The soft ringing emanating from his phone wakes Seokjin up, but the most he can manage right now is to press his face into his pillow and then turn away from the sound. The ringing grows louder, harsher, until it’s no longer background noise that he can filter out and ignore. Slowly, and in tune to the obnoxious ringtone he’s never gotten around to changing, he pushes himself up on his forearms and glances over at the screen of his phone facing upwards on his bed beside his pillow. It’s his mother calling.
He groans and drops back down onto his bed. Presses his face against the pillow again, tries to drown out the noise. It keeps ringing, and the more Seokjin tries to drown it out the more he silently pleads that his mother gives up on talking to him. Finally, the ringing stops, but in its place comes an imposing beep. She’d left a message. Reluctantly, he lifts one lazy arm and taps on the screen until the message is played.
“Seokjin-ah. It’s your mother,” she says. Seokjin wants to scoff but it’s too early in the morning for that. “Why don’t you come home already? It’s okay, it’s not a big deal. Just come home.”
The message ends and Seokjin goes back to sleep.
When he does wake he spends the late morning watching a mindless anime in the comfort of his tiny, dingy little apartment. If he could call it an apartment, that is. When Seokjin had first seen it he’d likened it to a box (made of fucking cardboard, who knows) with only two doors: his front door and the door to the impossibly small bathroom that miraculously managed to squeeze a toilet and a shower cubicle. The sink was as big as one of his hands (and yes, he washed each hand separately). His box of an apartment consisted of perhaps only the bare minimum. Probably even less than the bare minimum. His criminally small kitchen was opposite his bed that’s too small for him. Sometimes this box Seokjin calls his apartment feels to small and suffocating, but this is all he can afford and after the first month of living here he’d realised he doesn’t really need anything else to survive.
From the suitcase next to his trunk that acts as his wardrobe he finds his work attire, the only articles of clothing in there that’s neat and ironed, and he dresses himself. Grabbing his keys, his messenger bag and his dwindling will to live, he exits his apartment and walks towards the nearby coffee shop he’d managed to find a job at. He greets his colleagues, heads to the back of the shop and ties an apron around his hips, and then he’s back to the front and behind the till.
He puts on his best smile.
The coffee shop is busy, as usual. It’s just gone past two in the afternoon so he’s missed the usual Lunch Time Rush as he’d wanted – there’s no way anyone would make Seokjin work during the infamous Lunch Time Rush and the subsequent influx of students from the nearby university buying light lunches and unhealthy amounts of coffee before returning to their endless yet fruitful studying. Seokjin hates it. He refuses to work during that time.
The coffee shop is still busy, though. But there are older patrons, business men and women on their short breaks, friends catching up, couples on quaint dates. Seokjin can handle that.
A regular comes in and walks up to the front to order her coffee. Seokjin grins at her. “The usual?” he asks, and she nods.
“It always amazes me how you remember people’s orders. I don’t even remember my own, sometimes,” the girl, Jiyong, says as Seokjin grabs a Styrofoam cup and scribbles her name onto it with a black marker pen.
“I only remember yours,” Seokjin lies with a wink. Jiyong blushes a little and eats up the lie before Seokjin turns to start making her coffee.
“Must you flirt with every girl that walks in?” Jaehwan asks quietly, bumping his hip against Seokjin’s.
“I’m not flirting,” Seokjin replies nonchalantly. “It’s called being pleasant.”
“Fuck you,” Jaehwan whispers before flocking to the next customer that walks up to the till.
Seokjin finishes with the coffee, sprinkling chocolate powder over the top and fixing a lid onto it. Jiyong walks up to the cash register and pays for the coffee. She bids her farewell to Seokjin with a bright smile and leaves the coffee shop.
The rest of the afternoon goes by smoothly, as usual.
In the morning, the sound of his phone ringing alerts Seokjin. He’s been awake for a while now, his tired eyes open and staring at the ceiling. He picks up his phone from where he leaves it, on his mattress beside his head, and sees that his mother is calling him again. He stares at it while it rings, until it stops, and until the message is left, and then he listens to it.
“Seokjin-ah, it’s your mother,” she begins, as usual. Seokjin doesn’t scoff. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. You should come home. Take care of yourself, okay?”
He cooks something simple for himself to eat in his impossibly small kitchen, watches anime, and then heads off for work.
It’s been a while since he’s spoken to anyone about the things he makes. He wonders if everything he owns in his tiny little box of an apartment has gone stagnant. He wouldn’t be surprised. He’s become quite stagnant himself, easing into this repetitive life while nothing in his life progresses, grows, blossoms. Everything has come to a standstill and the only that this is changing is time. Still, he goes to work and he smiles and he flirts like he doesn’t go home and waste his youth away in his tiny little box and think about how stagnant his life has become.
He walks up to the customer who has arrived at the till. It’s not a regular so Seokjin puts on his big, professional smile that he plasters on his face while he analyses the customer and figures out how he should act. The man is tall, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of joggers. A student. His hair has been pushed into his beanie. “Hi, how can I help you today?” Seokjin asks brightly.
“Uh, yeah,” the man says, his voice deep and low as he glances at the boards above Seokjin’s head and constructs in his mind what he wants. He takes a full minute. “I’d like a coffee. Black.”
Seokjin doesn’t say anything about how long the customer took to decide and the fact that the end result of his decisions don’t quite make sense. He just smiles and asks what size the customer would like, to which he meekly replies he’d like a grande, and Seokjin grabs a cup. Grabs his marker pen. “Can I take your name?” he asks patiently, nib of the pen poised over the side of the cup.
The man looks at Seokjin, at his name badge, and then back at him. “Kim Seokjin,” the man says, and Seokjin raises his brows.
“You have the same name as me,” Seokjin laughs.
The man shakes his head quickly. “No, no,” he clears up, “I just recognised you. You’re Kim Seokjin, we went to the same high school. Do you remember me? I’m Kim Namjoon.”
Seokjin purses his lips, pen still in his hand. He tries to jog his memory, looking off to the side, back to Namjoon’s face. Neither his face nor name ring a bell. “Sorry… I don’t remember.”
Namjoon laughs, deep dimples forming on either sides of his face. “I expected that. I was a nerdy little kid with these huge glasses. And you were the most popular guy at school.”
Seokjin bites down on his lip. He quickly looks down and scribbles down Namjoon’s name on the cup and starts on making his coffee. He hopes Namjoon will walk away as he waits but he doesn’t.
“Last I heard, you’d gotten into a really good school. Are you working here part-time?” Namjoon asks, leaning on his forearms at the till. Seokjin glances over his shoulder at Namjoon’s inquiring eyes. He really doesn’t recognise him. Namjoon’s really good looking and Seokjin doesn’t remember anyone who looked like him in school.
“What are you doing now?” Seokjin asks, ignoring Namjoon’s questions.
Namjoon pushes himself up off the till. “I’m studying business and economics. We’ve got an assignment due tomorrow and we’re gonna take an all-nighter. Need coffee to stay up,” he tells Seokjin languidly. “How about you? How are your studies going? I’m guessing it’s tough, right?”
“I’m not studying right now,” Seokjin replies quietly, hopping the sound of the steam drowns him out.
It doesn’t. “Oh?” he asks, curiosity bursting across his face. “So what are you doing now?”
“I work at a coffee shop,” Seokjin replies airily as he takes the coffee, pops a lid onto it, and takes it to the cash register.
Namjoon walks to it with his brows raised so high it almost creates creases in his forehead. “You work at a coffee shop,” he confirms slowly, apprehensively, “that’s it? That’s all you’re doing?”
“Stop looking down on me.” Seokjin half-jokes as he rings up Namjoon’s order. “And no, it’s not all that I’m doing.”
There’s half a smile on Namjoon’s lips. “What else are you doing? Are you putting your good looks to use and-“
“Whatever you’re about to say, don’t.”
The curiosity on Namjoon’s face grows stronger. “Huh,” he breathes. “Most popular guy at school. Smart, strong, handsome, and you’re working at a coffee shop by day, god knows what by night-“
“Shut it. I make potions and concoctions.”
A beat of silence airs between them while Namjoon holds his card in his hand, dumbstruck. “Potions? What the fuck?”
Seokjin feels heat creep up his neck and he looks away, trying not to look embarrassed but knowing too well that’s exactly how he looks. “Yeah,” he mumbles. “So if you have any issues that your, uh, usual doctor can’t solve, you can come to me.”
Namjoon barks out a laugh so hard that it startles Seokjin and he almost drops his coffee. “You’re a fucking witch doctor. What the fuck.”
“Tell the whole fucking world, why don’t you?!” Seokjin hisses, silently begging Namjoon to quiet down.
“Why the fuck are you a witch doctor?” Namjoon breathes in between gasps of laughter. “Oh my god,” he wheezes.
Seokjin snaps his mouth shut and pulls his eyebrows down, grabs Namjoon’s card from his hand and shoves it into the card reader. He forces Namjoon to pay.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Namjoon breathes when he takes his cup of coffee and tries his damned hardest to stop laughing. “Why are you a witch doctor?” he asks, and Seokjin can read the other questions that hang in the air in front of Namjoon’s eyes, questions he won’t ask because it would be rude, because it would hurt.
His bright, inquiring eyes don’t falter as he continues to watch Seokjin and waits for an answer. Seokjin takes a deep, laboured breath and remembers his trunk full of ingredients that has long since become stagnant and untouched and he puts a hand to the back of his neck. “I failed med school,” he sighs.
“Oh,” Namjoon breathes.
And then the air between them turns stagnant. “Yeah,” Seokjin confirms, and he pulls his arm back down and looks up to meet Namjoon’s eyes. They aren’t curious and inquiring anymore. “I failed med school so I’m just here trying to make a bit of money,” he says.
“I can’t imagine you’re making much from your potions,” Namjoon replies, and though his lips are set in a straight line it almost breaks into a snicker when he voices potions. His brows remain heavy over his eyes.
“That’s why I’m working in a coffee shop,” Seokjin replies, and it’s almost sarcastic how wide the smile he puts on his face is.
Namjoon doesn’t look convinced (and Seokjin is sort of glad he isn’t, though it feels weird to admit that to himself). He only gives Seokjin the same look Seokjin gets from everyone who knows that he’d dropped out of school. The kind of look that says what happened, man? or you were so smart or I’m disappointed, and Seokjin can’t handle it.
“Enjoy your coffee,” he tells Namjoon. Fucking leave, already.
Namjoon looks like he’s about to turn to walk off, but then he pauses, bites down on his lip, and remains where he is. Seokjin glances at the end of the till and hopes to see a customer he can whisk off to, but he sees no one. He turns back to look at Namjoon. “You know, hyung,” he starts, finger tapping nervously on his cup of coffee, “I had the biggest crush on you in high school. Kim Seokjin, smartest, best looking. Brightest future. You didn’t know who I was even though everyone knew about me after I came out,” he says. Look at you now, he doesn’t say, but those words hang heavy in the air much the same. What happened?
“What happened?” his parents kept asking. “What happened?” his friends all asked. Seokjin doesn’t know.
He doesn’t realise he’s frowning until he feels the drag of his facial muscles, the stress between his brows.
“Thanks for the coffee,” Namjoon says, and he finally fucks off.
That night Seokjin looks at his trunk and he thinks he’s going to cry, but nothing comes out. He’s too stagnant. He just changes into his sleepwear and he falls into bed and stares at the ceiling until he falls asleep.
He doesn’t listen to the message his mother had left for him. He just gets out of bed and scarfs down some cereal, watches some anime, and goes to work in the afternoon.
He glances down at the screen of his phone, eyelids low over his pupils, as he stares at the impressive number of calls he’d missed, the number of voicemails he hasn’t listened to. He taps the end of his finger against the wood of the table he’s at, staring at his screen with no intentions of responding to any of it all until Yoongi returns to their table with two glass bottles of beer.
“Hopefully this will get you to talk,” Yoongi says as Seokjin takes the glass bottle in his hands, lets the condensation from the surface cool the palm of his hand, and then takes a quick swig, “about why the fuck you’re so gloomy.”
“No reason,” Seokjin breathes when he lowers the bottle back down to the table. “I just ran out of happy energy at work.”
“Bad customer?” Yoongi asks, brows raised, lips pursed.
Seokjin shrugs one shoulder. “I’m just tired,” he replies and takes another swig. He glances up and meets Yoongi’s eyes, his dark eyes that seem to most people like they’re uncaring, unbothered, unaffected, but Seokjin sees better. Those eyes look at him, into him, knowing and judging and pitying. Seokjin can feel it. He can see it.
But Yoongi flickers his eyes elsewhere and plays out his role of pretending to be uncaring, unbothered, unaffected. Seokjin exhales like the weight of Yoongi’s knowing had finally been lifted off his chest. It’s in these moments Seokjin remembers why Yoongi was his friend, why he was one of the few friends Seokjin actually liked to be with – because even though Seokjin knows Yoongi can see right through him and he knows Yoongi worries about him, silently asks what happened? What happened to you, Seokjin? he never verbalises.
Seokjin finishes his beer off quickly, the burn in his throat quickly dissipating and getting lost somewhere in the back of his mind along with several other thoughts he hates to entertain. He orders Yoongi to fetch him another bottle. His memories post the angry little eyebrows on Yoongi’s face as he complies is the last coherent memory Seokjin owns of this night. There are patches, here and there, of him dancing (horribly) and singing (surprisingly well for someone as shitfaced as he was) and trying to pick a fight with someone twice his size, and then being led back to his little box of an apartment by Yoongi and his angry little eyebrows.
In the morning, he ignores the phone calls and doesn’t listen to the voicemails he gets. His mother is asking him to come home. His old friends are wondering if he’d show up for a get-together. He ignores them, lounges around his tiny apartment, watches anime and then goes to work in the afternoon.
He’s cleaning one of the tables with a damp cloth when the little bell on the door chimes to the beat of a customer walking in. There’s about five minutes left to closing the shop for the day and every conscious cell in Seokjin’s body wants to whip around, throw the wet rag at the customer’s face and tell him they’re closing but Seokjin hasn’t been nominated employee of the year for nothing – he straightens up, wet rag behind him, and smiles widely at the customer.
It’s Kim Namjoon. Namjoon waves at him and walks up to the till that’s unmanned since all his colleagues are getting ready to close up the shop, so Seokjin leaves the rag on the table and lets himself in behind the till and approaches Namjoon with his best, most fake smile. “Hi. What can I get for you?” he asks, his voice jovial and plausible.
“Coffee, black. Grande,” Namjoon requests.
“The same as last time,” Seokjin acknowledges as he grabs a cup, scribbles Namjoon’s name on it, and starts on the simple order.
“You remembered. I’m impressed,” Namjoon muses. “How many orders do you have memorised?”
Seokjin gives him a smile over his shoulder. “Just yours,” he lies, and watches Namjoon’s face for just long enough to see a little blush peaking through his tan skin before returning his attention to his coffee.
“Silly question,” he hears Namjoon mutter after a second, “you’re smart. Memorising is easy for you.”
He licks his lips as he wonders, for only the briefest of moments, how quickly Namjoon had seen through his lie and his poor attempt at (what Jaehwan would call) flirting. Sure, he’d blushed. But who wouldn’t? If Kim Seokjin flirts with you, you blush. There’s no two ways around it. He takes the coffee to the cash register, rings it up, and Namjoon pays.
“Thanks, hyung,” Namjoon says as he takes the coffee into his hands.
“You’re welcome,” Seokjin replies in his ever-present good-natured tone.
“When do you finish work?” Namjoon asks as he brings his coffee up to his lips and takes an experimental sip. He winces and sticks his tongue out. “Hot,” he mumbles.
Seokjin glances at the clock on the wall. “I finished three minutes ago,” he replies.
“Oh, shit,” Namjoon replies. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to-“
“No, it’s fine,” Seokjin waves his hands dismissively with a smile on his lips. It’s a sincere smile because Seokjin has had to deal with much worse, at much later times. “Don’t worry about it. You’re cute, so it’s okay.”
Namjoon blushes again.
He apologises again, and says his goodbyes, and leaves the coffee shop. Seokjin whips his apron off and continues in his endeavours to get the shop clean and ready to lock up for the evening. He says his farewells to his colleagues, thanks them for their hard work, slips his coat on, his bag, and he leaves the coffee shop.
He returns to his tiny little apartment.
He ignores the phone calls, the voicemails, that plague and clutter his phone when he wakes up. There’s a text from Yoongi, which he turns his nose up at because Yoongi never texts him in the morning. It must be important, so Seokjin wades through the sea of unanswered calls, unheard voicemails, to get to Yoongi’s text.
get in loser we’re going shopping
seriously, I’m waiting outside
beep beep motherfucker
Yoongi isn’t in a silver convertible outside his apartment (but what did Seokjin expect? Yoongi failed his driver’s test four times before giving up) but he is wearing jogging pants.
“We’re going for a run,” Yoongi announces to him. The loud and audible groan no one heard earlier is heard, now. Yoongi closes his eyes and purses his lips, reaching for Seokjin’s wrist. “Come on, no complaints.”
The elder is dragged, quite literally, to the small park a few streets over. Once they arrive Yoongi lets go of Seokjin’s wrist slowly like he’s afraid Seokjin will run off the second he’s free. “Why must I do this?” Seokjin complains as Yoongi starts with a few warm-up stretches. Seokjin watches him, annoyed and restless.
“Because I said so.”
He starts running, and Seokjin follows after him. He complains loudly as he goes, aiming to annoy Yoongi as much as he can in the hopes that Yoongi will ditch him somewhere and let him crawl back to his apartment until his shift.
But instead of ditching him, Yoongi starts to slow down. He slows down, and so does Seokjin, until he stops completely and leans over with his hands clasping his knees. He’s heaving out his breaths loudly and tiredly. “Fuck, my lungs-“ he wheezes.
Seokjin puts his hands on his hips. “We literally ran for,” Seokjin pauses to check the time on his phone, “six minutes.”
“I’m gonna…” Yoongi trails as he walks slowly over to the nearest park bench, “take a little break here. You carry on.”
“I’m going home,” Seokjin replies, and spins on his heel to head back to his apartment.
“Wait!” Yoongi calls out, and Seokjin glances over his shoulders to find Yoongi reaching out for him. “Don’t leave me here.”
He lets out a heavy sigh and plops down next to Yoongi. Kneads the area between his eyes with his hand. “If you’re gonna try to come up with ways to help me, at least come up with something you can manage,” Seokjin tells him.
Yoongi shakes his head. “No, I just thought it would be a fun thing to do.”
“Right,” Seokjin replies, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. “You look like you need an inhaler.”
“No, no, I’m just taking a little break. You keep running.”
Seokjin leans back on the park bench and stares up at the sky. “I appreciate you trying to help, Yoongi, I really do,” he says to the clouds. “But you’re about as fit as my grandmother and I’m not really in the mood to use up all my energy before I go to work.”
“Fine, fine,” Yoongi huffs. “Help me up, let’s just forget we even tried this.”
He goes to work in the afternoon. He makes coffees and he wipes down tables and he flirts just because he can until it’s time to close the shop for the evening. He bids his farewells to his colleagues, thanks them for their hard work, and then he leaves. Waiting for him outside is Kim Namjoon.
“Hi,” Namjoon smiles at him.
“Hey,” Seokjin replies back slowly, his brows drawn downwards just a little. “We just closed, sorry.”
“No, I was waiting for you to finish,” Namjoon explains quickly.
“Oh,” Seokjin replies dumbly and his eyes travel down his arm and to the cup of coffee in his hand. “Who are you cheating on me with?” he asks in jest, but the look on Namjoon’s voice tells Seokjin his joke was not received in the way he’d intended it to be, because he actually looks guilty.
“The university cafeteria. It’s shit, actually,” Namjoon throws the cup at the nearest bin and somehow lands a shot.
Seokjin starts walking towards his apartment, slowly, and Namjoon jogs a little to catch up to him and walk beside him. Seokjin watches him from the corner of his vision curiously, unsure of what to say.
“So, do you work there every day?” Namjoon asks after they’ve walked in (somewhat uncomfortable silence) for a minute.
“Six days a week,” Seokjin replies.
“That’s… a lot.”
Seokjin laughs airily. “It’s not bad. I’m used to it.”
“I don’t think I could handle it. The same thing, day in – day out. I think I’d get fed up and sick of it.”
“I guess it could seem that way,” Seokjin replies. He pushes his hands into the pockets of his coat as he walks, his eyes on the road ahead of him. “But I’m used to it.”
He feels Namjoon turn his head to watch him as they walk, so he looks up and meets his gaze. His eyes- his eyelids hanging low over his pupils, are asking more questions than his mouth lets through: what happened to you? they ask. Since when were you like this?
He thinks about Yoongi trying to get him to run in the morning. He knows what Yoongi had said, something ridiculous about thinking it might be fun, but Seokjin knows the truth. He just wants Seokjin to do something outside of lazing around in the morning and working in the afternoon. Thinks that if Seokjin gets some exercise things might start to change. But Seokjin knows better. He can run and run and run but the all the cogs and wheels inside him will remain rusted and frozen in place. Nothing will change. There’s no point in trying.
He sees the same look in Namjoon’s eyes.
“Are you a cat alongside being a witch doctor?” Namjoon asks him, and Seokjin’s eyes widen a little.
“Cats don’t have a neocortex like humans do. I was wondering if you’re a cat.”
Seokjin stops walking and turns his body to face Namjoon. Namjoon does the same. “I’m not a fucking cat,” he huffs. “I have a fully developed neocortex. It does everything it should do. Sensory perception, motor commands-“
“Then you should know,” Namjoon cuts him off, “that it’s in charge of the concept of time.”
“Cats don’t have one. They don’t get bored or depressed even if they eat the same food… do the same things… day in and day out.”
“I know, Namjoon, I used to be a med student.”
Namjoon just nods slowly. “I know you know,” he informs Seokjin like it’s matter-of-fact. “I’m just telling you because I want to. That cats don’t have a neocortex like humans do, and don’t get depressed doing the same things over and over.”
“Well, thanks for that. I’ll head on home and continue with my boring, depressing life that’s none of your business.”
He turns on his heel and picks up the pace as he walks towards his tiny box of an apartment. “Wait,” Namjoon calls after him, and Seokjin doesn’t respond. Doesn’t react. He hears Namjoon jogging after him and he continues to walk on until he feels Namjoon grab his wrist and stop him. “Wait. I didn’t mean to offend you,” he says.
I didn’t mean to offend you, Namjoon had said. I’m just trying to fix you.
“I’m sorry,” he tells Seokjin. “Let me make it up to you.”
Seokjin stares at the ground and pouts at it. Clenches his fist. Thinks about all the mornings he spends ignoring calls and messages and does the same thing, over and over, day in and day out, and he unclenches his fist. “It’s fine. You were right. I’ll go home and make a potion to turn myself into a cat and never have to worry about anything ever again.”
He tries to walk away, but Namjoon’s hasn’t yet let go of his wrist. Seokjin is pulled back for the second time. “Let me make it up to you. I’ll buy something from you. Make me some hocus pocus juice or something, I don’t know.”
Seokjin sizes up the determination in Namjoon’s eyes and he wonders about the last time he’d sold something. The last time the trunk at the end of his bed had been opened. He wants to walk away from Namjoon, from everything that ever changes in his never-changing, stagnant life and curl back into the comfort of his tiny little box of an apartment he’s stuffed himself into, but there’s a voice in the back of his mind that tells him not to. He doesn’t know who that voice belongs to, until it speaks a little louder, and he recognises the voice. It’s his own. The voice that was his own when he was still a med student. “Fine,” he says as the voice at the back of his mind scolds him. “Follow me.”
Namjoon returns to his side as they walk back to Seokjin’s apartment.
Seokjin watches the way Namjoon’s eyes go wide the minute Seokjin unlocks the door to his tiny little apartment. He doesn’t even walk inside, he just stands by the door after he’d closed it, and he just stares. Seokjin watches him, waits for a response, for him to look back and say do you really live like this? but it doesn’t come. Seokjin sits on the end of his bed and clicks open his trunk, and his eyes immediately zero in on his medical equipment that he hasn’t touched in years. He looks away. “Is there anything in particular you want?” Seokjin asks as he rifles through vials of liquid, packets wrapped in parchment paper, small bottles.
“I don’t know,” Namjoon replies. “You’re the witch doctor. Just whip me up whatever,” he tells Seokjin.
Seokjin knows Namjoon doesn’t believe in anything, right now. He’s only buying something out of pity, out of guilt, so Seokjin decides not to put any thought towards what he brews for Namjoon. He’d love to make a potion that could possibly shrink Namjoon down a little because he’s still a little annoyed and it riles Seokjin up even more that he’s taller, but he can’t bring himself to do that. The doctor part of him doesn’t let him.
He finds in his trunk some burdock root, cardamom, a couple of other things he doesn’t pay attention to along with his pestle and mortar before taking the ingredients over to his kitchen worktop to start grinding. He adds in myrrh and some elixir he’d bought a few years back from a strange old man and mixes everything together. He pours the concoction into a glass bottle, squeezes a cork in the top. He hands it to Namjoon.
“How much do you want for this?” Namjoon asks. He’s still standing at the door.
Seokjin calculates in his mind the prices of all the ingredients he’d used and comes to a reasonable conclusion. “Seventy-thousand won?”
“Why are you asking,” Namjoon laughs light-heartedly and reaches into his pocket to fish out his phone. He taps through it and then hands it to Seokjin. “Put your bank details in, I’ll transfer the money to you.”
He does as he’s told, punching in the digits of his bank account number that he’s long since memorised, and he checks the amount of money Namjoon had put in (just to make sure – working in a shady business calls for shady customers) when Namjoon speaks again.
“Put your number in while you’re at it,” he says. Seokjin glances up from Namjoon’s phone and stares.
“That was smooth of you,” he laughs a little and confirms the payment transfer before navigating to Namjoon’s contacts and saving his number on it.
Namjoon scratches the back of his head. “To be honest, I just needed your number in case your potion does something weird to me.”
“Oh,” Seokjin replies dumbly and drops his smile. He hands Namjoon’s phone back to him.
He holds up the vial of the potion Seokjin had just made for him, inspecting it like a chemist. “I never would have thought,” Namjoon says as he peers into the glass, “that I’d ever buy hocus pocus juice from you, of all people.” He uncaps it and guzzles it down, and scrunches his nose up at the bitter flavour.
“Please stop calling it that.”
“Or that I’d be getting your number because of it.”
“Yeah, well, don’t expect anything out of it.”
“The hocus pocus juice or your number?”
Seokjin flicks his eyes up to meet Namjoon’s. “Both,” he says. “I’m a pretty shit witch doctor. I don’t even know what I made for you.”
“What?” Namjoon asks, his eyes going wide. His hand presses against his stomach as panic starts to lace through him and turn his skin paler. “Hyung, what the fuck-“
Seokjin pushes him out of his apartment. “You have my number. Just text me if you start bleeding out of your ass or something.” He closes the door once he’s successfully pushed Namjoon out of his apartment.
He slumps down on his bed and listens, for a few minutes, as Namjoon pounds on his door and complains. But eventually he gives up and he walks away and Seokjin lets the stagnant air claim him once again and he sinks back into his own life. He shuts the lid of his trunk, stares at the wall for a while, and then gets ready to go to sleep.
In the morning, he ignores phone calls, voicemails, texts. There’s a new number mixed in along with the old ones that Seokjin’s eyes have long since learned to be blind to, but when he sees the angry, capitalised complaints belonging to none other than Kim Namjoon, he ignores those, too. He watches anime, he lazes around, and then he goes to work. Namjoon doesn’t bother him again.
He returns comfortably to his never-changing life. Once upon a time Seokjin had led an unpredictable, exciting life that always kept him on his feet. Gave him things to be happy over, things to be sad about. He made friends, he made enemies, he had achievements and he had failures. Now, he has nothing, and Seokjin supposes it’s better this way. Nothing ever changes. It’s better this way. It’s better this way.
It’s better to stay this way, to return to a life that never changes, except Kim Namjoon has other plans. He shows up outside the coffee shop a few days later, waiting for Seokjin to finish his shift. He looks good – nothing like someone who’d consumed a questionable magical drink and lived to tell the tale. His skin isn’t pale and his eyes are bright. “Hyung,” he says when Seokjin walks out.
Seokjin turns his head away from Namjoon and tries to speed-walk away from him.
“Wait, hyung!” Namjoon calls after him and jogs to catch up to him. Seokjin walks faster. Namjoon starts to run and then, so does Seokjin. “Wait!”
Suddenly, Seokjin is sprinting down the road, the air rushing past his face and whipping his hair back out of his forehead and the buildings passing him by in a blur. His heart picks up pace, it beats fast and hard, and then Namjoon stop him. Throws his arms around Seokjin to hold him in place.
“Wait,” Namjoon breathes, and then he lets go. He clasps Seokjin’s wrist. “Wait a second.”
Seokjin breathes heavily through his mouth, uses his free hand to press against his chest. It’s been a few years since his heart has sped up like this and it feels strange; almost foreign to him completely. He isn’t even sure why. “What is it?” he asks, his voice light and airy.
“Your hocus pocus juice,” Namjoon wheezes out as he tries to catch his breath, “worked.”
“What happened?” he asks, keeping his eyes plastered on Namjoon’s hand around his wrist.
“I don’t know. I found a lottery ticket on the floor and it was a winning card. I’m, like, the unluckiest person alive! Why would this happen to me? It must’ve been your potion!”
Seokjin’s eyes are wide, lips parted as he stares back at Namjoon’s excited face. He doesn’t even realise both of his hands are clasped in Namjoon’s, now, until Namjoon brings him a little closer in. When it finally hits him he shakes out of Namjoon’s hold. “You won the lottery? Because of my potion?” he asks to clarify, and Namjoon nods. “What the fuck! You owe me some of that money!”
“What? No, I don’t!”
“Yes, you do! If it wasn’t for my potion you wouldn’t have won it!”
“I bought that potion from you fair and square!”
Seokjin huffs and tries to let his anger seep out of him. Tries to channel his customer service voice that tells him not to raise his voice. He taps into that mentality and tries to calm himself down and he looks up at Namjoon and brushes some hair out of his face. “Look. All I’m saying is that it would be nice if you gave me some of that money. I’m kind of piss-poor.”
“I could tell. You live in a box.”
“Why don’t you just… I don’t know, make that potion again? Drink it yourself?” Namjoon suggests.
Seokjin smacks his fist into his hand. “You genius!”
“Yeah, I know,” Namjoon replies just before Seokjin spins on his heel and heads towards his apartment at a brisk speed. In his haste he doesn’t realise Namjoon had been following until he tries to shut the door to his apartment behind him and smacks Namjoon in the face. The younger male yells at him but Seokjin doesn’t give him the time of day; he makes a beeline straight for his trunk, his eyes look past his long since unused medical equipment and he reaches for his ingredients.
There’s a tiny little voice in the back of his mind that tells him he’s forgotten what ingredients he’d used to make the potion for Namjoon, but there’s a louder voice that tells him he’s good, he’s got this under control. He listens to that voice and reaches for some cardamom, star anise, comfrey root and he crushes it all together with myrrh and his elixir. He doesn’t bother pouring it into a glass vial, he just lifts the heavy mortar between his two hands and drinks the bitter, aromatic solution.
He turns to face Namjoon. “How long did it take for it to work for you?” he asks.
“I found the ticket on my way home after I left,” Namjoon answers mildly. Seokjin nods and points to the door.
“You and I are going for a walk, then.”
Namjoon can only nod and get dragged along as Seokjin parades down the street and has his eyes glued to the pavement as he goes, eyes scanning along it like a hound dog. Namjoon searches with him.
He walks and walks, and he passes the coffee shop and keeps on walking. “We’re getting close to the university,” Namjoon tells him quietly, but Seokjin doesn’t stop searching the streets.
“I’m not giving up until I find something,” Seokjin replies, glancing at Namjoon just to show him his determination in his angled brows.
Namjoon doesn’t say anything. He just smiles, and then his eyes zero in on something above Seokjin’s head, and his smile disappears. Gets replaced by his lips forming an o.
“What is it?” Seokjin asks, pausing his search.
“It’s…” Namjoon trails, bringing one arm up to point to the top of Seokjin’s head. Seokjin instinctively reaches up and pats his hand over his head until he feels it.
His heart sinks like a rock in a stagnant pool of water.
Namjoon closes the distance between himself and Seokjin and cups Seokjin’s cheeks his hands. “It’s Seokjinnie,” he gushes at the tiny little plant sprouting from the top of Seokjin’s head. “Oh my god, I’m in love.”
“What the fu-“ Seokjin tries to pull away from Namjoon’s hold but the younger male squishes his cheeks together. He brings his hands up and holds Namjoon’s wrists, tries to pry them away, but he won’t let go. He keeps cooing at the plant growing from Seokjin’s head until his eyes start to shine.
“This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” Namjoon fawns, and detaches one hand from Seokjin’s cheek to reach up and pet at the plant. “Oh my god, I love you.”
Seokjin swallows and tries to still his erratic heart. He’s still clutching Namjoon’s wrists but he gives up in trying to force the younger to stop holding him. “Do you love me or the plant?”
“The plant,” Namjoon replies instantly. “It’s Seokjinnie.”
“I’m gonna cut it the fuck off,” Seokjin replies.
“No! You can’t!”
“I can do whatever the fuck I want. Dumb potion gave me a plant on my head instead of money.”
“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Namjoon ignores Seokjin’s complaints and continues to prattle on with stars in his eyes. “I’m so in love.”
He pushes Seokjin’s head down so that he can get a better look at it. “How about you give me your money and I’ll give you this plant?” Seokjin asks as he stares down, after being forced to, at Namjoon’s chest. He feels Namjoon’s hands carding through his hair, stroking it, petting his hair and his plant. It feels so strange, like it’s a very, very thick hair growing from the top of his head, and all Seokjin wants to do is get rid of it.
Namjoon clasps his cheeks again and forces Seokjin to look at him. “You should be my boyfriend.”
“You should be my boyfriend. Move in with me. Leave that shitty box – it’s not a good environment for Seokjinnie to grow in.”
Seokjin wants nothing more than to cut the stupid bastard off his head and experiment with his ingredients until he’s remembered the combination he used to grant Namjoon his luck and fortune, but as his mind starts to spark to life the pieces start to fall together and make sense. If he lives with Namjoon, as his boyfriend, he would benefit from the money Namjoon had won. It makes sense.
There’s a voice, in the back of his head, that he recognises as his own voice that used to be his before he dropped out of med school, telling him that it’s time he breaks out of his cycle of doing the same thing, day in and day out. The voice tells him that it’s time something finally changes.
His hands curl tightly around Namjoon’s wrists, the younger male’s hands still holding his cheeks preciously, when he purses his lips and tries to gather his determination. “Okay,” he answers resolutely (although the effect is lost through his squished cheeks and subsequently muffled voice) and Namjoon’s face lights up. He pulls Seokjin’s head down once more and drops a kiss on Seokjin’s head, just at the base of the dumb plant that sprouted there.
For a long time the voice in the back of his head has told him that something needs to change. There was no way Seokjin would’ve ever guessed that this would be it.