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i bloom (just for you)

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☼ ☼ ☼

June, 2020.

Jungkook loves his job.

He loves how pretty and cozy the art studio is, in spite of the constant mess it’s in.

Though, in his opinion, it’s precisely the mess what makes the place even more charming than it already is. He loves how there is almost not a single visible centimeter of its white walls because everything is covered in paintings of every size. Wherever Jungkook looks, there are painted landscapes of snowy mountains, forests, and frozen rivers — most of them, the larger and more abstract ones done in acrylic or oil, are Yoongi’s. Jungkook’s landscapes are tinier, more detailed, and they’re all done in watercolor. There are a few portraits here and there, too, as well as some still lives — most of them are Jungkook’s. It’s easy to tell their works apart; their styles are almost completely different, but still –in Jungkook’s opinion— they look great together.

The dark wooden floors have stains of paint pretty much all over them. There are many new ones because Jungkook sometimes likes using the floor to work, which causes him to accidentally make messes every now and then, but there are also many old ones. When Jungkook first came back to town after the two years he spent at the military service, and he went to Yoongi’s studio to demand he gave him the artist job he promised him when he was still in his last year of high school, there were already plenty of stains all over the place. Jungkook likes them. Seokjin, Yoongi’s partner, once mentioned how they’re kind of like accidental constellations, and Jungkook hasn’t been able to stop thinking about that ever since, every time he catches a glimpse of them (which is very often).

Their personal workspaces are also little disasters.

Yoongi’s is definitely the messiest, which is great, because he never scolds Jungkook if his own desk gets messy.

The older man’s workspace is cluttered with tubes of paint, some of them drier than a desert, some of them brand new and unopened, some of them old but still unopened, some of them busted, some of them spilt. There’s paintbrushes everywhere, an impressive variety of plastic cups filled with dirty paint water, and piled up sketchbooks that have been completely ruined due to Yoongi accidentally knocking over the aforementioned cups of paint water far too many times.

There are scraps of all kinds of materials, too, like lace, aluminum paper, and even denim fabric, which he has sometimes tried to include in his paintings before ultimately deciding to just stick to what he usually does and paint regular, traditional, good ol’ landscapes of the mountains around town. In the end, those are one of the things that make the most money, and at this point, Yoongi says, he doesn’t even have to think when he paints the snowy Taebaek mountains. There are a few polaroid pictures pasted on the wall, too, all of them immaculate — the only thing in his territory that is still untouched by paint and water. There’s a candid shot of Seokjin laughing, a selfie of Yoongi and Seokjin together at the beach in Thailand, and a few pictures of their dogs. It’s like a little sanctuary for his family, so it makes sense that he keeps it impeccable.

Jungkook’s desk, on the other hand, is less messy than his boss’s, but only because he sometimes needs more space. If he has time to kill, he likes to indulge himself in digital art, but for that he needs to fit his computer and his tablet in his workspace, which is why he keeps it mostly clear of stuff. The edges of it, though, are cluttered with watercolor palettes, two tiny succulents, and diverse mason jars. Some of them are empty (because unlike Yoongi, Jungkook does get rid of his paint water), some of them are filled with paint brushes, and some of them are filled with lead and color pencils. There are erasers, rulers, pencil sharpeners, bottles of ink, sets of pastels and charcoals, and all sorts of drawing supplies, which he has collected over the years.

Jungkook loves working with Yoongi.

He loves painting and drawing, and he loves that Yoongi trusts his abilities enough –as unschooled and self-taught as they are— to pay him for them. They’re especially handy during winter holiday season, because, in the small mountain city of Taebaek, winter holidays are a synonym of tourist season, and consequently, of souvenir season. And what could tourists like more than hand-painted postcards?

Jungkook also loves that even when it isn’t holiday season, Yoongi allows him to work at the studio doing pretty much anything he wants. He doesn’t get paid for that, of course. During the warmer seasons, Jungkook only makes money if one of his own pieces is sold, or if Yoongi needs help with particular jobs, like mixing his colors or preparing his canvases if he’s too busy to do it himself, or driving two hours in his 1998 Silverado to the city of Donghae to buy art supplies he might need.

That’s why Jungkook is at the studio even if it’s the beginning of June.

The sky is almost completely devoid of clouds, the town is almost completely devoid of tourists, and the studio is almost completely devoid of clients, but there’s still work to do. He’s helping Yoongi out because a luxurious hotel in Seoul discovered him and his paintings recently and commissioned him a series of five large-sized, minimalistic, snowy landscapes to hang in their lobby before winter rolls in.

“I can’t begin to imagine the size of that lobby if they need not one, not two, but five huge ass paintings of snowy trees to hang around,” Yoongi comments as he studiously coats one of the giant canvases in a layer of acrylic gesso. Only one canvas is already prepared, pushed against one of the walls for the gesso to dry, and Jungkook is working on the third one. As for the missing two, Jungkook is going to have to drive to Donghae very soon in order to buy the necessary materials to make the canvases.

“It must be the size of this entire town,” Jungkook jokes, glancing to the side with a little smile to see Yoongi’s reaction.

The older man snorts and nods to himself, but he keeps his eyes on the canvas. Jungkook knows Yoongi loves what he does and that he always tries to be as careful as meticulous as he can, even if he often complains about how dull it can be to draw endless variations of the same landscape, time and time again.

“No kidding,” Yoongi comments. “Five paintings… All of them three meters wide and one-point-three meters tall… It’s crazy.”

“At least they’re paying you well, though,” Jungkook adds in.

“Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t have accepted the job if it was for only a few hundred thousand won. Do you think I should demand a weekend-long stay in one of their most luxurious suites for me and Seokjin?”

It’s Jungkook’s turn to snort at that in amusement, but he nods as he runs the brush carefully over the canvas, from left to right.

“Absolutely. It’s only fair, isn’t it?” he says, and the older man hums appreciatively as Jungkook adds, “though I do think that a weekend is not enough... I mean, they are making you paint five landscapes. Why not make it a five-night stay instead?”

The older man laughs. Jungkook sees him shake his head slightly at his words, his shaggy bleached hair swaying with the movement even if it’s pulled upwards into a messy bun at the top of his head. He seems about to say something else when the door of the studio opens unceremoniously, the unpleasantly high-pitched ringing of bells accompanying it, tinkling over the low hum of the AC.

“Jesus fuck, it’s burning up outside,” comes Seokjin’s voice, and it instantly has Jungkook laughing to himself. He looks away from the smooth, snow-white surface of the canvas and at the man that just walked in through the door. In spite of the heat and humidity that exists beyond the cold and fresh realm of Yoongi’s studio, Seokjin’s black hair is flawless, and so is the white-collar-and-black-office-slacks combination that he wears to work at the administrative area of a local hotel (which is only really busy during the colder seasons). He has two white plastic bags with what Jungkook knows are containers full of warm and freshly-made food from a nearby restaurant, and the sight of them only makes the man more perfect to Jungkook’s eyes.

(He’s already perfect enough, though. Ask anyone in the city and they’ll tell you that it’s impossible to get any more handsome, any smarter, and any kinder than Kim Seokjin. Everybody, from the ahjussis that feed pigeons at the park to the high schooler boys and girls, all agree that Kim Seokjin is perfect.)

“Well, hello to you, too,” Yoongi says, turning away from his white canvas so he can give Seokjin an unimpressed look.

“Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t I say hi before?” Seokjin asks, approaching Yoongi with a confident grin that Yoongi returns with two raised eyebrows and a quirk of his lips.

“No, you just cursed as soon as you got in here. Classy, as always.”

“Well, in that case,” the black-haired man hums as he finally reaches Yoongi and he leans down to greet him with a kiss on the lips. Jungkook studiously looks away and rolls his eyes, even if he can’t deny how cute they are when they flirt like they aren’t thirty-something and haven’t been around each other for about ten years already. “Hey, love.”

“Mm, that’s better,” Jungkook hears Yoongi tell Seokjin, seemingly pleased with himself.

A few seconds later, Seokjin is next to Jungkook, one of his arms looping around his shoulders as best as it can manage when there is a bag full of food hanging from it.

“That’s a lot of white paint,” the older man comments, and Jungkook laughs again, nodding as he looks at him.

“It’s not paint, hyung, it’s gesso. That’s why it smells terrible.”

“The paint also smells terrible, though,” Seokjin points out.

“Art stinks, literally and metaphorically,” Yoongi chirps in from the side, which has Jungkook and Seokjin laughing. Jungkook wouldn’t have laughed under normal circumstances, but Seokjin laughs so joyfully and annoyingly, that it’s impossible not to laugh along with him.

“Thanks for the food, by the way,” Jungkook tells Seokjin when their laughter dies down, finally putting his paintbrush down so he can hug the older man properly in greeting.

“Don’t mention it, Jungkookie,” Seokjin replies, patting Jungkook’s shoulder good-naturedly.

More often than not, Seokjin spends his lunch breaks with Yoongi (and with Jungkook too, if he’s around), and whenever he does, he gets lunch for all of them on his way to the studio. The lady that owns the restaurant adores him –as does everyone—, and she always throws in a few extra rations of whatever it is Seokjin buys. She once wrote down her Kakao ID on the receipt, so she must be unaware of the fact that Seokjin is unofficially married already. However, Yoongi once said that as long as she doesn’t try anything funny and they keep on getting free food on the regular, then her crush on his partner is perfectly comprehensible and nothing to worry about.

Yoongi and Seokjin are quite older than Jungkook is, but Jungkook loves them and being around them anyway.

Jungkook is only twenty-two years old, and it doesn’t make much of a difference that he’s going to turn twenty-three in September, because Seokjin and Yoongi are both thirty-four years old internationally. Yoongi was Jungkook’s art teacher in high school, actually; the person that got Jungkook into art in the first place. He was young and cool back then (not that he isn’t young and cool anymore), and it was easy for Jungkook and he to find common grounds and befriend each other in spite of their age differences.

Now, years later, they’ve become actual friends (as well as something like co-workers, or boss-employee). Now, years later, they are sitting side by side on stools in the studio they work at together. They’re stuffing their mouths with kimchi bokkeumbap and chatting about nothing in particular, like how terribly boring Seokjin’s day at work has been, how Yoongi should demand a full week-long stay at the luxurious hotel that commissioned him, and how Jungkook’s own little art projects have been going.

It’s in the middle of that that they see something unusual through the window of the studio.

(At least, it’s unusual for this time of the year).

Standing there on the sidewalk and under the sun there is a tall man with a huge suitcase seeming very lost and confused. His back is turned to the window of the studio, and he seems to alternate between looking at a notebook he’s holding and then at the street around him, but he does so helplessly, fruitlessly, time and time again.

Now, it isn’t completely unheard of to have tourists show up in town during the summer, but it’s still quite the rare thing, especially considering how Taebaek is officially known as “Korea’s Winter Destination” across the country and there aren’t many things around to attract people after the snow has already melted. And that person? Tall, fashionable, with what the locals call a ‘city haircut’, and carrying prominent luggage— he’s definitely not from the area.

“What’s up with that guy?” Yoongi says, voicing all of their thoughts as he gestures vaguely at the man standing outside with his chopsticks. “Is he a lost tourist?”

“Guess no one told him Taebaek hibernates during the summer,” Jungkook comments, smiling to himself in amusement as he sees the poor tourist huff and run a hand through his hair. He seems cute, at least from what Jungkook can make out. The window of the studio is slightly tinted, but still Jungkook can see the way the man’s shoulder blades shift beneath the black shirt he’s wearing when he runs a hand through his blonde hair, all of which is terribly attractive.

“Perhaps he’s looking for a place to stay,” Seokjin hums in interest. “Perhaps he’s a potential guest at my hotel.”

“Then you should go get him, hyung. I’m sure he’s dying to get a room with a view to the melted ski courts,” Jungkook jokes, eyes still fixed on the fumbling tall and attractive man standing outside. His words earn him a pinch from Seokjin. “Ow—!”

“Why don’t you go ask him if he needs help, Jungkookie?” Yoongi suggests, simply ignoring the others’ nonsense, completely immune to it at this point of his life. He smirks when he looks at Jungkook. “He looks like he could use a hand, and you are totally interested in giving it to him, aren’t you? You haven’t stopped looking at him.”

“Me?” Jungkook’s eyes widen, and a blush creeps up to his cheeks. “I-I mean, he’s hot, but I can’t just go up to him and talk to him just like that…! Much less if he’s hot!”

Yoongi clicks his tongue, his smirk growing a little bigger at Jungkook’s words, and really, only he could manage to look smug while his cheeks are full of bokkeumbap. He and Seokjin, both. They’re a terrible, terrible duo.

“Come on, you’re a big boy. You’ve dealt with hot dudes before, haven’t you? Just go out there, ask him if he needs a hand, and use that chance to find out whether his face is as fine as his body.”

“Yah, darling, I’m literally right here,” Seokjin demands, knocking his knee against Yoongi’s.

“And I’m married, not blind,” Yoongi replies simply. “The guy’s body is undeniably fine, Seokjin. What do you want me to do; lie to Jungkook?”

The youngest just sighs a bit anxiously, slumping forward on the stool, holding the food container in his hands, elbows propped on his knees as he looks outside. He bites his lip thoughtfully, eyes still focused on the man.

Judging by his body language, he’s hopelessly lost, which makes Jungkook feel sorry for him, but he only makes a decision to go when he sees the man finally daring to take a step away from the studio. It’s a slow and doubtful step, sure, but a step no less; one that will surely be followed by plenty others and will carry him away from Jungkook and his curiosity (and his thirst).

“Alright, fine, I’ll go,” Jungkook declares, standing up suddenly and putting his bokkeumbap container on the stool he was sitting on. “But it’s only because I feel bad for him! There are no ulterior motives involved, alright?”

Both Seokjin and Yoongi snort at that in disbelief.

“Whatever makes you sleep at night, Kookie. Go get him!” Seokjin tells him encouragingly. Yoongi also says something to him, but Jungkook doesn’t quite catch it.

Whatever. It’s surely not important.

As soon as Jungkook is out of the art studio, he lets his eyes travel over the man. He’s a little less tall than he looked from a distance, probably only a couple of centimeters taller than Jungkook himself, but still taller than your average Korean man. He’s wearing light blue jeans, and his black t-shirt (which really showcases the upper part of his back) is tucked into his pants (which really showcases the lower part of his back). His hair is bleached like Yoongi’s, but unlike his friend’s more yellowish shade, this man’s hair color leans more towards platinum blonde. Also, the sides of his head are shaved glamorously, which contrasts heavily with Yoongi’s long, messy hairstyle.

“Uh, hello?” Jungkook begins after clearing his throat. He takes only a few steps up to the man, but he doesn’t get very close yet. The weather outside only gets to him then— only then, standing a few steps away from the mysterious blonde man Jungkook realizes just how hot it is, how humid it is, and how sunny it is. He can’t help but notice that the man’s tan skin looks very pretty under the sunlight, like he’s made of shiny solid caramel. “I, uh. I don’t mean to be nosy, but I couldn’t help but notice that you seem a little lost… Do you need help?”

The man turns around to look at Jungkook before he has even finished talking, and when they’re face to face, something very strange happens.

Jungkook’s breath catches in his throat and hinders his ability of speech, because the moment his eyes meet the stranger’s, he doesn’t see a stranger.

Not a total stranger, at least.

At first, all he sees is a face. A very attractive face, if he might add— one with full and shapely lips, a delicate nose, and a pair of narrow black eyes that turn even thinner when their owner squints as the sun hits his face. He’s handsome, terribly so, his features strong but gentle and harmonious at the same time. His brow is furrowed, and his jaw is locked in annoyance, but also, his teeth peek slightly between his pretty lips in a way that nullifies any hint of toughness. When he’s facing Jungkook, the lines of his semblance relax with the sole exception of his squinting eyes (which, Jungkook doesn’t miss, trail up and down his own body. He also doesn’t miss the way the man’s straight eyebrows dart upwards when he’s done checking him out, which has something warm flickering in the pit of Jungkook’s stomach).

It only takes a couple of seconds before Jungkook’s brain starts processing what he’s seeing, and for the handsome face to stop being just that. Just a face.

It’s a face he’s seen many, many times before, albeit years ago, so the recognition comes slowly. Rather than a sharp jawline, Jungkook remembers cheeks so full and chubby that they made his narrow black eyes seem tinier than they really are. He remembers short black hair rather than platinum blonde with side shaves, and a considerably larger height difference than the one they have now. But, aside from those few things that changed, there are also plenty of things that remain almost exactly the same as he remembers, and out of those, the deep dimples by the side of the man’s lips are the most significant one.

It’s been years, but he remembers. The moment he sees them, he remembers.

“N-Namjoon-hyung?” Jungkook asks, his eyes widening in disbelief and his lips spread inevitably into a grin that almost makes his cheeks hurt. “Oh my god, hyung—? Is it really you?”

The man (Namjoon) opens his mouth and closes it a few times as his frown deepens, though this time out of confusion rather than irritation (or so Jungkook hopes).

“Yes? That’s me— I’m sorry, who…? How did you…?” Namjoon starts, visibly taken aback, and his eyes run down Jungkook’s body again (which would be embarrassing if Jungkook wasn’t so thrilled— it’s been so long since the last time Jungkook saw Namjoon, and yet, here he is, ten years later, lost in his own home town and carrying a giant suitcase with himself. He’s hot now, almost painfully so, and Jungkook only spotted him by chance, which is surreal. It’s all so surreal that it makes Jungkook want to laugh). When Namjoon looks at his face again, Jungkook smiles at him, gentle but kind of proud of himself because Kim Namjoon, the Kim Namjoon just can’t seem to keep his eyes to himself.

Jungkook doubts he’ll be able to recognize him after so many years, no matter how much he looks at him and tries to remember. Namjoon has changed some, but overall, he’s still more or less the same person (aside from the fact that he’s perhaps the hottest person Jungkook has set his eyes on). As for Jungkook, he has changed so much in the past ten years, that he can’t blame Namjoon for looking at him all freaked out, breaking his head trying to recall him.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Jungkook asks, laughing, feeling all bubbly inside.

“I don’t think I do, no, I’m sorry…” Namjoon admits. He looks genuinely apologetic, which is actually pretty cute. Jungkook knows he came out to help him in the first place, but he definitely, definitely wasn’t expecting to run into a ghost from his past. A very important and meaningful ghost from his past, all grown up and with the nicest body Jungkook has seen on another man since the military service. Namjoon speaks again, and Jungkook thinks he deserves a few points for trying to remember him, at least. “Were we classmates here? Or… neighbors, maybe?”

Jungkook hums, shaking his head. “Uh, kinda? Not exactly,” he laughs. “Do you want to keep on guessing, or do you prefer I just tell you?”

Namjoon seems to relax a little bit, finally. He lets out a soft chuckle of defeat under his breath and shrugs.

“I, uh… I think I’d prefer if you tell me. I’m not in the mood for thinking. I’ve been sitting on a train for about four hours, my phone is dead, and I can’t find my way home,” he says, and although he does sound undeniably tired, he also seems more amused than annoyed by everything at this point, as if he gave in to whatever fate has in store for him.

“Don’t worry, I think I can help you with that,” the younger reassures before he finally tells him his name, his eyes and his smile settling on Namjoon’s own. “I’m Jungkook.”

The look on Namjoon’s face doesn’t change at the information. If only, it looks more confused than before.

“Jungkook…?” he asks.

Jungkook arches an eyebrow.

“Yes?” he says. “Jungkook. Jeon Jungkook. Remember?”

“I…” Namjoon starts, taking a little step closer to the younger so he can get a better look of his face. Jungkook pouts, slightly disappointed, and before Namjoon can say anything else, he adds.

“I’m Jungkook. You know, Jeon Junghyun’s little brother,” he offers. “I can understand if you don’t remember me that well, but you and hyung were pretty much inseparable growing up, so it would speak terribly of you if you didn’t remember him—”

“—oh! Oh, of course! Jeon Junghyun!” Namjoon’s face finally illuminates at the mention of Jungkook’s brother. He smiles wider than Jungkook has seen him so far. “Yes, yes, of course I remember him!” He laughs to himself, but then he stops, suddenly, his eyes going wide as they set on Jungkook’s face again, realization finally dawning on him. His jaw drops, and he looks like a gaping fish as he takes in Jungkook’s appearance again. “You’re— wait, you’re Junghyun’s little brother? Oh my god, you are Jungkookie?”

Jungkook laughs, relief and pride replacing his previous disappointment, and he nods.

“Yup! Little Jungkookie, that’s me!”

“Holy shit— no way!” the blonde man exclaims as he crosses the distance between them so he can put his hands on Jungkook’s arms, unexpectedly. His eyes travel over Jungkook’s face, presumably looking for a hint of the twelve-year-old boy that is probably hiding away in a dusty corner of his memory. “But you were so… So small…!”

Jungkook laughs as he shakes his head.

“It’s been, like, ten years already, hyung. I wasn’t going to stay small forever!”

“Yeah, no, I know that, but I’m still… Shocked, I guess would be the right word. You’re… you’re tall, now!” Namjoon nearly exclaims. “And buff!”

“I am, yes! It’s been a really long time!”

“Holy shit…” Namjoon says, the swear escaping his lips again before he even realizes. His hands only let go of Jungkook’s body then, and only so he can run one through his own hair and cover his mouth with the other, still clearly shell-shocked. “Weren’t you like, eight years old the last time I saw you?”

Jungkook nearly scoffs petulantly at that.

“Excuse you, I was twelve. Not eight. There’s a difference!” he clarifies, frowning at Namjoon, but it’s not too long before his faux offended façade falls, and he laughs happily again. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again, hyung! What brings you around? And why are you roaming around like you’re a tourist? This place hasn’t changed that much since you left.”

“What?! You can’t be serious. I’ve seen like, four CUs and a dozen tall residential buildings, and I only got here about half an hour ago. There was only one convenience store ten years ago— it’s insane!”

Jungkook snorts at that, still completely amused (and also a little endeared) by Namjoon’s seemingly permanent state of surprise.

“Wow, you sound like a real city man, judging how modern a place is based on land development,” Jungkook jokes, which makes Namjoon laughs good-naturedly.

“Is there a McDonald’s around already? Or a Starbucks?” he asks.

Jungkook shakes his head.

“Nope. Not yet, at least,” he answers, and Namjoon hums, nodding his head. “Why? Missing that kind of amenity already?”

Namjoon chuckles, but he shakes his head in negation.

“Oh, no, just asking,” he replies. He seems way more relaxed than a few minutes ago, which is good.

He’s smiling, and Jungkook is smiling too. He doesn’t even mind that he didn’t recognize or remember him at first, because he clearly did remember in the end. It all has Jungkook’s heart beating loud and fast in his chest, pounding in his ears, and he doesn’t know why. The thrill of it all, surely.

“So…” Namjoon starts, breaking the comfortable silence that settled between them before Jungkook even realized.

He perks up at that.

“Oh, right! I told you I was going to help you. Where are you going? I got a car; I can drive you there so you don’t have to walk under the sun and die of a heatstroke,” Jungkook says, going to where Namjoon left his suitcase on the sidewalk and grabbing it by the handle.

He throws a glance through the window of the art studio, and he can see Seokjin and Yoongi there, looking at him with estranged yet entertained looks on their faces, and Jungkook blushes a little when he realizes his whole exchange with Namjoon happened right in front of them. However, he pushes through that embarrassment and attempts a grin at them as he gestures at the suitcase in his hand and then at the street, as if to let them know that he won’t be coming back in a while. Not until he’s done helping Namjoon. The last he sees of them before he turns his attention back at Namjoon, is a slow nod of understanding and a thumbs-up from a wide-eyed Yoongi.

“You drive, too?” Namjoon asks, still disbelieving. He looks kinda funny with his jaw dropped, and Jungkook can’t help but laugh again as he signals for Namjoon to follow him to where his truck is parked across the street.

“Yup,” he answers, smiling at Namjoon, who’s following him closely, taking long strides with his long legs. He tilts his head at him curiously, a smirk dancing on his lips as he pulls out his car keys from the pocket of his pants. “You don’t?”

“Not really…” Namjoon replies, and Jungkook has to bite his tongue to prevent himself from cooing even if he knows objectively that it’s not a cute thing for someone not to know how to drive.

“Well, aren’t you glad I found you, then, hyung,” he tells him instead, and Namjoon only smiles in return.

“Oh, that I am. Very, very glad, actually.”

“So, Jungkookie… Are you gonna tell hyung what that was about?”

Jungkook is hunched up over his desk, mindlessly tracing the lines of one of his favorite original characters and bobbing his head to the ancient Epik High album Yoongi is playing from the speakers he keeps in the studio. Yoongi’s voice cuts through the music and through the pleasant white noise in Jungkook’s mind, but it doesn’t take him by surprise.

The truth is, the younger was waiting for Yoongi to ask him about what happened before since the moment he got back.

Seokjin was already gone when he came back after dropping Namjoon off at his mother’s house, so Yoongi was all by himself, working on the preparation of the third giant canvas for the hotel’s commissioned paintings. He didn’t say anything to Jungkook at that moment other than hello, but if the years he’s spent working next to Yoongi have taught Jungkook anything, it is that his boss is one hell of a curious man.

Jungkook can't help but grin right away at Yoongi’s words, remembering how just a couple of hours ago he met Namjoon for the first time in ten years (which includes seeing how he turned into such a man, but also still remains just as sweet and kind as Jungkook remembered him).

For the first time in years, and perhaps for the first ever, they talked. Really talked, like grown-ups. Jungkook felt like he had so many things to say, while at the same time he was overwhelmingly curious about what Namjoon had been up to for the past ten years he’s spent living in Seoul. They didn’t get to talk much, unfortunately, because it wasn’t a long drive to Namjoon’s mother’s place, but Namjoon did mention wanting to meet Jungkook again soon.

 

(“I mean, you gotta show me around,” Namjoon told him as Jungkook drove slow down the streets of the town, passing by banks, convenience stores, and even several five-story-tall office buildings with colorful signs on the sides, all of which were built at some point in the last ten years. “I have to get reacquainted with this place.”

“Well, you can definitely count on me for that, hyung,” Jungkook replied, throwing the older man a little smile, momentarily getting his eyes off the —pretty much vacant— road. “Did you miss it here?”

Namjoon nodded, smiling in return. “A little, yeah.”

Jungkook grinned to himself, eyes returning to the street ahead.

“Are you planning on staying here for a long time?”

“For the whole summer, so... yeah, I suppose that qualifies as a long time,” Namjoon said, and Jungkook hummed and nodded to himself in understanding, feeling a slight pang of disappointment in his chest.

“Ah, so you’re not here to stay, then…”

“Nope… just the summer.”

Jungkook clicked his tongue at that.

“Oh. What a bummer,” he said honestly but with a joking lilt to his voice. When he smiled at Namjoon for what was probably the millionth time in the past twenty minutes, he found the older man hadn’t looked away from him. There was a little smile tugging on the corners of his lips and bringing out deep dimples by the sides of his mouth.

“Yeah, I’m sorry… But, hey, cheer up. Three months is still a long time. And, anyway, who knows?” the older man continued, shrugging his shoulders. He finally looked away from Jungkook, and his dimpled smile was still on even if the look on his eyes turned a bit more wistful. “Maybe I’ll end up staying longer… It all depends. I don’t know yet.”

His words had curiosity sparking in Jungkook’s mind, but although he was dying to ask what he meant by that, he decided to let it go for now. They were going to see each other again in the near future for sure, and knowing that calmed his nosiness for the time being.

“Well… cross that bridge when you get there, hyung,” Jungkook offered, looking ahead as well, slowing down and forcefully changing the old shift gear lever from third to second to go over a speed bump on the road. “In the meantime, you have me to entertain you.”

Namjoon chuckled from the passenger’s seat of the truck.

“I like the sound of that.”

His words made Jungkook’s cheeks flush and something flutter in his chest. He also liked the sound of that, very much so, but what he liked even more was the fact that Namjoon seemed just as excited as he was about spending time together).

 

“Do you, um… Do you remember this Kim Namjoon guy I’ve talked to you about a few times before? He was one of my hyung’s friends when we were kids...”

Yoongi hums thoughtfully for a few seconds, but it doesn’t take him long to remember.

“Kim Namjoon…? Isn’t that the boy you told me you were in love with when you were little?”

Jungkook blushes and his eyes widen at that at once, and he looks up from his original character sketches.

“I wasn’t in love with him—!“

“—he’s the one you told us caught your pet frog for you, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, that was Namjoon-hyung,” Jungkook confirms, feeling his cheeks burn and inevitably smiling at the mention of the frog that still lives in a pond in the garden of his house. He never expected Ddalgi to live for so long, but it’s been almost fifteen years already, and Jungkook still hears her croaking every night. Or perhaps it’s one of its children. “But, anyway— that lost guy from before, the one that I helped out? That was actually him! Kim Namjoon! Isn’t that incredible?”

Yoongi looks genuinely surprised at that. He had turned his head to look at Jungkook, so the younger sees the way he nods his head, eyes widening a little, lips puckered.

“Wow, it is, yeah,” his expression quickly turns into a smirk. “So that was your first love, then? No wonder you were so flushed and excited,” he says. Jungkook sticks his tongue out at him, which makes him chuckle. “But, hey, what in the world is he doing back here again? Where did he go to?”

“He went to Seoul. He stopped being in touch with hyung since then, so I didn’t hear much of him. Only a few things from his mother, who stayed back here, but nothing much…” Jungkook clicks his tongue, twirling the pencil he was drawing with between his fingers. “I still don’t know why he came back, though… We didn’t get to talk that much… He was tired. The train ride is almost four hours long.”

Yoongi hums.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll meet again. How long is he staying here?”

“All summer, and yes, we are meeting again, supposedly…” Jungkook answers, smiling giddily to himself at that. Three months isn’t that much, true, but it’s also not that little. Yoongi’s smirk grows even more at the happy look on his face, but Jungkook tries to ignore it for the time being. “He wants me to show him around. I want to take him hiking to the mountains around here— he used to do it all the time as a kid, but that was before he became a city boy. I wonder if he can keep up… Oh! And he asked me for my number, too! He said it could be useful just in case, so we exchanged numbers…!”

At that, Yoongi can’t seem to hold it in anymore and he laughs heartily, which makes Jungkook frown a little, taken aback.

“Hey, what are you laughing at, hyung?”

“No, it’s nothing, it’s nothing—,” Yoongi says, shaking his head and bringing a hand to run through his hair, which messes up his hair bun even more than it already was. “It’s just that you sound completely smitten. You were totally in love with him, it’s obvious. And it’s cute. It’s adorable. But it’s also funny. So, I’m laughing.”

Jungkook sighs and rolls his eyes, the blush on his cheeks that had already started to wane coming back with full force.

“Hyung. I was twelve when he left. How in love can you be when you’re twelve years old?” He argues, looking away from Yoongi and back down at the lines of his original character drawn on a plain white paper. She is a really talented and cold-blooded assassin who doesn’t need more than a butter knife to destroy her enemies, but when she’s not murdering people, she has a sweet and bubbly personality and works part-time at a convenience store. Her name is Violet, and she’s one of his favorite characters so far (which is saying a lot, because he has plenty). “I just… admired him, I guess. Terribly so. I guess I had a huge puppy crush on him, too, but that was that. I wanted to be like him, and I liked to be around him. I thought he was the coolest kid in the universe, and he was so nice to me all the time… Junghyun and his other friends picked on me sometimes because I was kind of scrawny as a kid, but Namjoon didn’t. He played with me and Tae sometimes… I liked him a lot, but I didn’t love him. I was a kid!”

“Yeah, yeah, Jungkookie, I know, I get you,” Yoongi reassured him, “I’m just playing with you. It’s just that you were pretty much salivating over him when you first saw him, and then you were all heart-eyed when you recognized him, so the contrast was funny,” Yoongi explains, and Jungkook nods, still blushing because, well… it’s not like Yoongi lied. He totally was salivating when he first caught a sight of Namjoon and didn’t recognize him.

“Yeah, well. He became hot, what else do you want me to say…” Jungkook starts, but then he trails off and chuckles fondly when he remembers what Namjoon used to look like years ago. “You know, back then, he used to have very chubby cheeks that made his eyes look tiny. He’s in pretty much all of my family photo albums until I turned twelve, and even until then, he was all chubby and cute, with dimples on his cheeks. He must’ve gotten his growth spurt later on, when he moved to the city. To be honest, I think I missed him more than Junghyun ever did, even if he wasn’t even my friend to begin with…”

“Damn, you sound so fond when you talk about him,” Yoongi says, and this time Jungkook can’t do anything other than shrug, his smile still in place, while he draws a leather strap around Violet’s thigh, where she keeps her sharp, people-killing daggers.

“Yeah, well… He meant a lot to me as a kid. And I know it’s been ages since I even thought of him for the last time, but I’m still very happy he’s here. I think I’ll have to pretend I’m not as ecstatic as I am when I’m around him, otherwise he might get creeped out,” Jungkook admits, smiling to himself before glancing at Yoongi.

He gnaws on his lower lip when he sees the soft look on the older man’s eyes before he goes on.

“You know how pretty much everyone I ever cared about left this place already, right? First it was Namjoon-hyung, then my brother, then Tae, and then, almost all my classmates from school…” Jungkook says, smiling a little sadly. It was rough for a while, but not for too long. He jumped straight into the military service as soon as he was done with school, so he never got a chance to mourn over the fact that his best friend and his brother were gone, and that he would only get to see them via grainy Skype calls and Chuseok. New Year’s sometimes. His parents’ empty nest syndrome was so bad during the time both he and his brother were gone, they adopted a puppy. “I’ve only had you and Seokjin-hyung for years, and I love you, I really do, but you guys are old. No offense.”

Yoongi snorts, but he waves Jungkook off.

“None taken. It’s true. We are old, and there aren’t many people your age around here. In fact, I still don’t understand why you haven’t left yet when you could be anywhere you wanted in the world.”

“Oh, come on.”

“It’s the truth, Kookie.”

“Perhaps it is, but I like it here, and I don’t have plans of going anywhere, yet,” Jungkook grits out, frowning a little because they’ve been over this already and Jungkook isn’t about to list Yoongi the reasons why he doesn’t want to leave town for the millionth time. “But anyway, that’s not the point right now. The point is that Kim Namjoon is back for a few months, and I’m excited and happy because I’ll get to spend time with him, cause he’s someone I knew well when I was a kid and I missed a lot after he left. That’s all. Please don’t turn it into a lecture about my life decisions, hyung; not even my mom and dad try to lecture me about that anymore.”

“I wasn’t trying to lecture you, Kook, I was just saying,” Yoongi assures, rolling his eyes briefly. “I’m actually very happy for you. I’m happy he’s back and wants to spend time with you, too. You deserve to have fun, and I hope you’ll get to become friends with one another…” the older man trails off then, a smirk taking over his features. It’s his trademark Let’s Tease Jeon Jungkook smirk, and Jungkook braces himself at the mere sight of it. “Or more than friends. Who knows? You got Taehyungie, Seokjinnie, and I to be your friends; let this Namjoon guy be your man. You could use that, I mean… How long has it been since you last had a boyfriend?”

“Ouch, hyung. You know that question is hurtful and completely unnecessary,” Jungkook answers, frowning at Yoongi, but in a playful and childish manner. They both know the answer is about two years, from when Jungkook was at the military. Since he came back, he has pretty much dedicated himself to just working at the studio with Yoongi half of the time, and to spending his time outside or playing videogames the other half. He had a little fling with a guy who worked at the same hotel as Seokjin last winter, but that doesn’t count.

Yoongi just cackles at the younger’s reply in a way that has Jungkook smiling despite himself. He grabs one of the balled-up papers on his desk and throws it at Yoongi, who shields himself with his arm even if the ball falls to the floor before it even reaches him.

“Hey, don’t attack me, I’m your hyung and your boss!” he says, between laughs, the sound so bubbly and contagious that it has Jungkook laughing as well.

“Sorry, hyung,” he says, even if he’s not really sorry at all, and Yoongi knows that.

Later that night, when Jungkook is going to bed, he can’t help but smile to himself when he hears the peaceful croaking of his frog Ddalgi (or Ddalgi’s offspring), hidden somewhere in the garden of his house. It’s a sound he’s been hearing almost every night for years, ever since he was a kid, but for some reason, it sounds different today. It feels as if a different memory from his past is brought to life with every happy croaking sound, excavated from the back of his mind and brought forward effortlessly until it’s playing before his eyes.

He falls asleep in seconds like that, a smile on his lips.

☼ ☼ ☼

July, 2005.

Jungkook loves the summer.

There are many good things about it, but the first and most important one is, of course, that he doesn’t have to go to school.

There is nothing Jungkook hates more than sitting for hours every day on a tiny desk.

Nothing.

He spends most of the day looking out of the windows of the classroom, swinging his legs and tapping his fingers on the desk, than he does paying attention to what the teacher says, but that’s only because he would very much prefer to be outside. Riding his bike and swimming during summer; playing on the snow during winter; searching around for insects with Taehyung so they can hide around their homes to scare their families; drawing or painting with temperas at home; playing computer games with Taehyung. Those are the things he truly cares about. Not math, not history, and certainly not English.

There are a few subjects he does enjoy, like art class, music class, and P.E., but art, music, and physical activity are exactly the kinds of things he doesn’t need to go to school for, aren’t they? That’s what he thinks, at least. He doesn’t need someone to tell him he’s not supposed to draw outside the lines if he intended to draw outside the lines in the first place.

Another thing he likes about the summer is not having to wear a uniform every day. He loves wearing swimming trunks instead of pants wherever he goes, and he loves playing outside until the sun is setting, racing Taehyung up and down the street with his glossy red bike (as long as his older brother Junghyun isn’t occupying the road to play with his friends).

But aside from all that, Jungkook also loves the little things that only come with the summer in a place like the winter paradise that is the small town of Taebaek.

He loves the warmth, the sunshine, and the popsicles his or Taehyung’s parents buy them whenever they take them to the park a few blocks away from their street. He loves how long the days seem to be, he loves the summer rain, and he loves how everything seems to sparkle and glow after it rains, from tree leaves and flowers, to parked cars and concrete. He loves watching clouds of translucent steam rising from the sidewalks and streets and getting lost in the sky. He loves the screeching sound of cicadas coming from every direction once the rain clouds have gone away, as annoying as it is. He loves getting to see the mountains without snow, and how everything feels freer, fresher, and livelier than it does during the colder seasons of the year.

Today, there is not a single raincloud in sight, and the cicadas are singing everywhere. The sun is shining brightly, the skies are blue and stretching out for miles, and Junghyun caught a cold after yesterday’s sudden rain surprised him playing football on the streets, which means he’s bedridden. A bedridden Junghyun means Jungkook can play on the street all he wants without having to worry about getting in the way of his eleven-year-old bully of a brother and his mean friends.

However, instead of playing outside and making the most of this beautiful day, Jungkook is in his room, sitting on the rug with his arms crossed and a frown on his face. There are toy cars and action figures scattered all around, over the streets and the buildings depicted on his play mat, but he’s bored and alone.

It’s only the first week of summer vacation, but Taehyung, his best friend in the entire world, is gone, visiting some relatives in Daegu for a few days. His family left so early in the morning, that Jungkook didn’t even hear their car as they left because he was sleeping. And Jungkook is an early riser — he rises with the sun, according to his parents—, so the Kims must’ve really been in a rush to get on the road as early as possible.

Yesterday, Jungkook and Taehyung planned many adventures for the day Junghyun wouldn’t be around to bother them, but now Taehyung is gone, Junghyun is sick, and all Jungkook has are his toy cars.

He is trying to entertain himself however he can, but it’s impossible to. He wants to go outside, but alone? That’s no fun without Taehyung. Playing computer games? No fun without Taehyung. Watching cartoons? He supposes he could do that, but his parents are watching a baseball game right now, so there’s not a chance.

He huffs, picking one of his toy cars in his hand and stacking it over another one for no reason at all other than he’s bored out of his mind, and making a tower of cars seems like the most entertaining thing to do at the moment. And indeed. He can’t help but smile proudly to himself when the stacked cars don’t fall, so he adds a third one on top, and then, as carefully as he can, a fourth one.

His tower of toy cars is about to reach the incredible height of six cars when a noise distracts him and makes him look at the window of his room. It’s a brief, clear, but loud noise, like something tiny but solid hit the windowpane, and it has Jungkook frowning curiously.

He stays put, both eyes on the window just in case, and sure enough, mere seconds later, the noise resounds again within the walls of Jungkook’s room, but this time Jungkook sees a little pebble hitting the closed window. He gasps and grins, excited that something is finally happening that can distract him from his pointless toy car tower.

He stands up and he kicks down the tower with his socked foot before he goes over to the window of his room. He hasn’t grown tall yet, definitely not as tall as Junghyun already is, so he has to stand on the tips of his toes so he can see what’s going on outside and below, but even like that he can’t see much. All he can see is a parked blue bike, similar in size to his brother’s, as well as a hand waving, but he can’t see anything below that, no matter how much he tries.

So, he does what anyone with his level of curiosity would do in this situation: he pushes his toy box towards the window so he can crawl on top of it and then open the window to peek his head outside (as much as he can, at least, because there’s a net there to prevent any kind of accident).

When he looks below, he sees a person he recognizes right away.

It’s Kim Namjoon, one of Junghyun’s closest friends.

Jungkook’s favorite friend out of all of Junghyun’s close friends.

The sight of him has Jungkook smiling right away.

Like Junghyun, Namjoon is among the bigger kids in their neighborhood. Junghyun and he are both fifth graders and they’re both considerably taller than Jungkook and Taehyung. Namjoon is actually even taller than Junghyun, and his cheeks are so chubby that they make his eyes seem tinier than they really are. He has these little holes by the sides of his cheeks that grow bigger when he smiles, and Jungkook has no idea what they are, but he wants a pair of his own. More than once, he has stood in front of the mirror with a pen to try to draw those tiny circles onto his skin, but the outcome was always awful enough to make Taehyung laugh at him and his mother scold him for using markers on his face.

Jungkook likes Namjoon. He really does.

Namjoon isn’t like the other kids who treat Jungkook and Taehyung like ants just because they’re younger and smaller than them. Namjoon always asks Jungkook how he’s doing, and he seems to know so much about so many things that Jungkook feels like he learns more by spending time with him than after a whole day at school. They haven’t interacted much, sadly, but they always wave and smile (and sometimes even high five) each other when they pass each other by on school or on the street. They’ve gone bug-hunting together with their parents and other friends a few times to a pretty flower field near town, and once even hiking together.

“Hi, hyung!” Jungkook calls loudly, pressing his face against the net and causing the material to dig into the skin of his forehead and cheeks. Namjoon grins up at him and waves right back.

“Hi, Jungkookie!”

“If you’re looking for hyung, then I’m sorry— he’s sick!”

“Oh, I know!” Namjoon calls back, shading his face with one of his hands. “Is he doing okay?”

Jungkook just shrugs, lifting both hands. “I think so. Mom gave him medicine, so he’ll surely get better!”

“That’s great!” Namjoon tells him, giving Jungkook a thumbs up that makes him giggle. Jungkook doesn’t think there’s much more left to talk about, but for some reason, Namjoon doesn’t leave. He just stays there, on the street in front of Jungkook’s house, looking up to where Jungkook is looking out his window on the second floor. “It’s a very pretty day today, don’t you think?” The older boy asks, gesturing around vaguely with his arms.

Jungkook nods his head with a pouts, his fingers clinging onto the plastic net.

“It really is!”

“Why aren’t you outside, then?”

“Because,” Jungkook starts, his pout growing as he looks down at Namjoon. “Taehyungie is gone, and it’s no fun if he’s not here!”

“Where’d he go?” Namjoon asks curiously.

“He’s gone somewhere with his family, I don’t know why, but mom says he’ll come back tomorrow…”

“Oh, that sucks… Would you like to come play with me, then?” Namjoon asks, grinning, and Jungkook can’t help but notice that he has all of his teeth while Jungkook is still in the process of losing and growing his own, throwing the old ones onto the roof of his house with his father’s help for the magpies to pick them up and bring his family good luck.

“To play with you?” Jungkook perks up right away, grinning back immediately. “For real?”

When Namjoon nods enthusiastically, Jungkook almost fears his face will break from how big he’s smiling.

“I’d love to! I have to ask mom first, but I really want to!”

“Great! I’ll wait for you down here while you ask your mom, okay?” Namjoon says, indicating his bike. “Then we can race down to the stream!”

Jungkook laughs at that, but he accepts the challenge. As quick as lighting, he closes his window, he puts his toy box back where it belongs, and he runs out of his room, his feet nearly slipping on the smooth floor of the hallway.

☼ ☼ ☼

June, 2020.

Jungkook loves his truck.

It was his father’s first, a simple white Chevrolet Silverado from 1998 he felt bonded to almost emotionally. He refused to let go of it, but eventually, he was forced to upgrade to a newer, better car, and so, he passed his old one onto Junghyun and Jungkook.

Jungkook was fifteen years old when that happened, and he was just as young when he learnt how to drive – which was absolutely illegal.

But who was going to stop Jungkook from driving around in such a tiny town where pretty much everybody knew one another? Whenever a cop pulled Jungkook over, a giggly Taehyung struggling to keep his laughter under control on the seat beside him, they always let him go with a pat on his shoulder, a ’don't get in trouble, kid’, and a ’say hi to your parents for me’.

The downsides are that it’s not very spacious, and that it consumes fuel like a motherfucker. It has only one long seat that can fit up to three people (four if you try really hard), and the audio system is so ancient that Jungkook has stuck to Bluetooth speakers ever since they were invented, but regardless of everything, Jungkook still loves it.

He loves sticking self-made stickers to the bumper and the dashboard, and he loves the cute cloth elephant decoration that dangles from the rear-view mirror, an old present from Seokjin and Yoongi from their “honeymoon” trip to Thailand. Ever since Junghyun left to study in California, the truck became all his, and he loves how he’s been able to personalize it and decorate it however way he wants since then, without Junghyun’s no-fun ’that’s too colorful’ and ’aren’t flowers kind of a girly thing to stick to the bumper, Jungkookie?’

He enjoys driving around so much, that even if he could walk the trek from his house to the art studio in about half an hour (which would save him heaps of gas money), he has chosen to drive it since the day Yoongi took him in.

He knows the way there so well by now, that he would drive it blindfolded if Taehyung hadn’t threatened to take the first plane from New York City to kick his ass if he dared risk his life without him by his side. It always looks more or less the same, depending on the time of the year. It’s always snowy and unbearably cold in the winter, or sunny and unbearably hot in the summer, unless it’s raining.

However, this time, something unusual calls his attention as he drives slowly down a relatively quiet street.

The same unusual thing that caught his attention the day before, when he was having lunch in the art studio with Yoongi and Seokjin.

He grins to himself when he sees the shape of a tall man walking down the street. His hair is bleached blonde and styled upwards fashionably, and although his outfit seems considerably more comfortable and less chic than the one he wore yesterday, he still stands out effortlessly.

“Hey, hyung!” Jungkook calls out from the rolled-down window of his truck as he pulls over to the side of the street where Kim Namjoon is walking. When the older man sees Jungkook, he smiles widely and gives him a little wave with his hand. He also quickly pulls out the earphones he had on to leave them dangling over his shoulder.

“Jungkook, hi! Good morning.”

“Good morning to you too,” Jungkook beams. There is music playing loudly from his speaker, some American pop track that he loves to listen to in the morning to give himself energy, but the sight of Namjoon’s earphones makes him question for a split second just what kind of music does he listen to. “You’re up kind of early.”

“Yeah, I guess— I wanted to explore around a little bit,” the older man explains, and Jungkook hums, nodding in understanding. “I made sure to charge my phone completely, and I even brought a power bank along, just in case, so I don’t get lost like yesterday.”

Jungkook laughs at that.

“I really doubt you could get lost here a second time, but good thinking. Better safe than sorry.”

“Yup, exactly,” Namjoon nods with a chuckle, and after that, Jungkook doesn’t know what to do.

He wants to say something to Namjoon because he doesn’t want to leave just yet, but he doesn’t want to keep him around if there is something he wants to do. He lets his eyes travel up the older man’s shape for a brief moment now that he’s closer and he can take a better look, and his stomach gives a flip. Rather than jeans and a tucked-in shirt, Namjoon is wearing shorts and a t-shirt that is one or two sizes too big on him. There’s a backpack slung over one of his shoulders, too. He looks nice like that, all casual and dressed down. Jungkook gives a brief glance to Namjoon’s feet and sees that he’s wearing sandals. Jungkook wonders if he brought a good pair of shoes with him that he can wear if they ever end up going on a hike to the mountains nearby—

“So, Jungkook,” Namjoon starts all of a sudden, interrupting Jungkook from his thoughts and from the little examination he was carrying out. The younger hums, his eyes focusing on Namjoon’s. He inwardly thanks Namjoon for being way better than he is at this whole ‘having a conversation’ thing. “Do you know a nice place to have breakfast? I’m hungry.”

“Oh, of course, I know plenty!” He perks up. “There are many new coffee shops around, but my favorite is still one that is near my old high school. It’s called Coffee Namu, and it’s not like, a chain café, you know. Not like those Paris Baguette and Tous Le Jours that showed up overnight. This is a real café, and restaurant. It’s very cute, and delicious.”

Namjoon hums appreciatively.

“It sounds nice. The name, too—” he says, chuckling to himself. Jungkook can’t help but smile a little, curiously. “It’s cute. Is it expensive?”

“Well, it’s less cheap than Paris Baguette, but if you tell Mr. Choi you’re my friend, he might give you a discount.”

Namjoon gapes at Jungkook at that.

“What are you, a celebrity around here?”

Jungkook laughs, shaking his head. “No! Not at all! He just knows me since I was, like, fifteen. The café was on the way home, from school, so I always stopped by for banana milkshakes. Do you want me to take you there? It’s not too far from here.”

“Oh! Really? You don’t mind?”

Jungkook nods, smiling reassuringly. “Of course I don’t. Come on, get in,” he says, making a gesture with his hand.

Namjoon seems a little hesitant. He takes a step forward, but there’s an uncertain smile on his face and he stops himself.

“Wait, but are you sure? Don’t you have stuff to do? I don’t wanna trouble you—”

“—hyung,” Jungkook interrupts, meeting Namjoon’s eyes through the rolled-down window of his truck. They’re not too far from each other, probably about a meter, so Jungkook can see the way the morning sunlight catches on his skin, bouncing off with a pleasant glow but casting a shadow in the dips of his dimples. He is so unexpectedly pretty, so appallingly handsome, that Jungkook feels almost intimidated by him. (He feels totally intimidated by him). “Just get in. You’re not troubling me.”

Namjoon holds his stare for a moment, his eyes dancing between Jungkook’s own before he makes up his mind.

“Alright,” he decides, and as he walks around the truck to make it to the passenger’s door, Jungkook sees his face splitting into a wide grin.

Jungkook didn’t have an ulterior plan.

Honestly, he didn’t.

He really only wanted to make things easier on Namjoon and drive him to his favorite café so he could have breakfast. After doing that, he would resume his normal everyday activities and go to the art studio to work with Yoongi. He had to go to Donghae soon to get Yoongi the materials he’d need to stretch the remaining two canvases of his latest commission, so surely Yoongi would like to discuss that. There was stuff to do. Nothing urgent, but still.

And yet.

It’s been over an hour since Jungkook found Namjoon walking down the street aimlessly, and they’re still together. Right now, Jungkook is sitting across from Namjoon on a slightly wobbly table, and between them, there is a mess of cups of coffee (a banana smoothie for Jungkook), cheesecake slices, and courtesy glasses of lemonade. They are at the very café where Jungkook spent a big part of his teenage years, and it’s almost noon already, but Jungkook feels like he could be here for days.

Because on top of being undeniably gorgeous (to Jungkook’s eyes, at least), Namjoon is also interesting. He’s very knowledgeable about many things, he’s funny, and he has this way of talking and telling stories that has Jungkook completely fascinated.

The moment Namjoon climbed onto the passenger seat of his truck was also the moment Jungkook started to get to know about him. About the person he became— someone he never imagined he would get to meet again. As Jungkook drove him through the streets of the town for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Namjoon told him about how life went for him once he left Taebaek.

He stuck his hand out of the open window, and he let his fingers move and glide in the wind as he told Jungkook about how he moved to Seoul with his older sister and his father, who already had a job there. He didn’t say it, but Jungkook knew already— his parents got a divorce way back then. That’s why he moved in the first place, though Jungkook never understood why he and his sister didn’t stay with his mother. He never asked questions about it, though, and in time, he completely forgot about the issue.

After finishing high school and getting the mandatory two years of military service out of the way, Namjoon went to college to study philosophy, and he even went on an exchange program to Germany for an entire semester. He only graduated a few months ago, in February, and he is currently looking forward to getting a master’s degree in aesthetics soon, but for a while, he confessed, he just wants to rest and take it easy. Maybe also find a job in his field so he can get some experience, but not until the end of the summer.

“Well, Taebaek’s great for resting, especially around this time of the year,” Jungkook assured him, beaming at him on a stoplight. “And, by the way, congrats on your graduation!”

Jungkook wasn’t supposed to stay around, but when he pulled up in front of a pretty two-story white house with wooden stairs leading up to a fairy-tale-ish red door, they were still in the middle of talking. Namjoon interrupted his explanation on what his career consisted on to ask Jungkook if he would like to join him for breakfast, and Jungkook… Well, he didn’t have much of a choice, did he. He had never met anyone who had studied anything related to philosophy, and Namjoon spoke of it all so passionately— Jungkook didn’t want to stop listening.

He doesn’t know what it is about Namjoon, but there is something special about him. It could be the old affection he once felt for him a long time ago, curiosity about what he’s been up to for the past years, or it could just be the fact that he’s objectively gorgeous, and Jungkook hasn’t met anyone as hot and interesting in ages. But there’s something about him that has Jungkook helplessly hooked.

“Okay, now it’s your turn,” Namjoon says suddenly as he plays idly with the black straw of his half-full glass of lemonade.

“My turn?” Jungkook asks, lips quirking upwards in a little smile he can’t fight.

“To tell me about yourself,” the older man explains. “You know. What you’ve been up to. What you do. How things have gone for you. I’ve remembered many things about you and Junghyun, and about this place in general, since I got here yesterday, but you’re definitely not the little kid from my memories anymore,” he comments with a chuckle, and Jungkook doesn’t know if that’s a compliment, but he hopes it is. “Your brother’s not around anymore, right?”

Jungkook shakes his head.

“Nope, he left as soon as he finished high school. He did really well— he’s currently in California.”

“Oh, really? That’s very cool. What’s he doing there?”

“Med school,” he says, and Namjoon’s jaw drops almost hilariously. “He’s going to be an oncologist soon.”

“Woah.”

Jungkook smiles, feeling a strong pang of pride for his older brother. They are very different from each other, and growing up they weren’t exactly friends, but that doesn’t mean Jungkook doesn’t love him, because he does love him. Very much.

“I know right? He’s awesome,” he states.

Namjoon nods in agreement. “He really is… But, hey, what about you? Come on, this is about you. What do you do? You still haven’t told me.”

Jungkook chuckles at Namjoon’s insistence, and he shrugs noncommittally, picking at the straw of his smoothie and twirling it around his glass. “What I do… Well. Compared to what hyung does, it’s probably underwhelming… I’m an artist. Or something like that, anyway.”

“An artist? In what world is that underwhelming?” Namjoon gapes, again. It makes Jungkook a little self-conscious to have him staring like that, with what seems like actual, genuine, honest impression in his attractive face, so he busies himself with his slice of cheesecake as he shrugs again, ears heating up.

“I dunno. I’m not going to save anyone’s life with my drawings or my paintings,” Namjoon looks like he’s about to jump in to say something, so Jungkook rushes to add. “—I don’t mind it, though! Don’t get me wrong. I really love what I do. I could do it forever, I think.”

“Oh,” Namjoon says, seeming appeased. He even smiles at Jungkook, and although Jungkook feels himself smiling as well, he still refuses to meet his gaze directly. “That’s good to hear.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is good. I work with a friend of mine— well, he’s technically my boss, but we’re friends, too. He’s an actual artist. He has an art studio downtown, and it goes very well; especially during winter, when Taebaek gets crowded with tourists.”

“What do you mean with ‘actual artist’, though?” Namjoon asks, tilting his head curiously.

“Well, he studied arts in a university in Busan, so there’s that…”

“And you?”

Jungkook hums, finally meeting Namjoon’s gaze over the table.

“I didn’t go to school,” he states, simply.

“Oh…” Namjoon looks apologetic all of a sudden, like he pried too much and now he regrets it, but Jungkook smiles at him.

“I chose not to go to school, hyung, don’t make that face,” he chuckles. “I knew it was a risky move, but I did it anyway. At first my parents weren’t too happy about it, but in the end, they didn’t mind it much. In fact, I think they like to have me here. When I was doing the service, k, they adopted a puppy. Now guess who has to walk it every single day...”

That has Namjoon laughing, his eyes squeezing shut and his dimples making an appearance in full force. Jungkook mentally pats himself on the back for that as he sips from his banana smoothie.

“And what do you and your friends do for fun?” Namjoon asks then, still seeming genuinely interested. It’s a normal question; a staple question where you’re getting to know someone, Jungkook supposes, but still he hums to himself, scrambling in his brain for an answer.

“I don’t know?” He begins, laughing at his poor attempt. “Yoongi-hyung, my ‘boss’,” he says, stressing the word by making quotation marks with his fingers, “and I spend most of our time in the studio, and just painting is fun. Yoongi-hyung’s partner likes the outdoors, and so do I, so sometimes we go biking, or hiking to the nearby hills, or even snowboarding during winter. Sometimes Yoongi-hyung comes with us, but only if the weather is good… And that’s it? I’m always either at the studio, or outdoors, or playing video games. I love video games,” he laughs to himself, and Namjoon chuckles too.

“Except for that part, we’re pretty much the same.”

“Oh, you don’t play any games?”

Namjoon shakes his head. “I’ve tried, but I’m really bad at them.”

Jungkook clicks his tongue, and he shakes his head in faux disappointment.

“That’s no fun, hyung.”

Namjoon shrugs, still beaming. “I’m a philosopher, remember? A boring academic. We’re supposed to be no fun,” he says, and Jungkook rolls his eyes at his words in amusement. After not too long, Namjoon asks something again, suddenly, as if he had only just remembered a question he’d been meaning to make. “Hey, Jungkook. What happened to that other boy…? I don’t remember his name, but I remember you two were always together.”

“Oh! You mean Taehyungie?” Jungkook perks up immediately at the mention of his best friend. “Kim Taehyung! He was just as tall as me growing up— some ahjummas thought we were brothers because we both had huge eyes. You mean him?”

Namjoon chuckles, nodding his head.

“Yeah, him! I remember him a lot, but I couldn’t recall his name. He’s not around anymore either?”

Jungkook pouts involuntarily. “Nope. He left as soon as he was done with high school, too.”

“Oh… I’m sorry about that.”

Jungkook quirks an eyebrow, not knowing whether he should feel offended or endeared by Namjoon’s apparent pity in situation.

“Why are you sorry, though? He’s in New York, and he’s happy. We keep in touch all the time, and he comes over for Chuseok and New Year’s. He loves it there, and I’m happy for him.”

“Oh— you’re still friends, then?”

“Of course we are. It’d take a lot more than an ocean to stop being that loser’s best friend.”

“That’s very sweet,” Namjoon comments, and Jungkook shrugs nonchalantly, even if he can’t stop himself from smiling. He’s never questioned it or analyzed it. Taehyung is his best friend; always has been, and always will be. He missed him more than anything and anyone when he left, and it was hard to get used to his absence, but at the end of the day they didn’t let the distance affect them. Namjoon asks again, curiously. “What’s he doing in New York, if I may ask?”

Jungkook hums as he takes another sip from his smoothie.

“He’s working! He’s a model, actually— he got casted by some fashion industry big shots when we were working part time at a ski resort on our last year of high school, giving out flyers to tourists for skiing classes during winter.”

“No way,” Namjoon says, awed, and Jungkook laughs.

“Yes, way,” he beams. “A tall woman with blonde hair and blue eyes approached him and asked him in English if he’d ever considered a career in modeling before. None of us had any idea what the hell she was saying, so she had to get a clerk of the resort to translate. It was surreal— we all thought it was a scam, even his family! But it was not. It was the real deal. I mean, it’s not like he didn’t have a bad time and success was just handed over to him in a silver platter after he accepted those people’s offer, but he managed to start a career, and people loved him. Now he’s living in New York. He went to fashion school, and he and his boyfriend are now about to start their own fashion brand. That’s about it for now— tune in next week for more updates on Kim Taehyung’s life.”

Namjoon laughs at that, but not for too long, because all of a sudden he asks, interrupting himself. “Oh— hold up, a boyfriend?” Jungkook nods, slowly. “He’s… is he gay?”

Jungkook’s first reaction is to frown and tilt his head to the side, every cell of his body going into defensive mode.

“Yeah. He is. Why, is there a problem with that?”

Namjoon’s face turns into one of near panic so quickly, that Jungkook regrets his defensive stance almost immediately.

“Oh, no! No, there’s not a problem with that at all,” the older man says, shaking his hands in front of him. “I’m sorry if I sounded offended, or offensive, or— or something. I was just curious. That’s all. I promise. I’m very happy for him too, and I hope things go well for him and his boyfriend.”

“Oh, they will! They’re amazing together,” Jungkook says, relaxing at Namjoon’s words. He even smiles a little bit, thinking back to when Taehyung first met Park Jimin, his boyfriend, on his first day at fashion school, and how he spent at least four months gushing over him before he gathered the courage to ask him out. “I didn’t mean to be mean just now. I’m just… I get a bit defensive over that kind of thing. And over him, too.”

Namjoon waves him off.

“No, it’s fine. I understand. Some people aren’t understanding, trust me— I know about this,” he tells Jungkook, his voice becoming a little quieter. He scratches the back of his neck, averting Jungkook’s eyes for a second before looking straight into them, his gaze and his smile sincere even if a little tight. “I, uh… I’m actually not straight myself, so.”

A gasp escapes Jungkook’s lips and his eyes become three times their normal size before he can even realize.

“Oh…!”

Namjoon chuckles.

“Yup. ‘Oh’. That’s exactly what my dad said when I told him.”

Jungkook can't help but laugh at that, even if it’s out of nervousness.

A warm rush of blood surges across his body, and he’s sure, so sure, that it’s tinting his cheeks and his ears, his neck and his chest. He wants to hide so Namjoon doesn’t see him helplessly turn into a beet, but at the same time, he thinks he would like to come clean as well. To tell him that he, too, isn’t straight. That he’s only ever had feelings for boys before, ever since he can remember. He doesn’t have to tell him how he was pretty much the reason he realized he wasn’t straight; that he was the first boy that had his stomach and his fingertips feeling tingly and funny whenever he looked at him; the first person he had trouble looking at directly because he became a shy, preadolescent mess— he can keep those details to himself.

“And do you have a boyfriend at the moment, or…?” Jungkook asks, instead, for no good reason. It’s a pretty stupid question, actually. Invasive. Rude, even. “Someone waiting for you in the city?”

Namjoon shakes his head, a smile adorning his lips.

“Nope. Just my roommate and best friend. Hoseok— I told you about him before,” he answers, and Jungkook nods, a strange (and completely uncalled for) wave of relief washing over him. However, the relief soon evaporates when Namjoon adds, tilting his head to the side curiously. “And you?”

“I, uh. Nope. I don’t have anyone like that, either,” he starts, and only after he’s taken a heavy breath, does he dare meet Namjoon’s eyes over the table while attempting a smile. “I don’t date girls, and I don’t have a boyfriend, so… Yeah.”

He watches how Namjoon reacts, a shy smile taking over his features as he nods, but Jungkook looks away before too long. He looks down and slurps what’s left of smoothie in his glass as noisily as he can, his previous attempted smile turning into an actual one, and once again he becomes painfully aware of the heat burning under his skin. He does his best to will it away, even if he’s pretty sure Namjoon is chuckling.

When Jungkook’s phone starts ringing in his pocket, he almost feels relieved, but when he pulls it out and sees Yoongi’s name on the screen, he feels a little bit of dread— he didn’t tell him he’d be late. He won’t get scolded because Yoongi doesn’t scold him about things like that, but perhaps he made him worry.

“Oh, damn— it’s Yoongi-hyung,” Jungkook says, clicking his tongue. “He must be wondering where I am. Is it alright if I…?”

“Yeah— yes, please, go ahead,” Namjoon says, making a vague gesture with his hand, his face going from content to worried in a split second. “Oh, god, I hope I didn’t get you in trouble…?”

Jungkook just shakes his head at him and mouthes at him not to worry before he answers the phone.

It turns out he was right. Yoongi wasn’t calling to scold him for being late (because he doesn’t even have a fixed schedule to follow).

All Yoongi wants to know is if he’s alright, if he overslept, or what, because Jungkook usually gets to the studio by ten, but it’s already over twelve, and it isn’t like Jungkook not to tell Yoongi beforehand if he’s going to be late. He doesn’t pressure him at all, and when Jungkook comments he’s with Namjoon —in as casual a tone as he can muster even if he can’t look at the man sitting across him for over two seconds—, Yoongi doesn’t tease him like he did the day before. All he does is tell Jungkook to have fun, but to make sure to come around at some point of the day so they can call their suppliers in Donghae together.

“I’m really sorry,” Namjoon says as soon as Jungkook hangs up and puts his phone away in his pocket again. “I forgot— you were supposed to be working, right?”

Jungkook chuckles, considerably less tense than before, and all thanks to Yoongi and his call, which singlehandedly destroyed the awkward atmosphere before it even had a chance to form.

“Kind of. Not really…”

“I’m still sorry,” Namjoon repeats, and Jungkook truly laughs at that. “You’re not in trouble because of me, right?”

“No, hyung, not at all. Really! It’s okay. Yoongi-hyung wasn’t even mad, or anything. Just wondering where I was and if I’m going to go to the studio at some point of the day…” he trails off, glancing down at the empty plates and cups and glasses on the table between them before he looks up at Namjoon again. “Did you like it here?”

The older nods.

“Yeah, very much. You were right— it’s nothing like those other cafés. It’s way nicer. And cuter,” he says, and Jungkook smiles. He’s about to tell Namjoon that he’s glad he liked it, but then the older man speaks again, “I don’t wanna impose, but I was thinking just now… you still want to show me around?”

Jungkook’s throat goes almost uncomfortably dry at once.

“I— yeah! Yeah, of course. I promised I would, didn't I?”

Namjoon beams.

“I guess you did. You don’t have to if you changed your mind, though…”

“Oh my god, hyung, I’ll fight you if you keep saying things like that, and I still got my army muscles,” he threatens, though there’s no real bite in his voice. If anything, he’s endeared— Namjoon keeps trying to bother Jungkook as little as possible, but little does he know, Jungkook hasn’t been bothered for a second since the moment he arrived. “Of course I’ll show you around. There are many places to go to: hills, cliffs, a tiny secret waterfall, streams, woods… there’s this mountain not too far from here where you can get a great view of the entire town at the top. Do you like hiking?”

Namjoon nods energetically.

“I love it,” he says. “I’ve been to all the peaks around Seoul at least once. I was really looking forward to doing that while I’m here.”

Jungkook beams, pleasantly surprised. “Oh, that’s perfect, then! We could go to that mountain I told you about first, the one with the view of the valley. Would you like that?”

“I’d love that, yes,” Namjoon confirms, nodding as he whips out his phone, presumably to write down their plan like the neat and well-organized academic man he is. However, he stops himself. “Would Friday be okay…? That’s in two days. I have to do stuff with my mother tomorrow and on Thursday.”

“It’s perfect, actually,” Jungkook nods. “I think I have to drive to a nearby city tomorrow or on Thursday to get some supplies for Yoongi-hyung, so Friday is perfect. Friday morning.”

“Friday morning,” Namjoon repeats, typing something on his phone. “There we go. All set.”

“Perfect,” the younger smiles. “Make sure you bring a good pair of shoes with you.”

☼ ☼ ☼

March, 2009.

Jungkook loves his mom.

He doesn’t think he’s biased when he claims he has the best mom in the world.

She is kind and sweet, she likes watching cartoons and building snowpeople with him, and she is the prettiest among all the other moms in town.

Jungkook loves her, he really does, but he wishes she wasn’t as adamant as she is about Jungkook doing his homework. He wishes she didn’t warn his dad not to let him go out or play if he hasn’t finished his homework (because his father is a bit forgetful, a bit soft, so he tends to just say yes to everything Jungkook asks). When either she or he tell Jungkook that they’re only doing because they love him and want the best for him at the same time as they put away the power cable of the computer, Jungkook doesn’t believe them. All the love evaporates from his preadolescent eleven-year-old body, and all that’s left is reluctant obedience and pouts for days.

It’s a snowy Friday afternoon –one of the last snow days of the season—, so the entire town and everything in it is covered in a thick, cold, white blanket. The roofs, the cars, the sidewalks, the leafless trees and the evergreens, the backyard of Jungkook’s house— everything is white and pretty.

But it’s not quiet.

Jungkook is sitting cross-legged on the heated floor of the living room, and from the window he can see and hear the voices of other kids –older kids— having fun outside. Junghyun and his friends are out there, and what’s worse— even Taehyung is out there, because he’s taller now, so the older kids respect him a little more, and also (and perhaps more importantly), he finished his homework as soon as he got home from school so his mom let him go outside.

Jungkook, though… He has yet to finish his.

He grimaces as he looks away from the winter paradise taking place outside and down at the annoyingly colorful English textbook on the floor before him, but rather than focusing on the several ‘fill in the blank’ exercises he has yet to do, what he does is draw a bunny and a puppy on the corner of the page instead.

Suddenly, the front door of the house opens loudly, and the sound of it is followed by the voices of Junghyun and a few of his friends. Jungkook pouts further, but he abandons his drawing and tries to use the distraction to force himself to concentrate on the foreign letters.

‘Number one: Yesterday the weather –blank— nice.’

He hums thoughtfully, tapping his lips with the eraser at the end of his pencil while his eyes go over the bank of alternatives. In the meantime, he hears Junghyun and his friends laughing as they kick off their shoes at the entryway, and then, how they walk inside, talking about how warm Junghyun’s house is and how nice it smells. The footsteps head towards the kitchen— all of them except for one.

All of a sudden, a pair of striped socks appear in Jungkook’s field of vision, and when he looks up, he sees Kim Namjoon crouching beside him.

“Homework?” he asks, smiling behind his glasses. His eyes turn nearly into crescents and two dimples appear next to his lips. The tip of his nose and his cheeks are red because of the cold, and Jungkook can’t help but smile at the older boy for a split second before he looks down again.

“Yes,” he sighs. “Hi, hyung.”

“Hi, Kookie,” Namjoon greets in return before he sits down on the floor next to the younger. “It’s so warm in here. I was freezing out there.”

Jungkook hums as he circles one of the word alternatives for the first question (the word ‘is’ because it’s the first one he recognizes) with his pencil.

“If you want we can swap places. You could stay here and do my homework for me while I go outside and play! How’s that?” he offers, jokingly, and Namjoon chuckles.

“No thanks.”

Jungkook blows a raspberry and he moves onto the next question.

“Why are you all here, though?” he asks. “You looked like you were having fun…”

“We were, but we got a little cold, and Junghyun and Seungho wanted hot chocolate, so… I came along to warm up a little bit,” he answers, and Jungkook isn’t looking at him, but he can feel his eyes on the textbook. “Hey, by the way… The first sentence should be ‘yesterday the weather was nice’, not ‘is nice’,” he says, as he points at the first sentence of Jungkook’s assignment.

Jungkook frowns a little bit and he tilts his head curiously as he looks up at Namjoon.

“Why?”

The older boy hums thoughtfully.

“It’s just… ‘Is’ is for things that happen in the present. For example...” he trails off, looking around the room through his glasses. “For example: ‘it is snowing today’. That means that now, or today, it’s snowing. But the word ‘was’ is for things that happened in the past.”

Jungkook nods his head slowly, still frowning as he processes Namjoon’s words slowly.

“So… If it snowed yesterday, in English that would be ’It was snowing today’?

“Well,” Namjoon clicks his tongue, but he looks like he’s trying to keep himself from smiling. “I think ‘it snowed yesterday’ would be better for this example.”

’Yesterday’,” Jungkook repeats. “I know that word… But why is there no ’was’ in that sentence if it’s in the past?”

Namjoon shrugs, laughing.

“I have no idea,” he admits. “English is weird.”

Jungkook pouts.

“It really is!” he agrees as he thoroughly erases the circle he drew around his first answer and changes it for the one Namjoon said was the right one. “You should stay here forever to help me learn it. I don’t understand my teacher, but I understand you.”

“I can’t do that, Kookie, I’m sorry” he says, bringing a hand to ruffle Jungkook’s hair and causing the younger’s pout to grow even more. “But I can help you out with your homework from time to time.”

“Really?” Jungkook perks up, grinning up at Namjoon. “That would be great! Can you help me get this done, please? The sun will set soon, and I really want to go outside and play…!”

Namjoon chuckles, and he mutters a soft ‘alright, alright, let me see’ as he takes Jungkook’s textbook and puts it over his lap. Jungkook sees him as he examines the page. He doesn’t look at the page— he looks at Namjoon’s face. He looks at the glasses perched on his nose, and at the strands of black hair that peek from underneath his woolen hat. He doesn’t know why, but he finds him pretty.

However, when he told Junghyun this, his brother laughed at him and told him that pretty wasn’t the word he was looking for— he said that the word for boys was ‘handsome’ while the word for girls was ‘pretty’, but Jungkook scrunched up his nose. Handsome is what his mom calls the actors on television, and Namjoon isn’t that. He is pretty, like a ladybug, or a butterfly, or like the willow tree at the side of a stream. He didn’t insist, though, and he learnt not to talk about what he thought about his brother’s friend with him, lest he laughed at him again and tried to correct him when he knew perfectly well what he was talking about.

“Okay, I’ll help you out,” Namjoon declares, snapping Jungkook out of his musing. He smiles at the younger boy. “But I won’t do it all by myself. Otherwise you won’t learn anything. I’ll only be here if you need help or for me to explain something for you, alright? And only until the others are done with their hot chocolate…”

Jungkook beams and nods eagerly.

“Alright! Let’s hurry up and finish it, then! Thank you so much, hyung! You’re really the best!”

☼ ☼ ☼

June, 2020.

Jungkook loves hiking.

Naturally, being born in a town surrounded by mountains means he’s been hiking since a very early age. The first few times he went to the mountains and the hills he probably wasn’t even old enough to walk much on his own. There are actually a few pictures in his family albums that depict him as a three-year-old, sitting on his father’s shoulders, closed-eyed and grinning at the camera with beautiful snowy mountains in the background.

As he grew up, he started getting more and more familiarized with the territory around the town, which had to do with both, how the standard field trip in his schools was climbing mountains to get to know the flora and fauna, but also with how he (and Taehyung too) genuinely enjoyed spending time outside when they weren’t playing video games. They were deemed old enough not to need a grown-up’s supervision to go around exploring pretty much at the same time Jungkook got his father’s old truck, which allowed them to travel greater distances and explore places further away.

Years later, fairly recently, came Seokjin.

Seokjin liked the outdoors and hiking too (what with having majored in ecotourism or something like that a gazillion years ago), but he wasn’t really in it for the adrenaline. When Taehyung was around, Jungkook and he would do a lot of stupid things together, such as walk away from forest pathways and into forbidden territory, take bites of wild berries they found around without knowing if they were harmful (which resulted in a few episodes of indigestion, none of them too serious), and climb up and down cliffs without the required equipment.

With Seokjin, things are a bit more civilized. Save for that one occasion where he stepped into the forest and away from the pathway because a squirrel stole his sandwich, he never did anything of dubious legality. He told Jungkook he’d heard as a kid that he better always be careful when he was outdoors, because he might accidentally find an old landmine, left behind and forgotten after the Korean War, and although neither of them believed that was likely, Seokjin preferred to be safe rather than sorry.

It’s a few minutes before ten in the morning, there are a bunch of fluffy clouds in the horizon, and there’s one chatty Kim Namjoon sitting beside him as he drives them through a narrow road lined by trees. When Jungkook picked him up outside of his mother’s house, Namjoon was wearing a good pair of hiking shoes, and an outfit that seemed like it belonged to someone in a hiking products catalogue — saying he was prepared was perhaps an understatement. He almost made Jungkook feel unprofessional with the oversized tee and sweats he was wearing, and when Namjoon asked him pointedly ‘are we really going hiking?’ when he saw him, it made Jungkook feel like a dumbass for a second and a half. It wasn’t until he remembered that he’s climbed this mountain a million times in pretty much the same outfit that he relaxed, shrugging and smirking at Namjoon as confidently as he could as if saying ’don’t worry, I know what I’m doing’.

“I brought beef kimbap,” Namjoon announces happily as Jungkook takes a deep curve, the forest disappearing on one of the sides of the road and giving way to a steep cliff. Beyond that, the valley of Taebaek town was seen, but the view wasn’t spectacular yet. “And it’s homemade, too! It’s been ages since I had my mother’s cooking— I’d forgotten how good it was.”

“Oh, shit, and I thought the CU triangle kimbap I brought was going to kill it…” Jungkook laments jokingly, which causes the older to laugh softly.

“I’m not going to say sorry, cause I’m not sorry at all.”

Jungkook hums, glancing briefly at Namjoon and smiling at the sight of his own smile. “Well, at least you’re honest…”

Not too long after the deep curve, they reach the end of the road. It finishes in a large lookout, with enough room to park about ten cars, and a metallic fence near the edge of the cliff. There is another car parked on the dirt, and Jungkook parks his truck close to it.

“Okay, we’re here,” he says, turning off the engine of the truck.

Namjoon seems a bit confused at that. He looks around the lookout through the windows of the truck and frowns, tilting his head. Jungkook’s smile only grows at that.

“What is it?”

“Is… is this it?”

Jungkook chuckles, and he pats Namjoon’s shoulder. “Of course not. This is only the starting point. Come on.”

After they get off the truck and take a few pictures of the landscape —which is undeniably impressive even if they’re still not as far high as they could be (and will be)—, Jungkook starts guiding them towards the place where the trees start, on the side of the mountain. There is the start of a trail there, which goes deep into the forest before it disappears from sight, a wooden sign in front of it with the words ‘no dogs, no bikes, and no camping beyond this point’ written on it.

The trail is beautiful. It’s not one of the most popular around the town, but it’s one of Jungkook’s favorites. The trees here grow at a disorderly fashion, and the air underneath them feels fresh and cool. Everything is green, and everything is alive and noisy. The cicadas screech endlessly, and every now and then, squirrels or hares will move from where they are and rustle leaves and twigs. It’s beautiful, and Jungkook loves it.

But perhaps what Jungkook is enjoying more, is Namjoon’s company.

He can really keep up for a city boy, and when Jungkook tells him that, throwing in a little joke about how ‘all that flashy hiking gear he’s wearing wasn’t just for show after all’, Namjoon gasps in mock offense.

“You didn’t believe me when I said I liked to hike!” Namjoon says accusingly, and Jungkook just laughs, wielding a long stick he picked somewhere along the way as he throws a quick glance over his shoulder at the older man, who is following closely behind him.

“Sorry, hyung,” he says simply, knowing he doesn’t sound very sorry. Namjoon hums at that, rightfully unconvinced, and Jungkook chuckles again. “But I believe you now, if that’s worth anything.”

Jungkook knows for a fact that Namjoon had a similar upbringing as he did, surrounded by mountains and forests waiting to be explored, so perhaps it wasn’t fair of him to judge him. He remembers how, before the older man left, he and Junghyun and their other friends liked to have excursions to the hills, very much like Jungkook and Taehyung did, but all of that was so long ago, that Jungkook doesn’t know what pieces of the old Namjoon still remain.

At a certain point on the way up, they come across a stream. It’s not very wide, but the only way to cross it is by jumping over the few irregular stones that stick out of the water if they don’t want to get their shoes wet. Jungkook crosses it first pretty much effortlessly, as he was here not too long ago and he’s more or less familiar with the trail, but when he turns around to see how Namjoon is doing, he sees him standing on the first rock with his arms partially stretched to the sides in order to keep his balance.

Jungkook grins at the sight.

“Something wrong, hyung?” He asks cheekily, trying to contain the urge to laugh.

“I feel I’m going to fall,” Namjoon confesses as he takes a step, slowly and carefully, and Jungkook chuckles when he sees him try to accommodate his foot on the second stone a million times before finally daring to take a step.

“You’re doing great, what are you talking about!” He encourages, regardless. “Take your time, there’s no rush!”

“I don’t think you understand…” the older says, crouching down on the stone so he can grab at it with his hands while he attempts to step on the third one. He ends up looking a bit like a monkey, and Jungkook can’t contain his laughter anymore. Namjoon smiles, and his cheeks go all red. “You can laugh all you want— I’m a klutz! I’m used to it! Hoseok doesn’t let me handle fragile stuff in the apartment!”

Jungkook just keeps on laughing, watching as Namjoon struggles to go from one stone to the other.

“Do you need help?” He offers.

“No, it’s okay, I got it,” Namjoon declines, and as if on cue, his foot nearly slips off the fourth stone and he ends up dipping half of it in the water. “Shit—“

Jungkook steps forward onto the fifth and final stone, and he outstretches his hand.

“Come on, hyung, I got you,” he says, smiling in amusement as he waves his hand close enough to Namjoon so he can take it. “I don’t want to have to explain to your mom how you broke your neck because I didn’t take good care of you. Take my hand, come on.”

Namjoon looks around for a second as if searching for an alternative, but then he gives up. “Alright, alright. Get me out of here,” he gives in, and he takes his hand at last.

It feels a bit strange.

The touch in itself is pleasant— Namjoon’s hand is warm and soft and a bit larger than Jungkook’s own, but it’s also a little dirty from holding onto the rocks. Jungkook grips it with a strong hold, and when he does, a surge of warmth that has nothing to do with temperature travels down his spine.

He helps keeping Namjoon steady as he finishes crossing over the rocks of the stream, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t laugh. In fact, he probably laughs even more than before — an unconscious defense mechanism to the bubbly feeling coursing through his nervous system at the moment.

“Careful,” he warns, watching Namjoon’s feet as they make it to the last stone. The older is about to make it to the other side of the stream, but he hesitates for a moment too long before his last step and nearly loses his balance. However, before anything dangerous happens, Jungkook reaches for Namjoon’s other hand (which the older man was waving around in a desperate search for balance). “Careful— hyung!” Jungkook exclaims, laughing as he yanks the older man forward and away from danger by pulling on both his hands. He nearly trips over his own feet, and so does Namjoon, who laughs as well, letting himself be pulled onto the safe and firm ground, the pull so strong that their chests press together for a brief moment.

“Wow. That was close…!” Namjoon comments, smiling down at Jungkook with wide eyes. “I told you I was a klutz. Thank you. I’m, uh… I’m sorry.”

Jungkook giggles.

“It’s fine,” he says, his eyes fixed upon Namjoon’s and a smile fixed upon his lips. “It would’ve been an ugly fall. You could have fallen face first over the rocks… Please tell me you don’t go hiking all by yourself in Seoul.”

Namjoon hums. “Well, sometimes…”

Jungkook clicks his tongue in disapproval.

“Hyung, that’s dangerous!”

“Well, I like dangerous, sometimes,” Namjoon shrugs and chuckles, and the sight is so nice. His eyes crinkle and his dimples seem deeper than ever. His teeth are pretty, too – blinding, almost, and as straight as Jungkook will never be. It’s easy to get lost in all of it for a second. Namjoon’s hands are still in his, warmer than the late spring air, and his eyes are still the same ones he remembers from years ago. He seems so different sometimes, but other times, he looks just the same. Beneath the impressive height, the gorgeous face, and the hot body (to which Jungkook isn’t immune against in the slightest), there is the same boy who didn’t mind spending time with him every now and then, riding their bikes together up and down the streets of the town, and helping him with his English homework sometimes — and Jungkook isn’t immune to any of that, either.

He sees Namjoon’s eyes alternating between his own, a gentle, warm glint in them, and then he sees his lips part as he takes in a breath –

— but the moment he realizes his eyes dared flicker down to the older’s lips is also the moment he realizes what he’s doing and how stupid (and invasive) it is.

As quick as lightning, he lets go of Namjoon’s hands and he turns away, cleaning the water and pebbles and sweat from his palms on his pants and looking pointedly at his own shoes.

“So…” he starts.

Through the corner of his eyes, he sees Namjoon doing the same thing, cleaning his hands on his clothes and avoiding his gaze.

“So,” the older echoes. “Let’s continue?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jungkook agrees, nodding even if Namjoon isn’t looking at him. He only does it to try to force some oxygen (and some common sense) into his brain, really. “Let’s go.”

What’s left of the trek is done in relative silence.

Every now and then, they make comments about the heat, about the humidity, about the cicadas, about this or that plant, about this or that memory— but mostly, they’re quiet. The trail is only wide enough for one person to walk it at a time, so Jungkook doesn’t get to see Namjoon’s face. He only gets to hear him, the crunchy sounds of his footsteps over the soil, and the labored sound of his breath as the climb gets steeper. It isn’t until they reach a small plateau near the peak of the mountain that he sees his face again.

And, shit— it’s pretty, so pretty. Even prettier than before, with his eyes wide so they can take in the impressive landscape before them, and his mouth comically agape as a quiet sound of wonder escapes his throat.

“It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” Jungkook hums, looking at Namjoon with a smile— he doesn’t even bother with the view, though. It’s nice, sure, but he’s seen it a dozen times already. What he was interested in the most was seeing the face of impression Namjoon would make when they reached the top, and he’s not disappointed. “You can see all the new, tall buildings from here. And all the mountains around, too.”

“It’s so beautiful,” Namjoon comments, looking around slowly, still in a bit of a daze. “I know I came here a long, long time ago, but I didn’t remember much at all,” he says as he pulls his phone out from his pocket. “In winter it must be gorgeous here.”

“It is,” Jungkook smiles. “But this trail isn’t as nice in the winter. The trail at Taebaek Mountain is better for that time of the year because it’s easier. If you decide to come around in the winter, we could go there.”

“That’d be nice,” the older man says, smiling as well as he takes pictures with his phone.

“The only downside is that it’s full of tourists.”

Namjoon shrugs.

“Aren’t I something of a tourist?”

Jungkook shakes his head.

“What are you saying— not at all,” he replies, his eyes finally looking away from Namjoon’s (sweaty, blotchy, but still pretty) face and at the landscape when the older turns to face him. “You were away for a while? So what. This is still your home. There may be new buildings all around, but trust me, not much has changed. You just need someone to help you remember.”

“Which would be you,” Namjoon says. He doesn’t word it as a question, but as a statement, and through the corner of his eyes, Jungkook sees him smiling. It’s a bit unnerving— it has the tips of Jungkook’s fingers tingling, so he crosses his arms over his chest and squishes his hands between his biceps and his chest in order to get them to stop.

“I mean, I suppose,” he says, letting his eyes roam over the landscape even if he’s painfully aware of Namjoon’s presence next to him; of Namjoon’s eyes on him. “Do you want to stay up here and eat lunch, or do you rather we go down first?”

At that, Namjoon sighs, deep and content.

“I think I want to stay up here forever. Let’s never go back down again.”

Jungkook chuckles and shakes his head, but if he’s honest with himself, he thinks he’d like that. Very much.