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the halfway cafe

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Yoongi is lost in the backroads of Gangwon-do, trying to avoid a crash on the expressway, when the rain hits.

He has one hand on the wheel and the other tapping at his phone, desperately trying to get his GPS to show anything other than recalculating route. One second it isn’t raining. The next, he’s caught in a torrential downpour.

The windows fog over in an instant, obscuring the world behind a screen of condensation. Yoongi curses. He slams on his hazard blinkers, turns up the defrost, and does his best to pull off the road without driving into the ditch. The noise of the defrost gusting out stale air is completely drowned out by the cacophony of rain pounding against the roof.

“Recalculating route,” his GPS says.

“Fuck,” Yoongi replies, trying not to shiver under the onslaught of cold air from the vents.

The world comes back into view slowly, blooming outward from the base of the windshield, but the newly de-fogged windows barely help with visibility. Water sluices down the windshield, completely overwhelming the wipers. His headlights show little beyond the wall of rain.

“Recalculating route.”

Yoongi takes a deep breath and slowly, carefully, pulls back onto the road.

———

The first place Yoongi finds to turn off the road is a train station. It’s difficult to see anything through the waterfall on his windshield, but he can make out train tracks and a long, narrow building. The station must be closed for the night, though, because it’s completely dark, without so much as a street lamp turned on outside.

Across the gravel parking lot, however, is a building that glows with warm light. A sign over the door, hand-painted in flowing script, proclaims it to be the Halfway Cafe. Yoongi’s shoulders slump with relief. He would much rather wait this storm out with a coffee in hand than huddled and freezing in his car.

There’s only one other car in the lot. Yoongi pulls up right in front of the cafe and kills the ignition. He closes his eyes and sits in the dark for a second, listening to the rain. It’s been a long day— a long week. He spent the past three days at a work conference out in Gangneung, where businessmen twice his age talked down to him and made snide comments behind his back. And now, just when he’s finally, finally free to go back to Seoul and his apartment and his beloved bed— this happens.

He doesn’t even have an umbrella in the car. Fuck.

He sits up, unbuckles his seatbelt, and takes off his suit jacket. He leaves the jacket on the passenger seat so it won’t get ruined by the rain. Then he opens his door and makes a dash for the cafe. It takes him maybe ten seconds at the most, but by the time he’s pushing through the glass door he’s drenched. His hair flops into his face, dripping into his eyes, and his button up is plastered to his chest. He runs a hand through his bangs, pushing them back off his forehead. Water trickles down his neck.

There’s a man behind the counter. He looks up with a welcoming smile when Yoongi comes in. He has dimples in his cheeks.

“Hi there,” he says in a voice like warm honey. “Got caught in the rain?”

Yoongi’s reply seems to stick in his throat, so he nods instead. He feels damp and scraggly and a tiny bit miserable, but there’s something incredibly warm about this shop. It has exposed beams and large windows, and some of those trendy hanging terrariums in glass globes. There are only four tables, one of which is occupied by a group of three customers with their heads bent together as they talk quietly. Tiny flower centerpieces sit on each table. Everything feels well-loved, cozy, like a home that has been lived in for a long time.

As he shuffles to the counter, Yoongi can feel himself thawing out. He’s still soaked— there’s no helping that. But a small piece of his heart, which has been curling tighter and tighter into itself as the week progressed, slowly begins to unfurl.

“Can I get an iced americano?” he asks once he’s in front of the register. “And, uh—” he glances down at the display case of pastries. “A cheese scone?”

“Sure thing,” the barista says. He’s wearing an oversized sweater, and a black apron with a name tag that says NAMJOON pinned to it. “Are you sure you don’t want your coffee hot, though? You look pretty cold.”

“Oh.” The question brings Yoongi up short, and he considers it for a second. He’s never dealt well with cold. Sopping wet as he is, he should probably be shivering right now, teeth chattering away— but he’s not. The warmth of the shop is already seeping into him, keeping the cold at bay. “No, actually, I think… I’m feeling a lot warmer already.”

Namjoon nods, looking pleased, and punches the order in. Yoongi hands his card over and waits, eyes wandering to the menu board hanging on the wall. It’s handwritten on chalkboard, with flowers and vines swirling along the edges. The art is gorgeous, better than any chalkboard drawings Yoongi has seen before. The flowers are done in delicate pinks and purples, and the vines connect through from the list of coffee drinks to non-coffee drinks, to—

“What are those?” Yoongi asks, pointing at the third section of the menu. “The ‘Magic Teas’?”

Namjoon’s eyebrows pull together, perplexed. “You’ve never had them before?” he asks.

“No?” Yoongi says, not quite sure why Namjoon is the one looking confused here. Magic tea? Why would Yoongi have heard of that? Is it some trend lately, a new kind of detox juice or something? He’s never had time to keep up with all that shit.

“Oh.” Namjoon gives him a look, long and searching, that makes Yoongi shift uncomfortably on his feet. Then, as if nothing happened, he’s smiling again, a little sheepish. “Sorry, we don’t get many customers who aren’t, ah, from around here. They’re herbal teas. Each one has some benefit, like easing headaches or helping with concentration.” He shrugs. “You know, like magic.”

“Huh,” Yoongi says. He takes his card back from Namjoon and lets his eyes drift back to the menu board. Magic tea. Weird.

Wood scrapes against wood as the other patrons in the cafe push their chairs back and stand. Yoongi pays them no mind until someone brushes past him, their shoulder bumping him in the tight space. He turns to offer an automatic apology and finds himself face-to-face with—

A tiger.

Not someone in a tiger costume, or someone with stripes and whiskers painted on their face. Seven feet of real, actual tiger, standing upright on his hind paws and wearing a trench coat and hat like a character out of a noir detective story. He looks straight past Yoongi to Namjoon, and reaches up to tip his hat.

“Train will be here soon,” he says in a low, rumbling voice. “Thanks for the tea, it was superb.”

“It was my pleasure,” Namjoon says.

Yoongi barely hears him; His heart is pounding, blood booming in his ears. His eyes skitter toward the tiger’s companions. One, barely taller than Yoongi’s six-year-old nephew, is a rabbit in a peacoat dress, with her ears pulled back by a hairband. The other is a fox—also wearing a trench coat, in black—with a lush tail and pointed ears. As the three of them step out the door, the fox looks over his shoulder, straight at Yoongi, and winks.

Yoongi gasps. He whirls around as the door shuts with a jingle, his eyes seeking out the train station through the cafe’s windows. The rain blurs everything, but he can still see the lights— lots of them, bright and cheery, completely illuminating the train station and transforming it into a beacon in the night.

“What—” Yoongi turns back to the counter, to Namjoon, in confusion. “What is— the station was empty, it was closed.”

“Just because humans aren’t using it doesn’t mean no one is.” Namjoon speaks almost offhandedly, as if his cryptic words are some sort of common sense.

“So those customers were, what, spirits?” Yoongi squashes the urge to give a hysterical laugh. He can hear his voice rising in pitch. “You’re telling me this is some Spirited Away bullshit? I crossed a river in the rain and if I turn around No Face will be standing behind me?”

“Hey,” Namjoon says, leaning across the counter. His eyes are concerned. “Can you take a deep breath for me?”

Yoongi doesn’t know why he does as Namjoon requests, but he does. He inhales, holds the air in, and then lets it out. And maybe this place truly is magic, because as he exhales he feels his heart start to calm. He takes another breath, and another. Namjoon smiles encouragingly, and waits until Yoongi is breathing normally again to speak.

“Yes, they were spirits,” he says. “No, this is not Spirited Away. Although it would be kind of cool if it was. I would love to visit that bathhouse.”

“Yubaba is terrifying, though,” Yoongi says weakly.

“True,” Namjoon acquiesces. “But I have my own magic. I think I’d be fine.”

Yoongi takes another shaky breath. “So you’re, what, a spirit too?”

“No, I’m— wait, I should probably do this properly.” Namjoon smiles ruefully and then straightens from the counter to bow deeply. “My name is Kim Namjoon, and I’m the owner of Halfway Cafe. I’m a witch, and the magic teas really are magic.”

“Right,” Yoongi says, “okay, that’s great, I’m just gonna—” and he collapses into the closest chair.

———

Namjoon brings Yoongi’s order to him. He sets the tray gently on the table: iced coffee in a tall glass, and steaming scone on a white ceramic plate. It smells wonderful. Yoongi’s stomach, quicker to recover from his shock than his brain, gives a growl.

Yoongi looks from the food to Namjoon, who has settled onto the chair across from his.

“It’s safe for me to eat this, right?” Yoongi asks. He isn’t quite sure if he means it as a joke or not. “I won’t, like, get stuck in the spirit world because I ate their food, or get turned into a pig or something, right?”

“No, no, of course not,” Namjoon says, contriving to look at once apologetic and amused. “But I can have a bite first, if you’d like, so you know it’s not poisoned or anything.”

Yoongi sighs and reaches for his coffee. “I hadn’t even considered poison,” he admits, and then takes a long sip.

It doesn’t taste like anything weird, just good, strong coffee. Yoongi holds a hand up to the light. He isn’t turning invisible, or green, or transforming into an animal. He considers that good sign and takes a tentative bite of his scone. It’s absolutely delicious, and the perfect texture— just crumbly enough, without falling all apart into a million dry pieces.

“I dunno,” he mumbles thoughtfully around his mouthful of scone. “Pretty sure this is what fairy food would taste like.”

Namjoon lets out a laugh, a single loud ha! that scrunches his face. “I actually get those shipped in,” he says. “They’re from a bakery in Seoul. The only thing I really do to the baked goods is put them under a stasis spell to keep them fresh.”

“A stasis spell,” Yoongi repeats in disbelief. “Christ. Just what the hell is this place?”

“It’s a cafe,” Namjoon says, raising an eyebrow. “The more important question is: where is this place?”

Yoongi gives him a blank, unimpressed look and takes another long sip of his coffee.

“This is a halfway point,” Namjoon elaborates. “It exists in places that are halfway between the spirit world and the human world. I serve customers from either side who are on their way through.”

“So that means… what? That I somehow managed to drive through a rainstorm and halfway into the spirit world?”

“Seems like it.” Namjoon is smiling again, dimples on display. “Although I will say, I’ve never had a customer who was just a regular human. Everyone who comes here has magic.”

“I don’t,” Yoongi says. Suddenly the bite of scone he just took feels chalky in his mouth. He hurriedly takes a sip of coffee. “I don’t,” he repeats, with more conviction. “I’m just a regular guy with a desk job, trying to get home so that I can go to work in the morning.” He fiddles with his straw. “I’m just Min Yoongi. That’s it.”

Namjoon hums, not sounding convinced, but doesn’t push the topic either. “I’ll have to look into it,” he says, quiet, like he’s talking to himself. “The shop’s never done this before.”

Yoongi doesn’t want to think about what that might mean, or why Namjoon refers to the shop as if it’s sentient, so instead he busies himself with his scone. He’s ravenous, truly hungry for the first time all week. At the conference his stomach had been constantly tied into knots, killing his appetite completely. Now, he polishes off his scone in record time.

“Would you like another?”

Yoongi startles and looks up, his cheeks still full of his last bite of scone. Namjoon is watching him with his chin propped on his hand.

“On the house,” Namjoon elaborates when Yoongi doesn’t immediately reply. “I feel like I owe you something for, you know, all this. And you seem hungry.”

Yoongi swallows. His stomach rumbles.

“Um,” he says. “Yeah, sure. That would be nice.”

Namjoon smiles, wide and relieved, and stands. As he walks toward the counter, he says, “That was the last of the cheese, but I’ve got some walnut scones left, if that’s okay?”

“That’s fine,” Yoongi says. “Thank you.”

Namjoon just flashes him another dimpled smile and grabs a plate.

They chat while Yoongi demolishes the second scone. Namjoon is a rather skilled conversationalist, navigating straight through the awkward small talk and asking Yoongi insightful questions about his work. Yoongi, for his part, stumbles through telling him about the software he’s been working on and the conference where he’d just finished presenting the project.

By the time he finishes his food, the rain has calmed from a dull roar to a gentle patter. The train has long since rumbled past, and the station is once again dark. Namjoon smiles softly and says, “I think it should be safe for you to head out, now.”

Yoongi looks out the window, into the dark night, and feels— not sad, exactly, but regretful that he needs to leave. Which is weird, because there’s really no place else he’d rather be than at home in his bed.

And yet.

“Guess so,” he says. And then, “Thank you.”

“For what, nearly giving you a heart attack?” Namjoon asks, wry.

“No, that’s—” Yoongi trails off, frowns. “You said that you don’t usually get non-magical people here. It’s not your fault I stumbled in. But you were patient, and tried to explain, and I appreciate that.”

“You’re welcome, then.”

Namjoon looks pleased, maybe a little shy. The tips of his ears are pink. He walks with Yoongi to the door, and both of them pause awkwardly.

“Safe travels,” Namjoon finally says.

“Thanks,” Yoongi replies, and pushes through the door.

He tries his best not to look back at the cafe as he jogs to his car. There’s a tiny worry lodged in his chest that if he looks it won’t be there, and he will realize this entire evening was nothing more than a strange dream. It isn’t until he’s climbed into the driver’s seat and buckled himself in that he finally glances up. The cafe is still there, on the other side of his windshield. He can see Namjoon gathering Yoongi’s dishes from the table, and all the little hanging terrariums.

Yoongi turns his car on. Takes off his brake. Shifts into reverse. He keeps an eye on the cafe in his rearview mirror as he leaves the parking lot, and continues to watch it until the cheerful lights are swallowed by the night.

When the last twinkling of light is gone, he sighs, sets his gaze straight ahead, and drives.

———

“Hey, hyung.”

“Yeah?” Yoongi asks. He glances up from his computer and is met with Jimin’s large, concerned eyes.

“Aren’t you going to take lunch?”

Yoongi blinks owlishly and looks around the office. The usual sea of heads poking above the top of the cubicle dividers is missing. The clock on his computer says it’s almost one. He has a vague memory of Hoseok saying he was leaving for lunch a while back.

“Huh,” he says. “Didn’t realize what time it was.”

Jimin frowns. “You should go get something to eat,” he says.

“Mm,” Yoongi hums noncommittally, turning back to his computer. “I’ll go after I finish this expense report.”

Jimin makes a dissatisfied noise and crosses his arms. Yoongi risks a glance and immediately regrets it. Jimin’s pout is a powerful thing.

“You need to take care of yourself, hyung. The conference is over, our next deadline isn’t for a while. Why are you pushing yourself so much today?”

Yoongi breaks eye contact and chews on his lip. The truth is, Jimin is right. He doesn’t have anything urgent to do today. But he can’t very well explain that he’s throwing himself into work because it’s easier than the alternative, which is thinking about all the strange events from last night. Every time he finds his mind wandering back to the cozy cafe, or a dimpled smile and a warm voice, he forces himself to focus on his work, to ground himself in what’s familiar.

“Just trying to get stuff out of the way,” he mumbles.

“Well, get lunch out of the way first,” Jimin says.

Yoongi levels Jimin with his most unimpressed stare. Jimin matches it, and also raises an eyebrow.

“If you don’t go, I’ll carry you down the stairs.”

Yoongi sniffs. “You couldn’t.”

“Try me,” Jimin says, narrowing his eyes.

Yoongi tries to keep his frown, he really does, but after about two seconds he gives in. “Fine,” he grumbles.

Jimin immediately breaks into a sunshiny, slightly smug smile. “I heard that the new place down the street has really good stew,” he says.

“Alright, thanks,” Yoongi says, stretching his arms over his head to hide the smile pulling at his lips. “I’ll check it out. Now go eat your… whatever that is.” He gestures to the tupperware in Jimin’s hand, which contains something that looks like it’s probably made up of at least four superfoods.

Jimin laughs and gives Yoongi’s shoulder a squeeze before heading back to his own desk. Yoongi looks back at his computer. He rubs a hand over his face, sighs, and then saves his report. He doesn’t want to eat out really, not after four days away from home, but he hadn’t had the foresight to pack a lunch this morning. It couldn’t hurt to go take a look at the stew place.

His entire body seems to groan in protest as he stands from his chair. How long has he been sitting, anyway? Maybe a break is a good idea after all. He puts on his jacket, grateful that he doesn’t need to wear a suit on regular work days, and heads for the elevators.

One is stuck down in B3, and the other is all the way up at the 12th floor. It takes forever coming down, and when it finally arrives it’s packed with people leaving the fancy sushi restaurant on the top floor. Yoongi squishes himself inside. Four floors later and he’s free, spilling into the lobby with a rush of other people.

The weather today is sunny and clear, but the bright skies are deceptive. A crisp wind catches Yoongi as soon as he steps out of the building. He shivers and wraps his jacket more tightly around himself before starting to walk toward the end of the block. He only gets a few steps, though, before he stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk.

There, on the ground floor of the neighboring building, where Yoongi is pretty damn sure there used to be an artisan bakery, is a cafe with large windows and a sign above the door that reads Halfway Cafe flowing script.

“What the fuck?” Yoongi says. Someone bumps into him and he stumbles, but never takes his eyes off the cafe. “What the fuck?”

He considers walking past, pretending he never saw it, going and getting stew at the new restaurant and then heading back to work just like any other day. But—

He remembers the warmth, how welcoming the building had felt. Remembers the way Namjoon had smiled as he talked, his easy laugh.

The door pushes open easily under Yoongi’s hand.

“Hi— oh.”

Namjoon pauses, halfway out of a seat at one of the tables. His eyes are wide, and his mouth is open in the shape of his oh. Then a smile spreads across his face, sunshine breaking out from behind a passing cloud.

“Yoongi-ssi, welcome back!” he says. Like Yoongi wandering back into the shop is the best thing that could have possibly happened today, like he couldn’t be any happier.

“Hey,” Yoongi replies, rubbing at his neck. “Um, has this shop always been here?”

“Depends on where here is,” Namjoon says. He stands up the rest of the way, and for the first time Yoongi notices that there’s someone else sitting with him at the table. Another guy, with large, curious, doe eyes that dart between Yoongi and Namjoon.

“Jongno-gu,” Yoongi says. “Literally next door to my company building.”

Namjoon stares at him, and then huffs out a laugh. “No,” he says. “I can’t say that it has been here before.”

Yoongi narrows his eyes. He really wants to ask what the hell that means, but Namjoon is already stepping behind the counter.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Um,” Yoongi says. He glances at the pastry display. Today there’s an array of delicious looking sandwiches, and Yoongi’s stomach gives an eager gurgle.

“The chicken panini is pretty good,” the guy sitting at the table offers. He has a soft voice, a bit higher than Yoongi was expecting.

“Oh. Uh, thanks.”

The guy smiles and nods.

Yoongi orders the chicken panini. He considers getting a coffee, but it would be his third of the day, and an image of Jimin and Hoseok’s disappointed faces comes unwittingly to mind. Yoongi sighs and glances up at the menu board with a half-formed thought to maybe order something else to drink, only to be distracted by the design. Yoongi’s memories of last night are blurry, but he’s pretty sure the board’s design hadn’t been this riot of vibrant red azaleas.

Namjoon notices him gaping and grins. “Jeongguk redid the board this morning,” he says, nodding toward the guy sitting at the table. “Isn’t it great?”

Yoongi turns to the table, eyes wide with a mix of astonishment and awe. “You drew that?” he asks. “It’s beautiful.”

The guy at the table has turned a lovely shade of pink. He smiles shyly and says, “Thank you.”

“I was actually just talking to Jeongguk about you before you came in,” Namjoon continues cheerfully.

“You were talking about me?” Yoongi asks. He’s mostly perplexed, but somehow the phrase comes out almost flirty.

Namjoon immediately flushes. “Not like— I mean, um, Jeongguk actually knows more about magic than I do, so I wanted to see if he had any idea how you, uh, found the shop—”

“He was curious about his mystery man,” Jeongguk supplies, shyness apparently overridden by the urge to tease Namjoon.

Namjoon coughs and sends Jeongguk a dirty look. “Anyway,” he says. “I’ll just, uh, get your sandwich started.” He pauses for a second, looking at Yoongi bashfully, before adding, “Actually I was just starting my lunch. In case you’d like to eat together.”

“Oh,” Yoongi says, “sure.” Namjoon immediately brightens. It’s cute.

Yoongi pays, and then makes his way to the table. Sure enough, there’s a plate with a sandwich in front of where Namjoon had been sitting. Yoongi gingerly settles into a chair kitty-corner to Jeongguk. He suddenly feels like an intruder, messing up the time that Namjoon and Jeongguk had obviously been using to hang out. The fact that Jeongguk is regarding him searchingly, like he’s a particularly interesting bug in a section of programming code, doesn’t help put him at ease.

Yoongi clears his throat awkwardly and says, “So. Are you a witch too?”

Jeongguk blinks once, twice. Tilts his head. “No,” he says. “I’m a gumiho.”

Yoongi stares at him, and Jeongguk stares back. Yoongi waits for the ha ha gotcha, everyone knows gumiho are just a myth!— then he remembers where he is, and what he saw last night.

“Oh, that’s— that’s, uh, cool. I’ve, um, never met a gumiho before,” he says, voice strained.

Jeongguk bursts into giggles. “Probably not,” he says and lifts his drink— it’s in a teacup, and Yoongi vaguely wonders if it’s one of the magical teas—to take a sip. “Namjoon hyung mentioned that you aren’t magic,” he says afterward, still holding the cup in his hands. “It’s weird, though. If you don’t have any magic, your eyes should slide right past the cafe.”

“I’m pretty sure that if I had magic I would’ve noticed it by now,” Yoongi says wryly.

“Not necessarily. Not everyone has big magic like Namjoon hyung.” Jeongguk pauses, considering. He tilts his head again— a habit, perhaps. “Do you have a knack for anything? Like, you always catch the bus or if you drop your phone it never lands face-down?”

Yoongi frowns. “I don’t—” he starts to say, just as Namjoon puts a plate down in front of him.

The action jogs a memory, one he hasn’t thought about in years, of plates being set down on a different table. It had been a Chinese restaurant, and his whole family was gathered for a dinner celebrating his acceptance to a top university. You know, his brother had joked, when you said you were going to get into that school, I didn’t think you were serious.

“I—” Yoongi stares at the plate. He swallows, and his hands tighten into fists in his lap. When he doesn’t continue his thought, Namjoon and Jeongguk give him matching concerned looks.

Yoongi swallows again. His throat is dry.

“Sometimes,” he says slowly, talking to his sandwich, “when I say stuff, it comes true.”

It sounds so stupid when he says it like that. But he can’t help but think of all the cases over the years: getting into that school, landing his dream job, having his team assigned their current project. All the things he’d joked about, that had ended up happening. There’s a running joke among his friends that anything Yoongi predicts will come true.

“I’ll say something silly,” he elaborates. His blunt nails are digging into his palms. “Like, ‘I bet we’ll get that next project,’ and— it’s ridiculous. There are so many teams that outrank us in seniority, you know? There’s no way we’ll actually get it. But then when the decision comes out, my team will actually end up assigned to it. I never…” He stares so hard at his sandwich that it blurs out of focus. “I just thought it was a bunch of funny coincidences.”

“Clairvoyance,” Namjoon says thoughtfully.

“Could be,” Jeongguk agrees.

Yoongi feels lost. He had never thought— but why would he? Everyone knows magic isn’t real. Except now it is and Yoongi might have some, and he doesn’t know what to do with that—

He’s broken out of his thoughts by a gentle hand on his wrist.

“Don’t worry about it too much,” Jeongguk says. “Magic is just… it’s just there, it doesn’t change anything about who you are, deep down at the heart of things. Just because you have a name for it now doesn’t mean you’re a different person.”

He’s so earnest that Yoongi can’t help but give him a weak smile.

“Thanks. I think I just need a bit of time to digest.”

“Speaking of digesting,” Namjoon cuts in, a bit too loud and not particularly smooth. “Your sandwich is getting cold.”

“Blech,” Jeongguk says. “That was awful, I’m leaving.” He takes one last, long drink of his tea and then leaves the cup on the table. He stands, shrugging on his jacket before slinging a backpack over one shoulder. “I’ll be back after class to help out. You know how Friday evenings can be.”

Namjoon reaches out to give Jeongguk’s arm a squeeze as he passes by. “Thanks,” he says, smiling up at him. And there are those dimples again, as endearing as ever. Yoongi hastily looks away, and finds Jeongguk watching him. There’s a tiny smile pulling at Jeongguk’s lips, almost a smirk. He definitely just caught Yoongi staring at Namjoon’s face. The back of Yoongi’s neck goes warm.

“It was nice meeting you,” Jeongguk tells Yoongi, bowing slightly. That smug little smile is still there. “I hope to see you around again.”

Then he breezes over to the door. He knocks once on the glass before pushing it open. The world he steps out into is nothing like the bustling street Yoongi’s office is on— the street which is still visible through the cafe’s windows, with crowds of people and honking cars. The other side of the door shows a quiet neighborhood lined with cheerful yellow ginkgo trees.

The door swings shut. On the other side of the glass is the busy cityscape. Yoongi can even hear traffic noise seeping through. He gapes.

“Where was that?” he asks.

“Home,” Namjoon says with a smile. “It’s our street address, where the cafe is actually located.”

“So the cafe is... not really here?” Yoongi glances down at his barely-touched panini, feeling a bit queasy, wondering if it’s some sort of elaborate illusion.

“No, it is, it’s just—” Namjoon taps his fingers against the table, considering. He’s got nice hands, Yoongi notices distractedly. Not exactly elegant, but not knobby like Yoongi’s own fingers. They look like good hands for holding.

Namjoon brings his hand up to rub at his lip and Yoongi unconsciously follows the movement. His eyes linger for a second on Namjoon’s lips (plush, perfectly proportioned) before he realizes what he’s doing and jerks his gaze upward. Luckily Namjoon isn’t paying attention. He taps his lip one more time before asking:

“Have you seen Howl’s Moving Castle?”

Yoongi nods, and then the realization hits. “Oh. Like the door with the spinning colors? Where each color leads to a different place?”

“Yeah, like that,” Namjoon says, looking relieved. “Well, kind of. That’s what I was aiming for, but I couldn’t get it quite right.”

He scrunches his face cutely.

“So like, that place you saw is where the cafe originally exists. I pay rent there, get deliveries at that address. The door will always lead there. But it also goes… other places. I was trying to get it to set up in a couple different fixed locations, but it just—” he shrugs. “The door only ever leads one other place, but where that place is changes each day. And I don’t get to choose. The cafe goes where it thinks it’s needed.”

He chuckles and shakes his head ruefully, then pops his last bite of his sandwich into his mouth. Yoongi tries not to stare at his face as Namjoon chews. It’s remarkably hard to do. He still feels a little overwhelmed and a lot out of his depth, but in the daytime, with sunlight streaming through the windows, this place doesn’t seem quite so otherworldly. It’s just a warm cafe with good food, that may or may not be frequented by spirits and magical beings.

And that’s all fine and well. But now that his brain isn’t screaming at him about magic and spirits and tigers in trench coats, it’s instead screaming cute guy and handsome witch barista and a string of general garbled nonsense.

“So basically, you’re a giant Ghibli nerd,” Yoongi says, because he’s never been particularly good at being smooth.

Namjoon snorts, covering his mouth with one hand, and then laughs. His laughter is rich, honest and without pretense. His face squishes in delight, like he can’t possibly keep all the joy inside. It’s enchanting.

“Well, yes. Although I do feel the need to clarify that I actually read the book first. The movie is great too, though.”

“You got a fire demon hidden away behind the register?” Yoongi asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Nope,” Namjoon says. “No fire demons here. My heart is free for the taking.”

He seems to realize what he’s said a second after it leaves his mouth. He clamps his mouth shut in horror. His eyes are wide and his ears are pink.

Yoongi feels much the same— his cheeks are on fire. “Oh, well, that’s good to know,” he says, and hurriedly stuffs his mouth with panini.

Once he’s finished chewing, Namjoon asks, “So, do you have a favorite Ghibli movie?”

Which leads to a debate about the merits of Princess Mononoke versus Ponyo. Which then leads to Namjoon staunchly defending Whisper of the Heart while Yoongi complains about the choice of theme song.

It’s good. Namjoon is easy to talk to. He’s knowledgeable about a variety of topics, and equally enthusiastic about each one. They transition from Ghibli to ocean critters to post-liberation literature, only to end up on 90s hip hop. There’s something about the way Namjoon talks, how he gets excited and talks with his hands, but still listens carefully to what Yoongi says— it’s like he’s truly hearing him, and cares about what he has to say.

They talk until Yoongi has finished his sandwich, at which point he reluctantly checks his phone and realizes he should probably head back to work. He doesn’t want to. He wants to stay here and talk with Namjoon all afternoon. Maybe come back again for lunch next week, or stop by on the weekend.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? The cafe might always exist somewhere, but not even Namjoon knows where it will be heading off to next. Yoongi has no when he’ll stumble upon it again, or if he ever will at all. There are no guarantees here and Yoongi—

Yoongi doesn’t want to lose this. Doesn’t want to let this lovely, cozy cafe and its charming, sweet, handsome owner slip through his fingers. He can still remember how the cafe looked, disappearing from his rearview mirror, and he doesn’t think he can stand to have that happen again.

So he musters up all his courage, begs his heart to stop beating so fast, and says, “I need to leave now, but I would like to keep talking to you.”

Namjoon looks surprised for a second, then his face lights up. He grins, and the knot of worry in Yoongi’s chest eases.

“Well, I guess it’s lucky that witches these days have cell phones. I can give you my number, if you’d like,” Namjoon says.

“Yeah,” Yoongi says. “Yeah, I’d like that a lot.”

They exchange numbers. Namjoon’s phone is in a Ryan case, one of the oversized ones that would be impossible to ever fit into a pocket. He puts his name into Yoongi’s phone as “Kim Namjoon” followed by a whale emoji.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like anything to drink?” he asks as Yoongi gathers his coat.

Yoongi hesitates. He still has a bit of time before he really needs to get back. He chews on his lip and glances at the menu board.

“Could I try one of the teas?” he asks.

“Are you sure?” Namjoon’s eyebrows pull together, a little worried, a little uncertain. “It’s not… weird? With the magic thing?”

Yoongi shrugs, hoping he looks more nonchalant than he feels. “It’s fine. I’m curious.”

“Alright, then. What can I get you?”

Yoongi orders a tea for improving focus and concentration. He figures he’ll need it, since he skipped his usual lunchtime coffee. He kind of expected Namjoon to maybe pull some ingredients out boxes in the wall then wave a wand over them or something— and Namjoon does pull ingredients out, but they come from jars on the counter. There are no wands, nor even a bit of mystic muttering. Just regular tea ingredients and hot water and warm tea in a takeout cup with a floral-print sleeve.

“Let me know what you think,” Namjoon says as he hands it over. He’s smiling, wide but somehow also shy.

“I will,” Yoongi promises, taking the cup.

Outside, the cold seems more biting than ever. Yoongi’s feet feel like lead as he trudges back into his office building and across the lobby. When he gets to his floor, everyone else is already back to work, heads bent over their computers. No one bothers to look his way as he shuffles to his desk. He slumps into his chair, careful not to spill his tea.

The expense report is still sitting there, waiting for him when he wakes his screen, but suddenly he isn’t quite so eager to finish it up. He sighs and stalls by popping the lid off his tea. Fragrant steam rises from the cup and swirls away into nothing beneath the office’s fluorescent lights. Yoongi watches it, mesmerized.

“What’s that?” Hoseok asks, rolling his chair the scant distance between his desk and Yoongi’s. “Mm, it smells great.”

“Tea,” Yoongi says absently.

Tea?” Hoseok gasps and clutches at his chest. He regards Yoongi with comically large eyes. “Who are you, and what have you done with Yoongi?”

Yoongi swivels so he can stare him dead in the eye. “I’m the demon who devoured Yoongi’s soul and took over his body,” he says without a single ounce of emotion in his voice. He holds Hoseok’s gaze without blinking for one second, two, and then makes as if to lunge for him.

Hoseok screeches and launches his chair backward with enough force that it tilts and dumps him on the floor. Yoongi laughs, raspy and hiccuping, until he he falls out of his chair as well. They earn the ire of their entire department.

It’s totally worth it.

———

(The tea is delicious.

Yoongi can taste peppermint and ginseng, and it’s not something that seems like it should work together, not something Yoongi would ever pick out on his own, but somehow it does work, and it’s good.

He spends the afternoon sipping his tea as he works. It never seems to get cold, even when he wraps his fingers around the cup and uses it as a hand warmer. The tea is effective, too. Maybe not quite as good as coffee, but almost, and it doesn’t leave him jittery the way caffeine does. There’s no other way to describe it— the tea is pure magic.

i love it, he texts Namjoon.

:D! Namjoon replies.

Yoongi is warmed straight through.)

———

Yoongi has never been very good at texting, but he tries his best. Namjoon doesn’t seem to mind that Yoongi’s messages alternate between few-and-far-between and everything-all-at-once. They talk when they can, and it works well enough.

Namjoon sends Yoongi a lot of photos. Often they’re shots out the window of the cafe, showing wherever it has parked itself for the day: an island off of Yeosu, a back alley of Gunsan, a mountain that Namjoon needs to use his phone GPS to figure out is in Chungcheongbuk-do. One day he even sends a picture of a cat that somehow managed to wander into the shop, magic be damned.

Yoongi sends back words. Tries to put into them how much he appreciates the photos and Namjoon’s stories about the cafe and Namjoon’s everything, really. He’s not sure if he’s successful; he hopes he is.

The cafe doesn’t show up again, and Yoongi tries not to be disappointed. He often finds himself looking for it when he’s out, turning when he catches glimpses of sunlight on glass from the corner of his eye. It’s silly, and he knows it—Namjoon had said he can’t control where it goes, and Yoongi can see from the photos that it’s rarely ever in Seoul—but he can’t help it. The texting is good, but Yoongi wants to see Namjoon again. Wants to talk, and hopefully do a better job of expressing the emotions that get lost over text.

A week passes, and then another. The weather gets colder, until Yoongi has to bundle up every time he goes out. Friday comes to a close with gray skies and a vague soreness in Yoongi’s throat that could be due to the change in weather, but could also be the start of a cold. He’d had to work overtime, as usual, and by the time he gets home he’s tired and mentally drained. He washes up quickly and changes, then crawls into bed.

He texts Namjoon a silly story from work, not really expecting a reply. The cafe opens a little before lunch, and stays open into the early hours of the morning. It’s often busiest in the evening, and Namjoon rarely gets a chance to check his messages at work. Yoongi closes out of the messaging app and reads an e-book until he falls asleep.

He wakes with a start early Saturday morning, hours before his alarm is set to go off. His heart is pounding, and the remnants of a bad dream linger behind his eyelids. He can’t remember what exactly the dream was about, but that doesn’t diminish the strong sense of disquiet left in its wake. Yoongi whines and burrows farther under his blankets. He feels like he hasn’t slept at all, but he doesn’t want to sleep again— not quite yet, not while his heart is still beating frantically.

He reaches out blindly and flounders around until he finds his phone. He has a new message from Namjoon. Yoongi’s heart finally starts to ease as he opens the text. It’s nothing much—just a short response to Yoongi’s story, and then sleep well with a whale emoji—but it helps. Yoongi smiles as he re-locks his phone and sets it aside. He feels like he might be able to sleep now.

No such luck. His eyes feel like sandpaper, somehow both heavy but also impossible to close. His comforter is suffocating. He kicks it off and turns over onto his other side, where the bed is cooler. Within minutes he’s freezing and has to pull his blanket back up. Now he’s too warm again, except his toes are ice, and his eyelids still refuse to close. He rolls onto his back and diplomatically frees one leg and one arm from beneath the blankets.

He lies like that and stares at the ceiling. The first light of morning that is just starting to seep in around his blinds, softening the shadows in the room and painting his ceiling muted shades of blue.

Yoongi isn’t sure how long he spends watching the ceiling slowly fade to a softer mauve. He has a vague sort of headache, pressure building behind his eyes that tells him he probably needs more sleep. The warmth Namjoon’s message provided has long since faded, leaving an ache in its place.

Something is off about this morning.

Yoongi can feel it. Not in the way he feels his predictions— he’s been experimenting with that, to rather inconclusive results. Mostly, from what he’s been able to tell, the predictions that come true arrive in a rush. They build up inside and bubble over quickly, often coming out as offhand comments or jokes. This is different: it’s a dissonance that vibrates deep into his bones and sets him on edge, the cause of which is difficult to discern. Not enough sleep, too much work. Or maybe there’s no exact cause at all. Yoongi sighs and turns onto his side, curling up tight.

It’s no use. The sun has risen in earnest now, casting the shadows into warmer hues. On a normal day he might be able to ignore the light. Today, he gives up and climbs out of bed.

His house slippers make soft shushing sounds against the hardwood as he shuffles out to the kitchen. Yoongi starts coffee and opens the fridge. It turns out that skipping grocery shopping after work on Wednesday night had, in fact, had exactly the outcome he knew it would. The shelves are barren, not so much as an egg or a head of broccoli to his name. He improvises as well as he can and makes the saddest kimchi fried rice of his life.

He takes the finished rice and a mug of coffee into the living room, and eats on the couch. The dirty plate is taken back out to the kitchen and dumped in the sink when he’s finished. He can wash it, and the pan, later. Yoongi shuffles back over to the couch and collapses onto it. There’s nothing interesting happening on any of his few SNS feeds. He tries to continue reading his e-book, but he can’t seem to focus. He puts on a podcast, instead.

At some point he falls asleep, phone still in hand and podcast still playing. He naps fitfully through the rest of the morning, occasionally regaining just enough consciousness to feel fuzzily grumpy before sleep reclaims him. At some point the podcast ends, leaving the room in silence.

He wakes for good sometime past noon. He’s disoriented and his mouth is dry, but his headache is gone. He groans and throws an arm over his eyes. He isn’t particularly hungry yet, but he knows he will be at some point, and that he should probably go buy some groceries. Moving, however, is entirely too much effort. He continues to lie on the couch for a solid twenty minutes before finally gathering the energy to sit up. He groans one more time, for good measure, and then hauls himself to the bathroom.

He washes his face and brushes his teeth. Exchanges his pajamas for a clean pair of track pants and a black hoodie that comes down halfway to his knees. He throws on a jacket over top, pulls a giant beanie over his hair. A glance in the mirror and confirms that he probably looks good enough for the grocery store. He allows himself one last longing look at his bed, then leaves the apartment.

The elevator takes a million years to come, as always. Yoongi chews absentmindedly at a hangnail on his thumb while waiting, and unsurprisingly it starts to bleed. The elevator arrives just then, and he sighs as he steps inside. He’ll have to stop by the pharmacy and pick up some bandaids— luckily the one on his street is open on Saturdays.

The pharmacist greets him brightly when he walks in, but Yoongi asks about bandaids her expression turns apologetic. “Sorry,” she says. “Our new stock hasn’t come in yet, so this is all we’ve got.” And then she points out a box of Pororo-print plasters on a shelf to the right of the counter.

Yoongi buys them—his thumb is still bleeding—and awkwardly puts one on one-handed. It’s a sunny yellow that is probably brighter than anything he has in his entire wardrobe, and is printed all over with the entire Pororo cast. They smile up at him cheerfully. Yoongi grimaces back. Then he shoves the box of bandaids into his coat pocket and heads toward the grocery store.

With the way things are going, he expects to arrive at the store and find it closed for renovations. Instead, when he rounds the last corner, what catches his attention isn’t the market itself, but the building next door. The generally austere building, which normally houses a bank, today boasts large windows through which Yoongi can see hanging terrariums and homey wood tables where the ATM machines and desks should be.

For the second time, the Halfway Cafe leaves Yoongi standing dumbfounded in the middle of the sidewalk.

It’s surreal, like maybe Yoongi never actually woke up from his nap, and this is just a particularly lucid dream. He hardly even realizes he’s walking forward until his fingers are gripping the handle— it’s cold to his touch, not a dream. He pushes the door open.

The shop is empty; it’s still too early in the day for the majority of Namjoon’s customers. Yoongi basks in the immediate warmth, tension he didn’t even realize he was carrying easing from his shoulders. It seems to be an intrinsic quality of the cafe, a welcoming and calming aura. Today, though, there’s also something else in the atmosphere. A kind of melancholy that resonates with unsettled feeling Yoongi has been carrying around since his forgotten nightmare early in the morning.

It takes a second to spot Namjoon. He’s standing in the doorway to the kitchen, mostly hidden from view. When the bells above the doors jangle, he calls out a distracted, “I’ll be with you in a minute,” without turning around. He sounds harried, and his hair is sticking up, as if he’s been running his fingers through it.

Yoongi wanders up to the counter. Curious, he cranes his neck to see what Namjoon is frowning at. The object of his discontent appears to be the dishwasher, the door to which is slightly ajar.

“Something wrong?” Yoongi asks.

Namjoon whips his head around, eyes going wide when he sees Yoongi. “Hyung!” he exclaims. The anxious pinch in his eyebrows melts away, and he smiles. “Hey, hi! I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”

“I wasn’t exactly expecting to end up here,” Yoongi replies, lips quirking into a smile of his own. He nods toward the kitchen. “You having a disagreement with your dishwasher?”

Namjoon’s smile transforms back into a grimace. “You could say that.” He runs a hand through his hair, leaving even more strands sticking up. “The door is jammed. I’m no good at mechanical magic, so I tried googling regular, non-magical repair instructions, but nothing I’ve tried has worked.” Namjoon sighs and he looks… defeated. Tired. Kind of like he wishes he could climb back into bed.

Yoongi can relate.

“Do you want me to take a look?” he asks.

Namjoon perks up. Yoongi can tell that he’s trying really hard not to look hopeful, but he’s not succeeding. “Really?” he asks. “If you could that would be great. I’m just— It just really hasn’t been my day.”

Yoongi shrugs, feigning nonchalance. Fixing a dishwasher isn’t exactly how he planned to spend his Saturday, but it’s not like he minds, either. “Sure. I’m pretty good at fixing things.”

Namjoon welcomes him back into the kitchen, no longer attempting to hide his relief. Being on this side of the counter feels weird. Yoongi isn’t exactly sure what he was expecting the kitchen of a magical cafe to look like— there are no giant boiling cauldrons or jars with marinating scorpions and eyeballs. There are, however, a couple large pots simmering on a peculiar-looking stove that seems rather out of place among the rest of the stainless steel appliances. The whole room smells faintly of roses.

“Well then,” Yoongi says, after his brief, curious look around. He clears his throat and turns to the dishwasher. “Let’s take a look.”

The dishwasher is a fairly typical industrial model. Even so, fixing it takes Yoongi half an hour and some choice swear words. He ends up having to pull the entire dishwasher out from the wall and completely unscrew and remove the door. The culprit of the jamming turns out to be a spoon that had fallen into the bottom machine and gotten wedged into the hinge. It’s an easy enough fix, once Yoongi can get to it.

As he’s screwing the door back on, Yoongi catches Namjoon watching him with something akin to awe on his face. Namjoon’s hair is still standing up every which way, and Yoongi has to bite back a smile. When the door is properly in place, Yoongi opens and closes it a couple times, then asks, “Can you run it? I wanna make sure it won’t leak.”

Namjoon nods and turns the dishwasher on. They both watch with apprehension as the wash cycle starts, but water doesn’t gush out and flood the kitchen. Yoongi lets out a small sigh of relief that Namjoon echoes tenfold.

“Thank you,” Namjoon says. “You’re a lifesaver.”

Yoongi busies himself putting things back into Namjoon’s tool kit. “I’m glad I could help,” he mumbles, embarrassed. He is glad, though. Glad that he could fix the dishwasher and take a weight off Namjoon’s shoulders. He likes being useful, and it felt nice to do something with his hands. Something physical and real and grounding, a welcome anchor after the disquiet of the morning set him adrift.

“I’m glad, too,” Namjoon says. His cheeks are a bit flushed and his smile so earnest. “Can I make you a drink? As thanks.”

“Oh.” Yoongi fiddles with the screwdriver in his hands. “Sure— I mean, yes, but you don’t have to? It really wasn’t a big deal—”

“I want to.” Namjoon’s smile is hopeful, still utterly sincere.

Yoongi swallows.

“Okay.”

Five minutes later Yoongi is sitting out front at a table. (Their table, his brain stubbornly insists. It’s the same table they’ve sat at the past two times he’s visited the cafe— the one closest to the counter. Yoongi can’t help but feel a little attached to it.) His hands are washed of dishwasher grease, and there’s a steaming cup of tea in front of him.

“I hope you like it,” Namjoon says, settling into the chair across from Yoongi with a steaming cup of his own. “I wasn’t sure exactly what to go with, since you just said anything.” He gives Yoongi a pointed look.

Yoongi shrugs, entirely unapologetic. “I trust you to make something good.”

Namjoon smiles shyly down at his own drink. “There’s no magic in it this time. It’s just tea.” He fidgets with his cup, tapping his fingers along the side.

“That’s fine. I doubt your tea needs magic to be delicious.”

Yoongi states it like a fact— because it is. He can tell how much care Namjoon puts into his drinks, into the entire cafe. That care and dedication are a type of magic of their own. Yoongi wraps his hands around his mug—sturdy ceramic in a mossy green, with delicate cherry blossom petals painted near the rim—and brings it to his lips.

The tea is the perfect temperature, hot but not scalding. It’s lemon and ginger this time, but completely unlike any of the lemon ginger teas he’s had before. The flavors are fresh and bright, the citrus perfectly cutting through the zing of the ginger. It warms him from the inside out.

“Wow,” Yoongi says, eyes going wide. He looks up at Namjoon, who is watching him apprehensively. “It’s wonderful.”

“Oh. Oh, good.” Namjoon visibly relaxes.

They sit there in silence for a while, sipping their tea. It’s a little awkward, but not in a bad way. Yoongi doesn’t feel the frantic pressure to find something to say that he often feels around his colleagues at work. This is a more organic silence; two people who have been primarily interacting over text trying to recalibrate their relationship into speaking in person.

“What have you got?” Yoongi eventually asks, gesturing to Namjoon’s cup.

“Hm? Oh, just jasmine.” Namjoon runs his thumbs over the side of his cup, which is the same earthy green as Yoongi’s, but with peonies around the base. “It’s my favorite.”

“Yeah? I’ll have to try it next time.”

“Next time,” Namjoon repeats thoughtfully with a small smile. Then, apropos nothing, he straightens in his seat and lets out a soft exclamation. “Ah, that’s right! I meant to ask you, where exactly is the shop today? What with the dishwasher and everything, I never bothered to check.”

“About three blocks from my apartment,” Yoongi replies. He takes another drink of his tea. The ginger is just strong enough to tingle pleasantly.

“Huh.” Namjoon grins. “I guess the shop likes you.”

Yoongi splutters, swallowing his mouthful of tea quickly and then coughing. When his throat is clear, he rasps out, “It was probably just a coincidence.” Even as he says it, though, he can tell the words are wrong.

“No, the shop doesn’t do coincidences, not like that,” Namjoon says. He trails off and tilts his head, as if considering his words. “And, well… I’ve kind of been a mess today, and the shop tends to take my emotions, and kind of feed off of them? And most of the time it’s okay, but on days like this it sometimes creates a sort of… like a feedback loop?” He smiles slightly, just the faintest upturn at the corners of his lips, and shakes his head. “But now that you’re here, it’s a lot better. Calmer.”

Yoongi hums. “So you’re saying, what? That I make you feel calm?” He raises an eyebrow, teasing.

“Well, yes.” Namjoon replies easily. “That, too. But it’s more than that. It’s just… you, in general. The shop does this for Jeongguk, too. Jeongguk may be shy at first, but he actually has a really playful personality, and when he’s here the shop tends to feel more energetic and vibrant. I guess what I’m saying is, you have a very calming presence.” Namjoon rubs at the back of his neck. The tips of his ears are pink. “It’s nice.”

Yoongi feels— shy, a little bit. Grateful. He doesn’t think he’s ever been called calming before.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, and then is struck by a thought. “Wait,” he says. “So if the shop reflects you, then— that’s you, right? The warmth?”

“I—” Namjoon blinks. “What?”

“The shop. It’s always so warm and welcoming and comforting. There’s so much love and care here and that— that’s you, isn’t it?”

A pleased, almost disbelieving smile stretches across Namjoon face and dimples his cheeks— and something inside Yoongi... doesn’t swell, not exactly. It grows, from a small, warm feeling under his breastbone, and expands until he can feel it pressing against his ribs. It’s not love, not yet, but it could be, maybe, sometime in the future.

“Hey,” Yoongi says. “Can I hold your hand?”

“I— huh?” Namjoon splutters with a surprised laugh.

“You said today wasn’t going well, and sometimes when I’m feeling shitty it helps to hold hands.” Yoongi shrugs. “Also, I just want to hold your hand.”

Namjoon laughs again, one of his big laughs that overflow with delight. Then he holds out his hand, palm up. Yoongi takes it. He had been right, that second time he visited the shop— Namjoon’s hands are perfect for holding. Their fingers fit together snugly, and they leave their linked hands on the table.

Conversation comes in gentle waves after that, ebbing and flowing as they drink their tea. During the quiet times Namjoon picks up a book that had been sitting on the table, and Yoongi scrolls through his phone. Namjoon never moves to pull his hand away, and Yoongi wonders if he finds the contact as reassuring as Yoongi does. Yoongi feels like he’s recharging slowly, a drained battery being brought back to life.

Namjoon’s hand in his makes this strange day a little better, makes it a tiny bit easier to breathe.

Yoongi isn’t sure exactly how much time passes before the bell above the door jangles and two boys come into the shop. They look like middle school students, right down to the uniforms, but there are antlers poking out from beneath their hair. They’re laughing over something, elbowing each other as they make their way to the counter. Namjoon squeezes Yoongi’s hand once before releasing it and standing.

The boys order fruit smoothies. They continue to chat and jest as Namjoon starts making their drinks. Yoongi scrolls through his phone, liking a photo his mom uploaded of the family dog. Not two minutes later, he gets a message from his mom demanding to know why he has time to use social media, but not to call. He sighs and sends back a message promising to call tonight.

The blenders click off. Namjoon pours the drinks into cups and hands them over to the boys, who thank him enthusiastically. The bell above the door jingles again as they leave, and Namjoon begins to clean up. The sound sound of running water and the clatter of plastic is oddly soothing. A few minutes later, Namjoon emerges from behind the counter and sits back down at the table. Yoongi holds his hand out, palm up, without looking up from his phone. Namjoon laughs and takes it.

“You aren’t bored?” Namjoon asks as he plays with Yoongi’s fingers.

“Nah,” Yoongi says, wrinkling his nose. “This is what I’d be doing at home, anyway.”

He sets his phone down and looks at Namjoon— and promptly has to bite back a laugh. There’s a smattering of purple across Namjoon’s cheek, stretching from just beside his nose all the way up to his cheekbone. Rogue blueberry smoothie.

“Hey,” Yoongi says. “You’ve got—” he gestures at Namjoon’s cheek.

Namjoon’s eyes widen, and he immediately reaches up with his free hand to rub at his face. He misses the smoothie entirely.

“No, it’s—” Yoongi leans over, and uses his own free hand to wipe at the spots away. Namjoon goes cross-eyed trying to watch. Yoongi snorts a laugh and finishes cleaning off Namjoon’s face.

“Thank you,” Namjoon says, still somewhat cross-eyed, as Yoongi finishes scrubbing. Yoongi hums in response and starts to pull his hand away— only for Namjoon to make a small, delighted noise and lightly catch his wrist.

“What’s this?” Namjoon asks, guiding Yoongi’s hand back into his line of vision.

Right there on Yoongi’s thumb, cheerful and blindingly bright, is the bandaid he had put on earlier and promptly forgotten about.

“Ah,” Yoongi mumbles, face suddenly hot. His first instinct is to pull his hand back, but Namjoon has this look of excited wonder on his face as he stares at the yellow plaster, and Yoongi can’t imagine doing anything to dampen that. He lets his wrist hang limp in Namjoon’s hold. “It’s, um. They were out of the regular ones.”

“It’s Pororo! Oh, look, it has the entire cast— there’s Crong and Poby and Eddy, and, oh!” Namjoon laughs as he turns Yoongi’s hand this way and that. He looks up, and smiles widely at Yoongi. “It’s so cute. It really suits you, hyung.”

Yoongi pulls himself up indignantly. “What? I’m not cute.”

“Yes, you are,” Namjoon says, completely unfazed. There’s still a spot of smoothie on his face that Yoongi missed, and he has both of Yoongi’s hands in his own, and Yoongi’s face feels like it’s on fire.

“M’not,” Yoongi tries protesting one more time, but he knows it’s a lost battle.

Namjoon just smiles back at him and gently changes his grip so that their fingers are intertwined. He brings their hands down to the table, all tangled together, and opens his mouth to say something.

The bell jingles again, and this time an entire family of cat spirits tumbles into the cafe. They look suspiciously like the cats Yoongi often sees in the alley next to the supermarket: the mother is calico, with two orange kittens and one calico. Namjoon glances from Yoongi, down to their linked hands, then over to the customers. He looks so much like a woeful puppy that Yoongi can’t help but laugh.

“Go,” he says, releasing Namjoon’s hand. Namjoon nods sadly, but his face immediately transforms into a friendly customer service face as he stands and calls out a greeting.

The rest of the afternoon passes in much the same fashion. Customers come and go. There are other animal and nature spirits, but also a decent number of beings like Jeongguk who prefer to wear a normal human form, as well as a handful of human witches. One customer, a wizened old man who comes in the door from the cafe’s street address, plunks himself down at the table with Yoongi and animatedly talks about the fruit stall he runs while Namjoon fixes up a tea to help with his arthritis. Every now and then a group of customers will stay and sit at one of the tables for a while, filling the cafe with a quiet hum of background noise.

Namjoon chats with the customers and makes drinks, and when each one has left returns to the table and reclaims Yoongi’s hand. He explains about the different types of spirits, and tells funny stories of past customers. For the most part, though, the two of them simply lapse in and out of silence. The whole thing feels comfortable, familiar— as if Yoongi has spent countless afternoons this same way, tucked away in the Halfway Cafe, hand-in-hand with Namjoon.

At some point Yoongi dozes off. He wakes some time later, disoriented, with his cheek resting against his outstretched arm. His hand is still in the same place on the table, but without the weight of Namjoon’s palm against his. Yoongi blinks blearily and sits up.

Jeongguk is sitting in Namjoon’s chair, with a backpack on his lap and phone in his hand. He startles at Yoongi’s sudden movement, eyes going the size of saucers.

“Oh!” he says. “Hello.”

“Hey,” Yoongi replies, voice rough from sleep. He clears his throat and rubs at his eyes. Outside, the world has started to turn dark, and the lights inside the shop are harsh on his eyes. There’s a line waiting at the counter. Yoongi can hear Namjoon helping the person at the front choose the perfect tea to combat her pressure headache.

When Yoongi pulls his hands away from his face Jeongguk is still staring, like he’s not exactly sure what to do with him. Yoongi stares back, not exactly sure what to do with Jeongguk, either. The cafe may be bustling, but an awkward silence hangs over their table, strong enough as to be almost palpable.

Yoongi is the first to break and speak. “So, uh,” he says, nodding stiffly toward the backpack Jeongguk is holding. “You got weekend classes?”

Jeongguk immediately brightens, obviously relieved that Yoongi took charge of the conversation. It takes a bit of coaxing, but soon he’s telling Yoongi all about his degree program. He’s gesturing broadly with his hands, complaining about a guy who always tries to start arguments with his 300-level art theory professor, when Namjoon finishes up the last order and comes back over to the table.

“Hey,” he says as he slumps into a chair. He grins at Yoongi. “Sleep well?”

Yoongi coughs. “Uh, yeah. Sorry for dozing off like that.”

“It’s fine.” Namjoon reaches his hands up over his head and links his fingers, stretching with a groan. “Ugh,” he says as brings his arms back to his sides. “I can’t believe it’s so late already.”

Jeongguk frowns, glancing between the two of them. “Did you get dinner yet?” he asks reproachfully.

“Not yet,” Namjoon replies, and Jeongguk’s frown deepens.

“You should go. I can man the counter for a while.” Before Namjoon can protest, Jeongguk turns to Yoongi, expression solemn. “Can you go with him to a restaurant, please? Otherwise he’ll just camp out here and eat cup ramen behind the counter between customers, again.”

Namjoon makes an indignant sound of protest, and it takes all of Yoongi’s control to squash his laughter and reply to Jeongguk with equal solemnity: “I can do that.”

And so Namjoon and Yoongi end up outside the cafe, hands tucked into their coat pockets and breaths forming clouds in the chilly evening air. This is Yoongi’s neighborhood, so he takes the lead— across the street and down a block to a hole-in-the-wall he sometimes stops by after work. The food is cheap, but hearty and warm.

There are hardly any other customers in the restaurant. Yoongi orders them gamjatang, and the two of them crane their necks to watch the baseball game playing on TV while they eat. Neither of them know anything about baseball, but Namjoon makes appreciative noises every time a player does something that looks like it was probably good. Yoongi spends a lot of time smiling into his soup.

It’s just a dinner between friends, casual and comfortable, and Yoongi thinks he would like to do this again. Preferably often. And maybe, in the future, it could be a date, but it doesn’t have to be. Meeting just like this would be fine, too. Yoongi doesn’t mind either way; he’s just happy to spend time with Namjoon.

When they finish, they pay separately and leave the restaurant side-by-side. It’s easy to fall into tandem as they walk back toward the cafe. They end up at the crosswalk shortly, and cars zip past as they wait for the light to change. Yoongi shoves his hands deeper into his pockets, missing the warmth of Namjoon’s hands linked with his.

Out here in the cold, surrounded by the noise of the city, the fact that the cozy cafe is an entirely different world seems all the more real. Yoongi would like to reach out and grab Namjoon’s hand, but it’s hard to convince himself that Namjoon-out-here would be just as happy to hold his hand as Namjoon-in-there had been.

The light changes. They step out onto the street. Yoongi keeps his head down, watching the bars of the crosswalk pass beneath his feet.

About halfway across, Namjoon clears his throat.

“Hey, hyung? Next time, do you wanna go on a date?”

Yoongi takes one step, and then another—white paint, asphalt, white paint—before he dares to look up. Namjoon is looking back at him, eyes hopeful, and Yoongi stomach lurches as he realizes— Namjoon is letting himself be vulnerable. They’re out here in the cold and the dark, in the middle of somewhere that might as well be anywhere to Namjoon, and instead of hunching his shoulders and pulling into himself, Namjoon is being brave enough to open himself to the unknown.

The least Yoongi can do is try to do the same.

“Yes,” he says. They’re still walking, but slowly. The crosswalk light is counting down: 10, 9, 8. Yoongi takes his hand out of his pocket and holds it out. Namjoon grabs it without hesitation.

Yoongi pulls gently, tugging Namjoon the rest of the way across the street, only to stop once they’re back on the sidewalk. He squeezes Namjoon’s hand tightly, makes sure to meet his eyes.

“Yes,” he repeats, “Let’s go on a date next time,” and Namjoon smiles at him, bright bright bright.

———

Yoongi bounces on the balls of his feet, trying to look over the heads of everyone coming out of the subway station. It’s mid-November now, and all the yellow ginkgo leaves have fallen, making way for a riot of red and orange. The day is chilly, but sunny, and there are just enough leaves left on the trees to entice families into making one last outing before the cold truly sets in. Yoongi had known this would happen when he suggested they meet at the park, but he hadn’t fully anticipated quite how many children in puffy coats would be running around.

It’s been two weeks since the cafe showed up and interrupted his grocery run. Somehow, it feels like it’s been longer. Yoongi, together with his team, had gone to San Francisco for another conference. And then Namjoon was kept busy when his cousin, Taehyung, and Taehyung’s boyfriend visited from out of town.

In the grand scheme of things it hasn’t been that long, but Yoongi still feels antsy. Not anxious, but anticipating. Yoongi had texted Namjoon from the conference— complaints about his jet lag and snarky comments about self-important keynote speakers and even a picture of himself with Hoseok and Jimin, taken on their only free day. And of course Namjoon has been texting him, too. Mostly updates on the antics of Taehyung and his boyfriend, Seokjin. It’s been nice—talking with Namjoon is always nice—but it’s not the same.

Yoongi is impatient. He wants to see Namjoon face-to-face, wants to hear his voice and hold his hand. Maybe, if he gets the chance, even kiss his dimples.

Yoongi stands on his tiptoes again, scanning the crowd. Namjoon had texted him that he was getting off the subway and making his way out of the station, but Yoongi doesn’t see him and then—

There.

Yoongi misses him, at first. Looks straight past— because he’s looking for a head of fluffy black hair, not carefully-styled sandy blond hair. When he does notice him, Yoongi makes a pathetic sound that is luckily covered by the happy yells of all the children running around. He gives himself a second to take in the change in hair color, and the wire-framed glasses perched on Namjoon’s nose, then begins waving an arm wildly above his head.

“Joon— Namjoon-ah, over here!”

Namjoon turns, eyebrows furrowed. When he spots Yoongi, his entire face lights up. He waves back, and Yoongi swallows down the sudden lump that forms in his throat and starts to weave his way through the crowd. He makes it almost the entire way to Namjoon— only to be nearly mowed down by a stroller.

Yoongi yelps and jumps out of the way. He loses his balance, and falls straight into Namjoon’s chest. Namjoon lets out an oof of surprise and catches him, hands on Yoongi’s waist. He staggers backward a step, and there’s a precarious moment before they right themselves. The family with the stroller breezes past without so much as a backward glance.

Yoongi’s face is smooshed into Namjoon’s shoulder. Namjoon is wearing a heavy wool coat and a large scarf, which is soft against Yoongi’s cheek. From this position, Yoongi can feel Namjoon shake as he starts to laugh.

“Well, that was dramatic,” Namjoon says.

Yoongi pulls away just enough to look up at Namjoon. Namjoon smiles back at him.

“Hi, hyung,” Namjoon says.

“Hey,” Yoongi replies. He can feel his ears going hot, and hopes Namjoon will think the color is from the cold. He clears his throat. “I like your hair.”

From this angle it’s almost golden, backlit by the glow of the sun. Namjoon grins, pleased, and runs a hand through his bangs. “Thanks,” he says. “Jin hyung and Tae did it for me. There’s some new, like, magic dye they were raving about, so. Thought I’d give it a try.”

“It looks good.”

“Thanks,” Namjoon says again, this time scrunching his face in the way he does when he’s embarrassed but pleased. It makes something in Yoongi’s chest squeeze.

“Let’s go,” he says quickly, finally stepping out of Namjoon’s space. He mourns the loss of Namjoon’s hand on his waist, but is appeased when Namjoon holds out a hand for Yoongi to take.

They weave between the families with children and occasional couples and make their way into the park Yoongi picked out. He had been a bit reluctant to pick somewhere outside, but he’d had a feeling Namjoon would enjoy it— and he was right. The second they’re among the trees and wandering down a side-path, away from the noise, Namjoon gets this huge smile on his face. He tips his head back to look up at the trees, and laughs with delight when he steps on a particularly crunchy leaf.

Yoongi’s nose and cheeks are already red from the crisp breeze, but he doesn’t regret suggesting they come here one bit.

They walk in happy silence for a while, Namjoon swinging their linked hands between them as they venture farther and farther from the commotion of the main path. Yoongi thinks he would probably be content if they spent the whole date like this, quietly present and together.

Namjoon gasps and points at a bench. “Look,” he says. “A squirrel!”

Before Yoongi can reply, Namjoon lets go of Yoongi’s hand and jogs over to the bench.

“Hey, friend,” Namjoon says, voice gentle as he settles carefully onto the opposite side of the bench. Yoongi expects the squirrel to spook and run away, but instead it just sits there, regarding Namjoon with beady eyes.

Namjoon holds out a hand. Visions of sharp squirrel teeth and blood and emergency rooms flash through Yoongi’s mind. The squirrel doesn’t bite Namjoon, though. In fact, it creeps a few steps closer and regards him curiously. Yoongi can only stand there, gaping in astonishment, as Namjoon beams.

“Sorry I don’t have any food for you,” Namjoon says, sounding truly regretful.

The squirrel sits back on its haunches and tilts its head, as if it’s actually listening to him.

“Holy shit,” Yoongi says. The squirrel doesn’t spare him so much as a glance. “Are you… is this a magic thing?”

Namjoon laughs softly. The squirrel twitches its whiskers. “No, no magic. Small critters just like me.”

“Right.” At this point, Yoongi almost expects the squirrel to climb right into Namjoon’s lap. It certainly looks like it’s considering it. He stares, and feels his world tilting on its axis— sliding him straight from Ghibli into Disney. “So, like, are you secretly a prince? Are animals going to flock to us and join you in song?”

Namjoon snorts. The squirrel finally startles, and scurries off the bench.

“Ah, sorry buddy,” Namjoon calls after it before turning to Yoongi with an amused smile. “No, I’m not a prince.”

Yoongi squints. “You sure? Cuz like, you kind of look like one, with your— with the face, and your personality and…” he cuts himself off, biting his tongue and very determinedly ignoring the way Namjoon is obviously holding back laughter. He shoves his hands into his pockets, gathering the last fragments of his dignity, and says, “You’re very princely.”

Namjoon stands, dusting off his pants. His face is contorted with the effort of not laughing. “Thank you, hyung,” he says, and miraculously it only comes out slightly strained. “But as far as I know I’m not a prince.”

“Well,” Yoongi says, drawing the word out. “I mean, Aurora didn’t know she was a princess, either.”

Namjoon’s laughter finally spills over. He laughs with his whole body, almost tripping over a rock on the path. Yoongi grabs his elbow to steady him, and when Namjoon looks at him he’s positively radiant.

“You gonna fight a dragon for me, hyung?” Namjoon asks and Yoongi’s heart gives a large, desperate thump.

Yoongi sniffs, feigning haughtiness. “Of course not, I’m not a barbarian. I would talk to it and politely and explain my situation and challenge it to a game of go-stop instead.”

Namjoon leans against Yoongi, warm and sturdy, and links their hands together again. “Good choice,” he says. “Dragons love a good game of go-stop.”

“Of course it’s a good choice, I— wait, what? Dragons exist, too? Dragons like go-stop? Joon-ah—”

Namjoon cackles and tugs on Yoongi’s hand, leading him farther along the path. He takes Yoongi’s spluttered questions in stride, and tells Yoongi about the dragon who wandered in when the cafe was in Pohang one misty afternoon— how they had played go-stop for hours, and how Namjoon had lost every game.

“Maybe you just suck at go-stop,” Yoongi teases.

Namjoon shrugs and gives an easy, dimpled smile. “Could be.”

They wander deeper into the park, following the paths without any particular plan. Sometimes there are other people, but for the most part they’re alone. Namjoon befriends another squirrel, and a chipmunk. When they take a break and sit for a while on a bench, a magpie comes and lands right beside him.

“Are all animals like this?” Yoongi asks once the magpie has flown off.

“Nah, just the small, wild ones,” Namjoon says ruefully. “It doesn’t seem to extend to regular pets. My family’s dog generally pretends I don’t exist.”

Yoongi hums. “It sounded like that cat was pretty happy to see you, though. The one that wandered into the shop.”

“That’s true. And Tae’s dog likes me well enough, although Yeontan is probably small enough to count as a critter.”

That launches them into a debate about the best sizes of dogs (Namjoon is a big dog person, for all that they scorn him, while Yoongi is fiercely loyal to his family’s poodle and firmly in the small-to-medium-sized camp) that lasts through another three path-intersections and a directional choice that leads them back to the main road.

The debate is nice, but by the time they’re back in the crowds and passing a cluster of restaurants and convenience stores, Yoongi can no longer ignore the cold. He feels like a human popsicle.

“This has been lovely, hyung,” Namjoon says cautiously when Yoongi starts to shiver, “but would you like to change locations? There’s a gallery a few subway stops from here I think you would like.”

Yoongi agrees readily and they hurry back to the subway. The train they get on isn’t particularly crowded, but Yoongi still stands closer to Namjoon than is strictly necessary.

“Still cold,” he mumbles, even though the train car they’re in has the heat cranked up so high he’s sweating. Namjoon smiles knowingly, but reaches out anyway and wraps an arm around Yoongi, rubbing at his shoulder as if to help warm him up.

The warmth of the subway makes the transition back into the cold even worse. When they arrive at the right stop and exit the station, Yoongi lets out a small, embarrassing whine as soon as the breeze works its way under his scarf.

“It’s not far,” Namjoon says reassuringly, grabbing Yoongi’s hand and leading him down the street.

They’re in a bourgeoisie kind of area, full of boutiques with expensive-looking clothes in the windows and an endless supply of coffee shops and bakeries. It’s only by chance that Yoongi sees the tiny macaron stand tucked between two larger storefronts. The place is nothing more than an open window with a display case in it, which is odd enough for the neighborhood they’re in. But what grabs Yoongi’s attention is the line of macarons on the very top shelf of the display: every last one of them is designed to look like a cartoon character.

He tugs on Namjoon’s hand, pulling them to a stop.

“Joon, look.”

With his free hand, Yoongi points to a confection in very middle of the row— orange, with a familiar white muzzle and straight eyebrows.

“Ryan!” Namjoon’s face breaks into a giant smile. “Oh look, it’s so cute!”

They crowd closer to the display case, heads bowed together in front of the glass. There are a whole variety of characters: Spider-man and Apeach and Totoro and all of the original starter Pokemon. And there, right at the end—

“Look, hyung,” Namjoon says, positively gleeful as he points to a white face with triangles above and below the eyes. “You ran into No Face after all!”

“Augh,” Yoongi says, with no heat whatsoever. Namjoon collapses against his shoulder in a fit of giggles.

Yoongi buys them the macarons— Ryan for Namjoon and No Face for himself. Namjoon gives a halfhearted protest, but grins so widely when Yoongi hands him the Ryan cookie that Yoongi has to stop himself from buying him ten more. Namjoon asks if they can take a picture, and Yoongi readily agrees. They end up standing in the middle of the sidewalk, packaged macarons held next to their faces and the camera angled to catch the shop in the background.

Yoongi makes a frog face in the first picture, wide eyes and straight mouth slightly turned down at the ends, but smiles for the second one, and the third. Objectively, the last photo probably turns out the best: Namjoon and Yoongi are both smiling, faces pressed close together. But Yoongi thinks he likes the first one best. He looks ridiculous, and Namjoon has his eyes scrunched shut as he smiles, but there’s something endearingly genuine about it.

There’s a warm feeling in Yoongi’s chest in again, and it spreads all the way to his numb cheeks and his frozen fingertips. This is the steady heat of a winter afternoon spent bundled up in blankets; the joy of sunbeams on his face in early spring. Yoongi looks up at Namjoon and the feeling builds and builds until it overflows, turning into words that tumble from his mouth before he can think to stop them:

“I have a good feeling about this.”

“Hm?” Namjoon is still looking at his phone, a smile tucked into the corner of his mouth as he scrolls between the pictures they took.

“I have a good feeling about this,” Yoongi repeats. “About us.”

Namjoon lifts his head, his wide eyes catching and holding Yoongi’s. His eyebrows are slightly raised, mouth open, face a mix of surprise and happiness and hope.

“I don’t know if this is my— ability, or whatever,” Yoongi continues in a rush. “It’s just… I think that we could be good together. Will be good together, I mean, if you want that.”

Yoongi’s face is aflame, a miniature sun. He wants to look away, to clear his throat and rub at his neck and stare at his shoes, but he holds his ground. This precious thing they hold between them is worth more than mumbles and averted gazes.

The tremble in his hands and the racing of his heart are worth it for the way Namjoon smiles as he says, “I think so, too.”

———

Yoongi’s hands are numb from the cold. He forgot his gloves at home, and he might have been okay if he could keep his hands in his pockets— but he’s in a neighborhood he’s never been to before, and has to keep his phone in hand as he anxiously follows his maps app. He’s not far enough outside the city to be in the suburbs, but not close enough to quite be in the city proper, either. The area is quiet and mostly residential, with apartment complexes rising behind the storefronts.

A gust of freezing wind hits him, and Yoongi hisses. A cold front had moved in on Thursday, dropping temperatures well into the negatives. The sky is heavy with clouds that hang low and promise the first snow of winter. Everything is hushed, as if the entire city is holding its breath. Yoongi’s app tells him to take a left and he ducks down the street— and then immediately slumps with relief when he spots what he’s looking for.

It’s weird to see the Halfway Cafe where it’s supposed to be, instead of superimposed over another retail space. There are the floor-to-ceiling windows along the front, of course, but also a second floor above the shop, where Yoongi knows Namjoon has his apartment. The walls that rise around the glass are a sterile gray, typical concrete, but somehow still manage look welcoming.

This may be Yoongi’s first time seeing the cafe, really seeing it, in the place where it truly belongs, but there’s a weird tight feeling in his stomach; a weight in his chest that feels oddly like nostalgia. Like coming home.

(“I don’t know why I didn’t think to give you the address earlier,” Namjoon had said, after the gallery and after dinner and after he kissed Yoongi, soft and warm and everything Yoongi could have dreamed. “It seems silly to leave things to the whims of a cafe.”

“A magical, romantic, meddling cafe,” Yoongi had pointed out with a raised eyebrow.

Namjoon had laughed and easily acquiesced. “True. But still, I would like it if you had the option stop by whenever you liked.”

It had been hard to tell in the dim light, but Yoongi was pretty sure that Namjoon’s cheeks were pink from more than just the evening chill. “I’d like it, if you came to visit.”)

Yoongi walks up to the door. He presses a hand to the glass, swallowing his guilt over the smudges he leaves. The door is solid and cold beneath his fingers. There’s a note posted to it, written in Namjoon’s scrawl: Please knock before opening ^^

Namjoon had explained that in addition to getting deliveries to this address, they also have a handful of regular customers who stop by. But the cafe needs a reminder to open the door to the right place— hence the knocking. Yoongi inhales and raps on the door twice before pulling it open. He’s hit with a wave of welcome warmth, and hurriedly steps inside.

Jeongguk is behind the counter, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration as he refills a jar of tea leaves. Namjoon is out in the sitting area. Judging from the cloth in his hand, he had probably originally been wiping down tables, but currently he’s chatting with a group of customers who are sitting at the table farthest from the door. The customers are dressed in flowing hanbok, despite the cold weather, and shine with ethereal beauty.

Everyone looks up when Yoongi comes in, but he only has eyes for Namjoon. Their eyes meet, and Namjoon breaks into a glad smile. He excuses himself to the customers, and then crosses the shop.

“Hey,” he says, stopping just in front of Yoongi. “You made it.”

“I did,” Yoongi replies, pulling his scarf down so he can return Namjoon’s grin.

Namjoon reaches out to grab Yoongi’s hand, and immediately makes a sound of distress. “Hyung, your hands are like ice!”

“Yeah, well, it’s fucking freezing outside,” Yoongi points out. He lets Namjoon wrap both of his hands in his own, grateful for the way life instantly starts to seep back into his fingers. “Have you been outside today? It’s definitely going to start snowing— oh.” He catches a look out the window and gasps. On the other side of the glass, snow is coming down thick and heavy. There’s a solid six inches already on the ground, blanketing the world in white.

“We’re in Gangwon-do today,” Namjoon says with a grin. “Somewhere near Seoraksan, apparently. We’ve had a lot of customers coming in to escape the cold.”

“Wow,” Yoongi breathes out. There’s something utterly hypnotizing about the spiraling snowflakes. Yoongi feels like he’s inside a snowglobe— like time has stopped, and he can stay here in this moment forever.

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yeah.” Yoongi’s throat is suddenly tight, and the word comes out too low, too rough. His hands, still in Namjoon’s, are tingling with warmth, and everything in Yoongi’s chest feels too, too big. Too unruly, too hard to contain. He stares at the snow and thinks of new beginnings, of the vastness of the world, of things unknown. He thinks of strange cafes that feel like home, and coincidences, and magic.

Yoongi clears his throat and pulls his eyes away from the window. He fixes them on Namjoon instead—on the dimples in his cheeks and the affection in his eyes as he looks back at Yoongi—and any words Yoongi might have been planning to say fly straight out of his head. He looks at Namjoon, and opens his mouth, and says, “Joon-ah, can I kiss you?”

Namjoon’s mouth falls open, just slightly, lips parting. Then he’s smiling, radiant and happy, like Yoongi just told him he won the lottery. Like kissing Yoongi is something worth being excited about— like Yoongi is something worth being excited about.

“Of course,” Namjoon says. “Hyung, of course—”

Yoongi doesn’t need to be told again. He surges up on his toes, using their linked hands as leverage, and kisses Namjoon.

It’s just a chaste thing. He kisses Namjoon right on the lips, then pulls back slightly and darts in once more to kiss his left dimple. It startles a delighted laugh out of Namjoon, and Yoongi smiles smugly as he rocks back onto his heels.

“Hyung,” Namjoon says, still laughing. He disentangles their fingers and brings his hands up to cup Yoongi’s cheeks. He looks like might want to say something else, too, but instead he leans down to kiss Yoongi again.

It’s less chaste this time, with their lips sliding together and the gentle pressure of Namjoon’s fingers along Yoongi’s jaw. It’s everything Yoongi remembers from the kiss they shared at the end of their date at the park, but somehow also more. Because they’re here, in the cafe that Yoongi can now visit anytime he likes, in the place where they first met, with the floorboards firm beneath Yoongi’s feet. This isn’t a kiss at the end of a date. This is the kiss at the beginning of something much, much bigger.

Jeongguk coughs loudly.

Yoongi and Namjoon spring apart and turn toward Jeongguk in unison, only to find him looking extremely unimpressed. Yoongi’s entire face goes hot.

“I’m terribly sorry, sirs,” Jeongguk says in an affected customer service voice. “But I must inform you that we have a policy against excessive displays of affection.”

Namjoon recovers first, surprisingly quick considering the way the blush on his cheeks rivals Yoongi’s own.

“Well, as the owner of this establishment, I’m adding a ‘boyfriend exception’ to that policy,” he replies smoothly. And then he turns to Yoongi, looking utterly pleased with himself, and Yoongi whines and tips forward to hide his face against Namjoon’s shoulder. Namjoon smells nice, like the herbs from the teas and a little like pine. He’s also steady and broad, an ideal place for Yoongi to wait for his face to return to a normal color.

“Gross,” Jeongguk says amiably, while the customers giggle.

The bell on the door rings, and Yoongi lets Namjoon shuffle him out of the way of the new customers. Namjoon calls out a cheerful greeting over Yoongi’s head, and Yoongi tries not to think of how ridiculous the two of them must look— not that he minds, really, when he does think about it. Namjoon is worth being a little ridiculous for.

Once the customers have passed them and are placing an order with Jeongguk at the counter, Namjoon quietly asks, “You doing okay there?” with amusement in his voice.

Yes,” Yoongi insists, and then immediately makes an embarrassing whining noise when Namjoon removes his hands from Yoongi’s waist.

Namjoon snorts. “C’mon, hyung. I seem to remember promising to take you to barbecue, which I can’t do if we stay standing around here.”

Yoongi is reluctant to leave Namjoon’s arms and head back out into the cold, but he is hungry, so he reluctantly straightens and steps away. Namjoon give him a quick smile before running into the back to grab his coat— and then upstairs, when he realizes he forgot to grab his scarf.

He comes back down with his scarf in one hand and an extra pair of mittens in the other.

“Need to keep your hands warm, hyung,” he says as he hands them over.

The mittens are red, with pom poms, and are lined with soft fleece. Yoongi pulls them on as Namjoon bundles up. They wave goodbye to Jeongguk, and to the customers Namjoon had been chatting with. Then Namjoon knocks once on the glass and pushes through the door, holding it open for Yoongi to follow.

While Yoongi was inside the cafe, dusk gave way into night. The cold is biting, stinging Yoongi’s eyes and throat. His breath forms into clouds that dissipate as quickly as they form. Yoongi shivers and hunkers down into his coat.

“It’s this way,” Namjoon says. He’s lit from behind by the cheery brightness of the shop, and from the front with the cool light of the city. Peach and lilac. He’s breathtaking, even bundled up in a scarf and beanie. When he holds out his gloved hand, and Yoongi doesn’t hesitate to take it in his own mitten-clad one.

“You’re going to love this place,” Namjoon says as he tugs Yoongi’s hand, leading him down the street. “They have the best barbecue in all of Seoul.”

“Perfect,” Yoongi says, easily falling into step. “Because I’m the best meat-griller in all of Seoul.”

Namjoon throws his head back as he laughs, long and loud. He bumps his shoulder into Yoongi’s. Yoongi grins and bumps back, only to have the smile wiped off his face when Namjoon leans down to quickly press a kiss to his cheek.

“Come on then, hyung,” Namjoon says, “let’s go,” and it may be the coldest day of the year so far, but Yoongi’s heart is nothing but warm.