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lightning strikes. they jerk apart, turning in tandem to stare at the crumpled notebook that has sparked where they left it a few feet away. why would you want to marry me anyway?, echoes his voice, crashing over them. why, why, why.

and then he jolts awake, head hitting the table with a smack.

there’s a pair of polished loafers resting six inches from his face, skinny ankles rising out of them disappearing into chequered trousers. the amused hum that greets him has him painfully aware of the beginnings of a headache prickling at his temples. or at least, he can pretend it does.

“falling asleep on the job?”

he doesn’t grant taehyung’s question much more than an uncharacteristic grunt, running a hand through the hair now hanging over his forehead to push it back into place as he gets up to get his things together. he should have done it sooner anyway. his solo shots were done an hour ago and, technically, there was no need to hang around the rented studio space for taehyung to finish like he had. granted it had allowed him the luxury of getting a nap in. it wasn’t like the nap had wound being actually restful either. he might as well have gone home if his mind was just rudely going to bring that up again.

but the thought of going back to his apartment had kept him there, the too-big rooms too empty without hyungsik’s laughter to cut through the quiet. it’s not that his apartment is lonely without his fiancé. he just doesn’t like being there alone lately. it leaves too much room for the memories to cut in.

and if he grins too brightly as he slings an arm around his friend’s shoulder and diverts attention from himself by going immediately for the puppy instead, ducking his head into yeontan and his tiny fluffy body and his excited bark instead, nobody has to know. nobody at all has to know that half his mind still lingers on a ghost of a sensation, the memory of a sandy, sweet-sticky hand clutching his, because it doesn’t matter and he’s absolutely fine. jung hoseok is just fucking peachy.

 

it’s what he repeats to himself as he drives, anyway. his life is the closest thing to perfect, because jung hoseok has made something of himself in the past few years. he has his face on at least three different magazine covers at any given moment and enough air miles to upgrade his seat for the rest of his life, for christ’s sake. that’s practically the definition of successful already, without mentioning the fact that his entourage includes the fashion world’s darlings kim namjoon and kim taehyung. or the fact that the ring currently attempting to blind him with the reflection of the sun was that he personally got to pick from among dozens of choices, right after he was proposed to by the mayor’s son.

there is absolutely no reason for his hands to be clammy where they are clamped around the rental’s steering wheel. absolutely no reason at all.

no reason, that is, until he is parking where his rust bucket of a first car used to rest in the familiar driveway and a head pops up right as he slams the trunk shut, the strap of his bag barely touching his shoulder before a slender hand is wrenching it off again.

“one of my children, as i live and breathe? goodness me, am i still dreaming?”

and that’s enough to crack his shell, laugh crackling out as he ignores the twinge of guilt and pulls the woman into a hug instead. “hi, ma. you love me more than dawon now, right? i came home before christmas and i brought a surprise.”

his mother just laughs at him. “the wedding’s not a surprise, jung hoseok,” she says lightly, dragging him towards the house already. “and we all knew you’d be back sooner or later to tie up your loose ends. maybe i’ll love you more than your sister if you decide your family matters more than the fashion before she does.”

“already did,” he mumbles, “the last campaign was coke.”

he expects her to roll her eyes like she does, smacking the back of his head before she opens the back door to let him in. what he doesn’t expect is how quiet her voice is, how careful, when she asks, “have you seen him yet?”

“like this?” hoseok gestures down himself, at his grey joggers and baggy sweatshirt and bulky sneakers, all loved-in favourites perfect for sleeping in on an incognito flight. “ma, please. you know me better than that.”

 

of all the things in this sad little town that tried to suffocate him nearly a decade ago, the predictability is the worst of all. hoseok can wake up hungover to hell and still tell exactly what day it is just by walking onto the main street.

friday night, for example – because the weekend was all he could spare from his schedule – is the most of obvious at all. it means loud music spilling out of the bar that still sits between the bakery and convenience store, a crush of moving bodies visible in the front window. he doesn’t even need to open the door to know what he will hear—the buzz of comfortable chatter, clinking glasses and, under all of it, the steady threading beat of a thumping bass.

years ago, he had danced to the same music, on the makeshift dancefloor but also on the bar and some memorable laps. tonight, he stalks in like a predator on the hunt, long legs poured into coated black jeans that fit like a second skin and bronzed skin glowing through the thin silk of his shirt, because this is what he knows. this is what he does for a living, so he knows that the pointed black boots elongate his legs and that the shirt barely shies away from sheer and that the open collar and extra button left unclasped draws the eye to the dip of his sternum and the definition of his chest. there may or may not be highlighter dusted along his cheeks and collarbones.

modelling clothes and selling sex appeal is what hoseok does for a living. but the skill with which he avoids the name blinking in cheerful neon over the bar should qualify him for a career in acting too, because by his attitude, nobody in hell would ever be able to tell that he technically shares that name. it’s unfortunate, really, that most people in the bar already know.

he’s just ordered his first drink of the night – a screwdriver because he drinks exclusively those now, ordered bending over perhaps more than necessary – when a familiar giggle has him straightening up immediately, almost subconsciously. a tall, athletic man is standing right behind him and hoseok cannot for the life of him stop gaping because—

jeongguk?”

“hyung! i knew that was you! wow, you’re blond. didn’t expect that. what happened to the red?”

“forget my hair, you’re…a man? you’re a man in a bar? weren’t you just turning 13?”

jeongguk just laughs, rolling his eyes, and the breath returns to his lungs in a whoosh because yeah, that’s expected. bright eyes squinting into laughter and his nose scrunching with it are about as expected as the person who appears under the kid’s shoulder next, using his own shoulder to bully his way under jeongguk’s arm.

“hyung, what are you doing here?”

hoseok’s mouth runs dry. if the small town closing its walls around him is why he left, this right here is why he never came back. eyes that had only ever gazed up at him adoringly are levelled on him now like he is the scum of the earth for ever wanting to get out, for daring to want more and leaving them all behind to get it. there is no warmth to be found in jimin’s entire countenance, and jeongguk’s excitement folds easily under his partner’s displeasure.

“hello, jimin. still together then? good on you.”

he takes a sip of his drink, almost wincing at the sharp vodka before he realizes the conversation he has so neatly walked himself into, just as jimin opens his mouth to say what he knows is coming. he knows it, and it still hits him like cold rain in the face.

“you wouldn’t know, would you, hyung? not too good at keeping things together yourself.”

and seriously? fuck him. fuck all of them. there is a reason he left and this is precisely why. because no matter how much he wanted to be bigger and better and more, there would always be people here who assume that they already know exactly who he is and who he should be, who will try to make his choices for him and control his life and that’s not what he wants. it’s not what he wants at all, even if he had ever wanted anything from these people. the only thing he wants anymore is a stupid signature on some stupid pieces of paper and he’ll be on his sweet way.

“maybe i just didn’t want to. maybe there’s nothing around here that’s good enough,” he snaps back, voice tight with the frustration pulling his strings taut, and realises abruptly that the music has cut off. fuck. bloody shitting fuck, even if he’s not here, that’s his mother on the other end of the bar and hoseok is so fucked the word is starting to lose all meaning.

at least that’s what he thinks until he hears the voice right behind him anyway, and then meaning returns with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball. all he says hears is “good to know, i guess,” and hoseok already knows that there is no way the night will go well.

he knows the voice too well – knows its deep accented cadence as well as he knows his own and knows exactly how to read it, knows just what the low measured tone indicates. he will still turn. he’ll keep the haughty, superior smirk on his face, will let his glass dangle from elegant fingertips and pretend like he doesn’t care a bit, because he doesn’t. he has a good life in the city.

he throws back the rest of his drink, turns around and is promptly beaten at getting the upper hand.

“nice to see you gracing the peasants with your presence, though, husband.”

hoseok feels like he just ingested a fireball.

 

he wakes up to the beep of the coffee machine and, just for a second, the only thing wrong with the picture is that sleeping with his head on the sofa’s arm has given him a crick in the neck and he feels a bit like ass in general. but the blanket tucked up to his chin smells comfortingly like salt and sea and the sofa under his back is just right from years of use and he can hear the whoosh of a breeze through a window and it’s just…it’s really nice.

at least until he opens his eyes and sunlight assaults his poor sensitive eyes, making his stomach churn and his feet stumble as he gets up, his brain catching up to just how much vodka he poured down his throat last night. ugh, this is exactly why he tries not to drink anymore.

he sits down again, closing his eyes and pressing the heels of his palms against them in an inane attempt to hold his head together and keep the hangover at bay. it doesn’t really work, but his head stops spinning as much and he’s pretty sure that’s about as good as it’s going to get anytime soon. besides, closing his eyes has him recalling the last thing he remembers of the night in startling clarity: a person whom he has grown past suddenly, unsurprisingly, all plush pink mouth and flinty dark eyes, miles and miles of pale skin swallowed by dark jeans and dark boots and dark snapback and a fucking leather jacket, strands of midnight black escaping the hat and hanging in his eyes.

hoseok doesn’t remember the last time he saw him with dark hair. he doesn’t remember much past his second drink either though, so he should probably try getting up and figuring out where he is again, because this definitely isn’t his childhood bedroom. he can tell just from the feel of the sofa seat under his butt and the coffee machine. his mum still uses her old-fashioned whistling kettle for everything, says she finds it charming.

except then he does open his eyes and the first thing he sees is an empty fireplace with a wooden mantle over it, the decorations over it exactly what he remembers from nine years ago. there’s the half-burnt candle they had burnt all night that first time they stayed here (wild cranberry and winter spice, he remembers) and the two antique candlesticks his sister got from a thrift store as a joke wedding present and a photograph in its plain black frame right in the center. still in its place of honour. it was still the stupid picture jeongguk took on the stupid beach with his first serious camera, the colours and joy in it bright enough to negate any need for a fancier frame.

watching the figures is like getting a fist in the gut, because hoseok knows. he knows every single thing about those two people in the photograph, almost like they’re characters he’s read about in a book and fallen in love with instead of real people he once knew. yoongi’s eyes are scrunched shut with the force of his laughter, gums on full display in a hiccupping laugh that he can still hear, dyed mint hair a startling match to the ocean in the distant background. he knows that face better than his own, knows that despite the slender neck and the dainty ankles revealed by cuffed jeans, there is a deceptive strength in those bones that could hold up even an idiot like him.

it was him that couldn’t hold the weight. even then, he was curved into yoongi, face tucked against his neck and not much of his face visible behind the fading orange tint of his hair. he had been trying to get into a proper pose for the picture, lips pressed to his newly-minted husband’s cheek in a fittingly cheesy display, but they couldn’t stop laughing. they couldn’t stop laughing all day, even when night fell and the boys staggered home and they lit the stupid winter candle and fell to the sofa in a tangle of limbs.

hoseok’s throat hurts with the taste of a left-behind love, even before he feels the hand on his shoulder.

“ibuprofen’s on the table. coffee?”

“yeah, thanks,” he mutters, and is horrified at how hoarse he sounds.

it’s probably just the lack of sleep and the drinking. it’s fine. he’s fine.

yoongi continues talking, voice fading as he walks towards the kitchen.

“your stuff’s on the kitchen counter.”

hoseok walks over to see his phone, his keys and the folder he had dropped off in the mailbox the day before, all neatly piled on the counter that divides the kitchen and living room. the folder is lying open, neat signature in blue ink standing out against all of the black type.

“you signed it.”

“thought it was about time. i see you upgraded.”

he looks down at his left hand, at the diamond-encrusted band on his left finger, and is hit with another wave of nausea. “yeah, i…yeah. i guess. thanks for letting me crash.”

the grunt yoongi answers with almost has him smiling before he elaborates, “didn’t have a choice, did i? had to get you out of there.”

yoongi’s voice is soft the way it always is after sleep, syllables slurred a little more than normal. it makes a deceptive calmness settle under his skin despite the detached tone to the words, familiarity painting them softer than they are meant to be. in the recesses of his heart, behind all the urgency and guilt and awkwardness, hoseok aches.

“shit, what did i say?”

yoongi slides him a mug of coffee, just the right amount of milky, and he gulps.

 “you should call seokjin.” oh god, he doesn’t even remember seeing seokjin last night. everything is blurry and awful and the last memory he has of his friend is the last time they played beer pong at a house party, too loud and obnoxious and laughably awful at the game. hoseok groans, taking a sip of the coffee. a spoonful and a half of sugar, just right for him. it tastes like sawdust in his mouth.

he's thinking of comfort when he says it; of the tiny ball of warm fuzziness that could sometimes be even better than yoongi. “holly sleeping? i don’t hear him.”

yoongi’s mouth flattens into a line so flat, hoseok doesn’t think he’s ever seen it before. “he’s dead. died three years ago. you weren’t here.”

 “jesus— fuck. sorry. i’m just. i'm so sorry, about that but also, i was an asshole last night.”

 “you don’t remember it, what are you sorry for? we’re fine anyway. always knew you were meant for bigger and better. and we’re done now, so you can just run along and get on with your life like you wanted to all along. congratulations, by the way.”

it feels ugly to thank him for that, but hoseok does. he thanks his husband for congratulating him on his engagement and in his head, he hears a child’s quiet so i can kiss you anytime i want.

 

hoseok waits until yoongi drives away. and then he calls namjoon. yoongi has left him settled next to the rocking chair on the stoop, hoseok waving away his offers to drive him home in return for texting his mother for a ride. he leans against a banister as he sits on the steps, pinkie swirling along the grain of the wood as the phone rings.

the minute he is greeted with the background chatter of a hundred people and a cheerful “hoseok! what’s up?” and it feels like his ribs creak and expand for the first time since he got to this godforsaken town.

joon,” he mumbles, and a second later, the background noise cuts out and he knows that namjoon has just shut the door to his office, soundproofed glass walls cutting out the sounds of his company at work.

“you okay?”

“he’s signed. he signed the papers and our dog died and i can’t be here anymore. i can’t— i don’t want to be here and i can’t talk to tae about it because he introduced me to hyungsik and i haven’t told either of them but i can’t. it’s too much.”

“it’s going to be okay, buddy. you’re okay.”

hoseok draws a shuddering breath. “i’m okay,” he repeats.

“you love your life and we all love you. it’s all going to be okay.”

“yeah. yeah, you’re right. thanks, namjoon.”

“no problem,” he says lightly. “now, do you want to talk about it, or do you want hear about the sustainable and animal-friendly fibres we’re developing to imitate suede instead?”

he closes his eyes, breathes in the distant smell of salt on the air. smiles and says, “tell me.”

 

he winds up walking home instead, taking the backroads and shortcuts to make the most of the solitude. his mother greets him in the kitchen this time, standing over the stove with a violently patterned apron on and her hair curling at the temples from the steam. hoseok inhales deeply, grins at the immediately recognizable aroma. “kimchi-fried rice?”

she doesn’t look up, just hums, “mhm.” alright, then. not in the best mood, his ma. “yoongi called last night.”

of course he did. hoseok groans. “sorry about that. everything went a bit…not well.”

“just like your marriage, hm? it’s fine, you’re a grown man. go wash your hands.”

he almost laughs at the irony.

hoseok’s mother adores her children, lives and breathes for them in the way only a small-town housewife who has devoted her life to her family can. thinking of it like that is shitty, but it’s also the truth. both he and dawon are painfully aware of it, which is why they avoid visiting much, because the only thing more smothering than overexposure to their family is the overwhelming guilt that comes with feeling that way.

min yoongi, of course, is the exception. his mother loves him, maybe even more than her children. he, unlike both of them, had no problems with staying. he, unlike hoseok, did not run away in the death of night to live for months on his sister’s shitty sofa in the city before he caught a break. he did not prefer lonely desperation and cheap ramen week after week over the comforts of their tiny universe. hoseok doesn’t know how to apologize for that – isn’t even sure if he wants to, if he’s honest – but he definitely has to live with his family taking yoongi’s side over his more often than not.

(and it’s not like he disagrees. hell, even he would take yoongi’s side, if he had a choice. it’s just that the choice was between their marriage and his entire life—which wasn’t much of a choice at all when it came down to it.)

he does wash his hands as ordered to, but he also winds up collapsing onto his bed. the very fancy jeans that were meant to impress last night are really kind of a nuisance now and he should change out of them. instead, he settles for digging his phone out of the pocket instead. he has a fiancé he hasn’t remember to check up on yet.

3 missed calls, 9 text messages.

hoseok skims through the texts, ignoring the missed calls. the last message arrived only a couple of hours ago, and the tone of it surprises a laugh out of him.

[10:42] hyung-sik
okay so i called taehyung because i was worried and he says you went home but i thought that was a big no???? idgi call me back

[13:28] hoseok
just had some loose ends to deal with before the wedding, baby xx how’s work?

[13:32] hyung-sik
GOOD. how are you?

[13:33] hoseok
i’ll be better once we’re married and done with this whole business

[13:36] hyung-sik
that might be sooner than you expect ;) i’ll call you later! love you, baby <333

[13:36] hoseok
you too x

 

despite how thoroughly the necessity for it has been impressed upon him, apologizing to kim seokjin is not something one can approach lightly. hoseok has mostly pieced together what happened the night before, with a little thanks to yoongi and a lot of thanks to his coffee, and it is bad. he’s not sure he’s ever fucked up this badly with seokjin before.

see, there is a funny thing about being deliberately hurtful about people. a stranger can say the meanest, most horrible thing possible to you, and it’s possible to brush it off just because of the knowledge that they don’t know you and have no business passing judgement. with someone who does know you, however, even the smallest slight can feel tumultuous if it comes at the wrong moment. hoseok has found a brand-new appreciation for this fact since he started appearing somewhat regularly in tabloids, which is why he’s even more ashamed of the kind of things he apparently said in the bar.

also, kim seokjin is not an easy person to apologize to. as evidenced by the heavy door that is promptly slammed shut on his face, narrowly missing his fingers on the frame.

hoseok groans, letting his head thump against the wood. “seokjin, come on! you know i didn’t mean any of it.”

“fuck off.” even muffled through the door, there is no mistaking the fact that seokjin is pretty much ready to bite his head off. lovely.

“come on, please?”

“no.”

well, he did try not to pull out the big guns immediately. he runs a hand through his hair, then raises his voice loud enough that he’s sure the neighbours can hear. “all of it was a lie and you know it! you, kim seokjin, are a beautiful human being, the most hilarious and handsome man who is not even the tiniest bit annoying! even kim namjoon would be positively honoured to know you and you are in no way a small-town hick with a bad bleach. in fact, you are miles better looking than any of my model friends!”

slowly, the door creaks apart. hoseok breathes a sigh of relief. “come on, please,” he murmurs, voice a quiet confession between the two of them this time. “you know i was just being stupid and defensive that night, because nobody could even come close to you, jin-hyung.”

an imperious sniff and then: “true. i am the best friend you’ve ever had and not married.”

hoseok bursts into laughter.

and that is all it takes.

seokjin flings the ornate door to his ridiculously beautiful behemoth of a house open and pulls him into a hug and, just for that moment in time, nothing else matters. a lot in hoseok’s life has ceased to make a lot of sense since hyungsik proposed and kickstarted the events that have led him here, but not this. a relationship bound over two skinny schoolchildren deciding that sharing a syllable in their name somehow bonded them together for life meant more than that. seokjin meant more than that.

even with his terrible puns and inescapable vanity, there has always been comfort to be found in seokjin, who is a little silly and a lot beautiful and kind of scarily perceptive, who is the first person to know when you need an awful joke to crack you up and when you just need to lie prone against his shoulder and pretend the world doesn’t exist. it’s one of the things hoseok misses most, if he’s honest. he has friends in the city – amazing people like namjoon and taehyung and hyungsik – but nobody fits quite like these people he has grown with, who fit him as closely as his mother’s cooking. because sure, he had needed a break from it all, but never from these people. not from seokjin or jeongguk or jimin. and not really from yoongi, just a little.

except he doesn’t have to think about any of that, because seokjin is kind of awesome. he always has some kind of culinary epiphany bothering him when he’s not at the bakery or the theatre, which means finding a strange but possible delicious experiment ongoing in his kitchen is pretty much normal. hoseok finds himself back in a place he’s been a hundred thousand times before: propped up on the island counter in the kitchen, feet tapping against the cupboard doors under it in a way he knows will annoy seokjin eventually and both of them chattering along at lightspeed.

they’re so invested that he almost misses his phone buzzing on the counter. if it hadn’t been for seokjin turning off his hand mixer at that exact moment, he wouldn’t have bothered, but jin sees the contact image on the screen and raises an eyebrow, and well. he has to answer now, doesn’t he.

a deep breath greets him as he answers the call and presses the phone to his ear, and hoseok knows already that hyungsik is about to severely try his patience. not that he’s ready for anyone else to know that.

“what’s wrong,” he says, voice kept carefully neutral, characteristically bright.

“uh, so my mum is very politely suggesting that maybe we should have the wedding soon, to have everything wrapped before the election cycle and all.”

the vague wariness behind his temples spikes. “how soon?”

by the end of the month. but it wouldn’t be too much work for us or anything, because she’s sending down one of her best assistants to help you out, and she can liaise with the planner and take care of all of that for us.”

hoseok is distantly aware that seokjin is eyeing him warily and that his mouth has folded into the displeased moue yoongi has been alternatively mocking and cooing over since they were seven. “when?”

the apology in his voice speaks before his words do: “today.”

 

after that, the dominoes (of disaster, naturally) seem to topple absurdly fast. it’s like they were just waiting for the signal and now they’re all coming for him. he has barely hung up on hyungsik, was about to tuck his phone back into his pocket actually, when he notices a blur of blue hovering over the edge of the hilariously bougie hedge bordering the kim house.

he doesn’t even notice seokjin joining him at the kitchen window until a voice ghosts over the shell of his ear, too loud to really count as a whisper despite the attempt at subtlety. “did you bring a stalker to my garden?”

hoseok leans back against his chest, not sure whether to laugh or cry. “i think that is mayor park’s cavalry arriving. hyungsik said his mother’s sending an assistant, but i’m honestly leaning more towards spy.”

“excellent!”

with an excited clap of his hands that honestly scares hoseok a little, seokjin leaves the room. he vaguely hears the main door being flung and hurries after his friend to find him marching purposefully towards the offending shrubbery.

a woman ducks out behind it before he can say anything, however, looking remarkably official for somebody found ducking behind foliage to spy on a stranger. there's a stray leaf stuck in her long sweep of teal hair, but her tailored all-black ensemble screams city slicker in a way that hoseok fervently hopes is not the image he gives off around here. she looks like hoseok wants to feel sometimes on the inside, though, pulled together and pressed sharp in a way that says that she is completely in control. it's honestly a little scary, considering she can duck behind a hedge and still look so cool.

seokjin is already leaning over the woman, trying to use height to his advantage. it doesn’t really work.

“can we help you?”

“shin suran. nice to meet you, mr. —?” she sticks out a hand and hoseok notes that her nails are painted an unexpected navy, fingers encrusted with a multitude of rings. it reminds him a little of yoongi’s collection, which immediately makes him feel very stupid naturally, and all in all, by the time seokjin is shaking the proffered hand and inviting her inside, he’s still feeling rather out of his depth.

of course, he doesn’t need to worry about a thing like that with someone like seokjin. minutes after the woman walks in and is offered a cup of tea, her crisp business-like tone is interrupted to make way for seokjin’s tomfoolery.

hoseok is vaguely – queasily – aware that this woman (call me suran, she’d said) wants to know more about him, but he can’t bring himself to do it. he can’t bring his father and his mother and their old crumbling loved-in home and expose them to what makes up his new life. this might have been a place he wanted distance from, but he can’t just expose it like that. he can’t even expose himself; distantly, as if he’s looking in on himself from far away, hoseok is aware that his visage has shut down, morphed into the sharp cold persona he falls into on the runway, all angles and unapproachable arrogance.

and maybe it’s testament to their friendship that seokjin knows exactly what to do with that. he knows, without any more indication than hoseok’s shuttered expression, that he can’t give suran what she wants, because seokjin slings an arm around hoseok’s shoulders and beams at her. explains that they’re cousins and they live together and would she like a tour of the house?

suran squints, suspicious. they probably make a very suspicious picture, to be fair. hoseok tucked under his taller friend’s arm and leaning into his body, looking defensive as hell and tugging jin closer with an arm around his waist is probably exactly the sort of thing she is supposed to report to mrs. park.

“yep.” he pops the p, loud and obnoxious. “just two dudes in love and living together. platonically, though, probably.”

seokjin smacks an equally loud and obnoxious kiss to his cheek and ruffles his hair and hoseok’s cool façade cracks, making way for cackling laughter.

 

later, as he walks home after directing suran to the only inn in town, he can’t keep the grin off his face. even though he loves his friends in the city to bits, hoseok can’t remember the last time he laughed like this, cackling and howling and dissolving into giggles the second they think they’re done.

he hasn’t actually laughed this hard since he and seokjin tried to learn beatboxing in high school actually and spent a week choking on laughter and spit alike, actually. his face still hurts a little, but in a good way. in the best way.

in a way that only feels warmer as he lets himself in through the backdoor to find the house mostly asleep, just a lamp casting a warm glow in the living room. for a moment, he leans against the frame of the kitchen door, watching his father. the perfect picture of a professor, he’s settled into the squishy wing chair by the empty fireplace, perusing a giant tome as his childhood record player humming nina simone in the background. he still leans on the right armrest, probably subconsciously because the left was the one where hoseok always perched at night to beg for stories, and the realisation hits him with a pang in the heart. nine long years he’s been gone, and his parents still make space for him exactly where he’s left.

hoseok knows it should feel like a trap, but instead, it just feels like a piece of home that has been waiting for him all along. he takes his place.

on closer inspection, what he had judged to be a book is actually a thick, leather-bound photo album. the first image on the page open is old, from before his dad got the nicer camera, gone almost sepia-toned with image: a boy with a too-large head and tiny suspenders, stand on top of steps carved into a cliff face. even then, the pose had carried a note of sass, grin bright, and he realises with a start that he almost remembers that day. he had tripped on the beach and dawon had shared her ice-cream with him and then they had tried to build a sand castle with their mum and failed miserably.

it had also been the first day they had gone to the beach after moving there and he had met yoongi.

the evidence is right there, when his father flips the page and casts hoseok a quick glance he probably thinks is imperceptible. they're a dogpile of limbs and laughter in the photograph, him and yoongi and baby holly. he'd only been a puppy then, a fluffy mass of energy and fur. yoongi had only had him for a week or so and was already in love and, by the end of the day, so was hoseok.

“that was a good dog.” his dad’s voice sounds loud after the stillness, just nina and the flipping of the pages.

his heart feels heavy again. “yeah. he really was.”

there are new dogs he loves in the city too – his sister’s puppy mickey and monie and little tannie who is basically the group child by now – but apparently, the mins are just an unforgettable family. nothing ever really tops them.

but then his father asks, “how’s yoongi doing?” and hoseok has to laugh.

“i don’t know, dad, you tell me. you guys are the ones who keep up with him. i'm just here for a divorce.”

“how’s that working out for you?”

“mailed the papers to my lawyer on my way to seokjin-hyung’s and hyungsik’s mother wants to move the wedding up to, like, two and a half weeks away. it’s going fine.”

the older man hums, patting his son’s knee. “if you say it is, then it is. i know your ma likes yoongi a lot and can be hard on you sometimes, but you know she’s just sad her kids are so far away, right?”

“yeah, i know.”

“good. because we know we raised two kids with good heads on their shoulders too and we trust you to make the right choices, no matter what they are for you. your mother doesn’t have to like you leaving, but if it’s good for you and your career and happiness, then that’s just the way it is, kiddo. we're happy for you.”

there is something thick in his throat suddenly and hoseok doesn’t know how to swallow. instead, he puts an arm around his father and leans his head against his shoulders.

he taps one of the photos on the page, him and yoongi at fifteen and sixteen respectively, awkward and skinny and folded together as they lie passed out on the sofa together on new year’s day after sneaking out for a party the night before. “even if i'm not this kid anymore?”

  1. jung chuckles, nudging his head against his son’s. “still our kid, buddy.”

closing his eyes and curling close, he says, “thanks, dad,” and lets proximity show the rest.

 

under the decades old dinosaur-patterned coverlet on his childhood bed, hoseok lies awake thinking of those children they had been. in some ways, he feels almost immeasurably old now. his job is long hours and close scrutiny and the city has never felt like it perfectly fits him. once, he had been new there and excited beyond belief, and now he’s just used to it and comfortable, but being home makes him realise how there is nothing there that makes him feel unravelled like hanging out in seokjin’s kitchen or next to his dad in their cushy little living room does.

there are incredible people he knows and loves in the city, but he’s met most of his friends through work and his relationship with hyungsik is horribly adult. he loves them, and they him, but seokjin knows he cries on rollercoasters and nearly pissed himself once in a haunted house. jimin knows of the one time they had gotten drunk together and gotten their ears pierced, only for him to take his out before his dad saw him the next day. jeongguk had a crush on his sister, even, when she was twenty and home for christmas and he was fifteen and hilariously awkward.

going on serious adult dinner dates is nice and he feels very grown up and elegant doing it, but being here is making him feel like that isn’t enough. like being co-parents to a dog and getting stoned on the weekends and laughing so hard his stomach hurts is somehow more fulfilling, when it isn’t. it shouldn’t. it’s just the solitude making him think that way, probably, his parents asleep in their bedroom and the house sepulchral and silent otherwise.

the thoughts are too much to deal with, especially on too little sleep and the slightest hints of a jetlag, so he gets up and feels around in the cupboard for something that feels like a sweater, a little touched at how his mother has kept his closet full and organised honestly. he pulls on the first vaguely chunky knitted lump he encounters and slides his feet into ancient trainers and slips out the backdoor again to wander out towards the main street.

it's as dead as he expected, of course, but at least he can hear the distant crashing of waves if he tries a little and the breeze wafting up from the beach is frigid enough to have him walking faster. a warm glow of light is diffusing the dimness down the street and he follows until he reaches a familiar little side-street and finds himself outside a new coffee shop that he’s never seen before.

huh, last he had checked, the place had been a dance studio that had closed in his senior year, putting an end to him and jimin hanging out there together. now, through the front window, he sees a dimly lit place fitted with lamps and squashy sofas. opening the door lets soft music drift out that all reminds him of how he’d found his father earlier that night.

he walks in and orders lavender tea at the counter and then turns around to look around for a place to sit. the café is mostly empty, but he still finds his eyes drawn to the glow of a laptop screen in a dark corner, a tousled dark head half-huddled in an oversized green turtleneck bent over it. he walks over.

“that sweater looks awfully familiar, hyung.”

when yoongi looks up, the pink in his cheeks matches his mouth and his hair is sticking up in the front like he’s been tugging it. hoseok is hopelessly endeared.

yoongi gathers the spread of bag, jacket, beanie, earphones to empty the half of sofa he’s left unoccupied, patting the orange cushion when he’s done. “come sit, hoseok.”

and hoseok, well. maybe he had been planning on going home before, but he can’t very well do that now, can he? in the interest of politeness and because yoongi hasn’t been anything but perfectly good to him since he’s been here, the least he can do is sit down and drink his damn tea.

so he does, sitting down and curling his leg up between them and tip-tapping the fingers of his free hand against his knee. “still writing for the paper, hyung?”

“yeah, something like that.” yoongi powers his laptop down and shuts the lid, leaning back in his own corner of the sofa. “couldn’t sleep?”

“just feeling a bit—”

“—restless, yeah,” yoongi finishes, “i remember. always needed somebody to play with your hair when you were like that.”

hoseok feels both seen and naked all at once. the only thing that will save him now is distraction, probably. he tugs on the too-long cuff of yoongi’s sweater. “is this mine?”

“’s mine now.”

“so it is mine.”

“not anymore. what do they say again? finders keepers, hoseokie.”

“i'm not sure that’s how it works, min yoongi,” he retorts primly.

yoongi puts a hand to his heart, face pulling into a pout. “did you just call me min yoongi? wow, what a cruel world.”

“sorry sorry, i didn’t mean that, hyung. i meant yoongi-hyung. promise, it just slipped out.” but he’s laughing as he says it, folding over with the force of it. “i can buy your next drink to make up for it?”

yoongi’s shoulder nudges his. “i bet you say that to all the boys,” he says darkly, and hoseok lets out an involuntary cackle at the tone he uses. he doesn’t know if he expected to see chastisement in the other’s gaze, but he finds only warmth and mischief and feels it settle under his skin.

the sloshy, liquid feeling he had become home to in the past few years fades remarkably quickly in yoongi’s presence, settling into the calm of the ocean early in the morning, when the tide is pulling out and gulls are crying in the distance and everything is still and crisp and wonderful. like this, hoseok doesn’t know how he could ever leave this place.

it slips out, just like that. there’s a lull in the conversation and he breathes out, “sorry,” rubbing a palm down his face like he can wipe the years away. when he glances over, there is a rueful twist to yoongi’s mouth and the years stretch between them with no bridge in sight.

there's too much unsaid, too long that he’s been gone with no contact except the half dozen time he mailed back the fucking divorce papers, but somehow, it’s still a light comfort when yoongi says, “i know.”

“you were good to me and i should never have—”

“—i know,” yoongi cuts him off sharply. “let it go now.”

it's quieter after that. they hang out long enough that the skinny student hanging out behind the counter stops glaring blearily at them for making noise and hoseok can hear his mum moving about as he’s finally dropping off.

he wakes up the next morning to his phone vibrating right next to his head, a received text message gleaming on the lockscreen:

[06:42] hyung-sik
coming down early to help out! see you at noon

hoseok grimaces and buries his face in his pillow again.

 

back when they first decided they were going to be together forever, young and in love and a little stupid with both, they hadn’t thought about things like sexuality and careers and adulthood. those were to come later. back then, they had just wanted to spend all their time together with this person who still felt new and was exciting and wonderful and made everything okay. the first list had come when hoseok was nine and yoongi had decided he wanted to write everything interesting down.

his uncle had sent him a little navy blue moleskine journal to celebrate his decision to be a writer for his tenth birthday and yoongi had been obsessed with it. a stray kumamon pen was pulled out of a hoodie pocket, and they had written it right there on the beach, trading it back and forth and agreeing on the last point: hoseok was going to marry yoongi and have him forever.

at the last moment, yoongi looked up and asked, “why would you want to marry me anyway?”

hoseok put his hands around his neck and let their noses brush. “so i can kiss you anytime i want.”

it shouldn’t have felt so much like a promise, but it did. it felt like forever when they said it.

now, it feels like a joke.

 

thanks in part to suran being exactly as terrifyingly competent as she appeared to be, planning the wedding is almost simpler than it was to sign some papers in the courthouse and have a kbbq party with their close family and friends. he just sends her ideas and she makes it all materialise like she’s basically glinda the good witch. after a week and a half with her, hoseok is convinced she could conquer the world with a few quick swipes on her ever-present tablet without shifting a single strand of her perfect styled hair.

it doesn’t give him a lot of opportunities to wander around town, but hoseok is fine with that. he hasn’t ventured into downtown since the night he ran into yoongi and anyway, he’d rather spend hours pouring over the options he’s been forwarded from various designers with seokjin hovering over his shoulder and offering helpful commentary. exploring the town and finding out everything that’s changed feels… indigestible.

of course, not long after he’s had the thought, suran decides she has had enough of him disrupting her process and banishes him from the venue, the largest estate close enough to town to be considered appropriate from the wedding. with nothing better to do, hoseok ducks into the first side street he sees to avoid running into yet another acquaintance and wanders into the bookstore he finds there.

the voices are immediately recognizable amidst the background din of excited chatter, two contrasts he’s been hearing for most of his life; one deep and low and smoothly slurring over the accented syllables and the other pitched higher and brighter and perpetually trying to charm something out of you. yoongi and jimin.

hoseok feels a little bit like the world’s greatest turd ducking behind a shelf, but he still pushes aside an alarmingly hefty copy of les misérables to make space to peer through to the other side. yoongi is sat cross-legged on the floor and surrounded by children, looking so small and soft in his hoodie and overgrown hair that hoseok almost coos aloud at the image.

his attempts to silence himself must not work very well because jimin looks up sharply anyway, finding him peaking through with an alarming laser focus. right then. there's no way backing away will help him now but he tries valiantly anyway, carefully stepping away and ducking into a different aisle. he's holding up a giant photographer’s book in front of his face when he’s cornered by a tiny, terrifying force of nature and almost drops it in alarm.

jimin doesn’t even wait for him to speak, just crosses his arms and leans up into his space. hoseok misses the smiley veritable child he had left behind nine years ago, as soft and pretty as his candy floss hair. angry jimin is a lot, especially when hoseok’s mind is spazzing on him and thinks he probably deserves it a little.

“what are you doing here?” he says and hoseok subconsciously holds the book up between them.

“just, you know, browsing. what are you doing here?”

jimin squints like he can’t figure out why hoseok is being so terribly dense. “i own the place, dimwit.”

 “excuse me?” hoseok bristles.

“what do you think you’re doing, hoseok?”

“nothing! what the fuck is your problem—”

a burst of giggles distracts him. it drags his gaze back to the reading circle where yoongi has his face scrunched and the children around him are rapt with attention, most of them laughing. hoseok can physically feel his expression soften.

that,” jimin hisses, pointing right at his face. hoseok swallows.

“right, sorry. ‘s just cute.”

“i know.” jimin rubs the back of his neck, an easy nervous tell, his tone gentler now. “it’s annoying how cute it is. but, hyung, you can’t do that anymore. you've hurt him enough.”

“yeah.” he hands jimin the book, decides to risk his life and ruffles his hair. “you’re right, i'm going. it's good to see you though, jiminie.”

 

hoseok heads home, takes the least time possible to change into running shorts and sneakers, and hits the beach. he jogs his way there and is running by the time he hits the sand, earphone plugged into his ears and base pounding through his blood.

in another part of town, a rather grumpy man is buying his regular afternoon americano and turns around to join the waiting line, only to see a stranger in the line behind him. he recognizes him immediately and decides not to say anything, except the man notices him looking and decides to speak to him anyway.

“hey, do you know jung hoseok?” the stranger asks.

“nah, not the one you’re looking for,” he says.

 

it isn’t that hoseok has forgotten the text he had received that morning. it’s just that he went back to sleep and put it out of his mind until he’s walking up the beach with his soaked tank in hand, panting just a bit, when he sees the two figures approaching and thinks, jesus fucking christ alive.

even from the distance, there’s no mistaking them. yoongi's hair is tucked up under a backwards snapback this time, black and white to match the full-sleeved t-shirt he’s wearing with shorts, and hyungsik towers him, tall and sleek in his blazer and cropped slacks, sunlight glinting in his highlights. the fading light of the late afternoon sun throws their differences in sharp relief, sharpening his fiancé’s sharp angular features while highlighting the pale gentle softness of his husband.

hoseok feels sick, and it’s definitely not because he went running on an empty stomach.

the second thing he notices is that yoongi is talking the way he always does once he gets going, but there is a tense undertone in his voice that is clearly noticeable even in the little of their conversation that carries over to him. it’s like he’s testing hyungsik. not like he’s angry or challenging or mistrustful, because yoongi is colder when he’s like that, but just curious and maybe a little amused.

“he’s a local hero around here, ‘course,” he’s saying, “people think they still see old fuzz the cat from time to time, scorched tail and all. he's a little skittish around humans now. and that’s when kids started calling him smokey hoseokie.”

“because he set fire to a cat and a bank?” hyungsik laughs, and the clear lovely sound of it carries over to where hoseok’s frozen still. “that's quite a story.”

“yeah, he was quite a boy.”

“what happened to him?”

yoongi looks right at hoseok as he answers him: “what do you think happened? apparently, he married some loser right out of high school and regretted it ever since.”

 

“well, aren’t you just gorgeous? are you sure you want to be marrying our hoseokie?” is the first thing his mother says when she meets hyungsik and then proceeds to pull him into a positively mortifying conversation about her kids’ embarrassing childhood habits. hyungsik goes along gamely. hoseok hides his flinch behind the grin he shoots his dad, because that right there is a relief. his mother likes hyungsik even though yoongi is like a second son to her, which means this can work. he doesn’t need to second-guess his marriage, because his mother wants the best for him, and if both his parents can accept hyungsik, that means hoseok has made the right choice.

he doesn’t think he’s ever liked a man in this way anyway. when he left town, it was because he felt too small here and thought he could make his way in the city. he never did get to start a career as a professional dancer like he’d wanted to, but one of his hundreds of failed auditions did turn into a casting and it all worked out in the end. now, he has a job where he feels successful and seen and a relationship where he feels like one half of a whole.

they're a little too similar at first glance: both sharp and cold and beautiful to look at but smiling warm and laughing brighter when engaged. they try to be kind, wind up keeping late hours and tend to focus on work with a single-minded intensity. they work, in a way he hadn’t expected when taehyung had introduced them at some industry party.

they work so well, in fact, that hoseok’s mother offers hyungsik the guest room and – when he refuses because he made alternate arrangements, thank you so much, mrs. jung – she tells him to just call her mum and gives him a hug that’s definitely warmer than any she’s given hoseok since he got there. it's honestly a little embarrassing, but apparently hyungsik being a tall, handsome, charming ceo does wonders for his reputation in the jung household.

it's a little unfair of him to call it that, maybe, because he also looks at hoseok like he’s something beautiful and precious. but—he doesn’t know. he lets his fiancé fold him close and hug his tight before he leaves and doesn’t know why it feels off.

there's a bonfire on the beach, some spring thing he’s long forgotten about, and hyungsik has videocalls and meetings he needs to handle and hoseok thinks he’s spinning out of control. he thinks he’s really spinning out of control when he answers the relentless banging on his bedroom door thinking it’s his mother and finds kim taehyung instead.

he slams the door shut and leans against it and counts backwards from ten slowly. when he’s done, he gingerly calls out, “tae?”

there’s a chirpy, “yes, hyung? you gonna let me in?”

hoseok opens the door. “what the fuck.”

and the thing is, taehyung is beautiful. he’s honestly a little ethereal with how stunning he is, all cheekbones and eyebrows and stardust hair and enthusiasm. if he wasn’t a model, he’d probably be a wildly famous artist or performer or maybe even a witch and he’d kill it at every single possible lifestyle choice. but as is, he has taken the time to track down his very stupid friend and the first thing he does when he sees him is bodily attach himself to hoseok’s side like a particularly cuddle koala. hoseok's heart could burst.

“heard you weren’t having the easiest time of it.”

“who told you something like that?”

“namjoon.”

“that bitch.”

and later:

“i don’t know what i’m doing anymore, taehyungie.”

“you’ll be okay, hyung.”

 

that night, after the longest time, hoseok sweeps his hair back and tucks it under a flipped-back snapback, then pulls on an ancient maroon t-shirt and tiny wildly printed shorts and the tangle of silver necklaces he stopped wearing when he moved. it’s definitely a look, one he hasn’t worn in nearly a decade, but it doesn’t look so bad, even now.

besides him, taehyung has somehow managed to simultaneously charm the socks off his parents and make everything in his life feel a thousand times better, just by existing, and is now proceeding to make pyjamas look like couture. it's a floral top and bottoms, possibly from a women’s line and probably designer, and taehyung honestly makes the entire ensemble look kind of androgynous and high fashion and too classy for the party. it makes his mother’s eyes widen just the slightest bit when they finally make their way downstairs.

his father whistles low and slow, saying, “well if it isn’t new york fashion week, right here in our stairwell.” taehyung curtsies.

hoseok would think that his day can’t possibly get stranger if he tries, but then the first people they run into on their way to the drinks table are jimin and jeongguk. the former definitely has a hand in the latter’s back pocket and shows no signs of removing it. he's also wearing a shirt that hoseok knows for a fact belongs to jeongguk, a terrible unironic piece with van gogh’s self-portrait and a truly embarrassing quote on the back.

he raises a very sharp eyebrow at them as they approach. “friend from the city?”

“yep, i'm taehyung. does your shirt really say can’t hear you, i gotta gogh?”

“maybe. are you wearing glitter on your eyes?”

“why, can’t see down there?”

hoseok and jeongguk stare in horror for a beat. jimin flicks taehyung on the shoulder and starts laughing.

 

seokjin finds him later, just hanging out at the edge of the dance floor and nursing his third drink of the night. his parents are having the time of their lives on the makeshift dance floor, giggling and twirling in a way that would have embarrassed him horribly fifteen years ago. it appears jimin and taehyung have somehow taken charge of the aux cord, so the music shifts constantly between sexy rap tracks with a thrumming beat and slower, more melancholic music. honestly, even not drinking much, hoseok is a little buzzed and a lot happy, just being in his space and taking everything in.

when seokjin makes his way over, the first thought hoseok has is how dumb it is that he still looks good when he’s choking a little on whatever he was cackling about with minho before he wandered over. it's honestly kind of ridiculous, only it doesn’t really matter when he’s also such a fucking nerd.

he thinks maybe that’s why he feels good being here now, even after all these years. he knows he’s beautiful in a certain way too, enough to sell magazines and fashion and things. he's pretty and capable of being successful but he’s kind of an idiot too, so he fits here. he would never call the fashion industry shallow because it is hard work and there are so many people, like namjoon, doing good work, who want to create sustainable and beautiful and lasting. it never feels like enough though. being here, just smiling because seokjin laughs like a wheezing cat, reaches him somewhere the city never has. after so long of running away, it seems a little anticlimactic even to think about.

seokjin eventually simmers down and flings an arm around him. “you good?”

“really good,” hoseok says, and finds he means it. “just gonna take a walk, okay?”

“okay, but don’t get stuck up there in your head.”

hoseok startles and looks up at seokjin—he doesn’t look like he’s just pulled out an observation astute enough to astound hoseok, but that’s just jin. instead of trying to make sense of it, he slides his feet back into his flipflops and wanders down the beach.

the further he walks down the beach, the quieter and darker it gets.

the ocean has always had a way of making things seem smaller. the moon cycle moves on and the tide goes on crashing against the shore, uncaring of what else happens around it. when he was younger, hoseok nearly got swept away by it himself once. he and jimin were lying too close to the waterline, the waves kissing their ankles every time they rushed up, and an unexpectedly high wave had almost pulled them with it. his father had grabbed them both by the collar at the last minute, but he’s never forgotten that pull of sand slipping away under him and carrying him along, helpless against the force of nature.

he’s thinking about it again as he sits on a stray piece of driftwood, lowly humming some catchy pop ballad he heard on the radio. it should be too loud for the stillness of the night, but he still doesn’t hear anyone approaching until a hand suddenly appears on his shoulder.

hoseok shrieks in terror and topples off the log.

behind him, he can hear an unmistakable cackle, uncontrollable and almost silent to anyone but sea turtles, probably. hoseok just lies there, hands over his eyes until his hammering heart slows down and he can breathe again.

he doesn’t lift the hands until he feels a body settle next to him in the sand actually, but then someone is touching him. it’s the feeling of a hand on his bare knee that makes him look, pale fingers spanning wide and wrapping around his skinny bones.

yoongi is murmuring to himself as he trails careful fingertips around the kneecaps, a muted amused, “jung hoseokie, jung hobi, jay hobi.” it makes something prickle at the base of his spine.

“hyung, everything okay?”

“still so handsome, hoseokie,” yoongi hums and oh, how did he not notice before. under the moonlight, his mouth is even pinker than usual and his eyes are heavy-lidded in the slow sleepy way that hoseok knows means he has been drinking.

he swallows, tries to be light and flip as he says, “you too. you’re very handsome too.”

yoongi hums. “are you happy?”

it draws him to a pause for a moment. “i— mostly, yeah.”

“good. i’m happy for you.”

before he can think too hard about it, yoongi is joining him on his back, lying close enough that hoseok doesn’t even want to turn his head and look at him. he lets his eyes drift shut again and listens to the waves crash and break. to them, this doesn’t matter. none of it matters to the rest of the world. it makes him feel incredibly small, just lying there on the cold sand with a boy that he loved. with a boy he isn’t sure he ever stopped loving. maybe that’s why he decides to say what he does.

“are you really happy for me? i left you.”

yoongi doesn’t answer, just shifts, a slight movement that hoseok feels rather than sees. he opens his eyes, only to see yoongi with his head turned, looking right at him. “i know. ‘course i’m happy for you, seok. all i ever wanted was for you to be happy. it’s okay if this is what it took to make it happen.”

“it’s not. none of it is okay if i hurt you.”

until he said it aloud, hoseok wasn’t quite sure what was bothering him. now, it hits him with absolute certainty and it feels like he knows exactly what has been cramping the pit of his stomach all day. this, this is why everything with hyungsik feels wrong. because he may have moved on but yoongi feels like the same person he has always been at the heart of his personality and hoseok has loved that person since he met him. hurting him has never been something he could do, not until he ran so far that he had no other options.

yoongi heaves a sigh and hoseok is so close that he feels it. “maybe it did hurt, yeah,” he finally says, turning his head to look up at the sky again, “but i always knew you were meant for great things in life. you deserved so much more than this town can offer you. of course i knew that. you deserve great things in life and you should have them.”

hoseok, who is still looking at yoongi, thinks that if looks away now the moment will disappear forever and he can’t bear that.

“you’re one of the great things in life, min yoongi.” and isn’t that just fucking perfect. he keeps saying the first thing that pops into his head, easy like it always was with this one person, and it’s making him feel a little seasick now. all he can see is the soft pale apple smooth cheek right next to him and the slow lazy blink of dark lashes against it and he can’t even swallow his own damn spit for fear that next inhale will leave him choking on the stardust that surrounds min yoongi, always and everywhere but especially on moonlit nights by the ocean with nothing between them.

so when fingers brush the back of his hand, he takes them, lacing his own through.

yoongi’s hands are one of those excellently paradoxical things about him. he’s kind of a cranky little tomcat a lot of the time, a little grumpy and sheepishly fond and heartrendingly soft with everyone he loves, and he isn’t beyond spitting and hissing just like one when someone crosses a line. it’s all much cuter than one would think at first glance, looking at his sharp tongue and quiet attitude, but his hands, well. hoseok doesn’t really know what to do when he thinks of them.

he likes not to think of them at all, actually, because yoongi’s hands are big and flexible and kind of veiny in that really hot masculine way that makes him a bit warm under the collar just to think about. just holding them has him feeling a little punch-drunk, tipsy with the high of being so close and comfortable and content. he winds up curled around yoongi like a comma, folded into his space again with his head on yoongi’s chest and that’s okay too. at least until hyungsik finds him.

 

hoseok is mostly ashamed that when he first hears someone calling his name, he can’t really be bothered to even listen. yoongi’s chest has gotten a little broader and a lot sturdier in the years that he’s been gone and there’s the steady thump of his heart right next to his ear and even though they’re not really doing anything, hoseok is intoxicated just by proximity. hearing hyungsik calling for him doesn’t register until he’s right there, a lean figure leaning over him in a sleek navy jacket and looking at him with exactly the kind of suspicion he knows he deserves.

he springs to his feet, blinking rapidly at how scratchy his eyes feel.

“babe! what are you doing here? i thought you had to work.”

his voice sounds too high. shit, hoseok knows his voice sounds too high and hyungsik looks pinched, like he’s biting the inside of his cheek.

“got done early so i thought i’d surprise you. some guy with taehyung said he’d seen you come this way, so yeah. what were you up to.” it’s definitely not a question.

right. right, of course, he should answer that. hoseok nods to himself, still feels a little like he’s trapped underwater. “just hanging out, y’know. this is yoongi, he’s my husband.”

“your— what?”

“oh.” hoseok realizes with a stab of guilt what he said and adds after a guiltier pause, “i meant was. he was my husband; he’s my ex-husband now. obviously. we just finalised the divorce, so i’m all good to marry you now. duh.”

hyungsik looks at him like hoseok is a horrible calculus equation. behind him, yoongi releases a sound that sounds distinctly like a choking cat. hoseok closes his eyes like he can pretend this isn’t happening right now.

there is a disgusted sound – the same hyungsik had made the first time he tried a green smoothie – and then a stomping noise that has him opening his eyes in alarm. shit shit shit. hoseok glances beside him, only to find that yoongi has also shut down apparently. all he does is give a weird jerky nod and mutter, “go.” hoseok is off like a shot.

he tries catching up with hyungsik until he’s closer to the party than to yoongi, jogging his way up the beach as briskly as he can without actually running because if the somebody overhears them, the whole town will know by morning. he just needs to explain, damn it, and everything will be okay. it has to be. he has only had a couple of shots and one unidentifiable cocktail and that is absolutely not enough to use the drunk excuse for himself. he has to fix this.

“park hyungsik, stop.” hoseok finally screeches, because his fiancé is a leggy beast well over six feet tall and he has no hopes of catching up now, especially not with how long and angry his stride is. to hyungsik’s credit, he does. he stops right where he is and even turns back and waits for hoseok as he bends over his knees and catches his breath for a few seconds.

“i can explain.”

“explain, what? your husband?” hyungsik snaps and oh, this is very not good indeed.

hoseok holds up a calming hand, like he’s trying to soothe a skittish horse. “he’s not my husband. come on, you know i would never do that.”

hyungsik laughs and it’s a terrible bitter bark of derision. “right, no, of course you wouldn’t cheat. not on the husband you’ve just divorced. just say you’re a fucking cheater and go, hoseok.”

“i’m not!” hoseok feels the panic in his itchy fingertips, building hot behind his eyes. “i’m not cheating! i haven’t even seen him in nine years. you know this! i wouldn’t love you or promise to marry you if i wasn’t a hundred percent with you.”

“honestly, hoseok, i wouldn’t know what you’re capable of if you could lie about something like this all the time.”

“i didn’t lie. i left him. i left him so, so long ago and i moved on and he was supposed to, too. he has moved on, he just wanted to punish me for leaving or something so he kept sending the papers back every bloody year. i sent them on our wedding anniversary just so he’d finally get the hint and fucking sign them but he always sent them back unopened and it’s not my fault.”

hyungsik just sighs and shakes his head. “yeah, maybe. that doesn’t explain the goddamn cuddling, though.”

“baby, come on. i’m sorry for not telling you, but it’s just my past and it’s not a part of my life now. my future is you.”

in response, hyungsik doesn’t do much except pinch the bridge of his nose and exhale extremely audibly. “i don’t know, hoseok,” he finally says, and turns away again. hoseok stays rooted there and doesn’t notice he’s shaking until he tastes salt on his lips and realises that the tears have finally spilled over. just like him.

 

“hyung, my dude, get up.”

a bundle of massive heavy horrible minty human hits him, flopping down on top of him and immediately wrapping all its limbs around him. a beat later, another lump lands beside him, also attaching to his person like a particularly clingy koala. hoseok is absolutely not here for it.

die,” he threatens, only to be laughed at. honestly, maybe this why he decided to keep his lives separate: because both parts of it are rife with awful unruly man-children who wouldn’t know chill if it cuddled up to them naked.

“up and at ‘em, hobi-hobi,” chirps the voice by his side and see, this is exactly why kim taehyung is never allowed to go drinking with him again. it’s because he’s a smug little shit and its awful. hoseok tells him so and is laughed at for his efforts.

the whole thing just strengthens his resolve to never leave his nest. maybe if he lies really still, everybody will eventually forget that he was there to begin with and let him fester there until he dies and withers away to shreds of chiffon like voldemort at the end of the harry potter movies. that doesn’t sound too bad right now.

jeongguk, of course, has other ideas and actually has the gall to pull back the blankets. hoseok is about to snap at him for it but then he snuggles close to his neck and well. maybe he can lie there under the pile of bratty children instead, although jeongguk doesn’t seem to think so, judging by how he keeps chanting, “get up, get up, breakfast tiiime” in his ear.

hoseok clears his throat warningly. “jeongguk.”

“nope! you have to come hang out with us and my new friend or you can never babysit tannie again.” he shoves taehyung over the edge of the bed.

 

unsurprisingly, the impromptu brunch is not bad. hoseok forgets that he’s forgotten a lot of things in the years that he’s been gone, but this town refuses to let him go. every single day here is a revelation in why exactly it feels like home when another part of it accepts him like a prodigal son returned from war. this time, admittedly, it’s just hanging out with jeongguk but that has its own charm. there’s some pure charming quality that he seems to have retained from childhood that now seems almost at odds with his persona. he seems so cool, all tall and muscular and talented. he shouldn’t be as pure and magical as a snowflake still but he is, even though he manages to keep up with someone like jimin all the time.

after so many days that just feel like a precarious quagmire just waiting to trip him up and trap him down in their boggy mist, hanging out with the kids is like wading into a sun-warmed sea. even jimin seems uncharacteristically mellow today, lit up with his sunny smile and suggestive jokes and waggling eyebrows. the abrasive brat who is the only other version hoseok has encountered on this trip so far is nowhere to be found. it’s like, just for this frozen moment in time, they’re like honorary brothers again only tae is a part of the group this time because somehow, he’s slotted in seamlessly between the other two.

they’re wandering towards the bookstore after a shamefully tall tower of waffles, jimin and taehyung walking ahead arm-in-arm, giggling hysterically about whatever they’re whispering about, and jeongguk and hoseok wandering behind them when his eye catches the poster stuck to a streetlight opposite the bookstore. he’s never seen the picture before but he’d recognize the face anywhere, even with jet black hair and dressed in an expectedly extravagant silk shirt with gold epaulettes and buttons.

“what the fuck?”

all three men with have gone unexpectedly silent, which means that not only do they know exactly what he’s talking about, taehyung has been filled in too. those fuckers.

“best-selling? new york times best-selling? what does that mean?”

“uh, kind of what it says, hyung. i thought that was obvious.”

hoseok almost hisses, not sure where the sound even comes from. “do not sass me right now, jeon jeongguk. i thought he was still writing for the town newspaper.”

“well, i’d love to stay and chat, but duty calls!” jimin chirrups and he tries very hard not to murder him, if only because they’ve really just started getting along again.

“yeah, i promised to come hang out during his shift so i gotta go too. see you later, babe!” and then taehyung is gone as well, tripping across the street after jimin.

jeongguk looks very much like he’d love to murder them both but also himself, so hoseok takes a deep breath. then another and another.

“it’s okay,” he says finally, linking arms with jeongguk again. “just…shock, i guess. i’m just curious, y’know.”

thankfully, because jeon jeongguk is a heavenly gift to earth and the sweetest brat around, he only fiddles with his giant round-framed glasses for a few seconds before he divulges all the information. which mainly circles around the fact that yoongi did it. he did everything, all the things he’s ever dreamed of doing, and he did them from right here in the old house they somehow managed to buy together.

that isn’t really what hits him though. he thinks some part of him always knew it would happen; that the world was just bidding its time before it gave min yoongi anything and everything that he had ever desired because he earned every second of applause. because he was wonderful and magical and hoseok was probably going to start bawling any minute now, because he’s so proud that his heart aches like its grown several sizes too big for his chest. but it’s the last bit that makes him pause.

“i think…i think he thought that the city was giving you everything you wanted and that maybe if he got some of the glitter, he could fit in. he came after you, i don’t know if he told you. about a year after you disappeared, he took the train up and went to see you. i don’t really know what happened there but he wouldn’t even talk to me after he got back. he just said that he had a lot of work still.” that last bit settles in the pit of his stomach like lead.

 

while hoseok would really, really like the luxury to have his minor meltdown in peace, he is also forced to part ways with jeongguk because his mother calls in a panic at the sight of a taxi and a limousine parking in their driveway one after the other. it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who it is, but the sight of mayor park with her custom-tailored suit and hermès birkin standing in the middle of his parents’ living room like she might escape infection if she stands very rigidly still kindles in him an uncontrollable urge to giggle.

in stark contrast to his future mother-in-law, namjoon took a taxi to the house and is currently sitting on the floor in his sweats, debating the commentary a wrinkle in time made against institutionalized thinking with his father. mr. jung looks tickled pink at the interest and hoseok is trying very hard not to laugh at mrs. park’s expense or at how obviously his mother is judging her demeanour.

even the thought that these two people took the same flight is funny. namjoon is as comfortable as can be and said hello with a tight hug and let hoseok smack an obnoxiously loud kiss to his cheek. mayor park is currently looking like she’s gotten a head cold, even as she tells hoseok that she has a message from hyungsik. apparently, he’s over their “little disagreement the other night” and “everything is just dandy” but still thinks they should wait to meet again until their wedding day. and really, he’d say something to that, but it’s just easier not to. he can drag namjoon to the salon instead, where his favourite stylist has just flown down to do his hair for the wedding.

 

running into yoongi on his way out of the salon the next day is just…well, not great. if he believed in luck, this is the exact moment he’d say he is shit out of it probably. it only takes namjoon the panicked tightening of hoseok’s hand around his arm to know precisely who the figure crossing the street is, the brilliant asshole. he nearly perks up – and hoseok almost gets to drag him into the nearby alley – except it’s the tiny peep of amusement that escaped him that has already caught yoongi’s attention. maybe there are a great many terrible, embarrassing, ugly things he has done in front of namjoon, but he’s not about to drag his lanky giant of a friend into a filthy alley just to avoid his ex on his wedding day, especially not when he’s already in his sequined suit jacket, freshly tinted hair swept off his forehead in a sleek coiffure.

and he doesn’t mean to say anything. he shouldn’t say anything. but namjoon doesn’t believe in that. the nosy fucker probably thinks he’s helping, even while hoseok plans increasingly grisly outcomes for him and his stupid upbeat voice when he calls out, “hey, you must be yoongi!”

the smile yoongi returns with is…odd. hoseok feels like it comes a little slower than it normally would, like it was pulled up with difficulty, but hoseok is also a fucking idiot who can’t trust his own damn self so he probably doesn’t deserve an opinion. and anyway, yoongi has to come closer now, just to look polite, and hoseok realises belatedly that actually, the soft pink tint in his hair almost exactly matches the colour in yoongi’s cheeks and isn’t that funny? isn’t that just a fucking riot?

it’s just so funny, because hoseok just got his hair done and his suit is a kim namjoon bespoke ensemble and he looks like a billion dollars and yoongi just looks like… well, yoongi, really. there isn’t another person in the world who looks like yoongi when he’s bundled up in a jacket too big for him and a dumb beanie and a giant scarf because he is an icy person and also because hoseok is an idiot who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. it’s just nerves, he tells himself, probably just pre-wedding jitters.

it takes him entirely too long to realise that both men are looking at him expectantly. in this gathering, that means the older two have already made a decent bit of conversation and hoseok has been standing there zoned out like the idiot he is.

“what?” he asks, and is rewarded by exasperated laughter from them both.

“nothing,” yoongi says, shaking his head a little. “you look beautiful, and i’m happy for you.”

somehow, hoseok forgets all about how bespoke his suit is and how completely sequined the jacket is when he opens his arms and he falls into them. it’s a gesture of good will or something on yoongi’s part, he knows that, but his arms know home around these shoulders and his nose is the perfect height to bury against the thick weave of the hat and hoseok is so weak. he’s so weak that he just can’t resist. he has to have this too; has to bury himself against yoongi and forget the world for a second because everything about it feels good and that’s all that matters.

it settles the nerves, if nothing else. for a moment, everything feels calm and still and silent, like yoongi’s arms around his middle are holding him together and he could never break when its yoongi holding on to him like this. and then he’s pulling back and the noise rushes in again.

“take care, seok,” he says, mouth pulled flat and stern. a strange hollowness lurks behind the words.

namjoon silently takes his place almost immediately once yoongi turns his back. hoseok doesn’t know what he did to deserve friends like this, but he just stands there for now, face tucked against his best friend’s collar. eventually, he pulls himself together enough to speak.

his voice comes out thick. “tell me i’m doing the right thing. tell me it’s just nerves or something.”

“oh, baby,” he mumbles, awkwardly petting him. hoseok hates the gentle pity he hears in it.

joon. tell me i’m not making the worst mistake of my life for the second time.”

“i can’t tell you how to feel, buddy,” he says and it’s gentle, oh so gentle. “but i do know that doubt is not what you want to be carrying you to your wedding. i think you should take a moment to think really hard about what would make you happy, maybe not today but for the long run too. and then you should do that.”

 

the thing is, in terms of the precedent set, his first wedding pretty much took the cake for how great a wedding could be. it wasn’t like this at all. for one, there were no suits and ties involved, no seaside extravaganzas prepared to celebrate the day. they had been shopping for a sofa, actually, at a used furniture shop. they were both on a gap year after school, working to save up money, and both sets of their parents had just split the deposit on their first place together as a graduation-cum-birthday-cum-christmas present for the next three years. hoseok remembers the exact moment their phones had gone wild: they had been trying out a giant three-seater at the time, testing out its feel by bouncing on the wide plush leather seats and pretty much everyone they knew texted them the minute the law said it was okay for them to get married.

in hindsight, racing to townhall and calling their families and friends on the way was maybe doing it in a rush. but it had felt good and right and so they hadn’t questioned it. it’s pretty hard to beat, just because of how important it was to them, but this was supposed to hold a different kind of magnitude. a more mature, calm, adult decision for two men who are mature adults themselves.

hoseok walks into the room set off for wedding parties in the beach house near their wedding marquee and he immediately knows what to do. hyungsik is nothing short of resplendent in his classic tuxedo. as in, right next to the dictionary entry for perfect belongs an image of how he is now: standing next to the window and lit by the diffused light of a cloudy early afternoon, tall and handsome and practically perfect in every single way. there is absolutely no question about it, especially because he looks up when he hears the door open and the smile on his face would stop any mortal’s heart.

except he doesn’t feel so mortal right at that moment. he feels a little like he’s hovering a few feet above the ground, too high off of the moment to fully register anything. all he knows is that he know exactly what to do. hyungsik is so bloody nice, just charming and generous and so faultlessly caring that there are no doubts in his mind about this: park hyungsik deserves all the happiness in the world.

hoseok just cannot be the one to give it to him.

“you ready?” he asks, grin boyish and slightly nervous.

“actually, you don’t want to marry me.”

hyungsik raises both eyebrows, like he thinks this is a joke he is in on. “i don’t?”

hoseok shakes his head, fiddling with the ring on his finger. “you really, really don’t. not really.”

“and why’s that?”

“well, you see, the truth is i gave my heart away a long time ago. my whole heart, you know, just the whole damn thing, and i never really got it back. so it’s not fair to you. you should get someone who loves you like that too.”

hyungsik just blinks and then: “huh. really?”

he has to smile, just a shadow of one, even though the moment sucks a little. “really. you deserve someone who feels like your moment of calm in the mad world and i don’t think i can be that for you. and you definitely deserve it because you’re an amazing man. you deserve better than someone who only loves you halfway and i’m sorry i didn’t realize that sooner.”

the hand closes around the proffered ring.

“huh. okay then. thank you.”

just in that second, hoseok sees why this charade played out for so long. there’s something so generous about how easily he takes it and accepts that this is a reasonable excuse to not get married. hyungsik is unbearably kind like that, accepting that maybe the whole mess that this will inevitably create will be okay if they both have the opportunity for something better after it. hoseok is terribly fond of him, honestly.

he’s still running by the time he hits the beach again.

 

belatedly, he thinks that maybe he should have stayed and explained. he could at least have let his parents know what was going on. but see, if he trusted hyungsik enough to almost marry him, he trusts him enough to hold the fort until he can do this. because hoseok absolutely needs to do this right fucking now and the rest can wait. he’s not planning on going anywhere.

yoongi is not in the house when he gets there. the curtains are still open and the house is dark beyond the windows, door locked and car still parked in the driveway. holly’s old blue leash still hangs on the banister and hoseok knows exactly where yoongi is.

he’s running again before he’s fully conscious of even thinking it, skidding to a stop right where it happened. the lightening. at the shore, he sees a hooded figure, flinging shells into the water. hoseok drops the absurdly shiny shoes he’s been all this time right there in the sand and wades out into the shallow surf after him.

“hey, hyung. min yoongi.”

when yoongi looks up, his face is even more drawn than it was that morning. hoseok feels a helpless stab in his heart at the sight, his furled petal mouth pushed into a pout he knows like the back of his hand. “what are you doing here?”

“i lost something.”

“what?”

hoseok tries not to grin at the question, tries to ignore how his heart stutters at the glimmer of hope even yoongi can’t quash out. fails and grins helplessly when he walks the final few paces between them, and says, “my husband. thought i might find him out here.”

yoongi’s face is the picture of heartbreak, so careful that he wants to hold him close and treasure this person forever. “fuck off, i’m not in the mood for jokes, hoseok.”

“not joking, hyung,” he says. and then his hands are on yoongi’s wrist and he’s pulling him in. “i lost my husband and i’m here to get him back. there’s nobody else in the world i’d rather be married to.”

“that’s a nice story, jung. but why would you want to marry me anyway?”

hoseok grins because he knows. so he puts his hands around yoongi’s neck and lets their noses brush. “so i can kiss you anytime i want.”

 

 

“what do you mean, he forgot to sign the divorce papers?” screeches mayor park.

park hyungsik can barely hold his laugh in. “it’s okay, eomma. it was an honest mistake, i’m sure.” taehyung winks at him.