“Half an hour. Take this GoPro, and don’t get lost.”
That’s it. The cameraman leaves them with minimal instruction, just happy to get to sit and eat for a minute after the long day.
Hoseok and Jungkook don’t question it. They waste no time disappearing from the café into the hub of Ikea.
“I like stores like this,” Jungkook says as they walk, and he’s got his thinking voice on. “I like the way they make you feel.”
Hoseok looks sideways at him, always curious to understand the workings of Jungkook’s mind. Tae gets the reputation for being a bit of an alien, but Jungkook, with his unpredictable swings between thoughtful introvert and meme-regurgitator, demands a constant level of fascination from Hoseok.
“Feel?” he prompts, and Jungkook shrugs. Just looks at Hoseok solemnly, like he’s thinking about something entirely removed from a furniture store.
Hoseok has noticed this look a lot the past few days, in between the lost luggage and the bustle of seven people under one roof and the cameras in their faces. Sometimes he catches Jungook looking at him, but his eyes are unfocused, like he’s seeing something else. It’s probably not a look specifically aimed at Hoseok. It’s probably that Jungkook is lost in thought and has no idea who he’s levelling his unflinching stare at. It’s just impossible not to notice when Jungkook’s eyes are boring holes through Hoseok's cheekbones.
Hoseok has no idea what to make of it, not then and not now, so instead he swipes a fake pineapple from a nearby dining table display and balances it on Jungkook’s head. It doesn’t stay. They keep walking.
“Where do you want to go?” Jungkook asks, and Hoseok shrugs.
“I’m tired. I want a nap. Carry me to the beds,” he demands, slumping against Jungkook as though all the strength has left him. Jungkook laughs, looping his arms under Hoseok’s shoulders and dragging him down the aisle.
“Stay with me, Hobi-hyung,” he exclaims, his contemplative mood seemingly lifted. “We’re almost there!”
“I can’t believe how strong you are now,” Hoseok laughs, feet squeaking as they’re pulled across the linoleum. “Aren’t you still a baby?”
“I’m not a baby, I’m a man,” Jungkook pouts, and when Hoseok shakes his head and goes to dispute this, he finds the words choke in his throat as he’s suddenly hoisted into the air over Jungkook’s shoulder.
“Jeon Jungkook, put me down,” Hoseok yelps, and Jungkook takes off at a sprint through rows of fake bathrooms, laughing as Hoseok shrieks in fake distress. They’re drawing attention to themselves, but there’s no manager or leader here to tell them to stop being idiots, so they feel no inclination to.
“Say I’m manly!” Jungkook demands, and Hoseok pretends to swoon as best he can while draped over a shoulder.
“The manliest man, my knight in shining armour, I’m jelly in your arms,” Hoseok croons, and Jungkook promptly sets him down in a bathtub. But gently.
“I thought I asked for a bed,” Hoseok frowns in mock indignation, and Jungkook shrugs.
“It’s good for your back, you know, you being an old man and all.”
“I am barely three years older than you,” Hoseok laughs, holding his hands out, and Jungkook doesn’t even have to ask, just pulls him up with a smile.
“I know,” Jungkook replies sweetly, strangely sincere, and Hoseok beams at him. He loves travelling with his hyungs, all of them, but spending one-on-one time with Jungkook is something he can never quite get enough of. Both literally and figuratively.
“Why is there a barrel of plush snakes next to the toilet?” Hoseok asks, and Jungkook shrugs.
“Sweden,” he replies, as though this clarifies anything. They move on, and the fake showers become fake ovens around them.
“Imagine being married,” Jungkook says, standing still in the centre of an overly regal kitchen. His long fingers skim over pots and pans that hang from the ceiling at head height, flitter down to the island where the stovetop is, before landing on a vase of fake flowers. The petals run through his fingers over and over. Hoseok looks away from the sight, and meets Jungkook’s eyes. That weird mood is back, it seems. Jungkook’s gaze is thoughtful, verging on wistful.
“Married? You’re too young for that thought, Jungkook,” Hoseok replies confidently, thwacking Jungkook on the shoulder to snap him out of it. Jungkook shakes his head.
“I know, I just… You know, when you think about the way your life is, and what it isn’t?”
Hoseok sighs, finally shifting down a gear. He’s known Jungkook long enough to know when he needs clowning around, and when he needs someone to stop and listen to him. And whatever this is that’s bothering him obviously isn’t going away.
So Hoseok nods. “I get it.”
“I love being with you guys, and making music, and travelling, I love all of it so much,” Jungkook insists. His fingers thread the flower petals a little tighter. “But there’s a whole other kind of life none of us get to know about. Does that ever bother you?”
Jungkook’s eyes are so round and reaching, and Hoseok has to answer him truthfully. “I don’t think I ever could have had that normal life, Jungkook.”
He tries to keep his tone light, matter-of-fact, but he sees the way Jungkook’s face falls and he immediately regrets going with the truth. He hates it when his words make anyone else deflate, even if it’s with pity for him. He didn’t mean for that reaction.
Because he knows Jungkook is thinking about that night, when was it, two years ago now? Less, maybe? That night when Hoseok had told them all that he wasn’t like them, he wasn’t the way he should be, he liked boys and he was so sorry and he would never do anything to endanger the group or Big Hit. None of the members had reacted with scorn or derision, and Hoseok probably shouldn’t have been surprised when they accepted who he was with ease. A unit is only as strong as it’s weakest member, and they all knew they only had each other to rely on.
But Hoseok had known the truth about himself for a long time, maybe even before he joined the company, and he’d always understood what it meant for him to become an idol. God, it was hard enough to live like that in the regular world.
“Hyung,” Jungkook says quietly, and Hoseok shakes his head, shooing Jungkook from the kitchen. He feels guilty for turning Jungkook’s thoughts into something so heavy.
“Aish, it’s fine, don’t look at me like that,” he says fondly, rolling his eyes. He pushes at Jungkook’s shoulders, needles him, makes silly noises into Jungkook’s left ear until Jungkook is grinning again. “Look at that kitchen, woah.”
He pulls Jungkook across the aisle into the next one, and where the other was all heavy wood and looked like it belonged in a haunted mansion, this one is light and airy. The granite bench tops are grey like gossamer clouds, the clean white lines of the shelving units picking up the artificial light as though the sun was peering through a window at them. It’s small, but neat, and it’s the kind of place Hoseok immediately feels at home in.
“See, no need to imagine. Now we have our normal life kitchen,” Hoseok teases, and Jungkook smiles, sitting on one of the barstools.
“The fans write things like this,” Jungkook says off-handedly, and Hoseok laughs.
“What, us standing in a kitchen?”
“No, like, an alternate universe. Where we were never in Bangtan.”
“But it's still us? Like, both of us?" Hoseok asks curiously, and Jungkook nods. "So how did we meet then?”
Jungkook grins, his feet kicking at the kitchen bench. “Maybe I saw you dancing at a university showcase.”
Hoseok smiles back, bouncing eagerly where he leans against the worktop. “I’m still a dancer?”
“I think you would major in dance, and do underground on the side,” Jungkook confirms, his eyes squinting like he's trying to remember something, not making it up on the spot.
“I…am a fire-fighter,” Jungkook announces, and Hoseok yelps with sudden laughter. It bounces off the shelves.
“Jungkook-ah, you can’t be a fire-fighter if I’m still a student. You’d be too young!”
“I don’t want to be a student,” Jungkook says petulantly, and Hoseok flicks a plastic fork at him. It misses, and sails into the dining room next door.
“Fine," Hoseok concedes. "You be a firefighter. I’ll be a choreographer. We can meet at a street festival. Now what.”
Something in Jungkook’s expression hesitates, stops before it forms completely. He looks at his hands, fingers interlaced on the bench where he sits. “And then we fall in love, usually. When the fans write it, I mean.”
Hoseok feels his face flush, his lungs suddenly threatening to seize up on him. He makes sure his voice is even when he speaks next.
“We do? You think we would?”
Jungkook shrugs. “In another life? Why not?”
The thought twists in Hoseok’s stomach. Too many memories rush in from every corner of his mind, things he’s pushed aside and refused to ever take out. Quiet moments after dance practice, when he’s cleaning up the room and stops to watch Jungkook on the floor, refusing to give in until the last moment when Hoseok turns the lights off and forces him away. Nights when he’d woken to get a drink of water, and laughed to find Jungkook awake and playing games, and sometimes Jungkook would talk him into foregoing sleep and joining in instead. Afternoon walks to get snacks where they talk in silly accents the whole way, or when he stirs from a nap to find Jungkook’s fingers raking through his hair, or that moment backstage when they’ve just come off from performing and their eyes meet with fire and adrenaline and Hoseok feels himself fall over a cliff every single time it happens.
Too many nights spent bundling up his feelings and putting them away somewhere he won’t be tempted to take them out and look at them. Too many jokes he’s made at his own expense to brush off an intimate moment, afraid the blush might creep into his cheeks and give him away.
Too many times when he's thought, he knows, but Jungkook never says anything and it's somehow an immense relief and an overwhelming disappointment.
“Jungkook-ah,” Hoseok starts, but Jungkook waves a hand in his face.
“Listen, hyung,” Jungkook implores, finally meeting Hoseok’s gaze with steely resolve. Like this is something important. “We meet at the festival, and I give you my number because I like your laugh. And you take three whole days to even send me a text.”
Hoseok frowns, distracted momentarily from his internal crisis. “Because I’m playing cool?”
“Because you’re freaking out,” Jungkook grins. “And you have to be talked into it. By Jimin, maybe.”
Hoseok pouts. “Can you blame me? You’re intimidating, golden maknae. Far too good looking for me.”
Jungkook shakes his head. “Don’t be ridiculous, hyung. You text me and I immediately ask you on a date.”
“Where do we go?”
Jungkook looks around. “There,” he says, pointing to what is clearly an outdoor garden set-up, but with a bit of imagination could maybe serve as a café. He grabs Hoseok’s hand, fingers interlacing, and Hoseok tries to keep his heart rate steady as Jungkook leads them to the wooden table and lattice chairs.
“Is it a good first date?”
“The best,” Jungkook confirms. “We eat red bean shaved ice and you tell too many jokes to cover up how nervous you are.”
“I wouldn’t kiss you though, I wouldn’t take advantage on the first date.”
“Fine,” Hoseok concedes, and his eyes catch on a living room layout that seems to match their dream kitchen. He tugs Jungkook out of the chair by the sleeve, leading them over.
“This is the apartment we move into together,” Hoseok explains, and Jungkook’s brief confusion melts into happiness.
“We have a cat and two dogs,” Hoseok tells him, spotting a weirdly lifelike cat figurine perched underneath a coffee table. It’s marble eyes bore into his soul in a highly disturbing manner. “And a rabbit called Jungkook The Second.”
“You buy him a leash and walk him with the dogs,” Jungkook laughs, and Hoseok joins in. Their hands are still intertwined.
“You burn dinner when I get home in the evenings. And break the washing machine on its first day. And never change the bedsheets when I tell you to.”
“But you’re mine anyway,” Hoseok adds, his voice far too soft, he didn’t mean for it to come out like that but this other life has wrapped tendrils around him, clawed him into another reality that’s somehow reflected in Jungkook’s eyes.
“In this other life?” Jungkook says quietly, and Hoseok nods, somehow still breathing even though Jungkook is looking at him like that.
And then Jungkook shifts, his hand tugs Hoseok’s ever so gently, and his lips are on Hoseok’s. It’s only a second, maybe two, maybe three. Time doesn’t matter so much, has it ever mattered? Hoseok can’t tell, not when they're pressed together like this.
It matters when they break apart. Hoseok has to be better, here. He has to not be selfish.
“I know,” Jungkook tells him. He drops Hoseok’s hand, steps back, and Hoseok feels a hook in his gut tug him forward to close the gap, but he doesn’t. He looks around.
“It’s getting late.”
“I’m tired. Can’t we just sleep here?”
“We can’t live in Ikea, Jungkook.”
“Why not,” Jungkook insists petulantly. “What if I want that other life, too?”
Hoseok looks at him, notices how set the lines on his face are these days. How steady his eyes are. How mature he looks, how filled up with everything they've done and seen, but how restless.
Hoseok shakes his head. “You can’t have both.”
“Why not? I don’t want to go out the exit and just leave it here.”
“We don’t even know where the exit is,” Hoseok says lightly, a joke to try and relieve a bit of the storm in Jungkook’s expression.
“Then I guess we’ll have to stay,” Jungkook replies, voice laced with iron. Solid. Demanding. He crosses his arms against his chest stubbornly, and he’s that much taller and broader than Hoseok that for a second it’s almost intimidating. But Hoseok knows Jungkook, has seen him at his most brave and at his most fragile, and he knows which of those this is now.
And Hoseok just isn’t built to fight, he’s not. Especially not when a victory would be hollow, something he can’t even say he wants.
Inside, Hoseok crumbles. They fall into each other. This time when they kiss Hoseok feels every second of longing, of hiding, of running that he has fought to keep beneath laughter and deflection. He feels it all, tries to tell Jungkook with his mouth, tries to take what he can now that it’s in front of him.
When it ends, Jungkook looks uncertain, and the smile Hoseok had found falters as he realises Jungkook is waiting for his answer to the unspoken question. What next?
“Come on,” Hoseok says, “We really need to go back.”
Jungkook looks like he’s about to protest, but it dies on his lips when Hoseok interlaces their fingers again.
“You know cats?” Hoseok says, as he tugs at Jungkook’s hand. “They have nine lives. All at once.”
“They do,” Jungkook agrees, and there’s a slice of hope in his voice. Hoseok lives to give people hope. He lives to give Jungkook hope. Every part of his soul wants to deliver on that promise.
“I think maybe we can figure out two.”
He’ll do it, if it means getting to keep the way Jungkook is looking at him.
Jungkook beams. “Ok. Well. I guess we can go, then.”
Hoseok laughs, nudges his head against Jungkook’s shoulder, and the two of them look around.
“So where the hell is the exit?”