On his 7th birthday, Namjoon ends up in the ER before he even manages to blow out the candles on his Pororo themed cake, leaving the white frosting untouched even though he wanted to be the first to taste it, before his mom would cut the cake to serve the guests.
Blood is dripping from the gauze pressed to his chin, ruining his sky blue shirt, the new one that was a present from his grandmother who insisted that he wore it to the party. His mother curses under her breath as doctors pass down the corridor, not paying any attention to them, hurrying to attend to the more serious traumas than the boy who fell down the last couple of stairs because he was careless.
After another minute in which nothing changes, his mother stands up, the ugly orange plastic chair squeaking beneath her as she gets up, and rushes towards the nurse coming down the hallway. There's panic in her voice when she stops the nurse and asks “Will somebody help us?”
The nurse smiles one of those polite, warm smiles that they teach in medicine schools, the one that always says that things will be okay and takes the shaking hands of Namjoon's mother in hers.
“Doctor Jung will be with you in a moment,” she says, her voice gentle, soothing, and Namjoon's mother sighs a breath of relief.
Doctor Jung is a man in his early forties with a few gray hairs and warm brown eyes. Once they enter his office, he welcomes them with a smile and gestures for Namjoon to sit on the bed, while he gathers all the instruments his needs. He rolls his chair over to Namjoon and pushes his wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose before looking at the injury.
His office, just like every other room in the hospital, is pristine. It smells of disinfectant and bleach, but the cardboard yellow sun and blue clouds glued on the white walls inhale a bit of humanity in the otherwise cold room and Namjoon's eyes roam across the drawings and posters about human anatomy.
Doctor Jung lifts Namjoon's chin up with a gentle press of his fingers and when Namjoon winces in pain, tears finding their way down his cheeks once again, the doctor goes back to the medicine cabinet and injects Namjoon with a sedative to ease the pain and make him feel nothing for a few hours before continuing the examination. Then he carefully peels the gauze from the injured skin and looks at the wound. Behind him, Namjoon's mother chokes on a sob and covers her mouth with her hand.
“Well, you are a really brave boy, Namjoon,” the doctor begins and Namjoon feels his chest swell with pride. He's a big boy now. 7 years old. He can handle a bit of pain even though at the moment all he feels is tingling sensation as the sedative spreads through his body.
“Is it serious?” his mother asks as the doctor takes out a sterile wipe, ready to clean the wound.
“It could have been worse if Namjoon wasn't as lucky as he was. The wound isn't deep, but a few stitches will be needed. You'll have a cool scar to impress the girls with when you grow up,” the doctor jokes and Namjoon's mother sighs in relief.
“Thank God. I thought-”
“I know,” the doctor interrupts her. “I have a son Namjoon's age and at this point I'm surprised that he isn't here every day because of some stupid thing or another. They're kids. They're curious and they want to know how the world works and how high they can climb up the tree before the branches snap.”
“But I still worry, Doctor,” Namjoon's mother says, wringing the handle of the bag in her hands.
“As you should. It's our job as parents to worry and fuss over them, but my grandmother used to say that God protects the children as much as parents do and, as a doctor, I can tell you that there's some truth in that. I've seen many cases that could have ended badly, but didn't, luckily.”
The doctor puts down the instruments and looks at the five stitches he made. He cleans the last remains of blood and gently patches Namjoon up.
“There, all set. Namjoon, you wait here while I talk with your mom outside for a second. Okay?” the doctor says, standing up and taking off his latex gloves.
Namjoon's jaw feels numb. He's not sure if any words would come out even if he could open his mouth, so he just nods and watches his mother and the doctor leave the room, gently closing the door behind them. Through the frosted glass on one side of the office Namjoon can see their silhouettes retreating, moving away from the office. Once they disappear, Namjoon looks around.
Posters promoting a campaign about healthy nutrition hang on the walls as well as various placards with specific parts of human anatomy. Paperwork litters the doctor's desk, a stack of binders is left on the right side while three photo frames decorate the left side. Namjoon's too far away to see the faces of the people clearly, but he gets the impression that they're smiling.
Before he has the chance to hop off the hospital bed, the door of the office silently opens and closes, a boy sneaking inside. He presses his back against the wooden surface of the door, whispering “yes” to himself. When he lifts his gaze up and his eyes land on Namjoon, he grins.
“Shhh,” the boy says, his index finger pressed against his lips, and Namjoon nods.
It takes a few moments for the boy's heavy breathing to even out and when it does, he crosses the distance between them in a couple of quick steps. Once he's standing by Namjoon's side, his curious eyes roam across his face until they settle on the white patch of gauze on Namjoon's chin.
The boy smiles a toothy grin and says “What did you do? I strained my ankle three weeks ago and it really hurt and I came here to get it fixed and a nurse gave me a strawberry lollipop which was really delicious and Doctor Han was really nice, but she's not here today. Today's my check-up, but Doctor Choi is mean so I came to look for my dad and found you.” Exhale, inhale and then “So, what did you do?”
“You ran away?” Namjoon manages to choke out. His jaw is stiff. It hurts when he moves it.
The boy in front of him frowns, eyebrows knitting together. “I left,” he states simply. “It wasn't my fault that they weren't looking.”
Namjoon looks at him with wide eyes and the boy fidgets, shifting his weight from foot to foot. His overgrown bangs fall in his eyes and he tries to blow them back. It doesn't really work and Namjoon cracks a smile, a small one, but it doesn't go unnoticed.
“I'm Hoseok,” he says. “What's your name?”
“Oh... Joonie. Just like the old cat of my neighbor. I think he'll die soon. Not the neighbor, the cat,” Hoseok scrunches his nose in distaste and Namjoon wonders if he's allergic to cats because this is the first time that Namjoon has ever seen somebody frowning at the mention of a fluffy being that purrs if you scratch them in the right place. He wants to ask, even opens his mouth to do so, but Hoseok's lips stretch in yet another smile and he says “So Namjoon, what did you do to end up here?” before Namjoon even manages to utter a single word.
- - -
“I can't believe your mom actually convinced me to do this,” Hoseok's dad says, taking his glasses off and running a hand down his face as they wait for the elevator to come. “Wouldn't it be better if she took you with her to the restaurant?” he asks, looking at Hoseok whose left shoe is untied, denim jacket nearly slipping of his shoulders.
Hoseok blinks at him sleepily and smiles a little when his dad kneels to tie his shoelace.
“Dunno,” he mumbles and then, before he yawns, he adds, “Said how I'll eat all the chocolate there.”
His dad chuckles. “She's probably right about that. But you'll be bored at the hospital.”
“Won't. Promise,” Hoseok says in time with the arrival of the elevator.
Thirty minutes later, they're in the hospital lobby and Hoseok watches his dad sigh in defeat after seeing the operation schedule on the board.
“Guess we won't be hanging out much today, buddy,” he says, eyes glued to the whiteboard, a frown set on his face.
“S' okay,” Hoseok replies, looking around, hoping to spot that nurse that treats him with candy every time he comes around.
His dad looks at any signs of disappointment on Hoseok's face, but all he finds there are droopy eyelids and sleep clinging to his eyelashes. Hoseok covers his mouth with the back of his hand and yawns before smiling at him. Things are okay, they will be okay, Hoseok's dad tries to convince himself. Hoseok has been to the hospital more times than he can count of his fingers and he knows the majority of the nurses and doctors working on this floor.
When he strolls down the hallways a few minutes later, a vast majority of them greet him. The ones that don't are either busy taking care of a patient or buried under a pile of paperwork.
“You're here again,” a blonde nurse working at the front desk says when she sees Hoseok rounding the corner. “What did you break this time, Hoseokie?”
“Me?” Hoseok asks in return. “Nothing this time, noona. But I heard Dad saying that Mom broke his resolve this morning. Is he in pain, noona?”
The nurse chuckles and shakes her head. “He is in a lot of pain, but don't worry about him. He'll be okay. He's a big boy, just like you are. How old are you again?”
“Nine years and three months,” Hoseok beams at her.
“Wow, you really grew since the last time you were here. Want to help me?” she offers and Hoseok accepts in a heartbeat. At least he won't be bored again.
The annual physical exam for elementary school kids is a great excuse not to do homework because the homeroom teacher would be too stressed out about keeping nearly thirty students in check to even care about memorized poems and solved math problems.
The usual practice is that doctors come from the hospital and set everything up in the school gym, and then class after class comes in for the height and weight measurement as well as checking their blood pressure and heart rate. The scariest part of the examination is taking blood samples and this is the part when the teacher would come to stand behind the chair and shield the student's eyes with her gentle hands while an ever pleasant and patient nurse takes a small amount of blood for analysis.
But this year is different than the others and Namjoon's teacher claps her hands to get the students' attention before they step foot into the hospital.
“Take the hand of the person standing next to you,” she says and the girl next to Namjoon tries to trade places with the boy in the row in front of them because she doesn't want to hold hands with Namjoon and her best friend, a girl with hair tied in pigtails who steps away to make room for her, doesn't wish to do that with some boy she's never said a word to. But before the small exchange could be made, the teacher raises her voice.
“Chorong, is there a problem?”
The girl next to Namjoon freezes and looks at her shoes. “No, Miss,” she replies.
“Good. Now, don't separate from the group when he go inside. Is that clear?”
The entire class choruses a “yes” and Chorong slips her hand into Namjoon's sweaty one.
Once they're inside the hospital, a group of nurses welcomes them and separates them into three groups before they enter the ambulances where the doctors are waiting for them.
Namjoon's standing in line with the other kids, his gaze wandering from one thing to the other, from posters promoting a campaign against smoking to the ones telling him how important fruit is and that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” until he spots a nurse with strawberry blonde hair walking down the corridor, a black haired boy by her side. When they're close enough for Namjoon to recognize the boy as Hoseok, he looks away because Hoseok probably doesn't remember him. They met on accident two years ago and children's memories are quick to fade, but Hoseok stops right in front of Namjoon and tugs at the nurse's uniform.
“Noona?” he calls out and the nurse turns around, a stack of binders in her arms.
She raises an eyebrow and says “What is it now, Hoseok?”
“This is my friend, noona. Can I stay with him?” Hoseok asks.
The nurse looks away from him and down the corridor, then at the heavy binders in her hands, then back at Hoseok. “Fine,” she sighs. “But behave. Got it? I don't want to hear anybody complaining about you.”
Hoseok mock salutes her, words “Yes, Ma'am” slipping past his lips. Before walking away, the nurse ruffles his hair and a wide grin spreads on Hoseok's face. Once she's gone, Hoseok slumps against the light green wall next to Namjoon. His smile fades a little, not that Namjoon noticed or anything like that.
“It's Namjoon, right?” Hoseok asks after a moment of silence.
Namjoon nods. “And you're Hoseok?”
“Was the last time I checked,” he snorts and Namjoon laughs along.
The silence comes back. They're not friends, just two familiar faces in the crowd. Namjoon watches the line in front of him shrinking as children, one by one, enter the office and he moves accordingly. Hoseok hums a popular song under his breath and occasionally glances at Namjoon. The row of twelve students has shortened to eight when an idea pops in Hoseok's head.
“Hey,” he calls and Namjoon whips his head around. “Do you wanna visit Mickey?”
“Who's Mickey?” Namjoon asks in return. Hoseok's question intrigued him more than he'd like.
“The skeleton in my dad's office,” Hoseok says nonchalantly like he's talking about his favorite color or cartoon and not about a heap of bones connected by metal wire. “Wanna go?”
Namjoon gnaws at his bottom lip glancing at his classmates and then back at Hoseok. “I don't know.”
“C'mon. You'll be back before anybody notices you're gone.”
“Promise,” Hoseok beams at him, pushing himself off the wall and taking a cautious step towards his father's office. Namjoon follows suit.
- - -
Namjoon wasn't keen on having a younger brother or sister and he tried his best to ignore his parents for an entire week after they broke the news to him, but his mom goes into labor on the day of his math test which he didn't study for and his father comes to school one period before the test and even though Namjoon's teacher is frowning and making his father promise that Namjoon will come to school next Saturday to retake the test, he still lets Namjoon go and Namjoon bids his classmates goodbye with a wave of his hand and with his tongue stuck out because, unlike all of them, he doesn't have to take the test.
His baby sister is an ugly kid, Namjoon notes when he sees her for the first time, but doesn't voice his thoughts out loud because that would only earn him scolding and a few disappointed looks from his parents.
That's the truth though. Her eyes are closed, her nose is barely there because her chubby cheeks take up more than half of her face and as their mother coos at her and calls her little princess and sunshine and moonlight and all those grossly cute things, Namjoon takes a step back after touching her tiny hand with small sharp nails that will leave scratches on Namjoon's skin for the next three or four years, until she figures out that she could bite him and sticks with that for a few very painful months.
The hospital room is full of flowers and presents for the newborn and Namjoon's parents are on cloud nine after their little angel has been born, but Namjoon isn't ecstatic about it. Sure, he's happy to some extent because now the grabby hands of aunties and grandmas will move from his cheeks to his sister's, but he's seen babies on TV. All they ever do is cry when they're hungry, eat until they're so full they have to poop and then repeat all that again and again.
Having a baby is a lot like having a pet until they're old enough to walk, talk and dress themselves, which is only an assumption of Namjoon's because that's all he can do – assume – because his parents never allowed him to have a pet and now they're having a little human of their own, which is just great. Fantastic. Fabulous.
Namjoon scoffs and the sound of it startles the baby. She starts crying and Namjoon winces. He's never going to have a child of his own if all of them wail this loud. His father sends him out of the room before joining his wife in a futile attempt to calm the little one.
Namjoon goes down the hallway, dragging behind him his backpack with too many books. If he had known that he would only have two periods, he would have left his biology textbook and his atlas at home. But now it is too late to even think about all possible if's and maybe's.
The hospital is oddly quiet and eerie in the late afternoon hours and Namjoon passes by a few wards without seeing a single person until he reaches the waiting area. He drops his backpack on one of the plastic seats before slumping down on the other. The plastic squeaks underneath him and the boy sitting on the bench across from him looks up. At the moment when their eyes meet, a smile appears on his face lighting up the dark atmosphere.
“No way,” the boy exclaims and Namjoon wants to laugh because what are the odds that he would meet Hoseok again in the hospital.
“Yes way. This is getting creepy.”
Hoseok shakes his head. “Nah, this is destiny, man. Or we have the perfect timing for getting injured,” he says, raising his left arm proudly into the air. His entire forearm and hand is in cast. Stark white against the black of his hoodie.
“Nice,” says Namjoon and Hoseok nods. “What did you do?” he asks a heartbeat later.
Hoseok scratches the back of his neck with his good hand, then leans back into the electric blue chair.
“You know that pond near the fence of the park,” Hoseok begins, then stops as if waiting for Namjoon to confirm. When he nods, Hoseok sighs and continues. “Well, it froze, like ice all over the place froze. So I and my friends went over to try to play hockey there since we didn't have money for the city skating rink, that nice one in the center.”
“And?” Namjoon prompts when Hoseok stops talking. He's looking in the distance, somewhere above Namjoon's head. Maybe at one of the promotional posters that are hanging all over the hospital. “And?”
Hoseok frowns and looks over at Namjoon. “Okay, and so we played until the ice broke which wouldn't have been so bad if that clumsy idiot Sungjae didn't try to take the puck from me. He pushed me and I fell on the cracks. The rest is history.” Hoseok runs his fingers over the cast and asks "Hey, Namjoon, want to sign my cast?"
“Make it something cool.”
Namjoon smiles before reaching for his backpack, unzipping it and taking out his pencil case. He opens it and looks through his many markers and pens before settling on a dark green permanent marker.
Hoseok gets up and goes to sit by Namjoon's side, his injured hand resting on Namjoon's lap. Namjoon takes him by the forearm, uncaps the marker with his teeth and begins scribbling down words.
- - -
Namjoon presses his index finger on the band-aid covering the place where the drip has been hooked up to his arm. The skin around the puncture wound is tender and purple. It's a bruise bound to be formed after three days of being in a hospital bed with the IV dripping, dripping. The sound of it matched well with the sound of the clock hands moving, ticking away seconds, and Namjoon couldn't sleep during his first night in the hospital, but now he got used to it.
His eyes widen in shock when he feels pulsing under his finger and Namjoon becomes painfully aware of the beating of his own heart. It's silly how focused on it he is and the urge to peal the band-aid off and see the soft flesh colored blue makes his stomach lurch.
He picks the end where the glue is the strongest with his nails and grits his teeth, eyes narrowing with the thought about the pain that will blossom when he rips the band-aid off. He's halfway done when the door of his hospital room flies open and a nurse wheels in a boy.
“How many times to I have to tell you to stop doing that, Namjoon?” the nurse asks as she closes the door and Namjoon fumbles with the band-aid, putting it back in place the best he can. It comes out a little crooked, the skin sticky with the remains of glue.
“Sorry,” Namjoon mumbles, tips of his ears red, eyes following the patterns on the bedding instead of looking at the nurse.
“Just like you were the last time, right?” comes another question, tinged with annoyance and even though he still doesn't dare to look at her, Namjoon has a feeling that the nurse is rolling her eyes. The boy in the wheelchair laughs and the sound of it fills the hospital room with two beds – one empty and the other Namjoon's - along with the screeching of the wheels against the linoleum floor.
Namjoon lifts his head to glare at the boy and he's met with a heart-shaped smile and two rows of pearly white teeth.
The boy looks pointedly at the nurse, a cheeky grin directed at her this time, expecting her to help him out of the wheelchair and to the bed, but she stays by his side, arms crossed over her chest.
“C'mon, now. I'm not helping you. It's just a twisted wrist.”
“But noona,” the boy whines, voice high-pitched and full of aegyo. He looks ridiculous, Namjoon notes and yet he doesn't look away, doesn't reach for the book on the nightstand that his mother brought him in hopes to distract himself from the scene unfolding in front of his eyes.
“You can do it yourself, Hoseok. You would've been discharged right away if it weren't for your parents being out of town and your neighbor refusing to take care of you for the time being,” the nurse replies, nudging the boy – Hoseok – to get up.
With a pout, he lifts himself up and plops down on the empty bed, the mattress squeaking under his weight.
“Not fair,” he grumbles, throwing his left hand over his eyes and Namjoon catches a sight of white bandages wrapped around his forearm all the way down to his knuckles.
“Throwing your neighbor's cat from the balcony on the second floor wasn't fair either.”
“I didn't throw her. Snowbell decided to jump. If I were you, I wouldn't blame her. Her owner is awful. Besides, nothing bad happened to her. She just has one less life,” Hoseok grunts. His explanation isn't very believable, but it is the truth. It's not his fault that he's a good human being who helps others and that his neighbor Minah always overreacts.
“You're lucky that nothing serious happened to you. Be careful next time, Jung Hoseok,” the nurse says on her way out. When the door closes, Hoseok lets his hand fall from his eyes and looks over to the bed beside him. The boy laying there doesn't look away when their eyes meet and Hoseok smiles.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hello” comes the reply.
“We meet again, Namjoon-ah.”
“It must be destiny,” Namjoon laughs.
A series of misfortunate events.
That's what their friendship is.
Bruises, cuts and broken bones. Meetings in the ambulances or the ER, if they were unlucky enough, with the nurses rolling their eyes and doctors calling them by their first names because they've been there too many times to be counted.
Syndrome of recklessness, of glass bones and that one time when the pond in the park became an impromptu ice rink and winter was leaving the city with blackened piles of melting snow on the pavements and drains full of dirty water.
“We really need to stop meeting like this,” Hoseok tells him after a few hours of chatter about this and that. Namjoon looks up from his plate of food that's barely edible but “very nutritious”, as the doctors claim.
“Think so?” he asks around a mouthful of rice and vegetables.
“Yeah. We're not kids anymore and this game of breaking bones to get here to meet up is stupid,” Hoseok says, blowing the bangs out of his eyes.
“We're fourteen, Hoseok. Technically, we're still kids,” Namjoon deadpans and Hoseok gives him a dirty look.
“Whatever. All I'm saying is that if we want to be friends, we really should consider meeting somewhere other than the hospital. It's creepy.”
“That's not what you said 3 years ago,” Namjoon jokes, remembering all the times they met before in this same building under the similar circumstances. Hoseok grabs a pillow, ready to throw it at Namjoon who raises his hands surrendering because he doesn't want food all over his medical gown and bedding. “But yeah, you're right. Let's hang out some time,” Namjoon says and Hoseok beams at him. His twisted wrist hurts a little less.
- - -
Hoseok throws his head back and looks at the blue sky without a single cloud. Namjoon pops another piece of squid in his mouth and mumbles “Your mom is a great cook.”
Hoseok smiles but doesn't look away from the endless sky. He says, “She's a chef.”
“That explains all the herbs in your garden.”
It does, Hoseok thinks. For as long as he can remember, their garden was full of herbs, spices and vegetables. His mom used to say that nothing tasted better than the food you pick yourself and often sent him to bring tomatoes and carrots from their garden. She also used to say that her garden was her sanctuary which meant that it was off limits when it came to playing soccer or any sport that involved running around and using a ball.
Hoseok prefers Namjoon's backyard over his own because even though Namjoon's sister is still little and bothers them a good amount of the time, they have more freedom in the garden where there's nothing else except grass and a lone oak tree in one of the corners, its shade perfect to hide under during the hot summer days like today.
“I still don't get it why we can't be at your place,” says Hoseok, taking a half-empty glass of juice from the plastic picnic table. The ice has melted a long time ago and the beverage is lukewarm and too sweet. He still swallows it down.
“Because,” Namjoon begins, but doesn't continue because he's distracted with fending his snacks from fruit flies. He slaps his hands together and Hoseok makes a disgusted face at him before looking away. Towards the blue sky once again.
“Because we spent the last summer there.”
The summer when they were fourteen and Namjoon was recovering from a leg injury and Hoseok was complaining how he would never be able to throw a ball as far away as he used to because he busted his wrist once again. Namjoon had to remind him that he threw the ball with his right and not his left hand, which Hoseok deemed unimportant.
The summer that came after they decided to stop meeting in the hospital and to actually become friends, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. To fall into a routine, to turn right instead of left and walk two blocks down to reach a friend's house.
Hoseok called it destiny, that there was a one-way street connecting theirs. Namjoon thought that it has more to do with urbanistic plans than fate, but he let it slip.
What he doesn't let slip is Hoseok reaching over the table to snatch his drink after he finished his own.
“That isn't a valid excuse,” Hoseok tells him, hand stretched out, fingers almost curling around the glass when Namjoon moves it away and Hoseok huffs.
“Your place is nicer and your parents are away?” Namjoon offers, taking a sip of his lemonade. It's still cold and he sends a little prayer to the sky.
“My sister isn't.”
Namjoon knows it, hears it even through the pop music blaring through the open window of her room.
Hoseok's sister is two years older than them, a pretty Miss Sunshine because it seems like sun-like smiles are the trait of the Jung family, and on a few occasions Hoseok had to remind Namjoon with a jab to his ribs to stop looking at his sister like he's planning to marry her and that if Namjoon even thought of making a move on her, Hoseok would personally chop his dick off. It was probably just an empty threat, but Namjoon isn't too keen to testing that out.
“Just nice?” Hoseok retorts, eyebrow cocked.
“Pretty too. C'mon, she's the female version of you. What do you want me to say?”
Besides it being easy, being friends with Hoseok prepared Namjoon to expect the unexpected and the last year, the year that they spent hanging out together, was full of surprises. So it doesn't really catch Namjoon off guard when Hoseok leans forward, his elbows on the table, chin resting on his palms, and bats his eyelashes at Namjoon.
“Do you think that I'm pretty too, Namjoon-ah?” Hoseok asks, voice sweet, full of syrup. He tilts his head just slightly, bangs falling in his eyes. His lips are stretched in a smile with no teeth showing.
Namjoon rakes his brain for a snarky reply, but his palms are sweating because the temperature is rising with every passing second and his heartbeat is thrumming in his ears. He can't force himself to look away from Hoseok and all that he manages to say is a small “yeah”, a whisper, barely.
But this catches Hoseok off guard and he stares at Namjoon for a moment that stretches for too long before the familiar grin takes up half of his face. Maybe his bright smile could make Namjoon look away from his red cheeks.
“You're not so bad yourself, stud,” he jokes.
Namjoon cracks a smile. It doesn't quite reach his eyes, but Hoseok doesn't have to know that. Hoseok doesn't have the time to notice that because in the next moment he's getting up and collecting the cushions and glasses in his hands.
“Take the snacks and let's go inside. It's gonna rain,” he says and instinctively, Namjoon looks up and at the sky. There isn't a single cloud there.
“Trust me,” Hoseok adds, pushing the door open with his elbow.
It takes less than ten minutes for the heavy clouds to roll over the sky and when the rain starts hitting the window panes, the sound of it overpowering the TV noise, Namjoon looks at Hoseok and asks “How did you know?”
The smile that appears on Hoseok's face as he raises his left hand into the air is a bitter one.
“I guess it never fully healed,” he tells Namjoon. “It hurts like hell whenever there's a storm coming.”
- - -
On a gloomy Tuesday morning a few days before Hoseok's 16th birthday, Namjoon comes to school drenched through and through since he forgot his umbrella at home and the bus stop isn't near his school. He comes inside, water droplets falling from his bangs, only to find a happy Hoseok leaned on his locker. The smile on his face is more radiant than the sun was a few days ago and Namjoon instantly brightens up, especially after seeing the box of chocolates in Hoseok's hands. It's a nice touch, the red bow on top adding to it. Hoseok looks up and crosses the distance between them, stretching his hands out.
“Look,” he says, beams even, and Namjoon forgets about the rain that soaked him through and the water between his toes.
“Is that for me?” Namjoon asks, tentatively, a bit of suspicion lacing his words.
“Not this one,” Hoseok replies. “But I'm sure that there's some in your locker.”
There isn't. Namjoon knows this even without looking. He's not a part of the popular gang or the cool kids that skip class and cough their lungs out smoking on the bleachers around the football field. He's just another face in the crowd. So he wills the nonchalant expression to stay on his face. He prays that Hoseok doesn't notice the twitch of his lips and the smile that's starting to fade.
“It's from Hyolyn,” says Hoseok, looking fondly at the small package resting on his palms. He flips it and starts undoing the bow. “She gave it to me for Valentine's. It's nice, right?”
“Yeah,” Namjoon says, moving past Hoseok and getting to his locker. He punches the code in and twists the lock a few times before it gives in. He wants to ignore Hoseok, he really does, but ever since they were little, Hoseok has had this magnetic pull on him and Namjoon has never mastered the ability to completely ignore him, no matter how hard he tried.
“I never thought that it'll happen to me, y'know? Because, wow, it's Hyolyn we're talking about. The hottest girl in this entire school and she, the queen, picked me, a common peasant, as her Valentine's date. It's gonna be awesome, right? Well, it should be, after I plan it out,” Hoseok rambles on and on as Namjoon shoves the books in his bag and slams the door of his locker shut with more force than necessary.
Hoseok looks at him. “Hey Namjoon!”
“Are you even listening to me?” Hoseok asks, frowning.
Namjoon dumps the backpack over his shoulders and runs a hand through his wet hair. It's no use. A mess is a mess. “I am. Why are you asking?”
“Dunno. You seemed absent,” Hoseok replies, stepping closer. “Here, hold this,” he adds, dumping the chocolate in Namjoon's hands. He lifts himself to the balls of his feet and reaches out to Namjoon. Threading his fingers through Namjoon's hair, he shapes it into something decent looking. When he pulls back, a satisfied little smile on his face, Hoseok says “You're presentable again and you're welcome.”
Namjoon bites his lips and nods because he doesn't know what to say. Small genuine actions aren't a new thing when it comes to Hoseok, and yet, Namjoon can't seem to get used to them. When he finally finds the right words, Hoseok's already walking towards the classroom, a little bounce in his step and Namjoon can see him approaching Hyolyn and pecking her cheek.
Namjoon doesn't like Hoseok in the same way his mother likes his father, the same way his cousin giggles and hides her face in her hands whenever she's talking about her special someone. Not in the way the eyes of his grandmother light up when she tells him how stupid his grandfather was and how he drove a motorcycle around her house trying to impress her with his driving skills, not in the way she laughs fondly at the memory of her late husband driving into a field and then into a stream because he didn't really know how to drive to begin with.
Namjoon is a boy. Hoseok is a boy too. Boys don't like boys in that way and a boy shouldn't wish to kiss another boy and hold his hand and buy him chocolates for Valentine's. That's not what he sees on TV, in romantic comedies and heart-wrenching dramas where the main leads fall foolishly in love till death pulls them apart.
But then he sees his youngest aunt holding hands with her girlfriend and kissing her cheek gently and telling her that the meal she cooked tastes amazing even though she forgot to add salt and they're in love, so in love.
If girls can like girls, if anybody can love anybody, if love doesn't care about gender, then he can like Hoseok and want to hold him close and be selfish and jealous just this once. Except, he doesn't.
Namjoon doesn't like Hoseok in that way. He likes Hoseok as a friend. Nothing less, but a whole lot more.
“Fuck,” Namjoon hisses when the tennis ball hits him in the forehead. He has spent the last two hours laying on his bed, throwing the ball at the ceiling and catching it, not thinking about Hoseok and the chocolate he got and the stupid date he has with Hyolyn on Saturday. Definitely not.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Namjoon thrashes around before he nearly falls off his bed. He rolls on his stomach and buries his head under the pillow. “Fuck,” he says once again and takes a deep breath.
His phone rings a few minutes later and Namjoon scrambles to his feet. It takes him a good thirty seconds to find it under a pile of clothes and he answers it without looking at the caller ID.
“Halo?” he heaves out. His breathing is labored.
At the other end of the line, Hoseok laughs and says “Am I interrupting your sweet time? A little action with Namjoon Jr.?”
“Fuck you,” Namjoon hisses, fake malice in his voice.
“You'd like that, wouldn't you?” Hoseok laughs, loud and obnoxious, and Namjoon wishes that he was next to Hoseok to smack him upside the head. Sadly, he's not and the only thing that he can do is facepalm and groan.
“You're such a menace. I'm hanging up,” Namjoon announces, finger hovering over the end button.
On the other end, Hoseok shrieks. “Wait, hold up! Won't mention your wiener anymore. Promise!”
Namjoon sighs and falls on his bed. “What do you want, Hoseok?”
“What are you doing on Saturday?” Hoseok asks.
Namjoon turns his head to glance at his calendar. February 18th is circled in red. Hoseok's birthday.
“Umm, nothing really. Why?”
“Wanna hang out?” Hoseok asks, hopeful and a tiny bit nervous.
“What about Hyolyn?”
Hoseok sighs. He's fidgeting, never able to stand still.
“She blew me off. “A better offer” came up,” Hoseok scoffs.
Namjoon can picture him standing in front of the theater watching as the couples go inside. If it rained, Hoseok would look like a drenched cat. Not a pretty sight.
“So, now I have two tickets for the movies. Wanna go?” Hoseok asks before Namjoon could offer him any words to ease the pain Hoseok must feel.
“Is it some horrible romantic comedy? If yes, then no. You're on your own, my friend.”
“Dude, it's Inception. Action and all that shit,” Hoseok says, probably smiling.
“Then I'll go,” says Namjoon and then adds “I'm buying snacks. Consider that your birthday present.”
“Wow, so cheap,” Hoseok laughs and Namjoon does too.
“When you deserve something better, you'll get it,” Namjoon hums, looking at the smudges his tennis ball left on the ceiling.
“You're such an amazing best friend,” Hoseok mocks.
“Only because I love you,” Namjoon mumbles and then bites his tongue when he realizes what he just said. Shit!
It seems like Hoseok didn't really understand completely Namjoon's words because he says “Yeah, I like you too” before hanging up.
- - -
For as long as Hoseok can remember every summer his sister and he had set up a tent in their backyard and camped there for a few days or sometimes even a few hours when their timing was bad and summer rains weren't added in the equation of a perfect camping experience. Their tradition continued as they grew older, fairy lights stretching from their back door to the tents, twinkling just like the stars above their heads on times when they could see them.
But Hoseok's sister finds a boyfriend and a group of close friends and suddenly their backyard is too small to be a camp. Not to mention that is embarrassing being 19 and camping with your little brother in your garden with all the lights turned on in the house that's less than twenty meters away. She wants something more – more adventure and freedom without the presence of their parents, and the only way that their parents would approve a camping trip with her boyfriend and friends is to take Hoseok with her.
“I'm not going, noona,” Hoseok says not taking his eyes of the screen. He's sitting cross-legged on the floor of his room, a Playstation controller in hand, fingers fumbling with the buttons. He can hear his sister sighing and shuffling around.
“Please?” she asks, voice sweet and soft, and if Hoseok turned around, he'd see her doing aegyo, the kind that makes everybody weak in their knees, but also the kind that has no effect on him. He calls it genetic resistance to obnoxious siblings.
“Sorry but no. I don't know your friends. It'll be awkward,” Hoseok tells her, passing yet another level of the game and finally reaching the last one after two days of struggling. He still has two lives left, enough to win if he's careful and doesn't get distracted with exploring his surroundings.
“Hobi, I'm your sister. Do it for me. Please!”
“Jesus, noona. I already said no. Is that so hard to understand?” Hoseok mumbles, eyes glued to his character and the bad guys approaching it. He thinks that he hears a huffed “Fine” behind him and then shuffling of feet.
Finally! Finally she'll leave him alone.
Except that she doesn't. She pulls the Playstation plug from the socket in the wall and the power goes off right when Hoseok's so close to beating this stupid game. He jumps to his feet, pressing the controls with much more force than necessary as the images fade on the screen. When the monitor becomes pitch black, Hoseok stares at it as if waiting for a miracle, controller hanging from his fingers. Then he slowly turns around, glaring at his sister.
“You suck,” he tells her. “You really, really suck! You're the suckiest person of all suckers on this whole damn planet! And you're mean. I'm telling Mom.”
His sister fakes innocence, a small, wicked smile on her lips as she plays with the plug for a moment or two, twirling the cable with her fingers, before putting it to the floor by her feet.
“If you do that,” she begins, taking a step closer to him. “If you tell Mom, then I'll tell her about the porn magazines under your mattress and the porn stash on your computer and how you skipped school for three days in a row because you couldn't face your history teacher after putting glue on her chair and how you spent all your pocket money on a fake ID and still got caught because you couldn't possibly pass as a 38-year-old man with a mustache and how the only reason why you weren't taken to the police station was because you and Namjoon were caught by his cousin who took pity on you and–”
“Fine, fine,” Hoseok interrupts her, throwing his hands in the air. “Jeez, what has gotten into you? You sound like those lawyers on TV.”
Hoseok's sister beams at him. “I'll become one.”
“I'm looking forward to it,” he deadpans and then “What do you want?”
“Come camping with me!”
“Fine. Just don't tell Mom anything.”
“I won't, baby brother,” she smiles, pinching his cheeks. She turns to leave and on her way out she adds, “You can invite Namjoon if you want. There's always room for one more.”
“Camping, huh?” Namjoon says, digging a plastic spoon into his frozen yogurt. His eyes are narrowed in concentration, in an attempt to get the treat into his mouth without snapping the spoon in half.
Hoseok watches him, eyes following every movement. There's something mesmerizing about the effort and thought Namjoon puts into everything, even the simplest, most ordinary things.
"Yeah! Please come," Hoseok says, clasping his hands together in a prayer.
Namjoon chuckles and then takes a spoonful of yogurt into his mouth. Hoseok watches him swallow, Adam's apple bobbing in the process.
"You sound desperate," Namjoon jokes.
"That's because I am," Hoseok admits, shutting his eyes and bowing in front of Namjoon. "Please come camping with me and my sister. She wants to suck face with her boyfriend in the middle of the forest and the only way she'll be free to do it is if she takes me along with her friends," Hoseok makes air quotations around the last word before resuming his pose from earlier.
"Couldn't you have said no to her?" Namjoon carefully asks because Hoseok is either on the verge of crying or snapping. Crying seems like the more possible option and Namjoon braces himself because Hoseok is an ugly crier.
"No," Hoseok groans. "She threatened to tell on me to Mom and I'm too young to die."
Namjoon chuckles and Hoseok lifts his head to glare at him.
"I know, I know. It's not funny."
"It isn't," Hoseok says. "So please come with me to make my misery smaller and I'll do your math homework for the rest of the year."
"So I'm taking that now is not the best time to remind you that the only reason why you're not failing math is because I do half of your test after I finish mine," Namjoon muses and Hoseok hits him in the arm.
"It's not," he says courtly. "What do you say?"
"Fine," Namjoon sighs.
"This is not fine," Namjoon hisses as he hits a mosquito that landed on his forearm ready to suck his blood. The bottle of insect repellent is half-empty and Namjoon can't hog it for much longer because there are other people around like Hoseok and his sister and her boyfriend who, to be honest, Namjoon hasn't seen since they set up tents. They said something about collecting firewood before disappearing into the forest.
Hoseok puts on his hoodie and tucks his hands in the pockets of his cargo pants. "I'm sorry."
"As if," Namjoon retorts, scratching the back of his neck. He's itching all over and no matter how many times Hoseok says that he's sorry, he won't make Namjoon's need to skin himself alive any smaller.
"I am," Hoseok says. "This isn't very pleasant for me either. Just hang in there till tomorrow and then we'll go home."
Namjoon cocks an eyebrow. "Only till tomorrow?"
"Only till then," Hoseok nods. "Noona's friend is flying to Canada the day after and she made a promise to help them pack. Can you survive till then? For me?"
"Are you selling me an innocent act, Jung Hoseok?" Namjoon asks, hitting Hoseok's lower back.
Hoseok bats his eyelashes at him. "Is it working?"
"Yeah," Namjoon cracks a smile and squirts a generous amount of sunblock on his palm before he starts rubbing it on his forearms. The sun will set soon, but it's the middle of July and even the last rays of sun can be dangerous.
Hoseok sits on the ground next to Namjoon, pulls his knees to his chest and hugs them.
"Thank you for coming," Hoseok says a moment later, voice small, barely audible.
Namjoon stops counting mosquito bites dotting his skin like freckles and bumps their shoulders together. "You're welcome."
As the sun sets behind the mountains and the last rays of light illuminate the forest, Hoseok gets up from the ground and dusts off his pants and looks around their small camp. Namjoon is napping on the blanket he brought from one of the tents, his snoring the only familiar sound in the forest and a shiver runs down Hoseok's spine after he checks their close surroundings and realizes that his sister is nowhere in sight.
"Namjoon," he calls. "Namjoon, wake up!"
"What?" comes a groggy response.
Namjoon opens his eyes, blinking a few times to chase the sleep away. The patch of sky above his head has turned from baby blue to sultry tones of orange fading to a darker shade of indigo.
"Hoseok, what is it?" he asks, trying to suppress a yawn.
"My sister," Hoseok manages to choke out. "They haven't returned yet. You have to help me find them."
Namjoon lifts himself up, stretching his arms over his head. His joints crack and he winces at the sound. "I'm sure they're somewhere near. Have you tried calling them?"
"There's no signal here."
"I meant tried shouting their names. You know, the old fashioned way," Namjoon corrects himself and Hoseok stares at him for a long moment before he nods his head.
"I did. No response."
"Then we'll look for them," Namjoon says and relief flies across Hoseok's face. He scrambles to his feet and grabs a torch from his backpack before joining Hoseok at the edge of the forest.
The forest is exactly what children's stories said that it would be and Hoseok sticks closer to Namjoon the deeper they go. The path is narrow and steep, guiding them to the unknown; the sounds of rustling leaves and birds' song echo around them as the darkness slowly envelopes them in an embrace, gentle and soundproof. When they look up, they can see the first stars appearing on the patch of the now dark blue sky that they can see through the tree branches. Somewhere behind them, an owl greets the coming of the night and Hoseok bumps into Namjoon who's standing in place, shaking the flashlight in his hand. The light flickers, on and off, on and off, until it dies out and Namjoon curses under his breath.
The night has just settled in, the shadows dark and threatening, and all that Namjoon can see are silhouettes of the things that probably aren't even there. He feels Hoseok's hot breath on the back of his neck and then a whisper.
"Turn the light back on. This isn't the right time for pranks, Namjoon."
Namjoon takes a deep breath and exhales the words "I can't. The battery died."
"What do you mean you can't?" Hoseok hisses, voice breaking at the last syllable.
"I can't," Namjoon repeats and Hoseok gulps.
The darkness is thick and heavy, the warm summer wind ruffling the leaves on the trees; creatures are coming out to play. Namjoon doesn't know for certain how deep they've wandered into the forest, but since they haven't left the camp too long ago, he figures that they're not so far away. Once the moon comes out and the pale light illuminates the forest, they'll find the way back. But until then, he listens to the sounds around them, to Hoseok's heavy breathing.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Yeah. Yeah, I am,” Hoseok says, trying to smile. But his laugh falls flat and Namjoon turns on his heels. Hoseok is barely something more tangible than the shadows around them.
“Hoseok,” he breathes out. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Hoseok manages to choke out. His voice is trembling, so is his entire being when Namjoon moves closer, clumsy hands coming to rest on Hoseok's shoulders.
“Liar,” Namjoon says, the tone of his voice light, teasing almost.
“I'm sorry, I just,” Hoseok starts, voice cracking. It reconnects on a different pitch and he continues. “I'm not too fond of the dark.”
“Then close your eyes,” Namjoon instructs, moving a step closer.
“Just listen to me, will you?”
For the first time in a while, Hoseok listens to him and closes his eyes. Darkness behind his closed eyelids is familiar, an old friend. It's soft and gentle just like the touch of Namjoon's hands as he lifts Hoseok's hoodie's hood up, sound of fabric crumpling overpowering the echoes coming from the forest. Namjoon pulls him in a hug and Hoseok falls, stumbles into his embrace, burying his head in Namjoon's chest, the soft fabric of his cotton t-shirt.
The hug is awkward. Namjoon has never really learned how to comfort people, has never known what to say to make things better and chase nightmares away. Hoseok's always been the nurturing type, the “everything will be okay” and “things aren't as bad as they seem” type while Namjoon lingered in the back trying to come up with something to say that wouldn't come off as cold and insensitive.
But now the roles are reversed. Hoseok is the one who needs support instead of giving it and Namjoon is uncertain what to do. When Hoseok's hands curl around his waist, fingers digging into his back, holding tight, Namjoon breathes a breath of relief.
“I thought you liked camping. You always bragged about it,” Namjoon says, his voice a soft murmur against Hoseok's ear.
“I do,” Hoseok mumbles, his breath hot on Namjoon's cheek when he lifts his head, eyes still closed.
“What's the problem then?” comes the question and Namjoon can feel Hoseok tensing. He wishes he could make the fear and uncertainty go away.
“We always camped in our garden with fairy lights and the house lights on. Even the street lights. There was always a lot of light. This is different.”
Namjoon hums in reply because the years they spent together taught him that Hoseok still has a lot to say. He always rambles when he's nervous.
“It's stupid and I know it and I'm sorry, but darkness always puts me on edge because I never know what's hiding in it. God, I feel stupid even talking about it. I'm sorry, Namjoon. Just–”
“It's okay,” Namjoon cuts him off before Hoseok loses track of his words, of what has been said and what should be said. His hold on Hoseok feels more comfortable now, almost natural. Hoseok fits perfectly by his side, in his arms. His fingers have stopped pressing bruises along the ridges of Namjoon's spine, they're only holding on now, not hurting. Hoseok has shifted, pressed his head on Namjoon's shoulder, his hood falling of his head, hair tickling the side of Namjoon's jaw. His hair smells like apple shampoo and gasoline, like fire. Namjoon wants to run his fingers through it to see whether it's soft or brittle. But he can't, it would be inappropriate, and so he wills those thoughts away and asks “You okay now?”
“Better,” Hoseok hums.
“Good. Because if you start crying, I really don't know what to do,” Namjoon chuckles.
After a minutes, Hoseok laughs too. “I won't. Promise.”
They stay like that for a while until the moonlight pierces through the thick branches over their heads and pale light chases the shadows away. When it's light enough to discern the shapes and paths, Namjoon lets his hands fall to his sides. Hoseok whines at the loss of contact and opens his eyes to glare at him, but instead a joyous “I can see” echoes in the air around them.
Namjoon laughs, low and husky. “Good. The moon's up. We should return to the camp now that we can see the path.”
Following the path back becomes easier when they notice the fire in the distance, flames licking high into the sky. Hoseok takes the lead, not even once looking back. When they make it to the meadow where the camp is set, they find Hoseok's sister and her boyfriend sitting around the bonfire, munching on snacks.
“Where have you two been?” she asks once they emerge from the forest.
Namjoon looks at his shoes not knowing whether to tell the truth or to stay silent. Luckily, Hoseok spares him the agony because he says “Collecting firewood” before reaching out to grab a bottle of water.
“And you brought nothing with you because?” she asks, eyebrow raised.
Hoseok swallows a mouthful of water and shrugs. “We couldn't find any.”
“In the forest? You couldn't find wood in the forest?”
“Jeez, noona. Wait till you become a lawyer to interrogate people,” Hoseok says, taking a bag of pretzels from her.
Her boyfriend chuckles and pats her knee. “They didn't do anything bad. Let them be.”
“Fine,” she sighs. “But just this once.”
Both Namjoon and Hoseok mock salute her before sitting down and starting to eat.
- - -
“Here's to our inevitable mediocrity,” Namjoon yells over the deafening techno music and downs yet another glass of vodka. He slams it on the counter when he's done and the bartender takes that as a cue to fill his glass again. Next to him, Hoseok sips on his drink, wincing as alcohol slides down his throat.
It's their first time drinking, Namjoon's treat for his 18th birthday. They started with lukewarm soju, moved to vodka when they got used to the taste and Namjoon's tongue untied itself, leaving behind endless complaints, views on life and a million questions he didn't know the answer to and Hoseok had nothing to offer him as one.
Earlier this night, they made a deal that whoever doesn't know the answer to their own question has to take a shot. Since then, Namjoon's been doing it dutifully. Hoseok stopped counting after his tenth glass. He's mildly concerned about Namjoon's well-being and extremely amused by Namjoon's ability to hold down liquor so damn well. He guesses that all those six packs of beer they smuggled in their rooms when they were dumb teenage boys are finally paying off since Namjoon has drunk another glass while Hoseok hasn't even finished his.
“What?” Hoseok shouts back and things would be so much easier if they stood closer, if he could whisper in Namjoon's ear and not yell over the music and empty glasses and bottles covering the counter even though the bartender is doing his best to keep it clean. But that's hard to do in a club with more than 500 souls, the dance floor filled with bodies pressed flush, bodies moving in sync while hands are everywhere, searching for comfort as distance melts with every drink.
“I said,” Namjoon starts, voice coming out high-pitched. He squeezes his eyes shut, takes a breath, cigarette smoke and cheap perfume mixed with sweat burning his nostrils, and then opens them. Lights dance over the crowd and the walls, reflecting of glass bottles, giving Hoseok a fake halo.
“So pretty,” Namjoon mumbles to himself and moves forward, slinging a heavy arm over Hoseok's shoulders. His cheeks are flushed, from alcohol and Hoseok's proximity. Namjoon leans on him, fingers digging in Hoseok's shirt, seeking support. He brings another glass to his lips.
“What?” Hoseok tries again, this time softer because Namjoon is pressed against him, Namjoon's arm pulling him down, a heavy weight. Namjoon tips his head back and Hoseok watches his Adam apple bob with every mouthful of vodka that he swallows.
“I said,” Namjoon repeats, nuzzling in the crook between Hoseok's shoulder and neck, hot breath fanning over heated skin. He closes his eyes, enjoying the warmth Hoseok provides. “You're really pretty tonight,” he whispers, lips grazing the skin of Hoseok's neck. It's soft. The words. Namjoon's voice. Skin on skin.
Hoseok shudders, fingers tightening around the half-empty glass. He tilts it back, gulps it down. When he looks at Namjoon a moment later, unlatching the younger from him, there's something foreign in his eyes, burning quietly, but Namjoon doesn't see it, too drunk to notice.
“And you're very drunk, pretty boy. Let's get you home.”
When he sees that Namjoon's wobbling on the thin line between falling asleep and throwing up, Hoseok pulls his wallet out of his pocket and tells the cab driver to pull over less than a block away from Namjoon's house because in the state which he is in, Namjoon won't make it there before throwing up all over the backseat of the cab.
The driver stops by the curb and Namjoon barely manages to push the door open before he's throwing up alcohol and bile. Hoseok runs a comforting hand down his back before looking away and giving the man a few bills more than what the price of the ride was.
“I'm sorry,” he apologizes, but the man just shakes his head, dark circles under his eyes.
“S' okay, kid. You're not the first ones. But thanks for stopping me before your friend over there couldn't hold it any longer,” he says, pointing a thumb at Namjoon who's conscious enough to raise his hand and wave. The driver's lips pull up in a smile, a bitter one. “At least your friend's polite.”
Hoseok smiles sheepishly at him before opening the door on his side and getting out.
The chilly night air reeks of stomach acid and cheap liquor and Hoseok helps Namjoon out, careful to avoid stepping in vomit on the sidewalk. He slams the door shut once Namjoon's leaned on him, Hoseok's arm around his waist while his is resting around Hoseok's neck.
Hoseok watches the cab drive down the street and it's only when it rounds the corner and taillights disappear from his sight does Hoseok look at Namjoon. There's a little kiss of vomit in the corner of his mouth and Hoseok wipes it off with the edge of his jacket sleeve.
“Ready to go home, Nams?” Hoseok asks, taking the first cautious step.
“Mhm,” comes the muffled response. Namjoon's head is on his shoulder and they probably look ridiculous like this; Namjoon trying to wrap his bigger frame around Hoseok, sharp bones bumping in the process, limbs a tangled mess, Namjoon tucking his head in the crook of Hoseok's neck, again, and murmuring something. Something incoherent, syllables slurred, meaning lost with every shallow breath of his, broken words restored in a sentence that doesn't really make sense, at least not in Hoseok's head. When Hoseok doesn't react, just continues walking forward one step at a time even though Namjoon pulls him back two, Namjoon shakes his head.
“Hoseok,” he mumbles, trying to keep balance without Hoseok's support, but he stumbles and Hoseok catches him before he even starts falling.
“Yeah?” responds Hoseok, eyebrows furrowed, lips a straight line. From where they are now, he can see Namjoon's house, white facade and all lights turned off. They'll reach it soon.
“You're pretty, Hoseok-ah,” Namjoon slurs, lifting his free arm and running his fingers down Hoseok's cheek and his jawline, gently. There are little blemishes on Hoseok's skin, acne scars and imperfections, beauty marks, but all of that disappears under Namjoon's touch. All he feels is softness. Hoseok's always been soft, round cheeks and small dimples that only showed when he really smiled and Namjoon's always been a little whipped.
Hoseok swallows and looks away. His hand around Namjoon's waist tightens its grip. “You told me that.”
“Yeah?” Namjoon asks, frowning. Memory is a tricky little thing, it never remembers the important things, always the stupid, embarrassing ones and the details, so many fucking details that Namjoon's head feels like it'll explode thanks to the sheer amount of useless information stored there.
Hoseok hums. “Yeah.”
“Well,” Namjoon begins, stops for a second as if trying to think of the right words to say, but his mind is a mess and all he comes up with is “You're still pretty.”
“And you're still drunk, Namjoon-ah,” Hoseok says, pushing the gate open and leading Namjoon up the few stairs to his front yard.
By the time they get to the door, Namjoon's already dozing off on Hoseok's shoulder, Hoseok's breathing lulling him to sleep.
“Namjoon, where are your keys?” Hoseok whispers and Namjoon presses closer to him.
“Pocket,” he mumbles and Hoseok reaches for the front pocket of his jeans.
A laugh breaks free from Namjoon's throat a moment later and he giggles. “Those aren't my keys you're touching.”
He's a little sobered up, but not enough. Hoseok hits him and Namjoon laughs harder.
“Jerk,” Hoseok flushes, but he can't find it in him to hold a grudge against Namjoon. At least not when he's in a state like this.
“I'm not touching your ass,” Hoseok retorts. “Get it yourself.”
After a few moments of struggling, Namjoon finally finds his keys and hands them to Hoseok who unlocks the door and carefully pushes it open.
“We don't want to wake everybody up, so stay silent, okay,” Hoseok says as they enter.
They can't be bothered with taking off their shoes, not when Namjoon is barely standing on his feet.
Climbing the stairs turns out to be a much bigger challenge that Hoseok thought it'd be because this isn't his house and even though he's been here so many times that he lost count, he still isn't sure which step will squeak when stepped on and Namjoon's too busy trying to stay awake to be of any actual help.
Even with the dim lights coming through the hallway windows, finding Namjoon's room isn't hard and once the door closes behind them, Hoseok heaves a breath of relief. He sits Namjoon on his bed and helps him take off his jacket and shoes.
Namjoon wiggles his toes in his white socks. He feels warm and fuzzy, and maybe a little too happy considering the fact that he threw up on the sidewalk and that there's a little jazz orchestra playing in his head, the brass section especially strong and full of vigor. A headache is sure to come.
He lets Hoseok manhandle him into bed and as Hoseok pulls covers over him, leaning down to maybe kiss him on the forehead for good night because Hoseok is caring and sweet like that, Namjoon pulls him down and smashes their lips together. It's awkward, chaste, chapped lips on lips. It only lasts a moment, the kiss, before Hoseok's pulling back, his hands on Namjoon's shoulders, holding him down.
“C'mon,” Namjoon whines and it's stupid, completely and utterly stupid, but he's been waiting this for so fucking long and what is a single kiss between friends? It doesn't have to ruin what they have. It won't ruin things. They're stronger than this. They—
“You'll regret this in the morning,” Hoseok says, barely a whisper. His hold on Namjoon's shoulders loosens, he's retreating. “You'll regret this when you sober up,” he says, stronger, louder.
“Liar,” Hoseok laughs and even in the dark, even if his head is floating above the clouds, Namjoon knows that the smile Hoseok's wearing right now doesn't reach his eyes so he musters all the courage he has because they've reached a point of no return and there's no going back to the things as they were before.
“I won't. Promise,” he says and he's pulling Hoseok down, down, down until they lips meet.
Hoseok tastes like the last few shots of tequila he had and lime slices he bit into, bitter with a hint of sweetness, like what seems to be a mistake, but isn't one and Namjoon licks between his lips, clumsy and uncertain because even though he's sobered up a little on the way home, there's still alcohol buzzing in his veins, and what if Hoseok is going to be the one to regret this in the morning and not him?
But Hoseok moves his head to a better angle so their noses aren't bumping together any longer and kisses Namjoon back, all tongue and teeth and unspoken wishes.
When they break apart, Hoseok's heavy breathing matching the frantic rhythm of Namjoon's heart, Hoseok whispers “We'll talk about this in the morning. Now go to sleep.”
Namjoon snakes his arms around Hoseok's waist and murmurs “Stay here. With me.”
Before he drifts to sleep, he feels Hoseok squirming, then he hears two thuds – Hoseok's sneakers hitting the floor, before he settles down. In Namjoon's embrace.
Morning finds them together, limbs tangled and sheets falling off the bed. Hoseok's hand is thrown over Namjoon's middle, mop of black hair tickling the skin of his neck. Hoseok still has his jacket on, the fabric of it rough under Namjoon's fingers when he moves his hand.
Their breathing is in sync, chests falling and rising in a steady rhythm that oddly matches the sound of footsteps in the hallways.
Namjoon hears it. The pitter-patter of tiny feet. Down the corridor they go and he cracks an eye open when they abruptly stop. Dreams are disappearing from the edges of his vision and he blinks a few times to chase them away. His left arm is numb, Hoseok using it as makeshift pillow and when Namjoon turns his head, Hoseok's face is so close that Namjoon can count his eyelashes.
He makes it up to eight before his bedroom door creaks open and a shock of black hair pulled up in pigtails with pink ribbons appears in the doorway.
“Mom,” his sister starts, her eyes roaming across the books and magazines littering the floor to Namjoon's bed. It's a small ritual of hers, giving him time to pull up the covers over himself if he's already awake when she comes up to his room. Usually he's asleep which is the main reason why she gave up on knocking a few months ago even though that isn't polite.
When their eyes meet, her mouth falls open in shock because there's somebody – a boy – in her brother's bed and Namjoon jerks upright, knocking Hoseok off his arm. He raises both of his hands into the air and mouths “Please don't”, but it is too late.
“Mom, Namjoon has a boy over!” she yells in the general direction of the kitchen downstairs where the noise is coming from. It sounds like a porcelain plate being smashed against ceramic tiles and Namjoon groans. Great. Just great.
Next to him, Hoseok is awake, eyes open wide, hands searching for the bedsheets to crawl under. He's never ever again going to have enough courage to look Namjoon's mom in the eye. He'll have to carefully plan everything around avoiding Namjoon's parents for as long as he's alive.
He tugs at it a little too hard and the next thing he knows he's on the floor, a sheet covering him. At least he's invisible now.
Still standing in the doorway, Namjoon's sister giggles, initial shock disappearing once she saw that the boy was Hoseok and not a stranger. Namjoon runs a hand through his hair, long fingers combing through the strands, and tried to figure this situation out.
From downstairs his mom shouts “What boy? Somebody we know?” and Namjoon groans, again. He thinks that the pile on the floor that Hoseok has become whines about something, but he's not sure because his head is killing him and it feels like something died in his mouth.
“It's just Hoseok, Mom,” his sister yells back and this time Namjoon winces in pain. Since when did his sister sound like nails on a blackboard?
“Oh... Ask him if he'd like something to eat or drink or maybe some breakfast? There's plenty for all of us,” his mom says. She doesn't shout because she probably came to the bottom of the stairs holding a mug of coffee in one and morning newspapers in her other hand. Namjoon can almost feel relief oozing out of her after discovering that her son didn't sleep with a stranger and if things were normal, Namjoon would be suspicious because for all he knew, he wasn't obvious with his crush on Hoseok. Or maybe that's just what he thought. Maybe the smiles of his mother whenever Hoseok came over were the knowing ones. But things aren't normal and Namjoon's brain refuses to work properly.
“Would–” his sister starts before Namjoon cuts her off with “We're fine. Great. Just go.”
She nods, an amused little smile on her face, one that tells Namjoon that by the end of the day he'll become the main topic in her small circle of friends because kids share things like this with each other just like they share what they ate for breakfast.
After she closes the door and goes downstairs, her steps audible through thin walls, Namjoon falls back on the bed, the mattress squeaking underneath him.
“Is she really gone?” asks the lump on the floor and Namjoon turns his head in its direction.
“Yeah, she went away. You can come out now unless you're cozy there.”
“Actually,” Hoseok says, voice muffled by the fabric. “It's okay here. Your sheets smell nice which is weird. Am I hallucinating?”
Namjoon chuckles. “You didn't drink enough for that and it's jasmine, courtesy of my dad. He found this new store and the salesman convinced him to buy a bunch of stuff. We have ducky shaped bathbombs somewhere.”
“Dick?” Hoseok asks, amused.
“Duck. Like a baby duck. Think Donald Duck,” Namjoon retorts and then “Aren't you hot under there?”
It takes a moment for Hoseok to reply, a moment in which Namjoon stares at the ceiling and counts the cracks there, trying to forget what happened, to erase the memories that are surprisingly clear even though his mind was hazy.
“I am hot,” Hoseok says. Namjoon can hear the sheets rustling before Hoseok emerges from them. He sits cross-legged on the floor, rays of morning sun casting patterns on his jeans. “But it's easier to avoid the pink elephant in the room if you're invisible.”
“Oh that,” Namjoon mumbles, still looking at the ceiling, like the answers are written there in invisible ink. He can feel Hoseok's gaze on him, but he makes no effort to move away or closer.
“That,” Hoseok echoes. “We should talk.”
“We are talking, aren't we? Opening mouths, forming words. Stuff like that.”
“You're cute when you're flustered,” Hoseok says. “When we were kids, you were shy and awkward.”
“You were awkward too,” Namjoon protests even though he doesn't know what he's protesting because it's not like Hoseok accused him of being a serial killer or something. To be honest, Namjoon has no idea where this conversation is headed so he lets Hoseok talk.
“Probably,” Hoseok muses. “But I couldn't see myself. I could see you, a lot. And when we grew up a little, when we stopped meeting in the hospital and started hanging out together, I started liking what I saw and I started having these feelings, you know? Like I would totally kick you when you fucked up, but I would totally want to hold your hand and maybe push you against the lockers and kiss you in front of the whole school.”
“What a wild thought for a 13-year-old,” Namjoon snickers and Hoseok grabs the nearest thing, a dirty t-shirt, balls it up and throws it at Namjoon. He doesn't miss and Namjoon looks at him.
“You're ruining the moment,” Hoseok states, pointing an accusing finger at Namjoon.
“This isn't a special moment unless you're confessing,” Namjoon shoots back before he could think about his words.
Hoseok flushes a deep shade of red and it looks so pretty on him that Namjoon wants to run his fingers from Hoseok's cheeks, down his jawline and the column of his neck, to his collarbones where the blush is slowly fading.
“I–I am,” Hoseok stutters. His tongue darts out to wet his lips. “I like you, Namjoon.”
Namjoon looks at him with wide eyes before a smile spreads across his features. When he says “I like you too, a lot”, he can see Hoseok visibly relaxing.
He gets up and offers Hoseok a hand to pull him up from the floor which Hoseok gladly accepts. Once he's up and they're pressed chest to chest, Namjoon finds himself staring at Hoseok's eyes, noticing all the small details he missed before because they were never this close; noticing specks of gold in the warm brown of his irises.
Hoseok's smiling even though he's fidgeting a little, not sure what to do next. This is a small, irrelevant step for the mankind, but a huge one for them and for once he doesn't know what to do. Neither of them does, but Namjoon is the first one to break the silence.
“I'd really like to kiss you again.”
“I feel a “but” coming up,” Hoseok says, still smiling.
Namjoon ducks his head, breaking eye contact. “But I have to wash my teeth first because it feels like something died on my tongue.”
Laughter bubbles up Hoseok's throat and he barely manages to say “Same” before bursting into a fit of giggles. Hoseok's pretty when he really smiles and Namjoon looks up though his bangs.
When their eyes meet, he sees a sparkle in Hoseok's irises that wasn't there before.
Hoseok snakes his arms around Namjoon's waist and says “But you can still hug me. I'd like that.”
“Even if it's not dark?” Namjoon questions, even though he already knows the answer, even though his arms fit perfectly around Hoseok who buries his head in the crook between Namjoon's neck and shoulder.
Hoseok murmurs “I'm always up for a hug” before pressing a kiss to the side of Namjoon's neck.
“I can't believe this,” Hoseok say when Namjoon throws him a new toothbrush from one of the drawers under the sink. Namjoon just shrugs, faking nonchalance. “You sneaky bastard! You prepared for this,” Hoseok adds, bumping their shoulders together and Namjoon almost chokes on mint toothpaste.
As he rips the package open, Hoseok leans on the wall, gaze fixed on Namjoon who's brushing his teeth, white foam in the corners of his mouth.
“I told you my dad went shopping,” Namjoon mumbles around the toothbrush before bending down to spit the toothpaste in the sink. As he opens the tap to wash his mouth, Hoseok laughs, the sound of it bouncing off the walls in the small bathroom.
“Yeah, you told me. He got you dick shaped bathbombs, too.”
“Duck,” Namjoon corrects him, too used to Hoseok's antics to be bothered with anything that comes out of his mouth, dirty or not.
“But dick shaped would be better, right?” says Hoseok, looking in the mirror. Namjoon stands up and their eyes meet in the reflection.
“I'll wash your mouth with soap if you don't do it with toothpaste,” he threatens and Hoseok deflates.
He pushes Namjoon over, squeezes a generous amount of toothpaste onto the brush. Before he shoves it in his mouth, he says “You're worse than my mother. Why am I dating you?”
Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Because nobody else would entertain your antics.”
Hoseok makes a disapproving noise in the back of his throat which Namjoon completely ignores as he opens the door. On his way out, he hears Hoseok mumbling something about cleaning the toilet bowl with Namjoon's toothbrush. That empty threat gets ignored, too.
When he comes down the stairs, Namjoon is greeted by silence. He glances at the clock, wondering whether his parents are already at work, but the time tells him that it is too early. Besides, if he remembers right, it's Sunday. His parents aren't in the fields that work during the weekend. He makes his way to the kitchen, not really knowing what to expect.
What he finds there is a picture perfect family.
His sister is eating cereal while reading the comic on the back cover of the box. His father is reading the newspaper, lifting his eyes from the page only when he can't find his coffee mug and his mother... His mother is smiling at him, one of those warm, tender smiles with no teeth showing. One of those smiles that make Namjoon nervous because they're like the calm before the storm and he had seen them every damn time his mother wanted to discuss serious things with him, like that time when she talked about the birds and the bees and Namjoon couldn't look her in the eye for the following week or maybe even longer than that.
She leans forward, resting her chin on her palms. “So, Hoseok is here?”
Namjoon swallows. “Yeah.”
“And the two of you spent the night together, right?” she asks and his father misses the mug, his hand hitting the surface of the table, the plates rattle together, porcelain against porcelain. Namjoon glances at him, but all he sees in the newspaper and his father's hairline peeking behind it.
“Mom,” Namjoon whines, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“What?” she retorts, corners of her mouth still pulled upwards.
“It's not like that, okay?” Namjoon protests and the noise he hears from behind better not be Hoseok coming down the stairs because this conversation is already embarrassing and awkward enough as it is.
“But baby, I just want to make sure that–”
“I know, Mom. I already know. We talked about the bees, remember?” Namjoon panics, cheeks heating up.
His father tries to mask his laughter with a cough and fails miserably at it. Namjoon looks at him, but he's still hidden behind the newspaper.
“Namjoon,” Hoseok calls and Namjoon whips his head around. Hoseok's taking cautious steps towards him and when he peers in the kitchen, he says “Good morning”.
His smile matches the one Namjoon's mother is wearing and all Namjoon can think of is conspiracy. He takes Hoseok's hand in his and tugs him towards the front door.
“We're going now,” he says.
Hoseok waves at his family, a “bye” hanging off his lips.
“Namjoon,” his mom calls after them. “Remember to–”
“Use condoms. Be safe. I know, Mother!” Namjoon calls, voice cracking, and next to him Hoseok giggles.
He yanks the front door open and marches out of the house, Hoseok following suit, almost tripping over the doormat. They're halfway to the gate when Hoseok stops and Namjoon stumbles backwards, into his arms. Hoseok giggles and all of this, down to the caring, yet shameless mother, resembles a bit too much to a teenage romance movie and Namjoon doesn't really know how to cope with this situation.
Luckily, he has Hoseok to save him or at least that's what he thought because Hoseok opens his mouth and says “Wanna tell me that story about bees?”
Namjoon groans. “Let me live!”
“Kiss me first,” Hoseok retorts. “We brushed our teeth.”
There's a cheeky grin on his face and Namjoon really wants to kiss it away, but the curtains on the living room window are moving, a flash of pink blinding Namjoon for a moment and he says “Not here”.
“My sister's watching.”
Hoseok raises an eyebrow. “Bullshit!”
“If you don't believe me, slowly turn around and look at the living room window.”
Hoseok nods, curiosity getting the best of him. When he turns around, he sees the curtains moving, probably Namjoon's sister backing away from the window. Hoseok shakes his head, a fond smile on his face.
“If they're like this now, I can't wait for the prom to come.”
Even though the prom is months away, Namjoon can't help but feel hopeful.
- - -
“Mom, stop it! You're choking me. I'm gonna die,” Hoseok whines in a high-pitched voice, pretending that he can't breathe and his mom smacks him upside the head, messing his hair up.
“Quit whining. You're not a baby anymore. Be still and let me fix this. It's still crooked,” she says, fingers fumbling with the tie around his neck. She's trying to make him look presentable, but Hoseok is fidgeting and stomping his feet. He's too old to throw a tantrum, but to anyone with eyes it is quite obvious that he's throwing one now.
“Maybe it's Hoseok that's crooked and not the tie,” his sister snickers and changes the channel on the TV from a cooking show to a quiz. She's sitting on the sofa, having the best view both on television and of Hoseok standing awkwardly in the middle of their living room as their mother fusses over him. His father just smiles and continues adjusting the camera to take the photos later, once Namjoon comes to pick him up.
Their mother turns around to glare at her, a silent threat in her eyes and Hoseok's sister shrinks into herself, becoming one with the couch.
“Nonsense,” his mother declares. “He's just not the type for a tie.”
She takes it off and Hoseok can breathe freely for the next few moments before his mom returns with a bow tie in hand and he glances at the clock hoping that Namjoon comes as soon as possible.
But Namjoon doesn't. He takes his sweet time getting ready and by the time the doorbell rings Hoseok has chewed the insides of his cheeks. Twice.
His father is the one to open the door and Hoseok's sister whistles when Namjoon comes inside. He's wearing a black suit with a pristine white shirt and a black tie. His hair is styled back and Hoseok takes a few moments to admire his boyfriend.
Feeling all eyes on him, Namjoon bows his head, smiling a little, dimples showing.
“Aww, look at him! He's so cute and shy,” Hoseok's sister coos and in a few quick steps she crossed the short distance between them and pinches his cheeks.
Their mother clears her throat and she immediately backs away, arms raised in the air.
“Jeez, fine. No touching Hoseok's boyfriend. Got it,” she says, eyes glistening with mischief. She moves closer to Hoseok and pushes him in Namjoon's direction.
Standing side by side, they feel awkward.
Hoseok's dad raises his camera and snaps a few photos, but they come out unsatisfying and he double checks them before gesturing for them to stand closer. Instinctively, Namjoon's arm wraps around Hoseok's waist like so many times before during the last couple of months. Hoseok leans on him and the next photo he takes has Hoseok's father nodding in approval.
Once the memory card of the camera is filled with photos and Hoseok's mom has wiped the happy tears from the corners of her eyes (“God, Mom, he's not getting married. He's just going to the prom,” his sister had said, rolling her eyes, and their mother sniffed before telling her to shut up and watch her stupid TV show because this was a once in a lifetime experience), they're free to go and enjoy the night, even though they're already running late.
“Prom is a social construct,” Namjoon says as they climb the stairs to the restaurant entrance where the celebration is taking place. Red carpet is set down the staircase and flowers are decorating the railing. Hoseok is one step ahead of him and he turns on his heels and presses a finger to Namjoon's lips to shut him up.
“This isn't a sociology class,” he says. “You're not allowed to talk about school tonight. Got it?”
Namjoon nods, because what else could he do? Hoseok smiles at him.
Even under the dim lights, Hoseok's smile is bright and beautiful; small stars are twinkling in his eyes and Namjoon is sure that he'll never get used to the way Hoseok looks at him.
Hoseok traces his finger along Namjoon's bottom lip, to the corner of his mouth. He cups Namjoon's cheek and leans down just the slightest to kiss him. It's soft and gentle, sweet even though they ate no candy. A clean kiss, no tongue, just lips moving together, warm and tender. Hoseok tugs at Namjoon's bottom lip lightly, teeth scraping along soft flesh and tries to deepen the kiss. He can feel Namjoon's hands on his hips pulling him closer, Namjoon's lips curling up in a smile and Hoseok smiles, too, without breaking the kiss.
Someone once said that if you're kissing the right person, both of you will be smiling by the time you pull back and Hoseok is happy to see the smile on Namjoon's face when he breaks the kiss.
Namjoon looks him in the eyes and says “You're really beautiful tonight” before kissing the corner of Hoseok's mouth, then his cheek.
Hoseok's smile grows bigger and he prays that Namjoon doesn't notice how hot his cheeks are as he peppers small kisses along Hoseok's jaw to his earlobe.
“I'm happy to call you mine,” Namjoon whispers, low and husky, and a shiver runs down Hoseok's spine.
He buries his face in the crook of Namjoon's neck, trying to hide his flushed cheeks. Namjoon's hands snake around his waist and hold him tight.
“I wish I could respond to that with a dick joke,” Hoseok mumbles and Namjoon laughs.
“Well, you can't,” he says in response and runs his hand up and down Hoseok's back. “But any answer is good unless you're dumping me. That would be awkward.”
“How about I love you?” Hoseok asks, voice small, barely above a whisper.
“That's perfect,” Namjoon says. “Because I love you too.”