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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.

Chapter Text

Namjoon wakes up later than he meant to, sometime in the early afternoon, and he feels muddled and disoriented as he crawls out of bed. The recent chain of events comes back in pieces: the article, the slam of the door as Jackson left, the plane, JFK, Hoseok’s yellow sneakers and hesitant smile, their house with its plants and dog and pictures, a book of poetry, and Yoongi looking at him softly in the dark.

Shit.

He changes - jeans and a nicer sweater, because his mother raised him not to look like a slob when he’s a guest in someone else’s house - and takes a deep breath before pulling open the door. Yoongi’s probably awake by now and they’ll talk some more, and this will be fine.

Just take it one step at a time.

The phone that Hoseok gave him is still sitting on the dresser, next to his own, still very dead one. His hand hovers over it for a moment. He should charge his phone - answer at least a few messages, enough to assure all the worried people back in Korea that he’s safe. But his company will want him to come back, to make a statement, to try to smooth all of this over. He can already hear the quote blurbs: a mistake, a miscalculation, I’m not actually this way, it wasn’t a date, wasn’t a kiss, the lighting was bad, the photo was blurry, how can you know for sure. He can already picture himself in a different restaurant, across from a woman this time - because that kind of dating scandal is more palpable than the one he’s currently embroiled in. There will be a few more restaurants, maybe a night at Lotte World, a couple of “candid” photos out and about around Seoul, and then they’ll break up and he’ll be pristine again.

No longer stained. No longer ruined. Rap Monster once more, with his swagger and his heavy-hitting lyrics and the distant rumors about the women he fucks.

(And that’s not even considering what his parents are thinking, what they’re going to say. Their only son is a disgrace and the shame of that is hot under his skin.)

His stomach heaves and he snatches his hand away from his phone, picking up Hoseok’s instead and slipping it into his pocket. It’s okay, he can leave it a little longer. Just a little longer - until he figures out how to handle it without breaking.

Just take it one fucking step at a time, Namjoon.

He leaves the bedroom behind, old floorboards squeaking beneath his weight as he heads down the narrow hall - only to stop two steps into the living room because there is a stranger perched on the back of the couch. Well … not a complete stranger. Namjoon recognizes him as one of the kids from Hoseok and Yoongi’s pictures - the one that reminds him a little bit of a rabbit, with his large nose and big eyes and slightly protruding teeth. He’s sitting cross-legged, folded into a nearly impossible position in spite of his size, and is in the process of shoving what looks like an entire muffin into his mouth at once.

Then he spots Namjoon hovering awkwardly at the end of the hall and his eyes bug in stunned recognition.

Shit, Namjoon thinks as the kid starts to choke on his muffin, wheezing. The noise draws someone else out of the kitchen - another one of the kids: small and compact in a way that reminds him of Yoongi, but with far more delicate features. He’s holding a spoon covered in batter and some of it is starting to drip onto the sleeve of his black sweatshirt, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

“Jungkook-ah, what the hell are you-?” And then he notices Namjoon and his face takes on the same stunned countenance as Jungkooks. “Oh my god.”

Namjoon contemplates just turning around and going right back to bed. He can’t deal with this, doesn’t want to be Rap Monster right now - can feel his shoulders subconsciously hunching in an effort to make himself smaller, make himself disappear.

“Oh my god,” the kid repeats while Jungkook keeps struggling to swallow his muffin. “You’re-”

“Namjoon,” a desperately welcome voice says, still rough with sleep. Yoongi squeezes past Namjoon into the living room, still dressed in his pajamas, hair sticking up. His Kumamon socks clash with his plaid pants, which in turn clash with his baggy striped shirt.

“This is Namjoon,” he huffs. “And what are you brats doing in my house? I told you to call first.”

“I did,” the kid protests, now thumping Jungkook on the back.

Jungkook squeaks and breadcrumbs fly and then he finally seems to get his breathing back under control, staggering off the sofa to his feet. He’s almost as tall as Namjoon and Namjoon can tell there’s a lot of muscle underneath those too-big clothes. Jungkook, bunny-faced and all, could probably break him in half if he wanted. Instead, he actually bows. A proper bow, at the waist. Like Namjoon is his grandmother.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Namjoon-nim,” he says in a stuttered rush. “I’m a really big fan of your music.”

Namjoon still kind of wants to sink into the floor, even if Jungkook is being polite. “Um … thank you? And please, it’s just Namjoon.”

“Namjoon-ssi,” Jungkook repeats as he straightens, awe in his voice.

Yoongi sighs. “Yah, enough of that. No ass-kissing in my house.” He squints at the other kid. “And you didn’t call, Jimin-ah, don’t lie to me.”

“I did,” Jimin insists. “It’s not my fault that you didn’t pick up, hyung.”

“Because I was sleeping. And I told you I have a guest.”

Jimin sniffs. “Yeah, a famous rapper. Thanks for the heads up.” His gaze darts to Namjoon and his features soften slightly. “I’m a big fan, too,” he mumbles, blushing. Then he switches back to Yoongi. “And you closed for the third time in a row, even though you weren’t supposed to, so I’m making you pancakes, hyung. It’s tradition. Shut up and enjoy it.”

Jimin, Namjoon decides, is mildly terrifying. And Jungkook is still staring.

Yoongi sighs again. “Jungkook-ah, close your mouth and go help your boyfriend.”

Namjoon jolts a little, at boyfriend, even though he knows it’s stupid, when Yoongi and Hoseok are dating. That kind of love doesn’t have to be hidden here, and it still unbalances him. He wonders when he’ll get used to it. In front of him, Jungkook’s jaw clicks as his mouth snaps shut and he ducks his head on his way past, darting into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry about them,” Yoongi says, running his fingers through his tangled hair. “I thought we’d at least be able to keep them at bay for twenty-four hours.”

“They have a key?”

Yoongi grimaces. “Yeah. A miscalculation on my part.”

Namjoon suspects that’s a lie. “And they come over here to make you pancakes?”

It seems like weird behavior, from a bunch of college students, but Yoongi’s expression slips into fondness, even though he tries to keep his tone gruff. “They think they need to take care of me. Show up whenever they think I’ve been working too hard.”

That’s … sweet. It makes Namjoon’s chest ache. “They seem like good kids.”

“They are,” Yoongi agrees. “And don’t worry about Jungkook. He’ll get over the hero worship and then you’ll wish he was back to being this polite.”

Namjoon has a lot of questions - has he talked about me? Have you talked about me to him? Have you listened to my music? Seen me perform? The book of poems on your shelf - am I in them? Do I still matter to you? To Hoseok? Are you happy, Yoongi? Are you happy here? - but he swallows them down down down and lets Yoongi pour him a cup of coffee. Lets himself be seated at the dining room table. Lets Jimin set a plate of pancakes in front of him. Lets himself exist here, in this moment, watching the sun through the blinds and listening to the murmur of voices around him. Takes in this glimpse of a home.

 

_ _

 

He learns, by the end of breakfast (or is it brunch? Or lunch at this point?), that Jimin and Jungkook are both students at the nearby Queens College, CUNY. That Jimin is studying dance and performing arts and Jungkook’s major is film. That they rent an apartment a few miles away with their friend Taehyung. That they work in Yoongi’s restaurant on their evenings and weekends. That they’re from Busan. That Jungkook is one year younger, but they did their military service together before coming over. That Jimin waited for him. That they’ve been dating for two years and have known each other for fifteen. That Jimin’s hand is much smaller than Jungkook’s but their fingers thread together perfectly when they hold hands on top of the table - shy and tender with each other in a way Namjoon isn’t sure he knows how to be.

Eventually, they leave with their arms full of leftover Chinese takeout that Yoongi gave them to pay for the pancakes (“No protests, you human black holes.”) and a promise (or maybe it’s a threat) to stop by again soon. The house feels too quiet in their wake, even after Yoongi lets Holly in from the backyard and the dog runs energetic circles around Namjoon’s legs before scratching at Yoongi’s ankle until Yoongi scoops him up, cooing softly in a pitch Namjoon didn’t know his voice could make.

“I didn’t know you liked dogs,” he says quietly, watching Holly settle in Yoongi’s arms, huffing contentedly.

“I didn’t,” Yoongi replies, scratching behind Holly’s floppy ears. “But a neighbor was moving and couldn’t keep him and I didn’t want him to go to the pound, so…” he shrugs, as if there isn’t adoration on his face when he looks down at the little ball of fluff he’s cradling.

He’s so much softer than he used to be.

“What are you doing today?” Namjoon asks, because the last thing he wants is to be a burden or intrude on any already-made plans. He’s here on short notice, he knows that. Came crashing into their lives like a meteor striking the earth and he wants to leave as small a crater as possible.

“It’s my day off,” Yoongi says. “So usually I just sleep a lot. Watch Netflix. Try not to worry if something’s burned down at the restaurant.” He gives Namjoon a critical look. “You look like you could sleep for a week. Go back to bed.”

“I-” Yoongi isn’t wrong. He’s still exhausted. He thinks he’s been exhausted for years, probably, not just weeks. But he doesn’t want to be useless, either. It’s been go go go for all those years and now he’s not even sure he knows how to do nothing for an extended period of time.

He startles at the hand that lands on his shoulder, big and warm. “Namjoon,” Yoongi says, stern like he used to be in the dorms, when he was trying to be the hyung even though he was just as scared as Namjoon and Hoseok were, “go back to bed. Get some sleep. The world will still be here when you wake up.”

He’s never really been able to argue with Yoongi in Hyung Mode, even after all these years. So he nods, almost on autopilot, and shuffles back to bed, laughing quietly to himself as he puts his pajamas on - he shouldn’t have even bothered to get dressed.

This time, he’s out almost as soon as his head hits the pillow, lulled by the sounds of the TV from the living room.

And this time, it’s nearly dark when he wakes back up, even more disoriented than he was this morning. Yoongi’s still in the living room, Holly asleep in his lap, and he glances up with a sheepish expression when Namjoon emerges.

“Hey, sorry. I probably shouldn’t have let you sleep that long, but you looked like you needed it.”

“‘S okay,” Namjoon mumbles, voice still slurred, and rubs at his eyes, trying to shake off the remnants of sleep still fogging his brain. He casts around for a clock before he finds one near the kitchen that informs him it’s nearly 7pm. “I did need it.”

Yoongi nods and gets up, gently laying Holly back down on the cushions. The dog snuffles and goes back to sleep. “Hoseok’s at the studio. He has a class on Thursday evenings. Normally, I meet him there and bring him dinner.” Here, Yoongi hesitates, biting his lip. “Do you want to come with me?”

“Yes,” Namjoon blurts immediately, through a sudden rush of butterflies. It’ll be good to move, to get out of this house for a bit, and he’s desperate to see more of Hoseok’s and Yoongi’s life. “Yes, let me get dressed.”

He throws back on his clothes from this morning, then his jacket and baseball cap for good measure. Nearly picks up the face mask out of habit before remembering that it would look out of place here. He takes his wallet, even though he doesn’t have any American money and he doesn’t plan on using his credit cards because he wouldn’t put it past his company to try tracking him that way. He’d paid for his ticket with a debit card they didn’t know he owned, right there at the counter in Incheon - last first class seat on the plane.

Yoongi is waiting for him by the door, bundled up in a black coat, scarf, and beanie. The scarf is a little haphazard, looks homemade, big enough to brush Yoongi’s pale chin. He’s beautiful, lines of gold on his skin from the streetlights. He was beautiful at eighteen, too - took Namjoon’s breath away so much it was terrifying - but he’s grown into it now, all of his previously sharp angles worn smoother like polished stone.

“Ready?” he says, a little muffled by the fabric, and Namjoon nods.

Outside, the air is biting and Namjoon can see a few snow flurries illuminated by the street lamps. To his surprise, Yoongi walks past the car, heading for the street. At Namjoon’s questioning look, he huffs. “Gas is fucking expensive and there’s a bus stop on the corner. It’s only about twenty minutes to the studio.”

“I don’t have a bus pass,” Namjoon reminds him.

“Oh right.” He fishes around in his pocket for his wallet and extracts a MetroCard. “Here. We use it for guests. It should have enough money on it.”

“Yoongi-” Namjoon starts to protest because the phone was bad enough.

Yoongi just grabs his hand and presses the card against his palm. “There. Yours now. C’mon.”

Namjoon slides the card into his pocket with a shake of his head and follows Yoongi down the surprisingly quiet street. He didn’t know you could find sleepy neighborhoods in New York, but this one is. Most of the houses have lights on, windows glowing yellow, and he can see shadows moving behind the barrier of curtains, but him and Yoongi are the only ones outside.

“Bus comes every fifteen minutes,” Yoongi says when they reach the stop, shifting his weight from foot to foot and blowing on his hands. “Should be here in five.”

He’s always gotten cold so easily, shivering in the winter when the heating in the dorms was spotty but never once complaining. And once upon a time, Namjoon would have pulled him in - pressed him against his side to warm him up. He misses that, the easy skinship. Hates the gulf between them now - a gap he can almost see running through the pavement, separating them.

Fortunately, the bus arrives on time, pulling up and settling with a rattle and a hiss as the doors swing open. Yoongi leads him to seats in the back and takes the window, leaving Namjoon room to spread his long limbs out in the aisle. Namjoon still watches the scenery passing by - houses giving way to brick apartment buildings, storefronts in Hangul and Hanzi and English, sidewalks full of people - until Yoongi taps his shoulder and says, “this is our stop.”

They get off in front of a jumbled row of shops that reminds him of Seoul - tattoo artist next to a jewellers and below a hair salon called “K-pop Star Hair;” across the street a martial arts studio next to a laundromat and a little Italian restaurant squeezed between a Chinese grocer’s and a foot spa.

Yoongi makes for the restaurant, ducking inside. Namjoon follows him past the red plastic booths and up to the equally red counter, blinking up at the array of choices on the wall above them. A man in a red uniform is working the register and he grins, deepening the wrinkles on his already weathered face. Graying hair sticks out from beneath his red baseball cap.

“Ey, Yoongi,” he says. “Didn’t think you were coming tonight.”

“It’s Thursday,” Yoongi says and the switch to English is jarring. Yoongi’s accent is still there, slurring his words slightly, but he’s comfortable and fluent in a way Namjoon stupidly wasn’t expecting. “Of course I’m here. Can I have the usual? And-” he turns to Namjoon and still in English asks, “what do you want?”

“Whatever you’re having is fine,” Namjoon says, using English on reflex.

“Okay, the usual, but three slices,” Yoongi says, turning back the counter. “Thanks, Frank.”

Frank tips his hat and a few minutes later, Yoongi is passing over a handful of cash in exchange for three cardboard containers, three cokes, and a box of breadsticks in a cheap plastic bag.

“Have a good night,” Frank says and Yoongi waves on his way back out the door, Namjoon still trailing after and feeling increasingly off-balance.

“I always come here on Thursdays,” Yoongi explains back outside, continuing down the street. He’s switched back to Korean. “Hoseok likes carbs after dancing so much and Frank makes great pizza.”

“It smells great,” Namjoon admits and takes the bag from Yoongi, ignoring his quiet protest. “Is the studio close?”

“Just a few blocks over,” Yoongi says.

And it really is. Just two streets down, at the end of a row of shops and restaurants. JJL Dance Studio is written in block letters on the window, then again in Hanzi and a third time in Hangul.

“Yoongi,” Namjoon says, stopping Yoongi just as he’s about to open the door. “Does Hoseok own this place?” Hoseok had never mentioned. Just said he taught classes at a local studio.

“Co-owns it,” Yoongi says. “Well, technically it’s a three-way ownership. Hoseok and Wheein both have Jung as a family name, hence the JJ. The L is from Henry Lau.” He taps the door. “He’s Chinese-Canadian. That’s why there’s Hanzi, too.”

Oh. “Hoseok said he just teaches.”

Yoongi smiles, affectionate and a little rueful. “He’s humble like that. Keeps saying he has the least active role because of his other job. But yeah, his name’s on the sign.”

“Wow.”

Yoongi’s smile ticks up the corner of his mouth a little further and he pulls the door open. “C’mon, food’s getting cold.”

The space is a decent size, almost bigger on the inside - like the T.A.R.D.I.S.. There’s a small reception area at the front that’s empty, with two doors branching off that Namjoon assumes are the studios. It’s well lit, the walls a nice pale blue, and he likes it immediately. Can picture Hoseok here. Yoongi reaches over the reception counter and rings the bell that’s sat on the desk.

“Delivery!” he calls in English. “For Jung Hoseok!”

The left door opens and Hoseok spills out, grinning brightly. He’s sweaty, his hair sticking to his forehead and his shirt to his collarbones, and fuck, he’s just as beautiful as he was at the airport, which still feels like a dream.

“Is it pizza?” he asks and it’s even stranger, hearing him speak English. He was less fluent than Yoongi, back in their trainee days - only knew a handful of words - and while his accent’s more pronounced, there’s no hesitation. No pauses.

“It might be pizza,” Yoongi says and oh, he’s curling a hand around Hoseok’s waist and leaning in to press a kiss to the corner of Hoseok’s mouth. It’s fleeting, but so intimate that Namjoon wants to look away - hates the churn of what feels like jealousy in his stomach. He doesn’t get to be envious of them. He gave up that right - not that he ever had it in the first place - a long time ago.

“You’re the best,” Hoseok says, all gentle fondness, and then he turns to Namjoon with a bright smile. “Namjoon, you came, too.”

“I wanted to get out of the house,” Namjoon says, hoping that he’s not unwelcome or intruding on a private ritual.

“Nice,” is all Hoseok says and then nods toward the studio. “C’mon. It’s just me left. I told Wheein I’d lock up.”

“Is it date night?” Yoongi asks, unwinding his scarf as he goes.

Hoseok hums. “Yeah, she said she’s taking Hyejin - that’s her girlfriend-” he clarifies for Namjoon, “ out for steak.”

“Steak, huh?” Yoongi asks. “Fancy.”

“She’s been saving up, apparently.”

The practice room is bigger than Namjoon expected - long and a little narrow, with one wall occupied by floor-to-ceiling-mirrors. The other walls are painted the same blue as the reception area and the floor beneath his feet is shiny, dark wood. The wall across from the mirrors has words stenciled on it in black letters: just get up and dance.

Hoseok plops down in the middle of the room, sprawling out on his back and gesturing for them to sit.

“Okay, pizza,” he says, making grabby hands for the bag.

Namjoon stifles a laugh as he passes it over. Yoongi got pepperoni for all of them, though Hoseok starts on the breasticks first, groaning after a large bite. “Yes, garlic. You’re the best, babe.”

He reaches over to pat Yoongi’s leg and babe clangs around in Namjoon’s head like a wrecking ball. He doesn’t think he’s ever gotten to call someone that. It would feel foreign and strange on his tongue, like unfamiliar food.

“You’re welcome,” Yoongi mutters back, handing Namjoon his slice of pizza.

It’s greasy and cheesy and possibly the best thing Namjoon’s tasted in ages. He can see why this is a tradition. Focusing on eating also makes the awkward tension in the air easier to ignore. It’s different, with all three of them in the same room together now. Namjoon can feel the specters of unspoken things, unfinished things, but he doesn’t know how to appease or dispel them. Apparently, neither do Hoseok or Yoongi because they eat in relative silence, as well.

Say something, Namjoon thinks, the insistence loud and desperate in his head.

“Yoongi told me you co-own this place,” he manages to get out after a long sip of Coke. “You just said you teach classes.”

God, he hopes that didn’t sound too accusatory.

“Ah,” Hoseok mumbles, looking abashed. “It’s not that big of a deal. Wheein and Henry do most the of work. I just show up to teach classes three days a week.”

“Seok-ah,” Yoongi says with a note of admonishment.

“It’s a big deal,” Namjoon insists.

Hoseok shrugs, eyes on the floor. “I don’t know. You - you play arenas. That’s impressive, not a little dance studio in Queens.”

“No,” Namjoon says, scooting closer but stopping himself from touching Hoseok like he wants, like he would have once. “No, Hoseok. This is impressive. You - you made this place and it’s so cool. You should be proud. It’s something to be proud of.” And maybe this is overstepping, but he can’t help adding, “I’m proud of you.”

He can feel the insistent press of Yoongi’s gaze against his skin, but he stays focused on Hoseok. On the way Hoseok’s mouth has dropped open and his eyes have widened like Namjoon’s told just told him that the sky outside is actually green - or the sun’s set for good.

“I-” he starts, then cuts himself off. His face scrunches up, but Namjoon can’t read the expression. Isn’t sure if it’s embarrassment or happiness or something in between. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

It’s a stock phrase of acceptance, but Hoseok’s eyes are earnest. Namjoon rocks back on his heels, feeling his own cheeks starting to flush, and picks up his pizza again.

“He’s right, you know,” Yoongi says, nudging Hoseok with the toe of his boot. “This is place in incredible and you’re growing a lot. Might need a bigger space soon, even. That’s amazing, Seok-ah.”

Hoseok grunts and flaps a hand. “Okay, okay, enough compliments. Finish your pizza.”

Yoongi winks at him, easy and flirtatious, and goes back to his food. Silence settles in again, a little more bearable than before, and it lingers while they finish eating and throw away the containers. Shrug their coats back on for the walk to the bus stop.

“Namjoon,” Yoongi says when they’re almost ready to leave. Hoseok also pauses in the middle of shoving a beanie on his head. “I-Hoseok and I … we just wanted you to know…”

He trails off, looking uncertain, and Hoseok jumps in. “That you can talk to us. About anything. We’ll listen.”

Yoongi nods, rallying. “Yes. We may not get the fame part, but everything else.” He leans forward and taps his forefinger against Namjoon’s chest. Namjoon feels it like a punch. “Everything happening in here? We definitely get that.”

“So we’re here,” Hoseok finishes. “If you need us.”

It’s awkward and stumbling but so so sincere that Namjoon can feel the first telltale burn of his tears in his eyes. He blinks rapidly, fighting them off, and manages a timorous smile. “Thank you. I-did you read the stories?”

He cringes at some of the things that have been printed, assumptions and accusations that have been made. Hates the thought of Yoongi and Hoseok reading them.

“No,” Hoseok thankfully says. “No, just one article. Breaking the story.”

Which means he probably saw the picture. The one of Namjoon and Jackson kissing in the shadows of a restaurant - so fucking careless and stupid.

“We didn’t care what anyone else had to say,” Yoongi chimes in.

Namjoon nods. Wants to ask Yoongi to fix it, just like he always used to fix the doors and furniture that broke in their dorm. Just like he picked up the pieces of Namjoon when things got hard and glued them back together again, assuring him we’ll make it. He wants to pull the bloody, pulpy mess of his heart from his thoracic cavity and hand it to Yoongi for him to stitch up.

That’s why he came here, he thinks. It wasn’t just desperation and longing to see them again - it was the stupid, persistent hope that they might be able to heal him, too.

“Thank you,” he says again, now.

Hoseok smiles at him, all understanding sympathy, and ushers him out the door.

 

_ _

 

It isn’t until they’re almost home that Namjoon figures out where he even wants to start.

“I didn’t love him,” he says as they walk down Yoongi and Hoseok’s street. “I wanted to. Maybe - maybe I would have, with enough time. But I didn’t love him.”

“That’s okay,” Yoongi says in his soothing rumble.

Namjoon shakes his head, emotion clawing at his ribcage like a wild thing. “Is it? Wouldn’t it have been better if I loved him? If - if I was choosing him and we were going to make it through this together like a fucking drama. Instead of me destroying both our careers for - for something so inconsequential. For nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing,” Hoseok cuts in with unexpected fierceness. “Namjoon, who you want to go out with isn’t nothing.”

“No,” Namjoon hiccups, swallowing back another rush of tears. “No, it was. I’d - I’d kept it in my pants for seven fucking years and then I got reckless and I fucked it up. I fucked his life up, too.”

“He chose to go on that date with you,” Yoongi points out, unbearably kind, unbearably honest. “I imagine he knew what he was getting into.”

“But I kissed him,” Namjoon says, pressing a hand to his heaving stomach.

He can’t even remember why he did it - just leaning forward across the table and a brush of lips that lingered a little too long. Maybe he thought he was safe, in the corner of that private restaurant. Maybe he forgot, for a terrible moment, that he was Rap Monster and not Kim Namjoon. Maybe he’d just wanted a little too much. None of that matters, really. He did it and it was the second biggest mistake of his life.

His first is standing in front of him, side by side, almost matching expressions of tender worry on their faces.

“I kissed him,” he repeats. “I was stupid.”

“Maybe,” Yoongi says with a shrug. “Maybe you shouldn’t have done it in public, but the fact that you wanted to kiss him? That isn’t stupid, Namjoon.”

“No,” Hoseok agreed, reaching out with a glove hand to squeeze Namjoon’s arm. “It isn’t stupid at all.”

It’s freezing out here, all of their breath hanging in the air in misty puffs. He feels numb down to his bones. He wishes he could cry. Or scream.

“I ignored my parents’ calls,” he says. “I ignored them and then I ran away to another country. They must - they must think I’m such a terrible son. Such a - a fucking disgrace-”

“Stop,” Yoongi snaps, reaching up. His palm cups Namjoon’s cheek and the warmth of it is enough to make Namjoon’s breath stutter and his voice dry up. “Stop, Joon-ah.”

Joon-ah.

No one’s called him Joon-ah in seven years.

Joon-ah.

He didn’t think he’d hear that from Yoongi’s mouth ever again. He’s been craving it, he realizes now, as he starts to crumple, fold inward like there’s a black hole planted right in the middle of him. Hoseok’s arm goes around his waist - both him and Yoongi holding Namjoon up.

“I know,” Hoseok says. “I know it’s hard. It’s so hard. And I can’t speak for your parents, but you’ll never be a disgrace to me. Not because of this.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” Namjoon hiccups. “You shouldn’t say that after I-”

“Enough,” Yoongi cuts him off again. “No more guilt. I’m freezing my ass off out here and it’s late. Let’s go inside. We can talk more, then.”

They let go of him and Namjoon immediately feels like he’s drowning again. He doesn’t think he wants to talk anymore. Or think. Just go to sleep like Rip Van Winkle and wake up twenty years from now, when everyone’s forgotten his name.

Maybe Hoseok and Yoongi sense this, because they don’t press him when they get inside. Hoseok just takes Holly out to do his business while Yoongi makes tea in the kitchen.

“More sleepytime stuff?” Namjoon asks and Yoongi smiles, sad.

“Figured you might need it.”

“You figured right.”

It’s a Ryan mug he’s handed this time and he blinks down at it in surprise.

“I found it in a garage sale - Korean lady two streets over was moving,” Yoongi says quietly and doesn’t elaborate.

Namjoon’s too raw to ask if Yoongi bought it because it was a reminder of him, but there’s a sudden spark of hope in his chest that wasn’t there before.

Hoseok comes back in, depositing a wriggling Holly onto Yoongi’s lap and pressing a kiss to the top of Yoongi’s head. “I’m gonna shower,” he announces. “Be right back.”

“There’s hot water if you want tea,” Yoongi murmurs, squeezing Hoseok’s hand.

Hoseok hums in gratitude and vanishes down the hall. Yoongi gets Holly to settle down, cooing at him until he flops over with a quiet wheeze and buries his head in the crook of Yoongi’s arm, and then blinks up at Namjoon. “I know I said enough out there, but if you want to talk about it more…”

“It’s okay,” Namjoon says. He feels hollow - like someone’s taken a spoon and scooped out all of his fleshy insides. “I’m just … I feel stupid, for being afraid to deal with it. For hiding. But I still don’t want to deal with it.”

“What did your company want to do?” Yoongi asks.

Namjoon shrugs. “Deny it. Try to make it seem like it was someone else in the restaurant. Throw Jackson under the bus. Whatever it took to get suspicions off me.”

“And you said no?”

“Yeah.” Namjoon tightens his grip on the mug until he can feel the heat burn against his palm. “I didn’t … I’ve … I don’t want to go back in the closet. I’m so afraid but I don’t-” He doesn’t know how to articulate this. Wonders what people would say if they saw the great wordsmith Rap Monster struggling to string together a simple sentence. Music has always been easier, even if he hasn’t written anything that feels true in years.

“So … do you like men exclusively?” Yoongi prods, still so gentle.

The floorboards creak before Namjoon can answer, heradling Hoseok’s return. He’s dressed in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt, toweling off his hair, and he smiles at them. “Sorry, am I interrupting?”

Namjoon shakes his head. Hoseok should probably hear this, too. “No, I was just answering Yoongi's question. I’m, um, I’m gay.”

Yoongi and Hoseok don’t look fazed. “Also gay,” Yoongi says, pointing to himself.

“Bi,” Hoseok says, tapping his own chest.

“Oh,” Namjoon says.

He’s always suspected. Yoongi had told him, a year after living together - both of them tearful and scared of the future in the studio late at night.  In contrast, Hoseok had kept quiet, unwilling to open up so much of himself, but the way he looked at Yoongi never really felt platonic. Hearing that they ended up together wasn’t exactly surprising news, even if it hurt.

“Welcome to the club,” Hoseok says, grinning. “We literally have pins. And t-shirts. And stickers. We can rainbow the shit out of you if you want.”

Namjoon laughs, surprising himself. This has never felt like something to joke about before, but it’s easy here - in the safety of Yoongi and Hoseok’s home, with their rainbow magnet on the fridge and their open affection.

“I’m okay, but thank you.”

Hoseok nods. “Okay, well the option’s there. For now, I say we all go to bed.”

“Good idea,” Yoongi says with a groan. “I’m opening tomorrow.”

Hoseok bends down to take a snuffling Holly from him and smiles at Namjoon. “See you in the morning. I only work afternoons on Friday’s so I’ll be around.”

“Goodnight,” Yoongi says with a smile.

“Okay. Goodnight,” Namjoon says and watches them pad toward their bedroom together, talking in a low murmur, their heads tilted together.

Once their door closes, he tips his head back and rubs circles over his chest, trying to soothe the tightness away.

 

_ _

 

Here’s a secret: it’s always been both of them. Maybe that’s what scared him so much. That it was both of them that he wanted so badly his bones ached. That it was probably more than simple want.

He took all of that and he balled it up and he shoved it into a box in the back of his mind, but it’s never gone away. Sometimes it seeps out, saturating all of his thoughts. There is another lead weight next the grief that he’s simply titled Longing and that one makes it even harder to breathe. He remembers hearing a Portuguese word once: saudade. Defined as profound, melancholic longing for something or someone absent. Someone that you loved. Someone that might never return.

He feels it now, lying in the bed of their guest room. Feels the box tip open again and lets himself imagine, just for a moment, lying down between them with their warmth on either side of him.

Being welcome there.

 

_ _

 

He has cereal for breakfast the next morning, sitting on the couch and listening to Hoseok chatter about his students. It’s even clearer now that he loves what he’s doing, even if he comes home heartbroken sometimes, even if there are ones that slip through his fingers. But some of them come to his dance classes, and they all call him Hobi, and each one obviously holds a special place in his heart.

He has to leave in the early afternoon for work, but he gives Namjoon the directions to Yoongi’s restaurant and tells him he should stop by for lunch. Which is how he finds himself back on the bus, heading for Roosevelt Avenue. Let’s Meat is admittedly much fancier than Namjoon was picturing based on the name. The decor inside is sleek and modern, with some traditional touches scattered throughout. There are plants perched on shelves and prints of historical art on the walls. He likes the vibe of it, he decides almost immediately. It feels polished but intimate, professional but welcoming. The hostess thankfully smiles without recognition and guides him to a table in the corner, looking only a little confused when he sheepishly explains that he’s here alone.

She directs him to the lunch menu, which also features a selection of burgers and single dishes, and then heads back to her station. He’s trying to decide if a kimchi burger is a good idea when a deep voice announces, “wow, Jimin wasn’t kidding.”

He jerks his head up to see a tall, elegant-looking man standing by his table. Who’s also very familiar. Kid number three, he realizes: Taehyung. His hair is a bright, turquoise blue and his glittering earrings match - both a contrast to his black and white server’s uniform. His eyes are a little wide behind the glasses he’s wearing, but he’s much calmer than Jungkook was, at least.

“I’m kind of … trying to keep a low profile,” Namjoon still says, a note of pleading in his voice.

“Don’t worry, Namjoon-ssi,” Taehyung says with a boxy smile. “Your secret identity is safe with me. I’m just going to have a long conversation with Yoongi about what counts as important details when conveying information.”

“I think he was trying to protect my privacy,” Namjoon argues, feeling the strange need to defend Yoongi even though he’s pretty sure that Taehyung is kidding.

“Still a little warning would have been nice,” Taehyung says. “Jungkook almost died.”

Namjoon grimaces at that mortifying memory and Taehyung laughs, low and full. “Sorry, I’m just teasing, Namjoon-ssi. What can I get you?” He clicks his pen, poising it above his notepad and Namjoon decides fuck it and orders the kimchi burger and a coke.

“Good choice,” Taehyung says and mercifully sounds like he means it. “I’ll be right back with your drink.”

Namjoon exhales in quiet relief when he’s gone and looks around the restaurant a little more. Tries to picture Yoongi here. Picture Yoongi working on the design for it, how proud his parents must have been when it opened. The image doesn’t quite fit yet - he can’t fathom Yoongi without music - but he suspects it will settle given time.

A coke thuds down on his table and he jerks his head up again, but it’s not Taehyung who’s sitting down across from him, it’s Handsome Co-Owner, who’s even more stunning in real life. Christ, he could have been an amazing idol just based on looks alone. Or a drama star. He definitely looks like he’s stepped out of one, even with his face flushed from the heat of the kitchen.

“Hi,” he says and at least he doesn’t seem starstruck, “you’re Namjoon.”

“I am,” Namjoon says, wondering what exactly is going on.

“I’m Seokjin,” Handsome Co-Owner says and extends a hand to shake.

“It’s nice to meet you, Seokjin-ssi,” Namjoon says, extending his own hand. Seokjin’s palm is rough and callused against his own. “This is a cool restaurant.”

“Thank you,” Seokjin says. “We’re both very proud. Yoongi keeps insisting that the name is terrible, but he’s lying. Don’t listen to him.”

“It’s a great name,” Namjoon admits and Seokjin’s smile widens, delighted.

“Right? I’m glad someone else recognizes genius where they see it.”

Someone clears their throat and Namjoon looks over Seokjin’s shoulder to see Yoongi standing there, arms crossed. He’s dressed in a chef’s coat, one eyebrow arched. “Hyung, will you please stop harassing our customers.”

“Ah, don’t blame me, Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says, standing. “I just had to see this man you couldn’t shut up about.”

Yoongi’s eyes widen. “Hyung!”

“I don’t like having to compete with someone besides Hoseok for your affections, Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says with a ridiculous wink.

“Oh my god,” Yoongi says, covering his face with his hand. “Stop. Go back to the kitchen.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung pipes up as he approaches, holding Namjoon’s food. “If you just wanted my job, you should have said, hyung. I could use a bigger paycheck.”

“You are banned from the kitchen for a reason, Tae-ah,” Yoongi mutters, still hiding his face.

“And no one looks as good in a server’s uniform as you,” Jin says with another wink.

Taehyung hums and his smile turns a little lecherous. “True. And no one could pull of a chef’s uniform like you, hyung.”

“Of course not,” Seokjin agrees, dusting off his chef’s coat. “No one call pull off anything like me. After all-”

“Enough,” Yoongi declares, taking Namjoon’s food from Taehyung and shooing them towards the kitchen. “Go perform your weird mating ritual somewhere else.”

Taehyung splutters. “It’s not-”

“We’re just-” Seokjin starts to insist, but Yoongi gives a firm nudge to his back to propel him along.

“I’m so sorry about them,” Yoongi says once they’re gone, setting Namjoon’s food in front of him. “If I’d known you were coming, I would have prevented that entire interaction from happening.”

“It’s fine,” Namjoon insists. If anything, their antics were a good distraction. “I like them.”

“You’ll eat those words, eventually,” Yoongi says, but his undertone is fond.

Yoongi doesn’t let people this far into his life unless they’re worthy of loving, and that’s all the character reference Namjoon needs. Seokjin and the kids - they’re good people. Namjoon’s glad that Yoongi has them. That Yoongi is smiling like this - soft and gummy - in the middle of a place he built, that he’s proud of.

It’s all Namjoon’s ever wanted for him: to be happy, to be free from the inner demons so set on tearing him to shreds. And he’s relieved, knowing he didn’t ruin that chance for Yoongi with his selfishness.

“I’m so glad,” he admits before he can stop himself, food forgotten between them. “That you’re doing okay.”

Yoongi blinks at him in surprise for a moment, because they never talked about it: the depression, the self-loathing, the anxiety. Even when they probably should have.

“I’m doing better than okay,” Yoongi says, recovering. “I’m doing good. I, um, I started seeing a therapist, after moving here. In college. And I got on medication. That’s helped a lot.”

“I’m glad,” Namjoon repeats. He’s thought about seeing someone before. For the emptiness. The melancholy. The alcohol that’s become a little too much of a crutch. But he’s always been too afraid that it would get out. Damage his reputation.

That probably shouldn’t be a concern anymore.

Yoongi bobs in his head in agreement. “I have her card,” he says. “If you ever wanted to talk to someone. While you’re here.”

“Thanks,” Namjoon says, touched. “I’ll think about it.”

“All I ask,” Yoongi says and stands. “I’d better go make sure nothing’s burned down. Stay as long as you like. Food’s on the house.”

“Yoongi-” Namjoon protests. They both need to stop spending money on him.

“On the house,” Yoongi repeats, firm.

I don’t deserve this, Namjoon wants to say, but he knows better than to argue when Yoongi’s got his “don’t mess with me” expression on, so he sighs and nods. “Fine. Thank you.”

“Good. And Namjoon-ah?” Yoongi says, fiddling with the hem of his coat. “Just … you can call me hyung, you know. It’s okay.”

Namjoon fights the urge to gape at him. “I … I can?”

Yoongi nods. “I’m still your hyung, okay? I want to be. It’s fine.”

Don’t make a big deal out of this, Namjoon tells himself.

“Okay, hyung, thank you.”

Yoongi nods again. “See you tonight,” he says and disappears into the kitchen without looking back. Namjoon blows out a shaky breath that’s half shock, half giddiness, and focuses on his food.

The kimchi burger is actually delicious and Namjoon feels bad for doubting Yoongi. He also still leaves a generous tip for Taehyung, who thanks him with an overly-dramatic bow and a wink as he heads out the door.

He goes back to the house, feeling weird as he puts the key Hoseok gave him in the lock. It feels too much like he lives here, he thinks as he lets Holly out in the backyard and washes up the dishes Hoseok left from breakfast. Like he belongs.

He spends the rest of the afternoon brooding, pulling random books off Yoongi’s shelf and skimming through them, picking up his phone to charge it and then putting it back again - unable to shake the persistent melancholy that’s settled over his shoulders like a familiar, unwelcome blanket. He’s taken to just lying on the sofa, Holly sleeping on his stomach as he stares at the ceiling fan, by the time Hoseok bustles back through the front door, wind whipping in after him.

It’s started to snow outside and Hoseok is griping good naturedly about the cold as Holly jumps up to greet him with an excited bark. Then he spots Namjoon and says, “nope.”

“What?” Namjoon asks.

“No more moping,” Hoseok says, climbing onto the couch and pushing Namjoon’s legs out of the way with one socked foot. “Get up.”

Namjoon sits up with a groan, stiff and tired, but curious. “What are we doing?”

Hoseok crosses over to the bookshelf and crouches down to rummage on the lowest shelf. There’s a bunch of board games there, it looks like, and Hoseok comes back with a pack of brightly colored cards. “Ever played Uno?”

“No,” Namjoon says. Can’t remember the last time he played any kind of physical game.

“It’s better with more people,” Hoseok says, standing back up in one fluid motion, “but the rules are simple.”

He also pulls a bottle of wine out of the fridge and pours Namjoon some in a fresh mug.

“Classy,” Namjoon teases and Hoseok waggles his eyebrows.

They clear off the coffee table and sit cross-legged on the floor on opposite sides. Holly watches them lazily from the sofa as Hoseok outlines the rules. By the time Yoongi gets home Namjoon’s wine-buzzed and yelling “UNO!” at the top of his lungs while Hoseok, red-faced and even more gone, gradually collapses into giggles across from him.

“Only when you have one card!” he says, slapping the table. “One card left, Joonie.”

“I thought I only had one left!” Namjoon argues. “I didn’t realize one fell in my lap.”

“You’re so bad at cheating,” Hoseok wheezes.

“That isn’t new,” Yoongi comments, coming to stand by them. He’s got a bag of delicious-smelling food in one hand and a soft smile on his face.

“Hey, babe,” Hoseok says, tilting his head back on the sofa to grin up at Yoongi. “You’re home.”

“I’m home,” Yoongi says, dripping with affection. “And you’re still a lightweight, Seokie.”

“Yep,” Hoseok agrees. “Get some food in me ‘n ‘m fine, though.”

“Lucky for you, I have food,” Yoongi says, rattling the bag.

Namjoon clambers clumsily to his feet to help, waving off Yoongi’s protests. “I want to.”

He gets plates down from the cupboard and chopsticks out of the drawer while Yoongi unpacks the food and spoons generous portions of rice and meat and vegetables onto each plate.

“You two having fun?” he asks.

Namjoon nods. “I was moping too much. According to Hoseok.”

“He was probably right.”

“Oh he was. And I’m bad at Uno, but it’s still fun.”

“Good,” Yoongi says softly. “You should have fun once in awhile, Namjoon-ah.”

“I think I’ve kind of forgotten how,” Namjoon admits.

“Don’t worry,” Yoongi says. “It’s something you can learn again.”

They rejoin Hoseok in the living room with a fresh bottle of wine and a mug for Yoongi and change from Uno to the Settlers of Catan - another game Namjoon’s never heard of. But he likes strategy and he picks it up much more quickly than the rapid-fire Uno. Pretty soon, he’s another two glasses of wine deep and haggling with Yoongi over the price of sheep.

“I’m not giving you more than one wheat,” Yoongi insists, squinting at him suspiciously.

“But you get wheat literally every other turn,” Namjoon argues, letting a whine slip into his voice. “And I haven’t gotten any in ten turns.”

“Five turns,” Yoongi counters.

“You have like six wheat cards there, hyung, you can spare two!”

“And let you win?”

“I’m not even close to winning, I just want to build one fucking settlement.

“I knew you’d both be like this,” Hoseok says, eyes drooping, but he sounds happy instead of accusatory. “Just give him the damn wheat cards, Yoon.”

Yoongi grumbles but hands over the wheat cards. Namjoon, giggling, wins five turns later and gets the rest of Yoongi’s cards thrown good-naturedly at his head. His chest feels light and bubbly, no longer compressed, and he never wants this to end. He wants to keep them both here with him - Yoongi whining over Namjoon’s cheating with red cheeks and Hoseok resting his head on Yoongi’s shoulder, drifting off.

He never wants to let go of them again.

 

_ _

 

In the unfolding weeks, his life settles into something of a routine. He gets more sleep than he has in years. He putters around Yoongi and Hoseok’s house. He takes Holly for long walks around the neighborhood. He takes the train out to Manhattan and loses himself wandering the busy streets, loving the feeling of anonymity.

On the second week, he asks Yoongi: “do your parents know?”

“About me and Hoseok?” Yoongi asks, cereal spoon paused halfway to his mouth. Namjoon nods and he sets it down again with a clink. “Yes. They know.”

“How … how did they take it?”

“They were shocked, at first,” Yoongi says. “They didn’t say anything for over a week. I was … I was here, by then, and the radio silence drove me crazy. Then my father called. And he asked me if I was happy. With Hoseok. If he made me happy. And I said yes. He came around after that. My mother took a little longer - I think she still struggles with it, sometimes. But she’s trying. And that’s more than I expected, honestly. She invited Hoseok over during Chuseok last year, when we were back in the country.”

“And Hoseok’s parents?”

Yoongi sighs. “I think his mom already suspected? She didn’t seem that surprised when he told her. Just insisted that I take care of her son, or else. His father … is less supportive. But I think he’s trying, too. Like my mom. He’s polite to me and he’s never said anything negative or hurtful. But Hoseok is his only son. I think he’s having to let go - of expectations that he had, you know? Of what Hoseok would be.”

“Was it hard?” Namjoon asks, trying absorb all of this. “Telling them?”

“Scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Yoongi says without hesitation. “I - this might be bad of me, but I waited. Until after graduation. And I knew the restaurant was doing well. Because I wanted to be successful. When I told them. I thought that might help somewhat. Might … might make them more willing to listen. To understand that this isn’t a bad thing. That Hoseok’s the best thing in my life and loving a man hasn’t … hasn’t ruined my chances for success or anything stupid like that. I think they were a little betrayed that I’d had a partner for five years and never told them, but. I don’t regret it.”

It makes sense. It’s what Namjoon’s thought about doing, too, before the choice was taken from him.

He calls them the next day, hunched over at the dining room table and new phone pressed tight against his ear. He entered in his old personal KakaoTalk ID, so hopefully his mother knows to pick up.

She does, on only the second ring. “Namjoon?”

“Hi, Mom,” he says, voice wobbling already. “I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier.”

“Oh, Namjoon-ah,” his mother says, “we’ve been so worried.”

“I know,” Namjoon says, blinking as his vision starts to blur. “I know, I’m so sorry. I just - I couldn’t - I needed to get away…”

“Where are you?”

“New York. I’m with - with Hoseok and Yoongi.”

“Hoseok and Yoongi?” his mother asks with expected surprise.

“Yeah. They live here now. I’m staying in their guest bedroom. Just - just for a little while.” He swallows, shifts his weight in the chair. “And I’m so sorry. That I didn’t say anything - or tell you sooner. I’ve - I was afraid. I didn’t want to disappoint you and now - now I’ve messed everything up - I’m sorry…”

“Namjoon-ah,” his mother says and there is only sympathy in her voice. Love. “Namjoon-ah, all I have ever wanted in this life is for you to be happy. You have so much love inside of you. I don’t care who you give it to as long as they’re a good person. As long as they’re good for you. And don’t listen to any of those terrible things all the stupid media is saying about you. A career shouldn’t be more important than your happiness.”

“Eomma,” Namjoon hiccups, unable to articulate anything else. He wishes she was here to hold him. “Eomma…”

“It’s going to be okay, Namjoon,” she says. “Your father and I love you. And we’ll be proud of you - whatever you decide to do. And whoever you decide to date.”

“I love you so much,” Namjoon manages, wiping at his face. “So so much. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Tell Hoseok and Yoongi to take good care of you. And call us more often. But don’t come back until you’re ready.”

“Okay. Okay, I will, I promise.”

“Good,” his mother says. “I have to go, but call soon. Your father wants to hear your voice, too.”

“I will. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

He hangs up, setting the phone on the table and it’s only a few seconds before the first sob breaks free. Finally, at last, here are the tears. He buries his head in his hands and weeps, loud and messy, and tries not to feel stupid, even if he doesn’t really know what he’s crying for. Relief, maybe, that he has the most supportive parents in the world? Grief, for what he’s never going to get back? Fear of the future? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe he just needs to cry.

Arms wind around his shoulders suddenly and a cheek presses to the top of his head. Hoseok, the corner of his mind not consumed with crying his guts out informs him. It’s Hoseok holding him.

“It’s okay,” he’s saying gently. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you, Joon-ah.”

Please, Namjoon thinks as he leans back into the embrace, please don’t let go of me.

And Hoseok doesn’t, not until the very last of his tears have dried and the sobs have completely abated.

 

_ _

 

“Are you up for some company?” Yoongi asks him in the beginning of the third week, leaning one hip against the counter of the kitchen while Namjoon makes coffee.

He’s a little devastating, with his messy hair and morning rasp and collarbones exposed by the wide dip of his shirt. Namjoon tries not stare - has also been trying to seal the box closed again, because if he couldn’t have them at eighteen, he definitely can’t have them now.

“What kind of company?”

“Usually Wednesday nights are family dinner nights. We have the kids over and Jin if we can get coverage at the restaurant. Sometimes Wheein and Hyejin come, too, but I figured we’d just start with the kids for now. We’ve held off the past couple weeks because we didn’t want to overwhelm you.”

Namjoon opens his mouth and Yoongi points a chopstick at him. “Nope. No feeling guilty. And you can say no, now, if it would be too much.”

“No,” Namjoon decides. “No, you should invite them. I’d like that.”

“Good,” Yoongi says, the right corner of his mouth ticking up, “because they won’t stop asking about you.”

“Oh no.”

“Don’t worry,” Hoseok says as he enters the kitchen, kissing Yoongi on the cheek and winking at Namjoon. “I’ll make them behave.”

 

_ _

 

Wednesday night is still barely controlled chaos. The kids show up together at 6pm, all huddled in the snow on the front porch until Yoongi lets them in, muttering, “oh now you don’t use your key?” as Holly tears around in excited circles.

“You told us to be polite,” Jimin points out primly, shoving a bottle of soju into Yoongi’s hands. “Good to see you again, Namjoon-ssi.”

“You look better,” Taehyung announces, unraveling a truly massive scarf from around his neck. “Less despondent.”

“Sorry for almost dying in front of you,” Jungkook says, looking like he’s still resisting the urge to bow. He settles for picking up Holly instead, grimacing as the dog licks all over his chin but not making any move to stop him.

“It’s fine,” Namjoon says, endeared. “Really. It’s good to see you all again.”

Hoseok ducks his head out of the kitchen. “Yes, yes, we’re glad you’re all here. Now come help me.”

“Bossy hyung,” Jimin grumbles but goes - Taehyung and Jungkook close behind.

“How did this happen?” Namjoon asks Yoongi once they’re alone in the living room, because he’s been curious ever since Hoseok called this an accidental adoption.

Yoongi shrugs. “I knew Taehyung from Daegu. Our families lived close to each other and we kept in touch on and off after I moved to Seoul. He heard I moved to New York and emailed me asking for advice on doing the same - coming to college here. Next thing I knew I was picking him and the other two up at the airport and then somehow they had a key to my house and were eating all my food.”

“You don’t sound too upset about that, hyung,” Namjoon says, but he isn’t surprised. Deep down, Yoongi’s always been something of a caretaker. Always looked after him and Hoseok and the other trainees at the company, even when he was struggling so much himself.

“I’m not,” Yoongi says without hesitation, shrugging again. “I think they needed someone. To tell them that it’s okay to be whatever they want to be.” He gives Namjoon a knowing look. Namjoon tries not to squirm. “None of us had enough of that, growing up.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees, because there’s no use denying it. “Is Taehyung also…?” he trails off awkwardly, wondering if that’s too personal of a question.

“Not straight?” Yoongi prompts and smiles when Namjoon nods. “Yeah. Him and Seokjin have been flirting literal circles around each other for the past year. Someday they’ll get their heads out of their respective asses and date. Then I’ll finally have some peace.”

Namjoon laughs and Yoongi’s smile widens to reveal his gums.

Jungkook chooses that moment to lean out of the kitchen. “Hobi-hyung says to stop standing around and set the table.”

“Bossy,” Namjoon mutters, an echo of Jimin, and earns a giggle from Yoongi.

“C’mon, we’d better do as he says.”

“Does he usually cook on family dinner nights?” Namjoon asks.

“Yeah, I’m banned from it, since I cook so much at the restaurant. The kids pitch in, too.”

Sure enough, the kitchen is crowded and loud. Hoseok is standing at the stove, wearing a floral apron over his green sweater. Jungkook is squeezed in next to him, stirring noodles in a large pot. He, too, has acquired an apron from somewhere - this one black with the words “oh crepe!” in white font across the front. Taehyung and Jimin are at the other counter, bickering over the proper way to dice an onion.

Yoongi squeezes past them to collect plates and cups and chopsticks, passing them all to Namjoon who stays in the doorway for his own safety. Somehow, he doubts getting anywhere near Taehyung and Jimin while they’re holding knives is a good idea.

“Tae, what the hell are you doing?” Jimin asks.

“This is how you dice vegetables.”

“No it isn’t. Those pieces are way too big.”

“Then maybe you should do it.”

“Or you consider this a learning opportunity and cut them the right way.”

“Or you could stop fighting and just finish cutting the vegetables. That we need for the soup,” Jungkook calls over his shoulder. They both give him wounded looks, which he fails to see because he’s turned back to the stove.

Namjoon swallows down a snort of laughter.

 

_ _

 

Somehow, in spite of the chaos, dinner gets cooked without any major mishaps, the table set with no broken dishes, and everyone crowds around to eat. The table technically wasn’t built for six, but they make it work - all squeezed together, and Jimin perched on Jungkook’s lap, in spite of Jungkook’s complaints that he can’t eat properly with him in the way.

“It’s this or elbow Tae in the face every time I try to put food in my mouth,” Jimin informs him.

“Thank you for the consideration of my health, Jiminie,” Taehyung says, already eating.

Jungkook sighs again, but wraps a steadying arm around Jimin’s waist. Jimin looks smug.

Namjoon is sandwiched between Hoseok and Yoongi and painfully aware of his noodle limbs, but he manages to avoid knocking anything over or causing any injuries. He doesn’t think he’s ever been at a dinner quite like this. At least, not in recent memory. Everyone is loud and animated, several conversations flowing at once. He learns that Taehyung is a fine arts major (which honestly isn’t a surprise) and that he’s looking into a conservation graduate program at NYU - wants to work for a museum restoring paintings. All three of the kids moan about their upcoming finals and the stack of projects they’re all drowning in; gossip about the restaurant and who had the craziest customer this week (Jimin wins with a woman who didn’t understand the concept of grilling her own meat and left without paying - after Jimin had brought her most of her food); Hoseok talks about several new kids he’s mentoring, one of whom came to a dance class this week and loved it. Yoongi, Namjoon discovers, teaches piano at Hoseok’s center every other Saturday and he also has a new student who’s a handful, but picking it up well.

(He’s relieved, he realizes, to hear that there is still music in Yoongi’s life.)

Namjoon doesn’t have much to contribute to the conversation, until Jimin leans closer with an earnest expression. “So, Namjoon-ssi, how are you liking New York?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says around a mouthful of noodles. “What’s your favorite spot?”

“Manners,” Yoongi points out half-heartedly and Taehyung makes a face at him. Yoongi sticks his tongue out in response.

“I like it,” Namjoon says, uncomfortably aware of the amount of eyes on him. “It’s got a completely different feel from Seoul. More of a melting pot, I guess. To be cliche. But I like that about it.”

“Me too,” Jungkook pipes up, and he seems like he’s lost some of his nerves, sitting more relaxed in his chair. “You can hear so many languages just walking through Queens. It makes me feel a little less out of place.”

Taehyung nods. “It’s like taking a trip around the world in only a few blocks.”

They keep the questions coming after that - ask him where he’s been in the city (just Queens and Manhattan so far) and what his favorite place is (Central Park) and if he misses Seoul (sometimes). They don’t ask about the article or Rap Monster or what his plans might be for the future or how, exactly, he knows Hoseok and Yoongi, and he’s grateful for that.

After dinner, they all crowd into the living room with more soju and break out Monopoly. Namjoon is declared the banker and it’s a fierce battle for territory almost immediately. There is plenty of yelling as spots are snatched up and Yoongi calmy builds an empire on Park Place and Boardwalk and drains everyone of their money while Jimin and Jungkook battle it out over the green squares and Taehyung and Hoseok quietly pick up all the cheaper properties.

In the end, it’s Hoseok who wins - just for the sheer amount of land he’s bought - and everyone is tipsy and laughing as he stands up to do a ridiculous victory dance that is apparently tradition. Namjoon watches this unfold with warmth in his veins that has nothing to do with alcohol.

This feels like a home, like a family, and for the first time in a long time, he’s right where he wants to be.

 

_ _

 

Of course, good things never seem to last, and when he shuffles into the kitchen the next morning, sleepy and more than a little hungover, Hoseok is dressed for work but on the phone, face pinched. “I’m sorry,” he says, formal and overly polite, “how did you get this number?”

The ground drops out from beneath Namjoon’s feet - an abyss where the kitchen tile was a moment ago. Hoseok looks at him, concern in his yes.

“No,” he says, voice remarkably calm, “he’s not here. I don’t know where you got that idea, but I haven’t seen him in seven years. Please don’t call me again.”

He hangs up, thumb punching the home button on his phone a little harder than necessary. Namjoon reminds himself to exhale all the air burning and trapped in his lungs. “Was that…?”

“Your company is looking for you,” Hoseok says with a grimace. “Somehow they got ahold of my private cell.”

“Shit,” Namjoon says.

“I should warn Yoongi,” Hoseok says, but they’re both too late. A ringing phone echoes through the apartment, followed by Yoongi’s sleepy mumble. Namjoon trades a worried glance with Hoseok and hurries into the living room. They find Yoongi leaning against the wall in the hallway, a frown creasing his brow.

“No,” he’s saying, much less polite than Hoseok. “I don’t know why you think my partner didn’t give you accurate information, but he’s not here. I haven’t seen him in years. Fuck off and don’t call me again.”

He hangs up and then blocks the number for good measure, looking up at them with his frown still in place.

“I’m so sorry,” Namjoon says, the lead weight in his chest shifting, digging in deeper with a crack of bone. The last thing he ever wanted to do was to drag them into this mess. “This is way out of line. I’ll call them.”

The idea terrifies him, but he’s been ignoring his own phone for three weeks. He probably needs to man up.

“You don’t have to,” Yoongi says.

“We can handle them,” Hoseok adds.

“You shouldn’t have to deal with this,” Namjoon insists. “This is my mess.” He rakes his fingers harshly through his hair. The silver is almost gone now. “I don’t even know how they got your numbers or thought to call you. I was careful. I didn’t use anything that would tie me to the company, I’ve stayed off social media and I know none of the kids have posted anything. Unless someone saw me out on the street and recognized me. Shit, I knew I shouldn’t have gone out so much - I just didn’t think anyone cared over here, I-”

“Stop,” Yoongi murmurs, shuffling forward to grab his hand. “Stop, it’s okay. We wouldn’t have asked you here if we didn’t think we could handle a little mess.”

“We’re fine,” Hoseok adds, squeezing his shoulder. “We’ll figure this out.”

“They’re probably going to cancel my contract,” Namjoon says. “Or sue me.”

You both deserve better than this, he doesn’t add, because he knows neither of them would accept it.

“Then we’ll deal with it,” Yoongi says, like they’re a team again. Like they’re really in this together instead of Namjoon crashing into their lives after fucking them over when they had a whole future in front of them.

“Tomorrow,” Hoseok adds. “We’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Namjoon murmurs and lets himself be selfish for a moment. Lets them hold him up. “Tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Namjoon doesn’t deal with it tomorrow. He buries his old phone in the drawer that he’s been slowly and cautiously moving his clothes into and tries to forget. He’s scared, is the thing. He’s been scared for years, but especially now. Because he knows he’s supposed to want to go back - do whatever it takes to pick up the pieces of his shattered career, apologize to the fans who are no doubt furious and betrayed, figure out how to put his mask on again - but he doesn’t.

He’s tired of being Rap Monster. He’s tired of the music that no longer feels like him. He’s tired of hiding and this fear that’s knotted permanently into the walls of his stomach.

He lies in bed and listens to the sounds of Yoongi humming as he makes breakfast out in the kitchen, of Hoseok cooing at Holly, and thinks he’d give everything up to stay here - his apartment in Seoul, the rights to all his music, every single won he’s earned -

-- and maybe that’s the scariest thing of all.

 

_ _

 

Now, picture this: you’re eighteen and you’re barreling towards your debut after what feels like two years of crawling. You can almost taste the warmth of the light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. Hear the screams from a debut stage.

There’s just one terrible problem that you have no idea how to face. You look at your two bandmates - at the one who spits verses like they’re on fire and the other who moves like water across the practice room floor - and you want them. God , how you want them. You think about what their lips would taste like against your own. You touch yourself beneath the lukewarm shower spray, teeth sunk into your arm so they won’t hear your groans as you picture taking them to bed. You imagine the sounds that they'd make, how all that skin would feel beneath your mouth and hands, how they would look as you take them apart piece by piece and put them back together. You come to the thought of their pleasure and the shame that hits you like a gut punch after is suffocating, but never enough to deter you completely.

In the early morning hours, falling asleep in your uncomfortable studio chair, you think about taking them down to the river and sitting with them on the banks. The way their fingers would intertwine with yours. The way the setting sun would cast their faces in gold and shadow and fuck, they’re both so beautiful.

And these feelings are impossible. You aren’t allowed to have them, but you don’t know how to make them stop.

So you have you two options, really. You can either:

  1. Bury them. Sink them so deep into the earth that even you can’t find them again. Get up on stages next to them for months, maybe years, and hope the feelings don’t come crawling back like a vengeful ghost. Hope your bandmates don’t catch a glimpse of them on your face, or in something you say, or in a touch that risks lingering just a little too long. Pray that you don’t ruin everything - for all three of you - because you can’t get your messy heart under control.
  2. Run. Leave them behind. Go it alone. Feel so empty on those stages, but know they’ll be okay. They can keep pursuing their dreams without the risk of you fucking it all up.

Do you make the right choice?

Namjoon knows he didn’t.

 

_ _

 

He goes grocery shopping with Hoseok that Saturday. They drive down to the local H Mart and Hoseok commandeers the cart, weaving through the various aisles with familiar ease. Namjoon trails after him, trying and failing to remember when the last time was that he actually bought his own groceries beyond a few things here and there at a corner store. He can’t. God, he really has turned into a fucking rich celebrity, hasn’t he? Normally, he lived off takeout since he’s still fairly hopeless in the kitchen. Or he was traveling and meals were almost always provided.

Hoseok is consulting a list that seems to be a combination of his and Yoongi’s handwriting - items scrawled randomly in Hangul and English. Namjoon can’t really make sense of it when he tries to read over Hoseok’s shoulder, but Hoseok doesn’t seem to be having a problem. He laughs when he sees Namjoon’s expression, though.

“Why do you look so terrified? It’s just a grocery store.”

“It’s … big.” Namjoon says, looking at what feels like a very vast array of produce.

“You live in fucking Seoul,” Hoseok says. “This is tiny .”

“I didn’t frequent the grocery stores.”

Hoseok snorts, but it seems more amused than condescending. “Just find me bananas, please? You know what a banana looks like right? They’re yellow-”

“Fuck off, Hope-ah,” Namjoon grumbles through the smile that he can feel twitching along his lips.

Hoseok’s eyes widen behind his glasses. “Hope-ah?”

Shit.

Namjoon flounders for an answer. “I-”

“It’s fine,” Hoseok says. “Just … haven’t heard that in years.” He laughs. “J-Hope.”

“It was a good stage name,” Namjoon says. He always thought it fit Hoseok perfectly. He still thinks it does, even as Hoseok arches a dubious eyebrow at him. “It’s better than Rap Monster.”

“True,” Hoseok concedes. “You’ve always made that work for you, though.”

“Sort of.” It doesn't feel like he has. As the years wear on, the name has started to feel like an ill-fitting coat that he keeps donning.

He lets the conversation die, not wanting to face another of Hoseok’s soul-piercing looks, and goes in search of bananas. Fortunately, everything’s clearly labeled and he finds them fairly quickly. Discerning which bunch is the best takes longer and then he spends several minutes wandering the aisles as he tries to locate Hoseok again. He finds him loading a copious amount of cup ramen into his cart. He smiles sheepishly.

“I like them for work. I see your mission was a success.” He nods at the bananas in Namjoon’s hand.

Namjoon laughs, though it comes out more like a giggle. “It was, sir. I’m ready for another one.”

Hoseok squints at his list. “Okay, soldier. Find me hot pepper paste.”

Namjoon salutes and ventures off again, Hoseok’s laughter chasing after him.

They finish up the rest of their shopping that way. Sometimes Namjoon takes ages to find something Hoseok probably could have found in five minutes, but Hoseok never complains. Just accepts the item Namjoon brings back and sends him off in search of another one. It’s ridiculous, but Namjoon can’t stop laughing and Hoseok can’t either. They’re still giggling at each other in the check out, until Hoseok gets himself under control to chat with the ajumma scanning their groceries. She apparently knows him by name and they spend a few minutes chatting. Hoseok asks her about her health and if her husband is on the mend after a bout of the flu and she asks him how his girlfriend is doing.

“Fine,” Hoseok says, a little tight, and doesn’t correct her.

Namjoon wants to ask about it. Thinks he probably shouldn’t. Bites his tongue all the way out to the parking lot, but after they’ve loaded the groceries and piled back into the car, Hoseok sighs.

“I told her Yoongi’s a man once,” he says, fingers tapping nervously against the wheel. “She insisted that she must have misheard me. Then again the time after that. So I gave up.  And I don’t know, maybe I’m a coward, but sometimes it’s just … it’s just easier. You know?”

Namjoon does know.

“It’s okay,” he says, squeezing Hoseok’s shoulder.

Hoseok harshly throws the car into reverse. “It isn’t,” he says. “I feel like I’m betraying Yoongi every fucking time.”

“I don’t think he’d see it that way,” Namjoon tries, out of his depth.

He’s been lying for years, because it’s easier. How is he supposed to offer advice? He thinks Hoseok is already so brave for holding Yoongi’s hand when they go out, and putting pictures of him kissing Yoongi in public on the fridge. That kind of courage - Namjoon doesn’t know if he has it within him somewhere, buried deep, waiting to be excavated. He hopes so.

“You’re right,” Hoseok says. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be dumping anything on you, anyway.”

“You aren’t.” Mostly, he feels honored to be trusted again.

Hoseok shoots him a wan smile and pulls out of the parking lot. “I have one more stop to make, if that’s okay?”

It’s a florist, it turns out, tucked almost completely underneath a bridge for the elevated train. Flowers by V it says on the bright green awning. Hoseok parks on the street and gestures for Namjoon to get out of the car.

“I get Yoongi flowers sometimes,” he explains, coming around to meet Namjoon on the sidewalk. “Just to surprise him.”

“Oh,” Namjoon says around the sudden lump in his throat and follows Hoseok inside. It’s warmer by a fair amount of degrees and a bell above the door jangles loudly, heralding their arrival. There’s color everywhere, lining the walls and on rows of displays pressed close together in the small space. It manages to feel comforting instead of claustrophobic, though, and Namjoon breathes in the sweet smell of flowers as a woman emerges from the back.

She’s Latina, probably mid 40s if Namjoon had to guess, and she’s wearing a tie-dye shirt beneath her plain black apron - long hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun. She grins when she catches sight of them, crows feet in the corner of her eyes.

“Hoseok!”

“Hola, Vanessa,” Hoseok says with a wave. “Estoy de vuelta.”

His Spanish is … surprisingly good. Namjoon can’t help staring at him and he’s surprised when Hoseok catches him and ducks his head, the beginnings of a blush spread across his face.

“You’re back,” Vanessa says in English. Her attention turns to Namjoon. “Who’s this?”

“Ah, Namjoon. A friend from Korea who’s staying with us for awhile. Namjoon, this is Vanessa. She owns the shop.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Namjoon,” Vanessa says, extending a hand to shake. Her palm is rough against his own soft one and her grip is strong as she pumps his arm up and down. “Hoseok is one of my favorite customers.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Namjoon says as Hoseok makes a slightly strangled sound and flaps a hand.

“I’m only your favorite because I give you a discount on dance classes.”

“No, it’s because you’re cute,” Vanessa teases and Hoseok winks.

“Of course. That, too.”

Vanessa laughs and tells them to come find her when they’re ready to place an order. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the shop. Once she’s gone, Hoseok turns to Namjoon. “C’mon,” he says, still in English. “Help me pick out something for Yoongi.”

Namjoon’s heart jumps in chest, slamming into his breastbone. I can’t, he wants to say. That’s too much.

But then Hoseok would see. Would peel him back like an onion and look right into the tangled mess of feelings that’s still sitting inside of him. That seems to only get more complicated with each passing day.

“Okay,” he says, the word heavy against his tongue.

He lets Hoseok pull him over to the wall of flowers and scans them, trying to figure out which ones say Yoongi. He drifts towards a container of Peruvian Lilies, each a different bright color: orange, pink, red. These are more Hoseok’s colors - it seems like Yoongi’s penchant for dark clothing hasn’t changed over the years, so far Namjoon’s seen him wear mostly black - but he remembers spring in Seoul. Eight years ago. They had a day off, him and Yoongi, and Yoongi wanted to get flowers for one of the staff who’d been sick. They took the bus down to Yangjae and spent an entire afternoon walking down aisle after aisle of what seemed like every flower in existence. And he watched Yoongi as he trailed careful fingers over the petals, as he paused in front of carnations and tulips and sunflowers, as he said maybe we should get some for the dorm, too. As he plucked a Peruvian Lily out from a basket and twirled it in his fingers. As he murmured I like these. He’d rarely admitted it, but Namjoon knew he loved beautiful things.

They didn’t have enough money to buy more than one flower - a bouquet far more expensive than they’d been anticipating. Yoongi quietly bought a daisy for the staff member, and Namjoon bought a Peruvian Lily for Yoongi. Yoongi’s eyes widened when Namjoon shyly handed it over, but he cradled it carefully all the way home and put it in glass jar on their coffee table - a bright splash of red against their blue walls.

“These,” Namjoon says, voice cracking a little on the end of the word, and reaches out to take one of the lilies. “You should get him some of these.”

Hoseok drifts back over to look at the lilies. Namjoon wonders if he remembers the flower that sat in their apartment for two weeks before ultimately dying. Probably not. It wasn’t a significant thing, and Namjoon has no idea why he’s carried the memory with him for so long.

(No, he’s lying to himself. He does know. It’s the way Yoongi’s eyes lit up when Namjoon pressed the flower into his hand. It’s the spark of revelation that started to catch fire in Namjoon’s heart.)

“Oh,” Hoseok says softly, and maybe he does remember, after all. “Yeah, that’s a good choice.”

They mix some red roses in with the orange, pink, and white lilies for contrast, and Vanessa expertly puts the bouquet together, handing it over to Hoseok with another bright smile. “Stop by again soon. And say hi to Yoongi for me.”

“I will,” Hoseok promises. “Come to class next week. Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“I’ll drag my protesting muscles there,” Vanessa promises. “Adios.”

“Adios.” Hoseok waves. Namjoon nods his head towards Vanessa and gets a nod and another smile in return.

The bell on the door echoes in his head long after he climbs back in the car, the bouquet laid carefully in his lap.

 

_ _

 

Yoongi’s tired when he comes home that night - a little too pale in the living room light - but his eyes light up the same way they did eight years ago when he spots the bouquet on the table.

“Seok-ah,” he murmurs, picking up the jar to examine the flowers closer. “You shouldn’t have.”

“Happy Saturday, love,” Hoseok declares, kissing him on the cheek. “Namjoon helped me pick them out. The lilies were his idea.”

And now Yoongi’s wide-eyed, stunned expression is focused on him. He shuffles his feet and ducks his head, unable to meet Yoongi’s eyes. “I … you like them, right?”

“Yeah,” Yoongi whispers, glancing back at the flowers. “Yeah, I really do.”

He kisses Hoseok on the cheek. “Thank you.”

And then he’s shuffling over to Namjoon. He stops in front of him and hesitates. And Namjoon thinks he’s forgotten how to breathe as Yoongi rocks up on his tiptoes and plants a quick kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, too. They’re lovely.”

“You’re welcome,” Namjoon manages to get out.

His cheek burns.

 

_ _

 

In spite of his best efforts to stay positive, depression settles back in a few days later. He needs to clear his head, but he doesn’t know how to do that. No amount of wandering seems to help. He thinks about going down to the restaurant to see Yoongi, but he doesn’t want to intrude too much on Yoongi’s daily routine, doesn’t want to risk being needy. Which is also why he refrains from texting Hoseok. They’ve already made enough space for him - he doesn’t want to be greedy and take up more.

So he sits on the couch, Holly in his lap, and tries to think of other things he could do. He should probably call his parents again. He needs to call his company, too. Neither of those emotionally difficult options sound particularly enticing right now, so he contemplates just going the fuck back to bed. He can sleep until Yoongi or Hoseok get home and then provide limited dinner assistance. He’s actually started to drift off right there on the couch when he hears the front door unlock and Holly scrambles up to bark at the new arrivals.

It can’t be Hoseok or Yoongi, who will both out until the evening. Unless one of them forgot something?

But no it’s the kids that tumble through the door. Jungkook bends down to scoop up Holly, spinning the little dog around in an excited circle, while Jimin grumbles about Jungkook’s shoes and moves them closer to the rack.

“Namjoon-ssi!” Taehyung says when he spots Namjoon on the couch and Namjoon is suddenly aware of the fact that he's only wearing a pair of ratty pajama pants and an equally worn t-shirt.

“Hi,” he says, sinking down into the couch to hide. “Hoseok and Yoongi are out.”

“We know,” Jimin says brightly.

“We’re not here for them,” Jungkook adds, setting Holly back down again, but staying crouched so he can rub Holly’s belly.

“We’re here to kidnap you,” Taehyung says, clapping his gloved hands together. “Get dressed.”

Namjoon frowns at them. “...kidnap me?”

“What Taehyungie means,” Jimin clarifies with a glare in Taehyung’s direction, “is that we’re taking you out for the day.”

Oh. “Did Hoseok or Yoongi put you up to this?”

“No,” Jimin says, the picture of wide-eyed innocence. “Why would you think that?”

“We promised we’d show you around New York, Namjoon-ssi,” Jungkook says, which - Namjoon is pretty sure they didn’t and that Hoseok or Yoongi definitely put them up to this, but he’s bored out of his mind and tired of sitting alone with his thoughts. So he doesn’t protest, just shoves himself to his feet.

“Fine,” he says, wishing suddenly that he wasn’t wearing Ryan socks, because Jungkook is definitely looking at them and Taehyung is biting back an obviously amused smile. “Give me five minutes.”

He leaves them in the living room and goes to rifle through his clothes. What’s appropriate for a day out with a bunch of college kids? He has no idea. He’s used to his clothes needing to mean something every time he steps outside the house for more than five minutes - fit his image, be fashionable, make a statement for the media and fans to interpret, whatever. None of that matters right now, so he decides on comfortable, picking an oversized green sweater and his softest jeans. He shoves a white baseball cap on his head to cover the hair he really needs to figure out if he’s going to dye again, then grabs a face mask just in case and figures he looks presentable enough.

“Looking good, Namjoon-ssi,” Taehyung says when he reemerges and he doesn’t seem to be teasing. He’s bundled up almost to a ridiculous degree in a baggy black coat and checkered scarf that covers his chin - his blue hair peeking out from beneath his beanie. In contrast, Jungkook just has a leather jacket thrown on over his hoodie and seems fine.

Jimin is somewhere between them - a coat that actually fits and a maroon beanie, sunglasses perched on top of it.

Namjoon decides to follow Jimin’s example and shrugs his coat on over his sweater but forgoes a scarf.

“Okay, I’m ready,” he says as he collects his boots from the rack. “Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise,” Jimin says with a wink and bustles him out of the door, barely giving him enough time to collect his wallet and tie his laces.

They catch a bus to Roosevelt Avenue and get out near Main Street Station. He follows the kids through the turnstiles and onto the 7 train. He’s been this way before, on one of his wanderings, so he guesses they’re going to Manhattan. But he keeps his mouth shut - no need to ruin the kids’ surprise.

They get off at 82nd Street in Jackson Heights and walk to a different station to catch the F train. Taehyung takes the seat next to him, while Jimin and Jungkook sit across the aisle and share a pair of earbuds, bobbing their heads along to whatever song is playing. Namjoon hopes, absurdly, it isn’t one of his. 

“So, Namjoon-ssi,” Taehyung says as the train rattles across the East River, “should I ask how you are?”

“Probably not,” Namjoon answers honestly.

Taehyung hums. “Fair enough.”

“Tell me more about you,” Namjoon says, because he hasn’t really spent time with any of them outside of family dinner last week. “You’re an art student, right?”

“Yep. Fine arts. Mostly painting, but I also like pottery and sculpting. Working with my hands.”

“What made you want to come to New York?”

Taehyung shrugs. “After my military service, I wanted a change. I’ve always wanted to see New York, so I thought - why not just move here? Instead of going to college in Korea. My scores weren’t high enough to get me into a SKY university in Seoul and I really didn’t want to stay in Daegu. I knew Yoongi went to college here and liked it, so that helped, too.”

“How did they happen?” Namjoon nods his head towards Jungkook and Jimin.

“I was stationed with Jimin during our service,” Taehyung says with a fond smile. “And they’re a package deal. I told them about my plans to come here and they decided they wanted to come along. I didn't mind. I love them both to pieces.”

He says it so casually, so easily. It startles Namjoon.

“But you’re not….” he says cautiously. “The three of you aren’t….”

“No,” Taehyung says. “We’re not together. I’m just a persistent third wheel.” He says that easily, too, without any undercurrents of resentment that might hint at unspoken feelings. Namjoon isn’t sure if he’s relieved or disappointed.

Before he can question Taehyung further, the train pulls into their stop at 57th Street and Taehyung is rising to his feet. “This way, Namjoon-ssi,” he says, tugging Namjoon’s sleeve.

Jungkook and Jimin trail behind them as they exit the station back into the brisk late morning air.

“We’re almost there,” Taehyung says, leading their little group down 6th Avenue. When he turns onto 54th Street, Namjoon has a further inkling of where they might be going.

Sure enough, they stop in front of the Museum of Modern Art, with its understated sign and its black facade.

“Have you been before?” Jimin asks him as he peers up at the tinted glass.

He shakes his head. He’s passed by it, but never gone inside. He’s not sure why.

“Good,” Taehyung says with a boxy grin. “C’mon.”

At the ticket counter, Namjoon insists on paying, in spite of their protests.

“But we’re the ones that kidnapped you,” Jungkook argues.

“But I’m older,” Namjoon counters and hands over his credit card.

Four tickets purchased and they're free to wander. It’s quiet here, not many people, and Namjoon finds himself liking the hushed atmosphere almost immediately. The pristineness of the white walls and the wood and tile floors.

“This is one of my favorite places in New York,” Taehyung says as they walk through an exhibit about Architecture in Yugoslavia. “That and the Met. Even though both are probably cliche.”

“You’re the most cliche art student to ever live,” Jimin teases, elbowing. “Right down the berets.”

“I look good in those,” Taehyung pouts.

“Says you.”

“And you! Just last week.”

Namjoon sidles closer to Jungkook as Taehyung and Jimin continue bickering good-naturedly. “You don’t strike me as the art museum type,” he says, hoping that doesn’t come across as rude. He probably doesn't strike many people   as the art museum type, either.

“I’m not,” Jungkook says. “But I like hearing Taehyung talk about it. And they have some cool film screenings and exhibits here. There’s one on Lee Changdong right now that I really want to see.”

“Oh.” Namjoon’s pretty sure most people in Korea have heard of Lee Changdong, but he’s always loved his work. Read Chorini in high school and watched Poetry one night a few years ago - which ended up with him sobbing into the one Ryan plushie he allowed himself to buy like a total idiot. “I’d like to see that, too.”

“I’m pretty sure we can make an escape for a bit,” Jungkook says, darting over to tap Jimin on the shoulder. “Hey, I’m taking Namjoon-ssi to the Lee Changdong exhibit.”

Jimin nods.

“Bring him back when you’re done,” Taehyung says. “I have some paintings I want to show him.”

They catch the tail end of Peppermint Candy - the scene where protagonist Yongho accidentally shoots and kills an innocent student during the Gwangju massacre.

“I’ve never liked this movie,” Jungkook murmurs.

“Why?” Namjoon whispers back as Yongho weeps over the dead girl’s body.

“It’s so sad. Which, I know it’s a tragedy, it’s meant to be. But there’s no hope. It’s just … a ruined life. A broken life that never gets fixed. Don’t get me wrong, Lee Changdong-nim is an incredible filmmaker. I love his artistry so much, and how human his characters always feel, but. Sometimes I wonder … does he see any hope in the world? Maybe I’m too much of a romantic, but I’ve always struggled with the idea of finding beauty in tragedy. I want to look at the good things in life, not all the sadness.”

Namjoon thinks of the things that he’s poured into his lyrics over the years - the dozens of songs he’s never actually released because they’re too raw, too personal, and give away far too much.

“Maybe there is sadness and anger in him,” he offers, “and this is his way of getting some of it out.”

Jungkook makes a quiet noise of acknowledgment in the back of his throat, and they watch in silence as the final scene of the movie plays and a much more innocent Yungho meets Sunim for the first time - the woman he will ultimately cruelly reject in favor of someone he doesn’t love.

As the lights come back on, Namjoon is aware of Jungkook’s eyes on him. “What about you, Namjoon-ssi?” Jungkook asks softly. “Do you have anger and sadness you’re trying to get out?”

Namjoon wants to laugh. Or maybe cry.

“You know what happened, right?”

“Yes,” Jungkook says.

“Then shouldn’t that be your answer? Of course I’m angry. Of course I’m sad. Wouldn’t … wouldn’t you be?”

“I am.” Jungkook plays with the strings of his hoodie. “I think … people like us always are a little bit angry. And sad. How can you not be? When you live in a world that won’t accept you? Jimin’s mother still hasn’t spoken to him - not since he told her he was dating me.” Jungkook’s mouth twists in a smile that seems far too bitter for his otherwise innocent-face. “I’m angry. At her. At the world. But I don’t … I refuse to let that be all I am. I don’t want it to consume me, because there are so many good things, too. Jimin and Taehyungie and this city and my film classes and Yoongi and Hoseok and Seokjin. Sometimes, it feels so much easier to be angry or sad, but I want to be happy. Even if I have to work at it. Even if I have to fight for it.” He gestures to the screen. “And that’s what I don’t like about films like Peppermint Candy. They only look at the ways we break, without remembering that we’re capable of putting ourselves back together again, too. No matter how hard it is.”

Namjoon’s half aware his mouth has fallen open by the time Jungkook finishes talking, but mostly he’s too stunned to try to stay dignified and aloof. “You’re … that’s a really good way of looking at things,” he says, wholly inadequate.

That doesn’t seem to bother Jungkook, though, who flushes and shrugs, bowing his head to conceal his reddening face. The tips of his ears still give him away.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” he says. “What kind of creator I want to be. The … the kinds of things I want to put out into the world.” He reaches forward and lays a very hesitant hand on Namjoon’s arm, gaze big and doe-eyed and earnest. “And Namjoon-ssi, I’m so sorry about what happened. I can’t … I can’t even imagine. But, I think you’re going to find happiness, too. Just keeping going, yeah?”

Namjoon’s eyes burn and without thinking, he flips his hand over so he can thread his fingers with Jungkook’s and squeeze. This kid barely even knows him, but Namjoon can tell that he means every word from the bottom of his big, bleeding heart.

“Thank you,” he says around the quiver of his mouth and the massive stone that's lodged in his throat. “And - and please, you can call me hyung, if you want.”

He’s never really been someone’s hyung, but he’d like to be, he thinks. Especially for a kid as amazing as Jungkook.

Jungkook squeaks. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says, giving in to the affectionate smile that wants control of his mouth, letting it stretch his lips. “Yeah, Jungkook-ah, it’s fine.”

“Okay, hyung,” Jungkook says with hushed reverence. “Thank you. Your - I listened to your music all the time when I first moved over here and was dealing with culture shock and being so far away from home and everything. You were such a badass, it made me feel like I could be, too. But I … knowing that you’re one of us - that you’re like me … that means so much. I just wanted you to know that.”

Namjoon sniffs, stubbornly telling his tears to get lost. “Thank you. That music … it hasn’t felt like me in a long time, but I’m glad it could help you.”

“It’s okay,” Jungkook says. “You’ll make more music, hyung. And I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.”

He says it with such confidence that Namjoon feels a fresh seed of hope take root in his chest.

Start to bloom.

 

_ _

 

They find Jimin and Taehyung on the fifth floor, near van Gogh’s The Starry Night. It’s just as beautiful in person as it is online, Namjoon thinks as he drifts closer. Maybe even more so.

“You know what I love most about this painting?” Taehyung asks him as if they’re picking up in the middle of a conversation and Namjoon never left at all. “The fact that it was the view from his asylum window. Not many people realize that. Everyone always thinks that mental illness creates better art, but van Gogh produced some of his best paintings while he was in treatment.”

“I don’t know much about van Gogh,” Namjoon admits. He’s always liked art, but he’s never really been a connoisseur of it.

“He’s what made me want to go into conservation,” Taehyung says, gaze on The Starry Night. “He’s one of the best known painters in the world, but while he was alive he was considered a madman and a failure. I’ve always wondered what he would think, knowing that his paintings are hanging in museums in twenty-eight countries over a hundred years after his death. I don’t know that it would have helped, in the end, but - I’ve always imagined him here, looking at his painting. Watching other people admire it. I want to create my own work, don’t get me wrong, but preserving the past is important, too.”

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” Namjoon says, staring at the swirls of blue and yellow on the canvas. “The things we’re remembered for. That outlive us.”

“It is.”

Jungkook and Jimin have drifted back together and are chatting a few paintings down - Jungkook’s arm draped over Jimin’s shoulder, their heads bent together. They fit well, Namjoon thinks. Like aligning puzzle pieces.

“They’re cute, aren’t they?” Taehyung says, following Namjoon’s gaze. “It’s awful.”

Namjoon laughs under his breath. “If you’re not … is there anyone?”  

“Ah.” Taehyung turns back to the painting, expression suddenly more stoic. “Sort of. It’s complicated.”

Huh. Interesting. Namjoon rewinds in his head, playing back all of his encounters with Taehyung. One in particular stands out. “Seokjin?” he guesses and Taehyung’s head whips around, stoicism replaced with surprise.

Bingo.

“How did-” Taehyung splutters. “Am I that obvious?”

He actually sounds dismayed about this, and shit Namjoon’s really put his foot in it, hasn’t he? “No? I just … you were flirting a lot.”

Taehyung sighs. “Yeah. We do that. I’m pretty sure he just thinks it’s a game, though.”

“Have you … thought about telling him it isn’t?”

Taehyung shoves his hands in the pockets of his coat and rocks back and forth on his heels. “No? Not really. I mean, I like him. A lot. But … he’s older than me. And he’s really successful. I’m pretty sure he just sees me as one of his dongsaengs, like Kook or Jiminie.” He shrugs. “I’m not trying to put myself down or anything - I’m happy with who I am. I just don’t think he likes me how I want him to. And I’m worried about losing my job if things got too weird between us or I asked him and he didn't return my feelings. I don’t think he’d fire me, but. Starving college student here.”

“I still think you should tell him,” Namjoon presses gently. “You never know, right?”

“Maybe,” Taehyung says dismissively, then peers at him in a way that uncomfortably reminds him of Hoseok. “Are you ever going to tell them?”

Namjoon breath stutters, but he feigns ignorance. “Tell who what?”

“Yoongi and Hoseok,” Taehyung says. “That you love them.”

He was expecting it, but the words still metaphorically knock him off his feet. Fuck, he can’t be that obvious, right? Can’t be in love with Yoongi and Hoseok, either. Not again. Not anymore. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snaps, far more harshly and defensively than he meant to.

Taehyung flinches. Looks away. “Sorry, Namjoon-ssi,” he murmurs, sounding contrite. “It’s none of my business.”

“No,” Namjoon says, instantly guilty. “No, I shouldn’t have - that was rude of me, I’m sorry. I just - I can’t talk about that. I can’t.”

He’ll have a breakdown in the middle of the MOMA and that’s not a life experience he wants. Taehyung shifts closer to him and takes his hand. “Okay. But if you ever need to, I’ll listen. And provide alcohol.”

He sounds fully sincere, just like Jungkook did, even though he barely knows Namjoon and god, what good kids. No wonder Hoseok and Yoongi adopted them.

“Thank you,” Namjoon says, choking up, and squeezes Taehyung’s hand. “And, um, you can call me hyung, if you want. I told Jungkook he could.”

Taehyung’s eyebrow arches. “And he’s still alive?”

Namjoon laughs - glad the earlier tension has been broken. “He was … flustered. But okay.”

Taehyung laughs, too. “Hey, Chim,” he calls and Jimin looks up, “we have a new hyung.” He raises Namjoon’s hand like they’ve just won a race or something and Namjoon’s very aware of the blush that’s rapidly spreading across his face.

Jimin laughs. “Welcome to the family, hyung. You can buy us dinner.”

“I already paid for tickets,” Namjoon whines, over-exaggerated.

“You’re also, like, really rich,” Taehyung argues without any bite, and Namjoon easily concedes defeat.

There’s a warm glow in his chest when they exit the museum a few hours later and head to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner. He lets them all order copious amounts of pasta and breadsticks and put their numbers and KT IDs into his phone. He listens as Jimin and Jungkook inform him their anniversary is coming up and makes a mental note to get them flowers if he’s still here. (God, he hopes he’s still here.)

The glow carries him all the way back to Hoseok and Yoongi’s house long after the sun has set. They’re both on the couch when he unlocks the door - Yoongi’s head in Hoseok’s lap as Hoseok gently pets his hair. It’s intimate and domestic and Namjoon has to physically hold himself back from going over and kissing both of their foreheads like every single cell in his body wants to.

“Hey,” Hoseok smiles at him. “Have a good time with the kids?”

“We hear you’re a hyung now,” Yoongi murmurs, sitting up.

“Jungkook told you?” Namjoon guesses and Yoongi smiles.

“We got a long string of exclamation points and emojis and we deduced from that.”

“They’re good kids,” Namjoon says, feeling himself start to smile again. “I like them a lot.”

Hoseok hums and beckons Namjoon over to the couch. They both move to make room for him and their warmth is far too comforting. He’s never going to want to move again.

“You look like you have a lot on your mind,” Yoongi says softly.

“Which is nothing new, but you can talk to us if you need to,” Hoseok says.

He’s been thinking about Seoul. And this house. And what Jungkook said about happiness. He doesn’t know how to put all that into words, though. “I’m sorry,” he says instead. “I’ve never said that. I’m so sorry for what happened.”

Yoongi and Hoseok exchange a surprised look, like they never expected him to talk about it and that hurts. They demand far too little of him.

“It’s okay,” Yoongi says.

Namjoon shakes his head. “It isn’t. I ruined everything.”

“Okay, it wasn’t,” Yoongi amends. “It hurt like hell. But it’s okay now, Joon-ah.”

“Yeah,” Hoseok says, “we’re both okay. More than. Just -” he bites his lip. “Was it something we did? I’ve always wondered that.”

No,” Namjoon says, sitting up to take both of their hands. “God - no, Seok. It was all me.”

(He loved them too much, but he can never tell them that.)

Hoseok nods, shoulders relaxing a fraction. “Okay.”

“And I know this doesn’t matter, but. I had no idea - that the company would end your contracts. I thought you’d debut together, without me. Or - or become the rapline for an idol group. If I’d known … I’m so fucking sorry.”

Yoongi’s forehead presses to his temple. “I said it’s okay. We’ve forgiven you. We’ve had seven years, Joon-ah. We got through it.”

“Now it’s your turn,” Hoseok says, squeezing Namjoon’s hand. “Forgive yourself.”

“I’m working on it,” he sniffs, blinking back what honestly feels like his hundredth wave of tears just today.

“Good, that’s all we ask,” Hoseok says.

“You’ll get there,” Yoongi adds.

They believe in him so much. They always have. And Namjoon could lie and say that he’s falling in love with them all over again, but the truth is: he never stopped.

 

_ _

 

Here’s a secret, one Namjoon doesn’t know: when he had a concert in Newark a year ago, Yoongi and Hoseok went. It was Yoongi who suggested they get tickets, quietly saying I just want to see him again, you know?

I know, Hoseok whispered as he kissed Yoongi on the temple.

So they went. Took the train out, jittery with nerves, and spent two hours in the same space as Namjoon for the first time in six years. They had nosebleed seats so he was little more than a dot on the stage, but big screens on either side provided a continuous stream of close-ups.

He’s incredible, Hoseok said to Yoongi as they watched Namjoon amp up the crowd effortlessly, radiating so much swagger and confidence it was breathtaking.

Of course he is, Yoongi answered, because there was never any doubt. Namjoon was always going to be something amazing, with or without them.

They screamed themselves hoarse along with everyone else, both of them trying to drown out the ache in their own chests. But Yoongi still teared up on the train ride home. Wiped furiously at his eyes and said, I just miss him. I’m sorry. I still miss him.

Hoseok pressed his forehead to Yoongi’s shoulder. Whispered, it’s okay. We both do.

A Namjoon-shaped hole in their lives, always.

They talked about Seoul for the first time in years - that strange time spent as trainees. Only two years, but it changed their lives forever.

Do you think he even remembers us? Hoseok asked.  

Probably not, Yoongi laughed, bitter. We’re just dumb kids he knew when he a teenager. He’s probably forgotten our names.

They felt a little foolish, then, for going to the concert. For missing him.

So they spent the rest of the ride home in silence, leaning on each other with their fingers intertwined, watching the city lights blur past outside.

 

_ _

 

He’s going stir crazy, he thinks. He’s been here three weeks now, sleeping in Hoseok and Yoongi’s guest bedroom, and he needs something to do. Anything.

Which is why he finds himself talking to Seokjin at Let’s Meat on a Thursday afternoon.

Seokjin is staring at him like he’s sprouted horns. “I’m sorry … you want to work in the restaurant?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says and fidgets. This was most likely a terrible idea. “I should probably stay away from the kitchen but I’m happy to bus tables or something.”

“You’re worth eight million dollars,” Seokjin blurts out. “And you want to bus tables?

“You don’t have to pay me,” Namjoon insists, uncomfortable at the mention of his wealth. He’s never gotten used to it - doesn’t even like thinking about how much money he has, especially in the middle of Hoseok and Yoongi’s modest life. “I’m happy to work for free.”

“Does Yoongi know about this?” Seokjin asks.

“No.” Because he’s pretty sure Yoongi wouldn’t let him, or would at least make some kind of protest, or insist on paying him.

And now it looks like Seokjin’s on board - a gleeful expression creeping over his face. “Okay then, Namjoon-ah, you’re hired. Unofficially. Seriously, please don’t tell anyone about this. I’m not entirely sure what the laws are about celebrities volunteering at my restaurant, but I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Deal,” Namjoon says. “My lips are sealed.”

They shake on it.

 

_ _

 

“What the fuck?” Yoongi says predictably when he shows up for his shift that evening and finds Namjoon, in an apron and uniform, clearing dishes from one of the tables.

“I’m bored,” Namjoon explains, carefully stacking the dishes in his bucket. He’s already broken one plate and he doesn’t want to get fired in less than twenty-four hours. That would be more than a little embarrassing. “And I want to feel useful. Seokjin said it was okay.”

He shoots Yoongi an imploring look, silently begging him not to make a big deal about this. Fortunately, Yoongi seems to get the message because he sighs and lets Namjoon carry on with his work.

It’s a little mind-numbing and requires a lot more physical exertion than Namjoon was anticipating, but he finds that overall he doesn’t mind the work. He clears tables and washes dishes in the sink in the corner of the kitchen, listening to the controlled chaos happening all around him. Yoongi, especially, is a sight to behold. He’s put a black apron over his chef’s coat and is a tiny whirlwind as he moves around the kitchen, keeping everything going like clockwork. He isn’t loud - barely even yells - but everyone listens to him, orients around him. He code switches so easily, too, between Korean and English, depending on which staff member he’s talking to.

And Namjoon knew Yoongi was good at this, but it’s another thing to actually witness him in action. God, he’s incredible. Namjoon thinks he could watch him forever. It’s almost enough to make him forget about how scalding the water in this sink is and that he’s burned his hands twice already because he forgot to put gloves on.

He stays until closing, then helps mop the floors and put up the chairs and turn all the lights out. Yoongi bids the rest of the staff goodnight. He looks absolutely dead on his feet, actually swaying a little as he locks up, and even though Namjoon’s exhausted himself, he doesn’t think twice about bending down and pulling Yoongi onto his back.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Yoongi grouses, but makes no move to get down.

“Carrying you to the bus stop, hyung.”

“I have two legs I can use.”

“Can you?”

Yoongi huffs into his shoulder and stops arguing. Namjoon ignores the little thrill that runs down his spine at being able to take care of Yoongi again. He’s missed it. Maybe even more than he realized. Missed looking after both of them - on the rare occasions they’d let him.

“You’re so good at this,” he says as he walks, keeping his grip on Yoongi’s thighs gentle.

“It runs in the family,” Yoongi jokes. “Even my brother works in a restaurant now. In Cheongdam-dong.”

“Still,” Namjoon insists. “You were incredible tonight.”

“Ah, stop it,” Yoongi mumbles, always so bad at accepting compliments. Namjoon can practically picture his blush. “I’m incredible every night.”

“I’m sure you are,” Namjoon agrees easily, laughing.

Yoongi smacks him on the shoulder.

It’s a good day, even if all his muscles are going to scream bloody murder at him the next morning. He goes back to the restaurant and Seokjin puts him on the schedule for three nights a week.

Always, he notices, when Yoongi’s working.

_ _

 

He calls his parents again on Sunday, when he knows it’s afternoon in Korea and they’ll be home. They’re excited to hear from him and he ends up spending two hours talking, until his throat hurts and his voice is hoarse. He tells them about New York and Flushing and Hoseok and Yoongi’s house and Holly and Let’s Meat and Seokjin and the kids. He talks about The Starry Night hanging in the MOMA and the jumble of languages he hears just working in a restaurant kitchen. He says he misses them and cries again when his father expresses his support. Says that he, too, just wants his only son to be happy.

They don’t ask him to come home. Maybe they realize that Ilsan and Seoul aren’t home anymore. That they become a little less home every day. Maybe, they’re encouraging him, in their own understated way, to let go.

Either way, he makes them promise to visit him in New York, if he ends up staying.

They both do.

_ _

 

He’s been in Queens for a month when he finally works up the courage to unlock his old phone and turn it on. It spasms on the table for ages as message after message pours in. He deletes most of them without bothering to read them. They’re all various industry contacts wanting to know where he is and how he’s holding up and is it really true?

His company’s messages gradually go from worried to furious. First his manager, then several of his producers, then the company CEO - all demanding to know, in polite terms, what the hell he’s playing at.

He opens his email and takes a deep breath. Composes something short and simple.

 

Good Afternoon,

Sorry for my unprofessional behavior. I needed some time away to recover and think through things. I’m safe, I just ask that you give me a little more time to reach a decision on how to move forward.

Many Thanks,

Kim Namjoon

 

There. Hopefully that’s enough.

He sends the message before he can overthink. Checking his clock app on his phone tells him that it’s the middle of the night in Seoul, so he’ll have some time before anyone responds. The only struggle will be not letting his thoughts spiral.

The universe seems to be on his side, though, because he gets a text from Hoseok on his new phone only a few minutes later.

 

Hoseok

im teaching a dance class tonight u should come :)

 

Me

why?

 

Hoseok

u need to get out more … afraid u can’t keep up???

 

Me

KNOW i can’t keep up

 

Hoseok

u’ll be fine. it starts @ 8.

 

Yoongi already told them he was meeting a friend for drinks after his shift at the restaurant, so Namjoon was preparing for a night alone, but this would probably be better. His body is going to hate him, and his pride, but it would be worth it, just to see Hoseok dance again.

 

Me

okay, see you there

 

Hoseok

;)

 

_ _

 

It’s a street dance class, which is what he was expecting. And he wants to die after about the first ten minutes, which he was also expecting. At least this seems like a beginner class - Hoseok had mercy on him - so he’s not the only one that’s a bumbling mess. Hoseok leads from the front, wearing sweatpants and a simple white t-shirt, sneakers on his feet, and still managing to look devastating. He still moves like water, too, even more fluid now than he was at eighteen, but he’s also patient. Goes slowly through each step in the routine and calls out corrections in the mirror as he sees people mess up.

The lady next to Namjoon is older, probably at least sixty, but there’s a bright grin on her weathered face as she enthusiastically moves through the steps. He notices Hoseok’s gaze drift to her once or twice and he smiles - the same bright grin he always had on his face when Namjoon and Yoongi or the other trainees got something right.

He’s in his element here, just like Yoongi was at the restaurant. He commands authority, attention, without being overbearing about it. He knows everyone by name and he shouts encouragements just as often as he fixes mistakes.

“Looking good, Namjoon!” he says when Namjoon somehow manages to get his hips to move in a shimmy. Several people cheer for him. He’s used to being in front of an audience, in front of thousands, but he feels shy in the face of their excitement.

The class is an hour and near the end of it, Hoseok changes the music and announces that the final fifteen minutes are for freestyle. Everyone can dance however the hell they want. There’s a lot of immediate and enthusiastic flailing, but Namjoon feels frozen - no longer sure of what to do without a guide.

He’s always been terrible at dancing.

Hoseok notices his struggle and drifts over. He’s sweaty, black hair sticking to his forehead, but his smile is incandescent. “You’re supposed to be dancing!”

“I suck at it!” Namjoon shouts back over the pulse of the music.

“Of course you do, with that attitude,” Hoseok retorts and grabs him by the hips. Namjoon splutters, heart seizing at the dig of Hoseok’s fingers into his skin, hot through the thin layer of his shirt. He can’t remember the last time he’s been touched like this and he can feel his whole body lighting up in response.

“Just go with the music,” Hoseok says, guiding him. “Shut off that big brain of yours, Joon, and let yourself feel.”

“I don’t think the brain shuts off,” Namjoon can’t help saying. “I’ve tried for years.”

Hoseok shakes his head. “Then just … move with me.”

He pulls Namjoon closer to him and Namjoon swallows back the squeak that nearly escapes. “Don’t look so scared,” Hoseok teases, shifting one hand to Namjoon’s waist and threading their fingers together. “It’s just me.”

Which is exactly the problem, but Namjoon isn’t about to say that. He’s already determined to take that confession to his fucking grave.

“Right,” he breathes out. “Just you.”

Hoseok winks at him and then they’re dancing. It’s a terrible approximation of a tango, Namjoon thinks, but it’s fun, letting Hoseok lead him through various steps. He’s aware that a few other people are watching him, but most everyone is too caught up in dancing, either alone or with each other, to pay much attention to them.

“See?” Hoseok says a few minutes later. “Easy.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon lies, digging his fingers into Hoseok’s shoulder, holding on tight. “Easy.”

 

_ _

 

“Come on,” Hoseok says to him after he’s bid the class goodbye and locked up the studio. “I’m starving.”

“Pizza?” Namjoon suggests and Hoseok shakes his head.

“I really want a burger.”

Which is how they find themselves crammed into a vinyl booth at 50s style American diner, two burgers, two chocolate milkshakes, and a massive plate of fries on the table in front of them.

“God,” Hoseok groans around a giant bite of burger, “American food is so greasy but I fucking love it.”

Namjoon hums in agreement, thinking that this place looks cheap as hell but these might be the best fries he’s ever tasted. “It’s so good.”

They stuff their faces in blissful silence for a few minutes, before Hoseok sets down the remains of his burger and says, “hey, thank you. For coming.”

“Thank you for inviting me,” Namjoon says, wiping his mouth. He’s also managed to spill a little of the milkshake onto his shirt, but he doesn’t care. They both look a mess, at least. “It was fun. And I think I didn’t embarrass myself too badly?”

“You were fine,” Hoseok assures him, kicking him gently under the table. “You always sell yourself too short.”

“That’s not what you said when we were trainees.”

Hoseok laughs. “True. I’m nicer now. My heart got bigger, I think. I was way too intense back then.”

“It was an intense situation,” Namjoon says. “I never blamed you.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” Hoseok shakes his head. “I don’t miss that pressure.”

“Did you think about auditioning at another company?” Namjoon asks, hesitant. He has no idea where the mines could be planted here. But Hoseok stays relaxed.

“Yeah. Briefly. But I was too shattered, I think, to try again. I didn’t even want to dance anymore.”

“I’m-”

“No.” Hoseok points a fry at him. “Shut up. I will accept no more apologies.”

“Okay,” Namjoon mumbles and tears nervously at his napkin.

“Besides, I wanted to stay with Yoongi,” Hoseok continues quietly. “And I think he was even more broken up about it than I was. There’s no way he would have tried at another company. We both decided we needed a new direction.”

“When did you know?” Namjoon asks, hoping his voice is still steady. “That you loved him?”

“When I was seventeen,” Hoseok murmurs, eyes on the tabletop. “Six months after I met him.”

That’s … not exactly surprising, looking back.

Hoseok laughs suddenly. “Or maybe it was before that. When I was alone on New Years, in the dorms. And I was so fucking homesick. I was messaging Yoongi about it - just kind of being a whiny brat, not really expecting him to do anything - and he came home early. From Daegu. He showed up with fried chicken, just to keep me company. Just so I wouldn’t be so alone. I think that was the start of it. That night. Knowing, truly, for the first time, just how fucking good he was.”

Namjoon’s heard the fried chicken story and he once again isn’t surprised. He remembers his, too. In the studio, at some ungodly hour in the morning. He’d been crying, though he doesn’t recall what about. They all cried a lot back then, so sure they weren’t good enough, that they’d never make it, no matter how hard they worked.

But he’d been crying when Yoongi let himself in. Shut the door quietly. They’d been fighting a lot, but it was getting better, as they learned how to talk to each other. They still weren’t exactly close, even though Namjoon looked up to Yoongi so fucking much. Thought he was one of the coolest people Namjoon had ever met.

So it was a surprise, when Yoongi crossed over to his chair and just wrapped his arms around Namjoon. Didn’t say a word as he rested his chin on the top of Namjoon’s head and held him. Let him cry until the tears were dried up without an ounce of judgment. He loved Yoongi, in that moment. Loved him so fucking much, he didn’t know what to do about it.

“He’s really good,” he says to Hoseok now, nearly nine years later. “He’s one of the best people I know.”

“Sometimes, I don’t think I deserve him,” Hoseok says, poking a fry into his milkshake. “And I know he’d smack me if he ever heard me say that, but I still feel it. Once in awhile.”

“He loves the hell out of you,” Namjoon insists, letting instinct guide him as he reaches across the table and lays a hand on Hoseok’s arm. “He always has. And you’re one of the best people I know, too.”

Hoseok laughs, then sniffs and glances away to wipe his eyes. “Thanks. You know … it really hurt when you left, Namjoon-ah. It hurt so fucking much.”

No more apologies, Hoseok said.

“I know. It hurt me too.”

Probably more than Hoseok will ever know.

Hoseok doesn’t push him for answers, doesn’t ask then why did you? like he has every right to. Just nods. “Well. I’m really glad you’re here now. That you’re back.”

“Me too,” Namjoon says, meaning it with every single corner of his heart. “Me too, Seok.”

Hoseok smiles at him, washed out and tired under the harsh diner lights, and Namjoon wants to kiss him so fucking badly it hurts.

But he shoves it down. Buries it deep.

He’s seven years too late.

“C’mon,” Hoseok says, pushing his chair back. “Let’s go home.”

Home, Namjoon thinks brokenly.

“Yeah,” he says, fishing around in his wallet for cash and ignoring Hoseok’s protests that he’s fine paying. “Let’s go home.”

 

_ _

 

There’s a message waiting for him on his phone when he turns it back on before bed.

One week, then we need an answer.

He swallows, stomach plummeting.

One week. Fuck, one week.

He knows what he wants - what he thinks he’s always wanted - but it feels like an impossible dream. While returning to Seoul feels like a nightmare.

He sighs and turns the phone back off, burying it under his socks. Later. He’ll think about it later.

 

_ _

 

One week.

He doesn’t sleep much that night.

 

_ _

 

On Friday, Yoongi pulls him aside in the middle of their shift at Let’s Meat and asks, almost nervous, “are you doing anything tonight?”

Namjoon blinks at him. “You know I’m not. I never do anything, these days.”

“That’s not true,” Yoongi argues. “You went on another field trip with the kids last week.”

They’d gone to the Met this time and Namjoon had let Taehyung give him a rambling, but very entertaining art history lesson before he once again paid for dinner - this time at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, which was kind of a mistake. They all ate way too much.

“Field trips? Is that what we’re calling it?”

Yoongi shrugs. “Excursion. Jaunt. Whatever.”

“Yes, I’m free tonight, hyung,” Namjoon says gently, sensing that Yoongi’s still very nervous. For some reason. “Why?”

Yoongi rubs the back of his neck. “Sometimes, Seokjin and I - we have this friend in Manhattan who owns a really fancy restaurant. Like tablecloths and evening attire fancy. And once or twice a month, we get dressed up in these ridiculous, sparkly jackets and we go provide live entertainment. Seokjin sings and I play piano. It’s mostly jazzy type stuff, not really your genre, I know, but I thought you might like to come? The food’s really good.”

“I’d love to,” Namjoon says immediately, because he’s always desperate for more of them. More of Hoseok and Yoongi - any glimpses he can get. He’s got seven years to make up for and he has no idea how long he’ll have here. He needs to store them up for when he leaves again. "And I don't mind jazz." 

Yoongi grins at him, all gummy and shy. “Great. We usually shower and meet at the subway around 7.”

“Do I also need a sparkly penguin suit?”

Yoongi laughs. “No. Just a button up and slacks will do. Did you bring those?”

He didn’t. “Point me towards a store?”

Yoongi laughs again and gives him the name of a shop close by. Tells him his shift is over.

“But I’ve still got three more tables to clear.”

“We’ll take care of it. Go buy clothes,” Yoongi says, shooing him out the door.

 

_ _

 

The shop is a tailors and Chinese-owned - Hanzi before English on the awning. It’s small and cold - only a tiny space heater near the front desk to combat the winter chill coming in through the front door - but the owner is kind. Namjoon utilizes the handful of Mandarin he knows before the man takes sympathy on him and switches to English. His name is Li Wei and he’s been here for four decades, he says as he measures Namjoon. Now most of his grandchildren are grown and some have never even seen his home country.

It’s strange, he says, how quickly years pass. How far you can end up away from home.

“You find new homes, though, don’t you?” Namjoon asks and Li Wei laughs. Smiles at him like he’s understood something profound.

It’s been years, since he bought something that wasn’t a designer brand of some kind. But he’s going to cherish this suit, he thinks, as Li Wei wraps it for him and tells him to stop by again soon - everyone needs a few good suits in their closet.

“I will,” he promises, hoping he’ll be able to keep it. “And Yoongi told me to say hi.”

“Ah.” Li Wei nods “A good boy. Always gives me a discount when I take my family to his restaurant. Tell him hi from me, too. And that partner of his.”

“Hoseok?” Namjoon asks, wondering if this will be a repeat of the checkout ajumma.

“Yes, yes, Hoseok,” Li Wei says, nodding again. “He’s a good boy, too. Sent me a card, once. When my first great-grandchild was born.”

“I’ll tell him,” Namjoon says, marveling at the fact that so many people in this neighborhood know Yoongi and Hoseok. That so many people love them.

He has hundreds of thousands of fans, but he doesn’t think he’s ever been loved like this. Like Li Wei rummaging around behind his old counter and bringing out a book on growing Chinese vegetables and asking Namjoon to pass it along to Yoongi.

“He’s been mentioning he wanted to start a garden this summer. So I bought this for him.”

“I’ll give it to him,” Namjoon promises, taking the book with the reverence he feels it deserves. “I promise.

He hugs the book to his chest as he slips back out into the cold, and thinks that he already knows what his choice would be.

He would stay, if Yoongi and Hoseok would let him.

He’d stay forever. He’d give up Rap Monster completely - all his wealth, all his status, all his fame. He’d be Kim Namjoon: bussing tables in a Korean BBQ restaurant and buying suits from a tiny tailor shop and going home to people who love him.

 

_ _

 

The restaurant is in Midtown, on the edge of the Garment District. It’s French cuisine and every bit as overly fancy as Yoongi said it was. Namjoon has dined in numerous five star restaurants all over the world, but he still feels a little out of place as he’s guided to a table by a maître d′ in an immaculate tuxedo. Actually, he feels like he’s in a film.

Yoongi and Seokjin are both resplendent in their matching sparkly suit jackets. Namjoon was expecting something ridiculous, from what Yoongi described, but the gold-based, multicolored jacket over his black silk shirt looks incredible. His hair is artfully brushed off his forehead and he’s put simple silver hoops in his ears. Seokjin looks flawless, too - like he belongs on a massive stage.

“Are you sure you aren’t secretly an idol?” Namjoon asks when they stop by to say hello before their set.

“I almost was,” Seokjin says casually. “But I got tired of people telling me what to do and quit.”

“He’s not that handsome, stop fueling his ego,” Yoongi grumbles.

“Excuse me, Yoongi-yah, yes I am. Four people have already offered me their phone number.”

“You’re lying, we’ve been here for ten minutes.”

Seokjin smirks and waggles his eyebrows and Yoongi huffs.

“You look really good, too, hyung,” Namjoon says, aiming for casual and probably failing miserably.

It’s hard to tell in the dim light, but he’s pretty sure Yoongi is blushing. “Ah.” He plucks at the front of his shirt. “These sparkles are ridiculous.”

“They suit you,” Namjoon insists and realizes that Seokjin is staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face. He quickly takes a sip of his wine, trying to relax.

“We should start,” Seokjin says, putting a hand on Yoongi’s shoulder. “See you after, Namjoon-ah.”

Namjoon raises his glass in a toast and Seokjin winks at him.

They take their positions, Yoongi at the grand piano and Seokjin at the mic in front of him. It’s styled like one of those old-fashioned ones you’d see on television in the 1930s and Seokjin positions it with expert ease.

It’s been years and years, since Namjoon’s seen Yoongi play. But he’s never forgotten the relaxed way he sits at the piano - like him and the instrument are old friends, like there’s no need to perform. His fingers are almost lazy as they move across the keys but gorgeous music pours out immediately. It’s a slow song - jazzy, like Yoongi said - but it fits with the clear, soaring quality of Seokjin’s voice. He’s good. Really good. Idol good.

Jesus.

He doesn’t notice the mic that’s by Yoongi’s piano until Yoongi leans forward and starts to sing, too. His voice is a low accompaniment to Seokjin’s, blending in with it well. He sings like he plays: relaxed, almost lazy. But it’s so fucking beautiful. Namjoon’s never heard him sing before - didn’t even think he could.

It’s a song about first love and the heartbreak that follows when it ends. Seokjin sways along to the music and Yoongi plays and the soft light of the restaurant renders everything almost surreal. Namjoon feels now like he’s living in a dream, watching Min Yoongi sing like he was born to do it.

And fuck, fuck, he’s so in love. He’s carried this boy in his heart, buried beneath the guilt and nestled against the loneliness. He reduced Hoseok and Yoongi down to a handful of rose-tinted memories and locked them away, but here Yoongi is: right in front of him and so alive .

More than Namjoon’s faulty memory could have ever hoped to capture.

 

_ _

 

Yoongi and Seokjin play a total of ten songs and Namjoon consumes nearly four glasses of wine and eats three plates of incredibly overpriced and beautifully presented food. He’s buzzing and tipsy by the time he joins Seokjin and Yoongi back on the sidewalk outside.

“You were both amazing,” he says, hoping he’s not gushing too obviously.

“I know,” Seokjin says, dusting imaginary lint off his jacket, but his smile is all warmth. “I’m meeting someone for drinks, so I’ll see you tomorrow, Yoongi-yah, Namjoon-ah.”

They wave goodbye to him, watching him flag down a cab.

“Six people gave him their phone number,” Yoongi mumbles, shaking his head. “He won’t call any of them. Ridiculous.”

“Does he have anyone?” Namjoon asks.

“He could, if he wasn’t such an idiot,” Yoongi says. Namjoon wonders if he’s talking about Taehyung. Decides that right now, he doesn't care. All he has room for in his head is Yoongi. The way he looks illuminated by the city lights, bundled up in his coat - nose already red. He’s got a hint of liner on his eyes that Namjoon didn’t notice before and his lips are so full and pink.

And Namjoon has had nearly four glasses of wine. He knows he shouldn’t, he can’t, but all his walls are crumbling. Seven fucking years. Longer.

His body moves without him. He feels almost like he’s watching it from it afar as he slides a hand along the side of Yoongi’s neck, then bends down and kisses him. For a second, everything hangs in suspended silence. There is only his mouth on Yoongi’s after nearly a decade. There is only Yoongi’s body pressed against his own.

Then his brain comes crashing back into his body like a screeching bullet train and he realizes exactly what he’s done What he’s ruined.

He wrenches himself away from Yoongi, not giving himself time to linger on Yoongi’s stunned, slack-jawed expression. Oh god oh god oh god, he kissed Yoongi. He kissed Yoongi. Who is dating Hoseok. Who isn’t his and never was and never will be. Oh god.

He has to get out. Right now. He can’t stay here and face this when his heart is literally cracking into a million pieces in his chest, shrapnel everywhere. So he lets his body take over again. Lets his feet spin him around and carry him down the sidewalk. Where, he doesn’t care as long as it’s away.

He just runs, heedless of Yoongi shouting his name.

Chapter Text

Here’s another secret, just one more: that night, in Newark, Namjoon went back to his hotel and pulled up train maps on his laptop in the dark. Watched Naver tell him that he was approximately one hour and four minutes from Flushing - the closest he’d been in six years. And he thought about going, about just slipping out of the hotel and getting on a train at Newark Penn Station. He had no idea how he’d find them beyond that. The restaurant, maybe - he knew the address. Yoongi could be working, or Namjoon could ask for him. Or he could look them up on KakaoTalk. He had an ID that he was pretty sure was Hoseok’s, though he'd never dared send a friend request.

Either way, he could see them again. He could finally apologize to them properly.

He could tell them -

But it was a foolish idea. He knew that even as his brain concocted the crazy scheme. He doubted crashing back into their lives would be welcome - they probably didn’t even want to see him.

So he closed down his computer, a little more forceful than necessary, and he ordered a bottle of vodka from room service, not bothering with glasses and uncaring of the taste. He wanted the Guilt lodged in his chest to stop hurting. Wanted the Longing to let him breathe.

So he drank until he passed out.

_ _

 

Eventually, Namjoon slows to a stop not far from Times Square, panting as he tries to drag air into his protesting lungs. He phone is buzzing in his pocket like an angry bee, but he ignores the five missed calls and fifteen text messages from Yoongi in favor of pulling up Taehyung’s number.

Taehyung answers on the second ring. “Hyung?”

“Remember,” Namjoon says, hating the tears already coating his voice, “when you said that if I ever needed to talk you’d listen and provide alcohol? Is that offer still on the table?”

“I’ll text you my address,” Taehyung says and hangs up.

His phone buzzes. Hoseok now. He doesn’t look at the message, dismissing it with a frantic flick of his finger. The next one is from Taehyung, listing an apartment in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. A series of Google searches shows him a fortunately straightforward route: just take the E train out to Queens Boulevard and then a bus to 136th Street.

Right. He can do that.

He zips up his puffy coat, wishing that he’d remembered to bring a hat, and lowers his head against the chilly push of the wind. His phone has stopped buzzing. He’s not sure if that’s a good or bad development, but he can’t think about it right now. He just needs to get to 136th Street and he’ll deal with everything else, then. One step at a time is how he made it through the initial aftermath of the photos, and he’s going to employ that strategy again now.

 

_ _ 

 

(He really needs to stop kissing people, he thinks as he gets on the subway. It fucks his life up every time.)

 

_ _

 

He has to wait ten minutes for the bus and he huddles by the sign on the busy street, watching snow flurries in the halo of the streetlamps and feeling his hands slowly start to go numb as traffic rushes past. He pictures going back to the house that’s started to feel like home and packing his bags when Yoongi and Hoseok are at work. Getting on a plane to Seoul. Telling his company that he’ll do it: he’ll lie, go back in the closet, whatever they want so he can keep his career because it feels like all he has left. Deleting Hoseok and Yoongi's contact information for a second time and trying to forget them.

(impossible)

He pictures all that and wants to be sick. Fortunately, the bus rattles up before he can vomit in the bushes outside this fancy-looking bank. He finds a seat near the back and folds his limbs up as small as possible, wishing partially that he could just disappear. That would be so much easier. Just let him become vapor - no need to worry about anything at all and gone by the time the sun’s high in the sky. Unfortunately, there’s no spontaneous magic during the brief seven minutes it takes to get to 136th Street and he trips down the bus steps on unsteady legs.

The apartment is away from the main road, nestled in a small cluster of buildings arranged around a grassy courtyard. The second floor, Taehyung said, though none of them are over two stories. His shoes crunch in the snow scattered across the narrow sidewalk as he searches for the right number. He finally finds it tucked away in the corner and buzzes the intercom with a handwritten label, TJJ, next to the button. Nothing happens. He’s debating buzzing again when he hears approaching footsteps, the creak of stairs, and the front door opens to reveal Taehyung.

“Sorry,” he says. “The intercom on our end doesn’t work that well so I can’t talk back to you.”

He’s wearing a pair of red sweatpants that looks at least a size too big and an equally baggy black sweatshirt and his ocean-colored hair is falling into his eyes and still looks damp from a shower. But he’s smiling as he gestures Namjoon inside.

“Glad you found us okay,” he says, leading Namjoon up a narrow set of stairs to the top floor.

“Google Maps,” Namjoon says and Taehyung laughs quietly.

The front door is creaky as it opens, and the apartment beyond is small but cozy. Wood floors that look stained with age, appliances that are probably at least a decade old, if not two. A large blue futon sits in the middle of the room, folded up into a sofa. Across from it, a small TV is perched on a cheap-looking stand, contrasting the game console sitting on the ground in front of it that doesn’t look cheap at all. There’s an old-fashioned, oriental-style rug on the floor and a quilt thrown over the back of the futon. On the walls are various art prints and photographs of New York in black and white. A bulletin board to the right of the TV is bristling with pictures and notes and Namjoon spots an Indian takeout menu next to a brochure for a dance showcase. He sets his shoes by the wobbly rack that’s almost overflowing already and lets Taehyung take his coat and drape it over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. It’s a small table, crammed against the wall, and only capable of seating two people. Considering that it’s piled high with what looks like textbooks, Namjoon doubts it’s used for eating much.

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, “but the hall closet is actually my closet, so no room in there.”

“It’s only one bedroom?” Namjoon asks, realizing that yes, he can only see two doors and one of them must be the bathroom.

“Yeah.” Taehyung shrugs. “It was cheaper and after the military we’re all used to living on top of each other, you know? So I sleep out here,” he pats the futon, “and Jimin and Jungkook have the bedroom.”

Namjoon feels, in the face of the careworn furniture and the relatively cramped space, suddenly ashamed of his spacious apartment in Seoul, currently sitting vacant. Two or three of this apartment could probably fit inside.

“So Jimin and Jungkook will be back with the request alcohol soon,” Taehyung says, gesturing for Namjoon to have a seat on the sofa. From this angle, he notices an assortment of small plants perched in the kitchen windowsill.

“Herbs,” Taehyung says, when he notices Namjoon staring. “And some flowers. They were mostly a gift from Yoongi-hyung. He says they make spaces brighter.”

“Do they?” Namjoon wonders. He’s thought about plants to spruce up his sterile living space, but they would probably die when he was on tour - no one to water them.

“Yeah.” Taehyung nods. “I definitely think so.”

Namjoon nods back at him, uncertain of what to say next. He feels awkward and small and painfully sober, curled up on Taehyung’s futon. Fortunately, as if summoned, the stairs creak and the front door groans open and Jimin and Jungkook trample inside, stomping snow from their boots before taking them off. Jimin has a convenience store bag in one hand and Jungkook gives Namjoon an adorable little wave when he spots him.

“So,” Jimin announces, yanking his hat off his head and dropping it onto the same chair housing Namjoon’s coat, “you’ve requested alcohol and we have provided. Unfortunately, we’re broke college students so we can only provide cheap box wine.”

He pulls said box out of the bag and sets it on the counter.

“Sorry, hyung,” Jungkook says and Namjoon shakes his head.

“It’s fine. I don’t care.”

He’s aiming for numbness, not a good taste experience. From Taehyung’s piercing gaze, he knows that, too.

Jimin gets mugs out of one of the cupboards. One of them has what looks like a Monet painting on it, another that says “I speak fluent movie quotes” and clearly belongs to Jungkook, and a third looks like a cheap tourist mug with “I <3 Seoul” in tacky font.

Naturally, that’s the one Jimin hands to him.

“Why do you even have this?” Namjoon asks, squinting at it.

“A friend gave it to me as a joke,” Jimin says. “I think they wanted pictures of the disgusted face they knew I’d make when I opened it. And yes, I’m still offended they don’t make Busan ones over here. Busan is clearly the superior city.”

“According to you,” Taehyung teases.

“And Jungkook,” Jimin says.

“Ah,” is all Jungkook adds, accepting the movie quotes mug. Tae gets the Monet painting and Jimin grabs another one that says, “Eat. Sleep. Dance. Repeat.”

Namjoon’s sense of awkwardness increases as Taehyung and Jimin sit on the floor in front of the futon and Jungkook pulls over the spare kitchen chair. He feels like he’s having a weird meeting.

“Okay,” Taehyung says, clapping his hands together. “Alcohol, check. Now, listening.” He rests his chin on his hand, staring attentively, and Namjoon has no idea where to even start. What just happened? All the way back at the beginning? How do you summarize nearly a decade?

He glances over to Jimin, who has his head resting against Jungkook’s leg. Jungkook’s fingers are tangled in his hair - quietly intimate.

“How did you know?” he asks them. “That you loved each other? That it was … more.”

Jimin glances up at Jungkook, vast affection on his face, while Jungkook crinkles his nose in response. “It took a long time,” Jimin says, turning back to Namjoon. “I think maybe I had an inkling in high school, but I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want to be gay, or be in love with my best friend. Both of those things seemed impossible, you know?” Jimin laughs. “Ironically, it wasn’t until I went to military service that I started working towards accepting my sexuality.”

“The military?” Namjoon asks in disbelief.

Jimin waves a hand. “Sorry, no, nothing to do with the military itself. That sucked. I spent two years shoveling snow in the middle of nowhere with some guy screaming at me all the time. But Tae was there.” He leans over and pokes Taehyung in the shoulder. “And we had a lot of private conversations. He came out to me - I couldn’t believe it, seemed like the worse place to do something like that, but he was so brave. Made me want to be brave, too.”

Taehyung shrugs at Namjoon’s questioning look. “I’ve always … been okay? With aspects of myself. Not all the time, I don’t think anyone is, but I knew I was gay by my first year of high school and I just … rolled with it, I guess. Not that I was really publically out, but internally I didn’t have many doubts.”

“I had all the doubts,” Jimin says with another laugh. “But Tae helped a lot. I still didn’t confess to Jungkook until we came over here, though. It seemed easier, being further away from home.”

“Yeah,” Jungkook says quietly, squeezing Jimin’s shoulder. “It’s never easy, but … less people look at me when I hold his hand in public here. I knew, too. Early. Maybe even before he did? I had the biggest crush on him in eighth grade and it just never went away. But I could tell he wasn’t ready. I could sense … a lot of conflict in him, that he was too scared to share with me. So I tried my best to let him go. We were apart for three years, during our service, and it was so hard, but good, too, I think? He needed the space, needed to meet Tae. I knew I loved him, and I hoped he’d love me back one day. I figured I could wait awhile, until he was ready.”

Jimin smacks Jungkook’s leg. “Stop. You’re gonna make me cry.”

Jungkook sticks out his tongue at him and Jimin laughs and sniffs. “Anyway, I ended up telling him two weeks into the start of our first semester. I could stand it anymore.”

“He blurted it out to me in the middle of a pizza place at one in the morning,” Jungkook giggles. “I had pizza in my mouth. It was so unromantic.”

“You looked cute,” Jimin insists. “You were just cute and I liked how the neon lights were shining off your hair and I had to say something, okay?”

Taehyung is watch them affectionately. “They came back holding hands,” he says. “I was so happy for them.”

Jimin leans over and squeezes Taehyung in a tight hug.

“Yoongi and Hoseok have helped a lot, too,” Jungkook adds, smiling. “They’ve made us all feel really safe, you know? And given us a lot of advice.”

“I kissed Yoongi,” Namjoon blurts out and watches all of them freeze and turn to him with wide eyes. “Tonight. I kissed him. I’ve wanted to do it for years. I’ve wanted to do it since I was eighteen.” The words are tumbling out now, like a dam has finally shattered inside of him. “I was like you,” he says to Jimin. “I knew. I knew. But I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t be gay or love him or any of it. So I ran away and I pushed him and Hoseok away and I-” he chokes on air, chokes on words - hunched over and shaking on the futon.

He traces lines in his head back through the years, through stages that felt too empty, through hotel rooms that were too silent, through cities and countries and across thousands of kilometers - all the way back to a blue-walled apartment in Gangnam, sitting around on the floor of their tiny living room and watching the city lights, so scared of the future but still believing that they were going to do great things.

Together.

He felt invincible, then, in spite of all his doubt and fear, and he hasn’t felt invincible since, no matter how many designer clothes his puts on or stages he commands or furious lyrics he spits.

The futon creaks as someone sits down beside him, and Taehyung takes his hand, lifting it from where his fingers are digging into his own leg.

“Hyung,” he says quietly, with far too much gentleness.

Namjoon shakes his head. “And it’s both of them. It’s not … it’s always been both of them. And that’s ridiculous, right? They have each other - they’re so fucking good together, why would they need … I can’t have them both. I can’t have either of them. I blew my chance years ago and now I’ve just … just fucked it all up again. A second time.”

It takes him a moment to realize that he’s crying and he feels a hot rush of embarrassment. God, what a sight he must be - Rap Monster, international hip-hop star, breaking down in front of his dongsaengs on a futon in Queens. But it’s not Rap Monster, here. It’s Kim Namjoon, and Kim Namjoon is so tired he aches with it.

Kim Namjoon, in this moment, wouldn’t mind being held and having someone else assure him that it’ll be okay. He’ll survive this somehow - this mess. Just for now, he doesn’t want to have to be strong, or decisive, or in control. He’s taped himself back together over and over again for years, and he wonders now if all those fault lines are on display, widening and widening and widening like fissures in the earth.

“Hyung,” Taehyung says and then there are arms around him. Taehyung’s and Jungkook’s, and Jimin is rubbing his back. “Hyung, just breathe. It’s okay.”

He gulps in a sobbing breath and then another, lungs burning. Taehyung’s hands move to his cheeks, turning his face until he’s looking right into Taehyung’s eyes, dark and earnest. “Namjoon-hyung, I want you to listen to me for a second, okay? Because I don’t think anyone’s told you this yet. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with being gay and there is nothing wrong with loving them.”

Oh god. No one has told him that yet. Yoongi and Hoseok have been accepting and so incredibly supportive, more than he deserves, but no one’s come out and just said it, like Taehyung is right now.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Taehyung repeats. “This part of you, hyung, isn’t wrong or bad or anything they might have told you it is.”

“You should listen to him,” Jimin says gently. “He said the same thing to me and he’s always right about these things.”

“It’s scary, we know,” Jungkook adds, clinging to him like a very large and muscly limpet. “It’s really terrifying and parts of it might always be, but you’re not alone, hyung. We’re here. And I can’t speak for Yoongi-hyung or Hobi-hyung, but I don't think you’ve ruined anything yet.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says. “I think you should talk to them. You’ve been carrying this for so long. Maybe it’s time you put everything on the table.”

“Maybe they’re carrying things, too,” Jimin says.

“Either way, please don’t run away again,” Jungkook says, squeezing Namjoon tighter. “We like having you here and they deserve more than that.”

Namjoon wipes at his face again - his steadily leaking eyes. He knows they’re right, even if the idea of going back to talk to Yoongi and Hoseok feels akin to scaling Mount Everest. He just doesn’t see how they won’t be mad about this. Especially Hoseok. God, Hoseok. He must know by now, must think that it’s only Yoongi Namjoon wants.

“It’s time to be brave, Namjoon-hyung,” Taehyung says.

“You can do it,” Jungkook chimes in.

And Namjoon loves them all so much - these kids who barely know him, but are so willing to support him. He thinks of the people who  have known him for years and still were full of disparaging comments, still messaged him saying things like this can’t true, right? As if it was unfathomable to them that he could be gay, could be different. But Jungkook, Jimin, and Taehyung see him - him, Namjoon - and understand more than he thinks anyone could. The same fear sits inside of them. They’ve carried it and faced it and learned to wrestle with it, just like Yoongi and Hoseok have.

Just like he knows he needs to, now.

“Thank you,” he croaks, lifting his arms so he can hug Jungkook and Taehyung into his sides. “Thank you.”

“We’re just paying it forward,” Jimin says, hands on Namjoon’s shoulders.

Namjoon sniffs. “I’ll go talk to them.”

It’s nearly one a.m., but he can’t make Yoongi and Hoseok suffer through another night of uncertainty, in spite of the fact that he’s still so scared he thinks his insides are liquefying.

“Good,” Jimin says. “Because Yoongi might have called me freaking out and I might have told him that you’re here and we’d send you back soon.”

“Yoongi called you?” Namjoon asks in surprise. “And define freaking out?”

Jimin hums. “Well, it’s really hard to tell when Yoongi’s freaking out because he always tries not to show it, but he was almost too calm, you know? And he just said he needed to talk to you and was trying to make sure you’re okay.”

“He didn’t sound mad?” Namjoon asks, hating how small his voice sounds. Timid and scared like a kid.

“No, hyung,” Jimin says, squeezing his shoulder again. “He didn’t sound mad.”

Okay. That’s something. That has to be something.

He can do this.

He can.

He reaches for the mug that he’d almost forgotten about and takes a fortifying swig of wine. Then immediately gags.

“Holy shit, that’s disgusting.”

“I warned you,” Jimin says solemnly, and Jungkook retrieves his coat from the kitchen, handing it to him with a smile.

“Alright,” Taehyung says with a boxy grin. “Operation: Epic Love Confession is a go.”

“I thought we were going to call it Operation: Boyfriend Attainment,” Jungkook says.

“No, that’s a stupid name.”

“So is Epic Love Confession.”

“Oh my god,” Namjoon says and laughs, in spite of his knotted stomach.

Which, judging from their smiles, was Taehyung and Jungkook’s goal all along.

 

_ _

 

The kids walk him to the bus stop, Taehyung’s arm looped with his. It’s still snowing as they wait for the Q64 to show up and Jungkook films Jimin on his phone trying to catch snowflakes on his tongue, both of them laughing.

“You should take your own advice, Taehyung-ah,” Namjoon says quietly, for only to Taehyung to hear. “Talk to Seokjin.”

Taehyung sighs. “I’ll consider it.”

“All I ask,” Namjoon says and the smile Taehyung shoots him is a little softer, a little more vulnerable.

Namjoon returns it, and the bus pulls up before they can say anything else. Namjoon gets on and laughs under his breath at the sight of Jimin, Taehyung, and Jungkook standing on the curb, waving like they’re in an old-fashioned film reel, watching a ship embark on a voyage.

Then he puts his head between his knees and tells himself that he isn’t going to have a panic attack - now, on public transport, or later, back at the house. He’ll be rational. And calm. He’ll confess. He’ll deal with whatever the fallout is and most likely, tomorrow he’ll pack his bags and get one a plane back to Seoul and try to pretend this never happened. He’ll go home to his parents and cry his eyes out for a week or two and then figure out how to carry on alone.

He’ll survive this: losing them a second time.

He will.

Of course, this resolve only lasts until the front porch of the house. Until the door swinging open to reveal Hoseok, wan-faced and teary.

“Namjoon,” he says over the sound of Holly’s barking. “Oh my god.”

Namjoon opens his mouth to say … something. He isn't sure what. An apology, maybe? But Hoseok hugs him before he can get the words out.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he says.

He peers over Hoseok’s shoulder into the living room, where Yoongi is standing with Holly in his arms. He looks like he’s been crying, too, though it’s impossible for Namjoon to decipher the expression he’s got on his face now.

Either way, Namjoon really needs to stop hurting them.

“We need to talk,” Hoseok says when he pulls back. His mouth is a tight line now and his expression is reminiscent of their trainee days, when he was trying to be in charge and professional.

Namjoon’s heart is trying to claw its way up his throat, he can feel it.

“Yeah,” he whispers and lets Hoseok lead him over to the couch. Watches Yoongi stick Holly in the bedroom and take a seat in the armchair.

“So,” Hoseok begins, resting his elbows on his knees. “Do you have feelings for Yoongi?”

“I-” Namjoon starts, off-balance. He should have expected this from Hoseok, though: charge right in, get to the heart of the matter without holding back.

“Because,” Hoseok continues and his calm facade is cracking now, voice getting a little more frantic, “I always used to wonder about that, you know? I always thought it would be you and him. That’s why I never said anything sooner. It made sense. You and him. You were both so … so smart and talented and I was just the dumb kid who couldn’t rap following in your shadow.”

“Seok,” Yoongi whispers, sounding pained, but Hoseok doesn’t seem to be able to stop.

“So I get it, if you do. I - we went to see you, you know. In Newark. Your concert.”

“What?” Namjoon feels like he’s been punched. They were there? In that arena with him?

“And I was so surprised,” Hoseok continues as though he hadn’t heard, “when you responded to my message, because I thought you’d forgotten us. Or forgotten me, at least. You and Yoongi were … I don’t know. You had a connection. But me? Why would you remember me?” Hoseok sniffs, starting to tear up again. His face twists, like he’s angry that his body is betraying him by crying. “So I just wanted to say that I understand. About Yoongi. And I’m not - I’m not mad, I-”

Namjoon can’t listen to this anymore. It hurts too much. Hoseok is crying, and Namjoon has to fix it. “Forget you?” he says, his own voice wet. “Forget you? Jung Hoseok, you’re the love of my fucking life.”

Hoseok hiccups in surprise and turns to gape at him. He looks beautiful, Namjoon, thinks, even like this: cast gold in the lamp light, tears glistening on his cheeks and dark hair messy. He was beautiful back then and he’s beautiful now and Namjoon loves him so much he’s breaking from it. He can feel Yoongi’s eyes on him, though, and shifts to face him. Sees the shock there, and a glimmer of hurt, and reaches out, crossing the expanse of the coffee table to touch Yoongi’s knee.

“You, too, hyung,” he says. “Both of you. The fucking loves of my life.”

“Joon,” Yoongi says and then looks at a loss, unsure of what to say next.

Which is fine. Namjoon figures it’s his turn. “It’s always been you,” he says, starting to cry harder. It’s a shock he hasn’t run out of tears by now. “It’s been you since we were trainees. That’s why I left. I wanted you both so much, loved you both so much, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Or how to handle it. I was so afraid that I’d ruin it. That I’d fuck it up for all of us. So I ran like a coward and I ended up fucking it up even more and I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry. I’ve tried to stop, I have, but it’s always been you. All the stages are so fucking empty without you on them. I never wanted to do any of this without you and I realized that too late and I’m so sorry.”

He’s crying in earnest now, close to sobbing, and too afraid to look at them and find rejection, or anger.

“I’m working on it,” he continues, desperate not to let the silence settle, “I won’t ever - you’re so perfect together. This life you have is amazing. And I won’t ruin it, I promise. Won’t fuck it up again. I’ll go. I can be on a plane tomorrow and you won’t hear from me again. I just … I wanted you to know. You both deserved to know.”

Yoongi stands in the corner of Namjoon’s vision, and comes around the table to stand next to him.

“You love me?” he asks quietly, like he’s trying to process everything.

“Yes,” Namjoon whispers. “So fucking much. I’m sorry.”

And Hoseok. Hoseok laughs. It’s more hysterical than amused, laced with sobs, and when Namjoon turns to look at him, he’s frantically rubbing at his eyes and shaking his head.

“You should tell him,” he says, and it takes Namjoon a moment to realize he’s talking to Yoongi. “You’re better at this than me.”

“Debatable,” Yoongi mutters and sits down on Namjoon’s other side. Lets out a long, shaking sigh. “I was so in love with you, Joon-ah. Back when we were trainees.”

Namjoon blinks, head spinning. Yoongi looks up at him, almost shy. “I thought you knew. Thought I was so obvious. I was mad at myself for it. You were this awkward, gangly kid, but you were so smart. And beautiful without realizing it. And so kind, even though you were trying not to be because you wanted to seem tough. And I had such a crush on you. It was embarrassing. Seok - my feelings for him came a little later. It was you first.”

Namjoon rewinds frantically, chasing all those lines again. Back, back, back to Seoul, to the studios and the practice rooms and their tiny dorm, to Yoongi’s smile - shy and gummy - and the fights and the making up and the learning and the hours spent building music and the hours spent on tears, holding each other in the dark when all their dreams seemed too big. He’d been so caught up in his own feelings and fears - he’d never imagined that what was blooming in his heart might have been reciprocated. That if he’d looked at Yoongi long enough, he would have seen love reflected back at him.

“And I thought I was obvious,” Hoseok says now, rueful. “I thought my crush on both of you could be seen from fucking space. I followed you around everywhere. I always wanted to be with you, remember? I knew I loved Yoongi at seventeen, Joon-ah, but I knew I loved you then, too. You were both so … so cool. I was smitten from day fucking one.”

And he thinks of Hoseok now, back there with them. Hoseok, who hid everything behind a smile and a bright laugh. Who felt like sunshine incarnate and sure of himself in ways Namjoon didn’t know how to be. Who threw himself into rapping with the same passion he gave to dance and never let himself waver. Who shed his tears in private, until Yoongi and then Namjoon chipped away at his walls enough to get inside, to say “lean on me.”

They loved him back. They loved him back.

He’s reeling and floaty, all his gravity gone.

“We talked about it,” Yoongi continues. “After our service was over. Got ridiculously drunk and confessed to each other that we’d been in love with you, too.”

“That’s why it hurt so much,” Hoseok says. “It wasn’t just about our careers. You left us. We were fucking heartbroken.”

“And we tried to hide it from each other for a long time.” Yoongi shakes his head. “Didn’t realize we were struggling with the same thing.”

Namjoon hiccups, trying to get his breathing under control. This isn’t … he was bracing himself for rejection. He doesn’t know what to do with this. With the enormity of it, of his past self’s mistakes.

“I didn’t know,” he tells them. “I didn't see. I was so … so fucking scared. Of being gay. Of loving you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Yoongi says and his hand comes up to cup the back of Namjoon’s head. “None of us were ready back then. We were all scared kids.”

“It took Yoongi and me a long time,” Hoseok adds quietly. “A really long time, Joon. And we had each other. You were alone. I’m sorry for that.”

“It was my fault,” Namjoon insists with a shake of his head.

“Not all of it was,” Yoongi counters.

Namjoon stares down at his clasped hands, the way they’re trembling. He thinks his whole body might rattle apart - bones shaking clean out of his skin. “You said you were in love with me,” he whispers, heartbeat so loud it nearly drowns out everything else. “Are you … still?”

A pause so excruciating that he wants to scream.

This time, to his surprise, it’s Hoseok who speaks first. “I didn’t think I was. Then you started sleeping in our guest bedroom.”

“Me too,” Yoongi says. “We talked about that, as well. A week after you arrived. We’re … it’s complicated, Joon-ah. We’ve got so many missing years. Everything isn’t going to magically slot into place.”

“I’m not expecting that,” Namjoon says. He wasn’t expecting to be accepted at all. “Just … I don’t want to go back. Not if there’s something here. Or could be something.”

“What about your career?” Yoongi asks, brow furrowed.

“Fuck my career,” Namjoon says, fierce. He wants to touch them both so badly, but he wrings his hands together again. “Fuck it. You’re more important. You always have been.”

Hoseok sucks in a sharp breath at that, but it’s the truth. Namjoon’s known it for years. It’s probably about time they knew it, too.

“I wasn’t kidding.” He glances first at Yoongi, then at Hoseok, taking in their red-rimmed eyes and the near matching expressions of disbelief on their faces. “When I said you’re the loves of my life. I’ve spent seven years missing you. I’d like to stop.”

Yoongi laughs, wet and hitching, and buries his face in Namjoon’s shoulder. Namjoon sways with the movement, surprised. He forgets - or he’d forgotten - how physically affectionate Yoongi can be, especially when he wants comfort. He soaks it up like a sponge, and back in Seoul, Hoseok was always happy to indulge him. Namjoon was more withdrawn, but he doesn’t hesitate now - just reaches up to bury his fingers in Yoongi’s hair.

“Stay, then,” Hoseok says and when Namjoon glances back at him, his jaw is clenched in determination and his watery eyes are blazing. “Come home, Namjoon.”

Namjoon almost starts crying again.

Home. Home.

He winds his other arm around Hoseok’s shoulders and pulls him in, clutching on to them both as tight as he can - his emotionally overloaded brain half-terrified they’ll slip away if he lets go. Hoseok reaches across his chest to grasp Yoongi’s sleeve, holding on just desperately as Namjoon is.

“We’ll figure it out,” Yoongi whispers into Namjoon’s neck

“Okay,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut and trying decide if he wants laugh or sob some more. “Okay.”

He’s not sure how long they sit like that, rocking back and forth together on the sofa in a tangle of limbs. The silence doesn’t feel nearly as heavy this time, and Namjoon thinks they probably all need at least a few moments to stitch themselves back together. Eventually, the quiet is pierced abruptly by the sound of Holly’s distressed barking and little paws scratching at the bedroom door. Yoongi sighs and detaches himself from Namjoon’s side - Namjoon forced to swallow back a pathetic noise of protest at the loss of his warmth.

He disappears down the hall and remerges less than thirty seconds later, a wriggly dog in his arms.

“Here,” he coos to Holly and deposits him in Namjoon’s lap. “He needs some cheering up.”

Namjoon laughs as Holly immediately licks his chin and lets go of Hoseok to pet Holly’s fluffy fur. “Thank you.”

Yoongi nods and sniffs, wiping at his eyes again. “It’s fine,” he mumbles, shy.

“Fuck,” Hoseok says, standing. “I haven’t cried this much in fucking ages. I hate it.”

“Join the club,” Yoongi says, but they both look as relieved as Namjoon feels. Like there was a weight slowly crushing them all for years that’s finally, finally been lifted. Namjoon can feel the Longing loosen, just a fraction, just enough to make breathing a little easier.

Holly wriggles free from his arms and curls up on the sofa, huffing.

“Sorry, buddy,” Yoongi says. “We’re coming to bed soon.”

The wall clock helpfully informs Namjoon that it’s nearly four in the morning. Now that the adrenaline is starting to leach from his body, he can feel the exhaustion creeping closer.

“We all need sleep,” Hoseok says. “We can talk more in the morning.”

Namjoon nods. That’s probably a good idea. Hoseok and Yoongi probably need time alone to talk about all of this - figure out where they stand together.

But when he tells them goodnight and heads toward his bedroom, Hoseok snags his hand, stopping him.

“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” he asks.

“To bed?” Namjoon says, confused.

Hoseok shakes his head. Glances at Yoongi, and they seem to have one of their fast, silent conversations. “Sleep in with us,” Hoseok says. “If you want?”

Oh. Oh.

“Yes,” Namjoon says, a little breathlessly. “Yes, that’s … that’s fine.”

So he gets his pajamas and brushes his teeth and then knocks very tentatively on their bedroom door. They usually keep it closed and he realizes that in the last month, he’s somehow never been inside. It felt sacred, in a weird way, and he felt strange about intruding, especially considering his lingering feelings. But tonight, Hoseok opens the door and beckons him inside. It’s a small room, but not cramped. A big window looking out over the street, plants on the sill. A queen sized bed, with weathered nightstands on either side, a small bookshelf that’s brimming with more knick-knacks  and what looks like composition notebooks. A little dog bed for Holly sits in the corner and on the walls are photographs of New York and Korea - Daegu, and what looks like Jeju Island - that he thinks are Yoongi’s.

It’s cozy, just like the rest of the house. It feels like home.

Yoongi’s already sitting in bed and he pats the mattress. It’s going to be a tight fit, the three of them, but Namjoon doesn’t care and he doesn’t think they do, either. He crawls under the covers, feeling Hoseok slot in on his other side, and shudders at the warmth. He can’t remember the last time he shared a bed with someone. He had a few flings, back when he was trying to convince himself it wasn’t men he wanted, but none of them spent the night. Now he has Hoseok pressed carefully against his back and Yoongi’s arm draped over his waist and it’s overwhelming in the best way.

“Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi rumbles, already sounding a little slurred with sleep, “tomorrow we’re also having a long talk about how much I fucking love you and am only leaving you if I get hit by a bus or something.”

Hoseok laughs, though it’s a heavy, emotional sound. “Okay,” he says and stretches an arm across Namjoon to brush Yoongi’s cheek. “Sleep now, though.”

Yoongi hums, clearly already drifting off.

“You, too, Joonie,” Hoseok says, shifting a little closer. “Sleep.”

And Namjoon does, far easier than he has in years.

 

_ _

 

He wakes up to an empty bed, but there is noise coming from the kitchen - like there has been on most mornings coming here. He hauls himself up, trying to tame some of his bedhead, and pads down the hall into the main room. Sure enough, Hoseok is leaning against the counter in the kitchen, drinking coffee, and Yoongi’s at the stove, making fried eggs. They both look sleep-rumpled and soft in the pale winter light coming in through the window: Hoseok with his glasses perched on his nose and blue robe over his pajamas, and Yoongi with his cheeks puffy and his lips parted in sleepy concentration.

Namjoon lets himself look, now that he thinks he’s allowed. Lets his chest warm and his heart settle.

Hoseok notices him hovering in the doorway after a moment and straightens. “Oh, you’re up.”

Yoongi turns to look in Namjoon’s direction, a small, almost nervous smile on his face. Both of them seem a little hesitant and Namjoon knows he isn’t doing much better - not sure how this looks in the day, what exactly he’s allowed, where exactly they stand.

Then Hoseok sets his mug on the counter and crosses the kitchen to him, moving with purposeful determination. Namjoon doesn’t realize what’s happening until Hoseok’s hand has cupped the side of his neck and he’s being pulled in for a kiss. It’s a little rougher than his one with Yoongi, a little more assertive, but full of just as much longing.

“There,” he says when he pulls back and Namjoon blinks at him in shock, “now we’re even.”

Yoongi snorts and Hoseok darts over to plant a quick kiss on his lips, too. “Now everyone’s even.”

“Idiot,” Yoongi says, but it’s dripping with affection. “You kiss me all the time.”

Hoseok shrugs and Namjoon is hyper-aware of the blush he can feel heating his cheeks. They keep throwing him off-balance - he wonders if that’s going to change anytime soon. Wonders if he cares either way. But Yoongi clearly notices his tension, because his expression softens when he glances over again.

“Joon-ah,” he says, “it’s okay. Relax.”

“Want coffee?” Hoseok asks as Namjoon tries to loosen his shoulders and calm his face down.

“Yes.” He still has a slight aftertaste of wine in his mouth and he wants it gone.

Hoseok gets down the Ryan mug that has unofficially become Namjoon’s and pours him a full cup. Presses it gently into his hands. He normally prefers cream and copious amounts of sugar but this morning he decides not to bother and drinks it black, trying not to grimace too obviously at the taste.

“The kids called to check up on you,” Yoongi says, turning off the stove and sliding the eggs onto plates Hoseok pulls down for the cupboard. Namjoon notices that he’s made enough for all three of them and feels weirdly touched. It seems more significant now - Yoongi making breakfast for him - in light of everything that’s happened. “I said you’re okay. They care about you a lot.”

“I care about them, too,” Namjoon says. “They’re good kids. They helped a lot.”

“I’m glad,” Yoongi murmurs, and Namjoon makes a mental note to send them a text when breakfast is done.

Hoseok goes to let Holly inside, brushing snow from the dog’s fur, and they all sit down around the table with their breakfast. Yoongi’s put a bowl of fruit and a plate of toast out, as well. Normally, he’s at the restaurant by now, and it’s nice to have him here. To get to watch him eat with those puffy cheeks and make little grumbling noises into his coffee as he tries to wake himself up.

“Not opening today?” Namjoon asks.

“Hell no,” Yoongi says. “I called Seokjin and told him a little about what happened and he said that if I show up at all today, he’s firing me and making Jungkook the co-owner instead.”

That sounds like Seokjin.

“Did he know?” Namjoon asks, remembering the assessing look he got in the restaurant. “About me? Us?”

“Mostly,” Yoongi admits. Hoseok reaches across the table to take his hand, squeezing tight. “I … it was harder for me. I mean, it was hard for Seok, but I struggled a lot. My service - I couldn’t do as much because of my shoulder - but it was still hard and I was really depressed when I got out. All of that stuff as a trainee … it just got so much worse. And I buried it, because that’s what I was taught to do, but when we came over here. I don’t know. I kind of crashed? I got really bad.”

“Scared me to death,” Hoseok admits quietly. “Thought I was gonna lose him.”

Yoongi lifts Hoseok’s hand to kiss the back of it and Namjoon feels an old clench of fear in chest, remembering watching Yoongi battle with his own head when they were teenagers and wondering, half-terrified, what would happen if Yoongi lost.

Yoongi takes a deep breath. “And Seokjin helped. A lot. Kind of took me under his wing, though he told me up front that he had no idea how to be a hyung and not to expect much. Liar. He was - he’s great - don’t tell I said that - and he was from Korea and he was gay and he’d even been in the industry for awhile, so he just … understood. Even if he didn’t get the depression, he got everything else. The fear, the homesickness, the insecurity - all of it. I think….” Yoongi laughs quietly. “I think he might have saved my life. Don’t tell him I said that, either, though. He already knows.”

Damn. Namjoon thinks he probably needs to give Seokjin a hug next time he sees him, even if that would just make Seokjin squawk and smack him.

“Anyway,” Yoongi continues. “Yes, I told him. He’s the only one besides Seok who knows all of it. Us being trainees, what happened, what I felt for you - all of it. I asked him not to saying anything to you about it - didn’t want things to be awkward. But yeah.”

“I’m glad,” Namjoon says. “That you’ve had him.”

“Me too,” Yoongi says. “Seok had Wheein and Henry and I had Seokjin and it was good. We both needed that. Some stable ground.”

“Yeah,” Hoseok says. “We were kind of messed up kids, still, when we made it over here. They’ve all helped a ton.”

“And then you helped the kids,” Namjoon surmises and Yoongi grins at him, sweet and happy.

“Yeah. And now it looks like they’re paying it forward, too.” He leans over and gently pokes Namjoon cheek, right where his dimple would be.

“I’ve never had anyone I could talk to,” Namjoon admits, reaching out to catch Yoongi’s hand without thinking. He almost pulls away when he realizes, but Yoongi twines their fingers together and a glance at Hoseok shows that he’s fine, smiling at them both with bright eyes. “It was too much of a risk. I mean, there was Jackson, kind of. He understood some of it. But … not really. I’ve had to be this … this persona for so long. Someone who’s badass and self-assured and probably has sex with lots of women, and it wasn’t me. Like, at all. I couldn’t be myself - even less than Jackson could be. And that was … fuck, I shouldn’t complain, right?”

He feels terrible complaining when he has a penthouse apartment in Seoul and hundreds of thousands of fans supporting him and more money than he even knows what to do with. When his closests are full of designer clothes and people fawn for his attention and approval. When he could probably snap his fingers and get just about anything he wants. But the things he desires the most have always been unattainable: to be himself, to be loved, to be loved by these two people in particular.

Well, he thinks, maybe they’re less attainable now.

“You’re allowed to complain,” Yoongi tells him.

“Yeah,” Hoseok says, “Money and fame doesn’t negate how hard everything else was, Joon. It’s okay.”

“It was fucking hard,” Namjoon blurts out. “It was so fucking hard. I was … I’ve been so alone.”

A chair creaks and he looks up to see Hoseok moving around the table. He wraps his arms around Namjoon’s neck and Namjoon feels the press of Hoseok’s chin against the top of his head and the warmth of Yoongi’s hand still clasped in his and the touch is so nice. He hasn’t been held like this in so long before coming here. So fucking long.

“We’re gonna make this work,” Hoseok says, as fierce as he was last night. He says it like there are no other options and Namjoon believes him. “It’ll take time, but we are.

“We both want to,” Yoongi reassures him.

“Then … I’m gonna call my company,” Namjoon says, almost giddy and unable to believe the words coming out of his mouth. “And tell them I’m staying.”

“What will they do?” Hoseok asks, worried.

“Sue me, probably,” Namjoon says and finds that he can’t bring himself to care. They can keep Rap Monster, if they want. He’s moving on.

Yoongi and Hoseok exchange a worried glance and Namjoon reaches up to brush Hoseok’s cheek. Squeezes Yoongi’s hand. “It’s okay. Really. I still want to make music, but I want to be done with that part of my life. I’ll figure that out, too.

Hoseok kisses the top of his head. “Okay, then.”

“New chapter for all of us,” Yoongi declares and Namjoon feels a smile stretching his mouth so wide his cheeks hurt.

 

_ _

 

He calls his company that evening, when he knows it’s early morning in Seoul. Sits at the kitchen table and dials the number, glad that Hoseok and Yoongi have taken Holly out to give him some privacy.

The company is furious, just like he predicted. Try to reason with him - remind him of everything he’d be giving up by walking away. When that doesn’t move him, they threaten legal action. They’ll take his old music, all his royalties, everything he produced under them. They’ll make sure he never signs with another company in Korea.

“Do it, then,” he says, and knows he’s shocked them. “I’ll settle, I don’t care.”

They can’t touch him. He’s on top of the fucking world, because Yoongi and Hoseok loved him back. Might love him still. Could love him again. He feels like he’s unshackling chains he’s carried for years and watching them sink into the ocean.

“You’ll never be able to perform as Rap Monster again,” the executives say. “ You understand this?”

“Yes,” he says, still calm.

The empty apartment, the empty stages, the late nights of drinking, the Guilt, the Longing, the fame that never felt like it mattered, the music that felt soulless, the company with its endless demands on his life and his image and his personhood - let the water take it all.  

He’s free.

Chapter Text

It’s surreal to be back here again, in the departure terminal of JFK. Hoseok’s wearing his yellow sneakers and the same green raincoat - hair swept back off his face. The difference is that he’s hugging Namjoon tightly and Namjoon can feel the warm press of Hoseok’s lips to the side of his neck. The difference is Yoongi, also carrying a travel bag, pulling Hoseok into his arms, too.

“We’ll call all the time,” he promises, brushing his lips over Hoseok’s cheek.

“And we’ll be back before you know it,” Namjoon adds. “Only a few weeks.”

“I know,” Hoseok says, smiling at them both. “I’m gonna be fine. The kids have already invited themselves over for dinner just about every night. I’m more worried about you.” He cups Namjoon’s cheeks and Namjoon tries not to startle, to worry about who might be watching. “Just … I hope it goes okay, Joonie.”

It: going back to Seoul to dismantle the remnants of his life there. To sell his apartment and settle the lawsuit with the company and anything else that needs ending. After much discussion, Yoongi is coming with him, leaving Seokjin to run the restaurant.

( I’ll make Jungkook co-owner for a few weeks, Seokjin said, waving a hand. We’ll make sure the place doesn’t burn down, don’t worry.

Jungkook nodded solemnly. I’ll keep him in line, hyung, don’t worry.

Oi, brat!

And then it dissolved into good-natured bickering while Yoongi grumbled about going to pack a suitcase, and that was the end of that.)

He’s so glad to have Yoongi, to not have to do this alone, but leaving Hoseok feels agonizing, especially with everything still so new and tender between them.

“I’m gonna be fine,” Hoseok repeats, clearly seeing his nerves. He shifts up, just a little, to plant a quick kiss on Namjoon’s jaw. “Have a safe flight, okay?”

“We will,” Namjoon promises and feels Yoongi’s fingers thread with his. It sends another trill down his spine that he forces himself to ignore. He allows himself to be pulled away and watches Hoseok wave as they get in line for security. Watches him turn and leave without a backward glance, because that’s how Jung Hoseok tackles difficult, emotional moments: just plow straight through.

“He’s really gonna be fine,” Yoongi says, squeezing his hand. “We were apart for two years in the military, and we didn’t have you for even longer. We’re good at this.”

“I know,” Namjoon says and takes a deep breath. “Thanks for coming with me.”

He feels like he has his bedrock back, with Yoongi smiling at him. Like the ground beneath his feet has finally stopped shifting.

“Of course,” Yoongi murmurs and lets go of his hand to dig around for his passport. “We told you, you’re not alone, Joon-ah.”

Namjoon doesn’t think there are words for everything clanging around in his chest right now, so settles for squeezing Yoongi’s shoulder and hoping he’ll understand. Judging from the gentle look on his face, he does.

_ _

 

Namjoon bought first class tickets due to long-conditioned habit, but they’re even more worth it for Yoongi’s reaction. He comments nearly a dozen times about the amount of room and quietly goggles at the seat’s various features and the amount of options on the TV, and it’s so fucking adorable. He knows Yoongi hates flying, and he’s glad he gets to make it a little easier for him - has to fight the instinct to actually coo at him when he burrows under the provided blankets like a cute turtle.

“So this is how the one percent lives,” Yoongi teases, smoothing his hands down the armrests. “You could have warned me. I was bracing myself for economy and some kid kicking the back of my seat for fourteen hours.”

“I wanted to surprise you,” Namjoon says with a shrug. “Surprise, hyung.”

Yoongi huffs at him, but his smile is wide and gummy and his eyes are bright. Namjoon takes a mental snapshot of it and tucks it into a corner of his heart for safekeeping, to look at it when he needs stability - a reminder of what this is all for.

That it’s going to be more than worth it.

_ _

 

Yoongi falls asleep an hour after takeoff, blanket pulled up to his chin and mouth open. Namjoon takes a picture on his phone and sends it to Hoseok. Gets a laughing emoji back and a picture of Hoseok on the couch, Holly on his chest and taking up nearly the whole frame.

 

_ _

 

It’s sunny but near freezing in Seoul when they touch down and Yoongi’s wool scarf nearly consumes his whole face as they leave the terminal at Incheon. Namjoon has a mask on, cap pulled low over his eyes. His goal is to slip back into the country as quietly as he left - to not let anyone know he’s back at all. He feels exposed, like he’s being watched, and he checks several times for hidden cameras before climbing into the back of the cab. He thought about calling his usual driver, but that felt too obvious.

So he rattles off his address, noticing Yoongi’s eyes widen.

“Trimage Towers?” he whispers.

Fortunately, the taxi driver doesn’t seem as shocked, merely nodding and punching the address into his phone.

“Yeah,” Namjoon whispers back.

He’s a little surprised that Yoongi’s heard of it, but maybe he shouldn’t be. Construction was well underway when they were trainees and already it was being advertised as soon-to-be one of the most luxurious apartment complexes in Seoul. They might have even talked about it, dreaming about living in a place like that. Namjoon’s realtor had actually encouraged him to buy something in Hannam the Hill or UN Village or Richensia, but a whole villa to himself had felt like far too much. Even now, his current apartment complex has an attached spa and indoor golf and a whole book cafe, and he still isn’t used to it. To people willing to wait on him constantly.

“Right,” Yoongi says now, shifting in his seat. “Right, okay. That’s cool.”

Namjoon wants to kiss him, touch him, but he doesn’t dare in public. “Is it weird?” he asks instead. “Being back?”

“Not really,” Yoongi says. “My brother lives here now, and I visit him sometimes. My parents are actually thinking about moving up here, too. My mother’s health hasn’t been the best, and I think my brother wants her close, so he can help my dad take care of her.”

“Shit, Yoongi.” Namjoon hadn’t known that, and he feels a rush of fear and sympathy. Things were rocky with Yoongi’s parents, back in their teenage years. Yoongi didn’t like to talk about it, but Namjoon had known they weren’t supporting him, were refusing to talk to him for leaving home. It seems those bridges have been mended, at least, but Yoongi’s been through enough. He doesn’t need to lose a parent on top of that.

“It’s okay,” Yoongi assures him. “It’s not life-threatening. Yet. She was a lot worse two years ago. I almost moved back to Daegu, I was so worried. They had to close the restaurant, running it was too taxing, but she’s doing a lot better now. And my brother’s looking after both of them.”

Namjoon nods. Lowers his voice. “Well … if you need help with anything. With hospital bills or anything, please, I can-”

“I don’t need your money, Namjoon,” Yoongi cuts him off, sharp, and Namjoon winces.

“Please, it’s not … what use is it, if I can’t do something good with it?” He puts a careful hand on Yoongi’s knee and leans closer, so the driver won’t hear over the trot music playing from the car speakers. “What good is it, if I can’t help the people I love? I promise it isn’t pity, hyung. Or charity. I …”

He doesn’t know how to explain that it feels like some of his money should belong to Yoongi and Hoseok, too, because in another life, they would have been on those stages with him, would have been earning royalties, would have buying their own luxury apartments in Seoul.

“Okay.” Yoongi softens and pats the hand Namjoon still has on his knee. “Okay, thank you.”

Namjoon nods and leans back. They pass the rest of the fifty-five minute drive in silence, until Namjoon directs the driver to drop them off outside the complex gates. Yoongi gapes up at the glittering apartment towers, whistling under his breath. Namjoon guides him inside to the gleaming front lobby with its expansive concierge desk - two immaculate women seated behind it in pressed uniforms, professional and welcoming smiles on their faces.

“Welcome back, Namjoon-nim,” the younger of the two says. Namjoon thinks her name is Minseo and is ashamed of himself for never learning it.

Possibly Minseo goes on to inform him that his apartment has been kept clean, as instructed, and to call if he needs anything. He notices her gaze darting curiously to Yoongi several times and has to fight off another wave of paranoia - the fear of an article in the tabloids tomorrow with the blaring headline: RAP MONSTER RETURNS TO SEOUL WITH MYSTERIOUS MAN. No one who works in this complex, which is full of other celebrities besides him, has ever leaked private information. That he knows of, anyway.

God.

“Thank you,” he tells Minseo and makes a beeline for the elevators, herding Yoongi inside.

“Hey,” Yoongi says, as Namjoon punches the button for the fortieth floor. “Breathe.”

“Sorry,” Namjoon says and tries to follow out Yoongi’s advice, letting out a shaky rush of air. “Sorry, I just … don’t like being back here.”

“I know,” Yoongi says simply and reaches for Namjoon’s hand. Namjoon recoils, then winces at Yoongi’s hurt expression.

“Sorry. Fuck, sorry. I just … there are cameras. In here.”

Cameras fucking everywhere, Namjoon thinks half-hysterically, even in darkened corners of restaurants.

“Okay.” Yoongi shoves his hands into the pockets his coat instead, but fortunately he doesn’t seem mad.  

(Namjoon hopes he isn’t mad.)

The doors open to a short hallway, lined with expensive art and decorative plants. Namjoon’s apartment is the last one, in the corner. It cost him nearly $1.6 million, and he doesn’t know if he should tell Yoongi that. If Yoongi will ask.

“This is me,” he says as he punches the passcode in. The door beeps and he swings it open, letting Yoongi pass him to enter first.

He tries to see the apartment through Yoongi’s eyes: the pristine hardwood floors, the white walls lined with more expensive art, the modern furniture that still looks brand new, the sweeping view of Seoul and the Han River beyond the large windows.

“Wow,” Yoongi says, turning in a slow circle. “I don’t think I realized how rich you are, Joon-ah.”

“I’m worth nearly eight millions US dollars,” Namjoon blurts out and watches Yoongi’s mouth drop open.

“Fuck,” Yoongi says with a shake of his head. “This place doesn’t feel like you, though. I feel like I’m standing in a fucking magazine.”

That’s an … accurate assessment, Namjoon thinks, glancing at the modern art and the black appliances. There isn’t a single personal touch in here, not even clutter.

“I got a decorator to do the whole thing,” he explains. Remembers his hand shaking as he signed the lease, unable to believe he was spending so much money and feeling, at twenty-two, so helplessly young. Remembers looking at the empty space and feeling out-of-depth and unworthy of it, of asking his realtor to find a designer to take care of furnishing it. He’d offered almost no input - too desperate to fit in, to seem professional and not a fucking kid no one would take seriously. As a result, he got a gorgeous apartment that he hated. That he never felt like he could live in.

“Ah,” Yoongi says with a quiet laugh. “That explains it.”

Namjoon lets him wander as he shrugs out of his coat and sets his suitcase by the couch. He drifts into the bathroom and Namjoon smiles at his exclamations over the complicated shower and large bathtub, eventually following the sound of his voice to find him predictably flopped on the bed.

“This is so comfortable, what the fuck?” he says, starfishing in the middle of the king-sized mattress. And that is one thing Namjoon loves about this place: the bed is absolutely incredible.

“You fucking me on this would be amazing,” Yoongi continues and now Namjoon is choking on air, too shocked for a reply. “Shit,” Yoongi says when he notices, sitting up with a red face. “I’m sorry, I’m used to Hoseok and, uh, not filtering myself.”

Namjoon recovers, though he’s sure his blush is still out of control, and lies down next to Yoongi. It’s been only two weeks into this new thing between the three of them and nothing intimate has happened yet beyond some kissing and cuddling. Not that Namjoon hasn’t had fantasies, but he’s been imagining them in bed for literal years so that’s not new territory.

“You … think about me fucking you?” he asks, still unsure of what he’s allowed.

“Of course,” Yoongi says, gaining some of his usual bluntness back. “I used to jerk off to the idea of it when we were trainees and now all my teenage fantasies are coming back. Especially because you’ve just gotten taller and more gorgeous and ugh. It’s a fucking problem, you know.”

No, Namjoon didn’t know, but he’s fizzy with elation. Yoongi thinks about him, too. Yoongi wants him.

“Not without Hoseok, though,” he says. “I don’t … I’m sorry, I don’t want to do anything without him. Not the first time.”

“No,” Yoongi agrees quietly, curling closer. “No, I want him there, too.” A smirk steals across his face. “Besides, he’s amazing in bed.”

“Really?” Namjoon asks, hoping his voice doesn’t sound too squeaky.

Yoongi hums. “He’s a dancer, so he’s got the legs and the core strength and the hips and it’s … wow .”

Yoongi whistles and Namjoon imagines, suddenly, Hoseok pinning him to the bed with his thighs on either side of Namjoon’s hips and has to bite back a groan, feeling his face flush all over again. Yoongi shoots him a knowing, pleased look.

“Yeah, exactly what you’re imagining.”

“Shut up,” Namjoon huffs, smacking Yoongi on the shoulder. “I refuse to get a boner when I can’t do anything about it.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Yoongi laughs and presses an apologetic kiss to his clothed shoulder. “I just … I’ve been wondering - have you? Been with anyone?”

“Women,” Namjoon says. “A few years ago, when I was trying not to be gay. Never a man. I was too afraid of risking it. Of ruining my career over a quick fuck or something. Ended up ruining it over a fucking kiss, instead, but still. Point stands.”

“So we’d be your first?” Yoongi asks, fingers coming up to brush through Namjoon’s hair, which helps with the nerves that have suddenly taken root in the pit of his stomach.

“Yeah,” Namjoon says, licking his lips. “So I’m sorry in advance for how horrible it’s probably going to be.”

“No,” Yoongi insists, gentle. “We’ll make it amazing for you, I promise. Way better than ours was.”

Namjoon’s heart simultaneously aches and thrills at the thought of them taking care of him, making him feel good, being with people who love him and getting to give them pleasure in return.

“When was that?” he asks, because he’s been curious but hasn’t dared ask.

“Literally the day before we left for the military,” Yoongi says with a laugh and a shake of his head. “I swear, we were like a fucking drama cliche. Had a big, sobbing love confession and then really romantic, but awkward first time sex and then pretty much didn’t see each other for two years.”

“Wow,” Namjoon says. “But that’s really sweet, though.”

“It was embarrassing,” Yoongi mutters, but he’s smiling. “But I don’t regret it. And we’re way better now. Pinky swear.”

He holds up his hand and Namjoon giggles at the ridiculous of it. Locks his pinky with Yoongi and shakes their hands up and down. “I’ll hold you to this, hyung. This is a binding contract. I expect my mind to be blown.”

“Oh, it will be,” Yoongi says and leans down to kiss him, hot and deep and wanting.

Namjoon groans into it, into the feel of Yoongi’s body curved towards his, but pulls away quickly. “Sorry,” he says, hoping he didn’t offend. “We’re back to the boner issue.”

Yoongi laughs at him, but it’s without mockery, and sits up. “Right, sorry. Show me the rest of this ridiculous apartment.”

“I’ll show you the most ridiculous part,” Namjoon says, clambering off the bed and over to the walk-in closet. He pulls open the doors and gestures Yoongi inside like he’s the doorman at a fancy establishment. Yoongi arches an eyebrow at him, but goes, pausing to let Namjoon flip on the light. Then he gasps, gaping at the rows of designer clothes and accessories and shoes.

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says.

“That’s Gucci.”

“And Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga and Mastermind and Supreme and Visvim…”

“Holy fucking shit.”

“Yeah.”

Yoongi tentatively touches a Visvim jacket that Namjoon’s pretty sure cost him several thousand dollars. He’s once again a little ashamed that he doesn't know the price - that he didn’t even think about it as he bought it, that somewhere along his rise to the top price tags became meaningless and inconsequential.

“Don’t tell me how much any of this stuff costs,” Yoongi declares. “I’ll have a heart attack. And what are you going to do with all of it? Ship it to New York?”

“No,” Namjoon says, nudging a fur-lined coat he vaguely remembers wearing on an MV two years ago. “None of this feels like me anymore. I want a fresh start.”

“You could use some color,” Yoongi agrees and Namjoon snorts.

“Says the person whose entire closet is monochrome.”

“Not my entire closet.” Yoongi picks up a pair of sunglasses and puts them on. They swallow nearly his whole face. “I buy black things because I like the color. You buy black things because you think they’re what you’re supposed to wear to make you look badass.”

Namjoon grimaces, though he knows Yoongi’s right. Yoongi’s always been the best at seeing him - at looking right past his armor to all his messy and vulnerable parts - and it seems like a seven-year separation hasn’t lessened his perception any.

“Well, I think I’m going to donate everything. I’m sure there’s an organization that’ll take them.” He’ll look it up tomorrow. For now, he holds up his phone and snaps a picture of Yoongi in those sunglasses. Sends it to Hoseok.

 

Hoseok

are you in a clothing store or smth?

 

Me

no my closet

 

Hoseok

ㅇㅁㅇ

tell yoongi he looks stupid

 

“Hobi says you look stupid,” Namjoon informs Yoongi and laughs when Yoongi flips him off.

 

Me

yoongi says ㅗ

 

Hoseok

ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ

 

Namjoon smiles fondly down at his phone. It’s early in New York, around six in the morning, so he can imagine Hoseok laughing at the kitchen table, surrounded by essays from his students with Holly curled up by his slippered feet. Misses him already, which is a familiar ache, but at least this time only temporary.

He’s going to hold on to that, and to Yoongi here with him, now setting the sunglasses carefully back with the others and giving him another knowing look.

He never knows how to respond to those looks, to the understanding and the sympathy in Yoongi’s eyes. So he just kisses Yoongi again, in the middle of his ridiculous closet, drinking in the solid weight of Yoongi against him, the anchor of Yoongi’s arms winding around his waist - like Yoongi’s become his gravity, keeping him tethered to the earth.

 

_ _

 

Some things are easy:

 

a) The donation of his clothing - two phone calls and it’s out of his hands, to be picked up in a few days and taken to a center somewhere.

b) The sale of his apartment - already prime and sought-after real estate, his realtor has a buyer lined up literally within forty-eight hours who is also willing to pay extra for all the furniture and art.

c) The settlement with his company - several hours in a stuffy boardroom going over the terms, then signing his name on a dozen dotted lines while his former bosses look on in grim disappointment.

d) The dismantling of his studio - he’s entitled to all the equipment he purchased with his own money and he spends the rest of that afternoon removing it, also to be donated.

 

And some things aren’t.

He spends another afternoon at his local draft board, undergoing a physical examination for his military service. Physical is a loose description, he thinks, because it isn’t just height and weight measurements and determining his fitness level. No, they ask him questions. Deep, personal and invasive questions about his mental state.

About his sexuality.

Are the rumors true? they want to know. All the stories printed about you?

“Yes,” he says and makes sure his voice doesn’t shake, because he won’t grant them any sign of weakness. “I’m gay.”

They nod, stone-faced, and disqualify him from service. The official reason, stamped onto the paperwork he’s given, is:  unfit due to a personality disorder.

He was expecting it - went to the draft board just to get it over with - but seeing it printed so starkly burns. He wants to scream all the way back to his apartment. Or punch something. His hands shake as he drops the offending papers onto his dining room table. Yoongi’s out with his brother and Hoseok’s sister tonight and Namjoon doesn’t want to bother him, but he’s going to climb the walls if he doesn’t talk to someone.

He calls Hoseok before he can stop himself, only realizing after Hoseok picks up and murmurs “Joon?” in a sleep-raspy voice that it’s four a.m. in Queens.

“Shit, Seok, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up, we can talk later.”

“No,” Hoseok says, a little clearer now. Namjoon can hear covers rustling, probably him sitting up in bed. “No it’s okay. What’s wrong?”

“I…” He hadn’t told them - that he was going to visit the draft board. Hadn’t wanted to worry them, which seems stupid now. “I went to the draft board. To see about enlistment.”

“What?” Hoseok sounds scared now, shit. “You were going to enlist? Now?

“No,” Namjoon hurries to assure him. “No, I … I needed to test a theory. They’re not gonna let me serve, Seok.” He laughs, bitter. “I have a personality disorder.”

“Fuck,” Hoseok says. “Namjoon…”

“You know what they’ll say, don’t you?” Namjoon says, digging the fingers of his free hand into his knee and trying not to tap his foot to let out of some of the anxious energy coursing through him.

“Yeah.”

Of course Hoseok knows. Everyone knows. You’re not a man if you don’t survive the military, if you don’t honor your country and do your duty as a citizen. And it would be one thing to have a physical injury that prevents you from it - everyone can understand that - but a personality disorder? Banned from service for your sexuality? It just feels like one more blow. One more thing he’ll never live down, one more way he’s disappointed his parents, shamed his family. And he’s so angry, so fucking furious he’s vibrating from the force of it - like a tsunami is building in his rib cage.   What gives them the right?

“I guess it doesn’t matter,” he says to Hoseok. “I’m already a pariah. What are a few more shitty articles, right?”

“I’m sorry,” Hoseok says. “I’m so sorry, Joon-ah.”

Namjoon shakes his head, hunching over. “No, it’s … I expected to be ashamed, you know? But I just want to find the biggest pride flag I can and run through Lotte World with it or something. That’s progress, right?”

Hoseok lets out a bark of laughter. “Man, imagine those headlines.”

“Rap Monster: Officially Insane,” Namjoon intones, deepening his voice.

“But it is progress,” Hoseok continues. “Fuck all of them. The media and the fucking draft board and the law that made me have to lie about Yoongi for two years. Fuck all of it, okay? I - what do all of us have in common? You and Seokjinnie and the kids and Yoongi and me?”

Sensing that Hoseok is building to a point, Namjoon leans back against the couch. “What?”

“We’re queer and we’re Korean,” Hoseok says. “How many more of us do you think there are, lying in the military or stuck in the closet? And I bet you some of them read all those shitty articles and thought ‘wow, Rap Monster’s gay. Like me. ’ Those are the people you should care about, Joon-ah. No one else matters - they don’t get a fucking say.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear this much,” Namjoon says to distract from the tears he can feel gathering in his eyes.

Hoseok laughs. “I’ve lived with Yoongi for nearly a decade, what do you expect? And were you not around when we were trainees? I swore all the fucking time.”

“Not around me.”

“Because you intimidated me. At first.”

“At first?”

“Yeah. Then I learned that you and Yoongi are both giant marshmallows.”

“What are you talking about, I’m very tough.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’ve even been called a badass.”

“Sure.”

“Fuck you.”

“If you like,” Hoseok teases. “And stop changing the subject. It’s okay to be angry, Joon-ah. Just … use that anger, yeah? For all the people calling you a pariah or a disgrace or whatever, I bet you there are plenty thinking of you as an inspiration."

Namjoon hadn’t considered that, but he forces himself to now. To think about what it meant when he found out what Same Love is about, or when he discovered Frank Ocean, or when he heard about Holland debuting and cried in his apartment - hand clutched over his aching heart. He’d wanted to send Holland flowers, or an encouraging message, even though they didn’t know each other and had never met, but in the end he’d been too afraid.

“So what you’re saying,” he gets out, wiping at his eyes, “is that I should definitely go take a giant pride flag to Lotte World.”

“If that would make you feel better,” Hoseok says, gentle.

“No, this is - this has already helped, thank you.”

“Of course.” Hoseok pauses, then adds, in almost a whisper. “I love you, Namjoon. I want you to be happy, and not afraid. And free. And all those good things, yeah?”

Namjoon swallows against a fresh wave of tears. “You love me, huh?” He wasn’t expecting it so soon, only three weeks after their messy confession, but they’re just going to keep blindsiding him, he thinks, and doesn’t mind at all.

“Yeah,” Hoseok says and Namjoon can picture his face scrunching up, disgusted at the sappiness. “Yeah, a part of me has always loved you. I just had to … dust it off. And absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? So I love you.” He pauses again. “Did I beat Yoongi to it?”

“You did,” Namjoon confirms, smile stretching his cheeks. His military papers feel almost completely forgotten, discarded on the couch next to him.

“Ha,” Hoseok says and Namjoon laughs, flopping further onto the couch. He wants Hoseok here so badly, curled up with him.

“I love you, too. Thank you.”

“Chin up, Joon-ah. We’ll get through this and then you’ll be back home.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait.”

“Soon,” Hoseok promises. “For now, I’m going back to bed. Holly’s glaring at me. Say hi to Yoongi for me.”

“I will,” Namjoon says, even though they have a new group chat that’s been very active since he got to Seoul and Hoseok said hi to Yoongi just this afternoon. “Goodnight, Seok.”

“Night, Joon-ah.”

He hangs up and goes to find a tissue to mop his face, unsure of how to untangle the emotions knotted in his chest.

 

_ _

 

He thought, briefly, about hiding the results from Yoongi, then kicked himself for even contemplating it. They all agreed to be honest with each other, going forward, and he can’t let his own fear get in the way of that.

So when Yoongi gets home from dinner, a little wine-flushed and smiley, Namjoon hands him the paper and watches him read it, smile dropping so fast it hurts.

“I already talked to Hobi,” he says as Yoongi’s grip on the paper tightens subtly. “I’m okay, hyung.”

“It’s such bullshit,” Yoongi says. “All of it.”

“It is,” Namjoon agrees and then Yoongi drops the paper in favor of hugging him tight, swaying up on his tiptoes to put his arms around Namjoon’s neck. Namjoon bends down, shifting them so can tuck his cheek against Yoongi’s shoulder.

“I know it doesn’t feel like it right now,” Yoongi says, cupping the back of Namjoon’s head with one big hand. “But you’re very brave, Joon-ah.”

It definitely doesn’t feel like it, but Namjoon is too tired to argue. He just lets Yoongi hold him, so glad he isn’t alone.

 

_ _

 

Some of his paranoia dissipates, after that. He stops giving a fuck about what people might think because he knows the headlines are already terrible, even if Yoongi’s forbidden him from looking at them. So he quietly shuts down his official Twitter account as Rap Monster and shutters his Instagram, as well. The company will release a statement about the settlement and the end of his career, and he feels bad for his silence, but he doesn’t think that anything he says will be enough. Not until he’s figured out whatever his next step is going to be.

For now, he goes up to Ilsan to see his parents. Tries to get the family dog to remember him and stop shying away. Tells them about the military and cries again on their couch as they hug him and assure him that they love him. That nothing is going to make them ashamed of him and it hurts, seeing the smearing of his reputation, but they’re always going to be proud of him.

He doesn’t tell them about Yoongi and Hoseok yet, but his mother’s gaze is knowing when she hands him leftovers to bring back for Yoongi.

“You’ll tell me?” she asks him, clutching his hands in hers. “When you’re ready?”

“I will,” he promises her through the seemingly permanent stone that’s taken up residence in his throat. “I won’t keep secrets, I promise, eomma.”

“Good,” she says and squeezes his hands. Doesn’t push him any further.

(He’s so lucky, he thinks. So, so lucky.)

_ _ 

 

For now, he takes Yoongi down to the Han River, like he dreamed of when they were trainees. They wear masks and baseball caps, but Namjoon holds Yoongi’s hand and refuses to let himself worry about photographers.

“I know it’s cold,” he says as they spread a blanket out on the grass, “but I’ve wanted to do this for years and I don’t know when we’ll be back.”

“It’s fine,” Yoongi says, settling down next to him. The tip of his nose is red from the cold and Namjoon wants to kiss it, but he isn’t that brave yet.

The river really is beautiful, with the early afternoon sunlight sparkling across its surface. Namjoon drapes an arm across Yoongi’s shoulders, tucking him into his side. “When I was a teenager, I thought coming here was the height of romance,” he says with a laugh.

“It’s very romantic,” Yoongi agrees easily. “I don’t think Hoseok and I have done anything like this.”

“Never?” Namjoon asks, surprised.

Yoongi shrugs. “We’ve done romantic things, like a fancy dinner or going dancing, but we’ve been pretty broke and neither of us are good at sweeping romantic gestures.” He elbows Namjoon gently. “That’s your department, I think.”

“I do like making them,” Namjoon admits. “I’ve never had the chance before.”

“We’ll brace ourselves, then,” Yoongi says, dry and teasing, but his smile suggests anticipation.

They watch the river together for a few minutes, listening to the wind and people milling about in busier sections of the park. Namjoon’s brain connects dots from romance to poetry to the worn book on Yoongi’s shelf that he’s been meaning to ask about for weeks.

“Yoongi,” he says now, “Richard Siken - what’s your favorite poem?”

“Ah,” Yoongi says. “I noticed you reading that. I should get you your own copy.”

“They’re good poems. I’ve never read anything like them before.”

“Me neither,” Yoongi says. “It felt like coming alive, a little, first time I read it. Like being understood.”

“Exactly. I felt … seen. In a weird way.”

Yoongi settles more comfortably against Namjoon’s chest, closing his eyes. “Okay, so I don’t remember the whole poem, but there’s a section of it that’s always reminded me of you. I don’t know how to explain it, exactly. It’s the last one in the book.” He licks his lips and switches to English, reciting, “‘you’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves you, but he loves you. And you feel like you’ve done something terrible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself a grave in the dirt, and you’re tired. You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to choke down the feeling, and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you don’t even have a name for.’”

“Hyung,” Namjoon whispers before the rest of his words fail him.

“There’s another one, from a different poem,” Yoongi continues. “Let me see if I remember it.

“‘Dear Forgiveness, you know that recently

we have had our difficulties and there are many things

I want to ask you.

I tried that one time, high school, second lunch, and then again,

years later, in the chlorinated pool.

I am still talking to you about help. I still do not have

these luxuries.

I have told you where I’m coming from, so put it together.

I want more applesauce. I want more seats reserved for heroes.

Dear Forgiveness, I saved a plate for you.

Quit milling around the yard and come inside.’”

“That’s beautiful,” Namjoon says quietly. He remembers reading the words and feeling them like a punch to the gut, but they sound even better in Yoongi’s low, rumbling voice. Soothing, in a way he wasn’t anticipating, even as they dig into him deep.

Yoongi hums. “It is. I’ve never been the best at forgiving. It’s been … a process.” He shrugs. “Everything is, though. Healing, especially.”

“I’m a little scared,” Namjoon admits. “That’s is going to be harder than I think.”

“Of course it will,” Yoongi says. “But people … they expect too much, want things to happen too quickly. Think that if you just find the right self-help book, or the right meditation practice, or the right therapist, or the right combination of pills - everything will magically get better and stay that way. But if you had to draw a graph of life, it wouldn’t just be a constantly ascending line, would it? We all have ups and downs and times we’re going to hit rock bottom. Healing isn’t a straight forward climb, Joon-ah. You shouldn’t expect it to be. It’s hard. It’ll make your fingers bleed and sometimes you’ll get buried in a fucking avalanche, but eventually you’ll look down and realize you’re in a better place than you were before. And that gives you the hope you need to keep going.”

He tilts his head back, peering up at Namjoon. “And not being alone helps, too. People climb in teams, usually. To keep with this stupid metaphor.”

“It’s a good metaphor,” Namjoon says and pulls him closer, dares to tuck his mask under his chin and press a kiss to Yoongi’s neck. “And you call me the brave one? You’re … you’ve always been incredible, Yoongi. I love you.”

Yoongi squirms, flushing at the compliment. “Well, everyone’s brave in different ways. But thank you. I love you, too.”

“You do, huh?” Namjoon asks, trying to keep the beaming elation rushing through him from showing too obviously on his face.

“Yes. And yes, I know Hoseok beat me. I’m doing it by the river, though, so I think I should get bonus points.”

“Is this a competition?” Namjoon teases.

“No,” Yoongi says. “But I should still get bonus points.”

Namjoon laughs and gives him one more kiss, on the corner of his mouth, before quickly pulling his mask back up. “Thank you. For the forgiveness, and making sure I’m not alone. I’m still scared, but I don’t know what I’d do without you or Hoseok right now.”

Yoongi smiles at him, eyes crinkling above his own mask. “You’re gonna be amazing, Joon-ah,” he says, like he’s stating a fact. “I’m sure of it. I always have been.”

And in that moment, Namjoon thinks that he could do anything.

Maybe even fly.

 

_ _

 

All together, it takes two and a half weeks to tie up the loose ends of his life in Seoul, and he would be worried about how fast the process was if he wasn’t so relieved to be leaving again. A part of him will miss this city - the sprawl and the rush and the surrounding mountains - but it no longer feels like home.

Home is Hoseok’s beaming face after they get through customs. He’s holding a handmade sign with their initials, hearts, and cartoon faces scribbled on it in colorful marker, and Namjoon’s so happy to see him that he doesn’t care about anyone who might be watching - just darts forward, Yoongi’s laughter trailing behind him, and sweeps Hoseok clean off his feet. Hoseok squawks, but lets himself be lifted and spun around in an exuberant circle.

“You missed me that much?” he asks when Namjoon sets him down.

“More,” Namjoon says, just for the look Hoseok fires him - like he isn’t sure if he’s elated or embarrassed on Namjoon’s behalf for the cheesiness.

“I missed you, too,” Yoongi drawls, catching up to them. “But not enough to pick you up, sorry.”

“Psh, you being gone is old news,” Hoseok says with a dismissive wave, then immediately contradicts his statement by pulling Yoongi into a hug. “But I still missed your face. A little. Mostly because Holly was sad you were gone.”

“I’ll make it up to him.” Yoongi presses his cheek against Hoseok’s, eyes closed, and it’s a little staggering, Namjoon thinks, watching Yoongi love. Knowing Yoongi loves him like this, too.

“Welcome home,” Hoseok says to them both.

Namjoon feels like he’s floating all the way to baggage claim, his arms linked with both of theirs.

Home.

He’s home.

 

_ _

 

He doesn’t want to leave, but he knows that he can’t stay with Hoseok and Yoongi forever. He needs his own space while they continue to figure out how to fit together. It’s a little weird, trading nights between their guest bedroom and their bed. He wants to be able to host for them, have them over, have some independence. It’s not healthy, continuing to live on top of each other during so much change and transition.  But he’s not sure how to broach that subject with them, so he starts looking for apartments quietly, while he waits for his permanent visa application to go through.

He’d like to stay in Queens, he decides, after contemplating Manhattan and Brooklyn on the suggestion of his new financial advisor (it feels weird, having his investments slowly spreading across two countries, but he didn’t want to let go of Korea completely). He doesn’t want anything flashy or expensive, he doesn’t want to spend millions, and he wants to stay close to Yoongi and Hoseok and the kids. (Seokjin has offered to let him keep working in the restaurant, paying him minimum wage to stay above board. Namjoon’s decided to take the paycheck and donate all of it to various local organizations.)

So he looks in Flushing and then in surrounding areas like Whitestone and Clearview and Murray Hill. Eventually, after two weeks of searching, he finds a small, but comfortable two-bedroom apartment in Beechurst, on a quiet street not far from the East River. It’s on the third floor of its brick-faced building, recently renovated with new appliances and hardwood floors and lots of natural light. Namjoon falls in love with it almost immediately, and puts an offer in right then and there.

It occurs to him, on the bus home, that he really is going to have to tell Yoongi and Hoseok now and his stomach flutters. He doesn’t think they’ll take it badly, but he doesn’t want it to seem like he’s been keeping things from them. There are just certain steps he needs to take on his own. Surely they’ll understand that?

He sends a text to their group chat, asking if they can talk tonight. He gets back an immediate thumbs up from Hoseok and a ‘sure’ from Yoongi two hours later, and tells himself that it will be fine. It’s going to be fine.

He contemplates, for a whole minute, trying to make them dinner, then remembers who exactly he is and orders takeout instead. Better not to announce he’s moving out after burning down their kitchen. They get home almost at the same time - both of them raising their eyebrows at the spread of Indian cuisine Namjoon’s laid out on the table.

“Are you breaking up with us?” Hoseok asks, toeing off his sneakers. His voice is light, but Namjoon still detects a hint of nerves in it.

“No.”

“Did someone die?” Yoongi asks.

“No. Just … I wanted to do something nice. For my, um, boyfriends.”

God, it’s a little weird, calling them that. It feels almost too … small. For everything they are. Too simple. But he hasn’t thought of anything better yet and they both assured him it’s okay - yes, they’re officially dating now.

“I don’t believe you,” Hoseok announces, taking a seat across from him. “You’ve got your shifty face on.”

“What?” Namjoon splutters. “I don’t have a shifty face.”

“You totally do,” Yoongi says, sitting down next to Namjoon. “It would come out every time you were cheating on your diet.”

“Or when you broke something and didn’t want to tell us.”

“And you’re definitely wearing it now.”

God, it’s really unfair when they gang up on him. He can never keep his composure, and sure enough Hoseok is in the middle of reaching for the rice when Namjoon says, “I bought an apartment. In Beechurst. Well, I put in an offer today.”

Hoseok freezes, rice slipping from chopsticks to splatter on the table and Yoongi twists in his seat to stare at Namjoon, eyes a little wide.

“I didn’t know you’d been looking,” Hoseok says after an awkward pause during which Namjoon has several small, successive breakdowns.

“I didn’t want to … I wanted to do it on my own. And I didn’t know how to tell you, I’m sorry.”

“We’re not mad,” Yoongi says quietly, putting a hand over Namjoon’s to still fingers that have started twitching restlessly.

“We understand,” Hoseok adds. “You wanting your own place. I just … I wish you’d told us, Joon. You don’t have to keep things from us.”

Yoongi nods. “I know it’s hard right now. That there’s … an imbalance. But it shouldn’t be me and Hoseok and then you. The three of us are in this together. We wouldn’t influence your decisions, but we’d like to have the chance to support you in them.”

Namjoon flushes and ducks his head. He’s not used to it: having a support system beyond the professional and his parents. It’s going to be an adjustment and he’s just now realizing how big of one. “You’re right,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Yoongi assures him and Hoseok nods to back them. “We demand pictures, though.”

Namjoon laughs. “I’ll show it to you in person if the sale goes through. But sure, I have pictures.”

 

_ _

 

He shows them together after dinner, all of them curled up in bed while Namjoon flicks through his phone - their heads resting on his shoulders.

“It’s nice,” Hoseok declares. “I like it.”

“It suits you,” Yoongi agrees.

“I really want it,” Namjoon says and they each take turns kissing him, gentle and slow.

His heart settles a little, after that. Another degree of calm creeping in.

 

_ _

 

The sale goes through a week later and Namjoon keeps his promise, taking Yoongi and Hoseok to see it.

“I’m going to decorate it myself this time,” he tells them as they all stand in the empty living room. He already has a vision forming in his head. “Hyung, would you be willing to donate some pictures?”

“Sure,” Yoongi says easily and Namjoon kisses him on the temple in thanks. He’s getting better, in increments, at initiating touch with them, at believing it’s okay for him to do so.  

“And I was thinking the second room could be a studio for now,” he continues. “Until I figure out if I want a separate place for that. And I’ll buy a couch with a pullout bed so the kids can stay over if they want. And if either of you have plant recommendations?”

“It sounds perfect, Joonie,” Hoseok says, grinning at him. “And yes, I’ve got a whole book on houseplants that’ll be yours soon.”

“Thank you,” Namjoon says and kisses him, too.

He brings the kids to help him pick out furniture, watching them flop on bed after bed as the slightly exasperated store manager looks on.

“This one,” Jimin declares on bed number ten and he’s yanked down into a cuddle pile of limbs.

It is a super comfortable bed, though - almost as good as his one in Seoul and more than big enough to fit him, Yoongi, and Hoseok (thank god they’re both small).

“Okay, I think you’re right,” he says.

“Of course I am,” Jimin says and Jungkook giggles.

Namjoon turns to him. “Hey, Kook-ah, that art in the guest bedroom at Yoongi and Hoseok’s - did you draw it?”

Jungkook’s eyes widen and he nods. “Yeah. Do you … do want me to draw you something?”

“Would you?”

“Yes,” Jungkook says, lighting up. “Of course.”

“And, Taehyung-ah, would you consider painting me something? If you have time?”

Taehyung seems taken aback by the request, but pleased, too. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “I’ll paint you something, hyung.”

“What about me?” Jimin demands, peeking over Taehyung’s shoulder.

“You can pick out my couch,” Namjoon decides and is relieved when that seems to satisfy Jimin.

 

_ _ 

 

The apartment comes together like that: in pieces.

 

  • Yoongi brings him framed photographs of New York and Seoul and he hangs them on the walls in his living room. 
  • Jungkook presents him with a sketch of himself, drawn from behind as he walks through what looks like a park in the rain - baseball cap on his head and long coat brushing his ankles and an umbrella shielding him from the downpour. He's not sure if Jungkook used a picture for reference, but the end result is incredible - Namjoon's never seen himself drawn in such a way before and he hangs it in the bedroom as Jungkook tries to brush off his praise.  
  • Taehyung gives him an abstract painting of shapes and patterns that Namjoon finds very soothing to look at, which he thinks was Taehyung’s goal and he honors it by giving the painting a special place across from his bed.
  • Jimin picks him out a comfortable, sectional green sofa with pull out bed, and a rug with yellows and blues in it.
  • Seokjin takes him to an antique furniture store in Astoria, and helps him select bookcases and  a nightstand and a coffee table.
  • Hoseok shows up one morning with a box full of small potted plants and an instruction manual, and by the time he leaves they’re dotting Namjoon’s windowsills and bookcases.

 

He throws a housewarming party a few days after moving in, with drinks and board games and instructions for everyone to bring a dish like the potlucks he’s heard about. He gets tipsy on wine and loses spectacularly at Monopoly, Uno, and Go Fish, and he can’t stop smiling all night - wakes up to aching cheeks the next morning.

 

_ _ 

 

His closet fills much more slowly. He shops at thrift stores and forces himself to pick color - to go off what Kim Namjoon wants to wear instead of what he thinks he should be putting on to maintain an image. Taehyung and Jimin come with him, the first few times, and pull out soft items: sweaters and baggy coats and patterned shirts and boots that are a little worn, but so comfortable he never wants to take them off.

He stares at himself in the dressing room during one of these trips and it feels a little like looking at stranger but not quite. Not someone completely new, but rather someone who’s been missing for a long time and has just now returned. He feels, absurdly, like he’s meeting Kim Namjoon again, watching him slowly and steadily take shape.

“Taehyung-ah,” he says, smoothing down the sides of the navy coat, “would you dye my hair?”

“Sure,” Taehyung agrees easily. “What color?”

“Lavender,” Namjoon says after a moment of contemplation. “Let’s go with lavender.”

 

_ _

 

“Wow,” Yoongi exclaims upon seeing the finished product, tiptoeing to touch the light purple strands. “You look really good.”

“You think so?” Namjoon asks. He’s been pausing all day after catching glimpses of himself in various mirrors, trying to decide if the color was a mistake or not. He can imagine what his old managers would say - too feminine, too soft, too  gay - and he’s been trying to drown out those voices, too.

“Well, I kind of want to climb you like a tree,” Hoseok says, “So my vote is yes.”

They’ve been taking it slow, in terms of intimacy. None of them are ready yet, Namjoon knows. They have years to fill in for each other and usually they spend their nights talking. He’s learned more about Yoongi’s and Hoseok’s enlistment and their college years - how bad the dorms sucked as freshman and the shitty apartment they lived in for the rest of their time as students, convinced that the mold or rats were going to kill them. In turn, he’s told them about his debut stage and how he vomited from nerves ten minutes before going on, about the first arena he played and the loneliness of his hotel room after the show was finished - when his veins were buzzing and there was almost no one to share the excitement with. There are parts they skip over to return to later - Yoongi’s depression; Hoseok’s homesickness; the year they apparently almost broke up because of both those things; Namjoon’s drinking - and Namjoon doesn’t mind.

They have plenty of time to dig all the roots up, expose everything to the sun, and plant new trees.

So they’ve been taking it slow - nothing beyond kisses and some rather chaste touching - but Hoseok and Yoongi still make comments like that from time to time, just to watch Namjoon blush and stutter. He hates feeling inexperienced, but they never make him ashamed of it.

“I’m seconding that vote,” Yoongi says now, waggling his eyebrows. Namjoon flicks him on the shoulder in retaliation.

“We should get a picture,” Hoseok says, pushing them together. “Come on.”

They squeeze Namjoon in the the middle and Hoseok holds up his phone. Right before he presses down on the button, Yoongi turns and kisses Namjoon on the cheek. It’s a little blurry, the final result, but Namjoon's pretty sure it’s his favorite picture that’s ever been taken of him, and the next day, he goes to a store to print it out.

He sticks it on his fridge, right at eye level so that it’s the first thing he sees when he comes out in the morning. A little reminder, like the kind Yoongi mentioned,  that he’s in a better place now - hope for the rest of the journey. 

_ _

 

He’s settling slowly, he thinks. Into his new life, into Hoseok and Yoongi, but he’s not completely there yet. Not entirely shaded in. The three of them are still gradually aligning their puzzle pieces, uncertain of what the full picture is going to look like, and then there is the music, h is very first love. He wants it back. Wants to make it his again. No labels, no companies, just him.

Well, not just him.

“Would you consider it?” he asks Hoseok and Yoongi over dinner one night, a month after moving into his new place. “Making music with me again?”

“You’d want us to?” Hoseok asks dubiously.

“I’ve always wanted you to,” Namjoon tells him, peeling open his chest cavity again - so they can see the still-mending mess inside. “I’ve wanted you on every stage I’ve ever been on.”

“I miss producing,” Yoongi admits softly. “But I don’t know if I want to perform again.”

“Me neither,” Hoseok says. “I’m not sure … I’m really rusty.”

“Then one song,” Namjoon presses gently, taking both of their hands. “Just make one song with me. We can start there.”

They trade a hesitant glance, but he can see the excitement slowly blooming across their faces.

“Okay,” Yoongi says at last, biting his lip shyly. “One song.”

“Yeah, one song couldn’t hurt, right?” Hoseok says with a grin.

Namjoon whoops, making them laugh, and kisses them each on the mouth, pouring his gratitude and anticipation and elation into the movement of his lips against theirs.

One song.

(But it feels like a new beginning.)

Chapter Text

The next six months of Namjoon's life unfold like this: 

 

MAY

Leaves fill in on the branches of the trees outside his apartment and the days grow longer, the heat slowly creeping back in as summer approaches. On one sun-drenched, breezy afternoon, he sits on the end of his bed, Hoseok pressed up against his back, and watches Yoongi take off his shirt with his heart pulsing in the back of his throat. They haven’t planned this, but it feels right. Feels necessary, almost, to strip back these final layers.

And Yoongi is beautiful, an expanse of pale skin, cheeks bloomed red under the weight of Namjoon’s and Hoseok’s gaze.

“Touch him,” Hoseok whispers into Namjoon’s ear and Namjoon’s fingers tremble as he brushes them over Yoongi’s sides, pausing when he catches on a thick scar he wasn’t expecting.

“My appendix ruptured,” Yoongi says. “Had to have emergency surgery.”

“We were in the military,” Hoseok says, voice a little tight with remembered anxiety. “I didn’t find out until months later.”

“I was fine,” Yoongi insists and moves Namjoon’s hands higher, back up his sides to his chest. Namjoon brushes tentatively over Yoongi’s nipples and watches his eyes flutter closed and his head tip back a little to expose the long line of his throat.

“He’s sensitive there,” Hoseok explains, chin hooked on Namjoon’s shoulder. “Add more pressure.” So Namjoon pinches, twists just a little, and feels the noise Yoongi makes shiver down his own spine like a phantom touch.

He shifts closer, pressing his lips to Yoongi’s soft belly, dropping his arms to wrap around Yoongi’s waist while Hoseok pets his hair and kisses the side of his neck, then murmurs, “go on, Joonie.”

So Namjoon lets his fingers curl in the waistband of Yoongi’s sweatpants, and he takes a shaky breath when Yoongi nods, when Yoongi rasps “yes” like he’s wanted this for years, too. And he’s so beautiful, Namjoon thinks as he pulls Yoongi’s sweatpants and underwear off, as he drinks in the sight of his smooth legs and his skinny hips and his pretty cock, already half hard.  As he feels Yoongi shudder under his touch, watches his little teeth sink into his lower lip.

He’s so fucking beautiful.

He wants to put his hands everywhere, wants to take Yoongi into his mouth and taste him, wants to open Yoongi up and slide inside - wants everything, and he’s paralyzed with it.

“It’s okay,” Hoseok says to him.

“Whatever you want,” Yoongi adds, shifting closer, bare skin against Namjoon’s clothed torso.

“Want to see you, too,” he says to Hoseok and Hoseok grins at him, like sunshine. Shimmies out his clothes much faster than Yoongi and god, he’s so beautiful, too - skin gold and legs muscled and strong and belly flat and smooth and cock perfect. He’s barely even touched them yet and this is already better than any of his fantasies.

“Wow,” he says and Hoseok laughs gently, leaning in to kiss him.

He tilts his head back and opens his mouth for Hoseok’s tongue, lets Hoseok press him into the mattress and Yoongi strip off his pants and underwear, gasps at the feel of Yoongi’s hands on his thighs - hot like a brand and climbing higher to where he’s already aching.

“Fuck, you’re gorgeous, Joon-ah,” Yoongi says and then Yoongi’s fingers are wrapping around him properly and Hoseok’s shifted to his neck, sucking on his sensitive skin, and all the thoughts fall out of Namjoon’s head.

He never quite regains them back, not as Hoseok walks him through opening Yoongi up, showing him the best way to curl his fingers to get Yoongi moaning, not as Yoongi sinks down onto him, slow, slow, slow and Namjoon nearly comes immediately just from the feel of him - steam-hot inside and so tight.

“You with me, Joon?” Yoongi pants, knees pressed into the bed on either side of Namjoon’s hips.

“Yes,” Namjoon manages to get out, running his hands reverently up Yoongi’s thighs. “Yes, fuck, you’re incredible. You feel so good, I’m so gay.”

Oh shit. He hadn’t meant to say that last part.

Yoongi dissolves into giggles, though, collapsing onto Namjoon’s chest and he can feel Hoseok cackling into his hair and he feels like he’s full of helium, so light and buoyant he’s floating on the ceiling.

“Glad we’re reaffirming that for you,” Hoseok says, laughter still in his voice, and kisses Namjoon’s temple, slides a hand down his body in a hot trail to where he’s buried in Yoongi and drinks up his answering gasp at the brush of fingers against the base of his cock.  

Then he shifts up to kiss Yoongi, hands on Yoongi’s hips to help him start moving, controlling his rhythm, and fuck okay that’s probably the hottest thing Namjoon’s ever seen in his life.

“‘M not gonna last ‘m sorry,” he mumbles and Yoongi cups his cheeks, tender.

“It’s okay. You feel so good in me, wanna feel you come.”

And it doesn’t take him long with Yoongi taking him so deep and Hoseok touching him and whispering encouragement into his ear. He groans as he tips over the edge, fingers dug into Yoongi’s sides while Yoongi braces above him and whimpers. While Hoseok presses against Yoongi’s back and strokes Yoongi to completion and Namjoon nearly shouts at the feel of Yoongi clenching around him, so over sensitive and drunk with it.

After, they lay Hoseok out and Yoongi guides Namjoon’s head down, pets his sweaty hair as he takes Hoseok into his mouth and discovers he likes this, too. It’s a foreign feeling, being so full, but he likes the ache of the stretch in his jaw and the way Hoseok’s thighs twitch on either side of his head. He’s inexperienced and a little awkward, he knows, not able to sink too deep and having to remind himself constantly to keep his teeth out of the way, but Hoseok still responds so beautifully and he still feels powerful, able to make Hoseok fall apart with just his lips and tongue.

“N-Namjoon,” Hoseok eventually stutters out in warning and Yoongi coaxes him off, takes his place. He watches, awed, as Hoseok comes with a half-strangled gasp and Yoongi’s throat works as he swallows. Watches Yoongi lick him clean and then kiss up his stomach while Hoseok pants and rubs the back of Yoongi’s neck.

He didn’t think it was possible to love them more, but he does. In this moment, he does.

“Good first time?” Yoongi asks him after they’ve cleaned up and pulled the top sheet over their bare bodies, cuddled together on the bed with Namjoon in the middle. (He loves it: the warmth of their skin against him.)

“Amazing, my mind is officially blown.”

“Good,” Yoongi says. “ I always keep my promises.” At Hoseok’s questioning look, he laughs. “I promised Namjoon his first time would be better than ours.”

Hoseok snorts. “I hope so, that’s a low bar.”

Yoongi reaches across Namjoon to smack Hoseok on the arm. “Fuck you, it was very emotional and special.”

“In all aspects except physical, it was amazing,” Hoseok agrees.

Yoongi shakes his head and flops over onto his back. He’s pushed his sweat-soaked hair off his forehead and his cheeks are still flushed, red trailing down his neck. Namjoon rubs his stomach because he’s allowed, trailing over to find the scar and stroke it gently, so glad that Yoongi was okay. His other arm is slowly going numb beneath Hoseok’s head, but he doesn’t care - not when Hoseok’s face is nuzzled into his neck.

Yoongi laughs suddenly. “Never thought I’d have a threesome.”

“Me neither,” Hoseok says.

“You never have before?” Namjoon asks.

Hoseok squints at him. “Have you?

“Once,” Namjoon mumbles, suddenly self-conscious. “With two girls. I, uh, this was way better.”

Hoseok whistles. “Wow, Joonie.”

Namjoon shakes his head. He’s not proud of it. He’d been drunk and sad and so, so desperate not to be what he knew he was so he’d gone out intending to pick up a girl and said yes when she asked to bring a friend. And then he’d thrown up in the bathroom right after and felt like the worst piece of shit.

“This is way better,” he repeats, determined not to start crying. “I love you both.”

Hoseok kisses his cheek in silent comfort and Yoongi’s lips find the curve of his shoulder.

“We thought about it,” Yoongi continues. “When we first moved here, I asked Hoseokie if he wanted an open relationship.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hoseok says, shaking his head and then reaching over to squeeze Yoongi’s hand tight. There is pain here, Namjoon can tell - see it in the furrow of Yoongi’s brow - and he strokes gently down Yoongi’s side.

“I wasn’t in the best place,” Yoongi murmurs, “and I was worried that I was holding him back. We’d been so restricted as trainees and in the military. I thought we both needed to loosen up, have some fun.”

“So then we discussed maybe inviting someone else into bed,” Hoseok says. “Taehyung probably would have been open to it.”

“Really?” Namjoon asks in surprise and Hoseok laughs.

“He had the biggest crush on Yoongi a few years ago.”

“He had a bigger one on you,” Yoongi argues.

Hoseok lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “Either way, that didn’t feel right. So we thought: okay, let’s go pick someone up. It could be fun. We went to a club in Manhattan and it was…” He trails off with a grimace.

“I saw Seok dancing with other people,” Yoongi sighs. “And it wasn’t even jealousy. I just became so fucking insecure. Convinced that all these men were so much hotter than me and probably not cripplingly depressed and Hoseok was gonna leave me for one of them. And then I had a panic attack in the bathroom.”

“Hyung,” Namjoon whispers in sympathy, squeezing Yoongi’s hip.

“Yeah, it was pathetic,” Yoongi huffs.

“No, it wasn’t,” Hoseok says, fierce. “It was us being idiots and not communicating. I was pretty okay with casual sex, but Yoongi wasn’t. So after I got him home, we let it all out - all of our fears and worries - and decided we were good with just the two of us. More than good.”

“But I’m different,” Namjoon guesses, shifting to glance at Yoongi.

“Of course you’re different,” Yoongi says. “You’re the opposite of casual. And I know Hoseok isn’t gonna leave me for you. You’ve … you’ve already got pieces of both of us, Joon-ah. This isn’t exactly building something new from the ground up. It’s … you’re bringing those pieces back. You’ve had them all along and now we’re just fitting them together again.”

Namjoon’s eyes well up. “Yoongi.”

“Yeah,” Hoseok huffs, sounding a little teary, as well. “What he said.”

Namjoon laughs so he won’t cry and kisses them both, one after the other. Watches them kiss, too - Hoseok’s hand on Yoongi’s neck and Yoongi pilant for him, mouth open to let him in.

And then the kisses turn to touching and soon they both have him gasping again.

 

_ _

 

Later, later - when it’s dark out and they’ve finally put on clothes and migrated to the sofa to wait for their pizza to arrive, when Namjoon is boneless and so happy he thinks he might combust - Yoongi throws his legs over both Namjoon’s and Hoseok’s laps and says softly, “I think we should have sex separately, too.”

Namjoon blinks in surprise, lifting his head. “Wait … I thought you and Hoseok already were?”

“Not since we confessed to you,” Hoseok says.

Wow. That’s… “Really?”

“It didn’t feel right,” Yoongi elaborates. “We don’t want it to be us and then you as someone we fuck once in awhile. That’s not what this is. So we decided to wait.”

“But it’s been over a month,” Namjoon continues, still trying to wrap his head around this.

“And we’re not horny teenagers,” Yoongi counters flatly, though there’s a smile in the corner of his mouth.

“I have been jerking off way more than usual,” Hoseok says with a slightly lecherous grin. “But that’s mostly been the sudden surge of new fantasies.”

“F-fantasies?” Namjoon stammers, hating the instant blush that’s once again taking over his face.

“I’ll tell you about them some time,” Hoseok says, grin turning into a predatory smirk, and Namjoon shivers, feeling hot and prickly all over.

Yoongi clears his throat. “Yes, good, back to our important relationship discussion.”

“Sorry, babe.” Hoseok pats his thigh. “I agree with you. ”

“Maybe you could each spend time here?” Namjoon suggests hesitantly. “Separately? And then I can come to the house on the weekends or something?”

“I like that,” Yoongi agrees and Hoseok nods.

“Thirding,” he says.

And because they’re ridiculous, they write up a schedule to start them out: Monday is a day for Namjoon to have to himself, Hoseok gets Tuesdays and Thursdays, Yoongi gets Wednesdays and Fridays, and the weekends are for three of them.

“Not that we can’t all see each other during the week,” Yoongi says as he writes it out. “Or change days, or anything. These are just … a guideline.”

“It’s okay,” Hoseok assures him. “I think it’ll be good.”

“Me too,” Namjoon agrees, giddy down his bones. “Really good.”

He pins the little post-it note to his fridge, next to the picture of the three of them, and he thinks he might be on top of the world.

 

_ _

 

JUNE

Gradually, some of Hoseok and Yoongi’s clothes migrate over to his apartment. They each get their own toothbrush that sits by his sink, and he stocks his pantry with their favorite foods, because even though he’s been taking lessons online, he’s still a pretty terrible cook and usually serves as an assistant while they handle dinner.

With the end of the school term, Hoseok’s schedule gets more and more busy - all his mentees free for the summer and more engaged with the programs at his center. He’s always tired when he comes over, smiling apologetically, and Namjoon assures him it’s okay. He doesn’t have to try to put in more effort than he’s capable of. He can doze off on the couch while Namjoon orders food and sometimes they don’t do more than that. Just eat and nap in front of the TV. Hoseok introduces him to American reality television, so sometimes they watch Say Yes to the Dress and America’s Next Top Model and Real Housewives of New York. Others, the TV stays off and Hoseok climbs into his lap and they kiss until both of them are loose-limbed and heated.

He fucks Hoseok for the first time like that: Hoseok pinning him down to the couch and whispering praise in his ear while he takes Namjoon to pieces with each snap of his hips, each clench of his body around Namjoon’s cock.

On one bad night, when Hoseok comes to him frustrated and teary over a kid he insists he’s failed, Namjoon gets on his knees in front of the couch instead. He feels fragile, a little uncertain, as he parts Hoseok’s legs, and says, “let me help, let me make you feel good.”

“You don’t have to,” Hoseok insists, but Namjoon wants. He always wants them.

So he sucks Hoseok off for the second time like that - Hoseok’s hands clenched tight in his hair and Hoseok’s sounds of pleasure loud in the otherwise still apartment. He swallows when Hoseok comes (the taste bitter but not as terrible as he feared) and kisses Hoseok’s quivering thighs, coaxing him back down from his orgasm. Marvels at how good Hoseok looks with the sunset at his back, framing him almost in silhouette. He gently bats Hoseok’s hands away when they reach for his belt and pulls Hoseok into his arms instead.

Lets him shake.

On a good night, Hoseok tries to remember all the girl group choreography he learned for fun as a trainee, dragging Namjoon in with him, and they’re both laughing so hard as they shake their hips to EXID that they can barely breathe.

“You’re amazing,” he tells Hoseok after they’ve collapsed on the floor, his head pillowed on Hoseok’s stomach. “I didn’t tell you that enough when we were trainees, I’m sorry. You’ve always been fucking amazing, Hope-ah.”

“I’ve never felt very amazing,” Hoseok admits. “But it helps, knowing you think I am.”

“I’ll always think you are,” Namjoon assures him and pushes his shirt up to plant a trail of kisses across his soft skin. “Always.”

_ _

 

With Yoongi, it’s a little quieter, but he’s always liked that: just being able to settle with Yoongi in ways he can’t with anyone else. They talk about music - their own and recommendations for each other. Yoongi cooks dinner, humming under his breath the whole time, and rambles to Namjoon about the latest documentary he’s watched on Netflix, or how the restaurant is doing. They get a little tipsy on wine and make out on Namjoon’s bed, Yoongi small and perfect beneath him, hips arching into his. They get off like that once, just moving against each other with their clothes half on, and Yoongi laughs in the aftermath, mumbling about being a teenager again while Namjoon shrugs, unapologetic.

Yoongi has his exhausted nights, too, when he comes straight over from the restaurant and looks like he can barely stand upright. Flops on the couch and mumbles apologies, so similar to Hoseok, while Namjoon tells him to shut up and rubs his feet. After a handful of these nights, Namjoon follows a hunch and buys a couple bath bombs from Lush.

“I have a surprise,” he tells Yoongi the next time Yoongi shows up late and Yoongi squints up at him blearily.

“Can I use your shower first?” he asks. “‘M a mess. There’s barbeque sauce in my hair.”

“Actually …” Namjoon says, taking Yoongi’s hands and walking him backwards towards the bathroom. He’d started running the bath when Yoongi texted him and it’s nearly full now. He turns off the tap while Yoongi’s eyes widen slightly in understanding.

“Pick one,” Namjoon says, holding out the bath bombs and Yoongi points to one Namjoon thinks is called twilight and is mostly lavender. He drops it into the tub, watching as it immediately starts to fizz and turn the water a soft pink. Then he starts on Yoongi’s clothes, helping him out of his white button-up and his slacks and underwear.

“I don’t know if we’ll both fit in your tub, Joon,” Yoongi murmurs, lifting his feet so Namjoon can tug off his socks.

“Not the point,” Namjoon says and coaxes him into the bath. “This is for you.”

Yoongi sinks down with a blissful sigh and keeps his eyes closed as Namjoon washes his hair and then the rest of his body, letting out an adorable little grunt when Namjoon’s hand drifts between his legs and grasps his hardening cock.

“Like this, okay?” Namjoon asks him, kissing his neck and uncaring of the edge of the tub digging into his stomach or the water that’s splashing on him from the movement of Yoongi’s hips. “Wanna watch you come.”

“Yes,” Yoongi says, voice trailing off into a whine as Namjoon strokes him. “Yes, yes, please .”

And who is Namjoon to deny him?

Sometimes, though, they end up in Namjoon’s makeshift studio and it feels like magic, having Yoongi next to him again, composing together.

“I missed you so much,” he tells Yoongi one night, blurting it out after Yoongi’s made a suggested to change to one of his lyrics. “I just … you have no idea how much I’ve missed you. It never felt the same after you were gone.”

Yoongi presses their foreheads together. “Missed you, too. Missed this, fuck.”

“Produce this album with me?” Namjoon asks, leaning back to grip Yoongi’s hands in his. “Please? I know you’re busy with the restaurant, but…”

I’ve wanted this for years, he forces himself not to say, not when Yoongi already knows.

“I’ll think about it,” Yoongi says after a moment of silence and Namjoon’s heart gives a familiar flip.

 

_ _

 

On the weekends, Namjoon takes the bus back to the house and gets attacked by an exuberant Holly as soon as he walks in the door. Laughs and scoops the dog up so Holly can lick his face, then goes to hug whoever’s home. Sometimes, things go quickly to the bedroom from there - all of them hungry for each other what feels like constantly, though it probably shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the years of pent-up longing they’re dealing with.

Other times, they take it slow, though. They talk, or go out. They visit the Mmuseumm in Chinatown and Hoseok complains about the creepy dolls, cringing behind Namjoon while Yoongi laughs. They get dinner after in a vintage tea parlor on Doyer Street and Namjoon eats so much dim sum he thinks he might burst. In the middle of the month, there is the Desfile de las Flores in Jackson Heights, featuring floats and stunning floral displays carried by silleros and traditional Colombian music and dance. Namjoon sees Vanessa again, there - wearing a colorful dress with flowers in her hair and a happy smile on her face. Laughs as she hugs him, a knowing look in her eyes.

“I’m glad you stayed,” she says.

He glances over to where Yoongi is talking to a man dressed in traditional Colombian clothing and holding an accordion, and then to Hoseok a few feet away, carrying on a loud and jubilant conversation in Spanish with some of the women who were dancing in the parade.

“Me too,” he says. “Really glad.”

_ _

 

Yoongi starts his vegetable garden in their little backyard, and Namjoon and Hoseok spend a weekend helping him set up the raised flower beds he built and plant all of the crops. It’s a good feeling, working with the earth and watching all of their new plants stretching their leaves in the sun. He notices, as he comes back inside, the book from Li Wei lying open on the kitchen table and smiles.

“There,” Yoongi says when they’re finished, stroking his fingers gently over the leaves of a cherry tomato plant. He leans closer and whispers, “grow big and strong, okay?”

Namjoon takes a collection of small herbs back to his own apartment - basil and mint and oregano - and arranges them carefully in his windowsill, where they can bask in the light.

 

_ _

 

JULY

Summer strikes with vengeance, temperatures climbing until Namjoon is in tank tops and shorts and buys several standing fans for his apartment. The cloying heat reminds him of Seoul, thick with humidity. They have trouble sleeping together, the three of them - too much body warmth in one bed, and so it becomes common to wake up and find that someone has migrated to the guest bedroom whenever Namjoon is staying over. Usually it’s Yoongi, but sometimes he’s the one that finds himself sneaking out - sticky with sweat and desperate for some fresh air. Sometimes, on lazy days, they’ll set up a fan in the living room of the house or Namjoon’s apartment and lie in front of it in their underwear. Yoongi even takes to putting ice packs in the fridge to cool them down, because they all live in old buildings where the air conditioning is spotty.

“Hate summer,” Yoongi whines on of those afternoons. He’s wearing the thinest pair of boxer shorts he can find and Namjoon really wants to kiss all the skin on display, but it’s way too hot for that.

“You hate winter, too,” he points out and Hoseok cackles from his other side. He’s got on a pair of yellow shorts that are also making Namjoon’s heat-addled brain short circuit.

“I need to live in a place where it’s just perpetually autumn” Yoongi grouses.

“Good luck with that, babe,” Hoseok says. “I don’t mind the heat, but if it’s gonna be hot, I’d rather there be a beach nearby.”

“Please don’t talk about the water when there is no water I can go to.” Namjoon groans.

“Fine,” Hoseok huffs. “Let’s talk about our song, instead.”

Namjoon perks up at that. He’d let it lie, after he’d originally talked with them about it a few months ago. Yoongi’s agreed to help with some of the producing for the album that he’s tentatively putting together - Jungkook willing to take extra shifts at the restaurant to help cover, since he’s a) on summer break and b) unfortunately didn’t get the film internship he was hoping for. But he knows Hoseok, especially, is nervous and reluctant, and hearing him bring it up sparks hope in Namjoon’s chest.

“What about it?” he asks.

Hoseok chews at his lip. “What do you want to do it about?”

Namjoon’s thought about this a lot, too - worried that there are still things they’ve left unspoken between the three of them. And … well … they’ve always been more honest in their music than anywhere else. At least, in the early days, when they were still together. Namjoon’s own music has never been honest, he thinks. Not in the ways that mattered.

“Us,” he says. “What happened. Where we are now. I … I want to dig it all up. Anything you think needs to be exposed, anything you need to still get out.”

“You’re sure?” Yoongi asks, wary.

“Yes,” Namjoon says. He’s already got a melody in his head, the beats lined up. Something with ups and down, but mostly fast. Intense. He thinks they all need it. “I figured we could write our own verses? And then if we want to do a chorus we can work together on that after, plus arrangement, etc.”

Hoseok hesitates for another long moment. “Okay.”

“Good with me,” Yoongi says.

“We could start recording next month?” Namjoon ventures, because he knows he always works best with a deadline.

“Sure,” Hoseok says and flops an arm over his face. He sounds confident, but he’s always been the best at masks out of the three of them. “Next month.”

_ _

 

Namjoon still likes working at the restaurant, even if his hands usually end up raw from the soap and hot water and his feet and back ache at the end of every shift. He likes the people he’s met: Aldane, one of the cooks, who is saving up for culinary school and has lived his whole life in Queens but still speaks with a hint of a Jamaican accent; Haeun, who usually works as a hostess and is always armed with pictures of her first child - a baby girl - that make Namjoon’s heart melt; Jiyoo, another one of the cooks, who insists on conversing with Namjoon only in Korean because she’s visiting her family in Yangju for the first time this fall and she’s worried about her accent. He likes working with his hands in a way that can let his mind wander, and he’s usually humming under his breath as he clears table - turning over new songs in his head.

His favorite shifts are the ones where he gets to close, though, in spite of the late hour. They lock the doors and someone puts music on - usually Kpop, but they also rotate through American hip hop, 90s hits, R&B, jazz, and Latin pop, depending on who’s in charge of the stereo - and they all set about cleaning and putting the chairs up while loudly singing along.

Usually, Seokjin or Yoongi stay in the kitchen to oversee proceedings there, but tonight they’re both working, so Yoongi takes the kitchen and Seokjin has been shooed out into the restaurant to help with sweeping since two of the other servers had to go home early and it’s only Taehyung and Jungkook left. Namjoon is clearing the last of the tables, filling his tub almost to the brim, while Jungkook comes along behind him and wipes them down. Taehyung is sweeping along with Jin - both of them gradually working their way into the middle of the restaurant. It’s Kpop, tonight, and SNSD is coming in faintly through the speakers. Namjoon only half-remembers the words to Gee, so he’s mumbling along rather than singing.

Suddenly, Taehyung stops sweeping and clears his throat, looking directly at Seokjin.

“I want to go on a date with you,” he announces into the quiet of the restaurant.

“Oh my god,” Jungkook says from a few tables away, eyes bugging wide. Namjoon trades amazed glances with him. It’s finally fucking happening, wow.

Seokjin doesn’t stop sweeping. “Of course you do,” he says, smirking at Taehyung and winking for good measure. “I’m a catch. I’d be insulted if you didn’t want to date me, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung takes a deep breath, hands tightening on the broom. “You are the most infuriating person I’ve ever met,” he says through what sounds like gritted teeth. “And I want to go on a date with you.”

Now, Seokjin stops, actually reading the expression on Taehyung’s face - which looks somewhere between stoic determination and barely suppressed panic. “Oh,” he says, his own voice suddenly soft and uncertain. “You’re … you’re serious?”

“Yes!” Taehyung exclaims. “I want to take you to a nice restaurant and eat food I can’t pronounce the name of and maybe hold your hand and kiss you at the end of it, does that sound okay with you, hyung?”

“Oh my god,” Jungkook repeats under his breath as Seokjin’s face goes blank.

Namjoon feels like he’s holding his own breath as the silence extends. Taehyung isn’t stammering or backtracking like Namjoon would be - just standing there, holding his broom and waiting for Seokjin’s answer, only his teeth worrying into his lip giving away his anxiety.

Seokjin finally throws his shoulders back and nods, decisive. “Yes,” he says. “Yes that would be very okay with me, Taehyung-ah.”

“Good,” Taehyung says, slumping in relief. “I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow. Please wear a suit.”

“Suit,” Seokjin says, still matching Taehyung’s seriousness. “Got it.”

And just like that, they go back to sweeping as though nothing happened. Namjoon gapes at them for a moment, and Jungkook makes a strangled noise, like he’s choking, but everyone does things differently, Namjoon supposes. Maybe Taehyung and Seokjin are just a little more sure of themselves than he was with Yoongi and Hoseok.

Of course, he re-evaluates this assessment when Seokjin politely excuses himself to the kitchen a few minutes later and he hears a somewhat frantic “Yoongi-yah!” before the doors close and drown him out again. Once they do, Taehyung immediately drops his broom and darts over to Namjoon, slamming into him and clinging like a frightened koala.

“Oh my god, hyung,” he says as Jungkook drifts over to rub his back. “Oh my god, he said yes.”

“Told you,” Namjoon points out gently and Taehyung beams at him, radiant.

“I’m so nervous,” he says. “And excited. Lots of butterflies.” He presses his hand to his stomach, as though he can calm the butterflies down that way. “He said yes.”

“He did,” Namjoon agrees. “And you’re gonna knock him off his feet, Taehyung-ah.”

“He won’t know what hit him,” Jungkook agrees.

Taehyung grins again, then freezes, eyes widening in panic. “Oh fuck, I don’t have a suit.”

And the only thing Namjoon can do is laugh - so hard that he almost starts crying. Then, he gives Taehyung Li Wei’s card - still in his wallet from all those months ago.

 

_ _

 

“How did it go?” he asks Taehyung two nights later and watches a shy, excited smile spread over Taehyung’s face, puffing up his cheeks.

“Really well,” he says. “Even though the food was too fancy and there was barely any of it and my suit was kind of suffocating. We’re going out again this weekend.”

Namjoon hugs him tight. “I’m proud of you, Taehyung-ah.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung says. “I’m proud of me, too. Oh! And I took a video of Jimin screeching at me when I told him about the date. Wanna see?”

“Definitely,” Namjoon says and huddles closer to watch.

 

_ _

 

Later, he goes back into the kitchen when a tub full of dishes to wash and notices Seokjin smiling in a way he’s never seen before - softer around the edges, like Seokjin is smiling for himself and no one else.

It’s good, he thinks, when things work out okay. When sometimes, things are easier than expected.

 

_ _

 

AUGUST

He rents a studio for them to record in, wanting the space and access to slightly higher quality equipment. Per agreement, they haven’t shown each other their verses beforehand. Namjoon just suggested a word for the theme: Tear.

(“Tear?” Yoongi said with a frown. “Like crying tears? Or tearing paper?”

“Whatever you want it to be,” Namjoon insisted and Hoseok sighed at him.)

But he knows they’ve been working on it - has seen Hoseok writing in the early hours of the morning when he thinks Namjoon is still asleep and caught a glimpse of some lyrics in one of Yoongi’s notebooks before he looked away.

(“English or Korean?” Yoongi asked him and it was a little strange, remembering that they’re probably more fluent than he is now.

“Whatever feels right,” he decided and then it was Yoongi's turn to sigh.)

The studio space is in Brooklyn, so they take the subway out together on Saturday, clutching iced coffees and moaning once again about the heat, even so early in the morning. Yoongi’s finally caved and put on a white t-shirt instead of his usual black, with a deep scoop neck, and shoved a baseball cap on his head while Namjoon and Hoseok have gone the tank top route.

“Okay,” Namjoon says after he checks in at the front desk. “Third floor.”

“I want to go first,” Hoseok says in the elevator, wringing his hands nervously. “Is that okay? I’m not … I’m not as good as the two of you, so I just want to … I’ll freak out if you go first.”

Yoongi frowns at him. “Seok-ah, you’re amazing, don’t say that.”

Hoseok just shakes his head and after exchanging a worried glance with Yoongi, Namjoon squeezes his shoulder. “Of course you can go first.”

“Thank you,” Hoseok says, a little terse.

Another worried look to Yoongi, who subtly shakes his head. Hoseok seems determined now, and there’s really nothing to do but get out of his way. He gave them a rough version of the track to listen to two weeks ago, enough for them get a sense of the beat, and Hoseok puts his headphones on without another word, waiting as Yoongi and Namjoon get set up at the control board.

“Okay,” Namjoon says, switching on the mic to the recording booth. “Whenever you’re ready, Hope-ah.”

Hoseok blows out a long breath, then nods. Namjoon starts the track.

And Hoseok…

Hoseok raps.

Namjoon feels his lips part in shock as Hoseok starts, furious and fast and fucking incredible. He’d forgotten, he realizes, just how good Hoseok was, back when they were trainees. (He should have been good enough for the company, for a debut of his own.) And now, Hoseok raps like the words are being wrenched out of him. Namjoon’s so caught up in watching him that he barely pays attention to the lyrics. It isn’t until Hoseok stops, panting into the mic, that the last line registers:

You were everything, step forward fear it will be repeated, caused by you.

Shit.

Then Hoseok is yanking off the headphones and fleeing the booth, door slamming shut behind him.

“Shit,” Yoongi says out loud, echoing Namjoon’s thoughts.

“I’ll go,” he says. This is between him and Hoseok.

He finds Hoseok in the bathroom, hands braced against the sink and head bowed - tension pulling his shoulders and spine taught as a bowstring.

“Seok,” he says softly, unsure of what he’s allowed in this moment.

“I’m sorry,” Hoseok says without lifting his head. His voice is wet and cracking. “I’m sorry, I…”

“Are you actually afraid of that?” Namjoon asks tentatively. “That this … that everything will happen again? That I’ll leave?”

Hoseok sighs. “Sometimes,” he admits and finally turns around. His cheeks are wet and he wipes angrily at his face. “Not often. I just … I realized, as I was writing, that there was stuff I never really dealt with, you know? I needed to be strong for Yoongi, so I just kind of … shoved it all down inside of me - all the heartbreak and the fear and the pain. I …” his face screws up. “I wanted it so badly, Namjoon. You have no idea how badly I-” he cuts himself off and shakes his head. “But I’m not angry with you right now. I’ve forgiven you. It’s just….”

“All of it is still there,” Namjoon says quietly, aching to hold him, but forcing himself to remain still until he knows it would be welcome.

“Yeah,” Hoseok admits. “It’s better than it was. It’s not … poisoning me or anything. I just didn’t dig up as much of it as I realized. And you leaving again - I think it would break me, if that happened.” His mouth twists. “I don’t like being that vulnerable.”

“I’m sorry,” Namjoon says, helpless. Maybe this song was a bad idea, after all.

Hoseok shakes his head, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s not your fault. It’s not … it’s my thing, yeah? It’s something I need to process. Get over. That isn’t on you at all, okay?”

Namjoon bites his lip and nods. It still kind of feels like it’s on him, just a little bit. “Can … do you want a hug?”

Hoseok relaxes and opens his arms, which Namjoon will take as a good sign. He crosses the remaining distance between them and pulls Hoseok into an embrace.

“I’m okay,” Hoseok tells him. “Really. I’m just not as introspective as you and Yoongi so stuff kinda blindsides me, sometimes.”

Namjoon laughs softly. “You’ve always been an enigma, Seok.”

“Even unto myself,” Hoseok agrees jokingly and steps back, wiping at his face one last time. It looks like the tears have stopped for now.

“Do you … do you want to stop all this?” Namjoon asks him. “We don’t have to do the song.”

To his relief, Hoseok shakes his head. “No, I want to keep going. I … that felt good. Cathartic. Unless I sounded terrible?”

“Hell no,” Namjoon insists. “You were amazing. I forgot how good you are. Fucking blindsided me.”

“Really?” Hoseok asks, surprised.

“Really, really,” Namjoon says.

A smile breaks slowly over Hoseok’s face - shy and pleased. “Okay, then. Let’s do the song.”

Namjoon hugs him one more time, tight, and they return to Yoongi together. He stands up as soon as they enter the room and makes a beeline for Hoseok. “Love.”

“I’m fine,” Hoseok assures him, letting Yoongi hug him. “I’m okay, Yoon. We’re good.”

Yoongi pulls back to stare at Hoseok, then over Hoseok’s shoulder to Namjoon, and whatever he finds in their expressions must be enough, because he nods. “Okay.” Then he cups Hoseok’s cheeks and reels him in for a kiss, ignoring his surprised squawk. “You were fucking amazing. Shit, Seok-ah. Rusty, my ass.”

Hoseok laughs. “I’ve been practicing,” he mumbles. “When I’ve had the house to myself.”

Yoongi grins at him, wide and gummy, and Namjoon feels a rush of anticipation.

Fuck, they’re really doing this.

 

_ _

 

Yoongi goes after Hoseok, and he’s just as good as the version of him in Namjoon's hazy memories. Better, even. His verse is raw and aching, too, not quite as angry as Hoseok’s was, but just as heartbroken. And then Namjoon in standing in front of the mic, sliding the headphones on, and he takes a deep breath of his own. Reaches down and pries apart his ribcage so that he can excavate all the sadness, all the guilt, all the longing and self-loathing and spill it into his voice.

It hurts, but he's digging up the roots, carving out the places that have rotted and broken to make room for new growth.

 

_ _

 

Back at the house, they crash into each other as soon as they lock the front door and it’s harsher, rougher, more desperate than they’ve allowed themselves to be before. But that’s okay, Namjoon thinks as he fists a hand in Yoongi’s hair and feels Hoseok digging bruises into his hips. They need this.

It feels like the last of the poison finally coming out.

 

_ _

 

SEPTEMBER

The last of summer is starting to fade, though the heat lingers, and the days are growing short again. Namjoon learns, at the beginning of the month, that his birthday, Jungkook’s birthday, and Chuseok all fall within two weeks of each other. Seokjin proposes one big celebration to cover all three events, since none of them are going home for the festival this year. He called his parents, hoping they would understand, and they simply made him promise to visit next fall. (“And bring your boys,” his mother said gently. He wasn’t brave enough to ask her exactly what she meant by that.)

So they close the restaurant early on Saturday and on one side they hang a giant, sparkly Happy Birthday banner and on the other they hang one that says Happy Chuseok in Hangul and English and features a cartoon rabbit family with songpyeon. The contrast between the two is ridiculous, but Namjoon loves it. Has already decided that this is the best birthday he’s ever had. Him and Jungkook get paper crowns as the birthday boys (“I tried to find gat,” Seokjin says as he fits the yellow one on Namjoon’s head, “but they were expensive.”) and little capes that look like they came from a cheap costume shop.

“No hanbok?” Jungkook teases, adjust his bright purple one. Seokjin scoffs.

“Do I look made of money to you?”

“You can order them on Amazon,” Taehyung points out. “I think they’re like forty dollars?”

“Yah, I’m not ordering hanbok from Amazon, ” Seokjin sniffs. Taehyung pouts at him, which results in him almost immediately softening and planting a kiss on Taehyung’s cheek.

(Two months in and not much has changed between the two of them, that Namjoon can tell. They still flirt like they’re two strangers meeting in a club for the first time and they still bicker like an old married couple when they’re not flirting, but he's caught glimpses of gentleness from both of them - hints at the depth of the feelings underneath.)

Yoongi and Seokjin were apparently in the kitchen all afternoon, refusing to let anyone help them, and the result is a feast that gets laid out on a long buffet table at the front of the restaurant: songpyeon and youngyang chaltteok and kkaennip jeon and gogi wanjajeon and nokdujeon and japchae and galbijjim and tteokgalbi and at least half a dozen side dishes. It looks like enough to feed a small army and Seokjin and Yoongi both seem exhausted but very proud.

“I expect you to eat all of this,” Seokjin declares, waving at the spread. “We’re not throwing any of it away.”

Fortunately, everyone seems more than up to the task. In addition to the kids and Seokjin, Namjoon is finally introduced to Wheein and her girlfriend, Hyejin. They goggle at him a little, but there is no mention of his celebrity status and five minutes later, Hyejin has challenged him to see who can fit the most songpyeon in their mouth at once. Unsurprisingly, she wins, but Namjoon walks away feeling like he’s just made two new friends. Henry is also there and like Seokjin, he looks like he would have made an incredible idol. He reminds Namjoon of Seokjin in other ways, too, with his vibrant personality and teasing nature. He sees, quickly, how someone like this would have been good for Hoseok.

They decide against traditional games, since Seokjin and Yoongi refuse to risk breaking anything, and settle for conversation and food and then pushing tables and chairs aside to dance. He still thinks he’s a pretty terrible dancer, but he’s several glasses of soju in at the moment, so he lets Jimin drag him on to the makeshift dance floor, then he dances with Taehyung, and then Hoseok, after that - none of them seeming to mind that he’s mostly a gangly, giggling mess, since they look just as happy.

Namjoon instilled a no gift policy for himself, but he got a book on film theory for Jungkook that Jimin mentioned Jungkook’s been eyeing. He presents it to Jungkook near the end of the night. Jungkook’s orange crown is askew and his purple cape migrated to Jimin at some point, but he beams when Namjoon hands the present over.

“Hyung, you shouldn’t have,” he says, looking down that the gift and then up at Namjoon with big, sparkly, slightly drunk eyes. “I didn’t get you anything.”

Namjoon pulls him into a hug. “You’re enough of a gift, Jungkook-ah. All of you. Happy birthday.”

“You, too,” Jungkook says, hugging him back and actually lifting him off his feet a little. “Love you, hyung.”

“Love you, too, Kook,” Namjoon says, warm down to his bones. “Love you, too.”

_ _

 

He’s sobered up quite a bit by the time him, Hoseok, and Yoongi get back to the house - everyone making the executive decision to do a deep clean of the restaurant tomorrow morning, since it’s already approaching one a.m..

In the living room, Yoongi sways up on his tiptoes to kiss Namjoon. He tastes sweet, like soju, and Namjoon hums happily, pulling him closer.

“Happy birthday,” Yoongi says, and then Namjoon notices Hoseok approaching with a wrapped box. His brow furrows.

“Wait, I said no gifts.”

Hoseok shrugs. “We didn’t think that applied to us. Open it.” He places the box in Namjoon’s palm.

Namjoon unwraps it carefully, revealing a jewelry box. And when he flicks open the lid there is a silver pendant inside, a crescent moon. “Oh,” he says softly, because it’s beautiful.

“We both got one, too,” Yoongi says, taking the necklace to fasten it around Namjoon’s neck. “Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but I have a star and Seok-ah’s got a sun.”

“Not cheesy,” Namjoon insists. “It’s beautiful. Are you already wearing yours?”

They both pull the necklaces out from underneath their shirts and Namjoon touches them reverently. He likes it, this little physical display of their commitment to each other. Not that their relationship doesn’t feel real, but - no one would suspect they’re on a date, when they go out just the three of them, and couples packages are built for two people. They don’t necessarily fit anywhere, but they fit with each other, and this feels like proof of that.

“I love them,” Namjoon announces. “Love you. Best birthday ever.”

Hoseok grins, pushing him towards the couch. “Bet we can make it even better.”

“Oh?” Namjoon asks, sinking down onto the cushions.

Yoongi drops to his knees, one smooth motion, and reaches for Namjoon’s waistband.

Oh,” Namjoon says, as Yoongi unzips his fly and Hoseok sucks a mark into the side of his neck, and everything rapidly dissolves into wet and heat and pleasure after that.

_ _

 

OCTOBER

Fall settles in and the leaves across the city begin to die. Namjoon breaks out his scarves and his soft sweaters and realizes, with something of a shock, that it’s been nearly eight months since he got on plane to JFK in the middle of the night. It feels both longer and not that long at the same time. But his plants are growing throughout his apartment and his closest in full of clothes he never would have dared to buy a few months ago. There is a rainbow sticker on his laptop and he was a little too nervous to go to Pride this year, but he’s already thinking about asking Hoseok and Yoongi if they want to go next June.  He can now cook at least five basic dishes on his own without burning anything and the kids haven taken full advantage of this, crashing in his living room at least once a week to be fed and study - at the start of their junior year and already knee deep in various projects. The album is coming together faster than he anticipated, full of songs he wrote years ago but didn’t fit with Rap Monster’s image or sound and so got shoved into a folder on his computer and almost forgotten. He thinks it might be ready this coming spring and the thought both terrifies and excites him.

“What are you going to call yourself?” Hoseok asks him one night. Him and Yoongi surprised Namjoon, who’s admittedly been holed up recording for the whole week, with dinner and then a very amazing and satisfying round of sex, and now they’re cuddled together in Namjoon’s bed, sated and sleepy.

Namjoon hums, petting Hoseok’s hair. “I was thinking of RM. It’s similar to Rap Monster, for any fans who might want to find me again, but … I don’t know. It feels like it suits me better.”

“What does it stand for?” Yoongi asks. “If you don’t want it to be short for Rap Monster?”

Namjoon blushes, scrubs a hand over his face. “I was, um, thinking … real me?”

Hoseok groans and Yoongi laughs.

“Shut up,” Namjoon says. “I know it’s cheesy!”

Hoseok noses at his cheek. “Sorry, sorry. It’s very cheesy, but it suits you.”

Yoongi makes a soft sound of agreement. “I like it. RM.”

“You two are never allowed to call me that, though,” Namjoon insists. “Please.”

“Of course not,” Yoongi says.

“You’re always just gonna be Joonie,” Hoseok adds and Namjoon relaxes. Good, he doesn’t want to be anyone else with them, ever.

“I love you, Joon-ah,” Yoongi says, pressing a kiss to his jaw. “And I’m really proud of you.”

“So proud.” A kiss to his temple from Hoseok. “Love you a whole lot.”

He cups the back of their heads, swallowing down his rising tears. “I couldn’t have done it without either of you. Thank you. And ... for our song. I want to credit you, is that okay?”

They exchange a glance.

“Not my real name, please,” Hoseok says.

“Same, I don’t want to use my real name,” Yoongi agrees.

Namjoon bites his lip, hesitating. “How … how would you feel about being Suga and J-Hope again? Just for our song.”

“Suga,” Yoongi laughs, resting his forehead against Namjoon’s shoulder. “Fuck, I almost forgot about that name.”

“It suits you,” Namjoon says. “I’ve always thought that.”

“J-Hope,” Hoseok singsongs, flopping back down, too. “I wouldn't mind it, I think. Feels weird, but not in a bad way.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi agrees, turning over onto his back, a flush on his cheeks. “Yeah, I’d be okay with being Suga again.”

“I’d credit you as a producer, too,” Namjoon insists.

“People will ask questions,” Yoongi points out.

“Doesn’t mean I have to answer them.”

Yoongi makes another low noise of agreement.

“RM, Suga, and J-Hope,” Hoseok says. “Can you believe it?”

“I know us not debuting together was mostly my fault, but I kind of want to send a copy of the album to the company with “fuck you” attached to it on a post-it note.”

Yoongi and Hoseok laugh.

“Fuck you, we made it,” Hoseok says through his giggles.

“You should also include a picture of us kissing,” Yoongi says. “Just to really rub it in.”

Namjoon cackles. “God, can you imagine the look on their faces?”

“Perfectly,” Yoongi says dryly and Namjoon kisses him, still laughing, then twists around to press his mouth to Hoseok’s, too.

“Love you both,” he says. “So fucking much. I’m so happy.”

“Me too,” Yoongi says, grinning gummy and bright and wonderful. “Really, really happy.”

“Me three,” Hoseok says, his own smile a little softer but just as radiant. “So happy I can’t believe it.”

Namjoon pulls them in closer, listens to them settle against him and beyond his apartment, rain beginning to drum on the roof and the street below.

Fuck you, he thinks to his company, to the tabloid that outed him, to every single shitty article, to all the hate online, to the supposed friends that abandoned him like he was toxic.

We made it.

Chapter Text

“and this is the map of my heart, the landscape

after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is

a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me

tight, it’s getting cold.”

Richard Siken

 

_ _

 

A year passes in what feels like a blink and suddenly it’s late winter again and there are patches of snow of the ground and the air bites his lungs when he goes outside. His hair is still lavender, because he likes the reminder that spring is coming around again - that the bare trees are going to bloom.

It’s late winter and he has eight songs that he’s pulled straight from his bleeding chest. Each of them hurts, each of them heals, each of them is  his. One belongs to Yoongi and Hoseok, as well, and that perhaps is the one he listens to the most because it feels weirdly like history correcting itself. Coming full circle. Like Arthur, the Once and Future King. They were, so many years ago, Suga, Rap Monster, and J-Hope, and here they are again - so very different and yet their voices blend just as well as they did before.

Namjoon has eight songs, and he thinks they’ll be enough, for a start. He thinks of the pendant that he wears around his neck every day and calls the album Moonchild.

(“I love it,” Yoongi tells him.

“It’s very you,” Hoseok says, his delicate fingers playing with the necklace resting against Namjoon’s bare chest.)

Eight songs - barely anything, and yet they all feel years long. In some ways, he supposes, they are. He’s been carrying them cocooned inside of him for so long, waiting for them to become butterflies.

His hands shake at one in the morning when he sets up an official Twitter account as RM. He takes a selca with his phone that’s a little grainy, very clearly amateur, but it feels appropriate. This is him without a company, without a label, without a barrier, sitting on his couch in pajama pants and a soft blue sweater that Taehyung told him went nice with his hair.

He feels vulnerable, like all his bones are on display - his messy innards. And it's terrifying, it's so fucking terrifying, but a part of him chose this the moment he refused to go back in the closet, refused to lie like everyone wanted him to, refused to keep hiding. And now it's time to honor that choice. So he sets the picture as his profile and he makes his account public, creating a first post to officially announce his return to the internet and tease about new music coming soon ... and then he shuts his laptop and crawls in bed between Yoongi and Hoseok because he doesn't want to be there for the initial comments, for the moment of discovery. Maybe people won't think this is an official account. Maybe they'll assume it's a hoax or a fan page. Or maybe he'll wake up to a flood of hatred.

 The chances feel 50/50.

 "Stop thinking so loud," Yoongi murmurs in his ear. "It's going to be okay."

"How do you know that?" Namjoon asks, because he's feeling very young right now and he needs reassurance and Yoongi has always been good at that, even when they were seventeen and eighteen and Yoongi was every inch as scared as he was.

"Because I choose to believe it," Yoongi says. "No one can know anything for certain, Joon-ah. You or I could go out tomorrow and get hit by a fucking bus. It's what you choose to put into the world, yeah? I decided, not soon enough, that I didn't want to live in fear of what might happen. That I wanted to look at the future and see hope there. So ... everything is going to be okay."

"You're both too introspective for your damn good," Hoseok mutters, sounding half-asleep. "Even if this tanks, Joonie, you'll still have us. The kids. Seokjin. That's the important stuff. So don't worry about everything else so much, okay? Go the fuck to sleep."

And Namjoon laughs, a band around his chest loosening just enough for him to breathe.

In the morning, his hands shake even more as he opens his laptop. As he stares at the follower count that has already swelled to over one hundred thousand overnight, a lot of them are Korean, but just as many aren’t - usernames in languages he doesn’t understand. Some have terrible things to say, and he blocks those without looking too closely at the comments, but a lot of them are excited. Are supportive.

(Maybe, just maybe, there are more people out there who don’t hate him than ones who do.)

Yoongi shuffles past, clutching a mug of coffee, and stops to rest his chin on top of Namjoon's head. "Told you," he says. "I'm always right about these things."

And Namjoon can't bring himself to argue.

_ _ 

 

(When he's first putting the album together, Yoongi mentions that Jungkook is actually a very good singer, and has Namjoon considered adding another musical guest to his lineup? Namjoon hasn't, but one song feels like it's missing something. So he invites Jungkook over to his apartment one Saturday morning and asks if he'd like to try recording with him. Jungkook's eyes grow even bigger than normal and his mouth drops open and he fidgets restlessly in his chair.

"Me?" he asks in shock. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," Namjoon says, because he's thought about this. About everything this song means and Jungkook in the theatre at the MOMA, saying that he doesn't want to be angry, explaining why he doesn't like Lee Changdong's films. "It's called Everythingoes."

Something like understanding crosses Jungkook's face, followed by wonder, followed acceptance. "Okay," he says and he looks radiant with excitement, seconds away from bouncing in place.

His voice is everything that Yoongi said it would be, everything Namjoon was hoping for, and when he's done singing, he wipes tears off his face and Namjoon gets up and pulls him into a hug, trying to convey his gratitude and his love through the press of his chest against Jungkook's and his fingers curled tight in the thin fabric of Jungkook's t-shirt.)

 

_ _ 

 

The follower count continues to balloon throughout the day. Two hundred thousand now. Three. He stops watching it. He doesn't search RM or Kim Namjoon or Rap Monster to find whatever articles are being printed or whatever speculation is happening in the social corners of the internet. He just lets everyone know, in Hangul and English, that the album is coming out in two weeks. That it's different than anything he's done before, but he's different now. He hopes, in the end, they can understand that. Maybe he isn't the only one out here trying to change.

And the two weeks pass so fast they feel like a train whipping by him on a subway platform - a rush of air and a screech of metal, gone in almost a blink. Suddenly, it's launch day and he feels like he's going to rattle out of his skin. Like suddenly his body has shrunk too small to contain the enormity of the hurricane raging inside of him - Category 5 winds lashing against his sternum.

("It's going to be okay," Yoongi tells him like a mantra. "It's going to be okay, Namjoon."

The others offer to come over, as well, but it's only Yoongi and Hoseok he wants. They should have been there for the very first album and it's only fitting that it’s them on either side of him for this one. He's releasing it on iTunes for only four dollars, and on Soundcloud completely free, because he doesn't need the money. Because this isn't about the money, not this time.)

Eight songs. All of them so personal they feel like living things - like ghosts that drift through his apartment when he can't sleep at night. When he stares at the ceiling and turns words over and over and over in his head.

The cover art is simple - just a full moon and a handful of fluffy clouds that he asked Jungkook to draw for him - and stripped back like everything else. He loves the artwork, is already planning on getting it framed, but he thinks the most important part is the dedication. He included it on the iTunes page and the SoundCloud page:

 

To Y & H,

 Thank you for loving me now and before, and for forgiving all the years in between. I'm so glad we made it and I love you to the moon and back.

 - Joon

 

They haven't seen it yet, weren't there when he set up the pages, and he's not sure he wants to be in the room when they read it, even though he's expressed that sentiment so many times over the past thirteen-odd months with his mouth and his hands and what feels like every centimeter of his body. This is the equivalent of shouting it from the Empire State Building, though - screaming it out over the tops of all the other skyscrapers, for millions of people to hear.

Fuck he's so scared, but he isn't taking any of it back. Not a single thing.

"Okay," he says with a deep breath. And another.

"Okay," he says and clicks the button in iTunes and then SoundCloud. "It's live."

Hoseok pulls him in for a kiss first, hand tangled in his hair. "So fucking proud of you," he breathes against Namjoon's lips and Namjoon can't seem to stop shaking.

He lets them take him to bed. Press him to the mattress with their fingers and their thighs and their hips. Peel away the barrier of his clothing and strip him of all his metaphorical armor and then take him apart in pieces - his mouth, his nipples, his stomach and thighs and lower - Yoongi's mouth on his cock and then Hoseok's and then both of them together, and he shakes shakes shakes as he watches them kiss against his skin, as he gives himself over to them completely and reminds himself that he is loved.

No matter what, by the two most important people in the world, he is loved.

(Even if the worst happens.)

 

_ _

 

 

(But the worst doesn't.)

 

_ _ 

 

The album ... charts. It hits number one on iTunes in 55 countries. It debuts at number 75 on the Billboard 200. It charts in Korea. Yes, it's number 98 out of 100 on the Gaon Albums Chart, but it's fucking there. He can't believe it. He stares at the page, at Moonchild right there in black and white letters, and he tries to decide if he should laugh or cry.

"I told you," Yoongi says again when he sees the numbers, pressing a searing kiss to Namjoon's temple. "I told you, Joon-ah."

Everything's going to be okay.

 

_ _

 

He reads the reviews, even though he knows that he probably shouldn’t. Most of them are largely positive, expressing surprised delight at his sudden shift in sound, at his transformation from Rap Monster into RM. They talk as though this was an instant change - like he went to bed as one thing and woke up another - and not a slow and painful evolution. A creature crawling from the boiling sea and learning to walk on land one agonizing step at a time.

But maybe that’s okay, he tells himself. Maybe they don’t need to understand - the important thing is that he’s walking on land, right? He’s become a butterfly. (People only ever really care about the butterfly and not the long process of metamorphosis.)

What’s more important are the messages the start trickling in - the people that begin to tweet at him. They thank him, for his bravery. They tell him that they’re like him. They tell him that they’re hiding and trying to figure out how to stop. He tries to encourage where he can, though it never feels like enough, and he stores each message in a box in the corner of his heart, thinking about what Hoseok said last year.

These are the people that matter. These are the ones he’s doing all this for.

Which is why he’s here now: in his studio three weeks after the album’s come out, adjusting his camera with unsteady hands. He doesn’t have access to VLive anymore, so he’s doing this on YouTube. He fluffs his hair, which Taehyung recently helped him dye to a kind of pinkish gold and smooths his hands down his yellow sweatshirt. Tries to remember the last time he did a livestream. Almost two years ago, maybe? In his apartment in Seoul, with a modern painting he’d never liked in the background, and dressed in all black. A big chain around his neck and hair platinum blonde and shaved at the sides.

There’s a plant behind his head now - a fern that he’s named Toru - and the edge of a Basquiat art print that Taehyung gifted him with, telling him that he needed some more color on the walls of his studio.

His mind feels like it’s going a million miles an hour as he clicks the button to take him live. He’s been debating doing this all week - nervous about actually sitting down in front a camera. But the speculation just keeps growing about his album dedication, about Y & H, about the rappers featured on Tear with him, about SUGA who has producing credit on all but two of the eight songs, and he feels that he should probably address some of it. He left without a word, too, and while he doesn’t owe anyone anything, he’s come to accept that, he still wants a chance to explain himself at least a little.

So he’s live and the viewers are pouring in. Once again, more than he expected: almost ten thousand people and climbing. He’s already decided that he’s going start in English and switch to Korean if need be. He tried to time this so it’s not the middle of the night in Korea, but he’s still not sure what the ratio will be.

In the end, it’s about seventy percent international and thirty percent Korean, spread out across over 50,000 viewers. He gives them a little tour of his studio, showing off his plants and the artwork and the little flags he’s put on his desk, a rainbow pride one for himself and Yoongi and a bi pride one for Hoseok.

Questions flood in after that, about the flags and his dedication and he hesitates here. It’s one thing to be dating a man, but two of them? At once? While they’re also dating each other? He knows that’s far less acceptable, and he hasn’t even told his parents yet (though he increasingly suspects that his mom somehow already knows, probably because of his incredible lack of subtly when it comes to how much he loves Hoseok and Yoongi).

But no more hiding, he told himself that. The ones that already hate him can continue to do so, and the ones that decide to hate him for this aren’t worth considering, anyway.

“They’re my partners,” he says into the camera. “I’m not … they’re going to stay anonymous for now, but they’re my partners. And yes, I’m dating them both. Yes, they know about each other, we're in a polyamorous relationship. Yes, they’re both men. Yes, the album dedication is for them - it wouldn’t have gotten made without them.”

Some people leave the chat and a few disgusted comments flood in, but then there are others like omg so cute! and are the flags for them? and that dedication was sooo romantic oh my god and he lets out a long, relieved breath.

“I love them both very much,” he says softly. “Let’s leave it there for now?”

And generally they do. Questions turn back to the album and what he’s doing now and his plans for the future.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to do a tour anytime soon?” he says, scratching his cheek. “It’s … logistically it’s a lot to plan, and I don’t have a company anymore. Or the resources I used to. And I think that maybe a little more personal healing needs to happen before I can consider getting on a big stage again. But I’ll think about doing a couple live sessions? Maybe we can start there? That way, everyone would get to listen, too, and not just an audience in one country.”

People seem to be very on board with his idea, at least. Many want to know if the guest rappers on Tear will perform with him and he smiles and promises that he’ll ask them.

Yes, he tells them, he’s going to stay in New York - officially immigrated last year - but he’ll back to Korea to visit. Yes, he’s really proud of the album. Thank you, he likes his hair, too, and the sweatshirt was a gift from a friend. Yes, he’s happier these days, more himself. No, he doesn’t think he’s going to go back to making the same music he used to. This is the first album that’s really felt like his in a very long time.

"The thing is," he says near the end, setting his phone on his desk so he can articulate this properly, "I wasn't myself. I was living a lie. From the clothes I was wearing to the music I was making to the apartment I was living in - none it felt genuine. It was an image I was projecting into the world. A carnival mask I was wearing. And behind that mask, I was crumbling. I'm not happy about what happened with the tabloid - who I wasn't going to name but you know what, fuck it. I'm not happy about what Dispatch did. It was fucking wrong - no one should be outed against their will. But I ... in the end it forced me out of hiding. Forced me to make a decision. And it was so hard, but I like to think I made the right one." He gestures to himself. "This is who I am. I need glasses because my eyesight is shit, especially when I read, and I like comfy sweaters and plants and walking through the city when it's raining and my partners would tell you I'm a massive nerd - and they would be right. Oh, and I'm gay, but I probably don't need to tell you that anymore, right? Anyway, the point is: Rap Monster wasn't real and I wanted to be real again. So hi. I guess I should have started with that. Hi." He waves at the camera. "I'm Kim Namjoon, but you can call me RM. I don't know where this journey is going to take us, but I'm excited to be on it with you. Thank you for loving the album. Thank you for accepting the new me. I'll work hard to bring you more music in the future. Until then, please take care of yourselves. And if you're still hiding parts of yourself from the world, please don't be ashamed of it. We're all on different journeys and you know the truth, no one can take that from you. I'm going to try hard to make my Twitter a safe place, too. You can come there and rest, if you need to."

He makes a heart with hands and blinks at the answering flood of hearts on the screen. Several people also include a stream of rainbows and he has to swallow back tears as he signs off. He sits in his studio for a long moment after, head tipped back against his chair as he breathes in and exhales out slow. That went ... better than expected. He's sure there will be articles tomorrow, screaming about the fact that Rap Monster is dating two men - the HORROR, the DEPRAVITY - but he doesn't intend on reading a single fucking one of them.

Instead, he goes to the house and he cuddles Holly and then cuddles Yoongi and Hoseok when they get home from work.

"Do you want us to watch it?" Hoseok asks.

"If you want, I don't mind," Namjoon tells him. "I talked about you a little bit. But nothing personal, I promise."

"Yah," Yoongi says, "we still haven't talked about that fucking dedication. Do you think it's okay to make me cry, Joon-ah?"

"Or me?" Hoseok asks, looking just as betrayed.

Namjoon threads his fingers through theirs and smiles sheepishly. "I just ... I love you. And I don't mind keeping that private, but I don't want to keep it hidden."

"You're the worst," Hoseok informs him, face scrunched up like he's disgusted, so Namjoon just presses their foreheads together. Hoseok grunts in protest but doesn't pull away, fingers curled in the sleeves of Namjoon's shirt. He feels the weight of Yoongi's chin on his shoulder, Yoongi's arm wind around his waist, and shifts to tuck his face against Hoseok's neck.

"I'm not taking any of it back. It's out there now, thousands of people have seen it."

"The worst," Hoseok says again.

"So terrible," Yoongi agrees. "But I love you."

"I mean," Hoseok says with a huff. "I guess I do, too."

Namjoon smiles.

 

_ _

 

He's not sure how it gets started, but he notices that not long after his livestream his fans (kind of hard to believe he still has those) have taken to calling themselves Moonchildren. He loves it, honestly, and he can't make an official fancafe or a fanclub like he would have in Korea so he settles for tweeting about it.

Love you, Moonchildren. It's your time.

 

_ _

 

 "I think I want to start a label," he says to Yoongi on one of their designated nights.

Hoseok is out with some friends from the dance studio, going to a club in Manhattan, but the two of them are exhausted after a long shift at the restaurant. Namjoon offered Yoongi a massage (has been watching YouTube tutorials since Yoongi complained about back aches last month) and now he's rubbing firm across Yoongi's bare shoulders, trying to work some of the knots out.

"A label?" Yoongi asks him, sounding a little sleepy. This probably isn't the best time for a serious conversation, but it's been bubbling inside of Namjoon for nearly a week and he can't keep it contained any longer.

"Yeah. Or maybe more than that? Like a record label that can sign artists, but also somewhere that provides resources to young artists, especially queer artists and artists of color. I want to help give them a platform."

He's been thinking about since he finished the album, turning over vague ideas in his head, and he knows it's a long way off - probably a couple years - but he's excited about it. About the possibilities.

"And a safe space, to grow in their craft."

Yoongi sits up, a soft expression on his face. "I would love that, Joon-ah," he says. "If you go forward with it, I want in. Whatever help I can give you."

"Thank you," Namjoon says, kissing him. He'd known that Hoseok and Yoongi would support him, but it's nice to have an actual declaration. "Now lie back down, I'm not finished yet."

"Aye, aye," Yoongi says in English, saluting him, and Namjoon laughs. Tickles his ribs in retaliation before he goes back to easing the tension in Yoongi's spine.

 And eventually, his hands drift a little lower, to the waistband of Yoongi's underwear, and he murmurs,"okay?" Yoongi nods and lifts his hips to help.

"Didn't know this was - ah - part of the massage program," he says as Namjoon's fingers brush gently over his rim.

 "For you it is," Namjoon says, kissing his shoulder, the back of his neck and drinking in the sounds he makes when the first, then the second finger slips inside.

 

_ _

 

He tells Hoseok about the program, too, the next day, and watches Hoseok's whole face light up. "God, Joonie, so many of my kids would kill to be a part of something like that. Sign me the fuck up."

 

Which means they're really doing this thing, and through his giddiness Namjoon thinks about what Yoongi said, not too long ago, about looking at the future and seeing hope.

 

_ _

 

Several magazines reach out for interviews, including one or two Korean ones, and Namjoon turns them all down. He's said everything he needs to say and he doesn't need a spread in a magazine to help him. This time around, it isn't about the fame. Or the money. Or how big of a stage he can play on.

So apart from a steadily growing fanbase that he tries to engage with regularly, his life remains pretty much the same. He still works at the restaurant, though now only two nights a week. He still goes on field trips with the kids and lets them wreck his living room with their various projects. Jimin is trying to teach him how to ballroom dance and he's not sure if he's actually making any improvements, but it's fun. Jungkook has shyly asked if Namjoon and Yoongi could show him more about music production, so now he comes over every other week to work with one or both of them on some songs. Taehyung landed a coveted spot in a big showcase at the end of the Spring semester and has taken to spending all his free time at the studio on campus, frantically trying to finish all his pieces in time. Namjoon brings him dinner, once in awhile, but mostly he thinks Seokjin's handling "not letting Taehyung work himself to death" duty very well.

(He says he has a lot of practice from dealing with Yoongi and no one argues that point.)

Some other artists reach out to him about collaborating, and he's excited about those possibilities, too. About the label that he's slowly drafting a business proposal for.

There are still people that hate him and still smear campaigns that run in various mediums both in Korea and internationally. There are still days when he can't handle being on the internet, when the urge to ball himself up and hide from the world becomes overwhelming. There are days where he second-guesses himself and days where he hates himself and days where he wants to drink until he passes out. Usually, he lets Hoseok and Yoongi hold him, then. Remind him of what's important. Remind that he's gained far more than he's given up. Remind him that life fucking sucks sometimes, but often tomorrow looks better than today.

He thinks he's healing, though, as winter begins to yield to Spring again. Even on the nights he can't sleep.

Like this one.

He finds himself in the living room at three a.m. with tea steaming in his Ryan mug. He thinks about Richard Siken and the poem that Yoongi recited for him in Seoul. Forgiveness, milling out in the yard. He imagines himself at that kitchen table, across from Forgiveness. Or maybe, actually, he's Forgiveness. And across from him is Kim Namjoon at eighteen, about to make the worst mistake of his life. Across from him is Rap Monster, hiding his eyes behind sunglasses and his insecurities behind a mask of confidence.

He imagines himself reaching out and taking their hands. Telling them it's alright now, do you see? we're alright, in the end.

He wonders if they would believe him. Maybe not. Maybe it doesn't matter. The important thing is this: the last piece of Guilt breaking loose from his chest with a crack of bone and the rush of air surging into his lungs.

(At last, he can fully breathe.)

Floorboards creak and there is Yoongi at the end of the hall, squinting and sleepy. "What are you doing?" he murmurs. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Namjoon says, rubbing at his chest where he can almost feel that age-old wound starting to close. "I'm good."

Yoongi huffs at him and holds up a hand. "Then come the fuck back to bed. It's freezing out here."

It is, Namjoon realizes. This house is old and the cold seeps through the edges of the windows easily. Spring is coming, but winter hasn't given up yet and they're expecting snow in the morning.

"Okay," he says and lets Yoongi take his hand. Lead him back down the hall to the bedroom. He lies down in the middle of the bed, feeling Yoongi slot against his back and Hoseok shift to him in sleep, arm draping across his side. Holly snuffles from the corner, chasing rabbits in his dreams, probably, and Namjoon nuzzles Hoseok's cheek while sinking back into Yoongi's hold.

Tomorrow will come, and even if it isn't better than today, it'll still be here. He'll still have it.

 And the important thing, the most important thing, is this: finally, he is where he belongs.

 

fin.