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we're falling in love, we're spiralling

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he thinks he probably shouldn’t have expected much else from his first convention.

it’s small but put together by some very friendly and enthusiastic tattoo artists, who reached out manually to send invitations through private messages over all types of social media. they provided answers to any questions and were incredibly open, leaving no misconceptions to be had. namjoon had looked through their own social media accounts and did a quick search of their name, finding nothing that sent off any major warning bells in his head. so he’d thought about it a little longer and, eventually, decided to go along.

physically being there is different from seeing pictures online. namjoon doesn’t think he’s seen so many tattoo artists in one place, or even so many people so heavily tattooed in one place. he can’t help but marvel at the ink on some of them as they walk past, wheeling their possessions to where their booths are. namjoon himself doesn’t have too many tattoos, only five on his whole body, but sometimes he’ll look at someone with a whole sleeve and wonder if one day he’ll look down at his own arm and see one.

the small convention is set up in northern spain, and the tattoo artists in control of it were nice enough to speak to him in english and put him next to other english speaking artists, which fills him with a sense of relief. the only way that this would have been better is if he’d had fellow korean artists with him, but he can manage english just fine. he did move to the usa to get his tattoo apprenticeship, after all.

"nobody here is going to bite you, you know."

namjoon blinks and almost drops the three portfolios he has stacked in his hands. shooting a look to his left, he spots the artist from the booth next to him looking at him with raised eyebrows and one of the most open grins namjoon's ever seen in his life. when the artist finds out he's got namjoon's attention, he smiles wider. his canines are a lot sharper than most people namjoon's met.

"is this your first time?"

namjoon nods and turns back to laying his portfolios out. he won't admit out loud the relief that floods through him at the other artist speaking english to him immediately. "yeah. I'd never really looked into conventions before I got asked."

the other artist hums and nods, shifting about to grab something else that he'd packed away. namjoon notices a cluster of blooming tulips on the side of his neck, incredibly detailed and painstakingly realistic.

"estel and agustí have a tendency to like popping cherries with first conventions." the t-shirts the artist is laying out are a mixture of singular large prints filling the torso, a smaller, more minimalistic design repeated all over the material, or a handful of flowers printed onto the shirt and hidden by a pocket so only the heads and a few leaves poke out.

namjoon shoots a look around them, from what he can see from where his booth is set. there seems to be a few other artists staring around wide-eyed, letting their awe and interest get ahead of them as they unload merchandise and equipment. he notices a few are talking among themselves, even a couple hanging around other artists or security guards that look completely at ease.

"it does seem nice," namjoon says, straightening his back when he's been leaning forward for far too long. "it's small."

"a good introduction. some places can get real crazy." spotting a hand out of the corner of his eye, namjoon turns to see the artist offering his hand with that same grin from before. "mark."

he takes the hand and gives it a single shake, offering a close-lipped smile that pushes at his dimples. "namjoon."

"namjoon," mark tries, voice slow. he takes his hand back, with a pensive look on his face.

the smile on namjoon's face morphs from close-lipped to showing teeth and scrunching up his eyes. "yes, I'm asian, if you're wondering. korean."

"cool, cool," mark says and nods, putting out a few baseball caps close to his t-shirts. "my parents are from taiwan."

"your english is good."

mark shoots him a look out of the corner of his eye, smile turning cheeky. "they moved to america while mum was pregnant with me, so I'd like to think my english is good."

colour immediately flushes namjoon's skin and he stutters out an apology before mark laughs, high and loud, reaching over the divider of their booths to give namjoon's shoulder a little nudge. "I'm only joking. but thanks. my parents still like to speak mandarin at home so knowing my english is still up to par is cool, too."

namjoon busies himself with the few pieces of merchandise he decided to bring along with him, having chosen the items that sell the most in his shop online to test the waters. either way, what he doesn't sell here will most probably be bought and shipped to whoever next orders from his shop.

"you can speak mandarin? that's pretty cool."

"is it? I mean, I grew up with it, so it's nothing special to me." mark rubs at his neck, where namjoon notices the tulips bloom. "it's like growing up speaking english, and then suddenly everybody says how cool it is and how they wished they could speak it, too, when it's mostly because people who grew up speaking english don't really care to learn other languages."

namjoon pauses where he is, currently folding his hoodies into such a way that he can fit them on the table and show off the print on the chest, and looks over at mark. mark has also paused in rubbing his neck, hand just cupping it as he stares back at namjoon.

"is it too early in a relationship to get critical with the world?" mark asks with a sheepish, one-shouldered shrug.

namjoon offers him a smile. "I don't think that's a thing."

mark just smiles wide and continues on setting himself up. the two of them throw questions back and forth as they work, eyes darting to phones and the clocks placed strategically on the wall as it gets closer and closer to the opening time of the convention. when the two of them are finished setting up, they sit on their stools and shuffle close to the divider between their booths.

"so tattoos are still taboo in korea, huh?" mark asks. he's holding onto namjoon's right arm, thumb tracing the small band of flowers and the bird perched between them.

namjoon gives a small shrug. "more taboo than most places, yeah. I think asia is having a hard time separating them from gangs and that lifestyle, so obviously they're not going to want to promote the idea of dedicating yourself to working with that stuff."

mark whistles and lets go of namjoon's arm. "that's rough. close friend of mine has a tattoo parlour in hong kong and says that he runs into some trouble now and then, but refuses to let it crush his spirits."

"I wish him luck with that."

"he should be here, actually. he has a tendency to come to the smallest conventions because he's always going on about supporting everyone equally and letting anyone have the chance to get the right tattoo they want."

namjoon watches mark search the crowd, and then takes the time to look out himself. there's another line of booths several feet away from them, and some of them house new convention-goers like namjoon while others seem to be here for possibly a third or fourth time, if the decoration of the actual booths behind them is anything to go by.

he's watching two female artists chatter and laugh with each other in a booth that's decorated with swirling decals and enlarged sketches tacked onto the wall when there's a very loud shout from his left and namjoon only has about a second to roll back on his stool before mark's head smacks into his own.

bewildered, he stares wide-eyed at the person that barrelled into mark, and only relaxes marginally when he sees mark laughing along.

there's rapid-fire mandarin sprouting from the new person that namjoon really can't get a hold of. seokjin always spoke mandarin with his girlfriend over the phone before she decided that long distance just wouldn't work for her, so namjoon manages to recognise it when he hears it. he just doesn't know what on earth is being said.

"jackson, jackson, jackson," mark says in a rush, hands coming up to push the body — jackson — off of him. namjoon manages to see swirly writing and curling designs peaking out of jackson's tank top and flowing down his arms before his attention is drawn back to the newcomers face. "english, please."

jackson looks past mark to namjoon and lets his mouth form a small 'o' in realisation before he sticks his hand out, leaning over the divider with a welcoming smile. "hey! I'm jackson and this is my fifth time coming here!"

he takes jackson's hand and tries to keep himself from overreacting too much to the enthusiastic shaking that follows. "nice to meet you. I'm namjoon. first time here."

"oooooh." letting go of his hand, jackson seats himself in mark's lap, grabbing mark's arms and winding them around his waist. "how are you liking it so far? have you got many appointments?"

"not a lot, I don't think?" namjoon tries, shoulders hiking up to his ears in a slow shrug. "I mean, I got contacted a lot, but some of them couldn't afford it and were sad. some even said they wished they'd known sooner to save up."

"look at you being popular," mark says with a grin, resting his chin on jackson's shoulder.

"that's still good!" jackson says. "shows people are interested in what you have! are you popular where you're set up?"

he rolls himself back and forth in thought, eyes passing over his spread. "I'd say I get a fair amount of customers and attention from social media when I post stuff on there."

jackson follows namjoon's gaze and rises out of mark's lap. leaning one hand on the divider between the booths, he points at one of namjoon's portfolios with his free hand. "can I have a look?"


namjoon has to admit that even with all the years he's had to present his artwork to other artists and has put it up on the internet for people to look at and criticise, it never feels as daunting as when he presents his sketchbook or his work to people and has to just sit there and watch their reactions. it's a lot more raw than getting people's filtered and corrected thoughts. it's always scarier.

but jackson and mark don't seem to have anything bad to say, instead there's a gentle smile on mark's face and jackson's expressive nature translates into almost exaggerated looks of awe at some of the pages.

"can I get a tattoo from you before you go?" jackson asks, wide eyes now on namjoon.

namjoon feels his cheeks warm and a smile grow on his face before he can stop them, mark laughing and giving jackson's side a small hit. jackson squawks and hands namjoon his portfolio back, proceeding to then pout and cross his arms over his chest when mark points out that the look jackson has been going on for since forever about wanting would clash with namjoon's style.

"and anyway," mark says, nudging jackson off his lap. "it's getting close to opening time, so you should really be getting back to your booth, mister. I know you've got more than a handful of appointments today."

"I should actually start with the stencil of my first appointment," namjoon admits when it looks like jackson isn't going to budge.

“aw, come on!” jackson whines loudly, only standing because mark pushes him off his lap. “you guys are over here and next to each other! I’m all the way on the other side!”

mark levels him with a look. “are you telling me you don’t have friends already?”

“I do, but—”

“then get going. you can chat them up when you get bored.”

jackson huffs and grumbles as he leaves, muttering something about taking back the food he’d offered to buy for mark. the flower covered artist just looks on amused before shaking his head. he waves a hand at namjoon when he registers the confused look namjoon shoots him.

“he’s always like this, don’t worry about it.” mark lays down a paper covering over his tattoo table and tucks it into place before flicking through his sketchbook.

namjoon prepares his own table and sketch, grabbing the transfer paper and placing it neatly on top of the ink pad, the design on top of it. his tracing is quick but precise, going over every detail as if it were nothing. when he’s traced the lantern, he feels the prickling sensation on the back of his neck of someone watching, and pauses.

mark’s watching him, leaning over the divider. his face is unreadable and namjoon sits back in his stool, careful not to move the sheets of paper. “what?”

“that’s a very detailed piece,” mark starts, fingers drumming on the divider. “tattoo artists don’t generally do very large pieces at conventions because it means working on less people.”

namjoon raises an eyebrow. “and less money.”

“potentially,” mark says. he’s still eyeing the design.

looking back at it, he traces his eyes over it and feels the same satisfaction he got when he finished it, and when he’d gotten the approval from his client who had been more than over the moon about it. he shrugs and continues to trace. “money doesn’t really bother me. I’d rather grant people’s wishes of getting their tattoo done by me if they want it, you know.”

there’s a shifting sound from mark and then the telltale sound of mark sitting down on his stool. “yeah, no, I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that it’s not usual.”

people start wandering in not long after and namjoon manages to just about finish his stencil before his client bounces up, grin on her face. she’s bouncing on the balls of her feet and gushes at him about how she’s been looking forward to it for so long. namjoon just smiles and asks her where she wants her tattoo and then to remove her shirt and lie face down on his table once she states she wants it between her shoulder blades.

mark’s got his first client, too, and sends namjoon a grin and a wink before they get started.

the first person who stops at his booth while he’s working that namjoon actually takes note of is a very, very pretty young man that makes namjoon’s cheeks burn pink.

a walk-in had asked him if he could tattoo two small jellyfish doodles from his portfolio around their ankle, and while seating themself on the table and taking off their shoe, they’d accidentally knocked over a few baseball caps onto the other side of his display. a small laugh and a ‘no worries, accidents happen!’ had lead to namjoon moving around and picking up the hats.

it’s when he’s still placing the caps back on the display that a deep voice comes from behind, accented and smooth, startling him enough that he almost knocks more hats to the ground.

“your tattoo is really inspiring.”

namjoon looks over his shoulder and feels his mind go blank. there’s nothing special about the way the young man is dressed; a white t-shirt under a thin denim shirt, camouflage shorts and white socks. honestly, namjoon would probably have classified the outfit as someone he wouldn’t really mingle with because the people who wore them wouldn’t generally care about whatever philosophy he’d sprout.

but the young man’s face is something else, genuine interest in his eyes and a smile on his lips. lips that are painfully pink.

“oh!” feeling his cheeks burn, he stares down at what tattoo the guy could be talking about until the stranger helpfully points at namjoon’s lower left leg. “oh, yeah. well. I read van gogh’s autobiography when I was young and thought I should commemorate him in some way.”

the young man’s smile widens. namjoon refuses to look at his lips and instead focuses on his eyes, that are dark and surrounded by long lashes. one of the young man’s eyes has a thin crease along his eyelid. “I love the texture his paintings have. they’re so much more interesting to look at than some others.”

namjoon nods and quickly goes behind his display. he grabs the jellyfish sketch and starts the transfer process. “yeah. you can see his brush strokes and how he didn’t bother to clean his brush completely sometimes.”

the client on the table shifts a little. “I always liked his landscapes the most.”

“do you have a favourite?” the young man shifts his gaze from namjoon’s tracing to the client, eyes shining with interest.

“the wheat field with the cypress he did.” they shift swing their feet gently. “I really like how he painted the sky in it. and the colours.”

“my personal favourite is the church at auvers.”

“I think it’s obvious which one mine is,” namjoon says with a snort, gesturing to the starry night over rhone tattoo on his calf.

the young man lets out a small giggle but says nothing more.

namjoon finishes tracing the two jellyfishes in record timing and, with his customer’s help, transfers them cleanly onto the already prepped skin. he warns them it’ll hurt quite a bit more than usual since it’s around their ankle with little fat padding, and jokingly offers them something to bite down on in case the pain is too much. it’s only when he stands to look for something halfway through the first jellyfish so that the customer can actually bite on it does he realise the pretty man has left.

he tries not to feel too disappointed.

the rest of the day passes by easily enough, the other two appointments namjoon has come on time. two guys around his age getting complimentary tattoos to each other, and namjoon can tell just from the way they talk and joke with each other that there’s something deep between them. only cemented when after they’ve paid the rest of what they owe namjoon they walk away holding hands, the shorter of the two interlocking their fingers with a little trouble.

the second appointment is a young woman getting a mermaid tattoo cupping her left breast. namjoon’s as soft and professional about it as possible, telling her that of course her friend can come behind with her and she can hide anything she doesn’t want him to see. the three of them end up chatting about friendships and the girls’ trip in order to reach the convention. he flushes and grins wide when they gush over how much they love his work and tries to give them the tip they leave but they refuse to take it.

it’s on namjoon’s fourth walk-in — an excited eighteen-year-old who asks for namjoon’s cat doodle on his inner wrist as his father’s birthday present who couldn’t be there due to a fear of needles — that the pretty boy returns.

he doesn’t strike a conversation up this time, just greets the guy on the table, shoots namjoon a smile, and then peruses the portfolios open on the display table.

the eighteen-year-old chats on and on, undeterred by namjoon’s little input as he concentrates. but it’s nice, anyway, listening to the dreams of someone so young who sounds like he’s prepared to fight for what he wants. namjoon thinks he’ll never get used to something like that. when the teenager pays namjoon and thanks him three times before finally leaving, pretty boy is still there, still leafing through namjoon’s portfolios.

and, really, he’s trying not to be too interested in the young man as he cleans his equipment, but his hands just look nice as he turns the pages, a spinner ring slipped onto his right thumb.

“have you been busy?” pretty boy asks, tracing a simple, minimalistic design with his middle finger.

namjoon shoots him a look as he disposes of the used needle. “yeah. a lot of walk-ins. which means I must be good enough for new people.”

the pretty boy hums and cracks a smile. he flicks through a few pages, as if trying to look like he’s thinking it over, contemplating, when namjoon can tell he already knows what he wants. so he waits, sitting patiently on his stool and feeling happy at the lack of hoodies and baseball caps on his display table.

“would you have time for one more?” pretty boy has stopped flicking through pages now. “before the convention’s over?”

fumbling with his phone, it takes him a few tries to see the time, already making his cheeks blaze. when he looks over at the young man and finds his eyes on him, he thinks his cheeks are going to melt straight off his face. “for a small one I should have time.”

pretty boy nods. “how much?”

“seventy euros an hour.”

throughout the whole day, namjoon has seen a lot of people from a lot of different ethnicities, some from spain itself, some that have even come all the way from new zealand. and namjoon doesn’t want to jump to conclusions but he’s pretty sure that pretty boy is asian, or at least of asian descent. and the idea that he might be able to speak korean itches under his veins.

a tanned finger points at a small doodle in namjoon’s portfolio and quickly, namjoon rolls forward on his stool to see. it’s a small thing, a boy reading a book hanging in a hammock that’s tied to a small moon.

“could you do this?” pretty boy asks.

“yeah. yeah, no problem.”

he changes the paper protector over the tattoo table and pats it for the young man to sit on it. as he fishes the doodle out of the plastic folder, making sure not to drop any of the other pieces that get dragged out with it, he asks, “is this your first time getting a tattoo?”

pretty boy nods, eyes following namjoon’s hand in what looks to be interest.

namjoon pauses for a second, having placed the design on top of the tracing paper. “are you sure you want one here?” when eyes snap up to his face, he quickly fumbles to add, “it’s a convention, it’s not really a super chill place to get tattooed the first time since there are a lot of people around and you can feel intimidated, and if it’s just an ‘on a whim’ thing you might want to—”

“I’m sure,” the young man cuts him off with a curl to his lips. “I like what you do.”

he still doesn’t move to trace the design. “I feel the need to tell you that I didn’t tattoo myself.”

pretty boy’s smile grows into something rectangular and it takes namjoon a minute to realise he’s laughing. heat floods through him and he ducks his head, trying to look busy when there’s nothing else he needs to sort out except trace.

“I’ve watched you work on some people while I’ve been here,” the young man says, and the grin’s still on his face. namjoon chances a look and feels his brain flatline. the other is possibly too pretty to cover in ink. “I know what I want.”

but he’d look even prettier decorated in it.

pursing his lips into a thin line, namjoon gazes all over the young man’s face before giving in and beginning to trace. the two of them are silent as it happens, but namjoon can feel the other’s gaze on him and knows for a fact that there is no wandering eyes towards the crowd behind him or the other tattoo artists working away in their booths.

once namjoon has the stencil ready, he starts pulling on his latex gloves. “do you know where you want it?”

“yeah.” the young man starts shuffling his denim shirt off and namjoon wonders if he wants it on his arm or something, but then pretty boy continues on and removes his white t-shirt and namjoon suddenly has so much tanned skin in front of him that his brain short-circuits just for a second time. “I’d like it between my collarbones.”

namjoon forcefully snaps out of it and ignores the soft tummy feet away from him because he’s not a creep. “collarbones. gotcha.”

when namjoon pumps foam into his hand, he turns around to see pretty boy still sitting there and makes a jerky motion for him to lay down before applying the foam to pretty boy’s chest, spreading it out a little more than necessary before he grabs his razor to start shaving.

“I didn’t think I had that much hair,” the young man says, eyes going ever so cross-eyed as he tries to keep his head still but watch namjoon’s hand.

“you don’t.” namjoon finishes up pretty quickly and wipes away the excess foam, grabbing so rubbing alcohol to sterilise the skin. “I remember during my apprenticeship I’d always be reprimanded if I forgot to shave first. I think it helps with the ink settling and keeping the lines straight.”

pretty boy raises an eyebrow. “you think?"

namjoon doesn’t know how many times his face heats up today because of the damn man before him, but he sits there looking like a pouting child holding his stencil as the pretty boy giggles with that adorable grin on his face.

“don’t worry, don’t worry,” pretty boy says, keeping his giggles in check. “I trust you.”

it takes the a few minutes to figure out exactly where pretty boy wants his tattoo, and it ends up sitting just below where his two collarbones meet, the moon perfectly centered. the blue ink stands out from the expanse of otherwise blemish free skin and namjoon takes a moment as he sorts out the tattoo gun, easing the needle in and filling the small container with black ink.

turning on the gun and fiddling around with the grip, namjoon finally dips it into the ink and shuffles closer to the young man, placing his hand on his chest and stretching the skin a little for a smoother surface.

“are you sure?” he asks for a final time.

the young man smiles at him. “yes, I’m sure.”

“okay, this is going to sting but I’m going to need you to keep as still as possible.”

with a nod, namjoon begins to work.

namjoon’s gotten a lot of people who either are coming in the first time or accompanying friends to a tattoo parlour for the first time who don’t understand that it’s very easy to keep quiet while getting a tattoo. the pain isn’t unmanageable, it’s not like being stabbed or the shock of falling over and scraping or cutting yourself. it’s more of a burn that builds up and then fades into something that’s more of an annoyance than a pain.

he can still remember the faces friends would pull when they saw him and his client having conversations while no signs of pain showed in their speaking patterns. it’s always something he’d laugh about with seokjin afterwards, constantly trading little amusing things that people would find out contradicted with stereotypes in their lines of work.

an exhale makes namjoon quirk his eyebrow but he doesn’t look away from the tattoo in progress. “did you seriously hold your breath?”

“I was expecting the worst, so excuse me if I held my breath in anticipation,” pretty boy grunts, and namjoon lifts both hands when he shifts a little bit. “sorry.”

“it’s okay. just try and keep still.”

it’s when the moon is finished and namjoon is returning to dip his needle into the little pot of ink, shooting a look the doodle laying on pretty boy’s soft-looking tum that the owner of said soft-looking tum speaks up again.

“is that it?”

namjoon blinks, beginning to do the strings holding up the hammock. “I haven’t finished your tattoo yet, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“no, I mean the pain. I thought it would be worse.”

giving a one-shouldered shrug, he shifts about in his seat to get a better angle so as not to strain his wrist too much. “for some people it’s the worst pain and they can’t even stomach an hour, or half an hour. for other people it’s bearable for three hours but then they need a break, and others just feel a scratch. it all depends on pain tolerance.”

pretty boy makes a noise in the back of his throat that namjoon feels very briefly through his hands. when he goes to dip the needle in the ink again, he chances a look at his client’s face and spies him gazing up at the ceiling almost in thought.

“nanna always did say I had a high pain tolerance.”

namjoon smiles and tries very hard not to snort or laugh as he continues to outline the hammock, very gently shading the corners as shown on the doodle. “just means you don’t have an excuse not to get bigger pieces.”

“does appear that way.”

the rest of the tattoo goes by silently, with namjoon’s steady hand and silence from the young man. it ends up taking an hour, with namjoon wanting to be sure and going over certain lines to make sure that they’ll stay as dark as they are now when the scab heals and the superficial ink washes off. sitting back in satisfaction, namjoon places his tattoo gun down and washes off any excess ink before gently rubbing vaseline over it.

“okay, if you can sit up so I can wrap it,” namjoon says, moving to grab clingfilm.

pretty boy slowly sits, hissing when he slouches and instead sitting up with his back as straight as possible. “it feels sore.”

“well,” namjoon starts, standing so he has an easier vantage point of wrapping the clingfilm over the fresh tattoo. “considering I just pierced your skin with a needle for an hour, I’d say being sore is much better than bleeding everywhere.”

pretty boy gives a laugh and looks down at his tattoo. the smile on his face is soft and wide and namjoon disposes of the needle just so he doesn’t have to look. by the time he turns back around, pretty boy has managed to shuffle his t-shirt on and is putting on his denim shirt a little awkwardly, but he manages.

“so you’re going to want to wash it with warm water for fifteen days and use soaps that are ph neutral and have nothing in them. so purely natural stuff.” the latex clings to his skin as he yanks off his gloves and he can’t stop the face he pulls when they pull. “you can find some cream to put on it several times a day in the shop near the entrance, and I’d recommend using it every time after you wash it for the first week or so just to make sure it stays hydrated and clean.”

pretty boy nods and gets off the tattoo table, patting down his pockets until he pulls out his wallet from one of them. “how much do I owe you?”

namjoon checks his phone. “seventy.” he takes out his own wallet and accepts the money with a smile. “also try not to pick at the scabs and keep it out of sunlight for fifteen days. you don’t want it to get infected or to get cancer.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” pretty boy smiles and pockets his wallet. “thank you…”

namjoon waits for pretty boy to finish until he realises that pretty boy is gazing at him expectantly. “oh! oh, namjoon. my name’s namjoon.”

he expects pretty boy to stick his hand out for a handshake but instead he narrows his eyes slightly, looking hesitant. before namjoon can ask, pretty boy gives a small bow. “thank you, namjoon-ssi.”

it takes a minute for the korean to sink in.

“I’m taehyung,” pretty boy adds with a smile when he straightens up.

“you’re welcome!” namjoon blurts out, fear that taehyung will think he’s messed up by speaking korean getting the best of him. he flushes at taehyung’s amused smile and scratches his cheek with his index finger. “you’re welcome. it’s not a problem.”

taehyung walks around the display table, smile still in place, reaching his eyes and making namjoon’s face blaze yet again. “I hope you have a nice night, namjoon-ssi, and a pleasant trip home.”

namjoon just about remembers to reply with a, “you, too!” before taehyung disappears into the already thinning crowd.

namjoon speaks up after worrying the inside of his cheek to the point where it’s sore. “do you think it’s dumb?”

the afternoon is pleasant and calm, the temperatures dropping into the weird mixture of sudden hot flushes that keep getting shorter and shorter until they die to give way to autumn. it’s not necessarily been a busier time of year, but since coming back from the convention, namjoon has gotten quite a few more appointments and returning clients that have seokjin glaring at him at random times of the day.

which, from the point of view of customers for either of them, is a bit off-putting, but they’ve had the parlour for a number of years and have gained enough of a reputation not to worry too much. they’ve got enough reputation and attention to bump up their prices a little, too, should they want to, but that’s not the point of this, it never was.

seokjin sends namjoon a look out of the corner of his eye, packing the money away into their till. a girl with fresh cyber bites leaves the store with a huge grin and her friend fretting about stretching out her new holes. “do I think what is dumb, namjoon?”

namjoon doesn’t reply, just keeps looking out the door. it’s getting to the point now where trousers are a smarter choice than shorts and seeing a mixture of people in various states of dress is weird. his eyes zone in one the two girls who were just inside the parlour and watches them through the window until they disappear from view.

the till dings loudly as it’s shut and seokjin sighs just as loudly, all for show. “yes,” he says, leaning his hip against the counter and staring at his best friend’s profile. “I do think it’s dumb.”


with a roll of his eyes, he leans forward to smack namjoon upside the head, crossing his arms when he eases back into his posture. “no, because you haven’t told me anything.”


“seriously. what’s wrong with you?” when he still gets nothing, seokjin purses his lips and moves past namjoon to place a display case back into it’s spot to keep the counter clean and neat. “ever since you came back from the convention you’ve had your head in the clouds.”

namjoon bites at the inside of his cheek.

seokjin settles him with a look. “you haven’t had a midlife crisis and decided you don’t want to be a tattoo artist anymore and instead need to go live in a cave in the mountains without any means of human contact?”

“what? no.”

“then what is it?”

namjoon takes a deep breath. “there was one… guy, at the convention. I didn’t talk to him a lot or anything, and he definitely wasn’t the person I spoke most to or whatever but… I can’t stop thinking about him.”

seokjin raises an eyebrow. “so you tatted a guy that you have the hots for that isn’t even in the same country as you.”

red colours namjoon’s cheeks and flushes down his neck. “when you say it like that it really does sound dumb.”

“look, it’s not dumb,” the piercer sighs, leaning his hip against the counter again and placing one hand on his hip, eyebrows raised in that way that always makes namjoon want to punch him. “plenty of people fall for others in different countries and have things called long-distance relationships. it’s not that uncommon.”

“I know that.”

“what is dumb is the fact that knowing you, you don’t have any means to contact the guy.”

namjoon’s face is hot as he ducks his head to avoid seokjin’s gaze on his face. of course, he feels stupid enough thinking back to the pretty boy who made him flustered without doing anything that lived god knows where and probably only thought of namjoon when he looked at his tattoo, if that. do people remember their tattoo artist?

“did you at least get a name?”

he blinks and raises his head. “taehyung.”

“so he’s korean?”

“seems like it. he can speak it pretty well.”

namjoon takes his glasses off with one hand and runs the other through his hair. he still feels embarrassed, and he’s sure seokjin isn’t going to let it go for the next few months. but whatever. this happens all the time, right? when you see someone attractive your brain will get stuck on them for a while. it’s natural.

“was he nice?” seokjin asks, shifting off the counter when the door opens and a customer comes in, giddiness written all over their face.

“yeah,” namjoon says softly, thinking of a sweet, rectangular smile. “yeah he was.”

the whistle from his best friend makes his cheeks go an even deeper red and the customer to falter a little in approaching the counter. “wow, you’ve got it bad and you’re never going to see him again.”

“I hate you,” namjoon mutters out of the side of his mouth as he waves the customer closer.

“I still can’t believe you brought your equipment with you.”

seokjin looks way too pleased with himself as he stands there, needles and piercing gun ready, a small collection of piercings out on display. he presses his hands flat on the table, passing all his weight onto on foot, and sends namjoon a look. namjoon just frowns at him.

“hey,” seokjin starts, eyebrows raising in that annoying way they always do, “I asked your friend if I could bring my stuff and he could advertise that people could get pierced and he agreed, so excuse me if I want to get a bit more income like yourself.”

namjoon groans and rubs at his face, hands squishing his cheeks together and forcing his words to slur. “oh my god, you’re so bitter.”

“I don’t see you complaining about getting more money in your pocket,” the piercer huffs, pulling a face that is borderline too comical for a convention.


the convention they’re currently at is in hong kong this time, one of the bigger reasons namjoon asked seokjin to come along. even if seokjin can’t speak cantonese, he at least has mandarin under his belt and can use that to communicate, whereas namjoon is pretty sure he’d struggle with his arsenal of korean, english and japanese. he’s been meaning to get another language under his belt for a few months now, but none of them had sprung up and caught his eye. maybe he should give mandarin a try.

namjoon’s first client comes five minutes late, out of breath and apologising profusely in breathy mandarin that seokjin seamlessly translates. he’d done it so often when his girlfriend had visited, namjoon’s not surprised anymore. he just smiles, tells the man that it’s perfectly fine, and pulls out the sketch and its stencil.

by the time seokjin meets taehyung for the first time, namjoon is on his third customer and seokjin has had a handful of people ask him to pierce various parts of their body. so, seeing a tanned man wander over, eyes shifting over their booth and lingering on seokjin and his equipment, seokjin just smiles pleasantly.

“would you like a piercing?”

taehyung blanches and seokjin can practically see the awkward jamble of words in his head. he tries very hard not to laugh at the pull to taehyung’s face and instead clears his throat and tries again in korean. if he still doesn’t understand, namjoon can try japanese, and if he still doesn’t understand, the three of them are fucked, pretty much.

relief floods into taehyung’s expression and he quickly replies back in korean, voice confident and strong from the get go. “ah, no, thank you. I’m here for a tattoo, actually.”

neither of them notice the way namjoon pauses in his work for a second, all of his muscles locking at the sound of a familiar voice.

“oh. do you have an appointment?” seokjin asks, immediately playing the role that used to his only job until namjoon could afford to buy piercing equipment. his fingers flip through pages of namjoon’s planner until they land on the current day.

taehyung flusters a little under taehyung’s eager gaze. “no. I didn’t know how to contact namjoon.”

“well, I’m afraid namjoon has quite a few appointments today,” seokjin says, straightening his back and leaning gently against the table. he jerks his head over his shoulder, as if it wasn’t obvious who namjoon was. “so I don’t know if he’ll be up for tattooing a walk-in, but if you return in half an hour, he should be finished with this client and you can talk to him then.”

a smile blooms on taehyung’s lip and he gives a small bow. “thanks.”

namjoon’s client is all wide smiles and jittery hands when he sees the end result. he thanks namjoon three times while paying and proceeds to leave with the biggest smile on his face namjoon has ever seen. it’s almost enough to make him forget. almost.

seokjin eyes him as he packs the money away neatly, one eyebrow raised quizzically. “why are you looking at me like that?"

“that was him!” namjoon hisses, this close to smacking seokjin’s arm.


“the guy!” he stresses, moodily throwing away the needle and cleaning up his station. he rips the paper protector more than necessary but refuses to say anything about it. “the one that wanted a tattoo but you told him to piss off! that was him! taehyung!”

“okay, first, I did not tell him to piss off. I was being realistic. you do have quite a packed schedule.” seokjin dares him to say anything when their eyes lock, raising his eyebrows in that infuriating way that makes namjoon want to punch him. “secondly, you didn’t even look. how could you know it was him?”

“that was his voice, okay,” namjoon mumbles, ducking his head. half of him hopes that his friend wouldn’t hear him, but of course it never happens like that.

seokjin’s face is worryingly passive when namjoon looks up, the silence feeling too uncomfortable for him to bear much longer. “you remember his voice.”

he says nothing, but seokjin sees something in his face that makes him whistle, arms crossing over his chest.

“wow, you are so whipped and you’ve met once.”

“I seriously, really, hate you.”

“is this a bad time?”

namjoon jumps. the two of them look over to see taehyung standing there, a bemused smile on his face and hands shoved loosely into the pockets of his jeans. he looks at seokjin for a second before locking his gaze with namjoon’s and tilting his head.

“no!” the tattoo artist is quick to spit out. he probably would have reached out to grab taehyung’s arm if there wasn’t a table between them. “no, no, no! no, this is a good time. hi. it’s nice to see you again.”

taehyung’s smile grows into something a little more natural. “it’s nice to see you, too.”

“ah, taehyung-ssi.” seokjin butts in, turning to face taehyung and giving a small bow. taehyung looks caught off-guard by his name, and shoots namjoon a look before returning the bow. “it’s nice to meet you. I’m seokjin, namjoon’s piercer.”

“you have a piercer?” taehyung asks in wonder.

“he works in my parlour after he got fired from his old place,” namjoon clarifies, a little too quickly. he ignores the smirk on seokjin’s face.

“aw, that’s cool!” taehyung looks like he wants to bounce excitedly on his feet like a four-year-old promised a visit to the cinema. his enthusiasm smacks namjoon in the face, but he forces himself not to do anything stupid. “what’s the weirdest piercing you’ve had to do?”

seokjin snorts and shakes his head. “I haven’t had to do any.” he looks around conspiratorially before leaning in, taehyung following suit, as if they were about to delve into some big secret. “but one guy came in asking for a prince albert without knowing that it was anything penis related and got the wake-up call of his life .”

silence, for a moment, then taehyung says, “I don’t know what a prince albert is, either.”

“it’s where you pierce the u—”

“he doesn’t need to know!”

namjoon is bright red when they look at him, and feels his cheeks burn ever hotter when he makes the mistake of locking eyes with taehyung. he tries to reason with himself that not wanting your best friend to explain about piercing someone’s urethra to someone you’re interested in is something completely rational. really.

“way to cut conversation short, namjoon,” seokjin huffs, frowning. it’s all for show, all teasing. not that taehyung knows that. “want to keep taehyung-ssi all to yourself? bit selfish isn’t it.”


“go on, then.” with a flourish of his hand, seokjin purses his lips and steps back. he moves over to his station and makes a show of making mess to clean up. “taehyung-ssi came here looking for a tattoo , so go ahead. help the man out.”

namjoon looks helplessly between seokjin and taehyung in embarrassed silence, torn between doing as seokjin advised and making sure that his best friend isn’t as butthurt as he’s acting. the amused smile that creeps onto taehyung’s face eventually makes the decision for him.

embarrassment evident in his voice, namjoon rubs at the back of his neck and tries for a smile. “hey.”

“hi.” taehyung grins wider.

neither say anything for a moment, just staring. namjoon wants nothing more than to hide under the display table and have seokjin deal with everything. taehyung grins wider.

“so. tattoo?”

blinking, taehyung steps closer to the display table and lets his fingertips wander over the cover of one of namjoon’s portfolios. “I was just wondering if you had time in your apparent busy schedule to fit in another small tattoo for me.”

“you liked your first one that much, huh?” the smile on namjoon’s face is inevitable so he doesn’t even try to hide it.

“nanna told me it looked good and I should get more.” a shrug, as if that was all the reasoning he needed in order to get another one. “and when I found you were going to be attending this convention while I was passing through, I thought stopping by couldn’t hurt.”

namjoon watches taehyung open the portfolio at his fingertips and slowly make his way through the doodles displayed. he’d tried his best to include as different ones from his last convention as he could. “you travel?”

“at the minute, yeah.”

once again, silence. though this time, thankfully, it isn’t awkward. it consists of namjoon taking the pen seokjin offers him and trying to twirl it between his fingers — which ends with the lid going flying and almost landing in some very delicate equipment, so namjoon stops playing with the pen as soon as possible — and taehyung scanning two portfolios until he points at a small-ish doodle.

“okay,” namjoon says, drawing the word out as he searches for his planner. he manages to flip it open to the page he’s searching for almost on the first try and feels relief trickle down his spine. “I should be able to fit you in as the last one, if you want to wait that long.”

taehyung tilts his head. “when would that be?”

“uh, about nine-ish? maybe quarter past?” namjoon says, squinting a little. he mentally smacks himself about the hope that bubbles up that taehyung would be happy to wait that long — it is five hours away after all. but taehyung probably has other things he’s doing, and even if that’s not tonight, he could have to get up early tomorrow—

“that’s fine.”

namjoon blinks like an idiot for a moment, staring at taehyung in surprise. it’s only when seokjin coughs from behind him that he jolts. “really? you don’t mind waiting that long?”

the smile on taehyung’s face is so pretty and tells namjoon exactly how endeared he is by the tattoo artist. “your work’s worth it.”

if namjoon tries to hide his red face as he pens in the appointment then god and the large crowd surrounding the three of them don’t need to know, quite honestly.

there aren’t many people around anymore. it’s still a thursday, and that means that people will have work in the morning. but, technically, the convention is still on for at least another hour. by now, most other tattoo artists who had no more appointments were chatting with each other over their booth dividers.

“you know,” seokjin starts, placing the money from his last customer — a nervous girl getting a tongue piercing who turned out to love it more than she expected and cried — away in the wallet they’d assigned and noting the expenses down in their tracker. “I don’t think you’re excited for this tattoo session at all.”

namjoon stops his nervous jiggling and fiddling with the pen and its cap to send seokjin a glare out of the corner of his eye.

his best friend raises his eyebrows and finishes cleaning and putting everything away. “I’m just saying. I don’t know why you booked taehyung so late when I can clearly see all you want to do is go home and sleep.”

“I will honest to god hit you one day.”

“violence is not something you want to broadcast about yourself when you’re trying to gain a partner, you know.” seokjin steps back to shove secured boxes full of supplies in his movable cupboard-come-table, having decided not to take on anymore clients for the night. “let me tell you from experience.”

the pen drops from namjoon’s fingers a little more forceful than necessary, and he proceeds to cross his arms over his chest. the shuffling of his feet into a firmer stance only makes seokjin stifle a laugh.

“I hate everything about you.”

“I’m so glad we’re friends.”

the universe must love awkward situations, because taehyung turns up to namjoon’s booth when the tattoo artist and piercer are locked in a glare battle, one with pure amusement painted all over his face and the other looking as if he wants nothing but murder.

“I can, uh—” taehyung jumps a little when they both look at him in unison, but still makes a gesture behind him. “I can leave if you two want to go home. I don’t want to be the reason you don’t get a good night’s sleep.”

“I’m more than happy to wait, taehyung-ssi,” seokjin replies smoothly, cheeks bunching up ever so slightly at the corners of his mouth. “but, of course, it’s up to namjoon, here. because I know for a fact you don’t want a tattoo from someone who’s tired and grumpy. it won’t turn out good.”

taehyung looks to the side, eyeing namjoon. the tattoo artist has the bridge of his nose pinched between his index finger and his thumb, overall posture yelling defeat. a snort escapes seokjin who doesn’t even bother to hide how hard he’s trying not to laugh, shoulders shaking a little bit.

“did I interrupt something?” taehyung asks, eyes wide.

namjoon speaks up before his best friend can put his foot in it. again. “no, no you didn’t. hyung’s just being an idiot.”

taehyung side-eyes seokjin at the comment who simply waves his hand in a very I’ll let it slide this time, I’ve put him through enough way. he walks up to the gap in the display table and raises his eyebrows at namjoon.

“yeah— sorry, please,” namjoon says, getting into action and grabbing everything he needs. “what was the tattoo you wanted?”

pulling himself up on the tattooing table, taehyung tilts his head. “you had a coffee stain somewhere?”

once the basics are laid out and waiting, namjoon grabs one of the portfolios he thinks he remembers seeing taehyung was flicking through earlier. “coffee stain, coffee stain, coffee stain.”

he finds it in a minute and spins the portfolio round so taehyung can take a peek at the design. with a satisfied nod, namjoon then tries to retrieve the doodle from the plastic sleeve without disrupting everything else, and almost succeeds. almost.

“my god, here .” seokjin thrusts the coffee stain into his hands and bends down to pick up the designs that had fallen onto the floor. “how you manage to get such pristine linework when you’re like this I will never know.”

with a sheepish smile, namjoon plonks himself down on his stool and begins making the transfer. it’s simple, a coffee stain left by a large mug with sans serif so it goes written in the middle. it’s cute and made up of an actual mug stain on a piece of paper lying around namjoon’s home.

“do you want the same colours, too?” namjoon asks as he tries his best to keep the sans serif as perfect as it is on the original design.

taehyung blinks and stops swinging his legs, that namjoon hadn’t fully noticed he was doing. “would it show up?”

namjoon finishes the g in goes and looks up at taehyung with a raised eyebrow. “what do you mean?”

“I, well.” taehyung sinks his teeth into his bottom lip nervously and shies away from looking namjoon straight in the face. “my skin’s kinda dark? I don’t know if the coffee stain would show up much if you did it brown.”

from his right namjoon can hear the snap of seokjin closing his portfolio and the weight of said man’s gaze on him. he ignores the twitching in his eye and looks down at the design and his half-finished transfer.

“the media and the world would like you to believe that only pale people can have colourful tattoos that either look nice or last or work,” namjoon says, hand steadier than before as he continues with his transfer, now adamant to do the best job he can. “if you go to the right people, anyone can have a colourful tattoo that lasts, no matter the shade of skin.”

there’s silence as namjoon works, and maybe it’s because annoyance is prickling under his skin, or the rant is continuing in his head and he’s trying really very hard not to go into detail about how the media is bullshit, that he doesn’t even notice taehyung is looking at him until he straightens his back out after finishing the stencil. he feels his brow soften, unaware that he had still been frowning, and clears his throat.

“so,” he says, waving the transfer in the air a little. “did you have somewhere in mind?"

“oh! oh, uh, my left hip?”

namjoon raises his eyebrows as taehyung pulls his jacket aside and tugs gently at his t-shirt. “are you asking me or telling me?”

“telling you,” taehyung’s quick to clarify. “sorry, you just seemed irritated.”

namjoon puts the transfer down and waves his hand, grabbing latex gloves. “it’s not at you, so don’t worry. if you could take your jacket off and roll your top up so I can reach your hip.”

while prepping taehyung’s left hip, seokjin sits himself down on his own stool and rolls over, arms crossed over his chest. namjoon thinks nothing of it, used to seokjin watching over his work out of curiosity, and then boredom and then just to converse when it was a slow day. taehyung, however, blinked owlishly.

“do you have many tattoos, taehyung-ssi?” seokjin asks, eyes following the razor and then alcohol applied to tanned skin that looks no paler than taehyung’s face or arms.

“no,” taehyung answers, voice open and void of worry of judgement. “I only have the one namjoon-ssi did last time.” and, as if to prove or show off, taehyung rolls his t-shirt up higher when namjoon collects foam in his hand and grabs the razor to show the boy reading his book in a hammock hanging from the moon perfectly framed by his collarbones.

namjoon sends the tattoo a look, happy that it healed safely and still looks as bold as the day he did it. “here?” he asks, hovering the tattoo transfer before pressing it down carefully but firmly against taehyung’s skin. “wait. you didn’t get another tattoo after the first time we met?”

taehyung shakes his head and namjoon’s frown deepens.

“but you said you really liked your tattoo.”

“and I do,” taehyung replies, watching namjoon peel back the transfer. seokjin is already there with a larger than average mirror in his hands, holding it at the right angle so taehyung can see what the tattoo looks like. “I really like it, and I really like your work.”

“so why didn’t you get another?” namjoon asks, pulling his tray over and setting out all the inks necessary. with a nod from taehyung, seokjin puts the mirror away and sits down once more on his stool.

a shrug. “I just like your work.”

namjoon pauses. his needle is ready and secure, just waiting for him to turn it on, fingers hovering around the tiny machine. seokjin raises an eyebrow and coughs in the back of his throat when it looks like his best friend isn’t going to jump into action. thankfully, the cough jolts namjoon out of whatever stupor he was previously in.

the buzzing of the tattoo gun fills the silence between the three and namjoon dips it into the black ink pot, going for the lettering first.

“what about you, seokjin-ssi?”

seokjin hums, eyes following the needle and the artist’s steady hand.

“do you have any tattoos?”

“no. my pain tolerance isn’t very high so namjoon’s told me it’s better if I don’t get one.”

the look seokjin sends namjoon makes taehyung laugh. namjoon lifts the needle from his skin as quickly as he can and taehyung quickly apologises, pressing his lips together as tightly as he can manage.

“I told you that because otherwise you’d end up like phoebe from friends,” namjoon grunts, happy when he finishes the lettering and swipes the skin clean of excess ink. “but if you want to sit through agony because I doubt you’d be able to handle it, be my guest.”

seokjin now sends taehyung a very I told you so look. “this is also the reason I only have one ear pierced, even though the pain for that doesn’t last very long.”

namjoon snorts as he changes needles, throwing the used one away. “he planned on getting a second and maybe a third a few months after his first one, but once he started getting into the routine of caring for one piercing he decided that was enough.”

“it’s also fun because I get to prove people wrong who think I don’t know what I’m doing as a piercer just because I only have one piercing,” seokjin adds, talking directly to taehyung with a sweet smile on his face.

the buzzing of the tattoo gun returns. “he’s closed down two places and forced three under inspections that made them take several months pause so they could get caught up with regulations.”

taehyung’s eyes are wide and stay pinned on seokjin’s face. he hisses when the needle details right over the bone of his hip, but refuses to stop looking at the smug expression all over seokjin’s face. “that’s so cool.”

the smugness on seokjin’s face increases and namjoon lifts the needle from taehyung’s skin so he can laugh. “I would tell you not to stroke his ego even more, but it’s quite possibly my favourite thing hyung’s ever done.”

the three maintain comfortable silence as namjoon continues to ink along the bone, taehyung’s breath heavier and louder for the first time since namjoon met him. taehyung might have a high pain tolerance, but skin over bone with little fat between is still the most painful without a doubt. he has to admit, though, that taehyung might be the person who takes the pain the best.

it’s halfway through the coffee stain when taehyung speaks up again. “where are you guys, anyway?”

“where… are we?” namjoon asks, eyes darting up to taehyung’s face in confusion.

“like, where do you live or work or whatever? because I’ve met you in spain and now here, which for some reason I doubt you live in either place.”

seokjin laughs and shakes his head, twisting himself this way and that on his stool. “oh, god, no. we don’t live here. namjoon wouldn’t last a day with his shitty mandarin.”

namjoon grunts under his breath and seokjin grins wider. “no, we live in america.”

“oh, wow,” taehyung murmurs, voice a few pitches higher when namjoon spends a little too much time on one place, agitating sore skin. “that must be cool.”

“it can be?” namjoon starts, and seokjin just knows that if he wasn’t busy working he’d be shrugging. “it’s not optimal and I’d be much happier back home at this point, but it’s working for the moment.”

there’s a thoughtful sound in the back of taehyung’s throat and they delve into silence once more. seokjin watches his best friend work for the hundredth time, never once bored, and taehyung switches between watching namjoon work and looking around at the other tattoo artists and the crowd of people slowly trickling out.

by the time namjoon finishes, pulling back to look at the irritated skin and fresh tattoo, seokjin whistles and taehyung’s lips split into a huge grin.

“wow,” he says and resists touching it, fingers curling into fists. “it looks so cool! and it’s so… vibrant? I can see the colours, how did you manage to do that? it doesn’t blend in with my skin tone, how did you do that?”

seokjin slaps namjoon’s back as the tattoo artist reaches for vaseline. “namjoon is a very talented man who knows how to work with dark skin unlike some idiots.”

a laugh bubbles out of namjoon and he shakes his head as he gently dresses taehyung’s tattoo. “you don’t need to badmouth people, hyungie.”

“of course I do.” seokjin stands from the stool and starts cleaning up namjoon’s equipment as said man helps taehyung sit up and pulls his shirt and jacket on properly. “I get to brag about how good my best friend is and also inform new people about how a lot of artists are idiots and racist even if they aren’t even trying to be.”


namjoon looks up at taehyung’s face and shakes his head. “hyung goes off a lot on this subject, so don’t be scared.” he leans over to drop the used needles in the bin and almost falls off his stool when seokjin jokingly pushes him.

“he needs to know that if he turns up to a parlour and the artist refuses to tattoo him in colour or advises him against it, that it’s not his fault and the artist is a twat,” seokjin huffs, looking very close to pouting and staking a protest.

taehyung watches the two friends share a look before they continue to clean up all the equipment. someone starts walking down the aisle with two security guards walking behind them, calling out something in mandarin that seokjin nods at and gives them a thumbs up.

“we’ve got twenty minutes,” seokjin says to namjoon. “I’m all done, though, so what do you want me to do?”

namjoon stands with his tattoo gun in hand, face blank in thought.

“uh,” taehyung speaks up, getting two pairs of eyes on him. “I still need to pay for my tattoo?”

“yes, yes I’ll deal with it, namjoon, you just put everything away,” seokjin says, skirting around namjoon and grabbing for his phone and namjoon’s wallet. “it’s been about an hour but for cutting it close to closing time and being a walk-in I’m gonna just add on a little more, does that seem alright with you?”

“jin-hyung—” namjoon starts.

“no, no, it’s alright,” taehyung quickly cuts in, patting down his pockets until he finds his wallet. “he has a point and I have the money to pay for it.”

seokjin smiles and gives a nod. “okay. what currency would you prefer to pay in?”

the sound of taehyung’s wallet opening is drowned out by the sound of everyone else getting ready to leave and go home. “well, I’m here for a few more days so I’ve got a lot of hong kong dollars in my wallet?”

another nod. “okay, cool. so let’s say 825.60 hong kong dollars?”

taehyung bites his lip as he hands the money over. “I feel bad about having kept you guys late,” he admits as he accepts the change and folds it away in his wallet.

namjoon just smiles at him. “don’t worry about it. we would have been here whether or not you asked for a tattoo, so it’s not a problem.”

“but aren’t you guys tired?”

“I am,” seokjin says, logging the money down in the planner before closing it and packing it away carefully. “but we’ve been working all day, doing stuff we love, so it doesn’t matter. it’s a content exhaustion. and we have a late flight tomorrow, practically in the early evening, so we can sleep in.”

taehyung slips off the tattoo table and moves around the other side of the display table so he isn’t in the room and they can finish cleaning up. “you’re leaving tomorrow?”

“yeah. we booked it so our last full day was the convention.”

“hyung insisted we have a break or a holiday as well,” namjoon says as he folds the paper cover of the tattoo table and then shoves it in the bin with all the rest. “so we spent the two days before this just wandering around hong kong.”

“you work way too often and way too much,” seokjin throws back. “you deserved a break and if you weren’t going to pencil one in, then I had to.”

“can I take you guys out?” taehyung blurts out before he can think about it too much. namjoon and seokjin pause and then turn to look at him with equal amounts of surprise on their faces. “it’s just… I kept you guys late and you’re tired and I don’t know if you get food breaks here? it’s the least I can do.”

namjoon and seokjin slowly turn to look at each other and taehyung fidgets where he stands. there’s a feeling in the pit of his stomach that tells him he’s fucked up or overstepped a boundary somewhere that he should have been able to read without someone pointing it out. and he’s very close to apologising and thanking them. he had been hoping to figure out at least some form of social media for their tattoo parlour where he could keep up to date with whatever they’re doing but—

“well, I’m too tired and all I want to do is go back to the hotel,” seokjin says, and taehyung feels his nerves increase. “but I’m sure namjoon would be more than happy to go with you.”

namjoon’s cheeks colour immediately. “hyung—”

“I ate this afternoon because you insisted and I didn’t have any appointments,” seokjin cuts him off, raising an eyebrow that very much told namjoon not to try anything stupid. “you ate a sandwich at most and I don’t remember you having breakfast.”

namjoon’s lips thin and he averts his gaze from both seokjin and taehyung.

seokjin smiles at taehyung and it makes him hopeful and a little nervous. “namjoon would love to go out for food with you, taehyung-ssi. just gives us a bit to get stuff home and he’s all yours.”

the nightlife in hong kong is not much different from nightlife elsewhere in the sense of there’s a lot of young people out, older people pushing their way through to get home from work or dressed in a way that shows they’re trying to make an effort to blend in with a generation that isn’t theirs. some of them pass, some of them not so much. there’s general noise of cars and motorbikes and conversations that wash over the two of them and settles even more that they’re in a different country.

it’s been awkward up until now, the two of them having walked in silence from the hotel after dumping namjoon and seokjin’s equipment. and now they’re standing shoulder to shoulder and staring at the menu of what looks to be a very fancy restaurant. this is not what namjoon thinks taehyung was hoping for, and considering how easy it was to talk to taehyung when he was tattooing, namjoon feels a weird pressure on his shoulders.

someone bumps into namjoon, which sends him into taehyung and honestly, thank god taehyung is there, because otherwise namjoon would be getting intimate with the floor. and namjoon’s going to apologise, he is, but taehyung just smiles at him softly and different words blurt out between them instead.

“I can’t read mandarin.”

taehyung’s smile stutters a little and namjoon thanks the weird lighting in the street because it’s hiding the embarrassing flush of his face. “I can read a little, but we don’t have to eat here, you know.”

namjoon’s embarrassment deepens when he realises he’s still leaning on taehyung. he quickly pushes himself back up onto his own feet and shoves his hands into his pockets, eyes going to the menu again to avoid taehyung’s face. his eyes widen as they fall on the prices. “holy shit. I’m so sorry I didn’t even—”

taehyung smiles wider, cheeks bunching up and he shakes his head. “it’s okay, don’t worry. do you want to go somewhere else?”

namjoon nods and the two of them weave back into the crowd moving down the street. it gets a little hard to stay together after a few minutes, so namjoon grips the sleeve of taehyung’s jacket tightly and pulls the young man closer when he spots a familiar place. “me and hyung went there the other day! it’s really nice and not a chain, so there weren’t a lot of people in it!”

a hand places itself on the small of namjoon’s back and gently nudges him forward. “lead the way!”

being in front forces namjoon to let go of taehyung, who in turn curls his fingers in the fabric of the back of namjoon’s jumper. they make their way along with the crowd and then pushed their way out and through the doors of the small-ish restaurant.

namjoon heaves out a sigh and smiles at the woman who perks up behind the counter. she must remember his face. mandarin spits at him and he feels so lost, and maybe he should have tried harder to convince seokjin to come along with them. but then taehyung is leaning over his shoulder and speaking slower mandarin with a charming smile.

the woman laughs and nods, and when she speaks next it’s slower but namjoon still doesn’t understand anything. when she moves towards the stairs with two menus in her hands, he feels like he should follow her but only moves when taehyung gently presses against the small of his back.

there are a few tables with people sat at them on the second floor and they get a small table with a booth on one side by a window. taehyung thanks the woman when she gives them their menus. it takes them a moment to sort out drinks but eventually it’s just the two of them again.

“this place is nice,” taehyung says, eyes darting over the walls and tables, and then out the window. “and has a nice view.”

namjoon nods, picking at the corner of his menu, where the laminated plastic has been pried apart from use. “yeah. jin-hyung went on forums and asked clients who lived or had gone to hong kong where we should go in the few days we had free and one of them suggested this.”

the two of them look down at their menus and namjoon feels relief fill him when he finds an english translation underneath what he can’t tell is mandarin or cantonese.

“do you guys get a lot of non-american clients?” taehyung asks, eyes scanning the food on offer.

“a fair share,” he admits. “I think it’s because we’re not american ourselves and they feel like we all have that base of belonging just a little more anyway?”

taehyung hums and nods.

“though, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had a few arseholes coming in.”

taehyung’s eyes raise from the menu. “really?”

namjoon nods. “they do the whole badmouthing americans because of what they do or what they can’t do or whatever. and they think we’re going to agree with them? and it’s less that we’re there because we think americans can’t do it right and more that we’re there because it’s still hard to start that kind of life in south korea? or asia in general.”

there’s an agreeing sound and taehyung opens his mouth to speak when the woman from before returns with their drinks. namjoon gets a little flustered when he asks taehyung to ask her for a few more minutes to choose his food. he focuses on what he wants to eat until she comes back and they manage to order before they get back into their conversation.

“so that’s why you moved to america, I’m guessing?” taehyung tries, resting his head in his hands.

“uh, yeah.” the lighting in the restaurant is much better than the street night and namjoon is very happy with himself that he didn’t look at taehyung’s face too much when he was tattooing him both times. taehyung tilts his head and namjoon blinks quickly. “it was easier to get an apprenticeship and a job as a tattoo artist over there.”

taehyung makes a noise in the back of his throat. the tips of his middle and ring fingers gently touch at his eyes that are big and framed with the longest lashes that namjoon’s ever seen and still can't get over. there’s a mole under one of his eyes and it makes him look— “but you’re missing home?”

he forces himself to look out of the window to save himself from blurting out some kind of compliment that would make the air awkward again. “yeah. I miss my family and my country. it’s just not the same, you know? I grew up there, and then moved to america, so I can’t ignore it sometimes.”

out of the corner of his eyes, he thinks he sees taehyung do something resembling a nod. “an uncle of mine passed away late last year and left me with a large inheritance that my nanna has insisted I use to allow me to visit places all over the world. and it’s really nice and everything, and I love meeting other people and seeing different cultures, but I always end up missing home somewhere along the line and having to go home for a month or so.”

“I’m sorry about your uncle,” namjoon says, fingers drumming nervously on the tabletop. he chances a look at taehyung. the pretty boy’s gazing out of the window, too, and namjoon takes the moment to appreciate the way his hair falls across his forehead and how straight his nose is with the cutest mole on the tip. “but that sounds like a really cool idea. your nanna sounds awesome.”

taehyung grins, and his hands still cupping his face force his smile to be squished. “she is really awesome. she raised me for most of my childhood when my parents couldn’t and gave me work when I was out of school on her farm. I owe a lot to her.”

“and she also convinced you to get a second tattoo,” namjoon adds.

taehyung’s grin doubles. “and she also convinced me to get a second tattoo.”

“do you think she’ll like the new one?”

something catches taehyung’s attention over namjoon’s shoulder. he leans back and removes his elbows from the table, just sending namjoon a grin and a wink.

the woman from before comes with their food and places it in front of them, most probably wishing them a nice meal that both of them smile at and taehyung thanks her yet again. for the first five minutes, the two of them are quiet as they try their own food and then insist on the other trying each other’s.

“where are you going after this?” namjoon asks out of curiosity, grabbing his drink and taking a mouthful.

taehyung hums thoughtfully as he chews through his mouthful. “I’m wondering if I should visit one more country before going home? I haven’t made any plans yet, or bought any tickets.”

“do you not plan it out?” namjoon raises his eyebrows.

“not really.” taehyung shrugs and swallows. “I go by what I’m feeling towards the end. sometimes I can be away from my home for a few months, sometimes it’s just two weeks. so I don’t want to force myself to go to a country and be miserable, you know?”

namjoon nods and eats two more mouthfuls before he speaks up again. “what made you choose to get a tattoo?”

taehyung pauses, food halfway to his mouth, pink lips parted. and they’re very nice lips, the top slightly thicker than the bottom, the hint of a mole poking along the outer line.

“didn’t you say something about not having thought about tattoos before?” namjoon quickly blurts out, embarrassed by his own choice of focus. his face colours when taehyung closes his mouth and licks his lips. god, he hopes taehyung doesn’t notice it.

“I like tattoos,” taehyung says, lowering his hand a few inches. “I think they’re pretty and I like knowing why people get them, from personal reasons to just because they look nice. but I never really thought of getting one, because everything I saw I liked but didn’t want them on me.”

namjoon nods, shoving food in his mouth quickly. he knows that feeling.

“but I kept wandering back and past your booth in barcelona, and your stuff was just nice.” taehyung shrugs and shoves food in his mouth. “everyone was super happy with what they got from you, so I just thought why not.”

it’s a simple story and not the most personal thing that namjoon has ever heard, but it makes his heart beat a little harder for a second and something warm flow through him.

“oh!” taehyung wipes his fingers on a serviette and swallows his mouthful as he grabs his phone. unlocking it, he presses at the screen a few times before passing it to namjoon. “can I have your number or your social media or whatever? I wanna know what you guys get up to.”

namjoon chews slowly and swallows himself. “yeah. yeah, sure.” he takes the phone and carefully types in his number, then searches for himself on twitter, instagram and kakaotalk under taehyung’s instructions.

taehyung then sends namjoon a tiger emoji so namjoon can save his number, and it might be the cutest thing namjoon’s ever seen.