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the bird is the thing with feathers, duh

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THE PRESENT, SUMMER 2020 

Seokjin comes home from the pastry shop to find Jungkook perched on the windowsill, talking to a bird.

All things considered, this is pretty normal behavior for Jungkook, so Seokjin does not scream at him to get down from the ledge. (They’re on the fifth floor, so he wouldn’t die if he fell. Probably.) He just asks, “What are you doing here and where’s Yoongi?”

Perhaps it comes out slightly more put-out than Seokjin wanted to go for. He winces when Jungkook flinches at the sound of his voice but quickly smooths his face over when he turns back to stare at him.

“He said I could come up first.” Jungkook shrugs.

Seokjin bites back his irritation. No hello, hyung, did you have a good day at work ,  no don’t worry I’m not going to jump ; Jungkook just looks at him with his ridiculously big eyes as he straddles the window frame in a pale pink shirt that actually fits him, what looks like a tiny gray fluffball still perched on his shoulder.

It’s a surreal sight, but at this stage in his life Seokjin has seen too much to be amazed. He refuses to be fazed by the utter enigma that is Jeon Jungkook.

So instead of asking aren’t you scared of falling? Seokjin says, “Okay. Please don’t let the bird poop in the apartment,” walks straight into his room, and shuts the door.

Inside the muted darkness of his room, Seokjin carefully presses his forehead against the door, and squeezes his eyes shut. Visualizes, vividly, screaming into a void that will scream back at him, so he doesn’t have to think about what it all means.

The window in his room is firmly shut and the blinds are drawn. His space is organizationally sound, sane, and smells of mundanity. There won’t be any bird-sightings here.

 

THE PAST, SPRING 2019 

Seokjin first met Jungkook a little more than a year ago, when he was still a household name with his face plastered all over juice boxes and billboards in COEX.

He had swung by Yoongi’s studio right after work, exhausted and antsy after hours alternating between smiling and dead-eyed staring. (“Is this really what people want? I look murderous,” he despaired, and his stylist laughed too brightly and said he was funny. Seokjin had been completely serious.)

He hadn’t texted beforehand, but Yoongi would definitely be there, scrunched up in his gigantic swivel chair with too many empty coffee cups in front of him as usual.

And Seokjin was right. He spotted at least three wilted paper cups. He just didn’t expect someone else.

“Uh,” is what he says when he flings open the door to finds Yoongi bent over a stranger sitting on his sofa.

“Jesus,” Yoongi snaps. “I almost took his eye out. Can you knock?”

“Why bother when I know your password?” Seokjin returns, stepping closer to try to get a better look. “Am I interrupting something? Is this some kind of weird foreplay?” The stranger shrinks away from him.

“No,” Yoongi growls. He shifts, revealing a man in an oversized black hoodie and black sweatpants. There is a cut above his left eye that is oozing blood; his eyes dart from Seokjin and back to the floor quickly.

“This is Jungkook,” Yoongi says at last. “He’s hurt, as you can see.”

“Yes, I have eyes,” Seokjin replies. He’s not a fan of blood. “What happened?” Gingerly, he seats himself in Yoongi’s chair and crosses his legs, toeing his shoes off. Oxfords always pinched his feet.

Before Yoongi can answer, Jungkook speaks up. His voice is muted and wavers a little, but Seokjin thinks in another world it would be good for TV, sweet and low. “Fell and hit my head,” he says, looking somewhere in the vicinity of Seokjin’s forehead. He rubs his hands together, and Seokjin notices his knuckles are red-raw and rough.

“You’re a bad liar,” Seokjin says. He’s only half-joking.

Nobody says anything.

“But that’s okay,” Seokjin continues. “You can get better.” He cocks his head to the side. “I’m Seokjin.”

Jungkook grunts and looks away. He’s younger than Seokjin first estimated – there’s still the barest hint of baby fat clinging to his cheeks, and he hasn’t entirely grown into his nose yet. Still a boy, really.

“Rude,” Seokjin says mildly, leaning back and letting one socked foot dangle in the air. “I’m older than you.”

Seokjin should be nice. The boy is young and injured and Seokjin’s batting him around like a toy. But Seokjin is used to people opening up to him, to people knowing him and so letting themselves be known in return. Jungkook is a surprise and Seokjin doesn’t like surprises.

Seokjin’s not a fan of lies, either. Not when he’s the one being lied to.

There’s a flash of something in Jungkook’s eyes and he clenches his fists. Juts his chin out slightly when he says, “That you are,” with a slow, appraising look up and down. "Hyung."

“Enough,” Yoongi interrupts before Seokjin can decide whether to laugh or scowl. “Jungkook, will you be okay tonight?” The look they exchange conveys more than what’s being said aloud; Seokjin decides on scowling.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Jungkook says. He goes quiet when he’s talking to Yoongi. Calm, almost. Seokjin understands; Yoongi has that effect on him too. “Thanks, hyung.” No trace of irony in his voice.

Nobody says anything as Jungkook stands, gathers up a truly hideous backpack, and pulls a black cap low over his face. He gives Yoongi a small wave and leaves. He does not look at Seokjin.

“He’s suspicious,” Seokjin declares immediately. Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Seriously, who is he? Are you picking up strays again?”

“He’s a friend,” Yoongi says vaguely. “A friend who needed my help. Be nice, hyung.” He smiles at that, a quicksilver grin that he tries to hide, like he’s laughing at an inside joke.

Seokjin frowns. “Stop making fun of me!” he whines. “Let’s go get hotteok. Please. I’m starving.”

They go, and Seokjin forgets about Jungkook until the next time he sees him. (The next time he sees Jungkook, he doesn’t forget him.)

 

[INTERLUDE]

The first time Jungkook met him, Seokjin was soft devastation in a cream-colored suit and lavender socks. Then he opened his mouth and his words were anything but soft, and all Jungkook could think about was everyone else who had looked at him like he was nothing, a boy no one wanted or knew. A ghost in black, a shadow.

So, the next time they met, at one of Yoongi’s client’s launches, he made sure to look directly into Seokjin’s eyes until the other man broke eye contact first. It didn’t feel as good as he thought it would, especially when Seokjin just turned around and laughed, easy as anything, face flushed pink with wine.

(He doesn’t remember this, but the first time Jungkook saw Seokjin was months before they met, on the back of a banana milk carton. For this campaign, Seokjin was wearing an all-yellow outfit and hugging a foam banana. It was ridiculous, and Jungkook doesn’t remember this at all, but he’d chugged the milk, paused, and thought to himself, handsome.) 

 

THE PRESENT, SUMMER 2020

When Yoongi arrives home, Seokjin has mostly calmed down and expunged all bird- and Jungkook-related frustration from his body. He can hear Yoongi instructing Jungkook on how to prepare the cuts of meat they’re having for dinner tonight and a part of him wants to go out and help but seeing Jungkook always throws him off and he needs some time to settle himself before meeting new people. Tonight, Namjoon and Taehyung are coming over, and Seokjin knows how much it means to Yoongi that Namjoon is finally back in Seoul.

He doesn’t know much about Yoongi’s other best friend, except that he had dropped off the face of the earth after their debut more than three years ago, leaving Seokjin to pick up the pieces of Yoongi’s heartbreak.

So. He’s not exactly impartial. But he puts on a nice shirt and a nice smile and doesn’t squeeze too hard when he shakes Namjoon’s hand at the door.

“It’s so good to finally meet you,” Namjoon says. “This is Taehyung, my b-boyfriend.” He flushes, like this is the first time he’s saying it aloud.

Taehyung – utterly gorgeous, even more so because he looks like he doesn’t know it – blinks. Seokjin notices that his eyes are a strange amber hue and wonders what kind of contacts he’s using, because they look so real. “That’s the first time you’ve said that,” Taehyung says, and the two of them share a look. Namjoon is still holding on to Seokjin’s hand.

I need a drink , he thinks.

He must have said that aloud, because Namjoon starts and drops his hand. He laughs awkwardly, hand coming up to the back of his neck. The other hovers over Taehyung’s back and Seokjin wonders if this is what living on what essentially is a deserted island does to your social skills, or if Namjoon’s always been this awkward. He feels guilty immediately, but not guilty enough to stop himself from snorting internally.

“Let’s all get drinks,” Seokjin says diplomatically, and leads them to the kitchen where Yoongi and Jungkook are bent over the steak and pasta.

“Namjoon-ah,” Yoongi says warmly when he looks up to see everyone crowding around. “Taehyungie. I hope you guys are hungry.” He holds up a piece of meat on a steak knife and waggles it ridiculously.

“Starving,” Namjoon laughs. “Oh! We brought something for you. Bokbunja-ju from Jeju.”

“Here, I’ll pour,” Seokjin interjects. He needs to do something with his hands. From the corner of his eye, he can see Taehyung and Jungkook silently staring at each other.

“This is Jungkook, by the way,” Yoongi says, nodding at where Jungkook is blinking rapidly at Taehyung. “I see he’s already met Taehyung.”

“Your eyes are real pretty,” Jungkook says. He smiles at Taehyung, a shy quirk of the lips that’s there and then gone. Taehyung ducks his head a little and replies, “So are yours,” and then he’s asking if he can do anything to help and Jungkook’s moving to give him space behind the countertop so that he can chop tomatoes.

Yoongi and Namjoon are laughing over something as Yoongi continues to carve up the steak, Namjoon leaning forward on his elbows with his chin in his hands. They’re talking about Yoongi’s upcoming showcase; Yoongi’s gummy smile is out. Seokjin doesn’t realize he’s staring until he feels wet on his hands and looks down to see the glass he’s been pouring wine into has overflowed.

Something ugly tightens in his chest, knotty and thick. This is his apartment, but he suddenly feels like he’s the one intruding, a stranger that can only play nice when he actually doesn’t feel nice at all.

The sun is setting, and the window is still open. As Seokjin stares at the square of gold-pink that fills the frame, a bird drops onto the ledge. It’s bigger than the previous one Seokjin saw, its back and tail gleaming with purple-blue iridescence as it turns. Its front is pure white and puffy. For a second, Seokjin is the only one who notices it.

Then Jungkook looks up and makes a soft noise in his throat, and then everyone’s looking on in hushed silence as he crouches down beside it and lifts a finger to scratch under the bird’s beak.  

“Magpie,” Jungkook says quietly. He doesn’t look away from the bird, who’s perched there, calm as still water, nibbling at Jungkook’s hand.

“I’ve never seen one up close before,” Namjoon says reverently. “They’re supposed to be a sign of good fortune.”

“Jungkook has a way with birds,” Yoongi says.

That’s an understatement. Seokjin has seen Jungkook standing serenely in the middle of a feather-storm of sparrows before, has seen a mother duck wait patiently as he cupped her babies in his hands and lifted them up the ledge they were too small to clamber over. Once, Seokjin saw Jungkook give almost all of his sandwich to what looked like a cormorant, which is impossible because cormorants never come this far inland.

And yet.

Afterwards, Seokjin had approached Jungkook and asked, looking at the empty wrapper in his hand, if he’d eaten yet. Jungkook had just smiled and said he’d given his food to a friend, so yes, he would like to grab a bite.

That was a while ago, though. Seokjin hasn’t seen Jungkook with birds since. Not until today.

So. Jungkook has a way with birds. A wild, magical way. A way that Seokjin was privy to for a brief period of time, until he inevitably fucked it up, as he was wont to do.

Still, the moment is special, until Jungkook says, “She’s bored of us now,” and the magpie flits away. Taehyung immediately pounces on Jungkook, probably to ask him how he’d done that, but Jungkook’s gaze scans the living room until it lands on Seokjin, who doesn’t have the wherewithal to pretend to be busy with the wine.

What? he mouths exaggeratedly. The ugly thing in his chest squirms.

Jungkook shakes his head slightly and turns back to where Taehyung is seated cross-legged on the sofa, bright-eyed.

Seokjin lifts his brimful glass of wine and takes a long sip. Some of it drips down his wrist, inside the length of his shirt sleeve, probably staining it. He doesn’t care.

 

THE PAST, SPRING 2019 

The birds came later, actually. First there was the question of Jungkook’s clothes.

“Why is he always wearing black hoodies? It’s summer! What is he hiding underneath all that fabric?” Seokjin rants at Yoongi.

It is the morning after one of Yoongi’s client launches; Seokjin actually knew the idol Yoongi worked for so he’d gotten his own invite – what he didn’t expect was for Jungkook to replace him as Yoongi’s plus one.

So imagine his surprise, and the subsequent jolt of betrayal, when he’d seen Jungkook last night at the gala, dressed in what looked to be the exact same outfit that Seokjin had first met him in – black sweatshirt, black cargo pants, black sneakers. At least he wasn’t wearing a cap indoors, Seokjin had thought, unkindly.

Jungkook didn’t say anything. Had just – stared at him, like some kind of specter. Seokjin thought he was losing his mind for a second; nobody else seemed to notice how out-of-place Jungkook looked in the middle of feathery dresses and jewel-toned jumpsuits, but Seokjin did, because Jungkook was not looking away and since when were his eyes so intensely dark?

In the end, Seokjin was the one who shifted his gaze, choking out a laugh at a nonexistent joke, ears burning.

Yoongi doesn’t know about their weird moment; Seokjin just mentioned he’d seen Jungkook. If Jungkook had told Yoongi another story, Yoongi doesn’t let on. He just sighs and sips at his coffee, forehead still creased with sleep-marks.

“Why do you care so much?” he grouses. “I thought you didn’t like him.”

“I don’t not like him,” Seokjin says defensively. At Yoongi’s disbelieving side-eye, he huffs. “Yes, I was mean to him when we first met. No, that doesn’t mean I dislike him. I just couldn’t figure him out. And you know how much I like figuring people out.”

“Well, he isn’t one of your snot-nosed modeling sycophants,” Yoongi says, voice going a little tight. “He’s not a puzzle, hyung.”

Seokjin sprawls across their table, glasses skewed so he’s seeing everything half-blurry. It’s the weekend so he hasn’t bothered with his contacts or with styling his hair; the only person who’s going to see him today is Yoongi. He pokes at his breakfast omelet listlessly, watching the egg mop up ketchup.

“Don’t sulk,” Yoongi says. When he sees Seokjin’s mangled breakfast, he snorts. “I wish your snobby actor friends could see you now. Kim Seokjin is just like the rest of us after all! He, too, plays with his food.”

A year ago, Seokjin would have been flustered, embarrassed at his childish behavior. Now, he just rolls his eyes and stabs at a particularly limp piece of mushroom. “So what is he then?” he asks mulishly.

“What?”

“If he isn’t a puzzle, what is he? Keep up, Yoongichi.”

He gets a swat on the head for that. But Yoongi answers his question, because he can tell by now when Seokjin is being serious and when he’s just playing the fool.

“He’s a kid who needed someone to look out for him for once,” Yoongi says. “If you want to know more, you should ask him. He won’t bite.” He looks a little teasing now, but his tone is more somber when he adds, “It’s not really my story to tell. But Jungkookie is good, and funny and smart, and you’ll see that, if you treat him kindly.”

It gives Seokjin a lot to think about.

He starts seeing Jungkook around more. Mostly in Yoongi’s studio because, Yoongi explains, he’s interested in music, and wants to learn the ropes from him. Sometimes he follows Yoongi home and stays for dinner, though he always eats silently and neatly, even after Seokjin’s made the same joke about him needing a new wardrobe three days in a row. (Yoongi just huffs, declares that black is the most functional color and that Seokjin is just a diva.) (That stings a bit, because they both know it’s not true but Yoongi said it anyway.)

Seokjin doesn’t get anything more than monosyllabic answers out of Jungkook most days; after three weeks of complete opacity, he succumbs to his curiosity.

During breakfast one day Seokjin asks, “So where can I find him? If, hypothetically, I want to ask him.”

He doesn’t know how to feel about the fact that Yoongi seems to instantly know who he’s talking about. He just raises his eyebrows and says, “Today? He’s probably at Yeouido Park,” he says. “Near the lake.”

Seokjin hums in acknowledgement, not moving, but Yoongi sees right through it. “Bring some bird food,” he adds. “He likes to feed them.”

Two hours later, Seokjin is sweating in his summer linen suit, a bag of bread in one hand and Naver open in the other as he tries to navigate. He doesn’t know what possessed him to come all the way here on a Saturday to find someone who might not even be here and who most likely does not want him around, but staying at home had seemed dreary and Seokjin has never been able to pass up on a mystery.

He’s circled the lake twice already and so far, has only encountered screeching toddlers and elderly couples. Ready to give up, he’s about to toss his sad sack of bread in the trash when a flock of birds flies right by him, startlingly close. They wheel across his vision, stark black against the diamond-bright white of the sky, and when he follows their arc his eyes fall on a lone figure standing under the shade of a cherry blossom tree, arms outstretched.

The hell ,  Seokjin thinks. Is this a Makoto Shinkai movie? 

It’s Jungkook. His eyes are closed, and his head tipped back, hair floppy without his cap. As Seokjin watches, most of the birds settle in the branches around him, twittering, but some land on his arms. One drops onto his head. Jungkook doesn’t seem surprised; Seokjin wonders if this happens a lot. Jungkook looks peaceful, his all-black outfit less harsh amidst the soft pink of the blossoms.

He walks over slowly, not wanting to spook man or animal. When he’s just outside the shadowy rim of the tree, he says, “Want some bread?”

Jungkook’s eyes jerk open and the birds on him flitter away at the sudden movement. He stares, arms still out like some kind of goth scarecrow. Seokjin doesn’t know why he’s suddenly nervous; he fights the urge to run his hand through his hair to make sure it’s still in place and steps into the shade.

“What are you doing here?” Jungkook finally asks, lowering his hands to fiddle at the hem of his t-shirt. He looks awkward all of a sudden, and Seokjin is starting to feel like he’s interrupted something.

Seokjin lifts up the bread. “I’m here to feed some birds.”

“It’s bad for them,” is all Jungkook says. He doesn’t move any closer.

“What?”

“The bread.”

“Oh.”

Well, that’s it , Seokjin thinks. He tried. He embarrassed himself. He is going to go away and never come back here ever again. How was he supposed to know what birds ate?

When Jungkook clears his throat, Seokjin almost doesn’t look up from where his fingers are leaving indents in the bread. (It’s good bread, too, from Seokjin’s favorite bakery.) Then: “I have seeds, though. You can have some, if you want. To feed them.”

“Oh,” Seokjin breathes out when he sees Jungkook in front of him with a palmful of sunflower seeds. “Yes. Um. I’d like that.”

Their fingers brush when Jungkook tips the seeds into Seokjin’s open hand. Seokjin pretends not to notice Jungkook noticing, the way his pinky twitches just a little.

“Just stand still,” Jungkook instructs. “And they’ll come to you.”

At first Seokjin feels stupid, standing here with his palm out. Irrationally, he wonders if someone will recognize him and send a photo to Dispatch.

Then a bird lands on Jungkook’s arm. Two seconds later one drops down onto Seokjin’s own. It’s small and brown all over except for a fluffy white underbelly, and it tickles where it starts pecking at the seeds.

Seokjin giggles a bit, then snaps his mouth shut, mortified.

When he looks up, he expects to see Jungkook laughing at him.

Jungkook is laughing, but Seokjin doesn’t think he’s making fun of him. It’s the first time Seokjin is seeing something stronger than a polite smile on Jungkook’s face, and it makes him want to do something stupid. Almost.

Then Jungkook sees him looking and abruptly stops, free hand coming up to rub at his nose. They’re silent for a while, both weirdly embarrassed, before Jungkook’s eye catches on something and he snorts.

“You’ve been shat on,” he deadpans, and points to a white splotch on Seokjin’s palm. The guilty party has already vacated Seokjin’s hand.

Seokjin yelps and instinctively flaps his hand loose. Seeds fly everywhere and then Seokjin is just standing there with gunk dripping sadly off his fingers.

Jungkook rolls his eyes and produces a packet of wet wipes from his back pocket. “Calm down,” he mumbles, grabbing at Seokjin’s hand and efficiently wiping it clean. Seokjin makes a disgusted noise in the back of his throat and Jungkook stiffens.

This is it ,  he thinks. My time to shine.

He doesn’t know why bird poop has, ridiculously, emerged as the precipitating event, but it has arrived nonetheless, and Seokjin is ready. He could arch a brow and affect a disdainful pout – that’s what CF model Kim Seokjin would do, and his fans would sigh with shared displeasure. He could slap his hand away and bug his eyes out and make a jab about how his precious body was his livelihood – that’s variety Seokjin; his co-host would lean into the joke even though it isn’t really that good, and they’d both laugh too hard for a show that already has post-production editors to make everything funnier than it actually is. If this were Yoongi, he could squawk loudly and ham everything up because that’s what Yoongi is used to seeing past, and everything would be fine.

Somehow, he doesn’t think any of his usual shticks will tip the scales in his favor. He’s good, if you treat him kindly , he hears Yoongi’s voice in his head.

So, he tries something he doesn’t do very often: he tries being sincere.

He plucks the dirty wipe from Jungkook and folds it neatly. “Hey,” he says quietly. When Jungkook eyes him warily through his bangs, he gives him a smile. A real one. “Thanks,” he adds. He realizes his fingers are still resting against Jungkook’s and he gives them a playful squeeze before letting go.

Jungkook clears his throat. “No problem,” he says.

They stand there for a while until Seokjin brightens and holds up his previously abandoned bread. “Since the birds can’t eat this, do you want some?”

As if he hadn’t just wiped excrement off Seokjin, Jungkook sniffs, eyeing the suspiciously squished bread. “That doesn’t look fit for consumption,” he says.

Not breaking eye contact, Seokjin reaches into the bag and stuffs a ball of bread into his mouth.

Jungkook chokes and Seokjin thinks he can hear the beginnings of another laugh bubbling up. “C’mon,” he says while chewing rapidly. “I won’t make you eat this, but I insist that you try this bread, it’s heavenly. The shop isn’t far.”

“I didn’t know you cared that much about baked goods,” Jungkook says at last, almost appraisingly. Seokjin hopes he passed muster.

“I do,” Seokjin says easily. “I love baking.” It’s the second really honest thing he’s said to Jungkook. It surprises him, because he didn’t even think about it this time.

“Cool,” Jungkook replies. He chews at his lip and adds, “I have a sweet tooth.”

“Let us go forth, then,” Seokjin says dramatically, sweeping his arms out to let Jungkook pass first. “Sweets await.”

“Try to keep up, old man,” Jungkook throws back over his shoulder, and this time Seokjin does squawk in objection.

As they walk out of the tree’s shadow, the flock of birds flies out after them, pinwheeling carefree in the sky.

 

THE PRESENT, SUMMER 2020 

It’s late by the time Namjoon and Taehyung call it a night; they’re both kind of tipsy so Yoongi calls them a cab and insists on going downstairs with them to wait for it. “It was great meeting all of you,” Namjoon said, slurring a little with his arms wrapped around Taehyung like a teddy bear. “I love friends.” Seokjin suspected he was close to actually crying, so he had given him an energetic pat on the back and said very loudly, “Me too!” before ushering them all out of the apartment.

Leaving him and Jungkook alone in the living room, silence settling like a fog. Perhaps, just maybe, Seokjin had miscalculated. Hopefully, Jungkook will do what he’s been doing all evening and continue to ignore him. He thinks he would much rather face an emotionally compromised Namjoon than this. Maybe he can still escape, if he thinks very hard about how he’s invisible and can just walk over to his room unseen—

“Hyung,” Jungkook interrupts, as Seokjin is halfway across the room. When he looks up slowly, Jungkook is frowning at him. “Why are you bent over all funny?” His nose scrunches up. It’s unfair how not ugly it makes him look.

Deeply affronted, Seokjin straightens his back from where he’d been crouched over trying to be as inconspicuous as possible and juts his chin out at Jungkook, so he doesn’t have to look him in the eye. Instead he stares at the ceiling instead. It’s bland and white. Very safe.

“Excuse me,” he says. “I may be retired but I was the top male model in Korea in 2017. How dare you call my signature runway walk funny.

“You’ve literally never walked a runway show before in your life,” Jungkook fires back. “Unless you count that one time you were so drunk you climbed onto the sushi conveyor belt—”

“Silence!” Seokjin demands, pointing a finger at Jungkook. Mistake. That means looking at him, and he’s done a good job of not doing exactly that for the past few hours. “We shall not speak of that dark time.”

“Let’s talk about something else, then,” Jungkook says, a challenging look in his eyes.

"Wow, look at the time,” Seokjin says blandly, raising his wrist. He’s not wearing a watch. “Gotta get my beauty sleep!”

He tries to scurry past where Jungkook is already moving to intercept him, but he’s no match for someone who actually enjoys going to the gym. Jungkook just stands there, blocking him, and since when did he get so broad? Or maybe the cut of his shoulders is just more obvious because he’s not wearing oversized black clothing for once, and oh, shit, Seokjin knew that pink shirt looked familiar—

“Stop running away from me,” Jungkook says bluntly, arms crossed like a petulant child, if petulant children had, like, muscles.

“I’m not,” Seokjin says reflexively. “I just have the strongest desire to retire to my bedroom, and you, sir, are very much in my way—”

“You’re talking like what you think an 18th century duke sounds like again,” Jungkook points out, not wrongly. “Are you nervous? Why are you nervous?”

“Oh my god, why are you talking so much?” Seokjin panics, tries to dart past Jungkook, but he has insanely fast reflexes and puts an arm just in time for Seokjin to run face-first into the crook of his elbow. “Ow!”

“Shit, are you okay?” Jungkook leans in, dangerously close.

“I am so fine!” Seokjin rears back, hard, and hits his head against the wall. At this point he is certain his life is a farce. He sags against the wall, trying not to think about how Jungkook smells improbably of cotton and clean boy even after an hour spent grilling steak, and closes his eyes. “Can I go now, please? I’m tired.”

A pause, then, in a small voice, “Sorry. I just…” Jungkook trails off, and before Seokjin can react he’s being gathered up in a tight grip, Jungkook’s arms warm around his back and his face pressed into the space between his neck and shoulder.

After an excruciating ten seconds in which Seokjin does not breathe, Jungkook lets go and steps back, a sheepish look on his face. “Sorry,” he says again. “I thought you looked like you could use a hug.”

Seokjin bites back a number of snarky things he could say, such as, Well, you sure didn’t notice when you were busy becoming BFFs with Taehyung or What makes you think I’d want a hug from you anyway? because they would all ring false, but he would be able to say them in such way that Jungkook believed them, and Seokjin is not that cruel. He’s not exactly nice, maybe, but he’s never been cruel.

“Thanks,” he says instead. “I should really go to bed.”

“Okay.” Jungkook steps back and Seokjin can finally exhale. “I guess I’ll see you around.” There’s a lilt to the end of the sentence that gets squashed, like Jungkook decided last minute that it wasn’t a question and yes, he was going to see Seokjin around.

Seokjin just nods and peels himself from the wall. “Goodnight, Jungkook-ah,” he says, and turns towards his bedroom. He hears Jungkook reply softly behind him, but he doesn’t look.

At some point Jungkook must have let himself out, and then Seokjin, lying fully-clothed in his bed, can hear Yoongi’s familiar stomp and shuffle in the living room. He can practically feel his best friend’s presence right outside his room (and, fine, he can see his shadow through the gap between the door and the floor), and holds his breath waiting for Yoongi to say something sinister like, “we need to talk about Jungkook,” because Yoongi is not blind, he’s very perceptive in fact, and Seokjin is physically incapable of deceiving him, but today must be his lucky day, because after a while the shadow disappears and the lights go off outside.

Somehow, that doesn’t make it any easier for Seokjin to fall asleep.


Namjoon and Taehyung come by more often, mostly on weekday nights for a beer or two after work, sometimes on weekends if they’ve managed to get Yoongi to promise to engage in some kind of outdoor activity. Seokjin has to laugh, the one time they persuade him to go rock-climbing. Taehyung in particular loves dropping by Seokjin’s pastry shop, sometimes twice in one day since his workplace isn’t far away.

The boy is unabashedly in love with his strawberry shortcake and will enthusiastically try anything Seokjin foists upon him, making him an ideal test subject for new recipes and Seokjin’s new favorite customer. Yoongi thinks it’s funny that Taehyung will gladly gobble down a wasabi and black sesame cream puff; Namjoon just frets in the corner. “Delicious,” Taehyung had declared. “But you should add some sweetness to combat the acidity of the wasabi.”

“Taehyung is my new favorite,” Seokjin announced. Yoongi just rolled his eyes.

Today, it’s Namjoon who pops by in the middle of the day.

“Seokjin-ssi, hello,” Namjoon says politely, waving.

“Ah, call me hyung,” Seokjin replies from behind the counter. Had Namjoon been addressing him so formally all this while? He hadn’t even noticed. “What’s up?”

“Are you sure? Okay then—hyung.” Namjoon looks nervous and Seokjin has no idea why.

“Why do you look so nervous?”

“Is it that obvious?” Namjoon laughs bashfully, one hand coming up to scratch at the back of his neck while he peers at the rows of desserts and pastries in front of him. “I’m trying to surprise Taehyung. It’s his one-month work anniversary today. At the aquarium. And he just got a weekend gig at an art studio, so I thought we should celebrate.” He brightens at the mention of Taehyung, then gets all pinched around the corners of his mouth again as he eyes Seokjin’s wares. “I want to get him something special.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Seokjin says. “Well, you can’t go wrong with strawberry. Maybe not the shortcake, since he has that all the time. I could customize anything you get too, if you can wait a few minutes. I’m surprised he’s not here himself, he always comes in Thursday afternoons.”

“Ah, Jungkook’s with him,” Namjoon says distractedly, gazing somewhat fearfully at a croquembouche model Seokjin has on display. “Tae has the afternoon off so they’re at the park, I think. Could you, like, draw some crabs in icing or something?”

“Sure,” Seokjin says automatically, admiring himself for not laughing out loud at the image of buttercream crabs all over his meticulously decorated desserts. “He and Jungkook hang out?”

“Yeah, all the time,” Namjoon says, completely oblivious to the level of restraint Seokjin is showing right now. “Can I get this mint-strawberry thing here? I have no idea how to pronounce this, but it looks amazing. With the crabs, of course.”

“Of course,” Seokjin demurs. “It’ll take just a second.”

Piping some crab outlines onto his choux pastry doesn’t take very long, but Seokjin wants to be extra careful. It’s a special treat for Taehyung, after all. “So,” he says casually, “How are you and Taehyung finding the city?”

Namjoon has taken to leaning on the counter, one cheek cupped in his palm. “It’s good,” he says, thoughtful. “I think Tae got used to it faster than me, actually.” A short laugh. “It took a while to readjust to…how much it is. But I’m glad we’re here. I’m making music and Tae’s doing what he wants for the first time and we have friends to help us. Like you.” He smiles then, warm and genuine with dimples showing, and Seokjin is so startled he almost decapitates the crab he’s outlining.

He hadn’t expected Namjoon’s approval to matter that much, or at all, actually.

“I’m glad,” he says awkwardly, looking at the wobbly line of the crustacean leg so he doesn’t have to endure the full force of Namjoon’s radiance. God, people in love are nauseating , he almost thinks, but shoves the thought away as soon as it bubbles to the surface of his mind. “You and Taehyung are very sweet. Did he grow up on the island?”

“Ah, sort of,” Namjoon says. “It’s a little complicated, but yeah, essentially. He’s never been to a big city before. That’s why I’m glad he and Jungkook get along so well. I don’t know much about him, but I trust anyone who’s a friend of Yoongi’s and there’s just something about him.” Namjoon hums and Seokjin squeezes his piping bag a little too hard. This crab is just going to have to deal with having an abnormally large claw.

“There’s something kind of wistful about him,” Namjoon continues. “Not in a, like, performative sad-boy way, just. He moves in way that seems like he’s seen some shit but come out the other side okay. And he’s so funny, and kind. Really big-hearted.”

“Yup,” Seokjin says, teeth clenched. “That’s our Jungkookie.” He focuses on keeping his hands steady.

"You okay?” Namjoon asks.

“100 percent.”

“You seem kind of tense.”

“I’m always tense, Namjoon,” Seokjin says brightly. “It’s my curse, being this beautiful. I always have to be on alert for the paparazzi.” He widens his eyes comically, and Namjoon gives a half-chuckle, like he doesn’t know if Seokjin is being serious or not.

“Here,” he says, depositing the pastry into a carrier and tying a ribbon around the top. “All done, and don’t worry about paying. My treat. Say hi to Taehyung for me.”

“Oh jeez, thanks, hyung,” Namjoon says, carefully adjusting his grip on the box. “And I will. I’ll say hi to Jungkookie for you too!”

“Sure,” Seokjin says weakly, but Namjoon’s already out the door. 

When he’s alone again, Seokjin feels like he’s shrunk two sizes too small.       

 

THE PAST, SUMMER 2019 

Seokjin doesn’t get Jungkook. At first, he’d seen the all-black ensemble and the ambivalent stare and the scraped-raw knuckles and thought, not very generously, of high-school dropouts and ruffians, maybe even some kind of underground gang (not that he knew anything of shady mobsters beyond watching Oldboy ). Then this profile had taken an abrupt nosedive into bird-feeding, which seemed a pretty fucking niche hobby for someone below the age of sixty, and then, to add yet another confounding layer onto the onion that was Jeon Jungkook, it turned out that he was actually just a giant sweetheart.

There is no other conclusion. Seokjin has spent the past few weeks observing the specimen closely; they have hung out almost every day, normally on Seokjin’s no-shoot days but sometimes after he finishes work too, and he has seen Jungkook in a multitude of situations: On a despicably rainy day, he preemptively shoves his umbrella in Seokjin’s direction and says he’s fine with his hoodie. Even when Seokjin insists that they share, Jungkook makes sure the umbrella leans over to shield more of Seokjin. When a fan recognizes Seokjin on the street and clamors to take a photograph, he stands aside obligingly, at least until she starts to ask for his number, inching closer and closer; then, somehow, he is a looming presence at Seokjin’s shoulder, just glaring until the girl snaps, “What are you, his bodyguard?” and flounces off.

Today, he has reached the final boss of his ethnographic investigation of one: Jungkook in an animal café. Seokjin had suggested it, for no other reason than the fact that he clearly has a death wish. This is the sight before him: Jungkook buried beneath a pile of golden retriever babies, squirming and yelping like a pup himself as they tumble over his belly and slobber all over his face. Seokjin likes dogs just as much as the next person but he is a safe distance away. He certainly does not want saliva all over his very expensive suit.

“Hyung, get over here,” Jungkook gasps, one eye visible from where a pup has taken a liking to his face as a seat.

Seokjin goes, like he’s a dog and Jungkook’s fucking Pavlov. (He finds he doesn’t even mind the snot on his clothes after that much.)

That’s not all. Everyone finds puppies cute; it’s a no-brainer. But Jungkook, of course, has to go above and beyond. When the puppies have exhausted themselves, he crawls over to where there’s a fat lizard draped over a wooden crate being summarily ignored by everyone else who, sensibly, prefers furry hamsters and baby chicks to this scaly fiend.

Jungkook coos at it like it’s the cutest thing he’s ever seen, using his finger to scratch at the lizard’s ruff. One reptilian eyeball swivels slowly to meet Jungkook’s own awestruck gaze.

“I think it likes me,” Jungkook says triumphantly when, after a few seconds of keen appraisal, the lizard curls its tail around his pinky finger.

“What the fuck,” Seokjin mutters to himself. He feels like he’s watching an episode of Zoboomafoo .

Seokjin wonders if he’s going crazy. This brat will text back nothing but “k” to Seokjin’s very nicely worded invitation to grab supper but will think nothing of making frankly humiliating gurgling noises to get a baby at the table next to them laugh. He refuses to wear anything other than oversized shirts and old-man trainers but instead of radiating supermassive black hole energy, confused foreigners and old ladies with bad backs flock to him for help or just a reassuring smile.

“You are an enigma,” he simply blurts out one day, pointing an accusatory finger at Jungkook.

He has the gall to just laugh, throwing his head back and honking like a seal. “Whatever you say, hyung .”

“I can tell by the way you emphasized the word that your usage of ‘hyung’ was meant to be sarcastic and imply not respect but mockery for your elders,” Seokjin says snottily.

“So you admit you’re an elder?”

"Goddammit." 


“You and Jungkook have been hanging out a lot lately,” Yoongi notices one evening, as they sit in front of the TV and eat their dinner in silence.

Seokjin frowns. Yoongi is disturbing their sacred quiet time; he knows how important it is for reinforcing their roommate bond.

“You’re disturbing our sacred quiet time,” he points out.

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Yeah, because I want to ask you a question, dumbass.”

When Seokjin doesn’t reply, he raises his eyebrows. “So?”  

"Well, yeah, it just happened,” Seokjin says, stabbing at his pork chop. “Turns out he’s not so bad company after all.

"Is that so,” Yoongi hums, like Seokjin’s just said something revelatory.

"Shouldn’t you be glad we don’t hate each other anymore,” Seokjin huffs.

"What makes you think Jungkook ever hated you?” Yoongi looks amused, like a cat that’s just trapped a mouse and is watching it flail.

Seokjin splutters, like a mouse that is flailing. “Well, it seemed obvious. He was always just glaring at me.”

Yoongi just laughs. “This is so hilarious, I can’t wait to tell Jungkook about this,” he says almost to himself.

"Tell him what?” Seokjin exclaims. “There’s nothing to tell! Jesus!”

“One day, you’ll look back on this and thank me,” Yoongi says sagely, ignoring Seokjin as he prods at him with his fork.

“Never,” Seokjin swears, mouth full of chop. His ears are burning, but Yoongi must retain a smidgeon of respect for their friendship, because he doesn’t comment on them.


So, Seokjin is not being completely honest. Things didn’t just work out. He had sought Jungkook out at the park, had offered to show him his favorite bakery, his way of saying let’s start over . Jungkook, in turn, had offhandedly asked for his number so that “I can annoy you whenever I want,” he’d crowed, except his next text hadn’t been annoying at all, had instead been: u want 2 see my fave bird family? And Seokjin had said yes, even though he didn’t care about birds, at least not until he saw Jungkook climb down from a tree with a baby bullfinch in his palms, eyes shining, with a smile so wide his cheeks must hurt.

So this friendship between them didn’t just happen as much as they made it happen, which, if you trace that fact to its logical premise, meant that they both wanted it to happen, and that is where Seokjin grows uncomfortable and makes a joke to disperse this train of thought.

It’s not like Seokjin has never had a friend before.

He has Yoongi, after all.

He has other friends too. People he likes. It’s just that he normally prefers to spend his free time alone and only see them when he’s at work. That doesn’t mean they’re not his friends.

Okay, maybe it’s more accurate to say that he’s friendly with them.

And Jungkook has definitely gone beyond just “friendly” status. How does Seokjin know for sure? Well:

He’d recently wrapped his latest big contract, so he just wants to celebrate. Instinctively, he shoots Yoongi a text that says TIME TO PARTY!! which he knows Yoongi will correctly take to mean “time to buy a nice bottle of wine and watch re-runs of We Got Married while eating jjajangmyeon,” and then for some reason his brain detaches from his fingers and he’s typing out come over tonight, my shoot is over and I want to get drunk to Jungkook and pressing SEND.

So Jungkook is pretty definitively a real friend.

The bubble beneath his message pops up for a pretty long time, and Seokjin’s newfound confidence falters a little, before Jungkook’s reply appears, typically succinct as always: k. 9pm? i'll bring soju. Ten contemplative seconds later, a :) comes through.


Yoongi had called to say he was going to be late because a producer had run into problems with a recording at the last minute, but he’d promised to come home with Seokjin’s favorite honey garlic fried chicken, so Seokjin had graciously forgiven him.

He’s in a good mood anyway, humming as he pours rice cakes for tteokbokki into a pot of water. It’s going to be a nice night, eating home-cooked food and playing drinking games, his schedule freed up for the foreseeable future (i.e. the next few weeks, before his agent comes calling). Maybe he’ll start on one of his baking projects tomorrow; he’s got plenty of recipes to try out.

Seokjin’s distracted from thoughts of smoked berry parfait and chocolate mousse when the doorbell rings – must be Jungkook – and Seokjin is glad at least one of his friends values punctuality. When he answers the door, he’s not wrong. It’s Jungkook. But it’s a different, never-before-seen Jungkook. 

Jungkook has ditched the cap and styled his hair, the familiar flop of fringe now pushed up and combed neatly to the side to frame his face in slight curls; there are small silver hoops in his ears – Seokjin hadn’t even known he had his ears pierced before now.

Most disconcertingly, he’s wearing a white t-shirt, fitted and tucked into jeans with giant rips over the kneecaps. (Still the same chunky sneakers, but that’s about the only familiar thing.)

“Um,” he says, when Seokjin has been staring for a while, and Seokjin has a moment of cognitive dissonance, hearing his voice coming out from this uncanny valley Jungkook’s mouth, and is that lip gloss ? Seokjin is instantly suspicious and wonders if this is an elaborate scheme – but to what end?

“Sorry, hi,” Seokjin finally snaps out of it. “Come in, come in.”

Jungkook looks oddly nervous even though he’s been in their apartment a million times by now, standing hunched over with one hand in his pocket like he’s trying to step as gingerly as possible. In his free hand there’s a bottle of soju. Grapefruit-flavored, Seokjin’s favorite.

“Here, give me that,” Seokjin says, making grabby hands at the alcohol. “Be a dear and go check on the tteokbokki. It probably needs the gochujang now.”

Jungkook goes obediently, socked feet padding silent and careful like a deer, so different from how he usually sprawls and capers in this apartment he jokingly calls his second home. Seokjin wonders what’s wrong, wonders if he should ask, and decides they both need a drink before they wade into some potentially serious waters.

“How was your day?” he asks instead, an innocuous enough question. He pours them both a shot; Yoongi can bitch about them not waiting for him, but he’s just going to have to deal with it.

Jungkook jumps, splattering the gochujang paste a little. “Fine,” he says. “Made a couple of deliveries and then had lunch with Taehyung and Namjoon.”

For some reason the reply strikes a nerve in Seokjin. Jungkook’s always so vague and casual. Seokjin suddenly realizes he doesn’t actually know what Jungkook does. It’s strange, to feel like you know someone so well, their likes and dislikes, the specific curl to their smile when they see a really cute dog versus the sunbeam grin that comes with after a hearty meal, and realize that there’s such a huge gap in your knowledge of their daily life.

Seokjin comes to a second realization: It could only have been on purpose. Taehyung and Namjoon and surely Yoongi know about Jungkook. Jungkook’s just never offered the information to him , and Seokjin had never asked. ( Because Seokjin had never asked? God, having friends is hard.) 

“Here,” he says, holding out the shot glass to Jungkook. “Drink up.”

Jungkook pushes his lower lip out and stares at Seokjin. He looks like he’s concentrating really hard, on what, Seokjin has no idea. “My hands are busy,” he says. “A little help?”

Somewhere in the last five minutes Jungkook had extracted another spatula from Seokjin’s kitchen to use both arms to stir the thickening sauce. Very efficient. He could just let go for two seconds, but Seokjin is feeling indulgent so he places the rim of the shot glass against Jungkook’s mouth as he tips back his own shot.

Liquid courage, he had thought, but he falters when he sees the long arch of Jungkook’s throat as he tilts his head back to down the alcohol. When his tongue flicks out to lick his lips and brushes wetly against Seokjin’s thumb, Seokjin chokes on his own shot and coughs.

“Nice job, hyung,” Jungkook giggles, one hand coming up to wipe at his mouth.

“The audacity,” Seokjin croaks. “I almost die feeding you and you laugh.” He thumps his chest a few times dramatically, until suddenly Jungkook’s face is very near his, peering cautiously into his watery eyes.

“Hey, are you actually okay?”

“Oh my god, I’m fine,” Seokjin says, blinking furiously. No one has seen him cry in twenty years and he’s not about to let Jeon Jungkook break his winning streak. Even if the tears were choking-induced, not feelings-induced. Whatever.

Jungkook must not believe him, which, how dare he, because he raises a hand tentatively to rub in between Seokjin’s shoulders. It’s kind of nice and unexpectedly sweet and Seokjin relaxes for just a second before he remembers why he’d done this in the first place and straightens up.

"So, what do you actually do?” he asks, trying to go for casual as he picks up the spatula Jungkook had set down to help with the stirring.

Jungkook’s hand stops, heavy on Seokjin’s back. They’re standing crowded close over the stovetop and Seokjin thinks about making a joke about too many cooks but decides he would rather get an answer from Jungkook even if it means having to endure some weird proximal awkwardness.

“Well,” Jungkook hedges. “That’s so funny you ask, because what does it mean to, like, do something, hyung? Don’t you think a question like that plays into the capitalist mindset of individuals as workers—”

“I have heard this from Yoongi so many times,” Seokjin interrupts. “Nice try, kid.”

“Not a kid,” Jungkook mumbles, sounding exactly like a kid, deflating a little. But finally, he says, “I dropped out of school a few years ago.”

Seokjin’s about to say, well, that’s not so bad, you can always go back , when Jungkook continues: “Then I ran away from my foster parents.” 

Oh. Shit.

This isn’t a conversation he wants to have over a bubbling pot of tteokbokki.

“Always knew you were a rebel,” Seokjin says easily, nudging Jungkook aside with his hip as he slides on mittens to grip the hot pot. “You know, what with the all-black ensemble.”

Jungkook looks relieved, like he was worried Seokjin was going to go soft and sympathetic on him. Seokjin likes to think they’re both above that. “Actually, it’s kind of just because black clothes are always the easiest to keep clean,” Jungkook says lightly. Seokjin can feel his eyes on him as he maneuvers the pot into the living room.

Seokjin puts down the tteokbokki on the coffee table and stands up, slaps the mittens into one hand and dumps them on the kitchen table as he walks back to where Jungkook is leaning against the countertop, looking at him almost defiantly.

"Very smart, Jungkookie,” Seokjin says, eyebrows arched. “I for one would not have been able to resist the allure of a well-patterned shirt.”

Jungkook smiles, and ducks his head, suddenly shy, and Seokjin relaxes just a little.

“Now come on,” he says, grabbing utensils and the rest of the soju. “Let’s eat.”

They sit down on the floor with their backs against the sofa, Jungkook with his legs sprawled out in front of him beneath the table and Seokjin with his legs up. The bare skin of Jungkook’s knee presses up against Seokjin’s calf and he idly wishes he’d changed out of his work clothes earlier.

For a while they munch in silence, Jungkook stuffing his face with two or three rice cakes all at once while Seokjin looks on, scandalized. It’s only when Jungkook rolls his eyes at Seokjin’s disapproval that Seokjin makes a face back and gives in to what he really wants to do, which is to also stuff his face with multiple rice cakes all at once.

This is Jungkook , he thinks as he masticates vigorously. A friend. Not someone who will judge him for eating with his mouth open or for getting sauce on his shirt.

And because Jungkook is now officially a friend, Seokjin doesn’t let their earlier conversation go that easily. In between gulps, he asks, “So why’d you quit school?”

Jungkook flinches, but takes the time to finish chewing before he says, “I…I wasn’t very good at it. Like, I really like learning and stuff but it was hell having to sit still for so long and do things the way the teachers said I had to. I knew they thought I was stupid, even though they never said so directly. And the kids were really mean.” He pauses. “Somehow, they figured out my real parents weren’t…around, and they would make things up, like one day I was abandoned because I was an ugly baby, and the next I was secretly a troll trying to play at being human.” He laughs, a short sharp sound, and shakes his head. “Kids are so dumb sometimes.”

Something in his voice makes Seokjin think that it had taken him a while to reach that conclusion, that kids are dumb was the reason for such casual cruelty, rather than anything to do with Jungkook himself. Something in his gaze, a little distant, makes Seokjin think this conclusion is not yet built on entirely solid foundations.

“They are,” he says, taking a swig straight from the soju bottle. “Trolls? How unimaginative. You look more like a little moon rabbit to me.”

"Hyung!” Jungkook protests, shoving his knee into Seokjin’s leg. The left side of his cheek bulges with a rice cake, which doesn’t help his case at all. Seokjin laughs, somewhat unattractively booming, but he doesn’t really care.

“They’re all wrong anyway,” Seokjin says after they’ve both settled down. “School’s just one way of learning, and what does it even mean if you do it? Doesn’t make you any smarter or better. Just means you passed a couple of tests. Like, congratulations, I guess.”

“Hyung, you literally graduated top of your class at SNU,” Jungkook says. (Yoongi must have spilled the beans, that leaky bitch. How is he supposed to remain a man of mystery if his best friend can’t keep his mouth shut?) 

“And look where I am today,” Seokjin says with a flourish. He takes another sip of soju. “Kim Seokjin, the face of Korea. No critical thinking skills needed here, thank you. Just smile and wave, please.”

It comes out bitterer than he expected, like coffee that’s been steeped for too long.

“You’re more than that,” Jungkook says, a tad fiercely. Seokjin blinks, surprised. “You’re not just some pretty boy. I mean, you are. Pretty, that is, not that I’ve been—well. You know. Just. That’s not all you are.”

Seokjin blinks some more. He thinks Jungkook is blushing. Or maybe that’s just the alcohol kicking in, hazing his vision.

“Thanks,” he says dumbly.

They busy themselves with more food and Seokjin drinks liberally from the soju bottle. Jungkook shakes his head when Seokjin tilts it towards him; Seokjin shrugs and has some more.

Then Jungkook says, tentatively, “I quit school but I’m thinking of going back. To, uh, do something with music.”

“Ah, that’s why you’ve been learning from Yoongi?”

“Yeah, I figured nobody’s going to care that I suck at math in the music department,” Jungkook says. “And Yoongi-hyung said he’d write me a recommendation letter. I really want to make this work.”

“What do you want to do with music? Be a producer?”

“Yeah, I’m interested in that. But I, um, I sing, too.”

There are so many things Seokjin didn’t know about Jungkook. He wonders if Taehyung and Namjoon know, if Jungkook’s ever sung for them, and a hot sting of jealousy zips through him before gets a hold of himself.

“That’s great, Jungkookie,” Seokjin says, and he means it. He realizes that this is the first proper serious conversation they’ve ever had even though they’ve hung out together many times by now, and something in him opens up at the thought of being trusted enough to be privy to Jungkook’s hopes and dreams. It’s why he says, warm and intent, “You should sing for hyung one day,” and “I’m really proud of you,” and then stops.

He doesn’t say anymore, even though he wants to, because he might just end up doing something unwise. They’ve barely drunk anything, or maybe it’s only Jungkook who hasn’t really touched the soju, but he’s feeling slightly hot under his dress shirt, the kind of loosey-goosey he only gets with Yoongi at three in the morning after they’ve eaten too much ice cream.

He doesn’t say anymore, but he does see, or rather hear, Jungkook’s breath catch.

In a second, the air between them splits, like a sauce, the previously lazy back-and-forth they had going on curdling with a new tension. Some long-dormant faculty in the back of Seokjin’s brain blinks awake and nudges his head to turn closer towards Jungkook, and that same faculty must like what it sees because it’s inching him closer, or maybe it just seems that way because Jungkook is moving closer too, until—

“I’m home,” Yoongi drones from the front door.    

They both jerk back at the same time.

“Ah, I can’t believe you guys started without me,” Yoongi complains as he shucks off his shoes and deposits two plastic bags on the coffee table. The hot, fatty smell of chicken blooms between them, fraternal and familiar, breaking through the alcohol haze.

Jungkook is the first to blink and look up at Yoongi, nose scrunched slightly.

“You are a godsend,” Seokjin declares, swaying, putting his entire face into the bag to inhale the greasy fumes. That’s probably going to mean a pimple or two by tomorrow, but it’s worth it. Wow, maybe he is drunk. “I’m almost not mad anymore that you’re late to my party.”

“Can it legally even be called a party if there are only three people?”

“Try me, baby, I know the law.” Seokjin waggles his eyebrows with a chicken wing in between his teeth.

“You’re disgusting,” Yoongi says, but he’s smiling.

Jungkook’s awfully quiet, hasn’t said a single word since Yoongi arrived.

“Sorry I was late, Jungkookie.” Yoongi plops down next to him and immediately goes for a drumstick, ignoring Seokjin’s outraged gasp as he whips it away from under his fingers. “You’ve suffered, having to deal with this demon alone.”

“It was no problem, hyung,” Jungkook says. His voice goes up at the end, as if he’s confused.

Seokjin looks at him sideways.

Yoongi pauses, seeming to sense the weird vibes emanating from Jungkook. Gently, he knocks his shoulder against his and says, “At least now you have me. And chicken.”

“Right,” Jungkook replies, eyes trained on where his hands are limp in his lap.

“Jungkookie,” Seokjin whispers, putting down his chicken to lean in close. One hand shoots out for balance to land in the space between Jungkook’s legs where he’s seated cross-legged. “What’s wrong?”

“What did you do to him?” Yoongi sighs.

Seokjin ignores him, focusing on Jungkook instead. The last thing he wants is for Jungkook to feel uncomfortable, like all those kids at school had made him feel. He doesn’t think he’s imagining how red Jungkook’s face is. And how he’s leaning away from Seokjin, like he doesn’t want to be near him all of a sudden. That makes him so sad.

“Stop running away,” Seokjin whines, and faceplants onto Jungkook’s chest. It’s solid and warm and feels nice.

“You’re solid and warm and you feel nice,” Seokjin vaguely registers himself muttering.

“Wow, is he actually drunk?” Yoongi laughs. “Good job, Kook-ah. Can’t believe tonight of all nights I had to be late. Aren’t you glad I’m here now?”

“Of course I am!” Jungkook splutters. “Why wouldn’t I be!” He sounds half-hysterical, eyes big as they dart from Yoongi to Seokjin and back again.

Seokjin looks up, bleary. Yoongi stares.

“Uh.” Jungkook seems to realize he’s overreacted to a simple question. A rhetorical question. It’s getting increasingly harder for Seokjin to concentrate but he thinks he can see Jungkook’s bottom lip trembling slightly. That sobers him up a little, the indication that Jungkook could be seriously upset.

“What is going on,” he says, still slumped over Jungkook.

“Oh my god ,” Yoongi says at the same time as Jungkook blurts out, “I should go.”

“What? No. Yoongi just got here.” Seokjin curls closer.

“I’m starting to think that’s part of the problem,” Yoongi says.

“Stop being so fucking cryptic,” Seokjin groans. “Jungkook, stay.

“No, I really, it’s late,” Jungkook stammers, hands grabbing Seokjin’s shoulders to gently ease him back upright. “Have fun with Yoongi-hyung!”

“Don’t think it’ll be as fun without you,” Yoongi says dryly, and Jungkook legitimately growls .

“Wait, stop, the both of you,” Seokjin says. He sits up, or tries to at least, to face Jungkook. “Hey, what’s up? Seriously.”

“Nothing!” Jungkook says too loudly.

Seokjin sees a hand reaching out to still Jungkook’s jittery shoulder and realizes belatedly it’s his. “You know you can tell me if anything’s upsetting you. Did I do something wrong?”

Jungkook squeezes his eyes shut, hard, and says, “You’re fine, hyung, I just misunderstood. Your text said…and I thought, ugh, never mind. Yoongi-hyung surprised me, that’s all. I was being stupid.”

Seokjin opens his mouth to ask why Yoongi would surprise Jungkook when he lives here, and then it all comes together.

Yoongi, asking deliberately, what makes you think Jungkook hates you?

Jungkook, nervous and skittish like a baby colt, in nice clothes, with nice hair.

Jungkook, rubbing Seokjin’s back gently. Telling Seokjin he’s pretty. His legs carefully arranged to press against Seokjin’s.

Jungkook, leaning in, opening up.

Fuck. Seokjin’s a fucking idiot.

The realization must show on his idiot face because Jungkook immediately stands up and says, “I gotta go, bye. Congrats again, Seokjin-hyung,” and before either Seokjin or Yoongi can react, he’s out the door.

“Well,” Yoongi says, as Seokjin groans and puts his head in his hands. “At least you left me some tteokbokki.”


Over the next few days, Seokjin tries something he’s successfully avoided for most of his life: introspection. He thinks about the signs he’d missed, not just on the night itself but every interaction he’s had with Jungkook, and wonders if he’s really just that oblivious, or if Jungkook has a fucking strange way of showing when he likes someone. He thinks about Jungkook’s blotchy red face and the tremor in his voice when he’d left so abruptly. He thinks about, God help him, his feelings .

He spends a lot of time thinking, and Jungkook doesn’t once reach out to him.

"Give him time,” Yoongi says, after the fourth time Seokjin pulls out his phone to check his messages during dinner. “He was embarrassed, but he’ll get over it.”

"So he’s still talking to you , I see,” Seokjin accuses, miffed.

"Well, yeah,” Yoongi says. “I’m not the one he’s got a giant crush on.”

Seokjin makes an undignified sound. “It’s not a crush. " pause, then, “So did he say anything about me?”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, jabs his chopsticks in Seokjin’s direction. “Talk to him yourself. I refuse to be a participant in this clusterfuck.”

“You are the worst friend,” Seokjin says very seriously. But he knows Yoongi’s right. He has to put on his big-boy pants. Grow some balls. Insert whatever other anachronistic heteronormative metaphor of your choice. 

Deep down, he knows he’s just nervous. He’s sort of figured out what he’s going to say to Jungkook, after distressingly embarrassing one-way conversations with his stuffed bunny Cooky. (“Go to therapy like everyone else,” Yoongi said when he once walked in on Seokjin miming an encouraging hand wave from Cooky. Seokjin squealed and told Yoongi to get out.) Which is to say, Seokjin thinks he knows how he feels. Has been forced, outrageously, to become cognizant of the state of his own feelings. And his feelings are this: he likes Jungkook. Nothing dramatic like love at first, or even second sight. He likes Jungkook the way he likes watching a souffle, or the sun, rise. It’s a quiet, contained feeling, but the possibility of it becoming something more —  that, to Seokjin, is what makes it different.  

(Even deeper down, the mean, always cynically self-assessing part of him tells him he didn’t need five days to figure out something pretty simple. He’d just needed five days to muster the courage to do something about it.) 

It is with this very necessary sense of self-righteousness that Seokjin returns to the park where he’d had his first real conversation with Jungkook. He’d tried texting, but Jungkook had left him on read – the audacity! – and Yoongi had flatly refused to allow Seokjin access to his studio to ambush Jungkook when he came in for lessons.

The ego that has propelled him thus far, though, quickly deflates when he turns the corner of the grassy clearing and sees Jungkook right there , just like Seokjin knew he would — but somehow the reality of it is much more terrifying. Jungkook is sitting cross-legged with a bunch of pigeons nestled around him looking like smooth gray orbs. One of them, a particularly tufty looking fellow, is pecking food from his palm.

God, Jungkook really is an anime character, Seokjin thinks deliriously. 

There’s really no good way to make an entrance, so Seokjin just walks right up to Jungkook, trying not to step on any squatting pigeons, and drops the bag he was holding in front of him.

Jungkook had already started to look up when Seokjin was halfway across the clearing, making the rest of the walk fairly anticlimactic, but he still yelps when the bag lands in his lap. The pigeons near him coo fretfully. 

“H-hyung,” he stutters, hands hovering. 

“Open the bag,” Seokjin says, still standing over him.

Cautiously, Jungkook peels away the layer of plastic to reveal an oblong, cling-wrapped lump. He pokes at it and squints at Seokjin. 

“Is this bread?” 

“Open it!” Seokjin thinks he’s going to break out in hives if Jungkook keeps asking him questions. The whole point of bringing a gift was to let the gift do the talking. At least, that’s what Naver told him. 

Jungkook opens it. 

Admittedly, it’s not one of Seokjin’s prettiest loaves. The walnuts protrude rather chunkily, and he probably used a handful too many pumpkin seeds, but he knows it tastes good, and really, isn’t that what matters, or is he just deluding himself like he had been for the last few years, thinking people cared what lay beneath—

“Hyung,” Jungkook says slowly, palms curled around the loaf like it’s something precious. Seokjin stops thinking, thankfully. “Did you make me bird bread ?” 

Seokjin gulps. He crouches down, being careful not to get wet grass stains on his knees. “Well,” he says. “I was just testing recipes. And it made me think of you,” he finishes lamely. He’s clearly lying. He obviously made this specifically for Jungkook. 

Jungkook is still looking at him slightly bamboozled, but there’s a hint of a smile upturning his lips. He knows. Seokjin’s palms are suddenly sweaty and he’s truly amazed at how quickly the tables have turned. “You thought of me?” Jungkook says shyly. 

“Yah, brat,” Seokjin blusters. “Be grateful—” 

“I am,” Jungkook says quickly. He unfolds the cling-wrap, pinches off a corner of the bread, and pops it into his mouth. His eyes widen even more. “It’s really good, hyung,” he says with his mouth full. “Here, try some—” 

He brings a piece up to Seokjin’s lips, which part automatically, and Jungkook’s right, the bread is good, has decent texture and just the right amount of cardamom spice —but far more pertinent is the drag of Jungkook’s fingers against his mouth, firm and deliberate. 

It’s Seokjin’s turn to stare. Jungkook has a shit-eating grin on his face. Casually, like it’s nothing at all, he presses his thumb into the center of Seokjin’s bottom lip. The only thing that betrays his nerves is the way Seokjin can feel him trembling against his mouth. It’s very endearing. 

A more patient person might have gently disengaged and sat down to talk about it like an adult, but Seokjin is almost dizzy with affection and already greedy for more, so he turns his face into Jungkook’s palm and breathes in instead. 

“Hyung,” Jungkook murmurs. Around them, it’s quiet. Jungkook’s pigeons hop around buoyantly. Seokjin’s heart freewheels like a bird. 

“Jungkook,” he returns, and opens his eyes. He hadn’t even noticed he’d closed them. “We have a lot to talk about.” 

They don’t end up talking all that much. They sit cross-legged next to each other, knees bumping, and eat Seokjin’s bread. Jungkook introduces Seokjin to the Yeouido Park pigeon crew, pointing out his favorite, G-Dragon, the one with the cowlick. Seokjin deigns to let G-Dragon perch on his arm while Jungkook tries to tame her ruffled feathers. Yes, pigeon G-Dragon is a girl. Jungkook laughs when, fed up, she flies away in a flurry, making Seokjin squeak. Jungkook reaches over and aims for Seokjin’s cheek but he turns at the last second and their lips touch instead. Seokjin finds that this is a great situation to be in and it’s the easiest thing to pull Jungkook closer. 

Later, when Seokjin relays all of this to Yoongi, his best friend cackles like a demon.

“So that’s what you were up to all those nights ago,” Yoongi says, “when I came home at 2am and you were standing dead-eyed and elbow-deep in dough.” 

“I put a lot of love into my loaves,” Seokjin says, affronted. 

“Yeah, I’m sure you do,” Yoongi leers. “Along with your seed and your nut. "

Seokjin screeches. “You are a dirty old man, Yoongi! A dirty, dirty old man!” 

“There’s no way you didn’t see this coming,” Yoongi snickers. “Heh. Coming.” 

Seokjin throws a pillow at him, and Yoongi throws it back, and ten minutes later they’re collapsed on top of each other, wheezing.

“We’re so old,” Seokjin moans. 

“Speak for yourself,” Yoongi grumbles. “I have vast reserves of energy.” He makes no move to get up from where he has his face planted in Seokjin’s armpit. 

It’s rather nice, just lying there, Seokjin thinks, until Yoongi has to ruin it by getting serious. 

“So, you guys are...in a relationship, then?” He’s trying to sound casual, but Seokjin can tell he’s dying of curiosity. 

He shrugs. They hadn’t really talked about it. Seokjin doesn’t know if Jungkook’s ever dated anyone, or been in a relationship; they should probably talk about it. 

“I guess we’re dating,” is what he says. When Yoongi makes a nonplussed sound, he retorts, “Not everyone is a romantic like you, Yoongi-ah. We’ll figure it out.” He pauses. Relents. “I like him, okay? I really, really like him.” 

Yoongi’s hand fumbles its way over to hold his. “Good,” he says, somewhat fiercely. 

It is good, Seokjin thinks. He’d thought it would be more complicated than this, but he’d parted ways with Jungkook with a kiss and a promise to see him tomorrow, and he’s happy . The rest, he thinks, can wait. 

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t. Seokjin is very happy for a very short period of time, and that it all goes to shit. 

 

THE PRESENT, FALL 2020

Seokjin doesn’t know why he’s here. Correction, he knows he’s here because Yoongi dragged him along and because Taehyung invited them both, but he’s wondering, existentially , why he is here, standing dumbly in front of Jungkook as two disgustingly attractive men drape themselves all over him.

“Who are those two?” he asks Yoongi. He tries to sip non-judgmentally from his wineglass (it's his third; see? He does know how to have fun) but Yoongi’s side-eye tells him he’s not succeeding. “They look like tooth fairies, but for your dick.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “The small cute one is Jimin,” Yoongi says slowly. “And the one with the nice smile is Hoseok. They’re the dance instructors who run the studio next to the gallery.”

Ah, yes, the gallery. Where Taehyung works. Where they are now at, to celebrate the opening of its fall show. Where Seokjin and Yoongi have spent the last twenty minutes munching on tiny hamburgers and pocketing candy like the utter children they are while waiting for someone they know to intercept them. Where, currently, Seokjin can see Taehyung barreling towards Jungkook and the Twin Twinkies, engulfing all three of them in a giant hug. It just makes their little huddle look even more effervescently young and beautiful. Seokjin feels like a sad hag; he thinks there’s a pimple forming under his chin.

“You’re giving off serious Wicked Witch vibes right now,” Yoongi says, “and I would like you to stop. They’re coming over, quick.”

Seokjin frowns at Yoongi. Since when did his sweet, dour, little dumpling of a roommate care what people thought about him or his “vibes”? Since when did Yoongi believe in “vibes”?

He turns to where the foursome is staggering towards them, back to Yoongi, who is looking everywhere else except at them, back to the boys, bright-eyed and giggly and cute and smiley—and realizes: Yoongi has a crush. Or rather, two crushes. Seokjin has to laugh.

“My, my, my, old man,” he drawls. “And here I thought you were immune to the charms of youths these days.”

Instead of replying, Yoongi pinches his elbow, hard. That’s how Seokjin knows he means business.

“Yoongi-hyung! Seokjin-hyung,” Taehyung says, bounding up like an overgrown pup. “I’m so glad you came. Have you met Hoseok-hyung and Jiminie?” He pushes the two men forward like they’re sticks he’s helpfully retrieved.

"Hello,” Seokjin says politely.

“Hhhm,” Yoongi says unintelligibly. Hoseok’s smile falters, and Jimin looks confused.

“Yoongi-hyung is a music producer, and Seokjin-hyung makes the best pastries in Seoul,” Taehyung is sharing excitedly. “He used to be a model, though. Isn’t he handsome?” 

Seokjin preens automatically. “I knew you looked familiar!” Jimin exclaims. “A year ago, VT Cosmetics?” 

“The one and only.” 

“That’s cool, man,” Hoseok says appreciatively, and Yoongi makes a sound that seems like it’s supposed to be a snort but ends up sounding like he’s throwing up in his mouth. 

Everyone pauses. 

“I apologize for him,” Seokjin says smoothly. “Yoongi is feeling rather unwell.”

“Oh!” Hoseok says. “Does he need to use the bathroom? I can show him, if he’d like.”

Yoongi makes desperate eye contact with Seokjin. Seokjin suddenly can’t see.

“Oh, really? That would be so helpful, Hoseok-ssi,” he says, peeling Yoongi from his side and swiping his drink from him. “In fact, Jimin-ssi, would you mind, too? Yoongi can sometimes be a handful, he has a very agitated—”

“Let’s go,” Yoongi interrupts loudly. He waddles off, leaving Hoseok and Jimin to follow.

Leaving Seokjin with Taehyung and Jungkook. They’re both dressed very nicely, Taehyung with glitter over his eyelids and his hair dyed silver-gray. Jungkook has some sparkle on his cheekbone, too — probably Taehyung’s handiwork — but the black turtleneck under the black suit, with the thin silver chain around his neck, is all Jungkook. Seokjin really played himself. 

Taehyung has a faint smile on his lips. “Hyung,” he says. “What are you trying to do?”

Seokjin winks. “Just trying to have some fun.” 

Taehyung giggles. “I haven’t seen you in a while. How’ve you been?” 

“Oh, I’m okay,” Seokjin says offhandedly. He takes a big gulp from his drink, finishing it, then switches to Yoongi’s. He hopes Yoongi is having fun, because the high of successfully squirreling him away with potential love interests has quickly worn off. Now Seokjin's just tired. Maybe if he just doesn’t talk, Taehyung and Jungkook will go away. He feels slightly bad, because this is important to Taehyung and Seokjin is very, even inordinately, fond of the boy, but if he simply does not have the capacity to stand around for the rest of the night and watch Jungkook smile and laugh and cling gently to everyone else besides him—

Oh. Hm. Seokjin prods the sour burn in his chest more carefully. Under the familiar alcohol heat, might this be...jealousy? 

He watches Taehyung turn to Jungkook and whisper something into his ear, lips brushing the curve of Jungkook’s lobe, and thinks, okay, fine, I’m jealous, like a fucking loser. 

“—excited to show you,” Taehyung is saying. He’s tugging on Seokjin’s sleeve, trying to pull him over to the row of paintings where everyone is crowded around. Jungkook still hasn’t said a word or looked and Seokjin refuses to look his way. There are too many people around. Is it just him or is it super hot in here? 

“I’d rather not,” he hears himself suddenly saying. His voice sounds unfamiliar, cold and curt. He’s looking at himself from outside his body, sees himself dispassionately removing Taehyung’s hand from his wrist and taking a deliberate step back. 

Stop it , he’s shouting at himself, but it’s like talking through a mouthful of wet cotton, sticky and furry at the same time. He doesn’t know why things are escalating so quickly and so badly. Just ten minutes ago he’d been bitching with Yoongi about their old man problems, and now he’s—

He doesn’t know what he’s doing. 

The alcohol burns through his veins, cooking him from the inside out. 

“Hyung?” Taehyung looks hurt.

Jungkook just looks disappointed. A look Seokjin is familiar with. 

He would rather see any other expression on Jungkook’s face, actually, so he does what he does best: he leans into the stupidest thing he can possibly lean into, and makes things worse. 

“Art’s not really my thing,” he says, looking off into the distance. “I’m more of a movie person, right, with my acting background, ha. This is nice and all, Taehyung-ah, but hyung doesn’t really have the time, you know?” 

When he turns his gaze back, Taehyung’s eyes are as wide and wet as he’s ever seen them and Jungkook looks like he’s about to punch Seokjin in the face. 

Good. Seokjin’s hasn’t lost his touch. 

“So,” Seokjin says with false cheer. “I’m gonna go now.” 

Jungkook stays silent; Taehyung is the one who goes, “Wait, no, I’m sorry—” 

God, why is Taehyung the apologizing? Does he ever stop being so goddamn nice

“What’s wrong with being nice?” Taehyung asks in a small voice, and that’s when Seokjin realizes he voiced his ugly thoughts aloud. He really needs to stop doing that.

“Nothing,” he spits out, ears hot and stomach roiling. “It’s just, well, nobody’s really that nice, you know, and sometimes I wonder if people are just playing dumb because they want everyone to like them, though it’s not like you need to be nice when you look like that— ” 

“Enough.” 

Jungkook steps in front of Taehyung. He looks angry. Seokjin has never seen Jungkook angry before. He stares, drinking it in.

“Oh ho, Jungkookie,” Seokjin hears himself saying. The sound of Jungkook’s name is familiar, but the bitter, mocking way it comes out sure isn’t. It tastes like tar on his tongue. “Our knight in shining armor.” 

“You’re being really rude,” Jungkook says, and god, how does he manage to make a reprimand sound so earnest ? Is everyone except Seokjin a fucking saint? 

“I know,” Seokjin drawls. “I mean, have you met me?” 

“Have I—what?”

“Breaking news: an asshole is in fact an asshole,” Seokjin intones. “Do you want a prize? A cookie? I don’t have one, but here, have some fucking candy.” He grabs a fistful of Lotte milk caramels from his pocket and flings them at Jungkook. One hits him on the nose, and Seokjin has to hold back laughter.

Jungkook goes from frowny to confused back to frowny again, but not angry frowny, more like worried frowny. Seokjin wonders if his head-voice has always sounded so stupid. Wonders why he feels so goddamn shitty. 

“You should go,” Jungkook says, voice quiet. He has one hand wrapped around Taehyung’s wrist protectively. From behind his shoulder, Seokjin can see Taehyung trembling. 

“Yeah, I should,” Seokjin says. “Thanks for the wine and whatever.” He pats his pockets and bends down to place his wine glasses on the floor. Then he stands up and walks in what he thinks is a fairly straight line out the way he’d entered just thirty minutes ago with Yoongi, when things had looked a lot less fucking dire. 

Outside, Seokjin wobbles for a bit and finds some overgrown shrubbery to hunker down next to. He is somewhat stunned by the turn of events, perhaps unfairly, considering it was he himself who had precipitated everything that had happened. In fact, he has a sneaking suspicion that, ever since Namjoon had come into the store with his cute story about Jungkook being so sweet and lovely — or even before that, if he’s being really honest, since whatever the hell their relationship had been went up in flames during Yoongi’s trip to Mara-do, and Jungkook kept being nice to him like nothing had changed — since the last time Jungkook looked at him in a real fucking way, even if that had been when—

Seokjin heaves in a deep breath. His face is wet. Fuck.

Through his blurry vision, he sees someone emerge from the building, look around, and head off in a light jog in the opposite direction. Seokjin is so tempted to call out to Jungkook, to say, hey, I’m hiding in a bush, SOS , and sorry for being so mean , and the other bad, selfish things broiling in his stomach, but he doesn’t. 

Instead, he sits with a stick poking him painfully in the butt, and waits until Jungkook heads back inside before he goes home, alone.