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The Perfect Recipe

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“Order for table two, hot and ready!”

Jin wiped the edges of the plate and set it under the warming lamps at the end of the counter, Hoseok flitting past and expertly adding it to the other dishes balanced on his arms.

“You outdid yourself with this one, Jin!” he said buoyantly. The waiter flashed a bright smile before pushing through the double doors leading to the dining room. Jin shook his head fondly. As his head waiter, Hoseok flew through the restaurant with ceaseless energy, his infectious grin and positive attitude never fading, even on their busiest and most hectic nights.

Tonight was one of those nights. Dabbing his forehead on the sleeve of his chef’s uniform, Jin turned back to the pans sizzling on his stovetop and called to his sous chef.

“Tae, how’s the linguine for table five coming?”

“Straining now!” the man replied, his chestnut hair flopping over the black bandana tied across his forehead.

“Sauce on the way!” another voice called. Jimin approached the countertop with a pan of creamy garlic-herb sauce, his cheeks flushed from the warmth of the kitchen. Like a well-oiled machine, Taehyung dumped his pasta into the pan while Jimin flipped it neatly, easing the glistening noodles onto the plate waiting at the end of his bench.

“Thanks babe,” Tae grinned, pressing a chaste kiss to his boyfriend’s cheek.

“Alright, alright, back to work, lovebirds,” Jin said sternly. He sprinkled fresh parsley on the pasta as Jimin giggled and darted back to his station, the three of them smoothly working through the flow of orders as Hoseok dashed between the kitchen and lobby with impeccable timing, seeming to sense a finished dish the moment Jin placed it under the heat lamps.

The four of them created the perfect team. As the head chef and owner of the restaurant, Jin couldn’t have asked for a more talented, energetic, and efficient staff. Or, as he thought of it, his family. Though they were often stretched thin on busy nights, the four of them kept his tiny restaurant running smoothly, with his brother, Jungkook, helping wait tables and wash dishes when he wasn’t busy training at the gym. Jungkook had an important match coming up, so Jin had given the boxer the night off, knowing the boy needed to be at peak performance. Still, on such a busy evening, he missed Jungkook’s hardworking presence more than ever. Jin sighed as he eyed the plates steadily accumulating in the sink. At least there was only an hour until closing time.

Hoseok burst through the kitchen doors, his lips pursed in distress as his eyes landed on Jin.

“Table seven asked for you. Seems there’s a problem with their order.”

Jin frowned. Despite the high volume of customers, the chef’s meticulous eye hadn’t noticed any flaws in the food he’d sent out. Wiping his hands on his apron, he followed Hoseok into the dining room, Tae seamlessly moving between stovetops to watch Jin’s cooking while he was gone.       

Hoseok darted away to check on other guests and Jin took a steadying breath, rolling his shoulders and confidently striding towards the table nestled in the corner of the room. The restaurant’s warm lighting glimmered in his black hair and nestled comfortingly on his cheekbones as he approached the two men at table seven.

Both wore tailored suits, clearly expensive, with Rolex’s peeping from crisp sleeves. The smaller of the two had ash-gray hair, round cheeks, and an impassive expression. But Seokjin’s eye was drawn to the man sitting opposite. Strong nose, sharp jawline, tanned skin. Perfectly-coifed caramel-colored hair framed his forehead, his impeccable posture and long legs accentuated by the precise cuts of his suit, his body radiating a calm, irrefutable power. He was gorgeous. His narrowed eyes met Jin’s.

“Are you the head chef?”

His voice was smooth and buttery, deep in a way that made Seokjin gulp.

“Yes,” he replied, voice unwavering. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”

“My steak is overdone,” the man accused, gesturing to his barely-touched meal.

Jin looked down to see a sublime, perfectly-cooked steak. “Overdone?” he said incredulously.

“Indeed.” The man glared. “I ordered a medium-rare steak, and this is clearly cooked medium. Overdone.”

The chef’s eyes blew wide, his voice raising before he could stop it. “What psychotic definition of ‘medium-rare’ are you operating on? This steak is damn perfect. What, do you prefer your meat still dripping with blood?” The man’s eyes widened in surprise, flickering with something unreadable. Jin’s hands were gesturing wildly and he knew he needed to reign in his temper, but his mouth spat rapidly without his control. “Or, better yet – I bet you just eat straight from the cow, not even bothering to cut off a piece before you dig in.”

The smaller man choked on his water, but Jin didn’t spare a glance for his snickering form, his eyes trained with fiery ire on the well-groomed dick before him. The man eyed him ponderingly, Jin feeling strangely naked under his gaze. Something akin to challenge flashed in the man’s eyes as he leaned back and crossed his arms.

“As the head chef of this establishment, I’d expect you to know how to cook a simple steak.” He sighed with disgust. “Instead, you serve me this crap. How very… disappointing.”

Jin’s mouth fell open at the insult. Fury boiled in his veins, his head pounding and his lips pursing so hard the corners of his mouth were turning white. He’d never encountered such a disgustingly rude, pompous, full-of-shit customer. He’d served snobby businessmen before, but this was a whole new level.

As he opened his mouth to fire a scathing retort, a warm hand on his shoulder stilled the tempest threatening to burst from his lips. Turning, he met Hoseok’s gentle gaze, his supportive smile tinged with warning. Jin closed his eyes and breathed deeply, channeling the kind attitude of his head waiter before turning back to the two men.

The asshole’s friend didn’t spare him a glance, his eyes unwaveringly trained on Hoseok, while the asshole quirked an eyebrow.

Jin plastered a sweet smile to his lips. “Of course, how unprofessional of me. I’ll make you another steak, right away.”

He turned on his heel and strode back to the kitchen, anger simmering dangerously. On his way, he passed a table with an elderly couple, and the old woman reached out to touch his arm. Jin paused, the tense set of his face softening slightly at her knowing smile.

“You tell ‘em, Jinny boy,” she stage-whispered. The old man next to her flashed him a wink. Jin smiled appreciatively.

“Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Russi. I can always count on you.”

When he stormed into the kitchen, Tae looked up from flouring a fresh batch of pasta, noting Jin's wild expression. His eyebrows furrowed. “What did they want?”

Jin stalked to the cooler, muttering under his breath as he grabbed a fresh slab of meat. “This asshole wouldn’t know a good steak if it grew teeth and bit him in the ass,” he growled.

Tae and Jimin paused, staring at their boss in shock. Ignoring them, Seokjin reached around Tae to grab a plate, slapping the raw steak in the center and flinging the kitchen doors open.

He strode towards the offending table. Hoseok was attempting damage control, uttering apologies as the asshole’s friend gaped adoringly at the waiter with saucer-sized eyes. Jin snorted, unsurprised; Hoseok’s bright smile and infectious laugh could charm the surliest of customers.

He turned as Jin stomped up to the table. “Oh, good, Jin, I was just telling them –”

A vicious thud cut off Hoseok’s words as Jin slammed the plate in front of the asshole, the raw meat glistening. The asshole’s eyes widened, his shocked gaze meeting Jin’s fiery one.

“There you go, sir,” the chef said, voice sickeningly sweet. “Rare enough for you?”

Not waiting for a response, he turned on his heel and strode back into the kitchen. Jimin and Tae looked up as he entered, expressions cautious.

“What did you do?” Jimin asked worriedly.

Before Jin could answer, Hoseok stormed into the kitchen behind him. “Seokjin, what the fuck!” he hissed, voice brimming with irritation. “Those guys were high-paying customers, but I doubt they’ll come back after this!”

Jin’s anger deflated at the worry hiding in the waiter’s eyes. He sighed, moving to grab a sprig of fresh rosemary from the planter on his counter, closing his eyes and running the aromatic spindles under his nose. The sharp fragrance soothed him.

“I’m sorry, Hobi,” he said sincerely, meeting his friend’s infuriated gaze. “Snobby rich people rub me the wrong way. Especially when they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.”

Hoseok pinched the bridge of his nose but shook his head with exasperated affection. “I know, that dude was a complete dick. But we can’t afford to lose customers like that, Jin. Things are strained enough as it is.”

Hoseok was right; though the small restaurant was doing fairly well, they’d been open for a little under a year and had barely begun turning a profit. Any negative reviews this early could undermine their hard work and sink Jin’s lifelong dream. Hoseok always knew when Jin needed a quick slap of logic, and the chef was thankful for his clear-headedness. The rage had dissipated. Jin knew he needed to swallow his pride and put his business first.

Sighing, he set down the rosemary and grabbed a pan, turning up the burner as he headed to grab another steak for table seven.

“I’ll go see if I can salvage their good graces,” Hoseok muttered, returning to the dining area.

Tae chuckled as he dropped floury strands of pasta into a pot of boiling water. “Lost your temper, Jin?”

Jimin eyed his boss with awed yet anxious eyes, absentmindedly sprinkling oregano into a bubbling vat of tomato sauce. “I haven’t seen you this angry since… well, ever,” he said, his lips forming a concerned pout.

Jin sighed and drizzled olive oil into the pan, the comforting sounds and smells of his kitchen soothing the deep wound to his pride. He was seasoning the steak when Hoseok burst through the door, sparkling eyes blown wide.

“They’re gone!”

Jin frowned. "Who’s gone?”

“The snobby rich dudes,” Hoseok said excitedly. “But look at this!”

He scurried over to Jin and showed him the bills clenched in his hand, the boss’ eyes widening in shock.

“Wait… are you telling me those assholes left us a tip of two hundred dollars?”

Tae’s head snapped up from his pasta and Jimin’s spoon clattered to the floor.

“Yes!” Hoseok confirmed breathlessly, his grin blinding.

Jin’s eyes narrowed, his heart pumping erratically. “What, did you offer to escort them home or something?”

The waiter rolled his eyes and pointed a finger in Jin’s face, choosing to ignore his comment. “You, sir, got very, very lucky tonight. I know this is your restaurant and you can run it however you choose. But you’d better think it through the next time you throw raw meat in a customer’s face.”

Laughter burst from Jimin’s mouth, him and Tae doubling over in giggles as Seokjin felt a relieved smile spread across his face. He rested a hand on Hoseok’s shoulder. “You’re right, Hobi, as always. There’s a reason you’re my right-hand man.”

Hoseok smirked. “Damn straight. And don’t you forget it.”

Whistling cheerily, he headed back to the dining room. Jin’s head whirled. After his outburst, he’d fully expected the polished businessmen to leave without paying and threaten to put him out of business. His hand fingered the rosemary as his mind tumbled in confusion. Maybe the guy wasn’t as big of an asshole as he’d thought.

But regardless of how generously he might tip, Jin hoped to never see that man’s face again.

 

******

 

Hoseok was already at the restaurant when Jin arrived the next morning, arms laden with bags of fresh produce from the local farmer’s market. The waiter rushed forward to help him carry them into the kitchen.

“Where’r the lovebirds?” Jin grunted as he set down the heavy load.

Hoseok eyed him sardonically. “I don’t think either of us want to know.”

“Ugh. True.” Jin shuddered dramatically. The two assistant chefs tended to lose track of time in their own romantic world, and the fact that they’d recently moved into an apartment together wasn’t helping their punctuality.

“Don’t worry, boss, I’ll help you with prep until they arrive,” Hoseok said with a wink. They were interrupted by the sharp ringing of the restaurant’s phone.

“Those two had better not be calling in ‘sick’ again,” Jin grumbled as he began sorting through the morning’s delicious finds.

Hoseok cackled. “How many hickeys do you think Tae will have today? I’ll bet you five dollars it’s more than three,” the waiter called over his shoulder as he jogged to answer the phone in the lobby.

“We are not talking about this!” Jin yelled back, Hoseok’s giggle floating through the restaurant before he answered the phone.

Jin hummed to himself and laid out a rainbow of vegetables as Hoseok’s chipper voice floated indistinctly into the kitchen.

Yes, he’s here… oh… OH, really? Hold on, let me grab him.”

Footsteps pattered across the dining room’s soft carpet as Hoseok ran back to the kitchen. “Jin, it’s for you -- some big-shot investor wants to talk about sponsoring the restaurant!”

Potatoes rolled to the floor as Jin whipped to face Hobi, the waiter’s manic grin speaking volumes. “Wait, what?”

Hoseok beckoned him excitedly and sped back to the phone, Jin hot on his heels.

“Hello?” Jin attempted to calm his furious heartbeat and focus on the voice at the other end of the line.

Is this Kim Seokjin, the owner of a restaurant called Euphoria?

“Yes, this is Jin,” he replied eagerly. “What can I do for you?”

My name is Min Yoongi. I’m an agent with Bangtan Investments.” Jin’s eyes widened; he recognized the name of one of the city’s most prominent financial firms. “One of my clients is very interested in your restaurant and would like to discuss potential investment options with you. Are you available sometime this week?

Jin spluttered, Hoseok’s grin threatening to split his face as he watched Jin coordinate a meeting for the next day and shakily attempt to speak coherent sentences. When he hung up, Hoseok screamed, running to envelop Jin in a tight hug while jumping up and down.

“Did that seriously just happen?” Jin shouted, feeding off of Hobi’s energy as he tightened the hug and bounced them in a circle, laughing like idiots. He didn’t hear a key turning in the restaurant’s front door.

“What did we miss?”

Jin turned to find Jimin standing in the doorway, his hand linked with Tae’s. Jin’s mouth opened and closed sporadically, unsure of what to say. He didn’t want to get their hopes up; after all, tomorrow’s meeting came with no guarantees, just the possibility of Seokjin’s wildest dreams coming true and his friends no longer having to worry about where their next paychecks would come from. His nerves sang to life as the weight of the opportunity began to sink in.

Before Jin could respond, Hoseok snickered, elbowing him in the ribs.

“You owe me five dollars.”

 

******

 

Two men paused on the bustling sidewalk, the rush of city-dwellers flowing around them like a brisk river.

“You ready, boss?”

Jin and Hoseok stood before a massive skyscraper in the heart of downtown. The building’s peak seemed to pierce the clouds, its endless windows stealing the deepest blues from the sky and sparkling with the sun’s strong rays. It was intimidating, both austere and beautiful. But something about its graceful power infused Jin with courage.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” he said. Straightening his wide shoulders and brushing his fingers over the sprig of rosemary hiding in his pocket, Jin stepped into the pristine marble embrace of the lobby.

Professionals in stylish suits and pencil skirts rushed to-and-fro, glossy black heels clicking confidently across the reflective tiles and sleek briefcases emerging from elevators while receptionists expertly fielded a constant barrage of phone calls. Jin was glad he’d dressed the part; his dark gray suit felt like a security blanket, shielding him from standing out in the aggressive corporate environment. Next to him, Hoseok’s deep blue ensemble accentuated his red hair, his lithe frame radiating a confidence that Jin gratefully channeled. His galloping heart calmed slightly with his best friend by his side.

When they approached the main desk, a friendly receptionist bustled them towards the elevator and pressed the button for the very top floor, whispering an encouraging “Good luck!” before the doors closed.

“Top floor? Damn, this guy must be loaded,” Hoseok breathed. Jin’s stomach clenched, nerves and excitement warring for the spotlight. The elevator ascended painfully slowly, Jin’s heart squeezing with every floor that crept past. When they finally arrived, a prim assistant stepped forward to greet them.

“Kim Seokjin, I presume?”

Jin nodded, shaking the man’s hand.

“Mr. Kim and Mr. Min are in conference room B, through the doors on the right.”

Thanking him, Jin straightened the lapels of his suit jacket and moved towards the door, Hoseok flashing him an encouraging smile. Jin opened the conference room.

He halted in the doorway. His body was frozen in disbelief. Hoseok tensed beside him, surprise rolling off him in waves.

Two men sat at a long conference table. At the duo’s entrance, the shorter one looked up, gaze flitting to Hoseok before landing on Jin. He stood.

“Ah, welcome. Thank you for meeting us. My name is Min Yoongi; we spoke on the phone yesterday.” It was the gray-haired businessman from two nights ago.

And beside him, gaze locked on Jin with an indulgent smirk, was the asshole.

Chapter Text

The air rippled with tension.

Jin felt his stomach drop to the floor, though with anger or stress, he couldn’t tell. Probably both. He was trapped in the asshole’s piercing eyes.

Before the silence could stretch too long, Hoseok coughed lightly and nudged Jin, startling the chef out of his trance.

Jin stepped forward to shake the gray-haired man’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Min.”

“Please, call me Yoongi,” he replied, a slight flush coloring his neck as Hoseok was the next to grab his hand. “And this is my associate, Kim Namjoon.”

Namjoon stood slowly. He towered above Yoongi, taller than Jin had realized. His dark suit coated him in authority, his eyes radiated intelligence, his spine ignored the call of gravity and bent to no will but his own. Jin had never encountered someone who exuded such power, not even his own father.

Namjoon smiled with surprising affability. “A pleasure to see you again. I’m sorry that we initially met under, ah, less-than-ideal circumstances.”

Jin nodded stiffly. After their harsh exchange at the restaurant, Jin’s fury had solidified into an iron lock around his forgiving nature. His dislike for Kim Namjoon was set in steel, and no chummy smile or half-assed apology was going to change that.

The four of them took their seats, Jin and Hoseok sitting across from the two businessmen. Jin’s rosemary poked through his pocket to jab him in the thigh. A reminder of why he was there.

“I’m sure you’re very busy, so let’s cut to the chase.” Yoongi opened a portfolio and pulled out a lengthy document, sliding it to Jin. “My client is prepared to offer unlimited funds to expand and renovate your restaurant in exchange for an eighty-five percent stake in your business. He’d have majority ownership and final decision-making power on all –”

“Absolutely not.” Seokjin’s voice cracked like a whip. Beside him, Hoseok fidgeted nervously.

“Uh, Jin, let’s take a moment to think about this,” he whispered.

Jin ignored him. “Why, exactly, are you so interested in my restaurant?” Palms flat on the glass table, he leaned towards Namjoon with eyes ablaze. “’Euphoria’ has been open for barely a year. We have a staff of five and only seven dining tables. It hardly seems like a sound financial investment.” He cocked his head, Namjoon regarding him impassively. “And, if I’m remembering correctly, you were disappointed by my ‘crappy’ cooking. So why? What’s your angle, here?”

Namjoon looked down and carefully folded his hands. When his eyes returned to Jin’s, they shone with something that almost seemed like guilt.

“I really am sorry for insulting you so deeply.” The businessman’s voice rang with sincerity. “I have a bad habit of… well, ‘testing’ potential investment partners before going into business with them. But I’ll admit that I took it a little too far this time.”

Yoongi snorted. “Your acting really wasn’t that good.” He leaned to Hoseok conspiratorially. “He almost failed his theater elective in college.”

Namjoon shot him a glare before focusing on Jin’s unconvinced expression. “I’ll be straight with you: I have a lot of money.”

Jin’s eyes rolled of their own accord. “Obviously. Why else would we be here?”

“Touché.” Namjoon chuckled, further stoking Jin’s annoyance. “But the point is, I’ve been looking for small businesses that are ready for the next level, that I’d be proud to support both personally and financially. And your restaurant impressed me. The ambience, the service, the food, all of it was incredible.” His hand ran through his hair and ruffled its immaculate styling. “I had to push you. I had to be sure. Most people don’t have the passion and determination needed to survive in a competitive business world.” Humor tugged at his mouth. “But you definitely do.”

The lock rattled uncomfortably in Jin’s chest, but he knew this game. He’d seen his father play it countless times, a cycle of manipulative flattery that buttered up his unsuspecting victims before he swung the cleaver and left their heads rolling.

The lock trembled insistently. Namjoon didn’t have the same unforgiving scowl, flinty glare, or oily voice of his father. But businessmen couldn’t be trusted. Especially when they wanted eighty-five percent of your dream.

“My answer is still no.”

Yoongi held up his hands in surrender. “It’s a big decision. Why don’t you take a few days to think about it and I’ll check in with you at the end of the week.”

Jin knew his verdict wouldn’t change, but he nodded. Anything to get him out of this conference room from hell.

As Jin snatched up the portfolio, Yoongi slid a business card to Hoseok. “Call me sometime.” He winked. “But not about work.”

Hoseok’s ears flushed crimson and he ducked his head with an embarrassed grin. He tucked the card in his breast pocket.

Namjoon extended his hand to Jin. His voice was soft. “I really do hope you’ll reconsider.”

The lock almost sprang open, but Jin squared his shoulders pridefully and eyed Namjoon’s hand with the same disdainful grimace he reserved for overcooked pasta and out-of-season vegetables.

“Don’t get your hopes up.”

He turned on his heel and whipped out of the conference room, Hoseok uttering hasty goodbyes before scurrying out behind him. Thankfully, the preppy assistant who’d greeted them earlier was nowhere to be seen; two arrogant capitalists were enough for one day.

After an aggressive stab from Jin, the elevator dinged and hastily slid open its doors, the chef hurrying through and pressing the lobby button before Hoseok had even fully stepped inside.

The elevator was silent. A cloud of wrath choked the small space, the two friends motionless, their minds tumultuously reeling in all directions.

It was Jin who finally broke the silence.

“What the actual fuck just happened?”

 

******

 

The apartment door flew open and slammed behind him, Jin grumbling as he threw his keys on the bookshelf by the door and shrugged off his jacket.

“You ok, bro?” a voice called from the kitchen. The familiar tone soothed Jin’s frustration, but only slightly.

“You’ll never guess who the investor was!” he called, voice clipped as he headed for the kitchen. “It was the fucking –”

Seokjin halted in the dining room. Jungkook was seated at the table, his shirtless figure hunched as he gingerly wrapped his left hand with a bandage, prominent muscles strained under a light sheen of sweat. His face was scrunched with discomfort and a bleeding red mark stained his left cheek.

“What happened?” Jin gasped. He rushed to the table and Jungkook rolled his eyes, accustomed to his brother’s overly-concerned nature.

“It’s nothing,” he sighed, wincing slightly as he wrapped the bandage too tightly. Jin clucked his tongue and sat next to him, gently taking Jungkook’s hand and re-wrapping it with practiced ease. Jungkook leaned back and closed his eyes.

“Coach keeps telling me to stop leaving my left side exposed. Now I see why.”

Jin secured the wrapping and stood to retrieve the first aid kit from the top kitchen drawer. He was used to the youngster coming home with cuts and bruises; as an aspiring professional boxer, Jungkook usually returned from practices exhausted and thoroughly beat up. Jin couldn’t help but worry. Though boxing was Jungkook’s passion, and it warmed Jin’s heart to see the pride shining from his eyes after a victory or the determined set of his mouth after a tough day at practice, he wished his sweet younger brother hadn’t chosen such an aggressively dangerous occupation.

He reclaimed his spot at the table and pulled an antiseptic wipe from the first aid kit. “Looks like Jackson didn’t hold back today.”

Jungkook snorted. “He never does. But that’s why he’s the best sparring partner,” he grinned. The smile quickly turned to a grimace when Jin pressed the wipe against his bleeding cheek. “But Coach said that with the improvements I’ve made lately, I should be ready to compete in the qualifying matches next month.”

Jin pulled back, staring at his brother in shock. “Kook, that’s amazing! I’m so proud of you, little bro.”

Jungkook grinned shyly, ducking out of reach as Jin tried to ruffle his dark hair. “Thanks.”

Jin hummed happily as he dabbed ointment on Jungkook’s cheek and covered it with a bandage. For months, his brother had been tirelessly training to earn a spot in the regional qualifier for the city’s biggest and most competitive annual boxing showdown. The winner would earn a hefty cash prize and a direct spot in the professional league. Jin’s chest tightened with pride. He swallowed against the sudden bulge in his throat.

“You’re all patched up. I’ll start dinner.”

Jungkook flexed his wrist, satisfied with the wrap job. His earnest eyes looked to Jin with clear adoration. “I’m going to win it for you, Seokie. Just wait and see. I’m going to win, and we’ll never have to worry about money again.”

Jin blinked thickly, his eyes clouding with affection for his selfless younger brother.

The past few years hadn’t been easy for either of them. The sons of wealthy upper-class parents, Jin was pressured into a career as a surgeon, while Jungkook was slated to become a lawyer, neither of them allowed to pursue what truly made them happy. When Jin dropped out of his first year of med school to follow his passion for the culinary arts, his parents effectively disowned him and dropped all contact, even freezing his family bank accounts.    

Alone and broke, he moved to the city. He worked seven days a week as a waiter and a busboy at fancy restaurants, and finally, he earned a spot in the kitchens, where his talent blossomed and he built his reputation from the ground up. After living on scraps to save money and using the meager funds Jungkook had managed to smuggle out of Jin’s trust fund before their parents froze it, he rented a humble building at the edge of the art district and opened his own restaurant, a dream he’d imagined since childhood.

Shortly after, Jungkook finished high school and was desperate to escape their parents’ suffocating clutches. He’d fled to the city and showed up on Jin’s doorstep, and the eldest couldn’t bear to turn him away.          

Despite their age difference, the two brothers were inseparable, exiled from their family, relying solely on each other.

Jin pressed a kiss to Jungkook’s forehead and smoothed his sweaty hair. “Go shower. I’ll call you when the food’s ready.”

Jungkook heaved himself up and ambled towards his room, the sound of rushing water filling the hallway moments later. Jin opened the fridge and cringed at the scarcity of ingredients. Jungkook’s athletic diet blew through groceries at an alarming rate. Jin made a mental note to grab extra food at tomorrow’s market as he scrounged up what he could and began throwing together a simple meal.

He hummed softly, the smell of chicken and garlic filling the small kitchen. Even with limited ingredients, nothing brought Jin more joy than cooking. Breathing deeply, his body flooded with tranquility, his earlier anger melting as the sound of sizzling calmed him like a warm lullaby.

Jungkook staggered into the kitchen as Jin was placing dinner on the table. The boy pulled a soft gray hoodie over his torso, and Seokjin frowned as he noticed a dark purple splotch on his brother’s ribcage before it disappeared under the fabric, but he decided to let it be.

The youngster sat across from him at the small table and immediately heaped his plate with chicken and vegetables, Jin waiting until the boy had filled his dish before taking the significantly smaller pile that remained.

“So, what were you saying earlier?” Jungkook asked around a mouthful of food. “Something about the investor?”

Jin’s fork clattered to the table. His earlier irritation flooded back. “Oh.” He took a deep breath. “Remember the asshole customer from the other night?”

Jungkook nodded, the dots still unconnected. Jin paused significantly, and understanding slowly dawned on Jungkook’s face, his eyes nearly popping out of their sockets as his fork froze on its path to his mouth.

“No way. No way,” the boy spluttered. “It was him?”

“Yu-p,” Jin said grimly, popping his lips around the word.

“What the hell did he want?”

Jin rolled his eyes. “What do you think, Kook? He wants to buy the restaurant, probably to turn it into some cookie-cutter, high-society, disgustingly overpriced hub of fine dining.” Jin aggressively stabbed a carrot with his fork. “Over my dead body,” he seethed.

Jungkook chewed slowly, cheeks bulging around the vegetables and expression thoughtful. “It sounds like the exact opposite of your dream.” His eyes scrutinized his brother’s face. “So why do you look so torn?”

Jin blinked in surprise. His brother had an annoying penchant for pinpointing feelings that Jin refused to recognize within himself.           

“I’m not,” he said defensively. The boxer cocked an eyebrow. Jin sighed in defeat, moodily staring at his plate.

“He’s offering a shit-ton of money, ok? And I’d technically still be the head chef. I just wouldn’t have any say on how things are run.”

The kitchen grew silent, weighed down by the impending possibility of Jin’s dream being buried alive.      

Jungkook bit his lip. “You’re not gonna like this, Seokie… but I think you should do it.”

Jin’s head whipped up. “What?” His voice brimmed with disbelief.

“Hear me out,” Jungkook countered. “Give him a counter-offer. Tell him things need to be fifty-fifty, and that you have to be involved in the changes made to your business. That way, you’ll have his money backing the restaurant, but you still get to run it the way you want to.”

Jin pursed his lips stubbornly, but he couldn’t deny Jungkook’s logic. If he was being honest, his hatred for the asshole investor had clouded his judgment and ruffled his pride. The man had actually seemed genuine at the investment meeting, and nobody had ever shown such zeal for his restaurant – aside from Jin himself. The chef didn’t want to admit it, but Jungkook might be right.

“When did you get so smart, little bro?”

Jungkook shrugged with a cheeky grin. “After you left, dad made me shadow some of his boring-ass business meetings. I guess I learned something from them, after all.”

Per their usual post-dinner routine, Jungkook stood to clear their plates and rinse them in the sink. But instead of their typical banter, the kitchen was filled with a pensive silence, the scrubbing of the sponge and clinking of dishes creating a quiet symphony as Jin plummeted deeper and deeper into a realm of indecision.

He tossed and turned all night. His brother’s words echoed in his ears while images of Namjoon’s benevolent eyes and friendly smile warred with the sharp insults he’d seared into Jin’s mind. The moon kept him company until the sun began to peek above the horizon, spilling light over the clouds and filling Jin’s room with a promising glow. It was the sun who finally convinced him to make a choice. He needed to follow his gut, even if it charged him with fear, panic, and an inkling of reluctant excitement.

Arriving at work a few hours later, he entered the kitchen to find his small crew already there, Jimin and Tae prepping ingredients while Hoseok reviewed the week’s expenses. Jin sighed when he saw Jungkook perched on the counter, his cackling laughter mixing with Jimin’s giggles as Tae pouted, clearly the butt of one of Jungkook’s jokes. Jungkook’s arm was still bandaged, and Jin wished the boy had stayed home to rest. But the warmth of friendship singing between the three youngsters was a medicine of its own kind.

Jin’s heart swelled. This was his family. These were the people he loved unconditionally, who he would do anything for. Some bonds were stronger than blood; Jin had never imagined that by leaving his genetic family behind, he would find his soul family, the people who had supported him from the very beginning and asked for nothing in return.

After twenty-four hours of anxious churning, his mind finally stilled. He no longer doubted that he’d made the right decision.

Hoseok looked up as Jin stepped into the kitchen. His sharp eyes flitted from the violet smudges under Jin’s eyes to the resolute set of his mouth, and he quickly stood. With just one look, he knew.

“Jin… are you sure about this?” His normally-upbeat features were painted with concern. Jungkook and Jimin grew quiet, all eyes turning to Jin. He smiled.

“I’m sure.”

Surprise flitted across Hobi’s face before he beamed and grabbed Jin in a tight hug. “I’m proud of you, Jinnie,” he whispered roughly.

“What’s going on?” Tae called.

Jimin hushed him and nudged his shoulder. “Quiet, the grown-ups are talking.”

Jungkook cackled again, and Jin gave Hoseok a final squeeze before releasing him and holding out his hand expectantly. “The business card, please.”

Hoseok rummaged in his pocket and produced Yoongi’s card, his grasp oddly firm as Jin tried to pry it from his fingers. “You’d better give it back,” Hobi muttered.

Jin pulled his phone from his pocket and quickly dialed, his pulse pounding unevenly. A gruff voice answered.

Min Yoongi speaking.”

Jin took a steadying breath, Hoseok nodding with encouragement. “Hi, this is Kim Seokjin, we met yesterday.”

Ah, Mr. Kim, good to hear from you.” He paused. “Are you calling with bad news?

“Quite the contrary,” Jin replied, voice strong. “I’ve decided to accept your offer. But on my terms.”

The line was quiet for a moment. “Go on.

“I need at least fifty-percent of the business. It’s my restaurant, and I refuse to let someone steamroll it into something unrecognizable, no matter how much money they throw at me. I need to be involved in all decisions and all changes. Nothing gets approved without my consent.”

Silence bled into Jin’s ear. “One moment.” Muffled voices carried through the phone, Yoongi clearly relaying Jin’s terms to someone else in the room. Likely Kim Namjoon. Jin’s stomach hardened at the thought.

The voices stopped. “All right, Seokjin, Mr. Kim has agreed to your terms. You will be equal partners in the business, and all major changes must be approved by the both of you. But, as the sole financial backer, he reserves the right to veto any decisions that you can’t mutually agree upon. My assistant will be in touch with a new contract by the end of the week.

Jin’s body sang with relief, grabbing Hoseok’s shoulder for support.

Mr. Kim is excited to work with you.” Yoongi lowered his voice. “And I know you may not trust him, but Namjoon is a great guy and an even better businessman. Your restaurant is in good hands.

Jin’s grip tightened on Hoseok’s shoulder. “Thank you, Yoongi. But I think I’ll be the judge of that.”

A throaty chuckle followed his words. “Oh, this is going to be fun. Good luck, Seokjin. I’ll talk to you soon.”

The line died. Jin exhaled shakily.

He’d done it. After years of sacrifice, hard work, and uncertainty, his dream was finally taking flight. Even if its wings were slightly different than he’d imagined.

A warm hand suddenly enveloped his own, and Jin looked down to find Jimin leaning against his side, smiling serenely. Jungkook hopped off the counter and clapped his brother on the shoulder, pride shining from his eyes.

Tae huffed. “I still don’t know what’s happening.”

Chuckling, Jin wrapped an arm around Hoseok and turned to face Tae, excitement finally beginning to trickle through his veins.

“Get ready, guys. Things are about to change around here.”

Chapter Text

Jin stood before the intimidating skyscraper, but this time, Hoseok wasn’t there to ground him. His stomach was overflowing with nerves; he was confident in his decision to partner with Kim Namjoon, but he still didn’t like the man. He still didn’t trust him. And he had no idea what to expect from their first meeting as business partners.

Exhaling quickly, he strode into the lobby and headed straight for the elevator, this time not needing the receptionist’s assistance as he pressed the button for the top floor. His finger shook slightly. As the floors ticked by, he focused on breathing steadily. He wished he’d brought some rosemary today.

All too quickly, the elevator reached the top floor, its doors singing open with a cheerful ding. Jin tried not to grimace at the sight of the pretentious assistant waiting for him.

“Kim Seokjin, welcome back. Mr. Kim is awaiting you in his office, just down the hallway to your left.”

“Thank you.” Jin took a few steps forward, but paused, turning back to the assistant. “Hey, what’s your name?” He may hate everything about wealthy corporations and the pompous jerks who worked for them, but he was part of this world now, whether he liked it or not. The least he could do was try to be kind and make the best of it.

The man blinked in surprise, clearly not accustomed to people caring about his identity. “Oh, um, it’s Michael. Michael Lee.”

Jin smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Michael.” Feeling more confident, he turned and made his way down the long hallway, passing conference rooms, small offices, and a cozy breakroom before reaching the sturdy door at the end of the hallway, its simple plaque reading KIM NAMJOON in bold letters.

Jin knocked, and thankfully his hand didn’t shake this time.

“Come in.”

He opened the door, his eyes widening at the huge room. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lined the wall to his left, while the right wall was covered with a collection of paintings, most of them abstract shapes, some of them cinematic landscapes, all of them vibrant with color. A round glass table occupied the center of the room and was surrounded by plush yet minimalistic chairs atop a soothing rug of greens and blues. Enormous windows replaced the wall across from the door, the city’s eclectic sprawl stretching as far as the eye could see. And in front of it, sitting behind a large, horribly-disorganized desk, was Jin’s new business partner.

Namjoon stood, his eyes crinkling in welcome. “Seokjin, so wonderful to see you again! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Yoongi told me you’d changed your mind.” He raised his eyebrows. “I don’t normally accept fifty-fifty partnerships… but I was willing to make an exception.”

Jin hesitated. The warm welcome threw him off-guard. “Yes, well, thank you for accepting my terms. I’m… interested to hear the ideas you have for expanding my business.”

Namjoon rubbed his hands together. “I have lots of thoughts! But first – ah, shoot, where did I put it…” He ruffled through the papers haphazardly strewn across his desk.

Jin took a moment to amble over to the bookshelves. He’d expected to find the standard books about economics, business law, and city codes that had littered his father’s office, but instead found volume after volume of philosophy and ethics, even a whole shelf of books about architecture and fine arts.

“Ah, here it is!”

He turned to find Namjoon triumphantly wielding a stack of papers, moving from behind his desk to take a seat at the table and gesturing for Jin to sit next to him. The chef chose the seat across from him.

“This is our new contract. Take your time to read through it, and let me know if you have any questions. Just initial the bottom of each page and sign at the very end.”

Jin nodded, his heart thumping as he took the contract and painstakingly flipped through it. He couldn’t help but feel like he was signing his life away, as overly-dramatic as it seemed. He was used to doing things alone. Sure, he had his friends by his side, but aside from Hoseok’s help with managing the restaurant, Jin’s business had never belonged to anyone but himself.

When he reached the last page, his pen hesitated. Could he really do this? Could he really split his business, his baby, with a complete stranger?

Namjoon cleared his throat softly. “Seokjin.” The chef’s eyes flicked to his. “I know you have your doubts. I don’t want you to feel forced into this. But this will be an amazing opportunity for your restaurant, and I’m here to support you.”

Jin searched his eyes, the businessman calmly returning his gaze. After a few moments, Jin’s heart thudded again, but differently from before. Something in Namjoon’s expression prompted Jin to swirl his signature across the final page and seal his fate.

Namjoon beamed, taking the contract and scrawling his name next to Jin’s. Reaching behind him, he pressed a blue button on his desk phone and a knock sounded at the door seconds later, Michael stepping into the office to take the contract from his boss. He flashed Jin a shy smile as he left, closing the door behind him.

“Well, then, let’s get started!” Namjoon grabbed a notepad and a portfolio from his desk and pulled a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket, unceremoniously sliding them onto his nose. “I’ve sketched out a few ideas, but overall, I think your restaurant can become the next big staple of the city’s dining scene. With the right location and marketing, I’d expect it to start turning massive profits within two years.”

He adjusted his glasses, Jin sitting mutely as Namjoon scooted into the chair next to him and angled the portfolio so they both could see it.

“I think the first step is relocating. Something big, right in the heart of downtown, will attract massive crowds, both tourists and locals alike.”

Jin frowned. “What’s wrong with where it is now?” Though he was hesitant to admit it, he saw the logic in Namjoon’s argument. His current restaurant was tiny, his kitchen out-of-date, and the customer flow was limited. But he loved its quirky spot at the edge of the art district and the way it felt like a second home.

Namjoon saw Jin’s defensive expression and was quick to prove his case. “Well, your current spot was a great start. But you need a place that gives you room to expand, because that’s what’s going to elevate the business and increase your revenue.” He pinned Jin with his astute gaze. “You’re too good of a chef to be hiding in some hole in the wall. You deserve better. And the world needs to taste your cappelletti, because it was absolutely exquisite.”

Jin felt a blush creep up his cheeks. He was a sucker for praise, a fact which was not working in his favor as he tried to remain stoic and unyielding.

Namjoon pulled a few photos from the packet. “I’ve got a few places in mind. These are just some examples, but I’ll set up some walk-throughs next week and we can pick a new location.”

Looking through the photos, Jin’s brow began to furrow. “But they’re so… huge. These places must cost a fortune.”      

Namjoon chuckled. “I told you I was prepared to offer unlimited funds, and I wasn’t kidding. Money is no object.”

Jin shook his head. “They’re too fancy. ‘Euphoria’ will lose its authentic charm in buildings like this.” That was partially true, but Jin also knew he was just being stubborn. The scale of the storefronts intimidated him.

Namjoon pursed his lips. “Let’s not write them off before you see them in person. Who knows, one of them might speak to you.” He took the photos and hid them in the back of the portfolio, pulling out another set of pages with color schemes, furniture options, and photos of ornate lighting fixtures.

“I took the liberty of compiling some options for refurbishing the restaurant’s look. Now, these are all preliminary, but –”

“No, no, these are all wrong.” Jin felt panic beginning to rise. “’Euphoria’ is supposed to feel homey, timeless, a return to classic dining.” He gestured disdainfully to the portfolio. “All of this is so… so posh.”

“The atmosphere of ‘Euphoria’ is charming, I’ll give you that.” Namjoon shuffled through the pages. “But this kind of styling will attract a whole new class of customers –”

“But none of this is right!” Jin knew he sounded petulant, but this was all too much. He’d known that this partnership would have its struggles, but Namjoon was threatening to change everything that made ‘Euphoria’ so unique, so special, so distinctly home. Jin would fight until his last breath to preserve his vision.

Namjoon’s voice was soft, but his eyes were stern. “Seokjin, I know this may be hard for you. But if this is going to work, we need to compromise. I have a lot of experience with turning small businesses into successful names, and ‘Euphoria’ will be no exception. But we have to work together on this.”

Jin crossed his arms. He knew Namjoon was right, and that once again, his temper was getting in the way. He wasn’t acting very professionally.

But something about Namjoon stoked his competitive nature in the worst way. He didn’t want to budge a single inch, not because Namjoon’s ideas had been bad – Jin had to admit that the man was more prepared than he’d expected – but because his pride had been so severely injured the first time they’d met. He wanted to prove that he was competent and capable of running things on his own, that he didn’t need someone else’s opinions to make his business successful.

But he’d signed a contract, knowing full-well that things were going to change. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Damn, he wished he hadn’t forgotten his rosemary. He could use something comforting right about now.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured in defeat. Opening his eyes, he saw Namjoon looking at him sympathetically, and it somehow made him feel worse, his stomach twisting uncomfortably. “I’ll try to be a bit more… receptive.”

Namjoon nodded. “Thank you. And I’ll try not to overwhelm you with too many changes at a time.”

Jin picked up one of the pages. “I guess I kind of like these wall sconces,” he sighed grudgingly.

Their meeting continued for the rest of the afternoon, Michael bringing them take-out for lunch as they debated floor plans and staff requirements and carpet patterns. Jin was trying to stay level-headed, but the businessman was driving him crazy with his over-the-top ideas and endless patience in the face of Jin’s explosive attitude.

As the sun began to dip below the city’s skyline, Namjoon stretched, his dress shirt crinkled and hair in disarray. “Well, I think we made some progress today. Why don’t we call it a night and reconvene tomorrow?”

Jin rubbed his temples, his skull throbbing with a massive headache. “Yeah, sure. Fine with me.”

Namjoon handed him the portfolio. “I’ll leave this with you. Feel free to look through it some more tonight.” He smirked. “Just don’t shred it or anything.”

Jin rolled his eyes but cracked a tiny, betraying smile. “No promises.”

On the drive home, he mulled over his confusing impressions of Kim Namjoon. He’d thought the man was an asshole. Well, he still did.

But now he knew that Namjoon had kind eyes. A patient nature. Bookshelves worshipping philosophy and art. A weakness for chicken dumplings. And a genuine smile that forged craters bigger than the moon’s.

He shook his head. He was still wary, but he had to admit that Namjoon was nothing like he’d expected. Maybe he was too caught up in his impressions of the business world he’d learned from his father. After all, his family swam in unapologetically dirty money, his father and his associates swindling right and left as they dominated the economy by any means necessary.

Jin was starting to realize that there might be two sides to the business world. And maybe, just maybe, Kim Namjoon was on the good side.

Exhausted, he opened the door to his apartment, flicking on the entryway light. The rest of the apartment was dark.

“Kook? You home?” He walked towards the kitchen.

Suddenly, the lights switched on. “SURPRISE!”

Jin screamed and jumped back as Hoseok, Jimin, Tae, and Jungkook leapt from hiding spots around the kitchen. The ceiling was littered with streamers, and a few balloons floated around a banner reading “Congratulations!

Jin’s hand flew to his heart. “Geez, you guys scared me! What is all this?”

Tae ran forward with a boxy grin, flinging his arms around Jin’s neck. “We’re just so proud of you, Jinnie! We all pitched in to throw you a little party, since you’re gonna be a big-shot restaurant owner and all that jazz.”       

Jin’s eyes prickled. After a long day, this was a breath of happiness he hadn’t realized he’d needed.

Jungkook ambled over and strapped a party hat over his brother’s head. “Aw, come on, now, don’t get all emotional,” he teased, punching Jin the shoulder.

“I’m not,” Jin lied, blinking furiously. Jungkook smirked and pulled him to the table where Jimin was lighting the candles on a small chocolate cake.

“And I’ve got champagne!” Hoseok sang, bringing five glasses and an enormous bottle of cheap booze to the table. He winked conspiratorially. “And there’s more where this came from.”

Grinning, Jin blew out the candles and popped open the champagne bottle, all of them cheering as he splashed the drink into their glasses and led them in a toast. He downed his glass in one gulp. Yes, this was exactly what he’d needed.

 

******

 

“And then – get this – he showed me these!”

Hoseok shrieked with laughter as Jin whipped out the catalog page of doorknobs from Namjoon’s portfolio, Jimin doubled over as Tae clutched onto Jungkook for dear life, their bodies shaking with hysterics.

The boys were nearing the end of their third bottle of champagne. Hoseok had asked how the meeting went, and as his bloodstream bubbled with more and more alcohol, Jin found his afternoon with Namjoon increasingly hilarious.

“No fucking way, he had an entire page of just doorknobs? He really pulled out all of the stops,” Hoseok wheezed, wiping tears from his eyes.

Jin giggled as he sipped his drink. “Was that a pun?”

Hoseok frowned, contemplating drunkenly. “Was it?”

“It most definitely was not,” Jungkook argued. Hoseok stuck out his tongue, Jungkook returning the action.

Jimin hiccupped around his giggles, his words as slurred as everyone else’s. “He doesn’t sound s’bad, huh? Maybe you’ll like working with him.”         

Jin snorted, frowning as he noticed his glass was almost empty. “Not a chance. He may have a nice smile and pretty dimples, but he frustrates the hell out of me.”

“Oooh, someone likes him,” Tae cooed, swaying slightly as he shot Jin a dopey smile.

“Shut up, I do not,” Jin spluttered, Hoseok cackling again and almost spilling champagne on the floor. Jin turned on him.

“You shouldn’t be laughing. You’re the one who has Min Yoongi’s business card propped on his nightstand like a lovesick teenager.”

Hoseok’s eyes widened, the rest of the boys staring at him as Jin smirked triumphantly.

“Nuh-uh,” Tae shouted.

"Does he really?” Jimin whispered loudly.

Hoseok’s ears were bright red. He shoved Jin’s shoulder and gulped down the rest of his drink. “Ok, yes, I might have called Yoongi, and we might be going on a date this Friday.”

Tae and Jungkook whooped as Jimin grinned happily, the three of them getting up and stumbling into the kitchen to fight over the last slice of cake. Jin leaned against Hoseok’s shoulder, his body coursing with warm contentment.

“I don’t like Namjoon,” he muttered to himself.

Hoseok snickered. “Hey, you don’t need to convince me. I see the hatred in your eyes when you look at him.”

He grabbed Jin’s glass and stood, moving into the kitchen where the younger boys were making a mess of the cake.

“Hobi, tell them to stop licking chocolate from each other’s lips, it’s gross!” Jungkook whined. Jin chuckled as he sank lower into the couch cushions and his family’s drunken bickering floated through the apartment.  

He blamed the alcohol, but Jin suddenly felt fuzzy as he remembered the way Namjoon had excitedly proffered ideas at their meeting, and how his eyes had shimmered with patience, and how his deep voice hadn’t raised a single time, no matter how obstinate Jin had been.

He still didn’t like the businessman. But he wasn’t dreading tomorrow’s meeting as much as he had before.

Chapter Text

Jin was at his wit’s end.

He’d met with Namjoon every day for the past week, and for every compromise they managed to reach, it felt like they disagreed on a mountain of details that Jin didn’t know how to budge.  

He was trying to be more receptive. Really, he was. But he couldn’t abandon his vision of the restaurant he’d nurtured since childhood, and every new suggestion Namjoon posited felt like a small but deadly knife twisting in his gut, his original dream slowly fading out of view as he desperately struggled to cling to it. It made him panic, and it made him lash out.

On the third day, Namjoon finally lost his cool.

Jin was refusing to consider any properties near the city’s financial district, claiming that his restaurant didn’t need wealthy businessmen to bring in revenue when small families and regular couples would do just fine. He was being sulky and obstinate, refusing to even look at photos of the new storefronts Namjoon’s team had scouted.

Namjoon threw his notepad on the table. “Seokjin, you realize I’m trying to help you, right?” His voice was scorching, his eyes livid as his usual patience disintegrated into flames.

Jin’s tone was equally harsh. “Oh, really? If you’re trying to help me, why don’t you ever listen to any of my suggestions, huh?”

“What are you talking about?” Namjoon threw his hands up in exasperation. “I take all of your ideas into account, but you never even consider mine.”

“That’s because it’s my restaurant!”

“Actually, it’s our restaurant.” Namjoon’s words felt like a slap to the face. “We’re partners in this, fifty-fifty. Or had you forgotten?”

Before Jin could respond, there was a knock at the door and Michael stepped inside. He hesitated, noting the palpable tension.

“Sorry, sir, is now a bad time?”

Namjoon sighed and pulled his glasses off, rubbing his hands over his face. The fire drained from his voice. “Now’s probably a good time, actually.” He glanced over at Jin; the chef’s eyes were glued to the table, his face cemented into an immovable mask of fury. “I think we could both use a minute to cool off.”

When the office door closed behind them, Jin let out a shaky breath, his head falling into his hands. He never exploded like that. His disposition was naturally sassy, and he stood up for the things he cared about, but the last time he’d truly lost his temper was five years ago when he’d left med school and had to confront his father.

His hands began to shake. This wasn’t him. No matter how much he wanted to fight for his dream, Namjoon didn’t deserve this cold-shoulder treatment. The man had been nothing but kind, even offering his hard-earned money to make Seokjin’s dreams become reality. And what had he given in return? Nothing but a stubborn attitude and ungrateful tantrums.

The office suddenly felt stifling. Shame bubbled through Jin’s veins, prompting him to push away from the table and make a beeline for the elevator as the shaking travelled up his arms. He pushed the button for the lower floor, trying to calm his breathing, but by the time he reached the lobby his entire body was quaking with guilt and anxiety.

Running out the front entrance, he stumbled behind the building to the small modern garden hidden from the busy main street and sat heavily on a slab of concrete in front of the goldfish pond. His trembling fingers pulled a sprig of rosemary from his pocket, dislodging a few leaves as he hastily gripped it and held it beneath his nose, inhaling deeply, letting the familiar scent flow through him as the pond’s tiny waterfall trickled musically amid the faint sounds of midday traffic.

He didn’t know how long he sat there, eyes closed, but the shaking had finally subsided when he felt a warm presence on the seat next to him. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know who it was.

The figure sighed deeply. “Seokjin, I –”

“I’m sorry.” Jin’s voice was a broken whisper, barely audible above the noises of the city, but Namjoon heard him. The chef opened his eyes and turned to face his business partner.

“I’ve treated you unfairly from the very beginning. You’ve been kind and patient and generous, and I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat, even after I said I’d try harder.” Namjoon opened his mouth, but Jin held up a hand, his voice growing steadier.

“I’m tired of fighting you. From now on, I will actually listen to your advice. Lord knows you’re more experienced than me. And I may not like you, but I… I trust you, Namjoon.”

Jin didn’t know when his feelings had shifted, but the words rang true.

They were silent for a moment, Jin taking refuge in his rosemary while Namjoon stared at the delicate plants swaying in the soft breeze by the pond.

“Thank you, Seokjin.” His voice was quiet, surprisingly gentle. “I hope I never betray that trust.” He glanced at the chef, the ghost of a smile on his lips. “But you have to promise you’ll keep me in check.” Jin looked up in surprise, Namjoon’s eyes twinkling. “I value your opinions, even if they’re sometimes… cruelly-worded. Your honesty is refreshing.” His eyes softened. “And I want to respect your vision.”

Jin glanced away, a tiny smile gracing his lips as his pulse finally stopped rushing.

“We’re in this together, yeah?”

Jin looked up to see Namjoon’s hand extended, his hair fluttering in the sun and his dimples winking.

He put the rosemary back in his pocket and grabbed Namjoon’s hand, the businessman’s grip firm, but warm. Reliable.

Jin had signed a contract, but somehow, this handshake felt infinitely more binding.

“Together.”

 

 ******

 

Since then, Jin approached their meetings with a new perspective. He quelled his pride and buried it deep in a sturdy, inescapable box, and it allowed him to truly hear Namjoon’s ideas without his ego distorting reality.

The businessman really knew his stuff. Jin couldn’t help but be a little intimidated by the wealth of Namjoon’s knowledge and confidence. When Namjoon asked him questions and turned his expectant eyes to Jin, he’d feel inexplicably shy, something he hadn’t regularly felt since his early childhood. But Namjoon was patient as Jin learned to re-frame his thoughts more assertively, and by the end of the week, their meetings ended on significantly lighter notes.

When Friday night finally arrived, Jin breathed a sigh of relief. His meetings with Namjoon were exhausting, and he was looking forward to spending the weekend locked away in the restaurant’s kitchen.

A sudden giggle diverted Jin’s gaze from the scallops searing in his pan. He looked up to find Tae’s arms wrapped around Jimin from behind, nuzzling the smaller man’s neck as Jimin fed him a spoonful of the marinara sauce he was perfecting.

“Yah! Keep that lovey-dovey shit out of my kitchen, you’ll spoil the food!”

Jimin jumped and his face turned pink, but Tae only tightened his arms and shot a playful glare towards Jin.

“Shut up, Jinnie, you know you love us.”

“Taehyung, I swear to God, if that pasta is overdone, I’ll serve your head to table six instead.”

Tae rolled his eyes but hopped back to his station. Grabbing a noodle from the bubbling water, he tossed it into his mouth, raising an eyebrow at Jin and flashing a boxy smile.

“Perfectly al dente, as always.”

Another angelic giggle floated through the kitchen as Jimin eyed his boyfriend fondly, and Jin shook his head with an exasperated sigh. Jimin and Tae were two of the city’s hidden culinary gems, the pair working with perfect synchronization to create masterful sauces and pastas from scratch.

But they were a PDA nightmare.

Jungkook flew into the kitchen and stuck a handful of orders to Jin’s line. “When is Hobi getting here?” he panted, his eyes slightly panicked.

Jin glanced at his watch. “Not for another half-hour. But who knows; if his date with Yoongi goes well, he might not come to work at all tonight.”

Jungkook’s eyes widened before he realized his brother was joking, shoving the laughing elder on the shoulder before turning to head back to the crowded dining room. “If he’s even a minute late, I’ll end him,” Jin heard the boy mutter.

Eyeing the new string of orders, Jin fired up his burners and got to work, flipping steaks and tossing shrimp as the smell of subtle spices and sizzling meat filled the kitchen. He felt the familiar joy flow through his veins, the stresses of his new business partnership dissolving as he entered a state of focused bliss.

“Someone’s in a good mood.”

Jin looked up to see Hoseok eyeing him with a grin as he shrugged off his jacket and reached for his waiter’s apron hanging by the door.

The chef tilted his head. “What?”

“You were humming. You haven’t done that all week, ever since you signed the contract.”

Jin hadn’t even realized. “I guess I’m just excited for the weekend. I need a break from these exhausting meetings with Namjoon.”

Hoseok shrewdly eyed him as he tied the apron behind his back, eyes sparkling knowingly. “If you say so.”

Jin’s brow furrowed in confusion, but before he could ask what his friend meant, Jungkook came flying through the kitchen doors, nearly tackling Hobi with the strength of his hug.

“Thank goodness you’re here! I feel like my hair has gone gray from the stress of handling all these customers by myself, I don’t know how you do it.”

Hoseok ruffled the boy’s hair. “Don’t worry, my little apprentice. The master has returned.”

Jin’s eyes suddenly zeroed in on Hoseok’s neck. A purple mark was peeking from beneath the collar of his shirt, Jungkook’s hug having nudged the fabric aside.

“Well, well. What is that?” Jin taunted, pointing to Hoseok’s neck. The waiter’s eyes widened and he slapped his hand over the mark, his ears reddening.

“Ooh, someone had fun tonight!” Tae called, Jimin flicking sauce at him as Hoseok’s blush deepened.

“We don’t have time for this,” Jungkook huffed. He grabbed Hoseok’s arm, the waiter shooting him a grateful glance as he was tugged out of the room.

“You’re not off the hook, Hobi, we will talk about this later!” Jin called as the doors swung shut behind them.

Chuckling, he turned back to his cooktop. Jimin came up beside him with a pan of savory sauce, and Jin tossed in the shrimp he’d been searing, the pink-haired boy coating them with sauce as Jin grabbed a plate. His quiet voice caught Jin’s attention.

“Hobi’s right, you know. I’ve missed your humming.” He flashed a sweet yet tentative smile. “Are things with Namjoon getting better?”

Namjoon was the last person Jin wanted to be thinking about in the sanctuary of his kitchen, but, as usual, Jimin’s sincere gaze managed to dissolve his personal boundaries into a pile of mush.

Jin averted his gaze, grabbing a fresh pan and layering it with asparagus. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.” He tossed oil into the pan, Namjoon’s dimples flashing across his vision without his consent. “He got pretty upset at me a couple of days ago, but since then, we’ve actually been starting to get along?” Jin’s voice lilted upwards, framing his statement as more of a question.

Jimin smiled. “I’m happy to hear that.” He headed back to his station, leaving Jin’s mind swirling with fragments of Namjoon that he struggled to push aside. He really was starting to despise Namjoon less with each passing day. The stubborn part of him clung to his shield of disdain, but every time Namjoon praised Jin’s ideas or smiled when they managed to compromise, the shield cracked with a spiderweb of fractures.

At this point, it was littered with chasms, barely managing to stay in one piece. Jin wasn’t sure what he’d do if the whole thing shattered, leaving him defenseless against the power of Kim Namjoon.

Chapter Text

 Jin waved to the building’s receptionist as he traveled the familiar path to the elevator, no longer uncomfortable amongst the stylishly-dressed frequenters of the business world. He caught her friendly smile as the doors slid closed and he pressed the top button. The trip up no longer filled him with anxious energy. Today was the first day he hadn’t felt the need to bring rosemary along.

The doors slid open at the top floor and Michael jumped up from of his desk.

“How are you today, sir?”

Jin stared at him disapprovingly. “I told you not to call me that.”

“Ah, right, my apologies… Jin.”

The chef shot him a grin and a wink, not noticing the flush stealing across the assistant’s cheeks as Jin strode past him towards Namjoon’s office. The door was ajar, Namjoon clearly awaiting his arrival. It was almost unsettling how comfortable Jin was starting to feel on the building’s top floor, especially considering how uneasy he’d felt just over a week ago, but he chose not to dwell on it as he pushed open the door and peeked his head in.

Namjoon glanced up from the paperwork cluttering his desk. “Good morning, Seokjin,” he said with a smile. “I hope you had a pleasant weekend.”

“I spent every waking moment in my kitchen, so it was a weekend in heaven,” Jin replied with a tiny smirk. Namjoon laughed, a hearty sound that made Jin’s smile grow before he could stop it. He stepped into the office and took a seat at the table, Namjoon stepping out from behind his desk and sitting across from him.

He folded his hands and pinned Jin in his calm eyes. “So, what should we start with today?”

Jin took a deep breath, a sudden flare of nerves quickening his pulse. “I did some thinking this weekend, and I… I’m ready to check out the new storefronts.”

“Really?” The excitement in Namjoon’s eyes dissolved any of Jin’s lingering reluctance.

“Yeah. But you can’t force me to pick one if I don’t like them. And I won’t promise to like them!” Jin warned, narrowing his eyes. He tried to remain stern, but Namjoon’s enthusiasm was downright contagious.

The businessman held up his hands. “Hey, I’m just happy you want to see them at all. It means we’re making progress.”

He grabbed his desk phone and pressed a blue button. “Michael, clear my schedule for the afternoon. Seokjin and I will be visiting properties downtown.”

Namjoon shrugged on his suit jacket and Jin followed him to the elevator, giving a small wave to a very bashful Michael on the way out. Namjoon glanced at his assistant in amusement as Jin pressed the button for the lobby, the elevator doors closing as they began their descent.

“I think Michael’s taken a liking to you,” Namjoon said nonchalantly.

Jin choked on his saliva, turning to his business partner in bewilderment. “He has not!”

Namjoon shrugged and turned his eyes to the ceiling with a smirk. “I don’t blame him,” he muttered, quiet enough that Jin wasn’t sure the words were meant for him. His neck suddenly felt hot.        

The elevator’s cheerful bell sounded their arrival in the lobby and Namjoon led him to the employee parking lot in the back of the building. He pulled a set of keys from his pocket and clicked a button. A sleek, glossy black car flashed its lights in welcome, its understated design surprising Jin. He felt certain that Namjoon was at least as wealthy as his father, if not more so, and he was expecting the businessman to own a flashy, opulent vehicle like the ones littering his dad’s overly-spacious garage. In contrast, Namjoon’s car was refreshingly subtle.

Jin slid into the passenger seat, the leather smelling faintly of lemon and sandalwood. Namjoon revved up the engine. Hip hop music began blasting from the speakers at full force, Namjoon nearly jumping out of his seat in his haste to turn the volume down.

He grimaced in embarrassment. Jin tried to contain himself, but the look of mortification on Namjoon’s face sent him over the edge, flinging his head back in laughter that he quickly muffled with his hand.

He turned to see Namjoon staring at him, humor and disbelief curving his cheeks. “That’s the first time you’ve really, truly laughed in front of me,” he said happily. “You have a great laugh.”

Jin’s heart gave a tiny squeeze, his chuckles fading. Namjoon faced forward and eased onto the busy street, the car’s engine purring as it slid through traffic like butter. Jin leaned into his seat and watched the city flit past his window. He’d lived in the city for years, but he was always working, rarely getting a chance to get out and sightsee or explore the hidden gems of his home. This car ride was the most of downtown he’d seen in a long time, and he drank it all in.

Namjoon pulled up to the first building on their list. Jin sighed at the structure before him, its modern design already making him scowl.

“I know, I know. You don’t like the financial district,” Namjoon said placatingly. “But let’s at least check it out.”

Jin grudgingly followed him into the building, where a real estate agent was waiting to escort them. The man sang praises about the recently-remodeled space as Namjoon peppered him with questions, and Jin fought to keep an open mind as they toured the rooms, but his gut knew that this wasn’t the right place for his restaurant. The layout was too modern, full of sharp edges. Even with a new paint job and softer lighting, the space just wouldn’t feel right. When they reached the kitchen, it felt cold and metallic, possessing none of the warmth Jin associated with the joys of cooking.

“I’ll give you both a moment to discuss,” the agent said politely, stepping out of the room.

Jin felt Namjoon’s eyes trained on him as he strolled through the front area one more time, trying and failing to find a redeeming feature. He turned to Namjoon and shook his head.

His partner chuckled. “Yeah, I’m not feeling it either. Shall we move on to the next place?”

They thanked the real estate agent and headed back to the car. The sweet spring breeze fluttered through Jin’s hair. He looked up to see brilliant blue sky shining between the tall buildings of the city, a soft smile gracing his lips as he watched buoyant clouds playfully race each other across the sky, the sun gently poking his cheeks like a forgotten friend.

“What are you thinking about?”

Namjoon’s voice broke Jin out of his trance. He turned to find the businessman observing him with a curious smile, his dimples shyly peeking at the corners.

Jin sighed happily. “I love being in the city. I love the way the buildings tower over me and make me feel so small, yet so safe, so protected, how they seem to stretch forever and reach for the sky. My mother always thought cities were ugly, but they’re full of beauty if you look closely enough.”

Namjoon stared at him. Something in his expression made Jin’s stomach flip in an unfamiliar way.

As they drove to the next location, Jin realized that car rides with Namjoon weren’t as awkward as he’d expected. Neither of them felt the need to fill the air with mindless chatter, and the hip hop music still playing softly in the background created a surprisingly comfortable ambience.

“What kind of music do you like? I can change the station,” Namjoon said as they paused at a stoplight.

Jin shrugged. “I don’t mind. I’m pretty open to all genres.”

“Yeah, but if you had to choose, what’s your favorite?” Namjoon asked insistently.

Jin rolled his eyes but played along. “I like rock music. Old-school guitar riffs speak to my soul.”

“Classy choice,” Namjoon said as the light turned green and the car sped forward.

“What do you like about hip-hop?” Jin asked, the question flowing from his lips unexpectedly.

Namjoon pursed his lips in thought. “It’s a platform where you can truly be free. You don’t have to conform. You can speak your mind and send a message.” He grinned. “And you get to do it all with a sick beat.”

Jin laughed for the second time that day, feeling himself relax as he let Namjoon gush over his favorite rap albums and watched pedestrians fly past his window.

They arrived at the second building, and once again, it didn’t suit Jin’s tastes. The hopped to another building, and another, and another, none of them feeling right, all of them making Jin increasingly frustrated. He felt like he was being too picky, but this was an enormous choice. Only the right building could house the special magic that Jin sought to create.

After the sixth attempt, Namjoon suggested they break for lunch, Jin gratefully agreeing. If one thing could ease his irritation, it was food.

Namjoon drove them past the busy hub of downtown and suddenly turned into a less-frequented side street, parking his sleek car in front of a tiny building with a cheerful sign reading HAPPY RAMEN.

A bell tinkled as Namjoon pushed the door open. The scents of spices and savory noodles enveloped Jin as he walked into the small restaurant, his stomach growling. Glancing around, he was surprised by Namjoon’s choice. The place was tiny, even smaller than his own restaurant. It wasn’t dingy, but the building was certainly well-loved, with worn seats and old-school booths. Namjoon could have chosen any of the upper-scale restaurants they’d passed on the way here, but instead, he’d picked a humble ramen shack. Another unexpected twist to the image of Kim Namjoon being constructed in Jin’s mind.

At their arrival, a petite woman rushed from behind the counter and gathered Namjoon in a joyful hug. “Dear son, you’ve returned! What took you so long?” Namjoon had bent down to return her hug, and the woman took the opportunity to capture his cheek affectionately with her fingers. “What, are you tired of my ramen?”

Namjoon laughed. “You know I can never resist you and your cooking, Mrs. Lin.”

The woman suddenly noticed Jin. “And what’s this? Who is this dashing young man you’ve brought?”

Jin blushed slightly at the attention but reached forward to shake the woman’s hand. “Kim Seokjin.”

“My new business partner,” Namjoon added.

The woman eyed Jin up and down. “Well, now. You bring him by my shop any time.” She sent Jin a flirty wink. A man’s head suddenly popped around the front counter.

“Yah, stop harassing them! They came here to eat, not be smothered by a crazy woman!” the man shouted. Jin’s eyes widened, glancing at Namjoon in shock, but the indulgent grin on his face convinced Jin that the man’s intense tone was all in jest.

His wife turned to him, hands on her hips. “Mind your own business, you old cow!”

As the two bickered back and forth, Namjoon sneakily gestured for Jin to follow him to a booth in the corner, sliding in opposite one another. Namjoon removed his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves, sighing happily as he grabbed a menu and handed a copy to Jin.

The chef subtly watched his business partner over the top of his menu. He’d never seen Namjoon so relaxed. His eyes seemed to glow with contentment and his dimples had yet to disappear from his cheeks, his caramel hair playfully escaping its immaculate styling to softly cuddle his forehead. Jin turned his eyes back to his menu and blinked hard, trying to clear the image from his mind.

The woman returned, eyes sparkling. “Vegetable and tofu ramen for you, Joonie?”

“You know me well.” Namjoon’s dimples were a force of nature. Jin didn’t realize he’d been staring at them until the woman cleared her throat expectantly.

“Oh, um, I’ll have the spicy ramen,” Jin said hastily. The woman cocked a devilish eyebrow.

“If you like spice, I’m not sure what you’re doing with this guy. He’s the blandest bean in the beanstalk.”

“Hey!” Namjoon protested.

The woman smirked and waddled away, Namjoon huffing indignantly.

“Is that your mom?” Jin whispered, not wanting to draw the woman’s attention.

“Huh? Oh, no, but I consider the Lins family,” Namjoon said with a chuckle, eyeing the couple affectionately where they argued in the kitchen. “I started coming here years ago, back when I was new to the city and just getting Bangtan Investments running, and they welcomed me with open arms.”

Jin realized how little he knew about Namjoon’s past. It was strange to imagine a young, fresh-faced Namjoon feeling lost in the big city, not knowing the massive success in store for him.

“They really seem to love you.”

Namjoon rubbed his hand across the back of his neck somewhat embarrassedly. “They’re like a second family to me. I helped pay for Mr. Lin’s heart surgery a few years back, and their son interned at my company for two summers, so we’ve grown very close.”

Jin’s mind stuttered in confusion. How could this compassionate, generous man be the same asshole who’d criticized Jin’s cooking and peppered him with insults just over two weeks ago?

Just then, Mrs. Lin arrived with their food. The ramen’s steam wafted up to Jin’s nose and his stomach gurgled in excitement. He snapped open his chopsticks and took an enormous bite, nearly burning his tongue in his haste, but it was worth it. His taste buds had never loved ramen so much.            

Namjoon watched Jin devour his food with a grin, the businessman eating at a slightly more reasonable pace. “Pretty good, right?”

Jin could only nod, his mouth stuffed with noodles. They ate for a minute in comfortable silence, the ramen the perfect remedy for a draining day of disappointment.

Namjoon fiddled with his chopsticks. “I’ve been thinking. If we’re going to be equal partners, I want to really get a sense of your true vision for the restaurant. What you’ve created at ‘Euphoria’ is something special, and I want to honor that.”

Jin paused his chewing. His chest was humming with elation, a combination of the delicious ramen and the words he’d been longing to hear from his business partner.

“If it’s ok with you, I’d like to spend a day or two shadowing your daily routine at the restaurant, to really get a feel for what a typical day at ‘Euphoria’ looks like and the behind-the-scenes work you put in.”

Warmth flooded through Jin. After countless compromises and testy debates, it finally felt like he and Namjoon were finding a balance. Namjoon clearly respected Jin and was willing to put in the extra effort to bridge their gaps in artistic vision.

And if Jin was being honest, he felt that same respect for Namjoon, too. They’d spent the entire last week in his office, where Jin was getting a better sense of Kim Namjoon, the businessman. But today, out in the city, eating ramen and listening to rap music, Jin felt like he was finally starting to understand Namjoon, the person. He was just a regular guy. Admittedly, a ridiculously rich and benevolent guy, but a regular guy just the same.

“I’d like that,” Jin said with a genuine smile that Namjoon returned.

“So, tell me more about your employees. You seem like a tight-knit group,” Namjoon said, his fingers fumbling with the chopsticks.

“Well, Jungkook is my younger brother,” Jin began. “He’s training to become a professional boxer, but when he moved in with me over a year ago – rent-free, out of the kindness of my heart – my only stipulation was that he help me with the restaurant whenever he could, so he switches between dish duty and waiting tables. He’s one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met.”

Jin paused to scarf down another bite of ramen, Namjoon avidly listening. “Jimin and Tae were a package deal. I found them while I was the assistant chef for ‘Le Fantasme,’ and –”

“Wait, you were a chef at ‘Le Fantasme’?” Namjoon interjected, mouth hanging open in shock.

“Yes, now don’t interrupt,” Jin scolded, though he could tell Namjoon was impressed. ‘Le Fantasme’ was the city’s most exclusive French restaurant. Jin still couldn’t believe he’d been offered a position there.

“Anyway, Jimin and Tae worked alongside me at ‘Le Fantasme,’ and we grew close very quickly. I learned that they have a passion for more Italian-style food, just like I do, so one night I invited them over to cook a meal from scratch. God, that was the best carbonara I’ve ever had in my life. I told them that I was hoping to start a restaurant, and they agreed to leave the safety of ‘Le Fantasme’ and come join me.

“Hoseok was the first friend I made in the city. We waited tables together for almost three years. He supported me endlessly – he still does – and he insisted on being my head waiter the moment I told him about my dream. He’s my right-hand man and my best friend. I’m honestly not sure if I could have survived this long without him.”

Namjoon chewed musingly. A sudden gleam entered his eyes. “He definitely seems like something special. Yoongi has taken quite a liking to him, and Yoongi doesn’t like anyone.” He paused. “Well, except me.”

Jin’s heart warmed. “Hoseok works so hard helping me with the restaurant, he deserves a chance at happiness with someone.” But Jin also felt a twinge of guilt; Hoseok insisted that he was never happier than when he and Jin were working side by side, but it was difficult to watch him push aside his personal life for a dream that wasn’t even his.

Namjoon eyed Jin, his gaze searching. “You deserve that happiness too, Seokjin. I hope you know that.”

Jin looked away from the intensity of Namjoon’s stare. “My restaurant is my happiness. I don’t need anything else.”

Namjoon frowned, but he didn’t press. His voice softened. “I can tell you really care about them all.”

“They’re my family,” Jin said simply. “They make ‘Euphoria’ feel like home.”

He looked up to meet Namjoon’s gaze, his gentle expression making Jin’s chest squeeze. He cleared his throat and turned his focus back to his ramen. “So, how did you meet Yoongi?”

The pair finished their meal as Namjoon explained how he’d met Yoongi in college, both of them majoring in business. They’d been randomly paired as roommates freshman year and were inseparable ever since, sticking together through all-night study sessions and bad test scores and break-ups and job rejections. Yoongi was Namjoon’s Hoseok.

They’d parted ways shortly after graduating, but when Namjoon started Bangtan Investments, Yoongi was the first person he’d hired, and together they’d created one of the country’s most powerful investment firms.

By the time their bowls were empty, Jin was wholeheartedly laughing at Namjoon’s stories of the trouble Yoongi caused at school, and how Namjoon had been the one to smooth things over after Yoongi flipped off teachers, shredded classmates’ homework, and dissed every jock in his path.

Jin’s shoulders felt weightless. Namjoon made him laugh, whether it was the embarrassed way he described his past antics, or the way his chopsticks seemed to magically slip from his fingers at the most inconvenient moments, or the way his brow furrowed endearingly when he was thinking deeply. With a start, Jin realized that if he and Namjoon hadn’t began on such rough footing, the businessman was someone Jin could easily have been friends with.

Maybe, he still was.

Noticing they had finished, Mrs. Lin scurried to their table and collected their bowls.

“Your ramen is magnificent,” Jin complemented her, the woman beaming.

“Thank you, my dear. Please, come back any time. We could use more handsome men around here.”

“YAH!” a voice shouted from the kitchen.

“And that’s our cue to leave,” Namjoon said, rolling his eyes.

Mrs. Lin pinned him in her fiery stare. “Young man, you’d better not leave any money behind today. I’ve told you a million times; you never pay here, and that’s final.”

Namjoon shrugged, tossing on his suit jacket nonchalantly. “Yes, ma’am.” He flashed those dimples again, Mrs. Lin giving him another hard look before returning to the kitchen.

As they slipped out of the booth, Jin noticed Namjoon sneaking a fifty-dollar bill beneath his water glass. He raised his eyes, Namjoon flashing him a wink. 

They stepped outside and Namjoon glanced at his watch. “The next place is only a few blocks away. Shall we walk?”

Jin breathed in the fresh air and felt the sun kissing his cheeks. “Absolutely.”

He walked beside Namjoon with a spring in his step. He noticed the man glancing at him every few seconds, or maybe looking at something across the street, but Jin was suddenly distracted by the tantalizing smell of sugar.

The scent pulled him like a magnet until he stopped in front of a food truck selling miniature donuts. Through the open window, Jin watched as tiny donuts travelled along a small conveyor belt and plopped into a vat of oil, bobbing along until they reached another conveyor belt and landed in an awaiting mountain of cinnamon sugar.

“It’s so cute,” he gleefully whispered. Namjoon chuckled at Jin’s wide-eyed fascination.

Jin bought half a dozen, the food truck man throwing in an extra donut with a wink when he saw Jin’s enthusiasm.

Resuming their walk, Jin munched happily, sharing half of the donuts with Namjoon as sweetness melted on his tongue.

“I have a major sweet-tooth,” Jin admitted, licking cinnamon sugar from his fingers. “It’s my only vice.”

Namjoon raised his eyebrows. “Oh, really? Your only vice?”

Jin swatted his shoulder with the empty paper donut bag.

They rounded the corner, Namjoon pausing. “Here we are.”

The storefront shared a corner with the art district and central downtown. Jin realized his own restaurant was only a few minutes away, nestled between a bookstore and a pottery studio in one of the city’s side streets.

He sighed. “Let’s get this over with.” He looked to Namjoon and pointed to his cheek. “Oh, hold on a second.”

Namjoon’s brow furrowed in confusion. Giggling, Jin reached out to brush a patch of cinnamon sugar from Namjoon’s cheek. His fingers lingered for a moment, distracted by the way Namjoon’s honey skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight. His fingertips suddenly felt too warm.

He backed away. Clearly, the sun and sugar were messing with his sanity.

Jin turned on his heel and walked towards the building, Namjoon’s footsteps following after a moment of hesitation. A friendly real estate agent met them in the lobby, the seventh one of the day. As Namjoon began asking preliminary questions, Jin found himself moving deeper into the room, his heart suddenly pounding.

The space was both elegant and cozy, private, yet homey, with soft lighting and a spacious middle area containing staggered alcoves where private booths and tables could be added. Jin wandered further, the room transforming as he mentally painted over the walls and spruced up the light fixtures, imagining whether hardwood or carpet would better suit the space.

He found himself in the back of the building, Namjoon’s voice growing fainter as Jin pushed open a set of double doors. His breath caught in his throat.

The kitchen was bright, its counters made from warm wood instead of the harsh metal of the other kitchens he’d seen. He stepped inside and let the doors swing shut behind him. Slowly, Jin walked forward to run a trembling hand along the smooth wood, the spacious stovetop gleaming in the sunlight streaming through the kitchen’s windows. He noticed a row of shelves above the counter and imagined perching his herb garden and beloved rosemary plant on the ledge. He envisioned Jimin making sauce next to Tae at the stovetop on the adjacent counter, Jungkook laughing by the sink as he scrubbed the dishes Hoseok threw at him.

A quiet voice brought Jin out of his reverie.

“Seokjin?”

He turned to Namjoon, eyes shining. “It’s perfect.”

A relieved grin split Namjoon’s face. “Yeah? This is the one?”

Jin nodded, turning back to the kitchen and his poignant daydreams.

“I’ll go settle it with the agent,” Namjoon murmured, his voice still smiling, the swish of the doors closing behind him leaving Jin to his thoughts. Jin appreciated the moment alone. He needed to soak it in, to process the fact that this was going to be his new restaurant, the place where his dream would take flight.

After a few minutes, he left the kitchen and returned to the lobby in time to see Namjoon shaking the real estate agent’s hand. She turned and shook Jin’s. “Congratulations to both of you. I can’t wait to see what you do with the place.” She dropped a key into Namjoon’s hand. “My office will forward you the paperwork tomorrow.” And with that, she left. The building was now theirs.

Jin felt like he was about to burst. Grinning like a maniac, he flung his arms wide and spun in a circle, trying to see the entire restaurant in one view. Namjoon smiled and grabbed Jin’s arm, steadying him before he could dizzily stumble. Excitement took over Jin’s brain, the chef not even realizing he’d seized Namjoon’s hand as he tugged him to the corner of the spacious front room.

“Just imagine it, Namjoon! We can put a little stage here where musicians can perform on Friday nights, giving people a place to loosen up after a long work week. And over here, we can set up a row of more private booths, with intimate lighting, maybe some curtains, you know, the perfect romantic getaway. Oh! And over here –”

Namjoon laughed, the happy sound mingling with Jin’s excitement as he dragged his business partner through the entire restaurant, pointing out his favorite spots and describing the ambience they could create. They eventually arrived back in the lobby, Jin’s expression still wild with enthusiasm.

He felt a squeeze on his hand. It was only then that he realized he’d been holding Namjoon’s hand the entire time.

He tried to tug his arm back and turned, slightly panicked that he was being so unprofessional, but his apology died in his throat when Namjoon simply tightened his grip.

“You keep saying ‘we’,” Namjoon said softly. “I like that.”

Something stirred in Jin’s chest, a warm fluttering that spread up to his cheeks and down through the arm that was still connected to Namjoon’s.

Jin dropped his hand, Namjoon letting him this time. The chef looked down, annoyed at the heat he could feel tinging his ears. “Well, we’re partners, right?” He glanced up, Namjoon’s expression causing the fluttering to go wild. “And you made all of this possible, Namjoon. I don’t know how I can every repay you.” He took a deep breath and stared into the full force of Namjoon’s eyes. “Thank you. Truly.”

Namjoon smiled. The strange fluttering was starting to get on Jin's nerves.

“You finally acknowledging me as your partner is repayment enough,” Namjoon said. He narrowed his eyes jokingly. “That, and making sure you don’t overcook my steaks in the future.”

Jin’s mouth fell open. “Yah!” he shrieked, shoving Namjoon’s shoulder. The businessman chuckled, the noise sounding like the spraying of a Windex bottle as he fled from Jin’s fury. 

A safe distance away, Namjoon shoved his hands in his pockets and turned back to Jin. “I really am glad you like this place. I was worried nothing would live up to your standards.” He slowly strolled the room, his long legs ambling languidly as Jin watched him inspect the walls. A day of disappointment had turned to one of promise. Jin finally felt like they were moving in the right direction. His dream felt solid in his hands. And it was all thanks to Kim Namjoon believing in him.

They stayed awhile, the sky beginning to darken when they finally headed back to Namjoon’s car. As the city lights came to life around them, Namjoon wordlessly switched his radio to the classic rock station.

The car came to a stop in front of ‘Euphoria.’ “Are you sure you want me to drop you here?” Namjoon asked. “I thought you were closed on Mondays.”

“We are,” Jin said, unbuckling his seat belt. “But I need to inventory the pantry before I head to the market in the morning.”

Jin opened his door, the cool evening air flowing around them. He turned to Namjoon. “Are we meeting tomorrow?”

Namjoon ran a hand through his hair, its styling long gone. “No, I’ve got some other things to attend to this week. But would Thursday and Friday be good days for me to shadow you?”

“Sure,” Jin replied, his pulse racing oddly.

He stepped out of the car and closed the door behind him, turning when he heard the sound of the window rolling down. “Goodnight, Seokjin,” Namjoon called. “I’ll see you on Thursday.”

“Goodnight, Namjoon.”

The businessman flashed him one last smile before driving off, his taillights glimmering like rubies among a city of diamonds.

Jin’s heartbeat finally calmed when the car was out of sight. He unlocked the restaurant door and breathed a sigh of relief as he made his way through the familiar dining area, running his fingers over the tables as he made his way to the kitchen.

In the beginning, he’d dreaded signing his name on Bangtan’s contract, and the thought of working with Kim Namjoon had made his blood curdle. But now, the horizon was brimming with possibilities, his business partner was becoming less of a stranger, and his dream finally felt within reach. Years of struggles were amounting to something. He didn’t know where this jump into the unknown would take him, but Jin felt confident that together, he and Namjoon could do anything.

Jin paused. Together?

It was unsettling how naturally the word had popped into his mind. He’d never considered running his business alongside someone else, an equally invested partner. But Jin realized that he was no longer afraid of relinquishing some of his control. He trusted Namjoon, and he was growing excited to see what they could accomplish and create.

Together.

Chapter Text

A key turned in the lock. A hand opened the door.

Jin took a nervous breath.

“Here we are!”

The boys flooded into the building he and Namjoon had officially bought that morning, Jimin and Tae making a beeline for the kitchen as Hoseok and Jungkook inspected the front room. Just a few hours prior, Namjoon had signed the final paperwork and now owned the building, and the first thing Jin had wanted to do was share his excitement with his family.

As he looked around, his earlier sense of conviction enveloped him in a strong embrace. This place was special. He could feel it. This would be his restaurant’s new home.

But despite his certainty, an edginess kept him from total serenity. He wanted his friends to love it just as much, to see his vision. Their approval wasn’t guaranteed, but Jin needed it with every fiber of his being.

He sidled up to Hoseok. “So, what do you think?” he murmured. He shoved his hands in his pockets to stop their nervous fiddling.

Hobi turned to him with bright eyes. “Jinnie, this place is amazing! You finally have enough space to create a more functional dining room layout. The room has a depth of structure and a combination of intimate and communal options. The location is a perfect balance between the heart of downtown and the eclectic outskirts of the art district. I’m –”

“Geez, Hobi, do you ever shut up?” Jungkook groaned, throwing an arm around his shoulders and deftly dodging the elbow Hoseok jabbed at him. He sent a grin towards his brother. “It’s perfect, hyung. That’s all that needs to be said.”

Jin felt a relieved smile stretch across his lips, his heart bubbling with a special kind of golden joy that only those he loved most could unearth.

“You really think so?”

The kitchen doors suddenly burst open, Tae bouncing up in down with excitement. “Jungkookie, come see the kitchen!” he shouted. A pair of arms wrapped around his waist to ground him, the bouncing calming slightly as Jimin’s pink hair peeked around his boyfriend’s torso.

“How did you find this place?” he called to Jin, voice awed.

Jin crossed the room to the kitchen with Hoseok and Jungkook in tow.

“Namjoon worked his magic, I guess,” he answered, smiling softly as he remembered his fear of never finding the right place, the warmth of sunshine on his cheeks, the taste of spicy ramen, the brush of smooth skin and cinnamon sugar against his fingertips…

“Magic, indeed,” Hoseok said slowly, cocking an eyebrow as his sharp eyes studied Jin’s face.

Thankfully, Tae pulled Jin into the kitchen before Hoseok could probe deeper, and before Jin’s thoughts could take any more disorienting turns.

His heart was full as he watched Jimin fawn over the state-of-the-art stovetop and Tae excitedly show Jungkook the wealth of modern appliances. His edginess finally dissipated, replaced by contentment; with his family here, this new future was truly starting to feel real.

Jin clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention.

“And now, for the true reason I’ve brought you all here,” he announced. He strode to the huge refrigerator, pulled out a grocery bag filled with ingredients, and plopped it on the counter before them. “I think it’s time we christen this place with its first family meal.”

Four beaming smiles matched his own, and Jin knew they all remembered.

When he’d signed the lease on his first storefront almost a year ago, he’d gathered the five of them in the small kitchen and they’d cooked the restaurant’s first meal, eating it together on the soft lobby carpet as they planned and fantasized and dreamed about the future.

Here, in this new place, it almost felt like coming full circle, but now the horizon glowed with unlimited potential.

The boys got to work, Tae and Hoseok chopping vegetables while Jin seared cubes of meat and Jimin made an aromatic sauce next to Jungkook’s simmering pot of rice. They bantered back and forth, they laughed, they belted songs at the top of their lungs, and Jin swore he’d never felt so complete.

When the meat and vegetables had been tossed with sauce and the rice was fluffed to perfection, they carried their meal to the front room and sat on the floor, Hoseok passing out bowls and chopsticks as they situated themselves in a circle.

“Can we do what we did last time?” Jimin asked, his eyes endearingly big. “You know, with the words?”

At the first restaurant’s “christening,” they’d each chosen a word to imbue the place with good fortune. It had seemed silly at the time, but somehow, each word had been brought to fruition in one way or another: success, friendship, hope, happiness, and community.

“Yeah, let’s do it! But everyone has to choose a different word this time,” Hoseok chimed in, all of them filling their bowls and sitting back to look at Jin expectantly.

He smiled at their enthusiasm. “Alright, who wants to start?”

Taehyung raised his hand.     

“Limitless,” he said confidently.

Jungkook snorted. “What kind of word is that?”

“Hey! No making fun of each other’s words, remember?” Tae pouted. “It’s supposed to be open-ended, like limitless opportunity.”

Jin shoved Jungkook’s shoulder. “I like it, so stop being a brat, Kook.”

Tae shot the youngest a smug look. “Ok, everyone take a bite.”

Part of the ritual required them to eat a bite of their meal between every word, as if doing so sealed it into building’s foundation.

Jimin was next. “My word is ‘family,’” he said, gazing around the circle with a content smile. They all took a bite.

“Love,” Hoseok said, his expression unreadable as it flickered to Jin. They took another bite.

Jungkook thought for a moment. “Prosperity,” he said with a grin. Another bite.

All eyes fell on Jin, his expression tender as he gazed at the faces of those he treasured most.

“Home,” he said quietly.

They all took a bite, the words ringing through the room like a promise.

 

 

******

 

 

The next two days passed uneventfully, but Jin found himself inexplicably antsy. He’d grown used to starting his days with meetings in Namjoon’s office, and now that they’d finally chosen a new building, he was itching to move forward with renovations and finally put their decisions into action. Plus, a pair of dimples and wise eyes kept flashing across his mind when he wasn’t paying attention, and Jin figured his excitement was causing his subconscious to go haywire. He needed an outlet.       

When Thursday rolled around, Jin was surprisingly nervous as he stood outside of the restaurant. He’d arrived too early; glancing at his watch, he realized Namjoon wouldn’t be there for another ten minutes, leaving Jin to his wildly unpredictable thoughts as he tapped his foot impatiently and tried to wrap his head around the dramatic changes he’d made in the past two weeks.

He’d signed with Bangtan Investments. He’d partnered with an obstinate asshole, only to discover the man wasn’t as much of a douche as he’d expected. He’d upgraded his storefront and would be expanding the restaurant into something bigger than he’d ever thought possible. And he was about to bring Namjoon along on his daily trip to the farmer’s market, something even Hoseok had never accompanied him on. It somehow felt too intimate, too personal, to have someone witness Jin’s morning routine that had become an almost meditative practice amidst the stresses of running a restaurant. But he supposed Namjoon deserved a glimpse, and Jin wasn’t going to refuse the opportunity to strengthen their partnership.

A familiar black vehicle slid around the corner and parked on the curb in front of Jin. Namjoon stepped out and walked over, clad in a smoky gray suit over a thick black turtleneck. He stopped in front of the chef, eyeing his ripped jeans and oversized sweater.

“I feel overdressed,” he said in amusement.

Jin glanced over Namjoon’s outfit, lips pursed to hide a smile. “Just take off your jacket, you’ll fit right in.”

Jin immediately regretted his suggestion. As Namjoon peeled off his jacket to reveal the dark cashmere sweater loosely clinging to his torso, Jin’s unruly subconscious suddenly awakened, snapping pictures to add to its collection of warm smiles, charming dimples, and mussed hair that it liked to mischievously sort through at inopportune moments.

He blinked hard, annoyed. He was here for his business, yet his brain insisted on making things more complicated than they needed to be.

“Better?” Namjoon asked, folding his jacket neatly over his arm.

Jin shrugged. His subconscious was screaming distractedly, and Jin wished he could give it a firm slap in the face.

“Let’s get going. The market is only a few blocks from here, so I usually just walk, if that’s alright with you.”

Namjoon nodded. “Lead the way.”

The morning air was cool and sweet as they ambled down the sidewalk, neither of them bothered by the comfortable silence stretching between them. The familiar walk had its usual calming effect, Jin’s jumbled thoughts quieting as birds chirped merrily and Namjoon’s footsteps swished softly beside him.

After a few minutes, they rounded the final corner. He heard Namjoon gasp quietly at the impressive farmer’s market tucked away in one of the city’s side districts.

Stalls stretched for blocks, nearly as far as the eye could see, piled high with fresh vegetables, fish, meats, spices, flowers, and everything in between. Vendors called back and forth as they haggled prices and announced their wares, a fair number of customers already browsing the booths in the glow of the early morning sun. A faint breeze carried tempting scents from the food trucks further down the street, and Jin sucked in a deep breath, a content smile stretching across his face at the vibrant scene.           

“Wow,” Namjoon breathed. “I had no idea this even existed.”

“These wonderful people are here seven days a week, rain or shine,” Jin said proudly. He turned to Namjoon and saw the man’s eyes sparkling with excitement, a reaction Jin hadn’t been expecting. He felt his own smile grow in response.

“Well, let’s get started!”

He led the way past pottery booths and a few flower stalls before stopping in front of a stand brimming with bright green plants.

A plump woman poked her head out from among the leaves.

“Morning, Jin! How’s that rosemary plant faring?”

“Resilient as always, Mrs. Briere,” Jin replied, leaning closer to run one of the plants through his fingers. “But my poor basil plant is wilting. I think it might be lonely.”

The woman’s eyes crinkled. “Lonely? In your kitchen garden? I don’t think you’ve got room for any more herbs, if that’s why you’re here.” She narrowed her eyes playfully, Jin grinning sheepishly as he pulled his hand back from the plants.

“Just a small one?” he pleaded, pouting slightly.

The woman laughed, the sound a combination of tinkling bells and warm cinnamon. She rummaged behind the counter and produced a small basil plant and a bag of soil.

“This soil is straight from my garden at home. Replant your basil in a bigger pot, and it should spruce up in no time. And just in case, here’s a friend for it, free of charge.”

Jin waved his hands. “No, I insist, I have to pay for it this time.”

The woman pretended not to hear him as she gently placed the items in a paper bag and handed them to Jin.

“Treat me to some of your chicken pesto, and we’ll call it even.”

“Deal,” Jin grinned. He blew her a kiss before walking away, Namjoon following silently. He seemed content to simply observe, and Jin nearly forgot the man was there as he hopped from stall to stall, chatting with the familiar vendors and good-naturedly haggling prices as his arms slowly began to fill with bags.

“Here, let me carry something,” Namjoon offered.

Jin hesitated, unwilling to relinquish his precious cargo into inexperienced hands. But at the man’s earnest expression, he cautiously handed him two of the bags, Namjoon cradling one in each arm like newborns. Jin nodded in approval.

“Do you normally carry all of this by yourself?” Namjoon asked as they said goodbye to a vendor selling parmesan cheese and moved further down.

“Yeah, it’s no big deal though. I consolidate everything into a few of bags before I head back, and sometimes Mr. Maloney lets me borrow one of his vegetable crates to carry everything in.”

“It seems like you know everyone here,” Namjoon chuckled, watching as Jin waved and called friendly greetings to each vendor they passed.

“I come here almost every day,” Jin responded simply. “I know these people better than I know my own mother.”

Shoot.

Jin bit his tongue, ignoring the surprise in Namjoon’s eyes. He hoped the man wouldn’t read too much into his remark; Jin wasn’t ready to delve into the whole “family issues” conversation quite yet.

Thankfully, Namjoon didn’t comment. Out of the corner of his eye, Jin could see the businessman’s head swiveling back and forth, his eyes keen as he absorbed the cacophony of sounds and the bright wares surrounding them. He looked like a kid at Disneyland, and Jin nearly giggled at the man’s excitement. He’d probably had the same expression at his first visit, too.

“Alright, one more stop before we can head back,” Jin said. He paused, glancing around before leaning towards Namjoon with a conspiratorial smirk. “Mr. Jones is a total hard-ass. Winning him over has been my biggest challenge, but I think I’m starting to wear him down. Keep your guard up; he’ll swindle you out of your own clothes if you’re not careful.”

Namjoon glanced towards the tiny old man perched behind a booth of lamb meat. The man’s expression seemed innocent, his tiny frame dwarfed by the mountain of meat piled around him. Jin could see the skepticism in Namjoon’s eyes, but he only winked as he squared his shoulders and strode towards the stall.

“Good morning, Mr. Jones! How are you today?”

The old man grunted, his narrowed eyes flashing to Namjoon with distrust before focusing on Jin impassively.

“Got any cutlets for me? I’m having a lamb special this week, and everyone knows you’ve got the best cuts in the city.”

The man stared at Jin, neither of them blinking, some sort of wordless stand-off present in their eyes. Mr. Jones reached beneath the counter and slapped down a hunk of meat. Jin leaned forward and inspected it carefully.

“Ah, Mr. Jones, this looks excellent, as always, but are you sure there isn’t something fresher in the back? I recognize these cuts from two days ago.”

Jin smiled sweetly and the man’s eyes narrowed further. Namjoon fidgeted beside him as the chef and the vendor engaged in another battle of stares. The old man’s eyes were hard slits. Jin’s were charmingly wide.

After a long moment, the man huffed and waddled to the back of his stall. Jin shot Namjoon a victorious look before Mr. Jones returned with a fresh slab of meat, wordlessly slicing and packaging it in front of them before shoving it towards Jin with a glare.

“You’re too kind, Mr. Jones! Please, come by the restaurant this week and try the special, it’s on the house – just for you.”

The old man grumbled as Jin winked and handed him some bills, taking a few steps back to lay the new acquisitions in his grocery bags before the grumpy vendor could change is mind and snatch them back.

With a final wave and an award-winning smile, Jin headed back in the direction of the restaurant.

“That was impressive,” Namjoon said after a moment, weaving through the throng of people now crowding the street. “Who knew you were such a sweet-talker.”

Jin scoffed. “It’s all in the smile. With a face this handsome, who could say no?”

Namjoon threw his head back and laughed, the sound making Jin’s victory feel all the more gratifying.

“I’m serious though. It wasn’t just Mr. Jones. You’ve got a way with people, a natural charm and genuine kindness that others can’t help but respond to.”

Jin felt a blush creep up his neck at the compliment.

“Thanks,” he said, a tad shyly.

They soon made it out of the busy market and onto the more peaceful streets leading to the restaurant. The sun had sailed higher in the sky, and Jin relished the heat soaking through his sweater.

“Thanks for bringing me along, today,” Namjoon said suddenly. He grinned, his smile adding warmth to Jin’s skin. “It was surprisingly fun. And it was great to see you in action, you know, all badass price-haggler chef mode.”

Jin laughed loudly. “I don’t think anyone has ever described me as ‘badass’ before.” He glanced at his business partner, exchanging another smile. “But I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was nice to have you there.”

Namjoon looked surprised, and honestly, Jin was, too. The words had flowed from his tongue so effortlessly. It might have been the first real sort-of compliment he’d ever given Kim Namjoon.

The businessman turned his eyes to the sidewalk with a small smile, travelling the last block in silence until they reached the restaurant.

Rearranging the bags in his arms, Jin managed to extract his key from his pocket, unlocking the back door and ushering Namjoon into the kitchen.

Unsurprisingly, the gang was already there. Tae and Jimin were humming in perfect harmony as they prepped their workstations for the day, and Jin could see Hoseok’s red hair flashing through the lobby as he wiped down tables.

At the sound of the door opening, Jimin glanced up. He quickly set down his rag and rushed to grab a couple of bags from Jin, and Namjoon followed their lead as they plopped the ingredients onto the edge of the countertop.

“We were beginning to wonder if you’d ever show up,” Tae teased, glancing at his watch exaggeratedly.

“Oh, shut up, I’m only twenty minutes later than normal,” Jin said with a roll of his eyes, Tae quirking an eyebrow above a boxy grin.

Jimin sidled up to Namjoon with a friendly smile and extended a small hand. “You must be Namjoon. It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Jimin, and that scoundrel over there is my boyfriend, Taehyung.”

Namjoon shook his hand and nodded a greeting to the scoundrel, who was glaring good-naturedly at the back of his boyfriend’s head.

“A pleasure to meet you both. Seokjin has told me a lot about you.”

“All good things, I assume?” Jimin said with a pointed look at Jin.

The chef said nothing, letting his friends assume the worst.

“Hey!” Tae squawked from across the counter. Jimin smacked Jin’s shoulder in indignation and the chef burst into laughter, the other two unable to resist joining in. Wiping the tears from his eyes, Jin turned to Namjoon, the man watching them with a mix of humor and something unreadable. It quickly disappeared, but Jin could have sworn that he’d looked… sad.

The businessman glanced at his watch. “I’ve got a meeting this afternoon, so I should probably head out. But I’d like to stay for the entire day tomorrow, if that’s all right with you.”

“Oh, okay. Tomorrow sounds good.”

Jin wasn’t sure why he was reluctant to see the man go. Maybe it was because he was actually starting to enjoy Namjoon’s presence. Or maybe it was that forlorn flash of emotion he’d seen hiding in his eyes.

Namjoon nodded and shrugged on his suit jacket. “It was great to meet you guys,” he said, waving to Jimin and Tae as he headed to the exit. He looked back with a small smile. “See you tomorrow, Seokjin.”

As the door swung shut behind him, Tae let out a low whistle. “Damn, that’s a whole-ass man,” he muttered.

“Hey! I’m right here,” Jimin complained. His disgruntled pout quickly faded when Tae’s arms wrapped around him and he began to pepper his face with kisses, both men breaking into giggles as Jimin squirmed against his boyfriend’s ministrations. Jin fondly glanced away; sometimes, the couple was too pure to look at directly, like staring into the sun.

“Can you not make suggestive comments about my business partner?” Jin asked once the giggles died down. Tae only smirked, finally releasing a pink-faced Jimin.

“I was just stating the obvious.” His eyes glinted mischievously. “You’d have to be blind not to see that Mr. Businessman is a snack.”

“A whole meal, actually,” Jimin added offhandedly.

Tae grinned in triumph and high-fived his partner as Jin groaned and buried himself further into his groceries, the memory of Namjoon’s strangely desolate expression tickling the back of his mind for the rest of the afternoon.

 

 

******

 

 

The next morning, Jin found himself strolling to the market with a hot coffee warming his hands, its delicate steam drifting through the cool air as flavors of hazelnut and espresso settled on his tongue. He glanced at Namjoon, still surprised that the man had been thoughtful enough to bring coffee, and even more shocked that he’d guessed Seokjin’s favorite flavor.

“Are we visiting Mr. Jones today?” Namjoon asked, his eyes hilariously apprehensive.

“Yup,” Jin replied. “In fact, today I thought I’d let you handle the purchase, you know, to give you some first-hand experience.”

Namjoon choked and nearly dropped his coffee.

Jin cackled loudly. He leaned over and smacked his knee, thankful that his own cup was almost empty as his body shook with uncontrollable laughter.

“I’m kidding!” he snickered, Namjoon’s panicked expression fueling his amusement. “You should see your face. But really, Mr. Jones isn’t all that bad. I’m sure you’ve dealt with worse at Bangtan.”

“Yeah, but the business world is different from the street market world,” Namjoon muttered. “I know the rules there. Out here, I’m totally out of my league.”

Though their words were lighthearted, Jin was reminded of why their partnership was so ideal; their skillsets were vastly different, but when combined, they made an effective and well-balanced team, something that Jin was beginning to come to terms with and honestly be a little proud of.

They moved through the market with ease, Jin picking out fresh ingredients and throwing charming smiles at every vendor, some of them even making an effort to chat with Namjoon when they recognized him from the day before.

When Jin moved towards Mr. Jones’ stand, Namjoon quickly made an excuse to sneak away.

“Don’t get lost!” Jin called after him, the businessmen rolling his eyes before disappearing into the crowd.

Mr. Jones was in a foul mood, and it took Jin longer than normal to coax a good deal out of the grumpy man. He mentally vowed to never serve a lamb special again.

Turning to find Namjoon, he was suddenly face-to-face with a bright bouquet of flowers. Their cheerful colors and sweet fragrance brightened Jin’s mood immediately. Namjoon peeked his head around the bouquet with a sheepish grin.

“…Are these for me?” Jin asked in shock.

Namjoon nodded, grabbing a bag from Jin’s arms and replacing it with the flowers.

“Think of it as a token of my appreciation, a thank-you for letting me get a glimpse of your creative process.” He chuckled lightly. “Plus, this arrangement will perfectly match Jimin’s hair.”

Jin couldn’t stop beaming the entire walk home, the sweet-smelling flowers clutched in his arms as he hummed jauntily and Namjoon walked beside him with arms full of groceries.

“We’re here!” Jin called as they entered the kitchen. Jimin looked up with a smile while his boyfriend’s eyes devoured Namjoon, Jin shooting him a warning glare as they set the groceries on the counter. Hoseok’s head poked out of the walk-in refrigerator.

“Jin, I – oh, hello Mr. Kim!” Hobi’s eyes flicked from Namjoon to the flowers in Jin’s hands, finally settling on Jin with a slightly raised eyebrow.

“Please, call me Namjoon.”

“He’ll be observing our operations today,” Jin added. Hoseok threw him a thumbs-up before disappearing back into the walk-in.

“Let’s get you set up.” Jin grabbed a spare apron from the hook by the door and handed it to Namjoon, laying out a cutting board and a knife as the businessman rolled up the sleeves of his crisp dress shirt and tied the apron around his waist.

“Daddy,” Tae breathed. Jimin smacked him with a spatula.

Jin grabbed a few vegetables and set them near Namjoon’s workstation. “Alright, I’m gonna let you help us with some prep this afternoon, and then you can observe how the kitchen operates once we open for business. Deal?”

Namjoon nodded, a determined look on his face.

“Go ahead and start finely dicing those, I’ll be right back,” Jin called over his shoulder as he gathered the meats they’d found at the market and stepped into the walk-in where Hoseok was meticulously organizing rows of ingredients. The waiter looked up with a curious grin.

“Flowers, huh? I know you’d never buy those yourself, so…” He trailed off expectantly.

Jin rolled his eyes and set his purchases on the shelves. “It was just a thank-you gesture, something to liven up the restaurant.”

“So, Namjoon bought you flowers?”

“Yes.”

Hoseok’s eyes narrowed quizzically. “Is that something business partners normally do?”

Jin paused. “I —”

A faint shriek interrupted them, and Jin rushed out of the walk-in to find Namjoon sawing into an onion with the worst knife technique he’d ever seen, Tae eyeing the man with thinly-veiled horror while Jimin’s arms were stretched out towards him in a silent plea.

“Stop!” Jin shouted, seconds before Namjoon would have sliced his index finger in half. The businessman looked up in surprise.

“What?”

Jin strode toward him, hands on his hips. “Have you never used a knife before??”

Namjoon glanced at the blade clutched in his hand and shrugged, his cheeks tinging pink. “I, uh, don’t really cook much.”

Jin sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Jesus. Clearly, I can’t let you out of my sight.” He gently pried the knife from Namjoon’s fingers. “Here, let me show you.”

He wrapped his fingers around the handle, tilting it to the side for his partner to observe. “If you position your thumb on one side of the blade and your pointer finger on the other, it gives you more control. You try it.”

He handed the knife back and Namjoon attempted to copy Jin’s positioning.

“Almost. But move this finger over here.”

Jin wrapped his hand over Namjoon’s and adjusted his grip. “Good. Now, let’s try dicing again.”

Namjoon began chopping at the onion with vigor, wielding the knife like his life depended on it. Jin giggled and quickly waved his hands to get the man to stop butchering his produce.

“Move the knife in more of a rolling motion. It’s all in the wrist, see?”

Again, Jin covered Namjoon’s hand with his own and slowly guided his movements, illustrating how to position the knife against the cutting board and smoothly slice through the onion with minimal aggression. Namjoon’s hand felt warm beneath his. Their bodies were so close that Jin could discern a tantalizing hint of his cologne, the same soothing scent that lingered on the leather seats of his car.

“Much better. Thankfully, I bought a bit extra today, so we can use this onion as a practice round.”

Namjoon grinned sheepishly. “Thanks.”

Jin removed his hand and watched for a moment as Namjoon began cutting the onion with significantly improved technique. He nodded in satisfaction and moved to grab another onion from the grocery bags.

Jimin and Tae were staring at him, eyes wide. Tae’s expression seemed envious, while Jimin’s glimmered with a sly twinkle.

“What?” Jin asked. Jimin bit his lip to hide a smile and focused back on his work, Tae following him almost forlornly. Jin huffed; those two never ceased to mystify him.

The four of them quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm, Jin keeping a close eye on Namjoon as they worked through the contents of the grocery bags and Jimin asked him lighthearted questions. So far, they’d discovered that the man’s favorite color was purple, his favorite painter was Alfred Sisley, and he had a deep-rooted hatred for black olives.

When Hoseok emerged from the walk-in and started making his way towards the lobby, Tae decided to join in the questioning.

“So, Namjoon, does Yoongi ever mention Hoseok?”

Hobi froze, his eyes shooting poisonous daggers at Tae’s smirking face, Namjoon oblivious to their exchange. He chuckled exasperatedly.

“He does, actually. The man is infatuated. I can barely stand to be in the same room with him anymore, all he does is stare into space with a disgustingly dopey expression.”

Hoseok’s ears were bright red. He ducked out of the room with a shy smile.

As they finished the day’s prep work, Jin explained some of the finer details of his restaurant, like the particularly busy times of night, the typical volume of food they’d prepare in an evening, and some of his favorite customers who made a habit of frequenting his establishment and supporting his goals. When they’d finished prep, Jin gave Namjoon the honor of touring his kitchen herb garden, the chef’s face aglow with adoration as he pointed out each plant and how he used it in his dishes.

“And finally, my pride and joy: rosemary. It’s extremely multi-purpose, I use it in just about everything.”

“He’s a real slut for rosemary,” Tae added helpfully.

Anyway,” Jin said loudly, Jimin muffling a chuckle into his hand, “our doors open in ten minutes, so make sure you’ve all had a snack before things get crazy. Namjoon, it’s probably best if you choose a spot and stick to it for the rest of the evening. The kitchen tends to get pretty chaotic.”

“Works for me, chef.”

He dragged a stool to the corner of the room as Jin felt an inexplicable blush creep up his neck at Namjoon casually calling him “chef.”

A few minutes later, business hours started and the Friday night dinner rush began, orders accumulating at breakneck speed as Jin called out instructions and quickly fell into the productive groove he, Jimin, and Tae managed to find every time. All burners were firing as the three of them worked in perfect tandem, plate after plate of delicious food being carried into the dining room in Hoseok’s energetic arms.

With the fast flow of customers, Jin didn’t have time to dwell on the attentive gaze he could feel trained to his every movement from a certain corner across the room.

A couple of hours into the shift, the back door opened and Jungkook trod into the room with a dramatic sigh.

“Kook, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at practice?” Jin asked as he expertly flipped steak in one hand and flambéed shrimp in the other.

“Coach sent me home,” Jungkook lamented, leaning against the counter and crossing his arms. “He doesn’t want to risk me aggravating my injuries, apparently.”

“And why aren’t you at home then? You need to rest,” Jin chastised as he slid the steak onto a plate and artfully drizzled it with a fig reduction.

“Because I’m totally fine,” Jungkook said petulantly. “My wrist has full range of motion again and my ribs barely hurt anymore, so –”

“Wait, what happened to your ribs?” Jin asked sharply, turning from his workstation to eye his brother reproachfully. Jungkook squirmed under his gaze.

“It’s no big deal, I just bruised them, they’re fine now,” he mumbled evasively.

Jin frowned, remembering the purple skin he’d seen beneath Jungkook’s sweater over two week ago. He knew he should have followed his brotherly instincts and assessed Jungkook’s injuries more thoroughly.

Jin sighed. “Kook…”

“Please, Jinnie, can’t I stay?” He unleashed the full force of his doe eyes, knowing his brother could rarely resist their innocent charm. “I need something to keep me busy, I’ll go crazy if I have to sit at home. Pretty please?”

Jin chewed the inside of his cheek and glanced at the mountain of dishes piled in the sink. He wanted to force his headstrong brother to rest for the night, but he could really use the extra help.

“Alright, alright,” he conceded reluctantly. “You can be on dish duty.”

“Thanks, bro!” Jungkook said happily, his moody attitude forgotten as he dashed towards the sink.

“I’ll give him a hand,” Namjoon spoke from the corner. He hopped up from the chair and walked to Jungkook’s side. “I’m Namjoon, by the way,” he said, extending a hand. Jin had forgotten the two had never officially met. “You must be Jungkook.”

The boy scanned him up and down, expression thoughtful, before enthusiastically shaking Namjoon’s hand.

“Nice to finally meet my brother’s infamous business partner.”

Namjoon looked to Jin with amusement, the chef merely shaking his head as he fired up another round of orders.

As the night continued, Jin snuck glances at his brother and his business partner working side-by-side. Murmurs of their conversation carried above the kitchen’s noisy atmosphere, but Jin couldn’t hear anything distinct aside from the occasional burst of laughter, usually because Namjoon had managed to let something slip out of his hands and splash soapy water all over his fancy shirt.

As he watched Namjoon’s wide shoulders flex beneath his shirt, Jin was blessedly distracted by Hoseok entering the kitchen with a sunny smile.

“The grumpy old man at table three sends his compliments to the chef!”

Jin wiped his hands on a rag and moved to peer out of the kitchen door’s window.

He grinned and called out to Namjoon. “Looks like Mr. Jones decided to pay us a visit after all!”

Namjoon’s eyes widened in surprise before he victoriously pumped a fist in the air.

“Did he order the special?” Jin asked Hoseok. The waiter nodded. “Excellent. Tell him it’s on the house, and that we look forward to serving him again.”

The rest of the night passed quickly, all six of them exhausted but cheerful by the time the last customer had vacated the premises and the doors were locked tight.

“Great work, team!” Jin praised, giving each of them a high-five. “Let’s clean up and get out of here, yeah?”

They broke off into teams, Jungkook and Hoseok tidying the lobby while the rest of them cleaned the kitchen, with Namjoon finishing the final load of dishes before helping Jimin scrub the countertops and clean splatters of sauce from the walls. His shirt was wrinkled and stained, and Jin was impressed by his hands-on attitude. He wouldn’t have expected a well-to-do businessman to willingly engage in manual labor, especially when he wasn’t getting paid for it. But at this point, Jin was realizing he should just throw his assumptions out the window, because Namjoon was proving them all wrong.

Hoseok finished quickly and rushed to grab his coat.

“Off to meet Yoongi?” Tae teased, and Hoseok’s furious blush confirmed it.

“None of your business,” he said hastily as he all but ran to the back door. “I’m heading out, see you all tomorrow!”

“Love you!” Jimin shouted. Hobi blew him a kiss before scurrying outside.

Jin chuckled. “Kook, you should head out too. It’s time for you to get some rest.”

Jungkook stretched and cracked his neck, nodding in agreement as he grabbed his jacket. “See you at home, bro. Oh, and it was nice to meet you, Namjoon. You’re pretty cool.”

The boy flashed them a tired grin before leaving.

“Well, we should probably head out too,” Jimin said.

“But we still haven’t cleaned the – ow!” Tae rubbed his side where Jimin’s elbow had jabbed him, his boyfriend pulling him towards the door. “We’ll see you tomorrow, Jin! Hope to see you around, Namjoon!”

Tae managed to wave goodbye before the door closed behind them, leaving Jin and Namjoon alone in the small kitchen.

“What a night,” Namjoon said, throwing down his rag as Jin finished mopping the floor.

“Yeah, Fridays get pretty busy,” he said as he emptied the dirty water down the drain.

“I don’t know how you did it! You just kept going and going. I don’t even think I saw you take a break.”

Jin shrugged nonchalantly but basked in the praise. “Honestly, cooking energizes me. I’m never more at home than when I’m elbows-deep in food.” He frowned. “That sounded weird. Maybe I’m a little more tired than I thought.”

Namjoon laughed, watching the chef as he returned their cleaning supplies to the closet. “I really was impressed. You have such a small staff, but you each work so hard, and it shows. And your passion elevates everything to another level.” His smile was soft. “‘Euphoria’ is a success because Kim Seokjin is its creator.”

Jin’s heart thumped loudly. He glanced away, a surprising bout of shyness overtaking him.

“Well, I couldn’t do it without such a great team.”

“And your team couldn’t do it without such a great leader.”

Jin looked up to find Namjoon’s eyes blazing with sincerity. Jin’s lungs felt like mush, his heartbeat throbbing in an unfamiliar way.

After a long moment, Namjoon sighed, breaking their eye contact to glance at his watch. Jin felt like he could breathe again, though his pulse didn’t slow.

“I guess I should probably head out,” Namjoon said. “Thanks for letting me help today, Seokjin. I think I finally understand what makes ‘Euphoria’ so special. I see your vision. And I’m excited to see where we can take this.”

Jin’s heart was positively singing. He beamed at Namjoon. “Thank you. I really appreciate you saying that. And... it was actually kind of nice to have you around.” His neck felt hot, but he ignored it. “I can tell Jungkook liked you, and he’s usually pretty picky about who he hangs out with.”

“He’s a good kid,” Namjoon said, smiling fondly as he returned his apron to the peg and grabbed his jacket.

“Sorry about your shirt,” Jin added. The fabric was clearly expensive, potentially designer, and now covered in stains.

Namjoon laughed heartily as he took in his appearance. “It’s my own fault for wearing it. I should have known better.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’ll see you on Monday?”

“Yeah, see you Monday,” Jin said. With one last smile and a tiny wave, Namjoon headed outside, the back door shutting behind him with a click.

Jin sat for a moment, the moon’s light grazing the kitchen window. He willed his heartbeat to slow, not even sure why it had overreacted in the first place.

He took a final lap around the restaurant, switching off lights and double checking everyone’s closing tasks. His body moved on autopilot, his mind a whir of confusion. No matter how hard he searched, his hatred for Kim Namjoon was nowhere to be found, replaced by an unknown feeling that made his chest feel fuzzy when he probed it too deeply.

He decided it was just a byproduct of his excitement to finally be moving forward with plans for his new restaurant. He studiously ignored the way his subconscious insisted on sorting through its snapshots of Namjoon for the remainder of the weekend, and how the bouquet of flowers really did perfectly match Jimin’s hair.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Jin! How was your weekend?”

Jin grinned in triumph; Michael was finally loosening up around him, dropping his overbearing professionalism and treating Jin less like a client and more like a friend.

“It was busy at the restaurant, but that’s just how I like it. Did you end up taking that ski trip?”

Michael’s face flashed with excitement. “Yeah! Though my cousin tumbled down the slope and broke her wrist, so we had to come home early. But I still had a great time!”

Jin chuckled. Michael’s youthful exuberance often reminded him of Jungkook.

“Hey, Michael, I’ve got to run and grab – oh, Seokjin, I didn’t realize you were here already.”

Namjoon had rounded the corner from his office and was shrugging on his suit coat, his car keys dangling in one hand and his hair already springing free from its styling. He halted, fidgeting with slight embarrassment.

“I forgot the portfolio at my apartment. I’m going to run and grab it; you’re welcome to come with me, or you can wait here. I’m sure Michael would be happy to keep you company.”

Michael smiled, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, and Jin decided it was too early in the morning for an extended dose of the assistant’s adoration.

“Sure, I’ll tag along.”

If Namjoon was surprised, he didn’t show it. Jin sent Michael a parting wave and followed Namjoon into the elevator.

“Sorry about this,” the businessman sighed. “Shadowing you last week inspired me to take a closer look at what we’ve planned so far and throw in a few new ideas, but I should have known I’d manage to forget them at home.”

Jin shrugged, unconcerned. The elevator buttons winked merrily as they travelled past each floor. Jin’s mind hummed with an unfamiliar glow. He was impressed that Namjoon had spent the weekend working on their restaurant. Not for the first time, Jin felt pleasantly assured that his dream was in the right hands.

The radio was already tuned to the classic rock station when Namjoon started the car. After a few minutes, they parked in front of a beautiful luxury skyscraper on the outskirts of downtown, Jin craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the top.

“You live here?” His voice was a little breathless, and Namjoon chuckled.

“Yeah. Perks of the job, I guess,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck somewhat sheepishly.

The lobby was serene, with a bubbling fountain in the corner surrounded by artfully-arranged bamboo stalks and fringed plants, tendrils of smooth jazz floating through the space. Namjoon led him to the elevator, his fancy shoes quietly clicking against the glossy marble. Jin tried not to gawk at the opulent chandelier hanging above the concierge desk.

He should have known that Namjoon would live in the penthouse.

Namjoon swung open the door to the building’s topmost apartment, mumbling a quick “be right back, make yourself at home” before disappearing down a hallway.

Jin slowly entered the lavish apartment, utterly spellbound. Floor-to-ceiling windows framed a sprawling view of the city and filled the space with natural light. The furniture was modern and sleek, with a fancy-looking sound system resting in the corner next to a wide TV. There were books littered on nearly every surface, including the massive shelves shoved against one wall, and stunning artwork filled the walls, similar to the ones in Namjoon’s office, but somehow more free, their use of color unreserved and giving the apartment a vibrant atmosphere despite its chic design.

But what really captivated Jin was the kitchen.

Its endless granite countertops encased a spotless stovetop with eight burners, a massive refrigerator, a double oven, and two sinks, everything dripping with expensive features. Jin ran his fingers across the smooth marble of the kitchen island, not a smudge to be seen, the cool stone nearly sending a shiver across his spine as he longingly gazed at the modern appliances he would kill for in his own home kitchen.

He looked up to find Namjoon standing in the doorway of what appeared to be a home office, watching Jin. The man’s expression was unreadable, but something in his eyes made a tiny blush sneak across Jin’s cheeks.

“Your kitchen is a masterpiece,” he breathed with giddy eyes.

Namjoon smiled, and Jin could feel the strange blush blooming darker across his skin. Bizarrely flustered, he turned to the fridge and opened its double doors, gasping in consternation at its contents.

“There’s nothing in here but Red Bull and beer!”

Namjoon chuckled and moved closer, the portfolio tucked under his arm. “Like I said, I don’t really cook much.”

Jin gaped at him. Namjoon managed to look abashed under the chef’s disbelieving stare.

“So you have this orgasmic, state-of-the-art kitchen, and you don’t even cook?”

The businessman shrugged, grinning at Jin’s indignation and choice of words. Jin huffed and slammed the refrigerator shut. Typical rich people, always spoiling themselves with useless amenities.

The train of thought immediately filled Jin with guilt. He knew Namjoon was different from the wealthy families he’d grown up around, and Jin had been one of those rich kids himself just a few years ago. He’d grown up with life handed to him on a silver platter, and even though it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and he’d left that lifestyle behind, who was he to judge? From what he’d seen, Namjoon had earned every penny of his success.

“Want to just work here?” Namjoon asked, cutting Jin out of his thoughts. “It might be a nice change of pace from being cooped up in my office.”

“I’m not sure. I’m worried we’ll starve to death if we stay here,” Jin teased. Namjoon narrowed his eyes at Jin’s smirk.

“You act as if we haven’t eaten take-out for lunch nearly every day these past two weeks.”

“God, please don’t remind me.”

Jin dragged himself away from the glorious kitchen and plunked down on one of Namjoon’s wide couches, the businessman settling onto the cushion next to him. Jin tried to ignore the way his heart sputtered erratically as Namjoon leaned over him to set the portfolio on the coffee table. It was just a coincidence that his pulse quickened when Namjoon’s arm brushed his knee, and his mind was hazy from the shock of the apartment’s luxuriant kitchen, not because Namjoon’s subtle cologne was infiltrating his senses in ways that should be illegal.

They began working through some of Namjoon’s new ideas and revisiting decisions they still hadn’t found compromises on. Frustration quickly settled on Jin’s shoulders. They were going in circles around the same old debates, not quite arguing, but not agreeing, either. And Namjoon was so close, his distractingly smooth skin practically glowing from the sunlight streaming into the apartment, his voice so deep and chocolatey, his hands so large and strong as they flipped through pages and gestured to photos. Jin’s fingers itched with the urge to brush away the stray locks of hair escaping onto Namjoon’s forehead –

“Jin? What do you think?”

The voice jolted him back to reality.

Jin’s face flushed as he realized he’d been staring at Namjoon for God only knows how long, not processing a single word that had come out of the man’s mouth.

What the hell was wrong with him?

He quickly jumped up from the couch. “I’m hungry, let’s take a break?”

He needed an escape from his traitorous thoughts.

Surprise flitted across Namjoon’s face as he glanced at his watch. “Good idea. I hadn’t realized it was past noon already. Time flies when you’re having fun, eh?”

Jin laughed nervously, his face contorted in an odd grimace, but thankfully Namjoon didn’t seem to notice. The businessman stretched for a moment before making his way to the kitchen, and Jin busied himself by looking at the paintings adorning the apartment, his eyes roaming over the artwork with laser focus to avoid the sight of Namjoon’s strikingly long legs strolling across the room.

He heard a drawer open and the shuffling of papers. “What’re you in the mood for? I’ve got menus for Chinese, Korean, Italian, Mexican, Greek…”

“Whatever you want is fine,” Jin said, refusing to look at him. He couldn’t trust his mind to behave, so total avoidance seemed like the best option.

Namjoon snorted. “Really? You have no opinion? That’s a first.”

Jin raised an eyebrow. He didn’t need to look at Namjoon to know that the man would panic.

“I mean, no offense, of course, there’s nothing wrong with having high standards, you know, and as a chef it’s probably a good thing, uh…”

Namjoon’s voice quickly trailed off until he was muttering inaudibly, and Jin felt himself relax. He could handle dorky, flustered Namjoon, but serious, thoughtful, intense businessman Namjoon was a different story.

He strolled slowly as he admired the paintings and Namjoon’s voice floated from the kitchen as he placed their order. Now that he was focusing on the artwork in front of him, Jin was blown away by the bold styles and depth of each piece. They all seemed to be stylistically different, likely by different artists, but they created a cohesive experience that perfectly reflected what Jin knew of Namjoon’s personality.

“That’s one of my favorites.” The quiet voice over Jin’s shoulder should have startled him, but didn’t.

The painting in question was abstract and impressionistic. Up close, it was difficult to distinguish solid shapes among the smudges of smoky color, but after taking a few steps back, the seemingly aimless paint strokes formed the image of a man, his face hazy as he looked into a mirror at his own reflection. The world outside of the mirror was bright, but inside the glass, everything was dark and gray, the man’s image distorted and almost sinisterly unrecognizable. Jin could see why Namjoon liked it; the piece was both beautiful and thought-provoking.

“Where did you find it?” he asked.

"All of my pieces come from local painters,” Namjoon said, gesturing to the paintings filling the apartment. “Well, local in a general sense of the word. I make an effort to buy from street fairs and small galleries, and reward hardworking artists for their talents that may otherwise go unseen. It makes me feel like I’m putting my money to good use.” His voice lowered until it was nearly imperceptible. “And I know what it’s like to come from nothing.”

Jin stared. He’d never asked Namjoon about his past. Jin didn’t think it was any of his business, and he wasn’t sure if it was his place to probe. But Namjoon clearly hadn’t been born into a life of ease, and it made Jin’s heart twist even more guiltily at his assumptions about Namjoon’s rich lifestyle.

Namjoon cleared his throat and moved to another painting. “This one fascinated me because it uses only two colors – blue and purple – yet they manage to create so much depth that additional colors would almost distract from the purity of the image. The artist was an interesting guy. Very quirky. I met him at a street bazaar in Brazil and I knew I needed one of his paintings the instant I saw them.”

Namjoon slowly progressed across the wall, highlighting his favorite aspects of each piece and the backstories behind them. Jin was impressed at the geographic spread of the paintings’ origins; a quaint gallery in Greece, an art festival in New Orleans, a street artist in Japan, a seaside cottage in Maine. Despite their varying backgrounds, each painting managed to coexist as if they were meant to be together, their styles similar enough to mesh in an organic and refreshing way. Namjoon remembered every artist he’d ever bought from, and Jin found himself overwhelmed by the deep care the man extended towards every one of their stories and the fondness with which he remembered them. By the end of Namjoon’s anecdotes, Jin almost felt like he knew them himself.

“I think this one’s my favorite,” he said, standing before the boldest and most vibrant painting. He wasn’t sure if there was supposed to be a clear image or pattern, but the energy and life singing from the canvas called to Jin until he felt like he couldn’t look away. “I’d love to have a piece like this in the restaurant someday.”

A sudden knock on the door interrupted them, and Namjoon left Jin’s side to collect the takeout from the delivery boy and arrange it on his dining room table, Jin taking a seat across from him and reaching for a pair of chopsticks.

As they dug in, Jin snuck furtive glances at his business partner. He could feel his heart softening, and it alarmed him. Maybe it was simply because they were transitioning into becoming tentative friends, but after yet another example of Namjoon’s thoughtfulness and kind spirit, Jin realized he felt nothing but respect for the man sitting across from him. And something else, too… something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but his pulse jumped every time he tried to identify the feeling, and it filled him with unease.

Namjoon looked up to catch Jin’s gaze, and it took the chef every ounce of willpower to keep another blush from staining his cheeks.

“I’ve been wondering; why is your restaurant called ‘Euphoria’? How did you choose the name?”

Jin reached for another bite, smacking Namjoon’s chopsticks out of the way to steal the last dumpling with a victorious smirk. Namjoon made an indignant noise.

“Well, cooking and sharing my food with others brings me joy, you know? And before I left home, Jungkook would always tell me to ‘find the cause of my euphoria.’” Jin chuckled. “When I left medical school and started my restaurant from almost nothing, my little bro’s words gave me strength, even when things seemed hopeless and I never thought I would make it as a chef. So, I named the restaurant with his words as inspiration. A reminder that this is my dream, what brings me joy, and the home to my new family. My euphoria.”

Namjoon’s eyes were incredibly soft. Jin looked away with a sudden tightness in his chest; he’d never disclosed so much about his past to Namjoon before, and this new willingness to open up to his business partner caught Jin off-guard.

He quickly cleared his throat and avoided Namjoon’s gaze. “So, uh, what’s it like living in the city’s tallest penthouse?”

Namjoon chuckled, and though he seemed taken aback by the sudden change in conversation, he must have sensed Jin’s need to steer their talk in another direction.

“I don’t know if it’s the tallest, but it’s the most beautiful, at least to me. The view of the city really can’t be beat. I can see the entire skyline painted against the sunset, though I’m not usually home from the office in time to see it. I’ve managed to make this place feel like a home as much as I can, though I don’t have much to base it on.”

Jin frowned. What did he mean by that?

Namjoon continued. “And it’s pretty close to the office, which is convenient.” He looked out the window, twirling his chopsticks absentmindedly. “It can get kind of lonely though. I have this huge space, but nobody to share it with.” He quieted, seeming lost in his thoughts, before he turned back to Jin with a small smile. “Shall we get back to work?”

 

 

******

 

 

For the rest of the week, they conducted their meetings in Namjoon’s office, and Jin couldn’t help but feel relieved. Something about Namjoon’s apartment had caused the energy between them to shift. Back in the business-focused safety of the office, Jin could ignore the vulnerability and connection he’d felt coursing between him and his partner.

But to his chagrin, Jin’s pulse still leapt into motion whenever Namjoon looked at him, and his nerves sang at the sound of his smooth voice discussing the financial pros and cons between hardwood and carpet floors. But that was just a side effect of his excitement, right? He and Namjoon were nearing the end of their preliminary meetings, which meant they’d be able to start remodeling the restaurant and putting their plans into action incredibly soon. That must be why Jin’s heart started pounding on the elevator rides to Namjoon’s office.

The weekend brought a much-needed break from the confusing side affects of Namjoon’s presence.

Or at least, Jin thought it would. But strangely enough, he missed having his business partner around. The morning trek to the farmer’s market, once a period of cherished solitude, suddenly felt lonely without Namjoon walking next to him. As Jimin and Tae chattered during afternoon prep, Jin recalled the ridiculous way Namjoon used to hold a knife, and how warm his hand had felt beneath his when he’d shown him the correct technique.

The only thing that brought Jin solace was cooking. He was able to immerse himself in a zone of productivity that dispelled the overactive ramblings of his mind, if only for a few hours.

On Saturday night, as Jin wiped down counters and finished the closing tasks with Hoseok, his mind slipped back into a precariously Namjoon-oriented space.

Jin was growing frustrated; his thoughts barely felt like his own anymore, and he couldn’t understand why his subconscious insisted on replaying his interactions with Namjoon on repeat. He needed a distraction.

He pulled out his phone and glanced at the time. Knowing Jungkook, he’d still be at the gym, training hard despite midnight quickly approaching. Jin sighed and flipped on a burner, throwing some extra ingredients into a pan as he sent a text to his brother. The boy often lost track of time and forgot to eat.

 

[Jin]:

You still at the gym?

 

Kookie Pie:

yeah

 

[Jin]:

Bringing you food

 

Kookie Pie:

:D

 

“Is that for Jungkook?” Hobi asked as he shut off the lights in the dining room and grabbed his jacket.

“Mm-hm.”

Hoseok rolled his eyes. “That boy…”

Jin felt a warm hand pat his shoulder as Hoseok walked by. “G’night, Jinnie. Drag Jungkook home for me, will ya?”

“I’ll try,” Jin laughed, and Hobi sent him a jaunty wave before heading out the back door.

Jin slid the food into a to-go box, cleaned the pan, grabbed his jacket, and locked up the building. It was a balmy night, so Jin decided to walk to the gym, hoping the exercise would calm his mind. His phone buzzed in his pocket.

 

Kookie Pie:

omg bro are u here yet I’m literally starving

 

[Jin]:

Well maybe you should have eaten some food earlier

dumbass

 

Kookie Pie:

um wow rude

u better be bringing spaghetti

 

[Jin]:

Anything for you kookie pie ;)

           

Kookie Pie:

istg

is that still my contact name in ur phone??

call me that to my face

i dare u

see what happens

 

Jin laughed as he rounded the corner to the gym. He’d been calling his brother “Kookie Pie” behind his back for years, pulling out the nickname whenever he felt like he needed a nice round of sibling banter. Jungkook swore he hated the phrase, but Jin knew he had a secret soft spot for it.

He swiped into the gym with the extra keycard Jungkook had snuck him a while back and walked past a wide area filled with roped-off boxing rings, knowing Jungkook would be towards the back of the building. Sure enough, he found him slumped against the wall of the gym next to a punching bag, his hair plastered to his glistening skin and his shirt drenched in sweat. The boy’s eyes lit up when he saw Jin.

“Finally,” he panted, eyeing the to-go box with a grin. He reached for the food with grabby hands, Jin rolling his eyes and pulling a fork out of his pocket before sitting against the wall next to him.

Jungkook practically moaned as he shoveled spaghetti into his mouth. “You’re a lifesaver, bro.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Lunch,” Jungkook stated unrepentantly.

Jin sighed. “You know it’s past midnight, right? Have you been training since lunch?”

Jungkook nodded and swallowed a mouthful of pasta. “My qualifying match is next week. I have to be ready. I’m not going to let this chance slip out of my grasp.”

“I know,” Jin said, handing Jungkook his water bottle to pause the spaghetti inhalation. “I just don’t want you overworking yourself, ok? Your body needs time to rest, especially with the injuries you’ve had recently.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jungkook muttered into the water bottle. “It’s just… my dreams are so close, you know? Whatever happens, I need to know that I gave it my absolute all, that I worked as hard as I possibly could. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often. It’s like… it’s like success is on the horizon, and I can almost touch it, and it keeps calling to me and I’ve never wanted something so badly in my entire life, you know?”

Jin chuckled. Jungkook tended to get poetic late at night.

“Yeah, I know what that’s like,” he said, fondly ruffling Jungkook’s hair, the boy too exhausted to duck away.

“Speaking of which, how are things going with the restaurant? Are you guys gonna start remodeling the new place soon?”

“Yeah, the last week has been surprisingly productive,” Jin said. He scratched the back of his neck. “Namjoon and I tied up a lot of loose ends, so we’ll be meeting with the builders next week, actually.”

“Hey, that’s really exciting!” Jungkook said with a grin. “If only dad could see us now, being all successful and shit.”

Jin smacked the boy’s head for his profane language, but his sardonic tone made him chuckle in agreement.

Jungkook twirled a concerningly large portion of spaghetti on his fork and brought it to his mouth. “You know, I haven’t heard you complain about Namjoon for the past few days. Are you guys finally getting along?”

Jin gulped. How was he supposed to answer that without revealing the tumultuous directions his thoughts had led him this past week?

But maybe his brother was the perfect person to help sort through the mess.

Jin shrugged. “Um… yeah, we get along pretty well. He’s actually a decent guy, and he’s super smart and supportive, so I can’t really complain.”

Jungkook’s eyes narrowed. “You’re hiding something, you can’t even look me in the face. Spill it!”

Jin wrung his hands in his lap. “I don’t know… it’s kind of embarrassing.”

“It can’t be more embarrassing than when you tripped up the stairs in front of the entire school at your high school graduation. Spill.”

Jungkook shoved another mass of pasta into his mouth, ignoring Jin’s withering glare.

Jin sighed again, but this time in defeat. He really did need to get this off his chest. Hoseok was probably a better person to ask for legitimate advice, but Jungkook had a talent for unapologetically clearing away Jin’s mental clutter, forcing him to reconcile with the emotions hiding beneath.

“I’ve just been feeling very… confused,” he started slowly. “I’ve known Namjoon for a little over three weeks, right? When we first met, he was such an asshole, but then he suddenly wanted to be my business partner, and I found out he’s actually not that bad. He’s surprisingly sweet, and really thoughtful, and he cares about what I have to say. But I never thought we’d ever be friends, just business partners, you know?

“But now…” Jin’s brow furrowed in frustration, Jungkook leaning forward slightly. “It’s like… it’s like my brain won’t stop thinking about him. Somehow, I’ve started to legitimately enjoy his company. But I get flustered when he looks at me, and sometimes my mind short-circuits when he asks me a question, and it’s so frustrating because it’s probably just my excitement about my first real business partnership and –”

HA!” Jungkook’s triumphant cackle startled Jin out of his thoughts. Jungkook clapped his hands, his eyes crinkled into exuberant crescents. “Bro, it sounds like you like him.”

What? No, no, that can’t be right.” Jin waved his hands in panic, Jungkook simply cackling harder. Jin slapped his shoulder. “It’s not funny! That’s what I get for trying to talk to you. I don’t like Namjoon, at least not in that way.”

Jungkook snorted, sobering slightly. “Come on, Seokie, you’re in total denial. You’re blushing so hard my spaghetti looks pale.”

Jin pressed his hands to his cheeks, and sure enough, it was like touching a warm burner.

Jungkook cocked his head. “What’s the big deal? You like him, so what? I don’t see the problem.”

Jin looked down, tracing an absentminded pattern on the floor. He did not like Namjoon as anything more than a friend, but for the sake of conversation, Jin decided to humor Jungkook’s suggestion.

“It’s just… complicated. He’s my business partner. I hated him when we first met. Like, really hated him. And now, I… I miss him when he’s not around, and I’m mad because I don’t want to feel this way. I just want to be business partners and not have this distracting emotional complication, you know? And we were just starting to become tentative friends, but of course, my feelings – alleged feelings – have to go and fuck it all up.”

“Language, hyung,” Jungkook smirked. Jin rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, I guess the situation isn’t ideal…” Jungkook’s eyes lit up. “Wait, does he like you back?”

Jin’s eyes blew wide before narrowing in a frown. “What? Of course not.”

“But how do you know?” Jungkook was practically bouncing up and down with excitement.

“Kook, stop.” Jin sighed. “It’s bad enough that I can’t figure out my own feelings. I don’t have the emotional capacity to worry about how Namjoon is feeling, too.”

He gathered the fork, water bottle, and empty to-go box from Jungkook and stood. “C’mon, little bro, let’s get you home and showered up, you need some sleep.”

“But I still wanted to practice my –”

Jin’s stern glare cut him off, the boy pouting as he stood and went to grab his jacket from the locker room.

The chef’s mind was a wreck the entire walk home. Did Jungkook have a point? Did he… like Kim Namjoon? Surely, not more than a friend, right? His mind was probably just reeling from the whiplash of his hatred turning to tolerance. Yes, he tolerated Namjoon, perhaps slightly cared about him, but only as a friend and business partner, nothing more.

But with his head against his pillow and moonlight streaming through his bedroom window, Jin’s certainty became fuzzy. The twinkling stars reminded him of the way Namjoon’s dimples seemed to wink when he laughed. The calm energy of night had the same timbre as Namjoon’s voice, smooth and deep and endlessly comforting.

Jin sighed, tossing onto his side. There was no way he liked Namjoon. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He didn’t even know what he was feeling; he was still convinced this strange realm of emotions was simply a byproduct of his dream coming true, the headiness of seeing his plans come to fruition.

Jin closed his eyes against the light of the moon, blocking out the stars as he burrowed into his pillow. Wherever these feelings were coming from, he was going to put a stop to them. Nothing was going to come between him and his dream. Not his emotions, not his confusion, and especially not Kim Namjoon.

Chapter Text

It was Wednesday, halfway through the week, and Jin still couldn’t decipher the Rubik’s cube of his emotions. He was constantly spinning its colorful patterns in his mind, desperately searching for a logical combination that would explain why he’d left Namjoon’s office overwhelmingly flustered every day that week, but none of the amalgamations made sense, and his bizarre feelings continued to torment him.

He couldn’t deny that he enjoyed the man’s company. After nearly a month of partnering together, Jin honestly considered Namjoon his friend, and they were compatible in ways he’d never expected. Namjoon’s presence was calming; his smile soothed the edges of Jin’s passionate temper, and they often found themselves travelling down companionable paths of conversation that stemmed from a place of mutual respect and camaraderie. He laughed a lot around Namjoon, and he was finally beginning to know the facets of personality that defined his character beneath the designer suits.

But he still couldn’t figure out the cause of his strange physical responses. He refused to subscribe to Jungkook’s theory that he liked Namjoon as more than a friend. So what if his heartbeat never assumed a steady pace when his business partner was around? That didn’t mean anything. It just showed that Jin was excited about their conversations and the progress they’d made with the restaurant.

He liked being Namjoon’s business partner, and he liked being Namjoon’s friend. He tried to keep his thoughts strictly within those two realms, but his unruly subconscious tended to drift into a confusing, unknown space revolving around Namjoon’s breathy laugh and killer dimples, so Jin tried to busy himself as much as possible to avoid venturing into that bewildering void.

It didn’t help that Jimin and Tae were suddenly the founders of the Kim Namjoon fan club. Jimin tried to be subtle about it, asking the occasional question about how Namjoon was doing and what progress they’d made in their daily meetings, but Tae constantly peppered Jin with questions and frequently asked him to describe Namjoon’s outfit-of-the-day in agonizing detail. For the first time in his life, Jin was thankful for the couple’s innate inability to resist PDA for more than ten minutes at a time; it gave him a break from their incessant Namjoon-centric chatter.

As they were cleaning at the end of the night, Jin desperately attempted to divert the conversation.

“So, what time did you guys want us to come over this weekend?” he asked.

Jimin perked up with a sweet smile. “Eight o’clock, sharp!”

He and Tae were celebrating their two-year anniversary with a party at their apartment. Jin had called in a few favors with old friends from his table-waiting days, and he’d managed to get everyone’s shifts covered for that Saturday night. He didn’t feel completely comfortable leaving the restaurant in hands other than his own, but he was willing to make an exception for the lovebirds.

“You’re bringing Namjoon, right?” Tae asked hopefully.

Jin paused. “Why would I?”

“But Hobi is bringing Yoongi!” Tae pouted as Jimin nodded eagerly beside him.

“That’s totally different!” Jin spluttered. “Namjoon and I aren’t like that, we’re just partners! It’s probably inappropriate of me to invite him to a family function, anyway.”

“Geez, no need to get so defensive,” Tae said with a smirk, quirking his eyebrow as he returned to scrubbing the stovetop.

Jimin took a step closer to Jin. “We really would love to have Namjoon there,” he said with a quiet smile. “He’s an important figure in your life, so we’d like to get to know him better. Will you at least invite him? For me?”

Jin hesitated. Damn, Park Jimin and his innocent eyes and angelic smile.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll ask him.”

Jimin clapped in excitement and hopped back to the sink he’d been cleaning.

“Did I hear that correctly? Namjoon is coming?” Hoseok entered the kitchen with a rag thrown over his shoulder.

Jin sighed. “I’m inviting him, that’s all.”

“Well, I hope he comes,” Hoseok said with a grin. “I want to ask him for embarrassing stories about Yoongi. I need some blackmail material.” He wagged his eyebrows. “You never know when it’ll come in handy.”

The thought of having to see Namjoon at the party made Jin nervous. He really did want his family and his business partner to get along, especially since they all played foundational roles in the restaurant. But Jin was hesitant to spend time with Namjoon outside of a business setting. Without their portfolio in front of them, Jin felt oddly exposed, vulnerable to the friendship that had blossomed without his conscious consent.

Nevertheless, he kept his word, though he waited until Friday to invite Namjoon with the faint hope that the man would already have plans.

Namjoon was packing up the portfolio, which now included contracts with architects, builders, and electricians, all of whom were working hard on Jin’s vision.

“Got any plans this weekend?” Namjoon asked, moving to his desk and setting the portfolio in its usual place of honor adjacent to the desktop computer.

Jin cleared his throat. “Yeah, Jimin and Tae are having an anniversary party tomorrow. And, uh, they wanted me to let you know that you’re invited.”

Namjoon glanced up, his eyes alight with unexpected excitement. “Oh? An anniversary party?” He smiled as he leaned against the desk and crossed his arms. “How long have they been together?”

"Two years, though they were pining for each other long before that,” Jin said with a snort.

“Well, I’m honored to be invited to such a special celebration.” Namjoon dug through the disheveled mass of papers strewn across his desk, eyebrows furrowing as he searched for something. “What time should I arrive?”

Jin sighed and walked over to the desk, plucking Namjoon’s car keys from beneath a thick business report and dangling them from one finger. Namjoon took them sheepishly.

“Party starts at eight, I’ll text you the address.”

“Great!” Namjoon beamed, the setting sun refracting golden radiance against the city’s skyline in the window behind him. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, then.”

If Jin’s heart thumped uncomfortably, the chef chose not to notice.

 

 

******

 

 

“Ugh! If they’re going to be like this all night, then I’m leaving. I already want to throw up,” Jungkook whined. He and Jin were arranging hors d’oeuvres on the kitchen table and studiously ignoring the couple of the evening. Tae was nuzzling his nose against Jimin’s, his arms wrapped around the smaller man’s waist as they gazed into each other’s eyes with dopey smiles and whispered words.

Jin jabbed his elbow into his brother. “Hey, be nice. We’re literally here to celebrate their love, what did you expect?” Jimin began giggling as Tae feathered kisses along his jawline. Jin sighed. “Besides, it’s not much worse than their usual PDA.”

“Yeah, but they’re gonna get drunk,” Jungkook complained, pointing to the kitchen table full of champagne, wine, and microbrews (the only beer Tae allowed in the apartment). “The last time they got drunk, I wanted to scrape my eyes out with a spoon and shove them in my ears so I couldn’t hear them –”

Jin slung his arm around his brother before he could finish his sentence. He didn’t want to know what Jungkook had seen, or heard. As the couple’s closest friend, Jungkook was privy to a level of unabashed intimacy that Jin would prefer to remain blissfully unaware of.

“Aw, Kook, I know you’re just salty because you promised Coach you’d stay sober tonight.”

“Damn right, I am,” Jungkook grumbled forlornly, rolling his eyes when he saw that Tae’s lips had found Jimin’s in an unbearably tender make-out session.

“Yah!” he yelled, grabbing a baby carrot from the vegetable platter and throwing it in their direction, the carrot bouncing comically off Jimin’s pink hair and plopping onto the floor. “The party has barely even started, can’t you guys manage to keep it in your pants for, like, two minutes?”

“Sorry, Kookie,” Jimin giggled, blushing delicately. “We, ah… kind of forgot you were here.”

“Jesus,” Jin muttered. “You two had better shape up before the rest of your guests arrive, you’ll scare them away.”

 As if on cue, the doorbell rang.

Jimin skipped to answer it, opening the door wide to reveal a beaming Hoseok and a wary-looking Yoongi.

“Happy anniversary, Chim Chim!”

Jimin squealed as he was roped into a crushing hug.

“Hey, don’t smoosh my boyfriend!” Tae called.

Jimin laughed happily as Hobi set him down, his cotton candy hair sweetly disheveled over his bright eyes. “Ah, Yoongi, I’m glad you could make it! Hobi has told us so much about you. Please, come in!”

They made their way to the kitchen, where Jungkook was already piling a plate with cheese and crackers.

“We brought presents!” Hoseok announced. Yoongi held out a gift basket of assorted chocolates, elegantly wrapped with a gold bow.

 Jimin gasped, taking the basket gleefully. “These are my favorite! You guys are so sweet.”

“Not as sweet as you,” Tae cooed, hugging Jimin from behind and kissing his neck.

Jungkook choked on a cracker. “Hobi, save me,” he stage-whispered.

Yoongi pursed his lips, eyeing the couple with thinly-veiled amusement. “Hoseokie warned me about you two, but seeing it in person is more potent than I expected.”

Jin whipped his head around. “Hoseokie?”

Hoseok flushed, the tips of his ears turning red as his friends stared at him open-mouthed. “What?” he said defensively.

Yoongi chuckled, his eyes on Hoseok as he grabbed the man’s hand and tugged him into his side. “Everyone, there’s something he’s been meaning to tell you. Right, Hoseokie?”

Hoseok’s throat bobbed, his cheeks flaming as his tongue stumbled. “Um.. yeah. I – um, we –”

“Jesus, dude, spit it out!” Jungkook said around a mouthful of cracker.

“You don’t need to be nervous, we talked about this, baby,” Yoongi murmured into Hoseok’s ear, quietly enough that Jin knew the others couldn’t hear. His heart softened towards the gray-haired man gazing affectionately at his best friend.

Hoseok let out a breath. He smiled at Yoongi, a small smile filled with a warmth that matched Yoongi’s eyes, before turning back to his friends.

“Yoongi and I are officially dating.”

Tae let out a whoop as Jimin gathered them in a hug, one arm around Yoongi and the other around Hobi. Jungkook seemed unimpressed, shoving another cracker into his mouth.

When the hug ended and Hoseok’s ears had faded to a normal shade, Jin put an arm on his best friend’s shoulder as Tae dragged Yoongi to the drinks table.

“I’m happy for you, Hobi,” he said quietly. “I know this is a big step for you, after… you know.” He tried to keep his voice steady, but it wavered tensely when he thought of Hoseok’s most recent partner and the shit he’d put Hobi through. It had taken him months to work through the damaging remnants, and months after that to finally return to the bright, loving Hobi so central to their friend group. Jin was proud to see him opening up to someone new. If Hoseok felt comfortable enough to be in an official relationship, then Yoongi must be someone very special.

His friend smiled, his hand reaching up to cover Jin’s. “Thanks, Jinnie. I’m happy for me, too.”

“This calls for the evening’s first celebratory toast!” Jimin declared, already extending two bubbling champagne glasses to Jin and Hoseok. They joined the others, Tae’s arm locked around Jimin’s waist, Jungkook glaring at it while nursing a glass of sparkling water, and Hoseok sliding up to Yoongi to grab his hand with confidence.

Tae raised his glass and adopted a lofty expression. “To new beginnings,” he said dramatically, his free arm gesticulating wildly. “To the tender budding of romance, to the soaring of the heart on love’s gentle wings, to the beating of the heart in tandem with the soul, to –”

“Oh my god,” Jungkook groaned, Jimin and Hoseok laughing behind their glasses while Tae looked mildly affronted at the interruption. “Just fucking drink already.”

Jin cuffed his head. “Language.”

They sipped their drinks, Jin savoring the bubbles tingling down his throat as Jungkook reached for more food and Yoongi whispered something in Hoseok’s ear across the table, making the waiter snort into his glass.

A knock sounded. Jimin extricated himself from Tae’s arm and skipped to the door. Jungkook took the opportunity to jump to Tae’s side, probably planning to act as a physical barrier between him and Jimin.

Jin heard the door opening as he sipped the rest of his drink.

“Oh, Namjoon! So glad you could make it, come on in.”

“Thank you for inviting me. Your home is lovely.” Namjoon’s deep voice carried into the kitchen. Jin’s stomach tightened, the champagne suddenly feeling aggressive as his body jolted awake.

"It’s small, but it’s cozy, just the way I like it,” Jimin said as he led Namjoon into the kitchen. The businessman’s eyes immediately met Jin’s. Namjoon smiled in greeting. Jin felt as though his lungs were failing as he took in Namjoon’s dark blazer, beige turtleneck, and kind expression.

He managed to return Namjoon’s smile, his stomach twisting nervously.

Tae gasped. “Is that a 1943 Chateau Cheval Blanc?”

Namjoon glanced down at the wine bottle cradled in his hands and extended it to Jimin. “Oh, yeah, I brought this as an anniversary gift for you both.”

Jimin’s mouth popped open. “B-but this… Namjoon, we can’t accept something so expensive –”

“Yes, we can!” Tae jumped in, running to Jimin’s side and clamping a hand over his boyfriend’s mouth. He turned to Namjoon, ignoring Jimin’s attempts to squirm out of his grasp. “Where did you find it? The 1943 reserves are so rare, I didn’t realize there were any still for sale in the city.”

Namjoon chuckled. “I may have pulled some strings. Seokjin told me about your love of quality booze.”

Jin flushed slightly and busied himself by topping off his champagne glass. He’d offhandedly mentioned Tae’s obsession with fancy alcohol to Namjoon, but that had been almost two weeks ago. He was surprised Namjoon remembered.

He looked up to find Hoseok staring pointedly, his eyes analyzing Jin’s pink cheeks and flustered expression before flitting to Namjoon, curious and bemused.

Tae began questioning Namjoon about his fine wine connections, and the two of them quickly delved into a lengthy conversation about optimal growing climates and soil regions and production years, Jimin rolling his eyes indulgently as he snuck away to set the bottle on their wine rack in the kitchen.

He came to stand beside Jin, his eyes glowing as he watched Tae chat animatedly with the businessman. “God, he’s so sexy when he talks about wine.”

It took Jin a second to realize that Jimin was referring to Tae, not Namjoon.

 

 

******

 

 

A few more of their restaurant friends had arrived and the party was in full swing, Tae’s favorite jazz standards playing softly in the background and mingling with the sound of sociable chatter. With the arrival of every guest, Tae and Jimin had led a welcome toast, in addition to a toast celebrating Jungkook’s recent victory in his qualifying match, and the partygoers were all pleasantly tipsy as a result. All except for Jungkook, who sulked in the corner as the booze continued to flow and Jimin and Tae grew increasingly more handsy.

Jin was about to go distract his brother when Namjoon suddenly broke away from his conversation with Yoongi and crossed the room to Jungkook. The boy’s eyes lit up as Namjoon offered him a plate stacked with tiny quiches, Namjoon grinning as he asked a question, to which Jungkook glowered and nudged his head in the direction of the kitchen where Tae and Jimin were intimately slow dancing, blissfully immersed in their own world. Namjoon leaned forward to whisper something in Jungkook’s ear, and the boy’s dismal expression dissolved into laughter, his focus turning to Namjoon as he reached for another quiche and said something in response.

Jin leaned against the wall across the room, sipping a glass of wine as he watched his brother grow increasingly upbeat in Namjoon’s presence. His chest tugged uncomfortably.

“Glad to see Jungkook’s in a better mood.” Jin hadn’t noticed Hoseok coming up to lean against the wall next to him.

“You seem to be in a better mood, too,” Hobi said nonchalantly. Jin frowned in confusion.

“What do you mean?”

Hoseok took a sip of his beer. “How are things going with Namjoon?” Jin involuntarily tensed at the question. “You guys seem to be getting along.”

Jin blinked, trying to clear his mind against the buzz induced by the wine and the unpredictable flashes of Namjoon’s smile.

“I guess we’re kind of… friends now? I don’t hate him anymore, which is nice. I guess.”

Hoseok quirked an eyebrow. “You guess?”

Jin looked down into the murky red depths of his wine glass, swirling the contents aimlessly. “It’s a little confusing. I’m not sure what I’m feeling, exactly.”

Hoseok eyed him thoughtfully. “I can tell something’s different,” he murmured, glancing at Namjoon and Jungkook as they went to the kitchen for more snacks. “Namjoon seems the same, but you… something’s changed. It’s in your eyes when you look at him.”

Jin’s fingers clenched around the stem of his glass. “I don’t want things to be different,” he muttered. “Different means complicated, and I don’t do complicated.”

“I know you don’t.” Hoseok sighed. “But, I wouldn’t worry about it to much.” Hoseok’s hand smoothed over his, easing his grip where his knuckles were turning white. “You’ve always had the tendency to overthink. Maybe, just this once, you can let things take their course without fighting it.”

“I know my course. I know what I want, and I know what I don’t want.” Jin glared in Namjoon’s direction.

Hoseok laughed. “You’re so stubborn, Jinnie. But sometimes, what you want and what you need are two different things.”

Jin frowned and chugged the remains of his wine. He was too buzzed for this conversation.

Hoseok wrapped an arm around his shoulder, the weight comforting. “Well, I’d better go rescue Yoongi. He’s been stuck chatting with Martha for the past ten minutes, and she likes to talk about her tiny porcelain cat collection when she’s drunk.” Hoseok squeezed his shoulder before stepping back. “You might want to check in on the lovebirds before they start boning in the kitchen.”

Jin glanced over his shoulder to find Jimin sitting on the kitchen counter, his legs wrapped around Taehyung’s waist as he shoved his tongue down his boyfriend’s throat.

“Fucking hell,” he groaned.

“Have fun!” Hoseok chirped as he skipped away, Jin shooting a frosty glare at his back. He watched as Hoseok easily wrapped an arm around Yoongi’s waist, the smaller man looking up at him with relief and unabashed affection as Hoseok expertly steered him away from his conversation with Martha and escorted him towards Namjoon.

Jin sighed and headed to the kitchen. His entrance went unnoticed.

He cleared his throat. Jimin’s hands tangled deeper in Taehyung’s chocolatey hair. Jin tapped Tae on the shoulder.

“Go away,” he murmured roughly before reattaching his lips to Jimin’s.

“Ok, ok, that’s enough!” Jin said in exasperation. He gently pried Tae out of Jimin’s arms, the pink-haired boy whining quietly and pouting with swollen lips. “If you guys are gonna fuck, go do it in the bedroom. Otherwise, you should go mingle with your guests before you’re too drunk to remember who they are.”

“I don’t ‘preciate what you’re insinuating,” Jimin said with narrowed eyes, his attempt at intimidation thwarted by the adorable slur in his voice.

Tae bit his lip. “He’s right, babe.” He leaned close to Jimin’s ear. “Besides, I’ll be watching your pretty face all night, waiting to get you alone so you can fuck me in the –"

“Dear god, you know I can still hear you, right?” Jin groaned miserably as he covered his ears. Jimin grinned.

“Tae’s a dirty boy,” he giggled, running a finger down Tae’s cheek.

“I’m your dirty boy,” Tae growled with a mischievous grin as he nipped at Jimin’s finger.

“I’m going to vomit,” Jin muttered. He grabbed Jimin’s hand before it could do anything inappropriate. “Tae, why don’t you go talk with Jungkook? Jimin and I are going to freshen up in the bathroom for a minute.”

Tae grinned boxily and pressed a sloppy kiss to Jimin’s nose. “I’ll miss you, Chim!”

“I’ll miss you more, TaeTae!”

“Alright, Jimin, let’s go.” Jin had to forcibly tug Jimin towards the hallway as he made constant heart eyes at Tae.

“You guys are really something,” he grumbled, flicking on the bathroom light.

“Sorry, Jinnie,” Jimin giggled sweetly. Jin gently guided him to the sink and turned on the cold water. Jimin leaned down to splash his face but ended up drenching his hair in the process. “Oopsies!” he sang endearingly.

Jin shook his head indulgently and grabbed a towel from the cupboard beneath the sink, sitting Jimin down on the toilet seat and beginning to gently dry his hair. “It’s hard to believe so many hormones can be crammed into one tiny body.”

“Tae likes my hormones,” Jimin smirked.

“Yeah, that’s the problem.”

Jimin stuck out his tongue, his head jostling slightly as Jin tousled his hair in the towel. “Hey, speaking of hormones, why have you been avoiding Namjoon all night?”

Jin paused. “What does that have to do with hormones?”

“Answer my question and maybe I’ll tell you.”

Jin bit back a laugh. Jimin tended to get sassy after a few drinks, something they all greatly enjoyed.

"I haven’t been avoiding him, exactly,” Jin said, continuing his motions with the towel. “I’ve just been busy talking to other people.”

Jimin snorted loudly. “Bullshit. You’ve been glued to the wall staring at him all night, smiling into your wine like a total dork.”

“Excuse me, I have not! Besides, how would you know? You’ve been lip-locked with Tae for a disgustingly large chunk of the evening.”

Jimin licked his lips. “This is true. But, jus’ because I have a cute boyfriend doesn’t mean my eyes don’t work. Why don’t you talk to him?”

Jin sighed, removing the towel from Jimin’s mostly-dry hair and hanging it neatly on the shower rod. “Fine, if it means you’ll drop the subject, I’ll go talk to him when we leave the bathroom. Deal?”

“Deal!” Jimin sprang up from the toilet seat and grabbed Jin’s hand. “Let’s go find our men.”

Jimin tugged him down the hallway, Jin trying not to dwell on the way he’d said “our” men.

When they rounded the corner, Tae looked up from his conversation with Jungkook and Namjoon, spotting Jimin instantly. His eyes darkened as they approached.

“Woah, what’d you do to your hair?” he asked, twirling a few pink strands around his fingers. “It’s sexy as fuck.”

“Yeah? You like it?” Jimin smirked, biting his lip. Jin snorted; Jimin’s hair looked like a damp, pink bird’s nest.

“Mm-hm,” Tae hummed, skimming his nose down Jimin’s neck as his hand tugged at his hair. Jimin’s eyes fluttered shut.

“Yeah, so, I’m gonna get more snacks,” Jungkook said, rolling his eyes and practically running to the kitchen.

Jin sighed, sidestepping the lovebirds. Trying to keep them apart was a futile mission.

He found himself face-to-face with Namjoon, who had shed his blazer and was clad in his beige sweater, the sleeves pushed up to his elbows and the fabric gently clinging to his wide shoulders. Jin swallowed, wishing he’d grabbed another glass of wine. But this was fine. Namjoon was his business partner. And hadn’t he just told Hobi they were friends? No reason to be nervous.

“Hey,” he said, attempting a genuine smile.

“Hey, stranger,” Namjoon chuckled. He grabbed Jin’s arm and gently tugged him a few steps further into the room. Jin’s pulse went wild at the casual touch. “Sorry, just figured I’d move you out of range.”

Jin glanced back to see the lovebird’s hands roaming over each other dangerously. He sighed.

“Well, looks like all of my hard work is going down the drain.”

“They’re dedicated, that’s for sure. But I like them. They’re genuine, and I can tell they care deeply about everyone in this room.” His gaze trailed to the kitchen. “But, I think Jungkook’s been having a hard time processing the, uh… events of the evening.”

Jin leaned in confidentially, turning a bit to observe Jungkook raiding the snacks table. “They’re his best friends, you know? He gets a little jealous when they’re in an overly romantic mood. He normally handles it pretty well, but sometimes it makes him feel a bit left out.” He turned back to Namjoon. “I really appreciate you coming over to talk with him tonight. Otherwise, he would have moped in the corner until I dragged him home.”

Namjoon sipped his beer. “Oh, it was nothing. I enjoy talking with the kid. He’s got a lot of energy and drive. I respect that.”

“Did he tell you he won his qualifying match?” 

“Oh, yes,” Namjoon grinned. “He gave me the full play-by-play. I felt like I was really there.” He glanced down at Jin’s empty hand. “Do you need another drink? I feel rude drinking mine in front of you.”

Jin hesitated. He wasn’t sure if another drink was a good idea, now that he was actually talking with Namjoon instead of observing him from a distance. 

“Got you covered, bro.”

Jungkook had appeared with a glass of wine in one hand and a heaping plate of snacks in the other. He handed the drink to Jin and settled between them, shoving a tiny pastry into his mouth.

“So, what do you guys –”

“Hey, Kookie! Come hang out with us!” Jimin was suddenly tugging on Jungkook’s sleeve, Tae attached to his other arm. Jungkook narrowed his eyes.

“Oh, are you guys suddenly done sucking faces?”

“Aw, Kook, don’t be like that,” Tae pouted, furrowing his brows adorably.

The boxer sighed, but Jin could tell he was secretly pleased. “Fine. But you can’t have any of my food.”

Jimin beamed and tugged him across the room, Tae flashing Jin a thumbs-up as he passed. Jin cocked his head in confusion.

“Looks like Jungkook’s finally being included,” Namjoon said, smirking into his beer.         

“Yeah, lucky him. He gets to hang out with a couple of dumbasses, I’m super jealous.”

Namjoon’s eyes widened and he choked on his beer, coughing and laughing simultaneously. “Damn, Seokjin, your humor always catches me off guard.”

Jin cocked an eyebrow and sipped his wine. “Oh? I didn’t realize I was humorous,” he teased. It was probably a trick of the light, but he could have sworn Namjoon’s cheeks darkened a shade.

“That’s why it’s so funny. You’re just brutally honest, you know, in a funny way.”

Jin chuckled and bit his cheek. “Ok, then. Whatever you say.”

He glanced over Namjoon’s shoulder and spotted Hoseok chatting with their friend Mark, a waiter at one of their old spots. His hand was laced with Yoongi’s, the smaller man seeming content to sip his beer and let Hoseok carry the conversation, his thumb brushing across Hobi’s knuckles as he watched him with starry eyes.

“I’m glad they found each other,” he said softly. Namjoon looked over his shoulder, seeing the objects of Jin’s focus.

“Me, too,” he agreed. “Though, one time, I walked into Yoongi’s office at the end of one of their video calls. I haven’t seen him be that lovey-dovey since he used to write poetry in college. It was honestly kind of gross.”

Jin laughed, accidentally clutching Namjoon’s arm as he stumbled forward in giggles. Jin quickly removed his hand, but not before he felt the firm muscles hiding beneath the sweater’s soft fabric.

“Sorry,” he breathed.

“Quite alright,” Namjoon said with a smile, his face slightly pink, probably from the beer.

Jin took another gulp of wine. “He seems like a really good guy. Hoseok’s been through a lot. A lot of stuff that no one as beautiful and thoughtful and loyal as him should ever have to go through. But when Yoongi looks at him… I can tell my Hobi is finally in the right hands.”

Namjoon’s gaze was suddenly intense. Jin felt heat creep up his neck. When did their bodies get so close? Shit, he could smell Namjoon’s cologne, that mind-addling scent that always scrambled his thoughts and made his pulse hum, and the businessman was still looking at him, Jin pulled into his gaze as though Namjoon was Jupiter and Jin was an unsuspecting moon.

“Yeah,” Namjoon murmured.

He finally looked away to take a sip of beer. Jin had to resist exhaling in relief. He subtly pressed a hand to his cheek; it felt hot, embarrassingly so. He decided this would be his last glass of wine for the night. His feelings were confusing enough without alcohol muddling his reactions.

Glancing over Namjoon’s shoulder again, he saw Hoseok staring at him, a grin stretching his cheeks. He shot Jin a wink. Jin frowned at him.

An arm suddenly wrapped around his shoulder, an identical arm slinging across Namjoon’s. Tae slumped between them, his cheeks glowing and eyes slightly glassy.

“Y’guys,” he whispered loudly. “Look at my boyfriend. Look, s’right over there.” He pointed behind him, where Jimin was perched on the couch with Jungkook, his hair fluffy from Jin’s towel work. “Isn’t he the mos’ beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” Tae smiled dopily. “Tha’s my boyfriend.”

Namjoon subtly adjusted his position to support more of Tae’s weight. Tae cocked his head, eyeing the businessman up and down.

“You, sir, are a very attractive man. But even you aren’t as handsome as my Jimin.” His eyes became unfocused, his voice lilting musically. “Nobody in the whoooole wide world is as perfect as my Jimin.”

Namjoon bit his lip around a grin. “Yes, Jimin is a very beautiful man.”

Tae turned an accusing gaze towards him. “Hey. Don’ hit on my boyfriend.”

“Sorry,” Namjoon snickered.

Tae narrowed his eyes at him before nodding in approval. “S’okay. Hey, you wanna know a secret? My boyfriend has a huge dick, too. He’s so beautiful, but he also has a massive –”

Jin slapped a hand over Tae’s mouth. “Tae, you really need to work on your dick-to-mouth filter.”

Tae giggled against his hand. “Oops,” he said, the sound muffled. Jin cautiously removed his hand, and Tae leaned forward.

“Jimin says that’s private information,” he stage-whispered. He shrugged, leaning back. “But I think ev’ryone should know ‘bout it. My beautiful, big-dicked boyfriend.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jin muttered. Namjoon was shaking, his hand barely managing to muffle the laughter threatening to escape his body.

“What’s going on over here, eh?” Hoseok’s voice was like a life preserver, his eyes brimming with mirth as he took in the situation. Jin could tell he’d heard the end of Taehyung’s statement. Their friend group was used to the man singing his boyfriend’s praises in graphic detail, but when he did it in public, Hobi always seemed to sense when Tae was about to get himself in trouble.

“Tae was just about to grab a glass of water from the kitchen,” Jin said pointedly.

“Excellent. Yoongi and I will keep Namjoon company while you escort him.”

Hobi wiggled his eyebrows in victory, Jin glaring as he wrapped an arm firmly around Tae’s waist. “Alright, bud, here we go.”

When they’d stumbled their way into the kitchen, Jin propped Tae against the counter and filled two glasses of water, one for each of them. Tae gulped his down quickly, a few trails of liquid trickling down his chin.

“You and Namjoon are cute.”

Jin nearly choked on his water. “What?”

“Jimin and I both think so,” Tae said matter-of-factly.

Jin blinked rapidly, confusion mixing with something unfamiliar. 

“Um…”

“Oh, there you are!”

Jungkook stepped into the kitchen, Jimin trailing behind him.

“Chimmy!” Tae sang, opening his arms wide. Jimin smiled widely and flung himself into Tae’s body, both giggling as they struggled to stay upright.

“I was worried Tae had fallen out of a window or something,” Jungkook snickered, taking Jin’s water and downing the rest of the glass.

“Maybe it’s time for this party to wrap up, hm?” Jin glanced at the couple, and, sure enough, Jimin had Tae pressed against the counter, their bodies fused together as if they were attempting to merge into a single entity. Jin was thankful the rest of the party blocked out any lewd noises they were making.

“Yeah, good call,” Jungkook muttered. “I wanna get out of here before they start having sex on the counter.” He glanced around the room. “I’ll start packing up the food, I’m sure people will take the hint and start heading out.”

Jin nodded. “I’ll help.”

“Nah, bro, you head home. You’ve dealt with their shenanigans enough tonight. I’ll clean up here and meet you at home.”   

Jin ruffled the boy’s hair. “Thanks, Kook.”

Jungkook snorted. “Just get your tipsy ass back in one piece.”  

Jin slapped his shoulder and headed back to the living room, quickly spotting Hobi chatting with Namjoon.

“Party’s winding down,” he told them. “The lovebirds are getting bold, so Kook is helping clean up before locking them in the bedroom and running for his life.”

Hoseok cackled. “You taking the bus home? I’d offer a ride, but Yoongi’s in the bathroom and we took an Uber here, anyway.”

Namjoon frowned. “The bus isn’t safe this time of night. Let me drive you home, I’ve only had two beers.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Jin said, gesturing nonchalantly

“I’m with Namjoon on this one,” Hoseok interjected, ignoring Jin’s look of betrayal. “The bus is full of all sorts of hoodlums.”

“Then it’s settled,” Namjoon said with a dimpled smile. He took a step towards the kitchen, but stopped, expression wary. “Ah, normally I would thank them for hosting me, but perhaps I’ll do it another time.” Jin glanced into the kitchen to see the lovebirds practically grinding against the cupboards, Jungkook bustling around them and diligently keeping his gaze averted as he packed up the remaining food and dishes.

“I can’t unsee that,” Hobi muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Yeah, Namjoon, I’d say leave while you still have the chance.” Jin grabbed his wrist to pull the businessman towards the door, but quickly dropped it when his mind caught up with his actions. He internally cursed that last glass of wine.         

Namjoon cleared his throat. “Um, my blazer, I have to find my blazer,” he said somewhat frantically, scurrying towards the hall closet. Hoseok looked between them, eyes twinkling.

“Interesting.”

“Oh, shut up,” Jin huffed, Hobi laughing gleefully as the chef stalked to the front door, grabbing his jacket off the back of the couch and following Namjoon into the hallway.

The walk to the car was quiet, Jin trying to ignore the smell of Namjoon’s cologne and the way his long legs powerfully strode down the sidewalk as if it were a runway.

The familiar black vehicle flashed its lights in welcome as Jin slid into the passenger seat. Namjoon turned the key and the engine purred to life, his face illuminated by the soft red lighting of the front dash.

“Thanks again for inviting me,” Namjoon said, flicking on the blinker as he turned out of the parking lot. “I had a really great time. Despite the aggressive PDA.”

Jin laughed, his tension fading. “Well, thanks for coming. It meant a lot to see you getting along with my family, since they’re as much part of the restaurant as I am.”

Namjoon bit his lip, glancing at Jin’s profile. “You know, you’ve never mentioned anything about your biological family, aside from Jungkook. I don’t mean to press, but… actually, forget I mentioned it. It’s none of my business, anyway.”

Jin stared out the window, his hands fidgeting in his lap. His “real” family was never a topic he enjoyed discussing, but he was still buzzed from the party, and Namjoon’s question was harmless enough.

“My dad’s a prick and my rich, snobby family sucks,” Jin said bluntly. Namjoon blinked in surprise. “They disowned me for wanting to be a chef, and then they threatened to disown Jungkook for wanting to be a boxer, which is why he ran away. So they’re not family anymore. Tae, Jimin, Hobi, and Jungkook are the only family I’ll ever need.”

Namjoon was silent. The car hummed as streetlights slid by.

“That’s shitty,” Namjoon finally said. “I’m sorry.”

Jin shrugged. “It’s in the past. I honestly don’t spare them much thought anymore.”

They pulled up to the curb, Jin recognizing the outline of his apartment complex. He sighed and turned to thank Namjoon, only to find the businessman’s gaze intensely focused, his mouth set determinedly as his eyes brimmed with something fervid, almost fiery. Jin’s breath caught in his throat. The car suddenly felt small and far too warm.

“I hope you know that you’re nothing like those people,” Namjoon said fervently, voice low. “You’re generous, kind, and loyal, and if they were willing to throw that away all because you wanted to follow your passion, then fuck them. They don’t deserve you.”

Namjoon’s eyes shone with sincerity and his words struck a distant chord in Jin’s chest. He couldn’t break his gaze away. He was rooted, the air suddenly charged, Namjoon’s cheekbones highlighted in the glow from the dashboard, his eyes burning with something unidentifiable that had Jin’s blood simmering. It must have been the alcohol, because he had the sudden urge to run his finger over Namjoon’s lips to see if they were as soft as they looked, wondering what they’d feel like against his own.

Jin blinked heavily against his thoughts, but his imagination was humming to life and his skin felt hot and Namjoon looked so inviting and –

Jin jolted away and threw open the door, the cool night air sweeping into the space and blessedly snapping him out of whatever drunken thought process had altered his grip on reality. He gulped in the fresh air, lungs burning as if he’d just finished sprinting a mile. He knew he needed to say something, urged his brain to find the words.

“Thanks,” he managed, voice cracking imperceptibly. “That’s, uh, really kind of you to say.”

“You’re welcome. And I meant every word.” Namjoon leaned back in his seat, smiling softly. “You’d better get inside before the hoodlums come to steal my car.”

“Oh, um, right.” Jin stepped out of the car, clinging to its glossy exterior as he tried to steady himself. He shut the door behind him, stepping onto the sidewalk. He heard a window roll down.

“Seokjin.” He turned. Namjoon was leaning towards the window in that damnably clingy sweater, one hand perched on the steering wheel and the other resting on the back of Jin’s empty seat, a sweet smile on his lips. “Have a good night.”

“Yeah, you too,” he replied, a beat too late. He sent Namjoon a lame wave before rushing to his apartment, his fingers trembling as he unlocked the door. He immediately went to the kitchen, running his fingers over his rosemary plant as he gulped down a glass of cold water, but it didn’t quell the warmth singing through his veins. What was happening? Why did Namjoon’s smile suddenly make him want to hyperventilate?

It was just the alcohol talking, surely. Jin hadn’t been with a man for a long time, instead pouring all of his efforts into the restaurant, so his body was simply overreacting to the combination of a few drinks and a handsome, successful man in close proximity.

Jin tried to reason with himself as he padded to the bathroom, grumbling nonsensically as he stripped down and took an icy cold shower. He was shivering by the time he stepped out of the bathroom, but his skin no longer felt hot and his blood wasn’t ablaze.

He went back to his room, threw on a pair of sweatpants, and climbed into bed. Unfortunately, the shower couldn’t do anything about the fire raging through Jin’s mind. He slept fitfully, tossing and turning until he was hopelessly tangled in the sheets, and when he awoke the next morning, it was from an alarmingly heated dream involving cheeky dimples, long legs, and an all-too-tempting pair of lips.

“Well, shit,” Jin muttered, glaring against the sunlight peeping above the horizon.

Maybe his feelings for Namjoon weren’t strictly businesslike, after all.

Chapter Text

Jin stared into his steaming bowl of ramen, stirring it absentmindedly. His thoughts resembled the food: a hot, jumbled mess.

Ever since Saturday’s party, he’d been reeling at the feelings bubbling beneath the surface of his sanity. On Sunday, after waking up with his pulse racing and Namjoon’s piercing gaze seared into his mind, he’d gone through his daily routine in a haze, hanging onto his lucidity by a thread and trying to understand how he’d gotten himself into this situation. When had his feelings began to shift? And now that they’d been unleashed, what was he supposed to do about them? Maybe they were just a fluke. His dream could have simply been a side effect of one too many glasses of wine.

But on Monday, he quickly learned that denial wasn’t an option. Everything Namjoon did sent a flutter through his stomach. He caught himself staring at the way Namjoon’s brow creased when he was reading quickly, how his hair grew increasingly tousled as he ran his hands through it while thinking, how he kept dropping his pen and his glasses would threaten to slide off his nose every time he sheepishly reached down to grab it. The businessman frequently had to repeat himself during their meetings because Jin was lost in his tangled thoughts.

He was slowly descending into a panic as he realized that his feelings were more than some horny phase. His friends’ off-handed comments suddenly made sense, narrating his days like an annoying, inescapable soundtrack.

I can tell something’s different. It’s in your eyes when you look at him… You and Namjoon are cute. Jimin and I both think so… Bro, it sounds like you like him…”

He’d cursed the restaurant for being closed on Mondays. He’d needed an escape, so after his meeting with Namjoon, he’d ran home and worked through the most challenging and time-consuming recipes in his cookbooks, huffing rosemary as if it were a drug. Jungkook arrived home from practice to find an unexpected feast, and thankfully, he was too preoccupied by the pressure of his next upcoming match to notice the frantic light in Jin’s eyes.

Now, on Tuesday afternoon, he found himself hypnotized by his bowl of ramen, avoiding the astute gaze of the man across the table. He and Namjoon had just finished inspecting the progress on the new restaurant’s renovations, and Jin had barely been able to focus on what the contractor was saying, instead preoccupied by the way Namjoon’s smooth voice carried through the half-constructed dining room on wings of velvet. He glared angrily at his spicy noodles. His focus should be on his restaurant, not on his troublesome feelings. He resented the way Namjoon’s presence was turning his reality upside down.

Namjoon cleared his throat. “Everything ok? You’ve seemed a bit distracted the past couple of days. You barely even reacted when the contractor mentioned the renovations are on track to be finished a week early.”

Jin sighed, poking at his ramen moodily. “Sorry. I’m just… nervous. Jungkook’s first official match of the city tournament is tomorrow, and it’s got me a bit on edge.” It wasn’t a complete lie; whenever Jungkook entered the ring, Jin’s brotherly paranoia went haywire. Jungkook was incredibly skilled, especially for someone his age, but boxing was an inherently dangerous sport. He breathed a sigh of relief every time Jungkook made it home in one piece.

“Wow, that’s tomorrow? Wish him good luck for me.”

“You know… you could come to the match. If you want.”

Jin kicked himself; as if he wasn’t trapped with his business partner enough, here he was, inviting him to spend time together outside of work. As if he needed more scenarios to gape like a hormonal goldfish and have a tiny heart attack every time Namjoon glanced his direction.

He finally looked up from his ramen. Namjoon was eyeing him with mild surprise. “Really? That’d be ok?”

“Yeah. I know Kook would be thrilled to see another supporter in the crowd. And honestly, I could use the distraction. I tend to get a little, ah, overprotective when I watch his matches.”

“So, you freak out?”


"What? No!"

Namjoon smirked.

Jin scrunched his nose. “Maybe.”

“Well, I’m happy to be your distraction,” Namjoon said with a wink. Jin’s heart palpitated alarmingly and Namjoon glanced back at the kitchen. “You might want to start eating before Mrs. Lin thinks you don’t like the food; she’ll make you try everything on the menu until she’s satisfied.”

Jin managed a tiny smile and shoveled a bite of ramen into his mouth, its warmth and bold flavors soothing. Namjoon watched him chew, expression pensive.

“You sure there’s nothing else on your mind?”

Jin swallowed. “Really, I’m fine. Just been having trouble sleeping lately, probably from stress about Jungkook’s match. Nothing to worry about.” No need to tell Namjoon the real reason for his sleepless nights.

Namjoon cocked his head, eyeing him skeptically. “Alright, if you say so. But if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know, ok? I’m here for you, any time, any place.”

Jin felt a warmth spread through his chest and a genuine smile grace his lips. “Thanks, Namjoon.” He took another bite of ramen, feeling himself begin to relax. Maybe he was blowing things out of proportion. He was letting his emotions get the best of him. If he could manage to get a grip on his feelings, nothing about his business relationship with Namjoon would have to change. They could be partners, they could be friends, and Jin could keep his feelings from coming in between.

“What time’s the match?”

“It starts at 7:30, but I like to get there early to grab seats.”

“What about the restaurant? You don’t close until 10.”

Jin took a sip of his water. “The restaurant will be closed all day tomorrow. I can tell Kook’s more nervous than he’s been letting on, so I promised him I’d be at every one of his matches until he takes home that grand prize.”

Namjoon raised his eyebrows. “Couldn’t you have asked someone to fill in?”

Jin shrugged, twirling another bite of noodles around his chopsticks. “Yeah. But it makes me antsy to have other people running the restaurant. And I kind of exhausted my favors when I got everyone’s shifts covered for the party last weekend. My buddies have their own lives and careers to worry about, too, you know.” He blew on the steaming bite. “Besides, the gang all want to be there, and they deserve a night off after all of their hard work. We’ll lose a day of business, but Jungkook is worth it.” He smirked in challenge. “Plus, the restaurant is about to be so popular and successful that we don’t need to worry about one night off, isn’t that right, partner?”

Namjoon choked on his noodles, coughing as he gulped down his water. “U-uh, yeah. I’m glad you have so much faith,” he chuckled, cheeks a little red, eyes a little too wide. He quickly changed the subject, much to Jin’s amusement. He was so easy to fluster. “It’s nice that you’re all going to support Jungkook. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again.”

Jin smiled. “They all really like you. I think you’ll fit into our restaurant family just fine.”

Namjoon blinked, his hands stilling and expression bewildered. “I – me? Part of the… family?”

Jin cocked his head. Namjoon’s eyes were wide and adorably shocked. “Well, yeah. I mean, you have to earn it, obviously. We can’t let just anyone in,” he teased. “But you’re part of ‘Euphoria’s future now, as much as the rest of us. It only seems fitting.”

And it was true. Namjoon had rubbed him the wrong way when they first met – he still did, on occasion – but their partnership had come a long way since then. They’d evolved. Jin trusted him, not only with his restaurant, but with the people he held closest, a feeling that was reserved for a small, rare class of friends. Somehow, Namjoon had become one of them.

Namjoon looked down, his voice quiet. “Wow, that’s… thank you, Seokjin. It means a lot to hear you say that.”

The atmosphere had thickened, and it wasn’t helping Jin’s efforts to quell his stupid feelings. “Don’t get too excited, you’re not an official member yet.” His voice softened. “But you’re welcome.”      

Namjoon cleared his throat and looked up, vulnerability lingering in his eyes but his demeanor returning to business. “So, what time should I pick you up tomorrow?”

“Oh, no need, I’m taking the bus.”

Namjoon shot Jin a look that made him squirm.

“No, you’re not. What time am I picking you up?”

Jin gulped. He hadn’t budgeted for another car ride with Namjoon, just the two of them, trapped in that tiny space…

It would be fine. His emotions were gradually being shoved into a secure, steel-plated box in the corner of his mind. He would have them locked up nice and tight by tomorrow.

“Pick me up at 6:45. We’ll get to the arena by 7 and can find the best seats.”

Namjoon nodded in approval. “Sounds like a plan.”

They finished their ramen, chatting amicably with Mrs. Lin before they left. As he cooked orders at the restaurant that night, Jin worked on systematically forcing his unruly emotions into the back of his mind. By the end of the evening, they were neatly compacted in the far corner of his subconscious. He hoped that’s where they’d stay.

 

 

******

 

 

When they arrived at the arena, the seats were already packed, the crowd rowdy after witnessing the first couple matches of the night.

A familiar flash of red hair caught Jin’s eye. Hoseok spotted Jin and stood up, waving enthusiastically from his seat next to Yoongi.

“I didn’t expect you guys to be here already!” Jin said after making his way over to them, Namjoon close behind. “I thought we’d be the first ones.”

Yoongi snorted. “Mr. Punctuality over here insisted on leaving ridiculously early.”

“But, we snagged some of the best seats, so who’s complaining now?” Hoseok said, sticking out his tongue. Yoongi rolled his eyes, but a tiny grin tugged the corner of his mouth upwards.           

Jin climbed into the seat directly behind them, Namjoon taking the adjacent spot. Hoseok was right; they were practically ringside, with an excellent view of the entire arena. He hadn’t anticipated the crowd being so packed, but then again, Jungkook had never competed in such a high-profile competition before.

“You guys just missed the last fight.” Hoseok had turned around in his seat to face them.

“It was brutal,” Yoongi added. “One dude had blood dripping from his nose all the way down his chest.”

Jin tensed. Namjoon put a hand on his knee. “Hey, don’t worry. Jungkook’s gonna do great.” Namjoon’s hand was surprisingly comforting, Jin’s heart only doing a tiny flip-flop at the touch. It seemed his emotions were deciding to behave, something he was immensely grateful for.

Hoseok shoved his boyfriend’s shoulder. “You can’t say shit like that, Yoongs! His brother is about to fight in there, for God’s sake.”

“Oh, right. Sorry,” Yoongi grimaced.

“He’s never been very tactful,” Namjoon whispered to Jin, but Yoongi overheard, turning to shoot his friend a glare while Hoseok snickered. Their banter was helping to calm Jin’s nerves, if only a little bit.

A familiar giggle suddenly floated through the air. Jin turned to see Taehyung speeding towards them with Jimin in tow, the latter laughing as he struggled to keep up with Tae’s brisk pace. They slid into the seats next to Hoseok, Jimin turning to smile at Namjoon sheepishly.

“Hi, guys. Um, Namjoon, I wanted to apologize for our behavior on Saturday. I hope it didn’t make you too uncomfortable.”

Tae slung his arm around Jimin’s shoulder and pulled him close with a wolfish grin. “Well, you won’t hear me apologizing.” Jimin slapped him in the chest with a disapproving look.

Namjoon chuckled indulgently. “Don’t worry about it, Jimin. I had a really great time, truly.”

“Good,” Jimin replied with a sweet smile. “We were glad to have you there.”

“Yeah, nice that Jin finally got his ass in gear and invited you,” Hoseok mumbled with a cough. Jimin tittered quietly.

“Wow, there are so many cameras,” Tae said as he glanced around the space.

Jin nodded. “This tournament is a big deal. It gets broadcast on the city’s main sports channel and everything.”

“Our Jungkookie is gonna be on TV!” Tae’s boxy smile was infectious. Jin felt like he could breathe more easily, surrounded by his family and their effortlessly uplifting energy.

“So, how long has Jungkook been boxing for?” Namjoon asked. Jimin and Hoseok were whispering to each other while Tae was bickering with Yoongi about whether the arena’s cameras were set up for live broadcasting or pre-recording, so Jin turned to Namjoon, dragging his eyes from the empty boxing ring that seemed to taunt him.

“Well, he started taking Taekwondo classes when he was five,” Jin began. “Even at such a young age, the instructor recognized his natural affinity for self-defense, so he convinced my parents to sign Kook up for boxing lessons after we begged them for a month.” Jin smiled, remembering a younger Jungkook and the way he shyly pestered their parents until they gave in to his doe-eyed charms. “They stopped paying for lessons in high school because they wanted him to focus on his studies, but Kook secretly joined an after-school boxing club and told them it was a study group. He honed his skills by practicing against seniors and eventually started competing in a few underground matches. He kept improving, but there was a lot of trial and error. It got hard to explain his cuts and bruises to our parents, especially when I left for college and couldn’t cover for him anymore. When he moved to the city, he got noticed by his current coach. And now, here he is.”

"Wow,” Namjoon said, impressed. “He’s worked hard for this.”

“He sure has,” Hoseok interjected with a proud grin.

“I asked to spar with him once, out of curiosity, and I was bruised for a week,” Tae added. “And he was holding back, too.”

“You also can’t land a punch to save your life,” Hoseok retorted.

“Bully,” Tae pouted. Jin patted his shoulder sympathetically.

The arena lights suddenly flashed. The crowd cheered as an announcer stepped into the ring, cameras turning on to follow him as he grabbed a microphone and strode to the center.

“Here we go,” Yoongi mumbled.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re back with another round of our annual boxing tournament! Have you been enjoying the fights so far?” The crowd roared, the sound vibrating through the room. The announcer beamed.

“As you all know, the winners of tonight’s matches will advance to the semi-final rounds of the competition, and after that, the winner of the final match will be the city’s new champion and take home a massive cash prize!” Jimin clenched Tae’s hand excitedly.

Jin clapped politely while the crowd cheered in excitement. Rowdy sporting events had never been Jin’s forte; they seemed so animalistic, and he couldn’t find the enthusiasm to get hyped about people throwing balls in hoops or running across a field. But, with Jungkook about to enter the ring, the crowd’s energy felt contagious, mixing with his own nerves until his heart was thumping loudly.

“And now, let’s meet our next competitors!”

Hoseok’s knee bounced up and down. Yoongi placed a hand on it, stilling the movement to tiny tremors.

“First up is the youngest fighter tonight, appearing out of nowhere and working his way up with skill far beyond his age. Let’s give a warm welcome to… the Golden Maknae!”

Jungkook climbed into the ring, the crowd going wild. They all jumped to their feet, Namjoon and Yoongi included, cheering loudly as Jungkook grinned and bowed to the spectators.

“Jungkookieeeeeee!” Jimin shouted. The boxer turned, spotting them in the crowd. He smiled and waved boyishly before turning his attention back to the mat with a focused glint in his eye.

“And now, our second challenger!” The announcer boomed. “He’s been lurking in the city’s alleys and dominating the dirtiest underground fight scenes. Now, he’s moved out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Here is… the Serpent!”

The stands rattled as the crowd cheered and stomped their feet.

Jimin gasped, eyebrows puckering.

“Is he even in the same weight class?” Hoseok asked worriedly. Jin couldn’t answer against the dread lodged in his throat.

The Serpent was a couple of inches taller than Jungkook, his beefy stature intimidating even from the audience. Jungkook was leaner and appeared to have more pure muscle mass, but his opponent was brawny, his muscles covered by a layer of fat but still prominent.

“I’m sure Jungkook has practiced against guys like this before,” Namjoon said reassuringly, noticing the chef had tensed beside him.

“Yeah, that boy is all muscle,” Yoongi added, squeezing Hoseok’s knee. “He can definitely take this guy.”

Jungkook didn’t look worried, rolling his shoulders and stretching his neck in anticipation. Jin’s pulse was beginning to thrum the way it always did when one of his brother’s matches was about to start.

Jungkook stepped forward to shake hands with his opponent. The Serpent’s hungry grin made Jin’s shoulders stiffen. They moved to their corners, Jungkook exchanging a few words with his coach on the sidelines as he shrugged off his jacket, tightened his gloves, and shoved a mouthguard over his teeth. He hopped from foot to foot, muscles rippling.

“Ready… begin!” the announcer shouted.

Both boxers stepped forward and began to circle, shoulders hunched and arms raised defensively. Jin could immediately see that Jungkook was lighter on his feet, his opponent larger, but slower as a result. Hopefully, Jungkook’s litheness would be enough to counteract the Serpent’s stocky build.

The crowd cheered as the boxers sized each other up, the adrenaline in the room palpable as the large cameras followed their movements around the ring. Jungkook threw a couple of test jabs at the air in front of them, still circling. He darted under a light hook from the Serpent and returned with a jab to his ribs. The Serpent landed a strong punch to his chest. Jungkook stepped back for a moment. The Serpent used the opportunity to lunge forward with an aggressive hook, but Jungkook ducked again and swung his fist in an uppercut against the Serpent’s jaw, immediately following it with a sharp kick to his thigh. The Serpent stumbled.

“Yes!” Tae hissed.

The energy in the room was escalating, sweat beginning to drip down the boxers’ faces, their circling intensifying. The crowd roared, and it was hard to tell which boxer had the majority of the crowd’s support, especially with Taehyung shouting encouragements louder than anyone in their section of the stands.

“Get him, Jungkook! Sock him straight in the face, show him who’s boss!” The only thing keeping Tae from jumping out of his seat were Jimin’s firm hands clutched around his forearm.

The Serpent sent strong punches, but Jungkook was smaller and faster, managing to duck around most of them and land more hits than he received. His eyes were blazing with concentration, lips pursed with exertion. The Serpent was eyeing him with a new wariness. The Golden Maknae was a newcomer, a fresh face, and it was becoming clear why the kid had advanced so quickly in a competition of this caliber.

“Kook’s doing well,” Jimin murmured, eyes glued to the match, his hands now wrapped around Tae’s. Jin agreed; his brother was even more skilled than he remembered. Those late nights in the gym were clearly paying off.

Jungkook chose that moment to make an aggressive lunge forward, landing a hard punch to the Serpent’s cheek, but the man recovered quickly and threw a hook to Jungkook’s exposed ribcage, landing two consecutive blows. Jungkook staggered back, hunched slightly. The crowd hissed and cheered simultaneously.

Jin leaned forward in concern. He remembered seeing the deep purple bruises staining his brother’s torso a few weeks ago, Jungkook brushing them off and saying it was nothing. Based on Jungkook’s tight expression, he was in more pain then he’d let on.

“Dammit, Kook,” he muttered, clenching his hands in his lap. He took a deep breath. His brother could do this. He just needed to have faith.

Jungkook straightened and began to circle again, but his moves were more defensive. He winced with every parry, favoring one side. The Serpent’s eyes traced his every flinch, his expression intelligent, and Jin was reminded of his veteran status in the world of underground brawls. Jungkook was a rule-follower, a technical fighter, but who knew what dirty methods the Serpent was used to. He hoped they wouldn’t find out.

“C’mon, Kookie, you got this,” Hoseok muttered anxiously. His knee was bouncing again, despite Yoongi’s steadying hand.

Jin’s breath caught in his throat as the Serpent made another jab at Jungkook’s ribcage. The Maknae lowered his hands to defend his weak side. In the blink of an eye, the Serpent hooked his other fist around to connect with Jungkook’s cheek in a powerful blow. The boy’s head whipped to the side, sweat and saliva flying. Jungkook tried to step back, but every time he lowered his hands to defend his torso, the Serpent aimed another punch to his cheek, and when he raised his fists to protect his face, a flurry of punches was aimed at his vulnerable stomach. He was losing ground, and fast.

Jin felt his breathing accelerate. He knew the referee wouldn’t step in until Jungkook showed no signs of resistance, a clear surrender, but Jin knew his brother. He never quit. As he continued to dodge and jab, Jin saw the fire blooming in Jungkook’s eyes. His gut clenched in panic. Just how far was Jungkook willing to take this? He could see his brother growing exhausted, sweat trickling down his bare chest as he panted for breath, his movements growing less controlled. The crowd was growing louder, sensing that someone was about to take the upper hand.

Jungkook sent a punch straight to the Serpent’s nose. The man’s head whipped back, the crowd shouting as Jungkook lunged forward with another punch to the man’s chest. Tae was whooping in delight with the rest of the crowd, but Jin’s anxiety skyrocketed when he saw Jungkook retreat again, his body hunched to one side, his chest heaving. Something was wrong. He’d seen Jungkook fight before, and he never held back when his opponents began to falter. The Serpent was still reeling from the Maknae’s hard punches. Jungkook could have easily kept going, if not for the exhaustion beginning to bleed into his fierce expression.

Jungkook straightened and went in for another punch, but he’d waited a moment too long. The Serpent parried it easily, landing a blow against the Maknae’s cheek. Jungkook swayed slightly and the Serpent kicked his leg and Jungkook stumbled, Jin watching with growing horror as the Serpent grazed another punch against Jungkook’s cheekbone and tackled him to the ground, the Maknae’s head thumping against the mat. Jungkook raised his hands over his face defensively, but punch after punch landed against his head, his lip bleeding, his brow cut, blood beginning to slide down his temple, the Serpent growing more determined with every throw of his fists, Jungkook pinned beneath him.

Jimin stood frantically. “Why aren’t they stopping him?” he shouted. The crowd was going wild.

Jin felt frozen, breath barely managing to scrape through his lungs, every cell of his being crying out as he watched his brother’s hands slowly lower, eyes rolling back in his head. He slumped against the mat.

The referee quickly yanked the Serpent from Jungkook’s motionless figure. The Maknae didn’t stand, his eyes still closed as the Serpent paced the ring, the crowd shouting as he pumped his arms in victory.

Time slowed as Jin waited for his brother to show signs of waking up, of being ok. It wasn’t unusual for matches to end with someone being knocked unconscious, but they usually revived in less than a minute.

And until now, it had never been Jungkook.

“Get up, Jungkook, get up!” Tae called. Namjoon leaned forward in his seat, eyes sharp and focused on the ring. Hoseok’s knee was no longer bouncing.

The referee glanced at his watch in concern. Jin reached over to grab Namjoon’s hand, squeezing it hard enough to be painful, but Namjoon said nothing, simply squeezing back, Jin clutching his hand like a lifeline.

They watched, waited, the crowd beginning to quiet. Uneasy murmurs ran through the stands as the Golden Maknae showed no signs of returning to consciousness. Jungkook’s coach hopped into the ring with a medic, approaching his limp form cautiously.

Suddenly, Jungkook twitched. Jin sucked in a breath, but his blood quickly ran cold. Jungkook wasn’t waking up; his body was beginning to convulse, muscles spasming as blood flowed from his nose and his eyes showed no signs of opening.

Jungkook!

Chapter Text

Jungkook!

The scream ripped through the air. Was it his voice? Jin didn’t know. All he felt was panic, all he could hear was blood pounding in his ears. His hands shook. His veins ran hot, then cold, his body helplessly trapped in the stands as his brother seized and flopped against the mat with rapidly increasing force.

“Gurney, we need the gurney, now!” the medic shouted as Jungkook’s coach rushed to flip him onto his side and contain his thrashing limbs as much as possible. Two more medics leapt into the ring carrying a rolling bed between them. Tae was sobbing, his arms locked around Jimin, one of Jimin’s hands clutching Hoseok’s in a death grip, Hoseok’s other hand held tight in Yoongi’s. Jin’s hand was still locked around Namjoon’s, but he couldn’t feel it. All he could feel was the burn in his lungs as his chest heaved in fear, the sting behind his eyes as tears prickled but refused to fall for fear of blurring the sight of his only brother being strapped into the gurney, an oxygen mask shoved over his face.

“W-wait, w-where are they taking him?” he managed to gasp. The medics were running out of the ring, pushing the gurney between them and rushing Jungkook farther and farther away from Jin. “I-I’m his brother, I need to be with him, I-I – Jungkook!” Jin’s voice broke around his cry. His vision finally blurred, the tears beyond his control as they coursed down his cheeks. His panic increased as his brother was pushed out of sight.

Namjoon tugged on Jin’s hand, turning to face him. His voice was urgent. “Seokjin, listen to me. They’re taking Jungkook to the hospital. We’ll follow them, right now. Everything is going to be ok.”

Namjoon’s eyes pierced through Jin’s blurry vision, strong and calm, like twin lighthouses calling to him from the foggy chaos of an unweatherable storm.

Jin nodded, his breath hiccupping around a sob, and Namjoon squeezed his hand before turning to the others.

“Go,” Yoongi said quickly. “We’ll be right behind you.”

That was all Namjoon needed to hear. He tugged Jin through the stands and out into the hallway, breaking into a sprint as soon as they’d cleared the crowd, Jin’s hand linked to his as his tear-stained vision vaguely saw the parking garage loom into view.  

Namjoon unlocked the car and slid into the front seat, the engine already revving to life as Jin yanked open the passenger door and fell inside. He fumbled with his seatbelt, his tears falling onto his fingers. Namjoon quickly reached down and clicked Jin’s belt into place before thrusting the car into gear and speeding out of the parking lot.

Jin leaned against the seat, his eyes sliding closed. Air gasped through his throat and his hands shook in his lap, a familiar poison leaking into his gut. He couldn’t have a panic attack. Not now, not when Jungkook needed him, when Jungkook was –

His hands fisted against his jeans, knuckles turning white as he fought to get his rapid, shallow breathing under control. Namjoon’s scent lingered on the seat cushion, and for once, Jin welcomed it, letting the citrus and sandalwood break through the panic and envelop him in something familiar, something safe. He started counting, his breathing loud and harsh in the silence of the car. Namjoon said nothing, but his presence was enough. Jin drew on his strength, the confident aura that he felt even with his eyes squeezed shut, and his pulse gradually began to slow, his breaths evening out as the tears dried on his cheeks.

He didn’t know how long they’d been driving, time ceasing to have any semblance of meaning. He didn’t open his eyes until the car screeched to a stop and Namjoon’s low voice broke the silence.       

“We’re here.”

Jin’s eyes flew open. The panic was gone, replaced with a single, echoing thought.

Jungkook.

He leapt from the car, the hospital’s glass doors barely sliding open in time as he barreled to the front desk. The receptionist looked up, eyes scanning his breathless form.

“I’m here for my brother,” Jin said, voice surprisingly steady. He felt Namjoon standing behind him. “Jeon Jungkook. He just arrived by ambulance.”

The woman eyed him for a moment before turning to her computer screen and typing rapidly. Jin felt eerily calm, as if his body had descended into a state of pure survival. He idly wondered if this is what shock felt like.

The woman glanced up from the screen. “Jeon Jungkook. You said you’re his brother?” Jin nodded, and the woman must have seen something in his eyes, because she didn’t press for more identification. “Looks like he was admitted fifteen minutes ago and rushed into emergency surgery to repair a brain hemorrhage.”

Jin’s body chilled as if he’d been doused in freezing water. “B-brain hemorrhage?”

The woman nodded, her gaze sympathetic. “There’s no telling how long an emergency surgery will take. You’re welcome to wait in the lobby. I’ll notify the doctor of your arrival and you’ll be the first to know any updates on Jungkook’s condition.”

Jin blinked. He wanted to speak, to tell her it wasn’t enough, that he needed to see his brother, but his throat was too tight for any sound to escape.

Namjoon stepped forward and placed his hand on Jin’s shoulder. It was warm, counteracting the iciness chilling Jin’s skin. “Thank you,” he murmured, writing Jin’s name on the guest log the woman slid across the counter. “We’ll wait in the lobby.”

Jin let himself be guided into one of the waiting area’s cushioned chairs, Namjoon’s hand steadying him and never leaving his shoulder. Jin slumped back, the chair hard and uncomfortable. His mind felt hazy. Namjoon settled into the seat next to him, and Jin was grateful for his warmth, his calm reassurance, the hand that still remained on his shoulder. They were the only things grounding him to reality when it felt like he was drowning in a vicious nightmare.

They sat, the room silent but for the hands of the clock on the wall behind him, the sound grating into Jin’s nerves.

Tick, tick, tick.

His ears felt clogged. Hospital staff rushed back and forth, their scrubs flashing brightly in his peripheral, but his eyes never strayed from their unwavering focus on the empty wall directly across from him.

Tick, tick, tick.

The receptionist murmured into the phone, words tickling Jin’s ears but too low to discern. Nothing felt real.

Tick, tick, tick.

A sudden commotion broke through the fog, a familiar set of voices competing for recognition in Jin’s brain. The warm hand left his shoulder, and Jin felt as though he was floating out of the chair without that strong grip pinning him to his sanity. Namjoon’s soft voice murmured to someone a few steps away, and Jin focused on the sound, letting it guide him until he felt the haze dissipate, his vision suddenly becoming crystal clear, the sights and sounds of the hospital lobby rushing into pristine focus. He took a shuddering breath, as if he’d been holding his breath underwater and had broken to the surface moments before blacking out.

His ears began to distinguish words. Namjoon was telling someone about Jungkook’s condition, Jin not bothering to turn his head to figure out who. The words stabbed him like knives. “Surgery… Brain hemorrhage… Waiting…” There was a gasp. Jimin. A broken sob. Hoseok. A low whine. Tae.

The murmuring stopped, and Jin felt Namjoon settle back in beside him as he saw his family trickle into the waiting room. Jimin sat in the chair on Jin’s other side, Tae settling on the ground between his legs. Their faces were stunned, the same pain and fear Jin could feel crashing in his own chest painted across their faces. Jimin’s fingers slowly carded through Tae’s hair, neither of them speaking, both staring blankly forward. Jin blinked. Is that what he looked like? Was his expression just as hollow, just as agonized?

Yoongi crossed his vision as he dragged a sobbing Hoseok to the couch against the wall, plopping into the center and gently guiding Hobi to sit beside him. The waiter curled into a ball, his head falling into Yoongi’s lap, bright red against the dull fluorescent hell of the waiting room. Yoongi looked down with broken eyes, rubbing his boyfriend’s back gently. Hobi’s quiet weeping shot straight to Jin’s heart. He wanted to cry, too. He wanted to sob and scream and curse the world for taking his only brother, for hurting the most precious person in Jin’s universe.

But he couldn’t. He had to stay strong, for Jungkook. Because Kook was going to make it. He had to make it. Jin couldn’t bear to imagine the alternative.

He grabbed Namjoon’s hand again, needing its steady comfort more than ever. He didn’t give a damn about being professional. Namjoon said nothing, simply intertwining their fingers and letting their joined hands settle on the armrests between them.

Tick, tick, tick.

Without the haze, time passed painfully slowly, every second dragging. Hoseok’s crying eventually faded into soft sniffles. Tae’s eyes had floated closed, his head resting against the chair between the safe cage of Jimin’s body, his expression pinched.

Tick, tick, tick.

Namjoon’s thumb traced small circles against Jin’s knuckles, like a tiny butterfly pressing its soft wings against his skin. It was comforting, but one butterfly didn’t stand a chance against the entire swarm of bees buzzing through Jin’s limbs.

Tick, tick, tick.

“Kim Seokjin?”

He rushed to his feet as a doctor stepped forward.

“Yes, that’s me.”

Hoseok sat up on the couch. Tae’s eyes flew open, Jimin’s hands stilling in his hair. Namjoon’s hand gently tightened around Jin’s.

The doctor’s eyes were kind, but the set of his mouth was grim. “Jungkook is currently stable, but he’s in critical condition. Thankfully, his hemorrhage was caused by only a small rupture in his anterior cerebral artery, and we managed to repair the damage before the bleeding saturated his brain. But his recovery will take time. The fight also aggravated hairline fractures in his ribs from a previous injury that hadn’t healed properly.” The doctor paused, lowering his voice. “His seizure was mild, but it’s too soon to tell whether it caused any lasting damage to his brain.” Jin couldn’t breathe. “We’ve decided to keep him in a medically-induced coma for the next 48 hours to avoid aggravating his injuries further. We will be monitoring him closely until his condition is no longer critical.”

Jin heard a choked gasp behind him. His own mind struggled to process the doctor’s words. Jungkook was ok. He’d made it through surgery.

But he was in critical condition. In a coma.

“I need to see him,” Jin whispered. The doctor glanced over Jin’s shoulder, and Jin turned to see his friends gathered behind him.

“I’m sorry, only immediate family are allowed.”

“They’re all immediate family.” Jin’s voice was firm, his eyes daring the doctor to keep them from Jungkook’s side.  

The doctor pursed his lips but sighed in resignation. “This way, please.”

The hallway felt endless. They traveled in silence, the air tense and hushed. Jin focused on matching his breathing with the doctor’s steady pace. Namjoon’s hand still rested in his own, and Jin couldn’t bring himself to pull away.

The doctor slowed, pausing before a closed door. “Be careful not to jostle him. It’s imperative that he remain as motionless as possible to avoid further damage.”

Jin nodded breathlessly. The doctor opened the door, stepping aside to let Jin pass through first.

His knees nearly buckled at the sight of Jungkook lying in a hospital bed, his arms laden with wires and tubes attached to dripping bags and quietly beeping monitors, his eyes closed, his cheeks bruised and bloodied.

Jin heard a small, strangled cry bubble out of his throat. He stumbled forward, his hand falling from Namjoon’s. Jungkook looked so young, so helpless. Lost in sleep, his face was relaxed, almost serene, its childlike vulnerability bringing memories rushing to the surface. Jungkook asleep in his arms after a long day at the zoo. Jungkook crawling into bed beside Jin after having a nightmare. Jungkook crying as Jin packed his things and left their childhood home for good. Jungkook at the dinner table, staring at Jin with puppy-like adoration, promising to win this boxing tournament and make their problems disappear.

Jin choked around a sob, but no tears fell. He felt so stupid. He should have stopped Jungkook from entering the competition without more experience. He should have told him to be careful one extra time. He should have held him closer the night before, not realizing that it could have been his last moment holding the Jungkook he’d always known, the Jungkook he’d always cared for and depended on like an extension of himself.

Excruciatingly gently, Jin brushed the boy’s hair off his bruised forehead, his fingers lingering as he gazed at his brother’s peaceful features. His heart clenched, a deep fissure cracking through the organ. Jin had never known pain like this. He looked up at the pulsing heartbeat monitor, proof that Jungkook’s heart was still beating, his body still fighting, even in sleep. Jin couldn’t say the same about his own.

He heard the others shuffle into the room, the doctor leaving to give them a semblance of privacy.

“Kookie,” Tae moaned, falling to his knees at Jungkook’s bedside. He buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking silently. Jimin kneeled behind him and wrapped his arms tightly around Taehyung, quiet tears slipping down his face as he rocked their bodies back and forth.   

Hoseok made his way to the edge of the bed. His face was ashen, eyes rimmed in red. He stared at Jungkook for a long moment, lips quivering in a triangle, until he turned and buried his head in Yoongi’s chest.

Namjoon stood by the door, watching Jin. He made no move to step forward, but his eyes were raw, his grief tangible.

Jin felt tears threatening to escape, but he refused to give in to the anguish washing over him. Not when he could see his family falling apart at the seams. He needed to be strong for them, strong for Jungkook. But with every passing moment, it became harder and harder to keep his hands from shaking, clenching his teeth around the vicious cries that were desperate to escape.

It felt like hours that he stood at Jungkook’s bedside, his brother’s chest rising and falling with shallow breaths, the steady drip of the IV fluids marking the passing time, but it was only a few minutes before a nurse popped her head in.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, taking in the room’s heavy atmosphere. “Visiting hours are over. Only one immediate family member is allowed to stay overnight.” She left soundlessly, and the room slowly began to thaw.

Jimin managed to pull Tae from the floor, arms still wrapped around him. He whispered something, and Tae nodded, his face crumpling before he took a shaky breath and Jimin removed his arms, keeping one hand on the small of Taehyung’s back as they moved towards the door. Jimin pressed a hand to Jin’s cheek as they passed.

“Text us if you need anything, ok?”

Jin nodded mutely. Jimin stood on his tiptoes to press a soft kiss to Jin’s cheek before taking Tae’s hand and stepping into the hallway.

Hoseok sniffled, turning from Yoongi and wiping his eyes with his sleeve. He gathered Jin into a strong, tight hug, love permeating his movements as he buried his face in Jin’s neck and just held him. Jin’s hands fisted into Hobi’s shirt as he breathed in the comfort of his best friend.       

“He’ll be ok, Jinnie,” he whispered. “I can feel it.”

Jin wanted to believe him. With every fiber of his being, he wanted to believe that Jungkook would make it through this. But he couldn’t hope just yet, not until the boy opened his eyes, until he smiled that eye-crinkling grin that Jin adored. Not until Jin could hug him close to his fractured heart and tell him he was sorry.

Hoseok eventually pulled away, flashing Jin a ghost of his usual sunny smile before blowing a shaky kiss to Jungkook and leading Yoongi out of the room.

Namjoon still stood by the door. Jin glanced away. He couldn’t look him in the face, because the depth of concern shining from his eyes threatened to break down the walls around Jin’s emotions, and he wasn’t ready for that.

Namjoon stepped closer. “Seokjin,” he said quietly, his low voice sending an ache through Jin’s resolve. “Seokjin, are you going to be ok?”

Jin chuckled, the sound bitter and mirthless. “Am I going to be ok? Am I going to be ok?” Jin clenched his fists. “Look at him, Namjoon.” His voice was raising out of his control. “Look at what happened to him, at what… at what I–”

“Hey,” Namjoon said anxiously, stepping even closer.

“This is all my fault,” Jin whispered hoarsely.

Namjoon paused. “What?”

Jin’s fists clenched so tightly he felt a joint pop. “Jungkook was doing this for me. For us. He was overtraining, a-and he told me he was fine but I knew he wasn’t, I should have paid closer attention, I should have told him to wait until next year when he was more ready, that things were fine and we d-didn’t need the money a-and –”

Namjoon’s arms were suddenly around him, Jin’s words choking to a halt as he was surrounded by a familiar warmth and calming scent.

“Seokjin, don’t ever think this is your fault,” Namjoon said raggedly. “Jungkook made a choice. He wanted to be in this tournament for himself as much as he did for you.” He pulled back, taking Jin by the shoulders almost roughly. “You can’t blame yourself. I won’t stand here and let you. This is his dream, remember? If you’ve taught me anything, it’s that your family never backs down from their dreams.”

Jin’s eyes met Namjoon’s, and that’s all it took for his walls to crumble.

Namjoon pulled him close as Jin’s body was wracked with sobs, his tears finally overflowing as he felt his heart pound around its jagged edges, his shoulders heaving with the force of the pain and guilt he’d kept bottled inside.

He hadn’t cried with such abandon since he was a child. He clutched Namjoon’s shirt and let the grief wash over him, bawling so loudly it drowned out the sound of Namjoon’s whispered words of comfort as he let Jin bury his head in his chest and soak his expensive shirt with an endless ocean of tears. Namjoon’s tight grip never loosened, even as Jin’s voice grew hoarse and his shaking threatened to topple them both over.

At some point, Namjoon lowered them onto the small armchair near the bed, managing to squeeze them both onto the cushion. Jin was practically in the man’s lap, but he couldn’t find the energy to care. Namjoon’s patient strength was the only thing holding his broken pieces together.

A hand rubbed slow, firm circles on his back, and Jin’s sobs gradually began to quiet, his quaking lessening to the occasional tremor as his tears ran dry and his hoarse cries faded into tiny whimpers. Namjoon held him, and Jin couldn’t bear how safe he felt in his arms, how vulnerable he’d let himself become.

“I’m s-sorry,” he muttered, voice raspy and cracking as a breath shuddered through his aching lungs.

“Shh, don’t be sorry. I’m here, remember? Any time, any place.”

Jin’s eyes burned as he recalled Namjoon’s words from the day before. Had that only been yesterday? It felt like another world.

“I-I… I don’t… d-deserve it.”

Namjoon’s hand paused on his back. Jin took a shaky breath, and then his face was tilted upwards, Namjoon’s hands cupping his jaw like it was something breakable, delicate.

“I can’t bear to see you like this,” he murmured. He ran a tentative thumb across Jin’s cheekbone, the chef’s breath catching in his throat. He knew he was a mess; his eyes were raw and red from crying, his complexion was splotched with angry pink, his lips quivering with the aftershock of his breakdown. And yet, Namjoon was looking at him as though he were something precious. He drank it in, a few stuttering breaths shaking his chest, and the tenderness in Namjoon’s eyes felt like a balm for the broken edges of his heart.  

The monitors beeped steadily behind him, and Jin felt his eyelids fluttering against a sudden, overwhelming exhaustion. He was so tired. Maybe sleep could give him some relief from the agony pulsing through his chest.

He tried to hold Namjoon’s eyes as long as possible, anchored in their steadiness, but his own lids soon slipped closed, his head settling once more on Namjoon’s chest. He felt a hand petting his hair, Namjoon’s chin tucked against his forehead, and Jin didn’t worry about what all of this meant, if this is something business partners did, if he was making things more complicated between them. He simply relented and allowed darkness to overtake him, feeling Namjoon’s warm arms surrounding him like a shield as he drifted into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Beep… beep… beep…

Jin groaned and squeezed his eyes tightly, but the faint noise persisted. His throat felt like sandpaper, his head was pounding, and his neck was cricked at an uncomfortable angle.

He managed to drag his swollen eyes open, blinking heavily against the morning light streaming through the hospital room window. His gaze immediately flashed to Jungkook. The boy was just as he’d left him; serene, bruised, and tiny amid a cluster of medical equipment. The sight elicited a fresh wave of torture; part of him had hoped the previous night was nothing but a terrifying nightmare, a subconscious manifestation of his deepest fears. But it was horribly real.

He shifted, muscles stiff. He’d fallen asleep in the chair near Jungkook’s bedside, his body curled into a loose ball. Someone had placed a thin hospital pillow between his head and the wall. He had a feeling it was Namjoon.

His body suddenly flooded with a new brand of panic. He sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. He’d really fucked things up, hadn’t he? As if he wasn't already struggling with his fledgling feelings, he’d successfully blurred the professional and friendly lines between them beyond recognition. How was he supposed to face him as a business partner after he’d been a sobbing mess in his lap, clinging to him like a helpless child?

He shivered slightly as he remembered how utterly safe he’d felt in Namjoon’s arms. He’d offered comfort without judgment and shared in his pain, if only for a moment, and even though he was embarrassed, Jin felt overwhelming gratitude for this business partner who always seemed to be there when Jin needed him.

He rested his chin in his palms, but he was suddenly reminded of another pair of hands on his jaw, a set of determined eyes staring into his own with understanding, kindness, and undeniable affection.

Something warm began to flutter through Jin’s veins at the memory. Why had Namjoon looked at him like that? It was probably just the intensity of the moment, but Namjoon’s gaze had been so gentle and tender that now, in the light of day in a sparse hospital room, Jin found himself blushing. His feelings rattled in their box in the corner of his subconscious. He took a deep breath, forcing them to stay put. He felt more confused than ever, but there were more important things to worry about. If he spent all morning analyzing Namjoon’s expression, he’d inevitably go crazy.

Thankfully, a soft knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. The knob turned and Hoseok poked his head in, smiling when he saw Jin awake. Hobi’s eyes were shadowed by dark bruises and his expression was drawn, but his smile gleamed with its usual sunshine, even if it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Morning, Jinnie,” he said softly, stepping into the room. “I brought you some breakfast.”

He extended a cup of coffee and a small paper bag. Jin’s stomach growled audibly, the dark scent of coffee a much-needed jolt of normalcy. He grabbed the items. Peeking into the bag, he saw a large croissant stuffed with ham and cheese, still warm.

“You’re an angel,” he said, voice still hoarse. Hobi leaned cautiously against the bed as Jin took a sip of the coffee, sighing as its warmth eased down his throat and spread through his veins. He took a bite of the croissant and looked more closely at his friend.

“You look like shit.”

Hobi snorted, shifting his gaze from Jungkook’s sleeping form, a rawness lingering in his eyes. “So do you.”

Jin managed a quiet chuckle around another bite of croissant. Now that food was entering his system in a process of slow rejuvenation, it became apparent how thinly Jin was stretched, both physically and mentally. His was wholly exhausted after the emotional whirlwind and fitful sleep of the night before. His eyes fell back to Jungkook, and he swallowed against the lump in his throat.

“How is he?” Hoseok asked gently.

Jin’s voice was faint. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “He seems the same, no worse, at least.”

Hobi nodded, turning the full force of his astute eyes onto Jin. “How are you?”

Jin shrugged, looking down. Despite his vulnerability with Namjoon the night before, it was uncharacteristic for Jin to burden others with his struggles, even his best friend. But he knew Hoseok would see right through his lies, so he sighed, resigning himself to honesty.

“Not great,” he admitted. He fiddled with the lid of his coffee cup. “I just don’t know what to do,” he said, words escaping brokenly. “I’ve spent my life protecting him, practically raising him, and now… I feel so helpless. My brother is laying two feet in front of me, fighting for his life, and all I can do is sit here and watch.”

Hobi smiled sadly, his eyes brimming with understanding. He said nothing, but that’s what Jin loved most about Hoseok; in the moments that truly mattered, his quiet energy spoke louder than words ever could. Jin didn’t want false platitudes and empty promises. All he needed was Hobi’s solid presence.

“How are the others?” Jin asked.

Hobi sighed heavily. “Tae’s having the hardest time. He hasn’t spoken a word since leaving the hospital last night. Jimin says he won’t get out of bed and refuses to eat, so I’m heading to their apartment later today and Yoongi’s gonna stop by with takeout after work.” He paused for a few moments, the air thick. Hobi suddenly smiled, tiny but bright. “We’re strong. Whatever happens, we’ll make it through this together.”

“I hope so,” Jin whispered.

“Hey. We will.” Hoseok stepped forward to rest a hand on Jin’s shoulder. “Kook’s gonna be fine, I can feel it in my bones. And you know my bones are never wrong.”

Jin chuckled and looked down, filled with a sudden urge to cry again. He was used to being the comforter, not the comforted, and this new vulnerability left him reeling.

Hoseok settled on the floor next to him, resting his head against the wall as Jin sipped his coffee. “Want to come with me to see Tae?”

“I can’t,” Jin muttered. “I can’t leave him.” His eyes were glued to Jungkook.

Hobi nodded. “I figured as much. Maybe I can convince Yoongs to drop off some extra takeout for you on his way over.”

“Don’t bother. I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach any more food today.”             

Hoseok narrowed his eyes and was about to press the subject when there was a tentative knock at the door.

“Seokjin? Can I come in?”

Jin broke out in a cold sweat at the sound of Namjoon’s low voice. “U-uh, yeah, sure,” he called. Hoseok raised an eyebrow at the noticeable stutter.

Namjoon pushed into the room, expression apologetic when he noticed Hoseok. “I hope I’m not interrupting. I just figured you could use some coffee… though it looks like you already found some.” Namjoon was holding a cup and a small box reading “Mary’s Marvelous Muffins.”

Hoseok grinned, eyes sparkling for the first time that morning. “Sorry, Joonie, beat ya to it. Though I’ve never known Jin to turn down a free cup of coffee.” Jin coughed at Hoseok’s casual use of the nickname.

Namjoon smiled sheepishly and held the cup towards Jin. The sweet smell of hazelnut prompted him to grab the warm drink, their fingers brushing briefly. Namjoon pulled his hand back, cheeks slightly pink.

“Thanks,” Jin mumbled sincerely. “What’s in the box?”

“Some of the best muffins in the city,” Namjoon said proudly. “Though, uh, I’m not sure what your favorite flavor is, so I got one of each.”

Jin’s heart gave a small flutter. Would this man ever stop being obnoxiously thoughtful? “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know. I wanted to.”

“Well, thanks.”

“No problem.”

Hoseok was biting his lip and hiding a smirk as his eyes flashed between the two blushing men.

Namjoon set the box on a small round table in the corner of the room. “How’s he doing? Any updates?” His tone was carefully nonchalant, but the deep worry in his eyes was poignant. Jin had underestimated just how much he and Jungkook had bonded in the short time they’d known each other.

“Nothing new,” Jin sighed. “The doctor hasn’t been in yet. But he seems… fine. I think.”

Namjoon nodded, shoving his hands into the pants pockets of his dark suit. “Well, keep me updated, ok?”

“Ok,” Jin said quietly, taking a sip of coffee.

“Um, Jinnie…” Hoseok said hesitantly. “I know this isn’t a great time to ask, but what about the restaurant? Do you want us to open like usual tonight?”

Jin closed his eyes, clutching the coffees as he took a deep, slow breath. For the first time, the restaurant was the last thing on his mind. “I don’t think we can. I’m not going to leave Jungkook’s side, and it sounds like Tae’s in no condition to go back to work tonight. Shit… we really can’t lose another night of revenue, though.” He leaned back against the chair, opening his eyes to stare at the ceiling as if it could tell him the answer.

“I think I can help,” Namjoon said. Jin glanced at him in surprise. “I’ve got a chef friend who owes me a favor. I can ask him to fill in for you tonight and see if he can bring a couple extra staff members so you all can take time to recover.”

“I don’t know…” Jin hesistated.

“Wait, you have chef friends other than us?” Hoseok said in mock offense. “I’m hurt, Namjoon. I thought we were special.”     

Namjoon rolled his eyes.

“I can’t ask that of you,” Jin said quietly. “You’ve already done so much.”

“You didn’t ask. I offered,” Namjoon pointed out.

“C’mon, Jinnie. Let someone help you out, for once,” Hoseok murmured, softly enough that the businessman couldn’t hear.

“A-all right,” Jin surrendered. “Thank you.”

Namjoon nodded with a small smile. “I’ll make some calls.” He shot a lingering look at Jungkook’s prone form before stepping into the hallway, closing the door gently behind him.

Hoseok hummed thoughtfully, his head resting against the wall. “Namjoon seems to really care about you.”

Jin’s heart swelled, but he quickly repressed it. “He’s just looking out for me as a business partner.”

Hoseok cocked his head to look at him, and Jin had to resist the urge to squirm under his probing gaze. Hobi’s expression was pensive. “No… I think it’s more than that.”

Jin looked away, annoyed at the flare of hope that he could feel flickering to life. He’d promised himself not to let his feelings get in the way of his partnership with Namjoon. He couldn’t afford to read into the man’s actions as anything more than a friend looking out for another friend. Hope was dangerous, especially now, when he was in such a vulnerable and emotionally exhausted state.

“It’s not,” Jin sighed.

“But you want it to be.” It was a statement, not a question.

Jin opened his mouth to reply but shut it with a snap, pursing his lips. Hoseok’s mouth quirked, but his expression was serious. Before he could say anything, the door opened and Namjoon hopped back inside, nervous warmth dusting Jin’s cheek’s at his partner’s sudden entrance.

“You’re all set. Andre will be there tonight along with a couple of trusted staff, so the restaurant will be in good hands.”

“Thank you,” Jin murmured sincerely.

“Of course.” Namjoon walked towards Jungkook’s bed, watching as the boy’s chest rose and fell steadily, his arms unmoving beneath the network of tubes and wires. Namjoon chewed on his lip for a moment, then glanced at his watch with a frown. “I have to get to the office. But, please… text me as soon as you hear from the doctor. And don’t hesitate to call if you need anything. I mean it.”

“I will,” Jin said gratefully. Namjoon stood by Jungkook’s bedside a moment longer before taking an audible breath and heading to the door.

“Bye, Hoseok.”

Hobi gave a little wave and Namjoon slipped into the hallway.

“Well, I guess I’d better get going, too,” he said, pushing off the floor. “I’ve got to check on Tae, and I should probably stop by the restaurant to whip the new recruits into shape before they open.”

Jin offered a small smile. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Hobi.”

Hoseok winked, giving Jin a strong squeeze to the shoulder before floating out the door and leaving Jin alone with his thoughts and the beeping heart monitor.

 

******

 

The day passed agonizingly slowly. Jin watched Jungkook’s sleeping form, occasionally standing to brush trembling fingers through the boy’s hair or press a feather-light kiss to his bruised cheek. His body craved sleep, begged for it, but Jin refused to give in. He watched the bedside monitors until his eyes grew strained and blurry, worrying his lip until he tasted blood on his tongue, watching for any sign that his brother’s condition was deteriorating in the slightest.

He only left to use the bathroom and scavenge for food in the hallway’s vending machine. Namjoon’s box of muffins still sat on the table, but Jin couldn’t bear to eat them unless he could share one with Jungkook. Muffins had always been his brother’s guilty pleasure. When he was in high school and Jungkook was still in middle school, Jin would sneak out on Sunday mornings and buy muffins from a coffee shop at the corner of their neighborhood. Jungkook’s eyes always lit up with the same joy when Jin would shake him awake and lead him to the giant maple tree in their backyard. They’d climb into its sturdy branches and sit against the trunk, swinging their legs as the underside of the leaves glowed in the sun and a light breeze swam through the canopy and birds chirped merrily as they visited their nests in branches higher up, the two boys laughing and talking as they munched the muffins and hid from their parents.

These were the memories Jin was trying hard to avoid. The longer he sat with his thoughts, the bigger the lump in his throat grew. Jungkook couldn’t leave him. He just couldn’t. Jin didn’t know what to do without him. His brother had always been the most precious light in his world, and now, he felt like he was floundering through darkness, unable to find his path without Jungkook’s sweet presence.

The doctor stopped by mid-afternoon, saving Jin from another batch of emotional childhood memories. Jin watched anxiously as the man flipped through a clipboard and checked the monitors, his heart squeezing in relief when the doctor confirmed that the boy’s vitals looked great. He informed Jin that if Jungkook’s condition remained steady overnight, they would begin weaning him off the heavy sleep meds the next day. Jin thanked him profusely, feeling a glimmer of hope take root as he settled back into his chair.

His phone buzzed with a text from Hoseok.

 

J-Hobi:

[picture attached]

Finally got TaeTae out of bed : ))

 

Jin smiled at the sight of Tae wrapped in a burrito blanket on the couch, leaning against Jimin. He looked exhausted, his expression childlike, and Jimin’s eyes were glowing fondly as he looked down at his boyfriend.

 

[Jin]:

Has he eaten?

 

J-Hobi:

No : ((

But hopefully the smell of take out will convince him

Oh

Btw

Yoongs has to work late so he can’t make it to the hospital b4 visiting hours end

No take out 4 u Jinnie : ((

 

[Jin]:

No worries

Tell Tae that Kook is ok

The doctor just stopped by

Said they’ll try waking him up tomorrow

 

J-Hobi:

!!!!!!!

Omg!!!!!

 

[Jin]:

Don’t get too excited

It could go badly

 

J-Hobi:

My bones say otherwise 😘

But ok

I’ll break the news to Tae gently

Get some sleep

 

Jin glanced out the window, realizing the sky was darkening in the husky tones of dusk. The day had passed in a haze, and now, despite his exhaustion, he was afraid to close his eyes. Tomorrow would decide Jungkook’s fate, and when Jin woke in the morning, he’d need to be prepared to face all possible scenarios. Including the unbearably painful ones.

 

[Jin]:

Ok

 

J-Hobi:

I mean it

Sleep

And eat a muffin

 

            Jin was reminded of his promise to keep Namjoon updated. He hesitated for a moment before switching to a new text window.

 

[Jin]:

Doctor stopped by, JK is stable so far

They’re planning to take him off the sleep meds tomorrow

 

           Namjoon responded almost immediately.

 

Kim Namjoon:

That’s great!

I’ll stop by tomorrow

For good luck

 

            Despite his stress, Jin’s heart gave a noticeable thump.

 

[Jin]:

What makes you think you’re good luck?

 

Kim Namjoon:

Hey, what makes you think I’m NOT good luck??

 

[Jin]:

Literally everything

 

Kim Namjoon:

That’s a lie and you know it

But whatever

Get some rest, I’ll see you tomorrow

 

Jin chuckled quietly, the sound odd after a day of silence. His shoulders felt the tiniest bit lighter as he grabbed the hospital pillow and scooted his chair to the edge of Jungkook’s bed, setting the pillow next to the boy's leg and crossing his arms underneath it. He rested his head on the pillow, cheek against the scratchy fabric, watching Jungkook’s chest rise and fall until his own eyes fluttered closed.

 

******

 

Jin paced back and forth, his brow furrowed, lip snagged between his teeth. He’d jumped awake the moment sun began to peek through the window and been unable to sit still. Jungkook still laid peacefully on the bed, but Jin knew this day would soon change their lives forever, in one direction or another.

He took a deep breath, huffing his disheveled hair out of his face and rubbing hands over his tired eyes. He debated calling Hobi for a quick dose of strength, but a knock sounded at the door, sending his nerves into a frenzy.

“Seokjin? You awake?”

Namjoon popped his head in, smiling when he saw Jin.

“Hi, Namjoon.”

The businessman stepped inside and closed the door. Jin’s eyes widened at the bright bouquet clutched in his hand, the flowers a cheerful splash of vibrance against the backdrop of stress coating the room.

Namjoon scratched the back of his neck and held up the flowers, noticing Jin’s gaze. “I wanted Jungkook to wake up to something colorful.”

Jin’s throat was suddenly tight.

Namjoon stepped past him to place the flowers on the table next to the untouched box of muffins. “I wish I could stay for moral support, but I have an important meeting today that I can’t cancel.” He pinned Jin in his intense gaze, something the chef still wasn’t quite used to. “My phone will be on all day. Call if you need anything, absolutely anything, or if something comes up. Please.”

Jin nodded, touched by the care coloring Namjoon’s voice. “Thank you.” He took a deep breath. “Namjoon, I… I just want to say how grateful I am. I’m just your business partner; you didn’t have to do any of this, or be so supportive and understanding a-and –” Jin snapped his mouth shut before it took off. “Just… thanks,” he finished lamely.

Namjoon cocked his head, eyes unreadable. “Didn’t have to? Of course I had to. We’re friends… right?”

Jin chuckled, the sound thick against his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re friends.”

Namjoon’s smile was blinding. “Good.” He glanced at his watch with a frown. “I need to get going, but let me know as soon as he’s awake, ok?” His eyes flickered to the table and his mouth quirked wryly. “And have a muffin before they get stale.”

Jin watched the door close behind him, a lingering scent of sandalwood calming his heartbeat. He resumed his pacing, but this time, his mouth hinted at a small smile.

When the doctor arrived, Jin was running his fingers across the flowers’ velvety petals. A nurse followed him into the room. Jin’s heart spluttered when he saw the woman reach for one of Jungkook’s IV bags.

“Seokjin, good morning,” the doctor said, flipping through Jungkook’s chart.

Jin rushed to the bed. “H-how is he?”

“His vitals remain stable, so we’ll begin lowering the dosage of his sleep medication.” Jin’s heart flew to his throat. “The drugs will take a while to filter through his system, but if all goes well, he should open his eyes by evening.”

The doctor paused, his demeanor serious. “There’s a chance that Jungkook will have a difficult time adjusting as he wakes up. His body is still repairing, and even with the medications we’re giving him, he will likely be in a lot of pain. And…” He looked at Jin, eyes scanning his expression before continuing. “As you know, he suffered significant brain trauma from both the hemorrhage and the seizure. The scans we took during surgery didn’t indicated any permanent damage, but it’s possible that some damage may be hiding beneath the surface. Until he fully wakes, we have no way of knowing how his mind will handle it.”

Jin felt the blood drain from his cheeks. He’d known this was a possibility, but hearing the doctor voice his worst fears aloud suddenly made his fear tangible.

The doctor placed a gentle hand on Jin’s shoulder. “His current recovery progress is better than we’d expected. He’ll need time, but he made it through the first 24 hours without incident. That’s a great sign.” The nurse finished bustling around Jungkook and came to stand by the doctor. “We’ll be back to check on him throughout the day. Press the nurse call button if anything changes or he begins to wake up.” The doctor turned to leave, but quickly shot Jin an understanding smile. “Oh, and I know you have a big family, but please keep visitors to a minimum for the next couple of days. Jungkook will be disoriented and easily overwhelmed when he first wakes up.”

Jin nodded, thanking the doctor profusely. When they left, Jin collapsed into the chair by Jungkook’s bed, the hard armrests and stiff cushions his only source of comfort. His hands were beginning to tremble. He clenched them into fists against his legs, willing his breathing to stay stable. He was tempted to call someone – Hoseok, maybe even Namjoon. He pulled out his phone only to shove it back in his pocket. The chair was still positioned close to the bed, so he rested his head on his hands, cheek against the mattress, eyes glued to Jungkook’s sleeping form.

 

******

 

Seconds, minutes, hours, all passed in a blur, time seeming like nothing more than an illusion as Jungkook’s face didn’t move, didn’t change, didn’t show any sign of waking up. Jin felt his stomach rumble but ignored it. Nothing could tear him from Jungkook’s side, not until the boy’s eyes opened. His pulse slowed to follow the heart monitor, its steady beeping marking time in the only way that mattered. Jin paced his breathing to follow it, his eyes beginning to droop heavily despite his best efforts. He gently wrapped his hand around Jungkook’s, its warmth grounding him.

He noticed when the monitor began to speed slightly. Even half-asleep, his brain recognized the change and pulled him into consciousness. He frowned with his eyes closed, his drowsy brain taking a moment to register his surroundings. When had he dozed off?

He felt a weak squeeze on his fingers.

Jin’s eyes flew open. He sat up. Jungkook’s breathing was slightly quicker, his eyelids fluttering, his eyebrows scrunching in a way that would be cute under any other circumstances.

Jin gently squeezed his hand back, hoping his brother felt the touch and knew he was safe. With a tiny groan, Jungkook’s eyes flickered open. He squinted against the hospital lights, blinking slowly, until his gaze met his brother’s.

“J-Jin?” he breathed hoarsely.

Jin’s heart was in his throat, bursting from his chest until it was almost painful.

He leaned forward to clutch his brother’s hand in both of his own, blinking back the tears that threatened to blur his vision. “I’m here, Kook, I’m here.”

“Where… am I?” Jungkook breathed, his voice barely more than a whisper.

“You’re in the hospital. Do you remember how you got here?”

Jungkook blinked slowly, his mouth pursing. “I was… at the fight… a-and he got me pinned to the floor… and… oh… oh, Seokie, I’m so sorry.” Jungkook’s cheeks were suddenly stained with tears, the heart monitor accelerating as his breathing quickened and tiny sobs began to shudder through his chest.

“Hey, hey, Kook, you’re ok,” Jin soothed, cupping his brother’s face in his hands, his thumbs caressing away the tears. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“B-but… I failed you,” Jungkook whispered, his voice breaking. His lip quivered, his eyes wide and doe-like and filled with pain. “I promised I would w-win, and I was going to g-give all of the prize money to y-you because you’re the best brother in the e-entire world, and you’ve always taken care of m-me, and I w-wanted to take care of you for a change, a-and… a-and –”

“Oh, Kook,” Jin whispered, his voice filled with anguish. “I never needed any of that. The only thing I’ve ever needed is you.” He held Jungkook’s face between his palms, thumbs stroking across his cheeks comfortingly. Jungkook hiccupped, his face grimacing at the movement.

“I’m s-sorry…”

“Don’t be,” Jin said firmly. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I’m the one who failed you.”

Jungkook shook his head adamantly, but another wince crossed his features.

“How are you feeling?” Jin asked in concern, one hand moving to gently brush through Jungkook’s hair.

“My ribs… hurt,” Jungkook muttered hoarsely. “And… and my h-head…”

Jin nodded. “Your injuries were pretty intense.” He gulped, trying not to dwell on just how intense they’d been, and how the past 48 hours had been a nightmare beyond his wildest imagination. “Don’t move too much, ok? I’m going to call the doctor.”

“D-don’t leave!” Jungkook gasped, his hand flying out to clutch Jin’s arm, fresh tears brimming in his eyes.

Jin chuckled, his own tears threatening to spill. “I’m not leaving, dummy. I’m just pressing the call button.” Jungkook closed his eyes in relief, but his hand still clutched Jin’s arm as the eldest reached across to press the button near the bedside. He gently pried Jungkook’s hand away to cradle it in his own. The younger sighed.

“H-how… how long have I been here?”

“Two days.”

Two days?” Jungkook gasped. Jin squeezed his hand.

“Like I said… things were pretty bad.” He looked down, throat bobbing. “I thought… I thought I was going to lose you,” he whispered.

Jungkook took a ragged breath. His murmur was fierce. “I would never leave you, Seokie. We need each other too much.”

Jin didn’t reply. A tear trickled down his cheek, falling into his lap. His breath shuddered slightly as he tried to keep his emotions at bay. He couldn’t afford to fall apart just yet.

He felt a weak touch on his cheek and looked up to find Jungkook’s fingers wiping away his tears, the younger smiling softly. “I haven’t seen you cry since we were kids… back when Grandma died, and mom wouldn’t let us go to the funeral.”

Jin squeezed his eyes against the betraying tears, grasping Jungkook’s hand in his own and leaning his forehead against it. “You’d better not make me cry again, Jeon Jungkook,” he mumbled, his threatening tone marred by the quiver in his voice. Jungkook chuckled, the sound wet.

“I won’t.”

The doctor and nurse arrived quickly. Jungkook didn’t let go of Jin’s hand as the doctor checked him over and asked a long string of questions, though Jin could see his brother growing exhausted from the small interactions. The doctor seemed to notice, too.

“Your injuries still need time to heal, so I’m going to increase your medication to bypass the pain and help you sleep.”        

Jungkook nodded gratefully, his eyes already drooping as the nurse administered more drugs to his IV bags.

The doctor turned to Jin. “Keep an eye on him and let us know immediately if his condition changes. He seems to be recovering smoothly, with no apparent brain damage, but we will monitor him closely for the next couple of days. I will check back tomorrow. He’ll be exhausted for a while, so keep visitors down to one or two people at a time.” Jin’s body coursed with relief; Jungkook had managed to pull through better than anyone had expected.

When the doctor left, Jungkook turned his head slightly to eye Jin through hooded lids.

“Where’s ev’ryone else?” he murmured, his words slurred.

“Worried sick about you,” Jin said truthfully. Jungkook hummed, already slipping into unconsciousness, though Jin could see him fighting it. “They’ll come visit tomorrow. For now, just get some rest, little bro.”

“Will you… will you stay?” Jungkook asked quietly, his voice vulnerable.

“Of course. I’m not going anywhere.”

Jungkook smiled faintly, his hand wrapped around Jin’s as he faded into sleep. Jin watched him for a few minutes, letting a few more tears fall as he let the gravity of the situation wash over him.

Jungkook was ok.

Jungkook was ok.        

Jin wept quietly, his body quaking with relief. After a minute, he gently extricated his hand from Jungkook’s and wiped his tears, pulling his phone out of his pocket to send a string of texts to Hobi, Jimin, and Namjoon, informing them of Jungkook’s progress. He could feel his phone begin to vibrate incessantly as responses flooded in, but Jin’s eyes were already closed against the edge of Jungkook’s bed, his brother’s hand resting back in his own as he joined Jungkook in the land of dreams.

Chapter Text

On the morning of Jungkook’s fifth day in the hospital, Jin found himself cornered by a very fierce Taehyung and a very exasperated Jimin.

“Alright, Jin. We’re taking you home. Right now.”

Jin’s brow puckered, eyeing the two men with a frown. “I’m not leaving him.” He glanced to the bed where Jungkook slept peacefully. The boy’s health had been steadily improving, the doctor even confirming that his condition was no longer critical, but Jin still couldn’t bear to leave his brother’s side. He could feel the dark circles etched under his eyes, permanent bruises that betrayed how truly exhausted he felt, but he didn’t plan on leaving Jungkook unless it was to bring the boy home with him.

Jimin sighed, his expression soft as he took Jin by the shoulders. “It’s been five days, Jinnie. You haven’t showered, you’ve barely slept, and I know you haven’t eaten anything but that shit from the vending machine.” Jin opened his mouth to protest, but a sharp look from Tae silenced him. “If you want to be there for Kook, you need to take care of yourself, first,” Jimin urged gently.

Jin’s gaze ping-ponged between their determined faces before he slumped in defeat. He knew they were right. He could only stretch himself so thin until he inevitably snapped. And he had to admit, a shower and a good night’s sleep in his own bed sounded like heaven.

“Alright,” he sighed. “But… maybe I should wait until he wakes up again, you know, so I can tell him where I’m going…”

“Nope,” Tae said with a grin, seeing straight through Jin’s evasive tactics. “Hobi is on his way. He’ll maintain your bedside vigil until we deem you fit to come back.”

Jin huffed, but his chest felt lighter knowing that Hoseok would be looking out for Jungkook. “Fine,” he grumbled. “But why do I feel like I’m being taken hostage?”

“You’re not a hostage if you come willingly!” Jimin sang, looping his arm through Jin’s and tugging him out the door, ignoring the way they elder dragged his feet and shot a longing glance at the well-worn chair by Jungkook’s bedside.

When they arrived at Jin’s apartment, Tae unlocked the door with his spare key and Jimin tugged Jin through the entryway, marching straight towards the bathroom. He unceremoniously plopped him onto the side of the tub.

“Stay,” Jimin said sternly. Jin rolled his eyes but complied. Jimin darted out of the room and returned moments later with a set of pajamas from Jin’s dresser, setting them on the counter before reaching behind Jin and turning the water nozzle. “Shower.”

Jimin closed the door behind him, and Jin shook his head with a tiny smile. When Park Jimin had that characteristically bossy glint in his eye, there was no choice but to obey his orders.

He almost moaned when he stepped into the shower, the hot water pelting into his stiff muscles. Days of sleeping in a hard hospital chair had taken their toll. Jin closed his eyes as he stood beneath the stream, rolling his neck to let the near-scalding water massage his upper body from all angles.

He reached for the shampoo, its familiar scents of lavender and rosemary, breathing a sigh of content as he massaged it into his scalp, closing his eyes and letting the water drag away the pain and stress of the last few days.

The hot water finally began to run out, so Jin quickly toweled himself dry and reached for the pajamas, smiling softly. Jimin had chosen his softest, comfiest pair, the ones with the tiny smiling cartoon alpaca faces. He dressed and glanced in the mirror, eyes blowing wide; he barely recognized himself.

His face was haggard from lack of sleep, his eyes puffy and framed by dark circles, his lips chapped from constantly worrying them with his teeth. With a resigned sigh, he silently thanked the universe for Tae and Jimin giving him the push he’d needed. They were a handful, but they loved their friends with the same abandon with which they loved each other.

He padded out of the bedroom and towards the kitchen, guided by a savory and comforting smell. He found Tae stirring an enormous pot of stew, Jimin’s arms wrapped around him from behind as Tae lifted a spoonful for the shorter man to taste.

“You guys are disgusting,” Jin said fondly as he took a seat at the counter. Jimin smiled sheepishly and disentangled himself from Tae, the latter pouting at the loss of contact.

“Alright, Jin, here’s the deal,” Jimin said commandingly as Tae ladled stew into a bowl. “You’re going to eat this – the entire bowl – and then you’re going straight to bed, no arguing.”

Jin frowned. “But it’s barely past noon –”

“Ah!” Tae interrupted, holding up a hand. “No arguing!”

Jin wanted to dispute his sentence further, but the stew smelled more and more tantalizing with every second that passed. His stomach growled treacherously, Jimin grinning slyly as he shoved the bowl closer.

“You guys don’t need to babysit me,” Jin grumbled, stifling a moan as his tongue tasted its first mouthful of real food in days.

“Oh, but we do,” Jimin countered, sitting on the chair next to him and swinging his legs cutely. Tae snickered as he poured the remaining stew into an army of Tupperware containers. “The second we leave you unattended, you’ll be running back to the hospital so you can watch Jungkook sleep all day, which, to be quite frank, is wildly unhealthy and borderline obsessive.” Jimin ignored Jin’s icy glare.

“We’re just looking out for you, Jinnie,” Tae called helpfully.

“Sure, sure,” Jin mumbled, shoving another spoonful into his mouth.

Jimin sighed. “Jungkookie’s condition is stable, and you need a solid day of rest, so don’t fight us on this, ok? You’ve had too much on your shoulders. Besides, things could be worse – I caught Tae just before he was about to slip melatonin into the stew.”

"Hey!” Tae spluttered. “I was drugging him out of love!”

“You’re both clinically insane.” Jin sighed, his body beginning to relax for the first time in days. The combination of a hot shower and comforting meal was already pulling at his eyelids, a yawn building in his throat.

“Bedtime,” Jimin said brightly, grabbing Jin’s hand and leading him to the bedroom. Jin yawned again, throwing back the covers and snuggling into his pillow, an embrace he’d missed more than he’d realized. Jimin pulled the covers up to his chest and gently tucked him in, even leaning down to press a motherly kiss to Jin’s forehead.

“Now, no funny business,” he said sternly. “Tae and I will be in the living room, so don’t even try to sneak out. We aren’t leaving until we hear you snoring for at least an hour.”

“I don’t snore,” Jin argued weakly, his eyes already slipping closed, his limbs feeling warm and tranquil. He heard Jimin’s faint giggle as he drifted off to sleep.

 

******

 

Jin’s eyes flew open and his body jolted awake. Heaving breaths shook his torso, hair plastered to his forehead by a cool sheen of sweat, his pulse hammering with violent panic as the image of Jungkook’s bloodied face flickered in his vision. An agonizing sense of helplessness weighed him down, burying him in the mattress as his eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and his breathing slowed.

He groaned, sitting up and rubbing his hands over his eyes. This wasn’t the first nightmare he’d suffered from recently; every night in the hospital, he’d woken up with some torturous image of Jungkook seared into his eyelids, each dream reminding him how powerless he’d been as he’d watched his brother beaten to a pulp and clinging to life in a hospital bed.

Taking a steadying breath, he glanced at the clock on his bedside table. Its iridescent numbers said he’d been asleep for nearly ten hours. The dark sky peeking from behind his curtains confirmed it.

He sighed. There was no way he’d be falling back asleep anytime soon, the adrenaline still coursing through his veins. He slid out of bed, ambling down the hallway and into the living room. His footsteps paused, eyes crinkling fondly. The television was tuned to the cooking channel, Jacques Pépin’s familiar accent quietly floating through the room as Jimin lay asleep on the couch, Tae resting against his chest, soft snores escaping his parted lips and Jimin’s hand tangled in his chestnut hair.

Affection swelled through Jin’s chest. He grabbed the blanket thrown over his armchair and gently draped it over their sleeping forms before heading to the kitchen and grabbing a glass of water.

As he leaned against the counter, he noticed his phone charging against the wall. Jimin must have plugged it in while he was asleep. Clicking it open, he found multiple notifications from Hoseok.

 

J-Hobi:

u haven’t texted me about Kook for hours

Jimin must have convinced u to sleep :D

Or forcibly knocked u out

Hehe

 

[Two hours later]

 

Kook is doing gr8

They lowered his pain meds

Doc says they’ll move him out of the ICU soon

 

[Thirty minutes later]

 

Got Kook to laugh –

Told him about that time u and Mark nearly got fired

 

            Jin snorted.

 

[Jin]:

Which time?

 

J-Hobi:

HELLO SLEEPING BEAUTY :D :D

U know

When boss caught u in the fridge fixing a hole near Mark’s zipper

But it looked like u were giving him a BJ ;P

Lmaoooo u were so startled u stabbed Mark in the groin with the sewing needle

Good times

 

[Jin]:

You

Are

The

WORST

You told that story to JK???

 

J-Hobi:

YES hahahahahahahaah

He laughed so hard he cried

Tho maybe he cried cuz laughing hurt his ribs :O

 

[Jin]:

Istg Hobi

He’d better not be in worse shape than when I left him

I will end our friendship on the spot

 

J-Hobi:

Wow chill dude

U have so little faith in me : (((((((((

Laughter is good 4 u

It releases healing endorphins

So I actually made him BETTER

Suck it ;)

 

[Jin]:

-_-

 

J-Hobi:

Joonie stopped by today too

 

[Jin]:

Joonie?

 

J-Hobi:

Yeah

Namjoon

Joonie

 

[Jin]:

Since when do you call him that??

 

J-Hobi:

It’s ok Jinnie, u don’t have 2 be jealous ;D

He was looking 4 u anyway

Said he wanted to check on JK but I could tell he was bummed u weren’t there

 

            Jin felt an odd flutter at this new information.

 

J-Hobi:

Said he was gonna text u

Did he???

 

            Jin went back to his message inbox, and the sight of a little blue dot next to Namjoon’s name excited him more than he cared to admit.

 

Kim Namjoon:

How are you?

Just wanted to let you know that Andre is willing to sub for you as long as you need

So don’t worry about getting back to the restaurant until you’re ready

JK is our first priority

 

            Jin smiled. He felt indescribably lucky to have Namjoon as a business partner, and, more importantly, as a friend. When had their personal and professional lives integrated so seamlessly?

 

[Jin]:

Hey 😊

Thanks for letting me know

Sorry I missed you at the hospital

The lovebirds kidnapped me

They’re holding me hostage in my own home

 

            He set his phone back on the counter, not expecting a response so late at night, but his phone vibrated a few seconds later.

 

Kim Namjoon:

I normally don’t support kidnapping

But I’m glad you’re getting some rest!

That hospital chair can’t be comfortable

 

[Jin]:

Speaking of rest…

Why are you still awake?

 

            Jin sipped his water and watched the gray speech bubble pulse on his screen.

 

Kim Namjoon:

Important board meeting this week

AKA no sleep for me

 

            Jin felt a wave of guilt settle in his stomach. Namjoon’s life didn’t revolved around him – he had other clients, other projects, other responsibilities – yet Jin’s personal problems had siphoned away most of Namjoon’s free energy the past few days. Now, the businessman was probably playing catch-up.

 

[Jin]:

Didn’t we JUST talk about how sleep is important?

 

Kim Namjoon:

No

That only applies to you

I’m a robot, and robots don’t need sleep

 

[Jin]:

You’re the clumsiest robot I’ve ever met

There must be a bug in your programming

 

            Jin snickered, not sure where his boldness was coming from. He wasn’t used to truly considering Namjoon a friend. With a screen between them and away from Namjoon’s unsettling gaze, it was easier to relax into the playful banter that had always felt surprisingly natural.

 

Kim Namjoon:

I’ll have you know that my code is top notch

Flawless, one could say

 

[Jin]:

Rightttttttttt

Well then

If you’re not sleeping, neither am I

 

            Jin was still feeling the aftereffects of his nightmare, and the new butterflies playing in his stomach weren’t helping him return to a drowsy state.

 

Kim Namjoon:

Nope

Wrong answer

You’re not a robot, you need sleep

 

[Jin]:

Neither are you

 

Kim Namjoon:

Sleep, Seokjin

 

[Jin]:

You can’t make me

 

Kim Namjoon:

Oh, can’t I?

 

            Jin took a large gulp of water, his body suddenly warm.

 

Kim Namjoon:

I can veto your decision on the lobby colors

I still think blue would be better

 

[Jin]:

You wouldn’t

 

Kim Namjoon:

Try me

 

[Jin]:

Why are you like this

 

Kim Namjoon:

I’m just looking out for you

Partner

 

            Ok, now Jin really wouldn’t be able to sleep. The butterflies were having a field day.

 

[Jin]:

I don’t think I can fall back asleep

Go back to your work

I don’t want to distract you

 

            Jin bit his lip. The thought of returning to bed, with horrible dreams waiting to pounce, made the butterflies stop in their tracks. He didn’t want to be alone, but he couldn’t ask Namjoon to put his life on hold even more.

 

Kim Namjoon:

I don’t mind the distraction

 

            The gray bubble lingered for a while, coming and going as though Namjoon was struggling with his thoughts. The butterflies liked this idea.

 

Kim Namjoon:

Why can’t you fall asleep?

Anything I can do to help?

 

            Jin gulped. If he was being honest, he desperately wanted to hear Namjoon’s voice. Something about its velvety timbre was addictingly soothing. But he couldn’t ask that of him. The line between their friendship and something more was already blurred too much for comfort.

 

[Jin]:

I just slept for 10 hours

Idk if my body can take any more

 

Kim Namjoon:

Debatable

I’ve seen Yoongi sleep for 18 hours straight

 

[Jin]:

Is he a robot too?

 

Kim Namjoon:

I often wonder…

But no changing the subject

Drink some warm tea?

Or maybe talk to Jimin and Tae?

I’m sure they’d wear you out

 

[Jin]:

They’re asleep on my couch

I don’t want to wake them

 

Kim Namjoon:

Well…

 

            The speech bubble hesitated again.

 

Kim Namjoon:

You can always talk to me

If you want

I’ll be up late anyway

And I could use a break

 

            Jin bit his lip, hard. Was Namjoon telepathic?

 

[Jin]:

No no it’s ok

I can’t ask that of you

 

Kim Namjoon:

Once again, you didn’t ask

I offered

But it’s ok if you don’t want to

 

[Jin]:

I mean

I’d like that

I don’t really want to be alone with my thoughts right now

But still

 

Jin was about to gracefully excuse himself, maybe head to the living room to watch cooking channel reruns until dawn, but his phone suddenly buzzed.

 

Incoming call:

Kim Namjoon

 

Jin’s heart stuttered. His thumb hovered over the red “end call” button, but he couldn’t bring himself to click it. He set down his water glass and took a deep breath before bringing the phone to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Seokjin, hi. Um, it’s Namjoon.”

Jin chuckled. “Yeah, I can see that. I have caller I.D. It’s a feature on all phones these days, you know.” His voice was surprisingly casual, as if his pulse wasn’t racing at Namjoon’s smooth baritone trickling through the speaker. He gave himself a mental high five.

“Oh. Right. Well, I’m glad you picked up.”

“You really didn’t have to call, I told you I’ll be fine.”

“Well, maybe I called for my own benefit. I can only stare at legal documents for so long before I want to throw myself out the window.”

Jin giggled. “Sounds stressful.”

“Yeah… I secretly enjoy it, though. I guess I’m kind of masochistic.”

"I get it. I can spend an entire day in the kitchen and love every second of it, even when my arms are about to fall off from flipping pans for hours.”

Namjoon chuckled. “Maybe that’s why our partnership works so well. Masochism loves company.”

“I don’t think that’s the phrase.”

“Whatever. So, are you planning to go to sleep soon?”

“Nope.”

“Hmph. Let’s make a deal: go get back in bed and at least try to fall asleep, and I’ll talk your ear off until you crash out of boredom. Sound good?”

A tiny smile graced Jin’s lips. “How do you know I’m not in bed right now?”

Namjoon paused. “I can hear a TV in the background. But alright, I’ll bite. Prove it.”

“What?”

“Prove it. Send me a picture of you in bed.”

 There was a startled pause.

“Wait. Fuck. That sounded really weird. You know what I mean!”

Jin wholeheartedly laughed for the first time in days, making his way down the hallway back to the bedroom. “Wow, Namjoon, if you wanted me to send nudes you could have just asked.”

“What – NO, Jesus, what the – why would I –”

Jin snickered and plopped down onto the mattress. “Chill, I’m just kidding. Friendship with me involves a lot of teasing, you’d better get used to it.”

Namjoon grumbled incoherently, and Jin used the opportunity to snuggle into the blankets and snap a selfie against his pillow, sending it to Namjoon before he could overanalyze it. “There. I sent you proof.”

There was a pause. Namjoon cleared his throat audibly. “Yes. Great. Glad to see you’re holding up your end of the bargain. Yeah. Good.”

Jin snuggled deeper into his pillow with a grin. “You ok over there?”

“What? Oh, yeah, I’m totally fine. Everything’s great.”

“Whatever you say. So, uh… what should we talk about?”

Namjoon paused. “Good question. Whatever comes to mind, really.”

Jin hummed, staring at the ceiling. “What’s your favorite food?”

“Black olives.”

“Bullshit. You specifically told me you hate black olives.”

Namjoon laughed, the full-bodied sound sending a flare of warmth through Jin’s chest. “You caught me. Just checking to see if you’d been paying attention. That was a couple of weeks ago, after all.”

“Was it really that long ago? It feels like yesterday that I introduced you to Mr. Jones and his sparkling personality.”

Oh, Mr. Jones. Can’t say I miss him.”

“I doubt he misses you either.”

Namjoon snorted. “Mrs. Lin actually mentioned she missed you yesterday.”

Jin blinked. “What? But we ate at their restaurant just last week.”

He could practically hear Namjoon roll his eyes. “I know. She called me and asked when I’d be bringing my ‘handsome friend’ back. Apparently, she has a new spicy ramen recipe she wants you to try.”

“Wow, I’m flattered.”

Namjoon chuckled.

“You know, I’ve been wondering... Why haven’t you partnered with the Lins the same way you did with me? I mean, you’re so close already, and their ramen is some of the best I’ve ever had.”

Namjoon sighed. “Trust me, I’ve offered. But they’re happy with their small shop. Some people’s dreams don’t stretch as far. They’re content with less, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“I wish I was like that, sometimes. My dreams have always been so big… until you came along, they’d seemed so daunting. I thought I’d never reach them.” Jin frowned up at the ceiling. “Everyone tells you to shoot for the stars… but nobody mentions how easy it is to get lost in the clouds.”

“…That was quite poetic.”

“Cheesy, more like it.”

“No, no, I’m serious. I mean… it’s hard, sometimes, to find a clear path when your goals seem so far away. I remember how intimidated I was when Yoongi and I started Bangtan fresh out of college. There were a lot of obstacles. Without a clear set of smaller goals, we never would have reached the big picture we’d envisioned. I’m glad we can help you do the same thing with ‘Euphoria.’”

“Me too. And… I know I’ve said it before, but thanks for giving me a chance, Namjoon. I know I didn’t make things easy for you, and I’m sorry for that. I’m really glad we’ve been able to work through our differences.”

Namjoon clicked his tongue. “I seem to recall that I was the one who was a jerk first, so I don’t think any apology is necessary on your end.”

“You know what? You’re right. I retract my apology.”

Namjoon laughed softly. Distant shuffling could be heard across the line, as though he was leaning back in his desk chair or laying further against a couch.

“But… I do want to apologize for breaking down the other day at the hospital. It was wildly unprofessional. I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward situation or anything, I just… you know… was a bit overwhelmed –”

A deep sigh cut him off. “Seokjin. How many times do I need to say it? I’m your friend, and I’m here for you. It’s never a burden for me. Seriously, if you try to apologize one more time… so help me, I’ll paint the lobby bright pink and won’t let you change it.”

Jin buried his head in the pillow with a tiny smile and a soft glow dusting his cheeks. “Well, in that case, thank you, Namjoon. You – uh, your support means a lot to me.”

“You’re welcome.”

“But threatening to paint the lobby pink? C’mon, that’s low, even for you. Though… now that I think about it… it wouldn’t be horrible.”

There was a long silence. “I think sleep deprivation has made you loopier than usual.”

“Rude.”

“Truthful.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, Jin turning onto his side to face the stars twinkling through his curtains. “Do you ever wonder what things would be like if you hadn’t shown up at the restaurant that day?”

“You mean, if I hadn’t blatantly insulted your abilities as a chef and had a slab of raw meat shoved in my face?”

“You realize how that sounds, right?”

“Hey, you’re the one who did it, not me.”

Jin muffled a snicker.

“But, yeah… I do. Think about it, I mean.”

“You do?”

“Well, yeah. My life has changed in a lot of ways since I met you. A lot of really good ways.”

Jin’s heart squeezed. “Really?”

“Really.”

 “Me too,” Jin murmured, moonlight seeping through the curtains to rest gently on his lips. “I still can’t believe this is real. I feel like I’m going to wake up and find out this has all been a crazy dream.”

“Well, we’re in this dream together, so I hope you don’t wake up anytime soon.”

Jin snorted. “Now who’s being cheesy?”

“Hey, I’m just trying to be supportive.”

“Mm-hmm.” Jin muffled a yawn into his pillow.

“Getting tired?”

“Maybe a little…”

“I can sign off for the night, then, if you –”

“No!” Jin’s voice was startlingly loud. He cleared his throat. “No, don’t… don’t go just yet. Please.”

There was a pause. “Is everything ok?”

Jin bit his lip, worrying it for a moment. “Yeah, I just… I’ve been having nightmares. Ever since the accident. But it’s no big deal.”

Namjoon’s tone was soft. “Is that why you don’t want to sleep?”

Jin nodded before realizing that Namjoon couldn’t see him, but the businessman picked up on words hidden in the silence.

“In that case, I’ll stay on the line as long as you need me.”

“You don’t have to –”

“Ah! How many times have we talked about this?”

Jin rolled his eyes but felt a smile crinkle his cheeks. “Fine, fine.” He settled deeper into his blankets, urging his muscles to relax. “I used to get nightmares a lot as a kid, actually. But my parents weren’t very understanding. They said nightmares were a sign of weakness, and weakness is failure, and failure is unacceptable.”

Namjoon was quiet for a long moment. “You’re not weak. And you’re definitely not a failure.”

Jin blinked. “Thanks. I know that now, kind of… but I really internalized that stuff as a kid, you know? I felt a lot of pressure. I still do, I guess, even without my parents around.”

“Well, your parents are twin pieces of shit. Full offense intended.”

Jin giggled. “Jungkook would appreciate your word choice.”

“I’m glad he’s going to be ok.”

“Me too.”

“This might be weird to ask… but do you think I could hang out with Jungkook sometime, once he’s healed? I’d love to take him to a baseball game or something. You’re welcome to come, too, obviously. I just think he’s a great kid. I want to be another source of support for him, if he needs it.”

The moonlight was suddenly blurry. Jin’s throat bobbed and he squeezed his eyes shut. “Y-yeah. Definitely. I think Kook would really like that,” he murmured.

“Cool.”

They lapsed into silence, longer than the first. Jin’s eyelids began to flutter, another yawn building in his chest. “Hey, Namjoon?”

“Hm?”                       

“Is this something business partners usually do?”

"What do you mean?”

“You know… this.”

There was a pause. Namjoon chuckled, low and quiet. “No, it’s not.”

“…Oh.”

"You sound concerned.”

“No, I just… why? Why are we different?”

By the time Namjoon answered, Jin’s eyes were closed and his consciousness was beginning to blur.

“Because we’re friends.”

Jin sighed, the phone resting against his cheek as Namjoon’s quiet voice settled around him like a second blanket.

“Yeah… friends.”

Jin tried to be content with that knowledge as he drifted to sleep. But that night, instead of nightmares, he was confronted with wishful dreams where he and Namjoon weren’t friends.

They were something more.

Chapter Text

“Jin, why don’t you head home for a bit, get some rest? We’ll look after Jungkook.”

“Yeah, you’ve been glued to that chair for two days, I’m worried you’ll have permanent damage.”

“Seriously, bro, I’ll be fine. Go home and don’t worry about me.”

Jin narrowed his eyes, his hackles rising as Jimin, Tae, and Jungkook ganged up on him. He saw the truth in their words; after being dragged home by the lovebirds, Jin had run back to the hospital the very next day, resuming his cycle of sleeping in the hard bedside chair and keeping a watchful eye on his brother.

He’d been moved out of the ICU the previous day and was no longer in need of constant supervision, but Jin still couldn’t bear to leave his side. It made him feel anxious and paranoid.

“I’m fine here, thank you very much,” he retorted. Tae pouted.

“All of the leftovers I made are gonna go bad if you don’t eat them! I put my heart and soul into that stew, just for you.”

“You look like a raccoon,” Jimin said dryly. “Aren’t you worried about those eyebags? They’ll ruin your complexion.”

“Seokie, I love you, but please, go get some rest. I’ll be fine, really.” Jungkook’s doe eyes were sincere, but Jin pursed his lips tightly, his eyes livid. Jimin raised his eyebrows, Tae clutching his hand and taking a tiny step back from Jin’s dark expression.

“Like I said, I’m fine,” he snapped. Jimin sighed while Jungkook frowned.

A knock sounded and Namjoon stepped into the room, pausing at the palpable tension. Tae quickly scurried to hide behind Namjoon’s back, Jungkook snorting in amusement, and Namjoon glanced at Jin. An eyebrow twitched upwards.

“What’s going on? Why does Seokjin look like someone stabbed him with a pencil?”

“He won’t leave!” Tae squeaked, voice muffled behind Namjoon’s back.

Jimin turned to Namjoon with pleading eyes. “We just want him to go home and take care of himself. He’s been holed up in this hospital room 24/7. We’re just worried about him.”

Jin sighed, some of his anger fading. “It’s my choice to make.”

“But don’t you miss the restaurant?” Jungkook asked softly.

Jin felt a pang; he missed being in the kitchen, making his trips to the farmer’s market, chatting with customers and teasing the lovebirds and turning raw ingredients into savory works of art. He missed it more than anything, a constant ache in his chest that intensified with each passing day. But how could he leave? The others had returned to their roles the day before, but Jin couldn’t bring himself to follow suit. The thought of abandoning his injured brother in a hospital room made him physically sick, seeming borderline selfish, even if he knew Jungkook would understand.

Namjoon made a pensive noise, eyeing each of them in turn before his gaze landed on Jin. “You know, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the restaurant, since we haven’t had our usual meetings lately. Can we speak in the hall for a second?”

Jin pursed his lips, still annoyed, but at an encouraging nod from Jungkook, he took a deep breath and stood, Namjoon gesturing for him to lead the way. With his back turned, Jin missed the wink Namjoon shot in Jimin’s direction.

The door closed behind them and Jin turned to his partner with crossed arms. “Should I be worried?” he asked quietly. “What’s so serious that we couldn’t discuss it in front of everyone?”

Namjoon grinned and waved his arms placatingly. “Nothing serious. Just figured you needed them off your back for a minute.”

Jin sighed gratefully, his tension dissolving. “Thanks.”

Namjoon cleared his throat, stepping closer to the wall to let a duo of nurses pass by. “In our early meetings, you’d mentioned wanting to re-vamp the menu before we open the new restaurant. I figured now would be a good time to start, before you return to work and have your plate full.”

Jin’s lip twitched. “Was that pun intentional?”

“What? I – Oh.” Namjoon grimaced and huffed, Jin biting his cheek to hide a grin.

“My excellent humor must be rubbing off on you.”

Namjoon’s eyes rolled upwards, but his mouth quirked indulgently when Jin’s bubbling laughter filled the quiet hallway. “Whatever,” the businessman muttered as Jin muffled his chortles behind his hand. “The point is, now might be a good time to start thinking about the new menu. We should keep the staples from your current one, but add some new twists and specials to the rotation. What do you think?”

Jin chewed his lip. A zing of excitement bubbled in his chest and his fingers tingled, his entire body craving the comfort of his kitchen and the challenge of creating new dishes. His mind was already beginning to churn with flavor combinations and wine pairings.

He opened his mouth to reply, but his eyes darted to Jungkook’s door, his brow creasing slightly. Would Jungkook be alright on his own?

Sensing the chef’s struggle, Namjoon laid a comforting hand on his shoulder, the weight grounding Jin in a way that was becoming achingly familiar. “If you’re not ready, it can wait. I just wanted to throw the idea out there, but there’s no rush, ok?”

Jin studied his shoes, mind swirling. He made the mistake of meeting Namjoon’s eyes, his gaze suddenly pinned in their calm and understanding warmth, persuasive in their gentleness.

“I…” Jin swallowed, distracted. “I’ll talk to Jungkook and see what he thinks.”

Namjoon nodded with a supportive smile. “Good idea.”

For some reason, Jin didn’t move. His eyes remained locked with Namjoon’s, something unreadable lingering in their depths that he struggled to discern. For the first time, he noticed the smattering of rich amber flecks in his eyes, how they gleamed even beneath the harsh flourescents of the hallway. The air between them slowly churned with heat until Jin barely noticed the staff passing by in the hallway, caught up in the warm bubble of Namjoon’s presence.

Namjoon blinked slowly, seeming as dazed as Jin felt. “Should… should we go talk to Kook?”

“O-oh, right, yeah.” Jin felt his neck flush and he quickly averted his gaze, his hand desperately fumbling with the doorknob as he swung it open and the heat between them dissipated. He could feel Namjoon hesitate a moment before following him into the room.

Jimin looked up, his soft gaze flickering between them. Tae took one look at Jin’s fading blush and beamed, slapping a hand over his smile when Jimin elbowed him in the ribs.

Jin ignored them, moving to Jungkook’s side. His gaze traced his features with focus; the boy’s cheeks had finally regained some of their natural color, his eyes gleamed brighter, and his face was no longer tense with pain and exhaustion, the dark bruises beginning to fade. Jin took his brother’s hand, absentmindedly playing with his fingers while struggling to voice his thoughts.

“Go,” Jungkook said, smiling sweetly when Jin’s hand stilled in surprise. “The doc said I’ll be released in a few days, anyway. You can watch me like a hawk when I’m home, yeah?”

Jin narrowed his eyes. “You’re just desperate to get rid of me, aren’t you?”

Jungkook’s smile grew wider. “Maybe.”

Jin snorted, shaking his head in faux disappointment and eliciting a tiny giggle from Jungkook. “Fine. But don’t come crying to me when Tae talks your ears off until they bleed.”

“Hey!” Taehyung pouted. Jimin patted his arm soothingly and Jin walked over to ruffle his hair, Tae crossing his arms petulantly. Jin’s eyes hesitantly rested on Namjoon, a strange heat flaring in his chest, a more concentrated version of the warmth he’d felt in the hallway.

Yeah, maybe some time alone would be a good thing.

Chapter Text

Jin glanced at the clock, pans sizzling, all burners firing, savory scents battling for dominance in his tiny kitchen as rain pattered gently against the window above the dining table. The table’s sturdy wood frame was slightly too large for the space, but it was one piece of furniture Jin refused to compromise on; no family was complete without homecooked meals and a safe, familiar place to gather. Countless dinners and endless laughter had left their marks on its well-loved wood, not only between Jin and his brother, but with Hoseok, Jimin, and Tae filling the waiting chairs.

A timer buzzed and Jin opened the oven, removing a bubbling lasagna and rotating a pan of scalloped potatoes before adding a few extra minutes to the timer. He was humming, his rosemary plant basking in the song from its perch of honor in his herb garden, and Jin sighed happily, grabbing his tongs to begin flipping a few seared scallops. He was back in his element, and it had never felt so good.

The past few days were a hectic blur. Returning to the kitchen had immediately revived and energized him, his worries melting away with every dash of pepper and splash of olive oil. He’d blown the remnants of his last paycheck on ingredients as he fiddled with flavor combinations and sought perfect balance in his new recipes, allowing himself to get lost in the process, his creative juices flowing endlessly until he dreamt of spices and repeatedly woke in the middle of the night to jot down new ideas. Strangers might think him frenzied or obsessed, but those close to him knew that Jin was simply returning to his usual driven, passionate self.

He only left home to buy ingredients or visit Jungkook in the hospital. The boy would be released soon, and Jin found that his time in the kitchen was beginning to heal the emotional stress fractures of Jungkook’s injury. His nightmares were growing less frequent, and when he saw his brother’s face, it was no longer accompanied by a rush of guilt and sadness.

With Jin buried in inspiration and Namjoon busy with company meetings, the two hadn’t seen much of each other since their discussion in the hallway, but they’d been texting daily updates and occasionally bumped into each other coming and going from the hospital. Namjoon had even sent him a couple of lame chef memes, which never failed to brighten his mood.

He felt an odd flutter in his chest at Namjoon’s efforts to bolster his spirits and at how close they’d become. As he plated the scallops and used the remaining oil to pan-toast a few slices of focaccia, he recalled their tumultuous first meeting and how utterly wrong his first impression of Namjoon had been. They’d come a long way in the weeks since. Despite his joy at returning to cooking, Jin couldn’t deny that he missed Namjoon; his smile, his kind eyes, his witty humor. He found himself trying to predict when Namjoon would stop by the hospital so they could cross paths.

He furrowed his brow and basted a ribeye with butter and rosemary, his humming fading away. When had he become so dependent on Namjoon? He’d never been one for romantic relationships – he’d never had the time nor inclination for them, always choosing a road of independence and focusing on his goals – so he really had no clue how to approach his feelings. He hadn’t felt so strongly about someone for a very, very long time.

He’d considered asking Hoseok for help, but he knew his best friend would be overly enthusiastic and tell him to confess to Namjoon. Maybe that advice made sense, but Jin didn’t want to hear it. No, he was much more comfortable shoving his emotions into his mental box indefinitely, though he knew he couldn’t contain them forever. He’d need to deal with them eventually, before they exploded and left their partnership damaged. But what was the right choice? It was getting harder and harder to hide his feelings, and he couldn’t deal with the shame of letting them slip. It would effectively be digging his own grave and burying himself in a pile of awkwardness, and he wasn’t ready to die quite yet.

Jin glanced at the clock again. Namjoon would arrive in twenty minutes to try the new dishes Jin had prepared for the menu. There was an irritating buzz in his stomach that grew with each minute that ticked past, as if an entire bottle of champagne was fizzing through his veins. He focused on breathing deeply, the comforting aroma of his rosemary plant urging him to get a grip. Namjoon was coming over for dinner. Completely business-related, utterly platonic. But his mental stronghold was cracking under the pressure of keeping his emotions locked away, and he prayed it would hold a bit longer until the aftermath of Jungkook’s injury wasn’t lingering on his shoulders and he could think clearly about how to proceed.

 

***

 

He was plating the final dish when there was a knock at the door. His traitorous pulse went into overdrive, and he took a deep breath, wiping his hands on a kitchen towel before moving to the door.

Namjoon stood in the hallway, a thick maroon turtle-necked sweater peeking beneath his coat and his hair settled across his forehead, for once completely un-styled. Jin blinked, hard. Namjoon looked uncharacteristically soft, and it was doing unfair things to Jin’s heart.

“Hey,” he greeted, a tiny smile already stretching across his lips.

“Hi,” Namjoon returned, dimples popping. He held up his hands, which Jin now noticed where clenched around a bottle of wine each. “I brought a red and a white; not sure which varieties would work best, so hopefully these will pair alright with what you’ve made.”

Jin grinned and grabbed the bottles. “Thanks. Come on in.”

As Namjoon shrugged off his coat and looked around, Jin suddenly felt self-conscious about his tiny apartment, with its chipped paint and cramped square-footage. He remembered the sprawl and artistry of Namjoon’s penthouse and knew that his own space, though cozy, was its polar opposite.

“Sorry about the place, I know it’s a bit small,” he said anxiously, closing the door and moving to set the wine on the dining table to avoid Namjoon’s expression.

“No, no, I really like it.” Namjoon’s voice was sincere, his eyes still roaming. “It feels like… like a home,” he said softly.

A flare of happiness bubbled in Jin’s chest. “I’m glad you think so. Kook and I don’t have much, but I’ve always tried to make this place feel like home, for both of us.”

“It’s nice,” Namjoon said, turning to Jin. “A home is defined by its people, not by money.”

Jin bit his lip, taken off-guard by Namjoon’s raw tone and the broad shoulders stretched beneath his sweater, turning quickly back to the safety of his kitchen. “I just need a minute to finish plating and bring everything to the table, feel free to look around.”

As Jin finished preparing dinner, Namjoon slowly paced the small living room, gaze drifting over the vibrant houseplants, worn armchairs, and cozy throw blankets almost hungrily. He stopped at the fireplace, where Jin’s favorite photos were framed atop the mantle: Jin with his arm wrapped around Jungkook after his first boxing win, the boy drenched in sweat and grinning as he proudly held up his medal; the brothers with Jimin, Tae, and Hoseok on the night of ‘Euphoria’’s grand opening, nerves and excitement glowing in their smiles; Jimin, Tae, and Jungkook sleeping in a pile on the couch in Jin’s apartment; Hoseok and Jin in their waiter’s uniforms, leaning on each other for support as they were caught mid-laughter. Namjoon picked up a photo of middle school Jin and elementary school Jungkook at the beach.

“Wow, Kook’s really grown up,” he commented.

Jin sighed. “Tell me about it. When I left home, he was still this innocent kid with doe eyes and a bunny smile. And then he shows up on my doorstep a full-grown man, like he took some fucking glow-up pill and had his jawline carved by Adonis himself. Half of the shirts he brought didn’t even fit him anymore, the dumbass.”

Namjoon snickered as he set the photo back on the mantle. “Must be in the genes.”

“Are you complimenting me?”

Namjoon raised an eyebrow with a careful smirk. “Maybe. Don’t let it get to your head.”

“Too late. I’m well-aware of my own god-like attractiveness, Namjoon, your compliment is simply another addition to a life-long list of glory and praise.”

Namjoon laughed loudly, an unrestrained quality to his barking chuckles that made Jin grin smugly as he arranged the final plates. He’d never heard him laugh with such abandon. He felt a tiny bit proud to be the cause of it.

“Dinner is served!”

Namjoon’s eyes widened as he moved into the adjoined kitchen and dining room, the table brimming with steaming plates of food.

“You made all of this? In that criminally tiny kitchen?”

“Hey, don’t diss my kitchen,” Jin said with narrowed eyes.

“Sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

Namjoon shrugged. “You’re right, I’m not. From now on, you should do your cooking at my apartment. At least there you’ll have more counter space. Seriously, how did you make one dish, let alone half a menu? You have the world’s tiniest stove –”

“Wait, really? I can use your kitchen?” Jin could feel his eyes lighting up like a kid on Christmas morning.

“Well, yeah. It’s not like I’m getting much use out of it. And you did say it was orgasmic, after all.”

Jin laughed and grabbed two more wine glasses from a chipped cupboard. “That I did. And I meant it. Just the thought of your granite countertops gets me hot and bothered.”

Namjoon’s cheeks turned suspiciously pink, but Jin didn’t notice as he uncorked the wine and poured them each a glass of both white and red. He clapped his hands together before handing Namjoon a glass of white and clinking it with his own.

“Alright, let’s get started!”

They moved methodically through the endless dishes, Jin describing each in detail and their optimal wine pairing. Bite after bite disappeared from their forks – salmon, steak, pesto, lemon, clams, oregano, tomato, fig – flavors blending magically as they washed each bite with a drink and discussed the pros and cons of each dish. Jin felt himself relax, both from the wine and from Namjoon’s endless compliments. The rain drummed against the window, mixing with the clinking of cutlery and quiet chewing in a cozy ambience.

When they reached the end of the spread, both were comfortably sated, Jin having made small enough portions of each to provide comprehensive samples without leaving them overfilled. He hummed, leaning back in his chair and swirling his glass of red wine. “Which one was your favorite?”

Namjoon groaned. “You can’t ask me that. They were all so good, how am I supposed to choose?”

Seokjin bit his lip against a pleased smile. “Alright, what were your top two?”

Namjoon sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in concentration. Jin’s smile broke free and he sipped his wine to hide it.

“Ok, if I had to choose… I really liked the spicy arancini and the veal one. With the fancy name.”

“The osso bucco alla Milanese?”

Namjoon waved his hand. “Yeah that one.” He appraised the now-empty plates thoughtfully. “But, all of these are worthy of being added to the menu. Seriously, Seokjin, you continue to impress me.”

Jin looked down, swirling his wine to avoid Namjoon’s gaze, the dark liquid sparkling in the warm light from the kitchen. “Thanks. I mean, there’s still a few more kinks to work out before they’re officially ready, but I’m glad you like them.”

A quiet snort made him look up. Namjoon was shaking his head, something akin to fondness tinging his expression, though Jin was certain it was a trick of the light, or maybe a happy glow from the wine. “That’s so like you. Always the perfectionist.”

Jin shrugged but didn’t deny it, refilling both of their glasses. Dusk had settled outside the window, rainclouds hiding the sky but a soft glow radiating from their depths and Jin’s apartment settling into a comfortable warmth.

“I’m impressed that Jungkook’s recovered so quickly,” Namjoon mused after a moment.

“Thank god,” Jin murmured in agreement. He took a gulp of wine. “I always knew something like this would happen someday. I’d been waiting for it, you know? But I still wasn’t prepared when it actually did.”

Namjoon leaned forward, resting his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand. “I’m proud of how you handled it.”

Jin scoffed. “Right. Because collapsing into a sobbing mess was a good way to handle it.”

Namjoon frowned, taking a sip of wine. “I’m serious. You got emotional, sure, but so would anyone in the same situation. But, despite your fear, you stayed by his side and faced it all head-on. You put your own life on hold to make sure he was ok.”

“Of course, I did,” Jin murmured into his wine. “Jungkook’s all I have.”

He looked up into eyes full of familiar questions, and Jin finally felt his hesitance break. He was ready to tell his story from the beginning.

“Kook and I grew up in a very rich family,” he started, Namjoon listening raptly as he nursed his wine. “My grandfather was an extremely successful stock broker, and from there, the family legacy was born. My father, Jeon Jinsook –”

“Wait, your dad is Jeon Jinsook?” Namjoon gasped, eyes wide with shock. Of course, he recognized the name of one of the country’s top business lawyers. The Jeon name was legendary.

“Yup,” Jin answered, making no effort to hide the distaste in his voice. “My family may be successful, but they’re rotten to the core, every last one of them. My dad and his brothers used to laugh about how much money they’d managed to squeeze out of their clients, or how far they bent the rules for their own personal gain.” He took a gulp of wine, as if he could wash down the bitter taste his family left in its wake.

“Naturally, Jungkook and I were expected to carry on the family’s success. My dad was… harsh. Nothing was ever good enough for him. I never heard him say ‘I love you,’ not once.

“We both had high expectations to fulfill, but as the eldest, my parents put the most pressure on me.” Jin leaned forward to rest his chin in his hand, mirroring Namjoon. “I was supposed to become a doctor. They weren’t satisfied with just dominating the business world, oh, no; they wanted to expand our influence and control. I would have been the family’s first surgeon. I was supposed to be a link to an entirely new realm of money and power.”

“Sounds like a lot of pressure,” Namjoon murmured.

“Yeah. You could say that.” Jin smiled dryly. “At first, all I wanted was to please my parents. I thought that maybe, someday, I could make my father proud of me. But I came down from that cloud real quick.”

“What about your mom?” Namjoon asked.

Jin pursed his lips. “My mother was harsh, but in a different way. She was just… never there. And when she was, it was to nag or critique us, though she hid it under a sickly-sweet veneer. She spent most days shopping or drinking or who-knows-what with the other rich society ladies in our neighborhood. She took us out to lunch sometimes, but it was always to preach about our responsibilities to the family.

“She was a bit softer with Kook – I think she actually tried to parent him, in her twisted sense of the word – but we still spent most of our childhood seeking comfort from the head maid and butler. They were the only source of support and affection in that god-forsaken household.” Jin’s voice was resigned, but there was a lingering bitterness that Namjoon clearly noticed.

“Seokjin, you don’t have to tell me any of this,” he said quietly. “I know these aren’t great memories for you.”

“I want you to know.”

Namjoon looked at him for a long moment before nodding. Jin continued.

“So, basically, I raised Jungkook more than our actual parents did. All we had was each other. My father was equally hard on both of us, but I learned to shoulder most of the weight. I wanted to at least try to let Jungkook have a normal childhood, free from the toxic pressure and constant criticism and all the shit our family choked down our throats. But there wasn’t much I could do.

“As I got older, I grew more and more unhappy with the way our family operated. I was tired of the shady business deals. I was tired of hearing my dad mock the everyday people he swindled out of their hard-earned money because they trusted him and didn’t know any better. At family gatherings, nobody asked me about what my passions or hobbies were. The only things that mattered to them were money and legacy, and how we would bring more power to the Jeon name. It made me sick. I wanted nothing to do with them.

“By the time I finished high school, I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, especially not to please my father, but I didn’t have the courage to pursue what I really wanted, yet.”

He took a gulp of wine, Namjoon reaching over to refill his glass.

“God, med school was a nightmare. I was so miserable. I studied hard and made good marks just to prove that I could, but I knew I couldn’t keep going. So, at the end of my first year, right after my last final, I went home and told my father I was dropping out to become a chef.”

“Oh, shit.”

“Yeah.” Jin chuckled darkly. “He didn’t take it well.

“He laughed at first, thinking I was joking. But he was furious when he realized I was serious. He said a lot of… hurtful things,” Jin said evasively, glossing over just how awful their confrontation had been. “He said that if I walked out that door and quit med school, I shouldn’t bother coming back. But for the first time in my life, I challenged my father. I didn’t hold back; I told him everything I’d been holding in for all of those years, and it felt good. Fuck, it felt so good. I knew he was going to disown me, but the only thing I could think was: ‘I’m free.

“Jungkook and my mother had been standing in the hall and heard everything. I remember how heartbroken Kook was; he followed me to my room and sobbed as I packed my things, begging me to stay. I told him that if he wanted, he’d always have a place with me. I gave him a contingency plan and a way for us to stay in contact without our father knowing, and then I called a taxi and walked out of that mansion without looking back. I cancelled my university enrollment and burned all of my credit cards. It was actually very therapeutic.”

“You could have just shredded them in half, like a normal person,” Namjoon said dryly.

“Yeah, but where’s the fun in that?” Jin grinned, glad that they’d managed to ease the tension a bit, though the air still felt heavy with his words. He sighed, watching rain stream down the window.

“It was hard, at first. I moved to this city with no friends, no contacts, barely any money. But I finally found the true happiness that comes from freedom. I changed my last name to Kim and erased all ties with my family.”   

“Ah, I was wondering why you and Jungkook had a different surname.”

Jin rolled his eyes. “Trust me, Kook tried to change his name, too. But I wouldn’t let him. He ran away from home, but my parents never actually disowned him the same way they did to me. I made my choice, but I want him to really think about what he wants before he makes the same one.” He sighed, swirling his wine. “He’s still so young. I can tell he misses our mother, sometimes. I just want him to be happy, even if it means I can’t keep him by my side forever.”

Namjoon’s smile was tender. “You’re a great brother.”

“I like to think so.” He stared out the window again, silent for a moment.

“Sometimes, I have nightmares that my parents will find him and take him away,” he whispered. “They could, you know. I’m surprised they haven’t already. Every day with Kook is a gift to me, because I know I could lose him at any moment.”

Namjoon’s eyes were fierce, his gaze burning. “You won’t lose him. I won’t let it happen. Fuck that, I won’t let you go through that.”

Jin blinked, surprised at the emotion in his tone.

The businessman leaned back, taking a long sip of wine, his eyes faraway. “I know what it’s like to lose people you love. And I never want you to experience that pain. Never. Not you.”

“What happened?” Jin’s voice was a whisper.

Namjoon ran a hand through his hair, glancing at Jin before focusing on the table. “My parents died in a car crash when I was ten,” he said bluntly. Jin felt a gasp bubble out of his throat before he could stop it. “I’ve been alone ever since. I was in and out of foster homes until I graduated high school early. I went to college at sixteen.” He looked up at Jin with something vulnerable swimming in his eyes. “I’ve never really had a family. Yoongi is the closest thing to a brother I’ve got. But I… I want one.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve always wanted one.”

“Well, you have one.”

Namjoon’s eyes flashed open. “What do you mean?”

“You have a family with us,” Jin said resolutely, ignoring the way his emotions were rattling in their box, pushing relentlessly at its walls, dying to slip through the cracks and onto his lips. “With Jungkook, with Hoseok, with Jimin, with Tae. With me.”

Namjoon stared, open-mouthed. Something desperately hopeful was hiding in his voice. “Do you mean that?”

“Of course,” Jin said. And he did; he meant it. “I said you had to earn it, and you’ve earned it. You earned it from the very beginning, really. You’re one of us, now.”

“I – thank you,” Namjoon said fervently.

“Don’t thank me quite yet,” Jin teased, trying to bring a smile back to Namjoon’s face. “This family’s a handful.” 

Namjoon chuckled thickly. “I think I can handle it.”

“I think so, too,” Jin said with a small smile.

Namjoon let out a breath, the sound shaky. Jin felt like he was seeing a new side of him, a raw openness that he’d never dared to know. But he wanted to know. Just as he’d wanted Namjoon to know him, he wanted to know Namjoon the same way. Vulnerability crackled in the air, fueled by wine-induced candor and the pattering of rain against the window, but Jin welcomed it.

Namjoon stared into his glass, expression brooding. “I know you don’t like me much,” he murmured. “But I hope you know how much I admire you. You’re an artist. You’re a dreamer. You’re a stronghold for those around you.”

He looked up, and Jin drowned in his intense gaze. “I’ve never met someone so courageous. Even though you may hate me, Seokjin, I will always be thankful I met you.”

“I don’t hate you,” Jin whispered.

His mind was reeling. How could Namjoon think that? After everything they’d been through together?

“Maybe I used to, back when I thought you were a pretentious asshole.” Namjoon chuckled, but Jin leaned forward slightly, needing him to understand the sincerity of his words. “But not now. Never… never now.”

Namjoon bit his lip, searching Jin’s gaze for an endless moment before his own softened. “Thank you, Seokjin.”

“Why do you call me that?”

“What?”

“Seokjin. Why do you call me Seokjin?”

Namjoon’s mouth quirked into a wistful smile, his eyes flicking away nervously. “Things were so strained between us, in the beginning. You may not hate me now, but you did then. I could tell. And I… I don’t know, it just felt wrong calling you by your nickname without your consent. I wanted to be professional, but I also just wanted to respect you.”

“Even after we became friends? You must have known I didn’t hate you anymore… right?”

Namjoon shrugged. “I could never quite tell how you felt about me. I still can’t. I figured I’d play it safe, just in case.” He chuckled, running a hand over his face. “There were so many times it almost slipped out and I called you by the wrong name.”

“You could have, you know,” Jin insisted, leaning forward with his elbow propped on the table.

“Yeah, I know,” Namjoon murmured. A faint blush rose to his cheeks, and he smiled sheepishly. “But part of me always wanted your permission.”

Jin swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “Call me Jin.”

Namjoon smiled, achingly bright, his voice devastatingly soft. “Okay… Jin.”

Something foreign spread through Jin’s veins at the sound of his name on Namjoon’s lips. It was spoken delicately, almost reverently, as though Namjoon was afraid of it breaking as it crossed his lips.

“You’re welcome,” Jin breathed, and his skin suddenly felt hot. Their bodies had gravitated closer at some point, less than a foot apart, as though some invisible string was reeling them in. Namjoon’s eyes were even deeper and more captivating up close. Jin’s breathing accelerated faintly; the longer he looked, the more he felt like there was something hiding just beneath the surface, something he was meant to discover but couldn’t quite understand.

He couldn’t look away, growing increasingly more entranced, until Namjoon’s gaze jumped down to Jin’s lips.

His pulse raced. He wanted him to do it. He wanted Namjoon to lean in and finally put an end to his tormented dreams, to unleash the emotions so thinly contained in the crumbling fortress of his subconscious. The rain no longer drummed against the window. Jin could only hear Namjoon’s shallow breaths and his own heartbeat thundering in his ears. Even the clock had ceased its ticking.

Namjoon inhaled sharply and leaned back, the heat between them vanishing slightly. Jin felt a flicker of disappointment, but as reality caught up to him, he supposed it was for the best. They were both a little wine drunk, the two bottles nearly empty, and Jin could simply be imagining the spark in Namjoon’s eyes, the adoration that shone in their depths and traced warm beams of light against his skin. He could feel them grazing his cheek, could feel them lingering against his lips where Namjoon’s gaze had touched them.

“I think I should go,” Namjoon murmured, finally looking away.

“You don’t have to.” Jin tried to keep the desperation out of his voice.

Namjoon swallowed. “I don’t trust myself to stay,” he breathed, so quietly that Jin wasn’t sure he heard him correctly.

Namjoon stood and began clearing the dishes before Jin reached out to stop him. “Don’t worry about cleaning up, I’ve got it.”

“No, no, you made all of this food, it’s the least I can do.” Jin sighed in resignation and helped him stack the dishes in silence, keeping a careful distance between them. Namjoon’s hands shook imperceptibly.

“Are you alright to drive?” Jin asked, eyeing the near-empty wine bottles as Namjoon grabbed his coat.

“I’ll grab an Uber and pick up my car tomorrow.”

“I can’t promise it’ll still be here. The hoodlums might get it.”

Namjoon grinned at the inside joke. “I guess I’ll have to risk it.”

Jin opened the door and Namjoon stepped into the hallway, turning in the threshold. “Thanks for having me over. You really did a great job with the menu. It’s gonna be a hit.”

Jin smiled gratefully. “Have a safe trip home.”

“Thanks,” Namjoon said, but he didn’t leave, continuing to stand in the doorway with something new in his eyes. Jin’s brow furrowed in confusion, but his eyes blew wide when Namjoon reached out and smoothed a thumb over his cheek, his hesitant touch burning against Jin’s skin. His heartbeat stuttered and Namjoon retracted his hand.

“Goodnight, Jin,” he murmured before turning and disappearing down the hallway.

Jin stood frozen.

His hand touched his tingling cheek.

What just happened?

He felt a blush creeping up his neck as he slowly closed the door and leaned against it. He floated to the table, his mind tumbling through a rollercoaster of confusion.

Namjoon couldn’t feel something for him… right?

That couldn’t be what was happening. Namjoon had always been strictly professional, never overstepping boundaries. And yet…

And yet he recalled the way Namjoon’s gaze always seemed drawn to his own, the way his eyes always seemed to be hiding something important. The way he understood Jin’s personality and passions and weathered his temper with endless patience. The way he supported him constantly, the way he’d so seamlessly integrated himself into Jin’s life until it felt like he naturally belonged there. The way he’d held Jin in his arms and let him cry and treated him like he mattered and stopped by the hospital to see him and Jungkook every day despite his busy schedule –

Jin sat down, hard, flooded with a new emotion he couldn’t identify. Was it possible that Namjoon felt something, too?

Something warm blossomed in his chest at the thought. It was something he’d never fully allowed himself to hope for. His hand returned to his cheek, where the ghost of gentle fingers lingered. Panic quickly set in; what if he was wrong?

But, even scarier… What if he was right?

 

Chapter Text

 

His knee bounced in tiny jitters, his fingers drumming against his thigh as he watched Jungkook slowly finish the container of home-cooked ravioli he’d brought. It was almost noon, with sunshine peeking through the window of Jungkook’s hospital room, leaving gentle patterns on the bed where the boy was propped against his pillows. Jin sighed, biting his lip. His pulse hadn’t stopped racing since the night before, when Namjoon had looked at him with vulnerable eyes and made him feel –

Jin clenched his teeth in frustration. It didn’t matter what he felt. He wasn’t supposed to feel like Namjoon cared about him as anything more than a friend, he wasn’t allowed to feel that way. But something had changed last night. He still felt a lingering warmth on his cheek, still felt the magnetic intensity of Namjoon’s eyes as he’d said Jin’s name. They’d opened up to each other, and even though he could easily blame it on the wine, Jin knew they’d forged something deep, something real. He felt like he was slowly inching up a treacherously steep rollercoaster, strapped into a ride he hadn’t signed up for, creeping closer and closer to the peak where he would be mercilessly hurled into an unknown racecourse of twists and turns. He felt the tension in his stomach, waiting for the inevitable drop.

What could he do? He was already buckled in, it was too late to bail. But was Namjoon on the ride with him? If they were both hurtling towards the same fate, he’d feel more at ease. They’d weathered bigger storms together, already. But Jin was terrified of reaching the top and realizing that he was about to plummet alone.

Because even though their dynamic had shifted, it was clear that Namjoon didn’t want to make a move. He could have easily leaned in, closed the distance between them and finally settled the turmoil in Jin’s mind, but he hadn’t.

But, then again, neither had Jin.

Maybe he was waiting for Jin to take the next step. He’d touched his cheek with so much hesitance, so much longing in a simple brush of fingers against skin. Was it a sign, some sort of signal that he wanted more but still didn’t know where they stood? Maybe Jin wasn’t the only one paralyzed by fear.

He rubbed a hand over his face harshly, resisting the urge to groan. He’d barely slept last night, tossing and turning as his mind analyzed every possible meaning – or lack thereof – behind their interactions, and when the sun finally rose with a gentle greeting, Jin’s mind was no less confused and uncertain. He could feel irritation pounding at the back of his head, sure to develop into a headache if his thoughts didn’t slow down, and his grip on his sequestered emotions was slipping dangerously. They wouldn’t stay hidden much longer.

“Bro, the fuck is up with you?”

Jin glanced at Jungkook, eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t bullshit me.”

“Do you sweet talk the nurses with that mouth?”

Jungkook rolled his eyes, setting the empty tupperware on his small bedside table. “C’mon, your leg hasn’t stopped bouncing since you sat down and you look like you just watched someone murder a kitten.”

“Jesus, that’s morbid.”

“It’s true.”

Jin pursed his lips obstinately and Jungkook sighed, leaning back into his pillows, one of them covered with Jimin’s amateur embroidery and another one depicting the sun baby from Teletubbies. Definitely from Hoseok.

“C’monnn,” Jungkook whined, increasing the wattage of his bright puppy eyes. “You have to tell me.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Why should I tell you anything?”

“Because I asked.”

“Not a reason.”

“Because I’m your brother.”

“Nope, invalid.”

“Ugh, because you clearly need to tell someone, Seokie, just stop being an ass and get it off your chest!”

Jin opened his mouth to argue, but Jungkook had a point. Again.

“You’re such a brat,” he muttered.

“But I’m right, and you know it.”

“Whatever.”

Jungkook grinned as he adjusted himself on the pillows, but his expression quickly softened, the teasing glint in his eyes replaced by concern. “Seriously, Seokie, what’s going on?”

Jin looked down, twisting his hands in his lap. “So, I guess, um… you were right, you know, when you said I might like Namjoon. I definitely do.”

“Okay… so, what’s the problem? I know you’re worried about telling him because of your partnership or whatever, but what if he really does like you back?”

“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Jin murmured.

Jungkook cocked his head in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

“I just… what if it messes everything up? Nobody has ever made me feel this way before. I feel warm whenever he’s around, like my heart is gonna beat out of my chest, but it feels good. He makes me laugh, and he supports me and makes me feel like I can do anything. I just feel safe with him, you know? And, sometimes, it seems like… like he feels the same way. But what if I tell him how I feel, a-and it fucks up our partnership and makes things awkward and we can’t go back to what we used to have, or what if he backs out of funding the restaurant?”

“Namjoon would never do that,” Jungkook said gently. “Plus, you guys signed a contract, so he legally can’t.”

“Exactly,” Jin bemoaned, burying his face in his hands. “Even if he does have feelings for me, what if they get in the way of our business relationship? I don’t know how to balance the two. If things go wrong, there’s no way out. We’d have to be around each other all the time, and god, I don’t think I could handle it. This is why I don’t date, everything just gets so complicated, and –”

“Well, it’s only complicated because you’re making it complicated,” Jungkook interrupted. “He might like you back, he might not. But honestly, Seokie, life is too short to hide your true feelings from people. If you like him, just tell him. No matter what happens, you guys are both adults, and you can handle it. You left home, left our family, and moved to an unfamiliar city to follow your gut, and this is what’s freaking you out?”

Jin blinked. “When you put it that way…”

“Don’t be afraid, Seokie. If he doesn’t feel the same way, I’ll beat him up once I’m released from the hospital, you have my word.”

Jin laughed. “There’s no way you’d sacrifice your bromance for that, you like Namjoon even more than me.”

“I would do it, for you,” Jungkook said seriously, his eyes crinkling with a poorly-suppressed grin.

Jin studied him for a moment, his heart feeling significantly lighter. “Seriously, Kook, who are you and what have you done with my idiot younger brother?”

“Rude, as always,” Jungkook scoffed. “Being trapped in a hospital bed makes you think about stuff. Plus, I’ve always been very mature for my age.”

“Right.”

“It’s true!”

“Mm-hm. Sure.”

“Such blatant disrespect. Good thing you’re older than me, otherwise I’d kick your ass.”

“I’d like to see you try.”        

“What, you think you could win?”

“I know I would win.”

“It’s on.”        

“Fight me, bitch.”

“I will.”

“You guys are fucking weird,” came a voice from the doorway. Jin turned to find Hoseok leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed as he looked between the brothers with disbelief. “What’s got your pants in a twist, huh?”

“N-nothing,” Jin said quickly. Jungkook arched an eyebrow, but Jin shook his head pleadingly. Hoseok was his best friend, and he would tell him everything, but he just wasn’t ready yet. He needed more time to think.

Hoseok narrowed his eyes and stepped closer. “Are you hiding things from me, Jinnie? From me? Your best friend?”

“No,” Jin lied unconvincingly.

Hoseok sighed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “If this is about Namjoon, you owe me ten bucks, Kook.”

“Fuck off, man, I literally almost died.”

“Wait, what about Namjoon?”

“The fact that you’re crazy about him,” Hoseok said plainly, striding forward to drape an arm over Jin’s shoulders. “The gang thought you’d wait way longer to admit it, but I could see you bursting at the seams. I knew you’d have the courage to do it. And thus, I am now a rich man.”

“Thirty dollars isn’t rich,” Jungkook scoffed.

“Nice try, Kook, I’ve seen your bank statements. On that note, you can pay me in increments if you need to.”

“Alright, let’s stop right there.” Jin held his hands up. “Hobi…”

Hoseok smiled lovingly and squeezed Jin’s shoulder. “I know you better than I know myself. It was written all over your face. You literally make heart eyes whenever Namjoon enters a room.”

“But… why didn’t you press me about it?”

“What am I, an amateur?” Hoseok said, sitting on the side of Jungkook’s bed. “I could tell you weren’t ready to talk about it. I knew that if you needed my help, you’d ask for it, and you’d tell me when you were ready.”

Jin smiled gratefully, his eyes suddenly prickling. He felt overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. “Thanks, Hobi. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you, I just –”

Hoseok held up a hand. “No explanation necessary. My only question is: have you decided what you’re gonna do?”

His expression was open, non-judgmental, just as it always was, and Jin realized how desperate he was for his best friend’s advice.

“What do you think I should do?”

Hoseok shook his head affectionately. “It doesn’t matter what I think. The only voice you should follow is your own. What feels right? Deep down, what do you really want?”

Jin closed his eyes. His feelings pressed against his internal stronghold, and finally, finally, he unlocked the gates, letting them pour out of his mind and into his chest, his heart pumping them through his veins into every cell of his being. They sang, ecstatic at finally being released from their cage, and their song built within him until he felt it bubbling at the tip of his own lips, until an answer solidified in his mind and he knew there was only one choice. There had always been only one choice.

“I have to tell him,” he murmured resolutely.

He heard the pride shining in Hobi’s voice, and he clung to it, drawing strength from his calm assurance.

“Then go tell him.”

 

******

 

Jin was nervous.

He’d left the hospital and begun walking aimlessly, lost in his thoughts and his newfound determination to be honest about his feelings before he imploded from the pressure. It wasn’t until he found himself in front of a familiar, strikingly tall building that he finally paid attention to his surroundings.

“Shit,” he muttered, quickly putting his head down and speed-walking in the other direction.

It was Bangtan Investments. Of course, his subconscious had led him here, to the office he knew was waiting at the top floor with a dazzling view of the city and a certain dreamy businessman sitting at an abhorrently cluttered desk.

“Shit, shit, shit.” He panicked, ducking into an alleyway to collect his thoughts. He imagined Hoseok by his side, giving him a much-needed pep talk.

“Like ripping off a bandaid,” he’d say. “It’ll only hurt for a second if you do it all at once, but the longer you drag it out, the more it’ll sting.”

“Right. Like a bandaid,” Jin murmured, pulling out his phone before he could continue overthinking.

 

[Jin]:

Are you busy today?

 

Kim Namjoon:

Bout to take my lunch soon

Why, what’s up?

 

Jin bit his lip, his fingers shaking slightly. Part of him had hoped Namjoon wouldn’t respond, that he’d have an opportunity to chicken out and pretend this had never happened. But he’d already started ripping the bandaid; he couldn’t stop now.

 

[Jin]:

I just need to talk to you about something

 

Kim Namjoon:

Is everything ok?

 

[Jin]:

Yes

No

I don’t know

 

Kim Namjoon:

Hey don’t stress

Whatever it is we’ll figure it out

There’s a park near my office

Meet there in 30 min?

 

[Jin]:

Ok

Yeah

Sounds good

 

Kim Namjoon:

See you soon

 

“Great. This is fine. Everything is fine,” Jin whispered to himself as he crossed the street and made his way to the park a few blocks down.

The sun was shining with a cheerful warmth and a light breeze ruffled his hair, but his skin felt ice cold, even as blood pounded frenetically through his veins. He took a deep breath, listening to the rustle of leaves and sweet chirping of birds, willing his heartbeat to slow.

He walked past children devouring half-melted ice cream, elderly couples with knotted hands, soccer moms chatting breathlessly on their weekly jogs, and the normalcy of it all calmed his mind. Life moved as it always had, humanity operating in comforting patterns of predictability, and one romantic confession wasn’t going to tilt the earth askew on its axis.

Jin settled onto a bench and waited. He closed his eyes, listening to the purr of bicycle tires and swishing of tree branches and the tiny patter of dog paws against the path. He could do this.

“Jin?”

At the sound of Namjoon’s voice, his confidence threatened to dissolve. It took every ounce of Jin’s resolve to open his eyes and stand.

Namjoon was striding towards him, a dark gray suit open to reveal a simple white dress shirt, his hair styled off his forehead. A sudden wave of want took Jin’s breath away. He wanted his feelings to stop tearing a hole in his chest. He wanted his racing heart and fluttering stomach to mean something. He wanted to be open and honest and vulnerable in ways he’d never been, no matter the consequences.

He wanted Namjoon.

“Hey,” he said, voice steady. Namjoon stopped in front of him, concern painting his brow.

“Everything ok? Is it Jungkook? Did something happen?”

Jin had the strange urge to laugh. He was still nervous, but even now, something about Namjoon’s presence put him at ease. Made him feel safe.

“No, no, Kook’s fine. This is more of a… personal dilemma.”

“Oh.” Namjoon’s brow scrunched. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, per say,” Jin hedged. In fact, nothing had felt more right. “It’s just that, uh… there’s something I haven’t been completely honest about, and it’s driving me crazy, and I just really need to get it off my chest.”

“Okay,” Namjoon said carefully.

Jin took a deep breath. “I’m not entirely sure how to say this.”

Namjoon bit his lip, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Should I be worried?”

“No – well, I don’t think so. But, ah, I can’t really guarantee we’ll be on the same page about it.”

“Well, now I’m definitely worried.”

Jin let out a breath and ran a hand through his hair. “No, really, I just – God, I don’t know why this is so difficult. I’m so nervous.”

Namjoon frowned and took a small step forward. “Hey, it’s fine. You don’t need to tell me right now –”

“I do, though,” Jin said agitatedly. “I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t tell you, I have to tell you, I need to know if –”

I need to know if you feel the same way.

Confusion painted Namjoon’s features. “Need to know what?”

Jin exhaled shakily. “Namjoon, I…”

I like you. I really, really like you. I can’t stop thinking about you. I dream about you, for God’s sake. I don’t care if it makes things complicated, I like you, and I want to be with you as more than just business partners, more than just friends. I like you, and I want you to like me back.

That’s what Jin wanted to say. But his mouth opened and closed soundlessly, the words trapped in his throat.

Namjoon leaned closer, his expression growing worried. “Jin?”

And suddenly, it was all just too much.

This is what I’m trying to say,” Jin declared, ferociously determined as he cupped his hands on Namjoon’s cheeks and kissed him.

Time paused for the briefest of moments as he hung suspended, perched at the tip of the rollercoaster, gravity edging him down, his body weightless before the impending drop.

He felt Namjoon stiffen in surprise. Jin tensed, preparing to plummet alone.

But Namjoon’s hands touched his waist, pulling him the tiniest bit closer. His lips pressed back with intention.

Jin’s stomach dropped, but suddenly, the ride wasn’t scary anymore. It was euphoric.

Their lips moved softly for an endless moment before Jin reluctantly pulled back. Namjoon’s eyes were comically wide, a faint blush on his cheeks, his eyes emanating a rapturous glow.

“Oh,” he breathed, blinking rapidly. His fingers were warm against Jin’s waist. 

“Yeah… so, that’s what I needed to tell you,” Jin said quietly. “I like you, Namjoon. A lot. More than just a friend. A-and it’s ok if you don’t feel the same way, I know it was selfish of me to tell you at all, especially like this; I don’t want to mess up our friendship, or be unprofessional –”

Namjoon tugged him closer until their chests were flush together, one arm wrapping more securely around Jin’s waist as the other pressed a silencing finger against his lips.

“Screw your professionalism,” Namjoon mumbled fervently.

His head dipped down and slotted their lips back together. Jin could feel Namjoon’s skin burning through his shirt, his mouth hot and smooth against his own, conveying a depth of emotion that Jin could sense in every heated press, every desperate breath, every soft swipe of tongue. Namjoon’s hand had moved from his mouth to his jaw, his thumb delicately stroking Jin’s cheek with the same gentle hesitance of the night before. Jin’s arms wrapped around Namjoon’s neck of their own volition, his heart flying and his pulse soaring and his lungs gasping around small, urgent breaths.

There were no fireworks. Instead, it was if a point of balance had finally clicked into place. Jin was no longer falling alone; he was twisting and turning in the most delightful way, grounded in the knowledge that Namjoon was right there beside him, even as Jin’s body threatened to float away from the sheer force of his effervescent joy.

Seconds, minutes, hours could have passed by the time their lips paused. Their foreheads rested together, a slight breeze ruffling their hair as their chests rose and fell in tandem. A slow smile spread across Namjoon’s face, his eyes shining.

 “Is this really happening?” he murmured, his thumb brushing against Jin’s skin in a feather-light touch. His eyes were unbearably hopeful.

“I hope so,” Jin whispered. Namjoon chuckled. Jin felt like he could breathe again.

“This was… unexpected.” Namjoon’s voice was quiet, gentle, as though they were surrounded by a fragile, shimmering bubble he was loathe to pop.

Jin bit his lip. He looked down as his fingers nervously played with the base of Namjoon’s hair.

“I just…” Namjoon huffed out a breath, their foreheads still pressed together, his hand tightening ever-so-slightly on Jin’s waist. “I always thought… I never – I mean, I couldn’t…” He closed his eyes with a shaky laugh. “I’ve wanted this for so long.”

Something soared in Jin’s chest, bright and breathtaking. “Really?”

“Really.” Namjoon’s hand grabbed one of Jin’s and interlaced their fingers, something sweet and hesitant in the way he pressed their palms together. “I never imagined you’d feel the same way. That you could feel the same way.”

“Why?” Jin breathed. His hand ran through the soft strands of Namjoon’s hair, the simple action stirring a warm happiness in his gut, something foreign yet immediately familiar. The businessman’s head dropped to Jin’s shoulder. His lips pressed faintly against Jin’s neck, sending flurries of heat across his skin as he spoke.

“I thought you hated me.”

“What?” Jin pulled back, his brow furrowed and eyes serious. “Namjoon—”

“I know, I know, you said you didn’t,” Namjoon mumbled, squeezing their intertwined hands. “Still doesn’t mean I totally believed it. Maybe I just clung to the idea to make things easier, so I could hide the way I felt and pretend I didn’t lose my breath every time I saw you.”

Jin blinked, his own breath hitching in his throat. “How long?”

“Hm?”

“How long have you felt that way? About… about me.”

Namjoon’s cheeks darkened, his eyes raw when they met Jin’s.

“From the moment I met you.”

Jin forgot how to breathe.

“The instant you came out of that kitchen, so tall and confident and unbelievably gorgeous, holy shit, I was a goner. There was something in your eyes… it felt like staring straight into fire. The more I looked, the brighter it burned, almost blinding me. But I couldn’t look away. I still can’t.”

Jin’s pulse was racing, like a butterfly was lodged in his heart, the enthralled fluttering of its wings ricocheting through his bloodstream, quivering all the way to his fingertips, pulsing around his lungs as they fought to rise and fall in a regular rhythm. He wanted to say something, anything, to free the fluttering presence in his chest, but his mind was short-circuiting into a mess of disjointed wires and chemical fires that left him staring, wide-eyed and vulnerable. Namjoon smiled serenely, brushing Jin’s knuckles against his cheekbone.

“It was torture, keeping it hidden. I felt like I was so obvious; I could hear it in my voice, feel it in the way I looked at you… And then, suddenly, things were different, we were friends, and it became even harder to hide how I felt.”

“I was hiding, too,” Jin murmured, the butterfly leaping out of his heart and into his throat. “It was driving me crazy. Literally, driving me crazy. I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

“Yeah?” Namjoon whispered with a blissful smile, nosing Jin’s cheek.

“Yeah.”

They stood there, hearts beating, eyes searching, lost in each other as children played in the distance and the wind rustled happily through the blossoming trees.

“This must be a dream,” Jin mumbled, his brain still hazy with heat and disbelief, even with Namjoon’s hand firm on his waist. “I’ve dreamt about you so many times, yet this one feels so real. But there’s no way –”

“You dream about me?” Namjoon interrupted, something giddy in his voice. A blush rose up Jin’s neck alarmingly quickly.

“Shit, did I say that out loud?”

Namjoon laughed, that vibrant, soul-revealing sound that felt like coming home. Both of his arms wrapped around Jin’s waist and he buried his head into his neck, muffling his chortles into Jin’s flushed skin, and Jin hugged him tighter, enveloped in everything Namjoon. His heart was positively throbbing, struggling to process the concentrated dose of joy coursing through his veins.

“So… what do we do now?” he asked hesitantly.

Namjoon stepped back, his hands running down Jin’s arms before interlacing their fingers, something comforting in the heavy warmth of Namjoon’s hands embracing his own.

“Let’s take it one day at a time, yeah?” he said softly, squeezing their palms together. “There’s no rush, no need to label anything until we’re ready. I like you, and you like me. That’s what I want to focus on.”

“Okay,” Jin breathed happily, squeezing back, his mind still tumbling. “But, what about the restaurant? Will this make things… complicated?”

“My business is my life,” Namjoon said simply. “I would never do anything to jeopardize our partnership. We’ll take things slowly, and no matter what happens between us, the restaurant will always come first, alright?”

Jin nodded, but something strange twisted in his chest. For the first time, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to prioritize the restaurant.  His heart was tugging in another direction. He wanted to prioritize this man whose hands were gripping his own like a lifeline and whose eyes traced his features with unbearable softness.

The feeling left him reeling, as though his life perspective was irreversibly shifting. It felt overly dramatic and downright terrifying – but then, new feelings often do.

Namjoon smiled, his dimples seeming to catch the sun. He leaned forward and pressed their lips together gently, sweet enough that a sigh breezed through Jin’s throat and his chest fluttered with something euphoric.

When he pulled back, Namjoon brushed his fingers over Jin’s cheekbone again, as though he couldn’t help himself, and Jin understood. Weeks of suppressed feelings were finally being freed from their cages. He wrapped their fingers more securely together, not wanting to let go, craving every tiny part of Namjoon that he’d denied himself for so long.

“How long is your lunch break?”

Namjoon didn’t even glance at his watch. “Probably thirty minutes left. But, the best part of owning my own company is that I make the rules. My break can last as long as I want.”

He beamed, and Jin beamed back, and Namjoon pressed their lips into one more firm, lingering kiss before he tugged them onto the pathway, their hands linked. They slowly meandered past freshly cut grass and blooming flower gardens and carefree playgrounds, the park singing to life around them while serenity settled deep in Jin’s chest.

They walked in comfortable silence, savoring each other’s presence. Namjoon’s thumb would occasionally brush over Jin’s, the small, deliberate motion sending a thrill up Jin’s arm every time. He couldn’t stop glancing at the businessman, biting his lip around a smile, his cheeks aching from the happiness that stretched across his lips, and Namjoon wasn’t much better. His dimples were in full force, his eyes sincere and sparkling, and a tiny blush tinted his cheeks every time he caught Jin’s stare.      

Jin giggled quietly. “I feel like a teenager,” he whispered. Namjoon grinned.

“Me too. Funny how a crush feels the same no matter how old you get.”

Jin nudged their shoulders together, raising an eyebrow teasingly. “Oh, so I’m just a crush to you?”

Namjoon spun Jin around to face him, letting go of his hand to cup Jin’s face and press their lips together, shaping around his with a slow urgency that quickly left Jin breathless.

 “No,” Namjoon murmured, their lips brushing together as he spoke. “You’re not just a crush. You’re so much more than that.”

           

******

Cold glass pressed against Jin’s cheek, eyes glazed as he watched the city drift past in a concrete blur. He felt blissful, his cheeks warm from the sun, his lips tingling from the soft kisses he’d stolen from Namjoon over and over until the businessman had reluctantly returned to work. Jin had hopped on the first bus he’d seen travelling in the vague direction of home. He needed a chance to process the rush of emotion his afternoon had become.

Even now, Jin’s heartbeat thumped loudly remembering every touch, every word, every look he and Namjoon had shared. It felt unreal.

Namjoon liked him. Really liked him.

Jin sighed, the low rumbling of the bus engine a soothing backdrop to his over-excited mind. He felt dazed, as though an invisible pair of headphones was muffling the world around him, and yet his pulse was racing eagerly and his mind leapt from thought to thought, unable to settle in one place, like the sugar highs he’d get as a kid after a candy binge.

His phone buzzed in his lap.

 

Kim Namjoon:

I’ve got a business dinner tonight, but I’ll see you tomorrow

Thanks for lunch ;)

Say hi to JK for me

 

Jin smiled to himself, catching his reflection in the window. His eyes were too bright, cheeks too flushed, smile too wide, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He hadn’t felt this unabashedly happy in a long, long time. He was tired of repressing his emotions. There was something inherently freeing about allowing himself to truly feel.

Paying closer attention to his surroundings, he recognized the street the bus was turning onto. The next stop would arrive a block away from his restaurant. He chuckled to himself; even in a daze, he gravitated towards the place he loved the most, with the people he called his own. He hopped off the bus and ambled towards the restaurant, humming to himself as he unlocked the front door and headed to the kitchen. He could hear Hoseok’s R&B music playing quietly and Jimin’s buoyant laughter shimmering above Tae’s deep voice. The sounds of family.

He pushed open the doors to find Jimin and Tae prepping for the dinner service, Hoseok hunched over the ledger book with a pen between his teeth. They all looked up at Jin’s sudden entrance.

“Jin! What are you doing here?” Jimin asked with a warm smile. “Do you need help with the new menu?”

Hoseok eyed Jin up and down, slowly pulling the pen from his mouth and closing the ledger. “What’s with the dopey smile?”

"Oh no, are you sick?” Tae asked, eyes widening. “You look flushed… I bet hanging around the hospital exposed you to something – see, this is why we told you to go home.”

Jin chuckled. “I’m not sick, you idiot.”

Jimin stepped closer. “Tae’s right, though, are you feeling ok? You seem…” His hand waved abstractly as he searched for the right word. Hoseok leaned back in his chair, his eyes sharp as they analyzed Jin’s expression. A slow smile crept across the waiter’s face.

“Something you need to tell us, Jinnie?”

Jin cleared his throat. “Well, um, I think Namjoon and I are… together now.”

There was a pregnant pause.

Yes!” Tae whooped as Jimin rushed forward to tackle Jin in a hug, Jin’s smile stretching even wider as Tae joined in and squeezed him tightly.

Hoseok nodded proudly. “About time,” he said, eyes fond as he leapt from the chair and enthusiastically joined the hug, his sunny smile matching Jin’s own. Hobi looked at Tae and Jimin pointedly. “You both owe me $10. Don’t think I won’t collect.”

Jimin pouted and pulled away to punch Hoseok’s arm, Tae making excuses about saving for a house while Hoseok cackled and shot Jin a wink.

“Wait, so how did it happen?” Jimin gasped, grabbing Jin’s arm to pull him over to the prep counter, grabbing an extra cutting board and thrusting a knife into Jin’s hand. “Details, we need details.”

And as Jin spent the rest of the afternoon telling them everything, he realized a future with Namjoon was no longer a wishful dream.

It was a reality.