ankles. The late Arctic sun through the window tints his cheeks a rosy gold. He looks well-rested, content, self-assured. Smug.

Seokjin purrs his answer: “When you least expect it.”

And if Taehyung didn't already love Seokjin, he would have fallen for him right then and there.

 

Chapter Text

“You'll know, when it's time to go on
You'll want to grow and grow till tall.”
Grow Till Tall, Jonsi

May 2016 – Finland

“Seokjin-ah, wake up.”

He shakes his head side to side, like he's fighting in his dreams.

Taehyung tickles Seokjin's ear with the tip of his pinkie finger. He whispers in singsong, “Wake up, wake up, Jin-hyung-ah.”

Seokjin opens his eyes. From his place in the aisle of the camping car, Taehyung can see his dark lashes and the smooth sweep of his nose.

“Taehyung-ah?” he asks. “What's wrong?”

“Come outside,” Taehyung says. He has to bite down to quell his excitement, which is made worse because it's chilly and his teeth keep chattering.

Seokjin shifts sideways, slowly, to find Jungkook nestled beneath his arm.

“Climb over,” Taehyung says. “He won't wake up.”

“But the—”

“Shh. Climb over,” Taehyung says again.

Seokjin rolls to his side. He hooks his leg over Jungkook's thighs, and the maknae slides onto his back. Seokjin lifts his eyes to meet Taehyung's, who nods his encouragement.

“Other leg,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin gangles an arm and then a leg over Jungkook's body, gently nudging him toward Hoseok in the process. At one point, Jungkook opens his eyes to stare blankly up at him. But he can probably only see the gray of Seokjin's sweatshirt, so he drifts right back to sleep.

Meanwhile, Seokjin hooks his heels on the narrow ladder rungs, inching down a step at a time, until, after what feels like an excruciating span of minutes, they stand face-to-face in the narrow passage of the camper car.

“What are we doing?” Seokjin asks, and Taehyung revels for a half-second at this response. It's not Are you crazy? Or Why are you still awake? And he'll never ignore the word We. What are we doing?

Taehyung gestures for the door. Seokjin shambles carefully toward it. The pop and squeak of it opening sounds enormous in the cushioned silence of the camper. Neither Yoongi nor Jimin stir, though, not even when Seokjin presses the door to seal it shut.

Then they're alone in the chilly twilight with the hushed sounds of night birds rustling in the trees. The air smells of damp soil and ice and pine trees. The humidity makes the night feel tender and close, like the inside of a rosebud bloom.

“Follow me?” Taehyung says, not meaning it as a question, but that's how it sounds.

Seokjin answers with a nod. Taehyung leads him down a loamy path into the woods where the mossy earth tickles their bare toes. If they were with the others, Seokjin might grouse about the cold texture of the sand and the net of mosquitoes droning around their heads. He would complain about missing out on his sleep or them breaking the rules or not following his plans. He would chide Jimin and possibly Taehyung, and he would tell every old man joke he knows at least twice. In short, Seokjin would do what everyone expects him to do.

But he's a different man when they're alone.

In recent months, the gap between his Seokjin and the Seokjin he shows the world has widened. Taehyung doesn't know why or what has caused it, but Seokjin's focus has shifted. He's more concerned now about his appearance. He stresses constantly about his weight. There's a sharpness to his pranks that twists their play fights into real fights, and it hurts Taehyung more than he likes to admit.

When they're alone, he catches glimpses of Seokjin's true feelings, but they're rarely alone. And when they're not, Seokjin hides and conceals, and Taehyung worries about the toll this takes on Seokjin's heart, in both senses of the word.

So he needs this night, Taehyung thinks. They need this night, to remind Seokjin of what is real.

The path slopes gradually, and the trees begin to thin. Birds call and answer in the nearby thicket, and somewhere distant, they hear a faint yet steady roar.

Seokjin pinches Taehyung's sleeve. “Do you hear that?” he whispers. “Is that traffic? Are we close to a road?”

“No,” Taehyung says.

“What is it?”

“You'll see,” he says. “Close your eyes.”

Seokjin does as he's told, but then he smiles. “That makes no sense, you know.”

Taehyung presses his palm over Seokjin's eyes and guides him forward. He says, “But you still closed them, didn't you?”

Taehyung feels Seokjin's shudder as they steal along the path. The loose sand becomes more hard packed, and the trees march off on either side like a line of silent sentinels. In their absence, the wind brisks up, smelling of the salt and brine and his childhood. Chills course up Taehyung's arms, sparked by the cold and the remembrance of playing with his family on the coast in Ulsan so many years ago. He's laughing before he knows it, and Seokjin laughs, too, but his is a more guarded chuckle. He's probably worried about a sudden trick or prank, because that's prone to happen, even between them. But not tonight. Taehyung has other plans.

“Only a little bit more,” he soothes. “A few seconds more.”

“Are we on a beach?” Seokjin wonders. The words quiver like candle flame on his tongue.

“Shh,” Taehyung says. He steps Seokjin around a driftwood log, guiding him beside a tidal pool and a raised shoal of powder fine sand. Taehyung finds the leeward shoulder of a dune that softens the edge of the wind. He squares Seokjin's shoulders toward what he thinks is east.

“Almost now,” Taehyung says. “Are you nervous?”

“No,” he answers. “Should I be?”

“You must really trust me,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin says nothing. But Taehyung can hear Seokjin's breathing, can feel the rise and fall of it beneath his arm, which he's slung over Seokjin's shoulder. His other hand cups Seokjin's eyes, and his lashes feather against Taehyung's palm.

Seconds trickle into minutes. Their limbs grow cold, their muscles stiff, but Seokjin waits, his teeth chattering, and Taehyung begins to wonder if maybe he mistimed this whole adventure. Seokjin's better at planning these things, better at setting up a riddle or a surprise. If Taehyung read his weather app wrong, they could be out here for hours in the cold, confirming for Seokjin what other people already know: that Taehyung's some special breed of imbecile, but his heart is so pure they decide to keep him around.

But then the clouds in the east bloom with a honey glow. Taehyung, trembling, lowers his hand, but Seokjin remains as he is, his eyes shut, his mouth parted like he's still asleep.

“Open your eyes, hyung,” Taehyung says.

There's an intake of breath, and Taehyung doesn't know if it's Seokjin's or his own. He feels Seokjin's arm rest in the small of his back. He feels their hipbones snug together as they stand beneath the fading sprawl of the Milky Way. The sun continues its procession into the sky, painting the horizon with a swath of molten gold. The sea snares the light, breaking it around the black silhouettes of islands, fracturing it in waves along the shore.

Seokjin swallows. A muscle in his jaw tightens. Taehyung realizes then that Seokjin is speechless.

So he takes Seokjin's hands and steps lightly around to face him. The sun at his back casts a hazy shadow across Seokjin's broad chest.

“I wanted to tell you how I feel about you, only I've used up all the words,” Taehyung says. “But this place can show you. This is how I feel.”

Seokjin blinks several times before he manages a hoarse, “Taehyung-ah...”

“I want to shout it to the world so everyone can hear it,” Taehyung continues. “But since I can't, I thought at least you should know. I love you.”

Seokjin hauls Taehyung into an embrace so forceful, it crushes the breath from Taehyung's lungs. He wonders, not for the first time, about how much Seokjin's been holding back. But these thoughts get dashed away when Seokjin pushes him to arm's length.

“You're as tall as me,” Seokjin says. He wipes his face on his sleeve and takes a long moment to stare at him. “You're as tall as me now,” he marvels aloud. “When did this happen?”

Taehyung shrugs. He says, “Yesterday?”

"Oh I love you," Seokjin says. He gathers Taehyung's body back in, hooking his chin over his shoulder, sliding his fingers beneath the hem of his shirt. Taehyung smooths his palms along Seokjin's spine. In this way, they borrow warmth as they watch the Arctic sun rise.

Gradually, gradually, the light swallows the night sky and all of her stars. The clouds crowd close, smelling of moss and the promise of rain. Taehyung and Seokjin link fingers as they navigate the path back to their camp, wondering over the skirted branches and logs they missed in the perfect dark of the night before.

Once in view of the camper car, they part as if they planned it beforehand. They return to their places and pretend to sleep for the fifteen minutes it takes for Hoseok's alarm to go off. Then the staff comes in to rouse them, and they fold into the routine of getting ready to move on to their next destination.

Taehyung finds Seokjin with Yoongi under the awning. They converse effortlessly about the weather and the division of their chores. Their eyes meet, and Seokjin winks. It's the only acknowledgment he can give.

Just like that, Seokjin's mask returns, but Taehyung knows now that he's the only one who can see it.

 

Chapter Text

“When I met you, you all seemed to be scared of something. Like you didn't know how to look at me. Your anxiety was another face of desperation.”
from Bang Sihyuk's letter to BTS

May 2016 – Finland, the final day of Bon Voyage

For a group of friends who once swore to never keep secrets, they've managed to accumulate quite a few. Unexpectedly and not by choice, Hoseok somehow knows them all.

He ponders this as he checks his reflection in the camper van's side mirror, scrubbing at the almost invisible stubble on his chin. Apart from the hip-hop/dancer aspect, he's a regular guy – average build, normal features – so why is it he's become the designated secret keeper among his friends?

Yoongi leans through the open driver's side door, stretching his spine like a cat's across the seat. “Seokjin-hyung has decided that, for today, he's going to be the maknae,” he groans. “And Jungkook will be the hyung.”

“What?” Hoseok snorts. “Why?”

Yoongi narrows his eyes. “To show Jungkook how it's supposed to be done.”

“Oh no,” Hoseok says. But he smiles, both at the idea of Seokjin and Jungkook switching places and at the myriad reasons why Yoongi might despise it. He already has his hands full trying to rein in Seokjin and Taehyung. The two of them together can be like a lighted candle near dynamite, all soft and warm and glowy until – bam! – they're sharing a 90 second back hug on camera because Seokjin's has hurt Taehyung's feelings again.

Their lack of personal space and privacy have made them both unexpectedly sparky on this trip, and sometimes it's difficult to tell when they're serious and when they're just playing around. And with Namjoon on his way back to Korea over the lost passport debacle, there's one less person around to keep an eye on the increasingly unpredictable pair of Park Jimin and Jeon Jungkook.

“Aw hyung,” Hoseok says. “What's the worst that could happen?”

Yoongi glares up at him through his lashes. “We could all die,” he says.

In this distance, they hear screaming.

“It begins,” Yoongi intones before trudging off to investigate.

 

The six of them take rented bikes along a stretch of Finnish highway. Skeins of low, white clouds bunch across the sky like a fluffy wool cap. The air smells dewy fresh and coolly green. A few spates of rain lick up, giving them plenty of clear puddles to splash through. Hoseok passes the day coasting through his thoughts like he did as a child, riding his bike along the sunlit fields of home.

Jungkook starts out in the lead with Jimin pushing hard to keep pace with him. Taehyung and Seokjin ride close to the middle, talking too low for anyone else to hear. For a time, Yoongi peddles alongside Hoseok. They match measure for a while, gradually drifting to the back of the group.

After a few miles, Yoongi says, “You're really quiet today.”

“It's healing time,” Hoseok replies.

Yoongi grunts in response. A cool breeze ruffles the damp fringe of his hair. He smiles, all teeth, and tilts his face to the sky.

“Too bad Joon-ie's not here,” Hoseok muses. “He could use some healing.”

Yoongi's smile morphs to a knowing grin. “I'm sure he's making good use of his time back home,” he says.

“You think so?” Hoseok asks.

Yoongi slicks raindrops from his handlebars. He can't give an answer, not with the cameras in their helmets, so he wrinkles his nose and he waits.

Half an hour later, they pull into a riverside park for a water break. Yoongi hems over to Hoseok, sliding off his helmet to fluff his flattened hair. Hoseok follows suit, tucking his camera under his arm.

“Between you and me,” Yoongi hums. “I wouldn't be surprised if Joon didn't lose his passport on purpose just to get back home to her.”

Hoseok slaps at him. “Shhhh,” he hisses. “He would never.”

“No, he wouldn't,” Yoongi agrees. “But think about it – the whole dorm to himself for three days. You think Mon-ie wouldn't make the best of this bad situation?”

Hoseok knows he absolutely will. Three days on his own with a girl and an empty dorm? He might lose all respect for Namjoon if he didn't at least try.

“You think he'll tell everyone when we get back?” Hoseok asks.

“Hell if I know, Hope,” Yoongi says, his brow darkening. “Why does everyone tell us these things? Don't we have secrets of our own?”

“Right?” Hoseok says.

Yoongi taps his arm and points toward one of the camera crew who's approaching with a bottle of water. Hoseok takes it, drinks, and passes it to Yoongi.

“One minute before we push on,” the crew-person tells them.

“Sure, thanks,” Yoongi says, bowing. He sips and recaps the bottle.

“Helmets on,” the crew-person says, pointing to his own head as a reminder. Then he takes the water bottle and jogs off, signaling to everyone to return to their bikes.

Hoseok lingers a moment more before snugging his helmet back over his bangs. He says, “Only, I don't really have any secrets.”

Yoongi scrunches up his nose. “You've got all of mine,” he says. Like he's fully aware it's not a prize, and he's truly sorry for it.

Up on the path, Taehyung and Jungkook have begun a showdown of drifting tricks across the rain-slick sidewalk. Seokjin hovers white-knuckled on his own bike, mute with a mixture of horror and concern. So much for playing the role of the maknae.

Hoseok touches Yoongi's shoulder. “Once more into the breach?”

Yoongi mashes down his helmet. “You're such a dork,” he says.

“You love it,” Hoseok calls over his shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah,” Yoongi groans as he wheels his bike to join the rest.

 

They end their day on a lakeside so beautiful it seems stolen from the realm of fairy tales. After dinner, they took up a gauntlet of sauna games which resulted in them leaping into the near-freezing lake water and then following up with time in the hot tub.

Hoseok wonders if this hot-cold-hot-again treatment accounts for the extremely long lives of the Nordic people, because he feels more alive than he can ever remember feeling. His skin tingles. His lungs feel elastic. He thinks his eyesight may have actually improved because everything glows with a crisp, bright clarity.

Though it's late, the sun still hangs like a honey drop above the horizon. The river smells of ice and earth and somehow like cinnamon. A flock of geese scissor across the sky, their reflections mirrored in the wimpling surface of the lake below.

His thoughts flit continually back to the letter Bang Sihyuk wrote to them, which they read aloud on the broadcast and then passed back and forth once the cameras were stowed away. They analyzed every syllable, parsing over every word, to each arrive at the same conclusion: That Bang PD has faith in them. Constant, strong, overwhelming faith that they can do everything he wants for them and more. It's a little more than he can fully comprehend.

Hoseok hears a footstep behind him and assumes that it's Yoongi. He turns to find Jimin standing there instead, his hands loose in his pockets, his bare face flush from the effects of the day.

“Wow, huh?” Hoseok says.

“Yeah. Wow.” Jimin pokes his toes into the grass. “This whole trip, wow.”

“Healing,” Hoseok says.

Jimin grins. “Hyung, my heart is full.”

“Is it?” Hoseok asks. He scans Jimin's face, but Jimin's eyes remain closed.

“Do you remember the Christmas special we filmed together?” Jimin asks.

Hoseok wonders where he's going with this. It's been a long time since Christmas and so much has happened since then. But he answers, cautiously, “I do...”

“When I asked what Jungkook-ie desired for his Coming of Age, do you remember his answer?” Jimin asks.

“Yeah,” Hoseok recalls. “He pointed at you.”

“He wanted me.” Jimin opens his eyes. He turns his face to Hoseok, and his eyes are brightly alight. “He wants me.”

Hoseok squeezes Jimin's shoulder. “Sweetie, we've known that since October.”

“Yeah, but now I know,” Jimin says.

“Did you—? Have you—?” Hoseok stammers. Then he continues in a whisper, “On this trip?”

“We did.” Jimin beams.

And this is the moment Yoongi chooses to saunter into. “What's that?” he asks, scruffing a hand through the back of his hair. Hoseok holds up a hand in a gesture that says, The floor is yours.

Jimin says, “Jungkook and I—”

“—Pht, I already know,” Yoongi says. “You should be more careful. You're pretty obvious.”

“We are?” Jimin asks.

Flustered, Hoseok hisses, “Nevermind that we're in the crosshairs of a dozen cameras at any given moment.”

“Hyung, that'll be true as long as we're idols,” Jimin says.

“And while you're right about that,” Yoongi says. “You and Kook-ah still have to take certain things into consideration if you're going to continue down this path. Yeah?” Jimin's attention trails to a shallow beach where Taehyung and Jungkook are pitching pine cones into the lake. “You listening to me?” Yoongi asks.

Jimin's attention snaps back to him. “Yeah. Yes, hyung.”

“Are you ready to tell Joon? Or Bang PD? Are you ready for any of the things that go along with that decision?” Yoongi asks.

Jimin scrubs his face with his hands. “I am—”

“—Is he?” Yoongi says.

When Jimin just stands there, Yoongi gives his shoulder a shove. “Well, go ask him.”

Jimin meanders awkwardly away, leaving Hoseok and Yoongi to stare dumbly at the water before crumbling into baffled laughter.

“The hell...?” Hoseok breathes.

“I can't believe this,” Yoongi seethes. “I cannot believe we have to go through this again.”

“Are you angry?” Hoseok asks.

“Yeah. Some,” Yoongi admits. “Look, here's the thing, Hope. Jin-hyung and Tae, they play by certain rules, most of which they set for themselves. They're careful. They're cautious. But Kook-ah and Jimin,” Yoongi hisses through his teeth. “They've grown up watching this from the inside. All the things Seokjin and Taehyung have been scolded for, all the times they've had to hide, Jimin and Jungkook have sidestepped all of it. They don't have a Minyeong-nim lurking on the other side of every door. All those traps and landmines, Jin and Tae have already tripped them. So now, Jimin thinks that if they did it, then so can he and Kook. And Jimin thinks it's easy, but—”

“—But it's dangerous,” Hoseok says.

“Exactly,” Yoongi says. He stares across the water, his forehead deeply furrowed with concern. “So that's it. Enough with the secrets. When we get home, we'll call another meeting, one with full disclosure on everything.”

“Everything?” Hoseok asks, giving Yoongi a pointed look.

“Almost everything,” Yoongi amends. “You know what I mean.”

What Yoongi means is that his secrets are deeper and older, and more importantly, his own. Plus, they don't impact their daily lives, so Yoongi intends to keep them. That is, Yoongi and Hoseok intend to keep them.

Hoseok loops his arm around Yoongi's shoulder “Yeah,” he says. “I really, really do.”

They amble up the bank to join Taehyung, who has left Jimin and Jungkook on the shore. As they wind their way slowly up the path, their bare feet padding on the spongy soil, they see Seokjin alone on the wide wooden deck. Taehyung sprints ahead to join him, and then Jimin and Jungkook trail up as well, and finally, Yoongi and Hoseok take their places beside them at the rail.

Each lapse into a separate silence, each consumed by their own wonder and contemplation, at all they've experienced and all they've yet to see.

Hoseok has in that moment a singular instance of clarity, a deep and impenetrable realization that right now, in this moment, they're standing on the edge of something vast, and soon, all that they know will change.

And he knows that he doesn't even have the sense to feel afraid.