Ants. Think of ants, the weird ones that drink juice and their butts change color and-
Snap! Photo taken, Namjoon’s hand off his shoulder, Jeongguk can relax. Jimin throws his arm around his neck and he tries to smile instead of mourn the fact that Namjoon has one more reason to add to the thousands of reasons to think he’s an absolute idiot.
Worth it. He can never know what Jeongguk feels when Namjoon touches him if he doesn’t cover it with other thoughts.
They had all found out about Namjoon’s odd “condition” the week after they signed the contract with BigHit, in a private meeting preceded by signing a contract agreeing to never speak of what they were about to hear in the meeting.
“I hear what people think, basically, when I touch them. I can’t turn it off or I would.”
Seokjin had slapped his knee and laughed loud, sure it was a joke. It wasn’t.
“Yeah fucking right,” Yoongi scoffed at the same moment Jimin asked, “Is that why you get weird when I try to hug you?”
He had just nodded. Looked so sad. Taehyung had of course been the first to hold out his hand and demand Namjoon say what he was thinking. Namjoon sighed like he had been expecting this and took Taehyung’s hand. “You’re wondering if I knew that you took my red headphones and broke them. Yeah I knew.”
“Woahhh,” Taehyung growled with a big silly look of shock.
“Do me next!” Hoseok had shouted, everyone yelling in amazement when Namjoon said he was thinking about his great uncle’s photograph in the hallway of his grandmother’s home. The rest of them lined up, clamoring for Namjoon to read them too.
He rolled his eyes but looked a little less sad, like maybe this was going better than he’d anticipated. The rest of them hollering at each other, Namjoon reached for Jeongguk’s hand last.
He’d snatched it away with a panicked “no.”
That no plays over and over in his head, even still. He’ll never forget the hurt on Namjoon’s face in the moment, the way it changed everything between them.
Namjoon was careful. He rarely touched any of them but Jeongguk might as well have a contagious disease. He’s doing it for your sake, he reminds himself every time the hurt wells up at Namjoon’s pronounced avoidance. He thinks you don't want it. He thinks that because you said no.
And anyway, they get along fine. Namjoon isn’t mad at him, respects the very normal choice Jeongguk made to not want his thoughts intruded upon. But every time Namjoon doesn’t give him a pat on the back or moves opposite him for a group hug, it’s a reminder that Namjoon has never forgotten that moment when Jeongguk snatched his hand away and refused to trust.
He wants to reverse it but he can’t. If it was a simple crush, an attraction they could laugh or fuck away that would be one thing. But the reality is, he’s in love. Deeply and wholly, and Namjoon can never know.
“Pass me the stew?”
Jeongguk nods and reaches for the pot. His fingers get caught beneath Namjoon’s and fear thrills through him.
“Sorry,” Namjoon murmurs in the din of the restaurant.
Jimin, full of post-concert joy and a few drinks, bounces over and throws his arms around Namjoon’s neck. Carefree and unafraid of what Namjoon sees in his mind, in that moment, at least.
He’s seen everyone do it, blips of friendly trust in the pointed space they leave around Namjoon on most days. Moments like these, touch given without hesitation are rare and short, and Namjoon flusters immediately.
Jimin tears away to steal a bite of food from Seokjin’s plate and it’s a little quieter on their end of the table again.
“Namjoon hyung? Do you- never mind.”
“What,” he laughs softly. Looks tired. Nothing in the world Jeongguk wants to do more than wrap him in a hug.
“I just- do you ever- do you ever wish someone could read your thoughts? Because, you know. Because it’s so hard to say what you’re thinking sometimes and… that can be, I dunno, maybe lonely. Like-! If it could just- just be reversed, sometimes. Or... I dunno.”
He’s not sure what the hell made him say it, they nearly never talk about Namjoon’s ability. They nearly never talk about how Namjoon feels at all, and maybe that's why, a deep craving to connect a little to the one he loves, to foster some trust.
Namjoon just nods, a sorrow so carefully contained. “Yeah. But not like this.” He holds up his hands and stares at this palms. Drunk and a little less guarded with the expressions on his face, Namjoon laughs but his face betrays any joy. "You know why I have so many stuffed animals? I was thinking about this the other day, like why would a grown man have so many, right?"
"Because you like them?" Jeongguk chuckles, uneasy at Namjoon so vulnerable.
He shakes his head and picks viciously at his fingernail. "Yeah but, nah. Not really. Because no one will ever- no one wants to- and you know! Why would they-" His brows furrow and for a second, Jeongguk thinks he's really going to cry.
“No one wants to what?” His stomach lurches, knowing the answer before he says it.
“Just… even my family stopped hugging me much as I got older. And I get it, of course I get it but I just… no one wants to…”
A sad shrug and quick glance up at Jeongguk. Namjoon shuts down again. "Nevermind. I especially shouldn’t be telling you about it, I’m not trying to guilt trip you."
But he doesn't get a chance to finish his sentence. Namjoon knocks back the rest of his drink and circles the table to grab another slice of pizza that hadn't been passed around. He watches as Jimin throws an arm around his neck and laughs. Makes Namjoon smile.
It hurts. So casual, so easy in a way Jeongguk could never be with Namjoon, and it's written all over Namjoon's face how much he appreciates it. The shy smile that chases the sorrow from his eyes like sunshine breaking up storm clouds. The smile Jeongguk loves, soft and dimpled.
Namjoon reaches up to pat at Jimin's arm, wanting to reciprocate but too nervous to do it. His hand drops away, and flutters back up like he's second guessing his second guessing, but it drops away for good.
He aches to do what Jimin does, to squeeze Namjoon a little closer and make him smile, lighten the world a little bit for someone whose shoulders are so heavy.
Namjoon catches him staring across the table and his smile falters a bit and dims as his thoughts override the joy of the moment.
He bites his lip and looks away. This is all he is for Namjoon, a reminder of what he dislikes about himself.
Another fancafe post from Namjoon that puts a lump in his throat and stars in his eyes. So eloquent, so painfully vulnerable, always the spark of hope despite it all. He aches to walk the three doors down and hold him, make him smile, carry some of the load that drags his shoulders down.
Phone screen still illuminating the room, he stares at shadows on the ceiling and considers how to express the heaviness that spreads wide from his chest. It’s only a little thing, just a sentence, Namjoon hyung is really an amazing person.
Little things are all he can ever do for Namjoon, but maybe it’ll help a little, he hopes, for Namjoon to wake up and see his post and know Jeongguk thinks he’s amazing. He can't tell Namjoon he's in love with him, but he can make sure he knows he's loved, maybe. A more selfish hope; maybe it’ll soften the tiny edge of resentment he swears he can hear in Namjoon’s voice when he talks to him.
He knows the “Jeongguk’s massive crush” jokes it’ll bring. It’s fine. Namjoon will never know how very true the jokes are.
"Our Jeonggukie is trending," Hoseok laughs outside the van the next morning. "Trying to butter Joonie up? Does he have some lyrics you want or something?"
"No," he giggles nervously. "No I just liked what he said on-"
But no one is listening, joking instead about their ruthless maknae.
"It'll take more than compliments to get to me," Yoongi warns him with a waggle of his finger, making Jimin giggle.
"Seriously that's not-" They laugh at a joke from Seokjin and he smiles with them. He can't make a big deal out of it, they'd just ask why he's so mad, why he's taking it so seriously, and he can't tell them.
His stomach does a queasy flip. Namjoon won't meet his eyes, not laughing with the others. Doing that thing with his lips when he's upset.
"I just really liked his post," he tells the ground softly, and hopes Namjoon could hear it over the chaos of voices.
It’s vlive that sends everything crashing down. Ever respectful, Namjoon avoids touching maybe more than they avoid being touched, but there are times where it’s necessary, photoshoots and filming and public appearances where their hawk-eyed fans would quickly notice how odd and standoffish Namjoon is. The others don’t mind, but then, the others aren’t thinking about their undying love for Namjoon during photo shoots and public appearances and filming and every other moment of the day the way Jeongguk is.
Still, vlive filmings are always fun, and he notoriously gets carried away with games, so his guard is down when they blindfold all the members and send them through a foam walled maze to see who can complete the activities and find their way out first.
As always, it’s noisy and chaotic and more fun than any of them expect. Hoseok’s shrieks are shrill in the air on the other side of the massive, converted warehouse, Seokjin is laughing and Namjoon is hollering about the unfairness of completing a kid’s puzzle blindfolded somewhere nearby.
Jeongguk giggles and fumbles for an edge piece at his own table.
Namjoon figures it out at same minute he does. “I’m missing pieces?” he yells. “I’m missing pieces?? ”
“Me too!” Jeongguk yells back, followed by similar shouts across the warehouse.
An announcement across the loudspeaker from the producer. He pauses and turns his blindfolded face to the sky. “Everyone is missing two puzzle pieces which we hid in other member’s pockets when we put on your blindfolds. You have to find the right pieces and make it back to your puzzle to complete it.”
“What!” Jimin yells. “Isn’t this a bit too hard?!”
Jeongguk giggles again and stumbles his way down the foam corridors. The yelp of delight when he hits a warm body tells him immediately: Hoseok. They dive for each other’s pockets, giggling and squirming away and digging until they find big puzzle pieces. The pieces have foam letter stickers on the back for their names, but neither one of Hoseok’s is a J for Jeongguk.
“H! YES!” Hoseok takes the piece and runs, leaving Jeongguk to stumble forward into a dead end.
He’s patting his way along the right, wondering how the hell he’s supposed to find his way back to his puzzle when it happens. Noise is coming from every direction, so he doesn’t particularly notice someone coming up behind him.
Hands wrap around his wrists at the exact moment the scent hits him. The scent he loves, faint and nondescript and absolutely Namjoon. Fondness fills him, chemical, unstoppable, the secret, yearning little thought- I love him.
The hands freeze.
Jeongguk jerks away, wild-eyed behind his blindfold. Stunned like a wild bunny in the middle of the chaos.
“I have J,” Namjoon’s voice shakes as he slides the puzzle piece into Jeongguk’s hand.
Seeing nothing, he stares at the back of his blindfold. Minutes too late, he reaches out in front of him, but his fingers drag through nothing; Namjoon is gone.