City lights twinkle in the valley below him like a river of candles. Namjoon sits cross-legged in the dirt and scraggly weeds, ignoring the gravel digging into his thighs. The ground is warm here still, baked from a day of endless sun, a comforting contrast to the cool evening breeze.
He doesn't remember when he started seeking out time alone. Perhaps he had always craved it but didn't know how to turn down friends when he was younger. Friends then were friends by simple merit of them being there. Not that he didn't have fun, but suffice it to say, he hadn't seen any of them since Sophomore year of college, hadn't tried to.
It's fine, happens to everyone, if they're lucky, Namjoon thinks. He'd since gotten friends that were friends by merit of some kind of genuine connection, something more nondescript and better, even, than common interests. They're down there somewhere in the heat-haze of lights, but he doesn't feel like he's trying to escape them. It's a comforting thought.
He tosses the twig he was fiddling with down the steep slope of the hill. As usual, thinking of his friends makes him feel less lonely than actually being with them. His brain is fast and abstract and always too many steps removed from the present, making for a natural awkwardness. He knows it, they know it, he knows they know he knows it, and all that knowing dulls the loneliness of trying to be himself around others enough, just enough.
Still, here he sits in the most solitary place he knows of within a half hour, relieved to yet again find that he does still like himself, he can fill out to the edges of his skin.
A text notification illuminates his face in the darkness: Hoseok telling him to meet them at the noodle shop on 58th. A smile stretches across his face, letting out a little sigh, boots scrape through gravel as he stands. He climbs onto his bike, a black 1976 Triumph Bonneville t140v that he had fixed up over a year in his spare time at the shop a few years ago. He's long since accepted that he may be a little too attached.
The engine grumbles to life beneath him, cutting through the quiet rhythm of crickets. It settles his mind back down into his body, and for thirty blissful moments, he is present in the wind streaking over his arms, the gentle rev and chug of the engine, illuminated flashes of Oak branches and mailboxes whipping past in the dark. He is nowhere else; he is himself.
The noodle shop is crowded as always, being the only one open past midnight. Namjoon weaves through the restaurant, shaking his fingers through his helmet hair, long silver-blond, almost in need of a fresh undercut.
He spots Hoseok standing to hug someone he doesn't recognize before the stranger slings a backpack over his shoulder, getting ready to leave. Namjoon lingers several feet behind them, shrugging out of his thick leather jacket and letting them say goodbyes. To be polite, is the excuse; avoiding the awkwardness of meeting someone new and having to think of something to say is the reason.
But then there's Hoseok peering over the stranger's shoulder, saying “Oh, there's Namjoon!” louder than necessary, and the familiar clench takes him over. He smiles anyway, strides over, jacket in hand, swallows down the tightness.
“This is Jungkook,” Hoseok is saying, forcibly turning the stranger, arm slung over strong shoulders.
“Hey,” comes his voice, low and gravely.
“Oh my god,” shrieks the voice in his head, maybe making his eyes go a bit wider than usual, but nothing compared to the huge, round eyes looking up at him, literally sparkling.
“Hi,” says this Jungkook, looking away, looking back, glancing to Hoseok, darting down to Namjoon's tattoos, eyes landing back on Namjoon's before finally both of them look to Hoseok for explanation.
“He's in dance club. He's fucking good, too. It's fucking annoying,” he teases. “Can't just be a useless pretty boy, noooo....”
Namjoon tunes out Hoseok's teasing, fascinated by the shy smile that pushes Jungkook's cheeks to his eyes, that gets shier when he catches Namjoon looking.
“Be nice to your students,” he says, smacking Hoseok in the chest. Act like you weren't staring, also literally stop staring, god,
Hoseok clutches his chest in mock hurt. “Me?! I am the nicest,” he exaggerates. “I just bought him dinner because he won his first dance competition. Didn't I?” he says, Jungkook getting a smack to the chest this time.
“He did, he did,” Jungkook laughs, bumping into Namjoon in attempt to escape. “Ah, sorry,” he says, a little breathless.
Namjoon shakes his head. “You're fine.” His hand comes up to catch his shoulder but falls away.
“Whatever, get out of here already,” Hoseok grumbles through a grin.
“Test tomorrow,” Jungkook explains, eyes darting up to Namjoon's one last time, flushing to find Namjoon's eyes already there, again.
“Ah, sucks. Good luck,” Namjoon says, chest tightening at how boring the words sound.
Jungkook waves over his shoulder before he pushes through the door into the cool night air.
“Ah, he's a cute kid,” Hoseok says, shoving the last piece of sushi in his mouth as he hands Namjoon a menu. “A nice kid. He really works so hard.”
Namjoon snorts over the menu, fighting his mind that aches to replay the small bunny-ish smile from the doorway. “You sound like he's twelve years old.”
Hoseok shrugs. “Once they're students they're all my children,” he croons. Always with the dramatics. “Really though, for a sophomore, he's impressive. He's a vocal performance major, but he's taking Yoongi's music theory classes, for fun,” he grimaces. “And you saw that cute and shy shit, right?”
Dear god did he.
“You should see him when he dances,” Hoseok continues. “It gets sinful real quick.”
Namjoon gives a half-interested laugh. Meanwhile, his brain cartwheels through his head banging several cow bells at the image. What would sin look like on that face?
“Don't be gross about your children,” he says, managing to choke out some sarcasm.
Hoseok ignores him as usual. “I think he doesn't really have friends. I guess he transferred here this year? Anyway, I was thinking I'd invite him to stuff sometime.”
He tsks. “Pretty bad when friendless sophomores are your only options,” Namjoon says, shaking his head sadly. “Ran everyone else off, huh.”
“Fuck off,” Hoseok laughs, grabbing the menu from Namjoon's hands to smack him over the head with it before handing it back. “He's cool alright, Christ, let me be nice. It's my thing.”
Namjoon chuckles and raises his hands in apology or defeat, but his mind is a repeating mantra of hell yes Hoseok do it do your bizarrely friendly thing fuck yes Hoseok do it- “ Ah, yeah, I'll get the miso ramen please. Thanks,” he says to the waitress, closing the menu and sipping his water, face a picture of calm.
He chews on his straw, eyes out of focus on the napkin holder. Ah, how hard had he been staring for Jungkook to notice that much? He remembers the flush in Jungkook's cheeks and his toes curl in his boots.
Jungkook, 10 minutes early to his English Lit test and heavily caffeinated, stares at the cartoon Shakespeare on the wall and doesn't see it. His mind has decided instead to play the fun game of “here's 27 different ways you could've acted in that situation instead, 9 hours too late”.
“We should all eat again sometime, since I'm leaving right when you're got here,” or “How do you and Hoseok know each other?” or “Nice to meet you” or just a little more than “Hi” really would've been great. A little less involuntary blushing, a little less getting caught staring.
He sighs long at cartoon Shakespeare and scowls, fiddling an eraser across the tops of his fingers. Namjoon probably thought he was weird as hell, some twitchy idiot sophomore. Possibly, he is a weird as hell twitchy idiot sophomore, he thinks.
His mind lets go of scenarios and moves to phase two, which is a slide show of the easy way Namjoon walked up to them, the proud, relaxed slouch of his shoulders, curious black symbols tattooed haphazard across his forearms, silver-blond hair sleek and a bit unkempt, the dimples appearing on his smooth face when he wished him luck.
He had seen the motorcycle Hoseok had mentioned as he left the restaurant, black, heavy, solid, just, fucking cool. Namjoon had restored it himself, Hoseok had said. Jungkook had actually walked his moped out of sight around the side of the block before starting the ignition, a pitiful whir compared to what Namjoon's bike must sound like.
And ah, how hard had he been staring for Namjoon to notice that much?
One whole week passed before god or the devil decided to grace him with a vision of aforementioned sin.
He was supposed to meet Hoseok outside the theater and dance building after their night classes at 8:30, but here comes 8:47 and no Hoseok. Namjoon sighs and wanders into the building, plenty sure of the way to Hoseok's studio by now.
The rooms are dark down the hall until he gets to Hoseok's. He jams his face against the little square window in the door, meaning to scowl at Hoseok until he notices, hoping he jumps a little. What he sees has him lurching back and quickly rubbing the smudge from his forehead off the glass with a flannel sleeve.
Hoseok was there, leaning against the mirrored wall, looking every bit the confident, motivating dance teacher. Motivating Jungkook , who was in the middle of the studio, brows furrowed in focus, jaw slack. Sweat soaked right through his oversized tank top, a completely useless item of clothing covering not one bit of his strong arms or neck or the way muscle rippled over his ribs like waves of desert sand.
The way he was moving , like he was summoning the devil or maybe like the devil had summoned him. It was powerful, yet all ease, precise, yet the movements seemed to flow smooth and thoughtless from his body. Not thoughtless, though, no, the effort clear there, just there in the outer corners of his eyes. In the relieved, proud smile when Hoseok jumps forward to clap him on the back when he finishes.
“I think you got it man, just do what you did just now another 40 times or so until you can do it in your sleep,” Hoseok laughs, tossing a towel to him.
Namjoon wonders if he should knock before he gets caught lurking in the doorway like a weirdo at the exact moment Jungkook saunters away toward his duffle bag and rips the infernal tank top off his body, dragging the towel down his bare chest.
He pulls a t shirt from his bag but pauses, cocking his head as if a worry had whispered to him from the ceiling. His lips murmur the song from before and he runs through the segment of choreography where he dips to the side and rolls his body slowly. Because the devil loves or hates Namjoon an extra lot today, Jungkook does it again two more times before shrugging into his shirt.
" Jesus Christ ," Namjoon hisses at the door. His knees turn to jelly, he is thankful for the vision bestowed upon him, he is stressed, he is a fumbling mess. He pretends to notice none of this.
This is of course the moment Hoseok finally notices him and yells “PEEPING TOM! PERVERT!” He breaks into his hyena laugh and opens the door for Namjoon, who, to his credit, only considers making a dash down the hall for a second before walking inside the humid studio.
“Sorry man, we lost track of time. Jungkookie here is gonna be in a commercial, can you fucking believe it? Went to an audition and just, fucking, got it?? Ah, to be so beautiful,” Hoseok says wistfully, snapping his towel at Jungkook.
Jungkook rolls his eyes and pushes his sweaty hair back from his face, but doesn't fail to smile at the praise. “It's not that big of a deal,” he murmurs, flustered at the sudden appearance of Namjoon and compliments.
“Nah, no, that's impressive!” Namjoon says. He really meant it, but the words felt so flat in his mouth. He drops his eyes to the bike helmet in his hands before he can see the way Jungkook raises his face to him, gaze twinkling with wonder or wondering.
It's the oddest feeling, this itchy magnetic pull toward someone he's met all of twice. Jungkook slings the towel around his neck and Namjoon has to shove his hand in his pocket to keep it from wrapping around Jungkook's elbow. Namjoon, teased on the regular for his noticeable lack of touchiness.
The first time he'd hugged Hoseok, Hoseok laughed for five minutes at the awkwardness. No one knew how affectionate he wanted to be, except his ex. Other people he had dated he'd never trusted enough for them to see that Namjoon.
It wasn't something he loved about himself. Or, was he a little glad? If none of them had shown something about themselves that induced him to trust like that...
A thump lands hard on his forehead. “Where'd you go Namjoon?” Hoseok teases, not unkindly.
Namjoon blinks. Jungkook and Hoseok were staring at him, bags in hand. “Sorry, just uh, thinking about papers to grade.”
“Are you a professor?” Jungkook asks.
He shakes his head, neck flushing a little at the sudden attention. “Just a TA. Philosophy and Ethics TA.”
Jungkook's eyes go wide at that, staring at the wall, brows slightly furrowed, lost to the conversation for a minute as they made their way through the dark halls and neatly manicured lawn.
They pause in the parking lot next to Hoseok's tiny teal-blue Suzuki Sidekick, an oversized toy jeep in Namjoon's opinion, a metal version of a flip-flop, a giant toddler's—
“She can hear you thinking, Namjoon, you're gonna hurt her feelings,” Hoseok warns, patting the roof of his ridiculous car lovingly.
“Namjoon's a mechanic, because being a philosophy major is a horrible life choice,” he informs Jungkook. Namjoon shrugs and nods at the assessment.
“Cool,” Jungkook says, and Namjoon feels Jungkook's gaze on him like someone turned a heat lamp towards him in the dark night air.
“Hey, you wanna come hang out with us?” Jungkook and Namjoon whip their heads toward Hoseok. “We're just ordering pizza and hanging out, but,' Hoseok shrugs, and not for the first time, Namjoon envies how easily he does that. Just, befriends, rather than waiting to be befriended.
Jungkook's eyes are wider than Namjoon has yet seen them, but he's sure he's gone a bit wide-eyed too. “Okay yeah,” he stutters a little. “I'm all sweaty though,” he says, wrinkling his nose.
Hoseok had to tell him three times that it was fine to use his shower, but even still, Jungkook put every bottle of soap and shampoo he used back in the exact position he'd found it in, making sure the labels were facing front.
He hangs the damp towel carefully on the towel rack and gets dressed, listening to the sound of muffled laughter in the living room. It's Namjoon's laughter instead of Hoseok's. He hadn't heard it before, low and breathy compared to Hoseok's wild, musical laugh.
He pauses in front of the bathroom door, absently ruffling his fingers through damp hair. Was it weird that he was here? Hoseok was just a nice guy; did they really want him here? An awkward sophomore with nothing to talk about, much less with a mechanic biker slash genius of philosophy. In an abstract way, Namjoon was so much of who Jungkook wanted to be that it made him feel awfully small, if he thought about it.
So he wouldn't think about it. He's here now and he wanted to be, so he'd take his mom's advice and be a little selfish.
Namjoon's still laughing when Jungkook pads quietly in the living room, sprawled back on the sofa, clutching his stomach. His eyes were squeezed into little half moons, mouth wide enough to make those dimples disappear. Namjoon: solid, lean, sleek and grungy as the motorcycle he rode in on looked like a cuddly little kid.
Something does a flip flop in Jungkook's stomach, but he doesn't have the words to know what it means, or the confidence to say them to himself.
“Oh good,” Hoseok says when he see Jungkook, ripping him away from the moment. “What pizza toppings do you want?”
Three of Hoseok's infamous long island ice teas was enough to make Jungkook smile at who he was talking to instead of at the floor, apparently. Also enough to make him turn fully toward Namjoon on the sofa and talk to him, animatedly, question after question.
“If you're really so interested about philosophy, I have some books could borrow,” Namjoon laughs softly.
Jungkook shakes his head, tugging on his silver earrings as he'd been doing for the last hour. “I don't like reading so much? I just like thinking.”
“That's fair.” Namjoon concedes. He doesn't tell him that he writes in his free time.
“It seems like it matters more when you talk about it anyway. Like it makes the real world more real, not just theories.” Jungkook had pulled a photo album off Hoseok's coffee table, missing the blush that took over Namjoon's cheeks.
He slaps it shut, epiphany from his own words taking over his face. “Oh. You'd be a good teacher, you should be a teacher,” he urges.
Namjoon laughs a little and picks at the frayed end of his jeans. “That's the plan. Maybe. Sometimes I'd rather just fix cars and...think in my free time. ”
They were quiet together for a moment. “You're a vocal performance major, right?” Namjoon asks.
He nods, face pleased, but some pain edges in. “But, I don't... I mean I love it but it seems ridiculous sometimes. A waste of money? The odds of me becoming anything from singing or dancing are just...like what, am I gonna become some famous celebrity or something?” he frowns.
“According to Hoseok you're so talented, though. And you're gorgeous and—“ and oh fuck keep talking bury those words in other words maybe he didn't hear, fuck “AND you got that commercial and you seem really motivated and you won that dance thing, right? Anyway, you never know where life's gonna go; you can only chase after what you want, right?”
It takes a few full seconds of dutifully picking at a loose string for Namjoon to dare to look up. Jungkook's face is shy and wistful, the ghost of...cockiness? perhaps? tugging at his smile.
Hoseok and Yoongi had been looking at something on Yoongi's phone for the last fifteen minutes. Hoseok is leaned close over Yoongi's shoulder, head tilting almost to brush against Yoongi's ear every time they laughed. No matter who they were with, they inevitably made little bubbles of time for just the two of them.
Literally anyone with eyes would pin them as in love. Ask either of them though, and it's “not like that”. Neither of them would ever answer what it was like, though. It wasn't nothing.
Whatever it was or wasn't, Namjoon has always been a little envious. He would love to have someone that felt like home, which is what he figures they were to each other. But it isn't something you can just go out and find, he knows, so he tries not to think about it every time he's with those two, or alone. Which is to say, he tries not to think about it nearly all of the time because he's an introvert with exactly two close friends.
Namjoon realizes with a little twitch that he'd spaced out on Jungkook. His brain scrambles for something interesting to say, but Jungkook was spaced out too, eyes wide and serious at the wall behind Namjoon as his fingers tap along to the music playing. It was nice, for some reason, the mutual spacing-out.
After a moment, Jungkook shifts back to him, cuddling sideways into the couch and asks, “Do you ever wonder—“ but the doorbell rings.
Taehyung bursts through the door without bothering to wait for someone to open it, and Namjoon's heart sinks a little.
It's not that he doesn't like Taehyung, he really does, but he's sure Jungkook was only talking to him so much because Hoseok and Yoongi were in their little bubble. And Taehyung, Taehyung is fun. One of those effortlessly entertaining natural types.
It gets noisier, suddenly, as it always seems to when Taehyung appears. Namjoon hollers a “hey Taehyung” and walks to the kitchen. He leans on the refrigerator and chews a cold piece of pizza. He scrolls through his phone, half listening as they introduce Jungkook, who has a class with Taehyung, it turns out.
Good for them, Namjoon tells himself. Like Hoseok said, Jungkook is new, doesn't have friends, deserves friends. Taehyung would be good for him; it's impossible to stay shy around Taehyung.
He tries to ignore that he's alone in the kitchen, that he put himself there.
Not three minutes pass when Jungkook strolls into the kitchen and hops up on to the counter beside the toaster, grabbing a bag of chips. “So which was your first tattoo?” he asks, throwing a handful of cheetos in his mouth.
He left a room of people to come talk to you. He left Taehyung, a human puppy, to talk to you, a human fool.
He shushes his dumb mind; Jungkook was just hungry.
He had paused for just a beat but already Jungkook goes still and raises his arms in an odd, jerky motion. “Ah, sorry, I know some people don't like questions about their tattoos, sorry if—“
“No! No I don't care, I like questions.” He hadn't meant to say that last part, how had that come out? It wasn't even quite true; people never ask the questions he wants to answer.
But the moment Jungkook walked in the kitchen, Namjoon knew what the flip-flop in his stomach meant. He likes Jungkook's questions. He likes Jungkook.