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beating heart, flowing blood

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It is too dark and too bright all at once.

Seokjin lies in someone’s arms, mind reeling, their heavy sobs and trembling fingers taking up his entire world. He doesn’t know what’s happened, where he is. He’s not even sure who he is. His body twitches, thoughts and feelings shifting and melding into something indecipherable and yet base. Instinctual.

Seokjin grunts, and the person holding him freezes.

“H-Hyung?” they whimper, the barest hint of hope in their voice. “Seokjin-hyung? Oh my god, please.”

Seokjin is so hungry. He realizes it now, how empty his stomach is. It aches, it honestly fucking hurts like hell, and Seokjin needs to eat something. Immediately.

He twists his head to look at the person above him. He doesn’t recognize them. They’re young, with a square jaw and round, sad doe eyes. There’s something red on their face and down their neck, still wet. They brush hair out of his eyes with care.

Seokjin smells their scent, fresh and alive and he can hear their pumping blood.

Seokjin blinks, gasps a wet breath and the person starts crying again.

“Hyung?” they say. A tentative smile tugs on their lips. “Are you alive?”

“Excuse me, sir?” a voice echoes, cutting through the haze of hunger and desperation.

The hunger is all Seokjin can think about. It blurs his vision, mutes every sense that doesn’t help him get what he needs. He needs to eat. He needs to tear something open--

“Sir?” the voice comes again, louder and and clearer.

--and drink down their blood, bite apart their flesh and insides and this person is going to be his first victim, whoever they are, they’re going to be delici--

“Sir!”

Seokjin wakes up.

The bus driver stands in front of him, looking an odd mix of hesitant and firm. “Please, sir, I need to move to my next destination,” he says, wringing his hands. “Your handlers told me to let you off here.”

Seokjin stares, wide-eyed, frozen, and the bus driver looks back with a similar expression. “I…” Seokjin starts. He’s not sure where… He looks out the window, recognizes the street and skyline, and feels his breath rush from him.

He’s going home.

Sir,” the bus driver insists.

“Pardon me,” Seokjin mumbles. He bows his head and grabs his bag, standing. The man scrambles back when he steps forward, and Seokjin deliberately ignores it, walking past him and off the bus.

Seokjin knows the street the bus is parked on, if not the building directly in front of him. The view is both familiar and changed, appropriate after being gone for three years.

When his feet hit concrete, the bus doors slam shut, nearly catching on the large long sleeve he’s wearing. The driver speeds off down the street, far away from whatever Seokjin is.

Seokjin feels a phantom flip in his stomach, still shaken from his memory. He squeezes the strap of his bag, and looks back up at the building in front of him, modern and quaint and intimidating all at once.

The words PDS Treatment Center are boasted on a pristine sign, typed in bold, friendly font. PDS--partially deceased syndrome. A nicer, more technical term for the living dead. Nicer than zombie, at least. A pale, undead man smiles from the arms of an older human woman, the image pasted onto the front window. Seokjin grits his teeth momentarily.

Anyone like him knows that the real “treatment” takes place far from here, in a large, rusty converted warehouse, with thousands of patients and very little privacy for oneself. It was lovingly nicknamed Hell by most of the undead undergoing treatment. To the living, it was known as Cheongsong Treatment Center, colloquially--Cheongsong.

The building in front of him is little more than a waiting room, made to ease the guilt and fear of the humans picking up their once-lost friends and family. Made for the living to think that the undead have been treated well, taken care of and properly looked after.

It’s bullshit.

Seokjin enters anyway, knowing the consequences if he goes unchecked by the staff inside.

A little over three years ago, on August 28th, 2017, the dead rose again. At the stroke of midnight, loved ones years-gone dug themselves from their graves, walked the earth with an unfortunate and terrifying hunger to them. All over the world, the young and old rose mindless and violent and wrought havoc on the world.

That’s what the videos say, anyway.

Seokjin had the displeasure of dying mere minutes before the Rising began, his body still warm when he came back to life. It’s kind of funny, really, to consider how fast he was gone and back. And Seokjin would laugh, but. Well.

It’s not really funny at all.

The receptionist greets Seokjin with a warm, practiced smile, requesting his name and papers. Seokjin tugs them out of his bag and hands them to her, checking out the inside of the place. It’s done in desaturated turquoise and purple, with chairs lining the walls and magazines sitting on squat coffee tables. There’s a door on the back wall, labelled with something Seokjin can’t read from so far away. He can’t really have a prescription when he's dead.

“Alright, Mr. Kim,” the reception says. “You have your meds, correct?”

“Yes.” Seokjin lifts his bag a little, where his neurotriptyline doses are tucked safely away.

“And you know how to administer them correctly? Right through the hole at the tip of your spine?”

“Yes.”

“Wonderful. Now, there doesn’t seem to be anyone from your family signed to pick you up, nor any… friends? So we’ve assigned...”

Wait.

The receptionist keeps talking, but Seokjin’s world has stopped. “Wait,” he says, “H-Hold on.”

The receptionist blinks. “Yes?” she asks.

“No friends or family have come to pick me up?” Seokjin asks, voice small. “No one?”

The woman shakes her head. “No, sir. We send emails out to every known member of a patient’s family, and post returning patients on our website, but no one responded to your release. It’s really unfortunate.” Her sympathy is perfectly practiced, as is her frown. It pops back into a smile in a millisecond, and she continues her spiel. “However, we have assigned you a PDS Adjustment Partner, who should be arriving any second. He’s very friendly, he’s worked with us a lot before. Don’t worry!”

Seokjin’s mind has gone blank. No one? Not even, not even his mother? His brother? Namjoon, or… or Jungkook?

Seokjin hollowly takes his papers back when the receptionist gives them to him, and sits down where she points.

Seokjin stares at his dusty, stained shoes that he had been wearing when he died. He thinks about his nightmare, about the bus driver, about the two layers of coverup he’s wearing to hide the ghastly pallor of his skin. He thinks of his brother and their shared restaurant chain. He thinks about his life before.

An idol. A man in the spotlight.

A man doing what he loved with those he loved most, a trio with Namjoon and Jungkook, on top of the world. Best-selling albums, sold out stadiums, millions upon hundreds of millions of fans.

All that fame and glory, Seokjin laughs bitterly in his head. And now he was just someone who died and wasn’t mourned because the world went to shit. Someone apparently forgotten and left behind.

Seokjin feels the ache and burn to cry, feels the itch in his eyes, but not a single drop of tears wells up. His eyes remain dry, face carefully blank and angled away from prying eyes.

It’s so terribly ironic; Seokjin was not a crier when he was alive. He kept things like emotions and feelings separate from his job, and oftentimes, his life. He didn’t feel comfortable to share his hardship. He didn’t think it was important. Now, Seokjin wants to cry like he never has before, to let tears and sobs exhaust him until he passes out. Wants it out of his body completely.

And he just can’t.

It’s no longer a bodily function, like drinking or eating or sweating--which Seokjin can’t do either. His guts are a rotten mess. His lungs work, but it’s useless; Seokjin has no flowing blood, just a weak throb of a heartbeat in his chest. He learned about all of this in Cheongsong, sitting around a therapy circle and talking miserably about life from now on. Seokjin knew it was going to be hard to readjust, but christ, no one told him he’d start with nothing.

The door of the “treatment center” jingles when it opens, Seokjin too stuck in his own head to really acknowledge it. The person who walks in greets the receptionist with a cheerful tone and a question, and a few seconds later, the tops of their polished shoes enter Seokjin’s line of vision.

“Kim Seokjin, right?” a high, male voice asks.

Seokjin looks up haltingly, but the face smiling down at him it young, handsome and soft. Seokjin isn’t really sure if he’s undead or not, until he glances down and see the ugly black scar on his neck, unhealed and unable to be covered by their foundation.

“I’m Park Jimin,” the man says cheerfully. He sticks out a hand, pulling Seokjin out of his seat when he takes it. “I’m your ‘PDS Adjustment Partner.’” He puts a kind of goofy emphasis on the title, like he’s making fun of it, and snickers when the receptionist clears her throat at him.

“I don’t even know what that means,” Seokjin says, too sullen to put on his usually happy face.

“Don’t worry about it! I’ll tell you more on the drive to your apartment!” Jimin assures him. He gives him a surprisingly gentle pat on the shoulder, then begins to push him towards the door.

“My apartment?” Seokjin questions. He had lived with Jungkook and Namjoon before he passed. If they didn’t come to pick him up, and his parents didn’t care to see him again, then…?

“Mhm!” Jimin grabs Seokjin’s bag off the floor and says bye-bye to the receptionist. “And on the way there, you can ask me all the questions you want.”

Jimin leads Seokjin to a sleek, expensive-looking black car, opening the passenger seat to him. Seokjin hesitates sitting down; it’s been a long time since he saw or touched anything luxurious, and though his clothes are designer, he kind of… died in them. So.

Jimin throws his bag in the back with an encouraging, “Get in!” before he walks around the side. “It’s not gonna bite, just watch your fingers.”

Seokjin slides in, closing the door firmly. He slips on his seatbelt while Jimin adjusts the volume of the radio, and slouches into himself when he's settled down. Jimin doesn't even start the car, and Seokjin looks up after a while, confused. Jimin is just smiling at him, soft and careful.

"What?" Seokjin asks hoarsely. He just wants to go home.

"Nothin', hyung," Jimin says happily. He turns his attention to the car, but doesn't stop talking. "This is going to sound awkward, but I was a huge fan of yours, like, before I died. Well, not like huge, but I had definitely heard of you. Your music is so good!"

Seokjin gulps, rubs his arm though his shirt. "Thank you…" he says. He stares out the window as Jimin continues to talk, answers his questions respectfully.

Jimin really is so nice, emanating warmth and care for others. He seems so normal and well adjusted, which... makes sense if he's supposed to help others get acclimated with their new world, of course. He makes Seokjin feel relaxed, normal even.

Seokjin watches a street sign go by, and he gets a flash of recognition. "Hey," he says, "I know this place." He looks at Jimin, who is smiling as he focuses on the road.

"Uh-huh!" he affirms.  

"This is the way to…" Seokjin trails off, not wanting to say it. If Namjoon and Jungkook didn't come to pick him up, then there's no hope in thinking he and Jimin are headed to their apartment. Seokjin's old home.

"Namjoon-hyung and Jungkook are flying in from South Africa tomorrow morning," Jimin says, "They couldn't come pick you up because the company… well. They couldn't take a break." Jimin's tone is apologetic. He gives Seokjin a meaningful glance, turning onto the street where his old apartment is.

"So they…?" Seokjin's breath feels caught in his throat.

"They told me to tell you that they would be here if they could. Really."

Seokjin bites his lip. His eyes burn again. So they didn't forget about him. Namjoon and Jungkook didn't want nothing to do with him, they… fuck, Seokjin feels so bad for doubting them.

Jimin stops in front of the apartment building, and gives Seokjin a gentle pat on his hand. "The good news is, you have a whole night to settle in! I can stay with you, if you want, or I could go. Whatever you want." Jimin takes something out of his pocket, presenting it to Seokjin.

Seokjin recognizes it as Namjoon's key, connected to a lanyard with little crabs on it. He carefully takes it from Jimin, turning it over in his hands.

"What do you think?" Jimin asks.

"I…"

Seokjin doesn't really know what to say. He doesn't know what to do. He remembers when he used to come home, exhausted, and collapse on the couch. He remembers Jungkook coming up from behind him and massaging his neck and shoulders, turning him boneless. Seokjin doesn't know if he can face seeing the apartment again, undoubtedly changed, all alone. He might not get any comfort in those walls.

"Come in with you?" Jimin asks like he can read Seokjin's mind, and Seokjin just nods. "Okay!"

The elevator ride up isn't long enough for Seokjin to steel himself. Everything has been remodeled, sleek black and white instead of shades of blue, and Seokjin spotted a wall of framed portraits as he passed the reception desk--portraits of those that passed away in the Rising. It would make Seokjin's blood run cold if he had any.

Jimin rubs Seokjin's back absently, holding his bag with his other hand and filling the silence with pop culture information Seokjin has missed out on. Seokjin really couldn't care less; as long as Mario and Pokemon were still around, he was satisfied.

Jimin walks Seokjin to the front door. Seokjin's breath rattles in his empty chest.

He slides the key into the lock, grimacing like it won't fit. It does, and he turns it, closing his eyes as soon as he hears the lock click. Jimin opens the door, guiding Seokjin inside. Seokjin is too scared to look, too scared to realize everything he missed in Namjoon and Jungkook's lives.

"It's okay," Jimin assures Seokjin. "You can just look at the floor first. Work your way up."

He gives Seokjin's shoulder a little squeeze, and Seokjin nods.

The floor is nice. Clean. A little scuffed up, like they haven't had it waxed or buffed in a while. Seokjin sees a small pile of shoes, recognizing Namjoon's and Jungkook's sizes. Okay. Not so bad.

Seokjin's eyes drag up, to the actual shoe rack, full and--

"Fuck," Seokjin gasps. There are some of Seokjin's old shoes still there. At the top, neat and in line, like he left them, like he never even left at all. Seokjin feels dizzy. He looks up further, and there are pictures of him on the wall, framed polaroids and pictures from vacations.

Seokjin takes off his shoes quickly and steps further into the apartment, looking around. The fact that Namjoon and Jungkook could still afford the space is comforting, tells him that they didn't suffer too much when he was gone. They kept his memory alive. He's here, everywhere, more photos on the walls and shelves, mixed with Jungkook and Namjoon's photography. One of his old hoodies draped over the back of a new chair, it recently worn. Seokjin looks in the kitchen, thanks god that there aren't dishes that he left still sitting there (three years gone, that would have been so gross, even for them).

The apartment looks so weird to him, old mixed with the new. New furniture, but in the same style, same color even. Some game console connected to the television that Seokjin can't even begin to guess the name of. But things that are clearly Jungkook's, clearly Namjoon's, recognizable and familiar and home.

"Is my…?" Seokjin trails off, moving to walk down the hallway, to where their rooms are. Seokjin's is at the end, on the left, or at least it used to be. He doesn't know if they left it or if they repurposed it after he… Well.

Jimin trails after Seokjin, quiet support, letting him take everything in on his time, in his way. Seokjin peaks into the others' rooms first, noting new furniture, nicer clothes. That makes him happy. They really are doing well for themselves.

Seokjin breathes out. He hesitates outside his door, hand paused in front of the knob.

If they left his shoes on the rack, and his pictures on the walls, then this--this should be the same. Right? It wouldn't make any sense to leave fragments of him and then remodel his room. It just wouldn't.

The uncertainty burns Seokjin all the same.

Seokjin takes another deep breath, and holds it. He closes his eyes for an instant, then turns the knob and pushes the door open, stepping inside before he can overthink it anymore. His adrenaline spikes, but--there's no need.

It's the same. His bed, his desk, his pink rug. It's not even dusty, everything pristine, again like he never left.

Actually--no, it's not. There are new things in his room. Presents stack high against one wall, or are piled on his bed, three years worth of holiday, birthday, and fan gifts.

Seokjin steps up to them, inspects one of the tags. There's a small ink drawing of him inside a cartoon alpaca, waving happily. In capital English letters, carefully written, is the name of one of his old fansites from before the Rising, jinKissLetsgo. Seokjin flips it over, and written in Korean is the sentence, "We miss you!" accompanied by a little heart.

Seokjin feels himself getting choked up. He lets go of the tag before he accidentally crumples it with his grip, not wanting to ruin something so much love was put into.

Seokjin was gone for so long, and he only realizes it now. Every day in the treatment center felt like the same. Therapy, medication, flashbacks, carefully watched interaction with others, therapy again, meetings with his doctor and psychiatrist, more flashbacks. Shuffling around in white gowns. Time passed too slowly and too quickly, days bleeding into each other. Outside, it was years. Years excruciatingly felt, every day with an absence that he could have filled.

Seokjin is overwhelmed with disappointment in himself, for letting what feels like everyone down. His fans gave so much to him, endlessly. Love and support represented physically in just how much stuff sits here. And all of it is unopened, a testament to his bandmates' respect for him and their fans. Seokjin made them wait so, so long. They've spent so much money on him, took care of his things and kept them from getting dirty or broken.

Seokjin grabs the front of his shirt with one fist, looking at more tags, more presents. So much. The bed creaks as Seokjin sits down on its edge. He hangs his head, trying to calm down, hands moving to curl into his hair instead.

Something hardens within Seokjin. He just got back, was still unused to the changed world and still afraid of his future, but… he doesn't feel so lost. He's going to get his old life back. He's going to reunite with Namjoon and Jungkook, resign onto his label, and come back to his fans.

Dead or undead.

--

Jimin seems surprised by the fire in Seokjin's eyes when Seokjin talks to him again, but pleasantly so. Seokjin tells Jimin that he's okay. That he's going to be okay. Jimin seems excited for Seokjin, enthused and ready to help in any way he can. Jimin hugs Seokjin goodbye before he leaves. He calls after Seokjin, something about meeting up over the weekend, Jimin showing up to take him to some support group. Seokjin nods to agree, but his mind is elsewhere.

Seokjin spends the rest of the night opening and unpacking his gifts, marvelling at how well his fans know his sense of fashion, and their craftsmanship; there are so many art pieces, drawings and photography and tiny sculptures, handmade jewelry and pendants. Seokjin keeps the jewelry the little boxes they come in, sets the art against the wall to display later. Every gift hardens his resolve, gives him that much more encouragement.

In the morning, Seokjin spends a good hour getting ready for Jungkook and Namjoon. He showers, styles his hair, and makes sure every inch of grey, undead flesh is covered by his mousse. His carefully puts his contacts in. He makes sure his clothes cover the dark scars on his chest and back (Never going shirtless again, he thinks when he gets dressed. The bullet wounds are ugly, clean through his front but shattered through his back, and Seokjin wishes he'd never get a glimpse of them again).

When he's finished, he sits on the living room couch. Waiting.

And waiting.

Seokjin realizes belatedly that he doesn't actually know what time Namjoon and Jungkook are getting back. Last night he had been so caught up in being back that he just, didn't ask. He doesn't even have a phone to text Jimin with.

Seokjin sighs, and slumps against the couch. He props his feet up on the glass coffee table, wiggling his toes. He almost feels bored, thinking about waiting in the living room for possibly hours, but then anxiety washes over him and his mind runs through all the worst scenarios that could ever happen. His excitement fizzles.

Jungkook could walk through that door and walk right out again. Jungkook could take one look at him and start crying, could have a panic attack, could--

Seokjin stops himself.

He thinks about what Jimin said to him. They--Namjoon and Jungkook--wanted to be there for him when he arrived home. They missed him. They kept his room as it was, even dusted it, cleaned the sheets so they still smelled fresh. They left the presents for him. There was an undoubted amount of care put into keeping Seokjin's memory alive--the pictures of him on the walls and bookshelves, his favorite food stocked in the pantry.

Seokjin is thinking, wildly, about how he's going to explain that he can't eat or drink anything, when Namjoon and Jungkook walk through the door.

Namjoon stumbles with his bag, a sharp, "Hey!" aimed behind him. Jungkook snickers and hits Namjoon with his bag again. They're like baby elephants, trampling over each other with their elbows and knees. They don't seem to see him, focused on getting inside and getting their things in order, kicking off their shoes to step fully inside.

Namjoon leans on the handle of his luggage, breathing out a deep sigh and almost snapping his fingers against the metal when he puts too much of his weight onto it. Namjoon jerks up, and Jungkook laughs at him, and--Seokjin feels so, so happy. They really haven't changed at all, still huge dorks with love in their eyes.

Seokjin starts laughing a little, too, when Namjoon glares at Jungkook, and that's when they finally notice that he's there.

Namjoon and Jungkook both freeze, staring at each other. Jungkook breaks eye contact first, turning his head in Seokjin's direction, his already-wide eyes round with--with some emotion Seokjin can't really place. Seokjin's laughter dies in his throat. Namjoon turns around next, lips parted in--in what?

Seokjin gulps. They look--stunned. Not aghast or afraid, but. Frozen. Awed…? They knew he was coming, didn't they? Didn't they? Jimin didn't--didn't lie to make him feel better, did he? Seokjin shifts where he sits, extremely uncomfortable.

The still silence persists.

"You look like you've seen the dead," Seokjin jokes weakly. He imagines his hands trembling against his thighs.

This gets a reaction out of them. "Seokjin-hyung," Namjoon says, at the same time Jungkook cries, "Hyung!" ragged and raw.

Jungkook drops his bags on the floor and brushes past Namjoon, who stumbles. Jungkook nearly trips over the table in his rush to Seokjin, but he stops right before he touches him. Jungkook seems to freeze, unsure what to do with himself and his hands. He doesn't reach out, just stares at Seokjin intently, even with his eyes shining with tears.

"Hyung," Jungkook mumbles, shakily.

Seokjin doesn't move, just stares up at Jungkook and waits for him to act first. Seokjin knows what he's done, he knows what happened on the night he died--and Jungkook does too. Jungkook was the one who cried over his body in his nightmare.

Jungkook was the one Seokjin nearly attacked when he first came back to life.

Seokjin doesn't want to scare Jungkook by reaching for him. He feels afraid and confused by their reactions, so he stays sitting with his hands clamped together, tense and unsure. Should he stand and hug them? He wants to, so bad.

"JK?" Seokjin asks. He's sure they can hear how nervous he is.

Jungkook looks a mix of hopeful and... afraid. "It's you?" Jungkook asks, like he can't actually believe it. "You're really...?" Jungkook sits down besides Seokjin, their knees knocking as he scoots forward. Namjoon walks up from behind him, looking both shaken and happy.

"It's me," Seokjin says. He nods a little.

Namjoon is barely keeping it together. He goes from smiling to holding back tears to smiling again, and his hand comes to rest on Jungkook's shoulder, squeezing. Jungkook stares at Seokjin's face, his hands, his face again, looks at his arms and what he's wearing, and then he reaches forward. Jungkook rests his hand on Seokjin's bicep, gently like Seokjin will turn to dust under his fingers. His breath hitches, eyes red and wide like the day--

Mm.

Seokjin stops that thought.

Jungkook's hand moves down his arm to his hand, feeling. When his hand reaches his wrist, Seokjin flips over his hand. He squeezes Jungkook's fingers gently when their hands meet, hoping desperately that he doesn't jerk away.

Jungkook gasps wetly, but he doesn't snatch his hand back. The movement seems make him realize that Seokjin is really, really here, right in front of him. His eyes snap to Seokjin, whose expression is one of uncertainty, and he clutches his hand, breaking.

The tears dripping too quickly off Jungkook's cheeks. "You're so cold," he cries, and Seokjin feels like he's falling between the cracks of his broken heart.

"I know," Seokjin says, voice trembling.

Jungkook's hands are fiery-hot against Seokjin's cold skin, like a shower turned just a tad too hot. Seokjin realizes that he hasn't held someone's hand or even really felt--felt someone's bare touch in--years. Any living person who touched him in the treatment center were doctors, poking and prodding at his skin and scars while wearing protective gloves. Never bare, or warm, or familiar. Never this.

Seokjin looks up at Namjoon, who's been so quiet, and finds him silently weeping, head bowed and face turned away from Seokjin. His shoulders shake minutely as he's trying to keep quiet, knuckles white by his side and jaw so tense Seokjin wonders if he's in pain.

"Joonie," Seokjin says, reaching out his other hand to Namjoon. Namjoon looks at him and just starts crying harder. Seokjin doesn't know what to do. His stomach flips with fear and he considers retracting his hand, but then Namjoon takes it. He comes out from behind Jungkook and laces their fingers together, wiping his tears with his free hand and blinking hard.

"It's been so long," Namjoon says with a small, miserable laugh.

Seokjin doesn't want to think about it. "You seem to be doing okay, though," Seokjin says, lightly.

Jungkook immediately shakes his head. "No, hyung," he says painfully, "Not without you."

Seokjin's breath leaves him. His face is stuck in a grimace, he feels so on the edge of tears he thinks maybe they'll come this time, finally, and he can let out everything building up inside him.

It's been hard for them. It has. He can't comfort himself based on their material wealth, he doesn't know what they went through. Maybe he had to endure loneliness and fear in Cheongsong, but the amount of emotional torment they they had--one of their family members gone, the other traumatized, fighting for their lives during the Rising and then having to return to normalcy. Except it's not normalcy, because there's a piece missing, but they're famous so they have to act like everything's fine to the public, because the public hates weakness, especially after a whole year of torment.

Seokjin feels somehow worse, haha.

"Come here," Seokjin mumbles, tugging at Namjoon's arm. He can't bear seeing them like this anymore, he just wants to make it all better.

Namjoon immediately sits down at Seokjin's other side, hesitating before he bodily grabs Seokjin and pulls him into a hug. Namjoon tucks his face against Seokjin's shoulder, wetting his shirt, and Jungkook follows, clinging to Seokjin and burying his face in his chest. Jungkook's arm wraps around Seokjin's waist, joining Namjoon's, and Seokjin has to let go of their hands (no matter how much he doesn't want to). Seokjin braces himself on Namjoon's thigh, threading his fingers though Jungkook's hair.

"I--I missed you two," Seokjin admits, choked up.

Namjoon and Jungkook shake with the force of their cries, but are so silent, still, like if they make noise they'll wake up and Seokjin will be gone again. Seokjin gasps a little, but there are no tears.

"I'm sorry for what--I'm just sorry," Seokjin rambles. Namjoon's grip tightens around his waist. "I didn't mean to leave you. I missed you. I'm sorry."

"Hyung." Jungkook sobs into his chest, squeezing so hard that if Seokjin were alive, it would hurt.

God, if he were alive.

Seokjin curls over Jungkook, strokes his hair and shakes his head and whispers, "I'm just sorry."

--

The three of them end up falling asleep, Seokjin sandwiched in between Namjoon and Jungkook on the couch. When Seokjin opens his eyes again, it's nearly four in the afternoon. Jungkook is heavy on his chest, arms locked around him, while Namjoon's nose nudges against his ear. Namjoon's not snoring, which is surprising. The last time Seokjin saw him (the last time he knew him, it feels like), Namjoon had to wear a mask while he slept, connected to a machine that kept him breathing. Seokjin guesses he was able to take care of that problem.

Seokjin feels so warm. He's covered in heaters, with hot breath and hotter hands, and it's… a little uncomfortable. It's nearly too much, actually--Seokjin is wearing long sleeves and jeans to minimize the amount of coverup he has to use--but Seokjin would never even think of moving. He's touch starved, he missed them, and this is perfect.

It's getting to around six when Jungkook stirs. Seokjin was resting his eyes, but he opens them when Jungkook makes a sleepy mmh sound. He watches Jungkook's eyebrows furrow a little in confusion, and his head tilt. Jungkook feels Seokjin's back and waist with his eyes closed. When he blinks them open, he looks at Seokjin's face and heaves a huge sigh of relief, dropping his head back onto his chest.

"Thank god," Jungkook mumbles, sounding old and tired.

"What is it?" Seokjin asks, and Jungkook's shoulders shake with silent laughter.

Jungkook looks up at Seokjin again, his sclera reddening. "I thought it was a dream," he admits. His lips tremble. Jungkook sits back on his calves and roughly wipes his eyes.

"Jungkookie…" Seokjin says. He lifts a hand and pats his cheek, noting the little bit of stubble growing. Seokjin fits his thumb and fingers around Jungkook's jaw to his cheeks, squeezing so Jungkook's lips pout. "I'm right here," he saws, pouting his own lips. "Please don't cry again." Maybe his voice sounds more vulnerable than he meant it to, but Jungkook smiles even through his squished cheeks.

"Hyung," he laughs, and reaches for Seokjin's face, too.

Seokjin panics momentarily. He doesn't want Jungkook to wipe off his coverup on accident, and freak out. "Yah!" he yells. He chops at Jungkook's arm, knocking it away.

Jungkook laughs, to his relief. He situates himself roughly on Seokjin again, making Seokjin groan. "C'mon, Jungkook, be gentle," he complains. Jungkook just giggles.

Seokjin runs his fingers through Jungkook's hair again. Jungkook takes his free hand, humming.

It is quiet, for a while, and then Jungkook mumbles, "I missed you, hyung."

Seokjin nods, and murmurs back, "I missed you, too, Jungkookie."

--

Getting back into a routine is… Seokjin isn't really sure how to put it. Namjoon and Jungkook insist on giving Seokjin time to get "reacquainted" with society--which means watching recent movies for hours, Seokjin wrapped up protectively in one of their arms. Seokjin is thankful he doesn't sweat anymore, otherwise he would be gross, to say the least. He never realized how warm people were until all of his own heat was taken from him.

Seokjin asks why they seemed so shocked to see him the day after he got back. Namjoon admits that they had, like, prepared and everything, knew that he was coming. They worked with Jimin for a couple months before Seokjin came back, learning and everything, so they thought they were ready. It was just that when they actually saw Seokjin, looking alive and well, sitting there like he'd been there the whole time… It sunk in how different things had really been without him. Every second that he was gone rushed in all at once, how much they missed him followed, and that's why they froze. Namjoon apologizes for crying on him, but Seokjin assures him it's fine.

(At least he could cry.)

Explaining to Jungkook that he can't eat anymore is... awkward. Jungkook looks like a kicked puppy, pouting and shuffling around with Seokjin's old favorites in his hands, putting them back in the cupboard. Seokjin swears he sees droopy puppy ears atop Jungkook's head when he sits back down.

"That sucks, hyung," Jungkook says. Seokjin has to agree.

Talking about what to do going forward is weird.

Namjoon seems nervous when Seokjin mentions coming back to the label, re-signing and working on music again. He keeps telling Seokjin, "Y'know, maybe you should wait a little longer, hyung, get used to everything before you throw yourself back into work."

But Seokjin doesn't want to wait. He spent years in a miserable facility, with no music or fun, and he missed performing. He missed everything about working. (Okay, not everything--the diets weren't fun, but he couldn't even eat anymore so they were out of the question. Dance practice was okay, he guessed, at least now he didn't sweat. It's not like his limbs would fly off or anything. It was no big deal.) He missed making music, writing lyrics, fucking singing. Seokjin had tried to keep his voice well-used during treatment, too, even if he was hollered at sometimes.

Seokjin swears he's ready. Even if he has to re-audition, or whatever, he's ready. He wants it. He can do it. Namjoon's hesitance be damned.

(Namjoon still convinces Seokjin to wait until Monday.)

--

The doorbell rings at around seven in the evening on Saturday. Seokjin had been spending time with Jungkook for most of the day, shoving elbows and jabbing aggressively at the controllers to some new kind of gaming console. Jungkook had to teach him how to play, which was a pain, but Seokjin didn’t really want to say no. Especially after Jungkook asked "to make up for all the time we lost, hyung!"

Seokjin knows there's no way to actually recover the time they lost, but he missed Jungkook so much, he wants to spend every second he can with him.

Seokjin is dressed in comfortable clothing, of course with his coverup on, when he answers the door. Jimin greets him brightly, and he is dressed. Might as well trademark the word. A leather jacket, red and black striped shirt underneath, and skin-tight pants. His boots have decorative rings on them, for Christ's sake. Even Seokjin's most wild concepts never got to that level.  

"J-Jimin," Seokjin stutters.

"You look comfy, hyung," Jimin teases, entering the apartment. Jungkook's head pokes over the side of the couch, so he can see down into the entryway.

"Why are you… oh." Seokjin had completely forgotten Jimin's half-shouted plans from when he got back. But his clothes don't look like the type one would wear to a "support group."

Jimin pouts at him. "Did you forget our plans, hyung?" he asks. "Or are you coming to the group in that?" Seokjin is dressed in a long sleeve shirt and sweatpants, mismatched in pattern. "Kind of a fun look?" Jimin grins at him.

Seokjin snorts. "Okay, BDSM shoes," he says, and Jimin squawks at him. Seokjin knows they only met once before, but--Jimin is comfortable. It helps that Jimin is so kind and thoughtful, and was there for him when he came back (assigned to his case or not), but Seokjin has always been good at getting close to someone by their second meeting. Jimin is no different.

"Jimin-ssi?" Jungkook calls from his place in the living room. Seokjin hears him hop off the couch, and suddenly he's joining them near the doorway. "What are you doing here?"

Jimin grits his teeth, going to pull at Jungkook's ear. "Jungkook-ssi," he says, sickeningly sweet, "What have I told you a million times before?"

Jungkook is laughing and also whimpering in pain, leaning into Jimin's grip so that it hurts less. "Ah! Aha! I mean Jimin-hyung! I'm sorry!" he yells, and Jimin lets go.  

"I'm taking Seokjinnie-hyung to a support group," Jimin says, his happy smile back. Jungkook opens his mouth, and Jimin interrupts him with, "No, you can't go."

Jungkook frowns. "But I just got him back!" he protests.

"Am I your toy, Kook-ah?" Seokjin simpers, reaching for Jungkook like Jimin did. Jungkook ducks away, but he's sulking now.

"Hyungie…" he mumbles, tugging on Seokjin's hand. Seokjin's stomach flips, and suddenly he really doesn't want to go to this group at all. Jungkook is right--he did just get back. Maybe he should stay home another day.

Seokjin looks at Jimin. Jimin looks at him pointedly. "It's a really good support group, hyung. You have to come," he says, insistent. "It'll be fun. It'll be comfortable."

Comfortable… probably means there will be undead there. Seokjin presses his lips together. Jungkook seems to sense his uncertainty. Seokjin sees him puff up out of the corner of his eye, probably ready to tell Jimin that Seokjin doesn't want to come with. Seokjin answers before he can.

"Okay, Jiminie. I'll go," he says.

Jimin brightens. "Great!" he says. "I'll help you get ready." And he takes off his shoes.

--

This. This is not a support group. There are too many people, too much noise and mingling going on around him to be a support group.

It's a fucking party.

The music isn't blasting, which is good, but the flat that Jimin leads him up to is absolutely packed. There's enough room to walk around, but not without bumping elbows with someone. Seokjin is usually good with people, but--Jesus.

Jimin laughs good heartedly at Seokjin's startled facial expression, rubbing his back and assuring him that it's going to be fine. "Everyone is really nice here!" Jimin takes his wrist, tugging him through the crowd.

There are some people he recognizes, surprisingly. From before--photographers, models. An actor or two. This isn't a normal support group, or, agh. Seokjin doesn't know. These aren't just normal citizens, they're people in the entertainment industry.

"Jimin-ah, how did you even get invited here?" Seokjin whispers urgently. He isn't sure Jimin can even hear him.

Jimin chuckles. "I'm a model," he says happily. "And my boyfriend is a rapper! He's not undead, though. He's just best friends with the host."

Seokjin looks over the crowd again, quickly realizing that not everyone looks like him. Meaning, some people are completely without coverup. A lot of people, actually. Adrenaline shoots down Seokjin's spine. Greyish tones and dark veins, darker scars on some of them. They all look delighted, some laughing and loudly discussing things Seokjin can't really hear.

Seokjin glances down at his hands and realizes he might be the most covered person here. Even the people that are alive (much fewer in number, always attached to someone undead) seem to have less makeup on than him.

Every thought in Seokjin's mind seems to tangle. He can't focus on anything except for the realization that he sticks out--and not in the way he wants to. He likes turning heads in the sense of him being especially handsome, dragging people's gazes after him because they just can't help themselves. He doesn't like sticking out now, not in this context.

Jimin stops Seokjin in front of someone chatting joyfully with three other undead. He looks young, younger than the both of them, with unnaturally light hair and a square grin.

"Taehyungie," Jimin says, and the dude seems to glow even more. His shoulders bunch up as he turns and swings his arms around Jimin.

"Jiminie!" Taehyung cheers, giving Jimin a big peck on the cheek. Jimin wrinkles his nose and wipes it off, to which Taehyung laughs. He's gorgeous, Seokjin has to admit, long lashes and m-shaped lips, and--not a speck of coverup. Seokjin notices this last, focused more on how Taehyung happily converses with Jimin. Taehyung has bright, open eyes, intent in their direction. When they turn to Seokjin, he's amazed by the amount of intelligence they hold.

"Taehyung-ah, this is Kim Seokjin. He just got back this week," Jimin introduces.

Seokjin bows a little in politeness, and can't help but smile when Taehyung beams at him. Taehyung's energy is brilliant and alive. It's easy to focus on him. "Hello there," Seokjin says.

Taehyung takes his hand, shaking it swiftly. "Ah, wow! Kim Seokjin-hyung! I've heard your music!" he chirps. He seems a little starstruck, nothing Seokjin isn't used to. It's honestly really endearing. "I'm so happy you're back! It's been so long, I'm sure a lot of people are waiting for you."

Seokjin feels a twist in his stomach. He wants to work so bad. "Yes, I'm sure," Seokjin nods. "I'll figure something out soon."

"There's no need to rush! But, wow, you were really in there for a long time, huh? In Hell?" Taehyung tilts his head. "I got out after a year or so, thank god. The medicine worked really easily for me. But it was so hard being some of the first to reenter society, the living were ridiculous about it. It was really dangerous for a while."

Seokjin is a bit taken aback how openly Taehyung talks about Cheongsong and being undead. Seokjin hasn't really mentioned anything at all to Namjoon or Jungkook, curbed their questions with slight discomfort. Taehyung talks about it like it's nothing at all. Like it's a piece of lint on his clothes he can pick off and flick away, unashamed.

"I can imagine," Seokjin says. It's a lame response. He has to admit that he hasn't really talked to any of the living outside of that receptionist and his bandmates.

"Taehyung is a model and actor, Seokjin-hyung. He's doing well," Jimin says, hooking an arm around Taehyung's neck. "He can probably give you advice about agencies and everything! He's seen it all. I can too, of course.”

Taehyung nods proudly, and Seokjin feels himself staring. Taehyung’s bare skin, the confidence in which he holds himself despite that; Seokjin doesn't think he could feel so comfortable. Not anymore.

Looking around, everyone seems to be hanging out with a sense of ease that Seokjin does not have. They don't care about their state of being, dead or alive, at least aren't focusing on it. They're just as they are. If anyone is wearing makeup, its around their eyes or on their lips, accentuating the beauty that's already there.

"Seokjin-hyung, do you have a phone?" Taehyung asks, clasping his hands together.

"Not yet," Seokjin says. He saw a few in the presents he got, but they were new and felt too foreign to him, and Seokjin felt old asking Jungkook or Namjoon for help with that.

Taehyung pouts, and nudges Jimin. "You should get on that, Jimin-ah! How's he supposed to make connections if he can't even score someone's number." Taehyung makes eyes at Seokjin, raising his eyebrows, and Seokjin feels incredibly red. That means a lot more than business.

"I'm not really l-looking for someone right now," Seokjin says, weakly, and Taehyung grin comes back, devilish.

"You told him not to rush work but you're practically pulling at the buttons of his pants." Jimin glowers at Taehyung. "I see the kind of person you are, Taehyungie."

Taehyung laughs openly. "I'm just saying, the treatment center is a very stressful, unsexy place--"

"Oh shut up. We're going, Taehyung," Jimin groans. He comes back to Seokjin's side, tugging at his arm. "I'll talk to you later, you cat,"

"Tiger," Taehyung says, pointing at Jimin.

"Goodbye, Taehyung," Jimin urges Seokjin to step away.

"See you, Taehyung-ah," Seokjin says, with a little wave. Taehyung waves back.

Jimin leads Seokjin through the crowd again, to a side of the apartment where less people are around. He smiles at Seokjin sheepishly.

"Sorry I kinda dragged you here without telling you anything specific," he apologizes. "I thought you'd ask because of what I was wearing, but… you didn't. Hopefully it wasn't too much of a shocker." Jimin looks genuinely guilty, which just makes Seokjin want to pout and coo and forgive him.

Seokjin doesn't pout or coo (he holds back), but he does assure him it's okay. He looks at the people swaying around him, chatting happily and moving to the music. It really is… nice. There don't seem to be any fights or obvious sexual acts occurring around the crowd, which happened at a lot of parties Seokjin went to when he was alive. The atmosphere is good. And Taehyung was nice, really. It was encouraging seeing someone undead be so upbeat. In Seokjin's opinion, everyone at the treatment center acted as if their soul died when they did. So this really was nice. Even if Seokjin stuck out like a sore thumb.

Jimin seems happy when Seokjin tells him so, pulling him in for an excited hug. He pats Seokjin's back and bounces a little, making him giggle. When Jimin moves away, his eyes are trained over Seokjin's shoulder. His soft smile grows into a wide grin, and he starts waving his hand rapidly. "Hyung!" he cheers.

Seokjin looks behind him curiously, and he sees a living man making his way through the crowd. He greets a few people with a heart-shaped smile, but his focus is trained on Jimin.

"Seokjin-hyung, that's--he's coming towards us now--that's my boyfriend, Jung Hoseok," Jimin explains quickly. He sounds so adoring, a little laugh accompanying his words. Seokjin doesn't recognize Hoseok, but he's handsome, with sharp features and happy eyes.

Jimin immediately pulls Hoseok into a kiss, smushing his cheeks between his hands. Seokjin averts his eyes, not wanting to intrude. Jimin slips a arm around Hoseok's waist when they pull away, and turns him towards Seokjin.

"Hoseokie, this is Kim Seokjin," Jimin says. He gestures at Seokjin, and Seokjin bows respectfully.

"Hello, Jimin's Boyfriend," Seokjin says seriously. Jimin's giggles and Seokjin grins at him, before directing his attention at Hoseok. "It's really nice to meet you, Hoseok-ssi. Jimin is really… wonderful. Truly."

"Hyung!" Jimin whines.

"It's true, Jimin-ah," Hoseok coos, with a big smile. He sticks out a hand, and Seokjin shakes it. "I've heard about you, Seokjin-ssi. Jimin has told me a lot, and I, uh, loved your music before… you know." Hoseok smiles uncomfortably, knowing it's a touchy subject.

Jimin pats Hoseok on the shoulder, conspiratorial. "Hoseokie had three of your albums, hyung," Jimin giggles. Hoseok sputters, going red, but Seokjin just smiles kindly.

"Thank you for supporting us," he says. Hoseok just laughs in an embarrassed sort of way.

They talk for a little longer about Hoseok and what he does, honestly small and unimportant words exchanged. He's really nice, just like Jimin, and Seokjin can see how much they cherish each other. It makes Seokjin happy.

However--the longer they stand here, the more people come up to talk to them. One after another, making a point to chat with Jimin or even introduce themselves to Seokjin, polite of course. One and then another and then another and more.

So much time in the past few years Seokjin spent minding his own business in Cheongsong. He used to be good at crowds; award ceremonies and concerts and press conferences were a constant. All of that disappeared for Seokjin. He didn't even have a friend in the whole facility; his roommate had been a fanatic and everyone was fucking traumatized. Seokjin got used to a maximum of three people talking to him a day.

Jimin is in the middle of talking to a photographer about upcoming work, in his element. Seokjin is getting tired. His clothes feel too tight, and his coverup is starting to get itchy. The chatter just grows louder, prickling at his skin, and all the eyes people are making at him--he really needs some air.

Seokjin doesn't want to interrupt, but he says something anyway, a half-mumbled, "Air," that Jimin nods to, waving him off.

Seokjin steps away, looking around the room for some kind of exit. The apartment isn't huge, that's probably why it feels so packed. The walls are a simple white and the apartment is decorated with all-black furniture. The apartment sits rather high up, large windows on most of the exterior walls. Seokjin breathes out through his nose as he nudges past a thicker throng of people, and makes it into the kitchen. It seems mostly unused, nothing in the sink and little on the counters.

There are less people here. That gives Seokjin some peace of mind. The few that stand around scurry away once they see him, back into the main room. Seokjin leans against the counter, exhaling.

Just as Seokjin is centering himself, there's a quiet shhft sound of a sliding door that comes from his left.

Seokjin perks up. A sliding door…? He moves past the counter in the kitchen, to a small corner for eating. Whoever walked in has disappeared into the party by now, but where they were is marked obvious by a little placemat with slippers on it and, of course, a glass sliding door. Outside is dimly lit by the inside lights, but Seokjin can make out the ledge of a balcony. God, he can physically feel his blood pressure dropping, just looking at it.

Seokjin nudges his feet into the pair of slippers on the mat, and opens the door. He's immediately hit by a cool wind, sweet and clear, that fills his lungs with serene calm. The balcony is mostly brick, with a metal railing. There's not a lot outside except for a few hanging plants and a deck chair.

Seokjin doesn't pay much attention, walking up to the railing and breathing in deep. He looks out over the city, black and grey with glimmering golden lights, and lets himself relax. He hears sirens and beeping cars below, watches tiny people walk home together. The stars are blocked out by light pollution and clouds in the sky, but the moon is still bright.

"Oh," someone says from his right. Seokjin jumps out of his skin, yelping in fear as he whips around to see who spoke.

There's someone leaning against the side of the balcony. Seokjin didn't notice him before but he's there, dressed in all black and smiling catlike in the low light.

"Jesus," Seokjin says. He releases his vice grip on the railing and exhales, forcing himself to calm down again. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there."

"Clearly," the man chuckles, deep and mellow. He stands up straighter to walk out of the shadows, closer and into better lighting. He's shorter than Seokjin, but the hoodie he's wearing makes him look almost as broad. He's pale--undead, not a lick of makeup on his face, with soft lips and triangle-shaped eyes. A large black scar cuts from his temple to his jugular on the left side of his face. "Sorry for scaring you, though." The man's eyes crinkle up as he smiles, settling against the railing.

And--wow. Seokjin feels weird thinking it, but this man is… hot as hell. Like, not in a chiseled, jock kind of way, but the way he holds himself; there's easy confidence there, something Seokjin couldn't even imagine emulating in his current state of mind, and it's attractive. He'd think he'd be kind of grossed out by the veins and the scar and the fact that the dude isn't even wearing contacts, but it's not like that at all. Seokjin looks at him and he feels his heart beat a little faster.

Seokjin swallows shallowly.

"It's okay," he says, simple, because he can't think of anything else.

The man rubs his lips with the pads of his fingers, his teeth peeking out from his smile. "Did you want to talk?" the man asks. Seokjin tilts his head in confusion. "Most people who come out here need to vent, or need advice, or validation," the man clarifies.

"I don't," Seokjin says, hesitantly. "I just… came for some fresh air."

The man hums in thought. "You're recently out of Hell, then," he says. Seokjin nods, and the man leans back against the railing. He tilts his head back to look at the sky, and when they meet eyes again, Seokjin catches a little glint. "I guess that's why you've got all that stuff on your face." He grins at Seokjin, who narrows his eyes.

That was rude. "Excuse me?"

"Your coverup," the man says. "Bit of a hassle, isn't it?"

Seokjin furrows his eyebrows. "It's not. I… I'm trying to go back to my normal life," Seokjin scoffs.

"Oh please," the man snorts and shakes his head. He looks at Seokjin, not mean, but like Seokjin is a naive child. Like he doesn't know what really goes on in the world.

Seokjin hates that.

"Wearing that on your face isn't gonna change the fact that you're undead. You can't trick people for long," the man continues. There's something wistful in his voice, but Seokjin is distracted by the fury that's starting to bubble in his veins.

"I'm not tricking anyone," Seokjin crosses his arms, taking a step away from the man. "I feel comfortable like this."

"No need to defend yourself." The man shrugs. "I'm just saying… You've been reborn. There's no 'going back' to whatever you were before. You're a new person, with a new chance at your dreams. Why go back to your old life, when it could be better? Why hide yourself?"

Wow, Seokjin did not come here to be lectured. He's so angry that he doesn't try to listen to what this guy is saying to him, words going in one ear and out the other. All he can hear is condescension. "Who even are you?" Seokjin demands.

"Min Yoongi." That catlike smile is back, and--the name is familiar, but Seokjin can't place it immediately. He just glares, thinking hard, wracking his his brain for a connection.

Min Yoongi. Min… Yoongi.

Oh.

A memory from Cheongsong arises.

--

Seokjin had been a year and half into taking his medication, haunted by night terrors and overwhelmed by his state of being. He remembers being transported in a line with about twenty other patients, cold feet slapping against the concrete floor as guards escorted them to the medical hall. Seokjin kept his head down, shoulders hunched together to make himself smaller--the living sometimes felt threatened, by his height and his breadth, no matter how thin he got--while two guards spoke from either side of him.

They were discussing current events outside of the treatment center, something about protests and the undead that had been released a few months prior. Seokjin remembers, distinctly, the tone of disgust one of the guards used to discuss one of the speakers at the protest. The guard had called him selfish. A radical. A nut. The worst that someone could become when they reentered society--Min Yoongi.

"Seokjin-ah, you're listening to our conversation, aren't you?" The guard to Seokjin's right nudges him roughly, making him stumble.

"It's okay if you are," the other guard says, kinder. Seokjin doesn't respond, eyes trained to the ground. He keeps pace with the rest of the line.

The one on the right laughs, a dark, rough sound. "As long as you don't parade around like some kind of messiah when you get out of here, everything'll be alright," he patronizes. "We won't have to find your ass and bring you back for correction." He puts emphasis on the last word, something sick. "Something we ought to do to Min fucking Yoongi."

Seokjin swallows hard. The guard on the left chastises his friend, telling him to pipe down before he gets in trouble, but he doesn't listen.

"What? Am I wrong? All that little fucker does is stir up trouble. Have you heard what he's fucking spewing? Abolition of Human Protective Services, who protected us when the undead tore our heads apart! Fucking--protective laws for the undead, as if they're the vulnerable ones. It's ridiculous. As far as I'm concerned, undead should keep their heads down when they get out of here. They shouldn't rock the boat when we're so kind as to get them off their crazed fucking island. Jesus."

--

Seokjin sinks into the memory so quick that his defensive stance--shoulders up, arms tightly crossed--drops into something more hollow. The anger rushes out of him. Seokjin stares at the ground at Yoongi's feet, gripping his shirt tight between his fingers. The rest of him just slouches, words echoing in his ears. Crazed fucking island.

It brings up everything Seokjin tries to forget. Impersonal hands, lukewarm on his skin. Loneliness and fear. Guards that treated them like prisoners instead of patients. God--Seokjin feels--he has to remind himself that he's gone. He's not there anymore. He doesn't need to focus on it anymore.

"Woah, hey, are you okay?" Yoongi is asking. His smirk is gone, and he's stepped forward, one hand outstretched but not quite touching Seokjin.

"I…" Seokjin mumbles. No wonder Yoongi felt the need to jab him about his coverup. He had been out in the world since the beginning. He was like Taehyung; he had been in the thick of protests, violence, and hatred when he reentered the world.

"Are you here with anyone? What's your name?" Yoongi asks. All sense of challenge seems to have exited his body, and his large hand comes to gently rest on Seokjin's bicep, steadying. He just looks concerned. It's so wild, considering he'd been baiting Seokjin moments earlier.

"Kim Seokjin," Seokjin says quietly. He tries to perk up, but there's a bone deep dread in his body that comes from thinking in depth about the treatment center. It makes his whole body feel a hundred pounds heavier, his muscles too weak to use. It's only kept him from getting out of bed once since he's returned home, and Seokjin prides himself in that. Now--at this fucking party--hhh. He needs to get himself together.

"Seokjin-ssi, let's sit down," Yoongi suggests. "So you don't fall."

That, Seokjin can do. Yoongi keeps an elbow on his arm and eases him down, crouching next to him. Yoongi's eyes are wide with concern, and instead of scaring Seokjin, the crumpled pupil and leftover flecks of black just make him feel… seen. His skin crawls, and he still feels annoyed by Yoongi's condescension, but--fuck. He doesn't know what he's thinking.

"Hey," Seokjin says. He wants to rub his eyes, but if he does, his coverup will come off. He settles for blinking hard. His hands aren't shaking but he feels like they should be. He needs to focus on something else. "What did the zombie say to start a fight?"

"What are you--"

"You want'a piece of me?"

"O-Oh." Yoongi looks confused, so Seokjin laughs to make himself feel better. It really isn't helping at all, but--but at least--well. At least nothing.

Seokjin wants to crawl someplace small and curl up, boxed on all sides and safe and alone. He wants to go home. Actually, he wants to see his fucking family again. His blood-related family, who never even acknowledged that he was back. Jesus christ.

Every thought that Seokjin has tried to keep away comes to the forefront of his mind. He can't see anything real, nothing in front of him, just the memories of his mom's smiling face, his brother teasing him, his father hugging him when he gets home. He misses them. He wants to be home. He just wants--

"Seokjin-ssi."

Yoongi's voice breaks Seokjin's circling thoughts. He's taken Seokjin's hand and tugged it close to him, the other on the back of Seokjin's neck. It's cold, but it's an anchor.

"Focus on me. Look at me. Breathe," Yoongi murmurs. His knees press against Seokjin's leg where he crouches next to him, and he places Seokjin's hand against his chest, timing his breath.

"You're not in Cheongsong anymore," Yoongi says. His voice is loud compared to everything else, his face is the only thing Seokjin sees. "You're on a balcony at a party. You're not alone. You're here, with me. Just breathe."

Yoongi continues to talk to Seokjin in short, easy sentences. He keeps Seokjin's attention, keeps his mind from veering off the deep end. Seokjin focuses on his breathing, looks into Yoongi's eyes and steadies himself.

"It will be okay." Yoongi says it with such conviction, squeezing Seokjin's nape, Seokjin can only nod back.

When Seokjin relaxes against the brick, Yoongi eases off. He sits on the floor, crosses his legs and leans back on his hands, letting out a huge breath. When he looks back at Seokjin, he smiles, but Seokjin feels guilty.

"Sorry for freaking out on you," Seokjin half-mumbles.

Yoongi shakes his head. "It's okay. I'm used to it."

"Are you some kind of therapist?"

Yoongi snorts. "No." His smile turns wry. "I just tend to speak to people who need help like you did."

"I…" Seokjin tugs his knees to his chest, furrowing his brows. "…Thank you."

Yoongi shakes his head again. He sits up, wiping his hands on his pants. Seokjin assumes this is getting uncomfortable for Yoongi, though nothing in Yoongi’s body language suggests that. "You said you were with who again?" Yoongi asks.

Seokjin knows he didn't say, but he answers, "Park Jimin."

Yoongi nods. He stares at Seokjin for a moment, assessing, before disappears into the apartment.

Seokjin tips his head back against the brick, extending his legs out in front of him.

What a night, honestly. Taehyung, Hoseok. Min Yoongi. Seokjin doesn’t know how long he’s been here.

Seokjin feels that weird, nervous tug in his gut that he gets when he’s embarrassed, except there’s no feeling of heat growing from his ears to his cheeks and down his neck. He’s just stuck with that feeling, ashamed for letting his emotions get the best of him and feeling uncomfortable that a stranger saw him at his most vulnerable. Yoongi treated him well, of course, but it was. Unsettling.

Seokjin’s heart loses its rhythm, too fast and skipping beats at the same time.

The sliding door slams open, Jimin standing in the light. Jimin rushes to Seokjin’s side and kneels down, smooths his hands over Seokjin's cheeks, checking him over and berating himself for bringing Seokjin so soon after his release. "I'm so sorry, hyung. All of these people must have reminded you of Hell. I'm sorry. I really am." Jimin looks at Seokjin with big, sad eyes, his bottom lip quivering.

"It's not your fault, Jimin-ah," Seokjin tries to say, but Jimin just huffs and tugs Seokjin to his feet, giving him a tight hug. Seokjin can't help but sink into it, his nose brushing Jimin's shoulder.

"We can get you home, right now, okay?" Jimin says. Seokjin nods minutely. His eyes move to the doorway, but Yoongi isn’t there.

Jimin tugs Seokjin to the front door, starts putting on his boots, and then remembers he left something with his Hoseok. He rambles and apology to Seokjin before he darts off, leaving Seokjin alone. The crowd in Yoongi’s apartment has calmed down, the conversation mellowing out to a low murmur of conversation, people sitting around to talk instead of standing.

Seokjin stuffs his feet into his shoes. He's… exhausted. He wants to sleep.

Socked feet walk into Seokjin's peripheral vision. When he looks up, Yoongi is standing before him, shoulders slouched in hesitation.

Seokjin stands straight. His hands fist nervously at his sides.

“It was nice to meet you, Seokjin-ssi,” Yoongi says. His tone is awkward, like he’s speaking offhand because he doesn’t know what he actually wants to say. “I hope if you come again, you have a better time… This is supposed to be, well… fun.” Yoongi tries a smile, rubbing the back of his neck.

Seokjin presses his lips together. Inside the apartment, there’s much softer lighting; the curves of Yoongi’s face and nose against the light just make him look soft and warm. And handsome. Seokjin stomach flips.

Before Seokjin can respond, Jimin jogs back to the apartment’s entrance, Hoseok in tow.

Jimin apologizes for the hold up and shoves his feet into his boots, zipping them up. He looks to Seokjin, his smile sheepish. “Ready to go?” he asks.

Seokjin nods. Sweet, sweet relief.

“Thanks for having us, Yoongi-hyung,” Jimin says warmly.

Yoongi shrugs with one shoulder. “Thanks for coming.”

Jimin bows a little, gives Hoseok a little kiss on the lips, and trots out the door.

Seokjin is about to follow him, when he feels a cool grip on his wrist. He looks behind him and directly into Yoongi’s eyes. Yoongi is close, eyes shining with a type of determination and urgency in them.

"I… You're not who you used to be, Seokjin-ssi," Yoongi's eyebrows furrow, and he looks down like he's remembering something painful. When he looks up again, his eyes have hardened. "The faster you learn that, the better.”

--

Seokjin thinks about a lot of things when he gets in the car. Jimin apologizes again, but Seokjin assures him that he’s fine. He pats Jimin’s hand for good measure, smiles at him in the most genuine way he can, until Jimin relaxes and focuses on getting them both home.

Watching the darkened buildings pass by, brick illuminated just for a second by passing headlights, Seokjin frowns.

His old life.

The K-Pop industry. The diets, the practice, the fights and exhaustion, the constant competition and sickening stories from struggling trainees and idols alike.

His love for music, his love for acting, his love for variety. The amazing and hardworking individuals he’s met and is--was--friends with.

Jungkook and Namjoon.

If Seokjin doesn’t have the bad things, he can’t have the good things either. He’s willing to face the bad things so he can keep what makes him happy. He’ll struggle for it, but he has good luck. He’ll do okay. He’ll do what it takes to make sure everything turns out okay.

If what Yoongi says is true, if Seokjin really is some kind of new entity and if what he had before is in no way attainable… Seokjin doesn’t think Yoongi is right, so he doesn’t want to consider it. He’ll figure it out if the time comes.

But Seokjin doubts it will. He has confidence in his… abilities. Maybe he can’t be a visual anymore, but he still has years worth of vocal training, and he considers himself okay at dancing. It’s fine.

As long as he believes in himself, in his company, in his future, as long as he retains a positive outlook--everything will be fine. That was one thing Yoongi had been sure about, his hand grounding Seokjin against his neck. It will be okay.

--

Monday rolls around. Seokjin kept his promise to Namjoon, didn't seek anything out all Sunday except for googling the company's opening hours (things like that slipped his mind when there were much more vivid, awful, wonderful, recent memories to replay). Jungkook helped him choose and connect a new phone to their shared plan, and gave him a few important numbers. He seemed kind of fidgety when Seokjin asked for their company's number, but Seokjin assured himself it was nothing.

Seokjin slaps his coverup on Monday morning--doesn't think about Yoongi or his party once, thank you very much--and puts on something presentable. Better than what he'd usually wear to the company. It feels like a re-audition and he's not even there yet.

Seokjin remembers standing in front of a judge with dark, greedy eyes, sizing up exactly how valuable he'd be to them.

Seokjin decides to leave early, wanting to get the whole thing over with. He'd rather get the good news sooner, instead of waiting all day. Less nerves to sort through. He drives halfway across the city, and parks in the parking garage of a new building with a familiar logo boasted on the side, paradoxical.

It's--tall. Taller. More windows. Expensive.

Seokjin blows out the breath that's stuck in his chest. He's got chills, anxiety creeping up on him. He tells himself that there's nothing to worry about. He'd had an okay company, especially compared to the others. They may have stopped investing in girl groups after a single scandal, but they… had let him eat a lot, when he was alive. They'd given Jungkook and Namjoon lots of lines. Kept them happy. It should be fine.

Seokjin nods to himself. With that thought, he gets out of the car, ignoring the memory of Namjoon's weird attitude and hesitance that keeps nudging its way to the front of his mind.

It takes a long time to get to the main entrance of the building, enough for Seokjin to become deeply unsettled again. Something about the energy of the place just feels off. It's colder, and as much as he knows that logo, everything just feels too foreign for him to get comfortable.

Walking through the front doors is even weirder, three receptionists lined up on the side, behind a long counter. Seokjin recognizes one of them, and goes to smile, but when they meet eyes, she looks down. Her hair hides her expression, but her shoulders are tense. It's not promising.

Seokjin decides to approach the one closest to the door. He smiles at Seokjin pleasantly, wearing a pristine white button-up. His hair is styled back handsomely.

"Hello, sir. How can I help you today? Do you have an appointment?" he greets.

Seokjin shifts from foot to foot. He should have prepared more for this. He steps up to the counter, bracing one arm on the marble. "I don't have an appointment," he says. "But, I, well. I used to work here."

"Did you?" the man asks. He tilts his head a little, agreeable, but his tone is… condescending.

"Yes," Seokjin says. He feels his skin crawl. He was one of their biggest stars before he passed. This… doesn't feel right. "I'm Kim Seokjin. I used to be a part of Young, with Kim Namjoon and Jeon Jungkook. I was a--a vocalist."

The receptionist purses his lips. "Sir, that's not very funny."

Seokjin blinks. He looks to the woman he recognized, but her eyes are trained on the floor in front of her. "It's not a joke," Seokjin says.

"Sir," the receptionist scoffs. He gestures behind himself, to--

To framed picture of Seokjin on the wall. A little black ribbon tied around the upper right corner.

"Kim Seokjin died three years ago, on the night of the Rising." He rolls his eyes.

Seokjin was so in his head that he didn't notice the picture behind him, or the other framed pictures--managers, trainees. Idols. Victims of the Rising. It snatches the breath out of his chest.

"No--well, I did, but--" Seokjin starts, but the receptionist raises a hand.

There's cruelty in his eyes when he speaks next. "Sir, I'm sorry to say… But the Kim Seokjin-hyungnim that this company knew and loved is long gone. Forever." A smile curls on his lips. "It's quite rude of you to come here without an appointment and pretend you have some kind of authority. You may resemble hyungnim, but TOP Entertainment doesn't stoop so low as to hire look-alikes. You should be ashamed, sir."

It feels like the floor is collapsing underneath Seokjin's feet. "I…" he says, but it's hollow. He can't--he can't think. He doesn't understand.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave," the receptionist says. "The door is behind you."

Seokjin drags his eyes back to the female receptionist. She stares at him openly now, silent, collected horror rounding out her eyes and making the lines under them dent deeper into her skin. She presses her lips together and turns away, swallowing hard.

"Sir," the receptionist says, more forceful this time. "If you do not leave in the next minute, I will call the authorities." He reaches forward and squeezes Seokjin's arm, forcing it off the counter. "I don't think they'd react very courteously to… your kind… harassing one of the living."

"I--" Seokjin blinks rapidly. His breath trembles.

"...Okay."

And he leaves.

--

"I… You're not who you used to be, Seokjin-ssi," Yoongi says. His eyebrows furrow, and he looks down like he's remembering something painful. When he looks up again, his eyes have hardened. "The faster you learn that, the better."

--

Seokjin sits alone his car for an hour, staring down the hood and over Seoul's skyline. He hears his phone buzz on the seat next to him, but ignores it, pulling his knees up to his chest.

Seokjin knew when he left the treatment center that things would be hard. The building didn’t exist in a bubble, neither did the workers, and there were constant whispers of the outside. How the undead were being received, their standard of living, the protests and violence that popped up in every city. Seokjin knew this, and still. He expected--he didn’t expect anything. He didn’t think about it at all. He just… assumed he could go back and be happy, especially after seeing those gifts, after Jungkook and Namjoon were so happy to see him.

Ah--Jungkook and Namjoon. Seokjin clenches his teeth.

When Seokjin gets home, he shuts his bedroom door firmly behind him. He sits on his bed and stares at the walls and everything decorating them, and when he can't stand seeing that anymore, he lays under the covers to sleep.

Jungkook knocks on his door a few times, hesitant little raps that Seokjin stubbornly doesn't respond to. Jungkook peeks inside, sits besides him once and tries to say something, but Seokjin isn't listening.

There’s a hollow feeling radiating from the center of his chest, so dark and deep that it could swallow him whole. It colors his vision dark, makes him hate everything around him, and at the same, causes him to feel like a petulant child.

Why didn't they tell him?

Was it really so hard to just--give him a heads up? They were weird about it, sure, and Namjoon tried to tell him to stay home or whatever, but they could have said something real. At least a, "Hyung… you won't be received very well," or a, "You shouldn't, cause our company fucking hates the undead." Something Seokjin would have actually paid attention to. Something that could have saved him the microaggression and threat that fucking receptionist radiated.

Seokjin doesn't want to be angry at them. After everything they saw during the Rising? A year from hell? Jungkook hasn't had any bad flashbacks or freak outs because of Seokjin, thank god, and Seokjin doesn't want to send him into one by yelling and getting angry. The last thing Seokjin wants is for his family to be scared of him.

...Namjoon and Jungkook are all Seokjin has left.

To be honest, Seokjin feels scared. He doesn’t know what’s in his future anymore. Even though TOP Entertainment isn’t the only company that exists or sponsors idols, Seokjin knows in his gut that they also aren’t the only company that shuns the undead. He feels overwhelmed by the sudden wall that’s been built in front of him, made of thick glass that he can’t break but he can see through. He can see what he wants--it just feels impossible to get to it.

When Jungkook comes in, again, three days into Seokjin's isolation, Seokjin tugs the blanket over his head. He curls up and faces away from Jungkook, still frustrated and still confused and still feeling betrayed, but not wanting to expose himself.

Jungkook asks if Seokjin wants to play a round of Mario, or at least sit with them while they eat. He nudges against Seokjin's leg where he sits, his warmth seeping through the blanket and Seokjin's pants. Every word sounds unsure, like Seokjin is going to burst from under the covers and scream in his face, and it just makes Seokjin hate it more.

"No," Seokjin says. It comes out more angry than he wanted, and he's sure Jungkook hears it.

But Jungkook doesn't address it. He just sits there for a second, picking at Seokjin's blanket, before saying, "Okay," low and resigned. He leaves the room, closing the door softly behind him.

Seokjin stays under the covers, focusing on breathing in and out, in and out, closing his eyes to keep calm. Fuck, he hates this. He wants to talk to them about it but he doesn't really want to talk to them at all. He… he needs to leave. He needs to get up and do something.

Seokjin searches for his phone, feeling around on the bed and his nightstand. He snaps the covers off, scrolling through his contacts for Jimin's number and calling him.

It rings once before Jimin picks up with a cheery, "Hey, hyung! What's up?"

Seokjin slides a hand over his eyes, breathing out. He doesn't really know how to begin this conversation.

"Hyungie?" Jimin asks, when Seokjin doesn't say anything. There's shifting, and Seokjin hears Jimin close a door. "Is something wrong?"

"Jimin, I… I need your help," Seokjin mumbles.

Seokjin tells Jimin what happened. Jimin doesn’t seem particularly surprised--he still has his wits, unlike Seokjin, who feels childish and, god, guilty, no matter how much he wishes he didn't--but he’s certainly angry, if his threat to eat the receptionist’s ear is anything to go by.

Jimin is angry, but he doesn’t think this is the end.

“It’s difficult, hyung, I won’t lie to you,” Jimin says. “But there are ways to succeed. There are people currently succeeding. Taehyung recently got a movie deal. There are undead idols, even idol groups made of solely undead members. I know you want to be with Namjoon and Jungkook, hyung, but… being an undead solo artist is also an option.”

Seokjin turns on his side in bed, playing with the nail on his thumb. Jimin is right; Seokjin wants to perform with Namjoon and Jungkook. They mean the most to him. But… he’s not against going solo. If it will give him what he wants, he can make it work.

He’s just never really heard of anyone being successful and undead. “That scares me, Jimin-ah,” Seokjin mumbles, hating to admit it.

Jimin clicks his tongue. “That’s just because you haven’t seen it happen with your own two eyes. You were also surrounded by like, the worst people possible for undead self-confidence, hyung. The people in Cheongsong will literally destroy any hope you have in your future.”

Jimin isn’t wrong.

“I’ll bring you to a concert, hyungie,” Jimin says, though that part sounds more like a question. “Then you’ll see. You can be undead and well-loved. You can be undead and perform.”

--

The concert venue is loud, and packed as fuck. The stadium can fit twenty thousand people, but it feels like a thousand more snuck in, lining the walls and shouting so loud that the sound rings in his ears. Seokjin is squished between Jimin and five young women with glowing lightsticks, shouting at the top of their lungs. Seokjin loves their passion.

Jimin bought them tickets to some group going by the name Undead Collected. It’s a joint concert, various artists with their own brands performing under the one name. That’s all Jimin told him, a devious grin on his face as he drove them to the venue.

Seokjin enjoys every artist that appears on stage, mostly rappers or duets between soulful singers, done up professionally with as little concealment of their skin as possible. A female rapper starts off her performance in several layers, taking them off as her songs progress until she’s left with her pants and bra, shoes kicked off into the crowd. There’s one dance performance set to a haunting, hollow synth track, which sucks Seokjin in and leaves him in terrified awe.

The crowd eats it up, screaming their lungs out for each and every artist, fanchants and sobs and cheers melting into one huge roar. Seokjin joins in eventually, pumping his fist in the air as he’s caught up in the elation of the audience. Jimin bumps into his side, loops an arm around him so they can jump together to a DJ and his house music.

When the MC announces the final act for the night, Seokjin can’t hear over the sudden skyrocketing volume. Girls around them scream until their throats are raw, and a deep, deep bass cuts through the stadium.

The dark, minor tones are a heavy blanket over the noise, higher trap beats floating over their heads, and Seokjin feels his heart speed up as Min Yoongi rises from beneath the stage.

"Holy shit," Seokjin breathes.

Seokjin steals a glance at Jimin, but Jimin is yelling his head off for Yoongi--and of course he is. Jimin knew exactly what he was doing when he bought these tickets. Yoongi hadn't mentioned anything about being a performer when they spoke, but Seokjin guesses he didn’t really have the chance.

Yoongi lets out a deep chuckle, and Seokjin’s eyes snap to him. He starts his verse. Seokjin can feel the bass thrumming in his veins, feels the beat with his whole body, and Yoongi takes his breath away. His presence is binding, steps strong and lips and lungs spitting lyrics so rough and deep that chills run down Seokjin’s spine.

Yoongi owns the stage. There's fire in his eyes; he bleeds energy and skill with every verse. His movements force the crowd to keep their eyes on him, enraptured.

Yoongi's lyrics speed up, getting dirty, an obvious diss at someone from his past. He tells them to suck his dick or get a life, and he smirks at the crowd while he says it, voice goes teasing. Everyone screams around Seokjin--Seokjin has never been in a crowd that’s so fucking alive when they’re all dead.

Yoongi raps about struggle and hardship, condescension, depression, violence, fear, things that resonate with Seokjin so deeply that his hairs stand on end.

But his music gets progressively positive. The subject moves to triumph. Yoongi uses his story as a beacon, assuring his audience that they can achieve what they want and they will find happiness and fuck everyone who tells them that it's not possible.

Watching Yoongi walk around, interact with fans and make them move their heads with a single sweep of his hand--Seokjin is reminded of his own time on stage. He was never really alone, Jungkook or Namjoon always by his side, and there was a lot more dancing involved, but the fans, their outpouring of love, their screams that always broke through Seokjin's earpieces and filled him with joy...

Everything that felt so unattainable yesterday, Yoongi has it. He's living proof that Seokjin can achieve what he wants, that he shouldn't give up. Yoongi stands on a stage surrounded by twenty thousand people screaming his name and his lyrics, undead, unbothered, and seemingly unbreakable.

The last song ends with a verse sung between himself and the audience. It's smooth, free of the marrow-deep anger from the beginning. Everyone waves an arm through the air, singing high, their lightsticks moving back and forth in tandem. It's uplifting, a message of pure hope, and Seokjin feels his throat close up. His eyes burn. He hides his mouth behind his hand, teeth clenched to keep them from chattering.

People around him are openly sobbing, even without tears shed. Seokjin wants to do the same, but his eyes are locked on Yoongi, and Yoongi isn't crying; he's smiling, bright and happy, looking his audience in the face while they sing with him.

And then its over. Yoongi walks backstage, waving, blows a final kiss with two fingers, and he's gone. There are screams and applause, a few shouts for encore, but the lights turn on and yes, it is over.

Seokjin's ears are ringing. He's still reeling from the overwhelming joy that concerts bring him, onstage or offstage, when Jimin tugs on his hand, leading him further into the venue. Jimin hands Seokjin a lanyard while he's stumbling over his feet to keep up. When they get to a stop in front of security, Seokjin reads the bold letters on the front--V.I.P.

"Are we--are we seeing...?" Seokjin can't really finish his thought as he's ushered backstage, but Jimin's giggle tells him everything he needs to know.

Yoongi comes out from behind a curtain, still in his stage outfit. There's a small group of young undead people waiting to meet and talk to him. Jimin and Seokjin stand to the side casually, watching as Yoongi chats and signs autographs, smiling in selfies. Despite all of Yoongi's energy and jumping on stage, he is pristine, stage makeup in perfect condition and not a single hair out of place. Seokjin remembers belatedly that the undead don't sweat, or even bleed, but he's still in awe of him.

When he talked to Yoongi at the party, Yoongi didn't say anything about being in the industry. Seokjin could have connected the dots based on who was even there, but he had been distracted. Yoongi, who was such a solid presence when it was the two of them, transformed into a force of nature on stage. Seokjin hasn't performed in years, but he knows that such captivating artists are few and far between.

Eventually the fans are escorted out, leaving Jimin, Seokjin and Yoongi alone.

"How did you guys like the concert?" Yoongi asks.

"I think hyung almost cried," Jimin says with a little smirk.

Seokjin sputters. "I--We--It's impossible for me to cry!"

Yoongi smiles at him, the brightness reaching his eyes. "But you enjoyed it?" he asks.

"You were so good, Yoongi-hyung!" Jimin says. Seokjin nods in agreement, unable to put his thoughts into words. All he feels is an irrepressible sense of admiration.

Jimin is about to say something more, when his phone rings. Seokjin looks to him as he takes it out and reads the caller ID. He sends a sheepish smile to Yoongi and Seokjin. "It’s Hoseokie, I gotta, you know," he starts, gestures helplessly and darts away.

Yoongi and Seokjin are alone.

Seokjin swallows, hoping Yoongi doesn't catch it. He rests his weight on one foot and holds his hands behind his back, ignoring the sudden flutter in his chest. Surely anyone who saw Yoongi on stage feels the way Seokjin does now, when left alone with him.

Yoongi looks at Seokjin in the face, and says, gentle, "I heard you lost your label."

It sobers him. "I did," he says, quiet.  

Seokjin honestly expects an I told you so from Yoongi. Yoongi was someone who, surely, knew what Seokjin was going to get when he walked into that entertainment company. Yoongi probably would have told him straight to his face that he would be refused. Maybe if Seokjin had mentioned it when they first met, in detail, he would have been dissuaded.

But Yoongi answers in empathy. "The same happened to me, when I came back," he admits. "I did okay before, with music, but the company was too concerned about appearances… especially so soon. They told me no one wanted to see zombies perform." Yoongi snorts. "I think they got that one wrong."

Yoongi's easy confidence--Seokjin wants to know how he does it, how he managed to pull himself together, through the nightmares and hatefulness and the fear of the unknown.

"I know it's difficult, Seokjin-ssi," Yoongi says, like he can read Seokjin's mind. "It's really, really hard, coming back. Everything's changed and sometimes it feels like no one understands you, or they hate you and wish you never came back at all." Yoongi furrows his eyebrows. "Sometimes you feel like you should have never come back, either."

Seokjin presses his lips together.

"That's… why I do what I do," Yoongi shrugs one shoulder. "Concerts, parties… they're mostly the same for me. A place for people to not feel so alone."

"That's really noble," Seokjin says, but Yoongi shakes his head.

"I'm not trying to be some kind of savior," he says. "I have a voice, I should use it."

Seokjin smiles. Noble and selfless, huh?

"It works," Seokjin says. Yoongi looks at him, questioning, so Seokjin continues, "When I was at your party, I was overwhelmed, but… I did feel less alone."

Yoongi seems to glow. "Thank fuck," he says, and then coughs to cover to his reaction. "I mean, I'm happy to hear that." Yoongi rubs his neck. He breathes out, seems to steel himself. "You know, Seokjin-ssi, if you. If you ever need anything. You don't have to wait for a party. I could just… give you my number, instead."

Seokjin blinks in surprise. For a second he's immensely grateful he's undead, otherwise his ears would be bright red.

"I won't always talk about this kind of thing. I just thought, like… it might be good if you have more than just Jimin as an undead presence in your life." Yoongi shrugs, looking like he might retract the offer if Seokjin doesn't respond soon enough.

"I--Yeah," Seokjin stutters. "Yeah, sure, that. That would be cool."

"I'm going on tour but, like, we can like talk on the phone or something. I'm not great at texting..."

And they exchange numbers.

--

Seokjin has a long discussion with Namjoon and Jungkook the day after the concert. He tells them that they can't just--keep things from him. They can't try to shelter him from whatever horrible state the world is in, because he'll get hurt either way. There can't be any more sugar coating, not when it comes to what he loves. Not when it comes to his future.

The both of them look seriously guilty, and apologize. Seokjin forgives them, because he understands how they must feel and also because he really doesn't want to give them the silent treatment anymore. If he has four people in his life, he wants to have a strong relationship with each and every one of them.

Namjoon says he'll call people from other labels and get more information about PDS sufferers in the industry. Jungkook offers to help Seokjin look for PDS-friendly companies, which is a little surprising. Seokjin assumed, wrongfully he supposes, that Jungkook would want to distance himself from the undead as much as possible.

It's more the opposite.

"Hyung, when our contract is up, we'll leave the company, too," Jungkook says. He rests a hand over Seokjin's while Seokjin researches FM Entertainment's policies on the undead. "We'll leave and we'll join you. And we can collaborate again. We can be a group again."

Seokjin wants it more than he dares to admit. He just smiles at Jungkook and writes notes down about FM.

--

Seokjin stays in contact with Yoongi, who is, in fact, very bad at texting. For every two or three messages Seokjin sends, Yoongi sends back one. He's not dry, really--he's active in conversation, asks questions. He just doesn't have much to really say.

It still helps.

Jimin and Yoongi are like two sides of a coin. Jimin texts Seokjin a lot, calls him nearly every day to help with whatever he can or invite him out. Seokjin doesn't feel embarrassed sending Jimin a selfie or two. With Yoongi, he talks to him on the phone much less, for a much shorter time, a little check in that leaves Seokjin feeling satisfied. It takes a little more courage to send Yoongi a selfie--especially when Yoongi responds more to when Seokjin has less coverup on--but he does it regardless. A quick morning pic of half his face never hurt anybody.

Seokjin still can't look at himself in the mirror for long without his cover-up on, avoids his own eyes when he has his contacts out, but Jimin and Yoongi's positivity makes him feel a little bit more comfortable. It's progress.

Yoongi's satisfaction with himself and his appearance inspires Seokjin, probably more than Yoongi realizes. Seeing Yoongi chase his dreams gives Seokjin the confidence to not give up on his own. Yoongi went from relative anonymity to selling out tens of thousands of seats. He worked harder than Seokjin to get where he did. Seokjin... just needs a new label.

He keeps looking, in Korea, in Hong Kong and Japan, in China. Places not too far away, that seem okay enough, pay and treat their artists well enough. None of the biggest companies seem to allow any kind of undead in, as trainees or otherwise. That's fine. Seokjin keeps looking.

--

Yoongi takes a small break from his tour after a few weeks, comes back to Seoul.

Seokjin wishes him a nice few days of relaxation over KKT, fully expecting Yoongi to want to rest by himself. He's spending his time with at least five other acts making up the collective, in close quarters at all times, on top of texting Seokjin and others whenever he can. Of course Yoongi would want some time alone.

Except, Yoongi texts him the second day he's home, a simple:

Min Yoongi [11:46]
hyung, wanna come over?

Seokjin almost drops his phone when he reads it. He doesn't have any plans for the day, outside of the low-motivation task of searching companies' policies, so--so it's perfect. There's no reason he should say no.

Kim Seokjin [11:50]
Aren't you tired? From tour?

Kim Seokjin [11:50]
Don't you wanna sleep more?

Yoongi is always complaining about how little sleep he gets on planes and in cars, and how much he misses his bed. He told Seokjin how they had a free day on tour to do whatever they wanted, and Yoongi spent it entirely inside the hotel, in bed.

Min Yoongi [12:00]
not really

Kim Seokjin [12:02]
Who are you and what have you done with my sweet Min "I want to be a rock in my next life" Yoongi?

Min Yoongi [12:24]
just come over

--

Seokjin spends more time on his outfit that he'd like to admit. He's not really sure what to expect, so he dresses as he normally would, maybe lays off just the slightest bit on the coverup. He doesn't think it's that noticeable, but he feels proud of himself regardless. Jungkook and Namjoon are working, so he locks the door behind himself when he exits, calling a taxi to the address Yoongi texts him.

Yoongi answers the door in a hoodie and sweatpants, house slippers on his feet. He welcomes Seokjin with a little smile, beckoning him in. He doesn't offer food, like a human would, or point out the bathrooms, because neither of them ever really need to relieve themselves. Yoongi just sits down on the couch and pats the space next to him, looking through the options on his smart TV.

"What are you in the mood for, hyung?" Yoongi asks. The selection service hovers over Netflix, but Yoongi drops the remote into his lap to look at Seokjin.

"It's your rest day, isn't it?" Seokjin tilts his head a little. "Shouldn't you pick?"

"Indecisive," Yoongi answers. He sifts through the options again, pulling his feet up onto the couch and wrapping an arm around his ankles.

Seokjin takes the time to look over Yoongi's apartment. It has a different vibe when it's just them, mostly clean, cool but personal, too. There are expensive figurines on some of the shelves, a few articles of clothing here and there. Yoongi's couch is comfy. His furniture isn't overly modern, not trying to look a particular style; it's just nice and black, simple.

When Seokjin looks over the black TV stand, his eyes catch on a white, familiar box.

"You--you still have a Wii?" he asks.

Yoongi blinks. He meets Seokjin's eyes. "I, uh, I don't really play it… I'm not any good at it."

"But you have games?" This is something familiar, that Seokjin knows. He feels his excitement building.

"Well, yeah." Yoongi seems a bit taken aback. He gets up and walks to the TV stand, opening up one of the cabinets to reveal a shelf of games. Seokjin joins him, crouching down. He laughs when he notices a good few of them are still in their plastic wrapping.

“Yoongi-yah, you--you have Naruto games in here,” Seokjin laughs in disbelief. He looks up at Yoongi with a bright smile. Just, wow--Yoongi who hosts parties, Yoongi who dominates the stage, owning unplayed Naruto games.

Yoongi looks embarrassed. “That--That was given to me.”

Sure.” Seokjin snickers. He takes out Yoongi’s copies of Smash Bros and Just Dance, setting them on the free area on the TV stand.

“I don’t know how to play,” Yoongi admits nervously.

“It’s okay! I’ll teach you.”

It takes an hour for Yoongi to get a hang of Smash. Seokjin goes easy on him, the familiar weight in his hand bringing back every secret (dumb) technique he learned. Yoongi pouts and gives up half the times his character gets kicked off screen, but Seokjin’s gentle encouragement makes him pick up the controller again.

When they switch to Just Dance, Yoongi groans. He flops around the couch, saying stuff about rest, not be able to move, “I worked so hard hyung, please.” Seokjin ignores him and goes through the songs.

“These are so old,” Seokjin giggles.

“They’re much older to me than they are to you.” Yoongi’s voice is muffled by the couch.

“Yoongi they have Vocaloid on here,” Seokjin saws in awe. He hovers over Popipo by Hatsune Miku, her high, robotic voice tumbling out of Yoongi’s speakers.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“We’re playing this,” Seokjin says, ignoring him. He tosses Yoongi his controller back, standing up and bouncing on his feet.

Yoongi heaves a sigh. He gets up, complaining all the way, and puts zero effort into their performance. Seokjin shakes his hips and waves his arms in perfect idol fashion, half singing the Japanese lyrics, grinning the whole time. When he glances at the score, he sees the little crown over Yoongi’s icon.

“Wha--Hey! How are you winning?!” Seokjin shouts incredulously.

Yoongi just laughs, moving himself in the most low-effort way possible.

Seokjin dances harder. By the end of the song, he’s panting, leaning over on his knees, but at least he’s the winner.

Seokjin looks at Yoongi triumphantly, stands straight, and Yoongi looks back with a soft, happy expression, one that makes Seokjin’s heart flutter a little in his chest. Seokjin doesn’t expect it. He looks away immediately after they’ve met eyes, trying to calm himself down. Yoongi… god. He’s so glad he’s not blushing.

“Rematch, rematch,” Yoongi says, reaching over to take Seokjin’s Player 1 controller. Seokjin can’t really say no, nor does he want to.

--

It becomes a thing. When Yoongi has time, he asks Seokjin over. It's usually spent casually, Yoongi in house clothes and barefaced when he answers the door. They watch movies, play games. Sometimes Yoongi asks Seokjin if he wants to visit Yoongi's studio and watch him produce or record. It's not that Seokjin has never seen these things before, and he tells Yoongi so.

Yoongi admits, quietly, that it's nice having Seokjin around. Maybe he doesn't have a huge presence in his life, but time spent with him is nice. He can relax a little more around Seokjin.

Yoongi, of course, says this to Seokjin's face, and watches him gape like a damn fish in response. His smug little smirk makes Seokjin want to whine and complain that he can't just say things like that, hit him playfully on the arm and then beat his ass in Mario Kart.

They only seem to hang out more, Jimin complaining at one point that, "Yoongi-hyung always books you ahead! He's stealing you away from me!" which is--ridiculous. It's utterly ridiculous. (Right?)

Seokjin comes over after a long day of research, his brain exhausted. "I've been looking for a label for so long, Yoongi-yah, hyung is tired." Seokjin plops his head against the cushion of the couch, closing his eyes to rest.

Yoongi hums once, short and thoughtful. "Why don't you just join mine?"

What.

"What." Seokjin says.

"I know it's small, hyung, and maybe you're against severing yourself from the living management, but--my label pays well. I run it and facilitate artistry--you'd have a lot of freedom. It would be good." Yoongi doesn't seem all that nervous to be offering up his company, his tone nonchalant like he's suggesting a fast food restaurant to buy food from.

But Seokjin--he can't. Can he? Seokjin doesn't really know. He feels good with Yoongi, really, really good, and he knows Yoongi would treat him and his craft right. it's just… is it unprofessional? Is it dangerous? Will it cost him more than it gets him?

Does he even deserve it?

Seokjin doesn't know.

--

Seokjin's friendship with Yoongi grows, as does his with Jimin. Eventually he adds Taehyung to his contacts list, then Hoseok, more people part of his little bubble called home. They're wonderful, every one of them, but Seokjin feels transfixed on Yoongi. He feels like a grade schooler with his first crush again, except his crush keeps asking him to hang out and likes making him flustered. Which is… well.

The more time Seokjin spends with Yoongi, the more he feels drawn to him.

The more he watches Yoongi's hands, tentative against a gaming controller, steady playing beats on a piano, strong on his back or his wrist, the more he wants to hold them.

The more he sees Yoongi's smirk, the little twinkle in his eye or his gums when he beams, the more he wants to kiss him.

Even more, the more Seokjin sees Yoongi's face, uncovered, scarred and grey and so, so handsome... the more Seokjin wants to stop hiding his own.

This is… this is complicated. Or maybe it's not, but--to Seokjin it feels like one of the highest walls he's ever seen.

--

Weeks go by, job searching and dancing around Yoongi's label while his feelings just grow stronger.

Seokjin wears less and less makeup, tentatively. He doesn't count how many layers he puts on, nor the strokes of the little sponge, but he does feel satisfied looking at himself when there is visibly less coverup hiding his skin. Seokjin doesn't want to say he feels more satisfied with himself with less on, that's a line he doesn't feel ready to cross yet, but… he can nod at his reflection and say he looks okay. He can accept himself little by little.

(And Yoongi is proud of him; Seokjin can see it in his pleased smile when they meet, his fingers trailing across the hem of his shirt.)

Namjoon accepts what's happening without a word--he's kind of just like that, letting people do their thing unless it hurts them or the people around them--but, Jungkook mentions it.

They're sitting on the couch, Seokjin reading a manga while Jungkook slurps down cereal and casts some YouTube video onto their TV. Seokjin's halfway through the book when Jungkook gets up to put his dish away. Seokjin fully expects Jungkook to get back into the video when he picks up the remote again, but he doesn't. He seems to stare at Seokjin, nudging their feet together, and then he asks, "Hyung, have you… have you been getting paler, recently?"

For a good second, Seokjin panics, freezing where he holds up his manga. He lifts his head to look at Jungkook, notes the lack of aggression or fear in his features, and tries to swallow his anxiety. It must be the natural light in the room that makes Jungkook ask, that or the clear lack of excess makeup rubbing off onto Seokjin's clothes.

His head hits the couch pillow with a small thump. "Ah, no… hyungie is just really tired lately. I've been wearing less coverup." Seokjin flips his page in the manga, but doesn't read a single word off the page.

Jungkook's toes wiggle against Seokjin's, and he makes a thoughtful noise.

"Hm. Alright."

Jungkook lays his head back against the armrest, stares up at the ceiling, and after a few more page flips, he resumes his video.

--

It falls apart.

Seokjin usually wakes up early, before Namjoon or Jungkook get up, showers and puts his face on. He relaxes in the living room or at the table, watching the sun rise out the windows. He greets who ever shuffles in with quiet affection. He does this every day, without fail, for the few months he's been home.

So, Jungkook may see Seokjin wearing less and less coverup, "getting paler," but he hasn't ever seen Seokjin with nothing on at all.

Except for when Seokjin attacked him during the Rising.

Seokjin hates thinking about it. He feels ashamed. He honestly, honestly hates himself for it. If he had just died, he wouldn't have had to worry about it. He wouldn't have to dredge up any trauma just by--by existing as he is. Seokjin thinks, a lot of the time, he's being selfish. Reinserting himself into Namjoon and Jungkook's lives after everything that happened, telling them what to do and how to treat him. He argues with himself about the coverup every time he looks at it; he hurt Jungkook, so the least he can do is wear this. The least he can do is bury any connection to what happened, and make sure Jungkook lives a normal, healing, uninhibited life.

If that means Seokjin can't comfort him in the middle of the night, when Jungkook wakes up from nightmares--that's fine. Namjoon has handled it far longer, and knows what Jungkook needs. Jungkook doesn't need Seokjin scaring him even more.

So, of course. Of course, the one time Seokjin wakes up late, it's Jungkook that's up. When Seokjin turns over in his bed and sees that he woke up three hours past his normal time, when he darts out of the room, completely barefaced, not even a contact in, of course--of course.

Seokjin crashes into Jungkook, who's still barely half awake, rams his fucking shoulder into Jungkook's arm and sends him stumbling. Jungkook looks back, in confusion and then in outright horror. His eyes go wide and terrified and a strangled gasp leaves his throat.

Seokjin takes a step back. He feels cold fear shoot through his entire body, the last thing he ever wanted to happen coming to life right in front of him. He immediately tries to comfort Jungkook, one arm outstretched, but Jungkook is already crying, scrambling away like Seokjin is some kind of monster that's going to rip his flesh from his bones while he screams in agony.

Seokjin tries to cover his face, turn away at least, but Jungkook is begging through his tears, "Get away get away get away--get away from me, please, please ! Put--put your--!"

Namjoon comes out of his room, half dressed, barely says "What's going o--" before Seokjin locks himself in the bathroom.

He can hear Jungkook sobbing through the door, loud and afraid, Namjoon's footsteps and then his comfort, leading Jungkook away. Seokjin wants to cry or scream, curl up in a fucking ball or maybe even kill himself. He sits against the door, pressing his back hard into the wood and clutches his hair so tight it hurts. He's such a fucking idiot. He really thought he could live with them and--and everything would be fine. He was clearly fucking delusional.

Seokjin stands up, glares at his reflection. This was a mistake. But he has no one but himself to blame.

Seokjin puts his contacts in, layers four coats of mousse on, makes sure every centimeter of pale, undead skin is covered. He doesn't care if it gets on his pajamas, stains his hair or will be a bitch to get off before bed. He can't send his fist through the mirror, he can only cover up the mistake that his fucking appearance is.

There's a soft knock on the door, Namjoon's voice carrying hesitance even as it's muffled by the wood. "Hyung?"

All the fight leaves Seokjin at once. He bows his head, squeezing his eyes shut.

"Are you okay, hyung?" Namjoon asks.

Seokjin sobs, dry, his stomach lurching with the force of it.

"Hyung," Namjoon mumbles, shaken. "Let me in." He wiggles the doorknob, but it's locked.

Seokjin grits his teeth. He takes a deep breath, large enough to lift his shoulders. He takes one last, hard look at himself in the mirror, then opens the door. It swings open, slowly.

Seokjin meets Namjoon's eyes, sick. Namjoon whimpers another, "Hyung," distressed by Seokjin's appearance, but, hah, who wouldn't be?

"How is Jungkook," Seokjin asks, like he's afraid to say it.

"He's calmed down," Namjoon says. He seems hesitant to touch Seokjin. Seokjin warps it into Namjoon being afraid of him, too. He wouldn't blame him. "He's sorry for exploding at you."

Seokjin furrows his eyebrows at the sudden pain in his heart. "It's not his fault," he says, shaking his head. Why should Jungkook apologize when it was Seokjin who made the mistake?

"It's not your fault, either," Namjoon says. Seokjin scoffs. "He… he wants to talk to you."

Seokjin follows Namjoon into the main part of their apartment. He clutches his hands together, bowing his head, trying to make himself smaller, less intimidating. He's not in Hell anymore, he doesn't need to, but--fuck. He can't make this any worse.

Jungkook is sitting red-eyed at the kitchen table, his knees pulled up to his chest. He plays with the bottom hem of his pajama pants, staring hollowly at the table, and--Seokjin made him like this. He hates it so much, he just wants to disappear.

Jungkook looks up when Namjoon and Seokjin approach. He sits up straight, fists in his lap, and looks miserable once he sees Seokjin's face. Seokjin doesn't know if it's him or if it's his appearance.

"I'm sorry Jungkookie," Seokjin whispers. "I tried… I tried." He can't finish the thought, guilt overwhelming him. He tried so hard to let Jungkook live peacefully. Now look what's happened.

"Hyung, no," Jungkook says. He actually stands, surprising Seokjin, and comes forward. Seokjin can't look at him. "It was just a mistake. I was just--shocked, that's all. It's okay. You didn't do anything wrong."

It doesn't feel like that. "I exposed you to something that you should never have to see again," Seokjin whispers.

"You?" Jungkook asks, incredulously. He tugs on Seokjin's sleeve, a deep frown on his face. "Never seeing you again? I don't want that, hyung. I would never want that."

Seokjin feels so miserable. He's doing everything wrong. "I'm sorry," he says again.

Jungkook takes Seokjin by the shoulders. He leans to look at Seokjin's face, earnest. "Listen to me, hyung," Jungkook says. "I love you, no matter what you look like. Pale or with makeup on, undead or living, I still love you. You died, in my arms, hyung. I thought I lost you, and when you came back--I was so happy. Knowing you were out there during the Rising is what kept me going. Seeing you again--just sitting on our couch like you weren't gone for years, I--I don't want you gone. I don't care if you put a ten coats of coverup on or--none at all, even if I'm not used to it. As long as you're here."

Seokjin swallows thickly. He didn't expect this at all. He honestly thought Jungkook was going to look at him and start crying again, or blame him, or something else along those lines. He's overwhelmed by Jungkook's sincerity, feels undeserving of it.

But when Jungkook urges Seokjin, "Okay?" Seokjin just nods, pulling Jungkook into a tight, desperate hug and whispering, "Okay."

--

Despite Jungkook's assurances, Seokjin spirals down. He hates himself more than ever, sets more alarms to wake up to so it doesn't happen again. He goes back to wearing enough cover up that it rubs off on his clothes. It's worse than when Seokjin came back from Cheongsong; then, he wore enough to look like a normal human being. Now, he looks like a human being with too much makeup on, and it's--it's kind of gross.

Seokjin arrives at Yoongi's apartment a few times like that, his face so layered with makeup that there's still more left when he wipes at it. It's messy, and Seokjin feels like it's ruining his skin, but it comforts Jungkook (he thinks). Seokjin doesn't want to put him through any more trauma than he already has.

Seokjin knows he's hiding himself. He knows this is the last thing Yoongi wants for him. He just--he can't stand looking at himself, knowing that what stares back is the thing that ruined his life. It's not him. He feels disconnected, body from mind. He doesn't want to accept that this is his life now. He doesn't want to be the subject of someone's nightmares. He wants to be their warmth and comfort, handsome and alive and able to walk around with a bare face and not have parents hide him from their children's sight.

Yoongi seems kind of disappointed, though. He doesn't say anything, doesn't even act different, really, but he looks at Seokjin sometimes, long and hard, silent. He looks at his face and holds his hands, rubs the leftover foundation between his fingers when he lets go.

--

Seokjin knocks on Yoongi's door, shifting from foot to foot. It's cold out tonight, the chill digging underneath Seokjin's clothes and into his skin. He didn't feel like he put as much cover up on today, but his skin itched, faint in the way that most sensations now were on his skin.

It's been over a week since Seokjin and Yoongi were able to meet, Yoongi's schedule getting busy while Seokjin searched harder for a label to take him. When they discussed meeting up, something always got in the way, and they had to reschedule. Seokjin couldn't say he wasn't disappointed. Seokjin missed Yoongi, honestly, his sly smiles and quiet way of doing things.

Seokjin perks up when he hears shuffling footsteps behind the door. Yoongi appears, in comfy, casual clothes, a black t-shirt and sweatpants. Seokjin smiles, greeting Yoongi happily.

Yoongi takes one look at him and sighs. He hangs his head, looking at the floor, and Seokjin's heart drops into his stomach. Yoongi is silent for a long moment, and when he looks up, his lips pressed together in a thin line.

"Hyung, let's… let's try something, okay?" Yoongi beckons him inside, waits for him to slip off his shoes before he leads him into the living room. His hands are large and firm on Seokjin's shoulders, a comfort. Seokjin feels nervous as he sits down, Yoongi standing in front of him.

Yoongi rubs his eyes and looks at Seokjin, brows furrowed, thinking, thinking.

"What is it?" Seokjin asks. His nervousness bleeds into his voice. He resists taking Yoongi's hand; he doesn't know if something is really wrong.

"This is just an exercise," Yoongi says. He seems hesitant, too, like he doesn't want to scare Seokjin away. "If you hate it, we don't have to do it again. That's okay. I just… I think it would help you, hyung."

There's so much care in Yoongi's eyes. Seokjin doesn't really know what he's talking about, but he nods anyway, voice thin when he says, "Okay."

Yoongi nods once, mutters, "Wait here," as he exits the room. He goes down the hall, into the bathroom, and Seokin hears the faucet turn on. When Yoongi comes back, he has a few damp washcloths in his hands.

Yoongi sits down next to Seokjin and pulls the coffee table closer. He puts two of the washcloths down, leaving one in his hands, and turns to face Seokjin. Seokjin moves so that he's facing Yoongi as well, feeling cold and half-frozen. Yoongi looks pensive, staring into Seokjin's eyes with slouched shoulders and crossed legs. He turns the cloth in his hands.

"I'm gonna take your cover-up off for you, okay?" Yoongi says quietly.

Seokjin's throat feels tight. He thinks his hands would be shaking if he were still alive. He focuses on Yoongi, on their shins pressed together and how close they're sitting.

"O-Okay."

Yoongi lifts his hand, not slowly but not fast. He makes sure Seokjin sees the cloth before it touches his face, giving him time to say no, to get up and leave if he wants.

Seokjin doesn't.

Yoongi's touch is gentle. He starts at Seokjin's cheekbone, wiping under his eye, careful with eyes intent. Seokjin can feel the slightest amount of warmth on his skin from the towel, can see the makeup left on the fabric when Yoongi pulls away slightly. It actually feels really nice, the slightly rough feeling of the wet towel versus Yoongi's careful handling, fingers resting on the side of his neck and his thumb tilting Seokjin's face up, ever so slightly.

Yoongi looks so serious, skin colored warm in the lighting of his apartment, his lips parted as he cleans the makeup off Seokjin's skin. Seokjin closes his eyes, feeling embarrassed. If he were alive, he would be bright red.

Yoongi finishes half of his face, pausing. Seokjin waits for him to swap the cloth he's using, but instead he feels Yoongi's hand cup the bare side of his face, the tips of his fingers threading into Seokjin's hair. Seokjin's breath hitches, but he doesn't dare open his eyes.

Yoongi's thumb rubs over Seokjin's cheekbone, and Seokjin resists the urge to lean into his touch. He doesn't feel warm, but not cold, either--their temperatures equalized, one and the same.

"Halfway done, hyung," Yoongi says quietly. Seokjin nods even as anxiety pulses through him.

Yoongi continues across his face with the same gentle pressure, now more confident as Seokjin hasn't tried to stop him. Yoongi's hand moves to cup the back of Seokjin's head and neck, the cloth easing the wrinkle in Seokjin's brow and the anxious line of his lips. Under his jaw and over his ears. For a heavy moment, Yoongi's hand moves over Seokjin's neck, large and sure in its movements, and Seokjin's stomach flips.

Yoongi gets everything he can, the last towel cool as it takes off any excess. Then he moves to Seokjin's hands, holding his wrist delicately while he wipes off the last bit of visible cover-up on Seokjin's being. In between his fingers, over his palms. Seokjin eyes flutter open to note the differences between their hands; Seokjin's growing paler as the mousse is removed, fingers more slender than Yoongi's and yet more angular. When Yoongi moves from one hand to the next, Seokjin rests his clean one on Yoongi's forearm. His breath shakes as it leaves him.

Yoongi finishes, wiping his own hands with the last clean part of the towel.

"Okay," he says. He runs his hands soothingly up and down Seokjin's upper arms. "Now… take your contacts out."

"Yoongi," Seokjin says, his first word in what feels like an hour. Seokjin's eyes are arguably the part of him he hates the most. The irises are ugly, shrunken things, like smashed bugs, no longer soft and dark and round like before.

"Do it for me," Yoongi says, coaxing. "I want to see."

Seokjin sighs. Yoongi's hands slide down to rest on his crossed legs. Seokjin reaches up with trembling fingers and takes his contacts out one by one, avoiding Yoongi's gaze. Even though their eyes are, really, the same, Seokjin feels ashamed. Yoongi can pull off the hot, magnetic undead look. Seokjin just… looks gaunt.

Yoongi takes the contacts from Seokjin, flicking them onto the table. Seokjin keeps his eyes trained on Yoongi's hands, face angled down so Yoongi can't see him properly.

"Look at me," Yoongi says. Seokjin can feel him lean forward, trying to catch eyes, but Seokjin shrinks away.

Yoongi takes Seokjin's face in his hands, still so gentle. He moves some of his hair away, and says again, "Please look at me."

Seokjin squeezes his eyes shut, breathes out. He opens his eyes, focusing again on what's between them, the folds in Yoongi's sweatpants, the thread of his socks. Seokjin takes hold of Yoongi's forearm, squeezing it for comfort.

When Seokjin looks up, they meet eyes. There Yoongi is, focused, piercing into Seokjin in an instant. And then Yoongi looks so happy, and his lips are curving into an encouraging smile. Yoongi chuckles a little, and Seokjin can hear the joy in it.

Seokjin's voice feels caught in his throat, but he manages an uncertain, "What?"

Yoongi licks his lips, looks down and back up at Seokjin. "Hyung, I… I know you think you look great with all that stuff on,” Yoongi huffs a little, sitting up a little straighter. “But I think you look so much more beautiful like this."

"Fuck," Seokjin says, the word half broken. He feels overwhelmed, raw and exposed.

"Not hiding," Yoongi continues, and Seokjin can't look away. "Maybe a little nervous, but--not pretending to be someone from the past. Hyung, I think you glow like this. When you look like you."

"Yoongi," Seokjin says, shaking his head. He feels all mixed up inside, his own negativity clashing with Yoongi's burning praise. He wants to believe Yoongi so, so bad. It's the only thing he wants more than to kiss him. When Seokjin speaks, he sounds on the edge of tears, but he laughs through it, needing to take the focus off him, "Yoongi, I--when I saw you for the first time, I thought you were the most attractive man I'd ever seen in my life." Seokjin laughs again. "Or in my death."

Yoongi's breath leaves him in a rush, and he's laughing, shaking his head. "You're ridiculous."

I'm in love with you, Seokjin thinks.

Yoongi smiles at him, bright and happy, and he takes his hands, squeezing. He smiles at him a little longer, then licks his lips. "Do you want to see yourself?" he asks, tentative.

Seokjin feels that hot strike of fear go through him again, but Yoongi seems so--hopeful. He remembers how he felt two weeks ago, lessening his cover-up layer by layer, feeling just a little bit better about himself when Yoongi was around. Seokjin has been avoiding his true reflection since the treatment center. It's… probably about time that he looks at his face without anything hiding it. Seokjin nods.

Yoongi stands up, tugging Seokjin with him. He leads him to the bathroom, standing behind him with his hands over his eyes. It's a little awkward because of Yoongi's shorter stature, but Seokjin can feel his breath on the back of his neck, and how close Yoongi is behind him, and he doesn't mind that very much at all.

Yoongi flicks on the bathroom light, shuffling behind him. Seokjin reaches out his hands and feels the cool surface of the bathroom counter. He stills. He feels chills running up and down and all over his body, but Yoongi is there. Despite the space in the bathroom, Yoongi stays close. His lips brush Seokjin's shoulder.

"Okay?" Yoongi asks.

"Okay," Seokjin answers. His voice shakes.

"One…"

Maybe he isn't ready for this.

"Two…"

Seokjin expects the worst.

"Three."

He expects a monster.

Yoongi slowly removes his hands, watching Seokjin's reaction. Seokjin thinks, for an instant, about closing his eyes, but then his reflection is starting back at him, scared and pale and… Seokjin. It's his black hair, his nose and lips. Considerably more grey in tone, more veiny around his eyes and where his skin gets thin, but--him. The eyes are jarring, but they do remind him of Yoongi's… and Yoongi is looking over his shoulder, hopeful and clearly proud.

"So handsome, hyung," Yoongi murmurs, reverent. His hands slide down Seokjin's arms to his hands, wrapping around them and then wrapping Seokjin in a back hug. His lips press against Seokjin's shoulder, not a kiss but just resting there. "No less gorgeous than you were before. No less talented, no less hardworking. No less."

"No less," Seokjin mumbles. And Yoongi nods, smiling with his eyes.

Seokjin looks over himself again. It's--amazing really. He knows how he looked on the day he died (good, if he does say so himself), and this looks like… a Halloween version of himself. Seokjin feels himself smile. It makes him feel better, thinking about it like that.

"Agh, hyung," Yoongi smiles. Seokjin feels Yoongi shake with silent laughter, bowing his forehead against Seokjin's shoulder.

"What is it now?" Seokjin asks incredulously.

Yoongi looks up and squeezes around Seokjin's middle. "Nothing, you just… you're so handsome when you smile, hyung."

Seokjin lets out a shocked laugh, smiling wider. He flutters inside, bows his head in embarrassment, and he just…

Seokjin turns around in Yoongi's arms, looking down into his eyes. Yoongi stares back at him, lips curved somewhere between a smirk and a smile. He has one arm around Seokjin, the other reaching up, and this time--Seokjin leans down to kiss him.

--

On Seokjin’s way home from Yoongi's apartment, barefaced and open to the world, a few things happen.

Seokjin gets stares from the living passing by, affirmed nods from the undead. He thinks, maybe, he feels a little free. He thinks he likes it. The wind is chilly but gentle against Seokjin's skin, no longer muted further by his makeup, and he likes the feeling of not hiding.

Yoongi’s words, the ones he wants to believe, circle around his head. Yoongi’s success, his outreach. His praise. His… label.

It’s really one of the best for the undead in Korea. To get a direct offer from Yoongi, however long ago that was… Seokjin thinks he might be open to taking it. It might make the future a little harder--Seokjin doesn’t think Jungkook and Namjoon will have a real easy time ending their contract with TOP Entertainment anyway, especially if it’s to leave for a mainly PDS-supporting label--but, compared to everything else, every other music company, Seokjin thinks its his best bet.

He’ll message Yoongi about it later.

Seokjin walks almost as if in a trance, starting up at the sky and then at the sidewalk. He doesn't jump at the weird crash coming from an alleyway he passes, but continues on. He recalls the feeling of being hungry, and wonders what it'd be like to buy and eat food again, but stops short at the No Cover-up, No Service sign pasted to the door of the nearest convenience store. Seokjin meets eyes with the cashier through the window, registers the sudden look of fear in their eyes, and continues on.

He's almost to his apartment when he gets the urge to stop.

Seokjin looks at his surroundings, breathes the air in and out of his lungs, and realizes he's standing in front of the place he died. Where he turned and nearly attacked Jungkook. Where it ended and started all over again. Fear and panic to fear and hunger.

It would be a lie to say Seokjin doesn't regret what he did in his untreated state.

But it would also be a lie to tell himself that he will never be happy.

Seokjin looks at the clouded sky, the moon shining bright enough to illuminate the brick of the street's buildings.

Seokjin thinks he deserves to be happy.

He got a taste of it, of happiness, on Yoongi’s lips. He felt it in their fingers laced together. He breathed it in the sound and excitement of being in Yoongi's crowd. He pictured it when he imagined himself up there with Yoongi, then up there by himself, serenading his own army of fans.

Seokjin looks at the cold ground where he died and he doesn't thank it. But he doesn't absolutely hate it either. He just worries about how Jungkook will react to his face when he gets home.