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Hurt Locker

Chapter Text

“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.”

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.”

Silence.

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.

Chapter Text

With his headphones clasped firmly over his ears, Namjoon spun to stare at the door.

He could see the doorframe shaking, could actually see the wood of his door vibrating, which meant that Jeongguk was probably banging on it. The Alpha Order that Jeongguk was undoubtedly shouting through the door itched under Namjoon’s skin, making him feel breathless and slightly sick. He couldn’t hear what Jeongguk was saying, which meant he didn’t have to follow it. But the omega in him knew he was being Ordered. And it hurt not to comply with an Alpha Order.

A moment later, the sick feeling sliding up his stomach got so strong that Namjoon gasped and dropped to his knees.

That could only mean that Yoongi was at his door now too, and was shouting his own Orders with the hopes of being heard.

Namjoon’s hands hit the floor so that he was on all fours, breathing hard. Resisting an Order was difficult, and it wasn’t something that all omegas could do. The longer an omega resisted, the worse it got. For Namjoon, it made him feel sick, made his stomach cramp up and his entire body shake, like he was moments away from vomiting.

They had to know what it felt like for him to resist. They had to. But Namjoon couldn’t blame them for doing it anyway. Both Yoongi and Jeongguk were so careful with Alpha Orders. They knew how shitty it was to Order an omega. And they also knew how painful it was for an omega to disobey. Neither of them ever Ordered unless they felt there was a legitimate reason to do so.

An omega in distress, having just loudly told his friends that he would rather die than get help from an alpha, probably qualified to them as a legitimate reason.

Namjoon knew that their rational thought processes were being overridden by alpha instinct, that at the first hint of danger—even if that meant there was an omega being a danger to him or herself—an alpha’s adrenaline released, making them stronger and more aggressive than they typically were. So that they could neutralize any potential threat.

It was a leftover response from centuries ago, when subgenders carried more animalistic traits than they did currently. Somehow, alphas had never quite evolved out of the fight response, even though the threats they faced in contemporary society hardly warranted it.

Right now, both Yoongi and Jeongguk were aware of nothing but the fact that Namjoon seemed to be a threat to himself.

If Namjoon hadn’t been in so much pain, he might have had the presence of mind to worry about his door. Between both Yoongi and Jeongguk, he was surprised they hadn’t already broken it down. Jeongguk alone could have done it.

But the door stayed standing, and Namjoon was concentrating so hard on breathing through the sick feeling that for several long moments he didn’t even realize that the pain was ebbing, the cramps were disappearing, and his body was slowly loosening. In fact, he only realized that he was no longer in pain when Jimin was suddenly crouched next to him.

Namjoon’s arms gave out, his elbows bending, and dropped to his side, staring up at Jimin’s scared face.

Jimin mouthed something at him, but Namjoon stared, dazed, at the shapes his lips were forming, unable to understand.

Jimin reached out slowly, making sure that Namjoon saw his hands, as if he was getting ready to touch a wild animal, and pulled him into a sitting position, testing his forehead with the back of his hand and then checking his pulse.

Namjoon glanced at his door, but it was closed and locked.

He took off his headphones as Jimin hoisted him to his feet, dropping them mindlessly on the floor. He allowed Jimin to tuck him into bed, and then shifted over when Jimin crawled in beside him, pulling Namjoon’s old childhood quilt up over both of them. They faced one another, breathing quietly for some time until Namjoon felt almost completely normal again.

“How did you get in?” Namjoon finally croaked, his voice hoarse.

One corner of Jimin’s mouth lifted. “I picked the lock.”

Namjoon eyed the door nervously, but Jimin smiled softly at him and took his hand under the blanket.

“I told them I would murder them in their sleep if they tried to come in,” he said. “Don’t worry. It’s just me.”

Namjoon’s body finally relaxed. He let out a quiet sigh. “Thank you.”

“I’m so sorry,” Jimin whispered. His bottom lip trembled. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon answered. “I’m okay. I know they didn’t mean it.”

Jimin looked at him sharply. “That’s not an excuse. They know how much it hurts. Jeongguk has always had almost divine control over his instincts, and Yoongi hyung took that class on anger management back when we bonded with Hoseok. They both know better.”

It was true. They did know better. Namjoon knew they did.

“But Jimin,” he began slowly, biting his lip, clasping Jimin’s fingers hard under the blanket. “What I said. It was awful.”

Jimin blinked rapidly. “Hyung,” he started, and then cut off, as if not quite sure how to continue.

“I didn’t mean it,” Namjoon said quickly, eager, for once, to fill the silence. “I didn’t mean it. I don’t actually want to die, especially during a heat. You have to know I didn’t mean it.”

Jimin smiled sadly and brought his free hand up to brush Namjoon’s hair out of his eyes.

“I know,” Jimin said. “But hyung, why didn’t you tell us that this was bothering you? I had no idea you were so sad.”

Jimin looked like he might cry. He looked like he was blaming himself.

“No, Jimin, no,” said Namjoon quickly, and lightly pushed his forehead against Jimin’s. “It’s okay. I didn’t want to tell anyone. It’s my problem.”

“What?” said Jimin incredulously. “That’s not true. Hyung, that’s not true at all. We’re,” he struggled, searching for the right word, “pack. We’re pack.”

Namjoon huffed a little. Another leftover term, from when such a thing was how society was ordered. But Namjoon guessed that, in a way, it was the right word to use. Packs didn’t look the same as they used to, centuries ago, but they had evolved as people did. And the connotation that Jimin was looking for was there. Packs shared everything, both successes and burdens.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Jimin again, more insistently.

Namjoon shrugged uncomfortably. “I didn’t think you would understand,” he said honestly.

Jimin looked shocked and a little hurt. He opened his mouth, probably to deny Namjoon’s words, so Namjoon hurried on before he could.

“Look,” he said. “You and Jin hyung are perfect omegas. Wait, stop, let me finish.”

“Don’t you dare say we look the part,” Jimin interrupted anyway, glaring.

Namjoon smiled guiltily. “Fine,” he said. “I won’t say it. I like being an omega. I’ve never resented it. I think it fits me. The problem is that no one else thinks it fits me.”

“Hyung,” said Jimin, sounding scandalized, his eyebrows drawing together. “That’s not true either.”

“You guys don’t count,” said Namjoon. “We’re pack, right? Here’s the thing. I can write a thousand songs about how the world is just trying to beat me down. About how no one else’s opinion matters, as long as I’m happy with myself. I can fill notebooks with verses that proclaim how satisfied I am to be an omega, about how damaging societal views of subgenders are, and how important support groups and community togetherness are.”

“But?” said Jimin quietly.

“But,” said Namjoon. “At the end of the day I’m still alone. And on top of that, I’m a hypocrite. I advocate for omega rights and write articles for the school newspaper about how we need to be more open to distinctions and diversity in subgenders, but my omega biology always seems to win out in the end.”

“Hyung,” whispered Jimin.

Namjoon shook his head angrily. “It hurts, Jimin. It hurts to watch alphas leave. To know that, when it comes right down to it, I’m just not enough for them. Not enough of an omega. Not pretty, like you and Jin hyung. And I argue too much, I know I do. I just. I just want an alpha to stay. Just once. Because I am enough.”

“Joonie,” said Jimin, and brought shaking fingers up to wipe Namjoon’s eyes. “That doesn’t make you a hypocrite. That makes you human.”

Namjoon hadn’t even realized he was crying until Jimin’s fingers came away wet.

“Love stories aren’t perfect, hyung,” said Jimin, wiping Namjoon’s eyes again. “Yoongi hyung and I almost killed each other trying to make ours work. And you know Seokjin. He drove himself to the edge of a nervous breakdown during Jeongguk’s presentation and then almost rejected him.”

Namjoon laughed a little, the sound watery and weak. “Yeah. I know.”

“It takes time, hyung,” Jimin continued. “Do you know how much life you still have to live? You’ll find someone.”

Namjoon’s eyes fluttered closed. Jimin was so good. He was so grateful to have him as a friend.

“But these ideas you have,” said Jimin carefully. “That you somehow aren’t pretty enough—which is just blatantly untrue, by the way—and that you’re too opinionated, where are these coming from? They don’t sound like you.”

Namjoon sighed and looked away. “I’ve never really had the presence of mind to just let alphas leave, you know. I’ve called a few of them again, after my heats.”

“I don’t like where this is going, Joonie hyung,” said Jimin.

“Well you’re going to like it even less in a minute,” said Namjoon humorlessly. “One alpha told me I was a good fuck, but nowhere near pretty enough to be his omega. He said if he was unbonded by the time my next pre-heat hit, I should call him.”

Jimin growled lowly.

“The female alpha I was with, Hayoon, she said I looked too much like an alpha myself to be with her. That my masculinity somehow invalidated her own status as alpha, as if the two are at all connected. And then there was the guy who told me he would consider bonding with me, but I would have to give up my job as a journalist for the school paper. He said omegas don’t need to have any opinions other than those they share with their alphas.”

“Jesus,” said Jimin lowly.

“Yeah, well,” said Namjoon, and actually smiled sheepishly. “He said it to my face, and I might have punched him. Who would want to bond with someone like that anyway?”

“There’s my Joon-ah,” said Jimin proudly. “Punching alphas in the face; making the world a better place.” He blinked slowly. “Wait. Was that the week you had bruised knuckles and wouldn’t tell anyone why?”

Namjoon laughed. “Yeah. He had it coming.” Namjoon sighed noisily. “I realize that I wouldn’t want to be with any of them. They’re all dicks. But the omega in me still hates it when they leave.”

The best thing about Jimin, Namjoon thought, was that he didn’t try to brush Namjoon’s feelings under the rug. He listened, and he nodded, and when Namjoon said it hurt, Jimin believed him.

“Have a little faith, hyung,” said Jimin. “Just because you’ve met a few shitheads doesn’t mean every alpha is like that. And don’t keep all of this to yourself anymore. I mean it. We’re here for you. You don’t have to do this alone.”

“Thanks, Jimin.”

Jimin smiled, his eyes folding into crescents, and leaned forward to kiss the tip of Namjoon’s nose.

“Are you ready to go back out?” he asked. “Yoongi hyung’s pacing a hole in the floor.”

Namjoon grunted and pushed himself up. “Have to face the music sometime, I guess.”

He and Jimin climbed out of bed slowly. Namjoon was no longer in pain, but his body felt a little sore. Jimin smiled encouragingly at him and unlocked the door.

Namjoon barely made it into the living room before Yoongi launched himself at the tall omega, wrapping around him and rubbing his face insistently into Namjoon’s neck, head bumping under his chin.

“Stupid,” hissed Yoongi, pressing his nose behind Namjoon’s ear. “Stupid, stupid, stupid. Don’t you ever do that again, Joon-ah. Don’t ever do that to me again.”

Jeongguk, who had been sitting on the couch with a softly weeping Seokjin, made it to Namjoon in the mere blink of an eye, rearranging them so that he could crowd in behind Namjoon and rub his own face into the back of Namjoon’s neck.

“Hyung,” he whispered, snuffling a little. “Hyung. Joon hyung. Please don’t do that again. Please hyung.”

Namjoon stood there, blinking slowly, and let them scent mark him. They needed it more than he did, though it was nice for him too. They weren’t Alpha Ordering, but their words still had a gravity to them that Namjoon felt in his bones. Namjoon was the only unbonded member of their group. And he was an omega. Yoongi and Jeongguk would feel responsible for him, whether they really were or not. It would comfort them to be able to smell themselves on Namjoon.

Yoongi bumped his cheek repeatedly into Namjoon’s, cat-like. “I’m sorry, Joon-ah. I’m so sorry.”

“Hyung,” Namjoon said, feeling himself blush. Yoongi’s hair tickled his nose. “Stop. It’s okay. I’m fine.”

Yoongi shook his head stubbornly and peeled himself away from Namjoon.

Namjoon watched, completely shocked, as Yoongi dropped to his knees in front of him. He bowed forward until his forehead was touching the floor, arms outstretched at Namjoon’s feet.

“Oh, my god,” said Hoseok, quietly.

Jeongguk, whose face had been entirely mushed into the back of Namjoon’s neck, also detached himself from Namjoon. He fell to the floor next to Yoongi, following his lead, and lowered himself down, until he was in an identical position.

Namjoon gaped at them.

It was complete submission.

The way that it hurt omegas to resist an Order, it hurt alphas to submit like this. It was a position that left them completely vulnerable. It went against every single alpha instinct they had.

For an alpha to bow to an omega was a sign of the deepest respect and love. Long ago, it would have been equivalent to baring their throats.

Namjoon felt tears prick his eyes, but he also crouched down and tugged at their arms, trying to pull them up.

“I forgive you,” he said. “I forgive you. Hyung. Guk-ah. Please. It’s okay.”

Yoongi stubbornly stayed down for several more heartbeats, and Jeongguk, as a younger alpha, would not rise until Yoongi did.

“Please,” said Namjoon, knowing how much it must be hurting them. “I forgive you.”

Finally, Yoongi sat up. Sweat dotted his brow and his face was white. Jeongguk waited just long enough, until Yoongi had risen to his feet, and then he allowed Namjoon to pull him up. His jaw was clenched tight.

“We’re okay,” said Namjoon, taking a moment to rub his own face lightly against each of their necks. “We’re okay.”

They each took a moment to compose themselves, and then Namjoon turned to Seokjin, who was staring, open-mouthed.

Hoseok caught Namjoon’s fingers as he walked to the couch, squeezing gently, and Namjoon returned the pressure, grateful. He sat down next to Seokjin, who stared at him for a moment. His eyes were puffy and his nose was red. He blinked three times, and then abruptly burst into tears.

“You big dummy!” Seokjin sobbed, hitting Namjoon on the arm before flinging himself into a forced hug.

Namjoon patted his back and sighed. “I’m sorry, hyung,” he said.

“You should have told me!” Seokjin said, bawling. “I should have known!”

“No, hyung, it’s okay, I didn’t want to—”

“We need to communicate better!” interrupted Seokjin, wailing.

Namjoon gave up. He wrapped his arms even tighter around Seokjin and let him cry. It only took a few minutes before he wore himself out, and then just sat there hiccupping and sniffling.

“I’ll find you a good alpha,” said Seokjin finally, wiping his eyes and his nose and sounding adorably stuffy. “One who isn’t a total dick.”

Namjoon smiled. “Thanks, hyung. But it’s not necessary. I can find one.”

Seokjin looked at him sharply.

Namjoon put his hand over Seokjin’s heart. “I promise I will. Okay? And if I can’t find a decent alpha, then I’ll let Jeongguk help me.”

Seokjin sniffed. “Really?”

“Yeah,” said Namjoon. “I mean, as long as Gukie’s okay with it.”

He glanced at Jeongguk questioningly, but the younger nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “I can help.”

“You know, Namjoon,” interjected Hoseok peacefully. “If you’re trying to avoid an alpha, I can help you.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Namjoon saw Yoongi stiffen, but he was already shaking his head. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought about it. Hoseok would be the perfect person to help him. Occasionally he resented that Yoongi and Jimin had gotten to Hoseok first.

“Thanks for the offer,” said Namjoon sincerely. “But no. I know Yoongi’s rut is sometime this year. He would be too territorial.”

Yoongi’s shoulders hunched up and he looked down, ashamed. “Sorry,” he muttered.

“Shut up, hyung,” said Namjoon easily. “That’s the last thing you need to be sorry for.”

Yoongi huffed and glared at him, but his eyes were playful. “Don’t tell me to shut up.”

Namjoon grinned. He hated fighting with Yoongi. Life was so much better when he and Yoongi got along.

“Jeongguk really is the best option,” said Namjoon. “Seokjin’s heat is far enough away that there won’t be jealousy. But anyway, this is all assuming I can’t find someone, and I should be able to. I’m going to start smelling really good to alphas in the next few days.”

“You smell good anyway,” said Jimin, striding over to the couch and sitting on Namjoon’s other side. “Pick someone because you want to, hyung. Not just because they suddenly notice you smell like dessert.”

Namjoon thought about snapping something snarky like, easy for you to say. Jimin could smell like rotting fruit and he would still attract any alpha. Not like he needed to.

But instead he smiled and nodded, because Jimin had listened to him complain and had wiped his tears when he cried, and knew how much Namjoon hated all of this.

“I won’t pick an asshole,” said Namjoon decisively.

 

Namjoon’s pre-heat hit two days later. At first he didn’t notice. He usually didn’t feel any different physically. But three things typically happened during Namjoon’s pre-heat that were a dead giveaway.

One.

He hadn’t lied when he’d said he would start smelling good to alphas, and frequently even a few betas. Everyone who’d ever helped him through his heat told Namjoon that his scent was spectacular. They usually all gave him a different description, but they all agreed. Namjoon smelled amazing.

He was convinced it was one of the main reasons he never had a hard time finding an alpha to help him.

Namjoon was fairly oblivious most days.

But even he noticed when he was no longer the clumsiest one in any given room. He had seen more alphas walk into immobile objects trying to catch his scent than he cared to admit.

Two.

Complete strangers started talking to him.

It was usually small-talk. The supermarket employee asking if he needed help, and then insisting on helping no matter how Namjoon answered. The barista making jokes, asking how Namjoon’s day was when she normally wouldn’t look twice.

People started holding doors open for him.

It was mostly alpha posturing, and in general, it drove Namjoon crazy. The betas weren’t as bad, but Namjoon still found it obnoxious, and usually kept his responses curt.

Three.

For some reason, every pre-heat, Namjoon got the irresistible urge to rearrange all of the furniture in his apartment.

He normally didn’t even realize he’d done it until tripping over an end-table that was now in the center of the room.

This pre-heat, Namjoon’s head cleared as he was sliding his couch across the room, and he stopped abruptly and thought, what have I done?

He shot off a quick message to Seokjin.

To: Seokjinnie-hyung
Just moved couch four times. Can’t go to noodles

Luckily, because Seokjin was a good friend, nay, his best friend, he showed up half an hour later carrying steaming boxes of takeout.

Seokjin babbled happily about his day at culinary school—where he was, hands down, the star student—as he grabbed bowls from the kitchen and Namjoon got them water.

They sat on the couch to eat, and chewed quietly for several minutes before Seokjin said thoughtfully, “You know, Namjoonie, I kind of like it this way.”

Namjoon stared at him. “But hyung, we’re facing the wall.”

“Exactly,” agreed Seokjin. “If this doesn’t force us to work on our communication skills, I’m not sure what will.”

Namjoon laughed and bumped Seokjin’s shoulder with his own. “We communicate fine, hyung.” He paused and stared at the wall. It was a sad off-white color, with some photographs hanging in what Namjoon hoped were artful clusters. “You know what, hyung, I kind of like it too.”

 

Namjoon typically didn’t go to school at all during his pre-heat. He tended to be a little forgetful and clumsy, was prone to wandering the halls aimlessly, and he wanted to avoid, as much as possible, any unnecessary attention.

But he still needed to find an alpha, and school was as good a place as any to look.

Also, he had an article deadline right after his heat, and he really needed to do some research now before his heat hit and he completely forgot about it.

So Namjoon set up camp in the library, at his favorite table by the north windows, where the natural lighting wasn’t overwhelming and the artificial lighting wasn’t blinding. He shuffled some papers around on the table, slung his bookbag over a chair, and disappeared into the stacks, looking for a book he needed on early twentieth century omega’s rights law.

He didn’t look around as he searched for his book, but he could tell that more than one alpha was tracking his movements. A few alphas had followed him into the library from outside, and several more had come in since then, searching for his scent.

Namjoon didn’t normally like to brag.

But he smelled amazing, and it wasn’t exactly a new thing for alphas to follow him around during his pre-heat. He just hoped it didn’t bother anyone trying to study.

There were too many alpha smells for Namjoon to really be able to make out any one individual scent. But there was the hint of a scent that was exceedingly better than the others, that surprisingly made the others smell sort of bad in comparison.

It got stronger as Namjoon turned down the row of books he needed, and his nose twitched as he looked around carefully, searching for whoever owned that wonderful scent.

There didn’t seem to be anyone around, so Namjoon let his fingers trail along old and worn book spines as he searched for the title he needed. He found his book easily and pulled it from the shelf, and then stared, a little dumbfounded, as a face appeared in the empty slot on the other side of the shelves.

Long, beautiful dark eyes blinked at him slowly, and Namjoon felt his breath catch.

Chapter Text

For a moment Namjoon thought maybe he was imagining it.

But then long, thin fingers curled around the books on either side of that face and pushed them away so that the gap was bigger.

The boy put his palms flat on the shelves and inched his face closer, head tilting curiously.

“You,” he said, and then cut off abruptly. He licked his lips and his nose twitched. “Hey, don’t move, okay?”

It wasn’t an Order, but it might as well have been, because Namjoon grew roots.

The boy disappeared from view, and Namjoon still hadn’t taken a breath, and it kind of felt like his heart was palpitating. The boy rounded the corner at a light jog, and Namjoon’s breath left him in a sudden whoosh.

The boy stopped in front of him, his body jerking forward a little as if he hadn’t quite finished moving yet, before settling into place.

Neither of them said anything.

Namjoon had to reach out and grip the bookshelves with one hand, because this kid smelled so good it was actually making him a little dizzy. The boy’s sharp eyes followed the movement, and one corner of his mouth lifted in a tiny smile as he looked back to Namjoon.

Namjoon couldn’t quite make sense of what was happening. This boy did not look like an alpha. Namjoon had never been approached by someone so…so…so beautiful ever, in his entire life, and he was best friends with Kim Seokjin.

Namjoon was not prone to stereotyping; he hated it, because he had been its unfortunate victim more than once. But this boy looked the way omegas were supposed to look, how they looked in magazines and movies, the unrealistic and unachievable ideal. He was tall and slender and had light brown hair and gorgeous eyes and perfect lips and Namjoon was going to fall down.

But not because of how he looked.

Because of how he smelled.

He smelled more like an alpha than any alpha Namjoon had ever met. Namjoon’s knuckles were white he was gripping the bookshelf so hard.

It was crossing weird wires in his brain, seeing this boy and smelling him at the same time. And he wondered, in the limited capacity he had to think rationally while his body was overwhelmed by alpha scent, if this was sometimes what people dealt with when they looked at him.

This scent was going to drive him mad.

It was driving him mad.

They were still just staring at each other. Namjoon felt like he had to break the silence.

“Alpha,” he said, his voice more breathless than it had any right to be, and then his eyes widened comically and he pressed his lips together.

Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.

Had he really just said that?

The boy grinned, a wide, boxy thing that made Namjoon’s stomach flutter and his knees wobble.

“Hi,” the boy said, his voice so, so deep.

Namjoon actually swayed on his feet a bit, blinking rapidly.

Oh shit.

If he let go of the bookcase he was going to fall down.

Namjoon didn’t know what to say, maybe hello, but he honestly felt like if he opened his mouth something stupid was going to come out.

“I,” Namjoon stuttered, swallowing heavily. “I—” He needed water. “I have to go,” he said, and then tried to swallow his own tongue.

The boy’s head titled. He looked a little bemused, but he was still smiling.

“Okay,” he said easily. He gestured to Namjoon’s book. “Can I carry that for you?”

Namjoon shook his head. “No,” he said firmly, around his sandpaper tongue, followed immediately by “Oh, my god,” because he had handed the book over.

The boy took it, smiling happily, and clutched it to his chest.

Namjoon stared at him, floundering. “Oh, my god.”

Through what could only be considered an extreme force of will, Namjoon pulled himself together and let go of the shelf.

He deserved a trophy made out of pure gold for not toppling over.

He had no idea what to say. The boy was holding his book like it was a precious treasure, so he couldn’t ask for it back. He was smiling so brightly and he smelled so alpha Namjoon kind of felt like fainting. Completely at a loss, Namjoon simply turned and walked away, and the boy skipped along behind him.

He muttered angrily to himself the whole way back to the table. He could feel the blush staining his cheeks and he could still sense other alphas watching him. He looked resolutely at his feet as he walked, refusing to glance up.

He threw himself down at the table the moment they arrived, squirming in his chair with an annoyed huff. The boy settled down more carefully. He handed Namjoon his book and then sat in the chair across from him. He put his chin in his hand and just sort of gazed at Namjoon, all sparkling eyes and pretty lips and an alpha scent that was making Namjoon feel about five seconds away from moaning out loud.

“I need water,” said Namjoon eventually, absently, but the boy smacked one hand down on the table—Namjoon jumped a foot in the air at the sudden noise—and pointed at Namjoon with his other hand.

“On it,” he said, and then left the library at a dead sprint, light brown hair floating around his face.

Namjoon watched him go, and then dropped his forehead onto the table and took deep breaths through his mouth.

The boy came sprinting back in less than a minute later, two ice cold water bottles—from the vending machine in the main hall, Namjoon imagined—in his hands.

Luckily, in that time, Namjoon pep-talked himself back to ‘human’ status, so when the boy twisted the cap off one of the bottles and slid it across the table, Namjoon was able to nod and say, “Thank you” like a normal person.

The boy sat down again and continued staring dreamily at Namjoon.

If Namjoon wasn’t on pre-heat, he might not have minded. It wasn’t every day someone so attractive gave him this much attention. But he was on pre-heat, and he was honestly a little worried that between this boy’s beautiful face and his mind-numbing scent, his body was going to start producing slick.

Which, given their current situation of being in a public place, with multiple alphas hanging around, simply could not happen.

“So,” said Namjoon. “Um, I’m Namjoon.”

The boy beamed at him. “I’m Taehyung.”

“Okay. Good,” said Namjoon. “Taehyung-ssi? Could you maybe not stare at me so much? It’s really distracting.”

Namjoon kind of wanted to die a little bit. But it had to be said.

“Ah,” Taehyung hummed, nodding. “Sure. Of course.”

God, his voice was so deep. Namjoon’s thighs clenched.

He was not going to slick up. He was not going to slick up. He was not going to—

“I’m also going to need you to not talk,” Namjoon said, wincing.

Taehyung raised one eyebrow, but he mimed zipping his lips shut. His eyes were glittering with amusement, like he knew exactly what Namjoon was going through, and honestly Namjoon wanted to go dig a hole and bury himself in it, because this was unbearable.

“Can you just not move at all?” Namjoon asked, because he had already thoroughly embarrassed himself, so what was a little more?

Taehyung opened his mouth and then remembered that he wasn’t supposed to talk. He started to stand up, tossing a thumb over his shoulder to indicate that he could leave, and Namjoon flung his arms across the table before he could really think about it.

“No!” he yelped, and then grimaced when a few students looked his way, glaring at the noise. “Don’t leave. Stay.”

Taehyung resettled with a smile.

Namjoon cleared his throat. “Stay. Please. Just don’t move, or talk, or stare.”

Taehyung drummed his fingers on the table and pursed his lips a little. He leaned forward and whispered, so quietly Namjoon almost couldn’t hear it, “Am I allowed to breathe?”

Somehow, that one question lifted some of the weight pressing down on Namjoon’s chest, and he laughed a little. “I don’t know,” he said, honestly. “Maybe not.”

Taehyung laughed. Namjoon had to stare at him, because it was a great laugh, and it somehow sounded the way Taehyung looked. Namjoon couldn’t help but laugh along with him, and it eased all of the tension, until Namjoon felt like he could breathe easily again.

“You know, Namjoon-ssi,” began Taehyung, fingers trailing across the tabletop absently but eyes focused on Namjoon’s face. “You’re not the only one affected right now.”

Namjoon glanced up at him, barely daring to acknowledge the tiny hopeful feeling in his chest.

“You just,” continued Taehyung, waving a hand in Namjoon’s general direction. “You’re just so… you just smell so…” He kept pausing, as if he couldn’t find the right words, and it was, Namjoon was ashamed to admit, really gratifying.

“You just smell so, so good,” said Taehyung finally, with a little shrug. “Better than good, really. You smell like—” He cut himself off, shaking his head, and then continued with something completely different. “And you’re so cute. You have these dimples and. It’s taking a lot, right now. To control myself.”

Namjoon swallowed heavily. “Oh,” he said.

Taehyung grinned. “Yeah, ‘oh.’ So, I think unless you tell me to leave, I’m going to have to look at you. I’m sorry.”

Namjoon shook his head shyly. His heart felt like it was going to beat right out of his body. “No, it’s okay. You. You can.”

“Yeah?” asked Taehyung.

His smile was going to kill Namjoon.

“Yeah,” said Namjoon, nodding.

He blushed and bit his bottom lip and Taehyung sighed again, all wistful and content.

And then he really did just go right back to staring.

Namjoon pulled out his laptop and opened the documents he needed for his article. He flipped through his newly acquired book, chewed on his fingernails and then on his pen, moving occasionally between book and article documents.

And he tried, really, really hard, not to think about the alpha sitting across from him.

Finally, he got into the flow of fact checking his sources, and was undergoing the academic version of limbo by holding the book open with an elbow while typing furiously, when Taehyung slid one long, pretty finger over the page of the book Namjoon was looking at, bookmarking it for him.

It should not have been enough to make him blush. But it did.

He was sure Taehyung didn’t mean anything by it, was probably just trying to be helpful, but now Namjoon was thinking about sex. He was thinking about sex because Taehyung had slipped his finger over the page of a book, and now he was thinking about sex with Taehyung.

Sometimes pre-heats really sucked.

He could feel his whole body heating up.

Taehyung’s eyelashes fluttered, dusting his cheeks just for a moment with lacey shadows. His nostrils flared.

“Wow,” he said, his voice low and breathy. “Hey, so, whatever you’re thinking about right now, you should probably stop. Because it’s getting kind of difficult for me to stay on this side of the table.”

Namjoon was sure he was bright red. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, curling in on himself a little.

Taehyung unexpectedly reached for his hand, and Namjoon jolted at the touch.

Taehyung smiled angelically. “Don’t apologize. Please.” He squeezed Namjoon’s fingers gently before letting go, and Namjoon missed his touch immediately. “Tell me about what you’re working on?”

“Oh,” said Namjoon, “okay.”

Taehyung was trying to distract him. How did he know to do that?

“It’s an article for the school paper,” said Namjoon. “I’m, um, I’m writing the feature this month on the evolution of omega’s rights through the twentieth century as they correlate to biological changes in subgenders and corresponding social justice movements.”

This was usually where Namjoon lost most people. To his credit, Taehyung looked genuinely interested.

“Nice,” he said, whistling lowly. “My sister would love that. So, what’s your central argument?”

Namjoon licked his lips. “You actually want to know?”

“Yes,” said Taehyung, nodding eagerly. “Please.”

Namjoon looked at him for a moment, but he seemed completely sincere.

“Okay, well,” said Namjoon. “I think that the rise of several key social movements around midcentury, the ones where thousands upon thousands of omegas gathered to demonstrate, actually triggered a mass evolutionary process that changed the biological makeup of omegas, which then, in effect, forced changes in omega’s rights laws because there was biological proof that omegas weren’t the same as they used to be.”

He peeked at Taehyung, hesitant, but the alpha didn’t seem confused at all. “Wow,” he said. “And you can prove that? That’s huge.”

Namjoon could feel himself puffing up a little bit, proud, but it was short lived.

“Ugh, spare me,” said a new voice, and Namjoon jumped, deflating almost immediately. “That’s not huge. That’s boring.”

An alpha was leaning on the table next to theirs, but Namjoon had been so focused on Taehyung he hadn’t even noticed.

“Hey Joonie,” the new alpha said, smiling wickedly, eyes darting between Namjoon and Taehyung.

Namjoon stood up. Not because he wanted to encourage confrontation, but because he had promised himself he would never be lower than eye level around this alpha ever again.

“Jackson,” he said slowly. He stepped slightly behind his chair, needing something physical between himself and the approaching alpha.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Taehyung stand up too.

“Who’s your friend?” asked Jackson, leaning his hip on their table and crossing his arms.

He was posturing, trying to show off his body, and six months ago, it had worked on Namjoon.

Jackson was the most popular alpha on campus. He was a martial artist and a fencer. And he was brilliant, ranking consistently in the top five percent of his class.

A year ago, Namjoon had gone through his heat with the alpha who told him to give up journalism. Six months after that, for his next heat, he met Jackson. Jackson was smooth and down to earth, knew exactly what to say and when to say it, and Namjoon fell.

“This is Taehyung,” said Namjoon woodenly. He felt weird and floaty, like he was watching this happen through someone else’s eyes.

Jackson didn’t even look at Taehyung.

“Babe,” he said instead, smiling coyly at Namjoon. “I thought I told you to call me.”

Namjoon’s eyes darted around. He could see half a dozen other alphas watching, probably waiting to see if any opening would emerge for them to step in.

The omega in Namjoon wanted to flee. He felt caged in and threatened, and he wanted to run. But running would give the alphas watching a chance to chase him, and that would be worse.

So he stood his ground.

“I thought I told you I wasn’t interested,” said Namjoon, eyes cutting back to Jackson, who waved his hand and made a dismissive noise.

“I know you didn’t mean that,” he said simply. “Come on, Joonie, it’s Friday. There’s a big party tonight. Come with me.”

Namjoon’s brain felt a little fuzzy. There were too many alpha pheromones being released. He clung desperately to Taehyung’s scent. Jackson smelled almost revolting in comparison, and Namjoon wondered how he had ever fallen for that in the first place.

“No thanks,” said Namjoon.

Jackson’s smile didn’t slip, but his eyes narrowed. “Well then let’s go out. I can buy you dinner.”

Namjoon shook his head. “No,” he said. “I told you six months ago I wasn’t interested in talking to you again. I meant it.”

Jackson’s pleasant expression fell away completely. “Are you kidding me,” he said flatly. He glanced at Taehyung before looking back to Namjoon. “Six months ago, you were begging me for more. You couldn’t get enough. And now you’re picking this, this…” He waved angrily in Taehyung’s direction. “This wisp of an alpha? Over me?”

Namjoon was trembling. Taehyung was standing dead still on the other side of the table. The situation hadn’t escalated, so he hadn’t made any move to interfere, but his entire body had tensed.

Namjoon couldn’t recall a moment in this conversation where he so much as implied that he was picking Taehyung. But if it would get Jackson to leave…

“Yes,” said Namjoon, and both Jackson and Taehyung stared at him, shocked.

“Are you fucking kidding me,” said Jackson, growling, and at the sound Taehyung finally did take a step forward, his gaze snapping immediately from Namjoon to Jackson.

Jackson eyed Taehyung for a moment and then scoffed.

“You know what, Namjoon, fine,” Jackson hissed, angry. “Let the weirdo help you through your heat. Just don’t come crying to me when it turns out to be a mistake.”

He turned and left, stomping and muttering, and as he disappeared the other alphas who had been watching melted out of view.

Namjoon collapsed into his chair and dropped his head on the table, shaking. He took several deep breaths in an effort to compose himself.

Taehyung’s hand came to his back, a warm, welcome pressure that made Namjoon lift his head. Taehyung was crouched next to him, smiling softly.

“Are you okay?” Taehyung asked, rubbing Namjoon’s back lightly.

Namjoon had to think about that for a second.

“Yes,” he said finally. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think he would ever approach me again.”

Taehyung shook his head and stood up, moving back around to the other side of the table.

“It’s fine,” he said, smiling, placating. “We can just forget about it. I know you said it just so he would leave.” He paused, biting his lip. “Maybe I should go too.”

“What?” asked Namjoon, panic bubbling up his throat. “What do you mean?” And then he realized. Taehyung thought Namjoon had just used his proximity as an excuse to get rid of Jackson.

Taehyung was giving him an out. So that Namjoon could back out of claiming Taehyung for his heat.

“I meant it,” said Namjoon abruptly, and Taehyung fumbled his water bottle and almost dropped it. He stared at Namjoon through wide, startled eyes.

“I know we don’t know each other, like at all,” said Namjoon. He was blushing. He could feel it. “But I do actually need an alpha to help me. And you smell so good I kind of feel like I’m going to pass out. Do you know how badly I’ve been wanting to present for you this whole time?”

Namjoon pressed his lips together, but Taehyung’s face lit up brilliantly at his words.

“I need an alpha to help me through my heat,” said Namjoon quietly. He could barely even look at Taehyung. “I would really like it to be you. If. If you want.”

Taehyung nodded so enthusiastically he sort of resembled a bobblehead.

“Yes,” said Taehyung, nearly bouncing in place. “Yes, of course. I want to. I want you. I’ll take such good care of you.”

It felt like all of the bones in Namjoon’s body liquefied at those words.

“Wonderful. Great,” he said, even though it felt totally inadequate and what he really wanted was to drop to his knees and show Taehyung his throat.

Namjoon saved the work he had done before closing his laptop. He started packing his things away and stood up.

“I want to get out of here,” he told Taehyung. “Do you, uh, want to buy me a cup of coffee?”

“Yes,” said Taehyung, before Namjoon had even finished asking the question.

 

He let Taehyung choose the coffee shop, and then just smiled and rubbed the back of his neck when Taehyung inadvertently led them to Namjoon’s favorite café just a block off campus.

“This is my favorite place,” said Taehyung, and ushered Namjoon to an out-of-the-way table toward the back of the shop.

“Strangely,” said Namjoon, sitting down, “mine too.”

How was it possible, Namjoon thought, that they had never crossed paths here.

But Taehyung laughed, delighted.

“Stay,” he said, pointing at Namjoon playfully. “I’ll be back.”

He didn’t ask what Namjoon wanted, and Namjoon thought about calling out after him, but then just shrugged and let him go.

A few minutes later, Taehyung returned carrying a wonderfully foamy mug of coffee, which he set down carefully in front of Namjoon. He took a sip of his own coffee and then licked foam off his lips as Namjoon hesitantly picked up the mug.

“What is it?” asked Namjoon.

“Try it,” urged Taehyung, watching him.

Namjoon took a sip and then looked at Taehyung, surprised, because it was the same rich hazelnut latte he always ordered.

“How did you know?” asked Namjoon, curling his fingers around the mug.

“A good alpha never reveals his secrets,” said Taehyung, grinning.

Namjoon squinted at him. “You asked the barista, didn’t you.”

Taehyung laughed. “I asked the barista.”

 

A few minutes after that, two baristas came to their table carrying ten plates between them, and started setting them down.

Namjoon stared, open-mouthed, as a variety of pastries—muffins and cakes, scones, cookies, cupcakes—accumulated in front of them.

“Enjoy,” said the barista with a wink, and Namjoon looked at Taehyung, baffled.

Taehyung looked just as shocked as Namjoon felt. For the first time that Namjoon could remember seeing, he blushed, a beautiful splash of rose high on his cheeks.

“I,” said Taehyung, scratching absently at his nose. “I have no memory of ordering any of this.”

Namjoon laughed, realizing what must have happened.

“It’s okay,” he said, and pulled one of the plates with a sugar cookie on it closer. “It’s instinct. You’re trying to show me that you can provide for me.”

“Oh,” said Taehyung. He watched Namjoon take a bite out of the sugar cookie. “Is it working?”

“I’ll let you know,” said Namjoon, but he smiled so deeply his dimples popped out.

 

“So, tell me more about this article you’re writing. It sounds like you need to have a pretty comprehensive understanding of the medical field to prove your theory.”

Namjoon blinked. “That’s right. But uh, I double majored in biology and chemistry and went to medical school for a year. I was on track to specialize in omega health practices.”

Now Taehyung was the one blinking. “Wait. How old are you?”

They found out that Namjoon was only a year older than Taehyung.

“You mean I should have been calling you ‘hyung’ this whole time?” asked Taehyung, scandalized.

 

“Oh, my god,” said Taehyung suddenly, several minutes later. “You’re Kim Namjoon. You’re the Kim Namjoon!”

Namjoon laughed nervously, confused. “That’s me,” he said.

“Bang Sihyuk-nim talks about you all the time,” said Taehyung. “You’re a prodigy! You graduated when you were nineteen and went to medical school. He’s never said why you dropped out.”

“Yeah, so, funny story,” began Namjoon awkwardly. “But I discovered that I will pass out at the sight of blood about ninety percent of the time.”

 

“So now you’re a journalism student?”

Namjoon nodded. Taehyung slid him a plate with a cupcake on it and Namjoon took a bite without really thinking.

“Don’t laugh okay?”

Taehyung tilted his head a little, an expression on his face like I would never.

“I want to make the world better,” admitted Namjoon. “I thought I could do it as a doctor. But. Anyway, the university loves me, so when I reapplied to the school of journalism I was accepted right away.”

“Of course,” said Taehyung lowly, teasingly. “And now you’re a writer.”

Namjoon smiled. “Now I’m a writer.”

 

Taehyung leaned across the table, his fingers approaching Namjoon’s face.

Namjoon froze, going a little cross-eyed as he watched Taehyung’s hand.

“You have some frosting,” said Taehyung, “right here.”

His long fingers brushed Namjoon’s upper lip, and Namjoon swallowed heavily. Taehyung pulled his finger away with a dollop of pink frosting on it, and warmth pooled in Namjoon’s belly as Taehyung’s tongue came out, licking the frosting.

Taehyung’s nostrils flared as his lips closed around his own finger.

 

“How do you know Bang Sihyuk-nim?”

Taehyung looked a little embarrassed, though Namjoon wasn’t sure why.

“I’m actually his current research assistant,” said Taehyung. “I’m a graduate student. Pharmacology.”

“Really?” asked Namjoon, smiling brightly. “What’s your specialty?”

Taehyung hesitated. “Toxicology,” he finally said.

“Poison?” asked Namjoon, perking up. “That’s so cool. What’s it like?”

Taehyung looked relieved.

He looked like maybe people normally made fun of him for what he studied, and Namjoon remembered Jackson’s harsh words in the library. Weirdo, he’d said, after also insulting Taehyung’s appearance.

But at Namjoon’s words Taehyung relaxed. “Well, I’m pretty sure Bang Sihyuk-nim is afraid for his life on a daily basis when I’m in the lab.”

Namjoon laughed. “Oh, trust me,” he said. “You can’t be worse than I was. Sihyuk-nim actually put a sign on the poisons refrigeration unit when I was his student that said KIM NAMJOON DO NOT TOUCH. And then next to it he put a photo of me with a red X through it.”

Taehyung almost fell out of his chair laughing.

 

“So, what’s your research?”

Taehyung glanced at him, looking at little shy.

It was adorable. How he could look so shy and so sexy simultaneously was absolutely beyond Namjoon.

“Do you know Doctors Without Borders?” asked Taehyung, and waited for Namjoon’s nod. “They’re doing really incredible work right now trying to figure out why certain strains of antibiotics actually turn into poison in alphas. It seems to be happening widely in certain parts of South America and Africa, especially in poor and war-torn regions.”

Taehyung peeked at him again, so Namjoon nodded again.

“Well,” continued Taehyung. “I applied for an internship and got it, and now they send me samples and I’m trying to figure out how perfectly normal medications turn into poison. I’m working with an environmental scientist intern in the United States, because we think there has to be an environmental influence. Something in the water, maybe. Contamination from war-time weapons. I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.”

Namjoon shook his head slowly, awed. “Taehyung, that’s, that’s incredible. That could change the world.”

Taehyung blushed prettily, but he didn’t deny it.

“I guess I’m like you, right hyung?” he said. “I want to make the world better also.”

 

Namjoon was surprised when he looked out a window and realized it was getting dark outside.

It felt as if no time had passed at all.

“We should probably go,” said Namjoon. “It’s getting late.”

Taehyung looked disappointed, but he agreed with little fuss.

 

“Can I walk you home?” asked Taehyung, once they were outside.

“You don’t have to,” said Namjoon. “I live close by.”

“All the same. It would make me feel better if you would let me.”

Namjoon smiled. “Okay.”

His apartment was only ten minutes away.

They were quiet on the walk there, enjoying the evening air.

Namjoon couldn’t stop thinking about how Taehyung was going to help him through his heat. It seemed unbelievable to him that he was going to have sex with this gorgeous alpha. It just kept looping through his brain over and over again, and he was sure Taehyung could smell it on him, because he kept shooting Namjoon these looks that were heavy and intentional, and made Namjoon just start thinking about it all over again.

He wanted to apologize. He wanted to explain that it was unavoidable during his pre-heat. He couldn’t help it.

But he was sure Taehyung already knew.

Outside of Namjoon’s apartment, before he could unlock his door, Taehyung grasped his shoulder.

Namjoon turned, curious.

“Can I scent you?” asked Taehyung, biting his lip.

It wasn’t an unusual request, but it made Namjoon blush.

“Yes,” said Namjoon, and sucked in a breath as Taehyung immediately crowded him against the door.

Alphas who had been claimed for a heat usually wanted this. It was meant to warn off other alphas. To alert them to the fact that the omega had already claimed someone. It was normally a little too territorial for Namjoon’s tastes, so he was surprised by how badly he wanted Taehyung to do it.

He gasped as Taehyung’s nose worked up and down one side of his neck, behind his ear, under his jaw. Taehyung’s tongue dipped into the hollow at the base of Namjoon’s throat, and Namjoon moaned helplessly at the feeling. Taehyung growled softly at the noise, and worked his way up the other side of Namjoon’s neck.

“God, you smell so good,” Taehyung breathed, his voice so deep it was making Namjoon quiver. “You smell so fucking good. You’re driving me crazy. I couldn’t believe it when I caught your scent in the library.”

Namjoon preened, his omega side delighted, tilting his neck further to give Taehyung more of his scent. His fingers curled in Taehyung’s hair, gripping the strands lightly, trying to anchor himself.

“You smell like sex,” said Taehyung, licking along the shell of Namjoon’s ear. “You smell like home. It makes me want to—”

Namjoon’s breathing was so shallow he was practically panting. “It makes you want to what?” he asked, when Taehyung didn’t continue.

Taehyung’s hands slid down his back and over his ass, squeezing gently before gripping under his thighs and lifting Namjoon up, so that between one breath and the next, he was no longer touching the ground.

He moaned and wound his arms around Taehyung’s neck and his legs around Taehyung’s hips and held on as Taehyung supported him against his apartment door.

He was wet. He could feel it. He was sure Taehyung could smell it. It was such an abrupt show of alpha strength on Taehyung’s part that Namjoon wouldn’t have been able to stop himself from slicking up even if he had tried.

Taehyung rocked into him, and Namjoon whimpered.

“Is this okay?” Taehyung asked against his neck.

“Yes,” answered Namjoon breathlessly, keening. “Yes. Please.”

Taehyung’s lips found his as he rocked Namjoon into the door, and Namjoon whined, a high, desperate omega sound that he didn’t even have the presence of mind to be ashamed of.

He decided, right then, that he never wanted to be separated from Taehyung’s lips.

“Fuck,” Taehyung hissed, as Namjoon bit at his bottom lip and then sucked lightly on his tongue.

Taehyung had the best hips. He was moving them in little circles, pushing and pushing and pushing against Namjoon, who was so hard he felt like crying. Taehyung was holding him up so effortlessly, like it was nothing at all.

“Fuck, Namjoon.”

Namjoon’s whole body shivered at the sound of his name on Taehyung’s lips. He almost couldn’t believe how turned on he was.

Taehyung grinned against his mouth. “That does if for you, huh?” he asked. “No honorific?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon gasped, the pleasure building so much his vision was starting to go black at the edges. He was so wet Taehyung could probably feel it through his jeans.

“What else does it for you?” asked Taehyung, mouthing at the pulse point on his neck. “Baby?”

Namjoon keened, nodding. He had never, ever responded this quickly or this strongly to an alpha before. It was overwhelming.

“Baby. You’re so fucking perfect.”

“Oh, my god,” gasped Namjoon. It was too much. It was all too much. “Alpha. Alpha, I… you’re going to make me come.”

“Yeah?” asked Taehyung, rocking his hips forward even harder. His scent was everywhere. It was driving Namjoon out of his mind. “Come on, Namjoon. Give it to me.”

Namjoon came, shaking, with Taehyung licking up his arched throat.

Taehyung lowered him slowly to the ground afterwards but supported him with one strong thigh between Namjoon’s legs. Namjoon was glad, because he didn’t know if he could stand on his own. He blinked sleepily, leaning forward into Taehyung’s chest.

Taehyung’s hands combed through his hair. He leaned down and kissed Namjoon’s forehead.

“I can’t believe you just got me off outside my own apartment,” Namjoon mumbled after a moment, after he had collected himself. “We’re in public.”

Taehyung laughed. “Hardly, hyung,” he said. “I would’ve fucked you against the bookshelves in the library today if you’d have let me.”

Namjoon shivered. He really had no response to that.

Taehyung waved off Namjoon’s offer to reciprocate. “I’m taking care of you, remember?”

Namjoon did remember.

“Can I take you out again tomorrow?” asked Taehyung.

“Okay,” said Namjoon. “If you want.”

“I do,” said Taehyung, nodding. “Very much.”

Taehyung asked for Namjoon’s phone so he could put his contact info in, and Namjoon did the same. Taehyung kissed him one more time, rendering him breathless and dizzy, and then whispered, “Good night, Namjoon,” against his forehead, and left.

Later, after Namjoon had paced around the entirety of his apartment dozens of times, after he had showered and changed and flung himself into bed and snuggled down under his blankets, he pulled up Taehyung’s contact on his phone, just to stare at his name.

But Taehyung hadn’t used his name. Instead, he had saved his number under the name Alpha.

 

Namjoon didn’t change it.

Chapter Text

When Namjoon woke up the next morning, it took him a moment to remember the events of the previous day. He shuffled around in bed, detangling himself from the sheets, searching for his phone. He found it wedged between his pillow and the wall, and he hastily pulled up his contacts.

But Taehyung’s info was there, saved under Alpha.

Taehyung was real. Namjoon hadn’t dreamed it.

Grinning so widely his cheeks hurt, Namjoon sent off a message to his group chat.

To: Boyz With Fun
Found an alpha

He stared at the message for a moment after he sent it. A minute later, just to clarify, he typed out:

To: Boyz With Fun
For my heat

Namjoon hesitated before sending it, but only briefly. He and Taehyung hadn’t talked about what would happen after his heat. And despite Namjoon’s feelings on the matter, he had to assume that Taehyung would probably leave after his heat was over.

His phone chimed.

Hobi: NAMJOON! JOONIE! JOON-AH!

Min Genius-hyung: good job, kid

Minnie: OH MY GOD. I’M COMING OVER.

Seokjinnie-hyung: Do NOT talk about anything important w/out me

Seokjinnie-hyung: damn culinary institute. working on a saturday.

Seokjinnie-hyung: If you guys talk about good shit w/out me istg. I won’t cook for you for a month

Seokjinnie-hyung: Maybe longer

Seokjinnie-hyung: I’ll stop bringing you leftovers. Do you realize how fast you’ll die w/out my leftovers.

Minnie: ( ^ v ^ )

Seokjinnie-hyung: you think i’m fucking kidding

Min Genius-hyung: for the love of god Seokjin

Seokjinnie-hyung: i just got yelled at for being on my phone. i hope you’re happy now

Minnie: Namjoon hyung I’ll be there in 10

JeonBunny: what’d i miss?

Namjoon tossed his phone on the couch—it was still facing the wall, as there was a good chance he would just move it back if he took the time to fix it—and wandered into the kitchen to start making coffee and breakfast.

For the most part, Namjoon was banned from using his own kitchen. Seokjin usually stocked his fridge with carefully packaged leftovers. Namjoon trusted himself with the coffee pot and the rice cooker, sometimes the toaster, if he was feeling brave, but that was about it.

When Jimin arrived ten minutes later, Namjoon was standing in the middle of his kitchen in a pair of sweats holding his empty coffee pot.

Jimin let himself in with his copy of Namjoon’s key.

“Hyung!” he shouted, flinging his shoes off. “Hyung, your door smells like—” He rounded the corner into the kitchen and reeled back, flinging his hands up. “Woah. Hyung you smell like—” He put his hands on his hips and whistled lowly. “Well hot damn.”

Namjoon glanced at him, blinking dazedly. “Oh. Hey, Jimin.” He seemed to realize he was holding an empty coffee pot. “Shit. Did I lose time?”

Jimin took the pot from Namjoon and filled it with water, starting the coffee himself. “Just ten minutes, I think. That’s not bad at all. Once I lost an entire hour right before a heat. Hobi hyung freaked out.”

“I remember,” said Namjoon, moving aside as Jimin began effortlessly flitting around his kitchen. “He called me.”

“Hyung,” said Jimin seriously. “Your door smells like—”

“You don’t have to say it,” interrupted Namjoon, blushing.

“Sex,” finished Jimin, smirking. “And alpha. And you and your door smell the same.”

“I showered,” said Namjoon defensively.

“It’s not a bad thing!” He punched Namjoon in the arm playfully. “You found an alpha!” He paused and looked at Namjoon thoughtfully. “You should be happier. Maybe? Unless, oh my god is he an asshole? Did he hurt you?” He glared in the direction of the door. “Did he… did he force you?”

“Jimin, no,” said Namjoon firmly. “You and Jin hyung, I swear. He didn’t hurt me. He would never do that.” Namjoon wasn’t sure how he knew that. But he just knew. “He was. He was perfect.”

Jimin looked confused, but only for a moment. “You want to talk about it?”

“I’d really rather not,” said Namjoon, and gratefully took the mug of coffee Jimin handed him. He took too big a sip and then winced at how hot it was. He sighed miserably and looked at Jimin. “He just smelled so good. And I almost passed out when I first saw him. And I could barely talk around him at all, he probably thinks I’m an idiot.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” said Jimin gently, pouring a second mug of coffee for himself and then inching toward the couch, trying to herd Namjoon in that direction.

“He thought I was cute!” said Namjoon, following Jimin absently. “He noticed my dimples. He bought me coffee and cared about my writing and didn’t interfere when Jackson was a dick because he knew I could handle it. And then he kissed me against the door.”

“Smells like a little more than that, hyung,” teased Jimin, not unkindly, as he pushed on Namjoon’s shoulders to get him to sit down. “So, you like him?”

Namjoon nodded. “I think I do,” he said, sighing. “He wants to take me out again today.”

“Hyung, that’s great,” said Jimin. “A lot of alphas don’t do that, you know. They just show up for the heat. There seems to be so little effort put into wooing these days.”

“Wooing,” repeated Namjoon. He cleared his throat. “Is that. Is that what he’s doing?”

“Well, I don’t know him,” said Jimin, waving his hand a little. “But it sounds like what Yoongi and I did for Hoseok. You know. Taking him out on real dates. Actually listening to him when he talked. That sort of thing. Wooing.”

“Hmmm,” Namjoon hummed. He set his coffee down on the floor and curled into Jimin on the couch, shifting around until his head was in Jimin’s lap, Jimin’s fingers brushing lightly through his hair. “It’s confusing,” mumbled Namjoon. “It makes me like him. And that should make me happy, like it did yesterday. But instead I just feel kind of sick.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s just your heat, hyung,” said Jimin. “You’ve been in pre-heat for a few days now, which means it’s almost time.”

Jimin’s fingers stopped moving through his hair, so Namjoon bumped his forehead into Jimin’s abdomen until they started up again.

“I know that you’ve been hurt, hyung,” Jimin began carefully. “Did you tell your new alpha?”

“His name is Taehyung,” Namjoon supplied. “And no. I didn’t.”

“Did you talk about what Taehyung wants? After your heat?”

Namjoon thought about it for a minute. “I guess we didn’t.”

“So, talk about it,” urged Jimin, scratching lightly behind Namjoon’s ear. “You won’t know what he’s thinking or what he wants until you ask him.” Jimin flicked his forehead lightly. “You could be true mates.”

“Minnie,” grumbled Namjoon sleepily. “What does that even mean?” Namjoon sighed noisily. “I’ve been thinking about him all morning. I even dreamed about him last night. Other alphas smell bad now. I’ve known him for less than a day. Is that enough time to know if someone’s your true mate?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Jimin. “I only know how it worked for me. The second I saw Yoongi I knew. But Hobi snuck up on me. It didn’t happen until weeks after I met him. But one day I woke up and realized that I needed him like I need air.”

Namjoon sat up. His hair was squished up on one side. He bit his lip. “I’m nervous, Jimin. I really, really like Taehyung.”

Jimin smiled. “Again, hyung, that’s not a bad thing. Your heat will be so much more enjoyable, spent with an alpha you like.” He hesitated, and then put his hand over Namjoon’s heart. “It’s okay to protect yourself, hyung, and still have fun in the moment. Just be careful. Because sometimes you can protect yourself too much.”

Namjoon squinted. “How do you know so much?” he asked, huffing. “You’re younger than me.”

Jimin made a face. “Because I’ve made terrible life choices, hyung. And I’ve had to learn from them.”

“So dramatic,” said Namjoon, but he put his own hand over Jimin’s heart, just briefly, because he had been there for some of those choices, and watching Jimin cry over Yoongi was one of Namjoon’s least favorite things in the world.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Jimin, voice brightening as he scooted around on the couch. “Now can you please check your phone? I think I’m sitting on it and it’s been vibrating this whole time.”

Namjoon scrambled over Jimin’s lap, searching for his phone, almost knocking Jimin’s coffee out of his hands.

“Careful!” cried Jimin.

“Got it!” hollered Namjoon, sitting up triumphantly and waving his phone. He unlocked it and checked his messages. “Seokjin. Seokjin. Seokjin. Wow. He says he knows we’re talking about my alpha. He seems pretty upset.”

“He’ll get over it,” said Jimin with a smile. “What else? You just turned bright red so there has to be something there from Taehyung.”

“Yeah,” said Namjoon softly, smiling. “He wants to know if I like Melona.”

“Oh, obviously.”

“He wants to know if I like ducks,” said Namjoon, looking up from his phone.

“Ducks,” Jimin deadpanned.

“Ducks.”

“Huh,” said Jimin. “Well, do you?”

Namjoon’s shoulders lifted in a tiny shrug. “I guess?”

“Send him a selca,” suggested Jimin. “Your bedhead is defying the laws of gravity right now. It’s adorable.”

“You just want him to send a selca in return,” said Namjoon, grumbling, but he turned his phone around and snapped a picture. He sent it to Taehyung.

“Hyung!” gasped Jimin. “You didn’t even let me approve it!”

Namjoon’s phone buzzed.

“Wait did he respond already?” asked Jimin, making grabby hands. “Let me see!”

Namjoon scooted closer so Jimin could see his phone.

“Okay, fine, that’s not bad,” Jimin conceded, observing Namjoon's bedhead selca closely. “His name is saved as Alpha? That’s so… well I was going to say cute, but actually it’s pretty hot.”

Namjoon elbowed Jimin in the side. “Wait. Look.”

Taehyung sent his own selca in return.

“He calls you baby?” asked Jimin, cooing at Taehyung's message and use of endearment. And then, catching sight of his photo, “Holy shit! Hyung!”

“I know,” said Namjoon, staring at Taehyung’s selca and shivering at his use of the nickname, sending Namjoon’s mind straight back to the events of last night. That was probably what Taehyung was hoping for. “Do you understand my problems now.”

“Damn,” said Jimin, whistling. “Hyung, keep him forever.”

Namjoon blushed.

Jimin stared at Namjoon critically. “We need to fix your hair.”

Namjoon huffed. “You just said my hair was adorable.”

“That was before I knew you claimed an alpha with the face of a god,” said Jimin.

Namjoon put a hand to his heart, gasping in mock outrage. “It’s like you have no faith in me at all, Jimin. I told you I have a secret weapon. No alpha can resist.”

“We need to find something good for you to wear,” Jimin continued, as if Namjoon hadn’t spoken. “You’re probably going to eat Melona so it has to be something that will hide the stain when you inevitably spill some of it on yourself.”

Namjoon laughed. He typed a quick response to Taehyung.

“What did you just say to him?”

“Jimin, relax,” said Namjoon, laughing again. “I told him he looks great and I can’t wait to see him. He’s picking me up around lunch time.”

“Oh,” said Jimin.

Namjoon smiled and patted Jimin’s arm. “He liked me just fine yesterday, and he’ll like me again today no matter what I’m wearing and no matter what my hair looks like.”

Jimin’s bottom lip trembled. “Hyung, that’s so sweet. You really do like him.”

Namjoon bit his lip. “I really do. But I also do kind of want to impress him so yes please help me pick out an outfit.”

“Oh, thank god,” said Jimin, relieved.

 

Taehyung knocked on his apartment door just before one in the afternoon, and Namjoon froze at the sound, before collecting himself and opening the door.

His heart was beating so quickly he was sure Taehyung had to notice.

Taehyung grinned upon seeing him, and Namjoon’s whole body sort of fluttered. He had to grip the door to keep his knees from buckling. Somehow Taehyung smelled even better than he had yesterday, or maybe he just smelled stronger.

Or maybe Namjoon’s body just knew that this alpha was his, at least for the time being.

“Hi,” Taehyung said. His eyes swept over Namjoon and he licked his lips before smiling brightly. “You look fantastic.”

After much deliberation, Namjoon and Jimin had decided to keep it simple. Namjoon was in a pair of ripped jeans and an old black shirt, the collar of which had worn loose with age. It was prone to slipping off his shoulders, and would give Taehyung plenty of access to his neck and a great view of his collarbones.

Namjoon felt a little silly about it, but Taehyung was looking at him with so much heat in his eyes that Namjoon decided he needed to give Jimin a handwritten thank you.

“Do you want to come in?” asked Namjoon.

Taehyung nodded. “Yes,” he said. He seemed to notice that Namjoon couldn’t let go of the door, so he just moved forward, scooping Namjoon up into a hug and spinning him around, kicking the door shut himself and burying his face in the juncture of Namjoon’s neck and shoulder.

“Hi,” Taehyung repeated. His breath tickled Namjoon’s skin. “You smell different today. Not as much like me anymore.”

“I had to shower,” said Namjoon faintly, clinging to Taehyung’s waist.

“Hmmm,” said Taehyung, rubbing his face into Namjoon’s neck. He smoothed his hands up and down Namjoon’s arms. He rested his head on Namjoon’s shoulder, tip of his nose touching Namjoon’s neck, breathing deeply and making a sound like a cat purring. “It’s different than that. Is your heat close?”

“Yeah,” said Namjoon. “Probably tomorrow.”

“We don’t have to go anywhere, if you don’t want to,” said Taehyung into his skin. “We can just stay in.”

“No,” said Namjoon. “Let’s go out. I want to.” He smiled as Taehyung looked up. “I’ll be fine, as long as I’m with you.”

Taehyung brushed their noses together. “Okay. If you start feeling sick, we’ll just come home.”

Home. Namjoon’s stomach clenched. How did he say it so easily?

“Sounds good,” said Namjoon. “So, where are we going?”

“To the store!” yelled Taehyung, throwing a hand up in the air. “Let’s go!”

He took Namjoon’s hand and linked their fingers together and pulled him out the door, laughing.

It was a nice day, so they walked to the little corner market. Taehyung bought Melona and premade sandwiches and water bottles and three entire bunches of grapes. He completely ignored Namjoon’s offer to pay for some of it and gleefully swung the bag as they left the market.

“Drink this,” said Taehyung, handing Namjoon one of the water bottles.

Namjoon dutifully opened the water and took a sip.

“We have to eat the Melona first,” said Taehyung. “Otherwise it’ll melt.”

“What, all of it?” asked Namjoon.

“I’m afriad so,” said Taehyung happily. He unwrapped an ice pop and started sucking on it, smiling a little when Namjoon’s eyes zeroed in on his lips.

“Do you want one now or at the park?”

Namjoon blinked. “Um,” he said, swallowing heavily, staring at the sheen left by the ice on Taehyung’s lips. “Park.”

“Okay,” said Taehyung, and took Namjoon’s hand again. “Onward!”

Taehyung took him to a park with a duck pond. They sat down on a bench and Taehyung handed Namjoon a Melona.

“Eat this,” he said.

Namjoon sucked on the ice pop—blushing every time Taehyung looked up at his mouth—while Taehyung busily set to work cutting the grapes in half.

“Want some grapes?” asked Taehyung, and didn’t wait for Namjoon’s answer before handing him a bunch of grapes that he hadn’t cut up yet.

“Don’t forget this,” said Taehyung, also handing Namjoon one of the premade sandwiches.

“What are we going to do with those?” asked Namjoon, nodding toward the grape halves Taehyung was compiling.

“We’re going to feed the ducks!” said Taehyung, his voice ecstatic, his enthusiasm so genuine Namjoon couldn’t help but be excited with him.

Namjoon munched on his sandwich slowly as Taehyung cut up all of the remaining grapes. He didn’t have much of an appetite, but Taehyung looked so pleased each time he took a bite that Namjoon kept eating, just to make him happy. It was a good idea for him to eat anyways, even if he didn’t want to. He would need the energy for his heat.

“We’re going to feed the ducks grapes?” asked Namjoon.

“They like grapes,” said Taehyung, and tossed a few halves out into the pond. “Bread is bad for them. Carbohydrates. It’s like giving them junk food.”

Namjoon stared at Taehyung’s profile, smiling softly. His stomach felt warm and light.

“Hyung!” said Taehyung, laughing. “You’re missing it!”

It took actual, real effort for Namjoon to look away from Taehyung’s face and toward the duck pond, but he managed. Several of the ducks had congegrated on the grape halves, quacking and honking as they dove for the sweet fruit.

“Here,” said Taehyung, pushing a pile of grape halves toward Namjoon.

Namjoon never would have guessed that he could have so much fun feeding ducks. He and Taehyung made a game of it, seeing who could toss the grapes the furthest. The ducks loved Taehyung. Several of them climbed out of the pond and wandered toward their bench, and Taehyung, who had unwrapped a second Melona and was happily licking it, grabbed a handful of grapes and set off at a leisurely stroll, a line of ducks following him as he tossed fruit over his shoulder.

It was one of the greatest things Namjoon had ever seen. Soon, all of the ducks in the pond were following after Taehyung, who jogged by the bench and scooped up more grapes.

“Hyung! Protect my Melona!”

He handed Namjoon his ice pop and then set off around the pond again, flinging grapes.

Namjoon couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed so much.

By the time Taehyung circled the pond again and made it back to the bench, Namjoon was absently sucking on the Melona Taehyung had handed him.

Taehyung stopped dead at the sight, his gaze narrowed in on Namjoon’s lips. Namjoon realized he was eating Taehyung’s ice pop right at the moment a dozen ducks swarmed around Taehyung’s feet, clamoring for grapes. Taehyung screamed and flapped his arms and tossed all of the grapes he was holding into the pond.

“Hyung!” Taehyung yelped, trying not to trip over ducks. “Save me!”

Namjoon burst into laughter and picked up a handful of grapes, throwing them as far out into the pond as he could. The ducks made a mad dash for the grapes, diving into the water, and Taehyung panted as he approached the bench.

“Close one, hyung,” he said, smiling, but his eyes were sharp on Namjoon’s mouth, and Namjoon shyly handed his Melona back to him, realizing too late that it was a little melty now, and had dripped onto his fingers.

Taehyung took the Melona, but his other hand shot out quickly and his fingers circled Namjoon’s wrist before he could pull his hand back. Namjoon stared, wide-eyed, as Taehyung brought his hand up to his mouth.

“I’m sure it tastes better this way,” murmured Taehyung, his voice lowering into that deep register that made Namjoon’s thighs clench.

Namjoon’s mouth dropped open as Teahyung brushed Namjoon’s sticky fingers against his lips. His tongue came out, circling the tips of Namjoon’s fingers slowly, and Namjoon sucked in a sharp breath.

Taehyung’s eyes fluttered closed as he sucked first one finger clean, and then another.

There was no way it should be as hot as it was, Namjoon thought.

There was something so erotic about watching his own fingers slide between Taehyung’s perfect lips. And the feel of his tongue, so warm and smooth, was making Namjoon light-headed.

“You,” said Namjoon, gulping. “You should stop.”

Taehyung stilled immediately, eyes snapping open, pulling away from Namjoon’s hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said earnestly. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” said Namjoon. “Really, really fine.”

Taehyung’s nostrils flared. “Ah,” he said, his cheeks turning pink. “Of course. So, it would be a bad idea to kiss you right now?”

Namjoon nodded. “Yeah, a really bad idea.” He shifted closer to Taehyung on the bench. “But I might be a little mad at you if you don’t.”

Taehyung cupped Namjoon’s face. His fingers were so long. His thumbs brushed Namjoon’s cheekbones. The Melona lay forgotten, melting.

“Well, we don’t want that,” he murmrued, teasing, and leaned in.

Kissing Taehyung made Namjoon’s brain feel like goo. Even on a park bench, in the middle of the day, with a bunch of grape halves between them, it felt surreal and sort of magical. Taehyung smelled so good, Namjoon didn’t think he would ever get over it.

He moaned quietly when Taehyung licked into his mouth and tried to scoot closer to him, and he wasn’t sure how Taehyung managed it, but he wiggled his hands under Namjoon’s legs and suddenly Namjoon was on his lap, cradled against his chest. He clutched at Taehyung’s shoulders and allowed himself to be overwhelmed by the feeling of an alpha—this alpha—against his body.

Taehyung kept it light, nipping playfully at Namjoon’s lips, until he slowly pulled away altogether, trailing lazy kisses along Namjoon’s jaw, slender fingers tickling over his exposed collarbones.

Namjoon felt turned on and excited, but more than that he felt content, sort of soft and warm, like he could be happy if all they did was just sit here, feeding ducks.

“You’re so beautiful, hyung,” Taehyung whispered against his face.

Namjoon smiled bashfully. “You’re flattering me,” he said quietly. “I had to remind myself you were real when I woke up this morning. You’re so handsome and kind and funny. I thought maybe I made you up.”

He had no idea what made him admit that, but Taehyung didn’t seem to mind. He bumped his forehead into Namjoon’s neck, grinning.

“Do you want to go home?” asked Taehyung, and Namjoon’s breath caught at the question Taehyung wasn’t asking, the promise hidden in his words.

He opened his mouth to answer, but at that moment his phone chimed.

It was Yoongi.

Min Genius-hyung: where are you

Min Genius-hyung: come to the studio

“Everything okay?” asked Taehyung, rubbing his arm. “You look upset.”

Namjoon shook his head. “It’s fine,” he said. “I just forgot that I had a thing I was supposed to do this afternoon.”

“So close to your heat?” asked Taehyung, concern bleeding into his voice. “Can you cancel?”

“Maybe,” said Namjoon. He typed a quick response.

To Min Genius-hyung: I’m on a date

Min Genius-hyung: oh

Min Genius-hyung: bring your date to the studio

Namjoon sighed and looked at Taehyung, biting his lip. “Want to go on a field trip?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” said Taehyung immediately, though his eyes still looked concerned. “Where to?”

“You’re going to think it’s ridiculous,” grumbled Namjoon, even though Taehyung was vehemently shaking his head.

They started cleaning up, tossing the rest of the grapes out into the water for the ducks. Taehyung rebagged the now melting Melona, and handed Namjoon his half-eaten sandwich while unwrapping his own.

“Can you finish that, please?” asked Taehyung, but in a way that wasn’t really asking, because Namjoon brought the sandwich to his mouth and only realized he had taken a bite after he was already chewing.

“So, don’t laugh,” said Namjoon between bites. “But I kind of have this side thing I do.”

“Okay,” said Taehyung, looking curious, waiting for more.

“It’s like a band,” began Namjoon hesitantly.

Taehyung’s eyes lit up. “Hyung! Are you in a band?”

“Well, we don’t really play instruments.”

Taehyung took a huge bite of his own sandwich, considering. “So, you’re in, like, a singing group?” he finally asked.

Namjoon’s shoulders hunched a little. “We don’t really sing.”

Taehyung’s head tilted. “Do you do spoken word albums, or something? I promise I don’t think it’s weird, hyung, those can be really—”

“Have you heard of A.B.O?” asked Namjoon, interrupting him.

Taehyung looked horrified that he had to ask. “Hyung,” he said, gasping. “Of course I’ve heard of A.B.O. They’re only the most famous rapper trio in all of South Korea. I’ve downloaded everything they’ve ever done. I own the few physical albums they’ve produced. Have I heard of A.B.O. What a silly…” He trailed off as he stared at Namjoon, his eyes widening so much Namjoon kind of wanted to laugh.

Instead he just shrugged. “Yeah, so I’m the O of A.B.O.”

Taehyung dropped his sandwhich. “Oh, my god,” he said, faintly. “Oh, my god. Holy shit.” He stared at Namjoon. “Are you… are you serious right now? Is this a joke?”

“One hundred percent truthful,” said Namjoon. He held up his fingers and ticked off slowly. “Yoongi, Hoseok, Namjoon. Alpha, Beta, Omega. We started it for fun, you know. At first it was just me and Yoongi hyung, but then Yoongi met Hoseok, and we found out he could rap, and then it got kind of serious, and Yoongi is already a pretty well-known producer, so we’ve been able to make a name for ourselves in the industry.”

Taehyung was staring at him like the sun was shining out of every orifice on his body.

“So, I have to stop by the studio, just for a little bit,” said Namjoon, when it became clear that Taehyung was momentarily incapable of speech. “Yoongi hyung said I can bring you with. You know. If you want.”

“If I want,” Taehyung repeated blankly.

“Um, yeah,” said Namjoon.

Taehyung jolted into movement. He picked up his sandwich—it had fallen on the ground and was covered in dirt—and flung it into a nearby trashcan. He urged Namjoon up, pulling at his hands a little.

“Eat and walk, hyung,” he said. “Eat and walk.”

Namjoon laughed. “We’ll need to take the metro.”

Somehow, they made it to the subway in one piece. Taehyung was practically bouncing out of his skin, and Namjoon kept laughing, unable to stop himself.

“So, Yoongi is, well,” began Namjoon once they were officially on their way to the studio, huddled close in one end of a tightly packed metro car. “Yoongi is sort of my pack alpha.”

Taehyung nodded seriously.

“I’m the only unbonded omega in my pack,” Namjoon continued. “So Yoongi gets a little protective. Don’t be surprised if he challenges you a tiny bit, okay? He can be aggressive.”

Namjoon thought that was probably underselling it a bit. But he didn’t want to scare Taehyung.

“Okay,” said Taehyung. “Got it.”

“Hoseok is Yoongi’s mate,” said Namjoon, before pausing. “Well, one of them.”

Taehyung didn’t look phased at all.

“Don’t worry so much, Namjoon,” he said, and Namjoon shivered a little at the informal speech. “I’m great at first impressions.”

Namjoon smiled. “I know,” he said, and laughed as Taehyung nuzzled into his neck.

 

“I thought you were great at first impressions,” said Namjoon, desperately holding back laughter as Taehyung hid behind him once they reached the studio.

“I am,” countered Taehyung. “But I also feel like I might throw up? I think I’m dying.”

Namjoon couldn’t contain his laughter as he unlocked the door to the studio and led Taehyung inside.

“I’m part of A.B.O too, remember? And you’ve already met me and it was fine.”

“Right,” said Taehyung. “Of course. But this will be all three of you together. It’s like meeting my heroes in real life.”

Namjoon reached behind him and linked fingers with Taehyung. He had that warm, light feeling again, a sort of indescribable joy, like everything was going to be okay.

When they finally made it into the studio, Yoongi and Hoseok were both hunched over a sound board. Jimin was there too, and his entire face lit up at the sight of Taehyung peeking out from behind Namjoon’s shoulder.

“Hyung!” said Jimin, and Yoongi looked up.

“Finally,” he grumbled. “Took you long enough.”

“We were on the other side of town,” said Namjoon. He tugged on Taehyung’s hand, pulling until they were standing side by side. “Yoongi hyung, Hoseok, Jimin, this is Taehyung. Taehyung, these are my friends. Some of them, anyway.”

Namjoon could almost feel Taehyung vibrating next to him, but somehow, he pulled himself together.

“Hi,” he said, and Namjoon swore he saw Jimin swoon a little bit.

Hoseok leaped forward and actually threw his arms around Taehyung in a hug.

“You’re so cute!” Hoseok said, and to his credit, Taehyung looked entirely unbothered. He just hugged Hoseok back, blushing.

“You are,” agreed Jimin, nodding eagerly, and Namjoon groaned. “How did you end up with this big dork?”

“Oh, come on,” said Namjoon, shooting Jimin a look.

But Jimin just smirked at him, as if he hadn’t already seen Taehyung’s selca and helped Namjoon decode his messages and picked out something for him to wear on their date.

“Hyung,” Namjoon pleaded, turning to Yoongi.

Yoongi was eyeing Taehyung, his expression unreadable, but at Namjoon’s plea he waved his hand.

“Yeah, yeah,” Yoongi said, pulling Hoseok away from Taehyung by the back of his shirt. “Nice to meet you, kid. Now can we please record this thing? Before I’m eighty?”

They filed into the recording room, leaving Jimin in charge of the sound equipment.

Namjoon took a few minutes to warm up his voice, running through some vocal practices, as Yoongi fed Jimin instructions through a microphone.

“We’re doing the chorus for Cypher Part 4, okay?”

Jimin tossed him a thumbs up. Out of the corner of his eye, Namjoon saw Taehyung clapping.

“Your boyfriend’s hot,” Hoseok murmured.

“Not my boyfriend,” Namjoon whispered in return, though his cheeks felt like they were on fire. “He’s just helping me through my heat. That’s all.”

“Uh-huh,” said Hoseok, raising one eyebrow. “Sure. Fine, your not-boyfriend is hot. Like, smoking.”

“I’m aware,” said Namjoon. He was afraid that his blush might be permanent at this point.

He and Hoseok started rapping bits and pieces from the other Cyphers to warm up, and Yoongi joined them after a moment. Through the glass window of the recording room, Namjoon could see Taehyung and Jimin jamming out, lip-syncing through fake air mics and generally acting like they had been best friends their whole lives.

It made Namjoon smile, and then it took real effort not to stare at Taehyung as they recorded.

Taehyung, who watched the three of them record with his mouth half open, looking dumbfounded.

He and Jimin kept whispering back and forth, and Namjoon was almost desperate to know what they were saying.

It didn’t take them very long to record, and by the time Namjoon spat out his last line, Yoongi looked satisfied.

“Is he a fan?” asked Yoongi as he took his headphones off, gesturing toward Taehyung.

Namjoon smiled sheepishly. “Apparently so. He told me he owns all of our music. He had no idea I was part of A.B.O. But I guess he wouldn’t, since we don’t use our real names or any personal photos and we’ve never actively promoted.”

Yoongi’s eyes cut toward Taehyung. “Huh,” he said.

“Kid,” Yoongi said, when they made it back into the sound room. Taehyung jerked up, his back going ramrod straight. “Follow me.”

“Hyung,” Namjoon hissed. “Be nice.”

Yoongi scoffed dismissively, and Taehyung followed him helplessly, shooting Namjoon a look over his shoulder, as Yoongi left the sound room.

“Dude,” Hoseok crowed immediately, the second they were gone. He slapped Namjoon playfully on the back. “You weren’t kidding when you said you could get an alpha.”

Jimin wrapped his arms around Hoseok’s neck and kissed his cheek. “Obviously, he likes you for more than just how you smell, hyung,” he said, looking at Namjoon.

“Maybe,” said Namjoon.

“Don’t be modest,” said Hoseok. “I’ve known him for five seconds and it’s clear. He’s over the moon for you. Don’t screw it up.”

“What makes you think I’m going to screw it up?” asked Namjoon, shoving Hoseok playfully before his tone turned serious. “And also, please don’t say things like that, because I really like him and that’s just going to make it so much worse when he leaves.”

Hoseok shook his head and pointed at Namjoon. “That’s how you’re going to screw it up.”

Namjoon’s face fell.

Hoseok saw the change in his expression and looked distraught, but before he could say anything the door opened and Yoongi strolled back in, a self-satisfied smirk on his face, Taehyung trailing behind him like a puppy.

Taehyung was babbling excitedly, calling Yoongi ‘hyung,’ exclaiming enthusiastically about their music.

“…spitting bars, hyung…”

“…on fire, like, seriously…”

“…that rap remix of Butterfly is probably the best…”

“…why have you guys never done a show, I mean…”

“I like him,” announced Yoongi, not even trying to be subtle about it.

“I can see that,” said Namjoon.

Taehyung’s arms were weighed down with freebies. Yoongi had given him deluxe, signed copies of the three mini albums they had produced so far, and a few shirts with the A.B.O logo on them, plus a snapback with their logo that had been signed by all three of them. Taehyung’s face was glowing, he looked so happy. Hoseok laughed and started telling Taehyung about the showcase they had planned for later that year, their first public performance, as part of the release of their first full-length studio album.

Namjoon watched them and knew that he should feel happy, but his stomach felt like ice. His vision was going a little filmy and grey.

This place was his sanctuary, and these people were his family. And Taehyung fit in like there had always been a hole for him, perfectly shaped, just waiting for him to fill it. And it should have made Namjoon happy.

But instead he was starting to shake a little bit. Because Taehyung was going to leave when this was all over, but Namjoon was still going to be here. He was still going to be here, and he was going to have to remember what this could have been, and it was going to kill him.

This was why he hadn’t wanted an alpha.

Taehyung was so lovely; Namjoon had forgotten.

But he remembered now, and the force of it hit him so hard that he stumbled backwards, even though he had been standing perfectly still. It had been a mistake to bring Taehyung here.

Taehyung’s head snapped up immediately, and he was by Namjoon’s side in an instant, supporting him with one strong arm.

“Namjoon,” said Taehyung, and it was strange, and Namjoon wasn’t sure how he’d done it, but it was like he’d laced the tiniest hint of an Order into Namjoon’s name, because Namjoon’s body stiffened and he instantly replied.

“I don’t feel good. I… I don’t feel good.”

It was such an understatement Namjoon almost felt like he was lying, but it seemed to fulfill whatever Taehyung wanted from him, because Namjoon’s body relaxed again and Taehyung nodded.

“Okay,” he said.

He turned and bowed deeply to Namjoon’s friends.

“Thank you so much,” he said, and even his wonderful, melodic voice couldn’t penetrate the ice in Namjoon’s veins. “It was an honor to meet you. But we have to go now.”

Though they looked worried, Jimin and Hoseok and Yoongi nodded. Yoongi said a few words, but Namjoon’s ears felt stuffed with cotton and he allowed his mind to shut down. Jimin was staring at him, his bottom lip trembling, but Taehyung took his hand and pulled him away before Namjoon could attempt to offer any sort of reassurance.

He was lucky that Taehyung knew how to get back to his apartment, because Namjoon felt useless.

By the time Namjoon regained feeling in his body, he was lying on his couch, tucked under a blanket that Taehyung must have found in the hall closet, with no memory of having gotten home.

He could hear Taehyung moving around in the kitchen. For a moment he stayed still and quiet, letting those little domestic sounds wash over him.

“I’m sorry,” he finally whispered, and within seconds Taehyung was crouched by the couch, checking Namjoon’s temperature with the back of his hand on his forehead, staring a little too intently at his face.

“You don’t have a fever,” said Taehyung. He sniffed a little, nostrils widening. “You smell okay.”

“I am okay,” said Namjoon. He sat up a little, Taehyung’s hands instantly coming to his arms to help him. “I promise I’m fine. I feel totally normal. That happens sometimes. It’s nothing to worry about. But I’m sorry if I scared you.”

“I asked you to do too much, too close to your heat,” said Taehyung, and though he was making an effort to appear calm, Namjoon was surprised to see him looking so visibly upset. “I let you do too much. It was my fault. I’m the one who should apologize.”

He was perfect. He was perfect. How was he so perfect?

Namjoon felt like the most terrible human being on the planet. He shook his head urgently.

“Alpha,” he said, and Taehyung’s gaze snapped up, focusing in on his eyes. “I’m okay. You did your job. You took care of me.”

Taehyung stared hard for a minute, and then his shoulders slumped in relief. He crowded in beside Namjoon on the couch, pulling Namjoon closer, rearranging until Namjoon was tucked into the corner of the couch with his legs over Taehyung’s lap, his upper body once again cradled against Taehyung’s chest, head resting comfortably on his shoulder.

Taehyung seemed completely content to just sit there and breathe, lips brushing the top of Namjoon’s head every once in a while. The longer they sat there, the sillier Namjoon felt about his freak out in the studio. Maybe it really was his heat messing with him, because he felt happy again, being here with Taehyung.

He could let himself have this.

Even if it went nowhere, even if Taehyung walked away after his heat, Namjoon could let himself have this moment, right now, with the only alpha who had ever made him feel like he was worth anything.

Immediately after thinking it, Namjoon knew it wasn’t quite right. Because he had always had a strong sense of self-worth, and even the alphas who had left hadn’t been able to take that away.

It was more like Namjoon had spent his life estimating his own value, and then Taehyung swept in and Namjoon had to reevaluate, because no matter how much Namjoon thought he was worth, Taehyung was treating him like he was priceless.

That was a feeling that Namjoon was going to remember, no matter what happened, even if Taehyung walked away.

He was okay. He could have this. Just for one week.

They needed to talk, Namjoon knew. He needed to ask Taehyung what he wanted. They needed to be able to communicate openly, or it would be too easy for Namjoon to spiral into his own assumptions. And then he would panic all over again.

But not tonight. He didn’t want to talk tonight. He just wanted this. While he could have it.

Slowly, almost lazily, Namjoon began trailing his lips along Taehyung’s neck.

Taehyung went completely still, breath catching.

“Namjoon,” he murmured. “What are you doing?”

Namjoon sat up a little so that he could kiss along Taehyung’s jaw.

“Isn’t it obvious?” he whispered against Taehyung’s skin.

He moved quickly, so that he was straddling Taehyung’s lap, and searched his eyes for any objection, and finding none, leaned in and captured his lips in a kiss.

Taehyung’s hands came to his waist immediately and he groaned, a long, drawn out noise that made Namjoon shiver. Taehyung knew exactly what to do with his hands. He kept one curled around Namjoon’s waist, and brought the other up to cup the back of his head, angling his face just so, licking into his mouth in a way that shouldn’t have been able to make Namjoon feel as crazy as it did.

“Wait,” said Taehyung, pulling away after too short a time. “Wait. You need to rest.”

“I’m fine,” insisted Namjoon, shaking his head. “I don’t need to rest. I just need you.”

Taehyung’s pupils dilated. He dropped his head for a moment, breathing hard, and Namjoon, feeling impatient and a little heady, rolled his hips forward, making Taehyung hiss.

“Fuck,” Taehyung breathed, sliding both hands around to Namjoon’s lower back. “Are you sure? Are you really sure? Because it’s going to be hard for me to stop myself if we keep going.” He seemed to realize all at once what he had said, because he looked at Namjoon with wide eyes. “Though I can, of course. Stop, that is. If you ask me to stop then I’ll stop.”

He was rambling. Namjoon leaned forward and kissed him. He knew that it went against alpha instinct to move slowly, to be patient. Taehyung had been appropriately restrained, doing nothing that Namjoon didn’t explicitly agreed to, but it must have been difficult for him to hold himself in check, to move at a slower pace.

“Taehyung,” Namjoon murmured, pulling away from his lips. “I’m sure. My heat is probably going to start tomorrow, and it’ll be a blur for me. I’ll remember sensations, mostly. But this,” said Namjoon, kissing along his cheekbones. “I’ll remember this. Please. I want you.”

Taehyung’s breathing was shallow as he stared at Namjoon, his eyelashes fluttering. “God, as if I could say no to you,” he finally said on an exhale. “Do you even realize how irresistible you are? Wrap your legs around me.”

With a little maneuvering, Namjoon did as told. Taehyung’s hands slid under him and then he stood up, and Namjoon wrapped his arms and legs more securely around him. It reminded him so much of last night against the door that Namjoon was almost instantly wet, and he could do nothing but moan helplessly and slide his lips along Taehyung’s face as he was carried to his bedroom.

Taehyung set him down on his desk and Namjoon pulled him in using his legs. He could feel how hard Taehyung was, and he couldn’t stop himself from reaching between them to cup his length through his jeans.

Taehyung growled against his lips, one hand steady on the back of Namjoon’s head, holding him in place.

His room already smelled wholly like Taehyung. Namjoon wasn’t sure how that was possible. Alpha scent was everywhere. It was all Namjoon could smell.

 

Despite alpha instincts undoubtedly urging him to move faster, Taehyung took his time. He undressed Namjoon slowly, kissing his way along every newly exposed patch of skin, until Namjoon felt out of his mind, begging Taehyung to hurry.

Taehyung didn’t listen.

 

Namjoon had been fully unclothed for close to half an hour, Taehyung licking, nipping, kissing the insides of this thighs, which were wet with slick, before Taehyung knelt up and pulled his shirt off. He was beautifully lean, almost thin for an alpha, like Yoongi, but Namjoon, having already experienced his alpha strength, wasn’t fooled.

Taehyung stood up to take his jeans off.

 

Taehyung naked was a marvel.

 

Namjoon really couldn’t help himself.

He scrambled off the bed and dropped to his knees, easing Taehyung back against the bed and nuzzling into his hip bone. His cock was hard and long and curved up along his belly, and Namjoon licked from base to tip before taking the head into his mouth.

“Baby,” said Taehyung, fingers dancing along Namjoon’s cheeks.

Namjoon sucked and swirled his tongue and bobbed slowly as the taste of Taehyung, of alpha, exploded in his mouth. He moaned around Taehyung’s length, feeling overwhelmed already.

“Your mouth, Namjoon,” groaned Taehyung. “I’ve been thinking about this since the moment I first saw you.”

So had Namjoon.

 

“You don’t need to prep me,” said Namjoon, somewhat unnecessarily, as Taehyung’s fingers curled just right inside him, making him see stars. “I’m ready. I’m so wet for you.”

Another unnecessary statement, as Taehyung could certainly feel how wet he was. In any other situation, with anyone else, Namjoon would have been embarrassed about it.

He hadn’t even known that he could produce this much slick outside of a heat. He wasn’t even positive he’d ever produced this much slick during a heat. But his omega side had taken over, and this was Taehyung he was with, and the omega in him was proud that his body was doing this for Taehyung.

“I’m wet,” Namjoon repeated, as Taehyung’s glorious fingers found his prostate, making his hips arch entirely off the bed.

“I can feel that, darling,” purred Taehyung, licking his ear. “All for me, is that right, baby?”

“Yes,” gasped Namjoon, the pleasure blinding. “All for you, alpha. You don’t need to prep me.”

“Let me savor it, Namjoon,” Taehyung told him, gently.

Namjoon let him.

 

When Taehyung slid into him for the first time, the world went white.

 

It had never felt this good before.

Even during Namjoon’s heat, it had never been this good.

Taehyung was a solid, soothing presence around and in him. Namjoon alternated between desperately repeating his name, the sound of it leaving his lips prayer-like, a continual plea for more, and silence, an inability to say anything at all, the pleasure so mind-numbing Namjoon couldn’t remember his own name, let alone basic speech patterns.

 

Taehyung was a generous lover.

But the slide of his hips, every thrust into Namjoon’s body, was hovering on the edge of too much, so that Namjoon was never in any doubt.

Taehyung was in control here.

Taehyung was alpha.

And Namjoon submitted to him fully.

 

The urge to initiate the mating bond was so strong that Namjoon finally had to say something.

“Taehyung,” he gasped. “Please. I need. Please can I.”

He couldn’t form full sentences.

But Taehyung knew what he needed. He lowered his head, exposing his neck to Namjoon.

“Do it,” he hissed. “Namjoon. Do it.”

Namjoon bit down.

Taehyung made the loudest noise Namjoon had heard yet, and then they both shook apart into orgasm, Namjoon keening around his mouthful of Taehyung.

 

Later, as they lay curled facing one another, Taehyung couldn’t stop fingering the bite on his neck.

Omegas always initiated mating bonds during a heat. It was an unavoidable instinct. The urge became so strong during an omega’s heat that it could not be ignored. It could be done outside of the heat, too, though it very rarely happened that way. Namjoon had never felt the urge outside of a heat, until now, and it had certainly never felt like this.

It was a bizarre biological twist, the inability of alphas to initiate the mating bond. Only betas and omegas could do it. Alphas could complete a mating bond, with help from the omega or beta, but they could never, ever start one. Unless both participants knew that they wanted to permanently bond, the link was usually severed after the omega’s heat.

With his hand over his neck, Taehyung stared at Namjoon.

“Can you feel it?” he whispered.

Namjoon nodded. “Yes,” he whispered back.

Being able to actually feel the mating bond was extremely rare. Typically, there was nothing to be felt at all. That way, when the link was later severed, no one suffered any pain.

But Namjoon could feel their bond, like a small, fragile thread, connecting him to Taehyung.

Taehyung stared at him through wide, awe-struck eyes. He looked almost childlike, and Namjoon wondered if he looked the same way.

 

Taehyung made him dinner wearing nothing but a pair of Namjoon’s sweatpants slung dangerously low on his hips. Omegas were not possessive by nature, but seeing Taehyung like that, wearing his clothes, made something strong and a little scary curl in his belly.

It was an old instinct, a blood instinct, that made Namjoon think he would fight to the death for this alpha in his kitchen, were another omega to challenge him.

He shook his head, laughing at himself, immediately after he thought it.

 

They really needed to talk about the mating bond.

It meant something, that they could both feel it. And it meant something that Namjoon had initiated it before his heat.

But Namjoon avoided bringing it up, and Taehyung, perhaps following Namjoon’s lead, said nothing, though he kept fingering at the bite with a faraway look in his eyes.

They really needed to talk about it.

But not tonight.

Chapter Text

Namjoon sat bolt upright, shaking, drenched in sweat.

It was the middle of the night. His room was pitch black but for a few beams of moonlight slanting through the crooked blinds on his window. Taehyung, who had been sleeping peacefully next to him, blinked his eyes open and sat up, bringing one hand immediately to Namjoon’s back, another to his forehead.

“Namjoon,” he murmured sleepily.

Namjoon shivered so hard his teeth clacked together.

“You have a fever,” said Taehyung, instantly sounding more awake. “Are you… Namjoon, can you hear me? Are you lucid?”

Namjoon wanted to say yes. But his stomach rolled. He clambered over Taehyung, slipping out of his grasp and darting for the bathroom. Taehyung followed him in mere moments later, and Namjoon tried to gesture for him to leave, tried to signal that Taehyung didn’t have to be here for this part, but Taehyung ignored his clumsy hand-waving.

He knelt behind Namjoon and brushed his hair back and rubbed the space between his shoulder blades. He murmured quietly as Namjoon was sick, nonsense words that were really just sounds. He pulled Namjoon to his feet afterwards, kept him upright while he swished mouthwash. He turned the shower on and peeled Namjoon out of his sweaty pajamas.

“Shhh, hush,” said Taehyung, rubbing his arms, as Namjoon whispered, over and over again, “I’m sorry.”

Taehyung stepped out of the pair of Namjoon’s sweatpants he had worn to bed and pulled Namjoon into the shower with him, testing the water before turning so that Namjoon was under the spray.

It was room temperature, neither hot nor cold, for which Namjoon was grateful, but it didn’t feel anywhere near as soothing as Taehyung’s hands. Taehyung had picked up a bar of soap and was working it over Namjoon’s body in long, light strokes, spreading the lather with his hands, cleaning Namjoon of the sweat that had covered him like a film while he slept.

“You’re okay,” Taehyung repeated with each brush of his hand across Namjoon’s chest, his back, up and down his arms and legs. “I’ve got you. You’re okay.”

He had stopped shaking for now, and as soon as he and Taehyung were both clean, they got out of the shower and Taehyung dried him off with a fresh, fluffy towel.

Namjoon wanted to protest that he could do it himself, but he wasn’t actually sure he could. He felt weak and his arms felt heavy. He was almost falling asleep standing up. Taehyung led him back to bed, both of them still naked, and they crawled under the blankets and Taehyung shifted and moved and rearranged until he was finally comfortable, with one arm and a leg slung across Namjoon’s chest and hips.

Namjoon found the weight grounding. It brought him back to himself a little bit, and he fell into a quiet, light sleep with Taehyung breathing against his neck.

 

The next time Namjoon woke up, it was with a hoarse scream.

He was burning up. He… he was on fire. He flung himself forward, trying to get out of the blankets, panting. His skin felt like it was boiling. Everything hurt. His vision swam.

“Namjoon,” said a deep voice. “Stop. Clam down.”

That voice cut through the chaos, reverberating through his mind, bouncing around his skull, and Namjoon instantly stopped. He looked down at himself, horrified to see red marks from where he had been scratching at his own skin.

“Alpha,” he gasped, reaching out blindly, and Taehyung sat up, curling around his hunched back.

“I’m here,” said Taehyung.

At the first touch of Taehyung’s skin on his, the fever raging under Namjoon’s skin coiled tightly in his stomach and then spread out slowly, trailing a different kind of fire in its wake. All of Namjoon’s focus narrowed to the parts of his body that Taehyung, alpha, was touching.

“Alpha,” he gasped again, surging back, scrabbling around until he could get more, more of Taehyung’s skin, more of Taehyung’s scent, just more of Taehyung. “Alpha, I need… I need…”

His words were leaving him before he could find them. His brain was going a little fuzzy, and his ears were starting to ring, making a sound like static, like white noise.

“Namjoon.”

At the sound of Taehyung’s voice Namjoon’s entire body flushed, and he moaned. He pressed back, and somehow he was sitting between Taehyung’s legs, his back to Taehyung’s chest. Taehyung’s arms wrapped around him, his large hands smoothing down Namjoon’s chest, trailing lower and lower, his fingertips leaving a trail of sensation for Namjoon to follow.

“Taehyung,” Namjoon whimpered, hips arching as much as they could while he was sitting. “Alpha. Please.”

He was already so hard. He couldn’t remember when it had happened, if he’d woken up that way, or if it was because Taehyung was touching him. His hands transformed Namjoon’s heat fever into shocking waves of arousal, so that even this, just Taehyung’s hands, had Namjoon dripping wet and so desperate he was moments away from begging.

He needed Taehyung to touch him. He had never needed anything as much as he needed Taehyung touching him.

“I’ve got you, baby,” Taehyung murmured in his ear, and his long fingers circled Namjoon’s weeping cock, and Namjoon flung his head back onto Taehyung’s shoulder, keening.

“Oh, my god. Alpha. Alpha, please. Please. Oh. Oh!”

Taehyung smelled so good, Namjoon was going to pass out. He flicked his wrist so precisely, applying just the right amount of pressure, circling the tip of Namjoon’s cock just so. His scent was everywhere. It was stronger now than it had been at any point in the last two days.

“You smell so good,” Taehyung whispered against his ear, as if he could read Namjoon’s mind. “Fuck. I can’t believe how good you smell. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to smell this good.”

Namjoon whined and turned his head, giving Taehyung more of his neck, more of his scent, just to please him. Anything to please him.

He could feel Taehyung’s hard length pressing against him. They were both still naked from their earlier shower, and the tip of Taehyung’s cock was smearing precome onto Namjoon’s lower back. The feel of it made Namjoon whine desperately.

“Alpha,” he said, choking back a sob. “I can’t. It’s too much. I-I-I’m going to—”

“Come on, baby,” growled Taehyung, twisting his wrist in a way that was so divine Namjoon had to swallow a scream. “Come on, Namjoon.”

Namjoon came, gasping, spots dancing in his vision. He was shaking so much his teeth were knocking together. The pleasure was insane, even just from a handjob.

Taehyung laid him down gently and hovered over him, kissing along his forehead and across his cheeks until his breathing slowed.

“Hi,” said Taehyung, once Namjoon’s eyes had cleared. “Are you with me?”

“I’m with you,” answered Namjoon. He was still hard. He would be, for a while. But a little window of clarity almost always followed the first orgasm of a heat.

Taehyung’s scent still surrounded him, and the sight of him, naked and beautiful, was still more arousing than Namjoon could bear, but his mind had cleared, at least for the moment. And now that he was experiencing a reprieve from the all-consuming need of the heat, he could feel it.

The little fledgling bond.

His eyes flew to the bite mark on Taehyung’s neck, and he reached one hand up to trace a finger along the marks. Taehyung’s eyelashes fluttered. He sucked in a sharp breath and let it out again as a moan.

“I can feel it,” said Namjoon, awed.

He had felt it last night too, of course, when the bond was first initiated. But this was different, somehow.

Taehyung nodded. “Yeah, me too,” he said, roughly. His jaw was twitching. He almost looked like he was in pain.

Namjoon pulled his hand away from the bite, concerned, but Taehyung’s eyes flashed and he grasped Namjoon’s hand, pulling it back, placing it over the mark himself.

“Is it sensitive?” asked Namjoon hesitantly.

Taehyung nodded again. “Extremely.”

“Oh,” said Namjoon. The fire was starting to spread through his belly again, bolstered by Taehyung’s quick breathing, the lust in his eyes, his obvious arousal. “In a good way?” asked Namjoon.

Taehyung leaned down and bit at Namjoon’s plump lower lip. “A very good way,” he said, lowly, around a growl, and Namjoon’s body was hot again, all over, instantly.

Namjoon lifted his head and pressed his mouth against the bite, and Taehyung’s entire body shook, his breath leaving him in a rush of rumbling sounds that had the edges of Namjoon’s vision sparking golden. The fever was making him shake with want, and his hips were lifting almost continually, searching for Taehyung, but this, feeling the bond, having physical proof that this effected Taehyung so much, being able to actually feel and see Taehyung’s need, his alpha’s need, was giving Namjoon a type of control he had never felt before during a heat.

He licked at the bite marks with a moan, and Taehyung whined, a desperate sound in the back of his throat that alphas almost never made. Taehyung’s eyes went wide, the sound startling him, and it went straight to the fire in Namjoon’s belly, and he arched, gasping. He was going to come again. He was going to come from nothing but that sound. That’s how wound up he was.

Taehyung’s hand circled the base of his cock, his grip firm enough that it stopped Namjoon’s orgasm before it could start, and Namjoon cried out, begging.

“Alpha,” he gasped, breathing in so quickly he felt a little faint.

Taehyung flipped him over faster than he could blink. He pushed Namjoon’s upper body down into the mattress and pulled his hips up so that his back was arched, and slid two slender fingers inside Namjoon before the older even knew what was happening.

“Fuck,” said Taehyung, working his fingers in and out, slow and then fast, fast and then slow, pace unpredictable enough that Namjoon was a sobbing wreck within moments.

Taehyung was touching him exactly where he wanted, the two places he needed it most, and yet giving him no relief. It was making Namjoon’s mind go cloudy again, hazy and golden.

“Alpha,” Namjoon sobbed. “Alpha alpha alpha alpha, please!”

“What do you need?” asked Taehyung, leaning over his back. “Tell me what you need.”

“You!” cried Namjoon. “Need you. Need you, alpha. Need your… ah!”

His voice stuttered out as Taehyung rubbed at his prostate.

“Do you need my knot?” asked Taehyung, voice low and rough in Namjoon’s ear.

Namjoon nodded and clawed so desperately at his pillow he heard the fabric tear.

“You give me what I want,” said Taehyung, fingertips just barely brushing his prostate. “And I’ll give you what you want.”

“Yes,” said Namjoon, twisting his head to try to see Taehyung, pushing his hips back. “Yes, alpha, anything, anything Taehyung, please!”

“Come,” said Taehyung, lovingly caressing Namjoon’s prostate and finally moving the hand that had been circling his cock, rubbing up and down slowly.

Namjoon came, screaming into the pillow, tightening around Taehyung’s fingers. He was still coming as Taehyung flipped him onto his back and slid into him in one smooth motion, with no warning, biting into his shoulder.

Namjoon wailed, overwhelmed, clenching now around Taehyung’s hard cock instead of his fingers.

Taehyung was trembling, shaking with the effort of not coming himself. Through the heat haze, through his own tears, Namjoon searched for the bite on Taehyung’s neck and brought shaking fingers up to touch before Taehyung could try to stop him.

“Fuck!” Taehyung shouted, his hips snapping forward so hard and fast that Namjoon arched with it.

The pace after that was almost brutal. Taehyung’s carefully cultivated patience was gone, and all Namjoon could do was move with him, crying and begging and moaning for more, more, more, as much as Taehyung could, and would, give him. He felt delirious, swimming in Taehyung’s scent and shaking under his powerful body, noise after noise punched out of him, as Taehyung bit and sucked marks into his neck and shoulders and along his clavicles.

He could feel it when the base of Taehyung’s cock began to swell, could feel his own body loosening, welcoming him in, in response.

Taehyung’s hips slowed, and the gentle glide, the smooth, easy press, his knot catching on Namjoon’s rim with every pass, had Namjoon coming again, sobbing quietly. Taehyung kissed him, and it was good, so good, that before Namjoon knew it he was knotted, he and Taehyung linked now in multiple ways, the bond pulsing between them.

Namjoon quieted almost instantly, the alpha knot settling something deep inside him, and now it was Taehyung’s turn to shake, to fall apart, as Namjoon ran trembling fingers through his sweaty hair and kissed along his cheekbones. He knew that Taehyung was coming; he was quivering so much Namjoon was amazed he was still able to hold himself up at all. He murmured, kept his fingers moving through Taehyung’s hair, until Taehyung was shaking only intermittently, until he could finally shift, moving them carefully onto their sides, pulling Namjoon back against his chest and pressing his face into the back of Namjoon’s neck.

Namjoon could feel the bond between them like a living thing, like a heartbeat, and he wasn’t surprised that Taehyung finally settled with his hands over Namjoon’s heart.

Though Namjoon’s body had calmed for now, his mind was still cloudy. He was aware only of Taehyung’s points of contact with his body—hands on heart, knot inside him—and the bond, singing, alive.

“Are we true mates?” asked Namjoon sleepily, slurring, and then passed out before Taehyung could answer, before he could even feel Taehyung’s body tensing behind him.

 

He woke up before Taehyung. He felt fuzzy and disoriented and when he tried to sit up his whole body protested, making him groan weakly.

Taehyung rolled over at the noise and lifted up a little, peering at Namjoon blearily. “What’s happening?” he mumbled.

His hair was standing straight up on one side and he had pillow marks on one half of his face and crust in the corners of his eyes. It took him a moment to become aware of his surroundings, but he blinked himself awake, rubbing his eyes sleepily, and then surveyed Namjoon more carefully.

“Are you okay?”

Namjoon tried to answer, but all that came out was a croak.

“Water,” Taehyung said, and stumbled out of bed.

He returned moments later, carrying two water bottles. He handed one to Namjoon and then drank the other one himself. Namjoon sipped more slowly. It was light in his room, but that meant almost nothing to him. Time was a blur on his heat. He usually had no concept of the passage of time, and would not have been able to say if he was still on the first day or the third of his heat, were anyone to ask.

“Better?” asked Taehyung, after Namjoon had swallowed a decent amount of water.

Namjoon nodded. He did feel better, but his stomach was also starting to roll a little bit.

“How do you feel?”

Namjoon stretched experimentally. “Exhausted,” he finally said. “And filthy. And horny. And also really gross. And sick.”

Taehyung made a sympathetic noise. “Sounds confusing. Shower?”

“Yeah,” said Namjoon. “Shower.”

“And then food,” Taehyung added.

Namjoon’s entire body flinched back, revolted. The thought of food was so horrendous that he jumped out of bed, stumbling on weak legs, and bolted for the bathroom, this time remembering to shut the door behind him before he was sick.

Of course, he didn’t remember to lock it, so Taehyung came in anyway.

“No,” Namjoon moaned. “Go away. This part is horrible.”

It was. The actual, real sick waves of his heat were awful. He had as of yet discovered no biological advantage for burning up and vomiting one moment, and then burning up and being consumed by the need for sex the next.

Just the sex part would have been fine with him.

Taehyung touched his back gently as he stepped over him to turn on the shower, and then helped Namjoon stand up and rinse out his mouth and brush his teeth afterwards. Namjoon grimaced at his reflection in the mirror.

“Ugh, I look terrible,” he moaned.

His face was white. There were bags under his eyes. Taehyung crowded in behind him, peering over his shoulder into the mirror.

“You have looked better,” he admitted, and something about the stark honesty of it made Namjoon smile and croak out a laugh. Taehyung poked at his dimple.

Taehyung rested his chin on Namjoon’s shoulder and looked in the mirror again. “Then again,” he said, contemplatively, staring at his own reflection, turning his face from one side to the other. “So have I.”

Namjoon laughed again, because it was true. They had both looked better. Taehyung’s fingers tickled along his neck, and Namjoon noticed for the first time that his skin was covered in love-bites.

“Oops,” said Taehyung, though he did not sound at all sorry, and the corners of his lips were twitching upwards. “I may have been a little overeager.”

Namjoon felt himself flushing, could see the color spreading down his neck and chest.

“I, uh,” he began, sheepishly. “I like it.”

Taehyung grinned, and it was not his normal, happy grin. There was something decidedly more predatory about it, something sharp in his eyes to match, and just like that, Namjoon was hot again for an entirely new reason, moaning weakly at the sight of that grin.

Taehyung lured him into the shower and kissed him as they lathered soap all over each other, until Namjoon was begging again, hard and helpless, the heat all-consuming.

Taehyung fucked him in the shower, against the cool tile wall, water spilling over them. Namjoon held onto Taehyung with one hand and the shower curtain rod with the other, trusting that Taehyung could hold him up, that he wouldn’t fall.

When he came, he clenched so hard, his body jerking, that the curtain rod fell right off the wall, crashing down, along with his shower curtain, to the floor. Namjoon flailed, having lost a handhold, and only Taehyung’s quick reflexes saved them from toppling out of the shower and landing on the downed curtain.

Namjoon blinked. He grinned guiltily. “Would you believe this is not the first time that’s happened?”

Taehyung laughed, delighted, and hitched Namjoon up so that he could hang on to the showerhead instead, and then just kept on thrusting, wringing another orgasm out of both of them, water spraying the bathroom.

 

“Namjoon!” Taehyung called out from the kitchen, sometime later, after they were both dry and clean and had mopped up the bathroom somewhat. “Food!”

Namjoon groaned and rolled over on the couch, snuggling further into his blanket. His body felt like lead. Moving did not feel like an option. “No,” he grumbled.

He had almost drifted off to sleep again when Taehyung came over and knelt down next to the couch.

“You have to eat,” said Taehyung firmly, and Namjoon startled awake, groaning.

“Not hungry,” he mumbled.

“I need you to try anyway,” said Taehyung. “Get up. Here we go.”

Namjoon’s body stood up without permission from his brain, so Taehyung must have slid an Order in there somewhere. It was a little maddening, how good he was at that, at almost-but-not-quite-Ordering. It was a little maddening how willing Namjoon’s body was to obey him.

Namjoon walked to the kitchen. While he didn’t feel hungry, he had to acknowledge that his body felt weak and tired. Taehyung had been making him drink water, but he knew he was dehydrated, and hungry or not, he did need to eat something.

He sat down at the table.

Taehyung set a bowl of something ricey and soupy and a little eggy in front of him. For a moment all Namjoon could do was stare at it.

“Please try,” said Taehyung, seeing his hesitation. “Please?”

Namjoon swallowed reflexively. “I don’t know if I can,” he said, honestly.

Taehyung slurped from his own bowl of soup. “Just one bite?” he asked, batting his eyelashes. “It’s my eomma’s special recipe. It’s what got her through her own heats when she was younger. It tastes better than it looks, I promise.”

Namjoon sighed and picked up his spoon. He took a small bite, expecting that his stomach would protest immediately, but the flavor of the soup was mild, and it was warm, and Taehyung was right, it did taste good.

“Slowly,” said Taehyung, as Namjoon went in for another bite. “Slowly, okay? Thank you, Namjoon.”

Namjoon preened. It was sort of ridiculous, the overwhelming desire to please during a heat, to show an alpha that he could listen. It had never mattered who Namjoon was spending it with; the urge to please was an underlying, governing factor of his heat. With Jackson it had been awful, and Namjoon had spent a week following his heat ashamed of what he had done and mortified by what he had said in an effort to please him.

Taehyung was different. Namjoon knew that Taehyung was helping him, he knew that Taehyung was taking care of him, because he had promised to do so, and Namjoon trusted him not to take advantage. So Namjoon ate his soup, slowly, and glowed each time Taehyung sent him an encouraging smile.

 

The soup made him feel so much better that once they were both finished eating, Namjoon linked fingers with Taehyung and pulled him back to the bedroom. There were clean sheets on his bed, though Namjoon could recall no moment when Taehyung might have had time to change them.

He was on fire again, could feel it working outward from his belly. His room smelled so much like Taehyung, like him and Taehyung together, that it was making Namjoon lightheaded. He kissed Taehyung slowly, sucked on his tongue gently, tugged on his hair lightly, trying to convey how much he appreciated what Taehyung was doing for him without words. Words took up too much space when the heat was all-consuming, when Namjoon was shaking with need.

Namjoon knelt down to pull Taehyung out of his sweatpants, nuzzling into his groin slightly, where he smelled muskiest, unable to help himself. Taehyung’s hands came to the back of his head and he groaned lightly. Namjoon shed his own clothes eagerly, and drank in Taehyung’s dark gaze. He knew he looked good, knew that his body was attractive to alphas. But it was gratifying to see such a visceral reaction from Taehyung.

As an alpha, Taehyung was physically stronger than him. There was no changing that. But Namjoon had a little height on him, and for the first time, he used his slightly bigger frame to push Taehyung down on his bed. It helped that Taehyung allowed himself to be pushed, falling back with wide eyes, his pupils already so dilated that just the slimmest ring of dark brown was visible.

“Namjoon,” he murmured, as Namjoon crawled up his body and kissed him again, a little faster this time, a little wetter, a little more teeth.

“Fuck,” Taehyung hissed, as Namjoon nipped at his chin and along his jaw, sucked a bruise over the pulse point on his neck. Taehyung made that beautiful, crazy whining sound again when Namjoon licked at the bond mark, and Namjoon’s arousal exploded outward, flooded his whole body, so that he whimpered almost continuously as he trailed kisses along Taehyung’s clavicles and down his chest.

“Namjoon,” Taehyung mumbled again, and Namjoon stopped, looked up at him through his eyelashes, but all Taehyung managed to do was swallow heavily and whisper, “Oh, my god,” so Namjoon kept going.

Taehyung deserved to be worshipped. Namjoon’s heat felt hyper-focused, and all he wanted, all he wanted as an omega right in that moment, was to please Taehyung, to make him feel good, to show him that Namjoon was an omega who could give him anything he wanted. Anything at all.

Experimentally, he licked one of Taehyung’s nipples, circling the little nub with his tongue, and Taehyung gasped. Namjoon scraped lightly with his teeth, and Taehyung’s hands flew to his head, fingers clenching in his hair. Namjoon moved to his other nipple, repeated the process, and reveled in the sounds Taehyung gave him in return.

He was slick. He could feel it dripping down the backs of his thighs, but somehow he managed to ignore it, even though he knew Taehyung could smell it on him. He kissed his way down Taehyung’s stomach, swirled his tongue in Taehyung’s bellybutton, eliciting a full-body twitch.

Namjoon discovered that Taehyung was sensitive along the v-shaped lines that tapered down from his abs toward his groin. Taehyung pulled his hair every time he licked at those beautiful lines, and the feeling was making Namjoon dizzy in the best of ways, so he spent some time on them.

The tops of Taehyungs thighs were ticklish, and Namjoon rubbed his face against them, spreading his scent, drinking in Taehyung’s odd half-giggle half-moan sounds. Namjoon sat up on his heels and lifted one of Taehyung’s long legs and kissed the back of his knee, right at the crease, and Taehyung mewled. So Namjoon did it again, and again, and again, and then switched legs and did it even more, until Taehyung was wailing softly, body jerking under Namjoon’s touch.

Namjoon was so turned on he felt crazy with it. He panted against Taehyung’s skin and licked back up his legs and then couldn’t stop his own hips from dipping into the mattress, aching for some form of relief but not willing to stop his ministrations on Taehyung’s body. He moaned when he finally made it to Taehyung’s cock, hard and leaking and honestly Namjoon’s mouth watered a little at the sight of it.

Taehyung gripped the sheets so hard when Namjoon swallowed him down that he was amazed they didn’t rip. Namjoon bobbed his head slowly, whimpering around Taehyung’s length, savoring it.

“Oh, my god,” said Taehyung, hands flying back to Namjoon’s head, gripping almost harshly at his hair. “Oh, fuck. Oh, baby, your mouth.”

Namjoon let the praise wash over him, let it fuel the fire burning him up, eating him alive from the inside out.

“Fuck, fuck fuck fuck,” chanted Taehyung, heels digging into the mattress, hips lifting off the bed. “You’re ridiculous,” he said, gasping. “I can’t believe you’re real.”

Namjoon took it as the compliment he knew it was. Taehyung tugged on his hair.

“Is this how you want me to come, baby?” he asked.

Namjoon pulled off of him slowly, moaning softly. “Not yet,” he said.

He was amazed he could speak. He was itching to crawl back up Taehyung’s body, to rock into his hips, to feel his knot. It was consuming him. But doing this for Taehyung was making him so hot, was turning him on so much, he couldn’t stop yet. He pushed lightly on Taehyung’s hips, urging him to flip onto his stomach, and after a moment, Taehyung did so.

This was a vulnerable position for him as an alpha, Namjoon knew. No matter how much he trusted Namjoon, no matter how safe he felt, being face down would go against his instincts. The fact that he did it, that he let Namjoon put him on his belly, had Namjoon almost trembling out of his own skin.

“It’s okay,” Namjoon whispered, leaning over him. “It’s okay.”

He massaged his hands over the gorgeous muscles of Taehyung’s back, trying to soothe them, and let his lips follow the path his fingers took. Taehyung relaxed marginally, with each pass of Namjoon’s fingers, until finally he melted into the mattress, giving in to Namjoon’s whims.

Namjoon kissed and touched every inch of Taehyung’s back, and then moved on to the cute, pert swell of his ass and kissed that too. He blinked when confronted with Taehyung’s little puckered hole. It was so pink and small, Namjoon wondered if anyone had ever touched him there, though the omega in him bristled at that idea, at the idea of someone else touching him. Before he really knew what he was doing, Namjoon’s tongue darted out and he licked a stripe up Taehyung’s hole.

“Shit!” Taehyung hissed, pushing up onto his arms briefly and looking back over his shoulder.

Namjoon stopped and looked at him, his eyelids heavy, mouth half open. Taehyung stared back, panting.

“Do that again,” Taehyung said, and Namjoon dove back in immediately, happy to obey.

He licked and licked, and felt like he was absorbing all of Taehyung’s desperate sounds into his own body. He brought his fingers up, but hesitated, unsure. He looked up again, and Taehyung was staring right at him, eyes huge and dark.

“I,” said Namjoon. He wiggled his fingers. “Please can I? I would like to…”

He didn’t know how to say it. He just wanted to make Taehyung feel good. It was all he cared about.

Miraculously, Taehyung nodded. “You need to use lube, or your slick. I don’t self-lubricate like you do.”

Frantically, Namjoon reached behind himself and coated his fingers in his slick. Taehyung widened his legs, bent one knee, his leg moving up, so that Namjoon could fit more comfortably behind him. He had dropped his head again so that it was resting comfortably on his folded arms. He looked completely relaxed. But he also still seemed somehow completely in control. Namjoon gazed at him, marveling.

“Sometime today, Namjoon,” said Taehyung after a moment, teasing, his smile soft.

Namjoon used probably more of his slick than was necessary, and he went very slowly, but he still couldn’t believe how tight Taehyung was when he finally worked a finger in. Alphas weren’t built the same way omegas, or even betas, were. Their bodies weren’t meant for this the way that omega’s bodies were. But Namjoon knew, hypothetically, that many alphas enjoyed being a receiving partner.

Taehyung seemed to be enjoying it, based on his sounds, his pleas as Namjoon oh so carefully worked a second finger inside him. Every noise he made was one of encouragement, and he wasn’t afraid to shift around, to guide Namjoon’s fingers until Namjoon found that one spot that, when pressed, actually did cause Taehyung to rip the sheets.

When Taehyung asked, quietly, if Namjoon wanted to fuck him, Namjoon thought he must have misheard, and so didn’t answer.

“Namjoon,” said Taehyung, more forcefully, lifting up onto his arms and looking back, and finally Namjoon glanced up. “Would you like to fuck me?”

Namjoon blinked at him. “Would I like to…” he said, absently. “What?”

Taehyung smiled. “Do you want to fuck me? With more than your fingers?”

Namjoon stared at him, baffled, but his body screamed yes, yes, yes! He was fairly certain he had never been so hard in his life, and the heat was turning into a real fever now, was making him shiver and shake and feel almost blinded with desire.

“I,” said Namjoon. “I never have before. With a male alpha.”

“Okay,” said Taehyung, patiently. “But do you want to? With me?”

“I,” Namjoon repeated, like he was broken. “I. Yes. Yes, I want to. But do you? I mean, is that even something… are you asking just because you think…?”

Taehyung laughed. But it wasn’t mean. It was pleasant, a little low, a little needy. “I want you to,” he said. “Namjoon. I want you to. Fuck me.”

 

Sliding into Taehyung was almost enough to make Namjoon black out.

He was shaking so much he was amazed he was still holding himself up.

God, no wonder alphas went crazy trying to be with omegas during their heat. This was… this was so good it was almost beyond words. Taehyung was so tight and warm and perfect, and he made the best noises.

Namjoon had never known it could feel this good. He loved being an omega. He loved being the receiving partner. But he had never known that as a male omega, he could have this. It had never occurred to him that he might meet a male alpha who would let him try this.

Though many alphas believed there was nothing wrong with switching, it was something of an alpha complex, a societal standard, that they always be on top, always be in control, always be dominant. Omegas were traditionally thought of as the submissive partner.

But Taehyung was letting him do this. Taehyung was letting him.

Omegas had no room for choice during a heat. Even with mated pairs, omegas were at the mercy of the more dominant subgender. There was no choice.

By letting him do this, during a heat, Taehyung was giving him the ability to choose.

 

He went slowly, because Taehyung’s body took a lot of time to adjust, but eventually they found a rhythm, and Namjoon tried his best to hit Taehyung’s prostate on every thrust.

The slide was so sweet, it felt so good, Namjoon wasn’t sure how long he could last.

More than that, the heat was burning him up, and as much as he wanted to please Taehyung, and as grateful as he was, he needed Taehyung, needed to feel Taehyung inside him even as he slid inside Taehyung.

“Taehyung,” he gasped, knees slipping on the sheets. “Taehyung, I need. I need!”

Taehyung seemed to know without being told. He urged Namjoon to pull out, and moved quickly, reversing their positions. Namjoon was startled to see that Taehyung’s knot had already started to swell, and that made him even hotter, knowing that it had felt good enough for him that his body showed his reaction so physically.

But Taehyung wrapping around him, holding him close, sliding inside him, that felt right.

Namjoon’s eyes rolled back at the feel of Taehyung’s knot starting to push past his rim.

“You’re so sweet,” said Taehyung, voice raspy, as he thrust shallowly, easing his knot inside Namjoon. “You’re so sweet. Oh, my god, look at you. You’re so perfect.”

Right before Taehyung knotted him, Namjoon had a thought that this was going to ruin him. It struck him like a lightning bolt, almost at the same moment that he came so hard he screamed.

This was going to ruin him. How was he going to be satisfied with other alphas, after this?

But then his orgasm rocked him, and Taehyung’s knot slipped fully inside him, and they shook together, sobbing.

 

Namjoon’s heat broke on the fourth day.

He was exhausted and achy by then, almost entirely dependent on Taehyung for even the simplest of things, even walking from one room to another.

They didn’t do much other than laze around, listening to music together and watching cheesy dramas as Namjoon recovered. It was strange, knowing that things were going to be different now, and Namjoon knew they needed to talk. So finally, on the evening of the fourth day, Namjoon took Taehyung’s hands and paused the drama playing on his laptop. They were sitting on the couch—Taehyung still hadn’t said anything about the couch facing the wall, so perhaps he wasn’t surprised—and Taehyung turned to him, smiling a little like he knew what Namjoon was going to say.

“Thank you,” said Namjoon. “I didn’t want an alpha at all for this heat, which is a long story by itself, but anyway. I’m glad that I found you. Thank you for helping me.”

Taehyung leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “Thank you for claiming me,” he said in response. From the look on his face, Namjoon could tell it was not even a small fraction of all that Taehyung wanted to say. “Namjoon,” he began, slowly. “We need to talk about the bond.”

Namjoon’s stomach seized up, but he nodded. He had been dreading this, and ignoring it for too long did not make it easier to talk about now. “Of course,” he said, trying to disguise that his voice was shaking. “I understand. Do you want to sever it before you leave?”

Taehyung blinked at him. His face had gone white. “Sever it?” he asked faintly. “No, oh my god, Namjoon, no. I. That is not at all what I want.”

Now it was Namjoon’s turn to blink. For a moment his ears rang. Relief flooded him. “It’s not?”

“No,” said Taehyung firmly, shaking his head. He squeezed Namjoon’s fingers. “Do you… do you not remember asking me if we were true mates? I guess you were a little delirious at the time.”

“I asked that?” Namjoon had no memory of asking that. But he could certainly feel the bond now, quaking at the words true mates.

Taehyung nodded.

“Oh,” said Namjoon. He looked down. “I’m sorry. I know that’s an invasive question. I wasn’t thinking straight.”

“I know,” said Taehyung. “But Namjoon, regardless of your state of mind when asking it, my answer is the same.”

Namjoon stared at him. He felt like he was barely breathing. He pulled his hands away from Taehyung’s and buried them in the blanket on his couch.

“What are you saying?” he asked. “Are you saying that… Are we true mates?”

He almost felt silly asking. He felt like, even after a week, he knew the answer.

“Yes,” said Taehyung, and something about how he said it, the belief behind his own words, sent all of the pieces in Namjoon’s mind clicking into place. Their easy familiarity. Their chemistry. Their complimentary scents. How connected Namjoon felt to him, already, after so short a time.

Of course Taehyung was different from the other alphas he had been with. Taehyung was always going to be different.

“How long have you known?” Namjoon wondered.

“Since the moment I saw you,” Taehyung said.

Namjoon’s gaze snapped up. “That long?” he asked, floored. “Really? Why didn’t you say anything?” And then, without giving Taehyung time to respond, “Were you planning on telling me at all? Would you have just left, without telling me?”

Taehyung bit his lip, hesitating. “It’s not something you tell, Namjoon. It’s something you feel. I thought that you had figured it out, when you initiated the bond. I thought you must have known then. Because we both could feel it. But you didn’t say anything. And I second-guessed myself.”

“But then I asked about it,” said Namjoon, filling in the gaps. “I asked about it during my heat.”

Taehyung nodded. “Yeah. And then I thought you must know, even if you hadn’t recognized yet.”

“I did,” said Namjoon, with conviction, suddenly very sure. “I did know. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything right away.”

Taehyung shook his head, hushing him. “A bond like this isn’t small,” he said. “I think I would have been more worried if you accepted it straight away.”

Namjoon felt shy, suddenly. It was strange, because Taehyung was now, truly, the last person he needed to feel shy around. But it hit him all at once that he was sitting on his backwards couch with his true mate. Some people lived their whole lives without finding what Namjoon had found accidentally in the school library.

“What do we do now?” asked Namjoon. “Where do we go from here?”

Taehyung picked at loose fibers on the blanket with his fingers, but he looked at Namjoon.

“I think, first of all, we should leave the bond as it is. It would be very painful, for both of us, were it to be severed.”

Namjoon knew that was true. He had heard horror stories of bonds being severed between true mates. A painful separation was about the best you could hope for. Namjoon had heard of mated pairs dying as a result of severing the bond.

Taehyung looked at Namjoon through his eyelashes, biting his lower lip. “I would like to date you. Properly. Slowly. I want to know you outside of your heat. I want us to be friends. Do you think—Is that something you might want?”

Namjoon felt sort of like he was living in a fairy tale, and had found his prince charming. Knowing that Taehyung wasn’t going to disappear, that he wanted to stick around, that he wanted to be with Namjoon, it was making him feel light enough to just float away.

It was what he had wanted his whole life.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I want that.” He smiled at Taehyung. “We shouldn’t make the bond permanent yet. We should wait.”

Taehyung agreed with him. “We’ll date. We’ll take it slow. And if we find out that this—” He gestured between them, “isn’t going to work, then we’ll hire a professional Bond Breaker to sever the link.” It looked like it physically hurt Taehyung to say that, and it made Namjoon feel a little sick hearing it, but he appreciated that it had been said.

“And if it does work? This thing between us.”

Taehyung grinned. “Then we can talk about making the bond permanent.”

Namjoon’s stomach fluttered. “Okay,” he said. “Okay.”

For several long minutes they just sat there, blushing at each other.

Namjoon had no idea what to say. It felt like they’d just had simultaneously the easiest and most important talk of their lives, and Namjoon wondered if it was always going to be like this with Taehyung. Easy.

“I guess you should meet the rest of my pack,” said Namjoon finally. “You know, at some point.”

Taehyung nodded eagerly. “Yes! I would like that. I’ve never had a pack of my own.” He paused. “Well, I have my family, of course. But I’ve never had a chosen pack, not the way you do.”

“You’ve already met half of them,” said Namjoon, smiling. “There’s just Seok—”

“Seokjin,” said Taehyung. “I know Jin hyung, of course. But I’ve never met his mate. Jeongguk, isn’t it?”

Namjoon peered at him. He had to tighten his grip on the blanket because for a moment he was so dizzy he almost fell off the couch.

“Yes. Jeon Jeongguk,” said Namjoon. His mouth was suddenly extremely dry. “You know Jin,” he said blankly. “How do you know Jin?”

“We’re in the same drama club!” said Taehyung excitedly. “Our group meets twice a month. Didn’t I tell you that? I could have sworn I’d told you that.”

Namjoon wanted to shake his head, but the room was spinning so much he was afraid of adding to it. “No,” he said faintly.

“Oh,” said Taehyung, looking perplexed. But then he shrugged. “Well, anyway, Jin hyung is the one who told me about you in the first place! I remember clearly because he said that you used to be a student of—”

Namjoon’s ears were ringing. He stared at Taehyung’s lips, but he couldn’t hear anything that was being said. Taehyung must have noticed, because he waved a hand in front of Namjoon’s eyes, and Namjoon shook his head, swaying.

“Jin hyung told you about me,” Namjoon finally said. His voice sounded nothing like it normally did. It sounded completely foreign to his own ears.

“Well, yeah,” said Taehyung. He looked extremely concerned. “Namjoon, are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

He could only imagine. He felt terrible, like he might lean over and vomit, even though his heat was finished. Of course. Of course. It really had been too good to be true.

“Jin hyung told you about me,” Namjoon repeated, woodenly. “He sent you to me.”

Taehyung paused. His face looked like he was starting to realize how delicate the conversation had suddenly become.

“He told me I would like you,” said Taehyung slowly, watching Namjoon carefully. “He told me your name. He suggested I ask you out. But hyung, this was ages—”

Namjoon stumbled off the couch, shaking his head rapidly, waving his hands in front of him.

“No,” he said, careening backwards, hitting the wall and an end table. “No. I don’t want to hear it. I. I trusted you. You acted like you didn’t know me.”

Taehyung stood up. He looked honestly shocked at the turn they had taken.

“What?” he asked. “But Namjoon I didn’t know you. I don’t understand what you’re saying. I’m not sure what I did wrong—”

“I trusted you,” Namjoon repeated. “I-I told Jin I could do this on my own. I told him. If this was a set up why didn’t you just tell me?”

Taehyung looked completely baffled, but Namjoon was already in his head.

He should have known. The second he smelled Taehyung, he should have known. It was too good to be true. Meeting his true mate in the library? That didn’t just happen.

“Are we,” asked Namjoon, gasping for air. “Are we even true mates? Or did you lie about that too? I,” he paused, swallowing heavily. He had broken out in a cold sweat. “I believed you.”

“What?” asked Taehyung again, now looking alarmed. “Namjoon what? Of course we are. Why on earth would I—”

But Namjoon didn’t know. He couldn’t tell. He could feel the bond, but what did that mean? Did that mean they were true mates? Could he trust anything Taehyung said? How could he be sure that Taehyung was right? That they were true mates? He didn’t know. He was confused.

“I would have bonded with you, permanently,” he said, feeling so sick he almost fell over. “I would have done it. And it all would have been a lie.”

Taehyung’s face had lost all color. His mouth opened, but he didn’t say anything. He took a step forward.

“No!” shouted Namjoon, throwing his hands up again, and Taehyung stopped. “Leave. You need to leave. I want you to leave.”

Taehyung swallowed and blinked rapidly several times. “Namjoon, can we please talk about this? There’s been a misunderstanding.”

“Leave,” said Namjoon again, shaking his head. “I don’t want you here.”

His voice sounded harsh. Taehyung flinched back. And Namjoon, feeling hurt, and betrayed, and like a complete, love-sick fool, reached inside himself, to that quivering, nervous mating bond, and pinched his end of the bond shut, closing himself off to both it and Taehyung.

Taehyung stumbled back so hard he tripped over Namjoon’s armchair and fell. His face had gone from white to grey. He looked like he might be sick at any moment. He had one hand over the bite on his neck, and the other over his heart. He stared up at Namjoon from the floor.

“What did you just do?” he asked. He was shaking. “Namjoon, what did you do? Where… where did you go? I-I can’t feel you anymore.”

Namjoon stared down at him, shocked. He instantly wanted to take it back, to undo what he had just done. He felt empty. And cold. Like something important, something vital to him, had just blinked out of existence. He went back in, looking, looking, but it wasn’t there. He couldn’t find it. His half of the bond was just… gone.

“What, what,” gasped Taehyung, panting. He looked completely lost. “What did you? How could you? I can’t feel you. You’re gone. You’re gone.”

Taehyung surged to his feet, still clutching his neck and his heart. He looked devastated. Namjoon had no idea what to do or say. Taehyung inhaled rapidly, several deep breaths, and scuttled sideways, going to retrieve his things from Namjoon’s room. Namjoon couldn’t move. He was barely breathing.

Taehyung came back out holding a pile of clothing. He shot Namjoon a look. His eyes were full of tears, and when he blinked they streamed down his face, though he didn’t make a sound. At the sight of it, at the sight of Taehyung crying because of something Namjoon had done and now couldn’t take back, Namjoon’s legs gave out, and he crumpled to the floor.

Taehyung opened his mouth to say something. Nothing came out. He looked like he wanted to take a step toward Namjoon. But he didn’t. He was grasping at the space over his heart. A fresh wave of tears cascaded over his cheeks, and he turned and left, shutting the door with barely a sound behind him.

Namjoon folded over. His head hit the floor hard enough that spots danced in his vision.

He figured it was the least he deserved.

 

He called Seokjin.

“Namjoon! Is your heat over? I want to hear about this alpha of yours! Jimin wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“Hyung,” said Namjoon, and then stopped. What could he possibly say?

“Namjoon,” said Seokjin, sounding worried. “Namjoon are you crying?”

Was he? He hadn’t realized.

“Hyung,” he repeated. “I did something bad. I-I did something really, really bad, and hyung, I need help.”

In the background, he heard the sound of a door slamming, of Seokjin yelling out to Jeongguk and then panting as he sprinted toward his car.

“Are you at home?” asked Seokjin urgently. “Stay there, Namjoon. I’m on my way.”

Namjoon nodded. Remembered that Seokjin couldn’t see it.

“Okay,” he said.

“Stay on the phone with me,” said Seokjin, and Namjoon heard the sound of his car starting. “I’ll be there soon.”

Namjoon had gone into his room to find his phone, but his room smelled so much like Taehyung that he didn’t want to stay there. He shuffled out to his kitchen and laid down on the cool tile floor. He turned on the speaker and set his phone down next to his face so that he could hear Seokjin talking.

He closed his eyes.

He waited.

Chapter Text

Namjoon felt like he was living inside a dream.

Everything was sort of hazy and distorted and far away, almost as if he was underwater, watching things happen on the surface while he was stuck at the bottom. Even sounds seemed far away. He tuned out Seokjin’s voice on the phone. He barely noticed when Seokjin arrived at his apartment. He felt floaty and almost not real, like this was happening to someone else, not him.

“…Namjoon… Namjoon…”

Seokjin’s voice, followed by Seokjin’s scent. Jin always smelled so nice, so familiar. Namjoon always felt a little safer when he could smell Jin.

“…Jeongguk, help me…”

Strong arms, and then an alpha scent. It made Namjoon wrinkle his nose, that scent. It wasn’t the right one; it wasn’t the alpha scent he wanted. But it was Jeongguk. And Jeongguk was familiar too. Family.

“…be okay, Namjoon…”

Namjoon opened his eyes. Seokjin’s face was hovering right next to his, a little blurry, though Namjoon wasn’t sure why. He smiled tiredly.

“I know,” he said, voice soft, and Seokjin sniffed. “Thanks for coming.”

Seokjin’s lower lip trembled. “We’re taking you to a doctor,” he said.

“If you want,” said Namjoon, sighing. He felt so tired. Jeongguk’s shoulder was nice, so he rested his head on it.

“It’s going to be okay, hyung,” Jeongguk murmured, nuzzling the top of his head.

“I know,” said Namjoon, humming, right before he fell asleep.

 

The next time Namjoon woke up, it was the middle of the night. The steady thrum of machinery, the eerie quiet, the clean, sterile smell of disinfectant, told Namjoon he was in a hospital. He rolled over. His room was dark, and his eyes were swollen, but he could see someone sitting in the chair by his bed. Someone with long legs and a lean body and floppy brown hair.

Namjoon inhaled, and that was the right scent. That was the alpha scent he needed. It smelled just like Taehyung.

How cruel it was, Namjoon thought, right before he drifted back to sleep, for his imagination to conjure up Taehyung now. How cruel it was to dream of him, right down to his scent, after Namjoon had ruined any chance at having him in his waking hours.

 

When Namjoon woke up again, he was in Yoongi, Hoseok, and Jimin’s spare bedroom. He took a moment to collect himself, to gather his bearings. He pressed his hands into the downy blanket, feeling it’s softness and warmth. He inhaled quietly. This room smelled so different from his own apartment. But it was pack smells. Home.

Yoongi was sitting next to the bed, reading. His reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose, and he licked his thumb lightly before turning each page. Namjoon watched him for a minute before rolling his head on the pillow and shifting under the blankets, making enough noise that Yoongi looked up at him.

“Joon-ah,” he said, snapping his book shut, dropping it mindlessly to the floor as he stood up.

He cupped Namjoon’s face, thumbs brushing under his eyes. His nose was a little red, and his eyes were slightly puffy. Namjoon had a brief, intense moment of guilt. He never wanted to make Yoongi cry.

“Hi hyung,” croaked Namjoon. He coughed a little. His throat felt tight.

Yoongi breathed out a sigh of relief, closing his eyes for just a moment before he released Namjoon’s face and darted to the door.

“Hyung!” he called, clutching the doorframe, seemingly unwilling to step out of the room entirely.

Namjoon sat up slowly, groaning, and Yoongi was back by his side in a heartbeat, pulling the pillows up against the headboard so that Namjoon could lean back against them.

“How long have I…?” asked Namjoon, wincing as he settled.

“A few days,” said Yoongi quietly. “Too long.”

Namjoon looked down, heart sinking. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Yoongi tilted his head up, grip almost too tight on Namjoon’s chin. “You’re awake now,” he said. “That’s what matters.”

Seokjin came in, breathless, carrying a glass of water. At the sight of Namjoon awake, sitting up, he started crying.

“Hyung,” said Namjoon, reaching for him. “Don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”

Seokjin helped him drink the water, sniffling continuously, tears pouring down his cheeks, which were splotchy and red. His hair looked a little greasy, like maybe he hadn’t washed it for a couple of days. His shirt was on inside out.

“I was so scared,” he said, his voice low and scratchy. “Namjoon, I was so scared. I thought they weren’t going to let us bring you home. It was almost serious enough that they didn’t.”

Namjoon felt tears well in his own eyes. “I’m sorry, hyung. I’m sorry.”

Seokjin crawled into bed with him and carefully arranged them so that Namjoon was leaning on him just as much as he was on the pillows. The soft material of Seokjin’s shirt grew damp under Namjoon’s wet eyes. Yoongi retreated out of the room, but Namjoon could see his shadow outside the door. His instincts wouldn’t let him go far. Two of his pack omegas were in distress, and he would stay with them until they weren’t anymore.

“I made a mistake, hyung,” said Namjoon, once he stopped crying enough to speak. “I made a mistake, and I’m not sure how to fix it.”

Slowly, the entire story came out. Seokjin moved his fingers through Namjoon’s hair the whole time, petting lightly, always soothing. Namjoon wasn’t sure what he had ever done in life to deserve a friend like Kim Seokjin, but he took advantage of it now and poured his heart out to what sometimes felt like the only person in the world who truly understood him.

For someone who liked to talk so much, Seokjin was a good listener. He knew exactly when to stay quiet, when to make sympathetic noises, when to hit the pressure points on Namjoon’s head with his slightly crooked fingers, instantly calming Namjoon down.

When Namjoon got to the part about Taehyung knowing Seokjin, Jin’s fingers tightened momentarily in his hair.

“Namjoon,” he said, his voice low and urgent. “You have to believe that I wouldn’t interfere. I didn’t interfere. I promise. I would never trick you like that. And Taehyung. He’s a good person, Namjoon. A genuinely good person. He would never trick you like that either.”

Namjoon choked back a sob. He nodded against Seokjin’s shoulder. “I know that, hyung.”

“I told Taehyung about you months ago,” Seokjin continued, pulling Namjoon up slightly and turning him so that they could see eye to eye. “Before your last heat. Almost a year ago, Namjoon. But Taehyung was applying for some sort of internship at the time, and he was really stressed about it.”

“Doctors Without Borders,” said Namjoon, sniffing.

“That’s the one,” agreed Seokjin, pointing. “Anyway, he said that once he was finished with the application he would be interested in meeting you, but then it never came up again. And then you found a different alpha for your heat and I sort of forgot about it. There’s no way I told him enough about you that he would have known it was you when you first met. I never even showed him your picture. I promise.”

Namjoon nodded. “I know, hyung. I believe you.” He wiped his nose. “And even if he had known it was me, it shouldn’t have mattered. There are an infinite number of ways we could have met, thousands of ways, all of them different. But the one constant would have been that we are true mates.” He paused, his face crumpling. “Were true mates. God, I fucked up, hyung. I really fucked up. I severed the bond. How could I do that? How could I do that to him?”

Seokjin looked at him, startled. He waved his hands. “No, Namjoon, no.”

But Namjoon shook his head, interrupting. “It’s practically a violation, what I did. Alphas can’t make or break bonds on their own, but the severance should be a process that involves both partners and I just… I just did it. Without asking. I didn’t give him a choice at all.” He stopped, and when he continued again, he thought that his voice sounded smaller than it ever had before. He was trembling. “I think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done to another human being.”

He was going to cry again. He could feel it. Already the room was going slightly blurry. Seokjin grasped his shoulders, steadying him.

“You didn’t sever it, Namjoon,” he said firmly, making sure that Namjoon heard him. “It’s not severed. It’s still there.”

Namjoon swallowed. Blinked. “What?” he asked.

“In the hospital they—the doctors—brought a bond healer in to see you,” said Seokjin. He hesitated. “We thought at first maybe you had been assaulted.” Seokjin saw the look on Namjoon’s face and hurried on. “It was me and Jeongguk who found you. We didn’t know it was Taehyung you had spent your heat with. I thought that you had been hurt. You were barely responsive.”

“Taehyung would never hurt me,” said Namjoon, and it was startling, the way he was still so sure about that, despite what he had done, despite the way that he had hurt Taehyung. Somehow, he just knew. Taehyung would never hurt him.

“I know that now,” said Seokjin patiently. “And the doctors figured out right away that it was something to do with the bond. So they brought in a bond healer, and she said it’s still there. The bond is still there, Joon-ah. You didn’t sever it.”

“I didn’t?” asked Namjoon, blinking. He looked inside himself, searching for the bond. He could feel where it was supposed to be, like a gaping hole. “But it’s not there. I don’t understand? If I didn’t sever it, what did I do?”

Seokjin bit his lip. He looked like he didn’t want to answer.

Namjoon took his hands. “Please tell me,” he said. “I need. I need to know. You have to tell me. Please.”

Seokjin stared at him, his eyes wide. “You halved yourself.”

Namjoon felt bile crawl up his throat, and he shuddered. Halving. It was almost worse than severance, in a way. When a bond was severed, it was like it had never been there to begin with. No pain, unless it was between a mated pair. One moment the bond was there and the next it just wasn’t. That was it.

But halving. Halving was completely different. It was, literally, closing half of an intact bond. The halved partner would feel nothing, not even a hint of the bond. But they would know that the bond should be there. They would be able to feel the space where it had been.

“Oh, my god,” said Namjoon, gasping. “Oh, my god. I’m-I’m going to be sick.”

He tried to get out of bed, but his body was weak and he knew he wouldn’t make it. Yoongi, who had been hovering outside the door, darted in with a trashcan and didn’t seem at all phased when Namjoon vomited stomach acid into it. He had no food in his stomach, nothing to properly throw up, so he just dry heaved after that, gasping. Seokjin rubbed his back and helped him drink water after Yoongi left the room, looking stoic and slightly ashen.

“Halved,” Namjoon murmured, faintly, coughing. He turned to Seokjin with wide eyes. “Is Taehyung? Is he okay? Is he—is he okay?”

Seokjin bit his lip. “I don’t know,” he answered. “The bond healer said that he’s probably faring better than you, but that…”

Namjoon felt his stomach sinking. “But what?”

Seokjin sighed. “There can be lingering side effects for alphas, ones that don’t show up right away. She said that—” Again, Seokjin paused, clearly unwilling to divulge what had to be said next. “She said that if the bond is restored, you’ll both be fine. But that if it isn’t, if you can’t figure out how to restore it, then there’s a chance that the trauma of halving could cause Taehyung to go feral.”

For a second Namjoon just stared at him, sure he had misheard.

Then the room spun. Everything in Namjoon’s field of vision tilted, as if the entire room had just been flipped on its axis. It took him a moment to realize that he was the one who had moved, not the room.

“I need to lie down,” said Namjoon, even as Seokjin caught him from knocking his head on the edge of the headboard as he tipped sideways.

“It’s a worst-case scenario, Namjoon,” said Seokjin quickly, propping him up on the pillows. His hands were shaking against Namjoon’s shoulders. “It probably won’t happen. It won’t happen,” he said, voice firm, “because I believe that you can fix the bond. Okay?”

“Okay,” said Namjoon, and then passed out.

 

Dinner that night was a solemn affair.

The entire pack gathered at Yoongi, Jimin, and Hoseok’s small house. Jeongguk got takeout from Namjoon’s favorite restaurant, because Seokjin didn’t want to cook. They all tried so hard to be normal. They made jokes. They laughed. Hoseok and Jimin kept up a steady stream of conversation, so that there was never a silent moment. But they were all a little red around the edges. They were all a little puffy, a little swollen.

Looking at them, Namjoon fully understood the gravity of the situation. They had been afraid for him. For a brief time, they hadn’t known if Namjoon was going to recover.

Namjoon loved them.

And because he loved them, he tried his hardest to participate in the conversation. He tried to joke with Jimin. He tried to smile with Hoseok. He tried to make Jeongguk—who was white as a sheet, who had obviously been crying—laugh. But his food remained in his bowl, untouched. He could barely even look at it.

“Can you try and eat?” asked Yoongi finally.

Everyone glanced at Namjoon’s untouched dinner and then away again. Namjoon swallowed.

“I can’t,” he said. His stomach was rolling just thinking about it.

“It’s been days, Namjoon,” said Yoongi quietly. “You haven’t had anything for days. Please can you try? Just one bite? I’m-I’m begging you here. This is as much as I can do without Ordering you.”

Namjoon looked at his food. Knife noodles and beef. It was his favorite. He picked up his chopsticks with one hand and his soup spoon with the other and let them hover over the bowl. He could almost hear his heart beating.

He wasn’t hungry. Not for this. He wanted Taehyung’s ricey, eggy soup. He wanted Taehyung.

He looked up at Yoongi. “I,” he said, and paused to swallow. “I’m going to need that Order, hyung.”

Yoongi stared at him for a long moment, his eyes fathomless. When he spoke, it was in the deep, reverberating tone of an Order. “Eat,” he said. “Slowly. As much as you can until you feel full.”

Namjoon’s spine straightened. He didn’t fight it. He scooped up some noodles and ate.

 

Later, long after Yoongi, Jimin, and Hoseok had gone to sleep, Namjoon snuck out of the spare bedroom and down the hall to the bathroom, where he vomited up everything he had eaten. He didn’t want to. But his body felt like it was rebelling against him. Maybe it was. Maybe he deserved it for what he had done.

He sat against the wall in the dark afterwards, legs stretched out long on the cold tile floor, head falling listlessly toward his right shoulder. He pulled up Taehyung’s contact info on his phone and stared at his number for a long time. They needed to talk. Namjoon had to fix the bond.

Before he could really think about it, he hit the call button. He listened to the phone ring on the other end of the line for five full seconds before he remembered it was the middle of the night, and quickly hung up. He stared at his phone, breathing hard.

He hit the call button again. This time he let it ring out, and couldn’t tell if it was disappointment or relief swooping in his stomach when the call went to voicemail.

“Hi,” he said, whispering hoarsely. “We should talk. We-we need to talk. Please call me. If you can.” He breathed quietly for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, and hung up.

There was a small window in the bathroom, and a dappled beam of moonlight slanted through it, crossing Namjoon’s outstretched legs. He turned, shifting, until he could lie down on the floor with his face in the moonlight. His mother had told him once as a child that if you could fall asleep in the moonlight, you wouldn’t have nightmares. As long as you were in the light, bad thoughts couldn’t touch you.

Namjoon had stopped believing it long ago.

But he still made sure as much of his face was in that beam of light as was possible before he fell into a restless sleep.

 

He dreamed that the whites of Taehyung’s eyes turned yellow and sickly, that he shut himself in a dark room and refused to come out no matter how much and how desperately Namjoon pleaded.

He woke up in the early morning, sore and with a stiff neck, and snuck back into bed before anyone could find him in the bathroom. He couldn’t fall asleep again, so he just stared at the ceiling, his mind spinning.

Feral.

It happened to alphas sometimes, after a traumatic event or experience. It was a psychological condition, a break from reality that allowed the alpha to retreat to a base, instinctual level, divorcing him or herself slowly from their own humanity, from all of their evolutionary gains, until they were little more than an animalistic remnant of the alphas from bygone eras.

Sometimes it happened quickly, in a few days. Sometimes it could take years for an alpha to go fully feral. But the first visible sign was the distinct yellowing of the eyes.

Some doctors called it a coping mechanism. But alphas who had gone feral were often institutionalized, usually by their own packs or families, and that didn’t seem like coping to Namjoon.

Other doctors, highly trained and respected in their fields, had started treating feral alphas the same way they would treat patients with depression, or post-traumatic stress. Namjoon had read a few of the studies. The results were overwhelmingly positive so far, and were improving case by case.

In a worst-case scenario, if Namjoon couldn’t fix the bond, this was what awaited Taehyung.

 

It took three more days of sleeping in the spare bedroom before Namjoon convinced Yoongi that he was well enough to go home.

Yoongi was clearly unhappy about it, grumbling and growling lowly as Namjoon gathered his things to leave, but he seemed to understand that he couldn’t make Namjoon stay forever. He insisted on driving Namjoon back to his apartment, absolutely refused to listen when Namjoon said he could walk.

“Don’t be stupid,” Yoongi hissed, though not entirely unkindly. “I think a light breeze might knock you over right now.”

In the car, Namjoon checked his call logs. He had called Taehyung five times over the past three days, each time leaving him a nearly identical voicemail. Taehyung had yet to return any of his calls.

“You have to stop torturing yourself, Namjoon,” said Yoongi, glancing at him briefly, tightening his grip on the steering wheel. “He’ll call you when he’s ready.”

Namjoon pocketed his phone with a sigh. “But hyung, what if he doesn’t?”

“He will,” said Yoongi firmly. “You might be halved, but he’s still your alpha. He’ll call you. But you need to give him a little space right now, if that’s what he wants, okay? Trust me.”

“Yeah,” said Namjoon, sighing again. “Okay.”

When they made it to Namjoon’s apartment, Yoongi hesitated before turning the car off and unbuckling his seatbelt. “Maybe I should come in,” he said, and Namjoon groaned.

“Hyung,” he said. “No. I’m fine. I need a little bit of space too, okay?”

Yoongi didn’t look convinced.

“What if you bring me dinner tonight?” asked Namjoon. “Would that help? You can Order me to eat and we’ll all pretend to be a happy, normal pack.”

Yoongi raised an eyebrow, and Namjoon immediately felt guilty for his petulant tone. “Sorry,” he murmured. “Hyung, I promise I’m okay. I’m just going to go in and take a nap. Bring me dinner tonight, okay? I’ll even try to eat it without an Order.”

Yoongi started the car again, glaring out the windshield. “Fine,” he said. “Dinner. I’m holding you to that, Joon-ah.”

Namjoon nodded. “Thanks, hyung,” he said. He grasped Yoongi’s upper arm and squeezed briefly. “Thank you. You know, for everything.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Yoongi grumbled. “Just get better. That’ll be thanks enough.”

Stepping into his apartment for the first time in almost a week felt strange, simply because nothing looked different. But the smell. It smelled so much like Taehyung that Namjoon reeled back, leaning heavily against his closed front door, breathing through his mouth.

He should have realized that everything would smell like Taehyung. But it hadn’t occurred to him. It almost felt like stepping into a dream, like he had gone back in time. But this, being able to smell Taehyung, but not really having him, it was like a cheap imitation of the real thing.

Namjoon shuffled to the bathroom and dug around under his sink until he found a box of face masks. He pulled one on, and that helped block the smell a little bit. It would be easier, he thought, if he could get used to not smelling Taehyung now. He pulled out all of the cleaning supplies he owned and set to work.

He bagged up all of his sheets and blankets, anything that had been on his bed, to take to the laundromat later. He fitted new, clean sheets over his mattress and then scrubbed down every surface in his room. He moved that way from one room to the next around his small apartment, methodically cleaning, ridding his home of any lingering smells from his heat. He was sweating by the time he reached the kitchen, sweating and shaking a little bit, from lack of energy and proper rest.

He stopped to drink a glass of water, leaning over the kitchen sink, and his eyes alighted on a framed photograph of him and Seokjin at their favorite noodle house. Seokjin had coerced one of the employees into taking it for them. Namjoon remembered feeling embarrassed, but he still smiled and held up a peace sign as Seokjin blew kisses and tossed finger hearts toward the camera. It was one of Namjoon’s favorite photos, and the sill of the tiny window above his kitchen sink had seemed like a good place for it.

Namjoon didn’t even realize that his grip on the glass he was holding had loosened until it crashed to the floor, shattering. Even then, he barely noticed. He stared at the photo, his mind racing.

Taehyung would have seen it. He had spent hours in Namjoon’s kitchen making him food and preparing for his heat. He would have seen it. Namjoon turned, stepping over the glass, pulling his facemask down so it circled his neck. He almost felt faint as he surveyed his living room.

There were photographs everywhere. He had hung several photos of the pack on the back wall, including a few of him and Seokjin, and one of Seokjin and Jeongguk. His couch was facing the wall. He and Taehyung had watched dramas there, facing those photographs.

There was a photo of the entire pack on the small table by the armchair. There were several photos of Namjoon and Seokjin tucked artfully between books on his corner bookcase, some having been taken when they were both children. Namjoon walked dazedly to his room. More photos. Some of them were framed, while some were just lying haphazardly on his desk.

There had always been something special to him about having photos printed. He liked having them, physically, not just in storage on his phone. He liked spreading his friends and family throughout his home, loved seeing their smiles wherever he looked.

But he had grown so used to them, to having so many photographs. He barely noticed them anymore unless he stopped and looked at them directly.

Namjoon swallowed thickly.

Taehyung had to have seen these. All of them. He would have easily connected his friend Seokjin, from drama club, to Namjoon. Proof was littering almost every available surface in Namjoon’s apartment. Taehyung would have noticed.

Namjoon stumbled back against the doorframe, laughing hollowly. Of course. He felt so stupid. If he had waited even a minute, just to let Taehyung explain…

He pulled out his phone and called Taehyung again, even though he had told Yoongi he wouldn’t. It went to voicemail, and this time Namjoon hung up without leaving a message. He didn’t know what else he could say, aside from apologizing, which he had already been doing for days.

He slipped into his shoes and grabbed his keys and left, wandering aimlessly down the street, desperate to get away from the lingering alpha scent and the fumes of household cleaning supplies. He was, in a way, almost glad that he didn’t know where Taehyung lived, since he was sure his feet would have carried him there. Instead, he allowed his mind to wander, trusting that his body would take familiar paths.

It started to rain as he walked, a light drizzle at first and then a steady, soft downpour, until Namjoon’s clothes were wet and his hair was dripping rain water into his eyes.

He barely noticed.

He walked for a long time, until the sun was low in the sky and he reached Mapo Bridge. There was very little traffic due to the rain, and almost no pedestrians, so Namjoon easily hoisted himself up onto a section of rail and held on, staring out at the dark, glittering Han.

He let his mind drift, and he wasn’t sure how long he had been sitting there when his phone started buzzing in his pocket.

“Yeah?” asked Namjoon, answering.

“Where are you?”

It was Yoongi.

“Jimin used his spare key to get us into your apartment. Namjoon, all of the lights are on and there’s glass all over the kitchen. Where are you?”

“What?” asked Namjoon, blinking. “Oh. I guess I forgot about dinner.”

When Yoongi spoke again, his voice was deep, intimidating, and even over the phone Namjoon could hear the Order in it.

“Where are you.”

Namjoon’s body stiffened. “Mapo,” he said, and then hung up before Yoongi could say anything else.

He slipped his phone back in his pocket and proceeded to ignore it, even though he could feel it ring several more times.

He felt light, sort of empty, disconnected in a surreal way from the world around him. He knew it was raining but he couldn’t really feel it. He knew that time was passing, though it seemed fragmented, happening around him, but not to him personally. He barely noticed when the sun set, and only realized that it was fully dark when he turned, looking around at the sudden sound of his name being called.

“Namjoon!”

It was Taehyung.

He was soaking wet and his legs were covered in mud. He was breathing hard, practically panting, and his arms were thrown out in front of him, toward Namjoon, who sat blinking at him, stupefied. He felt himself sway a little, and Taehyung took a quick step forward.

“Don’t move!” he shouted, his expression one of terror, and that was definitely an Order.

Namjoon’s entire body went rigid. His hands clenched on the rail. He became stone.

Taehyung darted toward him, alpha fast, and wrapped his long arms securely around him, pulling him off the railing and away from the edge of the bridge.

All at once, Namjoon realized where he was. He realized what this must have looked like. What Yoongi must have thought on the phone. What Taehyung must have thought, seeing him.

“No,” Namjoon quickly denied, protests muffled by Taehyung’s strong embrace. “No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t going to. I-I would never.”

Taehyung didn’t say anything. He pulled Namjoon, practically carried him, over to a bench and sat him down, arranging him so that he was almost sitting in Taehyung’s lap, his legs covering the rest of the bench. Taehyung squeezed him close and tilted his head up, and then buried his face in Namjoon’s neck, breathing heavily.

“I’m sorry,” Namjoon babbled. “I wasn’t going to jump. I promise. I wasn’t going to.”

“Stop talking,” said Taehyung. “I need you to stop talking for a minute.”

Namjoon’s mouth snapped shut. He could feel the tremors wracking Taehyung’s body, traveling from Taehyung through to him, their proximity like a conduit. The need to apologize again was almost overwhelming. But he clenched his jaw, held it in.

Taehyung breathed into his neck, little puffs of warm air hitting Namjoon’s skin with each of his exhales. Namjoon didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t entirely sure this was really happening. He was still weak enough that he thought he could be hallucinating.

But Taehyung felt real. He was squeezing Namjoon hard enough it almost hurt. He looked real. He certainly smelled real. Even though Namjoon couldn’t feel him through the bond, even though the bond was closed, Taehyung still smelled like his alpha.

Namjoon was starting to shiver by the time Taehyung moved. He pulled away from Namjoon’s neck and looked him over.

“You feel thin,” he said, one hand tracing up the more prominent than usual curve of Namjoon’s spine. “When did you last eat?”

It seemed like the most unusual thing Taehyung could have asked him. Of all the things they needed to say to each other. Taehyung chose that.

Namjoon bit his lip, shrugging. “I can’t keep anything down,” he admitted, quietly, almost ashamed. “Yoongi’s been Ordering me to but… it’s not working.”

Taehyung sighed. He stood up, dislodging Namjoon from his lap and pulling him to his feet.

“Okay,” he said, and reached down, taking Namjoon’s hand, letting their fingers twine. “Let’s get you some dinner.”

Namjoon stared at their interlocked fingers, again fighting the feeling that he was imagining this.

“How did you know I was here?” asked Namjoon.

Taehyung glanced at him. “Yoongi called me.” He offered no other explanation.

Namjoon looked down. “Oh.”

He could hear what Taehyung wasn’t saying. That if the bond was intact, if it was whole, he wouldn’t have needed a call from Yoongi. He would have known. He would have been able to feel Namjoon’s pain.

Taehyung’s apartment was farther away than Namjoon expected, and it occurred to him that Taehyung must have run all the way to the bridge. He opened his mouth to apologize and then immediately closed it again. He let Taehyung pull him along in silence.

Taehyung’s apartment was smaller than Namjoon’s, more of a studio than anything else. The space was a strange mixture of clean and messy, a controlled chaos that Namjoon had seen more than once in the homes of scientists and doctors.

Taehyung immediately pulled him into the bathroom, which was so tiny Namjoon wasn’t sure both of them could actually fit inside it. Taehyung turned on the shower and stripped first Namjoon and then himself out of their rain-drenched clothing. There was nothing sexy about it, nothing seductive, just methodical precision on Taehyung’s part, the alpha instinct to fix things, even if all he could do was get them both clean and dry.

Namjoon wouldn’t go so far as to call it aggression. But the way he was behaving, his reluctance to talk, his body language, it was all more of an alpha dominance show than Namjoon had yet seen from him. And as headstrong as Namjoon could be, he knew when to back down. He knew when it was the right time to be an omega.

He kept at least some portion of his neck bared as Taehyung soaped him down, let Taehyung move him as he saw fit, kept his body language more submissive than he usually ever did. It wasn’t hard. Taehyung was releasing—probably unintentionally—potent pheromones, and they made Namjoon want to submit. And so he did.

It seemed to be the right response. With each passing minute, Taehyung calmed more and more. After they were both clean, Taehyung dropped his forehead onto the top of Namjoon’s shoulder and just stayed that way, for several prolonged heartbeats, letting warm water cascade over them. Namjoon let Taehyung completely take the lead. He followed Taehyung out of the shower, let Taehyung dry him off, took the clothes that Taehyung offered him. Taehyung didn’t have a kitchen table, so Namjoon sat on the couch while Taehyung made him soup, and then ate it under Taehyung’s watchful eye, amazed when his stomach didn’t protest.

“You need to tell Yoongi you’re okay,” said Taehyung after a while, once Namjoon had finished almost his entire bowl of soup.

Namjoon quickly, guiltily, sent off a text to Yoongi and his other friends, telling them he was fine, that he was with Taehyung.

“I wasn’t going to jump,” said Namjoon. “That wasn’t even something I was thinking about.”

Taehyung stared at him. His gaze was intense, but Namjoon felt relief, because his eyes were beautiful and sparkling and all the right colors.

“I want to believe you,” Taehyung admitted. “I want to. But Namjoon you… you have to think about how what you do affects others. All of the choices you make, every action you take, every word you speak. All of that affects your friends and family. And me.”

Namjoon bit his lip. “I know that.”

“Do you?” asked Taehyung, shaking his head. “Because everything you’re doing right now is hurting me.”

Tears stung Namjoon’s eyes. He looked down. “I’m sorry,” he said, and then unable to hold it back, “I tried to reach you. I asked to talk.”

Taehyung flinched. “I know,” he said. He reached out, taking one of Namjoon’s shaking hands between both of his own. His hands were so big. Bigger than Namjoon's. “I’ve been in Daegu, visiting my family. My eomma thought I should spend a couple of days away from my phone. I just got back today.”

“You went to Daegu?” asked Namjoon, his stomach sinking. “To get away from me?”

“No,” said Taehyung firmly, squeezing his hand. “I visited you in the hospital. You were sleeping when I was there. I talked to the bond healer. She said there was nothing that could immediately be done. So I went to Daegu. For myself. Not because of you.”

Namjoon had a sudden flashback to the hospital, to a lone figure by his bed who smelled like Taehyung. He thought he’d dreamed it.

“So you know that the bond isn’t severed?” asked Namjoon.

Taehyung nodded.

Some of the tears that had pooled in Namjoon’s eyes overflowed, falling in streaks down his cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Taehyung,” he said, sniffing, unable to look Taehyung in the eye. “Alpha. I’m so sorry. As soon as I did it I was sorry. I wanted to take it back right—”

Taehyung pulled him to his feet and into a hug. “I know,” he whispered, and for the first time since closing the bond, wrapped tightly in Taehyung’s arms, breathing in his scent, Namjoon felt like things might be okay.

“You should hate me,” he said weakly.

Taehyung pulled back, looked at him with a confused head-tilt. “Hate you?” he asked. “Namjoon, I could never hate you. I hate what you did. But not you. Never you. That would be like hating myself, or a family member. It would be totally nonsensical.”

Namjoon shook his head and hit Taehyung lightly on the chest. “You should hate me,” he repeated. “I would hate me. You should be furious. Why aren’t you angry?”

“I was angry,” Taehyung confessed. “I was so angry I was afraid of what I might do. That’s why I left. But Namjoon, there are more important things than anger. You ended up in the hospital. You halved yourself. Anger feels shallow and meaningless compared to that. I left my anger behind in Daegu.”

It was so frustrating to Namjoon, how Taehyung knew exactly the right thing to say. He was reminded of what Seokjin had said, about Taehyung just being a genuinely good human being. It was maddening and miraculous in equal measure.

“What do we do now?” asked Namjoon.

“Sleep, I think,” said Taehyung. “You look like you haven’t been getting much of it.”

He said nothing at all about Namjoon leaving. It was clear that he didn’t want to let Namjoon out of his sight.

Slipping into Taehyung’s bed felt surreal. He had almost convinced himself he would never have this again. Even if this was temporary, Namjoon thought, even if this was just instinct on Taehyung’s part, he would take it. Even if it was just one night. He would take it.

Taehyung pulled him close, and Namjoon fell asleep, surrounded by Taehyung’s scent and Taehyung’s warmth.

 

The next day, they talked.

Dressed in Taehyung’s clothes, wrapped in a blanket, surrounded by Taehyung’s scent, nursing a mug of tea Taehyung had brewed for him, Namjoon felt safer than he had in a while. Sleeping through a full night had also helped. He couldn’t believe how much better he felt.

“I still want to date you,” said Taehyung, and Namjoon almost spit out the tea he had been drinking, shocked.

“You do?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“Well, yeah,” said Taehyung, as if it should have been obvious. “The bond is closed right now, but we can’t put our lives on hold because of that.” He looked hesitant suddenly. “Unless, of course, you don’t want to date me anymore.”

“I do!” said Namjoon quickly. “I do. I want everything with you,” he added, before he could stop himself, and then looked away, horrified. But Taehyung didn’t seem to mind.

“Good,” he said.

“I’ll try my hardest to open the bond again,” promised Namjoon, but Taehyung brushed it off.

“Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to restore it,” he said. “It’ll happen. And maybe, I don’t know, maybe there are advantages here too. I think it would be a mistake to let a true mates bond dictate our relationship. So many people find happiness without one. We don’t need it to be happy, Namjoon. And it would be wrong to just assume that we’ll be happy because the bond exists.” He laughed sheepishly. “My eomma told me that.”

Namjoon smiled. “She sounds smart.”

Taehyung happily agreed. “The point is, it would invalidate the experiences of so many people, were we to simply decide that love isn’t possible without a bond like ours.”

He blushed a little as he said it, and laughed again, nervously, and Namjoon’s whole body warmed. His smile fell slowly.

“But, Taehyung, the bond healer said that there’s a chance you could go feral, if the bond isn’t fixed.”

Taehyung scoffed, but Namjoon wasn’t entirely fooled. He could see in Taehyung’s expression that it had occurred to him.

“It won’t happen,” was what Taehyung said, instead of voicing any fears he may have had.

Namjoon swallowed. “How do you know?”

“Because I’m not angry anymore,” he said. “And because you’re here. I may not be able to feel you like I want to, through the bond, but you’re here.”

Namjoon frowned. “What if you Order me to fix the bond?”

“No,” Taehyung snapped, causing Namjoon to jump a little. “No,” he said, more calmly. “I can’t. That’s not how it works. It would be an impossible Order to follow. You would end up hurting yourself even more, trying to follow it.”

Namjoon didn’t really understand why, but he trusted Taehyung.

“We do need to talk about what we’re going to do when I leave,” said Taehyung, and he sounded guilty enough that Namjoon’s heart started racing, panic filling him.

“Leave?”

“Yeah,” said Taehyung, nodding. “Before I met you, my supervisor for my internship told me I might need to go to the States at some point, to work with the American intern there. They want me to go. Next month.”

Namjoon’s mouth went dry. It felt like the bottom of his stomach had fallen out, as if he was in free fall.

“For how long?” he asked.

Taehyung pressed his lips together, creating a thin line. “I’m not sure yet.” He licked his lips. “If there was a way to avoid it, especially now, I would—”

“No,” Namjoon interrupted. “Of course, you need to go. Like you said. We can’t put our lives on hold. We’ll be okay.” He offered Taehyung a shy smile. “I can help you with English, before you go.”

Taehyung’s face lit up. “Yeah? You speak English?”

Namjoon nodded.

“I guess we’ll need to figure out my next heat,” he said. “Assuming you’re still gone. Assuming we’re still—” He gestured clumsily between them. “I could find a different alpha for my heat.”

Namjoon was surprised at how much it hurt him to say that. He couldn’t feel the bond, but his whole body seemed to know regardless that the idea of a different alpha, of an alpha besides Taehyung, was wrong.

Taehyung gripped his upper arms almost hard enough to hurt. “No alpha but me,” he growled, and then shook his head, clearing it, letting go of Namjoon’s arms quickly. “Please,” he said. “No other alpha. I should be back long before that.”

“Okay,” said Namjoon. “Okay.”

 

They took things slow. Almost too slow.

Taehyung waited two full weeks after they started seeing each other officially to even kiss him. It felt like a first kiss, in a way, when it finally happened. Perhaps because Namjoon was even more awkward than normal. He felt inexplicably shy around Taehyung, clumsy and foolish and blushing, like he had just met him, and they were getting to know each other all over again.

Taehyung talked more openly about his studies and his work while Namjoon tutored him in English. He was even more brilliant than Namjoon had first realized. He knew a lot about literature and politics and philosophy, and he asked challenging questions, and Namjoon felt, for the first time in a while, like he had met an intellectual equal.

But he wasn’t very good at English, and he could talk almost endlessly about anime, and he loved video games. Namjoon was glad; in a way, it felt like the universe balancing things out.

Taehyung was more possessive now in a way that he simply hadn’t been when Namjoon was on his heat, or when the bond had been established. Or maybe he had been, but he was good at hiding it. He wasn’t trying to hide it now, and Namjoon was slightly startled to find that some of Taehyung’s obvious acts of jealousy and possessiveness pleased the omega in him.

He got antsy when Namjoon was out of his sight for too long. Held his hand in public. Growled whenever Namjoon offered to pay for one of their dates. Glowered threateningly at other alphas.

Part of it was just being an alpha. But Namjoon also suspected that part of it was overcompensation. Taehyung couldn’t feel Namjoon through the bond. Namjoon was open about how he was feeling, shared his thoughts easily with Taehyung, but he knew it was hard on him, to only have part of a bond.

It was hard on Namjoon too.

He tried every day to find the bond. He started meditating. He tried yoga. He went back and talked to the bond healer again.

He would find the bond when he was ready.

It was baffling to Namjoon. He felt ready. He wanted to restore the bond. He just couldn’t. He couldn’t find it anywhere.

Still, he and Taehyung were happy. Taehyung had been right. Happiness wasn’t predicated on any sort of bond.

And Taehyung seemed completely confident that Namjoon would be able to fix it.

One day.

Until then, they learned about each other. They watched dramas together. Namjoon even watched anime for him. Taehyung came to pack dinners.

The first dinner was one of the most awkward experiences of Namjoon’s life. No one really knew how to act around one another. But Taehyung was good at first—and, as it turned out—second impressions.

After that first dinner, he got along instantly with everyone. There was no resentment. No anger about what had happened during Namjoon’s heat. It was impossible to be angry with Taehyung.

They were happy.

 

Five weeks after they started seeing each other officially, Taehyung left for America.

Namjoon waved him off, wished him luck, smiling. He maintained his composure until Taehyung was gone, and then he cried.

Taehyung had promised they would talk, but Namjoon knew it wouldn’t be easy. The time difference alone would be hard to overcome, and Taehyung would be so busy. Namjoon thought they would be lucky to chat once or twice a week.

So he allowed himself to cry. But just for a little bit.

He had work to do too. He had his article to finish. And he could work on fixing the bond.

Taehyung was gone again.

But it felt like the beginning. Not the end.

And Namjoon could live with that.

Chapter Text

Jimin and Hoseok insisted on throwing a welcome back party for Taehyung.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Namjoon, but his protests fell on deaf ears.

“He’s been gone for almost two months,” said Hoseok, not even looking up from the banner he was hanging across the window. “Of course we’re having a party.”

“Jin hyung is making a cake,” said Jimin, popping out from around the corner of the kitchen, licking frosting off his fingers.

Jeongguk perked up. “Cake?” he asked.

Jimin and Hoseok had decided the party needed to be at their house, since they had the most space. Yoongi grumbled about it, but he also knew he was outnumbered. So when Namjoon looked to him for help, he just shrugged halfheartedly.

“Nothing I can do,” he said. He looked sort of wistfully at a cluster of balloons by the door. “Besides, I think the kid’ll kind of like it.”

He had taken to calling Taehyung that, ever since their first meeting in the studio. Taehyung wasn’t the youngest in their group, but he was still a younger alpha than Yoongi. So it just sort of stuck. Namjoon knew that Taehyung liked the endearment, because he smiled crookedly whenever Yoongi called him by it. Namjoon secretly thought it was more the sense of belonging that Taehyung liked. If Yoongi thought you were cool enough to give you a nickname, even one like ‘kid,’ it really meant something.

And Yoongi was right. Taehyung would like a party.

“Fine,” said Namjoon. “How can I help?”

Hoseok and Jimin exchanged glances and then just laughed uncomfortably. Hoseok shielded the decorations with his body.

“It’s probably best if you don’t, Namjoon,” he said.

Namjoon pouted. He wandered toward the kitchen, but he barely stepped one foot in, blinking at the spectacle of Seokjin dabbing frosting on Jeongguk’s nose, before Seokjin turned to him, pointed at him with a spatula, and said, “No.”

Namjoon wandered out again. “So, I’m allowed to do nothing?” he asked, seeking clarification.

“You’re allowed to go pick up your boyfriend from the airport,” said Hoseok, and this time Namjoon didn’t object to Hoseok’s phrasing.

He guessed he and Taehyung were boyfriends. Technically.

“Everything will be done when you get back,” Hoseok finished.

Namjoon made a face. “So you’re saying you would rather I drive than hang up a few banners?”

Hoseok actually looked conflicted at that.

“Maybe I should go—” began Yoongi, but Namjoon waved him off.

“I’ve got it,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

Yoongi’s lips thinned. “All I do is worry about you,” he said.

But Namjoon just laughed. Today he was happy. Taehyung was coming back. He left to a chorus of goodbyes and started the drive to Incheon.

Despite believing there wouldn’t be time for it, he and Taehyung had been able to video chat several times over the past two months. He and the American intern had made real progress on a strain of antibiotics that they thought would be safe for alphas. But it would take years to develop an actual drug, longer for it to go through preclinical and clinical testing. So Taehyung was coming home.

Each time they had talked, Taehyung had been ecstatic to see him. He insisted on starting every conversation in English, and Namjoon was surprised to find that he was actually getting better at it.

Still, he felt better now that Taehyung was coming back. And he knew that Taehyung was excited too.

He parked and waited for Taehyung outside of security, and the second he came into view, Namjoon started jumping up and down, waving crazily. Taehyung smiled, and darted between more slowly moving families, and crashed into Namjoon, scooping him up in a hug and spinning him around. Namjoon laughed, his whole body singing and vibrating now that he was with Taehyung again, and didn’t even care when Taehyung set him down again and kissed him, right in the middle of the airport.

It was crazy how good it felt, how wonderful it was to have Taehyung’s lips on his, to feel his hands again, to be able to smell him again. It drove Namjoon a little wild. He could feel his body responding. He pulled away from Taehyung, gasping, and put his hands on Taehyung’s chest, holding him back when Taehyung tried to chase his mouth, searching for more.

“Later,” said Namjoon, panting a little, and Taehyung’s nostrils flared, his eyes darkened, and he grasped Namjoon’s hand.

“Now,” he said, lowly, and Namjoon whimpered as Taehyung pulled him off toward baggage claim.

In the car, Taehyung scooted as close to Namjoon as possible and set to work sucking a bruise into Namjoon’s neck. It was extremely distracting.

“Are you sure—” Gasp. “You want to be—” Moan. “I already have a pretty bad track record with—”

Taehyung did not seem to care.

But he did seem to figure out quickly that they were going neither to his apartment or Namjoon’s.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

Namjoon bit his lip. It was almost impossible for him to keep any kind of secret.

“Your dimples are telling me you know something,” said Taehyung, and poked him in the cheek. “What’s going on?”

Namjoon sighed. “We’re throwing you a welcome back party.”

Taehyung smiled impishly. “So does that mean I can’t fuck you?”

Namjoon almost veered off the road. “Taehyung!”

Taehyung laughed, poking him again right on the dimple. “I missed you, hyung.”

Heat pooled in Namjoon’s belly. “Yeah. I missed you too.”

 

The welcome back party was a hit.

Taehyung hugged everyone, even Yoongi, and moaned so suggestively over Seokjin’s cake that Namjoon had to cross his legs.

While the others had a heated debate about how much English you actually needed to know to live in the United States, Taehyung pulled Namjoon to his feet and they crept into the guest bathroom, closing and locking the door behind them.

Namjoon sat on the counter and Taehyung spread his legs with a slow smile.

“How mad would they be if we had sex in here?” he asked, nuzzling into Namjoon’s neck.

Namjoon swallowed. His next heat was three months away but he could feel himself producing slick. He just couldn’t help it. Not with Taehyung.

“On a scale of one to ten,” Namjoon gasped, as Taehyung licked at his pulse point.

“Hmmm,” Taehyung hummed, nosing behind Namjoon’s ear.

“I really don’t give a shit,” Namjoon panted, and Taehyung captured his lips in a kiss.

This was not at all like the light, playful kisses Taehyung had insisted on since they had gotten together. They had gone slow, kept things relatively chaste, at Taehyung’s insistence. But it seemed like that was gone now, because this was tongue, and teeth, and quiet, breathy moans from both of them.

This was pulling Taehyung closer with his legs.

This was Taehyung rocking into him, both hands up by Namjoon’s head on the bathroom mirror, closing him in.

This was so much like the first time, against Namjoon’s front door, that Namjoon felt crazy, and lightheaded, and slightly delirious, surrounded by alpha scent.

They were really doing this, Namjoon thought, as they desperately shed clothes. But the idea of stopping, of not having Taehyung like this, right in that moment, was enough to make Namjoon feel like he would die.

Taehyung fingered him open so slowly Namjoon sobbed with it, Taehyung kissing him the whole time, breathing all of Namjoon’s sounds in, sending his own back.

Taehyung bent him over the counter and fucked him from behind, growling almost nonstop, yanking on Namjoon’s hair, urging him to watch in the mirror each time his eyes started to fall closed.

It was so good Namjoon thought he might cry.

Taehyung’s face was glorious, his range of expressions the only thing Namjoon thought he might need again, ever. The slide was so good that Namjoon didn’t even care that they were both too tall for this, that the edge of the counter was pressing too hard into his hipbones. It was just Taehyung, in him and around him and all that Namjoon wanted.

Namjoon tried to stay quiet. This wasn’t their bathroom, and all of their friends were in the next room.

But when Taehyung leaned over him and took the skin at the back of Namjoon’s neck between his teeth and started thrusting hard, hard enough that Namjoon knew there would be bruises on his hips, he keened. He couldn’t help it. Couldn’t hold it in. And the sound of it seemed to drive Taehyung wild, because he thrust even harder, biting down hard, and came, shuddering.

“Alpha,” Namjoon whined, following him into orgasm, sobbing, and they both shook.

“Oh, my god,” Namjoon panted, once Taehyung pulled him around again so that they were leaning into each other, face to face, the counter supporting them. “Oh, my god.”

Taehyung laughed into his neck.

“Do you think they heard us?” he asked.

Namjoon hit him weakly. “I think they probably did.”

Neither of them cared.

“We’re using your shower!” Taehyung yelled through the door, and Yoongi yelled back, “You better clean that counter!”

Someone, probably Hoseok, started cat-calling.

But Taehyung just laughed as he turned the shower on. He looked so happy. He fit here, in Namjoon’s life, so well, that it felt like the easiest, most natural thing in the world for Namjoon to admit to himself that he loved him.

He loved Taehyung.

Taehyung pushed Namjoon under the shower spray and laughed at Namjoon’s spluttering, and then hugged him close, bumping his forehead into his favorite spot on Namjoon’s neck.

“God, I love you,” he said, and licked along Namjoon’s collarbones, and Namjoon’s whole body jolted.

Namjoon had spent some time thinking about what it might be like when he was able to fix the bond. His mind had played through a variety of scenarios, from fireworks going off around them to an actual angel chorus. It had all been grand and exaggerated, and in the end, nothing like what actually happened.

The bond unfurled between them like a flower, petals opening toward the sun after a long night.

Namjoon almost didn’t notice it happening.

But Taehyung pulled back and blinked at him, his jaw going slack, and Namjoon realized all at once that he could feel him again, really feel him.

“Wha—”

Taehyung didn’t even give him a chance to finish. He kissed Namjoon quickly, ecstatically, and they both almost slipped, and Namjoon had water in his eyes, and he thought Taehyung was possibly crying.

Of course, Namjoon thought.

Of course.

It was like a fairy tale. A bond closed by doubt could only be opened again with love.

Taehyung never could have Ordered him to fix the bond. You couldn’t be Ordered into love.

“This is the cheesiest thing ever,” said Namjoon, but he was crying also, and he felt Taehyung singing through the bond.

“Do you actually care?” he asked, squeezing Namjoon tightly. “God, I can feel you again. I wasn’t sure it would ever… I can feel you again. I can feel you.”

He just kept repeating it, dazedly, and only then did Namjoon realize how much Taehyung must have been suffering. How much it must have been hurting him, without Namjoon knowing.

“Alpha,” he said, and made Taehyung look him in the eye. “Alpha, I love you.”

The bond bloomed.

Taehyung laughed and kissed him again.

 

When they finally left the bathroom, all of their friends turned judging looks on them. Namjoon and Taehyung smiled sheepishly, blushing.

Yoongi and Jeongguk figured out first, almost simultaneously, that the bond had been opened.

“Well shit,” said Yoongi, staring between them, eyes lingering on their interlaced fingers. “Finally.”

Jeongguk jumped up, smiling, as Seokjin tugged on his sleeve.

“They fixed it,” he said, and before Namjoon really knew what was happening he and Taehyung were smooshed in the center of a group hug.

Seokjin and Hoseok were screaming, everyone was making noise, Taehyung was laughing hysterically. Namjoon didn’t even care when he got elbowed in the side.

He wanted to live in that moment forever.

But Seokjin practically forced more cake on them, and Yoongi popped open a bottle of champagne, and everything was light, and laughter, and love.

 

All was well.

Chapter Text

When Taehyung was small, a bird flew into the side of the house and fell to the grass not far from where he was playing. He stood up and walked over to it curiously, but even he could tell that something was wrong with it.

“Eomma!” he shouted, and his mother came running, skidding to a halt next to him and then moving him away from the bird.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked, pointing to its neck, which was twisted at an awkward angle.

His mother knelt down so she could look him in the eyes.

“Taehyungie,” she said, stroking his hair with one hand and tilting his face away from the bird with the other. “I’m sorry, Taehyungie, but it’s dead.”

Taehyung’s bottom lip trembled. He sniffed. “Dead?”

His mother nodded.

Taehyung was three years old. He was too small to understand death. But he knew what it meant when his mom told him the bird couldn’t fly anymore, and he knew what it meant when she said the bird would never sing again.

He cried until his father came home that evening, and then pulled him outside by the hand, sobbing, so that his father could see the dead bird.

“Appa!” he said, voice wobbly, face streaked in tears. “Bring it back! Order it back, appa!”

His father scooped him up and held him as he cried.

“I’m sorry, Taehyung,” he said, voice low and soothing.

He walked back inside, rocking Taehyung as he hiccupped and wailed.

“There are some things you can’t Order.”

 

Everyone was surprised when, at eighteen, Taehyung presented as an alpha.

Everyone was surprised, but not Taehyung.

He had felt it coming for a while.

He knew what people said about him. He remembered overhearing conversations between his parents and their friends, hiding behind doors and inside cabinets, lurking around corners, always listening.

“He’ll be a beta for sure.”

“I don’t know,” his mother responded, every time. “I just want him to be a child first. I don’t want him to think about it.”

For a while, he hadn’t thought about it.

But in school, kids were mean. Taehyung was smart. He liked talking to his teachers. He knew the answers to all of their questions. They said he was unique. Special.

Those words made Taehyung glow inside, they made his parents smile and praise him.

But other kids, those Taehyung’s own age and older, they gave those words different meanings.

“Unique?” asked one boy, laughing. “That’s just a nice way of saying you’re crazy. You think you’re so special? That just means you’re not normal.”

Taehyung thought about that for a long time. He stopped answering questions in class and watched his teachers carefully. It was clear they expected him to answer. They all looked puzzled when he didn’t.

“You never talk anymore, Taehyung,” said one of his teachers as he was leaving class. She smiled at him. “I miss hearing your voice.”

Taehyung thought about that for a long time, too.

And then he marched right up to the group of older boys who always seemed to enjoy making fun of him most, and he said, loudly, “You’re nothing but a bully.”

The boys all turned to him.

“Want to say that again, weirdo?”

Taehyung took a deep breath.

“I said you’re a bully. And I’m not afraid of you.”

Taehyung got his first black eye that day. He was ten years old and tiny. But he learned something important.

Fear was a cage. Fear was a cage with chains and a lock, and Taehyung learned that those boys, those bullies, they had a lot more fear than he did.

 

Taehyung wouldn’t call himself fearless by any means.

But he noticed, as he grew up, that most people he met had a lot more fear than he did.

 

“He’s going to be a beta for sure.”

“We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“He’s too soft for an alpha. Too aggressive for an omega.”

“It has to be beta.”

“He’s just a child. Don’t put him into a box yet.”

“Don’t put him into a box at all.”

 

As Taehyung grew up, he learned that there were a lot more cages in the world than he had at first realized.

 

Taehyung presented as an alpha at eighteen years old.

He had graduated from high school early, had already been in college for two years at that point.

His presentation was painful, as it always was for alphas. He kicked his roommate out and shouted himself hoarse, and almost entirely demolished his side of the dorm. It was so painful he blacked out near the end, and woke up to shards of broken glass, a busted bedframe, feathers and fluff everywhere from his ripped bed linens and pillows.

He went to the clinic for a medical exam, and the doctor told him that despite the severity of his presentation, he was a fit and strong alpha. His hormones were balanced; he was releasing no unnecessary pheromones, as many alphas did upon presentation; his alpha strength was evenly distributed; he was displaying no signs of drastic personality change.

He was sound of mind and body. There was nothing to worry about.

Of course not, he thought, as he thanked the doctor and left. He’d always been this way.

 

Taehyung was fascinated by poison.

The human body was incredible, and the evolutionary traits of subgenders were equally as astounding.

And yet the smallest things—animal venom, plant toxicity, man-made chemicals—could thoroughly destroy the beauty of the body in moments.

 

When Taehyung was twenty-one, he caught the scent of an omega that he thought could turn out to be just as deadly as any poison he had ever studied.

 

The omega was tall and bleach-blond and smelled like all of the best things.

He smelled like home. He smelled like winter on the farm, like blankets and fire and hot chocolate.

He smelled like sex. Like an omega in his prime in pre-heat, and it made Taehyung’s mind go white at the edges.

He wasn’t the only alpha following that scent.

But he was the only one brave enough to approach first.

They made eye contact in the space of a missing book, and Taehyung’s body sang.

 

During Taehyung’s first year in college, an alpha got expelled for Ordering a female beta to love him.

It was horrific.

It happened in the building next to Taehyung’s, in the middle of the night, and the screaming woke him up. He remembered rushing outside in nothing but a pair of boxers, just in time to see campus security and a squad from the National Police Agency dragging the alpha out of the building. He was incoherent, screaming bloody murder, almost frothing at the mouth.

The beta he had Ordered was wheeled out of the dormitory by emergency responders. They had put her into an induced sleep so that she wouldn’t respond to the alpha.

Ordering love was one of the worst things you could do to someone. It essentially erased free will, made the person Ordered little more than a slave, mindless, consumed only by the desire to please the alpha, until they wasted away, ultimately unable to ever fulfill the Order.

Love could not Ordered.

And if Ordered, it could not be followed. Not successfully.

It was a heinous crime, Ordering love. Death was the inevitable outcome, almost always. A swift, soulless death for the one who had been Ordered.

It was the worst cage of them all.

Taehyung later learned that only two factors saved that beta from a short life of misery.

Alpha Orders were not as effective on betas as they were on omegas. Her own biology would fight the Order on her behalf.

The real thing that saved her was that she was already mated, to a different alpha. They had a permanent bond, and it was stronger than the Order of a jealous, enraged alpha.

But Taehyung remembered thinking, once he learned all of the details, that the girl was lucky.

His own presentation was still two years away, but he remembered thinking, I will never be an alpha like that.

 

The omega in the library was named Kim Namjoon, and as soon as Taehyung saw him, he knew.

They were true mates.

He looked like a dream and smelled like everything Taehyung wanted out of life, and instincts he had always been able to control, the alpha that was secondary to his human morals and beliefs, roared to the surface, fierce and protective and already so possessive that Taehyung had to fight, had to forcefully rein in, the urge to turn and growl at the other alphas lurking in the library.

He wanted to bare his teeth. He wanted to bark out a warning that said back off. This omega is mine.

The only reason he didn’t was because he could tell that Namjoon was just as affected by him as he was by Namjoon. It was obvious in the way he had to steady himself on the bookshelf, the way he could barely speak, how surprised he looked when he just naturally obeyed Taehyung.

Taehyung wanted to pin him to the bookshelf and kiss him until he couldn’t breathe, wanted to pick him up and fuck him with all of those books at his back.

But he was a little more civilized than that.

 

He wasn’t civilized enough to refrain from hoisting Namjoon up later and rutting against him, pushing him into his own front door and rubbing as much of his scent as he could into every inch of that glorious body.

 

Taehyung went home for the weekend after he presented.

His mother kissed his forehead and congratulated him—she would have been happy no matter his subgender, Taehyung knew, because it was Taehyung she loved, and his subgender wouldn’t change him—and then sent him off for a long walk with his father.

His father tried to tell him what it meant to be an alpha.

“Be a human first, Taehyung,” he finally said, turning to face his son. “Think with your mind and feel with your heart. You’re stronger now. You can hurt others more easily, without meaning to. So be kind. Be human. Be an alpha, but don’t let it override who you are. Remember, it’s called subgender for a reason.”

Taehyung smiled. “I know, appa,” he said. “I’ve watched you my whole life.”

 

After he met Namjoon, it was his mother he called, not his father.

“Eomma,” he said, once she picked up. “I met someone.”

She pulled the story out of him, and started crying when Taehyung said true mates.

“Are you sure?” she asked, and Taehyung nodded even though he knew she couldn’t see it.

“Yes,” he said.

“Taehyungie!” she cried, joyful, happy for him. It was never a guarantee, meeting your true mate. It happened for some. Not for others.

Taehyung wasn’t sure he should feel lucky.

“He makes me feel like too much of an alpha,” Taehyung confided, almost ashamed. “I don’t feel as human as I should, when I’m around him. I’m scared, eomma. What if I can’t control myself?”

“You can,” said his mother, sounding much more confident than Taehyung felt. “You will. You would never hurt him, right?”

Taehyung blanched. The mere thought of hurting Namjoon was so revolting Taehyung wanted to scream. His entire being rebelled at the idea.

“You’ll be fine,” his mother said, and Taehyung believed her.

 

Namjoon was brilliant.

He was brilliant, and beautiful, and brave in a way that Taehyung had never seen in another omega.

He smelled so good Taehyung wanted to cry. He wanted to swim in Namjoon’s scent, wanted to mark all of that golden skin as his.

Namjoon was brilliant.

But he was also confoundingly shy. He blushed a lot, and he had the most adorable dimples, and he made Taehyung feel a little crazy.

He seemed to have no idea. He had no idea that he was gorgeous. He had no idea how intimidating his genius was, had no idea how his scent was affecting Taehyung.

Taehyung felt like he had been hypnotized. He felt spellbound by this perfect omega.

And it wasn’t just because they were true mates.

Namjoon was an amazing person.

It felt like the easiest thing in the world to fall for him, and Taehyung had never fallen faster, or more willingly.

 

Namjoon’s pack alpha was named Min Yoongi, and he was small and terrifying.

Taehyung had no doubt that Yoongi would do anything, would go to any lengths, to protect Namjoon. So when Namjoon took him to the studio, and then Yoongi pulled him away, got him alone, Taehyung had a strong moment of pure, unadulterated panic, during which he thought Yoongi might kill him.

“You’re true mates?” was what Yoongi asked instead, after making Taehyung follow him into a back room in the studio, leaving the others behind.

Taehyung tripped over his own feet, but nodded nonetheless.

“I can just tell,” said Yoongi, smirking at him a little, answering his unasked question. “Does Namjoon…?”

Taehyung shook his head. “He hasn’t figured it out yet.”

Yoongi hummed. He pulled open a large storage cabinet full of A.B.O merchandise and started handing Taehyung a veritable treasure trove of music.

“Namjoon is stupid smart,” said Yoongi, as if he was divulging a secret, while nonchalantly thrusting signed paraphernalia into his arms. “But his heart is fragile. He’s been neglected, abandoned, by too many alphas now. It’s taken a toll on him.”

Taehyung nodded. He had thought as much. It was baffling to him. Namjoon was precious. He was beyond compare. Anyone who had ever let him go was mad.

“You have to take care of him,” Yoongi told him seriously, as if Taehyung had any other choice. “But you have to be careful, too.”

Taehyung nodded. “I will be, Yoongi-ssi.”

“Hyung,” said Yoongi. “It’s ‘hyung’ for you, kid.”

Taehyung tried to hide his smile by ducking his head, but he was sure Yoongi saw it anyway.

“Thanks, hyung,” he said.

Yoongi fished Taehyung’s phone out of his pocket and took the liberty of entering his number.

“There,” he said. “Now we can talk if we need to.” He looked critically at all of the stuff Taehyung was balancing in his arms. “Is this enough? Do you want more? It was a surprise to learn you’re a fan.”

Taehyung launched into a long-winded praise rant about how awesome A.B.O was, but he thought about what Yoongi had said, thought about Namjoon’s caution, his hesitation, wondered if he should tell Namjoon they were true mates, instead of waiting for Namjoon to figure it out on his own.

He didn’t know what to do, and then Namjoon got sick, lost time, and Taehyung had to take him home, had to wrap him up in blankets and check on him every few minutes, all while his scent grew deeper, stronger, heavy. His heat would be starting soon.

Taehyung wanted to take care of him. Wanted to go slow. To do everything properly. This was his omega. His mate. His Namjoon.

But Namjoon was so beautiful. He pressed himself against Taehyung when he woke up and kissed along his jaw and Taehyung was lost, lost because of those lips, tripping through a wonderland of desire, his body responding automatically to Namjoon’s need.

It was insane, the amount of control it took not to rip through Namjoon’s clothes, not to put him on his belly and take him from behind, hard, the way Taehyung wanted to, the way the alpha in him was demanding.

Namjoon even begged for it. Begged so sweetly Taehyung nearly went mindless with it. But he went slowly, took his time.

He had never had to exert this much control, had never needed to restrain the alpha as much as he did when Namjoon was naked, when Namjoon was moaning for him, when Namjoon willingly went to his knees and swallowed him down.

The scent in Namjoon’s room was unbelievably heady. It was rubbing at the edges of Taehyung’s control, and when he finally slid inside Namjoon, he couldn’t be as gentle as he wanted. He knew it was a little rough, bordering the slim line of almost-too-much.

But Namjoon was so wet for him, was crying for him, kept calling him ‘alpha,’ and Taehyung’s blood roared.

 

Taehyung wanted to take Namjoon apart, but he was the one who felt ripped open in the end, orgasm blinding him, heartbeat fluttering in time to the pulsing of the new bond that he could already feel growing stronger between them.

Yoongi had warned him that Namjoon was fragile.

But it was Taehyung who felt like porcelain, like his body was now made of something so, so breakable.

For the first time he understood what it felt like to be an alpha at the mercy of an omega.

 

Taehyung would not call himself fearless by any means.

He knew that he didn’t carry as much fear around with him as others usually did.

But he was afraid of Namjoon and of their bond.

He was afraid when Namjoon said nothing and then he was afraid when Namjoon sleepily mumbled, after his heat finally started, the words that Taehyung had been wanting to hear from him.

It wasn’t the bond itself that scared him.

It was everything else.

It was what might happen after Namjoon’s heat that scared him.

Namjoon’s heat was like stepping outside of the world for a little while, like living in a timeless bubble, where nothing mattered but Taehyung’s ability, as an alpha, to care for Namjoon while he was most vulnerable.

And it scared Taehyung.

He found himself thinking, I could do this for the rest of my life.

He was afraid of how strongly he felt toward Namjoon, and how quickly.

 

As it turned out, he was not as afraid as Namjoon was.

 

There were no words for what it felt like when Namjoon closed the bond.

The closest he could come was to say that the alpha retreated, fled at the feeling of not being able to feel. The alpha left, and he was just Taehyung, twenty-one years old, on the floor at Namjoon’s feet.

He didn’t know what to do.

And so he left.

 

From: Yoongi-hyung
Namjoon is in the hospital
He’s going to be okay
Are you okay?
I’ll make sure everyone is gone tonight. So that you can see him, if you want.
Talk to me. So that I know you’re okay.

 

In general, Taehyung hated hospitals. They smelled funny and they made him sad, but he had to see Namjoon. Had to make sure he was really okay.

To: Yoongi-hyung
I’m at the hospital. Thank you for telling me.
I’m okay, all things considered.

He pocketed his phone after that because he couldn’t bear to hear from Yoongi again, because ‘okay’ was such an empty word, especially when Taehyung felt like his soul had been ripped away from his flesh.

He sat in a chair by Namjoon’s bed and watched him sleep and thought about how strange it was that just a little while ago, he had been able to feel him, how now he could feel the bond, but not Namjoon. He had snuck a peek at Namjoon’s medical charts when he got there, and he had seen that dreaded word, halved, but it explained a lot. Why he could still feel some portion of the bond. Why Namjoon was lying there, but not him. Why they both weren’t seriously ill, or even worse off than that.

He was glad that Namjoon was going to be okay, so it was surprising how suddenly he felt anger overtake him. It was an alpha rage, and he stumbled out of the hospital, vision blurry, anger rolling through him. He was itching for a fight, for something to dig his fingers into and hurt, a surrogate for all of his pain.

There was nothing safe about Taehyung under the influence of an alpha rage, nothing calm, nothing silly, nothing even remotely similar to his usual behavior. He felt his way home, one hand tracing claw-like along the exterior walls of the buildings he passed.

He destroyed half his apartment that night, screaming, screaming at what he should have been able to feel but couldn’t, screaming at the lack of something so important to him.

When his voice had nothing left to give, when the rage ran out of him, he called his mom.

“Eomma,” he said, panting. “I need to come home for a few days.”

 

He slept in his childhood bed in Daegu.

He smiled tiredly at his siblings, patted their heads, but then went into his room and closed the door and didn’t come out again until morning.

His mother waited until the house was empty but for them, and then just leveled Taehyung with a look that had the ability to draw all of his secrets from him, and he told her everything, even about the rage he had experienced after visiting Namjoon in the hospital.

He was glad that she didn’t cry, because then he might have cried, but she did hug him, and he let her, because he missed that feeling of being small, of his problems dissolving in a warm embrace.

“I don’t know what to do, eomma,” Taehyung finally said. “What do I do?”

She stroked his hair. He could feel her shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she whispered. “I don’t know.”

He tried not to dwell too heavily on Namjoon over the next few days. He played with his brother and sister and helped his mother and father around the house. He let himself just be, just exist, in the most familiar place he knew.

“I can’t live without him,” Taehyung finally admitted to his mother, several days after he arrived. “I can’t live without Namjoon.”

“Then don’t let him go,” she said, grasping his hand. “Bonds aren’t everything, Taehyung. You know your father and I don’t have a true mates bond.”

Taehyung felt something relax in his chest. “I know.”

“So don’t let it dictate what you could have with Namjoon. That would be a mistake.”

Taehyung sighed. “I know.”

His mother pressed her hand against his chest. “The bond can be fixed, you know. Namjoon can fix it, Taehyung. And from what you’ve told me about him, he will.”

So, Taehyung went back to Seoul. He cleaned his apartment.

He let himself believe that everything would work out.

 

When Yoongi called him to let him know that Namjoon had gone to Mapo, Taehyung went into a blind panic.

For the first time since his presentation, the alpha took full control, gripped both his mind and body, so that Taehyung was something barely even human when he made it to the bridge, lifted Namjoon away from the edge, and then had to sit still for a long time, breathing in his scent, convincing himself that Namjoon was with him, that he was okay.

That they were okay.

Humanity came back to him slowly, in quicksilver flashes, the alpha only receding when he was sure Namjoon was safe.

 

Love was such a fickle thing. So unpredictable, so uncaring of timing, and place, and who it was affecting.

It could not be coerced, could not be caged, could slip into existence at any moment, and then blink out of it just as quickly.

It was the ultimate expression of free will. Of choice.

It was what made them human.

In the end, it was what saved them.

 

Loving Namjoon was as easy as breathing for Taehyung.

He had loved Namjoon forever, long before they met, long before they came to know one another intimately. He loved him after, too. Long after the bond closed, long after it opened again.

There was no life for him if it did not include loving Namjoon.

If it did not include Namjoon.

“God, I love you,” he finally told him, because every moment not saying it out loud was a wasted moment, was time he could never get back, was an eternal second during which Namjoon may not know that he was loved.

And that was unacceptable to Taehyung.

The bond opened in response to that love like sunlight peeking out from behind dark clouds, and Taehyung was overwhelmed.

“Alpha,” said Namjoon, joyously, seriously. “Alpha, I love you.”

 

Taehyung had never been part of a chosen pack before.

But he thought that this, being with Namjoon, being part of this group, acquiring, for all intents and purposes, five new brothers and a lover, must be the physical manifestation of happiness.

We have all the time in the world, Taehyung thought.

 

And they did.

fin