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Either is fine, she’d said when she introduced herself the first time.

It was not the first time he’d met someone in the industry who used at least two names for themself, but it was one of the first times he’d seen someone appear so blasé about it. Her lack of concern for the matter stirred something in him. Surprise, if he was being charitable. Envy, if he was being honest.

She repeated it when pushed, laughing a little, waving her hand. It seemed so easy for her to say, “I don’t have a preference, honestly.” Seemed easy for her to mean it.

Namjoon felt his brow furrow in the face of that. “At all?”

She’d smiled at him, radiant, and said, “I know who I am,” a little coy and a lot confident, and reached up to pat Namjoon on the shoulder. He could smell her perfume when she got close. “You’re sweet for asking, though. Most people don’t care what I think about it.”

“Oh. Okay,” said Namjoon. He could feel the others watching them, expressions drifting from interest into bland politeness as, one by one, they stopped being able to follow the conversation. Namjoon translated, usually, while he spoke, if only to keep the attention of the group in settings like this, but it had been such a long night and Namjoon didn’t know how to translate exactly what it was that he’d been asking for anyway, so he let it go. “It was really nice to meet you,” he’d told her instead.

Halsey had smiled at that, something more genuine than Namjoon was used to seeing from anyone at awards shows, her nose scrunching up sweetly. “Let’s stay in touch,” she instructed, and seemed, impossibly, like she meant it.

“Of course,” said Namjoon, and meant it, too.

And then she hugged them all and disappeared in a whirlwind of sheer fabric and glitter, and that was that.

Namjoon knew then like he knows now that no one ever really follows up that kind of thing in the circles his band runs in, but he wanted to talk to her again someday. Wanted to write music for her, or take her out for coffee. In the US, in a few years, in a different world…

...but Namjoon has always spent too much time ruminating on what could be, and not enough time living what is. In this world, this moment, Halsey was a connection he wanted to keep, and he thought that she wanted that, too.

He held that knowledge close to his heart and felt, embarrassingly, safer for it. Comforted. He would keep in touch, he thought. Maybe there were some things they could learn from each other.

/

Now, months and months and a collab later, they are something like friends.

Namjoon is never left wanting for opportunities to practice English, but he likes talking to her even without the academic incentive. Likes her freedom with the language, how she curses, the informal, almost lazy slant of her mouth when she speaks through laughter. Most of the people close to him prefer Korean, and it’s nice to stretch his metaphorical legs a bit without the whole world watching.

You’re so responsible, she texts him unprompted at one point, 1AM in Seoul, 11AM in Chicago. The others are lucky to have you.

Namjoon looks at it for awhile, lets the blue glow of the phone wash over him, and answers, measured, We’re lucky to have each other.

In the next room over, Taehyung is fast asleep, or at least he was when Namjoon last saw about an hour ago, his eyes shut, his mouth slack. He, like the rest of them, never looks younger than when he’s sleeping, and it had made Namjoon ache in an indescribable way, just a little, to see him looking so vulnerable in a house this big. The steady rise and fall of his chest next to the walk-in closet. His open palms resting against silk pajamas.

Namjoon stays up some nights wondering just how far he would go to protect them and this thing they’ve all built together. Scares himself sometimes thinking about it, but only sometimes.

His phone lights up again. Yeah, is all she’s replied.

Are you lonely? he wants to ask, but it feels formal, too-much, stilted. He could add her name, but he still doesn’t know which to use when they’re quiet like this, and English is so...there are unwritten rules around saying what you mean, and Namjoon is still learning how to soften things without leaning on honorifics, formality and informality, anything to tuck into the spaces to declare his intentions: I am asking because I care about you. I don’t want to pull you apart just because I can. I honor our friendship. I want you to trust me, to believe you can.

But he doesn’t have the words.

He waffles over it for just a few minutes more before falling asleep, phone in hand, the big empty room gone perfectly dark around him.

/

They’re wrapping up their post-BBMA VLive when Namjoon’s phone buzzes in his pocket with an incoming call. He ignores it for the last five minutes of the stream, then checks as soon as they cut the feed.

1 Missed Call From Halsey [sparkle emoji]

He steps into the bathroom and calls her back.

“Joon!” she cheers on the third ring. It’s loud where she is. Namjoon cradles the phone closer to his ear.

“Hi,” he says, laughing, clumsy, and blames the alcohol in his system for what he says next, how earnest he sounds when he says it. “You’re the only one who calls me that.”

She laughs back. “Isn’t it your name?”

“Well, yes,” says Namjoon, and finds it all at once an impossible task to explain the difference between her exuberant Joon! and Yoongi’s quiet, gravelly Joon-ah, or Jimin’s sweet and sparkling Namjoonie-hyung. “Anyway,” he continues, brushing it off, “you called?”

“Right! You won! And we performed! We need to celebrate!”

“Celebrate,” he echoes.

He’s met with an affirmative sound. “Nothing major—I just know this spot the two of us could hang out without being bothered too much, and we probably won’t see each other for a while after tonight.” She almost sounds nervous.

Namjoon pauses. On the other side of the door, he can hear Jungkook protesting as someone attempts to...climb on him? Tackle him to the ground? Tickle him? Hard to tell with everyone laughing over his complaints.

The prospect of a casual celebration with someone he doesn’t spend 18 hours a day with is growing more and more appealing. And maybe, if he drinks enough, he’ll be able to ask her about— well. Maybe. He’ll cross that bridge if he gets to it.

“Where should I meet you?”

She rattles off an address brightly, complete with back door instructions and a vague map of where the most people hoping to see celebrities seem to have gathered around the hotel. Namjoon asks her to repeat it once more and promises to head over in fifteen minutes or so. Then they hang up, and he takes a hard look at himself in the mirror. He’s flushed from the evening’s events and the alcohol, hair sticking up at an odd angle on the left side, clothes rumpled.

He pokes his head out of the bathroom. “Jin-hyung?” Seokjin looks up from where he’s holding Taehyung in a loose chokehold. “Come here for a minute?”

Seokjin releases Taehyung and walks over, entering the bathroom with Namjoon and shooting him an amused look when Namjoon locks the door. “Oh, wow, finally after six years you proposition me in a hotel bathroom. I’ve been waiting for this moment, Joonie.”

Namjoon rolls his eyes and ignores the squeeze in his chest, refuses to dignify that with a response. “I need your help.”

“With the mafia? I knew it.”

“Hyung.”

Seokjin’s expression shifts, finally. Sobers, smoothes out. “Namjoon-ah, it’s been five minutes. What kind of trouble did you manage to get into in here, huh?”

“Not trouble,” corrects Namjoon quickly, and then he pauses, corrects himself again. “Hopefully not. I’ll be careful.”

“Careful with what?”

“I’m going out.”

Seokjin’s brow furrows. “Now? Where?”

“Just for tonight. I’m seeing…” For a dangling moment, Namjoon considers obscuring it. Calling her a friend like they don’t all know her, or lying about his plans completely. But that’s not what they do. From the very beginning, they promised uncompromising honesty like swearing fealty. To Bangtan, and to each other. No lies, and no half-truths, either. That’s the only way this works. And Namjoon is already holding back so much from all of them; he can’t hold this, too. “...Halsey.”

Seokjin is kind, overlooks the hesitation. “A party and you don’t invite us?” he inquires mildly. Some of the faux-affront is back on his face, sparkling in his wide eyes, and that’s how Namjoon knows he isn’t upset.

“Not a party. Just the two of us. Just to talk.”

“Talk,” repeats Seokjin gently, and Namjoon doesn’t know why his heart lurches a little. “You’re going alone?”

“I just said—”

Alone, Namjoon-ah. No managers? Is that why you brought me in here?”

Namjoon swallows, nods. It used to be hard to even think under the intensity of Seokjin’s gaze when he’s serious, and sometimes it still is, but it’s been years now. You can, Namjoon has found, do just about anything with enough practice. “I was hoping you could cause a distraction so I can slip out, and then tell the managers I went to my room.”

“And if you get recognized in the middle of the street? If you get lost? Mobbed? Kidnapped?

Namjoon can’t help a little laugh at that. “I’m not going to get kidnapped.”

“You could!”

“Hyung, please. I just need to get out for a bit.”

Seokjin sighs. “You’re not usually the restless one.”

If anyone in the group would be the one to pull a stunt like this, it would be Seokjin. That’s Namjoon’s first reason for asking him in particular to help with this. The other reason is couched in the word distraction. “Please. I want to see things, do things. We only get so much time here.”

“We have a day off before our next concert,” says Seokjin, a little bit chiding, but Namjoon knows he’s cracked him. “If you die, I’m taking everything from your studio and selling it, and then spending the money on promotions of my face on billboards.”

“Just your face?” asks Namjoon, a little weak with relief. He hates being at odds with any of them, even if he initiates it. Maybe especially then.

Seokjin nods decisively. “And a banner on top that says ‘Kim Namjoon was a bad guy’ in all capital letters.”

“Okay,” says Namjoon.

“Yeah?” asks Seokjin.

Namjoon nods.

Seokjin sighs again, world-weary, carrying so much for the group and then carrying even more to make sure they don’t realize how heavy the weight on his back is. “Be careful,” he implores, and hesitates for a moment before dragging Namjoon into a hug.

His arms are warm and tight around Namjoon’s shoulders. Maybe it’s the alcohol, but Namjoon settles into it easily, doesn’t feel awkward or out of sorts. His gangly limbs seem to soften, fold in, like his body isn’t too unwieldy to accept affection. To be comforted like this. He shuts his eyes. “Thank you, hyung,” he murmurs into Seokjin’s hair.

“Thank me by not dying,” answers Seokjin. His tone is querulous and edging toward annoyed, as if he’s making a great sacrifice and isn’t happy about it, but Namjoon knows him better than that.

He pulls back, tugs at the hem of his dress shirt. “Promise.”

Seokjin sighs like he’s steeling himself, and then opens the door to the bathroom and greets the other room with a booming, “Pillow fight!” that interrupts what appears to be…

...a pillow fight already in progress. The only one not putting his body into landing heavy hits with the dense, feathery hotel pillows is Yoongi, who is half-asleep on the lounge chair in the corner, regarding the room with sleepy eyes and a slanting smirk.

“Oh,” says Seokjin, surveying the scene. He picks up a pillow himself before shouting, “Well, continue!”

After ten seconds of chaos, Jimin’s pillow bursts, showering the room with feathers, and Jin starts calling loudly for the managers outside to come help him Control these children! They’ve lost their minds! It’s a victory-high like I’ve never seen!

Where just moments before he was sober and radiating concern, now he’s practically bouncing off the walls. Seokjin is an actor, can turn it on and off like a lightswitch, easy as anything. Namjoon will never know exactly how he does that.

Two managers come in, Sejin and the new hire, and Jin lets loose a rallying cry— “Ha! Ambush!” —and urges the other members to join him in attacking them.

Namjoon decides it’s as good an opportunity as any.

He catches Seokjin’s eye amidst the chaos, nods his gratitude one last time, and slips out the door unnoticed.

/

The hallway is quiet. Quieter than quiet, really. This many floors up, the hotel is populated mostly by BigHit staff and Bangtan themselves, and Namjoon thinks that there’s a sweet eeriness to it, the rush of the win coming down into a softer shadow.

He drops by his room first for a change of clothes, and ends up taking off his makeup, too. It’ll make him less noticeable, and Namjoon has never been all that precious about his face. He grabs a baggy jacket and a hat on his way out, and then darts back into the quiet, quiet hallway and into the elevator, out the side exit the hotel staff had discreetly informed them about, and onto the street.

If his hands shake, it’s only a little. And only then because he’s never really done this before, not alone.

“Excuse me,” he says, bumping into someone, and then, “sorry,” and up ahead he sees someone’s head whip around, eyes narrowed, like they’re trying to place a sound they heard. Namjoon stops talking after that.

He takes a left, dips through an alley, thinks briefly about Seokjin’s kidnapping comment and pushes forward. Two more blocks, then another right, and then he sees another small crowd around a hotel. Back entrance, through the kitchen, and a young woman who looks both sharp and kind smiles like she’s been expecting him. “Ashley is in the VIP section of the lounge. She already has a table for the two of you. I’ll walk you over.”

Namjoon blinks at her, then nods. God, but he’s tired, and it takes a moment for the English to coalesce into something familiar, but it does eventually. “Okay,” he says, “thank you.” He keeps his hat on, awkward but not willing to let anyone catch a good glimpse of his face, and holds his breath. No turning back now. No changing his mind.

They weave through the hot, crowded kitchen and out through a swinging door into a bustling lounge. Namjoon puts his head down and follows the low heels stepping confidently ahead of him through a discreet side door. Eventually, after some quick and subtle bobbing and weaving around servers and slightly pushed out chairs, they stop in a less-populated area in front of a deep mahogany table set for two. He’s worried, at first, that other people will see, but the placement of the table is well-hidden behind a couple of room dividers and copious large potted plants, and everyone else he’d noticed in this room in particular was also at the VMAs.

And anyway, he trusts Halsey. It’s naïve, maybe, but she’s only ever shown him kindness, and they’ve talked a little bit about his dating ban, what it means. The extra care he has to take.

“Here you are,” says his guide, patting him once on the shoulder. He thanks her and then she’s on her way, and there’s no one left except for him and Halsey.

“Hi,” says Namjoon, looking up.

Already seated, Halsey grins, waves. There’s still glitter on her face, and her hair is a little matted, pressed down from where she’d been covering it with a wig during their performance earlier. Her posture is loose and easy, happy, and she has a drink in front of her. “You made it!” she says as soon as Namjoon sits down.

He takes his hat off. “Yeah, it wasn’t too bad.”

“And you shrugged security, too?” she asks, peering over his shoulder.

Namjoon can’t help but smile. “Yeah. Just me. Jin-hyung, um— Jin, he— I had help.” It sends a rush through him even despite the nervous stutter in his voice, remembering that he’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing. Not what’s asked of him, or prescribed for him. Not what’s best for the others.

It’s awful. It’s exhilarating. Namjoon is still a little drunk, and doesn’t know what to do with his hands.

Halsey beams. “That’s awesome, though! How are you feeling? I’m still all buzzy from performing, I feel like I need to shake my entire body like a soda can just so I can pop the lid and let all the pressure out.”

“Yeah,” agrees Namjoon quickly, nodding and leaning forward a little. “Yeah, exactly. Like there’s so much...in my body. And nowhere for it to go.”

“God, yeah.”

“I loved your performance.”

She smiles. “You did?”

Namjoon wants to play it cool, but he can’t help the warm excitement that sings in his chest, scared and awed and uneasy all at once. “Yes,” he tells her, more a breath than anything else, and then he gets himself together. “You told us you’re not a dancer!”

She waves a hand dismissively. “It’s not the same as you guys.”

“But you were amazing,” he protests.

“It was hard!”

“I know,” he commiserates. “It took me a long time to feel comfortable on stage, dancing like that. But you learned it right away.”

She smiles and eats a french fry, then talks around it, which makes her look, for a moment, stunningly human. “I forget how young you guys are. Like, you and I are pretty much the same age, right?”

“‘94? September?”

“Oh wow, yeah, even the same month. That’s crazy. We’re 24 years old and so fucking famous, what the hell.”

Namjoon laughs, nervous edge to it. “I don’t think I can say—”

“You can if you want, you know. It’s unreal. No one should be allowed to get used to all of this, it’s— God. Don’t you ever think it’s too much?”

“Too much?” he echoes weakly.

Halsey’s eyes are intense, but her smile is gentle, no tension, like all of this is simple and there’s no need to overcomplicate it. “I don’t know, am I making sense?”

He nods carefully. “Yeah. Sorry, I don’t talk about this much. But I think about it a lot. Yoongi and I— Suga, you know him— we talk about it sometimes. But mostly about how it’s scary to, um...climb. And then have the chance of falling.”

She wrinkles her nose in solidarity. “Yeah, it’s hard enough to find people who even get it. And if you complain about being scared or overwhelmed it’s like, boo hoo, poor privileged celebrity.”

“Yeah.”

She sighs, heavy. “I get called a bitch a lot for no reason.”

“Oh.”

“That one’s probably not as relatable, huh?” She laughs for a moment. “Sorry, this is turning into sleepover sharing time.”

Namjoon swallows his discomfort, because underneath it he’s finding an element of being seen he’s not used to, not from someone that doesn’t look to him as a leader. “People call us things, too.”

She hums an acknowledgement, expression sympathetic.

He doesn’t mean to keep talking, but there’s a release of pressure that comes with it that he both loves and is worried he’ll want to get used to. “It’s scary,” he starts, slow, choosing his words carefully the way he’s always felt the need to, “that when more people love you, more people find reasons to hate you.”

“Right, like that love justifies it. And people hate you and practically expect you to thank them for it, or give up everything and be like, ‘Oh, you’re right, I never should’ve started singing, thanks for bringing it to my attention!’ But you’re never allowed to complain about it. Not to mention paparazzi following you around everywhere, and tabloids buying stories from people you thought were friends. Half the time the money’s so good I can’t even make myself blame them for spilling my, like, favorite breakfast place by my house. Or my bra size, or whatever. You guys probably have it hard in the press, too, right? Especially with so many of you.”

Namjoon thinks for a moment. Thinks plagiarism accusations, the way their private worries about Jimin’s health got splashed across front pages, how closely they had to hold onto the fact that they almost broke up the year prior. He remembers sitting in a room, just the seven of them, four of them crying but Namjoon’s eyes dry, thinking about how the world would never get to see that moment, because as far as anyone knew, there was no near-catastrophe to recover from. And when they finished talking that evening, Namjoon went back to his hotel room alone and began to write. And the songs turned into something close to magic, the kind that hurts, and the fear in its undiluted form got tucked away until he needed it again.

And he thinks about the other secret, the catastrophic one, the one that sends his brain into worst case scenarios every other night. The one no one gets to know. Yes, the press is difficult to deal with, but it’s the fear of his personal business ruining all seven of them that coils so tightly in Namjoon’s chest he can hardly breathe around it.

He clears his throat and realizes he’s been lost in thought too long to pass off as natural, so he doesn’t bother with an excuse, just answers the question. “It’s hard,” he agrees, voice a little rough. “I feel responsible for them. No matter what happens, I have to represent us.”

“It must be lonely,” she tells him.

Namjoon almost laughs. “I was going to tell you that, actually.”

“Yeah? That’s fair, I guess. I am, sometimes.”

“Me too,” admits Namjoon. Saying it out loud makes him feel small and ashamed, but grounded, too. How many people have seen him for everything he is?

And whose fault is that?

Maybe loneliness and selfishness are two sides of the same coin.

There’s a little smile on Halsey’s face when he looks at her, something wry and conspiratorial. “Maybe we can be lonely together, then.”

He can’t tell if she’s flirting or not. It isn’t the first time he’s wondered, and that alone makes his ears feel hot. “Maybe, yeah.” He remembers the wine in front of him and drinks half the glass in one go. “So how did you plan your performance?”

If she’s fazed by the subject change, she doesn’t show it. “Oh, my manager is really over me.” She snorts a little laugh. “I kind of just do what I want these days, but she was a godsend in making it happen. We contacted the dancer and she was down, and then we blocked some loose choreo and sent a million emails to the performance coordinator until they approved it.”

“Wow,” he says.

She shrugs a shoulder. “It’s easier to be subversive when people expect it from you. But then it’s like, is it really subversive then? Or am I turning it into a brand and capitalizing on it in a way that’s unfair, or fucked up. It’s art, but is it just art? I don’t think so. I’m not sure.”

“I think it is art,” says Namjoon, gambling that ‘subversive’ means what he thinks it means. “But we have to believe that, you know? For ourselves, and our fans.” There’s more to say there (so much more, conversations he’s pored over with the others for hours and hours), but the words escape him in English, and he doesn’t want to deal with the frustration of finding the best way to water down his arguments before expressing them. Besides, there are other questions nudging their way to the forefront now. He swallows before continuing, voice a little less steady. “What, um— what was it like?”

“What’s what like?”

“Dancing with her. Like that. On the stage, I mean.”

The space between her eyebrows crinkles with a confused little frown. “Fun, I guess? You guys dance on stage all the time.”

“No,” says Namjoon before he can stop himself.

Later, he will blame this on the wine. He will wonder how he was ever so brave, and so reckless. He will wish he had said anything else in the entire world. “I meant, what was it like to choose? To dance with her instead of... I wouldn't be able to dance with a boy like that in Korea. Or even here.” His laugh is humorless. “Anywhere.”

Realization dawns on her face slowly. Namjoon cannot help that he feels sick watching it happen. He cannot help the swell of validation that crashes over him, either, even as he hates himself for it.

“Oh,” she says, “Joon,” and with the way his name sits in her mouth he could almost be someone else entirely.

“It’s not like that,” he lies.

“Okay.” Pathetic, that her easy acceptance feels like a kindness. Pathetic that it feels like one he needs. “But if it was, would you wanna talk about it?”

“No,” he says, and by that he means I would, please, I want to, but it’s not safe.

That’s the trick of it, isn’t it? What they were talking about earlier, how fame splays you apart like a butterfly pinned beneath a magnifying glass. Even now, clinging to plausible deniability, Namjoon thinks she must be able to see the trembling pulse of his heart in his wide open chest.

He clears his throat, clears it again. “I like girls,” he says, which is true but not the whole truth, which is the only kind of truth about this he can stomach. He checks his phone for the sake of doing something with his hands, ignoring the messages of congratulations from friends and acquaintances in favor of zeroing in on the time. “Oh, it’s late. I should probably go back soon.” He winces when he remembers that they’d agreed to station a manager sitting outside the rooms tonight, ostensibly to protect them but also to prevent anything like this from happening. He wishes he knew how to say I’m going to get my ass handed to me in English, and settles for, “They’ll probably be mad that I snuck out.”

“Are they usually mad?”

Namjoon smiles ruefully. “It’s not usually me, so I’m not sure.”

“You can stay here if you want.”

“I don’t think I could get a room this late.”

“No, in my room upstairs. I don’t mind sharing.” She offers it like it’s nothing.

On any other night, Namjoon would say no. But tonight, Namjoon feels like maybe he can be someone else. Someone who is allowed to be irresponsible every once in a while. Someone who won’t be looked for, or pressured.

He looks at the freckles high on her left cheek and thinks that their lopsidedness makes her look her age, stripping away the veneer of fame and foundation they both hide beneath wherever they go. “Okay,” he says. “I would like that, thank you.”

“Okay,” echoes Halsey with a small, private smile.

He lets her pick up the check because he’s too tired to object against the brightness in her eyes, and then he lets her lead him out of the room, into the elevator, up twelve floors, down the hallway, and into the quiet dark hideaway of her bedroom.

/

For as much as it seemed like a foregone conclusion, it still comes as a surprise to Namjoon when, within seconds of entering the room, he’s pushed back up against the door and kissed within an inch of his life. He’s hyper-aware of her hand fisted into the loose fabric at the side of his shirt and the way she stands on her toes, face tipped up to meet his.

It’s hungry, but they take their time with it, just kissing and moving slowly against each other. It’s nice, Namjoon thinks—he has always liked kissing, and never has the time to do it leisurely, on his own pace. Even tonight the promise of more lingers, nipping at their heels, but he ignores it for now and focuses instead on the soft yield of her mouth beneath his. He tucks a hand at the back of her head, playing with the hairs at the nape of her neck. Namjoon thinks maybe he could stay here forever, kissing a pretty girl with a kind heart, pretending like the way he loves is not a slowly ticking bomb.

If Namjoon did anything halfway, this would be easy, but he’s already constructing melodies in his head. He always wants to write about everything. He wants this moment to live somewhere other than his memory.

No one will walk in, but if they did then the situation would turn into a spectacle, and a damaging one. It’s a reminder that nothing is safe, not boys but not girls, either, in the eyes of a public that would tear him to pieces and clamor for the scraps. No choice is safe even here, where he wishes there was nothing indecent to anyone about the way their bodies fit together in the soft dark.

In the Greek language, the word for “medicine” has two meanings. One of those meanings is closer to “cure,” unless Namjoon is remembering incorrectly, but he doesn’t think he is. A specific kind of taking care. One that targets the wound and sews it shut from the inside.

This feels like that, Namjoon thinks. A cure. Healing a hurt that he knew was there but has always been too scared to touch.

But Greek, like many things, is seldom so generous. Does not love without an edge.

If Namjoon is remembering correctly, and he’s pretty sure he is, the word for “cure” means “poison,” too.

She bites his lip, hard enough that he makes a little sound, and soothes it with more gentle kisses, a soft swipe of tongue.

If this were a movie time would slow to a crawl, and the plush carpet beneath his feet would be the only thing Namjoon needed to keep himself upright, fear be damned. But he feels himself clinging, just a little, and cannot help the way his heart wants to make a break for it. This is beautiful but it is not perfect. Namjoon holds onto what he can.

“Bed?” she asks eventually, voice a little breathy, and the spell is broken.

No one will walk in, he reminds himself, then reminds himself again, and it gives him the courage to nod.

Their clothes come off quickly after that, his shirt tossed over the back of a desk chair, his wallet and keycard on the desk next to it. She strips off her own shirt and then starts on the button of his jeans, and he tenses, nearly flinches, when her cool fingers brush up against the hot skin of his waist.

“Oh,” she says, withdrawing, eyes a little rounded with concern, “am I reading this wrong? We don’t have to do anything, we can just sleep if—”

“No,” says Namjoon quickly, and takes one of her hands in his own. Does his heart always beat this hard when he’s about to be intimate with someone? Surely he’d remember the dizzy of the anticipation. But when he checks in with himself, he finds that he wants this, even if it’s complicated. She’s beautiful, and she’s offering, and they’re both a little lonely. Maybe they’re both a little selfish, too. “I want to,” he affirms. “Your hands were cold, it surprised me.”

He kisses her again, hands at her hips, and she relaxes into it, going back for his pants. “Okay?” she checks.

He nods, bends down to kiss the skin of her neck, right beneath her ear. She undoes his jeans and tugs them down his legs, leaving him in just his briefs. “Your turn,” he murmurs, and she pulls down her leggings, unhooks her bra, and steps out of her panties.

His mind short-circuits for a moment as she stands naked before him, so utterly confident that he feels looser and more relaxed just by proximity.

She smirks, cocking a brow, and then her challenging expression devolves into unselfconscious laughter. “Come on,” she says, “come here,” and tugs the two of them onto the bed in a tangle of limbs. She ends up mostly on top of him, straddling his thighs, and she leans down for another series of increasingly hazy kisses.

They continue like that for a while. Time gets slippery, and it’s well past the hour he should’ve gone to bed. By this point he’s so hard it’s starting to ache a little.

When Ashley—and that’s what he wants to call her now, in this intimate moment, because if she said either is fine then Namjoon is going to be selfish in his head and switch when he wants to—grabs his dick and pulls it through the hole in his briefs, he has to swallow down a whine at the contact. It’s so fucking good. It’s been so long since someone else touched him like this.

“Off,” he manages, pushing at the waistband of his underwear.

She laughs a little and tugs them off, and then the two of them are naked and he can’t help but surge up and cup her breasts, taking one of her nipples into his mouth.

Ashley tosses her head back, eyes shutting and then opening again quickly like she doesn’t want to miss this, and Namjoon lingers for a moment before swapping sides. Her nipples are both wet after that, slick enough for him to play with easily, and her mouth slackens at the sensation.

“God, you’re so fucking sweet,” she all but moans as his fingers continue exploring her skin, lingering wherever he elicits a positive reaction.

Yes, thinks Namjoon, sweet is probably the right word. The most addicting part of sex for him has always been about making his partner feel good. It’s the part he misses most when they get busy, when it’s harder to find time to sneak away with someone who gets it, someone he doesn’t have to worry about spilling everything to the press. And her body in his hands—it’s transcendent.

Here, now, he has other things to focus on, like the way Ashley’s sweet sounds keep cutting themselves off. She doesn’t want whoever is in the next room (a manager, maybe, or a publicist) to know what’s going on, and Namjoon can’t blame her. It could be catastrophic. That’s the risk.

He drags a hand down over the plane of her stomach, the curve of her pubic bone, and finds her already wet. She gasps softly, bringing her own hand down to guide him up toward her clit, and they stay like that for a bit, light pressure, the little sounds she’s making, how indescribably hot this is when what they’ve done so far essentially amounts to heavy petting. He keeps it gentle, keeps it sweet. She’s content with the pace until she isn’t anymore.

“Joon,” she says, grabbing his wrist, “come on, shit.”

Reluctantly, he stops teasing, and takes himself in hand. He’s been hard for a while, but a few more strokes can’t hurt.

Ashley’s eyes are nearly all pupil when she looks at him. “Condom,” she breathes, and swings her left leg around so she’s no longer straddling him. He considers complaining about losing the heat of her body, but she’s only gone for a moment as she fumbles around in the bedside drawer, and when she returns she wastes no time ripping open the condom and rolling it down over his erection.

“How do you wanna do this?” she asks.

Namjoon comes up out of the haze a little. Thinks about it. “However you want,” he says, the same thing he usually tells his partners, because that answer has yet to yield a result he wasn’t into.

Ashley’s grin goes a little sharp, a little fierce. “I’m gonna stay up here then.”

Namjoon swallows. “Okay.”

The edges of the room seem to almost blur then, duvet half-kicked off the bed, bluish glow of the lights outside seeping past the edges of the curtains.

Ashley sinks down on him slowly, tight heat enveloping him, and Namjoon fists his hands in the hotel sheets so he doesn’t do something stupid like grab her hips and press bruises into them, or cover the hopeless expression that must be slackening his mouth right now with his shaky fingers. It barely lasts a moment, though, before he brings his hands to her thighs, fingertips brushing the soft crease of her hips.

“Fuck,” he manages, only barely remembering to curse in English. It’s a satisfying word, at least, soft at the start and harsh at the end, a neat little syllable that Namjoon definitely did not learn from the tutor BigHit hired to make him more fluent than he already was.

“Fuck,” Ashley agrees, bracing herself on Namjoon’s sternum.

It makes him feel solid, being used like this. He’s always liked it. He’s always wanted to be the kind of person people lean on when they want to feel safe.

It takes some doing, but they find a rhythm eventually. Ashley is strong, body of a performer through and through, and she doesn’t slow until the both of them are sweating and Namjoon’s grip on her thighs tightens.

“Are you close?” she asks, blunt and straightforward and beautiful.

“Yeah,” Namjoon pants. “You?”

She nods, eyes squeezing shut, and rubs at herself with her free hand. “Fuck, yeah, yes—”

“Wait,” he says, and he can hear how rough his voice sounds. “Wait, can we switch?”

It startles a laugh out of her, sweat at her brow, eyes squinting in confusion. “You want to ride me?”

Namjoon feels himself go vaguely crimson. “No, no. Just—” his words slip away, useless, so he gestures for her to pull off.

She does, and he rearranges them, leading with his hands, until she’s lying back on the bed and he’s above her looking down. Her cheeks are flushed with exertion and arousal both, and Namjoon cannot help but kiss her in that moment. As they kiss, he props himself up on his elbows, swings a leg over her body, and kneels above her, bracketing her, luxuriating in the time they have. She sucks at his lower lip, tugs at it with her teeth, and Namjoon’s mouth parts automatically. The kiss gets dirtier, her hand winding tight in his hair. “Like this,” he manages when they break apart for a moment. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” she breathes.

He helps her hike one of her legs up, lets it tangle itself around his waist, and then he’s pushing back into her, her small hand guiding, his toes curling at the pressure, the heat. I miss you, he thinks nonsensically, while being the closest to her he’s ever been. Their bodies touching in so many places. Their foreheads pressed together. One of her hands intertwined with his, clutching, and her smiling mouth sending him cross-eyed just so he can keep looking at her from so close.

It’s like it hits him all at once, how badly he doesn’t want to forget this, so he starts memorizing.

The slight upturn of her nose, the sharp angle of her jaw, her delicate wrists against the tight grip she has on him. Her short bangs keep sticking to her forehead. The tattoos on her arms ripple and shift with their movements. Namjoon presses a kiss to the cluster of flowers by her shoulder, then shuts his eyes against the rush of affection it sends through him. He could lie here kissing her like this forever. He could tuck away the real world until it fades to the background.

After a little while, as heat coils within him and builds toward a sweet, comfortable kind of desperation, Namjoon almost feels as if he is outside of his body, watching them from above and noticing the way his hips stutter. He can practically see the way his body covers hers, and the places she has snuck around him, a leg slung haphazardly across his back, a hand twined hard in his hair. He has to pretend not to like that. His jaw feels tense. It must look like pain. It is, a little, but not only.

The sheets are fine with a high thread count, slippery smooth beneath their bodies. The moonlight is begging for a ballad. The scene as a whole is something out of a drama, a little sad and a lot tender, and Namjoon holds onto that, because it feels almost perfect.

And maybe it’s not beautiful. Maybe it’s just rushed sex in a hotel room in a city neither of them calls home. Maybe Namjoon is trying to uncover something that doesn’t even exist, not in this moment or any other.

He slows down, grinds with intent. By the way her vocalizations get higher and less steady, it must be doing something for her, so Namjoon keeps it up. Keeps her close.

Maybe if he keeps turning this over in his hands, examining it from every angle, so focused on the memory he forgets to live in the present, he will have ruined the very memory he was trying to create in the first place.

Or maybe not.

Or maybe he’s just overthinking things again.

When she comes, it seems to surprise even herself, a moan startled out of her and sent searing through the air between them, and the way she flutters around Namjoon has his breath hitching. As she rides it out, she braces her forehead against Namjoon’s shoulder, peering up at him, hair messy and perfect. “You too,” she all but demands, “come on, come on.”

And Namjoon follows her over the edge, tumbling hard, as everything explodes into sensation. It’s like he can feel every inch of her, even the places where they aren't touching. He feels so hot he’s practically overheating, but in a way that makes him want to sink right into it. Eventually, eventually, he starts to come down, blinking his eyes back open like he’s seeing everything in a whole new light, and scrunches up his face as he starts to pull out.

And when he finishes, after tying the condom and depositing it in the trash by the hotel desk, the two of them lie there absolutely sated, and he can’t help but laugh a little.

“Hm?” she asks lazily.

“Nothing,” says Namjoon, but he’s laughing because he can’t think of anything less cliché to say than, “that was fun.”

She grins at a slant, almost a smirk. “Fuck, yeah. You’re not gonna freak out or anything, right?” It’s asked bluntly but gently, somehow.

He feels loose-limbed, completely relaxed, head almost emptied of the anxieties that make their home within him. He’ll panic tomorrow, maybe, but not about this.

“No,” he says, and means it.

“We’re good?”

“We’re good,” he affirms, and means that, too.

They lie there for a while after without speaking. Ashley traces a hand aimlessly across Namjoon’s chest, little nonsense patterns, and the closeness is nice. They have time, Namjoon realizes. Nowhere to be until morning. They should sleep, sure, but his day is free after his call before breakfast, and he can pass off exhaustion as a hangover if worst comes to worst. Ashley’s eyes, bright and aware and not drooping at all, seem to echo this fact.

They only get so much time together, so they have to make this count now that they have some to share. There is only ever so much time.

Namjoon wills his voice not to tremble when he finally breaks the silence. “You’re bisexual.”

She hums an affirmative, almost lazily. Makes it sound so, so easy.

He wonders if she can feel the way his heart is squeezing faster, and faster still. “How do you do it?”

“Which part?”

All of it, thinks Namjoon. Any of it. But he can only bring himself to ask for the barest essentials, and even they feel like too much. “I think…not being ashamed.”

She makes a small, hurt sound, her hand stilling over his ribcage. The assurance comes after a moment. “Joon, there’s nothing wrong with you.” Her voice is soft. “I mean it. If anything, it just shows what a big heart you have.”

“I love your lyrics.”

“Hm?” She props an elbow on the bed next to him and leans up a little.

He shakes his head, not as a no but as a hold on. “You’re like Yoongi. All...blunt, and really honest. I think you guys would write a really good song together if you wanted. But, um— I just mean you’re better at that than me.”

“At being blunt?”

“At being honest.”

Ashley snorts like she can’t help it. “Oh my god, you’re too nice. What the hell? You’re like the most open person I’ve ever met.”

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

“I know it can be hard to believe, but there really is nothing wrong with loving whoever you love.”

Namjoon sighs, tries again. “I’m not ashamed of that. I know my feelings are okay.”

“Then what?”

She’s patient as he gathers his thoughts and tries to put them into words. “It feels like I’m lying. I think about kids in Korea who are taught to feel bad about who they are, and I could help them, but I’m not. If it was just me, I think I would have already said something. But it’s not just me. And it’s selfish, but I don’t want to give up what we have.”

“Oh, Joon.”

Namjoon shuts his eyes, tilts his chin so he’s firmly facing the ceiling. “Boo hoo,” he intones, “poor celebrity, right?”

“This isn’t like that,” she says quietly. “You’re not a bad person if you want to keep some things for yourself. You deserve that much. Like— god. I wanna help people too, but there are things I wish I’d never shared. Once you give something to the world like that, you don’t ever get it back.”

Namjoon doesn’t know how to explain that that feels like the point sometimes. You give things to the world so you don’t have to hold onto them all by yourself, and the world kicks whatever it wants back at you with no regard for your wants, needs, cares. It’s not about what you deserve. Not really. Maybe, he thinks, it’s a cultural difference—humility against pride, community against individuality—but that’s too simple, isn’t it? They’re two complicated people with way more in common than they reasonably should have, and that muddles everything.

“I don’t know how to keep it,” he says, and he means that he doesn’t know a way to keep it that doesn’t hurt. No secrets, they’d said all that time ago, and no half-truths.

But they have to have secrets, Namjoon knows, from each other and the world. All of them, or this isn’t survivable anymore. Maybe that’s what Ashley means.

He’s exhausted, he realizes. This is an adrenaline crash. The thought brings him back to Earth a little, tempers the edge of hysteria that had been threatening to creep into his thoughts.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m not usually so worried about it.”

Her soft breath fans across his shoulder, her short hair tickling at a spot at the edge of a collarbone. “You’re allowed to be worried, Joon. The world’s fucked. It can hurt you. You just don’t have to give it more reason to if you don’t want to. Yeah, I’m out out, and I don’t shut up about it, but it’s different for us. It’s shitty that that’s the way it is, but it is. I flip people off and curse in my music videos, and I sing about kissing girls, and it’s...I wish you could see how brave you are, with everything you guys do. You’re helping so many people in ways I couldn’t, even being out. It’s different, but that doesn’t have to be bad. I don’t even know if I’m making sense anymore—it’s so late, god. But you can’t compare yourself to me and think that’s fair. You give so fucking much already, you know? You’re the only person who thinks you’re selfish.”

Outside, a siren wails by, then fades back into the landscape of hushed traffic sounds.

“Thank you,” Namjoon says quietly.

Ashley hums a little, and he can feel it in the places they’re still touching. “Call me,” she tells him. “Any time you wanna talk. I mean it.”

She says it the same way she’d said Let’s stay in touch. Namjoon had believed her then, and he believes her now.

“Yeah,” he answers. “I will.”

“Okay. I need to brush my teeth now.”

He huffs a laugh. “Okay, yeah. Good idea.”

They wash up and get ready for bed, and Namjoon is so tired the room feels like it’s swimming around them. His eyes droop, and he sighs heavily when he walks back into the room and sees his clothes on the floor.

Ashley laughs at him. “You might have kind of a wrinkled walk of shame ahead of you.”

Namjoon isn’t familiar with the term walk of shame, but he can guess what it means by context. His face heats. “Ugh.” He’ll either get chewed out or made fun of mercilessly depending on who sees him first. Maybe both if he’s particularly unlucky. “Let’s just sleep.”

They tuck themselves under the covers, not quite touching. Namjoon can feel Ashley’s warmth, the way their heat intermingles. He isn’t sure how he feels right now, after all of this. He thinks he might be a little heartsore tomorrow, and worries it’ll be hard to shove all of this back into its place even with her quiet assurances that he doesn’t have to share anything he doesn’t want to. When fame strips himself from his self, Namjoon has always turned to radical authenticity. The idea that he can hold things back from the world without shame if he really wants to is...frankly revolutionary, and not something he can take in all at once.

He needs to process. He feels like a shaken up can of soda. If his eyes weren’t so heavy, he’d be scared of not being able to sleep, but even as it is he’s nervous about what his dreams might hold.

“Be careful sneaking out,” Ashley murmurs, sounding only half awake. “I can— c’n send Janie again if you need an escort.”

That might be worse, actually, thinks Namjoon, for him and Janie both. “It’s fine. I’ll be careful.”

“M’kay.” She pats him messily on the face, and he smiles.

It’s not long at all before they’re both fast asleep, and Namjoon does not end up dreaming of anything at all.

/

Namjoon does not say goodbye, but he does kiss her sleeping face on the cheek and spend a solid five minutes writing a note at the hotel desk before he gets dressed and leaves, because he’s too awkward to want to wake her up just to stutter through a goodbye but doesn’t want to leave her alone with no explanation.

They are busy, anyway. He has a conference video call in just under an hour; she could probably use the sleep before a series of performances promoting her new single.

There was never anything here to hold onto beyond what they already had. Bizarrely, the thought comforts Namjoon. Convinces him they’ll be fine.

Outside, the 6 A.M. sun caresses the cracked concrete and picks up the haphazard glitter baked into the asphalt of parts of the roads. Amidst the skyscrapers and palm trees, it’s harsh and unflinching and magic, a series of adjectives Namjoon has gotten used to using to describe America. The thing about Los Angeles is that it's all glitz and glamor until it's not, and all of a sudden the morning illuminates the apartment windows up above him, the corner store with a crooked sign in Spanish up ahead, the graffiti decorating a stop sign to his right. Everywhere around, this place reminds him that it is lived-in, like a pristine leather couch with soft dents on its cushions, or a fancy car with a pair of metal dice jangling on the rearview. Namjoon forgets, sometimes, that people can make a home out of a city like this. But they can. They do.

One or two people walk past, but the street is otherwise deserted. The three blocks that had felt so heart-pumpingly long last night pass in the blink of an eye, and then Namjoon is riding the elevator up in last night’s clothing and praying for a miracle.

He finds one, sort of.

“Good morning, hyung,” says one sleepy-eyed Park Jimin. He’s leaning against the wall of the hallway, no manager to be seen, and brings one curled fist up to scrub at his face like he’s trying to look more awake than he is. “Are you okay?”

Jimin being the one out here either means he out-stubborned the others in elbowing his way forward, or Seokjin was more worried about Namjoon than he let on and wanted to give him a soft place to land. Either way, Namjoon swallows down his guilt and offers him a smile. “I’m fine. I just needed some air.”

At that, Jimin smirks and waggles his eyebrows, dragging his eyes over Namjoon’s bedragged appearance. “Some air,” he jokes.

The most tender and bruised parts of Namjoon are not in the mood, so he just shrugs.

This is the part where he’s supposed to offer an explanation, but Namjoon has become an accomplished liar by omission whether he wanted to be or not.

Maybe that’s why he pours himself into songs and posts for their fans. Maybe that’s why he feels so compelled to bleed all over what should be perfectly perfunctory interviews. He can be truthful somewhere. He can give as much as he can around the guilty, miserable lump that’s always in his throat.

And no, he doesn’t owe anyone anything, but has it ever really been about that? Namjoon doesn’t know. He used to think he was doing the right thing, but now he’s not sure he knows much of anything about what’s right.

He thinks of what Ashley said, and isn’t sure how to reconcile that into the mess of his self. Whatever that means. Whoever that is.

Jimin must see something in his expression then, because he drops the teasing and sidles up to Namjoon, one arm winding around his waist reassuringly. “Do you have time to sleep more? You look tired.”

“Speak for yourself,” snips Namjoon, but there’s no heat in it. “No, I have a video call in thirty minutes. I need to fix my hair and change clothes.”

“Need help?”

Namjoon is pretty sure that, if he asked, Jimin would fix his hair and pick an outfit and gently wash his face for him to boot. Hoseok used to call him a cheer-up fairy, a title under which Jimin thrived while pretending not to like it. But this isn’t a hurt that gets healed with hugs and praise or head pats and affectionate yelling. This is something more deeply rooted and more complicated than that. Ignoring the little wouldn't-it-be-nice-to-be-taken-care-of pang he feels, Namjoon smiles and extricates himself from Jimin’s hold. “I’m okay,” he promises, “but thank you. I’ll just see you guys at breakfast.”

“Sure?”

He can’t help but feel an overwhelming fondness for Jimin and the way he cares. For all of his friends, really, and what they do for each other. The anchor points they have turned themselves into in the name of surviving. “Go back to sleep, Jimin-ah. I’ll see you later.”

Jimin pats him sweetly on the chest before turning and walking back down the hall to his room, socked feet padding across the carpet.

Namjoon smiles, trying not to feel quite so adrift now that he’s alone again, and goes to fix his hair and change his clothes and do the leader thing for a little while.

/

At breakfast, Yoongi plants himself next to Namjoon and proceeds to pile a truly alarming amount of hash browns onto his plate.

“Hyung,” murmurs Namjoon.

Yoongi doesn’t seem to hear him at first, too preoccupied leaning away from where Jungkook is attempting to drown his pancakes in syrup and is about three seconds away from also drowning his jeans in it. Hoseok reaches over and plucks the syrup from Jungkook’s hand before disaster can strike, and Yoongi and Namjoon both relax a little.

“Hm?” asks Yoongi a beat late.

“Do you ever— ugh.” He cuts himself off there, can’t bring himself to actually ask. It’s so much more embarrassing outside of his head. “No, never mind.”

Yoongi squints at him. “What is it?” He’s still lazy around the eyes and slumped in his chair, but there’s an alertness about him that wasn’t there before, and it tells Namjoon he’s not going to let this go so easily.

Namjoon looks around and finds that no one is paying the two of them any attention at all. Controlled chaos dominates his surroundings, from Taehyung and Seokjin attempting an operatic version of an old Nicki Minaj song complete with harmonies to Jimin playing some game on his phone to Hoseok continuing to scold an energetic Jungkook. Even the staff are lively this morning, everyone still riding the energy from the win.

Everyone except Namjoon. And, apparently Yoongi.

The silence between them stretches. Fine, thinks Namjoon, because he still feels a little broken open from the night before. Just one question and then he’ll shut up. “Do you ever wish things were different?”

“Different how?”

Namjoon mashes his lips together as he thinks, then stops in case it looks suspicious, then realizes trying actively to not look suspicious just makes him look worse. It’s probably better just to spit it out. “If we didn’t have so much to lose. If we got to decide how things went or what to share without it all feeling so— so loaded all the time.”

The look he gets in response is so understanding it’s almost scathing, like Yoongi is offended that Namjoon didn’t already know Yoongi agreed with this. “Yeah,” he drawls, “I wish that. Why are you thinking about it at breakfast, though? Bad meeting?”

“It was fine,” says Namjoon, which is the truth. “Never mind, sorry. Just thinking too much.”

“Shocking.”

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Forget it. Sorry.”

Yoongi steps on Namjoon’s shoe, just a little, and turns his too-sharp gaze on Namjoon, eyes narrow like he sees through the front Namjoon is always working too hard to maintain. “What are you apologizing for?”

“Nothing,” says Namjoon, which is not the truth.

The truth is that Namjoon feels guilty sitting here and talking to Yoongi when for so long Namjoon has been inventing conversations with the Yoongi in his head, and he’s not sure anymore that what he’s making up is fair to either of them. I’m not straight, he sometimes imagines telling Yoongi, and I can’t tell anyone about it, and— Hyung, I’m so conflicted. All the time, I’m such a mess, because what if I’m just being selfish and I’m too scared to make the right call? Don’t you deserve to see every part of me? I don’t even feel like myself sometimes. And the Yoongi in his head smiles kindly but uncompromisingly and tells him You’re not selfish, Namjoon-ah. If you refuse to allow yourself any privacy, then how are the rest of us supposed to feel? Keep your secrets so we can keep ours, too.

Namjoon clings to this desperately because he needs it to be true. If it’s not true, if he’s not selfless, if he isn’t doing anyone any good—

—all that makes him is a coward, then, and a hypocrite to boot.

The Yoongi in his head is the level-headed hyung with a hard voice and a harsh set to his brow, and he’s also the boy who cried from homesickness when he thought Namjoon couldn’t hear him, cried of hopelessness when their debut date kept getting pushed back, cried of frustration when they were told they’d be an idol group that dances when neither he nor Namjoon were promised that from the start. He’s the Yoongi who, despite always being shorter than Namjoon, seemed ten feet tall when he stepped up to bat. The one who had Namjoon’s back like a fierce older brother should. The one Namjoon imagines when he needs to feel, pathetically, like someone will take care of him. Like he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.

The Yoongi in front of him frowns, narrow mouth pouting out a bit, before cutting up the rest of his sausage into bite-sized pieces and depositing it neatly onto Namjoon’s plate.

I love you, he is saying without saying.

Namjoon eats the sausage, fatty with the barest hint of spice, and loves him back.

/

“So how was it?” asks Seokjin, voice low. It’s just the two of them in the back of this car, and everything feels vaguely surreal the way it always does on long rides, dark-tinted windows stripping them of a sense of time unless they practically press their faces up against the glass.

It was everything I’ve been scared of, Namjoon wants to say, but I didn’t have to be scared, and I don’t know what to do with that. I need to stop wishing for recklessness. I can carry this, I think. I can keep carrying this. Don’t you deserve at least that much from me?

When Namjoon looks at Seokjin, he finds only polite curiosity in the other’s face.

Seokjin, who guards his privacy more carefully than any of them. Seokjin, who never wants to be pushed. Seokjin, who hates more than anything when other people are burdened.

Namjoon swallows hard, tucks his secret back away in the deepest corner of his heart, and summons a smile. “Good,” he says, and wills it to be true. Outside, the city races past. All of those people, all of their lives. Namjoon’s insides are still a tangled mess, but there’s nothing for it. “It was good.”