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     Jaebum was, by all appearances, a stereotypical alpha.

     Sure, he mightn’t be the tallest or most physically imposing guy, but there’s a broadness to his shoulders, resting coldness to his eyes, and firmness to his jaw that have made more than one passerby automatically dip their heads and shift to offer him a little more space as they approach him on the sidewalk. It suits Jaebum just fine...he’s always had a firmly entrenched sense of his own personal space, and close physical contact or skinship with virtually anyone was something in which he had never found particular comfort or pleasure. His temper flares too hot, too often, and he has been told his usually gruff and brooding demeanor can be intimidating and more than a little off-putting. He takes pride in his physique, in keeping active and fit, and its clear in the solidness of his frame that he could more than hold his own if someone happened to instigate a little altercation.

     So by all measures, to assume Jaebum is an alpha would be fair. Jaebum himself had assumed he was an alpha for the first sixteen years of his life. That is, until he woke up at 2:30 one morning, a few months after his birthday, to an unbearable heat, ringing in his ears, pounding between his eyes, and sheets soaked with sweat and...some other fluid.

     At first, he’d thought he was dying. He certainly felt like he was dying, felt like his room was a furnace and he was burning alive, when he could almost feel his blood bubbling and boiling him from the inside out. It had taken him a few disoriented minutes before he realized the harsh panting in his room was coming from him, was coming from the stuttering breaths that were ripping themselves painfully from his chest. He’d almost been ready to scream for help, until he had shifted in his discomfort and his dick had brushed against the mattress, sending the heat tumbling in his gut, his hips bucking for more friction, a moan ripping itself from his throat, and a trickle of something cascading down his thigh and....oh.

     Oh.

     He hadn’t known what to do. It had never occurred to him, nor to his family, that he would be anything but an alpha. Sure, his presentation had been delayed if not downright late for an alpha, who on average presented a few years earlier than omegas, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. So his parents had continued in their awkward coaching of how to handle that first rut, of the need for protection when he eventually found his omega mate, and other tremendously uncomfortable discussions that often culminated in Jaebum all but begging to be excused and trudging upstairs to flop face-down on his bed and just....try to think about anything other than what had just happened. The fact he would be an alpha had always been so expected, so certain, that he’d never felt the need to pay much attention in his dynamics class. Sure, he’d heard stories from classmates who’d gotten their heats, when they returned to school after a few days of absence looking exhausted, bags dug deep beneath their eyes, and smelling vaguely sweeter than usual, but the stories had always left him feely oddly nauseated and he’d become accustomed to tuning them out. So he’d never learned what to do when the first heat struck, as it always did, like a freight train.

     To Jaebum’s addled brain, then, the best option had seemed to be to simply get rid of the evidence, because maybe this was just a normal thing alphas went through when on the brink of presenting? He didn’t know. So he’d managed to crawl out of bed, which his spinning head had abruptly informed him was a terrible idea, and scrambled to rip the sheets from mattress and nearly fell as he stumbled down the stairs.

     His mother had found him like that, trembling on the floor beside the washing machine downstairs. He’d been sitting on the floor, propped up against the wall opposite the machine, more by necessity than choice because when he’d stood up from hastily throwing the sheets in the machine his head had just spun and his knees crumpled. She’d turned on the light, eyes squinting as they roamed from the machine to her son just sprawled out on the floor, face more ashen than it ought to be, face glistening with sweat, and eyes an odd mixture of dazed, terrified, and disbelieving as they’d stared at the sheets swirling among the bubbles. She’d just opened her mouth to ask what the hell he was doing on the floor, and why the hell he was doing laundry at 3:00 in the morning, when she breathed in and smelled him.

     Sweetness. Vanilla and sugar and something not quite like icing, but close.

     Omega.

     His family had been....fine with it. Eventually. His mother had gathered him up and thrown fresh sheets on his bed before tucking him in again and just...leaving him be. She hadn’t said anything, but her silence and the slight sheen in her eyes when Jaebum met them in the moonlight as she’d left his room had been telling enough. Disappointment. He couldn’t blame her, not really, when he was equally disappointed in himself. Both sides of his family were well-known in the local community for having proud and long-standing records of alpha offspring with alpha mates and alpha heirs. Jaebum was the first omega on either side of his family tree for generations, apparently symbolizing a weakness and corruption in what had been such a strong bloodline, and the knowledge of his failure simultaneously settled low in his stomach and rose high in his throat. It had taken weeks for his dad to be able to meet his eyes for more than a second, and when he started to, Jaebum recognized in his stare the same resignation.

     Still, to this day, Jaebum’s omega-ness is something that goes undiscussed in his family. It had appeared in one conversation, after Jaebum had suffered through his second heat, in a very awkward and humiliating discourse in which he’d been assured his parents would - very discretely - obtain some toys to assist him in his future heats, and introduce him to his mother’s friend’s son, Jinyoung. A beta born with nearly, if not quite the same, humiliation into a similarly long-standing alpha line, the boy would help him with his heats, they said, to offer the physical contact needed to minimize their length without risking the....unfortunate possibility of pregnancy. He’d help until Jaebum lived up to his new expectation, of finding a strong alpha mate who’d not only ensure the Im line lived on, but re-introduce into the family bloodline an apparently needed infusion of potent alpha energy.

     Jaebum had been bitter, bitter for a long time to a point that probably hadn’t been healthy, bitter to the point that his first dozen or so heats had been absolute hell because he’d refused to let Jinyoung touch him in favour of just lying there stewing in the misery of it all. Jinyoung had eventually pulled him from that, rolling his eyes and scoffing and crossing his arms in a way that had set a pre-heat and thus already irritated Jaebum ablaze with a fury that had quickly sizzled when he finally, finally, broke down. Jinyoung had held him then, Jabeum’s face wet with tears and tucked neatly into the beta's neck, nosing over the scent gland that was emanating vanilla and musk, stability and softness and comfort. Jinyoung had started helping with his heats then, too, hands gentle yet firm as they ran over Jaebum with a kindness and reliability that had him aching from relief.

     There wasn’t anything romantic between them. There never had been. Jinyoung would later, under the influence of far too much soju while they camped out in Jaebum’s room watching some American movie with subtitles, tell him he had accepted the request to help Jaebum with his heats because he’d been lonely too, and figured being in the company of a fellow “disappointment” like Jaebum might help ease that. He’d been right. Once Jaebum had got over the awkwardness of being in the company of someone his age who, 1) knew he was an omega, and 2) had seen his dick, they’d settled into a companionship and genuine friendship that Jaebum treasured more than he could ever convey with his halting words and poor capacity to express himself emotionally. Jinyoung didn’t put up with anyone’s shit - especially not Jaebum’s - and was sarcastic, brash, occasionally crude, and absolutely adamant on not letting his friend devolve into self-loathing. He was full of bright ideas of equality, of gender not meaning a damn thing in terms of one’s worth, and so dragged Jaebum up every time he saw his best friend trying to drag himself down.

     So when Jinyoung had approached him a few months before their graduation - Jinyoung, though younger, had advanced a grade because he was stupid like that - proposing they room together at university, Jaebum hadn’t thought twice. He’s glad he didn’t. Getting out of his parents’ house had done wonders for him, because as much as he loves his parents, and as much as he knows they love him, despite everything, living there and being confronted daily with all the reminders of what he should’ve been, what he wasn’t, had been more damaging and hurtful than he’d care to admit. Getting out of his parents’ house had done wonders for him, too, because it had led him to move in with Jinyoung, and, after a few years, led him to meet his current neighbour, who Jaebum thought to be possibly the loudest kid he’d ever met. Bambam was the poster-boy for accepting and loving oneself. Although the Thai omega got on his nerves more often than not, helping himself to copious amounts of their food and laundry detergent and virtually anything else he needed to the point it often felt like Jaebum had a third roommate, Jaebum had to admit he deeply respected the kid. He did whatever he wanted, without the slightest regard or care for whether it was “omega-like,” loved himself, and flirted with anything that moved. He flaunted himself in ways that completely contravened the socially acceptable “omega” behaviour, with legs more often than not sheathed in black leather and heeled boots, eyes framed in liner and shadow, and torso usually only minimally covered in glittering jewelry and fabrics Jaebum couldn’t identify if he wanted to. He took what being an omega was and simultaneously upended it and embraced it, in a way that left Jaebum both reeling and intensely proud.

     Jaebum....wasn’t quite there yet, not to the point of embracing his omega-ness. There were still days he caught himself swirling into his old bitterness. There were still times it made him angry, furious really, primarily because of the shift he continually saw in how people treated him. Thinking him to be an alpha, others would automatically treat him with deference and respect, yet the moment they got close enough to smell the omega, that deference and respect would shift to lewd glances and crude comments about knots and heats and “wouldn’t you like help with your next one, little omega?” It made Jaebum’s blood boil, made a growl surge in his chest and crawl up his throat, made his jaw jut out in a way that Bambam always mimicked for days after and made his eyes flash green before Jinyoung would drag him away to prevent him from throwing a fist.

     But he’s come to terms with the fact that he’s an omega. He has. He doesn’t mind it, most of the time, until his heat rolls around and he’s suffering for a few days, but aside from that, he’s fine with his omega-ness.

     Correction: he was fine with it.

     Until he met Jackson Wang.

Chapter Text

     Jackson comes into his life in the same way, Jaebum learns, he does most things….with far more volume and excitement than required, like some odd mash-up of a hurricane and an exuberant puppy.

     To describe Jaebum’s day as being “long” would be a vast understatement.  The 6:00 am wakeup time he’d needed to shower, shave, and read over his paper again, before submitting it during his 8:00 a.m. class, has exhaustion weighing on his bones, like a thick coat that even the two large coffees and sugar-loaded pastry he’s bought so far from the little cafe on campus hasn’t been able to dispel.  That, after a week of managing only four to five hours of sleep so he could get the paper done at all, is apparently the straw that broke Jaebum’s back.  Both figuratively and literally, it would seem, because said back is currently throbbing, like it tends to do sometimes when he spends too long of periods in those horrible chairs in the library study area.

     He just wants to sleep.

     The promise of said sleep, of curling up in a blanket burrito with his cat, Nora, dozing on the pillow by his face, is the only thing that propels one weary foot past the other to his apartment.

     He’s glad he’d listened to Jinyoung when the beta had proposed they rent an apartment in the building just off campus.  He’d been wary, at first, that living so close to campus might seem a little….lame, but Jinyoung had convinced him with his practical and logical and reasonable arguments of the benefits of being close to the library, of being close to classes, of not needing to rely on busing, etc.  Normally Jaebum would complain, even if just to piss off Jinyoung - one of life’s finest pleasures, really - but he won’t complain, not now. Not when he can get out of class and look up and see his apartment building, like a beacon of light to a weary ship, so close yet still so, so, so far. 

     His phone chimes in his pocket as he trudges past the psychology building, so he digs it out, almost dropping it when his fingers decide they’d rather just quit working for the day.

 

Nyoung-ah

Don’t bother picking up a coffee….making some now. Bam’s here.

 

     The message makes Jaebum stop in his tracks, makes him whine a little and if he stomps his foot just a bit, who could blame him?  He’d wanted to sleep, and an apartment with Bambam in it is not one conducive to sleep.  His eyes flicker to the painted steel bench just off the sidewalk, and he’s…..tempted.  It’s about halfway through the term, so midterms are upon the student body and he figures most passerby wouldn’t even bat an eye seeing a figure curled up asleep on a campus bench.  Sure, it’s blanket-less, and Nora-less, but it’s also Bambam-less, so he’d have more a chance sleeping here than….no.  He can’t do that.  Well, he could, but he can’t.  He’d get cold, because it’s to the point in the term where it’s chilly outside without a decent jacket and/or sweater, so within half an hour he’d be freezing on the bench, then returning home anyway only to have Jinyoung nag at him for being careless and reckless and not being concerned enough about his health.  

     So with a longing glance to the bench, and fleeting thoughts to what might have been, he continues. 

     It takes perhaps the longest five minutes of his life before he’s finally at his doorstep.  He’d got a little energy from the smell of his elevator-mate’s coffee, lost it immediately as the warmth of the building settled into his muscles and left his eyelids feeling four times heavier than usual.

     He sends up a silent thanks when he finds his front door unlocked, because if he had to fumble for his keys right now he’d probably just give up and nap on the doorstep.

     Bambam is, as promised, there, perched on the couch like he often is.  He's sitting with his back against the armrest and stupidly long legs crossed in front of him with Nora cocooned in the folds, content as Bambam runs his equally-stupidly long fingers between and behind her ears.   He’s nattering about something, at a speed Jaebum’s tired brain can’t handle so doesn’t even try to, but the sound of the door opening catches his attention and his eyes snap over to Jaebum and the smile spreads across his face with an excited, “Hey, hyung!”  Even though Jaebum kind of hates him at the moment, there’s also a fondness that settles in his chest at the sight of the grinning omega.

     But he’d never admit that though, so he responds with an acknowledging grunt and watches Jinyoung come from the kitchen.  Like the angel he is when he decides to not be a little shit, Jinyoung meets him with a few strides and a little smirk, thrusting a mug into Jaebum’s hands even as he pulls the messenger bag off his shoulder to deposit on the chair they keep by the door.  “Well, don’t you look dead on your feet,” Jinyoung appraises him with a little hum, and Jaebum doesn’t even need to be fully conscious to feel Jinyoung’s eyes tracking over his frame in that motherly way they often do.

     “I feel dead on my feet,” Jaebum mutters with a pout, letting Jinyoung manhandle him out of his jacket and over to the couch to sit by Bambam.

     “Aw, hyung,” Bambam complains to Jinyoung even as he obligingly shifts his legs to let Jaebum sit, earning a disgruntled squeak from Nora. “How’d you let him out of the house with those bags under his eyes?  You should’ve dropped by to borrow some concealer.”

     Jinyoung just huffs out a laugh, settling into the armchair and crossing an ankle over his knee, looking as graceful and elegant as he always does.  It infuriates Jaebum, who scornfully downs the coffee with enough haste that his brain can only register coffee, bitter, good, before he drops the mug on the end table. “The bags under his eyes were the least of his concerns,” Jinyoung retorts, before redirecting his attention to Jaebum.  “Got your paper in okay?”

     Jaebum heaves a long-suffering sigh, turning to curl into the back of the couch as his hand finds Nora’s fur.  She’s as soft as always, and she must know it’s him, because her purring intensifies.  The corners of his mouth curve.  “Yeah,” he concedes.  “Almost got there late because the stupid guy in front of me at the cafe wanted fifteen add-ons in his coffee, but I made it. Barely.”

     “Nothing wrong with barely,” Bambam defends, nudging Jaebum’s leg with his socked foot in sympathy.  “‘Barely’ applies to most of my assignments.”

     “Especially when it comes to passing, right Bammie?”

     The glare Bam levels at Jinyoung is as fierce as it is playful, and he grabs the throw pillow from the floor to launch at Jinyoung, who only catches it with a cackle.  All the motion and noise just makes Jaebum feel a little sick, so he settles for burying half his face into the couch and closing his eyes.

     “Anyway, I was just in the middle of harassing Bammie about the omega he’s got a crush on when you stumbled in looking like death warmed over.”

     Jaebum cracks open an eye at that, moves it from Jinyoung’s shit-eating grin to the flush that rises on Bambam’s cheeks as he whines at Jinyoung, and that certainly gets Jaebum’s interest.  There are few things in the world that make Bambam blush, and Jaebum’s dedicated himself to compiling a list of them to use against Bambam when he decides it’ll be fun to sneak into their apartment at 3 in the morning to eat everything in their fridge again, or replace their laundry detergent with dish soap.  Again.  They still don’t talk about that incident.  “Oh?” he settles on, because nothing gets Bambam more irritated - and therefore more talkative - than feigned disinterest.

     “Oh, he’s so cute, Jaebum-hyung,” Bambam sighs, eyes sparkling as he clasps his hands in front of him dramatically.  “He just dyed his hair blond last week, and when I saw it I was this close” - this close, apparently, being the half an inch between Bambam’s long fingers - “to just, like, jumping him.  Right in the middle of class.  Just laying him over the desk and having my sweet, sweet way with him.  And I sat next to him this morning in lecture, and he laughed at my joke and it sounded like angels and even though he’s technically my hyung I just wanna wrap him up and protect him from the cruel, cruel world.”

     Jaebum just hums, because as annoying as Bambam is he loves the kid and wants to see him happy, and the last time he saw him this happy and excited about a person was….wait.  This morning. When he was pushing that lanky alpha out his front door with a smack on the ass and an unabashedly wide smirk.  Jaebum had enjoyed tormenting the kid in the elevator as he’d stared with one brow raised at the dissheveled mop of dark hair and misbuttoned shirt, and the flush that had crept up the alpha’s neck to colour his ears had been nothing short of glorious.  It’s becoming a ritual for Jaebum at this point, who routinely shares the elevator with the kid after catching him in a make-out session with Bambam in the hallway that’s far too heated for being so early in the morning.  “What about that tall kid?  The dance major?  Ah…..Yugum?”

     That has Bambam rolling his eyes with a huff.  “Hyung, don’t you pay any attention to me?  First, it’s Yugyeom, and second, we’ve agreed to explore the possibility of opening our relationship to a third party.  And since Jinyoung-hyung isn’t interested - “

     “Ew.”

     “- and since you terrify Yugyeom,” Bambam just continues past Jinyoung’s interruption, “I’m thinking he’s a solid third candidate.”

     “Right,” Jinyoung snorts. “If he’s as sweet as you say he his, you two menaces would tear him apart. 

     “Excuse me,” Bambam offers with an affronted gasp. “We would treasure him.  Just like we would treasure you if you ever got the stick out of your very fine ass and let us - “

     “Not in this lifetime, kid.  This peach is off limits.”

     “Oh, are you saying there’s a possibility in the next?  Jinyoung-hyung, you flirt, wait until I tell Gyeomie- "

     Bambam, in the middle of his exuberant speech, shifts and disrupts Nora, who creaks one eye open to glare at him dispassionately before she’s standing to move over to Jaebum’s lap.  He accepts her with a smile, a soft one he reserves for his girl, as he shushes her little meow and runs his fingers through her fur, behind her ears where she likes and dipping under her chin.  She settles quickly, curling into his bent knee, and kneading his calf with her little paws, and it’s so cute Jaebum’s heart melts a little.  He watches her blinks grow slower, slower, until finally her bright eyes close, and she reverts into a happy little bundle of purrs on his lap.

     Sometimes he feels like an idiot, because he just....loves her so much.  He doesn’t know if it’s because she gives his nurturing omega side an outlet - or, at least an outlet that doesn’t whine “But Dad...” like Bambam does when Jaebum insists he text him when he’s home from one of his wild nights partying - or whether it’s because Nora’s been one of the only constants when his life felt like it was falling apart.  He’d gotten her a few years before he presented, after years of begging his parents, and in those months before he’d gotten close with Jinyoung it had too often felt like Nora had been the only one to accept him, the only one on his side. When his parents wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t hug him or indulge his newly surging need for pure physical contact, Nora would curl up on his stomach or butt her head against his hand and just let Jaebum feel.  She still loved him, she still needed him, even though he was a disappointing omega and a shame to the family.  There had been too many days when the need to care for her, to feed her and ensure she had fresh water and a clean litter box, had been the only thing that had dragged him out of bed.  His world had been so dark in those months, so desolate and black, and Nora had been the pinprick of light and hope and good.

     He’s considered, before, what might have been if his parents hadn’t conceded to his begging, if he hadn’t had Nora then.

     “-hyung.”

     He doesn’t want to think about it.

     “Jaebum-hyung!”

     He startles then, dragged from his internal monologue by Bambam’s hand slapping his knee and his eyes looking at him with a hint of concern hovering at the edges of his gaze.  Jaebum drops his hand to Bambam’s, squeezes it in reassurance, offers an apologetic little smile to accompany it.  “Sorry, I...didn’t catch that.”

     “I don’t think you could’ve caught anything in your little daydreaming,” Jinyoung teases, but his smile is frayed at the edges like it gets when he’s concerned but trying not to show it.  “Maybe you should turn in early, hmm?”

     “But he can’t!” Bambam exclaims, eyes wide as he glares at Jinyoung for the suggestion, before turning to Jaebum and coaching his expression into something more doleful and pleading.  “You can’t, hyung.  You need to meet Jackson-hyung.”

     Jaebum waits a minute, for the name to trigger some bell in his memory, because Bambam’s looking at him like he should clearly know who Jackson is.  Nothing.  “Jackson-hyung?”

     Bambam flops backwards against the armrest with a groan, like he’s suffering having to be in the company of people so slow, and Jaebum has to bite his tongue to hold back the demand the kid watch his attitude.  “He’s not Jackson-hyung to you, you idiot,” and Jaebum does cuff him on the head for that, although Bambam just swats it away.  “The guy I was literally just talking about.”  Oh.  Right.  Omega.  Bambam’s crush from class.  Laugh like an angel.  Treasure, protect from the world.  Right.  “He’s supposed to come over to my place, like, any minute, hyung, and I wanted you guys to meet him!”

     Wow.  Is that how fast kids move these days?  Inviting crushes over to hangout.  Although, to be fair, Jaebum’s doesn’t recall ever having a crush to know for sure.  “I....sure,” because what could it hurt?  “Sure, we’ll meet him.”

     Bambam claps his hands at that, prompting an image of a seal to flash through Jaebum’s mind before the Thai kid is scrambling over to throw his arms around Jaebum’s neck, shrieking about how excited he is and convincing Nora the time for escape is now.  Jaebum can’t help but laugh a little, even as Nora’s claws dig into his leg as she jumps off.  His hands come up to rest on Bambam’s back, offering awkward little pats, and the sweet scent so characteristic to omegas - for Bambam, like an orange blossom - soothes him.  To be honest, he finds it sweet how eager Bambam is for them to meet his crush/new flame/prospective partner.

     There’s a knock then, seemingly from in the hall, that has him leaping up and rushing to the door before Jaebum can manage anything more than a fond yet exasperated shared smile with Jinyoung.  He’s throwing the door open, shouting “Hyung, come meet my hyungs!” at what seems like maximum volume, and there’s an answering laugh that sends electricity just jittering up Jaebum’s spine.

     “Jackson-hyung,” Bambam says, and Jaebum can tell from his voice he’s nearly vibrating with excitement.  “I’d like you to meet Jaebum-hyung and Jinyoung-hyung!”

     It isn’t until Jaebum stands to bow to their guest that he sees this “Jackson” that Bambam’s apparently so enamoured with, and he’s immediately left wishing he had remained seated because his knees feel like they could entirely dissolve beneath him.

     Jackson, as it turns out, is all broad shoulders and thighs and bleached hair so blond it looks almost silver beneath the lights, as it’s styled up and away from the shaved sides and curls, just in a few tendrils, over his forehead.  He’s sturdily built, strong in a way that has the omega in Jaebum preening, but looks so soft in his torn, light wash jeans and oversized pastel pink sweater with the collar of a white dress shirt peaking from beneath.  “Hi!” Jackson greets with a bow, and it’s deep in a way that has Jaebum’s chest feeling like it’s collapsing.  “I’m Jackson Wang.”

     Well.

     Well, shit.

Chapter Text

     Jaebum watches Jackson in what feels like a daze.  There’s a noise in his ears that’s far, far too loud, his mouth feels like he hasn’t drank anything in days, and his heart is beating so fast he finds himself rubbing a palm over it because it hurts and that definitely cannot be healthy.

     He watches as Jinyoung breezes past him to shake Jackson’s hand, asking his birth year and laughing at some quip Jackson makes about them both being born in the year of the dog before the man pulls him into a hug.  Jaebum should move to greet him too, but his feet feel like they’re rooted to the ground.

     Jackson evidently doesn’t mind, because he approaches Jaebum with a smile that has him thinking of sunshine and rainbows and kittens and everything beautiful in the world, and Jaebum’s kicking himself internally because he knows he’s acting like an absolute fucking idiot but he can’t seem to do anything about it.  But Jackson’s greeting him as his hyung and clasping his hand in a handshake that just fills Jaebum’s head with a mantra of oh god, rough fingers, firm handshake, oh my god, abort, ABORT.

     So Jaebum withdraws his hand, straightens his back - which definitely protests at that - and finally manages to find his damn balls in time to clear his parched throat and grunt out a gruff, “Nice to meet you.”

     Omega, he tries to remind himself.  Bambam’s omega.  But then Jackson’s throwing his hands up, squealing something in English that sounds - to Jaebum’s tremendously non-fluent ears, at least - like “Chic and Sexy.”  Whatever it is, and whatever it means, it has Bambam cackling, and Jaebum barely has time to brace himself before his arms are suddenly filled with those broad shoulders.

     Jaebum’s expression is clearly wondrous, if Jinyoung and Bambam’s chorus of laughter is any indication, but he honestly can’t find it in himself to care much.  All he can feel is firmness and muscles under the hands that tenuously rise to pat Jackson’s back, and all he can smell is a sweetness, curiously indistinguishable and fainter than most omegas’, but which still has his own omega simpering in comfort.  Idly he finds himself wishing that scent blockers weren’t a university-mandated necessity for members of the student body.  He’d just like to push his nose into Jackson’s neck and -

     The moment’s lost when Jinyoung closes the door and offers Jackson a seat, and Jaebum definitely does not have to suppress a whine when Jackson draws back.  A little compensation comes in the wink he gets from Jackson, and the warmth that emanates from the hot palm that grips Jaebum’s arm in a squeeze before he’s grabbing Jaebum’s wrist to drag him to the couch.  Jackson sits, one knee bent up on the seat between them, arm spread across the back, facing Jaebum with an attention that has heat spreading up his neck.  It isn’t lost on Jaebum how....intimate and intense it seems.

     He wishes it was.

     “So Bambam tells me you’re a music major?”

     It’s clear the question is directed at Jaebum, because Jackson’s eyes are on him, all dark and deep, when he asks. It still manages to startle him. “Uh yeah,” he manages lamely, running a hand over the nape of his neck.

     “Cool!” Jackson says, beaming.  “A particular instrument, or....?

     “No, I...I more focus on the production aspect.  Of things.  Music production.”

     Something like awe sparkles in Jackson’s eyes, and it has the heat up Jaebum’s neck intensifying to the point it feels like he’s just burning.  “Dude, that is so cool.  You’re in your...last year?”  Jackson’s grin seems to broaden, if that’s even possible, with Jaebum’s nod.  “So do you have any plans for after you graduate then?”

    “Ah,” Jaebum heaves out, and he twists with the ring on his finger.  “Not really?  Not yet anyway.  Just...trying to focus on finishing up strong and then I’ll...take it from there?”

     “Whatever you do,” Jackson says, leaning over, “I bet you’ll be fantastic at it.”  He’s laying a hand across Jaebum’s thigh then, and squeezing, and it takes Jaebum off guard to the point he jumps.  He tries to disguise it with a half-hearted cough, but clearly fails, because Jackson’s withdrawing his hand as the corners of his mouth tip down in a frown and a crease emerges between his eyebrows.  Jaebum has to fight to keep his panicking internal.

     “Sorry, I - “

     “I’m sorry, I - “

     They both stop, stare at each other as if prompting the other to go.  Jackson seems even more intent on being polite than Jaebum, though, because Jaebum finally relents and manages a meek “Sorry, I’m just....tired.  And have had one too many coffees today.  Makes me jumpy.”

     “No, no,” Jackson’s hushing him, waving his hands erratically, eyes wide and the picture of guilt.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.  I should’ve asked you first.  I know I can be kind of...off-putting, with how into skinship I am.”

     “It’s not off-putting,” Jaebum says quickly, because it’s not.  It’s just that Jaebum isn’t used to it, because even though he’s an omega, and it’s in his genes to relish in the comforts of physical touch, he’s still reserved and seems cold and it takes a while to let people in, and for people to decide he’s worth the bother.  “And you didn’t make me uncomfortable.  I’m just - “

     “A recluse,” Jinyoung offers from the armchair, the epitome of helpful as he sits with a frankly stupid smirk.  Jaebum had kind of forgotten he was here.  It’d be better, Jaebum decides, if he wasn’t.  “A hermit, if you will.”

     Jackson laughs at that, and even though Jaebum isn’t sure he’d describe it akin to angels like Bambam had, it does make the corners of his own lips curl even as he sputters out his protests.  He can’t seem to get anything coherent out, though, so he settles on leveling at his former best friend the frostiest, iciest glare he can muster.

     Jaebum’s confused when Jackson squeals again - and yep, “Chic and sexy” is definitely what he says.

     “What is it you study, Jackson-ssi?”

     “Oh, just Jackson’s fine,” he says, turning to Jinyoung, and it both makes Jaebum feel relieved and disappointed.  “Formalities aren’t really a thing where I’m from, so Jackson’s totally fine.”

     “He’s a fencer!” Bambam interjects excitedly.

     Right.  Bambam. 

     Jaebum stifles his sigh.

     “Well, I fence competitively.  For the university team,” Jackson amends, and then he’s meeting Jaebum’s eyes again and there’s a passion there, burning at the edges, that steals Jaebum’s breath.  Just a little.  Barely.  Actually, that’s probably just the caffeine.  “But I’m studying kinesiology.  I figure I can go into sports therapy or rehabilitation therapy if the fencing doesn’t pan out.”

     “That’s smart,” Jaebum murmurs, “to have a backup plan,” and the comment earns him another Jackson Wang smile.

    “Oh but he’s so good, hyungs!” Bambam chirps excitedly, and then he’s smacking Jinyoung across the knee from where he’s perched at his feet beside the armchair.  “You guys should come and watch him sometime!”

     “Bambam,” Jinyoung tutts, swatting away his hand.  “What did we say about inviting people to other peoples’ events?  Did you learn nothing after you inadvertently invited Yugyeom’s ex to his performance last month?”

     Bambam’s rolling his eyes, a huff leaving his lips and a snarky retort probably on his tongue - frankly a safe bet for Bambam at any given time - but Jackson smoothly defuses it with a quick, “But I’d love that!”  It’s hard not to believe him, when his gaze is so wide and open and sincere.  “I’d love it if you came and watched.  Sometime,” he adds after a moment, and it’s odd because when he meets Jaebum eyes from beneath his lashes he almost looks....flustered?  “If you have the time, that is.  No pressure.”

     Jaebum just blinks at him.  “Okay,” he says, without thinking, because he doesn’t need to think about it.  He isn’t entirely sure what fencing entails, but...that doesn’t matter, not with how Jackson’s face lights up like someone just plugged him into a socket.  “Do you...have a competition or something coming up?”

     “In a few weeks, yeah.  It’s just a local one, against some other universities in the area, but....yeah.”

     “Okay.  Sounds fun.”

     “Yeah, I mean, I’d invite you to a practice or something,” Jackson continues, and the speed at which he does so suggests he’s rambling and damn it, Jaebum finds it so incredibly endearing.  “Because I have those every morning at 10, but they can get kind of dull so.....” Jackson seems to catch himself then, because his grin turns somewhat bashful.  “Yeah.  I’ll let you know.  Well, I’ll let Bambam know, and then he can let you know.”

     “Or Jaebum could give you his number,” Jinyoung supplies, and Jaebum does not like the look in his eyes as he steeples his fingers beneath his chin in a way that’s always struck Jaebum as a bit too “evil genius” for comfort.  “So you could let him know directly.  We all know Bammie can be somewhat unreliable when it comes to....well, everything.  And we - “ and Jaebum’s jaw twitches a bit when Jinyoung looks at him in a way that implies who exactly he’s talking about - “would hate to miss it. 

     “That would work too,” Jackson says, a bit quieter than before.  “But only if you want.  And are alright with me potentially sending you funny memes.  Occasionally.”

     “I...sure.  I guess I can live with that.”  There’s a little warning bell, screeching and flashing red, in his brain even as he schools his voice into something he hopes approaches nonchalant.  Because it all sounds dangerous when Jackson is Bambam’s omega and Bambam’s omega has Jaebum feeling like there's a dozen butterflies just swarming and tumbling in his stomach.  But then another part is reminding him - in a voice that sounds eerily like Jinyoung’s, and Jaebum does not want to try to unpack that horror anytime soon - that it would not hurt to expand his circle of friendships a bit, and that getting Jackson’s number would be beneficial if he ever needed to contact Bambam in the event that the idiot forgot his phone.  Again.  Or dropped it in the toilet.  Again.  Or in the event of an emergency.  Which, too, is likely to be an “again” when Bambam is involved.  Jaebum's just being a good friend.  Right?

     That has something swirling in his stomach uneasily but he ignores it in favour of pushing himself off the couch, trying not to hiss when the motion makes the pain in his back become very much known.  “Just let me get my phone.”

     The pain worsens from an ache to a dull roar as he moves over to his jacket, flares again as he bends to fish his phone from his pocket.  He’s resorted to gritting his teeth by the time he finally manages his way back to Jackson, and settles on thrusting his phone towards the man without much decorum.

     Jackson looks at him appraisingly, eyes tracking down his arm to his hand, hidden behind his back where it’s pressing into the muscles there to convince them to behave, but he accepts the phone anyway with a smile, thumbs moving rapidly over the keyboard.  “Here, just let me text myself,” and there’s a ding in his pocket before he’s handing Jaebum his phone with eyes narrowed into crescents by the force of his smile.  Jaebum reaches for it, but holy fuck -

     “Hyung?”

     Bambam’s voice sounds tiny, small and unsure in a way he only gets on those rare occasions when he’s scared and actually seems like the kid he is.  Jaebum knows it’s because the groan that pulls itself from his chest and the way his hand flies to his back has Bambam recalling all the gory details he’d begged for about the herniated spinal disc with which Jaebum had been afflicted as a teen after all those b-boy tricks he’d resorted to for entertainment.  Jaebum knows that’s flashing through his mind, chased by Jaebum’s slightly-tipsy confession one night about his concerns that the injury would flare up again and he’d lose more months to grueling rehab.  So while he can’t stop the groan that slips from between his teeth, he can take a breath to settle himself before offering what he hopes is a marginally reassuring smile to Bambam, who answers it with a wobbly one of his own.

     “Hey.”  It takes a minute for Jaebum to realize Jackson is talking to him, because he’s too preoccupied engaging in one of those telepathic conversations he often resorts to with Jinyoung.  Your back?  Yep.  You okay?  Eh.  Still, he chances a glance at Jackson, seeing the man looking at him with a seriousness that nearly gives Jaebum whiplash. “You okay?”

     Jaebum realizes, then, that Jackson’s still holding his phone out to him, so he grabs it, fumbles it into his pocket with a small thanks.  “Yeah,” he answers quietly.  “It’s nothing big.  Just an old b-boying injury.  And then the library chairs.  You know how it is.”

     “Sure,” Jackson says, eyes still intent on him on a way that makes Jaebum a little uncomfortable.  They’re beautiful eyes, he can’t help but think, especially against the paleness of his hair, until he decidedly pushes the thought away.  “Want help with it?”

     “Want….what?”

     “Want help with it.  I’ve been told I give a mean massage.  You want one?”

     Jaebum’s just….confused, at this point.  He looks over to Jinyoung, hoping for some direction, but the beta’s just looking at him with that same curious expression Jaebum can’t quite decipher.  He doesn’t know Jackson, not really, and while a hand on the thigh is one thing, a back massage is certainly another.  His apprehension must appear somewhere in his face, because he sees Jackson raising his hands and widening his eyes innocently.  Like a puppy.  An innocent puppy.  It’s kinda cute.  “Nothing funny, I promise.  Just a massage.  I swear I know what I’m doing.  I spent last summer working at a massage therapy studio to go towards my degree, and I give massages to the guys on the team, like, all the time.  Apparently I am the proud owner of some pretty decent hands.  Cross my heart,” he adds with a disarming grin as he draws a little cross over his chest, and Jaebum swears he feels his heart stutter a little bit.

     Yeah, he definitely needs to cut back on the caffeine.  His heart’s being....unpredictable.

     “If not, it’s cool.  You’re just clearly uncomfortable and I wanted to help.”

     Jaebum should say no, would say no, because he cherishes his personal space and personal bubble, but Jackson’s eyes are wide and lips are pouting and even the thought of rejecting him has guilt preemptively bubbling in his chest.  He looks innocent enough, Jaebum figures, and has certainly been nice enough and Jinyoung’s here to save him if he needs it.  Which he shouldn’t, because they’re both omegas and Jaebum can hold his own, damn it.  Even when he’s so exhausted he feels like he’s drunk and even when his opponent has thighs like that.  Besides, Bambam likes him, which must mean something, right?  Maybe?  Actually, scratch that.  Jaebum doesn’t want to think what that means, doesn’t want to think at all really, so he’s shrugging in lieu of thinking and responding with a meek “Ah…sure?  I guess?”

     He definitely does not see the raised brow that earns him from Jinyoung.  He’s equally immune to the giggle it elicits from Bambam.

     The smile that breaks over Jackson’s face helps him ignore it, because it’s so bright and cheerful and happy it makes Jaebum a little dizzy.  Yeah, definitely time to cut back on the caffeine.  “Great!” the other man squeals, squeals, and then he’s standing up and delicately placing one of the throw pillows on the floor before ushering Jaebum to lie down.

     Said floor turns out to be uncomfortable in a way he doesn’t remember it usually being, because his ribs dig into it and the weird posture, head pillowed on his folded arms and elevated a bit with the pillow, has him grunting a bit at the pain that flares up his spine.  He hears Jackson give a little tut at that, before he’s lowering himself over Jaebum’s back and Jaebum clearly did not think this through enough, because Jackson’s thighs are solid and warm on either side of his hips, and he’s hovering over Jaebum’s ass in a way that has heat spreading up his neck and is apparently confusing his circulatory system, which seems intent on redirecting the blood flow to a place elsewhere.

     Bambam’s omega, he reminds himself.

     It doesn’t work.  Jaebum doesn’t even pretend to be surprised at this point.

     He jolts a little when Jackson’s hands smooth over his back, feels more than hears the little laugh Jackson huffs out at that as he pats one hand on his shoulder soothingly before returning it to his lower back.  His palms are warm, warm in a way that seeps through Jaebum’s sweater, and the warmth spreads when Jackson starts humming this little tune Jaebum doesn’t recognize.  His fingers start moving, working nimbly into all the knots, all the hardness, that’s been accumulating over the past week, and somehow Jaebum feels like he’s melting.  He can almost feel the tension being broken apart, coming undone under Jackson’s hands, and he’s certain that “pretty decent” is not a strong enough descriptor for said hands.  Magical, maybe?  Spiritual?  As he ponders it, Jackson’s fingers find another knot, prodding it and squeezing it into submission in a way that has Jaebum’s fingers gripping tighter around the pillow, his toes curling, and all doubts about the wisdom of his current position just disintegrating.

     A distant part of his brain, one that generally lies dormant beneath the stress of assignments and midterms until his heat or one of Bambam’s suggestions he gets laid drags it out, starts wondering about what other magical things those hands could do.  But before he can meander too far down that particular path, Jackson’s hitting another knot and Jaebum just feels like he’s unraveling.  He’s so tired, he realizes suddenly, and it’s incredible because as awake as he’d felt meeting Jackson, his eyes feel so heavy and weighted down and his brain is just getting....quieter.  He doesn’t even hear the little murmurs of Jinyoung and Bambam talking, unable to find it in himself to focus on anything but the little lullaby rumbling through Jackson’s chest and the way his fingers keep moving over and pressing into his back.  It’s soothing, soothing and relaxing in a way Jaebum can’t remember feeling, at least not recently.

     So soothing and relaxing he lets go, drifts away under Jackson’s lullaby and skilled fingers to dream of a man of platinum blond hair and eyes that sparkle like the galaxy.

Chapter Text

    Jaebum’s going to strangle Jinyoung. Or throw something at him.  Or both.

    He hasn’t decided yet.

    But it’s going to be at least one of them, because Jinyoung keeps watching him with this stupid smirk on his face, looking like the cat who ate the canary.  It’s frustrating and infuriating, because Jaebum’s trying to be productive, at the kitchen table with his books and notes all laid out just like he needs them to be to study.  But he can’t focus when all he can feel is Jinyoung’s eyes boring into him so intensely it makes his skin itch and the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

    “Can I help you?” he finally snaps, not bothering to look up from his textbook and the line he’s been reading for the past ten minutes. 

    There’s a pause, and Jaebum knows Jinyoung well enough to know it’s because his smirk is broadening and his eyes are crinkling and Jaebum just hates him.  “Nope,” Jinyoung replies finally.

    “Really.  Because you won’t stop staring at me and it frankly has me ready to defenestrate you.”

    Jinyoung’s peals of laughter ring brightly in the kitchen, still a bit dim as the sun awakens from its own slumber.  “Wouldn’t want to do that, hyung,” he advises with a mock solemnity, pausing to take a sip of coffee from his mug - black, like his soul.  “Might injure your back and need another massage. 

      That has Jaebum slamming his pencil with a bit more force than necessary against the table.  He glares at Jinyoung, then, sees the exact smirk he’s been fearing, even though its partially hidden behind the stupid black mug he uses all the damn time, with Actor Park written across it in blaring gold lettering.  It had been a flashy and frankly gaudy gift from the flashy and equally gaudy Bambam last Christmas, and Jaebum wants to throw it.  “If that’s what this is about, you can just drop it,” Jaebum says, sniffing a bit and dropping his gaze to his textbook in what he hopes - prays, really - looks like haughty indifference.  “I’ll have you know that it did wonders for me.”

    Jinyoung snorts.  “Wonders, hmm?  I could hear the wonders it did for you as I was heading to the shower this morning.”

    Jaebum freezes.

    No.  No.

    Fuck.

    He’d sworn - made sure - that Jinyoung was in the shower when -

     “I got to the shower and turns out I had forgotten my towel.  And so I leave the water running and pass by your room and what, oh what, do I hear?  Jackson,” he says breathily, on the edge of a quivering gasp that Jaebum absolutely never needed to hear coming from Jinyoung’s mouth, and it has Jaebum burying his head in his arms on the table and wishing the ground would just open up and swallow him.  Please?  “You know, you should really work on your volume.  I understand that sometimes being loud is hot, but there’s just some occasions that demand quiet and if that was you trying to be quiet - “

    “Shut up,” Jaebum groans into his arms. “Just please shut up.”

     A hand drops on Jaebum’s head, ruffling the hair and Jaebum chases it away with snapping teeth and a growl.  Jinyoung just laughs.  Jaebum just growls.  Which makes Jinyoung laugh some more. 

    God, he’s insufferable.

     “That’s it, I’m moving out.”

    “Oh come on,” Jinyoung huffs out, grin still breaking across his face and eyes sporting whiskers at the creases as he grabs Jaebum’s arm when he stands to push him back down.  “I’m just messing with you.”

    Jaebum yanks his arm from Jinyoung’s grasp, folds them over his chest.  He definitely does not pout.  “I hate you.”

     That has Jinyoung folding his hands beneath his chin and fluttering his eyelashes.  That damn - “You love me.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to apologize.  We’ve all been there.”

     There, presumably, being how Jaebum had woken up, in his own bed with only his underwear on, feeling more rested than he had in weeks but with an incredibly painful hard-on and his sheets damp with slick like a fucking teenager.  Which he had definitely not taken care of, as phantom thighs had squeezed around his hips and his brain had tortured him with unwanted glimpses of muscles and broad shoulders and rough hands.

     He hadn’t even realized they’d belonged to Jackson until the name had stuttered from his lips as he came over his hand.  The realization had left him shaking, in a way definitely not attributable to his morning jerk off.

    It still makes Jaebum queasy a bit, thinking about it.  He doesn’t think he’s ever felt so....embarrassed and ashamed.

     To settle his stomach, and for a bit of divine retribution, he snatches the half of the egg toast sandwich remaining on Jinyoung’s plate, takes a bite out of it to the welcome chorus of his sputtered protests.  It’s good, Jaebum thinks, even better because it’s Jinyoung’s and Jaebum would do almost anything right now to make Jinyoung suffer.

    “I mean, I’m not saying I don’t get it,” Jinyoung continues, voice a little whiny as he mourns the loss of his sandwich before grabbing a slice of watermelon and biting in.  “He’s an attractive man.”  Understatement, Jaebum thinks, before he frowns at the thought and takes another bite.  “I can see why both you and Bambam seem to like him so much.”

    “I don’t like him,” Jaebum grumbles. “I don’t even know him.”

    “Ah, but you’re well acquainted with his thighs by now, right?  Delicious, aren’t they?  Kinda make you just want to sink your teeth in and  - “

     Jinyoung sputters at the pencil that hits his face before dropping on his lap.  “Well,” he drawls impassively.  “Someone’s touchy.”

    “Don’t you have a class to get to? Or at least a meeting down in Hell with all the other demons that destroy peoples’ lives?” 

    Jinyoung tuts at him, laughs when Jaebum only snaps his textbook shut and makes like he’s about to launch it at him. “Now now,” he’s soothing him as he rises to his feet, and it’s so patronizing Jaebum settles for extending a foot to jab in his stomach and sending him stumbling back a bit.  “By the way, I don’t know if you noticed this morning given how - ahem - busy you were, but he left something for you.  I put it on your bookshelf after he carried you to bed.”

    “He...what?”

     “Carried you to bed,” Jinyoung repeats nonchalantly, moving to deposit his dirty dishes in the sink.  “I proposed just leaving you snoozing on the floor, but he insisted that it would be bad for your back.  I was kind of hoping for a good old-fashioned fireman’s carry, but he went with bridal style.  It was super cute.  10/10 would recommend a repeat, if the opportunity ever arises again.” 

     Jaebum can’t even process that, because when he’d woken up in his own bed he’d been....  “He...he didn’t...”

    “Strip you down?” Jinyoung clarifies, and he’s approaching Jaebum again to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder.  “Nah, that honour was mine.  I figured you’d want to wait until you were awake to get to first base with him.  Anyway.  I gotta run.  You’ll have the house to yourself until dinner.  Lots of time to beat out another few while thinking about - “

    Jinyoung doesn’t get to finish that sentence.  He’s too busy coughing around the remaining sandwich Jaebum’s shoved in his mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

    The “something” Jackson left for him turns out to be a little, white, nondescript tube of...something.  He isn’t sure what it is, because there’s no labeling on the tube, but then he sees a little handwritten note beneath it on the dresser.

 

Jaebum-hyung!  It was so nice to meet you.  Bambam’s talked so much about you, about how we should meet, and it was so nice to finally put a face to the name!

I hope the massage helped.  It sure seemed to.  :)

I thought you might find this useful...I know it looks a little sketchy, but it’s organic and natural from a place back home and I swear it works super well!  I use it all the time when I have an ache after fencing.  Just apply a pea-sized amount whenever it hurts, no more than twice a day though, okay?

Let me know how it works!

Jackson-ah

P. S. You’re super cute when you snore. Massive uwu-s.

 

    Jaebum...feels like he goes through the full gauntlet of emotions at that message.  There’s a soft little smile on his face as he reads the first few lines, which turns into a wide grin, which morphs into an embarrassed little sound as he reads the last line.  But he’s so....touched.  It’s weird.  His chest feels warm, and his stomach’s doing little somersaults, and he’s smiling so much his face hurts.

    So he sets the note back on the bookshelf, before deciding against it and pinning it to his corkboard on the wall above.

    He just doesn’t want to lose it.

    He’ll text Jackson.  To thank him.  For the massage, for carrying him to bed, for the tube, and for...yeah.

    He’ll text him.

 

 

        

 

 

 

    He doesn’t text him.

    Instead he finds himself standing in front of the campus gym, a bit flabbergasted because he’d been intending on just going for his morning walk - it’s 11:30, and thus hardly morning anymore but sue him because he’s had a stressful few hours - when his legs had just decided to...stop.  In front of the gym.  Where Jackson was probably training.  Because Jackson had fencing classes that started at 10 and Jaebum knows, from that one term he took boxing lessons, that training sessions like that usually take an hour and a half and what is he doing? 

    He shouldn’t be here.  Why is he doing this?  He must be a masochist.

     Jaebum’s an omega, a disappointing omega, who’s expected to mate with an alpha of strong alpha heritage so he become slightly less of a disappointment.  It’s his duty now, his obligation, his responsibility.  His promise to do so - and the prospect of meeting his future mate among the student body - is the only reason his parents had allowed him to even come to university, to study, because what need does an omega have for an education when their responsibility is to bear and rear pups?  To ensure the bloodline continues?

     He shouldn’t be doing this.  He shouldn’t be doing this, not when Jackson is also an omega and thus definitely not the type of person his parents would welcome into the family with open arms.  He shouldn’t be doing this, not when Jackson is also being courted - maybe? he isn’t sure on how much Bambam has pursued him, but he imagines, knowing Bambam, that the kid has made his intentions quite clear - by one of Jaebum’s best friends.

    He shouldn’t be doing this.  He’s just going to get attached, light himself ablaze with false promises of things that can never, ever happen and then -

    “Jaebum hyung!”

    The cry startles him, makes him whirl around from where he’d been unconsciously turning to make a hasty and panicked retreat back to his apartment and it’s...Jackson.  Of course it is.  Jackson with his blond hair damp, and duffel bag slung over one shoulder.  He shouldn’t look so good, not with black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt and black sneakers, but he...does.  Of course he does.

     There’s a kid beside him, Jaebum notices belatedly, a bit taller than him and certainly leaner with a shock of messy red hair. He’s dressed in leggings and a tank top that’s cut so low in the arms that it shifts as they approach him to reveal a slender yet clearly toned frame.  It has Jaebum feeling a little...anxious?  Especially when the kid says something and Jackson’s laugh echoes high, bounding between the concrete buildings.

     “It’s good to see you!  You’re looking better!” Jackson says as they finally reach him, reaching out a hand to squeeze his elbow with a wink that has Jaebum thinking that it definitely was a terrible non-idea to come here.

    “I...yeah.  You too.”

    Before Jaebum can relish in how intelligent that response was, Jackson’s clasping a hand on his friend’s shoulder and glancing between them with a wide grin.  “Mark, this is Jaebum-hyung!”

    “Ah,” the kid - Mark - says, before reaching out a hand, which Jaebum takes with a bow.  “I’ve heard all about you.”

    The kid’s face stretches into a smile at Jackson’s whine.  It’s a wide one that shows off sharp canine teeth that somehow manage to be charming rather than intimidating, and Jaebum is kind of mad at how beautiful this guy is.  Seriously, what the hell?  “Nice to meet you,” he still manages between teeth that are definitely not gritting together.  “You’re Jackson’s age?”

    “Oh no.  I’m ’93.”

    “Oh.”  Shit.  “Nice to meet you, then, Mark-hyung.”  Not.  But Mark’s giving him this...weird look, comprised of a wide smile but eyes that are squinting a bit in what looks like curiosity, and his head is cocked to the side as he appraises him, and Jaebum wonders what exactly Mark has heard about him to provoke that response.  His arms fold in front of his chest, and he just keeps looking at Jaebum, like he’s testing him or challenging him, and it has Jaebum straightening his posture just a little.

    “You heading to class, Jaebum-hyung?”

     “Ah no,” Jaebum answers, finally breaking the awkward staring-contest with Mark.  If Jackson’s noticed what just happened - whatever that was, Jaebum’s not sure - he doesn’t show any signs of it, eyes still dancing with mirth.  “I was just...walking by.”  He blinks at the little disbelieving hum that comes from Mark, sees his arms still folded and head still cocked but smile now drawn into a smirk, and Jaebum sends up a silent prayer to never let him and Jinyoung meet.  “I was...going to the café?” he adds.  Very convincingly.

     Mark snorts.  Jaebum frowns.  Please, never let them meet.

    “Oh!  Grabbing lunch?”

     Mark’s hand is on Jackson’s shoulder when the younger asks it.  Jaebum can’t quite seem to tear his gaze from it.  Are they...?

    “Uhm yeah,” Jaebum replies.

    “We were just about to do the same! You should join us, Jaebum-hyung!”

     “Oh I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t want to interrupt your...” Jaebum watches as Mark’s hand slips down Jackson’s arm them to linger at his elbow, before dropping, just like Jaebum’s own stomach seems to at the realization, “date.”

     They both laugh at that, a chorus of giggles, and Jaebum feels like an idiot.  “Oh no, hyung!  Mark is my best friend.  And roommate.  The responsible beta needed to keep me in line, I guess,” Jackson assures him.

    “A full-time job,” Mark supplements dolefully.

    “Oh, like you’re any easier to deal with, Mr. Tall-not-so-dark-and-silent.  You’re just mad because I used up all the hot water in the shower last night.”

    “Damn right, I’m mad.  The water was like ice by the time I got in.  And if either of us needed a cold shower last night, it was definitely - “

    Jackson cuts him off with a shriek that sounds just a little desperate and a hand clamped over Mark’s mouth.  “Don’t mind him,” he assures Jaebum smoothly, grinning wide and somewhat manically.  “He’s pissy because he fell on his backflip sequence today.”  When Mark struggles a bit, Jackson adds, “Twice.” 

    Mark seems to nip Jackson’s hand at that, because Jackson’s then cradling it against his chest with an overdramatic expression of betrayal. 

    Jaebum’s just lost. “Ah...backflip sequence?”

    “Mark’s a gymnast!  Pretty good one, at that.”  Jackson shoots a brief grin at Mark then, betrayal seemingly forgotten, and Jaebum notices how Mark’s face softens.  They remind him of himself and Jinyoung...bickering and scrapping one minute, before the care emerges and softens the rough edges.  “Our practices line up, so we always grab lunch after.  You’re welcome to join us!”

    “Actually,” Mark cuts in, “I have a meeting with my prof now.  So it’ll just be you two.”

    “Meeting?” Jackson repeats with a frown. “You didn’t tell me about any meeting.”

    “Yeah, well, it just...came up.” Mark’s levels another one of those long, appraising stares at Jaebum.  This time, it has his face feeling inexplicably hot.  “But you two go on without me.”

    “Well, okay.”  There’s a pout on Jackson’s lips that has Jaebum feeling the sudden urge to wet his own, but it disappears into a sunny smile as he turns again to face Jaebum.  “You want to grab lunch with me, Jaebum-hyung?”

    Jaebum can’t find it in himself to disagree, melting under the warmth of Jackson’s gaze.  So he doesn’t.