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More Walls (Collected Along the Way)

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We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold.
And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?

- The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) // Milan Kundera

I

The keypad beeped, causing Seokjin to shift on the sofa bed. He kept playing Tetris on his phone, dropping a square in the righthand corner as Namjoon walked into – or rather stepped into – their ant-sized studio apartment, toeing his shoes off with a groan. Seokjin didn’t react, although a smile was already forming on his lips, with warmth spreading through him.

They rarely bothered folding their pull-out bed back into a sofa during the day, but for once Seokjin had done so when searching for his headphones. Said headphones were now hanging off Namjoon’s neck as he crossed the distance from the door to their sofa in three large steps, climbing onto a sprawled out Seokjin and promptly collapsing on top of him, nuzzling into his chest with a dramatic whine.

Seokjin couldn’t bring himself to reprimand Namjoon, whose arms were wrapping around his middle greedily. “Hi baby,” Namjoon said.

Seokjin fought off a smile, gazing down at the short mint hair. “Hi yourself.”

He raised his knees, parting his legs, to let Namjoon lie between them fully. Namjoon groaned his appreciation, cuddling into him fervently. This should have been unwelcome in the August heat, their two modest windows cracked open as shouts from the neighbourhood echoed in, but the onslaught of warm, sweaty man on him felt comfortable.

Namjoon said, “What’d you do today?”

“Nothing,” Seokjin returned easily. In fact, he’d ordered Namjoon something for his twenty-second birthday: had spent all of his extra won on a rare book on botany that, out of all things in this world, Namjoon had talked about for weeks now. He tapped on the phone screen, sliding a four-block bar into a gap on the left, and said, “And you? How’d it go?”

“I dunno. The editors seemed nice, but I hate interviews. I nap now.”

“On me?” he checked, one hand settling in Namjoon’s short hair, slowly scraping over the scalp in the way that Namjoon liked.

“Husband privileges,” Namjoon argued.

Something warm fluttered in his heart. “Okay, you mint teddy bear. You nap now.”

“Perfect,” Namjoon said, craning up with puckered lips, and Seokjin gave in and met him in a fond kiss, the taste of Namjoon a constant drug in his veins. Content, Namjoon settled on him again, all of his seventy kilos pressing Seokjin down, tall frame shielding Seokjin from the wayward world outside and protecting the two of them in their haven of a small apartment where their clothes stayed in suitcases due to the lack of space.

Seokjin kept trying to play the game with one hand, brushing the short strands of Namjoon’s hair in soothing circles, the wedding band on his finger pressing gently to Namjoon’s skin.

Namjoon was asleep within minutes, the small studio filling with his steady breaths and the faint sound of traffic, the hum of their small mini-fridge, the voices of neighbours echoing through the walls – summer ticking away with sluggish beats, leaving Seokjin’s young heart full and content. When his phone began to buzz in his hand, Seokjin blinked, startled, and he cancelled the call from his father, protectively pulling Namjoon closer against him.

Namjoon was snoring when a second call came, and Seokjin switched his phone off entirely. Those kinds of calls weren’t welcome in this cocoon, where the two of them perhaps did not have much, but they had each other – and this studio, and the sofa bed, and the Seoul summer heat.

And Seokjin was happy. That was what he remembered years later: that he had been so devastatingly happy.

These days, there were still some mornings when Seokjin, half-asleep, would marvel at how comfortable their sofa bed actually was, thinking he must tell Namjoon this – before waking up properly, to find himself alone in his king-sized bed, in the spacious apartment fit for a well-to-do investment oversight managing director, aged thirty-three; an unmarried businessman. Nothing mint in sight.

So it goes sometimes, right? So it goes. He’d stretch and get out of bed.

* * *

The day that Seokjin found out he was married was a busy day, as all his days were. He had to make a call to his insurance company because his assistant couldn’t do it for him, and as he talked to the unhelpful advisor, phone squashed between his ear and shoulder, he kept typing out emails.

“Your excess has been adjusted to the household earnings,” the insurance lady said, trying to weasel out of paying what they owed him for his flight delay claim. Not on his watch!

“I am my household,” Seokjin corrected, while rounding up a strongly worded warning to the junior associate of sales. It was Friday night, seven PM – he’d clocked fifty-five hours already that week and planned to stay for a few more.

“Our records say you are married. Has this recently changed?”

This, finally, gave Seokjin pause. He frowned and took a hold of the phone. “No?” he said. “I’ve never been married.” At the words, he glanced at the large painting by his office door that he’d bought at an auction, called ‘The Waves of Spring’. It showed a dramatic sea landscape of blue waves crashing onto high cliffs somewhere in California – it was summer; the hills were green and dotted with flowers, leaving a calming impression. “Why do you ask?” he asked, turning on his charm. “Are you offering your hand in marriage?”

The woman did not respond while he chuckled at his own joke. After a pause, she said, “According to our records, you have been married since the thirteenth of June 2013.”

Seokjin stilled, staring at his landscape painting, suddenly not feeling calm at all – as if expecting his father, now retired, to burst into his office. How did she have that date? How did anyone have that date, from over a decade ago now?

He squeezed the phone. “E-Excuse me?”

She was all business, however. “To, let’s see…”

Don’t say it, don’t—

“Ah, Kim Namjoon. Oh. Like the author!”

Seokjin’s elbow slipped from the desk and he nearly smashed his face to the tabletop.

“Sir? Hello? Hello?”

He clutched the phone for dear life. “Wait, I’m married?!”

* * *

Look, there was a perfectly logical explanation as to why the Globe Insurance Company was under the false impression that he, Kim Seokjin, was hitched to Korea’s darling author Kim Namjoon. He just wasn’t entirely sure why this misinformation was on their records, and yet they insisted it was there in black and white.

He brewed over this on the way home. Despite being a division managing director in his father’s firm, he still used the subway; everyone else had chauffeurs, and he’d had one too for a while, after the accident, but he’d been hopelessly stiff in the backseat, unable to even loosen his tie. Exiting their offices in the heart of Gangnam and joining the stream of commuters let him disappear into the crowds at the end of each day; allowed him to loosen his tie and exhale.

Yet that evening’s subway ride was spent stiff, on-guard, and on his phone, requesting a file on himself from the government’s marriage registrar. Apparently, this would be emailed to him within fifteen working days. Fifteen? Absurd!

He was so out of sorts that he got off at the wrong station, intending to change to Line 5 to take him southwards, before he recalled that he had not lived that way in years, and that it was Line 1 that took him home directly. He muttered to himself angrily – caught sight of a tall and broad man from the corner of his eye, in an oversized khaki jacket with the hood over his head, and his hands began to sweat. It was someone he had never seen before, of course.

Finally home, he poured himself a generous scotch, restless and annoyed, before he conscientiously checked his email and managed a few more queries from contacts. He absently examined his not-so-modest view of Seoul from his expensive two-bedroom apartment, the urban sprawl stretching as far as he could see. “Ideal for a bachelor,” the agent had told him at the viewing some years earlier. “There is a laundry service in the building for busy men such as yourself!” Yup, that was him alright.

He considered calling Yoongi or Hoseok, but the two were so busy planning their wedding that he didn’t want to disturb them. Hoping for a distraction, he plopped down on his leather couch, propped his feet up on the glass coffee table, and turned on the TV. The huge 75-inch monitor flicked on to whatever channel he’d left it on and a talk show came on—

—and one Kim Namjoon was seated on a couch as one of the guests, giving a warm yet professional dimpled smile at the host. Seokjin choked on his scotch. On Namjoon’s left sat a veteran actress Seokjin recognised, and the three were discussing the state of contemporary art in Korea. Everything Namjoon said was charming and insightful.

Seokjin shouldn’t have been surprised: Namjoon had his name on posters on the subway whenever a new book came out; and this time Namjoon had a play premiering.

“But in London,” the host said, and Namjoon nodded. His hair was a honeyed brown, and he was dressed in a simple black turtleneck that showed off his chest and arms, both much more defined than when Seokjin had known him. Round glasses on his nose, hair pushed off his forehead: the image of a young intellectual if there was one.

For some godawful reason, Seokjin was hit by a vivid memory of himself sitting in Namjoon’s lap, kissing him desperately – panting and grinding as Namjoon worked one of their many toys into him; lube dripping, leaving Seokjin an absolute mess – while Namjoon smacked his ass and said, “That’s it, baby, keep fucking yourself on it, there you go…”.

He gulped, staring at the screen. God, was there anything more awful than a semi-famous ex?

The middle-aged male host said, “You’ve written this play in English. Are you going to self-translate this as you’ve done with some projects in the past?”

“Maybe,” Namjoon granted, with a charming, white-pearled smile. “I mean, I lived in New York, then London for such a long time – via Germany, yes – but using English for this play came naturally. And this play is about the English: their small absurdities, the class micro-aggressions. Koreans would see some echoes there too, but recontextualised. There is cultural intertextuality to play with.”

Seokjin snorted on his couch, forcing away the image of a younger Namjoon with dark eyes, cheeks flushed and skin sweaty, staring up at him hungrily. Oh, Kim Namjoon, such an intellectual! The most prolific young Korean author of the last twenty years, living abroad but gracing South Korea with his presence sporadically.

They’d both lived entire lives since they’d last seen each other – meeting only once, unintentionally, at a birthday party that Hoseok threw the year after Seokjin finished military service and Namjoon happened to be in the country, but that was it. Their brief reunion had been as awkward as one could imagine: Seokjin was dating someone new, so was Namjoon. They exchanged some forced pleasantries before Seokjin rushed to find his hunk of a boyfriend, clinging onto him fiercely, and Namjoon left the party shortly after, and Seokjin was so upset over it all that that he ended up in a massive fight with his boyfriend – over what, he didn’t even know.

He and Namjoon were memories to each other now, and that was all. Yet his hands were clammy, his stomach in knots, as he thought of a mint-haired boy with goofy smiles and loud cackles, nuzzling into him. He saw no traces of that man on the TV screen, and he nervously played with the chain that he habitually wore, always tucked underneath his neatly pressed shirts, with the locket pressed to his chest.

When the host asked Namjoon what he would work on next, Namjoon said he was spending the rest of summer on his next full-length novel, in a writing retreat. “Here in Korea?” the host asked, and Namjoon shook his head: “A remote location abroad.”

When had the show been taped? That week, presumably. So Namjoon was, or had been, in Seoul, as happened maybe once or twice a year. It made no difference to Seokjin, of course: he’d asked their remaining mutual friends to avoid inviting him to something Namjoon might be at. It was just better that way. And so he pieced this together with Hoseok not having messaged him for two days, and knowing Hoseok could not lie whatsoever, he texted: hey just curious what did you do last night

Hoseok texted back nearly instantly: …we had dinner with namjoon.

figured, he responded.

Hoseok took a few minutes to reply: sorry, i thought it was just easier not to mention it, was that okay???

yea of course you know that, he typed back – he preferred not to be told, really. lunch sometime next week?

He shut the TV off tiredly. How absurd it was for anyone to think he had any entanglements with the ever-popular Kim Namjoon anymore. After a shower he even went on a dating app and swiped left and right monotonously, matching with a relatively cute guy who immediately messaged him with, wait hold up, let’s summarise your profile: you’re absolutely stunning, you head your own division, you cook, sing, like to go fishing, I mean how are you single??

I guess I work too much to really meet people, he typed back honestly.

yeah?? Bet you’re hung as hell too

So much for candid reflections, then.

I don’t mean to brag but yeah that too, he responded, staring at the screen with no real enthusiasm.

you sure you don’t have a wife and kids you’re hiding? 😉 not that i give a shit lol, let’s meet up

I might be married, it’s a bit unclear right now.
I shouldn’t be. I mean I’m not ACTIVELY married but maybe accidentally I am?
and I mean even if I am then who cares right
like sometimes you are married and don’t know?

The guy unmatched him.

Seokjin poured himself another scotch. It was fine. Sometimes the past was just a little more present than he wanted it to be, that was all – and it’d been a tough year. A tough few years. He wasn’t at his prime; that, he was certain of.

He went to bed, alone – and woke up knowing exactly where he was.

* * *

“Work’s great,” he told Hoseok and Yoongi over dinner the following week. “Busy as ever, but the annual asset re-evaluation went smoothly.”

They were at the fried chicken place they’d all frequented since their university days that, although it was down a backstreet in Gwanak-gu, often had queues outside. Walking through the door to the scent of sizzling fat always pushed a sense of nostalgia onto Seokjin, who became keenly aware of how long it had been since they had been carefree students.

He tore off another piece of the chicken tiredly, having come straight from work at eight PM.

His two friends were looking at him with the same air of concern they’d surveyed him with since he’d started working for his father, a whole five years ago now? Who even knew anymore, but Seokjin had gotten used to it. Yoongi and Hoseok worried, and Seokjin worked.

“Hyung,” Hoseok said, looking sympathetic. “Maybe you need a holiday? Didn’t you say you have weeks and weeks of leave to spend up?”

“I mean I do, but no one uses the leave they accumulate,” he said, face scrunched up in disdain. “It’d be selfish to just take time off. Besides, I hate travel.”

Yoongi shrugged. “Stay at home and play video games, then.”

“Childish,” he said, motioning in the air with a drumstick, ignoring the endless hours he’d enthusiastically spent gaming when younger. “The video games, that is. Look, work is great. How’s the wedding planning going?”

Hoseok and Yoongi kindly allowed the deflection – Seokjin’s schedule had been busy with weddings since the legislation passed, but perhaps this one he was genuinely looking forward to. Seokjin did not have many – or any – other friends who reached back a whole decade like Hoseok did, and Yoongi too, by now.

Yoongi and Hoseok were investing in their wedding: they’d booked the banquet hall of a five-star hotel by the river, spending a hell of a lot more than a traditional wedding hall ceremony would cost. Yoongi said that since they were finally able to marry, he was going to make a fuss about it. Hoseok giggled at this brightly, eyes scrunched up, lips in a heart-shaped smile – they had a glow about them these days, with the wedding impending. Seokjin had been given a plus one invite but had no one to bring.

Maybe life would be more joyous if he and Youngmoo hadn’t broken up – probably his most serious boyfriend in years. What had been not to like? The Jaguar that Youngmoo drove, the amazing steak that he cooked? The generous cock that, fine, Youngmoo perhaps had not quite known what to do with, but together they’d made significant improvements? But their relationship had been bland, even a year and a half into it: unseasoned oatmeal, just like everything else seemed to be in life.

Sometimes he thought that he was still waiting for someone to sweep him off his feet. How childish.

Seokjin paid for their meal, insisting it was his treat. He was in better spirits heading home, too, until on the subway he unluckily sat opposite a young woman who was reading London after Hours: an accidental diary. Her eyes were glued to the page. Couldn’t be that good, could it? Seokjin stared at the author’s name on the cover, a bitter taste in his mouth. Should Seokjin lean across and say ‘hey, fun fact? That’s my husband.’ Hilarious, sure. He’d considered bringing up Namjoon to Hoseok and Yoongi too but then hadn’t. Just because he hadn’t spoken to Namjoon in years didn’t mean his friends couldn’t see the man on his brief visits to Korea. Tactfully, his friends never mentioned those reunions either – this was how they had awkwardly co-existed for years.

He managed to push the whole thing out of his mind until he got out of a contract negotiation three days later, and as he returned to his office, he checked his emails: and ah, finally, he had been sent the documents he’d asked for. Well, this would clear it right up, this—

The first attachment was a copy of his resident register, which listed him as married. Spouse: Kim Namjoon. His stomach dropped. What in the living…?

The second pdf explained why the Republic of Korea was under this delusion: it was a scan of a certificate of marriage from Las Vegas, Nevada, all in English, from 13 June 2013. Signed by himself and Kim Namjoon. He stared at the scan, a hollow ache in his guts: he hadn’t seen this piece of paper in years. The loud noise of a casino now echoed in his ears, the flashing lights blinding him, the warmth of Namjoon’s large hand squeezing his, the taste of cheap beer on his tongue – on Namjoon’s tongue. The laughter, the excitement… The goddamn Elvis impersonator in the chapel!

Well of course a document like this might suggest to the uneducated that Seokjin was married when truly he was not. What a ridiculous mix-up!

He called in the newbie of their legal team, and Jeon Jungkook appeared five minutes later with a nervous air to him, wearing a smart white dress shirt, burgundy tie and black trousers, sticking to their dress code politely – even if the dress shirt looked ready to burst from the young man’s gym addiction.

“Ah, Jeon Jungkook-ssi, please sit down,” he said, and the man obeyed with a polite nod, slightly overgrown black hair tucked neatly behind his ears. Seokjin then hesitated, wondering how to word it as he sat behind his desk: wondering how to ensure the partners, let alone his father, never heard of this error in the files. “I’ve called you in for something confidential,” he said at length, motioning for Jungkook to put away his pen and notepad. Jungkook blinked owlishly but did so. Seokjin sucked in a breath, formed his words, then said, “It’s a– a sensitive topic, about someone working here, so you cannot repeat what I tell you outside of this room. Is that understood?” Jungkook looked scared but nodded. Seokjin exhaled. “Okay, good. Excellent. Well, you see, we have a colleague in slight trouble. It turns out that he got married in Las Vegas years ago, and now the state lists him as married.”

“What?” Jungkook frowned. “They. Hang on, if– if a colleague got married in the US, they’re married here too. That’s how it works.”

Seokjin sucked in a breath, unsure what Jungkook may have picked up on his private life – although it was an open secret in the company these days, much to his father’s annoyance. The old man had come around with time, too – had seemed approving of Youngmoo, a corporate lawyer with a big yacht. A Virgo, again! Seokjin should have known from the get-go it was doomed. When that fell through, his father asked if Seokjin needed setting up with the pansexual son of Samsung’s vice chairman? A real catch, and really the rumours of the nineteen-year-old’s clubbing lifestyle and drug habits were exaggerated. Seokjin was not looking to babysit, dear god.

Seokjin pushed this all aside, thought of how, back in June, Jungkook had not-so-subtly worn a tie matching the bisexual pride flag, and said, “This colleague married another man. Understand? In the US years before Korea had legalised same-sex marriage.”

“Ah, I see,” Jungkook nodded, back on track – not too shocked, thankfully. “My aunt and her wife did that, too – married in Hawaii. It was a wonderful ceremony!”

“Yes, precisely,” he said, relieved. “Yes, good for them, you understand – excellent! So it was a symbolic marriage but not legally binding under Korean law. You understand, wonderful.”

“A lot of people did that,” Jungkook said with a well-meaning smile. “I think it’s nice people did, even if it was symbolic back then – that for them it was real anyway.”

“Ah, no, this one wasn’t real! No, no,” he said quickly, disturbed. “It was just the kind of marriage that you got when you were in Vegas with your new boyfriend and he was all tall and cute, and you were twenty-three and an idiot, and he had these cute dimples, deep like the ocean, and there was a chapel right there at the casino…”

Seokjin stared at the large painting on his office wall, lost in a memory: the painted waves were the colour of the bowtie on Namjoon when he’d taken Seokjin’s hands in his and looked at him so very fondly and, firmly and with such heavy meaning, said, “I do.”

Seokjin snapped out of it. “And– and I digress, Jungkook-ssi, but the point is that such marriages are not legally binding in Korea now because they weren’t then either.”

“Um,” Jungkook said, looking serious. “I’m afraid they are.”

Seokjin stared at their junior legal advisor. “What.”

Jungkook pulled on his collar, visibly uneasy. “When the government, um, legalised same-sex marriage at the beginning of the year, they recognised the unions that Korean citizens had gotten in places where marriage equality already exists. So, then, our colleague is officially married. To, uh, his husband – as of first of January this year.”

Seokjin was still staring. “Wha…?”

Jungkook perked up. “Unless they divorced?”

“But why would they divorce!” he cried out, hands thrashing through the air. “It was a sham wedding! Shouldn’t they have said that somewhere? If they were going to legalise the other stuff too?”

“They did?” Jungkook said timidly.

“Did they? I didn’t see it!” Seokjin barked, but he’d paid very little attention to the marriage bill to begin with, while Youngmoo had been dropping hints and Seokjin had decided to end things. “Why would they not call– call our colleague to say so!”

Jungkook frowned. “Uh, if our colleague does not want to be married, he can file for divorce, of course.” Jungkook was trying to be helpful, but Seokjin was freaking out. “I expect there is a scandal we’re hoping to avoid?”

“I– You”— deep breaths, deep breaths —“need to send me the exact legislation on this ASAP, our colleague needs it! And I need a divorce. The colleague! He needs a divorce! So I need you to draft divorce papers now, right now.” He tapped at his desk furiously. “Go, go – dash, Jungkook-ssi, a divorce won’t write itself!”

Jungkook fled his office like a frightened hare, but twenty minutes later had emailed him a copy-paste of the legislation he’d referred to. Seokjin looked it up and read it once – twice.

And it turned out that his Nevada marriage from years earlier had been formally recognised by the Korean government for eight months now. And for eight months he had been legally married without the faintest idea.

He noted some thoughts on this:
1) He was married.
2) To his ex Namjoon.
3) He was married to Namjoon.
4) Namjoon was married to him.
5) What.
6) The.
7) Oh fucking shit fuck shit fuck hell shit
8) Shit shit SHIT!

* * *

Now, Seokjin didn’t object to marriage as such. Marriage was fine if you liked that sort of thing. It was just that he hadn’t seen his… husband… in seven years. He had also, apparently, committed rather heavy-handed adultery. And Namjoon had also committed adultery. What a fucked-up marriage they had!

Was it supposed to be funny? Seokjin struggled finding humour in it. It was as if air had been punched out of his lungs, and he was so furious with his twenty-three-year-old self, and with Namjoon too, sauntering into the chapel in Las Vegas like absolute dickheads. They had never filed for divorce because why would they? Seokjin had assumed that their symbolic union ceased to exist just like their relationship had, on the day Namjoon moved to New York without him, all those years ago.

But anger didn’t solve the current problem – and Seokjin was a man of action, the kind who didn’t stall when he discovered he was a little bit married to his ex. Within days he had figured out how to process an uncontested divorce, which their seven-year separation eased considerably. Jungkook had given him a draft of all the paperwork, explained to him what to fill in and what further documents their “colleague” would need to show – Seokjin was ready to divorce!

He was just missing one thing: Kim Namjoon, the author of best-selling fiction, including A Sordid Winter and Parcels for Caretaker Park, and non-fiction like The Unassuming Flower: A Cultural History of Bonsai Trees, A Thousand Fists: Korean history through marginalised voices and even the autobiographical memoir London after Hours: an accidental diary.

Because, alas, Seokjin could not divorce Kim Namjoon without Namjoon knowing about it. He’d have to contact Namjoon in London – maybe Namjoon had a PA who could break the news?

“Oh, but he’s actually in New Zealand now,” Yoongi told him over the phone, which was news to Seokjin. “Yeah, he’s writing his new book somewhere with peace and quiet, rented a house out there or something.”

“Oh?” Seokjin asked, throat tightening. But Namjoon had been relatively settled in London, hadn’t he? With a nice British man… who had no idea Namjoon was married – fuck, what a mess. “Look, please don’t ask me why,” he said carefully, “but I need to get in touch with him. It’s uh, well. It’s a practical matter. Personal.”

A pause on the line. Then, “Hyung, are– Hyung, are you okay? Are you sick?” Yoongi sounded alarmed. “Hang on, we’re coming over, I’m—”

“It’s not an STI and I don’t have cancer,” he hurried to say. He understood Yoongi’s concern: he didn’t talk about Namjoon and had never asked after him in all this time. Why now, all of a sudden? “I just need Namjoon to co-sign some paperwork, for some stuff from– from back when we were, uh. Living together. That’s all. We made some investments, and now there’s dividends.”

Yoongi sounded disbelieving. “You two invested some money? We were all broke as hell back then, especially the two of you. Like, I still don’t know how you two fit in that tiny studio together.”

“Surprise,” he chuckled awkwardly. “The early bird catches the won.”

Yoongi sounded doubtful but gave him an address for a town in New Zealand that he’d never heard of. Seokjin finished the call with, “I’m just going to pass the details on to my financial advisor.”

But in actuality Seokjin signed himself off work, unexpectedly, and bought flights to Christchurch. He wanted this done with as little fuss as possible, and without anyone finding out – because if his parents caught whiff that their “doomed to bachelorhood” son had been married all this time to that mint-haired journalism major who had turned out to become one of Korea’s most prolific authors, then… the world would explode? Implode? Seokjin was not sure and he did not care to find out.

“I’m going to a nice spa resort in Thailand,” he blatantly lied to Hoseok when they met up for coffee a few days later. “I’ve earned a break from work – and you guys are right, I think I’m close to burning out. I have to take care of myself now that I’m approaching, uh, my mid-thirties.” He almost winced saying it. So old!

“You’re going alone?” Hoseok asked, and Seokjin wasn’t sure what Hoseok was implying. Hoseok’s eyes widened. “Oh, is it like. A resort resort?” Hoseok made a vague wanking gesture. “You gotta be careful not to, you know.”

Seokjin reeled. “Did Yoongi tell you I have an STI? Because I don’t.”

His love life had been rather non-existent as of late – he wasn’t sure why everyone thought he’d had time to be catching anything. But Hoseok wished him a good trip and said he definitely had earned a break.

And so, as Seokjin had covered his bases and turned on an Out of Office reply, he boarded a flight heading south, south, south.

* * *

New Zealand was absurdly far away: the flight there was even longer than a flight to London. Seokjin pondered this furiously, trying to piece together world geography, as he emerged from Christchurch Airport into cool, crisp air. He felt mildly surreal, as one did when boarding a plane and suddenly finding themselves on the other side of the world completely. The world shrank yet expanded at the same time: apart from the handful of Asian countries that he travelled to for work, Seokjin had only been to the US once, and to Paris as a child. He was a homebody: give him Seoul forever, for the rest of his life, and he would be content.

This clearly could not be said of globetrotter Kim Namjoon, who had always talked of travel: a few months in Singapore, then swing by Mumbai, go to Marseilles for the summer… That appeared to be the life Namjoon had, too, and Seokjin felt alienated by the thought.

And while it was summer in Korea, New Zealand was in the midst of winter. No, Seokjin did not understand how planet Earth worked at all.

He rented a black Toyota SUV, checked out the map on his phone, and started driving. Namjoon was on the other side of the South Island completely and Seokjin couldn’t understand why Namjoon had chosen such a remote place to stay – yet, as he drove towards the Southern Alps in the distance, green fields all around him, the towns cute and picturesque and sheep on the pastures by the roadsides, he admitted that this seemed like a good place to get some quiet and tranquillity for a writing project.

He turned on music, refusing to think about where he was going – and who he was heading to meet, and especially why. As evening began to fall, he found a motel in a lakeside town and stumbled through booking a room in unrehearsed English, but the owners were friendly and even knew a few Korean phrases, and he got a nice double room upstairs.

Even so, he struggled to sleep, staring at the ceiling with restless sighs, trying to relax. He was so used to the office life, the commute after work, the habit of getting out his suit for the next day, that being abroad in a comfy jumper and old jeans while trying to rectify the mistakes of his youth felt like an out-of-body experience. He felt guilty about all the work he wasn’t doing, all the projects and decisions that now had to wait for his return, about his father’s displeased “oh I see” when he’d called to say he’d be out of the country for a while.

Yet he had good reasons, and he clung onto that as he fell asleep.

When he woke up, it was the day he was going to see Namjoon for the first time in years. Not only this, he had to tell Namjoon that they were, well, married. He groaned, wondering if he could stay in bed longer still and, like, never move.

Yet he set out, after a hearty breakfast of eggs and toast – although what he really wanted was some ramyeon. And yes, he knew that on the outside it looked insane that he was halfway across the world to hunt down his ex like a goddamn stalker, without calling Namjoon to explain, but there were reasons why he and Namjoon had not spoken in years. No, this was best done in person so that Namjoon couldn’t avoid him – and it was more discreet, too.

But, dear god, why was Namjoon lurking up god’s backside? Excuse his language, but Seokjin was driving along a narrow road leading up through the mountains, dark heavy clouds looming over him. The motel owners had warned him of bad weather, but thankfully he didn’t get rained on as he navigated the (admittedly breath-taking) mountain pass that was dotted with piles of snow – driving on the wrong side of the road to boot.

He finally made it to Haast in the early afternoon: a small township of not much on the West Coast. There was a petrol station with a small grocery shop, a tiny post office, and a motel, but that appeared to be it. Had Yoongi tricked him? Had he come to this miniscule village for absolutely nothing?

Feeling on edge, he parked the car amidst campervans outside the motel and headed to the small café next to the motel reception that catered to hikers. They had places like these in Korea, too: remote towns that lived on tourism and not much else. And, because it was winter, the tourists were few except for a loud gang of Taiwanese teenagers on some kind of a survival hiking trip. Thankfully, the kids were filing back onto a bus, excited to go on their adventures.

As Seokjin’s phone was unable to pinpoint Namjoon’s exact address, he bought a map. The black-bearded motel owner drew an X at the end of a dirt road a short drive out of town. “Are you visiting Namjoon?” he beamed, friendly, and Seokjin flinched. “He didn’t tell me he was expecting anyone!”

God, he was in the right place. How he wished he wasn’t.

“Surprise visit,” he explained awkwardly.

The man said something more – about the weather, motioning at the skies – and Seokjin nodded, yes, fine, rain was expected, and the wind was picking up.

Seokjin got himself a room at the motel for the night: he wasn’t sure how long it’d take to break the news to Namjoon and then get Namjoon to sign the divorce papers, for which they needed two witnesses anyway. The whole ordeal seemed like a lot to take after years of silence, and Seokjin nervously huffed around the small motel room with a single bed. He showered quickly and calmed his nerves.

Namjoon had always been such a city kid – Seoul, Los Angeles, New York, London… Namjoon loved the crowded markets, the mix of languages – the “melting pot”, as he’d always enthused – so finding Namjoon in a remote New Zealand town was confusing. He’d imagined Namjoon in London, of course: in the park by Buckingham Palace, hand in hand with that pretty English boy (Craig? Greg? Graham? Graeme? What a stupid language!), writing his books and giving the occasional Korean interview, but thinking back to Seoul little. Certainly not thinking of him at all. Hell, Namjoon was probably on that soap box in Hyde Park every weekend for all he knew, delivering lectures on the state of the world.

And Seokjin, well, he’d spent two years in military service after their break-up, after which he’d joined his father’s firm and started climbing up the ranks. Four promotions in five years. What else was life for except work? An endless task of building up capital from paycheck to paycheck: two years until a mortgage, a year until a car… An endless litany of purchases that somehow made sense of living for work. Before he knew it, he’d be forty or fifty and comfortably on the property ladder, and then what? Ah, save up for retirement, of course! An endless scramble for money and then you died.

He frowned: these thoughts were not his own – he liked work, enjoyed the effort of it. Work gave life value! Measured a true man. God, these other thoughts were Namjoon’s: idealistic, spoken by a twenty-one-year-old who of course thought he knew so much more than the rest of the world combined.

Well, perhaps not even Namjoon had expected to find himself living in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand. Seokjin pulled on a fresh blue jumper and tight jeans, blow-dried his hair, and – with the divorce papers in his messenger bag – got back into his SUV and followed the marked map further into town and then out of it: the tarmac road changing into a dirt track, crossing wide plains before entering the surrounding forest.

But, as the motel owner had explained and Seokjin had just about understood, there were no other houses along this track, and so the road curved up and finally narrowed around a bend, ending outside a large and expensive-looking wooden cabin. It was elevated on a hillside, with huge windows and a wide deck surrounding it on all sides, with steps leading up to the decking. A bike was resting against the deck steps next to a stack of firewood, and Seokjin exited the car as his breath rose in the air, birdsong echoing in the trees.

It was peaceful. Beautiful. The ground scrunched under his feet.

The elevation from the deck gave a view far around the cabin, out over the trees and grassy lowlands, while off in the distance the Southern Alps broke the view. Seokjin had spent years staring at the high-rise buildings of Seoul each night – he blinked, stunned that not a single house, no sign of human habitation or construction, was in sight from where he stood.

Shoes lay abandoned by the main door: muddy wellingtons, dirty hiking boots – discarded, hastily kicked off, and Seokjin recognised the sight with a heavy heart.

He wasn’t ready. Ha. How funny was that? He absently tugged at the chain on his chest, for comfort as he often did, trying to calm down. He had flown halfway around the world to see Namjoon again, and here he was: still not ready.

But he’d never been ready when it came to Namjoon. Wasn’t that why he’d stayed away and turned down Hoseok’s early attempts of “Hey, Namjoon will be in Seoul next month, you could come for dinner with us – for old time’s sake, you know…”? He couldn’t do it, especially after their lone encounter at Hoseok’s birthday party that had made it so painfully obvious that they resented each other now. He couldn’t face Namjoon, who already had his first two books out and had a new boyfriend in New York, and no. Seeing Namjoon was not something he could endure.

It’d been too raw, then. Throw in a year, then another, then another – let the scab grow thicker and thicker. Pull it off seven years later. See what bleeds.

The sun was setting, and Seokjin accepted his fate solemnly. Get in and get out – keep your head on. Don’t let Namjoon distract you with all of his big words and wild philosophies. Don’t fall for the dimpled smile and scrunched up nose. Stay focused! Namjoon’s not that impressive, for god’s sake – remember when he ruined the frying pan trying to cook an egg?

But the memory was tinged with nostalgia, of the two of them flailing in the kitchenette as the pan emitted smoke and the alarm blared. He pushed it aside – and knocked. No response. He knocked again – and the door swung gently inwards, not even locked. He hesitated before he stepped inside, almost tripping on a further pile of shoes by the door. He pushed his own shoes off, looking around the large open plan living area that had enormous wall-length windows, intended to maximise views of the deck and the wilderness outside. All the furniture was wooden yet modern, evoking simplicity but wealth also. A large fireplace stood in the back, full bookcases near it. The floor beneath his socked feet was warm, and a radio was playing classical music quietly somewhere. “Hello?” he called out, unbuttoning his long beige coat. Then he called out to someone he had lost years ago: “Namjoon-ah?”

After all, what was one more “Namjoon-ah” to the thousands of his youth?

No response.

The kitchen was part of the open-plan living room, with a random collection of discarded, half-finished coffee cups on the kitchen island. Seokjin knew those too. Random stacks of papers lay here and there: on the couch, on the armchair, on the coffee table, with chewed-up pens. The sight was eerily familiar, and painful. Guess not everything changed.

He followed the sound of the music: maybe Bach or one of those guys – Seokjin had never bothered learning who was who. But Namjoon had always enjoyed writing to that music, hunched over his laptop, mint hair bright like ice cream, typing away furiously, eyebrows knitted together in concentration and eyes shining bright with his vision.

And although Namjoon no longer had mint hair, but longer brown locks, and although Namjoon was not sitting on their sofa-bed in a tiny Doksan-dong studio, but rather at a large pine desk in a spacious study with grand mountain views – in spite of these differences, Namjoon was still listening to classical music, hunched over, typing away furiously with knitted eyebrows and bright eyes fixed on the laptop screen.

And Seokjin stood in the now open doorway, almost seven years after they had parted, with only one unhappy chance encounter since.

Namjoon looked up from the screen. Froze – eyes widening.

Seokjin let a small, saddened smile form on his lips. “Hi, Joonie.”

Chapter Text

II

Namjoon sat stiffly on the sleek couch of the cabin’s living area, with knitted eyebrows – uncomprehending. “So we’re…?”

Seokjin thought of this as a business meeting and sat firmly on the adjacent armchair, with his back perfectly straight. Outside it had started to rain, and a firm patter now sounded against the cabin roof. He uttered a carefully chosen word: “Technically.”

Namjoon flinched, ashen-faced – the word had been recognised. Namjoon’s eyes fixed on Seokjin’s hands in his lap, and Seokjin shifted uncomfortably: there was no wedding band on his finger – hadn’t been in years. And there was not, of course, a matching one on Namjoon’s either.

“Well, shit,” Namjoon said, rubbing at his jaw in shock. Yes, that was accurate.

“I know it’s a lot to take in. It was for me too,” Seokjin said. “But, really, it’s like a typo in our files, you know, like an outdated address.”

Namjoon looked at him disbelievingly, brown locks sitting messily on his forehead. “It’s a hell of an address, don’t you think? I mean, it seems like the kind of thing one ought to know, right? Whether you have a husband or not.”

Seokjin nodded tersely and looked out through the wall of windows to the rain-washed deck. He wanted none of this husband talk, and he had made sure not to reference their shared past too much – trying to will himself to remain calm. He’d once read a book where the protagonist, when faced with a former lover, had wished to feel nothing. And that was perhaps the goal: to feel nothing. Most of the time he managed that nothingness, grateful that Namjoon lived halfway around the world, making it easy for Seokjin to think of him only as someone he had temporarily co-habited with in his youth.

Yet, as Seokjin’s heart was hammering with unsure beats, he did not feel nothing. Namjoon was thirty-one now. Over thirty. And it showed, too: his face had become more angular, and there were hints of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and his hairline had receded. None of this made him any less attractive, however, but had given Namjoon a certain gravitas that had come, Seokjin imagined, from best-sellers and book tours and public appearances.

Namjoon took up more space, beyond the physical, settled into his own skin more. He’d grown.

So even if they had nothing but a distantly shared past hanging between them, like a frayed and faded painting neither of them recognised, Seokjin could reason why he had once been so gone for this man: Namjoon’s steady magnetic pull was ever-persistent, even with messy brown hair, a basic white t-shirt, and dark blue jeans. Namjoon was, of course, enhanced by the muscled arms and thighs, stretching the fabric of his clothes. Well, what could Seokjin say? Namjoon’s English boyfriend was certainly handling a lot of, uh, meat.

Namjoon rubbed at his mouth again. “And it’s backdated? The marriage?”

“Yeah,” he admitted, “it is.” All the way to June 2013. “The motel owner seems to know you. Would he sign as a witness? I can drive us down there.”

Namjoon looked increasingly bewildered. “What? Now? Tonight?”

“Yes. I have all the paperwork ready to go.”

Namjoon shook his head, as if processing a second shock. “You have the paperwork on you? Already…?” When he nodded, Namjoon huffed quietly. “What am I saying? Right, of course you do.”

“I’m just missing some information: your current address, things like that.” Seokjin’s hands clasped together almost painfully. “And once I file the papers, it’ll be processed in thirty days, and– and then we can forget about the entire thing.” Namjoon kept looking at him intently, and Seokjin tried to remember all the ways in which Namjoon had let him down back in the day – because Namjoon had, repeatedly. Technically. He clung onto that.

When he took out the drafted papers, Namjoon said he’d go over them in his study. “I need to call my lawyer first. I don’t mean to be an asshole about this, but, uh – I’m not a broke writer anymore?”

“Right,” Seokjin exhaled. “Right, of course. And, I mean, me too – it’s stipulated in the paperwork. We both keep our own, of course.”

“Right,” Namjoon said. They’d become masters of cheap kimchi flavoured ramyeon back in the day, sharing whatever little they had fifty-fifty. God, they’d barely had fifty thousand won between them sometimes.

Namjoon excused himself rather stiffly – telling Seokjin to help himself to some coffee. He opted for a more calming camomile tea, adding sugar to his cup as he listened to the sound of Namjoon’s voice carrying quietly from the direction of the study – on the phone with his lawyer, presumably. Jungkook had drafted the papers, however, and Seokjin was confident they were in working order.

He returned to the armchair with his tea, but then put the cup down on the coffee table and pressed the backs of his heels into his eyes. What a nightmare. What an awful way to stir up ancient history, with Namjoon right there – real yet unreal. Seokjin wasn’t sure if they would ever meet again, had accepted, in many ways, that he would live his life without ever running into Namjoon, the two of them irrevocably on their own paths that would not cross: and there had been a sharp pain in that realisation and admission over the years, that Namjoon was lost to him forever.

And suddenly Namjoon was there: alive, real, surreal. Namjoon had taken the news relatively calmly; hadn’t blown up that his life was ruined. Namjoon, too, saw their union as an awkward mistake, and that was all.

Still, he thought of Namjoon’s wide, shocked eyes when he’d shown up, of his barely audible “Jinnie?” Jinnie. He’d told Namjoon to drop the honorific when they’d married, like a moron. And he thought of Namjoon tensing up when he apologised for showing up unannounced but he had some news, and Yoongi had given him the address. “Are you okay?” Namjoon had asked, with a sharp, urgent undercurrent to it, clearly thinking along that same vein that Yoongi had – that he had cancer or whatever else.

But no, he wasn’t dying yet. He was just married. Ha.

Namjoon was taking a long time in the study, and Seokjin grabbed some sheets of paper from the coffee table, marked up in red pen: drafts of Namjoon’s new novel by the looks of it, about a young Korean man fresh out of the military, heading to the US to study – and embracing sexual liberation after two years of unofficial ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. Seokjin stared at the page, seeing the autobiographical elements there clearly. Namjoon was out, sure – even to the Korean public. But it had never been too present in his novels, apart from the memoir, apparently. Seokjin had not read that work, however. He hadn’t read any of them.

When the door of the study finally reopened, Seokjin hastily put the papers back onto the table. Namjoon looked solemn, steps slow – and stopped at the sight of him, jaw clenching like he didn’t know what to say.

“All in order?” Seokjin prompted.

“Yeah,” Namjoon said, snapping out of it, papers in hand. “Well, there was a part that I– But never mind. All in order.”

Seokjin stood up and told Namjoon that he’d wait in the car.

The rain picked up while he sat in the driver’s seat, restlessly drumming the wheel. Through the windshield blurred by rain, he watched as Namjoon made his way down the deck steps, the wind catching his brown hair, a long dark grey coat wrapped around him – handsome as anything. Seokjin looked away.

Namjoon got into the passenger seat, and the door clicked shut. The space around them seemed to shrink, and Seokjin had to clear his throat.

“Nice car,” Namjoon said, after a beat.

“Yeah,” Seokjin quickly agreed, turning the engine on – the wipers smoothing the rain away. “You still don’t drive, huh?” he said, motioning at the bike by the steps.

Namjoon shook his head, clicking the seatbelt in place. “Haven’t really needed to.”

Seokjin nodded and put the car in reverse, taking one last glance at the impressive cabin. “Yours?” he then asked, just to say something.

“Belongs to some friends. I needed a writing retreat, so Marcus offered it up.”

“Nice of him.”

Marcus. Someone back in London, a mutual friend of Namjoon’s and that Graeme’s? And where was this Graeme, anyway – back in London, perhaps? That seemed unnecessarily far away. Be that as it may, Seokjin was glad that he didn’t need to deal with Namjoon and his significant other – imagine having your boyfriend’s husband show up! Dear god, no one needed that.

Seokjin followed the road back downhill and across farmlands, going slowly on the uneven road in the dark evening.

Namjoon seemed to have processed the news somewhat, remarking, “It’s goddamn surreal, right? That you and I have been married all this time.” Namjoon paused. “Ironic.”

Seokjin kept his eyes on the road. “It’s just an error in—”

“Yeah, you keep saying.”

Seokjin missed the shock that had immobilised Namjoon initially, so he said, “Let’s listen to music, shall we?” He turned the radio on, and Tina Turner belting out that she did not need another hero thankfully shut Namjoon up.

The rain was a downpour when Seokjin parked outside the motel, both of them dashing inside as the wind lashed at them. The owner – “Bunty, hi,” Namjoon said – greeted them warmly with, “Bar’s open! What’ll it be, boys?”

Namjoon was shaking the rain out of his hair like a dog – an Afghan hound? No, something stouter. Unbuttoning his coat, Seokjin said, “Can you ask him to witness the signatures?”

Namjoon looked at him blankly, still wiping at wet strands on his forehead. “Sure. Sure, Jinnie.”

The now empty café had a fireplace with flames flickering, and Seokjin navigated to a table near it. His bag was slightly wet, but the divorce papers were safely dry inside: dates of birth, details of the marriage, whether either of them contested the divorce (which they did not), and of course their mutual agreement to keep their own capital. People focused on weddings, built up all this romance around it – but in the end marriage was nothing but a legality.

He got out a pen, tested it on a stray napkin, and skimmed the paperwork. To his surprise, Namjoon’s address was not for a place in Islington where he knew Namjoon lived in London. Instead, it was the address of Namjoon’s parents’ house in Ilsan, where Namjoon definitely did not live, but where the two of them had sometimes gone for a family meal, Namjoon’s mother doting on them both, Namjoon’s dad cracking jokes because “my son-in-law is a man of humour!” They’d been nice people. Nice to Seokjin, too. After the break-up, he’d missed them sometimes.

Maybe Namjoon didn’t want Seokjin knowing his real address – or didn’t want copies of the divorce settlement following him to London, where Graeme might see them? Seokjin huffed at that. All hush hush, was it, and Namjoon wanted to talk about irony?

Namjoon joined him at the table, taking a seat opposite him – setting down two cups of tea when Seokjin had never finished his first at the cabin. Namjoon pulled off the expensive looking coat that subtly signalled wealth, revealing a comfy white jumper Namjoon had changed into before heading out with him: Namjoon looked soft, cosy, with the flames casting golden shadows on him.

“You’re prepared, again,” Namjoon said, noting the pen – but of course he was. Bunty and his wife came over: they were in their mid-fifties, both long-haired like a pair of old hippies. They’d probably been married for thirty years – they had that look of ease and comfort about them. He and Namjoon had accidentally made it to ten.

There were three copies, and Seokjin thought of nothing at all as he mechanically signed his name on each, as if to undo a trade agreement that had gone sour. Namjoon diligently took the papers next, and Seokjin watched Namjoon sign his name onto them, wondering if it was the same way in which Namjoon signed copies of his books: it looked rehearsed and professional, albeit slow – Namjoon’s jaw set tight. Bunty followed, revealing his actual name to be Humphrey Mitchell, after which his wife, Liz, also signed. “Is it a business deal?” Liz chuckled.

“Old business,” Seokjin said, gathering the files with Korean characters that the owners were curiously looking at. Bunty and Liz headed back to the office behind reception, and Seokjin put two copies neatly into his bag. As he did so, his hands trembled. Namjoon folded his copy in half, then again, and slid the divorce papers into his jean back pocket.

Done. Nothing to it. Seokjin hadn’t expected anything else, had he?

Far from celebratory, the mood was sullen. “I’ll drive you back, then,” Seokjin offered. “Before it gets too dark.”

Namjoon wasn’t looking at him but at the modest bar next to the reception. “Hey, you want a beer? I need a beer.” Namjoon stood up. “God, not every day Kim Seokjin divorces me.”

Before Seokjin could respond, Namjoon was calling out to Bunty to pour them two pints.

The rain was coming down hard outside.

* * *

“You’re tense,” Namjoon said, half-finished with a second pint while Seokjin hadn’t even finished his first. They’d moved to armchairs by the fireplace, the flames crackling in the evening. It was quiet apart from a few locals sat at the bar, laughing with Bunty and Liz, while the wind whipped at the motel, howling by now as the roof banged ominously. Seokjin shifted in his seat, fighting off a headache. Namjoon glanced at him. “Hey, it’s all been signed – you can relax.”

“Sure,” Seokjin said, but every second was painful. He had not come all this way to socialise with Namjoon – and what, was Namjoon suggesting he might have refused to sign? Contested the divorce? But he couldn’t think of a single reason Namjoon would want to be married to him anymore.

But Namjoon didn’t seem malicious as he sighed, eyes on the orange and blue flames. “We haven’t seen each other in so long. It’d be nice if we could have a normal conversation – that’s all. Like, I don’t know. Have you been doing okay? I sometimes hear things. You’re still at your dad’s firm, right?”

“Uh huh,” he said, very much not intending to talk about this.

“How’s he?”

“Retired last year. Plays a lot of golf now.”

“Proud of you, I bet,” Namjoon said, but Seokjin said nothing – you could never tell with his father, really. Was Namjoon proud, when he’d always told Seokjin that working for his father would be the biggest mistake he’d ever make? “Hoseok said you’re the youngest-ever person in– whatever post it is.”

“Yeah, I am. And I’m really good at it, too.”

“Good. I guess that’s…” Namjoon shifted in his seat. “And you have been happy?”

What was ‘happy’, this absurd concept everyone fawned over? He had a good job that gave him a sense of satisfaction and it paid more money than he needed, and he had his health and, more importantly, his loved ones were okay – there was nothing to complain about. That was ‘happy’, as far as he was concerned. Perhaps once or twice he’d found himself bored, the days repetitive, but he had used that leftover energy to start a company-sponsored scholarship program that was already flourishing. Success was happiness – was joy.

“I’ve been fine,” he said at length. “Thriving. You know.”

Namjoon took a sip of his pint. “And you’re not with that lawyer anymore?”

Seokjin tensed up despite himself, observing Namjoon’s profile – the other gazing at the fireplace firmly. How did Namjoon know about Gu Youngmoo? “That fell through. Last year.” He took in a calming breath. “For the better, right? Seeing as I was actually married to someone else.”

Namjoon huffed, a small smile on his lips. What else was there to do now but laugh about it? And Seokjin didn’t even know whether Namjoon planned on telling his English boyfriend about this – apparently not, but that was his business. Namjoon finished his pint, offered another round.

Seokjin declined, reasoning, “I still need to drive you back.” The storm was making the joints of the motel creak, but Namjoon shrugged, looking like he was in no rush to get anywhere. ‘Miserable weather,’ Seokjin wanted to retort because there was nothing else to say beyond what brings you out here then, why aren’t you in London, god what a shit show we were back then, but I’m happy that you’re happy now, Namjoon-ah. And your novels? I’ve always been proud of those too. I always—

But all of that was in the past now, perhaps more permanently than it ever had been before.

Seokjin absently played with the chain around his neck, having slipped the locked from under the blue jumper – a nervous habit. Namjoon glanced at him. “You still wear that. The one your grandmother left you?”

“Yes,” he said and stopped touching it: the gold locket was large and round, familiar and calming against his sternum. Youngmoo had liked it – and it’d weighed even more heavily, then, against him. He took a final sip of the beer, letting the liquid fill his grumbling stomach because he hadn’t eaten all day. “I really should take you back.”

Seokjin caught the disappointment on Namjoon’s face – or was it annoyance?

“Not much for small talk,” Namjoon said, and Seokjin bristled. “They’re all about small talk – the Americans, the British. It’s superficial but you learn to like it.” Namjoon stood up – pulling his dark grey coat back on. Seokjin mimicked him, getting out his car keys as Namjoon waved bye to Bunty and Liz, who called something after them with a twang that Seokjin found too difficult to understand.

“Watch out for flooding,” Namjoon translated for him as they re-entered the parking area that was partially covered in shallow water.

If their drive to the motel had been one of shocked silence, the return was one of quiet animosity. Seokjin had to drive slowly, the wipers working overtime. He said, “You’ll get a confirmation of the divorce once it’s been processed.”

“Well, it’s nice to have something to look forward to.”

Seokjin flinched despite himself. Yet he didn’t take the bait, although it was a struggle. Namjoon could be a jovial drunk, doubling over with laughter over something stupid and draping all over Seokjin in search of skinship, or Namjoon could be like this: petty and passive aggressive.

“You know, I thought I’d see you this year anyway,” Namjoon said. “At Yoongi and Hoseok’s wedding.”

“You’re coming to that?”

“Of course I am – they’re my best friends. What makes you think I wouldn’t?”

“It’s in Korea. You never come to Korea, unless it’s for book promotion.”

“That’s not fucking true,” Namjoon said, and Seokjin felt the words getting under his skin, anger bubbling in Namjoon’s tone. “What do you know, huh? You stopped talking to me the day we broke up – like you died.”

“I enlisted,” he corrected. “There’s a difference.”

“Right, you enlisted,” Namjoon scoffed. “You enlisted and I moved to New York, and the next time I see you you’re draped all over some rugby player at Hoseok’s birthday party so I figure you’re clearly doing just fine, and then we don’t talk for however many goddamn years, and then you show up and tell me we’re married.”

“A water polo player,” he said, squeezing the wheel. “He was a water polo player. Rugby players rarely have all of their teeth left, for starters.”

“Wow, good for you,” Namjoon scoffed, gazing out the rain-stained window. “But you know what? Even then we were married.”

Technically,” he corrected – and regretted it almost instantly.

Namjoon stared at him from the passenger seat. “What the fuck, Seokjin-ah? You really want to go there? Fine, let’s get into it, let’s—”

“No, I– Never mind.” But anger was surfacing now. “To be honest, the best thing I ever did was enlist then. I regret none of it.”

“You’re being an asshole.”

“How? I’m driving your ass home!” he barked, turning off onto the gravel road leading to Namjoon’s fancy-ass cabin, feeling so choked up and unable to escape that he could hardly stand it. Out in the distance thunder echoed, with a sudden flash of lightning making them both jump. Namjoon froze up, but Seokjin snapped, “What the fuck are you doing out here, anyway? Couldn’t you find a pretentious fucking retreat closer to civilisation? I come all the way over here – me, doing all the work, as usual. You think I have time for this? You think I enjoy being here? The least you could say is thank you!”

“Oh thank you, Mighty Kim Seokjin, for handling the divorce you didn’t have the goddamn courtesy to tell me about!”

Seokjin glanced at Namjoon in disbelief – thirty-one his ass! Still the same immature bratty kid he’d foolishly married a decade earlier. “I’m fucking glad we’re divorced!” he spat.

“Makes two of us,” Namjoon snapped, unbuckling his seat belt. “Stop the car, I can walk from here.”

“You’ll catch pneumonia, for fuck’s—”

“Stop the car.”

“There’s thunder! You hate—”

“Stop the car!”

Seokjin hit the brakes, making his own heart squeeze unpleasantly from the force of it, with Namjoon catching himself with a palm to the glove compartment. As Namjoon pushed the door open, Seokjin barked, “Fine, get drenched then. You know you haven’t changed one goddamn bit!”

“You know nothing about who I am,” Namjoon said with the door still held open, brown hair plastered onto his forehead and breath rising in the air. “But you know what? You’re still the same: a coward. You were one then, and you’ve been one today too. Tell your father I said hi.”

Namjoon slammed the door shut, and Seokjin sat behind the wheel, stunned but blood boiling. He watched as Namjoon, caught in the glow of the headlights, walked on in the brutal wind. A second flash of lightning and, seconds later, the roar of thunder – yet Namjoon kept going, like a fool. Well, what the fuck did Namjoon know? Fucking prick!

Seokjin unfastened his seatbelt and bolted out of the car, the muddy road splashing under his feet. “Hey!” he called out loudly over the wind, and Namjoon turned around to stare at him disbelievingly. “That”—he panted, breath rising in the air, rain streaming down his face— “was fucking uncalled for!”

Namjoon stared at him, shrugging. “Okay.”

“Oh my god! You petulant man-child!”

“Oh, fuck you. You always treated me like a kid – I thought about that a lot afterwards, you know. You thought me wanting to be an author was some childish dream that—”

“But it was!” he cut in, feet slipping on the road as he came closer. “It was! Who makes it as a writer? Who?! One of us had to be realistic, be the grown-up. So yeah, I stepped up – and you hated me for it.” He paused to get air in, an old ache in his heart. “But I never said you weren’t good, or talented, or deserving of selling your work, and if you’re standing here yelling at me like I ever said that, then you’re full of shit!” He caught his breath, freezing in his wet clothes. “But you were fucking selfish. Alright? You were fucking selfish. You always were!”

Namjoon looked at him owlishly as Seokjin stepped even closer for his finishing line. “Easy for you to tell me I’m a coward – you know nothing about me anymore. Absolutely nothing!” He jabbed his finger at Namjoon’s chest angrily as Namjoon looked on, disbelieving.

Having said his piece, Seokjin turned back to the car – and slipped, with his feet swiftly sliding from under him, water splashing everywhere until, mid-fall, an arm looped around his waist, pulling him firmly up and against a warm body. Breath left his lungs from the impact, both of them nearly losing their balance altogether. He panted, winded, against Namjoon’s throat, his hands fisting Namjoon’s shoulders as he regained his equilibrium.

“Careful,” Namjoon said quietly – but the word reverberated against him, their chests pressed together. Namjoon was warm, the scent of him musky yet sweet and instantly familiar in a way that gave him whiplash. It was the first time they had touched in all of seven years, in fact – his stomach lurched treacherously as he lifted his gaze to meet Namjoon’s. Namjoon’s arm remained firmly around his waist, the other on his forearm, and Namjoon was looking at him with a searching expression. Something heavy tugged at Seokjin’s heart – Namjoon’s eyes dropped to his lips. Seokjin’s knees buckled.

They both fought to stay upright – but did, and this time Seokjin pushed Namjoon away. He gulped fresh air in, clearing his head. “I don’t need your help,” he said over the howling gusts of wind.

Namjoon studied him, mouth tightly pursed – and then nodded. “Goodbye, then,” Namjoon said, before turning away and stomping down the road, pulling his coat tighter around his frame – steps fast. He was silhouetted in the headlights and the surrounding dark, and Seokjin felt nothing. God, how happy he was that in that moment he felt nothing.

Seokjin got back into the car and put it in reverse, backing all the way to the junction because it was too narrow to turn around. The road was hopelessly slippery, but he made it – he was a good fucking driver, a good person, a good son, a good friend. A good husband? He had been that too, no matter what ancient animosities Namjoon was harbouring.

And, for the record, Seokjin was right: Namjoon was a petulant goddamn kid. Still!

The reception and bar were closed back at the motel, so Seokjin emptied the vending machine of biscuits and chocolate for a meal, listening to the winter storm battering the world outside. He forced the thought of Namjoon’s arms around him out of his mind – Namjoon’s pupils dilating, cheeks reddening, with Seokjin’s heart going absolutely haywire. Pathetic! Truly! Namjoon could fuck right off. And if Namjoon got lost in the woods during a winter storm, then Seokjin wouldn’t even explain it to Graham – not his business. For someone with an IQ of 148, it’d only be Namjoon’s own goddamn fault.

And who knew? Maybe being a widower was sexier than being a divorcee.

* * *

Seokjin awoke groggily the following morning, quarter past ten. The evening before seemed like an unfortunate nightmare, from him first getting to the cabin to Namjoon storming out of his car and into the night. He had a horrendous headache, but the anger and indignation at least had faded.

He groaned and stared at the ceiling. Find Namjoon – check. Get divorce papers signed – check. Go home and forget about it all – in progress.

But he thought of them shouting at each other in the middle of the road and felt appropriately humiliated. God, somehow they’d picked up from the last fight they’d ever had. He was a coward? Fuck you! The accusation burned like it always had done. Namjoon had no idea of the fucking sacrifices he’d had to make. Seokjin was glad he’d stood up for himself. And if Seokjin had ever considered taking up Hoseok’s offer to meet up with Namjoon, to make amends, to try to be friends – well, he’d been right not to.

The memory of Namjoon breaking his fall crossed his mind – Namjoon, who was usually as graceful as a bull in a china shop, pulling him up in a nanosecond, even mid-fight. The thought infuriated him even more.

He showered and got dressed, eager to get the hell out of Haast.

The reception was noisy, the café area full: the Taiwanese teenagers had returned, looking grumpy and tired as they sprawled on the café chairs. Their minder was at the desk talking to Liz, and Seokjin slid his key onto the desk with a bow – he’d already paid for the room. “Oh wait, wait!” Liz called, but no, no, Seokjin had to get going. If he drove for the next, oh, seven or eight hours, then he’d make it to Christchurch by evening, sleep in an airport hotel, catch a morning flight out.

Yet Liz was insistent on trying to tell him something, but Seokjin couldn’t understand what: she kept motioning outside, where the day was gloomy, drizzling like it had the day before, but the torrential rain at least had passed. Something about sleep? Confused, he said, “Good sleep.” It hadn’t been, but he didn’t want Liz to blame herself for that.

The Taiwanese man grew restless, motioning at his horde of kids – and Seokjin slipped away in the chaos, his shoes splashing into the puddles outside. He turned on the radio, checked how much petrol he had left, and hit the road again, refusing to think of anything except his office in Seoul, the comfort of the weekly managing directors’ meetings.

However, a row of orange road cones and a large ‘Road Closed’ sign stopped him only a few kilometres out. Two police officers with a patrol car were there, waving for him to slow down. “Road’s closed,” the female officer told him when he lowered the window – well yes, he could read. “Where were you headed, mate?”

“Christchurch,” he said, motioning towards the mountain pass, and she shook her head. Thankfully, he still had his map from the motel, so he asked the officer where the diverted route on it was – but she shook her head again, saying something he couldn’t understand. A sleep, she said. What was this about a sleep? “A sheep?” he tried – were there sheep on the road?

She asked him to wait, heading back to the police car, but he followed her out into the soft rain, wanting to be told which way to go. “A sleep!” she said again. What?

Another car was driving up, slowing down behind his own. Both officers were now shaking their heads at Seokjin, who was getting pretty goddamn frustrated standing in the cold rain with these two blocking his way! What sleep?

“A slip,” Namjoon’s voice came from behind him, and Seokjin flinched. Namjoon and Bunty were now standing on the road, with Namjoon looking like absolute shit, to be frank: visibly hungover, dark circles under his eyes, hair unkempt. Namjoon explained it to him in Korean: “A rockslide – the road’s cut off. And up the coast, the bridge has washed out.” Seokjin could not really process that at all as Namjoon already answered his next question: “There’s no way out of town.”

“Well, ask them when they’ll have it cleared off and I’ll just wait in my car,” he said angrily, avoiding looking at Namjoon – last night had been humiliating enough.

Namjoon rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Aish, Seokjin-ah… Highway 6, you know: once it’s closed, it takes time to clear it…”

“Okay, so what – noon?”

Namjoon winced. “Longer than that.”

He reeled. “Until tomorrow?”

“A couple of weeks, they’re saying.”

Seokjin blinked, not sure he was hearing this correctly. “Excuse me?!”

* * *

“Yes, I want a helicopter!” he barked at Bunty, endlessly frustrated. He understood that the rescue helicopter was busy rescuing some Americans stuck halfway up a mountain further up the coast, but after that surely Seokjin could be prioritised? Wasn’t being stuck in a small township with his ex-husband sort of an emergency too?

He tried to stay calm, reminding himself that he was a good person who deserved good things: yes, he had some selfish traits, perhaps enhanced by his adult singledom where he rarely had to compromise with other people. In work, too, he nearly always got his way.

But at the end of it all he had enough sense to acknowledge that he was, perhaps, not the priority right then: the Taiwanese teenagers stuck in Haast were weeping over not seeing their parents and were, perhaps, in need of more help than he was. A German couple in their twenties was also stuck, as was a Chinese family of four. Seokjin could do the maths of how many beds the motel had. So could Namjoon, who stood in the reception with a closed-off expression.

Bunty said the rescue helicopter might be able to pick Seokjin up the following week – after all the emergency work was done – but it wouldn’t be available before that. “Don’t worry, we stock up for emergencies like this. Plenty of food!” Bunty beamed at him.

Liz, too, shrugged the closed highway off: “Happens every winter! Hasn’t been this bad in a while, mind you.”

Then move, dear lady! Move to a city with more than one road. Do it for yourself, Liz!

But all Seokjin could do was nod and say, “Okay.” He gave his phone number, emphasising in his best English, “Helicopter? Ready? Call, please. I have important business in Korea. I’ll pay.”

“Of course, dear,” Liz said and petted his cheek maternally and told him to have a lovely time with Namjoon. A lovely time? She could see his crestfallen face because she said, “They’ve promised nicer weather, no more rain – there are amazing walks along the coast! Do some exploring, eh?”

For a week? Two weeks? Seokjin felt faint and wanted to throw a tantrum, but too many eyes were on him. He bowed politely yet wanted to break something.

Defeated after his long struggle to convince everyone he was a priority – he was not – he turned to Namjoon, who had patiently waited the entire time. Seokjin tried to look aloof and utterly unaffected. “Well, I’m good to go,” he said. Nothing to it.

Namjoon nodded restlessly, letting him lead the way.

Together they lowered the backseats of the SUV to fit Namjoon’s bike in – Seokjin pondered, briefly, of a hungover Namjoon waking up to the news that they were cut off, then cycling through the morning drizzle to come find him. It made for a tragi-comic image at best.

As they drove to Namjoon’s cabin, Seokjin stiffly said, “I appreciate this, of course.”

Namjoon was rubbing at his forehead. “Sure.”

“And I can, of course, pay for—”

“Hey, come on,” Namjoon cut in, sounding irate. Seokjin’s palms were sweaty against the wheel, but he let it go.

They had to stop twice to clear the road of tree branches torn off during the storm.

As they got to Namjoon’s cabin, Seokjin carried his red medium-sized suitcase inside with a sense of disbelief – upon leaving Seoul, this had never been his intention and he was completely unprepared.

The place was messier than the day before: a few beer cans were on the floor by the couch, with a mostly empty bottle of whisky and a glass on the coffee table, too. At least Seokjin didn’t have to wonder what Namjoon had done when he’d gotten home.

Namjoon seemed embarrassed, hastily tidying up and mumbling something about not having had time that morning. Seokjin sucked in a breath and held his head up high. “Right, well, just show me to the guest room.”

“There’s no guest room,” Namjoon said, picking up the cans, while motioning to the back of the house and heading to the kitchen. “The backrooms aren’t finished; they’ve just done the study and the bedroom.”

For fuck’s sake… He tried to find some zen. “Okay. Okay, fine. Where do I sleep?”

Namjoon was now pouring himself a glass of water, and he gestured at the couch opposite the fireplace, where Namjoon had sat the night before when processing their marriage and divorce. There? Seokjin’s arm would get sore from old injuries if he slept on that, but he sucked it up.

“I see,” Seokjin said, gritting his teeth. “Great. Looks comfy to me.”

“Good. Well, I need to get on with work, so,” Namjoon mumbled, gathering papers here and there: chapter drafts, old and new. It looked like Namjoon was fleeing.

“Yes, me too. I have my laptop – you have wifi, right?”

“I have a dongle for a satellite hook-up.”

“A what? Look, never mind, I can review annual reports offline too. In any case I’d appreciate some space for that, if you don’t mind.”

Namjoon stared at him, eyes narrowing. “Oh, I don’t mind. Have space.”

Thank you.”

“Great.”

“Fantastic.”

Namjoon headed to his study but called out, “Help yourself to food.” Seokjin glared after him, and Namjoon closed the door to the study firmly. Seconds later, the sound of classical music echoed.

Seokjin remained standing in the living room with his red suitcase, hair still wet from the morning drizzle, utterly stuck in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand – with Namjoon. He dramatically collapsed on the couch and noted instantly that he was correct about how uncomfortable it was. He closed his eyes, willing to make the last day disappear – and the storm, and the fight, and all of it.

But no such luck.

* * *

What Seokjin resented the most was that this wasn’t his turf. If Seokjin had to be inside four walls with his ex-boyfriend, he would have preferred his own place, with his own things, with Namjoon as the odd one out. But Namjoon had been in the cabin for over a month, typing up the full manuscript of his novel, and acted like the place was his.

They spent the first twenty-four hours not talking to each other: Namjoon gave him some bedding for the couch, Seokjin watched some crappy TV, and that was it.

In the morning, Seokjin was unsure how much of the nature documentary he had absorbed – he had learned something, perhaps, on the mating habits of kiwis, but truthfully the disturbingly normal act of ‘watching random TV’ had kept him on edge, with Namjoon lurking in the study next door. Seokjin had heard him on the phone – speaking in English, probably with his boyfriend. It wasn’t exactly ideal, was it? ‘Honey, the town’s cut off for a few weeks and my ex from way back is staying over.’ If Graeme asked, Seokjin could say he was celibate.

The couch he’d slept on was hideously uncomfortable: he was too tall for it, his feet propped up on the armrest to allow him to lie down. He woke up with sore shoulders, far too early, but unable to fall back asleep. Namjoon had given him a towel, at least, and Seokjin peeled himself off the couch and went for a shower to feel vaguely human again. The bathroom was luxurious: it had a large bath with a whole panel of different massage and bubble options, while the showerhead was embedded into the ceiling – he flicked the water on and it cascaded down on him like rainfall. The motel looked pretty shabby in comparison, but goddamn, Marcus, couldn’t you have spent some of this money on a guest bedroom?

His back ached even after the shower – being in his thirties sucked, as did the couch of lumpiness – and he got dressed in the bathroom. In the meantime, Namjoon had made coffee and was once again hiding in the study with classical music playing.

And so Seokjin was unable to relax, awkwardly curled up on the armchair and reading a mindless crime thriller that he had picked up at Incheon Airport. The classical music echoed, the rain drizzled, and Seokjin wanted to throw a tantrum. And what pissed him off the most, perhaps, was that Namjoon was clearly avoiding him, as if this wasn’t the first time in years that they were alone together. Yet everything felt tinged with bizarre nostalgia and resentment, and this had only grown stronger when Namjoon finally emerged around lunchtime.

Seokjin looked up from his book, feet tucked under himself, as if he had been leisurely idling for hours, no hurry whatsoever. Namjoon eyed him warily, with three mugs in his hands. Seokjin almost smiled at that – Namjoon’s coffee mugs when he wrote, left around all over the place… He almost smiled.

“You’ve eaten?” Namjoon asked, instead of delivering some asshole line like Seokjin was expecting. Namjoon gestured at the empty bowl of cereal on the coffee table. Seokjin nodded but said nothing, reassessing the situation. “And, uh. Was the couch okay? I didn’t ask this morning…”

“Fine,” he lied blatantly.

“Yeah? You’re never up until noon.”

“That was before I enlisted,” he said. His phone had dodgy reception, but he’d managed to email Jungkook to check if he could sue the New Zealand government for a rockslide. Jungkook had emailed back saying that sounded unlikely, but Seokjin’s travel insurance might cover some expenses he incurred while delayed. The same people who had first informed Seokjin of his marriage? As if they could be trusted with anything!

Namjoon motioned towards the kitchen. “You want something for lunch? There’s some ramyeon, I think…”

Seokjin closed his book and sat up straight. “All you have is ramyeon.”

Namjoon blinked, tensed up. What, like Seokjin would bite? But Namjoon offered him a hesitant half-smile. “Yeah, I get Korean food delivered from a store over in Wanaka, but I guess that’s cut off too now.”

Seokjin took that in. “Okay. So we ration the kimchi.” A plural? He backtracked quickly. “I mean that I’ll go buy some food for myself this afternoon. I don’t expect you to feed me.”

“Aish, it’s fine…” Namjoon said, still clutching the mugs. “Although. I mean. You do eat a lot.”

Seokjin snorted as some of the tension broke, and Namjoon looked to the floor, dimples briefly emerging on his cheeks – boyish – and Seokjin somehow knew that if Namjoon could suck it up, so could he. Was he about to be outdone by Namjoon in graciousness? Hell no!

“I’ll make us something,” he offered, in some attempt to assert himself. It had only taken them an entire day to actually talk again. “Kujirai ramyeon?” he added before Namjoon could object, and Namjoon’s eyes widened comically – eager. Seokjin rolled his eyes at this, although perhaps secretly pleased as they headed to the kitchen. “Don’t expect me to cook for you every night,” he warned, getting water to boil in a frying pan. “This is just…” He gestured with his hand vaguely.

A peace offering? Proof of how above this all he was? It was nice they were at least acknowledging each other’s existence. In any case, he put two packs of noodles in the bubbling water, adding some of the soup stock. He’d made this for them a thousand times at least, and he winced at the thought.

Meanwhile Namjoon had gotten out bowls and chopsticks, and Seokjin busied himself adding in cheese and eggs as Namjoon asked if he wanted a beer – as Seokjin was sort of on holiday, perhaps – which he very much did. The table was set, if one could call the kitchen island that, when he placed the large pan in the middle, steam rising as he removed the lid.

“What? No green onions?” Namjoon asked as he sat on one of the stools on the living room side of the kitchen island, and Namjoon glanced at him as if to check if he’d been funny – then said, “Thanks.”

Seokjin nodded, watching Namjoon pull some noodles into a serving bowl before he did the same – leaning against the kitchen island with one elbow, poking at the noodles and half an egg he’d scooped up, but his appetite eluded him. Namjoon ate quietly, and Seokjin thought of them eating this in their studio when they’d been kids – that was what it felt like now: just kids. No table, no kitchen island – just a kitchenette with a portable hob-microwave combo, and their sofa bed as the only place to sit down on. Fast-forward ten years and here they were, with Namjoon as the winner of the Hankyoreh Literature Award, the Kim Yong-ik Novel Prize, and the Surim Literary Award, to name a few. And yet, for all of those written words hanging between them, neither of them had any more to offer.

Seokjin glanced to the clock on the kitchen wall, seconds ticking away as slurping sounds filled the space between them. God, it was going to be a long goddamn couple of weeks…

“You look old,” Seokjin said, unprompted.

Namjoon gulped down some noodles and looked at him, affronted. “Wow. Thanks.” Namjoon wiped at his mouth. “You look…” Namjoon began, motioning with the chopsticks. Namjoon’s shoulders dropped. “You look great, Jinnie.”

Seokjin’s chest felt tight. “Of course I do,” he granted, and Namjoon scoffed. Seokjin poked at the noodles some more, unable to meet Namjoon’s gaze. He hesitated – began to say it, took it back. Then manned up. “And I am, of course, sorry that I lost my temper the other night. That was a shitty thing to do. And that I left you in the thunderstorm, too.”

Namjoon looked surprised but said, “Yeah, I– Same. That I swore at you. That was… immature.”

“Guess we weren’t at our best, really,” he admitted absently, thinking of the divorce papers now safely stowed in the padded case for his laptop – the deed was done. He simply had to submit the paperwork when he got back to Seoul. “And I’m sorry if this messes up your private affairs in any way. With…” He made a vague hand gesture – Graeme, English boy.

Namjoon looked down to his bowl and picked up more noodles. “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

“Good, then,” he exhaled, the words sour on his tongue. “Can’t get into a fight with this face, you know.” He smiled at his own joke and, as Namjoon was nearly done with his meal, he handed his own bowl over. “I’m not that hungry,” he shrugged.

Namjoon accepted the second bowl without comment, finishing what was left of their food, while Seokjin looked around the cabin idly. He’d snooped around a little and found out some hints of how Namjoon had ended up there: there was a wedding picture on the mantle that had been taken on the grounds of a grand mansion, with a stunning couple beaming at the camera, presumably Marcus and his beautiful wife. He’d found a few more pictures and an electricity bill, found out their surname, and looked the pair up on the sporadic internet like a creep, and discovered that Marcus was Nigerian and worked as a music critic for The Guardian while his Kiwi wife Kira ran some kind of an arts committee based in London – exactly the kind of people Namjoon would socialise with. Namjoon must be friends with so many people all around the world – people Seokjin had never met or even heard of.

Annoyed by the thought, he said, “God, if I’d known you were coming to Yoongi and Hoseok’s wedding, I’d have saved myself the trip.”

Namjoon had finished eating and was gathering the dirtied dishes together. “How’d that have worked? Come tap on my shoulder on the dance floor and wave the divorce papers at me? At a wedding?”

Seokjin shrugged – why the hell not?

Namjoon tapped the kitchen island with his knuckles absently, a frown on his face. “Look, I know there was no easy way to do this. You know? So I… appreciate you coming all this way. I guess.”

“You guess,” he repeated, and Namjoon said nothing as he carried the dishes to the sink and started washing them. Namjoon kept his back to him, and Seokjin studied him – must be true, then, that they had nothing in common anymore. He blinked sharply, looked away. Fuck, why did that make him so sad?

Namjoon placed dishes onto the drying rack and turned back to him, hesitating. “If… If I’m being totally honest then I… I haven’t quite processed that you’re here, if that makes sense.”

It was certainly more honesty than Seokjin had expected, leaving him uneasy. “Well I’ll stay out of your way. Get on with work, go on those walks they recommended. You won’t notice that I’m—”

“Seokjin-ah,” Namjoon cut in, a hint of urgency to it – but also like he was tired, too, having run a marathon or two. “Feel at home. Please.”

“…Okay,” he said and swallowed down the lump in his throat.

Namjoon motioned towards the fridge. “Help yourself to whatever. Not much there, though, I’m afraid.”

“Your fridge belongs to a broke college student.”

“I guess so,” Namjoon said quietly. “But that’s the man you married, right?” At this, Seokjin blinked, surprised. Namjoon dried his hands onto a kitchen towel, as if he had said nothing at all. “Anyway, I have a video call with my editor soon, so I better…”

“Yup, sure,” he said, flashing a tight-lipped smile at Namjoon. “Don’t worry about me – this is all quite relaxing, in a way. Yoongi did keep telling me to take a proper break and get away from it all. Don’t think he meant this, of course… but, really, just do what you need to do, like I’m not even here.”

Namjoon looked to him sternly as if to say ‘but you are here. With me. After all this time.’

Namjoon was right, of course. How Seokjin resented the fact that Namjoon so often was.

Chapter Text

III

The road was not cleared the following day, nor the day after, although Seokjin made it a habit to drop by the motel and ask for news.

In the meantime, he and Namjoon agreed to a dongle schedule, and he informed his subordinates that he’d be working remotely, even managing one phone negotiation with a lot of “what? The line is bad, can you repeat that?” During this debacle Namjoon came into the kitchen for more coffee, saying nothing as Seokjin dropped estimates and projections for the next quarter, but even so, Seokjin had a hard time concentrating on anything other than Namjoon’s rigid posture. The call ended, Namjoon glanced at him, and he said a defensive, “What?”

“Nothing,” Namjoon said, but Seokjin knew: Namjoon thought he was a sell-out. Seokjin gritted his teeth and bit back the memory of another fight from years earlier.

So no, Seokjin couldn’t say he was getting much work done: his soon-to-be-ex-husband was a judgemental, snobbish fuckwit for a start, on top of which the couch was a nightmare, too short for his long frame, leaving his shoulders a knotted mess each morning – yet he got some investment reports read in spite of Namjoon’s condescending “nothing”s.

Not to say either of them wasn’t trying: Namjoon watched TV with him in the evening, sipping on a beer and giving him carefully reserved smiles. Seokjin took it as some kind of a peace offering and, trying to be friendly, interrupted the superhero movie with, “I saw you.” Namjoon blinked at him, cheeks reddened by the beer. “On TV in Korea, before you came out here. Said you were working on a new novel. What’s it about?”

Namjoon stared at him intently, expression unreadable, but it heated up Seokjin’s insides anyway. If only he could pretend Namjoon was some stranger he had to briefly co-habit with, but Namjoon was still too much like his Namjoon: drowsy and clumsy in the mornings until he had his first cup of coffee, then quietly foreboding with brilliance, head kept down as he wrote until lunch. Then a break: read the news, go for a walk, do exercise. Dedicate the afternoon to editing. This all was familiar to Seokjin.

In the past Namjoon had talked about his writing projects endlessly, too – hands clasping Seokjin’s, eyes shining with excitement.

This time Namjoon said, “Korea. I think.”

Seokjin frowned. Korea. I think. Head turning away.

They watched the rest of the movie in silence, but he caught Namjoon glancing at him more than once.

After a torturous morning of Seokjin focusing on “work” while Namjoon had huffed and puffed in the living room on a yoga mat in too-tight training clothes, Seokjin refocused over breakfast and asked, “How are your parents?”

“They’re doing fine,” Namjoon said evasively. End of subject. Considering how their relationship had ended, shouldn’t it be Namjoon grovelling? “Ageing,” Namjoon then added, with just an edge of sadness to his tone. “Yeah, they’re… ageing. But I guess that’s what parents do.”

Namjoon did not ask after Seokjin’s parents.

Seokjin missed the chatty young man who had snuggled into him constantly – who was this taciturn stranger in his place? But his Namjoon hadn’t existed in years, not to mention his Namjoon had broken his heart – so the overwhelming nostalgia that Namjoon filled him with was unwelcome, yet Seokjin could not help it. And Seokjin wanted to ask Namjoon so many things about how his life had been, but he didn’t know where to start – and Namjoon was far from forthcoming.

But Seokjin was not hung up on Namjoon of all people, god no. Yet he had cared for Namjoon greatly once, and that memory was hard to ignore.

By the third day of Cabin Hellscape, Seokjin was completely unable to focus on work. It was nearly noon and he was waiting for his dongle turn when he decided to call it a day. As he helped himself to a glass of water in the kitchen, he found sheets of paper by the coffee machine: a chapter draft. Namjoon was secretive of this novel, but rather sloppily. Seokjin had never read any of Namjoon’s books – hadn’t seen how he could without trying to read between the lines, chase down something he could recognise. Putting himself through such futile pursuits had seemed too foolish, too masochistic, so no, he’d never read them. When he’d glanced at a chapter draft on the day of his arrival, the young protagonist had been heading to California – yet Namjoon said the book was about Korea?

Taking the pages, Seokjin resettled on the unforgiving log of a couch and began to read the draft. This chapter was set further into the novel, with the protagonist now in Los Angeles where he’d met an American boy of Korean descent, the narrative reflecting on their similar yet utterly different upbringings, including the protagonist’s shock that the other had come out to his parents when only fourteen. The two were going to Joshua Tree National Park to find themselves.

The story was told eloquently and vividly, and Seokjin felt yet another pang of nostalgia: for Namjoon’s writing, which flowed like water, immersive like a bottomless lagoon. But the chapter stung because he and Namjoon had met there, after all: in LA, when he had visited Hoseok doing a year abroad at a dance academy. Hoseok had lived in North-East Los Angeles with a roommate from Ilsan who, for his part, was studying journalism and creative writing at UCLA. Namjoon had been fresh out of the military, enjoying the freedom of California – long-legged, mint-haired, honey-skinned. Dimpled. Damned clever. Damned handsome.

For better or worse, they’d slept together on the night they met, with Hoseok busy at a dance practice, and Namjoon courteously showing Seokjin around the neighbourhood – and then his bed. At the time it’d felt like fate, or something as naïve as that: Seokjin had landed across the Pacific for a few weeks of fun and walked straight into the arms of his soulmate. And about time, too! He’d been twenty-three already!

He’d believed in things like that back then.

He kept reading idly, impressed by the subtle cleverness of the prose, like the soft press of piano keys.

Seokjin had been supposed to spend that summer working for his dad before starting a Masters degree in finance, but he’d bailed on the internship. His parents had been furious, but he hadn’t cared. Namjoon had been working on a debut novel that was soon neglected as the two of them frolicked on a very different West Coast, hiking in the hills, hitting the beaches, making out wherever they went. He’d read Namjoon’s early book drafts and been blown away by the talent. Namjoon was a born writer – and of course he’d be successful.

Poor Hoseok had endured their head-over-heels love affair with good humour, but really the two of them must have been obnoxious.

When Seokjin’s visa was close to running out, Namjoon in turn bailed on his second year at UCLA and came back to Korea with him, and by August they were living in a tiny studio in Doksan-dong, Seokjin financially cut off by his parents but using the small inheritance his grandmother had left him, with Namjoon going around trying to get hired by a news outlet or magazine. Obnoxiously happy, anyway, with their whole lives ahead of them. Husband and husband.

Because that was the thing, wasn’t it? That they’d gone to Vegas, just for a weekend of shows and maybe some low-stakes gambling. Instead they’d picked out rings from a pawn shop three streets from The Strip – simple silver bands. They’d known each other for two months.

Two months.

In the chapter of Namjoon’s book, the two young men kissed in the desert, under a million stars.

God, they’d been so in love.

Seokjin lowered the papers to his lap. Thankfully there were clear differences between the black-and-white scribbling and the past: Namjoon’s protagonist’s background was decidedly different from either of theirs, and the love interest was far from Seokjin. It was a fictional love story – those always made for better ones, after all.

Seokjin finished the water and closed his eyes. He hadn’t thought of that spring and that summer in so long – had tried to move on the best he could. He had, hadn’t he? Suddenly that felt so unsure. He tugged on the chain of his locket nervously, glanced down at the lump of it beneath his shirt. “There’ll always be a reckoning,” his grandmother had warned when she’d caught Seokjin lying about eating the leftover ice cream when he’d been nine. She’d been right, hadn’t she?

Seokjin carefully left the chapter draft where he’d found it and was surprised that the door of Namjoon’s study was ever-so-slightly ajar. Huh.

He knocked on the door and stepped in after a “Yeah?”

Namjoon was on his laptop behind the large desk, glasses having slipped down his nose – handsome and brilliant, like he’d always been. Namjoon looked up at him with that small hint of surprise that signalled they were both still figuring out what to do with each other. Namjoon had two half-finished, gone-cold coffee mugs next to him, and Seokjin fought back the flood of warm memories that the scene sent through him: small recollections of him bringing Namjoon more caffeine with “how’s the writing going, baby?”, kisses pressed to Namjoon’s hair and mouth.

He quickly said, “I’m heading out for a drive, and I can pick up some groceries too. Beer? Snacks?”

“Don’t you have work meetings?” Namjoon asked, but he just shook his head. “Really? Well, hang on, I should see what’s in the cupboards.”

There was not, in fact, a lot of food left, and Namjoon wrote down all the missing items, saying he didn’t mean to treat Seokjin as an assistant but “Taehyung always brought me food when I was really immersed in writing; he was the best PA I ever had. He went back to Korea, though.” Seokjin said that he didn’t mind doing it as he was going out anyway.

“And some cheese, maybe? Did I write…” Namjoon picked up the shopping list again, examining it after they’d looked in the cupboards. “Yeah, yup, it’s all there.” He handed Seokjin the list. “We need to exchange numbers – so you can call me if you need to double check anything.”

“Oh, my number hasn’t changed,” Seokjin assured, pocketing the list.

Namjoon rubbed the back of his neck slowly. “Ah, mine has… And I don’t have yours anymore?”

He paused. Of course he had deleted Namjoon’s phone number, but that Namjoon had done it to him too? Asshole! What a fucking—

“Sure,” he said through a cheerful smile and handed his phone over. Why not!

Namjoon pressed in his contact details and said, “That’s a lot of kids.”

Seokjin frowned before it dawned on him – ah, his phone background. “It’s from the inauguration ceremony,” he supplied, and Namjoon glanced at him, gaze searching. “The company has a scholarship program these days.”

“Ah,” Namjoon said before fishing out his own phone, now vibrating with an incoming call from Seokjin’s. “Got it,” Namjoon said, handing him the phone back. “I saved it under Kim Namjoon.”

“You’re the only one of those I know,” he said, neither of them acknowledging that they’d adoringly had each other saved as ‘yeobo ♥’ back in the day. “I’ll take the scenic route,” he said, needing to get away from Namjoon, who just made him nervous. “I’ll give you some time to yourself.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Namjoon said awkwardly, with that annoying look on his face that he’d had for days now: like nothing he said to Seokjin was what he really wanted to say, hiding in his study or hovering near him with furtive glances and an unsure air to him, hopelessly taciturn. Back in the day, Namjoon had never shut up around him. God, the nights they’d talked until dawn, howling with laughter, teasing each other, kissing, cuddling, fucking, talking some more… Fucking some more…

Seokjin snapped out of it. “Well, I’m in no rush today, so I’ll explore a little.”

As Seokjin headed out, Namjoon called after him, “Call me if you get lost!”

“Please,” Seokjin returned, eager to get out of the cabin and see some of the coastal line, “there’s only like one road.”

* * *

Seokjin was lost.

He sat in the car, map of the township open, and kept frowning: the major roads were clearly marked but some of the small ones were missing, and he’d followed the road down the coast for a while, eventually turned around, and perhaps chosen the wrong track coming back. He’d now passed two farms he’d never seen before and had no idea where he was, and his phone showed him merely as a dot in the middle of nothing. For fuck’s sake!

But he’d be damned if he called Namjoon for help, who probably thought Seokjin was out of his element when not in the flashy offices in Gangnam like a corporate sell-out. Not all of us could live the lives of artists, penning novels and staying in luxury cabins halfway around the world.

Seokjin muttered curses, with two bags of groceries wobbling in the backseat as he made a U-turn – the township had been quiet as ever, while the woman who worked at the petrol station’s mini-mart had confirmed that the road remained closed. Seokjin now drove back the way he’d come, spotting the red farmhouse he’d passed. A woman was now outside the house, and Seokjin hesitated, but then drove up to the drive. The woman squinted at the SUV as he approached, hands on her hips as she waited. He got out of the car with a polite bow and an “Excuse me!”

“Oh,” she said, breaking into a smile, a healthy outdoor flush to her cheeks. She was in her forties, with long chestnut hair hanging loose. “You must be Seokjin!”

Seokjin slowed down and blinked – looked behind himself to make sure there was no one else there. What…?

She introduced herself as Bella and asked if he’d come to ride the horses. What? Absolutely not! That sounded terrifying! But Liz had said he might, Bella noted, and it was true that Liz had pestered him about enjoying the charms of the West Coast but horse-riding was not on that list. He pushed on.

“Where am I?” he asked, offering her the map, and she finally understood him, giving him a bright laugh.

Bella got out a pen from her pocket and placed the map on the hood of the car, drawing a road that wasn’t there while she amiably said, “Out on your own, then. How’s Namjoon? Busy writing?”

“Ah, yes,” he confirmed. “Writing.”

“I’m sure he’s happy to have you here!” Not exactly – so he just smiled politely. “Is he showing you the nice places?” she asked with a… a knowing sort of smile? He bravely said something in response about Haast being very nice. Bella seemed approving and then explained the directions to him and asked him to wait. He did, unsure what else she wanted. She soon returned with a large five-by-five carton of fresh eggs, carefully placing it on the backseat, and waving off his offer of payment.

“They’re fresh as anything,” she boasted. “You can make Namjoon a nice omelette.”

As if Seokjin was to cater to Namjoon! Please! She then added something with a wink that Seokjin couldn’t quite translate, her words too quick and her accent too unfamiliar – rather? Bend? Points? He thanked her profusely anyway and wondered how quickly Namjoon and the rest of Haast would hear that he’d gotten lost – within the hour? Small towns…

Thankfully he found the main road now and the right track that took him towards the cabin; it wasn’t his fault the place suffered from a severe lack of signage. He turned on to the gravel road to Namjoon’s, and only then was he able to translate what the woman had said: “You can make Namjoon a nice omelette. Gather up those husband points!” And then she’d winked!

He hit the brakes, then swore and turned to the eggs in horror – but they were still on the backseat, thank god. He closed his eyes and pressed into the car seat, and he rubbed at his face before pulling on his hair in frustration, heart racing unsteadily. Husband points? God, how did she…? And did everyone…?

“Fuck,” he swore, feeling caught out and hating every second of it.

He looked back to the road and his stomach lurched – because Namjoon was walking downhill from the cabin, in his nice winter coat, and with an adorable navy beanie on his head, brown hair sticking out. God, he was beautiful – and had a boyfriend in London, for fuck’s sake. Calm now, Seokjin… Breathe it out…

He tried to quickly fix his hair before he kept going and stopped the car beside Namjoon, who smiled at him with an amused expression, elbow on the roof of the car as he peered down at Seokjin. “Heard you had a bit of an adventure,” Namjoon said and glanced to the backseat where the eggs were. “Local hospitality, huh?”

“Yup,” Seokjin said, mouth tightly pursed. He refused to look at Namjoon. “Well, are you coming or going or what?” Namjoon got into the passenger seat, and as he buckled in, Seokjin said, “Everyone around here knows you, then.”

“I know Bunty and Liz, and they know everyone, so sort of, yeah. And not many newcomers, really.”

He hummed and drove them back to the cabin in nervous agitation. Once there, Namjoon helped him get the groceries in, but Seokjin was unsettled, skin prickling still. Husband points? What were those exactly? Like hearing Seokjin was lost and heading out to meet him, just to make sure he got back okay?

He willed himself to ignore it as they put groceries away together in the kitchen, because it didn’t matter what these people thought but—

“They know we’re married!” he announced loudly, slamming down a can of Spam. Namjoon frowned at him, pack of rice in hand. Seokjin motioned outside. “Yeah! That farmer woman! She called me your husband!”

“What?” Namjoon said before his eyes widened, mouth forming a small O. Namjoon let out a deep breath, hand lifting to his temple. “Right, I see…”

“How would she know, Namjoon-ah?”

Namjoon hesitated, a guilty look on his face that Seokjin knew from years back. “That’s probably on me… It might’ve slipped out?”

“Just slipped out?”

“Well, that morning after the storm, when Bunty drove me out to find you, I might’ve… mentioned it to him.” Namjoon grimaced. “But I was very hungover.”

He stared at Namjoon in disbelief. “So you just told him we’re married?” In this economy! “They all– They all think we’re having some kind of a love shack situation here?!” His voice was getting unnecessarily high-pitched, with him now squeezing the life out of a box of orange juice.

“Okay! Okay, it’s awkward, I get it! But god, you never have to see them again, Seokjin-ah, what does it matter? You always care so much about what others think.”

Perhaps that was true, but he didn’t want to be caught out with ‘husband points’ out of nowhere. He didn’t want people to think that they were… when they were not! And the divorce papers were signed and in his suitcase. It was too cruel somehow, to have the town sniggering over a loved-up couple out in the woods when Seokjin just kept wondering how much of his Namjoon was still left.

“Bunty’s the worst gossip, to be fair, so I probably spoke out of turn there. Of course it was on my mind that morning, for obvious reasons. You know that you’d had– you’d had time to process that we’re still married. Whereas I had two hours. Just two hours. To process that we’re married and then that we’re divorcing. And you were being so clinical about it all. I guess it pissed me off a little that first night, and I, well. Slipped.”

Seokjin hesitated – that was the most honesty Namjoon had given him since he’d arrived. Namjoon looked restless, almost annoyed. “It doesn’t matter if these people know, alright? Or what, is that too many for you – even now?”

This was a dig at Seokjin, of course, but Seokjin simply burned with desire to know what Namjoon had said about them, their marriage, their divorce…? The disorientating feeling of being thrown together after all this time?

“No, it’s fine,” he granted at last, and Namjoon looked surprised. “Of course it’s fine. It doesn’t matter, you’re right.” He doubted Bunty was about to organise an exposé on them for a Korean culture magazine. He added, “But you’re the one explaining where your husband went when your boyfriend shows up – it’s not my mess, I’ll tell you that.”

Truthfully it felt like the mess was theirs to share. But fine, let all of Haast imagine them having some quality marital time if it made them happy. Seokjin would be gone soon enough. Still, he shook his head. “What a shit-show this all is.” Namjoon looked at him keenly, but he insisted, “Well, what else can you call it? Unless you have a time machine we could use? Go back to 2013, sabotage our younger selves from ever getting married?”

“Is that what you want? Undo it all?” Namjoon asked, and Seokjin felt like he’d walked straight into a trap.

“No, no– Or yes, it– I’m not saying undo the entire thing, just… pull the fire alarm at the chapel or something.”

Namjoon huffed, putting a pack of cereal away. “As if that would’ve stopped us…”

“True,” he conceded, lost in the memory of it. They’d have just found another chapel.

Namjoon visibly hesitated, rummaged through the fridge, then turned to him quickly with, “I read up on that scholarship scheme of yours, by the way. With the company.” Seokjin frowned, taken aback. Namjoon chose his words carefully and slowly. “You set it up, the website said. That’s pretty impressive, Jin-ah.”

“We’ve been pleased with it,” he said vaguely.

“It does amazing work,” Namjoon insisted.

The background was perhaps not so sincere: there had been some accusations of insider trading – nothing that went to court, thankfully, but the company had wanted to do some good PR. Seokjin had suggested the scholarship scheme: sponsor schoolkids from underprivileged areas for university degrees in finance, especially young women. Well, people lapped that up, of course – but Seokjin worked hard on it every year, on top of his other duties. Finance wasn’t evil. It was a basic necessity, shaping how the world worked, and it could be a force for good, too.

“We’ve been doing okay. We had our first graduates this summer, actually,” he said – and they’d hired a handful of the graduates too, and Seokjin had given a speech at their induction only a month ago. Perhaps it sounded sad, but it had been one of the best days of his life. “I mean, I oversee what I can – we hired a team to run the scheme, so it’s hardly my day job. Besides, companies like mine should give back to communities.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agreed, to his mild shock. “I’m glad yours does. And that you... Yeah. Have done good things there. Paved your own way. Can’t have been easy, I suspect.”

Seokjin nodded, suspicious of Namjoon seemingly approving of anything the company did. Seokjin had always been expected to work there, while Namjoon had said they should leave Korea, go live abroad. Namjoon had talked plenty about the injustice of it all at his most embittered moments: “Babe, here the government doesn’t even recognise us – and we can’t marry, can’t adopt, we can’t do any of those things. We have to leave!”

But home was home, even if home loved you less than you loved it. Who said love was rational?

These days all those rights belonged to them too: marriage, adoption… Only some seven years after their break-up. Had Seokjin expected that change in his lifetime? Had Namjoon?

Namjoon’s new book made sense in this regard: all this had been discussed plenty back home, with the legislation passing and the changing of the tides that it signalled. However, the novel was set before those rights had been given, and the book’s protagonist was angry with legislators, just as a younger Namjoon had been. Kim Namjoon, as the voice of a generation directly impacted by the recent legal changes, would of course offer a landmark novel touching on what it had felt like before. The media would appreciate it – call it honest, emotive, contemporary. Raw. It was all of those things, and Seokjin wanted to say how important this book would be, but found himself tongue-tied.

But god, imagine the press finding out that Namjoon had in fact been married for a decade. Imagine Seokjin being dragged into that, and imagine Seokjin’s parents finding out that he’d been married to that mint-haired goofball he’d returned from America with.

At the thought, he recalled Namjoon’s bitter tone just moments earlier, asking if the people of Haast knowing of their marriage was still too many for Seokjin. He swallowed – god, fine, there was a lot that Seokjin had fucked up himself. Fine, he knew that.

“Anyway,” he said quickly. “The fresh air did me good, so I think I’ll squeeze in a bit more work. The cogs of capitalism don’t turn themselves, after all.”

Namjoon huffed at that – but smiled, dimples appearing briefly, before this vanished into a look of confusion. Well yeah, Seokjin was confused too, and now they had an entire township gossiping about them on top.

He said, “Is it my dongle turn?”

* * *

Seokjin awoke to the first sunny day he’d seen in New Zealand: the sun was cutting through the living room, covering everything in a warm glow as he stretched out on the couch, his arm sore from being squished between his body and the backrest yet again. His bones gave audible cracks as he got up – ouch, ouch, ouch!

Namjoon’s quiet steps had crossed the living room earlier and now the shower was running. Seokjin decided to be a good sport and got coffee going before scooping out rice from the cooker Namjoon had set up the night before. He filled up two bowls and then fried an egg for each. The bowls were ready to go when Namjoon ambled out of the bathroom, and Seokjin kept scrolling on his phone, leaning against the kitchen island. “I made breakfast,” he said and looked up from his phone.

Namjoon had on nothing but a white towel around his waist: he was a whole goddamn display of well-defined chest and abs, broad shoulders, strong arms, making him wide in all the right places, with his brown hair wet and his skin glistening with water a little still, while the damp body hair on his well-shaped legs clung to the calves. Namjoon’s collar bones looked good enough to chew on, with his nipples a little erect from the chill. The V of Namjoon’s hips was also visible, with the towel tightly tucked in at the waist but with a slight protrusion in the crotch area, and the cotton was clinging onto thick thighs – all that cycling. And Namjoon had the audacity to give him a hasty, “Oh, okay, I’ll be right there!” and head to the bedroom, giving him a show of firm cotton-covered buttocks and a wide expanse of muscular back, all smooth and wide…

“Fuck me,” Seokjin muttered under his breath, tearing his gaze away and finishing his cup of coffee nervously. Not like he’d never seen an attractive man before! Focus. Too awkward. Too much history. Mid-divorce!

Namjoon returned, thankfully dressed – but in highly illegal grey sweatpants and a white t-shirt that appeared two sizes too small. Namjoon thanked him for breakfast as he sat down on one of the stools and began to mix the food, and even as Namjoon scooped up some rice, brown hair wet, bare-faced, nothing glaringly seductive about him, Seokjin – to his horror – realised that he wanted him. He wanted to do relatively unspeakable things to him. Had he lost his mind?

Namjoon’s mouth closed around a mouthful, lips red and soft and—

“I need fresh air,” Seokjin blurted out quickly and all too loudly. Namjoon raised a questioning eyebrow at him, but he seemed thrown off too, gaze lingering somewhere on Seokjin’s throat. This was a classic case of severe cabin fever. God, maybe the motel had some room? He could bunk with those Taiwanese teenagers. They could do campfire sing-alongs!

But Namjoon said, “Yeah? Would you like to go for a hike then?”

Namjoon apparently used Saturdays for hiking – nothing too difficult, but they could make use of the car and drive to Jackson Bay. Seokjin hesitated, unsure if so much time together was a good idea right then, but what would be his excuse? That Namjoon was frustratingly attractive, and Seokjin was getting horned up by cabin fever? Should he drive to Bella’s farm to match Namjoon’s charms, ride a horse around shirtless like a romance novel’s leading man, just to balance things out?

“Sure,” he said feebly, “sounds good.”

A friendly, outdoorsy New Zealand hiking holiday with his ex-husband – surely people did stuff like this all the time.

Namjoon gave him a pair of Marcus’s hiking boots and a padded navy jacket to keep him warm. Namjoon had come from England with his own outdoor gear, and they were ready for the sunny yet chilly winter day as they got into the SUV, with Namjoon thankfully appropriately dressed head to toe. “You alright?” Namjoon checked with him quickly.

“Yeah, sure,” he said, nodding. “Of course.”

The radio came on – the oldies station now blaring September by Earth, Wind and Fire. They both stopped at that, Namjoon saying, “Aish, this song…” Namjoon’s cheeks coloured, but he smiled, giving Seokjin a look that could be classified as warm.

“Not September just yet,” Seokjin said, switching stations brutally, and trying not to think of all the mornings Namjoon had danced to this song in their tiny studio like a madman, making Seokjin laugh and pulling Seokjin up to dance to it too. They had never had ‘their song’ as such, but if a playlist was ever put together of their marriage, this would of course be on it to commemorate the good times. They’d had so many of those, but, as everything in life, they’d passed.

Seokjin was on the tree-lined coastal road by the time Namjoon finally stopped humming the song, gaze averted. The ocean came into view only later, when they were nearly at their destination, water glittering under the sunlight to their right. Seokjin parked at the end of the road, close to a long pier stretching into the sea with a few fishing boats bobbing at the end. Namjoon pointed towards the hilly woodlands where the walk started – it was too far out to cycle so he hadn’t come this way yet, but he’d been promised good views.

Seokjin tightened his boot laces, and they got going.

They remained quiet apart from Namjoon pointing out a few trees or telling him to mind a slippery part on the path. The storms had left the ground partially muddy, Seokjin climbing up a boulder, reaching out to help Namjoon up too. A few times they stopped to take pictures, but never of each other – they could both share evidence of their time here, with the other completely erased. Calculating. Namjoon hadn’t told anyone, as far as Seokjin could tell, that he was there.

How the tables turned, huh?

But the fresh air helped Seokjin return to himself after the morning’s ogling, and he was calmer by the time they finally emerged out of the tree line onto a rocky, secluded bay, his legs aching and his back sweaty. Yet the water was bluer than blue, the rocks grey and beige, the waves coming in with white heads, and there was no sign of human habitation anywhere. He got out his phone to take more pictures, carefully stepping from one rock to the next.

“Gorgeous, right?” Namjoon said – cheeks rosy from the bite in the air.

“Feels like the entire world is far away,” he admitted, the rocks steady under his feet. Waves crashed onto the shore with white foam, and the air was salt scented.

They walked along the bay before sitting down on large, flat rocks. Namjoon got out a thermos from his backpack, pouring coffee into the cap that served as a mug. Namjoon offered it to him, his cheeks rosy, the navy beanie on him – endearingly cute. Seokjin took the cap quickly. The strain of the walk thrummed pleasantly in his calves and thighs, the steep uphill and the muddy downhills.

“Good,” he praised the coffee, the liquid warming his belly. This wasn’t so bad, for a divorce. Bet most people did it less amicably. “You do this every weekend?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon nodded, the sea winds ruffling his honey-tinged hair when he pulled the beanie off. “If the weather allows – get fresh air after a week of writing. Just… take the place in, you know? Gives me space to think too.”

“Yeah,” he agreed – space to think was good.

The waves beat gently around them, but a certain silence was layered atop it, lingering in the space between them. Seokjin was so far from everything: from his office, his apartment – from Seoul, from Korea, from everything he knew. Namjoon had really managed to find a place away from it all: the seclusion felt complete. There was a reason for that. There was a reason, beyond the novel.

They drank the coffee quietly, passing the cap between them, the waves a soft lull. Seokjin looked out into the sea, taking in the beauty of it all – and after gathering up his courage he asked, “Why are you here?”

“Well, Marcus knew I wanted to finish this book with some privacy, so he offered up this place.”

Namjoon passed him the cap, telling him to finish the coffee. Seokjin leaned his elbows to his knees, letting the thermos cap dangle in his grip. Still no luck – and Seokjin wasn’t sure why he was trying.

But, unexpectedly, Namjoon said, “And I guess I was tired of London.”

“Oh?” he asked, making sure to sound neutral.

Next to him, Namjoon looked out to the sea. “Yeah. Same way I got tired of New York. People act like those cities are centres of the world, but… I tire of them. I don’t know, maybe it’s my thing now. Moving around, changing cities every few years. Two years here, a few more there. Becomes habit.”

“You always dreamt of that,” he said, recalling dozens of conversations they’d had of Namjoon wanting to see the world, explore different countries.

“Yeah. Yeah, I did want that, huh?” Some self-irony was in the tone, and Seokjin took Namjoon in, his locks of hair stirred by the wind. “I guess I’ve always wanted to feel like I chose where I am, not that I got stuck there, you know? So… So whenever I pack up my bags and move, I know it was a choice.” Namjoon squinted in the noon sun. “London stopped feeling like a choice.”

“Wait, have you left for good?” he asked in surprise – because Haast was temporary, wasn’t it? And Namjoon would return to London once the full manuscript was done, right? But no? London was finished? Was that why Namjoon had put his parents’ address down in the divorce papers? “But you’re all settled in London, aren’t you? With Graeme?”

Namjoon looked at him, frowning. “Who?”

“Graeme,” he repeated, and their confusion was mutual.

“Wait, do you mean Ben? Ben Jenkins, my boyfriend?” Namjoon laughed, dimples deepening, as Seokjin felt his face flood with colour. “God, who the fuck’s Graeme?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Seokjin defended angrily, but his ears felt hot. “Is it my job to keep score of your boyfriends?” But, in that moment, he had no idea where he’d gotten Graeme from – his information was all second-hand, usually through Hoseok and Yoongi. There was a decent chance he’d refused to listen too carefully to news regarding Namjoon’s romances and had just picked a name randomly himself. “Ben,” he said, testing it out, and did not like it. “Sounds old.”

“Two years younger than me, actually.”

“Not even thirty? A baby!”

“Oh, come on,” Namjoon said with a roll of his eyes, examining a small pebble he’d picked up, the pad of his thumb smoothing over a white vein cutting the grey stone. Seokjin got the feeling that Namjoon wanted to say more than that, so he observed the rocks rising up from beneath the water, splashing with foam, counting them – waiting it out because Namjoon was choosing his words, and Seokjin knew to let him. “Ben, he– he wanted us to buy a place together, back in London.” Namjoon looked up the coast, squinting in the sunlight. “I thought about us a lot, then.” Namjoon glanced at him, brought a hand up to shield his eyes from the sun. “We got married in what? Two months?”

Seokjin nodded. Yup. Two goddamn months…

Namjoon let out a deep breath and shrugged. “Yeah. Whereas Ben and I were pushing on two years, and I just… I couldn’t.”

So that was the reason: for Namjoon being here alone and not having mentioned his boyfriend hardly at all (if at all?), and neither was Namjoon busy texting and calling his loved one… God, of course.

Namjoon shrugged. “I guess I’ve aged and… I want stability now, definitely, in a way that is completely uncool and boring, but… how do I buy a flat with someone when love can’t last? I guess that’s what I learned from us. How things don’t last.”

“Is that what I taught you?” he asked in surprise. He wasn’t sure what the lesson had been, but was it that bleak?

“Isn’t it?” Namjoon asked with such sudden bitterness that Seokjin only blinked at him. But–! That hardly–! It was Namjoon who had fucked up everything between them, who hadn’t stood by him and…!

But maybe Namjoon had his right to some grievances too.

Namjoon weighed the pebble on his palm, threw it into the air and caught it again. Huffed. “Anyway, there’s another ex who stopped talking to me. And after a miserable spring in London, I put my stuff in storage and came here to finish writing this novel. Figured this was the place to plan my next move, too.”

So Namjoon was licking his wounds. Well, you got what you paid for, right? Namjoon had always been selfish like that, uncompromising with what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go, with little consideration to others – including Seokjin or this Ben character. Really, this was a pattern that confirmed Seokjin had gotten off lightly, that it was good they’d ended things when they had…

“Look, not everything ends badly,” he said, and Namjoon snorted. Yeah, fair.

“So are you saying I should’ve bought the place with Ben? With that much doubt in me? I don’t know… Always been a mess with me.” At this, Namjoon looked to him pointedly, and Seokjin didn’t want to think of what Namjoon had done, didn’t want to discuss it or excuse it. Thankfully Namjoon added, “You haven’t settled down either, so why should I listen to you?”

Ah, was it his turn…?

“Well,” he said, wondering how to phrase it, “not that it’s any of your business, but Youngmoo kept hinting we get engaged. With the legislation changing, you know.” He spotted a boat out in the distance, thought of the days he’d spent on Youngmoo’s yacht: wonderful summer days sun-bathing, reading, screwing. Youngmoo had been funny and witty and a sight to behold in those red Speedos… and Seokjin had ended it. He cleared his throat. “I just wasn’t quite ready for that, but he didn’t want to wait.”

“How did you meet?”

“Well, I’d met him through work, and we went on a few dates, but I was so busy that it kind of… stalled. And then his mother called my dad, and they set up one of those surprise dinners.”

Namjoon stared at him disbelievingly. “Your dad started match-making for you? Seriously? He refused to see you for a year after we got back from California!”

“Yeah, I know. Although we refused to see them too, remember? But he’s come a long way, you know, has been supportive in the ways he knows. Making the best out of a bad situation, I guess.”

“Seokjin-ah… you were never a bad situation.”

He nodded – he knew that, but kids always wanted to impress their parents, no matter the age, and he’d proved himself capable of a hell of a lot by the time his father had retired. Life was freer now without his father in the company building – Seokjin was thriving, even, better at his job than ever, and his father respected that. Respected him. And of course they weren’t close, but they were cordial, perhaps even fond when unguarded. His dad wanted him to settle down now, think about heirs, think about legacy. He hadn’t delivered in that regard yet – kept falling in lust but not love, perhaps.

“Point is,” Seokjin said slowly, “that with the right person it’ll be different one day – all that settling down stuff. You’ll just know.”

They both said nothing, and Seokjin passed the cap back to Namjoon, who screwed it onto the thermos. Funny. Endlessly funny – the two of them at thirty-one and thirty-three, together but not together, wondering how to love people.

“Can I ask you something?” Seokjin said, encouraged by the quiet of the moment. Namjoon nodded and, although almost scaring himself with the question because it revealed far too much, he asked, “Why have you never come back to Korea?” As he asked this, the gold locket tucked into his shirt felt warm against his chest.

Namjoon was quiet for a long time before he said, in barely a whisper, “Many reasons.”

But what they were, Namjoon didn’t tell him.

They stood up again, dusted themselves off, and headed back. Seokjin softly suggested a beer for their efforts, in the motel bar – and Namjoon accepted, just like a friend might.

Perhaps that was what they were trying to find out here.

* * *

After dinner Seokjin took some paracetamol for his arm and poured a generous glass of wine before getting the fire going, wanting to enjoy the comforts of Kira and Marcus’s home if nothing else. After settling on the couch, he called out, “Namjoon-ah! Namjoon-ah, there’s a documentary on the ecosystem of the Amazon. Right up your street!”

“Ten more minutes!” Namjoon’s voice echoed back from the study, and Seokjin muttered, “Suit yourself then.” Almost nine PM on a Saturday. Seokjin worked a lot too, but goddamn…

Namjoon eventually joined him, serving himself some of the jjigae Seokjin had very charitably made. As Namjoon sat on the couch next to him, Seokjin motioned at the TV screen and said, “So this caiman is trying to find food.” Namjoon hummed, taking in the vital plot point.

Seokjin sipped his wine, eyes fixed on the nature documentary, but thinking of Namjoon working away on his next great novel. Was Namjoon happy with the success that he’d achieved? One would assume so, but after their talk at the bay it was clear that Namjoon was still looking for something else in life, too. Seokjin drank more wine, trying to ignore Namjoon slurping jjigae next to him – in a baggy sweatshirt, but also in the grey sweatpants that seemed too snug around Namjoon’s waist.

Seokjin had been thinking about it all afternoon: not about the sweatpants, thank you, but about his parents, Namjoon, and all of it. There was a hell of a lot of regret there, and Seokjin wasn’t sure whether to address it – wasn’t it all too late now, anyway? Hadn’t Namjoon more than moved on, too?

He was left unsure what to do, but he kept watching the TV and rubbing at his arm – he’d felt the pain already that morning, but it was still bothering him.

“Are you hurt?”

Seokjin looked to Namjoon, whose spoon was lowered into the jjigae bowl. Namjoon was staring at him intently. “No, no,” he said, letting go of his arm. “Just get aches sometimes. Surgery ghost pains, I guess.”

He had barely taken another sip of the wine when Namjoon asked, “What surgery?”

Right – Namjoon didn’t know, of course. Seokjin shrugged, trying to keep it as brief as he could. “I was in a car crash – got hit from the side, broke my arm.”

Namjoon put the bowl away, eyes wide. “What? When?”

“Two years ago? Almost?”

“But…” For an incredibly intelligent man, Namjoon looked dumbstruck. “But why didn’t you call me?”

Seokjin blinked – then laughed. “What? Namjoon-ah, we hadn’t spoken in years.” But Namjoon kept frowning, somehow affronted looking, and it tugged at Seokjin’s heart painfully. Seokjin didn’t particularly enjoy thinking about it, but said, “It was rush hour in Gangnam and the driver came through a red light. Concussion and a broken humerus,” he said, tapping at his upper left arm. “They pieced me back together with titanium plates. Just glad it wasn’t my right arm, really, because that’d have been a pain to work around.”

“Jinnie…” Namjoon had worry all over his face.

“It’s fine – it happened, and I got fixed up.” He reached for the remote to turn the volume up, just to give himself something to do. “You wanna keep watching this or…? What is it?”

Namjoon was still staring at him, frowning. “Yoongi should have told me.”

“What?” Seokjin leaned back again, bemused. “Why would he have done that? What is he, Kim Seokjin news central?”

“Well, no,” Namjoon said, jaw clenched. “But… yeah, sometimes I ask him about you, if you must know. Sometimes I ask, and– and he never said anything.”

Namjoon sometimes asked Yoongi about him. Funny. Funny because Seokjin sometimes asked Yoongi about Namjoon, too, perhaps just to remind himself that Namjoon had existed, beyond the books in shopfronts. Because that was perhaps the worst thing: when it felt like Namjoon had never existed at all.

For a brief second Seokjin imagined laying on the hospital bed that day – and Namjoon, of all people, rushing in. “I came as soon as I heard,” that Namjoon would have said, like not a single day had passed, sitting down by the hospital bed and reaching out to take his hand. “Are you okay, baby? God, I got so scared…” Worry all over Namjoon’s paled features but love too. Love too.

Seokjin clenched his jaw, forcing such foolish wishes away. How childish.

But Seokjin felt newly raw as Namjoon scooted closer to him on the couch. “Is there a scar?”

He nodded, and Namjoon kept looking at him. He faltered. “It’s not that impressive,” he said, but nevertheless pulled up the sleeve of his white t-shirt.

The scar had faded into a thin white line on his inner arm, reaching almost fifteen centimetres. Seokjin extended his arm out for Namjoon to see, and Namjoon sucked in a breath. Without asking, he scooted even closer and took Seokjin’s arm in his large hands, one palm cupping his elbow, the other moving up towards his shoulder. “Jin-ah…” Namjoon exhaled with an unhappy tsk, before tracing a careful forefinger up and down the thin line.

“Worse than it looks,” he said thickly, throat tightened by the proximity – and by Namjoon being in his space, after days of them orbiting each other at a semi-respectful distance. Namjoon smelled of whatever bodywash he’d used after their return: musky and woody.

“It’s huge,” Namjoon complained, childlike – but his fingers were careful on him, in a way that felt reminiscent. Namjoon had always handled Seokjin softly, even when told otherwise. “God,” Namjoon breathed out, brows knitted, “who did this to you?”

“Specifically? Lee Jiho – works as a chef. He was late picking up his kids from school that day.” Their eyes met, and Namjoon looked awfully stern – and the wine made Seokjin feel warm, or was it the open fire, or Namjoon’s eyes on him, or a combination thereof? Seokjin cleared his throat. “Youngmoo wanted to sue him, but I didn’t see what good it’d do – he paid for the damage to the car, though, and a fine for the traffic violation.”

“Youngmoo was right,” Namjoon said, finally letting go, and Seokjin pushed the sleeve down. Unnervingly, Namjoon did not scoot back. “You should’ve sued the shit out of him.”

“You sound exactly like Youngmoo,” he noted, and Namjoon was about to say something else so he cut in with, “The guy was struggling as it was. So what, I have titanium in my arm and sometimes it aches, and it could’ve been a lot worse than that but wasn’t – and when people make mistakes, the rest of us can avenge or forgive, and it didn’t take me long to know which one I wanted to do.”

Namjoon stared at him, one arm on the back of the couch, fingers curled up and tense – until they relaxed. “Okay.” Like that somehow settled what Seokjin had decided years earlier. “Okay.”

Youngmoo had never agreed with him – had kept muttering how it wasn’t too late to press charges.

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Namjoon said, like the stupid perfect softie that he was, looking at Seokjin with warm eyes and an open expression, and Seokjin felt something unfurl inside him because that was exactly what his Namjoon would have done, sat by him in the hospital that day. Somehow that Namjoon was now there with him – still so funny and kind and smart – and Seokjin was completely unsure what happened, exactly, but in the next moment they were kissing.

It was tender – it was extremely tender, with his hand on Namjoon’s neck, which perhaps meant that he had reached over to kiss Namjoon. Namjoon’s mouth was warm, with just a hint of wine on his breath, and the connection felt good and soft and—

Seokjin pulled back, completely flustered. Namjoon was looking at him with wide, surprised eyes. What the hell!

Seokjin panicked, scooted back, turned to the TV with, “Well, enough documentaries for one night, I think we’re—”

“Did you just—”

“No, no,” he said, “no, that– Never mind that!” He’d kissed Namjoon. Kissed him! Mere hours after discovering Namjoon was single, like that was all it took for him to throw himself at Namjoon.

He stood up in a fierce panic, and all the while Namjoon was looking at him with wide eyes, a ‘wait did you just kiss me?’ face – and Namjoon was going to want to talk about it, of course, but nothing good would come of that, and how pathetic was Seokjin. A bit of empathy and he was ready to suck face! With his husband! What was wrong with him? “We don’t have to talk about it!” he all but screeched.

“But we should talk about it,” Namjoon said, predictably. “You haven’t… kissed me. In seven years.”

“Cabin fever. Too much fresh air!”

Wait, which one?

“Okay, relax,” Namjoon said, standing up. “It was a really nice kiss, Seokjin-ah, I don’t mind.” Namjoon’s gaze fixed to his mouth, a soft yet curious look in his eyes. Oh no. Oh no! Namjoon was so often lost in his own head – those fictional tales, alternative universes – but Seokjin knew from experience that all it took to pull Namjoon to him was a kiss: and then Namjoon was alert, tuned in and eager for more. Oh no!

“Would it kill to call me hyung?” he asked tersely.

But god, it was the little things about Namjoon – the smallest of things, like his dimpled smile, his annoyingly endearing guilt-laced face when caught out, and the way with which he always seemed to move into Seokjin’s space with sudden permission that Seokjin granted as soon as Namjoon took it. He could see why his younger self had fallen in love with all of this. Now Namjoon was a whole decade older – and wiser and more mature, but so was Seokjin, and he wasn’t as easily enamoured anymore, right?

He recounted all the bad memories he had of Namjoon and, when they seemed difficult to remember, he blamed the wine.

“We should go to bed,” he said hastily, and Namjoon’s eyes grew darker. “Separately!” he interjected. “Our own, separate…!”

Not wanting the shame to outlive him like a dystopian Kafka novel, he promptly excused himself to brush his teeth.

* * *

Seokjin had several mini-breakdowns in the bathroom, cursing his lapsed judgement and Namjoon’s stupid endearing face. After a cold shower that cascaded on him from the heavens, however, Seokjin felt saner and less like a horny teenager eager to hump anything that moved. So there’d been a kiss. A teeny tiny kiss! Who cared? Well, he did. Had he really forgotten all the shit that Namjoon had done to him? And did those things have a statute of limitations? Focus, for god’s sake!

He carefully dried off and pulled on his pyjamas: the white t-shirt again and fleece bottoms. He closed his eyes, breathed it out – this was fine. He could negotiate his way out of this.

He headed out again, having regrouped in the shower. To his surprise, Namjoon was still in the living room and was placing his own pillow and duvet onto the couch.

At the sight of him, Namjoon said, “I can’t let you sleep on the couch anymore, with your arm. You should’ve mentioned it when you got here.”

“Namjoon-ah, I’m fine. Thank you.”

Namjoon shook his head. “You can take the bed – I put your duvet there already.”

“No, come on,” he said, cheeks heating up from the attention. Namjoon must’ve thought he was a mess: broken arms and smooching ex-husbands. “Take the saviour complex down a couple of notches, alright?” Although did he deserve the bed? Naturally, and it looked comfy as hell, but he didn’t need Namjoon to get chivalrous on him now – and if the couch was too small for him, it would absolutely be too small for Namjoon.

“Let me put it this way,” Namjoon said, straightening up, hands on his hips, annoyed looking. “I would feel a lot better about you being here if you took the bed. If you don’t want the bed, then we can sit in the living room and talk about how you kissed me.”

“…The bed would be wonderful, thank you!”

Namjoon didn’t look amused – frustrated, almost.

Right, Seokjin had regrouped. He cleared his throat, arms crossed over his chest as he approached the couch.

“It was a moment of weakness earlier, that’s all. I apologise for taking liberties like that, when of course that stuff is all in the past and we’re not revisiting that – it’s off limits. So I’m sorry for making things weird.”

There! What a solid apology.

Yet Namjoon kept looking at him with curiosity and uncertainty but mostly annoyance. Seokjin felt his attempts to regroup crumble under the intense, fixed gaze. “I mean, have I thought of us sleeping together since I got here? Well perhaps, as is only human, once or twice – I mean we are stuck here, and single, there are implications to that, and we have a history and beds are limited, so yes, fine, it has occurred to me what it would be like for us to have sex again,” he panic-rambled, “and I recall we were good at it, but that would be so dumb in the current circumstances, for us to succumb to temptation, to pleasure—”

“Just shut up,” Namjoon said, stepping over and pulling him into a kiss: not tenderly or softly, but firmly. Seokjin’s mind blanked out the second Namjoon’s mouth pressed to his, and he moaned – relieved, excited. Oh no! But he welcomed the solid warmth of Namjoon’s body against his like he’d been craving it – and he had, of course. But this was bad – this was very bad, and he knew that even as he kissed Namjoon back hungrily, their mouths parting, their tongues tasting: going from zero to a hundred instantly, his arms looping around Namjoon’s neck.

“Thought you were taking the couch,” Seokjin managed in between kisses, and Namjoon said, “Fuck the couch.”

Such a valid point. But this was stupid – he had spent years telling himself he was not allowed to want Kim Namjoon anymore, and here he was: making out with him in the cabin, all wired up and desperate. Maybe that was what happened when you spent years fantasising about a pair of hands, a mouth, a cock, and then gave into the temptation after all.

“You know this is stupid, right?” he double-checked with Namjoon.

“Trust me, I know,” Namjoon said, kissing his neck, his throat, large hands on his hips and slipping under his t-shirt, “but right now I don’t care.”

“Yeah,” he agreed and caught Namjoon’s mouth in another messy, heated kiss – heart hammering, skin tingling, his entire body reactive and alive in a way he could barely recall but Namjoon knew how to elicit. His breath hitched as Namjoon grabbed his ass in both hands, kneading.

Namjoon kissed up his jaw and to his ear. “I’ve thought of it too – what it’d be like to have you now, be inside you again…”

A wave of intoxicating heat shivered through him, and all he could say was a needy, “You have?”

“Constantly,” Namjoon said, nipping at his throat. “Just keep thinking about touching you, everywhere…”

They were slowly navigating towards the bedroom, and Seokjin said, “If we’re gonna stop, we should do it now.” This was undermined by him greedily pulling Namjoon to him.

“We’ll stop,” Namjoon said hazily, locking lips with him, “after we’ve come…”

“That makes so much sense,” he agreed, and Namjoon nodded – and pulled him to the bedroom, straight onto the large bed, Seokjin pulling Namjoon on top of him.

It certainly helped that they weren’t wearing much – the sheets felt cool against his back in contrast to Namjoon’s solid heat pressing atop him, and he mourned its loss when Namjoon clambered back up and told him to wait before returning with his toiletries bag.

“I didn’t know Haast was this small when I packed,” Namjoon admitted, getting out condoms and lube. “I guess I kinda thought I might… get lucky at some point?”

“Well, turns out you were right,” Seokjin snorted as he pulled his locket over his head and placed it on the nightstand – his Christian grandmother did not need to witness what her grandson was about to do, even if it was, technically speaking, within wedlock. He then tapped the bed – and Namjoon gave him a knowing smile that made Seokjin want them to fuck until Chuseok.

“Did not think it’d be with you, though,” Namjoon said, and Seokjin pulled him into a kiss with, “Life’s full of surprises.”

Things got messier quickly: with lube poured onto their fingers and being spread on their cocks, between Seokjin’s cheeks to his hole. He was so horny that he couldn’t stand it, and Namjoon’s hands on him were large and commanding, mouth precise and satisfying, and Seokjin was so, so ready to get fucked – because they’d been good at this, right?

But it wasn’t exactly the smooth sailing he recalled: they bumped heads, kneed each other’s sides, muttered a few “shit, sorry”s and “is that okay?”s. Seokjin had, in fact, never slept with this exact man before – and neither did he feel quite ready when Namjoon rubbed his cock over him, the latex-covered cockhead slowly moving over his hole, almost pushing in – Namjoon was big, fucking hell, how had Seokjin done this all those years ago?

“I’ll go slow,” Namjoon said against his mouth, to which he said, “Yeah, sounds good.” Namjoon let the tip rub between his cheeks again. It was teasing and it was cruel, but god if it didn’t turn him on, but after a failed entry Namjoon returned to fingering him a little more, with three digits – stretching him further. Namjoon was leaning over him, all that firmed-up muscle on display for Seokjin, and he ran a hand over Namjoon’s stomach and pecs – god, so strong, so solid.

“I’m good,” he insisted, and Namjoon let out a pleased grunt, rubbing over Seokjin’s hole with his fingers, before tugging gently on his balls – and Seokjin spread his legs a little more, Namjoon squeezing his ass cheek, probably bruising it.

And finally Namjoon pushed in: thicker and longer than Seokjin remembered, filling him up almost to the point of too much. Seokjin choked out a stuttered breath but then moaned – enjoying how Namjoon was pressing inside him, sending pleasure down his legs and up his spine. He hadn’t thought that they would ever—

Namjoon’s breaths were uneven, both hands gripping onto Seokjin’s waist tightly. Seokjin pushed against him with a pleased groan and a “Yeah, fuck, that’s it…” He licked his lips, letting the pleasure wash over him. There was guilt in it too: that this felt so good. It shouldn’t feel this good…

“Shit, you’re so…” Namjoon said and, with that, began to fuck him – nice and slow, testing it out. Seokjin took it: letting the frustration of the past week melt into the rhythm, and the tension too, all the longing over Namjoon’s stupid collarbones and annoying sculpted chest, all the fluttering over the adorable way that Namjoon’s thick glasses slid down his nose… Stop thinking – god, don’t think right now, don’t—

Thankfully, Namjoon picked up the pace without having to be told, anticipating what Seokjin was ready for before he knew it himself – and that was new, because his memories were of a lot of “harder, Joon-ah! Please, come on!”, and having to coax Namjoon, who had never been as rough with Seokjin as he’d craved.

But this Namjoon was more in control of his strength, didn’t underestimate what Seokjin could take: when Seokjin began to slip up the bed from the force of the thrusts, Namjoon hauled him back with two commanding hands on his waist and a, “Be good for me, come on.”

“Yeah,” he breathed – oh fuck, he wanted to be so good. He’d said that aloud, in fact: “I wanna be so good.”

Something flashed in Namjoon’s eyes – interest, hunger – and oh fuck, what was this? Seokjin groaned, body burning up, and Namjoon lifted one of Seokjin’s legs to his shoulder and kept going in, harder, deeper. Seokjin’s moans were embarrassing, while lube rolled down from where they were joined. God, he hadn’t been fucked this good in a while.

“Namjoon-ah,” he managed, eyes screwed shut, hips twitching.

“Is this what you want?” Namjoon asked, free hand pushing through Seokjin’s hair. “To be good like this…?”

Had they been talkers before? Seokjin couldn’t recall – it’d been a lot of groaning and “fuck, baby”s and “take that cock”s, if that qualified – and so many “I love you, baby”s. Seokjin focused on the former.

“Yeah, just like this,” he breathed. “Keep talking. Keep telling me…”

“That you’re being good, baby?” Namjoon asked, and Seokjin’s back arched, his thighs trembling. It was pretty goddamn unfortunate that Namjoon was discovering what Seokjin had learned of himself at some point: that he loved being talked down to, thrown about, made to whimper and beg for cock.

“Yeah,” he almost whined – so ready to be good.

But Namjoon pulled out, leaving a throbbing need in him – thankfully sitting back on his haunches and pulling Seokjin into his lap and into a heated kiss. “Sit back on it, come on,” Namjoon guided, and he nodded fervently, arms wrapping around Namjoon’s shoulders as he pressed a messy kiss to his mouth. Namjoon’s cockhead pushed past the rim, and he whined from the pleasure. “What a good slut you are…” Namjoon praised, making him clench. Namjoon quickly checked, “Too much?”

“No, that’s hot,” he managed, head swimming – lowering himself back onto Namjoon’s cock with a satisfied groan. “Wanna show you… how much…”

“Go on, then,” Namjoon challenged, arm around Seokjin’s waist, one hand on the bed for balance. “Cock’s all yours, baby.” Fuck. They were so close like this, with Seokjin grinding himself on Namjoon, staring down at Namjoon with a little leverage, their mouths barely five centimetres apart. His cock was caught between them, pre-come at the tip already, and the bed creaked loudly as he worked his hips rhythmically and fast. His apologies to Marcus and Kira – but fuck.

Namjoon’s mouth had dropped open, brows knitted – eyes screwed shut with a, “Fuck, that feels good…”

“Yeah?” he panted, his hole so stretched that it hurt. Fuck, he remembered that – how taking Namjoon had hurt the first few times, but it’d slowed him down none.

“Yeah, and just look at you,” Namjoon marvelled before landing a firm smack to his ass. “This tiny fucking waist of yours – want to pull you into my lap constantly, fuck… Were you always like this?” At this, Seokjin shook his head. “No? When did you learn to ask?”

“I dunno,” he hiccupped, head thrown back as he fucked himself in Namjoon’s lap. “I just did… You’re so big… Forgot how…”

“And still you won’t stop,” Namjoon praised. “So good, aren’t you, baby? I’ve wanted to fuck you for days now…”

He was stretched so wide, moving on the thick cock the best he could, while Namjoon grabbed his chin and pulled him into a messy kiss, Seokjin hiccupping into it breathlessly, light-headed.

Namjoon curled a fist around his aching cock, giving him a tentative stroke, before cupping his balls, tugging on them with the most perfect pressure. “How far do you wanna go?” Namjoon asked, fingers travelling up his stomach to his chest, caressing him – and as Namjoon’s hand grabbed his jaw again, Seokjin opened his mouth, fucked out of any resistance: his eyes fixed on Namjoon’s as Namjoon’s thumb slipped past his swollen lips, the pad brushing against his tongue. Seokjin shivered, closed his eyes, and sucked – whined.

Namjoon’s hips jerked, slowly grinding up and into him. “There you go…” Namjoon said, approving, and Seokjin clenched around him. “That’s so good, suck on it…” Namjoon’s thumb pulled out, but then Namjoon’s fore and middle fingers pressed to his lips, and Seokjin opened his mouth further, obediently – whining as Namjoon pushed the two fingers in, gyrating his hips to show how good the cock in him felt, how he wanted his mouth full too. Namjoon fucked his mouth with the fingers, pushing them in and out – a mimic of a blowjob. He held onto Namjoon’s shoulders to stay where he was, and they both breathed through it, slowly fucking – his ass full, his mouth full, Namjoon murmuring, “You’re being so good for me right now…”

Fuck, he felt so hot and lost, a heady undercurrent sizzling in him that he’d felt with others, definitely – a few times Youngmoo had wanted to fuck him from behind and be called daddy, and Seokjin had obliged and gotten off on it too – but Namjoon was striking a different chord with him that was making him feel so fucking wanted and filthy, yet safe and adored. His heart was beating wildly, and Namjoon looked mesmerised observing him when his eyes fluttered open.

Seokjin pulled back for air, gasping, and Namjoon’s saliva-wetted fingers brushed stray hairs from his forehead. “Breathe it out, just like that…” Namjoon pressed a lingering kiss to his swollen lips, arm firmly looped around his waist, Seokjin still fucking himself on the hard length of cock. Was he being good? Was he doing enough?

He wanted to be cocky after all this time: seducing Namjoon, taking what he wanted, walking away victorious. But he felt much softer than that when Namjoon looked at him – with lust, absolutely, but also with care, eyes widening boyishly when Seokjin clenched around him. Maybe they were both overwhelmed by how all-consuming that desire was.

Seokjin licked his lips, his body warm and sweaty all over – his hole aching from how Namjoon was still stretching him. “What do you want to do?” he asked breathlessly, making it clear that it was up to Namjoon: he’d obey happily.

Namjoon swallowed audibly, hand brushing over his nipples, across his muscled stomach – Namjoon wasn’t the only one in good shape. “Wanna make you come, baby,” Namjoon said, glancing up at him, and Seokjin had heard the line before: he’d heard it a hundred times in the past and hearing it now took him by surprise.

A moment of recognition grew between them – taking Seokjin out of the moment, the lust and the filth. Take all that away and what was left? Their history was in the depth of Namjoon’s eyes, the realisation of what they were doing with all its implications. Namjoon caressed his face, something fond in his eyes, and Seokjin kissed him softly. The tension between them seemed to drop – hey there you are, finally, I’ve missed—

Seokjin bit Namjoon’s lower lip, to snap himself out of it. Namjoon drew in a sharp breath, the caress gone – and Namjoon swallowed, hand tightening in his hair, yanking, and he moaned in appreciation. “Yeah?” Namjoon said, voice rough. “You wanna come on my cock?”

“Yeah,” he said – but it sounded like a whimpering request, and Namjoon kissed him roughly: the taste was one of saliva and sweat and Namjoon, and Namjoon’s tongue was firm against his own and spine-melting. Seokjin’s treacherous arms looped around Namjoon’s shoulders fully, the skin there slippery in the most tantalising way, and Namjoon exuded warmth against him, inside him, was going to let him come, yes, god—

Namjoon reached for his leaking cock again, running lithe fingers over him. “Let’s get you off, Jinnie…”

“Please,” he managed, his thighs clenching, squeezing Namjoon’s sides – and Namjoon grabbed his waist and tipped them to the side, with him landing back on the mattress and Namjoon ending up on top. The bedroom lights blinded Seokjin now that he was strewn in the middle of the bed, and he threw a hand helplessly across his face, biting on his bottom lip to keep quiet, his flushed cock jerking against his belly.

“Nuh uh,” Namjoon said, grabbing his hand, pushing it to the side – they locked eyes as Namjoon returned to fucking him. “You know I wanna see you, come on,” Namjoon reprimanded, and Seokjin moaned – yeah, he knew that, of course he did.

And this was worse now. Oh fucking shit, this was worse: because getting fucked by a thick cock as he whimpered helplessly was one thing, sure. It was another to watch Namjoon watching him like this, when Seokjin was overfucked and further gone, embarrassed but getting off on it. Beads of sweat glistened on Namjoon’s brow, his chest was flushed pink, and the veins on his arms stood out from how he was grabbing onto Seokjin, and Seokjin was so fucking deep in it all right then. The jut of Namjoon’s jaw was the same: concentration and pleasure.

“Feel good?” Namjoon asked, going a little slower – catching his breath while Seokjin nodded.

But the tenderness was fleeting as Namjoon grabbed his legs, pushed them further apart, and fucked into him with deep, hard thrusts, pressing against his prostate perfectly. Namjoon’s mouth slid down to his throat, sucking in kisses, teeth scraping, before Namjoon made his way down to tease his nipples with the flat of his tongue, while all the time Namjoon’s cock pushed him open with wet slides. Seokjin stared at the ceiling – those wooden beams, really they were quite nice – eyes rolling into the back of his head, toes curling, as Namjoon said, “So good for me, baby… Look at how ready you were… God, you’ve wanted this all along, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” he admitted breathlessly, the bed creaking beneath them, loud huffs and puffs and groans, his own mouth betraying him with muffled moans and “yeah, yes, yes”.

“Yeah? Thought of this a lot, huh?” Namjoon said, teeth scraping a nipple, and Seokjin felt so fucking overstimulated, with Namjoon sucking a bruise to his sternum. “And you’ve thought of how you used to sit on my lap while I used all those toys on you – god, that beaded dildo, the black one?”

Seokjin knew exactly which one – not too thick but definitely long, pressing into him deep so perfectly.

Namjoon groaned, pressed a wet kiss to his left collarbone. “I bet you think about that sometimes – you just loved getting your ass played with, were such a good fucking slut for me…” At this, Seokjin clenched around the throbbing length in him. Namjoon’s wet mouth pressed a kiss to his jaw. “You’d always come so hard, baby… Fuck, I wish I’d known you needed telling off like this…”

“Joon-ah…” he pleaded – true, that was all true. He was trembling, on edge, and Namjoon wouldn’t stop talking.

“You tried to tell me, huh? Didn’t you, baby? That you wanted more… You’d go in so, so deep when I pushed you around a little …”

Seokjin’s chest felt painfully tight, but the pleasure overwhelmed him, and he was too far gone to care. He palmed over the wet slit of his own cock, and fuck he was so close – and Namjoon knew it too.

“I remember you trying now,” Namjoon said, with a wet kiss to his ear, followed by increasingly hard thrusts, both of their breaths laboured, “I remember the time you asked me to spit in your mouth…” Oh fuck, Seokjin had – he shivered, everything building up in him so fast. “And did I? Huh?”

“Yeah,” he confirmed, his hips moving helplessly, his hand stroking his cock fast.

“And?” Namjoon asked. “Was it good, baby?”

“Yes,” Seokjin groaned, and something in him snapped – he came all over himself, between them, blood scorching hot as he clamped down, from his toes to his fingers. It knocked him out entirely, his body thrashing, but Namjoon weighed him down and kissed the air out of him, and he shivered on Namjoon’s cock, jerking helplessly as he came even more. The hard press of Namjoon’s length in him was unbearable as he came, and yet he craved it. This only spurred Namjoon on, making Namjoon fuck him even harder through it, their breaths short, laced with moans, and Seokjin’s free hand slid to Namjoon’s ass, squeezing and pulling him in. “Please,” he begged, fucked out of his mind. “Please… Please…”

He almost choked on the word, feeling teary and desperate.

“Seokjin-ah, I wish I’d known,” Namjoon said, breath stuttering, hips pistoling. “God, always want to fuck you just like this, make you my—”

Namjoon came with a choked groan against his collar bones, with a familiarly urgent and vulnerable edge that had always undone Seokjin, and pleasure curled up in Seokjin’s chest – satisfaction as Namjoon came inside him. He smoothed over Namjoon’s back, welcoming the release. They were both grinding together still, getting as much of the pleasure as they could. Namjoon’s wet breaths washed over his throat, lips brushing against the skin there – Namjoon always zoned out when he came hard, needed a minute to recover, and Seokjin had spent so many of those minutes whispering endearments and promises of eternal love to Namjoon. Now Seokjin’s hand wiped the cooling semen on his stomach, his mouth silenced. Fucking hell…

They were both a bit shocked – and wiped out, heavy breaths loud in the air while the cabin remained quiet around them, a thankfully silent witness. Seokjin’s entire body tingled, his brain turned to mush, heat high on his cheeks, with a still pulsating need to be good for Namjoon, to be told he was good, and then be pushed onto his stomach and be taken again. Youngmoo had been good at that – but the connection was stronger and more immediate with Namjoon, more all-consuming.

Namjoon pulled out of him carefully, and Seokjin bit his lip to muffle a whine. He’d be bruised tomorrow, Namjoon’s hands having left red marks on his skin here and there – said hands were now pulling the condom off, tying it expertly. Back in the day, Seokjin would have had come slowly dripping out of him, leaving him irrationally horny even in the aftershocks, but he pushed the thought out of his mind for now.

Namjoon left the tissue-wrapped condom on the nightstand before he lay down next to Seokjin, sweaty and breathless still. They were too warmed up for the duvet, which was bunched up at the end of the bed. Well, fuck. Fuck. That’d just happened.

Breathing unevenly, they looked at each other, still in mild shock – Namjoon had a hint of wrinkles to the corners of his eyes now, making him look manlier than he had in his youth. They held eye contact, and Seokjin felt the shock settle further – and Namjoon said, “That… was one of the hottest things I’ve ever done.” And then, as if on cue, they burst into giggles. “Holy fuck,” Namjoon laughed, “you were so… and god, it made me all…?”

He haphazardly smacked at Namjoon. “Shut up!”

“How did you do that? I called you things I’ve never called anyone,” Namjoon accused, but his eyes were bright.

“Stop laughing at least!” he defended, but felt smug, too. Ah, so he still had this power over Namjoon… And him being needy and submissive was all it took for Namjoon to crack. Fuck, why had they never known? Or had Seokjin even known back then what he liked, to this extent?

“Come on,” Namjoon giggled, “this is kinda funny.”

“The sex?” he questioned, but Namjoon just motioned between them. Well, true: they were a joke. He groaned, buried his face in his hands. “Oh my god, this is the worst divorce of all time.”

“Counterpoint – the best?” Namjoon asked and pushed in closer, and he shoved at Namjoon again.

Namjoon helpfully gave him tissues from the nightstand to clean up with, and Seokjin did what he could as his body felt aglow – was singing, if it could, radiating pleasure and contentment, laughter still bubbling in him. He was high on something. “Still a mess,” he said after his efforts, while Namjoon brushed a forefinger across droplets of come still on Seokjin’s chest before popping the finger into his mouth. Seokjin stared at Namjoon in shock – and ah, fuck, that was hot to him. Goddammit.

But he smacked Namjoon’s shoulder anyway and was rewarded with an amused, “Stop hitting me! What is wrong with you?”

“A lot,” he admitted, but Namjoon only grinned brightly.

He would not freak out that he had slept with Namjoon of all people, and that it had been (un)expectedly amazing. A notch in his bedpost, and that was all. Some icing on the cake of divorce!

And neither would he freak out that they were soon languidly kissing again, a bit needy and wanting. “You wanna go again?” Namjoon asked in between kisses, then added, “Like, give me time. I’m not twenty-two anymore.”

Seokjin scoffed – but he pulled Namjoon closer, pushing fingers through the locks of hair that were wet at the roots. Namjoon smelled good even then, and the hunger had not been satisfied.

“But will we know when to stop?” he asked, shamelessly cupping Namjoon’s ass.

“Well,” Namjoon said thoughtfully – now kissing down his chest. “I guess what I’m thinking is that… we’re married.” Seokjin’s stomach dropped, and the burn inside him felt deeper, more eager. “And,” Namjoon said softly, kissing down his stomach with slow, worshipping presses of his mouth, “as your husband, my job is to make sure you’re satisfied… that I’ve let you be as good for me as you want…” Namjoon’s hands slid to his inner thighs, paused. Namjoon looked up at him. “Correct?”

“Uh huh,” he agreed, dazed – cockstruck like a fool.

“And you wanna be good for me some more?”

“Yeah,” he breathed.

“Good,” Namjoon said, pushing his thighs apart, “because I take that job pretty seriously.”

Namjoon’s mouth lowered to Seokjin’s hardening cock, and he sighed, restless, letting a hand push into the locks of Namjoon’s brown hair just as Namjoon’s wet, hot mouth enclosed around him –Seokjin umph’ed from the pleasure. Namjoon laughed somehow, even with a mouth full of cock – just enjoying it, and Seokjin loved the sound of it. He pulled Namjoon back up to him and into a wet kiss – because what Namjoon took, Seokjin gave up instantly with fiery want.

Namjoon returned the kiss with a sense of finality and purpose, like he was pressing in the final letters of a well-crafted, masterful chapter.

Chapter Text

IV

Seokjin woke up early, his hindbrain alerting him to get out of bed and head to the gym for a forty-minute workout before work, have the day’s first few emails sent by seven forty-five with a takeaway coffee on his office desk.

But instead he was thousands of kilometres away and, as it happened, groggy and sleepy and completely wrapped up in Namjoon’s arms. He was still half-asleep and nuzzling into Namjoon’s bare chest, their ankles interlocked, with Namjoon’s arm crossed over Seokjin’s lower back, not an inch of clothing on either of them.

He closed his eyes firmly, breathed through the awareness that gradually washed over him. The memories came back vividly: of him whining under and on and above Namjoon with the wanton spirit of a sexually frustrated college student. Or not that, no, but… with the dedication and enthusiasm of a husband deprived of his spouse for years? Fuck…

Seokjin pulled back, and Namjoon let out a sleepy huff but didn’t wake up. Namjoon looked young and innocent: brown hair a mess, cheeks flushed, face relaxed. Seokjin reached out, brushing stray hairs from Namjoon’s forehead, letting his fingers brush the side of Namjoon’s face, slight stubble scratching the tips of his fingers.

He’d never expected to wake up to this again – to be this close. It was like time-travelling, but not even to Doksan-dong, but before that, to the two-bedroom apartment in the back of a Los Angeles bungalow where Seokjin had spent an entire summer learning how to love another person. And not just physically – god, far from it. The pillow talk had been more foundational: the confessions, the admissions, the “I’ve always wondered if that makes me a bad person?” about a vengeful thought, the “Do you ever feel like a failure because of that?” about an insecurity. This was always met with understanding, support, and a “God, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.” In the end, that had cut in deeper than the physical pleasure.

After that intensity, even their years spent apart couldn’t take away the comfort of waking up in that embrace again – breathing in the familiar sex-laced scent of Namjoon as Seokjin admitted, in the first vulnerable moments of consciousness, that he had missed this for seven years.

Namjoon’s eyelids fluttered open, his arm around Seokjin tightening. Seokjin took in a steadying breath – time to face the music. “Morning,” he said quietly, cheeks warming at the memory of their night together as Namjoon took him in.

“Morning,” Namjoon returned, voice deep, the look in his brown eyes warm – his obscenely muscled arm still firm around Seokjin. “You sleep okay?”

“Mmm. Not that we slept much…”

Namjoon huffed softly – giving him a tired, sheepish smile that made Seokjin want to kiss him. “Well after, you know. Did you sleep okay after…?”

“Yeah,” he confirmed.

The sex had been thorough: needy, excited, filthy… But comfortable, too, in a way – a small tell-tale that they had done plenty of this before, and often. What word was he looking for? Marital?

“I don’t know what got into me last night,” he lied, as he lay in Namjoon’s oh-so-muscular arms.

Namjoon gazed at him, eyes slightly hooded. “Oh, you don’t know…?”

“Mm, I guess we had some pent-up…?” he trailed off, fingers brushing down Namjoon’s chest.

He suppressed a smirk as Namjoon’s length slowly began to harden against him. Ah, Namjoon was up so his dick was up – no change there. Namjoon had an expectant and hopeful look in his eyes, and the feel of him was getting Seokjin riled up.

“I’m pretty sore,” he admitted, Namjoon’s coaxing fingers slowly brushing his lower back.

“Was I too rough?” Namjoon asked, worry on his brow, but Seokjin had no intention to wax poetic about Namjoon’s dick in comparison to most other Dicks of His Life, so he just shook his head. “There is other stuff we can do…” Namjoon noted, and by now Seokjin’s cock was semi-hard. Namjoon’s hand moved to his upper back, stroking, then tracing to his neck, fingers slowly brushing over his throat. God, Namjoon’s fingers in his mouth as they’d fucked had driven Seokjin mad, with Seokjin sucking on them like they were the length now pressing against him… And Namjoon had blown him for the second round, had looked so good with his mouth full…

But at the thought of Seokjin returning the favour, of letting Namjoon gaze down at him as he opened his mouth for Namjoon, his throat closed up.

He pulled back from their embrace. “Ah, maybe we…” he trailed off, uncertainty squeezing his heart. Their dicks said yes, but Seokjin’s overwired brain said no. Not with Namjoon. “Like, um, last night was a thing, right?”

“A thing,” Namjoon repeated, his gaze searching.

“A thing that happened.”

“Yeah, it… definitely happened,” Namjoon said and glanced down between them, as their hard-ons remained under the covers. “And is happening…?”

“Oh come on,” he objected. He recalled murmurs of ‘You’re being so good, baby…’ and wanted to fling himself into the sun, or simply on top of Namjoon.

Namjoon was studying him, intelligent eyes sharp. “Are you wishing we hadn’t?”

“Are you?” he countered, and for a second neither of them said a word, although Seokjin thought of pinning Namjoon down, swallowing Namjoon’s length down as Namjoon would, predictably, pull on his hair and murmur praise and make Seokjin all hot and bothered until Namjoon fucked his throat and released in his mouth… God, it’d always been so hot when they’d done it, but it took so much trust too, and—

He sat up swiftly, gathering covers to his lap, heat creeping up the back of his neck. “Look, we don’t have to, like, get into it.”

“You’re turning red,” Namjoon noted, also sitting up – and Seokjin glared. Asshole.

“Well, you’re sitting there on full display,” he accused, because Namjoon was, with all his muscles and abs and junk on display, the length of his cock a flushed pink like ‘Oh hello good sir, what a fine morning, care to sit on me?’ “Can you at least put some goddamn clothes on – you’re not the David you think you are.”

“And thank god for that,” Namjoon said, cupping at his crotch, and Seokjin wanted to throw something at him – a pillow? A lamp? Himself?

“What’s big here is your ego,” he said pointedly and got out of bed, unnerved as he pulled his pyjamas back on. “I get dibs on the shower.”

Once in the bathroom, he washed his face and took in his reflection: swollen lips, puffy face, unruly sex hair. “Shit,” he muttered, examining the damage – his hard-on, at least, had gone down. But, truthfully, he wasn’t surprised that he’d slept with Namjoon. He wasn’t surprised at all.

Was Namjoon on the rebound after that Ben guy – was Seokjin the rebound? How dare Namjoon! Or was Namjoon in some fucked-up way rebound for him, after Youngmoo? But it didn’t feel like that, really: you didn’t have years of history with a rebound. You didn’t have a marriage with a rebound.

He felt Namjoon still in him, erotic in a way that had made his brain melt and his heart skitter. The sex had been different from what he remembered, too, like opening the door to a world of new possibilities…

Stop it.

But it was even worse than that, this unforgiving morning after he’d slept with Namjoon.

With an exhale, he sat on the edge of the bathtub – defeated. The locket he’d hastily picked up on his way out now dangled from his grip. He gently gathered it up on his palm, studying it. Perhaps he was trying to convince himself that his Namjoon was still there somewhere, and salvageable. But that was the man he’d walked out on, wasn’t it?

He clicked open the round locket, which had once contained two grainy, cut-to-size pictures of him and his brother, just like his grandmother had kept them – but the crumbling pictures had fallen out years ago, leaving the round locket empty, with a small, circular space inside. A small bundle of navy silk fabric now occupied it, and Seokjin tipped it out onto his palm, the thin fabric unfurling – and at the sight his chest ached, and a hollow pain thrummed in his guts.

The fabric had revealed a round object: unassuming, long forgotten, like a coin of foreign currency left over from a holiday.

Namjoon had worried that it was too plain when picking it out. “Are you sure?” Namjoon had asked, nervous yet eager, looking at the displays in the pawn shop. “We can get something flashier, I have the money,” Namjoon had lied. “Babe, are you sure you like it?”

Quietly, a whole decade away, Seokjin said, “I’m sure, Namjoon-ah.”

The tap of the bathroom sink dripped.

He cleared his throat hastily, wiped at his suddenly watery eyes, and folded the silken bundle up again, clicking the locket shut like nothing had happened.

It wasn’t anyone else’s business – not even Namjoon’s, who hadn’t existed for him in so long. He missed his Namjoon, the one before all the awful fights, before all the heartache. This Namjoon was someone different, someone new – but pulling him in, nevertheless.

Past perfect – or was it just the present?

Seokjin slipped the locket back around his neck, guarding it as fiercely as he always had – yet he had no idea what timeline he was supposed to be on anymore.

* * *

Half an hour later, Seokjin was sitting at the breakfast bar with his laptop, sipping on an orange juice, with an empty plate with only crumbs from his toast left – and with the locket safely tucked under his shirt. He was shower fresh and appropriately dressed for the day, listening to the sound of water running as Namjoon showered after their reckless coupling. God, Seokjin had been so filthy about it and so obviously getting off on everything Namjoon did to him, and now he had to sit there and cling on to his pride somehow…

By the time Namjoon came to the kitchen in jeans and a t-shirt, hair wet, Seokjin was scrolling through finance reports – although he tensed up instantly. Namjoon looked uncharacteristically cautious, but a thread of intimacy lingered between them, leaving confusion and tension churning in Seokjin.

“You getting on with work?” Namjoon asked, motioning at his laptop. “On a Sunday?”

“Yeah. You know me, I just love money.” He accompanied this with an exaggerated beam.

At this, Namjoon broke into a small smile, dimples appearing, and Seokjin faltered. Was Namjoon here to talk it out? Look, they both were mature enough to know that the sex was A Thing That’d Happened, and that was that, right? Curiosity satisfied… intensified… Seokjin needed a lobotomy. A vasectomy. Castration? Dear lord.

Point the second, it wasn’t unheard of for divorcing couples to fuck. There were a lot of confusing feelings involved, and fucking offered release for them. It’d been a cleanse, really – but one that left Seokjin feeling more dirty than clean (mostly in, uh, a good way).

“There’s toast,” he offered, motioning behind himself.

Namjoon went to the sink, rummaging through a pull-out drawer while Seokjin tried to focus on his laptop screen. Namjoon slipped a pack of painkillers onto the breakfast bar with a raised eyebrow, pushing it towards him. Oh.

“Thanks,” he said, although he was unsure if the pills were for his arm or ass or, indeed, both. Namjoon nodded, eyes firmly on him, and Seokjin’s gaze focused on Namjoon’s lips, still somewhat swollen – and so inviting, all plump and pink. He blinked – focused!

“I’ll let you get on with work,” Namjoon said, voice low.

“Aren’t you going to have breakfast?”

Namjoon was always hungry after fucking – and they had fucked a whole lot. But Namjoon shook his head, and Seokjin suppressed a frown.

Namjoon moved past him to head to the study, with a hand briefly coming up to push strands of hair behind Seokjin’s ear. And before Seokjin could even process the caress, the touch was gone. Namjoon grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl while Seokjin wished he could know what Namjoon was thinking and feeling – but the distance between them was too great and confusing.

Namjoon was nearly at the door of the study when he stalled. “Hey, you wanna grab lunch in town later?” Namjoon motioned outside – then shrugged. “The weather’s nice. We should get fresh air after last night, right?”

Lunch? Them? Together?

Namjoon waited him out with a determined air.

“Sure,” he said slowly, hating that heat was creeping up his neck. But they could not fuck in public places – hence, public places were good. “Yeah, let’s get fresh air,” he agreed firmly, focusing on the laptop once more. “It’s, like, fine with me.”

“Cool,” Namjoon said – like he was oh so cool – and entered the study without another word.

Seokjin worried his bottom lip uncertainly, then popped out a few pills. Sighed. Felt the ghost of Namjoon’s quick caress on him still. Washed the pills down with orange juice. Prayed for his sanity.

One thing he knew for sure: they were now dancing around each other in a way they had never done before.

* * *

Come early afternoon they were in the only pub in Haast – a grey building along the main road that had deer antlers hanging from its ceiling beams, with a pool table in one corner and a generous assortment of greasy food on the menu. They’d both been starving – for obvious reasons – and eaten burgers and fish and chips for lunch; pleasantly filling, although Western food wasn’t cutting it for Seokjin anymore.

But this was a lesser concern, because they hadn’t shut up in a good while – it had been nothing much at first, just Seokjin spotting the antlers and telling a story of a hiking trip he’d gone on with Hoseok: their tent had been infiltrated by bugs and the moonlight had made the tree branches look like massive antlers to the point Hoseok became convinced horned creatures were about to trample them, and they’d noped the fuck out of there, calling Yoongi in a panic to come get them in the middle of the night.

“When was that?” Namjoon laughed and, to his shame, Seokjin said, “Ah, like last summer… But that’s another thing!”

After that was another, and another, as the air between them felt warm and inviting, as Namjoon’s bright, flirtatious smiles worked their magic on Seokjin – which he hated, for the record. When had Namjoon realised how hot he was? Who’d told him? This was a potential weapon of mass destruction, currently aimed at Seokjin. Unfair, so unfair!

And yet he leaned into the table, lost in Namjoon’s anecdotes of the Iranian bookshop keeper in Brooklyn who’d gotten Namjoon into Persian poetry; of the Gwangju lady who’d owned the best Korean restaurant in all of London and made the best kimchi mandu; and of the museum of modern art that Namjoon had visited every week during a summer in Munich. Namjoon had been to so many places, had seen so much…

If only Seokjin had been there: to read poetry with him, eat mandu with him, visit all the world’s museums with him – but no, he heard of it all as tales of a life Namjoon had lived without him.

But Seokjin had stories, too, which he shared eagerly: of his fishing trips with Yoongi in the summers, of his snowboarding trips in the winters, insisting that Korea was the best for whatever you wanted – why leave? “And,” he enthused, “you always get the best food in Korea. The best! Wherever you go!”

“I concede you the point,” Namjoon said softly, dimples on his cheeks, “Korean food is superior.”

“Why go elsewhere,” he insisted, endlessly warm from how Namjoon kept looking at him as they sat at the corner table, chairs close together, knees almost touching, after they’d spent the night together. The effect of that lingered like electricity, Namjoon claiming space close to him in a way that left Seokjin wistful. He loved that he could turn away and know that Namjoon’s attention was still on him, figuring him out.

Namjoon dipped a lone chip in some ketchup, shrugging. “Because how do you know that it’s superior if you never leave?”

Seokjin faltered ever so slightly but he changed the subject and was relieved when they found another topic to chatter over, catching up after so many years – or reintroducing themselves, perhaps, as Namjoon kept looking at him with interest in his eyes. Had Namjoon thought of him on all those travels? Had last night ever figured into any of Namjoon’s dreams?

Maybe the trap they’d fallen into last night wasn’t quite done. Should it be?

A few of the Taiwanese teenagers were playing at the pool table, and, after they finished, he and Namjoon got up to play – enjoying a round of beers, laughing and chatting… flirting.

“Oh, you think you’re so good?” he challenged, and Namjoon’s eyes sparkled, so endlessly attractive that Seokjin wanted to call someone with an official complaint.

They circled each other as they played – arms touching every now and then, Namjoon’s hand even brushing his lower back. Seokjin wanted to pin Namjoon down on the pool table.

Yet he admirably controlled the urge and tried to find an angle for his next shot as Namjoon said, “Yoongi called me before we left, by the way.”

Seokjin instantly froze – alert.

Namjoon gave him an innocent smile. “You’re in Thailand, he said. Thailand, huh?” Namjoon cocked his head to the side. “How is it?”

“Oh, just lovely.” He motioned around the pub. “Gigantic swimming pools.” He lifted his beer bottle. “Elaborate cocktails!” He shook his head and leaned over to take his shot – and aimed it perfectly, the orange ball slotting into the corner pocket. He straightened up and said, “Yeah, I… I told them I was going abroad. Thailand, why not? And they decided I was going to a promiscuous gay resort or something.”

Namjoon snorted. “A promiscuous gay resort? Wow. Although perhaps surprisingly not far off the mark…?” Namjoon nodded towards the barmaid who was serving two older men. “And how are the men at this resort of yours?”

“Oh, gorgeous, you know,” he said, eyeing the locals sporting strong Middle-Aged Heterosexual Farmer looks. “The men are all fabulous: wearing next to nothing, with perfect tans and eight packs. Not to even mention their buns of steel, or their dicks the size of tree trunks – and there’s fountains of lube in the foyer, too.”

Namjoon laughed, leaning against his cue, and Seokjin grinned widely. God, he’d missed the sound of Namjoon laughing: like warm sunshine, weaselling deep inside his chest.

Namjoon circled the table to find a good spot and said, “Dicks like tree trunks? I’m flattered.”

“Please, you’re a sapling at best,” he countered instantly, but Namjoon did not seem offended, giving him a flirtatious smile in response. Seokjin reeled himself in as Namjoon aimed for his next move. Stop flirting with your husband already! What is wrong with you?

But it was engaging and exciting, and Seokjin couldn’t help himself.

Before Seokjin could say anything, Namjoon said, “Well, it’s a good thing you’re not a blond anymore. That was such a lethal look, you’d be fighting them off at this resort of yours.”

“Lethal?” he repeated, because he liked compliments – and he liked them from Namjoon especially.

“Oh, absolutely. I ended up married to you because of that blond dye job of yours.” Namjoon took his shot, and the ball rolled in. Namjoon smirked.

“It wasn’t just the dye job, I hope. I mean, at least you have an excuse. Me? No such thing – you had that godawful mint buzzcut.”

Namjoon gave him a look of mock offense. “Godawful, was it?”

“So awful,” he said, with the thread between them pulling him in.

“Okay, fact one?” Namjoon said, rounding the table. “You called me your mint teddy bear, like, all the time.”

“Perhaps once,” he said, instantly flustered. His stupid, big, endearing teddy bear…

“Fact two,” Namjoon said, stopping in front of him. “You couldn’t keep your hands off me. You thought I was hot as fuck.” Namjoon raised a single eyebrow at him, and the confidence was devastating. “Let’s not pretend our marriage wasn’t sexually intense at the very least.”

“And you’re welcome. My sexual peak was spent on you.”

“I’m not so sure,” Namjoon said quietly, eyes dropping to his lips. “The stuff you’ve learned since is… pretty intoxicating.”

Namjoon’s arm came up to curl around his hip, and for a wild second Seokjin expected to be pulled into a kiss – right there in the middle of the pub. But instead Namjoon guided him to the side before taking a shot at the pool. Seokjin took in a deep breath. Right, he was cutting himself off. No more beer for him.

Namjoon straightened up, eyes deep and warm – dimples showing as he smiled, faux innocent. “Your turn.”

Seokjin took a sip of his beer, trying to focus on something other than the attraction. “Truthfully, I didn’t see why I should tell Hoseok or Yoongi about where I was going. Their wedding is coming up, so it seemed petty to make things about me right now.”

“So no one knows you’re here?” Namjoon asked, eyes on their game.

“Jungkook knows,” he said, after missing his shot and motioning for Namjoon to go ahead.

Namjoon glanced at him. “Who’s that?”

“A legal advisor, at the firm.”

“Oh.” Namjoon took his shot and missed, letting out a grunt of annoyance. Namjoon straightened up. “So, is that someone you’re…?”

“Overseeing?” he finished for Namjoon, shaking his head. “Not really, he’s in another department. It’s a funny thing, with the legal team,” he began to explain, with genuine enthusiasm but found Namjoon’s attention fixed on something behind him. Typical! But when Seokjin glanced over his shoulder, he found the girl behind the bar beaming at them – or at him, more specifically. She was significantly younger than him – early twenties?

Namjoon’s smile had faded. “Guess not everyone here knows.”

Seokjin gave a stiff nod back to the girl because he didn’t want to be rude – he was of course flattered but not interested, for a whole variety of reasons. “Knows what?” he asked as Namjoon rubbed the chalk to the tip of the cue.

Namjoon huffed, eyes still on the game. “That you’re married to me.”

Seokjin’s heart tripped and fell face first inside his chest – it was true, technically speaking, but it wasn’t true in the way it was for most other people, and it wasn’t how Namjoon meant it either. But Namjoon looked at him in a way that made the distance between them unbearable, tugging at a soft and eager warmth inside Seokjin’s chest.

They finished the game – Seokjin winning that at least, but drawing the line on more beer as he still had to drive. The day was dimming as they got into the SUV, and Seokjin clicked his seatbelt into place before reaching for the centre console to change radio stations.

Hoping to sound casual, he asked, “So are there book groupies?”

“For me?” Namjoon asked and chortled, shaking his head as Seokjin began to drive out of town. “Oh yeah. Kim author-nim, I really connected with your book, can I connect with your dick too?”

Seokjin laughed, amused by the mock seductive voice Namjoon had put on.

Namjoon gave a modest shrug, looking out the window. “Book groupies. Yeah, they’re a thing. I guess the second novel had its steamy moments. Well, you know that, of course.”

“Sure do,” he lied.

“Which one have you liked the best? Or,” Namjoon said, a sheepish look to him, “I hope you’ve liked them?”

“Aah, impossible to pick a favourite,” he said – fake it till you make it! “Although the steamy bits were good, of course.” Flirt your way out of it, Seokjin! “Bet you dabbled with those groupies, too.”

Namjoon said nothing at first, then admitted, “Yeah. Early on. Learned quickly when they kept asking how I’d write them into the next novel.”

Seokjin snorted – he’d always told Namjoon not to put him in the novels.

Namjoon looked at him from the passenger seat. “Well, have there been… investment groupies?”

Seokjin shook his head. “We call them old-fashioned gold diggers. More straightforward, don’t you think?”

Namjoon was looking at him funnily – it was oddly serious, after all their back-and-forths, perhaps brought to the surface by a few beers.

“What?” Seokjin asked.

Namjoon shook his head, then said, “I mean, you don’t have to tell me but… after you enlisted, did you… meet anyone? When you were serving?”

Seokjin was taken aback. “Are you asking me if the military is kind of gay? Really?”

Namjoon nodded, gaze fixed on the fields lining the uneven dirt track. “Yeah. Figures, right?”

“Namjoon-ah,” he said, confused – Namjoon had served before him and told him of his no-strings-attached blowjob buddy, which was good considering how goddamn long enlistment took. As for Seokjin, there had been a few helping hands/mouths over the length of enlistment, and one memorable Banged in the Shower Thank God encounter, but mostly he’d been too heartbroken to even look at other men with any real interest – and it’d felt like cheating when he had. It’d taken a good while to unlearn those thoughts – and for all he knew Namjoon was raving away in New York with a new hottie every night.

The mood between them changed in a way Seokjin couldn’t decipher. He parked outside the cabin in the late afternoon. Namjoon seemed closed off, and Seokjin wasn’t sure whether to back off or flirt some more – or get his things and head to the motel. Surely Bunty and Liz had a couch to spare?

They pushed off their shoes as they got indoors, Seokjin hanging up his coat before offering to take Namjoon’s.

“Well,” Seokjin said, pushing his hands into his front pockets, rolling on the backs of his heels. “Thanks for lunch.”

“You paid.”

“Right, yeah. Well, you’re welcome.”

It was A Thing That’d Happened – bittersweet, perhaps, that they’d had one final night together. And in between Namjoon had had his adoring fans, and Seokjin had of course had men of his own, and that was just fine. Of course it was.

Namjoon was taking him in with an air of frustration – just standing there.

Seokjin felt raw, with confused longing reverberating in him. “I did call you that. The teddy bear. Mint. Except now, well, it’d be… it’d be brown, I guess.” And perhaps the nickname suited Namjoon better than ever, after the muscle gain.

Namjoon looked awfully serious, and Seokjin didn’t know how to read him.

“Well,” he repeated, awkwardly, turning away – and Namjoon grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into a kiss: it was passionate, deep, with Namjoon wrapping Seokjin up in his arms. Oh thank god.

His mouth pressed to Namjoon’s firmly, letting out a soft moan from the contact he’d craved since that morning, fingers pushing into Namjoon’s soft hair. The press of Namjoon against him was a drug, and the kiss was needy, perhaps even longing, bridging seven years. Namjoon nudged their noses together as the kiss broke, and they caught their breaths. Well. Well, shit!

Namjoon held onto him so tightly that Seokjin never wanted to be let go.

“I need to ask you something,” Namjoon said in a serious tone, and Seokjin felt light-headed, anticipating the question: what did last night mean to you? Do you feel that pull between us, the one from years ago, and what does that mean? Doesn’t it in some fucked up way feel like we’ve never been apart?

And will there be a reckoning for this?

“Yeah?” he asked feebly.

A smirk formed on Namjoon’s lips. “You wanna be in my next book?”

“Fucking hell, does that work on anyone?” he questioned with indignant offense, and Namjoon laughed – the sound of it like home. And in that moment Seokjin wanted to destroy empires in his name.

He kissed Namjoon – pulling, tugging, submerging himself in the still-familiar warmth and comfort of Namjoon, who welcomed him with no questions asked.

They had passed the point of having enough sense to stop.

* * *

Seokjin woke up uncharacteristically late on a weekday, with sunlight permeating through the curtains. He pushed into the pillows of the warm bed, enjoying the lazy morning, and drifting back to sleep. After a few minutes, however, he stirred again – because loud whacks had begun to sound from somewhere.

He sat up sleepily, pushing a hand through his bed hair. “Namjoon-ah?” he called out through a yawn. “Namjoon-ah?”

What in the living…?

He wrapped his naked form up in Namjoon’s (Marcus’s?) navy bathrobe and padded out of the bedroom. From the kitchen, the faint smell of coffee wafted promisingly in the air, with the entire cabin full of soft morning sunshine. It was almost ten in the morning, and normally Seokjin would have been at the board of directors meeting – in a suit, with a presentation ready to go, his hair perfectly styled – but instead he… well. Last night, again. And the night before that, and the night before that, and the… Okay, look, there was a pattern.

“Namjoon-ah?” he called out again, pushing his feet into boots and following the noise outside. His breath rose in the chilly air, and he wrapped the robe around himself more tightly, body pleasantly tired from sex and too much sleep, but now stirred by the crisp air. He stopped at the top of the deck steps, bundled up.

Namjoon was by the pile of firewood at the front of the cabin – in a red lumberjack shirt, old jeans, and big boots, and wielding an axe in a way that sent utter terror into Seokjin’s heart – he was awfully awake in an instant.

Namjoon spotted him up on the deck and shielded his eyes against the morning sun. “Oh, hey! You’re up.”

Seokjin could say nothing.

“Ah, don’t worry,” Namjoon insisted, axe rising. “I’m good at this!”

“But you can’t even chop oni—”

The axe came down, splitting the log that was placed atop a large chopping block – the pieces flying and Seokjin flinching. For the love of god! Namjoon rubbed his nose to the shirt sleeve, threw the split pieces into a growing pile, and chose another large log to dismantle.

“Sleep okay?” Namjoon asked before the axe came down again, with Seokjin holding his breath. “You were knocked out when I got up.”

At this, Namjoon gave him a quick, knowing look.

“Yes, wonderful sleep, best ever. Namjoon-ah, don’t we have enough, do we need to—”

Another whack, and he flinched, breath evaporating in the air – yet birds sang in the trees, with the landscape around them beautiful, and Namjoon chopped firewood with ease. It was not a sight he’d ever expected to see, but it was not unwelcome. Was Namjoon good with his hands in the countryside? Was that a thing? Seokjin was completely bewildered.

He lingered awkwardly even when Namjoon said there was breakfast waiting, and Namjoon laughed at him, clearly enjoying his plight. “You worried about me?” Namjoon smirked.

“As if,” he said, crossing his arms – but he hovered, anxiously. What? There was hardly a hospital around here! Was he expected to piece Namjoon back together?

But Namjoon’s presence had changed in the past few days, the physical barriers between them evaporating: they had draped all over each other the night before while eating Pringles and watching a DVD from Kira’s romcom collection, about a bizarre French woman who had stolen a garden gnome, and then they had got the console working and played racing games until Seokjin had pulled Namjoon into the bedroom to fuck him. Was this the mature behaviour of men in their thirties? But Seokjin felt so young around Namjoon, so light and excited.

God, there was definitely a glow about Namjoon – something in the quiet confidence of him, now magnified. Nothing wrong with an orgasm glow, of course, especially after a few days of cabin-fevered coupling. Seokjin had shown more than once that he was at his sexual peak at thirty-three. (Everything ached.)

Namjoon still had that glow when he finally put the axe away and piled up firewood in his arms, cheeks rosy with exertion. Namjoon ascended the steps, carefully carrying the logs. “Ye of little faith,” Namjoon teased, stopped – and then reached over to kiss him, firewood precariously balanced in his arms, and Seokjin met him halfway in the ‘good morning’ kiss: a soft tell-tale of the night before.

The kiss was gone in the next second, but it left Seokjin ever so breathless.

Namjoon kicked off his unlaced boots with, “There’s coffee. Made it stronger like you asked.”

“Sure. Let me just freshen up.”

Over breakfast Namjoon explained how he’d woken up around six, completely energised, and had gone to the study to rework a difficult chapter that he’d finally figured out, thus bringing the novel one step closer to completion. Seokjin recalled Namjoon’s good moods when writing was going well.

“Perhaps I needed some inspiration,” Namjoon said, sat next to him on the bar stool, their shoulders pressed together.

Had they properly talked about the fact that, after a seven-year break, they’d started sleeping together again, right after they had agreed to divorce? No, they had not. Seokjin knew he had to bring it up eventually – he was older, he should handle this maturely – but there was a care-free lightness in not talking about it.

Namjoon gave him another kiss as they wrapped up breakfast: lithe but precise. Seokjin welcomed it, feeling the kiss roll in warm waves through him, his hand gently pressing to Namjoon’s chest – almost letting his fist curl around the fabric of the shirt to pull Namjoon in. Namjoon sealed the kiss with a smaller one, and Seokjin smiled into it with, “Don’t kiss me like that.”

“Like what?” Namjoon asked, lips pillowy and soft, planting further gentle, coffee-flavoured kisses on his lips.

“You know,” he said, pulling Namjoon closer for another kiss: lips and noses squashed together, but the connection was one of ease and comfort. Namjoon kissed him like he was the centre of the universe, like Namjoon wanted to be nowhere else, and like kissing Seokjin was the singular most meaningful act he could do. He shivered.

“What if,” Namjoon said quietly, with another lingering kiss to his mouth, “I keep kissing you like this anyway?”

“Then I’m gonna have to call management,” he said, and Namjoon laughed, the sound of it bubbly.

When they pulled back for air, Namjoon left light kisses to his jaw, kissing to his ear. “As if you can talk, when you kiss me like you want me to take you back to bed.”

Namjoon caught his lips, and Seokjin parted his mouth, tongue meeting Namjoon’s – his toes curling from how good it was, Namjoon’s words dancing across his skin and sending nervous excitement to his heart.

And so here he was, on a weekday morning, smooching Namjoon in the kitchen like he had nothing else to do. He broke the kiss softly, nudging his nose against Namjoon’s. “Go write, will you?”

Namjoon smiled, standing up. “Yeah, yeah… And you go, er, supervise… money?”

“Sort of,” he granted, and Namjoon gave him another warm smile. “Oh wait, you’ve got–” He motioned for Namjoon to lower his head, so Namjoon did – and he reached up, removing a small splinter of wood from his hair, holding it between his thumb and forefinger as proof of Namjoon’s reckless lumberjack efforts. He smoothed over Namjoon’s hair, humming in approval. “Okay, you’re good.”

Namjoon had a frustratingly knowing look in his eyes. What?

Namjoon added, “You’re cute, you know.”

Hardly! He was intimidating and professional!

But as Namjoon headed to the study and Seokjin poured himself another cup of coffee, he caught himself with a wide smile on his lips. What was it? Joy? Infatuation? He exhaled shakily, drummed his fingers against the porcelain of the coffee cup. Lo—

The sound of You Are My Sunshine cut through the air – Hoseok. Thank god!

Seokjin grabbed his phone from the counter with, “Hey, give me a minute.”

He hastened to the door, pushed his feet into Namjoon’s boots and quickly grabbed a coat. “How’s my dongsaeng, then?” he fussed, stepping outside and heading to the end of the deck where a wicker chair stood facing the view: mountain ranges in the distance, gentle clouds in the sky. He sat down, with Hoseok chattering pleasantly about his week and what Yoongi had cooked for them the night before – and Seokjin made appreciative noises as his breath rose in the fresh air, inhaling the beige fur-lined coat that smelled of Namjoon’s cologne.

The sensation of being caught red-handed strengthened – and he must have missed a question, because Hoseok said, “Hyung? Are you listening?”

“What? Yeah. Yeah, of course. Sorry, I just woke up.”

“Aish, I forgot about the time difference! It must be super early over there.”

But, truthfully, he was hours ahead of Seoul, not behind. Yet Hoseok was the worst liar he had ever met and would tell Yoongi in a heartbeat if Seokjin told him the truth, and then they’d have Yoongi calling to see what the hell was this he’d heard of Seokjin and Namjoon together! At a cabin! Together! In New Zealand! Together!

Hoseok would probably, however, have given him some sympathy: Hoseok knew Seokjin’s history with Namjoon, had been there at the very start and, indeed, at the end when Seokjin had moved out of the Doksan-dong studio, heartbroken and lost – mere weeks before he’d enlisted. Hoseok, perhaps, would have been kind to him.

He shivered in the cold and said, “Ah, yes, it’s really warm here. Amazing weather. I’m sweating through my shirt – god, Thailand is gorgeous.” He closed his eyes, not wishing to see the New Zealand mountain ranges. “But, uh, it’s been an… an unexpected rollercoaster too?”

“Really? Is something wrong?” Hoseok asked instantly, while in the background Jimin was loudly yelling to pass on his regards. Hoseok laughed and explained: it was a gorgeous summer day in Seoul, and they were out for a picnic – Yoongi would soon be arriving with some fried chicken, and Jimin had just gotten there. Whereas Seokjin was on the West Coast, wrapped up in Namjoon’s coat – and even as he sat outside he wanted to go back in, find Namjoon, cuddle, hug, sniff. Oh this was bad…

“Nothing’s wrong,” he lied, noticing a birdhouse on one of the nearby trees with a green bird peeking out from it. “Aish, nothing’s wrong. It’s lovely here, really… but I guess, uh. There’s someone I’ve met?”

“You have? Hyung, tell me all! No, no, let me guess – tall, rich, handsome?”

“I mean… you’re not wrong. He is… all of those things.” And dreamy and smart and witty, making every date Seokjin had been on in the last five years seem like a joke. “But it’s kind of, um, complicated too. Like, uh… temporary.”

“Ah, a holiday fling, I got it. Mm, tricky – is it just some fun or potentially more, right? Well, is he local?”

“No, he lives elsewhere.”

Who even knew where Namjoon would go after Haast? Hong Kong? Luanda? Quito? But there was no way to say ‘I’m in New Zealand with Namjoon, and we’ve been sleeping together like fools – and, by the way, we’re divorcing because we’re sort of married, and now I don’t know what I feel for him, and I don’t know what he feels either.’

Hoseok asked when Seokjin was due back – and he said he was flexible, not mentioning that he didn’t know because he was trapped.

“Well, you have more time to spend with him, then,” Hoseok said, “and then you’ll know more about how deep that connection runs for you both.”

“I guess,” he said. How deep was that connection when revitalised after all this time? And was he considering this as something potentially more than a cabin fuckfest? He rubbed at his face, trying not to think of how warm and fuzzy Namjoon made him feel. “Hey, random question – would you ever sleep with an ex?”

Hoseok giggled at the end of the line. “Me?”

Stupid fucking question: Hoseok had been with Yoongi for nearly eight years. But Seokjin persisted – yes, would Hoseok?

“Say it was Yoongi, and you guys broke up back then but now he… he, uh, starts work at the dance studio with you and Jimin. And you have the spark, even if things were kinda messy last time.”

“Aah, hyung,” Hoseok said shyly, but with a clear smile to his voice. “I absolutely would. Aish, how do I say it? Yoongi can– He has skills, and we… Uh huh, yeah, I’d want to revisit that if I’d been living without it. What’d be so bad about that?”

But perhaps such things were of little consequence for Hoseok, whereas Seokjin always worried about consequences. What was it that his father always said? “Life isn’t an amusement park” – yes, that was it. Life wasn’t for fooling around: it had to have structure, a purpose, supported by making the right decisions, carrying yourself with dignity, pride. Life wasn’t for epicurean hedonism like this.

“Why do you ask?” Hoseok prompted. “Are you thinking of Youngmoo?”

“Wait, who?” he said, trying to focus. “Ah, him… Yeah, sure.”

Hoseok clearly had no notion of an alternative version of life where Yoongi had broken his heart. How did you go back to someone after that? After Youngmoos and Ben-Graemes and novels and car crashes and promotions and international moves and literal thousands of days spent apart, living unconnected lives? Because they were not kids with their whole lives ahead of them, but older, tied down, with their individual responsibilities and separate lives. And this little slice of countryside fucking? It had nothing to do with the real world. Seokjin knew that deep down, but god Namjoon’s smiles nearly convinced him otherwise.

So when he took a moment to think rationally, he knew this could never be this simple: get stuck in Haast with his ex, fall madly in love again, ride off into the sunset. Because the years he had spent avoiding Namjoon had been Seokjin moving on – evolving, improving, even as he now listened to the sudden echo of Bach from the cabin with an ache in his heart. Out of habit, he reached for the chain of his locket, thumbing it, breathing through the onslaught of emotions.

What if he told Namjoon he felt something for him again, after all this time, only for Namjoon to frown and say he did not feel the same?

Seokjin sighed. “I guess the real problem is that I always go for the wrong people.”

“Virgos?”

“Yes, precisely,” he said with relief – this was why Hoseok was his best friend. “Doomed from the start, right? Too… complicated. Aish, maybe I should just give up on all this messy romance nonsense. Who needs love and work?”

“Hyung,” Hoseok said, carefully and slowly. “We all need love.”

But Seokjin had gotten this far in life without substantial amounts of love: it was sporadic, not a constant. Maybe he just needed a fuck buddy – leave love out of it as too difficult. Leave Namjoon out of it as too emotionally fraught. His parents had never expected grandkids of Seokjin, but then the legislation had changed. “Seokjin-ah,” his mother had recently said, “I understand if you don’t want a husband, but at least have a child. There are clinics, aren’t there? Have a child, for your old age. And then keep a lover, you know, for the other business.” She’d let out a dramatic sigh. “That’s what I should have done…”

Mother! Please! But his mother had always been straight-talking to a fault.

Namjoon was a bad fit for such advice: not a man Seokjin could limit simply to ‘the other business’, when Namjoon had been so all-consuming since the day they’d met.

“How about you talk to your holiday mystery man,” Hoseok advised. “Just be like, hey, I’ve been having an amazing time with you, where do you maybe see this going? Like casually, you know, but putting it out there.” A voice said something in the background. “Ah, good point, Jimin-ah. Communicate how you feel! Good communication, that’s the true test. And you’re funny and successful, hyung, you’re so smart and handsome! Honestly, I’d be shocked if he weren’t falling for you already.”

But asking Namjoon – his husband! – how he felt about Seokjin was, perhaps, a new low that Seokjin was not willing to put himself through.

He gave up and wished Hoseok, Yoongi, and Jimin a lovely time, not perhaps having gained perspective, but still feeling a little lighter. His fingers were cold as he stood up and stretched – he closed his eyes and listened to the echo of Bach, mixing with birdsong.

He felt something.

God fucking shit fuck shit, he felt something – for Kim Namjoon, still, even now. It was exciting, seductive, and new, and it left him rather giddy. Shit shit shit…!

But Seokjin would not probe. He would not ask. He could, he supposed, let it evolve on its own. Perhaps he’d wake up tomorrow and be cured? Find Namjoon’s darling face suddenly annoying and ugly? (Unlikely. He was so pretty… Shit!)

But fine, he would let a week or so more of co-habitation guide them, let their time together speak for itself. Maybe that way they could both get their heads around this.

* * *

That afternoon they headed into the township to buy some groceries, and at the mini-mart at the petrol station they picked up bread and juice. The older woman behind the counter greeted them warmly, in her uniform and with her grey hair tied up in a neat bun – Susan, her name tag said. Seokjin recognised her from before.

“Have you boys been enjoying yourselves?” she asked, scanning the Coco Pops for them, and Namjoon said something of the sunny winter weather being a treat. Susan smiled, pleased, then fixed sharp eyes on Seokjin. “And you are a banker? In Seoul?”

It was not accurate, but he nodded anyway.

“Ah, isn’t that lovely,” she said, eyes bright, tilting her head. “Just lovely. A banker! But it must be hard being so far away from each other. You must be newlyweds?”

What made her say that?

“No,” Seokjin said, waiting for Namjoon to jump in, but Namjoon just had a sly smile on his lips.

How had Seokjin’s arrival been mythicised, with him staying at the motel at first and being desperate to leave? A lover’s quarrel that only needed a small rockslide to be fixed? Now he’d been spotted everywhere with Namjoon – smiling, laughing…

“Well, it’s nice you boys have had this extra time together,” Susan said encouragingly.

…because of a rockslide, Susan! He physically could not leave.

“We’ve tried to make the best of it,” Namjoon said diplomatically, and Seokjin wanted to scoff but held back.

Newlyweds? As if! Ten years, Susan!

In Korean, Namjoon said to him, “We need anything else?”

He shook his head, his debit card at the ready. Susan said, “That’ll come to—”

“Oh,” Namjoon said, pointing behind the counter, his other hand coming to rest on the small of Seokjin’s back. “Susan, could we get a pack of Durex? Those on the mid-shelf there?”

In that instant, Seokjin longed for death.

It took a nanosecond for Susan to put on a professional face. “Of course, sweetheart,” she said – which made it worse.

Namjoon said to Seokjin, “Should we get two packs?” Smiling at Susan, Namjoon added, “Make it two packs, actually? Save us coming back, you know.”

Susan grabbed two packs of the “thin feel intense pleasure” condoms and scanned them before giving them their total. Seokjin punched in his pin with his eyes firmly fixed to the floor, ears aflame, while Namjoon in his eco-friendly state slipped the purchases into a tote bag advertising an arts festival in Berlin.

“Thankyoubye!” Seokjin said with a hasty bow and headed to the door, with Namjoon so close on his heels that they bumped together, Namjoon laughing and getting the door for him, palm once more brushing the small of Seokjin’s back in a gesture that made Seokjin feel wanted and claimed. For the love of god…! And now Susan was smirking too. The filthy wench!

The second they stepped outside, Seokjin said, “Yah, do you live to embarrass me? What is wrong with you? I go in to buy some cereal. Cereal! And you have only one thing on your mind!”

No doubt all the locals would be delighted that the Korean husbands were having a great time back at the cabin.

Namjoon, the bastard, just laughed as they opened the SUV doors. “Come on, what’s the big deal? Let people be envious if they want…”

“She’ll tell the entire town, Joon-ah!” Seokjin paused, shocked. “You’re getting off on this, aren’t you? You sick, twisted fuck!”

They got into the car, Seokjin clicking in his seat belt. “I leave you for seven years and you’re out of control, this is what happens when I’m not supervising you, why am I surprised… Seven years, well I won’t make that mistake again,” he muttered to himself angrily.

Namjoon eyed him with mirth and warmth. What was that sensation? Ah, right: Seokjin felt something for Namjoon, even when Namjoon was being a little shit.

Two packs? Maybe Seokjin should drive home quickly…

They were barely out of town and still arguing when Bunty’s red jeep crossed their path, and Seokjin slowed down when Bunty rolled his window down, giving them a wave. They stopped next to each other, speaking through the open windows. Bunty was beaming at them. “You boys heard?”

“What?” Seokjin asked, praying the answer wasn’t ‘Susan ran out of condoms because of you two.’

“The roads are reopening on Saturday morning.”

Seokjin blinked, translating in his head, and almost shouted, “Really?”

A sudden and overpowering rush of relief ran through him. Saturday was three days away. Finally! At last!

“That’s what they told me this morning,” Bunty bragged. “Sooner than we thought, right?”

“Yes,” he said excitedly. Only three more days. That was amazing! “This is very good news!”

Three more days! Only! Only three… Only. Only?

That was no time at all.

Next to him, Namjoon remained silent.

“Thank you,” Seokjin said politely, swallowing it down.

“Make the most of it, eh?” Bunty told them and departed with a friendly wave, and Seokjin pressed the side console controls to roll the window back up.

Three days. Then fly out to Seoul, be back home Sunday evening… Come Monday morning he’d be back in the office in Gangnam, filing their divorce papers.

Three days.

“Well,” Namjoon said, into the silence filling the car. “That’s good news.”

“Yeah. Yeah, of course it… Of course it is.” Why was he frowning? “I mean, I’ve been here long enough, right? Getting in your way,” he said, but found himself unable to smile.

What were they doing?

“Hopefully that’s bigger news than our condom purchases,” he joked as he pushed the gear back into drive. “And two packs, too. Optimistic much?”

He made sure his tone was light and teasing as he kept driving – because it had all been light so far, free of consequences, and maybe he could keep that going for a few hours more.

“Well,” Namjoon said, looking out the window. “Who said they’re for us, anyway?”

“True,” he said and focused on driving, wishing there was something to make note of on the road.

The sudden countdown clock loomed over them, signalling what they should have known already: that it was over.

How easy it was, in the end, for their bubble to burst.

* * *

Three days turned into two. For their own sake, they should stop now with sleeping in the same bed and all that it entailed. Yet they did not stop: Seokjin got on with whatever work he could manage, while Namjoon edited his book, worked out, read books. Come Thursday morning they had perhaps stopped talking as much, both busying themselves.

Seokjin went for a drive along the coast that afternoon, alone, as Namjoon cited a work deadline. When he returned, Namjoon was reading in the armchair with glasses low on his nose, turning pages quietly. Namjoon had gotten the fire going, and he looked peaceful there. What if in another life they had never parted, and Seokjin would be working remotely while his husband of ten years – the unquestioned love of his life – was finalising his new novel? What if he could go over and hug Namjoon as tightly as he wanted to, with no bad blood between them?

Frivolous to want such things.

On his drive Seokjin had hoped that he’d forget about these views quickly – that would be for the best. Once back in Seoul he would bury himself in work, go back to sixty-hour weeks, too tired to feel the ember burning in his heart until time thankfully smothered it.

He pulled himself together. “You want steak for dinner? With pasta?” he offered.

Namjoon looked to him and nodded.

Perhaps it was the shadows from the fire, but Namjoon looked older. There were moments, sometimes, when you saw what a person would look like in their old age: the way wrinkles would overtake their face, the way grey hair would push through, and how youth ebbed but experience overtook it. A contentment: I have lived a life. I have lived.

Seokjin saw it on Namjoon in that moment – the past that Namjoon had lived without him and the future that Namjoon would live without him, too. The time they had spent together would remain secret and would, eventually, be lost to time itself.

Seokjin swallowed it down and started cooking, getting out some olive oil, garlic, salt, helping himself to wine. He should talk to Namjoon about this – or maybe Namjoon was waiting for him to get the hell out of there already? That morning, in bed, Namjoon had been fast asleep against him, head resting on Seokjin’s bare chest – and he’d carded through Namjoon’s hair slowly, so slowly, wishing no bad thing to ever come Namjoon’s way. Was he a bad thing?

Namjoon read the book as the flames crackled, and Seokjin said, “There were some dark clouds coming our way. Hopefully not another storm.”

Namjoon hummed but didn’t look up.

Seokjin chewed his bottom lip. “You okay? Namjoon-ah?”

Namjoon looked up from his book. “Yeah. Sorry, the book’s just at a good spot.”

“Oh, sure,” he said and focused on annihilating the garlic. He was struck with nostalgia and longing, and Namjoon wasn’t. Namjoon had been able to say “spread those legs for me like a good slut” the night before, but now had nothing to say. What else did Seokjin need to know?

He drank more of the pinot noir, relishing the sour flavour, and he soon had his hands rubbing the marinade into the meat rather aggressively. “Hey, could you bring me my laptop? There’s a recipe I want to check.” He nodded at the padded laptop sleeve on the coffee table, and Namjoon slowly put his book down and picked up the sleeve, bringing it over. “Get it out for me?” he asked, hands covered in olive oil.

Namjoon did, slipping the laptop out – papers coming out with it.

“Ah, I’ll need my fingerprint, hang on,” Seokjin said, heading to the sink to wash his hands. He dried them onto a kitchen towel that had London landmarks on it, while Namjoon had gone back to his armchair, now examining the papers that had slipped out. Seokjin got his laptop going before he realised what the papers were: their divorce papers, signed on the night he got there. Namjoon’s jaw was set tight as he read the first page, then flipped onto the next.

“Uh,” Seokjin said awkwardly. “You can just, uh. Put those back?”

Namjoon nodded but kept reading – what was there to read? Seokjin checked the recipe he’d been after, putting clingfilm over the bowl to leave the meat to marinate.

“This,” Namjoon said firmly, when Seokjin closed the fridge door. “I’ve been wondering about this.”

Namjoon placed the paperwork on the coffee table. Seokjin approached cautiously and sat down on the couch before peering at what Namjoon was pointing at: date of separation, fourth of August 2016.

“What of it? That’s, um, when you left for New York, right?”

“Exactly,” Namjoon said, his book now forgotten on the coffee table. “Why that date? That’s my question.”

For a few beats, Seokjin was stumped. It was the date of Namjoon leaving Korea altogether, never to return. That seemed like a fair date, didn’t it?

“So. Wait. Do you want to change the date?” he asked, confused.

“There are other dates. The sixth of July, when you moved out?”

When Namjoon had gone to Ilsan to stay with his parents, for them to cool off: and Seokjin had packed what little he had and left…

Something heavy settled in Seokjin’s stomach. Shit…

“Ah, all this…” he said, motioning at the paperwork. “What does it really matter? It could be any date, right?”

A day and a half more and the roads would open, and he had no desire to draft new divorce papers to appease Namjoon, and he didn’t want to think of what had happened seven years earlier either.

“It matters,” Namjoon said slowly, face darker in the glow of the fire, “because I don’t agree that we separated when I left for New York, and I don’t agree that you drafted divorce papers that state that.”

“But it’s just a fact,” he said objectively, his years of contract negotiations keeping him calm. “You wanted to go to New York – so you went to New York. That’s all it says.” And why should it be the date he moved out? Why not the date Namjoon had cheated on him, right before he enlisted? But he was gracious. “It really doesn’t matter,” he said firmly, suppressing the memories that hurt too much.

But Namjoon nodded – scoffed and nodded. “Well, if any date will do, then I guess you still think our marriage is a joke. Just like you always did.”

With that, Namjoon stood up.

Seokjin stared at him in complete surprise. “I never said that! Joon-ah, what on earth…?”

He blinked, trying to organise his thoughts. He had moments when he could immerse himself in this: in Namjoon and whatever was now between them, like stepping underneath a waterfall, but only seconds later he had to step out, drenched and shivering.

“I had to pick a date – yes, I could’ve picked another one, but you moving abroad came to me first. It could have been me enlisting or… or any of those other things, too.”

“Insult to injury,” Namjoon said – petty, immature. “Especially when I had asked you to come to New York with me so many times.”

Seokjin shook his head, exasperated. “And what would I have done in New York? Unemployed in a country where I didn’t speak the language, doing what?”

New York had been a pipedream then and was one in hindsight too.

“You’d have been with me,” Namjoon said with a hint of desperation that felt like whiplash – Seokjin hadn’t heard it in seven years. Namjoon kept his gaze on the logs in the fire. “I wanted you to come with me.”

“And I didn’t want to leave Seoul. I kept telling you that.”

“But it was only for a year,” Namjoon said, but hadn’t Namjoon’s one year turned into seven, just like Seokjin had always feared? And here they were, repeating a fight they’d had so many times that final summer, in their small studio that turned from a haven to a battlefield. “But what your dad thought mattered more than what I did, right?” Namjoon said bitterly, shaking his head. “So you gave up – you walked away. And, after all these years, I think our divorce papers should show that.”

With that, Namjoon walked to the liquor cabinet in the corner, helping himself to Kira’s extensive whisky collection. Seokjin was stunned. What the hell had he done to deserve this attack? Out of nowhere! After days and days and days!

Namjoon turned back to him with a dram in a whisky glass, the amber liquid moving. “You never thought our marriage was real. It was just some edgy thing you’d done on holiday as a fuck you to your dad – and that’s all.” With that, Namjoon took a sip.

Seokjin reeled. “What the fuck? That’s not true.” An ill sense of foreboding filled his chest. “How dare you say that?”

“Because it is true,” Namjoon shrugged, the words cutting deep into Seokjin. “I spent nearly three years trying to convince myself that it was real for you too – but it wasn’t, and you accepted a job with them, and you were never going to even tell them we were married.”

Seokjin knew this fight – he knew this fight well. He got up, stood his ground. “They wouldn’t have understood it. They were traditional people then, still are now, and they would have laughed—”

“So you let them think we wore couple rings, like some cutesy little—”

“But we knew what they were. That’s what mattered to me.”

“That’s bullshit. God, that’s such fucking bullshit. You don’t keep a husband secret! What the fuck made you think that was okay? And the– the fact that I went along with it? That I tolerated you treating me like that? God, just shows how stupidly in love with you I was, how I was so helplessly— You chewed me up and you spat me out, and I was so stupid and naïve that I let you. And fuck, I’ve been so angry at myself for it for years.” Namjoon swallowed tightly, squeezing the glass. “The entire time you were ashamed of me.”

Seokjin was relatively sure that his jaw dropped. “Ashamed? What are you talking about? I didn’t speak to my parents for a goddamn year because they weren’t treating you right! I wasn’t ashamed, I was protecting you – us, from them. They’d have been the ones saying it wasn’t real, that it wasn’t legally binding – I didn’t want that for us. And all our friends knew, your family knew – I was so proud to have a husband like you! I was never ashamed of you. How dare you say that!”

“You accepted the job at the firm. And you never told them.” Namjoon threw back some of the whisky, made a face showing it burned down his throat. Shook his head again. “How’s that protecting us?”

Seokjin felt exhausted: and this exhaustion was at least ten years old, one that had started with youthful defiance but then had just worn down over the years. “We were broke, Namjoon-ah… I was tired, I… I figured the job would help us out, even if…”

Namjoon eyed his drink. “But I told you that I’d sell my book. I told you, over and over again, that I’d support us, support you. We just had to hang on a little longer, just a little longer… But you stopped believing in me.”

Seokjin stepped back and took Namjoon in: the most beloved author in the country, just like he deserved. And beneath the brown hair, the muscle and the confidence was that klutz of a youth with endless talent and mint hair, vowing that he’d make it, even when that mantra had become a broken record for Seokjin – and now: you stopped believing in me.

He exhaled, with pain in his heart. “Yeah.” He pressed a hand to his temple to fight off the headache. “Yeah, I did.”

He admitted to it at last. At that, Namjoon nodded, suspicions and accusations confirmed, and he walked over to the sliding doors, looking out into the darkened night – hurt and upset.

“And you haven’t read my books, have you? And don’t lie this time,” Namjoon said, voice barely a whisper. “You’re not very good at it.”

Namjoon’s books… Fictional worlds and people, perhaps, with intricate plots for imaginary lives, and yet beneath those layers were the thoughts Namjoon was having, the topics that intrigued him, the conundrums he pondered over. Little bits of Namjoon’s soul on each page, and—

“No,” he admitted, watching the tension in Namjoon’s shoulders. “No, I haven’t read them. I’ve often thought of it, whenever I see one… but no. Why would I do that to myself? I was trying to move on.”

“So I finally made it and you still couldn’t be supportive.”

“That’s a fucking unfair take on it,” he objected, unsure how to even verbalise that for years just seeing Namjoon’s name had hurt.

Namjoon seemed lost in thought, back turned to him – but he was reflected in the glass, staring down at his feet and rubbing at his mouth. “Fuck, that makes me feel so stupid. I always… This part. You know? This interaction here, in this chapter. Seokjin will laugh at this part. And this line – Seokjin will love this line. I always thought like that… And you never even read them.”

He felt tarnished – shamed and humiliated – even as the thought of Namjoon hoping he’d read the books surprised him. Every book, to Seokjin, had been a further testament to Namjoon having moved on, living a glamorous literary life without him. Every new book was a ‘I’ve forgotten about you and I’ve forgotten about us’, and Seokjin had hurt.

Seokjin understood it, then: that there was nothing left to save and nothing the two of them could rebuild. It was too late – always had been. And yet they’d been unable to resist each other when thrown together, like fools.

Now Namjoon’s words were so full of mistrust and anger that all Seokjin could do was say, “Like you were so perfect yourself.”

Namjoon looked over his shoulder at him.

“What? You’re willing to shit all over me but not acknowledge that?”

Namjoon was already nodding like he agreed, which only infuriated Seokjin more. “If you want to get into it, then we can,” Namjoon said slowly, turning to face him with a pained expression. Like this was a courtesy Namjoon was granting! “I owe you a good apology for it, one I never gave you.” Namjoon paused, looked thoughtful. “I’m sorry that I hurt you.”

“Cheated on me,” Seokjin corrected swiftly. “Maybe if you admitted to it, I could accept the goddamn apology.”

Namjoon looked exasperated. “You’d moved out, Seokjin-ah. You were staying with Hoseok.”

“But that didn’t mean you could fuck all of Seoul,” he snarled: and this, too, was a fight previously fought.

“For the thousandth time, I didn’t fuck him!”

“Ah, of course! How could I forget: it was just a blowjob! I remember: technically not sex,” he spat furiously and looked around to address an invisible audience in the flicker of the fire, shouting like they had years ago. “Who knew? Oral just doesn’t count! It’s like shaking hands, apparently! What, were you testing his temperature with your dick?”

“Would you let me off the hook for one stupid thing I said seven years ago? Of course it was sex – fine, I admit it! At a party, and I was drunk, and it was fucking awful!” Namjoon scrubbed at his mouth. “I fucked up. I know that. Trust me, I know that. But you just used it as an excuse to walk away from all our shit.”

“Because you’d cheated.”

“How the fuck was it cheating? How? You weren’t even taking my calls! For fuck’s sake, you’d stopped wearing the wedding ring. God knows where you’d left it, you probably threw it into Han River. You didn’t give a shit anymore!”

At this, Seokjin stepped back – the words landing on him like a physical bow. “That’s not true,” he said, hand coming up to press the locket against his chest protectively. “That’s not… I never—”

“It is. It fucking is.” Namjoon scoffed, jaw clenched. “You know I wore mine for a whole six months after I landed in New York? Kept telling people my husband was serving in the army, so that’s why I was alone?”

Seokjin wanted him to stop talking now. Stop talking, stop all of it.

“One morning I woke up and… I didn’t know why I was wearing it anymore. And I cried. Fuck, I cried like a baby. It was the lowest I’ve ever been.” Namjoon shook his head. “But you threw yours away before I ever left for New York, before I went to a party and got so drunk that I… So those papers? Those papers you drafted? They’re a fucking lie, Seokjin, because it’s not all on me. Our break-up? Separation? It is not all on me.”

Namjoon drew in a breath, eyes flashing. “And I was honest about it, wasn’t I? When you finally called me, I told you what’d happened, and you said I’d fucked up our marriage and betrayed your trust, which was news to me because I thought you’d dumped me already. But no, you blamed me. All on me, when… when all I saw was you having given up on us already. When all I knew or, or thought I knew was that… you didn’t love me anymore.”

“That… That isn’t true,” he said quietly, the thought horrifying. He had loved Namjoon so much that it had eaten him up alive.

“No? Well, maybe it happened later. Either way, how could I have known? You’d stopped showing it.” Namjoon huffed, lips twisting into a humourless smile. “And then you enlisted, to– to punish me, I guess? Right? You wanted to punish me.”

To this, Seokjin had no comeback – and, at his silence, Namjoon seemed to deflate, shoulders dropping. “And then I left – then we stopped talking.”

Namjoon slowly returned to the armchair and sat down, as if weighed down by the memories. And though these were fights they’d fought before, they lacked spirit – the punch, the furious shouting until their throats were hoarse, the slamming of the doors, the tears, the hysterics, the passionate kisses. They were beyond that now: too old, too self-aware, too tired.

“It took me years to see it,” Namjoon said quietly, glancing at him. “But eventually I did: that you wanted me to do something like that, like what I did at the party. To give you an out, you know?” Namjoon shook his head slowly, hand squeezing the glass. Voice quiet. “And sometimes I think that’s why I did it, too – to put us both out of our misery.”

The words sunk into the core of Seokjin, sharp and so painful that it nearly numbed him.

Startled, he sat back down on the couch. “I…” he began, fighting to find his voice. “…I think you’re right.” He admitted it to them both for the first time, in that moment. “You’re right. I… I needed a way out.” He blinked, the horror of the admission permeating. “An excuse to end it for good.”

“And?” Namjoon asked, in a tone void of hope. “Did it work? Did I put us out of our misery?”

At this, he broke into a small smile and shook his head. “No, Namjoon-ah. No, it didn’t work.”

They looked at each other quietly: and nothing was left.

Chapter Text

V

When Namjoon said he’d sleep on the couch that night, Seokjin did not protest: neither of them wanted proximity any longer. It was over, then, that irresponsible tumble of bliss that they’d indulged in. They both went to bed without a goodnight.

When Seokjin jolted awake, a soft patter of rain sounded against the cabin roof. He blinked in the dark, orientating himself in the early hours of the day. Returning to him unbidden, their blow-out re-played itself in his mind: mistakes that neither of them could change, endless litanies of ‘but you did this, no you did that, but you did it first, no I did it first…’

They had made the right decision back then to walk away from those fights.

He lay in Namjoon’s bed, alone. It was cold without Namjoon’s warmth, and even the large sweatshirt he’d pulled on couldn’t replace the embrace he’d already gotten used to.

The cruellest part of it was that they could never redo it: go back, be better. Sketch out another life for themselves. That seemed unfair when he knew so much more now – yet life was unrelenting, only moving forwards. You only got one shot at life – how could that be reasonable? How could it be acceptable that you couldn’t go back after learning from mistakes? ‘I was only rehearsing’, he’d say, ‘I’ll do it better this time. I was only practising how to love you, Namjoon-ah – let me get it right this time.’

And what if he hadn’t moved out of their studio back then? What if he’d said ‘okay – it scares me to death, but okay, take me to New York with you’? Or what if he’d shown up at that party before Namjoon had left for New York, finding his husband drunk and sad with a leering dickhead nearby just waiting to pounce, and Seokjin would have stepped in between them, pulled Namjoon into his arms with, ‘Babe, you’ve had enough. That’s it, come on now – let’s go home’? And Namjoon would have fallen into his embrace, where he still had belonged? Those were such simple solutions now.

And yet, like a puff of smoke, all those other versions of life evaporated, and this was what was left: them in separate rooms, unable to forgive.

He reached for his phone – a little after five in the morning – and he lay back down, pulling the covers more tightly around his shoulders.

But as he was about to drift off again, a flash of lightning crossed his vision, thunder echoing. He blinked in the dark – the shapes of the wooden ceiling beams created distorted shadows above him. A rumble brewed outside. Another storm?

Heavier rain began to drum against the roof. Would there be another rockslide, perhaps? And why did he almost wish for one?

More thunder – and he got up, certainty pulsing in him.

Light from the living room shone from under the bedroom door.

He hesitated, even as his bare feet carefully crossed the heated-up floor. His bare legs were cold as he stepped into the living room, the grey sweatshirt covering him to upper thigh. The embers of the fire had faded, but a lamp was on. Namjoon’s duvet was on the couch – but no Namjoon was in the room. “Namjoon-ah?” he called out, even as he headed to the study.

As he’d anticipated, Namjoon was behind the large writing desk in the glow of his laptop and the ceiling lights. Namjoon was in his pyjamas, with messy bed hair and black-rimmed glasses. Seokjin paused in the doorway, momentarily self-conscious of his half-dressed state, although Namjoon had seen much more as of late. Namjoon’s gaze travelled down his legs, then up again, and Namjoon adjusted his glasses nervously – boyish in the early morning hours.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Seokjin offered cautiously.

“Yeah,” Namjoon said, with a quick glance towards the window.

See, Seoul got some spectacular thunderstorms – Seokjin had always liked them, and even as a kid he’d pressed his face against the window and whooped at each loud crash and bang. He had stopped liking them, however, when he’d curled around Namjoon and talked to him about whatever silly thing he could think of, with Namjoon nervously picking on the corner of the duvet, apologising that it was silly and irrational, yet letting out mild sounds of distress whenever thunder roared, and Seokjin said that of course it wasn’t silly.

Did anyone grow out of that?

“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep either,” Seokjin said, and it wasn’t a lie as such. He motioned over his shoulder. “Um, you want a cup of chamomile tea or something? Or, if we’re done tearing into each other, we could watch a movie?”

It was a bad joke and he accompanied it with a sheepish smile – the offer was sincere, however.

Namjoon looked at his laptop, then to him again – and straightened up in his chair, just as a flash of lightning came, unfiltered and bright even through the curtains. Namjoon tensed up, jaw clenching. Seokjin stepped forward with, “Let’s watch a movie then, come on.”

Seokjin picked up the extra chair from behind the door as Namjoon muttered something like, “Well, I mean, if you’re not tired…”

Namjoon made some space for his chair, and Seokjin took a seat before pulling the laptop closer. “Do you think the dongle will let us stream something?” he asked. The laptop had a pdf open with sections of text highlighted – and Seokjin was about to click away, before seeing something about a knight and a unicorn. He stalled out of pure confusion.

Next to him, Namjoon said, “Ah, it’s a… Um. It’s a submission from a short story competition. School kids have submitted their stories.”

“What?” he asked, taking in Namjoon’s embarrassed expression – Kim Namjoon, who was so snobbish about literature, reading fairy tales?

“Yeah, I’m one of the judges,” Namjoon said quietly – like reading the stories at five AM was normal.

“That’s… kind of sweet,” he admitted.

Namjoon said nothing but gave him a wary smile. They had gone for each other’s throats earlier, yelling over past hurts – but what a defeated fight it’d been. It occurred to Seokjin, then, that it was a fight they had outgrown, despite their attempts to push in a final word.

“I quite like this one,” Namjoon said of the story on the screen. “Perhaps an overuse of pathetic fallacy but, well, she is”—Namjoon motioned to the file name—“eleven.”

Seokjin chuckled, clicking onto one of the other opened pdfs. It was a list of the judges, and Seokjin was surprised by how prestigious the competition actually was. Namjoon was the youngest judge on the panel, too, and his bio came with a handsome monochrome headshot of Namjoon in a crisply ironed shirt, the text underneath listing all of his publications – fiction and non-fiction – and his numerous literary awards.

“You look so professional,” Seokjin admired, turning to look at Namjoon sitting next to him in blue pyjamas and fluffed up hair.

“Aish, it’s nothing…” Namjoon muttered, like all of his books and achievements were nothing.

“It’s not nothing,” he interjected, as rain drummed the window and thunder sounded. “I’ve always been really… I am really proud of you. I– For years, I’ve… even if I never read them. …I’m sorry I never read them. It was too… painful.” His voice dropped on the last word.

Namjoon exhaled, nodding. “Well… I’m sorry I’m such a typical narcissistic artist that I assumed you would.”

“Luckily for you, I was gonna let you slide on that one.”

They exchanged soft smiles, and he fought back the urge to caress Namjoon’s face and bring him into a kiss.

He turned to the laptop. “I read some of the reviews, though. Sometimes.”

“Oh, please never read the reviews,” Namjoon said to him pointedly. “That’s rule one.”

“Of course,” he agreed, smiling. “I should’ve remembered that. Well, should we narrow these short stories down to the winners?” He gestured at the laptop, shrugging. “What else is there to do at this time of night, right?”

Apart from heart-to-hearts and confessionals, and Seokjin didn’t trust himself with either of those.

Thunder sounded again, making Namjoon’s tentative smile vanish, and Seokjin cursed the skies silently.

“And besides,” he continued quickly, “I think you need to hear these stories being read aloud, and I am excellent at this kind of stuff. What, you don’t think so? You know my hyung has two kids, right? My nephews can’t get enough of me – so I’ve done my share of bedtime reading, trust me. And you can do some of the characters, too… Ah, in this one I’ll be the lion if you do the lines for the coconut? This’ll show us the winners, you’ll see.”

Namjoon scooted closer – brown-haired and bare-faced, thick glasses on his nose, dimples deep. “Okay, I trust you.”

Seokjin swallowed down all the longing.

They spent the next while critiquing the stories together, reading them aloud, and arguing about what kind of a roar a unicorn would have. Namjoon showed him a few more stories about ponies that barfed sweeties and dragons that had misplaced their homework.

“Well, it’s pretty important,” Seokjin said, “to make sure you have your homework.”

The storm kept going, but colour returned to Namjoon’s face, a warm glimmer in his eyes as his shoulders relaxed fully. Seokjin was shoving Namjoon playfully at the end of it, unable to take his eyes off him.

A studio in Doksan-dong, a cabin on the West Coast – yet not all things changed.

“I guess we have a winner,” Namjoon conceded at last, clicking down the various files and folders. Outside it was still dark, but the thunderstorm had passed.

“I guess we do,” Seokjin said – and Namjoon’s hand came to rest on his thigh in the darkened study.

Namjoon was examining him, and Seokjin was unnerved by the scrutiny. With a sigh, Namjoon said, “God, you make me nostalgic.”

Seokjin stilled, and Namjoon reached out to cup the side of his face, turning him until they faced each other. Seokjin let him, meeting his gaze.

“You make me think how I was happier, you know? A young idiot, but happy, and then we… vanished from each other’s lives.” Namjoon’s hand dropped.

“For obvious reasons,” he said, nodding towards the living room where they’d argued the night away.

“Yeah, but… I don’t know if I ever recovered from it, really.” Namjoon shook his head. “We should’ve been better. Back then. Although I always thought that… we’d still be friends, if something ever happened to us. Did you ever think that? Because we were so close, you know? But we weren’t. We weren’t friends at the end of it.”

“It’s hard most of the time, being friends after it all. Too much disappointment.”

But Namjoon was right, too: they hadn’t just been a couple, but best friends too. Why hadn’t they been able to salvage that from the wreck of their remains? And he’d had time to think of Namjoon’s words – accusations – that Seokjin had given up on them. Perhaps he had, but… he hadn’t stopped loving Namjoon back then. That was what’d made it so hard: how do you end it when you still love so much but can’t see a way to keep going?

He didn’t know how to tell Namjoon any of that – and what did it matter anymore, after all this time?

“You know,” Namjoon said, “when you got here, I didn’t know what to do. It was you like I remembered you, but also just some stranger who looked like my husband had once done, but now I… You feel like him. You know?”

“A mix of old and new. Yeah. Yeah, I get that too.” He paused, idly taking Namjoon’s hand in his own: large, warm. “Hey, you remember how we used to, like… just make out all the time? For hours? Nothing else. Just that.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon said and frowned. “God, what the hell was wrong with us?”

They shared a laugh, shaking their heads in the dark.

But after a beat, Namjoon said, “This is kinda sad, too.” Namjoon squeezed his hand. “This. Sitting here with you, chuckling about how we used to be. Wouldn’t the… the people we were… Wouldn’t those kids have been upset knowing we’d end up here, counting their failures? Calling them naïve – for all the petty fights, jealous arguments, and all that insecure shit?”

Seokjin remembered all of it, although some of it had been blurred out by time: why were you being so nice to that guy, he clearly just wanted to fuck you, blah blah… They’d both done it: they want you to write an article for how much? Please, the editor just wants to sleep with you! Your professor said you were excelling in class, Jinnie? Well he just wants to fuck you, and there must be a reason he thinks that’s on the table! Pointless drama about nothing – and never anything that needy post-argument fucking hadn’t been able to fix. Seokjin scoffed thinking about it now: what the hell had that all been for? So immature. So insecure too, as Namjoon said, even with rings on their fingers.

It was sad to think so harshly of their younger selves now – but something about it felt masochistic in a way Seokjin couldn’t quite help. “Are you upset by it?” he asked quietly.

“Not upset,” Namjoon said, exhaling. “We were so… idealistic back then that, really, maybe it was doomed from the get-go, but… there’s something sad about this, too. The reality. Isn’t there?” Namjoon looked to him with searching eyes, and Seokjin found himself unable to lie. It was sad – and if he thought of it for too long he just might cry.

But maybe sometimes you felt so much for someone that you didn’t know how to channel it – Seokjin hadn’t known that at twenty-three, what to do with the sheer amount of love and need and adoration he’d felt for Namjoon. That connection they had was like bubbling devotion that had made them co-dependent, but it had also been ugly and painful when either of them felt threatened – and selfish, too.

“A lot of it was immature,” Seokjin said with a shake of his head. “But we were so…”

“Besotted?” Namjoon suggested, and he smiled. Sure, besotted. It was a good way to put it.

Seokjin didn’t let go of Namjoon’s hand but held it between his own. “But I’m still like him?”

“Yeah. Often.”

“You too,” he said quietly, brushing his thumb over Namjoon’s knuckles. “But I guess that’s not a good thing. That we’re still too much like them.”

Their fight had shown that painfully clearly.

“I know, but… we had a lot of good, too, despite all the fuck-ups. We had a hell of a lot of good.”

“Yeah. And we loved each other a lot,” he said, wondering how much that ultimately excused. All of it or none of it?

“Yeah. Yeah, we really did,” Namjoon agreed and, surrendering, Seokjin gently tugged Namjoon into a kiss. It was tender and longing, and Seokjin held it without rushing it, trying to put the ache inside him into it. He gently pulled off Namjoon’s glasses – smudgy, in need of a clean – and pulled Namjoon into a deeper kiss, one that grew more passionate. And, as ever, Namjoon welcomed him.

“Come back to bed?” Seokjin offered, hand cupping the back of Namjoon’s neck.

“Yeah, okay,” Namjoon said, hand sliding up Seokjin’s bare thigh.

Once in bed, they began to undress with patience they hadn’t exhibited so far, but nothing made more sense than the two of them in the early hours of the morning, getting lost in each other, imperfectly perfect. Namjoon sat with his back against the headboard as Seokjin sat in his lap – hands gripping Namjoon’s shoulders, lube and latex between them as Seokjin lowered himself onto Namjoon’s cock.

This time they didn’t talk much – they hardly spoke a word, but swallowed down moans, hands pressing into heated skin, kissing through it. Namjoon’s arms circled his waist, pulled him closer, and the sheer girth of Namjoon made Seokjin raw and needy. He aligned himself to get pressure against his prostate, and he shivered, hands clutching Namjoon’s hair, breathing him in. Namjoon smelled so good, kissed him so good…

“Feels so good,” he managed, and Namjoon took over when he got too overwhelmed, fucking up into him, and he encouraged it with small “yeah, right there”s.

“Jinnie,” Namjoon said, and Seokjin met his eyes – deep, trusting, his. He moved to meet Namjoon’s thrusts, hands cupping Namjoon’s face, breath choked…

“Are you still mine?” he asked, pressing his lips to Namjoon’s – and received a nod. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon breathed, and Seokjin deepened the kiss, moaning as Namjoon’s hand tightened around his length. Seokjin went faster, kept pleasuring himself on Namjoon’s length until it got too much, and, even when it did, he kept going, helpless and overpowered until he climaxed, thighs trembling. He gasped for air as come rolled down his shaft in thick rivulets and onto Namjoon’s hand. He shivered in Namjoon’s lap, spent.

Namjoon cupped the back of his neck and pulled him into a kiss with, “That’s it, just like that… just a bit more, baby…” Namjoon kept stroking him, and Seokjin groaned in the aftershocks, spilling more between them. “There you go…”

Their tongues brushed together – Namjoon still in him, hard as anything. Seokjin sat up, lifting off – and Namjoon slipped out of him, the hard length prodding against his buttocks. Seokjin tugged the condom off, his hand sliding down the warm length of Namjoon’s cock. Namjoon canted his hips up, biting on Seokjin’s bottom lip – letting out a needy moan.

“Let me take care of you,” Seokjin whispered, pressing a wet, open kiss to Namjoon’s mouth – he moved down the bed, pulling Namjoon with him. Namjoon lay down, resting on his elbows – eyes darkening as Seokjin slowly kissed down his chest and stomach. “Lie down,” he instructed, “just relax, I’ve got you…”

Namjoon obeyed, and Seokjin was rewarded with a deep moan as he took Namjoon into his mouth. Namjoon tasted good – the crown bitter with pre-come, the scent of him familiar. Namjoon jerked as Seokjin sucked, one hand pressing quickly to Seokjin’s hair. Seokjin had perfected giving head on this specific cock, really – his efforts prior to Namjoon having been modest at best, but together they’d had the time and the enthusiasm to master this, and it’d gone, ironically, to Seokjin’s head: having Namjoon a writhing mess from his mouth alone, making Namjoon beg, letting Namjoon fuck his throat…

“Oh fuck,” Namjoon said above him, and Seokjin worked his mouth expertly, the heavy weight of Namjoon on his tongue firing him up. Seokjin stroked Namjoon’s stomach with his free hand, petting him almost: good, stay still, baby…

Namjoon’s cock slipped out with a wet pop, and he mouthed down the shaft with swollen lips, tongue flicking, tracing the veins. Namjoon was staring down at him, chest heaving, one hand still in Seokjin’s hair. He tugged gently on Namjoon’s balls before catching the cockhead in his mouth again, rubbing his lips to the soft flesh and tonguing the slit with a moan. Namjoon swore, hand in his hair tightening – and Seokjin added pressure, slow licks of the flat of his tongue against the crown, being rewarded with more pre-cum coating his tongue. Fuck, he still loved doing this to Namjoon…

“Want you to come,” he said, taking Namjoon deeper again, with Namjoon’s hips bucking. He closed his eyes, hand wrapping around the base firmly, hollowing his cheeks as Namjoon’s cock pushed against the back of his throat. Namjoon’s hand kept tugging on his hair – caressing, urging, at times merely holding on.

“That feels so good,” Namjoon sighed and pushed Seokjin further onto his cock – and Seokjin took him down deep, loving that Namjoon was far gone enough to be more needy than polite. He closed his eyes – swallowed Namjoon down his throat. Namjoon let out a completely filthy litany of curses, but Seokjin kept up a rhythm, knowing how close Namjoon was. Namjoon’s hips shifted, stuttered, and Seokjin blindly grabbed Namjoon’s other hand, bringing it to the back of his head.

“Shit…” Namjoon breathed as Seokjin slowed down in anticipation – and Namjoon began to fuck his throat, slowly and carefully at first. Seokjin welcomed it, an excited contentment in him, keeping himself and his throat relaxed: mind over matter as he breathed through it. He’d always loved Namjoon using him like this – working Namjoon up to the point that Namjoon had no choice but to fuck his mouth, to find release. “I’m gonna come,” Namjoon warned him as his thrusts quickened, hands twisting in his hair so hard that his scalp hurt. “Ah, fuck, I’m gonna come, you gotta —”

Seokjin pulled back enough to get his hand around the base, Namjoon easing up his thrusts, and Seokjin bobbed up and down fast, sucking, tongue adding pressure, fist meeting his lips – and warm liquid filled his mouth, Namjoon coming apart under his touch. He swallowed it down, slipped his mouth further down the shaft – swallowed again. “Oh my god,” Namjoon panted. “Baby, oh my god…”

Despite his efforts, cum rolled down to his fist as he pulled back, with him still sucking on the cockhead, taking his time to make sure Namjoon was done. Namjoon pulsated in his grip, his cock beautiful shades of dark red and pink, with streaks of milky white on the skin, and Seokjin traced the length of him with his lips.

Namjoon’s hand – unsteady, shaking – pushed hair away from Seokjin’s eyes. “Fuck… I forgot that you are so…”

“Yeah,” he said, his swollen lips enclosing around the head once more before he pulled back and wiped at his mouth – jaw aching and throat sore, but content.

Namjoon hauled him back up, sealing their mouths into a deep kiss. As Seokjin’s fingers carded through Namjoon’s hair, Namjoon broke the kiss, lips brushing his jaw, then throat and collar bones, peppering kisses. Namjoon kissed down his left arm – and Seokjin’s heart skipped a whole sequence of beats as Namjoon pressed a gentle, slow kiss over the scar he had there, like soothing away an old hurt.

“Hey,” Seokjin said, guiding Namjoon’s mouth back to his own. “Hey, come here…”

Namjoon obeyed instantly – so soft, so willing. This would have been a nice thing to hold onto – this embrace, this warmth, this closeness. Seokjin should have fought harder for them – he knew that now, after having played his cards and life having taken him away from all those other possibilities for them.

He knew it years too late: the beauty of hindsight.

* * *

The road out of Haast re-opened on a morning that was bright and cold. Seokjin stepped out onto the deck, his breath in the air, and not a cloud was in the pale sky. The coffee mug steamed in his hand, and the deck creaked under him, his feet in Namjoon’s slippers as he sat down at the top of the stairs. The windows of his SUV were covered in frost, but that would melt soon enough once he got going. He wrapped the large, knitted cardigan around himself tighter, earth tones of brown and red – another one of Namjoon’s – and he eyed the mountains in the distance, white peaks aglow with the rising winter sun as birdsong rang in the distance.

He was halfway done with his coffee when the door opened behind him, and he smiled wistfully into the mug. Quietly, Namjoon sat down next to him on the top step, likewise with a coffee mug in his hand, feet in clunky boots. Seokjin had made enough coffee for two, just like he’d used to. Namjoon had thrown a long navy robe over his pyjamas, hair still sticking out from sleep. They’d shared the bed again, and more.

Namjoon looked at the mountains. “They’ll have cleared the road, then.”

Seokjin eyed his coffee. “Yes.”

He found it all too difficult to say: what his time there had meant and what it hadn’t. Getting into the car without any grandiose goodbye seemed like the best thing to do now.

Namjoon’s mouth was pursed, expression thoughtful. “Could we have grown together?” he asked and looked at Seokjin, who steadied himself. Namjoon’s eyes were earnest – sad. “That’s what I wonder about all the time. If you and I could have grown together.”

Seokjin shook his head. “What’s the point of asking that? Five, six years. Seven. We can’t take those back.”

Namjoon squinted at him in the morning light, boyish, dimples deep. “I still like you, though.”

Seokjin smiled, hit Namjoon’s knee with his own. “Yeah. Yeah, I like you too.” He breathed in the clean air and thought how wonderful it was to have Namjoon sit by him, even for a while. Then stilled, mournful. “Maybe that answers the question.” He hit back the pain. “If we could have grown together.”

Or was that just a lie they were both buying into?

Namjoon sipped his coffee, then held it between his large hands, gazing at it. “We both regret it.” Namjoon looked to him. “The break-up.”

“We don’t have to do this,” he said quickly, straightening his back and shaking his head.

Namjoon stilled – the morning heavier around them, the colour of the sky duller and the birdsong less joyous.

“If we sit here and… and conclude that we… that we threw away the. The best thing… The best thing we ever– I can’t. I can’t.” He shook his head. Felt like he could barely breathe. “It will break my heart.” He sucked in a breath, swallowing it down. “It can’t be undone, Namjoon-ah. And now? There’s too much regret and resentment. You saw that. I saw that. No, what we need is… What we– what we both deserve is someone new. A clean slate.”

Namjoon studied him carefully. “Because new is better?”

“Not better, but… healthier. Compared to whatever this is.”

“Healthier,” Namjoon repeated, sounding the word out.

“Yeah – a healthy relationship,” he said and laughed. “What the fuck even is that, I don’t know. People talk about them sometimes, you know? Healthy relationships. I never know what the hell they mean.”

“A relationship that does more good than harm, perhaps?” Namjoon suggested, and he nodded – yeah, maybe. “A clean slate,” Namjoon repeated slowly, as Seokjin suppressed a shiver in the morning chill. “But, you know, I sometimes think that knowing someone is the most valuable currency that humans can have. Because it’s hard work, getting to know anyone. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve changed places every few years, but I appreciate the people I’ve known longest the older I get. There’s no replacing ten years, fifteen, twenty years of friendship. Of someone accepting you for who you are even at the end of that.”

Namjoon shrugged. “Whereas now, I meet people and– and the investment to get to know them seems exhausting. And it’s not just me either, they feel the same. ‘Why invest in him when he’s only passing through?’ I guess that’s why so many couples stay together even once the magic’s gone: because that quiet comfort, even if unsatisfactory, is outweighed by the sheer emotional effort and risk that someone new would demand.” Namjoon paused, taking in the seemingly endless mountain view. “The older we get, the harder it gets to know people.”

He nodded, agreeing. “We build more walls as we age.”

“Yeah, we really do,” Namjoon said and put his coffee down on the step beside them before exhaling decisively. “So I’m thirty-one.”

He huffed, admiring the way the sun now caught Namjoon’s hair. “Congrats.”

“You’re thirty-three. And I know you. I know you, and you know me, and– and I didn’t even understand the value of that until you came here. God, I love that we still know each other, even if we have changed, too, and even if right now I have no idea what you’re thinking.” Namjoon gave him a careful smile that filled Seokjin with yearning, even before Namjoon’s hand came to gently rest on his knee. “But when I… when I woke up this morning? Saw the sunshine out the window and smelled the fresh coffee? I knew you were out here. I knew, in the same way you used to cram yourself onto our tiny balcony in the mornings. I woke up this morning, and I still knew you, Kim Seokjin. And I love that too.”

“So you’re lazy. You don’t want to put in the work with someone new.”

“Of course I could,” Namjoon said sternly. “Eight billion people? Come on, there’s millions who would do me more good than harm. So what? There’s always more people, always more potential new loves for you, for me – new and shiny. This healthy clean slate that some people dream of – so what? Am I expected to keep chasing some naïve idea of perfection because we can’t stand the truth that real relationships are messy? Which doesn’t even invalidate them – it just makes them human? There’s nothing wrong with messy if you’re working to make it right. And maturing is appreciating what you already have, too: it’s experience and perspective.”

Seokjin looked at the woods, smiling to himself. “The world doesn’t want perspective. It wants unblemished first loves and endless first summers.”

Namjoon paused, hand slipping from his knee. “Is that what you want?”

He shook his head – no. Give him experience over innocence. There was no going back once one won over the other.

“That type of love? The head-over-heels, can’t-breathe-without-you kind? I’m never going to have that again,” he said quietly. “I think about that sometimes: that I won’t ever fall in love again – not like I did with you. There are walls we build that we just won’t take down for people later in life. We’ve become too cynical.” He paused. “Did you know ‘cynic’ comes from the Greek word for dog?”

“What?” Namjoon frowned, amused.

Seokjin nodded, thoughtful. “And there was a naked man in a barrel? Aish, I have to look it up – it was one of Youngmoo’s anecdotes. Anyway… the things we collect along the way.” But he didn’t mind, then, all the random stories that they had from lives lived without each other, from people Namjoon had loved after him or vice versa. Because they could still talk for hours, the two of them: about those random stories, or shared ones. It didn’t seem to matter when they were alone like this.

They observed the sway of the trees together: some of them evergreen, others leafless for winter. Seokjin was cold – they both were – but he didn’t move.

Seokjin said, “You know, I often think of that version of our lives where we made it. Do you know that one?”

“I know it well.”

“Yeah. Me too. But… there’s so much I’ve done with my life that I wouldn’t want to take back, so…” His chest hurt. He gritted his teeth. “So I can’t regret the past seven years. I don’t regret them. And while I… I regret plenty of things about our break-up, I can’t regret the end result because it’s taught me who I am.”

He sucked in a breath. “But, with that being said… I miss you.” It thrummed in him, more strongly than ever. He dared a look at Namjoon, so familiar and soft-looking in the morning. “There are days when I miss you so goddamn much. It’s a Tuesday morning in my office and suddenly I miss you. It’s a work dinner on a Friday night and I miss you. It’s a weakness, or nostalgia, I think of it as a…”

He steadied himself. “I have this painting in my office, showing some California coastline – I bought it because it reminds me of our time there. I see it every day. When I let myself think about it, I just miss you. And maybe that’s because… I never really replaced you. I’ve tried but… those walls, you know? And inside them, I miss you.”

Namjoon gave him a small nod. “Yeah. I miss you too.”

Seokjin nodded, blinked the tears in his eyes away. He cleared his throat, wiped at his face – toughened up. “Or I miss my idea of you. Of course it’s not who you are anymore.”

“That’s funny,” Namjoon said without it sounding funny at all. “I know myself exactly, when I get to be with you.”

Namjoon reached for his hand, brushed a thumb over his knuckles. “Tell you what, Kim Seokjin, who knows me, and who I also know, and who at the end of this all has still done me more good than harm – if you’re still single at forty, marry me again. Fuck it, you know? Let’s conclude there’s nothing better out there for either of us and let’s have a wake to mourn that truth and then get married again. Let’s just do it.”

“So romantic,” he said, with his heart in his throat, and Namjoon laughed, dimples deepening. Seokjin shook his head. “God, what an offer. I’d be insane to resist.” He looked down at the slippers he was wearing. Namjoon meant it. He really meant it – what a loveable fool. “And what happens when I turn forty and you’re thirty-eight and married to a handsome New Zealander? Probably have adopted two kids with him too?”

“Ah, that’s nothing,” Namjoon waved it off. “I’ll just walk out on them – classic absent father move. Come find you – elope again, just like we once did.”

“Vegas again?” he asked, blinking too quickly.

“Yeah,” Namjoon said – smile faltering. “Or wherever you want.”

Seokjin lowered his head, took in an unsteady breath. “It doesn’t work that way, Joon-ah. Real life.”

The sun had fully come up from behind the mountains, and Namjoon was silent: perhaps he too knew that any promise of a future shared was just a plaster so that parting ways now, for good, wouldn’t hurt as bad.

Namjoon didn’t have to say it – and he didn’t, thankfully. He just said: “But you know. Don’t you?”

Seokjin nodded, holding his hand. “That’s why we stay away, right?” he asked, slotting Namjoon’s fingers in his. “Because of that thing.”

“Does it have a name?”

“Don’t be cheeky,” he reprimanded – of course it had a name.

Namjoon exhaled. “And now you’ll go?”

“Yeah. Now I’ll go.”

It was a long drive to Christchurch if he wanted to manage it in a day. He let go of Namjoon’s hand and stood up, picking up his empty mug. Namjoon stayed on the step and was still out there ten minutes later when Seokjin re-emerged dressed for the road, with his suitcase and laptop bag.

Namjoon stood up to greet him, with a lost look in his eyes – and how funny was this? That, for all their history, they had never said goodbye before.

Seokjin squeezed the handle of the suitcase firmly. The wind blew gently, stirring the brown strands of Namjoon’s hair – his roots were growing out, darkening the parting. Namjoon at thirty-one – he was glad to have seen it. He was glad to have been here.

“I have something to give you,” he said – surprising himself because he had not intended to give it, and yet perhaps he had? He unbuttoned the first two buttons of his coat as Namjoon frowned at him. He pulled off the locket he had worn since his grandmother had passed – Namjoon had never met her, but Seokjin was sure that they’d have liked each other.

He handed Namjoon the round golden locket, placing it on Namjoon’s palm. “I want you to have it,” he said, pushing Namjoon’s hand closed around it.

“But–”

“Keep it. Please. Think of it as a divorce present, perhaps,” he joked before he pulled Namjoon into a tight hug. Against his shoulder he added, “And be happy. Okay? I really need you to be outrageously, obnoxiously happy. Fall in love – adopt those kids. Do all of it, okay?”

Namjoon squeezed the back of his coat, burrowing into him fervently. “Seokjin-ah…”

He held Namjoon for longer than was wise, but he pulled back, wiping at his cheeks. “But if you’re ever in Seoul,” he began, exhaling. His throat was closing up, words difficult. “And want to talk, like old acquaintances.” Not even friends. “Then lots of good new cafes.” He was nodding too much. “There’s a place in Insa-dong with a peach mocha you might like.”

“When you’re forty?” Namjoon asked, eyes glistening – still reminiscent of a twenty-one-year-old Namjoon with California-kissed skin, stumbling sleepily out of the bedroom of a small bungalow apartment in Atwater Village, in nothing but loose grey boxers, and now standing in front of him an entire decade later, having lived up to all that potential. Namjoon looked a lot wiser, even with the broken look on his face.

“Yeah, when I’m forty. And you’re married with two kids, don’t forget.” He gave Namjoon a smile that he hoped conveyed all the things that were too difficult to say. “Be happy, Joonie. Do it for me.”

And the world ended and began in the single second that it took for him to walk past Namjoon: another small moment that offered a hundred other versions of life – ones that were kinder, warmer, more hopeful, or more forgiving.

But in this version – the only sketch or rehearsal for life that Seokjin would ever get – he carried his suitcase down the stairs, unlocked the car and slid his suitcase in the back. Namjoon stood at the top of the steps, gazing down at him, locket on his palm. Seokjin felt lighter without it – and that was good. That was surely good.

Namjoon shivered and turned away – wiped at his face, wiped at the tears, and Seokjin allowed himself a moment to take him in: the sleep-ruffled hair, the flush on his neck and cheeks. The mole under Namjoon’s lower lip that he couldn’t see but that he had kissed before this final day had dawned.

He loved Namjoon more than anyone he would encounter in this life. Of that he was finally certain. And if only he had known how to be better, before it was too late. If only he–

The radio turned on with the engine. The muddy ground had dried, so backing out of the driveway was easy, with him turning the car around. He didn’t look in the rear-view mirror nor did he look into his thoughts, because he would have found Namjoon in both, and that was too much for now. Maybe it had always been too much.

Haast was quiet in the frosty morning: the streets empty, the lights in many of the houses still off. The slip had been cleared, and Highway 6 was open again, leading him up to the mountain pass.

It was a beautiful country, he thought. It was a beautiful country to exchange overdue goodbyes in.

* * *

The eight-lane road outside the magistrate’s office was packed with cars in the rush hour, with honking and yelling carrying through the air. Amidst the noise and the rush of people heading into work, Seokjin stared numbly at the billboard that advertised a large family car with a slogan New start! New journey!

Someone bumped into him without so much as an apology as he stood in the queue at a taxi rank. He’d become dutiful with record-keeping over the years: completing administrative tasks on time, filing his taxes correctly, signing off his annual performance reviews – and submitting any other paperwork that came his way.

And so he had just filed another set of paperwork.

He blinked – and saw coin slot machines, casino lights, a dimpled smile and mint hair.

It ended here ten years later.

He numbly got into a taxi, giving the address of the office – dressed in one of his better suits, having worked thirty-two hours that week already. He wasn’t complaining, of course, because with work occupying the hours, he didn’t have to reflect on it: the absence.

But the radio played one of Namjoon’s favourite songs: Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Seokjin smiled in the backseat: the paperwork had been signed, sealed, and now delivered. I’m yours – but not this one. Not in this version.

“Thank you,” he said to the driver, getting out outside the office – running into one of the other department heads on the way in, talking business already. Bury yourself in this – forget him already. You did it once already, how hard can it be?

And if it felt too raw, then it was; if it felt too hard, then it was.

Seokjin only needed time: blessed time to snow over the memories, bury them, with the snow gradually layering up and turning into ice. And then, whether that took two years or ten, Namjoon would be merely a memory once more.

Thirty-two days later he received an electronic confirmation email that Kim Seokjin and Kim Namjoon had divorced. A paper copy would be sent to him in due course.

He stared at the email, some part of him unable to process the information. He blinked again: casino lights, warm hands, dimples, coin slot machines, and the chapel doors closing for the last time.

His desk phone rang, and he picked it up automatically with, “Ah, do you have the figures I asked for?” He clicked the email away, with his heart breaking inside his chest.

Hours later Seokjin was still in his office, with his email inbox and some Excel sheets open, flicking between tabs and programs, unsure what he was looking for. The painting of a California seaside cliff by his office door swayed and turned, as if in the midst of a storm. His phone, with a darkened screen by his keyboard, had a text drafted: congrats to us. He’d added a champagne emoji – removed it. Added it again. Removed it.

Someone had once told him that all good things must come to an end – it was the bad ones that went on forever. Namjoon had been a good thing. Namjoon had always been a good thing.

A knock sounded on his office door. “Ah, Jungkook-ssi,” he said as the legal advisor stepped in with a polite bow, as bulked up as ever, dressed in smart office wear but with his hair even longer: now in a bun, but styled office appropriate. Some of the seniors had made comments, but Seokjin had no patience for their narrow minds and archaic pretensions – let the kid live, goddammit.

Seokjin said, “It’s ten PM, shouldn’t you be home?”

“You aren’t home either,” Jungkook pointed out with a benevolent smile. “I saw the light on, so I thought I’d hand these in.” Jungkook handed in the paperwork he’d requested – ah, excellent, this would take him up to midnight.

Because the thing was that… the thing was. The fact of the matter was that Seokjin had just gotten divorced from the man he loved, and if he gave himself even two minutes of rest then he would crumble.

Jungkook hovered. “Well, I’ll get going home if you don’t need anything else…?”

“No, no. Go home, Jungkook-ssi. It’s a bad habit, staying this late. Don’t–” He stopped, then gave Jungkook advice no other senior staff member would ever give: “Don’t let this become your life. It’s a job – and your life is the stuff out there.” He motioned at the window, at his painting. “Don’t become like me – married to the job. Marry a person, not a job.”

Jungkook looked appropriately startled. “Oh. Um.”

“Are you dating?”

“Um,” Jungkook said, rubbing at the back of his head, shy-looking – even in the suit, the bun, the toned frame that half of the office allegedly lusted after. “Yeah, um, I have a– a boyfriend, Tae—”

“Good, you’re such a quick study. Good. And you’re in love, I expect, the two of you?”

Jungkook was turning bright red. “Yes.”

“I’m happy to hear it,” he said: to be young and in love. That was what life was for. “Now go home to him. Don’t stay in the office with old folk like me – it’s too late for me, but not for you.” He gave Jungkook what he hoped was an encouraging smile and shooed him away.

Jungkook nodded, bowed politely again, but paused with the door still open. “Ah, if I may,” Jungkook said nervously, and Seokjin hummed, scanning the paperwork but looking up quickly. “You’re not old,” Jungkook said, with an unsure yet sweet smile. “I don’t know why you would think it’s too late for you – you are not old at all.” Jungkook bowed again and left.

Seokjin stared after Jungkook and, out of habit, he tried to catch the chain of his locket because it had always given him that reassurance that it had been real, that Namjoon had existed – but it was no longer there.

He felt old, however. Thirty-three – ancient. It was all over at this age. And a divorcee to boot. Nothing good in life could ever come his way: he’d sat under the fig tree and chosen which fig to eat, and now all of the others had rotted.

Was this how he was going to spend his life? In the office until he one day blinked to discover he was sixty-five? A job was a job – and he enjoyed his job, he truly did and was good at it too, but he also let it take over all of his time to hide the fact that no one waited for him to come home. Life, exciting and wondrous, was out there somewhere. But where?

With a sigh, he switched off his computer – and headed home, earlier than he’d intended. Maybe he needed a hobby. Pottery? Ceramics? That sounded therapeutic. Who needed a husband if you had a ceramic wine carafe?

In the convenience store near his apartment, he picked up some gimbap and a couple of beers, mechanically scanning the magazine section for the latest Business Korea, keeping his mind busy every second to occupy space, to push back the loss. He paused.

The magazine section had a small collection of paperbacks on the lower shelf, almost as an afterthought: Parcels for Caretaker Park, one of the covers read. The one that had come out only a year ago.

He grabbed it in a flood of relief: something real, something solid. He looked around fervently, rejuvenated – but no one else there seemed to know or care.

He rushed to the till, and the shopkeeper said, “Ah, it’s a page turner.”

“I hope so,” he said.

The next morning he phoned into the office and told them that he felt ill and wouldn’t be coming in that day. Truthfully, he still had seventy pages to go and had barely slept, devouring the book: laughing, crying, laughing again – and crying, again. Because it was Namjoon talking to him, from only a year ago. It was his husband, on each page, with his humour and wit and intelligence, telling Seokjin of his thoughts, from the profound to the trivial, and spinning an entire world and story just to make him smile – or, at least, this was how it felt. Seokjin gasped in the right parts, shook his head in others.

And his husband was still there: in the book.

Not gone after all. Still not gone.

When he closed the novel at last, he was laughing – through tears, wiping at his face. How exhilarating that Namjoon was still talking to him and had perhaps always been. The seven years had never been real silence: a pause in conversation, but nothing more.

Seokjin steadied himself, taking stock: it was the day after their divorce. They were free now to pursue new loves – better loves, less complicated loves. It was what Namjoon deserved: one of those million potential soulmates. Seokjin was unsure what he himself deserved.

Yet he texted, Parcels for Caretaker Park: 9/10
Only a 9 because I can’t believe you made Mirim miss her mother’s funeral.

He didn’t know what to expect when more than a month had passed since his departure from Haast – and he hadn’t heard from Namjoon at all. Why would he? What was there left to say?

But that evening his phone beeped with a new message: She got stuck in the morning rush hour. What am I, the god of Ulsan traffic?

“You wrote it,” he said accusingly at the phone screen, then laughed. Trust Namjoon to think that his stories were not even under Namjoon’s control, but things that took on lives of their own.

He clutched the phone, warmth and relief spreading in him.

He didn’t reply – he headed out to the nearest bookstore and bought every Kim Namjoon novel he could find.

* * *

Seokjin had prepared a mantra solely for this November Saturday: he must not sleep with Namjoon. He must not throw himself at Namjoon like a desperate divorcee, and he must not do what he had done at the cabin, succumbing to his weaknesses. Come hell or high water, he must not sleep with Namjoon even a little – they could be civil, perhaps have some small talk, but that was all.

He reminded himself of this as he made his way to the wedding at the Conrad in Yeouido-dong, dressed in a new black suit, hair neatly slicked back, forehead exposed, Cartier watch and cufflinks in place. Pity on Namjoon more than anything! Namjoon would take one look at Seokjin and be filled with lust, of course – because Seokjin looked flawless, from the polished shoes to the crisply ironed white shirt and the black vest and suit. He’d bought new cologne – sandalwood with a hint of citrus – and in the hotel foyer women and men alike turned to ogle at him as he arrived. “Was he in an idol group once…?” someone pondered.

Unlike the usual wedding ceremonies, Hoseok and Yoongi had gone all out: not only having a ceremony and a meal, but a Western-style reception afterwards. What was wrong with a wedding hall in Yeoksam-dong with a ticket for the buffet and the whole shebang done in two hours max?

But Yoongi and Hoseok had waited a long time for this day: to even be allowed. Seokjin would be the first to grant them such an indulgence.

The banquet hall was on the forty-fourth floor and the reception area outside of it was overcrowded with family and friends. Seokjin pulled on the sleeves of his jacket as he got there, scanning the guests. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust himself, of course. It was simply that, months prior, he had spent some time very actively fucking his now ex-husband, and it had churned inside him since.

Legally speaking, he was about to run into his Ex-Husband for the first time in his life. What was the etiquette for that? No one had ever told him. Seokjin had no idea for how long Namjoon was due to be in Seoul, but it was likely to be a short visit because they always were. Yet on his phone was a collection of text messages: a rating, followed by a response, which was followed by silence until another rating. Seokjin had started rationing his reading because he’d become afraid of running out of books to read, and now he’d been working through the final fifty pages of Namjoon’s memoir for two weeks, trying to delay the ending.

How would he cope when the last one came to an end – when Namjoon would finally and truly stop talking to him? He hadn’t thought that far yet.

He queued up to get pictures taken with the grooms, making small talk with Hoseok’s aunt in the line. “Why do you look so nervous, dear?” she asked. “It’s not your wedding.”

“Ha, very true.” Yet he took furtive glances around the reception area, trying to spot any tall dimpled writers.

To say Seokjin felt permanently ridiculous didn’t come close.

Someone tapped Seokjin’s shoulder, and his stomach lurched as he spun around, eyes fixed up too high – and he had to lower his eyes to Park Jimin’s handsome face. Jimin, of course, looked breath-taking like he always did, blond hair perfectly styled, with dangly earrings and a touch of make-up in a smart navy suit.

“Jiminie,” he said, happy to see a familiar face. “How have you been? Tell me all!”

They chatted in line together with Seokjin eager for distractions, and Jimin sighed that this was his fifth wedding of the year. The year!

“When the legislation passed, all my friends went wedding nuts,” Jimin said, scrutinising the guests around them sharply – but so did Seokjin. Namjoon was to be the wedding’s MC so he should already be on site. “But where there are weddings there will be divorces…” Jimin mused, and Seokjin’s throat tightened, nearly at the door of the side room. “And not that it’s a competition,” Jimin said with the full implication that of course it was, “but this does at least look like the nicest wedding I’ve been to all year.”

“Yes, it looks great,” he agreed.

“What’s your wedding count so far?”

“Mine – of all time? Who knows?” he shrugged, now at the door – inside Yoongi and Hoseok were standing in matching black suits against a beautiful backdrop of cream fabrics hanging from the ceiling, flower arrangements around them, posing with a guest or a group of them at a time. Hoseok’s black hair was styled gorgeously, swept off his forehead, longer at the top, undercuts on the sides, and Yoongi’s dark brown hair was silky looking, sweeping across his forehead – his gummy smile wide with joy. They were obeying the photographer patiently but kept glancing at each other – over the moon in love.

Seokjin faltered. Jimin said, “And which wedding did you like the best?”

“What?”

“Of the ones you’ve been to – which one did you like the most?”

“My own. …cle’s… Uncle’s,” he awkwardly finished as Jimin frowned. He was thankfully next, so he marched over to the happy couple with a huge beam that was genuine: because while he and Namjoon had been busy being newlyweds in Doksan-dong, Yoongi and Hoseok had started dating. How the tables turned, huh? Yoongi and Hoseok had had their own ups and downs – even broke up for a week in the early days, and then reunited in a mess of tears. Now, ten years later, they were inseparable: their futures and plans had aligned and synchronised, one day ending with the two of them grey and old, laughing away a life shared. Who wouldn’t want that?

“Ah, hyung,” Hoseok said, giving him the onceover. “You’ve outshined us!”

“Inevitable, but you still look amazing.” He discreetly asked Hoseok who he should slip the envelope with cash to.

After the photo op, he moved to the banquet hall proper, still trying to spot a very specific head of honey-brown hair but not finding it. Namjoon had always responded to Seokjin’s short book ratings, but otherwise it was radio silence. Maybe Namjoon hoped that Seokjin would stop bothering him?

The tables had assigned seating, and Seokjin found his place halfway down the room. Jimin was thankfully at his table, and they helped themselves to some of the wine before a natural hush came over the banquet hall as everyone anticipated correctly that it was go time.

It was then that Namjoon emerged on stage in a black and clearly tailored three-piece suit. His brown hair was perfectly styled – parted at the side and pushed off his forehead – and he had smart, black-framed glasses on. Namjoon looked so different than he had on the cabin deck that final morning, with sleep-mussed hair and a thick robe around him. This Namjoon had an intimidating and authoritative air to him – that gravitas and natural charisma.

Seokjin sat up straighter, everything inside him aching, while around him he heard a few “is that the Kim Namjoon?”

Namjoon tapped the microphone, testing it. “Good afternoon, honoured guests.”

Their gazes met – from halfway across the room. Seokjin’s world vibrated, swayed, and dissolved. It’d been almost three months – three long months, and they had felt longer than the seven years that had preceded them.

Namjoon’s gaze shifted to others in the audience like he had seen nothing at all, and disappointment spread through Seokjin. Namjoon cleared his throat and continued, “I would like to warmly welcome you—”

Seokjin could not focus on Namjoon introducing the grooms’ parents, who entered in a stylish procession of traditional hanbok, nor on the grooms themselves who soon entered to much fanfare, making their way through the middle of the room as everyone stood up to snap pictures.

In the midst of this all, Seokjin heard the singing of birds, the howling of the wind in the trees, and Namjoon’s melodic voice talking about his endless travels as they lay in bed together in a cabin halfway around the world, quietly laughing. Namjoon’s skin had been warm wherever Seokjin had caressed him.

The ceremony proceeded as an officiant took over, and Yoongi beamed while Hoseok held back tears. Next to Seokjin, Jimin was openly weeping – a softie beneath it all. Of course Seokjin teared up too: perhaps love was something that merely happened to other people, he thought, as he watched his best friends be declared husband and husband. Love is elsewhere – but not here. Not with him.

Namjoon stood at the side of the stage with a warm smile on his lips as the crowd cheered.

All those years ago the two of them had rushed out of the Vegas chapel beaming with joy: matching rings on, eyes shining. He’d kissed Namjoon in the warm summer night: “I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you…” He’d never felt that high again in his life.

Namjoon had prepared a short speech for the newlyweds to wrap up the ceremony. The guests sat down once more, and Hoseok and Yoongi stood centre stage, arms around each other’s waists, married and beaming: rings on, eyes shining. I love you, I love you, I love you…

From behind the podium, Namjoon said, “When Yoongi asked me to speak today, he said ‘you’re a writer – write something good’. Something good, huh?” Namjoon looked to the crowd with a knowing smile. “Well, turns out that commemorating your best friends’ marriage after witnessing a decade of their love, support, and devotion was a harder job than I’d anticipated. What more is there to say that seeing them here today doesn’t already tell us? But the task of writing this speech did, at least, remind me of who we can thank for this union: me,” Namjoon said to the newlyweds pointedly as people appropriately laughed.

Namjoon recounted how he had met Hoseok while studying in Los Angeles and that, when he got back to Seoul, he told Yoongi that he just had to meet this guy – “But at the time I was rather in love myself, so Yoongi dismissed my words as such.”

Seokjin looked down at the white tablecloth of his table, embers burning in his chest.

When Hoseok returned to Seoul, just in time for Namjoon’s birthday, they had all gone out to celebrate. Seokjin knew all this: he had been there, smooching Namjoon and doing shots with him, forcing everyone to wear little party hats because it was his husband’s birthday. This part Namjoon did not recount to the wedding guests. But amidst the alcoholic fumes of it all, Yoongi had gathered his courage and asked Hoseok if he’d like to go see a movie sometime – but Hoseok, drunk on two beers, hadn’t typed in his phone number correctly.

“For all of two weeks hyung thought he had been rejected,” Namjoon explained, “and for all of two weeks Hoseok desperately waited for a call that never came.” Someone aww’ed while Hoseok giggled on stage with a heart-shaped smile, and Yoongi snuck in a quick kiss to his cheek, going for shameless PDA in a way Seokjin had never seen before. “Yes, dear wedding guests,” Namjoon said gravely. “This union never would have happened hadn’t I saved them from eternal singledom by inviting them both to see a movie with me – but failing to show up myself.”

Namjoon waited for the laughter to quiet down as Seokjin leaned into Jimin with, “That was my idea, by the way.”

“Ah, I remember now,” Jimin whispered back, sipping on the wine. “You dated Namjoon, right? Hobi-hyung’s mentioned it.”

“Dated? We were married for ten years.”

Jimin choked.

On stage, Namjoon continued, “As I was getting ready for today, I asked myself what makes love last. And what, indeed, makes a marriage last?”

Seokjin sucked in a breath. Here we fucking go…

Namjoon was addressing a crowd that did not know Namjoon was recently divorced. No one knew, except for Seokjin – and perhaps Jimin now, too.

“I came up with a few answers to this question.”

Seokjin reached for his wine glass, while next to him Jimin whispered, “What the fuck, hyung?”

“Firstly,” Namjoon said to the audience that was eating out of his palm, “it has to be a love that offers support whenever you need it. Whether that support is required for grand life decisions of where to work, what life goal to pursue, or something miniscule – honey, should I have orange or apple juice with my breakfast? Nothing truly is too large or small.”

Seokjin closed his eyes. They had already failed.

“Secondly,” Namjoon said, glancing down at his notes, “it has to be a love that brings joy, because what else is life for if not to be enjoyed? A love for watching bad films together, putting up with disastrous cooking, or sharing a game of pool, even if you’re both bad at it – but making each other laugh. That laughter will salvage even the most mundane of days, weeks, and months.”

“And,” Namjoon said, “the last point is the most important – because this will save you time and again. It has to be a love that is forgiving. We will make mistakes and say the wrong words in a heated moment, rush to make ill-advised decisions. And when people make mistakes, we can avenge or forgive. And it has to be a love that knows, instinctively, that it would rather forgive – and that includes forgiving the moments when support comes up short, and when the bad days take away the joy. Love that forgives those stumbles will remain. Forgiving yourself and forgiving the person you love. Most of us can’t do it.”

Namjoon took in a breath. “But our newlyweds today excel in all these three points – and this is rarer than they know. A lifetime of happiness awaits them, and the rest of us should seek their advice, rather than give it. Please join me in raising a glass—”

People did, cheering loudly, and Namjoon bowed to the crowd. Hoseok went up to hug him with a huge smile and laugh, and Yoongi followed, and Namjoon smiled at them both – even pulled Yoongi to his chest in a semi-awkward ‘come here then’ hug.

“God,” Seokjin said to Jimin, who was still staring at him, scandalised. “I need a drink.”

* * *

Operation “Don’t Bang Your Ex-Husband” was going grand, thanks for asking. The dinner had been extravagant, and the wedding had sectioned into a lively and more casual reception, but Seokjin remained anxious. Yoongi had given a speech that had made Hoseok cry, and Seokjin had stomped on Jimin’s foot to make him stop pestering him with questions of this ten-year marriage! When? To that god of a man on stage?

He had no idea where Namjoon was – he had vanished at some point during the meal. Maybe Namjoon had left? On a plane to Rome by now, probably, and Seokjin was still here in his expensive suit like a joke.

“So wait, is he single now?” Jimin teased as Seokjin subtly tried to locate Namjoon amongst the guests.

“Yes,” he said through gritted teeth. “But I doubt he’s your type, he’s very, ah, very pretentious and annoying and very selfish. And, uh, terrible in bed! Terrible, with all that firm muscle and those large hands… I doubt you’d like him much.”

“Okay, relax,” Jimin said with a roll of his eyes.

Seokjin nervously nursed his wine – normally he would be buzzed by now, and he almost longed for it, but somehow the alcohol just did not hit the spot this time.

Jimin eventually vanished to practise a song he would be gifting to the groom and groom before the night was over, and Seokjin was too restless to stay at his table.

He ended up at the bar and, admitting it was that kind of night, asked for a vodka.

“Straight up?” the rather cute bartender asked, and he shook his head because he’d rather have a—

“Vodka tonic and lime for him – and a whisky sour for me.” Namjoon stepped into the space next to him, and Seokjin felt physically ill and unexpectedly faint. Namjoon looked at him uncertainly, the glasses from earlier now gone, but he was still unbearably handsome in his black suit. “Unless your order has changed?”

“It hasn’t,” he assured, feeling his entire existence hanging off its hinges. Overemotional at a wedding. Original! Individual! He hammered it down and told the bartender, “Double. Please?”

“You gotcha,” the man winked, gaze lingering on Seokjin a little. Ah, maybe he should bang the bartender? Infinitely better than seducing his ex-husband by any account.

“And that whisky sour for me,” Namjoon repeated with a raised eyebrow, and the barkeep rushed to make their drinks. After this, Namjoon turned to him. “Fancy seeing you here.” This was delivered with an unsure smile. “Thought I… should say hello, at least.”

“Well,” he said, catching the scent of Namjoon’s cologne: musky, with perhaps a hint of rose. New. Perfect. “Hello.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agreed, and silence landed on them. In that moment, Seokjin wanted to walk out and never come back. “You look…” Namjoon said, then gazed across the room. “Um. Well. I’m sure you know.”

Seokjin cleared his throat, not quite able to look at Namjoon either – like he was the sun that might blind him. “You look older,” he nevertheless noted.

“Older? Again? Here I thought getting rid of the ball and chain rejuvenated me.” Namjoon glanced at him as if to check whether the joke had landed.

“Please,” he said, deciding to be tantalisingly aloof, even as every touch, caress, and kiss they had ever shared mocked him – and now a divorce, too. “I was the best thing about you.”

Namjoon smiled, more to himself – eyes downcast. “Yes.”

Seokjin blinked. Flushed. The bartender pushed their drinks towards them, and Namjoon nodded a thanks. Seokjin quickly took a sip of his vodka tonic while the live band on stage kept playing pop classics.

“They didn’t have this in our day, huh?” Namjoon motioned towards the hall, apparently keen to have some small talk. It was true: this wedding was endlessly lavish, the banquet hall beautifully decorated.

“Well, they’ve been saving up,” he said, watching Hoseok and Yoongi laughing into each other’s necks on the dancefloor: two hours into a marriage. “You and I had nothing but dust in our pockets when– you know.” He swallowed it down and refocused. “Uh, are you– Are you in Korea for long?”

Namjoon’s mouth pursed. “Leaving tomorrow.”

“Oh. Right.” Seokjin let the panic of that sink in.

“Had a few busy days: meetings with the publishing house. And family, friends… Taehyung, my old PA, is telling me where to be and when. Well, I guess I’ve re-hired him.”

“That’s handy,” he said emptily: leaving tomorrow. Namjoon’s visits always felt like afterthoughts, like Namjoon couldn’t wait to leave again, and this time it stung like never before. And yet he had allowed himself to envisage asking Namjoon out for a coffee. What could be the harm? Just to talk – exchange silly stories? Laugh? Discuss his books at length? “So, you finished the book manuscript?”

“Yes. The week after you left,” Namjoon said.

Seokjin shifted on his feet as he thought of Namjoon alone in the cabin after he had gone. What if he’d stayed? What if he…

“And you?” Namjoon asked quickly, close enough to be in Seokjin’s personal space, but Seokjin was unable to move back. “Have you been busy?”

“Yeah, work’s been manic as always.”

“Right, sure. And have you…” Namjoon’s hand lifted to his temple, rubbing. Namjoon looked across the room. “Been busy dating or whatever? I figured you might have a date tonight.”

His stomach dropped like he was in a lift that was in a sudden freefall, plummeting. “Haven’t really had much time for that,” he mumbled, heart racing: his sixty-hour weeks ensured it. “And you? Did you find that Kiwi husband of yours before leaving?”

“Ah, I tried, but Bunty wouldn’t hear of leaving Liz for me. Married men, you know?”

Seokjin snorted, and Namjoon gave him his first genuinely warm smile that evening. Seokjin was about to joke back – something about fighting for Bunty’s love if Namjoon was sure he was the one – when Hoseok came rushing over to them, eyes bright. “Jin-hyung! Namjoon-ah!”

Seokjin once more got the distinct feeling of being caught red-handed. At Hoseok’s heels came Yoongi, both of them beaming. “Ah, is this the end of the Cold War?” Hoseok asked excitedly, hands on their shoulders. “Aish, you look so handsome together! Yeobo, don’t they look good together?”

Yoongi was regarding them more carefully – perhaps with pity or sympathy. Namjoon, thankfully, calmed down Hoseok’s overenthusiasm. “It’s your wedding – we can behave, don’t worry.”

“Old friends,” Seokjin supplied, and Namjoon glanced at him.

“Of course you are – we all are,” Hoseok smiled. “God, I can’t remember the last time the four of us were in the same room together. Was it after hyung got discharged? I remember your buzzcut, hyung – you pulled it off, naturally. Aish, what was the occasion?”

“Your birthday,” he and Namjoon said, in unison.

Hoseok blinked and turned to Yoongi. “Are they outshining us on our wedding day?”

“They’re not,” Yoongi said simply.

“Are you sure? And– Ah, honey, my uncle is leaving, we should go say– As you were! Ah, warms my heart, seeing– Enjoy the evening! Talk! Catch up! It’s all water under the bridge, right, all that old stuff. Dance a little, have some fun! Ah, we’ll be back!”

The newlyweds rushed to bid Hoseok’s uncle goodnight. Seokjin finished his vodka, hand squeezing the glass too tightly, as Namjoon stood tall beside him, tense looking. And, with a sudden surge of no fucks left to give, Seokjin said, “Well, we could dance?”

At this, Namjoon looked at him in surprise.

Seokjin rushed on, “I mean, if you think it would do more good than harm, I can understand if you—”

“No, no, it’d do no harm at all,” Namjoon cut in, hand reaching to touch Seokjin’s elbow, and he felt it all the way up his arm, to his chest, to his toes.

They left their hastily emptied glasses on the bar and headed to the dance floor, moving into the crowd that was enjoying the slow ballad that had just started, the lyrics about happiness being changing in nature but with you, baby, it’s eternal.

They faced each other, stepped closer, and Namjoon’s hands were on his hips before Seokjin said, “I’m your hyung – I lead.”

Namjoon smiled at this but nodded dutifully, and Seokjin pressed a palm to the small of Namjoon’s back, with the other taking Namjoon’s hand in his. He pulled Namjoon closer, Namjoon’s hand resting on his shoulder – they were close enough not to see each other’s faces, chests nearly touching, and they slowly began to dance, feet moving in circles to the slow rhythm of the cheesy song.

After a few beats they both pushed in even more, closing the distance between them. Namjoon was solid and real against him, and Seokjin closed his eyes to memorise the feel of him: it was just a dance, after all, on Namjoon’s final night in Korea. Just one small dance.

“Have you been enjoying it? Being back for a few days?” he asked quietly.

“Yes,” Namjoon said, the single word vibrating against Seokjin. “I love it here. I love this country.” Before Seokjin could object, Namjoon said, “Ah, I know – you’re thinking ‘but Namjoon-ah, you always hated it.’ And yes, maybe I did once, but… the country has grown, too. I mean, just look at this wedding. It’s all changed.” Namjoon’s nose briefly pressed to his hair – hand on his shoulder squeezing. “And after a meeting at the publishing house yesterday, I went to a café to write my speech and… I was just people-watching, you know? And it rained really hard.”

“It did,” he agreed, arm tightening around Namjoon.

“Yeah, and people started getting out umbrellas and running to make it home without getting rained on, and I thought… how nice it would be to sit there forever and be content watching this never-ending stream of people in bad Seoul weather. And it’s not perfect, but… it’s home. It’s always been home. You know?”

How he wished that he had words: Namjoon’s words, the webs and tangles of his novels, like delicate and vibrant paintings Seokjin could step into. How he wished he could step onto that rainy side street, too: walk over to the café and find Namjoon sat at a table by the window. Sit down. Stay there with him, forever.

But he didn’t have such words – he had never had them.

The song finished, and the band instantly swapped for an energetic hit from the previous summer, guests around them erupting in cheers and mimicking the choreo of the viral music video. Namjoon looked startled as they stepped back from their embrace. “I don’t know this one,” he said – hand on Seokjin’s elbow.

“No? It was everywhere last summer.”

But, then, Namjoon had not been in Korea last summer.

They headed out to find a quieter spot for their conversation, walking out to the entrance area that had flower arrangements placed in the corners. There were wall-length windows near the hotel lifts, offering a view of the city, and they wandered over slowly, Seokjin explaining banally about how much rain they’d been having lately. But no landslides, ha.

The music carried through, and Yoongi’s six-year-old twin nieces ran around by the lifts, giggling and chasing each other. He and Namjoon stopped by the windows: the city was shining in all directions, except for a black streak running through the panorama. Seokjin didn’t know what to say.

Thankfully Namjoon broke the silence with, “I miss that river. Better than the Seine, the Hudson, and the Thames put together.”

“That’s high praise,” he said – were they going to rank rivers together? Seokjin had so much to say right then, but how did you start? And so instead: rivers.

Namjoon studied the view with an air of longing that surprised Seokjin. “I’d like to move back.”

Seokjin froze, disbelieving: like the five words were something he’d always waited for.

“When I retire, maybe. Get a place that has a river view,” Namjoon added, and Seokjin exhaled. Namjoon cleared his throat and said, “So. You’ve been reading my books, then?”

“Yes. All of them. I’ve read all of them.”

He felt nervous saying it – because why was he texting his ex-husband after a truthfully painful divorce?

“And I can see why you won the awards. I can see why… And bonsais! Who knew they were so fascinating? The trade routes… Diplomatic exchange. The symbolism, the philosophy of tending to them. It was all. Yes, well.” He paused, eyeing the view. “And I’ve been reading the memoir, too.”

While the novels and non-fiction had been brilliant, it was the memoir where Namjoon himself was most easily seen: Namjoon in his late twenties moving to London, and the experience of not belonging in Britain but finding himself out of place when visiting Korea too. The memoir chronicled Namjoon’s first year there: exploring, learning, writing. A few candid accounts of dating, figuring out how it was different – Namjoon being discreet enough about how the dates had ended. There’d been a whole chapter on what love was, what it could be, what it had been for him in the past. Musings, witty and engaging. Wistful. No mention of Seokjin anywhere, but then again he hadn’t expected that.

Yet little crumbs were scattered in the memoir, dotted along like a path in a fairy tale: Namjoon had talked of living in Doksan-dong in a small studio apartment – with Seokjin, omitted. Namjoon wrote about getting stuck in Seoraksan National Park once, missing the last bus out of Injegun – with Seokjin, omitted, and them having a hell of a row when they had to get a room in an expensive tourist hotel, unable to get back to their friend’s apartment in the city.

Whenever the memoir had strayed from the confines of London, to Korea – Seokjin had been right off the page, and they were the only two people in the entire world who could read the book and know that. It’d been a lengthy letter that an old friend had written to Seokjin, telling him of his life in England, but thinking back to their times shared too.

He’d loved the memoir especially – he’d loved that he understood it from the first page onwards, with fewer than fifty still to go. He’d thought all over again about the value of knowing another person: with all the walls between you removed.

He realised too late that Namjoon was standing before him on tenterhooks, waiting. He rushed out, “It was all brilliant, Namjoon-ah. You have a new fan in me. I’ll read them all from here on out. I look forward to the next one already.”

A hesitant smile emerged on Namjoon’s lips. “I’m really happy you read them, Jinnie. And liked them. It means a lot, it really…” Namjoon looked at the view again, restlessly.

From the wedding echoed classic trot and the guests began whooping loudly. They both laughed at the sudden noise, but after that Seokjin didn’t know what else to say.

“Guess we should join the others?” he said, although he didn’t really want to: he liked this, getting Namjoon to himself. Always so greedy…

“I guess so,” Namjoon said. With a final glance at the view, Namjoon added, “Anyway, I haven’t been to that river in years. Never have the time.”

Seokjin paused. Considered. And, without knowing where the courage came from, said, “Do you– Do you want to go?”

Namjoon stilled. “What?”

“Do you want to go?” he repeated, heart hammering. “It’s, what? A ten-minute walk from here?”

“Right… right now?” Namjoon checked. Right, of course, they were at their best friends’ wedding – what was he thinking? But Namjoon glanced back to the banquet hall, then focused on him. “Yeah?” Namjoon said with a growing smile. Dimples. “I mean, yeah, if you want to? It’s not far, you’re right.”

“We’d be back in time for the cake. Stretch our legs before that? See the river, while you can?”

“Sounds good,” Namjoon nodded. “Sure, why not? It won’t take us long. That’d be nice.”

“Okay, great. Well. Let’s get some fresh air,” he said although he felt suddenly giddy, and they headed to the cloak room, looking for their tickets. Seokjin found his and handed it over to the lady manning the room, saying, “We’re just popping out for fresh air.”

She eyed Namjoon next to him and said, “Sure.”

* * *

The pedestrianised area by the river had people milling about even on a chilly night in early winter. In the summer the slope was lined with food trucks and street performers, but even without them tourists were busy posing with the large ‘I Seoul You’ sign. A street vendor was selling hotteok, and Namjoon bought one with nuts and honey filling, offering it to Seokjin, too. Their breaths rose in the air, and the wind was stronger in the open space – they walked slowly, talking, with the collars of their winter coats turned up against the wind.

“They’ll definitely be together forever,” Namjoon said, chewing on a bite of the hotteok. “You can just tell, right? I’ve been to some weddings where you know it’s doomed. Sounds mean, but we’ve all been there.”

“Ours?” he asked, their arms brushing as they walked, reaching the river.

“Harsh,” Namjoon objected, and Seokjin laughed because what else was left?

But was he being selfish again? Always another hour, another day… Reading Namjoon’s books, devouring the words, just to hear Namjoon talking to him a while longer. And Namjoon so graciously always gave, and Seokjin didn’t know why.

Namjoon passed him the steaming hotteok, which he accepted – Namjoon’s took in a deep breath, looking up and down the length and breadth of the water. “I love this. The noise. The people. The smell. Korea has this smell, you know? Whenever I get off the plane, I just breathe the air in. Maybe that’s why I love writing about this country, even now.”

He couldn’t say that he’d noticed anything distinct in the air, but his mouth was full of hotteok anyway. He swallowed and said, “You could do with refreshing your memory. You know you were wrong about some things in the memoir.”

Namjoon frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Well, first of all, that hairdressers in Doksan-dong? It was not called Luxury Hair.”

Namjoon blinked. “Yes, it was. It was. I walked past it twice a day!”

“It was Romance Hair,” he said, rolling his eyes. “And that is only one of the many inaccuracies in your work.”

“You’re wrong,” Namjoon challenged, but with a smile on his lips. “Ah, you’re an old man, Seokjin-ah, your memory is failing.”

“Oh fuck off,” he said as they laughed. “How dare you? Insolent youth, I’m not wrong at all.”

Namjoon smiled. “Well, we can never check: it’s not there anymore, anyway. Luxury Hair.”

He swallowed the last of the hotteok quickly. “Romance Hair. And how do you know?”

Something dark overtook Namjoon’s features. “Because I went there yesterday. I couldn’t sleep – jet lag and hotel beds, you know, they’re never… So I ended up getting a taxi over. I don’t really know what possessed me.”

Seokjin blinked, trying to imagine this Namjoon – grown and strong – walking around Doksan-dong late at night, where they had once lived together.

“It’s been redeveloped. Our old building? It’s gone. Just gone… There was a GS25 where that fried chicken place used to be. I barely recognised any of it, and – god, I felt old and disorientated. It’s all gone.”

The news washed over him like icy water, painfully chilling him to his core: the small studio that had never been meant for two people, with the tiny balcony that’d fit one person – the selling point! – and them there, in love, happy, in a way Seokjin had never been able to replicate. And it was gone?

After a beat, Namjoon added, “Perhaps some things are meant to stay in the past.”

“Yes,” he said, feeling faint.

As they stood there, breaths in the air, and with tears threatening to blur Seokjin’s vision, he swore that two young men walked past them as if through the grainy feed of an old film reel, one with hair as white as snow, the other with a mint-dyed buzzcut, and they wore shorts and loose tank tops because for them it was summer – an eternal summer – and their silver wedding bands matched as their hands moved to hold the other’s. They were laughing about nothing at all, pulling each other closer than close, with entire lives yet to be lived.

They walked right past him and Namjoon, who stood there on a cold November night a decade later, with different colours of hair, wedding bands long gone – and this vision of the two younger men moved up along the river, turning towards the subway station, with the blond-haired man pulling the younger one closer as the sound of their carefree joy echoed.

Namjoon had been so beautiful back then – and exciting and goofy and charming and intelligent. Namjoon was all of those things to him still.

Namjoon said, “About your locket.”

Heat travelled up Seokjin’s cheeks, even in the cold.

Namjoon’s hands were on the railing, gaze on the murky dark flow of the water. “I’m sorry I… I think I accused you of…”

“It’s fine,” he said, feeling exposed in a way that he hated. “You can do what you like with it now. If you… If you want to throw it in, you can.” He motioned at the river.

Namjoon laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t want to do that.” Namjoon bit on his lower lip. “I kept mine too. In my wallet, in the coin pocket. I must’ve lost that wallet a dozen times; you know how forgetful I am.”

Seokjin did know: so forgetful.

Namjoon cleared his throat. “But I’d always get the wallet back, one way or another – and it was always the first thing I’d check: is the ring still there? One time someone took out all the bank notes, but they hadn’t emptied out the coins, and I was so relieved.” Namjoon paused. “I just. I want you to know I didn’t get rid of it either.”

“I’m amazed you never lost it for good,” he said, heart beating painfully, thinking of how in the past few months he’d kept dreaming of Namjoon almost every night, then waking up and making scrambled eggs the British way that Namjoon now liked, playing the Bach that Namjoon enjoyed, reading Namjoon’s books cover to cover, and nourishing the sense that Namjoon was still there with him, even if no longer snuggled protectively inside a locket against his heart.

“It’s the one thing I’d never lose,” Namjoon said, and Seokjin stepped closer to him. The wind caught Namjoon’s hair, and Seokjin was about to reach out to fix the strands when Namjoon said, “I’m moving to Canada.”

His hand dropped back to his side.

“Yeah, I… I’ve been offered a residence in Toronto for two years, so… I need to go back to London and pack, properly this time.”

“Oh. I see.” He swallowed, at a loss, and Namjoon turned to him hesitantly. “And so the adventure continues,” he said with a smile that he did not feel, and Namjoon nodded, jaw clenched. “Sure. Toronto. Sounds exciting.” He didn’t know what else to say or do. “I’m so happy for you. I’m really—”

He watched a tourist boat glide along the river: an orb of light in the darkness. Namjoon said nothing, and in that moment Seokjin was so angry with him. So what Namjoon had kept his ring, too? So what? And yet—

“What time is your flight tomorrow? Maybe we– we could meet up and have lunch before you go. Or dinner. I mean if you—”

“It’s a morning flight. Otherwise I’d love to, but—”

“Sure, don’t worry about it,” he rushed to say. Typical Namjoon – typical, goddamn typical. What the hell had Seokjin been thinking? “We should get back to the wedding, then. Although. Although, would you sign your books for me? As a memento, if that’s okay with you.”

“Of course,” Namjoon said, gaze searching. “I’d love to sign them for you.”

“Yeah? Because I’m. I’m a ten-minute ride away. I just. I just don’t know if we will otherwise, unless we go now. And I don’t know when I’ll see you again after tonight, is the thing.”

Years from now: another seven? Or until Namjoon one day retired?

“We might miss the cake but we’d be back before the wedding wraps up, I mean, you probably want to say goodnight to Yoongi and—”

“Lead the way,” Namjoon thankfully said, with an air of severity. Seokjin exhaled, finding it a little easier to breathe.

Soon they were in the backseat of a taxi, a lingering yet heavy silence between them – and Seokjin thought of Canada and Toronto and of Namjoon there, living yet another chapter of his brilliant life without Seokjin.

They didn’t ask for the taxi to wait when they got to Seokjin’s building.

In the lift up Seokjin wondered what on earth he was doing there, mid-wedding, and had anyone noticed them missing? The lift felt small and confined, Namjoon so horribly close to him and yet too far. Namjoon sent Yoongi a quick text that they’d popped out for fresh air but would be back shortly, and Seokjin didn’t want to know what their friends made of it. What time was it? What time did Namjoon need to catch his morning flight?

“Ah, it’s nothing much,” Seokjin said pre-emptively, which was a lie to be fair, as he pressed in the code for his door and let them in.

Namjoon took off his nice shoes and placed them neatly on the shoe rack – considerate, because he’d used to fling his shoes about wherever and had at the cabin too – and after hanging up their coats, Seokjin led them into the spacious living room where he had full bookcases. Namjoon whistled taking in the place, hands in his pockets as he went up to the windows to see the views.

“Yeah – I pay for that view, trust me,” he joked, going to the K section and thumbing the Kim Namjoons. “Aish, do I have a marker…?” he asked aloud, busying himself because Namjoon was there in his home, where Seokjin had never dared to visualise him, and his heart kept beating nervously. “Help yourself to something to drink,” he said, motioning to his expansive collection of liquor in the glass-doored cabinet. “I’ll be right back.”

He returned with a black marker and found Namjoon still taking in the views, no drink in hand. He pulled out his selection of Namjoon’s books, placing them on the sideboard. “Silly, isn’t it, that it took me so long to read these,” he said, just to say something.

But unlike him Namjoon stood still, looking like a runway model in the flawless suit. “Hey, so,” Namjoon said, hands still in his pockets as he turned to face Seokjin. “What are we doing?”

“Hmm? Signing these, I thought?”

“Seokjin-ah.” Namjoon was observing him, no trace of humour on his face. “You leave me in New Zealand after giving me your wedding ring. You file the divorce papers. We divorce. Then you… you send me little messages about my books. What does that mean?” Namjoon stepped closer. “And then you ask me to dance at the wedding, and after that you ask me to sneak out, and you bring me back to your place.”

Well it sounded bad when put like that!

Before he could defend himself, Namjoon said, “You filed the divorce papers and said you wanted to move on. I tried to respect that, I tried to get my head around it. So I’d prepared myself to leave that wedding early tonight – for you to show up with someone new, for you to act cold. I’d prepared myself for all of it, but instead I… I don’t think you want to bid goodnight. Seokjin-ah…”

Seokjin felt close to tears. The living room was large, but it felt like there was no space in it whatsoever as Namjoon slowly moved closer. “You should ask me again.”

“Ask you what?”

“Why I’ve never moved back here.”

Quietly, Seokjin asked, “Why have you never moved back to Korea?”

“Because you’re Korea,” Namjoon said firmly. Seokjin blinked, and Namjoon shook his head. “I don’t see how I can live here and not have you be mine. It’s torture. This, right now? It’s torture.” Namjoon stepped closer, voice urgent. “Tell me to stop and I will – if you don’t want to hear this, then I’ll walk out right now and I—”

“Don’t,” he cut in, panicking. “Don’t do that. Please don’t do that. I can’t breathe thinking you’ll go.”

Namjoon’s eyes were large, sincere – but sympathetic too. “In that case… I need you to know that I don’t care anymore. Okay? I don’t care about all the things we’ve been angry about for years. I don’t care about the arguments about jobs, parents, other fuck-ups… We have so many fuck-ups. We could build a shrine to them at this point, alright? But I don’t care because I’ve forgiven us. You and me both. I’ve forgiven us.” Namjoon took in a deep breath. “But if you haven’t forgiven me? If you’re still punishing me or mad at me for what I did back then, then you need to let me know right now.”

“But I’m not mad at you,” he said quietly. He wasn’t mad at Namjoon at all.

“Mad at yourself?”

At that, he nodded.

“Then you should forgive yourself too,” Namjoon said, stepping closer to him and cupping his cheek with one hand. “I’ve forgiven you. And me. The latter was harder, trust me.” Namjoon brushed his hair gently. “And yet you keep talking like we won’t see each other again in this life. What on earth are you talking about? Have mercy on me. On us. I don’t want to wait until we’re older – until you’re forty, until I’m thirty-whatever. God, it’s been three months…” Namjoon brushed away a tear rolling down Seokjin’s cheek.

“So that’s enough now, Jinnie. Okay? That’s enough. Three months is more than enough to know that my feelings are real and that they haven’t changed. It’s been seven years, and this hasn’t changed.”

Seokjin was trembling, hands pressed to the front of Namjoon’s suit jacket.

Namjoon nudged his chin up with a finger. “You know that can’t-live-without-you kind of love you talked about? Well, you have it with me.”

“I do?” he asked weakly, with tears clinging to his eyelashes.

“Yeah, you really do. And it’s hard. I know it’s hard, but you have to let me in now. But you can, alright, baby? You can with me, like I can with you. Okay?”

Seokjin nodded, and Namjoon lit up, dimples emerging, eyes sparkling with the kind of joy that could save the most mundane of days, weeks, and months. “Okay,” Namjoon said, “okay, good. God, come here.”

Namjoon pressed a gentle kiss to his lips, but Seokjin broke it with, “But you’re leaving. You’re moving to—”

Namjoon shook his head. “I’d rather come home.” Something in Namjoon’s tone bordered on desperation, and Seokjin ached. “Just tell me I can come home, okay?” Namjoon pressed their foreheads together. “Because truthfully? I can’t stand this whole not being married to you business.”

He laughed, arms looping around Namjoon’s neck, pulling him into a teary kiss. He forgot about the books, the wedding – Toronto, Romance Hair, intercontinental moves, and a whole host of fights that bore no relevance to Seokjin any longer.

“But there’s a catch,” he managed as the kiss broke but the two of them stayed pressed together. “A catch to me asking you to stay. It’s that, I– I have a memory foam mattress.”

“What?” Namjoon asked, frowning. “Wait, wha—”

“So I can’t have the mattress learn your shape only for you to disappear, because then I’d have to buy a whole new mattress, and I’m a busy man and I have no time for that, so if… if I asked you to spend the night, then you’ll have to stay not only tonight, but until you’re old and grey, and that means you’d have to move back here and be with me. You’d have to settle down, Joonie.”

Namjoon cupped his face, nodding. “I’m pretty sure I can do that.”

“Can you?” he questioned, unsure.

“I’ve seen the world – bits of it. Nothing’s as good as home. As you,” Namjoon said. “But I might, every few years, ask you to spend a spring here or there exploring a little… You can come with me for my writing retreats, work from wherever we are every so often.”

“I could do that,” he said, because he did not want to blink and be sixty-five, in his office alone. Life was out there: wherever Namjoon was, as the perfect excuse to finish work early. “I can definitely do that,” he said, relief and joy spreading. “But there’s a final catch.”

“There is?”

He nodded, throat tight. “Because… because all too soon I will take you to the registrar’s office because I can’t stand it either – not being married to you, that is – and I’ve been looking for a trophy husband and you tick most of the boxes. And that’s the final catch.”

Namjoon laughed, tears on his eyelashes. “Just most? Not all?”

Namjoon did tick them all.

Namjoon slipped an arm around his waist, pulling him closer. “Sounds like you’re proposing to me.”

“When I do, you’ll know,” he said pointedly, and Namjoon beamed and kissed him. Seokjin pulled him closer than close, finally finding strength in it to make Namjoon stay.

As the kiss broke, Namjoon said, “But will you ask me to stay, then, I wonder?”

He breathed Namjoon in, burrowing into him. “Joonie?”

“Mmm?”

“My mattress is memory foam, did I ever mention that? No? Well, it’s state of the art. And hotel beds, you know, they’re so uncomfortable. So I’ve been thinking. Do you want to spend—”

“Yes,” Namjoon said, and joy expanded inside Seokjin immeasurably, in a way that he had felt only once, a very long time ago outside a chapel. It was the can’t-breathe, can’t-live-without-you kind of joy, but even better now: because as Namjoon kissed him, their plans and goals were synchronising, moulding into a shared vision – perhaps for the first time in their lives. Namjoon nuzzled against him, but Seokjin already felt him much deeper, claiming space within the most reserved and carefully protected corners of his own being.

“So it’s settled, then,” he said. “No morning flight. No leaving this time. You’ll stay.”

“As long as you’ll have me,” Namjoon said.

“That’s going to be a very long time.”

Namjoon smiled. “So be it.”

* * *

“Jungkook-ssi,” Seokjin said upon stepping out of his office on a Wednesday afternoon. Jungkook looked up from his desk, alert and ready for instructions – this was why he had promoted Jungkook to work directly under him. “I’m heading for a long lunch – no one is to call me.”

“Yes, sir,” Jungkook said but was looking at him funnily. April was always a busy time for them all, signalling the month they finalised new investment strategies. Seokjin’s entire week was subsequently booked, except for these three hours taken as personal leave. “Looking very smart today,” Jungkook said.

“Ah, it’s a new one,” he defended himself – because the suit was new: Armani, all black, and all too glamorous for an office Wednesday.

“Very flattering,” Jungkook said appropriately – give the boy extra points for that! Seokjin was nearly out the door when Jungkook called out, “Sir, does the call ban include—”

“No, not him,” he said quickly. “He’ll be with me.”

Jungkook took that in with a knowing smile, and Seokjin headed out to the taxi he’d pre-ordered. On the way he passed billboards advertising the new Kim Namjoon novel. Another success, of course, and he smiled at that a bit smugly as he thought of the dedication on the first page: To Seokjin – as they all were

Aish, what a romantic… Embarrassing, really! Ah, no need for such things… Well, perhaps for a few more…

Seokjin arrived early and stood under the few cherry trees still in their final bloom on the plaza. He had a text from his father, confirming they were on for Friday dinner at the restaurant – they’d meet them there like last time. Good, that was one more thing ticked off the list. Excellent, perfect…

A tall, imposing figure in a stunning black suit finally crossed the plaza towards him, and Seokjin stood straighter, hands sweaty. Truthfully, he wasn’t even sure whose idea this had been, but there had been a conversation and an online booking system – upload the documents. Pleasingly straightforward: he appreciated good organisation and efficiency. One was nearly compelled to follow through because of that alone!

“Ah, there you are,” he said, weak at the knees. “Took you long– Did you have your hair cut?”

“Just now,” Namjoon admitted, greeting him with a peck to his lips before brushing through the shorter dark brown locks. “After you left this morning, Taehyung came to help me get ready. He insisted I smarten up some. Did they cut it too short, you think?”

“No, it’s fine,” he said, fixing Namjoon’s tie nervously. “And Taehyung knows? Weren’t we going to wait until afterwards to tell people?”

Namjoon was looking at him – warm with intent.

“Stop looking at me like that.”

“You weren’t nervous last time.”

“I was drunk the last time,” he said, which they both knew was a lie. “I have a week packed with work! Can we just get this done with?”

“So nervous,” Namjoon teased, slipping a large hand into his.

“I just want this done. It’s embarrassing that I keep referring to you as my husband and then have to correct myself in front of people.”

Namjoon smiled at him – boyish and dimpled, looking youthful in his excitement. Okay, so it was Seokjin who had done the asking. Fine, he’d proposed – he admitted that. Just like he had proposed to Namjoon a whole decade and some earlier, as they had passed a Las Vegas chapel. Turned out that Namjoon just brought that out in him.

Together they had now picked out their matching platinum rings and spent the month of their sort-of engagement head over heels, feeling the excitement and longing and impatience between them grow.

He smoothed over Namjoon’s shirt and jacket. “Mm, and we’re on for Friday, by the way – what our parents make of each other, I don’t know. And I take no responsibility for what my mother does when she finds out, whereas my father will just want to know whether there’s a prenup.”

“Such a romantic, your father,” Namjoon grinned, still gazing at him lovingly. “I’ll have to tell him that I am not planning another marriage or divorce.”

“Yeah,” Seokjin said, voice softening. Ah, what was he to do with such a goofy teddy bear? Marry him, apparently. “Yeah, that’s sort of my plan too.”

“Well,” Namjoon said, nudging his chin up with a finger and pressing a kiss to his lips. “How lucky for me.”

Seokjin was too enamoured to even protest. He pulled Namjoon into a tight embrace – overeager but perhaps on this day he was allowed? The locket under his shirt pressed to his chest, now holding inside it two matching silver bands: together, like they always should have been. There was nothing wrong with carrying one’s past, with all the dead-ends and spectacular mistakes. Nothing wrong at all when you had put in the work for it to take you somewhere good, somewhere better: and besides, platinum was stronger.

“You got the rings?” he checked with Namjoon, who nodded. “Good,” he said, keeping Namjoon in the tight hug. He inhaled. Exhaled. Then finally stepped back, ready. “And, you know, this isn’t even the good part.”

Namjoon quirked a teasing eyebrow at him. “No?”

“God no. The good’s part tomorrow.”

“Hmm, and what’s so special about tomorrow?” Namjoon asked, so goddamn smug that Seokjin loved the idea of putting up with it for the rest of his days.

“Well this,” he said, motioning at the courthouse on the edge of the plaza. “This is just paperwork, a nuisance if anything. But the… the marriage is what we do tomorrow – and every day after that. That’s the good part.”

”Yeah,” Namjoon agreed, “it is.”

Somehow Seokjin’s nerves faded, with clarity and calmness overtaking them.

Namjoon frowned – looked around the plaza. “Hey, can you hear that?” he asked, arms slipping around Seokjin’s waist. “The music?”

The nearby road hummed with traffic, but Seokjin still said, “Yeah, I can.”

With Namjoon, he always heard it.

Namjoon smiled knowingly, and Seokjin’s arms slipped tightly around Namjoon’s neck, as they slowly swayed to music no one else could hear.

“I like this song,” Seokjin said. “Don’t you?”

 

fin.