“I’m sorry you’re what now?”
Namjoon pinched the bridge of his nose. Great. He knew he shouldn’t have said anything when Seokjin brought it up.
“Hyung,” he said quietly, letting out a long-suffering sigh. “Do we have to talk about this here?”
Seokjin still had his chopsticks raised halfway to his mouth, noodles hanging off them. His face scrunched up a little and he glanced around before looking back at Namjoon and raising one perfectly groomed eyebrow.
“Well here happens to be where we are, so yes. We do have to talk about this here.”
Namjoon glanced furtively from side to side, but none of the other restaurant patrons were looking their way.
He and Seokjin had been meeting at this noodle house once a week for months now. They almost didn’t even have to order anymore. Whoever happened to be working saw them and just instantly started making noodles. And now it was a thing, their weekly dinners. Namjoon typically complained about school when they met up. Seokjin typically complained about Jeongguk.
They were best friends since childhood, ever since Namjoon got bumped up two grades in elementary school. Seokjin protected him that first day from bullies who were a little jealous and a lot close-minded; so many things could have gone wrong, but Seokjin, even as a child, took no shit and no prisoners. Seokjin had his back. Always.
Despite the fact that Namjoon wouldn’t trade anything in the world for Seokjin’s unwavering loyalty, there were times he wished Seokjin didn’t know literally everything about him.
Including the details of his cycle.
He knew that Namjoon’s pre-heat was soon. He’d had Namjoon’s cycle memorized for years. So Namjoon didn’t really think much of it when Seokjin innocently asked how preparations for his heat were going.
Well now Namjoon regretted answering that question. He usually ended up regretting a lot of things, when they involved Seokjin.
Seokjin finally slurped up his noodles and chewed thoughtfully, still staring at Namjoon. “It’s so funny,” he began once his mouth was no longer full, though he sounded anything but amused. “I could have sworn I just heard you say you were planning on going through your next heat alone.”
“Yeah,” said Namjoon, around his own mouthful of noodles. “That’s what I said.”
Seokjin blinked at him. “Okay. Alone. Just you and an alpha.”
Namjoon rolled his eyes. “No, Jin hyung. Alone, as in me, myself, and I.” He blushed as he hurriedly scooped up some more noodles. “And probably a dildo,” he finished, his cheeks flaming.
“A dildo,” Seokjin repeated, blankly. “Not an alpha.”
Namjoon set down his chopsticks and groaned. “Really, hyung, it’s not that complicated.”
Seokjin’s perfect lips pursed and he pointed his chopsticks at Namjoon. “Well Namjoon-ah, it kind of is, because as far as I know you’re a genius, but you’re spewing probably the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard, and that’s really saying something.” He flung his chopsticks down and crossed his arms, huffing. “You can’t go through a heat alone. It’s dangerous.”
Namjoon sighed, but shook his head stubbornly. “I’ll be fine. I want to do it alone.”
“You need an alpha.”
“No. I don’t.”
“Namjoon,” said Seokjin, and his voice sounded so serious that Namjoon looked up at him. Seokjin leaned across the table slightly. “A heat isn’t the right time for you to be exercising your independence. You’re the most independent person I know. Needing an alpha during your heat is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I’m not ashamed,” said Namjoon, and he wasn’t. Not really. “I get that this is just my biology. It’s pretty fucked up, but it’s biology.” He met Seokjin’s eyes and then glanced away, biting his lip. “I just don’t want an alpha this time, that’s all.”
“Without an alpha you could die.”
“Hyung,” Namjoon groaned, massaging his temples. “Don’t be dramatic.”
“You think I’m being dramatic?” asked Seokjin, scoffing. “Fine. Let’s talk about it. Assuming the heat fever doesn’t kill you, what else could possibly happen? Maybe a dildo will work fine the first time. We’ve all been there, right? Just to take the edge off?”
Namjoon flapped his hands helplessly, glancing around again as Seokjin’s tone attracted some attention.
“But the second time that won’t work so well,” Seokjin continued, ignoring Namjoon’s increasingly nervous hand waving. “You’ll reach for progressively bigger dildos. But none of them will be an alpha knot. Nothing will satisfy you, but you’ll be delirious, won’t know when to stop, won’t know that what you’re feeling is pain, not pleasure. You’ll tear yourself open, trying to sate the heat, and there won’t be anyone there to help you.”
“Hyung,” Namjoon hissed. “Stop.”
Seokjin’s eyes narrowed. “Without an alpha to bite, you’ll probably end up biting your own arm. Without alpha saliva to heal you, that wound will get infected. Assuming that doesn’t kill you, my guess is that you would have also forgotten to eat and drink anything. You’ll be starving and dehydrated. But you’ll be too weak from the heat to get up for water. Three days is how long you can go without water, Namjoon. Your heats have always lasted longer than that. And without an alpha, who knows how long it could be.”
Namjoon stared at Seokjin, breathing harshly through his nose, his chest rising and falling rapidly.
Seokjin glared at him. “You’re getting an alpha for your heat. End of story.”
Namjoon looked down. His noodles were still steaming hot, but they looked completely unappetizing now. His stomach rolled.
Namjoon shook his head. He didn’t want to look up.
“Did the alpha you were with last time hurt you? Did he hurt you, Namjoon?”
“What?” asked Namjoon, his head snapping up. “No. God, no, he didn’t hurt me. Why would you think that?”
But Seokjin did not looked placated. He had picked up a chopstick and was wielding it like a knife. “What about the one before that? Did he hurt you? And the one before him was a girl, right? Did she hurt you?”
“Hyung, no,” said Namjoon firmly. “No alpha has ever hurt me.”
It was much worse than that, in Namjoon’s opinion, though he had no intention of telling Seokjin.
No alpha had ever hurt him physically. They just hadn’t wanted him beyond his heat. He thought it was something he could live with, the first few times it happened. But it took a toll. Namjoon the person was independent. But Namjoon the omega wanted to be independent too, was tired of alphas using him for heat-sex and giving nothing in return. He couldn’t do a one-time-heat again. He couldn’t. It was better to try and do it alone.
Seokjin was still staring at him.
“I promise I would tell you, Jin hyung,” Namjoon said, and he really meant it. “I promise that if anyone ever hurts me, I’ll tell you.”
Seokjin stared at him for a long moment more, until Namjoon started to sweat a little bit. Then he nodded. “Okay. Good. But you’re still getting an alpha for your heat. Okay? I mean it, Namjoon. Alpha. That’s final.”
Namjoon didn’t want to, but he nodded just a fraction.
“Good,” said Seokjin, stabbing at his noodles. “I didn’t save you as a child just to have you die on me now.”
Namjoon wasn’t really surprised when Seokjin and Jeongguk showed up at his tiny off-campus apartment the next day. He was still dressed in sweats and a loose shirt when he answered the door, and Seokjin breezed in carrying a plate of cinnamon rolls, Jeongguk following sheepishly behind him.
“Hey, hyung,” said Jeongguk with a little wave as he toed off his shoes, and Namjoon smiled.
He was finally used to this Jeongguk, the one that smelled like alpha. Jeongguk had been a part of their circle for so long, long before he presented. And they had all kind of expected him to present as an alpha, so it wasn’t really a surprise when it happened.
It was just that this close to Namjoon’s pre-heat, any alpha, even a bonded one like Jeongguk, smelled a little too strong. It sort of made Namjoon’s hackles rise, having him in his personal space.
“Namjoon!” Seokjin called from the kitchen. “Have you found an alpha yet?”
Namjoon groaned, and one corner of Jeongguk’s mouth lifted in resignation and sympathy.
“Hyung,” said Namjoon, walking into the kitchen to find Seokjin setting his table for three. “Hyung that conversation was like twelve hours ago.”
Seokjin moved to the coffee maker, taking out yesterday’s filter and dumping it in the trash before reaching for a new one. He spooned ground coffee into it and leveled Namjoon with a truly unimpressed stare.
“Yes,” he said. “And?”
Namjoon blinked. “Hyung, it was nighttime. I’ve been sleeping.”
Seokjin rolled his eyes and flipped the coffee maker on. “Well with excuses like that I’m not surprised you haven’t found anyone yet.”
Namjoon glanced at Jeongguk, completely baffled.
But Seokjin came up to him and grasped his upper arms firmly, shaking him a little. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he really did sound it. “Obviously, I didn’t mean that. I’m just worried, okay? I’m worried that you still think you can do this on your own, and you’re going to get hurt, and then you’re going to die, and I’m going to have to bury my best friend, and I can’t do that Namjoon, okay? I can’t do that.”
Seokjin looked genuinely frazzled, like maybe he hadn’t slept at all last night, and Namjoon wasn’t really sure what to do, so he lurched forward awkwardly and hugged him quickly.
“It’s okay, hyung,” he said. “I’m not going to die.”
“Right,” said Seokjin, patting his back. “Of course you’re not. Because Jeongguk is going to help you through your heat.”
Seokjin stomped to the table, wiping his eyes hurriedly, and picked up a cinnamon roll.
Namjoon glanced between the two of them.
“Wait,” he said slowly. “What?”
“Jeongguk,” Seokjin repeated, muffled, his mouth full of pastry. “Help. Heat.”
Namjoon looked at Jeongguk, who laughed uncomfortably.
“Surprise?” he said.
Namjoon rubbed his chin. “By any chance am I still sleeping?”
“I’m afraid not, hyung,” answered Jeongguk gravely.
“So, not a dream?”
“Not a dream.”
“Right,” said Namjoon. “Okay, so, no offense, but I’m going to go back to bed now. Please don’t wake me up.”
Namjoon turned and left the kitchen, dazed, and ignored Seokjin’s quick murmuring, and resolutely did not look up as he made it to his room, and shut and locked the door behind him.
He slept fitfully for a few more hours—he always slept way too much before his pre-heat—and when he woke up he heard more voices outside his bedroom door. He groaned and rolled to his feet and swept his bleached hair out of his face.
Five sets of eyes immediately turned toward him as he opened his door and stepped out, sleepily rubbing at his mouth.
“I don’t remember inviting any of you,” Namjoon said, and he knew he sounded grumpy, but he also wasn’t extremely happy to see any of them right at that moment.
Jimin, at least, had the decency to look apologetic.
Yoongi looked mad, because he was definitely posturing a little bit, and his expression was severe.
“Hyung was just telling us an interesting story,” said Yoongi gruffly, “about how you think you don’t need an alpha for your next heat.”
Namjoon shuffled to the kitchen, ignoring Yoongi’s body language. He was long used to Yoongi, who had been aggressive since birth, his alpha status changing nothing, and was actually relatively calm now that he was bonded with Jimin and Hoseok.
Namjoon did glance at Jin, who shrugged defensively and waved a hand as if to say, well, what was I supposed to do?
“I don’t need an alpha,” said Namjoon, and poured a glass of water for himself before downing it in one go. He poured a second glass more slowly, and was actually very impressed with himself that his hands remained steady, because even Jeongguk was staring him down now, and between him and Yoongi, that was two too many alphas in his apartment this close to his pre-heat.
Yoongi blinked at him, looking a little shocked, as if he honestly hadn’t expected Namjoon to confirm Seokjin’s story.
“Namjoon,” he said, once he found his voice again. “That’s, that’s—”
“Idiotic,” said Jeongguk.
“Suicidal,” said Yoongi.
Namjoon set his glass down with slightly more of a clatter than he meant to. “You are all overreacting. This isn’t a big deal. I’m not going to die from spending one heat alone.”
“You almost died tripping over a crack in the sidewalk last week,” piped up Hoseok. “And that was just walking, Namjoon.”
“Very helpful, Hoseok, thank you,” said Namjoon, staring up at the ceiling.
“Heats can be dangerous, hyung,” said Jimin softly, and Yoongi’s head snapped toward him instantly, and Namjoon felt a momentary pang of shame.
“Oh, Jimin,” he said, “of course they can be. I’m sorry.”
God, that had been the worst day of Namjoon’s life. Yoongi had been out of town working on the post-production of a song for a veteran k-pop group. Hoseok was at a dance retreat. Namjoon and Seokjin had promised they would have dinner with Jimin, so he didn’t feel so alone with Yoongi and Hoseok both gone. But they had arrived only to find that Jimin’s heat had started early, with no warning, no pre-heat.
It was rare, but it happened sometimes. When the omega was unusually stressed.
Jimin had jumped in the shower, water turned as cold as it would go to try to slow the progression of the fever. But his skin was already too sensitive and his body temperature too hot. The water was too cold, and it burned him. The pain was bad enough that he slipped and fell and hit his head, and that’s how Namjoon and Seokjin found him. They had immediately rushed him to the hospital, and luckily he wasn’t seriously injured and the burns were fully treatable.
He spent a week in a special ward of the hospital meant for omegas who had their heats while they were sick.
Namjoon had never seen Yoongi and Hoseok look so scared. Yoongi was neurotic about Jimin’s heat cycle now, and Hoseok still went stony and silent whenever he remembered that day.
So really, what happened next should not have surprised Namjoon.
But it did.
Yoongi turned and started stalking toward him, in that alpha way that made him seem ten feet tall.
“Kim Namjoon,” he said, his voice impossibly deep, “you will get an—”
“Stop!” Namjoon shouted, throwing his hands up to cover his ears. “Stop! Stop!”
He needn’t have bothered, because Hoseok was up immediately, wrapping his arms around Yoongi and pulling him backwards, clasping a hand over his mouth.
Namjoon cast a silent prayer heavenward, thankful for Jung Hoseok.
Hoseok pulled Yoongi all the way to the couch, caging him in and whispering urgently in his ear. Yoongi’s eyes looked furious, but he allowed Hoseok to pull him back, only shaking his head slightly until Hoseok took his hand away from Yoongi’s mouth. He was still staring directly at Namjoon and breathing hard.
Namjoon waited until it looked like Yoongi was calm before he took his hands off his ears. Jimin had clasped Yoongi’s hand and Hoseok still had his arms wrapped around Yoongi’s chest. Jeongguk had placed a hand at the back of Seokjin’s neck. He looked uneasy, but he also kind of looked like he was getting ready for a fight. He looked like he was barely breathing. His eyes were trained on Yoongi.
Namjoon took a deep breath. His hands were trembling, but he ignored it. His omega biology was screaming at him to apologize to Yoongi, to submit to the older alpha, but he ignored that too.
“Hyung,” he said. “I know you weren’t just about to Alpha Order me, because then I would have to ask you to leave, and it would probably be a while before I asked you to come back.”
Yoongi didn’t say anything, which was probably wise. He looked like if he spoke, an Order might still come out.
Namjoon made eye contact with everyone currently in his little living room.
“Now, I know you all are worried about me,” he said, as evenly as he could. “But I’m an adult. I can take care of myself.”
Seokjin stood up. Jeongguk, still a little on edge because of Yoongi, puffed up a tiny bit and only backed down when Seokjin took his hand.
“Namjoon-ah,” Seokjin began, his voice shaky. “No one here doubts that you can take care of yourself. But you need to take this seriously. Heats are dangerous. You can’t do it alone. You could seriously hurt yourself.”
He looked so sincere, so worried, like he really, really cared, and something in Namjoon just snapped.
“Well maybe that would be better!”
Everyone looked at him, horrified, including Yoongi.
Namjoon knew this was a bad idea. He had never intended on telling any of them this. But now that he had started, he couldn’t seem to stop.
“I can’t do it anymore, Jin hyung,” he said, and hated that he could hear the sadness in his voice. “I can’t be with another alpha who just wants me for sex, and then not at all afterwards. It hurts too much. You can’t possibly understand. You have Jeongguk. You’ve always had Jeongguk, even before he presented.”
Namjoon turned to Yoongi, Jimin, and Hoseok, sitting shocked, open-mouthed, on his couch. “And you three, you have each other. I know it wasn’t always easy for you. I know you almost didn’t make it. But you have each other.”
Namjoon flung his hands up. “I’m happy for all of you. I really am. I love each of you so much. But I can’t do it anymore. Every heat I’ve ever had is just an excuse for another alpha to break me into pieces and then leave before putting me back together again. I can’t do it again. I can’t. I would rather die alone during my next heat than watch another alpha leave.”
Yoongi stood up, freeing himself from Hoseok’s arms, his face completely ashen, looking beyond coherent thought.
Namjoon swallowed, staring first at Yoongi, and then at Seokjin, and then each of his friends in turn. Jimin was on the verge of tears. Hoseok looked like he’d been punched in the gut.
Namjoon sighed miserably. “Shit,” he said. “I—” He wanted to say a lot of things. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I don’t actually want to die. But his throat felt closed up.
Yoongi took the tiniest step forward. But it was enough.
Suddenly all of Namjoon’s defenses went up, and his omega flight response kicked in. All he could think about was getting away. He darted forward, grateful that when he needed it, the omega in him took over, making him faster and more graceful than he usually was.
He vaulted his armchair in a move worthy of Olympic gold, dodging the hand that Jeongguk shot out to try to stop him. One more leap and he made it to his room.
He slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. He snatched his noise cancelling headphones off of his desk and closed them over his ears a mere moment before he felt the pull of an Alpha Order under his skin.