it hits namjoon after having narrowly avoided conversation with a middle-aged naturalist with his dick hanging out in the open, that he wants to go home.
he never wanted to come in the first place but jiho had insisted on going and whilst namjoon hates scenes like this, he’s grown fond enough of his hyung (and the money he pays for rent) to care if he becomes yet another fatality of a traveller’s party. unfortunately, jiho’s lost amongst the sweating, scantily clothed bodies swaying and grinding in front of the stage and whilst namjoon’s reason of attending was to keep an eye on jiho, no amount of cheap soju is going to convince him to brave that.
the makeshift stage is set in the middle of a reserve namjoon passes on his walk to university each day. tents, cars and caravans cover the expanse lit up by fire-pits and fairy-lights, the utensils of a standard traveller gathering. they’re relatively harmless, the travellers, if not a little loud for namjoon’s liking. their non-conformity and shameless antics probably would’ve been admirable to him when he was in high school but now it just seems impractical.
the air smells of sweat and booze and smoke, thick and heavy, it clogs namjoon’s senses and paired with this techno shit they’re calling music assaulting his ears, he feels over-whelmed. it’s a little disheartening, namjoon is around the same age as the bulk of the crowd but amidst them he feels nothing but old. he wants to enjoy it, he really does, but a couple years of intense studying for his business degree has rendered his social life non-existent. and to top it off it’s a fucking wednesday. who the fuck goes to a party on a fucking wednesday?
he thinks he catches jiho amidst the crowd, sweat dripping down his brow, face alight with exhilaration. he’ll never let namjoon hear the end of it if he leaves before midnight.
a bright flash goes off in the corner of his vision and namjoon startles, vision impaired. his eyes focus on a man standing to the side, lowering a camera from his face.
‘sorry,’ the man says, bowing his head ever-so-slightly. ‘you were deep in thought, it was too good a photo opportunity to pass up.’
namjoon shrugs his shoulders, shifting back in a way he hopes is discreet. the stranger’s about his height, lean and non-threatening with an over-sized pink sweater and skinny jeans. not a traveller, namjoon gauges, which isn’t that surprising. wherever there are travellers, there are people who linger at places like this, snapping photos to capture the short stints in each city, pretending they too are free and unique.
‘it’s alright,’ namjoon says and the stranger smiles at him. namjoon’s a little envious, an outsider like him able to mould into the scene around them without any visible struggle, whereas namjoon feels like a fish out of water. he racks his brain for something to say, maybe he can loosen up a bit if he just talks to someone.
namjoon clears his throat. ‘how did it turn out?’
‘have to wait a couple minutes for it to develop.’ namjoon notices now it’s a polaroid camera, he nods his head a couple times, shifting from foot to foot as he tries to figure out something else to say.
‘sure,’ the stranger says, looking out at the crowd with a fond smile. ‘it’s a great opportunity to people-watch. you?’
‘not really my scene, to be honest. though the music was okay earlier on.’
as if on cue, the artist on stage takes on a higher pitch, his altered vocals taking on an even whinier tone than namjoon thought possible.
the stranger quirks an eyebrow as namjoon cringes. ‘not your style?’
‘it’s terrible,’ namjoon blurts, deflating when the stranger chuckles. namjoon cocks his head to the swaying bodies. ‘how can they listen to this?’
‘they’re all off their faces. the sound of traffic would be a good beat to them.’ he hands namjoon the printed-polaroid. ‘i’m seokjin, by the way, but everyone just calls me jin.’
‘namjoon.’ he accepts the picture and holds it close to the fairy lights to see. namjoon’s never really been that big on photography but this one looks neat, the polaroid gives it an old-fashioned vibe whilst the lighting’s kinda soft and under-stated bouncing off his cheeks and furrowed brow. ‘this looks good.’
jin beams under the praise. ‘photography’s a hobby of mine. i have an entire wall filled with photos back in my bus, if you want to see.’
namjoon pauses. ‘your bus?’
‘uh-huh,’ jin nods, taking the photo back from namjoon. ‘i own a food truck, it’s a good way to make a living on the road and i can meet heaps of people while i’m at it.’
‘you’re a traveller?’ namjoon says, surprise slipping into his tone. ‘but you seemed so…’
‘what?’ jin says. at the hesitation, his expression clouds. ‘we’re not freaks, namjoon.’
shit. namjoon feels his cheeks heat up and stammers for a response.
‘sorry,’ he mutters. ‘i didn’t mean it to sound that way.’ he rubs the nape of his neck, inwardly cursing himself. on stage, the vocalist, if he could be called that, raises his voice to a shrill inhuman shriek and namjoon flinches. jin’s nice, and not the creepy, over-bearing nice most of the patrons here inherit.
with that in mind and a desperate want to be rid of the screeching music, he chances a meek smile in seokjin’s direction.
‘is the offer to see the pictures still available?’
jin’s bus is mercifully parked away from the stage, near the main road. attached to the back is a small trailer, with a simple title of ‘Jin’s BBQ’ hanging over the boarded up window. they bypass the trailer and jin unlocks the bus, humming to himself.
‘normally i have someone with me,’ jin says, ‘his name’s taehyung. he helps with running the food truck, but he’s visiting a friend at the moment, so i have the bus to myself.’
the doors glide open and jin throws a small smile over his shoulder at namjoon. the two enter and namjoon looks around him. the seats have been taken out, a small mattress is shoved in the back covered in pillows and crocheted blankets. one side of the bus is predominately cupboards, whilst the other is something like a couch, a small table next to the arm rest, with a tiny tv atop it and a dvd player. the wall behind it is covered in a mural of polaroid photos. they blot out the windows, creep up the ceiling and jut out behind the crocheted pillows resting atop the couch.
namjoon lets out a low whistle, leaning in close to study the photos individually. ‘this is really cool, jin.’
‘i think so,’ jin replies, pride evident in his tone. ‘would you like a drink?’
‘i’m good, thanks.’ his eyes continue across the wall, slipping from photo to photo. they’re mainly of people, individual portraits, all showing various emotions. men, woman, young, old, the only thing each photo has in common is an undertone of beauty, every one a work of art in itself. he steps up the aisle, staring intently at all the faces.
and then, his eyes hitch on an impossibly bright smile and namjoon’s heart leaps into his throat. without thinking, he reaches out and plucks the photo from the wall, bringing it up to his eyes because surely he’s got the wrong person. there is no fucking way…
‘you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
jin’s chipper voice is barely enough to wake him from his stupor. namjoon blinks at the image, squints at the photographed boy’s heart-shaped grin and feels his heart give another jolt. he shoves the photo into jin’s chest, almost spilling the other’s drink in the process.
‘hoseok,’ namjoon says as jin pulls the picture up to inspect. ‘jung hoseok. you know him?’
recognition dawns in jin’s eyes as he sets his drink aside. ‘he’s a friend.’
namjoon swallows, processing the information, ‘when was this taken?’
jin shrugs. ‘maybe a few months back?’
another lurch in his chest. namjoon swears this can’t be healthy. ‘is he here?’
‘no.’ namjoon tries to smother his disappointment, although he’s not in the least bit surprised. he knows how hoseok feels about seoul, someone would have to point a gun to his head to get him back here.
jin flicks the corner of the polaroid, clicking his tongue as he takes a seat. ‘i might know where to find him though.’
‘where?’ it comes off more demanding than he means it to be.
‘there’s this meet-up every summer for travellers. a festival of sorts. there’s music, dance, food, heaps of fun.’
‘and hoseok will be there?’
another shrug. ‘i mean everyone is.’ namjoon lets that sink in as jin tacks the picture back to the wall along with the one of namjoon. ‘how do you know him?’
‘old friend,’ namjoon says. ‘he ran off a while ago. i thought he’d be dead in a ditch by now.’
jin breaks into a chuckle. namjoon doesn’t join him.
sobering, jin clears his throat. ‘were you close?’
namjoon nods. ‘real close.’
he looks up at the photo, studies hoseok’s smile because it’s been a while since he’s seen it and he can’t remember the last time it was that full of life. namjoon feels something like loss corroding his insides. envy too.
jin fiddles with a loose strand of thread from the armrest, expression nonchalant.
‘you could come with me?’ he suggests. namjoon shoots him a look. ‘i have room. pitch in for petrol money and help with set up, no worries.’
‘you don't even know me.’
‘you seem okay,’ jin shrugs. ‘too boring to be a serial killer.’
namjoon narrows his eyes. ‘i don’t even know you.’
jin scoffs. ‘that’s fair.’
namjoon glances at the photo of hoseok once again and licks his lips. ‘when is it?’
‘i’m leaving friday, it’ll take the whole day to drive up. it doesn’t officially start til sunday but i’m helping with set-up.’
‘friday?’ namjoon deflates a little. ‘i’ve got a test then.’
‘ah,’ jin says, pressing his lips together, ‘that’s a shame.’
namjoon frowns at his lap. he doesn’t know why he’s so disappointed. it’s not as if he would’ve said yes to jin anyway. he doesn’t know jack shit about the guy, he could be dangerous, he could be a creep (he has the photo collection and good-looks to be a creep) and on top of that, namjoon’s not the type to just leave on a whim. he’s got responsibilities and a sense of self-preservation and this traveller party is causing him enough grief so there’s no way he’d consider spending a week in a place like this.
but if anyone was ever going to rattle his resolve, of course it would be jung hoseok.
‘could you give him a note from me?’ namjoon asks. ‘if you see him.’
jin leans across the aisle and digs out a pen and paper from one of the drawers. he switches seats with namjoon, giving him the armrest to lean against.
namjoon bites his lip, struggling to find the words he wants to say. they were best friends, they used to talk every day, they lived together for fuck’s sake and then nothing.
‘what if,’ jin says after ten minutes of namjoon staring heatedly at the page. ‘you stop by during the week and give me the letter then? that way you have time to think about it.’
namjoon finds himself nodding as he gets to his feet and exits the bus. he waves good-bye to jin in a daze and starts off in the direction of his flat—jiho be damned, he’ll be fine on his own— when another thought catches his mind.
jin stands at the entrance of the bus, arms crossed as he looks down at namjoon. ‘hm?’
namjoon runs his tongue over his teeth. ‘is hope still alive?’
‘yeah,’ he says. ‘hope was doing well last time i checked.’
the first time namjoon met hoseok, or, rather, the first time namjoon paid attention to hoseok was math class in junior high.
he’s seen hoseok around, impossible not to considering he shares a handful of classes with the guy. he isn’t particularly eye-catching, he keeps his head down, keeps to himself, doesn’t say a word unless called upon. just another face.
at the start of their first maths class of the year, namjoon sits in his desk twirling a pencil between his fingers when hoseok walks in, shoulders hunched inwards, lips twisted in a grimace. he takes a seat—beside namjoon, at the back—and there, namjoon catches sight of a dark bruise splattered against hoseok’s tanned cheek and blood trickling from a split lip.
his eyes follow hoseok’s hand as he swipes blood from his chin, wincing as his thumb grazes the cut. after a moment, hoseok stills, his eyes flicking across to meet namjoon’s. the latter stares a second too long and hoseok averts his gaze, a self-conscious frown twisting his expression.
namjoon keeps his mouth shut—hoseok isn’t forthcoming with information and he doesn’t like to pry so he just turns his attention to his workbook and starts on the first question.
it carries on like this for weeks. hoseok comes into class, sporting a collection of injuries and doesn’t say a word, so neither does namjoon. how could he when he doesn’t know shit about hoseok or his situation? was hoseok getting into fights? who was doing this to him? was he okay? should he talk to the teachers or some shit, push the concerns onto someone else? he doesn’t have anyone to talk to about this line of things, all his parents care about are his grades and his friends only talk about girls, sports and video games.
it gets to the point where namjoon can hardly concentrate on anything besides hoseok’s well-being. he studies the quick, short steps hoseok makes to their shared desk, searching for a limp, new cuts or bruises and then obsesses for the next hour over things he could say, even though the words always fall short on his tongue.
until one day, when hoseok speaks first.
well, that’s what namjoon thought. he hears a sound from hoseok’s direction and turns, expecting hoseok to ask for help with the work because namjoon always breezes through equations whilst hoseok stumbles behind. instead, he finds hoseok peering into the open school-bag resting on his lap.
namjoon’s about to turn away when he hears another sound, small and high pitched, close to a whimper, coming from the bag. hoseok hushes it, distress creasing his brow, oblivious as namjoon leans over to look inside.
there, huddled inside the bag is a ball of white fluff that he soon realises is a kitten.
‘you brought a cat to school?’ namjoon hisses, before he can stop himself.
hoseok whirls on him, surprise flashing across his expression as he instinctively pulls the bag away. the kitten lets out a high-pitched mewl at the jolt and hoseok flinches.
heads turn their way, including the teacher’s. hoseok gives him this desperate look and namjoon barely thinks before he’s fake sneezing in this stupid high-pitched tone that his friends are never going to let him live down.
people snicker and he apologises, ignoring the small pang of embarrassment flaring in his cheeks. at least the teacher returns to the lesson.
there’s a giggle next to him and namjoon turns to see hoseok scratching between the kitten’s ears with his index finger and wow, why did no-one ever tell him that jung hoseok’s smile is the literal epitome of sunshine?