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~*~

Saturday, August 27, 2016 – LAX Airport, Los Angeles, California

Beading with sweat in the California summer heat, Yoongi whips off his thick, fleece hoodie and mashes it down on top of the cluster of suitcases surrounding him. Gritting his teeth, he growls into the phone. “Are you shitting me right now?! You knew I was coming weeks ago?!”

“Dude, I know! My boss won’t let me go!” Taehyung’s plaintive whine is suddenly muffled and replaced with muted background conversation. With a loud swish, he returns to the call. “I gotta go. ‘Dis bish’ is having kittens over me being on the phone. There’s a key Duck-taped to the back of the steps, hidden under the bushes. Just put it back when you get in ‘cause I lock myself out on the regular. I promise to pay you back for the cab. Late!”

Yoongi squeezes the phone in his hand and taps it slowly against his slicked forehead. “I knew he would do something like this.” Lifting his head, he scans the lanes of traffic moving through the LAX Arrivals terminal until he spots the cab stand. Gathering the handles of two suitcases in each hand, he lumbers slowly toward the cab line with a symphony of low, frustrated groans and sharp curses.

Shuffling to a stop at the back of the line, he fishes his phone out of his pocket and calls his Mom.

“Yoonie! Are you in LA?” His mother’s voice shrills through the phone with excitement.

“Yea, but Tae left me stranded at the airport.”

“Ugghh,” she complains. “Why am I not surprised? Your brother couldn’t get his shit together with a bucket and both hands.”

Yoongi laughs at the Southern twang and dialect beginning to creep into her once-posh California clip. “You’re starting to sound like a Texan. I bet you’re wearing a gigantic belt buckle right now.”

“Yeehaw and pass me the ketchup.”

“Soooo….” Yoongi hesitates, grinning nervously, as he always does when asking his parents for a favor. “Is it OK if I use the emergency card for a cab?”

“Yea, that’s fine. Let me know when you make it to the apartment, OK? And be sure to kill your brother for me?”

“It would be an honor.” Yoongi laughs at her morbid humor. “Thanks, Mom.”

“No problem. We’re going to fly out there in a couple of months to visit you.”

“If I’m still alive,” Yoongi replies sarcastically, reaching the front of the line.

“It won’t be that bad,” his mother chuckles. “Taehyungie is only a danger to himself.”

Finally, a modern black sedan with “Yellow Cab” lettering pulls to the curb in front of him.

The driver quickly rounds the cab and begins shoving Yoongi’s bags into the trunk. “Where are you going?” he asks curtly.

“Koreatown,” Yoongi replies.

“Call me when you get there,” his Mom reminds him. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Yoongi ends the call and slides into the back seat of the taxi. Scrolling through years-old Facebook Messenger conversations with Taehyung, he gives the driver the exact address of the apartment building and settles in for the ride.

Fifteen minutes later, his phone buzzes in his pocket.

“Sorry about that bro’ bitch,” Taehyung offers. “I told them I needed to leave early today but a bus load of people showed up and my manager lost his mind.”

“It’s fine. But just so you know, Mom and I agreed to end you.”

“Ha… haha… ha.” Taehyung’s voice gets farther away, momentarily, as he switches the phone to his other ear. “How does it feel to be back in the OC?”

“It’s… exactly the same,” Yoongi quips. “Piss-colored smog and Del Taco on every corner.”

“I’m surprised you can still bitch about everything in English,” Taehyung teases. “Your Korean must be insane by now.”

“I was only gone for two years.” Yoongi snorts. “Took forever to get rid of Dad's satoori and the American accent though. People in Seoul were real assholes about that.”

“Yea, well, fuck ‘em. You’re home now.” Taehyung remarks dismissively. “I just cut out for a break but I gotta get back in there. There’s some leftover pizza in the fridge. Help yourself.”

“Wow, thanks for thinking of me.”

“Always, bruh,” Taehyung drawls sarcastically. “See ya later.”

Yoongi drops his hand onto the door’s armrest, utterly exhausted now after Finals week, cleaning out his dorm room and a nearly sleepless fourteen-hour flight. He winces, shifting to his hip in the cab seat. His ass feels numb and bruised from the long flight in a hard seat.

The black onyx mala bracelet circling his wrist scrapes audibly against the door’s armrest when he moves. He pulls his hand into his lap, idly sliding the beads around his arm with the index finger of his opposite hand.

A memento, unearthed from a box of ‘home’ found during his move. A gift from “the neighbor kid” on the day he left for Grad school in Seoul.

“For strength—and confidence,” he announced, closing the clasp around Yoongi’s slight wrist. “And to remind you of…” ‘this’ he implied, taking Yoongi’s other hand in his own, holding his wrists tightly in his hands.

Until now, Yoongi never allowed himself to wear it. It was too personal. Too intimate. Too… sick and crazy and wrong.

But he needed strength and confidence now. Returning home from a less than stellar stint in the Seoul University music program, his confidence was shaken to the core. He would put it away as soon as he got unpacked. And never wear it again.

~*~

Friday, August 8th, 2014 – Neighborhood basketball court, La Palma, California

Yoongi watches “the neighbor kid” emerge from the trees surrounding the park, striding confidently across the faded lines of the basketball court with his hands tucked into the front pocket of a sleeveless jersey. He is much taller than last summer. His face hollowed of residual baby fat, revealing a sharp jawline and wide, incisive eyes. Oddly positioned below these dark and manly features is a small set of bow lips. Soft and pale, pouty and boyish. Around the most ridiculous set of bunny teeth. When he smiles, everyone smiles.

“What the hell?” Yoongi scratches his nails over the basketball hanging loosely in his hands. Why am I standing out here writing poetry over this kid’s lips?

Jungkook smiles, with a row of uneven, pearl-white, bunny teeth glinting in the floodlights of the empty court.

Yoongi clasps his fingers over the ball and pulls it tight against his belly. He takes three steps backward when Jungkook’s stride fails to slow with proximity. Stop. Stop!

A year ago, Jungkook’s family moved from Quebec into the empty house next door. Yoongi’s younger brother, Taehyung, immediately rolled out the welcome wagon for the “neighbor kid”, since he was the only other boy in a neighborhood overrun with girls. The two quickly became inseparable, despite a two-year age difference, and Jungkook often camped out for days at a time in Taehyung’s room while his parents traveled. Yoongi barely noticed the kid, as he was so often a permanent fixture in their house.

Until this summer.

Now, in the month before his seventeenth birthday, vestiges of Jungkook's boyish charm were juxtaposed with sleek, masculine appeal, forming an oddly erotic contradiction. Suddenly, "the neighbor kid" was everywhere. Unavoidable. Yoongi could no longer concentrate when he was in the house.

And he swears that Jungkook purposely brushed his fingers over his hand when they passed on the stairs last week. It was too deliberate. He had to reach across the stairwell to make contact, ghosting three fingers over the back of Yoongi's hand and wrist.

Yoongi scratches the back of his hand and pokes his tongue through his lips, licking timorously at the inside corner of his mouth as he waits for Jungkook to come to a stop. A stop he makes only a scant three inches from Yoongi’s white-knuckled grip over his spherical shield. So close that Yoongi can feel the heat of Jungkook’s sweat-sheened body radiating over his forearms, even in the oppressively hot summer temps.

Jungkook’s eyes lock brazenly with the older man’s, as an appreciative, sideways smile pulls over his ridiculous teeth.

Stifling a responding smile, Yoongi notices Jungkook watching his tongue and quickly zips it back between tightly closed lips. Lately, being around Jungkook felt like being stalked by a black jaguar. And Yoongi couldn’t shake the feeling that he was little more than a downed gazelle under the neighbor kid’s hormonally-charged gaze.

“Shouldn’t you be at home?” Yoongi asks sarcastically. “It’s almost 1.”

“Actually,” Jungkook replies with a slow, smile, “I’m spending the night at your house.”

“So, now, you come to our house to sneak out?”

Jungkook shrugs and nods toward the ball in Yoongi’s hands. “Wanna go for 21?”

“Yea, sure. Since you’ve already blown through curfew.” In desperate need of space, Yoongi dribbles the ball back to the free-throw line and waits for Jungkook to stand aside.

“So, who’s the douche on the Ducati?”

Stunned, Yoongi freezes and mumbles, “Nobody”.

Jungkook lifts his eyebrows with a slow, teasing grin. “I’ve seen him over there a lot this summer. On your balcony.”

“Just a friend,” Yoongi replies with a deep frown. “Why are you watching my house?”

“Your choice or his?” Jungkook asks, glossing over Yoongi’s question.

“Everyone is ‘just friends’ these days.” Yoongi remarks, shaken by Jungkook’s lack of subtlety. He shoots, watching Jungkook leap towards the ball, recovering it gracefully.

“He seems like a douche. You need better friends,” Jungkook replies. With a teasing lilt, he shoots the ball at Yoongi’s chest and says, “Wanna go out some time?”

“What?” The ball slams against Yoongi’s chest, eliciting an involuntary grunt before it bounces off and hits the ground in front of him. By sheer force of will, he drags his eyes away from Jungkook and recaptures the ball in his hands. “Did you just…?”

“Taehyung and I are bro’s for life, but I come over to see you, too.” Jungkook hooks his hand over the elbow of his opposite arm, rubbing his palm slowly over the clammy, sweat-cooled skin. “I’ve been trying to hang out with you since I moved here. But you never really say anything…” He smiles dangerously, settling a laser-focused gaze on Yoongi’s eyes. “You seem cool though. Like someone I could get into.”

He can feel it. A warm, crimson wave inching over his neck and cheeks. Yoongi plants his feet and dribbles a few times to avoid Jungkook’s eyes. “That’s really…” he stumbles over a reply, with his brain completely stuck on Jungkook’s innuendo. There’s no way… Did he really mean it that way…or… “I’m way too old for you.”

Again, he shoots at random, unable to avoid watching Jungkook jog leisurely to recover the ball, muscles rolling lazily under his skin with his damp hair flopping and falling rhythmically over his intense, kohl-lashed eyes.

“Are we going to play, or what?” Jungkook tucks the ball between his arm and hip and walks over to Yoongi’s side. Standing very close—so close that Yoongi would scrape his cheek against those ridiculous bunny teeth if he turned his head—Jungkook tips his head and eyes Yoongi’s backside, pointedly. “Hurry up so I can own your ass.”

An audible exhale is Yoongi’s only outward response to Jungkook’s words. Inside, a buzzy jolt of desire drops from his chest to his dick, sparkling over his lower body and causing him to jerk backward as if stung.

Jungkook reaches for the ball under his arms and steps backward, capturing Yoongi’s gaze. “If I win, we hang out every day until you leave for Korea.”

“I have shit to do,” Yoongi replies quickly. Is he kidding? Silent film footage of gazelles running over the African savannah begin to reel through the back of his mind.

“You made time for that Ducati douche,” Jungkook accuses, cocking his head to the side with obvious challenge.

Yoongi begins to chuckle, huffing ingloriously from the back of his throat through a slack-jawed stare. “You have absolutely no filter.”

“And you have no excuse.”

“Just play,” Yoongi admonishes, holding out his hands for the ball. “We shouldn’t even be talking about this.”