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“cool hair.”

namjoon glances up from his phone. standing by his table is a man he doesn’t know; he’s about namjoon’s age, mid-twenties, with chiselled features and a black and blue plaid scarf. he offers a kind and hesitant smile when namjoon looks. namjoon smiles kindly and hesitantly back.

“oh. thanks.”

“i’ve actually seen you around here a couple of times,” the man continues, “i’ve been wanting to tell you i’m super jealous of your hair. also, your dimples.”

namjoon really doesn’t know what to say, so he just keeps politely smiling at the guy.

“thank you.”

“is this seat taken?” Plaid Scarf gestures at the chair across from namjoon with his takeaway coffee cup.

“actually, uh. i’m here with a friend.”

“oh,” Plaid Scarf says after a slightly uncomfortable beat has passed and it’s become clear namjoon’s finished speaking. “ah. i see. sorry for bothering you.”

he leaves quickly, before namjoon even has a chance to mix up it’s okay and you weren’t bothering me and come out with it’s bothering me. a sharp clank makes him startle a little and tear his eyes away from Plaid Scarf’s retreating back. an unimpressed yoongi scoots back into his seat, fingers curled around what’s probably approximately fifteen espresso shots wrapped in plastic polyethylene lined paper.

“jesus fuck, namjoon,” he grunts, “please tell me you realized he was flirting with you.”

“of course i realized,” namjoon mumbles, fingers pressing against the edges of his phone, “but i’m, you know. i’m here with you.”

“namjoon,” yoongi says, dripping exasperated patience, “i literally do not mind getting ditched if it’s because you’re hitting it off with hot young professor. he was extremely good-looking, namjoon.”

“i’m just not interested,” namjoon says. yoongi looks at him, the tip of his tongue poking out to glide across his bottom lip, his eyebrows set in worried disappointed lines. namjoon averts his eyes. he knows exactly what yoongi’s going to say before he says it.

“you have to move on, you know.” it sounds softer than expected. namjoon huffs a breath out of his nose.

“you sound like jimin.”

“jimin’s right,” yoongi says. “not often. very rarely, actually. but in this instance, he’s right.”

“i’m not... not moving on,” namjoon argues, “maybe i don’t want to be with anyone right now.”

yoongi cocks his head.

“you’re standing still,” he says, “which, i believe, is another phrasing for not moving on.”

usually namjoon is the one who worries about his friends. recently it’s all been topsy-turvy.

“how are things with you and kook?” he asks because he genuinely wants to know - the two of them are useless in the group chat, and the only way to catch up with them or to know if they are even alive is to meet them in person - but also because it’s the most efficient way to change the subject. works every time and with both of them.

just as predicted, yoongi’s face instantly softens, and he directs his tiny shy smile at the tabletop. it’s the Jungkook Face and they made fun of him for it for the first month, but now it just makes affection echo around namjoon’s chest.

“good,” yoongi murmurs, catching his bottom lip between his teeth, “really good.” he looks up. “actually… i asked him to move in with me. and he said yes. so… that’s happening next month. it’s not… that big a deal, really, it’s partially just convenient because his lease is ending and it saves both of us money and my place is closer to the university.”

yoongi couldn’t make it seem like it’s not a big deal if he tried. he’s clearly excited and nervous and happy, a dusty pink on his cheeks and fingers working against the paper cup.

“that’s really great,” namjoon says gently, and yoongi rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed but unable to stop smiling. “you’re taking that step, huh.”

yoongi nods.

“moving on,” he reminds namjoon. ah. they’re here again. namjoon’s chest is a little bit tighter again. yoongi considers him, and says, slowly, “i’m really happy. you deserve to have this, too.”

namjoon snorts quietly.

“with hot young professor?”

“you never know.” yoongi taps a finger against the cup. “that’s the point. you’ll never know if you don’t give it a chance.”

 

/

 

that night, namjoon awakens to the sound of someone trying to break into his apartment.

he jolts up, stares blankly at his dead laptop for a moment, slowly realizes he fell asleep on his desk working on - whatever it was he was working on, he doesn’t have time to organize his brain because the ungodly clatter from the direction of the hall engages all of his senses and he remembers his apartment is being broken into.

namjoon has no known fighting experience and his only neighbors are a mostly deaf elderly couple and the several spirits residing in the halls whose existence namjoon may not be able to prove but knows to be true in his heart - essentially he’s fucked, is what he’s saying, and he’s still coming to terms with this when he hears:

“namjoon? namjoon, are you home? i know you’re not sleeping. you never sleep, you can’t fool me. are you dead? did you go ghost? i have some people - some people i’m not fond of. can you go haunt them? his name’s - his name’s park jimin, you know where he lives.”

namjoon curses softly under his breath. he puts down the swivel chair, not sure what he was going to do with that, and stumbles across the dark living room. he takes a second to breathe in before unlocking the door. seokjin nearly stumbles right into him.

“the hell are you doing,” namjoon whispers.

“namjoon!” seokjin yelps, delighted. he’s so drunk. he’s dressed for a casual night out, white shirt collar rumpled under a denim jacket, hair standing up at odd angles, and of course, of course he still looks good. like a movie star styled to look dishevelled as opposed to actually dishevelled. “oh, it’s so good to see you. what are you doing here?”

“this is literally my apartment,” namjoon says, moving aside as seokjin determinedly makes his way in. “what are you - oh - okay, just -”

seokjin almost trips into a shoe rack and then wrestles with the coats hanging on the wall. namjoon sighs. he closes the door.

“i had something very important to ask you,” seokjin announces, slurring slightly, escaping further into the living room, and all namjoon can do is follow after him. seokjin showing up uninvited and unannounced in the middle of the night is not the most outlandish thing in the world, but namjoon’s insides still feel like ants. seokjin halts abruptly, and spins around rather unsteadily, causing namjoon to stop, too. namjoon raises his eyebrows. seokjin narrows his eyes, and points a finger at him. “who would win in a fight. a tiger or a shark?”

namjoon parts his mouth.

“that’s why you’re here?”

“it’s important, namjoon,” seokjin says patiently. “the people at the bar were largely divided on this and we were unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion. the uber driver said tiger, but i don’t trust anyone whose little tree car freshener scent of choice is new car scent. what do you think?”

“you took an uber here?”

“you’re fixating on irrelevant details, namjoon,” seokjin sighs, tipping his face towards the ceiling. namjoon’s heart is hammering restlessly in his chest. it’s obvious seokjin’s not here for some hypothetical fight between a tiger and a shark - but this is what he does. he is a closed book. he doesn’t say what he means. saying what he means or expressing a human emotion, no jokes, no punchline, would, famously, kill him. his head rolls back down along his shoulder like it’s a heavy weight. he locks eyes with namjoon, and for a while, looks almost sober. “come on, namjoon. who would win?”

then he’s coming forward. namjoon’s hand shoots out, curls around his bicep - to steady him, because he’s swaying slightly, but maybe also to keep him from coming closer.

sometimes namjoon thinks the resemblance between seokjin and a chaotic force of nature is so uncanny it’s almost terrifying. you don’t ask a hurricane about its intentions.

“if i answer, will you go to sleep?” namjoon asks. it comes out breathless.

“who would win,” seokjin repeats, his eyelids drooping shut, “come on. who would win?”

namjoon sighs shallow. his grip around seokjin’s bicep tightens as he starts gently steering him towards the couch.

“the obvious answer is that it depends on where the fight takes place,” he humors him, “if it’s a hypothetical arena where they’re both equally disadvantaged i’d give it to the shark. they’ve been around for 400 million years. they’ve earned this victory, i think.”

“i knew the uber driver was a fucking idiot,” seokjin mumbles. namjoon breathes a laugh out his nose. “hey, joon.” seokjin’s hands tangle in namjoon’s shirt front. the backs of his legs hit the couch, and he falls - but he takes namjoon down with him. namjoon jabs a hand against the backrest to avoid colliding with seokjin. he hovers awkwardly, trapping seokjin, who’s frowning up at him. “did i ever tell you how i felt when you told me you’re in love with me?”

namjoon blinks. no way. no fucking way.

it’s been three months, almost exactly.

he never once expected anything, didn’t dare hope, not even when he was standing in seokjin’s hallway and pouring his heart out like it was a lesson in vulnerability. a lesson seokjin hadn’t signed up for, didn’t want, maybe, and it was, in a way, a selfish act, meant to ease the weight in his chest.

when seokjin turned him down, he did it gently, and namjoon is grateful for that. not that he expected him to be mean. there’s a reason he fell in love with him. then stayed in love. seokjin turned him down and then they moved on.

well.

seokjin moved on. namjoon, apparently, is standing still.

so no. he certainly did not tell namjoon that.

and namjoon sure as fuck hopes he isn’t about to tell him now.

“hyung -”

“do you have any idea,” seokjin continues, louder, “what it’s like to be told that by someone like you?” he’s looking at namjoon more intensely and seriously than he ever would sober. what do you mean by that, namjoon wants to plead, but can’t make himself. “you. kim namjoon.” he says namjoon’s name like it means something. like it’s something amazing. his hands tug, and tug, until his face is inches away. his eyes are lidded, his voice only carries a whisper. “it’s a goddamn honor to be loved by you.”

then he passes out. or maybe he dies, due to the genuine human emotion he just expressed. that would be hell of a punchline. namjoon can’t laugh, not even silently in his head.

he wrestles him out of his jacket, and seokjin regains consciousness only to whine unintelligibly. namjoon lays him down on his side on some couch pillows, and retrieves a blanket for him.

he’s starting to think no one, no one would win that fight.

you have to move on is just a nice way of saying he will never love you back. and it’s not like namjoon doesn’t know.

 

/

 

seokjin is gone by the time namjoon wakes up, which doesn’t surprise him. he leaves a note saying, i threw up in your sink, borrowed your shirt, and made breakfast. namjoon almost expects a follow-up, for myself, but there isn’t one; instead there are several folio-wrapped dishes in his fridge, and namjoon can’t name most of them, didn’t even know he had the ingredients in his kitchen. it looks good.

seokjin told him it’s an honor to be loved by him and then stood here in namjoon’s clothes making him breakfast. they will never talk about this or the things he said ever again. namjoon wishes he had specified which sink he meant, though.

he takes the breakfast to the balcony and eats quietly among fallen leaves and mid-september sunlight because it’s a nice day. he feeds a piece to a tiny brown sparrow that lands on the railing, stays for a while, then darts off when namjoon attempts to make it hop on his finger.

namjoon remembers what he had been working on before falling asleep at his desk and the events that followed. it was a critical analysis on a sci-fi book about parallel universes and interdimensional travel. that’s why his brain felt like someone threw a bunch of random shit into a box, sealed it shut, and then shook really hard.

according to a version of the multiverse theory, there’s an infinite number of timelines, each a different outcome of one of your decisions, and they are all happening at the same time. there is a timeline where everything is the same except the sparrow landed on his hand. there is a timeline where the sparrow isn’t a sparrow but a dog and it eats his food that is not breakfast made by seokjin but cold leftover pizza from papa john’s and namjoon never moved out of taehyung’s two-bedroom above the antique shop and also taehyung got the dog he always wanted. there are multiple timelines where their decisions led to him never meeting seokjin. and, according to the multiverse theory, there must also be a timeline where seokjin loves him back.

love, of course, is not a decision. but he still thinks somehow, somewhere very far from this reality, things must have happened that way.

ah, well. if there’s a version of namjoon who got everything he wanted, good for him. it’s not like this is a bad timeline. it’s not like namjoon is unhappy.

he waits for the sparrow to come back for a little while, but it never does. everything moves on.

 

/

 

Plaid Scarf’s name is actually jaewon and sometimes he wears a flat-color scarf. namjoon sees him again in the coffee shop next week and tells him, this seat’s not taken when he returns namjoon’s gaze hopefully. they share a table and chat for an hour and namjoon leaves with his number punched into his contacts. he is nothing like seokjin. and maybe that’s the point. when namjoon catches himself making comparisons, he tries his best to stop.

he tries to give jaewon a chance. he doesn’t want to get his hopes up. he is honest with him from the start. it’s the only way he can do this without feeling guilty. i’m just getting over someone. let’s take it slow.

jaewon is understanding. and namjoon does like him. he is nice and very sweet and doesn’t mind that namjoon’s idea of a date is just walking around aimlessly for hours. he is training to become a history teacher and namjoon can’t believe yoongi wasn’t that far off. he tells namjoon he likes his dimples every time they meet and it’s… nice to be told that, but… well. he remembers how he felt when seokjin poked a finger into his dimple and said, nice smile holes, namjoon-ah. then he said i’m going to make you laugh a lot because i like looking at them. it was mostly the latter that made namjoon’s heart fluttery. not the thing about smile holes.

(he kept that promise. no one’s made namjoon laugh like seokjin has. and that’s just a truth.)

he’s not feeling any of that with jaewon, but it’s… well. it’s nice.

the reason he shouldn’t be making comparisons is because no one may ever make him feel the way seokjin makes him feel. he might always be a little bit in love with him. and maybe that’s not a bad thing. maybe that love would, with time, transform into something bearable that only sits in the back of his heart without making a big deal out of itself. making him gentler and kinder, perhaps. maybe he would learn to redistribute that love and give out small pieces to everyone he meets.

they go on five dates and they kiss once. namjoon likes that, too. he hasn’t kissed anyone in a while and it’s a little bit weird. he apologizes for the lack of rhythm and the general awkwardness of it but jaewon only smiles and says it’s okay.

namjoon invites him in at the end of date number five because october keeps pushing on relentlessly and it’s only getting colder. he’s 98% sure jaewon knows it doesn’t mean sex - he’ll tell him, should there be a misunderstanding.

they are making tea in the kitchen when there’s a series of knocks on the door. and maybe - maybe namjoon’s still thinking about him too much. or maybe he knows him too well. somehow instinctively knows the exact way he knocks. maybe it’s just because seokjin is the number one worst offender when it comes to showing up at inconvenient times. whatever it is, namjoon is convinced it’s seokjin before he opens the door for him after a mumbled excuse me at jaewon.

“text first? maybe? just once?” namjoon automatically steps aside as seokjin walks in the way he walks into most rooms: not like he lives there but like he owns the building. it registers with him too late that maybe it’s not a terrific idea to have the guy you’re in love with and the guy you’re semi-seriously seeing in your apartment at the same time. it sounds so much like an overused sitcom plot point. namjoon feels frozen and like he’s witnessing a multiple-vehicle collision from a distance.

“i probably won’t, thanks,” seokjin says breezily. “if you hadn’t been home, i would’ve just stuffed this shirt in your mail slot.”

namjoon forgot about the damn shirt. he strides up to seokjin, takes the plastic bag from him, then insistently encourages him in the direction of the door.

“thanks. now please leave, i have company,” he bites. seokjin stops and then somehow grows roots into the floor because he doesn’t budge even with namjoon pushing. he looks at namjoon, a baffled expression on his face.

“you’ve got a man in here?”

“yes, well,” namjoon rolls his eyes. “he’s a man and he’s certainly here.”

seokjin won’t stop looking at him with that strange expression. they both know the implications of it. i’m moving on. i’m trying to forget about you. his heartbeat is cacophonous. he can’t for the life of him guess what’s going through seokjin’s mind right now.

then seokjin starts craning his neck.

“where’s he hiding? i want to meet him.” to his absolute horror, seokjin slips out of his reach and skips into the kitchen. “i have to make sure this guy’s good enough for you, namjoon-ah.”

namjoon recites a litany of curse words in his mind. then he rushes after him, only to find him standing with his legs in the shape of an upside-down v and pointing a finger at a mildly startled jaewon at the table like he’s accusing him of a crime.

“you,” he says, “what is your name?”

“choi jaewon,” jaewon blinks, “um -”

“what do you do?”

“ignore him,” namjoon says through gritted teeth. jaewon looks wildly between them.

“i teach history.”

“ah, the fakest subject,” seokjin says, and fucking sits his ass down right there on the other side of the table. “the subject mostly written by white men for other white men to boast about their achievements in oppression and murder. how do you feel about that, jaewon?”

“i, uh, i don’t…”

“namjoon,” seokjin murmurs in a disappointed tone, glancing up at namjoon and quietly shaking his head.

“enough,” namjoon growls. that, finally, gets through to seokjin, who looks taken aback for the slightest second. namjoon rarely uses this tone on anyone. seokjin rises, but hovers with his palms flat against the tabletop.

“one more question,” he says seriously to jaewon, “who would win in a fight, a tiger or a shark?”

“that’s an impossible scenario,” jaewon laughs nervously. “a tiger maybe?”

namjoon pulls seokjin out of the kitchen. seokjin comes willingly but not quietly.

“you’re seeing this guy, namjoon? did you hear him say tigers? what kind of a teacher is he? does he have a class called how to be wrong all the time?”

“hyung,” namjoon hisses, letting his arm go once they’re in the hallway, “what the fuck was that?”

“i’m just looking out for you,” seokjin says defensively.

“this is not you looking out for me,” namjoon insists, jaw clenched, brow furrowed, feeling genuinely angry in a way he doesn’t often feel; wasn’t expecting to ever feel this way towards seokjin. “this is you acting like a dick. why? because i’m moving on? am i supposed to be unrequitedly in love with you forever? is that what you want?”

seokjin’s facade drops steadily, the traces of forced lightness fading away and getting replaced by closed angles and tight shoulders. for once, he doesn’t care to pick it back up. when seokjin is serious, the change is immediate and evident in everything about him, from his face to the air around him. it’s not that he becomes a different person. it’s just another side of him.

“no, that’s not what i want,” he finally says, and as soon as he says it, namjoon realizes that above all things, he’s sad. his mouth is twisted into an unfamiliar line. like a bitter kind of smile. his eyes are gentle. “i crossed a line. i’m sorry.” if namjoon could pause and rewind and pick apart everything that’s happening here. he bets he would know what to say. but he can’t and he doesn’t. “i want you to be happy. that’s what i want.”

seokjin lingers for a couple of seconds longer. then he turns around, and walks away. namjoon stands in the doorway a moment longer, his anger simmering down to an end. he quietly closes the door.

“is he the one… you’re getting over?” jaewon asks, now hovering between rooms, arms crossed over his chest. namjoon doesn’t ask how he knew. doesn’t need to.

“yes,” he says like a sigh. he’s been honest with him from the start. “listen, i’m… so sorry about him, that was not remotely okay.”

jaewon is quiet for what feels like a long time. then he lifts his gaze and meets eyes with namjoon.

“i think… he might still be in love with you.”

namjoon stares. he’s aware of seconds passing by, but he can’t - make a sound come out of his mouth, he feels like his heart’s been punctured, like his chest is filling with blood, like he’s getting dizzy.

“no, you’ve - you’ve got it wrong,” he hears himself saying, “he never…”

jaewon shrugs minutely.

“i should go,” he says.

play the prerecorded laugh track.

audiences agree this sitcom is quite unfunny.

 

/

 

then yoongi and jungkook move in together. they hold a small housewarming-but-not-really party and invite the people in the group chat. yoongi doesn’t want a huge deal out of it. jungkook wants those giant cannons that shoot confetti. plus ones are allowed, the invitation reads. yoongi texts namjoon in their private chat two seconds later to say: in your case they are highly encouraged.

it’s been five days since the car crash of a thing at his place, and the bond between jaewon and him has grown somewhat colder. namjoon’s not entirely sure where they’re at currently. jaewon is completely right to be mad at him and not want to get involved with him - but namjoon is still trying to move on and he figures it doesn’t hurt to ask.

he texts jaewon asking him to come to the party with him.

jaewon replies, we have to talk.

so he goes to celebrate his friends’ blossoming love freshly broken up with. now that’s actually kind of funny when you think about it.

he immediately gets pelted in the face with fistfuls of confetti. he eyes the electric confetti cannons on either side of the doorway before sauntering over to yoongi, who’s sitting on the kitchen island with hoseok sipping at beer and looking over the party in the living room which blends seamlessly into the kitchen area. namjoon pushes the bottle of champagne at his chest and quirks an eyebrow.

“i see jungkook had his way and you got the confetti.”

yoongi releases a small huff of breath past his lips.

“he is very… persuasive,” he says quietly, avoiding eye contact. the tips of his ears are faintly red.

“and how did he persuade you,” hoseok snorts, “do tell.”

“thanks for being normal and not bringing a weird gift,” yoongi says to namjoon, ignoring hoseok completely, and raising the bottle of champagne. namjoon makes a face.

“who brought sex toys?”

“everyone else,” yoongi says lifelessly, “everyone else brought sex toys.”

“and you’re very welcome,” hoseok says solemnly, before being tugged away by a cheerfully drunk taehyung. namjoon lets his gaze glide over the living room, where a ddr tournament is taking place. everyone looks tipsy and happy. jungkook’s hair is full of colorful confetti. seokjin is loudly absent.

now, their friend group - their friend group has mostly stayed the same since everything that went down between namjoon and seokjin. it was weird, for a while. no one knew how to approach the topic until namjoon grew sick of it and told everyone to act normal. he wasn’t suddenly made of glass. everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief - and then jimin and seokjin had a falling out of their own. he doesn’t know the details of it because neither of them will talk to him about it. but jimin keeps insisting namjoon’s only hurting himself by keeping seokjin so close. and that he can’t move on until he puts distance between them. well.

“i see you’re alone,” yoongi comments. namjoon meets his gaze, and yoongi’s face softens. “i’m sorry. what happened?”

namjoon shrugs as if to say, do you have to ask.

"jaewon said he felt like there’s still something going on between jin-hyung and i. he wasn’t comfortable with how he’s still involved in my life. i could’ve said that we’re just friends and all that… but i didn’t. because he’s right. it wasn’t fair towards him. i’m still in love with jin-hyung.” namjoon leans back against the counter. “and if the person i’m seeing has to ask me to choose between him and my friendship with jin-hyung… well, that relationship is doomed, isn’t it.” he glances up at yoongi. “is he invited? you know… because of jimin?”

yoongi nods slowly, contemplative cat eyes fixed on namjoon.

“i know you want things to be normal,” he says, “he’s invited, but i don’t know if he’s gonna - ah, he showed.”

yeah, namjoon could tell by the shriek he let out when the confetti exploded in his face upon entering the room. while he stands there recovering from the shock, their eyes meet. just for a few seconds everything stands still.

namjoon has a million fucking questions for him including why were you acting like you were jealous and why did you take an uber to my place that night and can’t you be honest for once. he holds them like a breath in his lungs.

seokjin walks up to the kitchen island, and sets down a sparkly silver gift bag.

“it’s an electric toothbrush,” he announces. “it only has one brush but you share everything now, right?”

yoongi presses his lips together and stares at him hard.

“you know what,” he decides, “this is still a lot more appropriate than the other presents. thanks.”

“it also functions as a sex toy,” seokjin says.

yoongi merely gives a defeated sigh, and then slides off the island and goes to join the others in the living room. namjoon watches jungkook immediately pull his boyfriend close. he watches yoongi pick a piece of paper out of his hair. he watches jungkook take his hand and kiss his wrist affectionately. he stops watching his friends like a creep.

seokjin is still here. his fingers on the countertop slowly mapping out a beat that doesn’t match the one carrying from the living room. he seems nervous.

“so,” he begins, “no teacher wrongallthetime, huh?”

namjoon raises an eyebrow slightly. seokjin sighs, ducking his head between his shoulders.

“sorry, sorry,” he mumbles, “i’m doing it again. i’m being a dick. are you still… seeing him?”

“no,” namjoon says after a pause. he takes a deep breath. presses his nails into his palms, hard. “because i’m still in love with you.” seokjin looks up fast, surprised. namjoon swallows thickly. “it’s not like we’re pretending we don’t know that. except we kind of are. we’re pretending everything’s still the same. we’re pretending you can show up drunk in the middle of the night and say all those things and then disappear. we’re pretending you can turn me down and then attack my date when i’m trying to move on. i… i don’t know why you do half the things you do. i’m not saying they are right or wrong… i don’t blame you for anything. especially for not loving me back. i would never, ever blame you for that. but i do need time. just… a while. to think things through. to… get over you. so we can be friends like we used to. it’s important to me. to be able to do that.”

it all just comes out like a flood. within seconds of shutting up, he realizes the music in the room has been turned down significantly. the people behind him are dead silent. it’s better this way, he tells himself. he doesn’t even properly see seokjin’s face. he just spins around, and starts walking. he feels as though he’s floating outside his own body. he doesn’t even feel his legs moving, but they must be because then he’s at the door.

something crosses his mind when his hand is already twisting the handle. an afterthought, but it seems awfully relevant. he turns to look back once more.

“congratulations on moving in together,” he says. there’s an unsure silence. then jungkook peeps,

“thanks.”

the confetti cannons go off at a comically bad time.

 

/

 

he gets the most confusing phone call of his life approximately forty-two minutes after leaving the party. he had half a mind to go to ttukseom; but after forty-two minutes of walking he’s only halfway there and giving up on the idea. it’s too cold for that. now he’s just walking the route without destination and looking at things in a new light, which is the lack of it. places look very different in the dark.

he stops under a dim lamp post, teeth rattling slightly, and wonders briefly if he had gloves with him when he arrived to yoongi and jungkook’s.

the call is coming from taehyung; but it comes clear very quickly it’s not only taehyung calling. there are five discordant voices yelling into his ear and everyone is insistently trying to tell him something.

“where are you -”

“holy shit dude you will not believe what went down here -”

“- he’s out there looking for you -”

“- jimin fucking punched him in the face -”

“wait, what?” namjoon clutches the phone desperately. “please go one at a time, guys -”

“after you left, it was chaos,” taehyung says, the others still not anywhere near quiet in the background. “jimin and jin-hyung got into this huge ass argument, i mean straight up biblical -”

“jimin-hyung was calling him out for acting in a confusing manner, not being able to make up his mind, hurting you - and it escalated, and jimin-hyung punched him in the face,” jungkook explains excitedly. “it was an okay punch, like i would’ve gone with a straight jab instead of a hook because the height difference threw the angle off a little bit -”

“not the point, kook,” yoongi interrupts fondly in the background.

“you punched him, jimin?” namjoon squeaks.

“look, someone had to do it,” jimin huffs. it’s followed by the sound of multiple hands fighting for the phone. namjoon shifts on his feet, frustrated and anxious. “i’m not saying violence is the answer, but someone had to knock sense into him. he’s been running from his feelings for way too long. he’d somehow managed to convince himself it’s better if he never tells you he’s in love with you like a fucking idiot -”

“what,” namjoon rasps. there must be something wrong with his listening comprehension because that made no fucking sense. “if he never tells me what, what did you say?”

“yeah, he’s in love with you,” hoseok says with a grin in his voice. “he sort of yelled it out during the argument. it was very dramatic. but not like in a fake way. he meant it. his reasons for keeping it to himself were legit but still stupid.”

“i never realized how many issues jin-hyung has,” jungkook pipes up in the distance, “he has so many issues. he seriously doesn’t think he’s good enough for you at all. he always seems so confident.”

“it’s fake it till you make it,” taehyung says. “everyone has problems, sweet young kookie. you’ll learn that once you learn more about the world.”

“i’m twenty-two,” jungkook grumbles, and yoongi says, “please don’t talk about my boyfriend like he’s a toddler. it makes me feel weird.”

“can we, just for a second,” namjoon sucks in a breath, “go back to jin-hyung saying he’s in love with me.”

“he’s on his way to tell you himself,” hoseok says. “say, are you in ttukseom?”

“i’m - on my way there -”

“he was right,” yoongi says, “we were telling him to go to your apartment, but he was sure you’d go to ttukseom. well. we look like bad friends who don’t know you at all now but at least he’s on his way to you.”

“he’s on his way -” namjoon trails off. he glances around. not a soul. he’s hardly processed anything that’s been said. there’s rustling as the phone switches hands again. then jimin’s voice is back.

“don’t let him get off easy,” he says, gentle, now. “hey, joon?”

“uh-huh?”

“you know - the reason why jin-hyung and i clashed. ultimately we both wanted to protect you in our own ways. because we both love you very much. you know that, right?”

“yeah,” namjoon says, his voice a raspy whisper. “i know, jimin.”

after the call ends, he takes a few fumbling steps until he can lean back against the lamp post. he breathes a cloud, watches it dissolve, and that’s all he has time for before he hears,

“NAMJOOOOOOOOOOON!”

turns to the direction of the screech, alarmed, sees a dark figure hurtling towards him at top speed in the distance.

“jesus christ,” he hisses.

seokjin trips on the very last meter and literally comes in like a wrecking ball, colliding with namjoon who was fighting his every instinct telling him to run from the loud thing barrelling at him in the dark. they go down right there on the gravel under the lamp post.

“oh, god,” seokjin mutters into namjoon’s chest, then springs up on all fours, straddling namjoon’s corpse, staring down at him. “are you alive?”

“that was terrifying,” namjoon gasps, still lying there with his limbs splayed everywhere, “what the hell was that sound, i thought you were going to murder me.”

“yeah, i got really scared of the dark, and started screaming to psych myself up,” seokjin admits. “and to scare off demons.”

“jesus.” namjoon swallows loudly, still breathing hard. the light only hits one side of seokjin’s face, but namjoon can still see the bruising like blueberry stains on his jaw. “jimin really hit you.”

“oh, he definitely did,” seokjin laughs shortly. it sounds very happy for someone who got clocked in the face. “he packs a fierce little punch. it really hurt, actually. but it’s okay. i deserved it. and on a side note, i might be kind of into that.”

namjoon can’t even roll his eyes. vaguely flustered, he rubs his hands down his face, mumbles,

“why are you here, seokjin?”

“ah.” namjoon peeks between his fingers to see seokjin lick his lips, his throat bob as he swallows. he closes his fingers over his eyes again. “you see. you see, namjoon-ah. i have recently discovered that i am a fucking idiot.”

“just recently?” namjoon mumbles, still not looking.

“okay, fair. how about this: i have recently discovered that i am a coward.” slowly, namjoon’s hands slip off his face. he stares up at seokjin, cautiously waiting for him to continue. seokjin draws a sharp breath and almost smiles. “when you told me you love me… i got so scared. i panicked, turned you down, refused to think about it. i was afraid of anything changing, because i knew… i would let you down. you would realize i only pretend to have my shit together. and you would stop loving me once you got close enough to see all the ugly details. ah, namjoon.” seokjin shakes his head. “just when i was starting to realize things, you were starting to move on. and i thought i’d missed my chance. i was a dick to jaewon, and i’m sorry, really. i got jealous, and it was wrong to act on that. i’ll send him a gift basket. it’s going to be a cheap one with like a tomato and two grapes but it’s going to bear my deepest apologies.”

“oh my god,” namjoon says muffled behind his hands again. he’s not sure whether he’s struggling not to laugh or cry. he feels seokjin’s fingers gently at his wrist.

“i’m terrible at feelings and you’re great at them and you deserve someone who’s as good as you,” seokjin says softly. “but i still love you. and i would like it if you could tell me i’m not too late. and you’ll forgive me. but you don’t have to. i know it’s a lot to ask -”

the rest of his sentence gets transformed into an ambiguous yelp as namjoon shoves at his shoulder, then shoves again until he manages to tip seokjin backwards, and he ends up sitting between namjoon’s legs with his knees bent over namjoon’s thighs like they’re doing some kind of couples yoga here in the middle of the footpath in the park. their fingers are tangled wherever in each other’s jackets.

“that’s not how love works,” namjoon says intensely, “i’ve known you pretend to have your shit together for a long time. that’s not why i love you. i love you because you helped that crying kid find his parents at the mall. because you woke up early to make jungkook breakfast when it was his orientation day at university. because you made me laugh so hard soda came out of my nose before my presentation and then i wasn’t nervous anymore. and because you owned up to your mistakes just now.”

“because… of those little things?” seokjin sounds amazed, his eyes wide.

“not just because of them. but because they are characteristic of you. because that’s who you are. ah, really… if i was anything like jimin, i would punch you again.”

“you’re sending me mixed signals here, namjoon,” seokjin remarks. namjoon takes a deep breath. his heart pounding and hoping in a way it never dared before.

“what i’m saying is you don’t have to be great at this. what matters is that we work through it together. do you want to do that?”

and seokjin blinks, hair a wild windy mess, bruised jaw, still beautiful, says,

“fuck, namjoon, yes, i want to do that.”

“oh,” namjoon breathes, “oh. good. that’s good.”

“very good, even,” seokjin adds, and then namjoon kisses him. well, he asks for permission first, and seokjin says, like, right now? i gave my toothbrush to yoongi and jungkook so i haven’t brushed my teeth. then he yanks namjoon in by the collar of his jacket and then they kiss.  

“ah, nice smile holes, namjoon-ah,” he whispers against his mouth, fingers skittering down namjoon’s face like he’s memorizing by touch, “been too long since i saw them. couldn’t keep my promise. sorry. i’ll try again.”

“please stop calling them smile holes,” namjoon begs.

as it turns out, this was the timeline where seokjin loves him back all along. who would’ve thought.

and everything moves on.