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Nothing's Ever Built To Last (you're in ruins)

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The flow of cold air via the air condition was cascading down on Seokjin in a heavenly way, and he was unashamed to be half blocking one of the main hallways, soaking it all in. The nurses were probably giggling at the sight he made, or the receptionist might be snapping pictures of him—Yoona seemed to be a master at stockpiling blackmail material on him. But Seokjin blocked it all out. All that mattered was that he’d just come from outside, from a luncheon that had been more business than pleasure, and because of that, he’d spent an hour and a half sitting on a veranda in hundred-degree weather, arguing for the clinic’s consideration via a private donation.

So now he was inside, enjoying his clinic’s air conditioner, taking a moment to himself before he had to launch into his afternoon appointments.

“Jiiinnnnnnn!”

He was also doing his best to block out the sound of Hoseok’s voice.

“Stooppppp ignoring meeeee!”

Seokjin cracked an eye open, peering over at the younger man. “You’re so lucky I even let you back here. I could make Jonghyun manhandle you out the front door at any second.”

Hoseok rocked back on his feet with a wide smile, and then he flicked the visitor’s badge that was currently clipped to his shirt. “Nah, come on, Jin. I’ve got a special badge, see? You gave it to me. That means I get to come back here.”

Back to the employee area of the clinic, he meant, and it was true Seokjin had been the one to give him the badge. Of course, by now all of Bangtan’s core members, and even the more trusted fringe members who had endeared themselves to Seokjin over time, had badges. And even if they didn’t, Namjoon and Hoseok and all the others, especially Jungkook, came around more than often enough for everyone who worked there, and even some of the patients, to know exactly who they were.

No one was going to manhandle Hoseok out the door. Especially Jonghyun, who rather liked Hoseok and the other boys, and who snuck pieces of candy meant for the children, to Taehyung every time he visited.

“That badge can be revoked,” Seokjin told him bluntly, but it was just a bluff.

“You wouldn’t,” Hoseok declared confidently. “Now come on, I came all the way down here to talk to you. Help me. Please. Help me Kim Seokjin, you’re my only hope.”

The air conditioner still felt good against his sweat sticky skin, but enough was enough, and it was something of note that Hoseok was standing in front of him. Hoseok’s responsibilities in Bangtan had all but skyrocketed the moment the expansion of territory had happened, and as a result, Seokjin saw less and less of the man. And if anyone was coming by to pick Seokjin up after work, like frequently occurred, it was typically Taehyung.

Seokjin had put a stop to Jungkook’s incessant need to be the one to pick him up from the clinic the moment his little brother’s classes had gotten intense at the university. Jungkook, for all his hesitation in going to college, was flourishing at the institution. He was even showing promise in his required mathematics and science classes. Neither did Jungkook want to admit, but he was picking up Mandarin at a rapid pace.

Maybe Jungkook would get bored with college soon enough. Or maybe he’d finish the music classes he was most focused on, and not sign up for another semester. But for the time being. Seokjin thought it was enough that Jungkook was balancing school and Bangtan. He didn’t want Jungkook having to worry about transportation duties. Especially since Seokjin still had his father’s car. Part of him had been completely unable to part with it, and he wondered if he ever would.

Plus, if he really wanted anyone picking him up, he wanted Namjoon.

Namjoon.

Seokjin didn’t think there was a proper or right way to actually explain how full his heart felt, just thinking about his boyfriend. Namjoon had become impossibly important to him in the time they’d been together, and even love felt like an understatement.

Namjoon was the one. They joked about it all the time—Namjoon joked about having known Seokjin was the one for him from the start. But now Seokjin was starting to really feel and understand it. He wanted to grow old with Namjoon, and have children with him, and do everything in between.

Mostly he just wanted Namjoon to have time for him currently. But he’d already decided he wasn’t going to get himself worked up over the canceled dates and sad apologies. Namjoon constantly understood when Seokjin had to put his clinic and patients first. So now it was Seokjin’s turn to understand and accept that Bangtan was still in the middle of a transitional period, and that was eating up all of Namjoon’s time.

It wouldn’t always be the way it was now, and Seokjin clung to that.

“Jin? Seokjin? Doctor Jin?”

“Sorry,” Seokjin apologized to an unsure looking Hoseok. “How about we go back to my office? I’ve got some time for you, if you need it.”

Suddenly Hoseok looked desperate now, and he practically wheezed out, “Oh, I need it.”

Seokjin’s private office was located at the far end of the first floor, the furthest room from the front reception area, the waiting rooms, and the examination rooms. Seokjin had picked the office on purpose, and had held his breath for the room even after he’d let Jonghyun go first when the selection time came. Seokjin had wanted a room that was secluded in a lot of ways, private, and quiet.

“Come on it,” Seokjin said when they reached the office. He pushed open the door and held it until Hoseok was inside.

“Wow.”

Seokjin smiled at him. “First time in?” There were plenty of reasons or Bangtan’s members to be in and out of the clinic at all times of the day, but only a few of them had been back to his office, or had needed to.

Jonghyun had partially put a ban on it, too. At least as far as Namjoon was concerned. But Seokjin thought that was rather hypocritical. Seokjin had caught Jonghyun and Kibum more than once on clinic grounds, enjoying each other’s company, to say the least. But the one time Jonghyun had walked in on Namjoon and Seokjin, suddenly there’d been a new rule.

“Hypocrite,” Seokjin had murmured to Jonghyun after he’d agreed that there’d be no hijinks in the clinic of any kind, during normal operating hours.

Jonghyun had laughed back, “I’m a traumatized hypocrite, then. Jesus, Seokjin, you’re like my little brother at this point. And no one wants to see their little brother getting hot and heavy with his boyfriend. I’ll sacrifice having Key here if it means guaranteeing I’ll miss that.”

A little wide eyed, Hoseok walked the edge of the office, admiring the awards and pictures that spanned the shelves. “This is so cool.”

Seokjin gestured to a corner of the office that boasted an impressive number of photos of Seokjin himself, all of them with babies in his arms. He explained, “These are my favorite pictures. These are my kids.”

Hoseok looked from the pictures to Seokjin. “Not biologically, right?”

“No,” Seokjin assured. “But I call them mine because I delivered them all. All these babies. And half of them are named after me.”

“Cool,” Hoseok repeated again. Then he dragged himself away from the decorations in the office, to one of the two plush chairs that were situated in front of Seokjin’s mammoth desk. “Now, help me.”

“With what?” Seokjin sat in his own chair, sinking into the plushness of it. The screen saver on the computer atop the desk was going, but he knew if he nudged the mouse even a little the previous quarter’s reports would be glaring back at him, reminding him that all the information needed to be consolidated for the upcoming staff meeting.

He did his best not the nudge the mouse in any way.

“Jin,” Hoseok started, “you’re a really good boyfriend, right? I mean, you seem like it.”

Seokjin felt his eyebrows climb high on his forehead. “This is not the direction I expected the conversation to go.”

Hoseok seemed to ignore his comment, and pressed on, “So in light of you being a really good boyfriend, I need your opinion. Your advice. I want you to help me decide what to do for mine and Tae’s upcoming anniversary.”

Seokjin couldn’t help leaning forward at that. “Your anniversary?” The notion was so sweet, and it served to remind Seokjin that for as inconspicuous as Hoseok and Taehyung kept their relationship, they very much had one.

And a healthy one at that. Seokjin was constantly surprised by the amount of affection and respect they showed to each other. They were considerate to each other, even when they didn’t agree, and each of them seemed to go out of their way to do special, nice things for the other. Seokjin had seen a lot of relationships in his life, but few of them measured up the way that Taehyung and Hoseok’s did.

His own and Namjoon’s, notwithstanding.

Hoseok held up two fingers. “Next month it’ll be two years for us.” He huffed a little. “Coulda been longer, you know.”

“No.” Seokjin shook his head. “How so?”

“Tae never told you?” Hosoek looked surprised. “Tae loves to tell people this.”

This was a nice and welcomed distraction, Seokjin decided. He’d been inundated as of late with all kinds of new problems to handle, ones that the clinic had never faced before, and his stress levels were building. He was starting to feel overworked again, even though they’d added two new doctors to the roster, and another nurse, not to mention a handful of interns.

So just sitting and talking with a friend, was nice. He didn’t sit and talk with Hoseok enough.

Wringing his hands together, Hoseok allowed, “I might have been … a little … dumb when I was younger. A little. Just a little.”

Seokjin arched a skeptical eyebrow.

“Apparently,” Hoseok rushed out, “Taehyung was sending me signals and messages he liked me for ages before I got clued in. I mean, really obvious messages. He kept saying how nice he thought I was, and how handsome. He asked me out to lunch a couple times. He wanted to meet my family. He …look, the point is, I thought he was just a really nice guy. Taehyung’s always had a reputation of being really nice—authentic in a way that most people aren’t.”

Seokjin bit back a laugh. “So, Taehyung was practically coming onto you, and you thought he was just being nice?”

A hint of sadness crept its way onto Hoseok’s face, something devastating in a way, and then Hoseok offered up, “Sure I did. It’s Taehyung, you know? He’s super-hot, and charming and funny. He’s generous and just awesome. He’s got a good reputation for a reason. So even if I thought for a second that he was into me, I talked myself out of that right away. I told myself, how could someone like Taehyung, ever be into someone like me? I denied. I put distance between us. I kind of was a jerk about it.”

Seokjin leaned his elbows up on the top of his desk and said firmly, “Don’t talk down about yourself, Hoseok. Don’t put yourself down.”

Hoseok avoided his gaze as he said, “I’m not saying I’m worthless or anything. Come on, Jin, give me some credit. I’m just saying back then I looked at myself and saw someone pathetically ordinary. Then I looked at Taehyung, who was everything better than what I was, and I just didn’t see a chance in hell.”

“Obviously Taehyung felt differently.”

A small smile pulled at Hoseok’s mouth. “Taehyung has a way of seeing stuff in people that they don’t see in themselves. You’ve got that thing, too, kinda. You see the best in people. You see the second chances they deserve. Taehyung just sees the traits and qualities in people that have always been there, but that maybe need a little rubbing to make shine.”

In a delighted way, Seokjin wanted to know, “What clued you in that Taehyung had a thing for you?”

Hoseok blushed a dark red and he looked so cute Seokjin wanted to tease him.

“Come on,” Seokjin prodded. “How’d you finally get it?”

“I didn’t.” There was a fuller smile on Hoseok’s face now. “Tae was out on a date with another guy, and they were going to the movies. I used to work at the movie theater. And you know, Tae tells this way, way better than me, but I guess Taehyung just figured enough was enough. He left his date sitting in the theater, with the movie going, and marched right up to me at the concession stand. He told me honestly that he liked me. He said he wanted to know if I liked him—romantically. And when I said yes, he grabbed me by the front of my shirt and kissed me.”

“In front of everyone,” Seokjin surmised.

“I got fired,” Hoseok said with a shrug. “I hated that job anyway. And Tae’s worth it. He’ll always be worth it.”

In a lot of ways, Hoseok’s words were startling. They served to remind Seokjin that Bangtan hadn’t really been around all that long. At least not in the version that it was now. Compared to some of the other groups, Bangtan was practically newborn. Namjoon had been doing his best to put together the components that would become Bangtan for years, and Yoongi had been there with him from practically the start. But it hadn’t been that long ago that people like Hoseok and Taehyung were just normal kids.

“That’s pretty adorable,” Seokjin said. It was the kind of story that was made for telling one’s grandchildren on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Though Seokjin was certainly not going to be telling his own grandchildren that he’d met his future husband after said man had been shot. Seokjin didn’t think that was appropriate at all for children.

“So, you want my help with planning a good anniversary?”

Hoseok gave a strong nod. “It has to be something really, really good, okay? This is Taehyung we’re taking about. So, I want to go somewhere. I want to take him somewhere.”

Seokjin questioned, “Like on vacation? Is this a good time for that?”

“Well, yeah.” Hoseok looked confident in his answer—more confident than Seokjin felt. And he elaborated, “I’ve been pretty hands on with everything over the past few months, and it’s all going as smoothly as possible. I mean, there’s been hiccups here and there, and when you’re dealing with people it can always get a little rough. But things seem like they’re good to go. I talked to Suga about this already. He said if I want to take Tae somewhere, now’s a good time.”

Seokjin laced his fingers and nodded. Yoongi’s decision on something was almost as iron clad as Namjoon.

Still, he was a little surprised. Even with things going as well as possible, there was still a tenseness floating around in the air. Things with Infinite still seemed so raw and fresh, and it wasn’t as if everyone in that gang had been dealt with.

Seokjin still had nightmares of Sunggyu, standing in the kitchen, blowing his own brains out. But he had even worse nightmares of the members of Infinite who’d slipped away, and the people out there who still might be holding grudges against Bangtan for being the upstarts that they were. Bangtan was dominating in a lot of ways, and that kind of dominance so early in life bred dissent.

Neither was Seokjin even attempting to hide who Namjoon was to him, in the same way Namjoon and the others had stopped hiding behind their names. In a lot of ways, the secrecy had become impossible, but in others, it had been a deliberate move of transparency.

Most of the time now Seokjin could go a whole day without seeing anyone of significant rank in Bangtan lurking around.  But others he could have his every move watched, and it was all out of uncertainty.

Bringing himself back to the situation at hand, Seokjin asked, “How far do you want to go? Do you want to stay in South Korea?”

Anxiety was back on Hoseok’s face, and he offered up delicately, “I don’t have a lot of money. I want to take Tae somewhere special, somewhere great, but I’m working on a budget.”

Seokjin realized he didn’t really know a lot about Hoseok. Well, he knew who Hoseok was as a person, but his information on Hoseok stopped there. He didn’t know anything about Hoseok’s childhood, or his family, or anything outside of the scope of Bangtan. And that made him sad, because Seokjin considered Hoseok to be a good friend.

Seokjin tapped his fingers along the top of his desk.

Hoseok added, “I mean this in a good way, you know? But you’re used to working with pretty much no money. Because of the clinic. You’re really good at being innovative and creative with the budget you have. That’s why I think you’re the perfect person to help me figure something out for Tae.”

Suddenly Seokjin felt invested in making sure Taehyung and Hoseok had a great second anniversary. There’d been there for him through the worst of it. They’d risked their lives for him. They deserved something great.

“Like maybe something near the beach?” Hoseok posed. “Tae loves the ocean, but we practically never get to go. So, if I could take him to the ocean for a couple of days, that would be great. Just, we gotta keep in mind, renting a place near the water is really expensive.”

Seokjin frowned for a moment, then suggested, “I have an uncle, Hoseok. My father’s older brother. I reconnected with him at my father’s funeral, and I’ve been talking with him frequently since then.”

Confused, Hoseok offered up, “Okay …”

Of course Hoseok didn’t know what he was getting at. With a sigh, Seokjin made to clear up, “He’s pretty much everything my father ever wanted Jungkook and I to be. He’s an investment banker, and he’s partnered with a practice that’s based out of Tokyo. So he’s practically never in the country. In fact, he won’t be for the next three or four months—maybe not until the Christmas holiday.”

Hoseok went to say something, but Seokjin held up a finger.

“The last time I talked to him, he thought I needed to take a break from the clinic. To take a vacation. And that’s rich, of course, coming from him. He’s a huge workaholic. Anyway, my point here is, he wanted me to take Jungkook and go stay at his vacation house in Jeju. Honestly, Hoseok, if I vouch for you, I don’t think he’d had a problem with you and Taehyung using it for a week or so.”

Hoseok’s jaw dropped.

“I’ll give him a call this afternoon,” Seokjin decided. “If you can handle getting yourself and Tae there, then the place is yours. Trust me, my uncle won’t care. The house practically sits empty the whole year round. My uncle bought the property for a wife that he’s been divorced from for a decade now.”

Uncertain, Hoseok asked, “You think that would be okay?”

“I promise,” Seokjin said, and he was more than confident. His uncle had practically been clinging to him since Seokjin’s father had passed, and that had given Seokjin a lot of insight. He hadn’t known it, but his father and uncle had been quite close. His father had told Seokjin’s uncle he was dying long before he’d told anyone else. And if anything good was coming from Seokjin’s father passing away, it was that the rest of the family was pulling in tight. Seokjin had been getting calls from aunts and uncles, cousins, and everything in-between, for months now.

Hoseok suggested, “We could take the train. There’s a line that runs the length of the coast down to the south, and then there’s a ferry that runs out to Jeju Island.”

“It’s beautiful this time of year,” Seokjin added. “If you go, you’ll have a great time.”

Seokjin could physically see the relief flooding Hoseok’s body.

He warned, “You’re still responsible for making it special, Hoseok. Only you can do that. But if I can help you out like this, then the place is yours for the week you choose. Just let me know the dates so I can relay it to my uncle and get the code for the alarm system for you.”

Seokjin had barely gotten to his feet before Hoseok rounded the desk and swept him up into a big hug.

“Thank you,” Hoseok practically shouted into his ear. “Thank you, Jin!”

“You’re welcome.” Jin hugged him back tightly. “You and Taehyung did so much for me, and you’re still doing so much for Jungkook. So, think of this as me trying to repay that to you.”

Hoseok scoffed and drew back, “This isn’t us squaring things away, Jin. You and Jungkook are family. Family just does for each other. No debts, okay?”

“No debts,” Seokjin echoed.

Hoseok was rounding back to his seat when a knock sounded on the door to Seokjin’s office.

Joy’s head poked in a moment later, and Seokjin offered her a full and encouraging smile. She’d only been working at the clinic for a few short months, and she was one of the new hires that had come on after they’d moved locations. But she was a quirky and fun receptionist, always on time, and always kind. She’d come highly recommended by the clinic’s new OBGYN.

“Just your friendly reminder,” Joy said cheerfully enough, giving Hoseok respectful acknowledgment. Although Seokjin didn’t think they’d ever had any real interaction before. But there wasn’t anyone who worked at the clinic now who didn’t know Bangtan’s tie to the clinic, or Seokjin’s tie to Bangtan. “Yoona sent me to remind you that you’ve got a two o’clock consult in less than twenty minutes, and you’re booked for three hours of walk-ins after that.”

Seokjin sighed. “I remember. It’s in my calendar.”

Joy brightened even further. “Yoona also said to let you know that she knows you haven’t been using your google calendar. She has administrative access to it, and she can see whenever you log in and look at it or make changes. She wants you to practice being a better liar. Or, you know, start using your calendar.”

Hoseok let out a long whistle. “Vicious.” He pointed to Joy and told Seokjin, “I like this girl.”

“You’re taken,” Seokjin reminded. Then he swung back to Joy and promised, “I’ll start using the calendar, okay? And kindly remind Yoona that not only do I sign her paychecks, but I dictate her hours.”

Joy laughed a little. “Will do, boss. Oh, and you’ve got a final draft of the flyer for the community social and fundraiser we’re hosting at the end of the month in your inbox. You need to give your ultimate okay on it, so we can start mass printing and get them out into circulation.”

She was gone a second after that, and Hoseok careened towards Seokjin to ask, “Is that your personal assistant?”

“No,” Seokjin denied right away. “She’s a receptionist who’s basically doubling as a general secretary.” He frowned. “Do you think I need one?” He was just a doctor. Doctors didn’t need secretaries. Then again, he was doing the bulk of the clinic’s administrative business. And as they expanded, it took up more and more of his time.

Hoseok only laughed. “I don’t know. But what’s this social thing?”

“Social and fundraiser,” Seokjin corrected. “It’s a big party, honestly, that the clinic is hosting in a couple of weeks. We’re going to shut down for the day and host a big event for the community based on the services we offer. We’re going to do some educational things, some informative things, hopefully raise some money, and try to get the community a lot more involved. We’re hoping a lot of kids will be there and they’ll get to know the doctors here, so they’ll be less scared when they have to come and visit us.”

“That’s pretty neat,” Hoseok observed. “See, this is what everyone is always talking about, Jin. You’re such an awesome doctor.”

Seokjin tried to brush off the praise by saying, “I’m kind of hoping members of Bangtan will be there, discretely, of course. It would be really nice if you guys could mingle in with the general public. A lot of people are still completely traumatized by what happened with Infinite, and the territory shakeup, and honestly, I don’t always get good feedback in the comment box when you guys come around.”

Something that looked a lot of disgruntled offense settled on Hoseok’s face. “Excuse me?”

“I just want,” Seokjin interjected, “everyone to feel comfortable with everyone, and for tensions and nerves to cool down, and for people to feel comfortable coming here.”  He added quickly, “Yoongi said he’s going to bring his sister. You should feel free to bring any siblings or cousins.”

Again, Seokjin realized he didn’t know enough about Hoseok to personally invite anyone. Hoseok didn’t seem put off, however, when he said, “I’ve got three kid sisters. Well, Sowon is sixteen, so she’d probably bean me in the head if I called her a kid. But the other two are still little. How about I bring them?”

Three sisters? In that moment, Seokjin decided that his lack of knowledge about his friends and their lives wasn’t going to stand. He was going to be a better friend to them all, and he was going to start with Hoseok.

“I’ll get you a flyer, okay?” Seokjin promised.

It was nice that for some time after, Seokjin got to simply sit with Hoseok and chat with him. They weren’t talking about anything important, or anything business related. They were able to just pass the time easily, with laughter and comradery, and it was what Seokjin needed to reenergize himself.

“I appreciate you coming down here,” Seokjin said when they were leaving his office.

“What?” Hoseok asked. “I appreciate you. You’re the one doing some nice stuff for me and Tae. I’m the one who came down here to bother you on your break.”

Seokjin gave him an honest look. “You’re never a bother, Hoseok. You’re family, right? That’s what you and the others are always saying.” Bangtan was a family. Never more had Seokjin believed in such a thing.

“I’m thankful all the same,” Hoseok said, unclipping his badge as they reached the final checkpoint before the waiting room. “Have fun with Namjoon on your date tonight,” Hoseok said in a cheeky way, offering Seokjin a wink.

He was off towards the front door of the clinic before Seokjin could offer any kind of response.

Not that Seokjin probably would have had a response. He and Namjoon had had plans for dinner before. In fact, they’d rescheduled many, many times. But Seokjin was hoping that this was the dinner that would stick. And it was almost two. Usually Namjoon had enough consideration to call earlier than two, if he was going to cancel.

Hope wasn’t a bad thing to have, and Seokjin had hope for their dinner date.

In the meanwhile, he had a two o’clock consult to get to.

And contrary to what Yoona obviously thought about his timekeeping skills, he was more than capable of making it to his consult on time, and looking unhurried at that.

The thing was, ever since Seokjin had opened his clinic, the original one, back in Infinite’s territory, where he’d been worried that he wasn’t going to be able to pay the electricity bill some months, things had always had a way of catching him off guard. There was always something happening, something unexpected and frankly, always something that was easily categorized as an unnecessary complication.

That was why, just fifteen minutes into his consult, Seokjin practically hit the ceiling when the door to the room slammed open and startled him so badly his heart gave a lurch.

“What is your problem?” Seokjin demanded, more scared than anything else. He eyed the frantic looking intern in the doorway. And for the life of him, Seokjin couldn’t place his name. But he was one of the new ones, sent the clinic’s way for a summer program because some of the bigger hospitals were full up. The kid had been at the clinic less than three weeks, and Seokjin had had little to no interaction with him. Jonghyun had been the one to give the go-ahead on the kid, like he did with most of the interns.

Seokjin’s patient in the room, an older woman that reminded him just a touch of Namjoon’s grandmother, looked just as startled as Seokjin felt.

“Sir,” the intern gasped out, looking so scared that Seokjin felt a heave of seriousness. “Doctor Kim. You have to come quick. There’s this kid, his friend just brought him in. He’s bad. You have to come.” The intern turned on heel and dashed back to where he’d come from.

“I’m sorry,” Seokjin offered to the woman, and the hurried after the intern. If something major was happening in his clinic, he was going to be at the forefront of it.

By the time Seokjin tracked the growing commotion on the first floor to the patient waiting area, he was just quick enough to hear Hongbin asking, “Are you an actual medical intern, or are you just pretending to be one?”

Seokjin could have gotten sidetracked by that alone. Because Hongbin was terribly professional at all times, even when he was having a disagreement with someone, and regardless if he was talking to a peer, or someone he respected, or anyone younger than him. Hongbin had been Seokjin’s pediatrician for four months now, and he’d brought a calmness to the clinic that they’d desperately needed. He’d also brought a reinforced air of respect.

Seokjin could have thought for hours on the sharp tone to Hongbin’s words as he knelt over a teenager laying on the ground, twisting around and groaning in pain, while the very intern that had come to retrieve Seokjin, practically had an anxiety attack on the spot.

Seokjin needed to talk to Jonghyun about taking overflow from the hospital. They were probably going to have to start screening their volunteer interns a little more harshly.

“What’s going on?” Seokjin asked, kneeling next to Hongbin, working with him to assess the teenager in pain.

Hongbin was pulling up the teen’s shirt to reveal a discolored and distended area of his abdomen as he stated, “Kid practically came tumbling in here.” Hongbin gave a nod to a nearby teenager who was holding himself tightly. “Friend brought him. He’s obviously in extreme pain, and if I had to hazard a guess, Doctor Kim, on first glance, the kid looks like he ruptured something.”

Seokjin was inclined to agree. Without any kind of proper examination, the swelling, the discoloration, and the sheer force of pain the teenager was complaining of, all looked like something had broken internally. This was obviously an emergency situation.

But Seokjin was quick to say, “We’re not an emergency room, Doctor Lee.”

The teenager’s friend let out a wail, “He just doubled over outside! He just started freaking out on me. Oh god. Is he going to die? You have to help him. This is a hospital!”

The clinic wasn’t a hospital, and that was a fine distinction that mattered in every way possible, when presented with an emergency case.

“Scoot back,” Seokjin ordered to Hongbin, and then leaned forward himself to trace the distended skin. His fingers moved diligently, and quickly, to the upper left quadrant of the teenager’s torso.

Hongbin offered, watching Seokjin’s movements, “Spleen?”

This was not a hospital, Seokjin reminded himself. They couldn’t handle the cases that a hospital could. But Seokjin was most certainly feeling the boy’s spleen, and it felt abnormal. If he was facing what he suspected he was, the teenager didn’t have long.

“You,” Seokjin called out, looking to the teenager’s friend. Seokjin did his best to ignore the crowd that was forming around them, watching the spectacle unfold. “Has your friend been in any accidents lately? Has he suffered any blunt force trauma? Has he been injured in any way over the past few days?”

The injured teenager’s friend seemed shell shocked, and gave no answer as his eyes grew wider and more panicked.

“Move,” Jonghyun announced loudly to the crowd, practically smashing into the traumatized teen. He caught the kid by the shoulder and demanded, pulling him closer to Seokjin and the patient, “Take a good look at your friend. Doctor Kim probably has minutes to properly diagnose him and get started on some kind of treatment. Do you hear the way your friend is screaming? That’s the kind of screaming you do when you’re in serious trouble. So answer Doctor Kim’s questions, and save your friend’s life.”

Jonghyun was certainly being a little heavy handed, but Seokjin wasn’t going to fight him on it. A ruptured spleen, which was what he suspected, progressed to an advanced stage, could be more than just an emergency situation. And he also didn’t think, by the volume of the cries of pain, that this was something that had come out of nowhere. Seokjin suspected the teen had been hiding pain for some time, and just let it advance too much without thinking of the consequences.

“He hit a railing!” the kid’s friend belted out suddenly. “Two days ago.” The kid sucked in deep breaths. “We were skateboarding and he lost his balance. He hit his ribs on some railing. But he said he was okay! He swore to me he was okay! He said he just got the wind knocked out of him.”

Jonghyun caught Seokjin’s eye. “If this kid is in trouble, we don’t have time to get him into a CT machine for a proper scan. He needs a FAST assessment. And he needs it now.”

Seokjin careened back, looking for the nearest nurse, but there were so many people clustered around now it was impossible to make out any of them. At least, until Seokjin’s newest nurse, who was something of a superstar among the other nurses and receptionists, knelt down next to Seokjin.

Moon Bin was practically everything that Seokjin had ever dreamed of in a nurse, though that was a statement made without discrediting any of the other girls who’d been with him from the start. But Moon Bin, who had a way of slurring his name together into the nickname Moonbin that had just stuck after only a few short days, was an absolute superstar. He was always dependable, extremely knowledgeable, and practically two steps ahead of Seokjin whenever Seokjin needed him to be.

Now was no exception.

Moonbin offered, “There’s an ultrasound machine in exam room three. Doctor Bae saw a patient less than an hour ago, so it’s there, prepped, and ready to go. I can run ahead and get it set up for you now, and for a FAST assessment, if you need.”

In truth, Seokjin had hesitated in hiring Moonbin, when his resume had come across his desk months back. Seokjin wanted to say gender had nothing to do with it, because he’d worked with countless male nurses in the past, and gender had no bearing on skill. But gender had mattered, at least a little. Because Seokjin thought the clinic had a good thing going. They were far from perfect, but all the pieces were clicking into place.

The last thing Seokjin had wanted to do was introduce a young, extremely attractive, exceptionally charming male nurse into a pool of single, ready, and interested female nurses. There was no rule at the clinic about inner-dating, but that was also probably the case because no one at the clinic had dated before. And Seokjin didn’t want to have to invent a new rule because of a mishap.

But then, of course, Jonghyun had breezed his way past Seokjin’s desk, barely paying attention in the first place, and commented, “Moon Bin? I didn’t even know he put an application in to fill the position that opened up. Huh. That’s crazy. I wonder if Dongmin knows.”

“Dongmin?” Seokjin had been thrown for a second. “You mean Eunwoo? Our anesthesiologist?” As far as Seokjin was concerned, anyone outside of a gang had no purpose using different names. Seokjin had been confused for days when Dongmin had begun introducing himself as Eunwoo, and everyone had just gone along with it like it was perfectly normal to use a different name professionally. But Seokjin had let it all slide because the clinic could only really afford an anesthesiologist about half as much as they needed one, and Eunwoo was overly generous with his time, his fees, and his availability.

“Yeah him,” Jonghyun had replied. “That’s his boyfriend. Huh. Small world.”

Seokjin hadn’t hired Moonbin because he was Eunwoo’s boyfriend, in the end. He’d just hired him because he was the best candidate.

“Go now,” Seokjin said, giving Moonbin a verbal push. “We’re right behind you.”

As Seokjin and Jonghyun prepared to lift the weakly struggling teen on the ground, Seokjin could hear Hongbin calling out to Yoona, “Get Doctor Cha on the phone now! We may have an emergency surgery here, and we won’t have time to get the kid to the hospital.”

Seokjin and Jonghyun lifted, and Seokjin added to Yoona as they passed by, “Eunwoo went out to lunch with Krystal today, but they said they were just going around the corner. That was an hour ago. They should be back any second. Find him. We’re going to need him.” A FAST assessment would tell him for sure, but Seokjin’s gut was hardly ever wrong, and he had a feeling he was dealing with a ruptured spleen in need of emergency surgery.

It took less than ten minutes for Seokjin to find what he was looking for, via the ultrasound machine.

Next to him, Jonghyun made a low sound and said, “This is the worst I’ve seen in a long time. Either that kid hit the railing hell of a lot harder than his friend thinks, or this kid is just really, really unlucky.”

“He needs surgery,” Seokjin said, eyes narrowing at the ultrasound screen in front of him. “And he needs it now.”

“Well,” Jonghyun replied, “good thing we’ve actually got a surgical area now, right? Let’s go save this kid’s life.”

It had been a while since Seokjin had performed a splenectomy. In fact, he’d only done a handful before on his own, and assisted on a few others. But he was familiar with the procedure, and he was confident he could complete it. There was no other choice. There was a possibility the teenager might die before they could get him to a hospital for the procedure, and even though Jessica was the clinic’s trauma surgeon, it was her day off.

That meant Seokjin was taking the lead.

“We’re ready to go,” Eunwoo said, just after that, returned from lunch just in time to put the kid under. He was carefully situated up at the head of the teenager, who was now sedated, and several sets of eyes were now fully on Seokjin.

Lowly, firmly, Jonghyun offered, “It’s been a long time since I did one of these, and none of them as bad as this, but I can take over if you need.”

Seokjin almost felt offended. Adrenaline, the good kind that got his heart beating faster in a way that made him feel alive, and not like he was dying, was racing through him. He felt primed, and ready to go.

And he was in his element.

“Get me the laparoscope,” Seokjin ordered, thankful they’d purchased the instrument in the last round of ordered equipment. With the amount of bleeding from the rupture going on in the teen, Seokjin was more comfortable using the tool, than attempting anything open.

Jonghyun gave Seokjin a pointed look. “I hope the kid’s spleen isn’t too big for the laparoscope. It looked okay sized in the ultrasound, but we won’t know how bad the damage actually is until we get in there and see.”

Seokjin arched up a little on his feet, steadying himself. “Then let’s take a look.”

Being in surgery was like being in a time warp. For Seokjin, despite the clock on the far wall ticking the seconds by, time had no meaning. The only thing that mattered, as he diligently and patiently performed techniques he had trained for, studied, and practiced, was the patient.

Of course Seokjin cared about Jonghyun who was situated across from him, double checking his work for safety’s sake, and offering opinions when they hit bumps during the surgery. And he certainly cared about the nurses assisting, and Eunwoo who constantly kept them abreast of the kid’s vitals. But really what Seokjin focused on, almost trancelike, was the patient.

“If you tell me,” Jonghyun said sharply, a little more than an hour after the surgery had begun, “that you aren’t going to go out with me to the bar after that mess, then I’m going to walk through the front doors and never look back.”

The two of them were perched up on the roof together, stripped free of their scrubs and surgery protective gear, soaking in the sun after the frigid temperature of the surgery room. Seokjin was reminded of how hot and uncomfortable he’d been before, only hours earlier, during his luncheon. And now he was all too quick to take in the hot sun, and fight back the post-surgery chill that always came.

“Can’t,” Seokjin said easily, relishing in the normal beat of his heart. Sometimes it took a while to come down from the surgery high. “I’m going out with Namjoon tonight. How about this Saturday? My treat?”

“My treat,” Jonghyun insisted. “You were the brilliant surgeon in there.”

Seokjin snorted. “I removed a spleen.”

“You removed a ruptured spleen, which caused a medical emergency in someone who’s not even technically an adult yet, and you got it out invasively, repaired some damage while you were there, and saved that kid’s life. That’s not just removing a spleen.”

Seokjin found himself arguing weakly, “Any competent doctor could have done what I did. You could have.”

Jonghyun bumped his shoulder. “But you did. Now that kid is recovering in our ward. He’s going to be okay. And when he’s a little more stable, we’ll transfer him to the nearby hospital, and he’ll be perfectly fine—barring any recovery complications. So let me buy you a damn beer, okay? And don’t sell yourself short.”

He’d said the same thing to Hoseok earlier.

“Saturday,” Seokjin offered up again. “Unless Kibum is going to be in town.”

“Saturday it is. He won’t be back until next week. Something about Paris fashion week? Or some big Paris event. I don’t know. I can’t keep up.” Jonghyun gave a heave as he raised himself up to his feet. He rotated his shoulder and said, “You know this completely screwed up our entire afternoon. We’re going to be absolutely backlogged on patients, we just diminished our walk-in rate, and that’s on top of not even knowing who to call for this kid to let them know that he’s going to be okay. I mean, doesn’t it strike you as odd that the kid’s friend isn’t giving up the information, either?”

Seokjin agreed, “The kid is trouble. That’s what you’re trying to say, and I agree. It just matters what kind of trouble.”

“This clinic has had enough trouble,” Jonghyun said.

“Say it one more time for the heavens, please.” Seokjin let Jonghyun pull him up.

But then there was an awkward pause between them. Jonghyun’s head tipped up towards the too warm sky, and Seokjin asked him if anything was wrong.

A smile settled on Jonghyun’s face and he said bluntly, “We saved that kid’s life, Seokjin. You saw the state of his spleen. He had half an hour—maybe a little more, before it killed him. You and me, as a team, and all the others, we saved that kid’s life.”

The sun was quickly starting to feel too hot, but it didn’t matter, because Seokjin laughed a little and said, “You’re right. We did. So … good day?”

Jonghyun nodded firmly. “Great day.”

Seokjin couldn’t argue.

Chapter Text

Five hours after the tense surgery that had saved the mysterious teenager’s life, the adrenaline had long since worn off, and Seokjin was feeling the burn of slogging through the daily inventory as his shift came to a close.

He’d completed, after the surgery, and even after spending half an hour fretting over the boy in the clinic’s small but impressive recovery ward, two additional hours of walk-in patients.

But that hadn’t been a chore at all. Seokjin loved his regulars. He loved the familiar faces that came back to him time and time again, and trusted him, and brought their children to him. He liked catching up with patients who were more like old friends now. He loved the people that had helped him build his clinic from the ground up.

He just really adored his walk-in hours. There was something special and magical to Seokjin about new faces, with new stories, and new aliments. The challenge of it all got his blood racing and his mind thinking. And each patient was a new opportunity to build a structure of trust and dedication.

For Seokjin, those two hours had flown by. As had the hour afterwards where he’d seen a couple of scheduled appointments, and then covered half an hour for Hongbin who’d taken up Seokjin’s patients while he’d tended to the emergency situation earlier in the day.

But now there were no more patients. The clinic closed its doors every night at nine, and stopped seeing patients at eight. Now at seven, only a couple of patients were left in the waiting room for other doctors, there were no more walk-ins, and things were winding down. The clinic was going quiet, the rush of the earlier day was gone, and their staff had been cleaved in half.

Moonbin was still there, though, pulling a tenth hour of work, not complaining in the least that they were a little short staffed at the moment with two of their other nurses out with summer colds. And Joy was puttering around like she practically lived there.

“I think that girl runs on solar energy or something,” Raina had laughed to Seokjin one afternoon, days after Joy had been hired. “She never stops going.”

Jonghyun was still in the building, too, holed up in his office, working on a particularly frustrating case that he refused to give up just yet to a bigger hospital.

Still, for the most part, the day was almost done. And Seokjin was grateful for it. He could do without the emergency that had unfolded that day. He could do without emergencies in general. He’d had more than enough excitement back when the clinic had been at its previous location.

And the closer they got to closing, the closer Seokjin got to his dinner with Namjoon. The man still hadn’t called to cancel, and they were set to meet at eight-thirty at one of their favorite restaurants. So by all accounts, it was looking like they’d actually get to spend time together.

“Jin?”

Seokjin looked across the second-floor storage room to where Jonghyun was in the doorway.

“Problem?”

Jonghyun shook his head easily. “For once, no. I just wanted to let you know the hospital just phoned their status in. The kid’s stable enough to travel, so they should be over here in less than twenty minutes to load him up into an ambulance and take him over to them.”

“Perfect,” Seokjin said, breathing out some relief. The kid, who still remained nameless and shrouded in mystery, had been sleeping off the surgery drugs for hours now, on that very second floor, not too far from where Seokjin currently was now. “I’m glad they finally decided to get back to us.”

The whole situation had been a conundrum, really. Because the clinic was not an emergency room. They weren’t equipped to deal with emergency situations, and they weren’t meant for that type of medical care. The teenager with the ruptured spleen had just been very, very lucky that they’d gotten new equipment in recently perfect for his condition, and they’d had both the time and manpower necessary to operate.

“We’re not a hospital,” Seokjin reminded, but he hardly needed to with Jonghyun. “We can’t keep that kid overnight.”

“No,” Jonghyun agreed. “That’s what I stressed the last time I talked to the head of their pediatrics department. That’s why the ambulance is coming now.” Jonghyun offered Seokjin a mischievous look. “I mean, it’s not like I threatened to drive the kid over to the hospital myself, dump him out on their front lawn, and then call the local news stations, or anything.”

“You wouldn’t,” Seokjin chided. “But I’m glad they’re coming, and far before the nine pm cut off.”

Seokjin truly wouldn’t have let such a thing occur, even if the hospital hadn’t come to get the kid before they closed, or even if the teenager hadn’t stabilized enough to be moved. Seokjin would have called Namjoon, alternatively, and sat up the night with the teenager, just to make sure he was okay. They’d have kept him over night, even though the clinic wasn’t supposed to make exceptions.

Seokjin could practically hear his father’s disapproving words in his mind.

His father would have said something like, “You don’t run a charity house, Seokjin. Isn’t it enough that you waste your days away at that clinic of yours? Should you waste your nights, too?”

Seokjin missed his dad. They’d had such a rocky, impossible relationship for a long while. They’d hardly seen eye to eye on anything, and up until the end they hadn’t really understood each other. But they’d been family. And when Seokjin had been in trouble, his father had risked everything, including his good name, to call in the national guard. His father had accepted Seokjin, in the end, and told him many times that he was loved. That was enough for Seokjin. That was closure, as far as he was concerned.

“Still no name, though.”

“Hm?” Seokjin’s eyes had drifted back to the invoice in front of him. Yoona was set to place an order with the distributor they used to purchase their medical items with, and the emergency situation earlier had completely thrown the inventory off. Seokjin was double checking it all now, and wanted to get it done before he had to leave for his date with Namjoon.

“On the kid.” Jonghyun clarified, “The teenager laying fifty feet from us as we speak.” He pointed towards a far wall.

“His friend still isn’t talking?” Seokjin assumed, moving to the locked area of the storage room, where the most expensive items were kept separated away. “That’s odd.”

“That’s fishy,” Jonghyun said confidently. “Two kids stumble their way in here, one of them has a ruptured spleen, and no one is saying any names. Remind you of anything?”

It did.

It reminded Seokjin of that first night, when Namjoon had been thrust into his care, bleeding and shot, while the rest of Bangtan’s core members flittered around anxiously wanting Seokjin to save him. They’d been using code names back then, but that was the same as giving no names.

Except for Jimin, of course. Jimin, who’d been loud and brash and unabashedly honest with who he was and the service he was demanding from Seokjin. Along with that gun of his.

Seokjin liked to think they’d come a long, long way.

Jonghyun supplied for Seokjin, “Trouble. It reminds you of trouble. The hurt kid is down for the count, but his friend made a couple of suspicious phone calls earlier. And he won’t give us so much as a name for either of them. No contact info. No way to identify them. Nothing.”

Seokjin laughed a little. “It’s not suspicious that kids don’t want to tell adults anything. That’s pretty much the standard.”

Jonghyun grumbled a little, “Okay, you’re right there. But Seokjin—Jin, seriously, what kid goes through something this traumatic and doesn’t want his mom? Or his big brother? Or whoever? And being this tight lipped? Letting nothing slide? Someone’s been coaching these kids on how to keep their mouths shut. This is not normal, Seokjin, and the hospital wasn’t too happy when I couldn’t give them any identifying information.”

Seokjin certainly didn’t want to feed into Jonghyun’s paranoia, but he also thought there was something suspicious about the two teenagers. Still, he’d been around long enough to know when people were hiding things, it was often best to leave well enough alone.

Seokjin did not want to go sticking his nose into anyone’s business now. He had enough of his own business to fuss over.

So let the teenagers keep secrets. Let them pretend however they want. As long as they weren’t putting the clinic in any kind of danger, Seokjin couldn’t care less if they wanted to give their names or not.

“Well, Jonghyun,” Seokjin said, giving him an earnest look. “Those two, especially the injured boy, are now the hospital’s problem. Sign them over to the paramedics who show up for transport, and let’s just wash our hands of this, okay?”

Jonghyun didn’t look happy with the proposed solution, but he did agree.

Seokjin reminded, “Some of our patients feel uncomfortable telling us who they are. At least until we earn their trust. Just pretend like this is one of those instances, okay? And then put this from your mind.” Seokjin asked, “Aren’t you freaking out about that case with Mrs. Lee?”

It was definitely the right thing to say, because a distracted look overtook Jonghyun’s face, and he said, “I’m not just freaking out, Jin. I’m convinced there’s something there that I’m just missing. And that is driving me up the wall.”

In an easy way, Seokjin reassured, “I looked over her file, you know. She’s got all the symptoms of arthritis, her age fits, and she has a family history. Not to mention she used to be a secretary and spent six hours a day typing. Her case seems pretty clear cut to me.”

“That’s because you’re not a rheumatologist.” Jonghyun poked an accusing finger at Seokjin, but not a serious one. “I’m sure a million other doctors outside of the field would agree with you. But I’m telling you, something doesn’t feel right. I’m missing something. And I’m not giving up until I find out what that is.”

All doctors got hung up on cases, once in a while. That was as predictable a thing as the passage of time. And doctor’s intuition was a very real thing as well. Not to mention Jonghyun had been in his field for a while. So if he said there was something more to the case than what it looked like, Seokjin was inclined to believe him. And give him time. Until the patient requested a new doctor, or went to a different hospital, she was Jonghyun’s patient to do with as he wished.

The clinic was Seokjin’s, but he wasn’t going to overstep on Jonghyun’s toes.

He wasn’t going to do that to his friend.

“Don’t give up,” Seokjin encouraged. “You’re a great doctor. I’ve got faith in you.”

“Goody two shoes,” Jonghyun teased. He turned to leave, then asked, “Who’s locking up tonight? You’re leaving at eight, right?”

“Joy,” Seokjin said, holding Jonghyun’s gaze. “She’s more than proven herself over the past few months, so I want to test her on the closing procedure. Moonbin will be with her the entire way. He said he’ll walk her to her car. I know we’re in a much better neighborhood, but better safe than sorry, right?”

Jonghyun said flatly, “They’ve both only been here a couple of months. Won’t it be the blind leading the blind?”

Seokjin asked back, “Don’t you think we hire exceptional people?” He rather thought both Joy and Moonbin had proven themselves. “The people we choose to hire are a reflection on us.”

With a wry laugh, Jonghyun said, “Then that doesn’t make us look very good, does it, when you think about the fact that we’re the ones who okayed that idiot intern of ours.”

“You gave the okay,” Seokjin insisted. “Don’t put the blame on me with that.” He made one last check on the invoice and walked to Jonghyun’s side. “I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly like for someone else to be cleared to close the place up at night, other than us. We’re both morning people, Jonghyun, and I don’t live above the clinic anymore. So either we start training people we trust to close, or one of us is here every single night.”

Jonghyun gave a one shoulder shrug. “Okay. Fair enough. If the new kids manage to not burn the place down miraculously, we’ll take a break from being the responsible ones.”

“Deal,” Seokjin replied.

It took the ambulance more than twenty minutes to arrive, but not by much. And Seokjin was willing to wait out the extra fifteen minutes to make sure that his patient was safely under the care of the paramedics.

In medical school Seokjin had always been chastised for getting too attached to his patients. That wasn’t anything he would deny if pressed. He had a tendency to emotionally attach to people under his care, and it was often hard for him to draw the line after his medical requirements were finished.

There was nothing unprofessional about his empathy, Seokjin was certain. It was just that he liked people. And he was invested in the ones that placed their lives—and their livelihoods, into his hands.

Seokjin slipped back to his office after that to gather his things up. Traffic wouldn’t be too bad in the twenty minutes he assumed it would take for him to drive to his and Namjoon’s apartment, and then he could be showered and changed and at the restaurant on time.

He was nearly out the door by the time his cellphone started ringing. Namjoon’s name was on the faceplate.

“You had better not be canceling on me an hour before we’re supposed to have dinner,” Seokjin warned, offering a wave to one of the nurses as he passed from the air-conditioned clinic, to the still muggy and hot outside. “Namjoon.”

Namjoon gave a chuckle, and it was an easy one, which did a lot to dispel Seokjin’s fears. “I hope you know how utterly terrifying you are when you have that tone in your voice. I’m serious.”

“You’re not serious.” Seokjin palmed his car keys as he walked quickly to where he’d parked that morning. The clinic had a small parking lot, but there was a bigger, underground facility a block away, and Seokjin preferred to park there. He couldn’t justify parking in the clinic’s lot, when those spots could go to patients in need. “You don’t sound serious.”

“I don’t sound serious,” Namjoon returned warmly, “because I’m not standing in range of you. If I was standing next to you, I promise, I’d be very, very serious. Don’t get it wrong, Kim Seokjin, you are a force to be reckoned with when you want to be, and I’m not stupid enough to piss you off without having a contingency plan of any kind. Or not without putting some distance between us. You’re the alpha in this relationship, and I’m super okay with that.”

Seokjin felt a smile pull at his lips, and Namjoon’s words were comforting. “Flatterer.”

Seokjin could almost picture the grin on Namjoon’s face, as he said “And no, I’m not calling to cancel on you. I wouldn’t call so soon before we’re supposed to meet up. I want to keep all my parts attached to me.”

Teasingly, Seokjin offered, “I’d never take off something essential, Namjoon. At least not something I enjoy.”

Namjoon laughed loudly across the line then. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Seokjin replied, and it was such an authentically quick reaction. “So, why are you calling, then? I’m about to head home and get a shower before going to the restaurant.” Seokjin gave a quick look around the street for a familiar face, then started the trek down two levels to his car. “You’re not here, are you? Or did you send someone? You know I don’t like leaving the car overnight in a parking garage.”

“You’re more protective of that car now than you are of Jungkook.”

“That is not true,” Seokjin said back almost snappishly. He’d coddle and smother his brother to death until his dying day. But there was something special about the car to him. Namjoon knew that, too. It was what the car represented, that mattered.

Namjoon told him, “I’m not calling to cancel, okay? Don’t freak out. But I am going to be a little late. Maybe half an hour? I’m shooting for less.”

It took almost no time to get to the car, and Seokjin slid in expertly. He put his bag in the passenger seat and questioned, “Why? Is something happening? Are you okay?” He couldn’t help the rush of fear that snaked its way through him. It was a reaction he’d never been able to squash down completely.

Even if he told himself a million times that it was an irrational fear. Sure, Bangtan was still active, and bigger and stronger than ever. And gang business was gang business, regardless if there were shootouts or not. Plus, Namjoon had Yoongi at his side, who was a perfect counterbalance, and smart, and logical, and the only person in the world Seokjin really trusted to keep Namjoon out of trouble.

He still worried. Anything could happen out there. And any peace could just be the calm before the storm.

“Don’t freak out,” Namjoon cautioned.

“You can’t tell me not to freak out,” he returned a little harshly. He turned the car on and cranked up the air. His head thumped back against the headrest as he offered, “Bangtan business?”

“Yes,” Namjoon replied honestly, and Seokjin appreciated that. Namjoon didn’t lie to him, not about anything, and that meant the world. Namjoon wasn’t always happy about answering his questions, but he always did. “I’m in a meeting with Suho right now, we’re just taking a quick breather.”

Seokjin couldn’t help asking, “What’s going on?”

Namjoon was quiet for a moment, then said. “Maybe nothing.”

“But maybe something?”

Namjoon made a noise of agreement. “We can’t talk about it on the phone. I’ll tell you later if you really want to know. Okay?”

“Well, you tell Suho that if he doesn’t let you go in time to meet me at the restaurant—in time for you to look respectable enough to eat there, I’ll have words with him.”

There was a warmth seeping through the phone, and Seokjin just wanted to relish in it. The simple banter, the ease of their words, and the love in each sentence. It was all Seokjin had ever wanted.

“Yes, sir,” Namjoon said. “And trust me, Suho is a smart man. He knows better than to mess with you, too.”

Seokjin pushed down the panic slowly. Suho. Namjoon was with Suho.

Exo and Bangtan, much to everyone’s surprise, had continued to be fast allies. Gangs weren’t known for lasting alliances, or even tentative friendships. And though Suho had come highly recommended, and proceeded by an impressive reputation, the fact that Exo and Bangtan were still on very good terms, spoke volumes to everyone.

“I’d never trust any of them with you,” Namjoon had told him one night, right before bed. “But Exo are good allies to have. They’re upfront and straightforward. Suho hasn’t lied to me yet. So if I had to have my pick of allies, they’re the ones I’d go with every time.”

Seokjin wasn’t delusional enough to think it was an alliance that would last forever. Eventually there’d be something that drove the gangs apart. But for now, Exo and Bangtan watched each other’s backs.

And that was something necessary. Because the two of them had made a big splash when they’d destroyed Infinite. And they’d brought out the bigger fish due to that.

Suddenly, feeling guilty that he might be pressuring Namjoon away from something important, he said, “Namjoon, if it’s really something you need to take care of, we can reschedule. I’m serious. If this is important, I understand.”

There was chatter in the background, and then Namjoon was saying, “Nothing is ever as important as you are. I’ll be there tonight. Just wait for me, okay? Have a glass of wine and don’t let anyone else sit at our table. I don’t want to have to make a scene because some other guy sees what a catch you are and tries to move on you.”

“That’s certainly not going to be an issue. I don’t think anyone is going to make a move in your absence.”

“You only say that because,” Namjoon said, “you don’t see how many people look at you on a daily basis. Look at you and see something special, I mean.”

Seokjin heard the hint of insecurity in Namjoon’s voice, so it was simply to say back, “That doesn’t matter at all, Namjoon. Because I only look at you.”

“I really love you,” Namjoon sighed out.

“I’ll see you tonight.” Seokjin pulled his seatbelt on. “Don’t be too late.”

Honestly, Seokjin would have waited forever for him.

Going home was a pleasure. Seokjin truly loved the moderately priced, but well lived-in apartment that he and Namjoon shared. Namjoon probably could have gotten them some luxury high rise spot, akin to what Seokjin had grown up in. Bangtan’s area, even with the expansion, was mostly lower income neighborhoods, but there were some fringe properties that were very posh.

But that wasn’t the kind of person Namjoon was, and it wasn’t who Seokjin was, either. The both of them preferred smaller spaces, in neighborhoods surrounded by familiar faces. They didn’t have any children (just yet, Seokjin liked to remind himself), so they didn’t need a lot of space. And both he and Namjoon worked long hours, most days of the week. So they really only needed a functionary space for a bit of time.

Their new apartment was located in such a place, tucked in behind a grassy park area, close to where Jungkook and Jimin’s apartment was, and in a neighborhood near where Namjoon had grown up in. Seokjin could walk to the market in fifteen minutes, and knew most of his neighbors, and truly liked his location.

Eventually Seokjin saw himself and Namjoon having to move. There would come a time where they had to have more space, or maybe other circumstances would intervene. But for the moment, home was home, and home was nice.

Seokjin also appreciated the routine he had when he came home. When Namjoon wasn’t there, it was a steady, predictable set of movements that took him from his shoes coming off at the front door, to his keys and wallet being set in a specific place, to his legs moving him to the answering machine across the living room.

Jungkook liked to tease and laugh at him for having an answering machine—really for still having a landline. But considering Jungkook left most of the messages on the answering machine, the point seemed moot.

And as expected, of the three messages waiting for him on the machine, two belonged to Jungkook. And only one the two was actually important in any kind of way. The other, naturally, was Jungkook just being a brat, taunting, “Hellloooooo, Jin! Just calling because you’re a stuffy old prude who can’t even turn his cellphone on during the day because he thinks a silent ringtone is somehow going to interrupt his patients. So this is me, your adorable, wonderful, absolutely perfect brother, reminding you that you promised to buy me meat a week ago, and I’m getting really impatient waiting. You can’t bribe a guy and then not deliver!”

Seokjin had not bribed him. He had not. He’d merely insinuated that if Jungkook aced his Mandarin test, and brought him physical proof of high marks, there might be meat in it as a reward for his diligence.

Jungkook had brought him near perfect marks on the test, and a flawless paper he’d written for his music theory class. Seokjin couldn’t be any prouder of his brother, but he also wasn’t all that surprised.

Almost nothing about school interested Jungkook, but it all came so easy to him it was almost ridiculous.

After a hot and fast shower, Seokjin changed into something more presentable for a romantic dinner with the man he loved, did his hair properly, and headed off to the restaurant. He took Namjoon’s suggestion and ordered a glass of wine. It would be water for the rest of the night, so as not to interfere with his medication, but he’d learned over the years that a little alcohol was okay. He knew how to pace himself and do right by his heart.

The bigger issue while he waited for Namjoon to show, was not letting himself get distracted by his phone. He’d had Yoona synch up his personal phone with his work computer, and now he could bring the office home with him if he wanted. Namjoon hated how easily Seokjin was tempted all the time to work while off the clock, but Seokjin was nothing if not a workaholic.

“I take it you’ve been stood up as well?”

Seokjin hadn’t thought anyone was talking to him for a second, until he glanced over to the direction from the voice, and saw a beautiful young woman looking his way.

“Excuse me?” Seokjin asked, still uncertain.

The woman gave him a flawless, gorgeous smile. “I said, it looks like the two of us are in the same situation.” She gestured to the empty seat across from her.

“Oh.” Realization lit through Seokjin. “Oh! Oh no. I’m sorry. No. I’m waiting for my boyfriend. He’s just running a little late.”

The woman, with her big brown eyes and dark hair, softened her facial expression to something a little sadder. “I thought I was waiting for my boyfriend, too.” She had a glass of white wine in front of her, contrasting the red that Seokjin was drinking. She reached for the glass and finished it. “I’ve been here two hours.”

Seokjin felt nothing but sympathy for her. “I’m …”

“It’s okay,” she cut in, a depressed smile pulling at her features. “I should have expected this. We haven’t been … the relationship hasn’t been good lately.” She set the glass down on her table and introduced, “I’m Yoo Jiae.”

She held out a pale, delicate hand. Seokjin met hers with his own strong grip. “Kim Seokjin. I’m very sorry that someone would stand you up.”

He just couldn’t imagine why someone would. She seemed personable and charming, even if she’d clearly had a little too much to drink. And she was gorgeous. Seokjin found women aesthetically pleasing, and Jiae was absolutely stunning. She was the kind of woman, by mere appearances, who could have anyone she wanted. So what kind of a man stood a woman like her up?

“Like I said,” she reiterated, pushing back at her bangs, clearly trying to ease how flustered she was feeling, “I expected it. I guess a part of me was even hoping he wouldn’t show.”

Seokjin shook his head. “No one deserves to be stood up. Especially by someone who is supposed to care about them.”

She gave him a fuller smile then, a more genuine one. “That’s kind of you to say.” She straightened up. “You’re a kind man.”

Seokjin flushed. “I…”

Anything he was going to say was cut off by Namjoon’s arrival.

And in that moment, everything else ceased mattering. Everything except for Namjoon. That was how Seokjin knew he was in love. That was how he knew Namjoon was his future.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Namjoon apologized, leaning down to give Seokjin a soft kiss. He sat across from him quickly and tucked a napkin into his lap. “I came as fast as I could.”

Seokjin peered at him quizzically. Namjoon’s clothing, while a little rumpled, were fitting for the expensive restaurant they were at. His slacks were pressed correctly, and his shirt was fitted nicely. He even had the kind of dinner jacket on that Seokjin liked him to wear, when they went out. He looked good. Very good.

Except…

“Your hair.” Seokjin observed.

Namjoon frowned, leaning forward a little. “My hair?”

Seokjin heaved himself out of his chair a little, and leaned over the table. He let his fingers drag through Namjoon’s hair. The strands were getting a little too long, or at least longer that Namjoon typically wore his hair, so the man was probably due for a haircut soon. But for now, Namjoon’s hair was looking a little wild, like it had been kicked up by the wind, and Seokjin smoothed it down gently.

He did mumble into Namjoon’s ear though, “There’s no wind outside, dear.”

Namjoon caught Seokjin’s wrist. “Are you sure? I mean …”

Seokjin asked him, “What have I told you about getting on the back of Jimin’s bike without a helmet? The both of us know Jimin is excellent on that thing, regardless of what I think about motorcycles, but it only takes one accident for your brains to be splattered on the side of the road.”

Namjoon leaned in effortlessly to peck Seokjin on the lips. “Got it, babe.”

The moment passed quickly enough, and Seokjin felt self-conscious. He certainly wasn’t afraid to be affectionate with Namjoon in public, but maybe there was a time and a place for everything, and in the middle of a busy, fancy restaurant, was not one of them.

Seokjin looked back to where the woman had been seated, one table over, but she was gone now. Seokjin truly hoped she found someone more deserving of her time. Someone who treated her better.

Namjoon reached across the table to take Seokjin’s hand in his own, and offered, “You look really happy.”

Seokjin squeezed the fingers in his own. “I had a good day.”

Namjoon guessed, “So you got to set a couple of bones, maybe tuck a vital organ back into place? Or did you get really lucky and get to use that big fancy CT machine of yours? You always look the happiest when you get to use that thing.”

“You know me too well,” Seokjin laughed. “But no. I got to perform surgery today. Emergency surgery.”

Namjoon shook his head. “That sounds scary.”

“It was,” Seokjin agreed. “But it was good, too. I missed that sort of thing. I haven’t really gone digging around in someone, in a life or death situation, in a long time. I almost forgot what it felt like.”

The rush and the thrill of it, of holding someone’s life in his hands …there was no comparing it to anything else. There was no substitute for the adrenaline rush. Seokjin had gone to medical school to study the field of oncology, but he’d very nearly become a trauma surgeon. His first love, medically wise, was surgery.

When Seokjin glanced up at Namjoon, there was an indescribable look on his face. An ambiguous one.

“What?” Seokjin questioned.

Namjoon put an elbow up on the table and asked bluntly, “Are you happy?”

“I just said I was,” Seokjin asked, confused.

“I mean …” Namjoon corrected, “I mean with where you are in your life? With that clinic of yours? With …” He stopped and sighed. “I’m just sitting across from you here, listening to you talk about actually getting to be a surgeon today. And you lit up, Jin. You lit up like I haven’t see in forever.”

Seokjin didn’t like where Namjoon was going with the conversation.

“I’m not saying it isn’t amazing—your clinic,” Namjoon rushed to add. “It’s phenomenal, really. What you do for the neighborhood, and anyone who needs you, is beyond generous. You’re amazing at what you do. But from this side of the table it looks like the clinic is holding you back in a lot of ways. It’s definitely keeping you from what makes you shine like the sun.”

Seokjin sat back in his seat and pulled his hand away from Namjoon. He pointed out, “Even if I hadn’t opened the clinic, I’d be an oncologist. I wouldn’t be doing the kind of surgery that I did today. I’d be working out of an office probably ten floors up at a fancy hospital, doing maybe one or two operations every couple of months. I wouldn’t be down in some chaotic emergency room.”

“Do you want to be?”

Namjoon was staring at him like there was no wrong answer. He was looking at Seokjin like he’d be supported no matter what he said. And that meant he thought there was serious truth to what he was saying.

“I’m where I want to be,” Seokjin said firmly, even if he supposed it was a matter he probably needed to think long and hard on. Because the clinic was his life, and he loved his patients. But his passion was surgery, and he got to do very little of that at the clinic.

Namjoon extended his hand out a little further on the table, palm up. “It’s okay if you’re not,” Namjoon said, voice going soft. “Jin. Jin, listen to me. It’s okay if you’re not.”

Namjoon’s eyes were bearing deep into Seokjin’s own. It should have been uncomfortable. It certainly wasn’t, though. It just felt like a wakeup call.

“I love being a surgeon,” Seokjin admitted. He put his hand back up on the table, into the fold of Namjoon’s. “There’s nothing I love more than being in the moment, saving lives, putting all of my skills and knowledge to the test. Today? Today I felt alive.”

Namjoon, as if he didn’t have a care in the world about all the people around them, scooted his chair almost obnoxiously right next to Seokjin. He tightened his grip on Seokjin’s hand, and bumped their forehead’s together. “Well? What are we going to do about that?”

“We?” Seokjin wondered. “Nothing. I mean … Namjoon…”

Namjoon insisted, “We’re going to do something, that’s for sure. Because you are a wonderful, kind, generous person. You’re pretty much a badass when it comes to doctors, and you do so much for others, you deserve to be happy yourself. So we need to think about what we’re going to do to make that a reality. You and me, we’re a team, right? So when you have a problem, it’s my problem too.”

It was almost maddening, the love Seokjin felt for Namjoon, and he just couldn’t contain it. Namjoon’s mouth was so close to his own, and without warning he was kissing Namjoon’s lips fiercely.

“We’re gonna get kicked out of here,” Namjoon mumbled against his mouth, meeting his kisses passionately, letting go of Seokjin’s hands to frame his face. “Public indecency.”

“We absolutely won’t,” Seokjin reassured, kissing back. “The manager knew who I was when I walked in. That means he knows who you are.” And they were still in Bangtan’s territory.

Regaining some decorum, Seokjin forced himself away from the intoxicating sensation of kissing Namjoon, and gulped down some water instead.

“Admit it,” Namjoon ribbed, squeezing his knee under the table. “You like being my boyfriend. You like the doors it opens for you. There isn’t a person in here who wouldn’t wait on you hand and foot because of me.”

Seokjin pointedly elbowed him in the ribs and said firmly, “I’d like you even if no one afforded you any respect except for me.”

Seokjin could see their waiter in the distance, watching them discretely, probably trying to decide when the swoop in and take their order. Seokjin appreciated his discretion.

He nudged more politely at Namjoon and ordered, “Get back to your side of the table, okay? I want to eat sometime tonight. I’m opening the clinic tomorrow, so I have to go to bed at a respectable time.”

Namjoon scooted his chair back, but promised salaciously, “I hope you know I plan to respect you tonight. I’m going to respect you so hard tonight.”

Seokjin burst out laughing as he waved the waiter over. “Dirty,” he whispered at Namjoon.

“You love me for it,” Namjoon whispered back.
Seokjin absolutely did.

They were halfway through their meal an hour later, and by then conversation had turned to lighter things. Seokjin was having quite a bit of fun telling Namjoon about the visit he’d gotten from Hoseok, and Namjoon was practically leaning on him for information about how Taehyung and Hoseok had gotten started as a couple.

“You didn’t know either?” Seokjin asked, confounded.

“Not really,” Namjoon admitted. “There are some of us in Bangtan, you know, who throw everything we have—everything we are, into the gang. Me and Jimin, we’re like that. Jungkook? He’s like that. Then you’ve got people like Suga, and V and J-Hope. They’re a little more comfortable separating Bangtan from things not Bangtan things. Either works, but there’s a distinct difference.”

Seokjin reminded, “A long time ago I was talking to Taehyung about his relationship with Hoseok.” It had been when Hoseok had gotten sick, when he’d cut himself and contracted a fever and infection from the wound. “He said that a some of you, though he didn’t name names, had a lot of say about their relationship. I thought he meant that their relationship hadn’t started until after they’d joined Bangtan.”

Namjoon tapped lightly on the rim of his own wine glass in thought, before answering, “They didn’t tell us. J-Hope joined first, then V after him, and no one knew they were dating for a long time. It came out by accident, actually. Suga and I were worried they’d prioritize their relationship before Bangtan. We were worried that their relationship, if it ever went bad, would spell problems for all of us.”

“The same could be said for our relationship.”

Namjoon didn’t deny it, and instead said, “But by the time we were happening, V and J-Hope had already proven that relationships can work in Bangtan, even when there are problems. They were the prototype.”

“So,” Seokjin eased out, “you could say we owe a lot to them.”

“In more ways than you think,” Namjoon told him.

“Then we have to make sure their anniversary is extra special.” Seokjin was convinced there was nothing else to be done about it. Taehyung and Hoseok were incredible people, who’d done a lot for him. And he intended to make their anniversary something amazing. “I’m sure my uncle will be okay with them using his vacation house. He hasn’t even been up there himself in years. But when they get there, I want us to have something special waiting for them.”

Namjoon’s eyebrows rose. “Like flowers? A card?”

Flatly, Seokjin said, “I really hope you get a little more romantic by the time our anniversary rolls around.”

“I’ve got time,” Namjoon said. “We didn’t officially start dating until September. We agree on that, right? It’s only May. I’ve definitely got time.”

“I’m already preparing for the worst,” Seokjin said dramatically. But he absolutely had faith in Namjoon, who liked to play that he was less smart, and less creative than he actually was.

The hours crept by after that, with Seokjin and Namjoon finishing their meal, then sharing a desert, and taking a short walk after dinner. May in Seoul meant heat that stretched all through the night, but without the sun, it was a nice walk to have under the stars. And it was nicer with Namjoon’s hand in his own.

And when they went home to their apartment, where their things were scattered in together, it felt like the perfect end to the night. They shared soft, unrushed kisses in bed, and Seokjin drifted lazily in comfort and warmth.

He mumbled, just as he was starting to drift off, “You never told me what’s going on with you and Bangtan. With Suho.”

Namjoon’s breath puffed against Seokjin’s hair as they twined together, and he asked in his own sleepy voice, “You really want to talk about this now? In bed?”

“No,” Seokjin admitted, pressing his fingers against Namjoon’s ribs, and then up to the old bullet wound on his chest. “Not really. I just don’t want you to think I forgot. Your problems are mine, remember?”

Seokjin soaked in the feeling of Namjoon quietly breathing next to him, alive and so precious.

“I’m gonna marry you some day,” Namjoon let slip, sounding halfway asleep already.

Seokjin’s fingers stilled against his chest, and he felt himself practically holding his breath until Namjoon’s muscles relaxed and he was snoring softly.

From across the room Seokjin could hear a low tick-tock from the clock, and beyond that there was the occasional sound of a car driving slowly down the residential street.

“You’re right,” Seokjin told the sleeping Namjoon, his voice barely loud enough to be heard. “I am going to marry you one day. So you better say yes when I ask.”

On that, though, Seokjin wasn’t really worried.

Chapter Text

Before going to bed the night previous, Seokjin had set his alarm for six. It was the typical time he gave himself to get ready in the morning, at least when he knew he and Namjoon were going to be home together, and factoring in how handsy they could get.

Even in the morning.

Maybe especially in the morning, because Seokjin was absolutely a morning person, and it seemed like Namjoon was an anytime person, when it came to Seokjin.

So he’d set his alarm for six, thinking it was more than enough time to lounge around in bed together for a couple of minutes, enjoy a simple and quick breakfast, shower, and get to the clinic fast enough to have the door ready to open at eight.

He and Jonghyun had been talking about letting Moonbin and Joy take over closing the clinic some nights, but thankfully Seokjin had Yoona every weekday morning to open. She was always promptly there at seven. She got the necessary things set up for the predictable morning rush. She booted up all the computers, set out the day’s schedule, and made it possible for Seokjin to arrive just before eight.

She really was the clinic’s MVP, and she was definitely getting a raise as soon as the next quarter’s budget was approved.

So all things taken into account, Seokjin absolutely expected to wake up practically smothered to death by Namjoon, and squished in-between him and the bed. Namjoon had a particular habit of kind of rolling over onto Seokjin in the middle of the night. Seokjin had learned to adapt to it, and he certainly thought it had a lot to do with how much Namjoon had lost in the past that he spent most of his subconscious time clutching at things.

But this morning Seokjin did not wake up squashed between the mattress and Namjoon. He didn’t wake up overheated and maybe with a numb hand or foot. And that was disconcerting, because his brain told him he should have. As he sat up in a confused way, his brain told him he’d gone to bed with Namjoon, and he should still be in bed with Namjoon.

Had Namjoon had a nightmare? It was a real possibility.

Namjoon did not like to admit he had nightmares, even to Seokjin who shared a bed with him, but Namjoon absolutely did. And they weren’t just nightmares, either. They were night terrors. They were the kind of night terrors, too, that had Namjoon waking up with a scream. Namjoon was often disoriented when he experienced his night terrors, sometimes he cried, and they were almost always about Seokjin, or Namjoon’s grandparents.

Seokjin hated them. He hated that Namjoon suffered through them. But Seokjin had brought up counseling once. He’d tried to convince Namjoon to see someone—to talk to someone. Namjoon had reacted so harshly to the suggestion, almost mean in his dismissal, that Seokjin wasn’t going to be bringing the suggestion up again.

And once in a while, Namjoon had a night terror that Seokjin managed to sleep through. Namjoon never went back to sleep after having a night terror, so it wasn’t uncommon in that situation to find Namjoon in the living room, watching TV, or sitting in the dark, or tucked away on their balcony with only his thoughts for company.

More than he night terrors, Seokjin hated Namjoon dealing with them on his own. The last thing Seokjin wanted to do was sleep through those things when Namjoon needed him.

Unsure, Seokjin scooted to the edge of his side of the bed. His slippers were waiting for him, and he tucked his feet into them even though the apartment was still at a pleasant temperature. Then he looked around the room for some kind of evidence of a night terror. But there was only Namjoon’s unkept side of the bed, and Namjoon’s missing slippers.

The clock said five-fifteen.

Seokjin reached over and turned his alarm off, then he pulled himself up from the bed, stretched, and went looking for Namjoon.

He’d genuinely been prepared to navigate the dark floorplan of the apartment by memory, when he opened the bedroom door that had been firmly shut. But he hadn’t needed to, because there was a lamp on in the living room, and then further out, the kitchen light was brightly spilling out of the room.

Seokjin took a couple of steps out of the bedroom, and that was all it took for him to hear voices.

“—know I’m right, Rap Mon.”

And that, Seokjin would have known anywhere, was Jimin.

It wasn’t unusual, at least a couple days out of the week, for Seokjin to wake up to people in his apartment, and that was something he’d had to get used to. Seokjin liked having his personal space. And he liked to share that space with people of his choosing—unless it was Jungkook, of course. Jungkook had a tendency to just barrel in whenever he wanted, and it had always been that way.

So to constantly have members of Bangtan just showing up at his house, without warning, invading his personal space, had gotten under his skin fairly quickly. And though he and Namjoon fought rarely, the matter had spectacularly blown up between them, with Seokjin threatening to move out, and Namjoon accusing him of pretending as if he hadn’t known it would be a thing.

Seokjin had camped out Jonghyun’s sofa for two nights during their fight, and for a moment it had seemed like the kind of fight that might truly tear them apart.

“I knew they’d be in our space,” Seokjin said after Namjoon had come around on the third day, asking to talk to him, not apologizing, but perfectly calm and hopeful. “I knew moving in with you meant moving in with Bangtan, to an extent. But this is our home, Namjoon. This is our safe space. And it’s important to me that we have control over our home. I need that, and it’s non-negotiable.”

Stubborn, Seokjin’s father used to call him. It wasn’t a lie, either. Seokjin tried his best to be a good person, and hide his flaws from others. But if there was any real deficit to him, it was his inability to compromise when necessary, and how he often saw things in absolutes.

“It has to be negotiable,” Namjoon had said back, not giving an inch. “I’m Bangtan’s leader. And Jin, don’t let this calmness fool you, okay? There is a world of danger out there just waiting to pounce on us. The other gangs? They’ve been giving us some breathing room because of how it all went down with Infinite, and in particular your father. They’re not going to tangle with anyone who looks like they have the military in their back pocket.”

“That was a one-off thing for my dad,” Seokjin had responded quietly. To this day he didn’t know what his father had said to get access to the military like he had, or how he’d justified it, or most of the details in general. But even now Seokjin was starting to consider that his father had more secrets than anyone would ever know.

And Namjoon had agreed, “And your dad, you know I’m sorry to say, is gone now. So it won’t take the others long to figure out we don’t have that kind of manpower at our disposal. And they’re going to start testing us. They’re going to start picking fights. This is the life, Jin. It never ends. I told you that a long time ago, and I’m telling you again. If you choose me, you’re choosing this. And in order for me to keep you safe, and Bangtan safe, and all the people here safe, Suga and the others have to have that kind of access to me. It’s a matter of safety.”

Seokjin, in a way that had ended up torture for the both of them, had taken another day to think on everything. Because he had known what getting into bed with Namjoon meant. He’d understood what willingly exposing himself to Bangtan would entail.  But knowing it and living it felt like two different things.

Low and behold, however, there had been compromise.

And the compromise was set in cement, now. The boys didn’t come over to Namjoon and Seokjin’s apartment without calling first, even if it was only a five-minute grace period. They didn’t just burst through the door without warning, and without being courteous. Not unless it was a real emergency. And neither did they come before a specific time.

Seokjin was okay with sharing his life with Bangtan, out of necessity or choice. But his mornings were his own, and he had a routine he liked to keep to.

So why was Jimin in the kitchen before six? Presumably he was talking to Namjoon, and he sounded serious. So was it an emergency?

“No,” Namjoon’s voice carried out of the room, “what I know, Jimin, is that if we start poking around on someone else’s turf, without good reason, we’re going to spark a conflict. Do you want to spark a conflict right now?”

Seokjin moved closer, hidden in the shadows, and he could see the scowl on Jimin’s face.

“Of course not. But we need eyes out there. That’s what you and Suho agreed on yesterday, you know. And what Suga reported in last night? That seals the deal. We have to know what’s going on, especially if it’s anything coming out way.”

Namjoon sighed. “The quiet is killing you, isn’t it? Jimin, it’s not a bad thing to live in peace.”

Jimin huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked away from the heart of the kitchen, and his eyes found Jin’s own.

Things had been … okay, between Jin and Jimin over the past few months. There was still an awkwardness to them that Jin wasn’t certain was ever going to go away.  Jimin still looked at him oddly, like he was fighting back words that wanted to consume him. and Jin found himself tiptoeing around Jimin sometimes, trying to be overly considerate of the other’s feelings.

Jimin hadn’t said anything about his feelings for Jin fading as time passed, but neither had he said anything about his feelings period. They were certainly on the best terms that they’d ever been on, and Seokjin rather liked Jimin’s company now. But they didn’t talk about more private matters. Jimin never spoke of his emotions, either.

Seokjin looked at Jimin now, standing in his kitchen, looking like he hadn’t gone to sleep at all the night previous.

“Is everything okay?” Seokjin asked.

Jimin frowned. “Are we being too loud?”

The touch of consideration was so Jimin that Jin adored him for it. Jimin tried so hard, even now, to hide behind the rough exterior that had protected him for years. But every once in a while, usually when Seokjin himself as involved, Jimin would soften up. There’d be cracks in the shell. There’d be a hint of something gentler still hidden away in Jimin.

“Seokjin?”

Namjoon cut in front of Jimin as he came to Seokjin’s side, worry etched across his face.

With a little embarrassment, Seokjin admitted, “I woke up because you weren’t in bed. What’s going on?”

“Sorry.” Namjoon pushed his fingers through his unruly hair. “Sorry.”

More of a statement now than a question, Seokjin said, “There’s something going on.”

“There’s no point in trying to hide anything from him,” Jimin called out, some amusement laced into his words.

Namjoon glanced back to Jimin. “I’m not hiding anything. But there’s a difference between that and not wanting to worry Jin unnecessarily.”

Seokjin rolled his eyes, pushing past Namjoon to reach the kitchen. He turned the coffee maker on right away, and then opened the refrigerator to glance over the groceries inside. He and Namjoon needed to go shopping soon, but there was more than enough for a simple breakfast.

Seokjin angled towards Jimin and asked, “I take it you’re staying for breakfast? You’re not a bottomless pit like Taehyung or Jungkook, but I’ve seen you eat enough to know what you’re capable of. And how, like them, you’re probably always hungry.”

“I …” Jimin seemed unsure what to say.

Seokjin stated, “You’re staying for breakfast. Take off your jacket.”

Jimin fumbled for the zipper on his jacket as Namjoon trailed to Seokjin’s side once more. “Jin,” Namjoon started. “I didn’t wake you because there’s nothing to worry about.”

Seokjin leveled him with an unimpressed look. “I thought you just said you didn’t want to worry me. Now there’s nothing to worry about? That’s a fine distinction.”

Jimin smothered down a chuckle across the room.

“Out with it,” Seokjin said, pulling out a half full carton of eggs and thrusting them into Namjoon’s hands. “What’s going on? Is it serious? You know I don’t like being in the dark about these things.”

Namjoon openly admitted defeat as he said, “I don’t know why I even try.” He pressed a dry kiss to Seokjin’s cheek. “Let’s eat some breakfast, okay? We’ll all probably be less prone to homicidal urges with some food in us.”

Seokjin was terrible at compromise, really. It was a flaw borne of how hard he’d had to work at life to get to where he was. But for Namjoon, he could always try.

“So there’s been movement,” Jimin said through a bite of rice with an egg topping it. “To the East.”

“The East?” Seokjin wasn’t really sure he could name any of the big gangs to the East, and he was sure that was what Jimin meant when he said movement. There was a certain kind of vernacular, or lingo that Bangtan used, and after enough time, Seokjin could decipher it easily enough. “With who?”

“The Triad,” Jimin said easily.

Seokjin just felt confused.

Namjoon reached out to take Seokjin’s spare hand in his own reassuringly. He kissed Seokjin’s fingers and explained, “We just call them the Triad.”

Jimin’s flicked off easily on his own fingers, “Pentagon, SF9, and Up10tion. Up until a half year ago, they were nobodies. Today? They’re flowing easily in an out of each other’s territories. Too easily.”

Namjoon added, “They are very small gangs.  Each of them has less than a hundred members, and territory fewer than a dozen square blocks. So it’s notable that they’re … mingling so much.”

Seokjin looked down at his breakfast, at the bowls of items spread out in front of him. Movement was never good, even if it was as natural a thing as breathing, to gangs. There was always a push and pull to the gangs and the dynamics they shared. Still as far as Seokjin could figure, movement mattered based on the scale of it. And this was obviously something noteworthy.

But why?

“Why does that matter at all?” Seokjin couldn’t help shrugging. “You’ve always said that gangs are constantly bumping up against each other. And these are small gangs, so isn’t it natural they’d test limits and try to expand? What makes any of this noteworthy?”

Jimin broke in, “A couple of reasons, actually. I mean, firstly, it’s a big deal that they’re getting along. They’re three gangs located right next to each other. They should be at each other’s throats. This is how it is, Jin. The strong consume the weak. One of these gangs should be eating the other two, not making nice. Have you been coaching them on being respectable human beings?”

Seokjin pointedly dragged the dish of meat that he’d prepared with the meal away from Jimin and lectured, “Aren’t you still learning that lesson? Maybe you should go up there and get some pointers.”

Jimin only tugged the other dishes closer to his body.

“He’s not wrong,” Namjoon said, his foot bumping Seokjin’s. “It’s always like this. When you have a cluster of small gangs, the up and coming kind, someone always gets eaten. Little gangs don’t work together. They destroy each other. It’s how they rise to the top and become major players.”

Seokjin wondered who Bangtan had eaten up, then.

“So,” Seokjin reasoned, “this is a big deal then.”

Pointedly, Namjoon held up a finger to stop any more musing comments from him, and said, “The bigger deal isn’t that this is happening. The bigger deal is that it’s happening right out in the open. This is unheard of.”

The clock against the far wall said that despite the odd way the morning was developing, Seokjin was still pretty much on time. So he wasn’t worried about how the conversation was dragging out. He still had plenty of time to shower and get to work.

Jimin snuck back the bowl of meat.

Seokjin reminded, “But Bangtan and Exo worked together for something huge. You’re still working together, and you’re doing it out in the open.”

“Now,” Jimin said, through a mouth full of food.

“Not initially,” Namjoon agreed. “And there’d be no point of trying to hide how loyal our gangs are to each other at this point. But it’s just plain stupid to advertise your alliances early on, before any big power play can be made. So why are the Triad doing that?”

Seokjin leaned an elbow up on the table and couldn’t produce a logical answer to that question.

Jimin leveled a heavy look at Namjoon and said, “Like I was saying to Rap Mon, Suga reported in last night—he’s been looking into this matter ever since we noticed what was going on. Last night our guys imbedded in the area relayed that not only were Pentagon, SF9 and Up10tion holding a special get together, but there were members of other small gangs there, too.”

“Like?” Seokjin asked.

Jimin insisted, “No one you’d know, but it matters they’re all getting along so well.”

Almost completely disinterested in the food he’d made, Seokjin couldn’t help asking, “I just don’t’ get why you’re all so worried. Even if all these small gangs decided to consolidate, or just team up, they wouldn’t be an ounce of a threat to Bangtan or Exo. And they’re not even close to your territory.”

“I just don’t like this is happening and I don’t know why,” Jimin said roughly, putting his chopsticks down roughly. “And we’re all small pieces to something bigger. That’s what you don’t get. If you jumble up a couple of pieces, the whole picture falls apart.”

Mouth pursed, Seokjin looked to Namjoon. “You don’t agree?”

“I agree it’s something interesting and worth keeping an eye on,” Namjoon corrected. “I think it’s something practically unheard of, and it means something—even if we don’t know what that something is. But I’m not fixated on it like Jimin seems to be.”

Almost harshly, Jimin leaned forward and snapped, “I am not going to let a bunch of snot-nosed brats start to nose their way into anything that we bled for—nearly died for.”

“There’s no proof of anything like that,” Namjoon dismissed. “And they wouldn’t be going after us, anyway. KARD are the bigger players near them. They’d be the target.”

Seokjin had wanted to know what was going on, but now he wanted to put some distance between himself and it all. It was just speculation, he had to say. At least from his point of view. It was speculation, and he had to side with Namjoon on the matter. It didn’t sound like it was anything worth getting worked up about.

But he was curious, “Is this what you and Suho were busy with last night?”

“Ah ha!” Jimin declared, almost victoriously. “Rap Mon doesn’t like that Suho agrees with me.”

Namjoon ate a few more bites of his meal before saying, “Suho thinks it’s a little more than interesting. He thinks it’s worrying. But don’t get over confident, Jimin. He doesn’t want to go charging in there all gung-ho like you do.”

“You? Over confident?” Seokjin asked Jimin. “Namjoon can’t mean you, can he?”

“Hardy-har,” Jimin offered.

There was suddenly a much more serious tint to their relationship as Namjoon pushed back from the table on his knees and told Jimin in no uncertain terms, “I am telling you to keep your nose clear of this. Let me be very clear here. I don’t care what your instincts are telling you. I don’t care what you think you know. We’re pulling our guys back right now, and we’re letting the matter settle until things become clearer. And if you put one toe into their territory—any of those territories, you risk this blowing up in our face.”

Frowning, Seokjin asked, “How?”

“The peace we’ve got going on here?” Namjoon gestured around. “You like being able to walk down the street after the sun goes down and not have to worry about anything, right? You like knowing that there isn’t a target on Jungkook’s back? That will change in a second if anyone does anything to pop the bubble of peace we’re living in.”

Frustrated, Jimin argued, “Anyone can pop that bubble at any second. You act like only we’re capable of that.”

“Anyone is, you’re right.” Namjoon’s face was set hard, and almost a little scary. “But we aren’t going to be the ones to do it. Because if we are, it’s going to be for a damned good reason, and not to sate your curiosity.”

Silence lapsed between the three of them, and it was the uncomfortable kind.

“I think you’re making a mistake,” Jimin said finally.

“I think you’re forgetting who’s in charge here.” Namjoon got to his feet.

Seokjin found himself springing up with him, more interested in trying to defuse the situation than anything else. Jimin was impossibly impulsive, and Seokjin was absolutely certain Namjoon was thinking about that.

“Namjoon,” Seokjin said quietly.

Namjoon held out a hand to silence him, and Seokjin let it happen. Sometimes he knew there was a line between them, going by the name Bangtan. And as much as Seokjin was a part of them as a whole, he wasn’t a member of Bangtan. So he had to take a step back at times, even when he didn’t want to.

“Do you understand?” Namjoon asked, voice like steel.

Jimin’s jaw looked like it was all locked up, before he finally spit out, “Fine. I get it.”

“I mean it.”

Seokjin winced as Jimin jumped to his own feet, barking out at them, “Yeah, I get it! I said fine. Your word goes, illustrious leader. Everything you want, you get. We’ll all just fall in line!”

Jimin was headed for the front door before another second had passed, and Seokjin was dashing after him.

“Stop. Just stop it.” Seokjin put a heavy hand on the front door, keeping it closed. He could feel the pressure from Jimin trying to pull it open. “Jimin.”

“Get out of my way,” Jimin ground out.

Behind them, Seokjin could feel Namjoon watching.

“Stop running,” Seokjin urged quietly. He kept his voice low so hopefully Namjoon couldn’t hear. “You always run when it gets hard, or you’re upset. For once, just stop running. It’s okay to have disagreements, but nothing good happens when you run from those disagreements. Trust me. I spent a long time doing it with my father.”

Jimin relaxed a little, his grip going loose on the door.

“I made you breakfast,” Seokjin added. “Are you going to be rude and run off before I can guilt trip you into doing the dishes?”

Namjoon’s slipper covered feet sounded on the hardwood floor as he drifted closer, and then his voice was much softer and less angry as he asked, “Will you stay, Jimin? I’m sorry I got upset with you and raised my voice. Stay. We want you to stay.”

Jimin’s shoulders hunched in and he said, “You always get what you want.”

Seokjin felt daring enough to reach out and push at Jimin’s shoulder.  Jimin swayed with the push and it was a good sign.

And then finally, Jimin breathed out, “I hate doing the dishes.”

“Tough,” Seokjin said with a grin. “I need to get ready for work soon.”

Namjoon called out, “The food is getting cold.”

The matter seemed almost completely decided when Jimin turned, but then it was only for him to look at Namjoon and ask point blank, “Are you one hundred percent sure that this is nothing worth getting worked up over? Are you that sure?” His eyes flickered over to Seokjin. “Certain enough to put all our lives on the line over it?”

Unflinchingly, Namjoon held his gaze and returned, “Maybe something will change in the future. But right now? Yes. Yes, I am that sure.”

Jimin gave a sharp nod and then veered around Namjoon to get back the kitchen.

Seokjin waited until Jimin was out of sight to reach out for Namjoon. He clutched at Namjoon’s hand and practically whispered, “What if you’re wrong?”

“I’m not,” Namjoon replied confidently.  There wasn’t a hint of uncertainty in his tone, or on his face. “And I get what Jimin was implying, you know. I know that if Bangtan gets toppled down, it means bad things for you. So yes, I am sure enough to put your life on the line.”

The whole exchange left Seokjin feeling uneasy, but he believed in Namjoon. And Namjoon was Bangtan’s leader for a reason.

“I’m not doing the dishes by myself!” Jimin shouted at them from the kitchen.

“Coming,” Seokjin called back. But when Namjoon tried to pull him along, Seokjin dragged him back.

“What?” Namjoon’s eyebrows furrowed. “What’s wrong?”

“Jimin,” Seokjin offered up. “He’s been getting better at confronting people, issues, and emotions, but when things get hard, he still tries to cut and run. We are not letting him do that anymore. Do you understand?”

Namjoon asked in a confused way, “I asked him to stay. I did the right thing.”

“You did.” And Seokjin was proud of him for it. It couldn’t have been easy for Namjoon to practically beg Jimin to stay.” Seokjin felt like he was deserving of a reward, so he pushed his fingers up into the base of Namjoon’s skull, into his hair, and kissed him deeply.

After that the both of them returned to the kitchen to finish the meal quickly, and then Seokjin was rushing off to take a shower and get dressed for work.

And at the very least, a warm shower and a fresh set of clothing had rid Seokjin of some of the tenseness in him. Not all of it, but some was better than none.

“Jimin left?” Seokjin asked when he met Namjoon in the living room. Namjoon was still dressed in his bed clothes, but Seokjin hoped that was a good thing. Namjoon could do with going back to bed for a few hours, at least relaxing a little. “You didn’t run him off, I hope.”

Namjoon insisted, “I totally proved myself earlier, didn’t I?” He put his arms around Seokjin’s shoulders and tugged him in for a languid kiss. “I didn’t run him off. He just had business to get to. Jungkook won’t be out of class for several more hours, so I need Jimin out there on the streets.”

And even if Jimin was angry about something, Seokjin knew he was reliable. Dependable. Jimin didn’t let emotions get in the way of doing his job.

Seokjin’s fingers came to rest at Namjoon’s waist, and he said firmly, “Jimin really does think there’s something to this matter, you know, with the Triad. That’s a horrible name by the way. And if his gut is telling him something, don’t you think it’s worth looking into? Jimin’s gut is pretty tried and true.”

“You think there’s something going on?” Namjoon wondered.

Seokjin only shrugged. “I don’t know half as much about gang tendencies as you do. I don’t know what’s normal and what isn’t. I just know that Jimin is someone you trust and respect. So isn’t this worth looking into just for those reasons?”

Namjoon leaned forward to engulf Seokjin into a proper hug. His chin rested down on Seokjin’s shoulder, and he took a deep breath. He admitted, “I’m kind of liking this peace, you know. I’m liking late night dinners with you, and not rushing around, not worrying, not expecting the worst. But this kind of thing, the lull before the storm, it never lasts. And I don’t want to be the one to spark the push and pull between gangs again. I don’t want to be the reason everyone starts panicking again.”

“That’s fair.”

Namjoon took another, steadying breath. “Jimin doesn’t think that’s fair. And he might not think it, but I don’t actually like telling him no.”

Seokjin only had to crane his head a little to the side to kiss the edge of Namjoon’s mouth. Then Namjoon was leaning to aid him, and there were proper kisses being exchanged.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” Seokjin asked, releasing his grip on Namjoon. He had to stop before the kissing turned into anything more, and then his self-control went out the window and he was severely late to work.

“No,” Namjoon said emphatically. “Unless you can give Jimin a legitimate reason to be in Wonju.”

“Wonju?”

Namjoon nodded. “That’s where these guys are based out of. Not the biggest place in the world, but noteworthy in other ways. It’s to the East.”

“I know it’s to the East,” Seokjin said, stepping further back from Namjoon and going to his shoes across the living room. “I’m going to be there next week.”

“Excuse me?” Namjoon stumbled after him, looking much too uncoordinated in that moment to possibly be some big bag gang leader. “You’re what?”

“I’ll be in Wonju next week,” Seokjin repeated. “Don’t you remember I told you I was going for that conference? I was invited, and it’s a conference centered around pioneering methods of treating patients in serious situations with limited resources or in particularly unsafe situations. I thought that sort of thing would be especially beneficial to the clinic, for obvious reasons. Namjoon, don’t look at me like that. I told you over a month ago I was going.”

Namjoon looked less shell shocked now as he eased out, “The two-day conference. I … I remember now.”

It had been planned and booked for several months now, and Seokjin was especially looking forward to gleaming new information that could benefit his patients. The clinic wasn’t exactly in the same danger now that it had been in before, but there still wasn’t enough money to go around, resources were limited, and the neighborhood, no matter how hard Bangtan tried, wasn’t a hundred percent safe.

Plus, it would be nice to get away for a couple of days. Seokjin couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone on vacation, and he’d treated himself to a very nice hotel for the night he planned to spend in Wonju.

“Next week I leave.” Seokjin reached for his bag next, pulling the strap over his head. He paused and asked, now concerned, “That’s not going to be a problem, is it? Because of … because of our relationship. They’re not going to think I’m trying to spy on them or something, right?” Infinite had thought that. Seokjin didn’t want to go through it again.

“No,” Namjoon replied, still looking uneasy. “If you’re there for work, they won’t think anything of you. That’s how it works—how it’s supposed to work. A legitimate reason is always a pass.”

“Good.” Seokjin leaned over for a goodbye kiss. “It’s only two days. I’ll be back before you know it. Trust me.”

“Seokjin.” Namjoon caught his wrist to stop him.

Seokjin swung back.

“I always trust you,” Namjoon said, stealing another kiss. “It’s everyone else, I don’t trust.”

Seokjin cracked a smile. “You sound like an overprotective father.”

Namjoon turned Seokjin’s palm up, and pressed a tiny baggie full of Seokjin’s pills into his hand and said, “Don’t forget your vitamins, son.”

Seokjin’s fingers curled around the pills firmly. Of course. He’d absolutely forgotten. With all the excitement that morning, his routine had been disrupted, and so he’d forgotten to take his medication. But Namjoon hadn’t forgotten.

“Thank you,” Seokjin said, putting the baggie safely into his pocket. “Namjoon, I appreciate it.”

“I love you,” Namjoon replied. “Now get going, or else you’re going to be late to work.”

Seokjin could have stayed and gone right back to kissing Namjoon in that moment. It was all he wanted to do. But the rational part of him, the responsible one, was warning him that he was now behind schedule, and if he had any hope of making it to work on time, he was going to need the traffic to cooperate.

“Be safe!” Seokjin called to Namjoon as he hurried out the door.

Namjoon responded, “I always am!”

Yoona was waiting for him at the front door five minutes before the hour, as Seokjin slid in and gave her a quick bow in apology. Outside a couple of the day’s patients were already waiting. Walk-in hours didn’t start for some time, but Seokjin had noticed lately there’d been more and more of a buildup waiting beforehand. He wasn’t sure if he’d just carried over a lot of his patients from the old location, or if the clinic was attracting a new wave of people—more than they could probably handle.

“Just in the nick of time,” Yoona said good naturedly, closing the door after him ad locking it.

“Traffic was a mess,” Seokjin lied, moving quickly to the receptionist’s area. He set his bag down and out of sight, and tried to make himself look presentable.

“Liar,” a voice whispered behind him.

“Don’t say a word,” Seokjin mumbled back to Lizzy who was throwing knowing looks in his way and wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“I already knew that,” Yoona said, breezing past Seokjin to her typical spot at the front desk. Seokjin would have known it was her spot regardless if it was where she sat nearly every day or not. Yoona had decorated the space with pink post-it notes with affirming messages, and pink stickers, and all thinks pink that made Yoona exactly who she was. “How about next time, Doctor Kim, you just budget a little extra time in for your hot boyfriend?”

Seokjin pinned her with, “I can fire you, if you’ll remember.”

“Never gonna happen,” Yoona said confidently. She sat in her chair and brought up the day’s patient intake log. “You’d never get by without me.”

“You’re probably right,” Seokjin laughed.

The doors opened less than five minutes later, and Seokjin felt like his day was just getting started then when he got to see his first patient. And by the time he was on his second, Jonghyun and Krystal had arrived. And so had Irene.

Irene was special to Seokjin, or at least what she represented.

In retrospect, there’d been a lot of vital things that the old clinic lacked. There’d been a lot of services that they couldn’t provide, or options they couldn’t offer the patients. And though Seokjin was proud of where they’d come from, the new clinic was better in every way possible.

And part of that was Irene.

Irene, who’d started just two weeks after the new clinic had opened its doors, was the first and only OBGYN they’d ever had.

If there was anything to feel shame in, for Seokjin it had been in that department. He’d had many, too many, women request a female doctor for private and personal examinations. They’d trusted him, of course, and almost all of them had allowed him to be the doctor examining them in the end, but they’d wanted a female doctor they could feel more comfortable with.

Irene filled that void. Now, when patients requested a female doctor, not just for specific types of examinations, but just in general, Seokjin had something to offer them.

Yet there still were, a lot by his count, many women who came to him and wanted him specifically to oversee their pregnancies, and examinations that were sensitive in nature. He was no obstetrician, but he was still delivering babies.

Still, it was very, very nice to have an alternative for more private women, or for any situation that called for it.

And, with the new machinery they now had, and the tools at their disposal, Irene was using her knowledge to implement preventative care. She was screening for cancer at an exponential rate, and Seokjin was proud of how she’d swept in so easily and adapted to the way the clinic was run.

She’d also brought Joy in with her.

“She’s not my sister,” Irene had said, after recommending Joy to the position. “But she might as well be. We grew up together. We only had each other, in a lot of ways.”

Seokjin had reminded her that the clinic tried to steer clear of nepotism. “We can’t show favoritism in any way,” he’d insisted.

And she’d said right back, “I agree completely. But you need to fill the position, and Joy has the credentials to back up what I’m telling you about her. She’s loyal, has a positive attitude, and she’s professional. She’s a good fit for this clinic, as far as I can see. But take a look at her resume for yourself, and take me out of the equation completely when you decide if you want to interview her.”

Her resume had absolutely spoke volumes, and it was especially impressive at her young age. So Seokjin had interviewed her, and Irene had been right. There was no one better suited than Joy. Jonghyun, who was more of a partner now than anything else, had agreed.

As Seokjin worked his way through the morning rush, trying to fly through his patients as quickly as possible without being inattentive, he let the morning’s friction fade from his mind. Jimin was often at odds with people, it was practically his normal disposition, and when Namjoon put his foot down about something, it was always for a good reason.

It was a matter, this Triad business, that would work itself out. Seokjin was confident. And if there continued to be issues on it, Seokjin would just go to Yoongi. No one dealt with Bangtan problems likes he did.

Seokjin took his lunch at half past one, in the employee lounge, eating the leftovers he’d had stored in the refrigerator from the previous day. He’d cut himself too short in the morning to make anything for lunch, or to stop for anything. And it was hot and humid outside again, as it would be for months. He wasn’t about to go walking anywhere for lunch, or even drive for it. Leftovers would do.

He glanced over to where Moonbin and Jessica were seated across the room. Seokjin did his best to let the employee break periods match up as much as possible. They couldn’t have too many people off the floor at once, but it was always better to eat with others. And the clinic had the distinct pleasure of employing people who all generally liked each other.

From what Seokjin could tell, Jessica was trying to bribe Moonbin into being her nurse for the next couple rotations exclusively. Seokjin recalled that she had a couple surgeries scheduled. But they were outpatient procedures, nothing overly complicated, and probably were better suited for some of the other nurses who were more content with stitching up simple cuts.

Seokjin liked to float the more complicated patients in Moonbin’s direction, in part to test him, and in part because Seokjin knew just what kind of nurse the man was.

“My schedule is already up,” Moonbin told her. “We can’t just make changes to it because you want to gossip about how cute my boyfriend is and yes, by the way, he does have a single, attractive, funny, and successful attorney brother. I do accept bribes.”

Seokjin laughed a little, lowly. He wasn’t sure how a friendship had struck up between the two of them, but it was nice to see.

Seokjin was mostly through his lunch when the door to the well-furnished lounge opened. Joy’s head poked in and she scanned the room. Her eyes settled on him, and then she was moving quickly to him.

Her voice was low and serious as she said, “I’m sorry to bother you on your lunch, Doctor Kim, but there’s a man here to see you.”

Seokjin frowned. “What?” Plenty of people came to see him all the time. She needed to be a lot more specific to narrow anything down. “What does that mean? A patient? Another doctor?”

She grimaced, and Seokjin didn’t like that one bit.

“He says …” she trailed off awkwardly.

Seokjin let his own voice drop as he asked, “Is he Bangtan?” The core members swept in like they belonged, and Seokjin couldn’t really discredit that assumption. But once in a while someone a little lower on the rung came in, and there was always awkwardness when that happened.

Joy shook her head. “No. He just said you’d want to talk to him. The boy from yesterday? The teenager who needed the splenectomy? This man says he’s one of his.”

The phrasing was … telling.

“One of his?”

Joy nodded slowly. “One of his. He used those words exactly.”

Seokjin put the small bit of his lunch left to the side, and then stood slowly. He was much taller than her, but there was a sense of intimacy between them as he asked her in the same, quiet voice, “Has Yoona told you what to do in case of an emergency? A special emergency?”

A gang related emergency.

Unhurriedly, but deftly, she nodded.

Seokjin gripped her hand in a reassuring way as he passed her, saying, “I’ll see him in my office. But if anything goes wrong, you do exactly what Yoona taught you.”

Joy’s eyes were wide and worried as Seokjin went directly for the stairs.

The man in question, standing with his back to Seokjin as he was pointed out by Lizzy, was standing in the smaller waiting room off to the side. It was a secluded little space that most of the regular patients kept away from. Seokjin used the space to talk to family members when something, rarely, went wrong during a procedure.

“That’s him,” Lizzy said, face pinched with uncertainty. Behind her Joy had appeared and was waiting with clear apprehension radiating off her body.

“Thank you,” Seokjin said. He took stock of a smaller build than he was expecting. But he couldn’t see all that much from the angle of the man’s body, truthfully. There was just a slighter figured than Seokjin had imagined in his mind, short cropped black hair, and strong posture that indicated the man wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

There was some fear in Seokjin, as he approached the man, but not as much as there would have been a year ago. He’d been through too much now for that kind of fear to still reside. He’d seen too much. He’d experienced too much.

“Sir?” Seokjin called out.

The man turned then, with a handsome face, and none of the telling marks of someone in a gang.

“You asked for me,” Seokjin followed up. “I’m Kim Seokjin. I performed the surgery on the teenager that was here yesterday. You told my receptionist …”

A bold smile lit the man’s face then as he turned fully to Seokjin. Then he said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kim Seokjin. My name is Choi Seungcheol.”

Oh.

“You …” Seokjin clamped down on his mouth before he could say anything else. But he knew who this man was now. He knew who Choi Seungcheol was. He just couldn’t imagine why he had the leader of Seventeen in his clinic.

Or what it meant.

“I think we need to talk,” Choi said.

Seokjin didn’t really think saying no was an answer. So, numbly, he offered, “Follow me to my office?”

A laugh erupted from the man, and he said to Seokjin, “You’re just as polite as they say you are. Interesting.”

“There’s nothing interesting about being polite,” Seokjin said back, unable to help himself.

“No. I guess not.” Choi bowed a little to him in agreement. “Lead the way then to your office.”

Seokjin swallowed past the lump in his throat and did just that.

Chapter Text

Seokjin had the most spacious office in the building. He hadn’t planned it that way on purpose, it had just kind of happened. Most of the time, however, all that empty space was wasted. Seokjin tried to spend most of his time on the floor in the clinic seeing patients, and as little as possible in the room that had his name on the door. He saw consults from time to time, and had private meetings with patients as necessary. But for the most part, the room always felt a touch too big, and always too empty.

Except for now, naturally.

Now, as Seokjin closed the door behind Choi Seungcheol and gestured for the man to take a seat in the chairs placed in front of his desk, the room felt too small. It felt impossibly small, and like the air was going thin.

The air conditioner was blasting down onto him as he closed the door to give them privacy, but he could have baked in his skin in that moment.

Nervously, but trying to coach himself to be otherwise, Seokjin asked, “Can I offer you a drink? We have coffee for sure, bottled water, and tea.”

Seungcheol, in a graceful way, let himself down into one of the hairs. An ankle crossed a knee, and his head cocked curiously.

Fighting back a stutter, Seokjin added, “We might have juice? I can check.”

Seungcheol’s mouth tipped upward and he commented, “You should hear the things people say about you.”

Seokjin’s hand held on the door handle for a moment more as he suppressed the urge to run for help. “People say things about me?”

Running wouldn’t do him any good, Seokjin decided, pushing away from the door and walking directly to his seat behind his desk. He threaded his fingers and placed them atop the desk in plain view.

What would running accomplish him, really? Nothing. Because even if Namjoon was standing out in the lobby, which he most certainly was not, starting a fight of any kind in his clinic was not acceptable under any circumstances. His patients were not fodder or acceptable collateral damage.

“Nothing you aren’t proving to me now,” Seungcheol eased out. “People talk. People always talk.”

By people, he most certainly meant gang members.

The biggest question, however, was what Seungcheol, or anyone else from Seventeen, was doing anywhere near Bangtan’s territory. In Bangtan’s territory. Seokjin knew very little about Seventeen, but what he did know boiled down to their location, which was to the south, and the major players in the gang.

“They’re not huge yet,” Yoongi had stated, showing Seokjin Seungcheol’s picture some time ago. “But the most important word in that sentence is yet. They’ve got a lot of power backing them, a lot of tenacity, and they’ve got the numbers already. Today they’re just one drop among millions. Tomorrow they might be a lot more.”

That day had been like an impromptu lesson for Seokjin about the gangs that Namjoon and Yoongi thought he needed to be on the lookout for. They’d covered more than just Seventeen, of course, but Seventeen had stood out. Seventeen was the kind of gang that could stand out amongt millions.

“I’m never going to be near this guy,” Seokjin had said confidently, moving Seungcheol’s picture to the side so he could see the one underneath it. “Seventeen is pretty far down south, and they’re still building up their infrastructure—that’s what you said five minutes ago. So this all seems pointless.”

Across the room, with his arms folded over his chest, Namjoon had said, “Don’t you think everyone who’s anyone has your picture? If you think otherwise, let me assure you they do. They all know exactly who you are—to me and Bangtan. They know your full name, they know where you work, they know Jungkook is your brother, and they might even know more about you than I do. This is the game, Seokjin. This is how it goes.”

So Seokjin had memorized Seungcheol’s face. And that was how he knew exactly who was sitting in front of him, and how serious it was.

“They say you’re too nice for your own good.”

Seokjin frowned at Seungcheol’s words.

“They do,” Seungcheol insisted, maybe looking a little affronted at the gaze of disbelief being sent his way from Seokjin. “Everyone says Rap Mon went and got himself a bleeding heart for a boyfriend. And what do you know, I’m in your clinic five minutes and you’re offering me refreshments. I’d say that’s something.”

Seokjin leaned an elbow up on his desk and said, using the man’s moniker, “And what would you prefer I serve you, S.Coups? Arsenic?”

Seungcheol looked even more interested. “Someone’s been studying up.”

Feeling more confident now, if only a touch, Seokjin relayed, “Call me a bleeding heart if you want. I don’t care. But I’m a doctor, too, and that’s a more important distinction. This is my clinic, as well. You may have noticed my name on the sign outside.”

“Your point?”

“My point,” Seokjin said back, “is that when you walk through those doors right in the front, it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what your name is, or where you come from, or what affiliation you have. It means that you’re a patient, or a prospective patient, and at the very least, it means you’re a human being. People deserve respect, and I give it to them in droves here.”

His foot jiggling a little, Seungcheol said, “That’s the kind of attitude that’ll get you killed.”

Almost operating on instinct alone now, Seokjin replied, “I’ve heard that before. And considering several people have tried to kill me in the past, and haven’t managed it yet, I’ll keep operating on my philosophy.”

Seungcheol let out a laugh.  “Oh, I like you.”

Seokjin’s eyes narrowed, and he ground out, “But you better not have brought a gun into this clinic. Because if you did, all of what I said before becomes null and void, and I will personally help you outside without any kind of concern for how it happens.”

Seungcheol leaned forward and said, “They also say you’ve got bite. I think I can confirm that.”

Seokjin had tried to look for a gun on Seungcheol when they’d been walking back to the office, but it had been impossible to tell. Seokjin had gotten pretty good at being able to spot when someone had a gun on them, but Seungcheol’s clothes were fitted in a styled way, and there was nothing telling on his person.

“Well? Do you?”

No guns. That was the rule. It was the most important standing rule. No guns in the clinic, no matter who wanted it bring one in.

“No,” Seungcheol said lazily. “You can rest that kind little heart of yours on the matter.”

Seokjin’s kind little heart that felt like it was going to jump out of his chest in mere seconds.

“Okay.” Seokjin caught Seungcheol’s gaze. He asked bluntly, “Then tell me why you’re sitting in my office. You’re a long way from home, and so were those kids from yesterday, if they’re associated with you.”

Seokjin wondered if this was a day that Namjoon had eyes on the clinic. Had there been a person from Bangtan standing watch who’d picked up on who Seungcheol was? The situation seemed fine for the moment, and Seungcheol wasn’t making any threats just yet. But the whole thing could go belly up in a second if anyone crashed into the clinic and started a fight.

Therefore, despite how uncomfortable Seokjin was with having someone like Seungcheol in his office—in his clinic, it was better if things stayed exactly the way they were. For the time being.

Without any hesitation, Seungcheol said, “My older sister is getting married in less than a week. I’m here for it. She works in Seoul, all her friends are in Seoul, and the guy she’s marrying lives in Seoul. So they’re having the wedding here.”

It was such a mundane answer, and it really threw Seokjin off. It reminded him that gang members were just people, underneath it all. They had families, and they did normal things. That notion often blurred a line that Soekjin had firmly established in his mind between the more business aspect of gang members, and the personal kind.

“And you brought your associates for that event?”

He knew he sounded like he was grilling Seungcheol for information, and he knew that the man in front of him was someone very dangerous being extremely patient with him. But he felt territorial now, when it came to Bangtan and Bangtan’s assets. He was invested in the gang. He loved the core members of Bangtan. And Namjoon and Jungkook were his world.

He wasn’t going to sit back and let someone stroll into Bangtan’s territory and pose a threat.

Seungcheol peered at him quizzically, and then asked, “People also say you’re overprotective.”

“People don’t know me,” Seokjin snapped out. He caught himself a moment later, however, and offered a low apology.

“I imagine,” Seungcheol eased out, “it’s hard to watch your little brother traipse off into danger all the time. Being an older brother isn’t easy. Especially when they’re constantly going off to get into trouble, specifically when you explicitly tell them to behave.”

There was something a little too knowing in the words—a little too telling.

“The teenager?” Seokjin assumed.

Seungcheol shrugged. “Trouble seems to follow Seungkwan around like a bloodhound. I should have known better than to trust he could keep himself out of trouble for a couple of days without me there. But business kept me in Jeju up until yesterday, and he begged to go ahead and see family. The begging got me.”

Seokjin looked harder at Seungcheol’s features. There was a charismatic ease to him that made it easy for Seokjin to talk to him, but his features themselves, they looked almost nothing like the boy’s that Seokjin had treated. So he couldn’t help pointing out, “You two don’t look much alike.”

He still had the boy’s face burned into his mind. But that wasn’t anything too unexpected. Seokjin had a way of remembering the faces of people he operated on. None of it was too intentional, but before he opened anyone up, he made it a point to take a long look at the person he was operating on.

It was a trick he’d taught himself in medical school, even when the other surgeons and established doctors had been harping on all of the new medical interns to put away any kind of emotional attachment or personal relationships with a patient. Maybe that worked for some, but Seokjin was better doctor when he knew who was on his operating table, and what face he’d remember until his last days, if he made a mistake.

So when he compared Seungcheol’s face to that of the person he claimed was his brother, he came up with a lack of belief that they were related.

In a far from ashamed way, Seungcheol said, “Seungkwan is my half brother. He has a different mother than my sister and I, and the three of us weren’t raised together. In fact, I didn’t even know Seungkwan existed until six month ago. Imagine that surprise.”

That was surprisingly candid for Seungcheol to admit, and it humanized him in a way.

Then Seungcheol wormed his way under Seokjin’s skin in a worrying way, by saying, “But you and your brother look very much alike.” Seokjin didn’t like for one second, anyone comparing pictures of them, and memorizing their faces.

“So you and your brother are in town for a wedding,” Seokjin surmised. “And your brother just happened to have a medical emergency in the middle of Bangtan’s territory?”

“Looks that way,” Seungcheol said flippantly. But the ease was gone in a half second, and then something more serious was in its place as he all but demanded, “Seungkwan’s spleen ruptured?”

Something flipped in Seokjin, too. He felt it deep in his core, and in the part of him that made him the focused and dedicated doctor he was.

Gone were representatives for Bangtan and Seventeen, and in their place was a knowledgeable doctor, and a concerned family member.

The change in situation, Seokjin knew he could handle flawlessly.

Giving a confident nod, Seokjin said, “Despite the complete lack of cooperation I seemed to be getting initially from either boy, I was able to work out the medical emergency was concentrated in his spleen. I’ve seen my fair share of damage to spleens, but your brother’s was particularly nasty.

“In hindsight,” Seungcheol said, “Trusting Dino to be the one to keep Seungkwan out of trouble, was just asking for something bad to happen. A bit like the blind leading the blind.” Seungcheol slouched a little in his chair. “But you saved him. That’s what the doctors at the hospital are saying.”

“I saved him,” Seokjin agreed, “but only because he was very, very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. You might want to let him know just how lucky he is. If he’d been anywhere else when his spleen had ruptured, it would have been fatal for him. He wouldn’t have been able to get help as quickly as necessary to save his life. The other boy mentioned something about a skateboard?”

“Damnit,” Seungcheol hissed out. “I told Seungkwan to stay off that skateboard of his.”

“The blunt force trauma,” Seokjin inferred. “The other boy—Dino did mention that Seungkwan hit some railing. Hitting anything hard enough, in a concentrated area, can cause this kind of outcome. The spleen is miraculously resilient, but even it has limits.”

Seungcheol was quiet as he took in the words.

Skateboarding seemed like a pastime Jungkook would engage in—seemingly innoculous, but inherently risky all the same. So Seokjin felt for Seungcheol on the level of simply being a big brother.

He offered, “As an older brother, I can advise you that simply telling your little brother not to do risky things, like skateboard, isn’t going to be effective in the least bit. He’ll do it anyway, because that’s how little brothers are.”

Seungcheol gave a deep chuckle.

“So how about you sit him down and tell him not to ignore warning signs from his body instead. The state of his spleen? That wasn’t something that came out of nowhere. That kind of damage indicated to me right away that Seungkwan had been in pain for some time, and not just a little bit, either. He’d probably been ignoring discoloration, and pain, and dizziness, for days.

Seungcheol vowed, “I’m going to kill him.”

Seokjin certainly didn’t want to let his guard down with the man across from him, but he was starting to feel less and less like Seungcheol was one to pick a fight needlessly. And if he was to be believed, with no evidence to the contrary, he was only in town for a short while and for personal business. Every instinct in Seokjin was screaming at him that Seungcheol was not a threat.

At least right now.

“Look,” Seokjin sighed out. “I know no one likes coming to the doctor. I get it. People think of the doctor and they think of being uncomfortable, or having to get shots, or maybe something worse. And kids? They think they’re indestructible as it is. But sit Seungkwan down when you get the chance. Tell him that death is a lot worse than having to sit in an examination room for a few hours.”

“Oh, I’ll sit him down all right.”

There wasn’t a lot of bite or heat to Seungcheol’s words, just displeasure. Maybe guilt.

“It sounds obvious, right?” Seokjin asked. “But sometimes a kid needs to hear it from an outside source—especially someone he respects. If he won’t listen to you, maybe he’ll listen to an actual doctor or nurse practicioner.”

Sinking a little in his chair, Seungcheol shook his head and said lowly, “It’s that damn boyfriend of his—this little punk no one but Seungkwan likes. You know, Seungkwan was a good kid before he started dating. He liked learning. He made top marks in school. Now he’s out … dating. Dating. And dating people who teach him how to skateboard.” Seungcheol mumbled under his breath again about dating. “He’s doing it on purpose, too. Just to get at me. He’s dating someone in particular he knows I don’t like.”

Seokjin couldn’t help the big laugh that came from him. He saw so much of himself in Seungcheol suddenly that it was scary. Because Seokjin was terrified, absolutely terrified, of the day that Jungkook brought someone home to meet him. Seokjin wanted to say he’d be an adult. He wanted to promise that he’d be happy as long as Jungkook was happy.

But Seokjin was probably going to kill the first person that Jungkook got serous with. Or at least threaten to put them in the ground if they so much as upset Jungkook.

Trying to focus himself back on Seungkwan, Seokjin said, “I got the report from the hospital, after I had your brother transferred over there. From what I can see, everything looks good for Seungkwan’s future. His recovery looks normal, and I expect he’ll be back to riding skateboards and dating boys you don’t like in no time.”

“Thanks to you,” Seungcheol reminded bluntly.

“Right time, right place,” Seokjin repeated.

“No,” Seungcheol denied firmly. “You saved his life. You performed surgery just minutes after Seungkwan arrived. You kept him stable. You put him back together again. He’s alive because of you and this clinic.”

Seokjin saw no reason to be boastful, and he wasn’t typically anyway. “I did what any other doctor would in the situation.” And if Seokjin hadn’t been there, Jonghyun would have performed the operation.

Seungcheol regarded him quietly again, and this time it felt appraising.

“Everyone who knows who you are,” Seungcheol said evenly. “Everyone says you’re a bleeding heart.”

“You said that earlier,” Seokjin reminded.

“But they say it like it’s a bad thing.” Seungcheol leaned forward and put his elows on his knees. “The people I’ve talked to, they look at you like a bartering piece they’d like to get their hands on. You’re collateral, you know. You’re the real, deal, too. You’re someone a boss like Rap Mon would rip a city apart for. I don’t know if you really comprehend how much power that gives you.”

Seokjin felt himself rising to the challenge. “Anyone out there who thinks I’m easy to snatch up, and easier to dangle over Rap Mon, has another thing coming. I’m not inviting that kind of stupidity, but I’ll be more than happy to show them what that stupidity gets them, if they try it.”

“I’ve heard about your hand in what went down with Infinite.”

Seungcheol said their name so easily, and Seokjin was almost jealous of it. To this day, so many months after everything had gone down, Seokjin was still struggling to not look over his shoulder. Especially with members of Infinite still in the wind.

Seokjin said nonchalant, “Then you know I’m no pushover.”

“No,” Seungcheol agreed, “you’re a bleeding heart. And that’s what’s good about you.” Seungcheol got to his feet slowly. “This world needs more people like you, Doctor Kim.”

“People like me, in this world, S.Coups, tend to get trampled on.”

Seungcheol reached his hand out for Seokjin, and shook it firmly.

“See,” Seungcheol edged out, “that’s something unavoidable there, and it’s the real irony. We need the things we destroy most easily.”

Seokjin squeezed the man’s hand firm and offered, “Then stop acting so violently.”

Seungcheol surprised him then, and spiked fear into Seokjin’s heart as Seungcheol jerked him forward suddenly. The desk was braced between them, but Seokjin was off balance, and he couldn’t get his hand back.

“I’ve got someone like you,” Seungcheol offered up, and he said it like it wasn’t a secret. “Joshua’s just like you. Too kind. Too forgiving. Too …”

“Too much a bleeding heart?” Seokjin supplied. He didn’t pull back on Seungcheol’s grip, but he wasn’t giving the man another inch forward, either.

Seungcheol agreed, “Too easy to get trampled on.”

“And what do you do about that?”

Seungcheol’s grip lifted, and Seokjin leaned back.

“I surround him with people I trust, like Rap Mon does with you. And that’s the only way to do things. You trust in the people who are trustworthy, and you put them around the people you care the most about. That’s all you can do.” Seokjin startled a little as Seungcheol gave a low snort and added, “Or you get yourself a Jeonghan, and god help anyone who comes after someone he loves.”

There was a dymanic there that Seokjin couldn’t follow. He wasn’t sure what exactly Seungcheol was talking about now. But there was a kind, affectionate tone laced into his words, and a longing of some kind that reeked of pure, unabashed love.

“The only things in life worth having,” Seungcheol told him firmly, “are the things you’d lay down on a wire to protect. That includes my brother. You saved his life, and so I came down here to express my graditude.”

A card would have sufficed. And something didn’t seem right about a big gang leader strolling into his clinic just to say thank you.

Seokjin was certain the shoe was dropping when Seungcheol continued, “And, I wanted to make myself very clear that I owe you Seungkwan’s life. I owe you a favor.”

“I don’t need a favor,” Seokjin said right away. Infinite had insisted once that they owed him a life debt, but that hadn’t mattered much in the end when they’d still tried to kill him, so it was better to just not have that kind of connection to other gangs.

Seungcheol ignored him. “I’ll be gone by next week, and I’ll be taking my men with me. We’re much father down south than Bangtan is. But if you need something, and we can deliver, you only have to ask. I’m giving you my word on that.”

Seungcheol’s word didn’t mean anything to Seokjin. But clearly it meant something to Seungcheol, so Seokjin kept his opinion on the matter to himself.

Seungcheol turned towards the door, but didn’t move towards it. He only looked deep in thought.

“I would have saved him anyway,” Seokjin offered up. He moved to the left of his desk so he could still see Seungcheol’s face properly. “Even if I knew that was your brother, I would have saved him regardless. I would have done my best no matter who was lying on the floor of my clinic in pain. The other boy didn’t need to hide anything from us.”

“I know you would have,” Seungcheol said with confidence. “But that’s because of who you are. And I trained Dino better than that. Most people aren’t like you. Most people would have taken advantage of having my little brother’s life in their hands. So Dino did the right thing. Seungkwan is precious to me like you are to Rap Mon. I’d raze a city for my brother, I’d start a war, and I suspect you’d do the same for your own. Since the moment I found out I had a brother, I’ve never hidden what he means to me. And that, I suppose, makes me weak.”

“That doesn’t make you weak,” Seokjing insisted. Quite the opposite, he thought.

Seungcheol only shook his head. “Seungkwan would probably say the same thing. But that doesn’t make me wrong.”

There was so much bare honesty in what Seungcheol had said that Seokjin couldn’t begin to say otherwise.

“Let your boyfriend know I’m in town?”

Seokjin said in an unimpressed way, “I’m not in Bangtan, not officially. But even I know that’s not the proper way to go about announcing you’re in town.”

Seungcheol started for the door then, calling over his shoulder, “I’m not in town for official business. I’m just here as a tourist, you could say. Seventeen doesn’t have any reason to be here, so it’s just me, and a couple of my men. I don’t need to go to Rap Mon for that, and I won’t.”

“But?”

“But,” Seungcheol said with a grin, “it’s just good etiquette to let the boss in town know when you’re there, even if it’s not officially. So pass it along, if you could. If he wants to talk to me for any reason, I’m available. Otherwise I’ll keep my people on their best behavior, and we’ll be gone soon enough.”

Feeling the doctor in him edge to the surface, Seokjin said unflinchingly, “If your brother has any hiccups in his recovery while he’s here, or you just want to get him looked over, you bring him to see me. I’m here most days, and even if I’m not, I trust all of the doctors here. We’ll take good care of him.”

Seungcheol only breathed out, “Bleeding heart,” before he was opening the door to Seokjin’s office.

There were half a dozen of Bangtan’s men in the hallway, naturally, standing there quietly, almost awkwardly, with Taehyung at the forefront.

“Ah,” Seungcheol breathed out, “here’s the cavalry. I wondered if they were lurking around.” He craned his head to Seokjin and offered, “I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t kick the door down in the middle of our conversation.”

Taehyung, with a scowl set on his face that was menacing and all business, moved directly to stand before Seungcheol, and ground out, “Did you think we didn’t have eyes all over this place, S.Coups? Someone from another gang comes into town, and comes directly to a place he shouldn’t be, and you don’t think we’re going to know?”

Seokjin moved to intercept the two of them, nearly snapping out, “That’s enough, V. My guest was just on his way out.”

“Guest,” Taehyung said blandly.

“That’s what I said,” Seokjin said firmly. There would be no fighting, absolutely no fighting, in his clinic. No. “And now he’s leaving.”

Seokjin felt like he ceased to exist to both Taehyung and Seungcheol in that moment. Neither one of them was paying him any mind, and they were locked onto each other instead. Predictably. Seokjin expected posturing next.

“I am leaving,” Seungcheol said, but made no effort to budge an inch. “I just wanted to have a private conversation with the good doctor. That’s all.”

Taehyung’s eyes narrowed. “How about you have it with Rap Mon, instead. You have no right to be here.”

“Step aside then,” Seungcheol said, but it sounded more like bait than anything else. “And I’ll remove myself from the clinic. Did you want me to take my men, too? The ones I’ve had in the lobby for some time now? Within arm’s reach?”

Taehyung leveled back fiercely, “How about I have my men escort you all out? Straight to the sidewalk, where even more of Bangtan’s force will be waiting for you. Because accidents happen, right? When you go places you don’t belong, they can happen. So we’ll be here to make sure nothing terrible goes down. How many men do you have? Four? Five? Oh, look here, less than the number I have just standing in this hallway.”

 And there was the posturing.

“Get out of the way,” Seokjin snapped at Taehyung, and then practically shoved him to the side to make room for Seungcheol to pass.

“Accidents, huh?” Seungcheol said as he walked by. “Good thing I know a doctor, then.”

Seokjin could see Taehyung’s fingers curl into fists.

“Tae,” Seokjin said, so quiet his voice was like a whisper. He let his own fingers catch Taehyung’s wrist, and he felt the thundering pulse there.

Sometimes Seokjin had to remind himself that he wasn’t the only person who’d been so badly hurt by Infinite. They’d taken plenty of casualties, of course, but the psychological wounds ran so deep that some moments Seokjin would have given anything to study a different kind of medicine.

Taehyung never really spoke about carrying any scars from the events with Infinite. He continued to be his happy, always hungry, too empathetic self. But there were moments, brief snatches of time, like what was currently unfolding, when Seokjin could see the fear and anger and the trauma.

“It’s fine,” Seokjin also whispered. “I’m fine.”

“Fine is relative,” Taehyung told him in return. He gave a small but noticeable hand gesture, and half the men waiting in the hallway broke off from the group to go in the direction Seungcheol did.

And now Seokjin was done holding hands and being nice.

“You three,” he said to the other men still at Taehyung’s side, “you don’t need to be here. So I need you gone. My patients will only feel uncomfortable if they see you.”

“Don’t be mean to them,” Taehyung said, shifting just a little towards a less severe posture and one more playful. The tension was bleeding from him, thankfully.

“Don’t worry,” Seokjin assured him. “I have plenty of this attitude to go around. So now you can meet me in my office.”

Seokjin gave Taehyung a terrible pinch to the side, watched the others desert the hallway, and then met Joy’s eyes down the hall. She looked back at him with uncertainty, and a little fear, but then she gave him a nod and turned a corner.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Seokjin asked before the door had even properly closed. He was getting more use out of his office in one day, than he usually did in a week.

“Don’t be mad at me!” Taehyung said gruffly, throwing himself down into a chair. “Seriously. What’s your problem? I come in here to save you, to pull some gang member off you, and you’re treating him like he’s the victim? You’re treating me like I’m wrong?”

Seokjin pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned back on the door. “Did you bring Namjoon’s men through the lobby?” He was already getting pictures in his mind of frightened patients.

Taehyung scoffed in irritation. “Really? You think I’d be that stupid?”

Taehyung had also, Seokjin had to credit, not kicked down his office door when he’d arrived. He could have barged right in. Seokjin almost never locked the door. But Taehyung had held back. He’d been cautious. And he’d saved them all some embarrassment by doing that. Maybe Hoseok was rubbing off on Taehyung more than anyone thought.

“I had to ask,” Seokjin asked. “Thank you for bringing everyone through the back door. But I will not thank you for bringing them period.”

Taehyung’s voice pitched as he demanded, “Why not?”

“Because I wasn’t in any danger!” Seokjin threw back. He’d spent forever trying to push a hovering, overprotective, constantly worried Namjoon away. And that was nothing compared to how Jimin and Jungkook had been with him when he’d gotten out of the hospital. He was not going to let anyone revert to coddling, just because an outside gang member had surfaced.

Taehyung looked far from convinced. “That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing.”

“On the other side of the door,” Seokjin pointed out. “Which you probably couldn’t hear much if anything through.”

Taehyung tapped out a rhythm on his leg with his fingers, looking impatient. “I know what got relayed to me the second the guy I had watching this place saw S.Coups surface. What was I supposed to think? That the guy was just coming in for some tea and a nice chat? Jin, just because things aren’t blowing up around us right now, doesn’t mean everything is safe. I reacted the way I’m supposed to react when I see a dangerous person intercepting someone I care about.”

Seokjin felt the defensive reaction in him fade into nothing but guilt then.

“It’s okay,” Seokjin said, sitting in the chair next to Taehyung, rather than across from him in his normal spot. “I get why you thought something bad was going on.”

“I don’t care if you think we’re all being overprotective jerks,” Taehyung bit out. “We’re not going through the shit that we dealt with before. That is not happening again. Not to you, or us.”

Seokjin let his head thump back on chair as he scooted even further down. “How about I second that.” He got it, really, he did. Things were never going to be prefect, or safe. He was never going to wake up in the morning and have no worries about the safety of people he cared about. But all the quiet and lack of activity was lulling Seokjin into imagining what it could be like. Taehyung, it appeared, wasn’t so lulled.

“What just happened?” Taehyung asked plainly.

“Seungcheol came here for personal reasons,” Seokjin said finally answered. “I treated a teenager the other day with a ruptured spleen. It was emergency surgery, and the kind that saved his life. I didn’t know at the time, but that kid was Choi Seungcheol’s younger brother. So that’s why he was here today. He wasn’t making threats. He wasn’t trying to intimidate me or hurt me. He was here to express his gratitude.”

Taehyung deadpanned, “Seriously?”

Seokjin let a smile crack. “Seriously.”

With his jaw hanging open, Taehyung asked, “Who does that? Seriously. Who does that?”

“Someone who cares more about thanking the doctor that saved his brother’s life, than who’s territory he might be intruding on.”

Taehyung deflated a little. “Okay, so that’s a decent excuse. But it still doesn’t make it okay that he just busted in here, knowing full well who you are. He did this to provoke Rap Mon as much as thank you, and don’t try and tell me otherwise. This was him taking a shot at Rap Mon, knowing there’d be no ramifications, just to prove he can.”

Seokjin shrugged on shoulder. “Maybe, maybe not. It could be he was provoking you for fun, because he could, and because you were an easy target. But none of that was happening when it was just the two of us in here. He was better mannered than I expected.”

Taehyung looked to be thinking for a moment, then offered, “Seventeen is pretty low profile. And they’ve got decent word of mouth. They’re not the most prolific out there, but they’re expanding at a good rate—though that has a lot to do with them being a little brother group.”

Seokjin frowned at that. “Little brother group?” That was terminology he wasn’t overly familiar with.

“They kind of emerged from a different group,” Taehyung explained. “Nu’est previously ran things where they’re from, but they’re taking a step back right now for a bunch of different reasons, and Seventeen rose up from within. It’s all sanctioned. None of it was by force. Maybe the two gangs will integrate eventually, or cohabitate, or take each other out. Who knows. But for now, Seventeen is eating up space and power down where they’re from, and Nu’est is the gang that opened the door for them.”

Seokjin hummed out acknowledgement.

“I guess,” Taehyung allowed, “if he was just here to say thank you, then I’m sorry for overreacting.”

“He’s in town for a wedding,” Seokjin told him. “Actually, he said quite a lot while he was in this room. He’s here until next week, he’s got his brother and a couple of members of Seventeen with him, and I don’t think he’s looking to cause trouble.”

“He wouldn’t be,” Taehyung agreed. “Not with Bagntan. Not with Exo and Bangtan fortifying this area. Even if Seventeen had big plans, which none of us think that, they wouldn’t be stupid enough to try and pull anything anytime soon.”

Sometimes Seokjin did wonder if Bangtan had only painted a bigger target on themselves. Namjoon had wanted to take Infinite out and stop them from spreading into Big Bang’s territory in order to make people safer. He’d wanted to secure the streets, and keep people safe, and make Bangtan such a force of good that people would think twice before taking them on.

But in a lot of ways, Bangtan had gone from a little upstart gang, to something gigantic and appealing as a target. Taking on a group like Bangtan now would mean the definition of bragging rights, and status, and that …

Seokjin suddenly understood why Jimin worried about little gangs banding together. Suddenly it was a lot clearer what was going through Jimin’s mind when he saw Up10tion and SF9 and Pentagon pulling their resources. With Exo and Bangtan standing together, there wasn’t any one gang out there that could even offer the smallest of threats. But a bunch of gangs put together?

Was Namjoon thinking about that at all?

“He did just honestly want to say thank you,” Seokjin told Taehyung with reinforced evenness in his voice. “And he says he owes me one. Whatever that means.”

“Might mean nothing,” Taehyung commented. “Or it could be useful down the line. Don’t throw away something like that, Jin. Gang leaders don’t give out IOUs very often.”

Seokjin glanced up at the white ceiling and said frankly, “I’ll trade all the IOUs in the world for other gangs just leaving me alone.”

“Well,” Taehyung declared, “I don’t care if S.Coups wants to come back here to thank you again for saving his brother. He’s not stepping foot back in this clinic. I’m going to double the number of people posted outside. And hey, have you given any more thought to my suggestion that you hire on one of my boys to work here? I’ve got two or three that have basic first aid knowledge that you could pass off as support staff.”

Seokjin looked to him and said sternly, “I’m not going to hire on any of Bangtan to work in this clinic just to make you feel less paranoid.”

“More thought then,” Taehyung mused. “I’ll leave you to give it more thought.”

Taehyung stood and Seokjin called after him, “You can stay a little if you want. I’m planning on just doing some walk-ins until I get off tonight.”

He also needed to take care of some paperwork that was seemingly glaring at him from his computer. Maybe he did need an assistant. The idea was starting to grow on him as the demands of the clinic did. If he had a secretary, someone he could trust with important documents, he could concentrate more on his patients.

He just wasn’t sure if the clinic had the budget for such a thing, or how any of the other doctors would react. He certainly didn’t need their permission to do such a thing, but it mattered to him that Seokjin kept everything fair and his staff happy. If Seokjin got a personal assistant, would Jonghyun want one? Did Jonghyun need one?

It was all too much to concentrate on in that moment.

“I mean it,” Seokjin said to Taehyung. “I’ll be here until six tonight. That’s when Jungkook’s coming to pick me up.” He needed dinner that night with Jungkook. He needed to catch up with his brother, and to simply relish in the comfort that was being near him.

Taehyung suddenly looked anxious.

“What?” Seokjin demanded.

“I think,” Taehyung edged out, “you’re going to meet up with your brother a lot sooner than tonight.”

“Taehyung?”

Taehyung walked briskly to the door. “What? Did you think I didn’t let my boss know something was potentially going down with his boyfriend? And come on, like Jungkook wouldn’t find out?”

Seokjin clambered up to his own feet. “Namjoon is coming here? Now?”

“I predict he’s about to blow through the front door at any second, expecting to have to rescue you from some nefarious evil gang leader. Jungkook’s probably going to be with him, too, because I could hear your brother shouting on the other end of the line when I called.” He rushed to add, “I just set him a text a minute ago that everything’s okay, but you know Rap Mon when it comes to you …”

“Great,” Seokjin sighed out. “Well, come on. Let’s get to the front.” He swept past Taehyung to open the door. As nice as the idea of seeing Namjoon during the daytime sounded, giving his boyfriend a stroke over impending doom, was not the preferred method of making it happen.

“Coming,” Taehyung called out.

Seokjin chided, “And pick up your pass from the front when we go by. You need to set an example. No one gets back here without a pass.” He hadn’t enforced that with Seungcheol, but he sort of thought that was a different situation. Seokjin expected better from Taehyung.

“Yes, dad,” Taehyung teased.

Seokjin pinched him again, harder than the first, and felt satisfaction when Taehyung gave a yelp of pain and surprise.

“So mean,” Taehyung accused.  “You’re lucky I was even willing to sweep in here to save you. Next time I might just let some guy kidnap you again.”

“Seems unlikely,” Seokjin said, catching Taehyung’s gaze and giving him a warm grin.

Taehyung smiled back in an authentic way, and Seokjin was thankful now for the way Taehyung had been determined to come to his rescue. Even if he’d been wrong, and Seokjin had been irritated at first, it only served to prove how much Taehyung cared about him, and what they meant to each other.

As they headed down the hall, Seokjin promised, “If you help me talk Namjoon down from the aneurysm he’s surely having, I’ll let you into the stash of candy we save for the kids. Deal?”

Taehyung laughed out, “I take everything I said back. You’re the best.” He beamed brightly, shinning almost like the sun. And for one dreadful second, Seokjin recalled what Seungcheol had said about laying down on a wire for a loved one.

Because Taehyung? Taehyung was looking at him like he’d do it in an instant.

And Seokjin? Seokjin was terrified that day might come around one day, and there’d be nothing he could do to stop it.

Chapter Text

“I should be forcing kale down your throat right now,” Seokjin said with narrowed eyes as he took in the form of his brother sitting across from him. “You don’t look like you deserve steak.”

Five hours earlier Seokjin had been anxiously waiting for Jungkook to blow into his clinic with the expectation of a firefight.

“I’ve been texting Jungkook and Rap Mon like crazy,” Taehyung had said, standing shoulder to shoulder with Seokjin just fifteen minutes after Seungcheol had left the building. Taehyung had a cherry lollipop hanging out of the corner of his mouth, and was being far too smug about it. Seokjin had said he could have some of the candy they kept for children after he helped talk Namjoon down from a ledge. But maybe Taehyung knew him too well, which was why he’d snagged a handful of candy well before that happened, and not very covertly, either.

“They’re not responding?” Seokjin had asked. Business at the clinic was going on like normal, but all of that could change when Namjoon arrived.

“They’re getting my messages alright,” Taehyung confirmed. “They’re marked as read. I just don’t think either of them believes me when I say you’re perfectly fine, and Choi Seungcheol—S.Coups, came by just for a chat.”

“Shocking,” Seokjin had said lowly and dryly.

Thankfully, mercifully, when Namjoon and Jungkook had arrived, with too many people in tow to count, they hadn’t just stormed the building and humiliated Seokjin.

Instead Seokjin had been standing to the side of Yoona’s work station, barely visible to the patients out in the waiting room, but very visible from the entrance. He’d been able to relay in just one quick glance, when Namjoon had come through the sliding doors of the clinic with determination carrying him at a swift pace, that everything was okay.

Namjoon, in a deceptively comfortable looking and relaxed way, had leaned on the patient side of the high counter in front of Yoona’s station, and asked Seokjin, “You’ve had company?” There was the hint of sweat on his forehead then, but no outward signs that he was about to lose control.

“I did,” Seokjin had returned, looking over Namjoon’s shoulder for Jungkook. Most of Namjoon’s men had remained outside, and the few that had followed him inside, were doing a pretty decent job of blending in with the other patients. Nothing looked too out of place, and almost no one even seemed tipped off to who Namjoon was.

Namjoon had relayed, sensing Seokjin’s wandering thoughts, “He’s going around the back. We weren’t sure what we were walking into, so I sent Jungkook to the back entrance, to see if there were any surprises waiting there.”

“No surprises,” Seokjin had said in a weary way, and then he’d done his best to quickly and concisely explain what had gone down.

Naturally, Namjoon had been less than convinced that things were perfectly fine at the clinic, but Seokjin chalked that up to Namjoon’s natural state of worry, and recent events that had pushed everyone into constant anxiety.

And then Seokjin had seen Jungkook.

“You’re lucky I’m even speaking to you,” Seokjin told Jungkook currently, peering at him across the dinner table.

He’d gotten his first look at Jungkook in days, earlier, and the bruising to his face was just as jarring now as it had been then.

His nose scrunching up, Jungkook pointed out, “You can’t get mad at me for doing my job.”

Seokjin felt a spike of anger. “Your job is not to be someone’s punching bag.”

The doctor in him was barely contained at the moment, and the big brother in him was not.

There wasn’t just discoloration to Jungkook’s face either. There was real swelling along the left side of Jungkook’s jaw, and his left eye was definitely going to be black in no time. He looked like he’d had his face smashed into something solid, and that wasn’t something Seokjin could bring himself to imagine.

After Namjoon had finally been talked down from going off to hunt for Seungcheol, Seokjin had made Jungkook sit through an extensive examination, complete with x-rays. Then he’d put his brother in proverbial time-out at the clinic and told Jungkook, “You’d better speak to Namjoon right now and beg off the rest of the day.”

Seokjin wasn’t letting Jungkook out of his sight now, not after seeing his injuries, no matter what Jungkook might have been in the middle of.

“I’m not someone’s punching bag,” Jungkook replied, stabbing his fork into the slab of meat beautifully presented in front of him.

“You sure look like it.”

Jungkook sighed. “Jin.”

“What,” Seokjin snapped, unable to look away from the bruising. “Did you think I wasn’t going to be upset when I saw you?” He wasn’t just upset, either. He was angry. He just didn’t know if he was angry at Jungkook for getting into obvious trouble, or Namjoon for likely placing him in it.

Quietly, Jungkook said, “I’m okay. Look at me, you know I’m okay. You examined me. You got all those scans of my face. This is all superficial. I’m perfectly fine.”

Seokjin might have gone a little overboard when he’d seen the extent of the bruising on Jungkook’s face. While his brother had been laying in the designated area for the scan, Seokjin had been in the observation room, with Jessica next to him, and he’d asked, “You’re not seeing any structural damage, right?”

Jessica had confirmed confidently that Jungkook was only suffering from some pretty impressive bruising that were cosmetic in nature only, but that hadn’t done much to calm Seokjin’s nerves.

“And you’re going to go to school like that?” Seokjin demanded. He had an expensive steak in front of him that was going cold. His appetite had disappeared before he’d even ordered. “With your face looking like that?”

Trying for a joke, Jungkook told him, “You think I look bad, you should see the other guy. He’s actually got a broken face.”

Seokjin gripped his silverware tightly. That was not a comfort.

More honest, Jungkook said, “I know my face doesn’t look good, but I don’t have class tomorrow.”

“You’ll look worse by the day after.” The bruises on Jungkook’s face were still red and puffy. The trauma was still evident. But in another forty-eight hours he’d be a yellow-green. Then he’d be black and blue. “Your teachers …”

“I don’t care what they think,” Jungkook told Seokjin. “And they don’t care what I look like. Not really. They care that I show up, and I do the work, and I prove to them that I’m deserving of being there. That’s what I plan to do, and what my face looks like doesn’t impact that at all. So stop worrying, okay? I can still see just fine, which means I’ll knock my homework out like always.”

This was not about homework. But Seokjin was too busy stuffing his worry down to argue the matter.

Chuckling nervously, Jungkook said, “I’m kind of glad Rap Mon was busy tonight and couldn’t join us. I mean, it’s nice to get my big brother to myself for once, but also, I’m a little afraid you might lean over the table and stab him in the throat with that knife you’re holding … the knife you kind of look like you might be fantasizing about stabbing me with. Should I sit back?”

Seokjin hadn’t been able to make himself ask before, but he’d been building his courage steadily since the start of the meal, so now he dared to wonder, “What happened?”

“A fight,” Jungkook said right away.

“I figured that out by myself,” Seokjin huffed out.

Uncertain, Jungkook told him, “You usually don’t want to know any details, Jin. You hardly ever ask.”

“Well,” Seokjin countered, “you don’t usually get yourself beat up like this. Don’t you usually have someone watching your back? Where the hell was Jimin?”

Jungkook, who looked even less like a child now than Seokjin had been willing to consider before, defended, “Hey, he was there, okay? This could have been a lot worse, but he was there, and so was Suga. There were a lot of us there.”

Then what had happened?

Frustrated, Seokjin said, “That doesn’t sooth me, if you still came out looking like that. Seriously, Jungkook. Tell me what happened before I go and freak out on Namjoon and start a fight with him.”

This was the problem ultimately, Seokjin had worked out long ago. It was a narrow line to walk with Jungkook being in Bangtan. Because Seokjin was protective. He knew he could be that way to a fault, and Jungkook being in Bangtan meant he had to relinquish a lot of his worry to Namjoon. And Namjoon? He had to put Jungkook into potentially dangerous situations, knowing what it would mean for Seokjin’s relationship with him, and making that line a lot narrower than it would have been with anyone else.

Jungkook leveled an elbow up on the table and put his chin in his palm, saying, “I really wish you wouldn’t, okay? The last time you guys had a serious fight you got even more crabby and motherly, and Rap Mon got mean like I’ve never seen before.”

Seokjin balked “Motherly?”

He’d stayed with Jungkook and Jimin during that time, but he didn’t think he’d gone into motherly territory.

“Motherly,” Jungkook confirmed. “You were breathing down my neck about bathing all the time, and picking up after myself, and eating healthy. I kicked my shoes across the room once and you practically went nuclear on me. You’re not always like that, right? As a roommate, I mean. Rap Mon doesn’t actually put up with that, does he?”

Seokjin had to remind himself that he and Jungkook had never really lived together, not outside of when they were kids. And when they’d been younger, they’d lived with nannies, and cooks, and even a bodyguard once when their father had been receiving some threats from work related investigations. But Seokjin had moved away as soon as he’d been old enough for college, and Jungkook was younger than him by just enough that his memories of life together were probably few and far between.

“You’re a mother to live with,” Jungkook added bluntly.

Seokjin didn’t know that was something Jungkook could really say, considering he didn’t have many memories of their mother, and had no clue what it meant to live with her.

Seokjin defended indignantly, “I didn’t hear Jimin complaining.”

In fact, Jimin had been vocally appreciative, and that was something that didn’t happen often with him. Seokjin just didn’t know if it as because Jimin truly liked having someone take care of him, or if it was related to another matter completely.

The matter, naturally, that they didn’t talk about.

Tiredly, Seokjin said, “I’m not going to stab anyone with a knife. I’m not going to get into a fight with Namjoon, either. I just want to know what you’re into that’s hurt you like this. And then I want you to promise me you’ll steer clear in the future.”

Huffy, Jungkook reminded, “I’m not a baby, Jin. You can’t mother me. I’m an adult. And the messes I get into, they’re mine to get myself out of.”

“You’re a brat, not an adult,” Seokjin corrected. “Now tell me.”

He’d said he wasn’t going to fight with Namjoon, but now it felt like a poor choice of words. Because he was going rip Namjoon’s head off if Jungkook had been ordered into an exceptionally dangerous mess.

Jungkook took a deliberate bite of his steak, buying time. He chewed annoyingly and stared Seokjin down. The standoff occurring between them folded when Seokjin took a bite of his own meat. Even cooled down, it was still fantastic.

“It’s about Infinite,” Jungkook said finally, and Seokjin froze. “What happened, Jin. It’s about Infinite.”

Seokjin practically choked on his steak as he tried to swallow it down. “Infinite.”

Looking worried, Jungkook asked, “You still want to know, or you want to drop the subject?” He said the words casually, like either option didn’t matter, but Seokjin knew that was a lie. Jungkook was just as sensitive to the topic of Infinite as Seokjin was.

The panic that Seokjin had fought to push down, reared back up suddenly, and he asked, “Did you run into them? Myungsoo? Or Dongwoo?” Hoya, as far as the last time Seokjin had checked—which was less than a week ago, was still being held in police custody and waiting to be charged with a myriad of crimes.

But Myungsoo and Dongwoo? They were in the wind. No one had so much as head a rumor about them in the past months, and Seokjin hated the not knowing more than anything else. They’d gone to ground, but they could pop up and strike at any moment.

They had to be planning something, too. Their gang was decimated, but if Seokjin were either of them, he’d be sticking around for revenge.

“No,” Jungkook breathed out, much to Seokjin’s relief. “It wasn’t either of them.”

“But?”

Jungkook worked another piece of meat free with this knife and fork.

Seokjin guessed for his brother, “You ran into a stronghold of their men, didn’t you?” It was the only plausible explanation.

Jungkook’s shoulders slumped and Seokjin had his answer.

Kim Sunggyu was dead. He’d blown his own brains out in Namjoon’s kitchen, with Seokjin standing only a few feet away. And that had come after Bangtan and Exo had made such a push on Infinite that the gang had been effectively wiped out.

But Infinite had been a wide and far reaching gang. They’d had more members than most gangs did, and while a lot of Infinite’s men had been killed or fled, some of them had gone to ground, too. Part of the reason Namjoon had been hovering so incessantly was because a significant number of Infinite’s men were unaccounted for. 

There was a lower than average chance that anyone was going to spring out of the shadows hellbent on murdering him in the name of revenge, but Seokjin didn’t exactly feel safe, either.

The bottom line was that Infinite still had more than a worrying number of men out there, loyal to Myungsoo, or Dongwoo, or Hoya, or whoever would eventually rise up to try and put that gang back together. And occasionally, not that Namjoon really ever spoke of it, Bangtan was able to track down pockets of these men.

“Did you find a lot of them then?” Seokjin asked. Jungkook was a decent brawler. He was better than Seokjin wanted to think about, and he knew that since Jungkook had started up with Bangtan, he’d been taking classes to improve his hand-to-hand. Not only that, Seokjin also knew Jungkook had been spending hours at the shooting range. So when it came to Jungkook handling himself in a fight, Seokjin logically knew there was some silver lining in his brother’s skills.

But Jungkook, no matter how skilled he became, was still his little brother. And any one person could be overwhelmed if the odds against them were too much.

“There were a lot,” Jungkook confirmed. “Way more than we’ve ever found before. Suga thinks they were trying to get something going again, under the name Infinite. There were a lot of higher ranking guys there. Any one of them could have been carrying messages from Myungsoo or Dongwoo.”

Tensely, Seokjin asked, “So you just kicked down the door and …”

“We did what we had to do,” Jungkook said with resolve. “And of those guys would have taken you out in a second, Jin. You know they all know what you look like, who you are, and how much we love you. I don’t know who’s in charge of Infinite now, but if I was, I’d be gunning for you. So that’s why we were there, doing what we had to.”

Seokjin took no pleasure in the idea that Jungkook had killed for him, or in his name. Seokjin took no pleasure in the idea of Jungkook killing. Period.

“I will assume,” Seokjin managed to say, “that whoever coordinated this on our side, brought enough men. Even if you all didn’t expect there to be so many men there, how did you end up so battered?”

Jungkook clarified, “We expected seven or eight of them. There were over a dozen. And yeah, we handled the situation okay. We didn’t take any casualties, only a few injuries, but ammo ran out pretty fast. After that, it was all fists. Some guy got the jump on me. It’s as simple as that. It happens.”

Seokjin didn’t like that phrase. Things didn’t just happen. Or they did, and accidents happened after that.

Seokjin had put his mother in the ground. His sister. His father.

He was not putting Jungkook in the ground.

His brain caught up to the rest of the words Jungkook had said, and he demanded, “Namjoon’s men were hurt? When was this? Earlier today? Why didn’t you bring these men to me?”

“It wasn’t anything too bad,” Jungkook said promptly. “A couple of broken bones, someone got a knife to the thigh, and another guy just had a concussion. Nothing was life threatening.”

“That’s for me to decide,” Seokjin said, offended that he’d been bypassed completely. These were Namjoon’s men, and Seokjin loved Namjoon. Seokjin couldn’t do a lot to aid Bangtan, but he could be there medically for them.

Jungkook gave a physical hesitation, then admitted, “Suga said not to get you involved. He called it, and Rap Mon agreed. They decided that keeping your clinic separate from Bangtan’s business is kind of the only way to go right now. If you think otherwise, take it up with Rap Mon. But he’s kind of told us all that outside of emergencies, we have to use other doctors.”

There were other, competent doctors in the area. Seokjin was not so delusional or egotistical to think that he was the only option. But he felt a certain kind of … ownership, over the right to treat Bangtan. These were the men who’d put their lives on the line for him. They’d protected him. They watched out for each other.  They protected Jungkook and Namjoon.

“I will,” Seokjin said sharply. “But in the meantime, if you or the people you’re with have so much as a papercut, you come and see me. If I find out that you go to anyone else, when you could be coming to me, you’ll really see what a mother I can be.”

Jungkook put his hands up in surrender. “Okay. Okay. But Jin, it’s not like a papercut can kill. Calm down.”

Seokjin pointed out, “A papercut can become infected, in worst case scenarios leading to sepsis of the blood, and ultimately death.”

Jungkook burst out laughing, and it was so infectious that Seokjin followed suit.

With levity, and a smile on his face, Jungkook said, “We really were safe about it, Jin. I promise you. I know you think I just charge into situations without using my head, but Suga’s not like that. He wouldn’t let us go in on those Infinite guys without a plan. And yeah, I took a couple hits to the face, but Jimin was there a second later to pull that guy off me. I know it doesn’t do a lot to comfort you, knowing what I do, but I have people watching my back. And Bangtan is family. You know that, Jin.”

There was no going back to how things had been before, Seokjin told himself again and again. There was no going back to a time before Bangtan, and Infinite, and the gangs in general. Not unless he wanted to give up his clinic and move back to the affluent part of Seoul to live like a princess in a tower. So if that was the case, at least Bangtan was family. At least there were people watching out for each other, caring about each other, and acting like the family they claimed to be.

“Jin?”

Seokjin took a deep breath, and then he could only offer, “Tell Jimin to watch your back a little more thoroughly, or else he’ll have to deal with me.”

A smile cracked on Jungkook’s face. “You sure you want me to tell him that? He just started acting like he likes you—just started liking you, I mean. You know how he is. If you smother him, he’s going to kick out at you like a horse.”

“I’ll smother him with a pillow,” Seokjin said surely, “if he doesn’t watch after you more carefully. You’re right, I can’t stop you from doing what you do. You decided a while ago the path you wanted to go down. And sure, this isn’t the life I would have chosen for you, but I respect your right to choose it. I just expect that if you’re going to put yourself into danger, that the people with you are going to be a little more aware of what’s going on.”

Jungkook gave a grunt of agreement as he ate more of his meal, and Seokjin figured that was as good as it got.

In a final kind of way, he asked, “Did you get them? Did you take a chunk out of what’s left of Infinite?”

“Suga thinks so,” Jungkook offered. “There’s no way to know exactly how many men Infinite still has, but this was a big bust.  If Myungsoo or Dongwoo are planning something, this set them back, which is nothing but good for us.”

With some relief, Seokjin let the matter go. He didn’t have any more questions for Jungkook about Infinite. He didn’t want to pry anymore.

Elbow still up on the table in a way that made Seokjin want to knock it off, Jungkook leveled out, “So are you seriously telling me that the leader of Seventeen just stopped by to say hi to you? Do you have any idea how impossible that sounds?”

Seokjin liked that he could laugh about it now, even though his heart had been in his stomach while it was happening.

“I was there and I don’t really believe it,” Seokjin confessed. “But it’s true.”

Jungkook said knowingly, “Rap Mon thought for sure that Seventeen was making a threat and using you to do it. Now I think he’s more worried that you just kind of attract gang leaders too easily and make them like you.”

“Sunggyu did not like me,” Seokjin pointed out. “He kept me alive for a reason, and only one that benefited him and his goals.”

Jungkook shrugged. “For him, that’s kind of liking someone. And Suho likes you. Now S.Coups likes you. Could you knock it off? You’re making it look too easy to get gang bosses to like you, and you’re going to give your boyfriend a stroke doing it.”

Seokjin hardly thought being on cordial terms with certain men of power and influence equated to anything more than a working relationship. He loved Namjoon, and Namjoon loved him, but Suho was just a mutual contact. And Seungcheol seemed less than that.

“Just eat your food,” Seokjin said, pointing at the plate in front of Jungkook that was half full still. “If you’re making me pay an arm and a leg for this meal that you insisted you deserved, then at least let me get my money’s worth.”

Jungkook grinned.

The rest of the meal, much to Seokjin’s agreement, was lighter in terms of conversation. Seokjin kept Jungkook up to date with the recent developments at the clinic, and how the new employees were getting on. And in turn, Jungkook filled Seokjin in on his schoolwork, his classes, and how much more he was enjoying the lazy and relaxed summer semester, than the more frantic spring and the taxing fall semesters.

It felt good to just sit down and have a conversation with Jungkook. It felt good to relax in his brother’s company, and enjoy their relationship. They were siblings, of course, but more than that, they were best friends. He didn’t think many siblings could say that, but Seokjin was proud to.

After dinner Seokjin drove Jungkook home. He didn’t take the long way around, even though he wanted to, and not twenty minutes after they’d left the restaurant, Seokjin parked them in front of the apartment Jungkook shared with Jimin.

There were lights shining out from a second-floor window, and that told Seokjin that Jimin was already home. Seokjin had half a mind to go in there and remind him about watching Jungkook’s back properly.

The thing was, Seokjin was angry about Jungkook getting hurt, but he knew Jimin was always watching out for his brother to the best of his ability. Jimin would never let anything happen to someone he considered family, and that extended easily to Jungkook.

So Seokjin dropped that thought immediately.

 Instead, he said to Jungkook before his brother could hop out of the car, “I’m thinking of going to see Dad next weekend.”

Jungkook’s fingers paused on the latch to the door. Seokjin knew he’d caught his brother off guard.

“We haven’t been in a couple of months,” Seokjin reminded. “We need to go more often. We owe a lot to him. Including that fancy little car of yours I see from where I’m parked.”

He gestured to the black Audi that Jungkook drove to school. While Seokjin still thought it was ridiculous that Jungkook had such a nice car at his age, provided by their father’s legacy, even Seokjin had to admit that Jungkook was rather good about using the car practically. He really only drove it to school or on the weekends, and he was more inclined to get a ride, than drive anywhere himself.

Jungkook’s body was stiff as he breathed out, “Oh. You’re right. It has been a while.”

Previous to their father dying, Seokjin and Jungkook, usually accompanied by their father, had made the trip out to the family plot once a year, on the anniversary of the accident. But now their father was interred with the other family members, and Seokjin was far more attentive to visiting.

“Will you go with me?” Seokjin asked. Jungkook hadn’t been able to go the last time Seokjin had, but Namjoon had made time to accompany him, so it hadn’t been horrible to travel out and pay his respects. Seokjin just wanted Jungkook to get into a habit of going. He wanted the trip to mean as much to the both of them.

Jungkook glanced back at Seokjin and admitted, “I know I should be better at going. I know you shouldn’t have to remind me.”

Seokjin replied, “Visiting deceased loved ones is not an easy thing, Jungkook. Even when you get to say goodbye properly, like we did.”

With a deep breath, Jungkook said, “Can we go in the afternoon?”

“Yeah,” Seokjin said gently. “We can go in the afternoon. Thanks.”

Jungkook pushed open the door to the car, but paused to ask before getting out, “You gonna come up and lecture Jimin or something?”

“Ha-ha,” Seokjin said flatly, pushing at Jungkook to get out of the ar.

“Love you, too,” Jungkook snuck out, then he shut the door and started the jog up to the second floor of the apartment building.

By the time Seokjin got back to his own apartment it was much later than he usually went home. He’d let himself linger with Jungkook, and his nighttime routine was paying for it. But Namjoon wasn’t home yet, he rarely was before Seokjin anyway, so Seokjin readied for bed slowly.

He was lying in bed, probably minutes from dozing off, with his e-reader going to sleep in his hands from inactivity, when he heard the front door open. He held his breath until he heard the jingle of Namjoon’s keys being set down, and the thuds of him kicking his shoes off.

“You’re still awake,” Namjoon said guiltily when he made it to the bedroom fifteen minutes after that. Seokjin had heard him stop in the kitchen at some point, and then the hallway likely to go through some mail that had been delivered.

Seokjin gave him an easy smile and set his e-reader to the side. “You know I like to wait up for you if I can.”

Namjoon pulled his shirt over his head and stripped his pants off.

Seokjin let himself enjoy the view as Namjoon climbed into bed wearing only his underwear. It never failed to stir desire up in him when he saw the lean lines of Namjoon’s body, and the muscle definition. And if he hadn’t been so tired, he might have made a move on Namjoon.

But there was weariness radiating from Namjoon as much as Seokjin felt personally, so he couldn’t imagine being intimate until the both of them had had some decent sleep.

“Is it safe to get in here with you?” Namjoon asked jokingly, lifting the blankets and scooting under. He pressed himself up against Seokjin almost right away, tucking in easily.

“Depends,” Seokjin replied. “Did you run off today and stir up trouble with Choi Seungcheol?”

“Can you not say his name like you’re besties?”

Seokjin elbowed Namjoon back a little from his personal space. “Did you want me to use his gang name? Come on, don’t be ridiculous. He introduced himself by his given name, he was absolutely respectful to me the entire time he was there, and you’re over here getting flustered about a name.”

“I am not flustered,” Namjoon denied.

“You’re getting worked up,” Seokjin allowed. He let himself sink a little more into the mattress and said, “You’re getting worked up over nothing.”

“To you it’s nothing.” Namjoon scooted down in the bed, his nose nudging at Seokjin’s shoulder. “But look at it from my perspective, okay? You … because of me, you’ve gotten dragged into all kinds of things.”

Seokjin snorted and decided, “More likely because of Jungkook.”

Namjoon was not swayed as he said, “You’ve been in danger because of me. Even if you’re choosing to be a part of this kind of life, even if we both know we can’t control other people, the fact of the matter is that your life has been seriously threatened multiple times.”

Seokjin let himself pull Namjoon closer at those words. Even if he was angry at Namjoon for being overprotective, he did understand why it happened. He got it.

“I love you,” Namjoon said, his tone dropping as he leaned up to kiss Seokjin. It was a kiss that lasted only a second before Namjoon continued, “I don’t think you have any idea how much I love you. I’ve known you were the one for a long time, maybe from the start, but it’s really impossible for me to even use words to explain how much I love you.”

“Namjoon,” Seokjin tried.

“I would do anything for you,” Namjoon pressed on. “I’d do anything you asked, and I’d give you anything you wanted. Sometimes it scares me how much I love you.”

Seokjin let his hand seek out Namjoon’s under the blankets, and he threaded their fingers.

“But you say you want space,” Namjoon told him, tangling their feet together. “So, despite how much anxiety letting you out of my sight causes, I give you space. I keep my men back from you. I don’t have you followed around. And I try my best not to act like an absolute creep who keeps tabs on his boyfriend. I give you space.”

“Most of the time,” Seokjin teased.

Namjoon made a soft noise at the back of his throat. “But today…today in came someone who had no place being near you—someone dangerous.”

“He wa—”

“Jin,” Namjoon said firmly, so strongly he nearly jarred Seokjin. “Just because S.Coups was nice to you, does not mean he isn’t capable of breaking your neck with his bare hands to get at me. You are the only real way to get to me, and now everyone knows that. So today, if only for a couple of minutes, I thought my worst fear was coming true. I thought someone was making a play for you again. I thought someone was going to rip my heart out. I thought…”

Seokjin felt Namjoon’s chest rise sharply.

“He was there to thank me for saving his brother’s life,” Seokjin said, putting his free hand on Namjoon’s chest to stabilize him. “But I do understand that he could have been there for some other reason completely.  And if he had been, you should know that Taehyung was brilliant. You need to recognize that. He had your people in there, ready to help if need be, and he did it in a smart way. He had them go through the back so they didn’t upset any patients or cause a scene. And he used his brain, waiting in the hallway first to assess the situation, and he didn’t just kick down a door which could have instigated a situation.”

A small smile lit on Namjoon’s face. “That kid can use his brain, when he wants to. And his instincts are getting better all the time.”

Seokjin’s fingers scratched light and lazily across Namjoon’s chest. “I know why you’re so paranoid all the time. I know why you’re so worried. That’s why I give you the leeway that I do. That’s why I do my best to understand and accept.”

“I am not going to lose you,” Namjoon ground out, “because I got lax with your safety.”

Seokjin was happy enough to let silence permeate the air between them.

Eventually, however, Namjoon said, “I wanted to go after S.Coups today. I almost did.”

“That would have been ill advised,” Seokjin suggested.

“That’s what J-Hope said,” Namjoon chuckled out.

“But?” Seokjin prompted hopefully.

“But I didn’t,” Namjoon admitted. “S.Coups overstepped, and he damn well knows he did. He was poking the bear today, and he’s lucky I’ve got a lot of smart people around me, telling me not to poke back. But, I guess at the very heart of it all, even I have to admit he didn’t do anything to warrant a severe response. He didn’t hurt you. He didn’t threaten you. And he is here on personal business.”

Curiously, Seokjin asked, “So what did you do after you left the clinic?”

Seokjin didn’t miss the brief tightening of muscles that rippled through Namjoon’s body before he relaxed.

“I talked to Suho about S.Coups,” Namjoon said. “And then there was some other business to handle. If you want to hear about it all, I’ll tell you. It’s just pretty tedious and boring.”

Seokjin had known Namjoon long enough to know when the man was trying to push Seokjin away from a topic. And he wasn’t very good at it, either. There was no doubt in Seokjin’s mind that Namjoon was trying to dissuade Seokjin from asking about his movements that day, by offering to.

Seokjin decided to have pity on him and not bite.

Instead, he praised, “I’m glad you decided to think things through, and listen to the smart people you surround yourself with, and not go off and make trouble. Don’t we have bigger issues to deal with than one guy coming to talk to me when he knows he shouldn’t? Aren’t Infinite’s leftover men a bigger deal?”

Seokjin could feel Namjoon grimace.

“Yeah,” Seokjin eased out. “Now we’re going to talk about that. And that’s the topic you should really be scared of. Because I wasn’t going to make a scene in the clinic earlier when I saw Jungkook’s face for the first time. But I am willing to kick up a fuss in the privacy of our home.”

“Jiiinnnnn.”

“Don’t you Jin me,” Seokjin said, sitting up in bed. He twisted towards Namjoon. “You ordered my brother into a situation where someone clearly tried to pound his face in. Did you think I wasn’t going to be angry over that?”

Weakly, Namjoon said, “Suga’s the one who gave the order there.”

“And who exactly is Yoongi’s boss?”

Namjoon rubbed at his eyes tiredly.

“Someone pummeled his face with their fists,” Seokjin snapped out. “Someone did that to my baby brother, and you gave the okay.”

“I did,” Namjoon said right back to him, more serious now, sitting up as well. “I did what I had to do. I gave an order I needed to give. And your brother is a member of this gang, so he followed the order given. That’s just how it is, Jin.”

A little frantic, Seokjin demanded, “And what if things had gone poorly? What if …” What if Jungkook had been hurt more terribly? Or worse.

“That is a risk,” Namjoon agreed. “But you’re sitting there looking at me like I just decided to do this on a whim. I didn’t, Jin. This was planned out, and coordinated. It was well thought through, and it was a calculated but necessary risk. If you want me to be sorry, that’s not going to happen.”

Seokjin crossed his legs under him and leaned his elbows on his knees. He didn’t think he wanted Namjoon to be sorry, but it was hard to tell. His feelings for Jungkook were constantly interfering for the ones he had for Namjoon, when it came to Bangtan’s business.  

“Jin,” Namjoon sighed out. He touched Seokjin’s shoulder gingerly. “I wouldn’t put any of my men, least of all Jungkook, in danger if I didn’t think it was necessary. But don’t sit there like you didn’t know Jungkook was going to be doing dangerous things, or potentially getting hurt.”

Fiercely, Seokjin said, “I know that, Namjoon. Don’t sling your self-righteous rhetoric at me about the greater good and acceptable risks. I know. But that is my brother, Namjoon. That is my baby brother, and every second he’s in danger—especially danger you give the okay on, I am going to be upset. Don’t tell me not to be upset. You have no idea what it is to watch your brother risk his life for an idea.”

Affronted, Namjoon demanded, “An idea?”

“That’s what Bangtan is,” Seokjin countered. “Bangtan is an idea. It’s a noble one, but it’s just an idea. It’s the idea that streets can be safer, and people can live without fear. And I think that’s a good idea to invest in, but I don’t want to give my brother up for an idea. Even a good one.”

Namjoon’s hand fell away from the skin at Seokjin’s shoulder.

Namjoon didn’t speak for some time, and when he did, it was to say, “I play favorites with Jungkook.”

Seokjin turned to him in confusion.

“Because of you,” Namjoon confessed.  “You are the love of my life. You are the reason I keep going, even when I don’t want to. I want to marry you some day. I want to grow old with you. I want everything with you. And Jungkook is your little brother. So yes, I play favorites with him, when I know I shouldn’t, and it’s not fair to the others. I do it anyway. I don’t put him in the really dangerous situations. I have him hang back when things are particularly nasty. And when he makes a mistake, I don’t go in on him as hard as I would anyone else.”

Seokjin breathed out raggedly.

“I already do that for you.” Namjoon’s voice was quiet now. Unnaturally quiet. “But when I need Jungkook out there, I’m going to put him out there. Jin, he wants to be out there. So you have to try and accept that. You can’t be angry at me for it. You can’t be angry at your brother. This is how it is. Jungkook chose this just like you’re choosing to be with me.”

Seokjin wanted to be comforted by the words. He really did.

“You don’t have to agree,” Namjoon said finally. “You just have to accept.”

“Accept the danger?”

Namjoon nodded. “Accept the danger. But also accept that I’m me. Accept that I don’t risk lives needlessly. I value all my people, and I do my best to keep them safe. Yes, Jungkook is going to be in dangerous situations again. Yes, he might get hurt.  But I’m always going to be here trying to prevent that. And so will every other person out there with him.”

An unexpected sob heaved its way up Seokjin’s throat then, and he only just managed to swallow it back down.

He was barely holding himself together as he whispered, “I’ve buried everyone else in my family. I can’t lose Jungkook, too. Don’t you understand?”

It was only a half second later before Namjoon’s strong and warm arms wrapped around him. Then Namjoon’s voice was in his ear, assuring, “I do. You know I do. I’d give anything to have my grandparents back, Jin. Anything.”

Seokjin felt so embarrassed then, to have said such a thing to Namjoon. Of course Namjoon knew. He knew better than most.

“Just do your best,” Seokjin said, reaching up to anchor onto Namjoon’s arms. “I know I have to accept what Jungkook does—what you have to order him to do. And I can’t stop myself from worrying, or getting angry. But just … please, please, do your best to keep him safe. It’s not fair to ask you to keep playing favorites, but please.”

Namjoon held him tightly for minutes more, and it felt good.

“I promise,” Namjoon said. He kissed the side of Seokjin’s head. “I promise you.”

Seokjin didn’t know if he believed that, not if he wanted to acknowledge the truth. But he felt better when Namjoon promised, and at the moment, he just wanted to purge the shock and anger and fear from him.

Resignedly, Seokjin said, “I’m tried.”

They got back under the blankets, and then the lights were turned off. Seokjin let himself fall against Namjoon like he did almost every night, and the tension worked its way slowly out of him.

“I don’t like it, you know,” Namjoon said in the darkness of their bedroom.

“Hum?”

“Putting people in danger,” Namjoon clarified. “Even when I have to, or it’s for a greater good. I hate it, actually.”

They’d been sharing the same bed for months and months now. They’d been living together for almost half a year. So Seokjin didn’t need a light in the room to instinctively know how far to lean up in bed to find Namjoon’s lips.

“I’m sorry for being so mean to you,” he apologized, pressing a series of soft kisses to Namjoon’s mouth. “I’m sorry for being so … so …”

“So much of a big brother?”

“Hard headed,” Seokjin decided. “I know you’re a good person. I know you do your best. I trust you. I trust you with Jungkook. I’m just scared.”

Namjoon’s warm fingers stroked down Seokjin’s cheek as they shared lazy kisses.

“I love you, Jin,” Namjoon said tenderly.

“I love you, too,” Seokjin returned, and gave Namjoon a final kiss. He settled his head on the pillow after that and listened to the sound of Namjoon falling asleep.

He would have given anything, anything to make sure that Jungkook was never in the same kind of situation again. That he was never hurt again. But Seokjin supposed that if that sort of thing was impossible, and it really was, at least he had Namjoon’s promise to do his best to protect Jungkook.

Namjoon didn’t make promises carelessly, and so for Seokjin, it was enough for the moment.

Because if Seokjin lost Jungkook, he’d lose himself in turn as well.

Chapter Text

At half past eight on a Friday night, Seokjin wasn’t really surprised that traffic was so bad that he’d had to park three blocks away from the Noodle House.

Frankly, Seokjin preferred to park at a distance, instead down one of the side alleys, or if he was especially lucky, right in front of the restaurant. Because coming at the building from a distance at night, with all the lights shining brightly, meant he got to see the place in all its glory.

Before the fire Seokjin had been starting to treat the place like a second home. He’d come around as often as possible, if only to relax a little, even if he wasn’t hungry. Because Bangtan’s core members were pretty notorious for hanging out there during their free time. And even when no one was there, Seokjin rather liked Namjoon’s grandmother.

He’d liked both of Namjoon’s grandparents, though. He’d certainly spent more time around Namjoon’s grandmother, but he’d liked the way Namjoon’s grandfather constantly hounded him to come play checkers with a small cluster of older men, or ribbed him about making an honest man out of Namjoon.

Namjoon’s grandmother had just been something else entirely. She’d been a no-nonsense kind of woman, one who accepted no bullshit, and gave as good as she got. Maybe she’d needed to be that way, after losing her daughter and son-in-law, and having a small child foisted upon her unexpectedly. She’d been hard as nails, and wise beyond her age. Worldly.

Mostly Seokjin had liked the kind crinkle to her eyes when she’d thought no one was looking, or the way she doted on Namjoon like he was the only person in the world to her. She’d been an amazing cook, a friend willing to listen to him whenever, and as soon as she’d been convinced that Seokjin was a good fit for Namjoon, she’d welcomed him into her fold like family.

“That boy,” she’d say to him, putting a huge bowl of noodles down in front of him that he probably didn’t have a chance of finishing, “he’s got rocks for brains sometimes.”

It was a game they’d play, so Seokjin would always follow up, “You’re confusing his brain with his heart. He’s smart, Grandmother Kim, and you know that. He’s smarter than most people. It’s his heart that gets him into trouble, because it’s so big, it’s filled with so much courage, and that makes him reckless at times.”

He’d feel her wrinkled fingers smooth down the hair at the back of his head, and then he’d hear her whisper something like, “You keep him from being foolish, you hear? Don’t let that heart of his break.”

When she’d died, along with Namjoon’s grandfather, a piece of the Noodle House—an integral one, had died with her.

Seokjin had almost been too surprised when it had been revealed that Namjoon planned to rebuild the place. Seokjin wouldn’t have blamed him one bit if Namjoon had wanted to let the place settle into the past and remain there.

“She’d kick me in the ass if she was still alive,” Namjoon had defended, “if she was … if she …”

Seokjin hadn’t pushed while Namjoon had struggled to keep himself together.

And then Namjoon had said firmly, “She and Grandpa opened this place when they were just in their twenties. They put everything they had into the Noodle House, and it meant everything to them. It was their legacy. And I’m not going to see their legacy blow away in the wind.”

So Namjoon had taken the ashes of the building, and he’d rebuilt. He’d gotten the support beams up first, and then the walls had followed. Floors had been installed. Equipment had been brought in, and as the months had passed, the Noodle House had slowly been put back together.

Now it was a shining beacon of light in the neighborhood.

The cook that Grandmother Kim had trusted the most in her kitchen, had come back the moment Namjoon had approached him to reopen the restaurant, and new staff had been hired along with some of the old. Now it was a booming and bustling center of activity again, and Seokjin liked walking up from a distance so he could see it in its glory.

It was still sweltering how outside in May, even though the sun had gone down a long time ago, so he only had a thin shirt on when he pressed down the side alley that ran along the building, and then through the door just ahead that was attached to the kitchen. Seokjin was never so thankful for his clothing, as a puff of hot air met him in the kitchen.

“Coming through,” Seokjin said good naturedly, ducking past a staff member that was balancing a tray full of food on her way to the dining room.

“Hungry?” the cook called out to him. He was at a large pot, stirring something lazily that smelled amazing. “Doctor Kim?”

“It’s just Seokjin,” he called back, “What are you making?”

The cook shouted boastfully, “Special tonight is budae jjigae!”

Seokjin wasn’t particularly hungry, but the dish was a favorite of his, and it showed on his face by the way the cook laughed and promised to have a serving brought out to him.

“Thank you!” Seokjin replied, and pushed on through the narrow hallway that led to the dining room. On a Friday night he’d known the dining room was going to be overly packed, which was why he’d gone in through the kitchen. The front of the house staff knew exactly who he was, so it wasn’t as if they would have stopped him or bothered him in the slightest, but Seokjin didn’t want to interrupt the flow of patrons. It was easier to just access the place through the staff entrances.

His party in waiting was tucked in to the far corner of the place like always. In a lot of ways, it was their designated table—Bangtan’s designated table. Their name wasn’t on it, and during the day it was used by anyone who might need it. But at specific times, Seokjin could count on it to be open to him, and Bangtan.

Yoongi was already there, as expected. The bigger shock would have been if Yoongi was late to anything in his life … ever. And just as predictable was Taehyung sitting across from him, demolishing a bowl of something that looked like the day’s special.

“Hey!” Taehyung shouted when he spotted Seokjin. He didn’t pause in his effort to suck up a huge mouthful of food, but that was Taehyung. Seokjin knew better than to try and get between him and food. Hoseok had sworn once that he’d nearly lost a finger the only time he’d attempted.

“You’re sooner than expected,” Yoongi greeted when Seokjin seated himself next to the shorter male. “Jungkook won’t be here for a while yet.”

“I can wait,” Seokjin said easily. He liked all the core members of Bangtan. They were his friends. It was no hardship to sit with them while he waited for his brother to show.

It wasn’t even a meeting of any caliber. It was just a moment in the week when the four of them had had schedules that lined up. Hoseok and Namjoon were tied up in something business related, and Jimin hardly ever wanted to go out with the others to begin with. But the rest of them? They’d agreed to meet for an easy dinner and good company.

“You gonna try this?” Taehyung demanded between bites of his food.

Yoongi pierced him with a firm look and said, “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

“Unlikely,” Seokjin assured. “He’s more certain to create a blockage in his air passageway, than to vomit. Though he’d probably vomit after I performed the Heimlich on him to save his life, if that makes you feel better.”

Taehyung scowled at them and put his bowl down. “I don’t have to take this, you know. I can go.”

Yoongi snorted, “And miss seconds?”

Taehyung laughed in acknowledgement, and Seokjin verified, “I’ve got a bowl coming. I take it it’s really good?”

“The best,” Taehyung said almost dreamily. “It’s Granny’s recipe, you know.”

Seokjin felt sweat beading at his forehead as he asked, “Hers?” It wasn’t overly hot in the restaurant’s dining room, but there wasn’t any air conditioning. The high windows were opened completely, but it was warm.

“She had a million recipes,” Yoongi said, with fondness. “She had special ingredients for all of them, too. She could make anything taste better, and she never said how. I think Rap Mon knows, maybe, but he isn’t talking. I think it’s fitting that way, you know? Her food lives on for her.”

Seokjin let himself heave in a deep breath. “I’m really proud of Namjoon, you know, for opening this place back up. It took a lot of bravery for him let this happen.”

Taehyung shrugged. “I don’t think it’s surprising at all. He’s like that. Even when he gets knocked down, he gets right back up.”

Seokjin thought there was a big difference between getting knocked down, and watching the restaurant Namjoon’s parents owned burn down, with his only family in the building.

But that only served to make Seokjin prouder of Namjoon for rising from the ashes like a phoenix. There was something inspiring and so beautiful about the Noodle House reopening. It stood for something now, and Seokjin felt privileged to be associated in any way.

They made idle chatter for a little bit, not long, and then Seokjin’s food arrived. He stirred his chopsticks into the bowl in front of him and soaked up the aroma. The heat from the food was rising into his lungs, making his chest feel a little tight. But it smelled so good and he couldn’t wait to dig in.

“Okay, okay, before Jungkook gets here,” Taehyung said, “we need to talk about something really important.”

“Before Jungkook gets here?” Seokjin asked with some confusion.

“Yeah,” Taehyung bit out, “because I love that kid, but he’s an utter blabber mouth and I don’t trust him with my secrets any further than I can throw his fat ass.”

Yoongi laughed a little, and assured Seokjin, “Your brother is actually packing on the muscle lately. That’s what V means.”

Taehyung whispered, “If it means you’ll still give me candy when I come by the clinic, that’s totally what I meant.”

Seokjin smiled too. “Jungkook is starting to bulk up. I thought for a long time he was just going to be my skinny little brother, but he weighs more than I do.”

“He’s practically taller than you, too,” Yoongi pointed out. “It’s a little hard to tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re the same height now, and Jungkook isn’t done growing yet.”

Taehyung teased, “Too bad you’re not growing anymore, Suga.”

Yoongi, with lightning fast reflexes, leaned across the table to snatch Taehyung by the front of his shirt and drag him close. There was nothing in the action that was an overt warning to Seokjin who’d long since learned to interpret the interactions between members in Bangtan. So instead he sat back, took a bite of his food, and listened to Yoongi level out, “I want you to know how close I am to taking that bowl of food you have in front of you, and dumping it over your head right now. Now, do you want to say anything else about my height? Do you want me to have to tell J-Hope that he can cancel your anniversary plans because you’re dead?”

Taehyung banged a hand down on the table and insisted, “That’s what we gotta talk about before Jungkook gets here.”

“Your anniversary?” Seokjin asked, taking a bite of his food. It was a touch spicier than he was expecting, that must have been the special ingredient, and it made his heart beat a little faster. But it tasted amazing.

Yoongi let go of Taehyung as he said, “The way I hear it, the whole deal is planned out.”

“No,” Taehyung denied, “the way you hear it, Hobi booked us something amazing that we’re traveling south for, and all I have to do is turn up at a specific time and be ready to go.”

“What’s the problem?” Seokjin wondered. He didn’t give away that he’d helped Hoseok out, and that he’d called his uncle days ago and already confirmed that the plans were set. It was beyond obvious that Hoseok was keeping their anniversary trip a secret, and Seokjin didn’t want to be the one to spoil that.

“What?” Taehyung gasped out. “What’s the problem?

Yoongi ate his own food languidly and pointed out, “Isn’t that the nature of your relationship? J-Hope usually handles the burden of planning if the two of you are going to do anything, and you just go along with it.”

Scowling, Taehyung insisted, “This is different, okay? This needs to be different. This is our anniversary. Not our first. Not our second, either. This is the point in our relationship when we’re serious. So I know Hobi has something amazing planned, and I can’t just sit on my ass and not contribute.”

Three years was pretty serious, Seokjin agreed. He and Namjoon were going to be a year into their relationship soon, and they were very serious. So Taehyung and Hoseok were that much more, at three years.

“So what do you want us to do?” Yoongi asked. “We don’t know where he’s taking you. We can’t tip you off.”

Seokjin kept an even look on his face and said, “I don’t think it really matters if you know where he’s taking you. How about you focus on the amazing time you’re going to have, the things you’re going to do together, and the present you’re going to get him.”

Taehyung went white.

Blandly, Yoongi assumed, “You haven’t even started thinking about a present, have you?”

Taehyung's lower lip trembled.

Yoongi said severely, “What kind of boyfriend are you? Three years into a relationship and you’re cutting it this close to the deadline? You leave in just a couple of weeks!”

“Don’t be mean to me!” Taehyung argued back. “Don’t waste your breath. Just help me!”

“How can I help someone as unthoughtful as you?”

Seokjin grinned widely into his hand. There was such obvious affection between the two of them that there was a real lack of bite to their words. It was only a case of two brothers arguing with each other, and honestly Seokjin liked Bangtan the best when they were like this.

When they were like this, they felt like normal, everyday people.

Seokjin was so caught up in the moment that it took him a touch longer than it should have, for him to realize the room was tilting around him.

He gripped the low table sharply as the world banked back and forth.

Nausea swept over him, and then came the light-headed sensation that nearly sent him tumbling backwards in an uncoordinated mess.

Oh no.

Oh no, no, no.

Seokjin felt like a fool. The sweating. The tightness in his chest. The rapid heartbeat.

He’d been experiencing symptoms for almost twenty minutes, and he’d been ignoring them. Like an idiot.

With fear lacing through him, Seokjin managed to heave himself to his feet.

“Jin?” Taehyung asked, looking to him.

“You okay?” Yoongi asked, watching him carefully.

“I’m fine,” Seokjin managed to grit out with a smile, hoping he was at least a little convincing. “I just … I need to make a phone call really quick. It’s important. It can’t wait. I’ll be back in a second.”

Seokjin was already moving as Taehyung asked behind him, “You want one of us to come with you?”

Seokjin asked over his shoulder, “If it’s not safe in Bangtan’s home turf, where is it?”

He knew that would settle them right away, because it wasn’t something they could argue with. There was no safer place for Seokjin than the Noodle House, which was at the heart of Bangtan’s territory, and the most protected.

He nearly collided with the wall when he reached the hallway walkway, but he managed to right himself at the last second, breathing hard.

There was panic rising in him as he tried to track the rapidness of his heart.

And the suddenness of it all made him mad.  He ambled his way towards the back exit and he was mad.

He’d gone months and months, maybe longer than he’d ever gone before, without having any issues with his heart. And he’d been doing everything right, too. He’d all but cut his coffee, tea, and alcohol in-take. He’d started eating even more healthy, and he was working less now than he had in the past five years.  He felt the strongest and healthiest at this point in his life than he ever had, and it wasn’t fair now.

Now.

Now, when he had his practice taking off, and Namjoon, and peace with his father.

“Doctor Kim?” the cook asked when Seokjin almost fell into the kitchen. He caught himself on the top of a counter and waved the man off, fumbling in his pocket for the tiny box that contained emergency medication.

It was kind of a miracle that he had it on him. His heart had been going so well for so long that he didn’t bring it with him most days. He was certain he’d even run out of the stash he kept at the clinic, at this point. And that was stupid. And deadly. He should have known better. He did know better.

It was cooler outside than inside, when he made it to the alleyway, though not by much.  But it felt like plunging into an ice-cold lake as he sucked in air that felt too thin.

Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic.

He coached himself through the action of popping open the pillbox and swallowing down the medication that would help him immediately.

It just wasn’t a permeant fix. This hiccup with his heart, even if it wasn’t as if he’d fallen over at the table in a fit of cardiac arrest, meant something. So he was going to have to go to the big hospital across town and get checked out. He’d have to sit across from Minah and look at her face while she studied his charts and saw how worse the damage was getting every time he had scans done.

He’d swallowed the pill down dry and talked himself out of a panic attack by the time he sunk down against the wall outside. He could hear the jovial shouting coming from the kitchen inside, and even more faint was the pleasant conversation of patrons in the dining room area. He let himself focus on those sounds, and not his own ragged breathing.

He tried not to obsess over counting his own pulse beats, either. He knew he just needed to relax, and let the medication do its job, and not get worked up.

Tightly, from behind him, Yoongi’s voice asked, “How’s your heart?”

If the first thing he didn’t need in his life at the moment was his heart acting up on him, the very next was anyone finding out. But especially someone like Yoongi.

Because Yoongi wasn’t like Taehyung, or Jungkook, or Jimin. They were the kind of people who’d let their feelings for him get in the way of saying anything to Namjoon, especially if he turned on some pleading. Hoseok was harder to call, but Yoongi? Yoongi’s loyalty to Namjoon went far beyond his friendship to Seokjin.

Yoongi, if he knew the truth, would be on the phone with Namjoon in less than an hour, blabbing everything. Seokjin wanted to be angry over that, but he understood the way Yoongi operated and thought. It would be a no-brainer for Yoongi.

“It’s fine. Why?”

Seokjin forced himself to straighten up. There was still a feeling lead in his belly, but he was better than he’d been just minutes pervious, and he was starting to think he could sell being okay to Yoongi if he put in enough effort.

Yoongi watched him with calculating eyes. “Because you’re pale?”

“I’m always pale,” Seokjin pointed out. He hadn’t had a tan in forever, and that wasn’t likely to change anytime soon. He’d never have an admirable skin color like Hoseok or Taehyung who obviously got enough sun each day.

Nope. Seokjin could see it on Yoongi’s face right away. He was suspicious.

So Seokjin leveled out, “My heart is never okay. You know that. So if you’re thinking you can sweep in here and save me from a birth defect, you’re sorely mistaken. But my scans looked acceptable the last time I had them done.” Maybe acceptable was … not entirely truthful, but they hadn’t looked as bad as Seokjin knew was possible, so that was good enough for the moment.

Yoongi’s eyes strayed to his chest for just a second. “I thought you said you were going out to make a phone call.”

Seokjin tapped his pocket where his phone was tucked into. “No answer. I’ll try again soon.”

Yoongi said with gentleness that didn’t always show itself so easily, “Jin. If you’re not well…”

“I’m fine,” Seokjin grit out. He took a steadying breath. “Yoongi, honestly, I’m okay. Stop standing over there looking at me like I’m going to have a heart attack. My heart isn’t as fragile as you seem to think it is, but I’m taking good care of it all the same. There is no medical emergency here. I came out to make a phone call. Could you not interrogate me over it?”

Yoongi relaxed a little and offered, “You’re angry at me for being concerned about your heart?”

“I’m not angry,” Seokjin denied. “And you’re not really worried about my heart. You’re worried about a complication to my health could do to Namjoon’s state of mind."

Yoongi bristled, clearly annoyed, and then offended. “You are my friend,” he said firmly, almost defiantly. “I can care about your health when you don’t look fine to me, without it having anything to do with my boss. Contrary to what you think, I don’t spend all waking hours of the day thinking about your boyfriend.”

“I know.” Seokjin deflated a little. “I’m sorry. I know.”

Yoongi had always been a little distant, and more mature than the rest of Bangtan put together. Yoongi was far from approachable, and was hard to spend large amount of time around sometimes. But he was a friend. He’d risked everything for Seokjin. And he was someone Seokjin trusted.

“First and foremost,” Yoongi said, “I care that you look pale. And don’t give me anything about always looking pale. You’ve got a different look on your face when you’re not feeling well.”

Seokjin felt soothed by Yoongi’s open affection. It was nice to hear that Yoongi knew him well enough to pick out when he was feeling his worst. Or at least in any other situation it would have been nice.

“But secondly,” Yoongi admitted, “even you have to agree that your life now is tied to Rap Mon’s in every way possible.

Seokjin nodded. That had been something to wrap his head around, but he was fully aware of how much he affected Namjoon.

Yoongi continued, “Right now things are … tense. S.Coups coming into town, Triad business going on in the East, Suho putting pressure on Rap Mon to expand … tense is the only word to use these days. Rap Mon needs to be focused on what’s happening, and if you had a medical issue present itself, that would unbalance him.”

Seokjin wanted to remind Yoongi, hopefully without revealing anything, that it wasn’t as if he could control when his heart decided to act up. But then all of Yoongi’s words hit Seokjin, and he asked with concern, “What’s that about Suho?

Yoongi didn’t speak right away. Instead he held still as he searched the alleyway they were standing in carefully.  And when he seemed certain they were alone and had some privacy, he relayed, “Rap Mon hasn’t asked me not to say anything to you on this topic. Typically, if he doesn’t want you to know something, he’ll say so explicitly. Otherwise, you know the deal is that if you ask, I’ll answer.”

“And Suho is …”

“Getting a little big for his britches,” Yoongi finished, looking irritable.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Yoongi said, “we teamed up with Exo out of necessity. It wasn’t just to save you, Jin. It was because Exo wasn’t going to be able to take Infinite on their own, and neither were we. So we teamed up. The point was to take down a bigger entity, and for each gang to carve out new territory. Suho seems to think that this partnership is a gateway.”

“To what?” Seokjin wondered. “More power?”

Yoongi only gave a silent nod.

“That’s …” Seokjin shook his head. “That’s ridiculous. The reason Big Bang retiring and giving up their territory was a bid deal, is because every bit of land is spoken for in this area. That was a legitimate opportunity to expand. But Suho … are you telling me Suho wants to keep going? Even into areas that are controlled by other gangs?”

Yoongi told him, “Rap Mon is doing his best to try and quell the sudden thirst Suho seems to have developed. Because we’re not interested in expanding. We don’t want to start another turf war.”

“But Suho is,” Seokjin inferred.

“Suho doesn’t see a reason not to keep riding the train.” Yoongi crossed his arms over his chest. “Suho sees Exo and Bangtan as an alliance that could be eating up streets by the day.”

Seokjin asked, “So has Namjoon just been telling him to calm down?”

“No.” Yoongi said, “You need to remember, it’s a tricky kind of business when you’re dealing with gangs. Exo and Bangtan are allied today, but they might not be tomorrow. Rap Mon can’t just put his foot down and alienate Suho. He doesn’t want to make an enemy of him, especially since Suho knows a lot about how we operate.”

Seokjin reminded, “We know a lot about Exo, too.”

“Not the same,” Yoongi denied. He took a couple of steps back towards the door to the kitchen. “You think that because Suho smiles at you, and is nice to you, and helped us save you, that he won’t turn on you for his own benefit. But he will. Never forget that. We fall out with Exo, you’ll be one of the first targets they have in mind. You might be the absolute first. And Suho won’t hold back because he seems like a nice guy to you.”

“I know that,” Seokjin said harshly. “I know exactly who I can trust, Yoongi. I can count those people on my fingers.”

“Good,” Yoongi said, reaching for the handle on the door to pull it open. “One of us? You can always count on us. But never anyone else. No matter how they smile at you, or act friendly, or do nice things for you. Never trust anyone but us.”

“You sound paranoid.” But Seokjin supposed he ought to be glad that Yoongi had stopped trying to sniff a medical issue out with him.

Yoongi agreed, “This job does that to you.” He pulled the door open. “Come back inside, okay? Unless you want to try and make that call again.”

The last bit sounded like bait, and Seokjin wasn’t going to take it.

Instead he moved after Yoongi and called out, “Hey, how’s your sister doing?” He hadn’t spoken to Yoongi about the young girl in some time. She wasn’t his patient, and she hadn’t had any further medical issues since she’d been diagnosed with anemia, so he didn’t really have a reason to check up on her. But she was a sweet girl, and Seokjin cared about her.

“She never shuts up about you,” Yoongi told Seokjin without any edge to his words. “You may have to marry her just to put her out of her misery. I’ll break the news to Rap Mon.”

This time when Seokjin laughed, he felt warmth down in his core. The pill he’d swallowed down was clearly working, and he was feeling so much better already. He’d probably have to take it easy for the rest of the night and turn in early, but if things were going to get worse, they would have already.

“Don’t you be mean to my future bride,” Seokjin told him firmly.

“Don’t joke,” Yoongi said back, the two of them moving through the kitchen easily. It seemed like it was even busier than when Seokjin had come through the first time. “She’d say yes to you in a second, if she thought there was even the slightest possibility of it happening.”

Seokjin pushed playfully at Yoongi’s shoulder. “Is this the first time your sister has wanted to marry someone?” Seokjin had Jungkook, whom he was fiercely protective over. But he imagined he’d be even worse of a tyrant if he had a little sister. He hardly thought gender mattered on almost all things in life, but a little sister … there was some paranoia that was excusive to that category.

“No,” Yoongi agreed. “Before you there was Choi Youngjae.”

“Who’s that?” They broke in to the dining area and Seokjin was surprised to see Jungkook was now at their table. He was sooner than expected. “Some hot kpop superstar?”

“Ha!” Yoongi gave Seokjin a look of disbelief. “Choi Youngjae is Moon Jaein’s bodyguard.”

Seokjin missed a step. “Excuse me? Moon Jaein? As in the president?”

Yoongi nodded. “That’s him. And apparently he has an extremely attractive bodyguard that at least half the women in this country over twelve are in love with. Probably a lot of the boys, too.”

“Huh.” Seokjin planned to look this Choi Youngjae up later. If only to see the competition.

“It’s all you now, though,” Yoongi said as they arrived back at the table. Seokjin took an easy seat next to Yoongi, across from Taehyung and Jungkook.

“What’s you?” Jungkook had a glass of something that looked suspiciously like soju in front of him, but Seokjin was trying to be less of a parent to Jungkook. He could have lectured him about not being old enough to legally drink yet, but it kind of seemed pointless. Everyone knew that Jungkook was his little brother, in the same way that they knew that Seokjin and Namjoon were a couple. No one was going to say no to Jungkook. Not unless Seokjin was there, breathing down their necks.

Seokjin wanted to save an embarrassment like that for a special occasion.

Casually, Yoongi told the group, “Hyomin is making plans to marry Jin.”

Taehyung commented, “Oh. Well, at least you’d be cute together.”

In a scandalized way, Seokjin reminded, “She’s a child.”

“He’s just kidding,” Jungkook said confidently, elbowing Taehyung in the side. “Plus, Bangtan kind of shares siblings. So that’d be incest, and that’s really nasty.”

Seokjin found himself baffled by that statement. “What?”

“It’s not mandatory or anything,” Yoongi volunteered to tell him. “But siblings are typically treated like everyone’s collective family. It’s more of a safety thing, than anything else. So Hyomin is afforded the kind of protection to all the members as if she was the little sister to each and every one of them. The same thing applies to J-Hope’s sisters, and all the other siblings of Bangtan members.”

Humorously, Seokjin asked, “Does Hyomin know this?”

“She does,” Yoongi said easily. “She’s heartbroken, of course. Maybe do your best to dissuade her when we come to that clinic event of yours? You’re very good at lecturing Jungkook. Maybe you could prepare one of Hyomin about the benefits of choosing books over boys?”

Seokjin insisted, “She’s a smart girl, you know. I don’t think she needs me to tell her to study hard and focus on getting into a good college, not having a cute boyfriend.”

“Good,” Yoongi said with a slight pitch of fervor.

Seokjin thought matter was almost completely settled until a thought dawned on him, and he asked the group, “Wait, so if siblings in Bangtan are considered almost …communal property, and Jungkook is my brother …”

Taehyung blinked wide, falsely innocent eyes up at Seokjin and said, “You’re the best big brother a guy could ever want, Jin.”

Seemingly looking more relaxed, Yoongi interjected with a grin, “Makes it kinda awkward that you and Rap Mon are probably going to end up married, then, right? Because technically, according to his own rules, you’re pretty much his brother due to Jungkook’s position—especially due to how high up Jungkook is.”

Taehyung giggled madly as Jungkook told Seokjin solemnly, “It’s super okay, I promise. I mean, well, it is a little awkward, like Suga said, but it’s mostly super okay. Everyone gets the circumstances. No one is looking at you like some incest loving creeper. Mostly!” Jungkook had only been holding back his own fit of amusement up until that point, and then collapsed into Taehyung just after he got the last of the words out.

Laughing a little himself, Seokjin couldn’t help thinking that if he’d just inherited several brothers, he could do a lot worse.

A new round of food had arrived since Seokjin had excused himself, and there was almost three times the amount now. Jungkook was practically demolishing it as Yoongi, seemingly in panic that refused to pass, told them all that he wasn’t above locking his sister in her room until she had a college acceptance letter in her hands.

“It’s not the end of the world if she doesn’t go,” Taehyung pointed out, and there was an edge to his voice. It served to remind Seokjin that not everyone had the means or opportunity to go to college. He and Jungkook were privileged in a lot of ways, and even though Yoongi had noted on a previous occasion that he wasn’t interested in college, he could have gone if he wanted to.

Seokjin knew it was a different situation for Taehyung. Taehyung had grown up extremely poor, with his family struggling just to feed him, let alone entertaining ideas of higher education.

“It’s definitely not,” Seokjin interjected, catching Taehyung’s gaze in a supportive way. “There’s a lot of pressure on kids to not only go to college, but go to a great college. Still, college doesn’t define what makes a person successful. And there are plenty of ways to become contributing, valued members of society, without going to college.”

“That’s nice and all,” Yoongi said, pulling a bowl of noodles closer to himself. “But my sister is going to college. Let her dump her degree in the garbage afterwards if she wants to. But she’s getting it.”

Piling meat onto his smaller bowl of rice, Jungkook confessed, “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

Seokjin couldn’t help laughing out, “You’re taking three classes right now. Of course it’s not as bad as you thought it would be.”

Jungkook leveled a pout at him, and it was like kryptonite.

“Look,” Seokjin sighed out. “I’m really happy that you’re attending college. Even if it’s at your own pace, and you don’t plan to be there for long, I think you stand to learn a lot of important things and do some growing up. But don’t confuse your three classes for a full schedule.”

Seokjin practically still had nightmares about his time as an undergraduate. And that had been nothing compared to his post grad and residency work. Not to mention he’d had the financial support to concentrate on his school work full time. He wasn’t sure how other people managed to go to school full time, and work full time.

“Okay, okay,” Taehyung interjected. “Enough talk about college. It’s boring and we have more important things to focus on.”

Seokjin turned to Yoongi and said, “You two are definitely going to be there for the clinic’s weekend event, right?”

“We said we’d go,” Yoongi replied. “Didn’t Rap Mon pass that along for sure? He wants all of us who can be there—and want to be I guess, to show up.”

“Community visibility,” Jungkook snuck in, mouth full of meat and noodles. “He says maybe some people who might be scared of us, or not know us, will feel better if we’re around.”

“It is a good idea,” Seokjin pointed out. “Bangtan isn’t perfect, but people should know that if there’s a real problem in this neighborhood, and the police aren’t handling it, Bangtan is going to be there.”

“In a perfect world,” Yoongi cut in, “the police would be enough.”

Seokjin did think, however, that the local police department was now headed in the right direction. Previously, almost all of the cops that had been in the area, had been on Infinite’s payroll. Most of them had been dirty, and none of them had been worth trusting. But with the downfall of Infinite, so too had gone a lot of the dirty cops. The police were far from where they needed to be, and Seokjin still didn’t put a lot of stock into them, but there was improvement.

Seokjin said to Yoongi, “Bring Hyomin by to say hi when you guys get there. I’ll make sure she’s properly focused on her studies, and I’ll give her a nudge in right direction if she isn’t. But Yoongi, she really is a really good kid. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“Seriously!” Taehyung leveled himself up to his knees and putting both palms down on the table. “Are you guys going to help me, or should I just hide under the table?”

Jungkook pointed out, “I don’t think you can fit under the table.”

Taehyung made a strangled sound.

Seokjin pointed out, “I thought you only wanted help before Jungkook got here.”

“Hey!” Jungkook shouted. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He said you’re a blabber mouth,” Yoongi provoked.

“Arghhh!” Jungkook lunged to the side and toppled into Taehyung, taking them both down. They crashed to the floor as their limbs tangled together.

“Children, we’re in public,” Yoongi said without inflection in his voice.

Seokjin took the opportunity to reach out and take both his portion of the meat, and Jungkook’s. He set the pieces in his rice bowl and told Yoongi, “Welcome to my world. I’ve been dealing with this child for practically my entire life. It’s why I try and take him out in public as little as possible.”

“Embarrassing,” Yoongi commented, stealing Taehyung’s meat.

Seokjin let them wrestle each other for a few moments more. They weren’t really fighting, and they also weren’t drawing too much attention, so it was mostly harmless. But eventually Seokjin knew the food was going to go cold, and at some point, the cook would start sending more out. Seokjin hardly thought the human garbage disposals named Taehyung and Jungkook needed even more food.

Especially since neither one of them was probably going to pay, and Seokjin wasn’t going to let the meal go to them for free. He paid each and every time he came to the Noodle House, even if Namjoon had made it clear he didn’t need to.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin called out. “Want to know a secret?”

“I’m kind of busy!” Taehyung called out, an arm around the back of Jungkook’s neck. “I’m trying to strangle your brother to death!”

Yoongi had taken to ignoring them, so Seokjin said, “I know where Hoseok is taking you for your anniversary.”

Taehyung popped up comically, letting go of Jungkook and demanding, “You know?”

Seokjin had already decided that he wasn’t going to let anything important slip. It was Hoseok’s anniversary present to reveal. But there wasn’t any harm in baiting Taehyung a little.

“I know,” Seokjin revealed. “And no, I won’t tell you where you’re going. But I will say it’s pretty amazing, so you’d better stop fighting with my brother, sit your butt down proper, and help us help you figure out what to get Hoseok that’s going to be even a fraction as good as what he’s planning for you.”

It was pretty impressive the way Taehyung’s demeaner changed. He all but abandoned his need to fight with Jungkook, sat himself proper, and then folded his hands on the table quietly in front of him. “Help me,” he said with wide eyes that made him look much younger than he really was.

“Take pity on him,” Yoongi translated.

“I’m not a blabber mouth,” Jungkook denied lowly.

Seokjin rolled his eyes. “You absolutely are sometimes. But you can prove all of us wrong now by helping Taehyung come up with something really cool, and then not spilling all the information to Hoseok before their anniversary. Okay?”

“Okay,” Jungkook grumbled.

Seokjin nudged him supportively under the table, and gave Jungkook a supportive grin.

Then he turned back to Taehyung and said, “Let’s start with some easy stuff. Does Hoseok have any hobbies?”

Taehyung wasted no time delving into practically everything he knew about Hoseok’s likes and dislikes, and Seokjin tried his best to focus on the words. But his heart was heavy in his chest, breathing still felt like a chore, and nothing about how he was feeling, was right. The moment for panic had passed, and there was no immediate emergency, but his heart … it was currently serving to remind him that it was in charge.

“Jin?” Jungkook asked with a frown on his face and worry accompanying the tone of his voice.

Seokjin moved some of the meat he’d stolen from Jungkook back onto his brother’s bowl, and gestured for him to focus on Taehyung.

No matter if his heart was acting up a little, or a lot, Seokjin wasn’t going to burden Jungkook with it. His brother didn’t need that worry. Seokjin loved him too much for that sort of thing.

“Slow down,” Seokjin told Taehyung when he realized how fast the younger male was speaking. “We’re listening, so slow down a little.”

Jungkook leaned towards Taehyung and whispered at him, pointing at Seokjin, “Best listener ever.”

“I’ll always listen,” Seokjin assured, and then he made himself concentrate on Taehyung again, even as his heart gave a painful clench in his chest, and Seokjin became even more worried as to what his scans would show the next time Minah took them.

He’d promised Namjoon time, before. He’d tried to be realistic, he’d tried to warn the man that his condition could be unpredictable, but ultimately, he’d promised Namjoon time. And a family. A future. Everything.

He’d promised Jungkook even more.

But his heart was making him feel like a liar all of the sudden, or as if he’d been purposefully dishonest with the people he loved.

“Jin?” Jungkook asked again, clearly not convinced that everything was fine.

One look at the raw worry on Jungkook’s face made Seokjin wonder if maybe it wasn’t better to be a liar, if only for a short while.

Chapter Text

For Seokjin, the day was going along in a spectacularly predictable way. And after all the excitement his life had entertained lately, he welcomed the monotony. Because for him, there was nothing more satisfying than rolling out of bed in the morning, spending half an hour with the man he loved, and then going to work.

Seokjin certainly didn’t think it was an insult when Jungkook called him a boring old man.

He was more than content to putter along in his clinic, the old man that he apparently was, without getting into any shootouts, or having his life threatened. If that made him boring, so be it.

“—much longer?”

Seokjin looked away from where he’d been daydreaming a little, thinking of how Namjoon had promised to try and come home a little early, and how they had tentative plans to cook dinner at home together. It was such an appealing thought that he’d let himself get distracted in the middle of his shift.

It didn’t help that he’d been previously using examination room three. Of all the rooms he and the other doctors saw patients in, three had the best location. It caught all the late morning light, hardly ever got too cold or too warm, and had a window that was adjacent to a small park area that older people typically used to meet up in some mornings. All in all, the room made for a pretty tranquil place to be.

A good place to daydream, at least.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”

By now Lizzy was popping her head through the door and repeating, “Raina wants to know if you plan to do walk-ins much longer. We over scheduled some appointments today on accident, and she’s trying to balance everything out before the afternoon rush hits.”

There went the tranquil peace Seokjin had been feeling.

“How did we over book?” Seokjin asked. They were usually much better than clerical mistakes like that.

“A perfect storm,” Lizzy relayed, opening the door wider and moving fully into the frame. “We had that software update, remember? So while our whole system was down for a couple of hours yesterday, we were taking everything down by hand. When that info got put in this morning, the system didn’t flag we’d overbooked until it was too late to do anything but deal with it, or cancel on some people.”

Seokjin shook his head right away. “We’re not telling people their appointments are canceled.” That wasn’t going to happen, especially when Seokjin knew a lot of people had to muster up a lot of courage just to make appointments.

“That’s what Raina said you’d say,” Lizzy said with a grin. “You know we can practically read your mind at this point? We’ve been working together a long time.”

Seokjin gave a grin back. “You’re right. It’s a nice feeling, you know.”

“No complaints here.” Lizzy thumbed back in the direction of the receptionist’s desk. “So Raina just wants to check in with you and see how long you want to do walk-ins. She’s suggesting that you maybe cut back on the extra time you allotted to that today, at least until we catch up on the appointments that are due to start arriving within the hour.”

Seokjin assumed that was probably the best course of action, considering it was Hongbin’s day off, and Jonghyun was out sick with something that sounded suspiciously like the flu when Seokjin had talked to him on the phone. Krystal wasn’t due in until much later, and that left Seokjin and Irene and Jessica manning the floor. If they didn’t curb back the walk-ins they usually saw, they’d never get through the scheduled appointments.

Seokjin told her, “I’ll take walk-ins for the next half hour, okay? Hopefully I can squeeze a couple people in. Then we’ll go right to appointments. Pass the message along, okay? And I’ll be up there in just a couple minutes to see someone.”

Lizzy threw him a victory sign and ducked away, calling out, “And Raina said to tell you you’re not allowed to skip your lunch today. She’s noticed you doing it! Yoona will have her head if she lets you skip again.”

Seokjin laughed as she walked away. It could be a little irritating at times, having people fret and fuss over him who were supposed to be his employees, but it was genuinely nice having a support structure of friends who truly cared about him. They fussed because he mattered to them, and they didn’t just fuss over him. Everyone at the clinic treated each other like family, and Seokjin thought that was something to be grateful for.

He made a quick stop in his office to check his phone, hoping there wasn’t a message from Namjoon canceling their dinner plans, and when there wasn’t, he made the short trip to the front of the clinic to see a patient.

“I bumped someone for you,” Raina said, handing Seokjin the patient information sheet that all of their walk-ins were required to fill out. Some of their regulars had their information in the system, and a lot of them Seokjin had memorized. But they had a high yield of patients coming through now that were fresh new faces.

“You bumped someone?” Seokjin leaned left so he could see out into the waiting room. It was fuller than he liked to see before the afternoon rush even started. And while they made it a point not to bump people ahead of each other on any kind of regular basis, and despite not being an emergency room, sometimes there were priority conditions. Once in a while Seokjin would okay a bump, even if they didn’t advertise it.

Seokjin looked down at the patient information sheet. There was very, very little information on it. Someone had listed their name, but no phone number or address, no medical history, no allergies, and the only indication of injury was an auto accident.

“Who is this?” Seokjin asked, frowning at Raina. “And why would you bump this person to the head of the line?”

Raina gave him a serious look. “Because he’s one of yours. You know. One of yours.”

“One of mine?” Seokjin certainly didn’t have anyone who was his…outside of Namjoon. But all the girls who worked reception knew that. All the nurses and doctors knew exactly who Namjoon was.

Raina rolled her eyes and exhaled out, “It’s Park Jimin and he’s obviously using a fake name on the information sheet. That’s who’s waiting for you now in exam room one. I sent Moonbin in to take his vitals and get him prepped for you—mostly because he has a mean glare and some of the girls don’t like him, but mostly because he looks like he could start trouble. Moonbin’s a sweetie, you know. But he can give trouble back, if he gets it.”

Jimin was in the clinic? Jimin had been a walk-in?

Seokjin’s stomach dropped. Had Jimin actually been in an accident, or was that just his angle to get at Seokjin during work hours without calling ahead and arranging something?

Again, a little flabbergasted, Seokjin asked, “Park Jimin?”

Raina nodded slowly. “That’s why I said he’s one of yours.”

“He’s not one of mine,” Seokjin replied quickly. He was directly associated with Bangtan, but he was not a member of the gang. He wouldn’t ever be a member.

Raina didn’t look put off by his denial. “You’re dating his boss. That kind of makes him yours indirectly. I know how gangs work, Kim Seokjin.”

Flatly, Seokjin said, “Exam room one?”

“Number one,” Raina repeated. “Oh, and I did see him when he went by. He’s gotta a pretty bad wound on his arm. It was wrapped when he went by, but from the amount of blood I saw, you might need to do some stitching. Check with Moonbin about that.”

The idea of Jimin being in his clinic was jarring, but the knowledge that he was legitimately injured, was frightening.

Seokjin needed no more incentive, and a half second later he was heading right for the exam room.

Moonbin wait waiting for him on the outside of the door in the hallway, casually filling out some paperwork.

“Doctor Kim,” he greeted when he saw Seokjin. He had the same, handsome smile on his face that resided there most of the time, but there was an edge of something else on his features.

Seokjin sighed, “I take it the patient was as uncooperative as possible?”

Moonbin lit a little. “I heard you’re familiar with him.”

“He’s been a pain in my side for some time,” Seokjin joked, but he wouldn’t trade knowing Jimin for anything. Jimin’s friendship was the kind you had to work for, but that only made it more worthwhile to have in the end. “How’s the injury?”

Tapping his pen against the chart he was holding, Moonbin said, “He claims he got cutoff in traffic about an hour ago, took a tumble off the motorcycle he was driving, and that all resulted in some pretty bad road rash—maybe the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“Of course,” Seokjin said, pursing his lips with aggravation. Even if it the accident hadn’t been Jimin’s fault, how many times had Seokjin told him that riding that motorcycle of his was too dangerous? How long had Seokjin worried that something terrible would happen to Jimin while he was riding his bike? “The wound needs to be cleaned?”

“Definitely,” Moonbin replied. “He’s got all kinds of asphalt and glass in there. I offered to get started on the wound, it has to be hurting him pretty bad, but he said no one but you was going to touch him. So he’s all yours, Doctor Kim.”

“Thanks, Moonbin.” He scanned his eyes over the clipboard Moonbin had filled out. It all lined up with what he’d said about the injury.

“Doctor Kim?”

Seokjin glanced at him. “Yes?”

Moonbin’s eyes flickered to the door that Jimin was behind, then he said lowly, “I can remain in the room if you want.”

Seokjin nearly snorted out some laugher as he said, “Oh, trust me, Park Jimin isn’t a threat.” At least he wasn’t a threat to Seokjin. If anything, Seokjin was the bigger threat to Jimin. To his heart at least.

“You sure?” Moonbin pressed. “I know he’s a gang member. And I know what your ties are to Bangtan. But that guy in there … look, I’ve seen my fair share of dangerous. I know what dangerous looks like. So even if you think that guy won’t hurt you, it’s okay to be a little extra safe.”

Touched by Moonbin’s concern, Seokjin reached a hand out to his shoulder and said firmly, “I know Jimin personally. I know what he’s capable of, too. But you need to believe me when I tell you that he would never hurt me. I’m probably safer in there with him, than anywhere else on the planet.”

Moonbin didn’t look wholly convinced, but he didn’t argue the point, either. He only pressed the chart to his chest and said, “Okay. I’ll go get this stuff on file, and then come back and see if you need anything.”

“Take your time,” Seokjin called out, and then he pulled open the door to the room and went inside.

Jimin, as expected, was sitting up on the high bed in the corner of the room, his legs dangling down in front of him. Seokjin’s gaze went directly to his left arm that he was favoring, wrapped up in a cloth stained red.

“Jimin,” Seokjin said, shoulders falling.

“Seriously?” Jimin snapped out, face pinched in a way that indicated the pain he was in. “That’s your lecture face. Don’t you dare start lecturing me.”

Seokjin rolled the stool from across the room to Jimin’s side, sat on it, and responded, “I only give lectures when they’re deserved. So if you can explain to me why you weren’t wearing your riding jacket when you wiped out, legitimately, I won’t lecture you.”

“It’s as hot as hell out there,” Jimin protested.

“That jacket isn’t for when it’s cold,” Seokjin replied. He reached out for Jimin’s arm and took it in his hands. He worked the cloth off as gently as possible, but he couldn’t help the way blood had dried and stuck the cloth to Jimin’s skin. “The jacket isn’t a fashion statement, either. It’s so, god forbid something like this happens, you’ll be protected.”

The wound alone was enough to tell Seokjin that Jimin hadn’t been wearing the necessary protective gear he should have. But he’d likely been wearing his helmet, because his brain wasn’t scrambled. The wound on his arm looked deep enough to correlate with a traumatic brain injury if there hadn’t been a helmet.

“I left it at home on accident,” Jimin finally admitted, hissing a little as Seokjin probed the wound.

“You’ve got all kinds of nasty stuff in here,” Seokjin observed. The blood had slowed to a sluggish pace, and that meant he could see the open wound clearly enough to pick out the dirt, rocks, and glass in it. Moonbin had probably gotten that far, too. “You want some pain medication before I go rooting around in you?”

“No,” Jimin said firmly.

Seokjin could have predicted that.

“Then you feel free to cry on my shoulder,” Seokjin told him. He let Jimin tuck his arm back into his lap and moved to the other side of the room. He washed his hands again, slipped on gloves, and brought over all the items he’d need to clean out Jimin’s arm.

The first round of business, and maybe the worst, was getting all the debris out of the long wound on Jimin’s arm. Seokjin was starting to think that maybe it wasn’t deep enough for stitches now, but he wouldn’t know for certain until he got it cleaned up completely.

“So why exactly were you in such a rush that you left your jacket behind.” Seokjin paused, then said, “On second thought, I’m more interested in you actually showing up at my clinic for treatment. You think you’re Superman half the time, and you’re suborn the rest of the time.”

Seokjin steadied Jimin’s arm in his grip, and set to work with a pair of tweezers to remove the bits in his wound.

Jimin said after a pause, “Isn’t this what you told V to spread around?”

“What’s that?” Seokjin didn’t lift his eyes from Jimin’s arm.

Jimin insisted, “V said you got all worked up when you heard Bangtan’s guys were going other places for treatment. So now you’re complaining that we’re coming here?”

“You’re trying to tell me you’d be happier going somewhere else and getting seen by a stranger?” Seokjin asked, wincing when he pulled a particularly large piece of glass from Jimin, causing the other male to groan in pain. “But yes, for the record, I did tell Taehyung that, and I stand by it. As long as you guys are coming in the right way, and not scaring anyone, I prefer to treat you. I trust myself with you. I don’t trust other people.”

Jimin’s fingers flexed out, and Seokjin could feel Jimin’s gaze on him.

Seokjin went back to work on the wound, and reminded, “So where were you going in such a rush that you forgot a jacket that could have saved you all of this trouble and pain?”

“Believe it or not, I was coming here.”

Seokjin gave him a look of disbelief.

“I swear it,” Jimin said, “I was coming here to see you. I wanted to catch you before the afternoon rush.”

“You …” Seokjin looked up at him. “You actually listen when I talk?” He’d said on several occasions that his afternoons were the busiest, but he hadn’t really thought that anyone outside of Jungkook or Namjoon (probably not even Jungkook) paid attention.

Jimin looked to the window, and in the direction of the convenience store across the street before he said, “I always listen when you talk.”

Seokjin’s fingers stilled the tweezers. “I …”

Seokjin could see Jimin physically take a deep breath.

“So,” Seokjin said, trying to break up the growing thickness in the room, “you were in such a rush to get over here, despite the fact that you know I’d spend my lunch talking to you if you wanted—”

Jimin broke in, “I have it on good authority you don’t always take your lunch break, or you work through it.”

Seokjin continued, “—you forgot a jacket that might save your life someday, and ended up crashing.”

There was a tensing of Jimin’s muscles then that came with anger, and Jimin said hotly, “This fucking asshole came out of nowhere and cut me off. I would have been fine, I had control of the bike, but then he slammed on his breaks, and down I went.”

Seokjin was certain he’d gotten the wound clean just a second later, and set about washing the skin then. It looked like Jimin had escaped stitches by the skin of his teeth.

Half from morbid curiosity, Seokjin asked, “Is the guy who caused you to wipe out now missing his head?”

“No,” Jimin grumbled. “But he’s about to be missing his car, his apartment—anything he has of value. Maybe his pension. I bet I could get his pension.”

Seokjin wiped Jimin’s arm down carefully but praised, “Look at you, using your brain to hit someone where it really hurts.”

“I could hit him in the balls and make it hurt more, actually,” Jimin pointed out. “I’m just trying to be the fine, upstanding citizen you seem to think I’m capable of being.”

Seokjin pushed himself away from Jimin and rolled the stool over to the garbage can. He discarded all the things he’d used with Jimin, aside from the tweezers, and rolled over to a cabinet where he had gauze and tape.

“I know what you’re capable of,” Seokjin said lightly, trying not to make Jimin feel too uncomfortable. “You’re capable of so much more than you ever give yourself credit for, and you know I hate when you discredit yourself.”

Jimin didn’t have anything to say in return as Seokjin set about bandaging the wound, and wrapping it.

“So, what were you coming to talk to me about?” Seokjin used bandage tape to secure the first piece of wrappings. “You know I have a phone, right? I get around to returning calls eventually.”

Jimin’s head tilted and he asked, “You’re still going to that conference, right? In Wonju?”

Seokjin nodded. “I have everything booked. I’m going to drive up there on Wednesday, I’ll stay overnight, and then I’ll drive back the next day. It’s just a two-day conference. Why?”

Jimin’s free hand tapped a nervous patter out on his knee. “Rap Mon’s really uncomfortable with you going, you know.”

“Yes, yes,” Seokjin dismissed. “He thinks I’m going to get snatched right off the streets. It’s a medical conference, not a walk into the lion’s den. There are some things I know Namjoon has a right to be paranoid over. This isn’t one of them.”

“I don’t know. He’s gotta let you out of his sight for a couple days. That would make me anxious.”

There were many days at a time, Seokjin wanted to tell Jimin, when they didn’t see each other for extended periods of time. But Seokjin held his words back upon further consideration. Jimin had a long history of lurking around, watching him, as if danger might appear out of thin air. Maybe Seokjin wasn’t seeing Jimin around, but that didn’t mean Jimin wasn’t there.

“It’ll be good for him to lengthen the leash,” Seokjin assured. “I’m half surprised he isn’t insisting that someone stow away in the backseat for the drive up there. I did tell him, you know, I’m meeting up with a couple of friends who are also attending the conference. I won’t be sitting in my hotel room plotting ways to get into trouble. And I’m not nervous about going.”

“Yeah,” Jimin said, lifting his arm so Seokjin could finish wrapping. “But what if you were?”

Seokjin’s hand stilled. “What?”

“I mean,” Jimin eased out in a deceptively nonchalant way, “what if you told Rap Mon that you were a little rattled, and that you’d feel better if someone went up there with you. You know, just to watch your back because you’re going to be in someone else’s territory.”

“And why would I do that?’

Jimin gnawed on his bottom lip.

“Jimin?”

Jimin wouldn’t meet Seokjin’s gaze, and that wasn’t like him at all.

Seokjin tucked Jimin’s bandaged arm into his lap and pushed back towards the garbage can for a second time. An intern would be in to clean up the room for its next use, but Seokjin never felt comfortable leaving his mess for someone else. Not when it was so easy to take care of it himself.

“You’re going into Triad territory,” Jimin said bluntly “For that conference of yours.”

Seokjin took a second to mark down all the items he’d used on an inventory sheet. “Technically,” he said, “I think it’s Pentagon’s territory, but considering they’re grouped in with two other gangs, we can call it Triad territory if you want. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m going there for work, and I don’t plan to stick my nose anywhere it doesn’t belong. So I don’t think it matters who runs the area.”

“Except...” Jimin drew out.

Seokjin knew where he was going in an instance.

“Except,” he allowed, “you think this Triad is up to something fishy. Namjoon doesn’t. And I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that you still haven’t found a legitimate reason to go anywhere this area. Until now.”

Jimin had the decency to shoot him a guilty look.

“Really?” Seokjin leaned up on the nearby countertop in disbelief. “Really, Park Jimin?”

“You’d be doing me a favor,” Jimin rushed out, his fingers twisting together in a show of his anxiety. “Jin, even if you don’t believe me, and neither does Rap Mon, my gut is telling me I have to check this out. I have to make sure. And I can’t just let this go like I know you’re about to tell me to. I’ve tried and I can’t. So this is me, asking for a favor.”

“No. This is you, asking me to lie to my boyfriend to get your foot in the door.”

Seokjin pushed away from the countertop and rolled his way back to Jimin’s side.

“I’m not asking you to lie,” Jimin insisted.

Seokjin glared at him. “But you don’t want me to go him and say that you’d like to come with me so you can investigate this Triad. What you want me to say is that I’m nervous traveling alone, and that I’d feel better if you were with me. That’s a lie at worst, and an omission at best.”

Jimin leaned forward, hunching his back. “Wow, make me feel like shit why don’t you.”

“I’m not trying to,” Seokjin said gently, feeling the shift between them. “I just want you to recognize that it’s not fair for you to ask me to like to Namjoon like that so you can benefit. I wouldn’t lie to you if the situation were reversed.”

“If you were my boyfriend?” Jimin said sharply, with a dangerous edge.

Seokjin countered right away, evenly, “Yes. If you were my boyfriend, I wouldn’t lie to you to benefit anyone else. But take the word boyfriend out here. I don’t lie to my friends period. I wouldn’t lie to Taehyung, or Yoongi, or Hoseok, or you, or anyone else. Not unless I had a really, really good reason for it.”

“You don’t think my word is a good enough reason?” Jimin asked with uncertainty. “I’m telling you, maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe this is just me being an ass here, but my gut … I trust my gut. And my gut says something is going on. Good or bad it doesn’t matter, something is going on with these small gangs, and it’s worth knowing about before it starts to impact us. Rap Mon is so afraid to rock the boat right now, but I’m more afraid of the wave that might be coming at us in the distance a month from now, or a year.”

Seokjin leveled out, “Namjoon’s gut says to leave this alone.”

Without warning, Jimin reached out for Seokjin’s hand with his undamaged arm. He caught Seokjin’s fingers in a tight grip and said tersely, “I don’t really care about his gut, Jin. I care that mine says I have a family to protect, and someone … someone I’d give anything to have.” Jimin took a deep, heaving breath. “And I want to do whatever it takes to make sure everyone stays safe. Especially you.”

Seokjin hated it. He hated Jimin’s feelings for him with a passion. He hated the pain it caused Jimin, and the wall it had put up between them, and the awkwardness of it all.

Voice going soft, Seokjin asked, “What if we did this? What if you came with me, and while I was at my conference, you were poking your nose around? What if we do that and you find nothing?”

Jimin let go of his hand almost like he’d suddenly realized what was happening.

“Then I’m an idiot,” Jimin said harshly. “Just like Rap Mon probably thinks.”

“He doesn’t think that,” Seokjin said dryly. “Try again, without the self-deprecating attitude.”

“Then,” Jimin repeated, “I find nothing. And I’m wrong. And I let it go.”

Seokjin had needed to hear that.

“But,” Jimin followed up with quickly, “What if I find something?”

“What if you get caught nosing around?” Seokjin threw at him. “Have you stopped to think about that? You’re fantasizing about finding something to prove you’re right to Namjoon. But have you even considered that you could get caught sniffing around for information? What kind of position do you think that would put Namjoon in? Don’t you think that’s too big a risk?”

Jimin slid down the table to stand on his own feet, and said inelegantly, “Not for you. Not for your safety.”

Seokjin rubbed at the back of his neck. Sometimes talking to Jimin was like shouting at a wall.

Instead of pressing the situation, Seokjin said, “You need to keep that wound clean. I mean it, no getting lazy with it. It’s just shallow enough that you don’t need stitches, but you had a lot of debris in there, and infection could set in because of that. I did a thorough job cleaning your wound, but at the first hint of fever, or inflamed, painful skin, I want you to come see me right away. I’m beyond serious here.”

“You’re always serious,” Jimin replied.

“About your health? Yes, because you never seem to take it serious enough.”

Jimin lingered for a minute, then asked, “Are we done? I have to go and file a claim with my insurance company. My bike’s drivable, but it needs work.”

“Give me a second,” Seokjin said, pushing the stool back into place. “I’ll walk you out.”

Like a punch to the gut, Jimin put a hand out to stop him. “I can find the door on my own.”

“Jimin,” Seokjin said, shaking his head. “Don’t.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine.” Jimin took even, unflinching steps towards the door. “I was wrong to ask you to do something like that. I get it now. You’re … you’re not that kind of person, and that’s what’s good about you. That’s what makes you better than other people.”

Seokjin was left standing there in the middle of the room, a little stunned, as Jimin left quickly.

Maybe Jimin had been wrong to ask, but it was so easy to see his heart was in the right place. Jimin was impulsive and a little short sighted, but his heart was always in the right place. He always had good intentions.

“Done in there?” Joy asked when Seokjin emerged from the room. “That patient just blew out of here. He doesn’t need a follow up?”

“No,” Seokjin told her with a resolute tone. “And if he does, I know where to find him.” He glanced at the clock. “Raina just left?”

Joy nodded. “Her shift ended fifteen minutes ago, but she said to remind you she got authorization about swapping her shift tomorrow with Yoona.”

“I remember,” Seokjin assured. Together the both of them walked back to the front, and Seokjin placed the inventory sheet in the appropriate spot.

Joy glanced at him in a worried way. “Are you okay? You look …” Sad. He could tell the word she wanted to say was sad.

“I’m fine,” he said, making a show of shrugging off the worry that was eating at him over Jimin. “Whenever there’s a room ready, I’ll take another walk-in.”

Seokjin tried to tell himself, for the rest of his shift at least, that he could put Jimin and his request to the back of his mind and not dwell. He let himself pretend that he could focus wholly on his patient, and that he wasn’t being eaten alive by concern.

But the truth was, Jimin was too much like Jungkook to Seokjin, and he had an uncanny way of getting under Seokjin’s skin.

And by the end of his shift, as he was lingering in the lobby for Krystal to gather her personal items, his thoughts strayed too easily back to Jimin.

“Bye, Doctor Kim,” Moonbin called out.

Seokjin raised a hand as he saw Moonbin near the front door, and asked, “Do you want to wait for Krystal and me? We can go together to your car after we get Krystal to hers.” It was such a long, lingering habit in Seokjin, he didn’t ever think he’d really be rid of it. He was certain he’d want to go in pairs for the rest of his career.

“I’m good,” Moonbin insisted. He pointed out to the front of the clinic where a car was idling. “Eunwoo’s here to get me. See you tomorrow.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Krystal said, coming up behind Seokjin ask he watched Moonbin get in the car. “Ready to go?”

“Ready,” Seokjin insisted, and walked her to her car.

Namjoon was already there when Seokjin got home. It was certainly a nice change of pace, considering Namjoon had already set out the ingredients for their meal, and had a cup of caffeine free tea waiting for him.

“You are the best ever,” Seokjin praised, sneaking a kiss to Namjoon’s lips before enfolding the tea mug in his hands.

Dramatically, Namjoon declared, “You just want me for my ability to turn on the kettle.”

Seokjin told him, “Which I taught you how to do.”

“Not true.”

“True,” Seokjin fired back, and it absolutely was. Before Seokjin had come along to make sure that Namjoon was eating properly, he’d certainly seen the inside of the man’s kitchen. When Namjoon had lived alone, he’d alternated between eating at his grandparent’s restaurant, and getting takeout. Namjoon hadn’t been able to cook much of anything for himself. He hadn’t even known how to turn his own stove on.

“We’ll agree to disagree,” Namjoon said pridefully. “Now, come over here and make sure I got everything you said we needed.”

Sipping on his tea, Seokjin leaned over the countertop in the kitchen to take stock of all the ingredients Namjoon had set out. There wasn’t anything he could see that was missing. And though they were going to have a late dinner, Seokjin was really looking forward to cooking with Namjoon.

“I swear I followed your list,” Namjoon said, his fingers hooked gently to Seokjin’s hips as he pressed up along his back. “I had to go to three different places to find the right stuff, but I was a man on a mission.”

Seokjin laughed out, “You were a man being led by his stomach and the promise of good food.”

“What can I say,” Namjoon admitted easily, “I’m but a simple man.”

Seokjin had them wash their hands before anything else, and then it was on to veggie prep, which was monotonous, but in the best way possible. It was something to focus on, to let the worries of the day fade away, and it was one of the few things Seokjin trusted Namjoon not to get wrong.

“You look …” Seokjin couldn’t help noticing the creases on Namjoon’s face as he concentrated on cutting up an onion and not crying. “Tired. Was today bad?”

“Not bad,” Namjoon denied. He cubed the onions carefully. “Just …”

With some uncertainty, Seokjin reminded, “You can talk to me about your day at work, you know. You can bounce stuff off me, and vent to me.” Namjoon knew that, right? He almost never shared any information about how his day at work had gone, at least unless Seokjin asked. Seokjin had always thought it had more to do with Namjoon wanting to keep him separate from Bangtan, but maybe it was something else.

Tersely, Namjoon said, “Like I work a regular job and I can whine to you about who stole someone else’s lunch out of the refrigerator? Or who used up all the ink in the fax machine?”

“No,” Seokjin said patiently, “not like that, obviously. But you have to know anything you say to me is said in complete confidence. I won’t share anything with anyone else.”

Namjoon’s knife stilled and he said incredulously, “You think I don’t talk about work with you because I’m afraid you’ll go blab to Jonghyun on your lunch break?”

“Not really,” Seokjin admitted. “I just thought I needed to say it, Just in case…”

More softly now, Namjoon said with a face crumpling in guilt, “I don’t talk about work because it’s not…what I have to do some days, I don’t want the person I love knowing about.”

Now it was Seokjin’s turn to pause. “You act like I don’t already know what your job entails. You act like you think for one second that I’d judge you for anything you have to do.”

“You don’t know half the things I do.”

Seokjin sighed, “And you don’t seem to get that I have born witness to what you’re capable of. Namjoon …” Seokjin set the knife completely aside and put his hands on Namjoon’s strong shoulders. He squeezed there for a moment, then reminded, “I’ve seen you beat someone to death to save my life. I wasn’t scared of you then. I’m not scared of you now. And I will never be scared of you in the future.”

He could feel the tremble of Namjoon’s shoulders, so his touch quickly became a hug, and he cradled Namjoon in his arms.

“You can tell me the things you try and keep bottled up inside,” Seokjin smoothed. “You can tell me anything, you know.”

“I know,” Namjoon said eventually. “But I don’t want to. Jin, I don’t want you to know some things. Even if you can take it, even if you say it doesn’t bother you, or you won’t judge me. some things you’ll be better off not knowing.”

Seokjin let his fingers drift up Namjoon’s back, to stroke the skin at the base of his neck, and then up into his short hair.

“Then leave some stuff out,” Seokjin suggested. “Leave out the worst of it. Leave out the stuff you have to shut away in your mind. And tell me other things. Tell me about Taehyung’s quest to get Yoongi to smile, and how you’re balancing the new territory lines, and how much of a jerk Suho is being.”

Namjoon drew back a little at that. “Oh. Suga mentioned that.”

Seokjin eased out, “He said you hadn’t given him orders not to talk about it. But I thought we were on really good terms with Exo.”

“We are,” Namjoon insisted. He caught one of Seokjin’s hands and kissed his fingers. “Suho is just …persistent. He’s ambitious, to be frank, and he knows what he wants.”

Seokjin regarded Namjoon with worry, then asked, “Is there any danger of Suho and Exo turning on us?”

“Us?” Namjoon asked with some mirth.

Seokjin rolled his eyes. “Yes, us. I may not have some ridiculous nickname, but I’m yours all the same and you know it.”

Namjoon’s arm hooked firmly around his waist then, and Seokjin felt himself being lifted in the slightest for a full, wonderful kiss from Namjoon.

“You’re mine,” Namjoon repeated, almost reverently.

“I’m yours,” Seokjin agreed, and laid a much heavier kiss on Namjoon’s mouth.

Eventually, with the water boiling behind them on the stove, and the smell of the vegetables wafting up at them, they were able to pull themselves apart.

It was then that Namjoon said, “I don’t think Suho wants to cut ties just yet. He’s a big picture kind of guy, and he’d be an idiot to throw away a resource like Bangtan. He needs us more than we need him right now, especially with those delusions of grandeur he’s got. But do I trust he’s not going to turn on us eventually?”

“You think he will,” Seokjin guessed.

“I think,” Namjoon said, “all gangs operate the same way, from the ones that try to do good, to the ones that only do bad. Alliances between gangs are few and far between for a reason, and they don’t last long for obvious reasons. The moment Suho thinks he doesn’t need us, he’ll turn. It’s in his nature.”

Seokjin started adding the vegetables to the boiling pot on the stove, and headed to the refrigerator, commenting, “You’ve always said that Suho is honorable. Even Yoongi agrees. Doesn’t that factor in?”

“It does,” Namjoon said.

Seokjin retrieved tofu from the fridge and placed it on a cutting board. “Then why do you expect someone honorable to turn on you?”

Namjoon’s jaw was locked a little in a grimace as he said, “Because Suho won’t go behind my back when he turns. He’ll do it right to my face. That’s how being an honorable gang member fits in.” Namjoon shook his head a little. “But that’s neither here nor there at the moment. Suho is pushing at me just to see if he can get me on board with his expansionist attitude. We’ve got a way to go before he’s ready to cut ties.”

Bringing the knife down to the tofu to cut it into cubes, Seokjin said, “That does not comfort me.”

“Don’t be worried,” Namjoon assured. His arms were back around Seokjin’s waist from behind once more. “Suho’s downfall is that he knows I’ll see his betrayal coming. That’ll keep him in check for a while, and it’ll let me focus on rooting out Infinite’s men who are still lingering around.”

Seokjin let himself lean back against Namjoon as he cut the tofu carefully. “Okay,” he said softly. “For now, okay.”

They made dinner in easy comfort after that, Namjoon talking some about work, Seokjin talking more about his own, and the both of them enjoying more neutral topics. Dinner took almost an hour to make, mostly because they kept getting caught up in each other, nearly ruining the dish several times due to long kisses and wandering hands. But eventually they sat down together to enjoy the meal they’d prepared.

And then afterwards Seokjin offered to the do dishes while Namjoon took a call from Yoongi out on the patio and looked upset as he did so.

“Problem?” Seokjin asked when Namjoon finally stepped back inside. The look on Namjoon’s face said everything.

Exhaling, Namjoon said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go.”

Seokjin felt disappointment in him rise. “We were going to watch a little tv later on—maybe a movie.” And Seokjin had honestly been hoping that they’d end up tumbling into bed together for more than a little hot and heavy action. With their different work schedules and the lack of personal time for each other, they hadn’t been intimate recently. Seokjin was really looking to change that.

Clinging to some hope, Seokjin offered, “I could wait up for you. I need to get through some reading before the conference. I wouldn’t mind waiting up.”

At least Namjoon looked as frustrated as Seokjin felt. “No, don’t wait up. I have no clue how long this is going to take, but Suga thinks there’s some serious movement in one of the nearby neighborhoods, and at least two different people are saying they spotted someone who looks distinctly like Myungsoo. If there’s even a chance it’s him…”

“You have to go,” Seokjin finished

Namjoon kissed him briefly, almost like he was afraid to indulge in any more, and then said, “Just lock up the place tight, okay? The usual faces will be watching this place, so go right for them if anything feels off or there’s even a hint of danger.”

Namjoon hustled quickly to the front door and struggled to get his shoes on fast.

“Be safe,” Seokjin ordered, squashing down the fear that he always felt when he knew Namjoon was out doing something related to Bangtan—which was more often than not. “Tell Yoongi that he’ll have to answer to me if he lets anything happen to you.”

“Love you,” Namjoon told him, and then he was out the door and rushing off into danger.

Seokjin turned the deadbolt lock after him, and leaned against the door.

He let himself linger there for too long, maybe. But if he kept his eyes closed and his forehead pressed against the door, a part of him could pretend that Namjoon wasn’t gone.

Reality caught up with him quickly enough, however. And then it was back to routine, and into bed not that long after.

He’d only been lying in bed for a few minutes, trying to sink into a welcomed sleep when he heard the scrape of the lock. Seokjin opened his eyes and looked at the clock on the bedside table. Namjoon had only been gone a couple of hours. Did that mean things had gone well? Had they caught Myungsoo?

Seokjin sat up in bed. Maybe catching Myungsoo wouldn’t end the constant dread that forced Seokjin to look over his shoulder all day long, but it would certainly help.

Pressure pushed on the door. Seokjin heard it faintly, in the dead quiet of the apartment, and it was wrong.

Someone had tried to open the door only after turning the lock on the bottom of the door. Namjoon would have known better. Even if Namjoon was drunk, or sleepy, or anything in between, he would have known that it had been drilled into Seokjin like second nature to deadbolt the apartment door.

They were never going to get caught again like they had been by Sunggyu.

Whoever was at the door, was not Namjoon.

Fingers trembling, Seokjin pushed back the blankets on the bed.

Who was at the door? Who—

Coherent thought left Seokjin at the sound of their door splintering open. He could hear the wood cracking as it blasted open, and he could picture the scene in his head with frightening clarity.

Seokjin snapped into action a moment later.

A year ago, he would have cowered. A year ago, he would have been paralyzed with fear.

This year was different.

Seokjin crouched down and reached under the bed at the sound of shoes crunched over splinters of wood, thumping on the floor.

This year Seokjin was no victim.

So he stood, baseball bat in hand, and waited.

Chapter Text

Of course, if Seokjin wasn’t a victim, neither was he stupid.

In no universe did he think he was even a mild challenge for anyone coming at him with poor intentions. Seokjin had taken self-defense classes at the behest of his father, but those were lessons intended to help him escape a bad situation, or hold his own until help arrived. Certainly, those hadn’t been lessons intended to make him into the victor in a fight.

Except in this situation Seokjin didn’t know what he was about to face. And lacking that knowledge Seokjin only hop was to either try and buy time, or escape. If it was the third option, a real fight, then he was worse off than he wanted to acknowledge.

That was why he had the baseball bat in his right hand, ready to swing at a moment’s notice, and his cell phone in his left. And as he took steady, even steps towards the door, he typed out a simple word into the group chat that Jungkook had forced him into.

At the time of its creation, Seokjin had been mildly irritated. Jungkook was still very much a teenager in a lot of ways, and some of the other members of Bangtan could act that way too. So often the group chat could devolve into blocks of time consisting of lewd jokes, and antagonizing taunts, and needless interruptions as Seokjin’s phone sounded every time a text came through.

Seokjin had threated to leave the group chat, even if it meant shutting down his phone, if Jungkook didn’t find a way to fix the nonstop beeping.

Now, being in the group chat probably was going to save his life. Because instead of having to worry about texting just one person, and hoping they got the message in time, Seokjin had a plea for help going to six other people. At least one of them had to come to the ready.

After the text was sent, Seokjin tossed the phone back on his bed. It hit soundlessly, and Seokjin leveled the bat up with two hands now.

The thudding of footsteps continued, even if the sound was slower now, as if the person breaking in was trying to decide where to go.

Seokjin knew that’s what this person was trying to figure out. He and Namjoon had a peculiar shaped apartment. Most apartments were elongated in the shape of a rectangle, with one long hallway connecting all the major rooms. The apartment Seokjin shared with Namjoon was built more in a circle. When entering through the front door, one could go right towards the bedrooms, or left into the living room, but eventually it all connected via the kitchen in the back, in a loop.

Seokjin nudged the door to the bedroom open and then tapped his chest, over his heart, with that hand. If ever he needed his heart to have mercy on him, this was it. Especially since adrenaline was pumping through him, and his body was readying a fight or flight response.

He didn’t want to think about how easy to would be to suffer heart failure, with the shock of natural chemicals that were about to burst through his body in excess.

Then, eerily, and in a way that shook Seokjin down to his core, a voice called out, “Come out, come out. I know you’re here.”

Seokjin’s heart jerked, and he pressed back against the wall, more hugging the bat to his chest now than anything else, eyes clenching closed.

He couldn’t identify the voice. It was too muffled by the curve of the hallway. But he understood he tone all the same.

The sound of shoes lightened then, and Seokjin held in the doorway to the bedroom. Did that mean the man, it was clearly a man, had stopped moving all together? Or was he going off in the direction of the kitchen?

It was so silent in the apartment Seokjin felt like he could hear himself breathing, as if it was thunderous.

“If you come out,” the stranger spoke one more, “I won’t hurt you too badly.”

Seokjin’s legs threatened to give out. This wasn’t just a random burglary. This was someone deliberately looking for him. Or for Namjoon?

His socked feet sliding on the hardwood floor, Seokjin slipped out of the bedroom. The master bedroom was located the furthest from the front door, with the spare room buffering the two locations. Seokjin wanted to put even more distance between them.

The sound of a gun priming echoed through the house.

“Don’t make me come get you.”

Seokjin slunk back in the darkness, back closer to the loop of the hallway that led to the kitchen. All he had to do, he reminded himself, was buy time. It was all about buying enough time for someone to come and rescue him.

A terrible thought slammed into him.

What had happened to the men that Namjoon posted outside their apartment almost religiously? When no one was home, Seokjin had a sinking suspicion that they were put on other duties. But whenever one or both of them were home, there were always eyes on the house. Some of the men posted by Namjoon were obvious, meant to denture amateurs. But often the eyes on the apartment were not.

Seokjin had no doubt that a couple extra of Bangtan’s watchful eyes had been left on the apartment the moment Namjoon had left.

 So, what had happened to those men? What had this person done to them? Because Bangtan’s men weren’t the kind to be tricked or lured away. They wouldn’t have abandoned their posts for anything.

Fingers trailing the wall, Seokjin rounded the corner, feeling the change in temperature as he hit the kitchen. The room was always colder than the others, and Seokjin was standing so near the refrigerator he could practically feel the chill of the stainless steels doors against his skin.

“Alright then,” the man said, sounding further way. “I’ll come find you then.”

He was still by the door. Seokjin risked deciding that, and so he stepped his way carefully into the kitchen.

If he was the intruder, and he was looking for someone late at night, he’d start with the bedroom.

That meant Seokjin had a chance. He could either hide, and hope that he could wait the man out until help arrived, or he could try and get past him. Eventually, Seokjin figured the intruder would start turning on lights, and vetting out hiding spots. But if the man was in one of the bedrooms, Seokjin could swing around the kitchen, through the living room, and out the door.

Then he’d run. Or maybe he’d grab his keys out of the basket by the door if they were still there. But mostly, he’d just run. There were members of Bangtan who had their personal residences fairly close. Seokjin only trusted the core members of Bangtan implicitly, but any kind of help would do. Especially the kind that was loyal to Namjoon.

He nearly collided with the kitchen table.

Seokjin heard the stopper on the bedroom door hit the wall, probably from the spare bedroom, and he’d been so caught up in his thoughts that he’d nearly careened into the kitchen table. The thing was absurdly high, too, absolutely Western, and more of a showpiece than anything else. There was a more traditionally Korean table that they often ate at closer to the living room.

Seokjin put a hand down on top of the kitchen table. The bat felt lax in his fingers, and he felt foolish for carrying it now. What was he going to do, attack someone with it? He … the thought alone made him sick.

When he’d been fighting for his life against Hoya, and against Woohyun, he’d committed acts of violence that had shaken him on a philosophical level. He was no pacifist, but he was a doctor. And doing harm to anyone else, even in self-defense, was revolting in a way. Seokjin didn’t know if he was capable of swinging a bat at someone, especially with the possibility he might kill the person.

The door. Seokjin could see the front door to the apartment in the distance. The apartment was pitch black, but the door was busted open, some of it in pieces, and the light from the moon outside was streaming in.

He was so close.

He was going to run for it.

The length of a room. That was all that was standing between him and freedom. One length of the room. And Seokjin could walk the room in his sleep. He knew where each piece of furniture was. He knew when to swerve left, what to step over, and how many paces it took to get past the sofa which was the big obstacle in the room.

Before he’d realized what was happening, he was dashing for freedom.

And then he was on his back, pain flashing through him like pinpricks, blinking sharply at nothing buy darkness around him.

A fist crashed into his side them, and Seokjin gave a terrible shout, louder than he’d expected from himself. But in the past year he’d had ribs both bruised and broken, and while he’d recovered, there was a lingering sense of fragility in his torso. And fear.

“Did you think you were clever?” a voice growled in his ear, and then he was being dragged up to his feet by someone far, far stronger than him. His feet tangled up as he was shoved back until he slammed into the far wall. “Did you think I didn’t know where you were the entire time?”

It was purely reactionary on his part, Seokjin assumed, and some part of his memory locking into place. Because he was able to catch his attacker off guard and break the hold the man had on him. With a shout he forced the man back, and then Seokjin barked out at him, “This is my home!”

There were shadows dancing in the room now, shadows in various shades, lit by the moon flowing through the open door, and it was only this that afforded him the sight of his attacker lunging at him.

Seokjin ducked down and scrambled across the room. He heard the sound of the other man hitting the wall Seokjin had been pressed up against, but the only thing he could focus on was getting to the front door.

He’d made it just a few feet before a cold grip latched onto his ankle and dragged him back.

“Get off me!” Seokjin yelled, kicking out and miraculously enough, landing some hits. He wrestled his way onto his back, giving himself more leverage, and put even more force into his kicks.

Seokjin practically cheered victory when the man groaned out, “You fucking little punk!” right as Seokjin drove the heel of his foot into something that felt suspiciously like the man’s nose.

“I said,” Seokjin ground out, breathing hard, “this is my house.”

The focus was back on the door after that. Seokjin slammed his way up to his knees, ignoring the stabbing pain of flesh against hardwood, and wobbled as he tried to get to his feet. His hands pushed down on the floor for leverage, and the lunged forward with momentum.

He saw stars.

Proverbial stars, of course

But he saw them all the same.

His hearing was cutting out, and his vision was blurry as he focused up at the moon.

He could see the moon.

But he couldn’t think properly due to the sheer pounding of drums in his head, vibrating down his body painfully.

“Little bastard,” the other man ground out, and he knelt by Seokjin.

The pieces came back to Seokjin that moment.

He’d almost made it to the door. This had been his best effort yet, and he’d nearly made it. Then he’d gotten tackled to the ground harder than he’d really thought possible. His head must have hit the ground hard, maybe hard enough to cause a concussion, because his eyes were still trying to focus on the moon.

That was probably the cruelest part. He’d gotten so close to the door that he could see the moon from his position on the floor.

“You’ve made this much harder than it needed to be,” the man said, but he sounded nasally, like maybe Seokjin really had managed to kick him in the face.

“You don’t want to do this,” Seokjin breathed out, tearing his eyes away from the moon, and looking at the man looming above him.

He absolutely didn’t recognize who it was. Of course, he couldn’t make out any clear features, but nothing about the man seemed familiar. With his eyesight refusing to focus, and the ringing in his head distracting him, he could just see a pale face, dark hair, and dark clothing.

“I don’t want to do what?” he man asked, crunching a shoe down on Seokjin’s wrist. Seokjin hadn’t been reaching out for anything, he’d just been sprawled out naturally, still stunned from the hit he’d taken.

Seokjin pushed through the haze to say, “This.  Whatever this is. You don’t want to do this. Don’t you know who lives here?”

“Of course I know, Kim Seokjin.”

The man planted his himself on either side of Seokjin’s torso and squatted down over him.

“And you still want to do this?” Seokjin asked in disbelief. “Knowing who’s going to come after you?”

Mockingly, the man said, “I’m not worried about your boyfriend, Doctor Kim. In fact, I’m pretty much hoping he gives me the reaction I’m looking for. I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t.”

The man let off Seokjin’s wrist finally, and he could have wept with relief. His wrist was sore, but nothing felt damaged. A broken wrist would have spelled disaster for any surgery he needed to perform.

“Who are you?” Seokjin demanded. His heart was banging in his head now, his pulse thrumming along at a dangerous pace. Seokjin wished he could mark the passage of time. How long had it been since he’d sent a call out for help? How long had he slunk through the hallways, and hidden in the darkness?

Instead of answering his question, the man provided, “You should have come out when I said to. Now I’m not going to play nice with you.”

A big hand clamped deftly around Seokjin’s throat and squeezed hard. A second one joined the first.

Air cut off right away, and Seokjin knew what the grip felt like. This was someone who knew exactly what he was doing. His windpipe was being crushed by someone who was an expert at it.

Panic set in right away.

Seokjin pulled and tugged at the hands pushing down at him, ripping the life from him.

His feet flailed.

He could hear himself gagging.

Then the world was going hazy. More than before. The world was blurring shades of black into complete darkness, and Seokjin lost coordination of his limbs. His arms tumbled back down to the floor.

And he felt the bat.

He’d dropped it the first time he’d been caught by the man now trying his best to choke the life out of him. He’d dropped it and he’d never thought twice about it, because he’d been so wholly focused on getting out of the apartment.

It was the only thing that even came close to mattering now

With the last bit of strength Seokjin gripped the bat tight and swung with all his might.

He’d thought earlier that hitting someone with the bat would be a challenge for him. He’d thought he might not be able to do it.

Now, as he lay there on the floor, gasping in rough and ragged breaths of air, he felt stupid to have thought that.

Still, he rolled himself onto his side, towards the man he’d hit, and called out, “Are you dead?” He was terrified there’d be an answer. He was probably more scared there wouldn’t be.

But the man was quiet, and he was still, and if Seokjin squinted, he could see a darkness near the man’s head spreading out slowly.

Seokjin, feeling like his body weighed a million pounds, managed to get himself on his feet. He was still breathing hard, but the adrenaline was leaving him. The chemical responses in his body that were associated with survival, were dwindling, and now even moving a little was a struggle.

Seokjin stumbled is way over to the far wall, dragging the bat with him just in case, and turned the lights on.

It was like the full force of the sun was assaulting his eyes, but Seokjin blinked quickly to try and adjust quickly to the change.

He had his first proper look, then, at the man who’d come into his home, attacked him, and nearly killed him.

Seokjin still didn’t recognize his face, but it was hard to make out the man’s face anyway. He’d definitely broken the man’s nose with a kick, and he’d hit him at such an angle with the bat that he’d split the skin open on the side of his head and opened a slow chugging river of blood that was now coating the man’s face.

Seokjin’s shoulders heaved at he gave the man an even longer look over. This man was … he wasn’t some lacky. There was evidence in the way he’d moved, the way he’d spoken, and now in the way he was dressed. He was in black, but the clothing items were tailored, and fitted, and of high quality.

So who was the man?

“You’re lucky,” Seokjin told the unconscious man, ambling his way back over and leaning down to check he still had a pulse, “that I’m a doctor.” He’d swung to save his life, but he wasn’t going to let someone bleed out on his floor. Plus, Seokjin probably hadn’t swung with much of his regular strength, but any blunt force trauma to the head could be catastrophic, so at the very least the man needed to be checked out at the hospital.

One of the biggest rules Namjoon had, when it came to gang business, was not to involve outsiders. That meant police, but it also meant other first responders.

“I don’t have a choice,” Seokjin mumbled to himself. No one from Bangtan was there yet, the man who’d attacked him needed medical help, and Seokjin? The world had come back into focus to only start spinning around.  He felt like he was going to be sick, or pass out.

Seokjin knew when to cut his losses.

He called for a paramedic, set to work trying to staunch the blood flow on the man’s head, and desperately hoped someone from Bangtan showed up before the ambulance.

“Oh, holy fuck,” Jungkook said as he arrived at the apartment just as Seokjin was being loaded up into an ambulance. He had a veritable army of men behind him, each one looking more horrified than the next. Seokjin wanted to reassure them that nothing was their fault, because they all looked like they were terrified of being blamed.

“One,” Seokjin told him tiredly, “you have the worst timing as usual.”

Jungkook wasted no time climbing up into the ambulance with him, face tense with fear.

“And two,” Seokjin continued, letting Jungkook hold his hand and squeeze as hard as possible, “watch your language.”

Jungkook gave him an incredulous look. And considering the situation, Seokjin probably thought it was worth free pass on vulgarity.

“Sir, I need you to lean back,” the paramedic in the ambulance insisted.

Seokjin did so, but Jungkook told the man tersely, “My brother is a doctor, okay? I think he’ll cue you in if he needs you to do something for him—not the other way around.”

“Jungkook,” Seokjin ground out.

“No,” Jungkook shot out, sounding on the verge of a panic attack. His grip was getting tighter on Seokjin’s hand. “I got … I got that text from you, and I was all the way on the other side of town, and you weren’t responding, and then when I got to your place there were police everywhere, and ambulances, and—”

“Breathe,” Seokjin coached, then wrapped an arm around his brother has best he could, and pulled him down for a hug. When they were in close proximity, he promised, “I’ll tell you everything as soon as I can.”

He meant, of course, when they didn’t have someone eavesdropping on their every conversation.

Jungkook gave an understanding nod, and asked frankly, “How badly hurt are you? What about your heart?”

The paramedic made to answer, as the ambulance wove its way through traffic.

But Jungkook cut the man off with a sharp look and said, “I’m pretty sure my brother, the actual doctor, can tell me what’s wrong with him.”

Frustrated, Seokjin let his eyes close as he leaned back on the gurney. “Jungkook.”

Jungkook shot back smartly, “Seokjin.”

“Sir,” the paramedic tried again.

Seokjin ignored him. He knew he had a concussion. He knew he was bruised and battered, and he knew he needed to have his windpipe looked at. He greatly respected first responders like paramedics, but the last thing he needed was anyone trying to treat him at the moment. He’d keep until the hospital. And the more important thing was comforting Jungkook who was a lot more scared than he was letting on.

“Where’s Namjoon?” Seokjin asked Jungkook, tucking Jungkook’s hand a little closer to his side. “Does he know what happened?”

Jungkook was clearly choosing his words carefully as he said, “Yeah, he knows. He’s probably already at the apartment now, so he’ll be coming to the hospital just minutes after us, I’m sure. He was just … he was further across town than I was. But he knows, Jin. He knows and I think he’s going to go nuclear.”

“Get on the phone with him when we get to the hospital,” Seokjin told him. “Calm him down.”

Jungkook looked ready to revolt. “You were attacked, Jin! Someone came into your home and hurt you. You don’t think your boyfriend has a right to be freaked out, and angry, and ready to light stuff on fire—or people, preferably people.”

Seokjin used the leverage of their joined hands to tug Jungkook closer. He said, “Namjoon can’t afford to lose control. Do you understand what I’m saying? Until we know the why, no one can lose control.”

“I’m not just going to leave you at the hospital,” Jungkook vowed.

“You can’t come in with me when we arrive,” Seokjin told him knowingly “They have to process me, get me looked over by a doctor, and then assigned a room. Until then, you need to do … damage control.”

Jungkook’s eyes flickered to the paramedic for a second, before going back to Seokjin. “Did you see the apartment? I don’t think Ra—Namjoon is going to be interested in damage control.”

Dryly, Seokjin mumbled, “Why yes, I did see the apartment. I happened to be there when it was all happening.” After he’d called for an ambulance, and for the police, and got to work staunching the bleeding from the man who’d attacked him, Seokjin had let himself sit back and look at the state of the apartment.

The door being kicked in, or busted down, was just the start of the damage. During Seokjin’s scuffle with the intruder, they’d managed to knock over lamps, upturn tables, break decorative items, and generally wreck the place. It looked like a war zone, and Seokjin was just glad to have survived.

“Just … just do your best,” Seokjin finished wearily. And then he was content to ride the rest of the way to hospital in peace, with Jungkook’s hand in his own.

It was a whirlwind of action when he arrived at the hospital a few minutes later, but not anything unexpected. Seokjin was whisked away, being treated as a high priority patient because of his heart condition, and Jungkook being sent away from the patient only area.

The doctors fussed over Seokjin, even after he assured them that most of his injuries were superficial, and even after presenting his own medical knowledge as leverage. They still fussed, they still treated him like he was a delicate flower, and they still refused to let him rest in peace until they’d run a series of tests and seemingly convinced themselves that his heart was relatively stable.

Then they tried to tell him that visiting hours were over, and he wasn’t going to be allowed to see anyone.

“Listen,” Seokjin said, looking his attending doctor straight in the eyes and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He was hooked up to a heart monitor, and he’d been given a mild painkiller for the bruising at his throat that was starting to swell. “Either you’re going to let my brother in here, and my boyfriend, so I can see both of them and make sure they’re not going to have a stroke from the stress, or I’m going to sign myself out—against medical advice if necessary, and walk through those doors right there.”

“You listen,” the doctor replied, her hair pulled back into a severe bun and nothing even remotely warm on her face. Though she didn’t look cruel, she just looked overworked and too tired. “You’re exhibiting signs of strain on your heart—your numbers are up even from your normal range, and you have a moderate concussion. Don’t think just because you have a medical degree, that you can throw your weight around here.”

Seokjin felt a little petulant pushing his feet down on the ground. He narrowed his eyes at her and said, “I know better than anyone else what my heart in trouble feels like. I know when to pull back and not push myself, regardless of my numbers—which, by the way, have proven to be unreliable in the past when I’m put in a stressful situation. But for the sake of professional respect, how about we cut a deal with each other?”

The barest hint of something amused cut across his doctor’s face, and it made her so much more personable he was almost fooled into forgetting how stern she had been only seconds earlier.

She offered, “I’m listening.”

In no uncertain terms, Seokjin said, “I want to see my family. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, and they have to come in one at a time, I want to see them. And if you do that for me, not only will I stay in this bed where you want me, but I’ll cooperate in every way possible, and I’ll put in a good word for you.”

An eyebrow of hers arched. “A good word?”

“With the Chief of this hospital,” Seokjin said brazenly. “Lee Heesung? He was one of my father’s closest friends when I was growing up, and I did a summer interning with him when I was younger. He’s practically an uncle.”

So maybe Seokjin was stretching the truth a little. But the hospital’s most senior ranked doctor had been a friend of Seokjin’s father, and Seokjin had shadowed him for some time before he’d declared a focus in his medical studies. They weren’t like family, but they were on friendly enough terms. The man had even come to Seokjin’s father’s funeral.

Seokjin rather hated to play dirty, but considering what had transpired, Seokjin had to talk to Namjoon. And he just wanted to see Jungkook.

Her chest heaved in a deep breath, and then his doctor said, “I’ll disregard how you just painted our proposed deal with dirty leverage, and I’ll offer up one visit with one family member, for ten minutes. Or else I’ll call up your cardiologist, who I happen to know personally, and let her know what a pain in my side you’re being. I’m just going to take a guess here, but Minah will probably side with me on this matter, over you.”

Seokjin laughed. His throat rattled from the effort, and it hurt, but the laughter felt good, too. He’d always preferred doctors treating him to give as good as they got. And the truth was the medical community based out of Seoul was rather small. Most surgeons knew each other, and or knew of each other.

Seokjin wagered back, “One visit with my boyfriend for fifteen minutes, and my brother gets to stay overnight in the room with me—he is family and I know it’s not too late to get a cot up here.”

Because of his heart, and likely his status as a doctor, they’d given him his own private room. And while it wasn’t gigantic, it was more than big enough for two people, especially since the sofa by the window looked like it might pull out into a bed. Even if it didn’t, Seokjin wanted Jungkook with him for the night.

He told himself it was because Jungkook tended to act rashly and emotionally. Seokjin could see Jungkook roaming the streets that night, looking to pick a fight in order to get his fear and frustration out. But mostly Seokjin knew his brother, and Jungkook would want to anchor against him while they breathed through the whole mess.

For a moment, Seokjin’s doctor didn’t say anything to his counter-offer. Then, somewhat slowly, she agreed, “Alright. But in addition, you agree not to be discharged prematurely tomorrow, like I know you’ll want to. You stay as long as I say you need to.”

“I’ve got work tomorrow,” Seokjin replied.

“That’s the deal,” she said, crossing her arms. “Take it or leave it.”

Of course Seokjin was going to take it.

That was why fifteen minutes after that, tucked back in bed, and with the blinds pulled down low in the room so he could sleep soon, he had Namjoon at his side.

“I’m going to kill someone for this,” Namjoon said, fingers reaching out to touch Seokjin, but then pulling back at the last second. He’d been hesitant from the moment he’d come into the hospital room, holding back visibly.

“I’m fine,” Seokjin insisted, catching Namjoon’s fingers and bringing them to his neck. He knew that was where Namjoon had reached out for, and then the swelling and the discoloration had deterred him. “I swear it.”

“You’re not okay,” Namjoon argued in the privacy of the room. His fingers were featherlight on Seokjin’s skin, so much that a shiver ran through him. “Oh god, you’re not okay. Someone tried to strangle you.”

Smiling, Seokjin enjoyed the feeling of pain medication running through him, and tugged Namjoon properly up on the bed.

“I don’t wanna pull something out,” he hesitated, but eventually managed to settled down, pressed up against Seokjin’s warmth. “There’s some wires.”

The medication was making Seokjin even more sleepy, but he fought back the sensation to say, “I have no idea what happened.”

“You …” Namjoon scoffed in disbelief. He had his head pillowed next to Namjoon’s, and his arm tucked securely around Seokjin’s waist. “This was deliberate. You were attacked deliberately.”

“I kind of figured that,” Seokjin agreed. “The man, whoever he was, he knew who I was. He knew where we lived. He … knew exactly what he was doing. Nothing was random or by chance.”

“I mean,” Namjoon stressed out, his fingers slipping around Seokjin’s hip, “what happened is that some bastard was watching us for god knows how long, he waited until I left, and then he tried to hurt you because of me. Fuck. Jin, that sighing of Myungsoo? I guarantee you it was absolutely bullshit, and it was just to get me out of that apartment.”

Seokjin frowned. “You think?”

“I know,” Namjoon responded. “I know how something like this works.”

They had such little precious time before Namjoon had to leave, but Seokjin didn’t want to ruin the moment between them. There was something calming and cathartic about simply laying on a bed with Namjoon.

“You saw the apartment?” Seokjin asked.

“I saw the apartment,” Namjoon said tensely. “You’d already left for the hospital by the time I got to the apartment. Suga was trying to figure out what hospital they’d taken you to by then, and I saw the inside of the apartment.”

“I was scared,” Seokjin admitted, looking up at the pristine white ceiling of the room. “But not like I used to be.”

Namjoon sat up a little, and looked at him with sad eyes. “That’s not something I ever wanted to hear you say. You shouldn’t become desensitized to this kind of thing. That’s not okay.”

But what else did Namjoon think was bound to happen? Seokjin wasn’t just some naïve doctor anymore. He wasn’t someone experiencing gang violence for the first time. He’d been kidnapped before, several times, and had his life seriously threatened.

Curiously, Seokjin asked, “Does anyone know who he was?”

“Is,” Namjoon corrected. “He’s still alive, unfortunately. You couldn’t have hit him a little harder?”

Seokjin wondered, “Jungkook told you about that, did he?” In the ambulance, just before they’d arrived at the hospital, Jungkook had asked Seokjin how he’d held off his attacker.

“I don’t think you’re some weakling, or anything,” Jungkook had said indulgingly. “But this guy who came at you … it seems like he was a pro. How’d you end up winning against him?”

In his early onset drug haze, Seokjin had said plainly, “You know that baseball bat you left at my place months ago? I hit the guy with it. As hard as I could. He wasn’t expecting it and I got lucky.”

Lucky didn’t begin to cover it.

“You should have shot that bastard,” Namjoon said.

“No,” Seokjin said roughly, and this was something he’d been anticipating.

Sitting up more fully, Namjoon said sharply, “There was a gun in the bedside drawer the entire time. You know it’s there—it’s always there just in case. And it’s loaded.”

“No,” Seokjin said again, and without preamble. “I would never have been able to use that gun, and you know it. I shouldn’t have to be explaining to you why that was never an option.”

Namjoon scrubbed his fingers over his face. “I’m not trying to be an ass,” he insisted. “Of course I know why. You know I know why, and I get it. But if you’d just …if you had been willing to use the gun I keep there for safety, you could have taken that bastard down right away. Jin, he nearly killed you.”

Seokjin had known the gun was there. From the moment he’d realized there was someone in his home, he’d known. Namjoon was more predictable with the gun there, than the sun rising in the east. But for Namjoon to think he could ever pick up a gun, let alone shoot at someone?

In a trembling voice, Namjoon admitted, “You almost died and I wasn’t there.”

Careful of the IV line in the back of his hand, and the heart monitor clip on his finger, Seokjin put his arms around Namjoon and jerked him close.

“Don’t you say that,” he mumbled into Namjoon’s ear

“Why not?” Namjoon demanded. “You get hurt and I’m never there to stop it.”

“You,” Seokjin insisted, hugging even tighter, “are never to blame for the actions of others. You’re only responsible for the things you do, and how you react to the choices of other. So yes, I was scared tonight. I even thought I was going to die for a few seconds. But I was happy, too.”

There was moisture in Namjoon’s eyes as he reared back with confusion on his face. “Happy? Why?”

“Because you weren’t there,” Seokjin explained softly. “If you’d been there, you could have been hurt. And that’s not something I think I could handle. I can endure anything, if it means you aren’t hurt.”

Namjoon sunk back into his embrace, and it felt like something the both of them needed.

“I’m going to find out who this bastard is,” Namjoon vowed when they were dangerously close to their fifteen minutes being up. “I’m going to find out who he’s working for—who sent him, and then I’m going to kill him.”

It was chilling for Seokjin to realize how literally Namjoon probably meant that.

“I’m sorry I called the police.” Seokjin said. He hooked his fingers against Namjoon’s. “I didn’t want to, I know they just complicate things, but I didn’t know when any of you were going to get there, or if the guy who attacked me had backup, and I had to make a choice.”

“You did the right thing,” Namjoon assured.

“But the police are going to want to talk to me tomorrow morning.” Seokjin had already been warned by the doctors that the police were sniffing around. His medical condition gave him a pass on making a statement that night, which was a good thing—it gave him a chance to come up with what he wanted to say, but nothing was getting him out of it altogether.

Namjoon shrugged, “Then you’ll tell them what they want to hear. You’ll say you were home alone, I went out to the store for something, and a stranger broke in. You defended yourself.”

“And in the meanwhile?”

“In the meanwhile, Bangtan will handle this. Tonight.”

Seokjin pointed out, “You can’t just go roaming though this hospital looking for the guy in order to kill him. Use your brain. He’s getting medical treatment, but he’ll be placed directly into police custody after that. Don’t you think it’ll be overly suspicious if anything happens in that time?”

“You think I care?” Namjoon asked darkly. “People go missing all the time, Jin. Especially people who make poor choices and think they can hurt someone I love. The police know who I am. And as soon as they figure out who you are, I promise you they aren’t going to look too much into why this guy disappeared.”

That didn’t sit well with Seokjin, who pointed out, “You’re supposed to be building connections with the police, not coming dangerously close to treating them like Infinite did.”

A knock sounded at the door, and Seokjin sighed. No one came in the room, but it was clearly a warning.

“Bangtan is nothing like Infinite,” Namjoon said angrily.

“No,” Seokjin agreed. “So stop thinking you’re above the law, or that you can do what you want because you’re scared and upset.”

Bewildered, Namjoon asked, “Are you seriously trying to morally guilt trip me into not making sure a threat doesn’t take another swing at you?”

Seokjin pinched Namjoon’s side. “I’m asking you to stop being so reactionary. Just … just think about the consequences of rash actions. I’m not saying not to do what you think you have to. I’m not trying to tell you to do or not do anything. I know this is your world, Namjoon. I know the choices you have to make. But talk to Yoongi. Talk to people you trust. Think your actions through before you take them. Be a good example for Jungkook.”

Namjoon folded in a little.

“I love you,” Seokjin said firmly as he took Namjoon’s face in his hands lovingly and kissed him. “Thank you for being here for me now, for always trying to do the right thing, and for being a man worth standing next to.”

The door to the hospital room was swinging open as Namjoon groaned out, “I love you so much,” and kissed him back.

“I believe I’ve upheld my part of the bargain,” Seokjin’s doctor said from the doorway.

Seokjin snuck another kiss to Namjoon as the man whispered, “J-Hope is staying here tonight, just in case. If you need anything, have Jungkook pass it along to him.

“Come get me tomorrow?” Seokjin asked. His doctor was a tough one, but he was fairly certain in the morning everything would come out clean for him, and he’d be allowed to leave.

Namjoon winked at him. “Of course.”

Namjoon was out the door before Seokjin’s doctor told him, “I’ve given your brother the okay to stay the night with you. Don’t make me regret it. He looks like a bucket of energy.”

Seokjin laughed a little and said, “You have no idea.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Jungkook whispered to him when things had quieted town, and the two of them were lying in relative peace. The sofa in the room actually had pulled out into a bed, and now Jungkook was occupying it with his feet hanging over the edge.

“I promise,” Seokjin said kindly. “I’m more worried about the repercussions of this.”

“You’re worried Rap Mon is going to kill someone,” Jungkook translated. “The guy who did this.”

“Not just him,” Seokjin eased out.

Jungkook made a soft sound, then said, “Jimin said Rap Mon thinks he got lured out of the apartment on purpose tonight, so someone could take a shot at you.”

“He does,” Seokjin agreed. “He’s probably right.” There was no denying the logic behind the thought.

The room filled with the sound of Jungkook shuffling around on the sofa bed, and then he said quietly, “I don’t want to do this again. I don’t want you to be hurt anymore.”

Seokjin rolled more towards him, and wished they were closer.  “I know what I got myself into. I don’t regret it, even when things like this happen. Because you’re happy, and I love Namjoon, and if life wasn’t complicated or difficult at times, then it wouldn’t be worth much, would it? So don’t be sorry. Just be Jungkook.”

Jungkook’s voice was a little muffled as he said, “I love you, Jin,” but it was filled with warmth. “And just so you know, I think you’re a total badass.”

“I love you too,” Seokjin said back, with a grin. And then he burrowed into his blankets, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

“This is absolutely ridiculous you realize, right?”

From where the car had stopped, Seokjin watched the steady flow of young people stream into the tall building in front of them. There were some people lingering around outside, chatting with each other, but most of them were focused on getting inside.

“Ridiculous,” Jungkook repeated himself. “This is ludicrous. It’s lunacy. It’s—”

From the driver’s seat, Namjoon turned to Seokjin and asked, “You’ll still love me if I toss your brother out of the car, right?”

Before Seokjin could answer, Jungkook pulled himself forward in the car to whine out, “Mom, are you gonna let dad talk about me like that?”

Seokjin knocked Jungkook back with a solid push to his forehead. “Considering I’m judging the merit of loving Namjoon more than you just a little bit more every time you call me mom, are you sure you want to try that with me?”

The car was parked, and the engine was off, so Seokjin wasn’t surprised when Namjoon’s hand crossed the center consul and gripped his own tightly in solidarity and support.

Teasingly, Namjoon said, “I love you more than I love Jungkook.”

Jungkook flopped back in his seat, groaning loudly. “Parents.”

Seokjin leaned over to Namjoon for a quick kiss, then told his brother, “Be thankful we drove you here and let you miss your first class of the day. You’re not missing your second, and stop being ungrateful. We could have made you take the bus from the hospital this morning.”

Jungkook’s eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t.”

“Try me,” Seokjin tossed back at him.

The crowd of people in front of the university was starting to thin out as Jungkook argued, “My brother just got attacked less than twenty-four hours ago. We don’t know who sent the guy, we don’t know why this happened, and we don’t know if the person behind this is going to try again.”

“Agreed,” Namjoon said evenly—tensely.

“But,” Jungkook carried on, “my brother wants me to go to school.”

Seokjin sighed, then turned in his seat to look at Jungkook. He said, “Nothing is more important than your education. Do you understand that? Even if this is not something serious for you, it is for me. The education you’re getting now will help you over the course of your entire life.”

“I know,” Jungkook said petulantly.

“And,” Seokjin continued, “the man who attacked me officially slipped into a coma this morning.”

Seokjin kind of thought that was maybe the only reason the man was still alive. And even that seemed a miracle.

In a show of support, Namjoon brushed back a stray clump of hair hanging down on Seokjin’s forehead, and urged, “You did what you had to in order to protect yourself. Never feel sorry for that. You didn’t go out of your way to hurt anyone. You didn’t intentionally hurt that man, even if he deserved every bit he got. You acted to save your own life, and there’s no guilt in that. Never.”

From the back seat, Jungkook said softly, “I’m proud of you.”

In the morning, when Seokjin had woken up, Jungkook had already been up. He’d folded the sofa back into place, tucked his blankets up, and was nursing a glass of orange juice while he tapped something out on his phone. But when he’s noticed Seokjin was awake, the look he’d given Seokjin …

Seokjin never wanted that look to grace his brother’s face again.

“My point is,” Seokjin said, eyes moving from his brother to Namjoon, “we’re not going to get anything from the man who broke into the apartment last night. And as of right now, there’s no trace as to where he came from. There are no leads.”

Jungkook interrupted, “I could be out there, getting leads.”

“And you will,” Seokjin argued right back. “After your last class lets out. Not before. Because we are not going to let something like this upend our entire lives. We’re stronger and better than that.”

Jungkook fell silent.

“There’s nothing to be done right now,” Seokjin finished softly. “Nothing that can’t wait, at least. So what good would it do if I let you cut class? Would you just come hang out at my clinic all day and keep an eye on me like I’m a child?”

Jungkook had probably planned to do that, Seokjin assumed.

“He’s gonna be safe,” Namjoon broke in, turning in his own seat to look at Jungkook. “I’m going to keep Jin safe, okay. But he’s right. We can’t just let our lives stop completely because of this. We have to find out what’s going on, but we have to keep going, too.”

Jungkook insisted, “You shouldn’t be going to work today. You should be at home resting.” He seemed to realize what he’d said, and then quickly changed, “or my home, or dad’s apartment.”

Namjoon jerked sharply to Seokjin in surprise. “Wait, your dad’s apartment? You said you sold that place. You told me you did.”

Wincing, Seokjin said, “I did—I told you that. I just …”

He’d grown up there. He’d grown up in that apartment, learning to walk on the hardwood floors. It was where he’d shared a room with his sister until Jungkook came along, and where he’d decided to become a doctor.

There’d been birthday parties in that apartment, and Christmases.

Seokjin had done his best to repair his relationship with his father in that apartment. And they’d had good memories in the time his father had had left.

Seokjin had gone on to sell his other father’s properties with ease. But when it had come to the sprawling apartment located in downtown Seoul, Seokjin hadn’t been able to do it.

Now the apartment was just sitting vacant, like a moment out of time. He still had a housekeeper come in once a week and dust everything. He paid for the upkeep of the apartment, and kept it to his father’s standards. But no one was living there.

“I just couldn’t,” Seokjin answered simply. “I tried to. I thought I wanted to. And then when the time came, I couldn’t sell. I think there are too many memories to just sell away.” He shrugged a little hopelessly. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with the place now.”

“I understand,” Namjoon told him strongly. “I get it. We’ll figured out what to do. But in the meanwhile.” Namjoon gestured for Jungkook to get out.

Jungkook vowed, “As soon as I get out of class I’m gonna figure things out right away. Do you understand? Neither of you is gonna get in my way of figuring out who ordered this.”

Jungkook hopped out of the car then, bag in hand, and hurried in towards the big building.

“That kid is a terror,” Namjoon breathed out. “But I love him a lot.”

“That’s exactly how I feel,” Seokjin laughed out, kissing Namjoon again.

They sat there in front of the school for a little longer, and that was when Namjoon, offered, “You don’t have to go to work today, you know. When you called Jonghyun this morning and told him what happened, I was standing near you. I heard him practically beg you to stay home.”

Darkly, Seokjin asked, “What home is that? The home that I thought was safe but was attacked in?” He felt a rush of anger at himself the moment the words were free from his mouth, and was quick to add, “I’m sorry, Namjoon. That didn’t come out right.”

“Didn’t it?” Namjoon wondered. “You’re not wrong. You thought you were safe there. You should have been safe there.”

But he hadn’t been, and now a lot of people were dead.

That had been one of the first things Seokjin had asked Namjoon in the morning, before he’d even been cleared to go home. He’d gotten up in the morning and submitted to the battery of tests his doctor had demanded. He’d given more blood, let them take another look at his heart, and even undergone another MRI.

And while he’d been waiting for the results to come back and for his doctor to release him, he’d asked Namjoon about the men who’d been set to watch the apartment for protection.

“We found the first two right away,” Namjoon had admitted, barely looking like he wanted to meet Seokjin’s gaze. “The two that should have been the best line of defense between you and that bastard who busted down the front door. We found them easily, but I’m glad you didn’t. I’m glad you didn’t see their bodies when the ambulance arrived.”

Seokjin hadn’t asked how they’d died.  But he knew they weren’t the only ones. There’d been at least two other men watching the apartment, further out, and they’d been killed as well.

So now, Seokjin felt like he had the blood of four men on his hands, or five if the stranger in the hospital didn’t make it.

“I’ll never be completely safe,” Seokjin argued back to Namjoon now. “I accepted that the moment I decided I wanted a future with you.”

Namjoon put his hands on the steering wheel and looked straight ahead. He promised, “We’ll go to a safehouse tonight, and then tomorrow we’ll have a brand-new apartment to call home. We’ll—”

“No,” Seokjin said sharply.

“No?” Namjoon eased out slowly. “No you don’t want to go to a safehouse tonight? Would you rather stay with a friend? Or with Jungkook? He and Jimin keep their apartment like a dump, but you’ll be safer there right now than anywhere else.”

Settling back into his seat facing forward for the drive, Seokjin said, “I mean, we’re not getting a new apartment.”

“Are you serious?”

“As serious as a heart attack.”

Namjoon did not look amused as he said, “How about you, of all people, don’t make that joke? But more importantly, yes, we are getting a new apartment. That guy from last night busted down the door. He took out the eyes I had on the place, busted down the door, and tried to kill you.”

Seokjin replied, “Do you think this new place we move to will mysteriously be located where no one can find it ever? Namjoon, it’s an unfortunate truth that we attract trouble. And if one sniffs around long enough, it’s always going to be possible for our private lives—including where we live, to be found out. Moving won’t make us safer.”

Namjoon started the car, but he made no move to actually drive anywhere. Instead, incredulously, he demanded, “You want to stay in the apartment that you almost died in?”

Seokjin could understand Namjoon’s frustration and dismay. When Sunggyu had broken into their own place, and ultimately ended up killing himself in the kitchen, Seokjin hadn’t been able to stay there. The place had felt sullied.

But this … this felt different.

“I’m not going to go running scared,” Seokjin declared, daring Namjoon to challenge him.

“There’s a difference between being brave, and being foolish.”

“I agree,” Seokjin said, unable to help glancing back out the window at the school Jungkook had gone into.  “But I’m not going to be run out of my home. Whoever sent that guy last night, Namjoon, he’s going to know anywhere we go. It wouldn’t be hard to follow me home after a shift at work. So if that’s the case, I want to stay in my home. In the home that I picked out with the man I love, and made memories in, and yes, that I feel safe in.”

Namjoon deadpanned at him.

“Mostly safe,” Seokjin amended.

“You’re killing me here,” Namjoon said, setting the emergency brake back into place and merging the into the midmorning traffic. “Jin. Seriously.”

“It’s my home,” Seokjin said, “and I won’t be run out of my home.”

To that, Namjoon didn’t answer, so Seokjin was willing to wager that even if he was putting up a fuss, Namjoon felt exactly the same way.

They were roughly halfway to the hospital when Seokjin asked, “I did okay with the police, right?”

That morning, as expected, and right before he’d been cleared to leave the hospital, the police had come with their questions. They’d asked him the normal things of course, about noticing anything strange before the break in, and if he’d seen the stranger before. But then they’d asked him other things, too. Things about Namjoon. They’d asked him enough about Namjoon, and in specific enough ways, for Seokjin to garner that they didn’t think highly of Seokjin’s boyfriend.

Seokjin hadn’t really expected to have the police on his side, but he’d expected a little more professionalism.

“V’s on it,” Namjoon assured. “He’s already called up his guys on the force, and has spoken to most of his police contacts. He says that everything is pretty normal right now. If the police knew about this beforehand, they certainly kept it hush.”

Deep creases set onto Seokjin’s face. “How could the police have known about this?”

“The police, at least in this city, are always on someone’s payroll. Just because they’re not on ours, doesn’t mean they aren’t on someone else’s.”

The frown on Seokjin’s face didn’t let up as he said, “Having the police on beck and call, that’s Infinite’s thing.”

Tensely, Namjoon said, “That’s Suho’s thing, too.”

Seokjin balked, “Come on, there’s no way.”

“Whoever ordered this, it wasn’t him,” Namjoon said confidently enough that Seokjin believed him absolutely. “Suho buys off the cops for information, not for power. There’s a difference.”

Sinking back into his seat, Seokjin said, “All the same, I answered their questions as … ambiguously as possible. I didn’t lie, but they were fishing around for info on you. I didn’t give them anything and I think I may have pissed them off.”

“That’s why I love you,” Namjoon laughed out.

There was only a little time for chatter after that, with traffic lights mostly green, before they reached the clinic. Seokjin was meant to have opened the clinic that morning, but when that hadn’t been a possibility, with him in the hospital, Irene had covered for him. And now, as Seokjin anticipated getting out of the car and starting his shift, everything about the clinic—at least from the outside, looked absolutely normal.

“See,” Namjoon teased, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “It isn’t on fire without you there.”

“Ha-ha,” Seokjin said humorlessly, but he turned his head so they could kiss properly.

“We can just do this instead,” Namjoon suggested, getting a little handsy in the car. It was a bold move, considering how close they were to the clinic, and how professional Seokjin liked to keep all his relationships at work, but Namjoon was just so good at breaking down every bit of self-control in him.

“Do what?”

“This,” Namjoon insisted, his fingers finding the skin under Seokjin’s shirt. “I can blow Suga off, you can not go into work, and we can just sit in this car, make out, and not have to worry about anything.”

“Temping,” Seokjin agreed.

Namjoon sighed. “But?”

When he pulled back, Seokjin let him go. He straightened himself up and said, “But you know that’s not a realistic possibility. I need to go to work. I need normalcy right now. And you? You need to find out what happened last night. Agreed?”

“I know what happened last night,” Namjoon bit out. “I want to know who sent that guy. I’m going to find out.”

“Just don’t kill him,” Seokjin said with a wince. He could imagine Jimin slipping into the man’s room in the middle of the day, pressing a pillow over his face, and holding it down. Jimin was the kind of person who’d have no reservations about doing that, if ordered to, or if he felt it was necessary. But the man was in a coma. Seokjin didn’t think attacking him, when he was like that, was any better than what had happened to Seokjin himself.

The rest of Bangtan certainly disagreed, but Seokjin liked to think he had some sway over the members.

“Oh, I won’t kill him yet,” Namjoon insisted. “Next to you, he’s probably the safest person in the world right now.”

With false cheerfulness, Seokjin said, “Because he hasn’t woken up yet and given you the answers you want. That’s not comforting. Also, I didn’t just mishear you, did I? Tell the truth, am I about to walk in to my clinic and find half of Bangtan in there?”

“Half?” Namjoon scoffed. “We’re bigger than you seem to think. Half of us wouldn’t fit in there.”

Conveniently, Seokjin noticed more what Namjoon hadn’t said, rather than what he had.

“Who’s in there?” he asked bluntly.

Namjoon only waited a moment before answering honestly, “Some men you know, some you don’t. Less than you’re probably thinking. I am capable of using restraint. You seem to think opposite that, but I know how you feel about having my guys in there. So yes, there are some in there, blending in with the patients. Just in case. But they’re not going to make a scene. They won’t even be a nuisance. And they’ll give me enough peace of mind to let you out of my sight.”

Seokjin could see the look of conflict on Namjoon’s face.

And then the man admitted, “There’s nothing I want to do more than keep you by my side. I know this happened to you … but I feel … I feel like I was the one who was attacked. And the idea of letting you go from my side is …”

Seokjin could see Namjoon’s eyes go down to his neck. Despite the atrociously hot weather, he’d chosen a shirt with a high neck, mostly to hide the bruises that were starting to discolor into blues and greens. Namjoon had dropped a couple sets of clothing off for him in the morning to choose from, and Seokjin appreciated having the option of the shirt was wearing now.

As far as anyone at the clinic was concerned, excluding Jonghyun who was probably his best friend now other than Jungkook, he’d been home when the break-in had happened, but he’d managed to scare the would-be robber off. Seokjin wanted to keep it that way, too. He didn’t want anyone except for Jonghyun, who he trusted, to know someone had tried to kill him.

“You can’t cling,” Seokjin told him gently. “Even if you want to. Even if I want you to a little. You can’t cling. You taught me that half of all this is just keeping up appearances. So I’m going to go back to work like nothing happened to me, and you’re going to go be a fearless leader like you’re so good at, and the both of us are going to provide a united front.” He snuck in lowly, “We can cuddle later, okay? I know you like cuddles.”

Affronted, but in a mock way, Namjoon exclaimed, “How can you say that? I’m a grown man. I don’t like cuddles.”

“Liar,” Seokjin said with a grin.

Namjoon leaned in for what was clearly a goodbye kiss, and mumbled against Seokjin’s lips, “You’ve got your favorite nurse in there, too.”

With uncertainty, Seokjin asked, “My favorite nurse?’

Namjoon ribbed, “Nurse V. That’s what you call him, right? I want my men in the lobby of your clinic watching for threats there, staying out of your way. But I want someone you trust and like back there with you. Just in case.”

“So you’re making Taehyung shadow me the entire day?”

“Making him?” Namjoon scoffed. “He practically begged. And I figured of all the guys, he’s the one you mind the least hanging around you.”

Seokjin hadn’t said anything to anyone about it, except for Taehyung himself, but Seokjin really though Taehyung had potential. When Taehyung came around, and Seokjin had him doing simple, menial tasks, he was more than adequate. And when a medical procedure was going on around him, he was perceptive, and intuitive, and looked like he was picking up all kinds of knowledge.

If he wanted to apply himself, and make a go of it, Seokjin thought he had real potential in the medical field.

Seokjin didn’t think that was likely to happen anytime soon, though. Taehyung hadn’t sounded excited at the idea of nursing school or any kid of formal education when Seokjin had brought it up. But the potential was hard to deny.

And best of all, Taehyung had great bedside manner. That was something that couldn’t be taught. You either had a kindness to you, an empathy, a way of making patients feel at ease just by being you, or you didn’t. and Taehyung had that. He was personable. He was someone who made others smile easy, and feel comfortable, and that, more than anything else, was why he let Taehyung hang around the clinic the most.

Seokjin was willing to allow almost anything if it benefited his patients, and since none of the other doctors, nurses, or employees had complained, Taehyung had special privileges.

Seokjin wasn’t about to leave Taehyung alone with a patient anytime soon, but he brightened the room just by being in it.

“Just him?” Seokjin asked.

Namjoon admitted, “It was supposed to be V and Jimin with you, but honestly I kind of thought Jimin might start scaring your patients off, and he refused when I brought it up.”

That didn’t sound right. “He refused? He said he didn’t want to be at the clinic with me today?” That sounded completely opposite of Jimin.

They rarely, rarely talked about Jimin’s feelings for him, but Jimin never strayed too far away. And Seokjin could hardly believe that if Namjoon and the others were feeling over protective, that Jimin wouldn’t want to join in.

Jimin liked to pretend like they didn’t have a good repertoire going, but the opposite was true. Maybe things were always a little awkward when they spent time together, and always would be. But they had a fun kind of banter between the two of them. And Jimin could be a softie, not that he wanted anyone to know, when Seokjin hit on just the right subject. Jimin hated to admit such a thing, but Seokjin knew he liked it when the two of them were just talking, enjoying each other’s company—enjoying their steadily growing friendship.

So how was it possible that Jimin had refused to come to the clinic with Taehyung?

“He said,” Namjoon explained, “that you had more than enough people watching out for you today at the clinic. He said you didn’t need anyone else there, breathing down your neck, but that what you did need was even more people out on the streets, figuring out what happened. Figuring out who sent that guy after you.”

Okay, that did sound like Jimin. Practical to a fault.

“Fair enough,” Seokjin agreed.

“I thought about having J-Hope replace him,” Namjoon suggested. “But then I worried that J-Hope and V might be too absorbed with each other, and not focused where they need to be. So it’s just you and V today.”

Seokjin interjected, “And the twenty or so guys you’re putting in my waiting room.”

“More like ten.”

Seokjin rolled his eyes, then reached for the door handle. “I take it you’ll be back to get me at five, when you’re making me leave.”

“I’m not making you,” Namjoon chuckled. “Your doctor didn’t even want you going back to work today. She’s the one who said you needed to work a short shift. And I don’t think you’re going to die if you only get to spend five hours on your feet today, instead of ten. So I’m really not making you. I just happen to agree with your doctor that maybe you should take it easy after you had a huge ordeal.” His voice dropped as he said, “It’s a damn miracle your heart held up. A shock like that? An ordeal like you suffered? Jin. Listen to me, you got lucky with your heart. You’re the one who’s always telling me we shouldn’t take chances with your heart. I want to grow old with you, so we have to take every precaution with your heart to get there.”

In a resolved way, Seokjin said, “It shouldn’t be this easy for you to guilt trip me.”

Namjoon beamed. “It’s because I love you. And you love me. That’s why it’s love.”

“Must be,” Seokjin let himself grin out. “So I’ll see you at five?”

“I’ll let your brother come get you,” Namjoon said. “Maybe he’ll lower his blood pressure a little if he can see for himself that you’re just fine. I’ll have him bring you by the apartment.”

With a slight wince, seconds before he slid out of the car, Seokjin asked, “Will you get the door replaced?”

“I will,” Namjoon promised. “I love you. Have a good day at work.”

“I love you, too,” Seokjin replied, offered him a warm smile, and got out of the car.

He’d said he needed to get back to work and back to routine, and he’d meant it. The moment he was through the doors, greeting familiar patients, moving back into an accustomed hallway to mark his time card, everything fell back into place.

From his side, Taehyung appeared. He had clearly stolen a set of scrubs from someone, Moonbin judging by their similar sizes, and had his security badge clipped to his shirt. He gave Seokjin an exaggerated salute and said, “Nurse V reporting for his shift, sir.”

Seokjin pointed out, “I remember when you hated me calling that.”

Taehyung rocked back on his feet a little and said, “I didn’t hate it. I just thought you were being mean about it at first. Teasing, but not in a good way.”

Seokjin questioned, “You thought I was being mean to you at first?”

Taehyung hastened to defend, “I didn’t know you at first remember? I didn’t know what kind of person you were. Jungkook always said his brother was practically a saint, but we just had his word for that, and we hadn’t even known Jungkook that long. Maybe you were really a jerk. I didn’t know.”

In a sad way, Seokjin insisted, “I would never mock or disrespect you.”

“I know that now!” Taehyung insisted. “That’s why I like it when you call me Nurse V now. It makes me feel important.”

“You are important.”

Taehyung asked, “So you’re gonna let me be your nurse for that vasectomy you have scheduled for two today?” Taehyung nodded to the big board that they used to keep track of surgeries scheduled for the day.

Curiously, Seokjin asked him, “Do you know what a vasectomy is?”

“No,” Taehyung shrugged. “But I was figuring I could just stand next to you while you’re being a super cool surgeon, and pat your forehead when you sweat or something. What’s a vasectomy? Are you taking something out?”

Seokjin bit back a smile. “Oh, you could say that.”

“I want in,” Taehyung declared.

Seokjin tried to be a good person most of the time. He really tried. But once in a while a situation presented himself where he had to walk a line of being just a little evil. For the sake of balancing out the universe, of course.

Hours later, when the clock was inching towards five at night, and Seokjin was anticipating the arrival of Jungkook at any moment, he found Taehyung sitting in the employee lounge, face in his hands.

“You’ll be okay,” Seokjin promised, patting him on the back. “Want to get something to eat?”

Taehyung’s head popped up and he gave Seokjin a ghastly look. “You just cut up some guy’s balls a little while ago! How can you want to eat?”

Across the room Moonbin threw back his head and laughed. He was preparing to work until closing, and was only now taking his lunch break.

“Very funny!” Taehyung said angrily.  “Not!”

“I didn’t cut up anyone,” Seokjin insisted. “You would have known that if you hadn’t started rocking back and forth in the corner of the room, having a rather quiet but noticeable panic attack.”

Thankfully, Seokjin’s patient at the time, an endearing man with four children already, had found the entire situation hilarious.

While he’d been laughing himself silly on the operating table, Taehyung had been whispering, “And you didn’t say this was something you did while the guy was awake!”

“You learned a valuable lesson today,” Seokjin decided, tugging him up to his feet. He wanted to be ready to go when Jungkook got there.

From the sofa on the other side of the room, Moonbin called out, “Do your homework before you want in on something!”

Taehyung gave him a filthy look.

Jungkook was early, naturally, arriving a quarter to five and then pacing the waiting room until Seokjin was ready to go, Taehyung on his heels.

“Okay, okay,” Seokjin said when the three of them piled into Jungkook’s car. “Back to my apartment, please.”

Taehyung asked, “Did Rap Mon talk to you about how we all agree that’s probably a bad thing?”

Jungkook nodded from the driver’s seat. “You should totally be getting a new place after all this.”

Seokjin only said, “How about no commentary from you while you’re driving. I’m still not sure if you bribed your tester or not to get your license. Focus, okay?”

Jungkook defended, “I am a great driver! I’ve never had an accident.”          

Plainly, Seokjin said, unimpressed, “In the grand total of three months you’ve been driving?”

“You did hit that fence, remember?” Taehyung said.

Seokjin covered his face with his hands.

Without any more delay Jungkook drove them over to Seokjin’s apartment. And along the way, maybe even predictably so, anxiousness began to build. It wasn’t as if Seokjin suddenly wanted to take back his decision to keep his apartment. But there was some sense of impending doom as they got closer.

Maybe not doom.

Just … fear.

Seokjin told himself he was okay. He told Namjoon he was okay. He told Jungkook and all the others that he was perfectly okay. But he was choosing to stay in a place where he had very nearly died. It could have easily gone that he hadn’t miraculously felt the bat. Maybe he could have not swung hard enough. And then Namjoon would have come home to his cooling body.

He could have died so easily, and the stain of that wasn’t something that could be easily removed from the apartment.

“Everyone’s already up there,” Taehyung said when they parked almost directly in front of the apartment. “You ready?”

“Of course I’m ready,” Seokjin said as Taehyung hopped out of the car.

“You can totally not be ready,” Jungkook said, not budging from his own seat. “I wouldn’t be ready.”

“We’re going to be fine,” Seokjin insisted, giving Jungkook an encouraging smile. “Come on. Let’s go up there and see how much of the damage has gotten cleaned up.”

“You think some of it is?”

“All of it I should hope,” Seokjin said, following Taehyung’s lead and exiting the car.

There were far, far too many people in his home. That was what Seokjin noticed first. But not just in his home, because he wasn’t through the door yet, but outside. Littered around, some doing their best to not stand out and others failing miserably, were clusters of Namjoon’s men. There were too many of them, frankly.

“This is not going to be an everyday occurrence,” Seokjin said sourly to Jungkook as they walked nearly shoulder to shoulder. “The neighbors already hate us.”

None of them had said as much, but most of the neighbors didn’t appreciate the constant movement of people going in and out of the apartment, lingering around, and often loitering. They didn’t like the notoriety of Namjoon, and Seokjin by extension.

“Nah,” Jungkook agreed. “Probably just for a few weeks.”

Seokjin gave him a dark look. “That isn’t funny.”

Jungkook shrugged, “I definitely wasn’t kidding.”

When they got closer, Seokjin could see the door. It was out of place now, but only because it has been so clearly replaced. Gone was the pale blue door that had been there before, and then splintered into pieces the night before. And in its place was something off white, looking sturdier than the version that had come before it.

Seokjin gave it a long look as he passed by. The sound of the previous door being kicked in—something that was no small feat, was echoing in his mind.

“Jin!”

At the sound of Hoseok’s voice, Seokjin let himself focus instead on the inside of the apartment.

“Hello,” Seokjin offered, going to where Hoseok and Yoongi were standing in the living room.

The room itself was more bare than usual. A lot of the little knickknacks that he and Namjoon owned were missing, and a lot of the furniture had been moved around. It hardly looked like his apartment anymore. But the mess from the night before had been cleaned up, and it barely looked like a murder had nearly happened.

Yoongi asked him, “How are you feeling?”

“Fine, fine,” Seokjin insisted, looking around the apartment again. “Where did everything go? Where are my things?”

He abandoned Yoongi and Hoseok quickly and made a beeline for the bedroom. But he was breathing a sigh of relief the moment he was through the door. Everything was how he had left it. It was a room completely untouched.

“Rap Mon only told us this morning,” Yoongi said from behind Seokjin. “Come back in the living room, okay?”

Seokjin followed after him and asked, “What did he tell you?”

“That you wanted to stay,” Yoongi said.  With a bit of nudging and a stern look he got Seokjin to sit down on the sofa next to Jungkook.

His brother told him, “Rap Mon and Jimin are on their way over now. They’re bringing some dinner.”

“How does that explain some of my things being missing?” Seokjin asked Yoongi.

It was Hoseok who intercepted the conversation to say, “Everything will be back in its place by tomorrow, promise.” He was sprawled out on the floor in front of the sofa, legs extended out, and didn’t seem bothered in the least by Taehyung who was leaning a great deal of his weight on him.  “Some stuff had to be cleaned, firstly. So we had to take a lot down.”

“Cleaned?” Seokjin felt like his head was spinning.

Calmly, Yoongi said, “Some of your things were damaged in the altercation that happened last night. Some things had blood on them. We packed those things up to be cleaned. And then, until Rap Mon said something this morning, we assumed that you were going to want to stay somewhere else. No one predicted you’d say you wanted to stay, so we started the process early this morning of trying to get your things in order to be moved to a new place.”

Hoseok rushed to say, “We only got through some of the living room, and a little bit of the kitchen before Rap Mon said otherwise. So don’t freak out, okay? You stuff is safe and we’re gonna be bringing it back in soon. We just thought you probably didn’t want a million people in your apartment, moving your stuff around.”

Seokjin leveled out, “Just the million people stationed outside?”

Yoongi didn’t look amused as he said, “You talk to your boyfriend about that when he arrives.”

As it turned out, Seokjin didn’t have to wait long at all. Both Namjoon and Jimin arrived at the apartment just a short twenty minutes later, arms overloaded with food.

“I’m ready for it,” Namjoon said as food was being passed out and chatter was happening casually around them. There was a good feeling in the air around them, and this was something that Seokjin liked a lot. There was nothing that beat Seokjin just spending quality time with Jungkook, or lounging around with Namjoon. But there was a better, more electric feeling that came with Bangtan’s core members all being in the same spot, crowding up in each other’s space, enjoying the company they made.

“Ready for what?” Seokjin asked. Jungkook had abandoned his spot on the sofa for better access to the food, and Namjoon had swept in effortlessly to take his place.

Lowering his voice, Namjoon said, “The guys outside. The hovering I’m doing. The suffocation you must be feeling. I’m ready for it.”

Chopsticks in hand, Seokjin tried to root around inside himself for something that matched what Namjoon had said, but he couldn’t find it. In the moments between arriving at the apartment, and everything that had followed, Seokjin had felt nothing but peace and calm. He’d felt surrounded by family, and that had put him in a good mood.

“I don’t like the men outside,” Seokjin indulged him. “I think the sheer number of them is ridiculous.”

“I agree,” Yoongi offered, but he was barely paying attention to their conversation.

“But this?” Seokjin looked around the room before settling back on Namjoon. “Being here with you, and my brother, and people I truly enjoy very much? It makes up for everything else. This is good, Namjoon. Us like this? This is good.”

Over the past few weeks especially, the amount of time they’d all been able to spend together had diminished severely. So it felt extra special to be with all of them.

“You’re not smothering me,” Seokjin said certainly. “You’re certainly capable of it, but I’m not feeling smothered.” He pressed a kiss to Namjoon’s mouth. “Not yet at least.”

“None of that!” Jungkook flung one of the sofa pillows he’s taken with him to the floor, at Seokjin.

“I will end you,” Seokjin threatened back.

“I’d like to see you try, old man!”

Namjoon caught Seokjin’s arm and laughed out, “Don’t kill your bother, okay? It was pain in the ass to get the blood out of the floor from last night. We don’t want to do that again.”

Seokjin felt the world fall away from him a little, and he tried to picture, with full light in the room now, what the fight must have looked like. He tried to picture how they’d fought their way to and from one side of the room, crashing into the furniture, walls, and even a lamp.

There’d probably been blood splatter all over the place. Seokjin didn’t see any now but it must have been extensive. He’d hit the man with the bat hard, opened a gash on his head, and there’d been enough velocity for a good amount of splatter.

“Jin.”

A warm hand fell on his knee, and when Seokjin blinked back into the present, away from his thoughts, Namjoon was watching him with concern. Everyone else was, too. The apartment had gone silent.

“Just thinking,”

“You okay?” Jungkook asked tentatively. “Your doctor said you were okay to leave the hospital this morning, but …”

“But nothing,” Seokjin insisted. “I promise. I’m okay. Just thinking. Unlike you, that doesn’t hurt me.”

Jungkook stuck his tongue out.

Clearing his throat, Jimin surprised Seokjin by asking, “So you gonna let us stay here tonight or what?”

Slowly, Seokjin asked, “You want to … stay the night?”

A series of looks went around the room, and Seokjin felt absolutely left out. They’d clearly all talked about something without him.

“We’ve got everything on lockdown right now,” Namjoon eased out, then stuffed a large amount of food into his mouth to avoid having to say anything else.

“Sleep over!” Taehyung cheered.

Seokjin looked between them and asked, “You’re telling me that all of you are willing to sit here in this apartment for the night, not go prowling the streets for trouble, and you trust all your men out there to keep the streets safe, all so we can have a …slumber party?”

Yoongi said pointedly, “My sister has slumber parties. This is a …strategical opportunity to conference regarding specific—”

Hoseok decided, “Nah, we just wanna have a slumber party.”

Yoongi shook his head slowly.

Maybe they needed this, he considered. Each of them was looking at him like they expected him to up and vanish before them. And there had been a couple of instances in the past when groups of them had ended up sleeping in one place. It was pretty rare, but it had happened.

It felt a little like it needed to happen again. If only just once more.

“You know we’re all way too old for this,” Seokjin offered up.

Jimin said, “Jungkook’s like twelve at best, so not really.”

“Hey!”

“You mind?” Namjoon asked quietly, a warm hand rubbing along Seokjin’s lower back.

Seokjin knew that Namjoon would run them all out in a second if Seokjin didn’t want to share their space that night.

But the more he thought about, Seokjin was certain he needed them tonight, more than they needed him.

“Are you going to let me braid your hair?” Seokjin teased.

“I am such a pro at giving manicures,” Hoseok declared, and that made sense because he had three sisters.

Namjoon snuck a kiss to Seokjin’s hairline. “You can totally put my hair in braids if you want to. As long as it makes you happy.”

This time, uncaring what kind of reaction it might get from Jungkook, Seokjin let himself give Namjoon a daring kind of kiss, before saying, “I guess we’re having a sleepover then.”

Chapter Text

Standing in the archway between the living room and the kitchen, Seokjin was fairly sure he was watching an apt display of what having children with Namjoon one day would be like.

Behind him at the sink in the kitchen, washing some fruit, Yoongi mumbled, “If they break anything, I’ll start breaking them.”

Seokjin clamped down on laughter that wanted to break free. And he considered Yoongi was every bit what Seokjin hoped his first child with Namjoon was like. They hadn’t exactly sat down and spoken about the number of children they wanted, or at what point in their lives children would be a good addition, but Seokjin really had his fingers crossed for an eldest like Yoongi. One, at least, who’d be helpful to him, pragmatic or practical, and wouldn’t be part of the circus going on in the living room.

“You’re strangling me!” Taehyung shouted loudly, unfortunately caught under a pile of bodies in the middle of the living room floor.

Jungkook, doing his best to channel his inner wrestler, took a huge belly flop onto Hoseok, squishing Taehyung even further.

Hoseok, in a goading way, said loudly, “You’re beaten! Just admit defeat!”

Wincing, Seokjin saw Jimin across the apartment just seconds before he was flying through the room. Literally flying.

Well, flying for a couple of seconds, then falling, and falling hard onto warm bodies that groaned in response.

“Someone is going to die,” Seokjin decided.

“I’m dying!” Taehyung wailed dramatically.

And naturally, from the sofa, the one cheering them all on, was Namjoon.

“You’re a child,” Seokjin called over to him, but he couldn’t deny the happiness the sight of Bangtan just roughhousing and playing around, brought him. He genuinely thought it was a picture of their future, when he and Namjoon were raising children that simply wanted to play together on a lazy morning.

And it was all punctuated by the fact that Seokjin had been up early that morning and he’d gotten to enjoy the peace and silence of the apartment before chaos had broken out.

Because the night before, he hadn’t been able to sleep.

Namjoon had asked him before bed if he’d thought that would be an issue, and he’d offered Seokjin a sleeping aid.

“It’s not a sign of weakness,” Namjoon had insisted, lying stretched out in bed, his head cradled in the palm of his hand. “If I’d gone through what you had, I’d take something to knock me out, too.”

But Seokjin had always been fickle about the things he put into his body, and a sleep aid was a last resort. He’d been more than confident that if he laid in a still, quiet room for long enough, with Namjoon’s warmth next to him, he could fall asleep.

And he had.

He’d just also woken early and had almost no chance of going back to sleep.

So he’d stepped his way carefully through the apartment, e-reader in hand.

Most of Bangtan had been holed up in the living room despite there being a spare bedroom, with Taehyung and Hoseok practically molding into one person as they lay draped over each other on the sofa. Yoongi was sleeping deeply in the recliner, feet hanging over the extended footrest. And Jungkook, under a pile of blankets, was closer to the kitchen than the living room, proof positive that he’d been sneaking snacks all the way up until everyone had drifted off to sleep.

There’d been a slight flash of panic for just a second as Seokjin couldn’t find Jimin. He’d half convinced himself that Jimin had bailed at some point during the night. Seokjin been doing his best to steadily coach Jimin away from what seemed to be the younger man’s instinct to just run whenever things got hard, or rough, or even just emotional. But Seokjin had gone to bed earlier than the rest of them, and he hadn’t known what he’d be waking up to.

He’d caught sight of Jimin, curled up near the front door, just before Seokjin slipped out onto the patio with the morning light. He couldn’t begin to guess how Jimin had ended up so close to the front door, away from the others, but Seokjin understood Jimin enough to know the why.

Seokjin had read a bit on the patio for a while, soaking in the warm morning sun, and then the apartment had come alive.

“They’re just playing around,” Namjoon called back to him. “Trust me, you’ll know when they’re fighting for real.”

Seokjin rolled his eyes. “I’m not worried about if they’re playing or not. I’m worried about the fact that my brother is starting to turn blue.”

Taehyung must have heard his words, because his arm unhooked from around Jungkook’s neck and he shouted, “Sorry!”

With a huge grin on his face, Namjoon asked, “How’s breakfast going? You want some help?”

In a teasing way, Seokjin turned to Yoongi and said, “Namjoon wants to know if he can come help us.”

Head cocked, Yoongi wondered, “Haven’t you ever noticed that he doesn’t even know how to turn the stove on? You really want him back here? With sharp knives and fire?”

Seokjin swung back to Namjoon. “I think we have this covered. Get hands and faces washed, okay? I think we’ll be finished in about fifteen minutes.” And something told Seokjin it would take that long to get everyone cleaned up.

Breakfast, as usual, was nothing spectacular. Breakfast was the kind of meal that Seokjin found the most difficult, and never really had the right time to practice, and always felt inadequate with. But the upside of having Bangtan in his house right now was that most of them would eat anything. Plus, Yoongi was proving to be more capable in the kitchen than Seokjin had ever suspected.

The sound of Namjoon’s phone cut through the living room then, and it was like flipping a switch with the others. They settled down right away, and Yoongi came around from the kitchen to stand next to Seokjin.

Business. It was definitely business coming their way. So when Namjoon gestured for Yoongi to follow him and the both of them left the apartment, Seokjin wasn’t surprised.

“I can help,” Jungkook said, picking himself up off the floor with only a little stumble. “Suga was helping you, right?”

Seokjin pointed out, “You were so busy bleeding testosterone, I’m surprised you noticed.”

With a muddled look on his face, Jungkook said, “I think that’s an insult, but with you, sometimes I’m not always sure.”

Seokjin reached out and thumbed over the roughness of Jungkook’s eyebrows. “You want a repeat of this?”

“Hey, hey,” Jungkook said defensively. “not everyone is born an amazing cook like you.”

With a grin, Seokjin pointed out, “I never burned a part of my face off.”

“It grew back!”

“Technically.” Seokjin caught Jungkook’s wrist and said, “You can help with the setup. Everything is mostly done cooking, but I need you to help me put everything out and in the right place before the hyenas descend.”

Namjoon and Yoongi weren’t back by the time breakfast officially started. And though no one made a comment about it, it was a noticeable, unspoken question lingering in the room.

Seokjin tried to fill the absence with prying questions into Jungkook’s classes, Hoseok and Taehyung’s anniversary, and Jimin’s post-accident recovery.

“Don’t think I’m forgetting about that,” Seokjin pointed out, looking directly at Jimin’s sleeve. The other male had worn a jacket or long sleeves every time Seokjin had seen him since the accident, but Seokjin was hardly going to let the wound go. Jimin was a person who had the kind of lucky that would land him with an infection.

“It’s fine,” Jimin said stubbornly.

“It was an open wound that was nearly deep enough it needed stitches.” Seokjin gave Jimin a firm look that dared him to challenge the face. “Come to my clinic later today or tomorrow, before I leave for the conference. I’ll look it over and redress it.”

Jungkook’s jaw dropped opened. “You’re still going?”

Taehyung nodded quickly. “You’re not serious, right?”

Shortly, with some anger, Jimin said, “Of course he’s still going. Someone only tried to kill him. That’s not enough to deter someone like Jin.”

“Maybe,” Seokjin said succinctly, looking from face to face, “if someone had claimed responsibility for this, or we knew the motive, I’d be more content to sit on my hands at home. But we don’t know anything. There is no evidence out there to support any of the wild theories that I’m sure all of you are entertaining. So I’m not going to let my life be interrupted. I’m not going to stop everything out of fear. I’m done being afraid.”

Jungkook declared, “I’m going with you.”

Quickly Seokjin said back, “You have school.”

Jungkook sputtered, “School!”

Seokjin couldn’t help looking directly across the table to Jimin. His mind went right back to when Jimin had asked Seokjin to take him with him to the medical conference. When he’d asked it had been about needing a legitimate reason to poke his nose around in someone else’s territory. Now if Seokjin took him along, he assumed it would be more about watching his back.

And if that was the case … maybe Seokjin could be justified in prompting such a thing from Namjoon.

It wouldn’t just be lying to give Jimin an opening. It wouldn’t be being dishonest.

Seokjin wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t living in fear. But having someone he trusted to watch his back? He supposed that was something different. Having the company of someone he liked, which would also probably ease Namjoon’s anxiety in a way, wasn’t a burden.

Namjoon and Yoongi didn’t come back after the meal was over, either.

Seokjin left to take a shower before they reappeared, leaving the dishes to the others, and with worry creeping under his skin. What had the call been about? How important had it been that Namjoon had just up and left and been gone for so long?

Namjoon was back, however, by the time Seokjin was out of the shower, dressed, and ready to leave for work. Yoongi wasn’t, however, and both Jimin and Hoseok had left. Only Jungkook was lingering in the living room.

And when Seokjin asked him where the others were, that was when he revealed, “Taehyung’s outside talking with some of the guys watching the apartment.”

Fastening his watch onto his wrist, Seokjin asked, “What’s going on?” He could see Namjoon in the kitchen, scrounging up a bit of leftovers that had been placed in the refrigerator. “Namjoon?”

Namjoon told Jungkook, “Get Taehyung to take you to school. Then report back to him when you get out.”

“Namjoon,” Seokjin said flatly.

Jungkook squeezed Seokjin’s arm as he drifted by, and mumbled, “Bye, Jin.”

“Let’s sit down for a second, okay?” Namjoon suggested, gesturing to the sofa Jungkook had vacated.

Seokjin had little patience for either comfort or procrastination, so he said, “Just tell me what’s going on. What was that phone call you got? You know I can take it.”

Namjoon gave him a look of appreciation, some a little hot in a way that made Seokjin want to lean over and kiss him.

“With all of us here last night,” Namjoon explained, “Suho had his men on the hospital—on the guy who attacked you and where he’s being treated.”

“The guy in a coma,” Seokjin said slowly.

Namjoon sighed. “He’s not in a coma anymore. He woke up around four this morning.”

A million thoughts were racing through Seokjin’s mind. “Who is he? Who sent him to hurt me? Is he talking to anyone? To the police? What’s going on with him? Do you know anything?” Seokjin just wanted to know why. Because the attack had been personal. The man had known who he was, and Seokjin wanted to know the motivator. Why. He just wanted to know why.

“Jin, Jin.” Namjoon held up a hand.

“Sorry,” Seokjin breathed out.

“Suho spent the entire morning trying to get to the guy. He was trying everything he could to get someone on the inside, but the police have known from the start that something is going on with this guy, and they kept blocking every attempt Suho made. There just wasn’t an opening to slip someone in for questioning. The guy was too heavily guarded.”

Seokjin wasn’t sure as he asked, “So what’s happening now? What’s his prognosis? I hit him as hard as I could in the head with that bat. He might not even know who he is.”

A little pridefully, Namjoon said, “You rattled his brains, that’s for sure. Suho couldn’t get anyone actually into the room, but his guys were able to snag his chart.”

“And?” Seokjin prompted.

“And it doesn’t matter,” Namjoon breathed out. “He’s dead now. Has been for over two hours.”

“Dead?” Seokjin snapped out, sharper than he’d meant to. “He’s what?”

“Dead,” Namjoon said flatly, clearly not happy about the turn of events.

Seokjin’s mind was whirling a little, and all he could come up with was, “Suho’s men killed him?” Maybe that was why Namjoon was so upset. Namjoon likely wanted to be the one to do it, and it seemed like someone had stolen that opportunity from him. Seokjin couldn’t say he was heartbroken over the idea of Namjoon not having someone to kill.

Namjoon shook his head, which just convinced Seokjin even more.

“What happened?” He felt like that was the only question he was asking over and over.

Like it drove him crazy to admit, Namjoon finally said, “Suho doesn’t know what happened. No one knows. One second that guy was there in that hospital room, talking and not showing any severe brain damage. I guess the doctors started putting him through some tests, but he was coming out pretty well on all of them. He could definitely give us the answers were wanted. And then Suho said around seven this morning the call went out for police to come down to the hospital and question the guy. He was dead half an hour after that.”

Seokjin said soberly, “On purpose, right?”

“That’s what Suho and I think,” Namjoon admitted. “The second this guy came through his coma and knew his name and had all his memories, he was dead. We just thought he’d be dead by our hand, and not whoever sent him.”

“Someone was too afraid he’d fold.” Seokjin knew he was right on that. “Someone was afraid he’d tell us everything.”

Namjoon’s fingers curled into fists. “Damnit, Jin. This guy slipped right through our fingers. We had him. He was awake and talking. He could have told us everything we needed to know about why this happened.”

Seokjin suspected it was a simple as someone taking a swing at Namjoon. That probably wasn’t what Namjoon wanted to hear, but it made the most sense. It was what Seokjin was settling on. He’d always known that he’d be a target because of Namjoon. He’d always known there’d be a day when someone would try and poke at Namjoon using him.

He’d just always thought someone would start a little smaller, and not come out swinging as hard as Seokjin had just experienced.

“So what do you do now?”

“Dig deep,” Namjoon sighed. “And we’re going to start with the hospital. Our people couldn’t get into the room, but someone else did. I want to know how. I want to see any security footage I can get my hands on. And I refuse to be three steps behind someone who’s already a mile ahead.”

Seokjin cupped the side of Namjoon’s face with a cool palm and said, “You’re very good at digging your heels in when it’s something business related. I think you’re going to find the answers that you want. I trust you to find them.”

“You trust me to keep you safe,” Namjoon correct. “I’m not going to fail you again on that.”

Seokjin used his hand to guide Namjoon into a chaste kiss. “You didn’t fail me the first time.”

“Then why does it feel like it?” Namjoon asked in a subdued way.

Seokjin gave a supportive smile and kissed his mouth once more. “Because of the size of your heart, Namjoon. That’s why you feel responsible. Because of your heart. And that’s why I love you.”

The clenching that Namjoon’s fingers had been bound up in, released.

Seokjin let his own fingers catch Namjoon’s in order to squeeze tightly. Then he said, “Are you going to have a meltdown when I leave on Thursday for my conference?”

Seokjin could tell, from the bare and blatant emotions on Namjoon’s face, that he certainly wanted to. But instead, showing some reserve and self-control Namjoon asked, “If I begged you not to go, you’d go anyway, wouldn’t you?”

He knew he’d surprised Namjoon when he said, “If you begged, truly begged me not to go, I wouldn’t. Because I love you more than I want to go to this conference. And I would never do anything that would cause you severe emotional distress. But I would hope you wouldn’t ask me not to go, because you know how long I’ve been looking forward to going to this conference. I wasn’t well enough to go the last time it was offered.”

He’d been in the hospital then, with busted ribs from Jungkook desperately trying to save his life.

“I don’t want you to go,” Namjoon admitted. “But I won’t ask you not to.” He raked fingers through his hair worriedly. “No one else from the clinic is going either, right? Not Jonghyun? I like Jonghyun.”

Seokjin nearly burst out laughing. “You only like Jonghyun because he took a swing at a patient once.”

“Justifiably so!” Namjoon defended. “You told me that guy was trying to break into the part of the clinic where you keep the heavy-duty medication.”

Seokjin agreed, “Specifically the pain medication. He was definitely hooked, and he was trying to fake being ill to get at the medication. When I said no, he—”

“He shoved you into a wall,” Namjoon barked out. “That’s what you told me. He shoved you into a wall, gabbed your keycard, and tried to get into the meds. So when the guy attempted to get past Jonghyun, he decked him. I would have paid anything to be there.”

Seokjin was rather glad he hadn’t been. Namjoon would probably have been the one taking the swing then.

“No,” Seokjin finally answered him. “I wanted to take Moonbin with me, but it just never ended up working out. But you know I won’t be there alone. A hundred people at the minimum are going to be at this conference, and I’m meeting up with some old friends.”

He could take Jimin, he told himself again. He could take Jimin and ease Namjoon’s worries. But if he did, he knew Jimin would go getting into trouble. And if that happened, and Seokjin didn’t tell Namjoon exactly what he planned to do from the start …it was only going to cause trouble.

“Can your brother miss a couple days of school?” Namjoon broke in with. “I know you’re a stickler for him going, but I’d feel so much better if I knew someone was there with you who could fend off any potential trouble.”

Jungkook was not missing school. And if Namjoon hadn’t suggested Hoseok or Taehyung or Yoongi, it meant they were busy doing something else.

Maybe … maybe Jimin could be persuaded not to go off on his own and look for trouble. Maybe he’d be willing to make that kind of promise to Seokjin.

“I could take Jimin.” The words were out of his mouth before he’d really realized it.

Namjoon didn’t seem convinced. “You want to put yourself in a car with Jimin all the way there, spend two days with him, and then drive all the way back? Are you sure? You’re liable to throw him from the car while you’re driving, with the rate the two of you can get on.”

“We’re friends,” Seokjin made sure to say. “We don’t always get along perfectly, but at the end of the day, we’re friends. And more than that, both of us trust him. Both of us know he’ll stand between me and any kind of threat at a moment’s notice.”

That, naturally, had a lot to do with the feelings Jimin still harbored for him. But all of that aside, Seokjin was confident that their friendship was real, and based on them genuinely liking each other, even if they were so radically different.

“You think Jimin would go for it?” Namjoon asked.

Seokjin laughed a little nervously. “Yeah. I don’t think he’ll protest.”

After just a moment’s hesitation, Namjoon gave a nod. “Okay. I’ll run it by Jimin today. If he’s okay with it, he’ll go with you.”

“Unless you want to,” Seokjin said, knowing it was an impossible thing to ask. He got to his feet and headed to his bag that was waiting by the front door. He was still on track to make it to work on time. “I’ll gladly have you for a mini vacation.”

“I wish,” Namjoon said, and there was enough honesty in his voice for Seokjin to really believe him. “I’d go in a second if I could. You know I would. But …”

Seokjin knew it wasn’t his fault, but he couldn’t help asking, “Is there any chance we’re ever going to get to take that vacation we planned? Somewhere nice, remember? Like Europe, or America.”

“Mmm,” Namjoon said dramatically. “A Californian beach. Me and you in swimsuits. Good drinks.”

Seokjin rather had his heart set on seeing the Eiffel Tower, or the Colosseum in Rome, or anywhere in Spain, frankly. But if they could just manage to actually go on vacation, Seokjin wouldn’t be picky.

They’d been trying to find a way to get away since Seokjin had been released from the hospital all those months ago. They’d made promises to themselves that they were actually going to go. But Namjoon made it seem like he’d never have time for a vacation, and Seokjin needed him to set things in stone, so he could figure out finding a way to fill his spot at the clinic for at least a week.

“It would be nice,” Seokjin said gently, “to spend all my time with you, relaxing, enjoying your company, and not having to worry about anything else. I’m not holding my breath at this point, but it would be very nice.”

Hurt crawled its way across Namjoon’s face, and he said, “I know you want to go, but surely you can see this isn’t the time.”

“No,” Seokjin agreed, resolved. “So I’m off to work, okay? Be safe.”

Namjoon got to his own feet. “I can drive you. It wouldn’t be a bother.”

“I think you have enough on your plate this morning,” Seokjin said slinging his bag over his shoulder and pulling the door open. He wasn’t surprised at all to see the amount of men lingering around outside. They’d probably follow him the whole way to work, and hang out there for some time.

Namjoon’s paranoia was bound to die down eventually, so for the moment, Seokjin simply pretended like thy didn’t exist. They certainly weren’t getting in his way, and they were all there by choice.

“Jin,” Namjoon called after him.

“I don’t want to be late!” Seokjin replied. Then, keys in hand, he stepped down the stairs leading to the first floor, and walked the short distance to his car.

Unlike the previous day where Seokjin’s clinic had been stuffed to the brim with Namjoon’s men, it wasn’t the case when he arrived twenty-five minutes later. There was just the normal cluster of walk-ins waiting, patients queued up, and staff greeting him warmly.

“You look unhappy,” Jonghyun commented when he swung by Seokjin’s office. Seokjin had only gone back there for a second to put his bag away, shrug on his doctor’s white coat, and check his mail. “You have a fight with your boyfriend this morning?”

“No,” Seokjin said. Because it hadn’t been a fight. “Actually, it was a good morning. I had breakfast with Jungkook and some of our friends.”

“Friends,” Jonghyun said knowingly.

“I don’t know why I bother with you at all,” Seokjin sighed out.

Jonghyun bounced a little in his place, hands deep in the pockets of his coat. “Because face it, I’ve been with you so long I’m practically the only person who really knows you. And you’d better trust me before you trust anyone else.”

Seokjin looked up from his computer after clicking open an email. He told Jonghyun honestly, “I trust you professionally and personally. You’ve gone through a lot with me from the start with this clinic, and that’s why I’ve told you more about what’s going on personally in my life, than anyone else not associated.”

In an amused way, Jonghyun shook his head slowly. “Who’d have thought such a straightedge doctor like you would fall in with some gang hoodlums.”

“Hey, hey,” Seokjin told him. “Not just any hoodlum, okay?”

Jonghyun burst out laughing. “You’re right. Head hoodlum. I concede.”

It was kind of amazing how easy Jonghyun had brushed away the tension from the past few days. It was probably a combination of Jonghyun and being at work, but Seokjin wasn’t going to argue the point.

“Working a full shift today?” Jonghyun asked curiously. “We can cover another half shift if you want. It’s no big deal. We’ve got that extra intern until September, remember?”

Seokjin assured, following after Jonghyun and closing his office door behind him, “I’m back to working full shifts. And we should talk about Thursday. You know I’m leaving for that conference. You’ve got everything covered here, right? You’ll be okay for those days?”

In an astonished way, Jonghyun commented, “It sounds like you think we’re going to burn the place to the ground if you’re not here to babysit. Jin. Seriously. We’re going to be just fine. Stop worrying.”

Seokjin scoffed, “That’s practically my natural state.”

“I know,” Jonghyun teased. “That’s why you’re always such an easy mark. You gotta work on that.”

It was Seokjin’s turn to laugh then, and it was a good way to start his shift.

That good feeling lasted from the walk at the back of the clinic, to the front. Though it wasn’t as if that good feeling was stamped out, it was just replaced with concern.

Because from the front, emanating from the waiting room, Seokjin could hear a young baby screaming blood murder.

“Been doing that for a couple of minutes,” Jonghyun said knowingly. “Since the mom came in. Guess who she’s got the appointment with, lucky boy.”

Seokjin didn’t take the bait, especially since the idea of having a wailing baby in an examination room wasn’t exactly a turn-off for him, professionally. He rather liked children, and he’d been around his fair share of babies to know when a baby was screaming in pain, or in hunger, or because of a soiled diaper.

This, Seokjin could identify, was just a scream of the sake of it. For attention. And unfortunately, some babies simply did that.

Seokjin peeked around the corner, and without having to look at his chart, he told Jonghyun, “That’s Min Nakyoung. And her daughter, Yebin.” The baby was one of many Seokjin had delivered during the time period his clinic had been open. And Yebin had been one of the very last to be born at the old location.

Seokjin had nearly forgotten that he was due to see the baby in for her half year check-up, but only because most of his underaged patients were being transferred into Hongbin’s care. He was the clinic’s pediatrician, after all, and not only had he studied medicine specific to children, but he’d undergone a lot of specialized training to make himself more personable and likable to children. Seokjin thought he was pretty likable period, but Hongbin knew the best tricks to settle children down, and Seokjin preferred older patients in all truthfulness. He liked the older ones who were better able to express what was going on with their bodies, and give him better clues to solve problems at hand.

Still, a lingering number of parents of children, particularly the ones Seokjin had delivered, were clinging to him as their medical practitioner. Seokjin was okay with that, too. He had a bond with many of the children, and a lot of them were starting to get just old enough to recognize him on visits.

“Sounds like the kid is beyond not happy,” Jonghyun said with a wince, rubbing at an ear.

The baby did sound upset, but Seokjin was willing to be his clinic that wasn’t he scream of a baby in need. “She was a hard delivery,” Seokjin recalled, thinking out loud more than anything else. But when Jonghyun looked interested, Seokjin said, “The baby was breech.”

Jonghyun went white, and Seokjin looked more fondly out at the red-faced baby in the waiting room. A bereft mother who looked dangerously close to tears herself was trying to wrangle the tiny little fists flying in all directions.

“I was trying to get her turned,” Seokjin said, “but the baby’s heartrate was dropping, the mother’s blood pressure was off the charts, and I thought for one second …”

He’d thought it wasn’t going to turn out well. He’d thought the worst, even, if only for a few seconds. Everything that could go wrong was. The mother had started hemorrhaging and Seokjin had been truly fearful that he’d lose his first baby or mother. Patient. He was scared he’d lose his first patient at his personal clinic, period.

“Yunho helped me save her life,” Seokjin said to Jonghyun. “He helped me save both their lives.”

They’d worked together to save two lives that day, and by the skin of their teeth. The clinic back then hadn’t been equipped for labor experiencing severe complications. But Yunho had coached Seokjin through the moment of high tension, and kept him steady, and gotten the hemorrhaging under control so Seokjin could focus on saving the baby.

Unexpectedly, Jonghyun confessed, “I miss Yunho.”

A smile split its way onto Seokjin’s face. They all missed Yunho, even Jonghyun who didn’t talk about him much. Yunho had been a cornerstone for getting the clinic running. He’s been a founding member, and had suffered through the worst of the clinic’s early troubles. And though letting Yunho go had been a little rough, Seokjin was glad he was off making his dreams come true

“He’s coming for a visit in a couple of months,” Seokjin said knowingly. “Want to make sure you’re on the schedule when that happens?”

Gruffly, but without any real bite, Jonghyun said, “I’m always on the schedule.”

Seokjin told him, “I’ll make sure.”

They were able to delay getting into the rush of the clinic for just a few more minutes until Jonghyun said, “Okay, seriously, that baby is going to start running our patients off at this point. Get her in a room and find out why she’s screaming like that, okay?”

“Can’t take a little screaming?” Seokjin joked with Jonghyun. “How are you and Kibum ever going to handle one of your own?”

“Ha!” Jonghyun punctuated. “By not having one, thank you very much. I want to have a career, and nice things, and peace and quiet. That’s what I want, not one of those.”

Seokjin wasn’t so sure Jonghyun would always feel that way, but for the moment, he said, “You’re practically already a father with how much you baby this clinic.”

“You’re one to talk!” Jonghyun called after him as Seokjin signaled to a nurse to have the mother and baby brought into an examination room.

“That’s an angry cry,” Hongbin said, drifting by.

Seokjin had been sure, too, but it was nice to have an agreeing second opinion. He nodded, and said, “Not a hungry or sleepy one. Not a soiled diaper one. Definitely just an angry one.”

Hongbin pursed his mouth into a thin line and took a peek at the mother. “I don’t envy her.”

Seokjin kind of did. Not the screaming baby part, of course. But he was anxious to have his own family one day, and even if it meant a screaming baby, he’d be happy.

“I’ll see if I can settle the both of them down,” Seokjin said, and Hongbin gave an easy shrug.

After the nurse had been in to see the baby, and gotten all her numbers down, Seokjin himself slipped into the room.

“She was a lot quieter the last time I saw her,” Seokjin said loudly over the screams when they were all settled down into the room. He tried to give the mother a comforting smile, but he got nothing in return.

“She’s never been quiet,” the baby’s mother argued back, a little contentious in her tone. “She’s never quiet. Never.”

Seokjin trusted his nurses and their assessments, but he could help sliding his stool over to the pair of them to look the baby over.

“She cries all day,” the mother said. “She cries all night. She cries if I hold her. She cries if I put her down.”

Seokjin checked the baby’s eyes, her hearing, and listened to her heartbeat. It was all normal, and so the only thing Seokjin could say to the mother was, “Some babies are just like this. There’s nothing wrong with her, I promise. She’s just a crier.”

Balancing the baby on her knee, the woman palmed at her eyes and said, “It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.”

Seokjin could see the baby tipping a little, so with permission from the mother, he settled the little girl against his chest. She fought, as he expected, for a few seconds. She did her best to punch and kick at him with ferocity that promised she’d be hell on wheels the moment she got mobility. But eventually, also as expected, as he rubbed her back and rocked from side to side, she began to settle.

The baby wasn’t quiet, by any means, and she was doing her best to pinch at him like a pro, but her breathing was settling, and Seokjin took it as a win.

“I’m a terrible mother,” the woman stated.

“You’re not,” Seokjin said back right away, palming down the hair on the baby’s head. There was a lilac ribbon threaded in that was lovely. “This is your first, Mrs. Min. Babies are hard work. Despite everyone having an opinion on what to do with them, there’s no instructional manual. It’s going to be hard, and for a while too. But the beginning is always the hardest. You’re going to get through this. And then you won’t even remember this point of her life, unless you’re bringing it up in front of a boyfriend to embarrass her.”

That got a crack of a smile from the woman.

Seokjin felt the baby fuss, another tantrum on the horizon, so he stood and began circling the room. All the while he said, “You’re not doing anything wrong. Look at her. Look at Yebin. She’s well fed—her coloring is great. She’s healthy, and right at the point of development she’s supposed to be at. And yes, she’s being a terror for you, but it only feels so terrible because you’re obviously sleep deprived. And you probably haven’t had any time for yourself since she was born. So give yourself a break.”

Her face falling into her hands, Seokjin felt like he must have said something wrong, because the woman mumbled out, “I hate that you make it look so easy, Doctor Kim.”

“Easy?” Seokjin laughed out, startling the baby a little. “I’ve just got more experience than you do. That’s all. You’ll get good, too. There’s a lot of support out there for you. Let me get you set up with the kind that I think you might need right now.” There were programs out there, Seokjin recanted off the top of his head. There were lots of programs that would help a struggling mother find her feet.

In a broken way, the woman said plainly, “I don’t want to do this without him. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want her anymore.”

Seokjin stilled.

“Mrs. M—”

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she pressed. “He wasn’t supposed to just … to just …”

Die. Her husband had died. Seokjin hadn’t found out about the accident that had claimed his life until after Yebin had been born. Not until the baby’s one-month checkup, when the cousin of the mother had shown up with the baby, and explained the whole situation.

In a lot of ways, Seokjin understood her lack of strength. She’d decided to start a family with someone, and that someone had passed away tragically. So she was left alone, with a huge responsibility, and without that necessary support.

But the words she’d said … specifically.

“Mrs. Min,” Seokjin said, almost feeling like he wanted to wrap around the baby in response, “you need to be very careful with what you say to me.” He was trying desperately hard not to make it sound like a threat. “You can’t give the indication to me that you might—”

“Hurt her?” the woman demanded, slamming up to her feet. It was the kind of fire from a mother that Seokjin needed to see to feel assured.

“I’m a mandated reporter,” he told her kindly, and was prepared to hand the baby over at any time to the authorities, his personal feelings aside. “That means if I suspect anything, I have to report it.”

The woman scoffed. “I’m not going to hurt her. I love her. I just …”

She just didn’t want the baby anymore.

Seokjin shifted the baby from his chest to his side and went directly to a side cabinet that had pamphlets in it. “Here,” he said, handing a few over to her. “I want you to take these and read them. I mean it when I say there’s a lot of support out there or you. And I think we should make an appointment just for you to see me.”

She looked uncertain. “Why?”

“Because you sound like you might still be experiencing some extreme post-partum, and I may be able to help you.”

She reached for the baby then, and Seokjin let her go. The baby wasn’t his, he reminded himself. And the mother wasn’t unfit. Though it wasn’t unexpected that the baby started wailing again the moment she was out of Seokjin’s arms and back into her mother’s.

“Stop by the front desk,” Seokjin urged as the mother was gathering her things up. “Make a follow-up appointment for yourself. Come back and see me as soon as you can.”

Seokjin wasn’t offended as she blew out of the room like a hurricane, dragging her screaming baby with her.

He let out a deep sigh and watched her go. Some days were harder than others, and this was feeling like one of them.

“Everything okay in here?” Raina asked, poking her head in as she strolled by. She saw the expression on his face and held in the doorway. “Doctor Kim?”

“Fine, fine,” Seokjin insisted. Not all days could be the best. And as long as he was assured that no one was in any danger, he could live with just being unsettled. “How’s your day going?” He drifted over to make small-talk, and tried to block out the unease of the check-up.  He’d certainly had far worse visits in the past, and he had much more important things to focus on for the future.

“Not bad. Say, a couple of us were thinking of going out for lunch. We’ve got an extra nurse on shift today, so we can cluster the breaks up a little more. Want to come with us to try out the new place across the street?”

Seokjin fell into step with her. “The Indian place?”

“Curry,” Raina said happy.

“Sounds good,” Seokjin replied, and went off to the front to take another patient.

Chapter Text

Namjoon was hovering. He was hovering and fussing, and he was driving Seokjin up the wall.

“Are you sure you packed the right stuff?” Namjoon asked, nudging at Seokjin’s bag where it was set on the bed in their bedroom. It was a travel suitcase, meant to be carry-on sized if he was flying, and it was zipped open to reveal its contents to Namjoon.

Seokjin hadn’t been the one to unzip it, naturally.

Across the room, Seokjin said patiently, “I’m sure I packed the right things.” He resisted reminding Namjoon that the suitcase was open for his inspection, if he so wanted.

Currently, however, Seokjin was busy portioning his medication out carefully into travel boxes. In the months since he’d suffered heart failure, crouched in a convenience store while it was being shot up, he’d cycled through two different medications, and been put on an entirely new one. The only part that was of any significance to Seokjin was remembering the new combination of pills shifting to new time periods during the day.

Namjoon’s fretting wasn’t helping, either.

“I know it’s hot,” Namjoon said, glancing from the suitcase to Seokjin, “but I think you should take a jacket. You’re going to be in a conference hall, right? The air will be on. It’ll be cold.”

Kindly, Seokjin pointed out, “The conference is informal, but I guarantee you everyone will be dressed to impress. I’ll be wearing a suit jacket. I won’t be cold.”

“But what if you are?”

Seokjin set down a bottle of his medication and told Namjoon, “You’re going to give yourself a stroke. I can practically see how high your blood pressure is from here.”

Namjoon glared a little. “I’m just saying, maybe you’ve overlooked something. How many pairs of underwear did you bring?”

Abandoning his task of portioning out his medication completely, Seokjin rounded the bed to where Namjoon was standing. He laid his arms languidly up on board, firm shoulders, and said, “Aside from my medication and my laptop, there’s nothing that I could forget at home, that I couldn’t replace at the conference. Namjoon, stop worrying.”

“When it comes to you,” Namjoon breathed out, his fingers gripping at Seokjin’s waist, “I will always worry.”

A grin on his face, Seokjin leaned forward for an obvious kiss, and Namjoon met him more than halfway.

“Worry if you have to,” Seokjin allowed, feeling Namjoon’s fingers creep under his shirt. “But don’t hover.”

“This is hardly hovering,” Namjoon said, sneaking in another kiss.

Then his palm was flat against the smooth skin at Seokjin’s back, and Namjoon was pulling Seokjin into a warmer, definitely intent filled kiss.

It wasn’t long then, naturally, before Seokjin was hitting the mattress, and Namjoon was coming after him. A warm wet mouth was still on Seokjin’s for a moment more, before it was trailing down his neck, and Namjoon’s hands were doing their best to ruck up Seokjin’s shirt.

“You’re not so clever,” Seokjin warned, wrapping his arms around the back of Namjoon’s neck in an attempt to slow the building friction. “I know what you’re doing.”

Namjoon laughed in between kisses to Seokjin’s skin, “Worshiping my boyfriend? Whom I love more than anything else in this world?”

Seokjin’s head craned back and he could see the clock flashing eleven after six in the morning. Time was running short, and he was set to leave at any moment. So as much as he wanted to lay in bed with Namjoon and make out, and a lot more than that, he couldn’t let himself get distracted. He couldn’t let Namjoon get away with what he clearly thought he was going to.

Squirming a little Seokjin pushed at Namjoon and ordered, “Off. I’m leaving now.”

Namjoon groaned in disappointment and flopped to the side.

He made such an adorable sight and Seokjin couldn’t help rolling into his side affectionately. He put his hand on Namjoon’s check and leaned up for a parting kiss to Namjoon’s stubble covered jaw.

“I’ve got to go,” Seokjin said. “But I’m only going to be gone two days, and you will survive without me. I mean, I don’t know who’s going to feed you, or pick up after you, or get you to bed at a decent time, or make sure you have clean clothes, or … oh god, you might die without me here.”

Namjoon smiled at him with such love and such warmth that Seokjin felt it like a punch to the gut.

“You do too much for me,” the other man said indulgingly, but with heavy gratitude. “You take care of me in a way that I never thought someone would ever want to—in a way that I never thought I deserved. But you do it, and you make me feel worthy of it.”

“You are worthy,” Seokjin insisted. “But seriously, promise me you’re not going to just eat out every night. I’ll come back and you’ll be fifteen pounds heavier, and your cholesterol levels will have shot up.”

With a snort of disbelieve, Namjoon asked, “You’d rather I go into your kitchen and try and cook something? You shouldn’t be expecting to come home to much of a kitchen if that’s the case.”

Indulgingly, Seokjin said, “You’re a better cook than you let on, you’re a better cook than you want people to think you are. You’re fully capable of cooking some simple dishes, if you give yourself the right incentive and time to do it. You just need to have confidence in yourself.”

“I have confidence,” Namjoon argued as Seokjin got up and began placing the last of his items into the suitcase. “I have confidence that I’ll give myself food poisoning the second you leave and spend the next few days wallowing in death while you’re living it up at your conference.”

Seokjin assured him, “Food poisoning typically doesn’t kill.”

“That’s so reassuring,” Namjoon said.

Zipping his suitcase closed, Seokjin said, “Just spend the next couple of days looking after yourself? You spend all this time worrying about me, but have you stopped to consider that I’ll be worried about you, too? I know who you are, Kim Namjoon. I know the things you do and the impact of them. But I also know the little stuff, like how you forget to eat sometimes, and how you like to overthink things, and how you can stay up all night if you think there’s even a hint of trouble about to happen.”

Namjoon said up. “Clearly the only solution to this is for you to stay home.”

Seokjin hoisted his suitcase up. “Nice try.”

He headed out into the front of the apartment then, and he could hear Namjoon following after him.

“Two days,” Seokjin called over his shoulder. “Stop acting like you’re a duckling and you have to follow after me.”

He’d thought he’d said those words with humor and levity, but then Namjoon was saying back to him, “I’m more worried about who else might be following you.”

The clock was inching ever closer to six-thirty, and that was the absolute latest Seokjin could leave to keep to his schedule. But time seemed to fall away then, with Namjoon’s words and the look on his face.

“Have you stopped to consider,” Seokjin said, “that I’m only in danger as long as I’m here?”

He wasn’t expecting Namjoon to say back to him darkly, “Of course I have. I spend every waking moment thinking about how you’re only in danger because of me, and because you stand at my side. And if I thought for one second you’d go, I’d get you as far from my side as possible.”

Standing his ground, Seokjin said plainly, “Good luck with that. And if you even think about trying at any point in the future, I’ll come down on you so hard I’ll make your grandmother’s spirit proud of me.”

“Oh, she’s so proud already,” Namjoon said a bit numbly, but with honestly. “You know that.”

Seokjin really liked to think so. Namjoon’s grandmother had told him once that if he did anything to hurt Namjoon, or didn’t treat him and his heart like he deserved, she’d gut him. Of course she hadn’t been so blunt in her words, but she hadn’t been coy, either. Seokjin had gotten the message and loved her for it.

“We’ve talked about this before,” Seokjin said. “This is my risk to take. It’s my choice to make. So if I want to be with you, and you want me with you, just accept it.”

Namjoon wasted no time saying, “I always want you with me. That’s the problem.”

Nodding toward the door, Seokjin offered, “Going out of town is a good thing for me right now. It’ll give you a chance to concentrate on your work and what needs to be done. And we’ll kind of be testing the waters. It’ll be nice to know if me leaving your side flushes anyone out.”

The initial shock of the man who’d attacked him dying in the hospital had worn off. Murdered in the hospital, Seokjin corrected. And now he was only left with more questions than he’d ever had before.

The scariest thing, however, was knowing that they were dealing with someone not afraid to sacrifice others. That man in the hospital had been killed on the very chance that he might say something to wrong person, or have the wrong information worked out of him. Someone much higher than him hadn’t even wanted to take that chance, and that was frightening.

Seokjin still held to the notion that his had been someone making a statement, and it had been more for shock value than anything else. He didn’t think he had a bounty on his head. He just also knew Namjoon thought otherwise.

“And I’m not going alone,” Seokjin pointed out. He reached out to straighten the robe Namjoon wore. “Nothing is going to go wrong while I’m out of town. I’m just going to go to a conference that I’m sure you would find terribly boring, and then I’ll come home. But, and I mean but in the most impossible way, if something goes wrong—”

“Not helping my paranoia,” Namjoon interjected.

“Then,” Seokjin continued, “I feel sorry for the bastard who wants to come at me.”

That made Namjoon laugh, and in turn, Seokjin felt a rush of happiness in himself.

“Right?” he pressed Namjoon.

“Right,” Namjoon agreed, pulling Seokjin tight a tight hug.

Seokjin hadn’t been the one to tell Jimin that he’d been volunteered to go with Seokjin to his conference. Namjoon had handled all that, and Seokjin was thankful. Because inevitably, Jimin was going to ask why Seokjin had suggested him, especially after he’d admonished Jimin a way for the very thing days earlier.

In a lot of ways, Seokjin still felt like a hypocrite. He’d refused to be the reason that Jimin got his toe in the door concerning the territory he was heading into. He’d taken the higher ground when it had been brought up. But then for Namjoon, to comfort Namjoon, Seokjin had backtracked quickly.

He didn’t think there was any word but hypocrisy to describe what he’d done.

Seokjin tried to justify it to himself. He tried to say it was to calm Namjoon’s nerves, and his own, but really, at the root of it all, it had been bugging Seokjin that Jimin had asked something of him, and Seokjin had denied him.

Maybe this would make Namjoon feel better. But more important than that, Seokjin felt like he was doing something for Jimin—for someone who never asked for anything.

The more he thought about it, the more he was sure this was about Jimin, and no one else.

It was about the guilt he was still carrying around for Jimin and Jimin’s feelings for him. It was about Seokjin feeling like he was at fault for how everything had turned out with Jimin’s heart, whether that was rational or not.

“I may not like you going,” Namjoon said, and that was no great mystery. “But I trust Jimin. I know he’ll have your back. And anyone who tries to go at you, has to get through him first. Frankly, I do feel sorry for anyone trying to go through him, because he’ll rip them apart just for breathing in your direction.”

One day it was going to come out, Seokjin knew. One day, someone was going to spill the beans about Jimin’s feelings for Seokjin. Seokjin himself wasn’t going to be that person, but Jimin was so good at bottling his feelings up until they burst, so that was a possibility. And lately Taehyung had been looking knowingly between the two of them in a way that meant he’d certainly picked up on something. Taehyung had kept quiet, but Seokjin was certain he knew.

“I’ll be safe with him,” Seokjin assured Namjoon. “You know Jimin. You know he’ll see this through. And then when we both come back safe and sound, you can pat each other on the backs and tell each other how amazing you are.”

Namjoon rolled his eyes. “How about you both just come back? I don’t doubt he’ll keep you safe if someone makes a play for you. I’m not sure you won’t end up strangling him in his sleep at some point the first time he gets into a disagreement with you.”

“We’re not that bad anymore,” Seokjin said, and felt comfortable in the honesty of the statement.

He and Jimin were still radically different people. They still saw the world in drastically different ways. But they’d also bonded through their experiences. Jimin seemed to accept that Seokjin was always going to place kindness to others at the forefront of his actions. And Seokjin understood Jimin’s actions for what they were most of the time.

They were finally speaking the same language, Seokjin believed.

And they weren’t going to kill each other over the two-day conference.

“No,” Namjoon agreed. “You two are kind of a miracle story, as far as I’m concerned. I always knew Jimin would fall in line with your importance to me. I always knew he’d accept you. I just never thought you’d be friends. And I think that’s what you are now.”

“We are,” Seokjin insisted. “It’s not an easy friendship, or a typical one, but we’re definitely friends.”

Namjoon’s eyes drifted over to the clock across the room. Jimin was set to be there in less than fifteen minutes. Jimin always cut it close when it came to deadlines, but he was hardly ever late.

“Just promise me one thing,” Namjoon said.

“I’ll be careful,” Seokjin said.

Namjoon shook his head. “Not that. I know you will be. And for all my nervousness and paranoia, I know you’re going to be okay.”

“Then what?”

Seriousness set onto Namjoon’s face. “If someone does try and get at you, promise me you won’t let Jimin kill anyone.”

Fright rocked it way through Seokjin’s body. “What?” he demanded.

“We need answers,” Namjoon said, cold and unflinching. Seokjin hated when he was like this—like the head of Bangtan had to be. “If Jimin kills someone trying to hurt you, we don’t get those answers. Stop him, if you can. If it happens.”

So Namjoon could get his answers? So Namjoon could be the one to make the kill?

“Namjoon,” he said, disapprovingly.

“I need to know why,” Namjoon said harshly. “Is there a new player on the scene? Is someone just testing the waters? Is this a message? Is it nothing? I need answers, because without answers, I don’t know how to keep you safe.”

A heavy first pounded on the door, and then the sound of a key scraping into the lock followed.

Seokjin dropped a surprise a kiss onto Namjoon’s mouth and murmured, “I’ll call you when we get checked into the hotel, okay?”

Jimin was pushing open the door a few seconds later. He paused in the doorway, looking between the two of them oddly, then he asked, “We still going?”

Seokjin said promptly, “Of course I’m still going. I hope you aren’t backing out.”

Jimin made a sound between a laugh and a scoff before saying, “I never back out of anything.”

“I believe that,” Seokjin said as he breezed by, suitcase in hand.

“Neither do you,” Jimin called after him.

Seokjin was certain stern words were passing between Namjoon and Jimin as he loaded the car up with his luggage. He could guess what kind of conversation they were having, too. But none of that interested Seokjin. Instead he focused on Jimin’s bike parked next to his car, a duffle bag strapped to the back. By the time Seokjin placed it alongside his own in the trunk, both Jimin and Namjoon were heading down the apartment stairs and towards him.

Namjoon looked a little out of place, standing in their driveway in his robe, but when the sun caught his form from behind, Seokjin wanted nothing more than to go back to bed with him. He probably would have, if Namjoon had simply asked once more.

Namjoon must have known that too, by the look he was sending in Seokjin’s direction.

“These two days are just going to fly by,” Seokjin said, moving to Namjoon’s side and practically falling into his waiting embrace. Seokjin was always overly conscious of his displays of affection now, whenever Jimin was around, but Seokjin couldn’t help himself. He needed to go. He wanted to go. But he was still going to miss the man he loved all the same.

Namjoon, bless him, forced a smile to his face and insisted, “You’re going to kick so much ass at this conference. You’re gonna blow them out of the water.”

“I’m attending to learn something,” Seokjin replied with a grin, soaking in Namjoon’s firm body against his own, and the feeling of security it provided.  “I’m not teaching anything.”

Namjoon’s worn, calloused hands cupped his face tenderly, and he said, “That’s where you’re wrong. You’re always teaching someone something.”

Behind them, Jimin announced, “I learned how to hotwire these kinds of cars when I was twelve. I will do it, just so I can run the both of you over, unless you’re done making me so sick to my stomach.”

Namjoon laughed, but that was probably only because he couldn’t detect the hurt in Jimin’s voice that Seokjin could.

Seokjin let his mouth brush against Namjoon’s and said, “Watch after Jungkook, okay? That little brat probably thinks he can do whatever he wants while I’m gone. Don’t let him get into too much trouble. And take care of yourself, too. I want to come back to you just like I’m leaving you. No exceptions.”

With finality and acceptance, and a whole lot of love, Namjoon kissed him back once and urged, “Have a great time at your conference, okay? You’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and I want you to have the best time you could possibly have. And when you come home, I’ll be right here, waiting for you.”

In a lot of ways, even if it was just for a short period of time, it was their first real separation. Seokjin had been snatched out of his clinic a few times, and he and Namjoon had fought infrequently, but with enough ferocity to put days of distance between them. But this was the first time they were leaving each other during a high point in their relationship, and without there being any real friction instigating it.

It was a test, Seokjin surmised. They functioned very well as a unit, and they’d been perfectly fine on their own before they’d been in a relationship. But this was the first test to determine how well they did on their own, now that their relationship had changed them.

“I only need like ten seconds to do it,” Jimin added.

“Better go,” Seokjin said, squeezing Namjoon’s hand. “I don’t want you to get run over. I kind of like you.”

“I love you,” Namjoon said back fiercely, even after Seokjin had already started towards the car.

When Seokjin reached the driver’s side Jimin was there waiting for him. The shorter male offered, “You want me to drive? Then you can stick your head out the window and gaze lovingly at your boyfriend for as long as you possible can.”

“Or until you take a corner too sharply?” Seokjin challenged. He kept the keys to the car squarely in his palm and gestured at Jimin’s bike. “I’ll drive, thank you. I don’t want my car to look like your bike.”

“That was not my fault,” Jimin protested hotly.

“Nah,” Seokjin allowed facetiously. “It’s not like you didn’t already confess that you were rushing, and not really paying attention.”

Seokjin hadn’t commented on it before then, but the damage to Jimin’s bike was more substantial than he’d been lead to believe. It was definitely still drivable, but the cosmetic damage was terrible. It was going to cost a lot to fix, and it really highlighted how lucky Jimin was. With the way the bike looked, he could have been hurt much worse than the gash he’d had on his arm.

Jimin groaned “You’re going to lecture me the entire way there, aren’t you?”

Namjoon waved from behind them, offering up, “Have fun, Jimin. Expect those lectures while you’re there, and on the way home, too!”

“Murder me,” Jimin said as he rounded to the passenger side of the car.

“I love you,” Seokjin called faintly to Namjoon when Jimin was already in the car. He never wanted to hurt Jimin on purpose. He never wanted to flaunt his relationship with Namjoon. But he did love Namjoon, and he had to say it before he left. Just in case.

“I’ll keep Jungkook breathing while you’re away,” Namjoon promised. “How about you do the same with Jimin. I like him, you know. And he’s pretty handy.”

Seokjin popped open the door and told him, “No promises.”

Then he was in, the door was shut, and he didn’t let himself look back. He didn’t trust himself not to turn the car around if he did.

They made it twenty-five minutes out of Seoul before the conversation that Seokjin had known all along was coming, happened.

He’d been hoping, of course, that it wouldn’t happen until later that night, when they went out to dinner, and were relaxed He hadn’t wanted to have the conversation in the car, where there was no escape and the both of them were still trying to acclimate to each other.

Jimin absolutely had no patience, however, it seemed. So they were having it now.

Twenty-five minutes out of Seoul, and Jimin asked, “How did you convince Rap Mon to let me come with you?”

Seokjin pointedly kept his eyes on the road, but did respond, “I didn’t convince him of anything.”

“You said something to him,” Jimin pressed back. “You said enough to him that he came to me and asked me to come with you like I was doing him a favor. So did you get him on board with my plan? Did you—”

“Your plan,” Seokjin interrupted, “is stupid. I hope you see that. It’s not even a real plan, but if it was, a plan consisting of snooping around in another gang’s territory, it would be a stupid one.”

Jimin snorted in a defusing way. “The Triad? They’re a bunch of babies. What do you think they’d do to me if they caught me?”

This was why Seokjin hadn’t wanted to have the conversation in the car. Because he wasn’t sure his anger and Jimin’s bravado could exist in such a small space.

“They are not babies,” Seokjin said back with punctuated annoyance. “These are grown men, who are obviously smart enough and capable enough to organize themselves. You’re discounting them because their gangs aren’t very old. But Jimin, do you remember what happened the last time a gang discounted another?”

From the corner of his eye, he could see Jimin tense up, likely reliving bad memories.

Softer, Seokjin reminded, “You seem to think that Bangtan beat Infinite because you guys were smarter or stronger, or something like that. But you won because your opponent underestimated you. You won because you were creative and intuitive, and because Namjoon didn’t have the kind of ego that you seem to be carrying around.”

Jimin made to speak, but Seokjin interrupted again with a sharp sound from his throat.

“I should have died, Jimin. Do you get that?  I was in the lion’s den with people who wanted to dangle me as bait—who tried to do that, but ultimately wanted to kill me.”

There was emotion thick in Jimin’s voice as he murmured out, “I know you almost died. I fucking know, okay?”

The road was relatively thin on traffic, so Seokjin took his eyes off the lane ahead of him to glance briefly as Jimin. “I’m not saying this to hurt you,” he emphasized. “Or to bring up bad memories. I’m telling you because you’re smarter than this. You’re better than this. Do not underestimate someone else, especially if you don’t really know anything about them to begin with. I don’t want us to be Infinite in this scenario.”

Jimin didn’t look happy with his words, but he also wasn’t rebuking them.

Seokjin let some silence pass in the car, and concentrated on the road ahead of them. They didn’t have a terribly long drive, but it wasn’t a short one, either. The conference was due to start just before noon, however, and Seokjin wanted to reach the hotel before then.

So fifteen minutes after Jimin had first started the conversation, Seokjin said, “I didn’t tell Namjoon that you wanted to use me to poke around. I didn’t say anything of the sort, and I promise you the only reason you’re with me is because he’s forgotten about that Triad nonsense.”

“Of course he has,” Jimin said, unreadable in his tone. “Someone tried to kill you. That’s all any of us is thinking of.”

Seokjin said, “You’re right. This whole business has people rattled. That’s why I asked Namjoon to send you with me. Not because I think I need a keeper, not because I want you to get into the trouble I know you’re bound to get into. But because I can’t stand to see people I love be unhappy, anxious, or just worry themselves to the grave.”

Jimin surmised, “So you did this for him.”

Seokjin cut him a sharp look. “I did it for you, too.”

That seemed to startle Jimin. “Me? Me too?”

“Of course you, too.” Seokjin let out a long breath. “Jimin, I know this is a hard thing for us to talk about—our relationship, your feelings, and me being in love with Namjoon. It’s not just hard, it hurts. But the bottom line is, I like you a lot. I care about you. And like the other members of Bangtan, I’m starting to love you. You’re starting to feel like a brother to me.”

Tensely, but with some humor for levity, Jimin said, “Probably the kind of brother you should have had. Not the lovey-dovey, understanding brother you actually got. Brothers are supposed to go for each other’s throat’s most of the time, you know.”

Seokjin gripped the wheel a little tighter and asked, “But that’s not how you were with your brother, were you?”

“You …” Jimin looked at him with such furry. “Who told you about him?” Betrayal. More than furry, Jimin looked betrayed.

Instead of answering the question, Seokjin offered up, “I think it’s a stereotype to think that brothers can’t be kind and loving to each other. It’s definitely a stereotype to say that brothers just fight all the time, and are competitive, and have to act a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with my relationship with Jungkook. I love that we’re so close. I love that we can tease each other, but at the end of the day, we can be affectionate, too, and tactile. I like hugging my brother, and not fighting with him, and telling him I love him.”

Though to a point, Seokjin did think that had a lot to do with him practically raising Jungkook. Maybe they’d had a father physically during their childhood, but emotionally Seokjin had filled the void their father left, and that probably impacted the dynamic of their relationship as brothers.

Still, Seokjin wouldn’t give up the way they were with each other for anything in the world. How could he ever want to wrestle with his brother, when they could lay together comfortably on the sofa and watch a movie, or talk, or just enjoy each other?

“Suga did, didn’t he?” Jimin asked ruthlessly. “That bastard. He’s the only one who knows more than he should.”

It might have been stepping over that glaring red line that had always been drawn by Jimin from the start, but Seokjin couldn’t help saying, “One day I hope you’ll want to talk about him. One day, I hope it won’t hurt so bad. But until you get there, I want you to know that you’re my family now, too. You’re stuck with me. And I don’t plan on wrestling you to the floor or breaking any of your toys.”

To that, Jimin didn’t give a response.

So Seokjin clarified from earlier, “I did ask for you to come to make Namjoon breathe a little easier. I love him. I don’t want him to worry. And I knew that if I had someone come along with me, especially someone he trusts, that he’d actually be able to sleep at night. But I also asked you to come because I know that this is something that’s been under your skin for a while. I know Namjoon thinks you’re wrong, but I also know your gut is telling you something. So I thought let me do this for Jimin, too. So you’ll have your answer no matter what, of what’s going on, and we can put this behind us.”

Jimin shifted in his seat, maybe uncomfortably, and said, “But you didn’t tell him. You didn’t tell him what you know I plan to do while I’ve got all that free time during your conference. That’s the part I don’t understand. How could you not tell him?”

He couldn’t just tell Jimin because he felt guilty. Because he felt like he owed something to Jimin because of the man’s feelings for him—feelings that could never be returned.

Steadily, Seokjin said, “I didn’t tell him because I’m hoping you’ll come through for me.”

“How? What do you mean?”

“I’m hoping,” Seokjin said, “that you’ll go poking your nose around with some tact and grace. I’m hoping, maybe foolishly, that you won’t just think blundering around with the assumption that being in Bangtan gives you clout, is the way to go. I’m practically begging, Jimin, that you don’t get caught, you don’t make trouble, and this doesn’t get back to Namjoon.”

“So you don’t have to tell him,” Jimin guessed.

“I’ll have to tell him if you do find something,” Seokjin said with a shrug. “He’s going to want to know where the information came from, if there is any. And I’m not going to lie to him. Not directly at least—I already feel terrible doing this.”

“Then …” Jimin trailed off.

Honestly, Seokjin said, “I know you don’t doubt your gut. I know you’re convinced that there’s something going on with these gangs comprising this Triad. But I’m really crossing my fingers that you find absolutely nothing. And that when your curiosity is sated, I don’t have to tell Namjoon that I snuck you in under his nose.”

“I can’t believe it,” Jimin said, clearly more to himself than Seokjin.

There was some congestion ahead on the road, so Seokjin slowed the car, and it was a moment for him to agree, “I don’t believe I’m doing this, either. I promised myself I wouldn’t lie to Namjoon about anything, ever. And this is a lie by omission. But for you? To make you feel better? Sometimes I guess bending that moral compass of mine is just something that has to happen. I’ll take the consequences as they come.”

“Jin,” Jimin said in a strangled way.

“Because you’re my brother,” Seokjin said, looking once more to him. “Like it or not, you are. I tried to keep myself separate from Bangtan for a long time. I tried to keep you at arm’s length, or delude myself into the notion that we could just be friends. But we’re more than that. We’re family. What you’ve all done for me, for Jungkook, and for our family, is amazing. And even if I wanted to say otherwise, the truth would still be that you are my family now. So I’m going to do this for you, even if it’s going against my better judgement, because I don’t want you to have that uneasy feeling in your stomach.”

Jimin said in a huff, “This is why brothers should just wrestle each other.”

“Promise me,” Seokjin said to him. “Promise me you will do your best to act with caution. Promise me that you’ll know when enough is enough, even if you don’t find anything. Please don’t let this blow up in our faces. Because it’s a lot more than just me or you on the line if this goes south. I do hope you’ve thought of that.”

“Jeeze,” Jimin eased out, “I’m impulsive, but I’m not impossible.”

“I know,” Seokjin agreed. Contrary to some past examples, Jimin could think things through and not act selfishly. “But Namjoon and Yoongi, and everyone in Bangtan fought long and hard for us to get to where we are. I know you’re being ruled by what your gut says right now, but don’t dismiss Namjoon’s point on this matter. We have peace right now because everyone is staying in their lane. No one is rocking the boat. If we’re the ones to do that, when we’re the ones who’re dictating this period of peace, how will that make us look?”

Jimin looked darkly at him and said in a matching tone, “There’s nothing peaceful about what happened to you. And that bastard Kim Sunggyu better be glad he’s dead, because if I’d gotten my hands on him, he’d be much, much worse off.”

Seokjin wasn’t surprised. He often remarked that under Jimin’s hard shell—the shell he’d built up to protect himself after all of the loss and pain he’d endured growing up, was a squishy and soft Jimin that just wanted to be loved and cared for. But Seokjin wasn’t exactly delusional. Like Namjoon, Jimin was capable of all kinds of untold things, and wouldn’t hesitate to do them if they were necessary.

That wasn’t something Seokjin thought about often, but he knew the first life Namjoon had taken hadn’t been Woohyun’s. And Jimin had probably been very young when he’d taken his pound of flesh from the monsters that had destroyed his family.

It was likely, as well, that the other members of Bangtan, like Hoseok, Yoongi, and Taehyung, all had blood on their hands. Seokjin wasn’t asking, but he wasn’t ignorant, either.

He just hoped, maybe foolishly, that Jungkook could hold onto his innocence in that way, if only for a while longer. There was peace now. Infinite was mostly gone. Jungkook certainly hadn’t admitted to hurting anyone, or taking a life, and so Seokjin decided to believe that that was true.

He honestly didn’t know what he was going to do if the moment came that he had to recognize the level of violence Jungkook was capable of. He’d seen his brother firing a gun before. But he thought that was a far cry from the day his brother might possible confess to him that he’d taken a life in the name of something righteous.

“—istening to me?”

Seokjin glanced over at Jimin. “Of course I am.”

“Liar,” Jimin said, with some amusement. “I bet you were busy thinking about how you’re going to win a Nobel peace prize, or something like that.”

Seokjin rolled his eyes. “So are you going to make that promise to me?”

“To be a good boy?”

“Essentially,” Seokjin said. “And I trust you know that if you give your word to me, it means something. It has weight. I’m trusting that if you promise me something, you’ll do everything in your power to keep that promise.”

Jimin leaned an elbow up on the windowsill and said in a convincing, honest way, “Yeah, I know. You’re big on words meaning something.”

“They mean everything,” Seokjin corrected.

Clearly tempered, Seokjin was pleased to hear Jimin say, “Fine, fine. This is me, making that promise to you. I promise you, if I look into things, I’ll be careful. If I find nothing, I’ll back off. I won’t put you in danger. I won’t put Bangtan I danger. I won’t put peace in danger. You’ve got my word. Happy?”

“I am,” Seokjin said, perking. “Because I trust you. I trust your word.”

Jimin wailed, “My teeth are rotting.”

Seokjin wasn’t buying that for a second, and urged, “Come on, fess up. You love it when we have these conversations. You love it when I say mushy, emotional things to you. You love me being soft on you.”

“Do not,” Jimin whined out in an unbelievable way.

“See?” Seokjin needled. “Isn’t this better? Who wants to wrestle and break each other’s bones when we can have emotional moments like these and really talk about our feelings.”

Jimin palmed dramatically on the car window. “Help. Someone help me.”

Seokjin laughed. “Want to spends turns tonight talking about our ideal type of boyfriends? And gossiping about the newest drama on television?”

“I will,” Jimin vowed, “throw myself from this car and take the easy way out.”

With a touch of seriousness, Seokjin asked, “It’s okay that I treat you like a brother, right? It’s okay that I tell you I see you as family, and that you matter to me in ways that Jungkook matters to me, right?”

Jimin replied, “I’m not offended.”

Miffed, Seokjin said, “There’s a difference between being offended by something, and not being okay with it. I can … I can try and tone down my feelings for you, if that’s what you want. I can try and be more careful with what I say, and how I see you.”

Bluntly, almost painfully so, Jimin said, “I wish you’d love me. Not as a brother, either. I wish you could look at me and feel the same way that you feel about Rap Mon. And the fact that you don’t? The fact that you never will, it smarts. It sucks.”

Seokjin’s first instinct was to apologize. It was always to apologize.

“But,” Jimin rushed to say, “the idea that you could love me in any way, and see me as your family? That’s…” Jimin visibly had to stop himself to breathe evenly for a few moments.

Seokjin was determined not to interrupt him.

“I’m okay with it,” Jimin said finally, and that was probably as close to a sweeping declaration as Seokjin was going to get. And it was definitely enough.

“Good,” Seokjin said, satisfied. “Now, should we commence fighting over the radio for the next few hours? Or are you going to save us both a lot of time and energy and just let me pick?”

Jimin arched an eyebrow and quipped, “I guess so. I mean, you are the big brother here.”

“I see you’re finally starting to come around,” Seokjin chuckled.

But he was a self-confessed softie, so he let Jimin pick anyway. Because Seokjin was always too easy on his little brother, and in that moment, Jimin was.

Chapter Text

There was disbelief in Jungkook’s voice when he said, “Oh my god, Jin. You’ve seriously been away twelve hours. Are you kidding me?”

“What?” Seokjin demanded. “I’m just—”

Jungkook interrupted, “—calling to make sure I’m still breathing, or that I haven’t decide to rob a bank or something.”

Seokjin replied knowingly, “That’s just ridiculous. We both know you’d never willingly go into a bank, not since you got lost in a bathroom there.”

Jungkook sputtered. “How dare you! I was six and that was a big bathroom!”

Standing next to Seokjin, a long-time friend of his, and one of the people he’d most been looking forward to reconnecting with at the conference, gave a laugh. Jungkook was speaking loud enough for her to hear, not that Seokjin was trying to contain the privacy of the conversation at all.

“Who is that?” Jungkook ordered, “That’s a girl!”

Seokjin raised an eyebrow at the woman standing next to him, and tipped the phone in her direction.

She wasted no time saying, “Jungkook, you’d better learn some respect and not talk to your brother like you are.” She had a smile on her face even as she worked to sound tern. “I have personally changed your diapers, so don’t you test me on this. I know more dirt about you than you will ever be able to guess, even if you tried.”

Jungkook didn’t speak for a few seconds, then he asked, “Jin? Who is that?”

“Your worst nightmare,” she supplied, “you little brat.”

Seokjin let himself laugh as he said, “If you’d been listening at all, you would know that I was planning on meeting up with Sunmi while I was here.”

Shakily, Jungkook asked, “Lee Sunmi?”

“Remember me now, right?”

Seokjin pushed at her gently. “Jungkook, I told you she was a speaker here.”

She’d been the kind of childhood friend that Minah had been. And now that he thought about it, the fact that he’d surrounded himself grouping up with people who’d one day become brilliant doctors, maybe said something about how his life had been destined to turn out.

Lee Sunmi, who’d been three years Seokjin’s senior, had been the daughter of his mother’s best friend. So while she’d been alive, their families had been close. They’d drifted, naturally, after her death. But Seokjin hadn’t really lost contact with Sunmi, not even as she’d gone to college, and then medical school, and then begun pioneering new medical techniques.

She was a gorilla-style kind of doctor. The term was a little demeaning, or at least it was considered so by some people, but it was fitting in a way. Some doctors wanted the posh office, and the state-of-the-art equipment, and the fancy lab. Some doctors wanted to be the first to use the new techniques being developed.

And then there were doctors like Sunmi, who were the ones developing those techniques. She was the one throwing herself into unknown waters—uncharted territory, innovating, challenging, and utterly destroying preconceived notions.

She’d once performed an intensive, almost impossible surgery in the middle of the Malaysian jungle, to save a young man’s life. He’d taken a nasty fall and hit his head. There’d been intercranial swelling, and the kind of building pressure that was going to kill the man before the slow bleed in him did. But she’d saved his life, with rudimentary tools, sheer determination, and a brand-new method that was now named after her.

She was the kind of doctor Seokjin aspired to be, minus the traipsing through Malaysian jungles part.

In a squeaky way, Jungkook offered, “Hi, Sunmi.”

Sunmi laughed, and then told Seokjin, “I’m looking forward to seeing you again tomorrow. Lunch is on me, okay?” She waved to him, and began to drift off into the crowd where she was drawing attention from countless people who wanted her to stop and talk with them.

“Is she still there?” Jungkook whispered.

Seokjin settled the phone back against his ear. “She’s not.”

“Jerk,” Jungkook offered up. “You should have told me—made sure I was listening.”

Seokjin didn’t tease him with the knowledge, but it was hard to forget that for years and years Jungkook had harbored a crush on her. She’d always been like a cousin to them, but when puberty had hit, it hadn’t been hard to determine the flushed look on Jungkook’s face whenever she came around.

Seokjin told him, “You should be lucky I even let you say hi. Now, tell me how everything is going in Seoul.” He was deep in the heart of the convention hall, but the day was mostly over and Seokjin was ready to get back to the hotel and change out of his clothes and into something more comfortable. He’d promised Jimin he’d wait for him to get there before going outside, but Seokjin as starting to get impatient.

“You mean assure you that your boyfriend hasn’t decided to end it all because he can’t live without you at arm’s length?”

Seokjin ignored that jab. “Did you go to class today?”

“I go every day,” Jungkook reminded. “I think you’d string me up if I didn’t.”

Seokjin didn’t mind pointing out, “I wouldn’t. Come on, you know I’ve always supported your choices as an adult.  But you’ve definitely been enjoying that stipend dad set aside for you, you know, the one you used to buy that car with, and pay your rent with, and buy your food with.”

“Jin,” Jungkook whined out.

“Call a spade a spade,” Seokjin said without any bite. “However, since you’ve pointed out your mandatory attendance, how about you just settle with telling me how your day went.”

There was obvious happiness in Jungkook’s voice as he said, “Pretty good, actually. We’re working on our midterm projects right now in my music comp class. It sucked in the beginning, you know, trying to figure out what my project was going to be. But I’ve got it narrowed down now, and I think I’m making progress.”

“You always find you way,” Seokjin complimented. “You’re good at that, Jungkook. Even if you take your time getting there, sometimes.”

“We have to present our projects for our final grade,” Jungkook said, an edge to his voice. “Twice, actually. Once to the class, and once to the public. The university is having an open house just before midterms. Everyone has to present there, too.”

And, Seokjin knew without it being said, Jungkook wanted him there. Seokjin spoke his brother fluently enough to know when something was being hinted at, and when something was important to Jungkook.

Not to mention this would be Jungkook’s first open house at the University. It would be the first time he’d attended University that friends and family were invited to view student projects and see demonstrations.

“Do I get an actual invite,” Seokjin asked, starting to push through the crowd of people towards the front of the convention hall. When Jimin did decide to show up, he wanted to be ready to go. “Or will you spring the details on me at the last second?”

In a rushed way, Jungkook said, “You don’t have to come, you know. It’s just midterms. It’s not even the final. And it’s just this stupid project that doesn’t even mean anything, anyway. It’s not—”

“Jungkook,” Seokjin said gently. “How many times did you come to something at my school for me?”

“Practically every weekend,” Jungkook told him. “You’re a total nerd, Jin. You were always doing a million things, and winning awards, and being the best.”

Seokjin let himself step to the side, out of the flow of people, so he could tell his brother, “And you were always there. Always. It didn’t matter if you had something else you wanted to do, or you were bored out of your mind, you were always there. You never let me down. You always supported me.”

“You’re my brother,” Jungkook reminded. “And even when I was bored, I wanted to be there.”

Seokjin very much doubted the absoluteness of that statement, but Jungkook’s support had always meant the world to him. Their father had rarely come to Seokjin’s events at school. He simply hadn’t had the time, or maybe the motivation. Seokjin had learned long ago not to take that personally, and what had helped was having Jungkook there.

When Seokjin had graduated college, he’d really only cared about Jungkook’s approval. And when he’d had his medical degree, Jungkook had been the first person he’d shown it to.

Maybe they were too dependent on each other, but Jungkook was everything to him, and even falling in love with Namjoon wasn’t going to change that.

“And I want to be here for this,” Seokjin told him firmly. “I’m excited to see what that mind of yours has come up with—I bet it’s brilliant. You’re brilliant.”

“Jiiinnnnnn.”

“Write the date down, will you? I’ll be there. Namjoon will, too. We’ll all be there, cheering you on to those top marks I know you’ll deserve to get.”

“I will,” Jungkook promised.

Seokjin couldn’t help breaking the moment between them, seconds later, to ask, “Now tell me, has Namjoon gone on a rampage through Bangtan territory yet? Or is he hiding out in our apartment?”

Jungkook’s laughter filtered through the phoneline before he said, “Neither, actually. You must have said something good to him before you left. He’s kind of holding it down here right now. I can see him where I’m standing.”

“Where are you?” Seokjin pressed. He stopped to consider for a second that maybe he’d been wrong when he’d thought that Namjoon would have a hard time with their separation. Maybe it was just Seokjin who was destined to struggle.

Jungkook said easily, “I’m just watching the perimeter right now. Rap Mon’s inside with Suho doing business.”

“Should you be on the phone with me right now, then?” The last thing he wanted was to distract his brother when he was working. He wasn’t going to put Jungkook or Namjoon in danger just so he could chat with his brother.

It did a lot to ease Seokjin’s worry that Jungkook told him right away, and not in a rushed or tense way, “Nah. We vetted the area heavily before either of them ever got near this place, and there’s about a dozen of us here just where I’m standing. Security is tight. Maybe there’s even too much. Trust me, I’m good to talk. Nothing’s going to happen.”

Breathing out in relief, Seokjin wanted to know, “He looks okay, then? He’s fine?”

Again, from the start of their conversation, Jungkook said plainly, “It’s been twelve hours since you left. Not even I could sabotage myself in twelve hours.”

Calming himself, Seokjin admitted, “I’m overacting. Okay. I get it. I’m the problem here.”

“You’re not a problem, Jin. You’re just in mom mode. Turn that off, okay? You haven’t been this bad since I joined up with Bangtan.”

He knew Jungkook was right. He’d spent so much time deluding himself into thinking Namjoon would be the worrier, but in the end, it was always just going to be Seokjin.

All the same, he couldn’t help asking, “Stay with him tonight? For a while, at least. If you’re not supposed to be somewhere, or if nothing is going on, tell Namjoon you want to hang out. Or get Yoongi to do it. Anything. Just don’t let Namjoon be alone in that apartment by himself.” Seokjin was too worried that if he was by himself, Namjoon’s thoughts would run away from him.

“I am really scared for what you’re going to be like when you actually have kids, Jin.”

His brother’s lighthearted remarks hit deep in him, and some of the tension was lifted.

“Honestly,” he said back, “I’m a little scared, too.”

Alleviating some concern, Jungkook promised, “I’ll get some guys together and make sure Rap Mon doesn’t emo himself to death. What a way to go.”

“Thank you,” Seokjin said.

Almost too excitedly, Jungkook asked, “Have you strangled Jimin to death yet?”

“Like you said, it’s only been twelve hours.”

“Twelve hours, sure. But you spent like four of those sitting in a confined space with him. If he’s dead, you really gotta let me know. He pays the other half of the rent.”

Seokjin said dryly, “That’s so pragmatic of you, Jungkook.”

“I also have a bet with V.  He thinks you won’t kill him until tomorrow. I think it’ll be tonight. There’s a thousand won riding on this.”

Seokjin started his trek towards the front of the building again, merging with the crowd as he told Jungkook, “Only a thousand won? You’re letting me down, Jungkook.”

He could practically see the thousand-watt smile on Jungkook’s face.

“Actually,” he said, finally stepping out into the warmth of the day and away from the conference hall’s air conditioner, “I haven’t even seen Jimin all that much today.” He wanted to be careful with what he said. He didn’t want to let Jungkook know in the slightest what Jimin had likely been up to the entire day.

Because Seokjin was absolutely certain that no matter how much Jungkook loved Bangtan and making a difference in the lives of others, that his loyalty first and foremost was to Seokjin. So if Seokjin asked him to withhold information, or even blatantly lie, Seokjin knew he’d do it.

That was why Seokjin never wanted to put Jungkook in that position. He never wanted to be someone who put that conflict in Jungkook. The easier option was just to keep his mouth shut about Jimin, but still stick as close to the truth as possible.

“He’s supposed to be there as your security,” Jungkook said in a frustrated way.

The phone vibrated then in his hand, with perfect timing, and across the screen was a message from Jimin that traffic was thick but he was on his way.

Seokjin wanted to text him back with a threat about the car. He’d pressed the keys into Jimin’s hand earlier that day, just after noon when the conference had started, and Seokjin hadn’t had need of it again.

He’d said, “I’m trusting you with my father’s car, Jimin.”

Jimin had cut back, “It’s your car, Jin.”

To Jin, it would always be his father’s. His father had a way of retaining ownership of things even after his death.

“Do not,” he’d said sharply, with anxiety, “make me regret this.”

He’d give the car to Jimin because he hadn’t wanted Jimin to feel confined to the hotel room all day long, or limited with his mobility. Jimin wasn’t someone who did well with limitations, or conformities.

And Seokjin was awfully nervous about Jimin poking his nose around in the area. But it seemed like he had a better chance of Jimin being successful, if he had a car at his disposal.

The real test, it seemed, would be when Jimin was able to fight his way through traffic and Seokjin could get his first real look at the car after hours of separation.

“I wasn’t going to have it him in the conference with me,” Seokjin told Jungkook like it was the only possible answer to the unspoken accusation. “Jungkook, imagine Jimin having to sit in a room for six hours, not fidget, and listen to people that he finds bland and boring, talk about things that go right over his head. Putting him in the room with me would have been the worst idea in the world.”

Jungkook shot back, “How’s he supposed to keep an eye on you, huh, if he’s not in the room with you?”

“I think you’re forgetting again that I’m the big brother and you’re the little brother.”

Someone called his name further down and Seokjin turned. A couple of old friends were waving at him, and Seokjin waved back. He would have liked, despite his worry, to spend more time in the area. He knew a lot of people who were attending the conference, who were friends from college and medical school. It would have been nice to spend a few days catching up with them.

But it was also nice to know that he was going home the following day, back to Jungkook, back to his clinic, and back to Namjoon.

“This is your little brother,” Jungkook said, “reminding you that the whole point of Jimin being there, is that he’s there.”

If only to calm Jungkook’s nerves, Seokjin said, “Jimin dropped me off here earlier, I haven’t left the conference hall since then, and I’m waiting for Jimin to come get me. Then, I assume, we’ll get some dinner, go back to the hotel room that we’re sharing, and rinse and repeat tomorrow.”

Jungkook asked, “Not the hotel part, though, right? You’re coming home tomorrow, right?”

“Right,” Seokjin assured. “The second day goes until about seven tomorrow, and then it’ll be several hours drive back to Seoul, but I will be back tomorrow night. Why? Are you going to be waiting up for me?”

A honk sounded and Seokjin saw his father’s car pull up, Jimin in the driver’s seat.

The car looked immaculate, too, which was a relief.

“Jimin’s here,” Seokjin interrupted whatever Jungkook was going to say. “Be safe, okay?”

“You say that all the time,” Jungkook reminded.

“You’re always doing things that make me feel like I have to say it. I’ve got to go. Remind Namjoon I’ll call him later when you get the chance, okay?”

“Okay, okay,” Jungkook said, and then they were ending the call.

Seokjin had barely been in the car for a moment, sliding into the passenger seat and setting his bag down on the floorboard, before Jimin said, “As you can see, your car is in pristine condition.”

“I can see,” Seokjin agreed.

Jimin took them away from the conference hall, which was still horribly packed, and asked, “Were you talking with Rap Mon?”

“Jungkook,” Seokjin corrected.

Jimin hummed a little. “I talked to Suga earlier. He said everything’s been quiet there.”

Seokjin watched the lights flash by them as they passed buildings. “That must make you happy. You can’t stand not being somewhere if there’s something happening.”

“You say that like it’s bad thing,” Jimin pointed out. He waited a few more seconds before asking, “Was your … meeting thing good?”

“Meeting thing,” Seokjin chuckled. “Conference. It’s a conference, which means there are speakers, activities, and lots of educational material to digest.”

Jimin made a snoring sound.

“To you,” Seokjin told him, not offended. “To me? Things have improved greatly for my clinic. I’m not always looking over my shoulder now, we’re not living month to month in terms of funding, and we’re bigger than ever. But we still have a lot of limitations. I’m certain that the things I’m learning today, may save lives one day, if someone happens to stumble into my clinic, instead of a big hospital.”

Jimin shot him a look from the corner of his eye. “But you went to medical school. You’re like a genius and you went young, too. Don’t you already know everything?”

Relaxing down into his seat, Seokjin let himself sink into it and said with a grin, “That’s very nice of you to say, but trust me. I could go back to school every day for the rest of my life, and I still wouldn’t come close to knowing everything I want to in my medical field. So the best I can do is put my knowledge into practical use, and never stop trying to be better.”

In a joking way, Jimin said, “Nerd.”

Seokjin only shook his head. “Let’s run back by the hotel, okay? I want to take a shower and change my clothes. Then maybe we can get some dinner?”

Jimin shrugged, and back to the hotel they went.

Seokjin, even before he’d known Jimin was coming with him on the two-day trip, hadn’t booked a fancy hotel. He was always fiscally conservative, now that he had his clinic and money had such a different weight to it. But this trip was an indulgence, in a way, so he’d gone ahead and let himself splurge a little on the hotel. He’d also upgraded his room when he’d found out Jimin would be with him for certain, and they’d need two beds, instead of one.

Treating himself to a nice hotel meant a lovely bathroom, one that Seokjin certainly took his time in when they got back to the hotel. He washed thoroughly, enjoyed the spacious accommodations, and took an extra minute to primp in the large vanity mirror located in the bathroom.

By the time Seokjin emerged from the bathroom, feeling reinvigorated, Jimin was stretched out on the bed closest to the door, watching something on tv.

“Finally,” he said, rolling off the bed. “Is this what Rap Mon normally puts up with in the morning? How do the two of you survive having one bathroom?”

Seokjin challenged back, “How do you and Jungkook? Oh, that’s right, other than the toilet, the two of you don’t use the bathroom enough.”

“I wash up just fine,” Jimin declared.

Seokjin tucked away some of his shower items, and then picked up his cell phone. He swore, “We can leave for dinner in just a second, okay? Let me give Namjoon a quick call, and then we’re out of here.” He moved towards the balcony for some privacy.

As he was stepping out on the small but quaint space, he heard Jimin call after him, “Be thankful I’m here and not V! V would have already started eating parts of this room if it was him!”

When Seokjin called Namjoon, he was half worried that the man wouldn’t be able to pick up. If he’d been meeting with Suho earlier, something important must have been going on. However, his fears were laid to the side when after just a couple of rings, Namjoon’s warm voice came across.

“I miss you,” Seokjin, embarrassingly enough, couldn’t help blurting out.

“I miss you too,” Namjoon replied right away. “I keep thinking I’m going to go home tonight and you’ll be there waiting for me. And earlier I was going to call you and ask if you wanted me to bring home dinner. I keep forgetting you’re so far away.”

“Not that far,” Seokjin said, leaning on the balcony’s railing. “But far enough, I guess.”

Namjoon asked, “Are you having a good time, at least?”

“The best,” Seokjin said, and that wasn’t a lie or embellishment. “The conference is going really well, and there are a lot of people here I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m enjoying myself. I’m glad I came.”

They chatted, easily enough, about mundane topics.  Whatever Namjoon was doing in that moment, he definitely made it seem like Seokjin was the priority, and Seokjin was simply enjoying the rough deepness to Namjoon’s voice. What they were talking about didn’t matter, just that they were talking.

“No problems up there?” Namjoon did ask eventually.

Seokjin looked out over the cityscape laid out before him. His and Jimin’s room wasn’t terribly high up, just five stories, but the city was flat, so he could see for miles. It was a beautiful sight, against the setting sun.

“None,” Seokjin said, feeling blessed he could say that.

“Good,” Namjoon said a little gruffly.

Turning the tables, Seokjin asked, “What about you? Any trouble up where you are?”

There was a delay then, before Namjoon said, “Not trouble, just …business.”

A knock came from the sliding glass door that separated the balcony from the hotel room.

“Jimin’s about to die from hunger, apparently,” Seokjin reported, eyebrows high as Jimin dramatically leaned against the glass and grasped at his throat. “Will you be terribly upset if I bring back his dead husk of a body?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Namjoon said in an amused way. “You know he’s useful and we should probably keep him around.”

“Fair enough.” Seokjin knocked back on the glass and held up two fingers. “I’m having fun here, but I’m really looking forward to being back home with you. I miss our apartment. I miss being closer to Bangtan.”

In an amused way, Namjoon said, “You miss Bangtan? Not Jungkook and the others? Hold the presses. We need to talk about this.”

“Ha-ha,” he said generically. “Laugh all you want, but I guess I do miss seeing your boys everywhere.”

He’d gotten so used to Namjoon’s men being everywhere that it was almost startling now to go out and not see anyone.  He’d always considering Bangtan’s presence to be something he simply accepted, and grew used to, but now without that presence, he was starting to notice how open and exposed he felt.

“Well, you’ll be home soon enough, and then you can complain about feeling suffocated again when I make them follow you everywhere I can.”

Taking a deep breath, Seokjin forced himself to say, “Take care of yourself tonight, okay? Eat a good dinner, go to bed at a decent time, and don’t work too hard. You always work too hard.”

“Pot and Kettle,” Namjoon told him. “See you tomorrow. Love you.”

“Love you,” Seokjin echoed.

“You done crying over being separated from your one true love?” Jimin asked when Seokjin stepped back in the room.

Seokjin shrugged. “I was asking Namjoon if I had permission to strangle you in your sleep. He said he’d prefer if I didn’t, but I got the go-ahead if necessary.”

Jimin gave him a look of disbelief and said, “Try saying that with a straight face, okay? And then maybe I’ll think you’re capable of something like that. You freak out when someone has a scrapped knee. I’m not exactly worried.”

Seokjin retrieved his wallet from the bedside table and said, “Okay, let’s go get some dinner.”

They didn’t go far from the hotel for dinner, picking the first place that looked halfway decent and didn’t have a wait. Because honestly Seokjin was exhausted. He’d woken up early and spent a good deal of time traveling, and then sat through a conference all day long. He was exhausted, and now he just wanted some good food and a soft bed to sleep in.

Still, he was curious about what Jimin had gotten up to that day.

“I’m not asking for details,” Seokjin said sharply. “But today … what did you do? You know … to satisfy the curiosity in you.”

Jimin laughed out, “Did you really just phrase it like that?”

Dropping his voice to a whisper, Seokjin leaned across the table they were sitting at to say, “Did you want me to announce to everyone in this restaurant that you’ve spent the day sticking your nose into gang affairs? Oh, and that also by the way, you’re a member of Bangtan?”

“Might be interesting,” Jimin said.

“Would be stupid,” Seokjin corrected.

Jimin didn’t contest that, and instead, he said, “I’ve got a friend who lives here. He’s not in a gang, but he’s got ties.”

Seokjin wondered, “To which one? Or all three? I feel like this is getting complicated.”

Jimin clarified, “Pentagon. And they’re kind of the ringleader as far as I can tell. Whatever’s going on, they’re taking the lead. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most powerful gang in this region, but they’re taking the initiative. And my friend has an in with them. I’ve been talking with him today, getting some information, and checking some places out. That’s all. I haven’t been starting a gang turf war like you and Rap Mon think I’m bound to.”

Seokjin stirred his chopsticks through the bowl in front of him and confessed, “I don’t think you’d willingly start anything. You’re much too smart for that. And even more, you saw what it almost cost us last time.”

Going still, Jimin said, “It almost cost us you.”

“Not just me,” Seokjin argued. “It almost cost us the neighborhood. It almost cost us a lot of innocent lives. So no, I don’t think you’d willingly cause anything like that, and neither does Namjoon. We’re more worried about what could accidentally be triggered. This isn’t Seoul, but conflict could easily be brought there.”

“I’m being careful,” Jimin said, and it sounded more like a promise than anything else. “My friend is discrete, and so am I.”

“Okay,” Seokjin breathed out. “So you’re asking questions?”

Jimin nodded seriously. “Someone here knows why these three gangs are getting so chummy with each other. There’s some clue here as to why they’re pulling together like this. And I plan to find out what’s going on by the time we leave tomorrow.”

Seokjin pointed out, “You’re going to have to. We’re leaving on time tomorrow regardless if you’ve found something out or not.”

“I know that,” Jimin said a little tensely. “I know I’m working with a ticking clock here. When I pick you up tomorrow, we’re going home no matter what.”

Seokjin put a weary elbow up on the table and said, “It’s been nice coming out here, and I’m looking forward to day two of the conference, but isn’t the idea of going home nicer?”

Jimin grumbled a little, “It’s just a place.”

Seokjin wasn’t fooled for one second, and said, “I don’t think you feel that way at all, I think you just don’t want to admit the truth.”

“Which is?”

Seokjin nudged him under the table with his foot. “That you have an actual home. You have a place to call your own where people care about you, and worry after you, and want you around. I think that overwhelms you. I think in a lot of ways, it makes you uncomfortable to know that there are people out there who will worry if you don’t come home at a certain time, and take the initiative to include you in things, and simply miss you when you’re not there. Deny it if you can.”

In typical Jimin fashion the other man replied in an attempt to distract, “You wanna hold hands now? Tell each other our deepest secrets?”

Seokjin eyed him carefully. “I don’t have any secrets left. And you? You don’t tell any of yours, regardless of their severity. So no. I just want you to understand that it’s okay to have a home, and want to go back to it, and admit that to someone you know will never use that against you.”

Jimin looked at him in a heavy way.

“What?” Seokjin asked. He didn’t think he’d toed his way over any kind of line. He hadn’t brought up Jimin’s past.

“I just don’t get it,” Jimin said in an unabashed, honest way. He sounded more astounded than anything else.

“Don’t get what?”

Jimin shook his head slowly. “You. The way you are, I mean. The things you say. How you act.”

Trying to regain his footing in the situation Seokjin questioned, “You don’t get how someone can be decent to someone else? I believe since I’ve shown you it’s possible, you should give it a try.”

“I don’t get how you’re still like this,” Jimin corrected. “I mean maybe, maybe, in the beginning I could get you being all starry eyed and naïve.”

Seokjin cut in sharply, “I have never been naïve, Park Jimin.”

“You sure seemed like it,” Jimin said.  “But I mean, in the beginning, when you didn’t know what was going on—not really, and you weren’t involved in gang business, I could see how you could be so ...,peppy.”

Seokjin laughed out, “Peppy.”

“But now?” The amazement was blatant on Jimin’s face. “After all you’ve been through, the shit you’ve seen, and what you’ve had to do, to still be the way you are? It’s kind of baffling.”

“You’re baffled,” Seokjin pointed out, “that I’m a positive, optimistic person? Who isn’t afraid to get emotional when he needs to, and tell his friends how much they mean to him?”

Jimin went back to his food, swallowing several mouthfuls as they lapsed back into silence.

But it didn’t last, because Jimin said, “I just think it’s kind of crazy. People like you aren’t real most of the time. People like you don’t really exist outside of books and movies and stuff like that.”

Jimin was kind of adorable when his face lit red from embarrassment he was feeling from his words.

“I’m not perfect,” Seokjin made sure to tell him. He wasn’t sure they’d had this conversation before. He didn’t think so, and it was an important one to have. “I’m definitely not perfect, Jimin. I make mistakes. I can be way too stubborn. When I dig my heels into something, I find it really hard to compromise. And you may have noticed, I have a horrible habit of lecturing people as if I’m their father and I have a right to do so.”

“But you don’t do it to be mean,” Jimin pointed out. “You do it because you care.”

Seokjin agreed with a nod and said, “I only get one life, just like you. And the world can be really awful and unfair sometimes, so I know I could go at any minute. My heart could give out, I could get caught up in gang violence, or I could just have an accident of some kind and that could be it. So I just don’t see the point of not living life to its fullest, or not letting people know how much you care about them. Supporting and caring for the most important people in your life in important. I want, when I do finally die, if it’s tomorrow or fifty years from now, to know that I made a difference in someone’s life.”

Bluntly, Jimin said, “You’re a Disney prince.”

Laughing, Seokjin said, “I just do my best, and it seems to work out well. And I think it’s worth saying that you’ve shown a lot of improvement in the last year I’ve known you.”

Jimin’s face pinched up. “Excuse me? Are you saying I used to be shitty or something?”

“Constipated,” Seokjin decided. “When I first met you, at least those first couple months, you always acted constipated.”

Jabbing his chopsticks at Seokjin Jimin said, “I’m going to be the one to take you out tonight.”

“But am I wrong?” Seokjin asked, nudging Jimin’s chopsticks back with his own. “You were very … tense when I first met you. Even with the other members of Bangtan. You were stiff and didn’t joke around, and it was hard to deal with you.”

“I’m always hard to deal with.”

“It was different then,” Seokjin said certainly. “It’s different now. It’s better now.”

Jimin warned, “I’m not gonna just start hugging you suddenly.”

Jimin said those words, but they were without merit. Seokjin knew for a fact that if he hugged Jimin, it would be reciprocated.

“We love you, you know,” Seokjin said, so quiet that he knew Jimin had to strain to hear him. “You are our family, and maybe that’s a scary notion to you, considering what you’ve lost in the past. But there are some things in this world taking a second chance on, Jimin, and this is one of them. This family isn’t perfect. This family doesn’t always agree. But this family will always be there for each other. Do you get that?”

What kind of response that was going to evoke from Jimin, seemed impossible to predict.

But then the best kind came, and Jimin gave a shallow nod, not meeting Seokjin’s eyes, and said, “I get it.”

“Good,” Seokjin said, pleased. “Now let’s eat up. I’m dying to go to bed.”

In reality, he almost fell asleep halfway through the meal. Twice.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Seokjin insisted when Jimin got their food boxed up so they could go back to the hotel room.

“You’re dead on your feet,” he corrected, “and Rap Mon told me in no uncertain terms that when you start to wear your food because you’re so tired, it’s my responsibility to pull the plug and make some executive decisions.”

They were all in cohorts, clearly. Seokjin wouldn’t have been surprised if Jungkook’s name had been in there.

So they went back to the hotel and ate the rest of their food there. Then Seokjin changed into his pajamas, brushed his teeth, and climbed into bed.

He set the alarm on his phone and placed it on the bedside table. Then he asked Jimin, who’d only really taken his shoes off, “Are you going to sit up all night and stare at the door? Waiting for it to be kicked down?”

“If I did,” Jimin said back to him, “you’d be glad.”

“Go to bed,” Seokjin ordered. “No one is coming through that door. And even if they did, I know you have a gun on you.”

Jimin looked sharply to him.

“I haven’t seen it,” Seokjin said, stopping to yawn. “But I know you. So if you’ve kept it out of sight, that’s all I ask for. This isn’t my clinic. I don’t make the rules here.”

Looking a touch offended, Jimin told him, “I’d never have it out around you unless it was there to save your life.”

Tugging the blankets up to his chest, Seokjin curled onto his side and said once more, “Come lay down. You’re going to do a lot tomorrow, right? You’re going to need a good night’s sleep for that.”

Jimin grumbled about it, but eventually he got changed into his nightclothes. And then by the time Seokjin was falling asleep, Jimin was in bed. It was probably the best he could have asked for, so he took it.

The morning, naturally, came quickly enough.

Seokjin and Jimin had breakfast together at a café just around the corner from the hotel, and then packed up their things and check out.

The convention center was fairly crowded already, by the time Jimin dropped Seokjin off.

“It ends at seven today, right?” Jimin verified.

Seokjin hooked his attendance badge of the front of his shirt and said, “It may run a little over, honestly. Count on seven-thirty or eight. I’ll send you a message later today when I can see how well we’re keeping to the time table.”

Jimin flashed him a thumbs up. “Okay, have a good time being super boring and educational.”

“Thank you,” Seokjin said with a grin. “Don’t get into trouble today. For once behave?”

“No promises,” Jimin shot back, and then he was driving off.

Seokjin watched the car go.

“You okay?” Sunmi asked, coming up alongside Seokjin. “Seokjin?”

“Of course,” he said, promising, “I’m just busy thinking about today.”

“You’re going to love today,” she replied, the both of them walking into the conference hall. “It’s better than yesterday.”

And of course she was right, not just because she was one of the keynote speakers. The second day was a lot more hands on, and Seokjin had always been more interested in the practical aspect of learning.  The lectures were interesting enough to sit through, but when it came time to participate in the interactive sections, Seokjin truly enjoyed himself

The day went faster, however, as he enjoyed himself more.

And then roughly an hour before the conference was set to end, Seokjin’s phone was vibrating. Seokjin frowned at the message from Jimin practically ordering him to leave early.

A bit of worry formed suddenly in him. Had something happened? Had something bad happened? What kind of trouble had Jimin gotten himself into?

Excusing himself from the group he’d been talking with, Seokjin went quickly to the front of the hall, exiting without hesitation, looking instantly for the car.

He was only waiting a for a second before it pulled up.

And Jimin was not in the driver’s seat.

“Get in,” the man in the passenger seat ordered. He gave Seokjin an assessing look, clearly trying to determine if he was dangerous or not.

Seokjin gripped the strap on his bag tightly and didn’t move. Where was Jimin? How badly was he hurt that he’d allowed these men, whoever they were, to take his phone and the car?

“I’d rather not,” Seokjin said evenly.

“I won’t ask again,” the man said.

Carefully, Seokjin pointed out, “That’s my car. I’d like to know why you’re driving it, and what happened to the person who was before you.”

The driver asked, “Park Jimin?”

Seokjin's heart clenched up. “Where is he?”

The driver leaned over and offered up, “You’re going to want to get in the car now. You don’t want to make a scene. That wouldn’t be good for you, or for your friend.”

Seokjin did not want to get in the car. It seemed a very, very bad idea. But he’d put Jimin in greater danger if he didn’t, and that was likely just the start of the problems he’d cause.

“If you so much as scratch this car, I will raise hell on earth,” Seokjin threatened, getting in the back seat.

The driver began laughing heavily.

“What’s so funny?” Seokjin asked, buckling in.

The man in the passenger seat turned to him and said, “That’s exactly what Park said.”

Under different circumstances, Seokjin would have laughed, too.

Chapter Text

Seokjin was not scared.

He probably should have been, but he wasn’t.

Instead, he was more worried and angry than anything else.

As the seconds ticked by into minutes, and the minutes began to add up, Seokjin felt himself growing more and more offended that there was a stranger in his father’s car. There was a stranger handling his father’s possession. And these two strangers in the car might have already hurt someone Seokjin considered family.

They hadn’t pulled a gun on him yet. They hadn’t made any overt threats, other than what they’d said to get him in the car. And they weren’t really speaking to him or each other as they drove along.

And that, maybe in a disastrous way, gave Seokjin the confidence to lean himself forward from the back and demand, “You shouldn’t be driving this car. You have no right. You need to pull over right now.”

An arched eyebrow going high, the man in the passenger seat remarked, “You’re pretty sassy, aren’t you?”

He looked younger than Seokjin, probably closer to Jimin’s age, so Seokjin didn’t hesitate to say, “You should learn to show some respect for your elders.”

The driver asked, “Don’t you realize what kind of situation you’re in?”

Seokjin replied bluntly, “This isn’t even close to the worse situation I’ve ever been in. Now pull this car over. You want to make me go somewhere with you, that’s fine. But you’re not going to drive this car. I will drive the car, and you have no idea the kind of hell I’m capable of raising.”

His anxiety was rising, so his mouth was starting to run away from him, but Seokjin was doing his best to push back the panic attack that wanted to creep up on him.

“Can you believe this guy?” the driver asked the man in the passenger seat.

Seokjin grit his teeth. “Pull over.”

Remarkably, they did.

Seokjin was actually a little dumbfounded to find himself in the driver’s seat. He merged back into traffic, following the directions of the same man in the passenger seat, the driver now tucked into the backseat. And he asked in a confused way, “What kind of kidnappers are you?”

“Hey,” the man in the back protested. “I’m no kidnapper.”

“We kind of are,” the man in the passenger seat offered. “But we’re the nice kind.”

Seokjin gripped the steering wheel. He felt utterly baffled by what was happening, but still not scared, so he drove on.

In his mind he had been predicting these men taking him to some vacant warehouse to be interrogated. Or probably beaten up. Instead, he ended up parked in front of a rather normal looking house. The only indication that he was associating with what he had clearly determined to be either Pentagon, SF9, or Up10tion, were the men lurking around outside the house.

Before he got out of the car, Seokjin asked, “Is Jimin here? Why am I here? What’s going on?” He was well aware of the fact that his cellphone was still in his pocket, and nothing was playing out like he’d imagined.

This was a far, far different experience than anything he’d had with Infinite.

“Hui will answer all your questions,” the previous driver said. Then he urged, “The sooner you get out, the sooner you can have your answers.”

And what else was he going to do, really? Make a run for it? Leave Jimin behind?

“Who’s Hui?”

Before getting out of the backseat, the man said, “He’s the one who said to pick you up. I just do what I’m told, and you should too.”

The other man offered, sending Seokjin a deafening look, “I do what Jinhoo says.”

With his head spinning a little, Seokjin got himself out of the car, and then started up the stairs to the house.

This, Seokjin decided minutes later, was definitely what going crazy felt like.

They sat him in a living room that was deceptively bigger on the inside than it had looked from the out. And then, even more baffling, they served him a cup of tea.

“What is going on?” Seokjin asked, feeling a little dizzy, actually.

“You tell us,” a man said, coming to sit in front of Seokjin. Two more followed in short succession, and by the way the other men in the room were reacting, it didn’t take much to determine that these were the leaders of the Triad.

“Which one of you is Hui?” he asked, recalling the name from the car. “And Jinhoo?”

“Doctor Kim,” one of the men said, “I think we’ve been very, very gracious with how we’ve treated you over the past half hour. So how about you take a step back and let us ask the questions.”

Seokjin eyes narrowed. “Do you think I’m impressed that you haven’t been brutish thugs? I’m not.  I will be impressed when you yell me who you are, what you want, and where Park Jimin is.”

These men couldn’t be who’d ordered the attack in the apartment. It just didn’t make sense, not with how they’d been behaving, and the way they’d treated him. He would have bet anything they had nothing to do with the man who’d attacked him.

A laugh startled him.

“I’m Park Youngbin,” the man introduced. “I’m representing SF9 today. They’re my men. And I want to know why members of Bangtan are poking around in this area.”

Seokjin looked between the other two men and guessed, “Then you’re Hui and Jinhoo?”

They parted with their names easily enough, and Youngbin added, “You’re a long way from home, Kim Seokjin.”

“I’m here for a medical conference,” Seokjin said, not drinking the tea that had been provided to him, but enjoying the warmth of it wrapped around his fingers. It was terribly hot outside, but the house was modern enough that it had central air installed, and it was blasting at full strength. “But I think you already know that.”

“How?” Hui pressed.

Seokjin said simply. “Because you knew to come pick me up at the conference hall, and I’d bet my life that Jimin never would have told you where I am. He’d take that kind of information to his grave, and I mean that quite literally. So I think instead that you’ve been watching us since we got here yesterday. And that’s how you knew.”

Youngbin let out another laugh. “I asked around about you, Doctor Kim. I’m glad I haven’t been let down in the slightest.”

Seokjin wasn’t amused, and said, “When you pulled up in my car—I will be checking it for damage by the way—I was an hour or so away from leaving. So I want to know why I’m here.”

“I told you why,” Youngbin replied. “You want to know why you’re here, I want to know why members of Bangtan are poking around where they don’t belong.”

Seokjin did take a sip of the tea then, if only to calm his nerves.

“I’m not a member of Bangtan,” he said plainly.

Jinhoo seemed to allow, “You’re right in that regard I guess. But you might as well be considered a part of Bangtan. I have no doubt in my mind that you have more sway over Rap Monster than anyone else. After all, you share a bed with him.”

That, truly, seemed like the first hint of danger.

But Seokjin wasn’t one to be cowed.

“I came here,” he repeated, “for a medical conference. I registered for it nine months ago. So unless you think that I’ve had some master plan in the works for that long, considering your little get together hasn’t been active longer than four months, you should reconsider that I’m here as a spy.”

Jinhoo broke in, “No, we’re in agreement that we don’t think you’re spying on us. We know enough about you to be confident in that. But your friend? Park Jimin? We know for a fact that he’s here doing just that. And we think you know that.”

Seokjin wondered, “Does Rap Monster know that I’m here?”

He was testing the waters with that statement, and he was almost pleasantly surprised when Hui stated, “You still have your phone. Give him a call if you need to.”

This was a difference kind of game Seokjin was playing with these men, than the kind he’d played with Infinite.  And it felt like a better representation of what it ought to be like. No one was making any threats, and there was no untold behavior happening. But there was a demand for the truth, and there was a parrying of words that kept it very entertaining.

Seokjin didn’t feel ganged up on, but he asked all the same, “If you think Jimin came here to spy on you, why don’t you ask him?”

“He hasn’t been talking,” Jinhoo replied. “From the moment we caught him snooping around and asking the wrong questions to the wrong people, he clammed right up. So we thought we’d try our luck with you. He’s on his way here now, before you ask. And we think he’ll be a lot more talkative with you in the room.”

Seokjin guessed, “Then we’ll just sit here and wait?”

“Are you not going to talk either?” Jinhoo asked.

“I don’t have anything to talk about,” Seokjin said. “I came for my medical conference. I attended it. I don’t know anything. So ask the questions you want to ask, if it makes you feel better. But I can’t give you the answers I don’t have.”

Hui broke in, “You’re telling us that you had no clue that Park Jimin came here to do exactly what we caught him doing?”

In this, Seokjin knew he had to pick his words very, very carefully. He didn’t want to say anything that might get Jimin into any trouble that they might currently be able to get out of. And he needed to make sure Namjoon didn’t get dragged into anything.

Namjoon.

Oh, Namjoon was going to kill him.

Seokjin admitted, “I hear people talk. I hear members of Bangtan talk, but they don’t talk to me. Let me make that clear. I do my best to not get involved in those kinds of matters, and as a rule of thumb, unless I ask, they don’t tell.”

That wasn’t a lie, and he would stand by it. He very rarely asked, and almost no one volunteered anything. He only knew about Jimin because of the particular situation.

“I know,” Seokjin said slowly, “that this Triad business has been something of interest for Bangtan. I know both Bangtan and Exo have been very interested in what’s going on over here. But that’s a natural curiosity. And a preemptive one. Wouldn’t you want to know if a problem was building on the horizon? Wouldn’t you want to know if something unexpected was happening?”

Youngbin grinned at Seokjin. “Everything they say about you is true.”

Seokjin told them in an almost exhausted way, “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that. It’s never comforting.”

After that, they waited.

And the wait was just as confounding as anything else, because instead of there being an awkward period of silence, Seokjin found himself being engaged in conversation by the three men still sitting in front of him.

At first, he’d thought they were trying to dig for answers in a subtler way, but it only took a few minutes for him to realize that they just genuinely wanted to talk to him. They were interested in what he thought of the city, and what kind of doctor he was, and if the stories about the momentous showdown between Exo and Bangtan and Infinite were even half as true as the rumors made it out to be.

The worst part was, he didn’t even realize he was enjoying himself until he was confronted with the truth of the situation. The truth, which naturally was that he liked the men in front of him. They were hard to read at first, and hard to get comfortable around, but they came off as good people, authentic, and not anything like Sunggyu had been—or even the leader of Seventeen.

Jimin got to the house just as Seokjin was explaining the difference between a CAT scan and PET scan. His arrival was punctuating by loud demands to know where Seokjin was, and threats of violence if anything had happened to him.

Seokjin was flattered, but after spending some time with the gangs that were represented in the room, he hardly thought anything of that nature was necessary.

“You’re here,” Jimin said when he locked eyes on Seokjin. Jimin practically slid across the hardwood floor in his haste to get to Seokjin’s side, and then dropped down low to ask, “Are you okay?”

“Are you? Seokjin returned. Jimin looked perfectly fine, but there was a big difference between physical damage, and the other kind that could occur.

Jimin’s face was terrible close as he said softly, “I didn’t tell them where you were. I didn’t tell them anything about you. They took my cell, obviously to lure you out.”

“No one is hurt,” Jinhoo said, looking between the two of them. “We’re not looking to start a new war, or even a conflict.”

With acid in his tone, Jimin spit out, “Then we’re free to get up and leave?”

“As soon as you answer our questions,” Hui said.

“We don’t have to answer anything!” Jimin snapped out.

Seokjin did not want to be responsible for starting something between Bangtan and another gang—let alone three other gangs. The three men in front of him seemed cool and collected. They weren’t hot headed or aggressive. So Seokjin believed that if they were treated with respect, or at least decency, this was something that didn’t have to spiral out of control.

Gently Seokjin put a hand on Jimin’s knee. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to.

Jimin gave him a sharp look of disbelief.

Just play ball, Seokjin wanted to urge him.

Looking even angrier, Jimin snapped back towards the three men watching them and said, “Fine. Ask what you want to ask.”

“And you’ll answer honestly?” Hui asked with obvious skepticism.

“As long as it doesn’t endanger Bangtan in any way,” Seokjin spoke up, “he will.”

Lowly, Jinhoo cut out, “And we have confirmation.”

“Confirmation?” Seokjin asked.

Youngbin said, “On who’s really running the show here.”

Seokjin didn’t know how to respond to that.

Apparently, Jimin didn’t, either.

But the questions started after that, and they were the kind Seokjin expected. They wanted to know why Jimin was looking to Triad affairs, who Jimin’s contact was, and what he’d learned so far.

“I’m not telling you who told me anything,” Jimin said smartly. “And everything else is none of your business, too.”

Trying to settle ruffled feathers, Seokjin offered up, “The way I understand it, Jimin was just curious. Gangs don’t really … play nice together. At least not very well. But the three of you have come together in an impressively cohesive way. When gangs integrate, one usually swallows another. But the three of you seem equal partners in this—whatever this is.”

“We are,” Hui said, almost with some pride in his voice. “We’re equal partners. Is that how it is for Bangtan and Exo?”

“You’re fishing,” Jimin said gruffly.

Seokjin reminded, “I don’t ask about the business negotiations between Exo and Bangtan. Maybe you should contract Rap Mon and ask him personally, if you’re interested. He does take calls, I assure you.”

“So,” Jinhoo asked, sharing a look with his two companions, “you’re telling us that you came down here to snoop around, because you think we’re planning something? You think it’s odd that we’re getting together? So you wanted to find out if we were planning to what, overtake you?”

Hui scratched at the back of his head. “You might want to take a look around. We’re holding our own just fine right now. But we’re in no position to try and move in on anyone else’s territory. Frankly, we’re not interested in that.”

Now Seokjin’s own curiosity couldn’t be contained. “You’re not interested in expanding?” Seokjin asked with disbelief. “Then why come together?”

Sipping at his own tea, Youngbin spoke when Hui nodded at him, “Can’t you entertain the idea that we came together for a greater good? Our individual territories were doing okay when we were separate. But together, quality of life improves greatly. So we decided that we had to put our people first. We chose to be better than what was expected of us.”

Seokjin was a little stunned.

“Bullshit,” Jimin said.

“You can take this back to your leader,” Jinhoo told Jimin. “You can tell him that this is the truth, and if he disputes it as such, he can come down here personally and talk to us. You tell him that we came together for a greater good. We came together because we want to prove that we can work together, and improve living conditions, and make the streets safe with peaceful solutions. And if anyone else wants to join in on this, we’ll take them. This is not limited to the three of us, we’re just the ones who started it. We won’t turn anyone always, and we won’t be starting any fights.”

“You’re stupid,” Jimin said, and Seokjin sighed. “You think you can just be friends and everything will work out perfectly?”

“No,” Hui agreed. “But I don’t think we have to spend our time fighting and dying for hostile takeovers that put everyone on shaky ground.”

Jimin shook his head. “This isn’t going to fly with the bigger gangs. They’re not going to let this happen. Because you’re small now, but what happens when you’re five gangs strong? Or six? What happens when you start to look like a threat, even if you say you aren’t. You’re going to start a new gang war regardless if you plan it that way or not.”

Youngbin said honestly, “We don’t think so. And we’re willing to wager a lot on that.”

“You’re crazy,” Jimin breathed out. “Some big gang is going to come right along and bulldoze you just to make a point.”

Jinhoo leaned forward. “Like Bangtan?”

“Not like Bangtan,” Seokjin cut in. “I can’t tell you what Rap Mon is thinking, or what direction he wants to take the gang in, but he’s not looking for conflict. He doesn’t want any more bloodshed. If anyone is coming for you, it won’t be Bangtan. We’ve had our fill of that.”

Shoulders slumping, Jimin agreed, “He’s right on that. Rap Mon will defend our territory and our people if trouble comes looking for us, but we’re not looking for it. We’ve sacrificed enough at this point. We’ve been through enough.”

“And that’s the truth,” Seokjin considered. “Believe us or don’t, but that’s the truth.”

Youngbin, who’d been the least aggressive, and that Seokjin liked the most of the three of them, said, “I believe you. Do you believe us?”

Jimin snorted, “I think you’re idiots, but yeah, I believe you.”

“Then you can leave,” Jinhoo said, gesturing at the door. “And feel free to inspect that car of yours. I promise you it’s in perfect condition. But I have heard that heads will roll if it isn’t.”

Jimin wasted no time getting to his feet. “Come on, Jin.”

Keys in hand, Seokjin stood up. But the adrenaline of the whole event was catching up with him, and he didn’t quite trust himself with the car. So he pressed the keys into Jimin’s hand and said, “You’re driving.”

“We don’t mind visitors,” Hui said, and all of them were standing then. “But how about you announce yourself next time. It’ll go over better, I think.”

“Will do,” Seokjin said shakily, and then Jimin was leading the way out of the house, and Seokjin was following.

At least until he got to the door, and then Youngbin was there, asking, “Can I speak to you for just a second, Doctor Kim? In private?”

Jimin’s face twisted up in protest.

“Just a minute,” Youngbin insisted.

“Jin,” Jimin warned.

Seokjin pushed at Jimin. “Go check the car, will you? Make sure there isn’t so much as a ding or a scratch on it. You know how I am about that car.”

It took a little more cajoling before Jimin looked like he was even willing to consider leaving him alone in the house. But eventually he was pushed out, and Seokjin ended up alone in a room with Youngbin.

Seokjin asked, “Shouldn’t the other two be here for this? You’re all equal partners, right?”

Youngbin’s head cocked a little and he said, “They like you enough that I know they’d be okay with me saying this to you. They’d be here stopping me, actually, if they didn’t. They know what I’m going to say to you now.”

“Which is?”

Youngbin suddenly looked nervous as he said, “Nothing we said in there is untrue. Why we came together? We did it just because we thought we could be better together, and because we care more about helping than hurting. I swear to you, that is not a lie.”

“But?” Seokjin edged.

“There’s something going on down to the south.”

“The south?” Seokjin wasn’t following. “Of here? Of Seoul? Of South Korea?”

Youngbin said, “Near the Busan area. We have some contacts down there, there’s been some strange chatter in the area.”

Seokjin frowned. “What do you mean by strange?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Youngbin said, looking apologetic. “Especially if you’re not used to what regular chatter between gang informants sounds like. But there’s definitely something going on down there. Something is off. Something feels bad. So yes, we’re together for a greater good. But we’re also together out of necessity. If that something bad makes it way up here, we’re going to be ready for it. You should be, too, because you’re in Seoul, so you’re closer.”

That seemed awfully considerate of Youngbin to say.

“Maybe it’s nothing,” Youngbin said with a considerate sigh, rubbing at his forehead. “Maybe this is an unnecessary worry. But just in case, watch out, okay? Ever since Big Bang retired, and Bangtan and Infinite started tearing each other apart, things have been odd. Everything has been unstable. And I can’t say what’s going to come of all of this, but I know what my gut says.”

“Watch out?” Seokjin echoed.

Youngbin nodded “It says watch out.”

Uncertain Seokjin asked, “Why tell me this? Why share? I’m not Bangtan, but I might as well be. You could be giving up tactically important information.”

“Other than the fact that I like you?” Youngbin laughed out. “And I think you’re pretty amazing, considering the shit you’ve had to put up with?”

Seokjin wasn’t going to be baited by flattery.

“Because,” Youngbin told him, “Bangtan is kind of setting a standard right now. The big question is, will Bangtan get thirsty and start tearing apart gangs? Or will Bangtan advocate for peace? So we’re thinking maybe we say this to you, we let you know there’s something happening down south, and Bangtan does the right thing with the information. No gang is really good. But some are better than others.”

Feeling suddenly defensive, Seokjin said, “Bangtan really is good.”

Youngbin gestured for him to exit the room and said, “I wouldn’t expect you to feel any differently.”

Jimin wasn’t waiting for Seokjin at the car like he’d expected. Instead Jimin was standing on the stoop to the house, surrounded by men who could have been called enemies if even one thing had gone wrong that day, scowling with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I’m still breathing,” Seokjin teased as he stepped down to where Jimin was.

“You joke,” Jimin said, gripping the car keys tightly in his palm, “but I’m the one who’ll get murdered if anything happens to you. And I just left you alone in a house with a bunch of guys we don’t trust, and would gain a lot from using you as leverage.”

Seokjin drifted to the car with Jimin in tow, saying, “Come on, fess up, you knew those guys weren’t going to hurt us from the start.”

“I knew nothing,” Jimin said sourly. “And neither did you. That’s why I’m so angry right now. You should be taking this a lot more seriously. That could have gone bad. That probably should have gone bad.”

They got in the car, Seokjin still more than happy to relinquish driving to Jimin. And then Seokjin said, “I think it was very apparent that they weren’t intending to do anything bad. They weren’t even rude to either of us. They treated us better than Bangtan would have treated them if the situation was reversed.”

“This,” Jimin said, starting the car, “this is where that bleeding heart of yours gets into trouble. There’s a time and a place to be a good person. This is not that time. Dealing with gangs? That’s never the time.”

Seokjin waved him off. “Don’t lecture me. Being nice is what got us out of there. Being nice is what got us information.”

“Information!” Jimin snapped the word out.

“Well,” Seokjin drawled. “Don’t you know what’s going on now? These gangs are pulling together on their own for their betterment. For the betterment of their communities. And not as a threat against Bangtan or anyone else.”

Seokjin could tell right away that Jimin didn’t believe what he’d been told. Or maybe it was that he didn’t want to believe. Bangtan had teamed up with Exo out of necessity, and while that partnership continued to be lucrative, it wasn’t ideal, and it hadn’t even really been a desire. It probably smarted something bad that other gangs had decided to do the same thing of their own volition, and without any horrible purpose behind it.

Seokjin asked, “What does your gut say about this?”

Jimin replied, “To never go anywhere with you again.”

“That is a dirty lie,” Seokjin said, starting to feel more at easy. He shifted in his seat towards Jimin and said, “I can read you like an open book, Park Jimin. I know this whole situation is bothering you because your gut ended up being wrong. And you don’t like that. But you’re only human, and your gut can’t be right a hundred percent of the time.”

Jimin insisted, “They’re hiding something.”

Seokjin really didn’t think so, and argued, “They were more open with us than they had to be. Admit it. It’s a long way back home, Jimin. Just admit it.”

“I’d rather eat dirt,” Jimin said, and that had Seokjin laughing.

“It won’t kill you to admit it,” Seokjin reminded. But he thought it was probably going to be a while before Jimin was able to confess that his gut had been wrong for once. Jimin seemed almost disappointed they hadn’t stumbled into trouble, which was just so Jimin Seokjin could barely deal with it.

They’d only driven a couple of miles, straight out of town, before Jimin asked, “What did that guy want to talk to you about?”

“Youngbin?”

“He was practically a baby,” Jimin said testily.

“You’re practically a baby,” Seokjin said, keeping his tone light. “You don’t like that he was soft spoken, and when he smiled, it reached his eyes.”

Jimin looked to him and asked, “Are you going to start waxing poetically about him?”

Seokjin only said in reply, “I liked him. He was upfront, but never aggressive. He was nice.”

Jimin mused, “There’s no way he’s the leader of SF9. No way.”

“Because he isn’t mean? Namjoon isn’t mean.”

“He didn’t have grit,” Jimin argued. “Trust me. I’ve been around a lot of gang leaders who fit their role, and they all had that something special. They all had that bite. And yeah, maybe Rap Mon is a good guy who doesn’t go out of his way to be an ass or do bad things. But he’s got bite to him. You saw that when someone tried to take you from him. But that Youngbin kid? He’s soft.”

Seokjin suggested, “Maybe he’s just a new breed of gang leader. One that doesn’t have to rule by violence. Or maybe he’s got someone in his gang like you.”

Jimin didn’t press the issue, and instead asked, “What did he say to you?”

Seokjin thought back to the conversation that had just barely passed. Youngbin had passed along a message to him. A warning. He’d told Seokjin about a rumbling that was happening in the south, and it felt like something meant for important people like Namjoon and Yoongi and Jimin to hear.

But if he told Jimin, Jimin was going to tell Namjoon. And if Namjoon knew, the whole story about them meeting with the Triad leaders would be exposed. Seokjin’s lie would be exposed.

What was better, he wondered. Keeping the lie in, or letting it out?

“Jin?”

“Sorry,” Seokjin apologized. “Just thinking.”

Jimin prompted, “What did that guy say to you that he didn’t want me to hear?”

“Something for Namjoon,” Seokjin said, trying not to lie as much as not tell the truth. “A warning for Namjoon.”

Jimin wondered, “Guess that means we’ll be telling him about our little adventure.”

“No, we will not,” Seokjin said, more instinctively than anything. He leaned forward and put his face in his hands, then said in a frustrated tone, “Or we will. I don’t know. If we don’t …”

“We’ll get our asses handed to us, on a strictly professional level,” Jimin said, “for withholding important information. Even if nothing came of this, we need to tell Rap Mon about what’s going on with this Triad. We need to tell him that by their account, there’s no threat—that they just want to hold hands and sing songs. Even you won’t be able to escape the kind of blowup that will come if we don’t tell him and he finds out. He’ll find out, too.”

“I know, I know,” Seokjin groaned.

But if they told him, Seokjin knew he’d have to admit to, and fess up to, breaking Namjoon’s trust. Namjoon trusted that Seokjin wouldn’t go sneaking around, and he trusted that Seokjin would say something to him if he knew someone else planned to do that very thing.

“I didn’t think this through,” Seokjin admitted. “Shit.”

Jimin burst out laughing at his profanity.

“This is not funny,” Seokjin insisted.

Jimin kept laughing. “Of course it is. You never swear. And now you’re getting upset over something that’s going to get my ass tanned, but you’ll probably just get yelled at for a couple of minutes. It’s not like Rap Mon is going to make you sleep on the sofa or something. You’re in a relationship, and he’s practically a puppy around you.”

But it wasn’t about that, Seokjin wanted to say. It wasn’t about the punishment or the repercussions. It was about the way Namjoon would look at him, once he realized the trust had been broken. It was about how Namjoon would think about the situation, and if he’d trust him in the future, and how Bangtan’s affairs might weigh down their personal relationship.

In the end, Seokjin knew himself. He knew he couldn’t keep lying to Namjoon’s face day in and day out.  He couldn’t go to bed next to someone he was lying to.

And there was something about the way Youngbin had passed the warning onto him. There’d been something in the tone of his voice that was pressing on Seokjin. Namjoon needed to know.

“I’m going to tell him.”

Jimin asked, “About our little adventure?”

“Oh, is that what we want to call it?”

The tension from earlier was clearly leaving Jimin as they got onto the highway, and it was nice to see him relaxing. It was even more telling to Jimin’s mood that he joked out, “I mean, we could call it us getting abducted and held against our will, but that won’t go over as well as the word adventure.”

“I agree.”

Seokjin rubbed at his temples and said, “I will tell Namjoon, okay? Just give me a second to figure out how I’m going to do that. Don’t say anything, okay? Let me be the one to do it.”

“Sure,” Jimin agreed easily enough. “If I tell him he might murder me for putting you in that position to begin with. If you tell him, he might just be thankful you’re okay.”

No, Seokjin very much doubted that.

On the subject of Namjoon, Seokjin took the time to text him and let him know that he and Jimin were on the road, and would be back in just a couple hours. The guilt was already mounting as he simply texted, but that seemed like a problem for another day.

When that was done, he let himself settle in for the drive back home. But as he replayed the events that had just happened, he couldn’t help saying, “Thank you, Jimin.”

“For what?” Jimin asked, looking younger than he was as the sun faded in the background and headlights from other cars lit up the interior of their own.

Seokjin switched on the radio lowly and said, “For having my back in there. You didn’t tell them who I was or where to find me. They knew because they watched us, but I know you would have never told them anything no matter what.”

“Of course I wouldn’t have,” Jimin said indignantly. “You can’t just say all that shit about us being brothers now, and think it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t turn my back on my family, Kim Seokjin. This isn’t about me thinking Rap Mon might kill me if I let anything happen to you, either. This is about us. So no, I would never have told them about you. I would never have put you in danger, regardless of what they threatened me with, or threatened to do to me.”

There, once more, Seokjin could see the cracks in the hard façade Jimin fought desperately to keep up. He could see the softness underneath, and the emotions that Jimin often pretended he couldn’t feel.

And for the first time since Jimin had confessed to having romantic feelings for him, Seokjin could see a real future for them as friends. He could see a future for them as brothers. He could see Jimin moving on, and loving someone else, and the two of them putting this completely behind them as time dulled out the past.

“Thanks all the same,” Seokjin said, and didn’t complain when Jimin turned up the radio to drown out any more conversation.

They made it home a little later than expected. Traffic hadn’t been bad at all, but they’d gotten held up with the Triad, and that had forced them to leave later than their timetable had mapped out. It grated under Seokjin’s skin simply because of how prone he was to keeping to a schedule, and maintaining a routine. But all in all, it could have been much worse, so he took the forty-five minute delay for what it was.

“And there she is,” Jimin remarked as they pulled up the front of Seokjin’s apartment. Jimin’s bike was still parked out front, where they’d left it a day previous, and no harm had come to it. Seokjin hadn’t expected anything else. There wasn’t anyone stupid enough in the neighborhood not to know whose bike it was, and what would happen if they touched it.

It was fully night as Jimin parked the car, and up on the second floor Seokjin could see the light in their apartment shining through the curtains.

“Want to come up?” Seokjin asked, popping the trunk as Jimin turned the car off. They rounded the car with synchronicity to pull their bags from the trunk.

Jimin leaned around Seokjin to lift a hand in greeting to one of Namjoon’s men coming around the corner, obviously patrolling the area.

“Nah,” Jimin said, tossing his motorcycle keys up into the air in an easy way. “I want to get home and crash—you know, make sure your brother hasn’t completely destroyed our apartment.” “I don’t know how you can even live with him,” Seokjin teased.

“Go on up,” Jimin said. “I’ll watch you from here.” He handed Seokjin’s car keys back to him. “Thanks for taking me along.”

Seokjin winked at him and asked, “What kind of road trip would this have been without a bratty younger brother fighting me about the music?”

“I’ll stick gum in your hair,” Jimin threatened, and then he jogged the short distance to his bike, secured his bag onto it, and started it up. He was popping his helmet onto his head as the apartment door on the second floor opened.

Seokjin could barely register the conscious decision to start up the stairs, but he was practically running by the time he got there, throwing himself into Namjoon’s warm arms.

“I missed you,” Namjoon breathed out into his hair. He held Seokjin a little tighter than he normally did, but it felt great. “I missed you a lot.”

Seokjin pressed his face into Namjoon’s neck and soaked in the smell of his cologne. It was faded from the morning’s application, but it was Namjoon’s smell. It was a smell that Seokjin would have been able to identify after a year apart.

“I’m happy to be home,” Seokjin said, barely having time to turn his head before Namjoon was kissing him firmly.

They were practically manhandling each other as they stumbled back into the apartment, and Seokjin was only too happy to let it go. They’d only been separated for a couple of days, but it suddenly felt like weeks or months.

They were supposed to be past the honeymoon phase in their relationship, but Seokjin was still as infatuated and desperate for Namjoon has he had been in the beginning.

Namjoon kicked the door shut behind them and Seokjin dropped his bag as he was pressed back up against the door, Namjoon’s mouth warm and welcomed on his own.

“You’d better tell me right now,” Namjoon said, hitching Seokjin up against the door in a way that created hot friction, “if you’re too tired for me to take you to bed. Or else that’s exactly where we’re going.”

When he said to bed, Seokjin knew he didn’t mean sleep.

“If you try and tuck me in,” Seokjin warned dropping his fingers to work at the top button on Namjoon’s jeans, “you shouldn’t bother joining me.”

“I missed you,” Namjoon said once more, kissing Seokjin so wholly that Seokjin felt lost in the kiss.

“I love you,” Seokjin returned, and then he clutched tightly to Namjoon as the strong man hurried him straight to their bedroom.

Chapter Text

In all fairness, Seokjin really had honestly been trying for days to tell Namjoon about what had happened at the conference.

That first weekend he’d been back, however, had been just a mess of bad circumstances happening all at once. Starting, naturally, with Moonbin coming down with a serious cold. That in itself would have been bad, because Moonbin had already proven himself to be near irreplaceable. But it was compounded by the fact that Moonbin was not only dating, but also living with Eunwoo. And Eunwoo had gotten his cold.

So over the weekend, when most of the surgeries were scheduled, and Seokjin really needed all hands-on deck, he was down one nurse, and the clinic’s anesthesiologist. And it had fallen on the receptionists to, in a mad scramble, rebook the surgeries, shuffle around the appointments, and then nearly have to start over when Hongbin had vomited all over the storage room and confessed that maybe he was feeling under the weather too, and yes, he did have a fever.

“This is not happening,” Jonghyun had seethed out lowly, standing at Seokjin’s side as they watched Yoona help Hongbin out to her car so she could take him home.

Seokjin had pointed out, “I highly doubt two of our doctors and maybe our best nurse all conspired to get sick together at the same time.”

Darkly, Jonghyun had said, “I know that. But this timing. It’s absolute shit.”

It was bad, primarily, because the following weekend was the clinic’s big block party. And it had been in the works for a long, long time. It had taken close to six months to get the permits necessary to close down the street right in front of the clinic, and half as long to line up venders willing to volunteer their time and services to the public.

But now, in just under a week, the clinic was set to launch its big educational extravaganza. At least that was what Seokjin was hoping it turned out to be. There’d be plenty of things to hook children’s attention, and to tempt families in, and while they were there, Seokjin planned to hit them with ways to stay healthy, endorsements for exercise, and an open forum for any questions about any medical topic.

And for that, they needed all hands on deck.

“We’ll be fine for next week,” Seokjin insisted. Maybe out of fear that any other suggestion might drive him crazy.

But being down a couple of important staff, meant they all had to hustle a little extra around the clinic, and the tiny little last minute details for the big party, kept Seokjin late at work.

Namjoon was understanding, like he always was, but it didn’t give them much free time together. And it didn’t give Seokjin any time to figure out the best way to tell Namjoon that he’d essentially lied to his face.

Though even if there hadn’t been a bug going around, and even if Seokjin hadn’t been working late hours, he knew that Namjoon was even more stressed than usual.

“Don’t tell him I said this to you,” Yoongi confessed to Seokjin Wednesday afternoon when they were catching lunch together. Seokjin’s lunches with Yoongi were his favorite, not that he wanted anyone else to know that. He never wanted to publicly play favorites. But Yoongi was calming, and straightforward, and liked to talk about more serious topics. He could engage Seokjin in a debate about politics or the economy, or weightier things that Jungkook and Taehyung and the others naturally shied away from.

Yoongi was a reality check in a lot of ways, and one that kept Seokjin’s feet on solid ground. When Yoongi came to lunch, it was like truly talking to an adult, whereas the others were a lot more easygoing and less severe.

“You tell me things you probably shouldn’t tell me all the time,” Seokjin had argued back. “Why would this be any different?”

Weighing the words, Yoongi had confessed, “I only tell you things because you’ve proven time and time again that you’re capable of keeping secrets. And because honestly, you influence Rap Mon more than you’ll ever know, so you might as well be in on the things going on when they’re important.”

Yoongi said that on Wednesday, but it reminded Seokjin of days previous, when he’d been meeting with the leaders of Pentagon, Up10tion, and SF9, and they’d said something along the same lines.

“Suho is driving Rap Mon up the wall,” Yoongi told him. “At first it was like playing a game of keep-away. Now Rap Mon spends most of his time dodging calls and lurking away when he knows Suho is in the area. It’s distracting him. It’s driving Rap Mon crazy. And I’m saying this to you because maybe you can do something about it.”

Seokjin knew Yoongi meant do more to relax Rap Mon, or talk him off a ledge, or just remind him that Suho was ultimately something fleeting, and not something that they’d have to worry about forever.

But Suho driving Namjoon up the wall, meant Namjoon staying out for prolonged amounts of time, and doing rounds in the neighborhood that he usually left up to the more junior members of the gang. It meant Namjoon finding things to distract himself with, and having less time for Seokjin.

So really, even if Seokjin had wanted to tell Namjoon about the Triad, it would have been impossible to do it without stressing him out further or creating more distance between them. Over the course of a week they barely slept in the same bed at the same time. And if Seokjin was going out for work, Namjoon was just coming in from it.

It wasn’t a good way to live, and it was hurting their relationship.

Which was why, on Friday, with Eunwoo, Hongbin and Moonbin all back at work, Seokjin was able to swing a half work day, and practically barricade himself and Namjoon in the apartment.

He put a tub full of flour in front of Namjoon, a bag of sugar followed, and Seokjin said, “We’re going to spend the next couple of hours making cookies, and you’re going to like it.”

It was a cheap move, admittedly. Namjoon didn’t really have much of a sweet tooth, but if there was an exception to that, it was cookies.

“I don’t know how to bake,” Namjoon confessed, standing behind him, tying the back of Seokjin’s apron closed. “My grandmother taught me her cooking recipes. But she wasn’t much of a baker, either.”

At the end, when the cookies were done, Seokjin told himself he’d tell Namjoon everything. And maybe he wouldn’t get the baking sheet thrown at him.

Or get left in a room with a couple dozen cookies going cold.

“I know how to bake—at least in a passable way,” Seokjin said, “and I’ll teach you. I know I tease you about being horrible at taking care of yourself, but you’re very smart. You learn quickly, and you take direction well. You’re more than capable of baking with me.”

Namjoon’s nose bumped the back of his neck in an affectionate way and he offered, “Or we can just go buy cookies?”

Seokjin questioned, “So you can sneak off and work.”

“Hey!” Namjoon shouted indignantly.

Seokjin turned then, catching Namjoon’s hands and holding them close. He said softly, “I know it’s not just you. I know it’s me, too. I work long hours sometimes, and I’m guilty of putting the clinic before you at times. That’s not right I know.”

Namjoon argued back right away, “I knew that you were a workaholic before we started dating. Don’t you remember? Your dad asked me, and it was a test—I know that now, he asked me if I could deal with seriously dating someone who was probably going to prioritize his job before his boyfriend.

In his father’s own way, Seokjin knew that the man had been trying to protect him. His father had been trying to run Namjoon off if he wasn’t serious enough about being in a relationship. His father had never been the kind to wait up for Seokjin to come home from a date, and he’d never given the shovel talk to anyone. But his father had cared. His father had worried. And his father had tested Namjoon before ultimately approving.

“I said I could accept that then,” Namjoon said, “and I still feel that way now.”

Namjoon’s words were a punch to gut, as they only served to remind Seokjin how lucky he’d gotten.

Seokjin released Namjoon’s hands and hooked his own around the man’s waist, pulling them flush. He felt the strength of Namjoon’s body against his own and offered up, “How long has it been since we went out and had a cup of coffee together? How long since we just took a walk together down by the river.”

Knowingly, Namjoon said, “Taking a walk out in the open isn’t safe for either of us.”

Seokjin sighed.

He missed having anonymity. He missed being able to sneak away with Namjoon for ice cream dates, and moments of privacy that made them feel like teenagers.

“We just went out to dinner,” Namjoon protested.

“That was a long time ago,” Seokjin reminded.  “Weeks and weeks ago. Namjoon, we’re both set enough in this relationship that we don’t need to keep it fresh to keep us interested in each other. But we have to start doing more together. We have to take moments for each other.”

Namjoon leaned into him a little boneless. It was probably only an excuse for him to sneak a kiss to Seokjin’s neck, but it was accompanied with the words, “I know. You’re right. So let’s make cookies.”

Seokjin forced himself to pull away from Namjoon, and instead he said, “You have to promise you won’t eat half the ingredients before we actually get them on the cookies.” He reached into the refrigerator and set the dairy items on the countertop.

Namjoon snatched up his own apron up and tied the strings behind him, stating, “I really don’t think you have to worry about me eating all the butter.”

To prove his point, Seokjin set down a bag of chocolate chips, M&Ms, and a bottle of sprinkles.

Namjoon gave an exaggerated inhale. “Has this been in our kitchen the whole time?”

“Of course it has,” Seokjin said, giving him a wink. “But I knew it was safe because you never come in here unless I’m with you.”

“It’s kind of scary how well you know me,” Namjoon remarked.

Seokjin nodded to the far cabinet. “Get down another bowl, please. Then we can get started.”

Namjoon’s height came in handy as he was able to pull down exactly what Seokjin requested, and got a small handful of chocolate chips as reward.

“We’re gonna get back on track,” Namjoon said, watching Seokjin carefully portion out the first serving of flour. “You’re right, of course. We’re going to start spending more time together. Even if it’s hard, and things are stressful right now, we’re going to get better at making time for ourselves. Got it?”

Seokjin countered, “Sounds good.”

In hindsight, it was probably a miracle they got as far into the cookies as they actually did.

The first batch of cookies were in the oven by the time the pounding came at the door. And they were working on the second, which Seokjin intended to go to Jungkook and Jimin—particularly Jimin, when the truth came out and Namjoon probably tried to strangle the life out of him.

Seokjin had just begun to broach the subject, saying, “I wanted to talk to you about something. About when I went to the conference,” when the interruption sounded.

After the pounding came, there were only a few seconds to brace for the door being thrown open, and then Taehyung was invading the apartment without even bothering to take his shoes off. That’s how Seokjin knew it was serious.

“What is it?” Namjoon asked, already wiping his hands on his apron before shucking it off.

“Don’t you dare,” Seokjin warned, leveling a finger up at Taehyung.

Taehyung gave him a look of apology, but said, “I’m sorry, Jin, but this is serious. Rap Mon, Suga said to get you. There’s been another sighting.”

Seokjin leveled out again, “Don’t you dare do this to me, Taehyung.”

“It’s Myungsoo,” Taehyung said, looking past Seokjin to Namjoon. “Suga thinks we just barely missed him last time, but we’ve got him cornered this time!”

Seokjin put his elbows on the countertop and pressed at his temples. It was as if the universe was conspiring against him.

“Jin,” Namjoon said in his ear. “You’re going to be safe.”

It took him a moment to realize that Namjoon was likely having a flashback of some kind to the last time there’d been a spotting of Myungsoo in Bangtan’s territory. When Namjoon had been lured out and Seokjin had been attacked.

Taehyung interjected, “Suga called a bunch of guys in to watch the place. And Hoseok is on his way over now just as added insurance. But Rap Mon we gotta go now.”

Seokjin felt Namjoon’s hand clamp down on his wrist. “I will stay,” Namjoon vowed. “If you don’t feel safe, and if you don’t want me to leave, I won’t.” Taehyung was making a sound of protest in the background, but Namjoon held his ground.

This was something Namjoon needed to do. Infinite’s Dongwoo and Myungsoo were still free, and still had all the potential in the world to do damage to Namjoon and Bangtan. Not to mention catching the two of them had turned into something of an obsession for Namjoon. Seokjin didn’t think Namjoon would ever be able to truly relax until he knew the two of them were really gone.

“Go,” Seokjin urged. It seemed like his confession was going to have to wait yet again. “You need to catch him.”

Still, Namjoon hesitated, and it told Seokjin right away how rattled Namjoon was about the attack.

“You need to catch him,” Seokjin said firmly, nudging Namjoon towards Taehyung. “And I’ll be perfectly safe here with Hoseok. You trust Hoseok, don’t you?”

Namjoon pressed a hard kiss against his mouth, promised to return as quickly as he could, and then he was charging out with Taehyung after one of Infinite’s last members.

Seokjin stood there in the kitchen, with flour caked under his fingernails, and felt left behind.

Hoseok, however, was there less than five minutes later. He knocked politely on the front door, and didn’t let himself in with the key Seokjin knew he had. Hoseok was typically considerate like that.

“You don’t have to be here,” Seokjin told him, letting Hoseok into the cool apartment from the suffocating heat outside.

“Of course—” Hoseok started, then his eyes went wide and he demanded, “are you making cookies?”

Seokjin looked down at all the tell-tale signs on his apron, and realized the smell of baking cookie dough was wafting through the house.

“Come on,” Seokjin said, gesturing for Hoseok to follow him. “One batch is in the oven, but we can finish the second.”

Hoseok drifted behind him dreamily and asked, “Are you sure you aren’t perfect? You seem perfect at his point.”

Seokjin thought about what Namjoon’s face was going to look like when he told him the truth, when he told him he’d brought Jimin along not for protection, but to snoop around, and against Namjoon’s wishes, and said, “I’m definitely not perfect.”

“If I didn’t already love Tae,” Hoseok said, “I’d totally have the hots for you.”

“Or just my baking skills,” Seokjin pointed out.

“And your cooking. Don’t short change yourself.”

Seokjin laughed a little and it went a long way to making him feel less alone.

They were halfway through the second batch of cookies when Seokjin asked, “Do you think Myungsoo is really out there?”

Hoseok fitted M&Ms carefully onto the tops of some shaped cookies and said, “Of course he’s out there. Him and Dongwoo. Hell, Hoya’s a threat still and he’s locked up.”

Seokjin flicked a M&M at Hoseok. “You know what I mean. Last time … last time he was just playing with you guys, right?”

“That’s the theory,” Hoseok confessed. “I mean, there’s no heavy evidence proving that what’s left of Infinite sent that guy after you, but it lines up too perfectly not to be the case. We all think that Myungsoo was the bait to lure Rap Mon out, and that guy was meant to enact some kind of revenge for Sunggyu.”

Seokjin drawled out, “So do you think that’s happening again in some way?” He half expected his front door to be kicked down again. He had Hoseok with him right now, and though Hoseok was all smiles and kindness most of the times, he could be a beast when pressed. All men were capable of certain things when pressed.

“No.” Hoseok didn’t hesitate. “Dongwoo comes off as an idiot, but he isn’t. And Sunggyu might have been the brains of the operation, but Myungsoo is clever. They’d never try the same trick twice. I think this is genuinely just good luck on our part. I think the spotting is real, not an ambush of some kind, and I think we have a real chance of taking him down tonight. At least that’s what’ll happen if Rap Mon gets to him.”

Seokjin kneaded out some dough and mused, “I don’t get why they’re sticking around. They’re beaten. They’re in shambles. But they’re staying in a territory that’s overrun with their enemy, and there’s no chance of them getting any of their power back. Eventually they are going to get caught. Why not just leave and go someplace safe?”

“Pride,” Hoseok seemed to guess. Then he shook his head and said, “No, this isn’t about pride. It’s about revenge. It’s got to be. That’s the only powerful enough motivator. I don’t think Dongwoo and Myungsoo are looking to save their lives. I think they’re just looking to take yours.”

“Excuse me?” Seokjin dropped a bit of dough. It landed on the countertop, but it was a telling action.

Hoseok blushed a little in an embarrassed way. “Not just you! Sorry, Jin. I guess you, too, but I meant that they’re looking to take out anyone associated with Rap Mon. It’s about taking people down with them, now, who hurt them. So it could be you, or it could be me, or Rap Mon himself. Who knows when they’ll be satisfied, but I think revenge is the only thing on their mind right now.”

“They should just cut and run,” Seokjin said, retrieving the dough.

“Would you?” Hoseok asked. “If someone had killed the person you loved, would you just let that stand?”

No. Seokjin knew that emphatically. If Namjoon or Jungkook had been killed by Infinite, and Bangtan had lost, he wouldn’t be able to just let it go. He wouldn’t be out prowling the streets with a gun, of course, but that wasn’t something that could be let go easily by any normal person.

Bouncing a little in place, Hoseok said, “Let’s just keep positive, okay? We’re here making cookies that are going to be awesome, and everything is going to work out just fine.”

That was a little delusional, but Seokjin liked the optimism. He liked the idea that he’d mostly have to stop looking over his shoulder if the last members of Infinite were exposed. And he liked that Namjoon would probably sleep better at night if that happened, and worry less.

“I think,” Seokjin said, drifting to the cabinet, “I have some raisins and oats in here. How do you feel about oatmeal-raisin cookies?”

The timer on the over sounded and Hoseok hopped down from the stool he’d been sitting on to fetch them, saying, “Jungkook told us once you’re a stress baker. A stress cooker, too. He said you can get yourself going, especially when you’re on your own, and work through everything you have in your cabinets.”

Seokjin grimaced a little and admitted, “I once made enough songpyeon for Chuseok to feed everyone in the building Jungkook and I lived in.” He’d been stressed, of course, worried that their father had been called into work by a developing emergency situation, and Seokjin had been torn over the idea of not spending Chuseok with his family. By the time he’d realized how much he’d made, Jungkook had already spent five minutes rolling back and forth across the floor as he laughed himself sick.

“Stop stressing,” Hoseok urged. “Everything is going to work out. Suga’s out there, too. And the others. They’ll make sure Rap Mon’s back is watched, and if we’re lucky, they’ll bag a baddie. Then things can get back to normal.”

“Things will never be normal.” Yoongi had told him once that when he was in, he was in. Yoongi, rightfully so, had said that his decision to stay by Namjoon’s side, meant that he would forever be caught up in the conflict that Bangtan naturally created, and there would never be an end. He accepted that, but it was heavy thing to constantly think about.

“Normalish,” Hoseok tried. “And yes, I love oatmeal-raisin. Let’s make that next.”

Namjoon didn’t come home by the time Seokjin was set to go to bed. But Hoseok was still in the apartment, and no one had gotten an emergency call of any kind, so it seemed like things just happened to be progressing at a slow rate.

“I’ll wait up in the living room,” Hoseok said, tucking his legs under him and reaching for the remote.

At that point Seokjin had already taken a shower and changed into his night clothes. Mountains of cookies were laid out in the kitchen, and some were boxed up for delivery. And the time was getting very late.

“You don’t need to,” Seokjin insisted. “I think that if someone was going to burst in here again, it would have already happened.”

Hoseok flashed him a peace sign. “Nice try. But if I were the bad guys, I’d be waiting around for someone like me to leave you alone. And Rap Mon said not to go anywhere until he got back. So I’ll be waiting out here. I’ll keep the volume low on the tv, okay? I don’t want to disturb you.”

Seokjin told him, “I have to get up early tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is the last day to prep before the event on Sunday.”

“I’m still coming!” Hoseok promised. “My sisters are, too. I’m excited for you to meet them.”

It really seemed like both Namjoon wasn’t set to come home before the AM hours, and neither was Hoseok going to budge on his orders not to leave until that happened. So Seokjin said, “If you get hungry later on, help yourself to whatever you want. But Hoseok, don’t gorge yourself on cookies.”

Indignantly Hoseok said, “I’m not a child, Jin.”

Seokjin shrugged. “That’s what Jungkook said before he at three dozen cookies and made himself so sick he spent the entire night in the bathroom. And let me clue you in, he wasn’t just vomiting.”

Hoseok went pale. “Message received loud and clear.”

Smothering down a laugh, Seokjin turned from him, and went to bed.

Namjoon wasn’t there in the morning when Seokjin woke, but neither was Hoseok. Instead Jungkook was in the kitchen, making his way through a plate of cookies, looking just tired enough to indicate he’d been out late last night, too.

“I hope you remember what happened the last time you ate too many cookies,” Seokjin said, swinging into the kitchen to start some morning coffee.

“That was only once!” Jungkook protested.

“Once should have been enough for you to learn your lesson.” Seokjin set the coffee pot and asked, “Did my boyfriend come home at all last night, or did you just swap babysitting duty with Hoseok?”

“Not babysitting,” Jungkook said, and pushed his plate of cookies away. “And yeah, Rap Mon came back here last night. I was with him. Actually, it was like three this morning. He wanted a change of clothes, and he wanted to check on you.”

A change of clothes? That didn’t sound good.

“I take it things didn’t go well last night?”

Jungkook’s shoulders fell. “It was definitely Myungsoo, but …”

But, Seokjin inferred, he wasn’t caught.

“Well,” Seokjin said, taking two mugs down from the cabinet, “if you didn’t catch him, is that why Namjoon isn’t home right now? Is he still out there trying?”

“No.” Jungkook shook his head. “Myungsoo slipped through our fingers. There’s no running him down now. Rap Mon’s out there now trying to figure out why he keeps getting away. He’s good, but he’s not this good, and we’ve got eyes everywhere. But he keeps slipping in and out without being caught.” Jungkook shot Seokjin a sorry look. “Rap Mon wanted me to apologize for him.”

Seokjin wondered, “For running out on me last night? Or not being here today?”

Jungkook gnawed down on his bottom lip.

A quick look at the clock across the room told Seokjin he had plenty of time that morning, so instead of taking his frustrations out on Jungkook, he asked, “Are you hungry? For some actual food? How about I make us breakfast?”

“Can I have a rice omelet?” Jungkook said, voice dropping more into a pleading territory.

“If there’s any eggs left over from yesterday,” Seokjin teased, knowing full well there was just enough left for a couple of omelets.

Jungkook made a beeline for the refrigerator, and Seokjin got started on the rice.

The only good thing about not having Namjoon there that morning, was that instead he got a nice morning with his brother. It was an uninterrupted kind of morning, too, because it was Saturday, so the clinic opened an hour later than usual, and Jungkook didn’t have any responsibilities until much later in the afternoon.

That meant getting to sit and talk with Jungkook, and catch up with him, and simply enjoy his brother’s company.

And Jungkook was his best friend. Maybe that was odd for a person to say about their brother, especially with the age gap between them, but it was true. He joked around that Jonghyun was his best friend, and that was true in a professional and personal sense, but Jungkook really superseded all classifications.  Jungkook was the person Seokjin trusted the most on the planet, and the person that he would always cherish and love above all others.

On the way out the door, with Jungkook swinging Seokjin’s bag around aimlessly while Seokjin locked up, Jungkook said, “I’m really looking forward to that thing tomorrow, actually. It’s gonna be fun. I can tell.”

“I’ll take it just going over well,” Seokjin said, but he shared a grin with Jungkook. “But yes, I’m kind of crossing my fingers it’ll be fun, too. At least I’ve got a better chance of it happening if you’re there.”

Jungkook handed his bag back to him as they went down the stairs to the first floor. “Flattery,” he chirped out, hopping down the steps.

Seokjin couldn’t help saying, “Stop getting full of yourself. You know you’re charismatic. You know you have a friendly face, and you get along well with children, and you know people instinctively trust you. This big event on Sunday isn’t just about raising medical awareness. It’s about exposing parts of the community, parts that used to belong to other gangs, to Bangtan. And I need someone there who’s going to make people feel safe.”

“So not Suga or Jimin, then,” Jungkook said.

Seokjin unlocked the car parked a short distance away and said, “No, they have to come, too. All the major player in Bangtan have to be there. I want my patients and the members of this community to know who you are. I want them to know what you look like, and what you stand for, and I want them to hopefully figure out that you’re good people who only want to help. Even the scary looking ones.”

In disbelief, Jungkook said, “I can’t believe Jimin’s going. He hates people. He hates smiling even more.”

“I don’t know if he’ll smile,” Seokjin admitted. “But he promised he’d be there, and that is a good thing. He’d probably just sit up in that apartment of his all day long if everyone let him. He’s not antisocial, he’s just very good at pretending he is.”

Jungkook shrugged. “I still don’t think he likes people. In general, I mean. Strangers.”

Seokjin thought Jimin probably just didn’t like what they represented to him. Or what kind of threat they had the potential to be.

Opening the door to the car so he could put his bag in, Seokjin asked, “Do you want to come down to the clinic with me today?”

Jungkook’s own car was parked just down the street, and Seokjin could see it from where he was standing. But Jungkook could easily leave it there for days on end, maybe even unlocked, and not have to worry. The neighborhood was quiet and safe for the most part, and Jungkook came around frequently enough that people knew it was his car.

“Why?” Jungkook asked. He frowned darkly. “Did one of your interns call in? I’m not getting suckered by you again. You promised me I’d be doing something important if I helped out one day. You made me clean toilets.”

Seokjin leaned a little on the car and laughed. “You did help. You were invaluable. Everyone who used that bathroom afterwards said it was sparkling clean.”

“No,” Jungkook leveled out. “You tricked me and you know it.”

“I bought you dinner after,” Seokjin told him. “And you got paid for your work. Plus, no one forced you to do it. Stop playing the martyr.”

Jungkook, not amused, said, “Like I had a choice. If I tried to get out of that you’d probably give me a sad puppy dog look and guilt me about it every time you saw me after.”

“Actually,” Seokjin said, “I thought you might want to come down to the clinic today because Yunho is going to be there.”

“Yunho.” Jungkook asked, suddenly looking a lot more interested. “He’s back?”

Seokjin said, “Of course he’s back. Jungkook, he didn’t leave because he wanted to, he left because he had a great career opportunity, and everyone deserves the right to peruse their dreams. He’ll be back for this Sunday’s event, and I think that’s only fitting, don’t you? He and Jonghyun and I really got the clinic off the ground, and we kept it up by ourselves for a long time. This Sunday isn’t just about informing the public, or Bangtan. It’s also about celebrating how far the clinic has come.”

“How long is he in town for?”

Seokjin couldn’t say for sure. “He didn’t tell me, but I got the feeling it’ll be at least a couple of days. He got in early this morning, and he said he’d come by the clinic this afternoon to say hi to some of us. And then I know for sure he’ll be there tomorrow. You could ask him yourself about how long he plans to be town I you want.”

Jungkook seemed to be resolved to something before he said, “If he’s going to be there tomorrow, then I’ll talk to him then. I don’t have time to study on Sunday for this test I have on Monday, so I have to do it today.”

Seokjin made a show of clutching at his heart. “You’re actually choosing to go home and study for a test you have to take?”

“Hardy-har,” Jungkook said dryly.

“Don’t do this to me,” Seokjin continued. “My heart is weak.”

“Then you’re just going to die when you see my grades,” Jungkook said with bravado, nose up in the air. “I’m bringing back perfect marks. Perfect.”

“How about just do your best,” Seokjin said. “You’re very smart, Jungkook. You always have been. But I don’t want you to take away the enjoyment you’re getting out of college right now by forcing yourself to get perfect grades. As long as you try your best, and work hard, you’ll be fine.”

Jungkook exhaled. “I hope you’re right. Mandarin isn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but it isn’t easy, either. And the professor is a real stick in the mud when it comes to conjugation.”

Jungkook was heading towards his car when Seokjin called out, “I’ll say hi to Yunho for you then, and tell him you’ll stop by and talk to him tomorrow.”

Jungkook waved, and then Seokjin got in the car and shut the door. He watched Jungkook walk the distance down to his car, and though it really was a shame that Jungkook wasn’t better suited for school. He really was smarter than average. And his capacity to retain knowledge was impressive. If Jungkook had drive for the sort of thing, he could have been everything their father had always wanted.

But the idea of Jungkook in a suit and tie every day for the rest of his life, parked behind a desk or a podium, was so unfitting.

Even if Jungkook was potentially squandering away a successful future, Seokjin wanted him to be happy, and like he’d argued with his father, that was all that mattered.

Yunho came by the clinic in the early afternoon. Because the clinic was set to close the following day for the big event, Seokjin had made sure to have all doctors and nurses on deck. They were stuffed to the brim with employees and patients, and Seokjin was loving every chaotic, rushed, packed minute.

Of course in his rush to see as many people as possible, and fit in a couple of minor surgeries, he missed Yunho’s arrival.

He didn’t even know Yunho was in the building until Seokjin was smudging his name off the white board that had listed him as being in surgery later that afternoon. His patient had called in to reschedule, and Seokjin planned to spend the time seeing walk-ins instead now.

Behind him, with nothing but warm fondness in his voice, Yunho said, “They told me there was some hotshot doctor in some fancy clinic making waves, but I had to come see for myself.”

Yunho’s arms were familiar and captivating as his longtime friend caught Seokjin up in a massive hug.

“Yunho,” Seokjin breathed out, taking in the tan on Yunho’s face, and the happiness radiating from him. “You look so good.” Yunho looked better than good.

“What,” Yunho said, “you had to wait until I was gone to go get yourself an upgrade like this?”

“Had to?” Jonghyun said, standing to the side with his arms crossed and an amused smile on his face, “I made him.”

Yunho told them both fondly, “You’re doing so amazing here. I’m happy for you.”

“We know we’re doing amazing,” Jonghyun said. “But you know you’re dying to tell us how incredible you’re doing. Come on, we’ll even pretend to care.”

For a moment some time ago, Seokjin had wondered if the relationship between Yunho and Jonghyun could be saved. They’d essentially wrecked their friendship by the way in which Yunho’s departure had come out.  And such a thing would have broken Seokjin’s heart. Because the three of them really had been everything to the clinic for a time. The three of them had put their everything in to the clinic. And it had only worked in the beginning because of the bond they’d shared.

But then slowly, slowly, even before Yunho had left, Seokjin had seen tiny bits of hope appear that they might repair their friendship. After all, Jonghyun hadn’t been mad that Yunho was leaving. He’d only been upset in the way it played out and the deceit involved.

They managed to squeak out fifteen minutes of absolute peace to talk.

Yunho insisted that he wanted to drift around the clinic for some time and talk to people when they had availability, but it was important to Seokjin that they got to have some private time.

“Are you at least happy?” Jonghyun asked when the three of them were holed up in one of the recovery rooms. It was empty and was expected to remain that way for some time, so Seokjin wasn’t worried about them contaminating the room in any way.

“I’m really happy,” Yunho said, and the truth was in his tone. “I’m getting to work on some really hard-hitting stuff—things that I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to access before. I’m getting tested, and I think that’s what I really wanted the most. I feel like I’m a resident again, staying up all night, looking through books and journals, and calling up other people in the field whose opinions I trust. It’s invigorating in a way. It’s definitely humbling.”

Jonghyun said, “I had enough being a resident when I was resident.”

“I said it was like being a resident,” Yunho pointed out. “But without having to be the person to fish out all of the stupid things from patients that people always manage to swallow.”

Seokjin had a good laugh over that. He’d pulled a number of items from patients when he’d been younger and just flexing his medical skills. It really could get impressive, the kinds of things people succeeded in getting down.

“But I’m happy to visit,” Yunho made sure to say.

In voice that sounded serious, but was just Jonghyun teasing, the man said, “I suppose you should be here for this big event tomorrow. I mean, you were in on the ground level.”

Yunho snorted. “I was in on the day the electricity cut out because we mixed that bill up with the water bill.”

“Good memories,” Jonghyun chuckled.

Seokjin said, “We’ve got a spot for you here any time you want it.” He knew it was never going to happen, but he wanted Yunho to know. “If you want to take a break from what you’re doing, or just pitch in for however long, we’ll have you in a second.”

Jonghyun grumbled a little as he said, “We owe you one, okay? People weren’t exactly jumping to help us when Seokjin was pitching the idea. But you signed on knowing it was going to be tough, and you didn’t care that some of our colleagues were less than professional in what they said in response to your choice.”

Jonghyun had been the first to come on. It had been him and Seokjin for some time, before the clinic had real footing and even opened. And it had been beyond terrible trying to talk someone else into helping. They’d needed a minimum of three, but a third seemed to be an impossible task. At least until Yunho had given them the time of day, listened to their pitch, and signed on less than a day later.

“We do owe you,” Seokjin agreed.

“Actually,” Yunho said, looking between them. “If you want to let me cash in a favor, I’ve got one to ask you.”

“Shoot,” Jonghyun offered.

“I’m not here in Korea alone,” Yunho said.

Seokjin asked, surprised, “Have you finally started dating? You’ve realized you can’t be married to your work?”

Yunho replied, “No one has proven I can’t be married to my work. I’m waiting for the proof. And no, I didn’t bring a significant other. I brought my cousin.”

Jonghyun looked as surprised as Seokjin felt. “Your cousin?”

“My American cousin,” Yunho pointed out. “His mother is my mom’s sister, so he’s half-Korean, and he lives in L.A. I brought him with me because my Aunt practically begged me to. In the states, the school year is over for the summer, and grades have come in.”

“Not good?” Seokjin guessed by the expression on Yunho’s face.

“Terrible,” Yunho said. “The kid barely passed most of his classes that actually require you to use your brain. Now, he’s not stupid, and he can apply himself, he just doesn’t like to. Not when he can hang out with his friends, and spend more time studying his lines in drama class, than working out equations in calculus. My Aunt asked me to bring him with me for my stay in Korea to try and talk some sense into him.”

“Just how long are you going to stay?” Seokjin wondered.

Yunho told him, “Several weeks. A month, really. I’ve got a break in my schedule right now, and I want to see some family I haven’t been around in a long time.”

Curiously, Jonghyun asked, “So what’s the favor?”

“My cousin is a good kid,” Yunho stressed. “He has a good heart. He’s just an only child, he got spoiled for way too long, and he’s used to doing what he wants, when he wants.  So I want to get some sense into him while he’s with me, and show him that even if you don’t want to do something, sometimes you have to. He needs to figure out what a responsibility is, what an obligation is, and he needs to learn how to prioritize properly.”

Seokjin nodded. “Okay, but you haven’t said what the favor is. You want us to talk to him?”

Yunho looked smug. “I want you to work him to the bone.”

“Huh?”

Yunho leaned back in his chair. “He’s under the impression that he’s here as some kind of reward for getting through the year. He thinks he’s going to have a fun time here, and hang out with family, and do some shopping. But I want him to intern at the clinic. I want him cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, changing bedpans, and doing all the icky stuff that definitely builds character.”

Laughing, Jonghyun asked, “How old is this kid?”

“Sixteen,” Yunho said, “so feel free to run him through the ringer. I’ll take him back at the end of every day, but I want him in here every morning, suffering every day until he can learn to follow rules and do things even if he doesn’t want to.”

“A free intern,” Jonghyun said in disbelief. “That’s still you doing us a favor. We’ll never say no to free labor.”

“You say that now,” Yunho reprimanded.

Seokjin winced. “Is he a terror?”

Yunho laughed then. “He’s a teenager.”

All the same, Seokjin and Jonghyun both agreed to take Yunho’s cousin on for as long as the man wanted. And then Seokjin asked, “Well, do you want a tour?”

“Of course he does,” Jonghyun said. “Our clinic is amazing.”

Yunho grinned and said, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask forever. I even got my special badge on.” He flicked the badge that was clipped to his shirt, but frowned at it and read upside down, “Who’s Kim Taehyung?”

Teasingly, Jonghyun said, “One of Jin’s boyfriend’s little friends. You know the kind. Big britches. Bigger ideals.”

Yunho’s eyes lit with humor. “Still associating with those types of people?”

“Hah!” Jonghyun broke out. “He’s gonna marry one of those people any one of these days.”

Seokjin palmed at his fore head. “Didn’t you want a tour?”

“You forgot about this, didn’t you?” Yunho ribbed. “You forgot how Jonghyun and I used to team up against you.”

“I never missed it for a second,” Seokjin said, but that was a lie. He’d missed everything about Yunho.

“So, tour?” Yunho asked, giving him a reprieve.

“The tour,” Seokjin agreed. “Let’s start on the ground floor.”

“We sure did,” Jonghyun said.

Having Yunho there in that moment, made Seokjin feel complete in a way he hadn’t in a long time. And it was a magnificent feeling.

“This way,” Seokjin said, gesturing for Yunho to follow him.

Yunho followed.

Chapter Text

There were some days when coming to work was just a chore. And it didn’t matter that he was the rare breed of person who actually liked their job. It didn’t matter that his clinic meant everything in the world to him, or that being a doctor gave him a sense of purpose.

There were some days when it was just a job.

But there were others day, like today, when Seokjin was so in love with what he did, that he could hardly believe this was actually his job.

“Doctor Kim!” a young, squeaky voice wailed out, “Doctor Kim help!”

“Help with what?” Seokjin asked in a playful way, kneeling down next to a boy who’d barely graduated out of his toddler years. He caught the boy around his waist and leaned in close to survey the hands the boy was holding out for him. “Everything looks fine.”

The boy, who was too adorable and definitely knew it, scrunched up his face and protested, “Too icky!”

“Too icky?” Seokjin gasped in a shocked way. His hands slid to the child’s arms and he bellowed out, “That’s not icky. I’ll show you icky!”

There were peals of laughter in the air as Seokjin dumped the boy’s hands back into the trough of glittery solution that was staining everything in the designated area. The white coat that Seokjin had started off in, was absolutely ruined, but Seokjin thought it had died for a good cause.

“Noooooo!” the boy wailed, but he was part of the roar of laugher that was echoing from the station, and he wasn’t exactly fighting Seokjin as he dunked his hands in and out of the glittery solution that felt more like less concentrated Jell-O.

The station was filled to the brim with children, as young as two, and as old as twelve or thirteen, and their parents were standing off to the side, some of them barely paying attention, and some of them loving the scene.

It was the boy’s mother who called out to him first, stating, “You’re spoiling him, Doctor Kim! He’ll think he gets to be this messy all the time.”

“Messy, messy!” some of the other children started chanting.

Seokjin got to his feet, put his hands on his hips and said, “Messy is just fine, when the situation calls for it.” The children seemed to take his words for holy gospel, and he felt like he was suddenly punched in the gut over his desire.

He’d always known he wanted children. He’d known he wanted children since he was old enough to understand all of the responsibilities that came with the title of parent. He’d practically raised Jungkook, too. At least in a lot of ways that counted.

But more and more, children seemed to be invading his thoughts. He certainly didn’t want one anytime soon, he wanted to focus on his clinic still, and on building his relationship with Namjoon. But he thought regularly now about what his and Namjoon’s family could look like one day. He thought about the number of children he might want, or the gender, and found himself daydreaming about school plays, vacations, birthday parties, and everything in between.

His paternal clock was definitely ticking, and though there were a lot of other, much more important things he needed to sit down and talk with Namjoon about, their family needed to be up there eventually.

Namjoon talked a lot about their future together. He talked about them growing old, and being the real deal in terms of their love. But he never talked about children. Did that mean he didn’t want them? Or were they just so far off in the future that he wasn’t stopping to consider them?

Seokjin wondered if they were only on the forefront of his own mind because of his health. His health tended to be a catalyst for everything, and the younger he had children … the more … the more time he could have with them before something catastrophic happened.

“Doctor Kim?”

A small hand tugged on his white coat and Seokjin knelt back down to be eye level with a little girl. He’d seen her a couple of times and recalled that six months ago she’d had chickenpox, and that her mother was one of the parents more interested in their phone than their child.

“What is it?” he asked gently, rubbing a hand along her back. The way she leaned into his touch told him everything. She was definitely touch starved, and probably attention desperate as well.

With some hesitation, she said, “Mommy says getting dirty is bad.”

Seokjin scooped her up into his arms and bounced her a little, not caring a bit if she got his clothing even more dirty. She shrieked with joy and Seokjin told all of the watching children, not just her, “There’s a time and a place for everything, isn’t there? Sometimes you have to stay nice and clean, like when you’re going to school, or church, or somewhere important. But there are times when it’s okay to be dirty, like right now.”

The little girl in his arms, feet swinging against Seokjin’s side, whispered at him, “I like getting dirty.”

Most kids did, Seokjin was certain, and so he winked at her supportively.

“But,” he asked them all, nodding to Yunho who was across the way and ready, “what happens after we’re dirty and it’s time to fix that?”

A boy hopped by Seokjin with boundless energy, shouting, “Wash up! Wash up! Wash up!”

Yunho had warm water and soap at the ready, and the kids chased him down with a vengeance.

“Help!” Yunho called out to Seokjin who was setting the little girl down on her feet. “They’re mauling me! They’re animals!”

Seokjin gave the last of the children a nudge towards the water, because there were a couple of stragglers still playing in the glitter goo, and then Seokjin made his way over as well.

“They’re just children,” he teased out. “It’s really showing you don’t have any.”

Yunho said, “If we’re judging that on the situation at hand, it looks like you have too many.”

With eyes and ears on him, Seokjin took his own dirty hands, and said to the children, “One of the most important things you can do is wash your hands. Remember how we just talked about germs and dirt!” Little heads nodded firmly. “I want you all to think about the amount of times you wash your hands in a day. Hoyeon? How many times do you wash your hands in a day?”

The boy shrugged.

Seokjin soaped his fingers and said, “It doesn’t matter if you wash your hands once a day, or twice. I want you to double that right now. Because the best way to keep yourself healthy, and to keep those germs away, is to wash your hands. After you use the bathroom, after you go out and play, after you sneeze. Always wash your hands. Dirty can be fun, but washing can be fun, too.” He blew some bubbles as a couple of kids who laughed.

Yunho looked at him in disbelief. “You’re too good at this. Seriously, how are you this good with kids?”

While the children were lathering up their fingers and blowing bubbles at each other, Seokjin washed his fingers off and told Yunho, “When you have a little brother that you’re kind of a parent to in a lot of ways, you learn a lot of tricks. You learn the best way to handle kids. It’s just something you grow into. No one starts off knowing what to do.”

“Look at my hands, Doctor Kim!” one of the kids shouted, and then there were all clambering for him to look at their fingers.

It took some time to get through them all, but Seokjin made sure to praise all of the children, and then add a golden star to the name tags they were wearing. The nametags were a little oversized, so that each station the kids visited, they could get an additional mark next to the name as a badge of honor. Seokjin had encouraged a lot of the adults to do the same, if only the set the example. Most of them weren’t participating, but some of them were, and that seemed like a victory just enough.

“Okay, okay,” Seokjin said, waving at the parents as an indicator. “Time to move on to the next station! There’s still a lot for you guys to do!”

Groans of protest went up, but most of the children allowed their parents to shepherd them away. Seokjin tried not to focus on the little girl he’d held in his arms for a short while, as she danced around her mother, trying to tell her what she’d done, only to be rebuffed.

“Jin?” Yunho asked.

Seokjin responded, “You ever wonder why some people bother to have kids?” Seokjin nodded to the mother and daughter pair.

Yunho offered, “She brought her daughter. That’s a step.”

Seokjin was thinking of the baby then, Yebin, that he’d had in his examination room roughly a week earlier. That had been just as heartbreaking as what he was witnessing now.

“I just don’t get it,” Seokjin sighed out.

“Come on,” Yunho said, “let’s get this set up before the next batch comes in.”

They had to get the area picked up in just a few minutes, because children were already eyeing the station, and were looking antsy at the current wait happening. But that wasn’t something Seokjin let himself feel bad about. There were a lot of child and family friendly stations set up all along the block that they’d had roped off.

Hongbin was running a health station, complete with coloring activities for the kids about the food pyramid, and tasty, healthy treats for them to try.

And next to him Jessica and Irene had teamed up for a CPR/First Aid class. They had rescue dummies for the adults, and other interactive tools for the children.

Jonghyun was giving a lecture to wide eyed parents about the dangers of tobacco and alcohol, while Moonbin had his own station encouraging fitness. Jonghyun’s participants looked terrified over what he was saying, but Moonbin had collected an impressive number of children and they were all jumping around and exercising to loud but energizing music.

“Wanna get a smoothie?” Yunho asked, nodding to where Krystal was juicing like a pro, sneaking in bits of information about sugar in fruit, which was all building to an impressive and unexpected bit on glucose levels.

They’d had a to get sneaky, of course. Children were sponges for information, and adults had the kind of attention spans to focus when necessary, but learning was always easier when it was fun and interesting. So they’d themed topics around games, and fun activities, and nothing that seemed like the educations dump it all was.

“Or,” Seokjin said with a grin, “we could go play Yoona and Raina’s scavenger hunt.” With Raina’s help, they’d hidden prizes all over the area, and participants could claim one by following health related clues and solving simple but fun puzzles.

“Nah,” Yunho said, “I’m happy here.”

Seokjin made sure to tell him, “You’re actually putting in some work. You know you don’t have to, right? You’re here as a guest, but you’re working like—”

Yunho cut in, “Like this is my clinic?”

“It will always be your clinic,”

Yunho gave him a full grin, and said, “Thanks.”

Seokjin dumped some more glitter into the trough and said, “But I do appreciate you being here. Especially at this station. I know there were openings other places, ones less likely to draw children in.”

Yunho confided, “I guess kids aren’t that bad. I just don’t get them. I don’t want to get them, actually. I’m more than happy dealing with adults, who can be difficult all on their own, but are a lot more predictable in the way they’re going to be difficult.”

“Kids can be easy to predict too,” Seokjin argued.

“That’s because you have baby mojo or something,” Yunho said. He frowned then added, “Actually, if you want to share some of that with me, if it goes up a little in age, I’d really appreciate it. Like, if you have any super-secret tricks to dealing with teenagers, send them my way.”

Seokjin asked, “Jonghyun and I already said we’d put your cousin through the ringer tomorrow. You don’t sound like you’ve changed your mind, right?”

“God no,” Yunho eased out. He looked around the area that was milling with people and said, “If you return him to me slightly bruised, I won’t even say anything. He’s here, you know. I brought him with me.”

Seokjin looked around then, as if he could spot a boy that he’d never met before. He imagined Yunho’s cousin shared at least some facial features, but then Yunho had said that the kid was half American, so maybe not so much.

“He’s here?” Seokjin wondered.

“I brought him because I wanted to get a jump start on him working off some time he needs to serve this trip. I told him he’d be helping out. So naturally, we were here five minutes before he gave me the slip and I haven’t been able to find him since. That was two hours ago, Jin.”

Seokjin grimaced. “You don’t think he wandered off, do you? This neighborhood is a lot safer now that Bangtan is in control, but it’s not idiot proof. Yunho, I know he’s your cousin, but does he speak Korean?”

Yunho seemed far too amused at his sudden panic, and assured, “I don’t think he’s wandered off. My parent’s house is pretty far away, and he doesn’t have the car keys. Neither does he have a lot of money. He doesn’t know it right now, but he’ll figure it out pretty soon, his parents cut his credit card off. If he tries to make any purchases with it, they’ll be declined. And I know he’s got about fifty American dollars in his wallet. That won’t last him long.”

“Not in Seoul,” Seokjin agreed.

“And,” Yunho added, “he does speak Korean. He probably speaks it better than most Koreans. He’s been taking lessons since he was kid, and my Auntie talks to him in Korean.”

Seokjin stopped to consider, “Do you want us to pay him for his services at the clinic?” They certainly had it in the budget for that sort of thing, and he was starting to feel guilty about free labor. Typically, their interns got school credit of some kind, or could add it to their resumes for future medical occupations. Yunho’s cousin wouldn’t be getting anything out of it.

Yunho said frankly, “This is a punishment, Seokjin. Not any kind of reward. He nearly failed his sophomore year in high school.”

Seokjin set out new drying cloths near the washing station and said, “You haven’t even really told me that much about this kid. I don’t even know his name.”

Yunho fumbled in his pocket for a second, and then brought a picture up on the screen as he said, “This is Samuel. He’s sixteen, remember? What else do you want to know?”

Seokjin gave the picture an appreciative glance and said, “You’d better be careful while he’s here. He’s very handsome. Some company is bound to try and scoop him up and make him an idol, if only by his face alone.”

Groaning, Yunho said, “Don’t say that, you’ll jinx the situation. Didn’t I tell you the one class he got an A in?” When Seokjin shook his head, Yunho continued, “Theater. This kid, Jin, I’m telling you. He could barely pass math with a D, but he got full marks in theater, and stared in the musical last semester. He’s good, too. He can sing, dance, and act. He’s a triple threat. And if some idol company picks him up, like SM or JYP, I’ll never get him home.”

Even more kids were starting to gather around the station, and Seokjin asked quickly, “What’s his problem? He just doesn’t like school? Jungkook graduated with pretty average grades because of that. He only hit his stride in college because it was a lot more flexible for him. You know Jungkook. He does better with choices, and freedom.”

Yunho laughed dryly. “This kid needs less of that, not more. He’s not like Jungkook. Jungkook got okay grades and gradated because of you, Jin. You pushed him. Maybe you were a little overbearing at times, but you pushed him towards greatness. I love my family, Jin, but no one pushes Samuel. His dad works more than you and your boyfriend put together, if you can believe that. And my Auntie, she’s a sweet woman, but Samuel is her only child and she babies him. She let him get his way for too long. She let him run the show for most of his life, and that’s why she’s having trouble getting him to fall in line. No, freedom and choices and flexibility aren’t what’s needed here.”

“Just menial, humbling service?”

Yunho nodded. “The kind involving bedpans.”

“Okay, okay,” Seokjin agreed. Across the way there were parents now making desperate glances in their direction. “Ready for the next round?”

“As long as I don’t have to be the one handling the glittery children, I’m ready.”

Yunho moved back to the washing station, and Seokjin was truly grateful to have him. And not just because it was nice having an old friend by his side, and a familiar face to look at. He really did need the extra help with the children. The turnout had been even more than they’d expected, and the place was absolutely packed.

Seokjin and the others had anticipated that a couple hundred people might turn out. They’d even thought that they were a little too hopeful in that estimation. But just half an hour in to when they’d started, it had become evident that word had spread about the clinic and the event, and they were going to have a ton more people than they’d planned for.

They certainly weren’t being overwhelmed. But it was taking longer to get through the sheer volume of people wanting to rotate through the stations, and even the food vendors looked pressed to keep up.

The best part of all, besides the number of people who’d turned out, was the fact that Bangtan’s men had been there from the start. Some of the lower level members were scattered around the perimeter, keeping a lookout for trouble, but the higher ranked ones, the ones with more trust from Namjoon, were inside the area. They were running errands, and moving things around, and interacting with the families present.

 They weren’t sticking out like sore thumbs, but if one was paying attention and looked, they were easy to spot. And the fact that there hadn’t been any complaints about them, or worried parents, or upset people, was a good feeling. It reminded Seokjin that progress was being made. Bangtan was restoring faith to the neighborhood, and people were seeing them as the good guys they really were.

Seokjin had spotted Jimin earlier, prowling around like he wanted to be anywhere else, but also kind of like he belonged. And Hoseok had brought all three of his sisters to meet him at the start of it, which had been wonderful. Taehyung hadn’t been far behind, insisting that he get to play in the glitter as well.

The only downside of all of that was that Taehyung had started flinging glitter goo at Hoseok, who’d returned the favor, and Seokjin had been on the verge of a full-blown glitter war, with the children taking their cue from the duo.

Seokjin was just waiting on the rest of Bangtan to show up. Jungkook had texted earlier that he might be a little late, but Seokjin trusted him to be there.

That only left Yoongi and Namjoon.

“I need you there,” Seokjin had told Namjoon over the phone when Namjoon had apologized and claimed he was too busy to make it. “I never ask you for anything, and I’m asking you for this.”

Namjoon, who had actually sounded regretful, had replied, “I’ll see, okay? Things are … rough right now, Jin. You know that. A lot is happening, and I have to be here for this.”

He couldn’t be a hypocrite. That was the bottom line. Namjoon wasn’t just ducking out of the event because he didn’t want to attend. He was busy chasing down people who would truly hurt Seokjin, or Jungkook, or even innocents, to get any kind of footing back in the neighborhood. And if Seokjin was asking Namjoon to play second fiddle to his clinic sometimes, Seokjin had to be willing to sacrifice things too.

He just thought it would be an amazing statement if Namjoon was there, in his glory, walking among the regular people, showing them that they had nothing to fear from him.

“Let’s do this,” Seokjin said, and welcomed the next wave of children in.

For the next hour Seokjin found himself up to his elbows in glitter, and enjoyed the different groups that came through. Children seemed to naturally clump together by age, so he could be entertaining a group of extremely young children one minute, and then he got the delight of talking to preteens the next.

And then, to his even bigger surprise, just before he was about to take a break and have his lunch, he managed to wrangle up a half dozen adults who let him talk them into getting up to their elbows in the glittery goo.

“Dig in,” he encouraged, watching Yunho turn away and smother down laugher. “And since there are no children here, let me be frank and honest with you all. We all know that none of you wash your hands as often as you should. We all know that hardly anyone washes their hands every time they use the rest room, every time they sneeze, every time the touch the floor, or something unsanitary. That’s just typical from people, but I’m going to break it down for you now in a real and honest way.”

Seokjin loved children, he truly did. But there was something refreshing being able to talk to adults bluntly.

He told them, watching in an amused way as they dove into the goo more and more enthusiastically as time went on, “The numbers don’t lie. Not washing your hands and spreading germs around like it’s Christmas will increase your chances of everything from eye and skin infections, to lovely diarrhea, to respiratory issues such as pneumonia. The increase in your chances of experiencing diarrhea jump by thirty percent alone.”

A series of scowls and sour faces went around.

“A lot of you here have children,” Seokjin told them frankly. “Or you’re exposed to children. So let me hit you where it hurts the most. Children have weaker immune systems than any of us. When you don’t wash your hands visibly to them every time you need to, you not only fail to reinforce the behavior, but you also increase their chances of getting sick. Worst case scenario? You or they get so sick you have to see a doctor like me, and then naturally I prescribe antibiotics.”

A young woman near Seokjin asked, “What’s wrong with that?”

“Other than the way you’ll be feeling?” Seokjin asked. “Antibiotics are life savers. Literally. But there is such a thing as antibiotic resistance. And if you get sick enough, you or a group of people can build that resistance, making certain or a wide range of antibiotics useless.”

Seokjin didn’t want to scare them, but sometimes scare tactics were the best tactics.

“You may look at this,” he hedged, “and think it’s a little childish or dumb to put such an emphasis on just hand washing. But I see a lot of people a day, trust me, and some of them are sick in ways that could have been prevented. It takes sixty seconds to wash your hands thoroughly, and you can save yourself, or someone you love, a world of pain because of it. Just think about it.”

Seokjin got to go to lunch after that, and while he was enjoying a cool drink in the shade, he happily read a text from Jungkook wherein he promised he was on his way. There was still nothing from Namjoon on making an appearance, but the day was far from over.

He expected Jungkook before he started his station up again in a couple of minutes. He just wasn’t expecting his brother to come practically plowing into his side moments after the text and nearly manhandle him towards the clinic, saying, “Okay, so don’t freak out or anything, but we have a small emergency.”

Seokjin’s stomach hit the floor. “Namjoon?”

“No, no,” Jungkook rushed to say. “He’s doing damage control right now and clean up. There was sort of an ambush.”

Too loud, definitely too loudly, Seokjin demanded, “Ambush!”

Jungkook rushed out, “I said don’t freak out!”

The clinic was closed, but Seokjin had the master key and alarm code to get in, so he was able to get the both of them into the clinic as he demanded, “What’s the emergency? And you’d better explain this ambush.”

Jungkook hit the lock on the doors to the clinic after they were in and said, “It’s Suga. He got hit during the set up. It was definitely a set up. He’s around back. He didn’t think it would be a good idea to come through the front bleeding everywhere.”

“Go ahead,” Seokjin urged, pushing at Jungkook. “Meet me with Yoongi upstairs. You said stabbed, right? It’s bad, then.”

“Not good,” Jungkook said evenly, but there was fear in his eyes.

The second floor then, definitely. For a minor wound, Seokjin could treat Yoongi in one of the examination rooms. But a stabbing? Something like that could require surgery, or at least treatment above a quick bandage or some stitches.

Jungkook was running towards the back entrance when Seokjin called after him, “You’re ruining my day!”

Jungkook shouted back, “You’re the best.”

It wasn’t Namjoon, Seokjin told himself, breathing in deeply before taking the stairs to the second floor two at a time to get ready for Yoongi. It wasn’t Namjoon that had been hurt. Jungkook had said so.

When Jungkook, along with a hand full of Bangtan’s men, got Yoongi up to his operating room, the man was literally bleeding onto the floor.

“It’s not that bad,” Yoongi hissed out, a hand clutched to his side where blood was seeping out. The flow was slow, however, so Seokjin was able to breathe relief in that department.

“What happened?” he demanded, getting Yoongi up on a table. He sheared off Yoongi’s top without asking for permission, and then peeled back the man’s hand.

The wound, without pressure being applied, gave a strong pulse, and gushed blood out.

“Damnit,” Seokjin said softly. He wanted to know, “Who’s bright idea was it to pull the knife out?”

Jungkook hovered near by, wide eyed as he said, “The dude who stabbed him, I swear. I know better, Jin. I would have kept it in, if possible. But some guy got the jump on him, stabbed him, and then pulled the knife out to go again.”

In a disoriented way, Yoongi reached a bloody hand up to catch Seokjin’s wrist, and with half lidded eyes, he asked, “Is my sister here? Jin. Jin, don’t let her see me like this. Don’t let her know. Don’t … my sister.”

Seokjin shook his wrist free and told Jungkook in no uncertain terms, “Go out there right now and get Yunho. He’s working my station. The hand washing station. Shut it down, put someone in his place, do whatever, but get him. I need another set of hands. Get him. You have two minutes.”

Jungkook shot off like a missile.

And that left Seokjin in the operating room with a delirious Yoongi, and four other men from Bangtan.

“You,” he said sharply, nodding to the one of the far right. “Go wash your hands. Scrub them. Right over there. There’s a sink. Wash them with as hot of water as you can stand, and then get back here in a minute. And you two in the middle, listen up, I need you to bring me a couple of things and it’s really important you touch only what I’m telling you to touch.”

They moved under his orders without thinking twice, all three of them springing into actions and proving their value thus far.

“What about me?” the fourth man asked, looking like he was itching to do something—anything.

“I hope you’re a smart one with a good memory,” Seokjin told him seriously. Then he jerked his hip out where several keys were clipped to a belt loop. “I need you to take the key to the medical cabinet down on the first floor. And you’d better listen very carefully for what I need you to bring up. We only have a short amount of time here, Yoongi is already starting to show signs of going into shock, and I need to figure out how bad the damage is asap.”

He sent the fourth man off to acquire the drugs he’d need for the coming surgery, just as the first man was coming back from washing his hands.

“Gloves,” Seokjin said, nodding to a box over there.

“What am I doing?” the man asked fretfully, watching Seokjin uncertainly.

Seokjin shifted his fingers so that the man could press down on the bandage he’d applied to Yoongi’s side. “I need to wash my hands now,” Seokjin told him evenly. “But we don’t want him to bleed out, do we? So you’re going to stand here, and apply pressure, and I’m going to get washed up. Got it?”

“Got it,” the man said shakily, but pressing down confidently.

“My sister,” Yoongi mumbled, lips pale and bloodless.

Seokjin ran to the sink to wash his own hands.

In a lot of ways, Seokjin suspect he should have felt at least a little forlorn. He had Yoongi on his operating table, severely injured, and had four inexperienced men, with no medical training, as his backup.

But it was like a beautiful waltz was exploding around him as the seconds ticked by. Supplies arrived to his side the same time that the fourth man returned with exactly what he needed to numb Yoongi and then knock him out. And the first was holding strong at Yoongi’s side while Seokjin organized his things quickly and prepared to start assessing the situation from a tactical standpoint.

He was just taking another good look at the wound, questioning the men about the length of the knife that had stabbed Yoongi, when Yunho arrived.

“What’s the situation,” he demanded, washing his hands right away and then snapping on some gloves.

“Stab wound,” Seokjin rattled off, probing the wound for additional tearing or shrapnel. “Approximately fifteen to twenty minutes ago, length of the blade unknown, but definitely longer than your standard switchblade.”

Under the glow of the florescent lights, Yunho looked magnificent, snapping into action and asking, “DPL?”

“Absolutely,” Seokjin answered right away. “We don’t know how long the knife was, and we need to determine if there’s internal bleeding.” A diagnostic peritoneal lavage was the best chance they had at understanding the damage in time to treat it.

Across the room Seokjin could see Jungkook and the other men waiting and watching.

“We need a nurse,” Yunho said as he administered the anesthesia. Yoongi had already passed out, but Seokjin felt better knowing he was sleeping without pain now.

Bluntly, Seokjin said, “We need Moonbin.” He had the most experience out of all the nurses, and Seokjin favored him in high stress situations. The nurse had already proven himself, too.

“On it!” Jungkook said before another word could be said. He ducked out of the room just as Seokjin got started.

Seokjin didn’t say a word as he leveled the scalpel a bit of ways under Yoongi’s navel, Yunho already cutting down his pants with clothing sheers, and told himself at a whisper, “Disassociate. Disassociate. This is not your friend. This is your patient.”

And when he cut into Yoongi’s skin, he was a doctor working on a patient and nothing more.

Moonbin was washed up and at their side just in time to work the catheter into Yoongi in their desperate bid to determine how bad the damage was.

“No internal bleeding,” Moonbin reported to Seokjin with relief in his voice when the procedure was done.

“Blood’s coming in now,” Yunho reported as the door to the surgery room opened and Jonghyun entered. He a mask held over his mouth as he delivered several bags of blood to the side table and said, “You know I have to warn you that this is fresh off the truck and hasn’t been tested.”

Seokjin nodded. “I know.” On top of all the other stations they’d had that day for the community to participate in, they’d also had a blood truck stationed there for donations.

It was borderline unethical to even consider using untested blood. But Yoongi was losing it quickly, and Seokjin didn’t think he’d survive a trip to a larger hospital to receive screened blood.

“What about me?” Jungkook asked, back in the room even though the other men from Bangtan had long since fled. “Can’t I give him some?”

Seokjin shook his head. “Yoongi’s type O.  You’re not compatible.”

 Moonbin frowned and said, “But MJ is. And I know he’s clean, because he just got tested. He just got out of a bad relationship. His girlfriend cheated on him. So he got tested, just in case. A full workup. Everything from syphilis to HIV.”

Seokjin demanded. “Who’s MJ?”

“A friend of mine,” Moonbin rushed to say. “Eunwoo and I brought him today to try and cheer him up from his relationship ending. He’s outside right now, and I swear on my life, he’s clean. I saw his blood test myself. He had it three days ago.”

Weakly, Jungkook offered, “I’ll go get him?”

Moonbin called to him, “He’s with Eunwoo. Find Eunwoo.”

“God bless your brother,” Yunho said wryly. Then he focused back on Yoongi. “Let’s get going on this guy.”

Backing up a little, mask still pressed over his face, Jonghyun asked, “You need me or you got this?”

Seokjin shared a quick look between Yunho and Moonbin, then said, “We got this.”

“Be a Rockstar, Jin,” Jonghyun laughed out, and then left.

No pressure, Seokjin urged himself. No pressure.

No internal bleeding, he reminded himself as he got back on track, was a very, very good sign. It was the best sign they could possibly have, and it cut down on the risk on Yoongi’s life significantly.

What came next was mapping the trajectory of the knife, trying to assess if it had nicked anything important. Even if there wasn’t internal bleeding, there was still plenty that could go wrong for Yoongi in his situation.

“This guy,” Yunho breathed out as they moved along carefully, working in tandem with Moonbin aiding spectacularly, “he’s just eaten up all his luck for the year in one day, I think.”

Seokjin leaned over to verify what Yunho was indicating, and deflated a little in relief. Yoongi had gotten extremely lucky. It looked like the knife had slid up into his ribcage from a lower trajectory, and had cut through meat and muscle, but miraculously missed anything vital.

The amount of blood he’d been losing had been worrisome at first, but there was no indication that an artery had been hit, and Seokjin was starting to have hope.

“I think,” Yunho said slowly, clearly wanting to be certain, “we’ve got a scrape along a rib. But that seems to be the most serious of the issues.”

“Which one?” Seokjin asked.

“Number eleven,” Yunho related. “Floating rib territory.”

Seokjin wondered, “Did the knife hit an intercostal space?” The space between the ribs contained everything from nerves, to muscle, to arteries and veins. Damage there could be significant, even if it was slight.

“No,” Yunho said in an astonished way. “I’m serious, this guy is lucky beyond belief.”

Moonbin shrugged, “The luckiest I’ve ever seen.”

“I’ll be sure to let him know,” Seokjin said, tenseness bleeding from him.

Yoongi hadn’t, much to everyone’s utter shock, been injured in much more than a superficial way. In fact, the biggest threat to him ended up being shock and blood loss. And as Moonbin had said, his friend had been the perfect donor match, and had given more than enough blood right away to solve the first of the major problems.

Then Seokjin had moved Yoongi up to the recovery ward, and done his best to combat shock. He kept a close eye on Yoongi’s pulse, and his heart rate as he waited for the man to wake up.

Seokjin and Yunho had been in agreement that the wound hadn’t needed to be packed, so they’d done another run through to make sure they hadn’t missed any injuries that might cause problems down the line, and then they’d closed him up.

“Rap Mon’s on his way,” Jungkook said softly from the door.

Seokjin looked over at him from where he was standing near the window, watching the people on the street go on about their business as if nothing was happening feet from them. He could even see that Yunho had returned to his station and was helping kids scrub their hands.

He was sad in a way that he couldn’t be down there, finishing out what he’d started. And he was upset that Yoongi was hurt and could have bled out on his table, but in a lot of ways, he was still feeling the exhilaration from the surgery. He’d felt it before, when Seungkwan had come stumbling into his clinic with a ruptured spleen, and it was vibrating through his skin now.

There was a certain feeling that came with saving a life. There was an indescribable feeling that only came with being in the heat of the moment and performing surgery that had real weight to it.

Again, something longing was attached to that feeling, something that reminded Seokjin that he missed it more than he’d been willing to admit. And it wasn’t a good feeling to have.

He loved his clinic. He loved his patients. He didn’t like feeling like it wasn’t enough.

“Jin?”

“I heard you,” Seokjin said, turning from the window. There was irritation crawling under his skin that it took Yoongi almost dying for Namjoon to put in an appearance. “He’s coming?”

“Yeah,” Jungkook said. His eyes drifted to Yoongi. “Is he going to be okay?”

Jungkook’s shoulders were hunched in on himself, and it set off all kinds of protective urges in Seokjin. Enough of them, at least, to get him walking to Jungkook’s side in order to tug him into a warm hug.

“His prognosis for recovery looks good,” Seokjin assured, scratching his fingers across Jungkook’s scalp. He felt his brother nearly melt into him. “The knife didn’t hit anything vital, and we replaced the blood he lost. I’m just waiting for the anesthesia to wear off now, and then I’ll have an even better picture of how quick or slow his recovery might go. Are you going to wait with me?”

“Actually,” Jungkook said, hooking an arm around Seokjin’s waist. He practically lifted Seokjin off his feet with such strength that it seemed effortless, and it startled Seokjin. Since when had Jungkook gotten so strong? “You,” Jungkook said, “are going to go take a break, and get a drink of water, and relax until Rap Mon gets here. He’s on his way, but it might be an hour or so before he shows up.”

Seokjin latched onto the door frame as Jungkook tried to edge him out and protested, “I’m not going to leave my recently operated on patient in the hands of my little brother.”

“He’s stable, isn’t he?” Jungkook asked.

“I’m monitoring him,” Seokjin protested. But even if Seokjin was stronger than people ever suspected, he was no match for his little brother who’d obviously been at the gym, and was practically tossing him out of the room. “Jungkook! I’m not playing around.”

“And you,” Jungkook said, dragging him out into the hall, “don’t give me enough credit sometimes.”

That was when Seokjin saw Jonghyun coming down the hallway.

“I’ll take it from here,” Jonghyun announced. He high-fived Jungkook as he passed by into the recovery room.

“Excuse me?” Seokjin demanded.

“I’m teaming up with your brother,” Jonghyun called through the door, checking over Yoongi’s numbers. “I’ll wait here with him, and you’re going to go sit down and drink some water and pace yourself. You’ve been going hard since early this morning, you just did a tense surgery, and you look like a strong gust of wind could knock you over. When that boyfriend of yours gets here, we’ll let you know and you can come on back up. Until then, goodbye.”

“Traitor,” Seokjin told the both of them.  But he was suddenly a little weary on his feet, and a cool glass of water sounded divine.

“Go,” Jonghyun ordered, settling into the room.

Seokjin glared at his brother as he headed for the stairs, but there was no heat in it, and Jungkook knew it by the smile he returned.

Seokjin was on his way down to the employee lounge on the first floor when a breeze of wind blew at him. It didn’t, contrary to what Jonghyun seemed to think was going to happen, knock him over. But it was confounding, because where could a breeze be coming from?

He walked along the long hallway on the first floor back in the employee area. His footsteps were the only sound echoing on the floor, but there was still wind blowing at him.

He stopped, unsettled, and leaned back a little. He could just see the front door—the two doors that swung open wide when the clinic was open. But they were pressed closed and presumably locked. They must have been, because people were drifting back and forth in front of the clinic, and the automatic sensor wasn’t swinging the doors open.

Seokjin moved back through the clinic. He’d spent plenty of time alone in the clinic before and never felt the sense of unease that he was feeling right now. And that seemed ridiculous, because both Jonghyun and Jungkook were right upstairs.

Instinctively, he called out, “Hello?”

He was coming down off the surgery high in a hard way. He could feel it in him. his heart was slowing, his pulse was dropping, and he should have been calming. But something didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right.

He turned a final corner, the corner furthest back where the offices were located, and stopped.

There was a shadow lurking in the doorway to his office. The door was just angled so he couldn’t see in properly, but there was a shadow extending out of it in the midday sunlight, and it left no question to the fact that there was someone standing in his office.

Who the hell was in his office? And why?

“Hello?” he tried again. How had someone else gotten into the clinic?

He took a firm step forward, and then a hand on his shoulder wrenched him back.

Chapter Text

The action of being jerked back caught Seokjin so off guard that he lost his balance. It hadn’t been a particularly hard tug backwards, but it had been at just the right angle to nearly take him off his feet. And then, of course, he screamed.

The thing was, the person who’d pulled on him, they screamed too.

A distinctly female voice screamed louder than Seokjin had, which startled him into screaming again.

It was all very …well, it would have been hilarious if it was scripted in a television show or movie.

But for Seokjin it was such a shock that his vision nearly went black, and he ended up sliding down the nearby wall as the world spun around him, while a young girl across from him, probably barely out of her teenage years, gasped for air.

Seokjin sucked in air sharply, trying to calm himself down. His heart was beating so hard in his chest it was painful, and his vision was definitely too spotty for it to be a good sign. He felt his chest heaving as he gasped in breaths of air and he let his head thunk back against the wall.

He had his emergency medication in the employee lounge area. He had the pills that would stave off any major cardiac arrest if he took them quickly enough, but enough time and practice had also shown in the past that if he was lucky, he could coach himself into getting his heart under control.

“Are you okay?” the female voice squeaked out, but Seokjin ignored her.

There was a lump in his throat, a lump that was only getting bigger, and that meant it was getting harder to breathe.

A heart racing out of control he could maybe handle. But if his breathing became labored or burdened, he’d have to recognize the danger of the situation.

“Jin!”

He felt Jungkook at his side the same as he heard him. His brother’s warm, familiar hands were hoarding him close, and he could have smelled Jungkook’s obnoxiously strong cologne from a mile away.

“I’m okay,” he gasped out, but he didn’t feel that way.

He’d meant to go to the hospital after that night at the Noodle House when his heart had acted up on him. But he’d gotten so busy, and he’d been distracted, and Minah was out of town until the following month as well. So he’d talked himself into waiting. He’d told himself that other than the little hiccup that night, his heart had been doing just fine.

“Move,” Jonghyun’s strong voice commanded.

And that was all it took for Jungkook to nudge to the side and for Jonghyun to take his place, measuring his pulse against his breathing with a calculating look on his face.

“I’m fine,” he found himself repeating. And then mercifully, the lump in his throat was starting to go down.

As he breathed in deeper and deeper, getting more air each time, he felt Jungkook’s’ hands grip tightly to his pants like an anchor, and when he looked to his brother, there was nothing but fear on his face.

“Do you need your pills?” Jungkook demanded. He seemed ready to bolt.

“No. No.” Seokjin caught his wrist and held on tightly. It was a moment of stability he really needed.

“Your heart rate says otherwise,” Jonghyun commented. But even he had to admit, “Still, it’s at a steady pace, I don’t detect any palpitations, and you aren’t turning blue in the face, so I’m willing to bet you dodged a bullet. What happened?”

Seokjin’s eyes slid from Jungkook, to Jonghyun, to finally the girl that was still standing a distance away. She was clutching her purse to her chest and was looking at them all like she might be the next one to go down.

“How did you get in here?” Seokjin asked. “Who are you?”

“I….” she seemed shocked into silence.

Seokjin felt like he was getting ahead of himself, so he told Jungkook, “I came down stairs and she startled me.”

When Jungkook arched towards her with curiosity, Seokjin was able to just make out the sliver of silver tucked behind him into his waistband. Seokjin hadn’t seen the gun come out, and he had words to say about Jungkook even having it in his clinic to begin with, but at least Jungkook was using some common sense with it and wasn’t waving it around right now.

He supposed he could let it slide this once, even with his rules at the clinic. Jungkook had probably had it on him when things had gone sour with Yoongi, and then he’d been so preoccupied with trying to get him help, there’d been no time to ditch the gun or pass it off to someone outside.

Jungkook was considerate than most when it came to Seokjin’s ticks, so he hardly thought his brother had brought the gun in on purpose.

“Who are you?” Jungkook repeated. He seemed just as confused by the girl’s presence there as everyone else.

She seemed to finally find herself, and rushed out, “I was just cutting through the alley. I was going to have coffee with my friends at the café down the street.” She pointed to the back of the clinic. “The door was open. I just came in to make sure everything was okay. I swear. I came in to see if the door was supposed to be open, because it didn’t look like it was.”

Jungkook’s eyes cut hard. “The back door was open?”

“Did one of yours leave it open?” Seokjin asked. His vision was clearing up now, and his legs felt restless under him. It seemed so unlikely, but still completely plausible. He’d had Bangtan in and out of his clinic since Yoongi had been brought in. It was possible that one of them had left the back door open. But it was a mistake or oversite that seemed … it just felt wrong.

Namjoon had a hand in the direction all of his men got. He knew most of them by name, he built relationships with them, and they knew what kinds of things were absolutely unacceptable. It felt wrong that any of them would have exposed Seokjin to such a thing, especially considering Infinite still had members on the loose. People could be careless and forgetful, but Namjoon’s men weren’t like that with him.

“No way,” Jungkook said, completely in agreement with what Seokjin was thinking. “Not possible.”

Seokjin looked back to her. “You’re sure the door was open?”

She frowned at him. “Of course it was. It was wide open. That’s the only way I could have gotten in here.”

Seokjin turned to Jungkook and requested, “Get me on my feet, okay?” He was still a little wobbly and he didn’t trust himself not to go face first in front of everyone and make a fool of himself.

“Are you okay?” she asked again.

“I’m fine now,” Seokjin told her kindly. “Thank you for coming in to check if everything was okay.”

She finally let go of her iron clad grip on her purse and breathed out, “It looks like I did more harm than good. You made me think just now I’d given you a heart attack.”

She obviously had no context to the impact of her words, but Seokjin wondered how close he’d actually come. The adrenaline rush from earlier, from performing surgery, had probably strained him, and the second shock had taken him to the floor. He probably could have easily gone into cardiac arrest.

Though at least if that happened, he would have had two people who knew how to perform CPR, and one of them who could use an AED to shock his heart if necessary.

He greeted her, “I’m Kim Seokjin. Again, thank you for your concern.”

She bowed to him, lavender dress wrinkling a little, and returned, “Kim Jiyeon. I’m glad everything is okay.”

“You want to sit down? I’d like to check your blood pressure.” Jonghyun asked, looking for any indication that he might pass out again. Seokjin wanted to tell him that he was feeling better now, but he held back, and only shook his head. He wasn’t ashamed of his condition or how it afflicted him, but he didn’t want to talk about it anymore than necessary in front of a stranger.

The girl, Jiyeon, asked innocently, “Why was your door open?”

Jungkook stepped forward, diverting her attention from Seokjin to say, “Let me walk you out. We’re really grateful that you were here to check things out, but we have to get back out front. And we should probably check that door, shouldn’t we?”

Jungkook was leading her to the door when Jonghyun leaned in close to Seokjin and asked, “Enough with the posturing, okay? Tell me exactly how you’re feeling.  How bad? And do we need to take action?”

Seokjin tested out another deep breath of air, and when it went off without a hitch, he was happy to relay honestly, “I thought for a second … well, the world did go dark on me. But everything feels like it’s going back to normal. I think I’m okay.”

Jonghyun grimaced at him. “We’re still going to take your blood pressure, okay?”

Seokjin protested, “But Yoongi …”

“—is perfectly fine upstairs, tucked away in dream land,” Jonghyun finished for him. “He’s stable. He’s fine. And if he isn’t the alarms are loud enough, and this place is quiet enough right now, that we will be able to hear. So let’s go to an examination room and check you out.”

Seokjin grumbled, “You know I hate being a patient.”

“Or,” Jonghyun offered, “we can wait for your brother to get back here in a couple of seconds, and then he and I can double team you, guilt so you bad you feel like crap for days, and basically coerce you into even more than I’d like to do right now.”

He was about to protest, or rather give in to Jonghyun’s first offer, when the moments before his scare crashed back into him.

Part of the reason he’d been so startled by the girl in the clinic was the shadow he’d seen in his office.

And that girl had not been the one casting it.

“Wait a second,” Seokjin said almost absently, pulling away from Jonghyun and heading towards his office.

“What are you doing?” Jonghyun asked, trailing after him. Jungkook met them down the hallway before Seokjin even got back to his office.

“What’s going on?” Jungkook asked in a confused way.

Seokjin blocked them all out and stepped into his office. With his feet planted on the ground firmly, he looked around the room. It was completely empty, and nothing seemed out of place. So he looked harder. But as much as he looked for something to indicate he hadn’t been mistaken earlier, there was no indication that anyone had been in his office.

And there wasn’t anywhere to hide in his office, either. There was no closet, and there was no back covering to his desk, so it wasn’t as if anyone could be crouched under it. There really was no place for someone to hide, and that left only one of two possibilities.

Either he’d been wrong, or while Seokjin’s legs had failed him, that person had used the opportunity to slip out.

But his gut told him he hadn’t seen wrong. For a long time he’d listened to people like Namjoon and Jimin talk about their gut feelings in relation to danger, and he’d always sympathized, but never been able to empathize. Now, however, he was feeling it. There was an urging in him that said he wasn’t wrong, and someone had been in the clinic. Someone had been in his office.

But why?

And who?

“Jin?” Jungkook asked a little nervously.

Seokjin pivoted towards him and said, “When I came downstairs I saw something.”

Jungkook asked uncertain, “Saw what?”

Seokjin moved further into his office, walking the floorplan and rounding his desk to his computer. The computer was still off, and he even put a hand on the tower to confirm it was cool to the touch and hadn’t been on recently at all.

“What are you talking about?” Jungkook asked.

“I came downstairs,” Seokjin recounted, trying the windows next, but they were firmly shut and couldn’t have been opened from the outside. They only cracked open a couple of inches anyway, and even someone extremely slim wouldn’t have been able to fit through without breaking something. “Before I saw the girl, I saw someone in my office. I mean, I saw the shadow of someone in my office. It wasn’t my eyes playing tricks on me, either. Someone was in here, and I think they used the opportunity of what just happened, to slip out without us noticing.”

Almost angrily, Jonghyun said, “We’ve got cameras in the front, and in the surgical areas, but not this far back. Damnit, I knew we should have gotten the whole place covered.”

Seokjin shook his head slowly as he looked back to Jonghyun. “The both of us agreed that we didn’t need cameras back here just yet. It wasn’t a priority, not when we wanted to give bonuses to our staff to celebrate the new clinic opening. I stand by that, even though this happened. Our people deserved those bonuses.”

Seokjin thought they deserved even more than he and Jonghyun were currently able to give them. A lot of their employees were more than skilled enough, with impressive enough work history, to work elsewhere making double what they currently were at the clinic. And they hadn’t been able to give out Christmas bonuses the previous year.

They’d always had plans to cover the entire clinic with security cameras, but they’d really thought that the employee area could wait.

Calmly, but in a deceptive way, Jungkook asked, “Who would be in your office?”

Seokjin offered up, “The person who opened the back door.”

“Broke open,” Jungkook said tersely.

Jonghyun asked, “You checked?”

“I checked,” Jungkook said, nodding slowly. “The lock is busted off, and from the way it was done, it was someone who knew what they were doing. It wasn’t a smash and grab kind of bust.”

Seokjin gave his office a final look around and felt like a failure that there was no clue he could deduce to figure out who’d been in his office, or what they’d been hunting around for.

Maybe whoever had been in the clinic, hadn’t even wanted anything in the office. It was possible they’d meant to come further into the clinic for something else, but either Seokjin or the girl had scared them off and into ducking into his office.

It was impossible to know with no evidence and no suspect.

“Is this to do with you?” Jonghyun asked Jungkook roughly. “You know what I mean.”

Jungkook looked startled as he squeaked out, “Jonghyun!”

“Jungkook,” Jonghyun said tersely, “you know that I love you like you’re my own kid brother, and that’s made me look away from a lot of things you’ve gotten yourself into lately. I don’t judge you, I don’t lecture you, and I don’t get involved with your choices. But if you bring your lifestyle into this clinic, so help me god, I’m going to come down on your like a shitload of bricks. Do you understand?”

Seokjin cut physically between Jonghyun’s line of sight with Jungkook and said, “I want to go check on Yoongi.”

Jonghyun’s face held something threatening for a second, then he said, “Fine, but I want to check your blood pressure first. That’s the deal. And you’re going to drink a glass of water.”

Quietly from behind them, Jungkook said, “I need to make a phone call.”

Seokjin questioned, “To Namjoon?”

Somberly, Jungkook nodded. “This? Maybe it’s a just a coincidence, but a lot of stuff has been happening around this area lately. A lot has been happening to Bangtan and to you, lately. If this isn’t a coincidence, then we gotta find out what’s going on and quick. Rap Mon said he was on his way, but this’ll get him here quicker. And admit it or not, I know you’ll feel better with him here.”

Seokjin leveled up a finger at Jungkook and warned, “Don’t freak him out about this, okay? Just tell him we think someone was in the clinic.”

“Then don’t tell him about your heart?” Jungkook pressed, not sounding pleased in the least bit. “Jin, come on, you know that’s a bad idea.”

“I’m fine,” Seokjin stressed out. “This was a nasty little reminder of what I live with every day, but nothing that I haven’t experienced before. If you tell him about what happened with me, he’ll worry, and get stressed out, and he can’t afford to have that kind of distraction right now, can he? Don’t put him in danger, Jungkook.” He couldn’t have Namjoon worrying over him. He couldn’t have him hovering or smothering.

Jungkook looked even more upset as he said, “No, this isn’t about him at all. It’s about you. You want me to not tell him something for your benefit, not his. And that’s not like you. Jin, what’s going on?”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Jonghyun interjected, and then he put an arm around Seokjin’s shoulders and directed him down the hall to the exanimation room. Over his shoulder he told Jungkook, “Tell Jin’s boyfriend whatever you want. But I’m going to take care of your brother now, and you should start trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Something is, and I’m not going to have gang crap invading this clinic. Your brother and I have worked too hard on this place to have it devolve into that kind of mess.”

“Jonghyun,” Seokjin said softly, but then he was whisked away to an examination room, and he didn’t even see Jungkook leave.

He did, however, let Jonghyun press a glass of water into his hand, check his pulse once more, and then take his blood pressure.

“A little high,” Jonghyun commented, after the blood pressure machine flashed its results. “But nothing to worry about. I bet if I take your blood pressure again in an hour, it’ll be lower.”

“Probably,” Seokjin said quietly.

Jonghyun wheeled the blood pressure machine and cuff to the side of the room and then leaned against a countertop and asked, “So what’s going on? What’s all this coming down on the clinic right now?”

Seokjin peered at him and said, “You never want to know about this stuff.”

“Right,” Jonghyun agreed, “because you and your brother do an exceptional job of keeping Bangtan away from this clinic. Sure, some of their members turn up from time to time, and even I think Taehyung is adorable enough to weasel his way into a permanent post in this clinic if he wants it.  But this? This is starting to feel a lot more like what happened before. With Infinite.”

Seokjin grimaced. “You don’t know the half of it.”

Jonghyun arched an eyebrow. “So tell me.”

So Seokjin, who trusted Jonghyun implicitly, did. He told him about what had really happened in the apartment, the night he’d been attacked. He told him about the members of Infinite still loose in the neighborhood, and the tension growing between Bangtan and Exo over expansion. He told Jonghyun that Namjoon suspected Bangtan was being baited, and he even said that an outside source had told Seokjin that there was something brewing in the south. He told Jonghyun everything he could, and it felt cathartic.

“This can’t come to the clinic,” Jonghyun said roughly, but not unkindly. “This is a safe space, Jin. You know that. This is somewhere our patients can come and know that they’ll be taken care of. We can’t have any gang business come into the clinic. No exceptions.”

“I know,” Seokjin agreed.

“Then are you going to do something?” Jonghyun wanted to know.

Seokjin got up from the examination table and rolled his sleeve down. Then, with a resigned tone, he said, “I’m going to talk to my boyfriend.”

Jonghyun said blandly, “That’s not exactly what I had in mind.”

“Trust me,” Seokjin argued. “It’s the only thing to do right now.”

But first, naturally, he wanted to check on Yoongi. And Yoongi was, thankfully, still completely asleep upstairs, and absolutely dead to the world. There wasn’t so much as a twitch from him when Seokjin checked him over, and that was a good thing. He was eager for Yoongi to wake up so he could give his version of what had happened and shed light on the whole situation, but Yoongi needed his sleep to heal. And Seokjin could wait.

“Go on back outside,” Seokjin urged Jonghyun twenty minutes later when Namjoon arrived, and in force. “One of us needs to be out there to represent this clinic, and Yunho looks like he’s totally overwhelmed from where I’m standing.”

Seokjin could see Namjoon streaking through the crowd towards the clinic from the window he was standing at the same as he could see Yunho being pulled in different directions by glittery children.

“You sure?” Jonghyun asked.

“I’m sure,” Seokjin insisted. “We’re set to have this thing going for another two hours before we can close up. Let me talk to Namjoon, and find out what’s going on with his men and this clinic and everything, and then I’ll come out and join you. I promise.”

Jonghyun hesitated by the door, and he gave Seokjin a raw, worried look as he asked, “Are you sure you’re okay? You know you don’t have to lie to me. You know you can tell me if you’re not actually okay.”

“I know,” Seokjin said, so very appreciative of their friendship. “Thank you for that. But I swear to you, I’m okay and I’m going to stay that way.”

Jonghyun lingered for a moment more, but then he was headed downstairs just in time for Namjoon to find himself in the recovery room.

“Are you okay?” Namjoon demanded, sweeping to Seokjin’s side and lifting him off his feet with a fierce hug. “Are you okay, Jin?”

He’d been startled when Jungkook had done it before, but Namjoon sweeping him off his feet was still something a little magical. He wasn’t going to swoon, but Seokjin could see the appeal of it when Namjoon’s strength showed itself.

“I’m fine,” Seokjin said, and wondered if other people were as tired of hearing it, as he was of saying it. He braced himself against Namjoon and said, “I swear to you. I know when it’s serious, and when I can just take it easy for a while. I just got a pretty bad jump scare. That’s all.”

The worry and concern on Namjoon’s face, expressions he hated to be the one to put there, suddenly morphed into confusion.

“Huh?”

Seokjin tried, “My heart?”

There was spike of fear across Namjoon’s face. “What about your heart? Is it okay?” Namjoon put a heavy, warm hand over Seokjin’s chest, and Seokjin could feel the pressure even through his clothing.

 But Namjoon was acting suddenly like he had no idea Seokjin had nearly had his heart give out on him … and that meant …

Seokjin peered past Namjoon to where Jungkook was standing. His brother had a neutral expression his face, but met his gaze in a bold way.

Seokjin gave him a genuine smile of appreciation.

Of course. Jungkook hadn’t told Namjoon after all. He’d deliberately omitted part of what had happened because Seokjin had asked him to. And even if Jungkook hadn’t agreed with the request, he’d done it all the same. Because Jungkook was Jungkook. And if ever there was someone loyal to Seokjin, it was his little brother.

“Nothing, it’s nothing,” Seokjin said.

Namjoon looked like he was going to cling to the confusion for a moment, but then he shook his head and asked, “Someone was in your office?”

Seokjin challenged back, “You let Yoongi get stabbed.”

Namjoon reared back a little and defended, “I didn’t let him get stabbed.”

Jungkook broke in, “Really it was an accident, Jin.”

“I wasn’t even there,” Namjoon said. He hurried to add, “How’s he doing? Jungkook said you got him through surgery and patched up. You’re amazing, you know. Best doctor ever.”

Coming from anyone else, it probably would have sounded like flattery. But from Namjoon, it was just admiration. Namjoon told him all the time he was a brilliant doctor, and he said it in a way that made Seokjin believe it was a heartfelt compliment, and not just him dolling out needless praise.

“He was lucky,” Seokjin said. He took Namjoon to the side of Yoongi’s bed. “If the knife had gone in any deeper, or at any different angle, he could have bled out before I could have even helped him.”

“But you did,” Namjoon snuck in.

Seokjin nodded. “Yunho assisted in the surgery, and we’re confident that there’s no internal bleeding, and the knife didn’t hit anything important. There’s some scraped bone, and cut muscle, but that’s about it. He won’t be running around any time soon, but he’ll fully recover.”

Indicative of the kind of leader he was, and how much he actually cared about his people, Namjoon oozed relief.

Seokjin turned to Jungkook who was lingering by the door and asked, “Does Hyomin know anything about this?” Yoongi’s complete focus had been on his sister, and Seokjin wanted to have answers about her for when Yoongi woke up.

“No,” Jungkook said, shaking his head. “And I think it’s better that way, right? Until he wakes up and can assure her he’s going to be fine. But she’s out there.” Jungkook bounded over to the window and scanned the impressive crowd for a few seconds before he tapped the window and said, “I see her. She’s not fair from where Jimin is.”

Seokjin questioned, “Does Jimin know?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” Jungkook said with a shrug. “But everyone will get filled in soon enough.”

About the person being in his office, or about Yoongi getting hurt?

“Huh,” Jungkook commented.

“What?” Seokjin risked a glance to Namjoon, who had his palm on Yoongi’s forehead in a concerned way, then focused on Jungkook.

When Jungkook and Seokjin were standing side by side at the window, Jungkook said, “I can’t believe it. Jimin looks like he actually found someone he likes to talk to.”

Seokjin located him on the far side of the open space and said, “He does actually like people. He’s just … picky.” But there was something to what Jungkook was saying. Because Jimin was leaning up against one of the food trucks, talking in earnest to a tall male who seemed to be comfortable in Jimin’s presence. Maybe the other person was a member of Bangtan, but then Jungkook probably wouldn’t have thought it was such a big deal then. No, this had to be someone completely separate from Bangtan, and Jimin looked so absorbed in the other person it was like a stab of hope to Seokjin’s gut.

He couldn’t make out details on the other person, other than the man’s height and gender, but none of that mattered in the least bit. What mattered was the body language he was seeing, and in particular the way Jimin was leaning into the other person, into what would definitely be considered personal space. And Jimin was talking, talking a lot, and that wasn’t particularly normal for him, either.

It wasn’t like Seokjin expected Jimin to stop loving him over night, or just be able to move onto someone else like it was nothing. But it seemed like he and Jimin had finally hit their stride as friends and maybe even brothers. And that left the door open for Jimin to slowly ease himself away from the feelings he held for Seokjin, and towards a relationship that could be reciprocated, and offer him all the love in the world that he deserved.

Were these baby steps he was witnessing, Seokjin wondered. Maybe, and maybe was good. If Jimin was going to start to move on, it was bound to begin with him finding someone else interesting.

“I guess,” Jungkook admitted. “But he doesn’t like most people. Who is that?”

“I don’t know,” Seokjin mused. “But you’re his roommate. Get it out of him tonight.”

“You sure he’s okay?” Namjoon asked from the bed.

Seokjin veered back towards him and asked bluntly, “Namjoon, what’s going on? Yoongi was seriously injured, I’m certain someone was in my office today, and that’s just a couple of things on a long list of them that have occurred lately. And maybe some of them aren’t connected. But what if even a couple of them are?”

Namjoon visibly hesitated.

“I hardly ever ask,” Seokjin reminded. “I try not to pry. But if Bangtan’s business is coming into the clinic, I have to do something about it. I have to stop it. And to stop it, I have to know what’s going on.”

“Alright,” Namjoon said, giving a sharp nod. He went to the door to the room and leaned around the hallway. He was obviously saying something to someone outside. But he was back in a second, closing the door behind him.

“Should I stay or leave?” Jungkook asked.

“Stay,” Namjoon decided. “Nothing I’m going to tell your brother isn’t something you already don’t know.”

“Namjoon?” Seokjin prompted.

Namjoon looked weary in a heavy way, and then said, “Infinite is surging back.”

“Surging back? What does that mean?” Seokjin didn’t like the sound of it no matter what.

“The remnants,” Namjoon said, “or the rubble. What’s left. Infinite is consolidating, and we know they’re doing this because Myungsoo is flaunting it at us. He’s taunting us with what he’s doing. He isn’t being subtle, and what happened to Yoongi is the last bit of proof we needed.”

Seokjin’s eyes trailed back to Yoongi. “He was hurt by something related to Myungsoo?”

Jungkook broke in then to say, “That’s what the guys claimed, right before they started shooting at us. Yoongi got separated from the rest of us after that, and that’s when he got stabbed. But the guys who were there? They said …”

“Tell him,” Namjoon said, letting out a deep breath.

Jungkook winced and said, “They said for Yoongi and me and the rest of the guys to pass on a message to Rap Mon from Myungsoo.”

Trying to keep his voice steady, Seokjin asked. “What message?”

Jungkook snorted, “The fact that they started shooting at us, and there were three times as many of them as there should have been, and they were well armed, and well-coordinated, and definitely had their shit together.” In a frustrated way, Jungkook ran a hand through his hair. “The message was that they were there, and they overpowered us, and Suga got hurt, and we were the ones that ran.”

Aimlessly, Seokjin looked between the two of them. “How? Sunggyu is dead. Infinite is supposed to be in shambles. How did they get the best of you? How is Myungsoo still a threat?”

“We caught a guy,” Namjoon admitted. “And he … volunteered some information.”

Seokjin did not want to think about how that had gone over. Or what the word volunteered meant in this context.

Namjoon continued, “He said Myungsoo is running the show right now. He’s calling in favors, he’s putting the groundwork back together, and he’s using all the tools at his disposal.”

“How?” Seokjin asked again. “How does he even have any tools?”

“Sunggyu put Infinite together very well,” Namjoon admitted. “He had connections with very powerful gangs, and collected favors like they were candy. Myungsoo’s just reaping what’s left over from people who will honor their promises to Sunggyu, even if he’s gone.”

Jungkook agreed, adding, “It’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, you know, but we totally only won against Infinite because of luck, and because we acted faster than them. They probably would have wiped the floor with us, but we got really lucky.”

Seokjin wondered, “So Myungsoo is running the show now? What about Dongwoo and Hoya?”

“Unknown,” Namjoon admitted. “Myungsoo could really be the person in charge right now, or he could just be the face of what Infinite is doing at the moment. Even from jail, Hoya could be the one pulling the strings. And Dongwoo? Everyone takes him for an idiot, but I guarantee you Sunggyu told him everything, because they were best friends, and Dongwoo was with Sunggyu since the beginning.”

Seokjin did not like the feeling of unease that was rising up in him. “So Infinite wants to go back to war with Bangtan again?”

Namjoon drifted away from the bed and to Seokjin’s side. His fingers caught Seokjin’s and he said, “I have to assume. And today … today showed us that Infinite isn’t as crippled as we thought. They’re not a couple dozen men aimlessly gone to ground here. They’re not leaderless, or unfunded, or anything we thought they were. They’re playing a new game now, Jin, and the worst part is, we’re already several moves behind.”

Jungkook’s fingers were curled into fists as he said, “As long as Hoya and Dongwoo and Myungsoo are alive, Infinite will be something. They’re the leaders. They’re the ones who have the connections and the favors to call in. They’re the problem. We have to get them, or this will never be over.”

Seokjin pointed out, “Hoya is in jail.” His case hadn’t gone to trial though, and it seemed like it would be some time before that happened. Seokjin had been keeping track of that case, for obvious reasons, but it was bogged down a mess of fact gathering and trying to determine which officers could be tied to Infinite, and which could provide honest testimony about what had happened.

“Accidents can happen anywhere,” Namjoon said in a steely way.

Seokjin didn’t comment on that. Instead he steadied himself and posed, “Okay, so what comes next? What do we do?”

Namjoon reached out for him. His fingers went up into the hair at the base of Seokjin’s scalp in a soothing way and he said, “If Infinite wants to call in their reinforcements, then we do the same.  Exo is our best ally right now, but not our only one. I’ve been working hard to build a good relationship with some of the other gangs near us, at least the ones that are willing to talk to me. And while it’ll be impossible to know who’s willing to do favors for Infinite, there are some gangs I know who are completely free of any kind of influence there. So we’ll pull ranks.  We’ll make ourselves strong.  And then we’ll finish what we’ve already set out to do.”

Seokjin voice did waver when he offered, “You’ll go kill the remaining leaders of Infinite.”

Namjoon didn’t flinch away from the look Seokjin was giving him. He held strong as he agreed, “We will find them, and we will kill them. Because there is no other way we survive this, Jin. It is kill or be killed, and you need to accept that.”

Seokjin did not prescribe to that kind of idiom, but was curious to know, “That person who was in our apartment then? Who attacked me?”

“We don’t know about that,” Jungkook offered up.

“I’d guess,” Namjoon told him, “that was Myungsoo testing the waters. That was him trying to see how easily he could get at you, or how easily he could play with us. I think you were a Guinea pig.”

“And today?”

Namjoon shrugged and had no answer for him.

Seokjin tugged his hand free of Namjoon’s grip and scrubbed at his face. “I don’t want to do this again, Namjoon. I don’t want to do this.” He didn’t want to live in constant fear, or be a target, or be something that could be used against anyone in Bangtan.

“I’m going to handle this,” Namjoon swore.

“We barely survived the first time,” Seokjin reminded. “I almost died. Jimin almost died. A lot of people did die. We can’t do this again.”

Namjoon put his hand on the back of Seokjin’s neck and tugged him closer. Seokjin let himself tip forward so his forehead collided with Namjoon’s shoulder.

And at a mumble, barely above a whisper, Namjoon said, “It’s always going to be like this, Jin. Always. I’ve told you this before. Suga has told you this before. You said you understood, but do you really? It’s Infinite today, but it could be anyone else tomorrow. And it will always be someone. There will always be someone. This doesn’t just end. It never ends.”

Seokjin gave a shudder.

“You have to understand that,” Namjoon urged, and there was fear in his voice.

But it wasn’t a typical kind of fear. It wasn’t a fear that made sense right away. Not until he felt Namjoon’s grip on him tighten, like he was terrified Seokjin was going to dash off without so much as a look back.

And that was the root of the fear. Seokjin could sense it plain as day now. Namjoon was terrified that Seokjin wasn’t going to accept what their future would be.

Could he?

Seokjin had told himself time and time again that he loved Namjoon more than he hated whatever Namjoon’s lifestyle would throw at him. He’d convinced himself that there wasn’t anything he couldn’t weather for the sake of Namjoon. Especially since this was something Jungkook was involved in.

But the idea of this being his life every day for the rest of however long he lived?

It was exhausting.

How could they have a normal relationship if it would always be like this? How could Seokjin have a regular life, and keep his clinic safe, or even have a family?

“Namjoon.”

Namjoon squeezed even tighter, almost in a suffocating way.

He swore again, “I will fix this. I’ll take care of it. I’ll—”

It wasn’t about fixing anything. It was about the stamina Seokjin didn’t think he had for this sort of thing to be his life every day. He’d accepted that there would be moments when Namjoon would have to take lives, and do things that Seokjin did not agree with. He’d accepted that there’d be times when things were tense and horrible and dangerous. But he hadn’t stopped to consider, let alone accept, that it would be like this all the time.

All the time.

“Jin,” Jungkook said suddenly.

Seokjin pulled himself back from Namjoon and turned to his brother. “What?”

Jungkook pointed at Yoongi. “I think he’s waking up.”

“He is,” Seokjin said, breathing out some relief, seeing twitches from Yoongi that were giving way to some more movement. It was a little sooner than he’d expected, but he and Yunho had gone easy on anesthesia when they’d realized how lucky Yoongi was with his wound. And now that Yoongi was hooked up to an IV line with a painkiller for any discomfort he might feel post op, he really was free to wake up any time.

“Jin,” Namjoon said in an almost desperate way when Seokjin pulled away. He seemed like he wanted to yank Seokjin back.

But ultimately, he let go as Seokjin made a beeline for Yoongi, and Seokjin felt Namjoon’s touch slip away.

“You may want to get his sister now,” Seokjin told Jungkook. “Try not to scare her, okay? Tell her it’s only a little scratch and that he’ll be back on his feet in no time.”

Jungkook scoffed. “She’s a kid, but she’s not stupid.”

“No,” Seokjin agreed, “but she’s his family, so go extra gentle if you can.”

Jungkook flashed Seokjin a thumbs up.

Seokjin let his attention turn fully to Yoongi then, bending down low and promising him in a soft voice, “You’re okay, Yoongi. Can you wake up for me a little more?”

Yoongi groaned as his eyes cracked open. “Jin?”

“You’re okay,” Seokjin told him again, but he wasn’t sure if any of them were.

Chapter Text

“This is ridiculous,” Seokjin said to Taehyung as he slipped his shoes on. He had his shopping bags down at his side and he was on his way out the door early in the morning to the supermarket. Or he had been, because he wasn’t set to go into the clinic until almost noon that day, and was working extended hours to make up for the closure the day before, when Taehyung had arrived and announced why he was there.

Taehyung, who should have been thankful Seokjin even let him through the front door, was shuffling back and forth on his feet awkwardly.

“Completely ridiculous,” Seokjin concluded.

“Shoot the messenger, why don’t you,” Taehyung whined.

“Namjoon apparently thinks I’m going to be shot if I don’t have someone breathing down my neck at all hours of the day.”

It really wasn’t Taehyung’s fault, and that’s what he reminded himself every time he found himself starting to get angry. It was Namjoon he was supposed to be angry at.

And even that seemed unfair. Because as little as Seokjin liked being treated like a child, he got it. At the end of the day, he always got it.

Yoongi had been stabbed just a day previous, and with it had come almost a formal declaration from Myungsoo that things were just beginning.

Later that night, when the health fair had been over, and Seokjin had been leaving for the day to go back home, Namjoon had been waiting for him. The man had left not long after Yoongi had woken up, but he’d come back before Seokjin left, and he’d take Seokjin down to the Noodle House and sat the down in a table in the corner.

Seokjin had just wanted to go home at that point, but the Noodle House was probably Bangtan’s safest territory in the whole of the neighborhood, and that night it wasn’t full of patrons, it was full of Bangtan members. From the lowest rank, to Jimin and Hoseok across the room, it was full to the brim with only one kind of person.

“You’re not going to want to hear this,” Namjoon had braced.

“Tell me anyway,” Seokjin had said, too tired to argue, and too overwhelmed to fight anymore. He’d declined any food and was just nursing a glass of water.

Namjoon, actually looking apologetic, said, “Suho and I talked and we’re in agreement on something. Something concerning you.”

That gave Seokjin pause. “You talked about me?”

“You’re my greatest weakness,” Namjoon admitted. “I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, okay? I mean, I love you more than anyone else on this planet. You are everything to me. You are the one person I’d do anything for, and the only bad thing about that is that I promise you all my enemies know that. And every single one of them will try to use you to their advantage, if they can. Infinite won’t think twice about it. I promise you they will.”

“I won’t be shut away,” Seokjin said sharply, gripping the glass of water so tightly he was afraid for a half second he might crack it. “Don’t you dare even try it. I love you Namjoon, but I won’t stand for something like that. You will break us if you try.”

There was nothing but seriousness on Namjoon’s face, so Seokjin truly believed he understood what was being said.

“Suho and I,” Namjoon tried again, “want you to steer clear of any place that used to be under Infinite’s control. That’s where they had their foothold, and if Myungsoo is putting it all back together, that’s where he’ll start.”

Seokjin asked, “Almost all of Infinite’s area went to Exo though, right?”

The way he understood it, in the agreement that Namjoon had brokered with Suho, Exo ended up with Infinite’s streets, and Bangtan took over Big Bang’s. It was logistically better that way, considering where each gang originated from. And sure, Seokjin’s old clinic had been in Infinite’s territory, but the new one was staunchly in Bangtan’s.

Only a couple of streets that had belonged to Infinite had ceded back to Bangtan, and Seokjin still didn’t understand that, but he certainly didn’t need to.

Namjoon had agreed, “True, but just … I know there are a couple of places, like restaurants, that you really like that are in that part of town. Suho’s bringing all his boys in tight until we can come down hard to Myungsoo—we have to figure out where he is first, but you’ll be much safer here. So just … just do me a favor, okay? Don’t go to that part of town if you can help it. Myungsoo’s got guys hiding him right now. He’s got allies that we can’t see yet—people that we might think are our allies. So until we’re certain, can you stay away from those areas?”

Seokjin pointed out, “I have to cross through there to get to the hospital where Minah works, and my dentist is over there, and Jungkook’s school is there. I can’t just avoid a large portion of town, Namjoon.”

Across the table Namjoon had reached for him, and it was so instinctive for Seokjin to reach back in turn.

“I’m not telling you not to go anywhere.” Namjoon had chuckled a little and added, “I’ve never be stupid enough to try and tell you anything. I’m asking you to just … steer clear of those places if you can. That’s what I’m asking.”

That didn’t seem like too much to ask. So Seokjin had agreed, and he’d thought that was the end of it.

Until now.

When Taehyung had showed up to play babysitter.

Seokjin asked him, “What are the odds you’ll just turn around and walk away if I ask you to?”

Taehyung gave him a sympathetic look, then said, “Slim to none considering I want to live long enough to enjoy my anniversary with Hoseok next week.”

A smile pulled at Seokjin’s mouth then, even if he didn’t want it to. Hoseok had been a bumbling set of nerves over the upcoming trip, no matter how many times Seokjin had assured him that all the preparations had been made, and he was good to go.

“Namjoon wouldn’t kill you,” Seokjin told him. He added playfully, “He needs you too much right now.”

“That.” Taehyung jabbed a finger at Seokjin. “That right there. I can see him telling me he needs me too much right now, or Hoseok, as a punishment, and ruining our anniversary. No. No way. I’m no taking that chance.”

Seokjin’s eyes narrowed. Namjoon would be doing that over his dead body. He’d put in too much work himself, to make the anniversary a sweet one, for anyone, least of all Namjoon ruin it.

“Actually,” Taehyung said, bouncing a little on his feet, “I asked to be the one here. Rap Mon was just gonna have some of the other guys follow you around a couple steps behind you. But I thought you might want me more, and I could get some last second help with Hobi’s present.”

“Again?” Seokjin asked. He bent to retrieve the shopping bags, and then the both of them were out the door. The grocery store wasn’t too far away, and as May threatened to bleed into June, it was nice enough in the morning that he wanted to walk the distance. “Still? Taehyung, Yoongi and Jungkook and I already walked you through this.”

“I know, I know,” Taehyung said, hopping ahead. “I still need your help organizing everything. I’m terrible at this kind of stuff. I’ll ruin it if you don’t help. Please, Jin.”

Seokjin rolled his eyes. Before Taehyung had asked, he’d known that Seokjin would help.

“Answer me this at least,” Seokjin said. “How long can I expect to have people showing up at my door whenever I want to go anywhere?”

Taehyung made a face at him. “You’re really predictable, Jin. Rap Mon could hand out schedules to everyone, and you probably wouldn’t deviate very much. You kinda do the same stuff at the same time every day. You’re predictable. So it’s not like anyone is spying on you. Rap Mon just knows that on the days you don’t go into the clinic early to open, you tend to run chores like grocery shopping.”

“I am not predictable,” Seokjin said sharply. “I just happen to have a routine. I don’t live my life chaotically like you do. I doubt you even know what day of the week it is right now.”

Taehyung stuck his tongue out at Seokjin. “Monday, actually.”

“Routines are good,” Seokjin pressed on. “Stability is good.”

“Booorrrrring.”

Seokjin watched Taehyung stumble a little as the pavement shifted heights due to recent construction. He didn’t laugh when Taehyung almost had a mouth full of asphalt, but the temptation was there.

Instead, Seokjin demanded, “How long is this going to go on?”

Taehyung pointed out, “Suga got stabbed yesterday! I’m an actual member of Bangtan and Hobi’s been extra … hovery lately.”

“Hovery?” Seokjin questioned.

Taehyung nodded. “You know, that thing that boyfriends do when they want to smother you with safety, but they know if they try you’ll punch them or something. Hovery. He’s always asking me where I’m going now, and who I’m going with, and how long I’m going to be gone. He’s kind of driving me crazy, you know, and this is Hobi we’re talking about. He sounds like a stalker, but he’s just Hobi.”

Softly, Seokjin said, “He loves you and he’s worried.”

“I can definitely take care of myself,” Taehyung protested.

“So could Yoongi.”

They walked a little longer before Taehyung assured him, “You know Rap Mon is gonna stop being really knee jerky, right? Like, he’s freaking out right now, but he’ll get his footing any second. And then you won’t have to deal with people like me just showing up to walk you to the grocery store.”

“I don’t mind you showing up,” Seokjin insisted. “I mind the reason behind it.”

Again, Taehyung said, “Just give him time. A little time. We all thought that the matter with Infinite was done, or was going to be done really soon. We thought we’d round the stragglers up and take care of business. No one thought Myungsoo was going to come back at us. Not him of all people.”

“Why not him?” It really was a curious thing, actually. Seokjin had had very little contact with Myungsoo in general, but from what he had, he knew that the other male chose his words carefully, was not impulsive, and strayed away from conflict. He didn’t seem the type to lead a gang, or rebuild one. Still, he’d always seemed calculating in a way, sneaky even. Maybe he was the kind to snatch up an opportunity.

Taehyung hummed, then said, “From my experience, he never really seemed like the go get’em type. You know what I mean? Hoya always pushed at people. And Dongwoo probably knows everything about everything concerning Infinite. But Myungsoo? That guy was always just in the background, doing as he was told, not rocking the boat. No one would think he’d be capable of this, until now, of course.”

Seokjin posed, “Namjoon thinks maybe he’s not really pulling the strings.”

“Possible,” Taehyung said. “The point is, we don’t know enough right now to rule anything out. That’s why Rap Mon is doing this, and freaking out, and treating you like you’re glass. But he will calm down. Things will go back to normal.”

But what was normal? Was Namjoon’s standard for normal really normal?

Still, in light of everything that had happened, Seokjin said, “I’m going to give this a little more leeway. Like you said, you guys don’t know enough about what’s happening, so everyone is being reactionary. Right now, I can be patient.”

Not forever, but for the moment, he could do it.

“Good, good.” Taehyung looked relieved. But then the expression was gone in a second, and worry was back as he said, “Now help me with Hobi’s present.

“I don’t know what you think you need help with,” Seokjin drawled out as they walked along. “You had a great idea for a present after all, and all the tools to make it perfect.”

Taehyung gave him a look that broadcasted loudly he wasn’t amused. “I’m really double thinking your supportive parent vibe, Jin. A scrap book is a terrible, stupid, ridiculous idea. Hobi is going to buy something expensive and wonderful, and I’ll just have some stupid book for him.”

Sharply, Seokjin said, “Hey, that’s not fair to say. If I had my choice between something Namjoon made me with love, and something he bought that had a fancy price tag, you can probably guess which one I’d prefer. And I’d bet you anything Hoseok is exactly the same way. Presents that are thoughtful, and comfort the heart, and are made up of love, are always better. And it’s not just some stupid scrapbook you’re making. You’re going to be giving him a chronicle—a record of your relationship together. You thought that up all on your own, and I think it’s great.”

Taehyung grumbled, “You would. You’re such a dad, Jin.”

And Taehyung was such a hoarder. But that was working to his advantage in this situation. Taehyung, by his own admittance and from what Seokjin had seen, kept practically everything. Hoseok never complained, but that probably had a lot more to do with how much he loved Taehyung, than anything else. And it didn’t detract from the fact that their apartment was filled with often meaningless things that were piling up everywhere. Their apartment certainly wasn’t dirty, and Taehyung wasn’t hoarding trash. But items … he never seemed to throw out items that he’d had contact or use for in any way.

Seokjin hadn’t confronted him on the noticeable behavior, and mostly because he thought it had a lot to do with Taehyung’s childhood. A long time ago, or at least what felt like a long time ago, Namjoon had told Seokjin about Taehyung’s issue with food. It had always been noticeable how often Taehyung ate, even when he wasn’t hungry, and how possessive over it he could be. Namjoon had told Seokjin how Taehyung had grown up dirt poor, and often starved, and that had created an unhealthy relationship with food.

It seemed like that extended to personal items as well.

But in this case, it was working to Taehyung’s advantage. Because Taehyung still had the ticket to the movie he’d been at when he and Hoseok had officially acknowledged their feelings for each other. He had the souvenir tickets from their first date, pictures from all the important events of their first year together, the ice skate rental receipt from the time they’d gone skating together, and a million other little pieces to their relationship.

“Just …” Seokjin tried to coach him, “just start at the beginning. When you get home, if you have time, lay everything out chronologically. Put it all in order and then take it step by step. Build each page in the book one by one. Don’t try and see the big picture yet, just focus on each little one.”

“Start at the beginning he says,” Taehyung groaned out.

Had he been wrong? Seokjin asked, “You said you still had that movie ticket, right? That was the start for you guys. What’s wrong?”

Taehyung’s walk certainly had less pep then as he said softly, “You want me to start a book about our relationship out with a ticket stub to a movie I went to with someone else?”

“Yes,” Seokjin said honestly, “because you didn’t leave with the person you came with.”

Voice pitching in a dangerously worried way, Taehyung demanded, “But will Hobi see it like that? Or will it just be a shitty reminder of the fact that he was right there in front of me for ages and I never saw him?”

So this was what it was really about. This wasn’t about Taehyung being worried about his present. All of this was about Taehyung’s insecurity over his relationship with Hoseok.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin said kindly, the supermarket coming into sight as they turned a corner, “you can’t beat yourself up over that. Sometimes the hardest things to see are right in front of us. And what matters now is that you and Hoseok are an amazing couple. Your relationship is strong and real, and that’s all that matters. You love him, right?”

Taehyung didn’t hesitate to bob his head.

“Then make the scrap book and show him how much.”

Seokjin knew he’d hit home when the bounce was back in Taehyung’s step.

But he couldn’t help asking, “Why did you overlook Hoseok when you were younger? Did you just genuinely not notice him?”

Taehyung made a thoughtful sound, then supposed, “Hobi’s kind of like the support beams in your house, you know?”

“No?” Seokjin laughed out.

Taehyung pressed on, “Think about it, Hobi is … he’s the backbone of anything in a lot of ways. He’s reliable and dependable, he doesn’t buckle under pressure, and like the support beams of a house, you never really notice he’s there until he isn’t—and then everything comes toppling down. That’s how I missed him, I think. Hobi doesn’t stand out. He’s not that kind of person. But he’s the only kind of person you’d want to have, because when you can’t hold yourself up, he does it for you.”

There was warmth blossoming in Seokjin’s chest at the mere thought of how in love the two of them were, so he couldn’t help teasing, “You’d better make that present of his extra good, because he put a lot into your anniversary trip, and it’s going to be amazing.”

“Jiiiinnnnnn!” Taehyung wailed dramatically. “You can’t tease me like this. Don’t do this to me.”

Seokjin let himself laugh loudly as the phone in his pocket vibrated.

“Your boyfriend calling to check in on you?” Taehyung teased.

Seokjin shot back, “Has yours yet?”

Taehyung returned to flouncing ahead, calling back, “Hobi is nowhere near as bad as Rap Mon.”

Taehyung pulled ahead even more as Seokjin reached into his pocket for his phone and retrieved it. He hadn’t received a phone all, but instead he’d gotten a text message, and one from Jonghyun at that.

Worry set in right away when he saw the content of the message, and the request for help that Jonghyun was sending.

Seokjin wasted no time stepped off to the side of the crosswalk to call the clinic. Ahead of him Taehyung noticed that he wasn’t following after anymore, and was doubling back with a worried look.

“What’s going on?” Seokjin asked the moment he had Jonghyun on the line. He’d opted at the last second to call the man’s personal cell phone, just in case it was specifically a matter between them. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re in at noon today, right?” Jonghyun asked.

“Yes,” Seokjin said slowly. Everything sounded normal on Jonghyun’s end. “Why?” He shook himself then, remembering to ask, “Wait, you texted me an emergency. What’s the emergency?”

“The emergency is,” Jonghyun told him in a tempered tone, “that you may need to come in early.”

Seokjin tried to stop himself from imagining all kinds of terrible reasons for such a thing.

“Why?” he asked, waving off Taehyung when the other male pressed if there was a problem. He mouthed the word ‘work’ at Taehyung and continued to Jonghyun, “Did someone call in?” Their staff were notoriously good about not calling in too often. Maybe they didn’t even call in often enough. He thought back to Hongbin not feeling well and coming to work anyway.

Slowly, evenly, Jonghyun said, “You may need to come into work early because I’m pretty sure I’m going to jail for murder in about five minutes.”

That … that was not what Seokjin had expected to hear.

“Excuse me?”

Jonghyun grumbled out, “You remember when Yunho asked us to put a little work ethic into his cousin? You remember when he said all we needed to do was be a little tough on him—straighten him out, and in return he’d owe us a favor?”

That was right. Seokjin had forgotten about Yunho’s cousin Samuel. He had been set to start that morning, and Yunho must have already dropped him off.

Seokjin cautioned, “Yunho did warn us he’s something of a brat. I take it that’s holding true?”

“I’m going to go to jail for murder,” Jonghyun repeated. “I’m going to strangle this kid to death and I won’t even be sorry a little bit.”

Holding back a laugh, Seokjin asked, “It’s only nine-thirty in the morning. What could he have possibly done already to make you feel that way?”

“What could he have done?” Jonghyun repeated, voice going thin. “First of all, you have to see this kid. He showed up for work like he was going to be walking the runway. I’m talking the whole shebang. Tight pants, jewelry, makeup!”

“Jonghyun,” Seokjin tried. “That’s fine. Come on. Let the kid dress however he wants. We’re not the fashion police.”

Next to him, Taehyung snorted and gave Seokjin’s own clothing a look over before saying, “That’s for sure.”

Seokjin reached out and pinched him, urging Jonghyun, “Just put him in some spare scrubs and have him take the jewelry off. I promise you he’ll wash his own makeup off the moment he starts breaking a sweat cleaning something and it runs.”

“Oh, I tried,” Jonghyun cut back. “He told me that he didn’t have a choice if he wanted to be there or not, but he wasn’t going to be at the clinic looking lame like the rest of the people who worked there.”

Seokjin did laugh then. “Well, he’s definitely a teenager.”

Jonghyun continued, “I asked him to wash the windows out front, because we had all those people outside yesterday touching everything, and he told me he didn’t want his nail polish to chip from the chemicals. His nail polish! It’s black!”

“You were never a teenager, were you?” Seokjin asked. He’d never painted his own nails, but he knew teenagers could be edgy. They pushed boundaries just for the sake of pushing them. And teenagers who were confident in themselves expressed that through creativity, often in their own appearance. Seokjin had been too preoccupied with trying to get through school as fast as possible to ever really stop to consider expressing himself through his appearance, but he’d had plenty of friends that did.

“He says he doesn’t do bathrooms, and he has to take a break every fifteen minute, and then, and THEN—”

Seokjin could hear the rise in urgency in Jonghyun’s voice.

“—then,” Jonghyun ranted on, and at a level that Seokjin knew Taehyung could hear, “he told me he’d been looking up labor laws in Korea, and he knew what his rights were, and that we couldn’t legally hire him without a work visa, and—”

“Jonghyun,” Seokjin tried.

Jonghyun charged on, “—told me that he knew exactly where the American embassy was, and that maybe he’d consider not getting us shut down if we negotiated his pay rate. HIS PAY RATE!  We are not paying him anything!”

Seokjin glanced at Taehyung and said, “I guess he found out his credit cards got cut off.”

He could hear Jonghyun breathing heavily before he repeated again, “I am going to murder him Seokjin, if you don’t come down here early and save me. I’m going to murder him and then Yunho is going to be upset, but that bastard did this to us, so maybe he knew all along how it would end.”

Seokjin finally got started back into the grocery store, and Taehyung lifted a basket for him to use.

“I’m grocery shopping right now,” Seokjin told Jonghyun. “But how about this. I need to go back home and do a couple more things, but I’ll call Yunho when I get there.”

“Call him?” Jonghyun practically seethed. “I already tried that. His phone is conveniently off.”

Seokjin didn’t think for a second that Yunho was deliberately ignoring Jonghyun’s phone calls. Yunho wasn’t that kind of person. It was more likely that Yunho had gotten a taste of freedom from his cousin, and was capitalizing on it. He’d still be back to pick the kid up in the evening. He wasn’t abandoning his cousin.

“Jin,” Taehyung whispered, drawing his attention. He held up a box of sweets that he clearly wanted, and eyed the basket. “Please!”

“You have your own money,” Seokjin whispered back. “Buy it for yourself.”

Taehyung pouted. “It tastes better when someone else buys it for you.”

It was like shopping with Jungkook. Shopping with Taehyung was identical to shopping with Jungkook. And clearly, as he gave Taehyung a nod and tried not to judge himself for it, he was just as weak to Taehyung as he was to Jungkook.

“Jin, are you listening?” Jonghyun asked

“I am,” Seokjin promised.

“This isn’t me just bitching,” Jonghyun said sharply. “This is a disruption in the flow of serenity in our clinic.”

Seokjin paused. “Did you really just say that?”

Again, he could hear Jonghyun breathing deeply, calming himself. And then his friend was saying, “Jin, our clinic works for a reason. Everyone is in their place, doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and working within the system that we have painstakingly built up. We could fly by the seat of our pants when we were just this tiny little place and three of us worked there. We’re much bigger now. We’re responsible for so much more. And we’ll lose control quickly if we let anything disrupt the way we do things. Tell me I’m wrong. Think about it and try and tell me I’m wrong.”

The thing was, the situation did sound rather funny. Jonghyun was known for getting a little worked up over small things, but he really wasn’t wrong. Their clinic was on the edge of something now. They were breaking into something bigger than they’d ever been before, and they had to keep tight control on the way things were run.

“Where is he right now? Samuel?”

Jonghyun answered, “On yet another break. He’s been on break longer than he’s actually been working. And by working, I mean complaining about all the things he’s not going to do.”

“You know,” Seokjin pointed out, “Yunho did say we could go rough on him. I’m not saying you’ve got permission to pick him up and throw him into the bathroom you’d like him to clean. But don’t be afraid to lay down the law. You’re in charge, Jonghyun. Remind him if you have to.”

“So he can pony up with a lawyer like he’s already threatened?”

Who was this kid?

“He’s not going to get a lawyer,” Seokjin said. He was reminded suddenly that Jonghyun hadn’t practically raised a child like Seokjin had. He didn’t know how and why his buttons were being pushed. “He’s testing you. He’s an American kid, whose cousin dropped him off with a bunch of strangers, and he has no money. He’s probably lonely and angry, Jonghyun. So he’s testing you. If he pushes at you, push back.”

“Push back,” Jonghyun said with disbelief.

Seokjin found himself almost compelled to take pity on Jonghyun. So he said, “Okay, okay. I’ll come in early. Eleven?”

“Eleven,” Jonghyun agreed, breathing out in relief. “I’ll cover an extra long lunch for you. But thank you. You have to do something about this kid. Or else he will be dead by tomorrow.”

“I’ll see you later,” Seokjin told him. “Just keep your cool until I get there. Or hand Samuel off to one of the other doctors. Hongbin is probably the closest to him in age, but Yoona is definitely not someone you say no to—she can handle him.”

Sounding apologetic, Jonghyun said, “Okay. See you.”

“Problems at work?” Taehyung asked as they continued their way through the store.

Seokjin slipped items into the basket Taehyung was carrying, and said, “You could say that. We have a new … intern … and it doesn’t seem to be working out too well.”

Taehyung gave an easy shrug. “Just fire him. It’s your clinic.”

Seokjin nudged Taehyung towards some healthier food and said, “It’s not that simple. But I do need to get back there sooner than usual, so let’s get on with the shopping.”

It didn’t take too long for him to get what he needed for the next few days’ worth of cooking, and then when he got back to his apartment, he was finally able to persuade Taehyung to leave him on his own.

It was Namjoon’s turn to do the laundry, so Seokjin made sure all of his washable clothing was placed in the hamper, and then he let himself indulge a little in surfing the internet aimlessly before getting himself ready for work.

Contrary to what a disaster Jonghyun had made it seem like he’d be walking into, when Seokjin entered the clinic, everything was running smoothly. It was business as usual.

“Where is he?” Seokjin asked after waiting a few minutes for Jonghyun to come out of an examination room with a patient.

Jonghyun looked even more sorry now than he’d sounded on the phone as he said, “I really appreciate you coming down here, Jin. He’s been on his phone for about an hour now in the employee lounge. But he’s been threatening to leave for the past fifteen. He guilt tripped Lizzy about not having a lunch, so she lent him some money to buy something, and we all think he’s going to make a break for it.”

Seokjin asked, “How much did she give him?”

“Not a ton,” Jonghyun replied, “but probably enough to get him within walking distance of where he’s staying in Seoul. And I can’t stand that little punk, Jin, but if he leaves the clinic and something happens to him, that’s on us. Or at least it’ll feel like it’s on me.”

Seokjin reminded, “You’re working late so I can take an extra long lunch break tonight.”

Jonghyun crossed his fingers. “I swear.”

With a firm nod, Seokjin set of to find Samuel.

He was, exactly like Jonghyun had said, in the employee break room. He was stretched out on the sofa by the window, with his shoes on, fully engrossed in his phone.

“Kim Samuel?”

Seokjin shut the door behind him to give them some privacy.

The teen, Samuel, glanced over at him. His gaze lingered for more than a second, then he asked, “Who are you?”

Seokjin said, taking even steps forward, “This is my clinic.”

That seemed to peak Samuel’s attention. He sat up and swung his legs to the floor, remarking, “Oh. You’re Jin.”

There were a couple of chairs, the big plushy kind that Seokjin liked to sink into, facing the sofa, so Seokjin took a seat there. But he was all business when he said, “I know you’re from America, Samuel, and in America relationships between people can often be casual and lax. But in case your cousin failed to mention it, here in Korea, things are different. I’m your elder, and more than that, I’m someone you have no relationship with, and do not know. So you will address me properly, you will show respect, and you will start now.”

Samuel’s mouth fell open a little, and when he spoke next, he muttered something in English that Seokjin didn’t catch.

“Yunho,” Seokjin said once there was silence between them, “has been very clear about what he wants you to get out of your trip to Korea. And your family agrees, because he has their blessing for this.”

Samuel sat up even straighter, almost in a defensive way and snapped back, “I was supposed to come to Korea on vacation.”

“As a present for nearly failing your sophomore year at school?”

Samuel flushed in embarrassment.

This wasn’t a bad kid, Seokjin decided in an instance. This was just a kid who’d gotten his way for too long, and hadn’t had enough discipline, and needed a strong helping hand.

“You came here,” Seokjin told him, “because you need to learn a couple of things, and your parents can’t teach you. Yunho can’t teach you.”

“You can teach me?” Samuel leveled back.

“Hard work can teach you,” Seokjin replied.

Samuel gestured, “Cleaning toilets? What kind of lesson is that?”

Seokjin met his gaze and said harshly, “That even when there are things you don’t want to do, you have to do them anyway. Because maybe someone asked you to do it. Or maybe it’s your responsibility. But growing up means taking accountability for yourself and your actions. In your case, it means respecting your parents, and going to class, and bringing home good grades. Your cousin says you’re smart, Samuel, but that you don’t apply yourself. He says you only do the things you want to do. Do you know who acts like that? Children do.”

Samuel shot up to his feet. “I didn’t come here to get lectured.”

“Then leave.” Seokjin nodded to the door.

“Just leave?” Samuel looked at him suspiciously. “You’re just going to let me leave?”

“Of course I am.” Seokjin nodded once more to the door. “Go on. As you wanted to remind the other employees who work here, and disrespectfully so I should add, you’re not a Korean citizen. You’re not officially employed here. None of us are responsible for you here. None of us here are your family. You can leave at any moment.”

Samuel looked to the door and Seokjin wondered if his gamble was going to pay off.

To increase his chances, he hedged, “But where are you going to go? I know your parents cut you off financially while you’re here in Korea, and Yunho said you’re not heading back to California until the beginning of July. I suppose if you call your cousin, he’ll come get you. And then he’ll take you to stay with family. You’ll likely end up cooped up inside all day, with no money and no friends and no where to go, not to mention nothing to do. If that sounds better to you, go right ahead and leave.”

Samuel seemed to wilt before him, looking even younger than his sixteen years as he sat back on the sofa. He asked Seokjin, “So I should stay here and clean bathrooms instead?”

“You should stay here,” Seokjin said, “because this is where your cousin wants you, and this is where he thinks it’s best for you to be. Yunho is not an impulsive person. He’s not careless or thoughtless. If he thinks you’ll get something important out of being here, then don’t you think you should give him the benefit of the doubt?”

Samuel didn’t answer. Instead he sat on the sofa, turning a ring against his finger, looking deep in thought.

Kindly, Seokjin told him, “You’re looking at this place like a punishment. You’re looking at it like a prison. But we help people here, and that includes you. You won’t just be cleaning toilets—though that is a very important thing because people deserve clean restrooms and we also need to keep the clinic clean for obvious reasons.  We asked you to clean the restrooms earlier, that’s true. But that won’t be your only job responsibility.”

A frown on his face, Samuel said, “I want to see Korea. This is where my mom is from. I want to see the city and have fun.”

“You’re not a child anymore,” Seokjin reminded. “You’re old enough now to know that if you want to be rewarded, you have to put in the hard work first. No one here is saying you can’t enjoy your time in Korea. But you need to be responsible and you need to understand what your obligations are. You’re not expected to work on the weekends. That time is yours. But on the days you are here, you need to pull your weight, just like everyone else. This only works if everyone does what they’re supposed to do, and does it well.”

Again, Samuel went back to twisting the ring on his finger. Seokjin wondered how long it had been since anyone had pushed back on him. He wondered how long it had been since someone called the teenager’s bluff, or spoke bluntly to him.

Then, unexpectedly, Samuel asked, “You said I’d do other things here, right? Not just clean toilets?”

Seokjin fought hard not to smile and informed him, “You wouldn’t just be cleaning toilets. Actually, we have a rotating schedule of who handles the bathrooms. So some days, yes, you might be cleaning bathrooms. But other days you might be moping the floors, or washing windows, or dusting, or helping out if someone has an accident of any kind in the waiting room. There’s also a lot of quick prep that needs to be done before patients are seen in the examination rooms, and after. At the end of the day, we might need you to pick up around the clinic.”

The was genuine curiosity on Samuel’s face as he asked, “Why not just hire a janitor or cleaning crew?”

“Because we’re on a budget,” Seokjin told him simply. “We do have a professional cleaning crew that comes in after surgeries and medical procedures to keep everything safe to use, but for day to day operations, we can cut costs by doing it ourselves.” He leveled a blunt look at Samuel. “No one here is too good to clean a bathroom. Your cousin was cleaning bathrooms at our old locations, and I have cleaned bathrooms here. But by doing a lot of the cleaning ourselves, we can put money towards better helping our clients, or treating the staff to lunch, or anything else we want to.”

“Oh,” Samuel eased out.

“That’s what we do here,” Seokjin said. “We make sacrifices in some areas, to benefit others. And that is what you can be a part of. That’s what we’re graciously offering to you here. Yes, you will clean bathrooms. And if you’re with us here, then you’re going to show respect to your elders and absolutely everyone who comes through those doors in the front.  But you’ll also be one of us. You’ll be someone we consider part of our family. You’ll come out to lunch with us. You’ll be someone we want to talk to when we’re on break. And you’ll be someone we value as a person, and as a worker. That’s the choice you have here. Grow up and start acting like the person you’re expected to be, or go running back to your cousin and sit in a house for the next five weeks. Make the call.”

Seokjin got up himself, then. He walked steadily to the door and opened it.

“Doctor Kim?”

Seokjin turned back to him and added as a warning, “No one here is going to baby you. I want you to understand that before you make your choice. No one will let you get away with the things you’re used to getting away with. We’ll demand only the best of you, and we will work you hard. If you stay, you’re staying to work. But maybe you’re also staying because a part of you wants to be better, too, and you know this is a way you can do it.”

A small but encouraging smile appeared on Samuel’s face, and he offered up, “You sound like some Disney movie.”

Seokjin grinned back and said, “This is definitely isn’t a Disney movie. Because Samuel? If you stay and you screw with this clinic, its staff, or my patients in any way, I’ll hand you back to your cousin in pieces. And do not test me on that.”

He didn’t stop to wait for anything Samuel might have to say to that. Instead he pushed through the door, stepped out into the hallway, and pulled the door closed behind him.

And then he turned to face the crowd of people who were waiting for him in that hallway.

Startled to see almost all of the staff on call, including Jonghyun, Hongbin, Raina, Yoona, Lizzy, Moonbin and Jessica. Seokjin asked, “Is anyone actually working here?”

Jonghyun said nonchalant, “Joy’s holding down the fort and Irene’s in a consult right now.”

Jessica said in an amused way, “Krystal is going to be so mad she missed this today.”

“Missed what?” Seokjin asked. He attempted to move past them, but Moonbin and Jessica crashed their shoulders together to prevent it from happening.

At the same time, Jonghyun asked, “Did you tell that little brat you’re going to throw him out on the streets if he doesn’t get it together?”

“Jonghyun.” Seokjin shook his head. “I told him that if he wants a place here, and he’s willing to work hard, he has it. I told him he can be a part of this family, if he’s willing to shape up. But I also told him he can go any time he wants, otherwise. I think we should give him a little time to think it over.” When no one moved, Seokjin sighed and said, “That’s me subtly telling you all to get back to work.”

There was a wave of grumbling, but quickly enough, everyone but Jonghyun went.

“You really said he could stay?” Jonghyun asked Seokjin.

“If he gets it together,” Seokjin relayed. “But he may just walk through those doors and leave, Jonghyun. The point is, I’ve left the choice up to him.”

Jonghyun made a face. “Isn’t that half the problem with him? That he’s been making his own choices for too long?”

Seokjin patted him on the shoulder as he walked by. “That’s why this is important. We get to see if he’s going to make the first responsible choice for himself he’s probably made ever, or if he wants to keep behaving like a child.”

He felt Jonghyun’s eyes following him down the hall as he man called after him, “You’re going to be one hell of a scary dad one day, Jin.”

Seokjin bit back some laughter and got to work.

And though he’d extended the opportunity for redemption to Samuel, he truly wasn’t sure how the teenager was going to sway. He wanted to think his words had gotten through, but it was hard to tell. And teenagers could be fickle by default.

That was why, twenty minutes later when he was just about to head into an examination room to see his first patient of the day, he was pleasantly surprised to see Samuel come into his line of sight. The teen was bleeding anxiety, gnawing on his bottom lip worriedly, as he offered Seokjin a little wave.

“Come to a decision?” Seokjin asked. He’d held off calling Yunho just yet. He’d decided to wait for Samuel to make his choice, before cluing Yunho in on anything.

Samuel took a visible, deep breath, and asked, “I was told there were some bathrooms that needed to be cleaned.”

Trying not to let it show too much on his face, though he was terribly proud of a boy he’d only known a couple of minutes, he waved at Joy and beckoned her over. Then he told Samuel, “Let’s get you some supplies and protective gear, okay? And then when you’re finished check in with myself or one of the other senior staff so you can get the okay to go to lunch. I know Lizzy lent you some money for lunch, and if you ask her nicely, she might even show you the best place to get some.”

A small but building smile broke out on Samuel’s face. “Thanks, Doctor Kim.”

Seokjin replied, “Welcome aboard.”

Chapter Text

Seokjin truly hated to set himself up for any kind of jinx, but as the week progressed and May became June, things fell into place. For all intents and purposes, everything seemed absolutely normal, nothing catastrophic happened, and Seokjin’s guard fell little by little.

Maybe a part of him, after the information that Myungsoo was trying to resurrect Infinite, expected something explosive to happen. He’d in part expected a big power play from the remaining members of Infinite, or an attack of some kind, or just … something.

But nothing had happened. Seokjin went to work day after day, and came home to the news of nothing important happening at all. Namjoon was still furiously trying to hunt down an emboldened Myungsoo, but progress had stalled, and everything was falling quiet.

On top of that, Seokjin had zero complaints about Samuel as the clinic’s newest intern. Though he’d certainly gotten off to a rocky start, and even Seokjin hadn’t been sure he’d be up to the demands of the job, he’d come through in a spectacular way. He’d started showing up to work in clothes that were still fashionable, but severely toned down, and most of his jewelry and nail polish had vanished until after his shift was over.

“Come on, admit it,” Seokjin had ribbed to Jonghyun a full week after Samuel begun working at the clinic. “It’s driving you up the wall to have to admit that the kid is a good worker.”

Samuel still grumbled a little, and often complained about the smell of the cleaning chemicals, but Seokjin thought that was a fair trade off to the teenager showing up to work every day on time, working his full shift, and being at least relatively respectful to both the employees and the patients.

“I’ll admit no such thing,” Jonghyun had protested, but Seokjin had seen him a day previous, tossing Samuel a drink from the vending machine and telling him he’d done a good job on the windows in the front.

Samuel was a good fit for the clinic, even if he was a little temperamental, and even Yunho said he was noticing a difference.

So as the week came to a close, and Seokjin relished in the tentative plans he had with Namjoon to go out on a mini date that weekend, he let his hopes rise. Myungsoo was absolutely still out there. And Seokjin took his attempt to build Infinite back up very seriously. But normalcy seemed to be the flavor of the passing days now, and that was something he could get behind.

On Saturday, with the Clinic hours starting to wind down and the flow of patients thinning, Seokjin swung by Jonghyun’s office and told him, “I’m going to go do a couple of house calls, okay?”

The clinic was much larger now than it used to be, but Seokjin had promised himself from the start he’d never abandon any of his patients. And he had a handful of them who were too elderly, or disabled, to make the trip to his clinic. So occasionally he went to them, and it wasn’t a service he was ever going to abandon. It was a little unorthodox, but he figured that was what made the clinic special.

“You out for the rest of the night?” Jonghyun asked.

Seokjin nodded. “See you tomorrow?”

Jonghyun raised a hand. “See you tomorrow. Good luck with the traffic.”

The best part of things seemingly going normal for a while, Seokjin decided as he walked the distance from clinic to the carpark, was that Namjoon’s anxiety had greatly reduced his overprotective tendencies. There were still members of Bangtan milling around the clinic from time to time, particularly when he was off or starting, but they weren’t lurking around in the building. And he wasn’t getting followed to and from the store or any other errand he was running.

He made two house calls after leaving the clinic, each of them taking around half an hour, and then he headed to his real destination.

When he knocked on the door to Yoongi’s house, he was pleasantly surprised to have Hyomin answer the door.

He gave her an earnest grin and greeted, “There’s my favorite girl.”

She hugged him tightly around the waist and said excitedly, “Hi Doctor Jin. I missed you. Did Yoongi tell you I loved your health fair? It was the best.”

“I bet it was boring,” Seokjin said, waiting for her to detach so he could come fully in the house. He hardly ever came to Yoongi’s personal residence, but when he did, he always enjoyed the warm, familial feeling it gave off. Yoongi was the only member of Bangtan who lived at home with his family, and Seokjin liked that he did. He liked the way Yoongi valued his family, and how hard he worked to extend Bangtan’s protection to his family despite how separate he kept the two of them.

“Was not,” she insisted, smiling bright, pretty brown eyes up at him.

“You don’t have to lie,” Seokjin teased. “You had to do all kinds of learning.”

She protested almost in an insulted way, “I love learning! You believe me, Doctor Jin, right?”

Seokjin took pity on her almost right away, because he was so fond of her, and because he knew it was true. He let her pull him along as he said, “Well, you do get very good marks in school, so I’m willing to believe you this time.”

She gave a cheer and was insanely precious as she gave a small dance.

She was so radically different from Yoongi it was almost impossible to imagine they were full blooded siblings. But even if their behaviors were so completely different, they looked so alike it was startling. Hyomin’s face was softer and very feminine—extremely pretty actually (Seokjin offered his condolences to the first boy who made a move on her), but she shared all the same features as Yoongi. And they had a lot of the same mannerisms.

“Tell me,” he requested as they walked the long hallway down to Yoongi’s bedroom, “has your brother been a good patient, or a terrible one? You’re my acting nurse, remember? You have to tell me the truth about whether he’s been staying in bed or not.”

Seokjin absolutely knew Yoongi had not been staying in bed nearly as long as he was supposed to. For the first couple of days, at least, Yoongi had been on heavy pain medication and still so delicate that he was almost confined to bed. But over the past couple of days Jungkook had spilled the beans on how much he was on his feet, and so Seokjin wanted to know if he was going to cop to it or not.

“Terrible,” she said in a dramatic way. “He won’t listen to me at all when I say he has to take it easy. I told him you made me his nurse, but he’s being a jerk.”

Seokjin palmed a hand down the back of her head and encouraged, “You know your brother. You have to work extra hard to get him to take it easy. He’s always a work in progress. Just keep trying. He’ll give into you eventually. You’re too cute not to.”

Hyomin gave a squeal of delight.

When Seokjin got to Yoongi’s door he knocked sharply with his knuckles, and then he pushed open the door when Yoongi’s voice echoed through the wood for him to come in.

This wasn’t the first time he’d been in Yoongi’s house, but it was the first time he was in the other male’s room. And it was … so very Yoongi. It was minimalist in every way, and far too clean for a typical male his age. But there were a couple of surprising things in the room, like a professional and pricey looking keyboard in the corner of the room, and a couple of photos littered around of friends and family.

Seokjin recalled that Jungkook had actually said once that Yoongi was musically inclined, so that explained the keyboard. But the pictures? Yoongi didn’t seem the overly emotional or attached type, but he had the photos to contrast that assumption. They weren’t even flattering photos of himself, either, but they were displayed proudly like they meant everything to him.

“How are you?” Seokjin asked, setting his bag down on the floor next to the bed Yoongi was sitting up in, his back against the headboard. Seokjin moved the chair from the desk across the room to the bed, and sat on it. “Your sister tells me you’ve been a terrible patient to her.”

Yoongi leveled at Seokjin, “You created a monster in my sister. You gave her a taste of power and suddenly she thinks she’s the older sibling.”

“Jerk!” Her head popped around the corner to reveal her sticking her tongue out at him.

“Close that door,” Yoongi told Seokjin.

“You’re supposed to be nice to me,” she told him. “Mom said you have to, and Doctor Jin said I’m cute, so if you’re mean to me, people will be mad at you.”

Seokjin bit back laugher as Yoongi flung a pillow at her. It wasn’t nearly as hard as he was capable of, even injured, but it was an impressive throw all the same.

“Don’t act like a victim!” Yoongi shouted at her. “I know where you sleep.”

Hyomin vowed, “I’ll tell Doctor Jin everything! I tell him how you’re not staying in bed like you’re supposed to, and how you’ve been going out at night every night!”

Yoongi’s head swung towards Seokjin as he said flatly, “Lies. All lies.”

Hyomin looked like Yoongi’s undoing in that moment as she flipped out her phone and turned it around so Seokjin could see. The picture displayed on it was a little blurry, but not so much so that Seokjin couldn’t make out Yoongi’s form disappearing through the front door of his house. And by the lighting around him, it was very late at night, or far too early in the morning.

“I will smother her to death in her sleep,” Yoongi vowed.

“I know even more!” Hyomin declared, picking up Yoongi’s pillow and tossing it back at him.

“Okay, okay,” Seokjin told her, going to the door and pulling it halfway closed. He gave her a nudge back from the doorway and said, “Thank you for trying your best to look after your brother, but I do think he might actually commit murder if you don’t stop egging him on. So cut him a break, okay? He got hurt, he’s probably upset he’s not at his regular 100%, and he needs you to be on his side right now.”

It took just a half second for his words to sink in, and then her chin was wobbling as she asked at a whisper, “But he’s gonna be okay, right?”

“He’s going to be fine,” Seokjin promised her at an equally quiet tone. “I promise. But just in case, I’m here to check up on him. So let me do it, okay? Let your brother have some privacy, too.”

“Okay, Doctor Jin.” She took an even bigger step back, hugging her phone tightly to her chest.

Seokjin couldn’t stand the sad look on her face, so he whispered at her, “Has he been going out every night?”

The corner of her mouth pulled up. “The last two. I’ve got pictures from both nights.”

“I’ll see those pictures later,” he told her, and then when there was a bigger smile on her face, he felt good enough to shut the door.

When Seokjin went back to Yoongi on the bed, the male had a wince of pain on his face.

That told Seokjin everything he wanted to know about the medication he’d prescribed Yoongi. All the same, he asked, “Have you been taking the pills you’re supposed to?”

To his credit, Yoongi didn’t lie. He only gestured to the full bottle of pills sitting on the edge of his desk, partially obscured by books and other items.

“Why not?” Seokjin asked.

Yoongi told him “Because those pills are too strong. When I take them, it’s hard for me to think straight. It’s hard for me to walk straight sometimes.”

“And you want to be able to walk out that front door, right?”

Yoongi pinned him with a glare. “Just because I got hurt, doesn’t mean business gets put on hold. I need to be out there. Bangtan needs me, and I’m going to do what needs to be done.”

Seokjin pointed out, “You had major surgery a week ago. I opened you up and was scared that you were going to die on my operating table. And no matter what kind of brave face you’re trying to put on now, I know you’re in pain. If you’re not taking those pills, you’re in a lot of pain.”

“I’m taking Tylenol,” Yoongi countered.

Seokjin sighed. “You should be taking the medication I prescribed for you. If you don’t want to, that’s your choice. But at least let me check the wound now, okay? You’ve been on your feet. You’ve been moving around a lot more than you should be. So without seeing the wound yet, I’m predicting it’s going to be inflamed, agitated, and maybe even showing signs of infection.”

Yoongi plucked at his shirt, indicating he needed help getting it off, and offered, “You know I’m not going to sit around, especially with the message I got loud and clear from this wound.”

“I knew that,” Seokjin agreed, lifting Yoongi’s shirt over his head. “But I thought you were smarter than just ignoring all my medical advice and the medication I prescribed you. Because if you do get an infection, or you make your injury worse because of what you’re choosing to do, you’re going to be out for a long longer.”

“And you don’t seem to understand that every single day I’m not out there helping, is a day that we’re inching closer to whatever Infinite has planned.”

Seokjin ignored him for a second, getting his first look at the wound in several days as he peeled back the bandage. It was red, like he’d expected, redder than it should have been, which corroborated the story that Yoongi had been on his feet far too much. And it was a touch warmer than Seokjin would have liked. But it wasn’t blasting heal like an infected wound would have been, and there wasn’t any sign that it wasn’t going to heal properly.

Seokjin inspected the stitches as he said, “We both know that there’s no predicting what Infinite plans to do from here on out. Sure, we know Myungsoo is leading the charge to take back power and territory, but not one person can offer a method as to how. You’re no closer to knowing today, than you were yesterday, or you probably will be tomorrow. Yes, Bangtan needs you out there, but the situation is holding right now. Nothing is happening right now.”

Yoongi grunted in pain as Seokjin’s fingers probed the wound. “Just because you don’t see anything happening, doesn’t mean that’s the case.”

“Fair enough,” Seokjin agreed. “But if something big is coming, then when it gets here, you need to be at your best. When it arrives, you need to be able to fight. I have zero fighting skills. I could probably lose a fight with my laundry. But even I could take you right now. And all it would take is a pound or so of pressure to your side right now to put you down. Who will you be protecting when that happens?”

In a sign of defeat, Yoongi leaned further back against his headboard and let out a long breath.

“You are so lucky,” Seokjin told him bluntly. “You could have died from this. If the knife had nicked an artery, or hit a vital organ, you could have bled out on my operating table. Do you get that? Your sister would have never known how close she was while you were dying, if this had gone any different.”

Yoongi’s fingers gripped Seokjin’s wrist hard at his side as he said, with thankfulness, “You saved my life. I’m not ungrateful, Jin. Understand that.”

“Then don’t treat your luck like it’s something that comes around all the time.” Seokjin sat back and tucked his hands into his lap. “And respect what your body needs to heal. I’m not asking you to forego everything to do with Bangtan while you heal. That would never happen. But I am telling you to take it easy. Can you do that for me? Because I need you out there watching my brother’s back, and Namjoon’s. But you’re more liable to get them killed, than save them, if you’re running yourself thin with this injury.”

In almost a scathing way, Yoongi said, “Okay, enough with the pep talk. I get your message. I get it.”

“Then start acting like it.” Seokjin got up from the chair and retrieved the bottle of pills from the desk. He set them down next to Yoongi and said, “Take the Tylenol during the day if you want. But take these at night, when you’re trying to rest. Can you do that for me at least?”

“Fine,” Yoongi agreed.

“And stop being a jerk,” Seokjin added, but with a smile. “You’re being that way because you’re in pain. I can tell. Don’t be mean to your sister. She’s your sister.”

“Ha,” Yoongi replied. “Don’t pretend like you don’t have a younger sibling that drives you up the wall.”

“I do,” Seokjin laughed. “And I think I’ve even threatened to smother Jungkook to death in his sleep a couple of times. I get it. But this is the first time she’s really seen you hurt as a result of what you’re doing with Bangtan. This is the first time she’s probably realizing your mortality. And we talk about how she’s not a kid anymore, but she’s not grown up. She’s still young, you’re her big brother, and she’s scared.”

Yoongi eyed him for a minute, then said, “Yeah, I get it.”

“Get what I’m saying?”

Yoongi shook his head. “No, I mean I get why Jungkook is so irritated with you all the time when you lecture him. You really know how to punch a guy in the gut with words, Jin. You’re such a dad.”

Seokjin tossed his shirt back at him and ordered, “Put your shirt on. I want to see you struggle for a second.”

Yoongi chuckled as he followed orders.

“If anything,” Yoongi said when he’d gotten his shirt on, with Seokjin eventually taking pity on him and helping him, “you should be a little glad this is playing out with Infinite. It’s incredibly dangerous what’s happening right now, but it’s actually a little in Bangtan’s benefit, too.”

Seokjin’s jaw fell open a little. “How do you figure that?”

“Remember when I told you Suho was driving Rap Mon crazy,” Yoongi reminded.

Seokjin nodded.

Tipping his head, Yoongi said, “This is going to unite Bangtan and Exo again. We’ve been drifting a little more every day. That was always expected, you know. Gangs … they don’t get along well for a reason. Everyone is always a little too selfish and isolationist. Gangs are dangerous business because loyalty and honor are always in short supply, even when we’re talking about the gangs that try to do good. So the two of us have been drifting.”

Seokjin guessed, “Because Namjoon wants to hold onto what Bangtan has and settle down with the idea of peace, and Suho wants to expand.”

“Exactly.” Yoongi’s eyebrows rose. “Until now, Rap Mon has been placating Suho, for lack of a better word. He’s been doing his best to keep him content with what we’ve got right now, and pressuring him not to rock the boat. But eventually, and sooner than you think, Exo was going to be a problem. That would have meant at best, we’d have serious tension with Exo. And at worst?”

Seokjin knew what the worst was.

Yoongi didn’t elaborate, thankfully. He just said, “Now Bangtan and Exo have something to team up over, again. They have something to unite them. Now Suho isn’t worried about expanding, and Bangtan isn’t worried about holding them back from that for the sake of the alliance. Now it’s just about a common enemy, and it’ll be some time before Suho starts thinking about expansion again.”

Seokjin sagged a little. He was happy to know what Namjoon wouldn’t be worrying about Suho’s actions for some time. But he really wished it was because of better circumstances.

Namjoon had confided to Seokjin that he’d always expected, even from the start, that the alliance between Bangtan and Exo wasn’t something that could last. But they were all better off when it was in play, and Seokjin couldn’t help being a little thankful that was currently the case now.

“I trust Namjoon with this matter,” Seokjin finally settled on saying. “On the issue with Suho’s Exo, and Infinite alike, I trust him. And I feel good about trusting him because he has you standing next to him. When you’re not busy disobeying your doctor’s orders, you’re the person Namjoon needs to bounce ideas off, and stand with him, and talk sense into him when he’s considering something stupid.”

“Flattery,” Yoongi said, almost in an abashed way.

“Truth,” Seokjin countered. “Namjoon is an amazing person, but part of the reason he’s the leader he is, is because of you. You two are a team, and no matter what happens, as long as you stay a team, I feel like we can get through this.”

“I don’t know if he needs me,” Yoongi said in a way that sounded honest. “But I’m going to stand by him all the same.”

Seokjin genuinely felt better hearing that, even if he’d already known it.

“Now,” Yoongi said, “tell me honestly. “If I cut back on how long I’m on my feet, and the midnight excursions that apparently my little sister feels the need to log and report on, how long before I can get your seal of approval to get back to my normal routine?”

Seokjin considered the question or a moment, then said, “If you rest like you’re supposed to for the next week, and everything looks okay at your next checkup, I don’t see why you can’t be on your feet and moving around after that. You should be doing some physical therapy for the muscle that was shredded, but I’m going to take a guess you’re not willing to block off significant time for that.”

“Nope,” Yoongi said certainly.

“A week,” Seokjin settled on. “Follow what I say for another week, and I’ll stop hounding you about the wound and your mobility.”

Yoongi grunted out, “Fine. Deal. And yes, I know not just Hyomin, but also your brother has been telling you what I’m up to every night. I’m not stupid, and he’s not as slick as he thinks he is.”

“He’s my brother,” Seokjin chuckled out. “I bet you he always thinks he’s getting away with things no one thinks he is.”

He spent another half hour in Yoongi’s company enjoying it. Yoongi could be stiff at times, and hard to approach, but underneath it all, he was fascinating, and layered, and endlessly interesting. Seokjin didn’t mind sitting up in his room, talking with him until Yoongi started to show signs of exhaustion.

“You’d better stick to our deal,” Seokjin said on his way out the door. “I’ll have you know my best nurse is watching you.”

Yoongi asked, “Oh, Taehyung is here?”

“That’s not an insult to him anymore,” Seokjin pointed out. Then he offered Yoongi a parting wave, and went off to say his goodbyes to Hyomin.

When he got home later that night, he was particularly stunned to smell something delicious in the air. “Namjoon?” he couldn’t help calling out. He’d seen the man’s car parked out front, and all the lights had been on, but that didn’t explain the smell.

“In the kitchen!” Namjoon called out.

Seokjin trailed through the living room to the get to the kitchen, and when he came to a standstill at the threshold between the two rooms, it was over the sight of Namjoon wearing an apron, stirring something in a pot. He had ingredients laid out, another pot simmering, and it all smelled so, so good.

“Are you … cooking?” Seokjin asked.

Namjoon said, “The truth is, I know how to make exactly three kinds of dishes. Granny realized pretty early on that cooking is not one of my best talents, so she had me focus on a couple of important dishes, and perfect them. So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m making you one of the three dishes I know I can make well.”

“And why is that?” Seokjin asked, a little suspicious. But suspicion aside, he loved the sight of Namjoon in an apron, dedicating time and energy to making him a meal. Seokjin liked cooking because he liked taking care of others, and it was therapeutic for him in a way. Namjoon had never expressed that feeling before, but he was still there, in the kitchen, cooking.

With a wince, Namjoon offered, “Remember those dinner plans we had tomorrow?”

Seokjin was a little disappointed, but not that surprised. With Infinite on the rise, even if they hadn’t made any moves yet, Namjoon was bound to be even more busy. “Canceled?”

“Postponed.” Namjoon waved Seokjin over, and when he was close enough, Namjoon was wrapping him up in a lovely hug, smelling like spices. “And since I can’t make it tomorrow, I thought I’d cook for you tonight.”

Seokjin pressed a kiss to the side of Namjoon’s jaw. “This is a romantic gesture, Namjoon. But are you sure you’re not going to give us food poisoning?”

Seokjin gave a yelp of surprise, but a wonderful one, when Namjoon caught him by the waist and twisted him around, kissing him deeply and with a slight dip.

“Your food is going to burn!” Seokjin protested, laughing into another kiss.

“Better get it then,” Namjoon said, making no move to do so, however. He added, “Wouldn’t want to poison us.”

Seokjin gripped his hands behind Namjoon’s neck tightly and said kindly, “Your grandmother was a magnificent cook, so you know I’m only teasing. If she helped you master a couple of dishes, I’d be glad to have them.”

“Great,” Namjoon said, oozing relief.

Seokjin managed to get himself fully back on his feet, no matter how much he would have loved to stay wrapped up in Namjoon’s arms, and asked, “So what are we having?”

Namjoon turned back to the pot he’d been stirring, and said, “Doenjang jjigae. I know, it’s probably not going to be anywhere near as good as you can make it, but I’m confident this is going to taste good at least. It passed Granny’s inspection more than a couple of times.”

Peering around Namjoon to the simmering pot, Seokjin spied the soybean in it and the right color to the broth. “It looks good,” he encouraged, squeezing Namjoon’s hand supportively. “I bet it tastes great, too. Give yourself some credit.”

Namjoon rocked back on his feet a little proudly. “Thanks. Want to set the table? Food’s almost done.”

Seokjin was more than happy to pitch in. Namjoon had done all the hard work, after all, and the mood in their apartment was reminiscent of the early stages of their relationship. Without having to fuss or worry about anything related to the mounting stress in their individual lives, there was an atmosphere of ease and comfort, and Seokjin wanted nothing more than to bottle the feeling.

They were eating less than twenty minutes later, and after only a few spoonfulls of the stew, he couldn’t help himself heaping praise on Namjoon. “This is amazing,” he said. “Honestly.”

Namjoon leaned in for an easy, slow kiss, and confessed, “Granny always said that if I was going to ever convince someone to settle down with me, I was gonna need something to offset all the … quirks I have.”

“She would,” Seokjin laughed.

“So this is my bait.” Namjoon wiggled his eyebrows at Seokjin. “Are you hooked?”

Maybe in an embarrassing way, Seokjin told him with a dreamy tint to his voice, “I was hooked from the start.”

“That’s my line,” Namjoon insisted, and then the rough pads of Namjoon’s fingers were tipping Seokjin’s jaw up just slightly so their more innocent kisses from before could be overshadowed by the more passionate ones that came next.

It was hard to concentrate on the food, no matter how good it was, when Namjoon kissed him that way.

Somehow, however, they managed to sneak in enough for Seokjin’s stomach to fill up. But then the dishes were completely discarded as Seokjin and Namjoon stumbled their way to their bedroom.

“I’m sorry I have to cancel tomorrow,” Namjoon whispered to him in the quiet of their bedroom almost a full hour later. Seokjin was nearly nodding off to sleep by then, but Namjoon’s words were enough to catch him into alertness.

“What?” Seokjin frowned at Namjoon. “Things come up all the time, and I cancel on you sometimes, too. It’s no big deal. I’d say you made it up to me.”

He felt Namjoon’s face press into his shoulder, lips on his skin as the man said, “You deserve better. You deserve more.”

“I deserve what I want,” Seokjin countered. “And I have what I want. So don’t try and tell me any different.” He gave a yawn, but rolled more firmly into Namjoon. It was maybe a little too warm, with their combined body heat, to do it, but Namjoon’s words were worrisome. “What’s with you? What’s wrong?”

Namjoon’s hand pressed flat against Seokjin’s hip and he mumbled out, “I just mean … I don’t know what I mean.”

“Oh no you don’t.” No matter how sleepy he’d been just a few seconds earlier, Seokjin was awake and alert now. He forced himself to sit up, dislodging Namjoon, and pressed, “What made you say something like that? What’s going on?”

Flopping fully onto his back, Namjoon put his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. The light in the room made his skin glow a warm tint, but he looked the most worried Seokjin had seen him in a long time.

“Do you ever wonder what you’d be doing if I hadn’t dragged you into all this?” Namjoon asked him.

Unamused, Seokjin said, “The same thing I’m doing now.”

“Jin,” Namjoon breathed out. “I’m about to drag you back into something horrible, and all day today, while I was meeting with Suho, and talking to Hoseok, and repositioning my men, all I could think about was you.”

“I’m flattered,” Seokjin said in a way that clearly indicated he was not, “but Namjoon, we’ve been over this before.”

“I almost got you killed once,” Namjoon said, voice going thin. “And today … today I was thinking about how easy it would be for you to be in a bad situation again in the coming months. I was thinking about what an easy target you’re going to be, and that it’s all my fault.”

Seokjin said firmly, “You are not going to guilt trip yourself about this again, Namjoon. You are not.”

“But I am,” Namjoon insisted. “Suho brought you up today, and what we need to do to keep you safe from Myungsoo when he starts getting aggressive in his actions, and I had this horrific thought of you …”

Dying? That was probably the word.

Seokjin asked, “So you cooked me a pity dinner? To say sorry for thinking something morbid?”

“No.” Namjoon looked sharply to him. “I cooked for you because I am sorry about canceling tomorrow, and because I love you, and you always cook for me so I wanted to return the favor. That’s why.”

“I love you, too,” Seokjin, and he let himself settle back down against Namjoon. “But you really need to stop thinking such terrible things and blaming yourself for things that are either not your fault, or not going to happen.”

Namjoon’s arm came around him like it usually did, and he told Seokjin, “One mistake. That’s all it would take. One mistake and I could lose you to someone who would do anything to make that happen.”

Seokjin said, “Then it’s a good thing I have a family like Bangtan watching my back.”

The tenseness of Namjoon’s body indicated he didn’t like that answer.

“I could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” Seokjin pointed out. “Or my heart could give out, or a million other things could happen. You know that. So if I’m living with the fragility of life hanging over me, especially with my heart, I’m going to do what I want with who I want, Namjoon.”

“I think,” Namjoon pointed out, “you’d have a statistically better chance of seeing seventy without me around.”

“But I wouldn’t want to see seventy,” Seokjin told him, “if you weren’t by my side. Namjoon, I’m serious here. It’s a really heavy thing I’m starting to come to terms with—the idea that this tenseness and anxiety will be in my life for the rest of my years. But I can learn to accept that if it means I have you. I’m not just in love with you, I think you’re the one I was always meant for. And I’ll take anything that comes with that, if I have you.”

Namjoon let out a shuddering breath. “I feel so selfish all the time, wanting you near me, knowing what that means.”

“You are allowed to be selfish once in a while,” Seokjin pointed out. He leaned over Namjoon and turned off the light on the bedside table. And in the darkness, he added, “You never seem to remember that you’re human like the rest of us, Namjoon.”

Seokjin was settling back down against Namjoon when the man asked him, “I don’t suppose you’d like to go visit another country sometime soon, would you? Canada is beautiful, you said you always wanted to see France, and I know you have friends who live in Singapore.”

Seokjin grinned into the pillow beneath him. “No way. Stop daydreaming.”

“It was worth a shot.”

Under the blankets Namjoon was tugging up over them, Seokjin found his hand in the dark and asked, “Are you okay? I know you have a lot on your shoulders right now. You can always lean on me, Namjoon. Always.”

“I’m fine,” Namjoon said a little too quickly.

They were taking a vacation, Seokjin decided. They weren’t going right away, of course, but they were going eventually. They always found an excuse not to go anywhere, but Seokjin could see the fractures of stress in Namjoon now, and they worried him so much. Namjoon always took too much onto his plate, because he had a good heart, and it was threatening to overload him now.

Yoongi could handle things for a while, no doubt, if they went away for a week or so.

Seokjin was going to tell Namjoon they were going on vacation as soon as the whole matter with Infinite was take care of. And no matter the kinds of excuses Namjoon tried to give, or the things that came up in their lives, they were going.

“You’re fine,” Seokjin allowed, “but are you happy?”

Unexpectedly, Namjoon returned, “Are you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Namjoon said, “the last time we had a real heart to heart you admitted that maybe you’re feeling a little …bored in your job right now. You said surgery made you feel alive, but you weren’t getting that feeling very often.”

Seokjin winced a little as he admitted, “I got it when I saved Yoongi’s life.”

“So what does that tell you?” Namjoon asked him.

Even in the dimness of the room, Seokjin shook his head and didn’t answer. He wasn’t going to suddenly abandon his clinic to take up some position in a trauma room, and neither was he going to force unnecessary surgeries on his patients. So the whole topic seemed unnecessary.

“Don’t try and deflect to me,” Seokjin cut back. “We’re talking about you being happy.”

Their hands were still joined under the blankets when Namjoon squeezed hard and said, “I’m happy when I have you with me. I’m happy with you say my name, and smile at me, and tell me you love me.”

“You sound like a cheesy romance movie,” Seokjin laughed out.

“I’m a simple man,” Namjoon laughed back. “And I’m not a liar.”

“Is that why you always have the goofy look on your face when I see you?”

Namjoon snuck a kiss back to him, but because of the darkness, it landed closer to Seokjin’s ear, than his mouth. “Must be.”

Just as exhaustion was starting to creep its way back over Seokjin, he told Namjoon, “I liked tonight. It was nice.”

“Me too,” Namjoon told him.

A sliver of moonlight was shining through the blinds against the window, and it was the last thing Seokjin saw before he closed his eyes. But he did tell Namjoon, “You said you could make three dishes really well. Are you going to make the other two of them anytime soon?”

This time, Namjoon’s kiss landed quarterly at the top of his head, where Namjoon was fairly infamous for preferring when he didn’t want their kissing to get heavy.

“You name the time,” Namjoon mumbled sleepily.

For a split second, Seokjin wished they had all the time in the world.

But realistically, he was prepared to settle for some time in the near future, if only so he could work on easing the tension in Namjoon’s body, and forgetting his own worries for an hour or two.

“We’re going to be fine,” Seokjin got out almost wistfully, slipping away into sleep.

And faintly, before he did, he heard Namjoon say, “I really hope so.”

Chapter Text

The very next day, Seokjin drove Taehyung and Hoseok to the train station. Originally their plan seemed to include taking a cab to the train station that would get their anniversary started. But Seokjin hardly thought that was romantic at all, or even just personal. And he had an extra hour in the morning to spend as he wanted. So he volunteered himself for the task of driving them, and then was pleasantly surprised when Jungkook offered to tag along.

“I still don’t know where we’re going,” Taehyung said, practically vibrating in the backseat as Seokjin parked the car at the station. “Tell me. Hobi, tellllllll meeeeee.”

“Noooooo way,” Hoseok returned with a toothy smile.

Seokjin set the emergency brake and glanced back at them, announcing, “We’re here.”

The two of them had a suspiciously large number of bags between them, but Hoseok was strangely protective over one of the giant bags, which meant it probably had a lot of items for whatever kind of romantic surprises Hoseok wanted to spring on Taehyung. And Taehyung was notorious when it came to not being able to decide what to pack or bring when he went anywhere, so suddenly the bag count was making a little more sense.

“Don’t look at me,” Jungkook said when Taehyung gave him a desperate look. “I want to live, and if I tell you ahead of time, my brother is going to kill me.”

“I will,” Seokjin insisted, pushing one of Hoseok’s rolling suitcases towards the entrance to the station.

Hoseok had already bought their tickets in advance, so it was just a matter of waiting around for the train to arrive. And when it did, twenty minutes later, it was more spectacular than Seokjin remembered. Though he hadn’t seen a train in a long time, and it had been even longer since he’d been on one. But even the light rail, impressively advanced trains that snaked through South Korea, which lacked the heaviness of the more classic trains he’d grown up with, evoked a feeling of nostalgia.

Because little boys never grew out of thinking trains were cool.

When Seokjin looked to Taehyung, he saw the man staring at the arrivals board for the train. But even with the train number and route listed, it was impossible for Taehyung to know which stop was his.

And Hoseok was clearly loving the idea of Taehyung being puzzled.

With Taehyung distracted, Seokjin took the opportunity to press a key hooked on a chain with a small token on the end into Hoseok’s hand.

“What’s this?” he asked, looking down at it.

“The key to the house,” Seokjin said pointedly. He flipped the keychain over so Hoseok could see the series of numbers that were written on the back of it. “That’s the alarm code you’ll need to get in and out.”

Hoseok’s fingers curled closed around the keyring. “Thank you,” he said with unabashed gratitude.

“I got the key in a couple days ago,” Seokjin explained. His uncle had sent the key in a bigger package that Seokjin hadn’t really been expecting. His uncle had mentioned that he had a couple of pictures of Seokjin and Jungkook’s father from when he was younger, and he had the pictures from their parents wedding that had gone missing after their mother’s death, but Seokjin hadn’t expected to get everything he did. In the box that had arrived were more than just pictures, and also a lot of small tokens that used to belong to his father, and mementos from his childhood, and things that Seokjin could hang onto now for when he had children to pass down.

Hoseok looked very serious as he said, “We’ll take good care of the place, Jin. I swear. We’ll leave it just as clean and tidy as we’re bound of find it.”

Seokjin waved him off easily. “Don’t worry about it. Really. My uncle had a house keeper that goes through the place once a month to dust and take care of any maintenance work that needs to be done. My uncle specifically said to tell you to enjoy the place and that … well …” Seokjin winced.

“Well what?” Hoseok asked with a frown. “Does he have some rules he wants us to follow? Something we should do while we’re there?”

“No.” Seokjin shook his head. “My uncle said something about having a couple of anniversary presents waiting for you there?” Seokjin palmed at his face. “My uncle is becoming a dirty old man, the older he gets, and I’m sorry in advance for whatever that means, Hoseok. He asked me if you were good friends of mine, and when I said you were more like family, he insisted on arranging for something to be waiting for you when you get there.”

Hoseok didn’t seem disturbed, only unsure. “Okay. Tell him … thanks?”

“Wait to say that,” Seokjin insisted. “My uncle is very much, by all appearances, a very work oriented—almost workaholic—person who is traditional and probably a little uptight in his day to day actions. But that’s just his image for people who don’t know him. He really can just be a dirty old man sometimes.”

Hoseok cracked a smile. “I’ll be sure to let you know what’s there when we open the door. And truly, thank you, Jin, for vouching for us and getting us this opportunity. We would have had a good anniversary no matter what, but this is going to make it amazing.”

“They’re boarding!” Taehyung called out to Hoseok.

“Have an amazing time,” Seokjin urged, and then he and Jungkook were waving goodbye to the two of them as they climbed up into the train.

Jungkook turned to Seokjin and said, “I want to go to Jeju.”

“You have been to Jeju,” Seokjin pointed out. “We have the pictures to prove it.”

Seokjin actually had a framed picture of himself, Jungkook, and their father standing on a beach in Jeju near where Taehyung and Hoseok were headed to. Jungkook had been just a little kid, and Seokjin hadn’t been much older, but it was one of the few great memories Seokjin had with his father after his mother’s death.

Seokjin didn’t really remember the details of the trip, but he knew it had come about almost six months after he’d lost his mother and sister, and it had happened after a screaming match between his mother’s sister, his favorite Aunt, and his father. Whatever she’d said to him had compelled him to take them on the trip down South, and for a moment, Seokjin had thought his father would recover from the loss he’d suffered.

The trip had been nice, but afterwards his father had thrown himself into his work, and Seokjin had learned to expect less.

“I was seven,” Jungkook pointed out. “I want to go back now, when I’m old enough to enjoy myself. I want to go with you and just relax.”

The two of them started the walk back to the car and Seokjin reminded, “You know, most little brothers wouldn’t want to go on vacation with their older brothers.”

Jungkook shrugged. “Other little brothers don’t have you as an older brother. Yeah, you can be a stick in the mud about some stuff, but you’re mostly really cool.  You’re cool to hang out with, you get all my jokes, and you always buy me the stuff I want.”

“So your true colors are exposed,” Seokjin said.

“I don’t mean that in a crappy way,” Jungkook hastened to add. “I just mean … you’re a really good hyung. You’re a good older brother. When you think I’m not eating right, you make me, and you buy me things that make me happy, and you pay special attention to me. You make me feel special.”

“Hey.” Seokjin bumped his elbow into Jungkook’s. “You are special.”

“I don’t know. You’re my brother. You have to say stuff like that. And no one else does, so the jury’s still out.”

“I promise you,” Seokjin told him, looping their arms together as the car came into sight, “you are special. And that’s a special thing.”

Jungkook rolled his eyes.

“I mean it.” Seokjin unlocked the car and they got in. It was nearing ten in the morning, but it was June now, so that meant Seokjin felt a little justified in running the air conditioner even at such an early time in the day. Jungkook would never admit it, either, but he overheated easily. So Seokjin turned the air on and pressed, “A lot of people go through life being very mediocre. And that isn’t meant to be an insult. For most people, a happy medium or average, is all they’re suited for, and it suits them well. But for others?”

“Like you?” Jungkook snuck in.

“But for others like you Jungkook,” Seokjin emphasized his name, “there’s something special about them—in them. That’s you. You are so special, Jungkook, and you don’t even know it. But that’s probably a good thing. Your ego might explode if you truly knew how special you were.”

“Ha,” Jungkook told him. “You’d be there to pop my big head before it did any damage. You’re really good at that.”

Seokjin had a laugh himself, and then asked, “Wouldn’t you rather go on vacation with a pretty girl? Whatever happened to that girl you were interested in?” Jungkook hadn’t said much about the girl he’d casually mentioned for the first time months ago, but Seokjin knew she was a college student by day, and worked at a little boutique in the evening. Seokjin didn’t even have a name for the girl, but she must have been something, to make Jungkook so close lipped on the subject of her.

“Her?” Jungkook leaned on the window of the car. “She went and got herself a rich, handsome boyfriend. And I got friend-zoned.”

“Friend-zoned,” Seokjin said dramatically. “How horrendous. There’s no recovering from that.”

“You could try and be understanding. I’m still in mourning.”

Seokjin didn’t really think that was true. So he said, “You’re still incredibly young, Jungkook. People are going to come and go from your life easily from here on out. So this girl decided she didn’t want to date you. It’s not the end of the world. When you’re not being my annoying little brother, you’re funny and charming and charismatic. You’re also far more attractive than I like to let you believe. So trust me when I say one failed non-relationship does not define what your future will be like.”

Jungkook supposed, “I guess you can’t really judge who you’ll date in the future, based on anything in the past. I mean, you went from a podiatrist to a gang leader.”

“I will push you from this car while it’s moving,” Seokjin threatened half-heartedly.

“You could,” Jungkook said, just a touch too coyly for Seokjin to feel comfortable, “but then you wouldn’t get to hear the juicy gossip I have on Jimin.”

“On Jimin?” Seokjin scoffed.

“And the fact that,” Jungkook paused for dramatic effect, “I’m absolutely, one hundred percent certain, he is either dating someone, or just interested in someone—but a lot interested!”

Seokjin nearly slammed on the brakes. “Lies,” he shot at Jungkook.

He’d seen Jimin at the clinic event, though. He thought back to that day. From the window, he’d seen Jimin leaning into the personal space of someone else, a man, and his body language had been impossible to miss. It was the kind of lean that one person did when they were interested in another, and there was nothing debatable about it.

Roughly, Seokjin demanded, “Tell me everything you know.”

“Now who doesn’t want to throw me out of the car,” Jungkook said, wigging his eyebrows.

Seokjin ignored the gesture. “Jimin’s interested in someone? Romantically?”

It had seemed like such a long shot for a while that Jimin’s feelings for him might fade. It had seemed like a foolish thing to believe in. But there’d always been a little part of Seokjin clinging to the possibility, reminding himself that eventually, Jimin would move on. Eventually he was going to run into someone who wowed him, or evoked new feelings in him, or just made him think twice about giving someone else a new chance.

Was this that moment? It was sooner than Seokjin had expected, though Jimin had been pretty frank about how he accepted the new role their relationship was developing into.

Jungkook twisted towards him, straining his seat belt and said, “So look, you’re more regular than a clock. You do the same stuff all the time, in a really predictable way. But Jimin’s like that too, to a pretty big degree. When he isn’t getting called out on Bangtan business, he does the same stuff at home, eats at the same places, talks to the same people, and never deviates.”

“Okay,” Seokjin prompted. Where was Jungkook going with his words?

“Get this,” Jungkook said, a little too excited to share his gossip, “About a week ago Jimin started … putting some extra stock into his appearance.”

Seokjin frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Like doing his hair up nice,” Jungkook said with a shrug. “Putting product in it. And he used to be the kind of guy who’d smell a shirt after picking it up from the ground, and then just turn it inside out if it wasn’t exactly clean. Since then he’s been wearing clean clothes every day, and he even smells nice now.”

Seokjin pointed out, “He could just be changing some of his habits.”

But Seokjin kept thinking back to the sight Jimin had made with that other man, leaning into his personal space.

“Do you have any other evidence to support this claim?” Seokjin wanted to know. He really hoped so.

“He went out twice last week,” Jungkook said. “He went out after seven, didn’t come back for several hours, and it wasn’t on Bangtan business.”

Seokjin asked, “Was he just shopping or something?”

“He didn’t come back with anything,” Jungkook told him. “And he looked extra nice each time he went out. I tried asking him the second time it happened, about where he was going, and he told me to mind my own business—he was really defensive, actually.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s interested in someone, or dating, or anything.”

Seokjin drove towards Jungkook’s school in order to drop him off. Testing was coming up for his brother, midterms, and Jungkook could probably use the extra time to sneak a little work in.

Slowly, Jungkook agreed, “I guess, but what about the receipts I found in Jimin’s pocket?”

“What receipts?”

Jungkook ticked off his finger, “Jimin’s been meeting with someone that he bought a coffee for, and then lunch for, and then on a separate occasion, purchased a movie ticket for—and a snack afterwards. Come on, Jin. Put it together.”

“What were you doing with Jimin’s receipts?” Seokjin asked.

Jungkook’s jaw fell loose. “I present you with all this evidence that Jimin might actually be dating someone, and you want to know why I saw some receipts?” At Seokjin’s expression, Jungkook admitted, “I do do laundry, you know. And you’re the one who taught me about turning out pockets just before putting anything in the wash.”

Seokjin was a little impressed. “You do laundry? Jimin’s laundry?”

“We split the chores,” Jungkook defended. “He doesn’t like doing laundry, and I don’t like dusting or cleaning, so we divided it up. But now that he’s apparently sweet on someone, there’s a whole lot more laundry for me, and it’s only been a week.”

Seokjin rolled Jungkook’s words around in his mind. Jimin was sweet on someone?

The man from the clinic event?

“You really think Jimin might be dating someone?” Seokjin asked. Jimin was terrible private as a person, and it seemed a bit of a stretch that after having his heart broken by Seokjin, that he’d be willing to give someone else a chance so quickly.

Jungkook debated, “I guess I could be completely off base, but I’m telling you, his behavior is way off the charts, and I’ve lived with him for a year.  I think he’s dating someone. I think he’s nervous as hell about it, too.”

Seokjin desperately wished Jungkook had more to say on the subject, but it sounded like his brother had exhausted his evidence.  So instead Seokjin asked, “You tried to approach Jimin about this?”

“I did.” Jungkook nodded. “I wasn’t trying to call him out or anything. I just wanted to know why he kept leaving the house late at night, and then once in the morning. And when I say he got defensive, I mean he got really defensive. He said his personal life was his business, and not to go poking around. He said …” Jungkook trailed off.

“What?” Seokjin asked. There was traffic up ahead so he made himself focus back on the road and not Jungkook’s face. “He said what?”

“It was weird,” Jungkook said honestly. “But he said not to go poking around, and more importantly, not to say anything to you.”

“About what?” Seokjin balked.

“About his non-acknowledged dating? I don’t know. That’s why it’s weird.”

It wasn’t weird, however, when context came into play. If Jungkook was right, and he still knew nothing about Jimin’s previous feelings for Seokjin, then it actually made sense that Jimin might want to keep a budding relationship away from Seokjin’s knowledge. Everything was probably frightfully fragile in Jimin’s heart. And the last thing Jimin needed was Seokjin knowing about him actually trying to move on with someone else, and dragging up all kinds of feelings, even if it was bound to be unintentional.

“You told me anyway,” Seokjin pointed out.

Jungkook scoffed and gave him a look like he was stupid. “I tell you everything.”

Seokjin grinned at him a little.

Jungkook settled back in his seat facing forward, and said, “I know he’s seeing someone. I know he’s dating. Jin, all the pieces are there. And last week, on Thursday, he started taking his extra helmet with him on his motorcycle.”

That surprised Seokjin. “He did?”

“He has people on his bike all the time,” Jungkook said easily “but they’re members of Bangtan, so they don’t care about wearing helmets.”

Seokjin had lectured Jimin dozens of times about wearing a helmet, and not taking chances with his life. When Jimin had had the minor accident a few weeks previous, he’d been wearing his helmet, and that had prevented him from any kind of major injury. But Seokjin did know that even if Jimin was getting better about wearing his helmet, he didn’t force a helmet on anyone else who hopped on the back of his bike.

Seokjin wore a helmet, whenever he rode with Jimin—which was always rare. And Seokjin knew Jimin didn’t want to die, so he made Jungkook wear one, too. But other than the two of them?

Seokjin eased out, “Jimin is putting someone on the back of his bike that he cares enough about to make them wear a helmet?”

In a pleased way, Jungkook said, “Bingo.”

The idea of it was almost revolutionary.

“But hey,’ Jungkook said nervously, “you’re not going to try and talk to Jimin about this, right? I mean, you’re not going to let him know that I told you?”

“I’m not,” Seokjin reassured right away. “I wouldn’t do that to you.” Moreover, he didn’t want to embarrass Jimin, or sabotage any kind of relationship that he might just be starting to open himself up to.

“Good,” Jungkook breathed out. “And this is a good thing, right? I’ve never seen Jimin so much as look twice at someone, so this has to be a good thing.”

Jungkook wasn’t completely lacking any kind of perceptiveness, but it was nice to see that Jimin’s unrequited feelings for Seokjin hadn’t been broadcasted to anyone within hearing distance. Taehyung definitely knew, but other than him, Seokjin thought it was a secret shared by just the three of them. Seokjin was even certain that Taehyung hadn’t told Hoseok, and it seemed like the two of them told each other everything.

“I think it is,” Seokjin told Jungkook. “But lay off him with this subject, okay? If he’s interested in someone, just let him be interested. If it works out, he’ll tell you eventually. You’re an important person to him, so he’ll want you to meet this other person if the relationship means something. And if it doesn’t work out, then you can spare Jimin some embarrassment by not prying into his personal business.”

“I guess,” Jungkook grumbled.

“Let Jimin go at his own speed,” Seokjin pressed. Jimin making any kind of move to emotionally invest in something or someone, was important. And even if Seokjin was from the outside looking in, he wanted to do his best to help cushion Jimin’s heart.

Holding up his hand solemnly, Jungkook promised, “I won’t badger him for information, or go looking through his things for clues. But you are going to start to notice some things.”

“What things?”

“He’s smiling a lot more now,” Jungkook told Seokjin. “It freaked me out at first, but he’s smiling at least a little more than he used to. And his phone is glued to his hand. He used to struggle with remembering where he left it. Now he’s on it whenever he has spare time, and I bet he’s texting one person specifically.”

Those were two things Seokjin reminded himself to look for the next time he was around Jimin.

It didn’t take too long for Seokjin to pull up along the curb in front of the building that housed Jungkook’s first class of the day. Traffic had eventually thinned out, and it looked like it was going to be an even better drive to the clinic afterwards.

“Off to school,” Jungkook said theatrically.  “Where I will toil for the next four hours.”

Before Jungkook could get out of the car, he caught his brother at the elbow and said gently, “We’ve been putting off going to see dad.” They’d meant to go some time ago to visit the family plot ages ago, but life had a way of distracting them, and now they were very much overdue.

In a lot of ways, Seokjin thought Jungkook was deliberately putting the event off. Jungkook had taken their father’s illness poorly, and his passing even worse. Seokjin had had Namjoon to lean on, at least, but Jungkook had closed himself off in a way. He’d put on a brave face and told everyone he was fine, but to the day, Seokjin wasn’t sure he’d let himself grieve properly.

And the last time they’d gone to visit, months ago, Jungkook had stood at a distance, hugging his arms around himself, quieter that Seokjin was used to him being.

“I’ve got class,” Jungkook said predictably, trying to rush off.

“Jungkook,” Seokjin said sharply. “Wait. We need to talk about this. We have to get our schedules to line up so we can go.”

“I have to work, and go to school, and you’re always busy and I mean, we should just wait until it’s a better time for the both of us,” Jungkook said at a rapid rate. “Dad would totally understand. You know it. He wouldn’t want me to put anything before school.”

This was a topic with a fight attached to it. Seokjin could sense it from a mile away. But this wasn’t the day for it. Seokjin didn’t want to upset Jungkook so close to his testing, or pick a fight with him when they really did have other things that needed to take priority. Eventually, Seokjin was going to sit Jungkook down, and make him talk about his feelings, and then drag him out to see their family plot. But today wasn’t that day.

In a way that felt like waving a white flag, he let go of Jungkook’s arm and said, “Okay. Go to class. Be smart. Don’t get into trouble.”

Jungkook’s demeaner changed in a second, and he grinned as he said, “You sound like you’re sending me off to kindergarten, not college.”

“Sometimes I don’t see a difference.” Seokjin nudged him. “Go on. You’re holding me up from getting to work. I have people to save.”

“Bunions to remove,” Jungkook teased.

“Stick to being smart, you’re not funny!” Seokjin called after him as Jungkook leapt from the car, shut the door, and hustled off to his class.

It was just a short drive to the clinic after that, and Seokjin was happy to tuck his stuff away in his office and get ready to start working.

“He’s going to be late.”

“Who is?” Seokjin asked, flipping through the chart for his first patient. He was a little startled to see that it was someone he was familiar with. Weeks ago, he’d had an appointment with the mother and the screaming baby.  He still remembered the tremble of the overwhelmed mother’s voice as she found herself giving up, and admitting despairing truths about not wanting her baby.

Seokjin couldn’t hear any screaming coming from the waiting room now, but he still had half an hour before the appointment. He was just startled to see the mother had requested a follow-up appointment so quickly. He’d wanted to see her for the postpartum she was obviously suffering from, but the notes on the appointment were marked clearly that it was an appointment for the baby, Yebin.

“Jin,” Jonghyun said.

Seokjin looked away from the chart. “You said someone is going to be late?”

Seokjin looked across the room to where the clock was mounted on the wall. It was a couple of minutes to ten.

“The new kid.”

“Samuel?” Seokjin asked Jonghyun, “He starts at ten today? We usually have him coming in a lot earlier than that, or a lot later.”

“We need him on this shift today,” Jonghyun said. “He knew since last week he was working at ten today. He’s going to be late.”

“Oh, stop making that face,” Seokjin said, poking Jonghyun in the side. Because for the most part, Samuel was a good employee. He tended to be a little mouthy, but he did good work, and he always finished what his tasks were for the day. And, relevantly enough, he was always on time. Whether he was coming in for the day, or coming back from his lunch break, Samuel was on time. The kid seemed almost obsessive about being on time.

With a quick glance back to the clock, Seokjin said, “He’s got time left.” And from the angle they were standing at they could just see the front doors.

Jonghyun pointed out, “Two minutes.”

With a frown, Seokjin asked, “Do you want him to be late? I thought your relationship was a lot better now. He did apologize to you for how he talked to you and treated you that first day. I know he did. I heard it, and he sounded genuine. Is there a problem I should know about?”

“No,” Jonghyun said, and he was looking to the door in an odd way. “You’re misconstruing the situation. I don’t want him to be late. I don’t want to have to be the one to have that conversation with him, if he is, and have to pass out punishment or whatever.”

Seokjin bit back a grin. “You softie.”

“I hate you,” Jonghyun grouched out.

Seokjin glanced back at the clock. Less than a minute.

But at nearly the same time Seokjin was settling into the truth that Samuel was absolutely going to be late, the big double doors to the clinic open, and the teen skidded in. He looked more than a little frazzled, with his hair sticking up messily and his clothes skewed, but he was on time, and he was back to the employee area before the clock hit exactly ten.

“Cutting it close,” Jonghyun said, eyeing him. “Are you okay?”

Samuel was a little red in the face as he dragged his fingers through his hair, trying to tame it down.

“I’m okay,” he said, hunched over a little.

Seokjin shook his head a little in disbelief and asked, “What happened this morning to make you so late? The unusual shift?”

Samuel straightened himself up a moment later and offered, “Yunho isn’t taking me to work anymore in the morning. I have to catch the bus now. But I got lost this morning. The bus routes are a lot more complicated here than they are in California. It took me forever before I realized I was going in the wrong direction.”

There was a clipped, lack of proficiency in Samuel’s Korean that wasn’t overly noticeable, but kind of adorable. It definitely pegged him as a foreigner, but not drastically so.

Jonghyun eased out, “You got on the wrong bus going the opposite direction?”

Samuel was straightening his clothes as he confirmed, “Of course I did. And then when I tried to catch the right bus from where I got off, there was a system delay, and I thought … oh man, I thought I was done for. Yunho said getting around Seoul was supposed to be a cake walk compared to getting around Los Angeles. That is not true.”

Jonghyun gave him a long look filled with curiosity and asked, “So how did you manage to get here, and on time.”

With a flirtatious kind of wink, but one that was more innocent than anything, Samuel gave a barely passable bow of respect and said, “I improvised.” Then he was off to officially clock in and probably check what tasks had been assigned to him for the day.

“That isn’t an answer!” Jonghyun called after him.

With a bounce in his step that reminded Seokjin of Jungkook, Samuel told them before he disappeared around a corner, “I just got really lucky this morning. You guys should try it. Get the wind on your face a little more.”

There was a beat of silence between them, before Jonghyun turned to him and said, “I take back everything I said earlier about not wanting him to be late, and not wanting to punish him. He hasn’t officially clocked in yet. I know his time card hasn’t been punched. He’s late, so he gets punished.”

Seokjin merely said, “I’m just really confused. What is he talking about?”

Jonghyun offered, “I don’t speak teenager, Jin. You know that.”

“You do speak medicine,” Seokjin said, deciding to drop the matter of Samuel completely. He was a good kid, and he was on time, as far as Seokjin was concerned. How he’d gotten to the clinic didn’t matter, just that he had and he was safe. “Explain to me why I’m seeing Lee Yebin again?”

Recognition lit on Jonghyun’s face. “The screaming baby?”

“Exactly.” Seokjin turned the chart around so Jonghyun could see it. “She’s perfectly fine. She’s very healthy, actually. I shouldn’t be seeing her again for some time. It’s the mother I’d like to be treating. But the appointment booked for … about twenty minutes from now, is for Yebin.”

Jonghyun offered, “Maybe something came up with baby. Babies are resilient, but they’re very fragile in other ways.”

Seokjin shook his head. “Yoona logged this appointment herself, and she indicates no direct reason for the visit, other than the mother’s request. We don’t turn people away when they refuse to tell us why they want an appointment, typically because there’s some kind of embarrassing reason behind it, but this is … odd.”

“You want me to take the appointment?” Jonghyun offered. “I’m just doing walk-ins for a few hours. I’ll trade you if you want.”

“You’d trade for a screaming baby?”

In a hilarious show of perfect timing, the mother must have just arrived at the clinic, because piercing screams echoed through the halls.

“For that?” Seokjin pressed.

“For you,” Jonghyun shot back. “I’d do it for you.”

“Thanks,” Seokjin told him appreciatively. “But I’ve got this.” He had a special fondness for Yebin, even if she was constantly threatening to blast out his eardrums. Funny enough, she reminded him of Jungkook in the way she dominated his attention and demanded his focus.

Twenty minutes later, he had mother and baby in his favorite examination room, number one.

And as expected, the baby was wailing as she twisted about in her mother’s arms. Likewise, the mother, Nakyoung, looked as if she was moments away from flinging the child to the ground, or bursting into tears, or something between the two.

“How are you?” Seokjin asked when he shut the door to the room behind him to give them privacy.

The mother leveled him with a venomous look.

The answer hung in the air for Seokjin awkwardly.

Settling on the stool in the room, Seokjin wheeled himself to where the mother and baby were seated on the edge of the examination bed. Yebin’s foot was kicking harshly at the protective paper covering on the bed, making a crunching sound for effect.

“How’s my girl?” Seokjin asked, running his fingers along Yebin’s spine. She’d dumped a lot of her baby fat very quickly, probably quicker than Seokjin would have liked, and he could just feel the ridges of her spine. “How’s Yebin?” he asked the mother.

The toddler swung round on him, catching his hand with surprising accuracy for someone her age, and began to gnaw on a finger. Seokjin felt a flash of teeth against his skin. It was nothing too painful, but it was something.

“She’s teething,” Seokjin said, looking up at Yebin’s mother.  And that did fall right in line with her age. At six months, he would have expected her to already have a couple of baby teeth coming in. “That’s probably got a lot to do with why she’s so vocal right now.”

“No,” the mother huffed out, “that’s just her. She just screams. We talked about this already. She just … she screams.”

Yebin was getting to work on chewing at his finger, and Seokjin let her do as she pleased. And it seemed to put her into a relatively good mood, because she’d pop his finger out of her mouth every couple of seconds to babble a word at him, before making a series of happy noises and chewing on his finger again.

“We did talk about this,” he reminded kindly. “There’s nothing wrong with Yebin. There are just a series of factors at play here. She’s just a fickle baby and now she’s teething. I promise you, there’s nothing wrong with Yebin.”

“Then why won’t she stop?” the woman demanded, angry now.

Seokjin saw the moment her grip went loose on the baby. He didn’t think it was intentional. He couldn’t find any evidence that it was. But Yebin slipped to the side, and Seokjin swept her up into his arms. She resisted for a moment, clearly unhappy with her change in position. But then she was switching her attention to the lapel of his coat, and mouthing at it.

She was definitely in discomfort from her teeth, and that hadn’t been the case the last time Seokjin had seen her.

It almost frightened him how fast the condition of children could change. Especially babies.

Seokjin swayed a little with her in his arms and asked Yebin’s mother, “Why did you schedule the appointment today for Yebin and not yourself?”

Still on the verge of going hostile, she snapped back, “Because there’s nothing wrong with me, and there is obviously something wrong with her. She’s broken. She’s wrong. She’s just … she’s not right.”

Seokjin asked carefully, “Did you look into the information I gave you last time about postpartum? Yebin is very old right now for you to be experiencing the symptoms you’re showing, but a delayed postpartum period is a very real thing, and it’s serious. Answer me honestly, are you experiencing a loss of energy? A lack of interest in thing you enjoyed before? Insomnia? A change in your appetite?”

“Of course I am,” she snapped out. “She won’t stop crying.”

On cue, Yebin leaned her head back and began wailing.

“I can’t stand it anymore!” She put her hands to her ears and clenched her eyes shut.

There was no bonding going on, Seokjin worried suddenly. There was clearly no bonding happening between mother and baby, and that could potentially lead to a whole host of other problems.

“Shhhhh,” Seokjin eased out, rubbing Yebin’s back, circling the small room with her as he tried to get her to calm down again. “You’re okay. You’re good. Just calm down.”

Maybe … maybe there was something wrong with her. His gut said no, and he’d checked Yebin over thoroughly many times since her birth. But what if he was missing something?

“I think we should do some tests,” Seokjin told the woman as Yebin sniffled and leaned her body wholly against his. She was warm as she clutched at him, and he could feel her sweaty forehead against his skin. “I want to run some allergy tests on her, and do some bloodwork. It’s possible she’s agitated about something we’re not seeing. We can get to the bottom of this.”

Still … he’d handled so many babies in his lifetime. He knew when a baby was distressed for a real reason. And everything in his medical knowledge told him this was a result of a lack of bonding between Yebin and her mother. Everything in him said this was the result of a disingenuous relationship, with the baby sensing the lack of want from the mother.

With red tinted eyes, the mother gave Seokjin an exhausted look and said, “I didn’t want her from the start.”

“Excuse me?”

 “My husband,” she replied, and he noticed she was playing with the wedding ring she still wore, “he wanted children. He wanted Yebin. I said no, let’s travel and live well. I said, I want to have a life with you, and love you, and concentrate on you. But he … he wanted children.”

Seokjin knew how that story ended. He knew that from her perspective, she’d given him the child he wanted, and then he’d died before Yebin had even been born. And now, at least from how she saw things, she was saddled with a baby she didn’t want—had never wanted, and a difficult one at that.

“Let’s focus on Yebin,” Seokjin said, happy to feel the baby sag more fully against him. She’d stopped crying completely now, and was only sniffling a little. He hoped she’d rest a little. “Let’s run some tests on her, and then we can focus on you.”

She ground out again, “There is nothing wrong with me.”

There was. There obviously was, but she couldn’t see that. She couldn’t see how close she was teetering to something very dangerous.

“I appreciate that you trusted me to deliver Yebin,” Seokjin told her, daring to stop his circling of the room and return to his seat. He braced Yebin with an arm as he edged close to the woman. “And I have done my very best to take care of the both of you from the very beginning. I care for all my patients, but I have a very close bond with those in your situation, who’s children I have delivered.”

She shuddered out, “I would know if something was wrong with me. I’m not the one screaming all day long.”

Placating her, Seokjin said, “I know you’re not screaming, and that’s very good. But I want you to consider my medical history, and how I have always acted in your best interest, and how invested I am in you and Yebin. I want you to consider that I’m worried about you. Not Yebin. You. And if I’m worried, can you at least humor me?”

Something fortifying set on her face.

“We have an OBGYN at the clinic now,” Seokjin started. “She is very good at what she does, and she has a wealth of knowledge about women’s health. I would consider it a personal favor if you’d just sit with her or a couple of minutes and talk to her while we run those tests on Yebin.”

Yebin’s fingers scratched at the open collar of Seokjin’s shirt, and he could feel the length of her nails that hadn’t been trimmed, but desperately needed to. And at that catalyst, he noticed the length of Yebin’s hair, too, and how underneath the very strong smell of baby, was something that eluded to fewer baths than should have been given.

Seokjin’s stomach clenched up at the idea of neglect being suggested in front of him.

Yebin’s mother got to her feet. “I ….”

“Just a few minutes,” Seokjin said evenly. “You’ll have to wait while we perform the tests on Yebin anyway. Why not do something with your time?” And he was now starting to think he needed a second opinion on the situation. He needed another doctor to either validate his fears, or ease them.

He could see her hands shaking, and she was clearly on the precipice of something.

Then she crumpled. Her shoulders caved inward, they began to shake, and she was crying.

Yebin started crying as well, and Seokjin hated these kinds of days. They didn’t come so frequently that he worried about them, but occasionally, the kind of days that sucked a part of him out, chewed it up and spat it out, occurred.

“Ma’am,” Seokjin tried, moving Yebin to his hip as he reached out to comfort her. “Nakyoung.”

“I hate her,” she said in a brutally honest way. “What kind of mother hates her own baby?”

Seokjin could feel Yebin’s tears soaking through his shirt. “You…”

She interrupted, “You’re so good with her. You’re just so good with her, and I’m so terrible. Why? It’s not fair. I don’t understand.”

“It’s going to be okay,” Seokjin told her, putting a hand on her shoulder and feeling the vibrations coming from her.

She cried for a moment more, before giving him another hard look. Something penetrative. Something definitive.

Seokjin felt small under her gaze.

“I need to … to go to the restroom. I want to wash my face. To catch my breath. To … to be away from her for a second.”

“Of course,” Seokjin agreed, rubbing at Yebin’s back again. “You know where it is? Down the hall and to the left?”

“I just need five minutes.” She fumbled for her purse then, but left Yebin’s baby bag at her feet. “If she won’t stop screaming but you’re tired of holding her, just put her in her carrier. Just put her down.”

Seokjin wasn’t going to just put her down, not when Yebin was overly distressed now. She wasn’t crying for attention. He could hear the difference now. She was crying for an entirely different reason.

“Go on,” Seokjin urged. “Take all the time you need.”

She slipped out of the room and Seokjin, his arms getting tired from Yebin’s weight, placed her up on the examination table.

“Come on, Yebin,” he cooed, brushing back her sweaty hair. She really was too pretty. Most babies went through an ugly phase, with heads far too big for their bodies and features growing rapidly. But Yebin had been pretty from the start, and her hazel eyes were her most spectacular and stunning feature. “How about we check and see how well you can hold yourself up.”

Yebin took a swing at Seokjin in protest of being put down, but she adapted quickly, and Seokjin watched her carefully. He wasn’t surprised to see her lean forward and brace herself up with her hands. That was fitting for her age. But then she leaned back, sitting up all on her own, and she delivered what was probably only described as a smug look.

“Oh, you clever girl,” Seokjin praised, kissing her forehead.

She babbled at him a little, shaking her fists in his direction, and Seokjin grinned. He adored her.

Minutes passed slowly enough, and Seokjin did his best to keep Yebin distracted and entertained. But it wasn’t long before she was curling onto her side, paper crunching under her, and her eyes were going heavy.

He couldn’t stand the sight of her falling asleep on her own, without the comfort of arms cradling her like babies always preferred at that age. It indicated to him that she was used to going to sleep on her own, in a lonely way, and without her mother.

Seokjin rocked her in his own arms, watching her drop off. And then when she was fully asleep, breathing quietly against his arm, he looked to the clock.

Yebin’s mother had been gone fifteen minutes

He gave her another five minutes, and then managed to get the door open with his knee, and stepped out into the busy hallway.

“Nice baby,” Moonbin called out as he passed by.

Seokjin asked him, “Have you seen a woman come by here? Crying?”

Moonbin shook his head, but at the same time Joy passed by and asked, “Want me to go check the ladies restroom for you?”

Seokjin nodded. He didn’t want to interrupt her if she was … breaking down in the privacy of the room. But he was about to become even more insistent that she speak with Irene. There were too many warning signs for him to ignore now.

Joy came back thirty seconds later with a confused expression on her face. “You sure she’s supposed to be the restroom? Because she’s not there.”

Seokjin frowned at her. “She went there twenty minutes ago. What do you mean she’s not in there?”

“I mean she’s not in there.” Joy shrugged. “There’s no one in there right now. I promise you.”

In her sleep, Yebin kicked out a little, twitching as she dreamed.

Seokjin looked from Joy to Moonbin and asked, “Then where’s Yebin’s mother?”

Wherever she was, Seokjin had the sudden realization that she was likely far away, and she probably wasn’t coming back.

Leaving Seokjin with a baby, and no idea what to do.

Chapter Text

“Your first instinct was right, as far as I can tell,” Hongbin said quietly to Seokjin. He had a folder in his hand, a folder that had Yebin’s test results inside them, and Seokjin had already seen the numbers. “You shouldn’t have doubted yourself.”

Seokjin looked across the staff room to where Samuel had Yebin up on his shoulders. Her giggling was echoing through the room, a nice change from the typical screaming, as Samuel galloped around the room, making horse sounds. He had his hands anchored tightly to her chubby legs, so Seokjin wasn’t worried she was going to fall.

Samuel was good with her, though. She’d woken from her nap almost forty minutes earlier, hungry, needing a change, and her typical fussy self. Seokjin, while still on a mission to hunt down Yebin’s mother, had been willing to stop and prioritize the girl.

But then Samuel had plucked her from his arms, ignoring her wailing and kicking, blown a raspberry on her stomach, and said, “I got this if you want.”

At first Seokjin had been a little reluctant to let a sixteen-year-old kid handle the baby. But it had only taken a few minutes of observing him to tell he definitely knew what he was doing. Samuel was an only child, but he must have had a lot of experience with younger cousins or other family members. He knew how to change diapers. He knew how to feed Yebin and burp her properly, and now he was playing with her in a way that kept her completely distracted.

Seokjin didn’t mind for one bit if Samuel skipped the bathrooms, if it meant he kept Yebin happy.

“Seokjin?”

Seokjin turned towards Hongbin. He murmured, “No allergies.”

Hongbin agreed, “No allergies. Not even a hint of sensitivity to anything. We’ll have to wait a little longer to get her bloodwork back, but from what I can tell, and I just gave her another look over, she’s just as healthy as they come. There is nothing wrong with her, aside from her prickly disposition.”

She didn’t look prickly now, however. She looked terribly pleased with the attention she was getting, and showed no signs of reverting back to any crying.

It was definitely about attention with her.

A little uncomfortably, Hongbin asked, “So about the mother …”

For a while, Seokjin had held up hope that Yebin’s mother had just gotten lost, or she’d gone to use one of the other bathrooms. He talked himself into thinking that even if she had cut and run, for whatever reason, maybe she’d change her mind and come back. Maybe she’d realize her mistake.

Maybe …

The truth was staring him in the face, however. She wasn’t coming back. She’d abandoned Yebin. Everyone else was thinking it, Seokjin could tell, and now he was too.

Seokjin told Hongbin, “We already alerted the police. They said they’re running a bit thin right now, so it might be a while before they get out here. But they are on their way, and once they file their report, we’ll have someone specifically for Yebin.” A social worker of some kind, was his guess.

Hongbin looked to Yebin. “She’s playing nice now, but how long before she starts screaming again? It’s noon now, but how long can you keep her cooped up in here and not distract the other employees or patients?”

Seokjin rubbed at the bridge of his nose worriedly. “I had Yoona shuffle my schedule a little. We’re making it work.” He wasn’t going to just dump Yebin in her carrier and leave her to her own devices. He got the feeling that she had enough of that from her mother. And at least for the time being, they had staff to spare. Certainly no one was required to play with the baby, but no one had said no yet.

“Helicopter,” Samuel said loudly, pulling Yebin off his shoulders and dipping her down in a way that thrilled her. “Helicopter Yebin in action!”

“He’s good with her,” Hongbin laughed out.

“He’s practically the same age as her,” Seokjin teased a little. “But you’re right. We’re lucky he’s here right now for this. She’s loving him.”

“Jin?”

Seokjin turned towards Jessica who was coming to his side with Yebin’s baby bag. She set it up on the table next to them and said, “You’re going to want to see this.”

“See what?” When Yebin had needed a diaper change, and had gotten hungry, Samuel had been able to find all of her things in the bag without issue.

Jessica nudged the bag towards him a little. “Front pocket.”

Seokjin’s heart sunk a little as he realized what was waiting for him. “Oh, no,” he breathed out.

“What is it?” Hongbin asked.

Sighing, Seokjin pulled out and said, “This is Yebin’s birth certificate.” He set it on the table and continued, “This her medical history, including her immunization record, and this here is her citizen number.”

Confused, Hongbin wanted to know, “What’s it all doing in her baby bag?”

Seokjin shook his head a little, and thankfully it was Jessica who said, “Only a mom who plans to abandon her baby ahead of time, puts everything like this in there—unless she’s taking Yebin to apply for a passport, which I really don’t think is the case.”

No, Seokjin knew, this had been premeditated. This abandonment was something that Yebin’s mother had decided on a while ago, and had prepared for.

“There’s a lot of diapers in here, too,” Jessica observed. “A lot of formula, too many changes of clothes … Jin, this bag is stuffed.”

“Because,” Seokjin said, “Yebin’s mother knew she was leaving her daughter with us for at least a while.”

A disgusted look graced Jessica’s normally beautiful face. “What a shitty mom.”

“Jessica,” Seokjin said kindly, and a little sadly. “We don’t know what was going on with Yebin’s mother. Not for certain. But this certainly looks like a case of severe postpartum, among other potential issues. And people suffering from mental illness or these types of conditions? They’re not the villains. They’re the victims.”

Jessica at least seemed to considering his words, regardless if she agreed or not.  

“I have to get back to the front,” Jessica said, nudging at the bag in an irritated way now. “But if you need me to take a shift with her, I’m here until four.”

“Me too,” Hongbin offered, just as Jessica was leaving the room and Jonghyun was coming in. “I’m here for a couple more hours. You know I love children. I’ll gladly watch her for a while when I have a break in my appointments.”

“Thanks,” Seokjin called after him.

Jonghyun veered a huge path around Yebin to get to Seokjin and said, “I called up a friend of mine I know working down at social services. Technically they need to wait for a police report to be issued before they can be dispatched, but because we’ve already contacted the police, she’s willing to come down a little sooner and get things squared away with the kid in a timely way.”

Yebin was still cooperating wonderfully with Samuel as the teen set her down on the baby blanket they’d spread out on the floor near the sofa in the staff room. He placed her town on her tummy, with toys around her, and laid down on his own stomach to make faces at her. She was holding her own head up flawlessly, and rolling back and forth even. Samuel was scrambling to keep up with her, but at least Seokjin was pacified that Yebin was exhibiting all the benchmarks a 6-month-old should have been.

“A timely way?” Seokjin asked.

“So we can get her out of our hair,” Jonghyun clarified.

Seokjin told him flatly “She’s not a bother.”

“She’s a kink in a well-oiled, well run machine.” Jonghyun arched an eyebrow. “And she’s not our responsibility. We need to hand her off to the right people. She’s not our kid, so you have to stop looking at her like she is.”

Seokjin threw a glare at him. “I’m looking at her in a concerned way because I’m a human being and I have an emotional attachment to her. I delivered her. I’ve seen her since her birth, and she matters to me. No, she isn’t my daughter, but I’m going to treat her as if she was right now because she needs it. Her mother just abandoned her, Jonghyun. Her mother.”

Quietly, Jonghyun replied, “I get that, but she doesn’t. Look. I mean, just look at her. She has no clue her mother is long gone at this point, and she’s probably better off because of it. You don’t need to hover over her like she’ll be mistreated in some way anymore.”

“Maybe,” Seokjin eased out, “I’m a little too attached.” He had to consider that. It was fine to care about his patients, but Jonghyun wasn’t wrong. Yebin was not his daughter.

“You think?” Jonghyun said lightly. “We all do it from time to time. It’s no big deal, as long as you catch yourself and pull back.”

Seokjin risked a glance to the clock across the room. “The police sure are taking their time.”

Jonghyun didn’t look surprised. “This isn’t exactly an emergency call for them, and you better bet they saw exactly where the call came from. After your father and boyfriend played an equal part in getting the department gutted for corruption, they’re not really on friendly terms with us.”

That sparked some anger in Seokjin, and he said, “It’s fine if they want to be mad at my family, or at Bangtan, or anyone involved in what happened last year. But they’d better not let any of their issues get in the way of serving the community. They’re supposed to be better than that. They have to be.”

“Better?” Jonghyun snorted. “Seventy to eight percent of the neighborhood’s police were on Infinite’s payroll. Some of them got run out, and some of them didn’t. Of course they’re holding grudges and taking it out on our people. That’s why we have to be better, because we can’t trust them to.”

Before Seokjin could answer, Samuel popped into his line of sight. Yebin was still rolling around playfully on the ground, flinging her toys about, but Samuel was straightening his clothes and trying to fix his hair.

“Excuse me,” Jonghyun cut in. “Where do you think you’re going? You’re the baby whisperer. You get back there and whisper before she starts screaming again.”

Samuel reminded, “I said I didn’t mind working this weird shift today, but I also said I needed my lunch at the same time. Around noon.”

“You just started,” Jonghyun protested. Across the room it looked like Yebin had just discovered Samuel was missing, and she was starting to fuss.

“I know.” Samuel shrugged. “But I have lunch plans.”

“Plans,” Jonghyun sputtered.

Samuel drifted towards the door. “I know you forgot, but you’re actually the one who gave the okay. I’ll be back in an hour!”

When Jonghyun turned to Seokjin clearly for backup, Seokjin tried to say seriously, “You gave the okay.”

“I don’t believe that,” Jonghyun insisted.

Yebin let out a wail so Seokjin took strides towards her. He swept her up in his arms and bounced her a little. “Stop picking on him, Jonghyun. You like him, it’s just killing you to admit it—to admit you were wrong about him.”

“He’s still a disrespectful punk,” Jonghyun insisted.

“He’s a hard working,” Seokjin countered, “charismatic, edgy teenager. That’s the combination. He works hard, he makes you like him, and then he says or does stuff to remind you that he’s foreign, his own person, outspoken, and most of all, sixteen.”

“I’d like him more if he talked less,” Jonghyun said.

“That’s not true,” Seokjin told him. “You like that he pushes the limits with what he says, especially since he’s figured out where the line is and how not to cross it. The only thing you probably don’t like is that he’s a teenager. But shocker, he is going to grow up, and quickly at that.”

Jonghyun shrugged. “True. He won’t be sixteen forever. But he will be sixteen the entire time he’s here at the clinic. Where’s your argument there?”

Seokjin said, “I guess I don’t have one. But you know what I do have?”

“No?” Jonghyun shook his head.

“I have a consult in five minutes.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Gracefully, but without insistence, Seokjin dropped Yebin into Jonghyun’s arms. The older man struggled to hold her up for a second, and then he nearly dropped her a second time when she started wailing.

“No,” Jonghyun hissed at him. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would,” Seokjin said with a grin. “This is the second consult of a patient that definitely has a hernia and has his surgery scheduled for this upcoming weekend. But he’s more than a little nervous so I’m going to walk him through everything, and make sure he’s okay.”

“You are not going to leave me with this baby!” Jonghyun shouted at Seokjin as Yebin twisted away from him, screaming as she tried to nosedive back towards the ground.

“She’s just a baby,” Seokjin said, trying not to let it show on his face how much he was enjoying Jonghyun’s aversion to Yebin. Jonghyun could be good with kids. Seokjin had seen it. He just didn’t have a lot of practice, and this seemed like a good learning experience for him. “You’ll be fine, and Samuel will be back in an hour.”

Seokjin moved to the door, but Jonghyun hurried right after him, nearly pleading, “You are not going to do this to me, Jin. You are not. I have patients, too.”

“You’re doing walk-ins,” Seokjin said. “Not appointments. I think we have it covered.”

“If you do this to me,” Jonghyun said, barely sounding like he was in control as he lifted Yebin a little too high and she caught some of his hair between her fingers, pulling hard, “I want you to know I will never cover for you again. Ever. Under any circumstances.”

Seokjin stopped at the door, and tilted over to kiss one of Yebin’s wet cheeks. She leaned for him instinctively, but Seokjin made himself pull back. Jonghyun could do this, and it was only for a short while.

“Your threats are empty,” he said pointedly to Jonghyun. “You like me too much for them to mean anything. Now, you have Yebin’s bag over there, and if there is actually an emergency, try to remember you’re a doctor. You went to medical school. You’re more than capable.”

“Jin…”

“She’s a baby, not a bomb,” Seokjin told him. “Just try. If you try and nothing works, at least you tried.”

“Try,” Jonghyun said dryly, holding Yebin a little awkwardly as she reached for his hair again.

Seokjin offered, “Play with her, talk to her, sing to her.”

With Jonghyun looking stunned, Seokjin moved quickly into the hallway and closed the door to the employee room behind him. The shut door didn’t block out the sound of Yebin’s crying completely, but it mostly smothered the sound down, and hid the fact that they had a screaming baby in the clinic.

Seokjin hadn’t been lying, either. He had a follow up consult for a patient that really needed extra care to feel comfortable with his upcoming operation. And that, with Seokjin trying to take his time and not rush the man, ate up the better part of a half hour.

He tried not to let his mind drift to Jonghyun and Yebin, but it was nearly impossible. And so he let himself settle for unobtrusively checking in on them before he took another patient.

He was halfway down the hall towards the staff break room, and quite surprised not to hear even the barest hint of a whimper coming from the door in the distance, when a very distinct voice rang out behind him, “Did you know you have police officers in your lobby?”

Seokjin spun on heel, affection welling up in him as he breathed out, “Kibum, you’re back.”

Kibum, who’d been a savior to the clinic several times over, and a good friend of Seokjin’s for some time, was standing just behind him. He was looking utterly posh, like he always did, and Seokjin couldn’t begin to hazard a guess of where he’d been this time. Milan? Tokyo? Paris? New York? Who knew. Kibum was used to dazzling them all with his modeling originally, but recently he’d moved into designing, and from what Jonghyun said, he was on fire.

One night, a long, long time ago, when Seokjin and Jonghyun had gone out to the bar after a particularly long day at work, Seokjin had asked, “Does it really work for you? Him always being off doing something fashion related, and you here? You two go months without seeing each other sometimes—when he’s in the middle of a season. Does that actually work?”

He’d only probably pried so much due to the beer he’d had, and likewise, Jonghyun had only been so candid in reply because of his own saying, “It’s good for now. We’ve talked before, you know, about making Seoul a home for the both of us one day. A permanent home, where we have a regular grocery store and dry cleaner we go to, and a restaurant where the wait staff know us by name. But for now, he’s doing what he has a passion for, and it works for us, because even if he was here, I’d probably have more of a relationship with the clinic than him.”

And it really must have worked for them, and still did, because Jonghyun and Kibum were the most stable relationship Seokjin had ever seen, and he truly believed they’d stand the test of time. They acted like teenage romantics when they were around each other, too, which probably had a lot to do with the distance between them at times.

“You’re back,” Seokjin breathed out, drawing Kibum into a firm hug. “You look great.”

“I know,” Kibum said in a cheeky way. “But so you do you. Now, two questions: one, where is my boyfriend, and two, why are there cops in your lobby?”

Feeling relieved, Seokjin said, “The cops are finally here. Only a couple hours overdue, too.”

“They really hate you,” Kibum laughed out. “Good thing your boyfriend keeps the streets safer than they do.”

Seokjin leaned back to try and catch a glimpse at the front desk, but he was too far back and at too odd an angle to see anything.

 “Whatever they’re here for,” Kibum said, “Yoona is sure giving them hell.”

“How?” Seokjin asked warily.

With a familiar, Cheshire looking grin on his face, Kibum informed him, “There are two police officers out there, and she’s calling personally to the station to verify their credentials. It’s taking forever, and they look somewhere between bored and irritated. That girl is my hero, you know. They’re definitely the real deal and she knows it, but she’s making them work for it anyway. So why are they here?”

Seokjin probably should have found it a little immature that Yoona was pulling such a thing with the police, but there was nothing but amusement in him, instead.

“They’re here because … actually,” Seokjin cut himself off, “follow me. I’ll show you why.”

Kibum followed after him easily, still asking, “Okay, but where’s Jonghyun?”

Seokjin assured, “Don’t worry, when you see what I have to show you, your questions will be answered.”

Seokjin pushed open the door to the employee staff room and froze.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, Kibum breathed out, “This is a sight I never thought I would see in my life. Ever.”

Seokjin seconded that.

“Okay,” Jonghyun said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I definitely can’t explain what happened, but it’s a miracle, and I’m just going to go with it. Oh, and if any of you wake her up, I’ll murder you.”

Seokjin stared at the sight of Yebin dozing in Jonghyun’s arms. She wasn’t out completely, but she was getting there.

Jonghyun cut through the shock Seokjin was feeling to ease out, “I thought your flight didn’t come in until tonight, Key?” Jonghyun’s face softened. “I missed you.”

Kibum strode forward a little, circling Jonghyun and saying, “I know we talked about children at some point in the future, maybe, but this is a little premature, don’t you think?”

Jonghyun gave him a withered look. “She’s not mine.”

“I hope not,” Kibum laughed out. “This is not an open relationship.”

Seokjin drifted to Jonghyun’s side too, explaining, “This is Yebin. Her mother … abandoned her here. That’s why the police are here. So they can file a report on the abandonment, and then we can get a social worker assigned to Yebin.”

Kibum leaned down a little to examine Yebin, and touched the back of his fingers to her cheek softly. “She’s gorgeous.”

“Always has been,” Seokjin said with a grin. He looked to Jonghyun then and asked, “Really, how did you manage this?”

Jonghyun went red in the face.

“What?” Seokjin pressed.

It was a mumble when Jonghyun said, “You told me to sing to her. I did. She stopped screaming, and eventually, she decided to take another nap.”

Surprise lit on Seokjin’s face. “You sang to her.”

“Don’t get too excited,” Jonghyun said flatly. “I did it to calm her down. I’m not doing it again any time soon.”

A knock sounded on the door that was already open, and when he turned to look, Seokjin could see Yoona there, and two police officers standing just behind her. “Boss?” Yoona called out. “The police finally decided we were worth their time. That Yebin was worth their time.”

Seokjin’s eyes widened at her words as the cops shuffled behind her. “Thank you,” he told her, a little aggressively. “You can go back to the front now.”

Yoona rolled her eyes, then said over her shoulder as she headed back to the desk, “Looks like we have a new baby whisperer.”

The police shuffled into the room and Kibum turned to Jonghyun to say, “I’m going to go grab a coffee from across the street, okay? I didn’t get a lot of sleep on the plane.”

“Okay,” Jonghyun said softly, and gave him such a look of love that Seokjin felt even more affirmed that the two of them were utterly perfect for each other.

“I’ll bring you your regular,” Kibum promised, and then he was gone.

With Yebin still dozing in Jonghyun’s arms, Seokjin fielded questions from one officer while the other took notes. They had the kind of questions for him he’d predicted, the basic kind, and he was able to answer them all easily. And then they wanted to see all of Yebin’s paperwork, and verify with a couple of other doctors that his story matched up with theirs.

But they were gone almost as soon as they arrived, albeit with the promise to file the report and authorize the dispatch of a social worker immediately.

“Ha,” Jonghyun said sharply when they were gone.  “Screw them.” He told Seokjin, “My friend is already on her way. She said she’d be here in under an hour, and that was twenty minutes ago.”

Biting the inside of his cheek, Seokjin asked, “What do you think she’ll do when she gets here? About Yebin.”

Jonghyun gave a one shoulder shrug, trying not to dislodge Yebin. “Honestly? I have no clue.”

That didn’t make Seokjin feel much better, but there wasn’t anything to do about it. So instead he asked Jonghyun, “Is she getting too heavy for you? She doesn’t weigh a lot, but it adds up after a while. I can take her if you want.”

Jonghyun’s gaze drifted down to Yebin, and there was fondness on his face for her that Seokjin hadn’t expected to see.

His voice going a little thin, Jonghyun said, “I’ve got her.”

So Seokjin let him.

But as it turned out the social worker friend Jonghyun had been expecting arrived just minutes after Samuel came back from lunch.

“Thank you letting me cash in a favor,” Jonghyun told her when she arrived.

“Of course,” She laughed out, setting her bag down and pulling out several sheets of paper and a pen. “So, what pretty girl do I have here?”

Seokjin was impressed by the way that Yebin was more alert now, but seemingly content to just lie in Jonghyun’s arms and watch the world around her.

Seokjin told her, “Lee Yebin. She’s been my patient since she was born.”

“Long story short,” Jonghyun cut in, “so you don’t have to wait on the police report, her mom—mother of the year really, apparently pretended to have to use the restroom, and dumped her kid with us. She’s long gone, and everything in Yebin’s baby bag indicates she isn’t coming back.”

Seokjin nodded and voiced, “The mother had been exhibiting symptoms of postpartum depression, and something a lot more severe than that. I’ve been worried for a while but this visit today cemented my fears. I think Yebin’s mother left her daughter here either to protect Yebin, or herself. I agree with Jonghyun. She’s not coming back, and I’d be afraid to have Yebin in her custody if she did.”

The social worker asked Seokjin bluntly, “You believe she’d harm Yebin?”

There was a pit in his stomach when he thought the words he had to say. But he forced himself to tell her, “I think that mothers who are starting to exhibit the tendencies and warning signs that Yebin’s mother is, can kill their children. That’s what I’m afraid of. That’s why, until her mother is found and treated, she shouldn’t have Yebin in her custody.”

The woman marked down most of what he was saying, nodding in agreement in a way that soothed Seokjin at least a little. It was nice to know that if Yebin’s mother was found that second, he had a woman in a position of power who wouldn’t let her simply be handed right over.

Hefting Yebin a little in his arms, Jonghyun asked, “So what’s the plan? What happens to Yebin now?”

Jonghyun’s friend said supportively, “Right now my priority will be fining a family member that is capable of caring for Yebin while all of this is sorted through. Can either of you give me a head start on that?”

“Jin?” Jonghyun asked, clenching fingers that Yebin was playing with.

“I can tell you right now,” Seokjin said, “you have your work cut out for you. Yebin’s father died before she was born, and both of her parents are only children. None of Yebin’s grandparents are still alive, either.”

“Don’t make my job too easy,” she chuckled.

Seokjin gave her a small, encouraging smile. “There is a cousin. Yebin’s mother has a cousin. She was with her when she gave birth to Yebin six months ago. As far as I know, she’s the only living relative.”

“Have a name?”

“I could find out,” Seokjin said with a nod. “We log everyone who comes in and out of this clinic, and she was there when Yebin was born. She had to sign in and present her ID to be present at the birth. Of course it could be some time before we can pull that name for you. We don’t have all our old medical files stored at this location right now. We just don’t have the room for it. Give us until tomorrow, and we can have a name for you.”

“Okay,” she said, nodding at Seokjin appreciatively. “Please fax the information over to my office.” She handed him a card with all her information on it and turned towards Yebin asking, “She has all of her items here?”

Jonghyun frowned. “She has her diapers and formula. Some toys and clothes.”

When the woman held her arms out for Yebin, Jonghyun took a sudden step back.

“What’s wrong?” Seokjin asked, looking between the two of them, not sure what was happening.

“You can’t just take her,” Jonghyun said, voice pitching. “You don’t know where that cousin is.”

“You’re right,” she replied. “And so for the time being, we need to relocate Yebin to a safe house for the night.”

“And then?” At the tone in Jonghyun’s voice, Yebin was starting to make fussy noises and kick out. That was how tantrums always started.

“Jonghyun,” she said softly. “You know where she goes from here, either short term or long term depending on if we can find a family member willing to take her.”

There was look of something terrified on Jonghyun’s face, like Seokjin had never seen before, and he was holding the baby even tighter.

“You are not,” Jonghyun said sharply, “going to put her into some group home where she’s one of fifteen children, barely getting any attention, just waiting until she can be moved to a bigger orphanage where she’ll be relegated to a crib all day long and no one will care about her.”

Softly, the woman said, “We don’t call them orphanages anymore.”

“That doesn’t make then not orphanages,” Jonghyun snapped back.

Yebin let out a loud cry, and that only seemed to make Jonghyun hunch over her a little more protectively.

“Jonghyun,” Seokjin pointed out, “she has to go somewhere. You knew that.”

He couldn’t understand why Jonghyun was suddenly so defensive and adverse to his friend taking Yebin.

“You don’t get it,” Jonghyun told him, shushing Yebin and bouncing her against his shoulder a little. “Jin … Key … he … he grew up in a boy’s home. He grew up in a place just like they’re going to try and stick Yebin. And he said it was…torture. People don’t care about you there. You’re just a check from the government. You don’t have any rights. You don’t have any personal space. You don’t have anyone who loves you. We are not going to hand Yebin over to suffer what he did.”

Seokjin, on the whole, knew very little about Kibum as a child. He did know that Kibum’s parents had died young, and that for a while, his grandmother had raised him. Seokjin simply hadn’t pried into what had happened after that, because he knew how Kibum turned out. He knew that Kibum had worked himself to the bone to be able to support himself as soon as he aged out of the system, and then he’d been picked up by a modeling agency a year after that. Seokjin didn’t know details, but suddenly he wished he did.

But Jimin had been in a foster or group home for some time. And though that had turned out horrific in the end for most of the people there, it had been because of the gang controlling the area, and not the people there. From what Seokjin had been able to get out of Yoongi and Jimin, it hadn’t been such a terrible time for Jimin when he was young. There’d been people who cared for him there. It had been a home.

Seokjin asked the woman, “If no suitable guardian is found, and Yebin’s mother never … she can’t take her back, what happens to her then?”

“Then,” she said, “we’d do our best to try and find her home—a new family.”

Seokjin did know the adoption statistics in South Korea, however, and they were abysmally low.

“But,” she pressed on, “Yebin needs a place to stay for the time being, and she won’t have any potential family until tomorrow at the earliest.”

Seokjin was going to send Lizzy out to where they archived all their old records right away. He’d pay her overtime, if necessary, to have her pull up the file for Yebin’s birth as quickly as possible.

“We have to hand her over,” Seokjin said to Jonghyun. “We don’t have an alternative.” He cared deeply for Yebin, but he couldn’t haul her home with him. He wasn’t prepared to balance his work and personal life with the addition of a baby, at least at the moment.

Jonghyun, apparently, felt different. Because he cradled a hand to the back of Yebin’s head as she settled against him, and said, “I can take her tonight.”

Jonghyun’s friend asked him flatly, “You want to take her for the night?”

Jonghyun gave a sharp nod. “Until tomorrow, when you can contact the cousin and hear what she has to say about taking Yebin.”

“Think about this,” Seokjin urged, not trying to sway him either way. “It’s a lot of responsibility, even for a night, and you’re very vocal about how little you like children. Jonghyun, you didn’t want anything to do with Yebin earlier. And what about Kibum? Is he going to be okay with you suddenly bringing a baby home?”

Jonghyun replied, “I fuss just to fuss. You know that. I don’t dislike Yebin. I …”

Seokjin sensed his desperation, so he asked the social worker, “Can he take her for tonight? Can he get authorization for that? Just for tonight? For safe keeping?”

The woman clearly resisted the idea with her body language.

“Look at her,” Seokjin pressed. “She’s comfortable with him, and taking her away might cause distress.”

Sighing deeply, the woman said, “Let me go make a call to my supervisor. If I get the okay there, then we can make it happen.”

She stepped out of the room to make a call, and Jonghyun sat wearily on the sofa.

“Jonghyun,” Seokjin said gingerly, trailing after him. “What’s wrong?”

Jonghyun only shook his head, peering down at Yebin as he told Seokjin, “Some of the stuff Key’s told me about growing up in that group home. The things he had to … I am not going to let that happen to her. At least not any sooner than it has to, if there is no family for her. She deserves better. Actually, no one deserves what Key went through.”

“So he’ll be okay with you having a baby for a night?”

“Are you serious?” Jonghyun laughed. “He hasn’t really cut back on the runway because he’s getting tired of it, or he wants to start expanding the clothing brand he’s been working on. He’s better cutting back to wing himself off the rush he gets. Because we’re getting older, and the clinic is a lot more stable now, and we’re … we’re talking about our future. We’re talking about a family now.”

“Kids?” Seokjin deadpanned. “You make such a fuss about them all the time.”

Jonghyun gave a revealing smile. “I like them more than you think. I just never know what to do with them. Yebin … she could be practice I definitely need. A crash course. And yeah, Key’s going to be really okay with this for a night.”

“Okay,” Seokjin decided. “Then I’ll back you up on this.”

Jonghyun was a good person. He was better than most. And so even if Seokjin hadn’t already known Jonghyun was real in his affection of Yebin, he would have backed him anyway. Jonghyun was a doctor, first and foremost, and a good one. He wouldn’t let any harm come to Yebin, and he’d take care of her until family could be reached.

As it turned out, Jonghyun got his baby. The social worker returned fifteen minutes later with papers for Jonghyun to sign, and then she prefaced, “This is only for tonight, Jonghyun, and likely the morning to midafternoon tomorrow. I’ll be contact with you before then about Yebin’s situation.” She grimaced. “We’re old friends, Jonghyun. Don’t make me regret going out on a limb for you here with my boss.”

Seokjin wondered just what she’d said to get Jonghyun temporary custody for the night.

“You’d better run this by Kibum as soon as you can,” Seokjin told him. “You have a surgery scheduled for tomorrow morning, and you have to be here early for the pre-op consult. You’ll have to pawn your new daughter off on him for it. If you can stomach the idea of her being out of your sight for thirty seconds. Psh, and you say I have attachment issues.”

“Ha-ha.”

Seokjin clasped him on the shoulder and said, “Okay, I’m going to get back to work. Your baby, your responsibility to find someone to watch her so you can get back on the floor.”

Jonghyun shouted after him, “If you see my boyfriend, send him back to talk to me. Obviously, we have a little more baggage than we started with.”

“That’s putting it lightly,” Seokjin pointed out.

But for how unexpected the whole day had gone, Seokjin was pleased with how smoothly it ran. He did send Lizzy off to look for the information they needed, but there was no shortage of people willing to take turns watching Yebin until Jonghyun was off at six.

And Seokjin was updating the whiteboard with patient information when the end of Jonghyun’s shift, and Key returned to the clinic, after leaving for a few hours, to pick Jonghyun and the baby up. He didn’t bother to hide the smile on his face as Key shifted Yebin onto his hip effortlessly, no tantrum in sight, and the three of them left the clinic with plans for dinner.

“What’s got you so happy?” Yoona asked. She was slipping the strap to her purse over her shoulder in preparation to leave as well.

“Today,” he said simply, shrugging. “It could have turned out horribly, but it didn’t. That’s always a reason to feel happy.”

“I guess,” she said. “But even if it did work out fine, we still had a mom abandon her baby here. How could anyone do that?”

“Lots of reasons,” Seokjin told her. “And I will always prefer that a parent, mom or dad, leave their baby somewhere safe, rather than anything else happen. Maybe Yebin’s mom acted selfishly today. Maybe she left Yebin because she was only thinking of herself. But maybe she left Yebin here to protect Yebin, or keep her safe. And that’s what I prefer to consider this as a good thing. Because we are going to keep Yebin safe. We are going to take care of her for as long as we can. And that is why today is a good day and I’m happy.”

Yoona gave him an incredulous look.

“What?” Seokjin asked.

“Nothing.” She smothered down a grin. “I just think we definitely need more people like you around here.”

Seokjin protested, “We have a lot of good people around here. I’m looking at one of them, and I only work with people like that.” It was the middle of summer, so even at half past six it was still light out, but all the same, Seokjin asked, “Can I walk you to your car?”

“I am always happy to have a handsome man walk me to my car,” Yoona said in a flirty tone.

“Don’t try that with me,” Seokjin laughed, putting down the marker for the white board and guiding her towards the front door. “You forget I know your boyfriend, and he’s twice my size. I’m not picking a fight with him for any reason.”

Yoona waved his concern off. “You don’t try that with me, Doctor Kim. You know he likes you. He tries to strong arm you into having beers with him practically every weekend. And he likes to brag to all his other friends that he knows some hotshot miracle working doctor who’s going to win a noble peace prize someday.”

“Hardly,” Seokjin snorted out when they exited the clinic into the stifling hot weather of June.

Seokjin considered Yoona’s boyfriend more of a friend of a friend, but he liked the guy ultimately. Seokjin thought he was a good fit for Yoona, and they’d been dating long enough that they’d probably already worked out just how good they were for each other.

At Yoona’s car, she stopped him to ask, “Is it a good idea Jonghyun took the baby home with him?”

Seokjin pointed out, “I hardly think he’s going to smother her in her sleep, even if she starts screaming again.” There’d been way too much of a telling look on Jonghyun’s face, as he held Yebin, to suggest he was anything but infatuated with her. “I think it is a good idea. He and Kibum will take care of her, which is what she needs right now.”

Yoona shuffled on her feet. “I just think it’s a little crazy. I would have expected you to take her home long before Jonghyun.”

“Me?” Seokjin recoiled a little.

“You’re good with kids,” Yoona said with a shrug, popping open her door. “And the way you are with Jungkook? It says more than you think. I mean, a lot of us have half been expecting you to start getting a family going any day now, especially since the clinic is pretty stable.”

He’d known Yoona a while now. He trusted her. He considered her not just an employee, but also a friend. So he told her, “I want a family. And I’m with the person I want to have a family with. Plus, you’re right, this is the most stable the clinic has ever been. We’re not in the red right now. We have guaranteed funding for a couple more years. I have doctors signed on that I trust, and believe in, and I know are invested in this clinic.”

“You want to get married first?” Yoona asked.

“I don’t see a ring on your finger,” Seokjin challenged. He thought it was far too soon for talk about a wedding, even if he knew Namjoon was the man he was going to marry. But Yoona had been with her boyfriend five years. Five years was a long time to be committed to someone and not at least be thinking about marriage.

She sung out in a flitty voice, “But I’ve seen it.”

“Excuse me?” Seokjin demanded.

Yoona slid into her car. “Do all men hide engagement rings in their dresser drawers? If so, you might want to get the memo that when you live with someone, they’re probably going to go through your drawers at some point.”

Seokjin took a step back so she could close her door and told her, “I’ll send that memo out, okay?”

She gave him a wink, turned on her car, and then pulled out of the parking lot.

Marriage was … marriage was a big step. A huge step, actually. But Seokjin had actually spoken to Namjoon about that once before. They’d talked about the kind of wedding each of them preferred, and the details of it, and Namjoon had painted a picture in Seokjin’s mind of something magical when the time was right. But they didn’t talk about children.

Seokjin though they definitely had to talk about children if they had their eye on marriage one day.

They weren’t going to be rushing off to have children anytime soon, but Seokjin was terribly twitchy when it came to routine, and schedules, and having things set. He felt like he’d feel better if he and Namjoon talked about that aspect of their future, and with what had happened recently with Yebin, it felt even more relevant.

That was if he and Namjoon could find the time to talk. Namjoon seemed even more distracted as each day passed, and more anxious. And Seokjin felt the stab of guilt in him every time he tried to approach Namjoon to come clean about his trip with Jimin, only to be denied by something.

Though speaking of Jimin …

Seokjin, from the parking lot across the street and a half block down, could easily make out the sight of Jimin on his motorcycle, idling at a red light. It was the red light in front of the clinic, and Jimin’s bike was unmistakable. But the bigger and more interesting thing that caught his eye, was the fact that Jimin was very much not alone on his bike. There was certainly someone on the back, sitting leisurely on the bike, a helmet obscuring any details that Seokjin might have picked up on. He couldn’t even tell if the second person was male or female.

The light changed then, and the passenger leaned forward, molding against Jimin’s back, and then they were off.

What had that been?

Seokjin felt rooted to the ground.  It was one thing to be told that Jimin was potentially interested in someone else and putting them on the back of his bike, and another to witness it completely.

It was baffling, honestly, and the implications were huge.

But as the sun beat down on his skin in an uncomfortable way, Seokjin found himself grinning. Jimin moving on was only a good thing, and if he felt like he was ready, Seokjin wasn’t going to judge him, or meddle in his business. Jimin would say something when the time was right, or when he was ready. And until then, Seokjin was just going to support him.

Still, he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want to know who this person was that had caught Jimin’s attention.

Though that also seemed like a mystery left for another day. So Seokjin headed back to the clinic to finish his shift, and tried to put it from his mind.

Chapter Text

Jonghyun was so ridiculously adorable as a makeshift dad, that Seokjin could barely stand it.

When he’d gone home, five or so hours after Jonghyun had left with Kibum and baby Yebin in tow, it had been to an empty, quiet, cold apartment. Nothing new, of course. The same men that he expected to see were stationed outside, but Namjoon was nowhere to be found, and Seokjin had anticipated as much.

He’d made himself dinner, something small and easy to clean up, and then he’d settled into the formal dining room in the apartment, where they almost never ate at, and spread out some of the clinic’s paperwork. He had his laptop open to the side as well, with projected graphs of everything from patient yield, to expenses for the upcoming month.

Once a month he felt utterly overloaded like he was now. Once a month, always at the beginning, he was responsible for checking and double checking all of the money that flowed in and out of the clinic. But not just the money, either. He needed to verify incident reports, file wavers, double check expenditures, okay upcoming vouchers, properly report any additional funding they’d received from outside sources, and do it all on top of the regular paperwork.

He’d started working at eleven at night when he’d gotten home, and when he forced himself to get up and get some water and stretch his legs, it was closer to three.

Namjoon still wasn’t home, but Seokjin still wasn’t surprised.

What did surprise him, however, as he nudged away his laptop and ignored several emails he’d received from prominent hospitals, were the messages coming into his phone.

They weren’t messages, actually, per say, but pictures.

Dating all the way back from around midnight, Jonghyun had been sending pictures of Yebin. Adorable pictures, actually, of Yebin in a pretty pink frock she hadn’t been wearing earlier, and one of her in the bath, and another of Kibum holding her up so it looked like she was dancing across the carpet. There were also several pictures of her in various sleeping positions.

Seokjin texted him back, after the latest picture came in at just after three in the morning, “You have a surgery in four hours. Stop letting a cute baby distract you.”

The phone beeped back almost right away, and then it was a picture of Jonghyun sprawled out on his bed, hidden under a mountain of blankets, with a bare foot poking out the bottom. He was clearly deep asleep, and in a spot next to him barricaded on all sides by fluffy pillows, was a sleeping Yebin.

Seokjin texted, “Why are you using Jonghyun’s phone, Kibum?”

Kibum texted back, “Why are you even awake?”

Before Seokjin could type back, the heard the locks turning on the front door.

There was a spike of anxiety in him, a throwback to when he’d had an intruder in his home. But a moment later a weary looking Namjoon came through the front door. He still had a smile for Seokjin, however, when he spotted him.

“Hey,” Namjoon said with a scratchy, tired voice. He trailed into the kitchen to greet Seokjin properly with a kiss. “What are you doing up so late?”

“Early,” Seokjin corrected. “And I’m just working.”

“Working?” Namjoon asked gruffly, practically falling into the chair next to Seokjin. “Jin, it’s so late.”

Seokjin slid a paper with an expenditure report for supplies in his direction and said, “Graphs wait for no one.” He said a little more seriously, “It’s the beginning of the month. You know what that means. I have to make sure we’re set for the next four weeks, and catch any mistakes if they’re there.”

Namjoon folded his arms up on the table and pillowed his head in them. “You need to get a secretary for this. An accountant. Anything. Whatever. This shouldn’t be something you’re responsible for.”

“It’s my clinic,” Seokjin said simply.

“And that was fine,” Namjoon told him, “when it was just a couple of rooms servicing a set number of people every month. But you’re much bigger now. You can’t, no matter how much you try, do it all on your own.”

“I don’t do it all on my own.” Seokjin took back his paper, and shuffled some stuff around to give Namjoon more room. “I just need to handle the really important stuff on my own. Just once a month.”

Namjoon gave a dissatisfied grunt. “The whole way home I was thinking about coming back to you in our bed. I was going to curl up against you all warm and squishy, and do that thing that you hate where I attach to you like an octopus.”

Seokjin gave a much-needed laugh and offered, “You can still go get in bed, you know. I only have a little bit left to do tonight, and I’ll finish the rest tomorrow. You could go get the bed warm for once.”

Seokjin’s phone gave a series of chirps.

“Who’s that?” Namjoon glared at the phone. “No one better be trying to call you in for an emergency or something.”

“It’s not that,” Seokjin promised. “And you know we don’t do emergencies like that at the clinic. Not the overnight kind. Not yet at least.”

That sort of thing seemed years off. The clinic was very financially stable at the moment, and was holding its own considering all things. But they had set hours, and that was that. It would be a long time more before they were able to stay open longer, or even twenty-four hours. And it would probably be longer than that before they could offer a trauma surgeon at all hours, and a recovery ward to match.

They’d get there. Seokjin had no doubt about that. But it was going to take time.

Seokjin told Namjoon, “This is more likely to be one of your men, calling me with a medical emergency, than one of my employees. But before you get all worked up, it’s neither. It’s Jonghyun.” He shook his head and corrected, “Actually, it’s Kibum using Jonghyun’s phone.”

“Why’s Key using Jonghyun’s phone?”

Seokjin swiped his phone’s screen and wasn’t surprised when a series of text messages popped up, all of them with pictures imbedded. Seokjin opened one of the pictures, a shot of Jonghyun drooling into his mattress lined up with a photo of Yebin doing the same, and showed it to Namjoon.

In a confused way, Namjoon asked, “When did Jonghyun get a kid?”

Seokjin gave him the abridged version of what had happened, and finished with, “Lizzy is trying to dig up the cousin’s name and information from Yebin’s birth, but she already let me know it’s a slow process and she’s not even sure if she’ll find it tomorrow. And in the meanwhile, Jonghyun is taking care of Yebin. I had my doubts initially, of course. Jonghyun isn’t overly … paternal, but I think it only took a couple minutes alone with Yebin for him to fall in love. He’ll take good care of her until a proper home for her can be found.”

“That’s one hell of a day you’ve had,” Namjoon said. “How are you still awake? You should have crashed by now.”

Seokjin pressed a chaste kiss to Namjoon’s mouth and reminded, “I did thirty-six hour shifts in medical school when I was younger.  I’d catch a couple of hours here or there, but I was on my feet and working for most of that time. This? This is nothing compared to that. Medical school is grueling, and kind of like torture at times, but it, and the residency where you really show your skills, help prepare you for the future of the profession.”

“If you’re a hard worker like you,” Namjoon pointed out. “Or a doctor that actually cares and wants to help people instead of sitting in some posh office.”

“I could have been some doctor sitting in a posh office.”

“Nah.” Namjoon shook his head. “Even if you took some fancy job at a prestigious hospital, I know you. I know what kind of person you are. You wouldn’t be satisfied with that.”

Those kinds of words hit deeper in him than he thought Namjoon would ever really know, and validated him in a way. He certainly didn’t need his boyfriend to tell him what kind of doctor he was, but hearing it felt nice.

“Cute, right?” Seokjin asked, swiping to show Namjoon some other photos.

“Cute,” Namjoon agreed. He got up from the table and shuffled towards the refrigerator. “What did you make for dinner? Any leftovers?”

“No, sorry” Seokjin told him. But then he offered up, “You know, today with Yebin really got me thinking.”

“About what?” Namjoon asked in a distracted way, moving things around in the refrigerator.

“About us,” Seokjin supplied, angling in his chair towards Namjoon. “About our future.”

Namjoon cocked his head in an uncertain way. “Jin? What does our future have to do with some baby that got left behind at your clinic?”

Slumping back a little in his chair, Seokjin said, “I just thought about Yebin’s mother, who was clearly in need of medical attention, and who was pushed to her breaking point, then inevitably ended up abandoning her child. Everyone wanted to vilify her immediately, and I just felt bad for her. I’m not justifying what she did, but I felt so bad. And I thought, when I’m a parent, I’m not going to let that happen. Or I’m going to do everything in my power to get help if I need it.”

Namjoon froze at the refrigerator.

Seokjin pushed on, “So I want you to promise me something, Namjoon. When we’re parents, and we have a little one of our own, I want you to promise me that if you see me struggling, or needing help, you will say something, and you won’t give up even if I say I’m fine.”

“Jin,” Namjoon said awkwardly.

“I want to think,” Seokjin said, “that I couldn’t be someone like Yebin’s mother, but the truth is I don’t know. I haven’t been a father before. I haven’t felt that stress. And there is no preparing for something like parenthood. You don’t know what it’s like until it hits you right in the face.”

Namjoon let the refrigerator door close, and in a pinched way, asked, “Kids?”

There was something obstinate about the way Namjoon was standing now, and the tone of his voice, but Seokjin thought it could just be from how hard he’d been working, and how tired he was now.

“Obviously not today,” Seokjin chuckled out.  “Or this year, or next year, or anything like that. But yeah, of course, kids.”

“Jin,” Namjoon said his name again, and this time it sounded even worse.

Seokjin’s stomach bottomed out. “What? Namjoon, what?”

“We…” Namjoon’s voice went thin.

Nervously now, Seokjin said, “I know we haven’t really talked about children all that much but … you know I want them, right? You know I want to be a father very badly.”

Namjoon leaned a little boneless against the refrigerator. “But your heart.”

“What about it?” Seokjin found himself sounding a little defensive, and wondered where it came from. But it didn’t feel wrong. “Namjoon, my heart is part of the reason I want to have children. Even if I don’t have any biological children, I want to be normal, just like everyone else. I want to have a full and complete life, and that means experiencing all the things that everyone else gets to. But even underneath all that, I want to be a father because it feels like a calling. It feels like something I was meant for.”

Oh god. Seokjin could see the look on Namjoon’s face, and he knew what it meant.

He was almost afraid to say the words that came tumbling out of his mouth, “But you don’t feel that way.”

Namjoon exhaled through his nose in a loud way. In a frustrated way.

“You don’t want to be a father,” Seokjin inferred. “You don’t want children.”

How could he have not known this? How could he have let him picture a future with Namjoon and just make all kinds of assumptions?

“I don’t hate children,” Namjoon said quickly. “You know I don’t.”

“But you don’t want them.”

Seokjin found himself gripping the edge of the table, feeling a little faint.

“I don’t think,” Namjoon said, “it would be responsible for us to have them.”

“Responsible?” Seokjin barely got out.

Namjoon rushed to add, “For me, at least. For me.”

“What are you talking about?” Seokjin demanded.

Namjoon made his way back to the table, but he didn’t sit. That didn’t bode well.

“Look around you, Jin,” Namjoon implored. “Look at what I am, and what I do, and the decisions I have to make.”

With a dry laugh, Seokjin asked, “Are you telling me you don’t want kids because of Bangtan? Because of the gang that you started to actually take care of and protect kids?”

“Not because of Bangtan,” Namjoon said back quickly. “Because of all the other gangs out there.”

Seokjin shook his head.

“Damnit, Jin,” Namjoon breathed out. “Look at what happened to you with Infinite. Hell, look at what happened to you a couple weeks ago. Someone came into this apartment, our home, and tried to kill you. And I wasn’t here to save you. You saved yourself, and it was a miracle you did.”

“Namjoon,” Seokjin tried.

“Now imagine,” Namjoon continued on, “that we had a child and that child had been here. Imagine someone specifically targeting our baby to hurt me. Imagine … fuck, imagine someone killing our baby to send a message.”

Seokjin snapped back in shock.

“Don’t think it couldn’t happen, either,” Namjoon said, voice rising. “Don’t you dare think for one second that if we let ourselves go down that road, and have a family, that someone won’t look at our baby and think they can send a message.”

Doom was welling up in Seokjin suddenly, and he hated every second of it. But he felt like he couldn’t get his mouth to work now, and every word he wanted to get out, was stuck in his throat.

“I feel like shit some days,” Namjoon told him, “bringing you into this world. You say it’s your choice, and you understand and accept all the dangers, but some days I still feel like I’m the one who’s going to be responsible for you getting killed. And you’re an adult. I love you and I will do my best to protect you, but you’re an adult and you make your own choices. But a baby, Jin? A child? There’s no justification for us putting a child into this kind of situation—into this kind of world. I will always be neck deep in a situation that could turn sour in a moment’s notice, and I am not going to be the one to put a baby into the same situation. I will not.”

Seokjin had to clear his throat before he said, “You’re talking about the reasons why you don’t think you should have a child, but you’re not saying if you want to.”

“Those two things are tied together irrevocably, Jin.”

“Not to me,” Seokjin replied.

“I won’t have kids,” Namjoon said definitively. “I won’t have them when I know what danger I’ll be putting them into. I won’t be that shit person who gets their baby killed because they wanted one more than they were willing to weight the implications of one.”

And that…that just broke Seokjin’s heart.

His knees were wobbling a little as he got up, pushing the chair back from the table.

“I have wanted to be a father since I was young,” Seokjin said evenly, if a bit quietly. “I have known that for a long time. And yes, the world is a scary, sometimes horrible place. But there’s good out there, too. There are good people, and things we can do to keep our family safe, and options. I don’t want to give up being a father just because I’m scared of what could happen.”

“Could?”

“We can keep our baby safe,” Seokjin said bluntly.

Harshly, Namjoon told him, “You’re woefully ignorant if you think that.”

This seemed like such an impossibility to Seokjin. It felt like he was living in some alternate reality, or dreaming—more like having a nightmare. He just couldn’t comprehend the words he had heard come out of Namjoon’s mouth. He couldn’t believe the severity of them.

“I have known you were the one I wanted to marry for a while now,” Seokjin told him precariously. “And when I thought about our future, it was always me and you, Namjoon, and then a bigger family. I want to marry you, and grow old with you, but I also want to have kids with you.”

Wordlessly, and with pursed, pale lips, Namjoon shook his head.

Seokjin couldn’t imagine a future where he wasn’t a father. He adored children. He loved the idea of having one or more of his own, and teaching them how to be good people, and watching them grow, and getting to attend school functions and sports games and recitals and everything in between. Having such a hand in raising Jungkook had only intensified the want.

No, the need.

And he wasn’t going to give something like that up.

In a scared way, he asked Namjoon, “Are you telling me you won’t ever consider having children? Ever?”

“Why can’t we be enough?” Namjoon asked a little desperately. “I love you so much. You are it for me, Jin. You’re the one. I want to just live my life with you by my side. We should be enough for each other.”

Horrifically, Seokjin thought back to what Yebin’s mother had said. The woman had told Seokjin frankly, before she’d abandoned her daughter, that she hadn’t wanted children. She’d just wanted to live well with her husband.

She’d had such resentment for Yebin, even if none of it was her fault. And Seokjin was terrified that resentment would wedge itself between Seokjin and Namjoon regardless if they had children or not.

“I …” Seokjin felt like he might shatter apart into a million pieces.

“Jin,” Namjoon said, emotion soaking his voice.

Seokjin thought he could see the proverbial line in the sand ahead of him. He could see himself standing on one side, and Namjoon on the other, and it was no situation he’d thought he’d ever find himself in.

Because Namjoon was the one. Namjoon was supposed to be his husband someday, and the person Seokjin raised children with, and who he bought a house with, and who he grew old with. Namjoon was supposed to be everything, and his heart was aching from what came next. The inevitable next.

The impossible next.

“I want to be a father,” Seokjin said bluntly. There was no sugar coating what he had to say. There was no telling Namjoon gently.  “I dream of it. And I can’t … I can’t have a future with someone that doesn’t want that too.”

Namjoon was so white in the face that he looked ill.

“I need someone,” Seokjin nearly whispered out, “that wants the same things I do, and is going to stand next to me in all aspects of my life, including parenthood.”

“Jin, don’t do this.” Namjoon was physically shaking. Seokjin could see it. “Jin.”

“I can’t give up a dream I have for anyone. No even you.” Seokjin took a step back from the table.

Then Seokjin could see the unshed tears in Namjoon’s eyes.

Tears that he was responsible for putting there.

“Are you giving me an ultimatum?” Namjoon asked, blinking hard against the tears.

“No.” Seokjin shook his head sharply. “I’m just…I’m telling you the truth. Namjoon, I love you, but I can’t let something like this fester between us. I can’t let us grow to resent each other, and one of us will end up resenting the other, no matter how the future goes. I love you too much to let you grow to resent me, or for me to resent you.”

“So you just want to … to do this?” Namjoon demanded, sounding angry now. “You want to throw us away over a baby we don’t even have?”

Feeling out of breath like he’d run some kind of marathon, Seokjin bent forward, putting his hands on his knees.

“I think we need to take some time apart.”

Seokjin didn’t want to throw anything away. And he didn’t want to rush into any sudden decisions. This new information had come to light so quickly that Seokjin felt like he needed to slow down a little. He needed to breathe.

“Time,” Namjoon echoed a bit dully.

Seokjin’s hands were trembling as he tried to gather up his stuff on the table. “I’ll go and—”

“No,” Namjoon interrupted, looking so inconsolable and broken. “You stay here. You … I’m going. I’ll go.”

“Namjoon!” Seokjin called after him, but at something close to a run, Namjoon was off towards the door, and out it just a second later.

Seokjin’s phone gave a chime, probably another photo from Kibum, and Seokjin wanted to hurl it across the room.

He settled for shutting the lid to his laptop, abandoning clinic business, and trudging his way to the bedroom. He shed his clothing almost mechanically, and climbed in bed, pulling the covers almost past his chin.

Namjoon didn’t want children.

He didn’t want children, and trying to budge him from that position would break something in their dynamic.

Namjoon didn’t want children, and that meant Seokjin’s future with Namjoon was evaporating before his eyes.

It wasn’t fair. Nothing felt fair.

And now he was worried about Namjoon. He’d blown out of the apartment without anything that wasn’t already on him, and who knew where he’d gone. Namjoon had already looked so tired. He needed to be getting into bed, next to Seokjin, and going to sleep where he was safe.

But he wasn’t, and now Seokjin wasn’t even sure if they had a relationship anymore.

He slept fitfully that night, going in and out of sleep easily and getting absolutely no rest. And in the morning, feeling ashamed and guilty, and still heartbroken, he called in sick to work.

He never called in sick, but he did it anyway, too scared that he’d get five feet into the clinic and everyone would somehow know what had happened between himself and Namjoon. And calling in sick wasn’t fair for the rest of the staff, considering Jonghyun had a surgery that morning, and Hongbin was doing a special consult at a different hospital. His inability to get out of bed had short staffed the clinic, which gave him something extra to be guilty about.

He stayed in bed anyway.

Rather, he stayed in bed for a couple of hours, trying to play out a scenario in his mind where he and Namjoon could find a middle ground of sorts, and then he dawdled on his phone.

But boredom got the best of him eventually, so he got out of bed, took a shower, and threw himself back into his paperwork.

Jungkook, unsurprisingly with a loud bang and thudding feet, came through his front door at just half past eleven, which matched up properly with his first class of the day ending.

“You have two classes today,” Seokjin called out to him. “Why are you risking missing the second?”

Jungkook practically charged up to him, skidding to a stop in front of the formal dining room, and looking hard at him.

“What?” Seokjin asked, vision going blurry from a lack of proper sleep. He rubbed at his eyes and asked, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because,” Jungkook said a little shrilly, “I got a call from your clinic this morning saying you were sick, and you never get sick, except for when it’s serious. And you don’t look sick now, so I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“Who called you?” Seokjin demanded.

Unabashedly, Jungkook said, “Yoona called me. She wanted me to come by and check on you, if I had the time, because like I just said, you never get sick unless it’s serious” Jungkook’s eyes drifted around the table that Seokjin’s paperwork was spread out on. “Did you call in sick so you could work on … this stuff?”

Exhausted, Seokjin got up and crossed into the kitchen, reaching for a mug from the cabinet and starting a new pot of tea.

“Jin?” Jungkook called out in a worried way.

He felt his brother’s presence behind him in the kitchen, and it was like the glue that had been barely holding him together over the past few hours, was rubbing thin. It felt nearly gone. He braced his hands down on the counter top in front of him, and closed his eyes.

“Okay,” Jungkook said, voice wavering with uncertainty, “tell me what’s going on right now. Something is wrong.”

Opening his eyes, Seokjin pivoted towards Jungkook and said simply, “I think my relationship with Namjoon is over.”

Jungkook froze. His mouth dropped open a little. “Wh-what?”

Seokjin clenched his fingers into fists and said, “Last night … early this morning we …”

He couldn’t get the words out. He just couldn’t.

But Jungkook sure could, as he exploded, “You’re breaking up! How can you be breaking up? You guys love each other. You’ve been to hell and back. You’re like the most stable couple I’ve ever seen in my life. You’re perfect for each other. You’re—”

“Jungkook,” Seokjin cut him off.

Jungkook took deep breaths. “Are you serious? I mean serious, serious? You two …”

“It comes down to this,” Seokjin said, because he’d never hidden anything from Jungkook before, and he wasn’t about to start now, “we want different futures. We see different futures.”

Jungkook seemed baffled.

Seokjin went about making his tea, if only to keep his sanity, and said, “We love each other. That’s not in question here, Jungkook. We love each other very much. But we don’t … we don’t see ourselves in the same place in the future, and love doesn’t matter at all when it comes to that.”

“You two can’t break up,” Jungkook said.

“I want kids,” Seokjin told him. “I want kids and Namjoon doesn’t. I want school functions, and sporting events, and parent-teacher conferences, and birthday parties and family trips. I want a future where Namjoon and I are parents, and you’re an uncle, and there are children. For me, that’s nonnegotiable.”

Jungkook winced. “Rap Mon doesn’t want kids?”

“No,” Seokjin said with a wry laugh. “He doesn’t. And I can’t have a future with someone who doesn’t want the same important things I do.”

“Shit,” Jungkook mumbled. Seokjin couldn’t help feeling the same sentiment.

“I just assumed,” Seokjin said. “I didn’t bother to ask, I just assumed Namjoon wanted children, too. I’ve talked about them before, and he never said anything.”

“You can’t work this out?” Jungkook asked, hopping up on the countertop next to Seokjin. He normally would have swatted his brother down and reminded him that he prepared food where he was sitting, but it seemed so inconsequential now.

“Work it out?” Seokjin asked almost angrily. “Jungkook, how would you like us to work this out? I give up the one thing I want most in the world, and end up resenting or maybe hating Namjoon some day? I pretend to be okay that we don’t have children, and that I don’t blame Namjoon for it?”

Jungkook’s eyes were so wide they were almost doe-like.

“Or,” Seokjin drawled on, “Namjoon gives in and we have children, which he then grows to resent? Children that he can’t love properly, or feel a connection to, or even want. I’m supposed to expose my children to someone who doesn’t want them? That will drive a wedge between us, Jungkook, and damage our children, and ruin our relationship and just … just …”

“Shit,” Jungkook said again.

Shifting his forearms up on the countertop, Seokjin hung his head. “I love Namjoon more than you can possibly imagine. I love him in a timeless way, like we could be seventy years old and I’d still love him just as much as I do today. But …”

Seokjin mad a low sound as Jungkook crashed into him, enveloping him in a tight hug.

His brother didn’t say much more, but the hug was enough.

“Come on,” Jungkook urged, sliding down from the countertop and nudging Seokjin. “It’s after eleven and I’m hungry. Let’s go get some food.”

“I’m not hungry,” Seokjin said, finishing his tea and taking the mug back to the table. “I have work to do, and I don’t feel like going out.”

Jungkook trailed after him. “So you’re just going to sit around this apartment, feeling sorry for yourself, faking being sick?”

“Go to class,” Seokjin ordered.

“Come out to lunch with me,” Jungkook tossed back. “You look pale, and you’re obviously not really sick, so you need to eat something.”

No, he wasn’t sick, just heartbroken, which felt worse.

“Just come eat with me,” Jungkook said, bouncing a little on his feet nervously. “You need some sun. You need some fresh air. Jin … you need to not be sitting around, waiting for Rap Mon to come back so you can officially declare you’re done.”

He supposed Jungkook was right, but that as what was going to happen, right? He was going to wait for Namjoon to come back, they were going to reaffirm once more that they had vastly different futures in mind, and that would be it. They’d be done.

Seokjin had spent a long time living with Namjoon. He’d spent an eternity learning his ticks and behaviors, and growing accustom to sharing a space, and molding his life to compliment someone else’s. He wasn’t sure he knew how to go back to being just Seokjin.

He didn’t want to.

“You’re going,” Jungkook said, taking Seokjin by the wrist and pulling him away from his tea. “Your work will still be here when you get back, and I’m serious when I say you need a little sun. You look paler than the dead in here.”

He let Jungkook take him just a block down the street from their house to a restaurant they were familiar with, and he even let Jungkook order for him, despite the fact that Seokjin wouldn’t let him pay. And when they settled down to wait for their food to arrive, Seokjin couldn’t help wondering what would happen in the peripheral of his life, when he and Namjoon were well and done.

Aside from Jungkook, would the other members of Bangtan want anything to do with him? He wanted to think they were friends, but they’d been loyal to Namjoon for a long time, and sometimes in breakups, friends were lost.

Would Bangtan still have a presence around the clinic?

Before the food even got there, Seokjin felt a headache building across his forehead.

“Jin,” Jungkook tried. “I’m so sor—”

“Don’t,” Seokjin said. “Just … don’t.”

And to Jungkook’s credit, he didn’t. He worked hard to turn the conversation that came next to more neutral topics like his schoolwork and a new crush he seemed to be harboring on a classmate.

“I thought,” Seokjin said with a laugh that felt closer to the real thing, “you were busy wallowing in agony over the last girl that wouldn’t give you the time of day. You’ve moved on so quickly, little brother. It’s kind of astounding.”

“No, no, you don’t understand,” Jungkook urged. “That old girl was hot and everything, but this new one? She’s cute and funny and talented and doesn’t have a rich boyfriend I have to compete with. She’s been my partner in class a couple of times now, and I think she likes me. I think I’m going to ask her out.”

“Okay,” Seokjin agreed. “Just try and come off as cool for once, okay? And not the nerd you really are.”

“Jin!”

Going to lunch with Jungkook did make him feel better, honestly. There was a residual numbness in him now, and exhaustion that was begging for a nap. But overall, going out with his brother who understood him, and didn’t judge him, and simply cared for him, made a difference.

And it was a good enough feeling, as Jungkook parted ways with him soon enough, to push him through the rest of his paperwork. And then afterwards he climbed back in bed to get a few more hours of sleep.

Or the plan had been for a few more hours. But he must have been more exhausted than he’d thought, because when he woke back up, it was dark in the apartment.

A quick check to his phone showed a series of messages from well-wishers, and some courtesy texts from the clinic about a lack of problems. And then there was a more longwinded message from Jonghyun informing him that Lizzy had yet to find the name of Yebin’s family member, and that he’d gotten an extension to retain custody of Yebin for another day.

Seokjin wandered over to the balcony door in the living room and pushed it open, letting fresh air in. He pushed back the curtains and looked out over the city, wondering what his life would look like in a week … in a day … as soon as Namjoon came back.

He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Before nine the lock on the front door turned and Seokjin, who’d been sitting on the sofa and enjoying a television show, glanced over to see Namjoon come through.

He looked terrible, and that was only another twist of the knife of guilt in Seokjin’s stomach. Namjoon looked like he hadn’t slept in well over a day. He hadn’t shaved, that was absolutely clear. And even from a distance, he looked ragged and unkept.

And sad. Mostly he looked sad.

“Hi,” Namjoon offered in a scratchy, worn voice.

Feeling detached, Seokjin echoed back, “Hi.”

Namjoon took a tentative stop forward into the apartment and closed the door behind him. Then, with a resolute look on his face, he asked Seokjin, “Can we talk?”

Seokjin turned off the television and wondered if his was how his relationship ended. His gut said yes, and his heart agreed.

“I think we have to,” Seokjin said.

Namjoon’s head dipped, and Seokjin felt him slip through his fingers.

Half an hour later, he’d lost Namjoon completely.

And in that, he lost himself.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t like Seokjin was terrified of Minah, but he was definitely terrified of her.

Especially when she had the look on her face that she currently did.

“You have not,” she said severely, “been following my orders as your doctor.”

Seokjin made to dispute that, but cut off sharply at her glare.

“I’ve … been trying.”

The sternness on her face dropped away, replaced by something more worried, and she said a lot more kindly, “Seokjin, I know doctors make the worst patients but this is no joke. What I’m looking at now is no joke.”

Seokjin glanced over her shoulder to where his scans were lit up on a board in the room. Even if he hadn’t been a doctor, he would have been able to see the obvious difference between his left ventricle and right, in the pictures. Before it has been noticeable to medical personnel, but something easily missed by someone not trained to look for the issue. But now? In only a few short years?

“I can tell you haven’t been cutting back,” she pressed on. “I can tell you’ve been stressing yourself out, and putting a strain on your heart, and likely missing medication. I can tell.”

Seokjin, sitting up on the examination bed, clenched at the edge of it.

It had compounded. That was what he’d wanted to tell her. The stress of his job and the situation with Bangtan had just so easily compounded into a snowball rolling downhill in a blizzard. And yes, he had missed doses of his medication, but never on purpose.

“Don’t even try and defend yourself,” Minah said

So Seokjin didn’t. Instead he looked at the progressing damage to his heart, and felt cold.

“This is much worse than I would have expected for someone your age, Jin.” Minah wandered back to the x-rays and peered at them. Seokjin could see the lines of tension in her shoulders. “It’s much worse than the last time we had a full workup done on you.”

He cleared his throat, mostly to work up some courage, and told her, “I’ve been having incidents more frequently now. More frequently than I’m used to.” There’d been that day in the Noodle House, and the other at the Clinic. But those were only times he’d experienced an unnatural arrythmia to his heart in the company of others. It had happened other times, too, when he’d been alone.

His medication had always done what it was intended to, but even he could admit that the instances that the incidents were occurring, were increasing.

“Are you experiencing swelling?” Minah asked, pivoting back to him. “In any limbs?”

Seokjin shook his head.

“Feeling faint or dizzy? Actually passing out?”

“Only when my heart feels the worst,” Seokjin told her, “I feel dizzy. But it usually passes fast enough.”

She sighed again.

In the air-conditioned room, Seokjin folded his hands into his lap and twisted his fingers nervously. Even if he’d been outside in the terrible heat, he knew he would have been cold. At least in his fingers. It was always hard to get things like his hands and feet warm.

“How’s your breathing?”

“The same as usual,” Seokjin told her honestly, and it was nice to know one thing hadn’t changed. “It always feels like a fight to get enough oxygen, but not enough that I panic.” There was nothing wrong with his lungs, naturally. Just the rate his heart was pumping blood with oxygen to the rest of his body.

Seokjin let himself slide down off the bed, and he walked to her side of the room to stand in front of the scans. “Tell me the truth. How bad is this?”

“Bad,” she said frankly. She crossed her arms over her chest and he could see her eyes dart across the scans. “I should have seen you last month. Or the month before. There’s no excuse for this.”

“You had a family emergency, two months ago,” Seokjin told her. She hadn’t given him a lot of details, but he knew her sister had been in a terrible car accident, and was still in the hospital recovering. With both of Minah’s parents having passed on, and her sister being her only family, Seokjin would have been upset if she hadn’t put her last remaining family member first. “And then you had the conference last month.”

Seokjin felt like everything was his fault. The signs that things were getting worse had been staring him in the face for a good deal of time. But he’d wanted to wait for Minah, because he trusted her, and liked her, and she was his doctor. So instead of seeing a temporary cardiologist, he’d waited.

Maybe a couple of months wouldn’t have made such a difference at any other point in his life, but his scans hadn’t looked like they did now, so long ago.

And with a disease that progressed like his did, staying on top of it was everything.

“I know I’ve missed some doses of my medication,” Seokjin openly admitted. “But progression like this can’t be just from that.”

“It’s not,” Minah said, head turning to look him in the eyes. “This is a combination of things happening all at once. But I’d definitely say the beta blocker you’re taking right now is borderline ineffective. And the antiarrhythmic? Not much better.”

Seokjin rattled off, “I’m currently taking Sotalol and Amiodrone.” He took peripheral medication for other reasons, but those two pills were mostly responsible for slowing down the progress of his condition. Though if they seemed to be failing him …

“I know,” she said in a distracted way that indicated she was thinking, and he wasn’t surprised she had his medication memorized. She had a lot of patients, but things were special between them, and not just because of their history.

“So,” Seokjin tried to prompt, “should we switch medications? Try something new?” He wobbled his way back to the examination table, and then carefully got back on it.

Minah spun back to him, a decisive look on her face. “Jin, when I took on your case several years ago and became your cardiologist, we went over what you preferred for treatment, what you were comfortable with, and what was realistic for your situation. We agreed at the time that medication was our best bet, and that if you were responsive, it could be a viable option for you.”

Seokjin didn’t like where the conversation seemed to be going.

“Minah,” he warned.

“We can switch you to a different medication,” she told him, “like the last time we saw some increased thinning to your right ventricle. But Jin, the truth is staring us in the face right now. This isn’t the first time medication you’ve been taking has become ineffective, and there are only so many options out there for you. You will run out eventually.”

Seokjin tried to swallow past the lump in his throat as he asked, “So what are you saying? You want me to consider a catheter ablation?”

“It is an option.”

“No,” Seokjin said roughly. “I can’t believe you’re even bringing it up.”

“I’m bringing it up because I’m your doctor,” she said, flicking him on the ear. He winced, but was thankful for the sudden release of pressure between them. “It’s my responsibility to give you all your options and talk them through with you. And no, while it is an option, I don’t recommend it, even if it has an impressive success rate.”

The reason Seokjin wasn’t considering it, despite the high-end ninety percent success rate, was because he was thinking long term with his condition, and not short term. A condition like his, coupled with a procedure like that, meant a recurrence was almost guaranteed, and when that happened, it brought with it new arrhythmogenic foci.

To Seokjin, it brought with it a death sentence.

“Look,” Minah said, reaching out to squeeze his hand. “I’m going to tell you something honestly, and I don’t want you to have some kneejerk reaction. Not like you’ve had in the past.”

“Kneejerk?” Seokjin asked. He didn’t think that was like him at all.

Minah’s features went tight for a minute, and he was clearly psyching herself up to say something, and then finally got out, “I want you to add yourself to the registry list. I want you to give me permission to write the recommendation to get you on that list.”

“No.” Seokjin threw the word at her like acid. “Absolutely not.”

“Be reasonable,” she snapped right back, not budging an inch. “This is something realistic and applicable to you, Jin. Not today, not with the left ventricle still in an okay place—though you know it’s starting to show strain. But we need to be prepared for what will happen one day. One day you may experience bi-ventricle failure, and if you do, a transplant is the only thing that’s going to save your life.”

A heart transplant.

That was what she wanted him to do. She wanted him to put himself into the donor registry in case the worst happened.

“Minah,” he strained to get out. “I am not going to take a heart away from someone who needs it more than me. It’s impossibly hard to get a donor heart as it is, and even then, the body has a significant chance of rejecting the donor organ. I’m not going to be that person, with a heart that’ll do for right now, even if he needs a little extra care, who takes it away from someone who needs it more.”

She told him back, “And you need to take into consideration that when you progress to the point that you will need that heart, if it comes to it, if you’re not already on that list, you are dead. And look at me now. Look at my face. Does this look like the person who is willing to let that happen?”

“No,” Seokjin said again, shaking his head. “I don’t think I’ll get to that point.”

“Stop living ignorantly,” Minah said harshly. “We didn’t think your heart would degrade this quickly. We didn’t think your ventricle would thin so quickly. We didn’t think your medication would become only partially or slightly effective. There are a lot of things we haven’t accounted for. But they’re happening anyway.”

But admitting that he might need a heart transplant, felt like admitting defeat. It felt like admitting that a condition he had worked his entire life not to beat him down, was winning. What was the point of fighting so hard if he had to give up ultimately in the end?

Seokjin told her, “My mother’s heart never degraded this fast. I don’t understand why mine is.”

“Your mother,” Minah said reverently, and Seokjin knew she was picturing the woman and the memories she had of her, “is not you. She didn’t have the same lifestyle as you. You know this condition has a lot of things that factor into it. You pushed yourself hard through medical school, and the things have happened to you over the past year have been traumatic, to say the least. I’m not saying any of this is your fault. I am saying that if we get to the point where you suffer bi-ventricular failure, I want you to still have options.”

He just felt so guilty at the idea of taking an available heart from anyone who needed it. Organ donor wait lists tended to be …unfathomably long. Unfairly long. Statistically, more people died on wait lists, than ever received donor organs.

“Minah.”

She put a firm hand on his knee and squeezed hard. “I know what kind of person you are, Jin, so you’d never say it. And this probably makes me a terrible person for being willing to say it. But the truth is, you deserve a new heart more than almost anyone else who’ll be on the list.”

“That’s not true,” Seokjin vowed. “No one is more important than anyone else.”

“Logically,” she rushed to add. “Realistically. Jin. Think about it. I don’t mean in a philosophical way about the equality of all life. I mean from an impartial point of view. You’re a doctor. You care for, treat, and save thousands of people a year. You’re someone important. You contribute to society in an extremely impactful way. You getting a new heart, if you need it, means you can continue to impact the community in a way that ripples out positively. Think of the people you’ve helped since you became a doctor. How many of them went on to help others or do something that mattered?”

Seokjin pointed out, “The donor list won’t distinguish who deserves a heart and who doesn’t, or who deserves it more—and I still stand by the fact that no one has that right.”

“I know.” Minah insisted. “But I’m standing here telling you that you’re doing a disservice to all the people you haven’t helped yet, if you don’t make every conceivable effort in the world, to save your own life.”

Seokjin couldn’t shake the guilt, but he also thought about his clinic, and his patients, and Jungkook. He thought about all he’d be leaving behind, and everything that mattered to him. He thought about …about Namjoon.

He thought about everything worth fighting to live for.

“Alright,” he finally told her. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

“Good.” Minah gave a sharp nod. “But that’s years from now, Seokjin. God, with the donor wait list, it’s maybe never. Right now, I think we need to take action that we can control, predict, and implement immediately.”

“New medication?”

Minah corrected, “I think it’s time for an ICD.”

“You can’t be serious,” Seokjin deadpanned. “Minah, you can’t possibly be serious.”

“I don’t see why you’re saying that.” She gave him a challenging look. “Face it, Jin, your heart is getting harder and harder to control. You’re having more frequent episodes of unnatural arrhythmia. Your right ventricle is in a worst shape than it should be. Your chances of suffering heart failure are growing exponentially every day. So I’m asking you, do you want a pacemaker, or do you want your boyfriend to stumble across your body one day?”

Feeling flush with a tingling cold, Seokjin truly didn’t think that was likely to happen anytime soon.

Instead he tried to focus on all of the literature he’d ever read about ICDs, or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. Minah definitely knew far, far more about them, but Seokjin knew enough.

He certainly knew enough to say, “And what happens if you perforate the ventricle while you’re implanting it, and I develop pericardial tamponade?”

Again, Minah flicked at him, but this time at his forehead, and much harder than before. She gave him an incredulous expression and said, “What kind of cardiologist do you think I am?”

“A good one,” Seokjin insisted, rubbing his sore forehead.

“Because of that risk,” Minah said, “and because I like you and actually want you to live, the preferred method during surgery to place the ICD on the ventricular septum. Sometimes this is impossible, but it’s always the goal. And I’ve placed hundreds of ICDs in my life, with almost all of the surgeries going according to plan.”

“Oh, good,” Seokjin said faintly.

Sounding more like a doctor now than a friend, Minah’s heels clacked on the floor as she walked over to the x-rays, turned the board off, and said, “The facts are that given the development of your condition, I’m recommending this to you as your cardiologist. Yes, the surgery has its inherent risks, but in my opinion, the benefits greatly outweigh the negatives. Existing batteries last upwards of ten years in ICDs, current devices are so advanced they can detect minor issues and deal with them long before they even become noticeable to you, and most importantly, this is a device that will save your life, Seokjin, if you experience sudden cardiac arrest. Or at the least it’ll contribute greatly in keeping you alive long enough for someone to save you.”

Maybe everything just seemed a sore subject to Seokjin because he’d talked himself into believing that he could manage everything by simply taking a couple of pills and telling himself he was fine. He’d spent forever believing that all he needed was the path of least resistance, and his life would be his.

“Jin?” Minah asked. “I know I just dropped a lot on you. What are you thinking?”

He was thinking he wanted to live. He wanted his best chance at life, too.

Trying not to stumble over his words, he asked, “What’s the procedure look like in terms of downtime?”

Professionally, Minah said, “I’d do the surgery in a couple of hours, and you’d need to stay in the hospital for a day afterwards. About six weeks after, you won’t even feel a twinge. You could probably go back to work within a couple of weeks.”

“A couple!”

“Oh no,” Minah told him dramatically, certainly back to sounding like his friend and not his doctor, “you’d have to miss two weeks of working ten hours shifts and pretending like you’re the only capable doctor on the planet? What a travesty!”

“Two weeks is a long time,” Seokjin grumbled He saw a lot of patients in two weeks.

“For you, I guess.” She laughed a little. “But think of how much your quality of life will improve after this? You won’t have to worry that you’re going to suddenly experience debilitating symptoms of your diagnosis. Isn’t that worth the tradeoff?”

Ultimately, Seokjin did think so.

“Then we should book the surgery?” Seokjin asked.

Minah’s computer was across the room, but she made a beeline for it as soon as Seokjin agreed. “Let me see what I have available, okay? It’s not going to be anything super soon. And I like you a lot, but this isn’t a medical emergency, so I can’t just bump someone else.”

“Of course.” And frankly he was a lot more comforted by the idea that he might have time to get used to the idea of the surgery.

“How about August first?”

Two months. That gave him two months to brace for a two week down period, and psychologically prepare himself of living with a machine in him that would take control of his heart when needed.

Two months was enough.

“Book it,” Seokjin said before he could back out. “Do it.”

And just like that, Seokjin almost felt like he was getting a new lease on life.

“You know,” Minah said after their business was conducted and she was walking him from the examination room to the waiting room, “I haven’t forgotten about my promise to you and that clinic of yours.”

Seokjin fussed with his sleeve cuffs trying to get them back in the right spot. “What promise?” he asked absently.

She reminded, “I did promise you that I was going to put in some volunteer work at that clinic of yours.  But then my schedule got packed and I just forgot.”

“You going somewhere with this?” Seokjin teased, “The clinic is always willing to take gracious monetary donations from individuals who are too busy to volunteer their time.”

Minah gave a distinctly unladylike snort. “How much money do you think I have? Medical school didn’t pay for itself.”

“Medical school,” Seokjin pointed out, “Was seven years ago for you.”

She held them up at the door that would take Seokjin out into the waiting room, and then to the bank of elevators he needed to use to get down to the ground floor.

“I’m saying,” she clarified. “I may not be able to pull the full two weeks you’re down, but I could cover some days at that clinic of yours.”

“Really?”

Minah grinned. “Really. We’ll get together and discuss it soon. Maybe over drinks? Go have a good day, Jin.”

“You promised me dinner a while ago,” Seokjin pointed out. “A man never forgets!”

She pointed out, “Not one with your stomach capacity.”

“Dinner,” he repeated. “We haven’t gone out together in a long time. I’ll feel better about going under your knife if I let you buy me a steak.”

“You sound like your brother,” she pointed out, and then opened the door for him and waved him through.

Seokjin was a little surprised to find Jimin stretched out in the waiting room, spread across two chairs and looking utterly bored.

“This is not what I expected,” Seokjin said, watching Jimin straighten up a little. “What are you doing here?”

Jimin gave a casual shrug that really was anything but. “I had some time to burn.”

“Okay,” Seokjin edged out. “But that doesn’t answer my question as to why you’re here.” His eyes narrowed “Are you following me again?”

“Please,” Jimin chortled. “Give me some credit.”

“Then explain.” Seokjin started off towards the elevators, and he wasn’t really surprised to see Jimin following at him at a leisurely pace.

Jimin cut ahead of him, actually, the moment he reached the elevators, so he could jab the button to call for the lift.

“Jimin,” Seokjin asked, now more interested any anything else. “How did you know I’d be here today?”

Simply, while they waited in relative privacy for the elevator to arrive, Jimin said, “You had your brother drop you off here this morning.”

That still didn’t explain much. “Yeah? Maybe I came today to see a couple of friends.”

“No,” Jimin drawled out. “You came for an appointment. Because you have them basically every month like clockwork, you always schedule them in the morning, and you never drive yourself if you can manage it.”

There seemed no point in lying, so Seokjin confirmed, “I had an appointment today. And I’m on my way to catch the bus back now.”

He’d almost said back home. He’d almost made that mistake.

“I’m here to take you back.” Jimin said it like Seokjin ought to have expected something of that nature. “Why’re you going it alone today?”

“I don’t need you to take me back,” Seokjin said, but he’d be a liar if he couldn’t admit that it was nice to have someone waiting for him. He never wanted to feel like a burden to Jungkook, so he often left his brother out of any of the matters he needed to take care of at the hospital. “I can catch the bus.”

“I know you can,” Jimin said simply, and that seemed to be that.

They were down in the parking lot, Jimin leading Seokjin towards his bike, when Seokjin finally said, “Jungkook had class today. That’s why he wasn’t with me.” That’s why he had been alone.

“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t drive yourself.” Jimin unhooked the spare helmet from the back of his bike and tossed it to him. “You have that fancy car that most people would kill just to sit in.

“It’s in case,’ Seokjin said. “It’s a safety thing. When I go in for my appointments, I never know if it’s going to be an in and out kind of situation, or if something might happen and I may not be able to drive myself home.” There’d been more than once occasion when Minah hadn’t liked the rhythm of his heart and had put him under to get it settled back at the right tempo. He couldn’t drive afterwards, typically. So that meant having someone with him who could, or taking public transportation.

Jimin gave him a side-eyed look. “And everything went fine in there?”

Seokjin didn’t say that he’d agreed to surgery and an ICD. That wasn’t something he wanted to worry anyone about. Instead he only nodded.

“Good,” Jimin said. He hopped onto his bike and turned it on, gesturing for Seokjin to get on as well.

“I should take the bus,” Seokjin said, his words muffled by the padding in the helmet. “I hate this.” But suddenly he wondered again who the other person on the back of the bike had been the last time Seokjin had seen Jimin driving in the company of someone else. He wondered who else had worn the helmet.

“Stop complaining,” Jimin said, revving the engine. “You do that and I’ll consider not taking the corners too sharply. Deal?”

The threat was hollow at best, but Seokjin let himself go quiet, and tried to breathe his way evenly though the unease that the motorcycle ride always caused him.

They got to Jimin and Jungkook’s apartment fast enough, and when Seokjin got off the motorcycle, the apartment looked like …like the last place on earth he should have been going to.

“You know,” Jimin said from next to him, a tint of anger in his voice, “even if you guys are done or whatever, he should have been there.”

The he in question was definitely undisputed, and neither was the message being sent.

And despite the distance between them, and what had happened, Seokjin felt defensive of Namjoon. He still felt like he needed to say, “Don’t blame him. He didn’t even know. He couldn’t have.”

Three days after the inevitable end to their relationship, and talking about Namjoon still felt like a fresh wound.

“You didn’t tell him?” Jimin asked in disbelief.

“No,” Seokjin said. “I didn’t.” Namjoon had other things to worry about now. Seokjin was one less thing he should have had on his mind.

Jimin scoffed a little in disbelief. “You guys are idiots.”

“And you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” Seokjin said back harshly. No one knew the details of the disagreement that had destroyed their relationship. No one truly knew, and Seokjin wanted to keep it that way. The failure of the best relationship he’d ever had, was still stinging.

“I know that I’ve never seen two people so in love with each other,” Jimin pointed out. “I know the two of you beat the odds in a lot of ways. I’m not trying to get sentimental or anything over here, and considering our history you know what it means that I’m saying this, but that relationship? You should have fought for that.”

Crueler than he needed to be, and in a way that immediately sparked regret, Seokjin said, “Like you did?”

He could see the way Jimin physically shut down in front of him. They were standing to the side of the road, out in the open, and Seokjin felt like he’d just destroyed someone he cared deeply for.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled out.

“Don’t be,” Jimin replied flatly. “You said what you meant.”

Jimin took off towards his apartment, and Seokjin watched him go, feeling like garbage.

It took Seokjin the better part of ten minutes to work up the nerve to follow Jimin in to the apartment. Then he leaned back against the front door, and told Jimin who was sitting in the living room, ignoring him, “I am sorry. Truly. That was cruel and unnecessary. I’m just … there’s no excuse. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said. I swear to you. I didn’t.”

Jimin glanced over at him a few seconds later. “Your brother won’t ask for details, because he’s too nice like that when it comes to you, but seriously, what happened?”

Seokjin hesitated for a moment, but then he let himself push forward into the apartment.

Into the apartment he’d spent the last couple night sleeping in, with his suitcase tucked into Jungkook’s closet.

“You should stay,” Namjoon had told him, after Seokjin had burst into tears at the end of their relationship and after Namjoon had punched a hole into the wall before disappearing off to the bathroom for fifteen minutes. Seokjin had definitely heard the sound of crying coming from behind its door. But eventually Namjoon had come back, with red eyes and wrapped knuckles, and said, “You should keep the apartment.”

“No,” he’d replied, “you should. Bangtan treats this place like a base of operations some days. And you’re comfortable here.”

“You’re comfortable here, too,” Namjoon had argued back. “Please, Jin.”

“I can’t.” Not because he didn’t want to. He loved the apartment. He loved the full kitchen in it, and the balcony that overlooked the city, and the location. “I need … I need to be some place that doesn’t remind me of the fantasy I’d built up in his mind.” The apartment just reminded him too much of what he couldn’t have anymore. Or maybe never had in the first place.

“Jin?”

Seokjin broke away from his thoughts and told Jimin, “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Jimin paused for a moment, then said, “Tough shit.”

“Excuse me?” Seokjin balked.

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Jimin asked bluntly. Before Seokjin could answer, Jimin said, “Hell, you’re the one always sprouting off about love and family. So just because mom and dad got divorced, doesn’t mean you stop being family, right?”

In a quiet way, Seokjin said, “I hope not.”

Jimin looked absolutely proud of himself as he said, “Then this is what family does. You taught me that.  Even when the subject is shitty, or you don’t want to, you talk about it anyway. Family communicates.”

“That’s what our problem was,” Seokjin said, moving slowly to sit on the edge of the sofa in the room. “Namjoon and I, I mean. I made some assumptions, but we weren’t really communicating.”

“Assumptions about what?”

“Personal business.” He held for a moment after the word, and finally fessed up, “About a family. I want one. Namjoon doesn’t.”

“He doesn’t?” Jimin looked baffled. “No way.”

“Some people don’t,” Seokjin reasoned. “There’s nothing wrong with not wanting kids. There’s nothing wrong with wanting or not wanting anything. But this is a make or break kind of subject for me, and no matter how much I love Namjoon, I need him to be in agreement with me on it. And since he isn’t, I have to let him go.”

It just felt wrong. It felt so wrong. And Seokjin couldn’t explain why it felt wrong. But his heart was telling him letting go of Namjoon was the biggest mistake he was ever going to make in his life.

“I don’t believe it,” Jimin told him.

“It’s my fault. I should have asked a lot sooner. The moment I realized he was the one, I should have asked the really important questions.”

“No. Seriously.” Jimin stood, and it was a little awkward to have the normally shorter male suddenly towering over him. “Jin. Seriously. That doesn’t make sense.”

Seokjin wished so.

Jimin continued on, “Because he was talking about kids with you in December. Right before your dad died.”

Seokjin frowned so hard he felt the creases into his skin. “What?”

Jimin nodded emphatically. “Right around the time your dad was going, we all went out and got blitzed. He started talking about how important family is, and what you’d both lost, and how he definitely wanted a big family with you one day.”

“He won’t consider them now,” Seokjin said shakily.

“Did he say specifically he didn’t want them—kids? Or did he just say he wouldn’t have them?”

The latter. It was definitely the latter.

“He thinks it’s too dangerous,” Seokjin told Jimin. “He’s terrified about what nearly happened to me, happening in some way to a child we have. And I understand that. I know what kind of stress he’s under every day to keep people safe, and I don’t envy him. But shutting himself away from something as amazing as a family, because he’s afraid?”

Jimin scratched his fingers through his hair. “This is all Infinite’s fucking fault. Hanging on by their claws. Not knowing when to call it quits after they’ve been beaten down.”

“You think Namjoon would be singing a different song about our future, if the threat of Infinite wasn’t there?”

“Can’t say for sure,” Jimin said, “but maybe. He’s a complicated guy sometimes. Who knows what’s going through his mind. I just know the universe doesn’t seem right with the two of you not off being sickeningly sweet together.”

It occurred to Seokjin that moment that he was having a heart to heart with Jimin about his relationship with Namjoon, and none of it felt awkward.

“You love him?” Jimin asked suddenly. “You’re still in love with him?”

“I am.” Seokjin nodded. “We didn’t break up because of a lack of love.”

“Then you gotta figure out what’s going on,” Jimin urged. “Because that true love stuff you got going on with him? That’s the real deal, and that’s something worth fighting for.”

A gentle smile pulled at Seokjin’s mouth and he said, “For not having a lot of experience with this sort of thing, you’re really very good.”

“I’ll write a book,” Jimin snorted out. But then he sobered and said, “I would have fought for you, Jin. You know, back then? If I’d had any kind of chance, or you’d returned any of my feelings, I would have fought for you. But unrequited love isn’t worth fighting for, so I didn’t. That’s the difference here. You see it, right?”

Seokjin stood suddenly and pulled Jimin into a tight hug, blinking back tears.

“I did not say we could hug!” Jimin protested. “I don’t do hugs!”

“Deal with it,” Seokjin laughed out, hugging him tighter.

When things calmed down a little, Jimin said, “I’ve gotta go take care of some business, but if you want, I’ll run you by your clinic. It’s where you’ve got your car parked, right?”

“That would be good,” Seokjin said with some relief. “I’m back sooner from the cardiologist than I planned for, so I can get some extra work in.”

“You’re a robot, aren’t you?” Jimin asked plainly. “No one works as much as you, or enjoys it like you do.”

Seokjin only rolled his eyes. “When you find something you like, work doesn’t feel like work.”

But it would be nice to pick his car up. He’d left it in the carpark overnight. And while it was perfectly safe there, he was always irrationally overprotective of the car. He was antsy to get back behind the wheel, especially since his doctor’s appointment had gone well.

Seokjin had gathered up all of his work things in just a couple of minutes, and was fretting about holding onto everything on the back of Jimin’s bike, when Jimin called out across the living room to him, “You should go home tonight.”

Seokjin looked up from where he’d been kneeling on the floor, stuffing the last of his things into his work bag. “Home?”

Jimin shrugged. “I guess it’s nice having you here, even if all you do is nag all day long for us to clean up after ourselves and brush our teeth, but hey, you’re a really good cook and if I have a medical emergency, I know I’ll probably live with you hanging around here. But I’m serious. You shouldn’t be throwing in the towel here.”

Seokjin stared at him.

“You’re gonna give me that look?” Jimin asked hotly. “Look, you need to go home tonight, to the person you love, and the person you’re going to have a future with. And you need to sit down with him and communicate with him—make him communicate with you.”

“We tried,” Seokjin defended.

“Then try again.” Jimin added, “Because five months ago that guy wanted kids with you. Five months ago he was telling us what an awesome dad you’d be, and I don’t think in five months he suddenly stopped wanting kids. I think, if you want my honest opinion, he’s just scared.”

“Scared?” Seokjin asked.

Jimin winced a little and said, “You can’t tell him I told you this at all, okay? You have to swear on your life.”

Dread rose in Seokjin. “Tell me what?”

“Just swear it.”

“Okay,” Seokjin said nervously. “I swear. Now tell me.”

Jimin trailed over to him, and despite the fact that they were alone, Jimin was quiet when he said, “We get like dozens of threats against you a week. Sometimes they’re just little reminders from other gangs that they know you exist, in case Rap Mon wants to stir things up, and some of them have definitely been from what’s left of Infinite, but a lot of them are anonymous. We’re not really capable of hiding behind our names now, and you’re more connected to us than ever. So rumors float around, and threats, and they’re meant for you. They’ve kind of exploded in frequency lately, too.”

“Oh,” Seokjin breathed out.

“He doesn’t tell you for a reason,” Jimin said. “But it’s bad sometimes, and it’s not just the gang members out there making the threats. So what if your boyfriend took one look at the danger getting thrown your way, and that’s why he changed his mind.”

Namjoon was, ultimately, self-sacrificing. And Seokjin could easily see him giving up something he loved to keep it from being destroyed, or worse.

Namjoon had said, when they’d talked about it, that it would be irresponsible to have children. He hadn’t said he was afraid to, but that it would be too dangerous. But the important thing, if Jimin was to be believed, was that Namjoon hadn’t started out feeling that way. And that meant Seokjin maybe had a chance of changing his mind.

Maybe he had given up too easily. Maybe he’d let Namjoon push him away.

“You can keep sleeping on our sofa if you want,” Jimin offered. “Or you can go home—to your actual home tonight after you get off of work.”

Slowly, Seokjin said, “You really are too good.”

Warily, Jimin asked, “Are you going to hug me again?”

“No,” Seokjin laughed out. “I promise. Not unless you want me to.”

“No to the hugging,” Jimin said with a scrunched-up face. “But you can definitely do something about your boyfriend tonight. He’s been walking around like Atlas, moping and looking like he got sucker punched, and even Suga’s getting irritated with him now—and it’s only been a couple of a days.”

Surprised, Seokjin asked, “Atlas?”

“I read, okay!” Jimin snapped defensively.

“I know you do,” Seokjin said as they exited the apartment. “Despite what you seem to want people to think.”

“I’m smart,” Jimin said in a muffled way once his helmet was on and he was handing Seokjin his.

“I know, I know,” Seokjin laughed out. “I just have one question for you.”

“What?” Jimin got the bike going and rumbling under them.

Seokjin put his own helmet on, wrapped his arms around Jimin and asked, “Why does your spare helmet smell like Jimmy Choo?”

Jimin arched towards him. “Who the hell is Jimmy Choo?”

Seokjin smirked underneath the helmet. “He’s a designer. And he makes a fragrance. Your helmet smells like it. Jungkook used to wear it about a year ago before he realized he was allergic to an ingredient in the cologne. That’s why I know what the smell is.  Who do you know that would wear such an expensive scent? It’s extremely pricey.”

Jimin’s body tensed up and he revved the engine, practically shouting, “Sorry, can’t hear you. We’re going now!”

“Mm-hm,” Seokjin hummed. “How convenient.”

Jimin jetted off towards the clinic, and Seokjin thought he was just too endearing for his own good.

Chapter Text

“So that’s her, huh?” Seokjin asked. He glanced from the clinic’s less busy than average waiting room, to where Jonghyun was standing just a few paces away from him. Seokjin couldn’t explain why they had lighter than average loads some days. Appointments were almost always booked through no matter what, but walk-ins? On some days, fewer people either had medical issues, or were willing to come in for them. Today was one of those days, and it was actually a good thing.

Because this was the day Jonghyun had to hand Yebin over to her only located family member, and Seokjin didn’t know how it was going to go down.

After all, Jonghyun and Kibum had been caring for Yebin for days now. Almost four full days. And maybe Seokjin had been a little worried in the beginning that Yebin might be too much of a handful, especially since she was the kind of baby who cried just for attention. But only good had come from the four day arrangement.

Seokjin had seen with his own eyes the way Yebin had transformed Jonghyun, and made him a little softer, and a lot happier. In only four days, Seokjin thought she’d proven to Jonghyun that he was ready to be a father, and could handle that kind of task.

Seokjin just worried now that Jonghyun had fallen a little too in love with Yebin. He’d done his best to remind Jonghyun constantly that he’d have to give her up sooner, rather than later, but the attachment had been so obvious.

And now that time had come. Now Seokjin was standing next to Jonghyun, watching the near empty waiting room, looking at Yebin’s social worker talking to the cousin that was supposed to take her in only a few moments.

Whatever the social working was saying to her was serious enough that her face was furrowed almost worriedly, and it did a lot to make Yebin’s mother’s cousin look a lot older than she was.

As if on cue, Jonghyun said, “Yeah, that’s her. She’s practically a child.”

If Seokjin had to guess, he’d say she couldn’t be more than in her early twenties. She looked too fresh faced and young to be more than that. She looked like she should have been going to college, or drinking all night long with her friends, or spending her paychecks wholly on herself and rightfully so at her age. She didn’t look like someone who was ready to be a mother, for all intents and purposes.

“Did Yebin’s social worker tell you much about her?” Seokjin asked, looking away from the pair in the waiting room and to Jonghyun who was tense in a worrisome way.

Jonghyun gave a short nod. “I know her name. I know she lives about an hour outside of Seoul. I know she’s twenty-four.”

Twenty-four. Too young to be saddled with a baby.

Jonghyun added, “She’s a cosmetologist.”

“Really?” Seokjin’s eyebrows rose.

Jonghyun scoffed. “I’m supposed to believe that she’s just going to drop everything for Yebin?” There was something territorial in Jonghyun’s voice. Something too aggressive. “She’s just going to put it all aside for a baby? She’s a baby.”

Gently, Seokjin said, “I think twenty-four is definitely too young for a baby. Your twenties should be a selfish time for yourself. But having a baby and career isn’t an impossible thing, Jonghyun. Don’t say otherwise, because you know plenty of people who balance both things, and they can do it well if they put themselves to it.”

“I know,” Jonghyun said gruffly. “But I guarantee you that before any of this happened she spent most of her day hanging out with her friends, or going to work and hanging out with the people there, and then partying or drinking afterwards. Tell me that’s not what people her age do.”

“That’s not something we did,” Seokjin pointed out.

“Because we chose fields that essentially demanded all of our time and attention. This isn’t me sitting over here saying that being a doctor is better than being a cosmetologist. That would be shitty of me to say, and not true. What I am saying is that people who choose fields like ours are willing to give up certain things, like huge social lives, because we have to in order to achieve our goals. She didn’t have to give up friends and a social life to have the career she does, so she doesn’t know what it’s like. She’s about to be dropped into icy water, and I promise you, she doesn’t know how to swim in that.”

Seokjin looked behind Jonghyun to where the bathroom was down the hall. The very bathroom that Yebin’s mother had said she was going to, and had never come back from. Maybe she’d never gone there in the first place. But Kibum was back there now, changing Yebin’s daiper, or likely trying to draw out every second he could with her.

Tragically, Seokjin thought ultimately Kibum was more attached to Yebin that Jonghyun was. Jonghyun had to come to work every day, and for long periods of time. And so it was Kibum who’d been caring for Yebin for most of the day. He’d been feeding her, and changing her diaper, and playing with her.

Nearly every day Kibum had come by the clinic, too, pushing Yebin in a stroller that he’d probably dropped a lot of money on by the looks of it, and he’d looked delighted to surprise Jonghyun with a visit by her.

Jonghyun had said that he and Kibum were seriously thinking about their future, and a family. This, likely, was sealing the deal.

“She’ll tread water,” Seokjin said, trying to sooth Jonghyun a little. “Sure, she’s a little young, but we have to give her the benefit of the doubt, right? She’s Yebin’s family, and the social worker wouldn’t be letting her walk out of here with Yebin, if she wasn’t fit to.”

Jonghyun seemed to be trying to calm himself as he said, “She makes decent money, and she’s in a steady profession. She has her own apartment. She doesn’t have any red flags in her past. Shit, Jin, she’s never so much as had a speeding ticket before. This girl is squeaky clean.”

She was just so young. Seokjin couldn’t get past how young she was. Twenty-four was a selfish age. It was supposed to be. It was supposed to be an age where you tried to figure out who you wanted to be, and what you wanted to do, and you indulged in yourself before inevitable responsibilities came along. Asking a single twenty-four year old to take on a baby, was a commitment that Seokjin thought was momentous.

“And she agreed,” Seokjin said, meeting Jonghyun’s gaze. “She agreed to take Yebin before she came all the way out here. She knows what she’s getting into. Or at least she thinks she does.”

“Hmm,” Jonghyun hummed out quietly.

Curious, Seokjin asked, “Has there been any word on Yebin’s mother?”

“No,” Jonghyun said right away. “I guess the police are looking for her, but when she left here without Yebin, she didn’t go back to her home. Or at least she didn’t stay there. She hasn’t been to her job since she left, and neighbors say they haven’t seen her, either. She just …up and vanished, or something. I don’t know. But it doesn’t look like she’s coming back anytime soon, and even if she did, they wouldn’t give her Yebin.”

“Is that her?”

Echoing Seokjin’s own words from earlier, Seokjin turned to see Kibum coming up on his right, Yebin balanced easily in his arms. She looked perfectly satisfied to be there, but leaned towards Jonghyun when he came into her line of sight.

“You are not allowed to play favorites,” Kibum admonished, but handed her over to Jonghyun when she made a fussy sound. “I’m the one changing your diaper. You better remember that.”

Yebin patted at Jonghyun in a distracted way as he said, “I’ve changed her diapers too, you know. Don’t act like I haven’t paid my dues.”

Kibum challenged, “She puked on me yesterday. All over me. She ruined my Tom Ford jacket.”

“That jacket was ugly,” Jonghyun said in a teasing way. “As far as I’m concerned, Yebin did you a favor.”

Kibum made a ghastly sound. “That jacket cost over a thousand dollars American.”

“And you definitely didn’t pay for it. Come on, fess up, they paid you to wear it, didn’t they?”

Kibum went a little red and Jonghyun, who was not one for overt displays of affection, even with Kibum, leaned over to kiss the edge of his mouth.

“Also,” Jonghyun added, “She peed on me. My pee beats your vomit any day of the week.”

Kibum’s eyes narrowed. “No way. My property damage beats your humiliation easily.”

Yebin began pulling at the lapel on Jonghyun’s jacket in a fascinated way as Jonghyun argued, “Your property damage doesn’t count because you didn’t pay for said property.”

“Guys, guys,” Seokjin broke in with a laugh.  “Listen to what you’re fighting over.” Was this how it was with them all the time when they were home alone?

It was kind of charming, actually.

Indignantly Kibum crossed his arms.

Jonghyun said smugly, “Fine, we’ll drop the matter. But I’m right and you know it.”

Kibum looked like he was going to respond, but Seokjin cut in, gesturing, “It looks like it’s time.”

Across the way the social worker was headed in their direction, while the other woman sat nervously in the waiting room.

Quietly, at a near whisper, Kibum said, “I’m not ready.”

Seokjin could see the way Jonghyun braced Yebin up against his body with one arm so he could reach back and squeeze Kibum’s hand.

Seokjin waved at Joy near the front to let Yebin’s social worker back to them, and then asked the pair standing next to him, “Do you want me to do this? I can do this for you.” He was attached to Yebin himself, but less so than Jonghyun or Kibum at that point. This was something he could do for his friends.

Ghostly pale, Kibum admitted, “I can’t do this.”

The social worker approached them, giving them encouraging smiles as she said, “I’ve spoken with Ms. Byun and she’s ready and willing to take Yebin now.”

Jonghyun let go of Kibum’s hand, and with a hardened look on his face, said, “I can do this.” He turned to Kibum. “I’ll do it, okay? I can do this.”

Seokjin thought Kibum would have given anything in that moment, to run out the back door with Yebin and never look back.

“Okay,” Kibum breathed out. “Okay.”

Jonghyun pivoted back to Yebin’s social worker and asked, “You told her everything she needs to know? You told her Yebin’s a little fickle? And sometimes if she’s crying she doesn’t actually need anything—she’s just testing the waters? She knows that Yebin is going to scream bloody murder and she can’t just get fed up with the sound? She knows that—”

“She knows,” the woman interrupted kindly, and this definitely didn’t seem like her first rodeo. “It’s going to be okay, Jonghyun. I promise. Now, let’s go introduce Yebin to her.”

Seokjin watched quietly as Jonghyun headed out into the waiting room with Yebin to make the transfer.

“This is shit,” Kibum said suddenly.

“You okay?” Seokjin watched Kibum’s face carefully. “It’s okay not to be.”

“I’m not okay,” Kibum said angrily, watching Jonghyun and not looking at Seokjin in the least bit. “Of course I’m not okay. I’m watching the person I love have his heart broken. And I’m fucking mad about it.”

In the waiting room a piercing scream echoed, carrying back to them in a second, and Seokjin turned just in time to see Yebin being handed over to the woman. Yebin was shrieking and twisting, trying to lunge back at Jonghyun even as he held her away from him.

The woman, to her credit, fumbled to catch Yebin before getting a more secure hold on her. Though that didn’t do anything to quell the fuss Yebin was making.

And without looking back at the scene unfolding, Jonghyun was striding away from them. He pushed back into the employee area without so much as a word to Joy or Raina who were watching with anxious eyes, and then right past Seokjin and even Kibum, on his way back to his office. He entered the room and closed the door firmly behind him.

By then Seokjin could see Yebin’s mother’s cousin, arms full of a squirming, fussing, fighting Yebin, on her way out the front door of the clinic. And away from Jonghyun and Kibum.

“It’s just because she doesn’t know her,” Kibum said, the tone of his voice surprising Seokjin. His voice sounded like he was moments away from bursting into tears, but also like he was forcing himself to be calm. “And she cries a lot. She’s okay. She’s fine.”

Seokjin touched Kibum’s arm softly and said, “You should go be with Jonghyun. He puts up a good front most of the time. He’s good at hiding how he’s actually feeling. But there’s no way he isn’t hurting as badly as you are now. You should go and let him lean on your shoulder. Or lean on his.”

Kibum glanced at him. “This might take a while.”

Seokjin nudged him. “You two take all the time you need. And if you need to get Jonghyun out of here, and go for a walk, or just go home for the day, I’ve got you covered.”

Giving a shaky nod, Kibum headed off towards Jonghyun’s office.

They didn’t come out for some time. Seokjin didn’t know what they were talking about inside, and he didn’t think it was his place to know, but he certainly knew they were at it for a while. Seokjin started and finished several rounds of walk-ins before they emerged.

Kibum left quickly after that, and Seokjin was sure to repeat to Jonghyun, “You can take the day, if you need. I’m serious.”

“I don’t need the day,” Jonghyun said in an offended way. “I’m upset, okay? I spent four days falling in love with that little girl, and starting to feel like she was a part of my family with Kibum. It was nice. It was better than nice. And now she’s gone. So yes, I’m angry. I’m upset. But no, I don’t need to take the day. I can still do my job.”

Seokjin trusted Jonghyun to judge himself that way. “Okay. Where’s Kibum going?”

Gruffly, Jonghyun said, “He got really excited when we brought Yebin home. I told him not to buy a bunch of stuff for her. I told him we’d have to give her up eventually. So now I think he’s going home to get rid of everything.”

“Oh,” Seokjin said faintly.

Jongyhun gave a sharp nod, and then he was off to start his own rounds.

The rest of the day passed easily for Seokjin. And though his mind was still on Yebin and her future, and on his friends who were hurting, the pain was dulling considerably earlier than he’d expected.

And by the time his shift was over, he hardly felt like he’d worked for a good nine hours. But the clinic was closing, all the patients were gone, and it was Seokjin’s turn to face reality.

On his phone there was a text from Jungkook, asking if he wanted to go out for dinner, which Seokjin quickly declined. It far too late for that, especially since Jungkook had class in the morning. And even if it hadn’t been too late, Seokjin had somewhere else he needed to be.

He texted Jungkook that he wouldn’t be home that night, at least not to that apartment, and set out for a different destination.

Namjoon wasn’t home when he parked in front of the apartment they used to share. No lights were on, and there was no indication that he’d been home recently.

There were still men outside, like there always were, but there were far fewer of them than Seokjin had ever seen before. There were only two now, one at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor, and one up near the front door.

Each of them gave him a long, confused stare, but neither of them tried to stop him.

Namjoon hadn’t changed the locks. That was what Seokjin found out when he slotted his key in to the door, but he wasn’t really surprised. He turned the lock without hesitation and stepped into the dark apartment.

Everything looked the same. Though it wasn’t like an extended period of time had passed, or Seokjin had expected Namjoon to completely change the apartment. It was just …a little unsettling with how absolutely identical it looked to the moment Seokjin had packed a bag and left it behind.

Namjoon’s extra shoes were still lined up near the front door. The pillows on the sofa were unkept. Seokjin’s own knickknacks were spread around the living room. The mail was sitting in a pile near on the coffee table.

Nothing had changed.

This, Seokjin decided, was his home. And it wasn’t his home because it was where he laid down at night, or ate his meals, or watched television. It was his home because this was where Namjoon was.

And Namjoon was worth fighting for.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, Seokjin sent a quick text off to Yoongi, asking for Namjoon’s location.

He didn’t get a text back, he got a call.

“Why do you want to know?” Yoongi asked a little grumpy.

Seokjin wondered, “Is this the part where you tell me I’m a jerk for breaking up with your best friend?”

Yoongi sounded genuinely surprised when he said, “No? What are you talking about?”

“Are you angry?”

Yoongi laughed a little. “I’m sitting in a car right now, with three other guys, watching the same building that I’ve been watching for the past six hours, because someone dropped a somewhat reliable trip that there might be some movement on the place that we’d be interested in. I’m hungry, I’m restless, I’m irritated, and it’s not my job to keep track of anyone but myself at this moment.”

Seokjin said certainly, flipping on lights in the kitchen and taking stock of what was in the refrigerator—surprisingly not a lot that was still good, he pointed out, “I can hear it in your voice, you’re not taking any painkillers now. Not even the Tylenol. Just because you’re not on bedrest anymore doesn’t mean your wound is healed. You’d be a much happier person if you were taking something.”

“Kim Seokjin.”

Taking a couple items out of the refrigerator, Seokjin said, “I want to know where Namjoon is. I’m making dinner. It’s late. I want to know if he’s coming home.”

Sounding confused now, Yoongi edged out, “You’re home … like …”

“I’m home,” Seokjin said a little more gently. “Is he coming home?”

There was some shuffling on the other side of the line, and some mumbling like people were talking to each other, and then Yoongi said, “Oh yeah, the news is going around now that you’re there.”

“News?” Seokjin asked, nearly dropping a carton of eggs.

“Hey,” Yoongi said, “when you’re off doing your thing, no one keeps tabs on you. But you just showed up at ground zero. So yeah, people know you’re there, and now they’re talking about it. And that, more than anything else, makes this conversation utterly unnecessary. I promise you, Rap Mon is on his way now. He’ll probably be there before you even finish making dinner.”

“Oh,” Seokjin said, cradling his phone between his ear and shoulder. “You sure? I don’t want him to think I’m over here just packing up a couple more things up. I don’t want him to stay away because of that.”

Yoongi gave a pause, then asked, “You’re absolutely not doing that?” He sounded a little hopeful, at least.

Seokjin turned the stove on as he organized his ingredients and said, “I’m making dinner. I want him to know I’m here making dinner.”

Yoongi let out a sigh and said, “I’ll send him a text just in case, telling him to go home. That good enough?”

“Thank you,” Seokjin said appreciatively.

“Thank me by not bugging me like you’re my doctor.”

Seokjin pointed out, “I am your doctor. And by now Jungkook should have let you know I’ll never stop bugging you.”

“I figured,” Yoongi laughed. “Goodbye, Jin.”

“Enjoy your wait,” Seokjin replied, and ended the call.

After that, he set to work on a quick, simple dinner, but something that would keep him focused and distracted until Namjoon got home.

Because honestly, if he let himself think about what was about to happen, he thought he might go crazy.

By the time the shoe of reality was set to drop, Seokjin had finished the rice, several side dishes, and was thinking about desert. It just seemed as if nothing else, including food, mattered when the lock on the door to the apartment turns, and someone pushed their way in.

Namjoon, of course.

Seokjin didn’t leave the kitchen, and Namjoon, likely indicative of his nervousness, didn’t come in. It seemed suddenly like they were existing in two separate spaces all at once, but also right on top of each other.

And then finally, finally, Namjoon came to stand in the archway that separated the kitchen from the living room.

Namjoon looked … he looked utterly terrible. He looked the worst Seokjin had ever seen, and it evoked a crushing feeling in him. Because he had done that. At least it felt like it. He felt like he was the cause of the way Namjoon was suddenly resembling a zombie. 

Namjoon cleared his throat and said, “Suga sent me a message. He said to come here.”

Carefully, Seokjin revealed, “I asked him to help me with you. I knew your men would tell you I was here. I was worried you wouldn’t come.”

Namjoon’s eyes raked over the food laid out. “What are you doing?”

Seokjin could see the sweat on Namjoon’s forehead, and the tight control he had over his body. The tenseness that Namjoon was radiating, was thick in the room.

“I’m making dinner,” Seokjin said back.

“Jin,” Namjoon breathed out.

He said again, suddenly worried he’d made a catastrophic mistake, “I’m making dinner, in my home, for the person I love. Now, if you tell me to leave, I will. If you ask me to go, I will. But if you want to sit down and have dinner with me, and talk to me, then you should go wash your hands.”

Namjoon was frozen like a statue, at least until he gave a sharp intake of breath, and then veered towards the bathroom.

Seokjin gripped the edge of the countertop tightly, feeling like he’d just jumped his first hurdle.

Seokjin was seated at the table when Namjoon came back, smelling like the lavender soap they kept in the bathroom. Namjoon sat across from him at the table, and again, after just a slight pause of something akin to disbelief, he held his bowl out to Seokjin.

Quietly, as Seokjin scooped rice out for Namjoon, he made sure to say firmly, “I will leave if you want me to. I’m serious. Don’t let me bully you into this.”

“Into what?” Namjoon asked in a baffled way. “What is this? What are we doing?”

“I’m …” Seokjin trailed off. What the hell was he doing? Beating a dead horse? Jimin had said not to give up, but what if there was nothing left to try and save?

“—look stressed out.”

Seokjin’s head bobbed up at Namjoon’s voice. “I’m sorry?”

Namjoon gave him a small, encouraging smile. “I said, you look stressed out. Are you okay? Is everything okay at work?”

The questions were so undoubtably Namjoon that Seokjin nearly burst into tears.

“I love you,” Seokjin blurted out.

Namjoon leaned back in his seat. “I love you too.”

“No,” Seokjin clarified you, “I love you the way two people who are supposed to spend their whole lives together, love each other. That’s how I love you. I love you in an almost scary way.”

Namjoon scoffed, picking up his chopsticks. “And you think I don’t love you just as fiercely?” Namjoon’s eyes narrowed. “You think I wouldn’t lay down on a wire for you? Or take a bullet for you? Jin, I spend basically every waking hour thinking about how much I love you, and trying to figure out how I got so lucky that I get to have you.”

Part of Seokjin had known that. But after their breakup, he’d still needed to hear it.

Namjoon corrected sadly, “Had you.”

Seokjin gripped his own bowl. “You got it right the first time.”

There was nothing but an unreadable expression on Namjoon’s face.

So Seokjin took his cue to say, “I’ve been staying with Jungkook since … since last week. I’ve been staying with him—you know that. What you don’t know is that I’ve been laying awake on his sofa every single night, trying to picture my life without you. Even a week into the future without you. And I can’t do it. I just can’t.”

With a straight face, “Namjoon said, I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true,” Seokjin said defensively. “I’ve been trying to imagine what me without you is like, and it’s just something impossible. And I—”

“No,” Namjoon cut in, the hint of amusement on his face, “I don’t believe for a second that Jungkook would let you sleep on the sofa.”

Seokjin felt his own mouth mirror Namjoon’s. “I didn’t, the first night. Only because I was sure if I didn’t give in and take his bed while he moved to the sofa, that he’d have a stroke out of fear that my delicate sensibilities would be so upset I might suffer heart failure over the lumpy peice of furniture.”

“Now that,” Namjoon laughed a little, “sounds right.”

“The second night,” Seokjin told him, “I made it clear I wasn’t going to put him out of his own bed, especially since he was doing me a favor by letting me stay with him for a short while. It’s been a work in progress since then.”

Namjoon began to eat then, and Seokjin dared to think he’d broken through some of the tension in the room.

“The thing is,” he said, getting back on track, “I’m not lying about laying awake at night. I’m not lying about having all my thoughts about the future muddled into a mess that doesn’t make sense to me. Because there is no me without you in the future, at least not in my mind. There is nothing I can see, not even in a best case, where I have a future without you and I’m happy. Because for good or bad, my happiness is tied to you. Because I love you.”

In an admission, Namjoon confessed, “Suga’s been getting mad at me for not being able to focus. Because I’m always thinking of you.”

Seokjin pressed on, “I used to think that I could be happy in any future, no matter what, if I had some friends, and a career I loved, and something I was doing that felt meaningful. But that’s not true. I could have all those things, and not have you, and not find an ounce of happiness. That’s how I know this thing between us, this love, is real. That’s why I agree with Jimin.”

Looking baffled, Namjoon asked, “Jimin?”

“Yeah, Jimin of all people.”

His eyebrows going up, Namjoon prompted, “Go on.”

“He said,” Seokjin said slowly, “that even from his perspective, from an outside perspective, he could see we were the real deal, and he was baffled.”

“Baffled?”

Seokjin nodded. “Baffled that we were so willing to throw in the towel and call it quits.”

With a wince, Namjoon tried, “That’s not …”

“He basically called us idiots,” Seokjin told Namjoon. “He said a love like ours? At the risk of sounding like a Disney movie, he said it’s something worth fighting for. So I’m here, fighting for it. Because I want to be happy. I want to have a future where I’m happy, and I can’t do that without you.”

Namjoon’s hands stilled atop the table.

“So you need to tell me right now, if this is me just … just making a fool of myself.” Seokjin pushed past the ball of anxiety and worry that had built up impressively in his throat. “You need to tell me if I’m stupid for being here, and if there’s nothing to fight for. Otherwise I’m here, fighting for you. I just need to know if you’ll fight for me.”

“Are you serious?” Namjoon’s chopsticks clattered to the table and he pressed his palms to his eyes.

“Namjoon?” Seokjin was half standing to round the table and comfort him before he caught himself and made himself sit back down. Loving Namjoon wasn’t enough right then and there. Answers and clarity were more important.

Namjoon’s shoulders shook.

Seokjin tried again, “Namjoon? Are you … I …”

Namjoon pried back his palms to reveal wet eyes that quickly shed tears down his cheeks. He made such a profound sight, such a raw sight, and Seokjin curled in on himself.

“I’m so sorry,” he tried to apologize, worried again that he’d done more to hurt Namjoon. “I shouldn’t have spoken so bluntly. I shouldn’t have—”

“I would fucking die for you,” Namjoon raggedly. “That’s how much I love you. Your happiness is more important to me than you could possibly imagine. I love you more than you will ever know.”

Then what the hell was going on? Seokjin was terrified he had no idea.

“I would fight for you until my last breath,” Namjoon told him. “I would fight for you until there’s nothing left of me. How can you think I wouldn’t fight for you?”

“Because you let me walk out that door,” Seokjin said pointedly. “You let me say what I had to say, and go. I was wrong to go, but you let me.”

“Because I love you!”

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“It does!”

Seokjin took in a hard breath and asked, back at a normal tone, “Why are we yelling at each other?”

“I don’t know,” Namjoon said honestly.

Taking a few moments to compose himself, Seokjin stood, and this time he did go around to Namjoon’s side. He went to sit right next to him, so there was as little space between them as possible. “How could have letting me walk away from you been because you love me?”

Namjoon palmed his eyes. “Give me a second.”

Seokjin waited patiently.

He expected Namjoon to take his time to gather his thoughts. He wasn’t expecting Namjoon to catch his hand before he said, “I’d give you up, to make you happy?”

“I just told you, I don’t have a future with any kind of happiness, if I don’t have you in it.”

“You say that now,” Namjoon insisted. “But without me, you can get married to someone who lives a safe, normal life. You can have all the things you want, including a family. You can eventually be happy, and no matter how much I want you for myself, to give you that, I’m willing to let go.”

Seokjin squeezed at Namjoon’s hand tightly, hopefully a little painfully. “Does it seem like I want you to let go?”

“Just think about it.”

“No,” Seokjin said a little viciously “I am not going to think about it. I’m not going to let you do this to us. I’m telling you right here and now, do not let go of me.”

Finally, he felt Namjoon squeeze back. “I don’t want to.”

“This is real.” Seokjin lifted a hand to brush back Namjoon’s hair from his forehead. The man desperately needed a haircut soon. But the longer hair made him look a little younger, and a lot more vulnerable than normal. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

Namjoon gave a head shake. “I promised never to lie to you.”

Seokjin let his fingers go down the side of Namjoon’s face, against the beard that was starting to develop from the personal neglect that was clearly occurring.

“Jimin said, when love is real, you have to fight for it. You have to do everything in your power not to let it go. That’s why I’m here, in this apartment, right now. That’s why I’m putting everything on the line.”

Namjoon was shaking under the light touch of his fingers.

“And don’t you try and tell me what I want in my own future. Don’t you try and tell me what you think is going to make me happy.”

“I would never,” Namjoon vowed in a rough way, “dream of telling you what to do. I know better.”

Seokjin couldn’t help himself then. He couldn’t help the emotions rushing through him, and the want, the desire, bubbling up in him.

With barely a moment of hesitation, he dipped forward to press his mouth against Namjoon’s.

Namjoon responded in kind, cradling Seokjin immediately, his mouth warm and desperate and even a bit possessive against Seokjin’s.

It wasn’t the kind of kiss Seokjin was used to having with Namjoon. It wasn’t the kind of kiss he’d ever had with anyone. This kiss reeked of worry and fear, and uncertainty, but also love, and passion, and determination.

Seokjin could barely gasp in air as Namjoon kissed back with fervor, one hand stroking down the column of his neck, the other tangling up in his hair.

“I love you,” Seokjin tried to tell him, not sure if he wanted to keep kissing, or stop to get to the point he hadn’t even touched yet. “Namjoon.”

“You,” Namjoon replied, “are my everything.”

Seokjin just felt so lost, but not how he’d been before. Before, he’d felt lost in the uncertainty of their relationship. Now he just felt lost in a sea of everything that was Namjoon.

He barely gave a grunt of surprise when Namjoon pulled him, with impressive strength, onto his lap. He barely registered the movement itself, going love drunk.

“Jin,” Namjoon breathed out. “Jin.”

“Wait.” Seokjin put his hands on Namjoon’s shoulders and leaned back. There wasn’t much space to work with, however, and his lower back hit the table quickly enough. “Namjoon.”

“Sorry,” Namjoon apologized with a blush of embarrassment. “I just … I just lost control. I always feel like I’m going to lose control with you.”

Seokjin felt the heat of Namjoon’s mouth lingering on his lips, but he put aside the sensation to say, “You’re it for me, so we have to make this work. We have to find a middle ground. We have to do something. You don’t let go, and I won’t let go. Okay?”

There was something sobering and dark on Namjoon’s face then, as he reminded, “I can’t put our baby in danger, Seokjin. I can’t have kids with you and then dangle them in front of people who will kill them just to hurt me.”

“Namjoon.” Seokjin put a finger to his lips. “Let me ask you a couple of questions, okay? Just answer them truthfully. That’s all I’m asking. If you listen to the questions, and answer them truthfully, then I’ll know what this all means.”

Namjoon didn’t speak, he only waited.

The first, naturally, was the easiest. He asked simply, “Do you love me?”

Namjoon actually looked unimpressed. “I just told you I would lay down on a wire for you, and that you are my everything. You are literally the reason I get up in the morning, and the reason I try to be a good person. You are … you’re just it. So yes, I love you. I love you more than I know how to handle some days.”

Not knowing how many more would come, Seokjin leaned down for a chaste kiss this time, letting his lips linger against Namjoon’s for a moment as he breathed out, “Good answer.”

Namjoon’s fingers held at his waist, balancing him with extra stability. “I meant every word.”

There was so much friction between them that Seokjin could hardly focus enough to ask, “Do you want to marry me?”

“This second?”

“Not this second,” Seokjin laughed out. “Some day—when we’re ready. Do you want to be married to me? Do you want to be my husband?”

“Very much,” Namjoon said, reeking of honesty.

But that hadn’t been a hard question either. The hard one came next, and it was the only other question to ask.

Reading himself, Seokjin breathed out deeply before asking, “Do you want to have children with me?”

Namjoon’s face crumbled. “Jin, you know—”

Seokjin interrupted sharply, “I asked, do you want to. Do you want to have children with me? As my husband? Do you want us to have a family?”

“It’s not safe to—”

“Do you want to?” Seokjin ground out. “Not will you. Do you want to?”

Namjoon’s hands slid from his waist to wrap more firmly around him as he choked out, “Oh god, yes.”

Seokjin felt Namjoon shudder against him again, like he was suddenly too cold, or something even wore that that.

“Today is not tomorrow,” Seokjin whispered in his ear. “What we have today, is not what we’ll have tomorrow. Right now, you’re correct. Our lives are a little unstable. Right now, it’s not safe. But you’re not clairvoyant. You can’t see where we’ll be five years from now. Never say never, and don’t decide something prematurely.”

“I love you,” Namjoon said, his mouth at Seokjin’s jawline. “I don’t know how you always know what to say, but I love you even more for it.”

“What matters,” Seokjin told him, pausing to turn for a proper kiss, “is that you love me, and you want to marry me some day, and you want children with me because of those reasons. That’s what matters, and everything else? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We’ll make it work when we have to.”

He’d planned to say so much more. He’d planned to promise Namjoon that they wouldn’t have a child if it meant that child would be in danger, and that they’d find a way to make their future not wholly about Bangtan. He wanted to say that he understood Namjoon’s fears, and he’d never been trying to invalidate him.

But all of that was lost when Namjoon bumped the table in his haste to get to his feet, Seokjin going with him in his arms, shouting in surprise but also laughing.

“I won’t let go,” Namjoon vowed, stealing more kisses that were only growing steamier. “So you don’t either, okay?”

“The food!” Seokjin reminded as they crashed down onto the sofa in the living room, not even making it to their bedroom before Namjoon was pulling at his shirt to get it off, and Seokjin was already predicting exactly what came next.

“It was lovely,” Namjoon promised, getting Seokjin’s shirt over his head and diving in for lustful kisses. “I swear. But this is better.”

This wasn’t just better, Seokjin decided, this was right.

“I love you,” Seokjin couldn’t help saying again, tucking his arms around Namjoon and feeling the warmth of their bodies press together. “And I swear we’re stronger than this.”

Lovingly Namjoon raked his hands down Seokjin’s sides, and said, “I never should have let you walk out that door. I said it was okay because I thought you’d go off and find someone else to love and they’d give you what you wanted. But I knew it was wrong, and I was an idiot for not going after you. That will never happen again. I swear to you. I will never let you go again.”

“You know,” Seokjin laughed out, “under any other circumstance this would sound utterly creepy and weird. But now? Now it sounds perfect.”

Namjoon grinned as he loomed over Seokjin. “Did you tell your brother you’re not going home to him tonight?”

Teasing, Seokjin asked, “Should I have?”

“Oh, you definitely should have, because you’re not going anywhere.”

“Perfect,” Seokjin said, and when Namjoon leaned down to kiss him, he rose up to meet him.

Chapter Text

“This feels weird. Wrong. Kinda creepy, actually.”

“Excuse me?” From a simple breakfast of fruit and yogurt, Seokjin glanced over to Namjoon who was stretched out languidly on their bed. He was quite naked, but utterly unconcerned with his nudity as he curled on his side, propping his head up with his palm. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Namjoon bypassed his yogurt and went straight for a handful of blueberries, popping a couple in his mouth.

“Well?” Seokjin prompted. He was seated, unlike Namjoon, with his legs tucked under him and sheets pooled around his waist. But he was naked as well, and he and Namjoon hadn’t been able to keep their hands off each other for a very long time. They’d even fallen asleep, only to wake back up in the morning with just as much fervor as the night before.

Seokjin called it making up for lost time, even though they’d only been separated for a half week.

“This,” Namjoon prompted, chewing his blueberries. “Me and you, eating in bed for once.”

“There is nothing wrong with not wanting crumbs in the bed,” Seokjin told him pointedly. He’d about had a heart attack the first time he’d caught Namjoon eating in the bed they slept in.

“I know, I know,” Namjoon laughed. “You’re just an utter stick in the mud about it, so when you said we should just eat breakfast in bed today, it threw me off.”

Seokjin didn’t say that he’d decided they could break the rules for one morning and only one morning because his backside was so sore he wasn’t sure he could sit on the floor or on anything firm like a chair. And, if the way Namjoon was hobbling his way to the bathroom that morning meant anything, he should have been a little more thankful.

“I think this is nice,” Seokjin decided, stirring a spoon through his yogurt. The clock on the bedside table said it was just after ten. “Being here with you is nice.”

Namjoon curled a little more towards him, reaching to wrap long fingers around Seokjin’s ankle. “I could lay around in bed with you all day, every day.” To prove his point, he gave a leisurely stretch, arching his back.

Seokjin tried not to be distracted by the sab of lust racing its way through him at the defined lines of muscle in Namjoon’s body

“But,” Namjoon drawled out, still sounding a little sleepy, “I’m even more surprised your head isn’t exploding from the idea of blowing off work.”

Seokjin leaned up on his knees then to put the bowl of yogurt on the bedside table, and then he was collapsing into Namjoon’s arms.

“I’m almost more surprised than you,” Seokjin admitted.

Truthfully, when he’d woken that morning at six, his body primed to get up for work no matter how tired he still felt, the idea of actually going down to the clinic and being away from Namjoon, felt unbearable.

They’d worked out their differences. They’d met in the middle and come to an understanding. But there was still an irrational fear in Seokjin that if he left the apartment that morning, he wouldn’t be able to come back to Namjoon, or Namjoon wouldn’t be waiting for him. So he’d called down to the clinic the moment he was certain there’d be someone there at reception, and asked about the day’s roster.

Maybe he’d just gotten lucky that they were full staffed and could afford to lose him for the half shift he was planning to work that day.

In any case, luck or not, he’d said he’d had an emergency come up, and that he wasn’t going to be able to go into work until the afternoon, and promised to make the hours up later in the week.

Then, he’d told Namjoon as soon as he was awake, “I don’t care if Myungsoo himself is banging down the door to our apartment. We’re going to stay right here, for as long as possible.” He’d gestured to the bed and practically dared Namjoon to challenge him.

Namjoon was a lazy cat in a lot of ways, prone to falling asleep in the sun, napping whenever possible, and taking things easy when he could. Seokjin shouldn’t have worried that Namjoon might fight him on the issue.

Hours later now, they still hadn’t moved from bed, other than to get food and go to the bathroom, and Seokjin was thoroughly enjoying himself.

“This,” Seokjin said, his head on Namjoon’s shoulder, “is why you have Yoongi.”

Chuckling in an amused way, Namjoon asked, “So I can lay in bed all day with my super hot boyfriend?”

“Exactly.”

Namjoon’s fingers stroked idly along the skin between Seokjin’s shoulder blades. “Nice.”

“Okay,” Seokjin amended. “Not all day. Just for a little while longer, okay?”

Curiously, Namjoon asked, “So you’re playing hooky from work, you delinquent. What are you actually going to do today instead?”

“I was only going to work a half shift today,” Seokjin said indignantly. “But have you forgotten? Hoseok and Taehyung come back from their anniversary trip today. I was thinking I’d take Jungkook with me to pick them up from the train station, considering we were the ones who dropped them off. Their train comes in at just past one. Maybe I’ll play hooky the whole day instead.”

Seokjin hadn’t gotten a ton of correspondence from when while they’d been away, but that seemed like a very good thing. There’d been the occasional text message, or picture, and Hoseok had let him know that everything was fine with the little cottage by the sea they were staying in. But no news was good news when it came to two people enjoying each other on their anniversary.

He was going to be glad to have them back, however. Hoseok always lifted his spirits, and Taehyung was such a frequent visitor to the clinic that some of the patients had started to ask where he was.

“I forgot,” Namjoon admitted.

“You have a lot on your mind,” Seokjin allowed, wrapping an arm around Namjoon’s waist. “But let me be clear, our own anniversary is coming up shortly. We are going to be doing something for it.”

Namjoon’s voice rumbled as he laughed out, “I haven’t forgotten, Jin. I swear it. Even if the world is imploding around us, we’ll celebrate our anniversary.”

Of course that left worry on Seokjin’s mind about getting Namjoon a good present for the occasion. He was completely unsure what to get him, and he was starting to run short on time.

“We should do the same thing that Hoseok and Taehyung did,” Seokjin decided. “We should go away for a little.”

Namjoon made a frustrated sound. “That would be great, actually, but it’s not realistic in the slightest bit. Not right now. Not with tension starting to build, and this stuff with Infinite, and the uncertainty of what comes next.”

“Not for like a week or two.” Seokjin craned his head back to look at Namjoon properly. “For a weekend. Don’t tell me Yoongi can’t hold things together here, with the help of everyone else, for a single weekend.”

Indecision was playing on Namjoon’s face.

“We need to get away,” Seokjin said quietly, and with a small frown. “We need to just be us again, Namjoon. We’ve always been us plus Bangtan from the start, or even us plus the clinic. I mean frankly, sometimes we’re us plus Jungkook. I acknowledge that, but it’s starting to become something more than it should be. I’m not saying Bangtan is a bad thing, and I’m not resentful. But we need to spend some time getting back to just us, and establishing boundaries again, and putting work into our relationship.”

Namjoon wiggled his eyes at Seokjin. “Oh, we put so much work in last night.”

“Namjoon.”

“And this morning.”

“Namjoon.”

“And like an hour ago.”

“Namjoon!”

“Alright. I get it.” Namjoon’s fingers pressed a little more firmly into the muscles at Seokjin’s back, and the touch felt heavenly. “We need special us time.”

“I made all these assumptions about our relationship,” Seokjin said in a bare way, “and that led to us almost making a terrible mistake. But we could have avoided that if we were giving ourselves enough time to just talk, and figure things out, and be together.”

Namjoon went a little boneless on the bed, and used his free hand to drag over his face. “You’re not wrong okay? I know you’re not wrong. Time just … there’s not enough of it right now.”

“There has to be. We have to find it.” Seokjin wasn’t willing to compromise. “If we’re going to work, and we have to, this has to happen. Start talking to Yoongi. Start making plans. I’ll do the same. We need to go out of town for our anniversary. We need to get away from everything except ourselves. Okay?”

In a whining way, Namjoon said, “You know I have so much trouble saying no to you. It’s nearly impossible.”

That was very true, and Seokjin had seen examples of it over the course of their relationship hundreds of times. Namjoon, even if he didn’t want to seem like it, was a people pleaser. And when it came to people he loved, or cared for, he was a giant pushover. If Seokjin had been less of the person he was, he could have easily taken advantage of the way Namjoon was.

“Don’t you want to get away with me?” Seokjin asked, kissing his jawline.

“Don’t,” Namjoon pleaded. “I’m weak!”

“Don’t you love me?” Seokjin teased.

Namjoon rolled over on him, peppering his mouth with kisses, promising, “You know I do. You know I’m some stupid sap when it comes to how much I love you.”

“Get off,” Seokjin laughed, pushing at the bulk that was Namjoon.

“Noooo, I need you.”

Between the two of them, they devolved into a pair of giggling teenagers and it felt so, so good.

Time passed leisurely between them, with breakfast being eaten at a snail’s pace, and small naps sneaking their way in before the noon hour.

But eventually it seemed like the real world was ready to catch up with them, because Namjoon’s phone started going crazy, and Taehyung and Hoseok’s train wasn’t far out.

“How about,” Namjoon said after he was out of the shower and dressed for the day, “we all get together for lunch tomorrow?”

“Who’s we?” Seokjin asked, checking his phone for a response from Jungkook about going to the train station.

“Us, your brother, Suga, J-Hope, V, Jimin.”

Seokjin tossed him an unbelievable look. “You really think you can get the seven of us in one spot?”

“I think we’ve done it before,” Namjoon said confidently. “I know we need to work on just us, and our relationship, but it’s been a while since the seven of us were in one room together.”

“Tomorrow?” Seokjin asked. He’d wanted to take Hoseok and Taehyung out for a meal anyway, if only to get details about their trip from them. It had been a long time since Seokjin had been to Jeju, and he wanted to know if it was just as beautiful as he remembered.

“Can you work it into your schedule?” Namjoon asked. He kissed the side of Seokjin’s head as he passed by him in the bedroom for his sock drawer.

Seokjin was excited about the prospect, and promised, “I’ll make it work.”

“You usually do,” Namjoon said indulgingly, sounding so utterly in love with him that Seokjin practically felt his knees go weak.

And just fifteen minutes after that Namjoon had his car keys in hand and was standing near the front door, moments away from leaving.

“Wait,” Seokjin said, calling out to him from the kitchen where he’d been trying to clean up the dinner from the night before that had gotten left out in their haste. Namjoon had told him to leave it, and promised to clean it up later, but Seokjin couldn’t stomach the idea of leaving the mess out any longer. He liked to keep his home a particular kind of clean, the kind that drove Jungkook up the wall, but that Namjoon always indulged him in.

“I’ve got to go,” Namjoon told him in a sorry way. “Suga was out last night checking into something, and it looks light it might actually pay off. He claims he found something of worth, so I’ve got to get over there.”

Seokjin wiped his soapy, wet hands on a dish rag and went to Namjoon offering up, “He did mention last night he was watching a place for movement. Some place you suspect is tried to Infinite?”

Namjoon nodded. “It’s been linked to Sunggyu in the past, and there’s been a lot of movement there lately. Even if we’re just picking off Infinite little by little, it’s something. We can’t get at the big players right now, so we’ll have to take what we can get.”

When Seokjin reached his side, he took Namjoon’s face in his hands and said, “You look like you’re wearing yourself thin.”

“Jin,” Namjoon sighed out, but not rudely. And he didn’t pull away.

“I’m serious,” Seokjin said, holding onto him a little tighter. “I understand that this is important, and that this is something that is beyond stressful, but you need to take better care of yourself. I know you’re not eating as much as you should, or getting the sleep you should, or taking time to just relax and let go of some of the tension in you. I can see it in how pale you are, and the bags under your eyes, and the way you’re holding yourself these days.”

None of that was untrue, but since the night before, Namjoon looked remarkably better. He wasn’t back to where he should have been, looking happy and tan and filled out. But he’d gotten a good amount of sleep the night before, and Seokjin had been able to put food into him.

“I’m not going to baby you,” Seokjin said firmly, “or mother you, but I need your word that you’re going to stop giving it your best effort to work yourself into an early grave.”

Namjoon told him seriously, “I delegate as much as I can. But a lot has to be on my shoulders, and there are only so many people I trust implicitly, even within my own gang, that I can give serious things to.”

“I know,” Seokjin said softly, cradling Namjoon’s face as he gave him a gentle kiss. “But I’m watching you change in front of me, and it’s not good. You’re losing that youthful glow you used to have. You’re developing stress lines. You’re tossing and turning in bed. You … I just want you to know that I’m noticing, and I don’t like it.”

Namjoon watched him carefully for a second, then said, “We’re going to go out of town for our anniversary, okay? I know I said we’d try before, but we are. I’m telling you right now. I’m making a promise to you. We’re getting away from here, and then all we’re going to do is eat and sleep, and make love.”

“Promises, promises.”

“It is a promise.” Namjoon caught Seokjin’s wrists. “And you can baby me then. You can mother hen the crap out of me. And I’ll do my best to not look like such a worn-down old man.”

“Namjoon.” Seokjin shook his head. “I don’t care what you look like. You know that’s not what this is about. I care about what you look like on the outside, reflecting how you might be feeling on the inside. But that promise? I’ll take that promise. Don’t you dare break it.”

Once more, Namjoon promised, “Unless Myungsoo himself is bringing the roof down on top of us, we’re going away for our anniversary. I promise.”

Seokjin gave him another kiss, but he didn’t let go of Namjoon’s face, meeting his gaze in a firm way.

“What?” Namjoon asked, uncertain.

 “You’re going to be a great father one day.”

Namjoon’s eyes widened.

“Don’t you tell me different, either,” Seokjin said. “Not today. Not tomorrow. Not five years from now. But when it’s safer—yes, it will be safer one day, and when we’re older and ready, and when the time is right, you’re going to be a great father.”

“Jin,” Namjoon said with a tremble.

“And,” Seokjin said, suddenly grateful to have Namjoon’s hands at his wrists, practically holding him up now, “I know that when we do have a family, you will never, ever let anything happen to our baby. I know that like I know I love you.”

“You can’t,” Namjoon started to say.

“I can,” Seokjin said right back. “Because when you care about something, you throw yourself into it wholly. When you see something as an injustice, or worth backing, you go hard. And that’s just your general philosophy as a person. Imagine how much more amazing you’re going to be when you have a baby you love. In fact, god help that baby because of how overprotective you’re going to be.”

Namjoon still didn’t look sold on the issue, but at least he wasn’t fighting Seokjin on it.

“I know, I know,” Seokjin murmured gently, “it’s too dangerous for us to have a family right now. But I genuinely believe that will change. Bangtan is doing some amazing things. Yes, Infinite is a lingering threat, but you’re actually cleaning up the streets. You’re actually making a difference. You’re building allies and friendships, and you’re laying the groundwork for a day when the police are ready to take back over, and they can be an effective force again.”

Namjoon’s face scrunched up. “You really think a day is going to come when Bangtan isn’t needed anymore?”

Seokjin did. It wasn’t a lie, and he made sure to say, “I think that day is inevitable. Gangs are … they’re things that grow out of necessity or corruption. Bangtan grew out of the first, others grew out of the latter. But regardless, my father helped gut the police department before he passed, and Infinite isn’t around to fill their ranks. That’s not to say corruption can’t or won’t finds its way back in potentially, but I think a lot more people are looking at the police now, and holding them accountable, and things are changing. I do believe there will be a day when Bangtan can retire, and that’s the day we’ll have our family.”

“That’s quite a dream to have,” Namjoon said.

Seokjin finally let his hands drop. “I don’t think it’s just a dream at all. And to reiterate, yes, I think you’re going to be an amazing father. You’re a great partner, you’re kind and generous, you put others before yourself, and I love you. So if the first couple things don’t sell you, the last one should.”

Namjoon seemed to brighten a little then. “The idea of being a father…if and when it’s safe … is a terrifying thing.”

“I think it’s supposed to be,” Seokjin laughed out. “You’re probably doing something wrong if you’re not terrified about being a parent.”

Finally, a full smile broke out on Namjoon’s face. “I don’t know if I believe I’ll ever think it’s safe enough to have a kid, but I know better than to doubt you. You have this insane way of being right all of the time.”

“Not all of the time.”

“All of the time,” Namjoon insisted. “You’re not perfect, but you seem that way a lot.”

Insistently, Seokjin said, “I’m definitely going to be the mean parent.  I’ll be the one telling our kid to eat their vegetables, and go to bed early, and to say please and thank you. You’ll be the one pulling our kid out of school early so you two can go eat flavored ice and read comics.”

“Whatever,” Namjoon whistled out. “You will not be the mean parent. You’ll be the one who tucks the kid in at night, and reads them a story, and patches up their scrapes and bruises, and tells them they can be whatever they want when they’re older and we’ll love them no matter what. I’ll be the one running our kid’s first date off with a baseball bat and a promise.”

Seokjin couldn’t help laughing solidly and throwing his arms around Namjoon’s neck to hug him hard. “That last part? I totally believe it.”

Namjoon said in his ear, “You have no idea. Be afraid. Our non-existent kid should be afraid.”

A phone buzzed, and it definitely wasn’t Seokjin’s which was still in the bedroom.

“Get going now,” Seokjin said, nudging Namjoon after one more kiss. “You have work to do, and the sooner you leave, the quicker you can come back to me tonight.”

Namjoon asked, eyebrows wiggling, “You cooking again tonight?”

“Probably,” Seokjin admitted. He was cooking even more frequently now that he and Namjoon lived together, and he had a full kitchen at his disposal.  Cooking was truly turning into a hobby he enjoyed. “But if I cook, I’m not doing it for one person. If I cook, you better be here tonight to eat.”

Shoulders slumping a little, Namjoon offered, “That’s a promise I want to make, but I don’t know what I’m walking into today with Suga. I don’t want to promise you I’ll be home for dinner, and then break that.”

The honesty, Seokjin appreciated.

“How about,” Seokjin offered up, “I’ll invite Jungkook and Jimin over tonight for dinner, to say thank you for letting me stay with them for a couple of days. So even if you can’t make it, I won’t make dinner for just myself tonight.”

“Perfect.” Namjoon looked relieved.

Seokjin watched him open the door, and said quickly, “But you should try to make it tonight. Last night … well, last night has an excuse. And I guess tonight might, too. But tonight is the last time I’m going to cook for a while.  I’m scheduled for a couple of extended shifts coming up, and then a ton of late shifts after that. I won’t have time to cook after tonight. At least not dinners.”

“More incentive, then,” Namjoon said, and pulled the door open fully. “You’re going to the train station now?”

Seokjin nodded. “I’m going to pick Jungkook up and go now.”

“Pass along a message for me?” Namjoon asked. “Tell V and J-Hope to take it easy today. They’ve been traveling for a while. They’re probably worn out. And I don’t think anything is going to explode today. So tell them to go home, and get some rest, and not worry about anything until tomorrow.”

Seokjin had told himself no more kissing Namjoon. At least for the moment. Because it was too hard not to get caught up in the sensation, and they both had places they needed to be.

But he really couldn’t help himself, pressing a final kiss to Namjoon’s cheek and chiding, “You softie.”

Namjoon beamed a little. “That didn’t sound like an insult.”

“Because it isn’t. Now go before Yoongi starts tearing his hair out. And honestly, tell him to start taking some Tylenol or over the counter painkillers. He’s too grumpy these days.”

“You try telling him to do anything,” Namjoon called as he stepped outside. Then he offered Seokjin a small wave and pulled the door closed after him.

Seokjin didn’t linger in the apartment after that. He finished the last of the dishes in the apartment, got his things together, and then left to pick up Jungkook from school.

Jungkook was waiting on the curb in front of his class’s building when Seokjin pulled up. He popped the trunk so Jungkook could put his things in the back, and then asked as his brother got in the car, “How was class?”

“Fine, dad,” Jungkook said, rolling his eyes.

Seokjin replied, “Don’t make me turn this car around.”

Sapping his seatbelt on, Jungkook grinned at him. “You wouldn’t, because maybe then I’d threaten to walk home, and then some guy in a white van might ask me to help him find his lost puppy, and you know where this is going.”

Seokjin merged into traffic and guessed, “With you in a hole in the ground being told to put lotion on?”

Frowning, Jungkook asked, “What?”

“You, my heathen little brother,” Seokjin said with his own grin, “need to watch some more classic movies. Silence of the Lambs. Get on it.”

Curiously, Jungkook wondered, “Is that one of your old people movies from the nineties?”

Seokjin’s jaw dropped. “You are dead to me.”

Jungkook threw his head back and laughed loudly.

They got to the train station roughly twenty minutes before Taehyung and Hoseok’s train was set to arrive, but it wasn’t a bother to wait around. Seokjin gave in when Jungkook hounded him to buy snacks, and then they sat together on a bench and ate and talked.

Inevitably, he always knew Jungkook planned to ask, “So you and Rap Mon … are you like … okay?”

Seokjin twisted off the cap to his drink. “Okay? What’s that supposed to mean?”

He knew exactly what Jungkook meant of course, but he was enjoying the awkwardness his brother was giving off, and the way he was wriggling in his seat, trying to find the right words.

 “I mean …”

Seokjin bit back a laugh as Jungkook continued to flounder.

“I mean,” his brother finally managed to get out, “are you two better or back together, or just talking now. Whatever. Take your pick. Are you better? That’s the one. Are you better?”

Seokjin had mercy on him then. “Do you think we’re better?”

Jungkook pondered his words, and then seemed to decide, “I think you are. I don’t really know what better means, but I think you are. Because you didn’t come home last night. And you actually look happier. But honestly?”

“Sure, honestly,” Seokjin prompted.

A smug look pulled at Jungkook’s face, and he said, “Mostly I think you two are better because there’s a hicky the side of Incheon on your neck right now, and I don’t think you’d let anyone but Rap Mon put that on you.”

Seokjin’s hand slapped to his neck in a mixture of shock and then sudden embarrassment.

Absolutely clear in his mind then was the good fifteen to twenty minutes Namjoon had spent the night before at his neck. Seokjin had warned him, “Don’t you dare leave any marks,” because it was hot now, and wearing high collared shirts seemed a bother, but it also appeared that Namjoon was terrible at following directions.

“I told him,” Seokjin said lowly, feeling along his skin.

A lot more confident now, Jungkook wondered, “Are you two back together?” He reached over and tugged Seokjin’s hand down. “Seriously, it’s not that bad. You’re just super pale. Stop freaking out.”

“I’m not freaking out.” He was freaking out a little. He wasn’t ashamed to be in a relationship, of course, but maintaining a standard of decorum was important to him. He wasn’t a handsy teenager, and he didn’t want to flounce around the hickeys.

He was going to destroy Namjoon the next time he saw him.

“So are you?”

“Hmm?” Seokjin asked, looking up to where the arrivals board was displaying the train as on time.

“Jin,” Jungkook said in an exacerbated way.  “Are you and Rap Mon back together?”

Seokjin let himself take a drink from the bottle he was holding, and then he said, “Yes. We’re back together.”

“Good,” Jungkook breathed out. “Do you know how uncomfortable it was to have my mom and dad fighting? I’m only a kid. I need stability in my life.”

Seokjin laughed out, “You’re not a kid. You’re just a spoiled brat.”

“I’m serious,” Jungkook insisted. “Some of the other guys were worried, too. You and Rap Mon … you’re a pair. The idea of one of you without the other? It’s unsettling, and some of the guys didn’t know what to do about that. Because they like you. They like spending time around you, but they weren’t sure if they were supposed to or not anymore, or if you wanted them around, or whatever. It was just confusion.”

Curiously, Seokjin asked, “What about you? Where do you fall with a line in the sand?”

There was a garbage can at the end of the bench they were sitting on, so Jungkook took aim and tossed his empty drink into it.

“I don’t know why you have to ask that,” Jungkook said, and then he swiped Seokjin’s drink to toss away when it was empty a few moments later. “You’re my brother. I’m always going to choose your side. I’m always going to choose you.”

It was pleasing to hear that, of course, but Seokjin couldn’t help pointing out, “You’re in a difficult position, though. That’s why I’m asking. Because I understand what kind of situation you’re facing. Yes, I’m your brother, and I trust you to have my back. But you’re a member of Bangtan now, and not just any member. You’re high ranking. You’re trusted. You have responsibilities, and authority, and clout. And Namjoon is your direct superior. He’s your friend, too.”

Jungkook nodded. “Bangtan means a lot to me, now. Not just the message or the people, but everything.  But come on, Jin. I’d dump Bangtan in a second if I had to for you, and I wouldn’t regret it for a second.”

Seokjin didn’t know if he believed that, but it was nice to hear all the same.

He told Jungkook, “Namjoon and I … we needed to talk about some important things concerning our future. We needed to be on the same page and communicate, and we hadn’t been doing that before.”

“But you guys always seem to perfect.” Jungkook frowned. “Even when you’re having fights, you always seem like the perfect couple.”

“We are not perfect,” Seokjin said tersely. “We’re just always careful to respect each other, even when we’re disagreeing. That’s not always easy, either, but we always try. But being respectful to each other, doesn’t mean we always communicate properly.”

“But you fixed that?”

Seokjin agreed, “We did our best, and I think we’re on the same page now.” Jokingly, he confirmed, “We’re not broken up anymore.”

“Good.” Jungkook look satisfied. “I didn’t realize how invested I was in your relationship until it was in trouble.”

Seokjin sobered a little. “I didn’t realize how much I was assuming about our relationship until those assumptions almost cost me everything.”

Jungkook breathed out, “Reality check?”

Seokjin nodded. “Reality check.”

It was Jungkook who looked up at the arrival’s board then and said, “The train’s almost here.”

Seokjin stood up and stretched. “Now let’s just hope the two of them are actually on the train and haven’t decided to skip town.”

“Nah,” Jungkook said with certainty. “Those two aren’t the type. I’m way more certain someone like Suga will skip town one day and never come back.”

“You all do drive him crazy.”

Jungkook beamed like the words were a badge of honor, and said, “Only because it’s so easy.”

The train, in a way that Seokjin could have likely predicted, was absolutely on time. And neither he nor Jungkook had to wait very long for it to stop completely when it arrived, or for passengers to start offboarding.

“They’re there,” Jungkook said excitedly, pointing Taehyung and Hoseok out in the crowd before Seokjin even spotted them. And to be truthful, he might have missed them if it hadn’t been for Jungkook, because they almost looked like completely different people.

They might have left looking how Seokjin remembered them, but they’d come back tan and relaxed looking, and seemingly so utterly happy that Seokjin found himself smiling in response.

“Taehyung!” Seokjin shouted over the roar of the crowed. Next to him Jungkook jumped up and down and waved an arm frantically. “Hoseok!”

Clearly neither of them had expected anyone to be there to pick them up, which Seokjin thought was a real travesty. But it was remedied by Hoseok’s face lighting with delight, and Jungkook practically mowing Taehyung down with a hug.

“You came to get us?” Hoseok asked when the four of them had clustered together, all of Taehyung and Hoseok’s bags collected.

“Of course we did!” Jungkook said loudly, as if it had been his idea from the start.

Seokjin took one of the bags as they started off towards