Yoongi doesn’t understand laundromats. It’s three in the morning on what is technically a Monday but still feels like a Sunday, in that it’s lazy and slow but with the desperate edge the end of the weekend always has, and he’s stuck, crouched in front of a washing machine, just trying to get his whites whiter and his colours brighter. He’s starting a new job in seven hours. It should be easier than this. He’s brand new to Seoul too, most of his stuff is still in boxes, and he’d known that the city was going to be different but he hadn’t expected to be tripped up by laundry the day after moving. Laundry is supposed to be universal. He folds back the corner of the instructional sticker on the front of the machine, lets it prick the pad of his index finger. His clothing is in the barrel, not more than half-full, his fabric softener and laundry liquids are in the right compartments, he’s selected his wash cycle, he’s hit the flashing start button, and it isn’t working. There’s no water, no spinning, no nothing. Not even the dull hum most appliances make when they wake up. He’s so tired. He’s going to die here because he can’t work a washing machine
“I’m definitely older than you,” he tells the machine, knocking his forehead very gently against the door, “so do as you’re told.”
It’s while he’s saying this that someone else chooses to visit the laundromat. Someone else with whatever stupid insomniac’s habits Yoongi has spent his whole life cultivating. They open the sliding door and Yoongi stops hitting himself but he doesn’t look up. He doesn’t want to see anyone who can do their laundry without help. He doesn’t want to see anyone at all, actually, but he especially doesn’t want to see someone comfortable with Seoul in a way he’s not. They move passed him, down the corridor of machines to the bigger ones at the back. Yoongi pulls his beanie down a little more firmly around his ears. He feels like he’s been at this laundromat his whole life and the grey-flecked lino and flickering fluorescent lights and the smell of warm lint are sewn to him as closely as his shadow is. The other laundry-goer is humming, sort of, or at least making the sort of noises that sound like they might be from a song. Not a song Yoongi knows.
“Fuck you,” he tells the washing machine, quietly, “give me back my money then.”
“You have to take the key out,” says the hummer, apparently right next to him now, though Yoongi hadn’t heard him move. Apparently able to solve a laundry crisis with a single glance, too. The washing machine says nothing. Yoongi sighs.
“What?” he asks, tilting his head towards the machine, away from the human.
“The key, the thing you load with money, if you take it out the machine’ll start. It’s to stop you forgetting it, I guess. I did the same thing the first time I was here but I didn’t figure it out for-”
“Right,” interrupts Yoongi. He doesn’t want to hear about someone else’s laundry failures either. His cheeks are warm. Obviously you have to take the key out before the machine will start. He reaches forward, tugs out the little blue key with its silver chip and pockets it. The washing machine hums, low and cold, and starts to fill with water. He kind of wants to punch it. He’s so tired . “I knew that,” he says, standing up.
His saviour is taller than him, which doesn’t say much but it is annoying. High cheekbones and faded silvery pink hair and a pretty mouth that isn’t made nearly as ugly as it should be by the sour expression tugging at its corners. Also annoying. Whatever. Yoongi hates him then. He hopes he isn’t blushing but he thinks he probably is.
“You’re welcome,” says the guy pointedly, kinda pissy, kinda cute, tilting his chin. Yoongi almost laughs.
“Yeah,” he says, “thanks.”
He looks back at the machine for a moment, takes off his beanie, scrubs his fingers through his hair, puts it on again. It’s working beautifully, of course, water swirling, clothes spinning. He can feel the guy rolling his eyes before he goes back to his own laundry. Yoongi crosses the room too, in the opposite direction, to the cramped seating area at the front corner of the room, next to the sliding doors. Really, it’s just two uncomfortable plastic chairs with a wooden stool jammed between them, acting like a side table, but it’s hidden behind a wall of dryers so he’ll be as alone as he can be. He should probably go back to the apartment, unpack a little more, but once he’s sitting down it seems impossible to move again. He grinds his knuckles against his eye sockets, stretches his legs out as far as he can, slipping down until his butt is perched against the edge of the seat. Maybe he can sleep here. Maybe, if he closes his eyes, his laundry will all be magically washed and dried before he opens them. How long does a wash cycle take? There’s a neon countdown at the front of the machine but he can’t make it out from his seat. Twenty minutes? Thirty? Namjoon is in his head explaining REM cycles and the optimum length of time for a nap. At his parent’s house the washing machine takes almost an hour to get through a cycle, but he’s pretty sure it’s older than he is.
Across the room another machine starts up and the sound is actually kind of soothing, now that he’s not fighting with anything. A soft rattle, a low hum. He’s going to wrap himself up in every scarf he owns, when they’re all toasty warm from the dryer. He’s going to sleep in them, when he eventually falls into bed. He's going to close his eyes and pretend he's somewhere he knows as well as the lines on his palms, the rough edges of his thumbnails, the purple grey of Daegu storms.
He’s close to drifting off when another noise starts up, almost-singing again, growled nonsense, the stupid irrelevant noise of someone who likes to compete with silence. Why didn’t he bring his headphones? Seoul’s turned him inside out in less than thirty six hours, he can’t trust himself with anything anymore. And normally he wouldn’t let it bother him, he’d just tune it out, but he’s pretty sure he’s in some kind of waking dream and there’s an ache between his shoulder blades from hauling boxes and he hasn’t eaten since lunch, which was more than twelve hours ago, and the combination of all of that means he’s definitely going to murder anyone who sings badly in a laundromat at three in the morning. He gets to his feet, walks out from behind the machines.
“Can you, uh...” The words die in his throat. The guy has climbed up on top of the largest machines and is lying down across three of them, stretched out, shoes off, lifting his legs and then dropping them back down so his heels thud hollowly against the metal. His eyes are closed and he has headphones and he can lift his legs up and over his waist, straight and steady. At their highest point he pushes his toes back so the soles of his feet are flat and then he tips them further still, to the wall behind him. For a moment Yoongi is transfixed, by the way the cuffs of his sweatpants are falling down from his ankles, the way his hair is falling back from his face, the corner of his mouth as he growls along with whatever he’s listening to, and then he thinks fuck off and clears his throat loudly.
The guy’s eyes open, slide across to Yoongi. He doesn’t sit up, just stretches his arms up behind his head so he can press his palms to the wall, like he’s trying to be as long as possible. His forearms are pretty. His hands are pretty. He keeps his headphones in. Yoongi considers stealing them.
“I’m dancing,” he says then, like that’s somehow a reasonable explanation.
“Dancing,” Yoongi echoes.
He feels like he’s stepped into an alternate universe. One where strange guys with awkwardly lovely faces and long legs make too much noise and stretch in laundromats and call it dancing. Maybe he really is dreaming. But then the guy sits up, crosses his legs, takes his earbuds out, and the universe wobbles back to something sort of normal. His socked feet swing and he cocks his head to one side, like he’s waiting for Yoongi to say something more.
“If you’re dancing,” he says, licking his lips, inexplicably not wanting to disappoint, “then I’m playing basketball.”
The guy laughs, and it’s a little bit gratifying and a lot terrifying, a bright smile and one thousand teeth and eyes like sunshine. Really kind of beautiful but also kind of way too much of a reaction from a stranger in the middle of the night. Yoongi holds himself very still so he doesn’t do anything ridiculous like step away or smile back. It wasn’t even funny, really. Laundromat insomniacs are weird, he decides, but he probably has to include himself in that.
“You’re very good,” says the guy, trying to look serious and failing miserably. He’s kind of glowing, actually. Yoongi feels... strange.
“I’m the best,” he says, stiffly.
They stare at each other for another long moment and then Yoongi clears his throat again, turns away. This is not what the laundromat is for. He’s not sure there’s anywhere for whatever this is. He goes to sit back down, out of sight. He tucks himself down further into his collar. He doesn’t think about sleeping again and the other guy starts up his noise, half-singing half-speaking along to whatever he’s listening to, so mumbled and rough that Yoongi can’t hear what he’s saying, though he listens intently. It sometimes sounds like he’s rapping which isn’t weird, isn’t weird, millions of people listen to rap, but it still feels too close for comfort.
Somehow, the guy finishes his laundry before Yoongi does, even though he’d started later. He walks out from behind the machines and his washing basket is wicker and all of his clothes are folded neatly inside, stacked in piles. He stops by Yoongi on the way out and Yoongi thinks he’s been in this laundromat for one thousand years and staring at this guy makes him feel every second of it.
“Good luck, Michael Jordan,” he says, still smiling, still glowing. Yoongi wants to tell him to stop it, it’s almost four in the morning, it’s inappropriate to be glowing, but he doesn’t.
“Good luck, Michael Jackson,” he says, instead, and the guy laughs again and it’s just as startling the second time around.
Then he drags open the sliding door, balancing the basket against his hip, and disappears into the velvet dark.
Yoongi chews at the dry skin at his lower lip and tugs the sleeves of his sweater over his knuckles. The air is dryer in Seoul, he thinks. He’ll have to find a new lip balm. Maybe that’s just what people in Seoul are like, at three in the morning in a laundromat. Maybe it's another thing he'll have to get used to.
While he waits for the dryer to finish he decides that the guy had been a ghost, a laundry spirit made from the clothes of dead people, because no living person could be bright like that at this time of the morning. Or at least no one Yoongi knows. Well, maybe Jungkook, with his shiny eyes and his youth, but he probably isn’t human either. Yoongi feels very human. He’s never found a sweater that fits right and every email he’s ever sent has been awkward and he doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life, just that he keeps existing. Jungkook’s going to rule the world one day. Dancing laundry guy probably always has an umbrella when it rains, even if it isn’t forecast.
Back at the apartment, Yoongi discovers the waistbands of all of his jeans are still wet, as well as the collars of some of his sweaters, and he has to set up a drying rack so he can avoid wearing shorts and a t-shirt in October. It’s not exactly unexpected, but it is annoying, and when he’s done the tiny living room looks kind of like a clothing market or a kid’s blanket fort. He briefly considers sleeping under it, pretending he’s ten years old with his brother sleeping next to him, too old for those sort of games but playing them anyway. With his luck the damp in the air would make him sick and then Seokjin would laugh at him for the rest of their lives.
It’s almost five by the time he gets into bed and that’s not unusual, but it is ridiculous. He has work at ten, his first day, and he knows he’s going to look like a wreck but he’s pretty sure if he gets up half an hour before he starts he’ll have enough time to get there and get coffee. Four and a half hours sleep isn’t so bad, he’s done more on less. It’s not even half as much as he needs but he can’t remember the last time he got to sleep as much as he wanted. He’ll be able to stay awake long enough to meet his co-workers and drift through induction and learn where the staff room is, so it'll do.
When he gets dressed in the morning his jeans are still damp, sticky at his hips when he pulls them on, but better than shorts. Seokjin’s already gone, but he’s folded up everything that’s dry enough and put it back in Yoongi’s basket. Yoongi ought to kick his ass for that, for mothering him, but he won’t. He’ll clean the bathroom or fix the sticky toaster lever in revenge.
He stumbles through his morning routine, squinting at himself in the bathroom mirror, pulling on a beanie instead of doing anything with his hair, ducking down into a scarf instead of doing anything with his face. Jungkook said he could wear whatever he wanted but Jungkook doesn’t actually work there most of the time so he goes for middle ground. His coat is nice and his shoes are nice and he doesn’t actually care much more beyond being warm. It’s not winter yet, there’s still clear sun in the evenings, but he always wears too many layers. He runs cold, even in the summer. The scarf feels strange though, it smells wrong or it’s the wrong sort of soft or it isn't falling right. Maybe he bought the wrong fabric softener. Maybe he should call his mum and ask her for the exact brand instead of assuming it would be the only kind in yellow packaging. How the fuck can he even tell? No, there's no way he's calling his mum less than forty eight hours after moving to whine about buying the wrong type of fabric softener. He takes off the scarf. He turns up the collar of his coat instead, buttons it up to his throat, and leaves.
It’s not because of the guy that Yoongi does his laundry again on the same day, at the same time, two weeks later. It’s not. It’s because he’s been too busy to do it sooner and he can’t sleep and the track he’s working on isn’t coming together properly and he isn’t settling well in Seoul at all. His co-workers think it’s funny to make him repeat himself constantly even though he knows they understand him. It’s stupid, the people paying them all are from Busan, it’s not like accents or slips into satoori are unusual. It's probably more because he's new but he feels... he feels like he’s wearing shoes that don’t fit. But then he remembers that he has laundry to do, something so normal it can’t possibly feel as alien to him as everything else does, not now that he knows about taking the key out of the machine. He grabs his laundry basket and his wrong fabric softener and his little blue machine key. He leaves his headphones on his desk.
It’s empty when he gets there and he isn’t disappointed. Not at all. He puts his basket down in front of the machine, the same machine he’d used last time, pulls the door open. It seems important to keep everything just as it was, the time and the day and the machine, though it shouldn’t matter. He dumps his clothing into the barrel, adds everything else, pulls the key out, presses start. It hums and spins and he rocks back on his heels, sighs, wipes his hands across his thighs. It’s stupid how much calmer he feels, just getting something to work first try. He hears the sliding door open behind him and he smooths a finger over the wonky sticker point he’d peeled back last time to keep himself from leaping to his feet.
“Are you stalking me?” says a voice, surprised and delighted.
Yoongi does stand up then, turns, and of course it’s him, dancing laundry guy, but he’d known that as soon as the door opened. He wants to tidy his hair or smooth out his clothes or something so he shoves his hands in his pockets, kicks at the base of the washing machine instead.
“You got here after me both times, you’re obviously the stalker,” he says.
“I think you knew I’d be here,” says the guy. He’s beaming, he’s hugging his laundry basket to his chest and he’s smiling like the sun and Yoongi can’t really... it’s like an anachronism, that expression in this place. “I’m happy to see you.”
“Yeah, because you’re stalking me,” mutters Yoongi, taking his hands out of his pockets to tug at the string of his hoodie. He puts the end to his mouth and then changes his mind, lets it drop. I’m happy to see you . How had he not realised this guy had an accent? Not Daegu, but not Seoul either. He puts his hands back in his pockets.
“Do you not sleep either? I come here because I can’t sleep, which is most of the time, even when I don’t have laundry.” He busies himself, heading to the back, shaking out his clothing and shoving it into the machine. Yoongi leans against another machine to watch him. He has his laundry liquids in pretty flower printed bottles, like he’s transferred them from their packaging on purpose. Yoongi can’t imagine taking the time to do something like that. He has a mesh bag for delicates too and Yoongi isn’t sure if he has any delicates but he sure as shit doesn’t have a special bag for them.
“Why here?” he asks.
“It’s usually empty and warm,” he shrugs. “I practise here sometimes, it feels different dancing somewhere that hasn’t been built for it. It’s smaller too and I think that helps me, dancing in a confined space. I bang my elbows against the machines when I get sloppy.” He slams the door shut, carefully pours his laundry liquids into the top, turns the key, takes it out. He turns to Yoongi. “Why do you come here?”
“To do laundry,” says Yoongi, automatically, the truth but also kind of not the truth at all. Mostly he just wants to feel less out of his depth. It’s been a strange couple of weeks, his first in Seoul, and he’d known it would be different but he’d also secretly thought it’d be easy. It isn't. It’s somehow both massive and cramped at the same time and it’s too loud and he’s not scared of it, not exactly, just kind of overwhelmed. It’s hard to leave his room sometimes, where he’s surrounded by things he knows. It’s hard to speak sometimes, not that he would ever tell anyone anything. But it’s a little easier when he’s doing something as mundane as laundry. He can’t believe this guy is an actual dancer.
“Liar,” says the dancer, smirking, shaking him out of his thoughts.
“I’m doing my laundry, aren’t I?”
“That’s not all you’re here for though, right?”
“I’m not here for a stranger to talk shit at me.”
“You’ll have to switch laundromats then, this one’s mine and I’m ninety percent bullshit.”
Yoongi huffs out a laugh, grins at his shoes, their crooked laces, because it’s less weird than smiling at a stranger somehow, even if the stranger keeps smiling like a solar flare. Yoongi used to do laundry with his brother, to help out their parents, dragging the basket outside, standing on a step stool to peg everything on the line, as solemn about it as kids always are when they’re given such a task, after they’ve stopped whining about it. He runs a hand through his hair to clear his head. Laundry isn’t nostalgic, he’s being stupid. Fabric softener isn’t nostalgic either. His family still exist, they’re just a little further away than usual. He pushes himself off the machine he’s leaning on.
“I’m gonna... sit,” he says, awkwardly. Laundry guy is still smirking and now he raises his eyebrows too. Yoongi hates him.
“You do that,” he says. Yoongi hates him a lot. He crosses the room and he kind of thinks the guy will follow him, but he doesn’t. Yoongi doesn’t care. He can’t remember why he didn’t bring his headphones. He knows they’re sitting on his desk and it doesn’t make sense that he would deliberately leave them behind. But then laundry guy starts up his weird almost-singing again and Yoongi hates himself a little bit too. There is some part of his brain that wanted to listen to this bullshit. One small part of the myriad of parts that make up Min Yoongi that thinks it’s weirdly compelling, the half-growled raps and mostly mumbled singing. Whatever. He shuts his eyes.
He still listens though and at one point he recognises It G Ma, the shrieks and whoops of it, and he hasn’t heard that song in a year at least and it reminds him of noraebang with Taehyung. No one else had wanted to come with them but Yoongi was drunk enough that it was all he wanted to do and Taehyung never missed an opportunity to yell. It had been their last song and Yoongi had done most of the rapping and Taehyung all of the stupid adlibs and he’d been so loud the staff had come and told them to keep it down, which had sent Yoongi on a rant about the quality of their soundproofing. Laundry guy tries to do both the rapping and the adlibs, sometimes at the same time, his voice in turns tumbling and lazy and high pitched and startling. Yoongi puts his head in his hands.
“You okay?” The guy falls into the seat beside him the moment the song is over, like he’d sensed Yoongi’s despair, hitting the stool between them hard enough that it almost falls. Yoongi squints at him. He’s kind of overwhelming up close, his skin and his eyes and his everything. There are earbuds hanging around his neck and he can hear a new song coming from them, tinny and strained.
“What’s your name?” he asks, the only way he can think to avoid the question. Laundry guy looks delighted.
“Jung Hoseok,” he says, bowing messily in his seat, “but don’t tell me yours, I like the mystery.”
“Min Yoongi,” says Yoongi.
“You’re boring, Min Yoongi.” He pouts extravagantly. Yoongi wants to pinch his lips together.
“I’ve made my peace with that,” he says instead, folding his hands carefully in his lap.
“Listen to music with me?” He waves one of his earbuds at Yoongi, who shakes his head.
“No,” he says, “go away.”
“You need company.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do.”
“Who else is there?”
Yoongi is startled quiet. There is no one else in the world at three in the morning in a laundromat. He needs to get more insomniac friends. He needs to lure Namjoon out of hiding, but for that he needs the goddamned stupid track he can’t get right. Hoseok is looking at him, eyes sharp, lips parted slightly. The top two buttons of his shirt are undone and his collarbones are... it’s not quite cold enough that his outfit is totally stupid, he has a jacket on over the shirt, but Yoongi resents it all the same. He has his sweatpants tucked into his socks. He doesn’t answer the question or take the offered earbud and eventually Hoseok sighs and shrugs and uses them both himself. He doesn’t leave though, just listens to his music on his own, singing along more quietly than he has been, soft and low, something that might be sweeter than Keith Ape but it’s coming from someone with a voice like burnt sugar. Yoongi counts the fly spots on the ceiling.
He’s not sure when he falls asleep, but he comes awake with a start, throwing himself forward, knocking Hoseok’s hand from where it’s at his shoulder. Hoseok’s eyes go wide and he holds his hands out like Yoongi is some animal to be placated and that kind of really pisses him off and he mumbles something vicious, swats at Hoseok irritably, stands up. His head is clouded with sleep and slightly off key singing and being awake is maybe the worst thing that has ever happened to him.
“Sorry!” Hoseok says, far too loud, hurrying to stand up too. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to wake you up but your washing is finished and-”
“Stop.” Yoongi flaps a hand at him. His voice comes out strange and rough, he licks his lips to stop them sticking. “Stop,” he says again. He goes to his machine, pulls everything out, fumbling with the wet clothes, knocking his knuckles against the metal. He can feel Hoseok watching him as he starts the dryer and he feels completely thrown off again, by falling asleep so easily and waking up so suddenly. Maybe the only times he’ll ever be comfortable enough in Seoul to sleep easily are when he's in a twenty four hour laundromat with a pretty boy. No, not pretty, a stupid boy.
When he goes back to sit down, Hoseok stops hovering and follows him. He’s wringing his hands like he’s done something wrong and Yoongi wants to stop him, take his hands and hold them still. He concentrates on rolling his shoulders back instead, stretching until his joints click. Next to him, Hoseok is fiddling with his earbuds again, twining the cord around his index finger and then shaking it out onto his leg in a limp spiral. Not giving himself time to overthink it, Yoongi reaches across and picks them up, fingers grazing Hoseok’s thigh, and he wipes one of them off on his sleeve. He feels unreal, still stuck in a dream. Hoseok smells like sun-dried cotton, warm and soft and familiar, and he thinks that must be what washing smelled like after drying outside in Daegu in the summer. Realistically, he shouldn’t smell like that at all, because it’s autumn and he uses a tumble dryer, but he does. Yoongi definitely shouldn’t notice it though.
“Play something nice,” he says.
They sit together, listening to music, any awkwardness brushed over by sound. Hoseok taps his feet along to everything and his limbs twitch sometimes, like he’s dancing in his head, but it doesn’t annoy Yoongi nearly as much as it should. It’s sort of endearing, actually, and Yoongi kind of hates himself a little bit for thinking that, but it is. He’s never found himself with a crush so fast, but he supposes that’s what this is. In the same way a crush on a person who catches the same bus as you every day is a crush. Hoseok is pretty and nice and kind of loud and kind of weird and a total fucking stranger, but Yoongi has a habit of inappropriate crushes. The girl in his traditional music class in Daegu who played the pansori drum and had painted pink fingernails and a tiny adorable girlfriend. Hyojin, who was always on the bill with him and Namjoon at shows and who hated him for unknown reasons. Taehyung. Taehyung . Honestly, a crush on a laundromat stranger is probably a lot less dangerous. He shuffles a little lower in his seat, watches Hoseok’s hands tap out a beat on his thighs.
Yoongi’s washing is done before Hoseok’s this time and he doesn’t understand the mechanics of that but it doesn’t matter. He gives the earbud back and dumps his clothing into his basket and it is awkward then, his arms full of laundry, wondering how to say goodbye to someone you don’t actually know.
“See you next time,” says Hoseok brightly, fixing the strange atmosphere with a smile. Maybe it’s just Yoongi who’s making it strange. Probably. Definitely. He nods, shrugs the basket higher in his arms,
“Maybe,” he says. “Probably not."
At the apartment, he sits on his bed and folds his laundry. He thinks that if he’d been in Seoul longer than two weeks, he might call what he’s feeling homesickness. He feels unmoored, like he might slip out of his skin and drift away without something to hold him back. Usually he prides himself on his ability to do as little as possible, but here it just kind of makes him feel hollow. Maybe he shouldn’t have taken the job. Maybe he should go back to university, do something with music for real. Maybe he should go back to Daegu and settle back into feeling small and bored and restless again. At least there he never felt like he had to be better than he is. He puts his clothing away. No. He’ll grow into Seoul eventually. He has to.