it starts with a fight.
they're young and hungry and every day is a gasping breath pleading for space, for what they were promised would be theirs someday; a someday sooner, closer . they're also young and hungry , and if they were same-age friends, they might have had a fist fight. but they're not. so they hurl words at each other- tiny shards packed with all the hopelessness and anger that seems to accumulate within their bodies with each passing day. they hurl words that hurt and then a banana that doesn't. frozen in disbelief and anticipation, they only retreat when the tension in the cramped kitchen clamps down on their throats.
after, jungkook breaks first. he's younger and quick to apologise, quicker to feel guilt and shame but he especially hates moments like these; moments that make him feel like the kid he has so desperately tried to erase. he works himself to the bone to avoid making mistakes in the practice room, to make up for his inadequacy, his smallness but it’s in the dorm that he trips up the most. he doesn't know he's being selfish. he doesn't know how to fit into the spaces left between six growing bodies without friction, collision. he trips and trips and trips and he learns.
so jungkook grows up in the hours after the fight and climbs onto hoseok's bunk much before seokjin can find him and tell him why he was wrong, why he needs to apologize to his hyung. he's already here, jungkook doesn't need to be told.
(this time, he doesn’t- he’ll trip up again, will need to be reminded of everything he already knows but so will the others. it will take shifting out two more times, hoseok leaving, finding out that what comes after debut is even more terrifying, and many, many more fights. but they’ll all learn how to hold each other and he’ll find just enough space between them to fit another brittle body, find that they had always saved that space. just for him.)
hoseok stirs as soon as jungkook sits, he's never been a deep sleeper. he opens one eye and blinks at jungkook.
"hyun-", jungkook is pulled by one arm that shoots out of the blanket and he freezes. he's doing better at taehyung’s bear hugs and the casual arm thrown around his shoulder but this is new, and too much right away. he lies still on his side, afraid to do or say anything. hoseok throws the blanket over him and pulls him closer again.
"hmm...jungkookie", he hooks an arm around jungkook while the other draws jungkook's hand to his hair. jungkook's fingers tremble on hoseok's forehead.
"just touch it, my hair. helps me sleep better." hoseok mumbles and closes his eyes again. tentatively jungkook pushes his bangs back and smooths his hand over the soft hair. hoseok's entire body goes slack. jungkook exhales and pushes his other hand into his hyung's hair and closes his eyes.
jungkook memorises the details of that fight and of hoseok's warm bed, the dark blue blanket, the ankle hooked over his, the moving shadows in front of the open window and the smell of cheap convenience store soap.
they don’t do it again until they do. still, it doesn't happen a lot. just often enough for jungkook to know that when hoseok is angry or stressed he prefers a stronger grip, the scraping of nails on his scalp, a finger drumming the space above his eyebrows; when he is homesick and missing his mother, light fingers brushing his hair sometimes accompanied by a lullaby. jungkook doesn't know the songs of hoseok's childhood- yet - so he hums the ones from his own under his breath, breaking into an exaggerated imitation of a trot number or one of hoseok’s own verses, if he looks too far away, too lost to whatever sadness has him under.
they usually do it in a quiet corner of their living room at night- blinking at each other during dinner, a knocking of their knees, a single hand on jungkook’s neck; sometimes a smile is more than enough for him to know he needs to slip out later. they get to lie in bed and take their time if they are the only ones in the dorm but that happens just once for as long as they live in that tiny first apartment.
it gets easier as they change dorms, over the years, and it goes from six down to one or two people per room. it gets easier as they both get their own studios- not that there’s a lot of time to do this when they’re at work but it’s nice to have options open. or something. it’s not, strictly speaking, against company policy to make sure they work in comfortable conditions.
the others don't know about it and if they do, they don't say anything. they do know hoseok likes having his hair touched. everyone knows that. all it took was him grabbing jungkook’s hand sleepily in front of the camera once. the whole clip wasn’t even two minutes long but namjoon had a knowing look on his face for the entirety of practice, the day after it was released.
it helps that jungkook has grown into his body and that hoseok is tactile with most of them and bodies strewn across and over each other are deemed normal enough. it helps that they’ve grown accustomed to the camera- some cameras- and have schooled their responses in front of them. all of this helps when jungkook feels hoseok’s fingers in his hair and feels a tremor run up the length of his body.
they’re in the top bunk of the camping car they’ve been driving across finland and there’s a camera right across their bed. hoseok is petting his hair and jungkook thinks- he hopes he’s wrong- he’s going to cry. he can’t understand why his body reacts like it has never been touched before- surely there can’t be a specific kind of touch-starved just to do with having someone pet your hair? his nerve endings are lighting up and he feels thirteen and helpless again; taehyung’s voice fades in the background and he is sinking into the bed, breathless and scared- why has hoseok never touched him like this in all these years?
“in the morning, i will open this window right above us and let the rain come in”, jungkook forces himself into the conversation with a laugh, sitting up. but taehyung doesn’t hear him, he’s still talking to jimin and yoongi. closing his eyes, jungkook exhales shakily and lies back down. fingers brush his hair right away and an arm curls around him.
hoseok doesn’t know why he never reciprocated. it seems strange, even stupid now, considering jungkook’s reaction. for a second when jungkook sat up, he felt a flash of fear, a memory of eyes blazing in anger, what if-
he gives in- he can’t help pushing his hand back into jungkook’s hair when he’s lied down again- and so does jungkook, who looks up at him, big eyes peering into his. he hopes jungkook doesn’t feel him shudder, doesn’t see exactly how scared he is in that moment. not once has he been this overwhelmed when he was the one being touched. there are words taking shape in the gaze between them but he doesn’t know what they mean- can’t know, especially right now.
jin climbs into the bed on jungkook’s other side and hoseok looks away, thankful for the distraction.
after that, it feels new all over again. hoseok gets a rush from jungkook’s eyes slipping towards his hands in anticipation, from the little sighs that he lets out when hoseok runs his nails from one side to the other, from his small, crooked smile at fingers scratching behind his ears. it’s a rush unlike hoseok has ever experienced before and he can’t put his finger on what it means.
(the one time hoseok slips-
jungkook’s hair looked too soft in the light streaming into the kitchen that morning and yoongi finds them like that, jungkook half-asleep in hoseok’s arms, leaning against the counter. he leaves before jungkook can see him. in the evening, after practice, he catches hoseok’s arms before he can slip out of the studio.
“hoseok-ah”, he says softly, looking like he knows what it all means and hoseok flees before his thoughts can catch up to the rapid beating of his heart.)
nothing changes. jungkook still climbs into hoseok’s bed every other night, claiming it to be the softest. jimin makes a big deal about it, whining albeit half-heartedly and when his eyes meet hoseok’s across the room, they’re sharp yet soft. nothing changes but hoseok sometimes catches himself staring at jungkook’s exposed collarbone, wondering what it would taste like. of course, he never actually does it. ( he does.) jungkook would never let him. ( he does.)
jungkook knows taehyung knows something. he has always been good at reading jungkook, knowing what he’s needed and lately, he’s taken to quietly sharing jungkook’s space; taking him out for a movie, lying on jungkook’s lap and working on his music, leaving yeontan with him when he goes out to meet his friends on off-days. he lets jungkook work through his thoughts alone. he probably understands whatever jungkook is going though better but he doesn’t offer advice or pry, just hugs him as they’re going to their own rooms to sleep one night and says, “you know you can talk to me right, jungkookie?” jungkook hugs him tighter.
(the one time jungkook slips-
hoseok’s hair looked too soft in the light streaming into his bedroom that morning. he feels the smoothness of the strands on his palm, his wrist and instead of the practiced, exaggerated “j hooope”, he whispers hobi into hoseok’s ears and it sounds every bit like the plea it is. hoseok opens his eyes and his fingers slot into place even before jungkook meets him halfway, in the space between their bodies.)
nothing changes but they go for picnics on cooler evenings, just the two of them. they spread out a rug and put on some music; hoseok watches jungkook demolish whatever snacks he has carried along. it’s only food and conversation, nothing elaborate. sometimes jungkook sings along to the latest ballads and it’s nice, it’s not a big deal. hoseok hears him sing regularly, has heard his covers and even helped record one of them. there is nothing particularly remarkable about jungkook’s lilac hair in the streetlights, or the redness of his cheeks- an involuntary reaction despite the many years of singing in public.
when they’re on tour, they still do their own thing. rarely do they trail behind each other to museums, parks, beaches, restaurants, hotel rooms. they still mess around on stage but there’s lesser hand-to-hair contact and it leaves them unsettled, just the slightest bit hungry. which is probably why hoseok ruffles jungkook’s hair when they’re standing close to each other, watches jungkook smile behind his mask as the corners of his eyes crease in contentment. hoseok prides himself on his self-restraint, on giving into this urge only this once when the desire is near irresistible, now that jungkook has hair almost reaching his shoulders. it’s another matter altogether that he does it at the airport, on the way to japan, in front of dozens of press officials and fansites who would make sure the clips and pictures of this moment circulate the internet for weeks.
but it’s innocuous, it’s just hair. that’s what everything started with anyway. (not that there’s anything more to it than hair.)
still, jungkook knows hoseok values the slim separation that exists between the performance of their public lives and everything left untouched in the shadows. by mutual agreement, they decide to keep hair stimulation of any kind off bounds in public. they’re professionals after all, they’ll manage.
(hoseok’s grip on namjoon’s arm is only a little tighter when jungkook plays with yoongi’s hair during a post-concert interview. it isn’t that tight. namjoon’s arms don’t bear any marks of hoseok’s nails.)
they still latch onto each other and to everyone else, even when the cameras are on. it would be unnatural not to do it now and they couldn’t possibly stop even if they wanted to. (they really don’t want to.) but the rest is strictly off bounds until later.
they lie on jungkook's bed, face-to-face, with their hands in each other's hair. they do it almost every night now, and on holidays, and in between schedules on the bad days, when they’re both strung tight. if sometimes, somewhere in the middle, their lips meet, they just let them. it's for practical purposes, of course. moving away would bring a whole new set of complications and finding the right angle to pet hair is difficult. the difficulties in mutual hair massages isn’t exactly a well-researched area, but they've been in the business for a few years now. they know.
so they lie on jungkook's bed, legs entwined, fingers rendering each other boneless, half-lidded eyes whispering words they still don’t understand, breathing into each other's mouths. sharing oxygen.