Taehyung is trying to read the two flyers in his hands at the same time when Jimin latches a hand onto his shoulder and ducks behind him, whirling Taehyung around so that he's facing the other direction. The unicycling club flyer goes fluttering out of Taehyung's hand, disappearing into the crowd around them. Oh well, he probably wasn't cut out for it anyway.
“Help,” Jimin whispers weakly, letting go of his shoulders as he sinks into a squat. “I think I accidentally signed up for the bird watching club.”
Taehyung looks over his shoulder and finds Jimin trying to hide under his backpack. He's almost short enough to manage. “How do you accidentally sign up for a club?” He bites his lip so he doesn't laugh before Jimin can even give him a proper answer.
"Is she looking?” Jimin asks first, pointing in the direction of a clipboard-wielding girl snapping at the heels of a boy trying to escape from her. Taehyung shakes his head. “Thank god. She wouldn't let me leave until I gave her my email address!”
He rights himself, pulling on Taehyung's arm. “Let’s go before she sees you too.”
Today is the student organization fair, advertised at least a dozen times over the course of freshman orientation. Student organizations are the best way to make friends on campus! Brightly colored tables line either side of the quad. Taehyung lost count at sixty, but he’s sure there are something like a million clubs on campus- everything from calligraphy to swing dancing and, apparently, bird watching. Upperclassmen lure in freshmen, eager and curious, with loud promises of MTs and the benefits of having their club on future resumes.
"Have you signed up for anything of your own will yet?" Taehyung asks, dodging a taekwondo demonstration on the sidewalk. The crowd applauds and Taehyung looks back just in time to see a small girl standing triumphantly over her considerably larger male opponent.
Jimin shrugs. “Maybe the basketball team?”
“Aren't you a little short for basketball?”
“It’s not how tall you are, it’s how tall you feel,” Jimin says, angling his arm up to elbow Taehyung. He wanders away to look at a hip hop dance group and Taehyung is content to just follow him, until his nose catches the hint of something in the air.
He follows the scent of baked goods until he reaches the table for a cooking club. A perky looking girl slides up to him. “Hi there, would you like to try a cupcake?” she asks.
She gestures to a three-tiered display of cupcakes, perfectly iced and topped with glittery sprinkles, then pushes her clipboard and pen into Taehyung's hands. “Everyone who signs up for our cooking club gets one,” she says, sugary-sweet.
Taehyung only gets through one character of his name before Jimin appears next to him, plucking the pen from his hand. “What?” Taehyung asks.
Jimin narrows his eyes at Taehyung. “You can’t sign up for cooking club. Do you not remember the ramyun incident?”
“But…the cupcake,” Taehyung says mournfully as Jimin drags him away from the table by the strap of his backpack.
Jimin lets him go back in front of the Korean opera club. “I'm going to class,” he says, giving Taehyung a serious look. “Don't sign up for anything that involves fire.”
Taehyung is almost disappointed to learn that the cooking club is the only one that involves fire. He mills around the table for an animal rescue shelter for a while (turns out that volunteering entails more than just petting cats), takes a brochure for one of the religious clubs that will sit crumpled at the bottom of his backpack for the remainder of the semester. He feels a touch out of his depth, hoping any of the tables will catch his eye so that he's not stuck with only Jimin for the year. He thinks of his Daegu friends, now dispersed around the country, and-
Taehyung looks around. He raises his finger to his chest like me? and one of the guys seated at a table across the sidewalk starts nodding emphatically.
"Have you ever played football?” the guy asks when Taehyung approaches the table.
"How would you feel about playing football?" the guy follows up. Taehyung tilts his head back far enough to read the sign on the table, advertising sign-ups for intramural football. He's starting to regret walking over. Sports have never really been Taehyung's thing. He prefers indoor activities. Like anime.
"I mean, you could sign up for another team, if you wanted," the guy continues. "But our team is the best. So, you think you might be interested?"
And then, the guy smiles. A big, open-mouthed smile that makes his eyebrows shoot up to his hairline and reveals the slight indentation of dimples in his smooth cheeks. It's not a smile anyone could say no to. Taehyung finds himself nodding before he knows what he's doing.
"Great! What's your name?"
"I'm Jung Hoseok. And this is Min Yoongi."
Yoongi, slouched in the chair next to Hoseok with his beanie pulled down over his eyes, asks, "Where are you from?"
Taehyung feels like it might be a trick question. "Daegu?"
Yoongi sits up, smiling now too. His mouth is all gums. "Ah, a real man," Yoongi says. Taehyung hears it now, the thick layer of Yoongi's accent, and his heart gives a little thump of homesickness. "Join our team, we’re the best."
"Thursday at six thirty," Hoseok says. He passes a flyer to Taehyung. “And bring a friend."
It isn't hard to convince Jimin to accompany him to football practice. "Will there be girls?" he asks. He's still unpacking his room in their shared apartment, if flinging clothes in the direction of his dresser could be considered unpacking. Not that Taehyung's room looks much better. Neither of them have yet to grasp the concept that if no one picks up their clothes from the floor, that's where they'll stay.
"I don't know," Taehyung says. At his feet, Nala hisses and flees from the path of a poorly aimed tank top. "I didn't ask."
Jimin considers it for a moment. "Okay, I'm in."
On Thursday night, Jimin and Taehyung dress in sweats and head out to the football pitch. A pair of girls dressed in grass-stained football kits, matching ponytails swinging behind them, accosts them before they even step onto the field. One of them pinches Taehyung's cheeks, cooing. "They're so cute."
"So short!" her friend adds.
"See, I told you there would be girls," Taehyung whispers to Jimin, who scowls and puffs out his chest.
They're saved by Yoongi. "Minah! Hyeri!" he shouts, "Don't you have your own team to worry about?"
Minah releases Taehyung's cheeks and he rubs at the impressions her fingers leave behind. "Just sizing up your new recruits," she says, looking very pointedly up and down Yoongi's short frame.
They take off, heads tipped together and giggling as they jog away. Yoongi gives them a long glare before turning in the opposite direction. "They beat us last year," he tells Jimin and Taehyung as they head onto the field. "But we'll get them back in June."
"June?" Jimin asks.
"Finals," Hoseok says. He smiles when he meets Taehyung's eye, and Taehyung swallows down his nerves. "But Yoongi's getting ahead of himself. Semis aren't until May. First we have to actually, you know, practice."
They're introduced to the last two players, Namjoon and Seokjin. Taehyung learns that they all played together last year, but after their captain graduated, they're short a full team. "Sehyuk hyung," Yoongi says, tracing the path of a tear with his finger.
"There has to be five players minimum on the field at a time," Hoseok explains. "But now we have six, so no one will have to play with a mild concussion this year." He shoots a look in Seokjin's direction. "Hopefully."
Namjoon leans forward, draping his arm over Seokjin's shoulder. "He hit his head on a goal post during a game. Classic Seokjin, you had to be there."
"Can we not talk about that?" Seokjin asks, hiding his red face in his hands.
The rest of Yoongi’s introduction spares him. "So, Seokjin's our goalie, because all he has to do is stand there and angle his shoulders." He points to the rest of the others in turn. "Namjoon plays defender, Hoseok plays midfielder, usually. And I'm a forward. What about you guys?"
"I'm a forward," Jimin says.
Everyone looks to Taehyung expectantly. "I play in the park with my little brother and sister," he says, sheepish. Yoongi hides a laugh in his fist.
"Let's just kick the ball around for a while," Hoseok suggests. "We'll figure out what you're good at."
It turns out that Taehyung isn't actually good at anything, or at least he's too out of shape to tell. They practice a little bit of everything- dribbling, passing, controlling the ball- and by the end, Taehyung has flopped face-down on the grass in defeat. Football doesn't look this hard in his sports mangas.
Jimin squats down next to him. "Are you ready to go home, superstar?"
Taehyung peels his cheek off the grass to look up at him. "Can you carry me?"
"Come on," Jimin says, half smiling as he extends a hand to help Taehyung to his feet. With Taehyung's full weight on his shoulder, Jimin practically has to drag him over to where the rest of the team is gathered. They’ve been idly kicking a ball around and talking among each other since Taehyung had given up and faceplanted, but they quiet up as Taehyung and Jimin approach.
"We're heading out now," Jimin tells them.
Hoseok glances between the two of them, looking uncertain. The ball comes to a standstill beneath his foot. "You guys are coming back on Tuesday, right?"
"Don't let the rest of these guys scare you away," Seokjin says wryly, gesturing to the others. Namjoon elbows him in the ribs.
Even with a full-body ache Taehyung imagines could only be compared to being run over by a car, he doesn't hesitate. "Of course we'll be back," he says, looking to Jimin for confirmation. Everyone seems to relax again.
"But first," Taehyung tells Jimin as they walk away, "I'm going to need an ice pack."
Their first real practice doesn't go much better. Despite Taehyung’s jogs over the weekend, it turns out you can’t make up for years of inactivity in just a few days. Jimin, of course, has no problem running suicides. Taehyung makes faces at his back as they run. He may be better at running, but at least Taehyung can reach the top shelf of their cabinets, so take that, Jimin.
The next time Taehyung looks up from Jimin's back, turning on his heel to make another lap, Hoseok is running alongside him.
"Not really a runner then, huh?" asks Hoseok.
"I was in band," Taehyung wheezes out.
"Really?" He turns so that he's running backwards, pumping his arms and already inching ahead of Taehyung. "What instrument?"
Hoseok has arms. Well- most people have arms, but Hoseok's are nice enough to draw Taehyung's attention. Surprisingly toned, considering how much of a string bean he is. Every time he draws his arms back, Taehyung catches a glimpse of his ribs, exposed by his loose tank top.
"Were you any good?" Hoseok asks.
Taehyung had almost forgotten what they were talking about. His eyes snap back up from Hoseok’s torso to his face. "Yeah. First chair."
Hoseok’s smile widens, and there the dimples are, along with his perfectly straight teeth. “You going to play for us sometime then? Lay down a sweet riff after we win finals?”
“Maybe if I don’t die here first,” Taehyung pants out.
“I think you’ll be fine," says Hoseok as he slows to a walk. "Look, you’re done.”
Taehyung comes to a stop doubled over, hands gripping his knees as he catches his breath. Hoseok passes over a bottle of water. The mouthpiece tastes like salt, like the sweat dripping from the tip of Hoseok's nose down to his chin.
"I have to ask. If you're not into sports, why'd you sign up?"
Because you smiled at me isn't an appropriate thing to say to someone you've only known for a combined five hours, so Taehyung gives the second reason. "I wanted to make friends. And Jimin wouldn't let me join cooking club because I set off the fire alarm the first night in our apartment trying to make ramyun."
"That was a terrible idea," Hoseok says. Taehyung is briefly confused, until Hoseok gestures to the field, where Seokjin and Yoongi are pretending to beat up Namjoon for whatever reason, while Jimin watches on, laughing. "You don't want to be friends with us. We're assholes."
Hoseok loops an arm around Taehyung's shoulder. Their sweaty skin slides together as Hoseok draws him in, guiding the both of them onto the field. "Unfortunately, we need you. So you're stuck with us."
The dates for their matches are finally set, taped onto their fridge door where Taehyung is forced to stop and stare at it every time he goes for a drink. Their first match looms only two weeks away. Just four practices. Even the reassuring text he receives from Namjoon after the dates are announced- dw yoongi was joking we're not having practice every day ^^- does little to assuage his worries. He might actually feel better if they really were practicing every day. He’s nowhere near ready.
It takes a whole morning of Taehyung attempting to practice footwork in their living room at the expense of poor Nala before Jimin gets up and drags Taehyung out of the apartment with him.
"But the game-"
"Isn't for another two weeks,” Jimin says, hands gripping Taehyung’s shoulder as he marches him down the hallway. “You need to eat today. Besides, I have an idea.”
His idea is a table in one of the campus cafeterias, an outlet for his laptop, and a YouTube playlist of grainy game footage, with titles like Best Defenders Ever!!! and commentaries in languages neither of them can understand. It's not a bad idea actually, especially when Jimin offers to share his bag of shrimp chips after they've been watching videos long enough Taehyung's eaten everything on his tray. At least now he has an idea of what he as a defender is supposed to do.
Jimin taps on his screen. "Remember what that first video said about coming from a side angle? Look, he's-"
"What are you guys doing?" A familiar teasing voice comes from behind them. Yoongi leans into the space between their chairs. "Aw, they're watching football videos."
"It's intramurals," Hoseok says, following in after Yoongi. Seokjin and Namjoon aren't far behind him. Hoseok drops his tray across from Taehyung. "You're allowed to suck, you know."
Yoongi leans in, close enough for Taehyung to notice the cluster of acne on his chin, then says, very seriously, "No, you're not." He stands up, pointing to the computer screen. "Spain, though. Good choice."
Namjoon laughs. "Remember when Hoseok had a crush on Sergio Ramos?"
Taehyung goes very still. He's dealt with straight boys enough to know that even a dude's dick in your mouth doesn't prove anything, so he looks between Hoseok and Namjoon, waiting for the inevitable punchline, the refutation.
"Proof of my good taste," says Hoseok, and it's not a refutation, but Taehyung doesn't know what to make of it.
"Proof of your bad taste," Yoongi says, reaching across the table to steal a bite from Hoseok's plate. "That dude looks like a horse."
"You guys could get gay married and adopt a pony," Namjoon says. Seokjin and Yoongi crack up.
"Just for that," Hoseok says, gesturing between Namjoon and Yoongi with one of his chopsticks, "none of you will get to visit our pony."
"What about me?" Taehyung asks. He's barely aware that he's said anything until Hoseok turns his attention to him, eyes warm.
"You'll be the only one."
If they’re still talking about a hypothetical pony, Taehyung isn’t sure. His brain is still stuck on the crush thing, and the weight of Hoseok’s gaze feels significant in a way that Taehyung can't make sense of. He ekes out a nervous laugh.
Next to him, Jimin coughs, ahem, and Hoseok looks away. "Oh, Jimin too. He could probably ride it."
Taehyung tunes out of the subsequent height argument, the same one he's already heard enough of over practice. He hopes no one has noticed that he's not fidgeting like usual, staring down at his tray like it will confirm or deny for him that Hoseok is gay. Only Jimin knows about him. He hadn't even planned to tell him but when Jimin asked him what kind of girls he liked Taehyung just said boys without meaning to. And Jimin had just said Good, no competition and went back to unpacking, leaving Taehyung to unravel the knot in his chest.
He looks up. Jimin is watching him with a sort of fond exasperation. "Did you hear? We're going to go kick some balls in the park after lunch."
“Oh,” Taehyung says. “Yeah, okay.”
Taehyung's first all-nighter goes like this:
"Hey, did you finish your Macro paper yet?"
A half-chewed mouthful of rice falls from Taehyung's mouth and lands in front of him on the table. "Paper?"
Four hours later, Taehyung is surrounded by a fortress of books and notes stacked up on his cubicle in the library. He only has two complete pages out of ten, but he has watched three episodes of One Piece as "background noise." He's starting to rethink this whole college thing. The circus doesn't seem like a bad career path. His childhood dream was, after all, to be a lion tamer. Well, first a lion but then a tamer once he realized the impossibility of a species change at the age of five.
But dropping out of college would be the end of soccer club, which means Taehyung really does have to finish this paper. He's just resigned himself to getting back to work when, as if on cue, he spies something over the top of his books. A snapback sees twice a week at practice, and a familiar face.
"Hyung!" he whisper-shouts.
Hoseok approaches Taehyung's cubicle with his hands behind his back, like he's trying to hide something. The smell of food reminds Taehyung that it's been hours since his last candy bar. He makes grabby hands. "Did you bring me something?"
"Samgak kimbap," Hoseok says, dangling a convenience store bag from his fingers. Taehyung has never been so happy to see anyone in his life.
There's technically no eating allowed in the library, so Hoseok keeps watch for any librarians while Taehyung inhales his food.
"How did you know I was here?" Taehyung asks.
"Jimin told us at practice. Well, he told us you were an idiot who forgot his paper. I inferred the rest."
Taehyung is glad he's hiding behind his fortress, so Hoseok won't see the flush in his cheeks. He's not used to people going out of their way for him. "So, how was practice?"
"Not too bad. This kid I dance with came to play with us. He was pretty good, actually. I'm thinking of replacing you with him."
Hoseok leans in, resting his chin on top of the books. "You'll have to give back your t-shirt," he tells Taehyung, very seriously.
"Hyung, that's not fair," Taehyung whines.
Hoseok's serious face crumples into a smile. "Don't be cute."
"I can't help it," Taehyung says with a flutter of his eyelashes, earning him a groan and a flick on the forehead from Hoseok.
As Taehyung finishes the last of his kimbap, Hoseok picks up one of the books, flipping idly through its pages. "Economics, huh? Seokjin hyung told me you were in drama."
"I am. My dad wanted me to take some management classes too, because drama 'isn't a real career path,'" Taehyung explains, mimicking his dad's deep voice. He heaves a sigh. "So, know anything about macroeconomics?"
Hoseok gives him a sympathetic look. "I'm in bio."
Taehyung drops his head onto his keyboard, resulting in a string of ㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐㅐ-s in the middle of his thesis. "I'm never going to finish this. Who cares about the economy?"
"Most of the world."
There's a warm touch against his back. Hoseok is giving him a massage. Just a light roll of his palms, long fingers curving up over Taehyung's shoulders as he eases out the tension. Taehyung manages to keep in a whimper when Hoseok rubs over a particularly tender spot, but he can't help from saying, "Please, never leave."
Hoseok laughs. "I have to, or you'll fall asleep and never finish your paper."
It doesn't last long enough. Hoseok finishes with a pat to Taehyung's shoulder blade.
"You'll get through it," he says, "We've all been there. Ask Yoongi sometime about the time he slept through his statistics final."
He gives one last hwaiting and then disappears into the stacks, leaving Taehyung with only his books to keep him company.
Taehyung and Jimin last three days stealing toilet paper from their respective departments on campus before they get fed up and declare a shopping trip. They go after practice, their sweat cooling on their skin when they step through the sliding doors of E-Mart. Sweet, sweet air conditioning.
It's not crowded this time of night. They browse for a while, collecting free samples and then extras from the ahjummas willing to indulge their cuteness. Taehyung abandons Jimin with the cart and spends ten minutes planted in front of the fish tanks, tapping on the glass and watching the crabs react.
"Do we need rice?" Jimin calls out from the aisle.
"I don't know," he shouts back, apparently a little too loud if the dirty look an employee gives him is any indication. He waves goodbye to the crabs before joining Jimin. "What's on the list?" he asks, this time in his indoor voice.
Jimin holds up the paper napkin they'd scrawled on during lunch. "Cat food, cat litter, and toilet paper."
A beat of silence. "We should probably get the rice," Taehyung says. He now understands why his mother was worried about him starving at college.
"So," Jimin says, once they’ve retrieved everything on their list. He has that tone, like he’s about to suggest something Taehyung won’t like. "You and Hoseok hyung were hanging out tonight."
"We were practicing,” Taehyung says, looking up from the bags of chips he’d been examining, eyebrow raised.
"We were doing drills," Taehyung says, slowly, because Jimin is obviously being dumb. "Namjoon was there too."
They'd been practicing defense drills- moving as a unit, being aggressive. Hoseok would come at them with the ball and they'd recover it, rinse and repeat. At least for the first hour, until they got bored of it and Namjoon declared it was time for tackling drills by pouncing on Hoseok, which naturally led to the rest of the team getting involved and the total collapse of structured practice. The fact that they were undefeated probably said more about the other teams than it did theirs.
"Namjoon wasn't the one looking at Hoseok with shoujo sparkles in his eyes," Jimin says.
Taehyung sputters. He doesn't sparkle. "You weren't there, how do you know he wasn't?"
"Because you're the one who likes him," Jimin says, leaned over the handle of the cart and looking very smug, so it's his own fault when Taehyung rams the cart back into his stomach.
"You do!" Jimin exclaims, undeterred.
Taehyung gives up, throwing both bags in the cart. "Can we not talk about this here?"
He drops it for the length of an aisle, but as soon as they turn the corner into canned foods, Jimin says, "He likes you too, you know."
Taehyung slides his hands into his pockets, trying to appear nonchalant. “He does?"
"You're his favorite. He's always paying the most attention to you."
"He's just being a good hyung," Taehyung says, thinking about samgak kimbap and the way he felt the warmth of Hoseok's hands long after he was gone. Hoseok would probably do that for anyone. He's nice like that. "Let's just drop it."
"Okay," Jimin says, raising his hands in defeat. His giggle gives away his mischievous intent, giving Taehyung a head start on walking away from him.
"All I'm saying," Jimin shouts after him, "is that he wants to drill you in more ways than one."
Saturday's game doesn't get off to a promising start. It had rained all week, the kind of downpour that lasts from morning to night and gives everything that wet, moldy smell. They were reduced to borrowing the unused half of the gym's basketball court for practice, but Hoseok didn't seem too worried.
"Jonghwan's team is easy," he'd told them before practice on Tuesday. "They don't take it too seriously. They're mostly here to have fun."
"As opposed to us," Yoongi had said, spinning a pilfered basketball on his index finger. "We're not here to have fun. We're here to take no prisoners. Got that, freshmen?"
The sun is beginning to peek out behind grey clouds, but the gloomy, rainy mood lingers. Every step Taehyung takes out onto the pitch is punctuated with a wet squelch of grass beneath his cleats, flecks of mud already dotting the backs of his legs.
Jonghwan's team is warming up on the other side of the field. He knows a few of them in passing. Chanyong is another acting major, except he spends half of their shared class bickering with their older TA and making everyone around them uncomfortable. And Yoongi warned them about their forward, Sanghoon.
"He's a beast, he's built like three of Hoseok put together," Yoongi had said.
Taehyung spots him right away, the only one stretching while the others are bouncing soccer balls off their heads. He's broad-shouldered and he looks strong, as if he could just throw Taehyung over his shoulder if he wanted to reach the goal. He hasn’t had enough practice to handle a real athlete.
"Are you trying to make Hoseok jealous?"
Taehyung is going to kill Jimin. "I'm going to kill you," he says.
"No, Yoongi hyung is going to kill you when you break Hoseok's heart," Jimin says, and this time he manages to dodge Taehyung’s fist. "I'm just joking!"
The blow of the whistle spares Jimin any further abuse. Hoseok and Jonghwan trudge onto the field for the coin toss.
“Heads!” Yoongi calls out. Hoseok gives the thumbs up when the ref shows the coin.
They take their positions. Sanghoon is even tougher looking up close, muscles bulging out of his team t-shirt, but there isn’t enough time to worry about him before the whistle sounds again and Yoongi is kicking the ball to Jimin.
Despite Hoseok’s dismissiveness, Jonghwan’s team puts up a bigger fight than Taehyung is expecting. They’re fast- not as fast as Hoseok, of course- and light on their feet, easily gaining the ball when Hoseok passes to Yoongi. Luckily, Hoseok is just as quick to recover it before their midfielder, Changbum, can pass it to one of his teammates. When Jimin gets the ball again, he takes a shot. Not a very good shot- the ball bounces off one of the goal posts and Chanyong picks it up, immediately passing it to Sanghoon.
Sanghoon drives the ball all the way past midfield, unstopped by their team. Namjoon comes at him with force. There’s a brief struggle, but Namjoon manages to make contact with the ball, sending it straight up in the air before it rolls out of bounds.
“That dude’s scary,” Namjoon tells Taehyung as they position themselves for the throw-in. “He had murder in his eyes.”
By the time the first half ends, the rain has started up again, first a light drizzle and now fat, steady drops that seep into their uniforms, leaving them uncomfortably damp. Everyone looks a little worse for the wear as they drag themselves to their bench.
Neither team has scored yet, not for lack of trying. Sanghoon is doing the job of two different players- attacking when he gets the ball and defending when Yoongi or Jimin have it. They can’t even get near the goal.
Seokjin passes out Gatorade bottles before flopping down on the bench, letting his head fall to rest on Taehyung’s shoulder.
“Way to keep up the energy,” Hoseok says, but even he looks tired. “Look, the second half. They probably all want to go home too. We just have to exploit that. Make them work for it.”
The second half of the game starts off just futile as the first. Neither side can hang onto the ball for long. Sanghoon manages to hang onto the ball long enough to get it on their side of the field, passing it to Jonghwan, and Taehyung goes in hard for the block, sliding through the wet mud. Jonghwan stumbles forward and the ball lands several yards away, where Namjoon is able to reach it before Sanghoon can.
Taehyung pulls himself up off the ground just in time to see Hoseok pass to Jimin, and Jimin take a shot on the goal. Hyukjin, their goalie, dives for it. Taehyung holds his breath.
And it’s good. Taehyung’s too far away to join in the victory pile-up but he grabs Namjoon around the neck for a hug.
They only have to hold off the other team for another five minutes before the ref blows his whistle, signalling the end of the game. Taehyung manages to hold in his excitement long enough to shake hands like they’re required, then he’s jumping onto Jimin’s back, nearly knocking him over.
“Baby’s first goal, I’m so proud I could cry,” Yoongi says, holding his fist to his mouth as he fake cries. Even he can’t be a dick for too long before he goes full gummy smile and joins the two of them in a celebration.
Taehyung gets a very wet congratulatory hug from Seokjin and a pat on the back from Namjoon, who tells him to keep up the good work, that he’ll be defending like Pique in no time. Of course, Taehyung has no idea who that is, but he appreciates the sentiment at any rate.
Hoseok gets to him last, after he and Jimin have finished their rather embarrassing victory dance. “Good job,” he says, pulling Taehyung into a hug.
“You did well too.”
He’s so skinny around the middle that Taehyung can almost touch his elbows, and he kind of smells like wet dog, but it’s nice. Nice enough that Taehyung is reluctant to let go when Hoseok pulls back.
“By the way, you’ve got some mud on your cheek,” he says. He cups the back of Taehyung’s head, holding him still as he lifts a hand to his cheek. Taehyung goes cross-eyed tracking the movement of Hoseok’s thumb as he swipes away the streak of dirt. “There you go.”
Following on the heels of the rain that had accompanied their victory over Jonghwan’s team, semi-finals brings with it a heat wave that renders the team completely useless.
"It's too hot to move," groans Yoongi. Except he's occupying the only bit of shade on the field, the patch of grass under the scoreboard, forfeiting his right to complain. Everyone else is sprawled out in the middle of the field. Jimin has already taken his shirt off, now wearing it around his head in lamb ears.
Taehyung and Hoseok are cloud-spotting.
"G-Dragon," Hoseok says, pointing somewhere to Taehyung's left. Taehyung follows Hoseok's finger. "Look, he's wearing sunglasses."
"It's a cloud," Yoongi says.
If Taehyung squints, eyes almost completely shut, he can kind of see it. "Maybe." He looks up at the sky, cupping his fingers to block the sun. "There, an elephant."
"Maybe if it was an animal cracker someone bit the legs off," Hoseok says, which strikes Taehyung as the funniest thing he's heard all day. He laughs hard enough for fresh beads of sweat to drip from his bangs. Hoseok is spurred on. "Look at that small one. It's Yoongi's dick."
There isn't a dick-shaped cloud in the sky as far as Taehyung can tell but it sets him off again.
"Seokjin's mom's boobs," Hoseok says, making squeezing motions with his hands while Taehyung rolls around on the ground beside him.
"Please don't involve me in this," Seokjin says, pitifully.
Finally, Taehyung manages to stop laughing long enough to catch his breath. He lets his head flop sideways, facing Hoseok, and realizes that Hoseok is watching him. Taehyung swallows and his mouth feels dry, though that might have more to do with the heat than the way Hoseok's gaze makes him want to reveal all his secrets.
"A cat," Taehyung says. His voice comes out as a whisper.
"Above your head. A cat."
Hoseok turns his head up and away, squinting as he searches the sky for his own contribution. Taehyung takes in the gentle slope of his nose, the pink of his lips, and it feels like staring into the sun. So bright he has to look away.
Considering that it's Yoongi's quest for revenge, Taehyung doesn't expect him of all people to call for an end to their last practice before finals at only 8:15. Taehyung's not going to protest. He's tired, but not too tired to turn down food when Namjoon suggests they go out for dinner to celebrate making it this far. Yoongi knows a barbecue place by the subway station, with cheap meat and cheaper soju and no one who cares enough to check IDs. It's a hole-in-the-wall, packed to capacity with customers seated at sticky tarp-covered tables. Yoongi’s right- the waiter doesn't bat an eye when they order enough food to feed a team twice their size and several bottles of soju.
The soju comes out first, and naturally, Taehyung is expected to pour. He only manages to dole out Seokjin's shot before Jimin takes the bottle from him, complaining, "You're splashing, just give it to me."
Jimin takes his precious time, telling Taehyung that he's just demonstrating the proper procedure for pouring your dear seniors' drinks while the hyungs laugh and Taehyung pouts, insisting he's had the same etiquette class, you dick. When Jimin reaches Taehyung's glass, he pours only half a shot. Taehyung has to kick him under the table so he'll relent.
Namjoon raises his shot before the soju even settles in Taehyung's glass. "To the team!"
"To the team!" they echo, clinking their glasses together. Taehyung downs his first shot. It burns all the way down his throat. The second shot, just a minute later, only stings a little. The next few, he doesn't feel at all. By the time the food comes out, the first bottle of soju is empty and the next one's already on its way.
It takes only a few minutes of watching Taehyung, in an attempt to prove that he can carry out the duties of a maknae perfectly fine, fumbling with the tongs for their meat for Jimin to take it out of his hands. He lays the slices of pork across the grill with far less precision than he managed with their soju. "Next time, you can do it," Jimin tells him, cheeks red from the laughter, the heat, the drinks. Taehyung doesn't even remember the promise after his next shot.
It wasn't Taehyung's goal to get shitfaced. It's just that he's always been a lightweight. At least his friends back home were lightweights too, so he was never the first to pass out. He recalls the time they drew dicks on Gukjong's face the night before one of his modeling interviews, and Taehyung laughs, following it up with a loud hiccup.
"Something funny?" Seokjin asks, stretching over Taehyung to reach the last of the sesame oil.
"Dicks," Taehyung announces. He slumps against the wall.
"This is adorable," Yoongi says. Whether it's a drunken coo or a sober snicker, he can't tell, and he doesn’t care. The wall is nice and cool and comforting. The others can have the meat if he can have the wall.
Taehyung continues to befriend the wall while he rest of the team is busy dueling with their chopsticks for the last scraps of meat or downing the remaining shots, until he feels himself being pulled away, an arm wrapping around his shoulder.
"You guys pay," he hears Hoseok say. The burn from the soju is back, only this time he feels it in his chest. "I'm going to take him outside for some fresh air."
It’s humid when they step outside, a group of smokers lined up against the wall. Taehyung coughs. This barely counts as fresh air. Taehyung leans into Hoseok, bumping against his arm.
Hoseok smells like thick smoke, but the good kind of smoke, like grilled meat. Taehyung licks a stripe up Hoseok's neck and then he says, disappointed, "You don't taste like pork." But he does taste good enough for Taehyung to try again, getting in just one tiny swipe of his tongue across Hoseok's chin before Hoseok pushes him away, holding him at arm's length.
"It's too early for cannibalism, Taehyung-ie."
"Is there ever an appropriate time for cannibalism?" Taehyung wonders aloud. He tries to reach for Hoseok again, but a hand planted firmly against the center of his chest stops him. "I promise not to eat you," he tells Hoseok. "Pinky swear."
"Well, if you promise," Hoseok says. Before Taehyung can try again, he’s being tucked under Hoseok’s shoulder- “Stop talking, just come here”- and his head falls against Hoseok’s chest.
Taehyung looks up at him. His cheeks look so smooth, reflecting the light from the restaurant’s open sign. His teeth are perfectly shaped. Taehyung wants to kiss him so bad he feels it in his whole body, all the way down to his feet. Even his toes want to kiss the brittle bones of Hoseok's ankles. He can’t stop himself.
He tilts his chin, closes his eyes, and Hoseok says, quiet enough that Taehyung thinks he imagined it, “Taehyung, no.”
Taehyung jerks back like he’s been scolded. He can’t go far, still propped against Hoseok’s chest, but he shrinks down, making himself smaller. It feels like a long time before the others emerge from the restaurant, laughing about something. Taehyung wants in on the joke. He feels like he might be the joke.
"Jiminnie!” Hoseok says. “I think this one belongs to you.” He helps guide Taehyung, loose-limbed and useless, out from his shoulder and under Jimin’s.
Seokjin gives the two of them a worried look. Seokjin is so nice. All of Taehyung’s soccer hyungs are nice, except for the one that won’t kiss him.
"Are you guys going to be able to get home okay?" he asks.
Jimin shifts, adjusting Taehyung’s weight. "I think we'll be okay. Thank you, hyung."
From there, Taehyung is only dimly aware of being shoved into a cab, lying across the backseat to rest his head in Jimin’s lap, the start and stop of traffic lulling him to sleep.
Taehyung sleeps through his first Friday class and makes it out of bed for the second one, only to get as far as his desk before evacuating the contents of his stomach into his trash bin. He'll just stay here, Taehyung decides. Where the floor is nice and cool and not spinning like the rest of the room.
Nala gives him a sympathetic meow before she goes back to cleaning her fur.
Eventually the taste in his mouth forces him up to brush his teeth, but he returns to the floor until Jimin returns home from class, announcing his presence with the call of food. Taehyung emerges from his bedroom with his nose in the air, sniffing.
Jimin has brought home fried chicken. Jimin is a god among mortals, Taehyung feels sure. "Thank you," he tells Jimin, grabbing a drumstick in each hand.
"Don't thank me; I took the cash from your wallet. And Chanyong told me to tell you that you missed a quiz in theatre history."
He sounds positively chipper, the asshole. Taehyung frowns into his chicken. "Why are you not more hung over?"
"Because I didn't drink as much as you, dumbass," Jimin points out, giggling. "That's what you get for making me carry you up five flights of stairs."
"Sorry about that," Taehyung says.
Jimin waves a hand. "Don't worry about it. You had fun."
“Yeah, I just can't believe I did that," Taehyung says, wincing a little. He wasn't fortunate to drink enough to be spared the memory of the previous night.
"Drank that much?"
Taehyung lets out a groan and face plants into the table. This does nothing to aid the pounding in his head, but at least this way he doesn't have to look at Jimin when he says, "No, I can't believe I kissed Hoseok."
Jimin laughs so loud that Taehyung is forced to cover his ears. "I knew you liked him!” He immediately pulls out his phone. “Man, I can't wait to tell Yoongi."
"There's nothing to tell," Taehyung says. His voice echoes against the table. "He rejected me anyway."
"Oh," Jimin says. He places a hand on top of Taehyung’s. "Are you okay?"
Taehyung looks up at Jimin, wrinkling his nose. “It’s not a big deal.”
“What about the game tomorrow?”
“It’ll be fine,” Taehyung insists. “Nothing to worry about.”
The morning of their game, Taehyung downs four energy drinks in rapid succession in preparation. He’s pumped. He’s ready to defend some fucking goals. He’s ready to kick some ass, except in a very sportsman-like manner because they’re playing a team of girls and Taehyung would never hurt a girl. He’s-
He's attracting attention on the subway, Jimin points out, covering his face with his hand. Taehyung sinks back into his seat, only because he's still in debt for whole being carried up five flights of stairs thing.
Given that it's their final game, there's actually a small crowd at the field when Taehyung and Jimin arrive. A few members of the other intramural teams, a bunch of desperate looking nerds supporting Minah's team (unsurprising- they're probably hoping one of the girls will take off their shirts if they win), and Seokjin's hot older brother. There's more energy compared to their earlier matches, from the louder crowd and the actual support posters, and Taehyung feels the rush of anticipation.
Someone wraps an arm over his shoulders, pulling him away from the crowd. "You’re looking in better condition than we left you on Thursday,” Namjoon says. He's leading them to their bench, where Taehyung can see Seokjin pulling on his gloves and Yoongi glowering at Minah's team. No sign of Hoseok yet.
Taehyung's so distracted looking around that he misses Jimin rolling his eyes as he situates himself on Namjoon's other side. "Yeah, he had four energy drinks before ten this morning. If he dies during the game, I am not responsible."
Namjoon laughs. "It’s okay, we’ll just play around his dead body.”
Yoongi's head whips up as they approach. “You’re not allowed to die until after the game,” he says, then goes back to praying or meditating or whatever it is he’s doing.
It's then that Taehyung catches sight of Hoseok, talking to a younger boy on the sidelines further down. It turns out that rejection had done nothing to stop the erratic beat of his heart when he watches Hoseok tip his head back and laugh. Granted, today it might have something to do with the quadruple serving of caffeine flowing through his veins, but Taehyung knows his nerves owe most of the blame. The energy drinks were supposed to help him be able to face Hoseok but now he just feels like his skin is vibrating.
He approaches the two of them cautiously, as though Hoseok’s just going to up and walk away when he sees Taehyung. “Hey.”
"Taehyung! This is Jungkook,” Hoseok says, gesturing to the boy. “He's the kid I was telling you about. We dance at the same studio."
Jungkook exchanges perfunctory bows with Taehyung before shooting Hoseok a pointed look. "Kid, really?”
"Yes, really," Hoseok laughs, pushing Jungkook's head back with the heel of his palm. A gesture that Taehyung is all too familiar with. "Now go find a seat, kick-off is going to be soon. Don't be too embarrassing when we win."
Jungkook wanders away, taking a seat next to Seokjin’s brother, and it’s just Hoseok and Taehyung alone now. Taehyung braces himself for anything- an angry Hoseok, an awkward Hoseok, a Hoseok who wants nothing to do with him after what he did. None of those options even seem much like Hoseok, but Taehyung doesn’t know what to expect. He’s not even sure what he wants.
Hoseok gives nothing away. "You ready?" he asks, straightening out his jersey. “It’s almost time.” He makes to walk back to their bench and it spurs Taehyung into action.
“Hyung,” he says, catching Hoseok around the arm. He stops him where they are, standing at the kickoff mark in the center of the field. Taehyung takes a breath, readying the words he’d prepared on the subway ride.
“I just wanted to apologize about Thursday night. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I was-“
Taehyung has more to say, but Hoseok cuts him off, clapping a hand over his shoulder. Casually. “Let’s just get ready for the game, okay?”
"Right," Taehyung says. He lets Hoseok push him forward a step, dazed.
“Remember to stretch your hamstrings,” Hoseok says.
Whatever Taehyung expected, it wasn’t for Hoseok to just brush him off like that. Taehyung twists back around to face Hoseok. “That’s it?” he asks. Hoseok tilts his head, eyebrows furrowed. “That's all you have to say?”
Then Hoseok smiles and Taehyung’s heart does a traitorous flip. Now is really not the time. “You should try again,” Hoseok says, simply.
Taehyung blinks, because what the fuck is that supposed to mean. “What about Thursday?” he asks.
“You were drunk, and I’m your hyung,” Hoseok says, throwing his hands up. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t do anything you would regret.”
“Well I don’t regret it,” Taehyung says and stamps a cleat against the ground. “I like you.”
“I know, you’re kind of transparent,” Hoseok says, voice light, and Taehyung doesn’t feel the least bit ashamed of that. He's still grinning at Taehyung but he gets this steady, serious look in his eyes, like his teachers do when they try to hint about what's going to be on the exam. Like he wants Taehyung to listen. “You should try again.”
So Taehyung does. He pushes forward and kisses Hoseok. Hands clutching either side of his face, probably stepping on his toes kisses him. Hoseok lets out a surprised noise, but the easy way his hands find Taehyung’s waist suggests he wasn’t caught off-guard. Hoseok’s cheeks are as smooth as Taehyung had imagined, and he can taste the blue Gatorade staining the corner of his mouth.
Hoseok pulls away first, but he lingers for a moment, bumping their foreheads together. “I didn’t mean right now,” he says, laughing puffs of breath over Taehyung’s mouth. When Taehyung steps back, he sees that the referee is giving them an impatient stare.
Taehyung slinks back to the sidelines as Hoseok calls the coin toss. He’s red from the roots of his hair down to his collar but he’s perfectly content. He kissed Hoseok and Hoseok kissed him back and Hoseok is an awesome kisser. Not bad before noon.
As he steps back into position, Yoongi levels him a stern look. “Next time save your victory kisses until after we win.”
(They lose. They play the best game they've had all year but it’s not enough.
“I can't believe we lost to girls. Again,” Namjoon says as they watch Minah and Ahyoung accept the trophy and noraebang gift cards. Their crowd of male admirers cheers loudly.
“At least you guys still have next year,” Seokjin says, trying to be optimistic.
“That’s it,” Yoongi says. He stands, smacking his palms clean. “I’m doing basketball next year. Fuck this. Anyone else in?”
Jimin pumps his fist. “Me!”
Taehyung kind of doesn't care that they lost, not when Hoseok kisses him and rubs the skin behind his ears. If he figured out soccer, he can figure out basketball.)