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The rain comes down in torrents tonight. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. Normally, Jungkook would’ve taken one look at the lightning-crested sky, the glowering clouds, and leap with what Seokjin would call a reckless abandon out his window for patrol, the freshness of water hissing against dry concrete soothing his rising cabin fever. Jungkook likes the rain. Water. Things that peel back the fumes of the city as he navigates it via fire escapes and a few bounds across gleaming rooftops, makes it beautiful and gleaming somehow underneath all the pollution dust.

But tonight, the rain is musty and unwelcome. It wets Jungkook’s mask so it vacuums tighter to his mouth with every inhale, like a reminder. That he’s not Jungkook tonight, he can’t be. He’s Bulletproof, and he’s fucking late, and his hands slip and slide on the gutter as he pulls himself up the side of the building, slick with rainwater and sweat.

A bright shatter sounds from across the street, the sound a signal flare against the muted plink of drops. Jungkook jerks his chin up and sees—

His target building, a squat thing that might’ve looked unassuming from the outside, surrounded by crumbling lookalikes. Not exactly a place you’d expect to find—what, some dignitary? Someone important, was all Jungkook really knew about it—but that was the entire point. Except, they’d been had, and Jungkook had been showering when the JK, safehouse, now text had come in, so now he was staring point blank at a fucking hole right in the front window, gloriously indiscreet.

Not an assassin, then. An assassin would’ve come in from the back.

Jungkook flexes his fingers, eyes the distance to the safehouse. The street snaking between him and that shattered window is bigger than an alley, but not by much. He’s about an even five stories up, give or take. It’s quiet. That eats away at Jungkook the most, but the friction of his own nerves sparks something else, too, low in his gut. Quiet, plus a blatant disregard for any sort of secrecy, means someone knows what they’re doing, means every second Jungkook is spending deliberating is another second ticking down the clock of his man’s life.

So, okay.

Jungkook clenches his teeth beneath his mask, braces his legs against the building face, and leaps.

Someone called it flying, once, in some spoof article on Bulletproof that Jimin had dug up and prodded him into laughing over. He had to admit, the write up had been ridiculous—he comes like an avenging superman, flying out of your most vivid fantasies—but Jungkook couldn’t stop thinking about the sentiment behind it. Leaping, soaring, the arcing swing he feels hooked into his belly. This high, moving this fast, the rain hurts, but the cold shock on his face makes Jungkook feel more awake than he has all night.

He blinks away droplets from his eyelashes, then braces his arms in front of him, and everything speeds up around him again when he slams chest first into the same broken window.

Jungkook grins. Bingo.

He ducks, rolls, and comes up in the middle of an empty room.

The glass, honestly, doesn’t hurt any more than the rain. There’s a particularly sharp piece that’s dug a small path down his cheek, but his hero name had always been more than just a moniker. Jungkook brushes himself off and starts towards the door.

This particular safe house is smaller than the rest, half of it sectioned off into storage. Jungkook eases into the hall slash kitchen space, then makes for the only bedroom, tucked in the back behind the creaking, ancient stove.

As soon as he has his hand on the door, he knows something’s wrong. It’s warm. Faintly. Maybe Jungkook’s the only person in the world who could feel the lingering heat, but he’s certain: someone’s touched this, and recently.

He braces. Fingertips to handle.

The door slams open with a loud crack.

Jungkook smells it before he sees anything—blood, lurid bright, screaming at his senses. There, slumped in the corner of the room, is a dead man. Above him, another figure lingers, back to Jungkook, bent down over the corpse.

Fuck.

The rainwater crawling down his neck feels colder, now, slithering. Jungkook tenses as the familiar figure unfurls and faces him with an elegant twist. In the semi-dark, the figure is mostly a lithe silhouette, sleeves pillowing out. But Jungkook’s fought him often enough that he could recognize him fifty paces away.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Baepsae says, taking a loud, pointed step in Jungkook’s direction. Close enough for Jungkook to see the smudge of blood underneath the fabric of his customary blindfold, the curve of a smile on his lips.

Jungkook narrows his eyes, backs up towards the door. With Baepsae out of the way, Jungkook can see the dignitary is deader than dead. He does a quick scan of the room, shifting his focus from rescue to containment. Maybe Jin would be pleased if he managed to finally bring in the villain that’d been a regular pain in their necks for years now.

The windows in the bedroom are pressed close enough to the next building over that escaping from there could be hard. The only way out is through Jungkook.

But Baepsae isn’t even moving, one hand curled under his chin, like he’s waiting for something. Assessing, maybe. Or, Jungkook thinks with a spurt of frustration, taunting.

“Was this your job?” Baepsae asks, nudging the dignitary’s leg with a toe. “Please tell me I just ruined your night; it would make me feel better about getting caught in the rain.”

Jungkook frowns, not that you could see it through the mask.

Baepsae’s lips jut into a pout. “Can’t you just leave? Tell your boss you were too late, and we can both get some rest tonight.”

Some terrible, fatigued part of Jungkook is almost tempted to take the deal. The room smells, of more than just blood—judging from the waft of piss dissipating into the air now, the dignitary’s final moments weren’t particularly dignified. There’s a shallow cut on his cheek he hadn’t noticed, must’ve been a helluva sharp piece of glass. He’s literally dripping from the rain.

But Jungkook’s not the kind of hero who would bail as soon as things got a little hard.

“Why him?” he asks, hoping the useless question might buy him some time to plan.

Baepsae cards a hand through his own wet hair, then shakes the droplets off. “Dunno,” he says, enigmatic smile firmly back in place. Same thing he says every time. Jungkook used to wonder how he could do something like that, kill a man without even knowing who or why or anything else. He used to want to ask, the question bubbling under his tongue every time they fought, like maybe if he could get through to Baepsae somehow, make him see there were better ways, but the only time he actually tried to bring it up, he’d faltered, and Baepsae had ripped up an electrical pole and played bat with him. It’d taken a week to heal, and every time Jungkook had touched one of the bruises left behind, he thought about the empty twist of Baepsae’s lips, the dismissive disregard in his fucking posture.

So, lesson learned.

Jungkook carefully nudges the door shut, and then—

Baepsae meets him in the middle, hand coming up to block the blow that Jungkook aims at his shoulder. He’s frowning, now, head cocked to one side, and Jungkook takes the split second of surprise he has to twist behind Baepsae, grapple onto his neck in a chokehold.

“I don’t choke on the first date,” Baepsae grunts, throwing an elbow back into Jungkook’s gut.

It doesn’t hurt, but the impact shudders through him, adrenaline flooding. Jungkook tightens his grip, can’t help but grin. “Is this only the first?”

Baepsae gnashes his teeth like he might try and bite if he could reach. “Are you saying you were trying to woo me all along?” he half-snarls, hooking a leg back onto Jungkook’s thigh like he might be able to flip them or something.

Jungkook feels the heat of him through his arms, the coiled tension in his slippery limbs. Another elbow clips him in the side, and he grunts, trying to back them back towards the door. He takes Baepsae’s wrist and uses it to wrench his arm behind his back, trying to ignore the actual startled gasp of pain that Baepsae quickly smothers.

“How’s that any way to treat your date,” Baepsae hisses.

“Sorry,” Jungkook mutters, “I’m taken.”

An ugly snort. Jungkook can see Baepsae’s jaw clench once, before he licks his lips, absentmindedly says, “Me too,” then suddenly goes completely limp in Jungkook’s arms.

He blinks, dragged down by Baepsae’s dead weight, and by the time he’s recovered enough to straighten, there’s a warm gold glow, seeping out from behind the blindfold.

The table crashes into him half a heartbeat later.

Black streaks across his vision. Then, more gold, staining the room like artificial sunlight. Jungkook swears, thrusting his arms out just in time to catch the lamp that flies out at him from the other end of the room. Freed, Baepsae twists entirely out of the way before jerking his hand out to fling something else—a picture frame?—with deadly accuracy at Jungkook’s head.

“Good luck getting that out of your hair!” he shouts, vindictive, when Jungkook doesn’t dodge in time and the glass shatters all over his head.

Jungkook bites back a growl of anger. He brings his arms up to guard, keeps an eye out for other loose things in the room. Catches sight of another row of picture frames, which he and Baepsae seemingly spot at the same time. The lines around Baepsae’s mouth tighten. He sweeps an arm out and sends the frames hovering, his dark hair spilling out over the silky blindfold now, the slightly more noticeable heave of his chest the only indication of strain.

“You just have to be a stubborn bastard and finish the job, don’t you?” Baepsae calls. “God, I just want to fucking go to bed.

With another sweep of his arm, the entire row of frames rushes towards Jungkook.

Jungkook holds his breath, weaves through two, and reaches out to grasp the last in his hands. The lingering glow of Baepsae’s powers sears a bit, burns at his skin like touching a live wire, but Jungkook grits his teeth and swings it around, using his own momentum to send it careening back towards Baepsae’s head.

For a moment, he thinks he’s won. Baepsae’s lips are parted in surprise, the frame tumbling towards him in slow motion.

But—

The gold flash. Bright enough to burn Jungkook’s eyes.

He blinks at the spots, and then—

It’s only instinct and good luck that he manages to toss a hand up over his eyes before the spray of glass and wood as the frame point blank explodes inches away from his own face. As it were, the impact is close enough to smear a smattering of cuts over the back of his hand, scratch a long rip into the sleeve of his uniform jacket. Inside the mask, Jungkook bites down on his lip hard enough to draw blood.

When his vision finally clears, Baepsae is gone.


**


“Jeon Jungkook, I’m gonna kick your ass! You’re gonna live to regret the day you thought you could take on—oof.”

Jimin lives to regret going for quite so much arrogance when the tip of his boot catches on the curb. He pitches forward into Jungkook with a squawk, palms slamming into a wall of solid muscle as he tries to catch himself. But Jungkook is there already, hands tight around his waist. Steadying. A laugh twitches at his mouth when Jimin squints up at him, but he has the good sense to bite it down.

“You were saying?”

Jimin sniffs, flicking at jewellery dangling from Jungkook’s ear. He’s got all of them in tonight, and something small and pleased squirms in Jimin’s gut, knowing that he knows how much Jimin likes his piercings.

“Maybe this was all a part of my cunning plan to get close to you.”

“Aw.”

It’s supposed to be teasing, but there’s a scrunch to Jungkook’s nose that says he’s genuinely happy, and Jimin isn’t about to ruin that for him. He pushes off Jungkook’s chest instead, threading his arm through the younger boy’s and dragging him towards the neon glow of the bowling alley. They pay for a lane and Jimin goes through the usual ritual of complaining about the grossness of wearing communal shoes even as he wriggles his socked feet into them.

“You could always buy a pair,” Jungkook suggests, perched smugly in his own black bowling shoes. “We do this enough.”

Jimin scowls at Jungkook’s feet, finds that less than satisfying, lifts his head to scowl right at his boyfriend. The lazy grin he receives back is—well, it’s something. Enough to make him wish they’d chosen something a little less public for date night, maybe.

“The day I let a pair of bowling shoes take up residence on my shoe rack is the day you buy me fifteen cats and I retire from public life,” Jimin announces, lurching to his feet. “Come on, let’s do this. Park vs Jeon, you’re going down.”

When they’d first started doing this, there had been a lot more shit-talking on both their parts. They hadn’t been dating yet, and Jimin had found Jungkook’s tendency towards eager, assured confidence at the things he was good at to be hopelessly attractive. Hopelessly annoying, too, which had maybe made Jimin a little meaner than was fair, which had maybe made Jungkook a little more defensive than was healthy.

That had been over a year ago though, and they’ve been together for a good chunk of that time now. Jungkook doesn’t snap back at him, doesn’t point out Jimin’s truly dire record at playing this game. He just tucks his tongue between his teeth, a few loose strands of hair falling over his forehead. He blows at them absently and Jimin curls his fingers on the urge to brush them back for him - that’s fraternising with the enemy, and Jimin is withholding kisses to be bestowed as a graceful winner at the end of this.

(Or, more likely, given up as penalties to Jungkook, but he has to go into this with some hope).

“Whatever you say, hyung.” Jungkook turns to key their names into the score tracker, pauses in the middle of making the 💜 symbol next to ‘Jimin’. “Hey.”

“Hmm?”

“You know you don’t actually need a cunning plan to get close to me, right?”

“I’m not kissing you until someone wins this game, no matter how cute you get.”

“I’m being serious!”

Jimin relents, smacking him on the shoulder. “I know, it’s adorable - everything okay?”

He’d tried to hide it, but Jimin had caught how Jungkook hissed a little at the touch anyway. He pulls his face into a rueful smile, rolling the shoulder a bit.

“Yeah, fine. Just pulled a muscle at the gym earlier, it’s a little sensitive.”

“Are you sure you should be bowling, then? You should have said something, I would have kicked Tae out and—”

“Okay, one, you would not have kicked Tae out. That’s your soulmate, I don’t stand a chance. Two—” Finished with the names, Jungkook strides towards the ball-spitter-thing and chooses his weapon, a bright pink monstrosity that would probably break Jimin’s fingers. They might have been doing this for a while, but that doesn’t mean that Jimin has learnt what anything here is called. “Stop trying to wriggle out of the trap you laid for yourself. I could beat you with my off hand if I wanted to, this is nothing.”

Jeon Jungkook!

With a cackle, Jungkook turns towards the aisle. Jimin stews in his outrage for a whole second and a half before tilting his head to the side to get a better angle on his boyfriend’s, uh, form (his butt, he’s looking at Jungkook’s butt) as he sends the ball sailing smoothly down the lane. The loud clatter of pins and a whoop from Jungkook says that it was a good bowl, and when Jimin hurriedly jerks his gaze up as his triumphant boyfriend jumps around, he can see the scoreboard flick over to an X next to Jungkook’s name (Jungkook🐰).

Jimin loses.

Not as badly as he’s lost before, which he’s at pains to point out as they return his shoes, as they walk from the bowling alley to the subway, as they get on the train heading back to the tiny student apartment Jimin shares with Kim Taehyung. Jungkook always walks him home, which is both sweet, and…

Jimin resists the urge to frown, tangling his fingers tightly with Jungkook’s instead, squeezing the urge out. Jungkook, he’s noticed over the past few months, can take a fair amount of violent affection. Important, when Jimin’s need to love the people he’s close to tends to express itself through tight hugs and the occasional bite. They’re well suited to each other, they have a good time with each other, is more than enough reason not to linger on any unpleasant thoughts. Like why Jimin has never been able to walk Jungkook home.

(It’s not the only reason. They pile into the elevator and Jimin can see at least three Jungkooks crowding into the tiny space with him, the mirror reflecting his boyfriend and the soft, sweet curve of his mouth as he looks down at Jimin over and over again. Jimin shuts his eyes and leans his head back against the cool glass and doesn’t let go of Jungkook’s hand. They swoop upwards).

“Hey,” Jungkook says quietly, because for all that he barrels into a competition like nobody’s business, he likes to tip-toe his way into conversations. Never quite sure if he belongs in them, his Jungkookie.

“Hm?” Jimin gives his hand another squeeze. Reassuring.

“I seem to remember someone saying something about kisses, for the winner…?”

The elevator ding is lost to the sound of Jimin’s laugh breaking free from his chest. The doors shudder open and he’s still giggling, pulling Jungkook out and pressing him into the nearest solid wall—gentle, gentle, mindful of his shoulder, tip-toeing his way into the kiss.

There’s a pale pink scratch marring the golden warmth of Jungkook’s cheek; Jimin smears his thumb over it, cups the sharp angle of Jungkook’s jaw in his palm, careful not to cut himself. Lips part, the barest brush of skin on skin. For a second all Jimin feels is heat—his cheek, his chest, the puff of shared breath.

“Say please,” he murmurs, into his mouth, into the sugar-spun silence. A peel of giggles cracks it almost immediately, spilling into the space between them as Jungkook growls tease. And then there’s no space at all, the entire universe concentrating to this single point where the two of them have come together.

“Stay?” he finds himself asking, one hand pressed tight into the wall to stop the other from gripping Jungkook closer. He hates the whine in his voice. “Stay.”

A groan vibrates against his throat, reverberating along the path Jungkook had kissed there from his mouth. They’re not even outside Jimin and Tae’s apartment, are currently playing wall ornament to number 304. It’s not an outlandish request, Jungkook has crashed at their place (done more than crashed, done more than kissed at their place) a hundred times before, but Jimin still feels a clench of uncertainty in his gut. He’s not sure. He’s not sure.

“Can’t,” Jungkook mumbles, and there should have been teeth in his next kiss but all Jimin gets is the soft press of lips, a sigh. Apologetic. “Sorry, hyung. I really can’t, I have work, and that test I was telling you about, and—”

“Shh.” Jimin slips his hand from Jungkook’s face to his neck, pulling his head down until their forehead bonk gently together. “That’s what I get for dating an overachiever, hmm? It’s fine, you’re fine.”

“Wanna stay.”

The selfish core of Jimin wants to encourage that wanna, wants to tell him to ignore work and the test, I can look after you, I know a guy, it’s fine, but it’s not dark enough for dreaming yet. So he kisses Jungkook on the cheek, right over that scratch, squeezes his hand hard enough to ache.

“I told myself that if I was going to rob the cradle, I wasn’t going to be a bad influence about it,” he says primly, letting go.

“I’m twenty.”

“A whole baby.”

“You’re only two years older than me!”

“That’s forever in internet time,” Jimin says, which barely makes sense but he’s already pushing at Jungkook’s chest emphatically. “Go, do your important things! I’ll see you at dance tomorrow.”

Jungkook grumbles about it, but he’s already stepping away under Jimin’s onslaught of prodding, flapping a hand half-heartedly to fend him off. They pause, under the too-bright fluorescents of the hallway, and then Jungkook is swooping back in to steal another kiss.

“Yah!” Jimin flaps some more.

“You’re an important thing too, hyung!”

Pleased with himself, Jungkook drops a wink and nearly trips over his own heels as he backs towards the elevator. He recovers without Jimin’s half-outstretched arm, pink in the cheeks, so Jimin tucks his hand back against his mouth instead. Hides his grin, poorly.

He waits for the elevator doors to slam shut before he moves, meandering down the hall to number 306. They don’t live in the fanciest place, but he still has to press a code into the lock to open it, slipping inside and making sure it re-engages behind him.

The tension of the outside world drips out of his spinal cord as he hears it click, taking a second to rest against the door. Their living space is empty for the moment, but signs of Taehyung are scattered everywhere like a human whirlwind. Music pulses at a low level from the bluetooth speaker that had cost about a month’s rent, sliding from something classical into f(x)’s 4 Walls. There’s an easel set up in front of the tv, an abandoned cup of ramyun on the coffee table (which usually passes for a table-table and has apparently been standing in for a chair if the cushion is any indication)

“Jiminie?” Taehyung calls from somewhere within the bowels of the apartment. “S’at you?”

“No, it’s the murderer with the passcode.”

Jimin pushes himself off the door, inspects the noodles. A congealed mess. He puts it back down, because the weirdest things in this apartment have turned out to be art in the past and he’s not taking any risks. Taehyung definitely needs real food, though, and Jimin hadn’t stopped for dinner with Jungkook, so he shuffles towards the kitchenette, pulling containers of leftovers out of the fridge.

“Considering what you do for a living, that’s not funny,” Taehyung complains, wandering into view. Barely five in the evening and he’s already in cosy pyjamas, scratching idly at his stomach. “Also, I know at least two other people with that code, and that’s only if you’re telling the truth about Jungkookie not having it.”

Stay, Jimin thinks, and isn’t sure if it’s the statement or the question. He ignores the comment entirely, shaking a container at Taehyung. “It’s just as easy to heat up good food as it is to make cup noodles, Taehyung, honestly.”

“My day was great,” Taehyung intones, leaning his elbows on the bench. “Thanks for asking. Finished off a project for the Big Kahuna, dropped by work, saw the hot new secretary guy--”

Jimin frowns at his reflection in the door of the microwave. Hits a few buttons at random, whirls on Taehyung. “What hot new secretary? Not hotter than me.” He pauses. “And you shouldn’t call the General that, it’s not dignified.”

“No one’s hotter than you,” Tae responds obediently. “But this guy comes pretty close. He has a nice smile. And if General Top Banana was worried about looking dignified, he wouldn’t have hired me.”

Trust Kim Taehyung to put ‘nice smile’ at the top of the list for hot requirements. But then Jungkook’s adorable nose scrunch comes to mind and Jimin sighs, holding his arms out demandingly. Tae moves without question, pulling Jimin into a hug with his monkey arms. He can’t quite rest his chin on the top of Jimin’s head, but he makes a valiant attempt anyway.

“Top Banana’s worse,” Jimin mumbles.

“Top Banana is wonderful.” Taehyung rubs a hand up and down his back. “Date night was that good, hmm?”

“I really like him, Taehyungie.”

“I know.”

They could talk about it, Jimin supposes. But if they talk about it, he’s definitely going to cry. And when he cries his eyes get all puffy and swollen and his sinuses explode and the truth is, it’s much nicer to just stand in their tiny kitchen hugging Taehyung until their food is ready.

Taehyung, bless him, is more than willing to oblige.


**


Checking his planted bug at the office while the CEO is chilling basically a few feet away might not have been the best idea, but Jung Hoseok’s reputation doesn’t exactly rest on his patient conduct. And, he has to admit, this particular assignment had caught his eye as being particularly interesting over all the others: RM Industries is clean as fuck on the outside, headed by a twenty-nine year old wunderkind of a CEO who built the company himself from nothing. No scandals, not even a whiff of foulplay of any sorts. Hoseok hadn’t even found any suspicious councilmen relatives when he’d looked into RM himself.

Which meant whoever it was that wanted dirt on this guy was either digging for crap, or there was something juicy going on here. And the world of corporate spying so rarely offered up anything more interesting than old businessmen hiring more escorts than anyone needed.

So, Hoseok had taken the job, and after a stressful few weeks getting shuffled around HR, landed here, right where he wanted to be, surreptitiously fiddling with his airpods as he clicks open the audio feed from a thoroughly bugged CEO’s office.

What comes through is a bit hissy, but workable, RM’s distinctive voice. He’s alone. Hoseok leans back a bit to make sure there’s only one silhouette visible through the frosted glass. The phone?

“...Top Banana? That’s a new one… I thought I was the ‘Big Kahuna’...” A laugh, and not a fake one you’d treat to potential buyers and investors either. RM’s better at it than most, but Hoseok is a professional. Either way, whoever he’s on the phone with right now, the conversation clearly isn’t too profesional.

“It’s fine,” RM says, and Hoseok can hear him pacing even without the bug. “You can call me whatever you want, baby, so long as you’re following protocol.”

Hoseok’s eyebrows hike up.

He pulls up the clone of RM’s cell that he’d gotten by sheer luck a few days ago, takes another glance back towards the office and pulls up the calendar he’d been halfway through filling up just in case, then scrolls through to figure out who in the world RM is calling right now.

“Do you need me to stop by again?” RM asks as Hoseok lands on a name: Kim Taehyung, saved with the tiger emoji and a purple heart. The name’s familiar, actually. Hoseok taps his pen on the desk, quickly closing out of everything incriminating as he tries to figure out where he’s heard it before.

RM laughs again. Hoseok swivels around and sees him shaking his head through the glass, perched on the edge of his desk now. “Hey,” he says, carefully, affectionately, “you know I don’t know how to cook either. Anyways we can grab dinner if you want to stay after work? I’ve been craving jjajangmyeon.”

Stay after work, Hoseok thinks, then experiences one of those honest to god lightbulbs moments. He nearly springs out of his chair, then catches himself in time before he can swivel all the way out of control. A quick search through the employee databases confirmed his memory: Kim Taehyung, 22, part of R&D, fresh-faced in his slightly blurry photo ID, caught halfway to a smile. Hoseok had met him, literally yesterday, and he still remembers what Kim Taehyung’s face in a real smile looks like, square jawed and open, eyes scrunched up behind dark boxy glasses.

He’d been on his way up to RM’s office, when they met.

Maybe this job wasn’t so complicated after all. Was Top Banana supposed to be a sex thing? Either way, Taehyung was, objectively, absolutely sugar baby material.

“Okay,” RM says into Hoseok’s ear. “I gotta go now, okay? Come meet me up here after? … Oh come on, you’re the lazy one… Besides, don’t you want to see my, quote, ‘hot new secretary’ again?”

That’s weird, Hoseok thinks, for a sugar daddy, he doesn’t sound all that possessive. And then, wait holy shit that’s me.

But before he has the time to process any of that, RM says, “Okay, cool. Tell Jimin to take it easy. I love you too,” and then Hoseok nearly has a heart attack when he hears the door to the office click behind him before he even hears the click of RM hanging up his phone.

Shit, he thinks, and starts typing something at random into the calendar as footsteps approach.

“Hoseok,” RM says smoothly, striding out of the room and dropping a hand on the back of Hoseok’s chair.

“Ah, daepyonim!” Hoseok says with his sunniest smile. “Are you heading out?”

“Just for a moment,” RM says, then cants a head towards Hoseok almost absentmindedly. “How are you settling in?” He’s not looking at Hoseok’s monitor, but his hand still rests on the chair, boxing Hoseok in between the desk and his body. There’s not much deliberate about it, but it still makes Hoseok’s shoulder blades itch.

“Perfectly, sir,” Hoseok chirps.

“Anything I’m forgetting?” RM asks, and from the way his brows furrow it’s a legitimate question.

Hoseok pretends to scan the schedule he has open, even though he’s long since memorized it—better to be underestimated than expected to perform monkey tricks at the drop of a hat. “A meeting with the mayor’s representative this afternoon at 3PM, sir.”

RM nods a few times, then smacks the back of his chair. “Well, okay. I’ll be back before then. Page me if something comes up.”

“You got it.” A bit hysterically, Top Banana flashes in his brain, and Hoseok has to bite down on the inside of his cheek and choke out a desperate, “daepyonim,” to cover up his hiccup.

RM doesn’t seem to notice. He slides his hands into his pockets and gives Hoseok another nod, his face impassive. Hoseok settles back into himself and watches as he goes, trying to line up the thought of the weirdly affectionate phone call version of RM to the not exactly cold, but definitely absent CEO. He supposes, everyone has public and private facing personas, but, still.

Whoever Kim Taehyung was, RM cared about him.

And it was Hoseok’s job to figure out exactly to what extent, and what he could do with that.

Chapter Text

When Jungkook was younger, he had this view of love that was both sort of too big and sort of too easy—love was cotton candy sweet music and the drenched scarlet of a sunset, hands curling together so many times they could find each other in the most absolute of darks, all those sorts of things that he’d always thought were too out of his reach, too perfect.

Jungkook doesn’t think he knows what love is anymore, but now, sometimes, he’s about to pop another piece of popcorn in his mouth, and his boyfriend nudges him in the shoulder from where he’s sprawled out on the bed next to him, and then when Jungkook takes aim and tosses, Jimin catches the popcorn in his mouth without even lifting eyes from whatever he’s looking at on his phone, and Jungkook thinks to himself, reflexively, so quietly they’re not really even words, oh, there it is, I love him.

And then Jimin laughs and rolls over, so Jungkook has to quickly school his face before it’s too obvious on his face. It. His emotions. This full-chested thing rattling around inside.

Jimin flips his phone, shoves it forward. “Look at this,” he says, jabbing a finger passionately at the screen, “they’re holding hands, that’s so precious, I want to eat them.” On his phone, the baby otters float lazily down the river, and, yeah, they sure are holding hands. Jungkook shuffles closer, and Jimin tucks his feet in and leans up against his side, his whole face a smile.

“That’s you,” Jungkook says, pointing, “and that’s Taehyung.”

Jimin laughs. “Not you?”

“Nah,” Jungkook says. “I don’t need to hold anyone’s hand. I don’t get lost.”

Jimin pokes him in the shoulder. “Hey, what if I get lost? You can’t not hold my hand and leave me all alone and defenseless.”

“Then I’ll rescue you,” Jungkook says, nodding seriously. “I’ll fight a river, I don’t care.”

“Aww,” Jimin says, batting his eyelashes. “My hero.”

The words feel sort of like a gutpunch, except Jungkook knows what it's like to get punched in the gut, and this feels a lot nicer than that. More like a light jolt, something inside him dislodged and perking up, like a dog wagging its tail in glee at the sentiment. Jungkook reaches around and twines their hands together. Jimin hugs and laughs and does everything full-body and fierce, but Jungkook is always mindful to be light with his touches, holds his delicate fingers with all the care they deserve. “You got it,” he says, squeezing lightly.

The dull buzz of Jungkook’s phone against the bedside table makes them both start.

Jimin stiffens, then groans and falls head first into Jungkook’s lap. “Is someone seriously calling you?”

Call from Jinnie-hyung.

“Uh, it might be work,” Jungkook mumbles.

Jimin’s eyebrows shoot up. “It’s Saturday.”

Jungkook shrugs, then grabs the phone and swipes to answer before he can think better of it. He tries to ignore the brief but crestfallen frown that flashes on Jimin’s face before he wipes it back to something closer to neutral.

“Hello? Hyung?”” Jungkook asks, directing his gaze up to the ceiling as Jimin turns around and starts aggressively jabbing at the touchscreen of his own phone.

“Oh,” Seokjin says, “Jungkookie, good. Thanks for picking up this time.”

“I always pick up!”

“That’s a lie and you know it,” Seokjin says, then sniffs so dramatically Jungkook swears Jimin would’ve been able to hear it, if he were paying attention, “but it’s okay if you don’t love and cherish your hyung who raised you on his back, I’m not hurt at all.”

“Hyung,” Jungkook complains. “You’re so embarrassing.”

If Seokjin’s voice had been loud before, it reaches supersonic pitches when he exclaims, “Oh?” right into Jungkook’s ear. “Did I hear that right?” Seokjin continues, “are you actually around other people? Jeon Jungkook? Socializing? I didn’t know you even had friends, you little hermit.”

“I’ve always had friends,” Jungkook says defensively.

Seokjin, pointedly, is silent.

“Well,” Jungkook concedes, “I have friends now.

“And is there a reason why I haven’t heard about them yet?”

At that, Jungkook feels the little shiver of reality settle over him. Seokjin doesn’t mean anything by it, he knows, but it’s times like this that the line between the two parts of his life feels prescient, like a real, solid thing instead of something he’s mostly made up in his head. “No reason,” he says softly. “Just…”

Seokjin has to feel it, too. “Are you close?” he asks, almost gently.

Hero work, Seokjin always says, can get ugly. Ever since Jungkook was fifteen and Seokjin was the only person in the Department of Augmented Humanity that would stop by and ask him how his day was going, and then later when his powers were settled, the person that would drive him to school every day, Seokjin’s been cautious. Smiling, warm, cracking stupid jokes just to make Jungkook laugh, but careful enough to drop him off a block away from the school gates, pat him on the head, remind him not to do anything stupid that might get him noticed like clockwork every morning.

Jimin’s turned away from him, a curled up comma in Jungkook’s lap, and the jut of his spine looks fragile in the glaring mid-morning light. “Yeah,” Jungkook says before he can stop himself.

Seokjin makes a little noise, like he understands. “Yah, Jungkook-ah,” he says, careful, “that’s good. Actually, can you come back? I stopped by your apartment for a quick debrief and I’m too old and tired to come back later.”

Jungkook looks down at Jimin, again, thinks about reaching out a finger to touch the little mole speckled at the nape of his neck, thinks about tangling his fingers into his dark hair, thinks about hanging up, lying, letting Jimin kiss him like it’s the only thing he has to think about in the world. He clenches a fist in his lap hard enough to bend and crack the casing of his phone if he wanted to try.

“Okay,” he tells Seokjin.

“Okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be right over.”

“Don’t leave your hyung waiting too long!” Seokjin yells, and then the phone clicks as he hangs up.

Jungkook breathes out once through his nose, arms flopping down at his sides as he leans back against Jimin’s headboard.

Jimin, who’s uncharacteristically quiet, still scrolling absentmindedly at something on his phone.

“Hey,” Jungkook says, half a thread of hope of smoothing it all over still unbroken in him, “I… I gotta head back.”

“Was that your boss?” Jimin asks, voice light.

Jungkook desperately wants to see his face. “No,” he lies.

“Then why do you have to go?”

“It’s my hyung,” Jungkook says, and it’s close enough to truth that he doesn’t feel the ugly bump of a lie burred in his throat; the Department is the closest thing he has to family, Seokjin the closest thing he has to a brother, and Jungkook’s never had to tackle anything alone a day in his entire life, everything from tuition to the too-expensive rent on his cramped apartment transferred to him without question. He knows he should be grateful, but sometimes, like now, all it does is remind him how indebted he is.

Jimin hauls himself up, arms hooked around his knees, his face still turned away. “What did he want? Tell him to come here if he needs anything.”

Jungkook winces.

“I even cleaned the living room yesterday and everything,” Jimin is still saying, his voice still light, but raspy, crackling at the edges. Then, quieter, “I didn’t even know you had a brother, Jungkook.”

“It never came up,” Jungkook mutters, and even he knows that’s weak. There are things you’re supposed to tell your boyfriend. Things like news about your family, childhood stories, what you did on the weekend. Sometimes he wonders about the Jungkook that lives in Jimin’s head, if there’s just a blank space where all the things that make a person’s life up should be, glaring and obvious. “I’m sorry,” he says, and it’s the only thing he knows how to say.

Finally, Jimin turns, the sheets tangling underneath his legs as he meets Jungkook’s eyes. “Are you ashamed of me?” he asks, and this time, it really does feel like getting punched. Jungkook’s head cracks against the headboard as he jerks back in surprise.

“What?” he asks, everything strung tight in him. “Why would you think that?”

“I don’t know anyone else in your life,” Jimin says, shaking his head, “you do all those clubs and I don’t know any of your friends, and I haven’t even seen your apartment when you basically live here,” he says, voice rising in pitch as he flings an arm out at Jungkook’s bag tossed in a corner, his socked feet impressed in the bed.

“Oh,” Jungkook says, and shrinks back. Then, half a beat too late, “I’m not. I promise.”

Jimin’s mouth twists, does a thing that makes Jungkook’s chest feel hollowed out, haunted. All this time, and he was so afraid of Jimin thinking he was deficient, somehow, not enough for him; all this time and he’d never once thought that he wasn’t the only one with feelings on the line.

Somehow, that’s the bit that hurts the most. Are you close? Jin asks him again in his head, and Jungkook can’t help but hear it as a warning.

But, never let it be said that Jeon Jungkook was one to back down from anything.

“Hyung,” he says, careful all over again as he leans over on his knees and hooks arms around Jimin’s shoulders, “Jiminie-hyung,” he says, right next to Jimin’s ear, “please believe me.”

Jimin squirms, a familiar pout on his face that makes Jungkook want to grin in relief. “You’re the worst,” he says, pushing at Jungkook’s arms.

“No, I’m your favourite.”

Prove it,” Jimin says instead of teasing back, that fragile note of seriousness still trapped somewhere in his voice.

Jungkook brushes his nose up against the soft tresses of Jimin’s hair, tries to find the words to piece it all together, the way Jimin’s cologne smells like home, a ground taste of bitter against a splash of vibrant citrus, that Jimin’s the only person who holds him as tight as he needs it, crushing and all-fierce, that Jimin’s the only person he’s learned to hold gently, just like this. He nuzzles in closer, his lips bumping up against the curve of Jimin’s ear, lined with simple metal hoops today.

And it’s a bit much, honestly. The tension he can feel in Jimin’s neck, all the things he doesn’t know how to say.

So, Jungkook bites him. Not in like, a sexual way. Just a little nibble on his ear, his nose pressed up against Jimin’s cheek.

“Aish!” Jimin brings his hands up to cover his face, but he doesn’t move away. “What the fuck?”

Jungkook pulls back, then tightens his grip as much as he dares, burying his face in Jimin’s neck. “Hyung,” he says, barely a puff of breath, “I love you.”

As soon as he says it, he thinks, oh fuck, have I said that before? Jungkook wracks his brain, and finds that he has no idea. Somewhere, sometime, the simple reality of loving Jimin had become so much of a quiet truth, he doesn’t even fucking remember if he’s ever said it 1) out loud and 2) to Jimin in that order.

Judging by the way Jimin stiffens, then abruptly goes loose in his arms, he probably hadn’t.

Before Jungkook can either die of cringe or figure out how to make his great escape, Jimin twists around, glaring so hard Jungkook swears he’s about to physically attack him or something. But the hands cupping his face are anything but violent.

“Stupid,” Jimin mumbles, and Jungkook wonders for half a second who he’s talking about until there are lips on his, a thumb stroking over his cheek, Jimin’s weight pressing up against his chest. A kiss as quiet as the little sigh slipping out of Jimin’s lips, like all the other ones exchanged half tangled up in each other on this bed, but this time, Jungkook feels heavier than his body should be.

“Love you, too,” Jimin whispers after, scrubbing at his face. “I just…”

“My hyung’s just protective,” Jungkook says, like it’s an admission. “There’s stuff in my life I don’t want him knowing, I guess.”

Jimin twists his fingers into Jungkook’s shirt. “Okay,” he says.

“Okay?”

“This sounds like it should be a whole talk and everything,” Jimin amends, but he’s grinning a bit, and that’s enough for now. “So shoo, you told him you were coming, didn’t you?”

Jungkook ducks his head. “Yeah.”

“Just promise me we’ll talk after.”

“Okay.”

“Then okay.” Jimin smooths his hand over Jungkook’s forehead, runs his fingers through the thicket of his hair. Jungkook used to be self conscious about it, the grease in his hair, the bumps and imperfections in his skin, the little scar left over on one cheek. But these days, they’re comfortable. Maybe Jimin’s thinking the same thing, the hard won worn-in edges of their relationship suddenly feeling fraught, like he’s also just realizing how precious this sort of familiarity is. “Go,” Jimin says, flopping back down into his bed.

“I’ll text you?” Jungkook asks.

Jimin squeezes his hand one last time, almost tight enough to hurt even his bones. “Please.”

**

Jungkook’s late.

The apartment is painfully bare, a bowl of apples sitting on a kitchen counter that doesn’t look like it’s been used in months. The only sign that anyone lives here at all is the careful array of shoes lined up alongside the hallway. Seokjin sighs, drums his fingers on his knee, resists the urge to call him again. Here, sitting cramped on Jungkook’s couch, he feels out of his element, awkward, like he’s not supposed to be here.

He’s not, really.

But Seokjin’s long since given up trying to hide his soft spot for Jungkook.

The door swings open, as if on cue.

Seokjin shoves all his worry behind a grin and stands. “Jungkook-ah!” he calls, sing-song. “Don’t tell me you got lost on your way back to your own house.”

Jungkook frowns halfway through shutting his door. “Who let you in?”

There’s a tenseness to his shoulders that Seokjin doesn’t like. The door slams a little harder than usual—which is to say, not hard enough to do any real damage, because Jungkook has impeccable self control even in his worst moments, but definitely hard enough to ring in Seokjin’s ears and make him wince. “I have a key you know,” Seokjin says breezily, watching with a raised eyebrow as Jungkook’s brows furrow, a scowl etching into his face. “Are you mad at me right now? Is that what this is?”

Jungkook, pointedly, kicks his shoes off violently into a corner.

“Jungkook.”

Still scowling, Jungkook bends down to grab the tossed shoes, then lines them up next to the others on the rack. When he straightens, Seokjin can see the white of his knuckles against the black of his backpack strap, and despite the scowl, there’s a weary edge to his lips.

“Hey,” Seokjin says, “you okay, JK?”

“I’m fine.”

“Okay,” Seokjin says slowly, “I’m going to pretend everything’s peachy since you’re ‘fine’—” he makes the air quotes for posterity—“which means you can sit your pretty little ass down on the couch and debrief with me like a good boy, yeah?”

That, at least startles a laugh out of Jungkook, who looks surprised to see himself do it. Seokjin smiles back, and points. “Right now! I meant it! Some of us have places to be! Things to do!”

“What, like taichi in the park?” Jungkook says, harsher than usual, but there’s that stupid smile that shows his too-large front teeth on his face now, and that’s enough for Seokjin to roll his eyes and slug him in the shoulder.

“Ow,” Jungkook deadpans, then obediently sinks down onto the couch. “Ahhh,” he says to himself as he drops an arm over his face. “M’sorry, hyung.”

“What was that?” Jin enunciates, eyes widening in fake confusion. “Can’t quite hear you.”

“Ughhhh.”

“Hmm, try again?”

Hyung.

“I’m an old man! Did you know you used to cry all the time as a kid? And I was always stuck in the room right next door. So please take pity on me and my failing ears, it’s probably entirely your fault anyways, serves me right for being a nice hyung and—”

“I’m SORRY,” Jungkook practically shouts in his face.

Seokjin cracks up. “Apology accepted.”

Jungkook swings his legs up on the couch and jams his feet into Seokjin’s side, pouting. “You caught me at a bad time,” he says.

“Since when is there a good time for any of this?”

“Yeah, well,” Jungkook says, his brows touching together, “I guess.” He looks a little deflated, still tense, like he’s caught between wanting to be mad and not.

Seokjin takes pity on the kid; he doesn’t shove his gross feet off the couch. “Are you good to debrief?” he asks, treading a bit careful just in case. It’s no secret that their golden hero had always had a temper, and when he was younger and less settled himself, Seokjin didn’t know what to do with it, all that simmering childlike fire, bright and uncomplicated but hard to contain all the same.

Nowadays, he knows exactly how hard he can push. He drops a hand on Jungkook’s knee, considers. “I really do have to get back to the Department later, but we can make it quick.”

“What do you have to do that’s on a weekend?” Jungkook asks.

“Crime doesn’t wait for government sanctioned rest days,” Seokjin says drily. It’s a joke, but he still thinks of the half-read report on some shitshow that went down on the coast of Blue Side that landed on his desk because it had eventually gotten traced back to Gloss, Kosmos City’s resident supervillain and a constant pain in Seokjin’s ass on a regular basis even without the inter-city mess that was sure to follow. Seokjin feels a headache building just thinking about it, which means he’s really not all that eager to get back to the office any time soon.

Jungkook sinks his teeth into his bottom lip, eyes turned up to the ceiling. “It’s okay,” he finally says, and Seokjin pretends it doesn’t hurt a little that he had to even consider it. “I’m already here.”

“Okay,” Jin says, pulls out a small recorder, “good to go on record?”

There’s a way that Jungkook stiffens every time they do this. His knees lock, jaw sets. All the lines in his body going rigid all at once. When he was sixteen, he used to complain about aches in the night, and it’d taken Seokjin a month to realize it was because he was grinding his teeth in his sleep. As Seokjin flicks on the record button, he thinks about the echo of that lock-jawed teenager, the memory of him peeking through even though Jungkook hasn’t needed his mouthguard in years.

“Kim Seokjin, acting lead for the Department of Augmented Humanity, Hero Branch,” Seokjin says. “Please state your name and code for the record.”

“Jeon Jungkook. Codename Bulletproof.”

Seokjin settles back into the couchback. “Your active mission as of a week ago had been to protect the former Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“And the mission was terminated as of last Thursday.”

“Mm,” Jungkook says, picking at a stray thread on his shirt.

Seokjin swats his hand away, then keeps a hold on his shirt sleeve so he can’t go back to pulling at it. “Can you walk me through exactly what happened?”

Jungkook shrugs, his free hand finding its way into his hair. “I was on call, but I had a study group meeting that day, so things ran a bit late. It was… maybe 2AM, definitely after midnight. I was showering, and then when I got out I saw I’d missed you texting me.”

“Showering at 2AM,” Seokjin says, shaking his head. “Honestly.”

“You think this is bad?” Jungkook grins. “I used to do that all the time on campus first year. And then once the fire alarm got pulled, and it was like fucking freezing, and I was standing outside in pajama pants and a half wet shirt and I got sick for like a whole week.”

“Well,” Seokjin says, “I think this is worse, actually.”

Instantly, Jungkook’s face falls. His hand slides out of his hair, landing in his lap with a limp thud. “Right,” he repeats, his voice half an octave higher.

“It’s okay,” Seokjin says, winces a bit. He knows that Jungkook takes it all on himself too much sometimes, feels the pressure of hero work harder and fiercer than any of the rest of them, but sometimes he forgets. Other times, he thinks privately that maybe it’d be better for Jungkook to learn how to joke about things anyways. “So, last Thursday. I text you. You get to the safehouse to find?”

Jungkook’s lips pinch together. “Baepsae.”

“Protocol, Kook.”

“Right, right.” Jungkook straightens again, but his face is still tight. “Suspect VF198, Codename Baepsae. Basically my mortal enemy and all that.”

Seokjin laughs. “AKA, that asshole,” he mutters. “So why was he there? Did he say?”

“I think it was pretty obvious.”

Jungkook is quiet again, fingers twitching like he wants to go back to slowly unravelling his shirt. His bottom lip is red and a bit swollen from the memory of his teeth. Seokjin waits until he takes in a breath and wipes it all away in favour of a heavy browed, passive faced look, eyes set forward, lips pursed but not tight and anxious.

“By the time I’d entered the safehouse,” he says, voice steadier now, “Baepsae had murdered the target.”

“Murdered,” Seokjin confirms softly.

“The man was dead and I was too late,” Jungkook bites out. “And then I tried to fight Baepsae but he fucking slipped away like he always does. And then I went home and finished half a bottle of wine and missed so many classes the next morning Jimin had to come over to make sure I wasn’t dead.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, Jungkook’s face drains of colour.

Seokjin knows he could ask.

The tape recorder sits between them, perched on the coffee table.

Seokjin knows he could pretend he didn’t notice the extra name. Jungkook had always been so careful to dance around university life in debriefings.

Careful, conversational, Seokjin asks, “Jimin?”

A soft breath whooshes out of Jungkook’s mouth. “My friend,” he says.

“Yah, is this the friend you like more than your hyung?” Jin complains, nudging him in the knee.

Another shrug, jerky and aloof.

Seokjin laughs to hide the panic suddenly fluttering around his throat. Whoever this was, Jungkook cared about them. Enough to be defensive, now, everything about his posture screaming don’t you dare keep probing. All Seokjin could see, looking at that, was liability. “I’ll take that as a yes, then,” he says instead, mock offended. “Aish, ungrateful brat.”

“Sorry,” Jungkook says, but it’s clear from the edge in his voice that he’s not.

“Okay, so Baepsae got away,” Seokjin cuts back in. “And then?”

“That’s it,” Jungkook says. “I don’t know why he wanted to kill that man. He never said anything useful to me.”

“Alright,” Seokjin says. “Well, if you remember anything, let me know.”

“Yeah.”

“Any other comments?”

“No.”

After another three heartbeats, Seokjin reaches over to shut the recorder off.

All the tension goes out of Jungkook’s body at once.

Seokjin sighs, tucking the thing back into his bag. “You know it’s my job to ask, right?”

Jungkook snatches his wrist back and goes right to picking at the thread again. “Yeah,” he mutters, “I know.”

“Is he really that important to you?” Seokjin asks.

Jungkook shrugs, a helpless thing. “He’s kind of my boyfriend.” And in all the time Seokjin had been there while they were all training, through all the missions he’d knowingly sent Jungkook into danger for, he’s never seen him this scared. All the fight drained away, his eyes locked tight on the couch.

“Jungkook-ah,” he says, awkward with the sudden tightness in his chest. What Jungkook needs is comforting, but what Seokjin needs first is answers. “How long?”

“Dunno,” Jungkook says. Then, “Like, almost a year.”

“Whew,” says Seokjin.

When Jungkook laughs, it’s small and self-deprecating. “Yeah.” He suddenly looks up, eyes narrowed. “Wait, are you going to tell someone? I—you never told me I wasn’t allowed,” he says, defensive and sheepish all in one.

“No,” Seokjin says immediately, and hates this world with all its cracks and faults, that Jungkook has to feel this bad about loving someone.

Except—love is a weapon. Seokjin knows this better than most.

“Everything’s been fine so far,” Jungkook says, stubborn. “We’re okay. He doesn’t even ask, he thinks I have a part time job and doesn’t pay attention to any of the hero shit. We’re good. I can protect him.”

His safety isn’t exactly what I’m worried about,” Seokjin says and ignores the offended whine from Jungkook. “What I mean is, are you sure you can keep yourself safe, too?”

“Of course.” Jungkook juts his chin out. “I’m Bulletproof.”

“There are worse things in this world than bullets, JK,” Seokjin says.

“I can deal with it. And what’s it matter if he’s my friend or boyfriend or whatever?”

Seokjin hesitates.

Jungkook’s eyes flash. “What, so I’m not allowed to have friends now?”

“Well,” Seokjin says, “you have me.”

For a moment, Jungkook doesn’t do anything but blink owlishly. Impossible to tell if he’s actually taken aback or if it’s his usual slightly spaced out resting face. Seokjin wants to kick himself a little for the slip—too desperate, too obviously vulnerable, absolutely not his style. How is Jungkook supposed to look to him for guidance if he knows how much Seokjin actually needs him, in the end? It’s like this: love is dangerous. Seokjin has never wanted to be anybody’s liability.

“Hyung…,” Jungkook starts, as if he’s noticed.

The weight of Jungkook’s feet in his lap suddenly feels heavier. Seokjin wants to lean over and hug the kid or something, but he’d probably be weirded out by the uncharacteristic blatant show of affection. He settles for reaching out and flicking his forehead. “Nevermind that,” he says, too frazzled to make a bad joke to cover everything up. “I just want you to think it over, okay, Jungkook-ah?”

“Sure,” Jungkook says, easy. “I really really like him though.”

“Mmm, is he hot?”

“Hyung!”

“No dongsaeng of mine should be dating anything less than a 9.5, thank you very much.”

Jungkook scrunches up his nose. “Not a 10?”

“Obviously not. You can’t date someone hotter than me.”

And then Jungkook laughs, full-bodied and loose, and for the first time since last week when the mission had gone south, Seokjin lets himself stops thinking about being worried at all.

**

Buried somewhere deep in the bookmarks of Taehyung’s RM Industries-issued laptop is a link.

This link, when clicked, leads to the company’s HR portal. Within the HR portal is all manner of helpful documents to aid the average employee in their work life, including information on benefits, leave policies, and appropriate workplace behaviour.

Tae’s never clicked on it.

“What’s your favourite piece of furniture you’ve ever owned?” he asks, stepping out onto the C-suite floor. Half a dozen administrator types look up from the business of keeping the whole place running, but Tae only has eyes for the sunshine smile of one of them. He perches himself on the edge of Jung Hoseok’s desk, flicks a casual look at the frosted glass behind him to check if Namjoon is in before giving the older man his full attention.

He might be skiving off work. And not his RMI stuff, either - his real, Kim Namjoon requested work.

“Uh,” Hoseok says, looking a little deer in the headlights. Which is fine. Tae knows he’s a lot to take in, especially when he rolls up to the executive level in a hand painted denim jacket straight out of the nineties and bright blue hair. “Taehyung-ssi! Hi! Daepyonim isn’t in the office right now, but I can take a message?”

Tae flaps his hand dismissively - he has no idea what excuse Namjoon gives people for his frequent visits, and doesn’t want to step on any stories by making up his own. “It’s fine! I can always text him if I need him, I really just came up here to see you.”

Hoseok’s eyebrows skate up his forehead. Tae thinks he hears a squeak, and resists the urge to coo, even if it is adorable. That’s a move that tends to work better for Jimin. Not that Tae wants all of his interactions with Hoseok to be about making moves, either.

“That’s - that’s really nice, Taehyung-ssi. Did you need something from me for work, or did you just have a furniture related emergency?”

The link Taehyung had most recently clicked on was 137 Uncommon First Date Questions, and he’s starting to see where he’s made his first misstep. That is, this is not a date, and he probably should have led with hello, or something.

“Well,” he says, absently plucking a pen from the carefully placed mug-of-stuff next to Hoseok’s keyboard. “I figured asking your favourite colour would probably be a little too intimate, you know?”

Hoseok tilts his head quizzically, and there’s a second there where Tae thinks, oh no, thinks this is one of those moments, huh. One of those moments where he’s stepped in it without thinking things through, torn straight through the paper-thin construction of regular social interaction and ended up in the middle of a field or something.

But then that smile creases Hoseok’s face, bright and brilliant and Taehyung flips the pen around his fingers to stop himself from doing anything drastic.

“You work in R&D, right? I’m guessing more on the development side than the research?”

“That’s stereotyping,” Taehyung sniffs, around his own grin. “Yes. Only part time though. I’m not really needed for the proper work we do here.”

He’s not needed for the work the real RM Industries does at all, but that’s not the kind of thing you tell a boy on a pre-first date.

“You’re pretty young to be doing any kind of R&D work,” Hoseok says gently. “Especially in a place as respected as this. It’s impressive.”

Taehyung wonders if Hoseok would be more or less impressed if he knew the truth of why he has the job here. He rubs the back of his neck, the old familiar tang of guilt coating his tongue like it does every time he talks to someone in this place on false pretences.

“Ah, well. I got lucky, I think.” He flips the pen again, lifts it to his mouth before sharply pulling it away. Not my pen, don’t chew. “What about you, Hoseok-ssi? How’d you end up working for an old fogey like RM?”

Hoseok wrinkles the perfect ski-slope line of his nose. “Yah, he’s not even thirty. You should see some of the people I’ve worked for before now, if you want to talk old.”

“Okay, but have you heard him talk? Get him started on like, ‘ethical conduct under late stage capitalism’ and he sounds like some sort of timeless immortal.” Tae exaggerates a shudder, crows inwardly when it pulls another smile from Hoseok. Tries not to think about the fact that Namjoon actually just turned twenty-four. “Not that I don’t admire everything we do here and what he’s working towards, obviously. It just gets tiresome sometimes.”

Hoseok nods, but Taehyung can appreciate that he probably doesn’t want to start shit-talking his boss less than a month into his new job. There’s a pause, before the other man looks up at him through lashes that are, frankly, obscenely long. It’s probably an accident of the angle, on account of the fact that Tae is hovering over him like a paranoid helicopter, but Tae’s breath catches in his throat anyway.

“The two of you seem close,” Hoseok is saying. “Unless it’s a cutting edge business process for the CEO to have a part-timer crash his office at unexpected hours?”

Tae has the good grace to blush. “We - we’ve known each other for a long time. A friend introduced us, and RM - he’s sort of taken care of me since. It’s annoying, I know, but he puts up with it.”

“Oh, hey, no.” Hoseok reaches out, lays a delicate hand over where Tae has started to tap the pen. Annoying again. “I don’t think that’s it at all. I mean, I haven’t been here that long, but he never seems unhappy to see you. He’s always in a, uh, good mood after you’re gone. You’re not annoying.”

Tae looks down at their hands. Hoseok has nice fingers, he decides. Fine-boned, the nails shaped in sweet little half moons. He wants to rub his thumb over the back of them, but that’s probably a little forward for a pre-date.

“You never answered my question,” he says absently. “Either of them.”

Hoseok’s grin lights up the whole floor. “My couch! I’ve had it long enough for it to really start to conform to my butt, you know?”

It startles a laugh out of him, how willing Hoseok is to engage with the question. He’s on the verge of replying when his phone starts to buzz. Given that exactly three people have this number and all of them take priority over anything going on in his life (even pretty eyelash boys), he pardons himself for a second to check his texts.

shiny-hyung 🌼 [10.08]
hey
let me know when you’re free
we should catch up

Visceral joy floods his system - pure, simple. It’s been weeks since he last saw his hyung, caught up in business in another city (the less Tae knows about, the better). As much as he wants to continue the slowest wooing attempt in the world, Yoongi is more important.

“Ah, sorry, I really have to run.” He gives Hoseok an apologetic smile, is gratified to see that the other man does actually look a little disappointed. “But we should get coffee sometime, okay? Assuming RM hasn’t like, shackled you to your desk or something.”

Hoseok scoots to the edge of his desk so Tae can see his ankles. Shackle free. Also, his socks are bright yellow, and Tae has to wrestle with a surge of affection.

“Coffee sounds great,” Hoseok says, and Tae retreats to the elevator with a grin fit to split his face, already quick dialling on his phone.

It picks up on the second ring.

“You waited a whole two minutes,” a low rasp of a voice says. “Everything okay?”

“Hah, hah.” Taehyung lets his back thunk back against the mirrored interior of the elevator car. “I’m not that needy, that’s Jimin. I was just talking to J--” He rolls his eyes up to where he knows there’s a security camera, unobtrusively capturing his every move. “To RM’s new PA.”

“Ah, right. The hot secretary.”

“That’s demeaning, hyung.”

“Sorry. The guy you have the hots for. Anything I have to worry about?”

Taehyung snorts. The idea of Namjoon even glancing at someone other than Min Yoongi is laughable, and they both know it. The elevator dings, and Tae hops out into the ground floor, squinting at the sudden assault of sunlight from the thousand or so windows in the open plan office building. No one knows it, but Taehyung had huddled over the plans for this place with Namjoon for months, tweaking the designs to allow for the most natural lighting, the sense of comfort, the flow.

Seoul eat your heart out, he thinks happily, striding across the floor. Kosmos City was where the cutting edge of design was at.

“Are you home?” he blurts into the phone. “You’re home, right? I wanna see you.”

“You sure? Wouldn’t want to cockblock you.”

“No one’s cock is involved in this situation,” Tae says hurriedly, waving a distracted hand at the receptionist, who only raises her eyebrows back. “There’s nothing to block. I’m just being friendly!”

“Whatever you say, kid. Yeah, I’m home. Want me to send a car?”

“Nah, I can take the metro. It’s a nice day.” And Taehyung, despite years of it, still isn’t used to living the sort of life where a car can be sent anywhere he is to take him anywhere he wants to go. “See you soon, okay?”

Yoongi hums his agreement and rings off, leaving Tae to navigate the public transport system on his own. ‘Home’ is one of two places, depending on who he’s talking to. If it’s Jimin, it’s the comfortable two-bedroom on the lower levels of a bog-standard apartment complex. Nothing special except for the space, as expected of two guys living largely off ‘family inheritance’ who are nonetheless trying to be a little thrifty.

Tae had wanted a cover story that was a little more normal, but at the end of the day a family that no one ever saw was harder to explain than a dead one, and something had to explain their penchant for the more expensive things in life. They could have cut back, but - Taehyung is firmly of the opinion that after everything that’s happened to him, Jimin deserves to live whatever kind of life he wants. Tae’s just glad that it still contains him.

Home when he’s talking to Yoongi or Namjoon, though, is a little more impressive. Their penthouse suite in the middle of the CBD takes up the entire top floor of the highrise, private infinity pool included, because Namjoon means it when he says he’s going to save the world, but he has a part to play in the meanwhile. Yoongi doesn’t even live there most of the time, and as impressive as the amenities are, Taehyung sometimes can’t help but think of Namjoon stuck in the spacious apartment, staring out at the endless, glittering lights of his city. Alone.

Taehyung enters the lobby, greeting the doorman with an exuberance that wins him a fond look. He keys in a code and the elevator has him swooping up to the top of the building, where the doors open to spill him out directly into the suite.

Taehyung has also spent months arguing with Namjoon about the need for some actual colour in his home, but the most he’s been able to wring out of the man is a few notes of warmth with natural wood - the coffee table, dining table, a few sideboards. The rest of the suite is all white and glass and clean lines, broken only by a proliferation of houseplants that Namjoon has managed to keep alive for the entire seven weeks that Yoongi has been gone.

That being said, they’re all looking noticeably perkier than the last time Tae dropped by, and careful inspection shows all of them subtly straining in the direction of the ceiling-high glass doors that lead out to the balcony and the pool.

Min Yoongi stands on the cool grey tile, eyes closed and his face tipped up to the sky like some kind of flower. An explosion of greenery surrounds him, pots and planter walls weighed down with new growth, all of it reaching towards the man as though he’s the sun. It’s not obvious at first glance, but Taehyung’s experienced eye spots the vines slipping out of the long sleeves Yoongi’s shirt, delicate fronds splitting off and wrapping around stems and branches with the utmost care.

There are a lot of messy, dangerous superpowers in this world. Teahyung can make beautiful things with his, but Yoongi’s is the only one he’s ever seen that’s lovely all on its own, just by existing. He toes his shoes off by the elevator doors and pads across the wide expanse of the lounge. Slides the glass doors open and just drops cross-legged to the ground before Yoongi, happy to be close to his hyung while he says hello to his home.

Yoongi’s hand twitches a little. He doesn’t say anything, but large, gentle fingers slip back through his fringe, scratching lightly over his scalp. Taehyung sighs, feeling a tension he hadn’t even been aware of slowly unwind from his shoulders.

“Missed you, hyung,” he mumbles.

It takes an age, or maybe it takes no time at all, but the slow rustle of plantlife alerts Tae to the fact that Yoongi is pulling the vines back under his skin. He catches a long, relieved exhale, like maybe Yoongi is letting go of his own pent up energy, before the hand in his hair hooks under his armpit, encouraging him to stand.

“Missed you too, Taehyungie,” Yoong says, eyes curved into tired crescents with the force of his grin. Up this high, the wind has a power it didn’t have on the ground floor; it ruffles his mint-green hair (which apparently grows out of his head) like it’s as glad to see Yoongi back in Kosmos City as Taehyung is. “C’mon, let’s head inside. You can tell me what I’ve been missing.”

**

It’s past midnight when Yoongi picks up on the soft swish of the elevator doors opening onto the apartment. Taehyung has long since been packed off to sleep in the room he keeps in the penthouse, and Yoongi has made himself comfortable in his own bed, catching up on his reading as he waits for Namjoon to get home.

It’s a common misconception that the supervillain known as Gloss can talk to plants. He can’t, mostly because plants can’t speak, but he can commune with them on the most basic level. He gets no sense of distress from the various potplants scattered through the apartment, which mostly just means no one’s knocked anything over, but it’s a better check than nothing.

He shuffles down the hall from the master bedroom. Moonlight spills through the vast windows overlooking the city, throwing the silhouette of Kim Namjoon into sharp relief as he runs careful fingers through the fronds of a particularly zealous fern. It’s nearly doubled in size in the time since Yoongi stepped foot into the suite. There’s a low murmur of sound - he’s talking to it, Yoongi realises with a sudden rush of fondness.

God, he’s missed home.

Namjoon moves away from the fern, tucking his hands idly into his suit pockets as he gazes out at their city caught in the white glow, all the winking lights fighting for dominance against it. Yoongi stays where he is for a moment, content to drink in the shadow of his partner’s shoulders against the skyline. He’s taken off his suit jacket, the sleeves of his button-up rolled to his elbows.

It’s a good look, and Yoongi has been away for several weeks now, most of them draining and messy and unpleasant. Watching is all well and good, but he’s got a solid working theory that touching is going to be even better, so he crosses the lounge swift and silent. Namjoon knows he’s there anyway, doesn’t startle as Yoongi’s hands slide over his hips, doesn’t make a sound when he lifts onto his toes to hook his chin over his shoulder.

Namjoon’s reflection, hazy and indistinct against the glass, smiles at him. Yoongi twists his head, not looking away as he presses a kiss against the man’s cheek.

“Long day?”

Namjoon relaxes in inches, sagging slowly back into him. “Long month. The ruckus you made down in Blue Side helped my case with some of the city council, but the mayor’s still being - intransigent.”

Yoongi hums thoughtfully, shifting a little to kiss at his neck instead. A cut off groan vibrates against his lips. “Can’t send Jiminie after him?”

“Trying not to mess too much with the democratic process,” Namjoon sighs, tilting his head so Yoongi can work his mouth lower. The collar of his shirt doesn’t leave him much room to work with, so he tugs nimbly at the knot of Namjoon’s tie, enjoying the slither of silk on cotton as it slides away, leaving Yoongi’s hands free to start unbuttoning.

“Fisheries Minister probably should have joined another party, though.”

“The Minister of Oceans and Fisheries should have been less obvious about accepting bribes from multinational oil companies if he didn’t want an eco-terrorist to kill him.”

Namjoon, apparently unimpressed with Yoongi’s pace, starts to work at his buttons from the bottom up. Yoongi grins into his skin, tugging at the neck of his shirt to get more. More skin, more barely suppressed sounds, more Namjoon. His tongue flickers over the sharp jut of his collarbone; he hears a curse, and seconds later the clatter of a button on tile.

Namjoon gives up then, but Yoongi’s fingers are quicker than his anyway, sliding down the front of his shirt with ease until he can slip the whole thing off his shoulders. Before he can do anything about that, though, Namjoon catches his wrist. Their gazes lock in the reflection as he lifts it, slowly, whispers a kiss over Yoongi’s pulse point. Want slips into Yoongi’s veins, subtle and deadly; he grips at Namjoon’s hip, hard, forcing him to turn until they’re face to face.

For a moment, all they do is stare. Match sight to memory, cataloguing any differences to be picked over later. They’ve made a habit of being honest with each other, sure, but they’ve made a habit of downplaying their own suffering as well. Yoongi trusts Namjoon with his life, with Taehyung and Jimin’s. He’s a little less sure if the man can be trusted with his own.

A laugh bubbles over Namjoon’s lips, bringing his dimples up with it. For a second he looks exactly like his real age, and not for the first time Yoongi wonders what the world would do if the genius behind RM Industries’ sustainable energy technology was revealed to lean even heavier on the kind aspect of wunderkind than currently believed. They’d aged up his fake identity in the beginning, figuring it would help the business world they were trying to infiltrate take Namjoon a little more seriously.

Not for the first time, Yoongi is grateful for his own role in their grand plan. Supervillainy requires a lot less pageantry.

“Cute,” Yoongi murmurs, thumbing one of the dimples. “Joonie-ah. I bet no one’s called you cute in too long, huh?”

“Taehyungie’s started calling me Top Banana, does that count?”

Not for the first time, the absurd life choices of Kim Taehyung startle Yoongi out of undressing his boyfriend. He presses a palm flat to Namjoon’s chest, on top of his undershirt, staring helplessly.

“Why would you tell me that now? How am I supposed to be turned on with this knowledge in my head?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s just a metaphor, babe.”

“A metaphor for what?” He glances back down the hallway, like Taehyung will be awake and standing there with an explanation. Namjoon, sharp-eyed as ever, raises his eyebrows.

“Hold on, is he here?”

“Sleeping. You know Tae, once he’s out he’s out.”

Namjoon starts to shrug back into his shirt. “I can’t believe you got me half-undressed in the middle of the lounge when the kids are here.”

Yoongi opens his mouth. Shuts it again, tries to pinpoint exactly where the intimacy of the moment escaped his grasp. Namjoon starts off down the hall - towards their bedroom, at least- leaving Yoongi to wander after him.

“In my defense,” he points out, “it was more like a quarter undressed. And Tae’s the only one here. Jimin’s probably taking advantage of having their place to himself to take his own boyfriend’s shirt off.”

“Not the point.”

They make it to the bedroom, where Yoongi makes a point of shutting and locking the door behind him.

“Better?”

Namjoon wrinkles his nose at him, but the shirt does get dropped to the floor, a problem for future-Namjoon-and-Yoongi. It’s more of a practical move than a seduction, though, as enticing as his upper arms are; there’s a familiar furrow marring Namjoon’s brow that says that overactive brain of his has just kicked into high gear. Yoongi sighs, jerking his head towards the bed.

“Pyjamas,” he instructs. “Brush your teeth. Then come join me, and we can scrape out whatever’s gumming up the works in your head.”

“I’m the CEO of a multi-billion won company,” Namjoon protests, even as he heads to their ensuite. “You can’t tell me what to do, Min Yoongi.”

“I’m a supervillain,” Yoongi says. “I can do what I want.”

It’s a fair argument, and one that ends up with both of them in bed under the covers, Yoongi curling his smaller form into the curve of Namjoon’s torso and deciding that’s still not close enough. He slings a leg over the other man’s thigh, pushing them chest to chest, humming happily as one of Namjoon’s careful hands brackets his face.

Yoongi’s not needy by nature. But seven weeks is a long time to go sleeping alone.

“I’m worried about both of them,” Namjoon admits softly. “Taehyung says he’s happy to help, but I’ve got him working on the Mayor problem right now, and he seems to be doing everything he can to avoid thinking about it.”

“But he is working on it?”

“Sure, but I don’t want him to be doing this just because I’ve asked him to and he loves me. Yoongi, he needs to be engaged with it, he needs to really believe in what we’re doing. Or else we might as well call ourselves the Department of Augmented Humanity and sell ourselves to the highest bidder.”

Yoongi chuckles, pressing his forehead to Namjoon’s. “I don’t think it’s quite that bad, Joon-ah.”

“It’s not good, either.”

Taehyung hadn’t mentioned having any issues with his missions lately, but this is Taehyung; if he’s having real problems, he wouldn’t. Yoongi keys an absent melody over Namjoon’s ribcage, running their conversation back over in his head.

“He mentioned,” he says slowly, “being worried about Jimin. Something about his thing with the Jeon kid getting serious. Tae thinks he’s having trouble balancing being happy with…”

“Us,” Namjoon finishes.

“Aish, don’t be so dire. We are not our work.” He brushes a chaste kiss over Namjoon’s mouth. “This family is not our goals, all right? We could stop all of this tomorrow, disappear into the countryside with our ill-gotten gains, and still be us. All right?”

Namjoon kisses him back, distractedly. More notably, he doesn’t answer the question. “Our gains aren’t that ill-gotten. You think Taehyungie’s projecting?”

“I think that if Jimin needed something, he’d tell us - loudly, insistently - what that thing is. Tae doesn’t like to rock the boat. And you didn’t answer me.”

Namjoon kisses him again, harder this time, hotter. And Yoongi is ninety percent sure he hasn’t managed to settle any of his partner’s worries, but experience has taught him that there’s no real off switch on Kim Namjoon’s brain. Sometimes, he can let himself be talked down.

And sometimes, it takes something a little more…involved.

Yoongi’ll bring it up again in the morning, once Tae is gone and they have the space and daylight to talk things through properly. For now, though?

For now, he thinks they both deserve a break from trying to save the world.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Jimin thinks that if his secrets belonged to him, he’d just give all of them to Jungkook.

“Is it really fair?” Tae says, the two of them bundled up on one of the black leather couches in Namjoon’s penthouse. “Getting mad at him for not telling you things when you’re definitely doing the same thing?

A low murmur of voices carries through to them from the kitchen - the clanging of pots, the hum of fond laughter, the smack of a wooden spoon on skin probably preventing greater disaster. Yoongi is cooking, and Namjoon is annoying him under the guise of helping, and Jimin’s heart is somehow full and aching all at once.

“I’ve giving him everything I can,” he tells Tae’s chest. “If I tell him any more, that’s telling him secrets that aren’t mine.”

“Joonie said you could, though. That if you trusted him—”

“I trust him,” he snaps. “Jungkook loves me. It’s not that simple, Taehyungie, you know it’s not.”

Tae’s hand idly strokes through his hair, and Jimin can feel the faint tremble in it. Taehyung hates confrontation, is happiest in the world when his loved ones are happy (and he loves Jimin the most). But he also hates lying, and maybe that’s why Jimin had brought the whole mess up with him to begin with. Taehyung won’t let him run away from himself, no matter how much he might want to.

“Jungkook loves Park Jimin,” Tae says carefully. “All the things that you are, Jiminie, he knows those. But you can’t just pretend the things you do aren’t important, too.”

He can’t. Jimin knows he can’t, but he also has no idea how to drag himself out of the hole he’s dug without pulling the others in here with him, and he won’t do that. Not even for Jeon Jungkook who loves him. Who he loves.

“Everything okay?” Namjoon wanders into sight, looking more relaxed than Jimin has seen him in ages. He’s even wearing a t-shirt instead of his fancy office button-ups. I can’t help it if I’m poplar, it says. It has a tree on it. There’s black-bean sauce on his cheek.

“No,” Jimin grumbles. “Why’d you let me have a boyfriend?”

Namjoon makes a face somewhere between sympathy and a grimace. “Sorry,” he says, voice dry as dirt. “I’ll go back in time and prevent you from having any real lived experiences right away.”

“Thank you.”

Namjoon’s expression softens, and he does the Joonie thing where he reassures them that anything they need to do is fine so long as they talk about it beforehand, but the last thing Jimin wants to do is talk about his relationship with his hyung who kind of has everything that Jimin wants with Jungkook. And then Yoongi yells something about dinner being ready because Yoongi is back, and he’s safe, and so Jimin packs up every one of his feelings in a very small box and ignores the worried look Taehyung gives him as he practically flies towards the kitchen.

There’s a buzzing under his skin. He ignores that too.

Partway through dinner and a story Yoongi is telling them about the drama down in Blue Side (corporate corruption, rival supers, his crew of baby eco warriors that Jimin misses terribly, a lot of property destruction), Jimin’s phone starts to ring with its Jungkook specific ringtone (SNSD’s I Got A Boy, obviously). Yoongi mimes throwing a chopstick at him, but waves him off when he pauses, go, go.

Jimin thumbs the call on, sliding out onto the balcony. This high up and there’s hardly anything obstructing his view of the sunset, the sky streaked in pink and gold.

He wishes he could show Jungkook.

“Kookiekookiekookie!” he crows obnoxiously, instead of like, hello or something.

A huffed laugh greets him and Jimin closes his eyes at the way his nerves settle, like all the loose energy ricocheting off his bones has curled up to listen. Jungkook hasn’t always had this effect on him, but the more time they spend together, the more - in love Jimin is, the safer this boy feels.

The more like home.

“You're in a good mood.”

“I'm always in a good mood when cute boys call me.”

“Aww. You think I’m cute.”

There had been a time when Jungkook would have picked up on the boys part of that equation, never quite sure where he stood in Jimin’s affections. And for a while, Jimin had been into that - this phantom version of himself with a dozen other guys on call, wanted and admired.

But weeks went by, and then months. The appeal wore off, and he can admit to himself that all he really wants is a puff of air against his neck, a quiet I love you from one person.

“I think you’re wonderful,” he informs the phone, which rewards him with the sound of Jungkook’s breath catching in his throat. Jimin wants to catch it with his mouth. Wants to swallow it down, feel it settle in his chest next to the thump-thump-thump of his heart.

“Sweet talker.”

“It’s not the only part of me that’s sweet,” Jimin sings. “What’s up?’

Jungkook has to recover from a sudden coughing fit before he can answer, and Jimin smiles a shark’s grin at the sunset. “Um! Honestly, not much? I thought I was going to have to work tonight, but something came up and I’m free now. And last time I saw you, things were sort of - you mentioned we should talk. Properly. And I definitely agree, so I thought if you were also free, then we could. Do that? But if you’re busy, I can--”

“No! No, I’m just out for dinner with Tae and some friends, but I can bail. Just give me some time to get home, okay?”

“Hey, no, you don’t have to bail on anything. It can wait, really.”

“I don’t want to wait.” There’s more honesty in his tone than he thinks either of them really anticipated, and they pause for a second to digest that before Jimin can convince himself to keep going. “Listen, just go to my place. Let yourself in, have a snack. I’ll be there as soon as I can, we can go for a walk or something.”

“...Sounds nice,” Jungkook says softly.

“Of course it sounds nice, I came up with it.” Jimin sniffs. “I’ll see you soon?”

“Count on it.”

He garbles an explanation as he heads back inside, already calling a car to pick him up from the lobby. Jimin’s grateful every day that he managed to convince Taehyung to accept a cover story with money, because it means he can do shit like this without having to worry if Jungkook is going to see him being driven around.

“Bring leftovers home, Taehyungie!” he demands, waiting for the elevator to crawl up to the penthouse.

A hand touches his shoulder and something sparks like electricity, making his whole body jump. When he turns, wild-eyed, it’s Namjoon behind him, gazing thoughtfully down at his hand.

“Are you sure things are all right?” he asks, all careful caution. “You seem a little...pent up.”

Jimin scowls at the implication, flicking at the older man’s fingers. “I’m fine! You just scared me. You’re not going to do the thing where you pretend to be my dad despite only being a year older than me, are you?”

A choked laugh sounds from the dining area, Yoongi cackling over Namjoon being called out. Namjoon rolls his eyes, but doesn’t back off.

“I’m not your dad, but I am your friend. I just want to make sure you aren’t running headfirst into anything you aren’t prepared for.”

“I’m not gonna tell him, Joon.”

For all his big words about how it’s totally fine if Jimin wants to share their biggest secrets with the boy he loves, Namjoon’s shoulders still drop a little in relief.

“It’s not that you can’t,” he emphasises, and Jimin has heard this speech so many times that he suspects Namjoon really believes it. He reaches out, lays a hand on Namjoon’s wrist. Squeezes.

“Let’s get RM Industries supplying clean energy to Kosmos City, and then we can start talking about what I’m going to tell Jungkook, all right?”

Namjoon glances over at the table, and Jimin knows he’s looking at Yoongi. Something squirms in his stomach - not jealousy, not exactly. It’s just that Jimin can so clearly picture Jungkook seated there too, laughing at Tae, thanking Yoongi for the food, staring starry-eyed at Kim Namjoon

Come to Spring Day Tower, he could have said. I want you to meet my family.

“I want you to be happy, baby,” Namjoon says. “That’s it. That’s all.”

Jimin leans up on his tiptoes. Drops a kiss onto Namjoon’s cheek, right as the elevator announces its arrival.

“I’m happy, hyung,” he says gently. “I’m free, I’m doing things I love, I have people who love me. Everything else is just dessert, you know?”

He escapes into the elevator before Namjoon can say something sappy about how Jimin deserves to have dessert whenever he wants. He spends the trip from one home to the other fussing with his hair, trying to force his fringe into the cowlick curl over his forehead that always looks particularly adorable. He pulls out a tinted strawberry chapstick as the car approaches their apartment complex, thanks the driver with a bright smile, and runs up three flights of stairs in the hopes of shaking off some of his excess energy.

It doesn’t really work, and Jimin idly hopes that whatever Jungkook needs to tell him tonight isn’t going to be too earth-shattering. A little world-rocking is fine - Jimin is used to his life being shaken around a bit, and he wants as many pieces of his boyfriend as he can gather into his arms and hold close. It’s just, the last time Jimin saw Jungkook, Jungkook told him he loved him. And Jimin said it back, and they hadn’t even gotten a celebratory handjob out of the situation.

At least Jimin’s secrets never stopped anyone from having an orgasm. He thumbs in the keycode, shoves open the door and--

“Oh, Kook,” he sighs, crossing the lounge in three quick strides to pull his boyfriend into a hug. Jungkook, with his big eyes and his hair sticking in all directions from running a panicked hand through it, makes a startled sound in the back of his throat, hugging him back. “Jungkookie. You’ve really been freaking out, huh?”

A cold nose tucks itself into the hollow of his collarbone, making him shiver. His spine creaks with the force of Jungkook’s arms around him, but it’s kind of nice. Possessive. Take that, mystery hyung.

“You were upset,” Jungkook mumbles into his neck. “And it was my fault. And I don’t even think what I’m gonna say is going to make you feel that much better.”

Jimin dances his fingers up and down Jungkook’s back, soothing, as he tries to corral his own thoughts. Is it really fair? Taehyung’s voice says softly, and Jimin has done a lot of work over the past few years to stop his brain from routing right back to ‘what would Taehyung want’ whenever he has to make a difficult decision, but he doesn’t think the impulse is entirely wrong this time.

He just doesn’t want Jungkook to be ashamed of him. Doesn’t want to be kept silo’d out of his life because Jungkook doesn’t want his fancy business friends to know he’s dating a dancer, or because he thinks Jimin’s lazy for not working his way through school, or because he’s embarrassed by his small hands or something.

The rest, Jimin decides then and there, is dessert.

“I love you,” he says, and smiles at the taste of each syllable on his tongue. Grins outright at the noise Jungkook makes, half distress and half delight. “We’ll figure the rest out as we go, all right? Unless you’re about to break up with me.” He tugs at Jungkook’s shirt, squinting up at him dubiously as the other man pulls his face back. “You’re not, are you?”

In answer, Jungkook cups his face in both his hands, the span of his fingers cradling his jaw like it’s something precious. His mouth is achingly soft as it closes over Jimin’s, all sweet and strawberry because they use the same chapstick, and god, that’s gay.

“It’d take a lot more than an overbearing hyung to pull me away from you,” Jungkook says. “Wanna go for that walk?”

Actually, Jimin kind of wants to put his hands on Jungkook’s hips and steer the two of them back into his room, but he can understand needing fresh air to talk about a difficult subject. A fine tremor of adrenaline runs through his limbs, and honestly, a walk isn’t the worst idea when it comes to burning off some of his excess energy. He tangles their fingers together, smiling.

“Come on, we’ll go to the park.”

The park is a scrap of greenery off a sideroad that lets all the landlords raise the rent in the name of being ‘family friendly’. But the sun has slipped off behind the skyline in the time since Jimin left Namjoon’s, and the tiny playground has been abandoned to the encroaching darkness. Jimin tips his head back to see if he can spot any stars, but the fine dust has been bad lately, blurring out the details of the night sky.

He tugs a face mask up over his mouth, thinks about needling Jungkook to do the same. It’s his most irritating habit, that he never seems to have one on him, no matter how bad the pollution gets. Now’s not really the time to get on his back about it, though.

“I’m not out to my hyung.”

Startled, Jimin looks up at Jungkook, lips parted. The younger man squeezes his hand, staring ahead at the next patch of light from the streetlamps.

Somehow, Jimin hadn’t anticipated this. The secrets in his life are so unreal, he hadn’t really let himself anticipate anything in particular. Jungkook could have announced he was secretly a space alien with seventeen hidden tentacles, and Jimin thinks he would have taken that in stride easier than him still being in the closet.

It’s the one thing in life that he’s been lucky in, when he thinks about it. A lot has happened to Jimin over the years, most of it shitty, but he’s never had to worry about what it meant that he liked boys. First, because it hadn’t occurred to him. Later, because Yoongi and Namjoon were right there. Together, and in love, and insistent that Jimin deserved just the same.

He squeezes Jungkook’s hand back, hard. Doesn’t want to interrupt, but needs a way to say it, I’m here, I love you, I’m here.

“It’s not - I don’t know that it’d be a big deal, necessarily.” Jungkook shrugs one shoulder. “But I don’t know that it wouldn’t be either. We’ve never really spoken about it. But he’s sort of - he takes care of everything else. Tuition, rent. Maybe it’d be fine. Maybe it wouldn’t.”

“That explains the whole ‘friend’ thing,” Jimin says with a shaky laugh. Jungkook’s head jerks towards him, face stricken, and he realises his misstep almost immediately. “No, I - sorry, that wasn’t supposed to sound as spiteful as it did. Honestly. Jungkook-ah, I’d never - I’m not about to stomp my feet and insist you out yourself just so I can feel comfortable. It’s okay. You’re okay.”

“But you would.”

“Would - um, would what?”

“Feel more comfortable.” Jungkook looks down at their conjoint hands, the way Jimin has stretched his thumb to its limit trying to stroke the back of his. “If I told him I was gay.”

“Absolutely not. Hey.”

Jimin stops abruptly, pulling their hands apart only so he can take Jungkook’s cheeks in his, a mirror of their gentle kiss from before. He’s not gentle now, the bite of his rings sharp against Jungkook’s jaw, but he needs his fingers to stop trembling for this, needs to convey his absolute surety in what he’s about to say.

“I know I’m not always the easiest person to be with. I know I can be really demanding, and I do shit like say I’m not hungry and then steal the meat off your plate, and I spend a lot of time getting ready and make late a lot of the time.”

“Hyung—”

But. When - if! - you come out is your decision, do you understand me? To whoever, whenever. The only part of it that involves me is the part where I support you no matter what you choose. If you call him and tell him now, if you never tell him ever, it’s whatever to me. The only thing I need is for you to be okay about it. Okay?”

Under the press of his hands, he can feel Jungkook’s mouth twitch, muscles pulling into a smile. The too-white glow from the street lamp casts weird shadows on his face, making it impossible to see his eyes, but Jimin thinks he feels a splash of wet on his skin. He rubs his thumbs over Jungkook’s cheekbones, determined to be caring as fuck about this situation.

“Okay,” Jungkook says with a wet chuckle, dipping his head until their foreheads press together. “Yah, what did I do to deserve someone so understanding? Who would have thought when you were whining about me picking up the choreography too fast back at dance club that we’d end up here?”

“I still think you were cheating,” Jimin mumbles.

“That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Yup, and you’re stuck with me, so who’s the fool now?” He pulls one hand away from Jungkook’s face to poke him in the ribs instead, giggling when he jumps.

Cute, he thinks, I love him, he thinks, he deserves so much more than a brother who he can’t trust.

“You’re really all right?” Jungkook asks, tentative. Jimin pulls his face mask down and kisses him, fast and fierce.

“I’m the best. Don’t worry about me.” And then his mouth moves quicker than his brain can keep up with, which is what happens sometimes when Jimin’s feelings grab the reins. “Look, it’s not the same, I’m not trying to offer up my own important people as a replacement or anything, but you know how I was out with Tae and some friends tonight?”

“You’re gonna introduce me to your secret brother?”

“Shush. No. Sort of. They’re just some older queer friends. You’d like them, I think. They’d like you.”

Later, Jimin will look back on this moment and wonder if he cursed himself. If the universe could allow him only so much happiness before it had to rectify things, and cracking open the gate between the family part of his life and the Jungkook part had thrown things too far out of balance.

Or maybe the mistake happens earlier. When he agrees to stick to the walk plan instead of pulling his boyfriend into his room and ravishing him. When he leaves dinner for Jungkook. When he tells him he loves him. When he storms up to him one day after dance club, nearly a year ago now, and stabs him in the chest with his forefinger. Demands to know why Jungkook thinks he can keep staring, if he’s not going to ask him out properly.

Maybe the mistake is in trying to be happy at all. Jimin can’t put his finger on it.

What he does know is that they’re huddled together under the judgmental glare of the street lamp, grinning fondly at each other when Jimin first hears the squeal of wheels. A frown twitches between his eyebrows, but the car careens around the corner before he can say anything about it, charging across the centreline with the direct trajectory of karmic justice come to life, chasing Jimin down.

Later, Jimin will learn about the driver. Male, Korean, late thirties. Married, two kids. Drunk, panicked, running from demons or running them down. He’ll check his gut for guilt and find only bitterness there. Maybe the mistake is never even Jimin’s to begin with. Just a stupid, human man who made a stupid, human mistake and tore everything apart. Maybe it’s just this asshole, and Jimin his comeuppance.

In the moment, there is no driver. In the moment there’s a car, and there’s Jungkook, and Jimin only cares about one of those things making it out of the moment in one piece. He’s made an art of compartmentalisation over the past few years, holding his powers at bay with a blindfold and a persona, slipping into Baepsae only when Namjoon needs a weapon that Yoongi and Taehyung can’t provide.

He’s not Baepsae now, but it doesn’t matter. His supervillain schtick has always been a part of the show, a performance to keep the world distracted. The real power has always been this; the buzz under his skin, the too-much energy barely contained by his body.

The whole world bleeds gold. Park Jimin throws out a hand and rips the car from gravity’s grasp, tossing it over their heads and into the playground like so much trash. The sound of screaming metal and shattered glass seems impossibly loud for a moment, forever. And then just as quickly, impossibly quiet.

He stares up at Jungkook, breathing heavily, wide-eyed. It takes a second for colour to seep back into the world, or maybe Jungkook is really just that pale. Jimin reaches for him, unsure how he got so far away so quickly, unsure which one of them moved. It doesn’t seem real

None of this seems real.

**

After, Jin will tell him to be grateful. Better to know, before getting too attached.

The problem is, wherever the line defining ‘too attached’ was, Jungkook had long since barrelled past. The first time he’d danced with Jimin with nobody watching, the dark of the apartment, fingers hooked into belt loops and Jungkook rambling drunk but still, Jimin had stayed and listened and kissed him when his teeth were brushed. The six month anniversary Jimin had insisted on and winning half the arcade for him. The day he realized he was in love. Telling Jimin. The moment he decided he couldn’t take another day of waiting, lingering, guessing on both their parts, the moment he decided to tell a selfish lie to convince Jimin there was nothing wrong, to make him stay.

Maybe that was the line, then. That Jungkook was so willing to lie, all for nothing but his own happiness.

Either way, there’s no relief anywhere to be found when the car arcs over his head instead of careening at him head on. No impact but the shocked breath he sucks in, so sharp it hurts him like an arrow driving into his sternum. Not even the dark of the sky; everything around him is gold, now, flashing and beautiful, and Jungkook’s been blinded by that light too many times for it to bring anything but dread and adrenaline—a fight instinct drilled into him from years of fighting the same power that’s protecting him now.

Jungkook skids back before he knows what he’s doing, one hand already up and ready to brace.

“Baepsae,” he chokes out before he can help it, jagged and broken in all the ways his feelings haven’t caught up with yet.

Except that’s not right. There’s nothing there beyond Jimin’s fingertips. The edges of wispy gold, the electric power thrumming off his form, but instead of anything deadly, it’s only his hand, reaching out.

Not Baepsae. Just Park Jimin.

But Jimin doesn’t shake his head, doesn’t laugh it off, like Jungkookie I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I had powers, but this is all just a coincidence! It only looks like I’m Baepsae, don’t worry, I get that all the time. He just stands there, eyes wide and mouth parted, caught in the headlights of Jungkook’s understanding. And it’s fucking stupid because instead of heartbreak or the relief Jin will promise or anger, all Jungkook can think right then is how beautiful he is. The electric crackle of his power dissipates, but there are traces of gold lanced through his dark irises, marbled flicks of lightning that glow with a ferocity that makes Jungkook wonder why he hides it all away with a blindfold.

The Jimin he knows would never pass off a chance to showcase something that lovely.

The Jimin he knows, who might not have ever existed.

It’s almost quiet, save for the crumbling wreckage behind them. Some part of Jungkook wonders why there’s no yelling for help, wants to leap into action and pull the driver out before it’s too late, but the rest of him is still selfish, tonight, and there’s been enough secrets spilled for a lifetime already.

Jimin takes a step forward, his fingers twitching, and Jungkook flinches.

They both freeze.

“Jungkook-ah,” Jimin says, slowly bringing his empty hands up. He’s careful and gentle and everything Jimin, and that tricks Jungkook’s brain into quieting, stilling enough for Jimin to actually come close enough to touch. “It’s okay,” Jimin is saying, the hint of a smile twitching at his mouth, like he wants to commit to it but doesn’t know if he’s allowed to.

“Is it?” Jungkook finds himself asking.

Jimin’s jaw twitches, but he flashes his palms again like he’s trying to be reassuring, and Jungkook lets him cup his face again even softer than he had earlier that night. “Please,” Jimin says, almost a whisper, and maybe Jungkook’s crying again, because there’s no other reason for Jimin to reach up and mirror himself, swipe at his cheeks with trembling fingers. Smooth over Jungkook’s flushed skin.

Hit the edges of the faint scar, healed but still tender enough to feel.

Jungkook goes stiff, icy realization crashing down on him and locking all his joints in place.

Jimin’s still running his thumb over the scratch, saying something, “I’m sorry,” maybe, “Just let me explain, I wanted to tell you, I—”

“Don’t,” Jungkook whispers. “Please.”

The pad of Jimin’s finger digs, briefly, into Jungkook’s cheek, like he can’t help it, and Jungkook wants to lean into the touch and jerk away simultaneously, remembers the feel of Jimin’s lips soothing the cut over, remembers Baepsae’s vicious grin before the tear in his flesh. But then Jimin’s hands are dropping, and Jungkook is backing away, like his body’s accepted the truth already even if, deep down, all he really wants to do is forget this moment.

Something sparks from behind, a loud snap that kicks something inside Jungkook back to life. The feeling bleeds back into his limbs, and the flames licking now at the car are eager and hot, nipping at the back of his neck.

He pulls out his phone, bites his lip hard enough to break the skin there. “I’m going to call 119,” he says quietly, thumbing at the lock button.

Jimin shrinks back some more, his eyes flickering to the phone clutched in Jungkook’s hand. The tips of his fingers twitch again, glimmering, and it could be the firelight, the lurid yellow of the streetlamp, it could be anything other than the beginnings of violence, but Jungkook’s been taught better than to trust a known threat in the field.

“You should go. I won’t—” Jungkook jerks his chin down, tries to let the silence there speak for itself, because even though he’s known since he felt the familiar heat-prickle of Baepsae’s powers emanating from his boyfriend’s palms that he’d never tell, that speaking the secret would be like carving something out of him, but—but that doesn’t assuage the guilt of admitting that impulse out loud.

Jungkook lets himself think, briefly, about the fucking irony that they were supposed to talk.

And now, there’s no talking. Not even the promise of it, in the future.

Just a small, jittery nod that makes Jimin look like a wounded animal, and then he’s gone.

It feels like he takes all the light with him, sucking the street into bleak sepia, the faded white guide lines crusted over with black tar and barely visible in the dimness. Jungkook takes in a deep breath and waits until he can’t hear the tap-tap of Jimin’s steps, tries to convince himself they’re not picking up speed, like Jimin is running away from him.

By the time he’s worked up the wherewithal to sprint back into the park and start picking out the wreckage, he knows it’s too late by the eerie quiet, nothing but spitting flames and creaking, breaking metal.

The rusted swing set is entirely destroyed. Jungkook rips the bottom of his shirt into strips and wraps his hands in them before grasping the twisted frame and pushing it aside. The car, an old sedan, is pinned upside down, leaking something foul. Jungkook rips the door off the frame, and the man inside is already ashen. Hanging upside down from the driver’s seat, his lips an ugly purple and tongue bulging. The air inside is thick and hot, putrid in a way that makes guilt roll deep in Jungkook’s stomach.

Jungkook checks for a pulse and finds nothing.

There’s a small puddle of puke somewhere amongst the scattered broken windshield glass. Bruises lining the man’s neck, swollen and oozing. Broken fingernails. Enough to paint a picture of what this man’s last minutes looked like, desperate and struggling.

Jungkook swallows the bile trying to crawl up his throat and pulls the other door off its hinges, too, feels some amount of relief when there’s nothing and no one there.

Something empty pulls on his sternum. Overhead, the clouds roll in, covering the little patch of playground that’d seemed like such a refuge earlier today with splattered patterns, shifting shadows in the semi-dark. Jungkook is used to shouldering a burden. He thinks, stupid, too late, that he would’ve been happier if the car had come too fast for either of them to see it, break into him instead. Maybe Jimin would’ve found out about him instead, from his miraculous survival. Maybe Jimin would’ve broken it off, then. Jungkook thinks, maybe, he’d have preferred that; the pain of heartbreak seems like such an ordinary thing to have, some story he can tell later about the first great love of his life who dumped him for no reason. Now, all he has is his own guilt, a terrible uncertainty no matter what he chooses to do next, the dark, oil-slicked pavement that led Jimin away from him and the wreckage they both left behind.

He looks down at his own wrapped up hands, the flecks of rust and blood caught on the white fabric, and hurls the broken door hard enough to drive it halfway into the grassy ground. The car screeches at the sudden vibration, sparks, and something rattles to a half in Jungkook’s chest when the whole thing shudders and tilts over with a loud roar.

He sits down on the side of the curb, stretches his feet into the street, and starts pulling the wrappings off his hands.

The phone takes a while to connect. After the requisite supplication of his approximate location, the dispatcher asks him what the nature of his emergency is.

Jungkook balls the soiled fabric in his hands, squeezes his eyes shut. “Powered individual related accident,” he says. “I didn’t see who it was.”

When the phone clicks shut with a promise that someone’s on their way, Jungkook lets out a long, trailing sigh of—not relief. More like an exhumation. Of what, he doesn’t know. He tosses the ball of fabric into the fire and watches it burn.

Chapter Text

Hoseok likes to make it a habit to get to work exactly fifteen minutes earlier than he needs to be. Not because he wants his boss to like him—he’s going to be out of here in a few months if everything goes well anyways—but because people who are careful with their secrets tend to enjoy partaking in them when no one else is around. And fifteen minutes can be a long time.

He hums, spits out a glob of toothpaste into the sink, and combs a wet hand through his hair. The smog isn’t too bad today, so he doesn’t bother grabbing a mask when he toes into his shoes at the door. All in all, it’s a pretty great day, despite having the wear the starchy collared shirt that offends him not because it’s uncomfortable or anything, but because it’s the same boring one every day. At least, Hoseok thinks, RM doesn’t seem to give a shit if he wants to add a little splash of colour to his outfit with some cute polka dots on his tie.

It’s surprisingly humid, for spring. Hoseok wheels his bike out into the glaring streets, all heat radiating off tar black pavement and the shine off luxury cars, and hooks in his airpods. Epik High follows him all the way to RM Industries’ sprawling campus, bright and early at 6:45AM exactly, where the grass is still dewy and greener than it looked the day before.

“Good morning!” he chirps as he strolls in through the front lobby, waving absentmindedly to the receptionist.

Hoseok likes to pretend he’s not someone who startles easily. That, of course, doesn’t make it true.

But he still thinks it’s within the bounds of normal human reactions to yelp and nearly spill his coffee all over the pristine carpeted floor when he’s accosted with a blaze of blue hair and a blinding grin literally as soon as he steps out of the elevator. Though Hoseok’s met him a grand total of twice before now, Taehyung looks a little more manic than usual, hair spilling into his eyes, which have a strange glaze to them. He looks tired, despite the grin. Though Hoseok supposes anyone would be tired at ten to seven in the morning.

“Taehyung-ssi,” he says weakly, clutching his mug protectively to his chest, “you’re here early today.”

Taehyung leans back so he’s not so much in Hoseok’s face, and pouts. “You already have coffee,” he says dejectedly.

There’s two paper cups in Taehyung’s hands, steaming and from the new indie cafe that’d opened up half a block down their street that Hoseok had honestly been looking forward to trying out. Plus, he can smell it from here, a wafting vanilla sweetness mingled with hearty grounds that seems much more appealing than the same old office brewpot. And, well.

There’s that look on Taehyung’s face, the earnest one. It wipes some of the strange exhaustion away from his face. It’s the one that made Hosoek want to answer his ridiculous questions the week before, and that’d actually disappointed him when Taehyung had to leave early. But it’s also the one that makes him look over to the closed door of RM’s office now, linger longer on the question of whether Taehyung was here early for another reason entirely. You didn’t see that sort of openness on people so often nowadays, and Hoseok could definitely see the appeal of keeping around a young twenty-something year old artist that dressed like he was a grandfather and smiled so easily if you were a prodigious CEO who needed to blow off some steam on the occasion and didn’t care how much you had to pay for it.

But maybe that’s not fair. Maybe Taehyung just wanted coffee, and Hoseok was projecting or something. (But then again the logical conclusion of that was that Taehyung wanted coffee with him, and that seemed—well, not impossible, but definitely a bit more disarming for Hoseok, personally and emotionally speaking.)

Still, free coffee is free coffee. “Is that from mono.?” Hoseok asks, setting his mug down on the corner of his desk, grinning when Taehyung brightens at the question.

“Yep!” Taehyung says. He practically shoves the cup into Hoseok’s hand, then skitters back just as quick, beaming. “I hope you like it. I haven’t ever tried their coffee, I’m more of a hot chocolate kind of guy. Anyways, I figured, I might be getting busier at work, so instead of trying to both be free at the same time, I’d just bring coffee to you?”

The thought of that genuinely delights Hoseok. “Aww,” he coos, “that’s sweet. You’re sweet.”

Taehyung ducks his head, the spill of his hair bright in the morning’s light, and Hoseok has one of those freeze-frame moments, where he’s pretty sure he could make a decision right now that’ll end up defining what’s to come.

The ethical thing, probably, would be to let him down easy. Hoseok’s not planning on staying more than a couple months, after all, and it’s not like he’s planning on doing any real good for RM Industries in his time here. But Kim Taehyung is, so far, his only lead, and Kim Taehyung is also apparently interested in him, and Kim Taehyung is pretty much the most beautiful human being Hoseok has ever seen. Well, he thinks, two birds, one stone, right?

“Taehyung-ssi,” he says, drumming his fingers on the desk, “does that mean you came all the way up here just to see me?”

“Maybe,” Taehyung chirps, unabashed. And Hoseok likes that, too. It’s not quite the easy confidence of someone experienced with flirting, more like Taehyung had never thought he needed to be nervous at all. “I think you’re an interesting person, Hoseok-ssi,” he says, softer, and Hoseok fights the urge to clutch his hands to his chest. “I’d like to get to know you better.”

“Okay,” Hoseok finds himself saying.

Taehyung uses a finger to slide the coffee cup across Hoseok’s desk. “Try it,” he says. “And then I’ll know one thing about you.”

Hoseok picks up the cup and laughs. “Whether or not I like coffee?”

“Whether or not you like the skim milk latte with an extra vanilla shot and chocolate sprinkles I got you,” Taehyung corrects.

“Fancy coffee!” Hoseok says, dutifully taking a sip. “How did you know the exact way to my heart, Taehyung-ssi?”

“I’m very observative,” Taehyung intones.

“Whoa, this is good.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah,” Hoseok says, rolling back to his desk. “This’ll keep me from falling asleep in the middle of proofreading daepyonim’s meeting minutes.” A glance at the clock tells him it’s already been ten minutes, which means RM is probably on his way up. “So thanks! I gotta get to work, though, sorry.”

“Ahhhh,” Taehyung says, waving his hands around. “Did I keep you?”

“Nah,” Hoseok says, one eye on the door. “I got here early today.” He pauses. “Actually, why are you here?”

“Oh, I have a meeting with RM,” Taehyung says.

“Huh,” Hoseok says, scrolling through his daily schedule, “he didn’t say.”

“Well,” Taehyung says, his grin curling at the edges, turning mischievous, “I might have neglected to tell him about the meeting. I was hoping to catch him before he had any real work to do today.”

“Boy, you sure do make a habit of coming in unannounced, don’t you,” Hoseok says wryly.

Taehyung leans in conspiratorially. “I like to keep him on his toes.”

Jesus, Hoseok thinks, who taught this kid subtlety?

Before he can question it, though, the elevator dings. Hoseok bangs his knees on the side of the desk in surprise. Beside him, Taehyung straightens and lights up, tossing up a lazy peace sign over his face as RM finally walks in through the doors.

“Taehyung?” RM asks as he slings his messenger bag off his shoulder. “What’s up?”

Hoseok tilts his head, listening carefully. No formalities, he notes. And Taehyung doesn’t exactly look like someone who’s about to have an important meeting with his boss, either. “Surprise,” he trills, bouncing up a bit on the balls of his feet.

“Is something wrong?” There’s a furrowed crease in the middle of RM’s brows, but one of concern. He looks surprised, but not upset, to see Taehyung.

The sidelong glance that Taehyung gives Hoseok is quick—but Hoseok notices. “Erm, roommate issues,” Taehyung says, and that, inexplicably, makes RM’s shoulders instantly tense. Taehyung seems to notice. He shifts his hot chocolate from one hand to another. “I tried to call you, but your phone was off, so…”

“Okay,” RM says. “Let’s go in my office, then. Sorry,” he adds, addressing the last bit to Hoseok. “I don’t have anything urgent, do I?”

Hoseok checks the schedule again. “Nothing, sir.”

“Good. I’ll just be a moment.”

“I’ll be here if you need me,” Hoseok says, but neither RM nor Taehyung are listening to him anymore as they both disappear into the office. Once they’re gone and the door is firmly shut, Hoseok pulls out a notepad so he can jot the entire bizarre exchange down before he forgets about it. Roommate issues, he writes, then underlines it twice, because, frankly, that sounds like code for something and Hoseok has no fucking clue what it could be.

Inside the office, Taehyung and RM’s shadowy figures move around—one circling around and pacing, the other leaning up against his desk.

Hoseok scrolls around his computer for a bit, pretending to be busy. The glass is too thick for him to hear even muffled voices. The rest of the office is still empty, the work week clear enough that most people aren’t going to show up for at least another half hour. Hoseok twirls his pen around his fingers, wondering what in the world could be so urgent even if what he thought was going on was in fact what was going on.

The sound of a door slamming against the wall startles Hoseok out of his thoughts.

Instead of any of his co-workers, Hoseok looks up to see a college student stumble into the office, and not one who looks much like a lost intern or hopeful interviewee on the wrong floor, either.

The boy practically trips over his own feet as soon as he clears the doorway. His hair is a mess, fringe spilled out in wild cowlicks over his forehead, and there are dark circles etched under his eyes, which have a vacant look to them that makes Hoseok think he’s a bit hungover, or, for the matter, still drunk. He’s shivering, despite the sunlight streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows.

Hoseok lurches out of his seat right when the boy looks up and spots his desk. “Hey,” he says, catching him before he can barge straight into the CEO’s office.

The boy nearly falls over in Hoseok’s arms. “What—”

“You, uh, can’t go in there,” Hoseok says, trying to haul him over his chair before he can keel over or something right in the middle of their office. “Are you in the wrong building, maybe? I can help you find… wherever you’re trying to get.”

The boy shakes his head, not even looking at Hoseok, his eyes pinned on the office, still. “No,” he says, then seems to register that he’s talking to another person at all. “Are you the secretary?” he asks, a little rudely.

“Sure,” Hoseok says. “Do you have an appointment?”

“I need to—” The boy cranes his neck, like he can see into the office from here. “Could I just go in? It’s important.”

“Daepyonim’s seeing someone right now, actually,” Hoseok says.

The boy blinks, once. Then drops himself down into Hoseok’s chair with a boneless flop. “I’ll wait, then,” he says absently, hands tucked politely in his lap despite the demanding tone.

“Uh,” says Hoseok. RM Industries has a lot of protocols, from strongly phrased recommendations on the most eco-friendly ways to get to work to how to deal with stubborn government officials, but there’s really nothing on file for how to deal with literal college kids demanding to see the CEO. Not even the business students tended to be that ballsy. “If you don’t have an appointment,” Hoseok starts, “I’m really going to have to ask you to leave.”

“I can’t,” the boy says, his mouth twisting into a frown. “I don’t know where else to go.”

It shouldn’t really matter how badly he feels for the boy. But Hoseok is a softie at heart, and, besides, he wonders if there’s a chance of catching RM and Taehyung in the middle of anything exciting. So he tells the boy to wait at his desk, and hopes he isn’t about to get himself fired as he knocks on the CEO office door.

It’s quiet, at first.

Then, the door swings open. “Hoseok?” RM asks, cracking it open enough for Hoseok to see (disappointedly) that Taehyung’s just seated at the desk with his feet propped up on a large marbled plant pot—unprofessional, maybe, but not exactly proof of anything unsavoury.

“There’s… someone who wants to see you?”

RM raises an eyebrow.

Hoseok shrugs. “I tried to tell him to leave, but—” He gestures back at the boy in lieu of an explanation, regretting his moment of weakness already.

From inside the office, Taehyung gasps loud enough for Hoseok to hear it. And if he’d lit up at the sight of RM, that’s nothing compared to now, his entire body listing forward as he jumps up out of his seat. “Jimin,” he cries, and the boy’s chin jerks up. “Where did you go last night?”

“Tae?” he murmurs, standing up and wandering over to join their strange little gathering.

Hoseok inches back a bit, pretends to be giving them space.

RM sighs and ducks his head closer to the boy—Jimin? “Baby, you know you’re not supposed to come here,” he says, voice pitched low and discreet, and Hoseok has to bite down on his lip to keep his face impassive.

Jimin’s face is a crumpled mess. “I didn’t know where else to go.”

It occurs to Hoseok that there might be something actually the matter here. RM tugs Jimin closer by the elbow, folding him into the office. Jimin goes, still stumbling a little. Taehyung’s the only one of them who seems to remember that Hoseok is still hovering, and he gives Hoseok a little apologetic shrug and mouths something that Hoseok hopes is I’ll explain later before disappearing into the office as well.

The door closes.

Well, Hoseok thinks in the sudden silence, it sure is a good thing that I have the office bugged.

**

Taehyung has always found something hauntingly beautiful about Yoongi’s cavern.

They’ve really cleaned it up over the years, between Tae’s power and Namjoon’s money, but the rocky ceiling is still veined with tree roots breaking through from the surface, the walls thick with moss and ferns that shift and sway every time Yoongi moves. Tae’s not sure how far underground they are, but he’s not getting a wifi signal.

The place is bigger than it was the first time Yoongi had brought him here, a scrappy thirteen year old with a sketch book and not much to show for it. Almost as thought it’s grown with the size of their family, expanding alongside Yoongi’s heart (and he remembers, after it became clear that Kim Namjoon was going to be a permanent thing in their lives, the explosion of space and greenery in the cavern that Yoongi had done his stoic best to ignore, blush hidden down here in the cool and the dark).

It had grown once Jimin had become a part of them, too, although not with the same exuberant, excessive joy. It’s more like - things bloom here that shouldn’t, really. Golden bell flowers and plum tree blossoms caught amongst the moss, the occasional strawberry or pear dangling impossibly from a root. Not obvious, and not ostentatious, just little signs of Yoongi’s love scattered in the sanctuary he refers to simply as ‘my place’.

Tae sits on a wonky armchair he’d drawn not long after he’d met Yoongi, one of his earliest efforts at using his power to create anything more than snacks and little meals for himself. It still holds together after all these years, even with his weight and Jimin’s on top of that, curled up on his lap. A thick carpet of azaleas spreads out in a semi-circle around them, even though Yoongi’s slight form is back deeper in the cavern, leaning quietly against one of the walls.

It’s not clear if the moss and fungi that grows there is taking power from him, or vice versa. He’s watching Namjoon, who is neither sitting nor leaning, opting to pace his way through this particular disaster even though Taehyung has long since made better chairs. There’s a table too, and beds, and bookshelves, and light, the particular genius of Namjoon’s renewable energy and Taehyung’s gift for making real the things he draws.

The perfect base for a crew of supervillains. Taehyung likes to call them something else, most days - motivated, maybe. Goal oriented. But when you retreat to a secret underground cavern because your de facto leader decides this conversation is too sensitive to be had in his own fancy penthouse, there’s really no wriggling away from what you’re doing, even if the dead guy was an accident this time.

Namjoon stops abruptly, switches directions and approaches Jimin. Tae feels the tension in his friend’s body wind tighter, curling in on himself as Namjoon does his best to pick his way through the azaleas without crushing too many of them. It’s a weird juxtaposition, this man in his fancy business suit with his fancy business glasses, taking Jimin’s small hands in his as he squats in front of the chair.

“You’re going to hate this,” Namjoon says.

“Then don’t say it,” Taehyung blurts. Namjoon’s tired gaze cuts to him, brows furrowed. Taehyung doesn’t care. “What the hell, Namjoon? Now isn’t really the time for ‘hey, I’m gonna ask you to do something for the greater good’.”

“It’s fine, Taehyungie.” Jimin’s voice scrapes out of his throat, and it doesn’t sound fine, but what does Taehyung know. He’s only Jimin’s best friend. “This was always a possibility, right? Honestly we’re really lucky that it was - that it was only Jungkook.”

Taehyung really hates the we in that sentence. Because this isn’t something that happened to a we, it’s something that happened to Jimin. If Jungkook goes to the cops, the media, the Department of Augmented Humanity, it doesn’t get traced back to Namjoon and his empire, or even Yoongi and his ragtag collection of kids with a cause.

That’s the point, Jimin had said, when they’d first embarked on this particular journey. We need someone who can act independently. Yoongi-hyung can do the big gestures and be inspiring, Joonie can operate legally , and I can do the ugly things that need to be done.

And Taehyung could watch all of them work themselves deeper and deeper into their alter-egos, Baespae and Gloss and RM, unsure if he wanted to help them or stop them.

“Baby.” It’s a nickname reserved for the both of them, but Namjoon’s talking to Tae now. He doesn’t let go of Jimin’s hands, and Taehyung only pulls the other boy closer to his chest. A soft noise of protest wheezes from him, and Taehyung does his best to relax his grip. “This isn’t about renewable energy, or eco terrorism, or the greater good. This is about keeping Jimin safe. That other stuff is important, but it’s not my main priority. Right now. Or ever.”

Taehyung is aware of everyone in the cavern sort of holding their breath and looking at him (except for Jimin, who can’t currently look at him without breaking his neck or something). Waiting for his reaction, to see where he’s going to push this discussion and the thing is, this isn’t about Taehyung. It’s about Jimin, and as much as he wants to potest, as much as he wants to point out that Namjoon let him do the Baepsae thing, Namjoon is the one who tells him who to kill, Namjoon is the one to blame—

It’s not what Jimin wants. So Taehyung looks away first, presses his face into Jimin’s shoulder.

“Let’s keep him safe then, I guess.”

One small hand rubs over his wrist, and this is all wrong. It’s supposed to be Taehyung comforting Jimin, not the other way around.

“What do I need to do?”

There’s an energy in Jimin’s voice that they all know is faked, but they let him have it because - he’s had enough taken from him in the last twenty-four hours.

“Disappear for a bit,” Namjoon says immediately. “I know you’re nearly done with your degree but you can cite a personal emergency and pick it up again next year, or whenever it’s safe enough. It might have to be at a different institution under a different name, but you know we can take care of that.”

Taehyung, so close to Jimin’s throat, hears the dry drag of his swallow. “Jungkookie - um, he said he wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Namjoon hesitates.

“God, don’t say it.” Before any of them can move or say anything, Jimin’s up out of the chair, away from Taehyung. The azaleas crumple sadly underfoot as he strides across the cavern, coming to an abrupt stop when he realises he’s just storming towards Yoongi. He drags a hand back through his hair. “I can’t...trust that he’ll keep to his word. We can’t. I know.”

“It sounded like he didn’t give you much time to explain,” Namjoon says, swivelling to face Jimin, but not follow. They’re all very carefully eyeing any loose objects in the cavern - not, Taehyung supposes, it would matter much if things were bolted down. Jimin didn’t really care what was attached to what when he was on a roll. “It’s possible he promised you that because he was scared, it’s possible that he even meant it at the time, but if he’s not on board with what we’re doing - if he doesn’t know why—”

“If he doesn’t love the whole murdering thing, who’s to say he won’t change his mind the next time Baespae has to kill someone,” Jimin finishes. “Yeah, I got it.”

Baepsae doesn’t have to kill anyone. The words tease at Tae’s tongue. He bites them back. Baepsae is just you and wherever Namjoon chooses to point your powers. He’s a choice you both made, Jiminie, not a separate person.

It’s an argument they’ve had before, and Taehyung doesn’t know how to win it.

“You can stay with Yoongi,” Namjoon says, and when had the two of them had time to discuss that? “Lay low for a bit. Tae can make you new documents.”

“So I’m just a part of this now, huh?”

For the first time, Namjoon looks startled behind the heavy frame of his glasses. He blinks over at Taehyung, like it hadn’t even occurred to him that Tae would object.

“Baby,” Namjoon says again, gentle, coddling. “Haven’t you been the whole time? Isn’t that what we decided, at the beginning?”

And now Jimin’s scowling, arms crossed over his chest. “Since when was this about you anyway, Taehyungie? I’m the one who just blew his life up, I’m the one who needs to fix it. I don’t need you riding in here like some warrior prince trying to protect me.”

“No one’s riding anywhere!” Taehyung protests. “I’m just worried, like you’d be worried about me if I was dating someone and killing other people and those two things just crashed into each other and all of a sudden I was talking about cutting myself off from the whole world so I could keep killing people! Do you really think that’s the thing you’re supposed to take away from this situation?”

“Oh, so now the universe is stepping in to give me life lessons, is it? Where was the universe six years ago when I needed it, then?”

Taehyung launches himself to his feet, fists balled, jaw tight. “I was there!”

It’s like the weight of those six years has abruptly slammed into the cavern, knocking them all off balance. Jimin’s head jerks back like he’d been slapped, and Taehyung watches as something ugly steals the shock from his face. Jimin isn’t a cruel person by nature, but half a lifetime in the custody of the Department of Augmented Humanity had made him learn anyway.

For a long time, Taehyung had thought there were two kinds of supers. There were the ones like Bulletproof, who got palmed off to the Department by parents who couldn’t handle having a powered kid, and ended up becoming heroes. And then there were the ones like Tae, who grew up outside the system and sometimes lived normal lives, and sometimes became villains, and sometimes fell in with passionate, powerful teenagers with a determination to save the world.

He’d been thirteen when he met Yoongi on the streets of Kosmos City, trying to figure out how to use his power to help his family while being as light a burden as possible. Fifteen when Yoongi had met Namjoon, and rumours of a third kind of powered individual had started circling around Yoongi’s network of discontented supers. Sometimes, they said, kids who got dropped off at DoAH didn’t come out the other end as heroes.

Sometimes they didn’t come out at all. Tae had been sixteen when they’d decided as a group that he’d be the best one to look into it - Namjoon didn’t have powers, and Yoongi didn’t have the temperament. This had been before the eco-terrorism shit, before they had any kind of plan about anything other than being smart, and capable, and powerful enough to help people who needed it.

Tae, though - Taehyung had exactly the kind of weird power to catch DoAH’s interest. Not really suited for active hero work and unclear just what the limitations of ‘if I can draw it, I can make it real’ were, he’d handed himself over to DoAH and ended up in their Clinical Studies Unit in the space of a month.

He’d been sixteen, when he’d met Jimin. Jimin, who had been given to DoAH as a child with basic telekinesis, and been experimented on until he could barely hold his own body together. Jimin, who was allowed to spend time with the other ‘patients’ if he managed to control his power, who was restrained and sedated and desensitised in seconds if he couldn’t contain what they’d done to him. Jimin, who had been hurt so horribly and still did his best to look after the other kids in the unit, to protect them where he could, to comfort where he couldn’t protect.

Taehyung had been sixteen when he’d—

He’d been there. He had.

“Enough.” The rasp of Yoongi’s voice grates across the rope of tension stretched taut between them. They both glance over at him, startled. “Jimin, whatever you’re about to say, don’t. Tae, sometimes you can be right and still not get what you want. We’re all living with the consequences of our choices.”

The tension frays, snaps. Instead of cruelty, Jimin’s face crumples. Namjoon starts towards him and is waved off; Jimin turns, instinctively, towards Taehyung, and what can Taehyung do except pull him into his arms?

“Sorry,” Jimin mumbles, his whole frame trembling as he tucks his face into Tae’s throat. “Sorry, I know you were there. I know you’re here now. It’s just a lot, yesterday everything was fine and normal and now it’s a mess, and I keep thinking there has to be something I can do to make it yesterday again, but there isn’t. There’s not.”

“Talk to Kook.” Tae rubs a hand over his back, hoping repetition can pass for comfort. “Before you pack your whole life up into a box. You haven’t slept, you haven’t really eaten, you don’t know where he’s at. You can make any big decisions later, all right?”

Jimin doesn’t say anything, but Taehyung feels his nod. Over the top of his head, he meets Namjoon’s gaze squarely. Dares him to argue, dares him to try slot in some business jargon like ‘best practice’ into this tentative peace they’ve made.

But Namjoon’s shoulders are slumped. His suit is rumpled, there’s dirt on the knees of his pants. He inclines his head, and Taehyung’s whole heart aches. For Jimin, for Namjoon. For everything their family has become.

**

Jimin can’t remember ever talking about supers with Jungkook.

It seems absurd, in hindsight. They live in Kosmos City, super-capital of Korea. People speculate on hero rivalries like they do sports teams, trade DoAH theories like political gossip. But Jimin had always stepped around the topic with his boyfriend - not only to hide the truth from him, but because he honestly didn’t want to know what Jungkook thought.

It would have been too much, he thinks, to keep the secret of Baepsae from him and also find out that Jungkook considered Baepsae a villain. A couple of days ago, that had felt like a sensible, self-preservation kind of decision.

Now, it leaves Jimin’s thumb hovering over his phone with no idea what reception his request to meet is going to receive. He’s typed and re-typed the text a thousand times, gotten mad at his phone for being so fiddly, gotten mad at his inability to make a damn phone call, gotten mad at Jungkook because after all of this he still doesn’t know where his boyfriend lives, and that’s weird, isn’t it?

(and before he can get too worked up about how weird that is, his brain hooks itself on the word boyfriend and starts running in circles, because they hadn’t broken up, right? Jungkook might hate him, might be disgusted with him, but he also could be fine. Baepsae has supporters out there, people who have noticed the trend in the kind of people he kills, people who are tired of the same things Namjoon and Yoongi are tired of. Maybe Jungkook’s a fan. Maybe it’s going to be okay).

Sick of himself, sick of his own thoughts, Jimin hits send on the text. Throws his phone away from him as soon as he’s done it, watches it land in a patch of azaleas. He’s still in Yoongi’s cavern, even though Namjoon and Tae have both been returned to the surface. Sure, they have no idea if it’s safe for him to go back to his own apartment right now, but he also just - wants to stay in the dark for a little bit. Yoongi’s place has always felt a little bit outside of reality, a little stopped in time. It’s where they’d first brought him after breaking out from DoAH, where they’d all stayed before Namjoon had taken over RM Industries.

Not his first home, exactly, but the first one that mattered. The first one he’d do anything to protect.

God, DoAH. Even the thought is enough to tip-toe a tremor down his spine. Which is why he tries very hard not to think about it, most days. But explaining everything to Jungkook is going to mean dredging up everything that happened to him at that place, or at least some of the things, and he can already picture Jungkook’s bunny face screwed up in sympathy. Maybe even pity, which, worse than the dumbstruck horror from the whole crash situation, Jimin really doesn’t think he could stand.

Maybe he won’t care, his brain offers helpfully. Maybe he’ll think that you deserved it all.

His brain has always had an interesting definition of the word help. Blame the Department of Augmented Humanity for that, he thinks with a snort.

“That one sounded bitter.”

Jimin looks over at Yoongi, stationed at one of Tae’s weird tables with his laptop, illuminated by the gentle pulse of one of Tae’s weird lamps. Guilt sours his mouth as he thinks his friend. Kim Taehyung, who has only ever tried to love him, and has only ever gotten hurt for his troubles.

“You don’t think I’m allowed to be bitter?”

“I think you’re allowed to be anything you want.” Yoongi stands, stretches with a groan. Scoops up Jimin’s phone from the azaleas as he crosses the cavern, hands it back to him. “I don’t think bitter’s going to help, though.”

“Well, what do you think is going to help?” Jimin snaps, snatching his phone back. He doesn’t look at the screen. “Everyone else has an opinion, I haven’t heard yours yet.”

“Kid, if I thought I knew what could help you, I would have brought it up years ago and we probably wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“You really think I’m that much of a mess, huh?”

Yoongi ruffles his hair, which is as close to physical affection as he tends to get, outside of handholding. On the flipside, Jimin’s pretty sure he’s about to explode from the amount of lamb skewers he’s had in the last couple of days.

“I really think that you were messed with that much. You are doing the best you can. You always have.”

Jimin looks down at his phone. He knows that if he thumbs it on, the screen is going to light up with a picture of him and Jungkook from dance club, both of them sweaty and exuberant.

I’m going to have to quit, he thinks. If Park Jimin is supposed to disappear, he can’t be a part of a dance crew.

“Thanks, hyung,” he mumbles. “Guess I just have to wait and see if Jungkook thinks the same.”

“From everything you’ve said about him, he sounds like a good kid.”

“Yeah. That’s kind of the problem.”

Jimin braces himself, turns the phone over. The little LED light in the corner flashes blue for a new message, and it takes everything in him not to throw it again.

jimin [15.33]
i dont know if you never want to hear
from me again or if you’ve been waiting
for me to get in touch or something in
the middle but i’d like to see you.
to explain. you dont have to believe
me or agree with me or do anything if
you dont want to, but please dont let it
end like this. I love you. muscle boyfriend 🐰[15.38] ok muscle boyfriend 🐰[15.40] where?

‘Where’ turns out to be Jimin and Tae’s apartment, because as much as Jimin doesn’t want to drag Tae into this, he can’t risk being overheard in public. Yoongi brings him back up to the surface and scopes out the apartment first, making sure no one’s lying in wait. Once his paranoia’s settled on that front, he decides to indulge it by keeping watch outside the complex.

“Keep your phone in sight. If you see me call, don’t even answer, just get out of there. Understand?”

“He’s not going to show up with a DoAH task force, hyung.” Jimin wonders if he says it enough, he’ll start to believe it.

Yoongi shoots him a flat look. “If you see me call—”

“I’ll get out of there, I promise, I promise.”

He doesn’t call. Jimin perches like a stranger on the edge of his own couch, staring at his wobbly reflection in the television. He thinks about jogging his leg up and down, but all the excess energy left him in the sudden explosion of his power, ripping the car from the earth, throwing it. It’s nearly the worst part about having so abruptly turned his whole life upside down; physically, he feels great.

Eventually, there’s a knock on the door. Jimin hadn’t known that a sound could be heavy and tentative all at once, but here they are. He hurts already, because—

“The code’s the same, Kook,” he calls. There’s a long pause, before he hears the beep of the numbers being pressed in, the thunk of the magnetic lock disengaging.

There’s no bracing for the way Jungkook eases inside. For the way he looks at the door like he’s not sure if he wants to shut it or not. For the way he decides to let it close, and stays right there, leaning back against it with his arms crossed over his chest.

He looks exhausted. Fringe falling into eyes that are red rimmed and dark-circled, face puffy. Tension strings his body tight, a bow about to break, and every instinct in Jimin’s body screams at him to get off the fucking couch, to go to him and comfort him and do whatever he can to make it better.

I love you, he’d texted. Ok, Jungkook had sent back.

“I tried to come by yesterday,” Jungkook says finally. “But there was no one here. Or at least, no one answered.”

“I was staying with friends,” Jimin replies, and where did the rasp in his voice come from? He’s not going to cry. He’s not. He doesn’t want Jungkook to think he’s trying to manipulate him with emotions or something. “It seemed - safer.”

Something ugly flickers across Jungkook’s face, and Jimin’s whole entire chest seizes because he’s never seen that kind of look on the other man’s face before. Has he been angry? Sure. Has he been angry at JImin, specifically? Jimin’s a frustrating person to be around, it happens.

This, though - it’s barely there for a second and Jimin still doesn’t know what to do with this.

“Friends that know what you are.”

That what in place of a who stings more than any insult could have. Jimin flexes his fingers. Threads them through each other, white-knuckled.

“They know that I’m Baepsae, yes.”

“They know you’re a supervillain.” Well. Jimin supposes that answers the question of ‘Jungkook’s take on Baepsae’. He watches the way the other man’s gaze tracks restlessly around the room, landing on the easel set off to the side, folded up and out of use. “What about Tae? Has he been in on this the whole time too?”

Jimin is already shaking his head before he can think his way through the lie he’s about to tell. The need to protect Taehyung is instinctual, and it’s only anxiety and exhaustion that had prevented him from thinking about what he’d say if Jungkook brought it up before now.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Over the last few months, Jimin has gotten very good at lying to Jungkook.

“Tae and I met through university, like I told you. I was - active, I guess, before then. I never even told him that I had powers, and it’s not like I’m out there every night, or anything. He sleeps like the - he’s a really heavy sleeper, I don’t even know if he notices when I leave at night.”

There’s a brightness to Jungkook’s eyes as he drags them back to Jimin’s face, drinking in the sight of him. Not crying, not yet, but the threat hovers in the silence between them until Jimin can feel the urge to sob rising in his throat. He swallows it down, I won’t cry, I won’t.

“I can’t tell if you’re lying to me,” Jungkook whispers, and Jimin thinks the words break them both. He propels himself off the couch, leaving his phone behind and crossing the room faster than he knew he could move, and Jungkook doesn’t even flinch when he reaches for him. Doesn’t move at all when Jimin cups his cheeks, pulls Jungkook’s face down to his, breathes him in.

“I’m not,” he lies, pressing their foreheads together. “Please believe me, please, I’m not.”

“Why?” Jungkook cracks, and there are a thousand questions tearing through that single word. Why should I believe you, why are you killing people, why have you done this to us? Jimin’s thumbs are wet and so are his cheeks, and all he can think is—

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I love you, I never wanted you to have to know any of this, but I’ll tell you now. I promise, I’ll tell you everything.”

He’s lying and he hates himself for it, but everything isn’t his to give. It never was, and Jimin thinks that he’s found the mistake that eluded him on the night of the crash, the great big fuck up.

He was never supposed to have this.

Fingers close around his wrists, tugging his hands away. “Stop saying you love me like it’s some kind of bandaid,” Jungkook says, low, fierce. “What do you mean, you never wanted me to know? Did you just - you were going to keep this from me? You made me feel so bad for not telling you about - about my brother, and you were going to let me think you were normal forever?”

Jimin wants to say something. Wants to explain himself, wants to lie some more, wants to do anything to get Jungkook to stop speaking to him in that tone, but Jungkook’s hands are around his wrists and there’s a low buzzing in his ears and he doesn’t - Jimin doesn’t like people trying to restrain him, even though he knows he’s not in any real danger from Jungkook, knows Jungkook would never hurt him, wouldn’t be able to even if he wanted to.

“Please,” he says, the words tripping out of his mouth, “please let go of my wrists.”

There’s a moment of uncomprehending silence. Jungkook’s head jerks back, lips parted and it’s fucking obscene how Jimin’s mind leaps to all the other times he’s seen this man mouth-open and breathless, but not like this. Never like this. It almost seems, for a second, like he might hold on tighter - but then his hold is gone, palms flat on Jimin’s chest instead, pushing hard enough to make him stumble.

“I don’t want this,” Jungkook says, fumbling for the door. “Forget it, forget all of this. Keep your secrets, keep your - your tragic backstory, whatever made you do any of this, I’m done. We’re done.”

It feels, Jimin thinks dazedly, sort of like having a car thrown at you. For a second, there’s no sensation. For a second, it’s all noise and numbness, the distant voice in the back of your head screaming oh shit, this is going to—

Hurt.

“Jungkook,” he says, twisting his fingers together because he can’t trust himself not to reach for the other man, doesn’t want to know what will happen if he does. “You said you loved me.”

Jungkook’s shoulders ripple with a new tension, but he’s still moving, yanking at the door handle, nearly ripping the whole thing off its hinges. Jimin can’t see his face.

“I loved Park Jimin. I don’t know who you’re supposed to be.”

Chapter Text

It’s noon on a working day when Jungkook’s call comes in.

The lab technician looks up from his clipboard, raising an eyebrow at the sound of Seokjin’s phone ringing over the whirr of the centrifuge. Seokjin raises an eyebrow right back, is planning on sending it to voicemail, when he catches sight of the name on the screen.

“The samples are almost ready,” the technician unhelpfully says.

Seokjin slaps him on the back. “Are you really going to need my help for any of the tests you’re about to run?” he asks, smiling goodnaturedly.

The technician narrows his eyes.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Seokjin says, then turns and taps into the call as the door is sliding open for him. “Jungkook?” he asks, sliding into an unoccupied exam room. “Are you okay?”

There’s a small laugh on the other side, thick and watery. “I guess there’d have to be something wrong for me to be calling you now, right?” he says, a strange croak in his voice. There’s guilt, there, like he just realized it was a bad time to call, but shame, too. Like that despite the call, Jungkook didn’t want to say what it was.

Seokjin frowns. He settles against the counter for a longer conversation than expected. “I’d say you could’ve wanted to simply bask in my lovely company, but you’ve always been an uncultured brat, so I figured something was up,” he says carefully, not wanting to be the one to bring the conversation somewhere less casual.

Another laugh, fuller this time, but there’s no mistaking how hollow Jungkook’s voice sounds, the scraping of it through the speakers.

“So what’s up,” Seokjin tries again. “As infuriating as you are, I’d rather spend time with you than these unfashionable scientists any day.”

“Are you working in R&D today?”

“Health inspections,” Seokjin says, shrugging. “See when it’s a slow week you get a break, but all I get is more menial labour. At this rate you almost want Baepsae to show up or something.”

Jungkook’s breath catches. It’s quiet, quick. But Seokjin is pretty good at picking up on Jungkook’s little changes in mood now, even if it’s over the phone. He’s spinning back the last seconds of conversation, trying to figure out what it was that he said when Jungkook finally sighs and says, “Could you come home?”

“You heard me when I said I was at work, right?”

“Yeah, but—” another sharp intake, then a shaky exhale. Seokjin lays his work phone on the exam bench and starts to scroll through his schedule, trying to think of people to offset the work onto. “Please?” Jungkook whispers. “I need to talk to you.”

“How’re you gonna make this up to me?” Seokjin asks, means, yes, of course.

Jungkook knows. His voice is already shades warmer when he replies, “I’ll go to the gym with you when you want next time.”

Seokjin laughs. “You’re not going to complain halfway through again?”

“I said I’d go. I never said I wouldn’t complain. You always want to do too much cardio.”

“And therefore I’m going to outlive you,” Seokjin says. He puts the work phone away—this routine health inspection aside, there’s nothing much he needs to take care of today, and sure the techs might hate him, but he can always come back tomorrow to finish off. “Alright, you at home right now?”

“Yeah.”

“Stay there, then. I’ll be over in fifteen.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t do anything stupid!” Seokjin says, just in case, because it’s Jungkook. Gets a little huff in response. “I’ll bring you a lollipop for being good,” he says sweetly, then hangs up. When the call disconnects, he takes a moment to stare into the corner of the too-white room for a bit, trying to think about what could’ve gone wrong enough for Jungkook to skip class and call him in the middle of the day.

Seokjin has always considered himself a pragmatist. But when he first met Jungkook, watery-eyed and still with a couple baby teeth clinging on, standing by himself in the lobby of the DoAH with a new enrollment number tacked onto his shirt, he realized this place would swallow him up if no one did anything. So, Seokjin did something.

Now, seven years later, Jungkook is a little wearier at the edges, but on the rare occasion Seokjin has a night off and they go out for dinner, his eyes are still bright when he turns to take in the whole of Kosmos City’s lights, all starshine and wonder. His Jungkookie is Bulletproof in more than just name. He’s sensitive, but that’s his strength, what lets him absorb his emotions and not let them overwhelm him—it takes a lot to get him to sound as shattered as he did in the first few seconds of that call.

Seokjin combs a hand through his hair, grabs one of the lollipops the doctors use to keep the kids calm out of the exam room drawer, and makes for Jungkook’s apartment.

*

“Could you not put your shoes on the rack?”

Seokjin looks up, then glances down at his shoes, neatly lined up like all of Jungkook’s. “What?”

“Could you—” Jungkook makes a shoo-ing motion with his hand from the couch. “It bothers me. I don’t like other peoples’ things in with mine. You do it every time and I hate it. Please?”

“You know just because you say the word please doesn’t mean you’re being polite,” Seokjin mutters, but he drops his shoes by the doorway instead obligingly. He looks up again; Jungkook’s staring intently at him, brows heavy over his eyes. Not so much as a thank you.

Instead of meeting him at the couch, Seokjin crosses over into the kitchen.

Behind him, he hears the sound of Jungkook scrambling to his feet, which he ignores in favour of pulling the cupboards open, looking to see if Jungkook ever kept the tea he’d stowed there a few months back.

“Hyung!” Jungkook calls. “Seokjin-hyung?”

“Hm?” Seokjin asks.

“You can’t just barge—could you please look at me?

Seokjin opens the last cupboard and spots a sad little box of black tea. Thinks, it’ll do, and sets it out on the counter before grabbing the kettle off its stand.

Hyung,” Jungkook says again, and there’s the rasp of anger now, fierce and quick.

Seokjin turns. Jungkook’s standing there, fists clenched at his sides, probably balled up tight enough that he could’ve cracked the marble of the kitchen counter in half if that was where he’d chosen to put his strength. He looks about as tired as he sounded on the call, but there’s a wildness to his eyes, now, a twitching desperation to his lips.

“Ah,” Seokjin says. “I was going to make us some tea.”

Slowly, Jungkook uncurls one of his hands. Scrubs at his face so harshly he leaves a faint redness behind. “Jin-hyung,” he says, voice heavy, “m’sorry. Could you just—can we talk? Please?”

Something inside Seokjin weakens like a building ready to collapse in on itself. “I am missing work for this,” he says blithely, “so I suppose we should actually do the talking part.”

Jungkook bobs his head so fast Seokjin’s neck hurts.

“Do you still want the tea?” he asks.

Jungkook stops nodding. “Erm.”

Seokjin snorts and shoves the box back into the cupboard. “Sit,” he says, pointing to the counter chairs. “Tell me what’s wrong, JK,” and it comes out soft, all the concern leaking out into his voice. Jungkook has to hear it, too, because he slumps down, braces his elbows on the counter.

“I did something,” he starts, talking his own hands.

Seokjin frowns. “And?”

“And I don’t know if it was good or bad.”

“Well,” says Seokjin, who often tries not to regret the choices he’s made in life, “you wanna tell me what it was, or?”

Jungkook is quiet for a long time. Seokjin lets it happen.

Then, eventually, “I broke up with Jimin,” he says quietly. When he glances up, rapidfire quick, his eyes are lined with red.

Oh, Seokjin thinks, that’s it.

He quickly squashes down the relief that floods his chest and feels vaguely guilty that he even has to do it. He wants to ask Jungkook what he needs, doesn’t want to screw this up. The lack of colour in Jungkook’s cheeks, his messy hair, the way he looks like the whole world’s just fallen out from under his feet and he’s still careening downward, all of it tells Seokjin he probably shouldn’t say something like you did the right thing. Though, maybe that’s what Jungkook is looking for. Someone to assuage his guilt. If Seokjin were less charitable, he’d think: someone to blame.

The Department of Augmented Humanity has always had a strict policy for Handler-Hero protocol, and Seokjin has always known he skirts the line with Jungkook. He knows what role in Jungkook’s life he should be playing, and that doesn’t include ditching an entire half’s day worth of work to comfort him over a break-up. But as much as Seokjin believes in the Department and its rules, he cares about Jungkook more.

He goes around the counter and slings an arm around Jungkook’s shoulders, pinching his cheeks. “Baby’s first heartbreak, huh?” he says, gunning for something in between teasing and not.

Jungkook squirms, his mouth twitches a bit like he wants to smile. “I guess,” he says, muffled. Goes boneless in Seokjin’s arms, despite that he could easily break free without even trying. “I guess you’re happy about it.”

“What!” Seokjin cries. “Of course not! I’m trying to be supportive here!” Pauses. “I mean unless you want to get over him. I can insult him and all his ancestors for you if you want, I’m very good at that.”

“You didn’t even know him, hyung,” Jungkook says, and then his shoulders hunch even more beneath Seokjin’s weight. “Guess that was kind of the problem.”

There’s this look on Jungkook’s face now, like the one he used to get when he skipped out on training to marathon Pokemon in his room as a kid, that tells Seokjin there’s something else lingering there in the spaces outside of what Jungkook is willing to tell him. Jungkook’s never been good at keeping his emotions off his face, and he looks miserable, still, now.

Instead of trying to press, Seokjin scrubs a hand furiously through Jungkook’s hair, messing it up even more.

“Argh,” Jungkook cries, but there’s no enthusiasm behind it. “What the hell?” he mutters, shooting Seokjin a dirty look.

“You can introduce me to the next one,” Seokjin says, shrugging.

“What, like my boyfriend’s gonna want to meet my boss?

“Very modern work ethic thinking,” Seokjin says. “It’s like the Department always says! We’re all family here!”

“Sure,” Jungkook says, in a tone that means the opposite. He shoves Seokjin’s arms off his shoulder without so much as a warning, then fidgets on the high chair for a bit, his leg jostling the whole thing up and down. “But do you think I did the right thing?”

“It wasn’t because of me, was it?” Seokjin asks, half-joking, half-terrified it’d turn out to be the case.

“What?” Jungkook says. “No. Why would you think that?”

Seokjin laughs and it comes out high and a bit nervous. “No reason! Just… I gave you that whole talk about how it might not be safe, and as brilliant as my advice always is, I want you to… make your own decisions in life. You know?” He’s distinctly aware of the heat sliding up his face, the tips of his ears, but he presses his lips together and decides if he’s going to be emotional, he’s going to commit. “I want you to be happy,” he says, giving Jungkook’s hair another ruffle, gentler this time.

Jungkook’s cheeks colour. “Hyung.

“If I have to suffer through sentimentality,” Seokjin declares grandly, “then so will you. But seriously, Jungkook-ah. Did you do it for yourself?”

“I think,” Jungkook whispers, “I did it for him.”

That gives Seokjin pause, hints at a bigger picture.

But as soon as he says it, Jungkook leaps off the high chair and starts jogging towards his room. “Okay thanks hyung!” he calls, waving a hand. “I think I’m good! Gotta get to dance club! Bye don’t let the scientists get to you I’ve heard they do evil experiments in the basement!”

The joke catches Seokjin off guard. “I’ll have you know, the DoAH only experiments on people with consent!” he blurts before he realizes what he’s saying.

Jungkook cackles, then disappears into the room and judging by how hard the door slammed, he’s not coming out until he’s dead certain Seokjin’s vacated the premises.

Seokjin’s almost grateful for it—he can stew in the mild discomfort of guilt alone. It’s a wonder, he thinks, how much he’d been able to hide about the truth of the Department from Jungkook. That the thing that has him so hollowed out and hurting is just a break-up. Thrown in the context of everything Seokjin’s never told him, it seems like a thankfully mundane hurt.

When he was still thirteen and eager to be a hero, Seokjin lied to Jungkook for the first time. We don’t go in there, he said, leading him away from the dark recesses of the DoAH basement, which, even at eighteen, Seokjin knew was where the problem cases went and never came out. That’s for the scientists. And Jungkook had believed him, and Seokjin knew he made the right decision.

The city needs a proper hero, he’d said later when his mother raised her eyebrows at him over the rim of her glasses. If he doesn’t know about all the—the things we do here, then he’ll still believe in us.

And from then on it was Seokjin’s job to take care of him, tricking him into drawing blood twice a year to placate the researchers and coaxing him into making some other friends in his fellow hero trainees. Seokjin had celebrated with him through two graduations, comforted him through a brutal broken leg and countless crying nights, lied to him through the massive breakout that killed two heroes, their handlers, and handful of researchers—including Seokjin’s mother. And now, all they had were each other.

“I’ll bring around some food when I have time,” Seokjin calls into the room, loud enough for Jungkook to hear him. “God knows you need to eat something other than instant ramyun.”

He hears a faint, “Thanks, hyung!” leak out into the hall, and that’s enough to bring a smile on his face when he picks his shoes up from the hallway—makes sure not to scuff the floorboard inside with dirt—and packs up to see if he can slip in a few more potential villain sighting reports before the end of the day.

**

Taehyung thinks he might be sick.

He’s not sure. It could be something he ate. He’s probably put away too many hamburgers lately and not enough vegetables. Maybe Jimin is onto something, and they need to be eating more of Yoongi’s leftovers, and less cup noodles. Honestly, Taehyung kind of hopes that’s what is going on.

The other option is that the prospect of talking to one of his oldest and best friends is making him nervous enough to want to throw up. He’d rather have food poisoning.

A glum cloud cover traps the heat of the day inside the city. Taehyung chews on sticky air as he wanders onto the penthouse’s deck. This high up the regular sounds of life and living have faded to a distant murmur, drowned out by the slap of displaced water spilling over the edge of the infinity pool as Namjoon cuts a lap down its length.

Namjoon is the only member of their little found family without any kind of superpower, but he still manages to pick up on Taehyung’s presence hovering nearby, pausing in the middle of the pool to tilt his head quizzically in Tae’s direction.

“Everything okay, Taehyung-ah?”

Namjoon’s face is inscrutable behind his goggles, ad Taehyung tries to remember if his friend has always been so difficult to read. Is it just the obstruction on his face, or is it a new thing that’s come with the pressure of being a CEO and a supervillain, or has he just been this way the whole time?

“Not really,” he admits. “You don’t have to stop though, it’s not urgent. I just wanted to step outside for a bit.”

Namjoon makes a gentle sound of protest in the back of his throat, heaving himself out of the pool. “As if I could keep going when you say something like that. Come on, let’s sit down. We can talk. It’s been a big week.”

He nods towards the other end of the deck, away from the plant wall. Squishy, low-slung couches border a manufactured fire pit, a compromise between Namjoon’s natural aesthetic and fire safety. A stained-wood pergola covers the area, wreathed in vines and flowers and tiny fairy lights running off Namjoon’s clean energy - the whole tower does, some proof-of-concept deal that the older man had wrangled back when he’d first taken over RM Industries.

Taehyung scrunches up his face, but nods, dumping his whole heavy form onto one of the couches as Namjoon grabs a fluffy towel from the set of cubbies they keep out here for exactly that purpose (the wood matches the pergola, of course). The goggles come off and get dropped somewhere they’re definitely going to get stepped on later, and Namjoon makes quick work of drying himself off as he walks after Tae, sitting on one of the other couches without much more decorum.

Has it been a week? It feels like forever. Jimin has been excavated from Yoongi’s place only to sequester himself in the penthouse, wandering from his room to the dance studio on the upper level, coming back down to the kitchen to grab food and start the cycle all over again.

It’s almost enough to make Taehyung move back in with him, but they’re all mindful of needing to seem normal right now. Taehyung needs to be in place to explain to anyone curious that Jimin’s left town, even if that person is only Jungkook coming around to check up on things.

(He hasn’t. And the truth is, Taehyung kind of misses him. He’s never messaged Jungkook directly, but there’s a group chat with the three of them that had lit up his phone on a daily basis, sitting dead in his messenger app since the evening of the crash. He keeps hovering over Jungkook’s contact, wish he could say something, knowing he’d only make the whole thing that much messier if he did).

One long forefinger presses into the space right between his brows; Tae’s eyes cross for a second, before he refocuses on Namjoon, who has acquired a shirt.

“You look like you’ve got a lot on your mind.”

“I don’t want to do the mayor thing,” Taehyung blurts.

There’s a pause. Namjoon’s face doesn’t fall so much as it freezes, and Taehyung can practically hear the ticking of that big brain in the silence, running through plans and possibilities as he tries to decide what to with this new roadblock.

Taehyung kind of wishes he’d just yell.

“Is there something else you’d rather do, or is it the whole enterprise you don’t want to carry out?”

When Namjoon’s nervous or uncertain about something, he gets about ten times fancier. Tae can’t decide if he’s pleased to have pulled that reaction out of him, or hurt.

“I don’t want to be involved at all anymore. And I know that might make you freak out, and I hope it doesn’t make you hate me, but--”

“Tae!”

Taehyung blinks. Namjoon has half started from the couch, reaching towards him. His mouth is twisted in a way that Taehyung doesn’t think he’s seen before and can’t understand, but he reaches back without hesitation, working his fingers through Namjoon’s. Yoongi’s voice echoes in the back of his head, if we’re likely to disagree, I’ll hold your hand, and he wonders if Namjoon is hearing the same thing.

There’s a joke in there somewhere, about getting conflict resolution tips from an eco-terrorist.

“Where is this coming from? I know we disagreed after Jimin’s cover was blown, but I really thought you knew that we needed to keep him safe.

“I - yeah, hyung, I know he needs to be safe. The Department of Augmented Humanity knew that too, and Jimin spent most of his life suck in a building underground because of that, so can you really blame me for being mad that you wanted to do the same thing all over again?”

Namjoon’s fingers tighten around his. “I wouldn’t call it the same thing.”

“Well, you weren’t in there with him,” Taehyung says hotly. “And you know what, you’re not here now, either. You’re busy! I know that you’re busy, you have a company to run and all that stuff, but Jimin just lost everything again, and I never even heard you suggest that we - we bring Jungkook in, that we put our ‘considerable resources’ behind helping him understand why Jimin has to kill people, that we do anything at all to try and help him live normally.”

He’s breathing hard, he realises belatedly, holding onto Namjoon’s hand like a life-line. Paranoia has him checking through the glass walls, but Jimin hasn’t ventured out into this side of the building yet, and Tae has no idea where Yoongi is. It’s just the two of them, their words hanging thick in the air with the sticky spring heat.

Anyway.” It comes out of Taehyung like he’s been carrying something heavy and just set it down. “It’s not about that. The mayor thing. I just don’t want to frame a guy for something he didn’t do. Is that really so weird?”

“It’s a little weird, when you didn’t bring any of this up to begin with. Did you--” Namjoon’s dimples practically disappear with the downward force of his mouth. “You said that you hoped I wouldn’t hate you. Did I make you feel like you had to do this? Like I’d be mad if you didn’t?”

He’s skipping over the Jimin stuff, letting Taehyung’s subject change stick, and Tae is honestly grateful. He doesn’t think any of them are ready to open that particular Pandora’s box.

Tae looks down at their hands, tangled together. His are bigger than Namjoon’s now. He wonders when that happened.

“You’ve got this whole plan,” he says softly. “How you’re gonna revolutionise the energy sector, how you’re gonna save the world one city at a time, no matter what kind of corrupt official or rich person with an agenda tries to get in the way. It all sounded really exciting and heroic when we were younger, and I think we’ve made a difference, but I also…Jungkook is a good guy, you know?”

“I...might need a little more.”

Taehyung sighs. “Jungkook is a good guy. He wants the best for people and he’s head over heels in love with Jiminie. But he found out just a little part of what we were doing, and he thought it was so bad he couldn’t even hear Jimin out about the whole thing, and I just don’t think I’m the sort of person who can...do this stuff anymore, Joonie. Even if I really do believe you’re going to save the world one day.”

It’s the kind of pronouncement that sounds like it needs some time to rest, some time for the world to acknowledge that someone wants to save it. But Namjoon just blows out a sigh, scraping his free hand back through his wet hair and sending it into disarray.

“You’re not leaving us, are you?”

“Hyung. Don’t be stupid.”

Maybe for other people it wouldn’t be a stupid question. Jungkook hadn’t been able to love someone and stay with them knowing this kind of secret, after all. But if Taehyung’s perspective on what Namjoon and Yoongi and Jimin are doing has shifted over the years, some choices have become a part of the bedrock of his soul. The anchor point, the thing that holds all of the disparate pieces of him together.

His family. His collection of wild dreamers. His.

“Ah, maybe I have been stupid lately. I don’t think I’m alone though.” Namjoon tugs their hands to his mouth, pressing a rough kiss to Tae’s fingers before letting go. Colour dusts his cheeks, right above his dimples; physical affection has never been Namjoon’s strong suit. “Never think that I hate you, okay? My work is important, but it’s not everything.”

Taehyung could hold his gaze. Could search his face, try to divine the levels of truth and self-deception there, but in the end he just decides to hug him. Gets a little damp in the process, kisses him noisily, right on the blush.

“I’m glad you know that,” he says honestly. “And thanks. I’m gonna go hassle Jiminie, you can go back to swimming?”

But the smile he receives is distracted as Namjoon demures, citing work, and Taehyung thinks I guess I just threw a big wrench into his plans, thinks I’ve made things worse, huh, thinks fuck. Knows that he didn’t have another option, though. Knows that he has a sketchbook full of illegal drugs and security passes and the beginnings of a money trail just ready to be pulled into reality and ruin a man’s life, even if that man is an asshole who deserves it. Knows that every time he’d tried to get started on the task over the past week, his power had faltered and fizzled out.

He stops off in the kitchen for ice cream and a couple of spoons on the way to Jimin’s room, but the carton he knows was there yesterday is suspiciously absent. He maintains his ownership of one of the spoons as he taps on Jimin’s door, not waiting for a response before he shoves it open.

“Oh, Jiminie,” he sighs, surveying the mess that is his best friend. Honestly, Jimin has been holding it together distressingly well over the past few days, but all of that is tossed over the balcony now. The elegant wooden blinds have been pulled tight over the large stretch of windows overlooking the city and the only light in the room emanates from the TV mounted on the wall.

It’s playing Goblin. That by itself would be concerning (they’ve seen that show like, four times now, and this isn’t one of the happy episodes), but the pile of blankets on Jimin’s king bed is more worrisome. Tae hadn’t even realised they had that many blankets in the penthouse. The only parts of Jimin that he can see are his hands poking out of Mount Duvet and clutching the missing ice cream carton, and maybe half of his face.

One of the blankets slips off his head as he turns to look at Taehyung, and it’s hard to tell in the dim light, but his eyes are definitely puffy.

“Taehyungie I’m sad,” he says, and he sounds so pathetic about it that Taehyung is weirdly almost glad. Not because he wants Jimin to be sad, obviously, but because Jimin has made such a habit over the years of trying to be strong, trying to hide all his hurts. It’s good, Tae thinks, that he’s actually letting himself feel this one.

“I know.” He sets his spoon down, grabs Jimin’s phone from where it’s been tossed in a fit of pique to the ground. He knows the lock code (obviously) and thumbs it on, using the room control app to turn the TV off, open the blinds.

Jimin, ruffled and tear-streaked, squints up at him in disappointment against the sudden flood of thin light. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“I’m always on your side,” Tae replies, tugging at the corner of one of the blankets. “That’s why I’m going to make you shower.”

“I showered!”

“When?”

Jimin’s hesitation is telling enough. Taehyung bundles him off to the bathroom, returns to his spoon and takes ownership of the ice-cream. A part of him wants to unload on his friend, about his doubts and his insecurities, about not wanting to help Namjoon anymore, but now isn’t the time. Jimin has a tendency to take things personally, and the last thing Taehyung wants is for him to think this is Tae agreeing with Jungkook or something.

Instead, he points at Jimin with the spoon when he shuffles back into the room twenty minutes later, looking marginally more alive.

“I need your help.”

Jimin looks at the spoon. Looks at the ice-cream, half melted by now. Looks down at himself, in grey sweats and a singlet and, okay, Taehyung can see where this face journey is taking them. Jimin’s appearance doesn’t exactly scream ‘helpful’ right now, and Taehyung’s demeanour definitely gives off an air of ‘trying very hard to be a distraction’.

“Fine,” Jimin says, crawling onto the bed next to Tae hyung and making grabby-hands at the carton. “But I’m taking custody back.”

Taehyung compromises by offering Jimin his own spoon, and the two of them busy themselves with snacking as he carefully considers how he wants to word his distraction.

“Is it ethical to date a secretary, do you think?”

Both of Jimin’s eyebrows fly up his forehead, the expression so loud that he might as well have just shouted really? at Tae. But there’s a reluctant twitch to the corner of his mouth that could be a smile, even if it probably wants to be a sigh as well, so Taehyung’s going to consider that a victory.

“I’m pretty sure secretaries can date, Taetae. Also, isn’t it administrative assistant?”

“I have no idea. Executive administrator? I’ll ask, I guess.” He nudges Jimin’s shin with his toe. “Come on, you know what I mean. Is it ethical to date the Master Chef’s secretary?”

“What happened to Top Banana?”

“Does Namjoon really strike you as a banana, Jiminie?”

“He definitely doesn’t strike me as a chef,” Jimin snorts, and that’s almost a laugh.

Taehyung wraps an arm tight around his shoulders and buries his face in Jimin’s hair, like he can just breathe all of his love and affection straight into his friend’s skull if he tries hard enough. Jimin’s body is slack against him - not relaxed, exactly, but not wound tight with tension either.

They’ve spent a thousand nights tangled up like this, although less of them in the past year. As much as Taehyung has missed it, he’d give all of it up entirely if it meant Jimin could be happy with the boy he wants to be happy with.

“I didn’t like him,” Jimin announces. “The executive secretary administrator. He was kind of rude.”

Taehyung thinks of Hoseok’s fluttery hands, drumming on his desk or playing with a pen, all nervous energy. Thinks of the curve of his mouth, so ready to curl up, like it’s just waiting for the world to give him a reason. Thinks Jimin might be wrong on this one, actually.

“Can I say something honest and you won’t get mad at me?”

“Always, Tae.”

Taehyung cackles, keeps going over the sound of Jimin’s whining protest because that’s a lie. “You were in a kind of shitty mood when you met him,” he says around giggles. “I don’t know that I trust your character judgment from that morning!”

There’s a moment where everything pauses for Jimin to process the fact that Taehyung just called the implosion of his whole life and relationship ‘kind of a shitty mood’. And then he’s grabbing one of his copious pillows with a squawk, cutlery and empty ice cream carton flying in all directions as he proceeds to beat a protesting Taehyung around the head with it.

That’s how Namjoon finds them, after a courtesy knock on the door. Breathless, laughing, trying to hoard pillow-weapons and hit each other all at once, using the bedroom furniture to build fortifications. He tries to be all serious when he clears his throat, but his dimples are out in full force, eyes practically sparkling.

“I can come back, if you’re busy?”

Taehyung throws a pillow at him. It smacks him square in the face, and he crows a victory, even as Jimin lowers his soft-toy projectile, saying, “It’s okay, hyung. What’s up?”

The sparkles dim. Namjoon’s gaze flickers to Taehyung before he focuses on Jimin, and that one second is all it takes for the sick certainty of knowing to settle in Taehyung’s gut.

Too easy, he thinks. The whole afternoon had been too fucking easy.

“I’ve got a job for Baepsae,” Namjoon says, and they all hear Jimin’s breath hitch in the back of his throat. “If you’re interested.”

**

Jungkook is fine. It’s a nice day. The breeze in his hair feels good. The smell of cinnamon buns is warm, familiar, from the only cafe in the area he really spends any time in and consequently has made something of a name for himself with the baristas here.

The same cafe he used to go to with Jimin.

Jungkook slumps in his usual booth, head pillowed in his arms. He’d tried, when he was getting nowhere with the pile of homework stacking up around his ears while still holed up in his apartment, to think of a place that he couldn’t imagine Jimin sitting in front of him in, but nothing came to mind. Not the library, where Jimin used to study with him in silence, not the juice bar outside the gym where Jimin used to meet him after his evening classes, not the restaurant near their dance club’s studio, certainly not the bowling alley. Half the streets of Kosmos City made Jungkook think of his - his ex-boyfriend, walking next to him.

Maybe that was the problem. He’d gotten himself so helplessly tangled up, that he didn’t know where he ended and where Jimin began, and now that Jimin wasn’t in his life, and it was his fault at that, Jungkook didn’t know what to do with himself anymore. What did he used to do, on rare free nights?

The bell above the cafe door rings.

Jungkook’s head shoots up, and he instantly feels a strange guilt flood him for doing it.

It doesn’t matter anyways—it’s only a gaggle of university students, flocking in to claim the table at the back. He looks at them, people his age, tossing napkins at each other and texting, all bright smiles and normality, and thinks that maybe the problem was that he never had a life in the first place. His entire civilian self a farce, that Jeon Jungkook was the real mask, hiding a hero that couldn’t even keep the city stay from his boyfriend.

Ex-boyfriend, his mind helpfully supplies.

Jungkook scowls, pulling a textbook closer to himself, like maybe immersing himself in the theory of scene lighting might help chase away everything else cluttering his brain.

There’s a TV mounted over the fireplace. Jungkook lets the tinny sounds of music show replays wash over him as he tries to finish studying. He’s never let his grades slip from the hero work, but one of his group members from the short they were supposed to be filming has already texted him twice for missing the deadline he’d promised for location scouting.

But after a while, there’s nothing stopping his mind from wandering away from his homework. Nothing to stop him from pulling out his phone, thumbing the screen open, going to the local news website and looking for headlines.

At this rate, you almost want Baepsae to show up, Seokjin had said, and it’d hurt at the time, but now…

Jungkook scrolls through and feels a mixture of terrible relief and horrible guilt when he sees nothing new in the supervillain segment of the news.

It’s not like it’d give much insight into where Jimin is. The media had always been half a step behind, never any good at reporting on the various whereabouts of the city’s villains.

Someone’s hand comes down next to Jungkook’s head on the booth.

He jumps, shoves his phone away hastily like he’d been looking at something illicit instead of the actual news, and looks up to see Yugyeom, one of the baristas he knew decently well looking down at him, eyebrow raised.

“You’re looking terrible,” Yugyeom says. He sets a steaming latte on the table. “Here’s your latte.”

Jungkook wraps his hands around the mug, relishing in the sear of it against his skin a little. “Thanks.”

There’s a pause, and then Yugyeom’s still there, looking decidedly more concerned than he did earlier. “Have you slept at all recently?” he asks. There’s a dry tone to his voice, but Jungkook still feels weirdly exposed, like the whole world can read the nervous breakdown straight off his face or something.

“Finals,” Jungkook says, hopes it’s believable.

Yugyeom laughs. “Jeon Jungkook, actually struggling with school?”

“It kind of gets harder every year,” Jungkook mutters, scowling. “It’s not like I can be good at everything all the time.”

“That’s a lie,” Yugyeom declares, but he seems appeased. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, then. Shout if you need anything, more food, more coffee, someone to help with your homework.”

“Fuck off,” Jungkook says, and that earns him another laugh, which at least makes him think maybe, he’s not that pathetic after all.

Until Yugyeom pauses on his way back to the counter. “Hey, is Jimin around?” he asks. “I wanted to ask him something about a dance routine we might be doing next year.”

The mug is definitely too hot to keep holding, now. Jungkook grips harder. “Uhm,” he starts, doesn’t know how to continue, but all his fears come true when Yugyeom’s face drops entirely in what must be a mirror of his own.

“You guys okay?” he asks, and he sounds hesitant about it.

Jungkook swallows. “Uhm,” he says again. “Not really.”

Yugyeom has the sense to look sheepish. “Sorry,” he says. “I, uh, probably shouldn’t ask, right?”

Jungkook rolls his eyes. “It’s fine,” he says, terse. “We broke up. It’s kind of fresh? I don’t… I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Yeah,” Yugyeom is saying, nodding. “I get it.”

“I—sorry,” Jungkook says. The awkward tension drifts between them like food gone bad, stinking up the whole room. Distantly, Jungkook’s aware that he’s being too dramatic, or not dramatic enough. He feels a little dead inside, but he wonders if that shows on his face as nothing more than haggard exhaustion, a slack jawed disregard for the only long running relationship he’s ever had, like he doesn’t care more about breaking up with Jimin than falling behind in his schoolwork.

“No, no,” Yugyeom says. “It’s my bad. Text me if you need anything for real, yeah?”

He sticks around, waits for Jungkook to give him a shallow nod before he backs out of the space. It’s kinder than Jungkook deserves.

In the wake of him, Jungkook looks across at the empty space in the booth. He closes his eyes and imagines being able to say, oh Jimin’ll be back next week, he’s just visiting family right now, or, ask him yourself, he’s in the washroom, or just having Jimin be there, in the flesh, the version of Jimin he loved and understood and who hadn’t lied to him.

He misses Jimin. He shouldn’t. It feels somehow unfair both to the people who relied on him at the DoAH for him to want to protect a villain, and unfair to Jimin himself to want so badly for him to be someone he wasn’t.

The mug creaks. Jungkook looks down in time to see the crack slowly splitting up its side, reacts in time to shove it away from his notes before the ceramic gives up and cleaves in two, spilling all the hot coffee all over the table.

Jungkook jumps up, scrabbling for the napkins.

Halfway through mopping it up, the TV starts blaring. Instead of celebrations, what Jungkook sees when he looks up is an urgent news broadcast, the familiar siren of a villain sighting shocking the whole cafe into silence. Then, people start whispering, looking at each other—Jungkook hears someone from the university students table snickering, saying, Bet it’s Gloss this time, then a whole chorus of, No way! Baepsae hasn’t shown up in weeks, it has to be him!

He drops his wad of sopping napkins on the table, keeps an eye on the news like it’s a lifeline.

He doesn’t know who he wants it to be.

“Good evening,” the broadcaster starts, “we’ve just gotten reports that there is an ongoing supervillain situation and advise all civilians to stay away from all streets in Gangbuk-dong if possible.”

A sinking feeling drops in Jungkook’s stomach—one neighbourhood over, close enough that he’s definitely going to be the one called in.

“Last call for bets!” someone half-shouts, loud enough that he winces and shrinks back in his seat when Jungkook involuntarily snaps his glare towards the table.

“The culprit appears to be Baepsae,” the newscaster continues, and amidst the scattered whispers and groans in the cafe, all the feeling rushes out of Jungkook’s legs.

He stumbles back to his booth, sits even though it’s still half-wet with coffee.

The newscaster is giving more details, streets within the most dangerous zone, but it all sounds like a rush of noise to Jungkook. It doesn’t matter. Seokjin’s going to brief him when he inevitably calls. Dimly, he’s aware that he should probably be snapping to attention, anticipating it, already supposed to be halfway out the door to face his duty.

But just like with the driver, Jungkook finds himself dragged down by his own selfishness.

He doesn’t want to be Bulletproof tonight.

He doesn’t want to fight Jimin.

But of course, Jungkook made his choice when he first decided to use his powers for good, when he left his parents to go to the DoAH, when he first accepted the mask and the name.

The newscast finishes with the customary, “As always, stay safe, Kosmos City,” just as Jungkook’s phone starts to ring.

*

It’s cold enough tonight that the air bites at him as he rushes on scene. Seokjin didn’t have more information, only a suit up, kiddo, and a more exact location.

“Yeah,” he says into the mouthpiece stitched into his mask, “I’m on my way. Are you sending backup?”

“The Monsta X team should be on their way,” Seokjin says.

“Okay. Moving now. Talk to you later.”

Seokjin gives him the affirmative, and Jungkook goes.

He leaps over a guardrail and catches himself on his palms before taking off again, weaving through parked cars on the road. In his mind, he’s still breathing the filtered air in Jimin’s apartment, still waiting outside the hallway, pacing back and forth and debating if he wants to go in, still holding onto Jimin’s hands, staring at his pained face uncomprehendingly as he tries to process the words, please, let go of my wrists.

“We don’t know what Baepsae wants,” Seokjin had said. “No known target. Stay vigilant, JK.” The same as he always said.

Some part of him wants to know, whatever the story there is. Not just him as Jungkook—he’s wanted to know what drove Baepsae forward for years, now, the question haunting their every fight. And Jimin had offered it up to him. No matter how many lies had been exchanged between them, Jungkook had believed the distress in his eyes, the barely tamped down wild panic. So he’d left, before he was tempted with knowing. Before Jimin could make himself vulnerable to the person who was supposed to hate him the most.

Selfish, again. Always protecting the wrong people.

Jungkook bursts into the scene just in time to catch sight of a familiar golden glow, refracting off the glass buildings like a second sunset.

Baepsae is fending off three police cars. On the ground, sprinting away from him, is some man in a dark suit, who Jungkook presumes is the target. Before Jungkook can make himself known, Baepsae turns, a sharp pirouette, and faces him from across the intersection.

Jungkook, frozen, drinks in the sight of him. He looks the same. He looks the same as all the other times they’d met like this. Dark, loose clothes. Blindfold. Limned in the gold of his power. But now, Jungkook can see Jimin in the curve of his lips, turned down today, in the perfectly held dancer’s posture, in the ruffle of dark hair that Jungkook knows is soft to the touch.

It hits him all over again. Harder than the crash, the truth of Park Jimin superimposed over Baepsae’s form.

Baepsae sweeps out a hand, and in a streak of vicious gold, lifts up one of the cars clean off the pavement. It’s stupid. Jungkook wants to laugh at the irony. Oh, so you want me to get hit by a car now? he wants to say.

But then the car is actually careening towards him, and he hits the ground in a roll, and all the emotions rolling in his chest get sucked into the adrenaline spike of a fight. He comes up standing half a foot away from Baepsae, staring him in the face.

Baepsae smiles. “Late today?” he says in Jimin’s voice.

Jungkook takes in a breath, steadies his nerves. “Let’s get this over with.”

**

A vicious thrill races up Jimin’s spine when he feels the shape of Bulletproof slam into the ground. He can’t see much through his blindfold except vague shapes, but he doesn’t need to. A little gift courtesy of DoAH that he’s more than happy to turn back on them, the ability to feel people moving through time and space.

Especially on days like this, when nothing seems to be going right. He’d misjudged his timing and location, too eager to get started and have something to take his mind off the nightmare his life has turned into lately, and now there were civilians everywhere and police, and the target was getting away. He could kill him from a distance, of course, but there are too many people around.

Precision isn’t exactly his forte. But he doesn’t need to be precise when it comes to Bulletproof, who can take more punishment than most heroes Jimin has had encounters with, and who he doesn’t really mind if he hurts anyway.

He’d never met any of the heroes lucky enough to escape the smothering grasp of DoAH’s Clinical Studies Unit while he’d been trapped there, but they all knew about him. Or, if not him personally, they definitely knew the Unit existed.

They’d all been complicit, then and now. So when Bulletproof gets up in his face, grim and unimpressed, Jimin doesn’t feel the slightest bit bad about ripping a car door off its hinges with his power and beaning the guy in the side. It doesn’t do much in the way of throwing Bulletproof off his stride - the door actually dents, warping like it’s been run into a steel beam - but it gives Jimin enough time to back off, get some space between the two of them. Bulletproof is only dangerous to him in close quarters.

“‘Let’s get this over with’,” he mocks, as the great lug shrugs the door off like a winter coat. “As though I’m not the best part of your week. It’s not like they let you off your leash to come out and play unless it’s me.”

Bulletproof says nothing, hurling the door back as he picks up speed. Jimin always forgets how fast the bastard moves - he ducks the door and barely manages to scrabble a hold on another cop car, dragging it squealing across the road to crash into - nope, Bulletproof diverts at the last second, making the leap onto the roof of the car, and for a whole second Jimin can feel the bunch and stretch of muscle, the heavy weight of breath rattling in lungs, the shift of all that coiled power as it prepares to launch through the air right at him--

“You kind of wonder why!” he yells, gleefully ripping up a nearby decorative plum tree by the roots. The sound it makes as it whumps into Bulletproof’s gut, right at the apex of his second jump, is a fucking delight. “It’s not like you’ve ever really been able to stop me from doing what I want.”

Bulletproof craters the asphalt on impact - it shatters the tree as well, but there’s plenty more where those came from. Jimin’s not exactly hanging on a response as the other super lurches to his feet again, but the silence grates on him anyway. The guy’s not the chatty type, but he usually has something to say, ask, demand. Why this target? if nothing else.

But this time he just launches grimly into another attack, barely even limping. Jimin bares his teeth in a smile, gold threads weaving a net around the nearest car - third time’s the charm, right? Except if Bulletproof rolls again, the trajectory is going to smash the vehicle right through a nearby storefront, and while people usually know to get the hell out of dodge whenever Baepsae shows up--

Jimin’s not about to risk it. He lets his power relax, scrabbling for a new weapon, and that’s what startles Bulletproof, his stride faltering for half a second. He’s surprised, Jimin realises belatedly, taken off guard by Jimin’s unwillingness to involve civilians, and something like rage rips right through his chest.

“What the fuck,” he pants, suddenly breathless. There’s no taking advantage of Bulletproof’s shock - the Kosmos City cops have remembered that they carry weapons and they’ve definitely yelled at him to surrender more than three times. “I’ve literally never killed a civilian, you know that!”

He’s backing off from Bulletproof’s advance, but he’s not moving fast enough. Strings of gold rip another car door for him to use as a shield against a spray of bullets, and his target is long gone, and he should have done this at night or somewhere less busy, but the man’s mansion had more security on it than a secret government lab and Jimin had thought this one would be quick. Painless, at least for him. In and out, brutal and efficient, kind of like the arc of Bulletproof’s fist as the asshole is suddenly up close and personal (he always forgets how fast the bastard moves).

He has a split second to choose between ‘get hit’ and ‘get shot’ and he’s survived the first one before. His jaw cracks a protest, head whipping back from the force of the punch and it’s a goddamn melee now - he ducks and weaves, smashes the glass of the third cop car with his power and hurls it at both of them, covering himself with his door-shield. There’s a hiss from Bulletproof as at least one shard hits its mark, probably more, and not for the first time Jimin finds himself considering whether or not he needs to ask Taehyung to make him a weapon.

It doesn’t slow Bulletproof down, is the problem. Jimin’s door dents in, pancaking him between it and the ground as his opponent slams his whole fucking body into it, and Jimin’s brain runs off with a quip about toxic masculinity and needing to be on top, only for abject misery to chase after it. The last time he’d made a stupid sex joke at Bulletproof, he’d laughed it off with a crack about how he was already taken. Because it had been ludicrous, the idea that he’d ever want anyone else, the idea that he’d ever be happy without Jungkook.

And then Bulletproof speaks.

“Why would I give a shit about who you haven’t killed?” the man growls, tearing the munted door from the grasp of Jimin’s power and hurling it away. “Most people haven’t killed other people, Baepsae, we live in a society.”

Bulletproof’s gloved hand grabs him by the back of his shirt, hauls him up, and there’s a second where Jimin thinks he’s going to be tossed straight back into the ground but the stupid part is that the insult - the idea that after all these years, Bulletproof really has no idea what kind of villain he is - lands. Jimin spits in the direction of his face, has no idea if it hits its mark, but the startled spasm of Bulletproof’s hand losing its grip says good things about his aim. Jimin lashes out, kicking at a knee and taking a visceral pleasure in the hiss of pain that escapes the man as he buckles, hold lose enough now for Jimin to twist free.

The victory is short lived, a bullet whizzing past his cheek so close that Jimin feels the heat of it, knows it’s only luck that had him move out of the way in time, not poor marksmanship. He remembers Namjoon’s hands on his face, years ago now, when they were just starting out - try not to hurt anyone. But if it means the difference between getting hurt or captured yourself, do what you need to in order to get out of there.

There are three people in the world who will love Jimin no matter what he does. He had hoped there were four, but--

“I heard,” Bulletproof pants, pain lacing the edges of his voice, and Jimin wonders how many of those glass shards hit him, “that you did kill someone. A civilian. Threw a whole car into a playground, so maybe don’t get up on your high horse at me.”

A wild panic tears through Jimin’s body, numbing his fingers and leaving him lightheaded. The golden warmth of his power leaves him for a second, focus lost as he thinks do they have Jungkookie?, thinks DoAH’s only that comically evil to people with superpowers, thinks what did he t e l l t h e m ?

“I was protecting someone, you piece of shit,” Jimin snarls, fingers curling into fists as he boxes all that trembling terror up for a later breakdown and hits Bulletproof with another tree. He’s braced for it this time, though - Jimin hears a grunt, but the steady forward footfalls don’t cease.

“Right, because someone with your power couldn’t possibly stop a car in its tracks or anything.”

This is why they keep sending Bulletproof after him. Even though his skillset isn’t suited for fighting telepathy, even though he’s failed to bring Jimin in this far, has barely managed to stop more than a handful of his murders.

It’s because he’s inexorable. Because Jimin can put him down over and over, can crack ribs and break bones, can beat him bruised and bloody, and Bulletproof will still drag himself to his feet and throw himself back into the fight over and over again. He’s never run away, Jimin realises, never broken pursuit, never stopped until Jimin makes his escape or DoAH tells him to stand down.

In that second, Jimin hates him.

“You sanctimonious fuck.” A slow scraping sound rakes through his skull as he drags two of the cop cars in a ragged arc - not violent, not dangerous, just collecting as many of the cops as he can to throw their aim off. It leaves him momentarily defenceless on the Bulletproof front, dodging a flurry of blows, but he’s tired of all this interruption. He doesn’t even care about the target anymore, just wants to excise all the fizzing anger in his bones on Bulletproof’s body, a clean fight where he doesn’t have to think about consequences or moral ramifications or anything other than winning. “You’re going to stand in front of me with DoAH’s logo on your shit, with their voice whispering in your ear, carrying out their mission and lecture me about what, acceptable human cost? Either you’re an idiot or a hypocrite, and I’ve had a shitty enough week that I don’t care which one.”

He gets sloppy, or Bulletproof gets good. Either way the hero lands a kick straight to his gut and Jimin cries out as he flies back, half anger half pain. Three-quarters pain when his back slams into a streetlight - he might have some enhanced endurance thanks to DoAH’s fuckery, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like a bitch. He wants to scream with it, throat raw with the unfairness of it all, something bubbling under his skin next to all that rage. Power and helplessness and a bone-deep exhaustion.

Bulletproof is on him before he can think through his next step and Jimin whines at the sharp snap of agony in his chest. They don’t usually fight like this, Jimin doesn’t usually get hurt like this, and Namjoon’s in his head still, do what you need to in order to get out of there..

Did Jungkook tell them about the crash? Did he tell them about Baepsae? Jimin has to hope that he wouldn’t have if he knew the truth about DoAH, if he knew everything that they’d done - but he doesn’t know anything, because he hadn’t cared enough to listen.

Hadn’t cared enough to stay.

“What makes you think I give a shit about your week?” Bulletproof grinds out and he grabs Jimin’s wrist before Jimin can grab another tree, a piece of car, a rock, anything. The hard weight of him shoves Jimin back into the pole, steel groaning and it hurts to breathe, it just hurts and Jimin

has to get out.

Several things happen all at once.

One: The slivers of light that Jimin can see leaking through his blindfold flare red. Two sets of footsteps are running up the street.

Two: A low hum vibrates through the air, soaring into a wordless song. It’s not especially loud, but it demands that Jimin listen anyway. That he do anything to listen to it.

Three: Sweetheart, the whispers of terrified civilians carry towards him. Destroyer. Jimin’s never met either of them before, just knows they’re a part of the Monsta X team. Knows they’re usually reserved for bigger threats than him, so has only the vaguest idea of their powers. Knows enough to understand that the Departed of Augmented Humanity has sent their pet siren after him.

Four: he laughs.

“What?” Bulletproof mutters, and even muffled by the mask Jimin can hear how startled he is, feel the lax twitch in his hand. The red glow doesn’t encompass him, either of them, and his hold loosens completely. It’s not clear if he’s what-ing over Jimin’s laugh, or his own reaction to the sudden intrusion.

Jimin doesn’t care. The song pulls at his mind, sweet, enticing. Stop fighting shudders down his spine, come with me winds around his legs, you’ll be safe settles in the pit of his stomach, a warm meal with loved friends after a long day.

DoAH had tested psychics on him when he’d been in their hands, obviously, but they’d never relied on that kind of control to keep him with them. It had been more insidious than that. He can still see Doctor Kim standing between him and freedom, his arms aching with their sudden release from the strait jacket, her voice washing over him cool and collected.

You don’t want to go, Jimin-ah, she’d said, approaching him like a wounded animal. Not wild - just a creature that had been too hurt to know what was good for it anymore. Palms out, soft-soled. This is your home. We can take care of you here. You can’t hurt anyone here.

“I won’t go back,” he spits, and the thing roiling under his skin spills out in a wave of shimmering gold, coating him and Bulletproof both. “I’ll tear you and them and this whole fucking city apart before they ever have me again.”

“Uh, I don’t think this is going as planned--” Bulletproof is saying, and he must be talking into his mask. He touches a hand to his ear and some of the fight comes back into him, like maybe he’d been hearing the same song as Jimin, but it’s too late. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Jimin has spent six years pretending that his power doesn’t affect bodies. God only knows what kind of specs DoAH has on him, but everything he’s done in the real world, he’s limited himself to throwing objects around, and usually only at other heroes. Mostly at Bulletproof. It had felt safer that way, more controlled. Like maybe he’s proving to himself and Doctor Kim and the whole corrupt institution that he isn’t the unhinged monster they told him he was.

Six years is a lot to let go of, but so is the consuming terror of being dragged back, of being told that all over again. Of being made to believe it. Of losing every bit of Park Jimin he’s managed to scrape together in the time since his escape. So he takes the grip he has on himself and launches into the air, out of Bulletproof’s reach and then out of his effective leaping height.

The song is still audible, still needles at his mind, but Jimin isn’t the helpless idiot they’d all assumed, and he’s long since taken his own steps to deal with the effects of psychic powers. He wonders if they’d ever considered that, when they made him so good at absorbing what they gave him. That one day, he might find something he wanted to take for his own.

“You don’t have to do this!” Bulletproof yells up at him, and it sounds like he’s noticed he’s having trouble controlling his limbs, his body, his breathing. As though he has any idea what Jimin is about to do.

Jimin smiles, all hard edges and teeth. His focus splits down the middle, half on holding himself in the air, half concentrating on keeping Bulletproof trapped in the web of his power. The wind whips around him, warm and welcoming with the heat of spring, the promise of summer to come.

“Oh, but I really want to,” he says, and throws Kosmos City’s bulletproof boy into the nearest building.

Chapter Text

DEPARTMENT OF AUGMENTED HUMANITY

Subject: HS177_JJK_CodenameBulletproof

RE: Health Assessment

Please Note: Any details pertaining to Mission 19-153 have been redacted, please see corresponding incident report.

Summary of injuries sustained during encounter with [redacted]:

Cracked second and seventh ribs (vertobrosternal) leftside, fracture on eighth rib (vertobrochondral) leftside—hairline, not serious; moderate kidney contusion, N.B. follow up to monitor clotting; fractured left femur; mild concussion.

Consult with Research branch prior to invasive procedures on how best to proceed.

Subject to be put on rest during recovery, missions to be given only when absolutely necessary.

*

Subject: VF198_KJM_CodenameBaepsae‡

RE: Status Update

Please see prior report from 20190123 indicating speculation on powerset of subject, incl. conjecture on capability of manipulating life forms. Earlier suspicion was rejected on grounds of no supporting empirical evidence. Records now updated, given the events [redacted].

It is evident that Subject VF198 is fully capable of the full suite of telekinesis, including manipulation of self and other bodies. Evidence of scope of powers is currently lacking, but further encounters in the field may prove to elucidate the Department on such. Further, apparent resistance to psychic powers noted, though untested and unconfirmed. For now, gathered data is to be strictly observational, aside from regular Hero missions.

—KSJ

‡Rogue agent, no longer affiliated with the Department

**

Hoseok finishes off the last of his stretches and steps onto the treadmill. There’s already a loose, eager energy vibrating in his bones, probably a result of sitting at his desk for most of the morning with only occasional breaks for short power walks around the campus. He hooks in his airpods and gets started at a jog, but it’s not long before he’s on a steady running pace.

Above the whirr of the treadmill and the landings of his own footsteps, he listens to the tinny voices of RM and Taehyung.

“He hasn’t been back all night?” RM asks, serious.

“No,” Taehyung says, and Hoseok might not know him that well (yet), but he can hear the clear distress in his voice. He thinks about that morning, Taehyung showing up appointmentless at RM’s office, the strange coded conversation, and, the lynchpin of it all—Jimin, the mystery roommate, brought into RM’s inner sanctum without so much as a question when he showed up.

“That’s worrying,” RM says on the recording, and Hoseok feels like he’s starting to lose his grip on this story. It was supposed to be simple, prodigy CEO secretly paying college students for sex, the easiest scandal on earth. Hoseok has no idea who wants to know the sordid details of RM’s private life—the client’s information is protected, after all, but he’s pretty sure that’s all they were looking for, too. A competitor, trying to knock RM down a few pegs by running him through the gamut of the news cycle. Not…

Whatever this was.

“I looked for him, but…” Taehyung makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. “You know. If he doesn’t want me to find him, I’m not gonna.”

At this point, the tape is quiet for a long time. Then, finally, at the end, RM says, “Let’s go somewhere else for this.”

Hoseok runs harder. Sweat drips down his temple, the pounding of his feet louder against the tread, but he can’t quite unhear the strange severity to RM’s voice. The man has always carried a sense of gravitas around with him, larger than life. When Hoseok first came to the job, he understood why so many people would listen to the big ideas of someone probably half their age. But there’s none of that confidence to RM’s voice on the tape, now, only a low urgency. So much that Hoseok feels like he’s in trouble, even though he’s not exactly a participant in this conversation.

There’s a scuffling on the tape. It confuses Hoseok for a moment, until he hears the echo of a knock on the door, and then he pops the volume up a bit higher when he realizes that’s him on the tape. Which means the mysterious Jimin is about to make his first appearance.

“...someone who wants to see you?” he hears himself say. Hoseok cringes a little at the sound of his own voice, but then there’s more low, hushed conversation, and he definitely heard it right the first time when RM had said, you know you’re not supposed to come here. He waits until he hears his own retreating footsteps, the door clicking again as it shuts.

Quiet, a space taken up only by the breathing of the room’s three occupants, out of sync.

Then—

Hoseok stumbles, nearly trips over his feet. He catches himself before he manages to smash his face into the monitor, then fumbles for his phone to rewind the recording back a few seconds. Pauses to listen properly this time.

“Joonie,” Jimin says in his ear, voice on the verge of breaking. Hoseok is fairly certain that’s nothing close to RM’s name.

Then, there’s a rustle of fabric—a hug?

Then, “Not in the office, baby.”

It’s not just the words. It’s the way RM says them, brimming with the sort of intimacy that makes Hoseok actually feel a little bit bad for bugging his office. It’s the incongruency. The fake name. The affection. Hoseok tries to slot it all together into an easy narrative, but the pieces jam up against each other, jarring, not quite right. Not in the office, baby. He doesn’t sound mad, or reprimanding.

Hoseok’s steps slow on the treadmill. Not in the office, baby. He sounds concerned, above all.

There’s nothing on the rest of the tape. Hoseok listens to it twice, but whatever it was that RM was up to—and it has to be something—he’s good at hiding it when he wants to. Nothing really even hinting at anything inappropriate. Certainly nothing Hoseok can get paid for.

He swipes sweat off his brow and steps off the treadmill. RM’s voice is still stuck in his head when he wipes the machine down and grabs a towel to sling around his shoulders. He mulls it over as he showers, chews on it, plus the terrible, desperate look on Jimin’s face that day. How easily he’d fallen into RM’s grip, his body turning towards the man like a sunflower in need of summer.

A burst of sunlight hits his eyes when he finally walks out of the gym, and Hoseok suddenly feels dizzy, like he’s walked into something he can’t quite grasp the edges of.

He puts a hand to his eyes, maybe he needs more sleep is all.

That’s when he catches sight of Kim Taehyung, halfway across the quad. He’s got a foot jammed in the door to one of the cafeterias, one hand waving around to urge some of their coworkers in. His hair catches the edge of the light like spun candy, strings of sugar. Hoseok’s hand falls to his side, and he sort of stands there for a while, just looking.

Taehyung would know, whatever the secret is, he thinks, but there’s more than just the itch of finding the truth picking at him when he looks at Taehyung these days, and Hoseok isn’t really the kind of person who’s in the business of denying himself things.

He crosses the campus faster than he can talk himself out of it and plants himself right in the doorway.

Taehyung waves at him idly, then starts, backing up into the door. “Hoseok-ssi!” he says, eyes suddenly wide. “Where’d you come from?”

Hoseok smiles at him. “We’re on break, right? Hyung’s fine.”

Taehyung’s smile grows bashful around the edges, softer. “Okay,” he chirps, then leans back on the door. “Why’d you just show up out of nowhere, though?”

“I wasn’t nowhere,” Hoseok says, then points. “I was over there.”

Taehyung laughs and the door squeaks along with it. It makes Hoseok want to stay here and block the entrance for the rest of the day. “Hoseokie-hyung,” he says, sliding into familiarity like he’s wanted to this whole time, “are you trying to tease me?”

“I dunno. Is it working?”

“Sure is,” Taehyung says with a determined little nod, and oh. Hoseok feels it, the dip in his chest, the indent of an ache where his heart is, like someone took a finger and pressed it down right under his sternum. Nothing that could move mountains, or even a small car, but enough to move his feet through the door and spinning around to face Taehyung properly.

“Hey,” Hoseok says before his mouth catches up with his brain, “do you want to go out with me?”

For a moment, Taehyung looks stricken.

Whoops, Hoseok thinks, watching Taehyung go through like three different expressions in the span of two seconds, guess I fucked that up!

But then the roulette of Taehyung’s face settles into a smile that Hoseok hasn’t seen before—smaller, sweeter, shy but brimming with something, like it’s about to burst into something bigger and wider. He takes a step forward and lets the door swing shut with a little whumph behind him. Gathers up Hoseok’s hands with his own, fingers longer and easily covering the span of Hoseok’s wrists. “Are you serious?” he asks, and there’s a strand of hair that’s fallen over his forehead, so freshly blue he has to have touched it up recently.

Hoseok’s mouth goes dry. “I—” he manages. “I mean yeah? I did ask?”

And there it is, the rest of that smile. “Hyung,” Taehyung says earnestly, “I would love to. Are you free after work? Let’s get froyo. We don’t even have to leave campus.”

Hoseok feels as dizzy as he had earlier that morning, like he’s stepped himself into something bigger than he has any business of being involved in. But Hoseok thinks he wouldn’t mind being mired here. “Yeah, sure,” he says. “Let’s do it.”

Taehyung nods once, then again, his head bobbing up and down. He’s still holding Hoseok’s hands. “I had this whole plan,” he finally says.

Hoseok snorts. “What, to seduce me?”

“Something like that,” Taehyung says happily. “Glad I don’t need that anymore. Oh, actually—are you a secretary? Or is there like an official job title, or?”

Hoseok’s laugh is about two octaves higher than it usually is. “Am I not rich enough for you, Taehyungie?” he asks, half teasing, half curious, digging just a little.

Taehyung blanches. “What?” And he sounds genuinely baffled.

“Bad joke,” Hoseok says, mentally filing that away for later. “Nevermind. I’m an administrative assistant,” he says with a little wriggle of his fingers. “But, yeah, I’m basically a secretary. Why?”

“No reason! Me and Jiminie were just wondering.”

Hoseok waits. It’s not like he can just come out and ask, like, Jiminie? Is that the kid who ran in here looking like he was going to pass out the other day? And that you mysteriously swept away into RM’s office? That Jiminie? Who is he anyways?

Taehyung’s face falls a little bit. His gaze skirts to the ground, quick, before flashing back up. “I gotta go now,” he says, rushed. “Sorry, remembered something I have to do for the big boss man.”

“Ah,” Hoseok says, and again, doesn’t know if he’s more disappointed by the lack of information or Taehyung leaving. “Uhm, are we gonna meet up somewhere?”

“OH,” Taehyung half-shouts. “You don’t have my number!”

Hoseok does, actually. But Taehyung doesn’t need to know that.

“Don’t worry,” Taehyung says, “I know where your desk is.” And then he’s backing up against the door again, waving as he goes. “Looking forward to it!” he calls. “Don’t make me wait!”

“Sounds good!” Hoseok calls back, and then Taehyung is gone, and he’s left with a strange sort of whiplash in the wake of it all.

He scrubs a hand through his hair. “What did I just agree to?”

*

Taehyung finds him, just as agreed. RM isn’t actually in today, so Hoseok doesn’t feel too bad about leaving fifteen minutes earlier than he usually does.

They end up in line at Everythingoes, which looks like a small vaguely indie frozen yogurt shop that indeed has seemingly everything at offer, from banana chunks to what looks like shredded kale stashed in the toppings bar, but is in fact situated in the middle of campus and very much a part of the RM Industries brand. Hoseok gets himself a small cup of vanilla, a dash of pomegranate since he’s feeling adventurous today. Taehyung, meanwhile, dashes up and down the aisles like he has his order memorized, ends up with a monstrous heap of chocolate strawberry swirled together with mini marshmallows, sprinkles, white chocolate chips, and a whole suite of those little flavour popping balls that have, frankly, always intimidated Hoseok.

“I’ll pay,” Hoseok offers up while Taehyung is busy heaping more lychee balls into his cup.

Taehyung laughs. “Don’t worry,” he says, “RM has it covered.”

Hoseok blanches. Does your sugar daddy usually pay for your dates with other people? he thinks, but then they get to the end of the row and he realizes that there isn’t actually even a cash register to pay at.

“Whoa,” he says. “Since when was there this much free stuff around?”

Taehyung laughs again. “You work too much, hyung,” he says. “There’s a free mini bar, too, you know?”

Hoseok’s eyebrows go up. “What, is there also a spa I can relax at between meetings?”

“Third floor!”

“I’m going to pretend I never heard that or I’m never getting any work done again,” Hoseok says very seriously.

“Is work really that important to you?” Taehyung asks, like he’s not the one with the direct line into the CEO’s office any time of day he wants, apparently.

Hoseok bats his eyelashes. “Not all of us can be on informal basis with the bossman, Taehyungie. Which means we kind of have to work to keep our jobs.”

Taehyung seems momentarily starstruck by something. He colours a bit, high on his cheeks, ducking his head far enough that his fringe falls in his eyes all adorable-like. “I guess that’s true,” he says.

“So how do you know RM anyways?” Hoseok asks, unable to stop himself from digging. “You said he was a friend…?”

“Well,” Taehyung says, pillowing his cheek on his hand, “that’s a long story. It’s kind of boring. He’s a friend of a friend, and he liked what I did, so he invited me to come work for him.” With a soft sigh, he slumps all the way down onto the table, one hand playing at the spoon of his frozen yogurt. “Honestly it’s been kind of a drag lately. You don’t have to tell him that. Or, I mean, you can if you want, but I’m telling you this now in confidence, so please don’t.” Taehyung wiggles his fingers, like he’s sealing some sort of deal, and stares up at Hoseok imploringly through the impossible weight of his lashes.

Hoseok gulps. “Yeah,” he squeaks, “of course. I wouldn’t… betray your trust like that.”

Taehyung manages to nod even with his face half squashed against the table. “Good. I like you, Hoseokie-hyung,” he declares, and Hoseok has to shove a spoonful of frozen yogurt in his mouth to stem the sudden warmth in his face.

“Me too, Tae,” Hoseok says weakly.

Taehyung beams up at him. “I’m really glad you asked,” he says, with an unvarnished earnestness that Hoseok doesn’t really know how to deal with. “Sorry for rambling a bit, but I’ve been kind of stressed out lately.”

“No sorries!” Hoseok says, waving his yogurt spoon around. “Also you can tell me why you’re stressed? I’m a good listener. I like listening to things.”

Taehyung pauses, and it’s that tiny sliver of hesitation that pings Hoseok’s attention.

“I just feel kind of guilty, I guess,” he finally says, his lips turned down only slightly at the edges. “My best friend—you remember Jiminie?”

Hoseok nearly laughs in sheer panic, but he catches himself in time. “The one who visited the other day?”

Taehyung’s eyebrow twitches, like he can sense the complete and utter bullshit of saying ‘visiting’ instead of ‘unceremoniously barged in,’ but he lets it go. “Yeah, I’m just worried about him. He’s going through… I guess a pretty bad breakup? And I don’t know how I’m supposed to help him, and sometimes I miss hanging out with Jungkook too and then I feel extra bad about it, and it’s all just messy, you know?”

It’s shockingly mundane. Enough that it makes Hoseok take one look at him, hair a little frazzled on one side presumably from messing with it, and after tucking the name ‘Jungkook’ away to investigate later, decide to drop all his stupid probing in the first place.

Whatever relationship Kim Taehyung had with the CEO of RM Industries, Hoseok is fairly certain at this point that there’s nothing newsworthy about it. And Taehyung had trusted him enough to say what sounded like some pretty tough shit. If anything, he deserved having someone listen to him without false pretenses on their mind.

Hoseok smiles, reaching out to grab Taehyung’s hand this time. “Hey,” he says, “none of that’s your fault, right? You don’t have to beat yourself up so much about it.”

Taehyung frowns. “Yeah but…”

“No buts!” Hoseok says. “Listen, it’s not like you’re hitting up his ex and hanging out every day, right? You’re allowed to have your own feelings, too! It’s not like you can control them, so, might as well let it happen, yeah?”

And then Taehyung smiles, peeking out from the circle of his arms, and Hoseok forgets everything about his job, his real job, his reservations, and settles down to spend some time wooing this lovely boy, who’s so easily honest, open in a way that makes him want to try for the same.

**

Namjoon is pacing.

Yoongi is pretty sure it’s not helping, given the way his left hand is also tapping against his thigh every couple of steps. In fact, Yoongi thinks that if he were to stop and count, there’d probably be a rhythm to the whole production. One, two, three, tap-tap, two, three, turn, repeat. The only reason he hasn’t gotten off their bed to put a stop to it is because he knows that sitting still is going to be even less helpful. Namjoon has spent most of the day sitting with Jimin, who’s turned recluse in his room again. It doesn’t appear to have helped either of them.

“I fucked up,” Namjoon bursts out finally.

Two, three, turn. Pause. Yoongi sits up straighter, back braced against the headboard, palms resting on his crossed knees. For a second, he wonders if they’ve made a breakthrough, but then Namjoon starts to pace again. Yoongi lets his shoulders slump, and waits.

“I let the thing with Taehyung throw me off.” Tap-tap. He shakes his head, and Yoongi picks out the tension in his neck, knotting in on itself. “Not just that. Everything was going so well up until a couple of weeks ago, and then it all just started to unravel. I panicked, and I gave Jimin a job he wasn’t in the right headspace for, and I pretended that it was all for his sake when it was at least fifty percent me scrambling for damage control. And now he’s - he says he’s fine, but I know he didn’t want DoAH finding out about the psychic resistance, or the extent of his telekinesis, and I don’t think he wanted to hurt the Bulletproof kid that badly either. Plus Tae went out on a date with my sec - no, with my admin assistant, and that one’s not my fault, actually, but we’re already dealing with one broken heart.”

This time when Namjoon stops, he stays stopped. Yoongi gives it a beat, two, before nodding like he’s thinking it over. The truth is, he already knows all of this, has seen each new issue wear its tracks into Namjoon as he struggled to pick himself up from the last one.

“Okay,” he says. “You fucked up. So what are you going to do about it?”

Namjoon starts, like he’s registering Yoongi’s presence in the room for the first time. His eyes are wide as he stares over at him and for a second Yoongi thinks of the hapless rich kid he’d tried to mug eight years ago, asking him if there was anything else he needed.

Even then, he’d been trying to solve the whole world’s problems.

Tap-tap. “Tae’s out,” Namjoon says slowly, but he hasn’t started pacing again. Yoongi counts that as a win. “I - we always said that, that if someone wanted out they could leave and none of us would try to stop them. He deserves to try and be happy, so if dating Jung Hoseok is going to give him that, I’ll do some more digging on the guy. Make sure everything’s okay.”

“That took a more paranoid direction than I was anticipating.”

“I’m paranoid.” He scrubs his hands over his face, and Yoongi thinks about taking them in his, about sliding his thumbs over the thin skin of his wrists. Feeling his rabbiting pulse. “It’s kept us alive and out of prison so far, hasn’t it?”

“Not an attack,” Yoongi says mildly. “Just pointing it out. If all you wanted was to dump your problems and get silence back, I know a couple of good trees.”

“Hah, hah. You say that like you think there are any bad trees.”

“I don’t love pines. The smell is annoying.”

There’s a pause, and then Namjoon offers him a smile that’s so helplessly fond, even Yoongi’s old heart manages to find it in him to skip a beat.

“Don’t let the pines hear you say that,” Namjoon murmurs, pressing his knees into the mattress and shuffling awkwardly over the space between them.

Yoongi holds one arm out, a lazy vine slipping out between tendon and bone to twine around Namjoon’s waist, tugging him firmly closer until those knees are pressed up against his shins. He goes to remove Namjoon’s glasses, heavy and metallic, only to find his hand caught by clever fingers. Namjoon turns his head, presses a kiss to the place where plant turns flesh, tracing his thumb down the line of vibrant green visible under his skin. Yoongi doesn’t bother to hide a shiver, long past the point of pretending to be unaffected by this man’s touch.

“You’re better than any tree, Min Yoongi.”

“Sweet talker,” he drawls, stealing the glasses with his free hand. Namjoon blinks at him a couple of times, re-focusing before Yoongi leans in to brush his lips over the indents they’ve left on his nose, first one side and then the other.

“You haven’t even heard what I’ve been thinking about now that we’ve lost Tae.”

“Mm. Hey, Joon?”

“What?”

Yoongi knocks his forehead into his chin, gently. “Don’t bring up Taehyung when we’re trying to put our mouths on each other?”

Namjoon splutters a laugh and - yes, there’s business to discuss, there’s shit to figure out, but Yoongi feels pretty damn pleased with himself for having walked his high-strung boyfriend down from being a vibrating bundle of nerves to the rich warmth of that laughter.

“Don’t put your mouth on me when I’m trying to talk business with you, then.”

Yoongi raises his eyebrows at Namjoon’s hand, still clasped loosely around his forearm. “Is that what you were doing.”

“Aish, you distracted me,” Namjoon complains, but he doesn’t let go.

They must look an odd picture, slotted together awkwardly on their huge bed, Namjoon in half a suit with his sleeves pushed up, Yoongi drowning in sweats and one of Namjoon’s hoodies. Yoongi couldn’t care less. There’s no one else here to watch.

“Come on, then,” he sighs. “Tell me what you’ve been thinking about, and maybe I’ll distract you some more after.”

They’ve been together since they were teenagers, and he still manages to pull colour into his boyfriend’s cheeks. He’s heard Taehyung talking about Namjoon-as-RM before, how he can command silence from a room with a single raise of his eyebrow and - it’s not that he doesn’t believe it. There’s always been a certain magnetism to this man, even back when he was a boy. Yoongi had stuck to him, hadn’t he?

But he prefers Namjoon-as-Namjoon. Still brilliant, a scattered star-shine compared to RM’s overwhelming sun. Namjoon ducks his head like that’ll hide the flush in his cheeks, dropping Yoongi’s arm to pluck at the vine wrapped loosely around his waist instead.

“I was thinking - don’t laugh, it’s what I was doing! I was thinking, that we don’t need to frame the mayor. We just need to show that he’s incompetent. Can’t protect the city, can’t protect his people’s investments. It would have been quicker to get him out of the way with Tae, but there’s no reason we can’t leverage what Jimin did to Bulletproof into something bigger.”

“What do you want me to tear apart, Joonie?”

Namjoon coughs lightly at being found out. “I just think it’s time that Kosmos City knows that Gloss is home, all right? And if he happens to take out a significant part of that oil pipeline being built into Gyeongbuk while he’s saying hello...oops?”

A savage joy thrills through Yoongi at the thought, Namjoon startling as his grip with the vine tightens for a second. It’s not that he need his boyfriend’s permission to unleash hell on environmental pollutants, but it is nice to be able to combine his passion for eco-terrorism with Namjoon’s goals to dominate the world’s energy industry.

(Babe, Namjoon would protest, revolutionise. And Yoongi knows he believes that, doesn’t necessarily disagree himself, but he can’t help but notice that Namjoon’s suggestion to Jimin suffering a bad break up had been for him to go assassinate an RMI business rival. He wonders if Namjoon has noticed that, himself.

He wonders if he’s going to point it out).

“So far, I’m on board.”

Namjoon pokes at the vine around his waist, which unravels a bit to poke back. “I couldn’t tell.”

“Yah, don’t be a brat. I just think we can deal with a couple of your problems all at once if we add a few details to this bit of private property destruction.”

He’s nonchalant in the way he says it, but the truth is that Namjoon’s problems aren’t just Namjoon’s problems. Yoongi doesn’t get rid of his excess energy by pacing - he has his plants and his music and an alter-ego as a supervillain for that - but that doesn’t mean he isn’t just as concerned about Taehyung and Jimin. Both boys that he’s had his hand in rescuing, both boys that’d he’d do a hell of a lot more than just wreck an oil pipeline to protect.

Tae, honestly, seems to be doing a fine job of handling things on his own right now. Yoongi had wondered if he’d been struggling to deal with the moral weight of all their death and destruction, but Taehyung had found a way to deal with that before Yoongi had gotten around to addressing it with him.

If that adds a little sour taste of guilt to the back of his throat when he swallows, well. He can still help Jimin.

Namjoon is looking at him expectantly, in that way he has that makes a person feel like they’re the centre of his universe. Stupid, Yoongi thinks, because he’s never needed to be the centre of it. Has only ever wanted to be a part of it.

“I want to know more about Bulletproof,” he says. “Jimin kept the extent of his power a secret from DoAH for at least six years after we pulled him out of there, only to start throwing this guy into buildings after a bad break up. And they never send the kid after me. I’ve had all of Monsta X on my ass at one point or another, but they only ever roll out Bulletproof for Jiminie.”

“We’ve been trying to get someone back into DoAH for years,” Namjoon points out, already primed to argue. Stupid, Yoongi thinks again, fond. “They’re too suspicious, we can’t--”

Slowly, carefully, he plasters one big hand over Namjoon’s mouth. “I’m not talking about infiltrating anything, Joon. I want to draw him out. The TXT kids are done causing havoc in Blue Side, for now. SHINee up in Seoul owes me a favour. There are a couple of others I can rope in who are always happy to cause a mess, we can bring them all up here to keep our hero friends distracted. By the time I hit the pipeline, they won’t have any choice except to send Bulletproof after me.”

Namjoon goes to speak, only to realise belatedly that Yoongi’s hand is still in the way. He scowls, smacking at it, but his dimples are both present and accounted for when Yoongi withdraws.

“You can’t possibly know that’s how things will work out. Unless fortune-telling is suddenly a plant related power and you never told me?”

Yoongi shrugs. There’s a reason he’s in the wholesale destruction business instead of the planning side of things. “Then I still get to destroy an oil pipeline, and DoAH spends a weekend getting run off their feet and made to look incompetent in front of the whole city. What’s the downside?”

Yoongi might not be the plan guy, but it turns out even Namjoon finds that one hard to argue with.

**

Sirens blare.

Seokjin pokes his head out into the hall and nearly get run over by an officer. Everywhere, medics are rushing to various stations, some of them wheeling gear, some of them holding down the fort. The whole building is washed in red, stress streaked across all the walls. Someone shouts. Seokjin ducks back into Jungkook’s room, answers his buzzing phone.

“Yeah I’m keeping an eye on things,” he says, sliding into his sort of makeshift desk. On the laptop, two blinking red centres of attack glare at him. As he watches, the latest attack blooms like a gunshot on the map, right next to city hall. “Can we split MX up? Or do they have their hands full with those rookies already?”

“Not sure,” Adora says. It sounds like she’s running. “I’ll try and get a message into them, but it’s pretty messy down there, their baby empath’s giving Destroyer a run for his money.”

“Do you need me?”

“It’s fine. I got this. You stay with our wonder boy.”

Seokjin waits for a moment, chances a glance back at the hospital bed and all its beeping lights. “Okay,” he says. “But let me know if anything changes.”

“Sounds good.”

“Hey,” Seokjin says, eyes trained on the screen, the havoc being wreaked on his city, “stay safe out there.”

Adora’s answering laugh is a spitting sparkle. “Will do, sunbaenim.” She hangs up. Seokjin glances around, lets his shoulders fall into a slump.

Kosmos City has been on lockdown since 2AM that morning. It’d started slow, with Heize and Suran shutting down an entire stretch of freeway with some sort of complicated illusion. The Department retaliated with a regular strike team to test the waters. But then, bursting out of the metro, TXT had made themselves known in the hours of daybreak, and that was when it all started to snowball. Seokjin stares at the latest disaster, all of SHINee come down from Seoul with no discernable motive. Suspicious, but there isn’t anything to do to stem the flow other than send in reinforcements.

It’s not the first time they’ve dealt with multiple threats. Kosmos City survives, as it always does. A little worse for wear, maybe, but this is the game: heroes and villains shuffled across the chess board of the city. Seokjin knows this better than anything else in his life.

In truth, he should be there, not delegating from afar. But.

Seokjin swivels around in his chair, makes sure Jungkook’s still sleeping. He looks pale. There are shadows under his eyes and his lips are dry and cracked. He looks better than he should. It’s just the screaming sirens that makes it all seem more dire, makes Seokjin’s heart involuntarily clench as he looks at the shallow rise and fall of Jungkook’s chest.

A thin alarm startles Seokjin back to his laptop. Almost simultaneously, lights outside their door flash, and his phone goes off, nearly vibrating off the table. The siren cuts out, then comes back twice as shrill, shorter and more frequent beeps against the sound of shouting.

Seokjin’s blood runs cold. Code X. Only three villains warrant the hike in security clearance.

He grabs his phone and puts her on speaker. “Hello?”

“Change of plans!” Adora shouts. It’s even messier around her, the honking of horns and civilians shrieking nearly drowning out her hoarse voice. “We need reinforcements! Overhead thinks it’s premeditated or something—there’s no fucking way all these villains decide to just attack on their own, you know?”

Seokjin whacks the side of his laptop. “I don’t have the update yet,” he says. “Who was it?”

Adora scoffs. “Gloss,” she says. “Should’ve guessed, honestly, when TXT showed up, but what did we know. He’s gotten all into the construction site for the new pipeline. I don’t—” she cuts herself off with a frustrated hiss. “I don’t know who else to send,” she says. “The other sites have only gotten worse, we have no reinforcements and non-supers are useless against Gloss.”

Seokjin curses. “What about Solar? Moon?”

“Busy with the freeway attack, still.”

“Dammit have we gained a single inch of ground?”

Adora laughs. “Nothing! When all of this is over we’re going I swear to god we need to up our training regimen or something, but, shit, what are we supposed to do in the meantime?”

“Let me think,” Seokjin says, right when he’s interrupted by a loud creak behind him.

“Hyung,” Jungkook says, half out of bed already, “send me in.”

Over the line, Adora sucks in a sharp breath. “Is that…?”

“Get back to bed, Jungkook,” Seokjin says, already out of his chair. He goes to shove Jungkook down by the shoulders, but Jungkook pushes back, a spark of something stubborn his eyes despite the weariness hollowing out his cheeks. “This isn’t the time for heroics,” Seokjin says. “You’re not fit for action.”

“I’m fine,” Jungkook says. He rolls his shoulder, his mouth thinning out into a line that Seokjin knows is suppressing a wince. “I can do it. Let me help.”

No.

“Hyung.”

“Uhm,” Adora says, her voice tinny coming out of Seokjin’s phone. “Is that Bulletproof?”

Jungkook shoves his way past Seokjin with a surprising strength and picks up the phone. “It’s me,” he says. “Tell me what I need to do.”

“Jesus Christ,” Seokjin says, crossing back over to his desk, “you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. You think you can help without getting hurt yourself?”

Jungkook sets his jaw. “I overheard the whole thing. We’re overwhelmed out there.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re going to make a difference. You think you can go toe-to-toe with Gloss?” You couldn’t even handle Baepsae, Seokjin thinks, but makes a conscious effort to swallow those particular ugly words back. Besides, the superstitious part of him half believes that evoking Baepsae’s name will end up summoning him into this pileup of a situation, too.

Jungkook’s grip on the phone is tight enough that Seokjin grabs his wrist before he can break it.

They stare each other down for a moment.

Adora is silent. Seokjin knows it’s Department policy to put all men on deck. By protocol, Jungkook should already be suited up and half out the door as soon as he demonstrated enough mental capacity to get out of bed and insist on going. But even now, he’s dressed in a thin hospital gown that’s about three sizes too big for him, the sleeves falling down over his elbows, his feet bare and his hair messy from bedrest. There’s an ugly scratch running down his throat, ear to collarbone. Seokjin doesn’t want to know what other injuries he’s hiding.

Before he can pull rank and call someone in to sedate Jungkook if that’s what it took to get him to stand down, there’s a loud thunderous boom through the tinny speakers of Seokjin’s phone.

Jungkook’s pales.

Seokjin grabs the phone away from him. “Hello?” he shouts. “Hello? Status report?”

There’s a fit of coughing. Adora’s heavy breathing over the line, thank god. Both Seokjin and Jungkook wait with bated breath until the sound of rapid footsteps and the disordered wail of sirens fade enough to talk over the line. “That was our last strike team!” Adora shouts. “We’re down! There’s only regular police units left, and I don’t think they can hold the fort down anymore either!”

Jungkook’s eyes slowly narrow. “You can’t stop me from going.”

And he’s right. Despite everything, he’s always been right on that front.

Seokjin wilts. “Fine,” he says. But before Jungkook can rush out the door, Seokjin grabs his elbow. “But I’m going with you.”

*

Seokjin rarely goes out into the field.

There’s no real reason for it, other than his particular skill set is more valuable to the Department acting from within. And, to be honest, he doesn’t enjoy it—it’s thankless work, he often thinks, watching Jungkook come in for debriefings sweaty and bruised.

He has no hero code, no media presence, no mask, so it’s just himself, Kim Seokjin, dressed in his day old suit and ducked underneath in one of the only temporary shelters still standing, watching the fight.

The pipe is already mostly mangled beyond repair. The latticework of metal warps around a singular form, standing with his hands in his pockets atop the mess. All around, green blooms amidst the great spurts of foul oil, vines wrapped tightly around all the pipes, weaving in and out in intricate patterns, a hopelessly tangled mass that grows dense enough that you can smell a hint of faint magnolia even over the smoke and dust of industry.

Bulletproof stands alone—flanked by patchwork strike team members, sure, but against Gloss, he might as well be alone.

Gloss surveys the scene, his head swivelling. Seokjin can just make out a mop of green hair, a beanie tugged over it. The rest of his face disappears into a blank white mask. As everyone rests on standby, he picks up a loose rock and tosses it up once, twice, lazy. Taunting.

Bulletproof seems about as mad about it as Seokjin feels, deep down somewhere in his bones. He signals something to their strike team, backs up a couple metres, then takes off at a sharp run. Seokjin carefully presses his fingertips together as Jungkook takes off at a flying leap, launching himself upward towards Gloss’s makeshift empire of plantlife and metallic destruction.

A clutch of vines shoot out of the mass. Gloss’s eyes narrow, and Seokjin hears the sharp snap of the whip racing towards Jungkook.

Jungkook twists at the last minute, reaching out and twining the vine around his wrist. Uses the momentum of it to swing himself forward. Gloss only has enough time to take a quick step back before Bulletproof is right there, sweeping a leg to knock him off balance.

High up on their perch, the two figures grapple. The wind whistles, and with every stumble, the whole structure tetters on itself. Jungkook lands a punch, right in Gloss’s face, and Seokjin kind of wishes he was up close enough to see it properly.

The ground starts to rumble. Low, but steady. Shoots dart out of the earth, fresh and still white-tipped. As Bulletproof rips up a metal beam, unearthing a swath of roots and broken flower petals, a whole column of green bursts out of the ground.

Punctures a nearby gasline, hissing natural gas escaping into the night.

Bulletproof turns and lances the beam straight towards the writhing mass, but it gets swallowed. Just as quick, they rush forward and encase Bulletproof, trapping his arms around his torso. Hard enough to drag a ragged cry out of his throat—broken ribs, Seokjin thinks, and rushes out of the shelter.

“Sir?” one of his strike team men says.

The wind nips at Gloss’s hair. He holds his hands up and twitches his fingers, and the vines keep creeping, the citrus of his flowers growing cloying.

“Hold your fire until Bulletproof’s clean,” Seokjin says, “but get ready.”

“Understood.”

With another cry, Jungkook manages to wrench out of his hands out of the hold. He pulls the vines apart with his bare hands, the ripe smell of broken plantlife spilling into the air like a glut. Gloss’s shoulders are tense. The tendrils grow only as fast as Jungkook can rip them up, and eventually, the whole clump retreats.

Seokjin lets himself relax an increment.

Jungkook lands back with a hand on the ground, shoulders hunched. Aside from the creak of metal and the still whipping wind, everything is quiet. Seokjin can hear him breathing heavy from here. Gloss isn’t a chatty villain, doesn’t like to gloat about his conquests as they happen. Seokjin’s read enough reports and seen enough footage to know what it’s like fighting him, silent but unflappable.

Petals whip across the bleak, broken landscape. Bulletproof pulls himself to his feet and unrolls his shoulders, chin slanted up.

Gloss’s vines rustle, but they don’t move.

With a grimace, Bulletproof takes off—but he doesn’t jump. This time, he rushes the base of the teetering mass. Twists a handful of vines and rips. Pulls. Exposes the soft tendrils of roots, as he digs and digs and digs. Metal shrieks as Bulletproof exposes the wrangled mess of the old pipeline. He wrenches a whole section of it up and pulls out a ball of oil-drenched vines, unclogging a great splash of black.

All around him, Gloss starts to grow new vines, freshly green.

Seokjin signals to the strike team. “Aim for the shoots,” he barks, and they open fire in a kaleidoscope of sparks. Gunshots ricochet off the pipes. The vines flinch back, some too slow, ripped to pieces by the rapid fire.

Bulletproof stands in the middle of the cacophony, relentless.

Gloss calls back his vines, and for a moment, Seokjin thinks they’ve got it, they can finish this off and bring the asshole in for once—he’s surrounded after all—and he doesn’t even need to take a step out into the field.

And then, if the ground was rumbling before, it starts to goddamn shake.

The shelter buckles. A shock of dust lands on Seokjin, blinding him momentarily. He swears and drops to the ground, eyes shut tight, before the whole shelter can collapse on his head. The quake shudders on as he crawls in the dark. Faintly, he hears the sound of screaming, gunshots going off without the coordination of before, a loud grunt that sounds like Jungkook.

When he thinks it’s clear, he carefully shakes the dust out of his face and cracks his eyes open.

The scene before him is chaos, half the strike team impaled on long spikes of thorn, their blood mingling with the ruddy oil still seeping out slowly. Seokjin’s heart thuds once, twice. He fights the urge to jump up and away from the still-trembling ground.

He looks up to see Gloss, still slouched with that same nonchalant posture, eyes narrowed. The beanie’s gone, whisked away by the fight. There’s an ugly bruise starting to form just above the mask he wears. His freed hair is as freshly green as the writhing bed of leaves he stands on.

“Sir!” one of the downed members shouts.

Seokjin whips around just in time to see another thorn shoot out, straight through his throat. The rest of his scream cuts out in a burble.

Looks back at Gloss. The corners of his eyes smile.

With a jolt, Seokjin lurches to his feet. Jungkook.

In the same move, Gloss whistles sharply, and a suite of vines pull him down from his perch, curled around his legs. He lands softly, lightly. One of Seokjin’s men lets out a low wail.

“You fucking bastard,” Jungkook growls. Seokjin ducks under a fallen beam when Gloss’s attention turns away. He peers out to see Jungkook with his arms held back by more tangled vines. Slowly, Gloss ambles over towards him, and when he gets close enough, Jungkook lurches forward, wrenching enough out of the hold of the vines to land another punch, cracking across Gloss’s face where there’s already a bruise.

Gloss stumbles back, hand to cheek. Jungkook lets out a cry as the vines pull his arm back, slither over his torso.

As he straightens, Gloss sweeps a hand out, and the vines pull Jungkook up. Before Seokjin can shout a warning, they slam Jungkook back into the pipes. His head cracks back, and when the vines relent, Jungkook’s limp.

They drop him in a heap at Gloss’s feet.

Gloss rubs at his face. “That hurt,” he comments dryly, but there’s real pain in his gravelly voice as he crouches, reaches out for Jungkook’s slack face.

Okay, Seokjin thinks. That’s enough.

He stands as straight as he dares. Instantly, Gloss’s gaze cuts to him, dark and piercing, looking up through his fringe. They’re close enough that Seokjin can see the flare of his nostrils, the way his mask flattens over his face as he sucks in a breath.

Seokjin rarely goes out into the field.

His particular skill set isn’t designed for a firefight, all guns and heat and chaos. He needs to be seen, and noticed. Looked at. So for situations like this, just him and the adversary, careless off the triumph of their win, Seokjin is particularly effective.

Seokjin steps out from behind the beam and scoops up a ragged magnolia flower, half the petals missing. “Gloss-ssi,” he says, pitching his voice lower, cajoling. “I don’t believe I’ve ever introduced myself.”

Gloss’s eyes are wide. He looks scared.

Good, Seokjin thinks, and closes the distance between them.

Seokjin’s mother had a particular interest in the origin of supers. Her research had focused on inducing powers, figuring out the finer details of how to engineer the most effective enhancement, how to make people stronger, faster, more magnetic. Seokjin was her first attempt. And the way he’s been told the story is that she was certain her experiment had failed until, one day, five years old and introduced to the nursery for the first time, Seokjin’s playmate had bitten clean through their caretaker’s finger when she’d tried to separate the two of them.

The heart of it is simple: People fall in love with Seokjin when he wants them to.

Seokjin makes himself smile, beatific. He leans in, uses all the inches he has on Gloss and brushes a thumb over one of the torn petals of the flower. “You’re kind of beautiful, aren’t you?” he asks, and the most fucked up part is that he’s not even really lying.

There’s a flush, faint but obvious, high on Gloss’s cheeks. It mottles the ugly bruise an even darker purple. Seokjin reaches out and gently unhooks his mask from one ear, and Gloss lets him do it.

His lips are already parted, glossy (hah) and the softest pink. The wind is a steady gust, brushing his pale green hair out of those sleepy eyes, and Seokjin has slipped into that headspace he needs to inhabit to use his power, where his target is lovely, and he wants them to love him, but this time, the feeling feels rooted in him, coming from somewhere deeper embedded in his chest.

He slips a hand into his pocket.

With the other, he reaches out and tucks the flower behind Gloss’s ear, a pink bloom against the pale of his cheek, and uses the motion to sweep a line down his jaw, feels the hard line of Gloss’s swallow as he gently tips his chin up. His bared throat is paler. Seokjin tells his fingers not to shake.

Gloss’s brows furrow. He brings a hand up, touches the rippled edge of the flower. “What…,” he murmurs, and sounds more confused than anything else.

A spike of panic jolts through Seokjin’s gut when Gloss tries to jerk his chin away.

Stop it, he thinks, tightening his grip. You love me; you’re supposed to listen to me.

Awareness is creeping back into Gloss’s eyes. Seokjin feels the resistance of him, a stubborn thorny wall, pushing against the influence of his power. He leans down, pulling Gloss’s face closer, his nails digging into his jaw now, and wants to smile when he drags a surprised gasp out of his throat. Their noses brush. Seokjin loves him, right then, the brutal savageness he wrought, the freedom in his loose shoulders, the way he answers to nobody.

He brings his hand out of his pocket, tangles his fingers into Gloss’s hair. It’s softer than he thought it’d be, mossy green, lush with life. Gloss bares his teeth and leans up into the touch, almost a dare. “I already know who you are, Kim Seokjin,” he says. This close, his voice rattles Seokjin, buries itself under his ribs like seeds.

Seokjin nearly laughs. “I could’ve admired you,” he says lightly, lips near to Gloss’s ear. He takes the suppressant collar the Department has finally perfected, and brings it out into the light. It glints like jewellery. Seokjin locks it around Gloss’s still-bared throat before he can pull away, and it whines, glows red.

A sharp kick at his knee. Seokjin goes down, teeth grit, but it doesn’t matter.

Gloss, foot still raised, looks down at him with all the colour drained out of his face. “What the fuck was that?” he asks. His hand is raised, hovering at the collar, as if he wants to touch it but he’s afraid. Seokjin knows he still loves him.

“What the fuck did you do to me?” Gloss asks again, voice low and dangerous. His gaze, the same dark as the strip of black around his neck, feels like it cuts something ragged as loose inside of Seokjin’s gut. Like he’d torn something out like he’d torn out the pipeline.

Seokjin doesn’t spare him another glance. He signals to what’s left of the strike team and turns away as they force Gloss to his knees.

Chapter Text

I could’ve admired you.

The worst part is that they haven’t even bothered to cuff him.

(it’s not, the worst part is the thing around his neck that makes him feel like the sun has gone out, but Yoongi is trying to distract himself).

The strike team of normal humans shove him into a cell that looks less like a cell, and more like a recently divorced dad’s attempt at setting a room up for his kid. There’s a bed with too many pillows, a couch, tablet resting on a bedside table that he doesn’t pick up until he’s searched every corner of the place for a possible exit, or weapon, or something he can use to get the fucking collar off.

The cameras are nearly impossible to see, and definitely impossible to reach, even if he stands on the furniture. He tries to shove the bed, only to find it’s bolted to the floor. It’s the same deal with everything else - the only thing not bolted down is the tablet, which, when he picks it up, can’t connect to the internet.

He stands, panting, in the centre of the cell (because that’s what it is, even if it’s painted in soothing blues and grey trim instead of sterile white, even if they’ve decided to give him mood lighting instead of a window they’d have to bar). The camera blinks a steady red glare at him, and he stares up at it, imagining he can see Kim Seokjin beyond it.

Watching him.

I could’ve admired you.

Jimin had never shared more than the bare bones of what had happened to him in his years at DoAH, but the name had come up a couple of times. A boy not that much older than him who seemed to move between the siloed world of the Clinical Studies Unit and the greater DoAH complex with ease, who had started out hovering in his mother’s shadow and had ended up working at her side by the time Tae broke Jimin out.

(“I think he had powers?” Jimin had said. “I never saw him use any, but Dr Kim talked about him like he did. Sorry I don’t know more, hyung.”)

That had been before they’d turned their eyes to the energy sector, had dug their teeth into the problem of a planet Yoongi can feel dying in his bones. In this precise moment, Yoongi wishes they’d chosen to tear apart DoAH instead, just so he could kill Kim Seokjin before he did...whatever he’s done to him.

Except his stomach lurches at the thought of seeing the man dead. It lurches at the thought of seeing him at all, and he remembers a hand in his hair, lips against his ear, the hot brush of breath over his skin. His own breath leaves him in a shudder; he curls his fingers into his palm, ragged nails scraping rough skin. Enough to hurt, but not to bleed.

“I’m guessing that asking for a lawyer isn’t going to get me anywhere,” he says flatly. The camera blinks back at him, unresponsive. He snorts. “Yeah, I didn’t think you guys were big on human rights.”

He sits on the bed, because he can’t see the point in standing. They’ll expect him to be angry, defiant, and he’s not going to give them the pleasure of seeing him lose control. Not when they’ve already taken enough of it.

I could’ve--

Yoongi doesn’t need admiration. He doesn’t want it. He has things, people, that are far more precious to him than the opinion of some jumped up bureaucrat who’s either a traitor to his own kind, or so brainwashed that the difference is negligible.

His fingers finds his throat again. Trace the line between metal and skin, like if he’s delicate with it he’ll find the catch. The camera keeps staring and Yoongi doesn’t blink. He’s not going to let them make him feel ashamed of seeking an exit, even if it’s hopeless for now.

Namjoon will get him out.

The name alone chases away the phantom sensation of hands on his skin, digging into his jaw, the perfect slant of a nose pressed against his. Or maybe it just replaces it, Namjoon’s face tucked into his neck, Namjoon’s breath hot on his throat, Namjoon’s sweat-slick body moving against his, a laugh gasped into his clavicle--

You’re kind of beautiful, aren’t you?

It takes everything in him not to grab the tablet and hurl it against the wall. He won’t give them the satisfaction. He leans back on the bed instead, tucking his hands behind his head where they can’t do anything stupid, and forces a yawn. Closing his eyes - he’ll hear if the door starts to open - he starts to hum. Someone has to be listening to the audio in this room, even if it’s not Kim Seokjin. He hopes it annoys the fuck out of them.

Namjoon will get him out. Tae will make something to get this thing off his neck, and then Yoongi and Jimin will put an end to DoAH once and for all. He wants to see Seokjin’s face when they do it.

He wants to see Seokjin’s face.

**

The thin red line running along the hospital hallway needles at the back of his mind. Seokjin stares at it, follows it all the way down as it disappears into a set of double doors, scrubs a hand through his hair and wishes he could disappear into the walls. The squeaking of wheels rounds the corner. Seokjin hastily jumps out of the way of a porter chatting lightly with a patient as they roll through the ward.

The one door that he cares the most about—Jungkook’s door—remains resolutely shut.

The transport from the Department to the local hospital had been quick and easy, but Seokjin worries. He can’t seem to help that, these days. He swipes at the dust still coating his lapels. Tells himself he’s only antsy because of Jungkook, but thinks about dark eyes, shining with betrayal. There’s no reason for the guilt coating the back of his throat, because Gloss is his enemy, and he’d been betraying nothing to bring him in.

When someone puts a hand on his elbow, Seokjin nearly startles out of his skin. He manages to catch himself in time, jolting back only a little.

“It’s me!” Adora says, a tired smile winding its way onto her face. “I came to see how the wonder boy’s doing.”

Seokjin forces himself to smile, too. The expression feels brittle, his mouth reluctant. “Doctor says no visitors until he’s more stable.”

Adora wilts. “Do we know how long?”

Seokjin shakes his head.

Adora wears the guilt that belongs more to Seokjin. “Dammit,” she mutters. “I knew we shouldn’t have sent him out into the field.”

“That wasn’t your decision,” Seokjin says. It was mine. “It was his.”

Adora shakes her head. “He wasn’t ready.”

“He was all we had left.”

The look on Adora’s face is ugly. Seokjin knows the things she might want to say. He thinks of Jungkook, unbreakable even in his resolve, and knows there’s nothing he could’ve changed, despises the part of himself that thinks this anyways.

“He’ll be okay,” Seokjin says, gentle enough to believe. “He’s just tired from the transfer over.”

“I don’t understand why we couldn’t have kept him in the Department.”

Seokjin sighs. “Jungkook has a life. I didn’t want him to disappear from the public for a month and have no civilian identity to come back to.” It had taken hours of arguing to convince the researchers to relinquish a broken Bulletproof, all of them intent on the exact best way to put him back together.

This time, the look on Adora’s face is closer to pity. Seokjin knows what she thinks, what they all do. He loves Jungkook too much, and still not enough. Loves him enough to keep him at arms length from the Department. Enough to try to give him a normal life. Not enough to try and keep him safe from everything else.

“Well,” Adora says, “I’ll come back later, if you’ll still be here? I can’t stay long.”

“Oh?” Seokjin asks, tensing. “Did Gloss manage to take out enough people that we’re this short staffed?”

It’s meant to be a joke, but Seokjin instantly regrets it. Gloss’s name slips out of his mouth too easily, silvery and sharp on his tongue. Seokjin wants to swallow it back, but he’s thinking of the man, now, his glare, his eyes as deadly as his name, the petal-pink of his lips when he’d let Seokjin pull the mask away from his face.

Adora barrels on, unaware. “The big boss wanted me to say you might be needed later,” she says.

Seokjin frowns. “Needed how?”

“It doesn’t look like he’s going to cooperate,” Adora says with a small shrug. “Maybe you’d make a difference. “

“Has he asked for me yet?” Seokjin asks. Doesn’t know what he wants the answer to be.

“That’s the problem,” Adora says, the ghost of a grimace painted over her face. “He hasn’t said a word.”

Silence, between them. Adora’s phone, in her hand, keeps brightening with notifications. Seokjin can’t help but look, his ears perking up at the tell-tale beep of the Department’s comms. Whatever it is, Adora doesn’t check, her eyes still fixed on the shut door of Jungkook’s hospital room.

“Anyways,” she says, thumbing it closed. “I do have to go, now. Does he—do you need me to get anything?”

Seokjin shakes his head. “It’s fine. We’ll be okay.”

She gives him one last wavering smile, and then she’s gone, and Seokjin’s eyes drift back over to Jungkook’s door, dark and cold, and he thinks about all the wrong things.

There’s a reason Seokjin doesn’t always use his powers. Sometimes, it makes him vulnerable in return. Sometimes, when the love doesn’t quite want to hold, when Seokjin has to think about his mark a little too much, the thin line of whatever all this was, physics, magic, something untenable no one could break holding them both together.

His job is done. He’s brought the target in. All he should be troubling himself with, now, is making sure his charge is healing and he can wash his hands of this job.

But he feels it, even now. Gloss a stubborn thorn in his side, defiance needling at him. Thinks he might hear Gloss’s voice, I already know who you are.

He hasn’t asked. Seokjin tells himself it’s not personal. Waits, anyways, for news. For someone to call him in. For something to finally give.

For Gloss to ask, one way or another.

**

Food comes through a slot in the door. It’s hearty stuff, although he’s apparently expected to eat it with his fingers, the tray metal and unbreakable by the admittedly unimpressive human strength he’s been left with.

Yoongi doesn’t eat. Is it a sustainable approach to dealing with the situation? Absolutely not, and a twitchy anticipation settles in his gut at the thought of what it might push them to do. But he remembers Taehyung and Namjoon (Namjoon, Namjoon, he loves Namjoon) talking about DoAH using drugs in the food to control Jimin as he got more powerful - to make him docile, to make him amenable to the tests they were running.

Yoongi doesn’t think he’s ever been docile in his life. He doesn’t intend to start now.

The not drinking is harder. He manages the first day with minor difficulty, but by the end of the second it takes all his willpower to resist the sports drink they’ve slid in through the door. The seal isn’t cracked, but he’s making a point now, or maybe he’s just making things difficult. For who, he’s not sure. He hasn’t seen another person since the strike team dropped him in here.

He wonders dazedly if they know what this is doing to him. It’s not just the lack of water, although that’s definitely fucking him up. His whole body feels tight, shrivelled, skin sallow and papery. His tongue scrapes over the roof of his mouth and sticks there; the effort it takes to work it loose hardly seems worth it, but he manages it after a few tries. There’s no hint of green under his skin, no sign that anything ever lived amongst bone and blood and tendons except for Yoongi. He’s warm, too warm, but not the kind of warmth he craves. He hasn’t seen the sun in too many hours.

Namjoon will get him out, but Yoongi’s not sure what kind of state he’ll be in when he does.

He tries to hold their faces in his mind - not just Joon, but the kids as well, the people he’s loved and killed for. A fourth face keeps trying to shoulder in though, all wind-ruffled hair and dark, guileless eyes, a whisper on softly parted lips, I could’ve admired you.

God only knows how long it's been when the door finally slides open. Yoongi has slipped into some halfway state between waking and sleep where he's not entirely sure what's real anymore, but he doesn't think he could have imagined the effect seeing Seokjin again has on him.

He really is stunning. Yoongi hadn't been able to focus on that in the moment he’d first seen him, confused about what was happening to him, why he didn’t want to move, why being told he was beautiful by this man suddenly meant so much to him. He’d never given a single solitary fuck how anyone looked at him except for Namjoon.

Right now, Seokjin’s the only interesting thing in the room.

They stare at each other for a long moment, and Yoongi wonders if he’s making it worse by looking, cementing whatever the man had done to him. He sighs, letting his head flop back against the pillows behind him. His eyelids feel sticky; he blinks, and it’s hard to open them again.

“You had to know it would come to this,” Seokjin sighs.

He’s holding a bag of some kind, and he sounds so, so disappointed. It’s disorienting for Yoongi, who thinks of the look on Joon’s face the last time Yoongi had gotten sick and pushed himself too far. The sort of fond long-suffering that comes with loving someone stubborn, someone who doesn’t know how to look after themselves. Yoongi’s held the same tone when dealing with Namjoon before. He thinks he could use it with Seokjin.

He hears footsteps, strangely out of step with what he’s seeing. He throws an arm out, whether to fend the man off or drag him closer, he’s not sure. Cool fingers thread through his and he thinks his racing heart might miss a few beats. Serves the fucker right if he sends him into cardiac arrest.

“Not...gonna make it easy for you,” he slurs, working his mouth to get the words out.

“If that was your plan, you probably would’ve been better off keeping your strength up.” He hears the crack of a bottle being opened, registers too late that the hand in his hair has disappeared.

Misses it.

“Fuck you,” he mumbles, because that’s easier than arguing and gets the same message across.

“I’d say take me to dinner first, but there are obvious limitations to that idea.”

Those same cool fingers work themselves under his neck, relief against the overheated skin as he takes the weight of Yoongi’s lolling head. “Sit up for me, love?”

Love.

Namjoon doesn’t call him love. Babe, sometimes, hyung, his name. Love is a little obvious for the both of them. Seokjin is putting the mouth of the bottle to his lips when Yoongi realises what is happening, makes a sound of protest in the back of his throat and turns his head aside, tries to summon his vines to pull the man away from him. Tears a rasp of frustration from his throat when nothing happens because the collar is still there and he’s weak, he’s so weak and Namjoon will get him out but he’s not here yet.

“Hey.” The hand on the back of his neck clamps down harder, trying to keep his head in place. “Hey. This is just an oral rehydration solution, all right? You heard me break the seal. Whatever horror stories you’ve been telling yourself about the work the Department does, they can’t be worse than what you’ve done to yourself here.”

Yoongi glares up at that stupidly handsome face, looming too-close over him. “Not my stories.”

If he’d been hoping for guilt, for the flicker of some responsibility on Seokjin’s features, he doesn’t get it. It’s a disappointment that digs deeper into his chest than it should, or maybe that’s where it’s always belonged. They’re too different.

That doesn’t stop Yoongi from--

“Please. I need you to drink. If you don’t do it this way, we’re going to have to restrain you and go intravenous.”

He sounds fucking heartbroken about it, and it plucks at the part of Yoongi that would fight a whole army for the people he cares about. He can’t seem to remember why he’d been so stubborn in the first place, when Seokjin needs him to drink. He eases his lips around the bottle, sucks eagerly, coughs as it goes down the wrong way. Seokjin rubs his back, murmurs slowly, and Yoongi does as he’s told.

*

The next time food arrives in Yoongi’s cell, he eats it. Doesn’t care what might be in it, doesn’t care if it knocks him out or makes him sick or fucking docile, because it won’t make him - whatever that was. Whatever Kim Seokjin did to him.

It’s not that it’s faded. It’s just that with some of his strength back, he’s better able to process that it happened at all. Delirious, wanting to please the man had felt right. Now, the wrongness of it crawls under his skin instead of his vines (and it’s still been so long since he’s seen the sun).

It’s almost insult to injury when the food does nothing. It’s just food - boring and a little underseasoned, but it doesn’t affect his state of mind. Yoongi wants to figure out what kind of game they’re playing here, but he’s still exhausted. It’s hard to work through it. He wants Seokjin to come back, wants to demand answers even if all he gets is condescension and confusion in return. Wants to see him.

Wants.

“Aish,” he sighs, pressing his forehead into his knees. The truth is, he didn’t expect it would take Namjoon this long to get him out. Stupid of him - hadn’t Namjoon just pointed out how long they’d tried and failed to get someone into DoAH? It hadn’t been a priority before, but he’d been an idiot to think this was a problem solvable in under a week.

Time passes. Yoongi wonders if they’re trying to kill him with boredom. He resists the urge to go through the tablet, not willing to concede in this invisible fight that he might only be having with himself. They’ve given him a toy; he’s not going to be a good boy and play with it.

It feels like they’re...waiting for something. Yoongi eyeballs the camera, thinks about Seokjin looking right back at him, and bares his teeth in a smile.

Whatever it is, he hasn’t given it to them yet.

**

They can’t hold him indefinitely.

Or—DoAH is capable of a lot of things. Seokjin isn’t stupid. He can’t hold Gloss indefinitely; eventually, given enough time, someone from higher up will pass on a missive disguised as an innocuous message and Gloss will disappear where everyone who comes to the Department goes, eventually. Impractical, Seokjin thinks, he’s no use to them there, but there’s some buried instinct that rebels at the thought of any of DoAH’s researchers getting their hands on Gloss for reasons other than practicality.

He hadn’t asked.

That was the thing, in the end, that has Seokjin holed up in his office, tablet clutched in his hands, Gloss a still form curled up on the bed on the screen.

Gloss hadn’t asked for him, not explicitly, not implicitly, hadn’t said anything as he lay there starving himself, hadn’t let anything slip from his lips in the short moments of fitful sleep, hadn’t so much as said Seokjin’s name when Seokjin had finally eaten his pride and come in himself. And—it’s not pride, not really. It’s just that Seokjin remembers the gentle press of Gloss’s fingers over his wrist holding the bottle to his mouth, and it’s still startling, how cold his skin had been, how eager the contact for them both, so why wouldn’t Gloss be asking for him, even now?

It’s not pride. If Seokjin can’t make progress, they’ll send someone else in, and Seokjin can’t make progress if Gloss doesn’t love him properly, all the way.

Dinner comes in through a slot in the door. Seokjin watches the sudden weary set of Gloss’s shoulders, studies the hesitance wrought in the ridges of his spine. He looks paler, than before. The cut of his bones is sharper, defiance slashed across his cheekbones. It makes him look more like the supervillain he is.

Seokjin watches as he pulls himself off the bed. Kicks at the tray with a toe, like that’ll make it reveal its secrets. Eventually, Gloss sits down and starts to pull the dried chicken apart with his fingers, and Seokjin watches for the hints of desperation in how fast it disappears, the way Gloss scrubs his mouth afterwards with the back of his hand, rough and terrible, the heave of his shoulder blades as he grabs for the water bottle and starts to drink deep.

It’s stupid. Abruptly, Seokjin thinks of Jungkook at eighteen, refusing to go to bed because he wanted to spar until he’d won against the trainer, the stubbornness in the jut of his lower lip, the realization Seokjin had had that this was exactly the kind of person Jungkook had grown up to be. He wants to march back into the room now and sit Gloss down the way he’d tugged Jungkook back to bed that day. Steal half his food just to show him it’s not poisoned, maybe make him laugh if Seokjin manages to shove an entire chunk of chicken in his mouth or something.

Seokjin scrubs at his face.

On the screen, Gloss places the tray down so delicately. He folds himself back onto the bed, and Seokjin thinks, stupid, feels fond, wants Gloss to look up at him through the cameras and roll his eyes a little.

*

He thinks, sometimes, about what he could do to fix it.

Despite everything about him, Seokjin doesn’t really know how to get someone to fall in love with you.

He thinks about being charming, but maybe that would only piss Gloss off more. He thinks about being understanding, but he doesn’t really understand, so he thinks that wouldn’t be worth the pretense. He tugs at the collar of his shirt, once, thinks about undoing a few buttons, but that makes him feel more ridiculous so he washes himself of the whole notion of figuring out why. Maybe Gloss was just immune.

But that wasn’t right, either. Seokjin knows what it feels like to be loved, and the only thing he’s surprised about is how soft Gloss’s love is. He’d expected—something wilder, angrier, but every time Gloss had touched him, it’d been with gentleness in his hands.

It makes him nervous, the unknowns here, makes his throat itch with the feeling of not having his footing. The Department hungry for answers. His inability to get them. But more than just that. Seokjin wants to laugh, sometimes, when he catches himself with fingers on the tablet screen, trailing after Gloss any time he deigns to get up off the bed and make a quick circle around the room. All those times, he’d made fun of Jungkook for his whole Baepsae fixation, and now look at him.

There’s a reason why it’s not working. Seokjin holds onto that, instead. Watches Gloss’s lips move against his knees, wonders who he’s thinking about when he forgets himself and lets his eyes drift off to the ceiling, some unidentifiable emotion that Seokjin might call want etched in the lines of his face.

**

It’s a reprieve when the violence comes.

Yoongi doesn’t doubt Jimin, not for a second, but the anticipation had been driving him up the wall. Every sound making him twitch, every too-long stretch of silence. He has to bite his tongue on the urge to talk to the camera, clamp his mouth shit on the need to address Seokjin. The peaceful colours of his cell have the opposite effect and he misses the sun. Misses his family. Misses--

You don’t, he reminds himself firmly. You don’t miss him. You miss whatever he’s done to you, and that’s fucked up, but it doesn’t have anything to do with him.

That doesn’t stop Yoongi’s head from whipping towards the door when it slides open, hope on his tongue. Hope for rescue, he wants to tell himself, but Yoongi has a policy of not lying to himself.

“Seokjin,” he says, and hates himself for the relief in his voice.

There’s a second where he thinks he sees the same feeling echoed on the man’s face, but that has to be wishful thinking. He remembers being seventeen and waiting for Namjoon with that same breathless tension, remembers seeing things in his expression he hadn’t been sure were there, remembers desperate hope clashing with sensible reasoning (and how the desperation had turned out to be right for once).

His stomach turns, to draw a line between that feeling and this. Namjoon is real. Namjoon and his passion and determination, his arrogance and his intelligence, the way he forgets to look after himself but always remembers to look after his family. His dimples and his long-fingered hands and how stupidly tall he is without making Yoongi feel small.

He loves Namjoon, who is going to get him out of here. No matter what happens, no matter what Kim Seokjin makes him feel, that will never stop being true.

“How are you feeling?” Seokjin hovers at the door. Yoongi draws his legs up on the bed, clasping his hands around his knees and wonders why he’s asking.

“Like I’ve been trapped in a room for an unknown amount of days, how are you?” Yoongi rasps back. Ignores how fucking genuine his own question sounds.

“Well. That’s what happens when you murder half a strike team in cold blood.”

“My blood wasn’t cold.” Yoongi raises his eyebrows. “Was yours?”

There’s a pause, before Seokjin steps into the room. The door shuts behind him, and it occurs to Yoongi that they’re locked in here together now. Even with his power imprisoned by that damn collar, Yoongi knows he’s still a threat. If he’s just a man, that’s all Seokjin has shown himself to be, strange mindbending powers aside.

But he can’t set the strange mindbending powers aside. There’s nothing between Yoongi and Seokjin but air, and yet that’s exactly what remains between them.

Yoongi doesn’t want to hurt him.

“I’m surprised a pipeline meant so much to you. You don’t have a history of casual murder.”

“I don’t have a history of letting DoAH take me captive, either.”

“You didn’t,” Seokjin corrects delicately, and Yoongi snorts in recognition of a point. “And you’re not a captive.”

“Are you going to call me a guest?”

Seokjin looks around the room, raises his eyebrows. “Do you think that most prison cells look like this?”

“I think that most prisoners get a lawyer.”

“But you aren’t most prisoners, are you, Gloss-ssi?”

A shiver runs through him, a memory of the man’s voice out on the field. I don’t believe I’ve introduced myself, and Yoongi tries to hold on to the sliver of power that he still has instead of giving in to the urge to correct him. Seokjin still doesn’t know his name. He’s going to keep it that way.

“That’s true. I’ve never heard of you taking the field before. If I had, I would have been better prepared for this shitty mind control of yours, so I guess you really wanted me.” Yoongi waits for a second, ignoring the thrill that thought gives him. He doesn’t give a fuck if Seokjin wants him. He doesn’t. He does. He does, but it’s not his want; it was just put there, and he’s going to rip it out of his chest with his own two hands if he has to. His lips part. “Or. It never had anything to do with me at all. Because you waited, didn’t you? Let half your strike team get impaled, but it was only when Bulletproof looked like he wasn’t going to make it that you came for me.”

It’s a gamble, predicated on the idea that the DoAH employee has a heart hidden somewhere under his business-casual outfit, and Yoongi is not following that thought any further down.

Seokjin rolls his eyes, the motion fluid and natural, not the slightest indication that Yoongi landed a hit. “Department protocol is to protect our assets first and foremost. If you think about it for a moment or two, I’m sure you’ll understand why.”

The same reason Yoongi’s cell comes with proper mattress. He’s not just a murderer, he’s a supervillain. It’s in DoAH’s best interests to turn him, to use him, to make him an asset. They aren’t replaceable.

He stretches his legs out before him, leaning back on his hands. Squints up at Seokjin, who has yet to move further into the room. He’s gorgeous, Yoongi can admit that much, if only because anyone with eyes can see that. Not Yoongi’s usual type - too pretty, too perfect - but there’s an exhaustion in the set of his broad shoulders that appeals to him. The hint of circles under his eyes, masked with careful concealer, that says he’s been working hard. Their little diversion must have caused as much damage as Yoongi had hoped.

That, or the guy just has insomnia. But Yoongi has been trapped in this room for days now, and he has to keep his brain active somehow.

“Is this the part where we start negotiating finally? Or are you going to torture me some more.”

Seokjin frowns. “Here I thought you were being reasonable. The worst thing that’s happened to you here was self-inflicted, Gloss-ssi. I can understand why you wouldn’t be delighted to be in Department custody, but your expectations of your treatment has done more damage to you than anything we’ve done so far.”

Yoongi laughs, the sound scratchy and barely there. He wonders if Seokjin even hears the so far in that sentence, if he understand the implications. The man might have powers, but it doesn’t seem like he’s been on the receiving end of the same treatment as Jimin and the other kids they broke out. Maybe he really does think that everything that goes on in this place is just fine. Maybe he thinks he’s doing the right thing.

“You’re not the one with the collar around your neck, Kim Seokjin.”

“You killed people. I really have to emphasise that. In comparison, don’t you think this is fair?”

“I’m very glad to not be dead,” Yoongi says dryly, and wonders if he sees the hint of a smirk at the corner of Jin’s mouth. Christ. “If you’re not here for negotiation, what are you here for? Unless this is just a refresh for your mind control.”

“No one’s controlling your mind,” Seokjin says carefully, and he does step forward at then. Yoongi thinks about scrambling off the bed, putting something between the two of them, but he doesn’t want to move. He wants him closer, now that the opportunity is presenting itself, wants to curl his fingers into his button up and - and--

(and his imagination fails him then. It might be for the best).

“You’re right,” he snaps. “That’s why I just handed myself over to you without even trying to defend myself. I was feeling tired that day, I guess. Needed some alone time.”

“Are you really angry about that?” Seokjin asks, like he can’t help himself. “I wouldn’t be here, if you hadn’t chosen to come in. Is that what you want?”

Something in Yoongi screams no, screams I want you, and he wants to be sick. Thinks about projectile vomiting right into Kim Seokjin’s perfect face, curls his fingers into fists instead. His voice shakes when he speaks, but he manages to get the words out.

“Whatever you’re trying to do to me, it’s not working. Not properly.” He sucks in a breath, lets it out in a heaving pant as Seokjin steps in closer still, at his bedside now. “No matter what you get me to do, no matter what you make me believe, you’re going to remember that. You never - never fucking had all of me.”

Seokjin smiles at him, and it’s like the sun coming up. “Can you give me your arm, Gloss-ssi?” He’s so soft about it, Yoongi twitches before he can stop himself, and then he wonders why he’s stopping himself at all.

“Why?”

“I’m just here on health inspections. I want to make sure you’re all right, that you’re recovering from what you did to yourself. The last thing I want to see is you get hurt.”

Yoongi frowns. “Why would you care about me getting hurt.”

“Because I care about you, Gloss-ssi. Can you give me your arm? Please.”

His arm is moving before he can think about it, limp and pliant. Seokjin’s hand closes gently around his wrist, and there’s something in his hand, something Yoongi hadn’t noticed before. He feels a prick, and--

His name isn’t Gloss. If someone cared about him, wouldn’t they know his name? Seokjin is still smiling down at him, gentle, gentle, but Yoongi wiped out half a squad of his people. He incapacitated one of his assets, Seokjin has no reason to want to be gentle with him.

“That’s it,” Seokjin murmurs. “Just keep looking at me.”

Yoongi looks down. Sees the needle in his arm, blood drawing up into the barrel of syringe like a screaming red stop sign. I don’t want that, he thinks, so simply and clearly and that’s the reprieve. The clarity of violence when he’s been so conflicted about everything else. He doesn’t know how to escape and he doesn’t know what to do about Seokjin and he doesn’t know what is up in his own head, but he knows he doesn’t want this man to have his blood so he fucking headbutts him.

**

They deem the suppressor collar insufficient. Jin supposes he couldn’t have argued much through the blood dripping from his nose.

Seokjin knocks on the door once for courtesy’s sake, now that Gloss can’t see it to anticipate his coming. The supervillain’s—though not that he’s very nefarious now—nose still twitches, his neck stiffening in alertness when Seokjin lets the heavy door fall behind him. They both hear the telltale buzz of the lock engaging.

“Look,” Seokjin says, trying not to let the exasperation slip into his voice, “what in the world were you expecting to happen with that move?”

Gloss doesn’t give him the satisfaction of answering. Seokjin imagines that behind the blindfold he might be rolling his eyes. He does make a move like he’s going to sit up, but if there’s one thing DoAH is, it’s thorough. Seokjin imagines he’s pretty securely strapped down, wrists cuffed to the bed, something thin stretched over his shoulders to keep him firmly against the bed. But Seokjin’s learned that Gloss is smart. He stops struggling when Seokjin steps closer, lets himself go against the restraints.

Seokjin tells himself it’s not satisfying to see.

“For what it’s worth,” he says to fill up the silence, “I’m sorry. It wasn’t my idea.”

That earns him a snort.

He props himself up at the end of the bed again, waits for Gloss to relax again before gently tapping the side of his face. “I’m going to take this off, okay?” he says, brushing up against the rough fabric of the blindfold.

For a moment, Gloss is quiet, his jaw locked.

Then, he sighs. “Yeah, fine,” he mutters, and Seokjin feels some amount of relief trickle down his spine.

He eases his fingers underneath the fabric, and manages to push it up without brushing Gloss’s face too much. Almost like a reflex, Gloss blinks, his dark eyes focusing on Seokjin’s face as soon as they’re revealed. And just like the first time, Seokjin feels it pierce him somewhere deep.

He clears his throat and brandishes the nutritional smoothie like an excuse, which it isn’t—it’s the whole damn reason why Seokjin is even here in the first place—but somehow in the wake of Gloss’s narrowing gaze and the careful part of his lips as he breathes in and out against the restraints, it kind of feels like one.

“Am I getting eating privileges taken away, too, now?” Gloss asks.

“Alas,” Seokjin quips, fairly sure there’s no point in beating around the bush.

Gloss’s mouth is sharp. “What happens if I bite you?” he asks, baring his teeth as if in demonstration. “Do I get a gag for that? Sustenance through a fucking IV?” As he talks, his chin comes up, proud. It lets Seokjin see the strap looped around the back of his original collar, pulling him down against the headboard. Presumably to prevent the same move that’d landed him here before. Seokjin doesn’t doubt what the Department would do, given more proof of violent inclinations in their subject despite all their precautions.

“Well,” he says, tracking the straining column of Gloss’s throat, “are you going to find out?”

That, at least, makes Gloss falter.

Seokjin takes the opportunity to stab a straw through the lid of the smoothie, tearing his eyes away from Gloss, slumped back against the headboard, his eyes gently shut and lips twisted in disgust. Fixes his gaze on the sloshing of the smoothie, but finds himself drifting to the twitch of Gloss’s fingers, so close to his thigh on the bed.

There’s only so much pride a person can have.

When Seokjin offers up the smoothie, Gloss opens his mouth without a protest. Seokjin can see it wearing at him, the heavy bags under his eyes, the paper thin quality of his skin, how he grimaces when he’s done with it all. Reaching out, Seokjin swipes away a small drop of liquid away from the corner of Gloss’s mouth, and he shudders, lets his eyes slip shut again. From here, Seokjin can see the trace of veins, purple and gossamer thin.

Seokjin sets the smoothie down on the table, and gets an idea.

“Gloss-ssi,” he says, pitching his voice low.

“Hm?”

“Can you do something for me?”

“What is it?”

He doesn’t sound angry. He sounds—well, worn down. His voice thick with something Seokjin doesn’t really understand. It makes his heart ache, a little. Seokjin wants to run his hand through the sheaf of hair drifting over Gloss’s forehead, rub chapstick into his cracked lips, cup his cheeks and warm the blush back into them.

Instead, he pulls out a kit from the drawer. “Mind if we try this again?”

Gloss still doesn’t look up. Seokjin thinks again, there’s only so much pride a person can have, and his own is stretched thin, too. You never had all of me.

So he shifts, touches a finger to one of the cuffs pulling Gloss’s wrist down, waits for him to fight.

He doesn’t.

Seokjin doesn’t know how he feels about that.

He gets to work on gently rolling the sleeves of his soft cotton shirt up. The veins on his arms are soft green, latticed against the milk of his skin. Seokjin ties the tourniquet over his forearm, touches two fingers to the growing vein he’s looking for. The alcohol is cool on his own fingers, too when he swipes. Eventually, he tunnels down into his work—Seokjin’s not the best at this, and the last thing he wants to do is be the reason for a bruise, blooming splotchy and wide across the flat of Gloss’s arm.

When he reaches up for the needle, he’s startled to find Gloss’s eyes open again, dark as always, watching him.

It’s disquieting. All this time, Seokjin’s been doing the watching, and now.

The corner of Gloss’s mouth twitches up, like he knows.

Seokjin frowns. “It doesn’t hurt, right?” he asks, defaulting to polite concern.

Gloss shakes his head, once.

If the defiance was frustrating, this is worse. Seokjin feels off-balance, left in the blue, someone, somewhere, surely is playing some stupid joke on him, and he wouldn’t mind that so much if he weren’t sure Gloss was the one holding the punchline hostage. He rips the sterile needle open and takes it to Gloss’s skin. Nothing. Only that faint edge of a smile, Gloss looking at him down the bridge of his nose as straight as he can despite the collar.

The needle slips in easy. Gloss’s eyes twitch, and he looks down, just once. Seokjin watches the tube stain itself crimson, the trickle of blood. He fills one tube, two, three, a last one as Gloss finally frowns, irritation showing on his face.

“That’s it,” Seokjin finds himself saying as he cleans up. “I’m done.”

Gloss rolls his eyes. “Is this what you did to Jimin?” he murmurs, a little thoughtfully.

Seokjin’s finger jerks—he yanks the needle out too quick.

Gloss sucks in a quick breath through his teeth, but he’s smiling, still. “Six year old kid? Held him down like this and took his blood? He didn’t even have the courtesy of being able to watch while you did it, did he?” A slow bead of blood wells up at the injection site on Gloss’s despite Seokjin’s best efforts. Gloss glances down at it and bares his teeth. “Did you hurt him, Kim Seokjin?”

The rush of anger, quick in his veins, is the relief.

Seokjin takes a hold of Gloss’s forearm. “Like you hurt Jungkook?” he counters, pressing his thumb down until the drop of blood weeps down Gloss’s pale skin.

“Sure,” Gloss says, and then he closes his eyes, and his lashes flutter with every inhale, exhale, little purple veins tracing their way across his thin eyelids. He doesn’t look at Seokjin again, so Seokjin inhales, exhales, moves to untie the tourniquet.

He drags a cotton swab up Gloss’s arm, held straight by the restraints. The beat of his pulse is strong, tucked away into the crook of his elbow.

*

Too late, after he’s left the room, he realizes his mistake.

*

Seokjin watches Jungkook’s chest rise and fall. There are fewer machines hooked onto him, now. He looks healthier, his cheeks fuller and with more colour. The sleep seems more natural, like he’s just another tired student, passed out from too many long hours at the library.

His tablet rests on his knees. Jin looks down, and knows two things: first, that Gloss knows Baepsae—Jimin—works with him, even cares for him enough to ask; second, he’ll do everything to make sure Gloss doesn’t leave Department custody, now that he’s heard Jungkook’s name from Seokjin’s lips.

Chapter Text

Jimin is not supposed to be here.

That being said, Jimin is also of the opinion that Namjoon isn’t supposed to be on the RMI campus either. Namjoon is supposed to be - Jimin isn’t sure where, exactly, but he shouldn’t be working. He should be getting Yoongi out of whatever hellscape Kim Seokjin has taken him to, and while Jimin understands that Namjoon can’t physically storm DoAH HQ all on his own, he’s pretty sure doing his CEO shit isn’t the answer either.

“Ah, Jimin-ssi.” Taehyung’s Hobi rolls his chair in front of Namjoon’s office door before Jimin can kick it open, expression caught somewhere between a polite smile and a worried frown. “You don’t have an appointment…?”

Jimin draws in a breath. Balls his hands into fists, and tries his best to smile back. “Hoseok-ssi, I think you’re probably very nice and I’m glad Taehyungie has someone who’s very nice, and I also understand that you’re just doing your job, but. I don’t need an appointment.”

The man’s eyebrows do a panicked sort of hop up his forehead, but he doesn’t move his chair. His laugh is a nervous, high-pitched thing, and Jimin hopes he’s not screwing anything up for Taehyung right now, will apologise later if he needs to, but the temptation to just reach out with his powers and gently roll the man aside is almost overwhelming.

“I mean, you understand why I can’t just take your word on that, right? I don’t - I don’t have instructions otherwise from daepyonim and he is my boss, and I kind of need this job. Look, I can put a quick call through to him and just double check, it’ll take two seconds, I don’t think anything too bad can happen in two seconds?”

Jimin takes two seconds to think of all the awful things that could happen in that time period, any number of them ones that he experienced personally in DoAH custody. He thinks of how many two-seconds Yoongi has been trapped with them, over a week now. And then he clocks the way Hoseok’s leg is jogging up and down, the nervous energy running through him reflecting the thrum of power pinging through Jimin’s veins and this--

This isn’t the place. Or the time. Or the way. Jimin uncurls his fingers one at a time and nods, shortly. Hoseok stares up at him from his ergonomically designed rolly chair, hesitates like he doesn’t believe Jimin won’t just rush the door, before hurrying back to his desk and putting the call through.

There’s a long pause in which the buzzing under Jimin’s skin only increases, a furious bee hive making a home in his bones. He can imagine Namjoon’s exasperated sigh, the you’re not supposed to be here, baby, the dozen different ways he’s perfected the art of reminding Jimin who’s the boss, who’s in charge, who is the general and who is the soldier.

The door to Namjoon’s office opens, and Jimin’s heart falls to his stomach because this isn’t a general. This is a man with his silver hair askew from having his hands in it, dark circles under his eyes even with the careful application of concealer. His suit jacket is impeccable, but the shirt underneath it is rumpled, like he’d only pulled the jacket over it for the sake of appearances.

They lock eyes.

“Hoseok-ssi,” Namjoon says, not looking away from Jimin. “If Park Jimin comes to this office again, you can let him through. As long as I’m not in another meeting. Same with Kim Taehyung.”

The faint emphasis on another meeting is a comment at Jimin to behave himself, and his heart ricochets right back to where it’s supposed to be at that because he’s not a child and he’s not a subordinate and he doesn’t work for this stupid company. He’s a goddamn supervillain and they should all be glad he’s not tearing apart the city to get his hyung back right now.

“I wouldn’t want to disturb your work,” he bites out, and Hoseok’s eyebrows are jumping around again so Jimin shoves past Namjoon and into his office with all its succulents and ferns and weird balancing toys and barely waits for Namjoon to shut the door behind him before he’s whirling on the man. “What the fuck, Joonie?”

“Not at the--”

“I wouldn’t be at the office if you weren’t here, don’t give me that shit. Hyung’s been gone over a week and you’re working on - what, acquisitions? The stock market?”

Namjoon walks carefully around Hurricane Jimin until he’s standing behind his desk, hands braced on the sustainably sourced wood, staring down at his computer.

“And now you won’t even talk to me!” Jimin throws his hands up, and they both pretend to ignore the flash of gold, the rattle of loose items in the room - messier than usual. A mess, actually. The bin is overflowing with takeout containers, like Namjoon hasn’t left to eat, or let the cleaners in to clear the trash away. Something like guilt pricks at Jimin’s gut. He ignores it. “Seriously, Joon, what the fuck is going on?”

“I know you’re frustrated,” Namjoon starts, and Jimin bares his teeth because this is just another lecture about his attitude or his behaviour or why he’s a child and needs to let Namjoon do all of the work.

Namjoon doing all of the work is what got them here. Namjoon’s plan, Namjoon’s grand vision has Min Yoongi locked up and tortured right now and it’s why he fucked up the fight with Bulletproof and it’s why Jungkook left him (and if Jimin could stop being so hurt and so angry he might be able to admit his own culpability in all of this, but it’s so much easier to cut Namjoon than sit down and examine his own wounds).

“I know you’re frustrated,” Namjoon says again. Belatedly, Jimin picks up on the vibration in his voice, the low tremble of barely suppressed rage that has Jimin abruptly breathless, nevermind speechless. “But if you think for a second - for an instant - that I’m not doing everything in my power, which is centred in this room, to make sure that my--”

He cuts himself off, like there isn’t a word that exists in this world to describe what Yoongi is to him.

Jimin thinks he probably wouldn’t have heard it anyway, over the sound of him choking on the foot he just crammed into his mouth. Namjoon draws in a breath, too-loud and shuddering, and Jimin fixes his gaze at the view over the RMI campus, all of a sudden unable to look at him.

“I’m - sorry,” he says, stilted. Apologies don’t come easily to Jimin, not since DoAH, where he’d had to apologise for any number of things that weren’t his fault. “But you disappeared, you didn’t say anything, I was worried.”

Namjoon’s not listening. Out of everything, that’s what causes the hot wash of shame and embarrassment to sweep through Jimin. He’d felt so righteous storming in here, but all of that angry certainty is gone now, leaving him adrift.

“I should have been there,” he mumbles, twisting one of the rings on his fingers around and around again. “You shouldn’t have let him go alone.”

“Jimin,” Namjoon says to his computer screen. “I love you. But I can’t deal with your neediness right now.”

It’s like getting punched in the face. Or being hit by a car. Jimin stands there and lets it plow into him, too stunned to even think about moving out of the way. He waits for Namjoon to realise what he’s done, to look up and apologise, to see him - but there’s nothing. Only squealing tires, the phantom sound of a hit and run.

That was awful, he wants to say, let me help, he wants to say.

Tell me what to do.

He doesn’t say any of it. Turns, leaves, half expects that Namjoon will call him back, but there’s nothing. Jimin murmurs something that might be an apology to Taehyung’s Hobi and then he flees the floor, the building, the whole fucking campus, desperate to get somewhere that he can’t trace lingering remnants of Namjoon’s touch and think about the grip it has on him.

The sudden realisation. Of being in crisis, of turning to the person who has always been there. Only to find that he’s not, that he’s gone, that without him there you have no idea what to do.

Jimin had been so fucking certain he was free.

*

He ends up at their cafe.

Stupid. It’s stupid, if he was going to get nostalgic he could have at least gone to the apartment he’d been living in with Taehyung. Tae might have even been there and Jimin could have gotten some prime cuddle time in and picked through his feelings.

But that’s all he seems to do these days. Marinate in his emotions, none of which are useful or pleasant or good. He remembers being happy, not even that long ago, but the last month has been one disaster after another, and he’s misplaced any kind of faith that they’re going to stop.

“What’ll it be tod - oh shit, Jimin?”

The boy behind the counter fumbles the cup he’d been about to pull, blinking rapidly. It takes Jimin a second or two to recognise Kim Mingyu, who definitely hadn’t had blue hair the last time Jimin had seen him at dance club.

“Oh,” he says, because university student Park Jimin feels a whole other world away. “Mingyu-ssi. Hi.”

“The usual?” Mingyu asks, already scribbling on the cup because this really had been Their Cafe, and Jimin really was the type to order the same sweet drink every time. “I heard what happened, man, I’m really sorry.”

Jimin stares at him. His thoughts, in order, go something like - how does he know about Yoongi-hyung , how does he know that I know Yoongi-hyung, I don’t want to kill this kid - before he remembers the cover story Tae had given for him, his fictitious aunt, the sudden family disaster.

He rubs a hand over his face. Doesn’t even have to act, to look tired. “Ah, yeah. It was...really bad timing, but what can you do, right? Family always comes first.”

Mingyu nods understandingly, and waves off Jimin’s efforts to pay. Jimin, who would really rather spend Namjoon’s money right now than let a poor college student spot him, forces a grateful smile. If he doesn’t quite manage it, well, that probably just sells the whole story better. They make friendly small talk as Mingyu makes his drink and politely refrains from asking what he’s doing back in the city if his aunt is so sick.

A broad hand claps him on the shoulder when he’s done, a kind smile on the younger boy’s face. “Listen. It’s probably none of my business, Yugyeom told me what happened with you two, but if it was me - well, I’d hate if no one told me.”

Before Jimin can shrug off the hand or ask him what the hell he means, Mingyu is talking again. Probably a good thing, neither of those reactions are especially kind, when Mingyu has been nothing but. And then the thought of saying anything at all completely flees Jimin’s mind, because what he says--

“Jungkook’s in hospital. Has been for a while, apparently - no one was sure where the hell he went at first, but I heard he was in a car crash? And I know the two of you broke up or were on a break or something, but - oh, fuck. Jimin-ssi? Jimin-ssi, you forgot your drink!”

*

He should have asked what hospital.

It takes Jimin the better part of the day to track Jeon Jungkook down to Sowuju Metro, and by the time he manages it, visiting hours are over. He has the half-crazed thought that he could probably figure out what room he was in from the outside and use his powers to get in, but he’s not that far gone yet.

Besides. Jungkook is in a ward, not a private room. People would definitely see him climb in from the inside, if they missed him floating outside. Jimin goes home to the empty penthouse, orders room service, eats alone. If Namjoon comes back at all, it’s after Jimin fitfully falls asleep, and before he jerks awake in the morning.

Stupid, his internal monologue reminds him, as he squints up at the hulking mass of glass and metal that is Sowujo Metro through his GENTLE MONSTER sunglasses. Everything in Kosmos City is so fucking shiny. He should go find something else to stare at, but his feet have disconnected from his brain, carrying him inside.

Level Four, Ward Nine. He should plan what he’s going to say. He should at least prepare to run. Nurses stride pass him with the absent confidence that comes with having shit to do, and Jimin should be doing things too, should be figuring out how to save Yoongi instead of mooning over a boy who’s decided not to love him anymore, but--

He’s at Jungkook’s bedside anyway.

Jimin’s not sure if it’s god or the devil looking out for him, but Jungkook is asleep. Mouth hooked open, hair in disarray, a soft whistle escaping from him with every breath like he’s congested or something. It’s late spring now, but Jimin remembers winter and dragging Jungkook into his bed even when he was sick, announcing that he wasn’t going to stop kissing his boyfriend, so why would he stop cuddling him?

He had caught Jungkook’s cold almost immediately. The two of them had shuffled around the third floor apartment swaddled in blankets, trying their best to force feed each other soup. Jimin looks down at him now and feels the same heart-stopping fondness slamming into his chest as he had back then.

He should go. He should save Yoongi, and not be around Jungkook anymore. There are a thousand things that he should do, but he draws the privacy curtains around Jungkook’s bed instead and drops into the chair next to him. Resists the urge to reach out and brush his floppy, too-long fringe back off the mottled bruising on his face.

“I’m so fucking mad at you,” he whispers, fingers curling into helpless fists against the rough material of his jeans. “And it’s stupid of me, I know it is. I knew you’d react like this. I kept saying I’d tell you after we fixed things, but I knew that if we ever managed it, I’d just find some new milestone to put it off for.”

Jimin swallows, focuses on the steady rise and fall of Jungkook’s chest, tucked into the neat white hospital sheets. It’s not clear what kind of damage has been done under there, and he’s too scared to find out. Doesn’t want to know how close he came to losing this stupid boy forever. Doesn’t want to think about the fact that he’s probably done that anyway.

“But you didn’t even love me enough to hear me out.” God, why say any of this to an unconscious, uncaring form? But the words keep spilling out of Jimin, whether or not Jungkook can hear them. He laughs, and the sound comes out wet. "That part really took me by surprise. I thought of a dozen different things you might have done or said or thought, but I never even suspected that you’d just...walk away.”

Do you hate me so much now? The thought alone shuts him up. He doesn’t want to risk getting an answer, even from this still and pale Jungkookie. Jimin bends forward, resting his head on the edge of the mattress, squeezing his eyes shut until colours whirl in the blackness and he makes himself dizzy from the pressure. Jungkook shifts at some point and Jimin tenses, ready to bail, but he’s only rolling in his sleep. A hand flops onto Jimin’s head and it’s nothing, not even a caress, but he’s done, he’s done, the familiar weight driving him out of the seat and onto his feet and he’s about to leave when--

He catches sight of the furrow between Jungkook’s eyebrows, familiar and heartbreaking. A month ago he would have pressed his thumb to the exact centre, smoothed out the lines of worry and tension while whispering nonsense until he could draw a laugh out, but the world has changed since then. Jimin hates it.

“Don’t hate me.” It’s muscle memory to lean down.

He’s not sure if he means because of everything that has happened, or if it’s because of the kiss he never gets to press to that little furrow, because Jungkook’s eyes are open and beautiful and looking right the fuck at him.

(He sees the car again. They’re back on the street near the park, and instead of making it flip over their heads, Jimin lets it plow straight into them. And they end up in this exact position, Jungkook waking up from his wounds while a long-healed Jimin hovers over him, don’t hate me (for hurting you), except this time Jungkook still loves him. He smiles at Jimin, all sleep-blurred and bunny teeth, and Jimin delivers his kiss, the frown disappearing into nothingness. He’s a liar and he let Jungkook get hurt and they’re so fucking happy together).

All Jimin sees in reality is panic. His, Jungkook’s, he can’t tell which. Petal-pink lips form around a word, the hideously familiar shape of his name, and Jimin can’t. He just can’t.

Superspeed isn’t in his skill-set, but the privacy curtain flutters with the force of his retreat anyway. He’s gone before the sound leaves Jungkook’s mouth, rasped and regretful.

“Jimin?”

**

Jungkook thinks maybe he’s dreaming.

For a second, he swears he sees Jimin’s face, blurry through the bleary sleepy film over his eyes, dark hair spilled over his forehead, lips pursed half-way to a kiss. The visage of Jimin appearing before him seems too real to be true. The lingering warmth at his forehead feels like something he must’ve dredged up from the secret depths of his delirious mind, too. But it’s the pained look on his face, eyebrows drawing together, his lovely mouth parted in a frown, that doesn’t seem quite right. Jungkook can’t seem to figure out why he would dream about Jimin, hurt. Jimin, in pain.

Probably because the last time he’d seen that face that shattered, he’d been the cause of it.

He sighs out Jimin’s name before he can help himself, and that seems to break the spell.

Jungkook blinks, and he’s alone again. The hospital sheets are crisp under his fingers. The light outside is weak. Everything feels muffled, the world wavering at him through a thin blanket of cotton. The inside of his mouth tastes like shit, and there’s a pulsing ache high up on his shoulder, where he can’t reach.

The dream makes less sense by the time he feels conscious again. Don’t hate me, dream-Jimin whispers to him, everything about the cadence of his voice too familiar, too much the same as he always sounds. Jungkook can’t quite resolve the words into reality, can’t quite bring himself to exist in the world in which Park Jimin would come back to him after Jungkook had tried his level best to hurt him enough to stay away. Can’t quite accept that the only lies left between them are his, I don’t want your tragic backstory, I don’t know who you’re supposed to be, I’m just Jeon Jungkook, I’m the normal one.

He drops his head back into the pillows, letting the air stream out of his mouth in a long exhale. Jungkook’s seen more of the inside of Sowuju Metro than was probably healthy for one lifetime. The mundanity of it all—him, doing his job, him, getting hurt on the job—makes him want to scream. He’d done his part; there’s no reason for him to be feeling so miserable, now, other than the steadily mounting pain licking through all his joints.

Then, the door clicks.

Jungkook’s eyes widen. He curses under his breath—should’ve heard that coming—then has a half second to decide whether he wants to pretend to be still half-dead or not before whoever it is makes their way inside.

Some stupid, desperate, naive part of him wants it to be Jimin again. Coming back, not a dream.

It’s that stupid impulse that keeps his eyes open as he watches the door swing open.

It’s not.

Of course it’s not.

Jungkook is too busy internally berating himself for getting his hopes so ridiculously up that he doesn’t even realize that the man who walks into the room isn’t actually a nurse or doctor or any sort of hospital staff, from the crisp lines of his grey suit. He’s not even trying to blend in, clearly, as much as he nervously swipes a hand through his hair.

If he’s Department, Jungkook doesn’t recognize him. He bristles, a hand fisting under the covers, just in case—in case of what? He’s not exactly in the right condition to fight anyone off now.

The man brightens as soon as he catches Jungkook’s eye. “Ah, you’re awake,” he says, and he looks happy about the information.

Jungkook frowns. “Do I know you?”

The laugh that startles out of the man is almost bright enough for Jungkook to trust him a little more. “I sure hope you don’t,” he says, then pulls over the visitor’s chair and plops himself down. “I’m… a reporter.”

Jungkook raises an eyebrow. “You don’t sound all that sure about that,” he mutters, too tired to filter himself.

“It’s a new job,” the man quips, but without any bite in his tone.

It’s possible that this so called reporter is here on less than honest terms. It’s not like Jungkook is lacking in people trying to kill him these days. But, well. Seokjin hasn’t come barging in sirens blaring yet, which means things are probably fine. Jungkook eyes the man warily, asks, “So what is it that you’re investigating?”

“I’m running a story on corruption in Kosmos City’s business sector,” he rattles off without a pause.

Jungkook can’t help it. He laughs. (Even if it hurts his still-healing ribs). “Oh, you have absolutely the wrong person, then,” he says, after he’s caught his breath. “I’m just a business student.”

The way the man looks at him makes Jungkook wonder if he’s said something entirely wrong. Eyes too bright, mouth still quirked up in an absent heart-shaped smile. His face looks too nice and open to be scrutinizing Jungkook as shrewdly as he is.

“Really,” Jungkook finds himself saying, “if you want to know about rumours, I don’t know anything about those, either. You’re probably better off asking someone else.”

“Well,” the reporter says, “can you answer this one question, then?”

Jungkook deflates. “Sure.”

“Do you know Park Jimin?”

The goddamn monitors beside his bedside give away the sudden palpitations of his heart. Jungkook nearly shoots up in bed, neck straining with the effort. The reporter is still looking at him with that same eager smile, though there’s a sharpness to it, now, that matches the languid angles of the rest of him. There’s no denying it, clearly.

“You’re going to have to be more specific,” Jungkook croaks anyways. “Kind of a common name, don’t you think?”

The reporter nods, like he’s conceding the point. Then, with one fine-boned hand, he pulls out a phone and brandishes a photo.

Jimin looks happy, is the first thing Jungkook can think. Belatedly, he realizes that he’s in the photo, an arm slung around Jimin’s shoulders, the two of them making cheesy peace signs at the camera. They’re in the dance studio. They’re in the dance studio, and it was the practice before their big showcase last year, and they’d been three weeks away from their first date, two from their first kiss, a lifetime away from the mess they’re in, now.

The reporter just keeps smiling, like he didn’t pull this shit on purpose.

Jungkook finds the familiar wick of anger flicker somewhere in his chest. “What does Jimin have to do with any of this?” he asks. It’s only after the question is out there, hanging between the two of them, that Jungkook realizes he doesn’t want to know the answer.

“I’m trying to find out if he’s connected to one of my subjects,” the reporter says. “I was wondering if you could tell me more about that.”

His temper manages to catch fire at that. Why should I tell you anything? is hot on Jungkook’s tongue, the righteous rage like cleansing inside him. That is, until he realizes that he has nothing to say. Nothing to divulge.

The realization hits him like a fucking car, like Gloss’s vines, like all of Jungkook’s own guilt. He doesn’t know. The lurching fear of it all leaves him cold, everything Jungkook doesn’t know, the explanation Jimin tried to give him, the way he’d flinched when all Jungkook had done was hold his hands a little too tightly. Corruption, the reporter said, and that could slot so neatly into the tragic backstory Jungkook had so easily derided, couldn’t it?

“I don’t,” Jungkook starts, his mouth dry, “I don’t know.”

The reporter frowns, finally. “Really?”

Jungkook shakes his head faintly. “He… he never… I never thought anything was wrong.”

“Nothing suspicious? No mysterious money? Going places without you?”

“Jimin has an inheritance,” Jungkook murmurs. And every time he ditched me, he was out wreaking havoc on Kosmos City.

“Ah,” the reporter says, not sounding convinced in the slightest.

For a moment, Jungkook can feel the words pressing up again his lips. I have a better story for you. You ever wonder who Baepsae really is? Just as quickly, it appalls him, the instinct. There are a million justifications: the whole of the city would be better off with one less supervillain roaming the streets, it’s safer, this was never just Jungkook’s responsibility alone, he was never the only one who could be hurt, but the truth of the matter is that Jungkook hadn’t even wanted to tell Seokjin, but as soon as some stranger came asking about Jimin, the secret was there and ready to unspool from his mouth. The truth is that it would be so much easier, if Jungkook didn’t have to make a decision either way.

“I think you should go,” Jungkook says softly, before his runaway mouth can betray him. Betray Jimin.

The reporter tucks his phone back into his pocket, though he makes no move to get up from the chair. “I’m not trying to get Jimin in trouble,” he says, too kindly. “Nothing you’d say could implicate him at all, promise.” He even holds up three fingers, salute style.

Jungkook wants to laugh at the irony. “I know,” he says.

The reporter leans forward, eyes bright.

“You know,” Jungkook blurts, “it would really help if you told me what information you’d already managed to dig out.”

Another bright laugh, but this time more nervous. The reporter presses his lips together, like he’s contemplating his options. The way he looks at Jungkook has too much weight held in it, like he knows something Jungkook clearly doesn’t. Like he knows, and he’s trying to decide whether or not to tell.

“Please,” Jungkook whispers, and it’s not even a lie, pretense, he just… wants to know.

The reporter shrugs. “I’m investigating someone with a lot of power in his hands and Jimin’s name came up,” he says, gaze dropping to the ground. “I did some of that digging to find your name after that. That’s all.”

Some part of Jungkook is aware that he could unravel the whole story himself if he wanted to. Push a little harder for exactly who that powerful someone was, and maybe you’d find out who was funding Baepsae all these years. Maybe you’d find out who benefited from all the officials Baepsae had taken off the map. Maybe this reporter was investigating all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

But there’s more truth there than Jungkook is willing to confront. Too much he’d have to explain to Seokjin, and it’s easier to pretend to be the Jeon Jungkook he sometimes wishes he really was.

“Okay,” he says, dipping his head in a nod, like he gets it, like he understands. “I’m sorry I don’t have more for you.”

The reporter shrugs again, a jerky move. “Well, it was kind of a longshot anyways,” he mutters, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Thanks!” he chirps. “I hope you feel better soon.”

“Eh,” Jungkook says.

And when the reporter barks out another laugh, he can’t help but smile a bit, too, caught in how easy it is to sink into his alter-ego of innocent business student, overworked and oblivious, the worst thing about this hospital stay being the classes he’s missing.

“Just so you know,” the reporter says, “I’m kind of hoping I won’t get a story here.”

You and me, both, Jungkook thinks. “Doesn’t that make you kind of a shitty reporter?”

The reporter looks a bit put upon. “Hey, I’m just concerned,” he says. “Either way, I don’t mean to speculate too much beyond my job, but I feel like there’s gotta be something going on with Jimin with how skittish he’s been every time I’ve seen him. I’m just hoping I’m wrong about what it is, you know?”

Jungkook feels floored all over again. “You’ve… you’ve seen Jimin?” he whispers hoarsely.

The reporter pauses, already halfway out of the chair. “Sure,” he says slowly. “I haven’t told him about any of this, if that’s what you’re worried about? You don’t have to tell him you ever talked to me!”

“I haven’t seen Jimin,” Jungkook says.

“Oh.” The reporter pauses. “Right.”

Jungkook narrows his eyes. “You knew that.”

The reporter’s smile doesn’t waver. “See? I’m actually pretty good at my job, thanks.”

There are too many things for his tired mind to try and connect. Jungkook thinks about this man with the face so bright it’s like he’s trying to hide something with the flash-flare of his smile, thinks about him encountering Jimin, somehow, thinks about how all this is connected to goddamn corporate secrets, Baepsae, maybe even Gloss with his sudden appearance, and it feels like the tangled web of Kosmos City is tightening around him, too much information to be made sense of.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Jungkook says, just to say something. “Then you’ll know where to find me if you need anything else, I guess.”

The reporter’s mouth twitch. “Yeah,” he says, “I will. Thanks for everything.”

It’s only after he’s long gone that Jungkook realizes he never even caught the man’s name, or what paper he worked for, or anything other than the vagueries he’s been offered.

He slides back into a fitful sleep. When he wakes up again, Seokjin is back, himself dozing in the same chair the reporter had occupied. Jungkook thinks of waking him, telling him everything. Then thinks better.

It’s too late anyways, he thinks, and the worst, most terrifying part of all of it is he can’t even bring himself to care.

**

Taehyung has made a mistake.

Carrying three cups of froyo across the RM Industries campus had seemed very doable when he had started the journey at Everythingoes, but by the time he’s halfway to Namjoon’s office he can’t feel his fingers, and the heat from his hands is turning the treats more yo than fro, and Yoongi is still in DoAH’s clutches, and isn’t Taehyung a bit useless, really?

He steps into the lift and closes his eyes as it swoops upwards, the familiar lurch of gravity helping to settle his stomach. Breathe, he reminds himself, draws in for eight beats, out for five. Tae can’t remember where he heard about that trick, isn’t sure if it’s science or pseudoscience, but it helps.

He can’t do what he can’t do. Taehyung’s skillset is not calibrated for storming government departments - had barely been set up for infiltrating them. Namjoon had found where Yoongi was being kept after a feverish forty-eight hours in which Taehyung knew he hadn’t slept but knowing where they’d taken him was only the first step.

Taehyung had told Namjoon that he’d do what he could to help. Namjoon had given him a tired, terrible smile and said only, “I’ll get him back, Tae.”

It was a promise, in the way a man in the desert promised himself that the oasis on the horizon was real. Because it had to be. Because he’d die if it wasn’t. Taehyung was under no illusions about how far Namjoon would go to get Yoongi back. If the older man hadn’t asked for his help, it was because his plan didn’t have need for it, not because Namjoon was protecting him from any potential repercussions.

Taehyung is yet to decide how he feels about that.

The elevator dings open, but the familiar sound is not accompanied by the familiar sight of a heart-shaped smile at the other end of the office. Sunlight spills in through the abundance of glass in the office, and slaps a harried-looking gentleman right in the face. He squints at his monitor as Taehyung approaches, but Tae doesn’t miss the way his eyes flick up, taking careful note of his presence.

“Ah, excuse me.” Taehyung dips his head in a bow, resisting the urge to put either the froyo or his ass down on the corner of Hobi’s desk. That sort of thing only feels appropriate when Hobi is actually the person sitting behind it. “Did something happen to Hob - to Hoseok-ssi?”

The man gives a distracted nod back. “He’s on sick leave right now. Yesterday and today. I’m sorry, did you have an appointment, Mr…?”

“Taehyung!” he fills in brightly, even as his stomach starts to churn again. It takes a second, to remind himself that normal people really do get sick, that Hobi is neither a superhero nor a supervillain nor a vigilante and no one has any interest in kidnapping him. “Daepyonim should have put a note somewhere or something about how it’s okay for me to go through? Sorry, I didn’t catch your name. I bought froyo for Hoseok-ssi, but if he’s not here did you want it?”

Jimin had said something about a kerfuffle. Well, he hadn’t said anything, but the look on his face had said there had been a kerfuffle, when he sketched out the details of the interaction he and Namjoon had had a couple of days ago. Taehyung had kind of wanted to strangle the both of them, actually, but he had cuddled Jimin and stroked his hair like a good soulmate instead, and now - well.

Now he had froyo. Or at least yo.

“Kim Sejin,” the man says. “Office manager, I’m just filling in for Hoseok-ssi. It’s probably not appropriate for me to--”

Taehyung makes his mouth into a rectangle and wriggles the cups at Sejin as best he can. The man sighs, but gratefully accepts the cup that Taehyung indicates, nodding his acquiescence to letting him pass. Taehyung absently hopes that there really was a note about letting him through, or else Namjoon is really going to have to do something about security in this place.

He’s not sure what to expect from the office. The shades pulled, maybe, Namjoon slumped at his desk staring at his monitor, or maybe passed out on the couch. But it’s as bright inside as out, Namjoon’s ramrod-straight body the only thing blocking the sun from poking its head in.

For a moment, neither of them say anything. Namjoon has both his hands tucked behind his back, his phone clenched in one broad hand. He doesn’t turn around, but Tae can see the haze of his own reflection in the window, clear enough to identify him.

Namjoon sighs.

“I suppose you’re here to lecture me about how I should be doing better, too?”

Once this situation is over and everyone has calmed down, Taehyung is gathering his family and locking them in a room together. They’re going to fight this out until everyone remembers how to love each other without comments.

He crosses the office, throwing his body against the window and squirming a little until he’s obnoxiously close. If anyone could see inside the office, they might be suspicious of the proximity. Taehyung just holds out the half-melted froyo, doused in sprinkles and chocolate sauce because he knows all about Kim Namjoon’s sweet tooth.

“Actually, I just have snacks,” he says. “No lectures here. I know you’re doing your best, hyung.”

Namjoon stares down at the treat like he doesn’t own the store that made it, like the idea that you could freeze yoghurt had never even entered his mind. It takes a second for his hand to move, jerkily taking the cup, trying to maneouvre the spoon without putting down his phone.

“You’re always looking out for us, huh,” he rasps, and it’d be hard to tell for anyone who didn’t know him, but he’s a fucking wreck. Concealer covering dark circles, hair just mussed instead of stylishly so. His lips are starting to get chapped, probably from all the biting. Taehyung makes a plan to forcibly chapstick him, once he’s done with the froyo.

“Someone’s gotta,” Taehyung breezes. “Hyung. Give me the phone, no one’s gonna die if you aren’t holding onto it for a couple of minutes.”

Namjoon’s lips part for a second, but no words come out. He’s at work, this is technically public, at least in their little circle - Taehyung knows how to read a room, especially this one. The implication hangs thick in the air, and Taehyung spoons half his cup into his mouth, telling himself that Namjoon wouldn’t let it hang like that if it was Yoongi who was the one in danger of dying.

“You really had a plan then?” he asks, wincing right after the words escape his mouth. He didn’t mean to sound so doubtful.

But Namjoon doesn’t seem to notice. He bites into the edge of his spoon, sighs again, before dropping the whole cup into his waste basket. Taehyung tries not to take it personally.

“It’s the same plan as always, Taehyungie,” Namjoon says. “Money gets you anything. You just have to know what to spend it on.”

Chapter Text

Jungkook is scarfing down his plate of meat like he’s been starving for eighty-seven years. Which, Seokjin supposes, is fair enough given the long hospital stay and neverending train of bland hospital food he’d had to sit through.

“Please chew more, JK,” Seokjin says, staring in concern. “Do you really want to end up in the hospital again?”

“Esh sho goo tho,” Jungkook says.

Seokjin rolls his eyes and piles some more beef onto his plate.

Jungkook’s eyes light up. He swallows, chugs his entire cup of water, then tackles the plate with eagerness anew. His hair’s grown out from all the time spent in the hospital, so it flops around his ears now, and he tries to whisk it back whenever it falls in front of his eyes, huffing with frustration when it refuses to stay. The sight of it makes Seokjin feel helplessly endeared, and then helplessly guilty, a strange knot in his throat shaped like the undeniable fact that Seokjin had been the one who okay’d Jungkook going back into the field injured. Department policy his ass. His decision was the one that counted, in the end.

“Seokjin-hyung,” Jungkook speaks up, his words blissfully easier to understand without half a pound of meat to travel around.

“Hm? Still hungry?” Seokjin asks, hand already halfway raised to wave the wait staff over.

Jungkook shakes his head vigorously. “No, no, I’m good,” he says. “You should try the beef though, it’s fucking amazing.” He shoves the platter towards Seokjin, where a small pile of beef remains, carefully sectioned off. “Sorry if I didn’t save enough,” he adds sheepishly.

“Shut up,” Seokjin says automatically.

“What?”

“And eat your food!” Seokjin amends, feeling heated, a blistering sort of fondness burrowing under his skin. “Aish, I’m supposed to be treating you to dinner, you don’t have to save anything for me!”

Jungkook juts his bottom lip out tentatively. “Are you sure, hyung?”

Seokjin waves a hand. “Have at it, you overgrown child.”

Jungkook beams, then manages to stuff all the leftover meat in his mouth at once.

“I should’ve never taught you how to do that,” Seokjin mutters, and then has to hastily thump Jungkook on the back when he starts laughing hard enough to start choking on it all.

“Thanks,” Jungkook says, when he’s no longer in immediate danger of asphyxiation. “I really appreciate this.”

Seokjin furrows his brows. “Not letting you choke?”

Jungkook laughs again, a bright cackle. It wrinkles his nose, makes his whole face look fuller as he leans back in his chair, hands laced over his belly. “Sure,” he says, “definitely that. But I meant taking me out tonight. I really needed it. And it’s nice to spend some time together outside of… work.”

And there’s that lump again. Seokjin feels, in order: happy that Jungkook’s happy, guilty again that a simple dinner could make him this happy, resentful that he can’t be purely happy about Jungkook’s recovery, then irritation at himself for all of the above. He schools his face into a smile, tries not to let any of it show. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he says, in a rare show of sincerity. “You really worried me, you know?”

Jungkook ducks his head. “I know, hyung.”

“Brat,” Seokjin says, meeting his hair with a soft ruffle.

Then, as if intentionally timed to break the moment, Seokjin’s phone beeps in the alarm he’d set for himself.

He startles, then straightens.

Jungkook’s brows are drawn in.

“It won’t take long,” Seokjin says, already placating. He tries to subtly angle his body away from the table as he thumbs the alarm away and clicks into the monitoring app that blows open a clear feed of Gloss’s cell. Every fifteen minutes, on the dot, just to make sure he’s still there.

Seokjin knows it’s paranoid.

That doesn’t stop him from putting the phone on his knee under the table and squinting at the feed. Across the table, Jungkook’s frown deepens. “Hyung—” he starts.

“Just a second, Jungkook,” Seokjin says.

“Why won’t you even tell me what you’re looking at?” Jungkook grumbles, in a tone of voice that tells Seokjin it’s more for himself than anything. But, still. A fresh wave of guilt washes through him, but this is a familiar one, the guilt of lying to Jungkook about the Department’s less than chivalrous activities that Seokjin has been slowly drowning in for years.

Carefully, he keeps the phone balanced. One eye on Gloss—as still in his bed as he’s always been—one eye on Jungkook, who is looking at him with the sort of sad, kicked-puppy look that Jin hates more than the anger.

“Sorry,” Seokjin says, which only serves to make Jungkook look sadder.

“I understand,” Jungkook says, in a way that makes it sound like he really does understand, and Seokjin suddenly wonders about his life, his friends, how many times he’s had to do the exact same time to all of them.

It weighs on him, then, this life they’re living. Outside the smokey restaurant, Kosmos City’s dark is broken up by the soft sweeps of headlights, cars passing, the brays and shouts of a bustling night market a few streets down. Seokjin spares himself a second’s glance towards this place he loves with every aching breath he takes in, and tells himself it’s all worth it.

The clatter of Jungkook’s chopsticks hitting the side of his plate brings Seokjin back to the moment. Jungkook looks at him with a different sort of intensity, not anger, not sadness, but something urgent in the set of his mouth. “Will you ever tell me?” he asks, and Seokjin’s heart breaks.

“Not if I can help it,” he says as plainly as he can.

Jungkook closes his eyes then opens them, too slow to be a blink. “Can I know why?”

Seokjin tries for lightness. “Would you believe me if I said it was because I love you?”

Jungkook slumps down. “I guess,” he says, and normally Seokjin would be worried about how quickly he gave up the line of questioning, his stubborn Jungkook, but there’s a flash of movement where there should be none on his phone screen, and his attention is required.

He holds the phone in white-knuckled hands as he scours the feed. The door has swung open. Gloss is still there, secure, small against the tousled sheets of the bed and all the security measures DoAH had implemented, and if a part of his heart clenches at the sight, Seokjin has gotten good at ignoring that twinge of feeling, too. But the door is open. The door is open, and it shouldn’t be.

Someone walks in—DoAH-uniformed, but nothing feels right about this whole situation.

According to the schedule—which Seokjin has long since memorized—there wasn’t due to be anyone coming until at least an hour from now.

“Do you have to leave?” Jungkook asks.

Seokjin looks up, startled, and realizes he’s already pushed his chair back, ready to stand. “Jungkook…”

“Don’t,” Jungkook says, his voice small, his eyes still wide but a weary set to his previously excited shoulders. “Just… Just don’t expect me to pay for any of this,” he says, his voice tight despite the joke. “I’m still a broke student, you know.”

Seokjin feels, abruptly, very grateful. “Yah, what kind of hyung do you take me for?”

Jungkook’s smile is small, barely there, but its appearance feels like a triumph nonetheless.

“Don’t take advantage of this!” Seokjin says, handing over his credit card. “I’ll cancel any and all suspicious purchases made in my absence.”

Jungkook snickers. “No promises.”

Another glance at his phone tells him that the mystery person has approached Gloss’s bed. Seokjin swears out loud when he realizes the bindings are being undone, one by one.

Maybe Jungkook notices the change in his face. “Be careful, hyung,” he says softly, but Seokjin is too busy having his goddamn heart in his throat to do more than nod distractedly as he rushes out of the restaurant.

*

Kosmos City traffic is rage-inducing on any day, but today, Seokjin feels uncharacteristically unhinged as he waits impatiently behind some fucker trying to parallel park on a fully congested street, dialling Adora’s number for the dozenth time since he got in the car.

On his phone, propped up on the dashboard, he watches Gloss slip through his fingers.

The fake guard pulls him gently to a sitting position. Seokjin watches, teeth clenched, as he helps Gloss to his feet. The two of them are unsteady, little shaky pixelated figures on Seokjin’s phone, but they start to move, and Seokjin slams a hand on his steering wheel as if he could reach into the screen and stop it.

He dials Adora again, listens to the ringing echo in his car.

The car in front of him finally pulls into its spot. Seokjin blows past him so fast his phone falls facedown off the dash.

By the time he manages to fumble it back, Gloss’s room is empty.

Just as well, his call to Adora finally goes through.

“You have to get down to the Department right now,” he shouts, eking by into the right lane before his turn against a cacophony of horns. “Get down to Gloss’s room, there’s been a hole in our security, you have to make sure he doesn’t get away!”

Quiet, on the other end of the call.

Seokjin feels something terrible start to dawn on him. His stomach curdles.

“Hello?” he demands, not wanting his hunch to be true. “Is this working? Can you hear me?”

Adora sighs, once, and Seokjin knows.

“Goddammit, Adora.”

“Sorry,” is all she says, and she genuinely sounds apologetic.

When she hangs up with a click, Seokjin fights the urge to throw his phone straight into the midst of all the traffic.

*

By the time Seokjin pulls up to the Department of Augmented Humanity, well, everything still seems normal.

The sight of the building as usual, an ominous black block of a place that sits squat on the corner of the street, only makes Seokjin more nervous. The quiet feels dangerous. He walks in through the front doors, scans into the back, and everything is so still it makes him feel like he imagined it all.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

The elevator down to the holding cells is long and dark. Seokjin watches the floors drop in front of his eyes, and tries not to think about how far down this place has always been buried, how far away from the sunlit aboveground it has always been. He checks his phone again like that might change anything—the rumpled bed, the tablet that fell to the ground at some point during it all, a spilling IV bag. The only difference is how big the puddle has gotten.

So by the time he gets there, there’s nothing different, but Seokjin takes in the room for himself, sweeps through the mess with his own eyes. Picks up the tablet and runs a hand over the crack straight down the middle.

By now, he feels unnervingly calm, all his earlier panic wrapped up in a little parcel to sit somewhere underneath his sternum. It settles in there neatly amongst all the rest of his guilt.

The fact that there are no alarms, no urgency, no indication that there is anything going on at the DoAH other than routine is the worst of it, Seokjin thinks. He closes his eyes and wonders where all the cracks are. Adora. Whoever it was that had gotten Gloss out. Anyone who might notice the damage. He wonders if there’s someone coming now, to clean up the mess, what Seokjin would do if he ran into them.

But there’s no one, which means there must have been some other way for this mysterious mastermind to avoid alerting the rest of the Department to what happened here, which means Seokjin should be moving already.

He puts the tablet back on the table, can’t quite bring himself to look at the bed.

The IV bag he dumps in the trash, and there’s a flash of blood on the catheter there, tangled up with tape and gauze.

The whole room is washed in dull lighting, bright and flat enough to be deliberately set to be intolerable after a few hours, let alone days, let alone weeks. It gives Seokjin a headache—or maybe that’s this whole situation. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, the festering loneliness of being in charge of so much and having so few people to share that burden with, but here, standing in Gloss’s abandoned room, knowing that Adora lied to him and he lied to Jungkook, Seokjin feels like he’s being smothered by it. Uncertain what to do next.

Eventually, he manages to leave the room. He goes up two floors to security, and everything is still too quiet, and when he finds the whole room full of corpses, he can’t even manage to be surprised.

Someone to kill them all, then. The anger burns. Seokjin steps around the sticky blood on the floor and closes the door to the room, takes in a shaky breath. The smell lingers through the door, coils in Seokjin’s nostrils, their cooling bodies etched behind Seokjin’s eyelids when he blinks.

He thinks he wants to hate Gloss, but he can’t even bring himself to do that, either.

Instead, all he has left is his responsibility, himself, his own fuckups, so many people hurt and broken because he willed it to be so, and at the end of the day, absolutely nothing to show for it.

**

“Get this thing off my throat.”

The woman driving the car with a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel gives Yoongi a wry look. “With all due respect, Gloss, you’re lucky you got shotgun. I’ll send the code through to the number your friend gave me once I’ve handed you over.”

Yoongi snorts, the sound scraping over a throat gone dry with disuse. He lets his head thunk back against the headrest, watching Kosmos City fly by at the precise speed limit. The woman (Adora, his memory supplies, haunted by the sound of Kim Seokjin’s voice over the phone) isn’t doing anything to draw attention to them.

“What’s the date?”

She tells him. The rusted, aching gears of his brain shudder into motion, counting backwards to the last date he remembers. Two weeks - no, three? A fucking eternity. He’s out now, does it matter?

He’s not out. Not while he’s in the custody of someone who has a direct line to Kim Seokjin, not while the collar is still around his neck. Not when every time he closes his eyes all he can see is a dull flash of light, the incessant blue hum of his - of the room he’d been stuck in. The cell.

“I thought you were some kind of eco terrorist,” Adora says. They’re heading towards the university district, the one Jimin had been going to before this whole mess exploded. Yoongi fights the urge to tense up. Surely, Namjoon wouldn’t send Jimin to get him? He wouldn’t.

“I have a vested interest in the planet not dying, yeah.”

“How’s someone like that end up friends with a person who has the kind of money to pull something like this off?”

His mouth curls into an ill-advised grin, but it’s funny. How DoAH, for all its preaching about the good of the city, hadn’t quite managed to get all of its employees to sing the same song. Money gets you anything, Namjoon would say.

Seokjin wouldn’t take it.

Yoongi can picture it. The amused quirk of plush, pink lips, the little head shake to get his fringe out of his eyes. Yoongi has had a very long time to look at not much other than Kim Seokjin, who only takes - who had only taken off Yoongi’s blindfold when he was in the room. The cell. The point is, the man is an exceptional actor. No matter how he felt about being offered money, he’d only produce disdain. Dismissal.

“How much did they pay you?” he asks, careful not to drop any identifying information about Namjoon into his sentence. His partner is clever, careful. His partner knows not to try and bribe a man whose mother was killed by villains in the process of working for the same department that man works for now.

Adora drums her fingers against the steering wheel, counterpoint to the indicator as she waits for a park. “Enough not to worry.”

And Yoongi, who has had enough of his own problems solved by the sudden appearance of a millionaire in his life, just nods. Money doesn’t get you anything, and he’ll fight Namjoon over that any day of the week (except this one, maybe).

But it can get you enough.

“You’re going to that cafe.” Adora pulls off a perfect parallel park, nodding at a little hole-in-the-wall squeezed in between a boba shop and a pharmacy. Familiarity rings a bell, and Yoongi starts to see the shape of Namjoon’s plan. “I’m going into the pharmacy. I’ll text the code once I’m away from this location, but if I were you, I’d resist the urge to take off your technologically advanced power suppression collar until you’re out of the public eye.”

“And you’re far away from me.”

“You killed half a dozen of my co-workers, can you blame me?”

Yoongi bites back the urge to comment on how torn up the woman must be about that, largely in the interests of not biting the hand that feeds him. She hands over a beanie for his hair and some kind of season-appropriate fashion scarf for the collar, and then the passenger door unlocks and Yoongi is

free?

He can’t help the way he glances back at her. He could have unlocked the door himself at any time, he realises, but it hadn’t occurred to him. There’s a sour taste in the back of his throat, and something too-understanding on her face as she nods, like she’s giving permission.

“Christ,” he mutters, jamming the beanie further down his head and shoving out the door. He practically trips over the curb getting away, and it takes all of his concentration just to make it from the footpath to the cafe; Seokjin had made sure he got ‘walked’ at least once a day, but his ability to hold his own weight has sharply decreased after being strapped to a bed.

Yoongi’s mind skitters away from the memory. Seokjin’s gentle smile, the encouraging tone to his voice as he cajoled Yoongi into not fighting him, not fighting anyone, until there was no more Yoongi left. Just some blithering idiot, gooey over the thought of doing what Seokjin wanted him to. Happiness had never felt so simple; he could fight it, had fought it, but why bother? It hurt every time. Loving Seokjin was an escape from that.

He shoves open the door to the cafe just to remind himself that he can, and nearly reels back out again. The sound is overwhelming, all chatter and clinking cups, the hiss of the coffee machine as menacing as an actual snake. It’s only the sight of familiar faces that keep him from tumbling outside again - Kim Mingyu staring at him directly from behind the bench, like he’s been expecting him, Lee Jihoon sitting unobtrusively at one of the tables.

Mingyu’s gaze flickers over his head, before he nods at Jihoon’s table. Body aching, heart pounding, Yoongi hobbles his way over and slides in opposite the younger man.

“Suga-hyung.” Jihoon gives him a strained smile that says he’s been told exactly how dangerous this is. He’s toying with a phone in his hands, some knock-off Galaxy that Yoongi knows the kid wouldn’t normally be seen dead with. “It’s good to see you.” He pushes the phone across the table. “Can you give this back to your roommate when you get home? He said he should be there when you get back.”

The Seventeen kids are not, strictly speaking, villains. They don’t work for or with Gloss, and he’d never reached out to them in his capacity as an eco-terrorist. But Min Yoongi has worn a lot of hats in the last decade, and only some of them relate to blowing shit up. Looking after people with powers, helping them stay out of DoAH’s grasp, making sure they had food and a roof and enough of a future to give them a stake in this world - it’s just as important.

He’ll probably fight about that with Namjoon one day, too.

“Didn’t realise I’d turned into a courier,” Yoongi rasps, taking the phone. “But it’s good to see you too, kid.”

Jihoon’s expression is deeply unimpressed. “You are three years older than me.”

“Exactly.”

There are things that Yoongi knows about Jihoon. His power, his address, a couple of interests. Things he could make small talk out of until that phone buzzes, anything to make him look a little less like he just escaped an institution. But the collar is thick around his throat and he’s not safe yet, won’t be safe until he’s made whole again and he jogs his leg up and down like he hasn’t had the freedom to do for days as Jihoon leaves the phone on the table and goes to order them some food.

He’s just coming back with two mugs when the phone lights up. Yoongi nearly knocks the poor kid over as he lurches towards the bathroom, Adora’s warning fresh in his mind. It’s single occupancy, and he locks the door behind him, hands trembling as he thumbs into the messaging app and reads the text.

It’s just a series of numbers. Yoongi rips the scarf away from his throat and as much as he wants to get the fucking thing off of him, he forces himself to breathe. Catches sight of himself in the mirror, peels his lips back in a grimace. The DoAH handler who had gotten him out before he was passed onto Adora had given him clothes, so at least he isn’t in literal scrubs, but he still looks sick. Gaunt in the face, eyes rimmed red and bagged, his skin somehow flaky and greasy all at once.

Seokjin had seen him like this. Yoongi bites back a scream - Seokjin had made him like this - and carefully inspects the locking mechanism. He might only have one shot at this. Taehyung could probably get it off if it like, jammed after one try or something, but Yoongi really doesn’t want any improvisation going on near his neck.

His hands tremble still. He forces them, slowly, second by second, to stop. He breathes. Triple checks the code, thinks about Seokjin’s crooked fingers at his throat, and keys in the damn numbers.

Click.

It’s right, he thinks dazedly, that they made it a collar. Could have been anything else. Probably would have been easier to get something around his wrist. But he stares down at the thing in his hand, fighting the urge to fling it as far away from him as possible, and breathes clearly for the first time in weeks. A shadow stirs under his wrist, rubbed red from the cuffs; Yoongi watches the skin split, flesh and blood and tendons rearranging to make way for the tiniest frond of green to unfurl into his palm.

He could cry. He could scream. He does neither, exiting the cafe through the back as Mingyu pretends not to notice. The sun smacks into him like a lover that had thought him dead and buried, clinging to his frame. Yoongi can’t say how long he stands in some back alley next to a garbage bin, letting all that yellow warmth sink into his skin; long enough that the little spike of new growth slithers further down his hand, winding around his fingers and back up his arm.

This had been taken from him. Kim Seokjin had taken this from him.

The trip home is a blur. He finds some dirt, tunnels underground for most of it. Gets rid of the burner phone somewhere dark and damp and distant from all of his typical routes, closes his path up behind him. Cracking through some faraway corner of Spring Day Tower’s underground parking lot is maybe excessive, but so was getting cuffed to a bed for days on end. He makes it to the lift, fist clenched in a death grip around his vine, flips open the keypad for access to the private floor and

hesitates.

Yoongi licks his lips, chapped and dry. The sound of his own breathing is abruptly too loud in his ears, rattling in his chest. Kim Namjoon is waiting for him. The man he has spent the better part of the last decade devoted to. But the word devotion rings hollow now, years of laughter and arguing and fucking and support replaced with the singular image of his own body slavishly stumbling after another man.

He’s scared. He’s fucking terrified. What happens if he punches in the code and the elevator spits him out in his own home and he looks at the love of his life and feels nothing? Yoongi could live the rest of his life without his powers if he had to. He’s not sure what he’ll do if Seokjin has taken Namjoon from him as well.

The lift lurches before he can process any of that, called by someone else on a higher level. Yoongi’s hands move on automatic to enter the penthouse code - the building won’t let anyone else in the elevator once that’s been done, and god knows he doesn’t need anyone beyond building security seeing him in this state. His mind feels like a rat in a maze, running down halls that all look the same and only lead to different dead ends. He wants to stop the elevator. He wants to stay in it forever, make a goddamn house in it, live in this halfway place where the anxiety might be enough to kill him, but at least he’ll die without losing everything.

The lift shudders to a stop. The gentle ding scraps through Yoongi’s skull and he thinks about looking for an escape but doesn’t act on it. The doors heave themselves open, and he’s there.

They both are.

“--home soon and you won’t have to put up with this from me anymore, I swe - oh.”

Kim Namjoon, CEO of RM Industries, supervillain mastermind, pauses in the middle of tipping a glass of water into a pot plant. Yoongi looks at this man, wrapped up in a long grey cardigan that slips over his hands and hangs around his knees, wearing Ryan pyjamas underneath and bare feet, silver hair lank and a little greasy like he’d gotten up that morning and decided showering was a problem for Future Namjoon. He’s watering Yoongi’s plants from a water glass despite the fact that he personally bought Yoongi every single fancy plant care tool that existed in every upmarket gardening magazine in the world.

Yoongi looks at him, and Namjoon looks back, and Yoongi is in love.

“Fuck,” he mutters, dropping the collar he’s been clutching ever since he took it off, stumbling out of the elevator and towards Namjoon. “Fuck.”

Namjoon, who makes a noise like a wounded animal. Namjoon, who drops the cup without second thought, whose bare feet probably pick up shards of glass as it shatters on the tile, who reaches for Yoongi and pulls him in and wraps his arms around him, clinging like a drowning man to a piece of debris, the two of them floating in the middle of the ocean alone.

“I’m sorry,” Namjoon whispers, lips pressed to the top of his head. “I’m so sorry, it took so fucking long, I had to make sure none of the people I was turning were going to have second thoughts, I couldn’t risk them taking you somewhere I didn’t have access to.”

“Shut up.” A fine tremor wracks his body, tears rising thick in his throat; Yoongi shoves his face into Namjoon’s chest, hands fisted in his stupid cardigan. There are flowers blooming around them, from him, the vine at his wrist grown thick and heavy. He wraps it around Namjoon’s torso, tying the two of them together. “Kim Namjoon, shut the fuck up. I love you. You got me out. I’m here. I love you.”

He doesn’t know how many times he says it, mumbling the words over and over, I love you, I love you, because it’s still true, because he had been so fucking terrified that it wouldn’t be anymore. Namjoon repeats it every single time, and they probably could have stayed there forever, the two of them, except Yoongi isn’t close enough. He untangles one hand from Namjoon’s chest, tugs his beanie off with one hand while he goes for Namjoon’s cardigan with the other. Namjoon curses under his breath, does his best to help, but Yoongi is in a frenzy. He needs this bland black t-shirt off, needs these nondescript jeans off, needs to strip his skin of every last remnant of DoAH and that man. That man, who is not this one, who had done his level best to unmake Yoongi and failed.

He’s not sure which one of them moves first, only that the shirt is on the ground and the jeans are half unzipped and Namjoon’s cardigan has disappeared into the ether when they’re kissing. Gasping into each other’s mouths, Namjoon’s hands cupping his jaw like he’s something fragile, something lovely and delicate, a direct counterpoint to the desperation of lips on lips, teeth tugging, tongues doing their level best to soothe any hurts before starting all over again.

Yoongi buries his fingers in Namjoon’s hair, hooks a leg over his hip, closer, closer as Namjoon’s touch roves over his bare skin, covering every inch of him, checking for injury Yoongi realises dimly as they skim over his throat and pause. Seokjin had done his best to care for him, to protect him from too much damage, but there had still been a piece of metal around his throat for three weeks. The skin is chafed, scabbed in places, and they’re not kissing anymore, they’re not as close as they could be because Namjoon is staring down at his own thumb running over the wounds, back and forth, back and forth, back and--

“I’ll kill him,” Namjoon promises, and the whole world turns inside out.

“You can’t.” Yoongi’s mind flashes blue and grey around the edges, his body stiff, the four walls of his cell closing in. He can hear the creaking of mattress springs as Kim Seokjin settles his weight on the bed next to him, smile kind on his lips, voice sweet as it promises he’ll be okay. He staggers with the thought of losing that, clinging to the front of Namjoon’s shirt, his breath rattling too fast in his chest. “You can’t, you can’t kill Kim Seokjin. I need him to be alive Joonie, I need you to promise me.”

“Hey.” Namjoon’s brow furrows, his whole lovely face wrought in concern. He catches Yoongi about the waist, hands a brand on bare skin as he holds him up, tries to get Yoongi to make eye contact with him. “Yoongi, Yoongi-hyung, look at me. I’ll make you any promise in the world, okay? If you don’t want him dead he won’t be dead.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.” Namjoon kisses his forehead, and Yoongi sags like a puppet with all his strings cut. Sour recrimination floods the back of his throat; that’s exactly what he is.

“I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have a goddamn thing to apologise for.”

“You don’t know what’s happened.”

“The only thing I need right now is whatever you want.” Namjoon’s voice is soft, urgent, and Yoongi still loves him. “You can tell me what’s happened, you can keep it a secret forever, I don’t care. You’re here. You’re safe. That’s all that matters.”

He knows Namjoon believes it. He knows how Namjoon’s brain works, and something sticks in his throat because it’s not that Namjoon hasn’t considered that Yoongi might be compromised, it’s that he doesn’t care. Yoongi could tear his whole empire apart, and Namjoon would let him.

But Yoongi knows the truth wouldn’t have occurred to Namjoon yet. That a power exists in the world that could control someone’s behaviour? Sure. That it could control their emotions, make them think, make them feel--

Namjoon, for all of his cynicism about money, has so much faith in the human heart. The awful taste of self-loathing pools in his mouth, like saliva before vomiting. He’s dizzy with failure.

“I need a shower,” he says. He can still feel the careful imprint of Jin’s fingers on his skin. He wants it gone.

“Right. Sure, of course. Do you want--?”

“Come with me.”

Is it selfish, to want this closeness when the truth of the last three weeks is still buried in his chest? Yoongi doesn’t think so, but trying to make himself believe it is a whole other thing entirely. He kicks the jeans off the rest of the way, walks bare-ass naked to their extremely fancy bathroom with Namjoon’s hand secured in his. But the taps prove overwhelming, the choice between hot and cold, what level of water pressure he wants suddenly as impossible as picking a favourite between Taehyung and Jimin. Who need to know he’s back, that he’s free, and he needs to get in touch with all of the villains who had helped with their little chaos experiment, make sure that the TXT network got back to Blue Side without issue…

Namjoon squeezes his hand before stepping past him to start fiddling with the taps. The spray opens up from the roof, falling in some approximation of rain onto slick dark tiles, wetting walls that have been designed to look rocky, natural. They’re a bitch to stumble into, but Namjoon is stripping his Ryan pyjamas off and pulling Yoongi under the spray, verging on scalding.

“I can do it myself,” he says quietly, as Namjoon goes to squeeze some shampoo into his hand. He hasn’t been allowed, able, to do anything for himself for far too long. It feels like taking control back in some way, to tug the bottle from Namjoon’s hand, scrub the sweet-scented shampoo into his hair, working away the dirt and the grease and the memory of Kim Seokjin pushing his fringe back. His skin pinks from the heat and the pressure and when he looks down at the water pooling around their feet, he almost expects to see the pale outer shell of him melting down the drain, his body stripped bare and built anew.

Namjoon just stands with him, a close and comforting presence. There’s nothing sexual about their proximity, even though they’re naked now and had been all over each other mere moments before. When Yoongi’s done, Namjoon wraps him in a towel - a bath sheet, he’d insist, if Yoongi pushed him on it, and Yoongi can’t help but smile at the thought.

“Ah, what’s this?” Namjoon asks, cupping his jaw and running a soft thumb over his lips. “Feeling better?”

“You’re a nightmare,” Yoongi informs him, and tilts his head up for another kiss. If they’d been frenzied before, they’re slow now, the reality of being together again settling in around them. Some of the tension knotting his spine had bled out in the shower, and more of it drains away now, shoulders slumping. He rests his head against Namjoon’s chest. “Let’s go to bed. I’ll tell you what happened.”

Namjoon doesn’t carry him, but they don’t really disconnect either, not until Yoongi is dropping the towel and crawling in between their stupidly expensive sheets, the silky glide of high thread count cotton a direct contrast to the hospital scratch material he’d been subjected to at DoAH. He watches as Namjoon moves to follow him, the long and languorous stretch of his body, the swell of muscle shifting under all that golden skin, the way he bangs his knee into the side of bed, the scrunch of his face as he trips onto the mattress.

The bark of laughter tastes foreign on Yoongi’s tongue, but he doesn’t hesitate in reaching for Namjoon, pulling him in until they’re tangled together, all warm limbs and cool sheets and love, and love.

“I knew you’d get me out,” Yoongi says once they’ve arranged themselves, his head tucked under Namjoon’s chin, curled into his broad chest. “And I know you’ll do it anyway, but don’t wreck yourself over the time. They weren’t hideously torturing me or anything. I got strapped to the bed after some uh, non-compliance issues, and they took blood. It was shitty and I hated it, but I knew I wasn’t going to be there for that long.”

What he doesn’t say: time stopped holding any meaning in that windowless room, especially once they strapped me to the bed. What he doesn’t say: they didn’t need to hurt me, they only needed to deprive me of something I wanted. What he doesn’t say: it doesn’t need to be hideous for it to be torture.

Namjoon’s arms tighten around him at ‘strapped to the bed’ and don’t get any looser with ‘took blood’. Yoongi can feel the carefully even rise of chest as he fights to keep himself under control. “When you say ‘they’--”

“Kim Seokjin.” Yoongi could almost laugh; it’s the most Namjoon thing in the world to promise he doesn’t need to share anything, and then push for details the second he’s worried about something. Yoongi could chide him about it if he wanted, could stay silent forever if he wanted, but he doesn’t want. He thumbs at a bead of water creeping down Namjoon’s bicep, trying to choose his words with care.

“Doctor Kim’s son. He’s Bulletproof’s handler, isn’t he?”

“Look at you, doing your research.”

“If you think I didn’t harness all my resources to find out who took you--”

“Shut up.” Yoongi pats his arm to soften blow, wanting to kiss him instead, too nervous to in the face of what he’s about to reveal. He probably should have put some clothes on. He probably should have told him everything first, before letting Namjoon get this close, letting him think that everything was okay.

But he hadn’t been able to help himself. He’d needed this. He needs it, now.

Namjoon’s breath gusts out over the top of his head. “Sorry.”

“Shh. You wouldn’t be my Namjoon if you didn’t find some way to make everything your fault.”

“Your Namjoon, huh?”

Yoongi runs his tongue over his lower lip, a nervous habit. He wants to confirm. Wants to throw in your Yoongi, wants to push him back into the mattress and run his hands over his body and cover himself in Namjoon, Namjoon, Namjoon. He closes his eyes instead, stays curled into the protective bracket of his partner’s body and just sort of hopes it stays that way.

“We knew he existed, but we didn’t know what his power was. If he even had one. Jimin and Tae both said they never saw him do anything while they were in DoAH custody. He wasn’t a pet project like they were, never debuted as a Hero either.”

Namjoon makes an understanding noise in the back of his throat. Yoongi clenches his hand a little too tightly around Namjoon’s arm.

“I don’t know why they never put him in the field. He’s got some sort of - mental manipulation. I’d call it charm, but it’s more powerful than anything that kid from the Seventeen network can do. He makes you--” Yoongi breaks off, huffing dryly. “He made me need him. Made me think he was the most wonderful goddamn thing on this planet. Made me docile, made me pliant, made me weak, made me lo - love him. I can’t use any other word for it Namjoon, and I’ve tried, I swear to you I’ve fucking tried, I just--”

He shakes his head, the rustle of his hair against Namjoon’s chest too loud, and they’re too close, too intimate, Yoongi should have told him first. The silence lingers in what little space is left between them, and Yoongi wonders if he should ease back, give it more time to breathe. He tests the thought, only to find that Namjoon’s grasp has turned to steel around him.

“Sorry,” Namjoon says, trying to relax. “Sorry, sorry, it’s not you, I’m obviously - but you don’t want him dead.”

His nails dig into Namjoon’s arm before he can stop himself. Namjoon hisses, but he doesn’t move, doesn’t try to stop him. Just presses his mouth to the crown of Yoongi’s head, half kissing, half breathing him in. It takes all of Yoongi’s focus to calm his stuttering heart, the absolute despair that consumes him at the thought of Seokjin dying.

Namjoon could do it, is the thing. They’ll fight about what money can and cannot get another time, but Yoongi’s pretty sure it can buy Kim Seokjin’s life. He’s equally sure that he’s the only thing stopping Namjoon from doing exactly that, and as much as Yoongi tells himself the urge to protect Seokjin is a lie, something implanted in him by a foreign source, he can’t make himself believe it.

“I don’t,” he says softly. “I should. Maybe it’d even end if he wasn’t around to...sustain it. If that’s what he’s doing, I don’t know how it works. But thinking about killing him is like thinking about killing you. It’s not on the table.”

“And if...he wanted you to kill me?”

“God,” Yoongi sighs, not offended. It’s a concern, a legitimate one, and he hadn’t even thought of it. Too terrified that he wouldn’t love Namjoon at all to wonder what would happen if his real love and this fake love had to go head to head. “You really are a criminal mastermind, huh?”

“Just trying to figure out what precautions we need to take before we fix this.”

Fix this. Honestly, Yoongi hadn’t allowed himself to wonder how Namjoon might react to this. He knows his partner, has been confident in his love for years, but this situation is unprecedented. They’ve discussed what they’ll do in any number of situations that might crop up, but ‘member of the Department of Augmented Humanity uses his superpowers to make you love him’ isn’t one of those, strangely enough. Fix this helps the sick swirl of panic settling into a sullen churn - awful, still, but not enough to cloud his head.

“I think...I can fight him better than he anticipated. I don’t think he’d expected to be fought at all, actually. He took me off guard the first time, and he had an easier time of getting me to do what he wanted if he could convince me that it would be useful, or helpful. Could he convince me to kill you?” Yoongi stares at Namjoon’s chest, the beating heart of him locked safely behind his ribs for now. “No. Never.”

“Okay.” Namjoon shifts, kissing his forehead. A careful hand worms under his chin, urging Yoongi to look up at him. “We can work with that. So long as it’s not literal mind control, there’s a loophole.”

“You don’t mind.”

Yoongi knows Namjoon doesn’t mind. But knowing and believing, as has been made excruciatingly clear to him over the past few weeks, are two separate things. It helps, to hear Namjoon say it out loud. To see the way his jaw clenches, the tension at the corner of his eyes, and know it’s not reserved for him.

“What do you love about him?”

Yoongi blinks. The question is a little out of left field, and honestly, he kind of hates it. “What?”

“Kim Seokjin. You said he made you love him, but what do you love about him?” The look in Namjoon’s dark eyes is intent, almost greedy in a way that Yoongi can’t really articulate. Like he knows he’s making a point, and he needs desperately for Yoongi to see it through with him. “I love you. I love your stubbornness and your tenacity. I love your absolutely refusal to stop seeing the good in this world, no matter how much you hate parts of it. I love the way you push your tongue out when you’re smug about something and the way you go soft when you’re talking to the boys or your plants. I love you when you’re tearing apart infrastructure and when you’re impaling goons on thorns, and I love you when you kiss me, and I love you when we fight. So tell me, what do you love about Kim Seokjin?”

Yoongi opens his mouth, everything on the tip of his tongue. But that’s not an answer. Everything? What the fuck is everything? He could spit back a list about Namjoon twice as long, but when he thinks about Kim Seokjin, all he can see is the lie of his downcast eyes, gentle and caring as he strips another piece of Yoongi away

I love him, some broken thing in his chest protests. If he wants pieces, he can take them, but Seokjin put that broken thing there in the first place, and Yoongi doesn’t have to listen to it.

"I guess you don't have a genius level IQ for nothing," he grumbles.

"Hey, that one was all emotional intelligence."

"If you say so." Yoongi hooks a hand behind Namjoon's neck, tugging him in blouse. "Namjoon. Can I kiss you?"

"Please," Namjoon says, caught halfway between smug and a genuine request.

Yoongi takes his time. This close, he can see that Namjoon hasn’t made it through the last few weeks in the best state either. He’s bare-faced with a smattering of stress acne dotting his chin; Yoongi runs a careful thumb over the thin skin under his eyes, bruised purple and a little puffy.

“You need a sheet mask,” he informs him seriously, and eases his lips over Namjoon’s to swallow any protest. It’s a lazy, open-mouthed kiss and instead of complaining Namjoon skims his hand down the length of Yoongi’s spine, settling at the small of his back. The broad sprawl of his fingers pressing into Yoongi’s skin is delicious, and he retaliates with his teeth, tugging at Namjoon’s lower lip until he wins a low moan from the other man.

Yoongi can feel Namjoon’s dick twitching against his inner thigh, thinks about teasing, it doesn’t take much does it?, but - they’re fucking naked and they haven’t been close like this for weeks, and Yoongi had frankly been ready to jump him against the floor-to-ceiling glass windows in their lounge, so it’d be a little hyprocritical of him. He cups Namjoon’s jaw and soothes his tongue over the faint indent of his teeth instead, pushing into him until Namjoon gets the hint and tips slowly backwards onto the mattress, hand tightening to bring Yoongi with him.

He throws a leg over Namjoon’s hip, still kissing. There’s more he could be doing with his hands, probably, but there’s something deliciously intimate about bringing the other one up to caress Namjoon’s cheek. He licks into his mouth, pulls back, the flicker of a grin gracing his lips at Namjoon’s protesting whine before he dips back in.

“Missed you,” Yoongi mumbles, lips on lips, kissing the corner of his mouth, the arch of his cheekbone. Namjoon smiles, repeating the sentiment, and Yoongi kisses his dimples when they pop out, left and then right, and then he’s drawn inexorably back to his mouth and the slow-building heat between them.

Namjoon’s hand glides lower, fingers digging into his ass as he gently urges Yoongi to roll his hips down. They’re not exactly lined up, Yoongi’s semi resting against Namjoon’s stomach while Namjoon is hard between his ass cheeks, but it creates the sweet, stuttering tension that they could easily grind to release, the sort of easy, familiar love-making that he’s only ever really known with this man.

“Impatient,” Yoongi chides, holding his hips still and reaching back to swat Namjoon’s hand away.

“Can you blame me?”

“No,” and Yoongi steals another swift kiss before he wriggles down Namjoon’s body, dropping more kisses in his wake, a soft and insisting pleasure rising in his gut at the drag of his cock against Namjoon’s stomach, hip, thighs. “But if you think we’re celebrating my jailbreak with dry humping--” He flicks his tongue over one of Namjoon’s nipples, laughing at the way he jumps before giving it some more serious attention, mouth closing over the little nub and teasing, teasing.

“Is it - ah - is it dry humping if we’re naked?” Namjoon wonders aloud, arching awkwardly off the bed like he can’t decide which sensation he wants to push into more, his chest or his hips.

“I don’t know.” Yoongi bites at Namjoon’s nipple, admires the pretty, pretty pink he’s drawn to the surface. “If you want to look it up, I can stop.”

“I’ll cry,” Namjoon threatens, and Yoongi starts to laugh, can’t hold it back, pressing his face into Namjoon’s chest. His shoulders shake with the force of it, even as he tries to draw a path down Namjoon’s sternum with his tongue and his mouth and the scrape of his-- “Oh my god. Yoongi, babe, that’s not sexy.”

“Oh, was I meant to be turned on by ‘I’ll cry’?” he snarks back, but the good humour in his tone is impossible to repress and he doesn’t really want to anyway. I missed you, he thinks, kisses just above his belly button, I missed you, the jut of his hip, I missed you, the crease of his thigh.

He stills there for a moment, the intimacy of being so close and so vulnerable nearly overwhelming. Namjoon makes a sound in the back of his throat and shifts, spreading his legs wider, half accommodating and half demanding and not even a little bit worried about having Yoongi so close. And Yoongi is - good at teasing, good at giving head, good at drawing things out, but he’s weak to even half a demand right now, and he wants more of this. The closeness, the need, the knowing that Kim Namjoon gets like this for one person and one person only, and that person is Min Yoongi.

“Lube,” he demands, spanning his palm over the flat plane of Namjoon’s stomach and holding him in place as he turns his head, nuzzling the base of Namjoon’s cock before his tongue flicks out, working messily up the shaft.

Fuck.”

There’s the sound of a drawer being opened, some clattering and another curse as Yoongi takes the head of Namjoon’s cock into his mouth and thumbs feather-light over his rim. A trembling hand threads through his hair, tugging him up firmly off Namjoon’s dick to look at the man himself, impossibly fond, impossibly wanting.

“I love you,” Namjoon says, smiling. A bottle of lube drops onto his pelvis from his free hand. “And also, fuck me.”

Yoongi laughs, pulling Namjoon’s hand from his hair so he can kiss his palm, looking up at him from under his lashes.

“I love you,” he says back. “Whatever you want.”

*

There are things that need to be done. If nothing else, Yoongi needs to check in with Jimin and Taehyung, but there are contacts to re-establish, aliases to maintain plants to take care of. For the time being, though, Yoongi is content to spread himself out sleepily over Namjoon’s chest, the two of them wrung out and luxuriating in the post-sex, post-cleanup haze. Namjoon’s hand skates idly up Yoongi’s spine and back down again, tracing aimless patterns at the small of his back, and Yoongi has grown two vines now, the whole bed tangled in ivy.

It’s almost relaxing, except--

“I can feel you thinking from here,” Yoongi mumbles. “Spit it out before you give yourself an aneurysm, please.”

“That’s not how aneurysms work,” Namjoon says, because he can’t help himself. “And if I spit it out, it’s going to ruin the mood.”

Yoongi, who hadn’t been moving much to begin with, somehow manages to still. Namjoon’s sigh takes on a mournful edge, like he knows he’s just ruined it.

“You’re thinking about him,” Yoongi says slowly. “About what you want to do him.”

“Will it upset you if I say yes?”

“I told you, we can’t--”

“I don’t want to kill him,” Namjoon reassures him quickly, the meanderings of his hand turning into a quick one-armed hug. “There’s more than one way to ruin a man, Yoongi. Love, real or fake, doesn’t have to be an obstacle to misery.”

No, Yoongi thinks.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, Yoongi thinks.

Kind of like having your eyes covered for hours at a time while you’re strapped to a bed, Yoongi thinks.

He’s never loved like that before. Never wanted and hated a person all at once. Kim Seokjin really is proving to be one of a kind.

“I know what would do it,” Yoongi says softly, thinking back to the first week of his captivity, the barely-there memory he had forced himself to cling to when everything else had been stripped away.

*

“Did you hurt him, Kim Seokjin?”

“Like you hurt Jungkook?

*

“I know exactly what would devastate him.”

**

Seokjin is, to put it plainly, somewhat fucked.

He trudges out of the meeting room after the thorough verbal lashing from his boss, thumbs through his phone, and is about to call Adora to debrief when he remembers. For a long time, he stares at the glowing screen of his phone, tries to make sense of it. Their last exchange—can you find a file for me? / will do, which one?—still incomplete.

It’s not anger, that he feels. There’s something else, simmering here in his gut, that pulls Seokjin’s limbs up and stops him from slumping down right here in this hallway.

At first, he’d thought that Gloss had left him nothing. So much time and work and love and not even the villain’s name out of the whole ordeal.

But—

Seokjin clicks out of the aborted text log with Adora and heads back for his office. The Department had always assumed that Gloss worked alone, himself and his ecoterrorism agenda against the rest of the world. But someone planned this. Someone with considerable influence, who had the resources not to break into DoAH with a hammer, but with something more insidious instead. Someone had turned Seokjin’s guards, security, Adora.

For years, Kosmos City has been teetering on the edge of a stalemate, and Seokjin has never been able to figure it out. Most people didn’t notice, trading stories about heroes and villains like celebrity gossip, but Seokjin has always wondered if DoAH could be more than just a stopgap. He sees the constellation of it in his head, Gloss to Baepsae (Jimin) to this mysterious somebody, a hidden network that hints at the one thing Seokjin has always wanted to uncover: a motive. A plan.

He scrubs a hand over his face and turns the other way. Heads towards Adora’s office instead, all her things still strewn about inside.

It feels eerie, the evidence leftover of a person that Seokjin never really quite knew. He thinks about all the things he knows about Adora, and comes up blank. What would turn someone like her? She’d cared, in her own way, about the city, but Seokjin isn’t sure he has enough of a grasp on her morals to figure out her perspective on Gloss’s captivity.

Still, the easiest answer, above anything to do with principles, is incentive.

He clicks open Adora’s computer. The first sweep gives him nothing, which is unsurprising. Nothing suspicious, work documents scattered—the files that Seokjin had been looking for even somewhere in the mix. The rest of the office yields only work related things, too, reports, paperwork, highlighted news articles on various a few high profile cases throughout the years. In her drawer, Seokjin finds a few half filled up notebooks, little personal details that honestly makes him feel out of sorts. He flips through one that has pages upon pages of what look like lyrics written in Adora’s scrawling handwriting, and realizes how much he doesn’t know about her.

It’s a little startling, dizzying. Seokjin leaves her office with a copy of her desktop files on a harddrive. He takes the notebooks for evidence, just in case.

*

It’s not, strictly speaking, Seokjin’s job to sort this out. The Department has other people on the case, presumably, but Seokjin wonders if they care much beyond the fact that a valuable asset has slipped out of their grasp.

He submits a request anyways for access to DoAH’s employee activity monitoring network.

While he waits, every time he drives home, he contemplates stopping by Adora’s apartment. He’d gotten the address off her computer. It’s not a far way out from where he lives, but the distance is enough that it’d feel too deliberate. Seokjin combs through her notebooks a few more times, and can’t bring himself to do it. A call to her landlord tells him that she’d moved out the day of the breakout. Left a cash deposit big enough to cover the broken lease.

*

The other thing Seokjin does is venture down into the bowels of DoAH records.

“Is this what you did to Jimin?”

The strike is two-fold: that Gloss knows Baepsae’s name, and that Gloss knows of Baepsae’s history with DoAH. And—that Baepsae is still Jimin, wherever he is now.

Seokjin still remembers, eight years old and stumbling into the Department because his mother hadn’t come home for dinner that night, her gentle smile, the little five year old boy settled in her lap. This is Jimin, she’d said, and Jimin had looked at him with such a baleful glare even as a toddler, that Seokjin had felt for the very first time, a sinking feeling that would never quite go away every time he went beyond the upper floors of this building.

Kim Jimin, Subject VF198, the centrepoint of a thick stack of reports. Seokjin goes to his mother’s old office, which is still dusty, which still has a binder of paper open on her desk, and easily finds the section all about Jimin.

When he was younger, he used to resent it. This stupid boy with his last name but nothing else to do with him, who was so special so as to capture all his mother’s attention. He spent longer and longer days at DoAH, charming random workers into entertaining him, but their regard had always felt empty in comparison. When his mother had found out, he’d gotten a lecture on using his powers responsibly, and there was something in her eyes that scared him enough that Seokjin stopped using his powers entirely for a long time.

Then, she took to bringing him along with her. Seokjin had been a dutiful scientist and even more dutiful son, typing up case reports beside her as she worked.

He’d never gotten to talk to Jimin. Had never known him beyond what he was allowed.

Seokjin remembers, staring at a boy on the cusp of adolescence through a pane of glass, the golden glow of him contained within it. The dark vacuum of his eyes, his skin sallow and pale underneath the effervescent gleam of his powers. Seokjin remembers vials of brilliant red, always scattered around his mother’s desk, the words he didn’t understand at the time in the notes she’d have him transcribe. Augmentation, telekinetic factor, case control trial #211.

He turns a page of the binder now, and is unsurprised to find Jimin—Baepsae’s—chart. Heart rate 102, respiratory rate 22, temperature 36.8 oral, oxygen saturation 98%. He can see it now, clinical words painting a picture of that boy, chest rising and falling with quick breaths, forehead pressed to his knees in his room.

His phone buzzes when he’s halfway through reading the last case report in the binder. Seokjin looks up from the spindly notes of his mother’s handwriting, staring blankly at the text.

JK [19.02]
what was the name of that restaurant again hyung
for reasons
important ones

The glow of the phone is bright in the dimmed room. Seokjin scoops it up in a hand and braces against the desk with his other.

It takes him a long time to let out the breath he holds, type out a response.

seokjinnie-hyung [19.05] 
ossu seiromushi~
are you eating okay? do i need to come over again?

JK [19.05]
thanks hyung!!!!!!!!
i am 👌

seokjinnie-hyung [19.06] 
ill come over next fri

JK [19.07] 
😙😙 

When he switches the phone off, the room feels so much darker than it was before. Seokjin flips to the end of the binder, the last experiment cut abruptly short, and for the first time, the long road ahead of him makes itself clear. Baepsae had been born long after this place, but he is still the boy in Seokjin’s memories, the wild fury of him there even back then trapped in the glazed glass of his eyes. The Baepsae that Gloss knows is born of here, this flickering room—just like Seokjin, just like Jungkook.

The last memory that rises to the surface, one Seokjin would rather not revisit, but it inevitably rears its ugly head.

His head pounding, waking up covered in white dust, Jungkook’s still boyish arms shaking and braced around him. The whole of DoAH fallen apart over their heads. Seokjin swipes a hand over his face, is somewhat relieved to find it unblemished, the roof above his head intact. Jungkook’s tear streaked face, the apologies that Seokjin hadn’t understood until afterwards, reading the case report of the incident, detailing everything DoAH had lost. Finding his mother’s name, the last of the casualties. His apartment too-quiet afterwards, even with Jungkook’s shallow breathing in the other room, the night like static outside his window.

Seokjin closes the binder, shelves it away. Old dust shakes off the books there, which he wipes down with a finger.

He locks the door behind him when it leaves, and heads for his office.

*

The amount of money that he finds in Adora’s bank account is nothing to sneeze at.

Seokjin could almost laugh. All that wondering, and she’s just like everybody else. Though, Seokjin supposes, everyone has a price. Whoever paid Adora off certainly knew how to name a high one. The sum that had been transferred in (and then out, nearly just as quick) is enough that she doesn’t have to work another day in her life.

He drums his fingers on his desk.

DoAH knows how to make people loyal. DoAH knows how to build its soldiers, ready to throw themselves into the fight another day, just to make tomorrow a little bit better. Seokjin has learned this better than most. He has never loved or hated a place more, has never wanted to take something and build it anew himself this same way. But if DoAH knows how to make people, Seokjin has learned it knows how to unmake them, too. The constellation burns bright: Baepsae to Gloss to something bigger.

Seokjin only has to figure out where to start untangling.

Chapter Text

It figures that Jungkook is nearly late to class his first day back. He skids into the lecture hall with two minutes to spare, and groans when the only open seat is right centre in the front. One row back, Mingyu shrugs at him sheepishly as Jungkook sinks in.

“Sorry,” he hisses, leaning forward. “It was packed when I got here.”

Jungkook drops his backpack down, then twists back. “Why’re there so many people anyways?”

“There’s a speaker coming in today?” Mingyu says, though he doesn’t sound very certain of the fact. “It was pretty last minute—I don’t even know who it is.” He shakes his head, bracing an arm on the back of Jungkook’s chair. “But nevermind that, how’re you doing, man?”

Jungkook shrugs. “I need a haircut.”

Mingyu laughs. “Here I thought you were planning on going full man-bun.”

“You know, I think I could pull that off.”

Mingyu tips his head. “Yeah, I see it,” he says. Then instead of sitting back, he hesitates for a moment. “Listen, did you end up getting in touch with Jimin?”

“What?”

The desperate confusion must show on Jungkook’s face, because Mingyu blanches.

“Oh, it’s just that he stopped by the cafe, like a week ago?” he says, which does nothing to ease the whiplash of hearing Jimin’s name here, at school, in this specific context. “I let him know you were in hospital and he seemed worried.”

“Oh,” says, Jungkook, blinking.

“I take it he didn’t stop by then?” Mingyu says, his mouth twisting a little, like he’s realizing the mismatch in their understanding of the situation.

The thing is, Jungkook does remember. He remembers a dream, concerned eyes, gentle lips, the familiar softness of Jimin’s hair. The disconcerting part is reconciling the dream with what Mingyu is telling him is reality.

But before they can clear the issue up, the lights start to dim.

Mingyu claps him once on the shoulder in support, then they both turn to the front.

A nervous student stumbles his way to the front, collar crooked over his hasty tie. The feedback from the mic makes the whole room cringe, but the student manages to stumble his way through something of an introduction without much fanfare. Jungkook, decidedly no longer used to being awake at 9am, squints and wonders how well he’ll need to fake paying attention from the front.

He’s in the middle of digging through his backpack for a notebook to pretend to write in when the class around him explodes in shattering applause.

For a moment, every instinct in him stands on edge, a bolt of adrenaline slamming through his system. Jungkook rears back, head jerking up to find the threat. But there’s nothing—only the lecture hall’s door swinging shut, the sound of papers being shuffled on mic.

“Hey, you okay?” Mingyu whispers.

“What?” Jungkook asks, willing his rattling heart to calm. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine.”

The room is quiet, now. Hushed. Jungkook breathes out and settles his attention back on the front of the room, and—

“I didn’t know dress slacks were allowed to fit like that,” Mingyu mutters.

“Whoa,” Jungkook agrees, “thighs.

“Good morning,” the handsome speaker leaning against the podium says. “Some of you are here because you’ve heard of my company. I’m sure others have no idea who I am. But today I’m here to talk to you all about changing the world.” The speaker slides his hands into the pockets of his (extremely well fitted) suit pants. “You can call me RM.”

Jungkook drops his notebook back into his bag and sits up a little bit straighter.

See, Jungkook has heard of the man—Ryu Manhui, prodigious CEO of RM Industries, a wunderkind amongst his peers. But he’s never seen the man speak in the flesh, and now that Jungkook has a front row view of him, it’s undeniable how he must’ve built up his fortune. There’s something magnetic about him. The gleam of his thick framed glasses in the soft lighting over his podium. The ease with which he stands up there. He looks his age, young—not more than a decade older than most of the students in this class, all of them eager for even a sliver of his wealth and influence.

“When I was younger,” RM says, “the world told me it didn’t want me to save it. I was born in Ilsan, and I was ordinary. Though I had the dreams of a young boy—I wanted to be an astronaut, a superhero, a rapper, even. All I wanted to do was to was to save the world in some way. But at some point, I lost myself.

“I stopped listening to myself, and I listened to all the voices around me that told me I wasn’t going to make it. Keep your head down. Listen to the adults. Make yourself a decent living, then go home at the end of the day. I’m sure some of you can relate.”

There’s a scattering of laughter throughout the room. Jungkook chews on the end of his pencil, his leg restless against the little desk attached to his seat. There’s this edge to RM’s grin as he talks about going to school and being lost, something sardonic hooked onto his mouth. Like he’s really, truly been there. Like he knows it’s all bullshit.

“For a while, I hated the world. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot here to hate. I thought: good riddance. They don’t need you. Why would you throw yourself away to make a tiny sliver of a difference in an indifferent place?” RM pushes off the podium, hands still slung in his pockets, standing properly in front of them all, now. Jungkook looks up at him, haloed by the light, feels the truth of RM’s words sink into him like all the bone-deep exhaustion left inside him from the past month.

“But I wouldn’t be here right now if that’s where it ended,” RM says. “And every day when I get up to face my day, that’s what I think of.”

Jungkook’s fists clench in his lap. RM’s eyes scan the crowd, lingering on Jungkook’s classmates’ faces, like he’s looking for something in all of them. When they land on him, Jungkook feels laid bare. Distance and air and glasses between them, but RM’s dark eyes are discerning regardless.

When he speaks again, Jungkook can’t quite shake the impression that he’s being addressed. “Opportunity doesn’t always come,” RM says, “but I learned to take advantage. And when it didn’t come to me, I learned what it means to chase.”

His eyes flicker away, and Jungkook lets out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.

“I learned to start listening to the voice inside me instead of the voices around me,” he continues. He talks through facts that Jungkook already knows, about taking over his father’s company, about the new disappointments of facing the energy sector, about bucking tradition and moving to go green despite industry advice. He talks about the hard times and the rewarding times, and when he smiles, Jungkook sees the sincerity in it.

He talks about the mistakes he’s made, and he loses some of the laidback casualness when he does. RM reaches up and adjusts his glasses, the set of his shoulders straighter and more serious. He rests his hands at his sides. “I’ve been criticized for a lot over the past five years. Some people say that by participating in the system as I am, I’ve already failed, and I understand where they are coming from. But I am who I am today, with all my faults. I’ve realized this too: you make a lot of choices in your life, but that doesn’t change who you are. I made a choice early on to change the industry from the inside. I made myself complicit, so I could have the power to make great change.”

RM clears his throat, sweeps his gaze over the crowd again. “I understand that all of you here today are here because you have a reason. Maybe you’re smart. Maybe you don’t have lofty, vastly unrealistic ambitions. That’s okay. But I encourage you to take some time to really listen to yourself and know what you want to do.

“It’s like I said: this world doesn’t always want to be saved, and it tells us all as much. There’s no beacon out there calling out for our names. So before you tell me all you want is to be successful, all you want is to disappear into a comfortable job with a good salary, I want to ask all of you this. What is your name? What excites you and makes your heart beat?”

Jungkook swallows tight, pencil creaking in his grasp. The thing is, inspirational speeches are sort of the bread and butter of business programs. He’s sat through countless speeches like this, capturing the raw drive of his class, trying to propel them all forwards to be the same sort of successful as a man like RM. But everyone who had come before had all assumed that the kids they were talking to already knew what they wanted.

There might not be a physical beacon, but people call out for Jungkook every day. Kosmos City has shouted Bulletproof’s name from every alleyway.

But Jungkook has no fucking idea what he wants to do with it.

RM clears his throat. “Here’s the last thing I want to leave you all with today. They say you can change the world in exactly two ways: first, to become a revolutionary; second, to view the world positively. I want to do both. I’m going to succeed in both. I wish that for every single one of you, too.” His face dimples when he grins.

Then he’s done, and his ‘thank you’ is being swallowed up by the class’s applause, and Jungkook is still sitting in his seat, his own uncertainty dug up and laid out before him like an exhumation.

People shout questions, and RM answers them with a measured calmness, and Jungkook suddenly doesn’t care about everyone in his room, his classmates with their wanting to know about how to keep your profit margins high and tips for networking. He doesn’t want to be one of the empty-eyed students sitting in the stands. He wants to be up there, talking to RM with his bright eyes and handsome smile and hard-won ambition.

His legs are moving before he realizes it, taking him towards the crowd of people milling around RM, clamouring to be seen.

“Does anyone else have a question?” RM asks, and if Jungkook isn’t hallucinating, he thinks he hears a hint of exasperation in his voice.

Even through the crowd, there’s something about RM’s stance that makes Jungkook want to be closer. The humanity in being tired of standing around with students for so long only makes Jungkook more curious, because he does it anyways.

Jungkook shoulders his way into the circle. “Yeah,” he says, “I do.”

RM’s attention zeroes in on him. “What is it?”

“You said you wanted power so you could change the world for the better,” Jungkook says, “but how do you know what’s better? Who are you to say what’s good?”

The group of Jungkook’s classmates stills, hushes.

Jungkook rocks on his feet, realizing belatedly how accusatory the question sounds.

But RM’s grin only grows. It’s a slow-moving process, the widening of that smile, showing more and more teeth. He’s looking at Jungkook the entire time, the precision of his focus a contrast to the seeming openness of his smile, the dimples digging into his cheeks. “What’s your name?” he asks. It sounds like a challenge.

“Jeon Jungkook,” Jungkook mumbles.

“It’s nice to meet you, Jungkook.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too, sir,” Jungkook says, dropping into a quick bow.

“I’m about to be really annoying and answer your question with a question,” RM says.

Jungkook feels disarmed. “Okay,” he says, for lack of anything better.

“Who’s anyone to know what’s good?” RM asks, spreading his hands out. “I know it’s imperfect, but all I have to go on is myself. Maybe I made a mistake yesterday, but all I can do is to be a little bit better tomorrow.”

Strangely, Jungkook is reminded of Jin. When he was younger and more impulsive, Jungkook hated losing more than he does now. Which isn’t to say much, because he’s aware that he’s a sore loser at best, but the bad days of being Bulletproof, of seeing Baepsae slip away from him for the nth time had hit him a lot harder, then. But Seokjin had always been there, and though he had said as much about not understanding what it was like to be in the field with him, his advice had always come down to the same idea. You are the one who can do it. You can make someone’s life a little bit better. Think about all the happiness you’re making, and maybe that’ll make you a little happier yourself.

It’d helped. A lot. Jungkook is less hard on himself, now. A little less prone to taking on burdens that aren’t his. A little more willing to understand the weight of his own worth.

But not enough. Never quite enough.

“But you’re running a business and doing things that aren’t necessarily going to contribute to cleaner energy because you think that eventually, you’ll get to a place where they can’t say no to you,” Jungkook says. “So what about the times when you can’t be better? What if you end up making mistakes to further that goal?”

RM nods, like he’s seriously considering Jungkook’s words. He’s resting an arm on the podium again, leaning back like this is his office and his entire building instead of a university lecture hall. Most of the students around have dispersed, maybe because they sense the vibe of the room changing. The few that are stragglers watch Jungkook with a wide-eyed gaze, like they can’t quite believe he’s saying all these things to the famous CEO who’s taking time out of his day to speak to them all.

In fairness, Jungkook can’t quite believe himself either. But there’s something about RM’s words that makes him think the man really believes what he’s saying. And maybe something like that is infectious.

“I think,” RM says, slow, like he’s picking his words, “that I’m trying. And isn’t it better than I have those intentions in mind instead of running my business based on the bottom line of what will make me more money?”

“That’s assuming that intent is enough,” Jungkook says.

“Isn’t it?”

Jungkook doesn’t have an answer to that. What is enough?

“Isn’t it easier to focus on doing something good now?” Jungkook asks quietly. “Shouldn’t we be trying to help the people around us? Then that way you’ll know it for sure.”

“I think that’s a decision that you make,” RM says. “At the end of the day, it all depends on how much you as one person can help, right?”

Jungkook finds himself nodding before he can figure out if he agrees or not.

Quiet, between them. But RM doesn’t prompt for another question. Instead, he has his head tilted down, still focused on Jungkook, who feels a little out of sorts given all this attention. And definitely a little regretful that he hadn’t bothered to blow-dry his too-long hair that morning. Maybe if he’d the time to grow out a manbun after all he’d feel a bit more presentable standing here in front of this magnetic man in his sweatpants.

“How do you choose?” he asks, when the silence grows too thick.

RM laughs, a little huff of air out his nose. “I simply decided that as myself, I wasn’t enough.”

A supervisor rushes into the room then, with the distinct panicked air of someone who is trying to herd people to the appropriate place so as to maintain a previously determined schedule. RM looks up, then his gaze flickers over to the clock. “Ah,” he says, “it looks like our time here is up.” His gaze peels up and off of Jungkook again, towards the dredges of remaining students when he says, “It was lovely being here with you all today. Please feel free to reach out if you have any other questions.”

Then, he leans in again, catches Jungkook’s eye, and looks towards the door.

The supervisor says something about their booking being up, thanks RM for his time. The room disperses.

When Jungkook gingerly steps outside into the hall, RM is waiting for him.

“Those were some insightful questions, Jungkook,” he says by way of greeting.

Jungkook tightens his hands on the strap of his bag. “Thanks,” he says. “I guess I had a lot on my mind.”

RM pulls out a business card, fiddles with it in his fingers for a moment, then hands it over. “Are you graduating soon?”

“In a few years.”

“Keep in touch, then,” RM says.

Another brilliant smile—Jungkook feels blinded by it, this close. And then he’s gone, a short wave as he goes, walking down the hall with one hand still tucked into his pockets.

It’s hard to say what Jungkook feels in the aftermath of it. All the emotions of his actual life come swirling back when he’s left alone, the question of whether or not Jimin had actually been at his bedside, how he’s supposed to react to the information any which way, but it feels like the ever-present niggling doubt about his place in this city has been amplified.

He slings his backpack on properly and heads off to the library, intent on at least losing himself in some studying before he has to go to his next class, but the questions linger with him nonetheless. What is enough? Am I enough? Am I enough?

**

RMI campus is an absurdity on the landscape of Kosmos City. Seokjin stands at the main building front, having traversed through the whole sprawling thing, and looks up at the purported source of the magnanimously large sum of money that had turned one of his best handlers. At least the story seemed right. Certainly anyone who had enough money to maintain this place could hand off a couple billion won.

He skips the elevators and goes straight for the stairs, nervous energy needing to be burnt off as he makes his way up to the CEO’s office.

Maybe it was a rash decision, but the Department information network had gotten back to him that morning, and so Seokjin found himself in his car and halfway across the city before anyone could advise him otherwise.

He pushes through to the top floor with no real plan but the need to see it, the lynchpin tying everything all together.

It’s a little exhilarating. Seokjin wonders if this is how Jungkook feels all the time, racing into fights with nothing but his own resolution.

Everything is quiet when he reaches the right floor. The office is open concept, dappled sunlight peering indelicately into the whole floor of it. A man sits at a desk, legs crossed beneath his chair, who looks up as soon as Seokjin carefully pushes the frosted glass door open.

“Welcome!” he says, thought Seokjin notices he carefully leans enough to the side to block easy access to the CEO’s office. “Do you have an appointment with us today?”

Seokjin rests his hand on the top of the man’s computer screen. “I’m here from the Department of Augmented Humanity.”

The man’s eyebrows hike up his forehead. “Oh! I see. Are you here for a meeting, or…?”

“Please,” says Seokjin, “let me be clear. I’m here because we at the Department have reason to believe that there may be villainous activity connected to this facility, and we simply want to make sure we conduct a thorough investigation on the matter.”

Throughout his explanation, the man’s face tightens, the smile growing more and more strained. “I see,” he says again.

Seokjin fights the urge to sigh. “So, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to speak to your CEO.”

The man nods. “I didn’t get your name?”

“Kim Seokjin,” Jin says, pulling out his badge.

The man barely gives it a second glance. “Do you have a warrant Kim Seokjin-ssi?”

Seokjin feels like he’s stepping on a fragile iced over pond of anger. The sunlight streaking into the executives floor strikes him right in the eye, and inside, Seokjin wants to scream a little bit. Outside, he laughs, flips his badge back into his pocket, and dips into a shallow bow. “Apologies for that,” he says. “The investigation is time sensitive. I’m sure you understand.”

“I’m sorry,” the infuriatingly polite man says, “but I really don’t? If it’s that important, can’t you go get a warrant and come back?”

Seokjin takes in a breath. “I suppose,” he says. “I’m sure there’s no risk in answering a few questions, though. This is just routine.”

“Then can’t it wait?”

No, Seokjin wants to say.

Before he can make a fool out of himself by attempting to threaten the RMI CEO’s secretary, miraculously, the CEO’s office door swings open, and RM himself steps out.

Seokjin straightens.

He looks the same as the photos Seokjin had scoured in his brief investigation before showing up, burnished silver hair, a pair of expensive looking plastic frames, the air of someone heavily curated from his perfectly tailored to be professional suit to the way he carries himself, shoulders set, chin up—not enough to be arrogant, but certainly enough to be commanding about it.

“Hello,” RM says. “Kim Seokjin-ssi, was it?”

“Yes,” Seokjin says. “I take it you know why I’m here.”

“I heard your conversation with my executive, yes,” RM says. He inclines his head towards the man at the desk. “Don’t worry about it, Hoseok. I have the time to speak to him.”

Hoseok finally frowns. “You have a four o’clock.”

“It’s only three thirty.” RM shrugs, refusing to look at Seokjin. “I don’t think this’ll take long.”

“Okay!” Hoseok says, though he sounds strained. “Whatever you say, daepyonim.”

“It’s fine,” RM says. “I want to show our guest that we have nothing to hide. Please,” he says, addressing the last bit to Seokjin himself. “My office is right this way.”

Seokjin’s bones feel stiff, but he manages to unlock his limbs to follow.

When the door clicks shut behind him, he can’t help but feel a bit on edge. It’s no less bright in RM’s office than it is outside. The same sunlight comes in through the window, but Seokjin needs to squint to properly meet RM’s eyes.

“I’m so sorry to intrude on you like this,” Seokjin says.

“It’s not a problem.” RM gestures to a leather couch, tasteful pillows stacked up on it. “Would you like to sit?”

Seokjin does not. “I don’t think this will take long either.”

“Fair enough.” RM leans against the side of his desk, crossing his arms. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here, then.”

Seokjin wants to laugh. If he wasn’t suspicious already, this might’ve been the final nail in the coffin. He knows what evidence he has is slim, everything only circumstantial. For all he knows, RM is just another powerful man who does not like to have his time wasted by bureaucrats from government facilities. But Seokjin has been working with DoAH for the vast majority of his life, and if there’s one thing he can smell off the man fake-casually lounging in front of him right now, it’s this: here is someone who is utterly unable to relinquish control.

If he’s involved in anything that Seokjin is investigating, that’ll be his downfall.

“I’m here with the Department of Augmented Humanity,” Seokjin says. “It’s like I told your executive. We’re currently investigating some potential connections between members of your staff and villainous activity, and I wanted to interview you to ascertain some more details about the case.”

“Is that all you can tell me?”

“It’s all we are releasing to the public, yes.”

“Then,” RM says, “how do you expect me to give you any information at all? I don’t monitor everything my employees do. If they’re involved in anything, then I’m afraid I wouldn’t know.”

Seokjin’s smile flattens. “I understand.”

“Mm,” RM says. “Is that all?”

“Aren’t you concerned at all?” Seokjin asks.

“What about?”

“Misappropriation of corporate resources,” Seokjin says, leaning in. “I just informed you of someone in your company potentially damaging both your funds and your reputation by associating with nefarious persons, and you’re not concerned.”

RM does laugh, then. The sound is like breaking a dam between them, shattering most of the rules of polite society. Seokjin nearly rears back. It’s a pleasant laugh, like Seokjin has told a particularly hilarious joke, and the mirth on RM’s face is the least controlled part about him, dimpled and sweet. But Seokjin feels thrown out of sorts either way, taunted.

“I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to share all my concerns with how I’m planning on running my company with the DoAH,” RM says, still a little gleeful.

Seokjin takes this moment to recalibrate. He scans the room, which is as carefully dishevelled as the rest of RM, with its papers piling up behind the computer screen, the plants draped across the entire length of the windowsill, vines crawling into the light. Maybe it’s nothing, but the sight of all that green makes something lurch in Seokjin’s stomach, reminds him of some other vines, glazed with blood.

Under RM’s watchful eye, Seokjin paces to the window.

The smile disappears off the CEO’s face.

“Of course not,” Seokjin says, running a hand along the waxy leaf of one plant. “Please don’t think I’m trying to tell you how to run your own company, RM-ssi.”

RM’s voice is strained when he replies, “Then what is it that you’re trying to do here?”

“I was just curious,” Seokjin says. He turns around, and he doesn’t smile, but he does tilt his head understandingly, harmlessly. “In my experience, most citizens are eager to further the work we do at DoAH, so.” He gives his head a little shake. “I admit, I was a little taken aback at your relative apathy.”

It’s risky, this sort of honesty. Seokjin could be slipping his entire hand here. But, and he realized on the drive over, if RM is the man he’s looking for, he’s already given himself away the second he stepped onto his territory.

“I think you’ll find,” RM murmurs almost thoughtlessly, “that I am not most citizens. I think they call me a maverick, in some circles.”

That, finally, is what draws a true laugh from Seokjin. It’s like watching a tape in reverse, the same scene played out twice in the same five minute span time—only reversed. Seokjin pleased, RM’s eyes narrowed.

“I see,” Seokjin says, and he does. “I think I understand your perspective, RM-ssi. I have to respect it.”

“Mm.”

There’s still no proof, one way or another. There is nothing about this office, or this man, or even this encounter that tells Seokjin anything at all—and yet.

He meets the steady line of RM’s gaze. I see you, he thinks. The startling thing is how seen he feels in return.

“In my experience,” RM says, “most people aren’t really impassioned to do anything. It’s hard to get people to even care about things.”

“You’ve built an entire empire on getting people to care,” Seokjin returns. “How did you do it?”

“It wasn’t easy,” RM says, some of the mirth returning to his voice. “I do this because I love my planet, and I want to make it better. But it’s hard to get people to love something. Wouldn’t you agree?” He reaches for the door, holds it open.

When Seokjin passes, he understands. With RM still in the doorway, it brings them closer together than the entire conversation, and Seokjin reads the poison deep in the man’s eyes. Everything about him carefully arranged, the exact right level of nonchalance, but there’s no hiding the steel glinting in his pupils, the way he’s already deliberately looking down and a little past Seokjin.

Seokjin wonders what RM reads off him. He dips his head down in a superficially genial bow as he steps out, and can’t help but flick his own eyes up in a way that brings the line of their gazes perfectly matched up.

“It was a pleasure,” Seokjin says. “Thank you for all your help. I’ll be in touch as our investigation proceeds.”

“Anytime,” RM says. “And do take care of yourself, Kim Seokjin-ssi.”

*

Later, after he’s twenty-something articles deep in RM’s rocketing path to acclaim, Seokjin gets an email.

It seems innocuous at first, sporadic enough that it seems like spam mail, even. If it weren’t for the fact that it comes to his internal DoAH address, which only a handful of people—not even Adora—know.

Seokjin clicks in, reads his full first name in the first line, and tenses.

The rest of the message seems nonsensical, something about free massage therapy offered if you went through with a coupon code. Seokjin takes the string of numbers, runs it through a few encryption programs, and finally when it resolves back into meaning, he sits back and drums his fingers on his desk with a rising eager anticipation.

Kim Seokjin, the message reads, If you are actually investigating our favourite CEO, I’m on the inside. I want to help.

**

It’s hard for Jimin to resist the urge to just sit on Yoongi and not let him move ever again.

As it is, he’s spent an inordinate amount of the last few days just hugging the man whenever he sees him, which is most of the time. Jimin doesn’t go to school anymore, doesn’t have a job, and any Baepsae activity has been out of the question while Yoongi was MIA. He thinks he might have had hobbies once upon a time, but it feels like all he’s been able to do lately is lie on his bed scrolling hero and villain fansites, blinds drawn shut against the heat of the sun, torturing himself with people arguing over whether DoAH really captured Gloss, or if Gloss escaped again, or if the whole thing was an elaborate ruse between Gloss and Bulletproof to hide their illicit and age-inappropriate love affair.

It’s beats torturing himself with what actually happened. With what Yoongi was likely suffering through, under DoAH control. Jimin hasn’t been anywhere near the hulking black building in more than half a decade, but he doubts very much that they’ve developed health and wellness programs for their science experiments.

Sometimes he exercises, cardio until he can’t feel his legs anymore. Easing himself out of that headspace now that Yoongi is free, now that he’s safe, takes more energy than Jimin really had in reserve. It’s only the lingering fear that if he takes his eyes off Yoongi he’ll be taken again that levers him out of bed, and it’s only Taehyung wrinkling his nose and putting his hands on his shoulders and marching him right back to his en suite that makes Jimin remember to shower and change and behave like a real human being again.

(And he remembers this, remembers the first few weeks after Taehyung had sprung him from DoAH. He had expected elation, seen himself doing all kinds of things Taehyung had told him about, like signing up for dance classes and going to the park and getting boba and cooking for himself. But freedom had proved heavier than anticipated, the weight of it pressing down on his shoulders and his throat and coercing him back to the dark, safe places of the world. Taehyung had taken care of him then, too, because that was what Taehyung did, and Jimin had known for a very long time that he didn’t deserve him).

“Jimin-ah.”

Yoongi is seated at the grand piano in the lounge, has been playing on and off for the last...while. His hands are still for the moment, though, a tiny frown etched over fine features as he looks down at them. Jimin, curled up on the end of the couch closest to him, lifts his head from where he’d been reading a Twitter thread furiously debating the ethics of gif-ing heroes and villains alike who were trying to hide their identity.

Someone has included an HD gif of Bulletproof hitting the building in their last fight. Jimin saves it, closes the thread. Looks at Yoongi. A gentle rustling weaves through the silence left in the wake of his music, as every plant in the apartments strains to be close to him. He’s wearing long sleeves, but Jimin can see the bumps and ridges of vines curling up his arms underneath them, ever-present since he got out of DoAH.

“Hyung?” he prompts, when it seems like Yoongi might have forgotten that he was going to say something.

“Oh.” Yoongi blinks, giving his head a shake. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Jimin doesn’t want to go for a walk. Jimin doesn’t want to go outside. Jimin wants to stay exactly where he is, where he’s safe and where his hyung is safe, where the world doesn’t know where to find them. He opens his mouth to defer, to laugh it off with something about feeling too lazy, but Yoongi is already standing and stretching like a cat who’s been lying in the sun for too long, and it occurs to Jimin that if he doesn’t go for a walk, Yoongi might go anyway. Without him.

“Yah, we have a perfectly good treadmill,” he grumbles, but he picks himself up off the couch, pocketing his phone.

“I need some fresh air,” is all Yoongi says, and Jimin could point out that the fine dust is in rare form at the moment, could point out that they have a whole balcony to step out on, could point out that Yoongi should really be lying low regardless of his need for the outdoors, but the excuse is so blatantly for his sake that he lets Yoongi have it.

Sometimes, looking after his family means letting them baby him. He grabs a face mask, tosses one to Yoongi, cracks a grin at the thought of two of Kosmos City’s most wanted villains going out for a stroll right after one of them had broken out of DoAH custody. It feels a little bit like a fuck you, and Jimin is into that, even if he keeps looking over his shoulder for signs of Bulletproof or Monsta X or Kim Seokjin.

“You haven’t been coping well,” Yoongi says as they walk. He’s drawn his vines mostly back under his skin, but his hands are tucked into his pockets. He turns his face up to the sun, and it exposes the scabbed marks around his throat.

“I’m fine,” Jimin says quickly. He winces; too quickly, too transparent. “I mean, you gave us a scare. Not that it’s your fault. DoAH did. Kim Seokjin.”

Yoongi flinches at the name. Jimin watches him carefully. It’s not DoAH that bothers him, it’s that name, and it’s not the first time. There’s a part of Jimin that hates it, hates that Yoongi hasn’t trusted him with what happened while he was kept prisoner, but he hates how hypocritical that makes him. The only person who knows all of what Jimin went through in that place is Taehyung, and the only time he’d ever felt tempted to tell a single other person had been when Jungkook crashed into his other big secret. Or didn’t crash, so to speak.

“Can I ask you about him?”

“Jin?” Jimin grimaces right after the name leaves his mouth. It doesn’t belong to him, isn’t something he ever referred to the older boy as. Older man now, he supposes. He’d only ever heard it from a third person, Doctor Kim absently asking Jin-ah, can you take down what I’m saying? Jin-ah, please take these vials to the lab techs. Jin-ah, come and watch while I do this, you’ll need to learn eventually. “You can ask, but I don’t have anything to say. I don’t think he ever spoke to me. He only watched, only did what he was told.”

Yoongi doesn’t ask watched what, and Jimin doesn’t offer the information. They walk in silence, and Jimin tries to enjoy what little breeze there is and this time with his hyung, who he had come so close to losing. Usually he’d try to fill the silence with pointless nattering, talking about Taehyung or the drama he’d been watching, or some choreography he was putting together. But the quiet between them feels like a conversation of its own, and Jimin doesn’t want to interrupt.

“You’ve been out of that place for six years,” Yoongi says finally. “But I’ve never heard you say anything about taking revenge. You’ve never wanted to get back at them, or tear them down, and you’ve been perfectly happy working towards Joon and I’s goal.”

He’s being very free with their private business right now, and Jimin glances around again for anything suspicious, although he’s not sure what suspicious looks like these days. There are only...people, ordinary citizens enjoying what is apparently the weekend, judging by their dress, and it’s only then that Jimin realises he’s losing track of the days.

“You…” Gave me something to want, but he can’t say that. It’s too heavy for a moment that is already suffocating under its own weight. He could tell Yoongi about how they’d saved him in more ways than the obvious, that he had spent so long wanting freedom that once he’d attained it, he hadn’t known what else to do with himself. Hadn’t really had a concept of what himself was supposed to mean. He clears his throat before his brain trips too far down memory lane, addressing instead what it feels like Yoongi is asking. “I think that if I had gotten started back then, I wouldn’t have known how to stop. I wouldn’t have been able to until it was all in ruins. And, I don’t know, that just didn’t seem like a very productive way of spending my life, you know?”

Yoongi nods. Once, like he understands, again, like he agrees, a third time, like he’s lost track of what he’s doing in favour of a new train of thought. They’ve gone around the block at this point, are coming up on the revolving entrance to Spring Day Tower. It’s not until they’re in the elevator that Yoongi seems to come to a decision about what he wants to say, sagging back against the mirrored walls, closing his eyes behind his yellow sunglasses.

“I want to start,” Yoongi says. There’s almost nothing of his actual face visible, Jimin realises, between the glasses and the beanie and the mask. “But I think if I do, it’ll hurt you. And you have been hurt enough.”

Jimin’s lips part, maybe in shock, maybe in the urge to deny it. You’d never hurt me, hyung, but this is Yoongi talking. He’s saying it would hurt you, not I would hurt you, and it’s terrifying, the vast gulf in meanings a single letter creates. Jimin would break, he thinks, if any of his family wanted to hurt him. But he’d suffer forever if it meant helping any one of them.

“I’m strong, hyung,” he says softly. “It would surprise you, how strong I am.”

Yoongi’s mask moves; Jimin thinks he might be smiling, although how much humour is in the expression is anyone’s guess. “Ah, Jimin-ah, I don’t think so. You’re the strongest one of all of us. You always have been.”

Jimin flushes and ducks his head as the elevator spits them back into the penthouse. It’s hard to know what to say to that so he says nothing instead, leaning over to press his lips behind his mask to Yoongi’s forehead. His hyung grumbles, headbutts him back gently, and shuffles off to the kitchen. Jimin trails after him, hikes himself up onto one of the stools on the other side of the marble counter as Yoongi starts to potter.

“I don’t think so,” Yoongi says, pointing at him. “You, come here. You’re helping me.”

And Jimin doesn’t love cooking, but helping people is something that has always made him happy. That’s how Taehyung and Namjoon find them, splattered with ingredients and laughter, most of a meal cooked and only some of it dropped on the ground. If Yoongi’s words keep playing over and over in his head, I want to start, he ignores them for now. If the world has taught him anything, it’s that it’ll bring them both grief over this sooner or later. Better to deal with it later.

Taehyung tears up immediately when he sees them. Doesn’t say anything, just strides across the room to envelope Yoongi’s much smaller frame in his, flapping a hand in Jimin’s direction to indicate he should join in. Yoongi’s protests are loud and dramatic, but vines peek out from his wrists and his waist and god knows where else, cocooning all three of them in sweet-smelling green.

“Cute,” Namjoon remarks, and Jimin just happens to be positioned well enough to see the way his soft smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. It slips away when he notices that Jimin is watching, and Jimin wants to slip away as well. They haven’t exactly recovered from their...fight? Disagreement? Jimin’s not sure if he wants to apologise, or demand an apology. He’s not sure about much, lately.

“What’s up, hyung?” he says, gently untangling himself from the others as best he can. “You don’t look great.”

Namjoon opens his mouth like he’s about to respond, but his own frown cuts him off. He rubs the back of his neck instead, glancing off to the side. “Long day,” he says. “Do you have some time, Jimin? There are...some things I need to say.”

Instinct has Jimin glancing at Taehyung, but Tae’s eyes are wide with curiosity, not knowledge. He smiles encouragingly at Jimin though, because of course he’s eager for the two of them to reconnect. Jimin takes his time washing his hands in the kitchen sink, washing the suds swirl down the drain before he clears his throat.

“After dinner? We just cooked. It’d be nice to eat together again.”

It’s a peace offering, and Namjoon takes it with a grateful smile. Taehyung grabs a haphazard handful of cutlery and does some approximation of setting the table, and they all sit down together and for a moment, it’s normal. Yoongi talks about the music he’s been working on under one of his alias’ and Taehyung drags out his sketchbook to show the practice he’s been doing on drawing the perfect dog, and even Jimin manages to dredge up something about the choreography he’s been picking away at, even if it is mostly complaining about doing backbends.

Taehyung goes in for seconds, but Jimin is full to bursting, or maybe nauseous at the way Namjoon catches his gaze again when he’s done, giving his head a little jerk towards the balcony door. Jimin nods, rises, ruffles Taehyung’s hair to make himself feel better on the way outside. The day’s heat doesn’t linger, this far up. He follows Namjoon to where he’s resting against the balcony, staring out over their city.

“I have to apologise,” Namjoon says without preamble. “But I also have to ask you something. And I don’t want you to think that the apology is contingent on me needing you.”

Jimin’s whole body goes warm at the words needing you. He’d be embarrassed for himself, but why should he? It’s nice to be needed, especially by his family. Especially when he’s had more than enough of no one needing him at all.

“Do you ever think that life would be easier if we just stopped?” he asks, instead of responding to what Namjoon had actually said. A haze hangs over Kosmos City, obscuring the far away movements of people and traffic.

Namjoon makes a soft noise in the back of his throat. “No. Not really. That is - I think it would be easier. But I’ve never really wanted to live an easy life.”

Jimin nods. Once, like he understands. Again, like he agrees. “I thought I did. I thought I would get out of DoAH, and nothing would ever be so hard again.”

Namjoon is silent, listening,

“The worst part was realising that DoAH wasn’t hard at all. That it’s actually very simple, being a prisoner like that. You don’t get to decide what your choices are, they’re just given to you. And you either agree and go along with them, or you fight and go along with them. It all ends up in the same place, eventually.” He turns into Namjoon. The two of them are close; personal space has never really meant much in their strange little family. “I chose you, Namjoon. And I chose Taehyungie, and Yoongi-hyung. And I keep choosing you, but I don’t have to do that. You don’t have to worry about me doing something I don’t want to do, just because you want me to do it.”

“Oh,” Namjoon says softly. “Huh.”

“What?”

“Nothing, I just - forget sometimes. How much you’ve grown up.”

Jimin scowls, kicks him in the shin. “You’re one whole year older than me!”

Namjoon laughs, and the sound is sweet. It’s been so fucking long. “It’s the extra month that counts!” The laughter fades, but it doesn’t feel gut-droppingly awful like before. It’s a natural pause in the conversation, a slide from a light moment to something heavier. Jimin is kind of proud of himself for managing it. “I do need to say sorry, though. I never should have called you needy. You were worried, and I wasn’t sharing my plans with you. If I’d been in your place, I would have gotten angry too.”

Being apologised to first makes Jimin magnanimous in his acceptance. “Yeah, but I didn’t need to assume you like. Didn’t care or something. Obviously you care, it’s Yoongi. I think I just...it was a lot, you know? DoAH being involved really set something off in me, and then - I know you love Yoongi, I know you’d do anything for him, and this is really stupid, but I guess I just didn’t think that love was enough right then.”

“Love can drive people to do all kinds of things,” Namjoon says softly. “Good or bad. Jimin-ah, I want to share something with you now.”

“Hmm?” He looks up at Namjoon, notes how tired the man still looks. Thinks he’d probably hug him, if they didn’t have important things to say.

“Kim Seokjin came to see me at work today.”

Jimin has heard explosions before. He’s caused his fair few of them, when his powers were more unstable, when he carried energy under his skin like a bomb ready to go off. The one that goes off in his skull now is a muted thing in comparison, but no less earth-shaking because of it.

“What.” he says, reaching for Namjoon’s arm to steady himself. His fingers dig in, but Namjoon doesn’t stop him. “What?”

“It was my mistake. Some of what I did to free Yoongi - he must have traced it back to RMI. Stupid of me to do it from there in the first place, but I was - focused. On other things.”

“Does he know?” There’s a loud ringing in his ears. He thinks he can’t breathe, or maybe that he’s breathing too much. “Where Taehyungie and I am, does he - did we just sit through dinner while Kim Seokjin knows where I am?”

“Hey.” Namjoon’s free hand catches his jaw, making sure Jimin looks him dead in the eyes. His voice is soft, counter to his grip. “Of course not. Of course not. He doesn’t know it was me, he has no idea how I’m connected to Yoongi, or how Yoongi is connected to you. But it was a close call, and that’s why I need you to do this thing, okay? Because if Yoongi does it, the connection to me will be too obvious. Taehyung can’t, so it has to be you. That is - of course you can say no, but--”

“What do you need,” Jimin says, trying to count each inhale and the exhale afterwards, focussing on the warm brown of Kim Namjoon’s eyes. “How can I help, what do you need?”

It’s kind of strange, how he doesn’t see it coming. Later, he’ll think that it’s obvious. That he was stupid for missing it, that the universe was always going to bring him to this point, this moment, this choice. At the time, though, all he can think about is his family. The danger they’re in, and what he can do to save them.

“We found his real identity,” Namjoon says, holding him tight. Who’s him? Jimin wants to ask, but Namjoon is already there. “We need you to kill Bulletproof, Jimin.”

I want to start it, Yoongi had said.

That would do it.