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The Boy Who Doesn't Exist

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PART 1: PRETTY LIES

 

     His routine is simple. Not a morning person by nature, he fights with himself to get out of bed on time. Typically, he would jump into the shower as soon as he wakes up. He would bob his head to the beat of his favorite songs while working at the buttons of his shirt. Then, he would pack a small yet consistent lunch, and make himself some green tea – since coffee has the exact opposite effect of lulling him back to sleep, somehow.

But not today.

Today, the first rays of the sun are crude yellow and cold; they sneak through the indigo curtains of his bedroom and wake him up before the alarm sitting on the nightstand has a chance to do so. His skin twists and aches to return under the thick covers. His immediate thought is that the heating system must have stopped working again.

Things often spoil in the apartment he lives in. With mold-eaten walls semi-covered by an ugly floral-themed wallpaper (the owner could not guarantee that there were no cockroach nests under) and centuries-old furniture crumbling right before his eyes, the place isn’t exactly a dream one. Not to mention the neighbors above happen to be noisy at the most inappropriate hours.

Still, compared to all the other modern apartments out there, his is quite spacious and the rent is cheap, and that alone is enough to make him want to stay.

Upon further investigation, he discovers that the system is, in fact, broken. As a result, he finds himself scribbling a note and sticking it onto the fridge so he’ll remember to call the repair company once he comes back from work.

Instead of music, the gurgling sound of water boiling in the kettle and that of the lazy ticking clock accompany him as he carefully chooses clothes for the day. He’s a big fan of blue and brown hues, retro glasses, mismatched socks and funky bomb jackets, loves putting beanies and long coats together, and has a collection of over 40 shoes he’s very proud of.

Needless to say, he’s as big into fashion as he is into writing. Lately, he’s been thinking that maybe he should’ve pursued this passion instead… but then again, he doesn’t know how to draw. Or sew. Considering how clumsy he is, he would probably be terrible at it.

He brushes the thought off.

His hand reaches inside the cupboard above the stove, frantically searching for the tea box. Nothing is there. Vague memories of throwing it away last Friday come back to him, pulling a swear out of his mouth.

 

~~~

 

Unlike him, people rarely ever sit in the same place twice. Busy hands and frowning faces of the working men, teenagers chewing gum too loud while talking on the phone, kids with heavy backpacks on and pastel lunchboxes in their laps, young couples stealing discreet kisses from each other – Namjoon formed a habit of noticing it all. It serves as his only entertainment.

He rides the train from Monday to Friday for almost two hours – well, four in total if you count the ride back home. It’s all for a job he hates but desperately needs in order to pay the bills.

It isn’t enough that the train has a delay of 10 minutes, which manifests as nothing but yet another breach in his routine, he also has to face the reality of his usual seat being taken by somebody else. He immediately feels a distaste for this stranger, despite not being the poor young man’s fault that his day keeps tumbling downhill. The reason why he likes that particular spot is because it’s a single seat – the only single seat around. It looks like an intentional mistake in a giant jigsaw. Withdrawn and quiet, it allows his creative genius to thrive.

At first, he looks around, eyebrows slumped together, trying to make sure he’s walked into the right direction. He even begins to wonder if he’s somehow broken the space-time continuum, falling through the cracks into a parallel universe that is but a replica of his own. This new world looks terribly similar, but like any other replicas, there are tiny imperfections ruining the bigger picture. Namjoon ends up sitting a few seats away.

 

~~~

 

Next to the orange note he left on the fridge in the morning, there is a purple one, in messier handwriting, waiting. Namjoon picks it up with the slightest frown on his face.

 

dropped by to pick up some things and saw your note

i called the repair company myself so the heat should work by the time you come back (you’re welcome)

don’t wait for me, i’m not sleeping home tonight either

 - yoongi

 

 

A sigh of disappointment echoes through the empty apartment as he crumbles the piece of paper in his palm. In the five months they’ve lived together, Namjoon has learned that Yoongi is a great roommate. And he’s had a few.

The man washes the dishes as he uses them, never skips on paying his part of the rent and highly respects Namjoon’s need for privacy. Their love for art and other shared values bond them, and it’s safe to say they’ve become good friends. The only problem with Min Yoongi is that he is gone almost every other day.

Namjoon understands that he is busy with his own stuff, doing late night gigs and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing... He knows he shouldn’t expect Yoongi to spend time with him like a child in need of attention... Too bad he can’t help but do.

 

~~~

 

A ghost-white world whispers to him with a frigid tongue the next morning when he opens a window. Namjoon knows this mirage-inducing view is not going to last. It never does. Winters just aren’t the same in the capital.

The station is not that far from his building complex, taking him 10 minutes at most to get there by foot, but he decides to call a taxi this time. Even though he never really does that, sparing a couple of bucks sounds better than soaking all up. He’s never been a fan of the cold. The reason seeds in his predisposition to sickness as a child. He still gets sick a lot more than your average man in his 20’s, but it’s not as frequent and it’s not as bad.

Namjoon arrives at the station unharmed, and the train has no delay this time. What is the same as yesterday though, is the boy – the one who he’s never seen before but suddenly decided to sit in “his” place. He shrugs it off, throwing his bag onto some other random seat. Writing just isn’t the same either knowing there is someone who could be possibly peeking down over your shoulder, so he gives up on that thought.

Today he is sitting next to a man in his 40’s, suit and tie beneath a large coat. Yesterday he sat next to a little girl with pigtails and strawberry hairpins. The change doesn’t feel good to him. His eyes roll towards the one responsible for this.

While trying to guess his age, the boy starts searching for something inside his leather backpack only to give up moments later, a frown making room on his pale face. His chin trembles, only lightly, but it is enough to awaken a series of whimpers. Tears begin to run down his ruddy cheeks, and he doesn’t even attempt to wipe them off. The scene unfolds so tenderly that Namjoon feels the urge to look away –  but he doesn’t. A bubbling curiosity arouses inside of him. His fingers itch to capture the moment the way he knows best: onto paper.

 

~~~

 

He is actually surprised to find Yoongi spread out on the couch, munching on some chips and watching re-runs of talent shows. It is such a rare but welcome sight that he tries to bite back a grin and ends up with a crooked smile.

“Hyung.”

“Hey.” Yoongi greets back, not taking his eyes off the TV screen. “How was work?”

“Don’t ask... How was the gig last night?”

“No gig, I just slept over at Hobi’s.”

“Oh.”

Namjoon deflates. This shouldn’t feel like a betrayal. Jung Hoseok is Yoongi’s drummer and long-time friend. It’s only natural that the older man is closer to him than he is to Namjoon, who he’s only known for a few months. Or so he likes to think.

Truth is, Namjoon is so socially incapable that if Yoongi leaves, he’ll be all alone. He hasn’t made a new friend since highschool, probably. He wouldn’t really consider any of his co-workers more than, well, co-workers. And the friends he did have in highschool proved to come with expiration dates.

He locks himself in the bedroom and channels his thoughts into a different direction. He thinks of the incident he witnessed today, that every other passenger pretended not to see. Namjoon pushes off every bag of chips and upside down book sitting idly on his desk, brings out his notebook and most trusted pencil, and writes:

...rose-kissed skin and night-dark hair, droopy eyes underneath neatly-cut bangs hide away a galaxy of their own. He’s rubbing them as if he’s trying to get the stars out. His lip line curves in a way that paints a mute sadness onto his face...

Over the course of the next few days, Namjoon continues to observe him. He imagines stories for him.

At an age where he hasn’t yet put both feet out of the cradle, he’s a dancer –  a wild soul. There is something outrageous about the way he sees life. I picture him moving under the fluorescent light of a practice room, at midnight. He rivals the moon.

With the tip of a well-sharpened pencil, he creates him.

 

He should be adventurous. It shows in less obvious things, like picking out the weirdest-named dish on the menu or dipping his hair in scandalous colors –  something like seafoam green, electric blue or icy vanilla. I see him as a heartbreaker. He must have broken as many hearts as cheap dyes have touched his hair.

 

Not every aspect of this unusual “relationship” is fantasy. He tries to learn about his true self as well. What he knows so far is that the boy gets off at Sunyoung Station and out of all colors he likes black, considering that all of his clothes are variations of it. He doesn’t cry a second time, leading him to believe that it was an accident. Something upset him so deeply that he couldn’t help it, not even in public, and Namjoon sympathizes with that.

 

He seems immature and sheltered. A timid child blossomed into the eye-candy of his neighborhood, he’s never learned how to deal with such kind of attention. He can’t be just a pretty face though. He is cultured. Perhaps he knows multiple languages and is well-travelled. His parents are important people –  doctors or ambasadors – and I feel like he is closer to his mother.

 

After a while, it gets silly. He begins guessing things that take the shape of messy scribbles in the corners of an otherwise blank page. Things like “he has a sweet-tooth and drinks too much Cola,  or “his favorite animated movie is Bambi”, or even “he owned a motorcycle in highschool”.

 

~~~

 

Namjoon has never been a fan of the romance genre. He reads magical realism, drama, thriller, or even philosophy and religion books – but never romance. Admittingly a bad practice for a writer to dismiss a genre like that, he just can’t see past all the clichés and plot holes. This is why, when he goes shopping the following weekend, he surprises himself by taking home a poetry volume which is clear as a day intended for a romance-consuming audience. Bewitched by its thistle covers framed with golden embroidery, however, he can’t help but put his hands on it.

It is an objectively beautiful creation, and he finds himself the excuse of it being a collection of poems, thus, he won’t be running into any underdeveloped characters or poorly-written action anytime soon. The title rolls off his tongue: Umbra. The author is anonymous. He is actually in the Horror Section of the library when that happens, so it amuses him to find the thing misplaced between two famous Stephen King novels, as some kind of metaphor for love being a dreadful thing.

He carries it with him on the train, indulging in the mental images it provides.

The irony reaches its peak when he realizes that, throughout the book, the concept of love is treated as a disease, almost depicted as this... silent killer. Namjoon might be a bit of a cynic, but he wouldn’t go as far as to entertain this idea. On a second thought though, he wouldn’t really know. It’s not like he’s ever felt any type love besides the one a child can feel for his parent, and maybe, the one he feels for Yoongi as a friend. He’s always been a day-dreamer, and rather an observer of his own life.

He flips another page as his eyes wander off for a moment.

The stranger is looking out on the window, lights flickering inside his eyes as the train passes through a tunnel. His bruising fingers tighten around a tall cup of hot coffee to borrow from its warmth. A few seconds later, he takes it to his lips; they kiss the edge gently. Namjoon tries to blink the scene away.

They are approaching Sunyoung Station, which means that in a few minutes, he will be gone as if he’s never existed. This nameless boy might as well be a ghost. Or a fragment of his imagination –  who could guarantee that if he tried to touch him, he would not dissolve in the air?

Halfway into it, he ends up shoving the book back inside his bag to check his e-mail.

With a palm under his chin to prevent his sleepy head from falling off, he kills time doodling. Soon, a short sound chimes in, followed by the usual announcement: We have reached Halju Koda Station. Please don’t push or crowd on your way out, and don’t forget any luggage. Have a nice day! The doors slide open. Next stop: Sunyoung Station.

Suddenly, the guy next to him gets up, kicking the pen out of his reach in the process without even looking back. He watches it roll away and stop at the tip of his stranger’s boot. They share a lightning-fast glance before the boy picks it up and walks over. Namjoon’s gaze pans between his face and the silver pen a few times before he swallows a “thank you”.

If ghosts are immaterial, they shouldn’t be able to hold things. Niether should they have skin like humans do.

 

~~~

 

They often have dinner later than they should. This occurs because Namjoon becomes so caught up in his writing that he simply forgets to eat, and Yoongi has to come home to remind him.  And when Yoongi does come home, it is usually around 9 or 10. Neither of them cooks... Well, that’s kind of a lie. Yoongi knows how to, and is actually secretly super good at it; it’s just that he can’t be bothered. It’s a shame, Namjoon thinks, the best samgyeopsal he’s ever tasted came from his hands. He, for one, prefers to stay away from the kitchen – for the sake of everyone living on the same floor.

“Let’s get a dog, hyung.” He says out of nowhere, grabbing another chicken nugget and dipping it into the barbecue sauce.

Cheeks full, his roommate stops chewing to stare at him.

“Fuck off. Why not a cat?”

“But the –”

“Don’t feed me some bullshit about how cats are less affectionate than dogs because you know that’s not true.”

Namjoon chuckles. He had no idea Yoongi was such a cat lady.

“You’re right, my bad. A cat would be cool too. So, are we gonna get one?”

“I mean, I don’t know... It’s the kind of responsibility I’m not sure I can handle right now, Joon.”

“I can!” He says enthusiastically.

It looks like the older man is about to say something else when his ringtone interrupts him. He rolls his eyes like he already he knows who it is, languid fingers reaching for a napkin in order to wipe some of that greasiness off and pull the phone out of his pocket. Namjoon busies himself with the food and the TV, left on more as a background noise, but he can hear the whole conversation. The voice that breaks through the speaker is low and rough, yet full of youth and energy; to him, it’s unfamiliar.

“What do you want?”

“Hyung! I’m so happy you picked up! The boys and I were thinking of hitting the club. Are you in?” 

“I’ve seen enough of your face today, thanks.” 

“Ahhh, don’t be such a party pooper!” 

“I’m hanging up now.” 

“No! Wait!” 

There is shuffling on the other side of the line, followed by a muffled “Here, talk to him; he’ll listen to you.”, and then, a different voice comes on. This one is higher in pitch, and Namjoon knows it well. 

“I’m sorry, hyung. I told Tae this wasn’t your thing.”

Yoongi’s features soften for only a moment. “It’s fine.” He mumbles. 

“But it’s a shame, you know? We barely hang out as friends anymore. It’s all about work.”

Yoongi replies with a stranggled laugh.

“You should go.”

“Shut up, Namjoon.”

“What? I didn’t catch that.”

“Nothing.”

Namjoon clicks his tongue.

“Tell them to come over.” 

Yoongi raises an eyebrow at him.

“Seriously, I don’t mind.”

Yoongi hasn’t had anyone over other than Hoseok, and part of Namjoon truly believes it’s his fault somehow. He thinks that maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to disturb. Despite his roommate’s relatively short height, there is a specific nonchalance he carries himself with, complemented by a pair of sly eyes and a sailor mouth, that manages to make him intimidating at a first sight. But Namjoon knows better; he recognizes a soft heart behind a rough shell, and so, he knows the man cares, even when he says he doesn’t.

It takes a little more ecourangement for Yoongi to throw out the invitation, and about 30 more minutes for his friends show up at their door with hands full of pizza and beer. One of them has a lean figure, red-ish brown hair and an ever-lasting smile on face; he goes straight for hug when he sees Namjoon. Hoseok. The two are something more than acquaintances but less than friends. He wishes there was a name for it.

It comes as a surprise when the boy behind Hoseok approches to greet him in the same cordial manner, followed by a shake of hands. His grip is strong, and as he blurts out his name, Taehyung, he realizes he must be the first voice he heard over the phone earlier. The other two boys are more reserved in the beginning, but the alcohol unwinds their lips during a card game, soon after the clocks hit midnight. 

He learns that Taehyung plays the saxophone and is quite a chatterbox; his body language is open and loud, and it seems to fill the room. Jimin is the opposite, being the shiest one. He is the bassist of the band. Seokjin, the guitarist, is somwhere in the middle. Namjoon can’t really figure him out yet, but he believes he is a pleasant person to be around. The way he speaks reminds him of his mother, which makes his presence oddly comforting and equally frightening. He is the one who starts asking the “important” questions. 

“So, Namjoon, what do you do? Are you a student?” 

He hesistates. 

“I, uh, dropped out.” 

When Taehyung casually replies with “Same.”, a wave of relief washes over him. He never likes admitting that. But these guys are Yoongi’s friends so they can’t be judgemental people. 

“I’m just a retail worker.”

“Oh, he’s more than that.” Says Yoongi quickly. “Come on, tell them.” 

“Well, when I’m not dealing with any angry customers, I... kind of write, I guess...” 

The confession sparks a clear interest in the room.

“You do?” Taehyung asks, eyes wide and a slice of pizza getting colder by the minute in his hand. “What do you write?”

Namjoon shrugs, playing with the ring on his index finger. His palms are sweating. “Fiction, mostly.”He breathes out half-a-laugh. “Science-fiction, that’s my niche.”

“You mean... stuff like... Space Dandy?”

“Space Dandy?” He repeats, confused.

Jimin rolls his eyes and hits Taehyung with his elbow, making him drop his food in the box it came from.

“Just so you know, the only books Tae has ever read were comic books, mangas.”

“Lies! I’ve read plenty of normal books!”

Normal books.” Jimin mimics, lowering his voice to copy his friend’s while making little quoting gestures using his fingers. For this, Taehyung elbows him right back in the ribs. Everyone shares laughs that manage to overpower the soft R&B music playing in the backgroung.

“Have you published anything?” Seokjin asks when he regains his breath, opening a second beer – or is it the third?

Again, Namjoon shrugs. The others are waiting for an answer, but the words melt inside his mouth, like a candy kept between teeth for too long.

Yoongi takes the matters in his own hands.

“He hasn’t had much luck with that yet, but I’ve read some of his work. My boy is a real talent.” 

Namjoon is taken aback by the compliment. He does remember handing Yoongi drafts of his novel, but he never received any feedback so he assumed the older man hasn’t even read them. To find out now that he did means a lot. He feels his blood running hot up his neck, towards his cheeks. 

“No, I’m not... It’s not...”

“He is! He’s just being modest.” At this point, he’s no longer sure if his roommate is being honest or is just making fun of him.

They decide to put on a movie when they run out of words and get bored of card games – some older Park Chanwook thriller. This one is in english and less known than others.

The food and the drinks run out too, but Seokjin comes to the rescue, offering to drive to the store in their neighborhood that is open 24/7 to grab a couple of snacks. As the night continues to prove itself to be a quest for enlightenment, Namjoon learns something new.

Seokjin owns a goddamned jet black Maserati. What kind of mafia head with fifteen years of experience and six generations behind is this Kim Seokjin, he wants to ask. But he abstains. He simply assumes his family must be well-off, which is most likely the case because a law master student like him who plays the guitar, and sometimes the flute, in a jazz band would not be able to afford such an expensive car under any other circumstances. 

Namjoon sneaks a peek at the clock, openly thankful for not having work in the morning. The same can’t be applied in Taehyung’s case, apparently.

“Job? I thought your job was to play the saxophone?”

“That too.” The boy explains. “But on weekends I work at a play center. Supervisor.”

“Oh. That’s nice.”

 Jimin chuckles.

“You should see how he comes home full of glue and glitter, and paint in his hair.”

Namjoon hums thoughtfully. “You guys live together?” They seem very close.

“Roommates of five years and best friends of ten.” Jimin smiles proudly. The TV reflecting blue light onto face is not enough to mask the pink tint in his cheeks.

“Wow. That’s a lot of years.”

Between contagious yawns and carmel-favored popcorn, Taehyung excuses himself to go to the bathroom and Yoongi almost falls asleep. Namjoon kicks his leg before that happens, being rewarded with a light punch in the chest.

“Hyung!” He cries. “It’s a sleepover!”

“Good. Then let me fucking sleep.”

“But nobody really sleeps at sleepovers, don’t you know? Not until dawn, at least. It’s an unspoken rule.”

Yoongi practically growls, burying his face into a pillow. Hoseok chuckles and reaches out to pet his hair.

“Wish I knew so I could bring pajamas.” Seokjin says distractedly. Then, he frowns a little. “Do we really have room for everyone though?”

“We have two beds and a couch that turns into one. Yoongi-hyung and I can share and –”

“No offense, Namjoon, but you have a terrible habit of taking up almost all the space and pulling the covers to yourself. Remember when we crammed in that old bed, before ours arrived? Worst three nights of my life.”

A furious blush spreads across Namjoon’s face.

“You could’ve slept on the couch instead!”

“I did in the end, didn’t I? I’ll share with Hobi. You can take Taehyung if you want. I’m sure he doesn’t mind freezing to death.”

“Speaking of.” Jimin says quietly. “I wonder what’s taking that kid so long.”

“Probably fell in the toilet again. Go find out, Joon.”

“Why me?”

“Cause he’s your partner for tonight, duh.”

Yoongi must always find a way to turn things around in his favor, doesn’t he?

“I didn’t even agree on this.”

Namjoon complains, and yet, he complies. He walks across the hall, passing by their bedrooms, and stops in front of the bathroom. The door is pale green and semi-open. He sees Taehyung inside, leaning against the bathtub, reading. “What are you –?” As he opens the door a little more, all of the color vanishes from his face. Sweat starts to form along his hairline. “Hey, where’d you find that?” He gestures towards the notebook Taehyung is holding. His stomach turns upside down.

Taehyung looks up at him with a frown, down at the notebook, then back up at him. It’s like everything happens in slow motion.

“On the sink? You guys don't keep magazines in the bathroom. That’s weird.”

“How much did you...?”

Namjoon must have written at least 30 pages about him.

“Up until the part where you call him a...” Taehyung turns to the previous page and begins tracing a line with his finger. “...loitering child chipped off a crooked comet walking the earth like it’s his home...” Namjoon feels like circling the earth and hiding beneath its surface.“I thought you wrote science-fiction, but this is...”

“Something else, yeah.” He tries to laugh it off. “My descriptions aren’t usually this flowery. I’m just trying my hand at different kind of... stuff, you know? It’s something new.”

“Does he exist?”

Does he exist? The logical answer would be no. He could guess his name or sign, and paint him any color. Write him as many blues as his heart wishes. But in the end, nothing is real, is it?

“No.”

“Oh. Alright.” Taehyung makes a short pause, handing him the notebook. “Are you mad at me, hyung?”

“It’s fine, just... I’m self-conscious about my work ...”

“Ah, I see. I'm sorry.”

Another pause. It lasts longer this time.

“Hyung, may I ask you a more... personal question?"

"I guess...”

"Are you gay?"

“What? No!" Namjoon’s voice cracks. He quickly clears his throat. “I mean, um, no.”

“I’m asking because the way you write about this boy... It’s like... I don’t know. I’ll tell you what. Not many know, but Jimin back there? He’s gay. And I've been trying to hook him up for a while, but he's so freaking stubborn! You can’t even imagine. He says he doesn’t like me mingling or whatever but like... He’s my best friend, you know? So it’s my job to mingle. I can’t let him die a virgin.”

“I – Why are you telling me this?

“Seriously? You haven’t noticed the way he's been eyeing you the entire night? I guess he's into tall dudes."

Namjoon falls quiet. His mind goes back to the parallel universe theory. This can’t be his uneventful life. He should be locked up in his bedroom at this hour, dirty of ink and high on energy drinks, squeezing his brains out for ideas. Instead, he is in the bathroom on the verge of a sugar crash, and this guy whom he’s known for less than a day is trying to hook him up with this other guy whom he’s known for the exact same amount of time. There are even more strangers in his living room and one that refuses to leave his head. 

 

 ~~~

 

He checks his e-mail as soon as he wakes up and on the train as well. His inbox is just as dry as yesterday, or the day before that. Perhaps it takes time for the publishers to come up with a reply, but it’s already been a week since he’s submitted his book and despair is starting to take over. Perhaps they decided it was so bad that it wasn’t even worth the two minutes it would’ve taken them to get back to him.

It’s a little unfair, a little disheartening. He’s been working on this novel since highschool, and he’s become quite proud of the complexity of his plot, the quirkiness of his characters and the details he’s put so much thought into to create the perfect setting. He knows he’s improved a lot over the years because he cringes reading his old stories now. If only someone would give him a chance...

He could maybe quit his mediocre job and move into a nicer house, a nicer neighborhood. He could buy his mother all the things she’s ever wanted. Every young writer would look up at him. He would be famous – a star, as bright as one can shine behind closed doors. 

But these remain dreams. 

There are six more stations until his and he needs something to keep him from checking his e-mail every five minutes. Playing games isn’t much of a choice since being on the phone in the first place is too tempting. Trying to settle for writing doesn’t go as planned either – it is one of those days when words just don’t come out. Needless to say, if writing isn’t a choice, then reading sure is one.

He burries his nose into the poetry book he’s forgotten in his bag for days now, trying to decipher some metaphor about trees and butterflies. Besides music and what he can judge about the world around through the lens of an inquisitive spirit, poetry is actually a huge source of inspiration as well.

He doesn’t notice when the train stops, or when the person next to him gets up to leave. He doesn’t notice when another person takes their place either. But suddenly, there is a voice in his ear – quiet and mellow, yet vibrant like a scorching sun: “Excuse me, do we know each other?”

Goosebumps crawl up his arms before he even raises his eyes up from the book. He first looks over to the single seat and sees it empty, and then, he manages to even his breathing as he finally, finally turns his head to the right. It’s him. And he’s spoken to Namjoon.

He pulls back a little, pinning his shoulder to the window frame because it’s suffocating to be almost touching. The boy seems even more aware of the little space between them and is trying to make himself smaller, keep his limbs as close to himself as possible.

“I...” Namjoon chokes on the answer. “I don't think so.”

“Oh.” The boy’s gaze drops. “I just thought you were looking at me. For quite some time now.”

Something tells Namjoon that he’s not talking about a matter of minutes. Having him so close is strange. Hearing his voice is stranger. He is raw and warm, and at this distance he can point out little things on his face like the length of his eyelashes, acne scars, or a light dusting of freckles across his nose. Even the texture of his hair looks different. A “yes” escapes his mouth.

The boy’s eyes round as he blinks fast a couple of times. His cheeks turn red like riped apples.

“You were?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, it’s... It’s a writing exercise." Namjoon lies, as if that helps his case in any way. The boy nods as if he understands, but it’s just courtesy. How could he? "I... pick random strangers and create their life story solely based on the impression they leave on me. I'm sorry... It's a bit creepy now that I think about it. Really, I'm sorry. I should've asked.”

“So, you're a writer?"

Namjoon lets out a bashful laugh.

“An aspiring one."

“And you wrote about me.” A statement, not a question. Noted.

“Well, yes.”

“Can I read?" Hope. Eagerness.

Namjoon panicks. This is even more embarrassing than Taehyung finding the notebook.

“It's... it's not that good." 

“I promise I wouldn't know."

He should say yes. It’s his right to know, and yet...

“What do you think my name is?” The boy asks softly, seeing that Namjoon doesn’t make the effort to say something, and he realizes that he didn’t give him one. “I don’t know.” This time, he answers honestly.

The other stares at him for a moment, lips parted enough to expose the front of his teeth. “My name is Jungkook.” He says carefully – warily almost. Namjoon is taken aback by the information. It’s like he’s been handed the first piece of a puzzle. He’s not quite sure what to do with it or what picture it is supposed to lead to, but he holds on to it.

“Namjoon.” After introducing himself, he bites his lower lip hard and doesn’t utter another word. He starts counting the stations left in his mind. He tries going back to his poems. But Jungkook doesn't let him. It’s not that he is doing anything in particular to bother him. In fact, he stops talking then moment Namjoon does and keeps his head down.

Maybe he is a ghost. What else could justify the fact that his mere presence is making him uneasy? “Are you going to be here tomorrow?” He finds himself asking.

Jungkook turns back to him with a little frown.

“W-why?”

Namjoon considers what he is about to do. He decides to be spontaneous for once and pulls out the notebook from his bag, handing it to the kid with no explanation. Jungkook doesn't request one and simply slips it inside his backpack.

 

~~~

 

He’s never been this excited to go to work. Scratch that. He’s never been excited to go to work. Period. So when he wakes up in an oddly good mood and hurries around the apartment just to get ready faster, Yoongi notices and eyes him with suspicion. He questions him. It’s not work itself that he’s looking forward to but the ride and a certain someone who takes the same train. Of course, Namjoon doesn’t tell him, realizing how ridiculous it sounds, and mutters some other dumb excuse.

The snow has melted almost completely and the city has gone back its boring gray palette. The ice stayed though, to his dismay. He is only about three meters away from the station when he somehow manages to slip on one of the frozen puddles. He swears to God it’s like they’ve been waiting for him to bite, like traps set up for rats.

And he was having such a good morning... Who could’ve foreseen a bloody nose?

It hurts and the sensible thing to do now would be call in sick and go to the hospital to have it checked out. But Namjoon doesn’t do that. He sneaks a napkin out of his pocket and carries on. People on the platform end up throwing weird looks in his direction as a result.

He shuffles around a bit until he finds Jungkook. The brunet is seated by the window while his backpack is strategically placed on the seat next to him. As soon as he sees Namjoon coming his way, he picks it up and hugs it to his chest, silently inviting him to sit down.

They exchange brisk greetings and fall silent immediately after.

Jungkook returns the notebook in the same manner, without a word. In Namjoon’s head, this could mean two things: one – he is creeped out beyond compare and will probably take the bus from now on, or two – he is a quiet person by nature and yesterday was an exception, which leaves it to him to do the hard work and initiate a conversation.

“What do you think?” He asks tentatively.

“I think... nobody’s ever written anything to me or about me, so to have someone write pages over pages... I’m honored, if that’s the word...”

At least Namjoon knows now that it‘s the second option, but this isn’t really the answer he is looking for.

“Did you recognize yourself in there?”

“At times. You were were right about a lot of things, but you were also very wrong.”

“Figures.” He chuckles. “May I know what are the things that I got right?”

Jungkook purses his lips, humming softly. He is shy and young, Namjoon can tell that much. “If I told you, wouldn’t that be a shame?” He says, almost playfully.

They stare at each other for a moment. Is he really not going to tell him? Namjoon plays dumb.

“Why would it be?”

“It would spoil the mystery.”

Fine – if Jungkook doesn’t feel like disclosing any more information about himself, who is he to push it? It’s fine by him.

“So, uh... What happened to you?”

“What?” Namjoon remembers that he’s literally shoved a napkin up his nostril. “Oh, this? I fell on my face. Good times.”

Instead of laughing at him, as he expects him to, Jungkook offers a sympathetic smile. “Pinch your nose and tilt your head forward. It should help.” Namjoon follows his advice, trying to ignore the stares.

 

~~~

 

He doesn’t expect it to happen again. The following day when he enters the train, he walks all the way to the back like he usually does. His eyes fall on the single seat out of habit. To see it empty, again, makes him take a mental step back. For a moment he thinks that maybe Jungkook skipped a day, that maybe he can go sit there now – but, for some reason, that doesn’t seem right. Then, his eyes move a bit to the left and he sees him.

Just like yesterday, Jungkook saves him a seat. Just like yesterday, he moves his leather backpack out of the way and pats on it, and Namjoon follows.

“Thanks.”

Silence embraces the air around them as he unlocks his phone to see why on earth was the thing buzzing so desperately inside his bag, all the way to the station.

The very first notification plants hope inside of him. He thinks that maybe it’s the e-mail he’s been waiting for; but after ten more other notifications in a row, he realizes that it’s probably just Taehyung.

Since they’ve all exchanged numbers last Friday, Taehyung has been messaging him constantly – asking about his day, telling him about his own day, sending him random memes or pictures of dogs. It’s endearing, despite the fact that Yoongi suggested to block him. He replies with a few emojis and slides the phone inside the pocket of his jacket.

He feels like he should probably say something to Jungkook. God knows he has so many questions eating him alive. How old is he really? He must be way younger. Where is he from? Namjoon is pretty sure he’s sensed a subtle accent in his voice. Where is he going anyway? Does he have a job? Is he a student? If so, how come he is only seeing now, months after school has started across the country?

The boy suddenly turns to him, his melodic voice interrupting Namjoon’s thought process.

“Your nose is better from what I can see.”

Namjoon’s brain needs a few long seconds to process. “It stopped bleeding, yeah.” He says, and then clearing his throat, he forces himself to say some more. “There’s a clinic near the place I work at so I went there during lunch break. It isn’t broken or anything, I just scraped the inner tissue really bad, apparently.”

“Ouch.”

“I’m used to stupid things like this happening to me, it’s... whatever. One time when I was eight I was trying to open one of those glass bottles of Cola with my teeth and managed to tore my lip in two.”

Jungkook’s eyes widen, searching his mouth involuntarily for any marks. Namjoon meets him with a smile. “Dumb, I know. I had stitches for weeks, but it eventually healed up. You can’t really see it. And then, when I was in middle school – twelve or thirteen, probably – I was pretending to be Doctor Dolittle. Do you know the movie?”

As Jungkook nods, he continues. “Yeah, well, my neighbor had this really big, bad dog. Kids were scared to pass by his house because he was a really irresponsible owner and the dog would escape sometimes. In my heart, I truly believed I could befriend him and make him a good dog.”

“No...” Says Jungkook in disbelief. Namjoon laughs at his astonished expression. “Did he bite you?”

“Yup. I was afraid of dogs for a long time after that.”

“Wow. I’m so sorry.”

Namjoon waves him off. “Nah, it’s cool. It’s been a long time.”

Convinced by his light-hearted tone, Jungkook relaxes and his frown disappears.

“Is that all?”

“Far from it. There’s also this one time when I broke my pinky. I was in a school play, in highschool.”

“I should’ve known you were a drama kid.” The brunet jokes.

“I wasn’t, I hated drama class. But I actually cared about my grades back then, you know? Besides, the teacher gave everyone a role, so it’s not like I had a choice.”

“Okay. What was the play about?”

“A poor take on The Wizard of Oz. I was a tree.”

“You were... You were a...?”

“A tree, yeah. And a mailxbox. That was my role.”

Jungkook snorts.

“Don’t laugh.” Says Namjoon, despite cracking up himself. “I was a great human prop for the time being.”

“And how did you break your pinky finger though?”

“I fell off the stage, of course.”

“Of course..." Jungkook repeats, shaking his head a little. "You must’ve been a handful to your parents.”

“I was. My mom, she was always worried. I was probably the reason she never had a second kid.”

The last line changes something in Jungkook’s posture. He leans in a bit more, tilting his head while blinking slowly. “You’re an only child” He chirps.

“Yeah.” Namjoon shrugs, wondering where this is going.

Jungkook has a pensive look on his face as he chews inside his cheek.

“In the notebook you said that I was an only child too. How’d you know?”

“Takes one to know one.” Namjoon tries. “So, you are an only child afterwards.”

“Hey, I never said that.” Jungkook protests.

Namjoon shakes his head, trying to refrain from laughing at his lame attempt to take it back. So is this what he has to do to have him open up? Blab about himself? It wasn’t really his intention to trick him into talking or anything, but he could do that.

Jungkook remains quiet, slouching in his seat with a little pout as a sign of defeat.

“But yeah, anyway... Moral of the story is, I seem to suffer from chronic secondhand embarrassment, which might or might not end up in a broken bone or a... torn lip – depending on the day, depending on my luck.”

He’s oversharing, but Jungkook is listening to him –  really listening to him – so he doesn’t mind.

“You’re funny.” The other boy says, flat and honest.

“I’m here all week.”

 

~~~

 

And it happens again. The third time, he expects it. It creates a habit. Jungkook saves him a seat and Namjoon does the talking. They keep each other company, it’s nice. Especially when Jungkook is looking at him like he’s a life guru or some sort of wiser person than he actually is. Truth is, he just knows a lot. His brain has the capacity to store things really well, and so, when he wants to, he can turn into an unending fountain of information.

They spend about thirty minutes together each morning, and then, Jungkook has to go. He leaves the train with a happier expression on his face than he did before he walked up to Namjoon, and Namjoon believes that maybe he is doing something right.

He quickly grows fond of the way the corner of his eyes crinkle when his lips curl upwards and spread, being replaced by a pair of pearly teeth. His cheeks are always painted in a warm color – whether it’b be tangerine, a delicious red or faded pink – it’s always there when he smiles.

Other than small comments here and there, Jungkook answers to his more general questions. For instance, he asks him if he likes winter, to which Jungkook says he prefers autumn or spring – winter is a little too harsh, too dull, in his opinion. Namjoon cannot agree more. On the other hand, when he asks him about his whereabouts, Jungkook twists and folds, closes himself like a flower in the dark.

He builds invisible barriers and Namjoon tries to dance around them. He actually likes Jungkook – a lot. He doesn’t need facts for that. It’s been a while since his personality clicked so well with someone else’s. And he can tell Jungkook feels the same way because he wouldn’t talk to him otherwise and he wouldn’t save him a seat everyday. Right?

“What is it?”

Namjoon jolts as if woken up from a profound sleep.

“Hm?”

“You seem, I don't know, distracted.”

If that’s Jungkook’s way of saying that he’s been staring off into space for the past five minutes, then he can’t deny. He probably was.

“Maybe just a little.”

The thing is, he finally heard back from the publisher – last night when he was pacing around the apartment, daunted by insomnia. In short, his book got rejected. But that’s not even why he is so distraught.

The anticipation was nerve-racking, sure, but the e-mail itself didn’t arise any strong feelings, like he’d imagied it would. In fact, he wasn’t even a little upset when he saw it, which makes him upset in the first place because... wasn’t he supposed to be crying his eyes out?  

“You know, I’ve been thinking. The notebook has no value in my hands. I’d like you to have it. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”

A flash of what looks like fear crosses Jungkook’s eyes as he shakes his head. Namjoon is confused.

“You don’t want it?”

“It’s not that I don’t want it, it’s just...” Jungkook trails off.

“It’s just...?” Namjoon encourages, pinching his cheek gently between his middle and index finger. The gesture fails to make Jungkook turn his face to him, and he remains staring down at his shoes instead.

“It’d be safer at you.” 

“Safer.” Namjoon deadpans. “What does this mean?” He is, once again, met by the boy’s silence. “Jungkook.” He calls firmly. And Jungkook flinches a bit. Namjoon’s heart shrinks.

“It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Are you sure?” He challenges. “Safer is a very specific choice of words.” 

“Maybe that’s why you should keep the notebook. Write about it. Pick out all the possible meanings behind this word and cross them down to one until you’re satisfied with the outcome. One that fits perfectly into the rest of your portrait you got for me.”

“You’re mocking me right now and that’s okay, I’m a lenient person. People have to go great lengths to anger me. But I don’t do that, just so you know. I haven’t written in it since the day we introduced ourselves to each other and it’s going to stay that way.” 

“You know what I find really funny?” Jungkook snaps, without any regard of the other passengers whatsoever. His ears flush. The kid lives big if public breakdowns come so easy to him, Namjoon thinks as he melts further into his seat. “You said it’s random strangers. But it’s just me on those pages – all of them. You expect me to what? Offer myself on a golden plate to you? When you haven’t even been honest with me in the first place? Listen, I like spending time with you. I like the way you speak and the way you write, but I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. And I don’t want anything beyond... this. I don’t want to be friends.”

His whole world darkens, leaving him speechless with a bitter taste on tip of his tongue. Is this what heartbreak tastes like? He doesn’t speak to Jungkook for the rest of the ride, neither do they tell each other goodbye. Namjoon even thinks about moving seats at some point, but then he remembers they’re only ten minutes away from Sunyoung Station so he makes it through. He just wants to make it through the day and go to work and not have any customers so he can sneak a nap and forget a little about everything else for a while, and then go home and go to sleep and forget a little more.  

At least Yoongi is home when he arrives so he doesn’t have to spend the evening alone.

“Are you gonna tell me what the fuck is wrong with you or what?” His voice is rough from all the nicotine he’s been putting in his body. The pack was new and full at the beginning of the night, but now there are only four cigarettes left. It seems like Namjoon isn’t the only one who’s stressed out.

“Do you ever wonder why? I mean, why is man born if he’s going to die anyway? Why do we have to go through such hard physical, mental and emotional labor – thrive to become something, only to be reduced to nothingness in the end? And why do we chain ourselves to societal expectations when we claim to hate them so bad? We’ve done this to ourselves for, I don’t know, million years now. And why is it that man is considered to be the smartest animal of all? I personally think man is the least clever and graceful of all. Animals understand there is a course of nature that should be followed and that they are part of this universe, together. They just take whatever they need in order to survive. But man? Man is greedy and selfish. Forget smart. Do you realize that we have the capacity to be the kindest animal on earth? And yet we use this so-called intelligence to our benefit – to cheat and lie and steal and do harm.”

Yoongi stares at him for a moment, and then...

“You need a smoke.” 

Namjoon sighs and joins him. 

“I just don’t feel good, hyung.”

“I can tell.”

“The landlord said no smoking in the house...” He mumbles between puffs. The cigarettes are menthol and they a do a decent job at scrubbing that bitterness off his tongue.

“Fuck the landlord. He owes me money anyway. It’s his business to fix the heat when it breaks, he knows it’s a problem, and yet I’ve been paying people out of my pocket for the past few months.”

“Yeah, he’s an asshole.” Namjoon agrees absent-mindedly.

 

~~~

 

He almost doesn’t catch the train because he sleeps in. He should’ve known he couldn’t trust Yoongi to wake him up – the guy sents his phone flying across the room each time he hears the very first note of his alarm like it’s nothing. Why does he even bother setting one when he just doesn’t care to get out of bed in time?

Unlike him, Namjoon doesn’t have the privilege of being his own boss or having a rich friend drive him around, so being late isn’t an option. He stumbles inside the train a little breathless, and his eyes immediately start searching for a certain dark-haired boy. He finds him sitting alone. It’s less crowded than usual, probably because it’s Friday and a lot of people tend to take Fridays off more than any other day of the week.

Jungkook’s expression doesn’t give off much – except, when they make eye contact, he shifts a little. He stiffens up at the edge of his seat as if he’s about to say something in case Namjoon sits next to him, but ready to get up and follow him in case he doesn’t.

Namjoon does slump next to him, without giving him a chance to open his mouth though: “Listen, give me one minute to speak and then I’ll be out of your way and out of your life forever, but for now I really need you to know that I’m sorry that I crossed the line, I –” The ringtone chosen for Yoongi cuts him off half-way into the sentence. “I have to take this.” He sighs out with an apologetic look on his face, noticing Jungkook’s frown in the process.

“Y-yes, hyung? I know I forgot my lunch, but I can’t go back now. Yeah. I would’ve missed the train. Uh-huh. Yeah, I’m in the train now, don’t worry. You’re not worried. Okay. Didn’t think you were. Sunday? Great. Tell him I’ll be there. Oh, this Sunday? Sure, no problem. I gotta hang up now.” He ends the call, returning his attention to Jungkook. “So, what I was saying was –”

“You don’t have to say anything. It’s fine, hyung.”

Hyung? Huh, that’s new.”  

Pretending he doesn’t hear him, Jungkook puts his hands inside his backpack and draws out a small paper bag. “I am kind of glad you forgot your lunch.” He says, handing it to him.

“Wow. I knew you were mad at me, but I had no idea you were so mad that you wished I would starve to death.” 

Jungkook giggles, and it sounds like the perfumed, green morning of a late spring.

“I made you brownies. Take it as a peace offer.”

Namjoon freezes with his eyebrows raised high and his hand hanging in the air.

“You made me... what? I’m honestly so confused right now.”

“Well, I was a jerk yesterday so I thought... I thought I’d be nice today.”

You cook?

“No, not really. I just like to try recipes when I’m bored. They might or might not prove to be successful tries – depending on the day, depending on my luck. Is that right?” 

The train accelerates and for a heartbeat, he looks unreal again, head and shoulders captured between window frames like a victorian painting. His smile, a lazy touch of a brush; Namjoon wants nothing but to smudge it. He leans back to take more of his image in and ponder the make up of his inner workings. He likes things neat and logical and sound, but Jungkook is a clock ticking in reverse. A wild card.

“Yeah, that’s right.” He lets out, faint as a whisper.

He can’t bring himself to smile along although he wants to. He is happy that they are good, but part of him wishes they weren’t. Part of him wishes Jungkook didn’t apologize or forgive so easily. He likes Jungkook. But he is growing tired of the silly game they’re playing and of how well the brunet knows his dosages – giving him too little to be satisfied and yet, just enough to be crawling back for more.

~~~

Caught up between reading the labels of half a shelf of beans to some granny who’s forgotten her glasses and moping up some kid’s vomit in aisle 8, he forgets to eat lunch. He loses appetite anyway after being yelled at by his superior for dropping a carton of eggs and making a mess. To add to the embarrassment, he gets yelled at again, not even ten minutes later, for a box of cereals in the vegetable section of the store despite not being his fault. But nobody listens. He ends up buying the damn cereal box out of spite and making it his dinner. And then, as he is savoring his revenge, he remembers the brownies Jungkook gave him, sitting untouched inside his bag. 

Noticing the rich color and attractive smell, he takes a small bite out of one and chews at it slowly. The thing melts in his mouth like a revelation – the texture is fudgy and soft, oh so soft, in the middle, but quite crunchy on the edges, and he can taste the freshness of the ingredients that were put in it. It tastes like homemade chocolate and farm milk, not too sugary, but not bland either.

A few bits left and he is about to declare it the perfect brownie when his teeth dig into something slick and papery, something that’s definitely not part of the treat. His nose scrunches up and his tongue slips out as he rips the rest in half to retrieve and inspect the foreign object. It looks like parchment paper. He’s suddenly not as turned off anymore by the thought the maybe Jungkook lost the piece in there while he was making them, it’s no big deal.

What is a big deal – a very big deal, in fact – is that the parchment is inked. It might not have been an accident after all. He quickly brushes the crumbles off to read what it says. His breath hitches. It’s just numbers. No. He starts counting. One, two, three... eleven digits. A phone number. There is a numbing sensation in his fingers as he creates a new contact in his list, a stupid grin the size of Jupiter on his face as he types a first message: you didn’t.

He doesn’t know how to deal with this, so he doesn’t wait for a reply, leaving to take a shower instead. When he goes back, the led is blinking signaling that he’s got a new message – received 12 minutes ago.

 

  jungkook: or did i

 

Namjoon snorts. Before he manages to text back, his phone buzzes and another message pops up on the screen.

 

jungkook: did u like the brownies? :)

 

namjoon: i did

namjoon: i loved them

namjoon: thanks

 

jungkook: ur welcome

 

namjoon: are you sure you didn’t buy them?

 

jungkook: hyung..

jungkook: i feel hurt

jungkook: why would u doubt my culinary skills like that

 

namjoon: just kidding

 

He just needs a moment. A moment to accept the fact that Jungkook is one weird kid who doesn’t cook, but makes killer brownies. One weird kid who knows so much about him and yet he knows nothing about, and who is, in no way, shape or form, entitled to juggle with his heart like that.

 

namjoon: so

namjoon: what are you doing?

 

jungkook: out looking at the stars

 

namjoon: kind of cold for that, don’t you think?

 

jungkook: maybe.. but i like it!

jungkook: it’s peaceful

 

namjoon: just don’t get sick, kiddo

 

jungkook: i won’t...

jungkook: jeez

 

Veins pumped up with zeal, Namjoon rushes to the door to close it, in case Yoongi is sleeping, and slides back under the covers.

 

namjoon: can i call you?

 

Jungkook doesn’t reply for a while.

He begins to worry that he might have scared him away when suddenly, his ringtone goes off, making him drop the phone on his chest. All he hears at first is the wind blowing and the calm rhythm of a breath, blending in with the sound of illuminated buildings and cars passing in the distance. The city is never quiet, not even at night.

“I can’t be too long...” Jungkook says in a rusty voice.

“That’s... It’s okay, I understand.” Namjoon falters, lowering his phone for a moment to look at the time: 11:13.“Where are you?”

“On the rooftop. The lights are out so I was bored.”

“Ah, what a shame. I thought you were just interested in stargazing.”

“Why is it a shame?”

“Cause that would’ve made two of us.” 

Jungkook sniffs and shuffles a bit before answering.

“Sorry, I don’t know much about the sky. I wouldn’t even know how to find the North Star. But I’m starting to like it up here.”

“Hold on.” 

Balancing the phone between his jaw and a shoulder, Namjoon throws his feets over the edge of his bed and wraps the covers around his body like a cocoon. Cold still creeps under the collar of his pajamas when he climbs up on the sill to open the window, spreading across his skin like lacy waves on a deserted beach. A smoldering tremble penetrates his skeleton.

The moon is in its full phase; it is hanging low tonight. There are lights out everywhere. Bars and clubs nearby paint the sidewalks below in neon rainbows, luring more people in with hypnotic, drunken beats every few minutes. He lives on the 6th floor, in a such a mechanized, effervescent and sinister neighborhood. Wavering dots mapping the black infinity in fine detail, the lights above aren’t as blinding or plastic.

Jungkook’s voice brings him back.

Hyung?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

It’s so cold he can see his breath turning into steam.

“What are you – ”

“I’ll help you find it. What do you see?”

“I, uh... just stars, I guess.”

“They say Polaris is the brightest star in the sky, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes there are stars who shine brighter. To locate it, you need to find a constellation that it belongs to first – one that can be seen by the naked eye, like Cassiopeia or Ursa Minor, for instance.”

“Oh. How do I do that?”  

“Look for the Big Dipper. It’s part of Ursa Minor and it should be shaped like a trapezoid with a tail.”

“A trapezo-what?”

Namjoon lets out a silvery laugh.

“It looks like a frying pan, except not as round.  Can you see it? I can see it from here.”

About a minute passes before Jungkook answers his question, a minute during which he sounds like he is moving around, trying to find the asterism. “No...” He tells him in a penitent manner.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it. We could try to find Orion instead. It’s usually visible in the winter months.”

“What does Orion look like?”

“It has a humanoid appearance. Humanoid is –”

“Yeah, yeah. I know what humanoid means.”

“Sorry. Just making sure.” He makes a pause, drawing its shape on an imaginary board with an imaginary pencil. “Jungkook, do see any three stars that are really close together?”

“I think so.”

Jungkook starts moving around again, panting a little as he speaks.

“Alright. Do they form an oblique line?”

“Yeah!”

“Good job! You just found Orion’s belt.” 

“Seriously?”

“I think so. What do you see? Do you see a man with his arms spread, raised above his head?”

“It’s cloudy.” The boy mumbles in his ear. Namjoon did see a couple of dark clouds passing by earlier; they must have moved into Jungkook’s direction. In such case, he and Jungkook can’t live too far from each other. His lips curl upwards at the thought.

“Wait! I saw it. It looks like a man holding something.”

“His arched bow and golden arrow.” He says thoughtfully. “Legend says Orion was a great hunter known for his beauty and for his violence. He swore to kill all the wildlings on the earth, which angered goddess Gaia, who was the mother of all animals. She had a giant scorpion sting him. Zeus put him into the sky as consolation.”

“I wish someone made me into a constellation too.”

Jungkook hangs up fifteen minutes later. Namjoon can’t sleep for hours after that.

Weekends are rabbit holes he cat-sleeps through, waking up on Monday mornings for work, without being able to recall any particular memories of them; and yet, the next day proves to be quite productive. Yoongi is the one who drags him out of bed, which is surprising because, well, it’s Yoongi. They go shopping but, although they do make a grocery list before, dish soap or butter aren’t the things they leave the house for. Not necessarily.

Sunday is just around the corner, and Sunday means Hoseok’s birthday. Neither of them has bought him a gift yet. The guy said they don’t have to bring anything, but it’s only nice if they do. In all honesty, he has no idea why he has been invited, or why Yoongi’s friends have taken such a liking to him, but he rolls with it.    

They get back around 3 in the afternoon when Yoongi offers to cook. Namjoon is not dumb, so he takes advantage of his oddly good mood and agrees, helping him along the way by cutting and grating the vegetables. Later in the day, after having his first proper lunch in months and cleaning his room to the point it squeaks, he even gets some writing done.

In the evening, he thinks about Jungkook. He messages him, but the boy doesn’t reply until late at night when he is already long gone.

 

~~~

 

“Get in, losers.”

Jin plays driver again.

Consequently, Namjoon learns that, since Jin has seen Mean Girls, he can’t stop quoting the movie. Yoongi doesn’t seem to pay much mind to it, most likely well-accustomed to the older man’s antics considering the average of hours spent together per week. While he rides shotgun, Namjoon takes a spot on the backseat. The plan is to pick up Jimin, then Taehyung, and then meet up with Hoseok at the restaurant.

Jimin’s eyes glisten when he sees him, plush lips stretching into a smile so charming he almost loses balance for a moment. Thankfully, he is sitting down. “You look good, hyung. A bit overdressed for grill and beer though.” He chuckles, voice pouring out of his mouth like cherry liquor. His small fingers dip into his newly bleached hair, pushing the fringe back. Namjoon follows the movement with his eyes, shifting uncomfortably when Jimin scoots closer.

“T-thanks, Jimin-ah...” He says, tugging idly at the turtleneck of his beige sweater.

“Easy, tiger! Don’t eat him up.” Jin shouts from the front of the car as he’s twisting the key in the ignition. He sounds terribly amused. Namjoon, on the other hand, is sweating like crazy behind him. Their eyes meet in the rearview mirror where he catches a glimpse of his Cheshire grin.

Jimin turns three shades pinker.

“Hyung, don’t say stuff like that!”

“Not yet, at least. I don’t want any mess on my backseat.”

Hyung!

Jin laughs loudly in response. Yoongi sighs, just as loudly, and turns up the radio. Their heads are filled with pop songs and weather forecasts on their way to Taehyung’s workplace. They pull up in the parking lot of a play center called Monkey Jolly, where all the swings and slides are covered with tarp. If it weren't for the rumbling inside, Namjoon would have deemed the place as abandoned. Patience runs out after ten minutes of waiting and Taehyung not picking up, and he is sent off to scoop him up like it happened last time.

The door is locked – which makes sense if you want to make sure all the children stay in and keep all the unwanted visitors out – so he rings the intercom. A boyish voice filters through, scratchy and distorted.

Yeah.”

“Um, hi. Could you open up, please?”

There is a little pause.

“Here to pick up a kid?”

“Kind of.” He says mindlessly.

Another pause.

I’ll be down in a minute.”

Namjoon frowns but doesn’t say anything. He just waits. The door makes a click, and the rumbling gets louder as it opens wide. There is a moment when his face washes blank with confusion, like his brain cogs can’t turn fast enough to take in the information from his eyes. Before him, stands Jungkook, who seems equally shocked and lost. His lips quiver as he takes a step back.

“I swear to God I’m not a stalker.” Namjoon blurts out.

“W-what are you doing here?” The boy stutters, hugging himself for warmth.

“I’m here for my, uh...” What is he here for again? “My friend. My friend, yeah... Taehyung?”

Jungkook nods, but the suspicion in his quirked eyebrow persists. “Okay. Taehyung. Sure. I, um, I’m sorry I can’t let you in. Our rules are pretty strict. Parents with children registered here have a card-key, you know?” He smiles weakly before clearing his throat. “Anyway, I’m gonna tell Taehyung you’re here.”

“Just... just tell him I’m here to pick him up.”

“Okay.”

“Thanks."

Namjoon had a weird feeling in his gut, like something unusual was going to happen, but he never thought he would encounter Jungkook here – out of all places in the city. A small world, indeed. Taehyung comes out the door adjusting his red leather jacket a couple of minutes into his introspection.

“Sorry, I was speaking to a parent and lost the track of time. Let’s get the party started!”

A question is born out of impulsivity.

“Hey, who was that?”

Taehyung makes a funny face at him.

“Who was... who?”

“The... guy.” Vague. He tries to expand. “I mean, the one who went after you.”

“Oh, Jungkook?” Namjoon jumps a little at the name. The thought that Jungkook might not even be his real name crossed his mind several times. It’s a relief to know that it is. “He’s my shift.” Taehyung continues. “I don’t know much about him. Only what I could gather from the days I stayed over hours, with him. He’s an alright guy, I guess – kind of quiet. Why are you curious? Wait... I thought you weren’t into dudes!”

“That’s  –”

“Oh my God. I’m not hooking you up with my co-worker. I mean, sure, he’s cute. But have you seen Jimin? He’s drop-dead gorgeous.”

“Taehyung-ah, we’ve talked about this.”

 

~~~

 

jungkook: i think you missed the train..

 

Crossing his legs up on the couch, Namjoon drowns his smile into the mug. The hot liquid inside floods his mouth with tastes of chocolate and cinnamon, setting a fire in his chest. He types slowly as his half-awake roommate fumbles around the room, collecting his charger, house keys and wallet before shooting something unintelligible at him and walking out the door.

 

namjoon: took the day off

 

He hasn’t been this hungover since his days in college when his classmates would drag him to parties he didn’t want to go to, where he would smoke or drink things that were way too strong for him. Suffice it to say, he should be resting. In fact, he would love to do that. The only problem is that he is physically unable to keep his head on the pillow after a flimsy sleep settled in towards dawn, making his body hyperaware of the slightest of sounds and movements. It peaked the moment Yoongi woke up, waking up the whole apartment with him.

Perhaps it’s the remains of alcohol in his veins – grill and beer turned into grill and beer and... rum with coke and raspberry flavored vodka – but his next text is quite uncharacteristic.

 

namjoon: miss me already?

 

He regrets it almost immediately, realizing how conceited he must come across.

 

jungkook: yeah.

 

It’s short and sincere, and it squeezes all the air out of his lungs for a mili-second.

 

namjoon: let’s hang out

 

jungkook: uh.. now?

 

namjoon: whenever you want

 

jungkook: hmm idk i’m still not convinced that ur not a stalker u know

 

Namjoon snickers. It’s fair enough.

 

namjoon: well, i’m going out today anyway

namjoon: 1 pm in front of the neujeun kkoch park

namjoon: come meet me there if you change your mind

 

~~~

 

Namjoon doesn’t expect him to come. But then again, he’s learned better than to expect anything from him in the first place. So he just waits. He sets a timer in his head, giving the boy a fifteen-minute opportunity to show up. Fifteen minutes is generous. It’s more than what most people would offer. He sits on a bench near the entrance of the park to make sure he sees Jungkook when he comes, if he comes.

Neujeun Kkoch Park is a small place nearby the campus of his former university, where crabapple and plum trees bloom in late April. Despite being built in a youth-dedicated area, you’re more likely to see grey-haired couples walking their yorkshire terriers and corgis or simply strolling through the park with their canes and wine-old glee rather than... any other age groups, really. There are always hopscotches chalked across the pavement, but Namjoon hasn’t actually seen any kids around since he’s been visiting.

No reminiscence of the recent snows – the weather is mercifully warm and humid. A few sunrays carried by the breeze even cajole him into taking his racer jacket off and folding it into his lap. February is coming to an end and it feels good. It feels like protruding from a thick, dark smoke that’s been choking and blinding him for the past few months.

A big, red bus takes a smooth turn, appearing from behind a building in line with other cars. It’s moving slowly, but it still manages to respect the timetable. Namjoon pads towards the station when people start pouring out like ants from a nest, to see if Jungkook is part of that crowd too. And to his surprise, he is. Khaki fur-lined coat and bobble hat, backpack on and gloves hanging out of his pocket. He hasn’t seen him then, but if he had to guess, he’d say that the kid has been wearing the same clothes since morning – when it was rightfully cold for them.

“You look hot.” Is the first thing that falls out of his mouth, without intention.

Jungkook’s eyes widen as he tugs at the straps of his backpack.

“W-what?”

“What?” He repeats, initially oblivious. “Wait – I don’t... I don’t mean it like that. Shit.” He mutters the last part under his breath, ready to die of embarrassment any moment.

A couple of blinks dissolve the frown from Jungkook’s brows and he eventually starts laughing, with his head thrown back and an arm over his stomach, louder than Namjoon has ever heard him. His eyes squint with tears and his cheeks flush hard. It’s really a sight. This goes on for a few more minutes before he finally calms down. “So – where are we going?” He asks in a worn-out, still very amused voice, pulling at the sleeves of his sweater to wipe his face off.

Namjoon’s dimples peel back to reveal a smile.

There is a Library on the campus that bears the same name as the park, where he used to study or write at – sacred temple of gloomy secrecy and oasis of million years of knowledge – the habit kind of stuck with him, even after dropping out. Nowadays, he doesn’t really stay much though, preferring to borrow books and read them at home instead.   

“Are you seriously taking me to a library to hang out?” Jungkook says with a little snort.

“I’m pretty sure I’m making you skip class right now – it’s the least I can do.” Namjoon says jokingly, except he isn’t entirely joking. He truly believes Jungkook came straight from school. The brunet doesn’t agree, nor deny.

The musky vanilla scent of bleached paper and sweet wood fills his lungs up with joy and a comforting familiarity embraces him as the librarian approaches them.  

“Hello! How are you today, Namjoon-ah?”

“Fine, thanks. I’m here to return this.” He says, handing her the poetry volume along with his membership card.

“Did you enjoy it?” The lady asks politely.

“Eh – not really.” He chuckles. “Noona, we’re gonna go take a look around. I’ll be back for the card later.”

“Sure. Have fun, boys!

At first, Jungkook wanders ahead with his mouth hanging open and his eyes flickering like the stars in the sky, letting out an occasional wow or other cute little noises that hint at his absolute amazement. Namjoon has to gather the straps of his backpack in his fist to pull him back a couple of times, afraid he might get lost. Three floors of heavy loaded ebony shelves and bookcases – he is a local among them. He assumes the role of the guide.

“I’ve never been in a library so big!” Jungkook’s voice echoes in the History Section. “I feel like I’m in Hogwarts.” He glides out a random book and flips through the pages real quick before putting it back, distracted by another book, and then another one, and another one... They collide when he suddenly stops to look up at Namjoon with a puzzled expression. “But... there are no people here. It’s empty.”

“Oh, no. They’re somewhere. You just can’t see them – or hear them. That’s the best part of being here.” 

Jungkook grins, seemingly satisfied with the answer.

“Are we looking for something in particular? Or did we just come here so you could return that book?”  

Namjoon hums lowly, trying to decide what would be the best way to explain it.

“Recently my novel got rejected.”

“Oh?”   

“A twenty-six chapters of pure blood, sweat and tears. A science-fiction saga I was so, so proud of. I changed the ending four times until I was satisfied with it. From there, I sent it to a publisher. And then, that happened.”

“You should try another publisher.” Says the brunet. The way he says it, so hopeful and promising, makes Namjoon’s smile larger.

“I could, but that’s the thing – I don’t want to. I didn’t feel the need to. It made me realize that... I don’t think I’d want to go down in history as some great science-fiction novelist. I don’t know. The title just doesn’t sit right with me.” 

“What do you want to do then?”

“I’m working on another project.” He shrugs. “This one feels more sincere to me. But I’m not sure how to go about it. That’s why I need a couple of reference books. I just feel the need to read, before I write anything else.”

Jungkook nods in acknowledgment.

They walk in comfortable silence for a bit, passing by various different sections, some obscure like SlipstreamAbsurd TheatreNoir Crime – or his favorite, Erotic Fantasy Thriller. There is a little bit of something for everyone.

“What’s your definition of love?” He finds himself asking once they plop down on one of the mustard couches sprinkled around, a tower of books raising from the round glass table in front of them. The question is a bit awkward, a little personal – something that wouldn't leave his mouth so casually in front of anyone else, probably not even Yoongi – but he feels like Jungkook wouldn’t laugh it off.

The brunet seems stuck. He delays the answer by taking his coat off in a painfully deliberate manner, pressing every button down slowly – very slowly. “Love?” He begins with a pout. “Love is just pain.” He says, oddly serious. Namjoon isn’t one to attack anyone’s opinion – live and let live, they say - but he can’t help but disagree vehemently this time.

“Come on...” He groans. “Saying love is pain has me thinking that you’re defining an entirely different thing. There are so many different types of love, you know? Parental, romantic, platonic, spiritual... You name it. But none of these are supposed to be... that. No way, I don’t believe in that bullshit.”

“What do you believe in then?”

“I believe that true love is easy and unconditional – it should feel easy to love the other person, not like some type of chore. Love is kind and generous, and it causes happiness, not pain. Maybe I’m just being idealistic, but that’s my view on it.”  

“I see.” Jungkook tells him quietly, fingers playing idly with the string of his hoodie. “Why do you wanna know?” 

“Because I’m curious. That’s my project. I want to write a philosophy on love.”

“Oh – wow... That’s – that’s... a lot.”

“A lot?” Namjoon bursts into laughter. “I mean, yeah, it’s a big change from I’m used to write.”

“And all these books we gathered – how are they gonna help you? I mean, you’ve picked out so many different genres, not just philosophy...”

“Different genres, yes, but they all have one thing in common – love is the main theme or a recurring motif. And no, that doesn’t label them as romance. For instance this one...” He pauses for a moment, struggling to pull out a thick, brown book from underneath the pile. “This one is urban fantasy at the core, but it has this interesting subplot of a guy’s obsessive infatuation for the girl next door. Like I said, I have my beliefs. But I also want to know the truth. I want to know what love means to others, and how it’s treated in literature since, well, I haven’t really paid much attention before.”

His voice dies down gradually, a blush spreading across his face at the way Jungkook is staring at him, curled up against the arm of the couch. God knows he must have bored the kid to death with his senseless blabbering.

Jungkook takes notice of his silence and jumps a little, his former blank expression now turning into an equally embarrassed one.“You seem very passionate about what you do.” He says in a small voice without looking him in the eye. “There aren’t many people like that.”

“What do you do?” Namjoon finds the courage to ask. For some reason, their conversation is a tone more intimate. “Besides, you know, the play center.”  

Jungkook hesitates, chewing at his lower lip for a second.

“I’m a computer science student.”

“That’s cool. What’s your major?”

“Video game design, I guess. I don’t know – I’m only a freshman.”

“You have a bunch of time to decide then.”

The boy lets out a short, shy laugh, tugging at the piercing in his ear – still avoiding any sort of eye contact.

“Yeah. I should’ve been in my second year by now, but – other stuff got in the way.” He stops to take a deep breath, which sounds more like a sigh to Namjoon’s ears.“I really liked the life you created for me. I wish I was that person.”

Jungkook doesn’t tell Namjoon what he means by that melancholic confession, but nonetheless, it feels like a barrier has been broken. He is about to change the subject into something more light-hearted when Jungkook beats him to it.

“Are we allowed to eat here?”

“I think the Library only allows, uhm – tidy food? The type that doesn’t leave crumbs, I guess. And drinks with lids. We could ask the front desk. Why?”

“Nevermind, just take them home.” Jungkook tells him, bringing out a familiar-looking paper bag and placing it onto his lap with care.

“More brownies?” How cute, he literally squeals inside at how cute that is.

“You said you liked them, right? Unless you were just being polite...”

“ I meant it. Thanks, Jungkook.” He reaches out to pet his hair. It feels dense and silky in his palm – it’s definitely not a hair that’s been chemicalized before. Nothing about it looks artificial up-close. The rich, creamy coal-black color is as natural as it can be.

 

PART 2: UGLY TRUTH

  

Namjoon doesn’t have any trouble defining their relationship. They’re bound by a peculiar sort of friendship that is purer and more mutual than anything he’s ever experienced before. It’s that simple. He makes a joke about how being the only children in their families makes each other good replacements for the siblings they’ve never had. Jungkook goes along with that.

Between trips to the library and lazy strolls through the park attached, they occasionally venture a little farther, along the narrow passageways between coffee shops and bakeries, out on the plaza filled with students and street vendors. Namjoon treats him to pesto shrimp skewers and caramel apples sometimes. Jungkook can never stay past 8 – he doesn’t ask why.

One early evening when they are walking to the bus station, debating some silly topic (Who would win a fight, a basilisk or a chimera?), the sharp cry of a kitten changes their route. They find it tucked behind a dumpster, with its back arched and its tail fur frizzled in an attempt to scare them off, but it’s clear that it doesn’t even quite know how to hiss or show its teeth properly yet. It’s just a baby.

After minutes of calling and cooing, the kitten finally gains a grain of trust and paws the ground to sniffle Namjoon’s hand. It’s a baby girl. They name it Smoochie – just because Jungkook insists it’s cute – and Namjoon takes her home without second thoughts. He was going to get a pet anyway. Sure, Yoongi wasn’t very receptive last time they talked about it, but there is something about her pleading green eyes and pink button nose that melts his heart the moment he sees her at the door, sleeping peacefully in Namjoon’s arms.

Through this little occurrence, he discovers that Jungkook loves animals – but he can’t keep one. Again, he doesn’t ask why. He just assumes that someone in his household is allergic. Or perhaps he has really strict parents, which would explain his curfew as well. Having a concrete set of rules as a child or as a teenager is such an alien concept to him since his mother has always been more of a friend. He doesn’t really remember being grounded or even yelled at. But, as they say, to each their own.

He has an inexplicable urge to let Jungkook know that he’s there if he wants to talk. If things get overwhelming, as they do, and if he ever feels troubled or alone. Sometimes, he can read loneliness on his face. It’s such a familiar loneliness it stings. He hopes Jungkook is smarter than him, and is not giving in to the temptations of college life – drugs, alcohol, one-night stands – all the things he’s tried out so he would fit in. He feels somewhat responsible. Jungkook leeches onto him like a child; it’s both endearing and sobering.  

A hidden, more playful, softer side of him sees light while feeding off his presence. It is a reciprocal care and respect. Namjoon doesn’t have any trouble defining their relationship – until he does.

The first day of spring deserves to be celebrated with something sweet, so they go out for ice-cream. He buys himself a coned blackberry sorbet, while Jungkook opts for a Neapolitan – both respectable choices in his opinion – and then, they go to sit on the edge of the cupid-shaped fountain that marks the middle of the park, spellbound by the song of a sparrow.

“Here’s another one.” The brunet says, kicking his legs idly. “What’s more relaxing – the sound of a rainfall or the sound of ocean waves?”

“Rain.” Namjoon answers confidently. They don’t agree on many things, but neither gets upset. It’s all good fun.

“My vote goes to the latter. I don’t know – I love the beach. Guess it’s because I grew up in the seaside.” Jungkook does this little thing where he slips in bits of information about himself during casual conversations, like breadcrumbs for him to follow and add up.

“Okay, my turn. What sounds better: being able to relive the past knowing all the things you know now or fast-forwarding to an unknown future?”

“I don’t know. I feel like reliving the past would be kind of boring.”

“Yeah, but you get to repair all of your mistakes.”

“I’m not sure if I’d know how, to be honest.”

“So fast-forwarding to the future?”

Jungkook nods, spinning the ice-cream cone in his hands before taking a copious frosty bite. Namjoon cringes, half-amused, because... Who the hell bites the ice-cream?. But he quickly shrugs to himself.

“Me too.”

Six o’clock comes around with both the sun and the moon displayed out on the reddish mauve sky, lost among clouds that look like paint-soaked cotton dollops shipped to other lands by the wind. Evenings are for street performers: magicians, dancers, living statues, one-band men. Jungkook is walking by his side with a content smile on his face, just a little closer than usual, pointing excitedly at the various acts. It is a pleasant, luminous evening, and it feels like Namjoon’s universe has expanded a bit since he met him.

They lose track of time like that. It happens – and when it does, Jungkook grabs his hand, giving it a light squeeze as they start running. Far in the distance, they can see it. The bus has already arrived at the station, which, naturally, pushes Namjoon to fasten the pace. The brunet reacts by pulling back.

“Wha – what are you doing? You’re gonna miss the bus!”

“I – I can’t...” The younger boy says, panting. “Your legs are too damn long!”

“The hell?” Namjoon lets out a belly laugh. He bends his knees slightly, guiding him by the wrist until he understands to climb up on his back. He is flying – and it has less to do with how fast they are going, and more with the giggles that are being muffled in his shoulder. The arms around his neck. The thighs around his waist. The heart he is carrying.  

Somehow they make it to the station in time. Dizzy and breathless, he almost drops Jungkook to the ground – but thankfully he doesn’t. They stand there staring at each other for a moment during which Jungkook looks like he is about to hug him, as a farewell habit they’ve developed recently, but instead, he kisses him. It’s short and fast; his lips merely brush the corner of his mouth before he runs off, getting on the bus without looking back.

 

~~~

 

Jungkook doesn’t go to school the next day, nor does he pick up the phone. Namjoon has no idea how to handle the whole situation. It must be his fault. He should have realized that something was going on sooner. It’s his fault that he’s always been oblivious to this kind of stuff.

He’s good at observing people from a safe distance, but bad at reading them when it comes down to a personal approach.

He can put up a charming front, be a smooth presence and an engaging partner for conversation – but it’s all for the show. In reality, people are too hard to keep, and most of the time he doesn’t know how to. Most of the time, he doesn’t even try. 

 

namjoon: i know you read all my messages

namjoon: i’m not mad,ok?

namjoon: i just want to talk

 

He is still not sure of what he wants to tell him, but there is need for a serious conversation. Leaving things hanging is not his thing. Smoochie walks over from where she was napping on the carpet to tap him on the forehead as a sign of compassion – or hunger. She starts purring when he nuzzles into the soft fur of her head, and jumps out of his reach the moment she hears the main door being unlocked. It’s a bit funny how Yoongi is spoiling her – buying her salmon treats and a differently colored thread ball each time he goes out – but when confronted, he denies everything.

 

namjoon: i hope you know you’re being extremely immature right now

 

Namjoon finally silences his phone, sliding it under his pillow with a sigh. He doesn’t remember falling asleep. What’s certain is that he wakes up at 2 AM with a bitter taste in his mouth and a numb arm from being twisted in an awkward position for the past few hours. The lights are all out in the apartment, including his bedroom. It’s storming outside.

He stumbles to the kitchen to get some water and Smoochie follows him curiously, letting out a little meow when he sees him near the fridge.

“What did I tell you? No midnight snacks – and no after-midnight snacks either.”

 Another long, wavy meow echoes in the room.

 “No, don’t look at me like that. You’re not getting anything.”

In response, the cat starts rubbing herself against his legs and he gives in eventually, feeding her a couple of chewy chicken-flavored biscuits before finishing his glass.

Once he returns to bed, he notices a faint blue light coming from underneath the pillow and he instantly knows what that means. Blue is for new messages, but blue is for missed calls as well. In this case, it’s the latter. He hits call back in a moment of irrationality and rush.

It rings two times and then it stops.

Jungkook’s voice comes through, hoarse and heavy: “Hyung.”

“Hey.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I called this late.”

“It’s fine. Are you okay?”  

Namjoon’s question is met with silence.

“Jungkook?”

“No...”

He has to take a deep breath before continuing. “You’re not okay. Okay.” He says, more as if to confirm it to himself, his free hand already searching for a change of clothes. “Where are you?”

“Home.”

“Can you meet me? I know it’s past 8, like way past 8, but – just, can you?”

“I guess I could sneak out.”

“Just try not to get yourself in trouble, okay? I’ll take a cab and pick you up, just give me an address – any address, it doesn’t have to be yours.”

“I’ll text it to you.”

Namjoon puts on the first pair of (ripped) jeans he sees along with a random wool sweater and a knee-long coat he doesn’t really bother buttoning up because... other things are at stake now. A scarf wrapped loosely around his neck and a pair of combat boots completes his look – thankfully, it’s dark, and nobody gets to see the mess he is.

He waits about ten minutes for the taxi under his dotted umbrella.

The place Jungkook texts him is a building complex on the outskirts of his neighborhood, and it seems to be the real deal – his real address. The kid lives in a much quieter, less glamorous area, with nowhere near as many people wandering the streets at inhumane hours of the night. That, in particular, gives an eerie feeling to it. It’s too quiet. He’s used to car noises and agitation and drunk groups of friends singing on their way home, but this part of the city is... soulless.  

A silhouette starts moving towards them when the driver pulls over on the side of the road. Even in the dark,  Namjoon manages to make out Jungkook’s features, so he’s quick to push the door open and help him inside. Once seated next to him on the backseat, the brunet’s face is flooded with an orangey-yellow light cast by the lamp posts, and Namjoon almost wishes he didn’t have to see it – a big, nasty bruise is shimmering across his cheekbone.

“How in the world did you get this?” Placing his finger beneath his chin, Namjoon tilts his face up toward his in order to get a better look.

Jungkook pushes his hand away as if it’s burning and scoots under a patch of shadow. “I fell.” He tells him, fixing his gaze somewhere out on the window.

“You fell.” The older deadpans. “Jungkook, look at me –”

“I fell, okay?” Jungkook growls. “I slipped in the bathroom and hit my face on the sink. Who gives a shit?”

Discerning that the back of a taxi is not exactly ideal for sorting problems out, Namjoon gives the driver another location. He drops them off at a diner he knows to be open 24/7, hoping that some food and a hot beverage will prompt Jungkook to talk more openly and honestly to him.

It’s a small American-themed locale mainly visited by nostalgic foreigners and insomniac travelers. It’s completely empty of clientele when they step inside, which is quite perfect.

A lady brings two menus to their table, mumbling a drowsy greeting before returning behind closed doors. When Namjoon reaches for one and Jungkook doesn’t, eyebrows, as well as questions, are raised.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t even have my wallet...” Jungkook trails off with a trace of shame, planting his elbow into the surface of the table and resting side of his face in his palm as if he’s trying to hide. Truth is, under the clear, fluorescent lighting of the diner, the bruise presents itself even worse.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay.”

The brunet looks ready to argue, but exhaustion drags him down. He orders scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon, and honey banana pancakes. Namjoon isn’t feeling very hungry so he settles for a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows. They end up sharing anyway.

“Hyung, I’m sorry.” Jungkook begins after a few minutes of them eating in silence. “For, you know, ignoring you and running away. I was scared. And embarrassed.”  

“Whatever, I get it.”

“I tried dropping hints, but... you didn’t seem to catch on.”

“Jungkook...”

“And then I remembered what you said. You said that love should be easy, so I asked myself why complicate things? I just wanted to follow your word and be honest about it and, I don’t know, in that moment I thought you looked like you wanted to kiss me too...”

“You don’t need to give me any kind of explanation. I told you, I get it.”

“Does it – does it bother you that... That I, you know – see you that way?”  

“No, Kook, it doesn’t bother me.” He lets out a tired laugh. It’s all he can do besides running a hand through his hair. The pink has now faded to a peachy blond. “I don’t mind. If I did, I wouldn’t be here.”

“I guess you wouldn’t...”

“But do you know what bothers me instead? Concerns, even.”

The brunet shakes his head no. Instead of verbalizing it, Namjoon raises his hand to tap his left cheek. Jungkook’s fingers mirror the action up on his own face until they end up ghosting over the bruise.

“I really don’t want to talk about it.”

Well, it’s still a better answer than what he initially got.

“What do you want to talk about then?”

“Anything. Tell me about your books or the stars or whatever – just... anything works.” 

“Okay.” Namjoon says, sighing softly. And then, a light bulb flashes above his head. “How about a game instead?”

“Another round of This or that or Would you rather?”

“No, something a little different.”

Jungkook’s inviting silence is enough confirmation for him call over the waitress and request the spiciest sauce she has in stock and two tall glasses of water.

She brings back a small bowl of ghost pepper sauce – not something Namjoon has tried before, but just hearing its name makes him sweat.

“What is this for?”

“Have you ever played Truth or drink?”

“No – but I heard of it.”

“Yeah, well, I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to get you drunk so... We take turns and ask each other a question – it can be as dumb or pointless or dirty as you want, and you can choose to answer or take a shot – I mean, in this case, a spoon of this.”

“If I don’t want to answer I just have to take a spoon?”

“That’s all you have to do, yes. Are you in?”

“Sure, whatever. I feel like I might end up eating all this up by myself though.” 

Namjoon laughs gently, shaking his head.

“Come on, make an effort for me... Do you wanna go first?”

“No, you start.”

“Cool.” He sets the bar. “When did you get your first piercing?”

Jungkook looks at him with both confusion and relief, like he was expecting something worse to come out of his mouth.

“Oh. I got it on my 16th birthday. Is it my turn now?”

“Yup.”

“Okay. Why did you drop out of college?”

“To focus on writing – which is ironic if you think about it, because I spend most of my day at work or on the train, you know? That, and I realized that traditional education is not really for me.”

“Do your parents not... help you with money?”

Namjoon stares at him until he looks away, then brings him back with a lengthy sigh and a sheepish smile. There is a low radio buzz he is only now noticing that is making his head lighter. A strange kind of tired possesses his bones – the kind that pushes you to wonder if you are getting sick. He hasn’t had any alcohol, but he’s starting to feel a bit dizzy too. His cheeks are heating up. Strange.

“Sorry, you can’t ask two questions in a row. Rules.”

“Ugh, fine.” Jungkook is playing with the little food left on his plate, poking it and turning it over with the fork, again and again. The slow movements just add to his dizziness.

“So.” It’s a shot in the dark. Jungkook might not even remember, but it’s been eating him alive. “Why were you crying that day on the train?”

Jungkook appears to know what he is talking about because he shrugs, lowering his gaze while tucking a strand of hair behind his ear.

To his disappointment, he chooses not to answer and take a spoonful of the red sauce instead. Immediately, he chokes on it and starts coughing.

“That spicy, huh?” Namjoon laughs softly, handing him a glass of water.

The brunet nods with a groan and tears prickling in the corner of his eyes. “I typically enjoy spicy food but this is just something else – it’s freaking burning.” He says, scandalized, which draws out another chuckle from Namjoon.

“You could’ve just answered the question.”

“Another time...” Jungkook mumbles, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his sweater.

“I’m gonna hold you to that.”

“My turn. What’s the raunchiest porn you’ve ever watched?”

This time, Namjoon straight up barks a laugh so loud that the waitress jumps, pulls out her earphones, and looks their way to see what is happening. 

“What’d they put in that sauce, dude? I don’t know. I’ve watched some weird shit in my time. Uhhh – I guess the top of my list would be that one role play... The title was something like... Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs Deep Throat Orgy Party... I couldn’t jack off to that, but I was intrigued.” 

Jungkook makes a face. He looks ready to hide under the table.

“Wow, you – you answered that.” 

“Yeah. Wasn’t I supposed to? Wait. Hey! You were just trying to make me... You cheeky brat!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re gonna have to try harder than that. So, have you kissed many people?”

“Just... two.”

“Ah – too bad. That means I wasn’t the first one to be touched by those pretty lips, huh? Wish I had that privilege...” The words slip – slurs without intention he hopes Jungkook doesn’t catch. But Jungkook catches them just right. His chapped lips part, doe eyes widening and face turning red.

The reaction is like a weight on Namjoon's chest. Now he just feels stupid and guilty, as if he just crossed a line again – mostly stupid. And really fucking ridiculous.

“I mean, um – sorry. I just... It’s 3 a.m. and I’m just really fucking tired. I don’t know what I’m saying. God, what a fucking idiot...” He whispers the last part to himself. 

“You’re right though. Um, how about you?”

“You know what? I think I’ll just take a spoon. I think I deserve it.” It’s that, and also, part of him feels too embarrassed to admit that he’s pretty much only messed around and has zero serious relationship experience under his belt. He wouldn’t want Jungkook to misjudge him – mistake him for some type of slut who doesn’t do hard feelings when really, the opposite is true. He simply hasn’t found anyone who could lock his interest long enough. No one who could spark that interest in the first place, and make him want to try.

The ghost pepper opens his sinuses and numbs his tongue; it does burn down his throat like hell. Tears roll off his cheeks like waterfalls as he reaches for a napkin. Admittingly, he’s handling it way worse than Jungkook did, which throws the younger boy into a fit of laughter. Something in his genes must be weak; his body never takes extremes too well. At least, he could cheer the kid up. His face is no longer dark and sullen, and that makes up for it.

Their silly game ends up with no real winner, when Jungkook starts shuffling in his seat, his eyes stealing glances at the door every few seconds. He doesn’t say anything, but Namjoon picks up on his desire to leave. It’s quiet during their ride back, except the one time he opens his mouth to tell him that if he needs a place to crash instead of going home, he’s welcome to stay at his apartment. He even offers his bed in favor of the couch, but Jungkook refuses with a solemn smile.

The refusal upsets him more than it should, but it’s not his place to blame it. What happens next reminds him of a crappy romance movie where the boy walks the girl to her door after their date when it’s really not the case. This is a whole different situation. It’s 4 AM – such a powerful hour. People could be partying or they could be sleeping, others could be crying on their bathroom floors. He just ate breakfast before sunrise with Jungkook. The loneliest hours of the night are odd and full of possibilities. 

“Cold?”

Jungkook has his hands buried in his pockets and his shoulders high and stiff. Rocking from one leg to the other, he nods, and Namjoon instinctively reaches out to rub his arm.

“Are you going to school tomorrow?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, then... I’ll see you when I see you, I guess.”

“Yeah. See you when I see you.”

The boy turns his back to him, taking a few slow steps under the flickering street light, and an uneasy feeling awakens inside of Namjoon. He can’t let him go like that, with just a wave.

“Jungkook, wait.”

Jungkook stops.

Namjoon matches his steps and cups his cheek gently, placing a kiss down onto his lips. He doesn’t care if it’s cliché anymore. Jungkook looks up at him with a sort of adoration that takes his breath away. “Take care.” He murmurs while his thumb smooths over the skin as if programmed to do so. 

 

~~~

 

He doesn’t get to see the brunet until Monday. In a way, he’s grateful for that. His heart has time to relax and rest. His brain has time to process things. He definitely doesn’t see Jungkook the way he’d see a friend – the way he sees Yoongi, for instance – but he definitely doesn’t see him as a simple fling either. The most sensible conclusion he draws is that he might be in love. That would be a first. But he wants to try.

The realization keeps him awake at night and distracted during the day, enclosed in a bubble. Not even the scoldings of his boss can reach inside and disrupt his peace. He’s floating. He’s reading and writing, hit by a generous inspiration.

Other than that, not much changes. He and Jungkook still hang out within the regular curfew. It turns out that the library is a really cool place to kiss. And that’s pretty much all they do – they kiss. Sometimes make out, spilling giggles here and there. 

One rainy afternoon finds them sitting with crossed legs on the floor in the Philosophy Section. Namjoon has a heavy book in his lap and Jungkook’s head on the shoulder. The boy’s hand curls around the crook of his arm as he is trying to pay attention to his explanation about the Theory Of Abiogenesis. As usual, he ends up laughing at a random typo and nuzzling into his chest.

His eyes bear mystery, and sometimes a premature kind of sadness, but in contrast, you can never be too serious around Jungkook. He has the personality of a puppy – jovial, affectionate, short attention span, and very very cute.

Namjoon snorts at his silly antics, ruffling his hair while pulling him closer at the same time.

“Nobody ever sees us here. It feels like we’re alone in the world.”

“Yeah, well, not many people read philosophy these days.”

When he falls quiet, Jungkook pulls back to look at his face. “Oh. Sorry – you were trying to be romantic? My bad.”

“Look who’s a smartass.”

It’s hard to tell whose face is more flushed at this point – maybe Jungkook’s; color stands out more against his paler complexion.

On the bench, under the linden tree, they are waiting for Jungkook’s bus once again, clothed thighs glued together and sticky fingers entangled inside the pocket of Namjoon’s raincoat.

Love takes physical forms for Jungkook. When he rips his jeans and scratches his knee, he asks Namjoon to kiss it better. He pokes his dimples when he smiles. Sometimes, Namjoon is quieter than usual, so Jungkook finds himself running his thumb in delicate circles over the back of his hand without saying anything either, because that’s his way to comfort. And when they part, he always squeezes him tighter than necessary, pressing his nose into the hollow of his collarbone to take in his cologne, if not tracing his lips over the olive skin in secrecy. Namjoon shows care rather through service or words. But they make it work.

“How’s Smoochie doing?” Jungkook asks, swiping through the apps on his phone absentmindedly. The bus is having a delay – probably due to heavy traffic.

“You could drop by to see her, you know?”

“No...”

“Still not convinced that I’m not a serial killer?” He jokes.

Jungkook rolls his eyes and lets out a breathy laugh. “It’s not that.” His leg starts bouncing, and from what Namjoon gathered about him, that’s something he only does when he’s nervous. “I – I shouldn’t... I don’t want to disturb.”

“Uh – disturb? Disturb who? It’s just me and my roommate, and he’s mostly gone.”

“Hyung, you know I have to be home by 8. Please, understand.”

“I do understand, I just... I’m frustrated and I think I’m allowed to wish for more time with you.” They meet on the train in the morning, then hang out for about 2 hours after he gets off work. It’s not an everyday thing and they rarely see each other on weekends, so when you come to think about it, it’s really not that much. “I’ll talk to your parents. Give me a number.”

“What? No!” The brunet’s face goes white. “W-why would you – why would you want to talk to my parents? I’m not doing that.”

“Okay. Then take me home and I’ll ask you out from them personally.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little late for that now?”

“They don’t know, do they?”

Jungkook remains quiet as he slowly slips his hand out of Namjoon’s pocket as if caught red-handed. The lack of warmth in their palms hits them both immediately. His gaze gradually leaves Namjoon’s face, fixing on the tip of his boots instead. The older clicks his tongue, tugging at his sleeve before placing two fingers under his chin and gently guiding his face back to him.

“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Closing yourself like that in front of me. I’m serious. If that’s the case – if you’re just scared to say anything, but you want to – I could help. You can trust me.”

“And if... I don’t want to?”

“I’d never push you...” Namjoon sighs, taking a peek at the time: 7:18 PM.

They sit in silence for a little while. Their hands don’t find their ways back to each other.

“I’m sorry I’m so difficult.” Jungkook’s voice cracks. “Maybe I can take the Saturday off...”

“It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not. You’re upset with me...”

“I’m not upset with you.”

“Then why are you saying it like that?”

“Your bus is coming.”

“Hyung...”

Namjoon suddenly gets up, urging Jungkook to do the same by grabbing his wrist. He still pulls the brunet to his chest into a warm hug and ruffles his hair before his palms slide down to his cheeks, lingering there for a moment.

“Take care, baby.”

Jungkook looks lost. When the bus fully stops and the doors slide open, people pouring in and out of it, he remains stuck in place. Namjoon nudges him foward, but he doesn’t move, ending up stumbling over his own feet.

“Are you okay?”

“Let’s go see Smoochie.”

Namjoon frowns.

“You don’t have to do that just because I told you so.”

“I know. I just really want to see her. Maybe it’s time I do something I want for once.”

“I – are you... sure, Kook? You know it doesn’t exactly make it better if you get grounded and I can’t see you for another whole week afterwards.”

“I know.”

“Alright. Are you sure you don’t want me to talk to –”

“I’m sure.” Says the brunet firmly.

They sit back down to wait for Namjoon’s bus.

 

~~~

 

“Hyung?” He calls out, locking the door behind him. Jungkook is already hanging his coat. In a lazy pace, but with a graceful posture, Smoochie makes her way to them. She greets them with a shrill meow. As soon as the brunet tries to pick her up, she squirms out of his hold. He lets out a loud sigh. “That’s why I prefer dogs.”

Namjoon exaggerates a gasp, crouching down to scratch her behind the ear. “Don’t worry, little one. He didn’t mean it.”

A pout plays on Junkook’s lips as he crosses his arms. “She leaned into you." He says, scandalized. “Maybe cats just hate me.”

“Nah, it depends on how you approach them. You need to let them come to you.”

“But they never do...”

Hyung?” Namjoon tries again, venturing farther into the apartment, leaving Jungkook behind, in the living room. The lights are off. So is the heat. The place does appear to be vacant, but it’s not until he sees Yoongi’s bed, empty and untouched since morning, that he gets the confirmation. “Guess he’s not home.”

Jungkook stares at him, question marks in his eyes. Namjoon notices he hasn’t moved an inch.

“Yoongi is a musician.”

“Oh, cool.”

“Mhm. You, um,  feel free to look around. Make yourself at home while I go turn up the heat.”

“Can I see your room?”

A bashful smile blooms on the older’s face. “Go ahead.” He chuckles, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s nothing special. I’m not a big decoration guy.” Jungkook offers a little nod. “It’s the one on the left, you can’t miss it.” With that, he runs to the kitchen. He fills Smoochie’s bowl and grabs a few snacks while he’s there.

Having Jungkook sprawled on his back on his bed isn’t something he thought he’ll get to see very soon and yet, there he is, sunk in the sheets.

He lowers his phone when Namjoon walks in the room, looking at him upside down with his dark bangs all messed-up and the hem of his shirt wrinkled and loose across his stomach, high enough to reveal a line of skin between it and the wasitband of his jeans. It’s ridiculous how an insignificant detail like that has so much power over him. His fantasies unwind; the images play in the back of his head like a VHS film.

He tries his best to ignore them. He clears his throat.

“Comfy?” 

Jungkook hums, stretching before throwing his phone on the nightstand. His face lightens up as he bounces on the mattress, making grabby hands at him “You brought me food! I love you.”

“Uh – yeah.” Namjoon blushes madly, passing a chocolate bar to him. He brings his laptop to the bed and Jungkook covers themselves with a blanket, snuggling next to him.

“What are we doing?”

“I don’t know – wanna watch a movie?”

“Okay.”

“You got anything in mind?”

“I want to watch your favorite movie.”

“What if I want to watch your favorite movie.”

Jungkook’s yawn turns into a feathery laugh.

After an internal debate, he puts on The Shining because that’s the only movie he never gets sick of; he’s already seen it five times. Jungkook makes an effort to keep up with the subtitles, but half-way into it he just gets bored.

“You said it’s a thriller – it’s not even that scary.”

“A psychological thriller.” He corrects, shifting so that his arm is wrapped around the other boy. He should’ve probably done that sooner, he thinks. Jungkook quietly welcomes the change in their position, tucking his head under Namjoon’s chin. Their bodies are so close it’s becoming hard to breathe, but such a tender burn wouldn’t be too bad of a death.

“This movie looks so ooold.”

“Jungkook, it’s a cult classic.”

He gets drunk on his perfume – an interplay between every flavor of orange possible, complemented by just a drop of musk. The musk bridges the sweetness of the blossom, the tartier petitgrain, the bitter zestiness of a bergamot peel, to the humanity of the skin. His hair smells like soapy cleanliness after a salty day at the beach.

“I don’t understand. Why is there a guy in a bear suit? And is Jack possessed or is he just going insane?”

“Maybe both – maybe he isn’t really Jack, but one of his characters that has come to life. I think he was already a weak man before, using alcohol to cope and everything, but after checking in, since the hauntings grew more powerful due to his son's psychic ability, his mental state decayed even more. And, uh – the bear doesn’t really make sense here, but it's from a scene in the book about two guys who had an affair back in the hotel’s heyday.”

Jungkook lets out a noncommittal sound in response, followed by another solid yawn. There are dusts of his reflection on the screen; Namjoon catches a glimpse of his heavy eyelids fighting to stay open. The sight paints a smile in the corner of his mouth as his fingers dig into Jungkook’s hair, running across his scalp in nonlinear fashion and tugging gently from time to time until they start to fall asleep, little by little. He blinks, and the next thing he sees is the credits rolling. His vision is blurry.

“...feels good, don’t stop.” Jungkook’s murmurs tickle his skin.

His heart jumps out of his ribcage and he’s suddenly wide awake again. “What? Oh.” He notices that his fingers have stopped moving altogether, so he puts them back to work, gliding along the brunet’s jawline, up to his hair again, taking a handful of it. Jungkook exhales a little moan – it’s soft, but it’s there. It sends tingles down his spine. He puts the laptop aside, dressing the room in deeper darkness.

Somehow his other hand ends up on Jungkook as well, tentative in its ways of getting under his white shirt. It’s foreign territory, and he’s not sure how to go about it. He begins with a few long strokes across his hipbone, just to see if Jungkook lets him.

Jungkook goes pliant under his touch, hooking an arm around his neck in a silent plea for a kiss. Namjoon has now a restless leg between his thighs as he licks the whiskey and honey chocolate taste off his lips. His teeth give the lower one a greedy bite before pulling back to rub off the blood that’s come to the surface with his thumb.  Jungkook manages to give him whiplash by flicking his tongue over it slowly, a coy sparkle playing in his eyes while fixing him with the gaze.

“Fuck.” Namjoon moans weakly, thrusting his index and middle finger into his mouth to see what happens. Jungkook’s pretty eyelashes flutter closed as he starts sucking on them. “I want to fuck you so bad right now, you don't even know...” His voice trembles.

He loves how vulnerable he looks under him; he loves the way his back arches each time he presses their hips together, or how damn beautiful his red cheeks are, bathed in the pale moonlight.

He hasn’t touched anyone this intimately in over a year thus every sensation that fills his veins is raging and strident, it pulls him under like a tidal wave. His mind says back off, but his hard cock wants nothing more than to fuck Jungkook against the wall until he can’t take it anymore. Come all sticky and wet over that pretty face of his. He could write infinite poetry about it.

Out of impulse, he rolls them over, pulling the brunet on top of him while giving his ass a rough slap and a hard squeeze. The mattress squeaks and Jungkook gasps, losing balance for a second.

Yup. Rationality isn’t on his side today.

His hands feel his erection through the fabric of his jeans before they start working at his belt. That’s when Jungkook stiffens – but Namjoon doesn’t notice something is wrong until a tiny sob pours out of him.

“Jungkook?”

Jungkook covers his face with a forearm to muffle another sob, which puts the older into a state of panic and confusion. He pushes the boy off gently so he can get up and turn on the light. “Hey, don’t cry...” Jungkook only gets louder and whinier.

“On a second thought, just let it all out.” He tells him in a pacifying voice, rubbing his back in circular motions. “That’s right – just let it all out, baby.”

All of his parts and screws are shaking so it takes a little while, but eventually, Jungkook fixes his belt and throws his legs over the edge of the bed as if ready to go. Namjoon keeps him in place though, and kneeling on the floor, he takes his hand in his.

“I’m sorry... I really – I can’t do this...” The brunet cries.

Namjoon stares at him, a deep frown carved into his face. “We don’t have to... do anything.” He’s beyond confused now. “Jungkook.” He calls his name as if he’s afraid of his own voice. “When you don’t like something, you can just stop me – you could’ve said stop.”

Something must be terribly off with the kid if he has to teach him these things.

“Yeah.” Jungkook nods weakly. “But I really like you.”

Namjoon needs a moment to think and gather his words properly.

“I like you too. But there are boundaries, you know...? And I don’t want to violate yours, so please tell me next time. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Come on, let’s go to sleep.”

“I want to go home, hyung...”

“Just stay here... We have nowhere to be in the morning anyway, it’s Saturday...”

Jungkook shakes his head vehemently. “I want to go home.” He repeats.

Namjoon eyes him with worry. He’s not very eager to let him go in the state he is in. “Why don’t you – why don’t you take a cold shower to cool off, and then we’ll talk. I’ll take you home if you wish.”

Jungkook ends up staying overnight.

Namjoon lends him a pair of grey sweatpants and one of his t-shirts to sleep in. The thing is a little big on him, hanging loose around his edges, but it doesn’t really matter – in fact, the sight endears him.

 

~~~

 

He’s not sure of what to expect first thing in the morning, but it definitely isn’t Yoongi and Taehyung hovering over his bed, staring down at him judgementally.

“You guys are fucking?” Yoongi asks flatly, craddling their cat in his arms.

“What – the f...” His voice cracks as he makes an attempt to get up, but there is a weight on his chest, anchoring him down – and that weight is Jungkook. The younger jerks his head up, dozy and disoriented, with his hair sticking up in different directions. “Hyung?” He looks at Namjoon, at the other two men in the room, then back at Namjoon, searching his eyes for some type of explanation.

“I knew you were gay.” Taehyung says with a tinge of amusement. He smiles triumphantly.

“Taehyung, for the last time, I’m not –”

“Hyung, please... You’re in bed with my male co-worker. He’s wearing your clothes.”

“I don’t do labels!”

“Okay, No Label Guy.” Yoongi intervenes, already walking towards the door. “If you’re done here, come into the living room. I gotta talk to you about something.”

“Yeah – yeah, I’m coming...” Namjoon runs a hand over his face, letting out a lengthy groan before turning to Jungkook with an apologetic expression. “I’ll be right back.”

The brunet can’t do anything but nod and pull the covers closer to himself while Taehyung loiters in the room with an uncanny grin plastered on his face.

“Bye, Jungkook. See you at work today.”

“B-bye...”

 

~~~

 

They don’t talk about what happened because when Namjoon tries to bring up the subject, Jungkook laughs it off. From then on, he slows things down, hoping it will help – not that he was trying to rush them in the first place.

They’re back at the library after a dull day full of work – or classes, in Jungkook’s case – and he decides to bring his laptop over this time, just to arrange a couple of notes and review some drafts. Jungkook’s legs are crossed up on the chair next to him as he opens a bag of Skittles. 

“Banana berry and strawberry starfruit  – open up!”

He parts his lips to let Jungkook roll the two skittles on his tongue. “Thanks, babe.”

“These two are my favorites. I like the pineapple something something too.”

“Yeah, they’re good.”

“Tropical Rain and Sour are really the best – way better than the original ones. Don’t you agree?”

“Not exactly a Skittles expert...”

“I am, trust me. Anyway, I’m excited about today.”

“Oh?”

“Dog Days 2 is coming out today. I’ve been saving up for this video game since Monstercore Studio announced the release at the end of last year. I can’t wait, I loved the first one so much! There’s this group of teenagers who decide to investigate the murder of one of their friends, and you can choose which character’s point of view you want to play from. You got five in total.”

“Mhm, interesting...”

“You’re not paying attention to me.” Jungkook accuses, poking his dimple. Namjoon takes his finger and pretends to bite it.

“I hear everything you say.”

“It’s not the same.”

“I’m sorry, I just need to go over these chapters first – if I don’t do it now, I won’t do it later. I hate proofreading. I always put it off.”

“Have someone else proofread for you.”

“Do I look like I have money for an editor?”

Jungkook shrugs.

“Give me half an hour and I’ll be all yours.”

“Half an hour?! What am I supposed to do for half an hour – sit and watch?”

“Keep me company. It’s proven that the simple act of being in the presence of a loved one stimulates the production of serotonin.” He pauses briefly as insecurity suddenly claws at his heart. “Can you answer truthfully to a question?”   

Jungkook rolls his eyes. 

 “Sure...”

“I’m serious. Just don’t answer at all if you’re not going to be honest.” 

Jungkook frowns, looking a little offended by the fact that Namjoon assumed he wouldn’t be.

“What is it?”

“Do I make you happy?”

 “Ahhh, come on... Of course you do.”

“Really?”

Of course.” The boy emphasizes. “Why would you ask that?”

“Because if I don’t then what’s the point?”

“Jesus, you seriously think too much. Get your head out of your ass sometimes, dweeb.”

“Get my...? What did you just call me?

Jungkook bursts into a shameless laughter, and Namjoon finds it convenient to just take his face between his palms and shut him up with a heavy kiss.

“Had it not been for the fact that I’m so fond of you, I would've smacked you by now.”

There are days when he wonders if there really is anyone on the other side of the bookshelves that can hear them; there are times when he gets a little risqué and raises Jungkook up against them. You can’t exactly stay quiet in a place that’s dead silent. It’s a good illusion to have, and he wishes they were alone, but he knows they can’t be.

So far, there haven’t been any incidents of someone walking by while they’re all over each other – he’d like to keep it that way. He likes the place too much to be banned for improper behavior. It’s a good thing that nobody bothers to check those rusty cameras either.

It always starts with some type of playful teasing from Jungkook that rubs off on Namjoon as well. He’s typically a very composed person, but the younger somehow knows how to get under his skin and provoke him. By now, Namjoon has kind of learned what to do and not to do to him from his mistakes. He never really pushes it beyond dry humping.

Jungkook gains more trust in him as they go. He stays over 8 more often, which gives free pass to stargazing dates and midnight picnics. He still disappears for days, and comes back with no explanations. Namjoon is starting to lose hope that he’ll ever come to unravel his entire story.

Rooftops are not comfortable places as they’re often covered in dead leaves, puddles and moss, or wind-blown litter – they are not made for hanging out, that’s for sure; but they do provide the best view of the sky you could get. The higher, the better.

It’s one of those starry nights when they are cuddled up on the rooftop of Namjoon’s building. It’s quite warm outside, but not warm enough to make them strip the blanket off their shoulders.

He closes his eyes and tries to come to terms with the fact that he’s simply doomed to be left with blue balls each time they touch. He tries to forget by savoring the moans Jungkook is making in his ear while he’s rummaging under his black hoodie, and the way his nipple hardens when Namjoon runs the tip of his fingers over it with the lightest pressure.

“You’re my favorite star.” He mumbles into his mouth before pulling back a little to peck his nose. Jungkook offers a sultry smile.

“I’m looking up, then back at you.” He continues, beginning to cover the younger’s face in wet little kisses. “And there really is nothing out there that could outshine you. I think I was destined to meet you.”

“You’re too much, that’s so corny...”

“Don’t pretend that you don’t like it.”

“I really don’t.” The lie is pretty obvious. 

“You should’ve told me you liked being sweet-talked to. I could’ve done this more often. Do you like it when I call you beautiful? When I call you my pearl and my moonflower? My precious little prince? My honey bunny baby boo –”

“Shut up!” Jungkook laughs, giving him a light punch in the chest. “I got the idea.” He hides his face out of embarrassment, and Namjoon follows suit, nuzzling into his temple.

His mouth travels to his neck – that’s when he catches something with the corner of his eye. They freeze as he pulls the front of Jungkook’s hoodie lower to see a trail of marks. It seems to be leading to his shoulder. His heart sinks.

“What is this?” He asks in a very calm, very scary manner. His eyes are narrow, rigid and cold – any sign of laughter has evaporated from them.

Jungkook looks straight ahead as if he didn’t hear him.

“Are you seeing someone?”

“No.”

“Try again.”

“There’s no one.” Jungkook insists.

“Jungkook, I didn't give you those.”

“What’s the big deal? They’re just bruises.”

“They’re hickeys.”

The brunet finally looks up at him, not yet in tears, but almost there. His pitiful gaze is a knife in his ribs. With his blood drained and a mind on fire, he starts to walk away.

“Namjoon, wait – where are you going?” Jungkook’s voice blends with the sound of the airplanes. He follows him down the stairs, back to his floor, back into his apartment. He’s speaking, but Namjoon can’t hear a word he is saying – his ears are burning and his head feels ready to pop as if he’s having a sunstroke.

Namjoon gathers his things – his phone, keys and jacket – and throws them at him.

“Leave.”

“I can explain.”

“You lost your chance. I’ve never asked anything of you but your loyalty and your friendship. Was that too hard for you to give?”

“No...”

“It’s a guy, right? You never let me leave any marks on you but you let him? Did you let him fuck you too?”

“Namjoo–”

“Did you?”

“No! I mean – I mean, yes, we – we had... sex – but it’s not what you think. It’s really not! I love you...”

“How could you even say that after you go out there cheating on me with another guy?”

“I didn’t – I didn’t cheat on you...” Jungkook’s voice gets smaller. “I cheated on him with you...”

Namjoon falls silent. He’s not sure if he heard it right, but he’s too sick to ask. He might actually throw up if he hears it a second time. “I seriously can’t even look at you right now. I really thought you were special – but I guess you’re just as selfish and corrupt as everyone else.” And with that, he shuts the door in his face. His heart shatters into a million pieces.

~~~

 

The alarm goes off; he’s already been awake for hours. In fact, he never went to sleep. He kept crying like a baby in the night. He tore the notebook to pieces on a whim and deleted some of their pictures together.

There is nothing he wants more now than to go home, in Ilsan, to see his mother. She’d know what to say to soothe a broken heart. She’d make him ice cream cake to cheer him up. He decides to call her later in the day when he feels calmer, if he manages to calm himself down.

He just can’t stop thinking about how he’s been played this whole time, like a dumb little pawn. All he had with Jungkook was nothing but yet another dirty affair – definitely not the fairytail he thought he was living. Jungkook was definitely not the angel he thought him to be.

He considers taking the day off – he really doesn’t want to see his face again after not even 10 hours since he left his apartment – but he somehow finds the strenght to dress up and go, hoping he won’t be there.

To his dismay, Jungkook is on the train. Their eyes meet as soon as he steps inside since he’s not sitting too far from the door. Namjoon tries to make his way past him, but the brunet stops him by grabbing his wrist.

“Please, sit with me.” He tells him quietly.

Namjoon knows it’s wrong now, but he’s too weak to pull away. He’s still caught under the damned love spell.

There is a flashing moment when he feels extremely bad for the person waiting for Jungkook at home. He probably doesn’t know.

As Namjoon takes the seat by the window, Jungkook pulls an envelope out of his backpack. It’s pinkish white and has a ribbon wrapped around it that keeps it closed instead of wax or glue.

“Here.”

Namjoon stares at him.

“What’s this?”

“A letter... for you.”

“I don’t need anything from you anymore.”

“Please, hyung, just take it. Open it up when you get home. And then, you can just burn it or whatever.”

Namjoon is a weak, weak man, who easily gives in. Especially when it comes to Jungkook. He takes the envelope without paying it a second look.

“I’m sorry I’m not as... eloquent as you.”

“It’s fine...” He says, more to himself.

They don’t talk on the ride. Jungkook kind of waves at him before he gets off at his station and Namjoon offers a small nod in response. It’s ironic how they turned back to strangers overnight. It happened just as fast as they turned from strangers to friends.

The rest of his day is spent in a pool of resentment. He makes it through only because he can move around; but when there are no customers to keep him busy, the feeling resurfaces like the fin of a shark. It’s the type of sad that doesn’t let you listen to a single song, or makes you breakdown in the middle of a casual coversation.

 

~~~

 

At first, he doesn’t plan on opening the letter because opening it means additional memory of Jungkook in his brain, and he doesn’t want it. He is already on a mission to erase it all. But after talking to his mother, he changes his mind. He doesn’t exactly tell her what is wrong, but the woman’s intuition doesn’t fail to amaze him.

“Problems with the girls?”

“No.”

“With the boys?”

Namjoon is silent for a moment.

“How’d you know this was about my love life in the first place?”

His mother laughs over the phone.

“I just know. Did you eat anything today?”

“Uh – yeah.”

“You liar. I can see your nose growing longer from miles away.”

“Well, I ate a pack of biscuits – that counts as food, right?”

“I guess it does... Tell me, Namjoon, is this boy worth starving over?”

“He was worth a lot of things.” He says thoughtfully.

“It's ok to let him go. Sometimes things don’t work out between people, that’s life. Don’t try to figure out why or when and what could’ve been. That’s just wasting energy. Cherish the good memories and move on if there’s nothing you can do about it... Is there... Is there anything you can do about it?”

“No, not in this case... I don’t think so...”

“You know what I always tell you. You’ll feel different a week, a month, or a year from now.”

“The present is already past for the future.”

“Exactly.”

The letter is sitting pretty on his desk like a Pandora’s box. He’s been staring at it for possibly an hour, building up courage, and it’s still not enough. He could go order some roasted chicken or pizza, like his mother advised him to do, and come back later, but he fears that he won’t be able to. It's now or never. If this is the last thing he’ll ever get to hear from Jungkook, so be it.

He takes the ribbon off carefully and the first thing he notices is that it’s a pretty long letter.

Jungkook must have had a lot of things to say.

I don’t know how I should start this. I’ve never been very good with words. I’m not even sure how to write a letter properly. I must’ve missed that lesson in primary school. I googled it, but... I’m not good at following instructions either. So here’s me improvising. 

It already sounds so typical Jungkook that he wants to cry.

I’m writing to you because I’d never be able to tell you these things in person. I tried... But still, you deserve an explanation. My favorite color isn’t black and I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle. I don’t even live with my parents. I went along with most things you assumed about me because I liked that person better... because I thought that if you knew the real me, you wouldn’t like me anymore. Because I'm ashamed of who I've become. And maybe you really won’t like me anymore once you finish reading this... Maybe. I don't know.

The lame truth is that you’re the first friend I’ve ever made since I came to Seoul 6 years ago. I wasn’t used to people taking an interest in me so when you did, I felt like something changed... So I took an interest in you. But I don’t want to make it sound like I kept talking to you only because you gave me attention. You were also nerdy and tall and had these mad dimples that were super cute and made my heart swell... You have a really nice voice too. I’m not sure if I ever told you that. Anyway... I’ll try to keep it short and straight to the point.

About 6 years ago I moved here with my current boyfriend... Aaand this is the part where you might feel like crumbling the paper and throwing it in the trash... I totally get it... I know what you must be thinking. Six years is a long time. We met when I was a freshman in high school. He was already preparing for college. And yeah, I know what you must be thinking now too. “What a big age gap”. Well, yeah. I don’t think my 15 yo self would’ve cared if you told him that was wrong. I was pretty naive and stubborn back then.

My parents aren’t as important as you made them to be, even though my father has some money. He’s a businessman in Busan. My mom died when I was born so I didn’t really get to meet her (that’s why I’m an only child). I wish I did. Maybe my life would’ve turned out different if she was still around.

I’m sorry if I’m jumping from one idea to another. I’m trying my best to put my thoughts in order.

My dad took care of me by himself till I was 10. He was never a bad father. He’d always buy me all the toys and clothes I ever wanted. He was just gone a lot. It was fine though! Really, I was fine on my own or with the babysitter. I guess things started to go downhill for me when he remarried. She was alright at first, but it turned out that she was a witch – and not the cool kind you’d find in Skyrim. She was just really mean to me all the time. She was a dishonest, materialistic, self-centered asshole who seemed to really hate kids. Or just me in particular. She’d send me off on all sorts of trips and camps just to get rid of me for a while. My dad was happy. He thought she was just looking out for me and my education. I was too shy and embarrassed to tell him that wasn’t the case so I bottled it all up inside.

In my first year of high school, I met this boy... He was really cool and had a passion for photography and drawing. I did too! His favorite games were my favorite games. His favorite bands were my favorite bands. Most importantly, he was my confidant (I didn’t look this word up). He’d always let me sleep over when the witch my step-mom was giving me a hard time. In short, he was awesome. And because his home life wasn’t too great either, I thought that it was like destiny or something that we met.

He’d kiss me in the lockers and bring me flowers when he’d come pick me up from school. It was pretty nice. Like those shoujo mangas I used to read. On my birthday, we had sex. It wasn’t the most romantic first time ever... I was scared and it hurt like a bitch. I wasn’t ready at all. I wish I would’ve waited but... he had me bent over the desk after hours and I didn’t really have much of a choice to begin with. I still remember my last class that day was chemistry. My clothes smelled like chlorine.

I couldn’t understand what was happening to me or why I was so sad days afterwards. I mean, he said he loved me, so I had no reason to be sad. Right? He said I was being a crybaby and that I wouldn’t have found anyone to treat me gentler than he did. I believed that. I didn’t know much. I was only 15. Whatever. I still liked him. He’d still make me laugh and buy me cotton candy. Take me out on all sorts of dates. One night, he told me to move with him to Seoul so we could be together. You can guess what my answer was...

He started college and I convinced my dad to transfer me to a high school in Seoul... Well, it was more my step-mom who did. I guess she was good for one thing, huh? Some bullshit about better opportunities. I would’ve never left Busan if it wasn’t for him. God, I miss the beach...

Once we moved together though, he kind of... changed. He’d take me to school and pick me up like he used to, back in Busan, but I don’t know... it wouldn’t be just school. He’d want to do that everywhere I went. I thought he was just being protective. It was a new city, you know? But then, he’d start having these jealous outbursts where he’d take my phone away and wouldn’t let me go places at all because he couldn’t be there to drive me. I’d tell him I could just take the bus but he wouldn’t have it. I didn’t understand why.

If you remember, I told you I should’ve been a junior by now. I wasted a year doing jack shit because when I told him that I wanted to apply for college too, he told me I was too stupid for that. And so I picked up baking. When you stay in all day, you tend to get bored a lot more often.

One time, we were having an argument about the whole college thing and he hit me. He started crying and I thought that maybe I was the one who did something wrong. He said he was sorry, but I guess he wasn’t that sorry since he continued to hit me and call me names, kick me to the floor and pull my hair, drag me across like some kind of mannequin because he knew I wouldn't dare put a fight. I guess he didn’t love me as much as he said he did when he would choke me so hard that I’d pass out during sex, or when he would put on rock music just muffle my sobs on days I just couldn't control my panic attacks... Are you still following? I’m not trying to gain your sympathy, I’m just laying out the facts. There were so many times I thought I would die. And so many others I wished I had. I was getting sick of siren sounds and emergency rooms.

Things got both better and worse at the same time after he opened his private studio. Nowadays, he’s not home as much anymore. But when he is, it’s pretty bad. Like the night when I showed up with that ugly bruise on my face? I did hit the sink, but it wasn’t an accident. The time you saw me crying on the train was because I’d found out he’d been sleeping with some of his models. Now you know.

I guess you were right to call me selfish. I used him to get away, and I kind of did the same to you. I never meant to hurt you. Hyung, I really mean it when I say it. You might not have been my first kiss, but I believe you to be my first true love – now that I’m old enough to realize what love truly means... I now see that maybe I shouldn’t have put this weight on your shoulders. I’m sorry.

- Jungkook

 

Namjoon finishes the letter in tears – for entirely new reasons now. There are entirely new flavors of emotion in their anatomy. It feels like someone just pulled out the knife that was stuck in his heart, and now the wound won’t stop bleeding.

He had no idea that it was possible to feel someone else’s pain so vividly. He does cry at movies or while reading touching books, but... this is different; he wishes the paper in his hand was just a piece of fiction. He folds it and slips it back inside the envelope like it came to him before taking a cigarette out of the pack Yoongi left behind. From the couch, his cat opens an eye to throw him a critical look.

“I know, shut up. I’m not the best at coping with stress.”

He grabs his phone to call Jungkook. The boy doesn’t answer so he sends him a text instead.

 

namjoon: hey, can you come over?

 

He receives a reply a few minutes later.

 

jungkook: i'm sorry, i don't think i can.. 

 

namjoon: can i come over then? i really need to see you

 

jungkook: listen, it's not the best timing in the world

 

He nearly gives up when Jungkook surprises him with another message.

 

jungkook: can it wait an hour?

 

namjoon: sure

namjoon: i have nowhere else to be

 

jungkook: okay

jungkook: i hope u still know the address

 

 ~~~

 

 

Ragged clouds obstruct the moon – the radio forecast announced dramatic changes in the weather. He can taste it in the air too. It’s been warm for the past few days, but now, the slightest wind blow makes him shiver as he walks down the alley. Spring is a roller coaster. He’s surprised to hear crickets in the city. Their melody keeps him company until Jungkook appears from behind the metal door of his block.

The thing creaks loudly in the quiet of the night. There is no greeting between them other than a visual caress, a twitch – an intention on both sides to step forward. His breath is divided in small portions that don’t seem to fill his lungs enough whereas Jungkook’s lips part, letting out a sigh to empty his completely.

“Do you want to come up? He’s gone...” He says meekly, as if he's scared Namjoon might yell at him, whareas Namjoon shivers again. Not because of the chill in the atmosphere this time, but because of Jungkook's voice and how it sounds so different from yesterday.

His mind goes blank for a moment. His body takes advantage of the vacancy of his thought and grips Jungkook’s shoulders, pulling him into a bear hug. The impact of their chests draws a gasp out of the brunet. His arms automatically wrap around Namjoon's waist, where they belong.

In response, Namjoon places a hand on the back of his head, squeezing him tighter, closer, trying to contain all of his form in his hold. It’s truly a shame that physical laws don’t allow them to crush bones and become one.

“I thought you wanted to see me so you could break up officially.” Jungkook tells him a few minutes later, as they’re climbing up the stairs. Namjoon still finds it hard to open his mouth and talk.

Jungkook’s apartment is a bit smaller than his, but much more modern-looking and filled with artificial plants. The rooms are mostly white and beige, with splashes of brown here and there, pristine and insincere – it looks like a page from an interior design catalog. There aren’t many elements that personalize the place in a way that makes it homey, besides Jungkook’s collection of video games displayed proudly on a shelf and a framed picture of him and... the other guy.

He takes the picture in his hands to get a better look. The other guy has a chiseled face and a sun-kissed body, nice taste in clothes and all. He is a bit taller than Jungkook, but he doesn’t seem taller than Namjoon. Not many people must be aware of the deceitful nature of his good looks.

“Where is he now?”  

“Some night time shooting, as he likes to call it.”

He drops the picture, more or less on purpose. The glass within the frame shatters at his feet; he can’t say he’s very sorry about it. “Oops.” He says flatly. His eyes meet Jungkook’s surprised ones.

“That’s – maybe you shouldn’t have done that.”

“Will it get him mad?”

“Uhm, yeah.”

“Good.” 

Namjoon starts walking leisurely around the apartment with Jungkook trailing behind him. His presence streams a nervous energy. The bedroom is an uneasy sight – everything is in order except the bed. It’s suggestive enough to make his stomach turn.

“Jungkook, why don’t you leave him?”

“Where am I supposed to go? It’s his apartment. My dad still sends me pocket money but I never get to use it because he has my credit card. That’s why I work at the play center.”

“Wow. So he’s a child predator and a leech? Amazing.”

The brunet lowers his head.

“I guess...”

There is a big mirror on the wall that captures half of the room inside. Namjoon catches a glimpse of something interesting reflected in it: a trophy – the top is shaped like a vintage camera that seems to be made of crystal whereas the base of some type of alloy. “Whose is this?” He asks, springing it from one hand to another.

“Um, you might want to be careful with that... It’s the first award he’s ever won – first place in an urban photography contest a few years back...”

“Huh, that’s quite an accomplishment. Sounds like he really values this thing.”

“Yeah. He does, actually. He never lets me touch it. And freaks out if I go too close...”

Namjoon hums. He gives the trophy one last look before mercilessly tossing it into the mirror. He watches it crack like spiders weaving webs across the surface while a chunk of it falls out and crumbles to the floor like a glass carpet. The trophy is split in two – the crystal camera detaches from the base and the lens chip off.

The room is dead silent for a moment. It makes his blood run cold.

And then, Jungkook lets out a faint laugh.

“What happened to seven years of bad luck?”

Namjoon can see the panic in his eyes.

“Seven years for the owner of the mirror, not the one who breaks it.” He pauses, considering the situation. “Pack your things, we’re leaving.”

“We?”

“Yeah, we – plural personal pronoun in the first person. Let’s go.”

“Great.” Jungkook snorts. “I’m just wondering how the hell I’m gonna explain this mess to him when I get back, you know?”  

“Lucky for you, I’m not letting you spend another night here so you won’t have to.”

“You can’t be serious. I can’t leave.”

“I thought you didn’t love him.”

“I don’t! Maybe I did or – or though I did in the beginning – but I can’t feel anything for this man anymore.”

 “Then what’s the problem?”

 Jungkook opens his mouth as if to say something but decides to bite his tongue instead. He slouches against the wall with a sigh.

 “Listen.” Namjoon goes to cup his cheeks. It hurts him when Jungkook flinches. “I love you. And I know you’re afraid. But you can’t let this continue, Jungkook.”

The brunet stares deeply into his eyes before he swallows hard and speaks again. 

“Where are you even gonna put all of my stuff anyway? You don’t even have a car.”  

Namjoon smiles with his teeth showing. He boops his nose and Jungkook shoves his hand away, nourishing a smile of his own.

 

~~~

 

They pay the taxi driver two times in a row because they can’t fit all of Jungkook’s baggage in one single ride. Namjoon would have asked Jin for help if he wasn’t out of the city with the band – or probably not; he’s not exactly sure how it works – what level of Jin’s friendship he must unlock in order to roll in his car for free whenever.

“What would your landlord say? What would Yoongi-hyung say?”

“My landlord really doesn’t care who lives here as long as we pay rent on time. And don’t remind me about Yoongi. He’s one step away from leaving me for his boyfriend so...”

“Sorry to hear that.”

Jungkook offers a sympathetic smile. He’s sitting on a mountain of suitcases and bags of clothes. His cheeks glow under the soft yellow light of his living room. Namjoon is stretched out on the couch, thinking about how he could just shove his face in them. Neither of them feels like unpacking. Both of them are calmer now, like the waves of the ocean after a storm.

“Do we get to keep Smoochie?”

“We might need to take that one to court.”

Jungkook chuckles and his heart flutters. It is another midnight that catches them together, and more are yet to come. His phone rings, and he doesn’t pick up. Namjoon deletes the number of the caller for him. They laugh and talk till a quarter past 3, and then, they go to sleep together – unbothered and safe.

 

~~~

 

Yoongi takes the news surprisingly well in the morning – possibly because he’s been staying over at Hoseok’s so often lately that he’s already emotionally detached from their apartment.

“You wanna keep Jungkook? I get the cat.”  

They argue over breakfast. Jungkook is sitting there, slurping his cereal, attempting to escape a couple of times. But Namjoon holds him down at the table.

“That’s – that doesn’t make any sense. You’re leaving. It’s not like you’ll get a say in that.”

“It’s okay, hyung, we’ll get a dog.”

Taehyung insists he brings Jungkook along too the next time they all hang out. That aligns with the time the jazz band is invited to play at the opening of a new fancy restaurant downtown. Drinks and desserts are on the house, so after they finish their program, towards the end of the evening, they stick around as clients.

Taehyung and Jungkook seem to have gotten closer. The older throws an arm around his neck with friendly nonchalance a few times during the dinner. They whisper and giggle, and it makes Namjoon happy because Jungkook could use a friend like him – a little more outgoing and on the extroverted side, someone to pull him out of his shell every now and then.  

 He was worried that things would be awkward with Jimin, considering his... big fat crush on him (not his words, Taehyung’s). Things are smooth between him and Jungkook though. Jimin is a really sweet person, making chit-chat each time he catches the boy spacing out, or calling out his name during conversations and asking for his opinion on the matter they’re discussing just to make him feel included.

He must have gotten the message since he no longer pays any lingering stares to Namjoon, but it would be a lie to say that he hasn’t noticed a tinge of regret in his gaze.

Jin really dotes on him. As soon as he finds out his age (“Wow, you’re the youngest of us all. Come here.”) he pinches his cheeks and cooes at him as though he’s a baby. Jungkook dies of embarrassment several times. They also bicker a lot because Jungkook’s playful teasings meet Jin’s argumentative nature.

Hoseok and Yoongi don’t really care as they’re busy making kissy faces at each other. They really are lost in their own world. It must be the soju because Namjoon has never seen Min Yoongi so lovey-dovey before. But then again, that’s probably how he looks like too when he is with Jungkook.

“Your friends are crazy.” The brunet tells him when they return home. Two weeks later, his baggage is still packed and piled up in the middle of Namjoon’s living room. They don’t really have space for all of those clothes and toys and comic books yet anyway. Despite not sleeping there anymore, Yoongi still hasn’t moved his things – mostly because he’s too lazy. It’s pretty funny to have him pop up every now and then in search of something like a t-shirt or a pair of shoes.

“Yeah, friends are crazy.” Namjoon kisses his forehead. “I’m gonna take a shower – wanna join me?”

Jungkook’s eyes grow the size of the plates they’ve eaten from at the restaurant.  

“Uhm, I – uh...”                                               

Namjoon throws his head back, letting out a roaring laugh. “It’s cool.” He ruffles his hair. “One day, when you feel comfortable enough...” He knows trust is earned. And Jungkook’s is fragile at this point. There's a bright side to it all. His lover might not trust him with his body just yet, but he trusts him with about everything else. He trusts him with his heart – he says it all the time. And that is in no way something small. 

It only takes one week to get used to each other’s little quirks and habits. By now, their morning routine is simple: they shower as soon as they wake up (but never together). Jungkook is actually an early bird, so he makes a good replacement for an alarm, especially when Namjoon tends to hit snooze four times in a row. He also makes good coffee – Namjoon doesn’t have the heart to tell him that he doesn’t drink coffee, because coffee has the exact opposite effect of lulling him back to sleep.