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The Cupcake Boys

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Seokjin barely has his foot in the door when the chaos begins.

“Hyung! Save me!” Is shouted from the other side of the room, a mop of black hair poking through the pink curtain that separates the kitchen from the rest of the store. When Seokjin makes the mistake of looking over, he’s met with a pair of desperate eyes and pouty lips.

“Brat, does it look like I’m in position to help you right now?” Seokjin holds up the drink holder that he supports with both hands, shaking it gently so that the sound of liquid sloshing around in the cups can be heard. It’s tempting to see how loud he can get, but Seokjin knows from past attempts that it only leads to coffee spilled on the kitchen floor.

“But hyung, ” Jungkook tries again, allowing the curtains to support his weight as he falls forward, using his grip on the fabric to keep him from falling all the way. “They’re scary!”

Seokjin wants to scold Jungkook for calling customers names when they could potentially hear him, but it’s hard to argue with Jungkook. Seokjin is blessed that Jungkook works six days a week even though he still has his senior year of high school to complete. Not that Seokjin necessarily hates working up front with the customers (some days, it’s his favorite thing to do) but he’s certainly glad he has Jungkook to sacrifice to the crowd of customers gathered at the counter on days like this.

Saturdays are easily the busiest day out of the week for SUGA Cakes, the small cupcake bakery that Kim Seokjin claims he gave birth to over five years ago (quite loudly, when Yoongi begs him to stop calling the store his ‘baby’ in public), only a few months after graduating high school. Sometimes, when Seokjin looks at the line that even goes out the door occasionally, customers impatiently waiting at a chance to get their hands on his creations, he can’t believe how far he’s made it.

He knows what makes Jungkook so anxious about working the register on Saturdays, and the reasoning why only makes him laugh. Saturdays are obviously busy because of the fact that it’s the weekend, but from 2-4 almost every week for the past year, the neighboring college’s clubs ended their weekend meetings and liked to celebrate at SUGA Cakes. It started with the girls’ volleyball club finding the small cupcake store, but apparently word spread like a wildfire at the college, and sooner than later it felt like almost every club used SUGA Cakes as their after-club chillout place. Seokjin doesn't mind; the more customers that walk in the door, the more money walks into the store.

However, Jungkook feels different about the situation.

“Kook,” Seokjin says, eyes darting down to the watch on his wrist; it’s only half past one, and while there are definitely customers rushing into the store, it’s not until the college students arrive that Jungkook gets antsy. “It’ll be fine. You ask them what they want, and they’ll point. What’s so hard about it?” He bites back his smile.

“Because they point at me !”

As the older between the two of them by six years, Seokjin knows it’s not appropriate to laugh; Jungkook’s feared-filled eyes are beyond serious, cheeks puffed out and looking five seconds away from resorting to begging.

Seokjin laughs.

“Tell ‘em you’re not on the menu,” Seokjin manages between his fits of laughter, a sound akin to a windshield wiper filling the kitchen. It’s enough to get the other man in the kitchen to stop what he’s doing and join the conversation.

“Unless they’re millionaires with generous wallets. Then tell one of us, so we can come up front and handle negotiations,” Min Yoongi says, and smirks.

Seokjin likes Yoongi for reasons like this. The attraction never reaches past anything platonic, but he really does like Yoongi. Yoongi tends to deny feeling the same way towards Seokjin, but what his words don’t say, his actions do. Like the way there was no questioning living arrangements when they graduated from high school; they were roommates without discussion, an arrangement that hasn’t changed in the past six years. Or it’s like how Yoongi volunteers to come in earlier in morning to help prep, even when Seokjin knows he’s been up all night because that’s just what Yoongi does.

Currently, Seokjin’s favorite display of affection from Yoongi is the soft pink hair he sports, a color that’s been there ever since Seokjin mentioned he’d like the color on Yoongi a few months ago.

“I’ll take over for you in ten, just give me a moment,” Seokjin finally says, watching Jungkook’s face of worry melt away, ignoring Yoongi’s snort in the background. He knows it’d be better to make Jungkook get used to the college crowd, but he likes the feeling of Jungkook telling him he’s the best when he relieves him.

Satisfied with Seokjin’s answer, Jungkook’s disappears to the other side of the curtain, and his voice taking the next customer in line’s order can be faintly heard from inside the kitchen, but it’s mostly covered by the sound of conversing customers and the playlist that Yoongi set up that plays in the store front.

“You’re too sweet on him,” Yoongi says once Jungkook leaves. It’s not a judgemental comment, the words almost void of emotion. If anything, it’s a simple observation.

“Of course I am,” Seokjin says, not interested in denying the fact. Instead, he walks up behind Yoongi, who’s in the middle of prepping the coffee frosting for the catering order tonight. Usually, Seokjin prefers to have catering orders done the morning of, but the event he’s dropping the cupcakes off at isn’t until eight, and they’ve only ordered two types of cupcakes: fifty mocha, fifty red velvet.

Seokjin looks at the cream cheese frosting before glancing at Yoongi, who’s already glaring.

“Hyung, don’t you dare even think about-”

Seokjin sticks his finger in the bowl, grinning widely at the younger before sticking his finger in his mouth, tasting the frosting. Not that he has any doubt that Yoongi makes anything but perfection, but he missed his own lunch period in exchange for grabbing coffee for Yoongi and himself, so his empty stomach craves anything, including a fingerful of frosting.

“God, you’re disgusting,” Yoongi groans, smacking Seokjin’s other hand away before he has the chance to strike again; at least he has the courtesy to not double dip. “What’s gonna happen when a customer one day sees you?”

“Then they’ll know where I get all my sweetness from,” Seokjin says, giving Yoongi his space and heading towards the sink. He sets down the drink holder on the counter next to the sink, which Yoongi and him have dubbed ‘the coffee counter’ because no matter how many time Seokjin washes it, it smells like coffee every time, thanks to all the spills that have happened on the counter. “I mean, haven’t you heard the saying, ‘you are what you eat’? Maybe you should try eating some more frosting.”

“I’m plenty sweet without the extra dose of diabetes,” Yoongi says, grabbing a tasting spoon and testing the frosting himself. He nods, content, and takes the paddle off the KitchenAid and removes the bowl, reaching for the plastic wrap before throwing it in the fridge to cool.

Once Yoongi puts everything away, he turns back to Seokjin, throwing up a peace sign right in front of his face, just below his eyes, wearing a gummy smile.

“I’m a sweet guy, a honey boy, really,” he says, eyes crinkling. They’re both laughing when Seokjin hands Yoongi his coffee, taking his own out of the carrier and throwing the last drink in the fridge so Jungkook can grab it for his lunch.

Ten minutes later, Seokjin’s coffee cup is thrown sadly into the trash, and he knows he’s going to have to go pee sooner than later after downing the drink so quickly, but he can basically smell Jungkook’s anxiety from the store, and knows it’s the smarter call to relieve his subordinate than himself, and he heads towards the front.

The line is long, and the few tables that SUGA Cakes has available to customers are full. It’s days like this that Seokjin considers investing in some more tables, but he’s also not ready to promote the store image as anything more than a place to buy and go, the existing tables only being there to fill up some of the empty space Seokjin couldn’t figure what to fill with.

The store hasn’t changed much from the day they opened. Seokjin was ready to open with a concrete floor, a homemade menu board with pictures printed off and a shelving system to store the cupcakes, but Yoongi refused to open the doors until he was able to call the insides perfection.

Which is the reasoning behind the layout. Seokjin remembers fighting Yoongi over the design; Yoongi wanted something more modern looking, and Seokjin insisted that pastels were the only way he could ever envision the shop. In the end, it resulted in a mix of the two, sleek designs, the color palette mostly black and white, but with light pink accents spread throughout the space. Even the design of the boxes the cupcakes are packed in reflects the theme that the two had decided on.

It’s the reason why, Jungkook, looking ready to run from behind the display cases and counter, is wearing a light pink T-shirt with SUGA Cakes written in black, cursive font across the front. The aprons that Seokjin and Yoongi wear in the back and sometimes come out front wearing have similar writing on the front, but the apron is black and consequently the writing is pink.

“‘Kay, brat, you’re good to go,” Seokjin says, patting Jungkook on the back. The younger, who just finished boxing up a customer’s order, looks Seokjin with the biggest of smiles before putting the box down, nodding to the customer he was dealing with, and runs to the back.

Seokjin faces the woman at the counter: not a regular, but it’s not her first time in the store if Seokjin’s memory is serving him right. She’s probably in her mid-thirties, and has a baby strapped to her chest.

“And is this going to be all for today?” Seokjin asks, gesturing to the box of cupcakes. There’s six, a variety of the regular-sized cupcake, and her total comes out to 23.50.

“God, why is everything so expensive? Hey, also, why isn’t there a bigger selection for sugar-free options? And it’s ridiculous that you don’t have any vegan options.”

Seokjin tries not to slam his face into the register.

 

***

It’s only 9:54 when Seokjin rushes to the front doors and locks them, flipping the open sign around. Technically, the store doesn’t close until ten on Saturdays, the latest out of the week, but Seokjin is beyond exhausted and Jungkook is practically sleeping against the wall. Yoongi is sleeping, but he’s done so in a better location on the chair that he’s pulled from the store front to back in the kitchen.

Jungkook and Seokjin rock-paper-scissors to see who has to wake Yoongi up, and while Jungkook is the one the loses, Seokjin’s loud shouts are what wakes the sleeping man.

“Is it time to go home?” Yoongi mumbles, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Out of the three of them, he’s been here the longest, showing up before noon when the store opens to help with preparing the catering order. His shift ended almost three hours ago, but he’s Jungkook’s ride home.

“See, hyung, you should’ve just gone home,” Jungkook says, offering a hand out to pull Yoongi up from the chair. “You know, I can always just bike home.”

This wakes Yoongi, and his expression matches Seokjin’s stern one, and Jungkook groans when he realizes he’s activated the older pair’s parental mode.

“You know how we feel about you going home alone in the dark,” Yoongi says, ruffling Jungkook’s hair when he sees how tense the younger boy’s expression is. “Especially with all that’s been going on recently.”

Jungkook’s annoyed expression reverts to something more sollem, shoulders drooping. No one in the community has been talking about it too much, but everyone is showing signs of being more wary, even in the most minor of aspects.

“Guys, I don’t even fit the profile,” Jungkook weakly protests, but he’s already thrown his bike helmet in his backpack, knowing it’s a lost battle.

Jungkook is right though; he doesn’t fit the profile. But Seokjin can’t help but worry.

The first girl went missing less than two weeks ago, on the fourth of the month. There was almost no fuss about her; a college girl going missing right after Spring break seemed more like a runaway than anything else. People dismissed her case.

Until a week later, another girl went missing, from the same college. And suddenly every news station out there was eating it up, blasting on the TV that the roads weren’t safe anymore. No ransom note ever showed up, but no bodies do either, and it’s the only solace in the whole situation.

Admittedly, Jungkook is no college girl, and there’s no real reason to be concerned over his safety when he’s been biking home in the dark for years now. But Seokjin figures there’s no good reason to risk Jungkook’s safety when both Seokjin and Yoongi are capable of transporting him places.

“Oh, don’t forget your cupcakes before you leave!” Seokjin suddenly remembers, breaking the tense mood and running back to the kitchen, which is now clean thanks to Yoongi, and grabs the box from the fridge and rushes back out.

“Again? Are you sure you’re not just going home and eating them all yourself?” Yoongi teases, but he looks genuinely curious.

This is the fifth week that Jungkook has requested the ‘throwaways’ at the end of the week. The throwaways are usually cupcakes that got frosted but didn’t get sold in their two-day sell period, or ones that got smudged and don’t look good enough for selling. Either way, Seokjin usually gathers those cupcakes up and either an employee takes them, or he donates them to the food pantry a block down. This happens about three times a week, depending on if there’s leftovers or not. If there’s only one or two, they more likely end up in Seokjin’s stomach than anywhere else. It’s not like they tasted bad, in fact, they tasted delicious, but not delicious enough to blend in with the rest of the freshly made cupcakes being sold.

“They’re not for me, I swear!” Jungkook whines, holding the box close to his chest. “It’s for Monday!”

Jungkook doesn’t work Sundays, so it makes sense to Seokjin that the youngest would grab whatever he needs for Monday tonight, but it doesn’t solve the mystery of what he’s doing with the cupcakes on Monday.

“Jungkook, you can’t bribe the teachers to give you better grades with my cupcakes,” Seokjin says. Mostly because he’s tried giving the teachers cupcakes in attempts to get them to raise Jungkook’s grades, but apparently teachers are stricter than when Seokjin was in high school, because his baked goods are certainly the only reason he was able to graduate.

“It’s not for the teachers either,” Jungkook says. His nose is scrunched, and Seokjin knows the youngest wants the conversation to end already, but where Yoongi is one not to push Jungkook too hard on things like this, Jungkook’s reluctance only makes Seokjin more curious. Jungkook knows this, and a moment later defeat plays across his face, and he sighs.

“It’s for my Japanese tutor,” Jungkook finally says, lips pouted. “Remember, hyung, you made me sign up for tutoring when you saw my grades?” Seokjin nods, vaguely remembering dragging Jungkook by the ear to talk to the Japanese teacher about ways to raise Jungkook’s grades before the quarter came to an end as Jungkook’s D in the class went onto his permanent record. “Anyway, I went the first week just because I half expected you to be there waiting for me-yes, hyung, you really are that extra-” Seokjin can’t argue because he remembers wanting to skip work to go check on Jungkook- “but when I got there, you weren’t, so I tried to skip, but the tutor caught me. Like, I’m fast, but he had long legs, and admittedly that had me a little distracted-”

“-God, Jungkook, please tell me you’re not using my cupcakes in attempts to seduce your fucking tutor.”

Jungkook’s eyes go wide, and he shakes his head fervently. “Not like that! But hyung, Namjoon-hyung is so cool. Like, he just explains everything so well, and when I try to tell him that, he just gets all humble and says it’s nothing, like, isn’t that so cool?” Jungkook takes a deep breath, collecting himself.

Seokjin doesn’t dare look over at Yoongi, who’s smug energy is drowning the oldest without him even seeing Yoongi smirk.

“Really, Kook? Out of all the people you know, and you think this Namjoon guy is cool?” Seokjin asks nonchalantly.

“Not just cool! God, hyung, I think he’s the coolest person I’ve ever met!”

Yoongi’s hunched over laughing, while Jungkook blinks blankly, looking between the Yoongi and Seokjin, the prior a laughing mess and the latter pale faced.

“C’mon kid, let’s get out of here before you break hyung’s heart any further,” Yoongi says when manages to catch a breath of air, obviously biting back his smile when he pats Jungkook on the back roughly.

Jungkook looks confused, but doesn’t question Yoongi, and they both wave and say goodnight before leaving the store through the back entrance, leaving Seokjin alone to mope as he finishes cleaning for the night.

Ideally, Jungkook stays back to help clean so Seokjin can move straight to the end of the night paperwork, but Seokjin already feels guilty enough for how many hours he keeps Jungkook in the store, even if he knows the boy wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jeon Jungkook is Seokjin’s ex… brother. Step-brother, to be specific, though the two have similar enough facial structure that people easily believe they're biologically related. In middle school when Seokjin’s mom first told him that she was getting remarried and that he’d have a new little brother, little Seokjin was appalled by the idea, because why did his mom need another son when she already had a perfect one?

In the end, it only took about five seconds of elementary school Jungkook looking up at Seokjin with his big, round eyes and fluttering lashes, for Seokjin to fall in love with the idea of being a big brother. In specific, being Jungkook’s big brother, because Seokjin loves doting on Jungkook, and loves having Jungkook look back at him like he’s the coolest person in the universe.

Except, apparently, now he isn’t. Which is fine, Seokjin tells himself. Jungkook’s eighteen years old now, and it’s fine that he doesn’t idolize his (sorta) older brother anymore. When their parents had gotten divorced Seokjin’s second year of high school, he had expected him and Jungkook’s relationship to fall apart, and experienced a similar feeling to the one he’s feeling now. Not heartbreak, but almost like he’s trained all his life just to lose in a tennis game against someone who’s never even picked up a racket.

Namjoon, huh?

If Seokjin is grumbling out the name while he aggressively wipes tables and sweeps the floor, no one has to know.

***

Seokjin has what he calls a love-hate relationship with Sundays.

On one hand, it’s Sunday. It means they might open a little earlier, but they do a lot of prep on Saturday for the very reason so they don’t have to come in until they’re about ready to open. More importantly, it means that Seokjin gets to kick (not literally, though he’s had wet dreams about it) customers out at 7:30, which is the most beautiful feeling in the world, especially when he knows he won’t have to come back to the store until 4:00 PM the next day, and it’s the closest thing he gets to a day off. For awhile, Yoongi and him debated closing the store completely on Sunday, or at least some other day of the week. But a day they’re not open is money lost, and the sad reality of the situation is both of them have forgotten what one even does with a day off besides sleep or get completely wasted, Seokjin being slightly more guilty of the second activity, but Yoongi has never left him without a drinking buddy.

The bad part of Sundays is that Seokjin actually forces Jungkook to take a day off. Partly because labor laws would have him paying Jungkook overtime that he can’t afford, but mostly because Seokjin agrees that it’d be nonsensical to yell at Jungkook for never doing his homework if he didn’t give him the time to do it. Not that he thinks Jungkook does his homework on Sundays; in fact, he’s almost one-hundred percent sure the younger spends his day off playing Overwatch for as many hours as his eyes can take it and then some. The point is that Jungkook’s not in the store, and because Yoongi tries (and occasionally succeeds, curse his small frame) to hide in the fridge every time Seokjin tries to make him work the counter, it means Seokjin is up front with customers all day.

It’s not so bad, he tells himself. Despite his love for baking, his hands get tired of being covered in sticky batter all the time, so working up front is a nice break. At least, it would be if the customers were decent, and a lot of them are, laughing along with Seokjin’s bad jokes that he’s admittedly just reading from a mental script at this point, and he’s sure some of the regulars have noticed.

But then later on a lady comes in claiming she bought a dozen cupcakes from the store a week ago and apparently didn’t like them, which is bad enough as it is, but she doesn’t even bother bringing a receipt and Seokjin barely can bite back his frustration when she starts demanding to be reimbursed. He’s about ready to grab a carrot cupcake, shout, “I couldn’t carrot all about your stupid reimbursement,” and shove it right in her face, but bless, Yoongi comes at the exact moment like he can sense Seokjin’s anger about to boil over, and before Seokjin can even recognize the fact that Yoongi’s voluntarily working the front counter outside of the time when Seokjin takes his break, he’s being shoved back into the kitchen.

A soft smile worms itself onto his face when he does realize, and it’s just one more reason to add to his list of why he really likes Min Yoongi.

Seokjin’s in the middle of filling piping bags with an irish buttercream frosting when Yoongi joins him in the kitchen, alerting him that the store is empty for now. There’s no reason to watch the front when there’s no one there, a bell attached to the door always ready to alert one of the two if a customer does show up, and Yoongi practically collapses in the chair that’s reserved for while they’re taking breaks. Or at least, that’s what Yoongi and Seokjin tell Jungkook when he’s around, but if he’s not around to see, Seokjin and Yoongi have fought to the brink of death over the one chair they have to rest on.

“I think we should switch to online ordering only,” Yoongi groans, leaning back, melting into the chair. “Like, seriously, how many people need to point at my hair? Yes, it’s pink. Yes, I’m cute, and unlike what the dumb fuckin’ hag who came in earlier said, it totally goes with my completely youthful and adorable face. And God, hyung, why does every customer want to question my authority?” He scrunches his face, and mocks what surely is a compilation of customers, “ I’d like to talk to the manager please .” He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Like, who do these idiots think this store is named after? Certainly not your dumb ass.”

Seokjin can’t help but smile as his friend rants, and chooses to add, “That’s only because you said Lejindary Cakes didn’t look as good.”

“Is that what I told you back then? Shit, I just really wanted the store to be named after me. Lejindary Cakes sounds fine.”

Seokjin doesn’t talk to Yoongi for a whole hour, mumbling about how he can’t believe he bought Yoongi’s lies when he said Lejindary Cakes would be a lame name all those years ago, because Seokjin knows it would’ve been a great name, just like he knew back then. When he does get around to speaking to Yoongi, who’s automatically sent into giggles every time Seokjin glares at him, it’s to discuss the word document he has pulled up on his laptop.

“‘Help Wanted’, huh? Sorry hyung, I don’t think all the help in the world could save you from the mess you are-” A (light) slap to Yoongi’s shoulder shushes him, and Seokjin faces Yoongi with a serious expression.

“It’s been almost six years since we opened the shop. We got Jungkook our third year, so don’t you think it’s about time to hire another employee?” Seokjin says, gesturing to both of them. “Look at us, we’re exhausted. And the shop’s doing well enough to afford someone new, so working to the bone like this at this point in time is just a strange display of masochism.”

“I thought you were into that kind of shit.”

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “First of all, this is kink-shaming free zone, and I’ll have no tolerance for it. Second of all, c’mon, what do you think?”

“Do we really need-”

The bells attached to the front door ring, and Seokjin can hear the small family that comes through the doors, the small children yelling and the mother begging them to be quiet for just a second.

“Rock-paper-scissors!”

There’s no warning of the game, and Seokjin’s not even sure which of them started it, but he does know that Yoongi’s hand is held out flat and Seokjin’s made the shape for scissors, and he smiles victoriously at the disappointed face of his roommate.

Yoongi grumbles, “Print that paper off tonight, and I’ll hang it up first thing when I show up Monday morning. But you have to be the one to reassure Jungkook that we’re not replacing him when he sees it.”

***

Without Jungkook in the store, when Yoongi goes home, it leaves Seokjin alone in the store. He doesn’t mind it at all; he sees Jungkook almost every day, and living with Yoongi means he’s never missing his presence too much. Being alone in the store means Seokjin sings loudly, belting out whatever tune is stuck in his head. Sometimes customers hear him singing, and it prompts them to throw extra bills in the tip jar Seokjin has set up next to the register after Jungkook’s relentless begging, as he had to admit, it’s nice to have a few extra dollars to pay for coffee.

They are allowed to close early on Sundays for a reason, and it shows by how slow business is, which only makes the day go by slower. When 7:29 finally rolls around, Seokjin is so excited he practically sprints to the door to lock it when he realizes he’s not alone in the store.

He’s not sure how he missed them, but in his defense, they are sitting in the furthest table from the front counter, and both of them have their backs facing Seokjin. They’re huddled over some paper on the table, and Seokjin catches sight of one of them scribbling randomness onto the paper.

Occasionally, there’s customers like them, that like to linger at the store much longer than necessary. Seokjin’s flips the open sign loudly, hoping that it’ll catch their attention and they’ll realize that it’s time to go, but it’s of no luck, both of them too focused on whatever they’re looking at. Maybe they’re students, and part of Seokjin wants to take pity on them if they’re studying and hates the idea of disrupting them, but Seokjin’s in much more of a mood to pity himself tonight, and he’s tired.

So he walks over to the table, gently resting his hand on the table and clearing his throat. One of the men looks up, and the moment he catches sight of Seokjin, his eyes widen. His jaw drops a little, leaving his mouth agape, like he didn’t expect Seokjin to be there. Which is strange, Seokjin thinks, because it’s his shop after all.

The panicking man kicks the other man under the table, and Seokjin admits to being caught off guard when the second man turns around.

“Kim Seokjin, right?” The second man says, voice deep. He takes his hood off, revealing long, silver bangs that go past his eyebrows and would cover his eyes if it weren’t for the way they’re slightly parted on the side. He’s undeniably handsome, like something that stepped out of the shoujo manga Seokjin’s seen Jungkook read before, his whole presence surrounded by sparkles.

“That’d be me,” Seokjin answers, hesitantly in his mind, but confidently to the two men in front of him. “Can I help you two with something?” He really hopes they respond with something about needing help leaving the store.

“I’m V from Vante Investigations,” The man (who is apparently a letter from the alphabet) says, and he points to the still-gaping man next to him, “and this is my partner, J-Hope. Would you mind if we asked you some questions?”

Seokjin doesn’t know why anyone would be investigating him, except maybe investigating if he puts crack in his cupcakes and that’s why they taste so good (he made the mistake of making this joke once, and a customer really did report him to the cops. To say the least, he doesn’t make that joke anymore).

V pulls out his phone, a moment later shoving it in Seokjin’s face. Seokjin looks at the screen, and squints at the picture displayed to him: a picture of a young woman, probably around college age. Her hair is long, black, and thrown back in a ponytail, and minimal makeup has been applied to her face. Something about her looks familiar, but Seokjin can’t pinpoint it.

Once Seokjin gets a good look at the picture, V swipes to the next picture. Another college-aged girl, though that’s where the similarities stop. Her hair is dyed a neon blue, paired with enough eyeliner to last an entire middle-school emo phase, and purple lipstick that Seokjin thinks actually is pretty cute. Again, she looks familiar, but it’s nothing that he can pass past the tip of his tongue.

There’s one more picture V shows him, and at this point, Seokjin is a little concerned why the silver-haired man has so many pictures of random college girls on his phone, but he figures that V can’t be any older than them, but he really doesn’t know what it would have to do with investigations, and he really doesn’t know what it has to do with him.

“Do you recognize any of these girls?” V asks, putting his phone away into his pocket, raising a single brow at Seokjin.

Seokjin frowns. “Now, look, I don’t know what you’re up to, and I really hate to be the one to lecture, but you really shouldn’t be bothering girls like this. Can’t you, like, I don’t know, just go talk to them normally?”

The other man, J-Hope, flushes bright red, pulling his cap tighter over his head, so only a few strands of light brown hair are visible. “Look, we’re not creepers, I promise.” He offers a smile, and Seokjin swears his mouth forms a small heart.

V sighs dramatically, throwing an arm around J-Hope. When Seokjin thinks about it harder, he can’t see any reason why the two of them would need to be creeping on girls; in fact, it feels like it would be the other way around, if anything. So he decides sharing information for whatever they’re investigating, whether its some scam, they are actually stalkers, or if they’re just messing around, won’t cause any harm.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them all around,” Seokjin admits. He’s actually sure the girl in the second picture is a regular at the shop, though he doesn’t recognize the brightly colored hair, her facial structure and taste in makeup remind him of a girl he’s seen around a good amount. “I mean, it’d be better to ask my cashier, he sees the customer's more than I do, but I like to think I know who I sell to.”

Suddenly, V stands up, and the stern expression Seokjin had witnessed only seconds earlier morphs into a broad smile, V’s eyes lit with excitement. He puts his hand on J-Hope’s shoulder, squeezing with more force than wanted judging by J-Hope’s sudden pained expression.

“I knew it!” V points at Seokjin. “I knew you would be the link I was looking for!”

Seokjin can’t help but put his hands in front of himself defensively, feeling under the spotlight with V’s finger pointed at him. “Okay?”

“The pictures I just showed you,” V explains, lowering his pointed hand to gesture to his phone in his pocket, “were of the three girls from the missing persons case. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

Seokjin frowns. “Three? There’s only two though.”

V shakes his head, still grinning, and he holding up a fist, ticking off fingers as he lists them out. “Missing as of April 4th, Kwak Heiran. Missing as of April 13th, Song Jaehwa.” When he ticks off the third finger, his expression turns grim. “And reported missing this morning, Jang Soojin.”

J-Hope adds to V’s words. “All three girls are from the same college, but besides that, there’s nothing to tie them together. Not the same grades, not the same friend groups, not the same majors. Nothing to hint at why they were targeted.”

V nods and tilts his head, gaze boring into Seokjin as if he’s hiding all the answers within his soul.

“Except now we have a hint. They were all customers here. I don’t know why yet, but Kim Seokjin, your shop is the key to solving this case.”

Chapter Text

One of Seokjin’s favorite parts about Monday mornings is that he doesn’t have to use an alarm clock. He doesn’t have to pick up Jungkook until four.

So, in reality, Seokjin’s favorite part of Monday morning is that it doesn’t exist; his real wakeup call isn’t until around twelve, when his body naturally wakes him up.

The smell of coffee already fills the apartment, and Seokjin tries to think of a location in his life that doesn’t reek of coffee and comes up answerless, because wherever Seokjin goes, Yoongi goes, and so does his addiction to coffee.

Seokjin groggily leaves his room, not bothering to change out of his pajamas. He doesn’t expect to see Yoongi in any better condition, the only alert his roommate is actually awake being the quiet humming coming from the kitchen.

“Why are you up so early?” Seokjin groans, stumbling over to Yoongi until he can engulf the smaller in a hug from behind while Yoongi sips away at the coffee mug in his hand. It’s obvious how tired Yoongi is by the way he doesn’t bother shaking Seokjin off.

“Who said I went to bed?”

Too many years between them have passed for Seokjin to bother bugging Yoongi about his sleeping habits, but he can’t help the sigh that escapes his lips. “I suppose you don’t want to try going to sleep now? I’ll even go in first and you can pick up Jungkook?”

“Sleep, and cheat on my true love?” He nuzzles the coffee cup, eyes lidded. “What type of man do you think I am?”

Sometimes, just sometimes, Seokjin can’t help but think Yoongi is a little weird. Which works perfectly, because sometimes, Seokjin is also a little weird. But in moments like this, he thinks about how he should be used to weird things at this point.

He told Yoongi about Vante Investigations the moment he got home, relaying the story to his roommate. When he explained the end, Seokjin was starting to fear that it might’ve all been some strange, lucid dream, because his interaction with V and J-Hope ended almost immediately after V’s reveal, the man shouting thank you a second later and dashing out the door, with J-Hope following after shrugging and offering Seokjin an apologetic look.

The only thing that reassures him that it was real is the fact that when he checked the news that night, sure enough, as V had said, another victim was added to the list of missing students from the college. According to the TV, the school’s only response is to close for a few days until they can ‘figure out security’. It sounds like they’re trying to install false security into the student body, but Seokjin decides to leave his judgement behind and turns off the TV.

Seokjin spends the rest of his free time finishing the household chores that haven’t been done in a week, a process he keeps promising he won’t put off until his day off every week, yet nothing has ever changed. At this point, Seokjin can fold an entire load of laundry in the less than two minutes, and finish washing the dishes in a little over five.

In the middle of his cleaning, it becomes time for Yoongi to leave, about twenty before three. From their apartment, it’s about a twenty-five minute drive to the shop, but Seokjin tends to make it in twenty and Yoongi somehow manages to get there in fifteen. There’s no catering order or especially large amount of prep that needs to be done, but Seokjin knows it circles back to the fact that neither of them know what to do with a day off, especially since it’s too early to start drinking.

Then before Seokjin knows it, the alarm on his phone is going off, signaling that it’s time to go pick up Jungkook. The high school is a little out of his way when driving to work, but it’s only by a few minutes and Seokjin lives for pulling up to the front of Jungkook’s school and honking his horn loud enough that everyone looks at him and consequently embarasses Jungkook.

And that’s what he does today as well, honking and rolling down his windows so he can call out Jungkook’s name. Some of the other high schoolers wave back, because they’re used to Seokjin’s shenanigans by now, and quite frankly, Seokjin’s pretty sure he’s famous at Jungkook’s school now.

Once Seokjin is sure that he’s grabbed Jungkook’s attention, he pulls into the closest parking spot and walks over to the front doors, waving at a few students who stare at him, and even sending out a couple of winks. A few months ago, he had even tried passing out business cards, but then the principal had come out and requested he didn’t do so, and so Seokjin had to settle for giving Jungkook the cards to hand out. Some of the kids come for the cupcakes, some to see Jungkook, some to see Seokjin and even a few of them have asked for Yoongi on the occasion, recognizing the shortest of the group from the few times he’s picked up Jungkook as well.

Seokjin expects to find Jungkook waiting for him, nose scrunched in feigned(?) disgust at the sight of Seokjin, but when Seokjin finally spots Jungkook amongst the crowd of students, he’s shocked to see that the boy isn’t alone like usual.

The first thing Seokjin sees is purple. Not a dark purple, but perhaps a shade between that and lavender. The unnaturally colored hair stands out in the midst of high schoolers who aren’t allowed to dye their hair yet, but somehow it barely holds Seokjin’s attention. Instead, his eyes travel down to the black turtleneck that’s tucked tightly by a pair of dark skinny jeans. Seokjin’s not sure what to focus on: the long legs that never seem to end, or thick thighs the jeans hug tightly.

“Kook!”

The purple-haired man turns around as Jungkook does, and Seokjin quickly acknowledges how attractive Jungkook’s acquaintance is. His attention is drawn to a pair of full lips that are pulled into a smile, paired with a dimple on each side. The man’s eyes are crinkled from his smile, and while they widen by a fraction when he catches sight of Seokjin, they quickly return to their smiling state.

It’s a bit distracting, but Seokjin manages to revert his attention back to Jungkook. The boy’s school uniform is messy, blue tie loosely hanging from his neck, a smidgen of chest showing from where the buttons at the top have been undone, and the bottom of his shirt is half-untucked. Both of his hands grip the handles of his backpack.

“Oh, hyung,” Jungkook says, and Seokjin grins, but then- “it looks like my ride’s here.”

Seokjin figured the purple-haired man next to Jungkook was older, and it’s not like Seokjin’s the only person Jungkook calls ‘hyung’, but it’s still a punch to the gut to just be Jungkook’s ride .

“Oh, you must be Seokjin-ssi,” Jungkook’s friend(?) says, sticking out a hand. Seokjin’s a little disgruntled from Jungkook’s greeting, but he’s a naturally friendly soul, and the nature of his job makes it easy to meet and befriend new people.

“That’d be me,” Seokjin says, taking his hand and shaking it. He notices how his own hand, which he considers around average size, disappears into the handshake, Jungkook’s friend’s hand almost completely covering his own. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you around before. You must be…?”

“Oh, that’s usually because I have to run off to class right after the lessons,” he explains, hand still in contact with Seokjin’s. “I’m Jungkook’s Japanese tutor.”

Seokjin’s grip suddenly increases, and he can’t help how his eyes narrow.

“You must be Namjoon then.”

Namjoon . The name he spent a good hour cursing at as he cleaned the store, all because Jungkook decided that Namjoon is cooler than Seokjin, even though Seokjin reminds Jungkook all the time that he practically raised him (he especially likes to remind Jungkook of all the times he’s changed his diaper, which Jungkook will promptly respond that they didn’t even know each other back then, and even if they did, five-year old Seokjin probably would’ve accidentally killed baby Jungkook).

Seokjin takes another glance at Namjoon’s face; first, reading his confused expression, probably due to the unknown causes of the malice in Seokjin’s voice, and second, trying to figure out what has Jungkook so enamoured. Jungkook’s a passionate kid, but he hasn’t gotten to a point in his life where his passion has ever been directed at another person outside of family, except maybe the exception of Yoongi, but even he was practically forced to be part of their family with Seokjin’s influences.

When Namjoon realizes Seokjin’s staring at him, his smile turns shy, and a hint of pink colors his cheeks, almost disguised by his naturally tanned color. He drops Seokjin’s hand, and cups the back of his neck. “Ah, yeah, that’s me.” He purses his lips, eyes asking the unspoken question: why do you know my name?

Seokjin’s suddenly in a video game, and he’s at the part where the hero has to choose between two options to decide his fate. He looks at Jungkook, whose eyes are bulging out of their sockets as he realizes his mistake. Then he looks at Namjoon, who looks completely clueless, eyes darting back and forth between Seokjin and Jungkook.

Choice one: Dismiss Namjoon’s questions, denying that Jungkook has ever talked about Namjoon and how cool he is.

Choice two: Expose Jungkook.

When Seokjin plays video games, he prefers to go down the evil route, simply because it’s usually more interesting than playing the good guy. Plus, the bad guys usually get better outfits. Both of his options seem equally evil, until he puts more thought into it. If he falls for Jungkook’s begging eyes for him to shut up, then he gets to ignore Namjoon’s question, also omitting the fact that Jungkook thinks Namjoon is cooler than him. But betraying Jungkook and siding with the enemy (who is obviously Namjoon)? True evil at its finest.

“Jungkook’s mentioned you a lot,” Seokjin says, casually throwing an arm around Jungkook’s shoulders with a firm squeeze. On the outside, it might look friendly, but in reality it’s a defense maneuver to stop Jungkook from attacking him.

“I told him how much you’ve taught me!” Jungkook quickly cuts in, pitch higher than normal. Tugging on Seokjin’s hand, Jungkook says, “Namjoon-hyung has been super helpful! It’s thanks to him that I got full marks on my last quiz!”

Namjoon shakes his head. “It’s only because you put the effort into it,” he says, patting Jungkook on the head, the boy’s eyes beaming. Then his gaze shifts over to Seokjin. “Your brother is really passionate about the subject, so it helps.”

Seokjin snorts. “The only thing he’s passionate about is being able to watch anime without subtitles,” he says, recalling Jungkook’s explanation when Seokjin asked him why he even bothered taking Japanese.

Namjoon laughs. “Is that so? Then I’ll have to incorporate it into our next lesson, hm?”

Jungkook’s eyes light up. “Really? Hyung, you’re the best!”

Namjoon looks like he wants to respond, probably something dumb and humble, and Seokjin doesn’t like where this is going; it’s a little too much complimenting Namjoon and not enough loving Seokjin.

So he changes the subject, figuring it’s about time he found out more about Namjoon outside of what Jungkook has to say.

“So you have class after the lessons, usually? Why not today?” Seokjin keeps his tone nonchalant, even though he’s really hoping to catch something good. Maybe Namjoon is actually a serial skipper of class and is a bad influence on Jungkook, and needs to be removed from his life immediately, because everyone knows the only bad influence allowed in Jungkook’s life is Seokjin.

Namjoon’s smile drops, forehead wrinkling and eyes casting downward. “Um, I’m sure you’ve heard about missing girls, right? I go to school there.”

Seokjin immediately regrets bringing up the topic, because not only is the air incredibly tense, but Namjoon’s expression has completely sobered.

Luckily, Seokjin doesn’t have to think of something to say, because suddenly a loud voice joins them.

Namjoonie !” A new man appears, probably around the same age as Namjoon, but around the same height as Yoongi. His dark hair is pushed back with the exception of a few strands, and it allows Seokjin to take a proper look at his face. The facial features plus the slight accent when he calls out Namjoon’s name gives him the feel of a foreigner, though not completely, as if he’s lived in the area for awhile.

“Ah, it looks like my ride's here as well,” Namjoon mumbles, not looking nearly an enthused as his ride’s, who rushes over and drapes himself over Namjoon.

“You must be Jungkook,” the man says, pointing in Jungkook’s direction. Jungkook scoots back, as if he can avoid the attention the pointed finger draws to him. Luckily for him, the finger shifts over to Seokjin, and the man wears a goofy grin. “And you must be-”

Namjoon nudges the man with his elbow, causing the other man to whine, untangling himself from Namjoon and offering a quick save.

“Namjoonie, don’t be so mean,” the man says, pouting. He turns back to Jungkook and Seokjin. “I’m Jackson, by the way. Namjoon’s best friend, so I hear everything. Even if he apparently never has time to hang out with me.”

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “I’m busy, unlike you. And I didn’t think sharing an apartment made us best friends?”

“And they were roommates…” Jungkook whispers. “Oh my God, they were roommates .”

Namjoon groans into his hands.

“Where’s Naomi, by the way?” Namjoon asks Jackson once he’s recovered. “Did she wait in the car or something?”

It’s Jackson’s turn to roll his eyes, wearing a wry smile. “Are you kidding me? No girl has gotten in a five foot radius of me ever since the second kidnapping."

“Oh! You’re Jackson Wang, aren’t you?” Jungkook speaks up again, voice serious this time. “I read an article on you. They suspect you in the missing persons’ case, right?”

Seokjin’s surprised to hear this for multiple reasons. For one, the only things he’s heard of Jungkook reading are cheesy shoujo manga, and the occasional thread fic on Twitter, certainly nothing close to a news article. Second of all, even though Seokjin just met the man, he can’t imagine Jackson doing anything criminal like.

“The one and only,” Jackson confirms, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly. Or at least, he tries, but Seokjin notices the tension in the movement, and suddenly he’s much more aware of the dark bags underneath Jackson’s eyes. “And unfortunately, they do. Apparently I’m cool enough to gather the attention of the cops, so not only do I know all the girls, but there were rumors that I was going out with Jaehwa, so they think it’s motive enough.” He leans up against Namjoon, rubbing his head against the taller’s shoulder. “And apparently telling the cops that Namjoonie is more my type doesn’t count as an alibi.”

“Honestly,” Namjoon grumbles. “But really, Naomi bought that sh-” his eyes dart over to Jungkook, then Seokjin, and he corrects himself, “Naomi bought that stuff? She didn’t seem to be the type to buy into gossip.”

“Everyone’s just hyperalert, I think,” Seokjin butts in. He really wants to listen more, actually, but unfortunately time doesn’t give them that option, because they still need to drive over to the store and help Yoongi open. “Anyway, it was a pleasure -” he tries to not choke on the word “-to meet you, Namjoon. You too, Jackson. But I have a store to open, and Jungkook’s gotta come with me, so we have to leave now.”

The corners of Namjoon’s lips arch downward to a form a pout, though they quickly recover into a neutral position, and Seokjin’s not sure if he imagined it or not.

“I’ll see you next week, then,” Namjoon tells Jungkook, and he adds, “and maybe I’ll see you around, Seokjin-ssi?”

Seokjin almost snorts.

“I doubt it.”

At least, not if Seokjin can help it.


***

“You’re replacing me!”

Those are the first words that leave Jungkook’s mouth when he sees the hiring sign taped to the front door of the store.

“Oh, Kook, we could never replace you,” Seokjin reassures him, unlocking the front doors and allowing Jungkook and himself in, flipping the open sign once they step inside. Jungkook’s eyes seem glued to the offer taped to the door, but Seokjin manages to drag him inside and tear his attention away from the sign. “This is good, okay? It means you’ll get more days off, or at least shorter shifts. Or maybe you can even help with decorations again. You liked that last time, right?”

Jungkook grumbles some more, but he does seem to perk up at the idea of getting to work back in the kitchen again. It soothes him enough that Seokjin’s able to leave him to his own devices in the front as he makes his way to the kitchen, where he can hear Yoongi muttering to himself.

“Sorry I’m late,” is the first thing Seokjin makes sure to say, because even though it’s his store and he chooses everyone’s hours, he respects Yoongi and hates taking advantage of his position of power, and more importantly, their friendship, to excuse his tardiness, even it’s only five minutes.

“Nah, you’re just in time.” A spoon full of frosting is thrusted in front of his face, and his instincts have his mouth open, and Yoongi shoves it into his mouth without a second thought. It’s almost cute and romantic, except Yoongi’s expression is void of emotion and he shoves the spoon too far back, probably in hopes of accidentally choking and killing his friend.

“How much powdered sugar did you put in?”

Yoongi scrunches his nose. “So it is too sweet.” He sighs. “The consistency wasn’t thick enough to pipe, dunno why, but I tried to do the easy fix.” His gaze lands on the bowl, sighing. “Should I just throw this batch away, or do you wanna use it anyway?”

“It’s for the red velvet, right? Just add more cream cheese to balance it out, and then use the excess to frost something else. Or I’ll just eat it.”

Yoongi snorts, and Jin’s about to ask him what else needs to be done before Yoongi gets off work when there’s a loud, “ Hyung !” being shouted from up front, and Seokjin quickly heads out to assist Jungkook with whatever issue he has now.

He figures it’s something to do with the cash register, which often causes both Jungkook and Seokjin major confusion and any troubles with it usually end with them whining until Yoongi comes and fixes it.

That’s not the case today though, Seokjin quickly realizes. The store is completely empty, as usual for when they just open, except for Jungkook, himself, and two very familiar faces.

“We’re back!” V announces cheerfully, grinning when he catches sight of Seokjin, like they’re friends from way back. It’s somewhat startling, but Seokjin can’t help but grin back.

“I see that,” Seokjin says, ignoring Jungkook’s confused expression, eyes wide. “What can I help you two with today?”

V pulls out a small notebook from his pocket, then reaches for the pen he has stuck behind his ear, completely hidden by his long, silver hair. “We wanted to talk to you before the cops made any connections, not that I think they will, considering they’re solving the case as fast as a group of five-year olds.” He wrinkles his nose. “Maybe I shouldn’t underestimate five-year olds like that. The point is, this is the biggest breakthrough the case has gotten since it opened, and I’m not letting it slip through our fingers. So, Seokjin-ssi, why would someone be taking your customers?”

Seokjin shrugs. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve had a few angry customers, but nothing more than a middle-aged lady late to her kid’s soccer game. But really,” he gestures to his face, “there’s not many people who could hate this.”

J-Hope speaks up. “It doesn’t have to be connected to the shop, though if you can think of any disgruntled customers, we’d be grateful if you’d share their name and anything you know about them. But what about outside the shop? Any enemies? Somebody who might hold a grudge against you?”

“He runs a cupcake store, not a gang,” Yoongi voices chimes in, abandoning his job in the kitchen in order to join the conversation. Unlike Jungkook, he doesn’t seem nearly as confused, a bonus of Seokjin filling him in on the details yesterday. “Isn’t it more likely that it’s all a coincidence that all the victims were customers here? We got a lot of the college population coming in, all the time. It would probably be more rare for you to find students that haven’t been customers here.”

V jots down notes, and J-hope’s lips draw into a tight line. “It could’ve been a coincidence, but I don’t think so. I’m getting strong vibes from this store, so I say it’s the key.”

Yoongi narrows his eyes. “Vibes? I didn’t realize vibes counted as evidence nowadays. Aren’t you guys supposed to be detectives?”

Without looking up from his notebook, V says, “They don’t, but Hobi’s vibes always lead us on the right path, and I couldn’t solve all these cases without them.” He finally looks up, cocking his head to the side. “Haven’t you guys ever heard of us? Vante Investigations? I think we’ve been on the news a couple times, but most of our publicity comes from Twitter. You should follow us!”

“You guys have never heard of it?” Jungkook asks, finally speaking. “Really? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it to you a few times.”

Seokjin looks at Jungkook in disbelief. “Don’t tell me you follow them.”

Jungkook shrugs, eyes darting over to V and J-Hope before falling to the floor, cheeks tinted red. “I mean, I’m not that obsessive like some of the fans, but yeah, I follow them on Twitter. They’ve done some pretty cool stuff.”

Apparently everyone besides Seokjin is doing cool stuff, according to Jungkook.

“Well, even if they are legit,” Yoongi says, hands on hips, “we don’t have any information to share. My social life is showing my ID to the cashier when I buy booze, Jungkook’s just some high school brat who’s biggest enemy is his algebra class, and nobody outside of me realizes what a horrible human being Seokjin-hyung is.”

“Hey!”

J-Hope looks pretty disappointed by the news, mumbling about how he still definitely feels vibes from the store, but he looks pretty put out.

But V’s eyes are locked on Seokjin, like he wants to say something, but before he can, the chimes of the front door go off, and everyone whips around to see who could possibly dare enter during such a crucial conversation (ignoring the fact that this is very much a customer establishment, and they are very much open at the moment).

Purple.

“Namjoon-hyung!” Jungkook shouts, entire face lighting up as he waves both of his hands high in the air. After a brief moment of thought, Jungkook ditches his spot behind the register to run up to Namjoon. His jaw drops when he sees the object in Namjoon’s hands. “You have my notebook!” Namjoon offers the notebook to Jungkook, and the younger hugs it to his chest. “I didn’t even realize I had forgotten it. Did you come all the way out here to drop it off?”

“It’s between the apartment and library, so I figured I’d drop it off since I don’t have anything better to do. I hope I didn’t distract you from any customers…” Namjoon looks up, and his expression quickly morphs from apologetic to confed. “Taehyung? What are you doing here?”

V’s eyes go wide. “ Hyung , you can’t just go around revealing my secret identity like that!” V (Taehyung?) whines, stomping his feet on the floor. “I’m here to trying to help you and your roommate, and this is how you repay me?”

Namjoon blinks. “Secret identity? Tae, you literally have your actual name posted all over your Twitter.”

“You follow the Twitter?”

Namjoon ignores the question. “Why are you here Tae?”

Taehyung animatedly explains the situation, starting with how he noticed the first missing girl had cupcake wrappers from SUGA Cakes in her garbage, and same with the following two girls, meaning each one of them had eaten at SUGA Cakes at least once before their disappearances, and how Taehyung had determined it was the missing link between the three girls.

Namjoon had both of his hands lost in his hair when Taehyung finished his story, expression dead. “Taehyung, didn’t you consider that it’s all a coincidence that they all went here? I hear a lot of the clubs come here after their meetings on the weekends.”

Taehyung pouts. “But hyung , Hobi-hyung said he got vibes from the store! That has to mean something, right?”

Namjoon sighs. “I know that hyung’s vibes are usually right, but how about you check out some other locations that they could have all had in common? I can probably give you some names of places a lot of the kids at school go to.”

J-Hope looks over at Taehyung. “He makes a good point, we should at least check out some other locations, see if I can get any vibes off them. If not, we can always come back here.”

Taehyung looks pretty upset by the idea of abandoning his plans against Seokjin’s cupcake shop, but reluctantly nods after a minute. “Fine, we’ll check out a couple other places. Briefly . The sooner we solve this case, the better.” The words linger in the air for a moment, and the heavy atmosphere makes it hard to breath; this isn’t just a game, Seokjin reminds himself, but the lives of three innocent girls. His stomach twists at just the thought of his shop being involved with it all, and he prays Namjoon and Yoongi are right, and it’s all a coincidence.

“So, Joon, you’re the expert,” J-Hope says, breaking the atmosphere with a smile that lightens up the mood. Seokjin notes how his lips form a heart shape. “Where should we go first?”

Namjoon pauses, pressing his pointer finger to his lips, deep in thought, before he finally answers.

“The dance club.”

 

***

“This is definitely not a dance club.”

The words escape Seokjin’s lips the moment they walk into the building, past the entryway. From the outside, the building had given off fancy vibes, surprising Seokjin considering Namjoon had said the place was popular with college kids.

Seokjin’s regretting his decision to let Taehyung drag him along. In fact, he had been ready to wish the pair of detectives the best luck on their investigation and send them off when Taehyung insisted that Seokjin needed to come, to point out any of the store’s customers so Taehyung could investigate both angles at the same time. It seemed unnecessary, but Taehyung refused to leave the store until Seokjin agreed, and eventually Yoongi was the one who told Seokjin to go with them and get them out of the store, as they were going to scare away other customers.

At least Seokjin isn’t the only person who gets dragged along; Namjoon also is told his attendance is necessary, and both Namjoon and Seokjin are shoved into the car until Namjoon reveals the club doesn’t even open until eight, and going now would be pointless. They both get kicked out of the car quickly after, Hoseok (who Namjoon also accidentally exposed the name of) telling them that he’ll pick them up around 7:30, so to be ready.

Seokjin and Namjoon look at each other, trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do until then, the clock not even reading five yet. Namjoon eventually settles on going home and having Hoseok pick him up there, and now that Seokjin has Taehyung’s number saved in his phone, he figures it’ll be okay to do the same, though he doesn’t go home until he gives Yoongi his lunch break.

Seokjin is the last person to get picked up, joining Namjoon in the back of the car. Since the afternoon, Namjoon hasn’t changed clothes except for the addition of a denim jacket, but even in the dark, Seokjin can see the dark eyeliner, and notices that Namjoon has used gel to push his lavender locks back, exposing his forehead. It all makes Seokjin feel underdressed, even though he changed out of his work clothes for something more club appropriate, his T-shirt exchanged for a red sweater, and though his jeans are the same, his brown, leather boots make a lovely substitution for his work shoes. He didn’t do his makeup though, but then he remembers one of the many perks of being him is that he doesn’t really need anything to look good, and he throws his confidence crisis to the side.

They enter the building, and once they walk through the second set of doors, allowing the loud music to penetrate their ears, Seokjin understands why college kids are so quick to gather here.

The floor, which had been carpeted in a deep red for the first few meters, was now plain concrete, obvious cracks littering the floor. The place smells like stale beer, with a lot of the clientele holding a bottle in their hand as they moved around the dance floor, which is only identifiable as a dance floor by the spinning, colorful lights that focus on it.

It’s hard to concentrate on anything (though it’s hard to ignore the large amount of students here despite the fact that it’s a weekday) but Seokjin can’t help but lookover where the largest crowd is, hollering in front of a stage.

His jaw drops.

“This is definitely not a dance club,” Seokjin hisses, getting bumped by some drunk college kid, and his shoulder digs into Namjoon’s arm. “Why the hell would you call this is a dance club? Do you even know what dancing is?”

Namjoon looks at Seokjin in disbelief. “Of course I know what dancing is! Look over there, they’re dancing. In a club. A dance club.”

Seokjin shakes his head, pointing to the stage where the majority is gathered. “And what do you call that , then?”

Namjoon bites his lip, the corners of his lips perking up. “Dancing. Creatively.”

“Namjoon, they’re strippers . This is a strip club.”

Namjoon’s not exactly wrong; the performers on stage are dancing, and Seokjin has to admit, some of them are being very creative about it. The stage is divided into three; one girl on the side, almost completely naked except for a short skirt that’s tight enough for Seokjin to know she’s not wearing underwear, as she prances around in her space, holding objects up creatively in order to hide her chest, though the shouts of the crowd sound like they want her to throw away the small, red silk pillow she clutches to herself. The other side of the stage has another girl, and while she has almost a decent amount of clothing on, the way she’s chucking random garments into the screaming crowd hints that it won’t last for long.

Seokjin doesn’t focus on either of the two women for long though, quickly pulled into the performance in the middle of the stage.

At first, from just a glance at the performer's face, he thinks it’s another girl on stage, with thick, full lips emphasized with pink lip stain, cheeks shining with highlighter, and eyes enhanced with smokey eyeshadow. What gives away that Seokjin’s actually looking at a guy is the sharp jawline, visible adam’s apple, and defined eyebrows. His hair is a soft pink, parted on the side and slightly pushed back, though sweat has obviously ruined the hairstyle as the performance goes on.

“First time here?” A random guy asks Seokjin once he approaches the stage, drawn in by the performance. Vaguely, he recognizes that Namjoon has followed behind him.

“You could say that,” Seokjin says casually, not wanting to stick out in the crowd, though his youthful features and general fashion have him blending in with the rest of the college kids. “I didn’t expect them to have a guy performing though. Guess they’re trying to appeal to everyone?”

The stranger nods, hands fumbling with the stack of ones he has in his hands; his face has too many wrinkles and his stack of money is too high for him to be a college student. “The girls are there for those who like girls. And Jimin… He’s there for everyone .”

Seokjin assumes Jimin is the man performing in the middle, and he can’t find it in him to disagree with the stranger. Once Seokjin gets past Jimin’s face, he finds himself just as captivated by the rest of him. He’s more dressed than the two girls to the side of him, but he manages to seem more erotic than the both of them put together. A thin, white button up barely hides what’s underneath, including a tattoo that Seokjin can’t quite make out the letters of running across his ribs. The pair of black fishnet stockings he’s wearing go all the way up to his waist, and the only thing on top of that is a pair of black, leather booty shorts. However, Seokjin’s sure Jimin would look just as good wearing a sack, because the boy’s biggest appeal is in the way he moves his body, gracefully maneuvering his limbs around the pole he has.

“I don’t see Tae and Hoseok-hyung.” Namjoon whispers into Seokjin’s ear from behind, a pair of hands clasping on his biceps. “Do you?” The feeling of Namjoon’s lips against Seokjin’s ear tickles.

It’s enough to snap Seokjin out of his daze. “No, but we should probably look for them, considering they’re the reason we’re here, though, to be honest, I can’t see half of the people’s faces in this lighting, much less tell if they’re a customer at the shop or not.” He has to shout his words, because he’s not sure where his face will end up if he turns around to face Namjoon, but it’s too loud in the club to communicate in any other way if he wants to be heard.

Namjoon nods. “I get that. I mean, it’s not like I know every person at school, and I can’t tell if the faces tonight look familiar because I’ve seen them on campus, or because everyone basically looks the same at these sorts of places.” He chuckles, lips still close to Seokjin’s ear. The club suddenly seems a lot warmer, and Seokjin wonders if someone turned up the heat.

They both tear themself away from the stage, and while Seokjin was annoyed earlier to find Namjoon is taller than him, it’s helpful now, giving them a clearer view of their surroundings. In the end though, it’s Hoseok who finds the tall pair, saying that Namjoon’s stupid tall purple head stands out like a sore thumb, at which Namjoon grumbles in response and Seokjin laughs, thinking that he already likes Hoseok so much more.

Hoseok leads them to where Taehyung is chatting to a woman who wears a similar outfit to the performers.

“Guys! This is Kitty!” He introduces them, pointing to the woman who has a pair of cat ears on, along with a tail attached to the back of her pants. Her hair is a bright blue, tied up into pigtails, and she can’t be a day over twenty, Seokjin decides. “She’s one of the dancers here.”

“See, a dancer. It’s totally a dance club!” Namjoon whispers to Seokjin, laughing when Seokjin swats at him, but the older can’t help but find a smile on his face too.

Taehyung has more to say though. “And apparently, she recognizes all the missing girls. They’ve all been here as well.”

“Great, I can go home then,” Seokjin says, throwing his fist out with a thumbs-up. “I’m glad I could help-” and Taehyung snatches him by the arm before he can walk away.

“C’mon, Kitty, tell them what you told me!”

Kitty nods, looking curiously at the newcomers but choosing not to comment. “The girls you showed me pictures of? I’ve definitely seen them around more than once. Mostly, they come to dance-” Seokjin jabs Namjoon with his elbow before the taller can whisper ‘dance club!’ again- “but even on those days, they come watch Jimin-oppa, if he’s in for the evening. He doesn’t take many days off, though I don’t know why. He probably makes more in a day than the rest of us make in a whole week.”

Taehyung’s back at it with his notebook, so Hoseok takes the conversation over. “So you’d say that Jimin is easily the most popular out of you guys?”

Kitty nods. “For sure. I started a little after he did, but he’s been on the top of the list since I’ve joined here, at least. It’s kind of intimidating when you have to share a stage with him, but honestly, I can’t blame the customers.”

Taehyung hums, continuing to write as he asks, “So you seem to be pretty okay with Jimin, but I doubt everybody feels that way, yeah?”

Kitty looks a little hesitant to answer the question, biting her lips and fumbling with the bracelets on her wrist, but when Taehyung stops writing to look up at her, she caves in. “I suppose. Jimin’s the only guy management has ever brought in, so some of us are wary of him just because of that. He gets his own dressing room, but that’s just because he can’t change with the rest of us, obviously. At first, it seemed like a lot of the older girls didn’t like him simply because he was doing better even though he was a newbie, but it’s been about two years since then, and most of them have gotten over it.”

This gets a raised eyebrow out of Taehyung. “Most?”

Kitty frowns, taking a casual step back. If she was the creature she picked her stage name from, Seokjin’s certain her claws would’ve been raised defensively. “Look, I know what you’re looking for, and that’s great, but I don’t wanna be the snitch in it all, okay? I’m not saying I don’t have any coworkers who aren’t capable of what you’re implying, but I don’t feel comfortable saying anything more.” She looks around her, as if she’s waiting for someone to jump out. “And don’t bother trying to ask the other girls; we’re all pretty close here, and I can’t imagine any of the other girls voluntarily getting involved with anyone who works with the law.”

Taehyung is writing like crazy, and Hoseok is the one who thanks Kitty for the information, and leads the four of them away, one hand on Taehyung’s back, guiding him through the crowd as Taehyung’s eyes are glued to his notebook.

Once they step outside, Seokjin lets out a deep breath he didn’t even know he had been holding. His heart is thumping from the interview with Kitty, and he can’t imagine doing that every day for a living. He belongs in his shop.

“Well, I’m glad that went well,” he says to no one in particular, clapping his hands together. “It looks like my store isn’t the link you’re looking for, so I won’t be seeing you around anymore.”

Taehyung gives Seokjin a strange look. “What do you mean? All we’ve proved today is that the victims came here as well as your store. For all we know, the dance club might be the coincidence, and the real link is your store. I’d be a bad detective if I crossed it off the list of possibilities that easily.”

Seokjin spurts. “But there’s actual leads here! Potential things to investigate!”

“Yeah, but Hobi-hyung got vibes from your store, not here.”

Seokjin turns to Namjoon, raising his eyebrows. “C’mon! Tell Taehyung he’s being ridiculous so I can continue running my store like normal!” Seokjin’s still mad at Namjoon for stealing Jungkook’s love away, but at least Namjoon will be sensible about the situation.

“No, I think Taehyung’s right. It’s too early in the investigation to throw away the cupcake theory. Plus, if Hobi-hyung says your store has vibes, then it has to mean something,” Namjoon says, and Taehyung cheers happily.

“You’re the best, hyung!” Taehyung says, ditching Hoseok’s side to hug Namjoon, catching Namjoon off guard and almost sending him tumbling over.

“The best?” Hoseok grumbles quietly enough that Taehyung and Namjoon can’t hear, and Seokjin barely picks it up, eye twitching. “Who do you think gets those vibes in the first place?”

Seokjin can’t help but respond, “I think it’s the dimples. They hypnotize people into thinking he’s cool or something.”

Hoseok hums, contemplating, before nodding. “You know what, I think that might be it. Curse Namjoon and his dimples.”

“Amen.”

Seokjin and Hoseok’s secret pact against Namjoon’s dimples is formed, Taehyung stops hugging Namjoon, and they’re able to keep walking down the road.

“Well, that was a useless trip,” Hoseok sighs, matching himself to Taehyung’s pace. “Why didn’t you try pushing Kitty for more answers? It’s like we had a lead and totally lost it.”

Taehyung shakes his head. “We could’ve pushed, but it wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere but kicked out. You heard her, it’s too tight knit of a group to get them to spill.”

“What if one of you snuck into the group,” Namjoon suggests, gesturing to Hoseok. “Hobi, you can dance, right? That’s what they do in the movies, isn’t it? Go undercover and stuff.”

Taehyung claps his hands together, but then they quickly fall to his sides. “No, they already saw all our faces. If not, I’d totally be up for an undercover operation.” Taehyung sighs, looking up at the sky. “I could call up some associates, but I’m not sure I trust anyone else on this case right now.”

Hoseok nods. “Man, we should’ve left Namjoon at home, then we could’ve brought him back. They certainly wouldn’t feel threatened by his dancing skills.”

Namjoon glares at Hoseok, but doesn’t deny anything. “Don’t you have anyone you know that could help out? It just has to be someone they haven’t met, right?”

Taehyung and Hoseok both mull over the question, obviously lost on what to do, and Seokjin can see the moment Taehyung gives up for the night.

“How are you getting home?” Taehyung asks, half lying against Hoseok as they walk down the street, cold evening air blowing at them and messing with their hair. Seokjin didn’t see him drink while they were in the building, but he figures it’s always a possibility, especially by the way Taehyung’s words are becoming a slurred mess. Or maybe he’s just tired, which Seokjin can definitely relate to.

“I’m having Yoongi pick me up,” Seokjin explains, and sure enough, Yoongi is waiting at the curb, Jungkook in the backseat playing games on his phone.

“Someone they haven’t met, huh…” Seokjin muses, narrowing his eyes at Yoongi. Seokjin considers his options; either he lets Taehyung and Hoseok lead the investigation and allows himself to be dragged along for who knows how long, or he tries to help and get Taehyung off his store’s case as quickly as possible.

He glances back to the people beside him, and Taehyung is already wearing the same knowing smirk, like they’ve both had the same genius idea. Hoseok looks confused for a second, but then catches on, rubbing his hands together in front of him. Namjoon’s the last one to catch on, but when he does, he’s the only one of them that exchanges a knowing smile out for an apologetic one. Everyone’s eyes are on Yoongi now.

Yoongi blinks.

“What? Is there something on my face?”

Chapter Text

Seokjin has been through a lot with Yoongi, but he has to admit he never imagined throwing single bills at his best friend dancing on stage.

It’s the fourth day since Yoongi started working at the dance club, and even though Seokjin is instructed not to come to avoid ruining the investigation, it seemed like a ridiculous request to tell him not to support Yoongi’s stripper career.

Yoongi looks surprisingly good on stage, not at all out of his element like Jungkook said he would. Seokjin’s not too surprised; he’s known Yoongi for too long to not know all the small details of Min Yoongi.

The outfits, hand-picked by Taehyung, help. Yoongi forbade Seokjin from seeing them, but Taehyung had managed to take photos unknowingly. Now that Seokjin gets to see his best friend dance in front of strangers in the dimmed lights of the club, he doesn’t think the photos do the sight any justice, though maybe it’s just Yoongi’s stage presence that helps makeup for the minimum amount of skin he shows and lack of fluidity in his movements.

Yoongi’s easy to spot, especially since he’s already managed to be thrown in the center of the stage. His pink hair is pushed up and then to the side, so it’s not completely slicked back, but it still reveals his undercut and allows the audience to catch sight of the long, gold dangling earrings that hang from Yoongi’s ears, swaying as Yoongi moves his body. The only article of clothing Yoongi removes is his leather jacket, but underneath that he’s wearing a black sleeveless shirt, the collar of the shirt low enough that Seokjin’s sure that if he stood above Yoongi and looked down, he’d be able to see down the shirt. His black pants seem impossibly tight, highlighting how thin Yoongi’s legs really are, contrasting with the muscle he’s managed to build up on his upper half.

It’s late, something Seokjin is going to regret in the morning when he has to wake up and open the shop again. With Yoongi out of commission due to his new job, Seokjin’s forced to be at the store every waking hour. Yoongi insisted that he could still make it to the shop for earlier shifts, but as his roommate, Seokjin knows that Yoongi doesn’t get home until after two after his shifts at the club. He knows Yoongi is capable of running off minimal sleep, but Seokjin can’t let Yoongi overwork himself without feeling even more guilty than he already does.

Of course, Yoongi’s first response when Seokjin asked him to sneak into the staff of the dance club for the sake of the case was a no. Seokjin wasn’t surprised, because he was sure if was in Yoongi’s shoes, he’d say the same thing. There’s a few other reasons Yoongi says yes finally, a good reason being that when he refuses, Taehyung asks if Jungkook wants to do it instead. Not only is Jungkook eager to assist the detective duo, seemingly more of a fan than he originally let on, the youngest also seems a little too willing to strip and dance in front of strangers. Either way, the only person who protests more violently than Seokjin is Yoongi, who says he’ll think about it in exchange to stop Jungkook from taking the role.

However, Seokjin knows the real reason Yoongi says yes is because Seokjin asks him to.

He doesn’t even have to beg or bargain. Instead, they go home that night, and Seokjin visits Yoongi’s room right before he goes to bed to find his roommate still wide awake, sitting at his desk with his computer booted up. Yoongi senses the moment Seokjin walks into the room, and spins in his chair to face him with a blank expression.

When Seokjin asks, it’s in a quiet voice, and he’s gripping the bottom on his pajama shirt as he stares Yoongi in the eye, hoping he’ll be able to convey his feelings without having to spill them. And he’s lucky that Yoongi understands him, and it’s one of those moments when Seokjin remembers how lucky he has to have Yoongi, and the younger only blinks once before agreeing.

Because Yoongi knows Seokjin can’t take the guilt that his cupcake shop might have something to do with the missing girls, a guilt that weighs his shoulders down. And as wide as his shoulders are, they can’t hold that weight forever, and solving the case means the weight disappears.

Or it completely crushes me , Seokjin can’t help to grimly think. Just because he doesn’t want his shop to be the key to the case, or as illogical as it seems to him, there’s always the possibility.

Plus, apparently Hoseok has vibes. Whatever that means.

Yoongi’s barely started his second performance of the Friday night when he spots Seokjin in the crowd, and his eyes widen, then narrow, then return to a neutral state and brush past Seokjin like he hasn’t even seen the older, smoothly acting like he doesn’t know Seokjin. As far as they know, Kitty is the only employee that knows Seokjin was with Taehyung and Hoseok during the first night of investigation, and Seokjin hasn’t seen the blue-haired woman yet, but they can’t afford to take any risks. Getting Yoongi the job was lucky enough as it was, with the management of the establishment particularly fond of Yoongi’s type, and they happened to be looking for a new male employee anyway.

Seokjin takes a moment to look away from Yoongi to scan the outside of the crowd, looking for a familiar head of black hair. It’s hard to spot in the dark lights of the club, Seokjin constantly being jostled by the people surrounding him. But he has a slight height advantage, and once he gets on his tiptoes and scans the crowd he spots him, leaving his spot near the front of the stage and casually making his way over.

Jungkook isn’t as good at hiding his shock like Yoongi is, eyes widening, eyebrows shooting up towards his hairline.

While Yoongi took convincing to get him to take the undercover gig, it took bribing (Jungkook gets to pick any day for Seokjin to call him in sick for school) to keep Jungkook off the stage, and in the end, it was impossible to make Jungkook back down from the mission (as he kept calling it). Seokjin hates to rain on Jungkook’s parade, especially when he looks so excited to be able to join the Vante Investigation team. So they compromise, and Jungkook manages to land a spot in the venue crew, stuck with a miscellaneous set of tasks. With the bulk of muscle Jungkook has managed to put on since his final year of high school, Seokjin’s not surprised that they have him supervising the scene, ready to break apart any feuds or other sticky situations.

While it’s not dancing explicitly in front of a bunch of strangers, Seokjin doesn’t like the situation much better, and it’s the main reason he decided to put off his visit on Yoongi until tonight. The agreement Seokjin made with Jungkook is that the boy is allowed to work at the club, but only on non-school nights, the club’s opening hours not being appropriate for a high school student. It limits Jungkook’s part in the undercover operation to Friday and Saturday, but Seokjin would rather deal with a pouty Jungkook than mess up Jungkook’s chances of academic success anymore than he already has.

Seokjin wants to verbally check in on Jungkook, but not only would that give away Jungkook’s cover, he’s suddenly being pushed back by an incoming crowd, shuffled back towards the stage.

The reason why is obvious, and that reason’s name is Jimin, who’s making his first appearance of the night, as far as Seokjin can tell. Seokjin didn’t arrive until after nine, due to the fact that he had to close up his own store and the club opens its doors at eight. The way the crowd cheers, and the flawless state Jimin is in alerts Seokjin that Jimin is only now joining the stage.

Whether it’s part of his cues or just natural respect for authority, Yoongi casually steps out of his spot in the middle. The girl to his left leaves the stage and he takes her spot, kicking the panties that she left lying on stage behind him with a scrunch of his nose, and the crowd that notices laughs just as much as Seokjin.

Just like the first night Seokjin saw Jimin, the pink-haired boy looks absolutely stunning. From a distance, Seokjin can barely tell he’s wearing makeup, rocking a much more natural look. He has more layers on, but Seokjin knows the excessive clothing is all part of act, giving the dancer something to peel off one piece at a time.

The music changes from a simple bass line to something more jazzy, and it’s not long before Jimin is timing each roll of his hips to the beat. Seokjin doesn’t miss Yoongi next to him, managing to smoothly drop his body along to the music as well, hitting each beat perfectly; Yoongi may not have as much control of his body as Jimin, a dancer, but he certainly understands rhythm. It allows him to stand next to Jimin on the stage without looking like a fool, unlike the girl on the other side who has obviously given up on dancing, unwilling to compete with Jimin, instead impressing the audience with how flexible she is.

Seokjin’s not the only person who notices how fearlessly Yoongi is performing next to Jimin, the latter obviously interested in the man to his left. Jimin strays from his spot in the middle over to Yoongi, until he’s right in front of him. It’s only then that Seokjin notices how short Jimin is; despite the platform boots that he wears, he probably has less than an inch on Yoongi, who’s on the shorter side himself.

Jimin reaches his hand out, fingers milliseconds from brushing against Yoongi’s cheek when Yoongi’s hands slaps Jimin away, the crowd laughing the moment it happens. Jimin’s eye widen, and while the lighting on stage is too dim for Seokjin to properly tell, he’s sure there’s a pink tint to Jimin’s cheeks. The shocked expression is quickly replaced with a smirk, eyes twinkling with amusement, and he cocks his head to the side before backing off, facing the crowd with an eye roll as he resumes dancing.

Seokjin’s sure he must be imagining it, but he swears Jimin makes direct eye contact with him, giving him a curious look. It’s gone a second later and Jimin is back in performance mode, teasingly lifting up the front of his shirt and revealing his tattoo to the crowd.

Seokjin lingers until the end of the night, though half way through he exits the building and waits in his car for awhile, taking a break from the loud music and pungent smell of stale beer and cigarettes. It’s another reason, he realizes, that the club is so popular. The building may look like shit, but they sell alcohol and other products not meant for minors, and the entire night Seokjin doesn’t see a single person get carded, even those who are obviously underage. Luckily, Jungkook is on the introverted side and doesn’t care for alcohol much in the first place, so Seokjin doesn’t feel too bad for introducing him to the place.

Eventually, the night wraps up. At first, Seokjin tried to pretend that he was searching for potential suspects in the crowd of the club, but not only is he not a detective, he’s tired, and the only thing he can think of is the raspberry frosting he wants to perfect for a potential new recipe. He certainly doesn’t, and can’t, think about trying to solve a case the police can’t even seem to make a dent in.

So he waits in his car until Jungkook’s knocking on his window, making him yelp louder than he wants to admit. To his surprise, Jungkook doesn’t say anything, and Seokjin doesn’t realize the reason why until they're two minutes into the drive home and Jungkook’s sleeping in the back; Seokjin’s not the only exhausted one.

A pang of guilt shoots through him, and he thanks his lucky stars that it’s not a school night, because he can’t imagine trying to send Jungkook to school with him sleeping so soundly in the back of the car. It’s late, past two in the morning, and as much as Seokjin wants to wait for Yoongi, the club doesn’t close until three on Fridays and Saturdays, and Yoongi has too much pride, no matter what it is, to ditch early.

In the dead of night there’s no one on the roads, making the drive back to Jungkook’s house painfully short. Years ago, Seokjin would’ve been capable of picking Jungkook up and carrying him up the flights of stairs that leads to the apartment he lives in with his dad, but as of this year, as Jungkook bulks up, Seokjin can’t pick his step-brother up without his arms trembling an embarrassing amount.

So he shakes Jungkook awake, the young boy whining, half-asleep. It’s almost enough to convince Seokjin that it’s time to try lifting Jungkook again, but another shake of Jungkook’s shoulder has the boy waking up.

“Carry me,” he whines, promptly getting shoved out of the car by Seokjin. As funny as it would be to watch Jungkook fall to the ground, Jungkook is a boy of mystery and manages to catch himself despite his half-asleep state.

“C’mon, I’ll walk with you,” Seokjin says, hooking his arm around Jungkook’s, and they slowly make it up the stairs.

Jungkook and his dad live on the second story of the old apartment complex that Seokjin has driven to too many times for someone who’s never actually lived there. It’s not in the best shape, the faded yellow paint on the outside chipped away, and a lot of the shrubbery and plants have managed to crawl up the walls of the apartment.

In no sense does Seokjin think it’s a bad apartment, but his gut always twists into knots when he has to drop Jungkook off. He knows it’s not the state of the apartment, or the fact that he just misses Jungkook the moment he drops him off, though that occasionally is the case.

Jungkook says goodnight, unlocking the front door and walking in without a care, slamming the door behind him. Seokjin’s never stepped foot into the apartment despite the constant invitations Jungkook gave him at first.

“I don’t feel right, invading my mom’s ex’s house,” Seokjin would say.

“Don’t think of it like that! Think of it as your favorite brother’s house,” Jungkook would respond. Then, he’d quietly add, “Besides, it’s not like Dad’s ever home anyway.”

That’s why Seokjin hates dropping Jungkook off, though he’ll never say it out loud. The empty house is already a bitter enough reminder for Jungkook, and Seokjin doesn’t want to add salt to the wound.

Seokjin had never gotten around to calling Jungkook’s dad ‘Dad’, even during the five year period when he was married to his mom. Instead, he had always been Jeon Jungho. But Seokjin never harbored negative feelings towards the man until after the divorce.

Though he’s not sure if negative is the right term to express his feelings towards Jungkook’s dad. It’s more like an empty void, and negative is the best way Seokjin can describe it. He doesn’t miss Jungkook’s dad in his life, but it feels strange knowing that the man who played the role of his father for some of Seokjin’s most crucial years had gone a completely different direction in life.

That doesn’t mean that Jungkook’s dad’s constant absence doesn’t have an emotional toll on Seokjin. Not directly, but Seokjin can’t help but try to fill the holes in Jungkook’s life that he’s missing on a parental level. Jungkook’s dad never ended up remarrying after Seokjin’s mom, deciding to fill the hole in his life with his work instead. There’s nothing wrong with that, Seokjin supposes, but it means while Jungho travels around for work, Jungkook practically lives alone as a minor.

So Seokjin doesn’t like dropping Jungkook off. Jungkook’s an introvert by nature, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys coming home to an empty home, and Seokjin can tell by the way Jungkook’s shoulders droop. Seokjin’s hinted multiple times that he wouldn’t mind if Jungkook stayed with him, but Jungkook’s rejected any notion of it, saying something about how it’d be annoying to live with Seokjin constantly checking over his shoulder. However, Seokjin knows it’s because as much as Jungkook’s dad isn’t there, Jungkook can’t imagine the idea of leaving him. It’s one of the few topics that Seokjin won’t ever push Jungkook on though, knowing his own mother is a big cause of the pain Jungkook’s dad feels, and maybe some of the pain Jungkook feels. Instead, Seokjin settles for knowing that Yoongi is always there for Jungkook as well, and Seokjin tries to be the best brother he can be for Jungkook despite the state of their parents.

“I’ll see you Monday, then,” Seokjin tells Jungkook once the younger gets the door unlocked.

Jungkook wakes up a little bit at this. “Hyung, I told you I could come in tomorrow!”

Seokjin shakes his head. “You weren’t supposed to even come to the store tonight. So go to sleep, don’t wake up until noon like what all the other brats your age do. You’ve got another big night, Kook.”

Jungkook frowns. “But tomorrow’s Saturday! It’ll be busy, and if Yoongi-hyung isn’t there either, how are you gonna manage all by yourself?”

Seokjin smacks Jungkook’s shoulder. “Please, have some confidence in your hyung! I could run the store plenty fine without you two anyday!” It’s nowhere near true, and Jungkook knows it just as well as Seokjin judging by the goofy grin he wears.

“Plus,” Seokjin sighs, grimacing, “it’s not like I’ll be all by myself.”

 

***

“I don’t get how you have so much time to loiter at my shop,” Seokjin grumbles, leaning against the nearest wall. It’s the end of the store’s Saturday hours, and Seokjin knows he needs to start cleaning up for the night, but he’s much more intrigued by the man leaning against the register counter.

Hoseok looks as tired as Seokjin feels, hat crooked on his head, bill facing backwards. There’s a smudge of flour on his cheek, which is an amazing feat considering he’s pretty sure Hoseok only made his way back to the kitchens once.

“It’s not like I have anything better to do,” Hoseok replies, shrugging his shoulders. He takes his cap off and flips in back around the proper direction before putting it back on. “And it’s kinda our fault you’re down two men.”

Seokjin can’t argue with that. “So Taehyung puts you on cupcake duty while he goes off and does the real work? Bet you’re happy about that.”

At first, Seokjin was hesitant when Taehyung offered him Hoseok’s man power for the store. Of course, Seokjin hadn’t really been using his head when he volunteered Yoongi for undercover work, not realizing it’d affect his availability for work at SUGA Cakes until after the deed was done. In the end, it had been Yoongi who had insisted that if Seokjin wasn’t going to allow him or Jungkook to work in the shop the nights they worked at the club, that he had to let Hoseok help him out.

Today is the first day that’s gone into play, and Seokjin was pleasantly surprised by how well Hoseok worked up front. Really, he’s not sure why he was so surprised, considering what he’s observed of Hoseok’s personality from the few moments they’ve spent together. Hoseok managed to keep a smile on almost the entire day, even with the rudest of customers, and for a first day that’s all Seokjin can ask for.

Hoseok shakes his head. “Trust me, if Taehyung had it his way, he’d be here in a heartbeat. But in the end, he’s the detective between us, so he’s stuck solving some other cases while we wait for information on the missings persons case.”

“How many cases do you have going outside of this one?” Seokjin can’t help but be curious. After the night at the club, Seokjin had gone home and checked out Vante Investigation’s twitter page, at Taehyung’s suggestion. To his surprise, Taehyung hadn’t been overstating the popularity of their gig; not only did they have thousands of followers, Seokjin had clicked links to multiple articles listing all the cases they had solved. It’s reassuring, Seokjin can’t help but think, because at first he was convinced Taehyung and Hoseok were nothing more than a couple of kids playing around. Now he knows that’s not the case.

“Just two, nothing big, just something to pay the bills since this one doesn’t.”

Seokjin recalls what he’s heard. “That’s right, Taehyung said he’s doing this to help Namjoon out, right? They must be pretty good friends if he’s taking the case for free.”

Hoseok nods. “They’re cousins, so they’ve grown up pretty close. Sometimes I’m pretty sure Taehyung wishes Namjoon was his assistant instead of me, but Namjoon didn’t want to drop out of college.”

The answer surprises Seokjin. Not the part about Taehyung and Namjoon being cousins; their last names match up, and when he thinks about it, he can see the physical similarities between them. But the second part Hoseok says catches him off guard. “How’d you end up helping Taehyung out then? Did you just apply to the job and put in the skill set, ‘ I get vibes ’ or something like that?”

“I’ve known Tae since we were babies. A case of family friends. His dad is a pretty busy man, so he spent a lot of time at my house, and we’ve always been close. So when Taehyung came to me a couple years ago and told me he wanted to open a detective agency, it wasn’t even a question if I was going to join him or not.” He narrows his eyes at Seokjin. “And no, my vibes were just a bonus.”

Seokjin laughs, amused by Hoseok’s seriousness when it comes to his vibes. According to Twitter and the news, Hoseok’s vibes aren’t a laughing matter; Taehyung mentions them in almost every single investigation update tweet, telling the world how one of Hoseok’s vibes had lead them down another correct path. It’s intriguing, but not convincing.

Their conversation trails off after that, though they make small talk and Seokjin looks over a recipe in the kitchen, Hoseok being kind enough to volunteer to sweep. Luckily none of it takes too long, and Hoseok joins Seokjin in the kitchen where the baker is hovering over a counter, scratching notes onto the recipe paper.

“What were you doing back here all day, anyway?” Hoseok asks. It’s a logical question, Seokjin supposes. Hoseok had been up front all day, and he’s not Jungkook, who knows what keeps Yoongi and Seokjin constantly busy in the back even if they’re not just making stuff to sell.

“Mostly recipe testing,” Seokjin explains, pointing to the recipe. “I like to have a new flavor for each season or holiday. With Mother’s Day coming up, I was hoping to have something ready at least the week before, so I could advertise them as potential gifts. Yoongi and I decided on pink lemonade, so now I’m just going through old recipes and seeing which ones are best, or potentially tweaking them.” He sighs, thinking of the permanent taste of strawberry on his tongue. “At this point, it’s just playing around until I get the best flavor. Then there’s deciding how to decorate it, but I’m thinking of leaving that for Jungkook. He’s shit at baking, but he’s pretty good at art. I let him design the cupcakes we did for Saint Patrick’s day last month, and that went pretty well. Plus, hopefully I’ll have another permanent staff member by then, so it’ll work out.”

Hoseok looks a little lost, but impressed nonetheless. “That sounds like a lot of work.”

Seokjin shrugs. “I mean, yeah, but I get to bake for a living, and with my best friend and my brother. I honestly couldn’t ask for more.”

There’s a pause in the conversation, another chance to let it die out and let Hoseok go home and allow Seokjin to focus on his own work. But it’s the first time Seokjin’s had the chance to interact with Hoseok without Taehyung there, and he can’t help but note the small differences in Hoseok’s demeanor. Some things are more obvious, like the way Hoseok’s quality of posture decreases, but some things Seokjin’s almost misses, like the way Hoseok will allow himself to express his frustrations and worries, usually in the forms of sighs and groans.

Seokjin’s not sure if it’s because Taehyung’s not around, or simply because Seokjin is older out of the two of them, but he’s happy with the way Hoseok is able to relax in front of him.

“So tell me more about your vibes,” Seokjin says, not missing the way Hoseok glares at him when he giggles. Seokjin’s not trying to make fun of Hoseok at the moment, but the idea is too humorous for him to bite back his laughter. “I mean, is it like spidey-senses? Does it tingle? Or is it like a voice whispering in your head?”

Hoseok’s glare softens when he realizes that despite the absurdity of Seokjin’s questions, the older is genuinely trying to understand. “It’s more like a pull of my gut than anything. When I was younger, I didn’t really recognize it.”

“So it was a thing even when you were younger?”

The brunette nods. “My mom told fortunes for a living-” Seokjin can barely open his mouth before Hoseok cuts him off- “which yes, was a little hokey, and a lot of it was pure bull shit, but it was all based off the vibes she got off people.”

“So it’s a family thing?”

“I guess? I have an older sister, but she’s never experienced anything like it, or so she says.” Hoseok being a younger sibling doesn’t come as a surprise to Seokjin, the way he respects Seokjin a reflection of a probable healthy relationship with his older sister. “Anyway, my mom helped me understand my vibes, though I had never really taken advantage of them like she did. It wasn’t until Taehyung found out about them that I really started following them.”

Seokjin is intrigued, probably more intrigued than someone who’s supposedly a skeptic should be. At this point, he’s dropped the pen in his hand, directing his full attention towards his conversation with Hoseok. “You didn’t believe in it at first?”

“Oh, I believed them, it was hard to ignore their accuracy,” Hoseok corrects. “But like you, the rest of the world found it a little too quirky for their tastes, so I didn’t really act on them. Taehyung only found out about them a few years ago because he overheard my mom talking about them. Said it was amazing, and the only thing weird about it was I wasn’t putting it to use. Of course, it didn’t sit with me right away. Taehyung pulling me out of my array of part-time jobs and insisting I help him out with Vante Investigations was weird at first, but now…” Hoseok shrugs. “Well, you’ve seen the Twitter page, right? I’m a sensation, and with Taehyung, I help a lot of people. And if following my vibes is what lets me do that, no matter how strange it might seem to others, I’m gonna keep doing it.”

Seokjin will be the first one to say he’s still not on board with the legitimacy of Hoseok’s vibes, or at least the idea that they’re supernatural in anyway. More likely, it’s an internal skill at induction that gives Hoseok pulls towards certain things, and he’s just not aware of it and labels them as vibes like his mom did. But he is moved by Hoseok’s words, and feels a little guilty about his attitude towards something Hoseok obviously cares about. In fact, Seokjin’s not usually the type to be a skeptic; he likes chaotic, rule-bending things as much as the next person.

Seokjin would probably be a lot more on board with Hoseok’s vibes if they weren’t pointing at Seokjin’s store.

***

Even though the club is closed on Sunday, there’s no way Yoongi can get out of bed early enough to help open the store. Because Yoongi gets home late, and then usually can’t fall asleep until a few hours after he gets home from work. It’s hard to get Yoongi out of bed as it is, and the only upside is that Seokjin doesn’t have to fight Yoongi on skipping work at the cupcake shop, his roommate being too tired to argue.

Jungkook’s the same, not as eager to wake up early to come in the morning than he had been the night before, so Seokjin opens the store by himself. He could’ve had Hoseok come in, but his pride keeps him from telling Hoseok and Taehyung that he needs help again, and without Yoongi to rat on him, Seokjin manages to lie and tell the two detectives that Jungkook’s coming in today and that he doesn’t need more help.

Opening the store by himself is a little lonely, but he tells himself it’ll be like the old days when the store first opened, without Jungkook, and if Yoongi and Seokjin needed a day off, the other would be forced to watch the shop by themselves. Even then though, it rarely happened, only when one of them was sick.

Shortly into the shift though, Seokjin realizes why they hired Jungkook and they don’t try to run the store by themselves anymore. As a business, they’ve grown in popularity to a point that it’s a ridiculous task to run the store by himself. It’s not just customer after customer that leaves Seokjin exhausted, it’s the fact that he knows there’s no one there to relieve him. It’s going to be a long day, he quickly realizes, his only breaks the few moments when there’s a lapse in the incoming customers. It’s enough of a lull for Seokjin to catch his breath and move the stool from the kitchen to the front so he can rest his legs, but it’s not enough to risk taking a break to eat or go to the bathroom, something Seokjin definitely hadn’t thought of when he had only coffee for breakfast that morning. Not only is his stomach rumbling, but the coffee goes straight through his system, and he pinches at his thighs to help him ignore the feeling of his full bladder begging him for a bathroom break.

Around 4 o’clock, Seokjin’s really tempted to just ignore the possibility and run to the bathroom, but not only is it bad customer service, Seokjin doesn’t have any kind of security measures to help protect an unwatched store. There’s no customers in the store, and he’s about five seconds from making a run for it when the chime on the door rings, and he straight up groans, barely mustering a smile to face the customer with.

His smile drops and turns into surprise when he sees who’s at the door.

“Namjoon?”

Sure enough, standing at the entrance is Namjoon in all his purple-haired glory. Like the first time Seokjin saw him, his hair is worn down, bangs brushing against his eyebrows. In his hands he holds a drink holder with two coffees in it.

“I’m here to drop off coffee,” he says, wearing his stupid dimpled-grin. “Figured you’d be pretty tired after dealing with Hoseok-hyung all day. Where is he, anyway?”

Seokjin’s stares blankly at Namjoon, his tired state making him take a whole extra moment to realize what Namjoon’s talking about. As far as everyone else knows, Hoseok’s taking Yoongi’s spot while he’s out for the undercover operation, except Taehyung and Hoseok, who think that Jungkook came in today.

Namjoon’s smarter than Seokjin wants to give him credit for, and it only takes him a second to translate Seokjin’s blank stare. “Oh my God, are you alone today? Did Hobi-hyung ditch or something?”

Seokjin’s definitely not ready to admit the fault in his thought process when he denied Hoseok’s help. However, he’s not sure how much longer he can put off a bathroom break, and now that there's Namjoon, someone who he can trust (sorta), he can’t risk losing the opportunity. So he yells something about distracting customers if they come in, ignoring Namjoon’s confused expression as he darts off to the bathroom, only to return a minute or so later.

Namjoon’s still the only person in the store besides Seokjin, but he’s moved from where Seokjin left him to right at the counter, where’s he leaning. The drinks have been put next to the cash register.

“Oh, there you are, I was about to text Hoseok-”

“No!” Seokjin interrupts, running up to Namjoon and snatching the phone out of his hand. The action is awkward, Namjoon’s grip on the phone tighter than Seokjin expected, and it ends up with Seokjin’s fingers tangling with Namjoon’s for a moment before he final removes the phone from Namjoon’s hold.

“Hey, what the he-”

“You can’t text Hoseok,” Seokjin tells Namjoon, pressing his pointer finger into Namjoon’s chest. “Or Taehyung. You can’t tell anyone what you just saw, actually.”

Namjoon blinks at Seokjin. “Why?”

Seokjin sighs. “Because I said so, that’s why.” Before Namjoon can open his mouth to protest, Seokjin adds, “Just listen and do what your hyung tells you to do, okay?”

Namjoon’s eyes widen. “Seokjin-hyung?”

“That’s my name, now don’t go wearing it out.”

He shakes his head. “No, that’s not what I-” Namjoon sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I mean, you don’t mind if I call you hyung?”

Oh, Seokjin thinks as he realizes his mistake. He’s so used to the people around him being younger than him that he doesn’t hesitate before addressing himself as someone’s ‘hyung’.

He’s not overly fond of the idea of Namjoon calling him ‘hyung’, but the other option is being called ‘Seokjin-ssi’, which feels too stiff for the relationship Seokjin and Namjoon have. They’re not friends, barely acquaintances really, but Seokjin has a feeling that he’s going to be seeing a lot of Namjoon. In fact, Seokjin knows for a fact that Namjoon is invited to the meeting Taehyung planned for later in the evening once the store closes, so Seokjin figures that if everyone else there is going to call him ‘hyung’, Namjoon doing the same shouldn’t bother him.

“Only if you want to,” Seokjin finally answers.

Namjoon grins. “Well, then, hyung , I brought coffee for you.” He picks up one of the drinks on the counter, identical to other one. “I didn’t know what you’d like, so I bought the same thing I usually get, hope it’s not too sweet for you.”

“You see where I work? Nothing’s too sweet for me,” Seokjin reassures Namjoon, taking the drink from his hands, fingers brushing against Namjoon’s as he accepts the drink. “But I feel bad that you came all the way here for Hoseok and he’s not even here.”

Namjoon cups the back of his neck, shifting his weight from side to side. “I didn’t bring it for Hoseok. I mean, well, I did, but-” He sighs, eyes drifting down to the floor tiles. “I mostly brought it for you.”

Seokjin blinks. “For me? You mean you bought coffee and came all the way here for me?”

Namjoon’s eyes widen, and he laughs nervously. “I mean, Jungkook texted me to. And I was on my way to the library nearby anyway.”

Seokjin narrows his eyes.

“Jungkook texted you?”

Not that he doesn’t appreciate the coffee, because he really does, but Seokjin can barely believe the words coming out of Namjoon’s mouth.

Seokjin texts Jungkook. In fact, Seokjin texts Jungkook a lot. Usually, it’s something stupid, like a random joke that pops into his head and he feels is necessary to share. Other times, its actual important information that Seokjin is trying to communicate to Jungkook, and while sometimes the younger boy responds, usually Seokjin’s lucky if Jungkook at least opens the messages so they get marked as read and Seokjin knows he got the message.

So the concept of Jungkook willingly going ahead and texting someone first?

And Namjoon of all people?

“Jungkook really texted you? Like, actually took the time to type out a message and hit send?” Seokjin asks, because he can’t believe that Jungkook would actually text Namjoon. He refuses to believe it, because why would Jungkook bother texting Namjoon when he couldn’t even respond to Seokjin’s amazing joke about a belt made of watches being a waist of time?

Namjoon’s eyes seem to look everywhere but Seokjin, and he takes a step back, grabbing the other coffee as he does so.

“Um, yeah, he did,” Namjoon says, clutching the coffee close to him. “Anyway, I’m taking Hobi-hyung’s drink since he’s not here, and I’ll see you later?”

Namjoon doesn’t wait for Seokjin to answer the rhetorical question before darting out of the store without a goodbye, leaving Seokjin confused. But after taking a sip from his own coffee, he’s content enough to get through the rest of the day at the store.

He’s walking over to lock the doors up a few minutes before closing when Taehyung and Hoseok appear, and Seokjin recalls his evening plans. He steps away from the door, opting out of locking it and simply flipping the open sign around.

Namjoon, Yoongi and Jungkook show up all around the same time. Jungkook’s half asleep, supporting himself against Yoongi, and despite him being older, Yoongi is smaller than Jungkook by a fair amount and is struggling to keep the youngest up, but he also doesn’t force Jungkook to walk upright either.

They gather around one of the tables, stealing chairs and adjusting them so that they all fit. Seokjin’s the first to sit, and Yoongi sits across from him, followed by Jungkook to his side. Hoseok and Taehyung sit at either end of the table, Hoseok sitting on the end closer to Seokjin. The seating situation leaves an empty seat for a floundering Namjoon to take.

“So I guess we just start?” Seokjin says after they all settle in. Taehyung pulls out his notepad, mid-nod, when he reaches into his bag and comes out empty handed. He groans.

“I lost my pen!”

“Wait, I have one,” Namjoon quickly says, and Taehyung and Jungkook clap their hands excitedly, as if Namjoon just announced that he has the ultimate cure for world poverty. It’s enough that Hoseok snorts audibley, and Seokjin can’t help that he glares at Namjoon.

Luckily, Namjoon is too busy fishing a pen out of his backpack, which he presumably uses for school. It sits in between Namjoon and Seokjin, which means Seokjin’s close enough to see the contents of the backpack.

Seokjin scrunches his nose. “God, do you ever clean out your backpack?” He reaches into the backpack without a second thought, pulling out a bright yellow cupcake wrapper that Seokjin knows belongs to the lemon cupcakes he sells at the store. If he recalls correctly, it’s from the batch that Jungkook must’ve gave to Namjoon on Monday, which is almost an entire week ago.

The entire table makes fun of Namjoon and his messy backpack, and they take a five minute break to actually clean it out. Namjoon grumbles the entire time over the fact that it’s an invasion of privacy.

“Okay, now that atrocity is dealt with-” Namjoon doesn’t even try to protest Hoseok’s words- “let’s go over the case, and then Yoongi and Jungkook can add in what they’ve learned.”

There’s a nod of agreement from everyone, including from Taehyung who now has one of Namjoon’s pens settled in his hand. Hoseok mutters something about needing to buy a whiteboard before clearing his throat and starting to speak.

“So the first girl, Kwak Heiran, age twenty, went missing the fourth of the month,” Hoseok says, and Seokjin’s quick to admit how impressed he is that Hoseok seems to be listing the facts off the top of his head. “She was a photography major, and vice president of the photography club. She lived at home, and was reported missing by her parents after she never came home from school. Her affiliation with the current prime suspect of the police, Jackson Wang, is that he helped out with a photography project a week before her disappearance.”

Namjoon nods. “I remember that. She posted on the school board that she was looking for a model and was willing to pay, and Jackson signed up. They even ended up doing some shoots at the apartment, I think.”

“When she originally went missing, most people said she had run away due to her failing grade in her math class, though those rumors died a lot when the second victim, Song Jaehwa, was reported missing eight days later.”

On the other side of the table, Taehyung flips through his notes, taking the conversation from Hoseok. “She was older than the first victim, twenty-two years old, and while she attended the same school, she didn’t seem to have any other connections with Heiran. Different majors, different clubs. She was an engineering major who worked at a restaurant near campus. Her coworkers were the first to notice she went missing when she didn’t show up for her shift at work.”

Seokjin realizes he recognizes the place when Taehyung reveals the name, as he’s frequented the place before. He recalls the picture of Jaehwa that he’s seen, but instead of trying to place her face at his shop, he tries to recreate any scene in his memories that involves her at the restaurant.

“I think I’ve seen her there,” Seokjin admits, raising his hand half-heartedly. He doesn’t mention her overly friendly attitude, letting Taehyung pick it up from his strained expression. He doesn’t want any connection to any of the victims; a connection to Seokjin is a connection to his shop, and he has no intentions of proving Hoseok’s vibes.

Luckily, the tension is dispersed by Namjoon mentioning that he’s also seen her there a few times, thanks to the fact that the restaurant’s close location to campus makes it a popular spot for the college kids.

“With the second missing girl, the police started taking the case more seriously,” Taehyung says, “which is when Jackson Wang, who was rumored to be dating Jaehwa, was pulled in as their prime suspect.”

“Wait, isn’t he the one who screamed ‘ I’m gay so please leave me alone ’ on TV? Because I hold major respect for that dude,” Yoongi comments, and the entire table chuckles except Namjoon. The purple-haired man groans with his head buried in his hands, grumbling about how embarrassing his roommate is.

“But now there’s the newest missing girl from last week, right?” Jungkook says, tapping his finger to his chin, sticking his lower lip out. “Jang Soojin, right?”

“I actually had classes with her, though I didn’t know her personally,” Namjoon chimes in. “She’s roommates with one of my good friends though. I know she’s on the judo team with Naomi, so whoever’s taking the girls is either really strong or using weapons.”

“Or catching them by surprise. Though it’s hard to tell, since no one has been able to figure or where the girls are being taken. No sites to check for scuffles or additional evidence,” Hoseok says, biting his lip. “But you’re friends with the roommate? Do you think you could get her to agree to answer some questions? Tae and I have talked to the circles of the other two girls and haven’t found anything, but who knows, maybe this’ll be our lucky break.”

“Wait, that’s not the only thing I need you to do!” Taehyung says, slamming his pen and notebook down. Namjoon jumps in his seat. “You know Park Songsoo? He’s a literature teacher at your school, and word is he’s on the suspect list for the case. Apparently someone reported that they saw him speaking to Soojin multiple times before her disappearance, and I want you to look into it. See if he interacted with any of the other girls.”

Namjoon groans. “You guys do realize I’m a student, right? I have essays to write! Tests to study for! Grades to cry over! Does it look like I have time to play detective?” He throws his hands up.

“Then what are you doing here?”

Namjoon’s hands come down. “I have a test tomorrow and I don’t want to study.” He sighs in defeat. “Okay, I’ll ask Naomi about it. I think she’s tired from talking to the police about it, but I’ll see. Same with Professor Park, though I haven’t taken a class from him in over a year, so no guarantees.”

Seokjin wants to pray that Namjoon can’t get ahold of the teacher simply so Seokjin (and Jungkook) can witness Namjoon’s failure, but every new lead they discover is one step closer to Seokjin’s shop finally being dismissed from the case. Seokjin’s tired. It’s only been a week, but he misses working with Yoongi, even if working together is usually done in silence.

He is glad that he met Hoseok and Taehyung. Even if Hoseok’s vibes are a little strange, Seokjin likes the energy Hoseok carries with him without acting too chaotic. And he likes Taehyung’s boxy smile, and the way he greets all the customers whenever he’s loitering at SUGA Cakes.

“Thanks hyung, you’re the best!” Taehyung beams at Namjoon. Jungkook claps his hands together, agreeing with the claim, and Seokjin doesn’t even have to look over at Hoseok to know he’s rolling his eyes the same way.

“I haven’t done anything yet,” Namjoon says, waving his hands in front of him. “I mean, Yoongi-hyung and Jungkook have been the ones doing all the work, right?”

Seokjin’s not sure when Namjoon and Yoongi got on a ‘hyung’ basis, but it’s hard to get distracted by that when Yoongi flashes Namjoon a gummy smile. It’s the end of the world, Seokjin decides. Not only has his brother betrayed him to side with Namjoon, but now his best friend is abandoning him as well. Apparently all his loved ones are easily persuaded by dimples. Next thing he knows, his mother will be trying to adopt Namjoon.

“I suppose I’ve worked a little bit,” Yoongi says, leaning back in his seat, hands placed behind his head. “I’m not detective, and you guys were right. The girls at the club were definitely hesitant at first to talk.”

Seokjin raises his eyebrows. “At first.”

Yoongi’s smile turns smug. “ At first. Especially since I was another guy, and they automatically associated their wariness for Jimin with me. But once I went against Jimin on stage, they’re lips got pretty loose around me.”

“Did you get any names?” Hoseok asks, and Taehyung hums in approval at the question.

“I got a few, but if you guys think strength has to be one of the suspect’s attributes, that cuts my list down. Most of the girls are pretty slim, and while they have muscle, it’s not enough to take down a judoka.”

“A lot of the girls carry mace on them though, and I think some of them even have stun guns,” Jungkook says. “I know, because they have to check them in with security while they’re in the club. I could probably make a list of names if you think it’d help.” He looks over at Taehyung with hesitant eyes.

“That’d be great! It’ll be handy info to know, especially if we ever find the sites of abduction and get a better clue of how the girls are being snatched,” Taehyung says. Jungkook’s shoulders relax and he grins proudly.

Taehyung turns back to Yoongi. “Without terms of abduction in thought, you didn’t find anyone who specifically would have something against the girls? Assuming that someone’s doing it because they hold a grudge against Jimin and therefore his fans.”

Yoongi sits back up in his chair and shrugs. “Honestly, I was thinking that the culprit could be Jimin at first, but he’s at Bulletproof almost every night they’re open, so I’m pretty sure he has an airtight alibi.”

“Jimin?” Taehyung shakes his head. “Nah, did you see him? A practical angel.”

“An angel?” Yoongi sputters with wide eyes. “I’m sorry, did you see the way he moved his hips on stage?”

“Hobi-hyung has his vibes, I have mine!” Taehyung says defensively with a pout.

Seokjin leans over so he can whisper into Hoseok’s ear, “Does he really have vibes too?”

“Everyone has vibes,” Hoseok whispers back, and despite the fact that Seokjin thinks the two of them are being quiet, Taehyung looks over at them with a knowing smile like he knows exactly what they’re talking about.

Hoseok shoots finger guns at Taehyung.

Seokjin’s pretty sure the only vibes he’s ever gotten in his life are the vibes he gets when his tummy rumbles, which means it’s time to eat. Like right now, his tummy is sending him vibes that scream that it’s dinner time and the only thing he’s ingested that day is two coffees and a carrot cupcake that he justified as lunch due to the healthy vegetables in it.

(Unfortunately, as the person who wrote the recipe, he knows that there’s less than a fifth of a serving of carrots in each serving of cupcake.)

Yoongi shakes off Taehyung's comment like Seokjin does, wrinkling his nose before continuing. “There was one girl that seemed particularly bitter towards Jimin, though I didn’t get much personal info on her. Apparently she used to make good enough money at Bulletproof to not have to work a daytime job, but that changed once Jimin came around. Kitty, the girl you guys met the first night you went to check the scene out? She was the one who told me about the girl, and it seems like a lot of the other girls have similar opinions.” Seokjin thinks it sounds like a pretty good clue and good work on Yoongi’s part, but his best friend quickly deflates with a sigh. “Her stagename is Sapphire, but I don’t have any information outside of that, and she’s one of the few girls who won’t talk to me. I guess I understand the security issue of not using real names even backstage, but it’s not very helpful for the investigation, huh?”

“It’s inconvenient, but that’s not your fault,” Hoseok reassures Yoongi, patting him on the shoulder. “That information alone is great, though! Singling her out alone allows Taehyung and me to snoop her out, name or no name, so don’t worry about it.”

Yoongi’s disappointed frown turns into a small smile, and it dawns on Seokjin that it isn’t just Jungkook having fun playing detective; Yoongi’s equally hooked. It’s exciting, Seokjin’s willing to admit, but he’s stressed as well. He just counts his lucky stars that each new piece of information brought to the table leads the case farther and farther away from his shop.

“Anything else to add before we finish up?” Hoseok asks, glancing around at the table. By now, Taehyung has gone through at least three pages of notes. It’s not even like his handwriting is big, and it leaves Seokjin wondering what exactly Taehyung writes in his notebook.

Seokjin’s disrupted from the thought when Taehyung actually puts the notebook down, and Seokjin can’t help but feel nervous when he finds Taehyung’s gaze set directly on him.

“Actually, I think there’s another suspect to add to the list. I’m actually surprised no one brought it up,” Taehyung says, tilting his head as his eyes never leave Seokjin. “Unless you never told them, hyung?”

“What do you mean?” Yoongi stands up, hands planted on the table. He’s the first to get defensive over Taehyung’s gaze directed at Seokjin, and while Seokjin would usually feel touched at his friend’s concern, all he can think about is that he wants Yoongi to sit back down.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin says lightly, biting his bottom lip. He wonders if Taehyung is getting vibes right now that he’s stepping into dangerous territory. “I don’t think it’s an issue.”

Even Hoseok looks confused, and Seokjin’s surprised that Taehyung didn’t tell Hoseok about it. Then again, maybe it was information he uncovered while Hoseok was helping out at the store. Seokjin’s not even sure how Taehyung got the information, but he supposes that’s what makes Taehyung a good detective; nothing gets passed him.

“Seokjin-hyung, can you tell me more about the letters that you reported to the police about a month ago? I was able to find out about the stalker reports, but I couldn’t see what exactly the letters said. For the sake of the case, could you share?”

At that moment, all Seokjin wants to do is punch Taehyung in the face. It’s not something he’d ever actually go through with; it’s hard to not be too fond of Taehyung. And the moment he even thinks about it, he feels horrible, because he knows Taehyung doesn’t have bad intentions, and that he’s just trying to solve the case. Plus, Taehyung probably didn’t have any idea that Seokjin hadn’t told Yoongi or Jungkook about the strange letters he had been getting in the mail.

If Taehyung didn’t know why it was a bad idea to reveal the information to everyone at the table, he does know, Seokjin thinks. Taehyung’s the first person to go bug-eyed when Yoongi slams his fists down on the table with a clang, staring at Seokjin in outrage.

“Letters?” Yoongi growls, eyebrows raised in disbelief. “ Stalker reports ? Hyung, what the actual fuck? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It wasn’t anything serious!” It’s a lie, but not a lie. Certainly nothing to make him feel in danger, but enough to make his skin crawl as he read endless amounts of letters that seemed to end up delivered to the store. None of the letters ever made it Seokjin’s personal address, but the letters held content of someone who must’ve been watching Seokjin constantly while he worked in the shop. The writing of how the sender loved Seokjin, how he wanted to be together with Seokjin, how he wondered if Seokjin would ever return his love, was enough for Seokjin to take the letters to the police in hopes of a solution that didn’t involve riling up his roommate. “I took the letters to the police, anyway!” And they told him that without any real threats in the letters, they couldn’t do anything about it, though Seokjin holds that part back.

“Hyung, obviously it is if Taehyung is bringing it up!” Both Yoongi and Seokjin have gone past the point of no return and have forgotten the idea of ‘inside voices’ as they shout at each other. “What did you think would happen? You could just hide it until something bad happened?”

“That’s what I was doing, and it was working just fine!” Seokjin doesn’t glare at Taehyung like he really wants to, knowing that the detective is already realizing his mistake of bringing up the subject so carelessly.

“Obviously not! If you haven’t noticed, Seokjin, there’s three girls missing and it could be all due to you!” Yoongi’s eyelid twitches, and the moment his jaw stiffens is the moment he realizes he’s gone too far, but he doesn’t take the words back either.

So Seokjin doesn’t feel any reason to hold back punches. “Well, maybe if you could investigate properly, we could actually figure out that it has nothing to do with a bunch of innocent letters I’ve gotten!”

In the background, Hoseok and Namjoon are both trying to calm the situation, with Hoseok placing a hand on Yoongi’s arm in hopes of coaxing him to sit back down. Seokjin’s aware of Namjoon’s hand resting on his own arm, squeezing lightly. They’re both talking, with Taehyung silent on his end of the table.

Jungkook joins the conversation with a softer voice, though it’s still loud enough to be heard over Seokjin and Yoongi, who are to the point of shouting random things at each other that no longer make sense to the argument.

“Hyung, why didn’t you tell us?” Jungkook asks, and usually, Jungkook’s soft, doey eyes would be enough to make Seokjin calm down, but Yoongi and the stress of the situation have him so riled up that he only snorts.

“I don’t know, Jungkook. Maybe it’s the same reason that you can text Namjoon and not me.”

It’s definitely not the petty words that Seokjin expects to come out of his mouth. He means to say something about it being for this very reason, to avoid everyone suddenly yelling at him. Or maybe explain that he’s terrified that maybe the letters are the key to the case, and Seokjin’s dragged his shop and three innocent girls into the picture simply because he let the police dismiss the potential stalker.

But no, he has to blurt out what’s been bothering him since Namjoon mentioned it hours ago, especially now that Namjoon is sitting right next to him, and though Seokjin’s cheeks are already flushed from anger, he feels them heat up even more.

Jungkook simply blinks, expression blank.

“But I didn’t text Namjoon-hyung? Hyung, you should know by now that my phone is for anime watching, and anime watching only.”

And suddenly, Namjoon is the one shouting. Not out of frustration like Seokjin and Yoongi had been, but he’s shouting random words that Seokjin can’t even make sense of. It’s loud enough that it throws everyone off, and suddenly everyone is shouting simply to be heard as they try to make sense of the situation.

The only thing that breaks it apart is a loud knock at the door, and everyone’s heads whip around to face the entrance. A breeze comes into the building, alerting Seokjin that not only did he forget to lock the doors after closing, but someone has actually opened the door.

That’s not what shocks Seokjin the most though. The person at the entrance closes the door behind them, taking a few steps forward. They’re dressed in casual light blue jeans and a dark hoodie, the hood worn up over their head. They take their hands out of their pockets to put the hood down, revealing a head of pink hair.

Familiar pink hair. And while it’s not the same face Seokjin’s used to seeing without all the makeup and stage lighting, soft eyes and even softer looking lips make it impossible to identify the person in front of them as anyone other than Jimin.

“Seems like I’m interrupting?” Jimin says, walking right up to the table so that he’s standing by Taehyung. Every pair of eyes at the table look ready to pop out of their sockets, no one expecting the sudden twist.

Even without the makeup or the stripper outfit, Jimin’s undeniably gorgeous. His voice catches Seokjin off guard; he didn’t expect such a sweet voice to belong to someone who danced so provocatively on stage. Combined with all the shouting, Seokjin’s throat feels particularly dry, but he manages to be the first one to speak.

“How can I help you?” He keeps his voice steady, hoping that somehow Jimin doesn’t recognize Yoongi and then blow his entire cover. But before Seokjin can even finish his wish, Jimin looks over at Yoongi with a knowing smile. It’s not malicious, but dare Seokjin say, friendly?

“More like, how can I help you ,” Jimin says in a sing-song voice, smiling. His eyes seem to disappear with his smile, shutting closed to form crescents. It’s a strangely innocent smile from someone Seokjin’s seen hip thrust in front of a crowd.

Jimin looks at Taehyung. “You’re from Vante Investigations, right? You’re probably looking into the case of the missing girls, right? Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard from Kitty.”

Taehyung nods. “You’ve heard right. I don’t suppose you’re here to offer up any and all information you have to offer, huh?”

Jimin giggles, and Seokjin almost coos at how soft it is. Somehow, Jimin has gone from wet dream material to looking absolutely perfect to pick up and put in Seokjin’s pocket.

“Silly, that’s exactly what I’m here to do!”

Even Yoongi can’t hide his disbelief, the stoic face he had been trying to maintain since Jimin walked over turning into doubt. “And why would you do that?”

Jimin’s smile drops a little bit. “Well, from what I’ve heard, you guys are looking into the situation at the nightclub because you think the girls’ disappearance might have something to do with the club, or in particular, me . And it doesn’t sit well with me that three innocent girls might be in danger because of me.”

“And so you decided to come offer potentially critical information to the case, despite the fact that it could cause you trouble at work?” Yoongi’s eyes narrow even more.

“Oh, I already have a new job, so it's not an issue.”

“Oh? Where?”

And in response, Jimin holds up the ‘SUGA CAKES: Help Wanted ’ sign that had been hanging on the door outside.

Chapter Text

Seokjin doesn’t pretend to have any of his life mapped out, but he feels confident saying hiring a stripper to sell his cupcakes was definitely never on the to-do list.

To his surprise, Jimin’s excellent at the job, scarily so. Without the stage lighting, loads of makeup and scandalous outfits, Seokjin can’t help but think that Jimin’s just another average person. Which is a thought he immediately retracts, because even without the interesting job occupation, Jimin’s anything but average.

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and Seokjin is groaning at the fact that he still doesn’t have Yoongi back in the store. At first getting to avoid Yoongi was a relief due to the tension remaining from the argument they had, but even that has mostly faded away, their friendship returning to a point of equilibrium. Also, Seokjin’s pretty sure he’s caught some sort of cold, from the way he keeps sniffling, but he also doesn’t have it in him to ask Yoongi to come into work. Nor does he dare invite Hoseok or Taehyung over to the store. Not that he doesn’t enjoy their company, but they’ve come and helped the last few days, and Seokjin doesn’t want to burden them anymore, especially when he knows they have other cases to focus on.

Admittedly, he was nervous introducing Jimin to the store so quickly. It’s been less than a week since Jimin came barging into the store declaring himself hired at SUGA Cakes. There had been heavy debate between Seokjin and Yoongi that night, discussing whether or not they could actually hire Jimin to work in the shop, and expectedly it took some convincing to get Yoongi to agree.

In the end they came to the agreement of hiring Jimin. For starters, it’s convenient because it means they don’t have to worry about finding a new employee anymore. Plus, Jimin reassured them that before he started working at Bulletproof, he had worked a few normal jobs, all in the customer service area. Then there’s the fact that Jimin could ruin Yoongi and Jungkook’s entire undercover mission, and without that or the extra information Jimin is willing to cough up, the lead in the case would come to a dead end.

When they called Jimin that night to tell him he could have the job, he sounded unsurprised by the news, and promised he would be in the next day. Which took Seokjin by surprise, because he hadn’t expected Jimin to take the job remotely seriously. In fact, he was shocked that Jimin had wanted the job in the first place, and remembered the conversation he had on the phone with Jimin perfectly.

“Why do you even want a job here?” Seokjin couldn’t help but ask, lying down on his bed with the phone pressed to his ear. The faint sound of music came from the wall to his left dividing his and Yoongi’s bedrooms.

SUGA Cakes is doing well, but in the food service industry, doing well means staying afloat and not closing down within the first three years. Thanks to outside help Seokjin was able to equip his kitchen with nicer equipment than the typical start up bakery, and the fact that he has an actual storefront rather than working completely online was a miracle in itself. A lot of the success the shop experiences is due to the luck they had when Yoongi found the building they currently occupy, which had just been put up for rent. The price is manageable, and the location is in the perfect part of town to attract customers.

Still, it’s not like they make enough money to give their employees anything more than minimum wage. During the slow seasons, like when the college kids went home for the Summer and weren’t around to provide business at SUGA Cakes, even Seokjin and Yoongi struggle with finances. It’s one of the reasons they still hadn’t moved out of their dinky apartment. Extra money that doesn’t go towards rent and general living expenses goes into savings that are touched during slow months, so they never have to worry too much about making rent. The one time they knew they were going to be late on their payment, in the first month or so of opening SUGA Cakes, Seokjin had left a dozen cupcakes at their landlord’s door and not only saved their apartment spot but also earned a regular customer.

So even though SUGA Cakes was constantly going up in profit, Seokjin was worried that Jimin didn’t realize what he was getting into. He wasn’t exactly sure how much money Jimin was making at Bulletproof, but if it was enough to not need a day job, then Seokjin figured it had to pay pretty well. Certainly more than Seokjin could afford to pay him. He understood why Jimin felt the need to quit his job at Bulletproof if he was going to be helping them with the case and potentially throwing his coworkers under the bus, but Seokjin figured that Jimin could easily find a job at another strip joint. In fact, from the few times Seokjin had watched Jimin perform on stage, he couldn’t help but think how out of place Jimin looked at the shabby dance club. Not just his appearance and dancing abilities, but the aura Jimin gave off didn’t belong in a club that didn’t even bother cleaning up the beer stains on the cracked concrete floors.

Luckily, Jimin didn’t sound offended by Seokjin’s question, a giggle heard from the other end of the line.

“Well, I wasn’t planning to, originally. I just wanted to swing by and offer the information when I saw the hiring sign,” Jimin explained. “And, I dunno, it just felt right? Almost like a vibe, y’know?”

Seokjin held back his groan and swore he’d choke the next person who mentioned vibes. What was with everyone and getting vibes from his store?

“Plus, Suga-hyung had brought in cupcakes from your place, and they were so good. And as an employee, I get free cupcakes, right?”

Seokjin doesn’t make any promises about free cupcakes, but it’s only two seconds into Jimin’s first shift that Seokjin concedes and lets Jimin eat whatever he wants. Luckily, unlike Jungkook, Jimin has the ability to eat in moderation, so Seokjin doesn’t have to worry about his newest employee eating him into debt.

Seokjin’s positive that whatever profit Jimin ends up eating, he makes twice as much in the sales he makes. Seokjin loves Jungkook from the bottom of his heart, and thinks he does his job great, but for the most part, customer service is about acting like you’re not absolutely miserable talking to other humans. For Seokjin, he’s neutral on the subject, but his excellent acting skills (as he tells everyone) allow him to look like he enjoys every interaction with every customer (especially the ones paying the big bucks). Jungkook isn’t bad at acting, but as an introvert, Seokjin knows it’s hard for Jungkook to go beyond managing to smile at every customer.

At first, Seokjin’s convinced Jimin is a really good actor, but the more he watches the ex-stripper assist customers up front, the more he realizes that it’s a lot more likely that Jimin simply enjoys the attention. When customers point out his pink hair, Jimin grins at the compliment. Seokjin wonders if the flirting Jimin does with the customers is intentional or not, the way he leans forward slightly, a hand running through his hair as he suggests cupcakes with a sneaky smile. Half the girls who walk into the store walk out completely red, and Seokjin’s sure they’ll return if they aren’t already regulars at the store. One group of men whisper about how being good-looking must be a requirement for SUGA Cakes, and Seokjin would be the first to admit that his entire staff is attractive.

(And of course, he’s in the number one spot).

The lunch crowd slowly leaves the store, and Seokjin emerges from the kitchen to find Jimin already working hard to clean the mess the customers left. Even after years of running the store, Seokjin’s shocked by the incredible mess full-grown adults leave whenever they eat.

“You having fun yet?” Seokjin asks, watching as Jimin sweeps up a cupcake wrapper that some middle-aged man thought he was too good to pick up after dropping it. For the briefest of moments, Seokjin sees Jimin’s own frustration bubble to the surface, reflected in the roll of his eyes.

“Sometimes I want to take a broom to a customer’s face, but besides that, it’s been pretty fun so far,” Jimin says nonchalantly, and Seokjin would be more concerned if he hadn’t had full-length conversations with Yoongi on where they’d hide a body if they accidentally killed a customer.

Seokjin nods, accepting the answer, and says, “Well, I suppose one could say-” he purses his lips, trying to swallow the laughter trying to make its way to the surface, “-that it’s a pretty sweet job.”

Yoongi says that the only reason Seokjin actually likes Jimin is because he laughs at his bad jokes. Which definitely isn’t true; Seokjin likes Jimin’s hard working attitude, the way he takes things seriously, and the fact that customers like him. What Seokjin doesn’t like about Jimin is the way he constantly blanches the moment Seokjin tries dancing, but Seokjin figures that the fact that Jimin laughs at his jokes makes up for it.

The way Jimin laughs is endearing. His entire body becomes involved in the action, his upper half collapsing, eyes squeezed shut so tightly that he certainly can’t see. In this situation Jimin uses the broom to hold himself up, but in the few days Jimin has worked at the store, Seokjin has realized that Jimin prefers to grab the closest human next to him and cling on as he falls over in laughter.

When Jungkook shows up around 4, his school day finally finished, he arrives just in time for Jimin to latch onto his arm as he properly appreciates Seokjin’s latest joke about loving whiteboards because they were so remarkable.

Jungkook doesn’t flinch like he did the first ten times Jimin used him as a personal support beam, not reacting at all to Jimin and instead groaning at Seokjin’s joke. Most people would find such a response discouraging, but Seokjin has learned to feed off the groans of annoyed listeners.

“Busy day?” Jungkook asks as he throws an apron on. It’s Yoongi’s apron, since Jungkook doesn’t have his own yet; the customized apron Seokjin ordered online doesn’t arrive until Saturday. So the apron is a bit small on Jungkook, being the small size for Yoongi, and Seokjin went ahead and was ambitious when he bought Jungkook’s apron, ordering the large size like his own. Right now, Jungkook’s still only a medium, but Seokjin can tell by the way that the youngest is putting on muscle that soon a medium will be too tight. He made the mistake of getting a medium for Jungkook’s shirt size, and Seokjin sees how tight it already looks on Jungkook and that sooner or later he’ll have to order a size larger. He makes a mental note not to just order shirts for Jungkook, but for himself as well, as the seams at the shoulders on his shirt are starting to tear.

Seokjin shrugs. “It was a little busy.” Which is a lie. It feels like every single day at the shop is getting busier and busier, and he knows it’s because of Taehyung and Hoseok. Too many customers came in that day requesting that they “have the same cupcakes as V and J-Hope”. When Seokjin went to check Vante Investigations Twitter page, there’s a selfie of Taehyung and Hoseok, both of them taking a bite out of one of Seokjin’s cupcakes. And even though Taehyung and Hoseok are supposed to be the investigators, apparently their fans are just as good, and managed to identify the cupcakes merely from their wrappers.

Jungkook hums in response, already off to wash his hands in the sink. Seokjin already texted Jungkook earlier (only to be left on read) that there’s a catering order that has to be ready by Friday morning, and with his main baker gone and the size of the order, Seokjin decides to at least start the order tonight. The cupcakes that Seokjin made today are waiting in the fridge, cooling, and it’s up to Jungkook to finish frosting and decorating them. It’s for a wedding, and even though Seokjin refuses to do actual full size cakes, he’s willing to put cupcakes in tiers to give the illusion.

Jimin gets to go on break, and Seokjin’s working the counter when Yoongi walks in, followed by Hoseok. Hoseok is laughing, and by the way he’s pointing at Yoongi it has to do with Yoongi’s shorts, which cause even Seokjin to do a double take at the fashion choices of Yoongi that night.

Jimin gets off his break just in time to witness Yoongi walking in, and he claps his hands together excitedly. He shouts, “I knew you’d look good in those shorts! I remember thinking it one night, how thin your legs are, and I definitely think it highlights their elegance.”

Yoongi deadpans, “I don’t think there’s anything elegant about a pair of booty shorts.”

Seokjin wants to agree with Yoongi, he really does. He’s never pictured his best friends wearing a pair of jean shorts so short they look mistakable for underwear, but maybe Seokjin was missing out on one of the greater things in life, because Jimin’s right; Yoongi looks good . Elegant isn’t the word that comes to Seokjin’s mind, but as he takes in the sight of Yoongi’s thin, pale, unmarked legs, elegant doesn’t seem too inaccurate of a term to dub them with.

From the back of the store, Jungkook runs up to the curtain dividers, peaks his head out and says, “There’s nothing not elegant about booty shorts!”

Jimin, who’s still standing behind the counter, spins around to face Jungkook and proceeds to high-five him. Seokjin can’t help but smile over the reaction for two reasons. First, because he’s in favor of all interactions that gang up against Yoongi. Second, he was worried about how Jungkook was going to get along with Jimin. Introducing Jimin into the store felt like bringing home a new baby and hoping the older child didn’t get jealous. The analogy isn’t perfect, considering Jimin and Jungkook’s ages are actually flipped, but it’s the same feeling. Luckily no problems have arisen yet, and Seokjin’s counts his lucky stars that he has one less thing to worry about.

“No Taehyung today?” Seokjin asks, gesturing to the empty spot next to Hoseok. It’s not unheard of that one of the detectives comes to the cupcake store by themselves, but it’s been agreed in their group chat that they’d all gather before Yoongi had to go to work to discuss the case.

“He’s on his way with Namjoon. They should be here in less than ten, unless Taehyung wrecks havoc on the roads.” Hoseok sighs, and Seokjin senses the unspoken again . He remembers Taehyung mentioning that he only recently got his driver's license, so if there’s a track record like Hoseok’s tone suggests, Seokjin finds it strangely impressive.

While they wait for Taehyung and Namjoon (Seokjin is dying to know who invited him again, because he does not want to watch Jungkook make heart eyes any time words come out of Namjoon’s mouth), Yoongi goes over the information he’s gathered so far with Jimin, Hoseok listening in the background. They go over the list of suspects Jimin provided them, and Yoongi compares it to what he’s heard. Jungkook pitches in as well, and though his information isn’t nearly as useful, all three of the other men shower Jungkook in compliments, leaving Jungkook a smiling mess.

Unfortunately, as much as Seokjin wants to eavesdrop, he does have a store to tend to. Customers don’t file in as quickly as they did earlier in the day, but the ones that do stare at Yoongi strangely, only to be glared at in return. Luckily, most customers don’t associate Yoongi’s face with the store, especially with the amount of makeup Yoongi is wearing.

Seokjin is finishing ringing up a customer, a college boy from what he can tell, when Taehyung and Namjoon finally arrive. Seokjin and Jimin switch spots so that Jimin is busy helping potential customers and Seokjin is able to participate in any conversations about the case.

Taehyung immediately cheers when he sees Yoongi’s shorts and joins everyone at the table. He has a coffee in his hand, and when Seokjin glances at Namjoon, he notes that the tallest is holding a similar drink holder to the one he brought in a week ago, holding two similar coffees.

Seokjin gets distracted by the chaos ongoing at the table with the rest of the boys, Yoongi yelling as he slaps away Hoseok and Taehyung’s wandering hands, and he doesn’t notice that Namjoon has approached him until there’s a cup thrust in front of his face.
Seokjin blinks, staring at the clear, plastic coffee cup. Then he shifts his focus to the hand holding said coffee cup, then to the arm said hand is attached to, and finally he realizes that Namjoon is offering the cup to him.

There’s a strange twist in his gut, and he’s smiling long before he can even realize it and try to hide it.

“For me?” He asks, though he’s already taking the drink in his hand, pulling it close and taking a sip. The sweet, creamy flavor hits his tongue, and he recognizes it as the same drink Namjoon brought last time.

“Hey! What’s with this obvious discrimination?” Hoseok whines from the table, eyeing the three drinks. “Tae, why didn’t you bring me anything?”

Taehyung shrugs. “Namjoon-hyung was buying.”

Hoseok turns his gaze to Namjoon. “Namjoon? Don’t tell me you’re really betraying me like this?”

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “I paid for Tae since he offered to pick me up.”

“What about Seokjin-hyung? He didn’t do anything special!”

Seokjin misses the way Namjoon’s face turns pink, mouth opening and closing, words to form an excuse leaving his lips silently. Instead, he’s busy scolding Hoseok for daring to call him anything but special. He’s about five seconds away from kicking Hoseok out of the store (granted, they’re both laughing and Seokjin can’t take his own threats seriously) when Namjoon interrupts.

“Um, Tae, I finally got an appointment with Professor Park, by the way. He happened to have an opening tomorrow afternoon,” Namjoon says.

Taehyung nods and asks, “Did you give him the fake story like I told you to?”

Seokjin knows what the fake story is: two college kids looking to interview Professor Park on his professional teaching etiquette. The lie includes a pair of people, so Taehyung can sneak in with Namjoon and do actual investigating. The subject of the interview has two bonuses. One, it’s enough brown-nosing to make Seokjin feel sick to his stomach, but it’s the perfect kind of bait to lure a college professor probably looking for a boost in his reputation and maybe even a raise. Two, it provides the perfect leeway to ask about the missing girls and if Professor Park has had any interactions with them.

Namjoon nods, and Seokjin’s ready to conclude that they have another angle for the missing persons’ case in the bag when he notices the way Taehyung pouts.

“Well, that’s a problem, considering neither Hobi-hyung and I am available tomorrow.”

Namjoon gapes. “What you mean? Tae, you’re the one who wanted me to set up the meeting for you!”

Taehyung grins sheepishly. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting you to do it, so I didn’t bother clearing my schedule. Besides, I’m a busy man, y’know.”

Namjoon looks over at Hoseok expectantly, as if he’s responsible of Taehyung’s shenanigans, but Hoseok wears a similar goofy expression, causing Namjoon to cover his face with his hands and sigh.

“Well, if I cancel on him now, I probably won’t be able to arrange another meeting,” Namjoon admits, cupping the back of his neck, lower lip jutting out. “Are you sure you can’t make it, Tae? Can’t you just reschedule your other meeting or something?”

Taehyung shakes his head, explaining that the client is flying in from Hong Kong for a business retreat, and is only available for consultation tomorrow. The case sounds impressive, but it doesn’t mean Namjoon looks happy about the situation.

“I guess I’ll go ahead and email him-”

“Aw, c’mon hyung, can’t you just go in by yourself?” Taehyung interrupts, standing back up so he can run over and cling onto Namjoon’s arm. “I really don’t have time to try to figure out another way to interrogate him without raising suspicion! I’ll even give you a list of questions to ask him!”

Namjoon pouts. “I don’t wanna go by myself! I’m not a detective! What if I mess up or something?” At first, Seokjin thinks that Namjoon’s just being lazy, but the more he speaks, the more his voice wavers, and the actual fear of messing up is reflected in the way he bites his lips, eyes cast towards the ground.

“I’ll go with you hyung!”

Seokjin’s not sure why he’s surprised to hear Jungkook volunteer. There’s a little bit of reasoning behind it, exhibit A being that outside of school and work, Jungkook isn’t known to volunteer himself for interactions with humans (unless he’s gaming online, as Jungkook has explained to Seokjin multiple times, yelling at people on online servers doesn’t actually count).

Of course, Jungkook’s aversion to meeting new people is completely thrown out the window if it means he can help Namjoon . Of course.

Seokjin (obviously) hates to be the one to burst Jungkook’s bubble, but he quickly reminds the younger, “You have to finish decorating the rest of the catering order tomorrow.” Jungkook won’t be in the store Friday since he has to rest before going to work at the club, which is another reason Seokjin’s already started the catering order even though its not due for another day or so.

“Then I’ll just skip school so I can finish it and help Namjoon-hyung!”

Seokjin’s not sure if Jungkook’s motivation to help out is purely so he can assist Namjoon or if he’s just looking for a chance to play hooky. While he likes the latter reason better, he has to dismiss Jungkook’s idea, and Yoongi chimes in as well.

Except Seokjin doesn’t like Yoongi’s idea, as the words leave his mouth.

“How ‘bout you go with him, hyung?” Yoongi says, the corners of his lips twitching upward. Seokjin knows he’s trying to keep a neutral expression, but it doesn’t take more than a few brain cells (which is good, because Seokjin’s sharing his last few remaining ones with Jungkook half the time) to recognize Yoongi’s smirk.

“I can’t just leave Jungkook alone in the store!” Seokjin protests. It only earns an eye roll from Yoongi.

Jungkook looks torn over the situation. “I mean, if Jimin can come in tomorrow-” he glances over at Jimin, who shrugs and replies about having nothing better to do, “-then I would be able to finish the cupcake order. Plus, it wouldn’t take you that long, right?”

Seokjin really doesn’t like all the good points Jungkook is making, and he finds it hard to find any points to retort with (which means Jungkook is using up an unfair amount of their shared brain cells).

At this point, everyone is staring at Seokjin, and he’s glad there aren’t any customers lingering in the store to wonder what’s going on. “I mean, it wouldn’t take that long, but…” Seokjin glances over at Namjoon, and the moment their eyes meet, Namjoon looks away, eyes focusing on nothing in particular. Seokjin huffs, thinking that Namjoon is just as reluctant to have Seokjin tag along as Seokjin is to tag along.

“Hyung,” Taehyung whines, elongating the vowel sound as he starts shaking Namjoon’s arm. “Can’t you just go by yourself? You’ll do great, I just know it!”

Seokjin’s groan comes before Jungkook can even speak, but it doesn’t mean he misses the way his step-brother avidly agrees with Taehyung. It’s something Seokjin is trying to learn to tune out, but he can’t ignore it any longer when Jungkook says, “You don’t need Seokjin-hyung to help you out!”

Seokjin inhales sharply, and it’s a good thing he finds Jungkook so cute, or else he knows he’d go in for the kill, right there and then. Or maybe he’d strangle Namjoon instead, for looking so bashful about it all, shaking his head like he doesn’t think he’s as amazing as he is. Modest bastard , Seokjin thinks bitterly.

There’s no way he’s going to let Namjoon show him up like that, and there’s no way he’s going to let Jungkook roam free in the world thinking that there’s situations in life where Seokjin isn’t necessary. And even if he isn’t necessary, he’s a damn good asset, and if in order to prove it to Jungkook (and everyone else, of course, but mostly Jungkook) he has to pair up with Namjoon, then be damned, he’d be the best partner in crime Namjoon ever had.

“What time is it?” Seokjin asks, sighing when Namjoons stares blankly at him. “The meeting with the professor. What time is it?”

Namjoon, wide-eyed and cheeks looking flushed, gapes at Seokjin for a moment before finally collecting himself.

“Ah, no, it’s okay, you don’t have to come-”

“-I don’t have to, but I will,” Seokjin says, narrowing his eyes at Namjoon. “As the best hyung, it would be irresponsible to let you go alone.”

Namjoon doesn’t look convinced, and his eyes wander around the room to find Jungkook’s, as there’s a pleading expression.

A sly smile plays across Jungkook’s face, but Seokjin can’t dwell on it too much as Jungkook quickly covers his mouth with his fist. “No, that’ll be good. I’m sure Namjoon-hyung will enjoy your company, hyung.”

Namjoon glares at Jungkook, and Seokjin would be lying if he said his feelings weren’t a little hurt. It’s not like he was eager to hang out with Namjoon more than necessary either, but Namjoon’s reluctance towards Seokjin’s presence is damaging towards his ego.

“Yeah, it’ll be a great idea,” Jungkook says, nodding happily. “Don’t worry hyung, I’ll watch the store so you don’t have to worry. But you should definitely go with Namjoon-hyung.” He glances at Namjoon again, with a knowing expression Seokjin can’t decipher, and Namjoon covers his face with his hands, mumbling words that Seokjin can’t hear.

Jungkook keeps insisting for a few minutes afterwards that before an agreement comes that Namjoon and Seokjin will go and investigate Professor Park together tomorrow. Namjoon doesn’t look too happy about the arrangement on the outside, and Seokjin certainly isn’t happy about the arrangement on the inside. Seokjin promises to text Namjoon tonight, saying what time he’ll pick him up tomorrow since he has a car and Namjoon’s apartment isn’t out of the way on the drive to the college.

Eventually, the group of boys filter out of the shop, and when Namjoon tags along with Taehyung for a ride home, the last thing he does before walking out the doors is turn to face Seokjin with a shy smile that exposes his dimples, waving and saying that he looks forward to tomorrow.

Seokjin thinks he needs to invest in a better AC unit when he feels his face grow warm despite the cool temperatures outside.

 

***

 

Seokjin only has a few minutes to talk to Jungkook once the boy arrives at SUGA Cakes, a sheen of sweat visible on his forehead from the intensity with which he road his bike from the school to the shop. Seokjin explains how the cupcakes for the catering order need to be done, and makes sure that Jungkook remembers to call Seokjin if anything pops up that he thinks he can’t handle. Then he’s out the door, leaving Jungkook and Jimin to their own devices (and praying they don’t burn the store down).

It’s a little before four when Seokjin arrives at the address Namjoon texted him. He parks his car and whips his phone out to text Namjoon that he’s here. There’s less than a minute before Namjoon responds, saying he’ll be out in a moment. Seokjin finds himself already annoyed; of course Namjoon is punctual. Seokjin’s desperate to find one weakness of Namjoon’s, and Namjoon isn’t helping with the case against himself at all.

In fact, Namjoon looks extra perfect today, and Seokjin can’t deny the way his heart flips in his chest when he first spots Namjoon, and he swallows the lump in his throat as he rolls his window down so he can wave Namjoon over.

Namjoon’s legs are painfully longer than Yoongi’s, the last person to ride in the passenger seat of Seokjin’s car. It’s amusing to watch Namjoon try to cram his long legs into the small space, but in the end, Seokjin feels bad and tells him how to adjust the seat back. He notes how Namjoon’s seat goes farther back than even his own, and it finally dawns on him that Namjoon might be taller than him, which is completely unacceptable.

“You wear glasses?” Seokjin asks once Namjoon has himself buckled in.

It’s the first time Seokjin’s seen Namjoon wearing the black, rectangular frames adorning his face. They pair well with his exposed forehead, his purple hair pushed back the same way it had been when they first went to Bulletproof, with only a few strands falling forward. The clothes are definitely the most formal Seokjin’s seen Namjoon in, as he stares at the white button up shirt where the buttons are strained at the chest area, tucked into a pair of grey dress pants. The sleeves of the shirt are rolled up neatly to his elbows, and the entire outfit has Seokjin feeling underdressed. He’s also dressed up in slightly less casual wear than normal, but it’s nothing better than a white sweater that he knows emphasizes his wide shoulders and a pair of jeans without rips in them.

Namjoon jumps in his seat at the question and immediately rips the glasses off his face. “I mean, they’re reading glasses, but I figured they’d help me look a little smarter?” He laughs self-deprecatingly, staring at the glasses in his hands. “I guess it was a pretty dumb idea, huh?”

Seokjin leans over towards Namjoon’s side, plucking the glasses from his hand without a word. Namjoon yelps at the sudden movement and scrambles to take the glasses back, but they’re already in Seokjin’s possession.

“Don’t move,” Seokjin says sternly, and immediately Namjoon’s hands fall to his sides, and he stares at Seokjin in confusion, and while the older is plenty confused on the inside as well, he keeps his lips pursed and eyes narrowed, willing away the blush he knows is coming.

Leaning over so he can avoid stabbing Namjoon in the eye (as funny as that would be, the devil on his shoulder whispers), Seokjin takes the glasses in his hands and puts them back on Namjoon’s face, sliding them on until the tips of his fingers brush the top of Namjoon’s ears.

“They look great,” Seokjin says seriously, hands sliding from the glasses to Namjoon’s cheeks, and he gives them a light pinch. “So don’t you dare try taking them off again, okay?”

Underneath Seokjin’s hands, Namjoon’s skin feels incredibly warm. He watches Namjoon’s throat bob as he swallows, then feels Namjoon nod in his hands.

Satisfied with the answer, he pulls back and buckles himself up, and they’re off to the college. It’s a longer drive than Seokjin predicted, and he wonders how Namjoon gets to school everyday if he doesn’t drive and there’s such a distance. He knows there’s the public bus, but he’s also done enough research in attempts to help Jungkook use it on days Seokjin can’t pick him up to know that its schedule isn’t the most convenient, and Seokjin doesn’t spot any bus stops on the way to the school.

“You must have, oh, I dunno, super duper good parking karma,” Namjoon says with an impressed whistle once Seokjin finds a parking spot close to the side of the campus they need to be on to get to Professor Park’s office.

“I don’t have karma, I am karma,” Seokjin says, trying to keep a straight face. It doesn’t work once he catches sight of Namjoon’s genuine smile (and dimples, ah, curse them) and he cracks up laughing, quickly followed by Namjoon.

They arrive at Professor Park’s office only a minute before the predetermined meeting time, and Seokjin can feel the sweat starting to form at his hands. He’s good at talking to people, and generally likable, but he’s worried about how the conversation with Professor Park will go. If they were genuinely trying to interview him it’d be one thing, but not only is the whole thing a lie, they’re trying to find a clue to tie him to the disappearances of the girls. The consequences of messing up are a little higher than what Seokjin’s used to.

A knock on the door later, Namjoon and Seokjin are in Professor Park’s office. Seokjin, has never actually been inside of a college due to the fact that he knew his education wasn’t going to go past high school since his sophomore year. It never interested him to check out potential colleges, so stepping into a college professor’s office is an experience for him.

He’s watched TV, and while he’s not sure if it’s any accurate, if he has to compare he’s pretty sure Professor Park has a decently big office. It makes sense though, for the level of academics the college is at, it seems expected. Last night, Seokjin did his research on not only Professor Park, but the school as well, to avoid going into the interview looking like a complete idiot. Namjoon has the advantage of knowing the school better since it’s his own, but also apparently a complete intellectual advantage. Seokjin was shocked when he saw the low acceptance rates and high recommended test scores of the school. It’s more elite of a school that Seokjin originally thought, which is why he knows the school must be desperate to cover up the disappearances of the girls to avoid ruining their reputation.

While Namjoon introduces them and recaps what the goal of the interview is, Seokjin can’t help but stare at the the professor. As expected for a school official, his hair is a natural black, which Seokjin can appreciate, his own hair color being a dark brown. He wears glasses, like Namjoon, though his are much more round, the frame colored silver. He has shockingly thick lips for a man, and a strange feeling nags at Seokjin’s gut (which he almost calls a vibe before throwing the word out of his vocabulary permanently) that he can’t quite place.

“So how long have you been teaching here?” Namjoon asks, holding a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other. It immediately reminds Seokjin of Taehyung, and he bites back a smile at their obvious relation as he pulls out his iPad, opting out of the old fashioned way of taking notes. He briefly looks up so he can ask if it’s okay to record the conversation, which Professor Park agrees to after a moment of hesitation.

Seokjin looks over at Namjoon only to find that the younger man is already staring at him, and while they don’t say anything, Namjoon’s lips are pressed tight together, and his eyebrows are slightly raised. Seokjin nods; the professor’s hesitation is enough to be caught on both of their radars.

Namjoon takes the lead, since he has the list of questions from Taehyung, and Seokjin isn’t really sure why he’s there. For all the lack of confidence Namjoon displayed the day before, he’s doing well with the entire situation, each question flowing from one to the next smoothly.

The questions start off simple, asking for information that they could’ve easily pulled of the internet: general background information that they’re not particularly interested in. The same goes when Namjoon starts asking about his teaching techniques, and Seokjin can barely resist the urge to roll his eyes when Professor Park starts talking about his most memorable teaching experience, which is a story that ends with him winning some sort of an award.

Seokjin’s half asleep when the interview finally reveals its true purpose.

“Would you say that you make yourself available for students who are struggling in your class?” Namjoon asks, and Seokjin focuses in. He has to admit that Taehyung’s strategy to get information from the professor in a casual setting is something genius. If the professor knew they were investigating the missing girls, it’d be a hot second before he’d shut down the conversation, but because he’s under the impression he just gets to brag about his supremacy at teaching, he doesn’t even blink at the question.

“I have open office hours from two to four, Monday through Thursday, though I’m always willing to meet a student outside of those hours as long as they email me beforehand,” he answers earnestly, which has Seokjin feeling conflicted. Part of him really wants him to be the culprit so they can wrap up the case, but another part of Seokjin can’t help but admire how charismatic Professor Park is.

A thought comes to Seokjin.

“Sorry if this seems a little blunt,” Seokjin says, ignoring Namjoon’s shocked expression. Seokjin’s been almost completely silent the entire interview, outside of a few hums of agreement. “But do you ever have students talk to you about non-academic problems?” Even Professor Park seems thrown off by the question, and Seokjin sees the way his shoulders tense, like he’s ready to go back in the defensive mode he was in at the beginning.

“It’s just, this may sound weird, but you give off some really trustworthy-” Seokjin chokes on the word, “-vibes. From my own experience, a lot of college kids are looking for someone to confide in, and I was wondering if you were there for the students in that sense as well.”

When Seokjin glances over at Namjoon, he can see the smile he’s trying to hide behind his fist. Seokjin has to stop himself from smirking as he stares at the professor, who’s shoulders and expression have relaxed once again. The question allows Professor Park to compliment himself some more, and depending on his answer, it might lead to him revealing that he had a closer relationship with some of the students, and that could include Jang Soojin, the most recent missing girl that Taehyung said was spotted in Professor Park’s office hours. It could all be a coincidence, of course, but it could also lead to a break in the case.

Professor Park nods. “While I don’t make a point to advertise it, I have many students who come to speak to me about personal advice, and it’s my honor to help them in whatever way I can. That’s my job as a teacher, after all.”

Namjoon takes the opportunity to ask, “I bet you’ve had to deal with a lot recently, with all the missing girls from school. It’s been pretty tough, huh?”

Seokjin is pretty sure the only reason Namjoon gets away with the question is because he uses his deadly dimples against Professor Park, and while the professor’s expression darkens at the mention of the missing girls, he still answers.

“It’s been affecting…” He trails off, struggling to pick the right words to respond with, “it’s been affecting everyone, I would say. Rightfully so. Truly tragic events.”

“I would imagine. One of my best friends, her roommate was one of the girls who went missing, and she’s been struggling a lot with it.” Namjoon tilts his head, pushing his glasses back when they start to fall forward. “Did you know any of the girls personally? I’m sure this must be rough on you too.”

Professor Park’s eyes drift to the clock above his office door, and Seokjin knows he’s counting down the minutes before he can kick them out now that they’ve started to make him feel uncomfortable. He promised forty-five minutes according to the email response Namjoon got, which mean they have a little less than five minutes to finish up the interview.

“Yes, Miss Jang is in my class this term, and I’ve have the other girls in my classes before. As a teacher, it’s one of the worst things that can happen,” Professor Park answers after another minute of thought.

Seokjin looks over at Namjoon, wanting to see what he thought of Professor Park’s response. Seokjin wishes they had Taehyung or Hoseok with them, who are probably a lot better at reading lies than they are. To Seokjin, the distraught in the professor’s voice sounds legitimate, but after years of working customer service, Seokjin knows how easy it is to fake emotions in order to please people.

Seokjin feels stuck. He feels like he’s grasping at straws to try and involve Professor Park in the case. Similar to Jackson’s case, it’s not fair to assume the professor is guilty just because he associated with all of the girls.

Plus, there’s no motive that he can think of. The obvious one is that the professor is trying to pick up college girls gone bad, but Professor Park’s office makes Seokjin think otherwise. There’s multiple picture frames set up around the room, displaying pictures of Professor Park and a woman Seokjin assumes is his wife. During the interview, Professor Park even mentioned her a few times, and the way his expression softened when he did didn’t give Seokjin the impression that he was off trying to have affairs with kids barely above the age of the law.

Namjoon is staring deeply at Professor Park, squinting his eyes as if he’s searching for the answer like it’d be written on him. He hums quietly and leans back in his seat, legs crossed.

“I see,” Namjoon says, and for a moment, Seokjin thinks Namjoon must be as stumped as he is when Namjoon says, “It seems like there might be a connection with the dance club nearby. Bulletproof. You know it?”

Seokjin is a professional, which is why he only almost drops his iPad at the mention of Bulletproof. As a now valid follower of Vante Investigation’s Twitter page, Seokjin knows they haven’t dare spoken about any possible leads in the case. They’ve even discussed how they should keep everything on the downlow during the few meetings the group has had, which is why Jimin doesn’t get debriefed on anything outside of the dance club angle.

So the fact that Namjoon is casually bringing it up to Professor Park leaves Seokjin baffled. He’s even more baffled when not only does Professor Park not look surprised by the information, but snorts distastefully instead.

“It would make sense, if that’s the case. I’ve been telling my students for years not to go to the dump. It’s not safe, and full of-” Professor Park realizes he’s raising his voice and takes a deep breath, straightening his tie, “-full of negative influences that my students don’t need to be associated with.”

He’s obviously upset, and while Seokjin is lost on the reasoning behind the professor’s passionate dislike of Bulletproof, Namjoon seems to find the answer substantial and calls the interview to a close, just a minute before their time is up.

Seokjin has his hand on the door handle when he hears Namjoon’s footsteps behind him come to a halt, and he hears Namjoon’s deep voice suddenly ask, “Professor Park, you don’t happen to have a son, do you?”

Namjoon’s hand lands on Seokjin’s shoulder, holding him back, and Seokjin twists his neck around to see Professor Park’s expression as he answers the question.

It’s impossible to miss the way the professor’s jaw tenses, before he firmly response, “No, I have no son.”
Namjoon is quick to apologize. “Ah, sorry, you just look like someone I know, my mistake. Anyway, thanks for today.”

They finally get to leave, and once they’re outside the building, Seokjin pulls Namjoon to a halt, hand wrapped around Namjoon’s wrist.

“What was that about?” Seokjin blurts, not worried about passing by students. The campus definitely isn’t empty, but he doubts anyone is interested in listening in to Namjoon and Seokjin’s conversation.

“What was what about?” Namjoon replies, brows furrowed. His eyes aren’t focused on Seokjin, he quickly realizes, and when he follows Namjoon’s gaze, he sees that Namjoon is staring at where Seokjin has his grip on Namjoon which he still hasn’t released. Like he’s been burnt, Seokjin quickly drops Namjoon’s arm.

“Why’d you mention the dance club? Didn’t you hear Taehyung and Hoseok? We’re supposed to keep this stuff under wraps!”

“Ah! Speaking of Tae, I need to text him,” Namjoon says, completely ignoring Seokjin’s question. Namjoon pulls his phone out, preparing to text Taehyung, Seokjin assumes.

“Text him what?”

Namjoon looks up from his phone. “I need him to look into whether Professor Park actually has a son are not. My bet’s he’s a liar.”

Seokjin frowns. While Professor Park’s response had seemed terse, he figured it had to do more with the previous conversation rather than the last-minute question. “You think he has a son?”

Namjoon nods. “And I think we both know him too.”

And it clicks.

“Jimin?”

It seems absurd at first, and then Seokjin thinks about it. The obvious hint is their last names, and even though there’s about ten million other people in the world with the same last name, too many other facts make it hard to call a coincidence. There was something familiar about Professor Park, and now Seokjin recognizes it to be his face, and how similar it looks to the stripper he has hired at his cupcake store.

Seokjin’s about to ask Namjoon what he thinks this means for the case when someone calls out Namjoon’s name.

Both boys turn around to face the source of the voice, and Seokjin sees a girl with a shy smile waving at Namjoon. Namjoon waves back, and the girl walks over immediately, almost tripping over her feet in her rush to come over.

“Aren’t you done with classes for the day?” she asks, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. She has to be around Namjoon’s age, maybe a little younger. Her Korean sounds like her mother tongue, but her facial features tell another story, and Seokjin thinks she has to be at least half foreign blood.

“Ah, I-” Namjoon glances at Seokjin, fishing for an answer. Seokjin shrugs, not caring what type of fib Namjoon tells his friend. “I just forgot something on campus, and Seokjin-hyung was nice enough to accompany me back.” To strengthen the statement, Namjoon throws his arm around Seokjin’s shoulders, pulling him closer like they’re good friends, and not two acquaintances working together to secretly solve a case.

Almost as if the girl is just realizing Seokjin’s presence, she turns to look at him, expression blank as she blinks at him. It’s a bit unnerving, but Seokjin manages his best customer service smile.

Namjoon must sense the tension, and says hesitantly, “Hyung, this is my good friend, Naomi. She’s a Japanese major, like me.”

Seokjin isn’t sure why he’s supposed to care about Namjoon’s random friends until he remembers the conversation they had with the professor earlier, and how Namjoon had mentioned one of his best friends being roommates with the most recent missing girl. Judging from the pointed look Namjoon sends him, this is the girl, and it suddenly makes sense why she seems so unnerved around Seokjin. Of course, there’s no proof that the person responsible for the missing girls is male, but its presumed considering it usually takes a fair amount of strength to abduct someone. If Naomi is wary of Jackson, who’s Namjoon’s (self-declared) best friend, then it’s no surprise she’s cautious of Seokjin.

“You can be so ditzy sometimes,” Naomi teases, lightly tapping Namjoon’s chest with her fist. “But you look good today. I didn’t know you wore glasses.” As the words leave her mouth, her cheeks tint pink, and Seokjin is glad no one is focusing on him to notice how he laughs to himself, finally understanding the situation. He watches Naomi sway her balance from foot to foot, fiddling with her fingers in front of her. She’s on the taller side for females, though she’s still shorter than Seokjin by an inch or so. Her hair is bleached to a light brown, the length reaching her shoulders. Overall, she’s a cute girl, but judging by the way Namjoon looks back at her, he hasn’t realized that he’s the one making her face turn so red.

“He looks good, right?” Seokjin says proudly, remembering the moment in the car with Namjoon’s self-doubt. He’s glad Naomi is there to reassure Namjoon that he looks good, as Namjoon obviously doesn’t care what Seokjin thinks.

Namjoon’s entire face is red, which is amusing, and he stares at the crowd while he scratches the back of his neck, laughing quietly at the compliment like he doesn’t know what to say. If it were Seokjin, he’d proudly agree, but Seokjin’s starting to realize that’s not Namjoon’s style, which is honestly a waste. Namjoon’s admittedly a very attractive man, and Seokjin doesn’t see the point of it if Namjoon doesn’t realize it himself.

Namjoon’s staring at Seokjin, and he opens his mouth like he wants to say something, but closes it immediately when he realizes Seokjin has caught his gaze. Seokjin is about to question it when Naomi continues talking.

“Anyway, Namjoon, we haven’t been able to hang out in forever,” Naomi says, leaning forwards with her bottom lip jutted out to form a sweet pout.

Namjoon laughs. “Well, I’ve been pretty busy, I’ve barely even seen Jackson, and he’s my roomate. I think he said he has time available this weekend, so the three of us should definitely hang out.”

Naomi’s expression immediately deflates, and Seokjin has to slap a hand over his mouth to stop the laughter from coming out. He thinks it might be Namjoon’s way of lightly trying to reject his friend’s advances, but when he looks at Namjoon, his expression reads genuine excitement for his friends to hang out rather than the awkwardness you would see when rejecting someone. Namjoon’s obliviousness towards his friend’s feelings is comedic (probably not to Naomi, but that’s not Seokjin’s problem) and Seokjin can’t begin to imagine not recognizing someone’s feelings straight off the bat, especially if they’re as obvious as Naomi.

As much as Seokjin would like to bask in the situation that is Naomi’s failed attempts to ask Namjoon out and Namjoon’s inability to take a compliment, there’s more pressing matters that need to be attended to.

So Seokjin says goodbye to Naomi on his part and Namjoon’s part, grabbing Namjoon by the wrist again and pulling him away, only feeling slightly guilty over the disappointed expression on Naomi’s face.

“Back to the Jimin thing,” Seokjin says. He’s let go of Namjoon at this point, as they arrive in front of Seokjin’s car. They get in, and Seokjin waits until Namjoon is buckled to continue. “You really think Jimin is Professor Park’s son?”

Namjoon bites his lip. “I mean, you don’t? There’s the common last name, and they look similar too, I think. And the fact that Professor Park doesn’t claim Jimin as his son might have to do with his dislike for Bulletproof, dontcha think?”

Namjoon makes a good point, though it hurts Seokjin to admit it, so he doesn’t. Instead, he says, “But don’t you think Jimin would’ve mentioned it? I mean, if it’s true, that bumps Professor Park to the top of the suspects list. If he’s that against Jimin, it wouldn’t be too strange if he went out of his way to kidnap girls associated with him.” As the words leave Seokjin’s mouth, he knows they don’t make perfect sense, but that’s why he bakes cupcakes and lets the crime solving be left to people like Taehyung and Hoseok.

“I mean, bad relationships usually go two ways. Maybe Jimin’s so focused on excluding his dad from his life that he doesn’t even consider it an issue,” Namjoon suggests. It’s another valid point from Namjoon.

“Of course, we’re basing this all off if Jimin is actually Professor Park’s son.”

“I mean, that’s why I need to ask Tae to look into it. Not worth looking into anymore until that’s proven.”

Seokjin rolls his eyes. “Why don’t we just ask Jimin? I think it’ll be quicker than waiting for Taehyung to look into it.” Not that Seokjin doubts Taehyung’s detective skills, but Seokjin has Jimin’s phone number, and so far, Jimin has been proven to be forthcoming.

Namjoon shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Don’t want to alert him of anything whether he’s the son or not.”

Seokjin sees logic in Namjoon’s point, but he also has already pulled his phone out of his pocket and knows he can text Jimin in less than twenty seconds, so Namjoon’s idea is seeming grossly lame to him at the moment. So instead of admitting defeat to Namjoon’s argument, Seokjin sticks his tongue out and says, “Well, I think it’s a great idea.”

He looks at his phone, the screen now unlocked. “Oh, speaking of Jimin, I have a text from him!” Seokjin announces loudly, looking at Namjoon defiantly. Namjoon huffs, rolling his eyes. It’s the closest thing to hostility Namjoon’s ever displayed towards Seokjin, and Seokjin can’t help but laugh at Namjoon’s reaction.

“What did he say? Something along the lines of, ‘hey, my father has actually been abducting all of your customers out of spite’ would be a nice one,” Namjoon says, leaning over to Seokjin’s side of the car, one hand placed on the back of Seokjin’s seat near the headrest.

“Yeah, that’s definitely what it says, how’d you know?” Seokjin grumbles, conscious of how close Namjoon’s hand is to his face. Instead of getting worked up over it though, he frowns when he opens the message up, gut twisting.

Come back, something bad happened.

Chapter Text

  

Seokjin doesn’t know the definition of the word ‘brakes’ as he speeds back to SUGA Cakes immediately after he reads Jimin’s text.

‘Come back, something bad happened.’

Seokjin hands are a sweaty mess as he grips the steering wheel, taking turns faster than he should. The only thing he can hear over the thumping of his heart in his chest is Namjoon’s occasional yelps whenever he gets thrown against the window thanks to Seokjin’s speedy driving. If a cop tries to pull Seokjin over, he hopes to God that Namjoon’s sweet dimples will come in handy and get him out of a ticket. Or maybe it’s time to cross ‘running from the cops’ off his bucket list.

Luckily, no cops seem to be in the area, because Seokjin makes it over to SUGA Cakes in record time. He pulls into the parking lot, tires screeching as he pulls the car over and shifts it into park. In no way, shape or form is his car parked anywhere between the lines of the parking spot, but he barely even notices as he runs into the store, heart racing.

“What happened?” He yells the moment he’s inside the store. He could’ve gone through the back door and not risked causing a commotion, but because even Lady Luck knows it’s always good to be on Team Kim Seokjin, there’s no customers in the store to witness his outburst.

Seokjin’s eyes immediately fall on Jimin, who’s wiping the front glass of the display counter. It’s eery, watching Jimin clean so peacefully while Seokjin’s worried that someone is injured or hurt. Jimin’s humming, and the sweet tune is almost enough to distract Seokjin from his major panic, but then the smell of burning hits him and he snaps back into reality.

Jimin, upon hearing Seokjin, stands back up from the squat he was sitting in, turning around so he can show Seokjin his pout. “They’re ruining my kitchen!”

Seokjin opens his mouth to comment on the fact that Jimin is addressing his (and Yoongi’s, his brain helpfully supplies) kitchen as his own, but the comment disappears when Jimin’s pout doesn’t drop, and it’s so adorable that Seokjin feels like he’d be okay with giving Jimin just about anything he wants. So if Jimin wants the kitchen to be his, the kitchen can be his.

Once that’s worked out in Seokjin’s head, he processes the rest of Jimin’s sentence, and he’s dashing off to the kitchen, already picturing the entire kitchen on fire and the bills that would come with it. If Jimin is at the counter, that means Jungkook is in the kitchen and is probably the cause of the burnt smell Seokjin’s inhaling. Which is a problem, because if Jungkook did burn down Seokjin’s kitchen, it means Seokjin would have to beat him up. And towards Jungkook, not only is Seokjin emotionally weak to his adorable little brother, but physically weak.

(He watched Jungkook carry in their entire shipment of flour into the store in less than two trips the other day, which was a fascinating and frightening experience. On the plus side, both Yoongi and Seokjin declared that Jungkook is in charge of moving all things heavy from now on if he insists on putting on pointless amounts of muscle).

Jeon Jungkook , you are in so much trouble!” Seokjin says, as if he actually has it in him to punish Jungkook. He still does his best to focus his scariest glare on the younger boy when he spots him in the kitchen, face splattered white from flour, and a scary amount of black residue on his hands. He looks at the mess that litters the kitchen, and the multiple bowls laid out along with a handful of ingredients does not add up to Jungkook simply decorating like he was supposed to.

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “You were… baking?”

Jungkook squeaks, shoulders folded and chin tucked in. He immediately moves in front of a spot on one of the counters, and before Seokjin can think anything of it, Jungkook shouts, “It was Taehyung’s idea!”

“You snitch!” Someone hisses, and from one of the nooks and crannies of the kitchen pops out Taehyung, covered in equal amounts of baking ingredients, except there’s some black soot stuck on his nose as well. “You’re the one who asked for advice!”

“I asked for good advice, not a recipe for flaming cupcakes!”

At the word flaming , Seokjin’s eyes dart to the kitchen. As far as he can tell, none of his equipment looks broken or burnt, which is more than he can ask for. No one’s hurt as far as he can tell, and it’s a good thing the kitchen is okay, or else someone would be hurt, because Seokjin was too lazy to buy good kitchen insurance and buying anything new is not in his budget.

Sighing into his hands, Seokjin takes a moment to breathe deeply before lowering his hands back down to his sides. “Who’s fault it is aside, is everyone safe? No one or nothing is hurt?”

Everyone nods, and Seokjin feels his shoulders slump in relief. Now that he thinks about it, he’s not sure what he was expecting when he got the text from Jimin. His kitchen being in flames was only a thought that occurred to him once he set foot into the store, which means that wasn’t what had motivated him to break every single speed limit on the drive over. No, Seokjin had been expecting something worse.

Maybe Seokjin isn’t so sure that SUGA Cakes has nothing to do with the disappearances after all.

“Is everything o-” Namjoon joins them in the kitchen, but his words come to a stop when he spots Taehyung, who he stares incredulously at, eyes wide and eyebrows raised.

“Weren’t you supposed to be busy with work?” Namjoon says, and it occurs to Seokjin only at that moment that there’s more than one reason that Taehyung in his kitchen feels wrong.

Taehyung grins sheepishly, wiping his flour-covered hands onto his jeans, the white powder contrasting against the dark fabric.

“The case was handled a lot easier than predicted,” Taehyung explains, shrugging his shoulders. “We picked the client up at the airport early in the morning, brought him to the office, and we were done a little before one.”

“And you didn’t bother mentioning this?” Namjoon runs a hand through his hair, fingers tangling with the strands and pulling slightly.

Another shrug. “Seemed kinda late for it. Plus,” Taehyung tilts his head, “I’m sure you had plenty of fun with Seokjin-hyung, right?” He smiles.

Namjoon splutters, “Why would I have had fun?” His pitch raises with each word.

Seokjin frowns at Namjoon’s loud denial, because while Seokjin doesn’t think they had a blast investigating Professor Park either, he doesn’t think it was at all horrible enough to justify Namjoon’s strong rejection to Taehyung’s words.

However, Seokjin’s a proud adult, so he quickly wipes the pout off his face and opts to throw an arm around Namjoon’s shoulders, pulling the younger boy closer to him.  Their shoulders collide, and Seokjin allows his fingers to curl around Namjoon’s bicep. Next to him, Namjoon goes stiff.

“You mean you didn’t have fun hanging out with your favorite hyung?” Seokjin playfully whines, fluttering his lashes innocently Namjoon’s direction. He squeezes Namjoon’s arm where he has ahold of him.

Namjoon swallows. “I mean, did you have fun?”

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “Hey, I asked first!”

They stare at each other, and it’s only then that Seokjin realizes how close his face is to Namjoon’s. It’s impossible to miss even the smallest details of his face, and Seokjin can’t help but stare and note how attractive Namjoon is. He narrows his eyes even further. Seokjin doesn’t consider anyone to be his competition when it comes to looks (except Taehyung and his anime-esque features; Seokjin thinks he has more of a k-drama actor look going for himself), but he doesn’t like how close Namjoon is, even if he’s miles away like everyone else. It’s not fair that Namjoon has Jungkook’s love, brains, Jungkook’s love, really nice legs, has Jungkook’s love, killer dimples, Jungkook’s love -

He’s interrupted by the sound of a timer going off, and he lets go of Namjoon so he can turn to face the source of the noise. It ends up being Jungkook’s phone, which the youngest snatches quickly.

“Is that for-” Taehyung exchanges his frown for a smile, eyes sparkling. He claps his hands together.

Jungkook doesn’t verbally respond, simply nodding. Seokjin’s eyes dart to the oven, which he is positive is off. His silent question is answered a moment later when Jungkook runs off to the refrigerator.

Half the fridge is reserved for ingredients, though Seokjin will be the first to admit that he keeps a couple of yogurts and other lunchtime materials in there. The other half is for the completed items, whether it be frosting or cupcakes in need of cooling before frosting. To avoid the cupcakes drying out, they’re put into airtight containers at kept a room-temperature. Traditional buttercream frostings mean they don’t have to be refrigerated once they’re frosted, but other frostings require refrigeration, so Seokjin tries to not frost those cupcakes until right before (hopefully) selling them.

Jungkook pulls out a tray full of ominously colored (a strange green, though Seokjin prays it's just the lighting or an unnecessary amount of food coloring) cupcakes, and Seokjin is stuck between laughter and utter fear. It’s like the time when Jungkook messed up the recipe for sweet potatoes and the appetizer ended up being stuck to the plate like he had glued it on there. That’s the funny part, and Seokjin really wants to poke fun at Jungkook, but it only takes two seconds of looking at Jungkook’s sparkling eyes to realize that unlike the sweet potato disaster, Jungkook is proud of his creation.

“What inspired you to bake, suddenly? You haven’t really shown interest before,” Seokjin says, trying to stop his eyes from widening in horror as Jungkook puts the cupcake tray down and goes back to the fridge to pull out icing. From there, Seokjin knows Jungkook will handle the situation professionally, and maybe better than Seokjin could do himself. Icing and decorations are Jungkook’s specialty.

Jungkook pulls at his earlobe, pouting. “I mean, you and Yoongi-hyung have been working so hard, and I know you’re trying to figure out a new flavor to introduce to the store. And since Jimin’s taking my job up front, I figured I should start helping out in the kitchen.”

Jungkook’s words hit Seokjin in the gut, because he knows the underlying meaning of them. Even if it looks like Jungkook and Jimin are getting along, it doesn’t mean Jungkook doesn’t feel replaced. The cashier position at SUGA Cakes is something Seokjin had promised to Jungkook ever since even before the store was actually born, merely an idea joked about between Yoongi and Seokjin.

The moment they could afford to have Jungkook on payroll, he was hired. Jungkook, their cute kid cashier who could barely get through a whole order with a customer without stumbling over his words. Someone who’d spend his shift playing games on his phone if Seokjin let him. A kid who didn’t understand why it’s important to try to up-sale the cupcakes that are about to be past their sell date.

Of course, Seokjin has never minded. It’s one thing when Seokjin has to remind Yoongi to try to con people into buying more, or when Yoongi has to passively mention that Seokjin’s piping job is getting sloppy. To Seokjin and Yoongi, SUGA Cakes is their dream, and they work hard to take their dream as far as it can go.

The fact that Jungkook isn’t just in the background of their dream anymore, and is trying to help them reach it, warms Seokjin’s heart.

With that thought in mind, Seokjin tries to let the bright blue icing distract him from the disaster that’s hidden underneath it. He internally winces as Jungkook hands him a freshly frosted cupcake.

“Taehyung picked the colors!” Jungkook announces proudly, glancing over at Taehyung. Much different from their bickering less than a minute earlier.

At the mention of his name, Taehyung stops cowering and joins Jungkook’s side, throwing an arm around his shoulder.

He directs a loopy smile in Seokjin’s direction. “Jungkook did all the work, though.”

Jungkook shakes his head, though his eyes are glued to Taehyung’s hand, which dangles just in front of his chest. “Taehyung was the one who helped pick the flavor too.”

“Nah, I just pitched ideas.”

“Hey! You went with my idea in the end anyway!” Jimin pitches in, joining everyone in the kitchen. Goodness forbid a customer come in, because obviously they’re all too invested in the conversation to do their actual jobs.

Seokjin stares at the cupcake in his hand. He’s oddly fond of the color scheme, and even in a rushed job Jungkook’s decorated the cupcake beautifully, the plain white wrapper going well to balance out the bright colors of the cupcake, matching with the pinch of sprinkles on top.

Of course, it’s still not anything Seokjin would dare sell in the store.

“What flavor is it even?” Namjoon’s eyes are squinted, skeptical. Unlike Seokjin, he doesn’t bother hiding his thoughts. Mixed in with the disgust in his eyes though is genuine curiosity, and Seokjin wonders if his own expression looks the same.

“Avocado!” The three youngest answer at once, all racing to answer the quickest.

Namjoon’s eyes widen, horrified. “Is that even a legitimate flavor?”

Jimin nods. “Avocado is the solution to everything, didn’t you hear? And customers keep complaining about how many calories are in the cupcakes. I’m just giving the customers what they want. Just watch. Soon everything will be avocado-flavored.”

“Exactly!” Jungkook says, nodding his head enthusiastically. He turns to Seokjin with doe-eyes. “Plus, that’s a thing, right? Using avocado in cupcakes. You’ve talked about it before, right?”

Seokjin has mentioned using avocado in his recipe; the part Jungkook must’ve forgotten was that Seokjin mentioned it with the intention of using it as a butter replacement back when he considered catering to the vegan community, not as a flavoring ingredient.

Seokjin glances over at Namjoon. He’s looking back at him, and his eyebrows are raised. He’s wondering what Seokjin is going to do, and Seokjin wishes he could just tell Jungkook that the cupcakes smell horrible and probably taste equally as bad, and maybe Jungkook can sense it in the way his expression begins to dampen.

Seokjin can’t stand it, and so for Jungkook’s sake he doesn’t even ask what else is in the cupcakes (he figures if he knew there’s no way he’d be able to choke down the heavy, funny-smelling green blob that Jungkook’s trying to sell as a cupcake) and eats it. Granted, he more shoves it down his throat and hopes for the best rather than actually tasting it, but the few pieces that do touch his tongue taste interesting, to say the least. Interesting in a way that almost makes Seokjin curious enough to ask what he just ate, but also interesting in a way that Seokjin doesn’t question when he gets home that night and immediately rushes to the bathroom to puke.

 

***

Seokjin barely remembers making it from the bathroom to the bed, but he manages to wake up around nine in the morning underneath the warmth of his covers.

Except he’s kicked half of them off, so the only remaining blanket is the sheet that barely cover his legs. Even then, he feels the sheen on sweat covering him, and while he doesn’t feel on fire, he feels uncomfortably warm. He shifts his position on the bed, but not only does the movement seem to take every last drop of energy he has, it awakens a pain in his abdominal area that alerts him that it's time to make another trip to the bathroom.

He groans, and without opening his eyes, fumbles around his nightstand until his hand lands on his lamp. He switches it on, taking a deep breath before slowly cracking his eyes open, groaning again at how bright the dim light seems.

Next to the lamp, there’s the book he’s been reading the last few nights, but then there’s also a glass of water with a note next to it. There’s no name signed on the note, but even with his hazy vision, Seokjin knows Yoongi’s handwriting from a mile away.

Drink this. I already called into the club sick, so don’t worry about the shop. Sleep.

Once Seokjin reads the note, he vaguely remembers Yoongi coming home around three and finding Seokjin hunched over the toilet. Besides Yoongi helping brush his hair back, long bangs pinned back to avoid decorating them with the contents of Seokjin’s stomach, he doesn’t remember much. But he’s sure Yoongi didn’t get to sleep much, if at all. There’s no sound of his roommate walking around the apartment outside of Seokjin’s room. Yoongi’s quiet, but at this point in living together Seokjin can practically sense Yoongi’s presence, and he doesn’t sense it now.

(He almost thinks that he’s not getting any Yoongi vibes, but then immediately throws the thought away, because he’s way too sick to be thinking about vibes and any other crazy thoughts he refuses to believe in).

He gets out of bed to go mess with the air conditioning and immediately regrets his decision. His vision blurs. Seokjin is so tired he can barely feel the way his entire body aches, but he can barely make himself sit still. It could be the remaining whatever that remains in Seokjin after the multiple trips to the bathroom, but he’s pretty sure the yucky feeling settling in his gut is guilt. It’s Friday, and rather than sleeping and preparing for another night undercover at Bulletproof, Yoongi is forced to go into SUGA Cakes and cover Seokjin’s shift. The only reconsolance Seokjin gets is that he’s sure his roommate is more than happy to take a break from the club and return to the bakery.

The yucky feeling in his stomach starts to beg to be upchucked again, and while Seokjin wants to do nothing more than collapse into a pile on the floor, he trudges over to the bathroom again and props his head over the toilet not a moment too soon, his empty stomach trying to empty itself even further. A drop of sweat drips down onto the toilet seat, his entirety burning up. Or least his core, because the rest of him feels freezing and he’s pretty sure he’s a sneeze away from death’s door.

Seokjin makes a promise to haunt Taehyung when he becomes a ghost after death. He’d make a promise to haunt Jungkook as well, but that promise has already been made years ago, though that’s more of a promise to look after his brother no matter what rather than the threat he means it as towards Taehyung. Of course, Seokjin’s kicking himself in the rear-end for even attempting to eat Taehyung and Jungkook’s experiment cupcakes, but he had been trying to be a good older brother.

There’s a knock at the apartment door; that, or it’s just the heavy panting coming from Seokjin sending such nasty vibrations towards his head that it sounds like knocking. So Seokjin tries holding his breath, and the knocking comes again; it’s not his imagination. He groans, realizing that it must be the Grim Reaper here to take him away. It sounds like a great plan if it means the throbbing in his head will go away, so Seokjin rushes towards the door, only stumbling a few times before slamming into his front door. He fumbles with the lock, the door half way opened when he thinks that the Grim Reaper probably doesn’t use the front door.

He’s disappointed when he doesn’t see the Grim Reaper at the door, but Seokjin’s still betting on the fact that it's just that he doesn’t have contacts in or glasses on, so his blurry vision must be preventing him from feasting sight on the Grim Reaper. Seokjin blinks a couple times, just to make sure, but the only thing his teary eyes can properly spot is a head of purple hair and a pair of wide, concern-written eyes.

“Seokjin-hyung?” Namjoon says hesitantly, and Seokjin is wondering why in world Kim Namjoon is at his front door when he feels his knees go weak, and he faceplants onto the floor.

“Shit, hyung, should you even be at home? Should I call an ambulance?”

“Fuck that shit, I can’t afford it,” Seokjin groans from the floor, and he feels a pair of hands reach underneath his arms and pull him up with a grunt.

“Yeah, that’s a mood,” Namjoon mutters, adjusting his grip on Seokjin so that the older man’s weight is almost completely supported by Namjoon. “I’d offer to drive you to the hospital but…”

Seokjin shakes his head (and immediately regrets the decision, as stars blur his vision) and says, “I don’t need to go to the hospital. Just help me over to the couch.”

Really, Seokjin thinks that it might be good to ask Namjoon why he’s at his apartment, but by the time Namjoon gets him situated on the couch, it’s the last thing on his mind. Instead he lets his eyes shut and is vaguely aware of fingers running through his hair as he falls asleep.

 

***

 

The next time Seokjin wakes up, he doesn’t feel like he’s been poisoned and run over by a train. He does, however, feel like there’s a small, tiny man running inside his stomach, punching the insides and scolding him for not ridding it of its contents. Which is ridiculous, because he’s pretty sure there’s nothing left to puke up at this point.

So he ignores the feeling of the little man trying to make him throw up, and focuses on any other sensation he can feel. There’s the weight of a blanket on top of him, one he recognizes from the foot of his bed, judging by the feel of the smooth fabric against the bits of bare skin it brushes against. He’s thankful for it; the air-conditioning he had set to blasting earlier now feels freezing against his sweat coated skin.

Despite the familiar blanket, Seokjin knows he’s laying on the couch in the living room, the faux-leather couch feeling cool underneath him. Even though he really doesn’t want to, he pats around near him in search of his phone, and when he does, he cracks open his eyes to check the time. Everything feels unnecessarily bright, and when he catches sight of the time, he groans for more than one reason; it’s already two in the afternoon.

Seokjin sits himself up, taking his time to adjust. He huddles the blanket closer to him, confident that at least his fever has broken. He wants to blame all of his symptoms on Jungkook’s cupcake, but he’s also pretty sure he was already on his way to catching a cold anyway. He really hopes it’s the latter, but his stomach ache and other unfortunate symptoms hint that he has at least some level of food poisoning.

Being in the house by himself while he’s sick isn’t fun, Seokjin’s learned over the last couple of years. But that’s the issue of having your best friend, roommate, and business partner all be the same person. If Seokjin is too sick to work, then that means Yoongi has to be at work, leaving Seokjin without any assistance or company in an empty apartment during his sickly hours.

He furrows his brows. Yoongi’s not home, he knows that. But Seokjin doesn’t remember grabbing a blanket and finding himself a spot on the couch. Someone’s humming, and the dry, parched state of Seokjin’s vocal throats means it isn’t him.

A burglar, Seokjin decides. A disappointed burglar most likely, because the most valuable object in the dingy apartment is the speaker system Yoongi has set up for the TV, and it’s not exactly the most convenient thing to steal with its heavy weight and massive set of wires because their TV is too old for bluetooth technology.

Seokjin’s answer comes in the form of a question.

“Oh, hyung, you’re awake?”

A deep voice. Not so raspy like Yoongi’s. Whoever it is is thankfully keeping their voice low, not agitating Seokjin’s headache.

Seokjin rolls onto his back. He faces the ceiling, and he tilts his head just slightly, so his eyes can locate the source of the noise.

Namjoon’s eyebrows are raised, lips pursed. When he makes eye contact with Seokjin, the expression morphs into a smile.

“That’s good, I was just about to wake you up anyway,” Namjoon says. He’s sitting at the tiny, two-person dining table that Yoongi and Seokjin never use, preferring the couch and coffee table in front of the TV. They both know it’s a bad habit, and the red wine stain on the left arm of the couch proves why, but neither Yoongi nor Seokjin can bring themselves to sit at the dining table despite the fact that the TV screen is plainly visible from it.

Seokjin knows he must look like shit, which is why the fact that Namjoon looks so good is even more irritating than usual. His purple hair is parted to the side, his eyebrows easily visible and ready to show the smallest changes in emotion. He’s opted out of his contact lenses for a pair of glasses. Not the same pair that he wore when they interviewed Professor Park, but a pair that are slightly more round and scream hipster. It pairs nicely with the coffee and textbook placed in front of Namjoon.
A million questions are at the tip of Seokjin’s tongue, mostly variations asking what the fuck Namjoon is doing in his apartment. But his growling stomach beats whatever statement his mouth could make. Seokjin sits up slowly, placing a hand on his stomach.

“Food?” Seokjin wonders if it’s weird to ask Namjoon about the food situation, but he figures nothing can beat how weird it is, how at home Namjoon looks sitting at his dining room table. Plus, he’s tired and hungry, and if Namjoon is going to be a mysterious invader in his house, then he better at least have a solution to Seokjin’s problem.

Luckily he does. “I ordered something a couple of minutes ago, and they said it would be here in fifteen. I hope you’re okay with pho? I figured you wouldn’t want anything too heavy.”

“Thanks,” Seokjin croaks, running a hand through his hair. Since he hasn’t damaged it beyond repair with bleach like Yoongi, it’s soft to the touch, and healthy enough that he’s started to grow it out. He likes how it looks, but it also means his bangs are more likely to become a tangled mess, which they are now. His fingers don’t have the power to fix it, so he tries only one more time to flatten his hair out before sighing and letting his hand drop to his side.

“Um, I’m gonna take a shower,” Seokjin says. He almost lets the end of his sentence rise to form a question, but then he remembers he’s in his own house. He doesn’t need to ask for permission.

Namjoon frowns. “Will you be okay? You could barely stand earlier.”

Seokjin groans, because now he remembers face-planting in front of Namjoon. Seokjin tries not to let most things embarrass him, but it's hard to recover from the thought of eating the hardwood flooring in front of his (self-declared) arch-nemesis.

“Oh, that? That was nothing. There was just a sudden increase in gravity, that’s all.”

Namjoon sighs. “Sure. Holler if gravity decides to increase again while you’re in the shower.”

Seokjin gives Namjoon one last glance before peeling himself off the couch and heading towards the bathroom.

The apartment is cheap, so between the two bedrooms there's only the one bathroom. It's located closer to Yoongi's room than Seokjin's, though the small hallway of the apartment means there's not much distance no matter which direction you come from.

Surprisingly, Yoongi is obsessed with bath bombs, so even though their bath is barely big enough for Seokjin to sit down and extend his legs in, there's a pile of bath bombs sitting in a basket on the counter. Yoongi has a preference for sweeter scents, and the most dominant scent is the tangy orange bath bomb that Seokjin bought for Yoongi a couple of days ago. Seokjin's almost tempted to steal the gift back, but thinks twice about it when he remembers he doesn't want Yoongi to kill him, nor does he think he wants to risk catching a cold sitting in lukewarm water as the bath temperature slowly decreases.

Seokjin strips his clothes off, wrinkling his nose and lifting the shirt over his head. They were fresh pajamas the night before, but the amount of sweating Seokjin must've done in his sleep has made the plain white T-shirt smell on the funky side.

The water is bitter cold when Seokjin turns it on. It wakes him up, and he feels his muscles relax as the water slowly warms up. He's glad he managed to get up, because he already feels a hundred times better.

The only thing that pulls Seokjin out of his thoughts underneath the shower head is someone knocking on the bathroom door.

"Hyung? The food's here. Are you almost done in there?"

Seokjin's stuck; his stomach is craving the salty broth he can smell from the kitchen, but he can't imagine stepping out of the water at this point. He wonders if he asked kindly enough, if Namjoon would just let him eat in the shower. He's not sure how it would work, but out of the many things Kim Seokjin is talented at, eating is at the top of the list and he's sure he can find a way. Maybe if had something like an umbrella for the bowl or something. Or maybe he really could steal Yoongi's bath bomb and settle for noodles in bath instead.

Namjoon knocks again, probably assuming that Seokjin can't hear him. It's irritating, but Seokjin sighs and turns off the water, the hot water already starting to run out. Plus, he can already hear Yoongi yelling at him for the water bill again.

He steps out of the shower and grabs the nearest towel, which isn't actually his because his is in the dirty laundry hamper. Actually, he can hear the sound of the dryer running in the background, and that paired with the memory of him puking all over his towel hints that maybe Yoongi decided to do laundry for him. It's a nice thought, but Seokjin also knows that if it's true, Yoongi will hold it over his head until he returns the favor, and then some.

Tucking the ends of the towel and securing it around his waist, Seokjin pulls the door open. Namjoon’s caught with his fist in the air, mid-knock. His hand moves slightly before realizing the door he had planned on knocking on for the billionth time is gone.

“God, I bet you take five minute showers like all the other crazy people,” Seokjin huffs, placing his hands on his hips. It’s too cold in the apartment to be standing around naked, but Namjoon, who’s in Seokjin’s way, seems to be glued to his spot.

“Namjoon?”

Namjoon blinks, his head tilted up so he’s facing the ceiling. “Um, food’s here.”

“I got that, just gimme a moment. Unless you want me to roam around naked all day.”

Namjoon quietly groans, bring a hand to his face. “I’ll set the table while you change?”

“Put it on the coffee table. I think the dining table is covered with Yoongi’s porno mags anyway.”

Seokjin changes quickly, feeling immensely better after the shower. His head is still foggy and the most exciting thing he’ll do all day is eat. It’ll be even more exciting if he can keep down whatever he eats.

His fun, alpaca-covered PJs are in the wash, which means Seokjin settles for an old pair of basketball shorts and a neon yellow T-shirt that he got at some music festival for free. He lets his nose guide him to the living area, where Namjoon has taken the bags of take-out and placed them on the coffee table as directed by Seokjin.

They’re half way through their meal when Seokjin’s stomach is finally satiated, and he can focus on something else.

“So, hey, Namjoon, no offense, but what the fuck are you doing at my apartment?”

Namjoon chokes on the noodles he was busy slurping. He coughs a couple of times, and Seokjin’s generous enough to lend the strength of his hand to thump Namjoon’s back.

When he recovers, Namjoon sets his chopsticks down. “You’re only asking that now ?”

Seokjin shrugs, already back to eating. “Priorities.” Sleep, check. Shower, check. Food, check. Finally figuring out why Namjoon’s in his apartment?

It’s definitely down the list.

Almost like he’s biting back another retort, Namjoon presses his lips together into a thin line, deeply inhaling through his nose before calmly exhaling. “Tae felt bad about you getting sick, and wanted to take responsibility.”

“So why isn’t Taehyung here instead?”

“Um, he said he something to do, important business or something like that. So he called me up and asked me to come instead.”

Seokjin furrows his brows. “Don’t you have studies to do? Or class?”

In response, Namjoon points to the pile of homework on the dining table. “I only have the one class in the evening, and I got my homework done while you were sleeping.”

The open textbook and splayed paper doesn’t look complete to Seokjin, but if Namjoon wants to procrastinate his homework, that’s a personal decision that Seokjin can respect. Still, the whole situation feels off to Seokjin.

Seokjin finishes off the last of his noodles with a loud slurp, belly full enough that he leaves the remaining broth in the bowl with the promise to sip it later before putting it down on the coffee table. He leans back in his seat, bringing his feet up so that his legs are tucked next to him on the couch before turning to face Namjoon.

“Not that I’m not thankful for the food or anything, but don’t you have a better way to spend your time off?”

Seokjin is thankful, no lie about it. And he’s never been a college student before, but he’s pretty sure they’re supposed to spend their free time napping. Or drinking. Actually, Seokjin has no idea, but he’s pretty sure most college kids don’t want to spend their rare free time helping out random sick people they barely know.

“Nah, I’d be napping if I wasn’t here. Plus, I’m happy to help,” Namjoon says with a smile, though it drops a second later when he adds, “but, um, I can go if you want me too. I don’t want to be a disturbance.”

“Nah, you’re good,” Seokjin says, and when the words come out of his mouth and he fully means them, he’s disturbed. Because Kim Namjoon knocking on his door and keeping him company while he’s sick was definitely not on Seokjin’s to-do list. The worst part about it is outside of Namjoon rushing Seokjin’s shower time, Namjoon hasn’t been half-bad company. Or maybe it’s just because he’s comparing him to Yoongi, who likes to kick Seokjin off the couch whenever they sit together just for giggles.

“I mean, I’m not sure why you’d wanna stick around,” Seokjin adds, shrugging his shoulders. “Most likely I’m just gonna pop in a movie and take another nap.”

Namjoon immediately stands up, putting his own finished bowl down. “A movie? Here, I’ll set it up once I put the dirty dishes away. Is just putting them in the sink okay?”

Seokjin nods, watching numbly as Namjoon walks away with the dirty dishes in hand. It’s too much work to twist his body around so he can watch Namjoon walk all the way over to the kitchen area, so once Namjoon disappears out of his range of view, Seokjin grabs the nearest blanket and huddles up on the couch.

It’s only a moment before Namjoon returns, and Seokjin already has a movie picked out. It’s one of the few movies he owns on DVD since there’s no way to stream it online. It’s an old comedy movie that Seokjin’s seen a million times, which means it’s the perfect film to fall asleep to.

Except it’s thirty minutes into the movie and Seokjin still isn’t sleeping. It’s not that he doesn’t feel sleepy. The real problem is that even though he’s watched the movie a thousand times, Namjoon’s never seen it, which means Seokjin has to stay awake to make sure Namjoon is properly enjoying the movie. That includes tagging on his own jokes to the movie’s punchlines every once awhile, and grinning like a fool when Namjoon genuinely laughs in response. The younger boy even responds with his own jokes, and while they’re not on the level of quality of Seokjin’s prime-time comedy, it’s still enough to draw wheezy laughs out of Seokjin.

Seokjin’s in the middle of slapping Namjoon’s thigh as he laughs over his own joke when Namjoon suddenly grabs his hand, tugging lightly. It’s not enough force to tug Seokjin over, but it grabs his attention.

“What?” Seokjin pouts, not liking the way Namjoon’s eyes are focused on him when they should obviously should be focused on the film.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping.”

“And you’re supposed to be watching the movie, so I guess that makes us both rule breakers.”

Instead of arguing, Namjoon, with his grip still on Seokjin’s hand, tugs again. This time, it’s enough force to pull Seokjin down so he’s positioned horizontally on the couch. His head falls between Namjoon’s thighs and the couch arm. He debates his options, but he’s been staring at Namjoon’s thick thighs straining in his dark skinny jeans ever since they sat down next to each other. So it’s really a no-brainer when Seokjin readjusts himself on the couch so that Namjoon’s thighs serve as his personal pillow.

Hey ,” Namjoon whines, shuffling underneath Seokjin. But he doesn’t throw the older off his lap either, which Seokjin takes as permission to remain where he is.

“Hay is for horses. Now shut up and watch the movie before I have to start rewinding it.”

Namjoon grunts, not sounding too happy. But he follows Seokjin’s orders nonetheless, directing his attention back to the TV. In return, Seokjin tries to fall asleep. Lying down has definitely helped, but his mind is still focusing on a million things. Namjoon’s breathy laughter. The warmth of Namjoon’s leg pressing against Seokjin’s cheek. How Namjoon hasn’t let go of Seokjin’s hand.

Seokjin chooses to ignore all of it in favor of asking the question, “Why didn’t Tae just send Hobi instead?”

Seokjin’s eyes that had been previously closed open so he can properly see Namjoon’s reaction. They’ve dimmed the lights in the room to help Seokjin fall asleep. There’s a few windows that allow for natural daylight to penetrate into the room, but most of the windows are located closer to the kitchen, making the main source of light the TV.

Seokjin watches the moving, colored lights of the TV screen flicker on Namjoon’s face. He doesn’t look over at Seokjin, eyes still glued to the TV when he responds, “I think Hobi’s busy teaching Yoongi-hyung new dances. Though I guess if Yoongi’s at SUGA Cakes, then it means Hoseok’s probably just being a menace over there.”

Seokjin snickers. He’s spent enough time watching SUGA Cakes and trying to babysit any combination of Jimin, Taehyung, Jungkook and Hoseok. It’s about time Yoongi got to try the role out.

Seokjin’s about to roll back on his side and try to sleep again when Namjoon turns to face Seokjin, brows furrowed.

“Would you rather Hobi come?”

Seokjin shakes his head, the action turned slightly strange as his skin rubs against the fabric of Namjoon’s jeans. “I mean, I don’t think he has the thighs to provide the top quality pillow you do.” He gives Namjoon’s thigh a quick squeeze to reaffirm his statement.

He doesn’t wait for Namjoon’s reaction before turning back onto his side, closing his eyes once again. Silence engulfs the pair, the sound of the TV no more than background noise now.

Namjoon breaks the silence with a whisper, hesitant.

“Well, whenever you need a pillow then. I’m here.”

Seokjin falls asleep smiling.

***

Seokjin wakes up just in time to watch the last minute of movie credits roll down the screen. Or at least, he hears the soundtrack playing; he can’t actually see with his face buried in the fabric of Namjoon’s shirt, his forehead pressing against the soft belly underneath. He’s glad he sleeps with his mouth closed, or else Namjoon’s shirt would be stained with his drool.

Namjoon sleeps with his mouth open, Seokjin discovers a moment later. He pulls away from Namjoon and sits up only to find a sleeping Namjoon. His head is tilted backwards, not quite supported by the back of the couch, lips parted.

Seokjin’s awake enough to deduce that Namjoon most likely didn’t watch the rest of the movie, and Seokjin’s tempted to wake him up just to force him to do so. Then he takes another look at Namjoon and shakes the idea away. Seokjin remembers being a student and willing to kill over just another minute of sleep, and that was in high school. Namjoon needs the sleep as much as Seokjin does.

A voice in his head (that actually sounds a lot like Yoongi) yells at Seokjin to turn off the TV before he falls back asleep, except before he can search for the remote that’s certainly lost between all the couch pillows, cushions and blankets, he sees Namjoon is still wearing his glasses. In the position Namjoon is in, he’s not likely to accidentally squash his glasses while sleeping, but Seokjin decides it’s better for them to come off anyway.

Except when he maneuvers himself so he’s facing Namjoon, one hand steadying him on the other side of Namjoon, he overestimates the strength in his body and ends up falling forward, the top of his head colliding with Namjoon’s chin.

Namjoon wakes up immediately, groaning from the impact. His eyes squeeze shut, face a grimace, and it’s not until Seokjin starts apologizing that Namjoon wakes up with a start.

“Agh, Namjoon, I’m so sorry-” Seokjin’s rapid apologies and frantically waving hands come to a halt when Namjoon grabs both of his wrists.

“Hyung, what are you doing?”

Namjoon’s steady, deep voice throws Seokjin off guard, especially paired with his intense gaze. It’s disarming, the feeling of Namjoon’s fingers wrapped around his wrists, applying enough pressure that he can’t ignore it.

Seokjin is balancing on his knees placed on other side of Namjoon so that he’s positioned right in front of the younger man. The words to explain that he was going to take Namjoon’s glasses off are at the tip of his tongue, but he can’t concentrate with the way his stomach is flipping inside of him, different from the tummy aches earlier in the day. It’s the same with the heat that suddenly warms his cheeks, similar but definitely not the same as his already passed fever.

The situation is diffused when Namjoon’s phone starts ringing, and Seokjin practically flings himself out of Namjoon’s lap. He’s glad the nap has improved his health, because sudden movement like that would’ve caused his world to start spinning earlier.

On the plus side, Namjoon snaps out of whatever serious thoughts were plaguing his mind, and after glancing at the caller ID he picks the phone up with a soft sigh.

“Tae, what do you need?”

Intrigued by Taehyung’s name being mentioned, Seokjin approaches Namjoon. He doesn’t react in any special way, as if their little scene earlier didn’t even happen.

Instead of focusing on whether he’s happy or upset about that, Seokjin leans closer so he can eavesdrop on Namjoon’s conversation.

“Tannie ate one of the cupcakes? And got sick? Wow, I’m so surprised,” Namjoon says, sighing. There’s another pause. “No, Tae, I can’t drive. Yes, I know that makes me lame. No, I won’t pay for an Uber to come get you.”

While Seokjin can’t hear anything more than Taehyung’s muffled voice, he’s sure he has the gist of the situation and without a second thought, he plucks the phone from Namjoon’s hand and presses it to his ear.

“Hey Tae, it’s Seokjin. You need a ride I hear?”

“Seokjin-hyung?” Taehyung sounds confused, but must accept Seokjin’s presence a moment later because he says, “Yeah, I need a ride. My dog got into the leftover avocado cupcakes-” (Seokjin knew he should’ve just thrown them all away when Jungkook wasn’t looking) “-and I ended up taking him to the vet. I’m almost done over here, but I need a ride back and I don’t feel comfortable taking Tannie on public transportation.”

“Yeah, I can pick you up. Just text the address to my phone so I can GPS it.”

A moment later Seokjin hears his cell phone ping from where it’s charging in his bedroom.

“Yeah, it went through. Lemme just kick Namjoon out of the apartment.” Seokjin glances over at Namjoon. He pulls the phone slightly away from his mouth and asks, “Unless you wanna come with me? I can drop you off at your apartment afterward if you want.”

Whatever Namjoon opens his mouth to say is unheard by Seokjin, his ears only picking up on Taehyung’s shouting on the other side of the line.

“You’re with Namjoon right now!”

“I mean, this is his phone. What did you expect? That I stole it or something?” Seokjin rolls his eyes. “Plus, you’re the one who sent Namjoon over, I don’t know why you’re acting so surprised.”

“What? I didn’t-”

The phone is ripped from Seokjin’s grip.

“Tae! I’ll call you back later!” And Namjoon hangs up the phone. His cheeks are visibly flushed, and there’s an obvious physical effort to not look Seokjin in the eye.

“So do you wanna join me on my little adventure to pick up Taehyung?” Seokjin takes the way Namjoon bolts out of the apartment a moment later as a no.

***

When Seokjin arrives at the vet clinic, Taehyung is waiting outside for him.

"Hyung!" Taehyung shouts, waving his hand in the air enthusiastically, almost as if it was possible for Seokjin to miss his presence. But Seokjin can't help but get caught up in Taehyung's energy.

He smiles and waves back before walking over to Taehyung, locking his car with a double-tap to his key fob. The beep of the car alarm being set goes off.

"Thanks for coming to pick me up," Taehyung says, opening the front door for Seokjin. "I can technically drive, but the roads between here and the house make me nervous, so I had Hoseok drop me off instead. I’d have him pick me up again, but I think he’s in the middle of dance practice with Yoongi.”

Seokjin nods. He's always been a confident driver, same with Yoongi, but he's been teaching Jungkook how to drive recently, and he knows for a newer driver, the roads near the clinic aren't the nicest.

"How's Tannie doing?" They walk into the clinic together and the overwhelming smell of antiseptic dominates Seokjin's senses, paired with the loud cries, barks and meows of the vet clinic's patients.

"He's barfed most of the cupcake out, so he's doing pretty well outside of the fact that he spent most of the morning hacking out chunks of dog food and something that looks kinda like Hobi-hyung's earbuds-" Taehyung glances at Seokjin- "which would be like, really cool, if you didn't mention to him."

Seokjin laughs. He has too many memories of helping Yoongi wrangle his dog down to help retrieve whatever inedible object Holly had decided to put in his mouth that day. He knows the pain of losing valuable objects to a curious dog's stomach. Luckily for Holly, Seokjin isn't the type of person to get too mad unless seriously provoked, and Yoongi is too soft to get mad at his dog, even the time when Holly had literally gotten into his homework and he had to use the excuse "my dog ate my homework" to their high school statistics teacher.

Taehyung waves at the clinic staff as if he's known them his entire life, which Seokjin doubts is true, but the shining faces of the employees don't look like they're out to correct Taehyung's friendly attitude either.

However, one face out of the staff doesn't wear the same friendly smile. It's not a scowl on the familiar face, but the wide eyes and lips pressed tightly together that give a weary impression. Without the heavy make up and the scrubs she wears, Seokjin barely recognizes the girl, but the bright blue hair is what finally makes the face click in his memory.

He leans towards Taehyung, tilting his head to whisper in the younger's ear, "Isn't that-"

Too late. Taehyung is already waving at the girl, but there's the slightest change in his expression; his jaw is slightly tensed, eyebrows furrowed in a subtle way that has Seokjin wondering if he's just imagining things.

"Hey there!" Taehyung says loudly, and it's definitely on purpose. Now the blue-haired girl can't ignore them, and she resigns to her fate by changing her negative expression into the typical customer-service face, all smiles.

"Oh, I heard some of the vets talking about a handsome man coming in, but I didn't imagine they would've been talking about you, Mister V." She glances over at Seokjin, and there's faint signs of recognition. She nods her head. "And you brought your friend. Um..."

"Seokjin," Seokjin introduces himself. "I didn't imagine I'd be seeing you in a place like this."

As he says the words, Seokjin realizes they may not be the most polite of words. But he can’t find another reaction within him as he stares at the girl they had first met and talked to at Bulletproof. He can’t say he pictured Kitty in a day job.

Though the fact that her blue hair is tied back and pinned into a bun and there’s a name tag that reads Shin Ha-eun makes the part-time stripper blend in with almost everyone else. Seokjin wouldn’t even question it if he hadn’t met her before.

Luckily Kitty doesn’t seem too offended, shrugging. “The more jobs I work, the more money I have to pay for college, simple as that.” It’s reasonable; Seokjin remembers when he considered going back to continue his education, the thought squashed quickly when brief research showed even the cheapest of colleges were out of his price range.

Seokjin nods, filling the gap in conversation since Taehyung seems stuck in thought. “Do you plan on going into the veterinary field then?”

“That’s the plan. I’m hoping I’ll eventually be able to move away from this damn receptionist desk-” she sighs, “-and actually do something exciting.”

Mentioning the fact that Kitty’s secondary job seems plenty exciting doesn’t seem like the right response, which is why Seokjin bites his tongue to keep the words from coming out. He looks over at Taehyung, hoping the younger man will bring something to the conversation to keep Seokjin from saying something stupid, but he seems to have checked completely out of the conversation.

In the end, it’s not Taehyung who saves Seokjin from trying to continue making conversation, but a sweet-looking older lady with grey hair and plump, rosey cheeks that calls out Taehyung’s name.

“Mr. Kim? Yeontan is all checked out and ready to go, if you would just come and fill out some paperwork. It’ll only take a second.”

True to the veterinarian's word, it’s only a few minutes before Seokjin and Taehyung are walking out of the clinic. Taehyung holds onto the pet carrier that Yeontan is sleeping in, sedated after the dog kept trying to fight the vet trying to give him medication. Only a light dose of anesthetics, the vet promised, such a small amount that it’s something that if used on something Seokjin’s size, wouldn’t even be noticeable.

Taehyung slides into the passenger seat while Seokjin starts the car up. Yeontan’s pet carrier is placed in Taehyung’s lap, refusing to put it in the back despite the fact that the small pomeranian is still sleeping.

They agree that they’ll drive to SUGA Cakes rather than dropping Taehyung off at his place. A quick call to Hoseok confirms that he’s “helping” Yoongi at the shop, and because Hoseok and Taehyung live together, Hoseok can drive them home from there. Plus, Seokjin wants to check in on the shop, though he’s certain he’ll only last two minutes before Yoongi kicks him out and yells at him for not resting.

Seokjin reaches out to turn on the radio to fill the silence in the car, but Taehyung’s next words make him forget his mission, dropping his hand back down.

“I never got around to doing so, but I’m really sorry.”

“For what?” With the car in motion, Seokjin does his best to not be a distracted driver. Maybe that’s why he has no idea what Taehyung is talking about, which is why he prompts him for more information.

“For the meeting we had at SUGA Cakes. And how I brought the stalker thing up in front of everyone. I didn’t realize how touchy of a subject it would be.”

Seokjin almost misses the red light thanks to Taehyung’s statement, and once the car comes to a sudden stop and the car behind them honks because of it, Seokjin whips his head around to look at Taehyung.

“O-oh? That?” Seokjin chuckles nervously, subconsciously rubbing the back of his neck. “I suppose I should thank you for bringing it up. It could be important to the case, after all.”

“It could be,” Taehyung bluntly affirms, nodding his head. “But in the end, it was your privacy, and I could’ve talked to you privately about it. I know it might not seem like it sometimes, but I have my pride as a professional, and I could’ve handled the scene a lot better.”

Seokjin snorts, taking a moment to switch over to next lane before speaking again. “I think everyone could’ve handled the scene a little better. And while I was a little upset at first, I understand that hiding it wasn’t the best.”

Luckily, Yoongi has been too busy working at Bulletproof to see the latest letter that came to the shop.

They drive in silence for a couple of minutes, mostly due to Seokjin doing his best to weave in and out of traffic to make good time. A few cars honk at him, but he decides to take them as words of respect towards his excellent driving skills (which he’s learned 100% from Mario Kart).

“You know, I have… admirers as well,” Taehyung says. They’re almost at SUGA Cakes, maybe only a few more minutes. Seokjin doesn’t say a word, sensing the deep thought going into Taehyung’s words. He’s probably been thinking about them the entire car ride.

“Of course, I don’t get fancy letters like you,” Taehyung says, and Seokjin laughs at the obvious attempt at a joke to lighten up the mood. “Most of the stuff comes from Twitter. Not so much in the comments, but a lot of DMs. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s technically a business webpage that we have for possible clients to contact us on, I’d just disable messaging completely.”

“God, I bet you get a lot of dick pics.”

“Honestly, I wish that was the worst of it. Since our office address is posted online and our living space is right above the office, I’ve had people waiting outside the building for me. It’s mostly thirteen year-old girls who think their wobbly-ass knees and bright blue eyeshadow are gonna convince me to marry them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a firm grip on my pepper spray when I push past them.”

“That sounds terrible,” Seokjin mutters. He thinks that if he was Taehyung, he’d choose to accidentally unleash pepper spray on all of the girls anyway. “Can’t you do anything about them?”

Taehyung hums. “I mean, what would I do? Report them to the police for being desperately in love with my face? You and I both know how helpful the cops can be when it comes to things like that.”

Seokjin frowns, realizing where the story is going.

“But what you can do is let your friends know about it,” Taehyung says, giving Seokjin a pointed look. “Of course, in my situation, I couldn’t hide it from Hobi-hyung even if I wanted to. But even if I could, I wouldn’t. Because Hobi-hyung is my friend, and I trust him.”

“I trust my friends,” Seokjin quickly retorts, biting back a scowl. “And while they’re my friends, Yoongi and Jungkook are both younger than me, and it's my job to not trouble them.” Not when Jungkook has piles of homework to focus on. Not when Yoongi wants to dedicate every second of his time to bettering SUGA Cakes. They don’t need to be wasting the few spare brain cells they have to worry about some dumb, innocent letters Seokjin has been receiving. Obviously if the police don’t think they’re an issue, they aren’t an issue. Obviously .

They arrive at SUGA Cakes, parking at the front of the lot (despite the fact that Seokjin always yells at Yoongi to leave those spots for the customers). It’s not a conscious effort, but Seokjin’s rushing to undo his seatbelt and get out of the car. But Taehyung’s words get to him just as he’s got the door open and his foot has hit the ground outside.

“They’re your friends before they’re your responsibility, hyung. Letting them know and keeping them as close as possible isn’t going to hurt them.”

In response, Seokjin can only think of the mysterious, creepy letters and the three girls that could be missing because of .him.

Chapter Text

Seokjin doesn’t know when his cupcake store suddenly became an interrogation room, but he doesn’t have the heart to kick Taehyung out of his store when the young detective suddenly asks if he can hold his interrogation of Naomi at SUGA Cakes.

It catches Seokjin by surprise at first; he’s not surprised Naomi agreed to talk to Taehyung, because he’s sure Namjoon asked her and she definitely doesn’t look like she has it in her to reject anything Namjoon asks of her. Which is sad in a sense, because from the one interaction Seokjin’s seen between the two of them, there doesn’t seem to be any hint from Namjoon that he returns her feelings at all, though he can’t say he’s an expert on Namjoon’s emotions.

Unfortunately, as Taehyung explains, while Namjoon managed to convince her to talk to Taehyung, Namjoon is apparently busy with a crazy, last-minute group project meeting which means he isn’t available to join Taehyung. Luckily, Naomi didn’t put any requirements that Namjoon be there, but Taehyung doesn’t even have to explain to Seokjin why that puts a damper on questioning. A familiar face might inspire Naomi’s lips to become a little looser, even if the one interaction Seokjin had with her was only for a brief moment. Hopefully, being called Namjoon’s friend and having Namjoon’s approval will work for Seokjin.

(Then again, Namjoon’s stamp of approval for Jackson didn’t do his roommate any good when it came to earning Naomi’s trust after the disappearance of her roommate, so Seokjin’s not sure why he’ll be any better.)

Which is why at three in the afternoon, part of SUGA Cake’s pre-dinner lull, a wary looking Naomi walks in.

“You must be Naomi!” Taehyung greets from the table he’s already reserved. His version of a reservation is a jacket swung over one of the chairs, a bag thrown lazily in the middle of the table, and his feet propped up on the chair opposite of him. Before Naomi looks over, he takes his feet off the chair and kicks it out.

SUGA Cakes makes a good place for questioning because it's a public location, meaning Naomi won’t be afraid of being attacked in a closed location. However, during Sunday’s lull, there’s enough lack of customers that it’s a private location to hold an interrogation, which is why Naomi only takes a quick glance around at the almost-empty store before taking a seat.

Seokjin takes a seat next to Taehyung, nodding as Jimin fills his spot up at the counter. Usually, the sounds of the kitchen are drowned out by the speakers that play inside the customer seating area. However, for the sake of the interrogation, the music is down lower than usual. The sound of the kitchenaid whirring can be heard, and Seokjin wonders what Yoongi is up to.

Yoongi isn’t supposed to be in the shop today. Or any day, really, as Seokjin insisted when Yoongi took the undercover position. There’s only room for one workaholic in their partnership, and Seokjin figures that it's his responsibility to fill the role as the older of the two of them. But it’s Sunday, the one day of the week Bulletproof is closed, and rather than have a day off, Seokjin woke up that morning to an empty apartment, only to find Yoongi already working away when he arrived at the shop, blasting heavy rap at full volume on his phone, shouting along with the lyrics.

(“Yoongi, what the actual fuck ?”

“Look, before you say anything, I’d just like to let you know that there’s coffee and a chocolate croissant waiting for you on the counter.”)

The only reason Seokjin lets Yoongi stay is because Yoongi says he’s finishing up a project from the day before when Seokjin had been sick and abandoned the store forcing Yoongi to come in. Yoongi’s explanation doesn’t sound sincere when he wears a smirk the entire time, but he still manages to play off Seokjin’s guilt. Luckily, thanks to two-out-of-three victorious rounds of rock-paper-scissors, Seokjin convinces Yoongi to not stay the entire day so he can go home and cook dinner for the two of them.

“Thanks for coming today,” Taehyung starts off, flashing a boxy smile. Seokjin’s not even on the receiving end of it and he feels a little disarmed, so he’s not surprised when he sees Naomi’s shoulders relax. “I know you’ve talked to the police about this already, so I’ll try to keep it short.”

They go over basic questions, ones that sound like they’ve been taken out of the script of a crime drama. Naomi, despite the remaining tenseness in her body, answers each one of Taehyung’s questions patiently. There’s a few times she sighs, not so much out of frustration and exasperation, but a sigh that’s almost a yawn which reflects how tired she is.

“You reported your roommate, Jang Soojin missing the morning of the twenty-second,” Taehyung says, flipping through his notes. His eyes don’t actually lock down on anything written on the pages, and Seokjin’s starting to wonder if the notepad is more of a prop than anything else. “From what I can see on the police report, you reported her missing after she never came home the night before, correct?”

Naomi nods. “I thought it was weird when she didn’t show up for Judo practice the night before, but she had mentioned having a test the next day, so I didn’t really think much of it.” She takes a deep breath, biting her lower lip. “When I called the police that morning, I was hoping I was just being paranoid. It hadn’t even been twenty-four hours yet, but with the other two missing girls-” the sentence ends with Naomi’s voice cracking, and she lowers her head.

“You didn’t think she was just spending the night somewhere else?” Taehyung probes, though his voice is purposefully soft, and while he doesn’t touch her, he places his hands next to Naomi’s on the table. “Maybe another friend, or a lover? Was she seeing anyone at the time?”

“No, not that she told me,” Naomi says. Her expression is neutral, but the way she almost spits the second part of the sentence makes Seokjin think that Naomi doesn’t believe her own answer.

Taehyung catches it easily, his quiet hum making it sound like he was almost expecting that answer. “Are you sure?” He tilts his head, silver bangs flopping in front of his eyes. “Statistically, lovers are most commonly the culprit of a case. If she was involved with someone, it’s definitely something that needs to be looked into.”

Naomi is silent, crossing her arms over her chest and grabbing onto her biceps, hugging herself. Her gaze drifts from the table space in front her to the window behind Taehyung  There’s a moment where her eyes seem to focus on nothing at all, but when he finally looks at Taehyung, she admits, “I never saw her with anyone, but she was constantly dressing up, even when she claimed she wasn’t meeting up with anyone.”

Another nod from Taehyung, not showing a hint of surprise. “Would you say that Soojin came to this store a lot?” It’s not a real question; or at least, not a question searching for the information it's directed at. Taehyung is already aware of Soojin’s association with SUGA Cakes. Seokjin mentally pats himself on the back when he realizes Taehyung’s true intentions: testing the relationship between Naomi and Soojin, trying to figure out how much Naomi knows. Trying to figure out if she can provide reliable information about Soojin.

Naomi frowns, tugging at the seams of her shirt. “Well, I guess so. We’re best friends and roommates, but I didn’t follow her every move, just like she didn’t follow mine. She definitely always had cupcake wrappers littering her purse though, so I assume she went a lot.”

“Maybe her crush is associated with this store, hm?”

Naomi’s eyes flicker to Seokjin, and she’s silent for a moment, bringing her eyes back to focus on her hands in front of her on the table “Huh, I guess I should’ve figured that.”

Oh . If Seokjin didn’t like where Taehyung was going with the conversation before, now he really doesn’t like it. He looks forward, refusing to glance over at Taehyung, though he can feel the detective’s gaze burning into his profile.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to look over, because the front door opens and everyone at the table is immediately distracted.

Seokjin narrows his eyes.

“Jungkook?”

Jungkook wears a silly grin, teeth fully exposed. He waves to Seokjin and Taehyung, then notices Naomi’s presence. He only gives her a small bow, more of a nod of the head, before spinning on his heel and waving at Jimin.

“I didn’t know you were working today,” Jimin says. He’s seated on the counter, leaning back on his palms. Seokjin would lecture him about how unsanitary that is, but he knows from personal experience that the counter is the most comfortable seat in the store.

“He’s not,” Seokjin says quickly, standing up from his seat. His muscles tense, preparing to tackle Jungkook to the ground if he tries working. “Aren’t you supposed to be at home, playing Overwatch or something?”

“Hyung, I thought you said that I’m supposed to do my homework on Sundays.”

“Oh? Are you saying that you’ve actually been doing your school work on Sundays?”

“You know what? I think there’s more pressing questions in this world that need to be addressed.”

“I thought so,” Seokjin mumbles, rolling his eyes in an exaggerated way when Jungkook flashes Seokjin a toothy grin. “What did I do today to deserve the blessing of your presence? Did your love for my company finally beat your love for video games?”

“Sorry hyung, but me and my video games are still in a perfectly healthy and happy relationship,” Jungkook jokes, a bubble of laughter escaping his lips, and he tilts his head back. “I just realized I forgot the cupcakes for Namjoon-hyung since I didn’t come to work yesterday either.”

“Ah, that’s right, you were at-” Seokjin pauses mid-sentence, and if possible, his frown intensifies, brows furrowed. “You’re still giving cupcakes to Namjoon? Can’t he just come grab them himself?”

“Aw, hyung, do you want Namjoon to come to the store that badly?”

“For business purposes only, of course.” The tips of Seokjin’s ears color red. He slams his palms against the table with a loud thud, clearing his throat. “If Namjoon really wants more cupcakes, he can buy them.”

Is what he says, but Seokjin is already dismissing himself from the table with Naomi and Taehyung, following behind Jungkook.

Yoongi looks up at the sound of their footsteps announcing their presence, and he looks surprised for a brief second before snorting. “Hyung, did you forget to tell Jungkook he’s banned from my kitchen after his little fiasco?” He turns down the power on the kitchenaid, huddling close and giving it something that looks like an attempt at a hug. He pointedly glares at Jungkook, who is luckily a fair enough sport that he just laughs at Yoongi’s jab. Seokjin doesn’t think it’s fair that Yoongi gets to complain about the Avocado Event (named by Jimin, who had found great amusement in his disaster of a creation) when he wasn’t the one dumb enough to be fooled by Jungkook’s doe eyes and actually eat one. “If you touch anything, I’ll have to kill you, and I don’t have time to hide a body.”

Jungkook’s reaction to Yoongi is to immediately start touching every single surface of the kitchen, sprawling his body across the counters Yoongi’s working on. Yoongi’s yelling about how unsanitary it is, and Jungkook is giggling while he gets flour all over his black T-shirt, rolling around the counters, making sure to press his fingers all over the kitchenaid Yoongi is using. It’s horribly endearing, watching Yoongi whack Jungkook with the wooden spoon he’s grabbed off the counter (and will certainly have to wash now), but Seokjin manages to drag his eyes away to go grab the box of leftovers sitting near his desk area.

Since Jungkook didn’t grab the leftovers yesterday, Seokjin left the cupcakes out as free game for anyone. So there’s less cupcakes than usual, which isn’t a surprise, as Seokjin watched Taehyung and Jimin decide to have a cupcake eating race earlier in the day. This means the empty space allows the cupcakes to slide around in the box, and while it’s not to the point where they’ll easily tip over, the box looks too empty to give out as a gift.

It’s an easy fix, Seokjin thinks, picking the box up and sneaking out of the kitchen briefly to grab a few fresh cupcakes from the front counter, purposely ignoring Jimin’s amused smile. Seokjin adds his favorites to the case, the ones that usually never make it to the leftover box due to their popularity. He hopes Namjoon is open to all flavors and doesn’t have any allergies, because Seokjin is praying Namjoon will enjoy the extra cupcakes he’s throwing in.

“Those don’t look like leftovers,” Yoongi says immediately upon Seokjin’s return to the kitchen. Unfortunately for Seokjin, he wasn’t smart enough to close the lid before handing the box to Jungkook. Part of him wants to take the box back and wrap it properly, as they have gift wrap for when customers request it, but he decides against it, figuring that Yoongi would only have another comment to say about it.

“It’s just an extra thank you for the other day,” Seokjin grumbles, shoving his hands in his pockets. Yoongi hums, probably remembering how Seokjin had told him how Namjoon helped him when he was sick, and he’s prepared for the subject to be dropped when he notices the wicked grin Yoongi’s wearing.

“Oh, I can think of some better thank you gifts Namjoon would want.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Oh, if it’s from hyung, I think Namjoon would really like -”

“-I think Namjoon-hyung will really appreciate the cupcakes!” Jungkook interrupts, kicking Yoongi. It’s a soft kick, but Yoongi’s a soft boy, and he doesn’t try to finish his sentence. Which is a shame, because Seokjin really wants to properly thank Namjoon, but thanks to Jungkook’s interference, Namjoon will have to settle for cupcakes.

With that settled, Seokjin leaves the kitchen, Jungkook following behind with the box of cupcakes.

“Tell Namjoon he better be thankful that you keep giving him my prized cupcakes,” Seokjin reminds Jungkook before he leaves. Jungkook doesn’t respond verbally, but Seokjin doesn’t miss the eyeroll, and he responds with one of his own even though Jungkook can’t see him.

“Sorry about that,” Seokjin says, stealthily sliding back into his seat next to Taehyung. Or at least, he tries to, but he misses the seat and ends up falling to the floor first, and picks himself up miserably, laughing to cover up the silence of the conversation between Taehyung and Naomi that he had clearly interrupted.

“No, you’re all good, we were about to finish up,” Taehyung says, patting Seokjin’s shoulder reassuringly, adding a gentle squeeze. “You’re back just in time actually, I was gonna ask if you had any questions you wanted to add.”

Seokjin blinks. He didn’t really participate in the interrogation, nor did he expect to. He’s no detective, and certainly isn’t capable of thinking up any questions that Taehyung hasn’t already thought of. His first thought is to tell Taehyung no, and send Naomi on her merry way.

But the boxy grin Taehyung flashes him stops the word on the tip of his tongue. Seokjin sighs, clapping his hands to his cheeks. Taehyung’s waiting Seokjin to ask something, and judging by the twinkle in Taehyung’s eyes, the detective is expecting Seokjin to ask something great. On one hand, Seokjin doesn’t appreciate the sudden spotlight. On the other hand, Seokjin likes Taehyung’s great expectations of him, like he thinks Seokjin is capable of anything. It reminds him of the way Jungkook looked at him when they were younger, and the way Jungkook looks at Namjoon now.

Seokjin internally groans. This is it; even if Jungkook isn’t actually present, forfeiting a question would eternally place Seokjin as the loser between Namjoon and him. His hands placed in his lap lace together, and he takes a deep breath. If Namjoon can make up questions during their interview with Professor Park, Seokjin can surely make up a good question to ask Naomi.

“Do you really think Jackson Wang is the culprit?”

The moment the words leave Seokjin’s mouth, he wonders why he was granted the ability to speak, because it’s not helping him in life. Naomi’s eyes go wide at the question, and the only thing that reassures Seokjin that he didn’t cross the line too far is the approving hum Taehyung makes, grin widening.

The question has been wandering the back of Seokjin’s mind for awhile. From the way Namjoon spoke, it sounded like Jackson, him and Naomi had all been friends before the missing persons’ incident. From the quick minute Seokjin interacted with Jackson, he was already swayed to believe that Jackson couldn’t harm a fly. The fact that Naomi, who’s definitely a lot closer with Jackson, would think he’s capable of something so extreme makes Seokjin curious.

Luckily, Naomi doesn’t look too upset by the question, though a little surprised. Seokjin wonders if anyone had ever bothered asking her.

“I mean, he is the lead suspect for the police,” she murmurs, expression sullen. She doesn’t sound too convinced, so maybe she’s more on Jackson’s side than Seokjin previously believed.

“But you don’t think he did it?” Taehyung raises his eyebrows.

Naomi meekly shrugs, lowering her head. “It’s not like I like thinking he did it. But my best friend is missing, two other girls are too, and who knows who’s next.” She sighs, tugging at the ends of her hair. “I think it’s good to be wary of anyone in times like these.”

“Even if they’re your friend?” Seokjin asks without thought.

“Like I said, it’s good to be wary of anyone.”

With that, they wrap up the interview and Taehyung dismisses Naomi. She leaves hurriedly, looking down the entire time as she leaves SUGA Cakes, not even bothering to look at Taehyung as she quickly says goodbye.

“Ugh, that would’ve gone so much better if Namjoon was here,” Taehyung whines once she’s out of the building, flopping down onto the table. Jimin, who’s supposed to be working the front counter, abandons his position to pat Taehyung’s head gently, as if consoling a small child.

“Do you really think it would’ve made that much of a difference?” None of Naomi’s answers were outstandingly detailed, but Seokjin knew she must’ve been questioned by the police too many times for the answers to come out any more enthusiastically. “She seemed forthcoming enough.” Seokjin isn’t a detective, and he’s not very fond of what Naomi’s answers could potentially hint at, but he thinks that Naomi’s responses could be very useful towards the case.

Taehyung hums. “You’re not wrong, but you never know how love makes people take things to an extreme,” he says. Seokjin doesn’t even comment on the fact that Taehyung has no obvious reasons to know about Naomi’s crush on Namjoon, but he doesn’t dare ask in fear of getting some response involving any sort of vibes . “I mean, maybe she’s not purposely withholding information, but forgetting it. Having Namjoon there might’ve been the extra incentive she needed to motivate herself to recall that information.”

“Well, whether she left anything out or not, we definitely need to talk about the connection between Soojin and hyung,” Yoongi says, presenting himself from the kitchen. Seokjin winces, as he had been praying that from the distance of the kitchen, Yoongi wouldn’t be able to hear the interrogation. “Naomi said Soojin was coming here a lot, and dressing up for it. It’s hard not to see the correlation.”

“But there’s no actual proof that Soojin’s crush was Seokjin-hyung, right?” Jimin asks, brows furrowed. Seokjin almost corrects Jimin to say that everyone has a crush on Kim Seokjin, before realizing that he’d actually prefer to not come to that conclusion. “I’ve seen her at the club before, and while I wouldn’t call her a social butterfly, she was definitely into the fangirling. Her crush could’ve been anyone.” Seokjin thinks Jimin has a good point, and it washes away the concern he had about letting Jimin overhear the interrogation. It was a coincidence that his shift happened to overlap with the interrogation, but it reminds Seokjin of why they brought Jimin into the store in the first place.

“You would think she would’ve told her best friend,” Taehyung muses, rubbing his chin as if he’s stepped out of a detective drama. He leans back in his chair, taking Jimin’s hand in his as it falls from his head.

“I mean, if it was just a crush, why would she?” Yoongi says, shrugging his shoulders. “If what Jimin says is true, Soojin having a crush isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Maybe she just doesn’t bother keeping her updated when it changes so often.”

Taehyung frowns, clearly not liking Yoongi’s answer. “You mean you wouldn’t tell Seokjin-hyung if you had someone you liked?”

Yoongi coughs into his fist. “I think that’s a completely different situation.”

“Not really. Naomi and Soojin were roommates and best friends. You and Seokjin-hyung are roommates and best friends. Naomi and Soojin both do judo, you and Seokjin-hyung both run a bakery. You’re the closest thing I’ve got,” Taehyung says. “So tell me. Would you keep it a secret from Seokjin-hyung if you had a crush on someone?”

Yoongi’s face is suddenly the same shade of pink as his hair, and his fingers pull at his earring. “I guess I wouldn’t say anything unless I was really sure of it. Especially since-” Yoongi laughs nervously, “-especially if it was someone hyung knew. Don’t want things to get awkward if things go wrong, y’know?”

Seokjin gasps, throwing his hand over his heart dramatically enough that it hits his chest with a thud. “Yoongi! Is that all of what our years and years of friendship means to you?” Part of him is actually a little offended, but mostly he hasn’t seen Yoongi enough recently and misses teasing him. Yoongi’s always been more conservative with his emotions, and Seokjin’s plenty fine with not pushing Yoongi to reveal more than he’s comfortable with. It’s probably why their friendship has lasted so long; they know each other’s boundaries.

As Yoongi groans, Seokjin tacks on, “I hope you know that if I liked someone, I’d let you know right away.” For added effect, he drapes an arm around Yoongi’s shoulders.

For someone who looks so small covered by Seokjin’s arm, Yoongi wears an incredibly smug smile, eyebrows raised as he says, “Hyung, I don’t even think you’d let you know right away.”

Seokjin pouts, puffing his cheeks out. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, nothing. But man, I sure bet Namjoon’s gonna love those extra cupcakes you threw in there for him.”

Taehyung is the one who has to catch Jimin when he starts giggling, reasons unknown to Seokjin. Seokjin doesn’t bother to try to understand, instead opting to grumble about how of course Namjoon would like the cupcakes, everyone likes my cupcakes.

A customer is what breaks up their scene, Jimin rushing to the counter to assist a family of five that include a screaming baby.

“Hyung, I know you don’t want to talk about it,” Taehyung says quietly, and combined with the crying infant in the background, Seokjin can barely hear the deep tone of his voice, “but if Soojin did have a crush on you, there’s a chance that your admirer could be the culprit behind her disappearance. I think going over the letters would be a good idea, to see if we can get any idea of what we’re dealing with.”

After the conversation they had on the way back from the veterinarian, Seokjin’s been trying to be more transparent when it comes to the obsessive letter situation. He doesn’t want to delve into it any more than necessary, but he also doesn’t want to completely ignore it in fear that it might actually have something to do with the missing persons case.

As much as he wants to run away from the situation, especially with the concerned expression Yoongi is wearing, Seokjin knows that it’s something that needs to be addressed, especially after hearing the new information from Naomi. They don’t know about the other two girls yet, but it’s still a lead; if there’s any chance the sender of the letters had felt threatened by any potential suitors of Seokjin and decided to do something about it, it needs to be investigated.

Which is why Seokjin reluctantly goes to the back, fumbling around with the messy drawers of the desk he uses for paperwork. It only takes him a minute to find the folder he has, stashed underneath stacks of old paperwork. It’s honestly shocking that Yoongi has never stumbled upon the collection before. Then again, ‘polaroid nudes’ is written across the folder in black pen, and while Seokjin’s ego is a little insulted that Yoongi never decided to sneak a peek at what would be considered artistic masterpieces, he’s also glad his friend was never curious enough to accidentally stumble upon the letters.

Grabbing the folder, he heads back to where Taehyung and Yoongi are waiting.

“You’ve kept them all?” Yoongi says, voice low. Partially because they’re using the public table as their workspace, and there’s no reason why the customers need to know about Seokjin’s private affairs. Idealistically, this would be a conversation had back at the apartment. Idealistically, they wouldn’t be having to have the conversation at all, so Seokjin has given up on ideals, settling for the chances the universe throws at him.

“I gathered them together when I submitted them to the police, but once they made copies they gave me the originals back. Figured it might be a good idea to hang onto them,” Seokjin says, shrugging his shoulders in what he hopes is a nonchalant manner. The reality of the situation is that he could’ve easily thrown them away, except for the nagging feeling that there was potentially something deeper to them eating away at him.

Not that he could’ve ever imagined the letters being involved in a case with three other people’s lives potentially at stake.

“They’re quite beautiful, aren’t they?” Taehyung murmurs, sliding the letters out. All of them are contained in the envelopes they came in, rose-colored and usually sealed with a traditional wax. Some of the envelopes are missing the seal since they fell off when Seokjin opened the letters, but on all the envelopes you can at least see the remnants of where the wax used to be. The letters always show up at the front door of the store, so there’s no address or mail stamp on the letter, though ‘ To my dearest Seokjin ’ is penned in large, black cursive letters on the back of the envelope.

The letters inside the envelopes are all written on white paper, and the writing is done in hand. Unlike the outside, the inner writing is done in print, but the precision in every letter shows the dedication the writer must’ve put into it. It looks like a love letter. It sounds like a love letter. But as Taehyung quietly reads one of the letters out loud, it’s obvious to see that there’s something strange about the letters.

Oh, my dearest Seokjin, I yearn for the feeling of your skin against my hand ,” Taehyung reads, eyes glued to the letter. “ The way you smile for me, I don’t know if I could do without the grace of your angelic features.

Seokjin shudders. It’s one of the more recent letters, from a month ago or so, and Taehyung reading it aloud makes Seokjin realize that maybe he should’ve been more proactive about stopping the letters.

Yoongi has grabbed another letter, a slightly older one. His jaw is visibly tense, and Seokjin isn’t surprised to see the slight shaking of his hands, gripping the letter so tight that the tips of his fingers start to turn white.

Recently, outer forces have been keeping me from seeing you. While my heart feels ill due to the distance, the thought of you missing me as well warms my enamoured heart.” Yoongi snorts, irritated. He tosses the letter to the side, and Seokjin doesn’t protest when it hits the floor without a care.

Another letter.

Sometimes I worry that you’re not making enough time for me. I’d give you the world, as you deserve it all. I can’t help but wonder if you would do the same for me. But certainly, it’s because you’re afraid people will protest our love? My dearest Seokjin, I hope you know that I’d protect you from them all.

This time, Yoongi crumples the letter, his high school basketball skills making a reappearance as he tosses it in the garbage can several feet away from the table.

Taehyung, who has been silently reading, looks up at Seokjin. His lower lip is jutted out, eyebrows knitted together, nose slightly scrunched. “The police really didn’t do anything about these?” Seokjin reads his expression originally as concern, but once he hears the terseness in Taehyung’s voice, he realizes it’s not too far from Yoongi’s anger-marred face.

“They said without any threats or evidence of who it could be, there wasn’t much they could do.”

“Fucking bullshit,” Yoongi growls, and Seokjin knows he’s mad by the lack of filter; there’s only a minor age gap between him and Yoongi, but Yoongi has always been respectful of it and in turn, watched his mouth around Seokjin. “This is straight up possesive. Look at this shit. Delusional. The damn fucker thinks hyung is reciprocating his feelings? How dumb could you get?”

Taehyung reaches out and puts a hand on Yoongi’s arm, giving a light squeeze. Yoongi flinches at first, but it’s enough to make him take a deep breath, slowing releasing it along with the tension in his shoulders. When he speaks again, his voice comes out much smaller. “I mean, what if something had happened to hyung?”

“You’re not wrong,” Taehyung says. He exhales sharply through his nose. “These letters show signs of not only possessiveness, but detachment from society. The way it’s been written shows that the sender of the letters clearly thinks anyone outside of Seokjin and his relationship is an unnecessary obstacle.”

“It means that it’s very possible that this person thought the three missing girls were trying to get in between you two, and decided to act upon it,” Taehyung says. “Which means it’s about time to figure out who’s the author of these letters.”

Seokjin tugs at the sleeves of his shirt, pulling them over his hands. “So you think that I might be responsible for all this?”

A second later, Taehyung’s approached Seokjin, and wrapped his arms around him in a hug. Seokjin’s sitting down while Taehyung is standing, which means the hug is a mess of awkward angles, but Seokjin allows himself for a brief second to bury his face in the crook of Taehyung’s neck and release the breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. The hug is brief, probably because Taehyung realizes that it’s hard to bend down and hug Seokjin, but it’s enough that Seokjin looks up from his hands to face Taehyung.

“Whether the person writing these letters is the culprit or not, you’re not responsible for any of it , okay?” Taehyung’s voice is soft but firm, hands resting on either side of Seokjin’s shoulders. “If it’s okay with you, I’m gonna take the letters back to my office so I can look over them some more with Hobi-hyung. But I don’t want you worrying about anything, alrighty? For all we know, we could be barking up the wrong tree.”

Taehyung takes the folder full of letters, putting the ones on the table back, including the one on the floor (though after a quick glance at the garbage can, he decides to leave the crumpled letter where it is). A few minutes later, he’s out the door, hopefully off to go investigate the letters even further.

Yoongi sighs. “I hate this.”

“Well, it’s not like it’s a fun situation.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, running his hands through his hair, pink strands parted where his fingers pass through. “I wish I could be in the store everyday. I mean, it’s not like either of us interact with anybody outside of this shop-” Yoongi breaks mid-sentence when Seokjin jabs him with his elbow “-which means whoever’s sending these letters is obviously a customer. Maybe you shouldn’t work the front for awhile.”

“No, I need to work the front,” Seokjin says, trying to sound more confident than he feels. “If it is a customer, I won’t be able to notice anything suspicious if I’m hiding in the back.”

Yoongi cocks his head. “Do you have any idea who it might be? Have you noticed someone in particular? Anything strange?”

Seokjin can only shake his head, because out of all the admirers who walk into his store, none of them give off the vibes of someone who writes letters about Seokjin. He’s seen his face set at the lockscreen of too many people, and once a guy hinted that he thought of Seokjin during his personal pleasure time. But even things as strange as that don’t give off the same intense vibes as the letters. If it is a customer, Seokjin finds himself frightened; whoever it is must be incredibly good at hiding their thoughts behind an innocent mask.

The air is tense for the rest of the afternoon, and when it gets closer to the evening, Seokjin is practically wrestling Yoongi out of the store.

“I don’t wanna leave you alone!”

It’s the end of the shift for not only Yoongi, but Jimin as well, which means once they leave, Seokjin’ll be alone in the store.

“I’ve been alone plenty of times, and I’ve been fine,” Seokjin reassures Yoongi, one hand placed flat on the younger’s back as he pushes him towards the exit. “Plus, you have to drive Jimin home, and you can’t do that if you’re stuck here with me.”

Standing next to Yoongi is Jimin, pink hair tucked under a black beanie that looks suspiciously like the one Seokjin got Jungkook for Christmas last year. His arms are crossed over his chest, hands rubbing at his bare skin that’s exposed to the still cold spring air.

“I could always just take the bus,” Jimin chimes in, and Yoongi turns to look at him and frowns.

“No, it’s fine. I drive Jungkook home all the time, and I feel more comfortable having someone drop you off with all that’s going on,” Yoongi says, shaking his head. He turns back to Seokjin, then Jimin, and then Seokjin again and lets out a troubled sigh.

“At the end of the night when you go to take out the garbage, call me okay?” Yoongi says, pointing a finger at Seokjin. “The store is fine, but it’s dark back there.”

“I’ll be fi-”

“Please?” It’d take an idiot to miss to legitimate worry in Yoongi’s voice.

So when the store closes and Seokjin’s finishing cleaning up for the end of the night, he pulls out his phone when he goes to take out the garbage. Luckily, the garbage isn’t too much, so he’s able to hold the garbage bag with one hand and his phone in the other as he walks out to the dumpsters.

“Oh, good, you called,” Yoongi says, and while he tries to hide it, Seokjin can hear Yoongi’s muffled yawn and knows he must’ve been sleeping until Seokjin called. It’s not even eight, which means it’s too late in the day to be taking a nap, but too early to be actually sleeping. Not that normal sleeping habits have ever applied to Yoongi.

“I hope you have dinner waiting at home, I’m starving,” Seokjin says, remembering Yoongi’s promise to cook.

“Oh, totally. I looked up this recipe called delivery pizza, and it's real easy to follow. I just have to call the number on the website and wait twenty minutes before the food is ready.”

Seokjin laughs. “Sounds like a good meal to me.” He keeps walking, and he understands why Yoongi is concerned about taking out the garbage; the disposal is a good three minute walk in the dark in a mostly isolated area. At one point, he swear he hears someone and almost jumps out of his skin, only for a small cat to pop out a moment later. “But you do owe me a home-cooked meal, don’t try to weasel your way out of it.”

On the other side of the line, Yoongi groans. “Fine. Is there anything in particular you would want?”

With his empty stomach, Seokjin can think of a million things he’d want to eat, so it takes him a second to respond. “Something with seafood.” He grins to himself, biting his laughter back before adding, “I haven’t had seafood in a whale .”

Seokjin’s cackling when Yoongi hangs up on him.

 

***

 

It’s Monday, a few minutes past seven. Jungkook’s on his fifteen minute break, leaving Seokjin to man the front counter. He’s tired. Last night, he didn’t sleep well, his thoughts too busy thinking about the three missing girls. The case. It’s not his job to solve it; that’s what Yoongi told him when he caught him stressing.

And maybe it’s not his job to solve it, but that doesn’t mean he can’t solve it. He’s not a detective, and he doesn’t want to pretend to be one either. Yoongi’s words echo in his head though, reminding him that he needs to start being more aware. He’s used to having customers who are especially fond of or sweet on him (statistics show that 8.5 out of 10 people have a crush on Kim Seokjin). In the back of his mind, he’s probably always known that the letters were most likely coming from a customer. Maybe it’s because he likes to think the best of every customer (unless they’re really rude, he’ll freely think as poorly of those customers as he wants).

Most likely, Seokjin just didn’t want to go to work everyday knowing that at some point in the day, he was going to talk to the person who writes descriptive letters on their love for Seokjin. The letters mention Seokjin’s voice a lot. How many times has Seokjin taken the mystery sender’s order? He tries to not let people linger in the store if they’re not purchasing anything, but during the weekend rushes, Seokjin can’t keep track of things like that. Does Seokjin know their name? Their face? Anything?

Seokjin sighs into his hands, and he’s not sure if he’s grateful or annoyed by the concerned looks the in-store customers give him. His eyes flit across the room. There’s a group of teenage girls, probably even younger than Jungkook, crowded around one table. Seokjin remembers them coming up to the counter, giggling the entire time as Seokjin took their order. They’re definitely part of the 85% of the population that has a big, fat crush on Seokjin. The scary part is, for all Seokjin knows, one of the three giggling girls could be the culprit behind the letters.

The even scarier part is that if what Taehyung believes is true, they could easily be the next victims instead.

Seokjin’s pulled from his thoughts when the chimes of the front door go off. There’s a flash of purple hair, and Seokjin’s lips pull into a smile against his own will when he meets Namjoon’s gaze.

“Don’t you have class to be in?” Seokjin chides, but he doesn’t drop his smile as Namjoon approaches him, carrying a familiar tray of coffee. Without even asking, Seokjin takes one of the coffees.

“Meh, one class won’t kill me,” Namjoon says with the shrug of his shoulders.

Seokjin thrusts his hand forward, covering Namjoon’s mouth with his hand. It seems like a great way to shut Namjoon up, but suddenly Seokjin’s intensely aware of Namjoon’s lips pressed against the rough skin of his hand. The tingling sensation of Namjoon’s hot breath against his skin travels from his hand up his arm, all the way up to his heart, which begins to thump erratically and his ears burn red.

Seokjin has never had any issues with skinship. For his relationship with Yoongi, they’ve never been extremely touchy, which is a shame, because Seokjin thinks Yoongi gives some of the best cuddles when he’s in the mood for it.

Physical contact with Jungkook contents Seokjin wherever they touch, whether it’s Jungkook declaring Seokjin’s lap as his new seat, or simply Jungkook standing close enough to Seokjin that their shoulders bump. Content isn’t exactly the right word; maybe relaxed is the word Seokjin is looking for. That must be it: Yoongi and Jungkook make Seokjin feel at peace.

On the other hand, it feels like every muscle in Seokjin’s body is as stiff as a board, and his mind can’t focus on anything but the amused twinkle in Namjoon’s eyes, and the way he can feel Namjoon’s lips curling into a smile underneath his hand. He’s not positive, but he’s pretty sure he can feel Namjoon’s dimple underneath the pads of his fingers

“If you let Jungkook hear you say that, I’ll have to kill you,” Seokjin says, aware of how tight his voice sounds, the words leaving his mouth airy. The words certainly don’t contain the same childish conviction slamming his hand to Namjoon’s mouth had. He retracts his hand, allowing Namjoon to respond.

“Now that’d be unfortunate. Though I have finals coming up, so maybe you’d actually be doing me a favor,” Namjoon jokes, or at least Seokjin thinks he’s joking.

“What brings you here, anyway?” Not that Seokjin doesn’t appreciate the free coffee, but Namjoon has a whole box of cupcakes at home, so it’s not like he needs more.

“Oh, um, I was getting coffee with Hobi and decided to get something for you.”

“For me?”

Namjoon scratches the back of his neck. “Jungkook told me how you put extra cupcakes in. I really appreciated it.”

Seokjin curses Jungkook underneath his breath for blowing his cover. But then he remembers there is no cover, because there was no ulterior motive behind extra cupcake giving. He just wanted to thank Namjoon, that’s it.

“It’s no big deal,” Seokjin dismisses, shrugging off Namjoon’s comment, even if it does cause heat to rush to his cheeks. “It’s just cupcakes.”

“That are part of your business, and you’ve been giving them to me for free for weeks now,” Namjoon responds. At the tip of Seokjin’s tongue are the words to explain that it’s all Jungkook’s idea to give Namjoon the cupcakes, but he finds he can’t disagree with Namjoon when he’s flashing his dimples. “Really, you have to let me thank you.”

“No need,” Seokjin says quietly, feeling disgustingly bashful. There’s no reason for him to feel so unnerved around Namjoon, yet he is.

“How about,” Namjoon shifts his weight between his legs, rocking back and forth, “you let me thank you by taking you out to dinner? You like seafood, right? I know a couple of good places we could go.”

Seokjin is horrified by how good of an idea that sounds like. Not that he’d let Namjoon pay, but he dares to think it might be nice to enjoy Namjoon’s company over dinner.

Namjoon is staring at him intently, fingers tapping against the plastic cup in his hand. He looks worried, tense, and Seokjin figures it’s a good time to defuse the tension.

“Sure, sounds good to me, I haven’t had seafood in a whale -”

Namjoon laughs at the joke, but the laughter gets stuck in Seokjin’s throat, like he suddenly can’t breathe. Seokjin’s used to reusing jokes, but now he’s flabbergasted, realizing he never told Namjoon about his food preferences.

Naomi’s words echo in his head.

“I think it’s good to be wary of anyone in times like these.”

Seokjin drops his coffee.

Chapter Text

  

Seokjin isn’t a party person.

Well, maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it. Seokjin, is indeed, a party person. In his opinion, his presence alone defines a party. To say the least, Seokjin should be used to parties and the excitement that comes with them.

But it’s barely past ten-thirty, and the sound of Yoongi and Jungkook singing High School Musical duets (Yoongi as Gabriella, Jungkook as Troy) is enough to make him wish he didn’t tell Jimin alcohol was forbidden.

In Seokjin’s defense, it’s a Tuesday evening. When Jimin and Taehyung originally announced they were hosting Jimin’s welcoming party, Seokjin was quick to protest, claiming Jungkook couldn’t stay out late on a school night. The smug grin Jungkook had flashed Seokjin when he explained that Wednesday was actually an inservice day made Seokjin spend twenty minutes double checking. Five minutes was spent checking the school calendar, then another fifteen on the phone with the principal who seemed very exhausted by the end of the conversation as he explained to Seokjin on the phone that no, there’s no school on Wednesday. No, Jungkook isn’t lying.

With no other major reason to protest, Seokjin agreed to Jimin’s welcoming party (even if it seemed a little strange that Jimin himself was the one who originally planned it).

Which is why all seven of them are gathered in Jimin’s living room, sipping on apple juice after Seokjin refuses to enable minors drinking, much to Jimin’s dismay. Not that Seokjin doesn’t think that the moment he turns a blind eye, Jimin isn’t going to whip out a bottle of tequila and start mixing drinks. It’s more like Seokjin is praying that Jimin will be kind enough to spill some in his cup as well.

Jimin’s house is admittedly impressive, and Seokjin is almost jealous about the fact that the younger man successfully owns property while he’s still stuck in a dinky apartment with Yoongi. Not that he would give up rooming with Yoongi for anything; whether the younger of the pair knows of it or not, Seokjin has already signed them up for an eternity of living together. 

Still, Seokjin thinks it’d be nice if one day SUGA Cakes brought in enough money that their financial comfort could result in the purchasing of a house. Nothing as extreme as Jimin’s house, as Seokjin quickly figured out - Jimin easily makes the best money out of all of them, the result of generous customers and surprisingly good investment skills. 

“I’ve only lived here a couple of months, and it took up almost all my savings, but it was definitely worth it,” Jimin explained when Seokjin shot him a curious look. 

The house is easily too big for a single person, and while the living room is a little crammed with seven full-grown men lounging in it, the way Jimin’s entire face lit up as the empty room was slowly filled with friends makes Seokjin think that Jimin would prefer the crowd to the almost vacant house - the younger boy hasn’t mentioned anything about a roommate despite a second bedroom being presented during the house tour. Seokjin ends up making a mental note to ask Jimin how much the house had cost him. Not that moving is on his current (or even future, really) to-do list, but Seokjin wants to bring the concept up to Yoongi anyway.

Speaking of Yoongi.

The pink-haired man (of the non-Jimin variety) is in the middle of belting out a high note that is barely audible, vocal cords producing more of a hiss rather than an actual note, when Jimin’s high-pitched giggles fill the room, loud enough to pull everyone’s attention to where Jimin is now draped over Taehyung.

Seokjin glances over, and almost makes the mistake of dismissing the loud outburst as Taehyung and Jimin’s usual antics. But he’s intrigued by the way Jimin is pointing Taehyung’s phone screen, and more importantly, the look on Namjoon’s face when he gets a look at what Taehyung is apparently showing Jimin.

“Taehyung!” Namjoon whines. He’s on the couch behind Jimin and Taehyung, kicking his feet in protest. It garners Jungkook’s attention, abandoning his duet with Yoongi in exchange for plopping himself on the couch next to Namjoon, leaning forward so he can properly look at Taehyung’s phone. Jungkook’s eyes widen, alternating rapidly between looking at the phone screen and looking at Namoon.

It’s enough to grab Seokjin’s interest, which is why he crawls over from his spot on the floor over to Taehyung. He drapes himself over Jimin, getting little complaint (Jimin actually wraps his arms around him and peers at Taehyung’s screen).

“Who’s that?”

Seokjin’s not sure what he was expecting to see, but the picture pulled up on Taehyung’s phone isn’t it. 

It’s a picture of two young men. It takes a quick moment for Seokjin to recognize the one on the left with light brown hair as Taehyung; he smiles in amusement when he spots the amount of eyeliner Taehyung has on in the picture, much different to the completely natural, bare-faced man next to him at the moment. But the physical appearance of the Taehyung in the picture alerts Seokjin that the picture can’t be too old, and he’s surprised by the change.

However, his eyes are drawn to the man next to Taehyung in the picture. He’s taller than Taehyung by a couple of inches, though it’s difficult to determine the true height difference due to the fact that the taller’s hair is permed into tight curls that project upwards. The hair paired with the thick-rimmed sunglasses that cover his face make for a truly odd combination that Seokjin can’t imagine anyone daring to imagine they could actually pull off.

“It’s no one!” Namjoon quickly shouts, trying to push Seokjin away from Taehyung’s phone. Seokjin gives credit where credit is due; Namjoon pushes with a good amount of force. However, Seokjin’s shoulders give him tank-like resistance, and he doesn’t budge. Instead, he squints at the screen, wondering if he needs to put his glasses on. There’s definitely something about the picture that throws Seokjin off, and it’s not Taehyung’s middle-school angst-level eyeliner.

There’s no way to see past the sunglasses, but there’s a definite jawline, paired with thick lips with the corners pulled into a smile, revealing a dimple.

“Wait, is this-”

One look at Namjoon, who has thrown his face into his hands, confirms Seokjin’s suspicions.

“Namjoon, no offense, but what the actual fuck is wrong with your hair in this picture?”

“Look, past me was an idiot.”

Taehyung snickers. “Yeah, but ‘past you’ is only like a month old.”

Seokjin’s eyes blow wide. He glances at Namjoon, who’s taken his hands and decided to keep them occupied with the holes in his jeans. His eyes aren’t meeting Seokjin’s, instead following the path his fingers take down the rips of his jeans. 

The image is only two-dimensional, which makes it hard for Seokin to properly compare it to the current Namjoon sitting in front of him. There’s not that many differences actually; Namjoon’s prominent jawline is easily visible in each picture, and while Namjoon isn’t smiling at the moment, Seokjin has been annoyingly captivated by Namjoon’s smile enough times to know the photo has perfectly captured it (or at least, as perfect as such a low quality image can get). In fact, the only differences Seokjin can spot are the obvious change in hair and the fact that Photo-Namjoon’s face isn’t colored bright red like Current-Namjoon’s face is.

Yoongi, who’s the only one who hasn’t seen the photo yet, leans over so he can sneak and peek, and snickers. “Well, at least you ditched it. What finally made you realize you looked like an idiot?”

Namjoon, who is too far into his own embarrassment to answer any questions, passes the question onto Taehyung.

“The thing is, he didn’t actually realize how bad it was,” Taehyung cackles. “Hoseok took him out to drink after Namjoon finished finals for his Spring term. I don’t know the details. All I know is when they showed up the next day, Namjoon’s hair was straightened and bleached white.”

Everyone looks over at Hoseok expectantly.

“Look, I did what had to be done. Don’t ask me my methods, because I can’t guarantee they were all of good moral.”

“Everyone has bad hair days,” Namjoon grumbles, arms crossed in front of him, pouting on the couch.

Yoongi is the one to challenge Namjoon. “I think whatever you had going on is a little more extreme than a normal bad hair day.”

Namjoon narrows his eyes. “Are you trying to tell me you’ve never had a bad haircut in your life?”

“A bad haircut? Do I really look like the type of guy who could make a mistake like that?”

Seokjin thinks he’s fast, but Jungkook is even faster - he manages to pull up Yoongi’s high school senior pictures up a millisecond before Seokjin does, eagerly showing Namjoon his phone. It’s quickly followed by everyone else demanding to see the picture, and between Seokjin and Jungkook’s photo collection, there’s plenty of unfortunate pictures of Yoongi with (what he thought was cool and edgy, back in the day) short, blunt bangs that are dyed a distinctive red that was definitely not part of the school dress code.

“Ah, I’m in love, in love !” Taehyung shouts dramatically, throwing his hand over his heart. Jimin releases his grip on Seokjin so he can follow suit (though the loose way he flings his limbs about has Seokjin noting that he should investigate the actual contents of Jimin’s drink later on).

“A definite heartthrob,” Hoseok teases, poking at Yoongi. His finger is quickly swatted away by a red-faced Yoongi who’s obviously trying to look like he’s keeping his cool (and definitely failing).

Yoongi glares at Seokjin (and only Seokjin, as if Jungkook wasn’t just as eager to expose him) before the corners of his mouth perk upward. Seokjin almost misses it due to the fact that the next couple of minutes are complete chaos as the boys practically wrestle each other to claim phones, the entire purpose of the scuffle lost quickly. Seokjin’s pretty sure Jimin is just excited to have more reasons to hug people (and pretend like he’s attacking them, though the only thing that Seokjin feels is attacked is his heart, watching Jimin’s sweet smile).

“Well, I think it’s about time we pull out Seokjin-hyung’s old pictures,” Yoongi announces after confiscating Seokjin and Jungkook’s phone. If Jungkook wanted to, he could easily take the phone back, Yoongi’s smaller frame standing no chance against Jungkook’s growing muscle collection. But Jungkook looks much more excited about the idea of blackmailing Seokjin with the very few and rare bad photos he has of himself from his middle school days (or at least, Seokjin is assuming that’s what Yoongi is threatening, considering they’re the only bad pictures of Seokjin that exist) and Jungkook claps his hands together, excited.

“Look, the past isn’t what matters,” Seokjin says loudly, hoping to distract everyone from Yoongi’s horrible idea. Luckily, the more panicked Seokjin is, the louder he gets, so his words manage to gather everyone’s attention. “What really matters is who we are today. Like how I’m obviously the coolest hyung in the room now.”

Hoseok is the first person to challenge Seokjin. “Hey, that’s a great thought and all, but I like to think I’m pretty cool too. Right Tae?”

Taehyung nods in agreement. Seokjin automatically glances towards Jungkook, waiting for the approval he’s expecting.

Except he forgot Namjoon is in the room as well, which is why he’s completely devastated when Jungkook answers, “Hm, Namjoon-hyung is pretty cool too.”

“I think Seokjin-hyung is cool!” Jimin says, rolling away from his spot on the ground next to Taehyung, landing at Seokjin’s feet. He grabs at Seokjin’s legs, hugging them.

Seokjin is about to highfive Jimin for his more than excellent decision when Yoongi speaks up.

“I mean, they’re cool and all-” Yoongi gestures to the other three older boys- “But don’t you think someone who will treat you guys to barbeque is way better?” Yoongi raises his eyebrows.

Jungkook’s eyes go wide. “You’ll buy us lamb skewers?”

It only takes a nod from Yoongi for Jimin, Taehyung and Jungkook to quickly denounce their previous alliances and cheer that Yoongi is the best, followed by them all tackling him to the ground.

Seokjin pouts. “That’s unfair, you can’t just bribe them!” He turns his head to face Hoseok. “Right, Ho-”

But Hoseok is already gone, joining the younger kids in the doggy pile on top of Yoongi. “You’re my favorite hyung too! Please treat me to lunch!”

“The deal doesn’t apply to you!”

“Please?”

Yoongi sighs. “Maybe.” He looks dead tired underneath the pile of four bodies piled on top of him, and Seokjin can’t help but giggle.

“If this is how you guys treat your favorite hyung, then I think I’ll withdraw my application,” Seokjin teases, mostly to cover up his hurt over the youngers’ betrayal (but also his concern of how easily they were bribed).

Jungkook, who has somehow rearranged the pile to be on top, despite the fact that he was the first person to jump on Yoongi, peaks his head up to look at Seokjin. 

“Don’t worry, we already put all the rejects in the shredder.”

Seokjin gasps, grabbing the closest pillow and chucking it at Jungkook. Except he completely misses and hits Jimin’s butt instead, who immediately shouts out, “Kinky!” in response. Taehyung lets out a loud, purposeful whistle.

Jungkook throws the pillow back. Except unlike Seokjin, Jungkook has the ability to throw things. So when the first pillow whaps Seokjin straight in the face with a painful sting, Seokjin retreats to the kitchen, stumbling over his feet as he cackles, avoiding the sudden attack of pillows from Jungkook (and at the rate the pillows are bomboarding him, he’s pretty sure Taehyung and Jimin have joined in. Or at least, he hopes they have, or he might have to seriously start fearing Jungkook’s capabilities).

When Seokjin gets a good distance away from the living room, practically stumbling into the kitchen, he can hear the chaos ensue, and what sounds suspiciously of Yoongi’s cries as the younger boys change their target. Seokjin fears for the life of the large TV hung on Jimin’s wall, though judging by the rest of the house, Jimin has the money to buy a new TV, so he tosses his worries aside.

Instead he focuses on letting his shoulders relax. A soft exhale. It’s been awhile since he’s freely relaxed with friends, and while he enjoys hanging out with everyone, it’s still a lot. The silent escape of the kitchen isn’t perfect; Seokjin can still hear Jimin’s uncontrollable giggling, along with the steady humming of the refrigerator. 

No, there’s more. Foot steps, coming closer and closer, but Seokjin hasn’t moved from his spot, where he stares at a blank wall. He’s too tired to look over, but he lightly slaps his cheeks, trying to snap himself out of his sudden daze. 

One of the main reasons he agreed to Jimin’s self-thrown welcome party shenanigans is because he needed to relax. There’s too much going on, too much Seokjin doesn’t understand. The mystery surrounding his town has seeped too deep into his personal life, and paired with the everyday grind of running his own business, he can’t help but feel like he’s swam too far out into the depths of the ocean, any incoming waves putting him in danger of drowning. Tonight’s gathering is like a life ring thrown out to him, trying to pull him in. But he’s too tired from constantly fighting the rough waters, and Seokjin’s not sure if he has the energy to grab the opportunity. 

Tonight, he’ll ignore the waves, and won’t let them wash away his lifeline. He inhales deeply, letting the breath out through his nose. Again. No waves tonight. No missing girls, no disturbing letters, no shop to dedicate endless hours to.

“Hyung?”

Namjoon - the biggest wave of them all.

“Sorry, this is my hiding spot, find your own,” Seokjin jokes, forcing laughter out. The smile he puts on his face isn’t completely fake, but he can’t say he’d be smiling if there was no one there to see. 

“Oh, is that what you’re doing back here?” If Namjoon picks up on Seokjin’s tension, he doesn’t show it. He sounds tired - Seokjin has a faint memory of Namjoon mentioning he had class right before showing up - but his voice is light. It makes Seokjin feel light, his toes tingling as Namjoon maneuvers around him in the tight space, the kitchen being the only part of the house that isn’t part of the more modern, open floor plan. It’s not tight enough to justify how close Namjoon is, certainly not with the way he’s leaned over, one hand resting on the counter to the side of Seokjin. His full body weight isn’t supported on the counter, but it’s enough that Seokjin can see the way Namjoon’s bicep tenses, bare skin exposed with the plain white T-shirt he’s wearing.

Seokjin knows he’s holding his breath, but he can’t help it. Not with the way Namjoon is looking at him, his small smile only bringing out a hint of his dimples, but stunning nonetheless. All the bravado Seokjin had earlier, the confidence that supposedly defined his entire being: completely gone. He doesn’t try to respond verbally, afraid that his voice will come out in a high-pitched squeak like it always does when he’s nervous. Instead he nods, refusing to break away from Namjoon’s stare.

“No offense hyung, but I don’t think you’re gonna win hide-and-seek with this set-up.”

This time, the laugh that bubbles past Seokjin’s lips is genuine, though unexpected, which is why it’s followed by coughing, tensed chest unprepared for the sudden burst of laughter.

Namjoon closes the gap a little more, taking the free hand that was resting in his pocket and bringing it to pat Seokjin’s back lightly, eyebrows raised as he waits for Seokjin’s coughing to come to a halt. When it finally does, Namjoon’s hand slides from his back to his shoulder, and while his grip is almost non-existent, Seokjin can’t help but note that his hand doesn’t return back to his side.

He chooses to ignore the fluttering in his chest that follows the observation.

“First I can’t win at being the favorite hyung, and now you’re trying to take my hide-and-seek victory from me as well?” Seokjin shakes his head with mock disappointment. “And here I was, thinking you were a nice person.”

Namjoon laughs, squeaky and staccato. “Well, I don’t know if I can do anything about your hide-and-seek inadequacy, but if it makes you feel any better-” Namjoon tilts his head to the side, and his entire face lights up with his smile, eyes disappearing behind the squint of his smile, “-you’re my favorite hyung.”

It’s almost painful looking at how red Namjoon’s face turns a second after the words leave his mouth. Not because Namjoon’s flushed cheeks and burning ears aren’t charming, but because Seokjin knows that whatever shade of red Namjoon has turnt, Seokjin has to be twenty times worse. 

“Is that so?” Seokjin chokes out, refusing to acknowledge the way his body betrays him. His face feels on fire, and the only place that feels even warmer is where Namjoon’s hand rests on his shoulder. Why he’s surprised by Namjoon’s admission is beyond his own reasoning capabilities; he can’t imagine Namjoon treating him to free coffee all the time and then not being his favorite hyung. Maybe it’s hearing it in person, the words spoken into reality, that make Seokjin feel breathless.

“Yeah.” At first, Seokjin thought he was going crazy, but now he knows for sure that the space between Namjoon and him is growing smaller and smaller, until Namjoon’s forehead bumps against his own. Softly. Hesitantly. “Is that a problem?” His voice is no more than a whisper, but each word still hits against Seokjin as a puff of hot air.

Seokjin opens his mouth to respond, to affirm that of course it’s not a problem, because when has a little bit of favoritism ever been a problem?

The words get caught in his throat, and his entire body freezes up. He told himself that he’d ignore everything overwhelming him, even for just the night, but the image of the fancy pink letters is ingrained deep into his brain. He wonders if whoever writes the letters thinks of Seokjin as their favorite, just like Namjoon does. 

He wonders if whoever writes the letters looks at Seokjin with such an intense expression it's almost unnerving, just like Namjoon does. 

Just like Namjoon.

Namjoon.

There’s no space in his head for the thoughts that are clouding his mind, and it leads to Seokjin suddenly shoving Namjoon away.

The taller of the pair hits the opposite wall with a decently loud thud, but Seokjin doesn’t have it in him to be impressed with his own strength at the moment. All he can do is stare at Namjoon with wide eyes, unsure whether to apologize or to increase their distance even more. He grips the counter behind him, desperately needing something to support him. 

Because associating Namjoon and the writer of the letters is rough enough as it is, but having to see Namjoon’s expression after pushing him away is like getting stabbed, though guilt bleeds out of Seokjin rather than blood. Namjoon’s eyes are wide, even wider than his own, but there’s no mistaking the glassy appearance, lips parted, the words Namjoon wants to say probably completely lost. 

And Seokjin feels absolutely horrible, and almost apologizes. He could tell Namjoon he was just having silly thoughts; but he’d have to convince himself first. Now that the thought is in his mind, he finds himself backing into the counter, despite there being nowhere to go.

Just like that, Seokjin’s stranded out in the middle of the ocean, and the waves he’s been trying so hard to avoid overpower him. He’s drowning, desperately reaching out for the life ring that he can’t see any more.

It comes in the form of Hoseok walking into the kitchen, wearing a concerned expression.

“Namjoon, did you grab the ice for drinks?” Hoseok looks Namjoon up and down. He doesn’t comment on the fact that Namjoon obviously doesn’t have the ice for drinks, opting to walk over and open the freezer himself, pulling out an ice tray a moment later. 

Seokjin waits for some sort of reaction from Hoseok, maybe a question about what Seokjin and Namjoon were doing in the kitchen. There is a slight raise of the eyebrows, and Hoseok’s eyes flit between Namjoon and Seokjin. Maybe there’s a question he wants to ask, but he doesn’t, perhaps noticing the tense atmosphere. 

Hoseok looks at Seokjin.

”Hyung, don’t forget about Thursday,” Hoseok says. Whether he’s trying to diffuse the situation, or just doesn’t notice it, Seokjin has no idea, but he appreciates the opportunity to pull away from Namjoon’s gaze without looking too awkward.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the image of Namjoon’s frown isn’t deeply ingrained into his brain.

Seokjin scoffs loudly, theatrically, hoping he doesn’t look too unnatural. It’s hard when he can feel Namjoon’s eyes on him.

“Forget? Have some faith, I could never do that.”

 

***

Two days later, Seokjin wakes up to the sound of his phone ringing. He groans, flipping onto his side to reach his phone, squinting in the dark as he taps his phone awake. He doesn’t have to look at the caller ID to know who’s calling (Jungkook set his ringtone to Baby Shark a few weeks ago, and Seokjin hasn’t bothered to change it) but he does stare at the screen before answering to check the time, and when he sees that it’s only half past four in the morning, he can’t help the grouchiness that sneaks into his tone when he answers the phone.

“Whatcha want?”

“You forgot, didn’t you?”

There’s a moment of silence where Seokjin’s fingers hover over the red ‘end call’ button, because Jungkook’s angelic voice sounds like nails against a chalkboard at the unforgiving time of the morning he’s calling. In fact, he does successfully hang up, slamming his phone back down onto his nightstand and flipping onto his stomach, shoving his face into his pillow. He tries to pretend that Jungkook calling was just a dream, and he can already feel himself falling back asleep.

And then he remembers.

He scrambles out of bed, almost falling to the floor as he detangles himself from all his blankets. He’s glad that he decided not to go with a third glass of wine last night, as the combination of his early morning headache and a hangover would’ve been the death of him.

Seokjin picks up his phone, redialing Jungkook.

“I was supposed to pick you up-” Seokjin glances at the clock, “-five minutes ago. Shit.” He puts the call on speaker, stripping out of his pajamas and blindly grabbing clothes out of his closet. “Can you text Hoseok and tell him we’ll be late? Hopefully I’ll be over in ten.” There’s a small attempt to tame his hair, which is ultimately resolved with a baseball cap.

“Gotcha. See you in ten, I guess?”

Seokjin makes it to Jungkook’s apartment in seven minutes and practically throws Jungkook into the car in a rush to drive downtown. Luckily when they arrive at their desired destination, parking isn’t a mess like it would usually be in the busier part of town.

It’s because all the sane people are still sleeping , Seokjin thinks vaguely as he parks at the address Hoseok had texted him.

Hoseok is already there, hands tucked into the pockets of his jacket. The hood is up, but Seokjin can still see a brief flash of white earbuds, though they’re removed along with the hood when Hoseok spots Jungkook and Seokjin.

“Thanks for joining me,” Hoseok says, mustering a smile. He must not be a morning person, Seokjin figures by the way his energy levels are depleted to levels that Seokjin hasn’t really seen before. Hoseok wears eye bags similar to the ones Seokjin has, meaning Jungkook is probably the only person who is over fifty percent coherent at the moment. 

For a moment, Seokjin wishes Namjoon could magically appear like he always seems to, presenting the cup of coffee Seokjin desperately needs at the moment. In fact, despite the fact there’s very few people walking around town this early in the morning, Seokjin ends up scanning their surroundings for a potential spotting of purple hair. Something strangely close to disappointment washes over Seokjin for a moment, but then the wave crashes over him, and he’s trapped underwater and can’t breath.

No, he can’t think about Namjoon right now. Can’t, won’t, doesn’t want to. 

“A-ah, it’s no problem,” Seokjin says, desperately escaping his sea of thoughts. He thinks he does a good job hiding his troubles, but feels Jungkook’s hand wrap around his wrist, giving a light squeeze. Hopefully, any strangeness in his attitude can be explained by the early morning time. “Sorry we’re late.”

Hoseok shakes his head. “Nah, this is perfect timing. Jiyoung should be here in a couple of minutes, most likely. She has a shift at five, and the drive from her address to here is about twenty minutes, so be on the lookout for a grey SUV, okay?”

“Didn’t you say she worked at the club last night?” Seokjin tries to recall the details Hoseok had relayed to him when he asked the favor.

“When I called yesterday, the owner said she was in for the night, though I don’t know if she stayed the full time. Either way, she’ll probably be exhausted, so try not to agitate her too much.”

Seokjin nods. “I mean, isn’t that why you brought me?” He offers his first smile of the day, which is just a faint tug at the corner of his lips while he gestures to his face.

To say Seokjin was surprised when Hoseok asked if he could join him during a suspect investigation would be an understatement. Taehyung wasn’t exactly silent with his exaggerated praise for Seokjin when it came to dealing with Naomi’s interrogation, and with that and the interview with Professor Park under his belt, Seokjin can maybe see why Hoseok or Taehyung wouldn’t mind have Seokjin tag along with their detective adventures. 

But when Hoseok had asked Seokjin the night before Jimin’s welcoming party if he could join him, Hoseok had made it sound like if Seokjin attended, he’d be doing him a favor.

“Don’t make me regret my choice,” Hoseok warns, though there’s no bite to his words. “Usually, Tae’s with me so I don’t have to worry about it, but you’d be surprised how much people put their guard down when they’re talking to someone attractive.”

It’s just like Hoseok had explained it to Seokjin when he had given the invitation. It’s not a major issue, not having Taehyung present, as even Hoseok admits they’re both capable of solving cases by themselves, and working together as partners at this point is more for the sake of having company than anything else.

Jungkook was a last minute addition to the plan. The night before, he had accidentally overheard Hoseok and Seokjin discussing the details of the plan, and neither Seokjin nor Hoseok had the willpower to tell Jungkook no when he asked if he could join. Hopefully the interrogation isn’t too long, as Seokjin at some point will have to ditch so he can drive Jungkook to school, because despite his younger brother’s protests, Seokjin refused to let Jungkook play hooky.

“I don’t know why you need Seokjin-hyung, though,” Jungkook says, staring earnestly at Hoseok. “I mean, you’re plenty good-looking all by yourself.”

While Seokjin wants to correct Jungkook to inform him that Seokjin’s good-looking charms are always necessary, he keeps his mouth shut instead, letting the words of Jungkook’s compliment sink in on Hoseok.

“Buttering me up won’t get me to buy you anything!” Hoseok retorts, jabbing Jungkook’s arm with his finger, hard enough that Jungkook flinches, though not enough to show that he’s in any pain. One poke later, it must start to get ticklish because Jungkook starts giggling, caving in on himself as Hoseok continues to poke at his belly.

“No, Hobi-hyung, I mean it,” Jungkook tries, but he’s too busy laughing to take seriously. “So handsome, so handsome!” At this point he’s trying to dodge Hoseok’s attack, but it’s fruitless; Hoseok wraps his arms around Jungkook’s waist from behind, locking him in place long enough to plant a fat, wet kiss on Jungkook’s cheek.

“Gross!” Jungkook whines, and Hoseok lets him go, laughing. Jungkook pulls down his shirt sleeve so that it covers his hand and uses the back of his hand to wipe off the visible slobber on his face. He takes the same hand and wipes it against Seokjin’s bare neck, and Seokjin reacts too late, dropping to the ground only after Hoseok’s saliva is transferred onto him. 

“You brat, I’m gonna-”

Seokjin prepares to lunge at Jungkook, but is distracted when Hoseok suddenly announces, “Guys, she’s here!”

Sure enough, Hoseok’s pointing to a grey SUV pulling up to the curb. When a young woman exits the car, Hoseok asks Jungkook, “That’s her, right?”

Jungkook nods. “Yup. Or at least, I think so. It’s hard to tell when she’s not in her work… attire .”

Oh Jiyoung is the number one name that popped up during the investigation of the night club, from both the undercover information from Jungkook and Yoongi, and Jimin. Or at least, the stage name ‘Sapphire’ was something all the boys had reported as someone who could possibly be suspicious, and as of a couple days ago, Vante Investigations finally figured out the identity behind the stage name. 

Leading them to tracking Jiyoung to her apparent day job.

“So how do we do this?” Jungkook asks. His voice is a whisper, as if he’s afraid Jiyoung will overhear despite being far enough away that she probably doesn’t even notice the three boys waiting awkwardly on the street.

“We go in, act like customers, and try to innocently probe for information,” Hoseok says, shrugging his shoulders. “We don’t want to go in and let her know that we’re investigating something. If she is guilty, she’ll be way too on guard.”

“Don’t look like detectives. Got it.”

Hoseok pauses for a moment, giving Jungkook a look down. Then he turns to Seokjin and rips off the cap he’s wearing. Seokjin protests, immediately reaching to cover his hair with his hands. 

“Hey!”

Hoseok ignores his protest, practically slamming the cap onto Jungkook’s head.

“Don’t look like detectives, and don’t look like - oh, I don’t know - the kid who works at the nightclub our suspect works at and could easily be recognized?” He readjusts his grip on the cap so his hands are gripping the bill, and he pulls it down to a point where it’s covering Jungkook’s entire face, the back of the cap ready to fall off.

They watch Jiyoung enter the coffee shop from the back, and only have to wait a few minutes before the coffee shop opens, quickly lining up in front of the locked doors of the store. Luckily, Jiyoung seems to be the front cashier, and is the one to flip the open sign and unlock the doors.

She glances at the trio, not looking that more awake than they do. She nods politely to the boys as she lets them into the coffee shop, pulling the key out of the lock once the doors are open. Awkwardly, they shuffle to the front of the coffee shop, and Seokjin does his best to look at the menu and look like an actual customer. 

“I want hot cocoa,” Jungkook whispers to Seokjin, tugging on his shirt sleeve and looking up at him with doe eyes. Seokjin raises his eyebrows, and in return, Jungkook adds with a wide grin, “A large, please.”

The word “No” ends up coming out as, “Well, I suppose I could buy you a cocoa, since we’re here.” Seokjin’s not even surprised, considering there is no reality where he can deny Jungkook’s requests.

Pulling out his wallet, Seokjin tells Hoseok, “Here, tell me what you want. I’ll pay.” He approaches the front counter where Jiyoung is now waiting, Hoseok and Jungkook close behind him.

Jiyoung’s smile is kind and patient, but as someone who works in the customer service business, Seokjin doesn’t want to put her through the misery of testing her patience. But before Seokjin can open his mouth to get his order, he’s distracted by the way Jiyoung suddenly squints her eyes at the group of boys, and Seokjin feels his heart stop in his chest as her gaze goes past Seokjin and lands on the other two boys behind him, and the words he last wanted to hear are the words that leave Jiyoung’s mouth.

“Oh wait, I recognize you.”

“Damn it,” Hoseok curses, jutting his lower lip out. He gestures blindly at Jungkook. “Look, this kid works at the club, but it’s all just a coincidence that he’s here today, y’know. We’re not trying to bother you or anything.” For an extra bonus to his lie, Hoseok grins broadly.

“Oh, you work at the club?” Jiyoung’s eyes widen for a split second, looking Jungkook up and down. There doesn’t seem to be any recognition on her face.

“I thought you recognized him!” Hoseok splutters.

“Oh, the kid? No, I was talking about you. You’re J-Hope from Vante Investigations, right? My little brother is a huge fan.”

Hoseok’s jaw drops, shocked into silence.

Don’t look like detectives ,” Jungkook mocks under his breath, but it’s loud enough for Seokjin to hear and laugh at.

Hoseok grumbles the entire time they wait for their drinks, kicking Jungkook underneath the table every time the high school boy goes to tease him again. Seokjin watches in amusement, the corners of his lips twitching upward.

The drinks come out fast; no surprise, considering they’re the only people in the coffee shop. Seokjin doesn’t even have to stand up to grab the drinks. Instead, Jiyoung brings the drinks over for them. 

“So you guys have a case you’re working on or something?”

Hoseok spits out the sip he had started taking.
“What makes you think that?” Seokjin asks while he pats Hoseok’s back. He tries to keep his voice cool, because Hoseok said it’d be best to not let her be aware that an investigation is undergoing. Though it’s hard to take Hoseok seriously at the moment as he coughs back up the coffee he inhaled.

Jiyoung shrugs. Seokjin doesn’t recognize her from the couple of times he’s been to Bulletproof, but from what he’s heard, she’s supposed to be their top star after Jimin. So when he originally pictured Jiyoung in his head, she definitely didn’t look as laid back as the woman in front of him. She’s also a little bit older than he imagined, probably closer to thirty than twenty.

“You’re at a coffee shop at five in the morning. I don’t think you’d be up this early without reason,” she explains. “Are you here to meet someone?”

Seokjin sips his coffee, staring intently at his cup. He definitely doesn’t want to be the one to answer that question, and judging by the way Hoseok has stilled next to him, he isn’t any more eager.

“We’re looking for you, actually!”

Seokjin’s neck cracks with as fast as he whips his head around to look at Jungkook, who looks pretty happy with his decision to speak. Luckily, Hoseok wasn’t sipping coffee, or else he would’ve inhaled it again.

Jiyoung also looks taken aback by Jungkook’s answer. She points to herself, and tilts her head. “Me?”

“Yup!” Jungkook takes another sip from his hot chocolate, leaving a trace of the drink on his upper-lip. It’s too amusing to look at for Seokjin to mention it. Plus, at this point he’s much more curious at what Jungkook’s getting them into. “We’re actually investigating something for one of your coworkers. You know Jiminnie-hyung?” Jungkook bats his eyelashes, and Seokjin knows that look; Jungkook knows exactly what he’s playing. Mostly because he’s played Seokjin with the same youthful, innocent expression that he’s wearing right now.

It visibly works on Jiyoung, her features softening. “Yeah, I know Jimin. Did something happen?” She sounds genuinely curious, her tone of voice not giving away if she’s hiding anything or not.

“Nothing big, just some hate mail,” Hoseok answers, finally recovered. He runs a hand through his hair, and leans back in his chair. “But Jimin hired us to look into it. I have my partner working on the public, and I’m working on trying to figure out if his coworkers have any information that could help.” He raises his eyebrows. “Do you?”

“I mean, it’s not uncommon to get hate mail,” Jiyoung admits, frowning. “A lot of us get a fair amount from customers who wanted a little more than we offered, though more often it’s young college kids who think it’s funny to rip on our careers.”

“What about the staff?” Hoseok asks, leaning forward in his chair, propping himself up with both hands flat on the table surface. “At the end of the day, all of you dancers are competing with each other for time on the stage. I’m sure you end up butting heads sometimes.”

Seokjin’s not sure what happened to Hoseok’s plan of not intimidating Jiyoung by inferring she’s a potential suspect, but at the same time, he thinks he can understand why the detective has changed tactics; unless Jiyoung is incredibly good at acting, her feathers aren't ruffled at all from the conversation. Instead, she sounds open to sharing any information.

“You mean butting heads with Jimin? Like one of the girls going as far as sending him hate mail?”

Hoseok nods.

Jiyoung ponders the question for a moment, glancing once back behind her. But there’s no one else in the store except for the second employee of the store, who’s been hiding in the back the entire time, and seems to have no problems with Jiyoung spending so much time interacting with Seokjin and everyone else. 

“I mean, yeah, there’s no denying that Jimin is the spotlight of the club now. He’s definitely stolen a lot of stage time from the rest of us.” She pauses for a moment, and Seokjin catches hesitation in her eyes.

“For the older staff, myself included, it hurt a little bit. I had to pick up a second job to make up for the loss in income,” Jiyoung admits. “But even though I might’ve lost some regular customers to Jimin, the majority of them stayed and still help me pay my bills. So while the introduction of Jimin to the club initially left me bitter, I wouldn’t say that’s the case anymore…”

Seokjin catches her trailing sentence. “I’m sensing a ‘but’,” he says, not wanting to be too pushy, but beside him, Hoseok grunts in agreement. It’s reassuring.

“But…” Jiyoung looks down at her shoes. 

Luckily, Hoseok is there to fill in the blanks.

“But the newer staff might have an issue with Jimin, right?” Hoseok says, and when Jiyoung doesn’t protest, he continues. “You’ve had time to build up a reputation. You may have to compete with Jimin now, but you’ve had a chance to win over customers to stave you over. If it’s someone who joined around the same time or after Jimin, they’ve had to deal with trying to compete with Jimin to get any customers.”

“I can see why my brother is a fan,” Jiyoung finally states after mulling in silence, which is taken as confirmation of Hoseok’s assumption. “Look, I’m not here trying to get anyone in trouble. But if you have any more questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them.”

Hoseok thanks Jiyoung for her time just as a new group of customers floods the store, and Jiyoung is whisked away to her job. It leaves the group of men to discuss the current situation, and more importantly, finish their drinks.

“So if we go by what she has to say, Jiyoung isn’t a logical suspect,” Seokjin sighs. It’s too early in the morning to be told that this entire trip was useless. Grasping at straws, he adds, “Of course, there’s always the chance she’s lying to us. She might be trying to throw us off the trail.”

“I doubt it,” Hoseok says, bursting Seokjin’s bubble of hope. “What she says makes sense. Granted, she thinks we’re investigating hate mail, not a missing persons case. I don’t even know if the financial loss of competing with Jimin is worth one of the dancer’s time to go and abduct a bunch of Jimin’s fans.”

“Maybe it’s a creepy customer instead!” Jungkook points out, and Seokjin groans. The last thing he wants is more leads, and Hoseok’s matching groan shows he feels the same. Even if the point of the investigation is to narrow down leads, it feels like new ones keep popping up. 

They spend the rest of their time at the coffee shop mulling over all the possibilities. At one point, Jungkook cons Hoseok into buying him a scone, and Seokjin doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to make Hoseok pay for his breakfast. It results with all three of them nibbling at blueberry scones.

When Jungkook finishes off not only his scone but half of Seokjin’s as well, they finally decide it’s time to leave the coffee shop. They’re about to head out when they’re suddenly called out to.

“Wait!”

Jiyoung calls out to them right before they’re out the door. There’s a bit more of a crowd than there originally was, but now there’s a few more employees working at the counter, so it only causes a few grumbles when Jiyoung abandons her position.

“Sorry, but before you go, could I get your autograph? If the next time I go and see my brother and I tell him that I met you but didn’t get your autograph for him, he’d kill me.”

“Oh, does your family not live close or something?” Hoseok grabs the napkin and pen Jiyoung hands him, laying the napkin flat on the table. The ball-point pen rips through the napkin a little bit, but the signature is still visible enough to be readable.

“No, my hometown with my family takes several hours to drive to, so I only get to visit every once in awhile.” She sighs, obviously not happy about the situation. “I actually just got back from visiting about a month ago, so I doubt I’ll see him for a couple more months.”

Hoseok freezes. “A month ago?”

Jiyoung looks thrown off by Hoseok’s sudden weariness, and Seokjin is too. “Yeah. I was gone for a week and got back on the ninth.”

Hoseok studies Jiyoung’s face, and the terse expression he’s wearing disappears a moment later. He finishes the autograph he’s signing, passing the napkin and pen back to Jiyoung. “Well, I hope you get to see your brother again soon,” he says before gently pulling at Seokjin’s shirt to signal that it’s time to leave.

“Well, she didn’t do it,” Hoseok announces the moment they’re completely outside. 

Seokjin looks over at him in disbelief. “What do you mean, she didn’t do it?” No, it’s too early for Seokjin to be told that the entire interview was a waste of time. Unfortunately, he’s not getting much better of a feeling. Maybe Jiyoung’s just a good actor, but Seokjin doesn’t think she’s the type to act violent.

“The first missing girl, Kwak Heiran, was reported missing on the fourth of April. Jiyoung was out of town that entire week.”

Seokjin frowns. “She could’ve been lying.”

“She could’ve. And of course, I’ll have to double check with Taehyung. But for now, we assume she’s not the culprit.”

“Well, then that makes this trip completely pointless.” Seokjin sighs. If Jiyoung’s alibi proves true, that means they’ve only eliminated one suspect, but opened tons of new doorways with the information Jiyoung provided. Seokjin’s only silver lining is that while the lead with Jiyoung didn’t lead them to solving the case, it still leaves open the possibility that the nightclub is responsible for the disappearance, and not Seokjin.

“Not really. We now know that we have a different pool of suspects than we originally  thought, and that Oh Jiyoung is innocent. Not that I’m surprised.”

Seokjin glances at Hoseok. Scrunches his face. “What makes you say that?”

Hoseok glances at Seokjin, the corners of his lips turning into a wicked grin.

“Oh? I didn’t get any vibes from her, that’s all.”

Seokjin groans.

 

****

 

Seokjin ends up not dropping Jungkook at home, opting to bring him back to his apartment with him. He’ll have to end up driving Jungkok to school in an hour anyway, so it’s easier just to drag Jungkook along with him.

“I think you should call into school for me,” Jungkook suggests. He yawns, and the way he drapes himself on Seokjin as they walk up the stairs to Seokjin and Yoongi’s apartment shows how tired he is.

“Uh-uh, I don’t think so. Remember how you told me that if I let you join us, you’d still be ‘ totally okay ’ to go to school?”

“Hyung, don’t you know these things called lies?” Jungkook cackles when Seokjin swats at him, mostly because Jungkook is too fast to actually be hit. Seokjin ends up swatting his own leg while Jungkook receives a sudden burst of energy to dart up the stairs, way out of Seokjin’s reach. Part of Seokjin is tempted to chase after Jungkook, but part of him is also really tired and feeling incredibly overwhelmed. So he chooses just to watch Jungkook with an amused expression as he slowly joins Jungkook at the top of the stairs.

Except by the time Seokjin gets to the top of the stairs, Jungkook seems thoroughly distracted by something on the ground. He picks it up, and Seokjin can see the moment Jungkook’s entire body tenses, followed by a sharp inhale.

“What, did the school send me your grades again or something? Because Jungkook, I swear to God, if you have anything lower than a C, I’m going to-”

Seokjin never finishes his sentence, catching sight of the object in Jungkook’s hand. Even without his contacts or glasses, Seokjin recognizes it. He’s seen it sitting at the doorstep of his store multiple times, but it’s the first time he’s seen the pink envelope find its way to his actual address. Still, he can’t help but come closer to Jungkook, peering over his shoulder to get a better look. Praying that maybe his eyes are playing tricks on him, that it's not actually that letter.

But when he reads “To my Dearest Seokjin” penned across the front of the letter in the ominous black cursive, his heart sinks in his chest.

Chapter Text

Kim Seokjin has been breathing for the last twenty-four years of his life, and at this point, he should really be considered an expert. A soft inhale, diaphragm expanding to allow oxygen to enter his body. Exhale, the remnants of the breath leaving his lips in a puff of hot air. Simple. Easy. 

Seokjin should be an expert at this point, but for some reason, the air around him is stifling; he can’t breathe.

Hints of a warmer Spring season are starting to peak through the windows at SUGA Cakes. The natural sunlight paired with the soft color palette of the store leads to a warm, welcoming environment. Despite every customer Seokjin has ever complained about, all the times Seokjin thought he was going to hemorrhage listening to the most absurd of complaints, SUGA Cakes has always been a safe place for Seokjin. A home away from home. Seokjin has a couple of fond memories of sleeping on the store floor with Yoongi when they first started setting up the store, the two of them too eager to continue working to bother with the fifteen minute drive home.

The air is absolutely suffocating.

It’s been less than twenty-four hours since Seokjin found the newest pink letter at his doorstep, but it feels like it's been years, the way it weighs Seokjin down. After finding it this morning, he had been tempted to skip work. Stay at home and mull over everything. Except with the addition of the letter sender finally getting ahold of Seokjin’s personal apartment address, it’s hard to say if staying at home is better than being in the shop.

There’s nowhere safe.

The only silver lining to Seokjin’s storming grey cloud is the fact that he had Jimin scheduled for the opening shift. It’s slow, and Jimin’s presence is completely unnecessary, but Seokjin doesn’t dare send him home. Instead, he plays off Jimin’s presence as a necessity by claiming he has things in the kitchen to get done, paperwork to deal with. Both are true - Seokjin does neither of them. He sits on the office chair, spinning around in circles until he’s dizzy. He’s nauseous to the point of feeling a hair away from puking, and he’s pretty sure it has nothing to do with his wheely chair.

Refusing to stand, Seokjin uses the tips of his toes to push himself around the back area, wheeling from where he was staring wistfully at the refrigerator (wondering if he stares long enough the cupcakes will bake themselves) to his ‘office’, arriving at the desk placed at the corner with the thud of the chair arms hitting the desk. The white paint of the desk has chips in it at the exact spot Seokjin’s chair rammed into it, already used to the abuse Seokjin and Yoongi both put it under. 

The unopened pink envelope waits impatiently at the desk. Seokjin has put in no effort to cover it. Part of him wants to throw it into the trash, and another part of him is itching to rip it open and read its contents. Most of all he’s terrified, and the only reason he’s even touched the letter is to bring it from his apartment to the store so Taehyung can take a look at it, as requested.

Taehyung was the first person that came to mind after Seokjin and Jungkook found the letter. The information reveal hadn’t exactly been Seokjin’s idea - he had been frozen in his spot the moment his eyes landed on the letter - but Jungkook had texted Taehyung immediately, and while Seokjin still didn't like reaching out about the problem, there was no more denying it. If Jungkook hadn’t texted Taehyung, he would’ve.

The promise from Taehyung had been to swing by SUGA Cakes in the afternoon, having previous appointments to deal with. Seokjin’s not an idiot - he knows Taehyung and Hoseok are both incredibly busy - but God he wishes that Taehyung would hurry up and swing by. There’s no point in trying to get anything else done when his mind can’t concentrate on anything besides the letter sitting on his desk.

Concentrate on anything besides who wrote the letter.

Seokjin’s knocked out of his thoughts before they can even start, the result of Jimin’s giggling voice calling out Seokjin’s name.

“What is it?” Seokjin spins to face the front, where Jimin is poking his head through the curtain. His pink hair almost blends in with the curtain. It leaves all of Seokjin’s attention to the soft smile Jimin wears.

“Are you available right now?” Jimin glances at Seokjin’s pile of paperwork on the desk, and if he notices the fact that Seokjin obviously isn’t doing it at the moment, he’s too nice to say anything about it. “He said it's fine if you’re busy right now-”

Seokjin sits up in his chair, shaking his head. Jimin must be talking about Taehyung. “No, I can take a break to talk.” He doesn’t mention about what. Not that Jimin hasn’t already weaseled his way into Seokjin’s heart to a point where he’d trust Jimin with his bigger life secrets, but Seokjin is pretty sure Jimin doesn’t know much about the letter situation outside of the vague details, and he thinks he’d like to keep it that way. 

“Got'cha boss.” Jimin ducks out of the kitchen. The bottom of Jimin’s shoes are still visible, showing that Jimin obviously is too lazy to move from his spot. Seokjin doesn’t strain his ears to hear Jimin shout, “You’re free to go in. Don’t cause too much trouble,” and Seokjin can’t help but think it’s unfair that Jimin would accuse Taehyung and Seokjin of getting into trouble while Jimin and Taehyung are practically the ultimate trouble-making duo.

The curtains part again just a moment later. At first Seokjin expects to see Jimin again, asking permission to a murder a customer (a very common thing, Jimin’s temper running surprisingly short for the deceptful amount of smiling he does). But then Seokjin remembers that it’s not the delightful task of getting to discuss how to properly dispose of a body with Jimin, but talking to Taehyung about the letter that plagues his mind.

Seokjin opens his mouth to greet Taehyung.

He almost throws the closest object to his hand (his phone, which would’ve been a grave mistake he couldn’t afford, considering he’s still paying it off) when Kim Namjoon enters the kitchen.

Almost is the key word. A key word that prevents Seokjin from having to explain to his poor exasperated credit card why he needs to buy a new phone, but also makes it so Namjoon doesn’t have to deal with a phone-shaped bruise on his face.

Namjoon is alarmingly disarming, his appearance almost causing the stress welling in Seokjin’s heart to melt away. His purple hair looks extra soft today, bangs slightly parted to reveal his eyebrows. Like many of the customers today, Namjoon has taken advantage of the warm weather and wears shorts. Seokjin isn’t one to ogle (he has the pleasure of seeing himself in the mirror everyday - he’s too used to seeing beautiful things) but he can’t help but let his gaze linger on Namjoon’s legs, particularly distracted by Namjoon’s completely exposed calf muscles. 

“Hey there,” Namjoon greets. Seokjin manages to drag himself away from the sight of Namjoon’s legs, which is the most impressive thing he’s done all day. “Hope I’m not interrupting?”

Namjoon’s smile makes Seokjin want to puke.

Despite the fact that Namjoon’s appearance initially gives Seokjin the relief he’s looking for, it’s all too quickly that he remembers that Namjoon is too suspicious to not be wary of, even if everything about his stupidly perfect smile screams that he’s innocent. There’s just too many arrows pointing at Namjoon, and Seokjin can’t believe he’s missed all the hints given to him since the beginning.

Even when he first met Namjoon, weeks ago when he was picking up Jungkook from school - Namjoon seemed to know exactly who Seokjin was. And oh God - if Namjoon’s the letter writer, he’s known about Seokjin long before he started tutoring Jungkook. Now that Seokjin thinks about it, Namjoon started tutoring Jungkook just right before the first disappearance. What if Jungkook had given Namjoon some idea that inspired him to suddenly act out against any of Seokjin’s admirers? Then there’s been Namjoon showing up every time Seokjin blinks, knowing things he shouldn’t know. Namjoon showing up at Seokjin’s apartment should’ve been suspicious - especially when Taehyung, who had supposedly told Namjoon the address, didn’t seem to even know about Namjoon’s visit - but Seokjin had been blind and barely paid any attention to it. Now he had letters showing up at his front door, too close to after Namjoon found out his address to be a coincidence.

No, that’s not true, Seokjin reasons with himself. Maybe Jungkook told Namjoon about him beforehand. Maybe all the times Namjoon has showed up under the excuse of someone else's name, there had just been a misunderstanding. It could just all be one horrible coincidence. It’s not like Seokjin wants to think Namjoon is the bad guy.

But he spent too long thinking that the link to his shop and the missing persons’ case was just a coincidence. A month has passed, the girls are still missing, and everything seems to be leading back to Seokjin and the letters he’s been trying to avoid simply because he was scared.

He won’t scare away from the idea of Namjoon being the culprit just because he wants the easy route. If Namjoon is the writer behind the letters, that means he could easily be the culprit of the disappearing girls, and if he feels comfortable sending letters to Seokjin’s personal address, the potential victim pool increases. Now it won’t just be people Seokjin interacts with at SUGA Cakes, but Namjoon practically has a 360-degree view on his life. And it terrifies Seokjin, because Namjoon has somehow snuck into Seokjin’s personal friend web and he’s not sure how to deal with it.

Ideally, he’d be able to tell Taehyung or Hoseok. Except in this ideal world where he immediately shares his concern with the two detectives, they haven’t known Namjoon for years. Trust him more than they trust Seokjin. He could tell Yoongi, but Yoongi is reckless, and he doesn’t want things to get messy. There’s no way Seokjin could tell Jungkook. Even if Jungkook would believe him, as much as Seokjin hates Jungkook’s idolization of Namjoon, he can’t imagine shattering the image Jungkook has of Namjoon when it obviously brings him so much happiness. That’ll be a bridge he’ll burn when he has to, no sooner.

Seokjin takes a deep breath, bottling all of his emotions so he can look Namjoon in the eye with a straight face, hiding his panic.

“No, you’re totally fine, I was just doing some paperwork,” Seokjin manages, scrambling to cover the exposed letter on his desk with random files laying around. He doesn’t know if there’s actually a point of trying to hide the letter from Namjoon, but he can’t let Namjoon know he’s suspicious of him. No, it’s a safer bet to act unknowing. “Did you need something?”

Really, Seokjin should’ve gone into acting, because Namjoon smiles so gently that he has to be unaware of Seokjin’s internal struggling. Namjoon raises his left hand to reveal the same drink he’s brought Seokjin so many times now.

He shakes the cup, the ice clattering inside the plastic, bouncing in the coffee. The drink looks good, Namjoon looks good, the whole situation looks good. But it feels so wrong, and while Seokjin just wants to go with the flow and accept the coffee, he won’t.

“Ah, sorry Namjoon, maybe not today,” Seokjin says, keeping his voice nonchalant. He uses his chair as a prop, grabbing the back of the chair with his hands and letting his fingers squeeze in an attempt to relieve the tension coursing through his body. He drops his gaze to the ground, and keeps his voice level as he continues to speak. “You know, if you keep spending this money on me, I’ll start to feel bad. I’m thankful for the coffee, but in the future, don’t worry about it, okay?”

This is Seokjin’s best attempt in drawing a dividing line between Namjoon and him. If Namjoon is the letter writer, Seokjin doesn’t want to delude him any more than he already has. For a split moment, Seokjin wonders if there’s a peaceful way to end all of this. There’s no exact proof that the letter writer and the culprit of the missing persons case is the same person. If it is, then ending things peacefully might not be an option.

But maybe that’s not the case. Of course, that leaves the giant, gaping issue that there’s three missing girls and they’re no closer to solving the case. But it means that potential letter writer Namjoon isn’t responsible for taking the girls, and while the letters are beyond disturbing and Seokjin has no intentions of accepting their wild claims, they aren’t violent. Maybe if Seokjin draws a fine enough line between Namjoon and him, the delusions and obsession the letters contain will slowly fade away.

It might not be a possible solution, but if it is, Seokjin’s willing to give it a try. He’s willing to put down that line.

He looks back up to gage Namjoon’s reaction. Holds his breath as he waits to see Namjoon’s furious expression, like the angry personality that has sometimes shown through the words of the letters when things didn’t go the writer’s way.

But there’s no angry face waiting for him. Only slightly parted lips, eyes wide. Namjoon slowly lowers the coffee in his hand, and his gaze falls to the ground and oh no , Seokjin feels so bad, like he just stepped on a dog’s tail. He’s supposed to be happy that Namjoon didn’t have an explosive reaction, and maybe Seokjin had been too ambitious to wish for something more neutral. But Namjoon’s expression is almost physically pained, and all Seokjin wants to do is take back his words. All he can do is take joy in the fact that Namjoon understood the subtle meaning of his words - to leave him alone.

Namjoon opens his mouth like he has something to say, but Seokjin doesn’t have time to brace himself for what the words might be when Taehyung strolls in.

“Oh, I didn’t know Namjoon-hyung would be here,” Taehyung says, tilting his head after taking a quick glance between the two men. “Namjoon, don’t you have class or something? Why are you here?”

“No reason,” Namjoon squeaks out, glancing at Seokjin one last time before darting out of the room. It only makes the uneasiness in Seokjin’s stomach even worse, the way Namjoon doesn’t even look Taehyung in the eye when he runs away. Like he’s hiding something.

“Huh, that was weird,” Taehyung comments, glancing at the space where Namjoon had been standing. “What were you guys talking about?”

“Nothing in particular,” Seokjin says, cutting his gaze to the floor because he can’t look Taehyung in the eye without the sudden urge to spill his suspicions of Namjoon, and he can’t bear the idea of Taehyung harshly rejecting his suspicion and leaving Seokjin alone. He quickly finds a way to change the subject. “Anyway, the letters are on the desk if you wanted to take a look at them.”

“Did you already look at them?”

Seokjin shakes his head. “I-” he takes a deep breath before slowing releasing it, “-didn’t wanna read them by myself.” He could’ve read them before he shipped Jungkook off to school since he would’ve had the company, and he knows that Jungkook definitely wants to have a look at them, considering he hasn’t had the chance to yet. In the end, Seokjin chose to keep Jungkook out of the loop for just this one occasion. Whether it was due to the fact that he didn’t want Jungkook worrying about the letters, or didn’t want Jungkook to think Seokjin was bad for being the recipient of such letters, he doesn’t know.

Taehyung smiles softly, reaching out to Seokjin and squeezing his shoulder lightly. Anchors him down. “You don’t have to read them if you don’t want to,” he says. “I won’t judge you if you don’t want to.”

As the older one, Seokjin feels like this is the appropriate time to put on an emotional steel mask and tell Taehyung that no, he’s fine, he can take reading a letter. After all, at the end of the day all it is an arrangement of 26 different letters lined up one after another, leading to some sort of meaning. They can’t harm Seokjin.

It’s just Taehyung, Seokjin realizes. It’s Taehyung, with his slightly furrowed brows and the corners of his lips pulled down into a gentle frown, like he knows Seokjin is pushing himself too hard.

Seokjin presses his lips together. “I don’t want to. Um, read the letter that is.”

Taehyung squeezes his shoulder again and nods. “Then you don’t have to. Lemme just read it real quick and then I’ll take it back with me to the office with the rest of them. Why don’t you go hang out with Jimin while you wait? It should only take me a couple minutes.”

Seokjin follows Taehyung’s advice and exits the kitchen once he sees that Taehyung has located the letter on the desk. He finds Jimin on the other side of the display case, energetically wiping down the front glass of the display case where customers have been insisting on leaving their grimy fingerprints all day (because goodness forbid they just use their words and read the cupcake name out loud - they would much rather vaguely point at the one they want and then get mad when Seokjin can’t figure out which one they’re talking about). Jimin bounces up and down on his tiptoes as he cleans.

“Cleaning it just attracts customers to touch it more, you know?” Seokjin says, and Jimin must’ve been too wrapped up in cleaning to hear him come out because he jumps at Seokjin’s voice, falling to the ground.

Jimin, who gives up trying to regain his balance and lets his butt land on the floor, sighs. “I know. But it’s slow, so I figured I might as well do something rather than stand around.” Jimin laughs nervously. “You know, it sure is a slow day.”

It only takes a second for Seokjin to put two and two together. “You wanna leave early?”

Jimin smiles sheepishly. “Yoongi and Hobi-hyung are working on Yoongi’s performances for Bulletproof right now, and they asked me if I could come and help.”

Maybe Seokjin should be upset that Yoongi is stealing his employee away from the shift at their store, but more than that, he’s amused by the idea of Hoseok and Jimin teaching Yoongi how to perform like a proper stripper. He can’t help the amused huff of air that leaves his mouth as he makes a mental note to later ask Jimin for some easy dancing tricks.

“I mean, I’m totally fine staying here! I don’t want to ditch on you if you need me!” Jimin reassures Seokjin, though it’s hard to take him seriously when he’s almost laying on the floor (Seokjin can only pray that he’s swept recently). 

Seokjin glances back at the kitchen where Taehyung is. If he sends Jimin home now, at least he won’t be alone in the store. Not to mention that sending Jimin home early is just that much less of his budget getting funneled into payroll. 

“Sure, go for it. Jungkook should be showing up soon anyway, so it should work out alright.”

He doesn’t have to repeat himself twice, and Jimin is already half-way through signing off on the hour log, which reminds Seokjin that now that he has employees outside of family and friends, he really needs to invest in a more convenient, most likely digital, way to record employee hours. 

Seokjin doesn’t want to leave the front unattended, so he informs Taehyung briefly that he’ll be busy watching the front until Jungkook shows up. The only response he gets out of Taehyung is a quiet grunt of recognition, the detective too delved into the letter and the giant pile of notes he’s pulled magically out of nowhere. It’s nice; Seokjin can almost pretend like Taehyung isn’t back there investigating a part of Seokjin’s life that could be potentially dangerous to those around him.

It’s almost disappointing when Jungkook skips into the store just shortly after four. Not that Seokjin has been doing anything until then (unless he’s supposed to count the fact that the last customer claimed that he especially craves Seokjin’s cupcakes when he’s high, as exciting). 

“Hyung, were you napping or something? It looks like you got drool on your chin,” Jungkook teases, roughly flicking Seokjin’s cheek as he passes by Seokjin who has indeed been spacing out for the last twenty minutes or so. 

“Hey! Some of us actually use our brains and therefore have to rest them,” Seokjin grumbles, whacking Jungkook on the shoulder in retaliation. And goodness, he’s starting to regret buying those weights for Jungkook’s last birthday because from the firm thump Seokjin’s hand is met with, Jungkook is trying to reach Seokjin-level shoulders. Which really isn’t possible, so Seokjin should just save Jungkook the pain and make sure he gives up now, right?

(On the plus side: maybe he can con Jungkook into carrying him everywhere.)

“Oh no, I’m hurt, I’m need worker’s comp,” Jungkook yells, wincing dramatically. “My boss is a madman! Someone save me!”

“Stop being dramatic and go change so I can wrap things up with Taehyung,” Seokjin grumbles, shoving Jungkook in the direction of the bathroom. On most days, Jungkook changes in the kitchen since all he has to do is swap his shirt out. But even if Jungkook knows exactly what Taehyung is doing in the kitchen, Seokjin prefers not letting him be involved. Also, he’s not sure if Jungkook actually has the guts to change in front of Taehyung.

Jungkook leaves to change, and after taking a quick glance out the windows to make sure no customers are pulling into the parking lot, Seokjin sneaks back into the kitchen.

“What’s with you and Jimin and sitting on the floor?” Seokjin grumbles when he spots Taehyung. The young detective is lying on his back on the floor (that Seokjin definitely hasn’t swept). With closer inspection, Seokjin sees that his eyes are closed. “Taehyung, are you napping on my floor?”

“Not napping. Thinking.”

“Ah, is that so?” Seokjin can’t help but smile, covering his mouth with his fist. “And how’s that working out for you?”

“Horrible. I think there’s flour in my hair now. Hey, help me up?”

Seokjin rolls his eyes, but helps Taehyung up anyway, grabbing his outstretched hand and pulling him off the ground with a firm tug. Even when Taehyung is standing up perfectly fine on his own two feet, Seokjin is hesitant to let go of his hand.

His hesitancy must be obvious, because when Seokjin sighs and finally goes to let go of Taehyung’s hand, the other tightens his grip, taking his other hand and placing it on top of Seokjin’s. 

“Thank you for letting me look into this,” Taehyung says, voice gentle. “I know it’s not easy, and I really appreciate your trust in me.”

Seokjin doesn’t know what to say, words stuck in his throat. He nods instead, hoping his expression can convey what his words aren’t able to. 

“I won’t tell you too much, but I do feel like it’s necessary to share some minor details,” Taehyung continues. Another nod from Seokjin, and Taehyung continues. “After reading the most recent letter, I feel more concerned than ever about where this situation is going.”

There goes Seokjin’s heart in his chest - frozen in place, like Taehyung’s words have knocked the life out of him - and when he finally feels he’s come back, he knows his face is pale and doesn’t hesitate to squeeze Taehyung’s hand even tighter.

“Compared to the other letters, this one seems more possessive, and frankly, a lot more passionate. Adding that to the fact that this person has gotten ahold of your personal address - or maybe if they had it before, finally felt comfortable enough to send to it - is concerning. It shows signs of escalation. Now, I don’t want you to panic, but in general, this usually trends into something more than just sending letters, and I don’t want that to happen.”

Seokjin closes his eyes. “Right. We don’t need any more missing girls.”

“This isn’t just about that case anymore,” Taehyung says, and Seokjin opens his eyes to see Taehyung’s frown. “You know that, right? I have no more evidence that says the letter writer is the culprit to the case than I do against, oh, I don’t know - the Easter bunny? Is it a lead? Sure, it is. But I’m more worried about you .”

“Oh.” Seokjin catches his bottom lip between his teeth. “That’s… thank you.” Somehow, despite the news, he feels relieved. There’s no denying the extra stress on his shoulders knowing that the letter writer is getting more intense, but the idea that the intensity is directed only at Seokjin rather than innocent bystanders… It’s not much of a silver lining, but somehow, it helps Seokjin breath easier anyway.

“That’s what friends are for!” Taehyung announces, dropping Seokjin’s hand so he can throw an arm around his shoulders. His boxy grin is back, serious expression dropped. Seokjin doesn’t complain. “We’re all your friends, you hear? It might be taking more time than I want, but I’ve got plans in action, and hopefully this will wrap up sooner than later.”

Seokjin is almost tempted to ask Taehyung what his ‘plans in action’ could be, but before he can, his cell phone ringing interrupts him.

The custom ring tone of the Gummy Bear song is almost instantly shut off. Partially because Seokjin, despite being the one who selected it as his ringtone, abhors the ridiculously catchy song, but mostly because the ringtone is for no one other that the gummiest and squishiest of bears, Min Yoongi.

“What’s up?” Seokjin knows Yoongi wouldn’t call without reason, so he doesn’t bother hiding the urgency in his voice. It catches Taehyung’s attention, who tilts his head with a questioning look until Seokjin mouths Yoongi’s name.

“Hyung, we fucked up,” Yoongi pants over the phone. Never a good start to a phone call. There’s the loud, stomping sound of footsteps, and Seokjin can hear the bounce in Yoongi’s voice as the man on the other line goes down the stairs. “Ah, we really fucked up.”

In the background, Hoseok’s faint, “Hurry up, I can still see the car!” is heard. Confused by the conversation, Seokjin puts the call on speaker, allowing for Taehyung to listen in on the conversation.

“Yoongi? What are you talking about?”

“Well, Hobi and I were taking a break while we waited for Jimin to show up, y’know?” A car door slam. The start of an engine. “And we were, um, discussing the case.”

“And?”

“Jimin showed up when we were talking about Professor Park. And apparently that’s his dad. Did you know that?” 

Seokjin’s lips form a tight line. He had almost forgotten about Professor Park, the interview he did with Namjoon only coming to his mind at the mention of Yoongi’s word. Personally, Seokjin hadn’t thought the professor to be too suspicious during the time they talked to him - though Seokjin is admittedly past the point of trusting any of his previous beliefs. 

However, that branch of the investigation hadn’t gone anything past Namjoon texting Taehyung their suspicions of Jimin being the professor’s son, and Seokjin had never actually heard the response on it. When he glances over at Taehyung though, he gets the immediate answer to his silent question via the subtle nod of Taehyung’s head - Jimin being Professor Park’s son was a confirmed fact.

“How did Jimin react?” Taehyung interrupts whatever confirmation Seokjin intended on giving.

“Another fun fact: Jimin has a horrible temper. He wanted to immediately call his dad out, which wouldn’t be great for the investigation, so we told him not to. And it seemed like he agreed at the time…”

“I’m sensing a but.”

“But five minutes later he says he has to go to the bathroom, and the next thing Hoseok and I know Jimin is hopping out one of the back windows and has hitched an Uber. The fact that he yeeted himself out a window and didn’t die would be pretty impressive if, you know, he wasn’t off to go ruin a lead in the investigation.”

Seokjin looks at Taehyung, who’s already reaching for his keys, one foot pointed towards the exit to make a quick escape. He puts a hand gently on Taehyung’s arm, halting his motion.

“Where do you think Jimin’s going?” Seokjin asks, pushing Taehyung’s hand back into the pocket where his keys are, ignoring the detective’s look of confusion. He fishes out his own keys, which have so many different keys and keychains that it only fits in his back pocket. 

“We’re not sure. We’re following the car, but Hoseok says his best guess is his dad’s place.” There’s a pause, where Hoseok is obviously speaking, but not quite loud enough that Seokjin can hear the words clearly, so he waits for Yoongi to repeat the words for him. “Taehyung, Hoseok sent the address to your phone. It’s closer to SUGA Cakes than we are, so if you head over now and Hoseok predicted right, you should be able to get there first.”

“I’ll drive,” Seokjin says, shaking his head when Taehyung begins to protest. “It’s fine, I’m the better driver, we’ll get there faster if I drive,” he reasons, unable to stop himself from booping Taehyung’s nose when he scrunches it, unfavorable of the idea that Seokjin’s actually right. “Jungkook can watch the store for a little bit, it’ll be fine.”

“Jungkook can what? ” Jungkook suddenly peaks his head out from the curtain. Seokjin’s surprised Jungkook could hear them from the kitchen, the oven vent running particularly loud today. Then again, he’s sure Jungkook has eavesdropped on the entire conversation since Taehyung arrived, having some vague idea that they’d be discussing the letters. Or maybe he just liked listening to Taehyung’s voice - not that anyone could blame him.

“You’ll hold down the fort for us, right?” Taehyung grins, winking at Jungkook’s confused expression. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, judging by the way Jungkook looks too flustered to make a decent response) there’s no time for Jungkook to properly answer, because Taehyung grabs Seokjin by the wrist and they’re racing out to the car, ignoring a pleading Jungkook to not leave him out of all the fun.

 

***

 

Seokjin drives as fast as he can to the address Hoseok sent them, Professor Park’s address. Unfortunately, it’s more of a guess than anything, as they can’t actually predict where Jimin plans on going on his rage-fueled journey. All they can do is be thankful that wherever Jimin is going, he doesn’t have too much of a head start, and Seokjin prays he doesn’t get himself into any trouble. 

While Seokjin speeds through traffic, following the directions his phone is shouting at him, Taehyung is on the phone with Yoongi, who’s in the car with Hoseok.

“We just lost track of the car with Jimin in it,” Yoongi explains. He huffs in frustration. “If I wasn’t so impressed by his Uber’s driving skills, I’d have half the nerve to report him to the cops. He’s definitely not going the speed limit.”

In the background, Seokjin hears Hoseok grumble that they’re not exactly going the speed limit either. There’s no verbal response from Yoongi for that, but Seokjin can picture the silent glare Yoongi must be cutting Hoseok down with.

“What type of car was it? Maybe we’ll spot him on the way over,” Taehyung says, wincing when Seokjin takes a turn too fast in order to catch the green (read: yellow, very, very yellow) light and he’s thrown against the window. “Actually, with the way Seokjin-hyung is applying every second of Mario Kart experience he has, I think we’ll probably get there first.”

They do end up getting there first. Or at least, Jimin isn’t in sight, so now they’re just stuck praying that they guessed Jimin’s destination right. Seokjin parks his car on the side of the road, taking in the expensive neighborhood. From what Seokjin knows, Namjoon’s school is on the more prestigious side, so he’s not surprised Professor Park has the money to live in a more affluent neighborhood. The house itself is smaller than the one Seokjin grew up in, but it’s still a stark difference from the nightclub Professor Park’s son works at. 

Before Seokjin can dwell on it anymore though, Taehyung is suddenly shouting, “he’s here!” and both him and Seokjin are out of the car in a flash.

“Jimin!” Taehyung shouts, rushing over to the small, pink-haired man. Only bits of his pink hair are visible, the rest of it covered by the hood of the light blue jacket he’s wearing. It’s a soft looking article of clothing for a man who wears such a fierce expression, and Seokjin almost flinches when he looks over at Jimin. 

“You should’ve told me my dad had something to do with all of this”

“We don’t know for sure-”

“Please, from what Hobi-hyung and Yoongi-hyung said, he’s one of your prime suspects.” That was new information for Seokjin. He knew Taehyung definitely hadn’t dropped the angle on Professor Park, but the last he had heard about that part of the investigation was from when Namjoon and he personally interviewed the older man.

Taehyung sighs, almost guiltily. He reaches his hand out to grab Jimin by the wrist, putting his other hand on top of Jimin’s. “Then you would know that I can’t have you going and blowing one of my biggest leads just because you’re angry.” He adds with a soft pat of the hand, “Even if it’s rightfully so.”

Taehyung frowns at even the slightest sag of Jimin’s shoulders. “C’mon Jimin, let’s go back. I don’t have enough evidence to back any suspicions up, and it’s not worth getting riled up over.”

Jimin shakes his head. “But I can’t just sit here and idly stand by. If my dad has something to do with any of this-” Jimin swallows- “then it has to do with me , and it’s my responsibility to end it.”

Seokjin knows he shouldn’t be agreeing with Jimin. Obviously Jimin has no control over his father, and judging by Taehyung’s pained expression, he believes the same. 

His head hurts. Part of him feels incredibly guilty, because he wants Jimin’s dad to be the culprit. For the whole fiasco to be part of Jimin’s mess. Not that he has any ill intentions towards Jimin - his heart aches just thinking that Jimin has such a sour relationship with his father that he really thinks he could be guilty of hurting others to spite his son.

Seokjin thinks he gets Jimin’s pain. The guilt that’s probably eating away at Jimin as he thinks he’s responsible for the three missing girls. Except what Jimin does with that guilt is where he differs. He charges forward. Takes control of the situation. Looks for a way to end it.

Whereas Seokjin has only been looking for ways to run away from it.

Luckily, while Seokjin is wrapped up in his own troubling thoughts, Taehyung is there to comfort Jimin. “I get what you’re feeling Jimin, but all confronting your dad now will do is make sure he lawyers up. I’m good at what I do, but so are the lawyers that your dad can probably afford to hire. If he’s guilty, I need more time to pull up enough evidence to prove it, and that’ll be harder if he knows we’re investigating him.”

“If he’s guilty,” Jimin echoes quietly, Taehyung’s reasoning slowly getting to him. Jimin shrinks in on himself, looking smaller than ever as he deflates and leans forward so his forehead rests against Taehyung’s shoulder. Seokjin joins them, walking up behind Jimin and wrapping his arms around the younger and trying to reassure him in the form of a hug.

“I shouldn’t feel upset by this,” Jimin grumbles, like he’s trying to sound mad. It’s hard to hear over the hurt in his voice. “I haven’t talked to my dad in years. I moved out a week after high school graduation, and we haven’t spoken a word since then, and that’s not just a thing on his end.”

Taehyung hums sympathetically, stroking Jimin’s hair. “But you still see your mom sometimes, right?”

Jimin nods. “Not so often anymore though. She doesn’t say anything, but it obviously puts a lot of stress on her marriage with Dad.” He laughs bitterly. “I guess hanging out with the reject-child isn’t the best factor in a loving marriage.”

“Your mom didn’t say anything when your dad kicked you out of the house?”

Jimin scoffs. “He didn’t kick me out of the house. Mom would’ve never let him. I left on my own - just couldn’t stand living off his money any longer. Every day I stayed, the more he felt like I owed it to him to go to university.”

“And you didn’t want to go?” Seokjin understands not wanting to go to college. When he had first announced his intentions to not continue his education after high school, his mom’s reaction wasn’t the best. His mom was able to successfully raise him to due to the money she made thanks to her own education, and having a son that didn’t follow in her footsteps seemed like an unwise decision.

Fortunately, when she realized that Seokjin had no intention of changing his point, his mom decided to use her resources to make sure the plan Seokjin had was successful, just like she would’ve supported his education. Just like any parent-child duo, Seokjin and his mom didn’t always have the smoothest of relationships. But the moment she started helping him set up partnerships to help fund SUGA Cakes was the moment he realized that maybe their relationship wasn’t so bad after all.

“College just didn’t seem like it was for me. I was perfectly content with the idea of working at some company right after graduation. But then I was too busy moving out of the house to properly attend any interviews, and I had missed hiring season.” Jimin snorts. “My dad had told me that if I wasn’t going to be successful, I shouldn’t associate with him. So working at a strip club that wouldn’t only just pay my bills, but be right in the same area of town that my dad worked in? Bulletproof might be one shit piece of building, but at the time it paid bills, and I knew it pissed the hell out of my dad.”

“How’d you know he knew? You said you haven’t talked to him since then.”

Jimin shrugs. “I wasn’t exactly discreet when I told my mom about my new job, and I doubt she was able to keep it a secret from my dad. That’s how I’m assuming he found out. The only reason I know he did is because he’s hired people to come to the club and talk me out of it.”

Taehyung backs a little bit away from Jimin at this so he can properly look at him. “Talk you out of it? How so?”

“Nothing violent, if that’s what you’re thinking. Just people really bad at acting like they’re college recruiters. Not sure why he thought that wouldn’t look suspicious in one of the trashiest dance clubs in the area, but whatever.”

“Do you think he would do something violent?”

Jimin looks hesitant again. “I mean, I guess I don’t know why he’d suddenly feel the need to lash out like that. Nothing new has popped up as far as I know.”

The starting point. Seokjin understands what Jimin means - what could’ve suddenly brought along the urge to take the girls? In his own case, it’s a big jump to go from writing letters to suddenly harmfully acting upon strangers. For Jimin, having his dad hire people to try to convince him to go to college is miles away from kidnapping his customers.

“My only guess would be that people were starting to figure out that you were related to the Professor, and he was worried about his reputation being tarnished.” Taehyung shrugs. “It doesn’t sound like much of a lead though, so let’s go back, okay? I’m sure Seokjin-hyung will drop you off.” He has one arm around Jimin and starts subtly pushing him away from the professor’s house.

The way Jimin leans back into Taehyung’s arm makes it look like he’s giving in, and Seokjin sighs in relief - just a moment too early.

All three of them snap their heads around when they hear the sound of a door opening, and Seokjin hears Jimin’s breath catch in his throat when Professor Park makes an appearance at the entrance of his house, back already turned to them as he turns to lock the door. 

“Ah, shit, we gotta go,” Taehyung hisses, pushing Jimin away with one arm and grabbing Seokjin’s wrist with his other hand, pulling to signify that it's time to go. Seokjin nods to himself, eyes still glued to the professor. Taehyung’s right. They need to get out before they’re seen, especially with Jimin tagging along with them.

It’s too late - Seokjin barely moves his feet to take a step away when Professor Park turns around, and Seokjin doesn’t even have time to pray he doesn’t notice the random group of friends standing right next to his driveway when Professor Park’s eyes meet his. His eyes go wide after a second, and they drift off to the person next to Seokjin.

His eyes narrow when his gaze locks onto Jimin.

Jimin must notice the change in hostility, because he manages to shake off Taehyung’s grip and his own expression turns terse, eye brows lowering, feet sliding into a wider stance. 

“Miss me?” Jimin shouts, not looking away from his dad. 

For a moment, Seokjin expects for Professor Park to not take the bait. To pretend that he doesn’t know Jimin, like he did during the interview Seokjin did with Namjoon. So he’s shocked when the professor responds.

“I’m surprised to see you here,” he says, not moving from his spot in front of the door. “Would it be too much to ask if you’re here to apologize?”

Jimin fumes. “Here to apologize?” His voice raises even more. “You’re the one who should be apologizing with everything you’ve been doing-”

Taehyung slaps a hand over Jimin’s mouth, but it’s too late to take back the words that Jimin has already said, and it doesn’t change the fact that Professor Park definitely heard him. The professor’s lips press into a tight line, head tilting to the side like he’s trying to comprehend what Jimin’s words mean. Which is the last thing they need, because like Taehyung said, they don’t want Professor Park to figure out they’re investigating him. 

Whatever is going on in the professor’s head - anyone’s head, really - is interrupted by a sudden loud honk from a car on the neighborhood road. Multiple beeps, followed by someone keeping their hand down on the horn. 

As Jimin, Taehyung and Seokjin run back to the car, Seokjin can’t help but wave at Yoongi and Hoseok sitting in the car, wearing the biggest shit-eating grins as Hoseok continues to slam down on the car horn. 

They get into the car, without waiting to look back. There’s no doubt that Professor Park saw Jimin, and from the confused look on his face when he glanced at Seokjin, he remembers him from the interview that went down with Namjoon. It’s a bummer, because it means that cover is useless now to investigate the professor any further, and all Seokjin can do is pray that Namjoon doesn’t have any intentions to get a letter of recommendation from Jimin’s dad. Hanging out with the estranged son doesn’t usually get a student in a teacher’s good books.

Instead of heading straight back to SUGA Cakes, Seokjin drops Taehyung off with Jimin, most likely so Taehyung can talk to Jimin more about Professor Park. At least they’re not hiding that angle of the investigation from Jimin anymore. After all, it’s just as much potentially involving Jimin as it is potentially involving Seokjin.

The ride to Taehyung’s apartment is silent, the two younger boys sitting in the back with Jimin’s head resting against Taehyung’s shoulder. There might be a bit of whispering between the two of them, but Seokjin decides to focus on the road, allowing them to have the most amount of privacy that he can give them while they sit in the back of his car.

“Thanks for the ride, hyung,” Taehyung says when they arrive at Taehyung and Hoseok’s place. It’s not much of a house, just the level above where the Vante Investigations office is, but it makes it easy enough for Seokjin to recognize with the big sign hung out in front. 

After a brief moment of thought, Seokjin decides not to walk Taehyung and Jimin up to the house. Jimin has looked pale since they encountered his father, and doesn’t look too excited by the idea of Seokjin listening in on his and Taehyung’s conversation which will certainly occur once they’re back in the house. And Seokjin, who’s no more eager to have anyone else hear his own side of the investigation, easily understands and feels no reason to push his presence on them any longer.

“I’ll see you guys around?” Seokjin asks, still sitting in the driver’s seat. Jimin is already standing outside of the car, and Taehyung is half in, half out, hand propping him up by resting on the shoulder of the passenger seat. 

“Yeah. Keep me updated if anything happens, and I’ll keep you updated on my end,” Taehyung says. He leans back, ready to leave, before he pauses, once again looking at Seokjin. “Just-” he looks for the right words to say, “-be careful, hyung. I’m not like Hobi-hyung, but even I know there aren’t any good vibes coming from what’s to come.”

Seokjin frowns. Not that he believes in vibes.

But if he did, he thinks he’d be getting some bad vibes as well.

***

It's Friday evening, and Seokjin can't lock the front door any faster than he does. He almost stumbles over his own two feet as he scrambles to the door, despite the fact that there hasn't been a customer within the last ten minutes. He's not risking it - which should be a little concerning as a businessman, because he shouldn't be afraid of an extra customer or two, considering that at the end of the day, customers are what make sure he pays his rent on time. Still, he's tired, and it's not the day to help out a last minute customer (or any day, really. He's not sure why people haven't figured out the proper etiquette yet of not showing up in the last ten minutes before a store closes).

He doesn't shut off all the lights, but the open sign is flicked off along with the front lights, just so people don't have any confusions and try to open the obviously closed, locked front door. People do that, and Seokjin really isn't willing to deal with that tonight. With the exception of the short break Taehyung and Hoseok were able to give him when they stopped by around dinner time, Seokjin's been working all day. There's a stack of paperwork waiting for him in the back that really should've been done by yesterday, and he starts thinking of what he can bribe Yoongi with to do it instead. Maybe some pizza waiting in the fridge for him when he gets home would be enough. He'd buy wine, but realistically, Seokjin would drink it before Yoongi ever got home. 

Plus, it's not like they don't already have an unnecessarily large stash of wine at home. Seokjin counts himself blessed that his roommate and business partner also appreciates a fine glass of wine or two (or three or four, really, there's no reason to limit oneself) every night. It means wine has a place in their shopping budget.

There's cleaning to be done - nothing too scary for a Friday night, where people are usually especially prone to spilling crumbs everywhere. Which is unfortunate for Jimin who works in the morning, because Seokjin decides to hold off cleaning for the night and save it for his favorite pink-haired sales associate. Certainly, he has no plans of doing it himself. Seokjin considers himself to be in shape, but running back and forth between the counter and the kitchen along with cleaning up the occasional spill leads to a tiring day that Seokjin is ready to end. 

He glances at the garbage, knowing there's food inside that would smell a lot better if it didn't sit in the store overnight. But maybe for once he'll take Yoongi's advice and avoid the dark alleyway that's required to walk down if he wants to take out the garbage. Plus, with the two muscle-pig of cashiers that he has, there's no real reason for Seokjin to deal with the hassle of hauling out the usually heavy bag all by himself, right?

So that leaves Seokjin with not much to do besides take the cash out of the register and throw it in the safe in the back after a quick count of it. He's admittedly not exactly sure what should be in the register, but with a business so small and usually only Seokjin handling the money (at least for the day) there's no reason to worry about inaccurate till amounts. Plus, it's not like he could do much at nine in the evening anyway. 

Despite the warmer weather earlier in the day, once the sun has set like it is now, it's hard to remember that they're getting closer to Summer than Spring, the chilly air nipping at Seokjin's exposed face, breaking through the thin barrier of the sweater he had deemed appropriate earlier in the day. He shivers, wrapping his arms around himself in an attempt to keep his body heat to himself, though it proves pointless when he has to release his arms to reach out and lock the front door, metal key warm from gripping it so hard.

He sighs and lets his face fall forward until his forehead is resting against the glass of the door. He briefly considers how unsanitary the store's door is, with the constant in and out of grimy customer hands touching it. Seokjin makes a mental note to wash his face as soon as he gets home (he won't lie - he had planned to just go home and immediately go to sleep on his bed, maybe even without changing clothes). 

But the night isn't nearly as silent as it should be, Seokjin quickly realizes. Of course, there's the usual traffic of late night workers driving home, along with the usual sounds of the city at evening times. But one sound is a little too close, the sound of huffing, and Seokjin turns around to see a bicycle approaching him.

Namjoon.

"Hyung!" Namjoon greets, looking slightly worn out. Is it the cold air or something else that's colored Namjoon's cheeks pink? Seokjin doesn't have time to question it - Namjoon hops off his bike while it's still moving forward, landing surprisingly gracefully next to bike before pulling it to a stop while standing. 

"You finished closing early, huh?" Namjoon says, kicking out his kickstand. Seokjin notes that Namjoon's wearing a helmet - endearingly safety-aware. For a moment he feels silly for suspecting Namjoon of anything, because how can someone who bikes while their helmet is balanced on their head crookedly have ill intentions?

Seokjin tenses anyway. "What are you doing here, Namjoon?" It's late, and without the lighting of the store, there's not much to illuminate their interaction. The closest street lights are far enough away that the darkness of the night cast shadows over Namjoon, the light bouncing off the angles of his face as he tilts it to the side, eyes widening.

"Ah-" Namjoon pauses, lips pressed together into a flat line before he says, "Yoongi-hyung sent me. Asked if I could help you close the store up."

There's no space to back up into, so Seokjin finds his back pressing up against the cool glass of the store windows. Seokjin isn't good at reading people, but he's taken off his rose-colored glasses and recognizes Namjoon's poorly disguised lie.

"Well, I'm sorry you came all the way out here, but I've already finished for the night," Seokjin says, inserting as much cheerfulness as he can into his words. It's far from nonchalant, and probably suspiciously cheerful for how tired he looks, but he can't seem to keep his cool. In his hand he still holds his key ring, and he slowly shifts the keys in his hand until his hand is clutching his car keys. Namjoon's legs might be long, but if Seokjin acts first, he can probably kick Namjoon's bike down and tangle Namjoon in that mess long enough to run to his car and drive off.

Seokjin swallows. Hard. It's strange, having to feel so suspicious of Namjoon. No, not strange. Miserable. But Namjoon keeps popping out of nowhere with no good explanation, and now he's coming even closer to Seokjin.

"That's unfortunate," Namjoon says slowly, brows furrowing. There's no doubt he can sense Seokjin's hesitation. The corners of his lips arch downward into a frown. "I mean, that's good that you're done, I guess. I wish I could've shown up earlier, to help." His voice is soft when he adds, "Don't work yourself too hard, hyung."

His voice is achingly genuine, and Seokjin hesitates in the middle of trying to slowly tiptoe to the side so Namjoon isn't directly in front of him. Is he being unfair to Namjoon? 

Seokjin reminds himself about the letters. Some of the letters were aggressive, downright possessive, but the majority of them had been like Namjoon right now. Telling Seokjin with sweet words to do his best, to not wear himself out.

Seokjin's grip on the keys tightens. 

"I appreciate the thought," Seokjin says, voice stable as he can make it. Namjoon keeps taking steps closer, and there's no steps back for Seokjin to take. "You know, I think I'll just take your advice, and just, um, y'know-" Seokjin  stumbles over his words, very aware of how Namjoon only stands an arms-length away from him now, "-go home. I think I deserve to go home, yeah. I'll be doing that now."

Seokjin starts to step to the side, attempting the slide by Namjoon and avoid having to directly confront him. Maybe tomorrow he'll finally find the guts to share his suspicions of Namjoon to someone else. Now that Namjoon is standing in front of him with such an intense expression, just the two of them in the lonely night, Seokjin feels stupid for not sharing his concerns earlier. If he had told Taehyung yesterday, would this situation have even happened?

"Well, good night Nam-" Seokjin starts to say, side-stepping out. But before he can maneuver around Namjoon, there's an arm on either side of him, and to avoid bumping directly into Namjoon, Seokjin's back hits the storefront once again, this time with enough force to knock the air out of him. He feels dizzy when he looks up at Namjoon. Namjoon, who's only a few centimeters taller than himself, seems to tower over him.

He's too shocked to move, only able to stare with wide eyes as Namjoon's hands come off the wall, up to cup his face. Thumbs brush gently against his cheekbones, and Namjoon's hands move so they feel like they're dwarfing Seokjin's face, on either side of his face so that the only sight he can see is in front of him.

He doesn't - can't - look away from Namjoon's blank expression.

"Namjoon?" Seokjin barely believes the squeak of a voice that leaves his throat is him, but he doesn't have time to question it, not when Namjoon narrows his eyes, staring at him with a hooded expression. His voice is low, intense when he says: 

"Don't move."

And he leans in.

Chapter Text

Seokjin might like to force Jungkook to carry anything even remotely heavy, but that has to do more with the fact that Seokjin likes making Jungkook do stuff rather than the fact that Seokjin is incapable of carrying anything himself. He’s never been bulky with muscle, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have enough strength to out power the average man.

Seokjin won’t pretend to be an expert on judging a person’s physical prowess by their appearance. Even Yoongi, who he sees everyday, manages to surprise him when he whips out an impressive amount of strength when it comes to carrying store supplies, contrasting with Yoongi’s small frame. 

Seokjin freezes in place as Namjoon’s hands lock on either side of his face, holding him in place. It’s not painful, but the amount of force Namjoon presses against him is enough to intimidate him into being still. Based on physical appearances, Seokjin doubts Namjoon has more upper body strength than him, but Seokjin is also afraid of testing pushing Namjoon away, afraid of the consequences.

Except Namjoon is completely in his space, and if Seokjin could actually manage to breathe, their breaths would intermingle. Every second, Namjoon’s face inches even closer, and it’s all too much for Seokjin, and he raises his arms up to place his hands flat against Namjoon’s chest, and pushes.

The action is enough to make Namjoon stumble, followed by quiet cursing as he backs off slightly. It’s not enough to knock Namjoon’s grip off him though, probably due to the fact that Seokjin can’t manage to put full strength into his arms which are trembling, rendering them useless. All Namjoon has to do to combat the movement is push himself closer, eliminating the space between their chests, Seokjin’s hands sandwiched between.

“I said, don’t move,” Namjoon hisses, and Seokjin doesn’t dare look at his face, too afraid to see what Namjoon looks like without the friendly mask he’s seen the last couple of weeks.

Seokjin opens his mouth to scream, but before his lips can part, something is pressing against them. He gasps, eyes flying up to look Namjoon in the face.

It’s at that moment that he realizes that he’s not being kissed - the pressure on his lips is a thumb, though on the other side of the thumb lie Namjoon’s lips. Namjoon’s not looking at him at all though, eyes darting off to the side like he sees something Seokjin doesn’t. 

It doesn’t make sense, it hurts Seokjin’s head. The fact that simply Namjoon’s thumb against his lips sends tingling sensations down his spines is outright bewildering. He shuts his eyes tight, recognizes the feeling of his knees giving out before he’s falling to the floor, gravity pulling him down.

A pair of hands grab at his waist, the feeling against his lips gone. He’s barely caught before he hits the ground, hands catching him under the armpits with a grunt. It’s all too much for Seokjin to take in, unable to do anything past folding in on himself, bringing his knees up to cover the rest of his body. He wiggles out of the grip on him. Tries opening his mouth again, but the sound that leaves his throat is no more than a hiss, vocal cords rendered useless by the overtension in his body.

“Seokjin-hyung? Hyung?” It’s strange; Seokjin swears he can hear Namjoon calling out to him. He doesn’t sound angry. Concerned, and maybe even a little bit confused, but not angry. That doesn’t mean he feels like opening his eyes yet, but the ringing in his ears seems to fade away as his anxiety does. The tension slowly unravels as he tries to put the puzzle pieces together.

“Tae, I’m pretty sure I heard somebody, but I couldn’t get a good look at them,” Namjoon says. A phone is present? Tae. Taehyung. That’s a name Seokjin trusts. And Namjoon seems to be talking to him. “-yeah, they definitely saw me. Hey, look, I’ll call you back later? Seokjin-hyung’s freaking out.” There’s a pause before Namjoons responds, “I’m not worried about me , I’m worried about him -hey, stop cooing, I’m being seri-” Namjoon finishes his sentence with a sigh. “Yeah, I’ll be careful and keep an eye out. I’m hanging up now. Love you too. Bye.”

“Hyung, it’s okay, it looks like everything is clear now,” Namjoon says, voice barely a whisper. Large hands rest on top of Seokjin’s knee, fingers brushing past Seokjin’s own hands which pull his legs tight to his chest. When Seokjin remains silent, Namjoon adds, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to spook you like that, but I’ll explain in a moment-” he falls silent himself. “Should I call Jungkook? Yoongi? Taehyung and Hobi are currently out of town, but I could call them back if you want?

Seokjin is twenty-four years old, and he’s had plenty of time to learn how to articulate himself. The emotions bubbling inside of him: confusion, fear, what the actual hell .

He opens his mouth to relay his highly articulate thoughts.

They come out as a sob, and he bursts into tears.


***

“I’m sure you’re confused,” Namjoon says, holding on tight to the mug in his hand. The steam from the tea he ordered billows onto his face, causing his cheeks to go pink despite the fact that him and Seokjin have both retired from the outdoors into the warmth of the diner down the road.

“Confused is one way of putting it,” Seokjin says, eyeballing their waitress who’s walking between tables. He has a large plate of food he’s waiting on - something he usually wouldn’t eat so late into the night - but he thought he was going to die less than an hour ago, so he thinks he deserves it.

I’m not dead ’, his brain helpfully supplies as he takes a sip from his hot chocolate. 

After Seokjin had managed to get some sort of control over the sobs that overtook his body, Namjoon had tried to get him to go back inside the store so they could talk things out. Seokjin - who on occasion, isn’t the brightest bulb in the box - has watched enough mystery and horror movies to know that allowing Namjoon to trap him in an isolated building by themselves is the number one way to get killed or abducted, and he firmly stated that he wasn’t going anywhere except somewhere with other people, which is how they ended up at the diner that has the shittiest of pancakes but manages to stay in business due to their rare late night hours.

“There were a few reasons why Taehyung wanted to keep everything under wraps,” Namjoon says. “Mostly, it was to avoid worrying you. Didn’t want to stress you out any more than you already were.”

Seokjin tugs at his hair, feeling ready to pull it out. “Keep what under wraps?” Seokjin can’t imagine what would be any more stressful than the fear he’s been living under the last few days. He has exactly three new grey hairs on his head, joining the other two that Jungkook has given him.

(There’s actually a lot more than that, but he’s decided he’s too young to acknowledge them yet.)

Namjoon sighs, looking lost for words. Which Seokjin is definitely not tolerating right now - he’s too lost to show any patience towards Namjoon’s lack of words - and he pointedly glares. Namjoon winces, but then starts to explain.

“As you know, the intensity of the letters being sent has gone up recently.” Seokjin nods. He didn’t realize Namjoon was so knowledgable about the case. “Then with the letters showing up at your apartment. The culprit was getting bolder. And Taehyung wondered if it wasn’t just limited to the letters.”

Namjoon glances at Seokjin, probably trying to read his facial expression, but Seokjin refuses to let any more emotions bubble to the surface. He still can’t trust Namjoon.

“Just so you know, Taehyung didn’t originally didn’t tell me about all this - he does respect your privacy. But I was brought into the plan when…” He purses his lips. “When Taehyung noticed the boldened activity, he started asking everyone else if they had noticed anything. To see if they were limiting their focus to you, or if he needed to consider danger risks of anything else.”

Seokjin freezes. “And?”

“Yoongi didn’t report noticing anything. Neither did Jimin. Taehyung and Hoseok didn’t either. But I had definitely felt like sometimes I was being watched when I was alone, and-” Namjoon sighs, voice becoming quiet when he adds, “-and Jungkook did too.”

That snaps Seokjin out of his daze. Not minding the fact that they’re indoors and surrounded by a good amount of people, he shouts, “Jungkook?” He reaches over the table to grab Namjoon by the shoulders. Shakes him. “What do you mean Jungkook did too ?”

One day, Seokjin dreams of taking Jungkook by the foot and yeeting him into the stars, because not only does Jungkook deserve it nine out of ten days, it’s his duty as the older brother to make Jungkook stays in line.

But it’s also Seokjin’s job as the older brother to keep Jungkook safe, and outside of Seokjin’s star-yeeting fantasies, his purpose is to make sure not a single hair on his brother’s head is harmed. “You’re telling me that someone’s been following Jungkook-” he chokes on his words when he lifts his hand and points a finger at himself, “-because of me?” He allows his hand to drop back down onto the table, clenched into a fist. 

“I mean, not that we know for sure that it’s the letter writer, but-”

Seokjin sighs, cutting off Namjoon purposefully, uninterested in hearing his reassurences. “Why you and Jungkook? None of the others noticed anything?” He can’t help but wonder what would have the stalker (he supposes it’s the right word to upgrade the letter writer to with these recent revelations) following Namjoon and Jungkook only. In fact, from what Seokjin has felt out about the stalker’s intentions from the letters he’s sent, he wouldn’t assume that the stalker had any interest outside of Seokjin. 

Seokjin expects another calm, collected explanation from Namjoon, so he’s surprised to see the man sitting across from his scratching his cheek nervously, a hint of blush painted across his cheeks. 

“I guess I would say-” Namjoon takes his lower lip between his teeth and Seokjin is only momentarily distracted by the realization of how full Namjoon’s lips are, “-that whoever is behind it all views Jungkook and me as threats.”

Seokjin frowns. “Threats?” The only time Jungkook is a threat is when - well, Jungkook is a threat all the time, considering the amount of muscle he has combined with the amount of mischief he seems to love getting into. And Seokjin has finally just started to clear in his brain that Namjoon maybe isn’t a threat, so he’s confused by what Namjoon’s trying to say.

“Not threats to you, but threats to him.” Seokjin momentarily pictures tiny little Yoongi with his angry fists hopping on the stalker’s back and beating him up, giggles, and then frowns because if that’s the type of threat Namjoon is talking about, than Yoongi would be a victim of stalking too. 

Namjoon looks reluctant to elaborate any further, but once he realizes that Seokjin doesn’t plan on brushing past the subject, he groans softly. Fiddles with the small piercings in his ears. “Threats… as in rivals…” Namjoon glances up at Seokjin with begging eyes to move on, but Seokjin stares Namjoon down expectantly until he finally finishes with, “rivals… for your… affection .”

Oh. Oh . There’s a part of Seokjin that lights his ears up red when he thinks about why the stalker would consider Namjoon a threat, but he decides to focus on the other half of his brain’s thoughts.

“Wouldn’t someone who’s been watching me know that Jungkook’s my brother?” Seokjin asks, jutting his lower lip out. “That is, if we consider that the stalker was concerned about competetion with-” suddenly Seokjin realizes why Namjoon was so hesistent to say the words aloud- “romantical affection, rather than familial affection.”

Namjoon shrugs. “Maybe they didn’t realize you were family because you don’t live together? Or maybe that’s why he’s following Jungkook, to see if he’s a threat or not.” 

Something doesn’t sit right with Seokjin about the situation. He’s no professional creep, but if he were the stalker, he would be a lot more concerned about Yoongi - the person Seokjin lives with and has no familial connections to - than Jungkook. Not that there’s ever been anything close to a romance between Seokjin and Yoongi, so maybe the stalker sensed that. Then again, if the stalker was able to figure that out, Seokjin thinks that they’d be able to figure out that Jungkook is nothing more than Seokjin’s baby brother. 

It doesn’t make sense, but then again, neither does someone putting in the effort to follow Seokjin’s close friends in an act of jealously. Seokjin in the center of it all can’t figure out an explanation for it, and he doesn’t expect Namjoon to either, so he gestures for Namjoon to continue explaining Taehyung’s plans.

“Taehyung realized that the best way to get ahold of the stalker’s indentity is to make them step out of the shadows of dropping off the letters. If they felt like the threat was stronger, they might make a move to remove them from the situation.”

Seokjin swallows. “You mean use one of you as bait.”

Namjoon nods solemnly. “Of course, Jungkook volunteered to do it-”

“-Not on my watch he doesn’t-”

“-which Taehyung and Hoseok immediately shot down, of course. He’s a minor, for goodness sake. Taehyung has some pretty crazy ideas, but he wouldn’t put the kid in danger for the sake of solving a case.”

Seokjin lets out a sigh of relief, though just the mention of purposefully putting Jungkook in harm's way has shaved another three years off his life span. The breath leaves his body, but he suddenly halts when he realizes.

“Wait, you said you got involved in the case.” Seokjin purses his lips into a tight line, purposefully trying to meet Namjoon’s gaze despite the younger’s attempts to look away. “That means you volunteered to lure them out.” Namjoon doesn’t protest, and Seokjin takes that as confirmation. “You said yourself that it was dangerous. Why’d you do it?” He cocks his head to the side.

“Why’d I do it?” Namjoon practically chokes on the words. “You’re really asking that?” He doesn’t leave enough time for Seokjin to respond, and says, “I had already established a pattern of dropping coffee off for you, so it wasn’t like I had to put in any extra effort to hopefully  be noticed by the stalker.”

Namjoon fidgets in his seat. “Sorry about it all, by the way.” His fingers tap erratically on the table. “I know you don’t particularly like me, and I really didn’t want to make you uncomfortable… but Tae said not to worry about it, and I really wanted to take any attention away from Jungkook and help out with the whole situation in any way I could, but still…” He looks up from where his eyes have been glued to the table to meet Seokjin’s gaze directly, “I’m sorry for bothering you.”

There’s a lot to digest from Namjoon’s apology, but Seokjin doesn’t focus on it too much before the next words leave his mouth:

“Why would you think I didn’t like you?”

Namjoon looks taken aback. “You were avoiding me!”

Oh. Seokjin knew that making assumptions and not properly talking through his suspicions with someone else would come to bite him in the ass. Seokjin is no ameatur when it comes to feeling like a complete idiot but the panic that bubbles inside of him proves that the whole situation ranks at number one on the list of Dumb Things Seokjin has Done. 

(That, or the time he went on vacation with Yoongi and forgot to pack shorts. Instead of buying cheap, new shorts to temporarily satiate his needs, he decided to cut off the legs of his very expensive pants. He still thinks he’s a genius for his excellent cropping skills, but the constant way Yoongi reminds him of the event suggests that perhaps it actually wasn’t one of Seokjin’s greatest ideas.)

Anyway, Seokjin knows that if wants to retain any intelligent image Namjoon might have of him, he should keep his mouth shut and tell Namjoon that it must’ve been his imagination, because Seokjin obviously had no reason to suspect Namjoon, much less avoid him.

“That’s only because I thought you were the culprit!”

As Seokjin explains to Namjoon’s shocked expression everything he’s been thinking the past few days, he recognizes that the only thing his mouth is useful for is eating food - definitely not for voicing his thoughts.

When Seokjin finishes his explanation, he glances at Namjoon, more curious than scared of his reaction.

Luckily, Namjoon doesn’t look mad, or generally upset. He does look shocked, eyes still wide and lips parted to form a soft ‘o’. Halfway through Seokjin’s explanation, Namjoon’s hands tangled themselves in his purple hair, and that’s where they remain, pulling at the strands.

“I can’t believe-” Namjoon groans, hands slipping from his hair to cover his face, “-that you thought… this entire time…” Namjoon frowns, flushed cheeks revealed when he lowers his hands from his face. “I would never actually attack you! Geez!”

Seokjin cups his own face, feeling his flaming cheeks. Now that the initial fear of the situation has dissipated, the feeling of Namjoon’s thumb, breath hitting every other part of his lips, is fresh in his mind. “And what was that, earlier?”

It takes a second for Namjoon to understand what ‘earlier’ means, but when he does, he scrunches his brows. “I’m sorry I pushed you against the wall so hard? I just wanted to make sure they saw us together.” The stalker. This is Namjoon confirming that potentially the stalker was watching them no less than an hour earlier, and that sends a shiver down Seokjin’s spine. But he tries to focus on the subject on hand.

Seokjin catches his lower lip between his teeth before pushing it out to form a pout. “I don’t mean that. I’m talking about-” he captures his earlobe between his fingers, tugging at his ears which he knows have gone bright red. “-about the thumb thing. That you did. You know?”

There’s a moment of confusion reflected on Namjoon’s face, and Seokjin can see the moment it dawns on Namjoon, judging by the way he chokes on his spit, bringing a hand to cover his face.

“O-oh, that? Um, just one of the few things I remember from middle school theater class. It’s supposed to be for stage kisses? So small children don’t actually have to kiss each other?”

Seokjin blurts out, “So you don’t want to kiss me?” Seokjin has no idea where the words came from, but luckily Namjoon distracts him from having to think about it.

“I-” Namjoon knocks his glass of water over, spilling it everywhere onto the table. He initially jumps at the shock of knocking it over, the glass clattering on the table, but only sighs when he sees the result like he’s used to the sort of thing. “It was acting, hyung. I needed to give the stalker the impression that I was a threat.”

“You should’ve just told me the plan! I work customer serivce - I might as well be an actor for how much I have to pretend to not want to murder half the people who walk into the store.” He ignores Namjoon’s briefly concerned look and adds, “I could’ve acted along!”

Namjoon gulps. “I don’t think… I don’t think I could’ve taken it if you acted along.”

“Why? I’m a pretty good actor! Just ask Yoongi about the one time in high school where we spilled wine all over his mom’s white carpet and we had to pretend we’d never even heard of alcohol!”

Namjoon looks hesitant, like he’s fumbling with his words, and Seokjin can’t help the doubt that flares up in his chest again. He decides to drop the acting thing - maybe the wine example wasn’t very good considering Yoongi’s mom ended up not buying a word of it considering both the boys were past wasted when they got caught - but now he can’t help but be concerned by how unwilling Namjoon is to answer some questions. Almost like he’s scared of saying something, hiding something.

“How’d you know I wanted seafood?”

The question is out of the blue, and Namjoon looks confused for only a short moment until it finally dawns on him. Seokjin had mentioned it earlier when he had explained his initial suspicions of Namjoon, but never got a response from Namjoon on how he had actually known that Seokjin was a fan of seafood, only had shared that it was one of the first things that set his suspicions off.

“Oh, you still think-” Namjoon sighs, sounding almost heart-broken. He digs his phone out of his pocket, unlocking it. He taps the screen a few times before handing it to Seokjin.

“Yoongi texted me,” he explains, gesturing at his phone now in Seokjin’s hands. Seokjin doesn’t hesitate to look down at the most recent text message from Yoongi (and since when did Yoongi and Namjoon become good enough friends to privately text each other?)

IDK y u want this one hes a complete moron but anyway he likes seafood u should take him out for some’

Seokjin thinks it’d be impossible for Namjoon to replicate and fake Yoongi’s distinct texting style so easily, but he goes the extra step to check the phone number linked to the name Yoongi in Namjoon’s contact list, just to make sure it isn’t fake. He breathes a sigh of relief when he recognizes Yoongi’s number instantly, though it’s followed by confusion of why Yoongi would tell Namjoon to invite Seokjin to seafood. Maybe he was hoping Seokjin would bring home leftovers (as if Seokjin ever had leftovers)?

Seokjin plans on scrolling through the rest of the texts between Namjoon and Yoongi, but on his way back from navigating from the contact list to the messaging app, he exits out of the chat with Yoongi and is faced with the entirety of all of Namjoon’s ongoing chats, and a specific one catches his eye and he clicks without a second thought.

“Hey, what the fuck, Jungkook actually texts you?”

Namjoon hops out of his seat, eyes wide in alarm as he realizes Seokjin is going through his entire chat log, but Seokjin is fast and manages to hug the phone close enough to him that he can still see the screen but it’s out of Namjoon’s reach.

“Yeah, he does all the time, mostly to send me shitty anime recommendations - I don’t know how many times I have to tell him I’m not really into the shoujo stuff - but hey, what are you looking through?” Namjoon has slid to the other side of the table in an attempt to snatch his phone back, but Seokjin is already a few days into Jungkook and Namjoon’s chat log, scrolling through to see if he can find anything interesting.

He stops scrolling when he finds his address sent by Jungkook, followed by the message:

‘Hey this is Seokjin-hyung and Yoongi-hyung’s address.’

Namjoon’s response is a short and simple: ‘and?’

‘Seokjin-hyung is home sick and Yoongi-hyung and I are both too busy to visit him. You know who isn’t too busy? You.’

Namjoon responds again with: ‘I literally have piles of homework to do.’

But Jungkook’s messages are persistent.

‘So do I but that doesn’t mean I’m not about the binge watch the entire first season of Free! for the one billionth time.’

Another message from Jungkook follows immediately.

‘Just trust me. This works in all the anime. Now go deal with your big fat crush on my brother like a true anime protagonist you purple haired hero. Fighting!’

Seokjin briefly sees Namjoon’s response  ‘Stop calling me an anime protagonist just because I don't have naturally colored hair’ but he’s much more focused on Jungkook’s words.

“You have a crush on me?”

The words are sudden, uncensored yet unsure as they leave Seokjin’s mouth, and only then does he realize how close Namjoon has gotten in order to retrieve his phone. Namjoon’s half-sat on the chair next to him, one arm propped up on the back of Seokjin’s seat. The other arm is reaching out to the phone in Seokjin’s hand, which means Namjoon’s hand lands just on top of the phone screen, fingers brushing against Seokjin’s.

Their eyes meet, Namjoon’s wide and Seokjin’s even wider and for a moment, they’re frozen in time. Except it shatters a moment later, Namjoon’s original goal of retrieving his phone long past forgotten when he recoils from Seokjin, sitting back down in his seat.

“Wait, wait,” Namjoon says, eyes closed as his back hits the back of the seat, and he tilts his head back. “Let me get this straight. You thought I was the stalker, right?”

Seokjin nods, numb. When he realizes Namjoon can’t see him, he voices his response.

“And you understand that the stalker has deep, passionate feelings for you, right?”

He nods again. The letters gave more than enough information about the stalker’s romantic interest in Seokjin. 

Namjoon finally sits back up and opens his eyes, staring at Seokjin in disbelief. He blinks, like he’s waiting for Seokjin to respond, but he must catch sight of Seokjin’s confused expression, and he sighs before saying: 

“But you didn’t manage to put two and two together and realize that I actually really really like you?” 

Oh.

“Oh.”

Oh.

“Oh my God,” Namjoon murmers. “Yoongi was right - you really are stupid.” Followed by something that Seokjin probably isn’t supposed to hear, but he clearly catches the, “Well, you’re actually fucking fantastic. Maybe I’m just the dumb one.”

Seokjin is lost for words - he doesn’t usually admit to his stupidity on the rare occasions it butts its ugly head, but as his ears burn scarlet red, he can’t resist the urge to hit his face with the palm of his hand, then proceed to bring his other hand to his face so he can properly hide himself from the rest of the world. Maybe it’s the fact that he disassociated Actual-Namjoon from Letter Writer-Namjoon in an attempt to save whatever image he had of Actual-Namjoon (whatever that is, he’s not ready to admit- not right now at least, and chooses to ignore the thumping of his heart in his chest as Namjoon stares at him with red cheeks), or as Yoongi likes to suggest - he’s a big ball of dumb-dumb. The prior option forces Seokjin to analyze the reasoning behind why he would be so insistent on keeping his image of actual-Namjoon so clean, and that’s definitely not something he wants to delve into at the moment. However, he's more than ready to defend his (occasional) ridiculousness.

“Hey! Don’t listen to Yoongi! I’m a genius, you know?” Seokjin knows he’s whining, but he feels shocked. And maybe a little disappointed in himself for not figuring all this out earlier, but okay. He can deal with the information now. Sure. Namjoon likes him. Who could blame him?

A sudden thought hits Seokjin. His voice comes out almost as a shout. “Wait, you like me-”

“-Yeah, sure hyung, just announce my lame ass crush to the whole diner, though you might want to speak up, I’m not sure if the people on the other side heard you-”

“-But you said you didn’t want to kiss me!”

Namjoon drops his eye roll for an embarrassed squeak. “I didn’t say that! And why would I admit that anyway? That’s embarrassing!”


“So you do want to kiss me?”

Namjoon tries to shrug the question off, but judging by the bright pink shade of his cheeks, Seokjin can guess the answer. However, a part of him is itching to hear Namjoon say it himself, so he keeps staring at Namjoon.

Hyung,” he whines, wiggling in his seat one last time, like he’s hoping that if he delays enough the ground will just eat him whole. Unfortunately for Namjoon, Seokjin didn’t give the floor permission to do that since he’s so patiently waiting for Namjoon’s answer, and Namjoon only waits a few moments more before sighing in resignment.

“I mean, have you seen yourself? Who wouldn’t want to kiss you?”

Seokjin’s very self-aware of the fact that he’s the one who forced Namjoon to admit it, but when the words roll off Namjoon’s tongue, he loses all courage, especially with Namjoon sitting so close. He only takes a quick peek at Namjoon’s expression - just to quickly admire the pink of his cheeks - before pretending like he doesn’t look the same himself and pulls up the keyboard for the chat between Jungkook and Namjoon.

‘Hey wtf why do u never text me??? - Ur fav seokjinnie <3’

For the first time in his entire life, Seokjin gets an instant response from Jungkook. Or at least, the message gets marked as read, and once enough time passes for Seokjin to assume that Jungkook has left the conversation after finding out the message is from Seokjin, he starts spamming messages. The response comes after the twentieth text in a row.

‘I don’t text anyone.’

Seokjin’s fingers slam on the keyboard. ‘Namjoon said you text him all the time.’

‘Yeah and Namjoon also said he wants to suck your toes so’

“I did not say that!” Namjoon screeches when Seokjin reads the message out loud, but it’s covered up by Seokjin’s squeaky laughter. While Seokjin bends over in laughter, Namjoon wildly waves his hands in denial (after snatching the phone back that is; he’s probably done with being exposed by Jungkook).

“I swear I didn’t say that!” Namjoon cries, and Seokjin tries to make a joke about how unfortunate that is, because his toes are certainly very delicious, but he’s too busy trying to catch his breath as giggles rack his body. It feels like the tight ball of yarn in his chest has started to unravel, strand by strand becoming loose. The tight string no longer strangles him. He can breath.

At some point in his fit of laughter, Namjoon had stopped panicking and relaxed in his seat. When Seokjin wipes the tears peeking out of the corners of his eyes, laughter finally subduing, he looks at Namjoon expecting him to look just as flustered as he left him.

But Namjoon’s expression is calm - no - content . A soft smile plays on his lips, forming his dimple on the side. Crinkles form on the sides of his eyes, squeezed into soft crescents. The rosiness of his cheeks is no more than a slight glow that, along with the sparkling of his eyes, lights up his entire face.

Seokjin sucks in a deep breath.

“I mean, have you seen yourself? Who wouldn’t want to kiss you?”

His eyes dip down, dropping from Namjoon’s eyes to focus on his smile-pulled lips. They’re a little chapped, yet look impossibly soft, and Seokjin can’t help but feel his breath catch in his throat when he thinks that the younger’s shy words should’ve been aimed at Namjoon himself.

“I can’t believe-“ Seokjin says, voice quieter than he expects it to come out, “-I can’t believe I’ve missed out on this.” He knows he doesn’t make sense, not surprised when Namjoon makes a small sound of confusion in the back of his throat, tilting his head to the side. “I thought you were the culprit. I avoided you.”

“Is that a bad thing for you, hyung?” Namjoon asks, looking straight at him. His voice isn’t as steady as the intensity in his eyes, a single eyebrow raised.

“I mean-“ he bites his lip, “-I like hanging out with you. It’s nice.” The tips of his ears burn red. He regrets opening his mouth, and Namjoon looks like he wants to say something. 

Fortunately or unfortunately (which one it is, Seokjin can’t decide) the waitress finally returns with their food, at the same time there’s a buzzing from Seokjin’s pocket and Namjoon’s phone dings. Seokjin takes the task of taking the food from the waitress while Namjoon checks his phone, instructing her to which plate belongs to who, and is in the middle of thanking her when Namjoon interrupts.

“Sorry, can we actually get to-go containers for all this?” Namjoon says, clapping his hands together with a small ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ before the waitress (who looks a little miffed, but rushes off anyway; Seokjin remembers to leave her a big tip).

“What’s up?” Seokjin asks. Shoves a mouthful of hashbrowns down his throat because they actually smell pretty good and he’s not about to allow Namjoon’s sudden to-go plans ruin his appetite for overly greasy fried potato bits.

“Change of plans,” Namjoon explains, finishing off the last bit of his tea. “Text from Taehyung.”

“What about?” He can’t imagine what Taehyung would be texting them about at this time of night.

“They found the first girl.”

Seokjin sits up in his seat. “Really? Is she okay?”

Namjoon’s grimaces, and Seokjin predicts the words before they come out of his mouth, though it doesn’t mean he’s not filled with dread when Namjoon confirms:

“She’s dead.”

 

***

 

The address Taehyung sent Seokjin is in the deeper part of the town, where city traffic booms the most, building stacked next to building. Even though it’s past ten at night, handfuls of people still walk the streets. 

Taehyung didn’t send exact details - just told Seokjin that they’d see the scene once they got there. It wasn’t a lie; even before the GPS announces they’ve arrived at their destination, Seokjin and Namjoon spot dozens of cop cars, sirens flashing. All the passerbyers take a moment to peek in, try to get a glimpse of the taped off scene, illuminated by a dozen portable lights set up.

Seokjin parks nearby, and it only takes a couple minutes for Namjoon and him to arrive back at the scene. Before Seokjin can whip out his phone to call Taehyung and ask where he is, he spots Hoseok waving them down, standing right outside the crime scene tape.

“Sorry to interrupt you guys,” Hoseok says with a wink. Namjoon chokes on nothing. “You don’t have to stay for long, Taehyung just wants you to take a look and see if anything stands out to you. He’s waiting for you in there, so go ahead and step in.”

Seokjin frowns. “You won’t come in with us?” He doesn’t feel very confident about stepping into a crime scene without someone official escorting them. Definitely doesn’t look like he deserves to walk into a crime scene, considering he’s still wearing his work uniform and Namjoon still has his backpack from school on (though he did ditch the bike helmet).

“Ah, I’m standing guard. Don’t worry about it.”

Next to Seokjin, Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Don’t listen to him. He just has a weak stomach and can’t stand looking at any bodies. He’s just lucky Taehyung is nice enough to let Hoseok abandon him while he goes into crime scene solo.”

“I’m not abandoning him! And don’t act like it’s weird not wanting to look at dead bodies! They’re gross! And I’d like to keep my dinner in my stomach, thank you very much.”

Seokjin wants to make fun of Hoseok but he doesn’t think he’d be much better. In fact, he’s also very interested in guarding the barrier line with Hoseok. Unfortunately, Namjoon has different ideas, and he waves down one of the cops standing just inside the yellow tape, saying that Taehyung was expecting them, and he gives their names. Then Namjoon looks back at Seokjin expectantly - and well, Seokjin is the older one, and he’s certainly not going to chicken out in front of Namjoon. So they both say bye to Hoseok and are lead to Taehyung waiting in the center of the crime scene.

“Are we even allowed to be here?” Seokjin whispers to Namjoon as they make their way over. They’re getting a few stares from the detectives working the scene, but they’re all focused on documenting the scene, either taking photos, notes or talking to passerbyers.

“Oh, definitely not. But Taehyung knows how to pull strings and get results, so they don’t question his random antics of bringing random civilians into crime scenes.”

Namjoon sounds like he’s been pulled into one of Taehyung and Hoseok’s cases before, and Seokjin definitely plans on asking about it sometime. However, he cuts story time out of the equation when he spots Taehyung squatted on the ground.

“Oh God,” Seokjin hisses when he sees the body laying down on the ground next to where Taehyung is. He can’t help but reach out to Namjoon and firmly grip onto his arm, fingers digging into the firm muscle.

Namjoon furrows his brow and looks down at Seokjin in concern. “Are you okay, hyung? If you don’t feel comfortable looking at the body, I can tell Tae and you can go wait out with Hoseok.” He adds softly, “Don’t push yourself too much. It’s not your mess, after all.”

Seokjin wants to retort that it is his mess - or at least, it potentially is. And even though he really wants to take up Namjoon’s offer, he feels responsible for at least trying to help Taehyung solve the case, both as someone dragged into the case but also as Taehyung’s friend.

Also, there is no way he’s surrendering when Namjoon is still standing strong. What would he do if Jungkook got wind of it? He’d lose all respect as an older brother, and Seokjin refuses to lose to Namjoon that easily.

“Please, I’m practically a professional at all this, you know?” He says lightly, proceeding forward. Without them even calling out to Taehyung, the young detective notices their presence and greets them with a tight smile.

“Thanks for making it out guys.” He watches Seokjin’s face worriedly. “Are you okay, Seokjin-hyung? Your face is kinda turning green-”

“I’m fine! God, would everyone stop doubting me?” He grumbles, stopping his feet. “Now tell me about-” he glances at the dead body of the young girl, and gags at the sight of her pale skin, “-victim.”

Taehyung doesn’t look convinced by Seokjin’s words, but nods and starts explaining.

“The first victim - Kwak Heiran. They found her less than an hour ago, and they predict she’s been dead for no longer than a day or so.” Sure enough, the body, while pale and stiff, doesn’t look like it’s deteriorated much. “Of course, they’ll be able to get a better idea once the coroner gets a proper look at her.”

“Cause of death?” Seokjin’s not sure why he bothers asking; the big red gash on the side of her head, coating her dark brown hair with dried blood, gives a pretty big hint.

“Blunt force trauma. Probably. From the looks of it, she was malnourished at the time of death. Again, we’ll get a better idea once we get her back for the coroner to take a closer look at,” Taehyung patiently explains, and then points to the remarkable amount of scratches and bruises on her arm, especially around her wrists. “From what I can guess, she’s been tied up for awhile, but there doesn’t seem to be any extensive abuse.” Under his breath, Seokjin can barely hear Taehyung murmur, “or at least, I hope not.”

Namjoon must see the way Seokjin becomes even more uneasy at Taehyung’s words, and Seokjin can’t help but lean back against the arm Namjoon slings across his shoulders. “I suppose you didn’t find anything to help link the body to a culprit?”

Taehyung shakes his head. “Nothing so far. I’ve taken my notes and photos of anything laying around, but it’s hard to tell what could belong to the culprit, if anything, with the amount of crap these allies have. I’m not surprised the culprit decided to drop the body off here - anyone has access to these areas, and enough riff raff goes on that people don’t look twice at suspicious actions.” He looks up at Seokjin. “But I was hoping you could take a look around anyway? See if you spot anything that reminds you of the stalker, or maybe something that connects the crime scene to the store.” Then he looks over at Namjoon. “And you. You went to school with her. See if you spot anything fishy. I’m gonna go talk to the other detectives while you do that, and then we’ll wrap things up for the night.”

Seokjin and Namjoon do as they're told, but they don’t move from each other’s sides, in an unspoken agreement. They don’t necessarily hold hands, but their fingers continuously brush against each other as they walk around.

It’s hard to see in the dark though, even with all the lights propped up and the heavy duty flashlight one of the crime scene techs handed Namjoon. Plus it’s later than Seokjin wants to be up and about, and it’s hard to focus on finding clues when his eyes keep drooping closed. The only thing that allows him to keep pushing forward is the ghastly image of Kwak Heiran’s blank, bloodied expression burned into his mind. There’s two other girls out there, and refuses to let them end up the same. He can’t. 

But even after thirty minutes of looking around, carefully examining every nook and cranny of the dark alleyway, Namjoon and Seokjin come up with nothing, their search only interrupted by Taehyung telling them it’s time to close up the scene and go home. Seokjin blinks, completely unaware of the fact that indeed, all the other detectives on the crime scene are starting to head out or clean up. 

They end up at the edge of the crime scene, clearing the way as the body is loaded onto a gurney. It’s a careful process, doing their best not to disturb the state of the body too much, and they cover her up with a tarp. It almost feels inhumane, the way they cover her up like a specimen, and Seokjin feels horrible for feeling relieved to not see her pale face any longer.

“So they lock her up for a month, only to kill her?” One of the detectives on scene says with a sigh. They look even younger than Seokjin, just as horrified as they carry the girl’s body away on the gurney, unable to peel their eyes away. “God, who could do such a thing?”

As Seokjin watches the body disappear into the ambulance to be transported to the coroner’s office, he can’t help but wonder the same thing. It’s the million dollar question, and while it feels like they’re no closer to figuring it out, they have one new body on their hands.

Multiple suspects. The stalker. Jimin’s father. Anybody at the nightclub. Maybe other people they haven’t considered yet.

Two girls still possibly alive. Song Jaehwa and Jang Soojin. Where they are and if they’re alive, how they’re being held, nobody knows.

One culprit. It’s been over a month, and they still have no idea.

One thing’s for sure, Seokjin thinks as he watches the detectives slowly close the crime scene up, leaving people to clean up any already documented evidence. 

They’re running out of time.

Chapter Text

Seokjin isn’t the type of person who likes rushing. Unlike Yoongi, he wakes up at an appropriate hour of the morning so he has enough time to leisurely prepare himself for the day. Of course, he has days where he’ll sleep through his alarm clock, or the muscles of his body refuse to assist him in getting out of bed, and he has to rush out of the house and start his busy day without any time to focus on anything besides getting out the door in time.

Today’s not one of those days, but as Seokjin adjusts his tie for the fifth time in the last minute, his reflection staring mockingly back at him as the knot of the tie continues to look just slightly off, Seokjin wishes he didn’t have so much time to get lost in the thoughts of his head.

It’s not the tie that’s giving him issues - no, he’s tied enough ties between him and Yoongi (who still struggles with anything that isn’t a clip-on) that he could dress himself with his eyes closed. But the tie is something physical that his fingers can fumble with, try to fix. 

Only a few days have passed since the discovery of the first missing girl’s body, and Seokjin would be lying if he said he’s let it slip to the back of his mind. It’s done anything but slip his mind, the image of the deceased paired along with a timer in his head that ticks and tocks away, constantly reminding him that they’re on a time limit. They don’t have time to wait around for another clue.

Unfortunately, life isn’t as easy as Seokjin would like it to be. Ideally, he could focus all his attention on helping Taehyung solve the case. But not only is he ill-equipped and basically useless for helping Taehyung and Hoseok out, life hasn’t given Seokjin a moment to relax on either end.

“You’re gonna wear out the threads of the tie if you keep messing around with it like that,” Yoongi says, popping up behind Seokjin. Which makes sense, considering it is Yoongi’s room, and Yoongi’s tie. Seokjin has a mirror in his own bedroom, and certainly owns his own ties, but Yoongi’s mirror is slightly bigger than his own, and he’s already gone through all his own ties, tried them on, before throwing them onto the bed in rejection.

Yoongi is half asleep, standing behind Seokjin. He worked at Bulletproof the night before, which means the fact that he’s already up despite it being before noon is impressive. His pink hair stands in multiple directions, and when he goes to rub the sleep out of his eyes, his fist is covered in the long sleeves of his nightshirt.

“Does it look okay?” Seokjin asks, twisting and turning his body in order to see the tie from multiple angles. Surprisingly, while Seokjin considers himself to be the one more inclined towards brighter colored fabrics, Yoongi’s selection of ties has more variety than the multitude of dark shades Seokjin owns himself. He quite likes the lavender color tie he’s borrowing from Yoongi, the color drawing him in for reasons unknown. 

“Hyung, you could wear a paper bag and still look okay,” Yoongi says with a yawn, falling back on his bed. His face is half buried in his pillow when he says, “I don’t know why you’re stressing out about it so much, anyway. Last year we just wore the company uniform. Why change it up?”

Seokjin glares at Yoongi flopped on the bed. “Because unlike last year, my partner in crime works part time as a stripper and can’t actually attend.” Not that it mattered; Seokjin preferred to have Yoongi at the store while he was gone anyway. The only reason Yoongi was dragged along to the event last year was the fact that it had happened later in the evening after SUGA Cakes had already closed for the day.

“Yeah, about that hyung, I think I might drop out of the cupcake business. It turns out I make hella tips dancing the poles,” Yoongi jokes - or at least, Seokjin hopes he’s joking, though he has noticed Yoongi has had more cash on him recently. When Seokjin doesn’t laugh, Yoongi rolls onto his back so that he’s facing the ceiling. “Anyway, it’s not like you’re going alone. Just have him wear the uniform too.”

“I don’t have any extra shirts to lend-”

“Nonsense,” Yoongi says, shaking his head. “He could just borrow one of your shirts, it’s not like you don’t have extra.”

“Well, maybe I just felt like dressing up extra this time. What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong is that you’ve spent the last hour trying to pick out a tie, and we both know that you hate them.” It’s not a lie; while Seokjin is no stranger to dressing up, he’s never gotten used to the feeling of a tie restricting him around his neck. “I don’t understand why you guys don’t just wear the damn store t-shirts like always, unless-” Yoong sits up, propped up on his elbows. Flashes Seokjin his best shit-eating grin, teeth fully exposed. “Oh, I see.”

“See what?” Yoongi’s smile knocks Seokjin off-guard. It’s always safe to bet that a smile like that means Yoongi is up to no good. Plus, any smile of Yoongi’s is enough to remind Seokjin how adorable his best friend is, and his fingers itch to pinch Yoongi’s cheeks. 

Yoongi snorts. “You wanna wear a suit so that he’ll have to wear a suit - not that I can blame you, I bet it’ll make his legs look extra long and-”

Their conversation comes to an end when Seokjin decides it’s time to rest his weary legs - and sits on Yoongi. The younger isn’t capable of fighting back, especially when Seokjin whips out his Very Dangerous Tickling Hands and Yoongi becomes a giggling mess underneath him, begging for mercy.

Seokjin doesn’t let up until Yoongi threatens to pee himself - to which he promptly responds he’s not into that sort of thing - and then stands because it’s time to go, and he doesn’t want to be late.

 

***

 

Seokjin finds out with a loud, internal groan that a suit does, in fact, make Namjoon’s legs look extra long.

The decision to take Namjoon along with him despite the excursion being business related had actually been Jimin’s idea. The original plan was for Seokjin to go by himself, considering the party takes place on a Sunday, and it’s definitely too busy at SUGA Cakes for there not to be a baker and a cashier present. Of course, now that Jimin works at the store, Seokjin tried to schedule the ex-stripper to take the shift and force Jungkook to come along with him. Unfortunately, Jimin has a hair appointment, and Jungkook’s covering part of his shift, making both of Seokjin’s cashiers unavailable to join him.

It had been Seokjin’s mistake, mentioning how ‘tragic’ it would be for him to attend by himself (not that he actually cared, it was nothing out of the normal) in Jimin’s presence. It had been the time of day where Jimin and Jungkook switched off, and Seokjin had jokingly asked Jungkook if he wanted to join him for the event and been quickly rejected, leading to Seokjin throwing his hand dramatically over his chest and claiming heartbreak.

“If you’ll be so lonely, why don’t you just bring Namjoon-hyung?” Jimin had suggested coyly, not bothering to hide his wink. In the last few days, everyone had gotten on board with the Seokjin Now Knows Namjoon Likes Him Boat (“ fucking finally ”, as Jimin said) and were perfectly fine with teasing him about it.

“I won’t be lonely,” Seokjin grumbled, but his mind was already wandering, wondering if there was a reason why he needed Namjoon to join him. It would be nice to have an extra pair of friendly hands help move stuff around, and while Seokjin was more than capable of making friends on the spot, the reality of the situation was that most people at the party were going to be significantly older than him, so it wouldn’t be bad to have a familiar face around to keep him entertained throughout the event.

At the end of the day, Seokjin had sent Namjoon an invitation to join him, not expecting the younger to have any interest in the social schmoozing event. He had been surprised to see Namjoon’s positive response, a quick ‘ I’d love to, hyung .’ Of course, it had turned slightly sour when it was followed by, ‘chances are the stalker will be watching you since it’s a pretty public event, right? so it’ll be good if I’m seen with you ’. The last thing Seokjin wanted to worry about with such a big event coming up was the stalker, but he knew Namjoon was right in bringing it up; he needed to stay vigilant.

So Seokjin stands at the front door of Namjoon’s apartment complex, only knocking twice before a quick “I’m coming!” is shouted from inside, and a moment later the door is swung open, revealing a flushed Namjoon.

“Hey,” Namjoon says softly, unsubtly looking Seokjin’s attire up and down. “You look good,” he adds. The way the words fall out of his mouth make Seokjin wonder if he meant to say it out loud.

Seokjin is the type of person to get easily distracted, so it’s no surprise when he finds the rest of the world becoming a blur as he looks Namjoon up and down, taking in his appearance. So far, he’s seen a couple of looks on Namjoon, ranging from what he wears to school everyday to a quick glimpse at his clubwear. There hasn’t been any reason for Seokjin to see Namjoon dressed up formally, which Seokjin quickly realizes should be a terrible crime. Because Namjoon with his forehead exposed, purple hair slicked back, in formal attire is something. And his legs. His damned legs. Had they always been so damn long?

It’s his turn to compliment Namjoon back, Seokjin thinks belatedly as Namjoon stands silently, bouncing his weight back and forth between his feet. Namjoon’s eyes switch back and forth between looking at the ground and peaking up at Seokjin, and yep , he’s definitely waiting for Seokjin to compliment him back. Which Seokjin definitely should, right? 

“Thanks, I always look good,” Seokjin splurts, and Namjoon’s eyes go wide and he knows he’s made a mistake. Except maybe he hasn’t, because a moment later Namjoon lets out an amused chuckle, covering his small smile with his fist.

“Yeah, yeah you do,” Namjoon confirms with a small nod, and oh . That’s not the type of reaction he’d expect out of Namjoon, who’s so far only showed his feelings between shy cups of coffee and a few other blubbering confessions that Seokjin has practically had to drag out of him. It’s enough to take Seokjin off-guard, the genuine smile Namjoon shoots him, and he places his hand gently over his heart, feeling it beat rapidly underneath. 

“C’mon, let’s get going,” Seokjin chokes out finally, turning around so he can hide his flushed expression. “We can’t be late, I have some last minute things to check over.”

They head out to the car, Namjoon falling seamlessly next to Seokjin in the passenger seat. Like he belongs there. Once again, he has to change the seat placement, pushing the seat backwards to allow the space for his legs that Yoongi didn’t need when he rode in the car last.

“So one more time, can you explain exactly what the event is?” Namjoon asks, fiddling with the fabric of his pants, pinching it between his fingers. “I mean, what am I supposed to do to help you today?”

Five years ago, barely months after Seokjin and Yoongi had graduated high school, SUGA Cakes opened its doors to the public. A shock, really, how quickly they managed to gather the money to open up a shop - after all, ten-thousand dollar commercial ovens didn’t pop out of nowhere. Seokjin and Yoongi reluctantly became familiar with the idea of loans and the fear of never paying them off. They accepted some money from the bank, but they quickly turned to looking for investors to throw money at their dream.

Seokjin still remembers the exact time and day when his phone started ringing, an unknown number calling him. Yoongi had been napping next to him, drooling on the couch. It had been a few weeks before high school graduation, and while Yoongi had been spending his time studying for finals at night, Seokjin had accidentally fallen asleep too early and was forced to study directly after class.

The phone rang, and Seokjin, too tired to really consider rejecting the call from the unknown number, picked up. And that’s how he managed to get on the phone with a man named Sejin from a company called BigHit.

Long story short - Seokjin got more than a deal, he got the deal, money from Bighit flowing into his business freely, which was the only reason why two freshly graduated high school kids could open a cupcake shop. In return, Bighit got a cut in SUGA Cakes’ profits, almost nothing compared to what they invested - Sejin’s reasoning being that it’d be worth it as long as SUGA Cakes provided catering services for the company’s annual barbeque.

Seokjin’s never been sure exactly what the party is for, but he does know that Bighit throws a party every year, and every year SUGA Cakes bakes cupcakes for them. Of course, Seokjin could always just drop the cupcakes off and leave, but he personally prefers to be the one introducing his cupcakes to the world.

Plus, it’s a great opportunity to pass out business cards to people with deep pockets similar to BigHit. 

“All you need to do is pass out business cards, and if someone asks you what flavor a cupcake is because they refuse to read the signs I have out - yes, they do that, please don’t ask me why - then tell them. I’ll tell you which cupcake is which when we get there, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it, there’s only three different flavors,” Seokjin says. He racks his brain to see if there’s anything else Namjoon can help do - not that it’s a very difficult job, and just as Seokjin is wondering why he brought Namjoon along with him in the first place, he can’t help but remember - “And just… stay close . If the stalker is nearby, you know?”

The rest of the car ride is silent, their secret mission clouding Seokjin’s mind, and probably Namjoon’s as well. Just like it plagued Seokjin’s mind this morning, it feels like finding out the identity of the stalker is more dire than ever. If the stalker is responsible for the feeling Jungkook’s been having of being followed, there’s no telling what to expect from the stalker, if their actions will become any more aggressive than passive following. If the stalker is responsible for the missing girls, responsible for Kwak Heiran’s dead body showing up in an alleyway - then the time to get them to reveal themselves is now .

Once they arrive and Seokjin parks the car, they both hop out, their expressions sullen. There’s nothing to grab from the car except Seokjin’s bag full of business cards, and Namjoon already has the pink bag slung over his shoulder. 

It looks cute on him, Seokjin thinks, and without taking his thoughts much further than that, he grabs Namjoon’s hand and well - doesn’t let go.

When Namjoon gives him a strange look, he freezes. Then he immediately recovers, laughing humorlessly, explaining. “We’re trying to convince the stalker you’re a threat, right? Then we should try looking…” He swallows, feeling his throat bob, “ Closer , right?”

Namjoon nods, looking strangled. “Yeah. Ok. That sounds good. Yeah. Closer . I can do that. Chill.” 

All of the cupcakes have already been delivered to the event, Seokjin’s car being way too small to handle the giant order. In fact, the mass quantity of cupcakes requested for the event was so big that none of the cupcakes had actually been prepared at SUGA Cakes; the store was too small to handle an order of that size in that short amount of time. The day before, Seokjin had spent all day in the expensive, massive personal kitchen of the CEO of BigHit, with the assistance of Yoongi and a hired staff of kitchen helpers to complete the order.

“What’s with all the undercover equipment?” Namjoon whispers into Seokjin’s ear, leaning close. It’s enough to get Seokjin distracted from the original question, but he regains focus when Namjoon points at all the tall tents set up in the venue, seemingly out of place on the sunny day.

“It’s supposed to rain later,” Seokjin explains, remembering when he looked at the weather forecast. Hopefully the rain wouldn’t come early - the humid weather wasn’t good for the cupcakes, and rain wouldn’t help their longevity. He’s hoping guests will take home any leftovers - he’ll make sure to pass out business cards - as everyone present is upper-class citizens who could easily dump money on Seokjin’s tiny cupcake store.

Seokjin recognizes the table along with stacks on containers with the cupcakes, pulling Namjoon with him. He doesn’t comment on how naturally Namjoon follows next to him, their hands still linked together.

Because they’re the first people on the scene to help set up the cupcakes, the only other people present are the staff, which makes it easy to find the day’s party host, dressed more elegantly than everyone else surrounding him.

“Oh, I’m glad to see you were able to make it today,” Sejin greets them with a short wave. “No Yoongi today?”

Seokjin shakes his head. “Unfortunately, I have a shop to run, so I think it’s in both of our best interests if Yoongi stays behind,” he says with a laugh. “But he says he’s sad he couldn’t make it. Says you’ll have to take him to a baseball game sometime so you guys can catch up.”

Sejin snorts good-naturedly, shaking his head. “Sometimes I think Yoongi only sees me as a walking wallet,” he sighs, throwing a hand over his heart. Of course, Seokjin knows it's not anything more than a joke - too many years of Yoongi and Seokjin doing business with Sejin for there to be anything but a positive relationship between the three men. 

They both laugh, and the conversation is cut off when someone starts calling for Sejin, and he’s whisked away. Quickly following, Seokjin starts directing his attention towards the cupcakes, grateful the other staff have already set up the tables. Each table has a different colored tablecloth on it -  a total of three, in black, white and gold - and a sign for each different cupcake flavor on it.

“It’s a pretty standard fare, nothing too out of the ordinary,” Seokjin explains and he starts to unpack the cupcakes. Namjoon follows his lead, quickly getting the memo on the cupcake arrangement. “What I’m unloading right now are what we call the Perfectly Salty cupcake, which is just a chocolate cupcake with salted caramel frosting and a light salt dusting.” The wrapper is different than the one they sell in store, changed to a shiny gold to match the theme of the party. 

“And what is this one?” Namjoon asks, holding up the cupcake he’s unloading. He stares at it, tilting it in his hand to get a better look at it. “Vanilla?” 

Snicker my Doodle . Yeah, Yoongi and I might’ve been a little drunk when we named it, but it seemed pretty funny at the time. As the name suggests, it’s Snickerdoodle flavor. Subtle cinnamon flavor with a vanilla buttercream frosting.” Seokjin watches Namjoon put the cupcake down, and he gestures to the final section of cupcakes that they haven’t opened yet. “Then the last one is lemon, which I chose to go with because quite frankly, Yoongi’s lemon cupcake recipe is, like, the only reason I’m friends with him. I mean, yeah his personality is cool and all, I guess, but I’m pretty sure his best trait is his lemon cupcakes.”

Namjoon laughs. “Hyung, I don’t think lemon-”

Before Namjoon can finish his sentence, Seokjin shushes him. It gets an immediate reaction from Namjoon, who looks more confused than anything, wide eyes following Seokjin’s movements as the cupcake baker reaches for one of the containers and opens it, pulling out a bright yellow cupcake.

Seokjin peels the white wrapper off the cupcake and proceeds to shove the cupcake in Namjoon’s face. A bit of frosting smeers on his nose. “Come on, taste this and then try telling me you wouldn’t sell a little bit of your soul to take a second bite.”

The predicament is that Seokjin knows how embarassing of a position he’s put them in. However, he’s too stubborn to back away, and Namjoon is too reeled in by the temptation of tasting the cupcake that either he doesn’t realize Seokjin is feeding him or he just doesn’t care. 

To Seokjin’s demise, Namjoon doesn’t complain about the cupcake shoved in his face. Instead, he lifts his hand up, and rather than just taking the cupcake from Seokjin, he wraps his fingers around Seokjin’s wrist, holding it in place as he takes a bite from the cupcake.

“Well?” Seokjin asks, resisting the urge to continue letting Namjoon hold onto him. He pulls his hand away, taking the cupcake with him. Takes a bite of it. Yup. Definitely Yoongi’s best trait. “Ready to sell your soul for a second bite?”

“Sorry, I already sold my soul for university, so maybe next time?”

Seokjin lets out a bark of laughter, patting Namjoon’s shoulder sympathetically. “Damn it, we’ll just get you next time around,” he says before promptly shoving the rest of the cupcake in his mouth. It takes natural skill paired with years worth of practice to not choke when he starts laughing at Namjoon’s horrified expression.

“C’mon, if we finish setting everything up early, we can go steal food before all the guests start arriving.”

The rest of the set up goes well, with a total of only three cupcakes losing their lives in the process. Seokjin and Namjoon both manage to accidentally drop one, and the third one… Well, Seokjin actually drops that one too, but he’s pretty set on not dropping more than Namjoon, so he picks it up and throws it in the trash before Namjoon can see.

They manage to finish everything early, and Seokjin takes action on his promise to raid the dining area. It’s the perfect amount of time to eat before the guests start showing up and Namjoon and Seokjin have to go back. Many of the guests that flood the outdoor venue are returners, and Seokjin even recognizes a few faces. Most guests arrive in pairs, making their way to the center of the venue where a good amount of space has been marked off. On one side is the long buffet line, with SUGA Cakes’ table setup only a little bit to the side. Just enough space that the line from the buffet line doesn’t cause traffic to intersect with the gathering of people for cupcakes, but still close enough so one doesn’t have to take a hike to get dessert after their meal.

The other side of the venue has the DJ and their booth set up, which admittedly seems a little out of place at such a posh event. Seokjin’s pretty sure they had a live band perform last year. There seems to be another small spot set aside, so Seokjin figures they’ll show up later. For now, he enjoys whatever tunes the DJ decides to put on, everything slightly more upbeat than what he’d expect at a party where most people are at least in their forties. Then again, there are some people barely older than Seokjin present, and he supposes old people can appreciate good bops too. 

Seokjin certainly appreciates the good music, subtly dancing along with it as he introduces guests to his cupcakes. Showers in their praise. Tries to con one of them into going over to the bar and grabbing him a drink. 

(He’s pretty sure the lady would’ve done it for him had Namjoon not pulled Seokjin gently to the side, reminding him that Namjoon, “one licenseless bitch”, would not be able to drive them home if Seokjin drank.)

“Are you sure you didn’t drink?” Namjoon asks about an hour into handing out business cards. Seokjin has to say he’s impressed by Namjoon’s performance, surprised by how smoothly Namjoon seems to interact with the guests, even the trickier of ones. Definitely different from the Namjoon who can’t seem to even get through an entire conversation with Seokjin without finding some reason to turn bright red.

“Namjoon I’ve been by your side-” another guest approaches, and Seokjin quickly hands out a business card. “Hello! I’m Seokjin, owner of SUGA Cakes! Today I have a variety of cupcakes to present to you. Could I interest you in trying an absolutely delectable, flavor-rich salted caramel chocolate cupcake? Perhaps our light and fluffy snickerdoodle themed cupcake, or my personal favorite, a tangy lemon cupcake paired with white chocolate to give it the perfect amount of smoothness?” The gentlemen blinks, and points at the chocolate cupcakes, where Seokjin happily gives him one before sending him off with a reminder of their store location and hours.Then he turns back to Namjoon, “- this entire hour . When do you think I had time to sneak a drink?”

Namjoon shrugs. “I dunno, maybe you have a secret flask hiding in your pocket. My point is that no one sober dances that poorly.”

Seokjin gasps, though he’s very aware that the way he rocks back and forth between his feet combined with the awkward swaying of his arms is no where close to quality dancing. “Look! That’s just because I’m not trying! You wouldn’t be able to handle me at my top dancing potential!”

“Hyung, both your arms and feet are moving at different tempos, and neither of them match up to the beat of the song.”

“Could you do any better?” Seokjin demands with a huff, crossing his arms over his chest. Narrows his eyes at Namjoon. “I don’t see you busting out any moves either.”

Namjoon coughs into a fist. “Um, well, I just don’t think this is the right environment to suddenly start dancing, I mean, we are in the middle of handing out business cards and-”

But Namjoon’s sentence becomes lost in the air when Seokjin grabs Namjoon by the hand and starts tugging him away from the tables, leading him further into the center of the venue, closer to the DJ booth, where a good amount of guests are. Most of them are just giggling with wine glasses in hand, but a fair amount of them also have given into the beat being pumped out of the speakers, dancing along.

“Okay hot-shot, is this the right environment for you now?” Seokjin teases, poking Namjoon’s chest. 

Much to Seokjin’s delight, Namjoon isn’t a much better dancer than he is, but that’s what makes it just that much more addicting to join Namjoon’s awkward leg and arm flapping. Seokjin’s aware that some of the guests are looking their direction, certainly judging their interpretation of the song’s rhythm. But he’s drunk - not on the wine that he’s been eyeballing for the past hour but on the giggles that leave Namjoon’s mouth as they both wiggle their bodies, attempting to find unity with the music. It’s all too much, his stomach hurting with the laughter that escapes him, competing with Namjoon to create an even wackier dance move. 

Namjoon is in the middle of an abstract interpretation of the robot when Seokjin’s laughter becomes too much, and his head comes crashing against Namjoon’s chest as he bends over, trying to limit his giggles. Like it’s the most natural thing in the world, Namjoon’s hands find Seokjin’s waist, long fingers fluttering at his sides. 

And as it happens to be, fate is watching them (more specifically, the DJ) because the music, which has kept an upbeat tempo the entire party, suddenly slows down, a soft ballad playing through the speakers.

“Ah man, I was just about to impress you with my unique rendition of the moonwalk,” Seokjin says, voice slightly muffled with his forehead pressed against Namjoon’s chest. “But that’s probably for the best. I don’t think you would’ve been able to handle it.”

“Yeah, probably not,” Namjoon says, laughing quietly. Seokjin can feel the vibrations of his chest. “You’re just really too cool for me, hyung.”

They’re both silent, and Seokjin takes the opportunity to take his arms, currently loosely hanging at his sides, and slowly snake them around Namjoon’s neck. There’s still an arm’s length of distance between them, just enough that Seokjin can’t help but look at Namjoon’s face, entire expression lit up with a smile. With his hands so close to Namjoon’s face, Seokjin doesn’t even try to resist the urge and momentarily reach his hands up to Namjoon’s cheeks, pressing a finger into the indent of each dimple.

“Hey, that’s my face,” Namjoon murmurs, removing his hands from Seokjin’s waist to place them on top of Seokjin’s hand. The warmth of Namjoon’s hands cover Seokjin’s for what feels like forever, the two of them just staring at each other's eyes. Seokjin tries to read Namjoon’s expression, wonders what he’s thinking - but Seokjin doesn’t even know what he’s thinking himself, standing so close to Namjoon. Both of their bodies gently sway to the music, not necessarily together, but enough that Seokjin feels comfortable lowering his hands from Namjoon’s face, feeling Namjoon’s hands drop along with his. Just as Namjoon goes to retract his hands back to himself, Seokjin snags them, interlacing their fingers.

“C’mon Namjoonie ,” he says, gently tugging their interlocked hands. “Won’t you dance with me?”

There’s no reason for Namjoon to verbally answer, not when he happily squeezes Seokjin’s hands back. Seokjin can’t remember the last time he slow danced with someone, and he certainly can’t remember the proper technique. He just steps his feet in some attempt to follow the music, and hopes he doesn’t step on Namjoon’s feet. Allows their arms to swing freely, unable to help the bubble of laughter that escapes his lips when he thinks about how awkward they must both look. When Namjoon steps on his foot, he’s not even mad - mostly because he did the same a few seconds earlier - but also because the small “ whoops ” that Namjoon blurts is too adorable to bother worrying about anything else.

A good handful of couples have joined them in the center, and Seokjin takes a quick glance at them. He wonders if it’d be more proper if he copied the way they’re all dancing, with hands placed on shoulders and waists, but the only thing that really catches his interest is one of the pairs twirls their partner, and he immediately turns back to Namjoon.

“Hey,” he whispers, not wanting to break the mood the music has created. “Let me spin you.”

Namjoon looks confused, but once he takes a quick glance at the other pairs dancing, he nods in understanding. “Can you even do it? Doesn’t the person doing the spinning have to be the taller one?”

Seokjin shakes his head. “Nonsense. I’ll just stand on my tip toes and you can just squat down and it’ll all work out. You’re not even that much taller than me anyway.”

“Okay, but if I hit my head on your arm, I’m blaming you.”

Namjoon, of course, does end up hitting his head, though Seokjin’s pretty sure it’s Namjoon’s fault. Seokjin just insists they need more practice, and ignoring Namjoon’s worried expression, continues to try to spin Namjoon. Around the tenth time, they perform the action smoothly, but Namjoon starts to look dizzy so Seokjin declares his spinning technique mastered and gives Namjoon a break. 

Then they’re just back to slowly dancing around, but without the arms-length distance that had originally existed. Now there’s barely any space between their chests, faces close enough that Seokjin can feel Namjoon’s breath hitting against his cheeks. It’s nice. Really nice. Enjoying the music, Namjoon’s company, the fact that Seokjin can just forget everything else except exactly what he’s experiencing in the moment.

The song comes to an end, switching back to something with heavier bass and a more upbeat tempo. Surely nothing resembling the slow pace Seokjin and Namjoon continue to step at. It can hardly be called dancing at this point; Seokjin’s feet hardly lift off the ground, more like he’s bouncing back and forth between his feet in an unidentifiable rhythm. The movements are awkward, uncoordinated, yet Seokjin feels an unexplained lightness coursing through him, like if he closes his eyes, he might just lift off the ground.

But he doesn’t close his eyes. Instead, he looks at Namjoon. Wonders if he’s wearing the same goofy grin the younger is. There’s a part of his brain screaming that he needs to process whatever he’s feeling at the moment before acting upon it, but the other part of him - the much, much stronger impulsive side of him - already has his body swaying into Namjoon’s.

He thinks Namjoon is going to meet him half-way there - what exactly there is he’s not exactly sure - but suddenly there’s a rough grip on his arms, locking him in place. He blinks. Takes in the fact that Namjoon just stopped him from - what exactly?

Then he takes in the shouting, and he whips his head around to see a group of (what he assumes to be) security guards sprinting towards their direction. He opens his mouth to ask what’s going on, but his eyes find the answer a second later: a figure running towards them as well, just barely in front of the group of security.

He’s carrying a knife.

There’s no time to comprehend the situation. Time slows down, but not for Seokjin to think the situation through, just for him to feel the panic bubble underneath his skin, for his heart to be painted with dread. The moment he tries to logic his way through the situation, time speeds up again, impossibly fast. If he blinks, he knows the situation will become out of his control.

He feels Namjoon try to take a step forward, to do God knows what, and it becomes Seokjin’s number one priority to prevent whatever dumb plan Namjoon might’ve conjured up in a blind moment of panic. He almost feels bad, taking advantage of the innocent way Namjoon still holds his hand, but it’s more than an opportunity.

With all the force he can gather, he quickly tugs Namjoon out of the way (tug being the nice word to use; in reality, he literally yeets Namjoon, too focused to see Namjoon fly into the air and land a few feet away with a painful thud to his ass on the ground. At least he’s out of the way). 

There’s not much time between that and the figure with the knife being right in front of him. There’s a brief note of how small the person seems, their face identity hidden by the grey hood pulled over their face. Which ends up being the downfall of the attacker, the slight coverage of their eyes becoming just enough of an obstacle that they only realize Namjoon’s out of the way a second too late, and they try to recall their steps and change direction when it’s obvious that their knife is going to collide with Seokjin.

Even the brief second of hesitation is all Seokjin needs; he grabs the hand with the knife with his left hand, not only eliminating any leverage the attacker would have to stab him with it, but also pulling their head down far enough that Seokjin can take his dominant arm and drive his elbow down onto their head with a forceful jab. The mystery person falls to the ground.

The security guards are on the guy the next second, Seokjin practically pushed back from his spot as the three guards pin the perpetrator to the spot they’ve fallen at, patting his body down in search of any other weapons. Seokjin leaves them to do their job for the moment, immediately turning to face Namjoon. He’s slightly surprised to find Namjoon sitting on the ground, looking worse for wear. As if someone had tossed him to the ground. Definitely not Seokjin’s fault though, right?

“You okay?” Seokjin asks as he helps Namjoon off the ground, offering his hand. Namjoon winces once he stands, brushing dirt off his rear end. Luckily it’s been dry outside, so the dirt brushes off easily rather than leaving a muddy stain.

“I think that’s supposed to be my question,” he grumbles, and Seokjin can’t help but hyperfocus on Namjoon trying to alleviate the pain from the fall by rubbing his ass. Ass. Nice. When Namjoon drops his hand to his side, Seokjin notices a small patch of dirt Namjoon didn’t quite catch, and well, he reckons he can’t just let Namjoon walk around with dirt on his ass, and he reaches out to help Namjoon out when-

“No! Don’t touch him! Don’t!”

Seokjin turns back to the guards and the attacker, who’s screaming on the ground. Demanding to be let free. Attempting to thrash out of the guards’ grip, but it’s unreasonable that he could escape. He continues to shriek, “Why! Why would you do this? Seokjin, darling, I thought that you loved me.”

It finally dawns on Seokjin; he’s staring at the author of the letters he’s been receiving, staring at the person who figured out his home address, staring at the person who’s been following Jungkook and Namjoon.

The first thing that surprises Seokjin is that he doesn’t recognize the boy at all. He expected it to be a regular at the shop, which he knows he knows by heart at this point, but he’s staring at a pained face that he doesn’t recognize.

The second thing that surprises Seokjin, the one that makes his gut twist inside of him, is the fact that he’s staring at a boy . Not even a man, but a young boy, someone who can’t even be older than Jungkook, a beginning year high schooler at the most. Now that his hood has been removed, he can properly see his face, and besides the pained expression stained with tears and anger, he can’t help but think about how normal the boy looks. Cheeks slightly chubby, in striking comparison to his thin frame. He’s probably even shorter than Yoongi. It’s hard to tell with the crazed expression he wears, but Seokjin thinks that if he made a normal face, he’d probably be a very good looking boy. Certainly not the type of person you’d expect to go crazy and resort to stalking and creepy anonymous letters.

It breaks his heart to watch, and Seokjin doesn’t reject Namjoon when he comes behind him, allowing Seokjin to rest his back against his chest. One hand finds its way to Seokjin’s side, resting around his waist.

It feels nice, but rips a violent reaction from the stalker, eyes bulged. “No, no no no, you can’t touch him, you fucking bastard, don’t touch my Seokjinnie -” he shouts, spit visibley leaving his mouth with each word. Like a dog foaming at the mouth. His glare, though not focused anywhere in particular in the first place, switches from generally Namjoon’s direction to focus in on Seokjin.

“You’re a dirty liar,” he hisses. In the background, the sound of police sirens ring, approaching the venue. “You always smiled so sweetly, but it’s all a lie, isn’t it? Happily deceiving everyone, without even batting an eye. Disgusting.”

Seokjin isn’t stupid, and knows he’s not to be held liable for any of the words coming out of the young boy’s mouth. They don’t sting, knowing they come from the mouth of someone who isn’t placed in reality, but he can’t help the furrow of his brow, and frowns. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“At the school! When you came to pick up Jungkook-ssi! You acted like you cared about all of us, but you’re a liar! Smiling when you don’t mean it like a fucking monster!”

Oh. Seokjin’s never even considered that the stalker knew him from somewhere outside of the cupcake shop. Obviously, whoever the kid is, must've figured it out pretty quickly, considering that’s where the letters were originally sent. Probably all the shameful advertising Seokjin does at the highschool coming back to bite him in the ass. 

He looks at the kid’s face again, trying to pull the face out of the mountain of memories he has of picking up Jungkook from high school, picking through the sea of faces the high school provides. His never comes up, definitely not one of the kids who ever had the courage to come talk to him. A background character, waiting in the background. Patiently. Until now.

“I’m sorry,” is nowhere close to what Seokjin’s actually thinking, but it’s the words he says anyway. Because not only is he one Polite Motherfucker, he’s trying to find some deep down sincerity in the words. If the kid really does go to school with Jungkook, then he’s just a high schooler. Who’s now going to jail for attempted assault. Seokjin knows it’s not his fault, but there’s still the faintest pang of guilt, because what if he could have prevented it? Somehow noticed the kid, properly turned him down. What if he had confronted the letters from the very beginning? No, that doesn’t make sense, it’s not like he had a return address to send a rejection back to, and-

Seokjin sighs, closing his eyes as he sees the police entering the venue. They look docile for the most part, to Seokjin’s relief, because he’d really hate to ruin BigHit’s party anymore than he already has. Having a squad of police with their firearms drawn definitely wouldn’t leave a positive impression on the guests, who already look more than horrified at the sudden turn of events.

“I’m gonna call Taehyung while the cops take your statement,” Namjoon whispers into his ear, gently squeezing his waist. A soft reassurance. “You okay with that?”

Seokjin’s eyes are still closed, but he can hear the officers escorting the shouting boy into the car. He knows he needs to give his statement, especially since he’s pretty sure the blow he delivered to the kid’s head was brain-damaging. Still, he waits a second, waiting until he can hear the car door shut, the shouting voice becoming muffled to a point where Seokjin can’t understand the words.

“Yeah, sounds good,” he responds, opening his eyes and walking out of Namjoon’s hold. “Can you call Yoongi too? I’d rather they find out first hand than from whatever news station ends up covering the story.”

“Gotcha,” Namjoon says, phone already put to his ear. Seokjin can hear the faint ringing of the phone as it dials Taehyung’s number. “If they ask tell them I’ll be over in a moment. You could probably actually just drop Taehyung’s name - they’ll know him.”

Seokjin nods, and doesn’t have to wait long before an officer approaches him, carrying a notepad and pencil. The sight reminds him of Taehyung, but at the same time, it’s not familiar at all, and the dread overcomes him as he realizes he has to deal with the consequences of everything now, even if the fault doesn’t land on him.

The cop asks him to explain the situation so he does, starting from the beginning of seeing the boy running towards him with a knife. He admits to retaliating with physical force, but if anything, the officer just seems amused. The rough part is having to explain exactly what the boy meant by the words he shouted, and it forces Seokjin to give a loose backstory of the letters and the recent stalking issues. He definitely remembers to make a jab at the fact that none of it would’ve ever escalated this far if the police would’ve just investigated from the first time he brought the letters to their attention.

Another officer joins them, asking for more details on the letters and the stalking. That’s when Seokjin starts to hesitate, because not only does he not feel like going into detail about it, he doesn’t know how much of Taehyung’s personal investigation he’s supposed to reveal. From the questions he’s been asked, the police don’t seem to have made the same connection between Seokjin’s cupcake shop and the missing persons’ case.

Luckily, Namjoon gets off the phone just as the questions get more intense, and he’s more than happy to butt in and say they’re actually waiting on Taehyung and Hoseok to show up. Once Namjoon mentions Vante Investigations, the police immediately back off, giving Namjoon and Seokjin space while they wait for the two detectives to show up.

It doesn’t take long for Taehyung and Hoseok to show up, both of them running onto the scene the moment they exit the car. As if they coordinated it, Taehyung and Hoseok manage to grab both Seokjin and Namjoon at the same time and grapple them into a giant group hug.

“I’m so glad you guys are okay!” Taehyung says, trying to squeeze the life out of Seokjin with the amount of force he puts into the embrace. “I’m so sorry we weren’t here, we should’ve been here. I should’ve known that they’d attack and-”

Hoseok is the one to calm Taehyung down, ruffling the younger detective’s hair. “C’mon Tae, don’t stress about it too much. We’ll learn from our mistake, and just be thankful that everyone’s safe,” he says.

“Besides,” Hoseok says with a laugh, “it sounds like hyung had it handled all by himself.” When Seokjin furrows his brows in confusion, Hoseok adds, “I got a brief report from the police on the drive over. Witnesses said you clocked the kid pretty hard.”

“Oh!” Taehyung shouts, eyes wide. “I heard that the perpetrator had received a blow to the head, but I thought it was one of the security guards, not Seokjin-hyung! That’s amazing!”

“That’s hot ,” Hoseok adds with a nod, and Taehyung agrees with a bark of laughter. “Hey, Namjoon, you saw it first person, right? Was it as hot as it sounds?”

Seokjin squeaks. “Hey, you can’t just ask -”

The blush he’s been holding back the entire time finally lights his face up red when Namjoon promptly nods.

 

***

 

The party venue is a hot mess to try to escape, with the combination of police vehicles and the large amount of guests making their departure. Seokjin almost feels bad that they’ve ruined BigHit’s party, but in the brief period of time Seokjin had to apologize, he had been reassured that all the chaos would make a wonderful news story and be free publicity, and had been told not to worry about it.

Both Namjoon and Seokjin were questioned by the cops, though Taehyung was able to work some magic to make sure both of their statements were brief. The rest of the information they had collected on the case was relayed by Taehyung, and the two of them were allowed free without any further questioning. 

However, while they were free from questions, they weren’t freed from the parking lot. Seokjin needed to collect all of the cupcake stands from the party, but it was still too much of a shuffle of people to try wading through the mess. He could always pick them up later, and they weren’t that expensive to begin with, so he didn’t worry about it too much. He did worry about actually getting out of the parking lot, the exit clogged up by panicked guests deciding to leave early.

So instead of heading towards the car, he grabs Namjoon by the wrist and starts pulling him in the opposite direction. He gets two confused looks: one that’s directly focused on Seokin’s hand wrapped around his wrist, the other kicking in when Namjoon realizes they’re not heading back to the car.

Seokjin decides he’ll address one of the unspoken questions. “I don’t feel like trying to navigate through parking lot traffic, so I figured we could head over to the shopping area over there and walk around while we wait? There’s a bakery over there that I’ve been wanting to try out for awhile?”

“Aren’t you full? I swear I saw you go back for seconds at the party.”

“So?”

Namjoon looks Seokjin up and down, focusing in on his face as if he’s waiting for Seokjin to say he’s joking. When the response doesn’t come, his expression becomes a mixture of impressed and horrified. “Well, I guess it’s always good to check out the competition.”

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “First off all, SUGA Cakes doesn’t have any competition,” he says, puffing his chest out. “But one of my customers said their macarons are to die for, and maybe I’ll buy a cupcake just to make myself feel better about my own.”

Namjoon snorts in response, but says okay to the plan. Seokjin drops Namjoon’s wrist and pulls out his cell phone so he can text Taehyung where they’re going in case the detective needs anything. Then they fall into step, Namjoon finding his spot next to Seokjin without missing a beat.

It’s when they exit the parking lot, the venue slowly leaving their vision, when Seokjin suddenly feels the arm freely hanging at his side be engulfed by warmth, rough calluses rubbing against his own hand.

He looks down at where Namjoon has casually taken ahold of his hands. When he glances back up at Namjoon, the younger seems completely unaware of the action, the way his long fingers intertwine with Seokjin’s and - and, well, it’s a lot for Seokjin to take in, dragging his eyes back down to their hands.

He gives Namjoon one more minute to notice before gently squeezing the younger’s hand, applying just enough pressure to make Namjoon aware of the situation. There’s a heart thumping moment where at first, Namjoon squeezes back, and oh no , it’s so endearing that Seokjin almost prays that Namjoon won’t notice, knowing he’ll retract his hand the moment he does.

Unfortunately, it’s enough to bring Namjoon into the reality of the situation, and after a second he pauses his step, halting in place. His head snaps down so that he’s staring at their hands, and his eyes widen before he snatches his hand back, leaving Seokjin’s hand feeling emptier than ever.

“Ah, I’m sorry!” Namjoon shouts, taking a step back. His hand stays retracted at his side, clenched into a fist. “I was just so used to it from the party that I-”

Namjoon looks panicked, and Seokjin is thoroughly entertained.

“Aw, do you want to hold my hand, Namjoon- ah ?” Seokjin says teasingly, jabbing Namjoon’s arm with his elbow. Laughs as Namjoon rubs his arm in pain, but the laughter halts when he realize Namjoon doesn’t wear the exasperated face he’s looking for.

The younger looks at him, dead serious. Namjoon swallows, throat bobbing. His eyes never leave Seokjin when he says simply, “Yeah. Yeah I do.”

Okay. Okay . Seokjin can deal with this. He’s a full grown adult, there’s no reason why he can’t defend himself from a direct attack against him from Namjoon - which is clearly what this is. Nothing more. Namjoon can pretend all he wants, but Seokjin knows he’s the cooler one, and with Jungkook’s voice in his head calling him a coward and squealing over how cool Namjoon is, Seokjin holds his hand back out towards Namjoon.

“Then what are you waiting for? It’s not gonna hold itself.”

Seokjin’s pretty sure neither of them look anything close to cool, considering the bright tomato red Namjoon turns and Seokjin surely matches. Seokjin’s patting himself on the back for the smooth comeback when Namjoon’s surprised expression turns into a shy smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling. 

It dawns on Seokjin what he just said, every single pore in his body spilling with embarrassment as he recognizes the implications. 

“Hey!” He huffs, shoving both hands into his pockets. “Don’t be overthinking that now-”

“-M’mn, yeah, gotcha. No problem,” Namjoon says, but his smile doesn’t disappear; his shy grin is now just hidden by his hand, the other cupping the back of his neck as he looks in the opposite direction.

With no metaphorical way to run away from the situation, Seokjin decides to take advantage of the fact that they’re outside and there’s plenty of space - he starts to run. Physically. One foot after the other, laughter bubbling out of his mouth as Namjoon starts shouting after him. But they’re both laughing moments later, and the sound of Namjoon chasing him isn’t too far behind. Seokjin makes it less than a block before Namjoon’s squeaky laugh is right in his ear, one of his arms draped across Seokjin’s shoulders.

They stop in the bakery, and Seokjin tries to convince Namjoon to pay. Which doesn’t go so well, since Namjoon is a broke college student. Except Seokjin is also all sorts of broke, even with the increase in customers since Vante Investigations gave out free advertisement. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to order one of each flavor of macaron the small shop has, choosing to pay attention to how delicious each colorful cookie looks as the cashier puts them in the box rather than the total costs when he gets rung up. 

(He also does order one chocolate cupcake, ignoring Namjoon’s eye roll).

(It’s dry, but the macarons are to die for, which is good, considering the cost was too).

“If it’s so dry, why do you keep eating it?” Namjoon asks as they walk around the area. The clouds have covered most of the sky, coloring it a dark grey color. It’s not raining quite yet, but Seokjin knows their time outside is limited.

“Namjoon, if you had been the one to pay six bucks for this dry, crumbly excuse of a cupcake, you would be eating it too.” He takes another bite, and sighs. It’s still dry. He really should throw it away.

Namjoon laughs, reaching over to snag the cupcake from Seokjin’s hand before tossing it in the nearest garbage. “There. Problem solved. No more sighing.”

“Hey! That was my cupcake! The results of my precious, hard earned money!” He slaps Namjoon’s shoulder. “You owe me six bucks!”

Another laugh. “I’ll buy you coffee the next time I see you,” he promises. His smile goes flat for a second, and he looks over at Seokjin with hopeful eyes. “If that’s okay?”

Even without the cupcake, Seokjin’s mouth suddenly feels dry. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s okay.”

Namjoon’s grin seems impossibly large for his face, and Seokjin wonders if there’s something more he can say to convey whatever he’s feeling.

The rain beats him to whatever words he could’ve mustered up in the next couple of minutes of walking. It’s not pouring, but the addition of rain to the long, action-packed day makes Seokjin realize how tired he is. And without an umbrella or proper rain jacket, the two of them hurry back to the parking lot.

(Namjoon grabs his hand again, but this time doesn’t apologize, and Seokjin doesn’t question it.)

“Ah, today was long as fuck,” Seokjin groans as he clambers into the driver seat, quickly slamming the door behind him. Namjoon follows suit. “I feel like it’s been, I dunno, five million years or something.”

“I was thinking only four million, but now that I think about it, I think you’re right. It’s definitely been five million years,” Namjoon agrees, head tilted back as he lets out a soft sigh. “But it was a pretty fun five million years. Except for that part where that kid tried to stab me with a knife and you tossed me fifty feet in the air. That part kind of sucked.”

“I didn’t toss you! Stop making things up!” Seokjin protests, using his free hand to shove Namjoon’s shoulder while his other hand buckles himself in. The younger snorts, but wears a smile anyway. It causes the same warm feeling to bloom in Seokjin’s chest as the one that’s been haunting him all day. Not panic, not stress, not anxiety. Just warmth. Comfort. Something absolutely right in the mess of wrong that Seokjin has found himself drowning in, and his lips start to form the words before he even knows what they are.

“Hey, Namjoon-ah,” Seokjin starts, hands resting on the steering wheel. He bounces his knees. “I was just thinking-” - that today was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed spending time with you. I might even -

His throat is dry, and the halted words lose their chance to exist when Seokjin’s phone starts to ring. The nerves that he didn’t realize had built up cause his hands to shake slightly when he picks up, not paying attention to the caller ID. The only person who calls him in the evening like this anyway is Yoongi.

Except it’s not Yoongi, Seokjin quickly finds out.
“Hey, is this Seokjin? It’s Jungho” Jungkook’s dad says hesitantly. “Is Jungkook with you right now?”

Seokjin’s confused for an abundant amount of reasons. Firstly, he hasn’t spoken directly to Jungkook’s father in years, and he’s surprised he even remembers the man’s voice. Then the fact that Jungkook’s dad would think Seokjin has all-knowing information about Jungkook’s whereabouts - okay, maybe that’s not so shocking. Seokjin does know where Jungkook is.

“Jungkook’s shift ended a couple of hours ago, so he should be home right now. Is he not picking up his cellphone or something?” That’s certainly not a rare habit of Jungkook, who’s the type of person to miss a phone call while playing games on his phone. “I’m about to finish up with something for work, I can swing by the apartment to tell him to call you if you want?”

“That’s the thing,” Jungkook’s dad says, sounding confused. “I just got back from my business trip this afternoon. Was supposed to make dinner with Jungkook. But he never came home. Tried calling his cell but he’s not picking up. He’s not with you?”

Seokjin frowns. Jungkook was only scheduled for a short shift at SUGA Cakes today, just enough to cover the front while Jimin went to a hair appointment. “Let me call the store, and I’ll call you back once I get an answer, okay?”

Ignoring Namjoon’s puzzled expression, Seokjin quickly dials Yoongi’s number. It doesn’t even ring more than once before Yoongi picks up. “‘Sup?’”

“Is Jungkook still at the store?” Seokjin asks, pursing his lips together. If the schedule is correct, then Jimin should be the cashier with Yoongi baking in the back. Jungkook should’ve gone home hours ago.

“No, I let him go home once Jimin got here,” Yoongi says, sounding puzzled. “Did you need him for something?”

The phone suddenly feels very heavy in Seokjin’s hand. “Did you watch him leave? Did he say anything about stopping somewhere on the way home?” 

“I made sure he put his helmet on before biking home, but he seemed to be in a hurry to get home. Said he was gonna make dinner with his dad tonight.” Yoongi pauses. “I hope he made it home in time. It was bright and sunny when he left, and I don’t think the rain started until he got home. Though I guess it’s still only sprinkling outside. Wonder how long that’ll last.”

Seokjin glances out the window at the sky. It’s lightly sprinkling, but the dark grey color of the clouds hint that something worse is sure to come.

Yoongi must sense Seokjin’s hesitation. “Is something wrong?”

“Yoongi. His dad called me. Jungkook never got home.” His voice goes up in pitch with each word. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation and he’s perfectly fine but-”

“-but I’m closing the store and calling Hoseok and Taehyung. Keep trying to call Jungkook on your way over.”

Yoongi hangs up, and Seokjin tosses his phone at Namjoon while he starts the car up. There’s still some police and guest cars littering the lot, but Seokjin barely notices them, just enough to not hit them as he pulls out of the parking lot with a screech.

“I’m assuming I’m calling Jungkook?” Namjoon asks. He must’ve heard most of Yoongi and Seokjin’s conversation. Without Seokjin’s confirmation, he takes the phone in his hand and quickly dials Jungkook, putting the phone on speaker. The sound of the phone ringing taunts Seokjin as he maneuvers through the parking lot and onto the main road.

When voicemail comes through, Seokjin curses, loudly. Lets the beep pass before leaving Jungkook a violent voice message about picking up his phone, before telling Namjoon to hang up and try again. Again. Again and again. By the fifth time the call goes to voicemail, Seokjin asks Namjoon to stop trying - it’s only mocking him at this point. 

They pull up to SUGA Cakes. Yoongi’s waiting outside for them, Jimin standing next to him on the phone. The younger of the pink-haired men looks pale, hands shaking. As Seokjin  and Namjoon get closer, he can hear Jimin’s faint voice asking, “Sorry, could you do an announcement asking if a Jeon Jungkook is present? Ah? Thank you very much-”

“He’s calling nearby stores and asking them if Jungkook’s there,” Yoongi explains, and Seokjin nods. That makes sense. Maybe Jungkook just lost track of time. Stopped at the store to pick up groceries and lost his phone and went back to find it. 

“Do you wanna take the car and search the main roads? I got the umbrellas out so some of us could search the smaller paths. Hoseok and Taehyung said they’re on their way, but also said not to wait on them. Better to start the search before it gets too dark and rainy.”

“You take the car, I know how easily you get cold,” Seokjin says, snatching both umbrellas from Yoongi. “If he wants to join, take Jimin with you. It’ll be better to have two pairs of eyes in the car since you’ll need to be focusing on driving anyway.”

He turns to Namjoon holding an umbrella out. “You okay with walking? I know it’s a little cold but-” Seokjin falters. “Of course, you only have to join us if you want to, I’m sure you’re busy and have better things to do-”

Namjoon takes the umbrella, silencing Seokjin. “There’s a biking path I take a lot in this area, I’m sure Jungkook takes it to. I’ll go check it out, call me if you find him before me okay?” Before Seokjin can protest, Namjoon heads off, jogging in the direction of what Seokjin assumes to be the bike path. 

“If I were Jungkook,” Seokjin starts, rubbing his temples, “I would know it was going to start raining. I’d want to take either the fastest way home, or a way home that was mostly undercover.”

Yoongi nods. “The fastest way home would be the main highway, which I know Jungkook tends to avoid since it’s not the safest for cyclists. But you’re right, if he was in a hurry home, he’d go that way.” He pulls his car keys out, jingling them in his hand. With a quick click, he unlocks the car, looking at Jimin. “Hey, get in the car. I can drive you home if you want?”

Jimin, who’s still on the phone with whatever store he called, narrows his eyes at Yoongi and shakes his head. Mouths, “ I’m coming with you .”

Yoongi sighs, handing Jimin the keys. “Go start the car up and turn on the heater, it’s freezing.” Jimin takes the keys and runs to the car, leaving Seokjin and Yoongi alone.

“Which direction are you gonna go? You said undercover, right? It makes me think of-”

“There’s no way completely covered, but if Jungkook went by the shopping mall on his way home, there’s a good stretch of back roads that are covered by extended roofs-”

“Then you go that way, okay?” Yoongi says. “Maybe he went that way and popped a tire or something-”

Seokjin sighs, “-and his phone just happened to be missing too? Yeah, Yoongi, that sure sounds likely-”

Suddenly, Yoongi steps forward and wraps Seokjin in a hug. Which is a bit of a struggle for Yoongi, who’s small to begin with, and then when he’s put next to Seokjin, looks impossibly even more small. But he manages to wrap his arms around Seokjin anyway, laying his hands flat on his back. Gives a soft pat.

“We’ll find him, okay? He’s just making us freak out over nothing, and when we find him, I’ll give him the biggest noogie of his life, okay?”

Seokjin nods, numbly. “ When we find him. Noogies. Yeah. Okay. I can do this.” He takes a step back from Yoongi, and pats the top of his friend’s head. Ruffles his pink hair. “Okay, call me the moment you find anything, okay?”

“Will do. Stay safe out there, okay?”

While the umbrella is useful at first, the wind starts to pick up, along with the rain, the dark grey clouds finally fulfilling their promise. Seokjin doesn’t mind a little rain, but it’s stronger than he expected, and he only prays that Yoongi’s driving safely. 

Since it’s Sunday, there’s not too many cars on the road, and there’s certainly no pedestrians or cyclists dumb enough to go out in the pouring rain. It means Seokjin walks alone down the narrow paths behind the stores, the alleyways too thin for cars to pass through.

He gets a text from Yoongi around ten minutes in, and while a spark of hope sets in his chest, it’s put out a moment later when it’s revealed to just be Yoongi telling Seokjin that Taehyung and Hoseok have arrived and that they’ve joined the search. That’s a good thing, Seokjin tells himself. Two more pairs of eyes to look for Jungkook. Two more pairs of hands to give Jungkook the ultimate beatdown when they actually do find him.

Seokjin keeps walking, holding the umbrella limp at his side as he keeps looking for Jungkook. He tries to think of what Jungkook wore today; most likely he just wore his work uniform to work. But there’s no sign of SUGA Cakes’ light pink employee shirt, no sign of Jungkook’s red bike, or the white helmet that Seokjin’s always trying to wrestle onto his head. He squints his eyes, bringing a hand up to try to shield his eyes from the rain. He doesn’t remember this heavy of rain being on the weather forecast, but he’s stuck in it now, wet bangs plastered against his forehead as the sky continues to shower him.

He’s tired, cold, and wondering what the Hell he’s even doing at the moment. The deep, twisted feeling in his stomach is heavy, but does it even make sense? Seokjin takes a moment to lean against the wall, ignoring the way the wind picks up the rain and makes any sense of cover completely useless.

He dials Taehyung. “Hey, did you guys find anything yet?” From the sound of windshield wipers working hard in the background, Hoseok and Taehyung must’ve joined Yoongi and Jimin in searching the main roads.

“No, nothing yet,” Taehyung says. “Yoongi-hyung said he was tracking the path from the store to his dad’s apartment, so Hobi-hyung and I are driving down the roads from the store to the school. Just in case.”

Seokjin nods. Yeah. Jungkook doesn’t participate in any after school activities, and he’s pretty sure none of the high schools meet on Sundays anyway. But it’s a nice thought, Jungkook forgetting a homework assignment and going back to school to get it. And then the rain came, and he decided to wait somewhere until it let up. Yeah. That’s exactly it.

“I mean, hyung, you shouldn’t worry too much,” Taehyung reassures Seokjin. “I mean, he left in the afternoon, right? It’s not like anything bad happens in the daylight. And we just wrapped up the stalker case, so it’s not like someone’s following Jungkook or something.”

Oh. There’s the horrible feeling settling in Seokjin’s gut again. He knows he needs to keep on walking, keep looking for Jungkook so he can kick his ass for all the trouble he’s caused. But Seokjin feels numb, maybe due to the rain, maybe due to something else.

“You’re right,” he says, followed by a humorless laugh. “I’m probably getting worked up over nothing. It’s just with all that’s been going on recently, you know? There’s absolutely no reason to assume that Jungkook-”

Seokjin’s voice trails off as his eyes, which have been barely focusing on the grassy hill behind all the buildings, notice something red. Of course, there’s a lot of things red out there in the world, but his feet are moving before he can even consider it, leaving the minimal cover the roofline gave and fully exposing himself to the rain.

He stumbles down the hill. It’s not extremely steep, but it’s definitely not meant to be walked down, yet Seokjin barely notices the way he trips on the way down, catching himself on his hands, dropping his phone in the process.

“Seokjin-hyung? Hyung?”

Seokjin picks his phone back up after wiping his muddy hands on his pants. “Taehyung, I - it’s-” he takes a deep breath as he walks closer to the red spot he saw earlier; it’s definitely a bike. “It’s Jungkook’s bike. Behind all the stores. Off the riding path.” He runs to the bike, confirming it’s Jungkook’s. There’s a SUGA Cakes logo sticker on the back, something Seokjin jokingly slapped on there claiming Jungkook’s job was to advertise. “Taehyung, he’s not here -”

“Maybe he went inside somewhere? Actually, I’m gonna try calling any nearby hospitals. Who knows, he could’ve hurt himself falling off the biking path and someone escorted him to the hospital and left the bike behind.”

Seokjin never thought that Jungkook being in the hospital would be a reassuring thought to him, but at that very moment, it is. Even if Jungkook’s hurt, at least Seokjin knows he’s being taken care of, knows where to go find him to take him home. 

Seokjin’s heart stops when he notices what’s next to the bike.

“His cellphone,” Seokjin whispers. “Tae, his cellphone is here. Oh god, his wallet is too, that has his ID in it. It’s right there Tae, no one would take someone to the hospital without their ID-” panic overwhelms him, a sob leaving his lips. “I can’t really tell because of the rain, but it looks like there’s some scuff marks in the grass, like a fight or something-”

“Hyung? Where are you? Tell me where you are, Hobi-hyung and I will head right over, don’t panic, just-”

“He’s gone,” Seokjin realizes with a sob, falling over on himself. His knees hit the ground with a thud, but he can barely feel the pain of the impact. He doesn’t care about the rain soaking through his clothes. Doesn’t care about the way he’s shivering, sure to catch a cold the next day. Doesn’t care. Doesn’t care. Just doesn’t care.

Doesn’t care when the next day the news report a new victim of the missing persons’ case, Jeon Jungkook’s face displayed.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Thank you for your time sir.”

Seokjin’s lead out of the interrogation room, barely nodding to the officer who escorts him out. They’re talking to him, probably words of reassurance, but it only comes out as a dull buzzing in Seokjin’s ears. He doesn’t even get a good look at their face, allowing his feet to drag on the floor as he walks out of the police station. 

The drive home is no different. Hoseok had offered to pick him up, but he had refused, not wanting to take up the detective’s time. Plus, he’s pretty sure Hoseok and Taehyung have been in and out of the police station all day, relaying whatever information they have about the missing person’s case.

Whatever information Hoseok and Taehyung have, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Seokjin had been questioned by the police for what seemed like hours, question after question leaving their mouths as they tried to paint a picture of the situation. An empty picture, because no matter how Seokjin tries to explain what’s happened, Jungkook’s not in it. He’s not in his apartment when Seokjin goes to break the news to Jungkook’s dad in person. He’s not at SUGA Cakes, begging Seokjin to save him from the scary customers. He’s not sitting next to Seokjin in the car, talking up his latest anime recommendation.

Jungkook’s dad cries when Seokjin delivers the news. When Seokjin walks into SUGA Cakes in the morning to hang up a ‘Temporarily Closed’ sign on the front door, the store feels dead. Seokjin’s used to driving in the car by himself, but the empty passenger seat screams at him the entire ride home.

The hole in Seokjin’s heart eats him alive, tears numbing dripping down his cheeks as Jungkook plagues his thoughts. 

The apartment is just as empty, Seokjin thinks as he walks in. It’s silent, which is to be expected. Yoongi was the last person to see Jungkook, which means his interrogation is a lot longer than Seokjin’s. When Seokjin was called into the police station for questioning, Yoongi was still in the apartment. But there’s a text on his phone from Yoongi, confirming that he got called into questioning not that much longer after Seokjin did. 

Seokjin sends a text back, informing Yoongi that he’s finally home, before tossing his phone to the side and collapsing on the couch. He lets his face land first, buried in the pillows that smells like the wine he spilled on them last night. His head feels stuffy, no doubt due to the late rainy night search that took place the night before.

He lets out a long, unhinged whine. There’s no one to hear him, and he doesn’t hold back on the pain infused in his voice, the cry coming from the depths of his chest. It’s been less than twenty-four hours, which technically means Jungkook can’t be officially declared missing. The only reason the police are investigating so quickly is due to the other missing persons’ case haunting the town, along with Vante Investigations sharing their revelations in the case so far, and how Seokjin might be involved.

Not that Seokjin knows how he’s tangled in the mess anymore. The first thing they did after Taehyung and Hoseok found Seokjin hunched over Jungkook’s bike, a sobbing mess, was call the police and confirm that the stalker was properly under custody during the predicted time of abduction. Because the reality of the situation is, the stalker was their best lead. Now they’re left floundering again, and Seokjin wonders what he’s supposed to do now.

That’s the part that hurts the worst, that makes the next scream into the pillow so easy to let out. He’s a mixture of scared out of his mind of what’s happening to Jungkook at this very moment, but he’s also drowning in frustration, because what can he do ? Of course, he wants to storm the world, knock down every door and wall until he finds Jungkook. But there’s only so many doors he can knock at, yet too many for him to pick where to start. 

He recalls Hoseok’s words, the brief discussion they had last night before Seokjin was forced to retire from searching for the night.

“If we go with the assumption that Jungkook’s been abducted by the same person that took the other three girls, then I think looking for a trail to follow is pointless,” Hoseok said bluntly, pushing Seokjin onto the couch when Seokjin kept standing back up, refusing to rest. He wanted - needed - to find Jungkook. “It might not sound great, but we really need to focus on finding the culprit instead. Find the motive, and track them down. 

“The motive,” Seokjin repeated quietly, leaning against Yoongi sitting next to him. Made sure not to accidentally squish Jimin, who had fallen asleep in Yoongi’s lap. Namjoon already went home for the night, something Seokjin had insisted on when Namjoon starting sneezing, telltale signs of a cold. “You think the motive will be that helpful?”

Taehyung is in the background making multiple phone calls, so it was up to Hoseok to keep explaining. “Thinking of possible motives gives us an idea of who could be a suspect. A possible motive was that someone was doing it to eliminate any competition for you they could’ve had.” Hoseok bites his lip, looking down at the ground. He gestures softly at Jimin, voice quieter. “Or maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s Jimin. All the girls were Jimin’s customers, after all. Though I guess that doesn’t explain Jungkook-”

“Jungkook’s beanie,” Seokjin blurted out,  loud enough that he can feel Yoongi jump against him, and Jimin stirs for a moment before going still again. In a quieter voice, Seokjin elaborates, “I’ve seen Jimin wear Jungkook’s beanie a couple of times. I don’t know how anyone outside of me would’ve known it was Jungkook’s hat, but-”

“-but if it’s something like a hat, then we’re looking at another case of someone doesn’t like whoever Jimin chooses to associate with,” Hoseok finished, nodding. “Taehyung’s been trying to pull some strings with Jimin’s dad to see if there’s anything fishy to find, but it’s all pretty well guarded. But that’s one lead. And then the other one-” Hoseok glanced at Yoongi. “Are you scheduled to work at Bulletproof tomorrow?”

Yoongi nodded. “You need something?”

Hoseok hummed, lips pressed together in a tight line. “I’m not sure on the exact details yet, but if someone is holding a grudge against Jimin, whether it’s a customer or employee, I want to call them out for it.” He hummed again, rubbing at his temples. “I won’t promise any plans yet, but Yoongi, definitely be on the lookout tomorrow, though I promise not to do anything crazy without telling you in advance. And Seokjin, if you could show up as well tomorrow? I want as many eyes on the floor as I can get.”

Seokjin ended up agreeing, which is why as he lays on the couch, he goes over the tentative plan Hoseok texted them earlier in the morning. It all sounds a bit crazy, but Seokjin’s past worrying about levels of crazy, far more focused on the ticking clock hands that exist in his head, ticking away at every moment. Reminding him of how long he has to wait until the night comes around and their plan at Bulletproof pops into action. Reminding him how little he has to wait until he finds Jungkook.

The ticking in his head is interrupted by his cell phone ringing, and immediately he launches himself off the couch, scrambling for the phone. Prays it’s some sort of news about Jungkook. Or maybe it’s at least Yoongi, calling to tell Seokjin he’s on his way home to come keep Seokjin company.

So he frowns when he sees Namjoon’s caller ID pop up on the phone, hesitantly picking up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, hyung, are you home right now?” Namjoon’s voice sounds deeper, more gravelly than usual, and Seokjin hopes he didn’t get sick because of the rain. 

Seokjin chooses not to sit back down on the couch, instead opting to walk over to the nearest wall and prop himself up against it. Act like he has to energy to put into standing, pretend he’s not a pathetic mess. There’s nothing useful in moping, he reminds himself, gently slapping his cheek with his free hand before responding, “Yeah, I am. You here to keep me company or something?” He asks, trying to keep his tone light. It doesn’t quite come out as the teasing voice he was hoping for, instead sounding meek. Almost like he wants Namjoon to be next to him right now.

“Actually, I’m right outside your apartment. Let me in?”

Seokjin glances at the front door, and sure enough, the doorbell goes off, the sound of the dull chime audible from both the actual front door and the phone, where Namjoon’s speaker has picked up on the sound as well.

He doesn’t bother responding before hanging up, ignoring the way his footsteps are hurried as he rushes to the front door. There’s probably a safety measure he’s forget when he swings the front door open without looking through the peephole to double-check it’s actually Namjoon outside the door, but it slips his mind.

Luckily, it is Namjoon standing outside the apartment door, looking devastatingly small in a grey hoodie that looks a size too big for him, hood up and bangs down. His hands are shoved in his pockets, back hunched over. A backpack is slung unevenly over his shoulder. When the door is open all the way and Namjoon spots Seokjin, he begins to break into a smile - but he immediately frowns.

“Did you sleep at all last night?”

“Kim Namjoon, I hope you didn’t decide to visit me just to tell me how horrible I look,” Seokjin grumbles, though he can’t help but reach up and gently trace his fingers over the dark bags under his eyes as he lets Namjoon into the apartment, closing the door behind them.

“No, I decided to visit because I wanted to make sure you were doing okay,” Namjoon says softly, pushing past Seokjin’s joke, though he doesn’t look annoyed at Seokjin’s attempt to draw attention away from how horrible he feels. In fact, now that Namjoon’s here, it feels even worse - not because Seokjin doesn’t enjoy Namjoon’s company, but because it reminds Seokjin how real the terrible feeling in his stomach is. Reminds him how his heart is filled with dread, yet completely empty at the same time, drained from the tears that kept Seokjin up all night.

The same tears start to well in Seokjin’s eyes, and when he tries to blink them back they choose to fall down his cheeks instead. He doesn’t bother wiping the tears away, knowing they’ll just be replaced with more of the same. Instead, he tries to focus on keeping his voice steady as he turns his back to Namjoon, hoping he doesn’t look too pathetic as he manages, “Well, thanks for coming over. I know Hoseok told us to wait to do anything until tonight but-” his voice cracks, “-I just can’t sit here and do nothing while Ju-” the sob easily escapes his mouth, “-while Jungkook is missing .” Seokjin manages to keep his mouth closed, silencing the sob, but it causes a tremor to travel down his body. He crosses his arms over his chest, hugging himself, but it doesn’t help him feel any less empty.

Hyung ,” Namjoon calls softly, voice wet. There’s the sound of Namjoon taking a step towards him, followed by a hand on his shoulder, slowly turning him around. There’s no hiding from Namjoon’s gaze, no missing the confidence Namjoon is desperately trying to paint onto his face. “Tae and Hoseok will find him. I promise my life on it, that they will.”

I promise my life on it .

Seokjin knows in an instant exactly what he’d sacrifice, what measures he’d take, how far he would go in order to get Jungkook back safe and sound. But the moment he hears the words from Namjoon’s lips, he can’t help but grab Namjoon by his jacket, ignoring the shocked sound that leaves the younger’s mouth. Instead, he focuses on wrapping his arms around Namjoon, burying his face into the crook of Namjoon’s neck. Tries to think about his breathing, allowing his hands to fist the back of Namjoon’s jacket. The fabric is soft underneath his fingers.

One of Namjoon’s hands rests on his hip, the other one finding his back and rubbing small circles. They don’t speak for a moment, which means Seokjin gets to even out his breathing while he listens to Namjoon’s breathes, feels each puff of air hit the back of his neck.

Without a word, Namjoon maneuvers both of them over to couch, and at first Seokjin thinks Namjoon’s just tired of standing, but suddenly he’s falling until he lays horizontally, body resting on top of Namjoon.

“You’re joining us at Bulletproof tonight, right?” Namjoon says before Seokjin can ask what Namjoon’s up to. When Seokjin nods, he continues, “then you need to sleep, right? No point of coming along if you’re too tired to help, right?”

The comment from Namjoon is just enough to knock some sense into Seokjin. Not that Seokjin can’t function of low amounts of sleep, but he already feels useless enough when it comes to finding Jungkook, and tonight is his one chance to help out with whatever Hoseok has planned - he doesn’t want to mess it up.

“Fine,” Seokjin grumbles, twisting in Namjoon’s grip only to grab a blanket off the floor, throwing it over Namjoon and him the best he can in the position Namjoon’s arms have him trapped in. With Namjoon's hands laid flat on his back, Seokjin positions himself comfortably on top of Namjoon, resting his hands just above Namjoon’s head, fingers barely able to brush Namjoon’s purple hair. The couch is barely long enough for their legs to fit, slightly tangled as Seokjin lets Namjoon hold him close, trying to let his warmth seep into him.

One of Namjoon’s hands glides upward, and Seokjin can’t help the shiver that travels down his spine when Namjoon’s fingers brush the nape of his neck before gently tangling themselves in the short length of Seokjin’s hair. The other hand rubs his back, slowly drawing circles on the back of Seokjin’s shirt, eliciting a soft sigh from Seokjin. At this point, all Seokjin can do is close his eyes, concentrating on Namjoon’s soft touches and the way the younger’s chest rises and decompresses underneath him. If Seokjin forgets all of his surroundings, he can hear Namjoon’s heart beating in his chest, slightly faster than it should be. 

If Seokjin wasn’t so tired, he knows his heartbeat would be no better, thumping erratically due to the intimate contact. However, he’s exhausted, so while one brain cell in the back of his mind is screaming about the quality of Namjoon’s pectoral region, most of his thoughts are more interested in getting some sleep. However, that’s the same part of his brain that misses Jungkook beyond belief, and he tries to run away from those thoughts by burying his face into Namjoon’s hoodie.

The last of Seokjin’s strings become undone when Namjoon starts humming, the low vibration buzzing against Seokjin where their chests are flush to each other. Namjoon’s movements start to slow down, like he’s on the verge of falling asleep as well - and Seokjin can’t help but wonder if Namjoon slept last night. The idea pains Seokjin, because none of this is Namjoon’s mess, yet somehow Seokjin’s dragged him into it all. There’s a soft ‘sorry’ on the tip of Seokjin’s tongue - not just for Namjoon, but for everyone. A sorry to Jungkook for not being able to protect him. A sorry to Taehyung and Hoseok for letting them bother with Seokjin even though he hasn’t been helpful to the case at all. A sorry to Jimin for letting him be a potential lead in the case. A sorry to Yoongi, who might be the only person who’s being more devoured by guilt than Seokjin. 

A sorry to Kwak Heiran and a sorry to the two girls hopefully still alive.

A sorry to Namjoon, who still hums slowly and rubs Seokjin’s back in some attempt to let him get some sleep, despite the fact that Namjoon is probably just as tired. Seokjin doesn’t dare voice the sorry though, knowing that if he opens his mouth to speak it to the world, all the remaining pain and frustration will escape along with it. And a sorry can only do so much, can’t help the people it’s aimed at. 

Seokjin can’t do much - but he can fall asleep so Namjoon can too, and with that thought in mind, it only takes him a minute to drift away.

***

The sound of talking is what Seokjin wakes up to, one voice whispering close to him, the other voice a lot more familiar. He almost opens his eyes, but then he realizes how warm he is, and more importantly, why he’s so warm. Namjoon’s arms are still wrapped around him even after their nap - or at least, he can only assume that Namjoon fell asleep considering the way their legs are more tangled than they originally were, and Namjoon’s voice, whispering next to him, is laced with sleepiness, like he woke up recently.

“You can stay if you want,” the third person in the room says, and despite being half-asleep, Seokjin recognizes Yoongi’s voice almost immediately. “You look pretty comfortable where you are, after all.” There's definitely a wink involved after that statement, a wink paired with a smug smile that Seokjin doesn’t even have to see to know its existence. 

Hyung ,” Namjoon whines, and Seokjin is tempted to open his eyes just so he can see how red Namjoon’s cheeks are. But if he announces he’s awake, Namjoon will probably let go of him, and that’s the last thing he wants. Sometime while sleeping, the bottom of Seokjin’s shirt rode up, leaving his lower abdomen and back exposed. Whether Namjoon’s aware of it or not, he fumbles with the bunched up part of Seokjin’s shirt, half of his fingers dragging against Seokjin’s bare skin. If it was in any other moment, any other mood, the bare touch might’ve evoked a more sensual response from Seokjin. Instead, Seokjin just basks in the warmth of Namjoon’s hand, maybe wishing that Namjoon had the courage to slip his hand underneath Seokjin’s shirt.

“Thanks for keeping him company,” Yoongi says quietly, and the hand that pats the top of his head lightly the next moment is definitely Yoongi’s, ruffling his hair just the slightest. “I don’t think either of us got sleep last night, so it’s a relief that you got him to sleep.” There’s a small laugh. “It looks like you got some sleep as well, eh?”

A pause. “Maybe.”

“You look like you could use some more sleep though,” Yoongi says. “You’re coming to the dance club tonight too, right? Why don’t you just stay here and get some sleep?”

Seokjin can feel Namjoon shake his head, his chin brushing against the top of Seokjin’s hair. “Nah, I have a homework assignment for tomorrow to get done, and it’s not like I’ll have time to do it tonight.” Underneath Seokjin, Namjoon starts to wriggle out of the spot, and it takes all of Seokjin’s will power (combined with the fact that he’s still pretty sleepy) not to reach out and grab Namjoon - grab and hold him tight - keep him close to Seokjin. Unfortunately, Namjoon’s off the couch a moment later with a quiet groan, carefully extracting himself from Seokjin’s weight so that the older lands gently on the couch. It’s warm where Namjoon had been laying, but not nearly warm enough for Seokjin not to miss the pair of arms wrapped around him.

“Besides, you look like you need a cuddle buddy anyway,” Namjoon says to Yoongi, the statement followed by the sound of Yoongi probably whacking Namjoon’s shoulder. It only seems to make Namjoon laugh though, saying his farewells between a few chuckles before heading out the door, telling Yoongi that he’ll see him later tonight.

Following the sound of the door shutting behind Namjoon is a loud groan, which definitely belongs to Yoongi. He sounds exhausted, pained, and Seokjin isn’t surprised a few moments later, after hearing Yoongi take his jacket off (and probably dropping it lazily on the floor) that there’s suddenly a (very small) person climbing onto the couch next to him, basically crawling underneath Seokjin until Yoongi is completely blanketed by him.

“You fucking suck at fake-sleeping, by the way,” Yoongi grumbles, wiggling underneath Seokjin as he tries to get comfortable; it’s a process that requires Yoongi to jab Seokjin with his elbow at least three different times. “And can you move? I feel like being little spoon today.”

Seokjin laughs, not surprised that Yoongi was able to tell he was awake. “Yoongi, please, you feel like being little spoon everyday ,” he teases, though he does put in the effort to adjust his position of the couch so that he lays on his side, leaving just enough room for Yoongi to curl up beside him. Seokjin finally opens his eyes just to see Yoongi close his, and he reaches his arm around Yoongi and hugs him close, hoping the squeeze of affection will convey every word Seokjin wants to say. They’ve already talked about it the night before: Seokjin insisting that it’s not Yoongi’s fault for letting Jungkook go home by himself, while Yoongi cried into his shoulder. They’ve done that, they’re past it. 

“I can’t believe Namjoon really tried to steal my cuddle buddy, that fucker,” Yoongi says with a huff. “You haven’t even hooked up yet and I’m already regretting setting you guys up. If I die from lack of cuddles, I’ll sue both of you.”

Seokjin laughs, and holds Yoongi even tighter.

 

***

Yoongi has to wake up first due to the fact that he shows up to work an hour before Bulletproof actually opens. Since SUGA Cakes is closed, Seokjin has the pleasure of watching Yoongi get dressed in his outfit for the night, whistling loudly when Yoongi walks out in a pair of sparkling pink booty shorts paired with fishnet leggings. Seokjin can’t see the shirt he has on underneath the large, baggie hoodie he's thrown over it - and if Seokjin didn’t not recognize the jacket, he would’ve sworn Yoongi was stealing from his closet again by the way Yoongi can practically swim in the large piece of clothing.

“I know, I’m handsome, you don’t have to remind me,” Yoongi says with a laugh, spinning around once for Seokjin to get a proper look, promptly sticking his butt out when the time comes. Sitting on the couch, Seokjin grabs the nearest pillow and quickly throws it at Yoongi’s ass, laughing at the way Yoongi runs away - more of a fast waddle than anything else. 

Seokjin decides it's probably good for him to get ready as well, considering he has to leave early to go pick Namjoon up before heading to the club. Luckily, Hoseok told them specially to wear clothes that downplayed their appearance in order to not draw attention, so it means Seokjin gets to avoid putting any extra effort into his appearance. Once he has slapped on the rest of his mostly casual outfit, Seokjin exits his bedroom to the kitchen, where Yoongi is already pan-frying a fish. To the side, Seokjin notices a chopping board, knife, and uncut vegetables and he quickly falls in place, helping Yoongi make dinner. 

Unfortunately, Yoongi has to eat on the run due to the fact that they both woke up from the nap later than they should’ve, which means Seokjin ends up eating dinner alone. Certainly not a first-time thing, but it’s also lonely enough that Seokjin rushes the food down before heading off to Namjoon’s apartment earlier than intended.

Which is why he’s not really surprised when he shows up at Namjoon’s apartment instead of Namjoon opening the door, Jackson does instead.

“Oh, it’s you!” Jackson shouts once he recognizes Seokjin, and Seokjin doesn’t even have time to protest before Jackson has an arm wrapped around his shoulder and he’s being pulled into the apartment. “Namjoon mentioned someone was coming to pick him up, but he didn’t mention who,” Jackson says enthusiastically, right next to Seokjin’s ear. There’s only the small blessing of Jackson turning his head back forward so he’s not yelling directly into Seokjin’s ear when he calls out: “Namjoon!”

What ?” Namjoon shouts back, voice emitting from a room in the back. A moment later the door props open, revealing a half-dressed Namjoon, a pair of boxers being the only thing covering his lower half. When he spots Seokjin, he shrieks and hides behind his door, peeking his head around the corner.

“You’re here early,” Namjoon says nonchalantly, like his face isn’t bright red. 

“Yes, I’m here early,” Seokjin responds. Nonchalantly. Like his face isn’t bright red. “Sorry for not texting you, I figured you wouldn’t mind if I showed up early.” What Seokjin should really do is apologize for not texting Namjoon because the thought didn’t occur to him at all, but he figures it’s okay to fudge the truth a little bit if it makes him appear like he has a few more active brain cells than he actually does.

Namjoon blinks at Seokjin. “Ye-yeah. It’s fine. I don’t mind at all.” He laughs nervously. “Just give me a second to get changed, I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Aw, dang, I liked the look you had going on,” Jackson yells at the closed door. “Your legs looked sexy, Namjoonie!” The door opens up a crack just for a shoe to come flying out of it, almost hitting Jackson straight in the face. Jackson catches it without blinking, not looking surprised, giving Seokjin a hint that maybe it’s not the first time Namjoon’s thrown a shoe at his roommate.

“So how long have you guys been dating?” Jackson asks, wiggling his eyebrows at Seokjin. “Honestly, I still can’t believe that Namjoonie didn’t tell me. We’re best friends, you know? So you think he’d keep his best friend updated on his life, but noooo , that’s-”

“We’re not dating!” Is the first thing Namjoon shouts when he explodes out of his room, stumbling into the living area with his pants barely up his waist, like he just finished jumping into them, buttons still undone. He scrambles to zip his pants up when he follows up with, “Jackson, stop bothering hyung.”

“I’m not bothering him!” Jackson protests, squeezing Seokjin’s shoulders. “We’re just having a friendly chat, right?” He doesn’t bother letting Seokjin answer when he leans towards Namjoon, squinting his eyes. “And are you sure you guys aren’t dating? I mean, I think Naomi will be pretty fucking ecstatic considering she’s been bummed since you brought up your cute little crush, but still, c’mon.” He turns to Seokjin this time, looking just as suspicious. “You’re here to pick him up. He’s dressed up all nice. You’re totally taking him on a date, right?”

“Totally,” Seokjin responds, mostly because he’s not sure how to explain to Jackson that they’re actually going to the dance club to investigate the missing persons’ case, but maybe Seokjin is also tempted by the idea of seeing how flustered Namjoon will get (the answer is very, almost dropping his jacket as he struggles to put it on).

They manage to get out the door without too many questions from Jackson, Seokjin pulling Namjoon out the front door before they can be stopped. It’s not like they’re in a hurry, but there’s other things Seokjin would rather focus on that aren’t Namjoon’s roommate’s interest in their relationship. With the case going on, Seokjin shouldn’t even be thinking about things like that, so he chooses to keep his mouth shut. 

“So, he knows huh?” Seokjin’s mouth opens with the question, which is strange considering Seokjin does not remember giving his mouth permission to open or his vocal cords the right to sound, but here he is, asking questions that make the tips of his ears light up red. At least the heat rushing to his cheeks keeps him warm in the slightly chilling wind. 

“Hm?” Namjoon raises his eyebrows. “Knows what?”

And this is why Seokjin shouldn’t have opened his mouth, he realizes with a groan. But Namjoon’s staring at him now with questioning eyes, and he averts his gaze when he says, “You know. The fact that you-” Seokjin tries to not choke on the word, “- like me .”

Namjoon must choke on his own spit, because he starts coughing, hunched over while Seokjin’s starts patting his back apologetically.

“I mean,” Namjoon rubs the back of his neck, “I’ve liked you for awhile, hyung. Literally everyone and their grandmother knows.”

“How?” Seokjin exclaims, throwing his hands in the air. “You could’ve at least been a little more obvious about it!” Seokjin misses Namjoon’s eye roll, pausing mid-shout to ask, “Wait, for awhile?” He narrows his eyes. “We haven’t even known each other that long, Namjoon.”

Namjoon groans. “No offense hyung, but you were always super loud and obnoxious when you picked up Jungkook from school. It was kind of hard to miss you.”

Seokjin gasps theatrically, trying his best to sound offended. “Loud and obnoxious? Is that really all you saw me as?”

“No, unfortunately my dumb ass decided to think you were cute ,” Namjoon retorts, playfully shoving Seokjin. “And then I proceeded to make the dumb mistake of telling my friends that I saw this cute guy, and later on when I found out you were Jungkook’s brother, I made the mistake of telling Jackson.” Namjoon nods. “That’s why Jackson recognized you. On the first day we met, remember?”

On the first day we met ,” Seokjin muses, tilting his head back before glancing over at Namjoon. “You make it sound like it was the beginning of some dramatic ass love story.”

Maybe Seokjin’s having too much fun teasing Namjoon, but the whole thing backfires on him anyway when Namjoon responds, “Was it not, hyung?” Followed by a wink and a set of finger guns. 

The coolness of Namjoon’s wink is a bit deterred by how red his face turns, but it’s enough to have Seokjin threatening, “Hey! Kim Namjoon, I will yeet you into the air again!”

“So you do admit to throwing me!”

The drive to Bulletproof is full of laughter.

***

The club is just as loud as Seokjin remembers, even standing outside the building. When he texts Taehyung asking where they are, he gets a quick response that Hoseok and Taehyung have already arrived and have Jimin with them. Seokjin texts back that they’ll join in just a minute, and relays the information to Namjoon.

“Hoseok said to act cool and blend in,” Seokjin explains. “Apparently he has a plan to rile up the crowd to see if he can get anyone to bite, but we’re just there to be an extra set of eyes. Definitely don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”

Seokjin looks Namjoon up and down, sighing when he realizes there’s not much about Namjoon that doesn’t draw attention to him. Seokjin knows that he’s handsome and doesn't exactly blend in with the average crowd, and Namjoon has all of that plus really long legs and purple hair; it’s hard to not look at Namjoon, and while it’s not like Seokjin can just chop off Namjoon’s legs to make him shorter, he can do something about Namjoon’s hair.

Reaching to his hat, Seokjin takes it off, plopping it on top of Namjoon’s hair. Namjoon protests, mostly out of surprise, but Seokjin manages to get the hat on Namjoon’s head in a way that covers most of the purple hair. Now Namjoon is still very good looking and tall, but at least he doesn’t have purple hair. 

“If I have bad hat hair later on, I blame you,” Namjoon grumbles, huffing when Seokjin laughs at him. But he accepts the hat, not taking it off as Seokjin and Namjoon head into Bulletproof. 

The club is dark so it’s hard to find the others, but it turns out, Seokjin doesn’t need to see to find them. Instead, he just listens to the insistent shouts coming from the pole area. “Wait, isn’t that-”

“Oh God, Hoseok’s so loud ,” Namjoon whispers, and Seokjin thinks so much for not drawing attention and blending in .

But in that statement, Hoseok doesn’t necessarily not blend in with the crowd, considering the majority of the people watching the dancers are also screaming Yoongi’s name. Like usual, there’s two other girls on stage, but Yoongi has the center. Now that he’s not wearing the hoodie he had on earlier, Seokjin can see the sheer white sweater he’s wearing, the black tank top underneath completely visible - definitely enough to justify screaming. But Yoongi’s also not dancing, rather sitting in a chair, simply posing. He gets up a couple times to walk around the chair, occasionally thrusting his hips the crowd’s direction, but most of whatever he’s doing involves sitting in a chair. People still throw money at him though, and Seokjin can’t help but laugh. 

“Is that the choreo you guys have been practicing for weeks?” Seokjin asks when he gets up to where the others are, Namjoon tagging not far behind him. “Please tell me you’ve just been teaching him how to sit in a chair. Please .”

Hoseok laughs, taking a break from screaming “Suga! Suga! Suga!” to answer Seokjin’s question. “No, he has some actual choreographed performances. This is just the beginning of the night though, so nothing too crazy yet. Besides, I think Yoongi could sit in that chair all night and people would still throw ones at him.”

“I know I’ve already used up all my ones,” Taehyung admits with a laugh, flashing them his empty wallet. The lack of concern on Hoseok’s face means that either there wasn’t that much money to start with, or he just approves of wasting all their money on Yoongi and his see-through shirt, which Seokjin admits sounds like a pretty sound investment.

“Anyway, what’s the plan for tonight?” Seokjin asks, this time lowering his voice down to a whisper. “You said you wanted us to keep an eye out? For what exactly?”

Hoseok’s smile drop, expression turning serious. With a hushed voice, he responds, “A few customers here are some of our contacts. Listen.”

Seokjin tries his best to block out the sound of music and incessant screeching from the crowd, attempting to listen in on the exact words people are shouting. And that’s when he hears it.

Have you guys seem Jimin around?

Man, this place just isn’t the same without Jimin .”

Honestly, I might stop coming here. The other girls are nice, but Jimin will always be my favorite.

There’s a lot of Jimin talk going on, and as the people Hoseok brought in to stir up trouble talk to more people, the more the talk spreads. Soon, it’s not just Hoseok’s people - or at least, Seokjin assumes not by the sheer number of people talking - but regular customers talking about Jimin. Asking where he is. Wondering how he’s doing. Missing him. There’s more discussion of Jimin - who’s standing next to Seokjin with a beanie to cover his pink hair and a mask to hide his face - than the actual performers on stage.

At first, it goes unnoticed, and Seokjin thinks Hoseok’s plan isn’t going to work. He gets it now - he’s hoping to irritate someone, see if someone reacts poorly to the mention of Jimin. Seokjin isn’t talented at profiling people, and is more interested in watching the way Taehyung and Hoseok’s gaze bounce from person to person, trying to read their reaction. But he does his best to join them along with Namjoon and Jimin (and he knows Yoongi on stage is doing the same) to find something . At this point, Seokjin’s ready to sort through a haystack to find the needle, because he needs to find something to help with the case. To help him get Jungkook back. To end all of it.

Nothing happens in the first hour. Or the second hour. Seokjin’s brain starts to go numb, because he’s not even sure what he’s looking for anymore. Most of his focus has been prioritized on the different dancers, but his eyes scan the crowd as well, wondering if anyone is getting nervous at the mention of Jimin. But no one bites.

Until a certain blue-haired dancer stops dancing in the middle of her performance. Seokjin barely recognizes Kitty, who had been their introduction into the dance club scene, but he recognizes her distinctive blue hair. He watches as Kitty lowers her hands from the jacket she was about the throw off, and she walks up to the edge of the stage - she’s talking to someone, Seokjin vaguely realizes.

“You keep screaming and yelling about Jimin, but if you haven’t noticed, he’s not on stage,” she says, narrowing her eyes. Around, the crowd has gone silent, noticing the fact that one of the performers has stepped down from her stage to talk to a patron.

The contempt in her voice is hard to miss.

“Ah, c’mon, you guys really don’t know where Jimin went?” The guy asks, words drawled in a way that hints that he’s had a good amount to drink. “You know he’s my favorite.”

“Well, maybe it’s time to pick a new favorite,” Kitty says with a song-song voice, though Seokjin’s been in customer service too many years to not be able to read the frustration in her voice. It’s the same frustration Seokjin feels when customers continually ask for a seasonal flavor that’s currently not in and then get upset when he tries suggesting another flavor that could satisfy them.

Rarely do customers listen though, and this case isn’t any different.

“Ah, but Jimin was my reason for coming,” the man says, shrugging his shoulders. A few people around him mutter in agreement. “Did he go to a different club or something?”

Someone farther back in the crowd cracks, “Well, he was definitely too good for this place, so I’m not surprised.”

Kitty takes a step forward, and from the backstage area, another familiar face pops up - Sapphire, who Seokjin only has vague memories of interrogating what felt like years ago. Sapphire looks like she wants to go and pull Kitty back, but the younger girl keeps stepping forward until she can crouch down and be right in the customer’s face.

“Look, I don’t know if you haven’t heard the news, but you should be glad Jimin’s gone,” Kitty hisses, any mask to hide her irritation gone. “Haven’t you heard? All those missing girls? They were Jimin’s customers. That kid who went missing the other day? Apparently he was Jimin’s friend. The point is, connect the dots. Everyone who likes Jimin ends up dead .”

As the crowd goes silent, Kitty spins around and starts heading off stage, retreating to the back. A couple of the other girls call out to her, but she’s obivously past listening, and while Seokjin can’t actually hear her response, it’s pretty easy to the movement of her lips: “ fuck off .”

Sapphire is the one who gets the show rolling again, turning the music up loud enough to cover the silence of the crowd until the performers can get them worked up again.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, Seokjin can’t seem to unfreeze. Kitty’s words echo in his head, not just because of the obvious malice laced in them, but her mentioning Jungkook and then immediately following it up by mentioning the fact that people have died has Seokjin frozen in place. Because anything past Jungkook not being completely uninjured isn’t a thought Seokjin is capable of processing. 

Namjoon, who had been standing at Seokjin’s side the entire time, has left his spot to go talk to Hoseok and Taehyung. Seokjin can’t hear what they’re discussing, not over the loud music of the club, but he wouldn’t notice anyway - he’s too distracted by how pale Jimin looks even with half of his face hidden.

He grabs Jimin by the arm, pulling him close. There’s no hesitation when he brings the short boy into a hug, whispering into his ear, “It’s not your fault, Jimin.” The words are so much easier to believe when they’re aimed at Jimin, but judging by the way Jimin shakes in his arms, he doesn’t believe him. “Nothing could ever be your fault, Jimin.”

Jimin shakes his head. “But hyung, what if she’s the culprit? What if Jungkookie-” Jimin takes a deep breath. “What if all these people suffered because of me?”

“It’s not like we have any confirmation that she’s the culprit,” Seokjin reassures Jimin, patting his head. “Even if we did, whatever she chose to do has nothing to do with you, okay?”

After a small pause, Jimin nods against Seokjin, though he doesn’t make much attempt to pull away, instead settling inside of Seokjin’s arm. Seokjin has no plan of letting go of Jimin, who looks extra small at the moment, but he does need to know what Taehyung and Hoseok’s game plan is, so he looks over at them and raises his eyebrows expectantly.

“I have the folks back at the police station looking into it, but so far all I have on Kitty’s private life is that she’s the same age as Jimin, and her real name is Shin Ha-uen. Besides that, I honestly don’t know much about her,” Taehyung explains, before his eyes go wide. “Wait, she works at the vet clinic!” He whips out his notebook from the bag slung over his shoulder, quickly jotting notes into it. Without looking up, he asks Hoseok, “Hey, can animal veterinary anesthesia knock out a human?”

“In large enough doses, it probably could,” Hoseok mumbles, looking strangely out of it. “It would be out of the system within the week though, so it’s not like we could test for presence of it in Kwak Heiran.”

“But we could check at the clinic she works at and see if any anesthesia has been reported missing,” Taehyung declares, finishing off whatever sentence he was writing with the swish of his pen, and while Seokjin can’t see clearly, he’s pretty sure Taehyung just accidentally drew a big line of ink through all his writing. “If there has, it’ll be a pretty good indicator that we’re on the right track.”

“I think the fact that Kitty just high-tailed it out of here might be an even bigger indicator that she’s sus’ as fuck, but then again, I’m no professional investigator.”

The five of them look at Yoongi, who’s now dressed in the same clothes Seokjin sent him off in. His hood is thrown up, covering his pink hair, making it so only a few customers notice Yoongi’s presence mixed in with the rest of them.

“She ran off?” Hoseok asks, eyes wide. “Oh shit, man, I didn’t get any vibes from her that she’d be the running type.” He looks at Taehyung. “Wait, does this mean I have to run after her? I suppose you don’t feel like chasing someone down today, huh?”

“Run after her, and I’ll meet you with the car in a moment. Call if anything major happens,” Taehyung says, shooing Hoseok off. For someone who looked so reluctant to run, Hoseok darts out of the night club in a flash after Yoongi gives him proper instructions on where he saw Kitty run off to.

“Now what?” Seokjin asks, staring blankly at the empty space Hoseok left behind him. Something doesn’t feel right, but he’s not able to put his finger on it yet. “Do you really think she’s the culprit?”

Taehyung grimances. “I think there’s a good amount of evidence to think it’s her. The motive, the ability to commit the crime - she’s got it. I gotta go meet Hobi-hyung with the car in case she drives off, but best case scenario is she gets nervous and tracks back to wherever she’s keeping everyone.”

Seokjin gulps. “Tracks back and does what?”

Tae’s expression is blank. “We’ll be tracking her,” he repeats, choosing to not respond to the question Seokjin already knows the answer to. If the culprit thinks someone is onto them, their most likely response is to clean up any evidence and cut off any loose ends - keeping victims alive isn’t an option.

“What should we do until then?” Yoongi asks, coming up behind Seokjin. He peaks behind from Seokjin’s shoulders, cheek pressed against Seokjin’s bicep. “Is there anything we can do to help?”

Taehyung shakes his head. “Just keep an eye out. Especially now that Kitty’s aggravated, there’s no telling if she’ll try to attack again. If her real target is Jimin, then all four of you are potential targets. Stay close to each other, okay?”

There’s not much more explanation after that, considering Taehyung has to run off to the car and join Hoseok. Seokjin offers to go with him, but Taehyung gently refuses, insisting that he’s already made them do too much.

Jimin, who’s stayed silent the entire time, suddenly grasps at Seokjin’s shirt. “Do you… Do you think it’d be okay if I stayed at your place tonight?” His voice is incredibly quiet, completely different from the boy who flirts with customers behind the counter at SUGA Cakes. “I just don’t think I can be alone tonight.”

Jimin ends up squished between Seokjin and Yoongi, both of them doing their best to embrace him without squeezing him too hard, giving him the proper space. “Don’t even worry about having to get clothes, I’ll just lend Yoongi’s clothes to you, don’t worry about giving them back either.” (Yoongi protests, but when Jimin frowns, he immediately changes his answer.)

“I guess it’s a slumber party at our place,” Yoongi groans, obviously not disappointed at all. “Namjoon, you wanna join us too? Might as well make it a real party.”

Namjoon laughs, and shakes his head. “No, I have class tomorrow, and it’s my responsibility to make sure my roommate wakes up for his AM class so he doesn’t fail it.”

“Let me drive you to school tomorrow,” Seokjin blurts, unable to stop the words from leaving his mouth. “I’ll pick you up too.” When Namjoon opens his mouth to argue, Seokjin shakes his head. “Please, just let me. With everything that’s going on, you’d be doing me a favor. It’s not like I have work to go to tomorrow anyway.”

“I mean, if it’ll make you feel better, sure.”

Seokjin doesn’t know if it’ll make him feel better , but he knows it’ll stop him from feeling even worse , so he counts it as a success.

 

***

As Seokjin pulls up to Namjoon’s college to pick him up, he can’t help but wonder if he’s been in the wrong industry all along. Maybe cupcake baking was never his true calling, considering the raw talent he has as a potential World’s Best Uber Driver. Except he’s not with Uber, and while he does have pretty amazing driving skills (which he loves accrediting to Mario Kart, which drives Yoongi crazy), he doesn’t think he could deal with absolute strangers riding in the back of his car.

Which is why he does a double take when he spots Namjoon - and more importantly, Naomi standing next to him.

“Sorry hyung! I texted you but you already left by then I think!” Namjoon immediately says when Seokjin rolls down the car window. “I forgot that I promised to ride the bus home with Naomi today. I’m so sorry for making you drive all the way out here-”

“If you’re taking the same bus, she can’t live too far away then, right?” Seokjin glances at Naomi, who stares back at him with wide eyes. “Here, I can give her a ride home too.”

Seokjin isn’t really interested in being an upstanding citizen by volunteering ride services, but he’s even less interested in the way Naomi looks longingly at Namjoon. His brows furrow subconsciously when he thinks about Namjoon choosing to ride the bus home with Naomi rather than get in the car with him. 

Naomi doesn’t look any more into Seokjin’s suggestion than Seokjin himself, but Namjoon’s face lights up with a smile, exclaiming, “Are you sure, hyung? She only lives a few blocks from my apartment so it’s not that far, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

Seokjin certainly doesn’t want to, but he does want Namjoon to get in the car rather than ride the bus home - a simple safety procedure, definitely not having to do anything with Seokjin’s personal feelings about Naomi’s heart-eyes for Namjoon.

Luckily (or unluckily, Seokjin can’t tell) Naomi is just as unresistant to Namjoon’s smile as the rest of the world, and while she grumbles something Seokjin can’t understand, she nods, agreeing to the ride. Seokjin quickly opens the passenger door, patting the seat while he glares at Namjoon. He may be giving a ride to Namjoon’s friend, but that doesn’t mean he’ll actually allow him to sit in the back with her.

Unfortunately, even with Namjoon sitting in the front and Naomi sitting in the back, Seokjin is forced to listen to the two of them converse the entire car ride. On the plus side, he gets to hear about Namjoon’s day at school, which is always interesting. But he also has to watch Naomi laugh at everything Namjoon says (Namjoon’s funny - but he’s not that funny) and she seems to find a reason to lean forward and place a hand on Namjoon’s shoulder. Which is totally fine, Seokjin tells himself, because they’re two very good friends like Namjoon and him are two very good friends. 

Except it’s not totally fine, the sinking feeling in his gut reminds him. When they finally arrive at Namjoon’s apartment, Seokjin almost sighs in relief when Namjoon unbuckles his seatbelt and leans forward, meaning Naomi’s hand falls from his shoulder. It’s still not enough to get the yucky feeling out of Seokjin’s stomach though. “Let me walk you to your door.”

Namjoon laughs. “Hyung, the door is right there. I’ll be fine.”

Seokjin internally groans, because while statistically Namjoon will most likely be fine walking the few yards from the car to his front door, Seokjin won’t , and that’s what really matters. Still, it doesn’t look like he can convince Namjoon to let him walk him to the door, and driving his car up the stairs to the second floor to directly see Namjoon off isn't exactly an option.

“At least text me when you get inside?”

Another laugh. “Okay, hyung, I will.”

The smile Namjoon flashes Seokjin is too much, and he’s shouting ‘wait!’ before he can stop himself. Namjoon stops trying to leave the car, giving Seokjin the opportunity to lean over, ignoring the heat rushing to the tips of his ears as he places his lips against Namjoon’s cheek. His lips barely brush the skin, but just enough to cause Namjoon to freeze in his spot, his face not breaking into a grin until Seokjin pulls away, trying not to mind the stare boring into the back of his head from Naomi sitting in the back still. It’s hard to notice when Seokjin’s focused on Namjoon’s dimpled smile, but it’s kind of hard to ignore when Seokjin knows that his move was purposeful in the sense that he knows his heart has strong disagreement with the heart eyes Naomi gives Namjoon.

Namjoon leaves the car, leaving Seokjin and Naomi alone. He doesn’t make an offer for Naomi to take the front seat, and she’s silent the entire time Seokjin watches Namjoon walk from the car to the front door of his apartment. When he disappears behind the door, Seokjin glares at his cellphone before the text message from Namjoon comes through, telling him to drive home safely.

Seokjin doesn’t expect Naomi to speak at all the entire car ride, which sounds fair enough to Seokjin - he doesn’t think he has much to discuss with her outside of the case. Namjoon already programmed her address into Seokjin’s phone, so he doesn’t need to ask for directions, simply listening to whatever his phone tells him. Namjoon was right when he said Naomi’s place wasn’t too far from his - at the most, it’s only a few bus stops away, and Seokjin is relieved the car ride won’t be any longer than it has to be, and if he can get away with the entire ride being silent without any conversation-

“Are you and Joonie dating?”

Seokjin, who had been slowing down for the upcoming redlight, accidentally slams down on the break, jerking him hard enough the seatbelt constricts when he flies forward and hits it painfully, and the car behind him honks.

“What makes you say that?” Seokjin says nervously, mentally face-palming. He can’t act naive when he literally just purposefully displayed affection towards Namjoon in front of Naomi. So he backtracks, forcing a laugh. “I guess you could say we're still figuring it out.”

“I think I’ve got it figured out,” Naomi grumbles in the back, quietly enough that Seokjin isn’t sure if he was supposed to hear the comment or not. It’s the last couple of words she says for the entirety of the card ride, not another word leaving her mouth until Seokjin’s phone declares they’ve arrived at their destination.

“Wait, this isn’t a house,” Seokjin says, staring at the building the address has lead them to. Definitely not a residential building, with the way ‘Tanaka’s Judo School’ is written across the front in bright neon letters.

“It used to be where my dad did judo lessons,” Naomi explains with a shrug, unbuckling her seatbelt even before Seokjin properly parks. “He’s retired now, but the place has converted living space on the second floor, so that’s where I live.”

“Ah, I see.” Seokjin parks the car, unlocking the doors. He doesn’t look back at Naomi, hoping she’ll get the prompt to leave all by herself. Unfortunately, while she does open the door, she suddenly stops.

“Actually, I have a jacket of Joonie’s in my apartment, meant to give it back to him today. I think you might see him again before I do though, so would you mind coming in so I can give you the jacket?”

Seokjin thinks about it for a moment. His job as an Uber is officially done now, but unfortunately, his job of being an Upstanding Human Being is never done, so he nods. “Sure, I could even drop it off on my way back.” Hopefully, Jackson won’t be at the apartment, because Seokjin would hate to see his reaction if he catches him dropping off clothes (specifically, Namjoon’s clothes) at the apartment.

The closer Seokjin gets to the building, the more obvious it gets that it hasn’t been used for commercial function in years. The paint on the outside of the building has chipped away, revealing the brick underneath. As Seokjin follows Naomi to the front door, he can’t help but drag his fingers across the brick, feel the rough cracks underneath his hand. 

Naomi opens the door, glancing back at Seokjin before heading inside. She leaves the door propped open, which Seokjin takes as his cue to follow her inside. He feels awkward about entering her house, even if from where he’s standing, it doesn’t look like much of a house. There’s a set of stairs near the back that Seokjin can faintly see, supposedly leading to a much homelier looking living space. The area Seokjin stands in though truly looks like an abandoned judo class, dusty judo mats pushed up against the walls.

Once Seokjin is all the way inside, Naomi turns around to push the door shut, smiling at Seokjin when he stares at her inquisitively. “The only downside of this place is that the AC unit doesn’t work, so I try to avoid letting the cold air in.”

Seokjin begins to nod, because as someone who doesn’t have an AC unit in his apartment either, he understands the pain. It makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is when he’s suddenly pushed against the wall from behind, and just as the impact of his face against the wall hits him with a groan, an arm restricts around his neck. Tightly.

One, two, thr-

Seokjin falls to the floor, unconscious.



Chapter Text

Seokjin’s head hurts .

His head is the first thing he notices, at least. The rest of his body doesn’t feel any less achey, but his head throbs, and he can barely bring himself to open his eyes as he slowly slips out of unconsciousness, a small groan leaving his lips.

“Hyung? Hyung!”

That's all it takes for Seokjin's eyes to fly wide open, the sound of the familiar voice having his heart stop in his chest, breath halting in his throat.

"Jungkook?" Seokjin calls out, glad his voice doesn't sound too dappened. On the raspy side, for sure, but as everything starts flooding back into his memories, he's not surprised - he remembers the feeling of an arm locked around his neck, and he reaches up to feel his throat. Though there's nothing stopping him from breathing now, it's like the ghost of the attack still lingers on him.

"Hyung," Jungkook cries, voice farther away than Seokjin wants - no, needs - it to be. He's confused when he opens his eyes and still can't see, but the realization that the lights aren't on hits him. Wherever he is, there's no windows, and it smells musty. 

Without waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark, Seokjin tries to move. And fails. There's rope digging into his wrists, restricting them behind his back. A tear silently makes it's way down his cheek - not because he's processed the entire situation yet, but because he hasn't, which is stopping him from reaching Jungkook. 

The struggle against the rope is useless, Seokjin determines after a few tugs. The rope is tight to the point where Seokjin thinks some of his skin has been rubbed off, and whatever he's attached to seems to be firmly stuck in place. He groans, partially out of frustration, mostly out of pain. 

"Jungkook, where are you?" Seokjin asks, blinking into the dark in hopes that his eyes will adjust faster. The lack of natural light makes it almost impossible to see, though it doesn't take long for Seokjin to spot the exit, a door with the faintest bit of light poking through the bottom of it. "Jungkook, are you okay? Jungkook?"

"Hyung," Jungkook responds, and Seokjin doesn't stop the sob that escapes his mouth when he realizes how weak Jungkook sounds. He tries to keep himself together, tries not to crack while he waits for Jungkook to answer. "I'm over here. I think I can see you. Can you wave... your leg? Or whatever you can move?"

Seokjin can move his legs, and he doesn't even question how silly he must look at he throws a leg up, waving his foot in the air. His shoes are white, and bright enough that even he can start to make out the shape of them in the dark. "Do you see me?"

"Yeah, hyung, you're not that far. She must've put you in the last girl's spot."

When Seokjin realizes that the 'last girl' refers to Kwak Heiran, a dead girl whose body is still probably being inspected in an autopsy room, he feels sick to his stomach. He doesn't look down at the ground around him, tries to focus on what's there now instead of what was there. The floor is hard around him when he feels around with his feet, but he can feel a soft mat underneath him. Not like a carpet, but padding: a judo mat.

Naomi's face comes flashing back into Seokjin's mind, and he squeezes his eyes shut because he wants to forget her face. The interactions Seokjin and Naomi had were few, but he never thought that he could be caught that offguard. 

"Jungkookie-ah, I need you to tell me that you're okay," Seokjin whispers, pushing Naomi out of his thoughts - just for a moment. His brain is automatically starting to piece together the puzzle, but before any of that, Seokjin just wants to know if Jungkook is okay. 

"I'm probably better off than you," Jungkook says lightly, almost as if he's going for a joke, but it falls short. "When I saw her drag you in..." Jungkook's voice is wet. "I thought.... I thought that she must've hit you pretty hard. You were out cold. You didn't even respond at first."

Seokjin can't even begin to imagine how long he's been out - and he cuts his brain off before it starts wondering how long Jungkook's been calling out his name. Instead, he explains, "She didn't hit me in the back of the head. It was more of a choke hold than anything. I don't even think I was awake for more than three seconds before I was out." He's no expert on passing out, but he's pretty sure that any sort of passing out, whether it's from head trauma or not, isn't great for the brain. 

"Wait," Seokjin says, feeling like he's being choked all over again. "You thought she hit me?" He thinks back to Kwak Heiran and the obvious injury she had sustained to the back of her head. Seokjin had lucked out with getting choked, but maybe Jungkook hadn't. "Did she.... to you?" 

"If it makes you feel any better hyung, I got a hit in on her as well," Jungkook says with a humourless laugh. "I was biking home and we ended up crossing paths. I recognized her from the one time she visited the shop, during her interrogation I think? But she said hi, so I stopped my bike to say hi back. But when I went to ride off again she grabbed me off the bike and threw me to the ground."

As much as Seokjin's heart aches, his blood boils even more. He can't understand how Naomi could so easily attack such a sweet kid like Jungkook. Seokjin feels sick just thinking about how they listened to Naomi so naively when they had her in for interrogation.

"I think my bike got in the way of her power moves though, because I managed to get a kick in on her," Jungkook continues, sounding the smallest bit proud. "I managed to knock her to the ground by kicking her off her feet - though I suppose it was my mistake thinking it'd be easier to fight her if she was on the ground. Unfortunately, I only remembered that she was a judoka after I tried to fight her. She definitely didn't hold back when she decided to knock my head against her knee."

Seokjin really tries to not think about the fact that unlike in the movies, a blow to the head that severe is more likely to kill someone rather than knock them unconscious. But Seokjin can't help but thank every lucky star in the sky that Jungkook was the exception rather than the rule.

"Wait, if you're here, where are the other girls?" Seokjin asks, rotating his neck as he looks at the dark room. His eyes have finally started to adjust, but it doesn't mean he sees anything in fine detail. He can see Jungkook's outline, but he doesn't see anyone near him and while Seokjin's only priority at the moment is Jungkook, he can't help but worry about the other two girls, and he can only pray that they haven't met the same fate as Kwak Heiran.

"Ah, they're on the other side of the room," Jungkook explains, and Seokjin can see Jungkook's outline point the opposite direction. Jungkook's voice lowers a significant amount when he explains, "They don't talk much. One of them explained to me that we're in the unused part of Naomi's dad's old judo place - I think she's Naomi's roommate."

Seokjin doesn't blame the other girls for not being talkative. Especially considering their numbers have extinguished. There's a few questions that Seokjin would ideally like them to answer, but he knows it's not the right time. Plus, with the culprit finally named, there's a lot of things about the case that Seokjin thinks he finally has the answers to.

"How many times have you seen Naomi since you've been here?"

"Only once beside the time she dropped you off - that was about twenty minutes ago, by the way," Jungkook answers. "It seems like she's been dropping off food for the girls everyday. Not that it's easy to eat without your hands but..."

That says a lot about Naomi's intentions, but Seokjin just thinks it makes things more complicated. Jungkook confirmed that the other two girls are alive, and Seokjin wonders why Naomi keeps them alive rather than getting rid of them like she did with Kwak Heiran. Certainly, keeping captives hidden isn't an easy task, and obviously they've been abducted due to Naomi's negative feelings towards them.

Seokjin prays that he's not wrong, and that it's all proof that Naomi does have a heart. Prays that she's just confused by her emotions. Prays that the one moral part of her doesn't disappear - their lives are depending on it.

"Namjoon knows I was with Naomi last," Seokjin whispers, wishing he could be closer to Jungkook, maybe squeeze his shoulder and reassure him that everything's going to be alright. "Even if Namjoon can't figure it out, Taehyung and Hoseok will. It's not like she has us well hidden. Once they figure out that she's the culprit, they'll find us in no time."

Part of Seokjin's words are just to reassure Jungkook, because more than anything, Seokjin is afraid Namjoon will be too caught up in being Naomi's friend that he won't even consider it suspicious that she was the last person Seokjin was known to be with. He doesn't know how long it'll take for them to realize Seokjin's missing, but that's where Seokjin knows he can count on Yoongi. At this point in their friendship, they basically can feel each other's presence without any of their actual senses being stimulated.

Their conversation is interrupted when the sound of footsteps emits from nearby, causing them to fall silent. Seokjin holds his breath as he stares at the door, his heart rate increasing as the steps become louder and louder, approaching the room.

The door swings open, enough light leaking into the room that Seokjin can finally see Jungkook’s face clearly - and he immediately wishes that he hadn’t. The younger’s hair is matted with what Seokjin deludes himself into thinking is dirt and not blood. There’s a decent sized bruise marking his cheek, the dark marr contrasting with how pale Jungkook’s skin has turned. 

There’s not much time to linger on Jungkook’s face though, not when Naomi enters the room, carrying a loaf of bread in her arms. She doesn’t look anyone in the face, heading to the side of the room opposite of Seokjin, where he can now see the two other girls, tied up in a similar predicament. They don’t look up when Naomi approaches them, but when Naomi throws a few slices of bread their direction, they twist their bodies and maneuver their legs to somehow pick the bread up so it lands between their knees, and they bring their knees up to their mouth to quickly eat. It’s as fascinating as it is horrifying, how capable they are at eating without hands. Seokjin looks at how thin they both look, and thinks about how long they’ve been here.

Jungkook isn’t as good at it, but he manages to achieve the same thing after a few minutes of fumbling to get the bread to his mouth. When Naomi delivers bread to Seokjin, he looks at it longingly, already feeling how hungry he’s going to get. But he also looks at the bread, and looks at the distance between him and Jungkook, and thinks that if he tries hard enough, he can kick it over to Jungkook. The floor definitely isn’t sanitary enough to be eating off of it, and Seokjin kicking at the bread with his dirty shoes certainly isn’t an appetizing idea, but Seokjin knows Jungkook’s appetite. A slice of bread isn’t going to cut it, and Seokjin can’t stand to watch how quickly Jungkook scarfs down the plain piece of bread.

Once Naomi is done handing out bread, Seokjin thinks she’s going to leave, but she backtracks to the girls in the back, gesturing at one of them. That’s when she leans down, a few moments later, Seokjin can see the ropes restraining the girl’s wrists undone on the floor next to her. Naomi grabs the girl by the wrist, and the girl follows her out of the room without a word.

Once the door closes, Seokjin asks, “Where’s she taking her?”

Jungkook answers, “To the bathroom, probably. She gave us water in the morning, and it seems like she takes us on bathroom breaks once a day. Probably trying to avoid this room turning into a hazardous mess.”

That’s just one more weird thing that Seokjin can’t comprehend Naomi doing - for being a kidnapper, she certainly puts an unnecessary amount of care into her victims. But he ignores that thought for the more important subject at hand.

“So she unties us to take us to the bathroom?” Seokjin squeezes his eyes shut, thinking. He definitely feels weaker than usual, and he’s not sure how well his muscles will work on the spot. When he tries to flex the muscles in his arms, he can already feel the lack of power. Still, it’s not something he can’t consider. “I know she’s strong, but at the end of the day I have the height and weight advantage. She got me easily last time because she caught me by surprise but,” Seokjin tries to sound confident - which is hard with the way his head throbs - “as long as she doesn’t have the surprise advantage, I think I could take her down.”

“Hyung, we’re literally in her judo basement. Her hobby is kicking ass. Even if you have more muscle, she’s more practiced in fighting.”

“I’m practiced in fighting too!” Seokjin protests.

“Hyung, your only fighting experiencing is from Wii Sports boxing back in 2006.”

Seokjin huffs, because Jungkook is right, and not only does he not like being wrong when it comes to discussions with Jungkook, but Jungkook’s very valid point throws Seokjin’s only gameplan down the gutter, and he’s reluctant to do so. “You really think? What if-”

“I wouldn’t do it, unless you wanna end up like Heiran.”

Seokjin whips his head around to the origin of the voice, which is the remaining girl. Her voice is rough, and her eyes aren’t even open. She continues speaking though. “Naomi has been doing judo almost all her life, and it shows.” With a quiet sigh, maybe one Seokjin wasn’t even supposed to hear, she adds, “Heiran found that out the hard way when she tried to fight back during the bathroom trip.”

At the mention of Kwak Heiran, Seokjin’s mind is suddenly filled with the image of her dead body, and he shivers. He doesn’t want to be a coward, but he justifies his sudden dislikeness towards the plan of trying to fight Naomi by reminding himself that if he’s dead, there’s zero way he’ll be useful in saving Jungkook. 

“Okay, so maybe bathroom break isn’t the best time isn’t the best time to fight back,” Seokjin admits with a sigh, trying his best to sound nonchalant. He doesn’t really want to wait for someone to figure out that Naomi’s the one who took him - even if it looks like she’s keeping everyone captive in relatively nice conditions. Unless they’re incredibly lucky, there’s no way Naomi doesn’t know her time is limited right? Unlike the previous four people she captured, people know the last location Seokjin was seen - with her.

He voices his thoughts, hoping it’ll reassure Jungkook, but all he gets in response is a scoff from the girl.

“I don’t think you get it ,” she says, followed by a loud huff. “By the time they realize you’ve been missing, it’ll have been a couple of hours. Plenty of time for Naomi to come up with an excuse of what must’ve happened after you left her. That’s what she did for me, and that’s what she’ll do for you.”

“You’re the best friend, aren’t you?” Seokjin stares at the girl, remembering that she’s supposedly a regular customer at SUGA Cakes. She looks familiar, the more he stares, the more he looks past her mask of anguish and imagines her with a brighter smile. “Jang Soojin.”

Soojin smiles without an ounce of happiness in her eyes. “That’d be me. No would believe that the best friend kidnapped me, right?”

Seokjin nods, slowly, dumbly. He personally sat through Naomi’s interrogation, and he didn’t suspect a thing. He understands now why Soojin had laughed at him - Naomi has been convincing people she’s innocent from day one.

“I’ll think of something,” Seokjin mumbles, just loud enough for Jungkook to hear him. He’s not really convinced that he can figure out something, but he doesn’t want Jungkook knowing that. He can’t look Jungkook in the eye though, not because he doesn’t think he can successfully lie, but because he’s too cowardly to stare at Jungkook’s fear-stricken face anymore.

Naomi comes back with the other girl - who must be Jaehwa, the second missing person. Seokjin notices how pliant Jaehwa is, completely silent as Naomi ties her back up. He tries to pay attention to the type of knot Naomi uses to tie the rope, but he gives up after a few seconds of trying to move his hands in a way that could even reach to the knot of his restraints.

Next for bathroom break is Soojin, and finally Jungkook. When Naomi finally returns with him, she doesn’t even give Seokjin a second glance. Either she doesn’t think he needs to go, or her hatred for him is strong enough to deny the rights she’s given everyone else.

Seokjin’s fine with that; the less interaction he has with Naomi, the better. Or at least, that’s what he tries to convince himself, but when Naomi starts to leave the room, door in her hand as she starts to shut it, Seokjin can’t keep silent.

“Why can’t you just let the rest of them go?” He asks, wincing at how desperate he sounds. He is desperate, because he’s afraid that Soojin is right, and Taehyung and Hoseok won’t figure out the obvious answer in front of them. He wonders if they had waited for Hoseok to be present during Naomi’s interrogation, if Hoseok would’ve gotten any vibes off her. It’s too late now to regret, but he can only hope that now that Naomi’s the last person they know to have seen Seokjin, they’ll talk to her again and get a better read off of her.

Until then, all Seokjin can do is beg.

“Let them… go?” Thankfully, Naomi doesn’t look mad. She doesn’t look like anything, actually, her face completely void of emotion. She blinks blankly at Seokjin. “Why would I do that?”

“You thought they were threats against Namjoon,” Seokjin says, taking a deep breath in. Praying for everything. “You knew Namjoon had a crush on someone. But you didn’t know who it was.”

It all makes sense to Seokjin, now that he’s in the midst of the puzzle, he can see where all the pieces align. 

Taehyung revealed that all three girls had cupcake wrappers from SUGA Cakes, and the automatic assumption had been that it was connected to Seokjin - most likely his stalker. They hadn’t even considered they were barking up the wrong tree, and that the real answer had to do with Namjoon and the SUGA Cake wrappers he now had thanks to Jungkook consistently giving him cupcakes from the store. 

The timing makes too much sense. Jungkook started tutor sessions with Namjoon near the end of March, right before Spring break. The first girl went missing at the beginning of April. And hadn’t Namjoon mentioned that he went and fixed his hair up right before it all started as well? It would make sense for that to trigger it all for Naomi - she probably suddenly had a lot more people looking at Namjoon than before. 

And besides the cupcakes, every single girl had some sort of connection to Namjoon. Of course, they all went to the same college, but Seokjin vaguely remembers how Namjoon had explained them all. Kwak Heiran had done photography with Jackson, and had been in his apartment. Definitely something Naomi would get suspicious about. Song Jaehwa worked at a restaurant that Namjoon had gone to a fair amount of times. Jang Soojin, Naomi’s best friend and roommate…

Seokjin almost wants to cry at how painfully obvious it should’ve been. The group of them had all discussed the potential of Soojin’s crush being Seokjin, or maybe even Jimin if they went down the route of thinking the case had to do with the club - but no one even bothered wondering if the real reason Naomi got so upset over Soojin’s crush was because they were crushing on the same person . Jungkook had showed up in front of Naomi the day of her interrogation, and there was no mistaking the fact that she saw Jungkook picking up cupcakes for Namjoon . She must’ve put it together in her head that the same time Namjoon started receiving cupcakes and the same time Namjoon developed a crush were connected, though not in the way she imagined. 

They had even said as a group that they thought the culprit needed to be someone who had the muscle to actually take someone down without a fight. But no one had bothered thinking about the girl who was the last person to see Jang Soojin, who just happened to be an expert at Judo. 

“They were never threats, though,” Seokjin says, keeping his voice steady as possible. “It was me. It was me from day one. They’re not a problem.” He almost says that there’s no reason for Naomi to keep them around, but he’s afraid of seeing what her way of getting rid of the rest of them would be after seeing Kwak Heiran’s dead body. 

No luck. Naomi shakes her head. “They’ll try to take Namjoonie away from me. If I let them go, they’ll steal him from me, I just know it!”

Seokjin’s pretty sure at this point if Naomi released the two girls, they’d never even want to hear the name Namjoon again, much less try to steal the dude from Naomi. However, Naomi’s eyes look far away when she speaks, and Seokjin knows there’s no point in trying to speak logic to her. 

“Jungkook doesn’t even like Namjoon that way!” Seokjin protests, dropping his plan to save the other girls. He wants them to escape safe and sound as well, of course, but at the end of the day, he’d move the whole world for Jungkook, and Jungkook alone. “Shouldn’t you at least let him go?”

Apparently, Naomi doesn’t care about which way Jungkook likes Namjoon, because she simply huffs before leaving the room for good, leaving them in the dark again as she closes the door behind her.

 

***

 

Seokjin doesn’t know how much time passes, but he does know that at some point he falls asleep, only to wake up in more pain than the day before. His head might’ve hurt before from the sudden lack of blood flow that Naomi had cut off when she had choked him, but now his body hurts from the neglect Seokjin’s been giving it. No water, no food, no proper bed. His wrists ache from where they’ve been tied up, and the sitting position he’s been stuck in has his back and shoulders aching.

Jungkook’s still sleeping, which gives Seokjin a heart attack at first when he can’t see the rise and fall of Jungkook’s chest, and he strains in his spot until he finally notices the small breaths leaving Jungkook’s nose. Since there’s no natural light, it’s impossible for Seokjin to tell what time of day it is. From what he can see, both Soojin and Jaehwa are asleep too, so that leaves him as the lone awake person in the room. He shivers involuntarily, and instinctively tugs against his restraints. With no one awake to judge him, he tries to play contortionist and twist and bend his body in some attempt to at least get a better look at the ropes, but all he gets is his spine to crack along with a new admiration for all the stretches Jimin does.

He has both legs and his butt in the air just in time for Soojin to wake up, sparing him a pitiful expression. Seokjin immediately snaps back into a normal looking stance, ready to defend himself, when the familiar sound of footsteps is heard. This time, Seokjin can properly recognize the sound of someone going down the stairs, and he forces himself to breathe as the footsteps get louder. 

He squeezes his eyes shut, tight. Despite Jaehwa’s warning that there’s no way Seokjin could win a fight against Naomi, the thought won’t stop looming in his head. Even if he can’t beat her, even if he ends up dead with a gash to the head and she only walks out with a few bruises, it’ll be enough for him, he thinks. A big, dark bruise to her face would be enough for people around her to notice - for Namjoon to notice. If he doesn’t think she’s suspicious now, something like that would be enough for him to worry, and at least question it. Something that could lead him to Jungkook tied up in the basement of the abandoned judo school.

When he looks over at Jungkook’s sleeping figure, his heart pangs in his chest. Jungkook always looks young - always will, in Seokjin’s eyes - but when he’s sleeping, he reverts in age by what seems like years. Almost like he’s the little boy Seokjin first met in middle school, sweetly asking if he wanted to play together with race cars.

Seokjin grits his teeth, inhaling deeply as he tenses his muscles. Maybe if he feigns being weaker than he actually is, he’ll actually be able to trick Naomi into putting down her guard during the bathroom trip. He likes to think he’s a pretty good actor; he can do this.

He never has the chance to, though. He only realizes how fast the approaching footsteps are when it’s too late and Naomi comes bursting through the door, eyes red and tears staining her cheeks.

You !’ She shrieks once she lays eyes on Seokjin, and he can’t help but jump in his seat, flinching at her high-pitched words. There’s no way to back up though as Naomi storms closer, quickly pushing herself into Seokjin’s boundaries. “Why does it always have to be about you ?”

Seokjin doesn’t have an answer for Naomi’s question, nor does he have a chance to answer it, considering the next moment the backpack that Naomi has slung over her shoulder is being slammed down against him. He barely has time to move his head so that the bag hits the top of his head rather than his face. His hands are useless in helping him cover himself, so he brings his legs up instead, using them to snatch the backpack and with a tug, tear it out of Naomi’s hands.

As expected, Naomi doesn’t find Seokjin’s leg detexerity very amusing, and she starts trying to stomp on him instead. With each kick she tries to deliver, Seokjin manages to scoot himself over enough to avoid it or uses his legs to deflect some of the blow, though it doesn’t mean he doesn’t wince every single time Naomi’s shoe makes contact with his leg.

The sound is loud enough to wake up everyone else, and while Naomi blocks Seokjin's view of Jungkook, he knows the younger is awake the moment he hears a panicked, “Hyung? Hyung!”

Just the knowledge that Jungkook is watching is enough to give Seokjin a second surge of energy, and he manages to bare the pain of Naomi’s kicks long enough to wrap his legs around her and pull her to the ground, immediately trying to kick her away once she’s on the ground. There’s a moment where Seokjin can see he’s managed to knock the air out of her, but it’s a short-lived celebration when she quickly recovers, this time smartly holding back Seokjin’s legs by sitting her entire weight on top of them. It only takes another second before she has ahold of the collar of his shirt, pulling roughly to the side in a way that cuts of his windpipe.

“I thought if I locked you down here, you couldn’t steal Namjoonie,” Naomi hisses, shaking Seokjin by the collar. “Thought Namjoonie would see that he doesn’t need you, see that you’re just a distraction.”

Seokjin tries to wriggle away, or at least move enough that he can breathe properly again. However, the moment Seokjin starts to move, Naomi uses her grip on Seokjin’s shirt and pulls forward and then promptly pulls back in a sudden movement that not only has Seokjin gagging, but it sends his head flying backwards as well, the back of his head hitting the wall with a loud thunk.

“But there was no, ‘ Hey Naomi, good morning ’ or ‘ I’m so happy to see you ,’” she continues, the words coming so fiercely out of her mouth that she’s practically spitting. “I had to listen to ‘ Hey, did you see hyung? Oh, I hope hyung’s alright’ like I wasn’t even there! What was the point of taking you away if it’s still all Namjoonie will think about?”

Naomi drops Seokjin’s shirt collar, but he can see the next move she has planned out as he reaches her arm out - she’s going to choke him, just like before, but this time she won’t let go until he’s gone - the intent in her eyes is darker than ever. 

It’s enough motivation to find some last minute energy to move his legs from underneath Naomi’s weight, knocking her off for a moment’s time. Then she’s back, lunging with more vengeance than ever as she shouts, “Nobody looked Namjoonie’s way before but me! I was the one there for him the entire time, and you guys only bothered paying attention when it was convenient! It was supposed to be Namjoonie and me , and you showed up and decided to ruin it!”

Her spit lands on Seokjin’s cheek, her words followed by a loud huff. “If taking you away from Namjoonie wasn’t enough, I’ll just get rid of you!”

Jungkook audibly cries in the background, barely heard over the sound of him struggling against his restraints. It hurts his heart, listening to Jungkook’s pain, so much that he temporarily forgets his own.

Naomi manages to get her arm around Seokjin’s neck, and for a brief second he almost thinks it’s game over. But he has enough space and enough control over the rest of his body that he’s able to swing his momentum forward, bringing his head crashing against Naomi’s. There’s no hiding the fact that he cries out just as loud as Naomi does, but at least the fact that he’s crying proves that his airways are still open and that he’s still breathing. 

However, there’s only so much he can fight with when his hands are tied behind his back and Naomi has full mobility. Though she’s still emotionally charged, cursing Seokjin at every moment, her movements still contain the precision of someone who’s experienced in fighting, and more importantly, in winning. 

Seokjin is more than willing to use every single dirty trick in the book, spitting, screaming, biting. It’s enough for him to wrestle Naomi to the ground with his legs alone, not feeling an ouch of pity when he rams his knee into her face, definitely to leave a nasty bruise. He considers it payback for the bloody nose he currently sports from when he she elbowed him in the face only a few seconds earlier.

The sound of sirens join the party a few minutes later, when Seokjin is more blood, sweat and tears than person, and for a second, he thinks it’s just part of the buzzing in his ears. Between Jungkook shouting in the background, Naomi’s screaming and his own persistent grunts, Seokjin’s not really sure how he can hear anything , the sound of sirens becomes closer and closer, and for a split second, Naomi and Seokjin stop their fight to look each other in the eye, and Seokjin can see the comprehension in Naomi’s face. 

The end is finally here.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t convince Naomi to give up and lower her arms. If anything, she grows more intense, and she manages to land a good punch across Seokjin’s face. It’s enough to knock him out for a good second, and when he manages to wipe the fuzziness out of his brain, Naomi has him in another arm lock, and this time she’s smart enough to position herself behind Seokjin so that he can’t headbutt her, and his legs can’t reach her. All Seokjin can do is feel his lungs begin to burn, and he wonders where the sirens went. He reminds himself that somewhere on the internet, he read that he can go around three minutes without breathing before things start to go bad. But he also knows that if Naomi manages to cut off his blood supply, like she did the first time she knocked him out, it can only take a few seconds before things become irreversible.

Rather than the sound of the door being busted open, Seokjin hears Jungkook cry, “Hurry and help hyung! Hurry!” He doesn’t register what pulls Naomi off of him, but he does register that he feels like absolute shit. Instead of rejoicing that he can finally breathe again, Seokjin cries, every second of fear finally catching up to him. He can feel his hands become loose, and someone pats him on the shoulder, but he doesn’t say anything.

Doesn’t say anything until a heavy weight is suddenly thrown against him, and Seokjin is momentarily confused when he feels a pair of arms wrap around him, hugging him tightly. It’s not the same warm, familiar smell that Seokjin wants, but once he recognizes Jungkook’s weight slung against him, Seokjin is quick to return the hug, pulling Jungkook even closer.

“You’re alive,” Seokjin chokes out, not bothering to hide the fact that he’s crying. Plus, it’s hard to hear his sniffles over Jungkook’s loud sobs, his entire body shaking in Seokjin’s arms. Someone stands next to Seokjin, to the side, and he glances up to see Hoseok. Deep, dark bags mark underneath of his eyes, but he wears his trademark smile, though it’s paired with red eyes.

“Sorry it took us so long,” Hoseok says, and it hurts to see the guilt flash on Hoseok’s face, and Seokjin makes a note to go over it with him later that there’s no reason for Hoseok to apologize. Not when he’s here, not when Seokjin’s here, not when Jungkook’s here. “And I hate to break you guys up, but,” Hoseok points to his nose, “you’re kinda bleeding everywhere, and it’s kinda gross.”

“Shit, hyung, don’t get your nasty blood all over me,” Jungkook grumbles, not making any effort to move from where he is. Seokjin can’t help but laugh, though slightly hysterical, and he adjusts Jungkook so that he can reach an arm around to properly plug his nose so Jungkook doesn’t ended up using his blood as a new type of shampoo.

“Where’s Taehyung?” Seokjin asks once he realizes the second part of the detective duo is missing. The downstairs area is slowly emptying out, now that the police - who must’ve stormed the room - have escorted Naomi out. A few cops linger, taking notes of the scene, along with directing questions at Jaehwa and Soojin as the paramedics check them out. But even they’re slowly being escorted out of the room, making Hoseok, Jungkook and Seokjin the stragglers of the group.

“Oh, he ran back up as soon as we had confirmed that everyone was safe,” Hoseok explains with a small smile. “Speaking of which, I know you might feel tired, but how about getting out of here? I think Yoongi might put my head on a stick if he doesn’t see you in the next five seconds.”

The thought of Yoongi is enough to get Seokjin off his butt, which unfortunately means he has to lift Jungkook up as well because goodness forbid he stop hugging Jungkook. Seokjin’s attempts to carry Jungkook last at least a few good seconds before he almost drops Jungkook and the paramedics rush over, insisting that if Jungkook doesn’t feel good enough to walk that he should let them carry him out.

(Jungkook reassures them with a pout that he can walk, but just that it’s difficult to do when your brother drops you onto the ground.)

As they walk up the stairs, Seokjin’s suspicions are confirmed; they’re in the basement of the old judo place. He doesn’t remember seeing stairs in the brief moment he saw the inside of the building, but he’s only confused for a moment until they get all the way up the stairs and he can see the entrance to the stairs.

“It’s hidden,” he states, knowing it’s not the most intelligent statement he’s made, but it’s the biggest thought his brain can handle at the moment. He’s not sure how else he’d explain the hatch in the middle of the floor, and while the hatch is open at the moment, he’s pretty sure the floor boards would seamlessly match in with the rest of the place if it was down.

“There was a mat over it too,” Hoseok adds. “No one even knew there was a basement floor. Almost missed it too, considering the thing is pretty soundproof with the hatch shut.”

“Oh, how’d you find it then?”

Hoseok wiggles his eyebrows. “Would you believe if I said it was all thanks to my vibes ?”

Seokjin stares blankly.

“We followed Naomi home directly from school. She had covered it with the mat, but she hadn’t closed the hatch all the way. Namjoon tripped on it and almost broke his foot, but on the plus side, we found it!”

“Namjoon’s here?”

Hoseok nods. “Jimin too, they’re all outside with Tae. So let’s not keep them waiting, okay?” He encouragingly puts one hand on Seokjin’s back, guiding him out of the building. 

Seokjin spots Yoongi before Yoongi spots him. Usually, Yoongi is hard to find within a crowd simply due to the fact that he’s vertically challenged. However, today it looks like Yoongi has a slightly extra boost, riding on Taehyung’s back. 

As Seokjin gets closer, he can tell how tired Yoongi is, barely supporting himself against Taehyung’s back. He’s talking to Jimin - who’s standing next to them - but he’s not loud enough to make out the words from a distance.

When Yoongi finally spots Seokjin and Jungkook, it’s only when they’re almost right in front of him, and Seokjin can’t help but break into a big smile when he watches Yoongi wiggle out of Taehyung’s hold and land on the floor, arms already out wide as he approaches Seokjin. 

Without questioning it, Jungkook and Seokjin both manage to squeeze themselves into Yoongi’s hold.

“You fucking idiots,” Yoongi whispers, resting his forehead against Seokjin’s shoulder. “I swear, if you ever get into this kind of trouble again, I’ll kill you.” Yoongi takes a step back, and wipes away what suspiciously looks like tears in his eyes. “And Jungkook? Did you lose weight or something?” Worriedly, Yoongi pats down Jungkook’s sides, but more than actually feeling Jungkook, he’s tickling him, judging from the giggles it elicits from Jungkook. It seems like it’s on purpose when Yoongi shakes his head with a smile when Jungkook insists he’s only been gone for a day or so.

“Nonsense, I can’t believe I’m left with the task of fattening you up,” Yoongi says with a grin, poking at Jungkook’s ribs. “I guess I’ll just have to treat you to lamb skewers once we get this all settled out, don’t you think?”

“As long as I’m included in on the deal!” Jimin shouts from behind before sneaking into their small group hug, squishing himself in between Yoongi and Jungkook. “Yoongi-hyung, please buy me lamb skewers as well.”

“You don’t even eat meat that much,” Yoongi grumbles, but Seokjin can see from the twinkle in his eye that Yoongi already plans on treating everyone to whatever they could possibly want. 

“Hey, where’s Namjoon?” Seokjin asks, unable to miss the absent person from the group. He scans the nearby area, double checking to make sure he didn’t just miss Namjoon, but it’s hard to miss someone with purple hair, especially when they’re as tall as Namjoon, so Seokjin’s not surprised when he doesn’t spot Namjoon the second time he looks. “You said he was the one who tripped over the rug, right?” Seokjin gestures over to the group of ambulances now collected in front of the building, definitely getting a fair amount of stares from the public. “You’re not trying to tell me that the paramedicals had to deal with his broken foot or something, right?”

Taehyung laughs quietly, scratching the back of his head. “No, we thought he might’ve broken his toe, but he got it cleared.” Taehyung glances to the side, past the building and the crowd gathered around it - police, civilians, victims. “I think he’s outside of the crime scene tape. Said he needed to think, and that it was too noisy for him to do so inside the area.”

Seokjin nods, and doesn’t even have to say anything when he gently wiggles out of Yoongi’s hold (though not before pressing a soft kiss to Yoongi’s temple, the younger for once not complaining about it) before he heads in the direction Taehyung pointed him in. 

Now that the excitement of the situation is wearing off, Seokjin is definitely more aware of the distinct pain his body feels, each individual bruise on his body screaming at him. Except when he spots Namjoon, the pain seems to all fade away again, and he calls out to Namjoon softly, not wanting to scare the younger - who seems caught up with staring at his shoelaces as he sits on the sidewalk curb.

“Hey,” Seokjin says, voice low. He almost feels bad for disrupting Namjoon, and even with a lowered voice, Namjoon still startles at the sound. When he realizes it’s just Seokjin, he wipes away at his eyes, and it’s only then when Seokjin notices how puffy Namjoon’s eyes are.

“Hey,” Namjoon says, not moving from his spot on the sidewalk. So Seokjin does the next best thing and takes a seat next to him, letting their shoulders brush against each other. He hesitates, but eventually settles on letting a hand settle on Namjoon’s thigh.

“You okay?” It’s a silly question, Seokjin knows it is. He’s not sure on the details of Namjoon and Naomi’s friendship, but the reveal has obviously thrown Namjoon off. Whether he’s feeling betrayed, sad, or maybe just disappointed, Seokjin doesn’t know, and he knows even if there is ever a time appropriate to ask, now isn’t the time. All Seokjin can do is squeeze Namjoon’s thigh reassuringly, hoping that his presence can offer some sort of comfort. 

Namjoon snorts, but Seokjin doesn’t miss the way Namjoon brings his own hand to cover Seokjin’s, resting gently on top. “Isn’t that supposed to be my line? You look like shit.”

“Wow, what a romantic,” Seokjin says, narrowing his eyes. He’s sure the effect of the glare is cancelled by the small smile he can’t stop.

“What can I say, I’m a natural with words.”

And then Namjoon leans his head on Seokjin’s shoulder, and Seokjin’s head goes empty. A soft sigh leaves Namjoon’s mouth, and he subtly squeezes Seokjin’s hand.

Without a word, Seokjin flips his around so he can capture Namjoon’s and interlace their fingers.

They stay silent for a moment, simply listening to the sound of each other breathing. While Seokjin is acutely aware of every single place they touch, he’s also a type of relaxed he didn’t even know existed. Like the stormy waves of the ocean have finally settled onto the shore, only soft, gentle waves hitting the dry land.

“I think the paramedics are looking for you,” Namjoon finally says, using his chin to gesture in the direction where all the ambulances are waiting. Seokjin doesn’t bother looking, because unfortunately, he knows Namjoon is right. The idea of staying exactly where he is forever though is appealing enough that Seokjin considers ignoring Namjoon’s words.

“I don’t even need to ride in an ambulance, I’m fine,” Seokjin grumbles, but he doesn’t protest when Namjoon stands up and offers a hand out, taking it without hesitation. Once he’s on his feet, he doesn't let go of Namjoon’s hand. “I don’t know for sure, but I know sometimes they let someone ride in the ambulance with the patient-”

Namjoon shakes his head, understanding Seokjin’s invitation. “No, I’ll catch a ride with Tae and Hoseok. I’m pretty sure Yoongi will take the seat if he can anyway.”

The idea of Yoongi coming in the ambulance with Seokjin is just as reassuring of a thought, but Seokjin also can’t picture a reality in which he lets go of Namjoon’s hands, and to convey the feeling, he holds onto Namjoon’s hand even tighter. An emotion bubbles in Seokjin’s chest, the pressure of the emotion pressing against his chest, building up like someone pulling back a rubber band.

And the rubber band snaps when Namjoon places one hand on Seokjin’s cheek to direct his face his direction, and then gently presses a kiss to the corner of Seokjin’s hairline, carefully avoiding the bump on his head from when he bumped Naomi.

“I’ll see you at the hospital?” His voice is gentle, shy, and just too much for Seokjin to just stand there and handle.

So with as much coordination as he can, he reaches up to grab Namjoon’s face, pulls him close and kisses him.

“I’ll be waiting,” Seokjin whispers against Namjoon’s lips, glad that they’re standing close enough that Namjoon can’t see the love-struck look on Seokjin’s face.

 

***

 

Yoongi does end up riding in the ambulance with Seokjin thanks to the fact that his condition isn’t too critical. The paramedics help patch him up, and start running basic tests on him as they check for signs of a concussion or any other type of brain damage. They determine Seokjin is relatively fine, but that doesn’t stop him from being checked in at the hospital along with the three other victims.

Once at the hospital, Yoongi is kicked out as Seokjin is transported to a hospital room - which is annoying, considering Seokjin thinks he’s in the mood to hold Yoongi’s hand at the moment. (Granted, when is anybody not in the mood to hold Yoongi’s hand?)

A good chunk of time is spent getting his blood drawn, along with various other amounts of in-hospital tests that leave Seokjin exhausted. Just as he thinks it’ll be time to rest, the nurses finally leaving him alone, the police finally get okay-ed to talk to him. 

There’s a lot of questions Seokjin doesn’t want to answer - a lot of them being all of them - but he’s too tired to argue them away, so he limply responds to each question they pester him with. Mostly they ask about the last few minutes of his interactions with Naomi, trying to get an understanding of the amount of damage he delivered to her. Then they ask about his involvement in the case, and Seokjin doesn’t even feel bad about acting dumb. He’s worn out, physically and mentally, and while he understands the two detectives in the room are just trying to do their job, he only has so much patience. 

But he tries his best to push through. He even manages to squeak out an answer when they ask about his relationship with Namjoon. He’s perfectly aware that he shouts, “we’re friends! Good friends!” a little too loudly, but he figures the fact that he’s in a hospital in one of those stupid hospital gowns with an IV stuck in his arm is a good enough excuse for not exactly being smooth.

Luckily, it’s the door opening that saves him from having to go into deeper details. At first Seokjin thinks it’s a nurse coming to check on him - maybe they’ll be nice and give him another box of apple juice - but instead he’s faced with a familiar boxy grin.

“Boss is looking for you guys,” Taehyung says, walking into the room while holding the door opens. He gestures at the opening and says, “He says it’s fine for me to take over, so don’t worry about.”

The two detectives strangely don’t question Taehyung, which feels a bit strange to Seokjin considering they’re both older than Taehyung by a good amount, judging by the amount of wrinkles they have on their faces. However, they seem to give a decent amount of respect to Taehyung’s words.

“Is your reputation really that good?” Seokjin asks once the detectives leave and Taehyung shuts the door.

Taehyung laughs. “I mean, sort of. But you’d be surprised to hear how many things one gets away with when your dad is the top-dog.”

Seokjin blinks. “Your dad’s a detective?” Taehyung nods. “I guess… That makes sense? But also, I never knew.”

Taehyung shrugs. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me. But that’s for another story,” he says with a wink.

He walks over to the bed and hops up so he sits on the small space on the side where Seokjin isn’t taking the space up. His legs dangle from the end of the bed. “How are you feeling?”

Like shit ,” Seokjin and Taehyung say at the same time, the sentence ending with a victorious grin from Taehyung, followed with a fist pumped into the air.

“Sorry, I knew you’d say that. You look like shit too,” Taehyung says, laughing when Seokjin scrunches his nose at the last comment. “I’m kidding. I mean, you do look like shit, but you also look alive , and that’s as beautiful as it gets.”

Seokjin finds himself unable to argue with that. A sudden surge of gratitude washes over him. “I wouldn’t be, though, if it weren’t for you. Alive, that is.”

“I don’t know, I thought you were doing a pretty good job by yourself,” Taehyung jokes, though his expression quickly turns serious, lips pressed into a thin line. “I think only an hour since you had dropped Namjoon passed when Yoongi called me and told me something was wrong, because you weren’t home yet.”

“You knew the last person I was seen with was Naomi. Why’d it take you so long to find me?” It’s not a bitter or accusing question, but genuine curiosity.

“Naomi said you had driven back to Namjoon’s place to drop off a jacket. Your car was over there, along with the jacket. We thought something must’ve happened in the parking lot.” Taehyung shakes his head. “I should’ve thought it was suspicious, but Namjoon - just like he was convinced Jackson wasn’t the culprit - couldn’t believe that Naomi had anything to do with the case.”

Seokjin grimaces, his suspicions were confirmed that Namjoon had no idea Naomi was the culprit. He’s just lucky that Namjoon bothered even mentioning that Seokjin dropped Naomi off at her place. 

“How did you find us, then? If you thought Naomi wasn’t the bad guy?”

Taehyung smiles at that question. “ I was fooled, but Hobi-hyung was there with me when we were interrogating Naomi, and his vibes -” Taehyung gives Seokjin a wink at the word, grin widening when Seokjin groans, “-were going crazy. Didn’t know why , but it was enough to grab our attention. So I stole half the team that was following Kitty and had them monitor Naomi while we looked for further evidence.”

“I think I figured most of that out, so I’m sure you did too.”

Taehyung nods. “When picturing Naomi as the culprit, everything lined up. The motive. The means. It didn’t take us too long to even find a couple traffic cameras that showed her driving your car to Namjoon’s apartment.” He frowns. “Not to mention she doesn’t even have her driver’s license. So I guess she’ll get in trouble for that too.”

Seokjin doesn’t want to think about all the trouble Naomi is in. She has a murder on her hands, along with the kidnapping of four other individuals. The only thing she has going for her is that she’s young, and the jury might feel bad for her - maybe. 

“Once we figured out it was Naomi, we just had to find out where she was storing you guys. Since the police had already visited her place when they asked about Soojin, I thought it had to be at a different location. But when we tracked her, the only place she went was home, so we waited.”

“And you eventually realized there was a basement?”

“The next day, I had Namjoon go to school, just to vibe check on Naomi. I was in the car waiting to follow her in case anything happened so I didn’t hear directly, but according to Namjoon she got pretty upset the moment he mentioned your name.”

Seokjin nods, remembering the fury Naomi carried when she stormed into the room, ready to take her anger out on him. 

“So we followed her back to her house, and after waiting a few minutes, Hobi-hyung said he felt like we needed to go inside. The door was locked, but he took care of that pretty quickly. And then Namjoon almost broke his foot on the open hatch, and well, you know the rest from there.”

It’s a lot for Seokjin to take in, not so much the facts of the case, but the idea that it’s finally over is so overwhelming that Seokjin brings his hands to his head, rubbing at his temples. Taehyung rubs his shoulders sympathetically, letting out a soft hum.

“It’s a lot, I know,” Taehyung says. “It’s a lot, even for me. Couldn’t believe we were blind enough to ignore the fact that the case wasn’t about Jimin or you, but Namjoon.” Taehyung tilts his head, wearing a smirk. “Though I guess it was kinda about you.”

Seokjin frowns. “What do you mean?”

“The fact that Naomi so sloppily kidnapped you in such a rush means she had some extra motivation. I don’t know the details of it, but a little birdie,” Taehyung winks again, “told me there might’ve been some cheek kisses involved.” He waggles his eyebrows. “So you and Namjoon, huh?”

Taehyung barely has time to throw out finger guns (along with another wink) before Seokjin throws his pillow directly at Taehyung’s face.

 

+++
Luckily, both Seokjin's and Jungkook’s injuries are minor, and they’re only stuck at the hospital for a couple of days before being released. Almost all the police questioning was completed at the hospital, which means by Thursday night, everyone is able to gather at SUGA Cakes to help prepare for tomorrow’s opening.

They haven’t been open since Jungkook went missing, and normally, Seokjin would be worried about customer flow being significantly slowed after the store's sudden hiatus.

However, normally his shop wouldn’t be front headlines after the details of the missing persons’ case are revealed to the media. It’s not long before everyone knows how Naomi targeted her victims, and how they were all linked. Just like Taehyung predicted forever ago - SUGA Cakes was the link to the case, and the people of the news were happy to talk about it.

Which meant that SUGA Cakes’ Twitter page had gained hundreds of followers overnight, and the post Yoongi made earlier in the day about SUGA Cakes opening tomorrow at normal store hours had already gained thousands of likes, the comment section split between people being happy for the business that they could finally reopen, and the other half being a mix of old and potentially new customers screaming about how they’re excited to come back in.

“I don’t think I could eat anymore cupcakes,” Taehyung groans, leaning back against the chair he’s sitting in. He rubs his stomach, whining, “Hobi-hyung, why’d you let me eat so many? Do you know how many cupcakes I ate? Do you? Do you know how much pain -”

“I literally told you not to eat that fourth cupcake, but sure, tell me about your pain,” Hoseok deadpans, looking a little too unimpressed with Taehyung considering Seokjin watched Hoseok pack away at least three cupcakes of his own in the last few hours.

Seokjin’s surprised everyone isn’t already cupcake-ed out, considering they had cupcakes leftover from the days they weren’t open that they couldn’t sell now, and while a good chunk of it had been donated, a good chunk of it had also ended up in his friends’ stomachs.

But as they helped bake the entire day, more than one stray cupcake had been ingested by the crew, including Seokjin. Not that Seokjin minded, considering everyone had volunteered to come in and help, including Jimin and Jungkook.

It took almost all day, but the fridges are finally properly stocked again. Everything’s cleaned, and Seokjin already feels exhausted by the upcoming busy day he knows he’s going to have. Not to mention he’s tired from being on his feet all day long, and he’s pretty sure all the pain killers he’s been taking aren’t helping. 

Luckily, while his bed is all the way back at home, Namjoon is sitting right next to him, and he makes a very nice pillow to lean against, allowing his head to rest on Namjoon’s shoulder. Seokjin lets his eyes close, and thinks he could fall asleep right there when he feels Namjoon’s hand slide to the small of his back, rubbing small circles. 

The only thing that keeps Seokjin from falling asleep is the fact that despite him feeling like Namjoon’s movements are subtle, he opens his eyes when he hears Hoseok clearing his throat, only to find Hoseok staring directly at him with a smirk.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Hoseok drawls, tilting his head. “But I’ve been getting some really strong vibes from you two.”

Namjoon chokes on his spit - though the movement of his hand on Seokjin’s back doesn’t stop, which leads to Seokjin to wonder if Namjoon is even aware of his hand on Seokjin or if it’s more of a subconscious action.

There’s not much time to ponder it, with Taehyung quickly joining the conversation. “Y’know, I was just thinking the same thing! Some real vibes going on over here!” He gestures to the two of them, and it’s only around that time that Seokjin thinks it might look a little less incriminating if he took his head off Namjoon’s shoulder. But he’s also really comfortable, so maybe he won’t move.

“Wait,” Jungkook brings both his hands to his head, rubbing at his temples. At first, Seokjin’s concerned, because the doctors had informed him that Jungkook had a mild concussion and was going to be suffering from symptoms for a few weeks. It looks like Jungkook has a headache, or he’s having to work hard to produce some sort of thought, but all of Seokjin’s concern is washed away when Jungkook repeats, “Wait!” And then his fiercely concentrated expression is replaced with a giant smile, eyes sparkling. “I think I feel the vibes too!” Unlike Hoseok and Taehyung who look annoyingly smug, Jungkook looks genuinely happy for his discovery, turning to the two detectives. Since he sits closer to Taehyung, he reaches over and shakes Taehyung’s leg in excitement. “Hey, do you think I’m finally accessing my inner vibe sensor?”

Seokjin, even after all this time, still wants to call bullshit on the whole vibes thing, but it’s also Jungkook’s smile and he has no intentions of wiping it away, so he only rolls his eyes slightly at Jungkook’s excitement, glancing over at Yoongi to gage his reaction. Unfortunately, Yoongi isn’t looking at anything - his eyes are closed, just as tired as Seokjin, with his body evenly distributed between two chairs. It just happens that one of the chairs contains Jimin as well, and Yoongi’s head rests evenly on Jimin’s thighs. 

However, Taehyung seems to share Jungkook’s excitement about the vibes. “Oh, Jungkookie’s figuring the vibes out!” With Jungkook’s hands still shaking his own thighs, Taehyung reaches over and starts shaking Hoseok’s thighs. “Hyung, make Jungkook your apprentice! I feel like he could have a real knack for it if you taught him!”

Hoseok grumbles and shakes his head. “Please, you’re just trying to replace me now.”

Taehyung frowns. “Hyung, you know there’s no replacing you, vibes or not.”

Jungkook chimes in agreement, and Jimin gives out a hoot of agreement as well - which causes Yoongi, who was obviously asleep until that moment, to suddenly groan about everyone being too loud. It’s a sweet scene - everyone coming into play in front of Seokjin, and god everyone just fits so naturally together than Seokjin can’t even believe it didn’t exist before the entire case.

He smiles - there’s no replacing them.

“Wait, so is there something going on between you and Namjoon-hyung?” Jungkook asks, and damn it, now he wears the same stupid smirk Hoseok and Taehyung did and Seokjin’s starting to think maybe he does need to replace them all with nicer friends who’ll just let him casually snuggle up to Namjoon without judging him.

“No, we’re just-” Seokjin starts, but he doesn’t take his sentence any farther because he knows whatever will come out of his mouth will be lies, and he can feel Namjoon’s gaze shift onto him and quite frankly, he’s not sure how to answer the question. There’s the undeniable fact that Seokjin kissed Namjoon, implying that he most likely doesn’t view Namjoon as a friend. Luckily, they’ve already established that Namjoon thinks Seokjin’s the hottest stuff to walk the world (admittedly, who doesn’t?) so at this point Seokjin can’t find a problem outside of the fact that he might actually have to talk about his emotions and feelings with Namjoon - which feels like a pretty big problem. A problem Seokjin doesn’t really want to deal with, quite honestly, and is thinking about just continuing to take advantage of Namjoon’s shoulder. And maybe thinking about kissing him again, for real, preferably with their friends not watching even though now that Seokjin glances over at Namjoon he definitely looks very kissable and-

“Hey, I’m spending the night at Jimin’s,” Yoongi suddenly announces, still not sitting upward. A small shocked noise escapes Jimin’s throat, and the look of surprise on Jimin’s face indicates that it’s a social plan that Yoongi definitely just made up on the fly without actually consulting Jimin first. More importantly, without consulting Seokjin first.

“But Yoongi, tonight's movie night,” Seokjin whines. Movie night really just means cuddle night with whatever movie they decide they’re not actually interested in -  a movie just interesting enough not to be completely cringey when they spoon together and fall asleep before 10 o’clock. 

“I’m sure Namjoon would be more than happy to take my place for the night,” Yoongi responds, like it’s the most simple thing in the world. And it would be the most simple thing in the world except now Seokjin carries a lot of feelings for Namjoon and he’s not sure how he’s supposed to casually watch a movie with Namjoon. He thinks about replicating the same cuddling he does with Yoongi with Namjoon, and his head goes empty.

“Hey, why don’t you ever have sleepovers at our place” Taehyung complains, stomping his feet a little. But then, with afterthought, he adds, “But I guess Jimin’s house has the extra bed, huh. Gives you a place to sleep, yeah?”

Yoongi snorts.

“Yeah. The extra bed . That’s where I sleep.”

 

+++

 

Seokjin isn’t sure how it happened, but he’s not exactly surprised because at this point in life he’s too used to Min Yoongi getting his way. So he doesn’t question when everyone leaves SUGA Cakes at the end of the night and Namjoon rides in the passenger seat of his car on the way to Seokjin’s apartment.

They don’t even bother stopping at Namjoon’s place to grab clothes. When they arrive at the apartment, Seokjin simply lends some of his more oversized clothes to Namjoon to change into. He tries not to laugh too hard when his pants end up being too short on Namjoon, revealed a decent amount of ankle and lower calf. But then it concerns Seokjin, because is Namjoon really that much taller than him?

“Go ahead and make yourself comfy,” Seokjin says, gesturing to the couch without making eye contact with Namjoon. There’s a small, logical part of his mind that’s trying to remind him that he’s already shared a couch space with Namjoon, already cuddled with Namjoon on said couch space. But it’s definitely different this time around, or at least, to Seokjin it feels like it is. Something in the air that isn’t suffocating, but rather tingling, every part of Seokjin’s body fully aware of the situation he’s in. 

He hooks up his laptop to the TV and blindly selects one of the movies Yoongi and him had bookmarked specifically for movie night, vaguely catching the fact that it’s some sort of nature documentary. Not something he’d normally watch, but then again, that’s the point of movie night with Yoongi - to find something they won’t actually watch so they can fall asleep.

Except now Seokjin isn’t sleepy, and it’s not Yoongi on his couch, but Namjoon, and he’s wearing his clothes and there’s just A Lot to think about. But Seokjin is actually really good at choosing to ignore all his thoughts when he really wants to, and he takes a seat next to Namjoon on the couch.

Despite the couch being the same couch Yoongi and Seokjin have sat on for years, Seokjin can’t seem to get comfortable as he sits down, wiggling in his spot. Next to him, Namjoon doesn’t seem to notice at all, leaned back and peacefully watching the movie. Which is beyond frustrating to Seokjin, who’s having a mini internal melt down over the fact that their thighs are touching. Of course, Seokjin’s the one who scooched close enough to Namjoon for that to happen, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s hyper aware of the contact and Namjoon keeps watching the animal documentary with sparkling eyes. 

Admittedly, the creatures featured on the TV are very cute, especially the bats. Seokjin almost wishes he was a bat, so he could hang down from the ceiling and grumble about how Namjoon is stupid for not taking his hand - which he’s very obviously placed on the younger’s lap. It’s even more obvious than Yoongi’s technique to get someone to hold his hand - usually glaring at their hand until they notice - but Namjoon seems none the wiser, cooing when the camera zooms in on a bat eating fruit, highlighting the little squeaks it makes.

Seokjin’s frustrated; he can’t pay attention to the movie because Namjoon’s distracting him, but Namjoon also isn’t properly invested in distracting Seokjin like he should be. Which shouldn’t be an issue since Seokjin isn’t bothered by the idea of being the instigator in their relationship. But there’s also this horrifying thought that Namjoon might not even want to hold his hand, and well, Seokjin thinks it’d be nice if Namjoon just got the message (that Seokjin refuses to tell him) and held his hand. That’s all he’s asking for.

But that’s not what he gets, not even after a few more minutes of waiting. So instead of sitting and wallowing in self pity, he decides to take action - and immediately runs away.

“I’m gonna go grab us some snacks,” he says, dismissing himself from the couch. He lets his hand drag against Namjoon’s thigh as he stands up, somehow hoping in the back of his mind that it’d finally be the message Namjoon needed to actually take Seokjin’s hand - a hopeless thought, as Namjoon only hums in recognition of Seokjin’s words, eyes focused on the screen.

It doesn’t feel like Seokjin’s properly ran away when he departs to the kitchen considering the size of his apartment rather than a physical wall divider between the kitchen and living room it simply fades from room to room, carpet becoming tile where the kitchen counters start. So while there’s actually nothing physically blocking Namjoon from Seokjin, it’s as close as Seokjin’ll get without locking himself in the bathroom for the rest of the night.

So he focuses on putting together some sort of snack tray for them to enjoy. He really wishes he would’ve known Namjoon was going to come over earlier, because it would’ve given him time to prepare for it. Yoongi’s definition of a snack is the bag of chocolate that he thinks is hidden in the bottom drawer underneath a bag of rice, and Seokjin’s definition of a snack is preferably a full course meal. 

Popcorn is a good start, considering it takes no culinary abilities from Seokjin, so he picks up a bag from the cupboards and throws it in the microwave after removing the plastic wrapper around it. There’s a preset time for popcorn on the microwave, but after a few years of owning the same microwave, Seokjin and Yoongi have figured out the perfect amount of time to put the popcorn in for, down to the second.

Seokjin’s in the middle of cutting up an apple when he hears Namjoon get up from the couch, and it only takes him a second to end up in the kitchen.

“Can I help you with anything, hyung?”

It would be one thing if Namjoon had asked from his spot on the couch, but not only has Namjoon joined Seokjin in the kitchen, but he’s standing right behind him, close enough that Seokjin’s sure if he were to lean back, his back would hit Namjoon’s chest.

“No.” His voice doesn’t come out as firm as he wants it to. Mostly because he’s lying, but the fact that Namjoon’s leaned forward, peaking over his shoulder to get a better look at what he’s doing.

“Oh, you’ve stopped.” Seokjin didn’t even realize it until Namjoon says it, and he looks down at the stilled knife in his hands, mid-slice of an apple. “Something wrong?”

“No.” Seokjin huffs, lowering the knife to allow it to cut through the rest of the apple with a thud as it hits against the chopping board. “Well, yes . You’re distracting me.”

Distracting him with Namjoon’s breath hitting against the side of his face. Distracting him with the thought that if he turned his head just a little bit, he’d be able to capture Namjoon’s lips in a kiss.

Namjoon doesn’t get it. He takes a quick step back, and Seokjin almost stomps his feet in frustration because that’s the opposite of what he wants. “Oh, sorry hyung, I didn’t mean to-”

Seokjin’s shoulders stiffen, but he doesn’t turn around.

“Distract me.”

Unsurprisingly, Namjoon still doesn’t get it, audibly expressing his confusion. “Wait, what do you mean?” 

Seokjin stares at the half cut apple in front of him, and sighs. There’s a definite heat in the tips of his ears that he knows glow red, but he can’t just stay in the kitchen and chop the stupid apple forever.

He turns around, and grumbles, “C’mon, don’t make me say it!” He walks right into a confused Namjoon, head lowered and forehead coming into contact with Namjoon’s shoulder. He stays there for a brief moment, just because it feels nice, especially when Namjoon brings his hands to rest on Seokjin’s hips. 

When Seokjin pulls his face back so he can look Namjoon directly in the eye, he knows his cheeks are flushed red past the point of ignoring, but he tries his best to sound confident when he whispers again, “ Distract me .” Except, this time Namjoon’s eyes go wide in a sense of comprehension, and it’s all Seokjin needs to bring his hands up to Namjoon’s face and cradle it gently as uses his body to push Namjoon back against the counter, moving himself so his face is directly in front of Namjoon’s. Their breaths intermingle.

“Can I kiss you?”

It’s a dumb question, considering not only did Seokjin kiss Namjoon earlier without his permission, the distance between them now means that even as Seokjin talks, their lips brush against each other. It becomes even dumber when Namjoon leans forward just the smallest amount so that there's a definite pressure of their lips pressing against each other, and it’s definitely a kiss but Namjoon still has the nerve to break away from it and whisper, “Only if you want to, hyung.”

“Well, then I guess you’re in luck,” Seokjin murmurs, giving up on any subtleness of the kiss. He opens his mouth, slotting their lips together and he lets the hands holding Namjoon’s face slide back in his hair, allowing his fingers to get lost within the purple strands. “Because I think I’d really like to kiss you.”

“Then I think you should get to it,” Namjoon manages in the brief second Seokjin pulls away. His face is flushed, hair parted in every other direction thanks to Seokjin’s meddling hands, lips pink and beginning to swell.

It’s too much to resist, and Seokjin leans back in, kissing Namjoon again as another wave of emotion overwhelms him, but he can’t help but laugh when Namjoon starts smiling into the kiss, and he pulls back to ask him what’s up.

“I was just thinking,” Namjoon says, and Seokjin furrows his brows immediately when he sees the mischievous twinkle in Namjoon’s eye, “that Hobi ended up being right about his vibes , huh?”

Namjoon is laughing before Seokjin can even gasp in horror, swatting at Namjoon and trying to walk away. It’s hard to walk when he’s laughing though, and even harder when Namjoon wraps his arms around him from behind, pressing a kiss to Seokjin’s cheek as Seokjin pretends to wriggle out of his grasp. In the end, Seokjin leans back against Namjoon, twisting enough so he can meet Namjoon’s lips with his own.

And though they’re both failing miserably to not smile into the kiss, making it a humorous mess of teeth clacking rather than something romantic, Seokjin knows he wouldn’t have it any other way.

++++

 

Seokjin barely has his foot in the door when the chaos begins.

“Hyung, do you know where the fucking step-stool is?” Yoongi grumbles, on his tiptoes with his arms fully extended. His fingers are inches off from reaching the shelf that he’s aiming for. “I’m about five seconds away from using Jungkook as my own personal step-stool. Where did you put it?”

Seokjin glances over at Jungkook, who doesn’t look the least bit excited about becoming Yoongi’s human step-stool. “First of all, unlike you, I don’t need the step-stool, so I didn’t put it anywhere.” When Yoongi opens his mouth to argue, Seokjin holds out his hand, flat, to silence him. “Second of all, it’s probably in your car where you put it after you said you needed it for something back at home.”

Yoongi groans, realizing that Seokjin’s right. He drops off his tip toes to roll back onto his heels, crossing his arms over his chest. “Well, now that you’re here, why don’t you just grab it?” Yoongi tilts his head. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you asked for the day off?”

“He ended up worrying that you guys were gonna be too busy,” Namjoon answers, coming in front the back door only a little bit before Seokjin. His purple hair is in desperate need of redying, so even though it’s not cold outside, he wears a dark beanie over his head.

“Nah, we just came here to flex on all you shorties,” Seokjin says, grinning when Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Hey, can you grab that,” he points at the box Yoongi is trying to get down from the shelf, “for us?” 

While Namjoon grumbles about being useful for other reasons besides being tall, Jungkook also complains, “Hey! I’m not even that short!”

Seokjin sticks his tongue out. “Shorter than me.”

“Well, at least I’m taller than Yoongi-hyung!”

Yoongi is too used to being the butt of short jokes, so Seokjin expects Yoongi to just shrug it off like normal. Except Yoongi raises his voice, leaning towards the front of the store and shouts, “Well, at least I’m taller than Jimin!”

Jimin rushes into the back a moment later, fists raised. The moment he spots Yoongi, he runs over and tackles him to the ground, anger transforming into laughter once they hit the ground, Jungkook’s own laughter blending in with Jimin’s nicely.

“You’re shorter than me like this,” Jimin says, sitting on top of Yoongi proudly. Yoongi lies on the floor in defeat, not even bothering with trying to fight Jimin to get up.

“Aren’t you supposed to be working?” Yoongi grumbles, lightly tapping Jimin’s back twice. It’s the younger’s cue to stand up, offering out a hand for Yoongi as well.

“Nah, it’s my lunch time, I’m starving. Someone’s gotta relieve me.”

“See, I knew they’d be too busy!” Seokjin says, already reaching for his apron. Jungkook’s the one to stop him, snatching his wrist.

“Don’t worry about it hyung, I’ve got it!” Jungkook volunteers, smiling brightly. With a wink, he adds, “Go enjoy your date with Namjoon-hyung, alright?”

Suddenly Seokjin has three different people chanting, “Date! Date! Date!” at him, and when a fourth voice chimes in, Seokjin turns and gives Namjoon an expectant look, and all Namjoon has so offer is a guilty smile.

“Date?” He offers weakly, offering out his hand for Seokjin to take - a temptation not to be resisted. “C’mon, I have this wonderful boyfriend who I haven’t seen all week and I’d love to take him on a date.”

Seokjin pretends to ponder the question, pressing his finger to his lips. “I suppose you do have a pretty wonderful boyfriend. And I guess he wouldn’t mind abandoning his staff in their time of need to go on a date with you.”

Yoongi groans. “You’re so dramatic. Just get out of here already.”

Seokjin glances at Jungkook. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay? Saturday crowds are always busy-”

Jungkook shakes his head. “Nowadays every day is busy. I’m not worried about it. If we really need help we can just call Taehyung and Hoseok-hyung.”

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “Just remember that Taehyung is banned from the kitchen, you hear me?”

Jungkook nods, and after a quick moment of decision, Seokjin accepts the answer and turns back to Namjoon, grabbing him by the hand. “Okay, Jungkook said we could leave, so we’re leaving, don’t try to call me back.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Why would we call you back? It’s Saturday, but surely Jungkook-” Yoongi stops speaking, initial confusion morphing into comprehension, and finally ending with amusement. “Oh, I see. Don’t worry, it’ll be good character building.”

They leave out the same door they came in, Seokjin glancing at the clock on his phone as he does so. It’s just barely before two in the afternoon, and even from the back of the building, Seokjin can hear the incoming crowds.

“Okay, we have to go quickly because if Jungkook calls before I get into the car, I’ll end up staying,” Seokjin informs Namjoon, unlocking the car on both sides. Namjoon lets go of Seokjin’s hand to slide into the passenger side, and when Seokjin gets in the driver’s side, he’s met with an inquisitive look from Namjoon.

“College club rush on Saturdays is Jungkook’s single weakness,” Seokjin says, starting the ignition of the car. “I try to stop things from going too messy by letting Jungkook avoid that crowd. However,” Seokjin shrugs a single shoulder, using his other arm to put the car into gear, “Jungkook volunteered to do it, so I’m free to go.”

“He totally forgot about it, didn’t he?”

“Oh, most definitely, there’s no way he’d let me go if-”

Just as the car starts rolling backwards out of the parking spot, Seokjin’s phone begins to ring. Namjoon picks it up, reading the caller ID out loud. “It’s Jungkook. Should I answer it?”

“Should? Yes. But that’s not important. What’s important is that I have my very handsome boyfriend in the car with me and I’d really like to take him on a date,” Seokjin says, taking the phone from Namjoon and slipping it to silent. “Besides, a little bit of chaos’ll be good for ‘Kook.” Considering all that’s gone on, Seokjin is surprised Jungkook isn’t used to the chaos. But Seokjin supposes that’s the fun of it - not being able to smoothly run with every punch life throws at you, to trip and fall on the bumps along the way.

With a smile, Seokjin drives off, and wonders what chaos tomorrow will bring.