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PART One: Winter

“Our future will only have happiness,
So put away your fear.”
I'm Fine, BTS

2 January 2018 – Hannam the Hill

Sometimes when they lie in bed together, he wonders if he has any right to be this happy.

He keeps looking at his bracelet, dangling it above his eyes, staring at its interlocking links until they blur into gleams beneath the lamplight. In that way, they look like infinity.

Beside him, Seokjin sleeps face down in his pillows, his dark hair covering the sweep of his cheek. His arm loops over Taehyung's waist, his palm cupped loosely on his hip. He can't be comfortable twisted up that way, but Seokjin's always been a pretzel when he's sleeping. Taehyung doesn't try to move him.

Instead, he burrows deeper into the duvet. It's warm and smells like a forest – a combination of Seokjin's muscle cream and his sandalwood face wash. It's quiet – save for the feathery scuffles of the sugar gliders in their cage – and it's clean, like freshly-fallen snow.

He holds up the bracelet again. It glistens like starlight.

As if a farm in Daegu hadn't been enough.

As if months of patience and planning hadn't been enough.

Seokjin took him shopping for his birthday. It's becoming a sort of tradition with Seokjin. He likes the occasion of it, the opportunity to spend one-on-one time together. They go for dinner, maybe a drink or two, and then they go to a shop where he buys matching pieces of jewelry to commemorate the day. Friendship bracelets with Jimin, Hope, and Kook; a necklace with Yoongi; an earring set with Namjoon.

And with Taehyung, this.

He holds it up again, to gaze at it beneath the light. He traces the rings with his thumb.

“This is the one you want?” Seokjin had asked. “This one?”

He'd sounded amused and incredulous.

“Why?” Taehyung had asked. “It's beautiful.”

Seokjin had shrugged, had glanced at the store clerk as if enlisting her assistance.

“It is beautiful,” she said, taking Taehyung’s side.

“It looks like handcuffs,” Seokjin said.

Grinning, Taehyung had answered in English, “We like handcuffs.” The clerk smiled like she wanted to agree, but she didn’t understand.

“Fine,” Seokjin said. He rolled his eyes before fastening the clasp. “You have to wear it everyday.”

“Everyday,” Taehyung repeated.

“And you have to show everyone.”

“Everyone. I promise.”

Seokjin had enclosed Taehyung's wrist in his hands. His fingers trembled. Taehyung could feel his pulse beneath his thumb.

Then they came home. They set their phones to silent, and they spent the day in each other's arms. Now it's late, or early? and Taehyung lays beside him, thinking back on the year that has passed, looking forward to the year that is to come.

Though he's been slow to realize, he knows the true gift he's received. Undeserving as he was, Seokjin showed him mercy. And Taehyung understands: A part of him he didn't know was wounded has quietly begun to heal.

The dorm apartment sighs beneath the snowfall outside. Namjoon, Jimin, and Jungkook went home to visit family. Yoongi and Hoseok disappeared after the song festival, and they’ve been absent from their chat ever since. At the end of the bed, Yeontan scritches his ear, his collar jingling like a silver bell.  

Beside Taehyung, Seokjin mutters, “Did you chop the leeks?”

“What?”

“Yah, the leeks,” Seokjin says. “Did you chop them?”

“Hyung, are you cooking in your sleep again?”

Seokjin mumbles, “I need the number one pan.”

Taehyung chews his lip to keep from laughing. He says, “I am your number one pan.”

Before leaving Daegu, Taehyung's sister, Eunjin, had roped them into watching an episode of Oh My Ghost . It was a show about this meek chef's assistant who wanted to be a cook. She gets possessed by another, much bolder girl who had been a cook before she was murdered. She possessed the body of the meek girl and became entangled with the famous chef who yelled at her all the time.

Eunjin adored the chef. She and Seokjin bonded over him. Seokjin liked his style; Eunjin liked his acting. Several times on the drive back to Seoul, Seokjin mentioned to his father how much he missed cooking, and how much he liked the chef's character.

Taehyung had enjoyed seeing his sister and his boyfriend so fully absorbed in conversation. They'd met a few times, here and there over the years, but this was the first time they really talked. Seokjin already chats regularly with Taehyung's Mom. Now he imagines Seokjin and Eunjin FaceTiming over k-dramas, and again, he has to smile.

He catches himself projecting to the future, to Chuseoks and Seollals, birthdays and anniversaries. It's easy to do, knowing they've got a place adjacent to his Grandfather's and this promise of forever linked between them.

Seokjin slides sideways and opens his eyes. He shakes his head before tucking Taehyung against him. He murmurs, “You should be asleep.”

“I know,” Taehyung says.

After a moment, Seokjin asks, “Is your mouth hurting again?”

“Nope.”

“The ghost nightmare?”

“No, hyung. I'm fine.”

Seokjin brushes his face against Taehyung's neck. His voice gruff, he groans, “Jagiya, go to sleep.”

“Yes, love,” he says. Their arms snug together. If not for the bracelet, Taehyung might have difficulty telling where Seokjin’s end and his begin. He angles his wrist so the rings catch the light.

Does he deserve this happiness?

Not yet, he thinks. But I’m going to.

Because Seokjin’s not the only one capable of making plans.

Chapter Text

“We’re just a lie away
From proving to ourselves
We’re not afraid. ”
Reprieve, Vallis Alps

3 January 2018 - Seoul Forest Trimage

The upside to falling for your best friend is that when you wake up beside them in bed, there’s no need to explain to them that you are crap in the mornings.

Nor do you need to tell them that you’re useless without coffee.

Nor do you need to let them know how you take your coffee.

Because your best friend already knows.

He also knows that you’re useless without proper sleep, which means that you’re effectively useless 98 percent of the time. During the remaining two percent, you’re mostly kind of an asshole.

Yoongi finger-styles his bangs over his eyebrows, aiming for a carefree, sleep-tousled look, like he’s just rolled out of bed, and not like he’s been in Hoseok’s bathroom for half an hour, semi-freaking out.

Because the downside of falling for your best friend is that if you fuck everything up, you fuck it up forever.

“So for fuck’s sake, Min Yoongi,” he mutters to his reflection, “do NOT fuck this up.”

He rucks his bangs back and exhales. Then with a breathe, he steps through the door.

Yoongi crosses the hall into the softly-lit kitchen. Hoseok sits at a bar stool, one foot up on the seat to expose his lean, well-muscled calf. He’s wearing rimless reading glasses that perch on the end of his nose, making him look like the unassumingly handsome headmaster of an all-girls school. To complete this look, Hoseok is reading something on his tablet while singing along with the the music on the bluetooth. It’s something warm and Latin, cheery but tinged with a kind of forlorn lamenting, and damned if that doesn’t perfectly frame Yoogi’s current state of mind.

Yoongi crosses the toasty kitchen floor. He bypasses the bar (and Hoseok) to shoulder-roll into the buttery-soft leather sofa in the living room. Hoseok has already lit the apricot-fig scented candle on the coffee table; its scent fills the room with its earthy, autumn-y scent.

As Yoongi curls beneath the cashmere throw, Hoseok glances over and asks, “So. How’d you sleep?”

“Terrible,” Yoongi groans. “My bedmate’s such a cover hog.”

“Hm-hm,” Hoseok says. “But he smells fantastic.”

“Sure, if you like the scent of muscles and raw… sweat,” Yoongi says, aware that this is not the clever retort he hoped for. Heat creeps up behind his ears, and he’s dead certain that he’s turned the same shade as the inside of the stargazer lilies arranged on Hoseok’s table.

The gleam of a smile lights on Hoseok’s lips. “I heard zero complaints.”

“Probably because you were communicating with dolphins,” Yoongi shoots back.

Hoseok taps his finger to his lips in mock-consideration. “Yeah, I get pretty loud,” he says. “But it’s my place, so I can be as loud as I want.”

Yeah, about that ... Yoongi thinks. He’s still too groggy to process what he really wants to say. He peels himself from the sofa and lumbers toward the bar. Wordlessly, Hoseok pushes a mug in his direction. Yoongi perches on the opposite stool and sips. He shuts his eyes and whispers an inward prayer, because it is exactly how he likes it.

“Too strong to be dessert, too sweet to be breakfast,” Hoseok says.

Yoongi squints. “You don’t know everything,” he says.

“I know enough,” Hoseok counters. This time when he smiles, it produces a distinctive pull in Yoongi’s gut. He has to drag his attention away before his blush isn’t the only thing to rise in this kitchen.

The song switches from the Spanish love ballad to something lo-fi and atmospheric. Yoongi blows across the surface of his coffee, wimpling ripples over the reflection of his face. He thinks about this place of Hoseok’s, with its plush, homey, lived-in feel. Hoseok’s had it for two years, and though it’s never been a secret, he confided last night that Yoongi’s the first among their members to visit.

And now that he’s here, he can’t help but think… who else has Hoseok brought to this place when it is so clearly set up to entertain overnight guests?  Because this apartment, with its expensive coffee and lavender-scented linen spray, is set up for entertaining.

It doesn’t matter, Yoongi reminds himself. Yoongi kept his feelings for Hoseok closely guarded, so it’s not like they were beholden to each other. Except… it does matter. Because now they are beholden to each other, and it bothers him to think about who else might have shared Hobi’s bed.

Yoongi doesn’t even know how this is supposed to work. Do they tell people now? Do they tell each other? What can they possibly tell? They aren’t a couple of dumb kids in love. Except, they are dumb, and they are kind of in love. Fuck.

His thoughts dart to Seokjin – goddamned Seokjin, with his romance, and his plans. Yoongi recalls the day he discovered him and Taehyung in the broom cupboard of their old studio, and how they’d been at it for months in secret, and—

“Uh oh,” Hoseok says.

Yoongi cuts his eyes at him. “What?”

“You have broody face.”

Yoongi scoffs. “I do not.”

“Lemme guess,” Hoseok taps his fingers to his lips again. So distracting. He says, “You’re thinking, Whatever you do, don’t screw this up. Close?”

Yoongi scoffs. “Not remotely.”

Hoseok leans across the bar. He squeezes his hands over Yoongi’s. The mug’s warmth steams heat against their palms. He says, “My sister will be here in two hours.”

“Oh.” Yoongi straightens. His best friend also knows his complicated family history, and his tendency to flake on anything family related. So Yoongi pulls out his hands and smooths down his hair. “Yeah, Hope. No worries. I’ll clear out, I gotta ton of work to do, so—”

“—No, dork,” Hoseok says, reaching again to clasp his hand. “She wants the place. She’s got a boyfriend.” He rolls his eyes. “Another boyfriend.”

Yoongi stiffens. He glances around, taking in the room as if seeing it for the first time. The lavender spray, the earth-toned decor. Yoongi figured maybe Hope was getting to express a side of himself he couldn’t show at home, but now he thinks, maybe they’re for her?

Then Yoongi recalls the bathroom, the shell-pink bathrobe slung over the hook, the Etude House skincare crowded around the sink. These could be Hoseok’s, but Yoongi knows better.

“Your sister,” he murmurs. “Isn’t she too busy for boyfriends?”

“Uh, aren’t we?” Hoseok counters.

Yoongi scrunches his nose. “Valid point,” he says. “So… she spends a lot of time here?”

“Damned near every weekend,” Hoseok says. “It used to be more of a bachelor pad, a place where I’d, you know…?” Hoseok nods.  “You do know, right?”

Yoongi sits up. He scrubs his palms over his face. He’s not burly by any standard of manhood, but there’s a decent amount of scruff stubbling his chin. “That you bring people home here?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Hoseok says. “I mean, I did. I have, before. Girls, though. Not men.”

“I figured,” Yoongi answers, and Hoseok grimaces. Yoongi rushes to reassure him. “Not to suggest you lack experience, Hope, that is not what I meant.”

“It’s okay, Yoongs,” Hoseok says. “I'm well aware of the value of practice.”

Yoongi’s smile widens so much he can feel it behind his eyes. “Wow,” he says, “So when are Jin-hyung and Tae going to visit his uncle?”

Hoseok drinks from his mug. “Not til Friday.”

“And the Busan boys?”

“They return on Friday.”

Yoongi sniffs. Hoseok slides a hand across the table. After a moment’s hesitation, Yoongi reaches to take it.

“So where will we go?” Hoseok asks.

“Hear me out,” Yoongi says. “I have this vinyl sofa thing in the lab...”

Hoseok beams at him. “No,” he says. “That thing was gross before debut. Also, it’s so busted we’d both break our backs, and I have a delicate dancer’s build…”

They’re both laughing as Yoongi says, “You know, Seokjin and Tae started out in a fucking broom closet. They had a folded-up gym mat. Now that was love.”

“That was insanity,” Hoseok corrects. He nibbles his lip, looking for a moment like he’s misty-eyed with nostalgia. “So much of what they did was completely insane.”

“Now they own a farm in Daegu,” Yoongi muses.

“Yeah,” Hoseok says. “Wow. Insane.”

“So do we go home?” Yoongi asks. He smooths the pads of his fingers against the inside of Hoseok’s cupped palm.

Hoseok says, “I suppose we could.”

Then Yoongi finally asks the question they’ve both been hoping to avoid. “But do we tell them?”

Emotions flicker across Hoseok’s face. The music shifts again, this time to Coldplay, a song that serves to deepen their reminiscence. He says, “How did they manage? Jin-hyung and Tae?”

Yoongi mutters, “I dunno.” Then he adds, “But I kinda get now why Jimin and Kook never officially came out because—”

“—it changes things,” Hoseok finishes.

“Yeah, but does it have to?” Yoongi asks. “Can we just… not… tell them?”

Hoseok says, “Oh, I have an idea.”

“Finally,” Yoongi says.

“We’ll continue on as we are,” Hoseok says. “And if they say anything, we’ll tell them we’ve been this way forever, and how self-involved are they that they’re only noticing now?”

Yoongi nods along until he hits the snag in Hoseok’s logic. “Yeeaah, Jin-hyung knows.”

“What? How?” Hoseok asks.

“I might’ve told him.”

“Ruined it,” Hoseok tsks. “It’s too bad. I liked that plan.”

“Oh, I’m still on board.” They spend a moment grinning dumbly at one another when Yoongi says, “I really liked this alone time with you.”

“Shh, don’t jinx it.”

It’s such a school-kid response, yet it sends a shiver straight through him. Yoongi goes, “So you’re as scared about all this as I am?”

“You know, you’d think so. I am scared of lots of things,” Hoseok says. “But never of you, and never of this.”

The words thunder on repeat in Yoongi’s brain, Do not fuck this up, do not fuck this up. And then there’s this nattering worry that maybe he already has. He gathers it all and strangles it down. “Well then,” Yoongi decides. “I guess we go home.”

Hoseok peers absently into his mug. The music shuffles from Coldplay to Kehlani. He says, “We do still have two hours.”

“Hm, true,” Yoongi agrees.

Hoseok flashes him his sunburst smile. It melts every remaining resistance away. Yoongi yawns, stretching in an effort to cover the sudden spike in his blood pressure. He edges from the barstool, feeling dizzy as Hoseok rounds the bar to take his hand. He’s leading him back across the cozy living room, back down the hall, back to the disheveled bed they’ve shared since New Year’s night.

He closes the door and presses Yoongi against it. Heat radiates from his skin. The places where they connect seem to smolder, and Yoongi drinks it in. The scent of him – sweat and raw muscles, yeah – but there’s a sweetness beneath it, caramel-rich and darkly intoxicating.  

“Well, Hope,” Yoongi says and Hoseok strips him out of his t-shirt, and Yoongi strips him out of his briefs. “I have a confession.”

Hoseok nips along his jaw, daring to dart his tongue into his ear. He says, “I’m listening.”

Yoongi pushes him back onto the bed. He climbs astride his naked thighs and grins down into the face of his best friend. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m afraid it’s all downhill from here.”

Hoseok smacks his ass and they tangle, drowning for a moment in each other and the bedclothes, until Hoseok comes up for air, and Yoongi realizes that they’re laughing. He never guessed it could be like this, not when sex had always been such aggressively serious business for him before. But then again, this might be another upside to falling for your best friend.

Chapter Text

"Even if the desert becomes cracked
No matter who shakes this world
Don't let go of the hand you're holding
Please don’t wake up from this dream.”
Euphoria, BTS

4 January 2018 – Dadaepo Beach – Busan

“Why do we keep doing this?” Jimin rattles through his teeth. Then he penguins up against Jungkook, burying his frozen nose into his neck.

This is why, Jungkook thinks, but he doesn’t speak it aloud. Like so many things between them now, it doesn’t require words. This trip to Dadaepo Beach, for example, which has become a kind of unspoken tradition. Every winter break, they make a pilgrimage to this windy, frigid strip of shoreline before returning home to Seoul.

Icy clouds marble the sky, setting the evening aglow. The briny tang of the sea braces in their noses and lungs, and a constant gale razes through their coats. Yet they willingly boarded two buses and endured a five-block hike to arrive here, where few would dare to venture, all for the sake of tradition.

Jimin dances along the lace-edged surf, singing to the waves as he teases close. Jungkook itches with the temptation to break out his camera, because Jimin’s doing it again: Being unmistakably, adorably him.

But Jungkook packed his camera on purpose. It’s in his carry-on bag, propped by the door of Jimin’s parents’ place, where they’ll return before taking the 10 p.m. train.

Then their time alone will abruptly cease, for as it happens, they’re splitting up for a while. For all of January through part of March, Jimin, Hoseok, and Taehyung will record and promote in Japan, while the other four will remain in Seoul, working on various projects at home.

Jungkook would like to think that this plan was solely motivated by business, that PD-nim, in his far-reaching wisdom, designed a schedule that would maximize their efforts in the Japanese market while meeting the needs of their creative team here.

After all, Yoongi’s far too entrenched in his studio to relocate to Tokyo. Namjoon’s busy setting up Mon World, and Seokjin starts another semester’s classes after Seollal. Taehyung, of course, is fluent in Japanese, so he’s a logical choice for filming. Plus, Hoseok has already passed off Hope World to Hyowon and Donghyuk for mixing, so him going to work with the Japanese songwriters makes sense.

Which leaves him and Jimin.

“Jungkookie, look,” Jimin shouts, waving to the sun. He cups his hands beneath it, causing Jungkook to wish again for his camera.

Jimin crouches, pretending to push the sun up above his head. “Ai, it’s so heavy!” he yells, laughing. “Come help me hold it up, so the day can keep going forever.”

“It’s too cold,” Jungkook protests. But he tags over, his eyes streaming, to play along with Jimin’s prevention of the sunset.

They gather close, Jimin’s breath warm on his cheek. He tiptoes up to brush his lips, and Jungkook tenses, worried that someone is watching, even though he knows that only fools would venture to the beach today. Jungkook lifts an arm around Jimin’s shoulder, guarding them against the cold and the eyes of passing strangers. He kisses him, savoring the mingled tastes of onions and spearmint, and the distinct, sweet flavor beneath that, which can only be his Jimin.

He wonders if it’s true, that a person only understands how much someone means to them when they’re afraid of losing them. He and Jimin have been apart before, but never quite this long. Jimin seems to be handling the idea far better than Jungkook, not that anyone would notice.

Jungkook’s been careful to hide it. That, and his shame. Because he knows it’s his fault. He’s the one to blame for this separation. Him, and his stupid camera.

Jimin shifts, moving to link their gloved fingers. He clumsily teases out his phone.

“Let’s get a selfie.” Jimin pulls off his glove with his teeth. He angles the camera, positioning the sun behind them, perched like a shining eye between their cheeks. He raises a V beneath their chins and snaps the frame. The afterimage burns black circles in Jungkook’s vision.

He had been so proud of his video of them in Osaka. All of the footage he’d collected of Jimin and then distilled down into the sweetest, purest moments of their time together. Jimin dancing and eating and playing, alive with love and and laughter and light. Jungkook had chosen the perfect song and edited the scenes together with an artist’s touch, not really focused on how much of the story it would tell about them.

It had told a story, though. Enough that in December, after Jungkook posted the video online, Bang PD had pulled him aside. Casually, man to man.

He wasn’t in trouble, PD-nim had assured him of that. He wasn’t scolding him, and he wouldn’t ask him to take the video down (this time).

“But in the future,” Sihyuk had said, “I urge you to use more discretion. You’re not a child any more, and I expect more shrewdness of character. Now is a time for caution, not selfishness.”

Jungkook hadn’t thought of it that way, but in the days that followed, he re-watched the video and thought of Taehyung and Seokjin. Years ago now, in the throes of reckless adoration, Seokjin had kissed Taehyung on stage. Then someone sent seven seconds of blurry fancam to Bang Sihyuk, prompting their manager, Minyeong, to try and confiscate their phones.

In his panic, Seokjin had thrown his phone into the river, and Taehyung sent every photo, text, and video they ever exchanged to Jimin.

Jungkook didn’t understand their reactions then. For him, this had been an act of love, one of many he’d witnessed over the years. But he grew up seeing it from the inside, watching Seokjin and Taehyung grow and change together until they no longer resembled who they once had been.

His discussion with Bang PD forced Jungkook to look at them – and at Jimin and himself – from the outside. He had to admit to himself that, beneath the shelter of the staff and the other members, he’d become complacent. They could safely be themselves and in love within that bubble, but outside, the world could rip them apart.

So Jungkook didn’t tell Jimin about his conversation with Bang Sihyuk. He didn’t tell anyone, and he can no longer watch the video, which had given him such joy. He wishes he could take it down, but Jimin would never understand. Therefore, Jungkook has resolved to do what he can to make amends. Starting with what’s right in front of them.

“Hey, don’t post it, okay,” Jungkook says.

Jimin, too intuitive for his own good, scowls down at the screen. “How come?” he asks. “Don’t you like it? We’ll take another. Here.” He raises the phone, ready for second photo, but they’ve lost the sun now, and it’s time to go home.

“No, baby, it’s perfect,” Jungkook says, brushing Jimin’s nose with his own. “But let’s let this one be just for us.”

Chapter Text

“If you’re lonely, it’s because you’re looking down.
Raise your chin and you’ll know know that people love you.”
Seokjin’s fortune cookie, 32nd Annual Golden Disk Awards

11 January 2018 - Seoul - Backstage at the Golden Disk Awards

Seokjin tugs into his jeans and tucks in his pockets. He’s hunting for his phone and his battery pack – and did Jungkook take his headphones again? – when Namjoon yells that their cars are here. They’ve wrapped their filming for the Golden Disk Awards, which means they get to eat. He’ll meet the others, and they’ll all go to dinner, but first, he has to find his belongings.

“Yep,” Seokjin calls back, reaching for his hoodie and searching for his shoes. He finds his phone on the back of the sofa, drained down to four percent. Several interns bustle and clamor around him, zipping up garment bags and lifting out empty trays. He catches an intern and asks, “Have you seen my battery pack?”

“Sorry,” she says, “I think Jimin-ssi has it.”

Befuddled, he opens a chat window, muttering, “We don’t even have the same phone,” when a pair of assistants squeeze around him with a cart still piled with pastries. Seokjin gets a whiff of the sugar, and his stomach grumbles. If they’re going to get food, it needs to be soon, because donuts are not the answer. Not with Muster two days away and the Seoul Music Awards next week. He and Taehyung gorged too much on ramen and rice cakes during their private holiday, and though they tried their best to work everything off, he can feel the added weight when he dances. And that is not okay.

Neither is Jimin taking his battery pack without permission. He’s typing this to Jimin as he stuffs his feet into his loafers, shuffling into them and then into the hall where he promptly bumps headlong into someone.

That someone roughly shoves him back before going, “Oh. It’s you.”

“Yah,” Seokjin says, sneering. “What do you want?”

The someone hooks his thumbs into his belt loops. “I was hoping to tempt my way into Taehyung’s heart, but it seems I’ve found his protector instead.” Seokjin stares at him, steadfastly refusing to show any sign of weakness, when Hyungsik goes, “Eh, you’ll do,” and yanks Seokjin into a hug.

“Hey,” Seokjin yells, cuffing his shoulder. “I am spoken for.”

“So I’ve heard,” Hyungsik says.

Seokjin loops an arm around his shoulder, guiding Hyungsik down the hall. “Taehyung-ah’s probably at the car. We try to rein him in early since he’s the likeliest to wander off.” They dip around a tailor hurrying along the corridor with stacks of sequined jackets draped across her arms.

“I have witnessed this myself,” Hyungsik says. “Chasing him must be a full-time job.”

“But it is never boring,” Seokjin says. His phone bleeps. It’s a selfie of Jimin, pouting at the camera. His text reads, I thought it was Hoseokie-hyung’s, I’m sorry!

Seokjin rolls his eyes as he responds with, Where is Hoseok’s charger?

Jimin sends back, IDK and another selfie, this one an exaggerated shrug with his index finger resting on his chin.

Seeing this, Hyungsik chuckles. He says, “You have your hands full.”

A swell of protectiveness rises in Seokjin, even if he knows he can’t debate Hyungsik’s point. On their very best days, they are a handful and then some. But Jimin’s grown up so much in the last few years, it almost brings tears to Seokjin’s eyes.

He pockets his phone. When he’s sure his voice won’t crack and betray him, he says, “Yeah, I’m the hyung, but I am definitely not alone.”

“No, I can see that,” Hyungsik says. They come to the end of a hallway flanked with dressing suites and hang a left to find Namjoon waiting at the stairwell.

“The elevators are swamped,” Namjoon explains as he opens the door for them. “I figure this is the quickest way to the garage.”

“What’s the hurry?” Hyungsik asks. “Got another broadcast or secret stage?”

“No, they’re ravenous,” Namjoon explains as they hurry down the steps. “If we don’t feed JK soon, he might make a snack out of Yoongi.”

“Then there goes one-third of our rapline,” Seokjin says. “And then where would we be?”

“Probably in jail for cannibalism,” Hyungsik says. At the landing, he pauses to catch Namjoon’s sleeve. “I’m Hyungsik, by the way,” he says.

“Right, right, I remember,” Namjoon says, his eyes widening. He bows, flushing slightly. “I mean, I know who you are, and it’s nice to meet you, properly.”

Hyungsik glances from Seokjin to Namjoon.

Seokjin tugs nervously at his ear. He says, “Joon-ah helped me with the ambush on the night of the Melon Awards.”

“Hm.” Hyungsik’s grin never falters. “That.”

“Yeah, man, I apologize,” Namjoon says, squinching up his eyes.“We thought something else was going on entirely.”

“Hey, no hard feelings,” Hyungsik says. “You’ve got each other’s backs. Can’t fault you for that. However...”

Namjoon sends a wary look to Seokjin. Seokjin responds with wincing grin.

“Revenge is sweet,” Hyungsik finishes.

“Yah, revenge?” Seokjin says, laughing. He chucks Hyungsik on the shoulder again. “Can you believe this guy?”

“A little bit, yeah,” Namjoon admits.

“No, he’s joking,” Seokjin says, though he feels due for some teasing from Hyungsik. After all, he did threaten him with physical violence on the night of their first meeting. But he’s been out with Hyungsik and Taehyung three times now, so he’s certain they’re okay.

“I really thought he was going to thrash me,” Hyungsik explains to Namjoon.

Never one for exaggeration, Namjoon admits, “I really thought he might, too.” Then he adds, “And if you had hurt our Taehyung, I would’ve helped.”

Hyungsik leans on the handrail. He says, “See, that’s what we’ve got in common. We’re all looking out for our V.”

“Yep,” Seokjin says. “That’s true.”

“So.” Hyungsik steps past them, continuing down the stairs. “Mind if I whisk him off tonight? We’re supposed to have a call with Seojoon.”

“He is his own man,” Seokjin says. “He can go with you if he wants.”

“I think this is our level,” Namjoon calls down. He pushes between them, opening the door to the car park, where dozens of SUVs and passenger vans wait in the exit queue. Above the engine noise and the jumbled mix of music pouring from the various sound systems, a number of voices shout in celebration.

Amused, Hyungsik murmurs, “Party in the parking garage?”

Namjoon consults his phone. “This way,” he says. A second later, a feral screech fills the garage, followed by incoherent shouting, followed by what sounds like a diesel train chugging toward them. Seokjin flattens against the wall as Jungkook and Taehyung pound up the concrete, darting between idling vehicles in a wild effort to reach Namjoon first. Jungkook wins, narrowly missing Hyungsik and Seokjin as he crashes into the wall.

“Hyung, we’re hungry,” Jungkook pants, looping Seokjin’s arm over his shoulder to drag him forward. Taehyung wedges between them, displacing Jungkook, who goes to tug on Namjoon instead.

Seokjin gestures wordlessly to Hyungsik. Upon noticing him, Taehyung crushes him into a hug.

“When did you get here?” Taehyung asks. The five of them fall into step as Jungkook leads the way to their vans.

“Well, I was a presenter,” Hyungsik said.

“No, I know,” Taehyung says. He slings his arms over Seokjin’s and Hyungsik’s shoulders. “But I thought you’d be gone by now.”

“Nah, I wanted to come congratulate you,” Hyungsik says.  “Congratulations, by the way.”

“Thank you,” Namjoon says, and Jungkook raises his hand. They descend to the lower level, where they spy Hoseok dancing in an empty parking spot while Jimin films from between their cars. Yoongi lolls from the back window, languidly waving a streamer of confetti in Hoseok’s direction.

“There they are,” Seokjin says, breaking away from Taehyung to wave at Yoongi and Jimin.

Hyungsik turns to Taehyung. “You wanna grab dinner?” Hyungsik asks. “I told Seojoon we’d FaceTime.”

Taehyung reaches for Seokjin’s forearm before he gets too far away. “How long do we have before the cars get out of this garage?”

Seokjin does a quick mental calculation. “About twenty minutes?”

Taehyung nods He says, “I really wanna do the call. But can we reschedule dinner for later? Like, maybe next week?”

“Sure, yeah,” Hyungsik says. “Let’s do that. Good?” He glances at Seokjin, and Seokjin gets it. It’s not about permission; Hyungsik’s trying to honor their relationship. It’s the first time anyone outside their own group has made such an effort, and Seokjin feels quietly gratified.

“Yes,” Seokjin says. “Good.”

“All right,” Hyunsik says. “Let’s go upstairs. It’s too noisy out here to make a call.”

“A quick call,” Jungkook reminds them.

“For Yoongi’s sake,” Namjoon adds, giving Hyungsik a wink.

Hyungsik and Taehyung part. Jungkook, Namjoon, and Seokjin climb into one of the cars and Jimin slings in beside them. “Is Taehyungie going with that Hyungsik guy?” he asks, not able to mask his disappointment.

“He’ll be back,” Seokjin says, patting Jimin’s knee. “They’re just making a call.”

“Good.” Jimin puffs up, pleased. Then he goes, “Oh, Hobi-hyung has your battery pack, but I’ve got his. Here.” He pulls it from his pocket. “You guys can trade back later.”

Seokjin takes out his phone and plugs in his charger. The screen brightens, and almost immediately, he receives a text from Taehyung. It says, Jinnie, wait for me.

You know I will, Seokjin writes back. He sets his phone aside and joins in the dinner discussion, warmed by the knowledge that his Taehyung has returned.  

Chapter Text

“Say it all. Get it out.
Let it go.”
Love Myself, Velvetears

(These videos: 1 - Hyungsik shouts out to Taehyung 2 -   Seokjin claims Taehyung )

25 January 2018 - Seoul

The cold knifes through their goosedown coats as if they’re made of cotton. The sky above is a bleak, blank gray pockmarked with blurry stars. Seokjin has discovered, to his dismay, that he has lost all feeling in his toes, and that he can’t squeeze the hot packs in his pockets if he’s also holding a paper cup of tea. Nor can he wipe his nose, which runs freely and has probably chafed to a vivid, stoplight red. Also, his hips ache, which means it’s probably going to sleet.

Yet Hyungsik and Seojoon plow along to yet another divey Gwangjang restaurant in search of the perfect tteokguk, even if it’s technically still too early for New Year’s soup.

“This is it,” Seojoon says as they bundle into a greasy booth in the back corner of an all-night bar.

“Hyung, that’s what you said about the last three places,” Taehyung says. He passes tin cups around the table, and as the youngest, he sets about pouring them each a splash of water.

“No no no,” Hyungsik corrects. “He said the last place had the best mandu.”

“And it did not,” Seokjin puts in.

“No, I will agree that place has gone down in quality since my uni days,” Seojoon says. “But the Soju was good.”

“The Soju is always good,” Hyungsik says.

“We need more,” Taehyung says. He’s beaming flamingo pink beneath his sweater cap. In the uncertain shadows of the bar, Seokjin can only see the shine of his cheeks and the tip of his nose. He cranes up out of the seat to beckon to the lone bartender, who huffs as he crosses to their table, like he’s already put out with the only four patrons in his bar.

Hyungsik orders Soju and cream beer. Seojoon orders their soup. Then for a moment they bask in the sweaty warmth of the space heater while Seokjin tries to remember what it was like to feel his toes.

Taehyung slides his hand under the table and begins to knead the muscle of Seokjin’s thigh. He’s slightly beyond the border of drunk tonight. But he’s exuberant, bursting with light like a fuse that’s lit and throwing off sparks.

“Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin says. “I haven’t seen you drink this much since… since Japan, I think, when was that?”

“Two years,” Taehyung says. He sips his water.

“Two years, no,” Seojoon says. “He drank with us.”

“Had to,” Hyungsik says. “ Hwarang production dinners, all those meetings and wrap parties.”

“Every filming day, a wrap party!” Seojoon adds.

The bartender trundles over with their soup and drinks, plunking them all down like it pains him to do so. Still, Seokjin and Taehyung thank him, because it’s late, and it’s cold, and they’re the foolish ones who braved the mid-winter ice in search of Seojoon’s favorite soup.

“I didn’t drink then,” Taehyung says. He cracks the seal on the beer bottle and pours a cup for Seojoon.

“No, you must have,” Hyungsik says. “We all did. I remember you getting tipsy.”

“Once,” Taehyung says. “On champagne. At the very, very end.”

“Int’resting,” Seojoon says.

Taehyung pours, and they toast before drinking. And then, the moment of truth, they sample the soup.

“Nope,” Seojoon declares.

“Uh, no,” Hyungsik agrees.

“Hyung can make better than this,” Taehyung says, poking Seokjin’s shoulder.

“Oh, I definitely can,” Seokjin says. “Is this laundry water?”

“It might be.” Hyungsik grimaces. “Next on the list?”

Seojoon sighs. “A place near Yeouido, kinda far.” 

“Then more drinks first,” Hyungsik proclaims.

“More drinks!” Seojoon and Taehyung chorus together, and the bartender hisses a long-suffering sigh.

When it’s time to pay the check, Hyungsik’s the one to snag it. “The price of my revenge,” he says, grinning at Seokjin.

“That’s nonsense,” Seokjin says, but he finds Taehyung gazing at him, looking dazed and lovesick, and his heart lurches. Because six hours ago, Hyungsik proclaimed on an awards show his belief that Taehyung is the most handsome man in the world. Seokjin's response to this baffled him, because he's not a jealous person; he’s really not. But at the end of their performance, in front of everyone, Seokjin snatched Taehyung up in what can only be described as a fiercely possessive embrace. Then, into the skin of Taehyung's neck, he whispered, “Never forget, my love. You are mine.”

And Taehyung’s been giving him these sappy, lovelorn glances ever since.

 

By the time their taxi arrives in Yeouido, it’s after 2 a.m. Most of the street-front stalls have buttoned up for the night in anticipation of the plummeting cold. The thin ice clouds have blown north, leaving the city crisply exposed, and the temperature drops from unpleasant to punishing.

Yet here they are, stumping through sleepy riverside alleys in search of… Seokjin can’t even remember. They’re drinking warm persimmon wine now, from white mugs Seokjin worries they may have taken from a restaurant without permission. But every time he thinks about returning them, he realizes he no longer knows where they are.

He’s lagging behind but still within earshot when they crest the street to come upon the river. There’s practically no traffic, so Hyungsik and Seojoon cross the middle of the road, jogging to keep the wine from sloshing from their cups. After a moment’s hesitation, Taehyung follows, only looking back at Seokjin once he’s safely across.

“Yah, Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin mutters to himself. “Did you learn nothing from our highlight reels?” He double checks the street, and finding nothing but a lone recycling truck, he dashes over to join Taehyung. They link their arms, huddling for warmth, as they fall into pace behind Hyungsik and Seojoon.

Getting his bearings, Seokjin asks, “You remember this bridge?”

Taehyung squints, attempting to focus his bleary eyes. “We came here on our first date,” he whispers.

“You remember that?”

“So clearly,” Taehyung says. “We had waffles with cream, and Jimin texted us, and we lied to him.”

“We did,” Seokjin remembers. “We told him we were seeing a movie.”

“Well we did make videos,” Taehyung says, and Seokjin smacks his arm.

“Porn stars,” Seokjin says, and they hold onto each other, trying to stifle their laughter.

Seojoon pauses to let them catch up. He loops his arm around Taehyung’s waist and slurs, “What’re we laughing about?”

“Our acting careers,” Seokjin says.

Hyungsik drops back to Seokjin’s side. “Yeah, about that.” He has to think for a second, one finger in the air, before he goes, “You’ve got an acting degree, and you’re ridiculously good-looking.”

“True,” Seokjin says.

“So why haven’t you debuted?”

“After Taehyung-ah’s horror stories?” Seokjin asks. “No. Someday, yes. But for now, I think I can wait.”

Taehyung nudges his hip. “Plus we get the chance to act in our MVs, right hyung?”

“And we’re so busy,” Seokjin adds.

“Oh, true, you guys are the busiest men in Korea,” Seojoon says.

“Says you, Mr. Movie Star,” Hyungsik chuckles. “You’re in everything right now.”

Seojoon shrugs. “What can I say? I am handsome and well-liked.”

“Still,” Seokjin says. The Soju and wine blur in his blood. It feels like it takes him forever to get his head around what he wants to say. “I’m grateful, for you helping our VV. He came to us so upset. We said we couldn’t help, but that we'd be there to support him. He had a hard time, and you helped.”

“Not us so much,” Hyungsik says.

“More Minho than us,” Seojoon agrees.

“Yeah.” Hyungsik nods. “Minho.”

The name works its way down through the Soju haze, where it strikes Seokjin like a thunderclap. He stops on the sidewalk, and Seojoon and Hyungsik walk on, dragging Taehyung with them a few more steps before he turns to face Seokjin.

“Hyung?” he says.

“Minho.” He mouths the name, and he knows. “It was Minho, wasn’t it?”

Taehyung’s eyes betray everything. He stands there, wordless, his gloved fingers opening and closing at his sides.

“Hyung,” he says again. He looks helpless, like a small black bird with wings too weak for flight.

Seojoon calls back to them. Seokjin says, “Go on, we’ll catch up.” Seojoon nods as he and Hyungsik stumble their way across the dead grass toward the river.

“I should have told you,” Taehyung mumbles. He rubs his nose on the back of his hand.

Seokjin wants to run. He has to fight to stand his ground. He says, “You can tell me now.”

Chapter Text

“How could I love you right?
You knew I didn’t love myself.”
Love Myself, Velvetears

26 January 2018 - Seoul

Taehyung pans a slow half-circle. He takes in the bridge and the black river beyond, the city glowing through its shroud of mist like something from a distant dream. He presses his hands together, touching them to his lips like a prayer. “It was here,” he murmurs, nodding. Tears fill his eyes. “It happened here.”

“Wait,” Seokjin says, backing away. “Maybe this isn’t the best place for—”

“—Jin-ah.” Taehyung rushes forward. He takes Seokjin’s hand in his. “Please.”

“I’m okay,” Seokjin says. “Of course, it’s Minho. Only, I’ve met him. Remember? We met him last winter, and he was charming—”

“—It is not what you think,” Taehyung says.

“But you kissed him,” Seokjin says. His voice is too loud. His breath snags in his throat. He can’t—

“Yes,” Taehyung says.

Seokjin touches his fingers to his forehead. Then he remembers the white mug in his hand, and the hot, sweet wine inside it. He downs it fast, spluttering as it ignites in his throat. Then he throws the mug and it bounces down the dry grass mound, rolling to a stop at the sidewalk’s edge. Irritated, Seokjin goes to scoop it up. He cradles it close to his body before scowling back at Taehyung. “Well,” he snaps. “What else?”

Taehyung stares for a moment, his forehead creased with concern. He says, slowly, “Please understand, hyung. I was… confused. And lost. And very, very drunk.”

“Drunk?” Seokjin again fights the urge to run. “You were drunk?

“I…” A tear splashes down Taehyung’s cheek. “I hated who I was. I hated what I was feeling, so I wanted to lose myself. I wanted to lose that me, and I didn’t know how. So I did everything I could that was unlike me.”

“Everything?” Seokjin gulps.

“Not everything,” Taehyung says. He takes a step forward. Seokjin steps back.

“Then what?”

Taehyung says, “We went to a place in Sinchon.”

“No. Taehyung-ah. No .”

“It was happening so fast,” Taehyung says. His voice sounds thready, like it’s so frayed it’s going to break. “He bit me, here,” he says. He touches his thumb to the spot on his neck. “And then he touched me and I… I panicked, hyung. Because I let it go too far. Me. I let it go too far. I let that happen.” His eyes shine with stolen street light. He covers his face. “I stopped him. But I shouldn’t have been there. Why was I even there?”

Taehyung lowers his hands. Seokjin’s standing there, his shoulders slumped like some of the air’s gone out of him. Taehyung can only think of holding him, of brushing the cold from his skin.

Seokjin asks, “Do you love him?”

“No,” Taehyung answers, honestly. “It was never like that.”

Biting out every syllable, Seokjin asks, “Then what was it like?”

“I don’t know.” Taehyung’s shoulders lift. “Temptation? Something forbidden, something different?”

“Stop,” Seokjin growls. “Please stop.”

“But you asked.”

“I know I did, shut up,” Seokjin shouts.

Taehyung stares into Seokjin’s face. He knows him well enough to understand that when he’s truly angry, he moves beyond tears. So it is no surprise that his eyes are dry.

Even so, Seokjin’s voice hitches when he’s finally able to speak. “Taehyung-ah,” he says. “I’m going to need some time.”

“Well... How long?”

“You don’t get to ask,” Seokjin says.

Taehyung can hear his own breathing. He can hear traffic sounds on the bridge, and the distant rumble of a train. There’s the wind from the river, and somewhere far off, the clamor of a siren bleeding into the night. He closes his eyes and sees the lantern he released here on the banks of the river, four months and a lifetime ago. Remembering the words he scrawled, he speaks them now, knowing they have never been more true.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

Seokjin stares into the empty cup. “Me too.” He staggers a few paces before turning to amble back the way they came.

Taehyung wrestles with indecision. Sure, Seokjin said he needs time, but Taehyung can’t let him just wander aimlessly around Hangang Park. Also, Seojoon and Hyungsik linger at the river’s edge, and if they caught anything of what just happened, they’re probably worried about them.

But it’s stupid. Taehyung already knows what he has to do, so he wastes no more time in doing it.

 

Seokjin makes it to the base of the steps that lead up to the bridge before he realizes that he’s lost and too drunk to help himself. Also it’s cold as hell, and his boyfriend kissed someone else, which he already knew, but he didn’t know who, and now that he knows, it’s all he can see. Choi Minho, kissing his Taehyung.

“Shit,” Seokjin gasps. He presses the cool mug to his forehead and leans on the icy handrail. He said he didn’t want to know, and this is why.

“Hyung.” Taehyung’s at his elbow.

“I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Don’t, then. Let me take you home.”

“No.” Seokjin cringes away, but he doesn’t leave. After a heartbeat, Taehyung slips an arm around his waist to guide him. Since it’s in the direction Seokjin already wants to go, he allows it.

Halfway up the steps, Seokjin says, “You left your friends.”

“They’re our friends,” Taehyung says. “I told them you weren’t feeling well.”

“Because of you.” Seokjin sniffs.

“I thought you didn’t want to talk.”

“I don’t.” Seokjin swallows a sob. “Pabo.

Taehyung gets him to the top of the stairs. It’s not long before they hail a taxi. Taehyung slides in beside Seokjin, careful to give him space, but Seokjin crowds against him, his whole body shuddering from the cold. The sweetness of the persimmon wine radiates from his skin, and his cheeks glow pink in the sallow cab light. Taehyung puts his arm around him, gripping him tighter than he has ever dared in public. Seokjin cups the mug between his palms, holding it in his lap like a sleeping kitten.

His voice gruff, Seokjin says, “It’s for my tears.”

“The mug?”

Seokjin coughs what might be a laugh, though Taehyung believes that might be wishful thinking. Then Seokjin asks, “Where’s yours?”

“My... what?” Then Taehyung remembers. He had a mug, too. They all did. They took them from some restaurant, where Seojoon promised the sweet, old ahjumma they'd return them someday. “I don’t know,” Taehyung admits. “I must’ve set it down somewhere.”

“Figures.” Seokjin turns his face to his. His eyes are swollen, his face, puffy. Taehyung gingerly smooths a wisp of Seokjin’s bangs caught in the edge of his lashes.

Shivering, Seokjin says, “Lonely little mug.”   

An ache twists in Taehyung’s heart. “I love you so much,” he says.

“I love you, too,” Seokjin answers. “And I’m really upset with you.”

Taehyung nods. He squeezes his eyes shut, dashing a few hot tears onto their hands. Seokjin presses against him, and they ride the rest of the way home in silence. Taehyung’s mind is a tumult of noise, and within that riot, there rests a quiet truth. He understands that loving Seokjin means he has to give him what he needs, even if it means that isn’t him.

Chapter Text

“I wonder what you can see at the end of this crossroad.
I wonder what you can see when you pass this obstacle.
It feels good just taking this first rough step.”
Switch, NCT 127

2 February 2018 - Jamsil (Episode 40 of Run)

The first night at Seokjin's brother’s place, he and Seokjung gorge on pizza and video games until 4 a.m. It was mindless fun, but it wrecks his 7 a.m. camera call. He arrives at the studio, puffy-eyed from the massive amounts of salt and Soju he’d consumed the night before, only to find Taehyung in a similar state of dishevelment.

They both smell like day-old grease and slept-in sweatsuits, but Taehyung looks like he’s watched Grave of the Fireflies by himself again, something he promised he would never, ever do. Sensing the tension, Jimin hovers around like a well-meaning honeybee. Once everyone meets in the dressing room to change into their hanboks, all they can do is small-talk about Namjoon’s impending surgery and where everyone is going for the holiday.

It’s a fake topic, though – Jimin’s attempt to keep things light and friction free. Everybody knows they’ll visit their childhood homes for Seollal. Barring the rare filming opportunity or severe family disagreements, it’s the one holiday they always try to keep.

Last night, Seokjung told Seokjin that this year, he intends to bring his girlfriend to meet their grandparents. This news aches in Seokjin like swallowed glass. He wants to share it with Taehyung, but he holds on to it, as if this one shard of personal news will keep all the other pieces of himself from fracturing apart.

It’s easier once they’re in their hanboks, because putting on a costume helps him to maintain his icy veneer of professionalism. As they migrate to the set to film their Seollal episode of Run, Seokjin resolves to do as Jimin does. He doesn’t ignore Taehyung, but he doesn’t engage with him either. Instead, he teases and plays with Jimin and Jungkook, who are more than willing to joke around with their hyung for the sake of filming.

Yet Taehyung is not okay. He gets upset during a game of yutnori, tossing his shoes and retreating to the sidelines to sulk. The camera crew continues to film, steamrolling over the incident to keep to their deadline. Seokjin casts a sickened look to Namjoon, who can only raise his shoulders in disbelief. Distantly, sorely, Seokjin wonders how the editors plan to handle it.

He hates that this is how it’s happening. He hates how perverse it is that he and Taehyung are silently imploding, but they have to be here, in front of everyone, without any hope of grace or reprieve.

After wrapping the episode, Seokjin hides in the washroom where he calls his brother from the stall.

Not bothering to mask his surprise, Seokjung asks, “What? Two nights in a row?”

Seokjin exhales a shaky sigh. “It’s not too much of an inconvenience, is it?”

“Not at all, Jin-Jin,” Seokjung says. “I’ve got a work thing tonight, but you should come. It’ll be fun, hanging with the normals.”

“I’m a normal,” Seokjin says. Even to his own ears, the words ring false.

“Little brother, you never, ever were,” Seokjung teases. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Seokjin listens for the others in the corridor. His knees feel weak, his heartbeat erratic, but once he can talk without the warble of tears in his voice, he calls Sejin to drive him to his brother’s.


That evening, they go out with Seokjung’s friends, all young professionals Seokjung’s age and older, schoolmates who have made headway into their various fields of business. Some of them have done their military service, but most are like him and Seokjung, biding their time until conscription.

During dinner, they drink enough to fill a swimming pool. They talk about business and girls while eating a metric ton of precious Korean beef. They harass the young server, asking her repeatedly if she’s married, even though she’s told them multiple times that she is not.

None of them tease Seokjin or even mention the fact that he’s an idol. In a way, it’s freeing. It lets him pretend he’s someone else. He feels safe within this circle of borrowed friends, insulated and protected, and he imagines a simpler life like the one his brother lives.

Halfway through dinner, one of Seokjung’s friends – Injung or Jaehwa – leans over to Seokjin to say, “Hey, I saw your friend last week.”

Chuckling, Seokjin says, “Of the two that I have, you mean?”

“You know the one.” He mimes at his shoulders, sweeping the motion over his chest. Seokjin thinks he means pigtails, which confuses him, until he realizes the man means breasts, and then he’s momentarily mortified.

The young man sends a blurry look to Seokjung for support. “You know the one, Jung-ssi? She went to grade school with you in Gwacheon.”

“Hahn Minha,” Seokjung says, patting Seokjin’s shoulder. “Yeah, our families have been friends since forever. Hey, Jin-Jin, you ever thought of asking Minnie out? She’s really sweet, and you’ve always gotten along so well.”

Seokjin chokes on the lump of meat he’s been chewing. He coughs and coughs until another of Seokjung’s friends passes him a cup of water. But even after drinking it, Seokjin cannot catch his breath. He excuses himself and slips outside to get some air.

He leans in the corner of the restaurant’s cramped patio, feeling the icy metal handrail bite into his hip. He feels disconnected now, even as he breathes through the tightness in his chest.

He takes out his phone and reads a pair of messages from the property agent with whom he’s been consulting over the last two days. In response to his inquiry, she sent him a quote and specs on the villa, and in the second message, she sent him the date of availability. If he can get the money together, Seokjin could move in by March 15th.

The question isn’t so much about money at this point, but nerve. Yes, Hoseok bought a place of his own already, but it’s not as though he lives there. This would be a bold move on Seokjin’s part, one that could be seen as a statement, and he’s not certain he’s ready for that.

The scrape of the sliding door jolts him back to reality. Seokjung waves sympathetically as he steps out into the cold.

Seokjin folds his phone into his pocket.

“Sorry about that,” Seokjung says, settling against the railing.

Seokjin waves it off.

“It’s a good thought, though,” Seokjung says. “You and Minnie.”

Seokjin’s heart rustles at what his brother is suggesting. “Sure,” he says, coolly, “except that I’m hopelessly in love with my boyfriend.”

Seokjung sucks his teeth. “You’re still on that?” he asks.

Seokjin strains to keep his tone even. “Yes, I’m still on that. He is the love of my life.”

Seokjung reclines against the opaque glass door. “Except you’re young, so how can you know?”

Seokjin blinks, mystified. This is a topic he and his brother have tacitly agreed to avoid, so why the hell is he bringing it up now? “Let me ask,” Seokjin says. “Is your problem with Taehyung, or with me being gay?”

“C’mon,” Seokjung says in a low voice, like the whispers of a conspiracy.

“No, hyung,” Seokjin says. “Please answer the question.”

“You’re not gay,” Seokjung says.

Seokjin hums out a laugh. “My four-year relationship with a man begs to differ.”

“No,” Seokjung says. He leans close, as if he’s sharing a secret. “Your time in Australia refutes it,” he whispers. “We all heard the stories. You were a legend.”

“Rumors,” Seokjin scoffs. “Most of which can be attributed to my… size.” He cringes at the sheer audacity of this conversation.

His brother jabs him in his ribs. “We have that in common,” he jokes. “We come from a… prominent family.”

“Hyung,” Seokjin says. “Lots of things happened in Australia, not just with girls.”

“So you’re experimental,” Seokjung says, but then he frowns like he’s not sure that’s a consolation.

And this is when Seokjin decides he’s had enough of this discussion. He kicks away from the handrail, heading for the door.

His brother snags his shoulder. “Look, you know me,” he says. “I’m not against the gays. But I don’t want to encourage any delusions that you and he might have a life together.”

Seokjin knows he’s being disrespectful as he yanks away from him. He tugs the door open, lilting out a warm wave of smoke and conversation across the patio.

Seokjung holds up his hands. “I only think you should consider your future—”

“—You think I haven’t?” Seokjin barks, realizing in that moment that he is far too close to tears.

Fortunately, Seokjung doesn’t notice. He says, “And if he’s the so-called love of your life, then why are you staying with me?”

A smirk twists Seokjin’s lips. “Can’t I visit my hyung?” he asks.

“Three years I’ve lived there, Jin-Jin. You’ve never spent more than an evening.”

“That’s because your friends are…” Seokjin trails off, catching himself before landing on the right word.

“Please do tell me what my friends are, since yours are so perfect.”

“They’re assholes, Jungie-hyung. Your friends are assholes.”

“Welcome to Corporate Korea,” Seokjung deadpans. Then, “No. You know what? They might look like jerks, but they’re only out to get what’s theirs, same as anybody else. And that could be your life, too. You know there’s still a chance. You can literally get any girl you want. You could have a wife, a family—”

“—You’re the oldest,” Seokjin shouts. “You have the family. And you never know. We might have kids. Taehyung-ah wants kids.”

Seokjung darts a wary eye into the restaurant. Tightly, he says, “No one’s gonna give you children, Jin.”

“They will in America,” Seokjin says, proud of the note of defiance in his tone.

“Yeah,” Seokjung says. “I wouldn’t bet on that.”

“You know," Seokjin has to swallow. "I thought you’d be different. After what I endured with our parents, I thought you would be more understanding.”

“Don’t be that way,” Seokjung says. He labors with the door, trying to drag it closed. Seokjin braces it open, letting the cold seep inside, hoping to disturb the warm, calm patrons within.

“And how should I be?” Seokjin asks. He stares at Seokjung’s circle of friends, their duplicate suits, their matching haircuts. Did he really think he could be safe in there with them? “Everyone seems content to tell me how I should live,” he goes on. “But hyung, I think I’ve done well enough on my own.”

“Don’t be mad,” Seokjung says.

“Don’t tell me how to feel,” Seokjin snaps.

“Fine,” his brother bites back. Then, quieter, he adds, “Seriously. Seokjin. What is going on?”

Seokjin sags against the door. The whole point of hanging out with his brother had been to avoid thinking about that one thing: what is going on with Taehyung. Then, all at once, Seokjin realizes that he’s no longer mad. 

He had been. He’d been furious. He’d been sick with rage and regret, but somehow, when he wasn’t looking, the anger evaporated, gone the way of winter frost and puddles beneath the sun. He had wanted to run and hide and drink until he could no longer stand, but none of that would help them, and anyway, that's over. Now, all he wants is to go home. But Seokjin realizes that his idea of this has changed. Home has begun to take on a different shape, and he only needed some time away to understand it.

“I had to think through a few things,” Seokjin answers, his words ponderous and soft. “To make a plan, without distractions.”

“We’ve had almost non-stop distractions from the moment you arrived,” Seokjung quips.

“I know,” Seokjin agrees. “And thank you. But I think, now, it’s time for me to go.”

His brother’s face clouds. “What? No. Jin-Jin, you just got here.”

“I have some things I need to do,” Seokjin says. “I’ll take a taxi back to your place. I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

“I can drive you,” Seokjung offers.

Seokjin can see his brother is trying to salvage the night. He allows that maybe, in his slightly inebriated state, Seokjung said more than he intended. On some level, he also gets that everything Seokjung said, he said out of concern. But Seokjin can’t take care of his brother’s feelings while tending to his own.

“No,” Seokjin says. “I need to be alone. I’ll message when I get there.”

Resigned, Seokjung pushes his glasses up his nose. “All right,” he says. “You know the door code?”

“Yes, hyung. I know the code.”   

On his way out of the restaurant, Seokjin stops to settle his bill. He toys with the idea of picking up the tab for the whole party. He could. Easily. He makes enough money to buy the meals for every person in the place.

But that’s his pride talking, and he knows it. Whatever their differences, Seokjung doesn’t deserve that kind of disrespect. So Seokjin pays his portion and returns to Seokjung’s apartment alone.

Chapter Text

“The distance between us,
It sharpens me like a knife.”
Hold Me Tight, or Don't, Fall Out Boy

4 February 2018 - Jamsil

Eomuk and Odeng flit beneath their thick canopy of leaves as Seokjin attempts to lift one of them from their cage. He coos softly, trying to soothe them, but it’s no use. It’s one of those violently bright February days outside, and Seokjung’s apartment seems to be made entirely of windows.

His brother comes in from the hallway, still chattering about a news report he saw about the crumbling infrastructure of southeast Seoul, pausing long enough to flick a switch on the wall. There’s a juddering sound as a bank of blackout curtains unfurl down the length of the windows, slicing out the brightness like a blade. Seokjung continues to elaborate on the gentrification of Gildong as he comes to crouch at Seokjin’s side.

It seems, Seokjin thinks, that in times of crisis, Seokjung does as everyone else in our family does. He pretends it didn’t happen in the hopes that it will go away.

“Anyway,” Seokjung says, plucking Odeng from his hanging topiary. “Did Abeoji talk with you about our latest venture?”

“Hm, no,” Seokjin says. “We haven’t talked about anything other than going to Grandma’s for Seollal.”

“You are going, right?”

“Of course,” Seokjin says. He and Seokjung share an awkward moment, reliving their last Seollal when their father steadfastly refused to speak to Seokjin. Even though they both remember it, neither of them says a word. Seokjin eases Odeng from Seokjung’s palm, nuzzling his nose before easing him into his sling. Odeng nestles into it, curling up to fuss with his tail.

“It’s a business deal. You'll want in on it.” He crouches beside Seokjin, tapping on the cage to get Eomuk’s attention. Eomuk burrows further into the greenery.

Seokjin smirks. “Why?” he asks. “Because I bought land in Daegu and you want to develop it?”

“No,” Seokjung says, brushing off the idea. But it’s too quick and too dismissive, which means his brother has at least given it a passing thought. Seokjung is enough like their father to recognize a business opportunity when he sees it.

“So what is it?” Seokjin asks.

“Restaurants,” Seokjung says. “Two of them.”

“Really?” Seokjin smooths his palm over the outside of the sling to comfort Odeng, who has begun to rut around in search of Eomuk.

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Seokjung says. “It’s part of Apa’s expansion into more tangible holdings.”

“But you’re an architect,” Seokjin reasons. He reaches into the cage, cupping one hand under the topiary.

“And you’re a pop idol with a degree in business—”

“—film arts,” Seokjin corrects.

“I mean your masters,” Seokjung says.

“Which I haven’t completed,” Seokjin says.

Eomuk scuffles to the topiary’s edge, nudging against Seokjin’s thumb. Seokjin kisses encouragingly toward him, but the sugar glider remains perched and immovable. Seokjung reaches for him; Seokjin lifts his elbow to bar his brother’s way.

“Give him a second, he’s shy.”

“I know how they are, Jin,” Seokjung says. “They stay with me more than they do with you.”

Seokjin sighs. “Thank you for that, by the way.”

“No problem, little brother,” Seokjung says, squeezing Seokjin’s shoulder. “They give you a good reason to visit.”

Seokjin prickles. It’s true that the sugar gliders have provided safe topics of communication between them. Without the fuzzy creatures to keep their attention, it's all business deals, dicey family situations, and gay denial. And after their stand-off last night, Seokjin knows his brother doesn't mean well by the comment.

Seokjin silently wills Eomuk to hurry the hell up.

After a copious amount of cajoling, Eomuk finally slinks forward, gripping Seokjin’s thumb with his claw. Seokjin clicks his tongue and Eomuk rolls, changing his mind halfway into Seokjin’s palm before scrabbling back beneath the leaves. Seokjin cups him, somewhat clumsily, finally jostling him from the cage and into the carrier with Odeng.

Seokjin purses the sling open, murmuring down to the sugar gliders inside. It’s the middle of the night for them, so they’re right to be upset. But still…

“Eomuk-ie doesn’t look so great,” Seokjung says, voicing Seokjin’s concern.

“He’s always had to struggle,” Seokjin says.

“Yeah.” Seokjung stands to help Seokjin to his feet. “So. How long will you be in Seoul this time?”

Seokjin leafs through his mental calendar, grateful for the distraction since he doesn’t want to think about Eomuk’s troubled health. “April, I think? We go to Japan in April.”

“Good,” Seokjung says, gathering up the sugar gliders toys. “They miss you when you’re gone.”

Another family trait: Hedging your true feelings behind something else.

Seokjin plays along. “Yeah. I miss them, too.”

“Am I driving you home?” Seokjung asks.

“No, I’m staying with my friend Sandeul,” Seokjin says. “Probably just for today. I have a few more things to finalize before returning to the dorm.”

“I see.” Seokjung doesn’t hide his disappointment. “I need to make a few calls, but then I’ll be ready to drive you.”


Seokjin knows how much he’s worth, down to the last jeon. He saw his financial report last fall when he purchased the farm in Daegu. He knows he can get the money together, and he feels that this must be fate, considering that he only conducted the property search on a whim last week after he finally let Taehyung confess. All of the barriers and blindspots, all the ways he’d been protecting himself crumbled away, and beneath that wreckage Seokjin found... something.

Beyond Seokjung’s panoramic windows, the contrails of passing planes crisscross the crystalline sky. Seokjin hunches at his brother’s black faux-marble bar, hastily reading the property agent’s texts.  

His brother is on the phone with his girlfriend, pacing back and forth before the window while he talks. His animated conversation makes it hard for Seokjin to focus on the revolving wheel of messages he’s sending to Bang Sihyuk and the property agent. The transaction is happening fast, but Seokjin feels like it’s a fever, and he has to draw it out. So he keeps pushing, keeps bargaining and arranging, until he has a price he can manage (in cash), and an offer Bang Sihyuk will approve.  

Seokjung clatters his phone onto the bar. “What’s that?”

“Maybe it’s a song?” Seokjin lies. He pockets his phone. “Sometimes I write songs, you know. Because I’m an idol in this group called BTS. Maybe you’ve heard of us?”

His brother scowls. “You know I’ve always supported that decision,” he says.

“Have you?” Seokjin stands up, leaving the question hanging between them. He moves for the door, and Seokjung follows, swiping his keys from the table. In silence, they stomp into their shoes and hassle into their coats.

In the elevator, Seokjung pushes. “You should know I support you.”

“You say you support me, yet here you are with an alternative,” Seokjin says.

“What’re you talking about?”

“The restaurants, hyung,” Seokjin says. He lowers his voice as they cross the lobby. The cold outside slaps them like an Arctic blast. “Is that yours and Abeoji’s plan B for me, in case the idol thing doesn’t pan out? Which is ridiculous, by the way. We are very successful—”

“—I only thought you’d be interested since you’ve always liked to cook,” Seokjung answers. His voice bobbles, betraying his emotion. “It’s not a statement about your… lifestyle.”

“You mean as an artist or as a gay man?”

Seokjung pales. He hisses, “We are on the street.”

“And I care... why?” Seokjin asks. His tone feels strident. He enjoys the tingle of it in his blood. “They aren’t listening, they don’t care. And why should they have control over what I say to my own brother, in my own city?”

Seokjung angles them down the alley where he parked his SUV. Seokjin slides into the passenger seat, settling the seatbelt beneath the sugar gliders’ sling. He wishes now that Taehyung was here, because Seokjung wouldn’t dare broach this subject with him around.

Or would he? Seokjung’s edging up to marrying age. He’s firmly set into the wheel that will churn him through military service, marriage, career, and kids. Perhaps it’s logical for him to worry for his baby brother, who has never taken the ‘normal’ path to anything.

Looking at it from Seokjung’s point of view, it must be frightening to know that Seokjin could lose everything because of his love for Taehyung. So his brother offers another option. A wife. A restaurant. Security. A future.

Seokjin risks a glance at his brother as he slots the car into mid-morning traffic. Behind his sunglasses, Seokjung blinks rapidly, something they both do when they’re anxious, a trait they inherited from their mother.

“Look, Jung-hyung,” Seokjin says. He’s recovered his voice now; his words sound level and calm. “I’m planning to marry him. I want to spend the rest of my life with him.”

As he speaks these words, he feels the truth in them. Despite everything they went through last year – their on-camera fight, their almost break-up, Taehyung’s crush on Minho – and everything they’ve gone through in years past – Minyeong’s threats, their coming out, and Seokjin’s tendency to bolt everytime something went wrong – this part has always been true: They want to be together.

But Seokjung is shaking his head. “What about your military service? Hm?” His gloved hands grip the steering wheel. “I hear it changes you.”

Seokjin sniffs. “It won’t make me not gay,” he says.

“But they could hurt you,” Seokjung says. “If they find out, they’ll…” he seethes out a rattling sigh.

“Who’s gonna tell them?” Seokjin soothes.

Seokjung’s frown deepens. It’s a long moment before he says, “I don’t like it.”

“Then don’t be gay,” Seokjin says.

Seokjung cuts his eyes at him, a quick flash before refocusing on the road. “You’re my brother,” he says, his voice pinched and reedy. “I despise the idea of someone hurting you.”

Seokjin fights a knee-jerk response to make a joke, to break the tension, to do anything to suspend the pain caught between them. Instead, he puts his hand on his brother’s arm, because there is nothing else they can say.

Chapter Text

“I leave the darkness that finds my heart.
Even the cold shadow that covers the night starts to harden.”
Melted, AKMU

5 February 2018 - Seoul

Jimin tucks a fleecy blanket around Namjoon’s shoulders and plumps the pillow behind his shoulders. He’s still loopy after his surgery, and his nose looks uncomfortably puffy. Jimin doesn’t know if there’s anything he can do to help him, but at least, he thinks he should offer. “Can we get you anything?” he asks.

“Chicken,” Namjoon answers.

Jimin glances at Jungkook, who shakes his head.

“Not yet, hyung,” Jimin says. “But, maybe soup?”

Namjoon groans.

“Do you need medicine?” Jimin asks.

“Too soon,” Jungkook says. He rattles out the bottle of pills from the pharmacy and scans the label. “He can have these at 2. Until then, he needs rest and fluids.”

“That’s so long,” Jimin pouts.

“Honestly, he should sleep,” Jungkook says.

“I don’t wanna,” Namjoon mumbles, but his eyes are already blinking unevenly as he fights to stay awake.

“Aw, hyung,” Jimin says, brushing Namjoon’s bangs from his forehead. “It’ll be okay. We’ll be right here.” With that, Namjoon gives them a dozy smile before sliding smoothly into sleep.

Jungkook rests his chin on Jimin’s shoulder. For a moment, they watch Namjoon drawing long, even breaths through his mouth.

“We did good, didn’t we?” Jimin whispers.

I did,” he says, kneading his chin into the ticklish place along Jimin’s collarbone.

Jimin wheels on him. “Jeon Jungkook, you would’ve been lost without me.”

“We did get lost,” Jungkook reminds him. He links their fingers to drag Jimin from the living room.

“A minor turnaround,” Jimin allows. “On a tricky one-way street. Totally acceptable since, because of me, we left here thirty minutes early so we’d get him to his appointment on time.”

Jungkook sputters a laugh as he opens the refrigerator. “We left early because of me.”

Jimin opens his mouth to protest but knows it’s useless. If not for Jungkook, Namjoon would have still been reading his book at the time of his appointment, and Jimin would have still been in the shower.

Jungkook passes a bottle of water to Jimin. He says, “You know what’s funny?”

“That Namjoon asked us instead of Hobi-hyung or Jin-hyung to take him to his appointment?”

“Huh, no,” Jungkook says. “More like Joon-hyung getting this surgery when he finally has a room of his own.”

Jimin giggles. “That is funny.” They’re sitting across from each other, playing with each other’s fingers, when Taehyung sulks into the kitchen, his hair a matted nest against his head. He glances at them, glowers, and continues to the refrigerator, going directly for the cola.

“Hyung,” Jungkook says, “Don’t you think it’s a bit early for that?”

Taehyung cracks it open and takes a long, resentful swig.

“Can’t be good for your teeth,” Jimin says.

“I don’t recall asking,” Taehyung grumbles, “but thank you for the advice.” He comes to the table and shrugs into a chair. He grips the bottle between his hands, glaring down into it like a drunk with a cheap pint of wine.

Jimin squeezes his knee. “We brought Namjoonie-hyung home from his surgery.”

“Oh,” Taehyung sighs. “How is he?”

“He sounds funny when he talks,” Jungkook says.

“Like his head’s stuffed with cotton,” Jimin says.

“Because it is,” Jungkook tells him.

Taehyung looks both disgusted and amazed.

“Yeah,” Jimin says. “They said it could take months for his nasal passages to properly settle.”

“But he’s okay, right?” Taehyung says.

“He will be,” Jungkook says. “And he’ll have more breath control, and no more snoring.”

Taehyung barks one short chuckle before sinking back into his sullen mood.

Jungkook asks, “Hey, where’s Tan-ah?”

“Asleep,” Taehyung answers.

“We can take him for a walk later,” Jimin suggests. “Some of our neighbors were in the dog park earlier, maybe he can make some new friends.”

“Sure,” Taehyung says.

“Taehyungie!” Jimin moans. “What is wrong with you?”

“Nothing,” Taehyung says. Then he shakes his head. “Everything.” In a jumbled, almost unintelligible rush, Taehyung spills the whole story, confessing to Jimin and Jungkook what he told Seokjin on Friday night. It comes out as one long run-on sentence, and in the wake of his words, they can only gape at him.

Then, after a cold, uncomfortable silence, Jungkook finally speaks. “You’re an idiot,” he says.

“Jungkookie,” Jimin gasps.

“No,” Jungkook bites out. “It’s not okay. After all he’s done for us. After all he’s done for you.” Jungkook pushes the table. “This is why he’s been gone, why he’s staying with his brother. Because of you .”

Jimin notes the tightness in Jungkook’s jaw, and the way his nostrils flare as he struggles to order his thoughts.

Jungkook shoves up from the table and says, “I can’t even look at you right now.”

Taehyung shuts his eyes. He mutters, “Same.”

Jungkook brushes Jimin’s shoulder as he leaves the room. Namjoon moans something, and Jungkook answers, so Jimin knows they’re both safely occupied. Which gives him and Taehyung a chance to talk.

“Taetae,” he says, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t tell anyone,” Taehyung drones.

“But you kissed someone else?”

“He kissed me,” Taehyung says. He meets Jimin’s eyes.

“Taehyung,” Jimin says, surprised by the sternness in his tone.

“Yes,” Taehyung says. “I know. But Jin-hyung and I, we made up. I told him about it back in Busan, before we went to Japan with my family. We talked, and we made up. And he bought us a farm, so that must mean… doesn’t that mean he wants us to be together?”

“Well,” Jimin tells him, “He said he needs time. You know Jin-hyung, he likes to think things through.”

“I know he does,” Taehyung says. His face crumples, and he hides behind his hands. “God, I am an idiot.”

Jimin scoots beside him. He puts his forehead against Taehyung’s, so close that he can smell the ginseng of his shampoo. Taehyung inhales deeply, several slow, determined breaths.

He says, “But I have a plan.”

“Do you?” Jimin smooths the nape of Taehyung’s neck. “That’s good.”

“I can’t take back what I did, but I can show him.” He sniffs and shudders out a sigh. “I can let him know what he means to me. If he needs time, he’ll have it. If he never wants to be with me again—” Taehyung squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, “—I’ll understand. But I’m gonna show him.”

A footfall sounds in the archway. They turn to find Jungkook hovering there, his arms folded firmly across his chest.

“He has a plan, Jungkookie,” Jimin says. “He’s gonna make things right.”

“How?” Jungkook shakes his head. “It doesn’t work that way. Once you break a bone, you’ll always know it was broken.”

“Sometimes it heals stronger,” Taehyung says.

Jungkook scoffs. “Don’t kid yourself.”  Jungkook’s posture is rigid. His fists clench.

Taehyung shouts, “Why are you so angry? Not even hyung reacted this way.”

“That’s because Jin-hyung hides everything,” Jungkook bites out. His eyes go glassy with tears. A flicker of panic flares up in Jimin, because he can’t remember the last time he saw him this upset. “He is so in love with you, Taehyung. And he has always been there for you—”

“—Well, except for when he wasn't,” Jimin says, realizing the moment he speaks that he’s throwing grenades into a house that’s already on fire.

“Really?” Jungkook says. A muscle in his jaw jumps.

“Um, yeah,” Jimin says. He’s standing now but doesn’t recall getting to his feet. “Remember Mexico, and that time in LA, and all those years ago in Japan? Remember every time he shut Taehyung out, and we sat with him while he cried? We were the ones holding Taehyung’s hands every time Seokjin-hyung broke his heart.”

“That doesn’t excuse what he did,” Jungkook shouts.

“No, it doesn’t,” Jimin says, measuring his volume, because Namjoon’s supposed to be resting in the next room. “But they have both hurt each other, and they have come through it all so far, so… how about let’s help Taehyung instead of making him feel more guilty than he already does?”

Jungkook squints. “How about, No ,” he says. “How about, I can’t do that . How about, Maybe I need some time, too?

Taehyung slouches deeper into his chair. “Fine,” he mutters. “It’s fine.”

“Yeah,” Jungkook sneers. “So. I’ll be in my room.”

“Jungkookie,” Jimin calls, but Jungkook doesn’t turn back. His door shuts, one firm click, and then there’s nothing but the mechanical lull of the refrigerator and the hush of Namjoon’s breathing.

Taehyung sips his Coke. He grimaces at its acidic sweetness, but he keeps drinking until it’s gone. Then he presses his hand to his cheek, wincing at the pain of the ulcer he’s been fighting off and on since July.

Jimin reaches to comfort him. “You should go to the doctor,” he says. “I can go with you. I did just take Namjoon, and he seems to be recovering beautifully—”

“—No,” Taehyung sighs. “I’m fine.” He gets up and pads to the bathroom. After a few minutes, Jimin hears the shower run.

Sighing, Jimin strays into the living room to find Namjoon sitting up and writing.

“Hyung, you should be resting,” Jimin chides.

“No, I had a…” Namjoon says distractedly. He gestures to the page and continues to scribble.

Jimin hovers, feeling torn, because he knows Jungkook is probably waiting for him to come talk about what happened. And normally, he would take Jungkook’s side. There wouldn’t even be a question. But right now, Jimin’s not certain how he feels.

He wants to talk to Namjoon, but he also doesn’t want to disturb his creative flow.

Frustrated, Jimin flings himself into the chair beside Namjoon. He presses his thumbs to his eyes, but somehow, he isn't crying. He thinks back to when they took Seokjin to a nightclub in Osaka, and how Seokjin insisted back then that he had to let Taehyung figure things out on his own. Then Jungkook had led Jimin out onto the street. He assured him he wasn’t like Taehyung. He told Jimin that, with him, it’s either one hundred percent, or nothing. Then he kissed him, and until now, Jimin hasn’t given another thought to what he said.

But Jimin gets it now.

He breathes out, “Jungkookie has to figure this out on his own.”

Namjoon goes, “Hm?”

“Sorry, hyung,” Jimin says. “I’m being loud.”

Namjoon lowers his pencil. “You wanna talk?”

“No, hyung. Please keep going. I’m fine.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says. He jots a few words. “People say that when they’re not fine.” He tables the notebook. “I heard you guys in the kitchen.”

“You heard everything? Even what Taehyungie said?”

“Not all of it,” Namjoon says. “But enough.” He taps the pencil tip on the page. “I was dreaming about a lakeside and fog, and then… Did I hear something break?”

“No.” Jimin sighs. “Just yelling.” Then he says, “You know, I was thinking maybe heartbreak isn’t like a broken bone.”

Namjoon’s brows arch. “Mmkay?”

“Maybe a heart can’t be fixed in a day or healed in a week,” Jimin continues. “It takes patience and openness, right? It takes learning, and pain, and vulnerability. So maybe a broken heart’s more like an open wound.”

“Jimin-ah,” Namjoon says. “You okay?”

“I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Jimin says.

“How can it be good?” Namjoon wonders.

“Well okay,” Jimin leans forward. “When you open your heart to someone, you run the risk of getting hurt. I mean you have to, right? Even the most perfect people fight sometimes. So when you fall in love, you let that person see you for real. You’re totally exposed, and that’s so scary. And sometimes, it’s like you’re seeing yourself reflected in them. Like a mirror, sort of, but…broken or distorted? Hyung, I don’t know—”

“—Jimin,” Namjoon says, “You should write lyrics. That’s really deep.”

“Yeah. Right.” Jimin rolls his eyes. “Maybe I’m getting smarter.”

Namjoon grins. “We are all in trouble now.”

“Hyung, don’t tease me.”

“No, I’m serious,” Namjoon says. “I always knew you were smart. It’s time you knew it, too.”

“Stop,” Jimin says in a way that means Please continue forever. “Keep writing your song. I’ll quit bothering you.”

“You never bother me,” Namjoon says, reaching again for the tablet.

Jimin gets up. He squeezes Namjoon’s shoulder. “Thank you, hyung,” he says. “Let me know if you need anything.” And then he goes into Jungkook’s room, to see if there’s any way to soothe him.

Chapter Text

“You gave me the world, so I feel I owed you
I been lookin' through the mirror, and that's the old you
I'ma get it right now, don't know how
But I promise that we're gonna make it somehow.”
Start Again, OneRepublic and Logic

Kakaotalk
12 February 2018
20:14

BabyAngelJin: VV, what are you doing rn?

PrinceV: Feeding Tan-ah

BabyAngelJin: Again?
BabyAngelJin: He’s going to get fat.

PrinceV: Fat like Odeng-ie fat?

BagyAngelJin: Don’t you start on Odeng-ie.
BabyAngelJin: He is wearing his winter weight.

PrinceV: LOL Nope.

BabyAngelJin: What are you doing after you finish feeding Tan-ah?
BabyAngelJin: Nvmd, I know what you're doing.

PrinceV: Oh? Really?

BabyAngelJin: You’re meeting me here <external.naver.link >

PrinceV: What is this?

BabyAngelJin: You have eight minutes before I leave.

PrinceV: Jin-hyung!
PrinceV: JIN!!
PrinceV: ajfd;kj Fine.

The bittersweet scent of woodsmoke tinges the air. Streetlamps pool light along the snow-swept path, creating deep wells of shadow between. From where Seokjin stands, he can see a swingset and a slide, each glimmering beneath a sheen of frost. Above the park, behind a screen of evergreens, he can still see the balconies of the Hannam apartments.

Seokjin gave Taehyung eight minutes. He appears, panting and red-faced, with a minute and eighteen seconds to spare. A thorn of guilt nettles Seokjin’s heart, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t also feel gratified. He lingers, watching Taehyung from behind ice-glazed branches, waiting for him to wander into range.

Taehyung moves through the park, his eyes alert under his fleece-lined cap. He checks his phone. He sends a message that Seokjin ignores. He’d set his notifications to silent, so there’s nothing to give him away.

When texting fails, Taehyung stuffs his hands into his coat. He treads along the path, taking in the sharp, clear night, the hard-packed snow, the silent playground. He hums to himself, two bars of a nervous tune, before calling out, “Hyung?”

Seokjin suppresses the urge to answer. He listens to the crisp of gravel beneath Taehyung’s boots. He measures his breath. He counts his heartbeats. He waits.

Taehyung edges into the bend, to the place where the holly hedge parts to make a shortcut into the park. From here, the path slopes into darkness. The trail crosses into more somber, uncertain light, which is why Seokjin chose it. He can hide here and talk, and Taehyung won’t be able to see him.

At the bottom of the path, Taehyung pauses, twisting around in search of Seokjin. He’s anxious, Seokjin can see that. He wrings his hands. He blows on his fingers to warm them. Then he moves forward again, a few steps and a few more, until he slips beneath the shadow.

“I’ve been thinking,” Seokjin says.

Startled, Taehyung jumps. Spinning in the direction of the voice, he scans the trees. Finding nothing, he says, “Hyung, where are you?”

Taehyung sounds scared. Seokjin feels horrible for making him afraid.

He says, “We never would have made it, you know?”

Taehyung falls still.

Seokjin says, “If we lived apart, we never would have made it.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Taehyung says.

“No, I know it is,” Seokjin says.

Taehyung inches forward. Seokjin fights every impulse to shrink away.

“But we do live together,” Seokjin goes on. “And in our way, we have made it. All this time.”

“We have,” Taehyung says, eager in his agreement. “Why are you hiding?”

So far, Seokjin has predicted Taehyung's every response. He has an answer for everything. He says, “Because I need to say some things to you, but I won’t be able to if you can see my face.”

“Hyung, that’s…” Taehyung breaks off. He says, “W-what are you going to say?”

Seokjin steels himself. He says, “When we were in Hawaii, I let you go because I would have rather done that than feel us grow apart anymore. I always knew that you would realize, someday, that you didn't actually get a chance to make your own decision, to choose who you wanted to be with. And that we only stayed together because… What other choice did you have?”

Taehyung rushes forward. Involuntarily, Seokjin winces back, but he manages to keep the screen of the trees undisturbed. Taehyung’s a meter away, facing the wrong direction.

Seokjin crouches and waits until his breathing calms. Then he says, “That was stupid. You did have a choice. And you chose Minho.”

He watches Taehyung as he lowers his face. Shadows obscure his features, and for that, Seokjin is grateful. But he knows he’s crying, and Taehyung’s tears give him no joy.

“I know I said it didn’t matter,” Seokjin whispers. “I know I said as long as we end up together, it’s okay. But I can’t stop seeing him. I hate that you did this, Taehyung, and I hate Choi Minho. I want to punch him in his stupid, smiling face. I hate …” Tears well up, smothering his words. He stands up, disrupting the branches, and Taehyung turns toward the sound.

Seokjin catches him, though, gripping his shoulders to keep him at arm’s length. He says, “I’m not done.”

His voice small, Taehyung says, “Okay.”

“And I’m going to tell you some things that will upset you,” Seokjin says, “But you have to promise to listen.”

Taehyung holds a breath and exhales it, nodding as he lets it go. He turns, pulling Seokjin from his hiding place. Tonight, Taehyung smells like cinnamon. He’s warm in spite of the cold, and so, for a moment, Seokjin follows. But he’s not ready to be so easily led. As they pass the swings, he drops into one, looping his hands into the frozen chains.

Taehyung seems at first like he might challenge him, but then he sits in the next swing over. He shoves his legs to their full extension and then releases, swinging forward in a gentle arc. The chains squeal in soft protest, and Seokjin notices then that, beneath his coat, Taehyung is still in his pajamas.

A wave of remorse crests in Seokjin’s heart. He didn’t have to do this to Taehyung. It’s complicated and dramatic, but then, Seokjin realizes that this is the way with most of his plans.

He stares at Taehyung as he swings, at the set of his jaw, almost grim in his concentration. Each time he arches forward, his bracelet twinkles in the light.

“I want you to know I’m not angry anymore,” Seokjin says. “And I dragged you out here tonight, in the cold, in your pajamas, which was mean, and I’m sorry. But there is a reason.” He sneaks a sideways glance at him, breathes, and then just says it. “I’m moving out of the dorm.”

“What?” Taehyung shouts. “Hyung, no!”

Seokjin leans to place his fingers to Taehyung lips. “Shh. VV, listen—”

Taehyung tears away from him. “But this is how it starts,” he cries. “This is how the end of us begins. First Hobi-hyung, now you? Next it’ll be Yoongi and Joon’s always talking with Adora on chat and—”

“—No. Taehyung-ah, stop,” Seokjin says. “Look.” He very gently tilts Taehyung’s chin, following with a gesture toward the building beyond the trees. “It’s right here,” Seokjin explains. “In Hannam.”

All Seokjin can hear for several seconds is Taehyung’s struggle to speak. When he’s able, he whispers, “Here? In Hannam?”

Seokjin exhales. “It took all of six minutes and forty-two seconds for you to get here,”  he says. “Granted, you were at a full run, and again, for that, I’m sorry, but—”

“—We’ll be neighbors?” Taehyung asks. Tears glint like frost in his eyes.

“Yes,” Seokjin says. “This, Taehyung. It’s a place for us. No more nights in love hotels. No more sneaking away. No more hiding. No more rules. We’re done with that. Living together forced us work to learn how to work through our issues—”

“—Like training wheels?" Taehyung says.

Seokjin chuckles, softly. “Yeah,” he says. “Like training wheels. But now, we’re taking them off. This can be a place of our own, where you and I can come and go as we please. Like grown-ups.”

Taehyung’s eyes gleam. He nods, but he doesn’t speak.

“Also, I missed you,” Seokjin says. “I miss you. So I’m done now, with being angry. I’ll still feel compelled to hit Minho if we ever see him… but I won’t. I know he’s been through enough.”

“Yeah.” Taehyung rubs tears from his neck. “He has.”

“But I’m done with us having to hide, too,” Seokjin says. “I know we have to play the role when we’re in public, but you and me, Taehyung, we should have something of our own. We have earned that much.”

After a moment, Taehyung asks, “What will we tell Jimin?”

“You know what?” Seokjin sniffs. “Jimin’s a grown man. He will have to understand. And the others, too. I’m gonna tell them before we leave for Seollal, but I wanted you to know first.”

Taehyung pouts up at him through his frowny smile.

“I can’t worry about them,” Seokjin says. “Right now, I have to take care of me and my future, which, I hope, includes you.”

“Always,” he says. Then he tangles an arm in Seokjin’s chains, jostling them together for a kiss. Seokjin leans into it, feeling warmth spread throughout his body as his heartbeat begins to race.

They seem to spark upon the same idea at the exact same moment as Taehyung glances toward the new apartment.

“Ahh, not until March,” Seokjin says, and Taehyung squinches his eyes shut. He casts a longing look at the villa balcony before sliding to his feet. Then he leans down to kiss him. It’s tender but no longer tentative, and Seokjin finally feels like it’s time for them to go home.

Chapter Text

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
Rumi

15 February 2018 - Achasan  (Behind the Scenes of Episode 44, BTS Run, only available on Vlive +) but here’s a post by JinsJade that contains the same information.)

Cosmic latte, Namjoon thinks as he and Taehyung crouch on the frozen stone ledge of Achasan peak. Recently, he read an article that declared this to be the color of the universe – a softly glowing beige-y blue, like the color of the sky before dawn.

It might be his favorite color.

He inhales and wonders, do colors have scents? It seems that if the universe could have a color, then it could also have a scent.  If so, cosmic latte would smell like this, like stone and snow and sunrise.

Smiling at this, Namjoon spoons out the final piece of tteok from the soup Seokjin packed for them. Taehyung hunts through his thermos, dredging out bits of egg and beef as though he’s deconstructing the soup rather than eating it. Sejin-nim scrabbles along the ledge, filming establishing shots of the city and the sun, allowing them space to eat their breakfast in peace. Seokjin sent along a thermos for Sejin, too, but he hasn’t been able to eat it yet.

Namjoon and Taehyung lost a challenge to take this hike, but Namjoon wonders – as he often wonders – what Sejin must have done to weather this punishment with them. He’s their senior manager. He could roust rookie staffers from their cozy beds on this frigid February morning, but Sejin’s the one who slogs through it with them, as if he actually enjoys doing it.

“A funny story,” Taehyung says through a mouthful of soup. “When we came here before debut, it was supposed to be only me and Jin-hyung, but Jiminie invited himself along.”

Namjoon chuckles. “This does not surprise me.”

Taehyung slurps his broth. “We would’ve sat here together. I would’ve tried to hold his hand,” he says. “Jin-hyung’s, I mean.”

“Risky,” Namjoon says, tracking Sejin’s movements with his eyes. At this distance, the mic can't pick up their conversation, and the rushing winds serve as a further buffer. Still, though, Taehyung should be careful.

Only, maybe not. Sejin knows about Seokjin and Taehyung. He even took part in a plot Namjoon and Seokjin hatched against Park Hyungsik, which sparked an unwitting friendship between the four of them. Also, the staff has been keen in their editing, carefully slicing out anything that could be misconstrued.

Except with Jimin and Jungkook, because, honestly, if they cut out every moment between them, there would be no footage left.

“Think about this, hyung,” Taehyung muses, peering into the steaming thermos on his knee. “Jin-hyung planned this menu ahead of time, right?”

“He must have.”

“Because he bought groceries,” Taehyung says. “Which means he went shopping.”

Namjoon wonders where Taehyung is going with this. He scratches under his ushanka as he considers. “Maybe he sent one of the staff?”

Taehyung grunts. “Yeah. He was in his pajamas. He probably asked the staff. But still…”

“He had to put together a list,” Namjoon says.

“Exactly.” Taehyung sips. He says, “Then he got up, and he cooked. Even though he’s barely been home the last week. He took special care to make it nice for us. He didn’t have to do any of those things. He could have boiled ramen, and we would’ve been happy.”

“True.”

“He hasn’t even cooked in months,” Taehyung says. His voice cracks, and Namjoon’s suddenly concerned that he might be on the verge of crying. He leans forward to look, but Taehyung’s eyes are clear.

Sejin skirts nearer, zooming in on them. He says, “Let’s say bye to the Run BTS viewers and wrap this up.”

Taehyung speaks his Seollal greeting from the heart, quick and unscripted, getting it all in one take. Namjoon has to think about his, because Taehyung expresses everything he wanted to say. Namjoon discards anything too esoteric – his reflections on the color of the universe, for example – and focuses instead on their future hopes. He wishes for a happier year, he thanks the staff, their family and their friends, and of course, their fans. Sejin shuts off the camera and stows it.

“You guys okay up here for a while?”

“Sure,” Namjoon answers. “We’ll finish eating and head down.”

Sejin smiles. “I’ll get the van warm for us.” He touches his satchel to remind them, “Don’t forget your containers.”

Sejin hurries down the path, and Namjoon can’t blame him. He says, “Our staff is so great, Taehyung. What would we do without them?”

Taehyung grins. “Starve. Get lost. Be forever without our chargers and wallets.”

“I can never find my wallet,” Namjoon confides.

They huddle in, watching as the sun climbs, spilling light into the valley of Seoul. Lotte World tower gleams green in the foreground, shimmering within the layers of haze that skim in from the river. Small birds flit and scratch along the trail’s edge, and another bevy of geese wings across the sky.

Taehyung grows pensive. He’s stroking the linked rings of his bracelet, the gift Seokjin gave him for his birthday. One of the gifts, Namjoon amends. The other one is slightly too large to encompass a single holiday, or even a single year.

“Everything okay?” Namjoon ventures, knowing that it is not.

Taehyung makes a noncommittal movement as he watches the skyline.

“You can talk to me, y’know,” Namjoon says. “Cameras’re gone. It’s only you and me.”

Emotions flit across Taehyung’s face. “Like old times, huh?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says, watching as Taehyung begins to pensively roll a pebble beneath the heel of his boot. “Like old times.”

Taehyung massages under his jaw. He says, “Hyung, do you believe it’s true, what Jungkook said?”

“You mean when he said it’s your that fault Jin-hyung’s moving out?” Namjoon clarifies.

Taehyung tenses, like he’s bracing for impact, afraid of what Namjoon will say.

Because, of course he is. Two days ago, when Seokjin told them he’d bought his own villa at Hannam, their reactions had been… not great. Since then, there’s been a dicey silence as each member works to understand what this means for them as a group. Jungkook’s words hit the hardest, probably because they’re salted with the truth. Even if Namjoon agrees with Jungkook, he knows that saying so outright will only alienate Taehyung. So instead, he asks, “What do you believe is true?”

After a moment, Taehyung says, “Pierre Renoir was a painter in France, who fell in love with a seamstress and together, they had a child, a little girl named Jeanne.”

“Oh,” Namjoon says. “Okay.”

“For his whole life, Renoir never gave her his name, never called her his daughter,” Taehyung goes pm. “The woman, the seamstress, he loved her. She became the focus of so many paintings. But at the same time, he wouldn’t claim their child as his.”

Namjoon holds his breath while withholding his observations. He knows sometimes Taehyung sometimes takes the long way around, so he simply waits and listens.

“Here’s what I’ve been thinking,” Taehyung says. He sips his soup. “Can a person be right and wrong at the same time?”

“Uh. I think so, yeah,” Namjoon says.

“I know I was wrong,” Taehyung says. “I let feelings develop for someone else. I followed them. But I was right, too, because in the end, I trusted my heart. I went into a dark place and came home. Jin-hyung was right, because he gave me that space. But he was also wrong, because for a while, he wouldn’t let us talk about it, and that, for both us, was really painful.

“And now Jungkook,” Taehyung says, “he is right to be mad at me. But he’s wrong, too, because Seokjin-ah is his own man, responsible for his own actions, so I’m not to blame for what he does. Seokjin bought that apartment, not me.”

Namjoon purses his lips and considers. “It’s fair,” he says.

“And Renoir, he was wrong,” Taehyung goes on. “But he’s also right. Because… he was this great painter, this man who saw beauty in simple things, like people and dancing and sunrises and cafes. But he denied the simplest, most beautiful thing, which was love. He divided up his heart, locking things away inside, which meant he couldn’t fully love anything, only parts of things. I like Renoir, but I’ve decided, I don’t wanna be like him.”

Namjoon wonders if there’s such a thing as mental whiplash, because if so, that’s what he’s feeling right now. This is what happens when you open the conversational door with Taehyung. One moment, you’re talking about basic things like soup. The next, it’s a philosophical digression about Renoir that somehow manages to weave everything back in.

“That’s the big question, I guess,” Namjoon agrees. “Who do you wanna be?”

“Me,” Taehyung answers. Then he murmurs a laugh like he knows that’s too easy. “But, I’m still trying to figure out who that is.”

“Same,” Namjoon says. They tip their cups together, clinking them in salute. “So that’s it, right? What it comes down to for all of us, this never-ending quest for identity.”

Taehyung hums his agreement.

“It’s comforting, knowing that, creatively at least, this thread will continue to bind us,” Namjoon says. “We are all still trying to define ourselves.”

Taehyung’s got a far-off look in his eyes, like he’s seeing beyond the horizon and the rising sun. His tone deep and pondering, he asks, “Hyung, can you keep a secret?”

Namjoon cringes. “You know, Taehyung, I’d really rather not.”

Taehyung goes on like he hasn’t heard him. “I’m gonna ask him to marry me.”

“What?” Again, mental whiplash. “I’m sorry, what?

A smile lights Taehyung’s eyes. “We were gonna wait until after our military service. But, with recent things... He needs to know. I can't ever give him as much as he's given me. But Seokjin needs to see that I’m serious.”

Namjoon wrestles with incredulity before abruptly throwing it off. This is not at all surprising. Outside of his own family, Seokjin and Taehyung have been together longer than anyone he’s known, and though they’re young, they have always been clear about wanting to spend their lives together.

“Well,” Namjoon says. “When?”

“That’s where I need your help,” Taehyung says. “‘Cause it’s gonna be a surprise. And Seokjin-ah’s the one who makes plans, and I really don’t. Like, ever.”

“I guess that’s true,” Namjoon says.

“But I’m learning who I wanna be,” Taehyung says. “I want to be a man who loves with his whole heart, who doesn’t hide or shy away. I want to show him the kind of man I can be.”

“Wow, Taehyung.” It’s moments like these when Namjoon wonders if it’s possible to transcend their physical limitations. It’s below freezing at the top of Achasan. The wind has chafed his sinuses raw, and his fingers feel as brittle as twigs. Yet, somehow, he feels light and intangible, as though everything normal has been cut away, and he’s floating through the sky.

Namjoon sips his soup, still processing, still stalling for time. The rest of the group might be steadily going to pieces, but Taehyung seems to finally be putting himself together. What else can Namjoon do but try and help?

“I want the world for all of you,” Namjoon says. “You know that, right?”

Taehyung nods, going suddenly shy. “Hyung… does that mean—?”

“Yes, Taehyung,” Namjoon says. “Yes. You’ve got my full support.”

 

Chapter Text

“Love makes a person go crazy.
Yeah, this is a crazy guy’s determination,
Substituting myself to be the most me.”
Her, BTS

18 February 2018 - Seoul - (Hoseok’s birthday Vlive feat. Jimin )

“Oppa, what did you do today?”

Hoseok reads the question aloud from the Vlive comments and ponders before he answers. It’s been a full day, mostly spent with his family, who are, like him, brimming with energy. He spent time with his puppy, who is also wriggly with energy, and then he came home, feeling as though his batteries have been recharged.

He doesn’t get enough time with his family. They’re three hours away by train, and they have always been as busy as he is… Well, okay, maybe not as busy as he is now , but coordinating visits with them seems akin to plotting a large-scale naval siege.

Hoseok keeps his broadcast upbeat and light, branching into the topics of dance, his mixtape, his schedule, his favorite songs.

Then, of course, Jimin shows up.

“I don’t often come into the office,” Jimin proclaims, feigning innocence for the camera, but Hoseok knows better. Somehow, Jimin magically appears anytime someone’s doing a broadcast. Their manager, Jigaemae, probably sends Jimin an alert when one of them films; he’s always been helpful in that way. Not that Hoseok minds; broadcasting feels more natural when there’s someone else beside you.

It’s only that, Jimin’s not the person he expected to show up.

At midnight, Hoseok shuts the broadcast down. As he’s tabbing out of open windows, he hears someone grabbling outside his studio door.

So it’s not only Jimin, then, Hoseok thinks with a smile.

Hoseok flings open the door, whooping wildly, hoping to startle them, and they play along – four of them flailing each other into his path. He catches Taehyung, twisting an arm around his back. He shoves his face under Taehyung’s chin, right into the spastic spot that renders him useless. The others escape down the hall, but he hears them around the corner, snickering.

Hoseok places two fingers on Taehyung’s bony hip, and he falls still.

“Who’m I dealing with, TaeTae?” Hoseok growls against his ear.

“I’ll never tell,” Taehyung announces. Hoseok jabs Taehyung’s hip, and the younger buckles, dropping to his knees.

“Namjoon-ah,” Tae gasps.

“And?”

“Jimin-ah.”

“I knew that one,” Hoseok says, knuckling into Taehyung’s ribs. “Who else?”

Breathless, Taehyung stammers, “Jin-hyung.”

Hoseok hauls him up like a bundle of sticks. “You did well,” he says. “You get cake.”

“Yay! Thank you, hyung.” They creep down the hall a few centimeters at a time. “I say we go for Joonie-hyung,” Taehyung whispers. “He’s still recovering from surgery.”

“I’m thinking Jimin,” Hoseok counters. “Teeny, short legs.”

Jimin goes, “Hey!”

And then they pounce, Hoseok leaping blindly around the corner, colliding with Namjoon, who ricochets off Seokjin. They scrabble en masse , managing to take the stairs without injury, until they spill noisily into the first floor lobby.

Panting, Taehyung says, “Are you ready for your birthday dinner?”

“I ate with my family—” Hoseok checks his watch, “—four hours ago. Yeah. I guess I could eat.” He takes out his phone. “Lemme just—” So many messages. He scrolls through them, searching for one among the dozens of birthday wishes.

Giving up, he opens KKT and texts Yoongi a quick, Hey are you okay?

“We have a busy schedule tomorrow,” Seokjin says, tucking an arm around Hoseok’s shoulder. “I checked out a car, and we’re thinking noodles. Because it’s pasta our bedtime.”

Behind them, Jimin convulses into giggles. Namjoon covers his face with his hands.

“Is that your birthday gift to me?” Hoseok deadpans. “Because I’d like to return it.”

“Sorry, hyung,” Taehyung says, opening the lobby door to let them pass. “We’re pasta the point of no return.”

Pretending to faint, Hoseok lets them bundle him into the car.

“You’re a bad influence on him,” Namjoon says to Seokjin.

“He’s a bad influence on everyone,” Hoseok agrees. He checks his phone again. No new messages.

“Everyone, buckle up,” Seokjin commands, and Hoseok does as he’s told.


By noodles, they mean an Italian place near the studio, one with a private loft that gives them the whole upstairs to themselves. The restaurant smells of garlic and olive oil, and they serve heaping bowls of pasta family-style, with loads of toasty bread on the side.

“So many carbs,” Seokjin exults as he shovels penne rustica into his bowl.

“We’ll work it off tomorrow,” Namjoon says.

“Why tomorrow?” Taehyung says, alarmed. “We don’t have choreo tomorrow. Do we?”

Seokjin pats his shoulder. “We’re filming a sports challenge, remember? That place with the climbing wall.”

“Right,” Taehyung says, like he doesn’t remember at all. “Right?”

“Must be why JK stayed home,” Namjoon ventures. “He always likes to win those.”

“Yeah, and Yoongi-hyung has to rest, otherwise, he’ll never survive,” Jimin jokes. But Hoseok detects the hollow note in Jimin’s words, the one thing to give his grief away. Jimin wishes Jungkook was here, and they all know exactly why he’s not.

While they were in Japan, promoting for AbemaTV, Jimin and Hoseok spoke a little about the recent disagreement between Jungkook and Taehyung. Jimin skirted the dodgiest details, but the gist of their argument had to do with Taehyung’s behavior toward Seokjin throughout the summer, something about which Hoseok (thankfully) knows very little.

“Honestly, I don’t get it,” Jimin had confided to him in the hotel’s sauna after a tedious day of shooting promos. “If Seokjin and Taehyung are okay now, why is Jungkook so upset?”

Hoseok had agreed with Jimin. He couldn’t explain it, either. As a group, they have a long-standing, unspoken tradition of keeping out of Seokjin’s and Taehyung’s business. But he remembers the day he spent with them in Vegas. He came away thinking they must be a little crazy, to put up with each other as they have.

But now that Hoseok’s in a relationship (of sorts), he’s beginning to think everyone in love might live on the border of insanity.

“Hey, Jay,” Namjoon says, gesturing at him with a pasta fork. “You gonna answer that?”

Hoseok glances at his phone. It’s on silent but pulsing with rolling waves of light. The ID reads Hwagae Market. Hoseok dashes up from the table, racking his head on a low ceiling beam, but that barely registers as he thumbs the button to answer.

Yoongi says, “Hey, SeokSeok.”

Hoseok clambers out onto a smoker’s ledge barely a meter wide. The street below glistens with scattered neon. His heart pounds out a frenetic rhythm, so it’s a full fifteen seconds before he can speak.

“Hey, Yoongs,” he breathes. “You’re missing all the fun.”

“Yeah, doubt it,” he answers. “Sorry I didn’t make it, though.”

“You okay?”

“Mostly.” He exhales. “Working on something.”

“Good.” Hoseok shuts his eyes. He presses against the restaurant’s concrete facade, feeling the chill nip into his shoulder. “Can’t wait to hear it.”

“I wanna say happy birthday,” Yoongi says.

“Well, what’s stopping you?” Hoseok asks.

“Nothing, I just said it.”

“Wait, that was it?” Hoseok’s grinning. He’s glad the others aren’t there to witness.

“I didn’t have to call,” Yoongi reminds him.

“You did if you ever wanted to see my… how’d you describe it again? The tightest ass this side of England?”

Yoongi hisses over the line. “They will hear you,” he says. Hoseok hears the smile that underscores his voice.

“Nah,” Hoseok says. He cranes down to watch the others, packed around the wooden table, making a whole rowdy mess of their meal. “I think I figured something out.”

“Impart your wisdom, old man.”

Hoseok balks. Yoongi utters a soft, alluring chuckle. Hoseok thinks he might be willing to sell his soul in exchange for that one laugh on repeat for the rest of their lives. “I’ve said before that love makes you crazy—”

“—Me specifically, or people in general?”

“Quiet, you, I’m imparting.”

“Right. ’Kay. Go on.”

“Love makes people crazy,” Hoseok continues. “And the reason Seokjin and Taehyung managed to stay secret so long is because of us.”

Yoongi says, “Us, specifically, or—?”

“All of us,” Hoseok confirms. Through the patio glass, he watches as Taehyung feeds Seokjin a hunk of bread. “We were so wrapped up in our own things, we never saw them.”

“Until I caught them banging in a broom closet,” Yoongi reminds him.

“First step in avoiding detection,” Hoseok says. “No fucking in public areas.”

“Except for Hope World,” Yoongi says.

“And Genius Lab,” Hoseok says.

“Whoops.” Yoongi laughs again. Hoseok’s knees go a little weak.

“No fucking in public areas that don’t have locks on the doors,” Hoseok amends.

“You’re spoiling all my fantasies, Hope,” Yoongi says. “I say we risk it, starting with—”

Jimin yells Hoseok’s name. He gestures meaningfully toward him.

“File that thought for later, Yoongs. I think Jimin wants a group pic.”

Yoongi groans. He says, “Let’s celebrate on our own, all right?”

“Soon,” Hoseok promises. They linger in awkward silence, neither wanting to be the one to end the call.

“Hey, Hope,” Yoongi says.

“Yeah?”

“I, um—” A breath. Then, “Happy birthday.”

Coward, Hoseok thinks, grinning to himself. I love you, too.

Then he hangs up as Jimin comes to haul Hoseok back inside.

Chapter Text

KAKAOTALK
22 February 2018
7:25 a.m.

Adorable_Trap: FYI, we have several conferences with our new trainees today. Our schedule is very, very tight. Please do not be late to today’s production meeting.

KimTaehyung/V: yeah, Jimin ㅋㅋㅋ

ParkJimin: Okay, Taehyung ㅋㅋㅋㅋ

Adorable_Trap: Both of you. DO NOT be late.

ParkJimin:

KimTaehyung/V: We promise.

 

“Spread out a little bit,” Namjoon says. “We don’t want him to think this is, like, a meeting with the headmaster or anything.”

Yoongi and Jungkook wing their chairs out, giving Namjoon an arm’s length of space on either side. Still, Namjoon looks concerned.

“Hyung, maybe we should move to the sofas?” Jungkook suggests. “Form a circle?”

“Will the power cord reach? My tablet’s almost dead,” Namjoon says.

“Of course it is,” Yoongi grumbles. It’s too early for this, or perhaps too late from Namjoon’s and Jungkook’s perspective, but what Yoongi needs right now is industrial-grade coffee, dimmer overhead lights, and eight hours of uninterrupted creativity.

And anyway, after reading the latest song sent over from the songwriting team in Japan, Yoongi doubts that their placement around the tables will matter too much to Seokjin.

Yet Jungkook’s snaking the exceedingly long extension cord over the back of the sofa, while Namjoon follows gingerly behind, dodging their various backpacks and discarded jackets to arrange themselves around the coffee table.

“Pass me that folder,” Namjoon says, leaning back to Yoongi.

Yoongi grates out a long-suffering sigh. He slides the folder to Namjoon.

“And my water bottle,” Namjoon says. “And my pen.”

Yoongi can reach neither of these items easily. He catches Namjoon’s smirk and knows he knows it, too. Yoongi shoves up from the chair, squeezing around the table’s edge to collect Namjoon’s belongings. On his way to the bank of couches, he begins a litany of complaints.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t do this over email,” Yoongi tells them. “We’re busy men. This is sensitive material, and it’s so fucking cold outside, the last thing Jin-hyung wants to do on any day is discuss his private life with me and Kookie as an audience.” Yoongi drops to the sofa. “At the very least, you coulda brought coffee.”

“First,” Namjoon says. “Because this is such a sensitive subject, we could not do it via email. Second, we’re already meeting with the production team today so we might as well have this out beforehand, and third—”

The outer door opens. Seokjin appears at the glass wall, balancing a cardboard tray of coffees, fruit cups, and pastries across his arms.

“—Jin-hyung said he’s bringing food,” Namjoon finishes.

Jungkook springs up, heading for the door to let Seokjin in. He enters, exclaiming loudly about the cold and his gratitude for Jungkook’s help. He strips off his coat, shucks his gloves, and joins them at the table.

Seokjin smells like a mixture of wind and sugar. His eyes are bright, his skin glowing like cherry blooms, and Yoongi has one of those moments where he wonders how the hell they ever managed to snag this guy. He doesn’t even seem real. Then it turns out he can sing like a goddamned angel, with a voice that can make the toughest among them cry. The rest are all marshmallows, so Yoongi being toughest doesn’t amount to much, but still...

Seokjin’s gabbling about something Yeontan did that frightened Odeng as he pops open the fruit cups with his thumbs. Jungkook reaches for one; Seokjin smacks his hand away to pass the first one to their leader.

Namjoon stares into the cup a moment before setting it aside. “Jin-hyung,” he says. “We need you to read something.”

Seokjin goes rigid. He says, “That doesn’t sound good.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “No, it is good,” he says. “Joon-ah, we talked about this. We said we were gonna lead with the positive.”

“All I said was that he needs to read it,” Namjoon shoots back. “Where’s the negative in that?”

“It’s the way you said it, hyung,” Jungkook says, finally grabbing his fruit cup.

“Is it a message from PD-nim?” Seokjin asks. “Is it about Taehyung?”

“No,” Namjoon says. Then, “Well, sorta.”

“Aish, Joon,” Yoongi says. He takes Namjoon’s tablet and flips it around for Seokjin. As Seokjin skims the text on the screen, Yoongi explains, “This is a song they want to include on Face Yourself. We’ll flesh out the rap parts later, but… I think you’ll understand why we felt you should read it.”

Seokjin darts a glance at him. “Oh,” he breathes, then, “Wow.”

“So, about that,” Namjoon begins.

“It’s a beautiful song,” Yoongi interrupts.

“It is,” Seokjin agrees. His eyes flit to the top of the screen and skim down the column of lyrics again. “It’s—” He looks at Namjoon. “—Did you write this?”

“Man, I didn’t even consult with the team on it,” Namjoon says.

“But, how?” Seokjin says. He scruffs a hand through his shaggy bangs. “This is about me and Taehyung, but I’ve only ever told the two of you about this.” He jabs a hand at the tablet.  “How do they know?”

“I don’t think they do, really,” Namjoon reasons. “And remember, this isn’t the first time this has happened, where our songs parallel real life.”

“But not like this,” Seokjin says. He continues to scan the verses, his lashes flicking through the lines. “Best of Me isn’t like this. I mean, this song is about letting go, and all the hell we went through last year. Who is this Jun anyway? And how closely is he watching us? How much do the songwriters know about us?”

Yoongi says, “Look, hyung, it’s vague enough that it could be about anyone—”

“—But it’s not about anyone,” Seokjin says, his voice edging up to panic. “This song’s about us.”

Yoongi’s list of needs upgrades from coffee and creative time to a deep, steamy soak bath and two bottles of merlot.

“The point is, hyung,” Namjoon hems in. “What we need to know is, can you perform it? Can you get up on stage and sing these lines with Taehyung a meter away? Can you do that?”

Seokjin gives them a hollow chuckle. “What if I can’t?”

Jungkook shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Namjoon gnaws his thumbnail. Yoongi sucks air through his teeth. It’s moments like this that make Yoongi glad Namjoon’s the leader and not him. Yoongi would botch this. He’d tell Seokjin that this is part of the business, and to suck it up because this is the work they signed up to do.

“You already know the answer,” Namjoon tells him. “If you don’t sing it, they’ll assign the part to JK. They’ll split up the harmonies, and you’ll be on stage, dancing without a song again—”

“—There’s choreo?” Seokjin moans.

“For the fanmeeting,” Jungkook puts in.

“Ah, kill me now,” Seokjin mutters. But then he shakes himself, an exaggerated whole-body shudder. He exhales. He wipes his eyes. He reads through Let Go once more. Then he says, “No, I can do it. I can do this. I won’t be able to look at him, but I can do it.”

Namjoon flicks a cautious look at Yoongi. He says, “You’re sure?”

Yoongi’s seen this kind of thing with Seokjin before, this kind of purposeful recentering, in which Seokjin takes an unpleasant or frightening experience and just stuffs it down like he’s repacking a parachute. Experts might call it repression, but hell, you know, whatever gets him through the day.

Seokjin’s not crying, though; Yoongi takes this as a good sign. He’s thinking about how proud he is of Seokjin, how strong and mature he’s become, when Jungkook lets out a strangled little sigh.

“I don’t understand it,” he says.

And all at once, they realize that Jungkook’s the one who’s fighting back tears. “I don’t get how you can look at Taehyung after what he did to you. It just… it doesn’t make any sense.”

Yoongi goes, “What d’you mean? What’d he do?”

Jungkook glares at Seokjin.

“That’s his business and mine,” Seokjin says.

“Fuck that,” Yoongi snorts. “We live together. What affects you guys affects us all.” Even as he says this, he understands what a hypocritical assertion it is, given that he is currently banging Jung Hoseok in secret.

“Don’t worry,” Seokjin says, crisply. “We won’t be living together much longer.”

At this, they all watch as Jungkook struggles not to lose it. He murmurs out a few incoherent phrases before Namjoon finally comes to his rescue.

“Hey, look,” Namjoon says. “Okay. Taehyung grew a lot last year. He’s grateful to Seokjin for allowing him that space, and they’re working hard to put things right.” Namjoon reaches way across the table to squeeze Seokjin’s knee. “JK, these two taught me to reconsider everything I thought I knew about unconditional love. Which is why…” Namjoon shakes his head. “Hyung, you should do this song. If you connect with it on an emotional level, you’ll be able to sing the hell out of it, and that will probably feel really good.”

“Does Taehyung know?” Seokjin asks.

“Not yet,” Namjoon says. “We wanted to clear it with you first, in case you wanted to switch with JK.”

“Clear it with me.” Again, Seokjin forces a fake little laugh. “Clear the calories in my coffee, while you’re at it,” he says, raising his cup. “And the color of my hair, and the length of my bangs. And what I’ll eat for breakfast. It’s steak, by the way. I’m having steak—”

“—I know, hyung,” Namjoon says, softly. “We’re grown men, and they make these decisions for us—”

“—No, I get it,” Seokjin says, sobering. “I’m fine, really. We’re not so different from everyone else. People are always telling us what to do and how to live, and who to love, apparently, and when to wake up, and when to sleep. But it’s fine. Really.” He pats down his hair. He sips his coffee. “It’s fine.”

Namjoon hesitates a moment longer before saying, “You’re sure?”

Seokjin nods. Namjoon shifts the tablet between them. They begin, tentatively, to discuss line distribution, bantering over each other in the way they do when they’re ready to get to work.

But Yoongi senses that while they’re eager to move on, Jungkook is not. The maknae watches Namjoon and Seokjin, his forehead peaked above his brows.

“What about this still upsets you?” Yoongi asks. He possesses the tact of a ten-year-old child, so the words come off like a taunt. He immediately regrets speaking.

“I don’t see how you could forgive him,” Jungkook says, still addressing Seokjin. “I wouldn’t. I haven’t. And now you’re leaving us and—”

“—You know what, it doesn’t matter,” Yoongi says.

Jungkook says, “Hyung, you just said—”

“—Yeah I know what I said, now listen,” Yoongi shoots back. “This is what we signed up for. ‘Always assume we’re on camera,’ remember that? It means that in exchange for the massive fortunes piled in our bank accounts and the huge amounts of fame and praise we receive, we live our lives in willing captivity. We’re like zoo animals, alright? We are completely exposed.”

They gawk at him; he forges on.

“You’re surprised these songs are about us?” Yoongi says. “Don’t be. Believe me, they – we: Namjoon, me, our songwriting teams – we are all watching. We soak it up and spit it out. And you, Jin-hyung,” Yoongi shakes his head. “You and Taehyung should never have gotten together.”

He hates the wounded look in Seokjin’s eyes, hates that his words have caused it. Yet he keeps speaking. “Hyung, don’t,” Yoongi says. “I told you way back when I caught you two fucking in a cupboard: This is the kind of thing that brings idol groups down. It’s a distraction. It takes away from our mission. You do remember, right? The promise we made: Give the world the music it needs. That’s bigger than you and me, and all these petty things. And yes, that goes for you and Jimin, too.”

And me and Hope, Yoongi thinks but doesn’t have the balls to say.

“You know, we don’t have to keep doing this,” Yoongi tells them. “You think it’s unfair, they write songs about you, tell you what to eat, how to live? Guess what, there’s the door. Our contracts expire soon; let’s talk options. But if, like me, you wanna keep working on this dream, then, by all means, fucking get to work. Either way, stop whining about it. It’s giving me a fucking headache.”

The others gape at him, because how can they respond to that? It comes off like a scolding, the headmaster’s conference Namjoon so hoped to avoid. And in its wake, Yoongi has a brand new desire. He wishes wistfully for Hoseok’s bed, which smells of lavender, and Hoseok’s arms, which smell of warmth and greenness, like a hillside after rain, and he thinks, holy fuck, Hoseok has rendered me pathetic.

More pathetic. Whatever.

But it’s the heart of Yoongi’s problem.

Whatever he and Hoseok might have, Yoongi can’t keep it. He has work to do. Real, honest, tangible work, and not… this . Meanwhile, they are in the process of unraveling, so maybe it’s best to remind them what’s at stake.

“All right, then,” Namjoon says. “When the others get here, we’ll discuss this.”

Yoongi reels with inward horror. This is not what he expected Namjoon to say. Nor did he anticipate the nods of assent around the table from Jungkook and Seokjin. Yoongi sets his coffee down. He tells himself to move slowly, to breathe, to keep calm, even though his heart pulses like a distant, dying star.

“Well,” he grumbles. “This has been exhausting.” He pushes to his feet. “I’ma take a break. Do anything that’s not this… Call me when the others arrive”

“Jiminie’s on his way,” Jungkook says, reading from his phone. “Taehyungie, too. Looks like they’ll be on time for a change.”

“Adora’s on her way up. And Hope as well,” Namjoon says. “So when they get in, I guess we’ll have a talk.”

Chapter Text

“Hold my head inside your hands
I need someone who understands
I need someone, someone who hears
For you, I've waited all these years.”
Til Kingdom Come, Coldplay

9 March 2018 - Yoongi’s birthday

Hoseok stands outside Genius Lab with the cake in his hands, wondering if this is such a great idea.

The others got the message. Yoongi’s busy. He’s working on three albums at once. He doesn’t have time for cake and distraction. Also, no one’s been in a particularly festive mood since they had the big, scary talk about whether they want to continue this whole insane, chaotic idol life. But Jimin dismissed their objections.

With what is becoming a habitual fake laugh, he’d told him, “Hoseokie-hyung. Everyone has time for cake.”

So they borrowed a studio car. They drove to e-Mart, and as they picked out a modest chocolate cake, Jimin reassured him. “He’s been working too hard, hyung,” Jimin had said. “Five minutes isn’t too much of a break. He should take a rest, right?”

“Right,” Hoseok had answered. “You’re right.”

Yet Yoongi had been clear. He took the briefest break to celebrate the release of Hope World. As a group, they went to dinner with Bang PD, and then as a secret couple, they went back to Hoseok’s place.

Hoseok could tell then that something was wrong. When he pressed Yoongi to talk with him, he’d been vague on the details, playing the we’re-above-such-drama card as a means of luring Hoseok back to bed.

Which hadn’t taken much. Things between him and Yoongi still feel all sparkly and new. Plus, they’ve been insanely busy, promoting in separate countries, working on albums and mixtapes, burying themselves in various projects.

They had an amazingly fantastic night, and then Yoongi vanished, disappearing back down the rabbit hole that is his brain. The thing is, Hoseok knows how Yoongi gets when he’s working. To mix literary references, he’s like Theseus in the Labyrinth, searching out answers in the dark catacombs of his mind. Hoseok knows better than to interfere with the man’s process. Yoongi’s ability to dredge through his misery to find deeper meaning has brought them no small amount of success.

But Hoseok does wonder – as he often wonders – at what cost?

Surely Yoongi’s psyche is too great a price. And if so, then Jimin is right. Cake and distraction can only serve as a reminder that Yoongi is loved.

Only as Hoseok stands there on Yoongi’s door mat – a very Suga-looking cat flipping them off beneath the words Go Away! – he questions the purity of his own motives. Is Hoseok deliberately ignoring Yoongi’s boundaries in an effort to chip into the protective shell he wears when he’s creating?

And Jimin, who has made a career of disregarding boundaries in the name of bolstering morale, beams proudly as he waves Hoseok to the door.

“Go ahead, knock,” Jimin laughs, holding up his phone.

Dread pricks at Hoseok’s gut. The smell of burnt wax and frosting stings his nose. He forces a smile as he taps on Yoongi’s door.

Yoongi peeks out. Jimin and Hoseok begin to sing. Yoongi emits a strangled squeak, moving quickly to correct his error. As Hoseok heels the door open, Yoongi yanks his sleeve to drag him inside, slamming the door behind him.

Yoongi blows out the candles. Into the closeness between them, he mutters, “If we’re quiet, do you think he’ll go away?”

At the door, Jimin sings, “Hyung, I can hear you.”

“Thank you,” Yoongi calls. “Good night.” He shoves Hoseok behind him.

Jimin rattles the doorknob. “Hyung…”

“I’m busy. Bye bye.” Then Yoongi moves to his chair and drops into it. He drags his hands through his hair, and then he doesn’t move for a long, still stretch of time.

Hoseok exhales a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He parts the door a sliver, enough to see Jimin’s face, still looking cheery and hopeful on the other side. Hoseok passes the cake through to him.

“Take it home, will you please?” Hoseok says.

Jimin’s expression morphs from delight to concern. He mouths, “Is he okay?”

“Sure. Of course,” Hoseok says, knowing it’s a lie, knowing he needs to say something to appease Jimin, who only ever wants to help. “You know how he gets when he’s working.”

Jimin considers for a moment. Then, over Hoseok’s shoulder, he yells, “Happy birthday, Yoongi-hyung. I love you.”

Yoongi still doesn’t move.

A fist knots in Hoseok’s stomach. This is worse than he thought.

“He says he loves you, too. Now go, before the cake melts.” Then before Jimin can object, Hoseok shuts the door.

Back before debut, back when Hoseok shared a room with Yoongi and Namjoon and a revolving wheel of fellow trainees, Yoongi liked to hide out in the recording room. Liked is maybe too strong a word. Escaped is more accurate. Yoongi escaped into the cramped, mildew-crusted cubicle where he burrowed into his work. There, he lost himself beneath piles of musty sweatshirts, fly-specked take-out boxes, and harrowing despair.

They laugh about it now, at how desperate and disgusting it was – that haven for young men to hash out the injustices of their youth. He and Yoongi passed endless hours in that room, discussing the heartbreaks and disappointments of their childhoods. This habit continued from one studio building to another, and though the Genius Lab is a far cry from the glorified closet that was their first recording room, it remains for Yoongi his ultimate hiding place.

Yoongi sits there, rigid at his desk, his fists in his hair, and Hoseok knows things have gone beyond Yoongi’s basic need for escape.

In times like these, Hoseok runs down his checklist of worries to gauge the severity of Yoongi’s condition. Is he nonresponsive? Yep. Has he regressed into an anti-social state? Definitely. Is his body wracked by crippling anxiety? Regrettably, undeniably, yes.

As Hoseok hovers in the doorway, wondering how to proceed, Yoongi croaks, “Hey Hope.”

This snaps his paralysis. He comes over to kneel at Yoongi’s side. “Hey Yoongs,” he says.

On his monitor, an avalanche of open tabs bathes his face with an icy glow. Yoongi drops a hand to his mouse, flicking through a few screens, bringing them each in succession to the top.

“It’s my birthday, isn’t it?” Yoongi asks.

“Kinda.”

“I lost track… I’ve been working.”

And here we have losing time, another symptom on the checklist.

“I see that,” Hoseok says. He keeps his focus tightly trained on Yoongi’s eyes. They’re red and crusty, but lit with a kind of manic fire that sets Hoseok’s nerves on edge.

“It’s good, Hope,” Yoongi says. “It’s some of the best stuff we’ve ever done. Some of my best work, right here, on this screen.”

“I’m not surprised,” Hoseok says. “This is the Genius Lab, not Mediocrity Corner.”

Yoongi coughs a laugh. He says, “Lame.”

Hoseok angles forward to kiss the corner of his mouth. Yoongi’s shoulders stiffen, and that’s when Hoseok understands.

This is about them.

“Yoongs,” Hoseok asks. “What’s going on?”

Yoongi clears his throat. He says, “Everyone is watching us.”

And there’s the paranoia: check and mate. Hoseok says, “Should I contact a doctor?”

“No.” Yoongi twists toward him, moving like an ailing, ancient man. “No, it’s not like that.” To Hoseok’s undoubtedly dubious look, Yoongi raises a hand. “I promise.”

Hoseok shifts to sit, his legs crossed, his back against the wall. Yoongi swivels to face him. His fingers worry at a stain on his pants, something days old and crispy. He grimaces as he realizes how unkempt he must look to Hoseok.

He says, “You know how this goes.” His voice sounds thready and thin.

“I do.” Hoseok hooks his pinky with Yoongi’s.

“You know I gotta stay focused, right? No birthdays, no... distractions.” Then he twists a lock of his hair and gives it a tug. “You’re not a distraction. That’s not what I mean.”

“I know,” Hoseok says. Pressure aches behind his eyes.

“And I don’t want to be one of those pathetic artist types who claims that suffering sharpens the blade of creativity or whatever, but…”

“But what?” Hoseok asks.

Yoongi meets his eyes, and there’s a flash of frailty in them. “But what if I am?” he asks, and then he smiles, his toothiest, gummiest smile. “What if I’m no good when I’m happy? What if I’m only as good as my pain?”

Hoseok catches both of Yoongi’s hands in his own. He squares them on Yoongi’s knees. “Hey,” he says, pulling Yoongi’s attention down to him. “You’re not. And this fear you’re feeling, it’s real and understandable.”

“To you it is, because you’re my lifeline. You’re right here with me. But to other people? To our fans?” Yoongi scrubs the several-days-old stubble on his chin. “Our lives are so different now. We are so different. We’re way beyond the stratosphere, Hope. How can anyone relate to what we’re going through?”

Hoseok doesn’t have the answer to that.

Yoongi pulls a hand free to click through his cascade of open files. Then he turns back to Hoseok. He says, “You know I'm proud of you, right? Hope World deserves every bit of the praise it's receiving.”

Hoseok plays along with this ploy to distract him. “Sure, and it only took three years to do it...”

“Good work takes time,” Yoongi says.

“Yoongs,” Hoseok says. “Really. What is this about?”

Yoongi steeples his fingers over his nose. Then he pushes the keyboard. He fiddles with the mouse. He says, “I can’t stop thinking about what I said to Seokjin. I told him he and Taehyung should never have gotten together, and right now, this minute, he’s packing up his dorm, and I... Hope, can you believe I said that to him?”

“Well.” Hoseok frowns. “Do you believe it?”

“Sometimes.” Yoongi wipes his nose on the back of his hand. “And then I think about us.” His smile wavers. He says, “Thing is, Hope, there’s something still poisoned—” He touches his chest. “—in here. With me. I’m certain I will hurt you, the way Taehyung hurt Seokjin, and I can’t do that. I can’t. So until I figure this out… I shouldn’t be an Us.”

Hoseok's shoulder blades ache against the wall. “You need time,” he hears himself say.

Yoongi’s face pales with relief. He says, “It’s unfair to ask—”

“—Let me decide what’s fair for myself," Hoseok cuts in. "And anyway, it’s not like you can ghost on me. We’re still together, all the time.”

“Good.” Yoongi stares at him. “And I promise once I'm healed…” he gestures toward the screen. “I’ll be there. I can promise that, you know?”

“Counting on it.” Hoseok scrapes to his feet. He feels floaty and light-headed, like he’s detached from the earth and drifting. He says, “However long it takes, Yoongs. I’ll be here.”

“Hope, I—” Yoongi catches his arm. He wraps himself around it, burying his face against his elbow. “I’m sorry.”

“None of that.” Hoseok presses his lips to the top of his head. There’s an ache in him, but it’s not unfamiliar or even unpleasant. It’s an understanding, and maybe that can be enough. “I’m gonna go, okay.” He lets Yoongi extricate himself and resettle in front of his computer.

Yoongi looks small and pale in the reflected light of the screen. He says, “Thank you, for checking in on me.”

“Babe, I believe in you,” Hoseok says.

“Lame,” Yoongi says again, but he looks ridiculously relieved.

Which, despite everything, makes Hoseok smile. “I’ll see you when you get home,” and then he leaves Yoongi to his work.

END of PART ONE