Chapter 1: Wounds All Over
It is surprising that the notion of an individual afterlife persists in intellectually respectable versions of Christianity. It so transparently fills a lack […] that religion ought simply to note such incapacity as part of the human condition and leave it at that.
The persistence of the soul in an unrecognizable form, unknown to itself, without memory, without identity, is another question entirely.
— Diary of a Bad Year
Kim Seokjin is a lover of many things, including (but not limited to) the preparation and consumption of the culinary arts, the colour pink, buildings with books, and his few loved houseplants. He dubs himself an aesthetician—always appreciating the fine arts, visual and otherwise—and he enjoys indulging himself in music. He works as a secretary for one of the few libraries at KNUA, occasionally restocking shelves on the stacks floors if they’re short staffed. He enjoys stopping by Kim’s Books—a small but locally popular bookstore—either before his shifts or after to browse the selection and greet his friend Hoseok when he’s on shift (and if it isn’t him, it’s Jimin, and Seokjin loves to greet him with a dad joke or two). He’s currently returning the books left on the study tables to their respective places in the stacks, with his headphones blocking out the minimal sound coming from students as they already begin to crack down on studying. It’s the first week of September.
“Oh come on,” Seokjin hears from beside him. The voice is loud and perfectly timed so that he would hear it in between songs. “It’s been two weeks. How long are you going to keep pretending that I don’t exist?”
Seokjin ignores him. When a set of hands that aren’t supposed to exist pull his headphones off his ears and around his neck, he turns to look V in the face without another word. V stares right back at him.
“Are you going to ignore the front door scene from two weeks ago?” he tries again.
Seokjin blinks a few times. He tries to focus on V’s appearance but the occasional translucence doesn’t help. “Yes,” Seokjin deadpans. “Yes I am.”
V turns around and throws his arms in the air. “That’s it. I’m gonna go cause some havoc in the study rooms. See you at the end of your shift.”
“Don’t do anything obvious, you brat.” Seokjin’s voice is a loud whisper. V is already at the end of the row they’re in, but Seokjin can’t have him roaming around without a rule or two just because he’s being ignored while Seokjin has a job to attend to. “Cold breezes. Slightly moving doors. Nothing else.”
“No promises,” V yells. Seokjin has to remind himself that no one else can hear the boy.
The first time Seokjin dreamt about the museum, he was alone.
Everything was too perfect in his eyes: the floor gleamed in a diagonal, checkered pattern of mixed white-and-grey tiles; tall stone pillars, resting on black marbled bases, aided in holding up a high, arched ceiling shadowed with suspended eaves; art of all forms lines the walls, from the starched-white Grecian sculptures to loud-colour paintings and engraved text in languages he couldn’t decipher. A two-tiered, wide marble base sat in the centre of the room, placed closer to the back of the museum. The base was the only thing that wasn’t hanging or pushed up against the walls.
He was strangely aware of his presence in the open space. The silence was deafening and he was uncomfortable.
“So I listened to you. Are you happy yet?”
In case it isn’t obvious, Seokjin is still ignoring V. The library shift had started in the morning, so he’s out of the building and on his way home an hour before the 9-to-5 employees leave their jobs for the day. “God, Jin”—Seokjin also never gave V permission to call him that, and yet—“I stuck to the light stuff. I actually listened. I gave a few girls the shivers, I slid some books off the tables that weren’t in use, and I used the doorknobs to tap out L-O-L in morse code against the walls. No one even picked up on that last one—it’s kind of disappointing, but that’s not the point.”
The bus ride from the university to his apartment is only about twenty minutes. With his hands in his pockets, Seokjin walks from his stop to his building without a word to V. His jaw works against itself as he starts singing one of BIGBANG’s more recent songs at the top of his lungs. He can’t even yell at V. When the elevator doors open on the sixth floor, he heads to unit 606, unlocks the door, and even though he rushed to close and lock it, V’s hand makes an appearance through the door before the rest of him.
Seokjin drops his bag on the couch.
“Again,” V chides, “you seem to forget that I am a ghost. Locking doors doesn’t work on me.”
“Again,” Seokjin mocks in the same tone, heading straight for the bathroom without so much as a glance behind him, “you seem to forget that I can’t talk to you in public without looking like I’ve lost my head. You’re lucky I live alone, too, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you here either.”
“But this is important,” V whines from somewhere in the apartment. Seokjin’s on the toilet, head in his hands, wondering what he had done in his life—this one or past—to deserve being haunted by a friendly ghost. There are so many problems with that sentence that Seokjin doesn’t know where to begin. “Jin, I have a bunch of stuff I still need to explain to you. You’re not listening. You’re not even trying to understand. And I listened to you.”
Seokjin is ready to not respond—again—when V sticks his pretty, floating blond head through the bathroom door. The older boy lets out a little shriek, his hand running over his face, when V continues speaking. “Aren’t you the least bit curious as to why there are cracks on your face? And why they’re getting longer—”
“No.” Seokjin doesn’t miss a beat. “You’re probably just a made-up character from my lack of sleep or something. Like in Fight Club, except less insomniatic. The cracks are also probably a figment of my imagination with some analytical Freudian meaning behind it like—I don’t know—how I’m digging myself into a hole I’ll never get out of or something. I most definitely don’t want to get wrapped up in whatever supernatural deal you made with the devil to get your soul to latch on to me.” He pauses. “That last part only applies to if you are real, in which I should be a lot more terrified when I talk to you.”
V, still looking in on Seokjin’s pee break, pouts. “You’re so cute, yet so harsh. I don’t know how you do it.”
The second time Seokjin dreamt about the museum, he was not alone.
He remembers there were six other people, but everyone was faceless. They all moved around on their own accord—one boy was hit playfully upside the head by someone running past while another two were perched on an empty pedestal, analyzing an open book. Another boy, one with bright orange hair, held a pair of white, gold-trimmed Galilean binoculars.
Seokjin was able to pick out the little details then, things like the Venus de Milo by the entrance and the Fall of the Rebel Angels painting, done in none other than Bruegel’s hand, which hung a little farther into the room. There was no empty podium this time—the room felt smaller without it. The orange-haired character raised the binoculars to his mannequin face, right where his eyes would have been, and walked closer to the painting. He passed through Seokjin as though he was invisible. He hated the feeling of the cool breeze that ran up his spine at the movement.
When he looked up, the young boy directly in front of him began to manifest a human face. He watched the outlines of eyes, the slope of a nose, and the curves of a mouth take shape where there was nothing.
He took in the rest of the boy’s appearance once everything appeared to be set in stone: mussed blond hair, blue eyes so deep and vibrant they seemed artificial, a pair of straight, dark eyebrows, and pink, pink lips. He was adorned in silk the same way a toddler would care about the value behind gold jewelry—the royal blue night robe hung open, his burgundy pyjama pants hung loose and were untied, his white t-shirt was half-tucked into the waistband.
Seokjin opened his mouth to speak, ready to riddle the boy with questions, but there was something about his strange gaze that stopped him. He closed his mouth.
“So,” the boy began. Seokjin was surprised at how melodically deep the voice was. “You can see me.”
Seokjin looked around the room. No one else had developed features. “I guess I can,” he said, even though the phrase wasn’t posed as a question. His voice echoed painfully against the stucco walls and in between the false ceiling and its skylight. The boy disappeared—along with the museum—before any other words could be exchanged. The dream faded to black.
The moment Seokjin opens the door to Kim’s Books, the bell hanging from the frame echoes throughout the store. “Hoseok-ah,” he calls out. “Are you there?”
“Jin-hyung!” The bookstore has a small shelf in the centre of the foyer, with rows of books on either side. Seokjin sees Hoseok’s head shoot up from the cash desk a little farther behind it.
Kim’s Books is, hands down, Seokjin’s favourite place to stop into in his small neighbourhood. They carry a mix of new novels and secondhand books, with the latter collection’s fore-edges marked up in a red Sharpie and the discounted price written on the inside cover in pencil. The books, which are already divided into these sections of Used and New are then separated into genres, with subjects like Art & Architecture near the front and Young Adult shoved into the back. He could spend hours in the store, going on the stool to check out the books shoved into crevices as high up as six-foot-five to the ones grazing the floorboards, but he never has a chance to spend that much time there. He always has other things he needs to attend to.
Seokjin makes his way in between tall stacks without knocking over so much as a single book, but with V trailing behind him, an entire stack of used books topple over. Hoseok curses and hurries over to Seokjin to help him pick up the fallen books. V stands to the side, giggling out an oops, and Seokjin looks up at the ghost and is ready to kill him again.
(The physics and logics behind why V can go through some things and not others is also something neither he nor Seokjin understand. And in Seokjin’s case, he doesn’t bother.)
After the books are restacked, Hoseok makes his way back behind the counter of the cash register and takes his seat. “So,” Seokjin hums, his elbow on the counter. He pulls out his phone and opens the texts Hoseok had sent him just hours earlier. “What’s this important news that, and I quote, ‘simply can’t wait until the next time your busy ass’—read: my busy ass—‘is free?’”
“You surely don’t waste time, do you?” Hoseok huffs out. He leans back on his stool and rests his back against several book stacks already lining the wall. He runs a hand through his dark hair. “It’s about the mystery guy.”
“I should’ve guessed.” Seokjin slips his phone into his back pocket. He takes a quick look around the empty bookstore. “Won’t the owner get mad that you’re slacking off at work?”
“Nah. The owner’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever had the honour of working with.”
“He’s never around, though.”
“You just never come by at the right times.” Hoseok winks. “But it doesn’t really matter. You’re here to see me, after all.”
“Yeah,” Seokjin deadpans, “my leftmost toe is the happiest whenever I see you. It tingles and everything. Now tell me what these updates are.”
In the beauty and grace that make up the students at Korea’s National University of the Arts, Hoseok had confided in Seokjin around two weeks earlier that he had discovered this really, really cute guy in one of his history lectures. From what Seokjin’s been told about this infatuation, the extent of Hoseok’s knowledge is that
- He chews on his pen caps when he’s deep in thought.
- He has (a) slightly messy brown hair, (b) big brown eyes, and (c) too-big front teeth.
- He gets really invested in lectures to the point where Hoseok enjoys going to class and has taken coherent notes because he writes things down at the same time as this nameless boy.
“So I discovered three more things,” Hoseok begins, holding up his index finger. “The first is that he’s in the same dance program as me. I went to the studios late one night to work on my end-of-year choreo—I still need to find a partner for it, though—and he was in my studio.”
“You know you don’t own the place, right? You book the rooms out.”
Hoseok stares at him, unamused. “I know, hyung. I’m in my third year. I’ve been doing this for longer than you’ve been my friend.”
(Given that Seokjin started working at the library a year and a half ago—and that Hoseok prefaced their friendship by asking about Seokjin’s homemade lunch after stealing a bite of it when he wasn’t looking—he’s not wrong.) “Okay, touché. But he was in your booked time. What did you do?”
“I went to the front desk to ask for the list of available rooms to see if maybe I got mine wrong, but he had written over my name in pen! He literally stole the room from me!”
Seokjin blinks. “You used pencil.”
“Who uses pencil?”
“I do, okay? Anyways, because of that, I managed to get his name.” Hoseok presses a button on the receipt machine and rips off a blank scrap. On the back—in pen—he writes down three characters and slides it over the desk.
“Jeon... Jenggeuk?” Hoseok immediately shakes his head at his friend’s reading. “Okay, smartass, maybe you should work on your penmanship too. What’s his name?”
Hoseok leans forward. “It’s Jungkook. Jeon Jungkook.”
“God, Hobi. Why are you whispering?”
“It feels like someone’s listening in on our conversation.”
From the other side of the bookstore, somewhere in the Self-Help section, he hears V yell, “Is someone talking about me?”
Seokjin sighs. “That’s a fair reason.” With a raised voice, he adds, “You never know who might be listening in. Maybe even ghosts.”
“It’s true,” Hoseok says with a shrug. “In the end, I didn’t end up practicing. But I stayed in the waiting area outside the studio for longer than I should have.” He scratches the back of his neck and looks away. “I mean, I was ready to kick him out. I also learned he’s a first year, so I definitely could have pulled the whole respect your elders card. But I just let him do his thing because he’s this–this—I don’t even know—some sort of dancing god?”
Seokjin raises his eyebrows. “I thought you were the self-proclaimed dancing god.”
“That’s just it. I am, but this guy came waltzing in, took my studio time, and killed his practice to the point where I didn’t want to stop him.” Hoseok puts his head in his hands. “I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t know how to talk to him.”
“If it happens again, ask to share the studio space,” Seokjin offers. He rests his right cheek in the palm of his hand, feeling the ridge of where the cracks in his skin have elongated in the past two and a half weeks. He pulls his fingers away from it immediately. Even though he’s discovered that he and V are the only ones that can see the cracks, it’s still discomforting to the touch.
Hoseok scoffs. “It’s like you don’t even know me. It’s not that easy.”
“So what are you guys talking about?” V walks over with his hands in the pockets of his silk robe. Seokjin looks in his general direction with a look of disdain before promptly ignoring him and going back to Hoseok.
“Just write your name in pencil again, wait for him to steal the space, and then talk to him like a normal human being. It’s not as hard as you’re making it seem.”
“You say that because you haven’t dealt with trying to talk to a cute guy.”
“I have talked to plenty.” Seokjin straightens himself up. He prepares to leave because V is getting restless and one of the already precariously balanced books falls to the floor with a clatter. He sighs. “I just haven’t found someone I’m actually interested in.”
Hoseok makes a noise that’s similar to his I-don’t-believe-you tone but Seokjin ignores it as he waves goodbye to his friend. He sticks his hands in his jacket pockets. V walks beside him with his hands clasped behind his back, kicking his legs out in front of him. “So,” he says, “you haven’t found someone you’re interested in yet?”
Seokjin looks around to make sure no one’s on the street. His neighbourhood is quiet during the day and he values his Thursdays off work to walk around without too many people around him. One girl lounges on her porch with a comic book and headphones. Looking straight ahead he answers, “No, I haven’t. But I’m also not really looking.”
“Your recent search history tells me otherwise,” V singsongs. Before he finishes the sentence he’s making a break for it on the sidewalk with Seokjin chasing after him.
(It’s a good thing he looks like an active young man keeping himself in shape rather than a not-so-active young man chasing a ghost in silk pyjamas.)
The third time Seokjin dreamt about the museum, his mind rearranged the German.
It was written above a gold-framed mirror that replaced Bruegel’s painting. Man muss noch Chaos in sich laben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebaren zu können.
Almost everything was the same as the last time. (Seokjin still doesn’t understand how his mind it able to see, let alone memorize, such details in this dream museum. Dreams, last time he checked, are not supposed to be this intricate.) The words shifted before his eyes, moving from one place to another and melding into familiar Hangul.
You must have Chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.
Well, Seokjin thought, he wasn’t and never would be one for dancing, so the meaning of the quote was lost on him. He was taken aback at the echo his own thoughts produced in the museum—he was learning that nothing is hidden within that space of art and surround-sound silence.
“Is it to your liking?” he heard from behind him. He turned, slowly, to meet the gaze of the same blond boy from the last time. He stood a fair distance away, with his head tilted and his hands clasped behind his back.
“Is what to my liking?”
The boy tilted his head to the left. Seokjin followed his direction to look at the same empty base from the very first dream—that time around, it wasn’t empty.
The room began to darken. It started gradually, the white nothingness beyond the eaves and skylight fading to a midnight black, and it later descended into the room. It manifested as a black paint, coating everything but him and the blond boy.
The last thing he saw before he woke up was a sculpture of a not-quite-human figure. The word titan surfaced to his mind—it echoed around him—and he watched, carefully, as the three-metre humanoid collapsed onto its right knee. Its right hand stretched toward the ground.
The titan was bald and faceless, but there were grooves in its face for eyes, nose, lips. Seokjin was confident the corner of its lip quirked before it petrified itself.
Black wings unfurled against the midnight paint, barely visible but glimmering in a nonexistent light. The wings were the only things that didn’t get swallowed up. Seokjin watched the black paint coat his fingers and climb up his neck.
“Let me explain things.”
“Come on, it’s important.”
Seokjin tries his best to block the sounds that come out of V’s mouth at all costs, especially when it’s before ten in the morning. “You say that every time and it is of no more importance than the last time.”
“Jin, the crack runs down your cheek now. You can feel it. You know it’s real.”
He doesn’t respond. The blankets are pulled over Seokjin’s head. He doesn’t even want to see where V is (even though the answer is probably ‘sitting cross-legged on his bed, probably on top of him, because ghosts don’t weigh anything’). He peeks out from under the covers to look at the digital clock on his bedside table.
“Kim Seokjin, it has been a month.”
“It’s seven in the morning. Why are you bothering me about this at seven in the—”
“You never listen to me anyways. Why would the time I bother you at make much of a difference?”
Seokjin sighs. Without any warning V’s hand curls around the edge of the duvet and, with some unnamed force, throws it across the room. It hits the opposite wall with a thud. He stares at the crumpled duvet on the floor with a glassy look in his eyes. In a voice laced with something that isn’t quite defeat, he says, “What did I do to deserve you instead of a poltergeist?”
“I can’t tell if I should be offended or not.” V walks over to the thermostat in the hallway. Seokjin puts his slippers on and follows him out of the bedroom. “You forgot to turn the heat on last night, by the way. No wonder you don’t want to get out of bed.”
The kettle clicks on when V passes by it. He sits on the counter and watches as Seokjin turns on the stove and prepares breakfast. “So,” he said, skillfully cracking an egg on the edge of the pan, “why don’t you give me an actual reason as to why you woke me up so early?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I asked, V. Just say it.”
“We’re going to the bookstore.”
Seokjin almost drops his eggshells in his food. “What.”
“Just trust me on this.”
“Hoseok isn’t even working today.”
“How do you know that? He didn’t text you his schedule this week.”
He narrows his eyes at the ghost. If there’s anything Seokjin has learned from living with a too-friendly overt snoop, it’s that V doesn’t hold back on the information that he learns. So far—yes, Seokjin’s keeping track—V has infiltrated the kitchen, his workplace, his laptop’s history, and now his texts. He shouldn’t even be surprised at this point. “How old of a ghost are you, anyways? You’re way too young to know how to use technology without short-circuiting it with your paranormal aura.”
V blinks. “That information comes with backstory. Are you sure you’re ready for it?”
“You’re right,” Seokjin says without missing a beat. He turns back towards his eggs. “That’s the exact thing I’m trying to avoid. Thank you for looking out for me.”
The only response is a groan because, as Seokjin knows, he had answered V’s comeback in the opposite fashion of what he wanted.
Before he knows it, he and V are standing in front of Kim’s Books. Seokjin doesn’t take his eyes off the Closed! sign. “V, are you looking at what I’m looking at?”
V sighs. “Jinnie, they open at 9. We’re five minutes early.”
“Don’t call me Jinnie.” Seokjin pulls out his phone to check the time. He’s right. “Why do I feel like there’s another reason you wanted to visit today?”
Seokjin looks at the face of the blond ghost, whose cheeks are split with a wide, rectangular grimace. “They get new stuff for the Paranormal section on Saturdays. It’s never more than one or two books, but I come here sometimes to check out what they say about”—something stops him momentarily and he looks away from Seokjin—“about me and why I can’t remember anything about myself.”
Something drops in the pit of Seokjin’s stomach. Even though it’s been a rough month with trying to cope with the physical cracks on his face, as well as V’s appearance and his sporadic impulses to cause havoc, there’s a part of him that’s warmed up to the ghost. The issue of V’s memory is one that acts like a baby elephant in the room—the one time he had asked about V’s real name (“no one would name their child after a single letter, right?”) and V had looked away, just like he does now. “I don’t know my name,” he had said. “I remember my nickname was V when I was alive. I’ve met some other ghosts, and I’m lucky enough to remember a nickname from my time on Earth.”
Seokjin decides to drop the hassle for the morning. He double checks his phone. “Alright, it’s 9. Let’s go in. I’ll even take the books off the shelf for you.”
V raises an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me I made you pity me.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Seokjin heads for the door.
“You don’t need to pity me because I’m trying to remember things about myself.”
Seokjin turns around, doing his best to analyze V’s face. He wants to know if the ghost is being genuine about this whole pity party or not and, thankfully, he looks likes he’s telling the truth. “Okay, fine. I’m gonna see what I can find on Bruegel.”
Seokjin nods, but he’s opening the door before he can give V a briefing on the Renaissance painter. The only person in the store is Jimin, sitting by the cash register with a leather-bound book precariously balanced on his knee. He calls out a hello that Seokjin responds to before beginning his search.
The Art and Architecture section is just to the right of the door. His eyes scan the infinite bookcase for this one author, for one specific art book, but V tugs on the back of his pale pink hoodie. “Jin. I see one. I see a new book.”
“That’s fine,” Seokjin whispers in the quietest voice he can muster. He doesn’t take his eyes off the colourful spines; he just passed Bacon. He’s close. “I’ll come grab it after this.”
“It’s a thick one, though. It’s too obvious if I grab it.”
“Just give me a second,” he hisses. Bruegel. Jackpot. It’s on such a high ledge that Seokjin has to stand on his tiptoes to reach it, but the tip of his middle finger catches the top of the book. He eases it out of its spot on the shelf and catches it, albeit clumsily, before it hits the ground. “Okay, what—”
Seokjin hears V before he sees him. There’s a straining, grunting sound—since Seokjin is the only one that can hear him, embarrassing himself isn’t a concern—followed by the thump of a thick book on the floor.
Jimin’s head snaps up. “Hyung, is everything okay?”
To whatever god or gods are out there, Seokjin wants to bring V back to life and kill him ten times over. The ghost is much too impatient for his liking. He sighs. “Yeah, the book must’ve just fallen. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay... If you say so.”
Seokjin walks around the rack of books in the centre of the area. The book on the floor is sprawled open, with middle pages bent from the fall. When he picks it up it’s obvious that it can’t be any less than six hundred pages. V rests his head on Seokjin’s shoulder as he opens the front cover. “I swear,” he hisses, “I have never met anyone more impatient...”
“The index, Jinnie. Go to the index. Okay... look for ‘dream contracts.’”
Instead of looking for the term, he shuts the book and looks at the title. The Complete Collection on Contact with the Otherworld. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Seokjinnie,” V whines. “Look it up.”
“Fine, fine.” He flips back to the index. “Page... four hundred and seven. That’s the only entry on it.”
“It’s better than nothing. What does it say?”
Seokjin flips to 407. “Information is still scarce on the topic of dream contracts and what they entail. It is formed through the dream world of a human “host,” where the landscape is a manifestation of the human’s strengths.” He thinks about the art history classes and the Renaissance and contemporary art books piling up on the floor by his bedside table. “The otherly being then invited itself into the dream by ways of a higher power.
“The contents of these contracts vary depending on the person and the otherly. The end result of these contracts vary as much as the parties involved, but the most common one is insanity before leading to death. No one knows what happens when a contract is successful because even the ones that have broken the contract end up mentally unstable in some way, shape, or form.”
Seokjin sucks in a breath. The silence in the space between him and V becomes almost unbearable. He feels stuck between two hard places—at least if there’s a rock, there’s a chance of moving it out of the way, but that’s not his situation. Before he has a chance to think about the end results of his conversations with V and his still-cracking face, there’s a blur of motion passing his eyes and slamming the huge book out of his hands.
“What the fuck—” Seokjin cuts himself off. He’s worried that what Jimin witnessed was similar to the gravity of the earth suddenly dragging the book down to hell through the floorboards, but the boy doesn’t even bat an eyelash. He still yells out a quick apology before picking the book up.
“It’s fine, hyung. It’s not like you accidentally burned the store down.”
Seokjin blinks. “Ah, thanks?”
“Anytime.“ The first time Seokjin is clumsy, there’s concern, but if it happens a second time, it’s considered routine, so there’s—Seokjin quotes Hoseok here—no reason to be worried in any way, shape, or form.
“Jin...” Seokjin knows V is trying to get his attention, but he’s reverted back to his stone-cold self towards the ghost.
“Nope.” He puts The Complete Collection on Contact with the Otherworld back on the shelf. “I’m gonna go look at Bruegel. You do not exist to me anymore.”
Seokjin almost thinks he wins against V for once (win what? He has no idea) but then the ghost yells, “That’s not even a good insult. I barely exist as it is!”
“So you’ll exist even less.” Seokjin ignores any and all comments that come out of V’s mouth as he looks through the art book he had eyed before. He treats the book like a natural treasure as he flips through each page, breezing over each page until he reaches Fall of the Rebel Angels. He’s somewhere in the D-titled works when a loud bang! makes him jolt where he stands. He looks to the back of the bookstore and sees one cardboard box not right side up—it had toppled so hard that the books fell out of the once-taped topside.
“These shitty boxes need to rot in a hole.” Seokjin raises his eyes at the new voice; it’s deep, almost like V’s, but there’s a bit of a bite to it. Jimin is still reading as though nothing just happened, but Seokjin can’t help but be intrigued. “I told the bookseller that if they used a different company, they would actually be saving money. This company is too expensive for such cheap materials—” There’s another cacophonous set of thumping as a second box, thankfully closed, falls down the staircase (hidden behind the Young Adult section, normally labelled as Do Not Enter) and the final thud is punctuated with a loud “FUCK.”
“Who’s that?” V whispers, and Seokjin knows this is a big deal when the ghost that can’t be heard is whispering. Seokjin shrugs in response.
There’s more thumping from the anonymous person’s footsteps. The guy jumps over the boxes at the foot of the stairs and walks over to Jimin, clearly too invested in his anger to notice Seokjin’s presence in the store, but Seokjin couldn’t be more fine with this assumption because, oh dear, the stranger was some other kind of attractive.
“Shit,” Seokjin mutters. He had never seen this stranger before. Is he a new employee? Will Seokjin have to deal with seeing this guy whenever he comes in now? He doesn’t know what to think anymore. His brain just short-circuited.
The guy walks over to Jimin and leans over the counter, talking in a calmer tone. “Can you make a note for me to call the sellers again to talk to them about these boxes? Honestly. I’m done with trying to deal with these.”
Seokjin speculates that the stranger’s hair must have been dyed an ash blond at one point because the colour had faded to a muted green. His face is round and his lips are fuller than Seokjin’s (which, funny enough, is something V commented on after letting out a low wolf whistle) and he isn’t sure why this guy is still wearing black, thick-rimmed glasses, but he works it way too well. He’s wearing a loose yellow t-shirt and cut-off jeans with—are those blue ink stains?
“So,” V says in at his normal volume, interrupting Seokjin’s internal analysis, “who’s that? And why are you making googly eyes at him?”
“I am not,” Seokjin whispers. He doesn’t take his eyes off the stranger for another few seconds before deciding to look back at his book. Focus on the painting, he tells himself. Find out if it means anything. “I also have no idea who he is,” he adds as an afterthought. “I’ve never seen him before. Maybe he’s a new worker.”
V hums. “Interesting. He doesn’t seem new.”
This time, Seokjin doesn’t take his eyes off his book. “What do you mean?”
“He looks like he knows what he’s doing. Very interesting.”
Seokjin doesn’t say anything. He keeps flipping through Bruegel’s paintings until he finally reaches the F titles. He can feel how close he is to finding the painting—
—but he will never know what the art book on Bruegel says about the Fall of the Rebel Angels because V pushes himself between Seokjin and the bookcase and starts messing up the pages. (To anyone looking at Seokjin, it looks like an invisible breeze is messing them up.) “What the fuck are you doing,” he hisses.
“Pay more attention to meeeeeeee—”
“I can't.” Seokjin has never felt more exasperated. “I already look like a crazy person. Stop doing this. We already checked your book and you’re spasming out on me. So help me if you keep this up I will not hesitate to call a priest to exorcise your ass back to wherever you were.” He pauses for effect. “Probably in purgatory.”
V audibly gasps. “I don’t even know if calling a priest would work, but of all things for you to do to me… You wouldn’t.”
“Oh you know I will. I have had one month with you. I thought this was some sort of temporary punishment but now I don’t know what to do with—” Seokjin’s gaze follows V as he moves into the aisle without saying a word. He picks up seven books that were already precariously balancing on a footstool and lifts them into his arms. “What are you doing now?”
V raises his eyebrows. “What do you think?”
Seokjin narrows his eyes, looking him up and down several times before it clicks: V is a ghost, Seokjin is the only one that can see him, and so there is currently a stack of seven floating books in the middle of the aisle.
The pink-haired boy barely moves his mouth when he speaks. “You wouldn’t.”
If he wasn’t ready to bring V back to life only to kill him again, Seokjin would have found his boxy smile endearing. “Oh, you know I will,” he echoes, proceeding to drop the books.
Seokjin wants to scream.
V runs around the middle rack and towards a corner of the bookstore to hide, and before Seokjin has a chance to follow V’s trail he makes eye contact with the attractive stranger (whose eyebrows are raised in surprise) and, oh dear God, another realization hits him: V is a ghost, Seokjin is the only one that can see him, and this means that Seokjin had been staring at the stranger with a weird look on his face.
He’s stuck. V is nowhere to be found, he’s in the middle of what might just be eye sex, and he can see Jimin staring at him from the corner of his eye. “Hyung? Are you okay—”
“Yeah, fine. I’m fine. Just clumsy, nothing new.” Seokjin immediately shields his quickly-reddening face and head with his oversized pink hood and crouches to pick up the fallen books. He’s only stacked five of them back onto the foot stool when another pair of tanned, long-fingered hands pick up the last remaining book. Seokjin has the sixth in an iron grip.
“It’s okay,” the guy says. Seokjin can’t see anything above eye level because of his hood, but all he wants to do right now is look at him. He won’t do it, though. He has more willpower than that. “Books fall all the time. It’s not your fault.”
Seokjin looks up, right into the guy’s warm brown eyes, and he is mad at himself because he feels like he’s in a romantic comedy. First V and the curse, now this guy. Hoseok’s words ring in his mind. You haven’t dealt with trying to talk to a cute guy. He had been right. And now Seokjin is screwed. “Thanks.” The guy’s eyes furrow. He adds, “Are you a new employee here? I haven’t seen you around.”
The guy laughs and a smile stretches across his features. The smile stays on his face as he takes the book out of Seokjin’s hands and places the two on top of each other, but Seokjin can tell that there’s something in his eyes and the way they search his face. He feels exposed. “No, I’ve always been here. Kim Namjoon, owner of Kim’s Books. I don’t normally come down during the day.” He stands up and holds out his hand. “And you?”
“Seokjin.” He stands and takes Namjoon’s hand in his, giving it a firm shake—not because his father had taught him that firm handshakes are better but because, if he gave Namjoon a normal handshake, he would notice Seokjin’s hand trembling.
“Well, Seokjin. I have a quick probably-harmless question for you.” Namjoon’s tall—taller than Seokjin, if only by an inch or two—and he leans slightly into him so that he can whisper. “Okay, this is going to sound a little crazy, but I need you to bear with me.”
Seokjin isn’t sure what can be crazier than his life at the moment, but he nods for Namjoon to continue.
“So I’m probably seeing things. I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep recently, writing inspiration has been slow, and I don’t know if you saw but I’m starting to get into arguments with cardboard boxes. But...” He moves a little closer. Seokjin doesn’t step back; he doesn’t want to even though he can feel heat creeping back up his neck. “Are those cracks on your cheek?”
It may not seem like it to Kim Namjoon, but Seokjin’s entire world goes into chaos. He drops his his hand, his jaw, and whatever chances he thought he had with Namjoon. V comes running out of hiding with the widest eyes, coming to a stop right beside Seokjin. Art books and dream contracts don’t matter anymore. Namjoon’s brows furrow. Seokjin takes two steps back, and on the third he hits the bookcase stationed just to the left of the front door.
“No cracks,” Seokjin says, even though his voice cracks. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s the lack of sleep—definitely. You should go to bed, like, right now.”
Namjoon blinks. “It’s not even lunch—”
“Bye, Jimin! It was nice seeing you!” Seokjin throws the door to Kim’s Books wide open and makes the wise decision to run so very far away from the bookstore. He’s lost it, he thinks. He’s finally lost it.
He sees V in his half-assed pyjamas running beside him. “What are you doing? Why are you running?”
“He saw,” Seokjin said. There’s no one on the side streets back to his place; he doesn’t care who hears him. “I finally meet someone I think I have a chance with because, V, he was really fucking attractive.” He turns a corner. “The cute owner of the cute bookstore I frequent can see the cracks in my face. This is not okay. Not okay at all.”
“But this is a good thing,” V reasons. Seokjin doesn’t have to look over to know that the ghost is grinning ear to ear; he’s definitely more excited than Seokjin is about this. “You’re not the only one that can see them! You know what they call these types of people?”
Seokjin slows to a jog when he gets to his apartment’s property. No one’s waiting for the elevator and no one is inside with him, so he turns to V and, in a soulless voice, says, “Don’t you dare.”
V leans closer to him, waggling his eyebrows. “Made for each other,” he whispers loudly.
“No. Nope, no, nada, this is not okay. This is so chick-flicky it hurts me inside.”
“Well,” V deadpans, “you were practically made for the spotlight of the main character in a chick flick. Cute, pink hair, clumsy, overdramatic...”
The elevator dings on the sixth floor. Seokjin doesn’t respond, only heads for his door and unlocks it, but once they’re inside and the front door is locked, he turns around to lean against it and catch his breath. V sits on the edge of his small dining table.
“So,” V says to break the silence. “The cute owner—Namjoon, right?—can see your cracks, so they’re definitely real. He’s the only one that can see them. Now you know you’re not going crazy but you just might if you ignore this contract of ours for long enough. Do you want to know why I’m here yet?”
Unmoving, Seokjin stares at his empty living room. He lets out a long exhale. “Okay. Fine. Start talking. What’s happening to my face, why am I the only one that can see you, and why is it that the hot bookstore owner is the only other person that can see these cracks?”
The fourth time Seokjin dreamt about the museum, he was staring at Bruegel’s painting.
It was almost like a continuation of the second time he had dreamt it up. When he turned away and looked around the room, everyone but the blond boy was still faceless. The boy nodded; Seokjin returned the greeting. Before his eyes the current room shifted into the more spacious one, where the mirror replaces the painting and the empty marble base stands in the centre. The faceless characters turned their gazes towards the platform simultaneously, but before Seokjin had a chance to blink they all turned and ran out of the room. One put his arm around another’s neck; a third grabbed the fourth’s hand as the former took the lead. The blond beckoned for Seokjin to follow, and he did, but he didn’t run. The heels of his shoes echoed on the linoleum.
He felt strangely conflicted and somewhere between his head and his heart. He followed the blond boy without a second thought, but he felt an invisible string tugging at him, telling him to turn around, just one more time, just once, because once is all it will take.
Seokjin turned around. He’s hesitant, shooting a small glance over his shoulder and slowing his pace until he came to a complete stop, turning around completely, but he knew he wasn’t alone. The blond boy’s bare feet padded behind him. Fingers obscured Seokjin’s vision without warning. It was only dark for a few moments. but in dream time, that could mean anything. The fingers lifted from his face, vanishing after they lost contact with his skin. He didn’t need to turn around to know the boy was gone, but it didn’t matter anymore—all of Seokjin’s attention was captured by the reappearance of the faceless, genderless angel with the black wings.
Seokjin was too aware of himself to justify that the dreamscape was merely a product of his subconscious, and this idea was further confirmed when he feet moved on their own accord. He stride was slow, his heels didn’t make a sound. He thought he saw something in the mirror but he couldn’t bring himself to take his eyes off the statue. Before he knew it, he was standing on the base with the kneeling angel in front of him. Was this what a fallen angel would look like? he thought. (They didn’t echo that time.) His hand came up to caress its cheek, and the marble was impossibly smooth, sandpapered down to the surreal feeling of a tightly woven cloth.
Nothing told him to lean in closer—everything was coming from the whims of his dream body. His fingers traced the outline of its smooth jaw, ending with his index finger curled around the chin. He leaned into the immobile titan. There was nothing but silence—his own breathing could not be heard, nor the featherlight sound that’s normally heard when his lips met the stone lips of the titan.
They were warm to the touch.
Behind closed eyelids he saw a bare back, scarred shoulder blades. The face of the blond boy emerged with the blankest stare. His lips were still on the fallen angel’s. The boy’s face was motionless in his mind, but then there was a tilt of his lips, a fade to black. The lips grew cold. Seokjin felt hairline cracks beginning to form under his touch.
He opened his eyes, watched the cracks trail up from the chin and onto—around—the face, snaking into the marble pattern just below the surface. They continued around its right eye, right shoulder, down the arm and chest; leaks of violet and ruby and goldenrod fell from the eye and shoulder as though the self-inflicted wounds were crying on their own accord. Everything around him began to fall apart.
There was no time wasted between standing on the platform and shifting to gaze into his own eyes in the mirror. Nothing was around him anymore—it was black. Only then did Seokjin notice the white lilies and full stalks of cotswold lavender sitting in crystal vases on the mirror’s mantle. It was almost enough of a distraction for him to ignore the hairline cracks below his own right eye.
The morning after the fourth dream had Seokjin waking up in a cold sweat. His eyes opened to a plain, white ceiling, its only decoration the overhead light that he should have turned off—but didn’t—before passing out on his bed. His chest felt heavy. Every breath was difficult. He sat up too fast, his vision greying around the edges, but he found his footing on the icy hardwood floor without much difficulty. Sliding into a pair of slippers, he shuffled out of the room and turned off the light on his way out.
The apartment’s kitchen seemed darker than it should have. When Seokjin looked out at the doors leading to the balcony there were patches of sunlight on the floor, but back in the kitchen it looked as if the light was obscured from coming through its only window. He turned on the light.
The body came in a flash, a fraction of a second—sat on the end of the counter, legs swinging, the upper body placing all its weight on its palms, even the glimpse of blond hair—but when Seokjin blinked, the apparition was gone. It made sense, he tried to reason. There were always aftereffects to nightmares if they were vivid enough. Especially if it was a recurring one. He rubbed his eyes. He needs coffee.
He filled the kettle up with tap water and placed it back on its electric base. Before his finger hit the switch the kettle clicks on and, okay, that was just a little bit out of the norm, but he forced himself not to think much of it. So his kettle started boiling water on its own. It saved him the extra energy.
The first thing he noticed when he walked into the bathroom was his reflection in the mirror. His hair was an obnoxious pastel pink that commanded more attention than usual by sticking up every which way. Seokjin couldn’t remember why he thought bleaching his hair to the point of successfully dying it a pastel colour was a good idea. He raked his fingers through his hair in an attempt to tame the bedhead, but to no avail. It looked like that day was going to be a Beanie Day. He followed through his morning skincare routine, removing all traces of the nightmare from his thoughts. When he met his own gaze with a dry face, he noticed a small black mark at the corner of his eye.
It was a tiny, thin black line that looked like it started from inside the outer corner and extended a fingernail’s width out of his eye. If he looked close enough, he could convince himself it was a crack, but that made no sense to Seokjin. It can’t be more than an accidental pen mark.
The water stopped boiling just as he walked back into the kitchen, and Seokjin would have been lying if he said he wasn’t a little more nervous at the sight of his instant coffee on the counter. He remembered putting it in the cupboard the night before.
Seokjin exhaled. “Okay,” he said to himself, pulling out a spoon and a travel mug, “so you don’t remember where you put things and the water definitely turned on by itself. It’s fine.” He mixed the coffee in peace, letting it sit on the counter for a little before he left the house for the day. He threw on a crewneck, a pair of jeans, and the grey beanie he promised his reflection he’d wear. With one last check in the bathroom mirror—he’d survive with a few pink tufts falling out of his beanie—he picked up his mug and slipped into his Vans without another thought.
He didn’t think the day could get any weirder, but that thought also occurred right before an excited blond-haired boy appeared in front of him literally out of thin air and opened with: “If you can see me, scream.”
And oh, did Seokjin scream.
“So let me get this straight.”
They’re sitting at the little dining table just outside Seokjin’s kitchen. His eyes are closed, index and middle fingers rubbing at his temples. He has some green tea in front of him; V has his hands wrapped around an empty mug. (“I'll hold it even though I can't ingest anything,” he had said. “It’ll make the whole situation a little more normal.”)
When Seokjin opens them to look at the blond ghost, V’s already staring back at him, waiting intently for his recap of the situation. The past forty-five minutes had consisted of V’s attempt at explaining the situation to him, but the story was all over the place and Seokjin had to stop him halfway so that he could take notes. He stares at the paper in front of him already split into three categories: What V Knows, What V Doesn’t Know, and What V Can’t Answer. “I’m going to read out everything I have on this paper and, at the very end, you tell me what I’m missing.”
He’s never seen V quite this serious about anything over the course of their month of living together, but to have him sitting opposite Seokjin at the table with an unsmiling expression and waiting eyes, it makes the situation all the more real. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Seokjin clears his throat and begins:
What V Knows:
- The name “V” is a nickname given to him by his best friend.
- He died in a car accident two years ago.
- He had negotiated with someone(?) up above to have a second chance at cleaning up some unfinished business on Earth with said best friend.
- The second chance would only happen if the human “host” agreed to the dream contract to complete this promise.
- I am the (unfortunate) human.
- The unfinished business is a promise made to his best friend: to help him find requited love.
- When the promise is fulfilled, V can move on.
What V Doesn’t Know:
- His real name.
- The details of the car accident.
- How long I have to help him fulfil the promise.
- His best friend’s name.
What V Can’t Answer:
- Who he had negotiated with (all he knows is that there was no face and no "real" voice)
- Why, of all things, I have cracks on my face
- Why the cracks are getting longer
- Why Namjoon is the only other person that can see my cracks.
Seokjin looks back up at V, whose expression hasn't changed. His eyes are downcast into his mug. “Everything’s correct except the part about Namjoon. You didn’t even ask about that part, though. You just wrote it down.”
“Didn’t you already say you didn't know about it?”
“No. I said I don’t know about your cracks, even though they're acting as a sort of countdown. It doesn’t help that we don’t know how much time you have.” V furrows his eyebrows. “But about Namjoon—one thing I knew about dream contracts before you read about them is that with every contract between someone like me and a human host, there is also a human helper of sorts. Think of them as the sidekick. They can see some of what’s happening and understand and aid in the parts of our business that may be difficult, but they can’t see as much as you can.” He shoots Seokjin a thin-lipped smile. “Hence the not seeing me but seeing your cracks thing.”
“But what do I do about it? How do I tell him I need help unlocking the past of a ghost that only I can see in order to help him get home?”
“You just said it, but you should say it again—to him.”
“No. I really can’t do it. I’m going to embarrass myself.”
V raises a single eyebrow. “Because you didn’t do that like, seven or eight times already?”
Seokjin groans. “Thank you for helping me understand what’s going on, but you know we’ve hit a dead end, right?”
V grimaces. “I prefer to think of this as a temporary obstacle.”
“…How temporary is temporary?”
The impact of Seokjin’s forehead hitting the table shakes his mug.
No matter how much he’s begun to warm up to V, Seokjin is more than relieved that he can have a silent day at work. Jaehyung, one of the library staff, told Seokjin to take over the desk job for majority of the day and look over the students that wish to enter the library. His fingers tap away at the ancient keyboard as he works on one of his many unpublished art history essays.
“So this is what you do for fun when you’re in front of a computer.” V’s musings are too loud for Seokjin’s quiet job. He’s sprawled across the floor behind Seokjin’s rolling chair, counting the ceiling tiles under his breath for the seventh time that day. “Honestly. Why aren’t you letting me do anything fun. You bore me.”
Seokjin looks around the foyer of the library; when it’s confirmed that no one is coming towards him or exiting the elevator behind the desk, he spins around raise his eyebrows at V. “I think the best part about this situation is the fact that you have the free will to go wherever you want and create whatever havoc you want, but you aren’t. I’m convinced you feel bad about the Namjoon thing so you’re actually listening to me.”
A flash of embarrassment crosses V’s face before he turns away from Seokjin. “Shut it, porcelain doll. You’re right about half of it.”
V turns away from him entirely, resting on his side. In a quieter voice he adds, “The guilty part.”
“Ah.” Seokjin turns back to his computer, trying to write more for his essay even though he can’t bring himself to focus. Even though it had only been two days since they went over the details of their dream contract, there were no leads on who V’s best friend is—was?—or any helpful details on the way he had died. Seokjin can’t even narrow the results down: death by collision or a hit and run; from a sober or drunk driver; with someone else in the car, around him, or if he had been alone.
Worse yet, the cracks grew overnight. For the longest time the crack had only extended from the outside corner of Seokjin’s right eye and down his cheek, stopping a little bit below is cheekbone. A second crack now had begun from the corner and the pre-existing crack forked at the end. They still don’t understand what it means or if they’re reaching the contract’s end; there’s no timeline to help them out.
It’s almost the end of October.
V breaks the silence in a soft voice. “I wish I was given more information to share with you. Everything they left me with”—Seokjin knows that there’s no true answer to who they are—“is completely useless. There has to be some sort of help somewhere, anywhere, other than knowing Namjoon is the helper.” He sighs. “Just one sign. Anything.”
“Excuse me.” Seokjin snaps out of his trancelike gaze at his computer, when he was trying to think of something comforting to say in response. He looks up. The boy in front of him has a black hoodie and backpack, with a grey beanie cupping his hair perfectly. Seokjin can’t help but notice how soft his eyes look. He slides his student card across the table. “I’m looking for books on contemporary culture in Germany. Ah... specifically dance and music during that time. Maybe some art.” He coughs. “Sorry, I’m making this too complicated. Just the section for contemporary culture in Germany is fine, thanks.”
“No problem.” He scans the student card to make sure the boy is actively enrolled. Even though Seokjin isn’t bothered by the slip up in request, the boy still looks embarrassed. His information pops up on the screen. “Ah, that explains it. You’re a first year?”
The boy grimaces. “Is it that obvious?”
Seokjin smiles. “I didn’t know until I scanned your card. One second.” He punches in his request and writes down the dewey decimal numbers and last names of a few potential books. “Do you know how the numbers work?”
His brows furrow. “It’s been a little while, but it shouldn’t be hard. Thank you.”
“No problem... Jungkook. Just head for the eighth floor.”
The boy is off with another quick thank you before Seokjin can register what just happened and who he just spoke to. “Wait. Shit.”
Alone again, he looks at the boy’s information. V shuffles off the floor behind him and looks over Seokjin’s shoulder at the screen. “Who was that?”
“Jeon Jungkook.” Seokjin points at the open window on the left of the screen. “This is the guy Hoseok mentioned having a massive crush on. Dance specialist, first year, his birthday’s in September...” He furrows his eyebrows. “I don’t really get why the guy at the front desk needs to know their birthday but I won’t question it. He’s newly 20.”
V doesn’t say a word. Seokjin looks up at him; he has one hand on Seokjin’s hair and the other on the desk, leaning closer to the screen with a face that would have lost all its colour had V been alive. “We need to follow him.”
“Before you lose him. You know what area he’s gonna be in. You have to.” V tears his eyes away to look at Seokjin. “Please.”
Seokjin blinks. He can’t leave his post, but he also can’t ignore when V is dead—pardon the pun—serious. He catches Jaehyung’s eye from the other room and beckons him over. Before the guy has a chance to ask what’s up, Seokjin is out of his seat and making a break for the elevator. “I need you to cover me. I’m taking a break.”
“You know Starbucks is the other way, right?” Jaehyung calls out.
Seokjin turns as the elevator doors close. “I’m hungry for knowledge, not overpriced coffee.”
The elevator ride is a little agonizing with a petrified V, so Seokjin pulls out his phone to text Hoseok.
you won’t believe who i just found
i mean you guys go to the same school so maybe you’ll believe it
if you dare say the dancing god that stole my studio time
i will not say the dancing god that stole your studio time
in fact, i won't say anything at all
…pics or it didn't happen
Seokjin does the honour of sending a winky face before they exit the elevator.
“Okay,” he whispers, looking at V. “Please, I beg of you, whisper if you talk. For my sake. If I get caught by Jungkook I will be in deep shit.”
V nods and mimics zipping his lips shut. They begin their hunt between the stacks with Seokjin eyeing the aisle in front of him between shelves; when he’s hidden behind the seventh shelf, he doesn’t need to check it because there’s a hulking black mass by the German books. For further confirmation, the guy drops a book and a muttered shit comes out of his mouth.
Seokjin pulls out his phone to open the camera, pauses, and looks at V. “Why didn’t you just check the aisles before we continued?”
“You told me to keep quiet.”
“I told you to whisper.” He sighs. He drops the subject and inches towards the end of the aisle instead, keeping his phone as close to the end of the shelves as possible. He can barely see the screen at the angle he’s hiding in, but once a black mass appears onscreen, Seokjin holds down the shutter button.
Once he’s collected a sufficient amount of pictures of Jungkook’s side profile, holding and looking for books, Seokjin sends three different ones to Hoseok. He looks up at V and is about to beckon him over when he catches the look on his face.
V’s hiding, just like Seokjin was, with his fingers resting on the metal shelf and his eyes are glued to Jungkook through the tops of books and the bottom of the shelf above. He had been acting weird since Seokjin brought up his name. He walks back into the aisle, to V, and before he whispers out a question V says, “It’s not the end after all.”
V walks away from the shelf first. Seokjin follows behind quickly, catching him just before he walks through the door to the men’s bathroom. He ducks to make sure there are no feet under the stalls before he starts talking; they’re in the clear. V grips the edges of the sink until both his arms shake.
“Hey. V. Are you alright?” Seokjin tilts his head in an attempt to see V’s face, his gaze already focused on the drip of water coming from the faucet.
“It’s him,” V says in a shaky voice. Realization begins to dawn on him. “Seokjin, it’s Jeon Jungkook. It’s him. He is my best friend.” He looks up at the mirror; Seokjin knows that he can’t see his reflection. The tears that well up and trail down V’s cheeks disappear the second they drop away from his chin. “He was my best friend.”
Seokjin’s throat tightens.
V lets out a shaky exhale despite not needing to breath. “The promise I made to Jungkook about finding requited love—he doesn’t know about it. At least, I don’t think he does. I think I died before I could tell him. I can’t remember why. I don’t know who broke his heart to make me think that before I died.”
“I’ll be fine. Just…check your messages from Hoseok. Tell me what he said about the pictures.”
Seokjin obeys. “Oh my god,” he reads, “that’s him. That’s definitely him. You found my dancing god. I’m coming to the library I’m already on campus you are a lifesaver.”
V laughs, but it’s choked behind a half-smile. He’s still crying. “I’m glad. This seems to perfect, but I think Hoseok plays a bigger part in all of this than you’re giving him credit for right now.”
Before Seokjin can say anything, his phone buzzes again. I’m going to ask him out, Hoseok’s new message reads. I don’t know how, but I’m gonna do it. I need to.
“I didn’t consider it before, but…” He texts back a quick let me know how it goes. “I think he does, too.”
Later that night, a knock on the door stops Seokjin from dropping his vegetables into his stew.
“One second,” he calls. He sets the pot to simmer and grabs a pen before making a break for the door—the last time someone knocked, V had taken it upon himself to answer it, and Seokjin had a hard time explaining to the pizza delivery guy why the door unlocked and opened on its own. (He’s not ordering from that place for at least two months.)
“Hi, sorry for the wait—” Seokjin swings the door open all the way before his hand falls to his side and the pen drops from his fingers. His eyebrows raise. “Uh. Hi?”
Namjoon stands in the doorway with a nervous, thin-lipped smile. “Hi. Seokjin, right? Sorry if this seems sudden, I—” His gaze lands on Seokjin’s chest. “I like your apron.”
Seokjin looks down at himself. He’s always been a fan of the colour pink, so his pink apron isn’t the embarrassment at all; it’s the kiss the cook lettering across the chest. Seokjin wants to scream, but then again, when does he not? “It was a gift.”
“I can believe it.” Namjoon’s smile loosens and the happiness begins to reach his eyes. “I—Here.” He holds out his hand, carrying a small white paper bag. “This is for you. It’s a…homemade face mask. I, uh, looked up some helpful remedies for helping permanent marker fade faster and this was one of the top recipes. I wasn’t sure if you’d still have all that”—with his free hand, his drags his index finger down his cheek—“but it was worth a shot.”
Seokjin takes the bag, dumbfounded. “Ah…thank you.”
“It’s nothing.” They stand at the door in a strange silence—it’s not awkward, but it isn’t the most comfortable—and Seokjin has no idea what to do. Namjoon sticks his hands in his pockets, looking away from him. He looks so shy and so cute and Seokjin is in deep, deep—
“Jinnie,” V calls from the kitchen, “how long do you want me to keep your veggies in for?”
“Not the food,” Seokjin mutters. Right after he speaks he immediately regrets it because Namjoon has no idea what he’s saying that about. The store owner furrows his eyebrows and looks at him again. “Ah, shit.”
“Yeah—yes, of course, everything’s fine. I just—” A loud clatter comes from the kitchen and Seokjin closes his eyes. He’s pretty sure Namjoon can see his working jaw. “Thank you for stopping by. I apologize.”
Namjoon blinks. “Apologize for—you don’t have to say sorry for anything. I also… I was wondering if I could also get your—”
There’s another clatter. Seokjin groans. “I’m apologizing for this,” he says in a pained voice, right before closing the door on Namjoon’s face. He doesn’t even wait for the sound of Namjoon walking away before he storms back into the kitchen.
Two hours later finds Seokjin sulkily eating his stew with now-overcooked vegetables and watching a rerun of some drama he watched back in high school.
“I’m sorry,” V says for the umpteenth time. He’s sitting on the opposite side of Seokjin’s couch in fetal position. “When are you going to accept my apology?”
Seokjin swallows a soggy carrot. He doesn’t take his eyes off the screen. “When Hell freezes over.”
“This stew is colder.”
“I didn’t even do this on purpose,” V huffs. “Just fix things tomorrow. It’s not that deep.”
The ring above the door to Kim’s Books is one of pure shame to Seokjin. He had gone to bed repeating I am a horrible human being for so long that V had to relocate to the living room. He didn’t even need to sleep—he just couldn’t focus while Seokjin wallowed in sorrow. He texted Jaehyung earlier that morning saying he didn’t feel well and wouldn’t come to work, but here he is, at Namjoon’s bookstore, without knowing whether Namjoon is inside or not, to apologize.
The first person he sees is a beaming Hoseok. “Hey, hyung. No work today?”
“You could say that.” Seokjin leans on the counter. “So…what’s all this happiness from? A little birdie told me you have a second date?” He raises his eyebrows. “How is that even possible when I texted you yesterday around lunch?”
Hoseok’s entire face goes red, but it doesn’t stop him from smiling. “I found Jungkook at a table on the eighth floor and slid into the seat across from him and when he finally noticed me I offered to help him bookmark any pages he needed to look at. He was pretty grateful to have someone look through indexes for him.”
“You’re calling bookmarking a cute guy’s library books a first date?”
“No, you ass.” Hoseok rolls his eyes. “Do you know how many books you gave him to look at? I saw the scrap paper and he grabbed more on his own. He would have been there all day, but we finished and I helped him carry his books and we stopped by Yoongi’s place. That was the first date.” He beams at Seokjin. “We hit it off.”
“Please tell me Yoongi pulled a Yoongi.” Seokjin and Hoseok had begun high school with Min Yoongi. Even though the Daegu boy moved away after two years, the three of them kept in touch until all of Yoongi’s social media disappeared for almost two years. It only makes sense that both boys received a Facebook invite to the grand opening of Yoongi’s coffee shop just a ten minute walk from KNUA. He had needed time alone to get his life together. Now that everything was how he wanted it to be, the three of them were able to catch up as though they never stopped talking.
“Not on my cup this time.” Hoseok pulls out his phone and shows Seokjin a photo of a laughing Jungkook bringing a warm coffee cup to his lips. On the cup sleeve, in surprisingly neat hangul, Yoongi wrote: let me know if you ever want some real dick—you know where to find me.
“Ah, classic Min Yoongi.”
“I know! And the best part is that the sleeve led to Jungkook straight up saying, ‘Your dick is probably better anyways.’” Hoseok makes a whining noise. “He’s so cute when he speaks without thinking, hyung. He blushes so easily and tries to cover it up with his fucking sweater paws. Because of the weather. And he drowns himself in sweaters. God, I’m whipped. I barely know him and I’m whipped.”
“You guys are really hitting it off. I’m proud of you for acting on this.” Seokjin winks at him, but he can’t help wondering what V would think of the situation. The ghost had kindly stayed back at Seokjin’s after learning that he accidentally cock-blocked him and Namjoon.
“We are, but come on.” Hoseok waggles his eyebrows. “As much as you care about me, I know why you’re here.”
Seokjin twists the lid of his travel mug and brings his coffee to his lips. “Why’s that?”
“Namjoon’s upstairs. You could have just asked.”
Seokjin chokes on his coffee. He waits for his coughing to subside. “Wh—I—But—” He locks the top of his mug and sighs. “Is it that obvious?”
“No,” Hoseok reassures him, “but Joon wouldn’t shut up last night about how the face mask gift was probably too girly and how you probably hate him because of it. You should probably go fix that.” He jerks his head towards the back of the store and lowers his voice as two girls step through the front door. “He’s waiting.”
Seokjin eyes the Do Not Enter sign. “Are you sure?”
“God, Jin. It’s you. Just get up there already and trust me.” Hoseok stares him in the eye until he huffs out a fine. Right before he starts up the stairs he hears the younger boy mutter, “Hopefully he’s decent for once.”
The stairwell is narrow with a sloped ceiling that just grazes the top of Seokjin’s head. He stands by the bannister at the top of the stairs and takes a moment to look around. It smells like burnt coffee, and from what he can see, there are four rooms: a living room leading to a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Wood panels line the lower half of every visible wall—they match the dark oak furniture—while the upper half is covered in some form of tacky wallpaper. The living room’s walls are covered in a pale green paisley print while the hallway is light grey with waves lined in a darker grey, curling in on themselves. It’s hypnotizing. He steps into the living room to see if Namjoon is in there, but he’s met with stacked books—they’re beside the couch, on the table and top of the TV, one peeks out from under the television stand—and a stack of stray papers next to a typewriter.
“Hob-ah? Is that you?”
Seokjin turns around to see Namjoon leaving the kitchen with a full cup of coffee. They stand in another comfortable-not-comfortable silence, and Seokjin can’t help but feel kind of good at the fair exchange they’re experiencing. His hair indicates that he just woke up and he’s wearing the same black-framed glasses, a light blue t-shirt, and…
“I like your boxers,” Seokjin says by way of greeting, eyeing the bright print of Pac-Man ghosts against a black background. Namjoon freezes in his tracks and meets his eyes, his face contorting into pure mortification.
“Hi, Seokjin.” The boy looks like he’s seen a ghost. “These, uh—my boxers—I just woke up, like, not even fifteen—I’m just—” He sighs. “Thanks.”
(But honestly, Seokjin thinks, he feels like he wants to melt into the ground every time Namjoon says his name. He’s definitely caught himself in some sort of weird movie, but he can’t bring himself to get out of it.)
“The face mask,” Namjoon says, clearly trying to regain his composure while in his underwear. “I, uh, I’m sorry. About coming over so randomly, I mean. I completely forgot to bring this up but I got your address from Hoseok. He gave it to me because I—” He bites his lower lip and looks away. Quietly, he adds, “Because I wouldn’t stop talking about how I haven’t seen you in a while, and he told me you’re a regular at my store.”
Seokjin blinks. “Oh. Yeah, I am. You have a great selection of books.”
“Thank you.” He looks at Seokjin again with an embarrassed smile. “I’m still sorry, though. And you probably haven’t used it yet but you’re more than welcome to throw the face mask out because it definitely warranted the door in my face—”
“Wait, stop.” Seokjin leans against the door. What is it that people say? Calm, cool, and collected. “You don’t have to apologize for anything. I’m grateful for the face mask, but I can’t tell you if it works or not because I haven’t used it. I’m apologizing for slamming the door in your face for no good reason.”
“Apology accepted.” Namjoon still looks incredibly nervous, standing in the hallway in his boxers, but Seokjin thinks he looks really cute. Especially with the bedhead. “Do, uh—Do you have somewhere you need to be, or…”
“Nope. I’m off work today.”
“Did you want to sit in and have some coffee then?” Seokjin can see the red starting to appear on the tips of Namjoon’s ears. Seokjin nods and follows him into the kitchen, where the wallpaper is a pale yellow with a white sunflower pattern. He watches as Namjoon pours him a cup of coffee, leaving it on the counter. “I barely trust myself to hold my own coffee, but feel free to help yourself to milk and sugar. It’s beside the fridge.”
He walks over to the counter and looks at the cup. “Ah…thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m just going to put some pants on.” Before Seokjin can turn around to get one last look at his boxers, Namjoon is out of the room. The coffee isn’t steaming, so he brings the cup to his lips for a quick taste.
“Did you really burn your coffee this morning?”
Silence. “I’m not exactly all there in the mornings, but I’m pretty sure I put too much in the machine again. I’m sorry if it’s too strong.”
Smiling, Seokjin dumps some of the coffee out in the sink. He grabs the milk from the fridge and fills half the cup, as well as dumping a few spoonfuls of sugar into the small mug. “It’s fine. Do you cook at all?”
Namjoon barks out a laugh from the other room. “I can’t even chop an onion properly. I get Jimin or Hobi to help me out on the nights I make food instead of ordering.”
“Maybe I should cook for your sometime.” Seokjin stops stirring his coffee. His own musings caught him off guard. Namjoon doesn’t respond right away and he wants to melt into the ground.
Footsteps sound in the hallway and Namjoon appears wearing jeans and holding his mug. (Seokjin notices the coffee dribble on the side of his mug and bites back a smile.) “If you weren’t joking, I’d be interested in tasting your food. The stew you made yesterday smelled really good.”
Seokjin’s face twists at the mention of the stew. “Yeah…it was going to taste good but I messed up on it in the end. But it’s a promise. I’ll cook for you someday.”
“I’ll be waiting.” Namjoon smiles. He beckons for Seokjin to follow him through to his bedroom (which is even more littered with books and loose papers than the living room) and out a sliding door that leads to a small balcony. There’s a small, folding wooden table and matching chairs overlooking the street below. Namjoon pulls out his own seat and holds his hand out for Seokjin to take the other seat. “You know,” he says, “it would put me at ease if you accepted my apology even though I apparently didn’t do anything.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes. “You didn’t. But I’ll accept it.” He takes a sip of his milky coffee and watches the cars under them. There’s a huge tree in Namjoon’s front lawn that obscures the balcony from pedestrian view, but Seokjin can’t help finding it intriguing to be able to watch people that don’t see you. “So tell me about yourself,” he finds himself saying. He feels Namjoon’s gaze on him, but Seokjin knows if he meets the boy’s eyes he won’t be able to finish his sentence. “How did you become the owner of a bookstore? You don’t look that old.”
Namjoon laughs. “I’m not. I just turned 25, fresh out of Seoul National, and this place belongs to my parents. My parents moved back to Ilsan—my hometown—for my mother’s work. So this is technically mine.” He gestures to the entirety of his house. “It’s quaint. This was my only job since I graduated but Hoseok and Jimin know what they’re doing. I’m gonna work part-time at Last Drop Café down the street.”
“Last Drop...” Seokjin furrows his eyebrows. “Oh my God, is that Yoongi’s place?”
“Yeah! You know Yoongi?”
“We went to high school together, with Hoseok.” Seokjin keeps the smile on his face, but his mind flashes back to Hoseok’s encounter yesterday. “It might be better if you don’t bring me up, though.”
“Oh.” The smile that had started up on Namjoon’s face falls. “Sorry. Friendship troubles?”
“Not at all. He’s just... a giant flirt.” How else can Seokjin say There’s a chance you’ll like Yoongi once you work with him and I want you more than he will without being too direct?
“Ah. I’ll steer clear then. No booty grabs behind the counter. Got it.” Namjoon waggles his eyebrows, holding eye contact as he takes another sip of coffee. “I think I covered the basics. What about you? Where should I start bringing custom drinks made by yours truly?”
YOU GUYS JUST MET. Seokjin can hear V’s voice loud and clear in his mind. There’s no telepathy involved; he’s just spent enough time with his lovely roommate that he can imagine what V would say in situations like these. YOU JUST MET AND HE WANTS TO BRING YOU COFFEE AT WORK. I TOLD YOU EVERYTHING WOULD BE FINE.
But he bites back the too-big smile he wants to show and tells Namjoon his own basics: he’s turning 27 in December, he lives in an apartment in the neighbourhood, and he graduated from Seoul National with a specialist in Art History. “I’m trying to save my own money for grad school, so I’ve been off these past few years. I wonder if my major will still be applicable then.” He points a finger through the trees in the direction of his work. “Until then, I’m a librarian and secretary at KNUA. All drinks can be left at the desk with me—or Jaehyung, if I’m somewhere in the stacks.”
“To think I’d meet someone with a book-heavy background like me,” Namjoon muses. This time when he smiles, Seokjin notices he has dimples. He downs the rest of his coffee as preparation for (what he likes to call) the Heavy Stuff.
“Namjoon, do you believe in ghosts?”
The question clearly catches the younger boy off guard. He blinks a few times. “Actually, yes.”
“Have you heard of dream contracts? Or... I don’t know, promises made between a living person and a ghost?”
“I’ve only done so much research on it, but we got a book in a few days ago with a lot of information on the topic. It came from a library that was closing down on the east side of Gwangju.” Namjoon furrows his eyebrows. “Why do you ask?”
“Just one more thing.” He holds Namjoon’s gaze in his, watching as the boy’s eyes roam over his face. Seokjin knows he’s just being polite about the cracks and not bringing them up. “You can still see the ’permanent marker’ on my face, right?”
“Are you going to run away again if I say yes?”
Seokjin feels a warmth creep up his neck. “No, you—it was—you caught me off guard.”
“Okay good. I was hoping you wouldn’t. People—okay, I—have fallen down those stairs.” He pauses. “More than once.”
Both the embarrassment and the smile on Namjoon’s face is so genuine, so kind, and Seokjin is now terrified of bringing up what’s going on because he has a strong feeling the smile will fall and he will be dubbed insane and thrown out of Namjoon’s house and bookstore. He’ll never be able to browse the shelves again or talk to Hoseok on his shifts or—
Seokjin takes a deep breath. It’s now or never really, and V said it shouldn’t be a problem because Namjoon is supposed to be the helper. “So this may sound crazy. but the stuff on my face—”
His phone rings, interrupting one of the most important bits of dialogue that Seokjin has ever voiced. He freezes, staring at Namjoon, and the boy raises his eyebrows. Seokjin’s phone keeps ringing in his back pocket. “Are you going to answer that?”
Seokjin blinks once, twice, and gives in with a sigh. “I guess so.” He pulls out his phone and brings it to his ear. “Hello?”
“Jin! Oh thank God you picked up.” Of all the times for Jaehyung to call him, this had to be the worst. “We just had two people call in sick today. It’s only me and Wonpil working in our area.”
Seokjin lets out an inaudible sigh. To Namjoon he mouths work, and Namjoon nods in understanding.
“I know you texted me saying you’re sick but is there any way for you to come in ASAP? Sungjin doesn’t start until 4. I just need you until then.” Seokjin gives Namjoon a look before putting his coworker on speakerphone.”
“Yes, okay,” Seokjin cuts him off. Namjoon bites his lower lip to hold back a laugh. “I’m on my way now.”
“Thank you so much. I owe you one.”
“That you do. I’ll see you soon.” Jaehyung ends the call. Seokjin puts his phone down with a sigh. “That’s my cue.”
“I’ll walk you out.” Namjoon stands first, taking their now-empty coffee cups to the sink. Seokjin knows it’s not Jaehyung’s fault, but he really wants to severely maim the employees that called in sick.
They head down the stairs and through the bookstore to the front entrance. Hoseok looks up as they pass. When he catches Seokjin’s gaze he winks, but Seokjin just rolls his eyes.
“Listen,” Namjoon says, looking away and rubbing the back of his neck. (Seokjin’s labelled this as a nervous habit of the owner’s. He likes it.) “I was going to ask you for your number last night, but that was when you shut the door on me. So, uh, is there any chance of me still getting now?”
“Oh. Uh. Yeah.” Seokjin watches Namjoon pull out his phone and hand it to him with a “New Contact” screen. He punches everything in, double checks that he didn’t mess up his own number, and hands it back to him. “Send me a text so I know it’s you. Maybe we can—”
Seokjin stops himself. Dear God, he froze. He’s looking at Namjoon’s face and watching his eyes narrow as he smiles and his dimples pop out and he looks so hopeful because, if Seokjin isn’t mistaken, Namjoon looks pretty damn interested in him.
Seokjin didn’t think he would get this far.
“Grab coffee somewhere other than my dingy place?” Namjoon finishes with raised eyebrows.
“I—Yeah. I mean, it’s not dingy—honestly, I think it’s cute—but... Yeah. Coffee.” Seokjin starts walking out the door before he says anything more embarrassing. “Let me know.”
Namjoon waves him off. When Seokjin is out of sight he launches a fist into the air in success. Not only did he get the chance to actually talk—and apologize—to Namjoon, but he has his number, which means they’re going to text and call and hang out again.
Seokjin hops onto the bus as it pulls into his stop. He feels like a giddy fifteen-year-old girl.
He checks his phone as he’s entering the library—there are two new texts.
Crazy or not, you still owe me an explanation for your face.
You’re not off the hook just yet.
Seokjin’s phone rings early in the morning about a week later. He does a full 180 to reach for his phone on the nightstand, not bothering to check the call display, and swipes to answer. He clears his throat before bringing the phone to his ear. From the other side of the room, V makes an indiscernible noise. “I’ve never seen you move to pick up your phone so fast before.”
Seokjin ignores him. “Good morning.”
“Hyung, what the fuck.” It takes a moment to process the voice because it definitely isn’t Namjoon’s. “Why do you sound like you just finished masturbating? It’s like eight in the morning.”
Seokjin groans. “Leave me alone, Hoseok. I thought you were someone else.”
“Like who, Namjoon?” At Seokjin’s sputtering, the younger boy groans. “I don’t know why I didn’t think this was going to happen. It’s clearly inevitable. Anyways, I have an update on Jungkook. I think you’re going to like it.”
In the past week, in Seokjin’s defence, he and Namjoon had hung out only once. Even though they’ve been texting almost nonstop since Day One, but when Seokjin told him he had front desk duty, he used up his entire thirty-minute break to go to KNUA to bring him a large cup of Last Drop’s special coffee blend. (“It’s all I can drink now,” Namjoon had said. “And I don’t mess up my coffee in the morning anymore. You need to come by again so I can make it for you.”) Seokjin also hasn’t seen Namjoon at the bookstore recently; he’s been busy on the store’s off hours, stocking incoming books and managing his Amazon account, which is something he had set up himself, saying that people buy secondhand books more often than what’s universally thought so it’s extra income for Kim’s Books.
Seokjin has also been visiting when it’s Jimin’s shift. He isn’t sure why but not seeing Hoseok for a week definitely explains the phone call. “Alright,” Seokjin says. “What is this update and why is it important enough to disturb my sleep?”
Hoseok clears his throat to prepare for his Story Mode voice. “As you know, Jungkook and I have gone on a few dates already, and we even practiced in the same room this past week—”
“Are you even allowed to do that?”
“He booked his time right before mine. The few times we danced to our own things instead of watching the other person, we just used earbuds.”
“But basically, I’ve come to realize how really, truly flawless Kookie’s dancing is. And I mean that.” Seokjin’s ears perk up—it’s not that he wasn’t listening before, but for Hoseok to truly compliment someone else’s dancing skills in his program happens as often as a lunar eclipse. “For one of my dance classes there’s no written final—it’s an assessment of an original composition. We’re allowed to have a partner, and I asked him to be mine last night.”
Seokjin can’t believe Hoseok’s words. “You actually chose to have a partner this time? But you never do that.”
“I know. I don’t understand why I did it but it happened and Jungkook is able to get out of his own exam because he’s helping me, another student, with an original choreography. Everyone in my class is performing their originals on December 20th in the main university theatre, tickets are 20,000 won, and all the money goes towards the dance program. It’d be awesome if you could come.”
“I’m already prepared to book the day off,” Seokjin says without a second thought. “I’m so proud of you. You know that, right?”
“I know.” Hoseok pauses. “I mean, I would hope so. And you’re welcome to invite other people, too.”
Seokjin knows exactly what the boy is getting at. “You’re thinking about Joon, aren’t you?”
“Oh my God.” There’s laughter on the other line. “Yeah, I did, but I can’t believe this. You just called him Joon. Are you two already on a nickname basis? Didn’t you just exchange numbers last week? Why didn’t you tell me you two are already this serious?”
“God, Hoseok, shut up. Nothing’s happening.” But, because Seokjin isn’t oblivious to the situation, he adds, “Not yet, anyways. I’ll pass on the message. We’ll both be there for sure.”
“Amazing. Thank you, hyung.” In the background, Seokjin hears a warbled voice. “Ah, I have to get to work before I’m late. I’ll see you around!”
“See you.” Seokjin hangs up.
are you free on dec 20?
Yeah, I am. Why?
hobi and jungkook have a showcase for their final assignment that day
proceeds go to the dance program
and he was wondering if you wanted to go
Are you going?
yes of course!! that’s why i asked you
wanna go together?
…Is there a reason Hobi didn’t tell me about this himself? He’s working tonight.
Jin? You there?
i’m going to kill him.
Please don’t. He’s a really good employee
Two days later, Seokjin’s phone rings while he’s on the toilet, and it’s resting on the small dining room table. “V, can you tell me who’s calling?”
This is one of the few times Seokjin wishes V were still alive; he can’t hear the movement of a ghost in his house. “It says ‘Joon.’” Seokjin doesn’t say anything; he knows V wants to say something else. In a mischievous tone, he adds, “I should pick up the phone.”
“No,” Seokjin calls immediately. “No, you should not.”
“I’m gonna do it.”
Seokjin’s pants aren’t even secure when he runs out of the bathroom. The phone is on the table, on speaker, and he hears Namjoon’s voice. “Seokjin? Is that you?”
“Jim’s whore house,” V says in a perfect American accent. “You got the dough, we got the hoe.”
There’s no answer. Seokjin stares in horror as the seconds increase on his phone’s screen, only for Namjoon to end the call. His head swivels to the ghost with the most rectangular grin he’s seen yet. “V, what did you just do?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” he says in a voice that indicates he knows exactly what he just did.
“You’re a ghost. How the fuck did you even learn how to work a touch screen phone? How can you even talk into a phone? Where did you learn to speak perfect English? God, all I understood was ‘whore house.’ I don’t want to know what you just said.”
V shrugs. “The mysteries of the world are lovely mysteries indeed.”
“I can’t believe—” Namjoon’s name lights up Seokjin’s phone once more. He swipes it off the table before V can do anything else. “Hello?”
“Hey. I just called but there was no sound on your end, so I tried again. Glad I could get through to you. I need some help.” Seokjin has never felt more relieved in all his life. Seokjin asks what he needs in a meek voice. “I got a handful of Amazon orders today—the largest yet—and I’m expecting three boxes of new books to be delivered by this evening. I don’t want to get backed up on work, but I know you’re not working and I’m willing to pay you for your time—”
“What time do you need me?”
“Probably six.” Seokjin looks at the stove’s digital display. It reads 4:31PM. “Because you’re not official staff you can start looking for the books while we’re still open. I’m gonna need help rearranging the new book section once we close.”
He’s getting a strong sense of déjà vu, but because it’s Namjoon asking: “That’s fine. I’ll be there.”
“Really? You didn’t even hesitate.”
Seokjin smiles; Namjoon sounds like him. “I don’t need to. You’re the one asking for the favour. And no,” he adds, “you don’t need to pay me. That’s not what this is about.”
“God, Seokjin. Thank you so much.” He’s about to respond when Namjoon adds, “You’re more than welcome to stay the night, too. I won’t make you walk home at 2AM if it comes down to it.”
“You know,” Seokjin croons, “you’re making this very unappealing, and yet I still want to come help.”
Namjoon laughs. “The offer stands, hyung. I’ll see you soon.”
When Seokjin first started working at the library, it had taken him two months to learn the layout of the building itself and another three to understand how the stacks’ ordering worked.
Namjoon’s store is a single floor and four rooms in total: a cash desk rested between those in the front (the general foyer) and back (the dining room), and the two to the right (what would have been a living room and kitchen) carried the new arrivals. All books, new and used, are organized by genre and author’s last name; the only difference is that packing the secondhand books is like playing Tetris while the others were positioned to look like a retail-chain bookstore.
(Seokjin’s previous knowledge of the genre’s locations is also a bonus. Namjoon was fairly surprised that he had visited often enough to commit the categories to memory.)
In the span of two hours, Seokjin has successfully pulled books for seventeen orders. There’s still another ten to be pulled. Hoseok’s printing waybills for everything and sticking them just under the cover of each book and combining the orders with more than one.
Namjoon had been upstairs dealing with paperwork and the incoming new stock when he comes down the stairs for the first time since Seokjin arrived. (Hoseok was the one to explain the rooms in further detail.) “Hob-ah, is there anyone in the store?”
“Aside from your boyfriend, no,” Hoseok replies. Seokjin promptly drops a book on his foot. A bang is heard from Namjoon’s general location, followed by his signature string of curses. He appears at the bottom of the stairs with a palm to his forehead, wearing olive green wide-leg pants, a beige t-shirt, and plaid slippers.
“Speaking of boyfriends,” Namjoon says with a lilt to his voice, “you should go visit yours. Like right now. I’m going to close the store early tonight to make time for all these orders.”
Seokjin immediately stops looking for books and turns to note Hoseok’s reaction. His blush is like a tomato plant. “How many times do I need to tell you that we’re not together? I just asked him to be my partner for a dance.”
“You told me you’ve gone on countless dates,” Seokjin chides. Namjoon’s raised eyebrows and Hoseok’s grimace tell him that he shouldn’t have said anything, but Seokjin just bites his lip to (horribly) hide a smile.
“Countless dates,” Namjoon repeats, “that you haven’t told me about.”
“So maybe I fibbed a little.” Seokjin stands closer to the cash desk; Hoseok’s voice is small compared to before. “They weren’t actual dates. I mean, the first one was a coffee date. But we’ve only hung out and practiced for the showcase.”
“Poor Hoseok.” Seokjin pouts. “You know, asking him out isn’t as hard as you might think. You’re pretty head over heels for him.”
“I think I’m just going to ask Kook for a last-minute practice session or something.” He begins to pack his stuff up from the desk.
Namjoon scoffs. “Okay, sure. A ‘practice session.’”
“Please, it’s not like we’ve even kissed yet.”
“Not even after your textbook-marking date?”
“Fuck off, Seokjin.”
“You should kiss him while dancing or something,” Namjoon offers. “Very original.”
Hoseok throws his bag over his shoulder. “I want to focus on this dance and you guys are talking to me about gaining the courage to kiss Jungkook—” He sighs. “Resistance is futile. I’ll see you tomorrow, Joon.”
Seokjin and Namjoon send Hoseok off with a collective goodbye before the latter claps his hands. “Alright. Pass me some orders. If we’re ever going to get to the new arrivals, we have to speed this up.”
The leftover orders are all used books, but Namjoon’s personal knowledge of the entire store’s inventory proves to be more than helpful. He only has two papers left in his hand before they move on, even though Seokjin has only found one so far. “Namjoon, I have a question.”
“Why do you have an ancient typewriter upstairs?” There isn’t a quick response, so he adds, “I saw it when I came up that first time. Do you write?”
There’s still no answer, which warrants Seokjin to stop what he’s doing and look at him, even though Namjoon is still looking for books. He watches as the boy’s index finger runs along all the spines on one shelf before skillfully placing the paper in the inside cover and slipping it under his arm. “I do, actually,” he finally says. “I’ve always been a bit of a writer, but I’m not as well-known as I’d like to be. I write a lot and I’ve published a few poems and short fiction pieces to literary magazines, but none of it is as big as I’d like to be. I’m still waiting to write my ‘big break’ story, you know? So I dug up my dad’s old typewriter in the basement in hopes that it would help me somehow. It’s not like I don’t write on my laptop, but…”
“It’s not the same?”
“It’s not the same,” Namjoon repeats.
Seokjin smiles. Even with his back turned, Seokjin can still hear the passion in his voice. “Maybe it’s not the typewriter, even though it’s a nice addition to your character. Maybe you just need the right muse.”
Namjoon picks out his last book from a lower shelf, stopping in that position. Seokjin can’t even see the top of his head. “There’s a chance I don’t have to look anymore.”
“Oh.” It’s a good thing Namjoon can’t see his face, because when Seokjin blushes, it’s worse than Hoseok’s. His entire face brightens and his ears feel warm and sometimes—more often than not—his neck joins the party. As he stands up straight, Seokjin crouches behind a rack of books. “Will you tell me if you find your muse?”
There’s a light laugh. “Yeah, Jin. I will.” His hand appears over the rack, making grabby motions. “Pass me the rest of the orders. I’ll get them done.”
Seokjin hands his papers to the floating hand and buries his face in his own. He doesn’t move until Namjoon gives the okay that indicates he’s done looking for the books. He’s probably been more flustered in his life before, but nothing really compares to the implications of Namjoon’s words.
“Alright, now we have to pack it all.” Seokjin takes a deep breath, regains his composure, and makes his way over to the desk. Namjoon gestures to the stacks of books Hoseok had prepped. “All of these need to go into bubble-wrap lined manila envelopes,” he explains. “The waybill inside each one needs to be stickered onto the front of the package. You can start on the ones Hoseok processed already and I’ll finish the rest in a sec.” He looks at Seokjin. “Did you want a drink? Coffee or tea?”
“If you can make the coffee mild, I’ll take it. I’m not looking to stay up all night.”
“Okay,” Namjoon hums. “If we end up not sleeping until three in the morning don’t come crying to me.”
“Deal.” He watches Namjoon disappear up the stairs before packaging. Out of the thirty orders that were placed, Seokjin manages to prep twenty. Namjoon has to send out the rest before he can package anything else.
Namjoon comes down the stairs slowly enough that Seokjin can hear the creak in each step rather than the thundering stumble of his running. When he comes back into Seokjin’s view—now wearing sweatpants—the older boy tries to hold back a laugh at how focused Namjoon is on the two piping hot mugs.
“I’m fine,” Namjoon says, as if reading his mind. He rests the two mugs on the desk. There are no coffee spills on the edges of either mug.
Seokjin raises his eyebrows. “Wow. So there were no problems making it?”
“I had to make two batches. Mine’s stronger than yours.” He slides the mug closer to Seokjin. “I think I did a pretty good job.”
Seokjin takes a sip and lets out an involuntary moan. “Is this a lighter version of Last Drop’s blend?”
“And I added some vanilla.”
“You may not be able to cook, but you can make really good coffee.” Seokjin takes another sip. “Thank you.” Namjoon nods in thanks and they drink their coffee in silence. The chandelier in the main area gives off a dim yellow glow over the room while the desk’s light by the computer illuminated their faces. All the floor lamps are turned on for optimal searching and organizing.
Outside, the headlights of a passing car make a quick appearance. “So,” Namjoon starts. When Seokjin looks from from the window to him, he sees that the younger boy had possibly been staring at him the entire time. “While we’re taking a break, why don’t you explain to me the whole deal with your face?” His eyes drop from Seokjin’s eyes to his mouth briefly; if Seokjin had blinked, he would have missed it. “You know I’m not being rude, but I think your ‘permanent marker’ situation just got worse. And no one else can see it.”
Namjoon isn’t wrong—Seokjin’s cracks have gotten worse. The single crack down his cheek had branched out in several places, snaking their way across the rest of his cheek. One is dangerously close to the bridge of his nose and another had started cracking up towards his forehead.
Seokjin looks at his empty mug. He isn’t sure when he finished his coffee, but now there’s no drinking-during-a-prolonged-silence distraction. “There’s no avoiding this now, I guess.”
“You weren’t avoiding it in the first place. We’ve just barely seen each other.”
“Also true.” Seokjin takes a deep breath. “It starts at the beginning of September, when I started getting this weird recurring dream…”
He explained how the floating voice in his dream had urged his dream self to kiss a statue of a fallen angel (which, Seokjin now speculates, was how the dream contract with V was sealed). He talks about how he woke up to a new roommate the next morning nicknamed V—because that’s the only name he remembers from his waking life—and how he pretty much avoided all possible talk of why V was there because “I was probably hallucinating the entire time.”
Seokjin tried to recount the events as briefly as possible, but there’s so much that he doesn’t know how long he’s talking for. Namjoon listens with undivided attention. “The only reason I bothered to learn about everything was when you asked me about the cracks. That was like a slap in the face because I thought I really was the only one that could see them.”
“So what do they mean?”
Seokjin shrugs. “It’s supposed to act as some form of time tracker, I think. But V and I can’t figure out how much time we have.”
“Time to do what, exactly?”
“Before V died, he made a promise to his best friend.” He pauses, remembering the look of pure shock on V’s face when they were in the stacks. “It was to help him find someone that loves him back. Mutual, reciprocated love. And we learned recently that this best friend of his is—was?—Jeon Jungkook.” Namjoon’s eyebrows hike up his forehead. “We’re convinced that Hoseok’s the one that’ll love him back, but I barely know Jungkook, so how in hell am I supposed to figure out if he likes Hoseok to begin with?”
There’s silence. “They haven’t even kissed yet.”
Seokjin nods. It still freaks him out how calm Namjoon is about everything he’s been unloading. He won’t question it, but he’s also beyond confused. Maybe it has to do with his role alongside Seokjin.
“I know,” Seokjin says. “And it’s stressing me out. A kiss might not even mean anything but it normally does, right? I don’t know how much time I have. I want things to happen as naturally as possible and I hate having to push them in the right direction because I—” He sighs. “I read in The Complete Connection to Contact with the Otherworld that I might die or go crazy and never be heard from again if I don’t complete the promise in the dream contract. Apparently it won’t happen because I have you, but it’s weird because even though the cracks are spreading and I can feel them like little rifts in my skin, they’re not bothering me and my face is still intact—”
“Jin-hyung.” Seokjin stops talking. He had looked away the entire time he spoke, but he sees Namjoon looking at him with a serious expression. “Calm down. You’re rambling.”
“Sorry.” Silence. “I feel like I’m in this weird in between phase. I’m not safe from harm, but I don’t feel like my life is at risk either.”
“It’s weird, but make sure you don’t take this for granted. Things can happen anytime.” Namjoon looks away. “I don’t want you to be caught off guard in a time like that.”
“I’ll do my best.” Seokjin shoots him a quick smile that he hopes comes across as genuine while his hands tremble at the thought of potential death.
Namjoon’s hands reach under Seokjin’s to pry his loose grip from the empty mug. His voice is soft and soothing. “Hey. Try not to be so morbid. I’m gonna bring the cups up and then we can start on unpacking boxes, okay?”
“Okay,” Seokjin says dejectedly. When Namjoon comes back downstairs he motions for Seokjin to follow with a tilt of his head. “I don’t know if you already saw, but the new arrivals are in the room over here.” He takes an exacto knife off a nearby table and cuts the top open. “I don’t get a lot of new arrivals, so when they come in it’s roughly seventy to a box.”
“So we’re unpacking quite a bit.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry to spring this all on you. Normally I can deal with it alone, but…”
“It’s fine. I’m happy to help.” They lapse into a comfortable silence. Seokjin has been so much more relaxed around Namjoon ever since sharing everything he’s mired in. They unpack the boxes as quickly as possible, leaving books in stacks by author all over the floor—or rather, wherever books are not already placed.
“I have another question,” Namjoon says, halfway through unpacking his box.
Even though they each have a box in front of them and they’re sitting on the floor, a fair distance apart from each other, Seokjin catches his smile. “For now. How come no one else can see these cracks?”
“V and I aren’t entirely sure about that either. I just know you’re the only person that can see them, and apparently the reason for that is because you’re role in this is the ‘helper.’ As in, you’re literally supposed to help me figure out how to get Hoseok and Jungkook closer.”
Namjoon snorts. “I’m called a ‘helper?’”
“Apparently there’s one in every dream contract that’s created,” Seokjin explains. “There’s the ghost, the human that’s locked in the contract, and the helper. Their job is to aid in whatever needs to be fulfilled by the contract.” He pauses. “All the recorded incidents with dream contracts don’t have happy endings, but V says it’s because those people could never find their helper.”
“Ah. That’s why you said you won’t lose your mind because of me.”
Seokjin swallows. He can feel a blush creeping up on his cheeks. He really doesn’t like how easily he feels embarrassed. “Yeah.”
“So… I’m like your sidekick.”
Seokjin laughs. “That’s probably the best way to put it. You’re my sidekick. I’m also just very surprised at how calm you are.”
“All of this.” He gestures vaguely to the air between them.
“It all does sound pretty crazy, I’ll give you that—you don’t have to hold your breath at that, you know. I still believe you. But there’s no way you’re making this up when it’s the same situation as those in the Complete Collections.” Namjoon points loosely at Seokjin’s face. “And the cracks. They’re not fake. No one else can see them. And nothing has fallen off yet! It doesn’t work with logic.”
Seokjin unloads the last few books from his box. “Logic aside, I would rather my face not fall off. That would be cool.”
Namjoon laughs loud and long. Seokjin sneaks a glance at him to see his mouth fall into a content smile, one that he does often, where his lips are pressed together tightly enough that they almost completely disappear. It makes hims slight underbite noticeable, but Seokjin doesn’t care.
If he thought he was melting before, he is now evaporating into thin air.
They finish unpacking the last box together and Namjoon tells Seokjin to start looking for space for the English authors near the front of the new arrivals room. Namjoon thankfully has a basement full of books that he restocks on the daily, so whatever doesn’t fit can stay down there. “I don’t understand why the buyers sent me such a heavy load. I’m going to have to tell them to lay off for at least a month.”
“Worst case scenario, you can put some of the new arrivals in the used section. Or have a giant sale. Those always work swimmingly.”
“Even though I’m located in the middle of nowhere, a sale isn’t a bad idea.”
“If you need help promoting, I’m sure the library wouldn’t mind as long as you pay for advertising space. Students are always looking for cheap books going into the new semester.”
“That would be amazing. Thank you.” The way Namjoon pauses indicates that he wants to say something more, so Seokjin waits. Nothing comes out.
“Did you have another question?” Seokjin asks, looking at Namjoon shelving away farther back into the new arrivals.
The boy shoots him a look and grimaces. “Maybe. Would it be weird if I asked to touch the cracks?”
“Do you really want to feel these weird little empty lines all over my cheek?”
“Kind of.” Namjoon’s cheeks are pink. “Even though I know this is real, it doesn’t feel like it.”
Seokjin stops rearranging books and turns his entire body to face Namjoon. “It’s a weird request, but it’s no less weird than the rest of my life right now. But”—he eyes the precariously stacked books that are all over the carpeted floor—“you’re coming over here. There’s no way I’m walking through all this.”
Seokjin would be lying if he said the reason he told him to walk over wasn’t because Namjoon is a complete klutz. The boy mutters out a fine before taking his slippers off to begin his trek (“I’m a walking disaster if I wear them”). He maneuvers himself around fairly well, eyeing every stack and its location and height; he even eyes his own sweatpants, which are baggy enough to catch onto one of the stacks. He’s in front of Seokjin in no time with a grin on his face.
“I see what you’re doing, you know,” Namjoon says. “You think you’re all slick for calling me over, thinking I’d fall—”
Everything happens at the speed of light. He isn’t sure what Namjoon trips over, but just as Seokjin’s moving away from the bookshelf Namjoon’s arms flail mid-air and suddenly this hulking six-foot-tall mass topples forward onto him. They fall together with a satisfying thud, punctuated by several smaller thuds from a stack or two of books that end up collapsing (probably from Namjoon’s foot).
While Namjoon seems as good as dead, Seokjin lets out a groan first. He had managed to tilt his head forward to avoid the impact, letting it down easily now that he’s safely lying down. He closes his eyes. “You’re a lot heavier than your lanky frame looks. It’s really amusing.”
“Oh my God.” Namjoon’s muttering into Seokjin’s t-shirt, one hand fisted into the material. He can feel the younger boy’s breath on his chest. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry. That was the world’s way of telling me that I will forever be clumsy. I retract my earlier statement.”
Seokjin tries biting back his mile, but a bout of laughter builds up inside him and bubbles out involuntarily. His laughter is loud enough to echo through the house and he can’t find it in himself to stop because even when Namjoon is a complete hurricane he’s adorable. (If Hoseok were there he would probably throw something at Seokjin to shut him up.)
Namjoon shifts himself while on top of Seokjin, not saying anything the latter continues laughing. He pushes himself onto his elbows so they rest on either side of Seokjin’s head “Listen,” he says, still moving around, “just because I can’t cut onions or walk without spilling coffee doesn’t mean anyth—”
Seokjin finally trades his laughter over for short, slight breaths. He had laughed so hard that his smile made his cheeks ache. He opens his eyes with one last deep intake of breath. He also would have regained his composure entirely had he not seen how close their faces are to each other.
His eyes don’t stray from Namjoon’s face—Seokjin sees the pink shades on his cheeks, the wild eyes searching his own face in the same fashion, the full lips slightly parting in some sort of awe. Somewhere in his vision, Seokjin sees Namjoon’s Adam’s apple bob. “Seokjin, I—oh God, we haven’t—okay, it’s been like, two weeks or something, and—wow, you’re…beautiful. Even with the cracks.” He exhales. “Beautiful.”
Seokjin’s laughter may have already subsided, but his soft smile doesn’t. “Joon.”
“Yeah?” Namjoon doesn’t move. Seokjin brings his hands up to cup the store owner’s face, running his thumb along the smooth surface of Namjoon’s right cheek.
“Are you going to make me wait as long as Jungkook or what?”
Namjoon doesn’t move his face any closer to Seokjin’s. Instead, he mutters, “That would kind of suck.” That’s all it takes for Seokjin to turn Namjoon’s attention back to him, bringing his face closer so he can finally kiss him.
Seokjin’s surprised at how relaxed Namjoon becomes to their lips, and he feels Namjoon’s body go slack on top of his. His elbows shift, his body shifts, and suddenly he’s the one deepening the kiss by slipping his fingers through Seokjin’s messy hair. He’s even the one to slide his tongue in between Seokjin’s teeth.
Then Seokjin shifts his leg—the one that now rests between Namjoon’s elevated ones—and his thigh seems to rub the younger boy in such a way that it makes him pull back. “Oh God.”
Namjoon doesn’t have to say anything; Seokjin knows that they both feel Namjoon’s dick hardening in his sweatpants and it clearly isn’t close to the waistband of his underwear, so Seokjin has no trouble feeling the erection against his leg. Namjoon’s cheeks warm under Seokjin’s hands. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Cat got something else,” Namjoon mutters. He closes his eyes. “God, I am so sorry. Again. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being sorry around you.”
This time, Seokjin lifts his head to kiss Namjoon a second time. It’s a quick peck, but Namjoon reacts the same way nonetheless. “I think it’s about time we stop for the night. We’ll wake up early tomorrow and figure out what to do about the extra stock then.”
“But I’m working the morning shift at Last Drop.”
Seokjin drops his hands from Namjoon’s face. The boy pushes himself off and stands up, embarrassed as he turns around to flip his erection into the waistband of his boxers. “Joon, that’s all the more reason for you to sleep. Let’s go. I’ll finish things tomorrow with Jimin before I leave.”
“You’re a godsend, you know that?”
If anything, Seokjin thinks V is the one that’s godsent, but now isn’t the time for a joke. Instead, he opts for: “I’ve been told as much, but I have no proof of it.”
Namjoon lets out a breathy laugh and shakes his head. “Alright, come on. Let’s head to sleep. I have a long day ahead of me.”
They’re on the stairs when Seokjin asks, “So what are we?”
Namjoon’s already at the top of the staircase. His head snaps to watch Seokjin a few levels lower. “What?”
“You can’t tell me I’m about to embarrass myself because you didn’t see that question coming. That isn’t how things work in the movies—people don’t kiss and then have this automatic agreement that they’re together. I know this isn’t a movie but I also don’t want to just think we’re together when we’re not just because we kissed.” Seokjin reaches the top of the stairs and looks Namjoon in the eye. He can tell the owner is about to say he’s rambling again but this time he knows he’s talking a lot. “So,” he continues (Namjoon raises his eyebrows), “what are we?”
“I don’t actually know,” Namjoon muses. His smirk is contagious; Seokjin feels the corner of his own lip curling. “I’ve only really met you four times—five if you count me bringing you coffee at work—within the span of a few weeks. I guess it depends on what you would call tonight our first date or not.”
“I’m good with either, really. I’d like to think of this as a cute first date, but if you’re offering to ask me out on a proper one…”
Namjoon rolls his eyes and turns around. He heads straight for his room with Seokjin close behind, and the latter is worried that he pushed too far with his words when he hears: “Kim Seokjin”—Seokjin is looking at the back of his head—“would you like to go out with me sometime?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” Namjoon doesn’t look back at him; he just slips onto the far side of the bed and under the covers, with his back still facing Seokjin. When the older boy joins him on the other side, he pokes Namjoon’s spine between his shoulder blades. “I’m also surprised we’re not having sex.” He starts laughing even though Seokjin’s tone is serious. (Not that he’s being serious.) “That’s now a first date thing too, right?”
“I don’t think I have ever met someone as forward as you.” He turns around to face Seokjin. “I am so embarrassed from earlier that I can’t get hard without thinking about it, so no. No sex.”
Seokjin scoffs. “And you call me the forward one. Go to sleep, Joon. You need it.”
As if on cue, Namjoon yawns. “Good night, Seokjin. Thanks again for all your help.” He turns back around and is out cold in seconds, his breath falling into the steady rhythm of sleep. Before he joins him, Seokjin pulls his phone out from his pocket to see a recent new message from Hoseok.
i ended up going home
i stopped at jungkook’s place to see if he wanted to practice but apparently it’s the anniversary of his friend’s death tomorrow, so…i’m going to leave him alone for a few days
Seokjin reads the message once, twice, three times over. Tomorrow’s the anniversary of V’s death. It isn’t a large clue, but it’s more information than they had seconds earlier.
did he mention anything about who it was? or why they died?
i didn’t ask
it looked like it was hard enough for him to say that he had the death anniversary to begin with
Seokjin puts his phone face down on the bedside table and lets out a sigh. He decides that, the next time Jungkook shows up at the library, he’s going to talk to him casually and maybe invite him along to a group hangout, but he doesn’t want to think about that tonight. He turns into Namjoon, inching closer to share body heat (the early November night is colder than Seokjin had expected) and accidentally touches the back of Namjoon’s leg with his foot. His breath catches in his throat. After not moving for several long seconds, he exhales.
“If you want to cuddle,” Namjoon says in a low voice, scaring Seokjin half to death, “all you have to do is ask.”
Seokjin doesn’t say anything. He moves closer to Namjoon, spooning him perfectly with his arm lazily around the younger boy’s waist. He’s happy Namjoon can’t see him, but in that moment Seokjin smiles into his neck.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Seokjin sings as he takes off his shoes in his apartment.
V’s head pops out of the kitchen. “I don’t sleep, remember?”
“You don’t eat anything either, but you’re in the kitchen.” Seokjin raises his eyebrows in question.
“I was brewing your coffee, actually. It’s like, noon. I thought you were coming back earlier but I saw you leave Joon’s not too long ago so I decided to come back and make it.”
“Is it soggy coffee?”
V groans. “You turn veggies into mush one time—” He sighs, but Seokjin catches the small smile before he turns around. “Anyways. How was your time with Joon?”
“Interesting.” Seokjin drops his bags in the bedroom. “I think we’re official.”
“Official,” V repeats. “As in ‘we are now dating’ official?”
“I don’t know. We kissed.” He takes out a mug from the cupboard and pours himself coffee. “More than once. But we haven’t gone on an official date.”
V jumps to sit on the counter. As Seokjin takes a sip of his coffee, he notices the ghost’s boxy smile is back. “Did you tell him about me?”
“Yeah. He’s surprisingly calm about it.”
“As he should be. No helper is ever a non-believer.”
“That reminds me, actually. Happy anniversary.”
Seokjin doesn’t see the reaction head on—it’s in the corner of his eye when V’s pyjama-graced shoulders tense. He’ll admit, he’s afraid to look V in the eye. They’ve had trouble tackling the W5H in terms of V’s death, and when seems to be the first step. “You know, the anniversary of someone’s death isn’t something to be happy about.”
“I know, but I didn’t mean it like that.” Seokjin’s voice quiets. “I mean it in the sense that this is another step forward. We’re getting somewhere—”
“—but we don’t know where,” V finishes.
With an enthusiastic nod, Seokjin adds, “Do you think it would be a bad idea to talk to Jungkook? Not today, but maybe tomorrow…”
“Yes, actually.” V pushes himself off the kitchen counter. He pads silently across the apartment. “But I do think you should get closer with Jungkook. It’s a good way to get him and Hobi closer together. And you can totally forward your own love life at the same time. I’m, uh… I’ll be back. I have somewhere I need to go.”
Seokjin’s immediate assumption is that V plans on visiting the cemetery he’s buried in, but he decides it’s in both of their best interests not to talk about it. He watches V leave with a straight back and a proud chin that he knows will immediately slump when he’s out of sight.
tell me again how “textbook marking” is a bad first date
i’d love to know
at least we kissed
Chapter 2: [intermission]
I know people don't do this anymore and this is..... kind of dumb of me to do too, but there are still people subscribed to this, and I just thought I'd give a little, uh, head's up.
After a very very very very very long writer's block for this piece, I finally have a completed outline for the rest of the story. I finally filled in the pieces I've been having so much trouble with.
The goal is to post the second half sometime in October (I am still in school, so I'd be juggling that and writing). At the very latest, it will be up before the end of the year.
To those of you who subscribed so long ago are still interested, I hope the first half of the story intrigued you enough to be willing to read the rest of it two years later. If you're new here, I hope you are also okay with the wait for the second half. Believe me when I say I'm trying my best at this.
<3 Linn / bedroomdemos