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Chapter Text

But I’ll meet you at the delta

Where the rivers run into the sea

And I'll meet you at the delta

What's behind, I can clearly see

That beyond, that's beyond me

 

 

_ _

 

It’s raining in New York when his plane touches down. Namjoon slides up the cover on his window and watches it dot the glass - blur the lights of JFK beyond. He’s been trapped on this plane for the past fourteen hours and his back is aching, left leg going numb in spite of of the roominess of first class. The intercom crackles overhead as the seatbelt lights ding off, and the captain announces in first Korean, then English, that they have arrived safely in New York. The local time is 7:30PM EST and the temperature outside is 3°C. It is expected to continuing raining throughout the evening and into tomorrow. Everyone please enjoy their stay.

Namjoon stands, feeling his back crack, and shrugs on his black coat. He tried to aim for as casual and nondescript as possible - no high-end brands, no fashion statements. There were no photographers to take pictures at the airport this time, and he slipped out of the country quietly for once.

He covers silver hair that he’s been meaning to dye back to black with a baseball cap and fishes his carry-on from the overhead compartment. His phone currently doesn’t have any service, but he uses the plane’s Wi-Fi to fire off a quick KT message, ignoring the dozens of unread ones sitting in his inbox: Just landed.

He gets a thumbs up emoji back and nothing else. Expected, but a stab of nervousness still jitters down his spine, makes his stomach flip.

It’s a long shuffle off the plane and an even longer journey to customs and baggage claim. He’s been to JFK before, several times, but usually with a small entourage of staff. Doesn’t remember the last time he’s traveled abroad by himself. Not even his company knows where he is right now and it’s a thrilling sort of freedom. He’d enjoy it more if he wasn’t so exhausted - can’t remember the last time he slept, either. A week ago? Two? Has it been fifteen days since the story landed or twenty? Time has blurred into a frazzled mosaic of outrage and fury and what the hell were you thinking?

( That I might have loved him, Namjoon didn’t say in response, that I wanted to. No, he kept his mouth closed and said nothing at all.)

He adjusts the face mask over his mouth and chin. Hopes he looks like an average tourist as he hands his passport and ticket over to a bored-looking customs official with droopy blue eyes and a fairly impressive sandy mustache.

“Purpose of your visit?” he asks in a drawl.

“I’m visiting a friend,” Namjoon responds, though that really doesn’t feel right.

The man nods and then gives the usual spiel: the visa waiver program is good for stays up to ninety days only - beyond that Namjoon will be here illegally and subject to deportation, barring a medical emergency.

“I understand,” Namjoon says. He set his return date for as close to the end of the three-month period as possible, but it’s far more likely his company will force him back or he’ll overstay his welcome long before then.

Mustache nods and stamps his passport, gesturing him through.

He keeps his head down, following the flow of people and the overhead signs towards the baggage claim. Eventually, the twisting hallways spit him out into a large, fluorescent-bright room with numerous carousels and dozens of people standing in tight clusters around them, craning their necks in search of their bags amidst the jumble moving past. Namjoon ignores them, looking instead for a familiar face.

A voice comes first, though, from his left, “Namjoon?”

Namjoon spins and feels his breath catch in his throat. Jung Hoseok, twenty-five, looks remarkably similar to the Jung Hoseok of his memories - same narrow, handsome face; same defined cheekbones; same dark hair parted to reveal the same high forehead and strong brows - but it’s the differences Namjoon pauses to catalogue: the quiet, confident way Hoseok carries himself; the baby fat he’s lost in his face; the bright color of his clothes (yellow converse, green raincoat, skinny jeans with red paint smeared near the left knee) where he onced used to favor black; the polite, hesitant smile on his face - the kind that’s reserved for strangers. He looks good, even more beautiful than the eighteen-year-old, faded version of him that resides in Namjoon’s head.

It’s been seven years. Namjoon has to remind himself to keep breathing.

“Hoseok,” he says, hoping his voice is steady. Hoping he doesn’t look as exhausted and beat-up as he feels.

“Hi,” Hoseok says. He tilts his head back slightly. “You got taller.”

There’s still a faint hint of Jeolla in his Korean, even after all this time. Seven years. It feels longer. Feels like a whole lifetime.

“Or you just shrunk,” he manages and is rewarded with a bark of familiar laughter.

Hoseok shakes his head. “C’mon, let’s get your bags and get out of here. I hate airports.”

Namjoon is inclined to agree, and he follows Hoseok to one of the carousels at the far end of the room, mercifully near the exit. The bags have already started their rotation, but it’s awhile before he spots his own - a black, nondescript suitcase with a series of Ryan stickers on the handle. He pulls it off the belt and huffs at Hoseok’s raised eyebrow.

“I like Ryan.”

“Yeah, but you never used to admit it.”

Namjoon shrugs. He probably wouldn’t have admitted it fifteen to twenty days ago, either - back when he was Rap Monster, successful hip-hop artist with a hardcore image to maintain. Rap Monster didn’t like soft clothes or cute things or obscure philosophy books. Rap Monster didn’t dream of walking along the Han River with his hand gripped tight in someone else’s. Rap Monster didn’t kiss boys.

It’s Kim Namjoon standing here, though, and Kim Namjoon decided to put Ryan stickers on his damn suitcase because they made him smile.

Hoseok is looking at him like he’s peeling back layers right to his soul. It was Yoongi, he thinks, who knew him best, but he forgot how observant Hoseok can be. How much he used to notice without Namjoon realizing.

“Is it just this suitcase?” Hoseok asks instead of revealing whatever it is he found buried beneath Namjoon’s skin.

Namjoon nods. He hadn’t wanted to overpack, risk flaunting his wealth. Not to Hoseok, who, according to his drunken late night social media searches, lives in a small house in Flushing.

(He has a fluffy dog named Holly. He has Yoongi.)

“Great.” Hoseok grabs the suitcase, ignoring Namjoon’s protests, and heads for the door. “My car’s parked out on the lot. Hope that coat has a hood.”

Namjoon flips up his hood, mirroring Hoseok, and together they pass through the automatic doors and out into the rain. Namjoon’s socks, sneakers, and pant legs are soaked by the time they make to Hoseok’s car - a slightly beat up Toyota with a faded green coat of paint. Hoseok jimmies the trunk open and shoves Namjoon’s suitcase and bag inside, then clambers behind the wheel.

“Whew,” he says as Namjoon slams the passenger door shut. The rain beats loud against the roof and front windscreen, nearly drowning him out. His bangs are dripping water into his eyes and he wipes his face with the back of one sopping sleeve. “Sorry about that. I lost my umbrella on the subway last week and I keep forgetting to buy another one.”

“It’s okay,” Namjoon says, mopping his own face. “It’s fine.”

He wishes this wasn’t so awkward - the weight of years and everything that happened filling their silences. He wishes he knew what to say, where to even start.

“Thank you,” he settles on, glancing over at Hoseok. “For letting me come.”

He was the last person Namjoon expected to hear from - thought he was dreaming when he saw the email in his work inbox. It was short and simple, typical Hoseok. Just: We saw what happened. We’re so sorry. If you need get away for awhile, you’re always welcome to come stay with us - JH. He wonders now if Hoseok was surprised when he said yes. If Hoseok only extended the invitation because he didn’t think Namjoon would actually come.

It’s probably too late for those doubts, though. He’s here and so is Hoseok, now pulling out of the parking space. It’s weird, seeing him behind the wheel of a car. All of this is surreal. Any minute now, Namjoon thinks he’s going to wake up in his empty apartment with his laptop dying on his chest and realize this was nothing more than a drunken dream.

The windshield wipers rattle and squeak, working overtime as Hoseok carefully navigates through the downpour towards the interstate.

“It’s been raining like this for two days,” he announces with a grimace. “Our street’s turning into a river.”

“It was snowing in Korea when I left,” Namjoon says and almost wants to laugh at the two of them, sitting here trying to make polite conversation about the weather.

“I know,” Hoseok says, with a hint of a smile in his voice. “My mom sent me a really long rant about it this morning.”

How is your mom? Namjoon wants to ask. How are you? How is Yoongi? But he isn’t sure he has the right, so he lets the conversation die back into silence.

But this is Hoseok, and some things never change, so he works to fill it, pitching his voice louder to be heard above the rain and the windshield wipers and the whoosh of tires against wet asphalt. “The guest bedroom isn’t much, but the bed’s ridiculously comfortable, I promise.” He looks uncomfortable for a minute, then soldiers on, “I know it probably isn’t what you’re used to-”

“It’s fine,” Namjoon interrupts, swallows his instinctive Hope-ah. “Really.”

Hoseok nods once and switches topics. “Yoongi’s closing tonight, so he probably won’t be home until an ungodly hour, sorry. Oh! Wait, sorry. The restaurant. He co-owns a restaurant, off Roosevelt Avenue. Which is close to our neighborhood, sorry. I suck at passing on information.”

Namjoon knows that, because of the drunken internet stalking, but he isn’t going to admit it. Feigns surprise, instead. “Really? Wow.”

“Yeah, it opened two years ago. Traditional Korean barbeque but with some modern flair.” Pride shines in Hoseok’s eyes, lights up his whole face. “It’s been a hit. Doing really well.”

“That’s awesome,” Namjoon says, pushing the words past the sudden lump in his throat.

He remembers a picture on Instagram  - Yoongi and another ridiculously handsome man, standing in front of a restaurant called Let’s Meat with their arms around each other’s shoulders and beaming smiles on their faces. He’d never seen Yoongi that happy before. The sight of his grin stretching his round cheeks and the glow in his eyes dug under Namjoon’s skin like a knife and the bite of it lingered for days.

“I work for a nonprofit,” Hoseok continues, drawing Namjoon’s attention back. “They provide all kinds of educational and mental health services for at risk youth, but I’m part of a mentorship program. I work mostly with high school kids. Trying to encourage them about their future, get them engaged in the community, things like that.”

It’s not something Namjoon could have seen eighteen-year-old Hoseok doing, but this Hoseok is radiating a mixture of pride and excitement - the glow of someone who clearly loves their job. “I bet you’re great at it,” he says and watches Hoseok’s smile turn shy.

“The kids do most of the work. I’m just there to help where I can,” he deflects with a wave of his hand. “Oh! And I teach dance. Hip-hop mostly. It’s a small studio, but we’re always full.”

Namjoon suspects that’s mostly down to Hoseok. He stumbled across a YouTube choreography video once and there he was - still full of the same magnetic charisma, power, and stage presence. He probably would have taken the world by storm, in another life. One where Namjoon didn’t fuck everything up so badly.

“I’m glad you’re still dancing,” he says quietly and Hoseok shrugs.

“I loved it too much to give it up. My rapping’s gotten rusty, though. Not that I was ever that great at it to begin with,” he says with a laugh that has less bitterness in it than Namjoon was expecting.

“You were,” he insists, because Hoseok had so much potential. Just … not quite enough. At least by the company’s standards.

Hoseok shakes his head. “It’s been seven years, Namjoon. You don’t have to try to appease me. I’m fine.”

“I’m-” Namjoon swallows the rest of the denial when Hoseok glances over at him with an arched eyebrow. “How’s Yoongi?”

He hopes Hoseok will get what he’s asking for: more of an answer than “fine.” Is there still depression that cripples him? Self-loathing and anxiety that gnaws at his insides? There was always so much brilliance in Yoongi, but so much darkness, too, and Namjoon had never known how to ease it. Looking back, he doesn’t think he could have - even if he hadn’t been a stupid, prideful kid.

“Good,” Hoseok says, his expression soft with understanding. “Really good. He’s gotten help, with a lot of things. He’s in a much better place now.” A pause. “You coming here was his idea.”

That blindsides Namjoon. He’d tried to reach out, briefly, after he’d learned that Hoseok and Yoongi were out of the military. Yoongi blocked his contact. Hoseok politely asked him not to try again. Hoseok must catch a glimpse of the shock on his face because he sighs.

“He doesn’t hate you, Namjoon. He hasn’t for a long time. Please don’t treat him like a sleeping bear that you’re afraid of disturbing.”

“I….” But he doesn’t have a good argument. He’s been afraid of Yoongi’s anger, his hatred, for years. Even though the Yoongi he knew was angry at the world and not really the people in his life. Even though, logically, he’s always known Yoongi isn’t an angry or hateful sort of person.

Maybe what he’s actually afraid of is forgiveness. He doesn’t think he’d know what to do without this lead weight of guilt lodged in his breastbone, pushing up against his lungs. It’s been there for so long, he might not be able to breathe without it.

“Okay,” he says and ignores the look Hoseok gives him - doesn’t know what it means. Jung Hoseok has always been a little bit of an enigma - another thing that clearly hasn’t changed.

The rest of the drive passes in silence, but it’s a little less tense than before. Enough to not be suffocating. Hoseok’s fingers drum a rhythm against the steering wheel that Namjoon vaguely recognizes as an Ariana Grande song and he has to stifle a smile. It’s good to know that Hoseok’s still as energetic as before, unable to sit still for more than a few minutes before getting jittery.

Hoseok and Yoongi’s house is on a quiet, tree-lined street, away from the bustle of the main roads. Namjoon can’t see much in the dark, but the headlights illuminate a white clapboard exterior and a small lawn as Hoseok pulls into the short driveway. Steps leading up to a little front porch, with what look like potted plants near the door. It’s still pouring, rain coming down in a fury, and Hoseok takes a deep breath when he turns off the car.

“Okay, we’re going to get your bag and then make a run for it - sound good?”

“Sounds good,” Namjoon agrees, flipping his still-damp hood up once again.

“Fuck,” Hoseok mutters and throws open the door, popping the trunk at the same time.

Namjoon nearly slips in his rush to get the suitcase out, then Hoseok’s slamming the trunk closed and tugging him up the walkway to the porch.

“Just leave your shoes out here,” he says as he fishes his keys out of his coat pocket. “We have a rack, but I don’t want everything else to get wet. Promise no one will steal them.”

“Didn’t think you lived in a bad neighborhood,” Namjoon says as he toes off his shoes, and then his socks for good measure.

Hoseok shrugs, bending down to pull his own shoes and socks off. “Lots of people have ideas about New York, especially Queens. I’ve learned to be preemptive, just in case. C’mon. And brace yourself. Holly’s kind of loud when he’s excited.” He turns the key in the lock and barking immediately starts from inside.

Hoseok goes in first, taking Namjoon’s suitcase with him and Namjoon is left to trail awkwardly behind, unsure what to do with the little brown floof darting circles around Hoseok’s legs.

“Hi, Holly,” Hoseok coos, voice immediately pitching higher. “Did you miss me?” He bends down and gathers the wriggling dog into his arms, planting kisses all over Holly’s fluffy head. “This is Namjoon,” he says, turning towards Namjoon, who waves awkwardly. Hoseok looks amused at least, and the wriggling intensifies until Hoseok sets Holly down.

Then Holly is running circles around Namjoon’s legs while Namjoon stares at him. He’s always been more of a cat person - even his own family dog was hesitant around him.

“You can pet him,” Hoseok says. “He won’t bite.”

So Namjoon crouches down, aware of his coat still dripping water on the dark hardwood floor, and reaches out a tentative hand. Holly pauses long enough to sniff it and then apparently decides Namjoon’s okay, because his next move is jumping up to plant his paws on Namjoon’s chest and lick his chin.

“Hey,” Namjoon protests, feeling unexpected laughter bubbling in his mouth. God it’s been ages since he last laughed. Since he got to have a simple joy like hugging a cute dog.

“He likes you,” Hoseok says, smiling. “I’d say good job, but really he likes everyone.”

“Too friendly for your own good, huh,” Namjoon asks, scratching Holly behind his ears. His tail wags happily.

“Eh, for the most part. He’s protective of Yoongi, though. Okay, Holly-baby, that’s enough. Let’s get Namjoon settled in, okay? Stop smothering him.”

He shoos Holly gently but firmly away and gestures to Namjoon’s coat. “Here we have some pegs for them so they don’t stain the floors too bad.”

Once their coats are hung up and their feet toweled off, Hoseok claps his hands together. “Right. Tour.”

Namjoon nods, finally taking in the house around him. It looks old, with details he remembers hearing described as pre-war once: crown moulding, an old ceiling fan in the middle of the living room, a fireplace situated in the corner that looks like it stopped working several decades ago. There’s a dog-bed in front of it now and some more plants lining the mantle. The walls are a warm off-white and decorated with a mishmash of art prints, photographs, mostly cityscape, and a Kumamon poster of all things.  The entry area they’re standing in is a sort of chaotic jumble of shoes, coats, hats, and a few bags and dog leashes. The furniture in the living room beyond all looks second-hand but worn in a well-used, comfortable way: a big, blue sofa, a green armchair, and a light-wood coffee table with a glass top, perched over an oriental-style rug that Namjoon pictures hanging in a flea market before Hoseok and Yoongi brought it home. A TV cabinet takes up one wall, the shelves around the modest flat screen full of knick knacks and what look like vinyl records. Another wall houses a bookshelf that’s half-occupied by books whose titles Namjoon doesn’t recognize and half by more knick knacks and pictures. The man from the restaurant photo is in quite a few of them.

It feels nice here, Namjoon decides. Welcoming. Like a proper home and so different from his modern, but sterile Seoul apartment.

“Okay, so this is the living room,” Hoseok says with a wave of his hand. “We don’t actually have cable, but we do get Netflix so feel free to help yourself to that. Dining area is over here.” He points to their right, where a four-seater table takes up most of the compact space - a small chandelier hangs overhead and a vase with dried flowers provides a splash of color.

“And through here is the kitchen,” Hoseok moves forward, through an archway into the square kitchen. The cabinets all look like they belong in a grandmother’s house, but they’re painted a nice white and the walls are a calm green.

“The appliances are all old, including the coffeemaker, so just be patient with them. Actually, you probably just shouldn’t cook anything, the stove is tempermental.”

“I’m not as bad as I used to be,” Namjoon says, though he’s not sure that’s true. He’s mostly lived on takeout and hotel food the last seven years. Hoseok’s dubious look says he sees right through that declaration and Namjoon deflates. “Okay, no cooking, got it.”

“We have plenty of snack food,” Hoseok offers, waving at the cupboard. “And cereal and sandwich supplies. So help yourself to any of that.”

They leave the kitchen behind and head down a narrow hallway. “Our bedroom is on the end,” Hoseok says, pointing to a closed door. “Bathroom is here,” he opens the door to their right. It’s a pretty standard American bathroom: chipping tile on the floor and the blue backsplash of the shower/bathtub combo, a little round sink with a mirror above it, and some shelves with bath and skincare products on the wall.

“The shower runs scalding hot for the first minute,” Hoseok says, “but it’ll calm down after that. You’re welcome to any of the shampoo and conditioner and stuff, and your towels are the yellow ones.” Namjoon spots them, draped over the rack next to a blue set and a green set.

“Thanks,” he says.

Hoseok nods as they step back into the hallway.. “Not a problem. Okay, here’s your room.” It’s a little further down the hall, closer to the master bedroom. The door creaks when Hoseok opens it and moves aside to let Namjoon in.

It’s small, but not oppressively so. Just enough space for a double bed and a dresser and a little bookshelf situated next to the closet. There’s more cityscapes on the walls, along with a few hand-drawn pictures: one of space, one of what looks like Yoongi from behind, one of someone dancing, and one of a gaggle of weird cartoon animals - all of them in a similar style, like the same person drew them. A fern sits on the windowsill and another one occupies a place on top of the dresser.

Namjoon likes it immediately.

“I know it’s not much,” Hoseok says, shifting his weight nervously, “but like I said the bed’s really comfortable-”

“It’s fine,” Namjoon cuts him off gently. “It’s more than enough, Hoseok. Thank you.”

“Right,” Hoseok says, flushing a little. Still terrible with sentiment, it seems. “Anyway, make yourself at home. Yoongi probably won’t get back until after two, so I’m going to bed. I usually leave around 7:30 am, so if I don’t see you, have a good day tomorrow. Yoongi’ll surface around noon. Uh … oh! And the kids drop by from time to time. I’ve told them we have a guest and they have to ask first, but who knows if they’ll listen. So just … prepare for that possibility, too.”

Namjoon blinks, wondering where he missed something. “The kids?”

“Oh shit, I didn’t mention, did I?” Hoseok says. “Sorry. Uh, very long story short, we’ve kind of ended up adopting three college kids. They’re Korean, came here for school like Yoongi and I did - he knows one of them from Daegu, actually. They’re hellions who come over and eat all our food and use our Netflix account. But they’re good kids, too - sometimes they also water the plants and walk Holly for us. We’re pretty fond of them. But don’t tell them I said that. I’ll never live it down and one of us has to be the strict parent and it isn’t Yoongi.”

Namjoon tries to picture that - Hoseok and Yoongi looking after a chaotic trio of early twenty-somethings - and really can’t. “Right. Your secret is safe with me.”

“Thanks. And I forgot one more thing.” He disappears for a few moments and returns holding a cell phone. It’s a basic Nokia, black, and he holds it out to Namjoon. “It’s prepaid. I loaded some data on there for you and it has mine and Yoongi’s numbers. Just until you figure out what you want to do with your own phone.”

He’s honestly afraid to turn his own phone on at the moment, considering that he up and fled to another country without telling anyone, but his stomach also curdles at the idea of Hoseok spending money on him. “You shouldn’t have, how much do I owe you-”

“Namjoon,” Hoseok cuts him off. “It’s a cheap phone. It’s fine.”

“I don’t want you to spend money on me,” Namjoon mumbles. Bad enough that they’re letting him stay here for free and eat their food - he’s already brainstorming subtle ways to compensate them for that - but now gifts? No matter how cheap, it still feels wrong.

“It’s fine,” Hoseok repeaks, shaking the phone insistently. “Please just take the damn phone.”

Namjoon accepts defeat and takes the damn phone, setting it carefully on the dresser next to him. An awkward silence follows, until Hoseok clears his throat and nods again - a quick bob of his head. “Right, I’m going to sleep. You should, too.”

He doubts he’ll be able to. His veins still feel full of bees, buzzing buzzing buzzing, but he doesn’t want Hoseok worrying about him so he forces a smile and dips his head in agreement. “Sleep well, Hoseok.”

“You, too, Namjoon,” Hoseok says and then he’s gone, closing the door behind him with a click.

Namjoon listens to his retreating footsteps, to him calling for Holly, and then the creak/thud of his bedroom door opening and closing again behind him. Alone in the sudden quiet of the house, Namjoon presses a hand over his head hammering heart and tries to breathe - even and slow.

 

_ _

 

Sleep still feels out of the question, though, so he brushes his teeth and washes his face, wincing at the dark bags under his reddened eyes and the sickly paleness of his skin. He’s been waiting for a breakdown to hit for weeks now, but so far it hasn’t come. He didn’t cry when the story first broke, or when Jackson left (in a better story, they would have stuck together to weather the storm, but in this one they’d only been on a handful of dates - enough to ruin them, but not for love - and Jackson had walked out of Namjoon’s life to handle damage control on his own), or when all the other stories started: hateful and derogatory and angry. He drank - a lot, too much - but he didn’t cry.

Maybe it will come, eventually. Maybe it’s just waiting in the wings. For now, he drifts through Hoseok’s and Yoongi’s house like a restless ghost, hovering by the bookcase to look at the photos. Most of them look like they were taken around the city. There’s one of three young men all squished together, beaming at the camera on the Brooklyn Bridge, (these must be the kids Hoseok was referring to) and another of Handsome Restaurant Partner wearing a ridiculous pair of sunglasses. But the one that snags Namjoon’s gaze the most is Hoseok and Yoongi, in front of this house. It looks like a selfie, like Hoseok’s holding the camera, and it’s a little blurry, but Hoseok is kissing Yoongi on the cheek while Yoongi grins - eyes closed, all gums.

They look so happy. So fucking in love. They have such an intimate photo on display on their bookcase, and even Namjoon’s phone is empty of anything private.

He swallows and keeps drifting. The fridge has more pictures - the kids again, this time all making funny faces at Coney Island, slushie-blue tongues sticking out; Yoongi and Hoseok in graduation caps and gowns, clutching their diplomas with twin sunshine smiles; a blurry Holly wearing sunglasses - and tacky souvenir magnets from Daegu, Busan, Gwangju, New Jersey, and Boston. A grocery list in messy Hangul is pinned to the side, along with a post-it note in English: schedule vet check up for Holly.

There’s a whole life here, laid out in glimpses. A life that Namjoon missed.

_ _

 

Eventually, he settles on the couch with a book in his hands. It has the most worn spine of all the ones piled on the shelf - like it’s been well-loved, taken down and put back many times - and that drew Namjoon’s attention, even though the title is unfamiliar: Crush, by Richard Siken. It looks like a collection of poems. He cracks it open to the first one, skipping over the foreword. The last stanza jumps out at him the most, lashing like a punch -

“Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.

These, our bodies, possessed by light.

Tell me we'll never get used to it.”

He reads the whole book. Then he starts over and reads it again. Imagines Yoongi buying it (because this is Yoongi’s, he knows it. These words feel like how Yoongi used to rap - raw and bloody and a little bit violent, holding nothing back and brave to the marrow.) and reading it until the cover bent and the spine started to crack. He wants to take notes, wants to sit Yoongi down and ask what he found in these pages, if it’s the same thing Namjoon is looking for. He’s on his third readthrough when the front door clicks open and he glances up with a jolt, realizing that Yoongi is standing in the entryway and the view of him is blurred by gathering tears.

Namjoon wipes frantically at his face, hoping Yoongi didn’t see, and tries on a smile. It feels ill-fitting, awkward. Yoongi doesn’t smile back. It’s still raining outside and Yoongi’s dripping water from the ends of his long coat in small pools on the floor - hair plastered to his forehead even though he’s clutching an umbrella in one hand.

For a moment, they simply stare at each other, and the moment holds like an extended piano note, vibrating, until Yoongi says, “hi.”

“Hi,” Namjoon says back, setting the book on the coffee table. He feels too vulnerable in his sweatpants and baggy, stained sweatshirt - too much like Kim Namjoon.

“You’re still up,” Yoongi continues, voice a soft rumble as he tugs off his coat and dumps it on a peg. Toes off his boots without unlacing them and sets them on the rack. He’s wearing a black apron underneath his coat, stained with food residue, and when he comes closer, Namjoon notices there’s a streak of red sauce on his chin.

Namjoon drinks the rest of him in, too. Catalogues all the things that are the same, just like he did with Hoseok: the slight bend in Yoongi’s shoulders, the way he always moves a little hunched and shuffling and tired; the messy fall of his black hair across his forehead (he was blond for awhile, according to the pictures and Namjoon wonders when that changed); the cat-like cut of his eyes; the roundness of his cheeks; the jaggedness of his nails, bitten down to the quick.

And the differences: more piercings now - three in each ear - and earrings that dangle and sway when he moves; his angles are a little sharper, a little more defined with age; and like Hoseok, he holds himself with more relaxed confidence, like he’s found his place in the world and he’s sure of it.

The hunger that radiated from eighteen-year-old Yoongi, so ravenous to prove himself, to succeed, is gone. There is a steadiness to him now. Eighteen-year-old Yoongi always reminded Namjoon of a sea storm - powerful and furious and untamed. Twenty-six-year-old Yoongi feels like a river - slower, calmer, driving forward on the path he’s laid out to some distant delta.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Namjoon whispers when he realizes that Yoongi’s waiting for an answer. “It’s like four-thirty in the afternoon in Korea.”

“Mm, but when was the last time you slept?”

Namjoon shrugs. “Three weeks ago?”

Yoongi’s eyebrows jump for his hairline.

“It might have been longer.”

Yoongi huffs. “I was going to say you look terrible, but that’s kind of an understatement.”

“Thanks,” Namjoon says with a wry smile - secretly glad to see Yoongi’s bluntness hasn’t been tempered by time.

“If I didn’t know you were coming, I would have thought my house was haunted by the sad ghost of a murdered college student. C’mon.”

He shuffles past Namjoon towards the kitchen and Namjoon follows, grimacing down at his sweatshirt. He probably does look like a college student after finals week - if only the tabloids could see him now. This might be a greater offense than the homosexuality.

Ha.

He leans against the frame of the archway as he watches Yoongi flip on an electric kettle. “What are you doing?”

“Making tea,” Yoongi says. “I have this sleepytime stuff that’s really good.” He pauses, tilts his head in contemplation. “It’s probably just a placebo effect, but it works.”

He has to go up on his socked tiptoes to reach the tea bags in the top cupboard and Namjoon feels a familiar wrench in his chest at the sight.

(Some things never change.)

“You don’t have to make me tea,” he insists. “You must be tired.”

“I’m making myself tea,” Yoongi says. He pulls a Spider-Man and a Batman mug down from the shelf. “And there’s enough for two. So it’s fine.”

“At least let me help-” Namjoon starts - before Yoongi levels him with a Stare.

“Kim Namjoon, I don’t know what you think happened to my manners, but you’re a guest in my house and I’m still older than you. Shut up and let me make tea.”

“You sound like Hoseok,” Namjoon grumbles, defeated for a second time.

“Hoseok sounds like me,” Yoongi says, then glances down at himself. His brow furrows and he pokes at his stained apron. “Fuck, I thought I took this off.”

“You have sauce on your chin, too,” Namjoon can’t help pointing out.

Yoongi curses again and wipes at his face. The sauce stays.

“It’s fine,” Namjoon says. “It’s two in the morning, hyung, no one cares.”

It’s only after the words are out that he realizes his mistake. Yoongi’s eyes are wide when he glances over and Namjoon cringes, feeling suddenly small. “Shit, I’m sorry. I-”

Yoongi levels a teaspoon at him. “If Yoongi-ssi comes out of your mouth, I will throw this at you.”

“I still overstepped.”

It’s just … Yoongi’s never not been hyung in his mind, no matter how many years pass. Old habits die really really hard, apparently.

Yoongi sighs and drops the teaspoon into the Spider-Man mug with a soft clink. “It’s okay. We’ll … talk about it later. When it isn’t two in the morning.” The kettle starts to rattle and hum. “Tea’s ready.”

Namjoon accepts the Batman mug Yoongi passes him with a quick bow that Yoongi snorts at, but makes him feel marginally better, and follows Yoongi back out into the living room. Yoongi finally unties his apron, revealing a white button-up underneath, and tosses it over the back of one of the armchairs. The top three buttons of his shirt come next and then Yoongi sags back against the couch cushions with an exhausted wheeze.

“You should go to bed,” Namjoon says, making sure to keep all of his long limbs on the far side of the couch to give Yoongi plenty of space.

“I’ll go when you go,” Yoongi says, lolling his head to meet Namjoon’s gaze with a challenging look.

“Touche,” Namjoon mutters and lifts his mug in a toast.

The tea is good, but this feels like another dream: drinking tea with Yoongi in the night’s quietest, darkest hours - long after the rest of the world has gone to sleep, but a ways to go yet before the first flush of dawn. Min Yoongi, who he never thought he’d see again. Min Yoongi, whose socks have little blue triceratops on them and the start of a hole in the left heel. Min Yoongi, who is looking at him like he can’t quite believe this, either.

They used to have so many words between them. Now Namjoon feels like he’s scraping the bottom of a dry riverbed, looking for something to say.

“Thank you,” he says at last, for lack of anything better. “Hoseok said it was your idea to invite me.”

Yoongi scratches behind his ear. “Ah, I just thought you might need a place with some distance. To … breathe.”

“You were right.”

Yoongi nods and finishes the rest of his tea in one long swig. Stands on legs wobbly with fatigue and hovers in front of Namjoon - hand in the air like he wants to touch but isn’t sure if he’s allowed. Namjoon holds his breath, thinks: please , thinks: don’t, because as much as he craves it, if Yoongi touches him right now, he’s almost certain that he’ll shatter into a thousand messy pieces all over the floor.

Yoongi’s hand drops to his side, fingers curling towards his palm in a loose fist.

“Go to bed, Namjoon,” he says, in a tone that allows no room for argument.

Then he’s gone, taking the Spider-man mug and his apron with him.

_ _

 

Namjoon goes to bed, but sleep is still a long time coming - finally pulling him under just as the sky begins to lighten outside and the rain finally stops.