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Seokjin knew Hoseok.

That was a general truth, because he only knew Hoseok in a general way. The kind of way you knew someone who grew up across the street from you, but who you weren’t good friends with or anything. The way you knew someone you grew up with and, as kids, didn’t share any hobbies or interests with. And even in these ways, that was being generous.

Seokjin liked books and food and soccer and being outside a lot as a kid. Hoseok liked...well. Seokjin wasn’t sure, what he had liked exactly. He mostly only remembered a handful of details. That Hoseok had been afraid of bugs. Afraid of loud noises. Afraid of being home but also of being away from home, of going home even a minute later than he was supposed to.

So Seokjin had seen Hoseok a lot, scrawny and sitting on his front steps, watching the other kids running around their yards and playing basketball at the shared hoop at the end of the cul-de-sac and marching off together in little mobs, going on imagined adventures in someone’s backyard or down the street to the nearby park. Seokjin had seen Hoseok hugging his banged up knees with his bruised little arms, always silently observing, never interacting.

The thing about knowing Hoseok in a general way, as a kid who grew up across the street on a quiet little street with nosey parents (and everyone’s parents were nosey, not just his), was that he heard things and saw things and therefore thought things. So by now, in high school, he sort of...knew some things. About Hoseok. And Hoseok’s home life, and how his dad had been a lot a bit on the awful side, before Hoseok’s mom had kicked him out by way of calling the police on him in the middle of the day one Wednesday during the summer when Seokjin had been maybe nine or ten.

Seokjin remembered that even now, because Wednesdays that summer, whichever summer it had been, had meant pool days for Seokjin and his older brother. Their mom had been fussing about sunblock, Seokjin could recall clear as yesterday, when the sirens in the distance started up. Got closer and closer, eventually drowning her out. Getting so loud right outside, and then abruptly cutting off.

Of course, then they all went to the windows to see what was happening, the sunblock still wet and tacky on Seokjin’s back. And Seokjin still remembered the hot, humid air, sticky and heavy, pressing down in his lungs as they watched in silence. The police seemed pleasant, cordial even, as they escorted Hoseok’s father out the house and into the patrol car. They had heavy hands on the back of his neck and on his upper back, to discourage him breaking away and out of the suggestions of their hold.

The whole time, during the whole ordeal, from across the street Seokjin could see Hoseok’s mother standing defensively on the stoop in front of her door, her arms crossed. Hoseok and his older sister’s faces peeked out from the windows, mirroring the way Seokjin and his brother and mom were peering outside as well. Though their faces were faraway dots, Seokjin remembered Hoseok and his sister had looked apprehensive; scared and amazed at the same time.

The whole thing had been an ongoing conversation topic for months to come, as Hoseok’s mom untangled the last bits of Hoseok’s dad out of their lives. Ongoing rumors and talk of settlements and court dates and custody battles. Big adult things that all the kids heard but didn’t fully understand. Hoseok had stayed just as quiet through it as always, and eventually it, and Hoseok’s family's prominence, faded back into the background.

So, yes. Seokjin knew Hoseok. Or knew of Hoseok. All in a general sort of way.

That being said, Seokjin, now in high school and working part time at the library -- because he liked books and people and organizing things arbitrarily and could go for being paid to do things he liked to do anyway, and because Junghwan had been gungho about it -- was actually a little more used to seeing Hoseok nowadays. As in, seeing him here at the library, more often than he had ever glimpsed Hoseok in all their years of going to the same school from elementary through middle and now into high school. Hoseok came to the library a lot.

It used to be weird, at the start of the school year, to try and figure out if he was supposed to pretend he didn’t know Hoseok at all, or if he was supposed to pretend they knew each other the way next door neighbors were usually expected to. Seokjin couldn’t figure out a good approach. Which was more offensive and disingenuous, he kept wondering. Did Hoseok even really know Seokjin to begin with? It was all very confusing and Seokjin would have preferred to avoid the whole situation altogether.

But as it turned out, only Seokjin was making it weird by thinking too much about it. Hoseok gave all the librarians and librarian assistants the same nice wave and smile and nod as he passed them by, and only made light, amicable conversation when spoken to. Seokjin was addressed just the same as everyone else: kindly, barely, and kept at a friendly but apparent distance. Hoseok kept to himself, which, Seokjin guessed, shouldn’t have been news to him, honestly.

Before now, in all the years prior, Seokjin had only seen Hoseok randomly in the halls at school here and there. He couldn’t recall them ever sharing a class block or being forced into close proximity that would have cultivated a conversation. Seokjin had usually had clubs growing up, extracurricular activities that meant he didn’t ride the bus often, and often his mom or brother could be depended on for rides, too. Then he’d learned how to drive himself.

So Seokjin didn’t know if Hoseok rode the bus or walked or was in any clubs or after school activities. Seokjin didn’t know much about Hoseok, and until now had seen so little of him. Seokjin didn’t know much about Hoseok, and until now had seen so little of him. Had only seen him enough in the past to be occasionally reminded that maybe there should be more between them.

Sometimes Seokjin wondered if there should be a tinge of guilt in his chest, whenever he saw Hoseok. But he always quickly reminded himself that Hoseok wasn’t friendless or anything like that. He was okay, as far as Seokjin could tell. Around school, all the times he’d seen Hoseok, Hoseok had rarely been alone. Instead he had been consistently hanging out with two other kids (that Seokjin didn’t really know). There was a sour-faced, intense kind of guy, and a tall, sort of striking-featured, gangly-limbed boy.

So Hoseok had friends, at least. That was cool. Seokjin didn’t need to feel guilty about anything. Close proximity didn’t guarantee getting along. Plenty of people didn’t bond with childhood neighbors. Or at the very least ended up growing up and growing apart. Hoseok was distant and Seokjin was distant. No one was getting hurt here, their circles simply didn’t overlap.

So Seokjin worked at the library, and Hoseok came to the library. Seokjin saw Hoseok a lot, but really only at a distance. Nothing much had changed. Hoseok came in and waved and smiled at everyone. And then he went straight to a table in the back, still visible from the front desk, and started scribbling out his homework and reading his assignments. That, or he’d hop on to use the public computers.

Hoseok was quiet and non-obtrusive. He gently entertained the little kids who came into the library with their moms, and made the occasional librarian laugh with his (apparently, Seokjin had been told) sweet, silly replies when they passed him by and asked if he needed any help. Seokjin didn’t know why, if Hoseok was so charming apparently and had a decently clever way with words, he was more often than not quiet and self-contained to the point of feeling impossibly far away.

But it wasn’t anything new. Seokjin was used to Hoseok being a quiet, shrunken in variety of presence, both from their barely shared childhood and, now, from their library coexistence.

 

~~~

 

Since starting this job, Seokjin had worked various different shifts, all sorts of times and days, and he’d come to the realization that Hoseok had a vague sort of schedule when it came to the library. It hadn’t taken very long to figure it out, because it was as simple as it was repetitive. Hoseok came in most weekdays right after school around three o’clock, and on the weekends sometime after four. This was barring anything out of the norm, Seokjin guessed, because while there were days Hoseok came later than usual or plain didn’t come at all, they weren’t nearly as frequent as the days he did come.

Seokjin was intrigued: what sort of teenager didn’t have much in way of a social life? Hoseok had friends, Seokjin knew that, so surely they wanted to do things with him outside of school. The longer Seokjin watched Hoseok from across the library, the more he was forced to even challenge his own definition of ‘generally knowing Hoseok’. Perhaps he didn’t even have that.

Okay, there was no perhaps behind it. Seokjin didn’t really know Hoseok. Seokjin didn’t really know Hoseok, but he knew a version of Hoseok. A very specific version that Hoseok offered up willing, and then gave little other wiggle room to breathe, to explore. To know.

No, Seokjin didn’t really know Hoseok, beyond his quiet and non-obtrusive act. That was why it was startling, the first time Seokjin witnessed Hoseok’s two friends joining Hoseok at his table, and settling in with him.

It was some time after five o’clock, the sun golden and setting through the windows. Hoseok was flipping through what looked like an anatomy and physiology book, if the cover picture and design proved anything. He was flipping and pausing to make notes, and a familiar pair sauntered in and called out to him, not sparing Seokjin or anyone behind the front desk a glance.

The change was spontaneous. Seokjin watched as Hoseok beamed and waved them over, and watched as he started talking animatedly to the other two. It was interesting. In no time at all, Hoseok got loud.

As their conversation progressed over the next several minutes, the three of them became loud and cheery and laughing and making these noises imitating what Seokjin had to assume were animals and sound effects. Hoseok’s voice was especially prominent, in all the noise.

Seokjin was across the library, sorting through and carting the returns pile, so he didn’t really know what they were talking about. But Hoseok was lit up in this way Seokjin had never seen him before, not in all their years of orbiting in similar spaces. Of seeing but not ever interacting with one another. It was entrancing. It was a little bit beautiful.

Seokjin snapped out his thoughts when one of the older, full-time, real librarians cleared her throat meaningfully. When Seokjin looked back at her, she nodded over at Hoseok and his friends. “They’re a little loud,” she finally explained.

Seokjin blinked, mouth twitching upwards in a nervous tic, before he cleared his throat awkwardly. He didn’t generally mind telling people what to do, but as someone who’d been plenty guilty of accidentally getting too loud too fast and not realizing it until a teacher or some other adult glared, he liked giving people a little more time to get a handle on their own volume. There was something somehow intimately upsetting about being told to essentially shut up, and he knew that from personal experience.

Unfortunately, the librarians didn’t usually share Seokjin’s opinion on how long was long enough for a grace period.

“I’ll...go tell them to be quiet,” Seokjin agreed, smiling to be amicable. He kept that diffusive, kind smile all the way over to the table. The sunlight was still warm and beautiful, and turning redder and redder, fiery. Seokjin squinted in the glare of the lighting, as he made it to the table.

Seokjin didn’t even get the first word in. The mean-faced one saw him coming, and said blunt, direct, and flat, “What do you want?”

His voice was low and soft, but not really as mean and angry as Seokjin would have expected from him. It was more defensive and uncomfortable. That was understandable.

Still, the tall one nudged him, as mean as his words really weren’t. He was saying, “Yoongi, be nice,” as Seokjin sort of studied him as well.

Up close, Seokjin was finding him to look more striking than he’d expected. The other boy had a weird kind of face, made up entirely of really notable features that came together to give off a strong, distinct, and distinctly good kind of look. That was interesting.

But there was a bigger matter at hand. Technically all of them were being loud, but Hoseok was the loudest, and the actual constant patron. So Seokjin cleared his throat (again) and turned awkwardly to Hoseok. “Sorry to be...I guess intrusive? But you’re being a little loud.”

Hoseok’s eyes went wide and apologetic in an instant, before Seokjin felt the words really had time to set in. But Hoseok looked very sorry all the same, incredibly expressive.

And now, here was the thing about Hoseok: Seokjin hadn’t really seen him up close in years. If ever. Seokjin had a general understanding of Hoseok’s face, how it looked and how it worked, but he hadn’t seen all the details of it in action, before or recently. His expression was something else.

And while Seokjin was taking in the emotions swirling in Hoseok’s eyes and the pinched quality of Hoseok’s lips, he started to study other things about Hoseok’s face. His skin was soft looking. He had a mole by his lip that was kind of cute. His nose was perky and a little cartoonish, and his eyes, even widening with concern, were sparkling and emotive.

It was weird to realize all of sudden that, no, really. They’d lived across the street from each other for ages and ages and Seokjin didn’t really even know what his face looked like. That his eyes were an almost hazel in the light of the setting sun. Vaguely, Seokjin wondered if Hoseok had any recollections or previous impressions of him, or if this was all an off-color sort of surprising encounter for him as well.

But none of that was important right now, Seokjin reminded himself, barely managing to focus in time to hear Hoseok’s response.

“No no no,” Hoseok said, laughing sheepishly, running a hand through his hair and shrugging helplessly. “I’m sorry -- we’re sorry!”

“Hobi,” the one called Yoongi murmured, a little amusement in his voice. “You’re yelling, now.”

Hoseok flushed, though he nudged Yoongi, just like the other still nameless friend had. It was more deliberate and forceful than the previous nudge, and Yoongi nearly tipped over onto the floor. Yoongi didn’t look quite so mean, smiling slightly as he righted himself in his seat.

But right. None of that was important. “It’s okay,” Seokjin told them with a hapless shrug himself, trying to convey that it was fine. It was chill. It was cool. He felt weird freaking people out about something that wasn’t really that big of a deal. Especially not at this sort of twilight hour, when there weren’t too many other patrons around to be disturbed by the sound. “Just keep it down, if you can. I don’t want to have to bluff about how I’m going to kick you out, if I don’t have to.”

Hoseok paused. There was a really beautiful, sincere smile blooming on his face that was honestly stunning. Seokjin was trying to not be blown away by it, but it was something else. Like discovering something rare and amazing in a familiar old stomping ground you never bothered to look closely at before. But maybe Seokjin didn’t have any right to think that, since he really didn’t know Hoseok well enough to actually consider him familiar in any way.

“Bluff, huh?” Hoseok questioned, smiling and beaming and looking way too beautiful and lively. Looking way more content with life than Seokjin had ever honestly thought he possibly could. This was -- strange. In a good way, but strange all the same.

“So,” Hoseok continued, still smiling, now a little teasing. “What you’re saying is that you actually don’t have any authority?”

Seokjin blinked, once, twice, then a bunch of times in quick succession. He was taken off guard by the question. He was treading on unknown ground here, because they’d breached Seokjin passing off library protocol at them and were now in ‘lightly joking’ territory. What? What was he supposed to do here? He’d never thought about, well, talking to Hoseok before.

This didn’t have to be A Thing, though. Didn’t have to be A Problem. Seokjin didn’t need to overanalyze how he should talk to Hoseok -- even if Hoseok was turning out to be completely unlike how Seokjin expected him to be.

So Seokjin tried to just. Talk to Hoseok. Just be normal about answering his question. “Uh, not really? I don’t, I mean. But while I can’t do it, the librarians definitely can kick you out, so don’t test your luck or anything.”

Hoseok laughed and nodded along easily. His friends seemed amused, too, and Hoseok rested his chin into an upturned palm, looking Seokjin once over. “Got it. We won’t, then.”

Seokjin shifted awkwardly. That was probably enough, then. That was probably all there was to this interaction, the first in at least a decade. Seokjin could only nod and leave their table, hearing the gangly, still unnamed one say something like, “That was kind of friendly for you, Hoseok -- you guys know each other?” as he turned around and took a few steps.

Seokjin, suddenly and for some inexplicable reason afraid to hear Hoseok tell the truth and say no, not really, hurried back to the circulation desk before Hoseok could reply.

He ended up half watching them out the corner of his eye for the rest of his shift, even though they took the noise complaint very seriously and were hushed up and quiet the whole afternoon. They were still playful, Hoseok telling jokes and laughing at jokes and throwing an eraser at the tall friend once.

It was nice to see, as foreign as it was. Seokjin watched the whole evening, and was still shaking off the feeling of dazed, surreal confusion about Hoseok’s giggling and face making, by the time the three of them packed up and went home. Seokjin returned the polite smile and wave that Hoseok sent his way, on the way out.

It was strange, but Seokjin learned something new that day: that an unguarded Hoseok was absolutely stunning.

 

~~~

 

Hilariously enough, that was it. That was the threshold for how little it took to break down an unseen barrier. All those years of silent observance, and it was a simple encounter and exchange in the library that got Seokjin waving a little more at Hoseok, and Hoseok beaming and waving back, more enthusiastic than before. Every day, every time Hoseok entered the library, Seokjin waved cautiously. And every day, every time, Hoseok returned it enthusiastically.

It wasn’t all that much, but it was new. And that was the important thing: that it was a first step.

Seokjin wasn’t sure what the so-called ‘next step’ would be, or could be, or should be -- or if he should (could, would) be the one to make it. He was still processing the shift in everything. He was still trying to figure out what really to make of the progress they were making, however small and slight and unimpressive.

But soon enough, it turned out that Seokjin didn’t have to waste his time worrying about it -- because Hoseok took the next initiative for the both of them. Which, perhaps, was what Seokjin was waiting for, after all.

So, it was Hoseok who one day stopped by the front desk after the usual of Seokjin waving and Hoseok waving back. There was no pause, no hesitation, before Hoseok was asking, disarming with simple curiosity, simple kindness, “Hey, okay, you’re a librarian in training. So it feels like a good idea to ask, you know, what your favorite book is...right? Because I’m looking for some recommendations.”

Seokjin stopped in his tracks. This was...again, outside the norm he’d come to expect of interactions between the two of them. He’d theoretically entertained, yes, the idea of chatting with Hoseok further, of striking up really cool conversations and wowing Hoseok with casual friendship. But that was theory, daytime fantasies of what ifs. He hadn’t really confronted what the reality of it might look like.

Well, it looked something like this, Seokjin realized, staring helplessly at Hoseok, who was smiling and patiently waiting for a response. Seokjin briefly looked over to Junghwan and Jaehwan (checking someone’s book out and sorting out the returns, respectively) for moral support, and drew a complete blank as they urged him on with (very unsubtle) hand gestures. He looked back at Hoseok, who was smiling so pleasantly and waiting so nicely -- and Seokjin couldn’t think of a single book he’d ever read in his life.

Seriously, he was drawing a complete blank. This was awful, Seokjin realized distantly. But, also distantly, Seokjin figured that he was a professional conversationalist -- or, at least he liked to consider himself pretty decent at being somewhat charismatic and entertaining when the need arose.

So arise, he told himself and his glittering personality. All Seokjin could really do was go back to the basics of talking to someone, and so he picked out the parts of Hoseok’s question that he could say something about.

“I’m actually more an assistant than a librarian in training,” Seokjin replied slowly, glancing at the way Hoseok’s eyebrows jumped up in surprise at what maybe was an unexpected response. Well. It was all Seokjin could do to be as honest as possible -- without sounding like an idiot, hopefully. He was trying to find his footing here. Trying to figure out why he’d slipped up and lost it so badly to begin with. “Uh and...could you get back to me? On the book thing?”

Hoseok’s face took a turn for blankly astounded. He didn’t seem to know what to make of Seokjin. That made two of them, really. “Uh, okay...? Need to draw up your lists and stuff?”

Hoseok was...tentatively joking, even in his slight confusion. Seokjin kind of liked the soft, sincere way Hoseok was going about it. It wasn’t a harsh kind of teasing. Enough of a prod to let Seokjin know he was being playful, but without any real bite.

And Seokjin liked that. He liked that a lot.

“Yeah,” Seokjin answered, a little breathless for some reason. He tried not to dwell on it, and hoped Hoseok wouldn’t either. “It’s a very big question you just asked, really.”

Hoseok was biting on his lip like he was trying not to smile too wide. Seokjin liked that, too. “Took you off guard, huh?”

Seokjin mirrored Hoseok, sucking his bottom lip into his mouth and nibbling on it so he wouldn’t smile too much either, and look like a fool. Not that he thought Hoseok would mind or be mean about it. Not even be secretly mean about it in his own head -- Seokjin was just getting this sense that Hoseok wasn’t like that.

At any rate, it was all putting Seokjin in a good mood, unsure metaphorical footing or not. “I mean, there’s just so many books,” Seokjin traded back. “And I’m very well-read, of course. A literary genius. So many options to consider. You understand.” Seokjin hoped Hoseok was getting that he was joking, and didn’t think he was being obnoxious. Seokjin thought it was mostly obvious, but who really knew how he was actually coming across.

Hoseok seemed to like how he was coming across just fine. He laughed, said, “Okay, just let me know when you’ve got something for me, then,” and waved before wandering off to his usual table.

Well...alright. Interaction successfully completed then. Seokjin bit his lip harder, fighting the urge to break out grinning. That was...no big deal. Why had he been making this a big deal in his head? That had gone in the vague direction of fine, hadn’t it?

Seokjin took a deep breath and tried to turn back to his work. Maybe he’d think up a book in the meantime. Remember a book -- any book. He tried not to replay the whole interaction in his head and instead just let it be. Hoseok was nice. Hoseok was kind of softly playfully. Those were the important discoveries here.

Just because Seokjin was trying to move on, didn’t mean his friends were inclined to do the same. Junghwan was still checking out, but Jaehwan left his work no problem and sidled up close to Seokjin, throwing an arm over his shoulders.

“Whoa? That was...kind of awful?” Jaehwan was nuzzling into Seokjin’s side, which was his default I’m gonna say something sort of mean because I love you and you deserve the truth thing. When Seokjin barely concealed his flinch, Jaehwan rushed to say, “But in a meet-cute type of way! Was that flirting I detected? Did we just see you trying to flirt, by any chance?”

“Because it was cute,” Junghwan called/stage whispered from the computer, all supportive and a tiny bit joking.

Seokjin ignored Junghwan, and turned his head very slowly to stare impassively at Jaehwan (because that was a far cry from flirting, that was just Seokjin panicking and not even knowing full well why). When it didn’t work and Jaehwan simply kept nuzzling him more and more aggressively, Seokjin instead sighed and nuzzled back. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He didn’t, really.

Jaehwan snorted and ruffled his hair. “Mmkay, Jinnie-Jin. Whatever you say.”

 

~~~

 

From there, things between him and Hoseok escalated slowly and carefully. In that, Seokjin found his true familiarity -- Hoseok tiptoeing a little bit forward into the new landscape of acquaintanceship between them, wary at times.

With Hoseok, it was an interesting combination of caution and risk. One day, Seokjin would give him an inch, the smallest of openings, and Hoseok would take half of what was offered. Then other days, Seokjin would give that very same distance and space, and Hoseok would take double the strides, confident and sure the whole time.

It started simply, with Seokjin trying to make up for his lack of an answer of what his favorite book was. Instead of deciding on one answer, figuring out which book was his favorite, Seokjin thought it might be more fun if he kept finding book recommendations Hoseok might like, based on his checkout history.

It took a little bit of work, and the first few times Seokjin had waved Hoseok over and offered up his recs had been incredibly nerve-wracking, but it was all worth it. Hoseok seemed to share the sentiment of it being fun, because he was always grinning, full and bright and wide, as he thanked Seokjin for passing them along.

Sometimes, Hoseok stopped by the front desk, or wherever Seokjin was wandering throughout the aisles to re-shelve books, and he started talking to him about the books and what he thought they meant. Or how far he’d made it into the book, and how the whole thing made him feel. And of course, Hoseok never failed to mention if he enjoyed them or not.

Seokjin appreciated the honesty and openness, because Hoseok had been pointblank about the ones he’d hated. On one occasion, after a very blatant mismatch, Hoseok had given his own counter-recommendation to Seokjin, too. And that. Well. It started a sort of trade of book recs between them, a book club for two type deal, and it ensured conversation never ran dry between them.

On the other hand, their conversations rarely ventured outside a clearly ‘safe’ zone for them. Which was...okay. Still, by now Seokjin didn’t know much about Hoseok beyond his literary tastes. That he liked whimsy in his fiction. Wasn’t much for tragedies and the super-vague interpretive works.

Of course, there were things Seokjin could guess about Hoseok, from those observations. He wondered what Hoseok had gleaned about him, from the books and genres Seokjin tended to lean towards. Seokjin didn’t think there was much to speculate, when it came to himself. Seokjin didn’t think he was all that exciting or deep or mysterious or anything. Not like Hoseok kind of was.

The whole thing, their book club for two, though -- Seokjin thought it was sweetly intimate in a way. Just-enough-intimate. Not too close to scare either of them off, because Seokjin was still... and Hoseok was still...

Well. Whatever they were.

Even if Seokjin didn’t consider him or Hoseok technically the most avid of readers, the whole setup was still fun. Maybe it wasn’t the most exciting and personal kind of connection the two of them could have made, but it was nice all the same.

It had a sort of staying power as well, because Seokjin was finding himself more and more often taking Hoseok’s thoughts and comments into consideration while asking around for the next book or series to pass on to him. Seokjin was trying to put himself in Hoseok’s shoes and think, if I were him, how would I feel about this? And that was weirdly intimate in a way. Too intimate. Seokjin never brought that particular detail up to Hoseok, just in case.

Seokjin figured that for now, this was enough. It was more than they’d ever had before.

 

~~~

 

Whatever they were, it maybe wasn’t friends yet.

It had been weeks, and he and Hoseok were still holding each other an arm’s length away, circling one another and trading books and the vaguest sort of personal anecdotes that came from talking about book themes and meanings. This was all safe and sterile. Honestly, Seokjin would have been much more surprised if it had been going any other way for them.

They hadn’t become fast friends immediately, sure. But as they were now, it was less strange and scary and unknown, to give each other that same old nod of acknowledgment when Hoseok passed through the library front. It was so much more common to follow it up with something, to say things and chat and edge closer and closer towards that ‘fast friends’ territory.

“Hey,” Hoseok said one particular afternoon, leaning casually against the circulation desk and patting a light beat against the cheap wood. His smile was more tentative than usual, and Seokjin nervously ran his fingers along the spine of the book he was checking out for Hoseok to curb the impulse reach out and touch the back of Hoseok’s hand instead.

Hoseok didn’t notice the odd twitch of Seokjin’s fingers as he got himself under control. Hoseok continued slowly. “Okay, so. Since we’re kind of...I mean. Hm.”

Seokjin noticed Hoseok was having trouble choosing the right words, and wondered (not for the first time) if this whole thing was sometimes just as weird for him as it was for Seokjin. He’d always assumed Hoseok’s hesitation stemmed more from his obvious unease with strangers and a sort of aversion to opening up. Which Seokjin was trying really hard to understand, without being obnoxious about things and reading too much into it.

At any rate, he tried to help Hoseok out. “We’ve been talking more and more lately...right?” Seokjin supplied easily, noting that Hoseok also seemed unsure on how to label them. That he didn’t seem to consider them friends, or close, or anything really.

It was times like this that Seokjin questioned what Hoseok had told his friends, back then on that first day they’d ever, truly talked. He wondered the same thing they had wondered -- why Hoseok had been so friendly to him, then. Friendly compared to how Seokjin knew him to be at school in the halls, silent and passive and small.

But Hoseok only laughed, and it sounded surprised at Seokjin’s offering of a polite non-label for the two of them. “Oh! Yeah, okay. We’ve been talking. Getting to know each other. All of that.”

Still, not-really friends yet or not, Seokjin felt fondness seize his heart as he watched Hoseok tap-tap-tap away on the counter, fidgeting and a little nervous. Not a bad kind of nervous, either; Seokjin got the sense that he was more a touch excited. “Uh-huh?”

Hoseok cleared his throat and stopped his hands by clasping one in the other, folding them neatly in front of him. “Uh-huh,” Hoseok repeated firmly. “And listen. I was just thinking...you seem like a good person. A calm and kind person, you know?”

Seokjin’s eyebrows rose a little, and not necessarily in confusion -- though he hadn’t been expecting that. He was a little taken aback, because it was such a...nice thing to say. No punches, no complexities, but instead a straightforward and simple compliment.

Usually Seokjin got things more double edged than that, because he was good looking but sometimes loud, sometimes childish, sometimes whiny. Some people jumped to ‘boring’ before ‘kind’, and Seokjin could be known to keep to himself occasionally and earn himself a ‘stuck up’ label in the ensuing misunderstanding. But instead of any of that, even though Seokjin had lived across the street for most of their lives and yet had never reached out to be friends, Hoseok thought he was kind and calm and good. That was sweet. That was so incredibly sweet.

Seokjin was tempted to turn the compliment right back around on Hoseok, and somehow, before he knew it, he felt a faint heat and flush in his ears and cheeks. He was blushing, and that was -- something else. Just thinking about saying something nice to Hoseok was making him flustered, wow.

Seokjin cleared his throat, and then realized he was simply echoing after Hoseok. The book in Seokjin’s hands had been forgotten for a long moment, remembered only just now. Seokjin looked down at it, instead of at Hoseok’s expectant expression as he waited for a response. Seokjin was trying to figure out a good one.

“No,” he finally agreed slowly. “I’m not...super high strung. If that’s what you’re really trying to say. I’ve been told that I’m a little easily excitable? But no, not high strung.”

Hoseok hummed in some kind of agreement. But then the sound rose up into a questioning whine, which made Seokjin look up at him again. Hoseok was shaking his head, and his nails were tapping nervously away on the circulation desk.

“No no, not not-high strung. Or yes-high strung -- I’m not trying to say anything about being or not being high strung at all.” Hoseok’s eyebrows were knitted together as he struggled to correct whatever Seokjin’s misstep or misspeaking had been. “You just...seem like a good person. Kind of relaxing. Laidback. Nice to be around.”

Seokjin waited for maybe an elaboration on that, but none came. Hoseok nodded to himself, determined and sure like that was exactly what he had wanted to say all along. Seokjin tried to ignore the way he could feel his blush coming slowly back.

He set the book down, after peering around to make sure none of the librarians were paying him too much mind to care that he was blowing off work. Seokjin then leaned his elbow against the desk and propped his head in one hand, and he let himself lean a slight bit more into Hoseok’s space. This was a test of sorts, because Hoseok was just being so nice and Seokjin was going to figure out if maybe they were tiny bit closer to being friends than he’d been thinking up until now.

Hoseok didn’t move away and he didn’t seem displeased about the very slight closing of space between them. So Seokjin said, truly and honestly flattered, “Thank you.” After a moment, he gathered up the will to tack on, “And you seem like a genuinely good person, too.”

It wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but it made Hoseok a tiny bit bashful. Seokjin’s heart fluttered, because Hoseok was so cute.

“Ah, thank you,” Hoseok replied softly and shyly. He continued on a moment later with a renewed bolster and vigor, bashfulness nowhere to be found. “But, yeah. I kind of look for those sort of qualities in friends, I guess. So...I don’t know. Would you want to sit with me and the guys for lunch sometime? Is what I’m getting at.”

Seokjin blinked, slow and sticky, mouth twitching, then nose twitching right after that, as his mind stalled out a little. He was caught off guard, after all that. He hadn’t known where this was all going when it started. He’d forgotten along the way that there had to be a destination, more preoccupied with Hoseok’s way of getting there. And now that they were there, it surprised him. For some reason, it just wasn’t what he’d expected.

“...This is an invitation to lunch? Are you -- ” Seokjin couldn’t help but snort a little, laugh breathless and squeaky high. Finally, one of the full-time librarians took notice, and he shot Seokjin a stink eye. Seokjin ducked apologetically under the watchful gaze, picking Hoseok’s book up and gesturing at it so it was apparent that he was indeed (sort of) working.

But still, Seokjin leaned in to Hoseok close enough to whisper, and was delighted when Hoseok leaned in as well, not skittering off like Seokjin had feared he might. “Have you deemed me worthy of sitting with your crew? Have you been hazing me this whole time?” Seokjin was whispering, but he hoped the way he was grinning conveyed that this was a joke, all meant in good nature.

Hoseok made a surprised little sound in the back of his throat, also a high pitched kind of squeak. Except, coming from Hoseok it was cute. “No, I didn’t mean it like that -- maybe you aren’t so laidback, after all!” His eyes were scrunching up into crescents, and his lips were curling up at the edges, a little like a cat. Super cute.

“Um, no,” Seokjin said, stuttering out a little more laughter before getting himself under control. “No, I’m kidding, of course. That’s really nice of you to invite me. I’d like to sit with you.”

Well, honestly he did and didn’t want to sit with Hoseok at lunch. Seokjin knew that, when he got down to it, he didn’t really know Hoseok. Not all that well. And he definitely didn’t know Hoseok’s friends besides their faces and maybe one of their names. It made the prospect of the whole thing more than a little nerve-wracking.

Something about Hoseok, about getting to really really know Hoseok and who he actually was if he let you get to know him, was new and exciting and scary. Seokjin didn’t want to mess it up, which meant he'd much rather avoid everything and stand still and never give himself the opportunity to make the wrong move and make Hoseok realize he had Seokjin all wrong after all. But Seokjin also knew he had to try or else he’d never get anywhere to begin with.

Hoseok was grinning and looking nothing but excited that Seokjin had said yes. Those were all good signs, so Seokjin tried not to psyche himself out too much.

 

~~~

 

Seokjin also tried to not scope out Hoseok’s friends in the days leading up to the agreed lunch date.

“Namjoon’s pretty go with the flow,” Hoseok had explained while peering over the counter to stare down at Seokjin’s daily planner. He was craning his head to not be looking totally upside down at the pages Seokjin was flipping through, and Seokjin was only glancing up every now and then at the way Hoseok’s eyelashes were casting shadows on his cheeks. “Yoongi’s a little more finicky, though. You really shouldn’t spring stuff on him, you know? So I want to give him some heads up you’re coming.”

Seokjin wondered if Hoseok’s friends didn’t like him, rather than didn’t know him or what to make of him yet. “I hope you’re not twisting anybody’s arm to get me to sit with you.”

Hoseok looked up from behind his eyelashes, head still tilted. His mouth was pursed and pointed with concern. “No no, it’s seriously just Yoongi’s kind of particular. He can’t help it. I love the guy, and he’s sweet but he’s uh, let’s say...delicate.”

Seokjin snorted. “There’s an unsaid ‘bless his heart’ in there. It sort of sounds like you’re more insulting him than anything. More than you’re outwardly saying.”

Hoseok shrugged, a grin sliding into place and overtaking his mild fretting. “I mean, yeah. That too. I’m doing that too. He can be difficult.”

Seokjin had laughed and Hoseok had laughed right back and they dissolved into giggles for a while, Seokjin half covering his mouth with the back of his hand and Hoseok reaching out and touching Seokjin’s arm as he lurched slightly forward under the weight of his amusement.

It was a moment of brief, unfettered connection, awkward past and uncertain future forgotten, their tentative new steps into uncharted territory successful and fresh for this instant. They had that moment, had that glimpse of maybe this will work after all and went back to picking a good day to do lunch.

By the time said day rolled around, Seokjin was more excited than nervous. He was charming. He knew that about himself, that he was charming and nice and easy to get along with and good looking. So it wasn’t like he was totally and completely going to be out of place at this table of people he sort of didn’t know (Hoseok) and definitely didn’t know (Yoongi and Namjoon -- Hoseok had at the very least gone over names, confirming the already known Yoongi and the previously unknown Namjoon).

He was going to be fine. He could survive one lunch. And if it was a trainwreck, then that would just be that.

But first things first: he had to make his way to the vocational hallway of the school, the wing where graphic design was tucked away along with woodcrafting and autobody and agricultural studies and metalwork. These programs weren’t too huge, but they all needed somewhat potentially dangerous equipment and ample space for that equipment and also for the work the students had to do. The agriculture kids needed to be able to have a walk out garden, and autobody and metalwork had to have easy access open ventilation.

Seokjin only knew all this because he’d looked up once why the vocational wing was called just that, when only autobody and agriculture really seemed to have students who were going to follow up high school with actual vocational certification. Everyone he knew in metalwork, woodcrafting, and graphic design were either artsy or simply indifferent about what electives to take. And even some of the agricultural kids were more botany focused, planning on using the experience for plant things that weren’t necessarily farming related. The answer to his question had mostly just been ‘efficiency over accuracy’ -- it was easier to lump them all together.

“No no, Yoongi’s a huge artsy nerd, you’ve got that right,” Hoseok had informed Seokjin when explaining that they didn’t eat in the cafeteria. “He’s really interested in interior design and architecture? And music, though that’s unrelated to lunch. And he hate crowds and lots of people and loud noises, which -- ”

The connection wasn’t even hard to make. “Which describes the cafeteria perfectly,” Seokjin finished up for him, nodding in understanding. “Well. That’s fine. Sometimes, I don’t like crowds and loud noises either. No big deal, just tell me where exactly to meet you?”

Where he had to meet them was a little back room behind the main graphic design room. Seokjin found the graphic design room easily enough, and was amazed by it immediately after stepping through the doorway. He’d never been in it before, and it had several interesting-looking and sharply angled drafting tables. It also had a huge, very industrial-looking machine -- one that Seokjin didn’t know what it was or what it did, but even just his looking at it drew the teacher’s ire.

“You can’t use it unless you’re a design student and you have a project and teacher-parent permission,” she said firmly, staring him down intensely like she’d heard this question a million times before. “No exceptions. I supervise, and if you can’t handle it then I take over right away. Otherwise, you’ll probably cut your fingers off.”

Seokjin’s eyebrows rose immediately in wary curiosity. He was tempted to ask what the machine was exactly and what it did, but he didn’t want to annoy her. “Uh, no, I’m looking for Hoseok and uh, Yoongi and Namjoon?”

Her entire demeanor changed, and she went soft and cooing in a heartbeat. “Oh! They’re in the back. You see that door in the back?” Seokjin did, craning his neck to peer around a drafting table. “If you go through there and walk through the little holding room, there’s my office and an offshoot space. You’ll see it once you go in, it’s hard to miss.”

Seokjin nodded and thanked her. Then he carefully navigated through the aisles between the tables, careful not to accidentally bump into or touch anything as he headed towards the door. He didn’t want to go back to her being peeved at him, not when he got the sense that Hoseok and his friends were darlings of this professor, if not this department, maybe. He didn’t want to mess anything up for anyone by being careless.

It was pretty straightforward once he crossed the threshold and went through the appropriate doors, and Hoseok and company saw him before he saw them. He heard Hoseok’s delighted, “Seokjin! You made it!” before he got all the way into the back-most room, but it had him smiling as he ducked through the doorway.

“Hi,” Seokjin said, eyes going from Hoseok sitting cross legged on the edge of the tiny table in the middle of the floor, clutching a juice box, to Yoongi tucked up in the corner of the room, munching on a sandwich, and Namjoon laying on the floor right under Hoseok’s dangling legs and reading a book while chewing handsfree on a fruit leather strip.

They didn’t seem too stand-offish. Definitely a little more welcoming and less foreign than that time in the library. Seokjin smiled a little. “Uh, yes. I made it.”

Hoseok giggled. Legitimately giggled, bubbly and sweet and it made Seokjin’s lips turn up in a quirking smile, completely unintentionally. Something about Hoseok was just inviting like that.

“Congratulations. Okay so!” Hoseok placed down his juice box and gestured to the other two, Yoongi with his hand and Namjoon with a point of his foot. “Introductions!”

Yoongi took a huge bite of sandwich, eyeing Seokjin curiously but also warily. Seokjin had gathered that Yoongi was a kind of nervous person -- he sort of distantly reminded him of Seokjin’s cousin’s friend Jungkook, though Yoongi was clearly more self-assured than him.

“We’ve all already basically met,” Yoongi reminded the room at large, mouth full and words muffled. “And you’ve talked to him about us, and us about him.”

“Be nice,” Namjoon said (again, from what Seokjin could remember. He wondered if Namjoon ended up saying it a lot). Namjoon sat up and crammed the rest of his snack into his mouth, chewing vigorously and swallowing before hopping up and striding over to Seokjin with an easy smile.

“I’m Namjoon, in case you don’t remember.” Namjoon said kindly, extending a hand to shake.

Seokjin took it and shook his hand, feeling a sudden sense of kinship from Namjoon’s undivided attention and very purposeful movements. Clearly, Namjoon was friendly. “Hi, I’m Seokjin -- and no, I remember. I remember that the little mean one is Yoongi, too.”

Immediately after it left his mouth, Seokjin heard it and wondered if that was...not okay. It was a joke, but one that he hadn’t entirely meant to say outloud. Especially since he had long since scoped out that Yoongi wasn’t really mean, but more had a mean sort of posturing.

He was all bark, no bite, at least not towards Seokjin, as far as he could tell. Seokjin figured that was because it’d been awhile since he and Hoseok had been hanging out, and it was to the point where it was obvious Seokjin didn’t have any ill-intentions towards Hoseok. So Yoongi wasn’t going to mess with him.

(Funnily enough, Seokjin also had noticed that Hoseok hadn’t seemed to realize that Yoongi was kind of intense over him. Namjoon was too, from what Seokjin had seen and heard second-hand from Hoseok. Seokjin thought that it was kind of cute that Hoseok hadn’t realized his friends were a little overprotective. That Hoseok didn’t entirely seem to realize the effect he had on the people around him. Seokjin felt like Hoseok was a bit like a burst of sunshine in the room, when he wasn’t in defensive, quiet mode. It was really interesting.)

But anyway, Seokjin hadn’t wholly meant to kind of joke and use sarcasm right away with Yoongi and Namjoon -- he was apparently not that good at it, according to some of his friends, because he came off as too sincere and sometimes people didn’t know he was kidding.

Seokjin felt like that meant his sarcasm was too good instead of not good at all. But overall, it did mean he tried to avoid using it around people he didn’t know too well and who didn’t know him. It could easily lead to awkward situations. However, all three of his present company only laughed, so Seokjin figured it was an alright thing to say after all.

“Oh, fuck you,” Yoongi said, but to Hoseok and not Seokjin. There was no malice, only amusement. “What lies are you telling people about innocent little me?”

Little, oh my god,” Namjoon interjected, still holding Seokjin’s hand in their long-forgotten handshake as he looked over his shoulder. Namjoon’s hand was soft and his smile was contagious. Seokjin felt a little bit at ease, standing there and holding Namjoon’s hand lightly, looking on at the familiarity playing out before him.

“Joon, you and your freakish height can bite me,” Yoongi traded back in an instant, still no ill-will but somehow still very meant.

Lies? That wasn’t even me,” Hoseok exclaimed, slapping his knee as he laughed. “That was Seokjin completely reading your true inner soul, because let’s face it: you’re awful.”

Yoongi hmphed and didn’t respond to Hoseok. Now instead he was appraising Seokjin, giving him a once over. “Don’t worry, you’ll see how cute and charming I actually am, and then you’ll feel horrible about making snap judgments about me. It’s cool.”

Seokjin had some reservations about that, but he only snorted and shook his head. “Okay, sure.”

Namjoon seemed to remember their hands were interlaced, and he turned back to Seokjin long enough to nod at him approvingly. Then he tugged Seokjin, by the hand, and brought him over to the table and offered him a seat. “Anyway, here you go.”

Seokjin let go of Namjoon’s hand, gently extricating his fingers from Namjoon’s, and nodded gratefully. He shrugged off his backpack and graciously took the seat. “Mm, thanks.”

As Seokjin pulled out his lunch box and got his little place at the table set up with his thermos and napkins and own utensils from home, he listened to Yoongi and Hoseok comfortably joke at each other, with Namjoon’s occasional inputs here and there. They were so at home with one another, and Seokjin was having a hard time catching all the in-jokes and references flying over his head as he got ready to eat. But deciding to have lunch with them wasn’t a bad idea, he told himself firmly. This was going well.

Before Seokjin could get too worked up over or worried about if he’d be the awkward lone man left out the conversation, Hoseok perked up and caught Seokjin’s eye. When Seokjin looked at him in question, Hoseok asked, “Is that a Hello Kitty themed lunch box?” His tone wasn’t incredulous or mean. Just intrigued, and loud with that curiosity.

“Um yeah,” Seokjin replied hesitantly, unlatching the lunch box’s clasp and flipping it open. “I thought it was cute.”

“It is,” Hoseok agreed immediately, and Namjoon piggybacked into the conversation, starting to talk about how Mellotune was his favorite Sanrio character.

“I mean, Gudetama is great, don’t get me wrong,” Namjoon explained diligently, diving right in with an unfounded passion. Seokjin found himself listening very intently, curious to what Namjoon was going to say. “But I’m a huge believer in that you have to respect the classics, too. And Mellotune feels very ‘me’ to me, you know?”

Seokjin didn’t really know, not which character Mellotune was and how exactly Namjoon was dispositioned to begin with, but he nodded along nicely anyway. “Everyone knows and likes Hello Kitty, of course, but Pompompurin is really adorable, so he’s my actual favorite. I get what you’re saying, I think.”

“I only know Hello Kitty,” Hoseok mused thoughtfully. “Didn’t know she and Gudetama were even related.”

“Not really, they aren’t,” Seokjin pointed out. He didn’t know much, but he did know that.

Namjoon made an affronted noise and pulled out his cellphone. “It’s all one brand! I’ll look it up and show you, but she’s like the great foremother of them all. That counts for something.”

Yoongi grunted and finished off his sandwich. He balled up the plastic wrap and shot it expertly into the trash bin halfway across the room. “Okay, cool, but foremother or not, let’s talk about how messed up is it that Hello Kitty has a cat?” Yoongi leveled Namjoon with a flat, skeptical look. “Dare you to cute-ify that for me. It looks just like her, but smaller and with no clothes on.”

The way Namjoon sighed and stared at the ceiling left Seokjin feeling like this was a conversation they’d had before. “Yoongi, come on.”

“It’s creepy, Joon.”

Namjoon grumbled and Hoseok gently swooped in. “Yoongi, you always see the bad in stuff. It’s not supposed to be taken literally or anything. It’s just supposed to be cute. You know that.”

Yoongi hmphed again. Seokjin was a little amazed that his lunch box had set off a conversation like this -- one that Seokjin didn’t really have a hard time keeping up with or contributing to, actually.

Between Hoseok and Yoongi arguing about the benefits or pointlessness of being positive or negative about Hello Kitty in general, Namjoon looking up character histories and backstories on his phone, and he and Seokjin collaborating on assigning characters to everyone (only for Seokjin to change his mind with every new character discovery -- “Yoongi would be Aggretsuko, right? No wait, what if we made him Cinnamoroll for fun…?” Namjoon gasped. “That would be amazing -- it kind of fits, actually -- ”), things sort of evened out alright in the end.

 

~~~

 

They were definitely in the dead of winter. This fact made itself painfully known each day as Seokjin walked the short (though not short enough) distance from his car to the library for his shift. The wind rattled through him, making him yearn for the warmer days of fall past.

But there were good things about the passage of time. They were in the dead of winter, icy chill sinking deep into his bones, and his friendship with Hoseok solidified.

Seokjin could call him and Hoseok friends now. He’d take that dare. He’d branch that divide now. He and Hoseok were friends now. And Seokjin and Hoseok’s friends were maybe friends by now, too.

“So, are we ever going to have a conversation about this crush you’ve got?” Jaehwan brought up idly, as they watched Hoseok pause at the front door mat and brush snow out of his bangs peeking out from under his hat. Then he began to stomp his boots vigorously, dislodging the gray snow slurry clinging to the treading of his shoes.

“I only ask,” Jaehwan continued smoothly when no one replied immediately. “Because I’ve never seen you try to flirt before, and that incident has haunted me all this time.”

“You’re so over the top,” Seokjin scolded lightly, maybe hypocritically. He could be dramatic at times, too. Still. “I don’t have a crush, I was figuring out how to make a new friend.”

It was easy to brush off Jaehwan’s question (that was, in actuality, not really a question but instead a judgment passed). He was used to Jaehwan and he loved Jaehwan, usually enjoying his meddling and ridiculous antics. Usually encouraging and collaborating with them. That all meant he knew how to disengage them, too. And something about this, and about Hoseok, felt too...fragile to heavy hand like one of their usual things.

Seokjin watched as Hoseok finished stomping his feet and got started on unwrapping the scarf around his well-protected face and neck. Seokjin smiled a little, at how Hoseok’s bright red nose was visible all the way from the front desk.

Jaehwan took a deep breath, obviously to say more, but Junghwan nudged him and shushed him. “Stop it. He’s shy about his boy next door thing.” Junghwan still shot Seokjin this look that clearly said he thought Jaehwan had a good point, though.

Seokjin let out a long-suffering sigh, and he let his eyes flit back to Hoseok, who was finally making his way away from the front door and into the library foyer, eyes focused on his cupped hands as he breathed warm air onto them.

“We’re friends,” Seokjin told Jaehwan and Junghwan firmly, then smiled at the way Hoseok looked up from his hands and perked up at Seokjin being there behind the desk.

“Seokjin!” Hoseok said happily, waving with his red, cold fingers.

Seokjin waved back and teased, “Need better gloves?”

Hoseok laughed. “No, I need the weather to get warm already. Walking everywhere is awful in the winter.”

Seokjin considered a wayward thought briefly, then took a chance on it with a shrug. “If you can manage to stick around til the end of my shift, I’ll give you a ride?”

“Oh?” Hoseok stopped in his tracks for a moment. He seemed to be considering it. “I...might take you up on that? Depends on some stuff?”

“I’m here until six thirty today, if that helps?”

Hoseok rubbed his hands together, trying to warm them up as he thought it over. “...Okay, yeah. Sure! Why not!” He was nodding, grinning, then waved again. “Uh, remind me at five or six or something so I’m packed up in time.”

Seokjin agreed to do just that and waved Hoseok off, ignoring the way Jaehwan and Junghwan’s eyes were boring into his back. When he couldn’t any longer -- and when Hoseok had gotten to his table (so wouldn’t overhear them indirectly talking about him) -- he sighed again. “I don’t have to be in love with someone to offer them a ride home.” Especially when Hoseok lived right across the street from him.

Jaehwan made a light noise of disbelief. “I’m needed on the floor, but just know that I think you’re full of shit.”

Seokjin scrunched up his nose at Jaehwan. “Great friend. Love you too.”

Jaehwan lifted his hands up, palms skyward, like nothing could be helped, and he sauntered away unfazed. Junghwan was quiet for a moment longer, watching him go, and watching Seokjin threateningly shake his fist at Jaehwan’s retreating back.

Then, Junghwan said, very slowly and purposely, “You know, you really don’t...hear or see yourself when he shows up? But you get this way. It’s really interesting.” Junghwan shrugged heartily. “But! I’ll leave you alone about it.”

Seokjin stared at Junghwan, as he went back to his work like he’d said something of completely no consequence. And Seokjin wanted to believe that he had. That Junghwan and Jaehwan’s thoughts and assumptions were so off that it was laughable. Because Seokjin didn’t want to think about heart flutters and being tongue tied early on. That all didn’t have to be A Thing.

He got why they were thinking that, though. Because Hoseok was kind of gorgeous and also funny and smart and interesting, and obviously also really nice. Hoseok was not how Seokjin had thought he was, for ages and ages. Hoseok wasn’t silent and jumpy, skittish and uncomfortable in his own skin -- at least not anymore.

That’d Hoseok probably had been once upon a time though was, of course, understandable. But it was also somehow condemning.

Condemning in the sense of...well. Well, to be honest, Seokjin didn’t know, exactly. He didn’t know, but it was something along the same lines with how sometimes while growing up Seokjin had thought about Hoseok and just felt guilty. He didn’t know how to put it into words.

Maybe it was something about how Seokjin knew it shouldn’t matter, if Hoseok was cheerful or instead angry and spiteful towards the world. He had the right to be either. Seokjin wasn’t allowed to dictate for him.

It was weird. Seokjin had really never known how to approach this. He’d really never known how to approach Hoseok himself. Everything up until now had been some sort of happy accident. Decisions made for him. Steps taken for him.

And now Hoseok was no longer an abstract ghost of almost-encounters from Seokjin’s childhood. He was more resilient than that. He was more important than that.

Seokjin watched Hoseok nibble on the end of his pencil as he flipped through his notebook. Seokjin liked him. Hoseok and he were friends, and he liked that a lot. There was something inevitable about it. Like it should have been all along.

Some things didn’t have to be complicated.

 

~~~

 

“Okay,” Seokjin said when Hoseok walked into the library, looking a little more sullen than usual, face tucked in his coat collar and eyes downcast. “Okay, can I take my break now?”

The librarian on duty, looked up from the computer and over the rims of her glasses. “Hm?” She spotted Hoseok trudging by without a greeting like usual, and the way Seokjin was looking after him, and then anxiously back at her.

She smiled a little, and Seokjin knew it was because by this point, it was common knowledge around here, Seokjin and Hoseok’s blossoming friendship. She shooed him off. “Go on, it’s not like we’ve got anyone lining up right now or anything.”

Seokjin nodded to her thankfully and hurried to circle around the desk, speed walking after Hoseok. He was worried, because Hoseok wasn’t always the peppiest and most upbeat, but Seokjin hadn’t ever seen him down before.

“Hoseok?” Seokjin stage whispered. “Hey -- hey?”

Hoseok paused and looked up and over at Seokjin, as Seokjin caught up with him. Something seemed to click, like Hoseok was all of a sudden taking in his surroundings, and he looked around the library a little bit in surprise.

Seokjin cleared his throat and gave Hoseok a moment to recollect himself. “Hey. You didn’t say hi at the front desk.”

Hoseok blinked, still a little blankly sad. “...I didn’t?”

Seokjin gestured behind him, at the circulation desk many steps away from them. “Nope, you didn’t.”

At that, Hoseok’s eyes sharpened, focused, and brightened a little, and he unzipped his overcoat so he wasn’t hiding in it. “Ah, sorry. Hi, Seokjin.”

Seokjin smiled, though he couldn’t help fidgeting nervously. “Um. You seem a little down. You alright?”

Hoseok tilted his head a little, unzipping his coat more. “Yeah? I just...have some stuff going on at home.” Hoseok’s mouth pursed in dissatisfaction, distaste rolling off him in peculiar waves. “And I don’t want to deal with it, so I’m here.”

You’re always here Seokjin wanted to point out. But that seemed rude and insensitive. And also maybe that would come across as more investigatory than Seokjin really meant it -- you’re always here, so are you always having stuff going on at home or something like that. And he didn't mean it like that. All Seokjin would mean was -- was --

Ah, he wasn’t sure. Instead, Seokjin said, quiet and uncertain, “You need anything?”

Hoseok finally turned to face Seokjin fully. His expression seemed perplexed. He still had a faint blush dusting his cheeks from the cold outside. Seokjin kind of wanted to warm up Hoseok’s face with his hands, but that was just a stray thought he wasn’t going to act on.

“Why would I...?” Hoseok tilted his head, and his skill of openly showing his full range of emotions on his face was back. His eyebrows were drawn up in confusion. “That’s such a weird question, Seokjin.”

He was feeling a little judged, like he was being ridiculous here, so Seokjin couldn’t help the way he rolled his eyes a little. “Uh? Well? You kind of looked like you’re going to burst into tears for a second there, so excuse me for -- ”

Hoseok snorted and put a finger on Seokjin’s lips. His touch was soft, and his hands were slowly warming up from being inside. “I’m not going to cry, promise. And do you know that sometimes you’re a little loud to be a librarian?”

Hoseok really did seem to be more back to his usual self. Seokjin still tried to push onward as carefully and lightly as he could manage.

“We’ve been over this, I’m not a librarian but more a librarian assistant, really,” Seokjin clarified. Now he was all hyper aware of how his mouth was moving against Hoseok’s still shushing finger. It was strange but not really bad. Something that should have been weirder wasn’t all that weird to begin with.

It wasn’t too weird, even when Hoseok’s ears went slightly red and he bashfully took his finger away with an awkward chuckle. Seokjin had never seen him like that before, and it intrigued him far too much.

Seokjin wanted -- something. To level with Hoseok. He wanted to be sincere and real with him, so he said softly, careful yet reckless all at once, “Really though, Hoseok, are you okay? I’m...actually asking here.”

Hoseok paused for a very long moment, eyes surprised and wide. Seokjin felt like Hoseok was looking right through him, at his soul or something. Seokjin shivered and tried to meet his gaze head on.

“Um,” Hoseok eventually said, voice pitched a little lower than normal. “No, seriously, I’m fine. Sometimes we just have these blow ups, me and my sister and my mom, and everyone just needs their own corner to regroup. It’s nothing big.”

Seokjin hesitated, then tugged at Hoseok’s sleeve in a sort of reassurance. He didn’t want to overstep. He was always a little worried about that in the back of his mind, when it came to Hoseok. “You sure?”

Hoseok’s expression took a turn for affectionately sunny, and he cupped Seokjin’s face with both his hands, cooing. “You don’t have to worry about me, cutie.”

The thing about touch, was Seokjin always let Hoseok make the first move. Hoseok could be really touchy when he wanted to be, but this was a little new. First the lip thing and then this. Hoseok was testing some boundaries, and Seokjin definitely didn’t mind it.

He pretended to scoff in disdain, but easily let Hoseok smooth his thumbs across his cheeks and leaned after the fleeting touch. Hoseok was blushing. Seokjin could feel himself blushing, too. This was silly. “Whatever. You want to help me shelf?”

Hoseok beamed. “Don’t I always?”

Hoseok trailed obediently after Seokjin, and Seokjin noted that he was humming a little under his breath now. Seokjin wanted to joke, point out the quick change in demeanor with something like that’s all it takes for you to feel better? but. As always (always, always) he was afraid to overstep.

“You’re lucky no one’s really in here,” Seokjin said instead, snagging Hoseok’s sleeve to tug him down the right aisle of books, when Hoseok almost ambled past. “I might have to yell at you about making too much noise with the singing, otherwise.”

“Uh-huh.” Hoseok didn’t sound convinced, but instead gleeful. “Alright, what are we shelving today?”

Seokjin realized far too late that he’d long since gone on break. “Oh -- uh. Nothing for fifteen minutes. I’m...on break...”

Hoseok laughed, and he plunked himself down onto the worn carpet, leaning against one the book shelves behind him. “Okay, then I guess we’re doing that together instead, huh?”

Seokjin was glad Hoseok either didn’t pick up on or point out the way Seokjin had literally gone on break for him. There was a stray wheeled step stool down this aisle, and Seokjin moved it around so he could sit on it right by Hoseok on the floor. “I guess so.”

There was a fragile silence that stretched on for a minute. Finally, Seokjin couldn’t help himself. “Hey? Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to talk about how you were kind of upset? You really did look closer to tears than I’d ever seen you before.”

Hoseok sigh-hummed, like a defeated exhale. “I promise you, I’m not gonna cry.” Still, he shrugged, and it was more aggressively nonchalant and trying too hard rather than reassuring. “I don’t know. It’s not important. Sometimes we just get on each other’s nerves, if we stay cooped up together too long. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, I book it.”

“That makes sense,” Seokjin agreed solemnly. So Hoseok being at the library didn’t -- mean anything, then. Not about his home life, at least. Not really. “I get annoyed with my brother sometimes, and I go to my room.”

Hoseok made a quiet ah sound. He pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them in a little self-contained hug. “Okay, yeah. It’s like that. Except, I don’t know. I like having a whole open sky above me when I get mad. Getting outside and being able to actually walk away, putting actual substantial physical distance between me and them makes me feel better.”

“Clears your head?” Seokjin suggested lightly, maybe joking. Hoseok looked a little tense, a little frail again, talking about this.

“I guess,” Hoseok said slowly. “I guess I’m afraid of what I might do otherwise.”

Hoseok paused, and tucked his chin in his knees. His eyes were shuttered, and Seokjin knew they were in very new territory here. Hoseok shook his head, just the slightest, and he murmured into his knees, “Ah. Sorry. That, I actually don’t want to talk about.”

Seokjin hummed trying for understanding but mostly not knowing what he could say in response to something like that. He rolled the foot stool underneath him, pressing one foot to the carpeted floor to push himself forward then pull himself back. Forward then back, a rhythmic sort of rocking as he searched for the right thing to say.

“That’s fine,” Seokjin finally settled on saying, knowing it was weak and not enough.

Hoseok didn’t seem to mind, or maybe he preferred superficial soothing to Seokjin trying to pretend to understand more than he really did. Whichever it was, Hoseok lightly hummed back, at a lower, calmer pitch. He reached out to lightly grasp at Seokjin’s calf, his fingers wrapping halfway around Seokjin’s leg and pressing at the muscles.

“...Anyway, did you know I want to be a physical therapist or massage therapist or something?” Hoseok said conversationally. “I've been studying it. It’s cool. I like what you can do with your hands if you learn the right things.”

Seokjin gave a muted shake of his head, that no, he didn’t know that. He and Hoseok both obviously knew it was overall a random change in conversation, but that was probably for the best. It was the easiest way for Hoseok to get off the subject of things he didn’t want to talk about, and Seokjin respected that. Hoseok’s father was long gone, but that didn’t mean the little boy sitting on the stoop with bruises was.

Honestly, Seokjin didn’t know if it was insensitive or annoying for him to think things like that, so he kept them to himself. “No, I didn’t really know that.”

Hoseok unfolded his knees and shifted sideways, some of his usual vibrancy returning again as he met Seokjin’s gaze head on. His fingers were still pressing, searching almost, scaling Seokjin’s leg all the way up to behind the knee.

“Yeah,” Hoseok went on, tone picking up and eyes lighting up. “Physical therapist is obviously more prestigious, but massage therapist is good too. I have to figure out if I want to get involved in healthcare and all that, I guess. Or just...make a decision and stick to it.”

Seokjin stretched his leg out a little more to give Hoseok easier access. It felt nice, and he liked Hoseok feeling free to touch him. “Oh, okay. That’s really amazing that you’ve got it down to two already. I’m not sure what I want to do at all -- maybe something with business, but...”

Hoseok blinked up at him, eyes curious. “Hm?” His fingers had stopped on a tight cord of muscle in the outside of his thigh, thumb now digging into it and loosening it up. Seokjin hissed slightly, but shook his head when Hoseok tentatively stopped.

“Anyway,” Seokjin continued, once Hoseok had worked out a little more of the tightness. “It sounds like you’ve almost figured everything out. That’s really awesome, Hoseok.”

Hoseok laughed quietly, sounding like he was in disbelief. “What? Not really. And what about you?”

Seokjin frowned. His eyebrows knitted, and Seokjin felt his nose twitch, mouth going with it, as he considered Hoseok’s question. The library’s silence loomed around them as he gathered his thoughts.

“Me? I don’t know,” Seokjin slowly answered. “I don’t have a life passion yet or anything, that’s why I’m thinking business, or law or something general and with good career outlooks. The library thing is just for a part time job for now. Junghwan’s the one who’ll probably...” He trailed off as Hoseok shook his head, fingers slowing in their massaging.

Hoseok hummed again. His coat was making little swish-swish noises as he shifted to get more comfortable. “No no, that’s not what I mean. I was more saying uh...I don’t think I’ve really...heard about you? From you? You don’t talk about yourself a whole lot.”

Seokjin blinked. Blink-blink-blinked, tilted his head slightly unintentionally, a muscle in his neck pulling and tucking his chin for him. Seokjin was still frowning with his eyebrows furrowing downward. He realized it, and tried to school his face into something less judgmental in his confusion. “What? What do you mean?”

Hoseok stopped massaging Seokjin’s leg altogether, but he left his hand, light and comforting, hooked under Seokjin’s knee. “I mean that you’re...kind of an enigma. Mysterious.”

Seokjin stifled his laughter, but just barely. “What? No -- I think it’s the opposite? I’m told sometimes that I’m, uh, kind of simple. Straightforward -- we’ve talked literature a lot, you know I’m not...” He waved his hand vaguely, not sure how to put it into words.

Hoseok didn’t say anything yet, looking up at Seokjin and waiting for him to finish. Seokjin floundered for a moment.

“Just. Don’t expect me to have the same kind of hidden depths as, like, Namjoon. Or Yoongi.” Or yourself, Seokjin didn’t say. Hoseok and his friends weren’t -- Seokjin wasn’t intimidated by them anymore, but they did seem more...artsy. Like a better, surer people than Seokjin was most days. Seokjin didn’t think he was a bad person, or an awful person. Maybe a lacking person, yes.

So in some ways, Hoseok and Namjoon and Yoongi were the kind of people Seokjin could see himself envying, on his less self-assured days. It didn’t happen often or anything. Seokjin was himself, and he could only focus on being a better him every single day. It was just, talk of the future and of personalities and of who are you, really? (a question Seokjin felt like he was still tackling when it came to Hoseok) brought some of those more negative feelings closer to the surface.

Hoseok seemed to pick up on that. He slid his hand to the top of Seokjin’s knee and he squeezed lightly, eyebrows drawing down as he studied Seokjin’s face. Seokjin felt his mouth and cheek twitch nervously, under the close watch. Maybe Seokjin also had accidently let show a few things he didn’t really want to talk about.

Most days he was fine. Most days, Seokjin just liked to be around new people, and make new friends, getting to know them until they were as familiar and a part of him as any other part of his life. Some days, he wanted to scrub himself out with those new things, because he didn’t feel like he was anything to start with. It wasn't a big deal. Everyone had days like that.

Still, Hoseok was studying him instead of saying anything, and Seokjin felt a little unnerved. “...Hoseok?”

“I don’t think you ‘lack depth’ or whatever,” Hoseok finally said, more seriously than he ever said most things. “What does that even mean? You read cool books and ask other people for their preferences too, so you can give me new suggestions. You’re nice, and silly and fun.”

Seokjin bit his lip, but didn’t look away from Hoseok’s fiery gaze. It was always nice to hear someone say good things about him, if he was being honest.

Hoseok’s fingers tightened on Seokjin’s knee, his warmth seeping through Seokjin’s jeans enough that he could feel it, however slightly. “So what if you don’t know collections of the best poetry standards off the top of your head like Namjoon, or can’t pick out by ear which orchestra suite is playing on the elevator like Yoongi? I’m not like that either -- I’m just me, you know me. You know I’m just...me.”

Seokjin frowned and he put his hand over Hoseok’s on his knee. “Hoseok, you’re -- ”

Hoseok hushed him, and put his other hand over Seokjin’s, trapping Seokjin’s hand between his two. Palm to knuckles to palm to knuckles, Hoseok-Seokjin, Seokjin-Hoseok. “I know, I’m great. I’m fine. That’s not what I’m trying to get at.”

Seokjin fell silent, and he let Hoseok talk.

“I’m trying to tell you that -- that I think you’re a really interesting and kind person. Remember? I told you that, that’s why I wanted to be friends in the first place. You’re cute -- ”

Seokjin squeaked a little, and used his free hand to cover his face briefly. “Wha -- Hoseok, you’re cute!”

Hoseok laughed, and wiggled his fingers atop Seokjin’s hand. “See? Cute. And not just that!” Seokjin chanced lowering his hand to look at Hoseok again, heart fluttering at the way Hoseok’s eyes were soft and sincere.

Hoseok grinned at Seokjin’s returned eye contact. “Listen. You -- you think Pompompurin is the character that matches you best. You have a pink Hello Kitty lunchbox that you don’t even think to be embarrassed of, which, let’s be real, is kind of hardcore. You work out every day and you keep picking up random hobbies long enough to have a general working knowledge of, like...everything.”

Seokjin could feel his ears heating up. He was weirdly nervous and slightly embarrassed because Hoseok was staring right at him and saying all these really nice things and Seokjin wasn’t used to being at the dead center of someone’s attention like this. Not for this long, and not like this.

“Saying the thing about the hobbies just shows that I’m fickle,” Seokjin pointed out, for lack of anything else to say. “Just. By the way.”

Hoseok burst out laughing, and tried to quiet down when Seokjin hurried put a finger in front of his own mouth as reminder to be quiet. It was a mostly failed attempt, Hoseok snickering and Seokjin starting to giggle as well, at the way Hoseok was shuddering with laughter, the two of them huddled up together on the floor.

“You’re kind and you’re cute and you’re funny but also not funny,” Hoseok finally went on to say. “And I can tell you have like...boundaries. You don’t just share things about yourself easily. So...boundaries.”

Seokjin nodded slowly, uncertainly. He had never thought of it like that. He’d never thought of himself as having boundaries or being closed off.

Hoseok didn’t seem as certain of how to keep going. Seokjin tried his best to give Hoseok’s hand a reassuring squeeze, from where his own hand was sandwiched between both of Hoseok’s.

“It makes sense, everyone has them,” Hoseok went on to say carefully. “But I can’t tell where or what they are, exactly. What you don’t tend to share, and if that means something other than what it is at face value.”

Seokjin tried not to frown. “I’m not sure what you’re trying to say,” he admitted. Seokjin wasn’t deep. He’d said that already, but Hoseok had gotten upset last time so he wasn’t going to say it again.

Hoseok laughed sheepishly, and Seokjin waited to hear what was next. If Hoseok had an explanation or if he wasn’t sure what he really wanted to say, either.

“Basically,” Hoseok said with a little exasperated laugh. “I think I’m just used to being the kind of close but actually really distant one in almost all my relationships. So it’s weird to be on the other side of it.”

Seokjin had never considered himself distant. “Well. Aren’t you actually close with Yoongi and Namjoon? I’ve seen you guys together before we got to know each other, and I had never seen you open up like you did until they came by that one day.”

Hoseok nodded excitedly, like Seokjin had hit the nail on the head. “That’s what I mean! I’m close with them, I’m open with them. With other people, in group projects or with classmates I’m just going to know for this one class for a few months, I kind of...don’t make an impression. I don’t try. I keep to myself. I’m nice, of course, but I don’t...”

Hoseok trailed off, pursing his lips and searching for the right words. He didn’t need to; Seokjin was pretty sure he understood.

“You don’t give them enough to work with. Not until you know you can trust them,” Seokjin filled in for him quietly, thinking back on how Hoseok approached him. Thinking back on when he’d considered Hoseok actually opened up to him finally, saying you seem calm and kind. Looking back on it, Seokjin now realized that more or less meant you seem safe.

Hoseok scooted closer with a little grunt, using Seokjin’s knee as leverage. Then he leaned against Seokjin’s leg, propping his chin against Seokjin’s closest thigh. This was very close, Hoseok’s face was nearly in Seokjin’s lap -- but Seokjin didn’t mind.

There wasn’t anything intrusive or strange about Hoseok being this close, even if he’d never done this specifically ever before. If anything, Seokjin was increasingly delighted each and every time to have Hoseok feel comfortable enough to do these kinds of things, unasked and of his own volition.

“Maybe that’s what it is,” Hoseok admitted, as Seokjin’s free hand found its way atop Hoseok’s head, petting him gently. “But I keep to myself, even though I know how to...like. Smile and do nice things and stuff. It’s not like I hate people or are afraid of them or anything. I just don’t open up to them all the way until I get to know them.”

Seokjin brushed some of Hoseok’s hair out of his eyes. “You didn’t really know me all that well before inviting me to lunch.”

Hoseok looked up at him, face passive and thoughtful. “Maybe not,” he said slowly. “But maybe it felt like I’d known you for a while, anyway.”

Seokjin didn’t know what that meant. He decided to keep stroking Hoseok’s hair in silent reassurance instead.

 

~~~

 

An objective truth: Seokjin liked Hoseok. A lot.

He didn’t know in what way, or what that meant, or how Hoseok felt, though. He didn’t know if he was latching on too quick or too slow, because technically this was both something like ten years too late and however many months too early.

But still -- he liked Hoseok. Hoseok’s way of being lax and pliant, and his way of sometimes turning suddenly intense and serious. Today, Seokjin had tagged along with Hoseok, halfway across town, for some free dance workshop and had seen the switch firsthand. More drastic than ever.

“Dance classes are expensive,” Hoseok explained, snapping a sweatband on his head and looking out across the dance room to take in the other participants. “So, as much as I like dancing, I can’t do it, usually.”

Seokjin nodded along to show he was following. He was looking only at Hoseok to avoid having to take in their slightly overwhelming surroundings. He twisted his fingers together and locked them tight and kept looking only at Hoseok.

Hoseok rolled his shoulders back in a stretch of some sort, languid and at ease, though his eyes were sharp. He was in dancer mode already, that much was obvious. “But as kind of rare as they are, free workshops are cool, and they usually include a cool down seminar session. Talk about self-massaging your muscles so you don’t get tight and pull something.”

“Ah, so two for one,” Seokjin said in understanding. He started slightly, when Hoseok leaned over and pushed a sweatband on him too, pushing Seokjin’s bangs back for him. “Uh?”

“You ready to try?” Hoseok asked, grinning and lovely. Beautiful. Oh wait, Seokjin realized, emotions hitting him like a freight train, here and now of all places. He liked Hoseok, oh. Oh god. He twisted his fingers together even tighter.

“Uhhhh,” Seokjin stalled. He finally looked around at the other people -- all dancers. Lean and graceful and wearing workout clothes that made them look like dancers. Flowy crop tops and fitted leggings, things like that.

Seokjin had on black gym shorts and a plain t-shirt. Seokjin had never tried dancing before. He’d only tagged along because Hoseok had asked him. The reality of actually trying to dance was starting to sink in (along with the realization that he liked Hoseok, of course he did, of course Jaehwan and Junghwan had been right, of course).

Hoseok sensed his apprehension and waited, blinking softly. Not pressuring, and completely calm.

“Okay, remember how I said that I’ve never really danced before?” Seokjin finally said, reaching up to fiddle with Hoseok’s spare sweatband, picking at the cotton material. He felt his nose twitch, and he tried to take a deep breath. The studio lights were bright and glaring. “Yeah. So I don’t think I’ll be good at keeping up.”

Hoseok’s hand was on his elbow, and it made Seokjin look back at him. Hoseok’s eyes were wide and amused, eyebrows drawn up in maybe disbelief, maybe exasperation. “What? Seokjin, it’s free, and it doesn’t matter. It’s about having fun.”

Seokjin’s heart did that familiar flutter thing. He liked Hoseok. That didn’t change anything, but wow did he feel stupid and overwhelmed right now, a thousand thoughts going in his head. “I don’t know.”

Hoseok laughed, not unkind but now definitely in disbelief. It was still encouraging, sincere and hiccupping. “Don’t tell me you rode the bus all this way to just watch?”

Honestly, Seokjin hadn’t thought too hard about it. He’d just said yes, when Hoseok had asked him to come along and it fit in his off-work schedule. Had just wanted to go somewhere with Hoseok that wasn’t lunch at school or stolen moments at the library. Wanted to make memories somewhere else, and get Hoseok in even more brand new contexts. He was dressed to dance (or rather to work out), but he hadn’t really thought about it until now.

But Hoseok was right. This could be fun. He could be awful and mess up a thousand times, but he had a feeling that Hoseok wouldn’t make fun of him for it. Maybe he’d tease him, but if anything they’d be laughing together.

Nothing had really changed. Seokjin liked Hoseok. Hoseok liked Seokjin enough in all the right ways to invite him out to places and want to do things together. Seokjin swallowed thickly and tried to calm down.

“I guess I can try?” He finally decided tentatively. He nodded to him in affirmation. “Okay. I’ll try.”

Hoseok cheered and reached over to pet both of Seokjin’s cheeks, cooing instantly. It made Seokjin burst out into laughter.

 

~~~

 

After the dance workshop outing, they started trying to plan more things together that weren’t at the library or over lunch at school. They branched out first and foremost by meeting at Seokjin’s house.

“To mix things up, do you want to come over today?” Seokjin asked at lunch. “I don’t work today. We can go home together -- I’ll drive you, I mean. You can walk across the street to go home, it’ll all be really easy, promise.”

“Listen to that cheek,” Namjoon joked, while Yoongi looked between the two of them with suspicion. “Just for that, you should turn him down, Hoseok.”

Hoseok snorted, then choked on his mouthful of sandwich. Seokjin helped by reaching over to hit his back, and ignored Yoongi’s continuing stare.

“Thanks,” Hoseok said once he could breathe. “And...yeah. I guess that’s cool. That works. We should should get some more variety in our lives.”

“Yeah. I’m trying to cut back my work hours and I don’t want to stop seeing you all of a sudden,” Seokjin said, teasing. He gave Hoseok a few last comforting rubs on his back, and Hoseok leaned towards him in thanks, seeking out the touch.

Hoseok was nodding in agreement to Seokjin, with some kind of realization dawning on his face slowly. “Whoa, or what if you quit come the summer or find something else you want to do next year? We have to get a new meeting place, stat!”

Seokjin laughed. His hand was still lightly resting on Hoseok’s back. Hoseok didn’t seem to mind, so he left it there as he turned back to his food. “Or just get in the habit of actively doing more things together. Which, here we are.”

“Hm,” Yoongi chimed in, judgmental. His tone was almost but not quite accusatory, and Seokjin took that to mean that he thought something suspicious was going on.

Seokjin would have normally pushed him on it, joked about Yoongi being once again overprotective, but he was also concerned that Yoongi could see straight through him. Could see that Seokjin -- Seokjin liked Hoseok. That hadn’t been the specific intent or plan here, Seokjin wasn’t trying to change his and Hoseok’s dynamic or anything. He wasn’t trying to woo him. He just wanted to see Hoseok more and learn more about him, and chatting about books in the library wasn’t going to accomplish that.

But there were dozens and dozens of reasons why he liked Hoseok. There were dozens and dozens of ways he liked Hoseok. And all those reasons and ways were building up inside him. Pressing on the undersides of his rib cage, banging and begging to be let out. Jaehwan and Junghwan had known before Seokjin had, so surely he was obvious in his affection.

Seokjin wasn’t sure and wasn’t ready, not for any of the changes liking Hoseok might bring. For now, just being around Hoseok was what he wanted most. And he didn’t want Yoongi to expose him in a half-meant joke. Seokjin wouldn’t know what to do or what to say, if someone teased you like him, don’t you?

So Seokjin silently let Yoongi be judgmental, saying, “Me ‘n Namjoon not welcomed, huh?” and he silently let Hoseok roll his eyes at Yoongi in response.

“Weirdo,” Hoseok told Yoongi fondly. “You don’t live near us. Plus, me and Seokjin are nurturing our one-on-one relationship.”

Strange, that,” Yoongi teased, but like usual when he talked to Hoseok, he was beginning to smile despite himself.

Seokjin felt safe, then. To joke too. This wasn’t going to get weird, then. “Hey, don’t you have club after school today, anyway? Stop trying to be a third wheel.”

Yoongi waved a dismissive hand, which meant yes, he did have a club. Namjoon laughed and dug in his bag for his snack pack dessert. “He’s just worried about his baby bird leaving the nest early.”

Hoseok beamed and pointed to himself eagerly. “That’s me! The nest is Yoongi’s side. I’m the baby bird. In case you didn’t pick up on it.”

Seokjin patted Hoseok’s back softly. “Uh-huh, so I gathered.”

“It’s because you’re cute,” Yoongi explained, smiling fondly at Hoseok, gaze sliding over to Seokjin and still staying fond. “And if it’s Seokjin, then whatever. You’re in good hands and all that.”

Seokjin realized with the barest start -- oh, Yoongi was kind of soft on him too. It wasn’t a huge surprise really, but. The small reminders that Hoseok’s friends had somewhere in there become his friends as well were nice.

“I’m the baby bird because I’m cute,” Hoseok rephrased and repeated dutifully, almost sagely, to Seokjin, as though he were still explaining.

“I know,” Seokjin said, mock gravely. “Almost too cute, actually.”

Hoseok beamed, happy obviously that Seokjin was playing along.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Namjoon interjected, sounding genuinely confused, looking up from his food. “I just realized -- aren’t I cute? Because I don’t have a cute nickname like Hobi.”

Quickly and immediately, Yoongi reacted before Seokjin or Hoseok could. “Joon, jesus, of course you are, god,” he said, rolling his eyes. The way he looked away was defensive, almost embarrassed, and Seokjin had another revelation there, with that. Oh. Yoongi and Namjoon...oh. Huh.

Hoseok caught his eye, with this all-knowing, all-suffering sort of look. So Hoseok had known. Had known probably long before Seokjin had even come into the picture.

It wasn’t his place to mention, though. “Yeah, you’re super cute, Namjoon,” Seokjin told him, smiling helplessly at Hoseok, feeling in on the joke. In on the joke with Hoseok. It was a good feeling.

Namjoon seemed appeased, if not clueless to Yoongi avoiding looking at any of them, and to Seokjin and Hoseok having a moment. He pulled off the pudding cup tab and broke the seal with a snap. “Mm. Well, have fun, you two.”

 

~~~

 

Seasons had passed. It had been mid fall when he and Hoseok had met, that fateful day at the library. Chilly, early winter when they’d first done lunch. And now, with the slow arrival of spring, season of beginnings and awakenings, things kept going and he and Hoseok got closer.

This kind of metaphor -- it was trite and clichéd. Seokjin knew that, even as he thought it, that it was kind of ridiculous and over the top. But he had always loved trite and clichéd and ridiculous and over the top in books. He didn’t mind it so much in life, either.

Whatever it was that he and Hoseok were building, whatever it was that they had, Seokjin didn’t care how it looked to other people. He was just happy this thing, this meant to be feeling thing, had happened at all.

He hadn’t told Hoseok any of that yet. It felt a little heavy to hand off to someone, I feel like we were meant to meet and it finally happened, no matter if Seokjin meant it non-romantically, mostly. For all that Seokjin liked him, liked him and was pretty sure Hoseok liked him back (in all the right ways, romantic or not), he didn’t want to ever overwhelm him. That was a big thing, to Seokjin, because Hoseok trusted him. Around Seokjin, Hoseok relaxed and opened up. And around Hoseok, Seokjin relaxed and opened up too.

Really, it didn’t matter, if Hoseok didn’t like him in that way. Seokjin just felt good and happy with him. And Seokjin could eventually confront his feelings and grow out of them, if they complicated things. Just, for now, he liked them, he liked the little almost nauseating swoops of his stomach and heart that just being around Hoseok caused. He liked the rush and the heart flutters whenever Hoseok beamed or laughed or looked at Seokjin like he was the only person in the world worth looking at.

So for now, he kept those feelings near and dear to himself and nurtured them. For now, he let himself like Hoseok in a way that maybe was meant to be doomed for nothing. It wasn’t nearly as pessimistic as it sounded. Rather, Seokjin kind of liked it.

All in all, he realized, looking up to see Hoseok come through the library doors, his lighter windbreaker on to fight the early spring’s cool and wet weather, he just liked where he and Hoseok were at right now.

“Seokjin!” Hoseok called, as he walked into the library’s main foyer. He was all smiles, like usual.

“Hoseok!” Seokjin called back in a happy echo, and they both laughed to themselves at the weary, “Please, you two,” it earned them from the librarian on-duty.

This sort of loud, playful greeting had become a routine between the two of them. The librarians played along, some happier and less serious about it than others. Seokjin knew all of them thought his and Hoseok’s friendship, one they had mostly seen grow and blossom in real time, was too cute to discourage. So they all let he and Hoseok get away with these kinds of things, weary or not.

Still, Hoseok dipped his head in a half bow, apologetic for the both of them. “Sorry,” he whispered, heartfelt, as he tiptoed past.

“We’ll be good,” Seokjin told her solemnly, even as he brightly waved at Hoseok heading to his usual table (not that he’d stay there for long -- lately, the two of them always ended up near each other for long stretches of time, here at Seokjin’s place of work).

She shook her head, a hint of a smile on her lips, amused. “Mm-hm. You can stop it with the lies already.”

Seokjin pretended to be hugely offended, eyes wide and mouth agape and a hand pressed delicately to his chest as he leaned back away from her. And then he had to genuinely and profusely apologize when the act made Hoseok burst out in very loud laughter halfway across the library foyer.

A lot of things had changed, Seokjin thought, playing with Hoseok’s hair later in the afternoon as he took his snack break. Hoseok was reading with his head propped up against Seokjin’s leg, the two of them on the floor and tucked away in the nonfiction section. A lot of things had changed -- and hadn’t changed, too.

The weather got warmer, and Seokjin became little more sure (and unsure) of his heart.

 

~~~

 

“You like food, let’s go on an eating tour the next weekend you have off,” Hoseok suggested, laying on Seokjin’s bedroom carpet.

Seokjin, laying next to him on the very same carpet, shook his head, even though they both were staring aimlessly at the ceiling. He knew Hoseok couldn’t see him, but they were close enough that Hoseok could sense the movement anyway. “No, that’s going to be expensive. And there’s nothing all that good around here, anyway, food-wise. We’d have to go to, like. The college town two hours away or something.”

Hoseok grumbled, though he eventually agreed. His hand had inched closer to Seokjin’s, the back of his hand briefly touching the back of Seokjin’s in a nudge. “Ugh, I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I am,” Seokjin replied loftily, though it was mostly a joke.

Somewhere in promising his mom they’d do homework, they hadn’t. Somewhere in laying on the floor for the past hour or so, just chatting, their hands had slowly, gradually moved close to each other. Close enough that the backs of their hands were constantly grazing one another. Close enough to almost link pinkies, Hoseok’s pinky resting atop Seokjin’s and curving in the suggestion of hooking them together.

But maybe it was too much, or too little, or too wordless. Maybe Hoseok was just being touchy, because he actually honestly was. Maybe they’d link pinkies and it wouldn’t mean anything. Wouldn’t mean what Seokjin thought it might, hoped it might.

Seokjin focused on trying to plan an outing. “Okay, how about roller skating?”

Hoseok made a sound of ambivalence. His pinky twitched. “Maybe.”

Seokjin huffed, but it got stuck in his throat halfway and became a sort of exasperated laugh. “I don’t know. Are you stuck on the eating tour idea?”

Hoseok whined dramatically, voice sliding into overly-cute, which Seokjin didn’t mind. He thought it was still very cute, and he mimicked it back at Hoseok a little.

“It’s just such a good idea!” Hoseok complained. “I want it to work. We should live in a more hip area.”

Seokjin snorted and laughed full body. He let his finger caress Hoseok’s for a moment. “Okay, maybe we can take a day trip somewhere and eat at all the cool places. Can’t do that without some planning, though.”

Hoseok sighed (and caressed Seokjin’s finger back). “Yeah...maybe over summer break.”

“Would you want Namjoon and Yoongi to come?”

Hoseok sighed again, heavy and long and loud. He turned his head to peer at Seokjin imploringly. “I want them to confess to each other before we take them on a day date anywhere. If it’s two-on-two, they’ll get really...well. You how they get.”

Seokjin paused for a moment, at Hoseok’s gaze. At Hoseok’s implication with the words ‘two-on-two’. Seokjin was holding his breath without meaning to, holding himself completely still. His nose twitched, a muscle in his neck jumped, and then one in his cheek -- but other than that, nothing. Hoseok didn’t say anything. His pinky brushed in the slightest movement against Seokjin’s.

Finally, Seokjin said, “So no double dates, then?”

Hoseok clicked his tongue. “I don’t know. We’ll see if they get better in the meantime.”

Hoseok wasn’t pointing out anything about the words ‘double date’ or the like. He wasn’t rushing to correct Seokjin, either. But maybe Hoseok just didn’t think to. Maybe he just didn’t notice the possible implications of this entire conversation.

Seokjin sighed. He liked how Hoseok made him feel, but he also needed to stop wondering and trying to see if he could figure out what Hoseok’s coded body language and innermost thoughts were. That wasn’t helping anyone. “Alright. So for this weekend...?”

Hoseok hummed, and tilted his head into the carpet. Cute. “I guess roller skating could be fun…?”

Seokjin was about to agree, when his mom peeked her head in through the cracked open door. “Hm, this sure doesn’t look like we’re doing homework in here.”

They both sat up, Hoseok instantly sheepish and Seokjin laughing apologetically. He noticed her eyes lingered on where their hands were almost but not quite touching, until they both drew away to stand and return to their books, Hoseok’s on Seokjin’s bed and Seokjin’s on his desk. She didn’t seem to know what to make of it.

He didn’t know what to make of it either, really. Wasn’t able to explain it, when later that evening she asked if they were dating or interested in each other, or what.

“I’m just wondering,” she explained, as they both watched from the front window, Hoseok ambling back across the street to his house. Hoseok’s sister was standing in their open doorway and talking to him in elevated tones, the muffled rise and fall of their genial conversation sounding, barely, through the window panes. “You two have gotten so close these past few months.”

Seokjin shrugged, and he thought of how close they were. And how fast it’d happened. How slow it’d happened, too. Shouldn’t this, in some ways, have been a long time coming? He didn’t know why there was indecision and fear in his heart, sometimes. When he thought of Hoseok. Of him and Hoseok dating.

“We’re just hanging out,” Seokjin told her, and watched Hoseok climb the stairs of his stoop one step at a time.

 

~~~

 

“Auntie’s up there saying you’ve got a crush,” Taehyung said, after he’d gotten settled in for his weekend over. His spring break was a week earlier than Seokjin’s, his family living a town over, so the counties ran on slightly different schedules. Seokjin had school this week, and Taehyung’s parents wanted them to go out of state on a vacation during the actual week of Taehyung’s time off.

This all meant that they were visiting until they left on Sunday. He and Taehyung were in the basement, trying to find something interesting to watch. Taehyung was returning from his venture upstairs to get a snack.

Seokjin wasn’t too surprised, but still vaguely mortified, by Taehyung’s update. “Is she?”

“Uh-huh. A crush on the boy next door. Cute, Seokjinnie.”

Seokjin huffed and threw a couch pillow at Taehyung’s head. “Stop calling me that. And he lives across the street.”

Taehyung picked up the pillow from the floor and balanced it on the top of his head, arms held out and tongue sticking out from the corner of his mouth. “But it is a crush?”

Seokjin sighed despondently. This question again. Labeling it, and saying it outloud, how Seokjin felt for Hoseok was... complicated, for some reason. If Seokjin didn’t talk about it, then he didn’t have to grapple it. He could just live in this in-between state of like for a while. He didn’t have to bury his feelings if Hoseok didn’t feel the same way. And if Hoseok did maybe feel the same way. Well. That was. Something. A lot. A lot of something.

Seokjin sighed again and clicked through the channels as a distraction. “I don’t know.”

Taehyung spun in a circle, then sort of toppled over, pillow going flying as he lost his balance. Seokjin couldn’t help but laugh. Taehyung was good at lifting his mood.

“Wait wait wait,” Taehyung said, sitting up suddenly, eyes inquisitive. He had his thinking face on. “Is this the um. The ‘social services case waiting to happen’ across-the-street-kid?”

Seokjin flinched and grimaced. He’d forgotten his aunt had kept calling Hoseok’s family that when they were kids. “Uh. Yeah.”

Taehyung quickly realized his discomfort, and the edges of his mouth pulled down sadly. “Oh. Wait. Not okay?”

Seokjin let out a soft laugh, at a loss for what else to do. “It’s a little rude, yeah.”

Taehyung nodded in understanding, eyes sad and apologetic. “Okay. But -- it’s the same across the street kid from when you were little. So...?”

Seokjin realized Taehyung was looking for more information. It made sense, and really, it was probably good for Seokjin to talk about this with someone. Taehyung was rarely hypercritical, and he was good at offering new insight usually. And Seokjin probably needed new insight on this, as much as he didn’t want to ever think too hard about it.

He sighed and shut off the television, turning to Taehyung. Taehyung folded his legs in crisscross style, waiting patiently next to him. “His name is Hoseok,” Seokjin said, starting slowly. “He’s really nice.”

Taehyung nodded eagerly, so Seokjin dug his phone out of his pocket, then opened his photos up. “Here,” he said, leaning over and handing over the phone. “That’s him.”

Taehyung ooh-ed and aah-ed appropriately, taking the phone into his hands and scrolling through the gallery.

“He’s super cute! You look like you guys have fun -- is this you both at a dance studio?” Taehyung sounded incredulous. Which -- yes, Seokjin had never danced before that day.

Seokjin laughed at the memory. “Uh-huh. It was fun. I like his friends, too. They’re my friends now, I guess.”

There was a stretch of silence, Taehyung looking at pictures and Seokjin watching for the wordless expressions flitting across his face as he did so. Taehyung was enthralled, mouth parted slightly as he kept swiping and nodding absently with each new photo.

“...So you like him a lot.” Taehyung eventually said as he looked up, not a question. An observation. Taehyung was good at those.

“Mm.” Seokjin didn’t like to say yes to that. He still wasn’t sure exactly why, when in his heart he knew the answer.

Taehyung blinked at him. Tilted his head, eyes big and sweeping over Seokjin’s face. Seokjin hard blinked and looked away.

It was, of course, telling, and Taehyung said, “And I’m guessing you don’t know how he feels, then?”

That, was easy to answer. “No. Not for sure.” Seokjin could guess -- or ask -- but… “He likes hanging out with me. So. I’m fine with that. I like it too.”

Taehyung made an agreeable sound. “I mean. I guess.” He looked down and scrolled through more photos. “Buuuuut, and here’s a thought, right? Okay, what if you did something?”

Seokjin looked at Taehyung, not sure where he was going with this. “Mm?”

Taehyung seemed excited, sitting up straighter and grinning. “Like -- you ought to just. Just grab him by the face and kiss him! That way you’ll know either way, if he likes you or not.”

Seokjin made a face, and lightly kicked Taehyung away from him, pushing him back over with the sole of his foot. Then he remembered that he should have grabbed his phone back first. Now Taehyung was playing keep away, and Seokjin had to pin him down with a forceful hand to his chest, to reach over Taehyung’s head and pull the phone out of his tight grasp. Taehyung was laughing the whole time.

“You can’t just kiss people like that,” Seokjin finally said, panting a little after the struggle and sitting back on his haunches. “If it turns out they don’t want to be kissed, then it’s messed up.”

Taehyung was rubbing at his chest as he sat up. “I’m gonna bruise…” he whined. “Ah, but you don’t know. Maybe he wants to be kissed. Maybe he likes you back.”

“Those are huge maybes,” Seokjin said, focusing more on shoving his phone back into his pocket.

Taehyung crossed his arms, looking at Seokjin and shaking his head. His lips were pressed together in disapproval. “Well, kiss him or ask him or something. You won’t know until you do -- I promise it’s not as scary as you think. I mean, I don’t know. It’s how me and Jimin worked it out. We just...talked about it.”

Seokjin pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head because Taehyung didn’t get it. Taehyung and Jimin were totally different. Taehyung and Jimin were -- Seokjin had known they were in love with each other at first sight back when they were both six or something equally ridiculous and young.

Seokjin and Hoseok were not Taehyung and Jimin. There was not an inevitable obvious end to the two of them. Not like that. And for all of Seokjin’s wanting to believe that -- that this was destiny and fate, them meeting and knowing each other, there was still guilt that lingered over why it had taken so long.

“I haven’t known him for my entire life, like you two,” Seokjin told him softly, sighing sadly and wishing things were different and easier. That Seokjin was a different and better person when it came to this. “That’s...not going to work.”

Taehyung hummed, slumping down in on himself, rocking back a bit and then pitching forward, staring at Seokjin curiously. “Can’t it, though? And -- haven’t you, kind of? Known each other all your lives?”

Seokjin stiffened and looked away. Not the same, at all. “Taehyung.” His voice held a warning.

Taehyung huffed, but he backed off the sensitive topic. “Well, fine then. Don’t talk to him about it. But don’t...I don’t know.”

Taehyung hesitated and Seokjin looked back in time to see Taehyung flap his hands emphatically. “Don’t keep beating yourself up over it. My rule of thumb is that if you’re pining, it must mean something. So you gotta do something. That’s what I told Jungkook when it came to Jimin, you know? And now here we are, with that all worked out.”

Seokjin paused for a long moment. He didn’t one hundred percent know what that was supposed to mean, that Jungkook apparently had been pining after Jimin. That somehow or another, things had ‘worked out’. “Taehyung, what -- actually... actually, never mind.”

Knowing Taehyung, all of that could mean a lot of different things, and Seokjin wasn’t sure if he wanted to know. Right now, all Seokjin knew was that he wasn’t going to investigate if Taehyung was sharing his boyfriend or dating two boys at once or what. That was more a next Thanksgiving conversation, full of confusion and indignant outrage from distant relatives. Seokjin had enough on his plate without taking that on, because if he didn’t outright know the details, then he couldn’t be found complicit when it came to lying.

Taehyung wiggled his eyebrows enticingly. “You sure you don’t wanna know?”

Seokjin snorted and held up his hands, shaking his head. “I am more than sure, trust me.”

“Your loss.” Taehyung was much too amused. Seokjin was definitely not going to ask, then.

“Anyway,” Seokjin said, choosing to focus on the matter at hand: Hoseok. Seokjin kind of really liking Hoseok and not knowing if that was...allowed. Or something. Or if Hoseok liked him back. All of that. All of the above. “It’s not that simple, Taehyung. everyone’s not you.”

Taehyung snorted, shaking his head. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Yeah, I’m bold, but things don’t absolutely have to be complicated, either.”

Seokjin paused again. Taehyung did have a point there. A few points. A few points he'd forgotten somewhere along the way. Seokjin considered them.

 

~~~

 

Hoseok was trailing after Seokjin around the library, talking idly about how his classes that day had gone. It was meaningless chatter, something Seokjin could listen to without losing track of his thoughts and what he was organizing, and something Hoseok could go on about with minimal participation from a multitasking Seokjin.

It was comfortable. So comfortable. It was also one of those moments where Seokjin oddly wasn’t sure if things were okay, because he felt guilty. Like they were moving too fast, and Seokjin was getting to enjoy things he hadn’t earned yet. Hadn’t put in the time for.

Sometimes he got worse about this than other times. It was weird that he felt guilty, he knew that, but it didn’t change anything about how he was internalizing and then in turn externalizing.

Hoseok hooked his chin over Seokjin’s shoulder to peer at the last of the books he was shelving, and made one of his overly cute trilling sounds in the back of his throat for no reason. Seokjin fought the urge to echo it, because they were in the library and it was full of more people than usual, so he couldn’t be too disruptive.

But still he liked it, was as drawn to the odd sounds that Hoseok made here and there as he was to the rest of Hoseok. And there -- it was thoughts like that that scared Seokjin. Made him wonder if this was okay, all of it.

“You know,” Seokjin said slowly, cautiously, as Hoseok pulled away to wander down the aisle and peer at some other book that had caught his eye. This didn’t have to be complicated. Didn’t have to be a Thing. Just talk to him.

“Hmmm?” Hoseok inquired, distracted by the book on the shelf.

Seokjin took a deep breath and went on. “Do you ever think...I don’t know. That we haven’t known each other long enough? For, uh. How we are?” He didn’t know how else to put this.

Hoseok stopped. Frowned. The library’s quiet was still and almost-stifling around them. Across the aisle, Seokjin heard a person cough. Heard someone place a book down on a reading table with a dull thud.

Hoseok leaned against the shelves and watched Seokjin with some kind of waited precision. “How we are? Aren’t we just how we are, naturally? Long enough... for what? How should we be, then?”

For -- for what, indeed. How should they be? Seokjin didn’t know, neither how to put it into words or what he expected. What would make him feel less...off, sometimes, about everything. What would be better and soothe his unease.

He didn’t know how to sort and separate it all out so he could analyze and understand and act. Fix. He just knew that -- this was weird, and maybe that was too much. Maybe this was too weird, all these years of knowing but not knowing -- and now knowing for real. Maybe it was just regret, what he was feeling. That could be it, too.

Hoseok was staring at him, not frowning but not smiling. A truly neutral expression, as his eyes took in Seokjin’s body language (scared and nervous and a little uptight, most likely) and Seokjin’s face (mouth grim with confusion). Seokjin knew he was telegraphing probably all the wrong things. Like that he didn’t want to be in this conversation, or that he didn’t want Hoseok to be here, following him up and down the aisles as he sorted and re-sorted and found all the books people randomly shoved into empty-enough spaces and onto flat-enough surfaces.

But he did. Of course he wanted Hoseok by his side, talking about how biology had gone awful and literature had assigned a book Hoseok had already read thanks to Seokjin’s recommendations. He just didn’t know how to do this.

Seokjin cleared his throat awkwardly, scrunched up his nose briefly, unintentionally. But Hoseok just kept staring, unfaltering and nonjudgmental. He was taking all of Seokjin in, and Seokjin -- wondered if that was a good thing.

“I don’t know,” Seokjin finally answered truthfully. “I don’t know what...I mean. I guess.”

Hoseok titled his head. He finally offered a tiny hint of a smile, and it made Seokjin smile back. He felt the corners of his eyes crinkle up, his mouth pulling up into a smile, all of it an automatic response to Hoseok.

“This is fine,” Seokjin said then, deciding for the both of them. It was fine he didn’t know. It was fine that this was something too soon and too long coming, all too early and too late. “We’re fine. I like how we are. I’m just being silly.”

Hoseok walked closer and put his hands on Seokjin’s shoulders, shaking him a little. “What’s new about that?” He teased.

Seokjin would have squawked or something, if they weren’t in the library. As was, he said in hushed indignation, “I resent that! You’re not a good person, Hobi.”

There was someone calling softly for Seokjin, coming from the library front. It sounded like one of the nice librarians, so he probably wasn’t going to get yelled at for slacking off or anything.

Hoseok heard it too, and steered him back towards the circulation desk by the shoulders. “I’m kidding. You’re great. I like you just fine, promise,” Hoseok told him casually and simply.

Seokjin pretended to roll his eyes, all while taking in the praise. “Thanks. I know.”

Hoseok sighed, and let go of Seokjin’s shoulders. “You’re too much.”

Seokjin grinned at him, falling back so they were side by side. “You know it,” he said. He reached over to place one light hand at the center of Hoseok’s back, not sure if it was him trying to play up a joke or just blindly following an urge to touch Hoseok.

It didn’t matter either way; Seokjin followed through nonetheless and gave Hoseok’s back a series of light, little pats, fingers scaling slightly over his lithe muscles. Seokjin noticed the way Hoseok’s shoulders pulled back slightly, as if he was seeking more contact before Seokjin inevitably pulled away.

And pull away Seokjin did, rounding around the front desk partition to man the computer the librarian on duty was nodding at meaningfully. Whether he pulled away because it was convenient or just how things were, Seokjin didn’t know.

He kind of wanted to keep patting Hoseok’s back and see all the ways Hoseok might eventually relax under his touch, though. See all the ways Hoseok might keep seeking it out. That would be nice.

But instead, Seokjin said, “I think you’re great too, for what it’s worth.” It was weak and belated and not covering even a fraction of how Seokjin really felt. And he knew all those things. But it was all he could bear for the moment.

Seokjin felt the tips of his ears heating up a little, and he clicked at the interlibrary loan tabbings to keep busy and pretend Hoseok wasn’t looking at him, eyes big and intrigued and searching for what was really going on here.

There was silence between them for a while. Which maybe should have been more usual and normal, since they were often together in a library. It wasn’t uncomfortable, though. It was only silent.

Seokjin actually found some things to make note of for work, and Hoseok was rubbing a distracted hand along the desktop, again and again and again and again. Obviously he was thinking. The silence reigned on.

Seokjin would have asked Hoseok what it was he was thinking about, if he wasn’t afraid to break what felt like a precious quiet between them. Nothing was wrong, and Seokjin didn’t want to distract Hoseok from thinking about whatever it was he was thinking so intently about. It felt important -- and maybe that was because, to Seokjin, it felt like it was about him.

The silence dragged on. Don’t get your hopes up, Seokjin tried to tell himself firmly. He typed away on the ancient desktop, and waited for Hoseok. Or maybe Hoseok was waiting for him.

“Okay. Hey,” Hoseok said eventually, cheery and upbeat -- honestly, Seokjin realized with sudden retrospection, the antithesis of everything Seokjin had once thought him to be. It was funny, how wrong he’d been. How little he’d known Hoseok before, when for so long at any moment he could’ve learned more.

“Yeah?” Seokjin asked, slightly short of breath all at once as he turned to look at Hoseok.

Hoseok, who was staring softly at him from the other side of the circulation desk. Hoseok, who was stunning, in his plain shirt and fuzzy pullover and acid wash jeans. Seokjin could have never known him even a little bit, had things gone differently. That was -- just about the most frightening to think about, for Seokjin.

“Wanna hold hands?” Hoseok asked, already reaching, and already beaming like he knew the answer.

Hoseok probably had guessed already. How Seokjin would have liked nothing better than to hold hands right now -- any time, all the time. Hoseok had probably already figured all of Seokjin out completely. All his vague questions and odd body language. All his silent questions and hopes and I like you I like you I like yous over the past however many weeks, months, whatever. Seokjin had a feeling Hoseok had figured him out completely and totally, long long ago.

Seokjin was already reaching for Hoseok’s hand, before remembering to say, “I’d love to.” Hoseok grinned widely, and met him halfway.

Hoseok’s hand was soft and warm and welcoming in Seokjin’s, and that was no surprise at all.