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the neverland problem

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the neverland problem

 

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 

 

 

For as long as Seokjin can remember, there has always been an air of gossip surrounding his family. 

The town is small no doubt, but Seokjin’s never been entirely comfortable with the way people talk, and just from that it's not hard to guess why they talk.

People in town talk about their house- the old one on the corner of the street hidden under the shade of the huge oak tree with an air of intrigue- because for as long as anyone has ever cared, the old house under the oak has been the keeper of two secrets.

The first is an open one: that the two sons of the Kim family are adopted. Foster kids. That much was obvious to Seokjin, because Jungkook looked nothing like Seokjin growing up- their blood types a complete mismatch and their smiles just as much. 

Truthfully Seokjin has known for years, because he even remembers being picked up at the orphanage. It wasn't horribly memorable and he wasn’t that young either, but the couple was looking to foster an older kid- god knows why. Seokjin had already been at the orphanage for far too long and the counselors were thrilled at the slightest chance of adoption for him.

“This could be good for you,” they had said, promises sweet and fake even though Seokjin didn’t know it at the time.

“You can’t stay here forever.”

So he packed up his bags at age 11 with what few possessions he had in a duffle bag under one arm and a 6 year old kid he scarcely knew under the other. He remembers the growl of tires against pavement as the car pulled up to the driveway of the orphanage and the way Jungkook’s tiny fingers latched themselves to the edge of Seokjin’s oversized shirt.

So yeah, the first secret isn’t even really a secret, but it’s the second one that doesn’t sit as well with Seokjin. Beneath hidden whispers and wayward looks of disgust is a rumor that the two boys are in love. Not a clean sort of brotherly love either.

It’s not complete slander, but it makes Seokjin ill at ease knowing how effortlessly everyone in town assumes.

When they were younger it could have easily been childish adoration, Jungkook peeking over his shoulder to watch Saturday morning cartoons on TV- sliding down to rest cheek to cheek with Seokjin, but now he’s not so sure. Seokjin's never been the most observant, but even he can’t ignore the way Jungkook looks at him sometimes. It’s not perverse, what Seokjin feels for his baby brother. He loves Jungkook, sure, but not like that.

Or at least not yet because every time the thoughts come around Seokjin has to tell himself that he can’t ever see Jungkook, all coy and boyish Lolita at 15, like that, let alone reconcile it with the memories of raising Jungkook.

Growing up with Jungkook was a mess of scarred knees and splinters in the webs of their fingers from climbing the old oak tree. Jungkook wasn’t a clumsy child by any means, but between him and Seokjin, Seokjin’s become an expert in dressing their wounds- blowing warm air across Jungkook’s bloody knees and holding his hands when the rubbing alcohol stung too much. Whether he wants to or not, Seokjin will always remember Jungkook chasing him through the years, pudgy hands slimming down and forming callouses at the joints from being on the middle school baseball team. He’ll remember driving him home and Jungkook’s feet dangling from the school swing set, pouting whenever Seokjin came late.

They never went straight back home, preferring instead to mill around the park or to climb trees too big to scale with Jungkook’s then short limbs. Despite the splinters and scrapes, there was always a good reason for it.

Home is rough.

Seokjin can’t blame his foster parents for the way that they are, anymore than he can blame himself and Jungkook for being the way that they are. They never touch either of them, but the silent stares are enough for Seokjin to read their mistrust. Where did I go wrong, they must wonder. Where did I go wrong to raise not one but two of those things.

It’s never said out loud, but the implication is strong enough to make Seokjin feel all wrong- like he’s some malformed creature that should have never been allowed out in the daylight. It was enough that Seokjin spent the majority of his grade school years self-conscious about his crooked fingers- thinking that maybe, just maybe, they were a physical manifestation of everything wrong with him on the inside. 

“Is it really that weird though,” Jungkook asks one evening, looking up from his maths book like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world. Seokjin watches him play absentmindedly with the buttons on his graphing calculator, no doubt making patterns on the screen instead of actually using it to solve problems. It's funny really, how school isn’t Jungkook’s strong suit, but nearly everything else is.

“Yes,” Seokjin says, without lifting his head from his applied physics book although he too would rather be out scaling trees or plucking pears from the neighbor’s yard. The summer heat is beginning to set in, and in a few weeks the grass would be dry and stiff, stabbing into the backs of their shirts as they settled down on the parched ground. 

Outside the window, the cicadas chirp relentlessly and over that sound, Seokjin listens to Jungkook’s soft breathing, a complicit understanding that the interrogation wasn’t over.

“Is it though?” Jungkook proposes this time softer. He thumbs at the edge of the crinkled pages, eyes searching Seokjin's.

“Mhmm.”

“But why. I mean yeah, but...c’mon Seokjin, think about it-”

“Jungkook,” Seokjin warns.

“I’m not even your real brother.”

“Don’t say that,” Seokjin’s neck snaps up, more forcefully than he means because Jungkook flinches back.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. Jungkook never cried much as a kid, but Seokjin can read him so easily, spotting the bottom edge of Jungkook's lip beginning to tremble.

“Sorry Kookie. I’m just not in the mood to talk about-” Seokjin drops his pencil in favor of forming vague hand gestures into the air, but Jungkook’s mind is already wandering.

“Then why is it wrong?”

The corners of his eyes are wet and Seokjin is a terrible brother when he lets Jungkook wipe them up by himself. An even worse one when he moves forward to scoop Jungkook into his arms because that’s what he always does- always will do- but then Jungkook shifts.

He wiggles slightly, slim shoulders and fading tan line Seokjin remembers rubbing aloe into, sliding across Seokjin’s hands. His skin is hot, warmed by the summer heat and Seokjin's embrace. Jungkook stretches forward, rising to his tiptoes and without thinking Seokjin meets him halfway pressing a soft kiss straight against Jungkook’s wet lips.

Outside the window, no one is watching but the summer’s oppressive heat is more than enough to bear witness.

 

---

 

By fall, Seokjin leaves late by two years for college because they had to set him back a year during the hectic adoption period and being a December child means he didn’t make the age cut off to begin with. Schooling doesn’t come easily to either of them, but Seokjin’s determined if nothing else to leave this small cesspool of a town that gawks at him like he should be burned upon sight. It breaks his heart slightly to know that Jungkook has no such aspirations.

The first semester after Seokjin leaves for college half-way across the country he gets exactly two texts from Jungkook. The first is predictably- “I hate you. Don’t come home.” And the second, from more than a week later- “I miss you, but don’t come home,” makes his guts twist in a way he wasn’t prepared for.

 

---

 

Seokjin comes home at the end of summer break to a Jungkook he barely recognizes.

“Are you having a phase?” he says lightly from down the hallway, watching Jungkook apply eyeliner from afar.

“Maybe,” he replies without even looking back. It should pain Seokjin just how little Jungkook cares for his reaction, but Seokjin surprisingly doesn’t feel anything beyond a light nostalgia. The town hasn't changed a bit since he left over a year ago, seemingly frozen in time. The people here live the way they always have, moving at a snail's pace down the convenience store line, chit chatting about mundane town gossip and wondering if it'll rain tomorrow.

It feels familiar, yet so utterly foreign for Seokjin to settle back into this archaic rhythm of life when everything this past year at college has been vibrant- each day coming with a flurry of new knowledge, new faces, and the brightest technology illuminating their lives. In comparison, home makes Seokjin feel sluggish like he's moving at the same pace of the old mail man that pushes morning papers down the street.

The only thing that seems to have changed the slightest in Seokjin's eyes is Jungkook.

Distance has done them well, and the summer even better. Jungkook’s shoulders have broadened slightly, his arms are nicely toned from hitting the gym every day with his friend, Jimin.

That doesn’t change the fact that Seokjin still has nearly a half-foot on him and that Jungkook’s still his baby brother. It also doesn’t change their routine of watching crappy films and cartoon re-runs in the basement curled up on an old garage sale couch across from each other.

“What’s college like?” Jungkook asks curiously, dipping his hands in the popcorn bowl between them. In the shitty lighting of the basement, Seokjin watches the edge of Jungkook’s shirt ride up as he reaches for the popcorn again. It’s a sliver of pale belly, right above the navel- nothing Seokjin hasn’t seen before, but his throat goes inexplicably dry.

“It’s different,” he says. There's no other way to describe it. Jungkook nods, settling back onto the couch. His shirt rides up a little further and Seokjin has to force his attention back onto the screen.

Not everything changes after all.

 

---

 

They do a better job of keeping in touch after that year. Before he leaves for the start of fall semester, Seokjin gifts Jungkook with a tiny webcam and watches an exasperated smile stretch its way across Jungkook’s face.

“I know how to use Skype,” he says flatly, watching Seokjin bend below the desk to fumble with the wires. “I can figure it out.”

“Oh okay,” Seokjin coughs, choking on dust.

He straightens back up, not missing the way Jungkook’s eyes trace down his form. Part of him wants to scold Jungkook, wants to set this whole thing straight before it goes too far out of hand, but the problem is- Seokjin doesn’t even know what it is.

“Keep in touch?” Seokjin says offering a hand. Jungkook surprises him by moving in for a hug on his own accord.

“Are you gonna visit?” he mumbles against Seokjin’s chest setting unease against Seokjin’s conscious like sandpaper against bare skin. 

“I’ll try. No promises though,” he says, ruffling Jungkook’s hair. The look of disappointment in Jungkook’s eyes is almost enough to nail him on the spot, too guilty to leave until his parent rush him through the door. There's no dramatic fanfare for him as he boards the bus and watches the small town fade into the distance- just the warm summer wind carding through his hair and the weight of Jungkook's stare lingering in his mind.

 

---

 

"They chopped down the oak tree." is the first thing Jungkook tells him after they manage to connect on Skype for the first time since summer.

Seokjin is silent for a minute, taking in Jungkook's miserable expression on the pixaleted screen.

"Why'd they do that?"

A shrug.

"It's okay. We'll find another," Seokjin says, a little numb. "There were lots more in the parks we used to go to."

Another shrug.

"It'll be okay," Seokjin repeats, fighting the tightness of his own throat. Jungkook nods after a little bit, shoulders shaking slightly. Seokjin curls his hand into fists, nails biting into his skin as Jungkook finally cracks and twists away from the camera.

He watches silentlly like an intruder as pixel Jungkook begins to sob, quietly at first and then unmistakably. Sound travels fast, nearly 350 meters per second and somehow still not fast enough for Seokjin to feel close enough. The Jungkook in front of him looks like a recording, like Seokjin is watching a playback of their childhood. Only it all feels so wrong-  not because Jungkook is crying, but because Jungkook is crying and Seokjin is not there.

Hyosang says nothing hours later when Seokjin curls up in his blankets and eats dinner on bed- eyes flickering to the laptop screen absentmindedly.

 

---

 

“You on your computer again?”

Seokjin twists his head around to see Hyosang leaning against the doorway.

“Talking to Jungkook,” he explains. Hyosang reads the apologetic tone and settles back onto his bed with a sigh. He props open a textbook and pretends to read, watching Seokjin with a curious glance every now and then.

Seokjin ignores Hyosang’s antics behind him and turns back to the screen where Jungkook’s working on his Algebra homework. The sight of Jungkook’s smile, shitty resolution and all is better than none. Unsurprisingly it’s the best thing Seokjin’s seen all week.

“You doing okay there, kiddo?” Seokjin asks, when Jungkook scrunches up his nose in response to the next set of math problems.

“Yeah,” Jungkook sighs, chewing idly at the edge of his eraser. “This stuff just doesn’t make much sense.”

“You should ask your teacher for help,” Seokjin suggests. “Maybe go after school for tutoring or something. That’s what I did.”

“Yeah yeah,” Jungkook shrugs, looking back up at the screen. “Wish you were here to help though.”

At that Seokjin laughs. “You don’t want that to happen, trust me. I sucked at math. I could maybe ask Hyosang or my friend Namjoon to help. Namjoon's a total whiz at math. Yoongi tells me that he tested out of college calculus back in high school. You want him to help you, not me.”

Jungkook looks ready to argue back, when something crashes in the background.

“Gotta go,” Jungkook mumbles, grudgingly packing up his backpack. “Good night.”

“Good night. Have a good day at school tomorrow. Don’t forget to-”

“Got it,” Jungkook laughs, cutting him off. He looks off screen for a little bit, making his expression hard for Seokjin to read.

“My birthday’s next week,” he says plainly. It's more a suggestion than a statement and Seokjiin wants nothing more in the world than to be next to him. He wants to hold Jungkook and stroke his crooked fingers through his hair and tell him that he'll be there.

“I know,” Seokjin replies instead. It’s obvious that Jungkook’s fishing for more to his answer, but Seokjin leaves it at that watching Jungkook dejectedly pack up the last of his pencils until their call cuts off.

He lets out a sigh, settling back into his chair. It’s past midnight over in his time zone and Seokjin’s on his way to the sink to brush his teeth when Hyosang sits up from his position on the bed.

“You two are really close, aren’t you?” Hyosang comments offhandedly. He’s not looking at Seokjin, still nose deep in his textbook, but his question pierces straight through Seokjin’s weary gaze.

“Yeah.” He rolls the tube onto itself, trying to squeeze out the last bit of toothpaste. “What about it?”

“Nothing,” Hyosang says. He flips to the next page of his book and continues without preamble. “I just wish my sister and I were that close.”

There’s a wistful, yet taunting edge to his tone that Seokjin tries not to read too deeply into. The panic in his chest settles after a moment. There’s no way Hyosang knows.

 

---

 

When Jungkook turns 16, Seokjin makes a special day trip in the middle of the week to celebrate. It's early enough in the semester that he can get away with missing a few days worth of classes, even though Hyosang fixes him with a disapproving gaze on his way out the door.

This time Seokjin throws Jungkook the keys and turns away before he can see the smile play out on his brother’s face. Jungkook’s driving is steady, miles better than Seokjin’s when he was still in high school, but that doesn’t surprise Seokjin in the least bit. Jungkook is good at everything.

They drive out into the open, far past the point where the radio signal turns into white noise and the roads turn rough and unpaved. Seokjin has Jungkook park the car haphazardly, half on the road and half off into the tall grass. Jungkook looks uneasy, fingers drumming on the steering wheel as Seokjin takes a careful look around.

"Yep, this place looks good," Seokjin announces, swinging the passenger side open to stretch his legs. Jungkook just keeps looking out at the field, hoping to see something.

"What exactly is this place?" Jungkook comments dryly. Maybe he'd been expecting to go into the city, to have Seokjin take him bar hopping or something exciting.

"It's home," Seokjin smiles sweetly, pulling at Jungkook's arm playfully. "Let's go explore."

It's not the orphanage, but Seokjin's not wrong. Growing up, the two of them spent more time at the local parks than at home.

The area before them is nothing special. To anyone else it would just be a field- worth a half-second glance driving down the road at 60mph. To Seokjin, there's nothing more beautiful. There's nothing quite like the freedom of empty land- miles upon miles of tall grass bleached a pure, white gold under the relentless sun. The golden shimmer stretches for an eternity, far past the horizon and Seokjin thinks idly, this might be the closest they'll be to the ocean.  It's almost fall and the sky is filled with birds, migrating to more temperate climates. The clouds above them circle around, sprawled out lazily like the work of an uncertain brush stroke.

Everything about the place is vast, empty, breathtaking.

Jungkook seems to think so too. The confusion and frustration bleeds out of him the moment he steps out onto the field, closing his eyes to listen to the sound of the wind carve ripples through the shimmering ocean. Slowly, he opens his eyes again, smiling as he spots something in the distance.

Seokjin smiles as he follows his gaze out to the giant tree out on the edge of the road.

Seokjin lays out a picnic blanket in the shade and watches Jungkook scale the tree expertly. It's been their favorite past time since Jungkook was old enough to reach the lowest branches near the base of their old oak tree and maybe even a little before that.

“How’s the view?” he calls out, shielding his eyes from the sun when Jungkook reaches the top.

“Come see for yourself!” Jungkook shouts, wind and exhaliration pouring from his voice.

It’s a challenge if Seokjin’s ever heard one and he dusts his hands off, smoothing them against the rough bark to take hold of. He hoists himself up, smiling at the rough grind of bark against his palm. It's been a long time since Seokjin has been out climbing trees, but it all comes back easily- like re-learning to ride a bike. The pedals are rougher in the form of branches, but it's just as natural to cycle through the lower half of the tree as Seokjin propels himself through the thick canopy, suddenly weightless.

From above, he hears Jungkook laughter tinkling through the leaves like he's 12 again and Seokjin is chasing him through the branches as they sharing popsicles in the muggy summer heat. The smell of bugspray in the warm air and the hint of purple dusk in the sky triggers a deep sense of nostalgia in Seokjin.

The tree sways under their combined weight, protesting the sudden abuse. “Come up higher,” Jungkook calls, waving his arms towards Seokjin. It sends a pang of worry through his chest, watching the branch sway under their combined weight, but Jungkook has better balance than him, always will.

“I think I’m good here,” Seokjin says, folding his limbs around the main trunk like a koala.

“Weak,” Jungkook taunts but he comes down, weaving smoothly through the branches as if he were climbing down simple stairs. He takes a seat next to Seokjin and lets his feet hang freely.

“I’m out of practice,” Seokjin says, waving a hand in surrender. Jungkook laughs in response, loud and carefree.

He settles back leaning against Seokjin’s shoulder, pressing his sweaty forehead into Seokjin’s shirt.

“What’s it like?” Jungkook asks after a moment. "College I mean."

Seokjin goes to college two states away, but it might as well be in a different universe to Jungkook who’s never set foot outside of the town they grew up in.

“It’s fun,” he starts. “The people are nicer.” He thinks of his small group of friends. Hyosang tossing slushies at him from across the courtyard. Hoseok drunk dancing on the street with a crowd around him, dragging him and Namjoon by the wrist to their first frat party. Yoongi crawling to bed past sunrise and awake only long enough to wolf down the morning pancakes Seokjin made for the whole dorm during their first wave of mid-terms.

“Also a bit crazier.”

Jungkook’s nose scrunches up cutely. “Crazier like what?”

“Wilder I guess,” Seokjin says after a moment. “Everyone’s sort of young and does whatever they want. That’s college I suppose.”

“Sounds like fun,” Jungkook says. It’s not hard to read to envy lining his voice.

“It is.” Seokjin pauses.

So much has happened since Seokjin left for college and it's difficult to relate them all back to Jungkook who seems frozen in time in comparison. It's not Seokjin's fault for leaving, but he can't help the sharp stab of irresponsibility when he thinks of Jungkook left back at home- crying alone as they cut down their ancient oak tree or him watching Seokjin live his life through the pixilated computer screen. Seokjin wonders how Jungkook can stand the idea of not leaving for college.

The air between them feels stilted even as the wind continues rushing through the tree. Fall is around the corner now. The leaves scatter around them like an omen. Seokjin watches the shadow of leaves dance across Jungkook’s frown before continuing. “I mean, it's a lot of fun, but it’s nothing like this. The people there are super competitive about their grades. There are no trees big enough to climb. You eat really shitty cafeteria food.”

“Even you?” Jungkook’s words are skeptical. “Even me,” Seokjin admits.

Jungkook's laughter is so warm, bubbled against Seokjin's arm. He's so close, yet they've somehow never been further apart. Seokjin shifts, carefully balancing himself to wrap an arm around Jungkook's shoulders when Jungkook scoots back.

"You okay?" Seokjin asks, surprised.

"Yeah," Jungkook mutters, turning away. "I just-"

"Yes?" Seokjin asks. "It's your birthday Jungkook. Do whatever you want. Unless you want me to jump off this tree, that's just mean."

"I'd never do that," Jungkook protests. He shifts again, closer than before and Seokjin closes the distance between them just as easily. "Tell me what you want, Kookie," Seokjin says, holding up his pinkie.

"Can I kiss you?" Jungkook asks shyly. They're miles up in the air, alone and safe in their nest of leaves. Seokjin nods, throat dry as Jungkook closes his eyes and leans in sweetly. The sound of wind covers them like a blanket, shrouding their secrets and sins until there's nothing left but two boys under the warm summer sun and the world beneath their feet.


---

 

They untangle themselves from each other and the tree long after the sun has gone down, but the ground is still warm- radiating the heat absorbed through the day back into their bodies. The lie spread-angled on the picnic blanket, elbow to elbow, watching the sky lose warmth. There's no serenade through the air, no songbirds singing from the trees, but Jungkook twists to the side, a wayward smile on his face, and kisses Seokjin all the same. He's all warmth and the smell of grass as he kisses Seokjin like they'll never be found and Seokjin kisses him back twice just for God to see. They're lost in the middle of nowhere, stranded with each other's bodies wound around like lifelines to trace their path back home. The stars above them are bold, daring against the night sky like they’ll never fade.

“Come home more often,” Jungkook mutters sometime between the pitch black of night and the first rays of dawn. It’s so soft, so sad that Seokjin is caught between thinking he dreamed it and wanting to believe he dreamed it.

 

---

 

There’s another dream that Seokjin has that turns too starkly into reality on the day he returns the next year. His bags have barely even touched the floor when Jungkook appears at the top of the stairs, bolting down to meet him.

“Welcome back,” he smiles. Seokjin eyes him openly, drinking in the sight of Jungkook- taller, but still boyishly beautiful. He's lost weight in his face, his cheeks slimming down to reveal a deadly jawline that Seokjin inexplicably wants to trace his finger down.

“Been thinking about you,” Jungkook murmurs and the look in his eyes spells trouble. His eyelashes flutter down, tracing Seokjin's form unashamedlly. The warmth settling into Seokjin's chest twists, hungry.

“You too, kiddo,” Seokjin laughs back lightly, not missing the disappointment in Jungkook’s eyes. Their mother clucks her tongue at them from the kitchen and Jungkook snaps back in place, understanding.

“Do you need help with that?” he says, motioning towards Seokjin’s dufflebag. Jungkook’s shoulders have gotten broader, not nearly as broad as Seokjin’s, but he’s getting there.

“Sure,” Seokjin replies, trying to come to terms that he’s surprisingly okay with himself. Seokjin shakes his head to clear it, unsure what all this really means or if his mind is playing tricks on him. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, but there’s no excuse for him checking out Jungkook like that and even less for the way Jungkook basks in the attention- shooting Seokjin a sly smile over his shoulder.

“You coming up or what?”

 

---

 

It’s on purpose.

Seokjin finds out later that evening when Jungkook brushes a socked foot up his leg under the dinner table just out of their parents' sight. He traces the line of Seokjin's pant leg, tickling his knee with the tip of his toes.

"How was the drive back?" Jungkook asks, smiling widely as Seokjin's knee jerks up, slamming into the bottom of the table and jostling their silverware.

"Fine." Seokjin's grins back, glaring at Jungkook. He's keenly aware, paranoid even, of the uneasy glances his mother shoots him. Jungkook continues, completely undeterred, like he's been planning this for ages. He settles back into his chair, scooting down further to reach the side of Seokjin's calf. Seokjin's stomach drops at the look his mother sends them both as Jungkook wiggles his toes, tracing them lightly down the side of Seokjin's calf.

"Umm. Bathroom." Seokjin calls out, excusing himself from the dinner table as Jungkook grins behind his napkin.

The bathroom upstairs is too far so Seokjin opts to hide in the basement. Everything on his skin feels too hot, arousal mixed with summer heat making for the worst combination. He frantically splashes water on his face, fighting the creeping arousal from showing fully on his face. Jungkook's grin surprises him from the side as he pokes his head down the stairs.

"You okay?" he teases, fingers tickling the edge of Seokjin's arm. "You seemed awfully flustered back there. Surely you couldn't have missed mom's cooking that badly."

The look in his eyes is suggestive, a blatant invitation if Seokjin's honest with himself. Jungkook bites his lip, letting it slide out from between his teeth a bitten, rosy red.

"I didn't," Seokjin says rigidly. He bats Jungkook's hand away, and dries his hands with a paper towel. Jungkook bites back a grin, shadowing Seokjin as he paces back towards the stairs. Seokjin freezes, contemplating telling Jungkook off in the basement before they returned to the main house when Jungkook rises onto his tiptoes to press his lips flush against Seokjin's neck.

“Cut it out,” Seokjin hisses.

Jungkook's gotten taller, but Seokjin will always be broader. Jungkook's eyes go wide, first in fear and then something darker, more primal, as Seokjin pushes him away roughly. The two of them go stock still as Jungkook's back hits the wall with a thud and Seokjin can't tear his eyes away from the way Jungkook’s Adam’s apple bobs up slowly, and then down. Seokjin shakes him again, rough and Jungkook lets out a small, nearly inaudible moan, but it's there- soft, suggestive and god, all that's left is for Seokjin to lean in and kiss him hard and drink in the sound of Jungkook whimpering into his mouth-

Seokjin jerks away from him like he's been burned. He coughs, arousal burning through his defenses.

“What’s gotten into you lately?” Seokjin mutters watching the hurt pool itself in Jungkook’s eyes.

“Lately?” Jungkook echoes sarcastically. “Not even you can be that dense, can you Seokjin?”

He’s not. But it’s always been so much easier, feigning innocence in a situation that’s anything but.

“Let's set this straight. You kissed me when I was 15 and left me back here while you were off having the time of your life off at college,” Jungkook spits out. Seokjin opens his mouth to protest, but Jungkook never gives him the chance. “You left me here. Alone."

Jungkook pushes him off, fire in his eyes. "You came back when I turned 16, took me out to a field and kissed me again. You disappeared for about a year and now you want to know what's up?"

"We can't do this here," is all Seokjin can say before Jungkook rounds on him- kissing Seokjin hard until they're both out of breath. He bites up against Seokjin, all harsh and demanding like he's been waiting his whole life to do it. Part of Seokjin is shell-shocked at the turn of events, but the darker, more twisted side of him roars in jealousy, wondering how many boys, girls, maybe both, Jungkook has kissed to have gotten this good. They break apart, breaths harsh, and Jungkook crooks a finger into Seokjin's collar, reeling him in closer and that's when Seokjin feels him pressing up against his thigh, hard.

Jungkook's furious. Seokjin can read that much from the line of tension drawn from his shoulders to the grind of his teeth, but this is completely unwarned. Seokjin gulps in breaths, hands useless and clumsy as they push against Jungkook like he's fighting to bring them both through uncharted waters- wading through years of misunderstandings and secretive glances brought to a boiling point. It's a miracle that they both make it onto the couch, Seokjin's mind short-circuiting as Jungkook straddles him, the knobbiness of his knees digging into the side of Seokjin's hip. They kiss frantically, a pure pulse of frenetic want passing between them.

It's not a mistake, Seokjin wants to say even though he knows clear well every mistake they've made together to get to this point- Jungkook, still not yet 17 and horny, curled up against Seokjin on the basement couch, eyes half-lidded with want. There's fear in them too.

They shouldn’t be doing this, they’re brothers.

Foster brothers, Seokjin reminds himself, as if that tiny six-lettered word makes any of this better. But Jungkook’s starved for the only attention that he knows how to receive, practically keening into Seokjin’s lap. 

“I’m not your brother Seokjin,” Jungkook gasps. He's irresistible, so single-minded that Seokjin feels his resolve slip. “Don’t tell me this is wrong. Don’t tell me that I’m wrong.”

“Never. You’re not wrong, it’s not you,” Seokjin says, softly. He cradles Jungkook’s head in his arms, petting through his hair softly. “It’s just that even if we’re not brothers, you’re still-”

“I’m still what?” Jungkook bites, gasping out between his moans. “Too young?”

“Yeah,” Seokjin admits. It’s shallow, selfish, and ultimately only for his own remaining shreds of morality, but Jungkook nods in understanding. He threads their fingers together nervously and Seokjin can feel his rabbit quick pulse in the space between them.

“I love you,” Seokjin says and that much of it will always be true. “But-” He watches Jungkook’s bottom lip draw thin in anticipation. “Not here. Not like this. I mean for heaven's sake, Jungkook- you’re still 16, you don’t know what you want.”

“I’m two months away from being 17,” Jungkook whines, twisting to his side to glare at Seokjin.

"And when I was 17, I didn't know anything," Seokjin interjects gently.

The color rises high in Jungkook's cheeks. "But I'm not you," he says.

"You're not," Seokjin admits. He sneaks an arm around Jungkook to curl around his shoulder, relieved when Jungkook doesn't flinch away. "But you're still too young. Let's wait until you're 18-"

“What difference does a year make? I’ll still love you next year and the year after that too,” Jungkook says, childishly stubborn- and that's precisely what he is, a child. Seokjin suddenly feels disgusted with himself. 

"It does. So much changes in a year, Jungkook," Seokjin argues back. The stubborn glint remains in Jungkook's eyes. "You don't realize it now, but things are always changing. Things are going to change."

“But we won't," Jungkook replies indignantly. Seokjin watches his emotions- confusion, anger, lust, loneliness- fight each other across Jungkook's face until Jungkook finally turns away, defeated. He settles back onto the ratty cushions, curling in on himself. Cautiously, Seokjin moves over to run his hand across Jungkook's forehead, brushing back his too long bangs.

"Just one more year,” Seokjin mumurs softly. Jungkook's eyes search his, still trusting. “I promise.”

Slowly Jungkook nods, the bowing movement of his head small and slight, but maddeningly heavy. After a moment he turns and buries his head in the crook between Seokjin’s shoulder and neck and leaves it there, breathing comfortably. Seokjin can feel his pulse slow, Jungkook's soft hair tickling the side of his neck. He pulls Jungkook in closer, feeling warm and sticky with guilty.

But this is the part Seokjin can play- the part he is used to, the role of the upright, moral older brother. It's natural, it's right, but in the end Seokjin caves too because he just loves Jungkook too fucking much to do anything otherwise.

“One more year, I promise,” he repeats like a mantra. “I promise. I promise. I promise.”

But then two months later, Jungkook turns 17 and never ages again.