“So what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?” Jungkook asks, taking a swig of his beer and feigning like he doesn’t know exactly what Namjoon means. Like he hasn’t been dying to tell Namjoon his news ever since he found out yesterday.
Namjoon throws the last of his darts and hits a solid 24. It’s only their second beer, so he’s just hit that sweet spot when the alcohol has loosened him up enough that he throws much better than when he’s completely sober. This will change later, as it always does, because he will get a third beer. Maybe, depending on how the night goes, even a fourth (although this rarely happens), and his throws will turn sloppy, limbs too long and poorly coordinated.
Jungkook, on the other hand, never has more than the two drinks. Maybe it’s the bunny in him, but he’s learned he can’t hold his alcohol, and he definitely doesn’t enjoy the way it makes him act and feel – cutesy and even needier than usual, and embarrassingly horny.
“There’s something you wanna tell me,” Namjoon intuits, handing him the darts. “You’ve been practically bouncing the entire night. And your left ear keeps twitching like it does when you’re really excited.”
Something more than the alcohol glows warm down Jungkook’s chest at the thought of Namjoon knowing him this well, being able to read him even though he hasn’t mentioned a thing. He was tempted to blurt it out over the phone, like he did to Jimin and Taehyung, but he resisted and waited for their weekly drinks to tell him in person. He doesn’t know why it felt so important to see Namjoon’s face when he told him.
Suddenly it feels too big, and also somehow less than real until it’s said out loud and Namjoon knows. So instead of playing dumb a little longer like he was tempted to, he finds his tongue almost tripping over the words.
“I got offered a job!”
Namjoon pauses with the bottle halfway to his mouth. The way his whole face lights up makes Jungkook feel like his whole being is swelling with pride.
“Kookie! That’s so great! What kind of job?”
Ah, yes. The inevitable question. Under the current laws, work opportunities for free hybrids are more than limited. Allowed to do only jobs that require no education, they are basically limited to manual labor and sex work. It’s a step up from the time when, only a few years ago, they were legally viewed as no more than animals, hardly more than property. When they had to have owners or live in designated centers their entire lives if nobody wanted them.
And sure, it’s progress to be able to live freely, but Jungkook finds that slips his mind pretty quickly when he toils away all day at the construction site in the burning heat, for minimum wage which barely covers food and a rickety roof over his head in a shabby bungalow he shares with four other hybrids.
“It’s uh… Like, a videographer and photographer position? All rolled into one, I guess?” From what he knows of the job, it’s mostly weddings and family portraits. Maybe not the most creative work available in the field, but still, more than he ever dared dream of when he basically starved for the first few months of his freedom just so he could buy a camera.
“That’s amazing!” Namjoon steps forward for a hug, then notices the forgotten beer in his hand. He almost knocks it over trying to put it on the table in a hurry but catches it at the last moment, with only a minor spill. Crisis handled, he finally wraps his arms around Jungkook and pulls him in.
The alcohol from the two beers mutes Jungkook’s guilt about his feelings enough that he allows himself to enjoy the hug fully. He buries his face in Namjoon’s neck and breathes in the clean smell of his skin and the faint trace of cedarwood cologne. “Thank you,” he almost whispers, overwhelmed as always when he’s this near Namjoon.
“How did that happen?” Joon asks, letting go of him. “Come on, let’s sit. I wanna hear all the details. I can’t believe you let us have two drinks and play three games of darts before you said anything.” The reproach is doled out with the same brilliant, proud grin on his face though, so it lacks any bite.
“I… There was an ad on a job site. It’s a pretty big photography studio downtown. So I submitted some of my stuff and filled out this questionnaire. I wasn’t really hoping for anything. The site shows the number of applicants for each job, and for this one it was literally in the hundreds.” He runs his finger through the condensation on his beer bottle. “To be honest, I thought I’d never hear back from them. Or at the very least, I thought there would be some super lengthy process with like, a million interviews or whatever. But then a few days later, they emailed me saying that they were so impressed with the work I sent them that the job was mine if I wanted it.”
Namjoon beams at him from across the table. “Why am I not surprised at all?” he snorts. “Only you could get hired without so much as an interview. Golden Kookie.”
He reaches out over the table to ruffle Jungkook’s hair. His fingers graze one of Jungkook’s silky black ears, and they both get shy, Namjoon clumsily pulling his hand back and pretending like it was no big deal.
And it’s not. Or rather, it is, but it’s okay. It’s intimate, and not something he’d let most people do, but Joon has never been most people to him. He almost opens his mouth to say as much, tell Namjoon it’s okay to touch him like that. That it feels nice, and Jungkook trusts him. Instead, he picks up his near empty beer bottle and takes a huge gulp of the swill left at the bottom. It’s flat and warm, but at least it keeps Jungkook from talking.
“So uh,” Namjoon says, still a little awkward but determined to soldier on and pretend nothing’s happened. “When do you start?”
Jungkook’s belly sinks. He knew this part of the conversation was coming, but idly, he wishes it didn’t have to come up just yet. He doesn’t want to see the pride on Namjoon’s face replaced with pity.
“Wait.” Joon’s eyebrows are furrowed in question, so lost in thought that he doesn’t yet notice the drop in Jungkook’s enthusiasm. “Is it part of some new hybrid support initiative? I haven’t heard of any new hire programs.”
“Not really, no.” Jungkook doesn’t want to be talking about this.
“I don’t… How are you going to…? Have they told you how they intend to take care of the legal side, then?”
Jungkook releases a heavy breath.
“They’re not going to.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m not taking the job, Joon. I can’t. They don’t even know I’m a hybrid. There’s no special hiring program. I was just…” he looks down at the table, peeling the wet label off the bottle with his fingers, then rolling it into a tight roll. “I know I can’t take the job, but I was just really proud to be chosen, you know? Wanted to tell you. Thought you’d be proud too.”
“I am,” Namjoon says, even while his face falls. Jungkook can already see his brain working, as clear as if he were a cartoon character with gears spinning in his head. He’s trying to think of a way to solve this, Jungkook knows. “Kookie, I’m so proud. You have no idea. But there’s got to be something we can do about it. Maybe I could write an appeal to the Hybrid Regulation Board on your behalf.”
“That would take too long.”
He doesn’t say the other thing he’s thinking – which is that it wouldn’t change a thing. There are thousands of hybrids in his exact same position or much worse. So many activists and organizations fighting their cause. But it’s a slow fucking process, and sometimes it feels like the whole world is prejudiced against them. It’s not right or fair, but hybrids starve, and whore themselves out and beg in the streets every single day, waiting for a change. Nobody at the Board gives a fuck about Jungkook’s job offer.
“We could try...”
“They’d already hire somebody else by then. It’s okay, Joon. I’m okay with it.” He tries to make his voice sound lighter, like he hadn’t spent an entire fucking night crying about the unfairness of it, until his pillow was soaked with tears and his whole body felt feverish.
“It’s not… How can you be okay with it?” Namjoon slams his bottle a little too hard on the table. There’s anger and real sadness etched all over his open, sincere face, and Jungkook’s chest hurts all over again, for all the things he can never have, just because he was born with soft, furry ears and a fluffy tail.
Never a job he loves.
Never a partner to love him like he wants to be loved.
“There’s nothing else to do but be okay with it. What am I supposed to do? I can’t change the law.”
He shouldn’t have had the beer. There’s bitterness in his mouth and in his throat and on his tongue.
“Yes, there is,” Namjoon almost whispers. As if in slow motion, Jungkook watches his face transform, like there’s something dawning on him this very second. All of a sudden there’s excitement in his unfocused eyes, and Jungkook can tell he’s still thinking hard, a million combinations running through his mind. It’s only going to end in disappointment for the both of them, and Jungkook wishes he would just let it go right now. It would hurt less.
“No, Joon. There really isn’t.” He’s so tired. A deep ache in every cell of his body that has little to do with the grueling physicality of his job or his early wake-up time. “Let’s just drop it.”
“No, but Kookie, wait.” Namjoon is looking at him now, voice urgent, eyes wide. “There really is. You can have it. You can have the job.”
“How? You know that as a hybrid I am not allowed to take a job like that.”
“You are if you’re married.”
Jungkook stares at him, without really comprehending what he’s saying.
“You are allowed to take any job you are offered if you are married to a human.” Namjoon repeats, aflutter with excitement. As if what he’s saying changes anything. As if it makes any sense.
“But I’m not,” Jungkook counters, carefully. He does know that law even though he doesn’t understand how it relates to his particular situation. His heart pitter-patters in his chest faster than if he’d sprinted around the block.
“You’re not,” Namjoon says, a knowing grin spreading over his face. “Yet.”
Jungkook doesn’t understand anything. Or maybe something in him does, something small perking up and daring to hope as Namjoon looks at his own two hands and mumbles, “Fuck, no rings tonight.”
His eyes fall onto the rolled up beer bottle label, and light up, like he’s seen something precious. His long fingers bend it and fiddle with it for a few seconds, and then there is an open palm, like an offer in front of Jungkook, and on it is paper bent in the shape of a ring.
And Jungkook must be stupid, because he still doesn’t understand, or maybe he does, but he doesn’t dare believe it, because it’s not supposed to happen to him. These kinds of things aren’t meant for people like him.
Only it’s definitely happening, because here is Kim Namjoon, in front of him, and maybe Jungkook is going crazy.
That must be it. He’s losing his mind. Or maybe he’s mishearing. The bar is buzzing with conversation, the patrons laughing and talking and flirting. A radio hit from at least ten years ago is blasting from the sound system. It’s all so loud, and that has to be the explanation.
Because Jungkook would bet everything he has that the words out of Namjoon’s mouth are, “Will you marry me, Kookie?”
They get married in a hurry. It takes Namjoon another two hours just to convince Jungkook that yes, he is serious, and no, he is not drunk. Jungkook promises to think about it. It makes him feel bad almost as much as it’s surreal that Namjoon is the one who is insisting, and he is the one who is hesitating, as this isn’t something out of his wildest dreams. As if he could ever have hoped to get a marriage proposal. Not only from a human, but from Kim Namjoon.
“Am I gonna be your best man?” Taehyung asks with wide, serious eyes when Jungkook tells him and Jimin. The two of them end up bickering about who would be the better choice for the position. As if this is not the most insane, least plausible thing Jungkook could have told them. As if the question of who gets to be the best man is the only thing left to settle and then Jungkook can start this new life where he’s married to the man of his dreams and has a nice job and a nice home, like these are all things that he’s allowed to have.
The weird part is, that is exactly how everything plays out. He spends a couple of sleepless nights thinking about it. But ultimately, he can’t think of a good enough reason not to take this chance.
You’re in love with him, he tells himself reproachfully. You’re in love with him, and he doesn’t know.
But the marriage is just a formality so he can take the job. It doesn’t mean anything other than a friend helping a friend out, and they both know it. Doesn’t mean anything other than Namjoon saving his fucking life and pulling him out of the gutter he’s been stuck in his entire life.
No big deal.
And anyway, how would it even be possible for anyone not to be hopelessly in love with someone who’s willing to do that for a friend?
So in the grand scheme of things, he reasons, his unrequited pining means nothing. He can just never allow Namjoon to find out. That, at least, shouldn’t be a problem.
He’s had eight years of practice, after all.
So finally, when he can’t put it off any longer, he calls Namjoon and asks him if he really meant it. If he still means it. This time it only takes a single confirmation from Joon for him to do the most selfish thing he’s ever done and say yes. Namjoon whoops on the other end of the line, and that’s that.
He keeps waiting for something to go wrong, or for someone to bust out a hidden camera and laugh in his face, tell him it was all an elaborate prank. But nothing happens and things unfold without a hitch.
Namjoon pulls some strings to get their marriage license as fast as possible, and they get married on a Wednesday afternoon, five days after the proposal. They walk out of City Hall hand in hand, Namjoon tall and elegant and radiant with a wide, sincere smile on his face, and Jungkook off-kilter and dressed in a borrowed suit that is a size too small for him.
There is a thin wedding band on his ring finger, and a matching one on Namjoon’s hand.
“You really shouldn’t have spent money on rings,” he mutters, feeling guilty about Namjoon going to all this trouble and expense, but even more guilty at how much his heart thrills when he catches the silvery glimmer of it out of the corner of his eye.
“They were on sale,” Namjoon chuckles. “And besides, the Hybrid Regulation Board’s officers are gonna be on the lookout for details like that when they check on us. Same reason you need to move in.”
“Okay,” Jungkook nods. His stomach ties itself in a million knots when he thinks about moving in with Joon. It was hard enough being in love with him when Jungkook only saw him once a week. And now they’re going to wake up together, drink their morning coffee together and share their space and their lives.
Jungkook is screwed.
It must show on his face, because Namjoon squeezes his hand reassuringly. For a second, Jungkook is terrified that he’s given himself away, but when Namjoon speaks, it turns out he’s completely misinterpreted the reasons for Jungkook’s nerves.
“Hey, don’t worry. There’s no way they’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay.”
“Okay,” Jungkook repeats again, even quieter than before.
Namjoon offers him a comforting smile and then, still not letting go of his hand, takes him home.