"I brought your new partner in today.”
“They found one? Is it Seokjin?”
“No, it’s not Seokjin.”
Namjoon took his phone out of his pocket, the universal symbol of “I’m done talking to you now,” especially in the hot glare of late morning sun when he couldn’t see his phone anyway. If USA Volleyball had failed to get Seokjin on board, then they’d probably have to pick up some witless kid off a beach in California who thought he could play, and even after all the scrambling, last second saves, late night debates, and conference calls, his career really was over. After four consecutive Olympic golds, he’d rather retire than get silver.
“He’s a great guy. He’s really good. Sure he’s not Yoongi, but he’ll get there. A fresh teammate might make you even better!”
Namjoon looked up from his phone to get a good look at the coach. He’d seen that look during too many near-miss matches. Definitely nerves.
“Bullshit. You’re worried.”
Coach looked guilty. “I’m nervous you won’t give him a chance.”
“I have to, don’t I? I’m not just going to give up and retire because Seokjin won’t be my partner. I’m only twenty-eight. After this Olympics, I’ll probably have at least one games left, and maybe as many as four-plus world championships. I’ll take the fucking kid if I have to take the fucking kid, but if I stop winning golds, I’m not keeping him past Rio.”
His coach nodded, sighing. “At least try to be nice. He’s a big fan of yours. They say he’s good. We’ll be ready.”
“A fan? Fucking great.”
The new teammate sat in the sand by the net looking like a stereotypical beach bro in garish red board shorts and bro tank. He turned and Namjoon saw huge, round eyes and delicately angular lips. Even with broad shoulders and strong jaw, he looked way, way too young to be a top player. The kid dropped the water bottle in the sand as he stood up, wiping his mouth off with the back of his left hand as he reached out with his right. “Hey! I’m Jungkook. Great to meet you.” He sounded a little out of breath, grinning eagerly, the handshake slightly fumbled.
“Sure. Hm. How old are you?”
Jungkook turned a little red, looked like he wanted to say something, but cut himself off, one hand sweeping back through his messy black hair. “I’m eighteen.”
“You’re kidding.” A full decade younger, and Namjoon wasn’t even old by beach volleyball standards. “And you’re my new teammate?”
“That’s what they told me,” Jungkook said, glancing at Coach.
Namjoon reeled. He turned to Coach. “I’m the best they have, right? Is there someone I don’t know about?”
“Nope. You’re the top guy.”
“And instead of Seokjin, I get this?”
“Do they even fucking want a medal this year? If they don’t have Seokjin either, what the fuck do they expect to get?”
“At least wait till you see me play,” Jungkook said, voice small. Namjoon glanced at him and saw a look of timid admiration under the teenage masculine bravado, laidback stance, hands in his pockets, but earnest under his bangs. He put a cap on the increasingly hysteric protests. What a cute kid.
Coach whacked Namjoon’s forehead. “Let’s get started.”
Namjoon wanted to leave.
Young as he was, the kid knew the ropes. He knew how to signal, he could move around the court, he could jump high enough to block, and could actually coordinate all those things together to play a fairly decent game, but he was not Namjoon, and he certainly wasn’t Yoongi.
At his fifth dive and miss, Namjoon called a break. “I gotta eat.”
“Really, Namjoon? We’ve only been at this an hour. Your last tournament before the games is coming up fast, and you haven’t been practicing enough.”
“Not my fault. I need a team to practice.”
“You have one. So practice.”
Namjoon gave his coach a long, slow glare. The kid sat unhappily in the sand, eyebrows furrowed together, long arms thick and veiny with too much muscle for someone with such a cute face.
Coach snorted. “Fine, but I’m making you two get lunch together. You need to get to know each other real fast if you want to be an effective team for the next tournament rolls.”
Namjoon considered finding a new coach. Kid looked a little spooked. Namjoon motioned for him to follow but didn’t wait. Jungkook caught up halfway to his car.
“I’m a mess. Just nerves. Sorry.”
“Nerves lose championships. Did you drive here yourself?”
“Yeah. My car’s over there.” He pointed to the middle of the lot. “I figured we’d carpool to lunch? Save gas?”
Namjoon shrugged. “Makes sense. They let kids like you drive?”
Jungkook gave him a confused look like he hoped he was kidding. “I’ve been driving for three years now.”
“Oh. Three. That’s quite a long while. I’ve only been driving for over a decade.”
Jungkook frowned and got in the car. Nerves or not, he carried himself with such easy confidence that Namjoon felt a little defensive. “Could you stop pointing out how young I am?” He probably meant it to sound threatening, but it just sounded self-conscious and nervous.
“Sorry. I’m just…you’re eighteen? Seriously? How long have you been playing this?”
“Since I was eight? I live on a beach, and my whole family played all the time. And then I got better than all of them and started doing training.”
“And now you’re here. Wow. You must be like a prodigy or something.”
Jungkook snorted. “Yeah, something like that.”
“Ever been in an international competition?”
“I’ve done tournaments and stuff.”
“Are you even professional yet?”
“I guess technically I am as of this month.”
Namjoon could practically hear the gurgle of the universal toilet as the past fifteen years of his life disappeared into its wet abyss. He braked right at the exit to the parking lot and put his head down on the steering wheel.
“I’m sorry?” Jungkook said, his voice a little high.
“Not your fault. I’m sorry I’m being such a dick about this. I’ve been really fucking worried for the past four months that I’ll never be a medal contender again, and I was banking on having Seokjin—you know Seokjin Kim, right?”
Jungkook nodded. “He was on the silver team from the last Olympics. Got bronze at the last world championships before retiring.”
“Exactly. Everyone knows him. We would have made a great team, but he wants to start a family or some shit. So I’m just…you know. I’m worried. And you have to admit, you don’t have the most impressive résumé in the world.”
Jungkook looked away. Coach beeped from behind them. Namjoon took his foot off the brake and rolled out.
“Didn’t you win your first Olympic gold in Athens when you were sixteen? Why is my age such a big deal?”
Oh that’s what was going on. Fucking management. They’d handed him the prodigy so he could train him because he’d been the prodigy once himself. They didn’t give a shit about his career. They were putting all their faith in little Kookie to lead the US into the next era of beach volleyball, and Namjoon would just be expected to tie him over until he retired and they could find someone to put with Jungkook that would last.
“That was completely different. Yoongi and I slipped in during an odd year when all the top teams had just retired in a wave or gotten caught for doping. We had minimal competition, and a huge run of luck. Nobody else kept it together. It’s different now. There are so many intensely dangerous teams out there, and people know better than to be thrown off by how young and short we are. Yoongi and I had to, like, double our skill after those first games, or we wouldn’t have been able to keep up.”
“How is he? I saw all the stuff on the news about the car wreck. It looked bad.”
“His head’s okay, thank god, but he still isn’t walking. They’re not sure his right leg will ever function properly again, and they told him he better stop playing volleyball if he doesn’t want to re-break anything and maybe end up in a wheelchair.”
“Fuck,” Jungkook murmured, quiet distress in his voice. He looked genuinely a little scared—the best reaction Namjoon had gotten in months. He’d gotten sick of the cop out, disinterested “oh, I’m so sorry,” real fast, as if it was him who was suffering.
“Could happen to anyone,” Namjoon murmured quietly, and Jungkook nodded. Neither talked for a few blocks.
Jungkook ate, understandably, like a teenager. Namjoon watched him devour a whole foot-long sandwich stuffed with everything Namjoon would never imagine combining. He followed up with two bags of chips and a cookie, practically inhaling them.
“You’ve got hollow legs,” Namjoon remarked.
Jungkook really laughed for the first time that Namjoon had seen, and it aged him reassuringly, crinkling his cheeks and drawing out his nose, making him look less like a child. “That’s something my grandmother would say.”
“Fuck. You’re not gonna start making old jokes about me, are you?”
“Might as well if you’re not gonna let up about me being eighteen.”
“Oh god, I’m too young for this.” Namjoon rubbed his hands down his face. “I’m twenty-eight! I’m in the prime of my career. I’m not old.”
Jungkook went back to making that worried puppy face that made him look about twelve. “I’m sorry.”
They went back to practice and did sprints and then threw balls around. Jungkook did well when Coach joked around with him and completely mediocre otherwise. Namjoon sat down in the sand and let Coach pelt him with balls. “Get up, asshole. I’m not done with you yet.”
“I’m not the one that needs help,” he snapped and turned to point at Jungkook only to see him doing back handsprings along the edge of the court. After the swooping sense of awe passed, Namjoon felt very old. “The fuck are you doing?” he asked.
Jungkook hesitated, like he’d expected a different reaction. “Blowing off steam. Trying to focus.”
“That is one flashy and wasteful relaxing mechanism. It’ll draw way too much attention to you in competitions if we lose, and it tires you out.”
“I’m not tired at all,” he protested. Oh right. Fucking teenagers don’t get tired. “It works, and it’s fun.”
“It’s showing off.”
“Just because you can’t do it.”
Namjoon got right up off the sand and got in his face. Jungkook stood a little taller than Yoongi had, but he backed off faster, eyebrows scrunched together and shoulders curling in, hurt and defensive but trying to looked pissed off. Coach smacked him hard on the back. “Don’t bully him! Jesus, Namjoon, it’s like you don’t want this team to work at all.”
“The fuck do you even mean? Am I supposed to treat him differently than Yoongi?”
“Yes! He’s not the same person.”
“If he can’t handle me, why’s he insulting me? Why’s he on my team?”
“It’s day one! Stop panicking!”
Namjoon laid down in the sand. “I will become Yoongi. Yoongi and I are one. I am a one-man team. See? Look at me being lazy and jelly-like down here on the sand.”
“Channel Yoongi all you want, but don’t pick up his bad habits!”
Jungkook snorted weakly behind him, and Namjoon looked up and saw him with his arms tight over his chest, hair hanging down in his eyes, shifting from heel to heel. He felt bad, and he hated it. It should not have to be his job to coddle and babysit the next prodigy at the expense of his own game.
“Are we at least training with good teams?” Namjoon whined.
“Yes. Kim and Jung.”
“Whoa, really?” Jungkook asked softly, eyes wide. He looked a little star-struck. It occurred to Namjoon that Jungkook, an aspiring player, was probably a huge fan of all of them.
“You’re not going to ask me for an autograph, are you?” he asked.
“N-no! We’re on the same team. Wouldn’t that be weird?”
“Yeah. Definitely weird. Are you going to ask Taehyung and Hoseok for autographs?”
He hesitated. “No?”
“You sure? I won’t judge.”
“You totally will,” Jungkook muttered, hunching further.
“You’re right. I will.”
Coach spiked a ball right into his chest.
They’d put Jungkook up in an apartment complex a short walk away from the beach, just a few blocks down from Namjoon’s small house. He saw him skateboarding down the sidewalk towards the beach as he drove past on his way to Yoongi’s the next day. He looked relaxed, a volleyball in his backpack, flat bill on his head, just another crazy millennial looking to plow down pedestrians. Namjoon scoffed.
As usual, he tripped over Yoongi’s walker trying to get close enough to piss him off by fucking with his hair. “Karma, bitch,” Yoongi said as Namjoon nearly toppled right over his chair. “Ladies and gentleman, the gold medal klutz, Namjoon Kim. Give him a hand.”
Namjoon steadied himself on the walker. Yoongi looked as impassive as ever, staring him down. He needed a haircut, his famous blond hair nearly black. He been dying it ever since right before their second Olympics.
“How’s the leg?”
“Weak as fuck. I can feel the muscles melting away as more time passes. Physical therapy starts next week, and I’ll finally be able to use the bitch again. Kind of. Did you bring me any stickers this time?”
Namjoon pulled a pack of funky-looking geometric-patterned stickers out of his backpack and handed them to Yoongi.
“Fuck yes. A whole pack? Hot damn, these are perfect for details.” He pulled himself forward in the chair and brought the walker closer. It was already completely covered in stickers, big ones meant for laptops and instrument cases: an apple logo, a Life is Good sticker, the Grand Theft Auto logo, some stuff about the Olympics and volleyball. Yoongi started peppering it with the little stickers.
“You’re a grandpa, Yoongi.”
“I always was,” he answered, “I just have the accessories to match now.”
“They gave me some eighteen-year-old kid to be my new teammate.”
Yoongi froze mid-sticker, and then collapsed dramatically backwards into his chair. “Fuck. There goes my legacy.”
“We were sixteen when we won our first gold.”
“I was seventeen, maybe even eighteen. And we got fuckin lucky. How is he?”
“Decent? He can play a bit? Not medal standard—not by any stretch. I don’t even know if we’d be able to get through the last tournament at this point, and they’re only a couple months away. I talked to the guys that chose him, and they said he plays like any medal winner, but I can’t see it. We can’t train him fast enough. It’ll be a miracle if we even scrape into Rio. It’s already a miracle that they’re giving us a shot without you.”
“Maybe he learns fast? Prodigy or some shit.”
“He’s a kid, Yoongi! Even if we get his game in gear, he’s not mentally prepared for competition. He does backflips when he’s nervous just playing with me and Coach. Literal backflips up and down the sidelines.”
“Not cool. Terrifying. He’s gonna crash and burn on game day.”
“Shall I remind you what your coping mechanisms are?”
“The final match of our first Olympics. Eyes of the world on the two of us and, what was it, fucking Denmark or something? Some team that ordinarily wouldn’t have a fucking chance except for how dead the competition was that year. We’re down to match point in the first set, tied, and what do you do during time out? You give me the longest, gayest, grossest hug in the history of the sport.”
“Affection calms me down, okay? It’s been twelve years, and you’re still giving me shit.”
“You’ve done it so much it’s our gimmick! If you ask me, you could use some backflips on the sidelines! It’s a more intimidating, crowd-pleasing image than “the huggers.” You gonna hug the kid when you get jittery?”
“No. I’d get arrested.”
“Get a fucking teddy bear or something then, because you’ll lose if you can’t get rid of those nerves.” He stuck a hexagon right at the top of one handle. “I like these.”
Yoongi was always the unflappably calm, self-assured, confident teammate, so capable that it looked like he could predict the game, like he floated when he jumped. He’d never wanted to see Yoongi be in a position to get excited about stickers. Long, thick scars led up under Yoongi’s shorts where the doctors had screwed his femur together after the wreck. He had matching scars above his pelvis and a reconstructed knee.
Yoongi finished putting the last sticker on and stood, gripping the sides of the walker. “I gotta switch out my laundry.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Nope. I need to get up every once and a while.” He headed off, his right foot dragging on the ground.
“Didn’t they give you crutches?”
“The walker is real handy when I’m trying to reach something low in the fridge in a way crutches definitely would not be. This is better. More support. Imagine trying to get on and off a toilet with crutches versus with a walker.”
Namjoon snorted and followed him to the laundry room. He used to hate doing laundry. He’d take all his laundry with them to tournaments to get laundry services at the hotel. “What are you going to do after you heal?”
“I don’t know. I’m making my mom go home, for one. I never realized how important time away from her was for our relationship. I think we both kind of hate each other right now.” He switched out the laundry as Namjoon examined the large case of medals and trophies a room away. “Other than that? I don’t know. Be a coach? Re-learn how to drive? I’ve got to get over the trauma. I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack every time mom drives us to the grocery store.”
Namjoon met him halfway out the laundry room door and wrapped his arms around Yoongi’s waist, hooking his head over his shoulder and squeezing tight, the bar of the walker caught between them. Yoongi sighed.
“What’s up, Namjoon?”
Yoongi let go of the walker and wrapped his arms around Namjoon’s shoulders, letting Namjoon hold his weight fully, knowing he’d never drop him, back into the no-communication zone they’d had for years, almost able to read each other’s thoughts. “I miss you.”
“I miss me too.”
“You’re my phone background,” Jungkook admitted to Taehyung almost immediately, and Namjoon rubbed a hand harshly down his face, sighing. Taehyung just looked thrilled.
“Bro! Let me see!” They hunched over the phone. “With the big trophy! I love that photo! That was my computer background for a while.”
Hoseok and Taehyung were a riot to practice with, loud and weird, poking at Namjoon and the coaches, jumping all over Jungkook. Taehyung was twenty-seven, and Hoseok was twenty-eight, and their chemistry was legendary. They did drills and exercises together, competition pushing both teams harder. Jungkook beat them all at everything, his physical skill alone outstripping the rest of them, and Namjoon allowed himself a moment of hope. Then they scrimmaged, and the bronze medalists pounded them into the sand.
Taehyung and Hoseok looked dangerously, quietly pleased.
“Dude. We have a chance at gold,” Taehyung murmured quietly. Jungkook had the nerve to seem kind of confused, like he couldn’t believe they just lost, like they ever had a chance against Hoseok and Taehyung’s flawless teamwork when Namjoon couldn’t even figure out how to appropriately greet Jungkook in the mornings.
“Diggers switch it up,” Coach yelled. “Taehyung and Jungkook vs. Namjoon and Hoseok.”
Namjoon sighed in relief. Hoseok was ever-so-slightly easier to work with. He really needed a consolation win. The minute Jungkook got over to Taehyung’s side of the net, Taehyung pulled him in with an arm around his neck and whispered something in his ear. Jungkook grinned and nodded. Taehyung went to the front, Jungkook to the back. Namjoon waited by the net while Hoseok got into position behind him. Taehyung grinned and wiggled his eyebrows at him through the net. Jungkook served.
Jungkook was always, at every turn, exactly where he needed to be, aggressive, technique so flawless it was like he’d been animated. Namjoon understood for the first time why people thought he was a prodigy. He could watch Jungkook play for days. Taehyung synced up with Jungkook in a way that Namjoon just didn’t, and it made a world of difference. When they won the first set he did a backflip in the sand, and Taehyung fell over he was so impressed. Namjoon walked over to Coach.
“Is it just me? Is the problem me? I’m the variable that’s not working here?”
“Evidence suggests that, yes.”
He and Hoseok barely scraped a win in the next set, but Namjoon hardly counted it, because Taehyung and Jungkook had been very distracted inventing their own team dance—some sort of weird shimmying, hopping thing. Jungkook really lit up like a firecracker, something sparkly in the way he played the game, and Namjoon wondered where all that raw skill went when it was just them.
They started the third set, Taehyung and Jungkook loud and excited, Hoseok giggling and challenging, Namjoon solid, annoyed determination. They traded first place throughout the set until Taehyung and Jungkook pulled ahead by one point towards the end. Taehyung gave Jungkook a look over his shoulder, his hands behind his back, and turned around with a dangerously sunny smile on his face. The ball came over the net right at him. He hit right to Hoseok, who set it up, and Namjoon jumped up to slam it into the empty half of the court.
Jungkook appeared out of nowhere, as if in slow motion, and slammed it right past his wrist. Hoseok dove, but was nowhere near close enough. They lost. Jungkook did a front-flip, landing in a power pose in the dirt. He and Taehyung screamed in unison. Namjoon refused to shake hands with either of them. Hoseok tried to get Jungkook to teach him how to do flips. The coaches had no choice but to send them all out to lunch so nobody would break their neck on the sand.
Practices proceeded for a few weeks, and Jungkook got better. They went out to eat together almost every night, which was expensive with Namjoon paying most of the time, but he felt uncomfortable with inviting a kid into his house, even one who was of age, so they stayed out most of the time. He tried to keep conversation afloat, but ten years made a huge difference, and Jungkook often trailed off and just stared at him with the blank, distancing stare of a smitten fan, which was a little flattering, and a little terrifying.
Jungkook played like he’d been playing for two decades, but if he made one mistake he spiraled into more, and Namjoon didn’t know how to beat it out of him because he didn’t feel like he knew him at all. They slowly got used to how the other played, Namjoon like a war general and Jungkook like he wanted to prove something, cocky and risky. Sometimes their game synced up and sometimes it didn’t.
When it did work, playing with Jungkook felt like volleyball in a way he’d forgotten to think about volleyball, all laughter and fire and shit-talking cheerfully across the sand like the earliest days when he and Yoongi still hadn’t really started believing that they were the best in the world, and the game was still a game. Jungkook spiked it right down into the sand behind Taehyung and turned around, fist-pumping, and Namjoon whacked him in the shoulder, yelling and grinning just like he’d used to do with Yoongi.
They won the game in two sets, and Namjoon let himself believe, for just a moment, that they’d be ready for the next tournament. Practice turned from work to play. Every day brought more skill from Jungkook and more fun banter and playful competition.
He could see why the federation was betting on Jungkook. He played the game with nothing short of love. Namjoon was almost jealous.
“I think I’m having fun,” he told Yoongi honestly. “He’s weird but fun. I’m still scared to death, obviously, but I definitely don’t mind having him around anymore. He’s making me play differently, and I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.”
Yoongi raised an eyebrow at him. “He’s more fun than me?”
“Neither of us are fun anymore. And I have no idea if he’s more fun than you, because he’s not old enough to take out to the bar yet.”
One water break Namjoon looked at Jungkook and asked, “Ready for gold?”
“Ready for anything. Gold would be awesome.”
Such good sportsmanship, a true golden rookie. Namjoon smiled. “No pressure, but I use anything less than gold for drink coasters.”
Jungkook blinked and stared blankly at the sand. “Why?”
“Because if I don’t get gold, I know I fucked up, and that doesn’t sit well with me.”
“But it’s the spirit of the game, isn’t it? The competition? That’s unsportsmanlike. They’re still mementos from the tournament. Tournaments are still fun, right? They don’t, like, get less fun and less important after you’ve been playing for a while, right?”
Really, so cute. What an idealistic player. Namjoon was definitely jealous. “They do, actually, because you have to hold up your own standards, and competition seems more and more threatening, especially if you need the money. It’s more about reputation for me now.”
Jungkook’s eyes went adorably wide, and Namjoon suddenly remembered what the sport felt like at his age, every moment intensely exciting. He imagined he’d have felt pretty appalled if someone had told him at that point that the sport would stop being fun. Jungkook shook his head. “I can’t imagine. Why do you play then?”
“Because it’s my sport. Why do you?”
Jungkook looked him right in the eyes and shrugged carelessly. “I love it. It’s just what I do.”
Well obviously. Namjoon sighed, aggravated with himself, but not sure why. “Do you want to come meet Yoongi? He told me to come by after physical therapy today.”
“Yeah! Will he be okay with that?”
“He wants to meet you.”
They found Yoongi hobbling out of the kitchen on crutches wearing pajamas. “Fuck. Why are you here?”
“Gee, thanks, teammate. I brought your replacement.”
Yoongi was quiet, looking at Jungkook, who looked back with careful eyes and a tentative smile, filling the hallway like something bright and warm. “Hey kid,” Yoongi said softly, “Welcome to the family.”
After that, Jungkook went to Yoongi’s house more often than Namjoon.
Namjoon forgot to worry about the tournament until it was only a month away. He’d been too busy enjoying practice, getting to know Jungkook’s quiet maturity and childishly playful habits, like how he’d spend one hour powering uncomplainingly through a grueling practice, and the next playing in the sand.
Jungkook still wasn’t used to him. He’d expected the fan-shy stammering and wide-eyed glances to stop eventually. They got worse. Namjoon had to worry that the distance he’d been keeping between them because of his own discomfort with teenagers was beginning to damage their teamwork.
“Only a month away. Fuck.”
“Don’t think you two are ready, Namjoon?” Coach said.
“I know we’re not.”
“We’ve been doing so well though,” Jungkook said.
“Yeah, we play okay, but our teamwork is still hit or miss, and you still completely lose control of your game when you make a mistake and freak out. It took Yoongi and me years to get through both those issues. You have a month.”
Jungkook gulped. “Okay. Let’s get back to practicing then.”
“I have a better idea. Let’s go to my house and play video games.”
Coach laughed like a barking dog. “You crazy kids. Okay. I’ll leave you to it.”
Jungkook jaw dropped. “What?” he stammered.
“We need to be friends, not just teammates.”
Jungkook looked strange off the beach, all long limbs and timid smiles. He stared around Namjoon’s small house like it was a museum. When he accepted a drink, Namjoon noticed his hands were shaking. “Why are you always so shy around me?”
Jungkook turned red and settled on Namjoon’s couch like it might break. “Just a big fan, I guess.” He couldn’t look him in the face until he absolutely crushed him in Mario Kart.
“Fucking millennial,” Namjoon muttered. “Beat me in my own house.”
“You’re technically a millennial too, bro.”
“Not even technically. I’m very much a millennial. I’m addicted to Netflix just like everyone else.”
He looked much more natural here spread out on a couch with a PlayStation controller between his hands than he looked doing backflips in the sand. Namjoon found his eyes wandering along Jungkook’s profile, strong jaw, collarbones just visible above his shirt, black studs dotting his ears. He looked like such a teenager with his toothy smirk and messy hair, but after he shook off his nerves, his charisma was disarming, sweet and commanding. He was exactly the kind of guy Namjoon would have had the worst kind of crush on when he was younger.
“I’m curious about what the media will make of you,” Namjoon said.
Jungkook got a very caught-in-the-headlights look on his face. “The media?”
“They’re either going to give you shit for being a poor choice as my partner, or they’re going to love your personality and romanticize the crap out of me choosing you to replace Yoongi, even though it wasn’t my idea. The other countries will hate us. We pulled a lot of strings to get me back in the game with a new partner this late. No doubt people will be saying that we’re cheating. The Americans will just make it a sappy story about how tragic it is that I lost Yoongi and how heartwarming it is that I’m here anyway. Media loves a good sob story.”
Jungkook fiddled with his remote a little. “And just when I’d started to get over my nerves, you’ve gotta bring this shit up.”
“Don’t worry. Nobody will even know you exist until we’re in Rio, but it all depends on how this tournament goes. Don’t sweat it.”
“You keep saying things like you’re trying to take the pressure off and then tell me that this next tournament is the most important thing that I’ve ever done in my life, and it's freaking me out.”
“I don’t think sugarcoating it would help you either.”
“It might though. I play better when I can downplay the situation in my head.”
Namjoon sighed. “I’m just as worried about myself as I am about you. I’ve been completely out of my mind ever since Yoongi got put on the sidelines. I have no idea how I’m going to react to this next tournament, but there’s no way it’ll be good.”
Jungkook hesitated, and then said softly, “Well. If you ever need to give me one of your famous stress hugs, I give you consent.”
Namjoon ignored how appealing the thought of hugging Jungkook’s solid chest was and snickered. “And you do backflips all over the fucking court if you have to.”
They hung out every day after that, went grocery shopping together, ate together, played video games, and sometimes Namjoon got him to talk about himself. Jungkook was not shy about inappropriate jokes, loved anything with whiskey in it, and could fill hours playing with small objects like tennis balls and paper clips without even realizing it. He could sing beautifully, sing in a way that made Namjoon want to curl up with his head in his lap.
“You’re one of those obnoxious people who can do anything and make the rest of us look bad, aren’t you?”
“I won an art contest last year in high school, and I can dance.”
Jungkook giggled. He had a habit of lounging, and right now he was stretched out over an entire couch, looking so comfortable that Namjoon kind of wanted to lie on top of him.
Later, he walked into the very weird scene of Yoongi sitting on the couch, and Jungkook lying with his chest across Yoongi’s legs, fiddling with his phone. Yoongi had his computer on Jungkook’s back.
“Are you two fucking cuddling? Doesn’t that hurt your leg?”
“I said I needed a computer table,” Yoongi said, “And Jungkook was happy to help.”
“It’s really warm,” Jungkook said, his eyes never leaving his phone.
“You two should be a team,” Namjoon said. “I’ll just sit lonely over here all by myself.” Jungkook threw the remote at him. It hit his leg and dropped onto the carpet. Jungkook giggled anyway.
“Jealous?” Yoongi asked, and Jungkook gave him a cute side-eye from behind his phone, daring him to say no.
Namjoon was jealous of both of them. Yoongi never turned into a cuddly teddy bear like that for Namjoon, and an uncomfortable part of him wanted Jungkook across his lap.
Three weeks before the tournament, Jungkook showed up for practice late.
“Not cool, dude,” Coach said, “But that’s the first time you’ve ever gotten here late, so I’m gonna let it slide.”
But Jungkook moved like he his whole body hurt.
He looked completely lost on the court and didn’t talk much. For a while into practice, he did pretty well, not meeting anyone’s eyes, but slamming into the ball with flawless precision whenever it came towards him. Namjoon gave him a pat on the back after one particularly well-aimed spike, and he smiled a little.
Halfway through the match, he served into the net, not unusual, and Namjoon caught it and threw it back. It thumped into Jungkook’s chest and dropped to the sand. Jungkook looked down at it like he didn’t recognize it.
“You okay, dude?”
“Couldn’t sleep last night. I’m running on empty. Sorry.”
Coach sauntered over. “You two okay to keep going? Time is money.”
Jungkook game tanked. Thirty stupid-mistake riddled minutes later, Jungkook didn’t even try to dive for the ball, and Namjoon ended practice. “C’mon. We’re going to Yoongi’s.” Jungkook wouldn’t quite look him in the face.
“I’m sorry. I’d rather go home.”
“Wanna have dinner at your place or mine?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t tonight.”
They let him go. Namjoon went and complained to Yoongi.
“That’s odd. He seems really cheerful all the time when he’s here.”
“That’s because he’s a fan, and he loves you, and he’s totally star-struck.”
Yoongi casually tried to bite off a hangnail. “I mean who wouldn’t be totally star-struck. It’s me. Doesn’t explain what his problem is. Besides, he’s more star-struck around you. The kid shuts down when you’re around—starts stammering, gets nice, all that jazz. I keep thinking he might have a crush on you.”
A fizzy bubble of excitement rose in his chest, and he cringed. The kid was eighteen. He should be worried, not happy.
“Have you talked to him about his bad attitude?”
“No. I tried to bring him over here so you would though.”
“That’s not my job, Namjoon. This is affecting your team, not mine. I’m not involved. Go talk feelings on your own.”
“You know I’m a heartless bear that doesn’t do that shit.”
Yoongi looked indignant. “If you’re a heartless bear, what does that make me? Bigfoot?”
“Oh that’s just insulting. Leave my home before I perform the next great miracle and start to walk just so I can kick you out.”
“How’s physical therapy going?”
“Good. And by good I mean agonizing and horrible.”
Namjoon nodded. “Glad to hear it.”
The quirky energy that Jungkook brought to the game became very conspicuous in its absence, as did his skill.
“Where’d your technique go?” Namjoon asked, bouncing the ball from arm to arm as he watched Jungkook bend over his knees in the sand, one hand over his nose.
“It…I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Why do you keep apologizing? I’m the one that just slammed you in the face with the ball. I just want to know why you tried to block with your head and not your hands. Any good player knows that hands are where it’s at.”
Jungkook chuckled weakly.
“Jungkook, what’s going on?”
He checked his hand for blood again and shook his head. “I’m not gonna talk about it right now.”
“Jungkook, if your problems hurt your playing, I want to know what’s going on so I can help.”
Jungkook looked like he was about to start apologizing again, so Namjoon put his hands on his shoulders and said, “Fuck it, I’m worried about you.”
Jungkook looked up in surprise. “Really?”
“Oh don’t sound so shocked. I’m not that much of an asshole.”
“It’s okay. Stop apologizing.”
“Am I going to blow your chances of making it to the Olympics?”
Namjoon blinked and took his hands off Jungkook’s shoulders. “Well. I hope not. Probably not. Unless you really show the federation that you’re not ready, which I don’t think you will. There aren’t a lot of teams that would be able to replace me. Us. We’re already pretty much guaranteed a slot since I’m a defending medalist, and Yoongi and I already got us through most of the preliminary tournaments before his wreck.”
“That’s what I thought. Why do you always look so nervous then?”
Namjoon huffed. “Is this what all the moping around has been about? Is this it?”
“No. You didn’t answer my question.”
Namjoon fidgeted. “Well honestly, it’s partly me wanting a flawless reputation. I haven’t gotten below silver in any tournament in eight years. The US really does have the option of replacing us if we under-perform. I don’t want them to have that option, because I can’t imagine not going to Rio, and I don’t want to be forced to retire if it starts to look like I can’t win without Yoongi.”
“No pressure or anything,” Jungkook said.
Namjoon snorted. “Yeah. No pressure. If you blow it, I might just become a hermit, but no big deal. Don’t sweat it.”
Jungkook raised an eyebrow.
“I’m serious though. You’re good. You’re really really good. I doubt it's possible for you to do poorly enough to fuck us over unless you do it on purpose. But the more you worry, the worse you’ll do, and I don’t want your concern over my reputation to be the thing that ends up screwing us over, so I’m telling you not to care about me. I can take whatever comes. This is your first competition, so it’s about you.”
Jungkook looked down the beach towards the water, sunset glowing on his face. “Thanks. That’s not what’s bothering me though. Well, it is, but that’s always been something I’ve been nervous about. Recently it's been something else.”
“You’re finally gonna tell me?”
“It’s stupid. My, um, my boyfriend broke up with me.”
Namjoon almost said, “Wow, that is stupid,” but thought better of it, especially since the news that Jungkook had had a boyfriend, but now didn’t, felt like a remarkably positive occurrence.
“Uhh, was it that bad?”
“He blamed it on me.”
“Was it your fault?”
Jungkook turned further away, so Namjoon didn’t see his face when he said “I don’t want to talk about it. It was kind of justified.”
“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend.”
Jungkook looked up, frightened. “Is that okay? I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t know if you’d be uncomfortable with that. I swear I’m mostly straight. I’m sorry. I just really didn’t want it to come up.” He looked like he expected to get hit with the volleyball again.
“No, Jungkook, it’s okay. I’m gay too. Don’t tell coach.”
Jungkook visibly jolted. His eyes flickered between Namjoon’s, a little wild. “Wait, you’re…you’re gay?”
“Yeah. Don’t tell coach though. He’s awkward about that. He doesn’t think he’s homophobic, but he’d definitely get weird if he knew.”
“You too?” he asked.
That better not be hope in his voice. That can of worms needed to stay closed. “Yeah. Me too.”
“Oh.” Namjoon really hoped they hadn’t just laid a whole new level of tension on their relationship, but by the strangely happy, stunned look on Jungkook’s face, it definitely did. “Does anyone know?”
“Yoongi knows. He figured it out after about eight years when he barged into my room and found someone from the men’s Olympic gymnastics team there.”
“Whoa. A gymnast? Damn.”
Namjoon laughed. “Serious veteran advice though. Don’t ever come out publically. You’re just another player until you do that, and then after that there’s always an asterisks by your name and you’re defined by your sex life, not your gameplay. People will start asking about it in interviews. You become an icon more than an athlete. Don’t handicap yourself like that.”
Namjoon could’ve sworn he saw a piece of Jungkook’s soul die, idealism taking a tumble down the hill of real life. “Oh.”
“So your boyfriend left you. Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. I’ll probably get over it.”
“How long will that take?”
“I have no idea. He was great, but that was a rough breakup. I’m more worried about…coming to terms with some of the things he said to me. That might be more of an issue.”
“Fuck. Okay. Well, get it out of your volleyball playing.”
Jungkook looked close to panicking. He covered it up by checking his nose one more time. “Sure it’s not bleeding?”
“I’m sure. You’re not getting out of this practice that easy.”
“We have an idea.” Taehyung sat right down on Namjoon’s legs in the sand to pin him down.
“Oh god. That’s never good.”
“We’re going to take Yoongi on an adventure.”
“That’s a terrible idea. He’s delicate.”
“We wouldn’t make him do anything too weird. We’re just going to take him on an adventure and end up at Coach’s house.”
“An adventure?” Namjoon imagined himself carrying Yoongi through the woods while he punched and complained.
“Yeah. Not much. We’ll just hang out on the beach for a while.”
Namjoon breathed a sigh of relief. “Ok. We can do that. Jungkook, you coming?”
Jungkook turned around from where he was setting balls back and forth with Coach, eyes wide and worried like they often were when Namjoon addressed him. The ball hit him in the head. “Coming to what?”
“We’re going to get Yoongi out of the house a bit and take him to the beach or something, just hang out for a day. You should be there.”
Jungkook’s face cleared. “That’s awesome. Sure.”
Yoongi complained anyway, especially when they got out of the car and had to face the sand. Namjoon picked him up, bridal style, as gentle as possible on the right leg, and marched him quickly down towards where Taehyung and Hoseok were spreading a blanket out on the sand. His spine nearly gave out under the weight. “I packed food! I’m like a mom or something!” Taehyung yelled.
“You’re adorable. Move the fuck over so I can put this fucking sandbag down. I’m about to fucking drop him he’s so heavy—oh god, move.”
Yoongi had flopped back over his arm, staring backwards at the sand and groaning quietly in his throat.
“Fuckin’ diva,” Namjoon said as he carefully lowered Yoongi onto the blanket. Taehyung was already tearing his clothes off, eyes fixed on the ocean.
“Do backflips,” Yoongi told Jungkook, who was sitting hunched over looking distracted and wistful. “I’ve heard a lot about those.”
Jungkook smiled, suddenly cheerful. How did Yoongi do that? “Can you take a picture of me with the sunset in the background when I do the flips?” Jungkook asked, handing his phone to Namjoon.
He shrugged. “I think it’ll look good.” Jungkook got into position and did a whole gymnastics routine in the sand, aerials and twists included. Hoseok whistled and clapped. Taehyung sat down hard in the water with his mouth hanging open. Namjoon got a good photo of him mid-flip, silhouetted against the sunset.
“Sure you’re in the right sport?” Yoongi asked, as Jungkook walked back over and gave him a back hug.
“Yeah. I’m sure. Gymnastics looks painful.”
He settled in behind Yoongi, his arms around his waist, and Yoongi laid back like he was in a recliner, bafflingly affectionate. Namjoon knew he was pouting and didn’t even try to stop. “I’ve really missed the beach,” Yoongi said and closed his eyes, the salty wind scattering his fluffy, blond-tipped hair across his forehead. Namjoon’s heart hurt a bit. Jungkook hummed and nuzzled his nose into Yoongi’s scalp. Yoongi looked like he was fighting a smile.
Fuck it. They were too fucking cute. Namjoon got up and went down to help Hoseok pelt Taehyung with handfuls of wet sand as he wiggled in the shallow waves.
Yoongi reclined against Jungkook’s chest. Jungkook’s cheek rested against the side of his head as he talked. Yoongi played with the fingers on one of Jungkook’s hands and nodded along to the conversation, occasionally commenting. It was very unusual. Yoongi spoke in a language of clever jokes, complaining, and flippant remarks. He only really talked with the evident sincerity with which he talked to Jungkook when he had something serious to say.
By the time they came up on the sand, Yoongi and Jungkook were both smiling and cheerful, Jungkook’s arms wrapped around Yoongi’s chest as he hugged him.
“Wow,” Hoseok said, “I’ve never known you to be such a teddy bear, Yoongi. What’s going on?”
“He’s my legacy. I’m gonna mentor him till he’s better than I was, and he’s going to take care of me in my old age.”
“Hey, that’s my job,” Namjoon said.
“Find your own mentee.”
“I did. It’s him.”
“Now, now, gentlemen, no need to fight over me,” Jungkook giggled.
Taehyung flung open a cooler and shrieked “Food!” at the top of his voice.
“Me first. I’m the MVP,” Yoongi said. Taehyung cheerfully handed him a couple slices of cold pizza wrapped in tinfoil.
“Oh fuck yes. This is fucking amazing.” He sat up out of Jungkook’s arms and began roughly devouring it.
“Oldest to youngest,” Taehyung said cheerfully and handed Namjoon a couple slices. Jungkook sighed through his nose and dove for the cooler, nearly knocking Yoongi over. Yoongi watched with disinterest as Taehyung and Jungkook wrestled in the sand.
“Well isn’t this just beautifully homoerotic,” Hoseok snickered. Jungkook had Taehyung pinned under him, sitting on his back with his arms twisted behind him. Taehyung struggled to keep his head up, spitting sand everywhere.
“No pizza for you!” he yelled.
Jungkook tightened his grip, giggling, and his arms flexed where they held Taehyung down, thighs tight around Taehyung’s hips. Namjoon raised his eyebrows. “Someone take a picture for blackmail.” Hoseok snickered and pulled out his phone.
Taehyung let out a long, low, pained moan and writhed helplessly in the sand. Jungkook leaned down to talk shit into his ear, and Taehyung’s moans turned to choking gasps as Jungkook pressed harder on his arms. It was entirely too suggestive, not to mention sexy as fuck, and he had no doubt he was the only person who saw it that way. He slid his eyes over to Yoongi with his best “what the fuck is my life” look. Yoongi just laughed at him.
“I have seen way too much porn not to know where this is going,” Namjoon said.
Taehyung turned his face quickly towards Jungkook’s, who yelled loudly and got off fast, his hand over his mouth. “He bit my lip! You bitch!”
“Creepy AF, you pedophile,” Hoseok yelled. “He’s only eighteen!”
“That’s old enough,” Taehyung said, eyebrows wiggling. He sat up slowly, stretching his arms out, and noticed that Jungkook had just casually grabbed a slice of pizza and was walking away down the sand.
“My pizza!” he yelled and tackled Jungkook from behind. The pizza went flying. Jungkook and Taehyung hit the beach with the sound of a punching bag slamming into a gym floor.
Taehyung retrieved the sandy pizza and ate it, skipping back to the blanket like Jungkook wasn’t still lying on the sand groaning and wheezing. Yoongi retrieved another slice of pizza. “Kookie, come over here. I’ll feed you.”
Jungkook rolled weakly back over to the blanket and let Yoongi feed him the cold pizza. “Your turn,” Yoongi said, handing Namjoon a second slice.
Namjoon scooted up. “Here comes the airplane. Open wide. Wooshhhhhhhhhhhh.”
Jungkook refused to open his mouth. Namjoon made loud, dramatic crashing noises as he smashed the pizza into Jungkook’s face. Tomato sauce went everywhere. Jungkook pouted, and Yoongi cooed and wiped his face off with a napkin.
“I am jealous of your lips,” Yoongi said, “Those fuckers are soft as shit.” Jungkook blushed, smiling shyly.
Taehyung jumped to attention. “They’re not as nice as mine. Good for eatin’ pussy.”
“Good for suckin dick,” Hoseok retorted, and cackled with Taehyung tried to smack him with a pizza.
Namjoon wished they wouldn’t have this conversation. He didn’t need to notice how nice his teammates lips were. Like he hadn’t already.
“I’d think lips would be more important for eating someone out though,” Taehyung said, as if this was actually a conversation they were having.
“Taehyung, baby, have you ever gotten a good blowjob? Lips are so important.”
“It’s partly about the visual though,” Yoongi said.
Taehyung shook his head. “I’m not talking about whether you think you’d rather the person who eats you out have nice lips or the person that sucks you off, because I doubt any one of us knows what it feels like to be eaten out—” Namjoon did not correct him. “—I’m talking about giving. Would nice lips help you out more with eating someone out or sucking them off? Personally, I’d say pussy, but I guess I don’t actually know. Has anyone here ever done both? No judgment to anyone that has. Sex happens and it's awesome no matter what.”
“No matter what?” Yoongi said. “I beg to differ. I was with this one girl at the end of high school who didn’t realize that she could actually be active in bed and help out instead of just lying there and making me to all the work like I was giving her a massage or something. Didn’t even bother talking or making noise or whatever. It was like she was asleep. Really disconcerting.”
“Gross. That sucks, dude, and nice conversational diversion tactics, but I will not be distracted by slightly off-topic answers. Has anyone here ever done both?”
Namjoon appreciated Yoongi for trying.
Jungkook tentatively raised a hand. So much for not coming out.
“WHAT? THE BABY? JESUS CHRIST YOU KINKY BASTARD,” Taehyung screamed.
Jungkook put his hand down fast. “Since when was gay sex kinky? What happened to no judgment?”
“Sorry, sorry. So you have nice lips. You can answer that question. Are they better for girls or guys?”
Namjoon accidentally imagined Jungkook’s lips stretched around a dick and immediately felt horribly dirty.
“Girls, I think,” Jungkook muttered.
“Guys,” Namjoon said, “You can do more shit with your lips on guys, and you can eat them out too. Best of both worlds.”
“Blegh. I wouldn’t say that,” Taehyung said, “Eating ass does not sound enjoyable. Have you done that, Namjoon?”
“I’ve done everything.” Might as well support poor, flustered Jungkook.
“Well okay then. Guess I should have expected that, since you’re a self-proclaimed, very proud slut. Would you agree that lips are more useful with guys, Jungkook?”
Jungkook was back to fiddling with the pizza in his hands, blushing and not meeting anyone’s eyes. “That’s not. I’ve never eaten... Um. I don’t know.”
“This is a weird conversation,” Yoongi said, “Can we move on?”
Taehyung pouted. “That was a fun conversation. I learned many interesting things. Especially about Namjoon.”
“Don’t spread it around,” Namjoon said.
Taehyung nodded seriously. “Change of subject then. What are you going to do after you win your first Olympic gold, Jungkook? Get a better apartment? Tear around the country to every tournament? Go to college?”
Jungkook muttered “Finish high school,” into his pizza.
There was a beat of silence in which Namjoon felt the world tilt under him a little. Jesus Christ this kid was still a child. “You’re going to be nineteen this fall!” Taehyung yelled. “Finish high school? What the fuck?”
“I took this semester off to train. I still have half my senior year left.”
“Are you telling me,” Yoongi said, “That the first thing the federation did when they found out I was injured was pull a kid out of high school to try to replace me?”
Jungkook shrugged. “Yeah, probably.”
“I’m legitimately insulted.”
Namjoon expected Jungkook to ball up under the remark like he always did, withdraw and get defensive, look hurt and unhappy for several minutes, and mentally beat himself up. “You were on your way out anyway, grandpa,” Jungkook snickered, and then giggled and let Yoongi beat him with his crutches.
It occurred to Namjoon that the only person that make Jungkook uncomfortable was him. He got along fine with Yoongi. Namjoon walked down to the water on his own to try to wash the implications out of his head.
After a couple hours they headed up the beach to Coach’s house. Jungkook carried Yoongi like it was nothing, arms tight under his back and his legs, clutched high up against his chest so Yoongi could hook his arms around his shoulders and help out. Yoongi somehow still looked in-control and bored as shit. Namjoon wished he was that composed.
Coach’s house had a pool. As soon as Jungkook put Yoongi down on a deck chair, he whipped his shirt off and dove in. Namjoon settled in beside Yoongi and watched Jungkook, blurry through the ripples down at the bottom of the pool, while the other two unloaded the beer. He came up, his hair doing that magical and always unexpected thing where it got flat and completely changed the way he looked, the chlorine-blue of the underwater lights highlighting his neck and his cheeks and the curve of his lips.
Taehyung offered them both a drink. Namjoon grabbed one immediately. “Can’t. Still on painkillers,” Yoongi said.
“Yay! I’m not the only one!” Jungkook said, pushing his hair up off his forehead, his white smile reflecting the blue of the pool, dizzyingly gorgeous. Namjoon took another drink.
“You know you could totally drink, right?” Taehyung said. “It’s like college. Our purpose is to corrupt you.”
Jungkook grinned. “I’m DD for Namjoon tonight, but you can bet I’m taking you up on that later.” Namjoon toasted. Jungkook breathed in deep, filling his lungs, and drifted into an easy float on top of the water, eyes closing. His pretty face was astoundingly dissonant with the way water washed through the valleys in his abs.
Yoongi nudged him with his foot. “He’s a decade younger than you, bro.”
Yoongi snorted and shook his head. “Nothing. Don’t ever get too drunk around him though. You might do something stupid.”
“Yoongi, what? I’m not…what?”
“I have known you entirely too long not to know the way you look at things you want.”
“Gross. He’s fuckin’ eighteen. I’m getting in the goddamn pool.”
“Take me with you.”
Namjoon helped him up off the chair, and they did an odd three-legged walk over to the pool, Yoongi’s arm over his shoulders. The stairs posed an issue. Jungkook solved it by stomping over, picking up a protesting Yoongi, and carrying him down into the water. “No, my Yoongi,” Namjoon whined, climbing quickly in after them. “Give him back.”
Jungkook walked out to the middle of the pool, trailing Yoongi with him, and Namjoon followed. “Mine. Give him back.”
“No,” Jungkook said, getting the same face he always got when he argued with the coach. Namjoon grabbed Yoongi around the chest and started wrestling him from Jungkook.
Yoongi just snickered as they pulled him back and forth, laying his head back in the water. Hoseok said, “Cutting in,” and took Yoongi away to where Taehyung was trying to get comfortable on a pool float. They spent the rest of the evening playing keep-away with the snickering, unhelpful Yoongi.
Hoseok was the one who made the rule, “Every five minutes we keep Yoongi away from Namjoon, he has to drink another beer.” At first it was easy, and then he got distracted by Marco Polo, by Taehyung singing loudly to the radio, by Jungkook swimming between his feet and trying to take him down, and the more drunk he got, the harder it became to catch Yoongi. By the end of the evening, Namjoon lay sprawled out on a deck chair with Taehyung bumping two glass bottles into his hand. “It’s been over ten minutes.”
“Fuck off. I’m fucking….boycotting this game. Keep Yoongi.”
“Holy fuck he’s slurring so bad,” Taehyung giggled, and Namjoon took his arm off his eyes for a minute to stare him down. Yoongi sat down next to his leg, rearranging his crutches and smirking.
“That was a great fucking evening, but I’m heading out. My dear mother just drove all the way here to tell me to go home, so I have no choice but to get in the car with her, like I’m fifteen or something.”
“Looks like the parties breaking up anyway.” He glanced around to make sure no one was close and then leaned in close to Namjoon. “Kookie’s driving you home, huh? And you’re smashed. Right after I warned you too. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Somewhere in his brain, he understood that he was supposed to agree, but the rest of his brain was stubbornly insisting that Yoongi should mind his own fucking business. “But I’m stupid though. I do stupid shit. Let me do my stupid shit.”
“Your bad press if you fuck the high-schooler. Not mine.”
Jungkook walked up swinging his car keys. “Ready to go?”
Namjoon considered the question carefully, the words “fuck the high-schooler” on a loop in his head. “…Sure.”
“Selfie first,” he said, turning his phone with Namjoon prone and clearly intoxicated in the background, his wild smile up front, Taehyung’s crazy face poking into the corner, Yoongi smirking at Namjoon.
“That better not end up anywhere,” Namjoon groaned.
“No way. I’m posting that everywhere,” Jungkook said. “I like making my mom nervous.”
Namjoon got up slowly, took two steps, and lurched abruptly into a table. It fell over with a loud crash. He lay on the ground surrounded by overturned chairs, and Yoongi clutched his crutches for dear life as he laughed. Jungkook smirked. “Maybe you should have put more effort into catching Yoongi.”
“This is weird. It’s like gravity keeps propositioning itself.”
He stared up at Jungkook, who looked taller when Namjoon’s head was filled with alcohol, broader, his features sharper, darker. Alcohol had always made him feel young.
“Let’s go,” Jungkook said, and helped him up off the deck.
Namjoon made it all the way to the car and leaned heavily against the side, his head down on the roof.
“You have no coordination left, dude. How many beers did you drink?”
“More than I meant to.”
“Don’t throw up in my car.”
“They don’t call me the god of destruction for nothing. I’m gonna take a piss in the gutter.”
“Coach’s house is right here! Use his bathroom.”
“Can’t fuckin’ wait.”
“Oh man, he’s gonna be so pissed.”
Namjoon snorted. “Yeah he is.” He got around to the back of the car and clumsily yanked his dick out of his pants, leaned against the low trunk, and let go. The neighborhood was a perfect grid of palm trees and beachy cottage-like houses, driveways dotted with Honda Civics and family SUV’s. A dog barked in the distance. The glow of the city turned the sky a deep black-orange. Humming streetlights and white picket fences as far as the eye could see, and his piss splashing noisily into the gutter. He couldn’t help but grin.
“This shit is so fucking American,” he said, voice loud in the quiet neighborhood. “I could get arrested right now, but this aesthetic is so fucking California Nuclear, like American Dream Gone Bad and all that,” his bladder was nearly, blissfully empty. “I want Lana Del Rey to just ride down the street on a bicycle and serenade us. I feel kind of like a teenager and kind of like an idiot. Wait, holy fuck, which car is Yoongi’s mom in?”
Jungkook snickered. “Don’t worry. She’s in the car in front of us. You’re not pissing in full view of her windshield right now. I think the car you’re facing is Taehyung’s.”
Namjoon bent doubled in relief, heaving in a few deep breathes. He tucked his dick back in and stumbled around to the shotgun seat. “Just go, dude. That was a close call. I ain’t hangin’ around.”
“Ok, partner. I won’t tell Yoongi you nearly gave his mother a peep show.”
“Honestly he’d probably laugh his head off. She’s no dainty old lady. That woman’s got bite. She’d probably insult my dick and then bring it up at every public function for the next ten years. I’d rather deal with an angry Yoongi than Ms. Min any day.”
Jungkook chuckled and hit the turn signals, the soft clicking in the quiet car lulling Namjoon’s eyes closed. When he opened them again, they were quite a few blocks away, the suburbs turning into small shopping complexes and apartments, traffic lights smeared bright across the smudgy windshield.
“Dude,” he stopped a moment to try and remember what he had been about to say. Something about hugging, something about the way Jungkook looked at him, something pressing hard against the back of his throat about wanting to kiss... soft hair and large eyes. Something about… “Wash your fucking windshield.”
“You are really slurring. You doing okay over there?”
Namjoon groaned. “Those last few beers are just hitting me. I’ve got the spins pretty bad. My thoughts feel heavy. I’m weightlifting my thoughts.”
“You’re a philosophical drunk.”
“You think I don’t know that? I’ve been thought-lifting for, like, fifteen years.”
“No, no. Just. You know. Pointing it out.”
Namjoon hummed weakly and closed his eyes again, opening them only when Jungkook started physically pulling him out of the car. He lurched out onto the driveway and just barely maintained his footing, looping an arm over Jungkook’s shoulder and clutching for support. “Can’t. Fuck. Can’t walk straight.”
“I got you,” Jungkook said, and he did, one arm around Namjoon’s waist and the other holding the hand over his shoulder. Namjoon felt free to close his eyes and just let Jungkook lead. He fumbled in Namjoon’s pockets for a bit before Namjoon realized he was probably looking for the keys, and blindly stretched way up, smacking his hand into the gutter before he managed to grab the spare key tucked up there.
Jungkook’s fingertips brushed gently against the skin of his stomach exposed above his low-slung jeans. An electric shudder raced through him. Jungkook’s palm flattened against his stomach, steadying.
“Sorry,” he whispered.
Namjoon opened his eyes and was almost surprised to see his own front door in front of him and not Jungkook everywhere. He turned his head to the side and found Jungkook’s gorgeous eyes, his flushed cheeks. He slowly brought the key down from the gutter and held it up until Jungkook tore his eyes away from Namjoon’s face to look at it.
“Oh. Okay.” He grabbed the key and shuffled them both forward. Namjoon wanted the warm hand back on his skin, low on his stomach, right above…
Namjoon flicked the living room light on. Game controllers still littered the couch from where Jungkook had completely obliterated Namjoon and Yoongi in Mario Kart earlier that day.
“Should I go?” Jungkook asked.
“Could you make sure I get into bed without falling over and smashing my brains out first?
“I have to piss again. Bathroom.”
Namjoon somehow managed to piss mostly in the toilet, and then stumbled out to find Jungkook leaning against the wall, texting. “Could you get me some water?”
Jungkook looked up quickly, entirely too alert for Namjoon’s current state of mind. He just wanted to lie down and sleep for a year. “Yeah, sure.” He put his phone in his pocket and marched off towards the kitchen. Namjoon stumbled into his room and managed to get his shirt and swim trunks off before Jungkook walked in and squeaked.
“Oh right. This is, like, weird,” Namjoon chuckled and pulled a pair of boxers on. “Sorry about that. I’m decent. Kind of.”
Jungkook took his hand tentatively off his eyes and then handed Namjoon his water. Even in the low light with all his senses muddled and spinning, he could see the bright red in Jungkook’s cheeks and the way his eyes roamed down Namjoon’s bare chest. Even though he’d been shirtless all evening, the tension felt different.
He drank the entire glass, head spinning and stomach protesting, and Jungkook took the glass and walked off to refill it. Namjoon collapsed back against the mattress and closed his eyes.
“Okay, you’ve got water,” Jungkook’s voice brought him back, “And there’s aspirin and a trashcan. I can… I guess I can stay if you really need it. Are you going to be okay?”
Namjoon tugged him down onto the bed, wrapping his arms around him and squeezing, Jungkook’s hair soft against his neck. “Are either of us going to be okay? Are we a team yet?” Jungkook tensed up, crushed up against Namjoon’s chest, palms tentatively flattening out, fingers brushing softly over his ribs. “Are we the best team in the world, Jungkook?”
“N-no, we’re not,” he said, voice shaky. His breath came hot and fast across Namjoon’s shoulder.
“I know. It’s fucking scary.”
“We’re at least good enough to win this tournament coming up, right?”
Namjoon sighed, the alcohol warping his expectations into something rather nightmarish that involved missing every single serve and bombing out in two quick sets of utter humiliation. “We should be, I think. Maybe.”
Jungkook pulled his head away from Namjoon’s chest looking ruffled, his hair all over his forehead. “I’m trying Namjoon. I promise I’m trying.”
Namjoon hugged him tighter. “It’s not you, Jungkook. You’re a fantastic player. Like, Olympic level. You’re doing good. It’s the teamwork that isn’t…Olympic level yet. We’re supposed to get that over time, but we don’t have time, so it’s kinda whatever happens happens at this point, you know? We’ll go there and play our best game and be the best team we can be, and hopefully we’ll have progressed far enough by that point that the US federation will give us a chance. It’s not a giant tournament anyway. The competition won’t be that challenging.”
“Oh. That doesn’t sound so bad then,” Jungkook said weakly.
“We’re gonna be okay,” Namjoon said, rubbing circles between Jungkook’s shoulders absently. The room felt dark and heavily quiet, and his limbs felt so heavy he wondered how he wasn’t crushing Jungkook. He was strong though. Those muscles, the ones he could feel through the thin fabric of his shirt, warm and hard. He could handle it.
“I should go home,” Jungkook said quietly.
“No,” Namjoon said, “You’re so cuddly.”
Jungkook laughed softly, hands curling gently against his chest. For a moment, everything was warm and quiet, Jungkook’s breath tickling over his skin, the scent of chlorine coming off his hair. Then he sat up, easily shrugging off Namjoon’s heavy arms, which flopped down beside him on the bed.
“Now I’m cold.”
“Pull your blankets up or something.”
“My arms are too heavy. I can’t move them.”
Jungkook threw the blankets up over him. “You gonna be okay here alone?”
“Oh please. I’d need at least six more beers before you should be worried. You can go home if you’re not gonna cuddle.”
Namjoon didn’t have his eyes open to see, but he heard him murmur something and then the front door opened and closed. His slight disappointment lasted only until he fell asleep.