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A Wealth of Intimacies

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δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης.
You cannot step into the same river twice.

- Heraclitus (6th-5th centuries BCE)

I

Namjoon had never expected to find himself as the pack alpha of a chaotic bunch of fellow youths when only a kid himself, but he had learned on the job, with years spent agonising how to be a better leader, a better alpha. He’d gradually grown into the responsibility and liked to think he’d improved, too.

But he wasn’t perfect – far from it. The hashtags of #PerfectAlphaPerfectLeader were nice, of course, but that never reflected how he viewed himself. He had so many shortcomings.

Take Jimin, for instance.

Jimin had been swivelling his omega hips at anyone who would look, with increasing confidence, for the length of time Namjoon had known him. As far as Namjoon was concerned, he was immune: Jimin could do hip thrusts and body rolls against him – and often did, for no valid reason – and if Namjoon was in a bad mood, he ignored Jimin, and if he was in a good mood, he mumbled a “you’re such a great dancer, Jiminie,” but didn’t look up from his phone as he said it.

Jimin would nevertheless preen over the compliment, more bounce in his step as he went in search of another pack member to get praise from. Especially Namjoon and Jungkook had a weakness for Jimin batting eyelashes at them, whether Jimin wanted their snacks or a dancing partner for the middle of the dressing room. Alphas and omegas, and so forth. Namjoon wouldn’t go as far as to say they were collectively whipped for Park Jimin, but neither could he in any good conscience deny such accusations.

But, too often, Namjoon told Jimin to leave him be, even when he knew how much the small comments meant for the omega. It was only natural for Jimin to seek the pack alpha’s approval, and Namjoon wasn’t always patient enough. Namjoon was, in general, relieved there were six non-Jimins in the pack to give the omega nearly all the attention that Jimin craved, because Jimin was a lot to handle.

Seokjin, on the other hand, remained a mystery to him: Seokjin certainly never marched up to Namjoon to demand that he be called pretty – and it made sense, because Seokjin was his hyung, even if Namjoon was the pack leader.

Instead Seokjin could be bouncing recklessly around the dorm, doubling over in laughter; fighting nerves before a show, reserved and withdrawn; or Seokjin could be casually reminding them all mid-photoshoot that he was, perhaps, the most beautiful omega that the world had ever been blessed with – Namjoon rarely knew which Seokjin to expect when he woke up in the morning, and most often he got all of these Seokjins within moments of each other.

And unlike Jimin, who smirked at perfect strangers (poor foreign journalists) with a ‘I could have you licking my boot in three minutes flat and you’d thank me’ smile, Seokjin snorted and guffawed when he was voted Korea’s Most Desirable Omega three years in a row, then declaring, “This poll is all wrong – just Korea? Where’s the poll for the most desirable omega in the world? Let’s tell them – worldwide handsome!”

So Seokjin knew that he was devastatingly good-looking, but Namjoon was distantly aware that Seokjin was self-conscious of his height and shoulders – model-like features that had resulted in Seokjin being scouted on the street, perhaps, but many thought omegas were still supposed to be petite like Jimin. On the surface, however, Seokjin claimed his broad frame to be his best feature.

And unlike Jimin, Seokjin’s omega tendencies manifested less in attention seeking and more in caregiving: Seokjin had been keeping them fed since day one, always complained about them not cleaning or sleeping enough, got suspicious of even the smallest sniffle and appeared armed with vitamins and tissues, and had even given the safe sex talk to all of their maknae, thank god.

So between Namjoon being the leader, and Seokjin being the older omega who was fixing their ties, Namjoon couldn’t particularly blame their fans for calling them The Mated Couple. Who else could it be? Well, Namjoon and Yoongi, maybe, except Yoongi would probably bite his head off for any over-assertive alpha behaviour. But Namjoon was always touching Seokjin, according to the fans: arm slung around Seokjin’s shoulders on red carpets, a hand resting on Seokjin’s arm, or his palm pressed to Seokjin’s knee as they sat next to each other for interviews.

And Namjoon knew it was true: Seokjin grounded him. They were so comfortable with each other that they probably acted like mates did, in that respect – or at least Namjoon imagined so.

Call it the Westermarck effect, then, or what have you – Namjoon admired both omegas in his pack for their strength, their talent. He forgot, a lot of the time, that the two omegas were that. Often, sure, he had to glare off alphas who unabashedly stared, and sometimes Jimin or Seokjin would emerge at his side if someone had made them uncomfortable, from other artists at award shows to venue staff while on tour – and one death glare from Namjoon was more than enough these days to warn people off as one of his two omegas pressed to his side.

But, really, often he forgot.

A rude awakening, then, when in the midst of a seemingly endless touring schedule, Seokjin told them that he was going to have a heat – Seokjin’s first since they’d debuted. And, somehow, all those hours of being a good pack leader, all those moments of self-growth and introspection that Namjoon had ever done were, simply, shot to shit.

* * *

They hadn’t needed to form a pack, of course – just because they all had moved in together when they were teenagers, practically living on top of each other, hadn’t meant that a pack would emerge. What other idol group was a pack? None of them.

But that was one of their selling points now, years on, that they were a pack.

Namjoon had to take the fall for it, apparently: “You’re naturally charismatic,” Hoseok told him once, earnestly. Taehyung quickly agreed: “Yeah, people are drawn to that sort of thing.” He’d mumbled something in response, flustered – perhaps secretly pleased, although he doubted he’d always been so enigmatic.

He still recalled a modest meeting room at a small record label in Seoul where introductions had taken place a decade earlier. He’d worn his new sunglasses, huge, bulky and black, and his baggy jeans with side chains. He’d felt very, very cool – and he wanted to be a rapper more than anything.

Min Yoongi didn’t give a fuck about people’s statuses, which was good because sometimes people were wary around Namjoon – unsure if he’d get aggressive, if he’d try anything stupid. Yoongi, a little older and significantly shorter than him, didn’t seem intimidated: a grumpy, sleepy beta with hair spiked up with gel, Yoongi was tiny as anything but rapping like no one’s business. Within minutes Namjoon knew that Yoongi was cool. Like. Super cool.

He would never, ever tell Yoongi this, but in a way it had been love at first sight: he had never met someone so like himself before, someone who shared his ambition for music and success, who swore by the same rappers, who wanted to bring something new to the music industry. Yoongi saw Namjoon, whoever that really was, and not just a gangly, awkward alpha with ideas above his station.

As the two of them lingered at the label’s small studio, playing their favourite rap songs to each other and showing off their skills, Namjoon felt a sensation of homecoming that had never waned.

Namjoon’s instincts were still heightened around Yoongi, who absolutely could handle himself, but many mistook Yoongi for an omega due to his size, and Namjoon just wanted Yoongi to be safe. And, in the end, Yoongi had graciously allowed Namjoon to extend his authority over him. A risky business, too: they thought that they had a solid line-up for their rap group when Hunchul walked out on them.

They hadn’t seen it coming: Hunchul had been a fellow trainee with them but didn’t even leave a note, just packed his bags and headed home. Maybe it was a sign that they would never debut, would never make it.

Crestfallen, he and Yoongi went out to the cheap restaurant near the dorm that night, sharing their bibimbap because they could only afford one. They talked about quitting – count their losses, follow Hunchul’s lead. Maybe go home – save some money and try again later?

But parting with Min Yoongi even for a little while seemed like an intolerable thought.

Namjoon had sheepishly been trying to scent Yoongi for a while – accidentally brushing against him, because Yoongi calmed him down and smelled comforting, a bit like home, actually. And because things looked so dire for them that evening, and Yoongi’s scent was bitter and upset because of Hunchul, Namjoon pressed in close as they sat in the corner of the restaurant, on the floor at the low-set dining table, cushions under their behinds.

They scooped out the crusty rice from the bottom of the bibimbap bowl, Yoongi with a frown on his face – and Namjoon pushed the dish closer to Yoongi, offering him what was left in an attempt to offer comfort. He wanted to feed Yoongi if he was being honest, but knew that unsolicited feeding efforts from alphas did not go down well with the uninterested. Just as he fought down such instincts, Yoongi turned to him and said, “Fine, I’m in.”

Namjoon blinked. “In what?”

“This. Us.” Yoongi’s gaze was determined. “Whatever happens, whoever comes or goes, we’re in this together. Right? Us against the world.”

“Right,” he agreed.

Yoongi nodded. “Right. Good. So, you know.”

And then Yoongi tilted his head to the side, exposing his neck in invitation, right then and there – and Namjoon stared in surprise before something utterly primitive kicked in, and then he had buried his face into Yoongi’s neck, rubbing his scent there. At that point he had only ever scented family members, the beta he’d had a crush on in school, as well as the omega who’d shared Namjoon’s rut once, and that was all.

But scenting Yoongi was unlike any of those experiences: it was the first time Namjoon was consciously claiming someone, a sharper edge to his own scent as pheromones kicked in. He pushed in with intent and –

“Yah, none of that here!” the dinner lady cut in before Namjoon was even a little done. He and Yoongi were embarrassed, apologising, heat high on their cheeks from getting caught, but Yoongi also had a small smile on his lips.

It was raining as they walked back to the dorm, the narrow streets of Nonhyeon-dong dark but glittering, with nondescript, grey apartment buildings rising around them – and yet all the dread had vanished. So Hunchul had left. So what? They would make it. They had each other. They were a pack now – Namjoon was going to have one, and it was Yoongi.

Namjoon’s first ever recruit but, as it turned out, certainly not the last.

* * *

The label had heavily questioned their decision to form a pack, but Namjoon stood his ground. Their ground.

“It was a private decision,” he argued – he hadn’t signed anything that forbade pack-forming, he was pretty sure. Any attempt to forcefully separate a pack was destined for disaster, of course – PD-nim let it go, but said that if one of them failed to pass the label’s monitoring, then that would likely be the end of them both. Was that supposed to scare them? No – they worked harder.

Hunchul was soon replaced. The new guy was a street dancer, very talented. He and Yoongi failed to see what dancing had to do with their rap group, but it was clear early on that Hoseok was a keeper.

But Hoseok, too, frowned at their small pack of two. It was unusual for people their age to form a pack – sure, you liked your friends, but to chain yourself to each other?

“Are you two dating?” Hoseok asked them, head tilted.

Yoongi glared. “You think I’d date him?”

“Yah!” Namjoon protested as the other two laughed. “I’ve got moves. I get action,” he asserted. “Omegas, betas – they all up in my business.”

“Uh huh,” Hoseok said, “sure.”

Namjoon bristled, a little.

Hoseok still looked like he wanted to ask them more about the pack but didn’t know how. There were two other trainees with them, too – neither would stay in the end, but the label was now pushing a dance agenda on them all. Namjoon was struggling with it – how could he rap and dance at the same time? It was insanity!

Hoseok offered to help, and they spent plenty of time in the dance studio together, working through basic moves. Namjoon would think back to that winter and remember evenings of walking back to the dorm with Hoseok, Seoul icy and slippery, and the two of them wrapped up in coats and scarves.

And Namjoon somehow knew exactly what Hoseok was getting at when one evening he asked, “So whose idea was it?”

Namjoon steadied himself. “Yoongi-hyung’s.”

“Really?” Hoseok asked, raising an eyebrow. Then, “I mean, I suppose that makes sense. I doubt you could talk him into anything.” Rather than be insulted, Namjoon knew this to be true. “You’re younger than Yoongi, though. He’s your hyung.”

“Yeah, but he’s a beta.”

“What, all betas want alphas?” Hoseok challenged.

“No,” he corrected himself, “but Yoongi-hyung did.”

And maybe Hoseok didn’t understand yet how hard this trainee life was, and – if they one day made it – how taxing idol life would be. You needed more than friends to survive. You needed a pack, he was sure of it, just to keep your head.

“And Yoongi chose you,” Hoseok wondered aloud, like he didn’t quite see why.

Namjoon ducked his head, embarrassed. He was a good alpha, wasn’t he? Yoongi didn’t need him much, was stubbornly independent, so Namjoon didn’t get to be too much of an alpha around him – but there was a thread between them, tying them together, where words were often not needed. Best friends, packmates – ride or die, like a song they both liked bellowed.

Besides, Yoongi was stealthy about his pack needs: they were there, but hiding. Namjoon had once come home early and found Yoongi napping in Namjoon’s bunk, nose pressed into the pillow, one of Namjoon’s hoodies balled up in his arms. Namjoon had, firstly, internally died, and, secondly, backed right out and pretended not to have seen. Yoongi was in the shower by the time Namjoon returned from an impromptu walk around the neighbourhood. His sheets had smelled of Yoongi, though, more than usual – and it’d knocked him right out that night. Best sleep he’d had in weeks. Probably for Yoongi, too.

But that was when he’d learned Yoongi wanted more scenting than he’d been providing, and Yoongi didn’t know how to ask, exactly. So he’d started doing it more – Yoongi never asked, just protested with a “Yah, what is this?” when Namjoon pushed into his neck, but the protest was for show: Yoongi always relaxed into it. Over the years, Yoongi had learned to linger with intent, even, when he wanted scenting – the pack, collectively, had worn Yoongi’s defences down.

“It’s the power of love,” Jimin once told Namjoon firmly.

But from the get-go, Yoongi and Namjoon hadn’t acted in the most conventional way. They were young and not at an age to be mating (and certainly not with each other), yet the pack became a lifeline.

“Yeah,” Namjoon said eventually, taking this all in as he walked with Hoseok, “Yoongi-hyung chose me.”

And a hint of pride was in his voice as he said it.

Hoseok was careful around Namjoon in those early days because Hoseok couldn’t neatly place Namjoon in relation to himself. But the fact that Namjoon had a pack, no matter how small, seemed to impress Hoseok.

Hoseok stayed on as a trainee, although he was struggling being away from home, was lonely, tired, overworked, scared, and then mourning a break-up when a girl alpha left him for an omega. Hoseok was struggling, but he was a keeper, and Namjoon started leaving his clothes scattered around the dorm in some vague hope that Hoseok would find his scent comforting. He even threw a hoodie onto Hoseok’s bunk bed – an invasion of privacy if there was one – and pretended that it was on accident.

After Hoseok had cornered him in the kitchen for a lecture about throwing his sweaty and gross post-practice clothes in Hoseok’s bunk, and Namjoon was left embarrassed and rejected, Yoongi looked up from his food and said, “Stop trying so hard.”

He stilled, instantly. “What? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Yoongi poked at his rice. “You know exactly what I mean.”

“No,” he denied, tugging on the sleeves of his hoodie absently. “Can’t say I do.”

After a few beats, Yoongi added, “I’d like it, too. If you wanted my blessing.”

Heat was creeping up his face. “Yeah, whatever. Cool. Whatever.”

And when during one month’s monitoring one of their fellow trainees was kicked out and another quit – the one who had kept talking about debuting with them, how he was in 110%, how they would make it for sure – god, it hurt.

“Wow,” Hoseok said, sat on his bunk bed in the small bedroom, “this feels awful.”

“Yup,” Yoongi dead-panned from where he and Namjoon lingered at the door. Two of the bunks were emptied out, stripped of sheets. “We’re going for bulgogi to eat our feelings. Wanna come?”

Hoseok frowned at them. “We’re on a diet.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi agreed. “Wanna come?”

Hoseok blinked and then smiled, a little. “Yeah sure. Sure, I’ll come with you.”

It wasn’t quite a pack, but it formed an alliance.

* * *

All the dread from their early days was nothing compared to the responsibility of sold out stadium tours. They lived in a glass bubble now, the entire world looking in, their lives never quite real. If one of them was spotted wearing a semi-affordable hat, it sold out the next day. If Taehyung posted a selca, it was liked in numbers that matched the population of Ilsan – exceeded it, even. They were dressed in designer clothes from head to toe worth absurd amounts of money, with fashion houses begging for them to throw on a jacket of theirs, or at least some socks.

And they no longer did the most mundane things: they didn’t go out to buy groceries, nor could they hope to go running in a public park. Namjoon realised that he’d taken walking down the street without security for granted. When they managed to sneak out to walk around at night or meet a friend for coffee without being recognised, they all felt like they had won a small victory, claimed themselves back somehow.

The lives they lived were hard – worth it, absolutely, but hard.

For a normal omega having a heat wouldn’t have been much of an issue: they’d call work, take some time off, get their mate to bang the hell out of them, or maybe they’d manage on their own, whatever. They could go to the pharmacy to buy a heat patch for their neck without too much embarrassment.

But not Jimin or Seokjin. Nothing was as scrutinised as the pack’s love lives or the suspicious lack thereof: theories covered secret mates and secret offspring, cruel label restrictions, fully fledged in-pack polyamory, as well as Namjoon being an irrationally jealous pack alpha who forbade the others from dating.

Truthfully they had all agreed that, for now, their collective career was more important than romance. Being caught with their pants down was not on their agenda.

So they kept working, singing about romance and heated love without necessarily experiencing it – dreaming of it, maybe.

And in anticipation of their now extended global stadium tour, they all had appointments for thorough health checks: Hoseok had low iron levels and needed tablets, Yoongi needed more eyedrops and his other usual meds, and Namjoon had his sleeping pill prescription renewed because he struggled, sometimes, to get the rest he needed. Namjoon had put Seokjin’s second visit to the doctor down to something equally manageable.

That day they were all at the dorm, which was what they stupidly called their multi-billion-won apartment complex like they still slept in bunkbeds. It was increasingly rare for his pack to be home without staff around – but like any pack, they needed their alone time.

The living room was mid-chaos with Taehyung showing off Yeontan’s latest trick of playing dead on command, but Yeontan was not co-operating and Taehyung was fiercely defending poor Tannie’s honour while the others laughed. Seokjin returned to this with his usual hello, but Namjoon instantly knew something was wrong: the smile didn’t reach Seokjin’s eyes, Seokjin’s shoulders were tense, his posture poor – and maybe most tellingly Seokjin’s scent of honeyed musk mixed with the pack scent had changed to something sharper. Too much adrenaline, on edge like Seokjin was before shows or MC duties.

Seokjin sat with them for a while but then went out on their balcony to call his parents. Namjoon watched him through the wall of glass, taking in the neatly cut brown hair that was damaged by constant re-dyeing, the mouth that stretched into wide smiles and grins but was then a worried, pursed line. After Seokjin finished the phone call, he stayed outside. Namjoon had three questions he always asked himself: was his pack intact? Was it safe? Was it happy?

The spacious deck area had a view to Han River, just like Yoongi had always dreamed, with lounge chairs and designer plants, kept pristine by cleaning staff that came when they were out. Seokjin was sat on one of the deck chairs, biting on the edge of his thumbnail – a sure sign of distress from the omega who vowed by regular manicures.

Seokjin didn’t seem surprised to see him coming, didn’t object when Namjoon sat opposite him on one of the chairs. “How’s everyone?” Namjoon asked, nodding at the phone by Seokjin.

Seokjin smiled. “Fine, you know. Good.” But Seokjin didn’t sound like either.

“Yeah? What’s up?”

It wasn’t exactly an order, but it didn’t have to be.

“Something’s come up. Ah, this is stupid.” Seokjin exhaled, looking both annoyed and frustrated. Namjoon waited it out, and Seokjin said, “They did some tests on me at the clinic.”

“Okay,” he said, trying not to get ahead of himself but still tensing up.

“And- And I’m, like, this close to a eunuch or a barren wench, how attractive is that?” Seokjin said, but Namjoon didn’t quite follow. “My hormone levels are super low.”

He sniffed – but Seokjin just smelled like Seokjin to him. Could he even sniff something like that out?

“Did they prescribe something?” he asked, mind racing. “Or do you need injections?”

“That’s what I asked,” Seokjin said, “but no. It’s the suppressants’ fault. Staying on them for a literal decade because of an idol lifestyle isn’t correct usage, apparently, and I quote, ‘complete hormone suppression isn’t natural,’ end quote.” Seokjin put his air quotes down and rolled his eyes, but he had a blush on his cheeks – embarrassed. “So they’ve told me to go off suppressants as, like, a matter of urgency –”

“But that would trigger a heat,” Namjoon cut in, the hairs on the back of his neck pricking up, eyes focusing, intently, on Seokjin sat across from him.

“Yeah, it’ll restore my natural hormone levels or something,” Seokjin said. “It’s a simple fix, but our schedule is insane right now.”

The wind pushed hair across Seokjin’s forehead, the tip of his nose a little red from the chilly spring air. Seokjin was the most beautiful omega Namjoon had ever seen – had been on the first day, was so on that day too and would, probably, be that for Namjoon forever.

Seokjin’s shoulders hunched as he said, “They also said, um. That it can harm me in the long run if I do nothing.”

“In the long run being…?”

“No kids, I guess.”

He flinched. “What?”

“Or I’ll really struggle, at least.”

“No,” he said. “No, that’s not acceptable.”

They all needed to have a life after this – whenever this wild ride ended, because one day it would, and then they’d be outside the glass bubble. They were putting some parts of their lives on hold as they waited for it, and Seokjin had always smelled – fertile, maybe? To him. Always had. Of course Seokjin would have kids, that wasn’t negotiable.

But they had no gaps in their schedule for the next three months, at least. Every day had been accounted for, booked in advance: flights and hotels and security, and not just for them, but for the dozens of crew members that travelled with them. They were incapable of changing plans or tour dates – it wasn’t possible, not for anything that wasn’t life threatening. But –

“We’ll get it done,” he said. The knowledge that Seokjin would go into heat was spreading in him – warm, heavy. His hands nervously flexed on his thighs.

Seokjin frowned. “Can we?”

“Yes, hyung. This is too important.”

You are too important, he meant. They were not pushing themselves to the limits just to be destitute at the end: and he thought of the children that Seokjin would one day have, small boys or girls with big dark eyes and pouty little mouths, with cupid’s bows that looked like they’d been sculpted, and perfect porcelain cheeks. Maybe dimples too.

He steadied himself. “We’ll figure something out,” he promised, and Seokjin visibly relaxed. He only realised how anxious Seokjin had been when the other moved to sit by him and pushed into his neck. Namjoon stilled in surprise before he scented back, absently, an arm tightening around Seokjin’s back.

They’d get it done.

* * *

Jungkook had arrived to Seoul buck-toothed and chubby-cheeked, smelling strongly of his parents and looking at Namjoon like he was the most amazing thing Jungkook had ever seen. Jungkook hadn’t presented yet so there was no tension or suspicion that Jungkook treated him with. Just awe. A lot of awe.

Jungkook was shyer than shy, but still keen – meekly mumbling, “Could you teach me how to rap, hyung? If you’re free some time…” Jungkook followed him around often, and Namjoon’s ego rather liked it. “I want to rap too one day,” Jungkook confessed bashfully, “just like you and Yoongi-hyung! Maybe if I try really hard I’ll be half as good…!”

Cool. Cool, cool. Namjoon was thinking about growing out his hair into dreadlocks, so he knew he was cool.

Jungkook was incredibly talented, sang and danced well, and would probably grow up to be relatively handsome – all key ingredients. Jungkook also kept watching him and Yoongi whenever their dynamic displayed itself, small pack habits of brushing their hand on the other’s arm, Namjoon dropping his head to brush against Yoongi’s hair quickly – and Jungkook stared at them wistfully. What was Namjoon supposed to do?

Yoongi and the others went home for Seollal – well-deserved after months of gruelling training. Jungkook’s parents, however, were in Thailand for a family friend’s wedding and, dejected, Jungkook stayed in Seoul. It was the first time, too, that Namjoon had been apart from Yoongi for longer than a day, and neither of them had thought much of the holiday break, really. But by the second day Namjoon grew restless, anxious: he called Yoongi, and Yoongi sounded relieved when he picked up. Namjoon had nothing to say, really: they talked, idly, about nothing of importance, but Namjoon felt better.

Come day three, however, he had a persistent headache – and he smelled all wrong, Yoongi’s scent on him fading. Pack withdrawal, of course it was. He took ibuprofen and hoped for the best, but by the afternoon he’d curled up in his bunk, with a notepad and pen to work on some lyrics, but he felt too rotten to do so.

“Do you want this, hyung?”

He opened his eyes and saw the top of someone’s head over the bunk edge. He sat up: Jungkook was gazing up at him, holding – holding one of Yoongi’s shirts. Namjoon had looked for those already, but he’d found none because Jungkook had just washed piles and piles of laundry.

Now he mindlessly grabbed the t-shirt, brought it to his nose with an inhale, caught Yoongi’s understated, semi-sweaty beta scent, and collapsed back against the mattress with a pleased growl. “Thank you,” he managed, eyes already closed.

“That’s okay.” A small shuffle of feet. “If you need me, I’ll be working on my school project in the living room, okay hyung?”

He nodded into the shirt, his headache slowly abating. The shirt smelled of someone else, too, he realised: of Jungkook’s youthful scent, not marked by a designation yet but still carrying the distinct smell of him. He focused on it, the way it mixed with Yoongi and himself. Pleasant, warm. It was good, like a drug – how could he get more of this?

He sat up, spotted Jungkook’s sleep shirt on the kid’s bed, and climbed down to retrieve it, taking it back up with him. Yes, this was better: the scent of Jungkook was stronger now.

He wasn’t sure how long he lay there, breathing in the two t-shirts, but his headache had vanished when he came to, the withdrawal symptoms nearly all gone.

He found Jungkook in the kitchen eating cereal, cheeks full. He wondered when he’d last eaten – before Yoongi left? He was starving. Jungkook, munching, asked, “Do you want some, too?”

What a good kid, he thought, as Jungkook poured him a bowl of cereal. He reached out to ruffle Jungkook’s hair fondly, and Jungkook instantly flushed.

“What?” Namjoon asked, grabbing a spoon for his bowl, quickly shovelling Frosted Flakes into his mouth.

“You smell like me, too?” Jungkook managed. “Like Yoongi-hyung, but also me? It’s… Um. It’s really nice.”

He blinked. Yeah, it was nice. Like, really nice. He put the bowl back on the counter. “Hey, you ever thought of joining a pack?”

Jungkook’s eyes went wide, mouth dropping open – expression turning from shocked to eager in a nanosecond. Namjoon swallowed half-chewed cereal and then shrugged, sheepishly.

When Hoseok returned that evening, Namjoon and Jungkook were sat on the living room floor playing Mario Kart, Jungkook happily engulfed in one of Namjoon’s XXL hoodies, bathed in Namjoon’s scent.

“Welcome back, Hoseok-hyung,” Jungkook chirped happily – but Hoseok was staring at them with wide eyes before focusing on Namjoon.

“You’ve really taken on a child? You think that’s appropriate?”

“I’m not a child,” Jungkook said, his beaming smile fading. He’d been so proud all afternoon of being accepted into the pack.

“I get it, you think you’re mature enough,” Hoseok said and looked like he didn’t want to reprimand Jungkook either – “But joining a pack isn’t something to do on a whim, Kookie. And what if- what if this doesn’t work out, with the label? What then?”

Jungkook’s scent of contentment was changing into agitation. “But it will…!”

“And did you ask your parents?”

“Well no, but Namjoon-hyung –”

“So you know –”

And that was all Hoseok managed to say before Namjoon growled, low in his throat – a simple warning. Hoseok blinked in surprise, as if seeing Namjoon for the first time, while Jungkook flushed red, sat on the floor in Namjoon’s hoodie, black hair sticking out randomly.

In his defence, Namjoon didn’t go growling at harmless betas with sunshine smiles on a regular basis. But this was his pack now, and he needed Hoseok to know that going for Jungkook meant dealing with him.

“Right,” Hoseok said, avoiding eye contact. “Congratulations.” And as Hoseok backed out, Namjoon relaxed. Pack intact. Pack safe. Pack happy?

He nudged Jungkook’s shoulder with his own. “You don’t have to worry about him, you know. I’ve got you.”

It was a cheesy thing to say, the words foreign in Namjoon’s mouth. Jungkook looked surprised, too, before unfreezing their race on the screen. “Thanks, alpha-hyung,” Jungkook said shyly, rubbing the sleeve off the hoodie to his nose, clearly inhaling. Namjoon’s guts clenched – no one had ever called him that or sought out his scent so blatantly.

“Yeah,” he said, shrugging, “like, it’s no thang.”

Jungkook beamed, a shy smile on his face. “Ah, you’re so cool!”

The weight of his responsibility was dawning on him in the shape of a fourteen-year-old boy: the withdrawal symptoms were long gone now, but from there on out he’d have to consider Jungkook, too, for times like this. Yoongi would kill Namjoon when he got back to Seoul, of course, and then he’d go scent Jungkook, probably, because Yoongi loved the kid just as much as he did.

He could manage two, he thought. That was a good-sized pack, right?

* * *

They were not great with personal boundaries, meaning that they had none. They all knew when, how, and with whom Jungkook had lost his virginity, which of Jimin’s butt cheeks was more prone to the occasional pimple, and they definitely knew more about each other’s masturbation habits than any of them would want to admit. (No jerking off allowed in the dorm bedroom had always been the golden rule, but the length of their showers had them mocking each other regularly.) Yoongi even habitually wore whatever underwear he found around the dorm, regardless of who it belonged to. They all hated this – yet years in, with huge sums in their bank accounts, Yoongi kept doing this, shrugging his indifference.

Jimin also struggled with boundaries. Jimin became obsessed with Seokjin’s upcoming heat, even, which perhaps stemmed from some envy. At first Jimin had panicked that his suppressant intake was damaging him too – and then seemed disappointed when this wasn’t the case. Seokjin had been taking suppressants longer, in higher doses, too.

Jimin now persistently called the heat a ‘sexcation’ – an English term Jimin had picked up from who-knows-where when his English was generally limited, but sexcation, sure, that was in Jimin’s vocabulary.

“Let’s be honest,” Jimin said, “none of us are getting laid as much as we should.”

This wasn’t due to a lack of eager partners as much as the need for stealth and privacy, their need to keep up the illusion of availability to their fanbase, and their paranoia of someone putting in spy cams in hotel rooms. Namjoon had seen peers from other groups fired, defaced, rejected.

Not them – they would do better.

But they did get laid, sporadically: with staff members or people they’d known pre-fame, and at awards shows they met idols who needed to be discreet, too. Hoseok had, to the envy of most, engaged in a brief fling with the main vocalist of an all omega girl group best left unnamed, while Taehyung had low-key dated one of their makeup artists for four months, a handsome and friendly alpha, half-Taiwanese – the longest romantic relationship any of them could boast.

These little affairs never ended well: all any of them could offer was a message of longing from nine time zones away, and they could maybe text their hotel room number to someone in the tour crew and then pretend it had never happened come morning. No public dates, no PDA, no public acknowledgement whatsoever. Might as well not exist, right?

Taehyung hadn’t cried in front of Namjoon when the makeup artist dumped him while they were on tour (via text), but he knew Jimin had handled it. Was their career preventing his packmates from living better lives? And where did Namjoon place himself with the knowledge that any of his packmates falling in love with an alpha would probably mean them eventually leaving Namjoon’s pack? He wasn’t sure, but he had shared a hotel room with Taehyung a few days after the break-up, and they had talked about love and relationships and how impossible it was for them, as they watched a cheesy romantic movie on Namjoon’s laptop.

“It won’t be like this forever,” he consoled. “One day, you know, you can go out with someone holding their hand, kissing them – all that.” But not yet. Not now.

The alpha/omega romance continued to play on the screen, the pretty male omega blushing as the female alpha started to feed him cherries in a standard courting move.

Taehyung sighed. “But have you ever been in love, hyung?”

“Of course.”

“No, like really in love. There’s liking someone so much it drives you crazy, but I’m talking about- about love, when you… you feel them, deep down, in your soul.”

Namjoon stopped at that.

Of course he was only human – he indulged, too. Omegas with pretty eyes and pretty necks, usually while he was on tour, in some anonymous hotel room where he always felt less like his real self. He’d once dated a cute omega that he’d met through a producer friend, some years after their debut: she’d been pretty and smart, had a soft spot for hiphop, was studying fine arts, and was sympathetic to Namjoon’s insane schedule and pack alpha priorities, even the absolute secrecy. The fumbling sex and flirtatious messages had been nice for the five weeks it lasted, but Namjoon had been asking too much: you can’t tell anyone. Not your friends, your parents…

So he’d ended it. It wasn’t fair to demand so much and give back so little. Had it been love? Had his heart been broken? He’d brooded, for sure. Seokjin had made him tea and listened to him whine about wanting to find an omega for himself one day, and Seokjin had told Namjoon he was twenty-one, for god’s sake, he had plenty of time, and then it’d been alright somehow.

Besides, these days the stress of getting away with a one-night fling made these brief encounters barely worth it.

Now, with Seokjin’s heat, Namjoon worried about a scandal, too – there’d be endless rumours if the public found out.

Talking about Seokjin’s heat was of course within the pack’s bounds of normalcy. It was discussed as the seven of them were squeezed into the back of a limousine on their way to an American awards show. They were all in suits – burgundy, maroon, mauve, two dark greys, navy and emerald green – and with five-million-won watches because that had become their reality at some point. Jungkook had never had a real rut, and Jimin’s last heat had been pre-debut too. The betas got neither – even Yoongi, for all his composure, was intrigued.

Seokjin was flustered by all the attention, the tips of his ears a telling red. “I don’t know why you think this is fun for me!”

“But hyung!” Jimin said, all mischievous grins. “You get to stay in bed for days! How is that not fun? A proper sexcation!”

“You’re using the word wrong,” Namjoon corrected.

Jimin wasn’t listening to him, though, and instead kept bothering Seokjin. The two omegas sat at the back of the limo together, the rest of them on the side seats. “When you last had a heat,” Jimin enquired, “how long did it go on for? Four days? Three?”

“How am I supposed to remember?” Seokjin objected. “We hadn’t even debuted then! Maybe my body will launch years of heats on me, and then you won’t see me until August!”

Jimin pouted. “But you’d miss me!”

“How can I? It’s a sexcation.”

Hoseok looked concerned. “That can’t happen, right? Like, years of heats in one go?” And Hoseok looked at Namjoon like he was somehow the expert.

Jimin and Seokjin stared at them. “Of course not,” Jimin said. “Seriously, you live with us. You know basic omega biology, right?”

Clearly not enough.

The doctor had advised Seokjin on when to stop taking suppressants to have the heat kick in within a ten-hour window, but even with clear instructions of how to time the heat, their management had struggled to find a gap for these “medical reasons”. The remaining pack could keep going sans Seokjin, of course, but people would immediately ask where Seokjin was – and heats were private affairs, and Namjoon certainly had no desire to tell the rest of the world when Kim Seokjin was going to be fertile and willing.

But, in the end, with some shuffling around and a few cancellations, they had been given a new schedule: they all got five days off now, because that was easier than explaining Seokjin’s absence. Jungkook and Hoseok had instantly arranged to go home to see family, while Jimin and Taehyung were busy making plans with various friends in Seoul. Yoongi booked himself a collab that he’d been meaning to pursue with a Dutch DJ, and Namjoon pondered which of his various projects he should tick off.

“You’re not visiting your parents?” Yoongi had asked him – but that had not crossed his mind. He’d thought that it was best for him to stay at the dorm, a mere five-minute walk from Seokjin’s apartment. Omegas were vulnerable during heats, and Namjoon was pack alpha: he should stay alert, just in case. Besides, he hated them splitting up, scattered across cities – staying at the dorm, waiting for his pack to return, would keep him calmest.

But even in the midst of all this, none of them forgot the real reason for the break.

“I want a sexcation,” Jimin now declared to all in the limousine, while Namjoon was psyching himself up for a litany of English interviews. “I want someone tall and hot to throw me over their shoulder and –”

Taehyung grinned, Yoongi looked mildly disgusted, Jungkook had a blush on his cheeks, and Namjoon, annoyed, said, “Jin-hyung isn’t doing that.”

Jimin again ignored him, poking Seokjin’s knee. “I’ll be on the look-out tonight. I’ll pick out the perfect alpha for you, I promise!”

“I haven’t decided what to do about that yet,” Seokjin said dismissively, and although Namjoon didn’t know what was happening, he wasn’t an idiot.

“You’re sharing your heat?” he asked, dumbfounded. Seokjin’s ears looked even redder. “With.” He had to clear his throat. “With who?”

“I don’t know yet,” Seokjin said, eyes on the floor.

“I’m on it!” Jimin said with a wiggle of his eyebrows. “Let’s get some numbers tonight!” And it was a joke, Namjoon knew this, but it took every effort not to growl at his smaller omega. He’d assumed this entire time that Seokjin would, well, help himself, and not have someone…

Jimin leaned into his seat and sighed a dreamy, “Sexcation!”

And Jimin was right after all.

Their limo slowed down, ready for the red carpet, and they all had to refocus. Namjoon was the first one out, and as the flashes of cameras blinded him and screams pierced the air, he stood there like an idiot with a lump in his throat, heart hammering wildly. He felt frayed in his dapper suit, wondering how much he’d learned of himself during all this time after all.

* * *

A month after Jungkook had been initiated into the pack, Namjoon and Hoseok went to see a rap battle in a packed, underground club, and they bounced in the crowd and felt the energy run through them.

“They were so good!” Hoseok enthused as they filed out, limbs sweaty under their clothes.

Namjoon was beyond hyped but reined himself in to nod and conclude, “Yeah, it was dope.”

“They had it! You know, that special something!”

“They had swag,” he answered, thoughtfully.

Despite their adrenaline-filled analysis of the rappers they’d seen, the conversation turned to worries that Namjoon usually shared only with Yoongi: when would they debut? Was this their final line-up? Were they good enough? Hoseok shared these doubts with him as they waited for their bus together, shivering in the cold.

Namjoon took a moment to message Yoongi and Jungkook that he was on his way back: Pack Business, they had labelled their group chat. Yoongi rarely did anything else except send a thumbs up, while Namjoon used it to ask for location updates because he got restless when he didn’t know where Yoongi and Jungkook were. at dorm read roughly half of Jungkook’s texts, but most of them came with smiley faces attached.

And so even now, as he and Hoseok stood at a bus stop: where you guys at?

at dorm :), Jungkook sent, and Yoongi sent a thumbs up, which indicated “ditto”.

good, he typed, i’ll be back soon. And though his pack was at the dorm, he still added, stay safe. He then put the phone away, but Hoseok had been standing next to him and read the exchange. “Silly,” Namjoon mumbled, shifting his feet. “Like, I just worry. It’s instinct, I guess.”

“You’re really good with them,” Hoseok said. “They get a lot of strength from you, you know, a lot of confidence. It comes naturally to you, huh? Leading.”

Not all alphas were good at leading packs, and Namjoon wasn’t sure if he was. Hearing Hoseok tell him that he was doing a decent job, however, helped him relax. It did feel natural: like he had a little brother and a big brother – the other copying all that he did, and the other seemingly unimpressed but bragging about the two of them behind their backs to anyone who would listen.

And as Namjoon was about to say something like ah, he was hardly a good alpha, he was just lucky with his packmates, Hoseok stepped right up to him, almost knocking into him from the speed of it. And as Namjoon froze, but did not recoil, Hoseok hesitated – and then grabbed Namjoon’s jacket, pulled Namjoon in, and nosed at his chest a little in an act full of confidence, but Hoseok smelled of uncertainty, of fear of rejection, which – which was absurd. Hoseok was one of the most talented people Namjoon had ever met, kind to everyone and maybe even too much so, and Namjoon knew he’d have Hoseok’s back, always, and would kill and/or maim anyone who ever considered hurting him.

So he wrapped an arm around Hoseok’s shoulders and pressed into Hoseok’s neck, gross and sweaty as they were from the show, but to be honest it made the scenting better. And by the time the night bus arrived, Namjoon could detect Hoseok on his skin, the way he could pick apart the smells of Yoongi and Jungkook on his skin too.

They were exchanging excited smiles as they boarded, both perhaps a bit smitten.

“Yoongi will be pleased,” was the first thing he thought to say as they found empty seats.

Hoseok had a shy but blinding smile on his face. “Really?”

“Oh yeah. He’s been pestering me to ask you for, like, weeks. You’re cool, Hoseok-ah,” he said, and Hoseok ducked his head as they sat together – shoulders pressed, seeking skinship in a way they hadn’t ten minutes earlier. “I mean, the label will kill me, but you guys come first. So – so anything I can do for you, if you need anything, ever…”

Hoseok, still flustered, said, “Well, you could stop leaving your clothes all over the dorm.”

Namjoon sometimes blurted out truths when his defences were down: “That was for you.”

Hoseok looked stunned. “Oh?” Then, “Oh.”

“Yeah,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.

“Cool. I mean, tidy up, but cool.”

And then they laughed – the streets gleamed outside, and they were both seventeen years old with still-black hair and excess baby fat and agreed that boots with metal studs were cool. They’d never rapped in front of more than two hundred people, either of them, but it would be cool if, maybe, they could reach five hundred? One day? Eventually?

Hoseok’s head dropped onto his shoulder, tentatively, and Namjoon steadied himself the best he could.

Four, including himself, Namjoon thought. That was the size a pack should be.

* * *

The first thing Seokjin ever said to him was, “Oh hey, did someone punch you?”

It was a question of pity because clearly Namjoon had had his ass handed to him by an abler, more skilled alpha, the bruise on his cheek still visible.

But truthfully he’d walked into a door a few days earlier. He’d been at the studio, trying to record a demo for a new song he was drafting, but the progress was slow, he was distracted, his throat dry and his nerves shot. On his way back to get a glass of water from the label kitchen, he’d made friends with an open door, smacking his face hard and doubling over in pain.

With the bruise forming on his cheek, Yoongi had seethed. “You fought with some alpha, just admit it. What was it about? Your mother’s honour? Eminem’s? Or – or did someone bully Jungkook?” For a short beta, Yoongi had two very strong, swinging fists on him – and was ready to take them out for a worthy cause, such as the well-being of their maknae.

“I literally walked into a door, hyung,” he persisted, and then sighed. “I think there was an omega?”

“Oh shut up, you make me want to barf,” Yoongi said and handed him an ice pack.

But he’d been so distracted because there’d been a scent: mellow and sweet, equally alluring as disarming, a honey-like musk that had him sniffing the air as he processed it. A male omega, unmated, and the scent was mature enough, but how old exactly? Where was the omega who smelled like this, and why was that omega somewhere at the label? He wasn’t usually distracted by people’s scents, mated or not, and certainly not to this extent. Whose scent was this? How could they be unmated when they smelled like – like warmth and like a promise of something? When they smelled so right?

And then he met the door and, at the practice studio some days later, Seokjin.

He was whacked again, but only figuratively this time, by the honeyed musk, except it had changed: now drowned by a heavy layer of some unknown alpha’s scent. Namjoon felt like he lost his footing, taking in the newcomer with confusion.

Someone made introductions, and Namjoon shook hands with Seokjin – a few years older than him, a college student, and stupidly gorgeous. Seokjin seemed reserved, but was also cracking jokes and flashing white teeth. He had a pale, unmarked neck that Namjoon had to persistently tell himself not to sneak glances at. The unknown alpha’s scent on Seokjin was pungent, telling of a youthful romance.

Hoseok and Jungkook were already charmed by Seokjin’s friendly smiles. Yoongi was still making up his mind.

Seokjin had no experience dancing or singing, but the label thought that an attractive omega would serve them well: for alphas to lust after, for omegas to envy, for betas to admire. The rest of them weren’t hot enough to fill those shoes.

And so: Kim Seokjin.

“Yeah, sure,” Namjoon said, his voice rough. “We could definitely use some help.”

Most idol groups favoured some segregation to avoid rumours and conflict: alpha-beta groups, or omega-beta groups. They were determined to be different, to speak for their generation and break down archaic myths that alphas and omegas couldn’t co-exist outside mating, that alphas couldn’t be close friends with each other without resentment and rivalry, that omegas were always jealous of each other… But Namjoon feared he was already failing on some of those accounts.

What had that alpha’s name even been, the one Seokjin had dated at university? That alpha had been irrelevant for a good while now. As time passed them by and brought them closer, he and Seokjin could fall asleep on each other, walk past each other’s half-nude bodies in dressing rooms and hotel rooms, Seokjin could push his head into Namjoon’s neck to share scent as they watched a movie, but it was always pack behaviour, and that was all. The perfect omega – according to various Korean and international polls and ratings – was in Namjoon’s pack, and was, in a sense, his. As pack alpha, of course. Not as alpha.

It’d been sensible to internalise that on the first day, before he got any non-sensical ideas into his head.

“Can you believe the new guy showed up scented by some alpha?” he still asked his pack.

But the others had no idea what he was talking about. They hadn’t noticed, apparently – maybe you needed to be an alpha, Namjoon thought, to notice the way Seokjin smelled. But other alphas had been at the studio, too, without reacting. The rival’s scent must have been mild, much milder than Namjoon’s instincts had told him. It must have been barely there for everyone except him.

Really, that should have been the first warning sign for Namjoon – in truth, it had been one of dozens.

* * *

It had taken years for the collective world to stop screaming abuse over their pack status. Young adults, some still teenagers, debuting not just as idols but as a pack? The label had clearly forced them to bond as a desperate marketing strategy.

And it didn’t matter if they’d debuted two, four, or five years ago, they were always asked about being a pack. Some thought their pack was fake and many thought they all must secretly resent being in a forced pack, and if Jimin had a cough, some fan pinned it on Namjoon’s failures to look after his packmates properly.

But there were also dozens – hundreds? – of YouTube videos with titles such as 16 minutes of everyone being whipped for the omega line – a compilation of them letting Jimin and Seokjin get away with murder because how could they not; Hobi’s pack scenting habits UWU CONTENT, showcasing years of backstage and onstage material of Hoseok hugging them, nosing them, dipping his head into their necks, and all of them accepting Hobi’s affections with shy and grateful smiles; fiercest lil meow meow beta moments of Yoongi taking no one’s shit, including Namjoon’s, of Yoongi looking at alphas twice his size with complete disregard – and having a few of them shrink under his stare; when the pack alpha jumps out of Namjoon at award shows, on red carpets, in the practice studio, with a single glance getting the others to follow him, sit down, stand in line, disperse; Namjoon being territorial AF (warning: scary AND hot) of Namjoon staring down people unexpectedly approaching his pack members, Namjoon positioning himself between the pack and journalists – subtly, discreetly – of Namjoon claiming his pack with small gestures, arm slung around their shoulders or waist, hand brushing their necks – and the others not blinking an eye but letting him, a clear indication of ownership, while Namjoon’s steady gaze warded off outsiders with a ‘this one’s mine’.

How they acted with each other was dissected, analysed, criticised, adored. And while many fans saw Namjoon’s failings, most loved that they were such a close-knit pack despite being so young, despite none of it being built around the traditional mate pairings.

Even now, as they were in Los Angeles recovering from the previous night’s award show with a radio interview, it wasn’t their achievements that were discussed, but their dynamics. The female alpha hosting the radio show asked, “Now, you’re not just an idol group, of course, you guys are also a pack.”

Namjoon tried to focus, although he was exhausted – they all were. They were in America for sixty hours, coming up to fifty-five then: landing, heading straight to the studio of a talk show for rehearsal and filming, then posing for the host’s social media accounts, doing interviews at the hotel, some sleep, wake up, do hair and makeup for a photo shoot, followed by the shoot in downtown LA, then more press, practise for the evening’s performance, dress rehearsal, then back to the hotel, change clothes and makeup, prep speech, focus, limousine, sexcation declarations, lose focus, red carpet, award show, accept award, perform, back to hotel, all pack VLive, sleep for four hours, more press, be driven to the radio station for their final US interview, and now their plane back to Seoul was only a few hours away.

They were all ready to pack it in: for the love of god let me sleep.

But no, it was back to the same boring questions: you’re a pack! Tell me more! It’s not invasive when the world wants to know!

The interview was being filmed, too, so whatever they did would later be shared online in video format. He was mindful of this and looked cheerful in spite of the one-note questions and him being done with it all.

“Yeah, we’ve been a pack for years and years now,” he said, as the seven of them sat in the studio around a large table with recording equipment and microphones, half a dozen of their own staff lingering, another half dozen from the radio station observing. He was translating for the rest, a little stressed as always, but Seokjin was thankfully sat by him – their knees were touching, and he focused on that. Across the table, Hoseok was beaming in a way that carried across language barriers, and Taehyung and Jimin were quieter but trying to catch what the conversation was about.

“Is that common in South Korea, in the music industry that you have over there? Because in America it’s very rare for people your age to be in packs – never mind that you all work together.”

He turned to his pack and translated the question – they got this one often.

Jungkook, bravely, leaned into the microphone in front of him. “In Korea not many, um, idol packs? Yes, but we – we are a pack and. We are a good pack, together.” And then Jungkook gave the interviewer a bright smile.

“Well, I can see that,” she laughed. “But do you guys ever fight, do you bicker?”

Namjoon translated, and Hoseok stepped in. “Yes, we fight,” Hoseok said with a laugh. “But little fights? And we, ah…” Hoseok lost the word.

“Resolve?” Namjoon ventured, locking eyes with Hoseok and repeating it in Korean.

“Yes, resolve,” Hoseok nodded from across the table. “Ah, see, our alpha helps – if we fight, he helps. Very good pack alpha, you know?”

And Namjoon ducked his head, embarrassed. The hostess laughed. “So you don’t have trouble keeping your pack in line then?” A typical question from an alpha to another, but she seemed cool enough: a mating bite marked her neck, maybe a few years old.

“They keep me in line,” he argued quickly.

“That’s awesome! Does being a pack make navigating the music industry easier, do you think?”

“In some ways,” Namjoon admitted, filing this question as too complex for translation. “We’re always together, which – which I like, of course. We can support each other, and we’re, like. We’re always home wherever we go, you know, because we’ve got our pack. But sometimes we have different schedules or- or responsibilities, and then that’s hard.”

“The withdrawal?”

“Yeah, hits us pretty hard,” he admitted. The hostess was looking at him intently now, so he shrugged. “But it’s pack life – family, you know.”

“Family!” Taehyung echoed from the end of the table with an emphatic nod. Namjoon fought off a fond smile.

“Awesome, awesome!” The hostess smiled knowingly, and Namjoon somehow sensed it. “And any room in the pack for more members, then? Maybe girlfriends, boyfriends? Intended mates?”

Americans – every damn time! Namjoon was excellent at dodging these questions: it was true they were focusing on their careers, but the pressure to appear available for tender-hearted fans was constant too. If any of them admitted they were dating, many would be genuinely happy for them perhaps but numerous others would still cry, and Namjoon was rather distressed by the thought.

And now: sexcation. Seokjin was sat by him, flustered by the question. What was Namjoon expected to say? Perhaps ‘no, no one’s dating, but Seokjin here is looking for a heat partner. Know a decent alpha? Apply within!’

Namjoon pressed on with a non-answer. “We’re focusing on our careers, so we’re kinda busy, so yeah.”

“What a shame,” the hostess shot back, her eyes perhaps lingering on Seokjin, even with the mating mark on her neck – but alphas were always drawn to Seokjin’s scent and looks.

“We don’t think so,” he argued – journalists. You had to fend them off sometimes.

But she thankfully moved on. “So who did you initiate first into the pack and who last?”

Yoongi, who always understood everything but never helped, held up his hand. “First, me. Yeah.”

And Seokjin, who had understood from context, leaned to his mic and said, “Me last.”

“The missing puzzle!” Jungkook chirped happily from the end of the table, grinning – a phrase he knew from some song, Namjoon figured.

Seokjin blinked in confusion at Jungkook, but Namjoon said, “Yeah, he was our missing puzzle.” He reached out to brush the nape of Seokjin’s neck because he could while other alphas couldn’t, the skin warm against his hand, and Seokjin looked at him questioningly. “Then I was complete.” He paused, pulled his hand back, and added, “The pack, you know, was complete.”

“Awesome, awesome!”

Ten minutes later, heading to the cars taking them at last to the airport, Hoseok and Taehyung were already mimicking the hostess’s perpetual cry of “awesome, awesome!” Everything was always awesome in America.

Right before they boarded the plane, one of their staff showed Namjoon Twitter’s worldwide trends with a bemused smile: #OurMissingPuzzleJin had made it to number three.