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Not once has Hoseok ever struggled to find a seat in the cafeteria in his office building. A number of different companies fill the suites in the seven story building, and workers from all of comapies are welcome to use the cafeteria together. There are five different food stations that offer varying kinds of cuisine, a juice bar, a small shop selling prepackaged meals for employees-on-the-go. In order to handle the constant flow of customers, there are over three dozen tables scattered in the open space.

With so much space, Hoseok fails to understand why the hell his ex is sitting in the seat directly opposite, munching his fries and chatting away as if last night he hadn't left a gaping wound in Hoseok's chest where his heart used to be.

A fry dangles from Yoongi's lips and Hoseok watches it bounce, sipping his soda as loudly as possible. "So I told Namjoon that I'm not his little copy boy--"

"Yoongi--"

"-- and that I don't care if he's too afraid to walk past Seokjin's office--"

"Yoon--"

"--because Seokjin isn't even scary, okay--"

"--gi--"

"--and end of the year reports are around the corner and I just don't have time--"

"Yoongi!" Hoseok slams his drink down onto the table and the plastic surface wobbles. The fry finally falls from Yoongi's mouth, which gapes open in an offended expression.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

Hoseok takes a deep breath, smooths the napkin on the table for no real reason. "This is weird." Yoongi looks around the cafeteria for the source of the "weird," and Hoseok sighs so loudly a few women at a nearby table cast them nervous glances. "No, this." He gestures between them. "Why the hell are we eating lunch together?"

"Why the hell wouldn't we?" Yoongi pouts, and Hoseok wishes he could slap it off without someone calling security on him. He wouldn't be the first to crack and get violent in this cafeteria.

"You dumped me," Hoseok hisses.

His best-friend-slash-ex-boyfriend huffs, "Is that all?" He throws a fry across the table and grins as it bounces off Hoseok's cheek. "With that scary look on your face, I thought someone had died or something."

There's not a hint of guilt in Yoongi's eyes. Hoseok doesn't know why he'd expected any different. "Well excuse me for feeling not so great about it." He chews the end of his straw and contemplates the plastic table top.

"Hey," Yoongi says, gentler this time. Hoseok glances up and Yoongi shifts nervously, glancing to the side and rolling his shoulders. "Come on, I don't see why this would, you know, change things."

Things have already changed, though. Yoongi wasn't in Hoseok's bed this morning, ready to mooch breakfast and use all the hot water in the shower before work. Hoseok can't remember the last Monday morning he'd come to work on his own. Yoongi doesn't like spending Sunday nights alone, says it's a sign of a truly depressing life. Hoseok wonders what Yoongi did last night, afterwards.

The look on his face must be bad, because Yoongi actually mumbles, "I'm sorry," and reaches over to give Hoseok's hand an awkward pat. Apologies from Min Yoongi are few and far between. Unfortunately this one just solidifies the fact that this is happening, that it's really over. "Can't we just go back to being friends?" Yoongi's voice sounds pained and Hoseok hates himself for letting Yoongi make him feel guilty for having perfectly understandable emotions. "We dated for four months, but we've been friends for five years, man."

In a way, Hoseok agrees. He can't imagine not having Yoongi around, and not just at work. Yoongi's always been there-- in college, at graduation, living together and finding their first jobs together- and that's exactly why Hoseok had thought it'd been a good idea for them to take it to the next level.

He still thinks it hadn't been a bad idea, even if he feels like complete shit now.

"I know," he finally admits. "But try not to be so... normal." He runs a hand through his hair and slouches in his chair. "Give me a little time to cool off, okay?"

Yoongi frowns as he nods. "I get that." He finishes his drink and shrugs. "I didn't like breaking up with you, you know."

"Could have fooled me," Hoseok mutters, but finds himself smiling the tiniest bit.

"It was time, man." Yoongi gives him a meaningful look, like Hoseok will understand everything from those four little words.

Hoseok understands nothing. Obviously everything makes sense now to Yoongi, but Hoseok knows he'll need more than a little time to find that old normalcy again. He almost wants to ask Yoongi, pry a little more even though it'll hurt, but one look at the clock and Hoseok curses.

Less than five minutes later he's back in his cubicle. Yoongi is in the one to the left. A thin partition separates them, but Hoseok listens to Yoongi humming and typing away and feels like they're worlds apart.

-

Hoseok stays late that night, and not just because he has a mountain of invoices to process. After arguing all afternoon with Yoongi over email Hoseok doesn't feel like continuing the conversation on the way out. Yoongi thinks Hoseok needs to go out, let loose, and of course is all for being Hoseok's wing man. No matter how many times Hoseok explains that volunteering to be your ex boyfriend's wing man is overstepping not a few boundaries, Yoongi counters that being your best friend's wingman is completely normal.

At least one of them is adjusting well, if not annoyingly quickly.

On his way home Hoseok stops by the convenience store for a pathetic attempt at dinner and ends up with a six pack instead. Close enough, he decides, and trudges down the damp streets toward home. Usually Hoseok loves living within walking distance of work, but today he hates how soon he finds himself on his street, how he's immediately aware of the dark windows of his apartment. From the street he can just barely see the tiny pot of flowers on his balcony. Yoongi brought those to the apartment a few weeks ago after Hoseok claimed Yoongi did nothing but mess the place up.

First things first: Hoseok needs to get Yoongi's things out of the apartment.

The trash is piled high in and around the neighborhood dumpster. Not a bad place to put Yoongi's things, actually. Hoseok pauses to consider it before shaking his head. Hoseok is a lot of things, angry being one of them, but he isn't vindictive. No, he has a few spare boxes in the closet which will fit everything. He can pack it up and bring it in to work tomorrow.

Just as he's stepping away from the dumpster, going over the list of Yoongi's things scattered around his apartment, the trash springs to life and latches onto his leg. Or at least that's what it looks like, and Hoseok gives a terrified yelp as plastic bags and candy wrappers cling to his pant leg. He tries to shake it off, but the garbage holds fast. He tries to brush it off and finds fingers under those layers of trash, attached to an arm which disappear under a few large bags. Hoseok kicks one aside and sure enough, finds a body and a face to match.

"Uh, hello?" Maybe he should be more apprehensive about greeting a body in a trash pile, but the guy is breathing and his fingers won't detach from Hoseok's pants, so he's not sure what else can he do. "You okay, man?"

The trash guy (Hoseok's not really sure what to call him) grumbles a little. Hoseok tentatively prods his chest and he grunts. His head lolls to the side slightly but his eyes don't open.

Great, to top off the shittiest day ever Hoseok has to remove a passed out drunk from his pants. If Yoongi were here, he'd be hysterical.

"Excuse me," he mutters and tries in vain to pry off the fingers on his pants cuff. The fingers are warm, a little too warm, and Hoseok frowns. Something about this feels creepy, but he reaches out and feels trash guy's forehead. Sure enough, he's burning up. Hoseok curses and hangs his head.

Now what?

Hoseok looks around but his street is deserted. Any time now someone from his building or one of the surrounding complexes will walk by and this might not look so good. Hoseok slaps trash guy's cheek lightly and mumbles, "Hey, if you're going to wake up, now'd be the time."

Bit by bit Hoseok removes the trash from trash guy's clothes before dragging him out of the pile. Judging by his clothes-- jeans, a slightly faded sweater, canvas sneakers, a fake leather backpack that hangs off of one arm-- and his smooth, round face, Hoseok gauges him as younger, though not by much. He isn't terribly heavy and he somewhat comes to when Hoseok tries to hoist him into a standing position. His eyes roll open and he squints at Hoseok momentarily before his head falls to the side again. As he half-carries the guy inside the building and into the elevator, Hoseok can feel the warmth radiating through his clothes. Definitely not a good sign.

Hoseok dumps the limp body onto his couch and panics.

"Okay, okay," he breathes. His palms feel sweaty and he wipes them on his slacks. "I brought a stranger home."

He starts to pace, starting in the living room and moving around into the small kitchen and dining area.

"But he's sick, maybe really sick. I couldn't just leave him."

His pacing changes direction to the bathroom, where he finds aspirin and a cooling pad. He returns to the living room and kneels by the couch. Now that he's inside the smell of garbage is even worse.

"What the fuck have I done?" he groans and sinks to the floor. Trash guy's breathing is ragged and he mumbles in his sleep. Sleeping, he looks like a baby. A baby with ears that stick out just a little and a wide mouth that hangs open. Hoseok grabs the backpack from where he left it on the floor and fiddles with the zippers. Maybe he can find the name of a friend, a girlfriend, a family member or someone else who can take him home, but going through a stranger's things feels wrong. Hoseok sets the bag back down near the end of the couch.

For what feels like the millionth time today, Hoseok heaves a sigh. He grabs his almost forgotten six pack and puts it in the fridge. While he's in the kitchen he pours a glass of water and leaves it and a few aspirin on the coffee table near the couch. Something still feels wrong and he grabs a spare blanket from the hall closet and tosses it over his unexpected guest.

That feels better, so Hoseok grabs a beer and a bag of chips and disappears into his room. At the last second he turns and flips the lock on his door.

-

When Hoseok emerges from his room the next morning, he finds the blanket neatly folded on the couch, the glass washed and drying by the sink and his entire loaf of bread missing. There's a note on the fridge held in place by a magnet Hoseok received from a pizza place around the corner:

thanks for not killing me

i owe you bread

-

"You let him sleep in your house?" Today Yoongi's fries remain untouched on his tray. Hoseok's tempted to steal one but the look in Yoongi's eyes is deadly.

Hoseok shrugs and picks at his sandwich. "He was sick and passed out, what else could I do?"

"Call an ambulance, call your landlord, or, I don't know, call me?" Yoongi's eyes narrow at the last option and Hoseok keeps his eyes on his food. The fact that it hadn't even occurred to him to call Yoongi is strange in itself, but he's smart enough to know better than to bring it up.

"I didn't want to bother you," he lies and wishes he'd waited until the end of lunch to tell Yoongi this. Then again, with their cubicles separated by only a very thin wall he doesn't stand a chance of escaping no matter what. "Besides I locked my door before going to bed. He didn't even touch anything and locked the door on his way out, so he couldn't have been a bad guy, right?"

Hoseok knows he shouldn't be so defensive. Part of him can't believe he actually did it himself. He's not much of a risk-taker and he's never been particularly charitable, though he tries to help his friends when they need it. He's spent all morning trying to figure out what exactly had been different last night and all he's come up with is that the guy didn't look good and Hoseok couldn't bring himself not to do anything about it. Nothing bad happened and Hoseok couldn't say he wouldn't do it again. It was kind of nice to help someone out.

He also can't help but feel that Yoongi is being a little too harsh, all things considered.

Yoongi rolls his eyes. "Yeah, him locking the front door totally rationalizes you being an idiot and letting him stay over."

"Let it go, okay?" Hoseok frowns and starts cleaning up his lunch despite not having touched it. His mind is a frustrated mess and he knows Yoongi isn't going to let this go. "It's done and over and none of your fucking business anyway." He hears Yoongi start to reply but Hoseok is already carrying his tray to the trash.

-

Yoongi doesn't say goodbye before he leaves that night. Hoseok hides in his cubicle and hunches down behind a stack of paperwork as Yoongi passes by. The silence hurts worse than Yoongi's lectures ever could, but Hoseok doesn't want to break it, either. Even if the reasons behind it are different the silence feels more appropriate than carrying on like they'd never been anything more than friends. Hoseok finds it easier to think without Yoongi's endless emails and chatter. Once he's sure Yoongi is gone, Hoseok packs up and heads home.

As he passes by the dumpster, he pauses. He scans the bags for signs of life and tenses as he steps away as if expecting something to grab him. Of course, nothing does. No one is snoring among the garbage, and no one will be sleeping on his couch and stinking up his apartment tonight.

For some reason, he's disappointed.

The first thing Hoseok does is flip on all of the lights in the living room and kitchen. The place looks more welcoming but the silence is still a problem, so he turns on his stereo to a random music station and lets that fill the void. After changing into sweats and a t-shirt Hoseok takes out his wok and gathers the ingredients for chicken fried rice. Not too hard to make, won't take long, and it's the one thing Yoongi never wanted to eat.

When he's finished, Hoseok stares into the giant plate of fried rice-- more than enough for two people, let alone one-- and sighs. He fixes himself a plate and settles down at the table with a beer. As soon as he lifts a bite to his mouth the radio plays a song Hoseok knows all too well. He curses and drops his utensil to grab the stereo remote and switch to a classical music station. He might not enjoy the music, but he won't be reminded of an annoying know-it-all ex who's probably stuffing his face with take out and watching music programs on his couch.

Hoseok crashes onto the couch and grabs his cell from the coffee table. Texting your ex when you're lonely isn't healthy, but texting your best friend is, right? If Yoongi can use to loopholes, so can Hoseok.

i think i'm going to get a pet

It isn't an apology, but it's better than nothing. He's still angry, but he doesn't want Yoongi to keep ignoring him.

Yoongi's reply comes half a second later. At least Hoseok isn't the only one with nothing to do.

hahaha, replacing me? i'm cuter.

Hoseok clicks his tongue in annoyance but feels himself smiling. He's about to reply something like, "but it'll smell better," when there's a knock at the door. He blinks and looks at his phone.

No, Yoongi wouldn't come here. Even Yoongi isn't dense enough to think that would be okay.

Hoseok looks through the peephole and finds a complete stranger standing on his doorstep. Something about the stranger seems familiar, though. It takes Hoseok a minute to realize that he doesn't recognize the guy because he's never seen him alert and, well, independently vertical.

Trash guy stares at Hoseok blankly when he opens the door. "Uh," he says awkwardly, shuffling his feet. "Are you the one who helped me?"

"Yeah," Hoseok replies. The guy's discomfort is apparent and contagious. Hoseok drums his fingers on the side of the door. "Are you feeling better?"

He nods. "Thanks for that, I guess. I brought you some bread." He holds a plastic bag out for Hoseok to take.

Hoseok takes the bag with obvious hesitation. "You didn't have to," he murmurs.

"I thought it'd be rude." Trash guy scratches his head and Hoseok finds his embarrassment oddly endearing. "You know, slept on your couch, covered in garbage, then I ate all of your bread." His cheeks redden slightly and he looks away.

"Not a big deal." Hoseok can hardly hide his amusement. To think that Yoongi thought this guy could be a threat.

"Well, I'll be going now," trash guy mumbles, but as he turns he wobbles on his feet. Hoseok catches him by the arm and instinctively puts a hand on his forehead.

"Jesus, you've still got a fever."

"Is that why it's so hot?" he whines. He doesn't try to pull out of Hoseok's hold, but leans against him slightly. He's surprisingly light and just as warm as he'd been the night before.

Hoseok chews on his lip a moment before making a decision. "Here, come inside. I can give you more medicine."

Trash guy looks inside the apartment nervously. "I'd feel bad--"

"Just come on," Hoseok chuckles and pulls him inside. Trash guy looks surprised and Hoseok is, too, though he doesn't show it. He directs his guest to the couch before disappearing into the bathroom. "How did you not notice you were running a fever like that?"

"Dunno, just thought the weather was weird today."

Hoseok returns and hands him two aspirin, then fetches a glass of water from the kitchen. He doesn't realize how intently he's watching until trash guy glances at him and blushes.

"Thanks again," he says.

"You're welcome, um...?"

"Taehyung."

Hoseok smiles a little. Taehyung sounds so much better than trash guy. "Do you mind if I ask why you were sleeping in the garbage?"

Taehyung blinks and thinks for a minute. "I don't really remember. I was starving so I was going to a friend's house, but it was really hot. I just remember waking up here this morning. I was still hungry so I ate your bread."

"You must have been scared."

Taehyung looks Hoseok in the eye and shrugs. "Not really. I've woken up in weirder places." Hoseok raises an eyebrow, but Taehyung doesn't notice. He's too busy looking around the living room. His eyes are wide as a child's and his smile is goofy. "This is such a nice place."

"Uh, thanks--"

"It's so much cleaner than Jimin's place." At Hoseok's clueless stare Taehyung laughs, a surprisingly pleasant sound. His eyes crinkle at the corners and his mouth opens wide when he laughs. "Sorry, Jimin is my friend. Usually I sleep at his place, but he was mad at me yesterday so I was heading to another friend's."

"Don't you have your own place?"

Taehyung shakes his head absentmindedly and rises to wander around the room. He stops at the stereo and runs his fingers over the buttons. "Do you like this stuff?"

It takes Hoseok a moment to figure out he's talking about the music. "It helps me think sometimes, but--"

Taehyung hums and continues his exploration of the room. For someone who was so shy at the door, Taehyung seems pretty comfortable now. He gets to the kitchen and something gurgles.

"Hungry?" Hoseok offers, and Taehyung nods enthusiastically, the tip of his tongue sticking out over his bottom lip. "Eat. I made too much." Dishes clang together as Taehyung makes himself a plate. How Taehyung ended up eating all of Hoseok's bread is becoming more and more clear. Obviously he has no qualms about making himself at home. Hoseok joins Taehyung at the table and digs into his own cold plate. With someone else at the table Hoseok finds his appetite returning. He watches Taehyung tear into the rice and smiles quietly to himself. "So where are you staying tonight?"

Taehyung pauses to think. Rice is stuck to the side of his mouth and his brow furrows. "Come to think of it, I have no idea." He looks at Hoseok with a pained expression. "Jimin's still ignoring me."

In the back of his mind Hoseok can hear Yoongi screaming to back the fuck away and let this go, but Hoseok finds himself saying, "You can stay here again, if you want."

Taehyung looks at Hoseok like he's Christmas incarnate.

"A-Are you sure?" Suddenly Taehyung is sitting closer and there's still rice stuck to his mouth. Without thinking, Hoseok reaches out and wipes it away. The eager innocence in Taehyung's expression makes Hoseok's anxiety melt and he nods.

"Of course. Wouldn't want you sleeping by the dumpster again."

Taehyung cheers and takes off to do a victory lap around the living room. Hoseok picks up their plates and heads to the kitchen to wash them. The routine is familiar and comfortable, the sounds of Taehyung crashing onto the couch and turning on the TV better than any classical music.

One night can't hurt, Hoseok tells himself. He grabs a beer before joining Taehyung in the living room. Taehyung will be gone in the morning and, at the very least, Hoseok's avoided another lonely night.

-

Hoseok wakes to the gentle clattering of cereal being poured into a ceramic bowl, and then on the table, and then on the floor. He blinks and his alarm clock reads ten minutes before he's supposed to be up. His first thought is, Yoongi...? and then he realizes that's impossible. Yoongi doesn't sleep over anymore, and even when he did Yoongi never made breakfast.

What he finds when he steps out of his room is chaos.

"Morning!" Taehyung calls from the kitchen. On the dining table are two bowls of cereal with milk. There's also cereal on the table itself, on the counters, and a bit sprinkled on the floor, like a trail leading from the dining room to the kitchen. The milk is sitting abandoned on the counter and there are splashes around the bowls from where Taehyung missed when pouring.

"Morning?" Hoseok replies and takes a seat. The blanket is neatly folded on the couch, just like the first time Taehyung stayed over. With the exception of the kitchen and dining room, everything in the apartment is perfectly untouched. "I didn't think--"

--you'd still be here. Hoseok stops himself because Taehyung sits himself down in front of the second bowl of cereal and beams like he's never been happier in his life.

After several large spoonfuls Taehyung stops and regards Hoseok seriously. "I have a proposition for you."

"Excuse me?" Hoseok coughs around his cereal.

Taehyung doesn't waver. "Let me live with you."

Hoseok picks up his half-eaten bowl of cereal and moves to the kitchen. "Absolutely not."

"But why?" Taehyung whines and follows after, but Hoseok grabs a dishcloth and starts wiping up the spilled milk and pretends not to hear. "I could be your roommate!"

"The term 'roommate' implies that there is a second room for the second person, which as you can see I don't have." Hoseok puts away the milk and grabs a broom. "Roommates also pay rent, which I doubt you'll be able to do considering you're always staying with friends."

"You let me stay here for free before." Taehyung is pouting and Hoseok refuses to look. He busies himself with sweeping up the cereal. "It'd only be for a while. I have one year of school left and I do have a job. It's just that tuition is so expensive I can't afford anything else."

"I get it," he sighs and abandons the broom to sit back down at the table. His head is spinning; it's way too early for this shit and he has to leave in thirty minutes. "But I can't."

Taehyung sits back down, looking like a beaten puppy. "Why not?"

"I just got out of a relationship and living with someone would be weird."

"It'll just be two guys hanging out and having fun," he insists with a grin. "That's the best way to get over a girl!"

Hoseok buries his face in his hands. "Taehyung, I'm gay."

Silence. Hoseok almost wants to laugh. Then he looks up and Taehyung is staring back blankly. "So?" he asks.

"That doesn't... bother you?"

"Why would it?" He shrugs and picks at the pieces of cereal still littering the table. "I mean, since I can't pay you with money I could always pay with with--"

Hoseok deadpans, "Don't finish that sentence." Taehyung bursts out laughing and Hoseok chuckles, too, though he can feel the sweat beading on the back of his neck. Taehyung is nice, Taehyung is funny, last night Hoseok had laughed more than he had in a long time, but this isn't what Hoseok needs right now. "Look, I'm sorry that I can't help you, but I... can't do this. My life is messy enough."

"Then how about a pet?" Hoseok squints but Taehyung looks utterly serious, tiny creases forming between his brows. "Last night you said you were going to get one."

Hoseok doesn't follow. "Yeah, I was thinking of going to the shelter today, but--"

Taehyung springs to his feet. "I'll be your pet!"

There's nothing but excitement and innocence in Taehyung's eyes. He smiles so wide Hoseok wants to smile, too, but his mind is to busy trying to process the words that he can't form much more than a guttural, "Uh?" He rises and turns towards the bedroom.

"Is that a 'yes'?"

"I do not have time for this," he croaks. His mouth is dry and his throat hoarse. He steps into the bedroom and closes the door behind him.

"We'll talk about it after work, okay?" Taehyung calls through the door. Hoseok waits until he hears the front door shut before taking a long, deep breath. He looks at the clock and curses, running to the bathroom.

-

"You don't look so good."

Hoseok looks up from his computer and finds Yoongi standing in the doorway of his cubicle. He tries to smile but it hurts his mouth. A blank form sits on his computer screen, as incomplete as it was two hours ago when Hoseok opened it. "Thanks, I feel fantastic."

A fresh stack of forms lands on Hoseok's desk and he groans. "I sure hope so because Namjoon is really riding my ass about getting these done. I've filled them out already. All you need to do it enter them into the system."

Hoseok gingerly rests his head on the stack and sighs.

"Alright, spill." Yoongi moves to rest his hip against the edge of Hoseok's desk. His sharp eyes stare down at Hoseok and Hoseok whines. "Why didn't you text me back?"

With a hollow ache Hoseok remembers how much he likes Yoongi's eyes. "I'm sorry," he replies forlornly.

Yoongi rolls his eyes and gives Hoseok's shoulder a gentle shove. "Relax, man." He smiles a little and it makes Hoseok feel better. At least Yoongi's still talking to him. One tiny aspect of his life isn't going completely wrong. "So are you seriously getting a pet?"

Hoseok sits straight up in his chair. A few forms go flying and Yoongi grabs them. "Absolutely not."

"What? But last night--"

Hoseok shivers. "No pets. Not ever." A high-pitched whine escapes his throat and he's back to lying on his pile of forms.

From down the hall they hear Namjoon shouting Yoongi's name. Yoongi glances nervously around the corner and bites his lip. "Call me later, okay? I don't know what's wrong but--" He pauses and frowns. "Just call me."

Yoongi dashes down the hall in the opposite direction of Namjoon's voice.

-

Yoongi and Hoseok part ways that evening only after Hoseok promises a dozen more times to call. After spending all day glued to his desk, Hoseok would usually want nothing more than to get home and crash into bed, but tonight he wanders around the neighboor near his complex before heading towards the building. He stops in the convenience store and buys nothing. There are bags of pet food lined up on a shelf but Hoseok sees Taehyung's face where a dog's should be.

Eventually he finds himself in front of his apartment building. There's no one waiting for him outside and no one waiting for him by the elevator. He almost has his hopes up when he steps into the hallway to find Taehyung sitting on the floor beside his front door.

As soon as he sees Hoseok Taehyung bounces to his feet. "Welcome home!" Hoseok can't help but notice that Taehyung's backpack is bulging to the point of almost bursting and slung over Taehyung's arm is a sizable second bag.

Taehyung notices Hoseok's stare and grins. "Jimin finally let me in so I could get my stuff."

"And you brought it here," Hoseok replies with a resigned sigh. Taehyung doesn't appear to notice and follows Hoseok inside the apartment eagerly. Hoseok tosses his bag onto the couch and sinks down beside it, covering his face with his hands. Something touches his knee and he flinches.

Taehyung kneels on the floor in front of the couch, his head resting on Hoseok's knee. "This isn't so bad, right?"

"Holy shit," Hoseok chokes and practically leaps off the couch, knocking Taehyung over in the process. "Do not do that."

"I'm trying to show you that it isn't as weird as you think." Taehyung sits back on his heels and frowns. "Why are you freaking out when I have no problem with it?"

"Because this is really fucking weird," Hoseok hisses. He sits back down on the couch but gives Taehyung a lethal glare when he tries to move closer. "This isn't something I want, you know. Are you really that desperate for a place to live?"

Taehyung's face falls. "I am. Jimin isn't going to let me stay with him anymore. My other friends can only let me stay one night at a time. This place is close to school and where I work. It's perfect." The look in his eyes is painfully earnest. "You said you don't want a relationship and I can't afford to be your roommate, and that's okay. If I'm your pet, there will be strict rules about what I can or can't do. You call the shots." He reaches out as if to grab Hoseok's hand and then hesitates. "I know it sounds crazy but it could work!"

This is where Hoseok should turn Taehyung down immediately, but the words catch in his throat. As strange as it is, there is some underlying logic to Taehyung's proposal. Obviously Taehyung is in a bind. Moving from place to place is inconvenient and, as their first meeting proved, dangerous. Hoseok's place is small but still spacious for one person.

And above all else, Hoseok is really fucking lonely. Taehyung's unorthodox visits have been the only thing keeping Hoseok from dwelling and getting depressed. Keeping the guy around couldn't hurt, in that respect.

Hoseok looks at Taehyung's eager, desperate face and wonders when the hell he became so messed up. "You only need to stay until you graduate, right?"

Taehyung swallows and nods. "I have one more semester."

"And we'll set ground rules first?"

Another nod.

"And you'll absolutely, completely obey them?"

Taehyung whines, "I know I'm being pushy now but I can listen, I swear."

There are so many things wrong with this situation Hoseok can't begin to comprehend them. He wonders what Yoongi would think about even having this conversation. Nothing good, that's for sure. Then again, if there's one thing Hoseok knows now it is that he and Yoongi have never been on the same wavelength.

What Taehyung wants is unusual, but who's to say it won't work?

"Fine," Hoseok relents quietly. "Until you graduate and move out, you are my pet."

-

Hoseok knows Yoongi is watching him. Both of their meals sit untouched on the table today and Hoseok can't meet his friend's eyes.

"You never called," Yoongi mutters.

"I was, ah, busy?"

"Doing what, exactly?"

Hoseok drums his fingers on the table. "Remember how I said I wanted a pet?"

Yoongi's brows furrow. "Yeah, so wh--"

"I got one."

That's apparently not what Yoongi is expecting, and his eyebrows shoot up to disappear under his bangs. "You have a pet?" Hoseok nods nervously. "What kind?"

For a second Hoseok stutters, and then he pictures Taehyung's eyes, wide and eager, his chin resting on Hoseok's knee. "A... dog."

"A dog."

"Y-Yeah."

"You bought a dog?"

Hoseok remembers Taehyung that first night, feverish and snoring in a pile of trash. "Found him, actually."

Yoongi clicks his tongue, but his arms finally relax and he picks up his sandwich. "You have to be careful with strays, you know."

"This one is harmless," Hoseok replies with a nervous laugh and pops a fry into his mouth.

"What's his name?"

Hoseok blinks. "Taehyung."

"Weird name for a dog," Yoongi mutters, but he's already focused on his food.

-

As it turns out, keeping a human pet is surprisingly simple.

The first and most important rule-- the Golden Rule-- is that Taehyung is a pet the second he steps into the apartment. Absolutely no pet-like behavior can occur beyond the front door. The opposite is also true; when inside the apartment Taehyung has to obey Hoseok and his rules. The two worlds are to be absolutely separate and never bleed into one another.

The second rule is that all touching has to be platonic and pet-like in nature. This becomes necessary when Taehyung insists on sitting right up against Hoseok on the couch, leaning on him or resting his head on Hoseok's leg. Hoseok would prefer to ban touching entirely, except that Taehyung mentions that owners are supposed to give their pets affection, and it's usually through touch. Hoseok relents, because as usual Taehyung is much better at arguing, but insists on a clearly defined line of what's appropriate and what's not.

The third rule is that Hoseok has to buy and provide food for all of Taehyung's meals. Pets never pay for their food, after all. Hoseok counters that unlike a real pet Taehyung has a job and an income which could contribute to household costs, which in turn leads Taehyung to cite the Golden Rule and Hoseok has no choice but to agree.

Countless less significant rules occur to Hoseok as they adjust to each other but he ends up forgetting them or they become unnecessary a day later. For the most part, living with Taehyung is easy. Taehyung arrives every evening a little after Hoseok gets home from work. Hoseok makes dinner, and the two of them watch TV or go their separate ways. During that first week Hoseok learns that Taehyung loves cartoons, fried food and sleeping on his stomach. Hoseok learns that he doesn't really mind it when Taehyung sprawls across the couch and uses Hoseok's thigh as a pillow. Taehyung is happy, eager to please and apparently starved for attention, much like a real dog. On most nights Taehyung falls asleep beside Hoseok on the couch and Hoseok ends up throwing the blanket over him on his way to bed.

One night Taehyung spends the entire evening on his computer and won't let Hoseok see what he's doing, but that's okay, too. What happens in Taehyung's life beyond the apartment is none of Hoseok's business. In the same vein Taehyung never asks Hoseok about his life beyond casual conversation about childhood and university. They build a tiny, private world that suits them and shuts everything else out for the dozen or so hours they're both at home.

It's nothing that Hoseok has ever experienced before, but it doesn't feel wrong.

-

Hoseok sets the box down on Yoongi's desk and Yoongi eyes it suspiciously. "You got me a present?"

"Not exactly," he laughs and opens the flaps. Inside is a mix of odds and ends: cologne, shower gel in a scent Hoseok doesn't like anymore, a few hats, a stray sock, and placed carefully among that and a few other things the small potted plant from Hoseok's balcony. "Thought I should return your stuff."

Yoongi rifles through the box. "I was wondering where I put this!" he cheers and pulls out the ugliest skull ring Hoseok has ever seen. For the past week it's been sitting on his nightstand, and until last night Hoseok hadn't been sure he'd ever give it back. Now, seeing Yoongi's smile as he puts the ring on, Hoseok's glad it's back where it belongs. Yoongi pulls out the potted plant with a frown. "This is yours, though, for the balcony."

"I'd rather you have it," he insists and Yoongi looks troubled, but complies.

"I figured I'd pick this shit up the next time I came over."

The thought makes Hoseok wince-- not because he hates the thought of Yoongi coming over, which in itself is surprising, but because he's not sure Yoongi would ever understand Taehyung. "This was easier. Taehyung is still adjusting and I was worried he'd ruin something."

In truth, Hoseok had caught Taehyung marching around the apartment in Yoongi's hat, smelling like Yoongi because Hoseok had left the abandoned products in the bathroom, and that had been one step too far in the weird direction. Hoseok had yet to even mention Yoongi's name around Taehyung, but luckily Taehyung hadn't asked why Hoseok had insisted on boxing up all the old stuff right away.

"I gotta admit I'm surprised," Yoongi says as he moves the box under his desk. "You seemed pretty upset, but you've been literally dancing around the office these past few days and now this." He shakes his head and smiles. "I'm glad."

Hoseok laughs awkwardly and shrugs. "Can't be sad forever, right?"

"Exactly! Especially since there's something I need to tell you--"

"Min Yoongi!" a deep voice booms down the hall. Before Yoongi can make a break for it, Namjoon is in the doorway to his cubicle sizing up Yoongi and Hoseok both like he can't decide whom to murder first. His eyes settle on Yoongi and Hoseok breathes a silent sight of relief. "A little birdie told me that you haven't touched the data from last month's sales."

Yoongi looks up at Hoseok in a desperate plea for help and Hoseok groans. It's going to be a long afternoon.

-

The clock on Hoseok's computer reads half past four and the stack of forms to be processed hasn't grown any smaller. Yoongi peeks over the partition between their cubicles and sighs, "Looks like we're in for a late night."

Hoseok whines and and lets his head fall onto the keyboard.

Four hours later, and their stacks appear to be dwindling. Hoseok's stomach rumbles every three minutes-- he's started timing it, because there's nothing else to keep his mind entertained-- and Yoongi's cranked up his favorite music station in his cubicle. The rest of their suite is long deserted, and Hoseok stares at the elevator longingly.

"Almost done!" Yoongi cheers. Hoseok wishes he could feel more enthusiastic about it, too, but all he can think about are the leftovers sitting in his fridge and his warm bed, waiting for him.

He places the last form in front of him when his phone rings. The number isn't one he recognizes, but he answers with a hesitant, "Hello?"

"Uh, hi, it's me."

"Tae--," Hoseok gasps, then stops. He covers his phone with his hand to muffle his voice. "How did you get this number?" He doesn't mean for his voice to sound so harsh, but Yoongi's sitting a little too close by for comfort and contact outside of the apartment isn't allowed.

"I got it from your phone when you were in the bathroom. Sorry." His voice is quiet and Hoseok instantly feels guilty.

"No, it's okay. Probably good for emergencies. What's up?"

"I, uh, was just wondering when you're coming home."

"A little later," he whispers, because Yoongi's turned down the music and is peeking over the partition. "Why?"

"Okay, cool. It's just... kind of cold."

A lead weight drops into the pity of Hoseok's empty stomach. "Are you waiting outside?"

"Yeah, I wasn't sure what to do. The door's locked."

"Fuck." Hoseok shoves the last form aside and frantically searches for the shut down command on his desktop. "Shit, shit! I am so sorry. I'll be there as soon as I can." He hangs up and finds Yoongi watching him. "I need to go. It's Tae-- my dog. I need to let him... out. And, shit, feed him." He's scrambling for his things and knocking his stack of post-its over and can't seem to remember what all he needs to take home.

"Just ask your neighbor to do it."

Hoseok eyes Yoongi's frown with clear anxiety. "That was my neighbor. She couldn't get home in time, either." Since when is Hoseok so quick with his lies?

"Ah, that's cool." Yoongi sinks back down behind the wall. "I can finish up here, you go on ahead."

There's something off about Yoongi's voice which gives Hoseok pause. "You sure?"

Yoongi steps out of his cubicle with a blinding smile. "Yeah, man. Your dog needs you. I'll walk you to the elevator."

Hoseok presses the elevator button and they wait in awkward silence. Yoongi's hands fidget in his pockets and he licks his lips. "Look, I just want you to know that you can still tell me anything."

Hoseok blinks. "Okay?"

"Like, if you're seeing anyone, that's totally fine."

"I'm not seeing anyone."

"Okay," Yoongi says, voice strained, "but if you were, you could tell me and I wouldn't freak out. And I hope you'd do the same for me--"

The door slides open but Hoseok stands, frozen.

"--because I kind of met someone."

A hard lump forms in Hoseok's throat and he can't speak. Not that he has any idea what he should say. Yoongi fishes something out of his pocket and presses it into Hoseok's hand-- a key, the spare key to Hoseok's apartment.

"Since you're returning my stuff, I should return yours, right?" Yoongi laughs awkwardly. "I guess it wouldn't be normal for your ex to keep your key, best friend or not."

The door starts to close again and Yoongi catches it. Hoseok steps inside, eyes still fixed on the key. "Thanks," he mumbles. His voice doesn't sound right.

"Hey, how about tomorrow we go get your little doggy a present?" Yoongi offers and Hoseok looks up blankly. Behind Yoongi's smile Hoseok sees concern, and just a hint of pity. His stomach hurts.

"Yeah," he manages to reply as the doors slide closed between them.

-

Taehyung is sitting in the hall when Hoseok steps out of the elevator, legs stretched out and head leaned back against the wall. When he sees Hoseok he beams and bounces to his feet. Hoseok mumbles apologies and struggles with his keys in front of the lock.

Warm arms wrap around him from behind. On any other day this would earn Taehyung a lecture on how to behave outside the apartment, but tonight Hoseok doesn't care. "It's okay," Taehyung chuckles. He rests his head on Hoseok's shoulder. "But I'm starving."

Hoseok opens the door and half-waddles inside, Taehyung still clinging to his back. "You're always starving," he says with small smile. He unwraps Taehyung's arms and playfully pushes him towards the kitchen. "There are leftovers in the fridge. I don't feel like cooking tonight."

Taehyung doesn't need to be told twice. Hoseok collapses onto the couch and listens to the chaotic sounds of Taehyung in the kitchen. Pots and pans bang together-- why the hell is he even using those, Hoseok wonders, but he doesn't bother asking-- as Taehyung hums to himself. Usually being at home is enough to relax Hoseok after a hard day at work, but tonight Hoseok can't seem to release the tension in his shoulders. He groans and stretches out on the couch, leaning back against an armrest. The couch no longer smells of garbage, thank goodness, but of Taehyung. It's a warm, clean smell that's surprisingly comforting.

Something bumps against the couch and Hoseok opens his eyes to find Taehyung sitting on the floor with a bowl of what looks like all of the leftovers in Hoseok's refrigerator mixed together. It's instinct that makes Hoseok reach out and pat Taehyung's head. His fingers thread through soft, messy hair and Taehyung leans into the touch.

"Bad day?" The food in his mouth muffles the words.

Hoseok grunts. He tries to remember the confidence from this morning, when he gave Yoongi the box and felt like everything was going to be okay. Just when he's starting to get on his feet, a single conversation sends him crashing to the floor.

Taehyung sets the now empty bowl to the side and stretches. The couch shifts under the additional weight as Taehyung crawls up. Hoseok starts to move over, but Taehyun crawls right over him until he's lying across Hoseok completely. He wraps his arms around Hoseok's middle and rests his face against Hoseok's shoulder. "I'm sorry," he mumbles against Hoseok's shirt.

"It's not your fault," he replies nervously. His hands hover awkwardly in the air a moment before he returns the hug, holding Taehyung close and finally letting out a long, tired sigh he didn't know he'd been holding back. He pulls Taehyung a little closer and buries his face in his neck. Tears sting his eyes and stain Taehyung's t-shirt, but neither of them pull away. "You're a good boy, Taehyung."

The apartment is completely silent and, for the first time, Hoseok lets himself feel the pain.

-

The next morning Hoseok wakes up with stiff shoulders and terrible hunger pains. Taehyung is still fast asleep on top of him, snoring quietly into Hoseok's ear. The couch creaks as Hoseok carefully maneuvers himself out from under him. He smiles and runs his fingers through Taehyung's hair one more time. Taehyung's eyelids twitch and he drools a little on the pillow Hoseok shoves under his face.

After a quick breakfast of what little Taehyung's left in the fridge, Hoseok showers and changes into a fresh suit. His eyes are red and swollen, but he feels lighter somehow. He finds the spare key in yesterday's pants and looking at it does nothing. He rolls the tiny piece of metal in his hand anda smile spreads across his face

Hoseok quietly picks up his bag from in front of the couch and leaves the key sitting on the coffee table beside a note:

sorry for being so late. hope this makes up for it a little.

thank you.

-

Tiny, fuzz-covered puppies topple over one another in the cage behind the glass. One puppy lies on his back in the corner, mouth hanging open in a deep sleep.

"Remind you of anyone?" Yoongi grins and taps on the glass. A few puppies untangle themselves from the pile and come running towards them. Their little paws press against the glass and Yoongi chuckles.

Hoseok watches the sleeping puppy stretch, his tiny toes flexing in the air. "Yeah," he replies with a smile.

The pet shop is empty except for a mother and her toddler son who stare into tanks of small lizards. Yoongi roams through the aisles and examines a shelf of toys. "Think he'd like these?" Hoseok looks at the rows of rubber bones and rope chews. The only object he's seen Taehyung interact with on a regular basis is his computer, and he's not even sure what Taehyung does with it.

"Not sure."

Yoongi raises an eyebrow. "You don't know what toys he likes?"

Hoseok raises the collar on his wool coat and shrugs. "Most of the time he lies around and watches TV." He catches Yoongi's incredulous look and adds quickly, "He's not actually watching, of course. He's pretty lazy."

Yoongi moves on down the aisle. "Have you gotten him a collar yet?"

"Collar?" Hoseok joins Yoongi at the display-- so many sizes and colors and designs it makes Hoseok's head spin.

"He has to have a collar for his tags or they'll arrest you."

Hoseok blinks in alarm and runs his fingers over one that catches his eye.

"He's that small?" Yoongi eyes the collar. "It's not very manly, either. Please don't tell me you have one of those tiny dogs girls carry around in their purses."

"No," he chuckles. "He's huge."

Before Yoongi can question it, Hoseok grabs the collar and sweeps out of the aisle to the checkout line. Just before stepping outside, a machine along the window gives Hoseok an idea.

"Hold up. I need one more thing."

-

Sure enough, when Hoseok arrives home that evening he can hear the TV playing before he even steps through the door. Taehyung has his laptop balanced on his knees where he sits in front of the couch. There are several dirty dishes stacked around him and massive books Hoseok's never seen before spread across the couch.

As soon as he sees Hoseok Taehyung springs to life. "Sorry! I was going to clean up before you got home." He picks up the dishes and sprints to the kitchen. Hoseok's tempted to tell him to stop but doesn't bother. He's grown kind of fond of listening to Taehyung mess up his kitchen. He settles into the only free spot in the living room and glances at the books. The words are technical and Hoseok gently tips one over to read the cover, Mastering the Art of Animation. He picks up a piece of paper lying beside Taehyung's computer and nearly chokes when he reads the heading.

"Where did you say you go to school again?"

Taehyung says the name of the most famous and prestigious art school in Seoul like he's deciding what he wants for dinner.

Hoseok runs a hand over his face and tries not to laugh. He has so many questions, but technically he's already broken the Golden Rule by asking the name of the school. Taehyung doesn't seem to mind; he returns to the living room and settles back down among his things. His movements are a little stiff though, and he angles his screen away from Hoseok.

Fair enough. Hoseok knows he shouldn't pry.

"I got you something," he says and Taehyung's face brightens. A strange wave of nerves makes Hoseok's stomach turn as he reaches into his pocket and fingers the collar. "It's kind of weird, but it made me think of you." Normal people don't get each other pet collars, he tells himself, but then again Taehyung seems perfectly fine with the not normal. He holds it in his palm and refuses to look at Taehyung's face.

Now that Taehyung's looking at it, Hoseok thinks the stupid thing looks kind of cheap with its light pink nylon and glittering rhinestones. It's not what Hoseok would ever get for a pet, but in the store he'd seen Taehyung's face the second he laid eyes on it.

"Obviously it's too small to wear. I don't know why I got it." He face feels hot and Hoseok wants to hide it, throw the stupid thing away, but Taehyung takes the collar from him and studies it closely.

"It's not too small." He unclasps the plastic buckle and fastens it to his wrist. He doesn't even have to tighten it; it's a perfect fit. When he looks up at Hoseok, Taehyung's beaming. "It's pretty."

That's all the encouragement Hoseok needs. He leans in closer and touches the small metal tag hanging from the collar's loop. "They had a machine to make these."

Taehyung twists his wrist around to read the tiny lettering, "My name is Taehyung. If lost, contact Jung Hoseok." He snorts. "It even has your phone number."

Hoseok blushes all over again. "It's the default template, but I figured it could come in handy if you ever pass out in someone's trash again. I know it's dumb--"

"I love it." Taehyung grins and lunges forward, wrapping his arms around Hoseok where he sits in the chair. "Thank you. Thanks for the key, too." His presses against Hoseok's stomach, where it feels like an army of butterflies is fighting to escape.

Hoseok plays with Taehyung's hair and smiles. "I figured I should try to be a better owner." He laughs dryly and shakes his head. "I can't believe I'm actually okay with saying that."

Loosening his grip, Taehyung gives him a worried look. "Does it bother you?"

Cupping Taehyung's face in his hands, Hoseok sighs. "Not really."

There's a guy living in Hoseok's house who isn't related, isn't his boyfriend, and is barely even his friend. There's a pink collar around Taehyung's wrist that makes Hoseok happier than anything else in his life. Nothing's gotten any less weird, but Hoseok's used to it now.

All Hoseok wants is to continue on exactly like this for as long as possible.

Of course, that's impossible.

-

"Earth to Hoseok, come in Hoseok."

Yoongi's hovering above Hoseok's desk and flourishing a fresh stack of papers. "Go away."

"Need I remind you that your end of the year report is due by the end of the week?"

Hoseok curses under his breath but raises his head from where it had been resting on his desk. "You're not my supervisor." He sticks his tongue out and ignores the death threat in Yoongi's narrowed eyes. The end of the year report has consumed Hoseok's life, leaving him stressed all day every day, not even able to escape when he's home. The bags under his eyes have only gotten worse over time.

Though, to be honest, Hoseok doesn't really believe it's the report he's losing sleep over. It's Taehyung.

Taehyung is gone before the sun rises and home long after Hoseok's gone to bed. On the rare occasions Hoseok runs into him in the living room, Taehyung is absorbed in his laptop and not in a mood to talk. He doesn't even get excited about dinner anymore. Hoseok leaves leftovers in plastic wrap in the fridge that go uneaten. Hoseok finds himself lying awake at night waiting to hear the key in the door, wondering who Taehyung is with, who's feeding him if it's not Hoseok.

Asking isn't an option. They're never in the same room long enough for a decent conversation and, more importantly, there's the Golden Rule. Hoseok hates himself for finding it so frustrating considering it was his rule in the first place, but there's so much he doesn't know about Taehyung which he suddenly wants to know. He wants to visit Taehyung at work, see him in class, know his friends, as if those things would give him a clue about the indecipherable inner workings of Taehyung's mind. As far as Hoseok can tell, Taehyung is perfectly happy with the Golden Rule. He never asks Hoseok about himself, never offers any information beyond the necessary. The rule is working. The worlds outside and inside the apartment couldn't be more separate.

That doesn't stop Hoseok from being curious and, worse, worried.

Yoongi bops Hoseok with the papers and doesn't back down when Hoseok glares at him. "Don't be so pissy," he hisses. "Focus and get it done."

"Yeah, yeah," Hoseok grumbles.

"And come out with the rest of us tonight." Yoongi crosses his arms and, for a split second, his expression softens. "Seokjin is treating the department to drinks and karaoke."

Hoseok frowns. "I don't know--"

"Oh, come on," Yoongi growls. "You haven't gone out with us since we broke up. You've holed yourself up in your apartment with your perfect little dog and it's sad, Hoseok." He drops the papers on Hoseok's desk and turns to go. "Get your neighbor to feed it and let loose a little. I'm not letting you say no."

A few minutes later Namjoon sends Hoseok an email written in all capital letters and Hoseok knows he has no choice.

-

A few beers in, and Hoseok doesn't know why he'd resisted in the first place. Seokjin is screaming a love ballad into the microphone and Namjoon is waving his arms solemnly to the beat. Yoongi hasn't stopped smiling since they'd arrived, his arm slung around Hoseok's shoulders. Yoongi keeps Hoseok's glass full and his leg is warm against Hoseok's. He'd forgotten how much fun he had around Yoongi. No wonder he'd been so depressed since they broke up; Hoseok misses this, this crazy, out of control feeling of bliss he gets when Yoongi's laughing and pressing against his side.

Hoseok isn't sure what time it is when the two of them leave. Namjoon shoves Seokjin into a cab and, at the least minute, crawls in with him. Just in case, Namjoon says, but Hoseok and Yoongi scream cat calls until the cab's out of sight.

"I'll walk you home," Yoongi drawls when Hoseok almost falls flat on his face. Yoongi's arm around his waist is the only thing keeping Hoseok vertical for the first few blocks, but the cold night air clears his head bit by bit.

"You were right," he sighs happily. "I needed that."

"I haven't seen you this drunk since college," Yoongi laughs.

"It's been a rough week."

"Clearly." Yoongi grunts and shifts his hold on Hoseok. Hoseok throws his head back and laughs. It isn't until Yoongi stops walking and mutters, "The fuck is his problem?" that Hoseok's perfect night comes to an abrupt end. They're in front of Hoseok's building, and directly across is Taehyung, and the look on his face isn't friendly. He's not alone; a boy with round cheeks and a pouty mouth looks just as confused as Yoongi.

Hoseok doesn't know why, but in his inebriated state just seeing Taehyung in person comes as such a shock he can't process the situation at first. Taehyung looks healthy, a little tired maybe, but not starving or sick. "Taehyung!" he cries happily and breaks from Yoongi's hold. Taehyung's eyes widen as Hoseok stumbles across to wrap him in an unsteady hug. "Are you hungry? Want me to make you some dinner?" He pats Taehyung's cheek and giggles.

Taehyung returns the smile briefly before looking away. Hoseok follows his eyes to Yoongi, who looks like he's just been hit with a sack of bricks.

Right.

Shit.

"You're... Taehyung?" Yoongi's eyes narrow in a look Hoseok knows all too well and he almost starts denying everything, but Taehyung speaks first.

"I am," he replies calmly. Hoseok wobbles a little on his feet and Taehyung catches him. "Are you the one who made Hoseok hyung cry?"

That throws Yoongi off guard and he looks at Hoseok for a moment, speechless. Hoseok grabs hold of the opportunity, and as best he can, Taehyung, and begins making a break for the door to the building. "Wow, I'm really tired and drunk and need to go to sleep." He waves at Yoongi and the boy beside Taehyung. "Goodnight, Yoongi, see you tomorrow. Goodnight, Taehyung's friend, nice to kind of meet you."

Yoongi shouts something after them but Hoseok is already dragging Taehyung through the door and towards the elevator. To his relief, Yoongi doesn't follow. He drags Taehyung into the elevator after him. "Holy shit," he breathes.

"Guess the secret's out," Taehyung says, rubbing his wrist. The pink collar is there and seeing it makes Hoseok want to hug Taehyung all over again.

No. He needs to reestablish boundaries. Not until they're inside.

"Hyung, who was that?" Taehyung glances at Hoseok nervously. "That Yoongi person?"

Hoseok's mind struggles to keep up. Taehyung's never called him hyung before. Then again, a pet wouldn't. Different side of the door, different rules. Hoseok can't say he likes being on this side. The elevator doors slide open and he takes Taehyung by the wrist again to lead him down the hallway.

"He's my friend." He fumbles with his keys until Taehyung steps up and uses his instead. The door swings open and Hoseok feels relieved the second they're inside. He wants to hold Taehyung and scratch his head because he's there and in one piece, but Taehyung looks like he's about to cry. Hoseok moves to the couch and Taehyung follows after, but instead of sitting on the floor as per their usual routine he sits right beside Hoseok.

"But he's the one, right?" he asks again. His eyes are wide and searching and Hoseok can't look at him. "He's why you were so sad when we met, why you cried that night."

Hoseok groans and rubs his temples. "It's not important. You two shouldn't have even met." He tries to smile and fails. "Don't worry about it, alright?"

"But I am worried." Taehyung's face is red and his voice is too loud. He gets up from the couch and glares down at Hoseok. "I don't know anything about you, but I want to know. I want to know where you work and what you do. I want to know where you went to university. I want to know your friends and what you like to do for fun. I want to know when you're sad and why you're sad and who makes you sad." Taehyung sniffs, but holds back the tears welling in his eyes.

Hoseok's throat feels like sandpaper. Just this morning he'd been thinking the same about Taehyung, but now, with Taehyung saying it, he's scared. "That's breaking the rules, Taehyung," he croaks. Without the rules, Hoseok doesn't know what they are. Taehyung's face is all scrunched up and Hoseok's chest hurts just looking.

If it hurts this much now, how much will it hurt if he lets it go any further?

"Get some rest," he says and struggles to his feet. He reaches to touch Taehyung as he passes, but Taehyung flinches away. When he closes the bedroom door behind him, Hoseok hears Taehyung let out a sob.

-

Hoseok doesn't sleep much that night, and the sleep he does get is riddled with dreams. He dreams of Taehyung lying in a different trash pile, and a shadowy figure carrying him off. He dreams of Yoongi, flushed and drunk and leaning against Hoseok's arm. He dreams of college and the night the boy he loved punched him in the face for confessing. He dreams of work and numbers and endless piles of paperwork.

But most of all he dreams of Taehyung's smile, the fruity scent of Hoseok's shampoo in his hair and mint toothpaste on his breath. In his dreams Taehyung is sitting on the couch, not resting his head on Hoseok's thigh like a dog but holding his hand. Their legs press together and Taehyung is warm and comforting. Their eyes meet and Taehyung leans in, closer and closer. Taehyung's weight against Hoseok's chest is familiar but the hands sliding up his shirt are not. Their lips meet and Hoseok wakes up gasping for air. He's sweaty and confused and painfully hard.

Sunlight is just starting to filter through the curtains. Hoseok lies back and groans.

-

Taehyung is gone by the time Hoseok leaves his room the next morning. His things are still there, and Hoseok takes comfort in that. He doesn't think Taehyung is the type of person to run off without saying anything, but then again Hoseok doesn't really know Taehyung all that well. He gets ready for work as quickly as he can. The silence in the apartment is unnerving.

When Hoseok arrives, Yoongi is carrying a mug of coffee into his cubicle. Their eyes meet, but Yoongi doesn't return the greeting. Namjoon comes by later and declares the forecast, "frosty with a chance of death," which Hoseok may have found hilarious if he didn't already know whose death Yoongi had in mind.

A little before closing Hoseok pops into Seokjin's office, the hard copy of his end of the year report in hand. With everything else on his mind, getting it done turned out to not be such a big deal.

Seokjin accepts the report with a nod and sets it aside. "Thanks for coming last night," he says. "It's not the same without you. I could've killed Yoongi for dropping you like that."

Hoseok shrugs. "He said it was time. I think he was right."

"Yeah, well. It's better with you around."

"Thanks, hyung." It isn't much of a compliment, but it's more than he feels he deserves at the moment.

"You've been happier lately, am I right?" Seokjin leans forward and smiles. "Before this week anyway, but we'll blame that on these damn reports." He gestures to a mountain of folders identical to Hoseok's.

"I guess I have, yeah." He can tell Seokjin wants to know more and Hoseok barely escapes with a, "Goodnight, hyung!"

With that, he leaves Seokjin's office, and whatever good feelings he has left over are blown to smithereens when he finds Yoongi waiting for him just outside.

"We need to talk," is all he says, and he grabs Hoseok's arm before he can run away.

-

A cup of coffee sits between Hoseok's hands. It's warm, which is more than he can say about the look Yoongi's giving him. Yoongi sips his coffee like he's trying to inhale it all in one go. The cafeteria is all but deserted after hours.

"Your pet is a human," he says flatly.

Hoseok gulps. "Yes."

"The pet that you've been so happy about, that you bought a collar for, is some guy named Taehyung."

"Yes."

"Would this happen to be the same guy you found in the trash?"

Leave it to Yoongi to figure everything out in a single night. At this point, Hoseok sees no point in lying. "Yes."

Yoongi squints at him. "I had no idea you were into such kinky shit."

"It's not kin--" Hoseok lowers his voice and leans across the table to whisper, "There's nothing... kinky about it. He needed a place to stay."

"And in order to stay with you he had to act like a fucking dog?"

Hoseok hides his face in his hands. "It made sense at the time, I swear. He had nowhere to live and I wanted to help, but we'd just broken up and letting someone move in with me didn't feel right."

"Because he's hot."

"Excuse me?" Hoseok squeaks. "That's not--"

"You can't hide anything from me," Yoongi says, wagging his finger. "I remember that asshole you liked in college, and I've seen every asshole you've liked since. Taehyung's totally your type. Dull eyes, blank stare, mouth hangs open all the time." Yoongi does a grotesque imitation and Hoseok huffs.

"I don't have a type."

"We'll save that argument for later. For now let's talk about how you like him."

"I don't--"

"You don't like him, you just had him be your little pet because you wanted to help." Yoongi smirks. "I can smell the bullshit from here." Before Hoseok can respond, Yoongi raises his hand to stop him. "I'm going to tell you exactly what happened, because I'm your best friend and your ex and I know you better than anyone. You were lonely and didn't want to get hurt, so you set up a bunch of stupid rules which gave you control. Neither side would have feelings for the other beyond your fucked up pet-owner thing, am I right?"

The tips of Hoseok's ears burn, but he nods.

"Except you conveniently developed feelings all on your own, protected by your damn rules, which you used to try and keep Taehyung from getting to you."

"It wasn't intentional," he says suddenly despite himself. There's a flash of anger in Yoongi's eyes and Hoseok's mouth flies shut.

"But you're still an ass." He sighs and spins his empty coffee cup with one hand. "Christ, Hoseok, not everyone's going to hurt you. Maybe you'd have a functional relationship if you actually trusted someone."

The cold coffee tastes sour on Hoseok's tongue. "Is that why you dumped me?"

For some reason Hoseok can't hope to understand, Yoongi smiles. "I thought, if it was me, you'd relax a little. I liked you a lot, but it always felt like you were waiting for me to end it."

Hoseok wants to argue, but he knows better. He'd asked Yoongi out entirely because he was safe, because of all people Yoongi seemed the least likely to hurt him. Not exactly a good reason to try and love someone.

Then there's Taehyung, who's the opposite of safe. They hardly know each other and Hoseok has no idea what Taehyung wants from him, but Hoseok wants to be around him and find out. It makes him nauseous and sweaty and really, really fucking scared, but maybe that's exactly how he's supposed to feel.

"I need to go," he says and grabs his bag from under the table. He almost runs into a group of women making their way to the main doors.

"Hey, Hoseok!" Yoongi shouts from the table.

He turns and Yoongi is grinning from ear to ear.

"At least the sex was good, right?"

The group of women pause as Hoseok's face goes pink. Yoongi's still cackling when Hoseok steps outside.

-

The first thing Hoseok sees when he enters his apartment is a stranger in the most expensive looking suit he's ever seen. His bag hits the floor and the man turns. Taehyung's face sits above a crooked bow tie.

"Ah, good," he says and grabs Hoseok's arm. "We're almost late." He pulls Hoseok back toward the front door and ignores his stuttered protests. As he's locking the door behind them, he gives Hoseok an anxious look. "I really need to show you something, so just do as I say, okay?"

Hoseok opens his mouth to argue, then stops himself. "Lead the way," he replies, though he wishes he sounded more confident.

Taehyung beams, and Hoseok thinks that's good enough for now.

-

The gallery is massive and Hoseok finds himself severely under-dressed in his department store shirt and slacks. All around him art experts and students mingle and discuss the works on display, the culmination of the students' years of study and practice. A huge silk banner hangs through the center of the gallery, the name of Taehyung's university embroidered in rich colors.

Hoseok sips from his wineglass as Hoseok leads him through the gallery. They pause now and then for Taehyung to chat with his classmates. All of them give Hoseok curious stares and Taehyung introduces him as "Hoseok hyung." Everyone is friendly and intellectual and warm but Hoseok can't control the millions of butterflies wreaking havoc in his stomach.

"What do you think? Taehyung asks when they're alone beside a sign that reads, "Animation Students Presentation at 7PM."

"Everything is so beautiful," he wheezes and tries to look happy. That seems to make Taehyung happy and they're moving inside the door behind the sign.

Taehyung directs Hoseok to a seat in the front row and disappears somewhere behind him. "The show doesn't start for an hour, but I wanted you to be the first to see it." A screen at the front of the room brightens. A video starts playing: "Thank You, by Kim Taehyung."

"That's me," Taehyung chuckles and falls into the seat next to Hoseok. The film opens with a a city, a vast skyline that reaches into the clouds above. The animation is rough around the edges like a sketch, but it gives the scene a warm, familiar feeling.

Hoseok watches, and Taehyung's hand slides into his.

A dog is lost and alone in the city. His fur is thick and matted and there's something about his eyes that reminds Hoseok of Taehyung. He sleeps on the streets and has to dig in the trash to find food. He meets another dog who lets him share his alley. Together they roam the streets and find the best food to eat. They protect each other from other strays and sleep curled up under a cardboard box at night. When it rains, they keep each other dry. When the matted stray gets sick, the other brings him food until he's better.

The short ends with the two of them sitting side by side on the top of a building, looking out at the very same skyline from the beginning of the film.

The screen goes dark and Hoseok realizes he's blushing terribly. "What do you think?" Taehyung asks again. His hand feels clammy.

"That was... beautiful," he says, and laughs because he can't find any better words. "Amazing. Seriously."

Taehyung is smiling so wide Hoseok can't help but smile back, and then Taehyung's kissing him, and something in the back of Hoseok's brain sighs, Finally. His lips are just as messy and hard to follow as the rest of him, but Hoseok does his best to keep up. He licks at Taehyung's lips and they part eagerly. A low groan escapes Taehyung's mouth and Hoseok shivers.

There's a creak and a beam of light falls across the two of them. A small group of guests stare at them, hands over their mouths to stifle their giggles. They leap to their feet and straighten their clothes with nervous laughter. Taehyung grabs Hoseok's hand and leads him back through the door. "Let's get out of here," he says over his shoulder.

Hoseok falters. "What about the presentation?"

Something dark glints in Taehyung's eyes. "Fuck it, I've already passed the class."

Hoseok sees no reason to argue with that.

-

Taehyung kisses Hoseok again before he has the front door closed. His iron grip on Hoseok's shirt only relaxes when Hoseok goes to push his jacket down and off. He can feel Taehyung's familiar warmth through the material of his dress shirt and it makes him want more. Hoseok breaks the kiss to lick the skin on Taehyung's neck right above the collar of his shirt. They stumble through the living room towards Hoseok's bedroom and pause at the door. Hoseok presses Taehyung against the wood and nips at his ear. His fingers find the sensitive spots beneath Taehyung's ears and Taehyung moans.

"A-are you sure about this?" Taehyung stammers. "The rules--"

"Fuck the rules. You're not my pet anymore, Taehyung."

For a second, Taehyung looks scared.

"I don't want any boundaries," he explains, breathless and messy. "I want to be the same outside the apartment as we are inside. Is that okay with you?"

His heart pounds against his rib cage. He hardly knows Taehyung and this could be the exact opposite of what he wants. Hoseok looks into Taehyung's eyes and feels a pull in his gut that tells him he's in danger, but he doesn't care.

Taehyung opens the bedroom door and they fall inside. The look in Taehyung's eyes as he shoves Hoseok onto the bed is all the answer he needs.

-

Yoongi's head appears above the partition. "You really need to stop," he says with obvious disgust. "You're gonna make me puke."

Tapping his fingers on his desk to a rhythm all his own, Hoseok looks up with a bright, oblivious smile. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You're fucking singing."

Hoseok shrugs and spins in his rolling chair. "Ah, sorry about that. Didn't even notice."

"Your singing is terrible by the way."

A stack of finished forms sits on Hoseok's desk and he cheerfully hops to his feet to deliver them to Namjoon. "Then I'll make myself scarce." He bows dramatically and sweeps out of his cubicle. A hand stops him as he passes by Yoongi's door.

Yoongi smiles and shakes his head. "I'm really happy for you, man."

Hoseok blushes to the tips of his ears. "Thanks."

-

As soon as Hoseok steps through the door Taehyung pulls him into a kiss that Hoseok's feels all the way to his toes. "I'm glad you're home," Taehyung mumbles against his mouth.

Hoseok is, too.