“You look like you’re running away.”
Jeongguk pauses in the middle of putting on his white shirt, his muscles tensing under the weight of the gaze on his back, before tugging it down and turning around. Leaving like this is what he hates the most. Getting caught in the middle of sneaking out is why he doesn't like doing things like this. Despite the fact that it's not a surprise that he is leaving without any say so, Jeongguk would just rather not he get called out on it, especially by someone whom he knows well.
Jieun is pretty even with her rumpled hair and smudged make-up. Jeongguk considers walking back and reaching out to rub his thumb under her eye to take the smudge off for a second, and then thinks about what that might imply and decides against it. She chuckles at his hesitation and leans back on the headboard. She pulls the covers to her chest, her long hair falling to her shoulders in waves, something that he's always told her guys go crazy over.
"Listen, Jieun," Jeongguk starts, his grip on his bag tightening as he braces himself to just blurt out what he wants to say. "This isn’t—Are we okay?"
"Please, Guk," Jieun cuts him off with a laugh. It's bigger this time, with more teeth, and her eyes fall into crescents, reminding Jeongguk of happier and easier days. “Don’t worry about it. Besides, we both know what this is and isn't." She waves him off as him to tell him to just leave already. "You're going to be late for your class and you still need to go back to your apartment and shower," she tells him.
Jeongguk smiles at her, the most genuine one that he can offer her under the circumstances, and allows himself to lean forward and press a kiss to the crown of her head. He's known Jieun for a long time, way before high school, way before things became different. He appreciates that she's taking this better than he hoped she would. Jeongguk has always thought that sex isn't to be taken lightly. But of course Jieun knows how he feels. She's the only person who knows him because she's the only one who's still around, aside from Jimin.
He slings his backpack over his shoulder as he slips out of her dorm. He fiddles with his phone in his pocket, knowing it would be better if he just manned up and told Jimin about what happened. Jimin is even more protective of Jieun than Jeongguk is, because Jimin has known her longer than Jeongguk has. Jimin is probably going to get mad at him, because of how it looks. Jeongguk breathes out as his mind goes through the possible scenarios that can happen and takes his hand out of his pocket. He'll deal with it when he sees Jimin.
“You’re back early,” is the first thing Jimin says the moment Jeongguk walks into their shared apartment. “Or should I say late?” Jimin looks up from where he’s sitting in the living room in the middle of all of his books and pushes up his thin-framed glasses. “Where have you been?"
“Uh, out,” Jeongguk stammers, surprised that Jimin doesn’t know where he was. He drops his bag next to the sofa and takes his shirt off before moving into his room. “Sorry I didn’t text,” he calls out as he rummages into his closet for a clean shirt and a new pair of pants. There is no way Jimin doesn’t know. But if Jimin is playing dumb, Jeongguk is going to go along with it just so he can save himself from confrontation.
He shouldn’t really be this bothered. He and Jieun are okay. Jieun said it so herself. Besides, they’ve been friends for so long, there’s no way this is going to affect their friendship. Jeongguk really hopes Jieun wouldn’t let it because Jeongguk sure as hell won’t.
When Jeongguk finishes taking a shower and dressing up, grabbing his bag to leave for his first class, Jimin is still in the living room, but this time he’s focused on his phone. Jimin’s brows are furrowed, which is something Jeongguk rarely sees. Jimin is the kind of guy who always has a smile on his face.
“I’m heading out,” Jeongguk announces, shifting his bag higher up his shoulder. He pauses, his hand on the doorknob. “Don’t you have class?"
“Cancelled,” Jimin says, putting his phone down and looking at him. He smooths his furrowed brows with his fingers and sighs. “I have an exam last period. You have practice today, right? Do you think you can come pick me up at the studio afterwards? I’m going to relocate to the library and I’ll have to bring all of these,” he says, gesturing at all the thick books and notes scattered around him.
“Yeah sure,” Jeongguk doesn’t even hesitate on agreeing. “I’ll come by with Jieun."
“Nah, don’t bother her,” Jimin says, shaking his head and turning back to his books. “She mentioned something about having a girls night out and said she doesn’t want to see our faces."
Something clenches in Jeongguk’s heart at this, but he chooses to ignore it. “Okay,” he says instead. “See you later."
“See you,” Jimin calls as Jeongguk closes the door behind him. He takes a deep breath and runs to his first class.
There’s a quote by Clarence DeMar that Jeongguk lives by: Run like hell and get the agony over with. In fact, he’s been doing it even before he knew who the seven-time Boston Marathon winner and Olympic medalist was. Ever since high school, he decided that he’s going to do even better than how he’d been doing in school. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to excel. Jeongguk will run as fast and as hard as he can, and not care about how difficult things could become. With great ambition and effort comes struggle, of course, but Jeongguk doesn’t even care about that. He’s mastered dealing with distractions and hardships.
Now that he’s in university, he thinks he’s doing pretty well for himself. He’s on scholarship and studying something that he enjoys. There’s also Jimin and Jieun, who are pretty much his family. There’s really nothing more Jeongguk can ask for at the moment. Except maybe a few more medals and some recognition to take him where he thinks he wants to go.
“You staying?” Yugyeom calls after Jeongguk, who stays on the field even as the rest of their teammates walk towards the locker room.
“For a bit more,” Jeongguk agrees, pushing his sticky hair off his forehead. The field is empty of people, the sky dimming as the sun starts to set, which is exactly how he likes it. The more he can be by himself, the more he can think.
Jeongguk runs several more laps, enjoying the feel of his thigh and leg muscles tightening as he pushes himself. Even though his arms feel heavy as well, he keeps his feet moving forward, one after the other. He squeezes his eyes shut for a second, trying to enjoy the cooling breeze on his face as he pushed himself to finish another lap or two. He can feel his feet hurting a bit and even his chest feels like it's about to burst, which is pretty much his indicator that he should stop. Right about now, Jeongguk has run about five kilometer in distance, which is more than is required for them by their coach. Although everyone knows by now that Jeongguk always runs more than the required every practice. It's probably the reason why it takes so long for Jeongguk to get tired while running.
"I just knew you would be here, running as usual," Jimin greets him the moment Jeongguk decides to stop and run in place instead as part of his cool down.
"Hey," Jeongguk pants, making a pouting face as Jimin rolls his eyes. Jeongguk spots Jimin's stack of books and gym bag on the grass. "I'm really sorry," he adds, jutting his lower lip out even more. Jimin rarely asks him for favors and it sucks when he lets him down even on those few times. "I—"
"Forgot, I know," Jimin says, shaking his head and crossing his arms on his chest, his plain white shirt getting stretched on the arms and shoulders. "Go get showered. I'll wait for you." He then stretches his arms upward, showing a sliver of tummy in between his shirt and black basketball shorts.
Jeongguk nods as he picks up Jimin's gym bag and walks to the locker room, followed by Jimin, carrying his books. "I'll be really quick," he promises.
"Please don't," Jimin insists as they enter the locker room. He immediately sits on the bench in front of Jeongguk's locker. "I'd really rather not you smell while we go out tonight."
This perks Jeongguk's interest. He takes his head out of his locker, grabbing his bag to put it on the bench beside Jimin instead. He grabs a face towel and dabs the sweat off his face, neck and arms. Jimin isn't exactly a killjoy, but he really isn't one to invite people to parties either. The last time Jeongguk went to a party that Jimin said was really fun, Jimin got so smashed, Jeongguk had to carry him on his back all the way back to their apartment.
"What's the occasion and why am I invited?" Jeongguk asks, taking off his shirt and shorts, leaving him in only his Pokemon boxers. Jimin snorts at this, which Jeongguk ignores because Pokemon is great. He walks to the nearest shower and turns it on, testing the water.
"It's a dance thing," Jimin calls after him, raising his voice to be heard over the sound of the shower. "Hoseok's inviting everyone over to his apartment. No occasion really."
Hoseok is one of the best dancers in the university's dance team from what Jeongguk knows from Jimin. Jeongguk hasn't actually seen him dance, but Jimin talks about him so much and has described his dancing to a tee that Jeongguk sometimes feel that he has. He's never even really seen Jimin dance the whole time they've been in university. Sure, Jimin does some dancing in the small space of their apartment, but it feels like it's been a long time since Jeongguk actually sat down and attended an event to watch Jimin perform.
"Do you want to drop off your books at the apartment first?" Jeongguk asks as he steps out of the shower, the towel around his waist. He grabs his clothes from his bag and puts them on one by one. It's a good thing he brought a decent shirt and clean jogging pants along. It's not exactly a party outfit, but he's hung out with their friends in much worse before so it shouldn't matter. "Also, are you going in that?" he asks, referring to Jimin's plain white shirt and black basketball shorts.
"Really?" Jimin sits up straight and stares at Jeongguk as he finishes dressing up. "I don't have to drag you kicking and screaming?"
Jeongguk scoffs. He doesn't hate partying. He just doesn't see the point of it. Parties are meant for socializing and meeting people and maybe meeting someone to possibly date. Jeongguk doesn't really care about that. He has his friends and he sees them regularly at places that aren't parties. As for meeting someone to date, well, he cares for that even less.
"I'm guessing we're dropping by our apartment since there's no way you're not going to dress up for a party even if it's with people who've seen you at your worst," Jeongguk says, picking up his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. He slings Jimin's gym bag on his other shoulder.
"You don't know who else is going to be there," Jimin defends himself, grinning at him as he picks up his books.
“It’s not like anyone cares, but okay," Jeongguk sighs, shaking his head.
"This is one of those moments where I really feel like you're my best friend," Jimin announces with a laugh. Jeongguk kicks him on the shin.
Jeongguk may like parties just a little bit, he thinks, as he watches Hoseok and Jimin laugh like it’s the first time they’re laughing in a very long time. They all laugh a lot and love to laugh at the benefit of each other. At the moment, they’re laughing at Hoseok imitating Namjoon dancing earlier that day. Jeongguk tries not to laugh too much, not because Namjoon kind of looks like he really wants to punch someone in the midst of his smiles, but because he’s not much of a dancer either.
“Man, where’s Taehyung? He should be here,” Jimin blurts out in fits of laughter. “He does it even better.”
Hoseok bursts into another round of fresh laughter and Jeongguk is left to wonder about the mysterious Taehyung he’s been hearing about Jimin for several weeks now. It’s always been Taehyung this and Taehyung that, that Jeongguk really wants to know what’s so special about this new guy, aside from the fact that he’s also a pretty decent dancer. Now Jeongguk knows that this Taehyung is also apparently good at imitating people.”
“He’s around,” Namjoon answers, sighing and shaking his head at the same time, probably knowing that divulging that information will get him in trouble later on. Jeongguk gets the impression that the dance team ganging up on Namjoon is a common occurrence.
“Probably hiding from Seungyeon,” Hoseok says, leaning back on the couch, trying to catch his breath. His closes his eyes as he evens his breathing, a hand on his chest. Seokjin, who’s been quiet all this time beside Hoseok, albeit smiling, reaches out and brushes his hair away from his forehead.
It’s a gesture that has Hoseok looking at Seokjin with something like fondness in his eyes. It makes Namjoon shake his head and take a swig of his beer, makes Jimin, the damn hopeless romantic that he is, giggle and look around with a sigh. Jeongguk, in turn, gets off his comfortable position on the couch to find a drink.
There really are too many people in Hoseok’s two-bedroom apartment. It seems like every inch of space is filled with someone standing, bobbing their heads to the hip hop beat blasting through the mini speakers in the corner, or groups of people clustered together, chatting away, voices loud above the music. He walks around someone asleep on the floor on his way to the bathroom at the end of the hall and trips on the guy’s shoe.
For a second, Jeongguk thinks it’s Jieun but then the voice is a bit higher pitched than Jieun’s is and takes a deep breath. He turns around and finds the girl who’s been hounding him (which is probably too loose of a term) ever since the track meet last weekend. Yugyeom tells him it’s because he took his shirt off after his win. But really what could Jeongguk have done when his teammates doused him with Coke of all things, Bambam claiming that there was no big bottle of water nearby? Jeongguk smiles, eyeing her dark eye make-up perfectly suiting her light-coloured hair, because there’s no reason to be unkind.
“What’s up?” Jeongguk asks, glancing at the closed bathroom door and praying that it opens to save him.
“I’m Joohyun,” she introduces herself, stepping forward and tucking her hair behind her left ear. It’s a sweet and coy action, one that would have worked if Jeongguk is any way interested. “I’m in two of your electives, Art History and Music Theory."
“Yeah,” he agrees, remembering how she sometimes passed him notes in class. Jeongguk wants to ask how she knows just how many electives he’s taking but decides that he doesn’t need to find out how she memorized his schedule. He glances at the still closed bathroom door, pursing his lips, before turning back to her. “What about it?"
“Nothing really,” Joohyun hurries. “I just—I wanted to ask… There’s this thing next week. My friend, Seulgi, is having a party since it’s her birthday and I was wondering if you’d like to come.” She takes a deep breath, her eyes flicking from the floor to meet Jeongguk’s, her chin jutted out with determination. “As my date."
And there it is. Jeongguk isn’t bragging when he says that not a day goes by that he doesn’t get confessions or gets asked out. He understands that he’s attractive, not that he likes to sound so smug, but then he’s also part of a sports team and he supposes being in one adds to his appeal. It was amusing in the beginning and he had agreed to some dates in the past. But as time went by, he realized that it just wasn’t worth all the time and effort, on his part and the other party’s, when Jeongguk isn’t serious about it anyway. So he stopped accepting confessions and going out at all. But even though he flat-out says no every single time, he still has girls and guys coming up to him to ask him out and even giving him gifts. He doesn’t understand it.
“Joohyun,” Jeongguk starts, wondering how he’s going to let her down easy. She seems like a really nice girl and she’s pretty too. He feels really bad that it’s wasted on him. “I’m going to have to say no. I’m really not into parties,” he hurries to explain when Joohyun opens her mouth to probably counter that. “I’m only here because of Jimin. Really, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t even think of coming here."
“So if Jimin comes, would you go?” Joohyun looks hopeful, her hands clasped together, her pink lips slightly tugged up into a small smile. “I mean, I can ask him and then you can still go."
Jeongguk has to give her credit for being persistent and creative. None of the others have used his friends to lure him in yet. This is a first. But maybe that’s because he mentioned Jimin first. He’s going to have to remember to warn Jimin of any party invitations in the upcoming days. Joohyun’s smile grows wider, more hopeful, probably because she can sense him hesitating and reassessing. But then her face falls into a frown and he’s about to ask what’s wrong when Jeongguk feels the arm around his waist before he even registers the new presence beside him. Joohyun’s brows furrow further at this display of affection, obviously not having noticed Jeongguk stiffening.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” His voice is deep and controlled. When Jeongguk turns to look at him, he sees that the guy’s slightly shorter than him, with lilac hair, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a sly smirk on his thin lips. His arm tightens around Jeongguk’s waist, an urge for him to acknowledge him and what he said.
“Sorry,” Jeongguk stammers, his hand coming up to grip the guy’s slightly smaller, slimmer hand. “I didn’t realize I had to tell you that I was going to the bathroom.” He almost rolls his eyes because he knows what this guy is doing. But then he smiles apologetically at him instead and then at Joohyun, who looks more and more confused with each passing minute.
“Are you…?” Joohyun’s question trails off, her head tilted slightly to one side as she shoots Jeongguk a questioning look. All Jeongguk can do is give her a sheepish smile as the stranger proceeds to give him a back hug, his chin resting on Jeongguk’s shoulder, their cheeks pressed together. “But I thought you didn’t…"
Jeongguk really doesn’t go out on dates. He hasn't for a while now anyway. But what else can he say at this point? “Can you keep a secret, Joohyun?” he says the first thing that pops into his head. “We’re actually out on a date tonight. But we really don’t want people to know.” He’s pretty sure this will go out either way. As he sighs, the arm around his waist moves to his front. Jeongguk feels him smile against his cheek.
“We’re sorry you had to find out this way,” the guy adds, his arms tightening around him. Jeongguk has to bite down his lower lip to stop himself from bursting into laughter. “We really didn’t intend for anyone to know."
“So are you dating exclusively or…?” Joohyun prods, her eyes taking in the guy entangling his fingers with Jeongguk’s.
“Well…” Jeongguk hesitates.
“Don’t put him under the spotlight,” the guy lightly admonishes Joohyun, shifting his stance behind him to a more relaxed one. “I don’t want to hear something like rejection before the night is even over."
“So does that mean that you can go out and be my date on Saturday?” Joohyun presses. She’s really quite persistent and Jeongguk has to admire her for that.
Jeongguk unknowingly squeezes the guy’s hand, unsure as to how to answer that. But it seems this guy knows the how to answer everything.
“I actually have him covered,” he tells Joohyun, much to her disappointment. “Sorry.” Jeongguk can feel him grinning beside him and Jeongguk can’t help but chuckle a little.
Joohyun eventually leaves with a huff from her downturned lips. Jeongguk sincerely hopes that she's not going to say anything to anyone because the last thing he needs is for people to think that he's been lying to them all this time and has been actually dating.
"Thanks," Jeongguk mutters when he's finally untangled himself from the mysterious stranger in all black. He sticks his hands in his pockets as he receives a real smile this time.
The stranger just shrugs, brushing his hair back before patting it down again. "You looked like you needed saving," is all he says. "I know how that feels.” He pauses and then backtracks a bit. “I did, right?” he asks, his eyes flashing with something like concern for a second before disappearing into the blank look he’s been sporting.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees and gives him an out, since he’s not entirely sure what he means by knowing how it feels. “Not really into her or dating anyone really."
The guy nods, smile even more genuine, shoving his hand in his pocket and taking his phone out to look at a message. "You gonna be okay?” He looks back at Jeongguk as he returns his phone back in his pocket.
Jeongguk rolls his eyes. "Yeah, see you," he says and finally goes into the bathroom.
The whole thing could have gone worse really. Joohyun could have coaxed him into attending her friend's party with her repeatedly and Jeongguk would have given in just so she would leave him alone. And Jeongguk would have hated it. Jimin would hate him too because there’s no way Jeongguk’s going there by himself.
When he goes back to his group of friends, Hoseok and Jimin are still laughing. Seokjin and Namjoon are joining them this time though and Jeongguk guesses that Namjoon isn't the subject of the laughter this time.
"There you are!" Jimin greets, nudging Yoongi, whom Jeongguk just notices is now seated beside him, getting up and slinging an arm around Jeongguk. "Where did you go? Taehyung's here." He steers Jeongguk in the direction of the other couch, where some other guys from the dance team where. Jackson, Jaebum... and the stranger from earlier. "Yah Kim Taehyung! This is Jeongguk, my best friend." Jimin beams.
The guy—Taehyung—raises his eyebrows in apparent surprise the moment he lays eyes on Jeongguk. It makes Jeongguk want to pat his hair down or something, which is ridiculous because Jeongguk isn’t the type to care about his looks. In fact, he doesn’t even really care about what other people think of him. He's used to being called ‘cold' or even ‘rude' because he doesn’t even really bother with what other people say or even bother at all when people talk to him.
Jimin coming along was the first time Jeongguk really knew about friendship. Sure, he'd had his brother, who was nice and was patient with him. But until Jimin came along, Jeongguk never really had people truly patient enough to coax him out of his shell and listen to him and then actually be genuinely interested with whatever he had to say. Then when Jieun sat down beside them during lunch on the first day of high school even though Jeongguk didn’t speak a word to her the whole time because he was too busy listening to music, Jeongguk knew she was a keeper. They’re really all the people Jeongguk needs in his life, the ones whose opinions matter to him. So for Taehyung, a stranger, to make him feel even the littlest bit concerned is a bit strange.
“So you’re Jeongguk,” Taehyung says, having the courtesy to get up from the couch and shake his hand. The smile from earlier is back on his lips. Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung smiles at everything.
“And you’re Taehyung,” Jeongguk returns, his eyes flicking from the two black studs on Taehyung’s earlobes that glint under the lights. Taehyung’s grip is so firm that Jeongguk returns the handshake with the same steadiness. “You’re the guy Jimin’s been going on and on about,” he adds, smiling a little as Jimin chuckles beside him.
“I could say the same about you,” Taehyung acknowledges, dropping Jeongguk’s hand and sits back down. He tilts his head to the empty space beside him and Jeongguk looks at Jimin, who just shrugs and makes his way back to sit beside Yoongi, which shouldn’t be surprising. “So earlier…” he starts once Jeongguk settles in beside him. He keeps his voice low and Jeongguk immediately know what he means.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jeongguk assures him with a shrug. “Jimin would probably have a fit if he found out.” Jimin would make an incredibly big fuss about it. Jeongguk doesn’t really know what Taehyung is like, but Jimin knows very well what Jeongguk is like and what happened earlier would cause something like an uproar. Jimin always goes on and on about Jeongguk being careful about not hurting anyone’s feelings.
“To be fair, since you unwillingly shared earlier and all,” Taehyung responds, wiggling into the seat until he’s properly leaning back. His eyes are on Jeongguk, though, so Jeongguk looks back at him. “I’m not really into dating either so, you know, I meant it when I said that I know how it feels.” Taehyung averts his gaze when he says this, choosing to play with the black ring on his left pinky finger, and Jeongguk tries not to think about what could have caused this. It can’t have been pretty.
“Well I’m glad,” Jeongguk interrupts Taehyung’s thoughts, which seem to be deep, judging by the now faraway look in his eyes when he’s supposedly just looking at his ring. Taehyung jerks and meets his gaze, brows furrowed slightly. “You’re one less person to explain myself to.” He smiles and grabs two beers from the table, handing one to Taehyung. “Cheers."
There are some benefits to going to parties. If it gets Jeongguk to meet people like Taehyung, people who don’t question things and just take them for what they are, why not?
"Eight reps of 800 meters with two minute intervals," their coach says as soon as they're all gathered.
The members of the team groans, showing their displeasure at the slightly tough set of training for the afternoon. Jeongguk just continues stretching, ignoring the way Bambam is pouting and the way Yugyeom is comforting him with an arm around his waist. Minho is already walking to the starting line with Youngjae and Jinyoung following after him and Jeongguk has to smile at how competitive Minho is. Even during practice, Minho makes sure to match or beat the times that he makes during competitions.
"Do you want to do it with one minute intervals then?" Their coach raises his eyebrows at them, arms crossed on his chest with his clipboard.
"Coach, we were just kidding," Bambam says, trying to appease him. “You know how much we love your drills.” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down.
"Well then," coach says, pointing at the starting line. "Get on with it." He walks back to the bleachers and takes a seat, going through his clipboard again. He’s probably already thinking about the the first meet and how many runners he’s going to need from tryouts.
“You’re taking an awful lot of time stretching today,” Joonmyun tells Jeongguk, coming up beside him and crouching down to join him in stretching. “You okay?"
Joonmyun, a senior and team captain, is always doing things like this. He’s the type to make sure that each member of the team is happy because he believes that if they’re happy individually, the team will function better as a whole. He isn’t wrong, but it still makes Jeongguk uncomfortable whenever they have these moments, because it always feels like he can’t hide anything from Joonmyun.
“I’m fine,” Jeongguk assures their team captain as much as he can without looking at him. He gets off the ground and stands up, stretching his arms above his head.
“You only stretch for a longer time when you’re planning to run longer,” Joonmyun points out, standing up as well. He glances at the stands and Jeongguk really hopes he’s not going to point out what he thinks Joonmyun’s going to point out. “You seem to have a lot more fans today,” he says, chuckling as the several girls start cheering Jeongguk on.
Jeongguk lets out a breath as they walk to the starting line. Minho is already halfway across the track, followed by Yugyeom, Youngjae, and Jinyoung. Bambam is trailing a little bit further. Jeongguk is not entirely sure what has happened in the two weeks that have passed since the party, but something seems to have gotten lost in translation.
For some reason, he thought that he’d get close to zero confessions and date invites after what happened at the party. Jeongguk felt like he and Taehyung had been convincing enough that Joohyun wouldn’t be able to help herself and share it with other people anyway. And she did share. People definitely know because he’s been asked about who that guy was at the party and what was so special about him. Why he still gets people watching him during practice is beyond him. Shouldn’t he get less because people now know he’s dating someone?
“Let’s just run,” Jeongguk says. Because running is his solution to everything. It’s an effective solution too. Running doesn’t require any other thoughts, except of reaching a goal that he has for himself. It’s quite selfish, but Jeongguk has grown tired of thinking about what other people think.
The bleachers don’t empty until close to eight o’clock in the evening, way past the time when the his teammates have left the track. Bambam, Yugyeom, and even Joonmyun had lingered behind for a while, sitting on the grass in the middle of the track and just chatting with each other, until they too left since it was getting too late. Jeongguk doesn’t mind. He likes being by himself.
Jeongguk doesn’t rush in the shower, hoping that the warm water will wash away all of the stress he's been feeling for the past few days. Schoolwork has been piling up, although he expected that. Training is picking up too, which is also expected because competition season is starting soon. But then something else seems to be wrong. He hasn't seen Jieun in a while, not since he walked out of her room. It's not normally something he worries about. Jimin and Jieun each have their own lives and other friends whom Jeongguk don't know. But things just feel strained between them ever since and it doesn't help that Jieun seems to have dodged all his subtle attempts to see her. It's a good thing Jimin hasn't noticed anything. It would just make the whole thing worse.
"You really took your time in there, did you?"
Jeongguk's heart almost seizes in his chest when he sees Jieun push herself off the wall. He blinks at her, not entirely sure that she's actually there. She almost seems like a vision since it feels like a long time since they last talked.
"Hey," Jeongguk says, running a hand through his hair before patting it back down. "You could've told me you were coming."
Jieun chuckles as she falls into step with him, the skirt of her blue dress swishing against his shorts. "It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you," she says, peering at him with a soft smile that he knows is her way of showing him aegyo. Jimin completely melts with it. Jeongguk, meanwhile, always pretends it doesn't affect him. "Did you miss me?" She flutters her lashes this time, a pout on her lips, and man, she's really pulling out all the stops.
"Where have you been?" Jeongguk rolls his eyes and wraps an arm around her shoulders. He decides that's enough of an answer to her question. She seems okay with it if the way she hums happily is any indication.
"Around," Jieun answers. "I had this huge paper to finish and I knew I wouldn't be able to do it if I saw your faces."
The knowledge that she hasn't been meeting up with Jimin as well eases the knot in his chest that's been tightening for the past couple of days. Jeongguk taps her arm and hums. This is why he didn't need to worry. Jieun disappears on them all the time and it usually just means she's too busy. He never needed to read into it.
"So," Jieun starts, reaching up to hold Jeongguk's hand that's on her shoulder. "What's this I've been hearing about you going out with some guy?" Jeongguk groans because if Jieun, who doesn't listen to or care about gossip, has heard it, it literally means everyone knows. "I asked Jimin about it and he doesn't know what's going on, although he did say he heard about it."
"We don't see each other for two weeks and that's the first thing you ask me?" Jeongguk complains. He lifts his arm away from her and pushes her away in a playful manner that doesn't send her sprawling to the ground. "Really?"
Jieun laughs and just wraps her arms around his, pulling him back to her side. "Really," she answers, sounding serious with a hint of amusement. "It's literally all I've been hearing about," she shares. "Jiyeon and Sunyoung kept on asking me about it too."
Jeongguk scrunches his nose as he sighs. "He's just some guy I met," he vaguely answers, remembering the way Taehyung appeared out of nowhere and pretended they were going out. "It's really not a big deal."
"You mean it's not a whirlwind romance where you were swept off your feet and have now found the one to make you swear off singledom?" Jieun asks with a hand on her chest, her voice breathless and dramatic.
"I'm not really one to get sucked in into a whirlwind romance," Jeongguk snickers. The rumor mill really amazes him sometimes. It's completely ridiculous what people come up with just because they're too afraid to go to the source and ask. "I'm not even one for romance," he adds. "You know me."
"I really do," Jieun says and her voice is quiet, her hold on his arm loosening before she completely lets go.
"Let's stop talking about my nonexistent love life," Jeongguk announces, knowing that Jieun will drop it. "You staying for dinner?"
"What are you talking about?" Jieun scoffs. "You're sleeping on the couch tonight. I'm sleeping over."
Jeongguk laughs and slips his arm back around Jieun. If this means that things are really okay, he'll take it.
When Jeongguk was a kid, he wanted a lot of things. No, Jeongguk wanted everything. He wanted a big house with a swimming pool, his own room colored red, black and white, an Xbox that he can play with his friends, those new Nikes, and many other things. As he grew older, Jeongguk's wants changed. From wanting material things, he started wanting more of the less material ones. He wanted people to talk to and listen to him, wanted his brother to explain things like relationships and talk to him about it, wanted his parents to be home more often, for his parents to stop fighting so much when they're home... He got almost everything he dreamed about. But looking back now, Jeongguk wishes that the ones that he were able to get were the ones that actually mattered.
He hasn’t really wanted anything much after he moved out of his family’s home for university. After so many heartaches and heartbreaks, Jeongguk has learned that wanting things leads to getting hopes up and exceeding expectations breeds crushing disappointment. Now all he really wants is to live simply and live with whatever he already has.
And that includes being left alone with regards to his (non-existent) love life.
There’s a slap on his arm and whatever his next line of thought was going to be is forgotten. Jimin is staring at him, his eyebrows raised and lips pressed together into a tight line. It’s quite clear that he’s not very pleased with Jeongguk spacing out on him. Again. Especially when they’re in the middle of a discussion about what to do for their paper for which they’re partnered for.
“Sorry, I promise I was listening,” Jeongguk says at once, the words tumbling out one after the other in their typical jumbled fashion when he’s lying and trying to make amends. Jimin just sighs at him. “Well, I heard most of what you said.” He pouts a little at him and he just shakes his head at him.
“I know this isn’t as exciting as running, Jeongguk,” Jimin starts, running a hand through his hair. “But you’re going to have to pay attention because this counts for a lot of our grade and I’m not going to write this paper by myself.” He gives him a pointed look and Jeongguk is almost offended. Almost, because Jimin very well knows how much he takes his studies seriously.
“This is exciting,” Jeongguk interjects, probably all too late, even though he means it. He has been looking forward to writing this paper ever since it was mentioned at the start of the term. He’d even made sure almost immediately that Jimin was going to do it with him because, aside from being his best friend, he knew he could count on him to do actual work alongside his. “There are just too many things—they’re not an excuse. I don’t have an excuse,” he amends. “I’m sorry. I’m listening."
Jimin closes the notebook in front of him and folds his arms on top of the table. “What is it?” he asks. The irritated look on his face is gone, replaced by concern, which Jeongguk really hates putting on his face. “You’ve been really out of it this week,” Jimin continues. “Is everything okay?"
Jeongguk bites the inside of his lower lip, actually considering telling him. Whom else could he tell? Jieun? She’d already dropped the subject when he subtly willed her to. He can’t possibly bring it up with her again. There’s really no one else to talk to about stuff like this. Besides, he’s pretty sure Jimin will understand.
“My mom called yesterday,” Jeongguk starts, pausing for a bit just to watch Jimin’s face. He just sits there and waits for him to continue. Jeongguk lets out a breath. “She called, which is normal, since we talk practically every week. But this call was different. She didn’t greet me with her overly cheerful hello. She just straight up asked me why I haven’t introduced my ex to her before we broke up.”
Jeongguk picks at the inner seam of his jeans where a loose thread is hanging. He’d never felt so taken aback in his life. It was one thing to find out that he even had an ex to dump. But more importantly, how it had come to his mother’s attention at all and how that rumour had spurned a ton of other questions. Of all the times this conversation could come up, Jeongguk never expected it to be one with a member of his family, even more his mother. She's always known how much Jeongguk values his privacy and has watched him grow up dating here and there but never really dating, and he thought his mother understood that. But Jeongguk’s older brother had just gotten married too. Jeongguk should have expected this conversation to happen sooner or later. He suspects that his mother has wanted to bring this up for a while, except Jeongguk never really comes to visit and she just hasn’t had the chance to talk to him about it in person. And now there’s this and she just can’t wait any longer.
“Ex?” Jimin’s eyebrows look like they’re about to disappear under his bangs. “You’ve been going out with someone? Was it that guy? I thought that was—"
Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “You know I’m not,” he interrupts him. He tilts his head, urging him to continue. “You know Seulgi, right?” he asks and Jimin nods. “Well, she told her mom that her best friend Joohyun got dumped at a party.” Realization floods Jimin’s eyes and he shakes her head, placing a palm on his cheek, leaning on it. “Guess who Seulgi’s mom is friends with?” he finishes with a sigh.
“Wow,” Jimin finally says after a few moments of silence. “So it seems like Joohyun was your ex-girlfriend.” He covers his laughter with his hand.
“Jiminie, it’s not funny,” Jeongguk says, words almost coming out as a whine. “And now that I’ve cleared things up with her, my mom keeps telling me that I should be dating, that she’s going to set me up on dates.” He groans at the thought.
“It kind of is funny," Jimin insists. “I mean, really, this whole thing has gotten so out of control, you’re going to have to do something about it."
“Like what?” Jeongguk stares at his books on the table and wonders why this is such a big deal. “I don’t get why it’s so important for people to want to see me with someone,” he muses, sounding disgruntled. He makes a face when Jimin chuckles. “I mean, don’t they all have their own love lives to bother with?"
“The thing is, Jeongguk,” Jimin says, pressing his lips together as he tries very hard not to continue laughing and reaching out to touch his arm. “All those people, at least the ones in this university, are thinking about their love lives.” Jeongguk raises an eyebrow at his in question. “They all want you, Jeon Jeongguk, seemingly this university’s most eligible bachelor, to be a part of it."
“That’s insane,” Jeongguk grumbles. He figured that’s what’s going on. But it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous hearing it out loud. “How many times do I have to tell people that I am not interested in dating? Sure I’ve gone out with a few people during freshman year, but I haven’t dated anyone in two years."
“Yes, exactly,” Jimin interjects, sucking on his lower lip just so he wouldn’t burst into another round of laughter that he knows Jeongguk won’t appreciate. "You been rejecting every proposal and confession for two years and then all of a sudden you quote-unquote get caught being out on a date with some guy no one even knows and one you still haven’t told me about." He leans back on her seat. "So now, everyone thinks," he goes on, gasping with a flourish and a hand on his chest, "he's dating again, I must go try my luck out even more."
Jeongguk buries his face on his arms, landing face down on the stone table. All around them in the courtyard people probably weren't paying attention, but he doesn't really want anyone to witness his embarrassment. If he'd known that's what people are going to think, he wouldn't have done it. Joohyun's feelings would've probably gotten more hurt because there's no way he would've have gone to that party as her date.
Jeongguk lifts his head up and looks at Jimin, who's been watching him with amusement. "I was in a tight spot," he defends himself. "It seemed like the best thing to do at the time." Besides, it wasn't entirely his fault. Taehyung had come out of nowhere and had created a story for him without asking Jeongguk if it was okay. Granted, there was no time to discuss, but Jeongguk wouldn't have thought of doing that without someone else’s help.
“I might have a solution to your dilemma,” Jimin starts and Jeongguk sits up straight, looking at him expectantly. “It can be quite tricky, though."
“I’m listening,” Jeongguk says anyway.
But before Jimin can say anything else, two arms wrap around Jeongguk’s neck. Jeongguk looks up and finds Jieun grinning down at him.
“Looks like you guys were having a serious conversation,” Jieun adds, leaning her chin against Jeongguk’s head.
“Just school stuff,” Jimin says before Jeongguk can even open his mouth.
Jeongguk gives Jimin a grateful smile, to which he rolls his eyes at. “We have a paper to write together,” Jeongguk tells her, reaching up to hold her hands in his. “What are you doing here?” he then asks.
Jeongguk looks up to meet Jieun’s eyes in question. She, in turn, leans forward to meet his eyes better. “I surprisingly have no homework today,” she tells them with pride. “And I know you don’t have track today so I was wondering if you wanted to hang out.” She wiggles her eyebrows up and down. “We could come back to my dorm and just watch some movies or something."
Jeongguk swallows, hoping that his discomfort at the offer doesn’t show. Ever since that night, he told himself he wouldn’t hang out with her alone, especially if there’s any possibility it could lead them to compromising situations, yet again. He doesn’t want to put her in that position any more than he doesn’t want anything to ruin their friendship. Jeongguk hates to lie, but in this case, he really has to.
“I can’t,” Jeongguk sighs, tugging at Jieun’s hands in apology when she furrows her brows and pouts. “Jimin and I still have to do the outline and actually get started on this paper.” He looks to Jimin for backup and confirmation.
“Yeah,” Jimin says, not missing a beat. “I’m thinking of missing dance practice for this. We were actually just getting started.” He gives Jieun a sheepish smile. “Sorry, this is my fault,” he adds.
Jieun sighs, pulling her arms off Jeongguk. “It sucks that our schedules never match these days,” she says with a shrug. “Oh well.” She pulls her bag higher on her shoulder. “I’ll see you losers tomorrow then,” she says and then waves at Jimin. “Please make sure that Jeongguk actually does his share of the work."
“I will,” Jimin chuckles.
When Jeongguk looks away from Jieun’s retreating back, he catches Jimin giving him a curious look. “What?” he blurts out, cheeks heating up from the scrutiny.
Jimin looks like there’s something he wants to say, but instead comes out with, “You know I’m not skipping dance practice for this, right?” Jeongguk nods, smiling sheepishly. "I better get going too. Namjoon’s going to kick me if I’m late again.”
“I’ll just finish the outline and—,” Jeongguk starts.
He looks past Jimin and sees a familiar figure, gesturing wildly at some guy who keeps trying to catch the hand being waved in front of him. Jeongguk isn’t sure how he knows it’s Taehyung, whose hair has gone from lilac to a silvery, greyish one. It’s not like they’ve seen each other on campus after meeting each other. Maybe it’s the broad shoulders or the way the hair is styled (or unstyled). Either way, Jeongguk is pretty sure it’s him.
“Everything okay?” Jimin asks, following Jeongguk’s gaze. “Hey, isn’t that Taehyung?"
Jeongguk doesn’t respond, too busy watching Taehyung take a step back and another, clearly not wanting to be touched by the other guy. Taehyung turns a little and Jeongguk can see the strained smile on his face. The other guy is tall, well-built, handsome, and he clearly is coaxing Taehyung into something that Taehyung clearly doesn’t want.
When the guy grabs Taehyung’s hand and Taehyung struggles to take it back, Jeongguk gets up from his seat and hurries over before he gets the chance to think things through.
Taehyung has his hands clasped behind his back when he gets there and Jeongguk doesn’t even hesitate before taking one of those hands in his. Taehyung jumps when he does but Jeongguk tugs at his cold hand and squeezes, hoping that Taehyung would relax and maybe feel better. This guy is clearly making him uncomfortable.
“Is everything okay?” Jeongguk asks, leaning closer to Taehyung. Jeongguk then turns to him, his lips on Taehyung's ear and whispers, loud enough that the guy would hear, “Sorry it took me so long to get here."
“It’s okay. You’re here now,” Taehyung returns, his hand so tight around Jeongguk’s that Jeongguk feels it getting numb. “Sanghyuk just came to ask a question and was just leaving. Weren’t you, Sanghyuk? Jeongguk is already here. He’ll walk me to my apartment.” The relief on Taehyung’s voice is palpable.
“He’s going to be fine,” Jeongguk adds. Taehyung squeezes Jeongguk’s hand and Jeongguk squeezes back.
Sanghyuk’s eyes narrow at their clasped hands then at Jeongguk. Jeongguk holds his breath, hoping that Sanghyuk won’t do anything like punch him and pick a fight. He’s not sure who Sanghyuk is to Taehyung, but Sanghyuk is much taller and definitely looks like he’d crush Jeongguk if it came to that. For all Jeongguk knows, they could have been in a lover’s spat and Jeongguk crashed it, becoming a third party. He really hopes that’s not the case.
“Okay then,” Sanghyuk says, taking several steps back with his hands up in some sort of surrender. He then gestures for Jeongguk and Taehyung to feel free to leave.
Taehyung doesn’t even give Jeongguk a chance to react and just pulls Jeongguk away from there. Jeongguk, however, steers Taehyung back to the table.
“We can’t stay,” Taehyung quips as they walk back to Jeongguk’s things. “You don’t have to walk me home. Just walk with me to where the dance team practices. At least Sanghyuk will see us together. Hoseok and the others will be with me going back."
“Don’t be ridiculous. If you want to stop by dance practice, that’s fine. But I’ll walk you to your place anyway,” he says, rejecting his idea. "Just let me just go get my things.” Jeongguk’s not entirely sure why he’s doing this, going the extra mile, when he’s already returned the favor. But Taehyung looks shaken enough that Jeongguk doesn’t even bother wondering why he’s doing these things for this person who is still mostly a stranger. “Who was that guy?"
“He’s in one of my classes,” Taehyung shares, leaning against Jeongguk a little bit. “He’s been asking me out but he hasn’t been that persistent before.” He shudders and Jeongguk lets go of Taehyung's hand so he can put his arm around him instead. “I could have handled it,” Taehyung then tells him and Jeongguk opens his mouth to explain his actions. “But thank you,” Taehyung continues, giving him a small but grateful smile.
Jeongguk’s ears feel hot at the earnestness in Taehyung’s voice. “Don’t mention it.”
“Everything okay?” Jimin asks when they get back. “What happened?"
Jeongguk drops his arm off from around Taehyung as Taehyung starts explaining about Sanghyuk, about how he’d been pestering Taehyung for a while now. Jeongguk had forgotten about Jimin that entire time, forgot that Jimin was watching. Jimin raises his eyebrows at Jeongguk as Taehyung’s explanation comes to a finish, but Jeongguk focuses on getting his things inside his bag and he doesn’t look back.
“So Jeongguk came over and pretended that, what, you two were going out?” Jimin clarifies, looking from Jeongguk to Taehyung and back again. There’s something questioning in Jimin’s gaze when Jeongguk finally looks at him and Jeongguk sighs.
“Taehyung did the same for me back at the party,” Jeongguk finally tells Jimin. Taehyung shifts beside him, his eyes wide with surprise. Jeongguk didn’t really bother explaining to his friends about what happened, didn’t even bother telling them that it was Taehyung, even when they asked. “That’s how the rumour started.”
“So the guy you’re rumoured to be dating is Taehyung? The reason why everyone’s going crazy is because they think you two are dating?” Jimin repeats, bursting into laughter. He turns to Jeongguk. “Why didn’t you tell me it was Taehyung?” He then turns to Taehyung. “Why didn’t you tell me it was you? The dance team has been nagging me about it. Even Jieun has been curious. Who is the guy Jeon Jeongguk is dating?” he goes on.
Jeongguk shrugs. “We didn’t think it was important,” he shares, glancing at Taehyung, who’s smiling at the way Jimin is so amused by the whole thing. “I mean, we decided not to talk about it or tell anyone right after we’d met and realized we had the same friends."
“Except, you know, that girl told everyone,” Taehyung joins in, grinning. Jeongguk sighs beside him and Taehyung nudges him a little, maybe to offer a little comfort or consolation.
“And just now with Sanghyuk… what was that?” Jimin wants to know. He’s leaning back on his seat, watching Jeongguk so closely that Jeongguk is afraid to know what Jimin is thinking.
“That’s Jeongguk returning the favour,” Taehyung says, putting an arm around Jeongguk’s shoulders and squeezing a little. “Don’t be pushy, Jimin. Jeongguk was being a friend. Sanghyuk looked like he was going to drag me back to the apartment.” He grins at Jeongguk, who returns it with a weak smile. “Maybe now he’ll actually leave me alone."
“I’m not being pushy,” Jimin defends himself, holding his hands up. He gets up and picks up his bag. “So are you taking him to dance practice then?” he asks Jeongguk, who blinks at Jimin, a little bit surprised at how light he is taking all of this despite the twenty questions. “That guy is still standing there."
There’s something in Jimin's gaze that tells Jeongguk he’s going to have to explain further later on, but he pushes that out of his head as Taehyung holds his hand when they start walking towards the gym.
It’s the perfect day for running. The sun’s rays and heat isn’t too harsh, warm enough to help with the sweat, but not so hot that it would aid in their exhaustion. The wind is also especially cool that day—it usually is cool enough in the afternoons when they practice, but today has been pretty windy. It would make running extra fun, although strong winds aren’t all that ideal for running but Jeongguk doesn’t really care. He’s been itching to put on his running shoes all day.
He’d gotten another call from his mother that morning. She told him to take Joohyun out for one date, just for him to apologize properly. It makes absolutely no sense for him to do that and also makes the whole thing with Taehyung dumb and useless. Jeongguk told his mother that rejection comes everyday in life and that Joohyun would get over it. But then his mother insisted and Jeongguk just couldn’t say no. Now, he has to go and find Joohyun and actually talk to her and take her out. To apologize. He has the urge to yell because it’s just stupid and he’s going to end up doing it anyway.
“Okay, those who are here for the tryouts, stand on my left,” the coach announces, gesturing to his left. “And the team to my right. I’ll oversee the tryouts, while Joonmyun will take over the time trials.” He waves to those trying out to follow after him, walking on the other side of the track, crossing the grass in the middle of the oval.
Jeongguk stands at the back of the group, just behind Youngjae, who’s carefully eyeing the guys who are trying out. Youngjae is probably nervous about his ranking, which doesn’t really matter because he’s already on the team no matter what. All those on the team really have to do is work on improving their times. Thinking about the time trials, Jeongguk almost groans out loud because they’re all going to have to do sprints, even the long distance runners. He’s really not a fan of sprints. He’s not used to the different pacing; his breathing always getting heavy too fast and, even so, the whole thing is over too quickly. It almost feels like running and then giving up when he's not even halfway done.
Jeongguk does his best anyway. He’s really not one to half-ass anything just because he doesn’t like it. Running is running and no matter what form it is, he’s always going to want to do it. His chest burns with each sprint that his does, his feet and legs pushing harder with each one he starts. The burn reminds him of the first few times he’s started running, angry, naive, and feeling like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
He walks in circles to cool down after he’s done with all his sprints, which, judging by the look on Joonmyun’s face, have all improved.
“Good job,” Joonmyun comments, looking up from the clipboard where he’s writing down the times. “You okay to do endurance in a bit? We’re only timing for the three kilometer run."
“Sure,” Jeongguk says, laying down on the grass for a bit and closing his eyes. He doesn’t even bother watching the tryouts like the others are doing. Not a lot of talking is necessary to be on the team anyway so he doesn’t really bother making friends. Sure he talks to his teammates, especially Joonmyun, Bambam and Yugyeom, but that’s because they’re the type of people who cling. Also Joonmyun is team captain. There is no way Jeongguk can’t talk to him. Minho, too, since he’s vice-captain. But running is a solo sport. It’s one of the things he loves most about it.
“So this is what you do."
Jeongguk opens his eyes and squints, trying to see through the sunlight. Something blocks the sunlight and he blinks several times to make sure he’s seeing right. There’s a Taehyung-shaped head, hair tied up with a rubber band, sprouting up like a fountain and it’s looking down at him with a big grin on its face.
Jeongguk blinks several more times before he asks, “What are you doing here?"
“I saw that the track team was having tryouts and decided to check it out,” Taehyung explains, leaning back on his arms, legs stretched out in front of him, as Jeongguk sits up. He looks around and grins happily, his lips shaping like a rectangular box. “Looks fun,” he says, wiggling a little.
Jeongguk eyes the way Taehyung’s shiny, now blond, fountain hair wiggles on top of his head along with the rest of him. “What’s your major? Can you handle joining two teams?” he asks, watching as Taehyung lifts his face, dotted with a bit of perspiration, up to the sky. His eyes are closed, looking like he’s enjoying the cool breeze and the sunlight on his face.
“Biology,” Taehyung answers, blinking his eyes open and looking at Jeongguk, who immediately drags his eyes away from the mole under the tip of Taehyung’s nose. “What does it matter? What are you talking about?"
“Isn’t being on the dance team exhausting enough? How are you going to manage practicing for both that and track?” Jeongguk asks, swallowing before looking back at Taehyung. He’s staring at Jeongguk with a patient expression, eyebrows lifting slightly at his question.
“I’m not on the dance team, though?” Taehyung tells him, much to Jeongguk’s surprise.
“Yes, you are,” Jeongguk insists, leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees. Taehyung chuckles. “You go to dance practice. I even walked you there the last time. You also hang out with the dance team a lot.” He flushes a little at the memory of the last time they saw each other, Taehyung holding his hand like his life depended on it. When he looks at Taehyung again, Jeongguk is interested to find a tinge of pink to Taehyung’s cheeks.
Jeongguk didn’t end up walking Taehyung back to his apartment. Taehyung had insisted that he was fine and that Sanghyuk seeing them walk together, holding hands, to dance practice was enough of a show. For some reason, Jeongguk was worried that Sanghyuk would corner him again afterwards, but Taehyung assured him that Jimin and the others would be with him.
“I’m not on the dance team,” Taeyung repeats, chuckling so much that his eyes turn into two half moons. “I just dance with them and hang out with them.” He shrugs when Jeongguk gapes at him. “I’ve known Jimin for a while too. He’s the one who introduced me to everyone when I got here."
“So you’re trying out for the track team?” Jeongguk asks, confused at why Taehyung would attend dance practices when he’s not on the team. Like, why would anyone do that? Why doesn’t he just join the team if he enjoys dancing and likes dancing with them anyway?
“It could be fun,” Taehyung says, turning to watch some members of the team go on their time trials, "and convenient."
Jeongguk raises an eyebrow. “How so?"
“I’ll explain later.” Taehyung winks at him before getting up and jogging to join the rest of the guys trying out.
Jeongguk doesn’t get the time to analyze what Taehyung could possibly mean because Joonmyun is calling him for his three kilometer time trial. He dusts his shorts off as he walks to the starting line, doing a little bit of stretching when he gets there, and ignores how their coach leads the guys trying out to the middle of the oval to watch. Jeongguk does not look when Taehyung yells out a cheer just before Joonmyun tells him to go whenever he’s ready.
This is the kind of running that he’s gotten used to. Before he even thought of joining any track team, he was already running distances like this and it had been because of things that had nothing to do with exercise. It was only when Jimin brought up trying out for the team in high school that Jeongguk ever thought of putting this skill into any sort of use.
He gets into some sort of zone when he goes to run. His mind clears and the only thought that remains is that he should go as fast and as far as he can until all he can hear is the whistling of the breeze in his ears and feel the wind in his hair. Jeongguk doesn’t even register the slight burn in his chest or how his muscles ache a bit afterwards. What matters to him is that he got to run and made it.
The cheering after his time trial is loud and absurd. The way people are clapping, one would think he won the gold medal. But it’s just time trials and Jeongguk is beyond embarrassed, especially with the way the team is cheering and laughing along. Jeongguk walks to the grass in the middle of the oval, accepting the bottle of water that Bambam hands him, and glances at the stopwatch that Joonmyun is showing him.
“You never disappoint,” Joonmyun comments with a smile. He then glances at the stands. “It seems your fans aren’t disappointed too.”
“Stop,” Jeongguk groans, turning to glare at Bambam and Yugyeom who are still cheering and clapping like a pair of hyenas. He ignores the rest of the team and the guys trying out as he makes his way to the locker rooms.
Someone catches up to him and slings an arm around his neck. “You shouldn’t be hard on them,” Taehyung comments with a light chuckle. “You were really fast and amazing. And something that amazing should be known and cheered on."
“It was a time trial,” Jeongguk mutters, taking several more gulps of water. “Not the Olympics."
“So are you saying only the guys at the Olympics deserve recognition?” Taehyung returns. His arm moves a little lower, his fingertips grazing the skin below Jeongguk’s sleeve. Jeongguk pretends to stretch his neck so that Taehyung moves his hand back to his shoulder, on top of his shirt. “Just because someone is not on the world stage, doesn’t mean that they don’t work hard. Just like how not all movies are the best stories to be told. There are some stories and people far more interesting than the ones in films sometimes."
Jeongguk turns to him, eyebrows raised. Taehyung returns his gaze, eyes turning into half moons as he laughs. He still has his hair up in that silly fountain style and there are beads of sweat lining his forehead, but Jeongguk almost thinks that he’s never seen anyone so happy and carefree before. It is almost beautiful. Almost, because Jeongguk doesn’t think of things like that with people he barely knows. He doesn’t even call Jimin beautiful and that guy is probably one of the best people to be described as such.
“I don’t know how you went from the Olympics to that, but okay,” Jeongguk says.
“You don’t always see the important things,” Taehyung tries to summarize it. “What’s essential is invisible to the eye."
“You nerd,” Jeongguk mutters, shoving Taehyung a little so that Taehyung can get off Jeongguk. It was too hot because Taehyung is too warm. But instead of that happening, Taehyung clings to Jeongguk, wrapping both arms around him so that he doesn’t fall.
“I’m not a nerd,” Taehyung retorts, a pout forming on his lips. Jeongguk rolls his eyes and just sighs. “Everyone knows The Little Prince."
“Anyone who quotes books in the middle of conversations is a nerd,” Jeongguk counters, making a face at Taehyung, which, weirdly enough, makes him laugh. Jieun would have just rolled her eyes at him, while Jimin would smack the back of his head. Jimin always tells him that he can be quite rude, but he supposes that he hasn’t been rude enough to Taehyung yet. “So how were your tryouts?"
“I think your coach likes me,” is Taehyung’s mysterious response. “Seems like a pretty good sign that I’ll get in.” He changes the subject before Jeongguk can even say something like congratulations. “So, you think you can spare a few minutes of your busy schedule and get something to eat with me? There’s something I want to ask you."
“I suppose I can make time,” Jeongguk hesitates. It sounds almost ominous the way he asks, but Jeongguk shrugs it off but what can be so wrong about what Taehyung’s going to ask him? “After this?” he asks just as they reach the stands. Taehyung nods.
They were just about to duck into the locker room when Joohyun comes out of nowhere and blocks their way. She’s wearing less make up today, but still looking very pretty with her hair pulled into a loose ponytail. Her eyes move from Jeongguk to Taehyung and to the way Taehyung’s arms are around Jeongguk’s shoulders.
“Joohyun,” Jeongguk blurts out, surprised to see her so soon. He remembers his mother’s phone call and resolves to just be an obedient son. “I was going to come find you so I could talk to you."
“You were?” Joohyun asks, taking a step back, clearly surprised. She glances at Taehyung, who just smiles at her, before looking back at Jeongguk. “Why?"
It takes all of Jeongguk not to say that it’s because of his mother. Instead, he tacks on a smile. “I was going to ask if you wanted to have lunch with me or something,” he says. Lunch seems less date-y than dinner. “To apologize for what happened during the party. I should have been less rude,” he explains just as Taehyung’s arm drops from his shoulders.
Joohyun follows the movement with her eyes, her lips pursing almost imperceptibly. “But you’re with him, right?” she asks, gesturing hesitantly towards Taehyung.
“I… well…” Jeongguk stammers, not sure how to proceed.
“So it’s true? You guys are together?” Joohyun presses, crossing her arms on her chest. “Because I’m not going out to lunch with a guy who’s with someone, even if it’s for an apology.” Her hair covers her eyes a little as the wind blows and Jeongguk finds some sort of relief when the sadness in her eyes is hidden away.
Jeongguk isn’t ready for an answer because saying yes sounds so definite, and even that kind of fake commitment terrifies him. Luckily, it’s Taehyung who speaks up.
“Is there a problem with that?” Taehyung asks and it’s vague enough that he could mean anything by it. It could be referring to her last statement.
“Well, no,” Joohyun immediately responds, but she looks like there are more things she wants to say. Jeongguk can sense it in the way she shifts in her stance and how she looks back and forth between him and Taehyung. She seems to make up her mind when she focuses her gaze on Jeongguk. “Why him?” she then decides.
It’s a loaded question and Jeongguk is reminded of the conversation he had with Jimin. After two years, Jeon Jeongguk has finally decided to date, and it’s this guy. What is so special about him? Jeongguk looks at Taehyung, who just looks back at him, and Jeongguk can kind of guess where this is going.
“Why not?” Jeongguk says with a shrug.
“You alright?” Taehyung nudges Jeongguk’s arm lightly as they wait for their food in one of the corner tables of a quaint Chinese restaurant outside of university. “You look kind of bad for someone who’s just revealed that he’s dating a really hot guy. It’s not that bad having me as a boyfriend, right?” he teases.
Jeongguk snorts and shakes his head. “You are not my boyfriend,” he states. It comes out harsher than he means to but Taehyung doesn’t seem to have noticed, only chuckling in response. “And you’re not that hot,” he adds, smiling a little when Taehyung bursts into laughter.
“Ah, but that means I’m hot enough!” Taehyung says, clapping like he’s just won the lottery. “That’s good enough for me.” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down. Jeongguk just shakes his head and stares at the red tabletop. This time, Taehyung catches his attention by kicking his foot lightly. “What’s so bad about having a relationship?” he asks. It’s so straightforward that Jeongguk just gapes at him for several seconds.
“Let me ask you that question,” Jeongguk returns, hoping he doesn’t sound so defensive, leaning back on the backrest of the booth and raising his eyebrows. “What’s so bad about having a relationship? I’m not the only one in this table who doesn’t want to entertain any suitors.” He feels like he’s prying a bit, but Jeongguk really doesn’t want to talk about his own story.
Taehyung laughs, but something shifts as he leans back as well, his hands on the table. His smile isn’t as bright as before as he plays with that ring on his pinky again. Jeongguk feels bad for asking. Jeongguk really shouldn’t have gotten his hackles up and pushed Taehyung to bring up his own issues just so they can avoid talking about his. It’s not fair, especially since Jeongguk has no plans whatsoever to tell Taehyung anything about him. Whatever this friendship is between them, it’s purely because it’s beneficial for the both of them. And completely by accident too.
“The short story is,” Taehyung starts, a smile still pasted on his lips, one that doesn’t reach his eyes. Jeongguk looks away and stares at Taehyung’s hands instead. They’re a bit slimmer than Jeongguk’s, long, almost pretty fingers. “I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person and that didn’t happen.”
“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk says. It’s lame, but what else can he say? He really is sorry. He’s also sorry that he made Taehyung bring it up and talk about it. "I shouldn’t have asked. I tend to miss social cues sometimes."
Taehyung shakes his head, his bangs moving sideways, showing a bit of his forehead. “It’s fine,” he says firmly, smiling his happier smile. “Why wouldn’t you ask? It’s been pretty good here so far,” he continues. “Yoongi and Jimin have been a big help to me. Without them, I wouldn’t have settled in as fast as I did."
Jeongguk thinks it has everything to do with Taehyung bright personality, but he doesn’t say anything. “You know Yoongi?” he asks instead before catching himself. “Oh right because of Jimin and because he works with the dance team."
“No,” Taehyung answers, shaking his head. “I actually met Jimin because of Yoongi. Yoongi and my ex were friends and I met Jimin just before they got together.” Jeongguk scrunches his face as he thinks about when that was. “It was freshman year and Yoongi was a sophomore,” he supplies.
“So you’ve witnessed a bit of the dance that those two did around each other,” Jeongguk comments, making a face as he remembers how giddy had been when Yoongi so much just glanced his way. He didn’t think it was possible for someone to swoon at someone every single time, but Jimin proved him wrong.
Taehyung laughs, his bangs falling over his eyes as he nods. He then goes on to talk about all the funny but cute little things that Yoongi wanted to do for Jimin, as per his ex, and Jeongguk couldn’t help but think about how much effort being in a relationship entails. Sure, there are things such as gifts and money and dates. But then there are also the other things, the ones that are easier to part with but harder to forget. Like time, emotions, feelings… your heart. Jeongguk never really did understand how people can be so willing to take that step over the edge and fall for someone they will never really fully know. You could spend time with a person, years, maybe your whole life, and be surprised that, in the end, they’re not the person you thought they were. Jeongguk isn’t sure how people can take the risk of giving their heart away to people just like that. He knows he can’t.
“You’re really quiet, aren’t you?” Taehyung’s voice seeps into his thoughts and Jeongguk looks up from where he’s been staring at his now empty plate. “I mean, aside from fending off your suitors, you never really say anything.” He smiles a little. There’s something a little like understanding in his eyes.
“Why waste words?” Jeongguk says. He’s always been that quiet kid. Jimin knew it right when they met when he’d just sat there while Jimin did all the talking. Jieun knew it too. And at the beginning, they both wondered if there was something wrong with him, until they realized that he just can’t be bothered to talk when there’s nothing important to be said.
Taehyung chuckles, but shrugs. “For conversation? Socialization? Friendship?” he suggests.
“You seem like you don’t need any of those things to talk,” Jeongguk teases. He expects Taehyung to laugh it off, but instead Taehyung nods seriously.
“I find that it helps me think,” Taehyung shares. He leans on the table, pushing his plate to the side. “Which is why I talk to myself a lot. I find that I’m the best person to listen to myself. My friends get tired of listening to me ramble sometimes and I always really need to sound off on things."
Jeongguk stares at him, a little bit in shock at how serious Taehyung is being. About something a little bit crazy as talking to himself. “Uh," he hesitates. “I hope you don’t do it in public at least."
“Who cares?” Taehyung says, shrugging again. “It’s not like people are surprised at how weird I am anymore. I mean, people tell me I’m weird at least once a day.” He looks a little sad at those words and Jeongguk frowns.
“You’re not weird,” Jeongguk blurts out with a sudden surge of overprotectiveness, from where, he’s not sure. Taehyung’s eyebrows are raised, a hint of a smile on the corners of his lips. “I mean,” he backtracks. “Everyone’s a little bit weird, right?"
Taehyung smiles so wide and so big that Jeongguk feels a little bit overwhelmed. He leans back further on his seat and crosses his arms on his chest, maybe to protect himself from the happy. He thought only Hoseok could look that excited, but apparently he’s wrong.
“See, this is why I think that my plan is going to work perfectly,” Taehyung declares with a flourish, his arms stretching up to the ceiling. “It’s the little things like that, you know. You don’t talk, while I talk enough for the both of us. We compliment each other.” He grins and Jeongguk frowns because he doesn’t understand what Taehyung is talking about.
“What plan?” Jeongguk asks, a little bit worried that there’s a plan that concerns him that he has no idea about.
“You saw how Joohyun backed off when you told her you were seeing me, right?” Taehyung starts, both his arms folded on the tabletop. The drop of ketchup on the table catches the elbow of Taehyung’s shirt but he doesn’t seem to notice or mind.
“Yes,” Jeongguk answers, drawing out the vowel as he tries to figure out where this is going.
“And you know Sanghyuk hasn’t asked me out ever since he saw us holding hands,” Taehyung shares with glee. “He hasn’t even really spoken to me since then, which is sad because Sanghyuk is actually nice and was kind of a good friend, he always helped me out with school work and—"
“Taehyung,” Jeongguk cuts him off with a pointed look. He considered letting Taehyung ramble on because it was interesting to see someone get carried away with his words without care. But Jeongguk knows they’re never going to get to the point of he does.
“Sorry,” Taehyung giggles, clapping his hands together and leaving them clasped. “I was thinking, since that worked so well to our favor, we can just tell everyone we know that we’re dating. Like everyone, even our friends. Of course, it won’t be real. But that way, everyone will just leave us alone. Because they’ll think we’re taken, but really we’re not. It’s a great plan, right?” He grins at his great plan and looks at Jeongguk expectantly.
Jeongguk just blinks because, wow, he didn’t think that this is the plan that Taehyung is talking about. He’s not really sure what he expected. But it certainly isn’t this. It was bad enough that they had to do it before, but doing it for good? For a long time? Jeongguk isn’t sure about that.
“Why would we need to?” Jeongguk says, voice a little bit raspy with nervousness. “When it’s already worked? They already backed off. No need to worry anymore."
“Jeongguk, Jeongguk,” Taehyung chants his name like he’s talking to a five year-old. “People are like sharks. It doesn’t matter what’s actually happening, when they smell blood, they’re going to go for it."
“What are you talking about?” Jeongguk asks, confused at the shark metaphor. It makes him want to laugh and shake Taehyung at the same time, although he’s pretty sure they’re not that close yet for Jeongguk to manhandle him.
Taehyung sighs as if it’s so hard to make Jeongguk understand things and Jeongguk wants to kick him because he is not stupid. Taehyung is just overly dramatic and has a weird way of explaining things.
“Sure, they’ve backed off,” Taehyung starts slowly, watching Jeongguk to make sure he follows. Jeongguk tries not to roll his eyes. “But that’s only for now. Once they see that we’re not together all the time, like people in dating should be, they’re going to come back and ask you out again. And other people will too, because now it’s fair game. You have started dating again and they’ll think you’ll want to do it again and more. They’re going to try their luck."
Jeongguk feels a headache coming on. He hates that his conversation with Jimin keeps coming back to him and he hates that it’s because of the whole pretend thing in the first place. Now, he’s pretty sure they shouldn’t have done it in the first place. He suddenly wishes that Taehyung had never come up to him then and saved him from Joohyun. Because, right now, it feels like they just dug themselves into an even deeper ditch.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have done it in the first place then?” Jeongguk voices out because he knows Taehyung won’t be offended. Taehyung doesn’t seem to be like a person who gets easily offended about things. Which is good. Because Jeongguk really doesn’t care about being tactful right now. This whole thing is so stressful. He hates having a discussion on his personal life, much less his love life. “Maybe then we wouldn’t be having this problem and this discussion."
“I was just trying to help, you know, just like you were trying to help me,” Taehyung reminds him, pouting, and, okay, maybe Jeongguk should have been a little bit nicer. Because they really were just trying to help each other. “It’s not like we planned this. I mean, I really couldn’t help myself when you looked so terrified of Joohyun cornering you and asking you out. And I really was—am—grateful that you were there when Sanghyuk did the same to me."
Jeongguk looks out the window and wonders how the hell it’s come to this. He here is, a boy who just wants to finish college and run his heart out, minding his own business because he really doesn’t care much for other people. And now, he’s sitting here with a boy he barely knows, planning a relationship, just because he doesn’t want a real one. It just sounds so absurd. The irony of it all.
“This is ridiculous,” Jeongguk can’t help but say. “How is it going to be different from being in an actual relationship when we’re going to tell even our friends that it’s real?”
“Jimin will know it’s not real,” Taehyung reminds him with a warm smile that shows that this is clearly only a problem to Jeongguk. Jeongguk’s not sure what face he makes but Taehyung launches into another hurried explanation. “The difference is we know it’s not real,” he points out. “You don’t actually have to be in love with me. You don’t even have to kiss me and—hey, I’ll have you know that I’m a very good kisser.” He pokes his tongue out at Jeongguk’s disgusted expression before continuing. “We just need to act like we’re in love so that people will leave us alone. And when we do it long enough, people will get tired and stop trying and just stop trying to ask us out altogether. Can you imagine a day without people coming up to you and confessing or asking you out?"
Right now, Jeongguk really can’t. And he hates that he sounds like a pompous ass even to himself when he says that there hasn’t been a day since he got to university that it has happened. Taehyung’s prospect of Jeongguk's perfect world makes sense, a day spent only with himself or with his select friends, not bothering to fend off anyone or hide from people. But then he remembers what it would take for that to happen. Going out in public and lying to the world (not that he hasn’t done that already) and telling them that he’s in a relationship with Kim Taehyung because he loves him is just… Jeongguk doesn’t think he can stomach it.
“I don’t know,” Jeongguk mumbles, looking down at his lap before glancing up at Taehyung’s face. Taehyung is smiling and really seems like he’s doing all of this for Jeongguk’s benefit, and his, and not for anything else. “Let’s just… sit on that idea for a while.” For some reason, he doesn’t want to reject Taehyung’s idea, for fear that Taehyung would be disappointed and sad that his offer of help hasn’t been heeded.
Taehyung doesn’t look sad. He doesn’t even look disappointed. Instead, Taehyung just laughs and nods. He also slings his arm around Jeongguk once they’re out walking back to university, acting like Jeongguk didn’t indirectly reject him. Jeongguk supposes that’s how it is when you’re like the sun. You don’t really need anyone else’s approval, because maybe they need yours more.
The first track meet of the year comes and goes without much fanfare. At least for Jeongguk. He showed up, put on the singlet with his name on the back and his running shoes, and ran his best for the three kilometer and five kilometer events. Jeongguk won gold for both.
When he walks through the university on the Monday after the meet, Jeongguk is surprised to see several banners congratulating the track team on winning and doing well. He normally wouldn’t care but he suspects these aren’t banners created by the school. They’re too flowery and pink, and he’s pretty sure the school colors are red and gold. Sighing, Jeongguk tightens his hold on his backpack and walks to the cafeteria.
HIs friends aren’t around yet so he takes his usual seat at the very back and opens his textbook. Normally, Jeongguk wouldn’t bother opening his book or even notebook when he’s not in class, but he really doesn’t want to make eye contact right now and invite anyone to have conversation with him, which he senses a few people are dying to have. It makes him appear cold and maybe a bit of a loner sometimes, but he’s found that looking like he’s busy reading cuts the possibility of being approached by half.
“There he is!” Hoseok announces his arrival with loud laughter. He slides onto the seat beside Jeongguk and pulls him into a headlock. “The man of the hour."
“Get off me,” Jeongguk grumbles, although he doesn’t do much to push Hoseok away, knowing that it won’t do much because Hoseok is incredibly clingy when he’s happy and excited. “Also, I’m always the man."
“Always so modest,” Jimin says, sitting across from them, flanked by Yoongi and, surprisingly, Taehyung. “Also, can you talk to this guy?” He shoves Taehyung a little that Taehyung gives out a little yelp, rubbing his arm up and down where Jimin shoved his elbow on it. “He’s been whining and complaining about why he wasn’t asked to watch your meet."
Jeongguk’s eyes flit to Taehyung’s in surprise. “You wanted to watch?” he asks.
Track can be a boring sport, especially Jeongguk’s events, since they take a bit longer than most, and especially to people who don’t like sitting around and waiting for people to cross some finish line. His friends usually avoid watching his meets when they can so Jeongguk isn’t really bothered when they don’t watch.
“Well, yeah,” Taehyung says, licking his lower lip before smiling at him. “You were so good during tryouts that I wanted to see the real thing for myself.” He grins at him. “I wanted to be able to cheer you on for real too."
Jeongguk scoffs. “Well you could’ve been there if you joined the team,” he says, and then flushes when he sees Jimin’s raised eyebrow. Even Yoongi has a small smile on his face and Yoongi rarely ever cares enough about anything, other than Jimin, to smile. Hoseok lets Jeongguk go, pushing him away before chuckling.
“That’s almost romantic, Taehyung,” Hoseok teases. “You shouldn’t act like that with Jeongguk. He’s allergic to romance.” He pats Jeongguk’s shoulder and Jeongguk flinches at his words, even though he knows Hoseok doesn’t mean anything by it. It’s not that it’s a secret to anyone, but talking about it out loud just makes him uncomfortable.
Taehyung chuckles. “I am too,” he says. “Romance is overrated."
The table is silent and Jeongguk allows himself to smile, maybe a little bit gratefully, at Taehyung. Taehyung’s smile widens and wiggles his eyebrows at him.
“Well, maybe Jeongguk here has met his match,” Jimin says, a small smile on his face that Jeongguk has a hard time deciphering. “Just please don’t go sprouting poetic about how it’s better to be single because being taken is great thankyouverymuch, especially when you’re taken by this guy,” he continues, leaning against Yoongi with a love-struck look on his face. Yoongi chuckles and wraps an arm around Jimin’s waist.
Taehyung scoots away from Jimin, while Hoseok gags.
Jeongguk rolls his eyes and gets up. “I’m going to grab some lunch,” he says and walks to the lunch line.
There are a few people ahead of him and he takes his time looking through the food, even though he already knows he’s going to get the black bean noodles. It’s always a good idea to eat black bean noodles. There are about four more people before him when one of the guys from one of his previous classes comes up to him.
“The food here never changes,” Sungjae comments and Jeongguk chuckles, nodding.
“But it’s a good thing that there’s always black bean noodles,” Jeongguk comments.
“That’s my favorite too,” Sungjae says, smile widening as he tugs on the drawstring of his grey hoodie. “I always order the same thing."
“Same,” Jeongguk says.
“So I heard about your win,” Sungjae continues when Jeongguk thinks they’re done making small talk. “Congratulations."
Jeongguk feels his cheeks heat up a bit, but nods, smiling a little. “Thank you,” he says. “I mean, it’s not a big deal.” He shrugs.
“Of course it is,” Sungjae says. “I can’t even run to save my life."
“A lot of my friends are the same,” Jeongguk shares with a light chuckle. Maybe Hoseok and Jimin can, and maybe Taehyung since he did try out for the team. But Yoongi would just stand there, probably even just sit or lie down, and Namjoon would just make a face. Seokjin would be the one to bring them all water.
“You’ve been running for a long time?” Sungjae asks, just as Jeongguk reaches the cashier and orders his meal.
“A couple of years, yeah,” Jeongguk says. His black bean noodle bowl is handed to him and he’s just about to excuse himself when Sungjae interrupts. “It’s not really a fascinating story to be honest."
“I’d love to hear more about it anyway,” Sungjae says with a wider smile as his own meal is served. Something churns in Jeongguk’s stomach. “I mean, I’m just sitting with a few of my friends… maybe you want to join us? I’m a really good listener."
Jeongguk shouldn’t be surprised that anyone who comes up to him is only going to ask him out and not really bother being actually just friends. Which is really depressing and he hates it so much. He doesn’t remember the last time anyone came up to talk to him just because they wanted to talk.
“I’m with my friends too,” Jeongguk says, already taking a step back. His grip on his tray is tight enough to make his knuckles white. “Thanks anyway."
“Maybe another time then?” Sungjae asks. He looks so hopeful and excited about the prospect that Jeongguk tries hard not to sigh or rolls his eyes.
Jeongguk isn’t sure what prompts him to say it but it almost feels like that’s the only thing that’s worked so far so he goes on with it. “I, uh, actually have a boyfriend so…” he tells him.
“Oh I didn’t realize,” Sungjae says, eyes wide. “I didn’t think you were together, just that you were dating—"
“Sorry,” Jeongguk cuts him off, not sure how else to address the rumors.
Sungjae gives him an apologetic smile before hightailing it out of there. Jeongguk doesn’t even have words for what just happened. He’s tired of feeling bad for people and tired of having to feel like he has to explain himself over and over again. Jeongguk takes a deep breath and turns around to walk back to his table. When he does, Taehyung is there, hanging on him, a relaxed arm around Jeongguk’s neck.
“You should stop sneaking up on people like that,” Jeongguk mutters, his heart beating a little bit faster at being surprised at Taehyung’s sudden appearance at his side.
Taehyung just chuckles and it takes them several more steps before he says anything. “So… you have a boyfriend, huh?” His tone is mostly teasing, but there’s also a hint of curiosity in it.
“What are you even doing here?” Jeongguk asks, dodging the question. At the corner of his eye, he sees Sungjae watching them.
“I got sick of Jimin and Yoongi,” Taehyung says. “Hoseok left after you did and it’s really a bad idea to hang out with those two by yourself. They have too much grease.” He actually shudders.
“That sounds gross,” Jeongguk laughs. Somehow, Taehyung always knows how to make him feel at ease even when they’re talking about weird things that usually make Jeongguk feel uneasy.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know how they are,” Taehyung whines. His hand falls to Jeongguk's shoulder and squeezes.
“Jimin still acts like a giddy little school girl around Yoongi sometimes,” Jeongguk points out, showing Taehyung just how much he knows. “And it’s gross a lot of the time."
Jimin hadn’t always acted that way. At the beginning of his relationship with Yoongi, he’d always shied away, worried about how none of this could be real, that it’s still impossible that Yoongi would ever like him back. Which is really stupid because Jimin is the only person who makes Yoongi’s soft heart appear, if Yoongi’s fond smiles are any indication. After a huge fight between them, Jimin finally let his insecurities go and just let himself love Yoongi. And now here they are, being gross everyday.
“So who’s your boyfriend?” Taehyung asks, jumping right back in. It’s clear that he’s not going to let this go.
“Just some idiot,” Jeongguk finally grumbles an answer, letting out a breath. “Anyone who even thinks of being in a relationship with me is actually an idiot.” He gives Taehyung a knowing glance, which Taehyung returns with surprise.
“How so?” Taehyung asks.
Jeongguk sighs again and stops just before they reach their their table to face Taehyung, Taehyung’s arm dropping from his shoulders. “Because I’m never going to want to be in one and I’m just going to end up hurting them,” he explains, looking into Taehyung’s eyes, hoping he understands what he means. He hates having to do this, but he has to. Things have to be clear.
Taehyung doesn’t say anything for a while, but then reaches up to sling his arm around Jeongguk’s shoulders again and pulling him to their table. “It’s like you don’t know me,” he teases, just as they take their seats. "Tell you what,” he suggests, grinning. “Why don’t we celebrate your gold medals? Come with me to the music room after classes. I’ll play you something on my saxophone."
“You play the saxophone?” Jeongguk says, so surprised that he forgets their earlier conversation for a second.
“He’s really good too,” Jimin pipes in when he overhears.
Taehyung grins at Jeongguk. “I’m full of surprises, aren’t I?"
Jeongguk nods. But it’s not like that’s a surprise. Taehyung has been surprising him the moment they met.
Jeongguk generally isn’t the forgetful type, especially when it’s something he’s focused on and something he’s been doing for a while. This is why he has no problem with regards to school. It’s something he’s always wanted to study and he finds it so interesting that studying isn’t something he worries about. It’s the same with running—especially with running. Once he joined the team and learned about the sport in high school, it took him just a snap of a finger to get things. It was easy and natural, to the point that he doesn’t even think about it anymore. He just does it.
This thing with Taehyung, though, Jeongguk always forgets. It’s not because he doesn’t find it important or that he’s doesn’t care about it. It’s just that it’s so weird to find himself in a relationship, despite it being a fake one, that he still hasn’t really wrapped his head around it. It’s only when someone comes up to him that he remembers that, yes, he has a boyfriend (not really) and that he can’t go out with other people (which he is truly grateful for).
“You have a boyfriend?” Bambam asks after Jeongguk gets cornered by a rather tall, but pretty, girl outside of the locker room before they go out to the oval. “A serious boyfriend?"
“Since when?” Yugyeom pipes in, putting an arm around Bambam’s shoulders, when Jeongguk nods.
“Uh,” Jeongguk stammers, shoving his hands into his track pants. “It hasn’t been long. It’s pretty new.” He thinks about how he’s known Taehyung for several weeks now and how they have, technically, been pretending to be together that entire time. “It’s not a big deal,” he adds, feeling his cheeks heating up at the attention.
The rest of the team is listening in, all looking at him like this is big news. Jinyoung and Youngjae are both gaping at him. Jeongguk has to admit that it probably is shocking. He’s been on the team for three years now. Most of these guys have been with him since the beginning and this is the first time Jeongguk has ever had a boyfriend that’s serious that they know of. Joonmyun, however, has a small and encouraging smile on his face, which comforts Jeongguk a little. It makes him think that it’s going to be okay. The precise reason why he and Taehyung are pretending to be together is for people to know about it. Although, he and Taehyung never really gave each other a verbal approval. He supposes this is okay, that he’s actually telling people and talking about it. Taehyung won’t mind.
“It kind of is,” Yugyeom says, patting Jeongguk’s back. “But we’re happy for you.” He grins. “When do we meet the guy?"
Jeongguk glances at the stands, where Taehyung is taking a long stretch of space for himself. He’s sprawled on his stomach, pen sucked in his mouth, brows furrowed as he focuses on the books open in front of him. Taehyung had insisted that it would make perfect sense for him to study at the bleachers, during Jeongguk's practice. It’s kind of weird having Taehyung there, but it makes things easier since he doesn’t have to explain to the team who he is.
“Oh so you are dating him,” Bambam says, mouth hanging open. “I mean, I heard the rumours. But when it comes to you, they’re usually not true.” He smiles a little at Jeongguk. “I guess it’s true this time."
“I guess so,” Jeongguk says, looking at Taehyung, who happens to catch his gaze this time. Taehyung gets up, goes down the few steps, and leans on the railing. He waves at Jeongguk with a big smile on his face. Jeongguk feels his cheeks heating up further when the team starts teasing him when he waves back.
The whole thing is absolutely crazy and he keeps forgetting details that he’s supposed to know, but he’s sure that Taehyung can single-handedly carry this “relationship” by himself. Jeongguk doesn’t have to worry. He shakes the thoughts of relationships and Taehyung out of his head as Joonmyun catches their attention by handing out the training for the day with their coach in a meeting. But before he starts to run, he sneaks a glance in Taehyung’s direction. Taehyung’s focus is back on his work. Jeongguk allows himself a small smile before he pushes off.
If Jeongguk thought that their friends aren’t going to get wind of this new development between him and Taehyung, he was very wrong. It’s not that Jeongguk thought he could get away without explaining it. He just figured they’d know but leave it alone, since they’re his friends and all and they know how much talking about things like this make him uncomfortable. That’s pretty much what they’ve done, though, for the past few days. Jimin only kept on side-eyeing him, while Hoseok and Namjoon kept on sniggering whenever Taehyung becomes touchy with him. At least Yoongi and Seokjin seemed like they didn’t care. He really thought that was going to be that.
Jeongguk arrives late to the party because, one, he didn’t really want to go, and two, he fell asleep and woke up only early into the evening. So when he gets there, he finds his friends already tipsy and loud. He slips into the seat in between Jieun and Jimin, who grins at him and hands him a red paper cup.
“There you are,” Hoseok announces, clapping. “Taehyung said he wasn’t sure if you were coming."
Jeongguk puts his drink down. “Taehyung is here?” he asks, glancing around. The place is full of gyrating bodies and people standing around, drinking. Taehyung had mentioned a party, but Jeongguk felt so tired and sleepy that he didn’t even really remember it until now.
“You don’t know that he’s here?” Namjoon asks, eyebrows raising before furrowing.
“Should he?” Jieun asks, nudging Jeongguk to get him to talk to her privately, and Jeongguk tries to be more subtle in looking for Taehyung. He also tries to avoid the way Jimin is boring holes into his skull. “Haven’t seen you around in a while. How have you been?” Her hair is tied in a messy bun on top of her head, wisps of hair falling to the sides of her face.
“You’re the one who’s been busy,” Jeongguk teases her, fidgeting in his seat and wrapping an arm around her to give her a one-armed hug. “I’ve only been doing the usual things, school and track. You know me.” He takes several gulps of his beer and almost finishes it when he uses the act to look around some more.
It’s only then that Taehyung shows up, wearing a big black, long-sleeved shirt with a rip on the shoulder, and Jeongguk has to fight back a smile because Taehyung is quite unique when choosing his clothes. In the times they’ve seen each other in school and during the ones where they hang out together, Taehyung would always be wearing some baggy shirt with a hole somewhere with baggy pants. And the holes would actually be the style of the shirt. Jeongguk tries not to laughing out loud when Taehyung looks like he wants to share something really funny that he just heard. But then he stops in his tracks in seeing Jeongguk.
“Look who’s here,” Seokjin tells Taehyung, his eyes moving from Taehyung to Jeongguk and back.
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung blurts out, eyes wide. And then he’s grinning and walking towards Jeongguk and pulling him out of his seat. He sits Jeongguk on the other side of the living room without a word, right beside Seokjin and across from Jieun and Jimin. “I’m going to go get a drink,” he then says before walking away.
“Did you guys have a fight?” Hoseok wants to know, looking like he’s upset and worried about the possibility. He tugs at his collared shirt, unbuttoning the first two buttons. His face is red, looking like he almost had too much to drink.
“I’m actually still having trouble wrapping my mind about this whole thing,” Seokjin admits. “I mean just the other day you two were talking about being allergic to romance.”
“What are you talking about?” Jeongguk asks, addressing Hoseok’s question instead. Jimin purses his lips and stares at his beer, while Jieun frowns in confusion.
“You guys didn’t go to the party together,” Hoseok points out. “Both of you didn’t even know the other was going to be here and now you aren’t even really talking."
“Huh,” Jeongguk says because to him those aren’t necessary things for them to do. Is that what it’s supposed to be like when someone’s in a relationship? You have to tell each other where you’re going? That sounds really stifling. Jeongguk almost wants to get up and take a breather outside.
“You really are dating, right? It’s not just another one of those rumors?” Seokjin asks this time and it sets all kinds of warning bells in Jeongguk’s head. He’s the more perceptive one of their friends. Yoongi is, too, but he rarely cares to notice things, unlike Seokjin who just notices everything. “I mean, this is the first time we’re actually hearing you talk about this."
Jeongguk takes several more gulps of his beer, ending up finishing the entire thing. It should be easy to say yes, I am dating Taehyung, we are dating, we are together, but it really isn’t and now Jeongguk is feeling the pressure. Where the hell is Taehyung if he actually is here? He puts his drink down and takes a deep breath, but before he can say anything—he’s not sure what—Jimin puts his own drink down on the table and sighs.
“Jeongguk and Taehyung are really a weirdly private couple,” Jimin explains, glaring at Jeongguk. “They’re not really into public displays of affection.” He smiles at Jeongguk, but it’s a smile that says I hate that you’re making me explain this whole lie to everyone.
Jeongguk looks away from Jimin and sees the way Jieun reacts in the process. Her brows furrow even further and she turns to Jimin in question. Jimin just shrugs at her and smiles, nodding towards Jeongguk, who averts his gaze. Jeongguk doesn’t want to explain now. Even if he could explain, he doesn’t really know how to tell Jieun about it without sounding stupid.
Their friends are quiet and Jeongguk knows it’s not going to be enough. Seokjin doesn’t look like he believes anything. Even Yoongi looks a bit suspicious. Jeongguk has to be the one to say something.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk confirms, his voice raspy. “Sorry I didn’t say anything. I just didn’t think it was a big deal.” Which it really shouldn’t be. If he knew that this is the kind of effort needed for this, he would’ve really thought harder about it. “But yeah,” he adds. “Not really into PDA.”
“Are you kidding? How do you even manage that?” Yoongi chuckles, a bit dryly. “Taehyung is one of the touchiest people I’ve met and he’s not even remotely interested in me.”
“He shouldn’t be,” Jimin mutters and Yoongi just presses a kiss to the crown of Jimin’s head.
Jeongguk silently agrees because Taehyung has been touchy since the first time they met. But he doesn’t say anything else because he’s not sure what’s going on right now and what he should do about it. He wonders if he should just get up and find Taehyung so they could talk about things, because they never really talked about what this whole pretending thing entails. Whinging it may have worked in the beginning, but this is their friends they’re talking about and it’s not going to work if it’s not convincing. Seokjin already looks like he’s going to call bullshit. Jeongguk catches himself at that last thought and wonders when he became so invested in this and in making it work.
“Jeongguk doesn’t like PDA,” Taehyung tells them, coming back and handing Jeongguk a bottle of beer. He then proceeds to sit on Jeongguk’s lap, making Jeongguk choke on his sip of the beer. “So we don’t really act all gross in public. Unlike some people.” He gives Jimin a pointed look and Jeongguk laughs. That was a good save.
Jimin just rolls his eyes as he leans into Yoongi’s side. He opens his mouth to defend himself, but then Yoongi steps in. “Leave us alone, Taehyung,” Yoongi grumbles, pressing another kiss to the side of Jimin’s head. Jimin blushes.
Jeongguk looks away and shakes his head, wrapping his arm around Taehyung’s waist when Taehyung nudges to do so. This is so crazy, he can’t help but think, as Taehyung wiggles on his lap and looks down at him. They’re really going to have to talk about this. It’s a good thing that he doesn’t mind Taehyung. They’ve had quite a bit of practice so it’s not as awkward being affectionate with him.
“What the hell are you wearing?” Jeongguk hisses, teasing him. He reaches up and pokes Taehyung's skin where the rip is on the shoulder of his shirt.
“This is very fashionable, I’ll have you know. Besides, it’s comfortable,” Taehyung says, making a face at him. Jeongguk mimics him because Taehyung is so much fun to tease because he never really takes offense. Taehyung pinches his cheek and Jeongguk yelps.
“Well I never thought I’d see the day,” Jieun finally speaks up, jolting Jeongguk out of the mini staring contest he’s been having with Taehyung for the past few seconds. “Jeon Jeongguk in an actual relationship.” She’s smiling, but she doesn’t sound like she’s actually happy and congratulating him. It makes Jeongguk shift in his seat, unknowingly tightening his hold on Taehyung.
“This calls for a toast,” Hoseok excitedly declares, holding up his red cup. “To Jeongguk and Taehyung."
Jeongguk sighs to himself when he catches Jimin’s wry smile, even as Taehyung laughs.
“What the hell,” Jeongguk hisses, glancing around just as Taehyung pouts at him.
They’re outside of Taehyung’s apartment, where Taehyung told Jeongguk to meet him. Because they’re boyfriends now and, according to Taehyung, Jeongguk should pick him up from his place if he wants to be a good one. Taehyung comes out, wearing a plain white shirt with a denim jacket and denim pants. With a yellow cap. Jeongguk makes a face.
“Hey, I really like this outfit,” Taehyung says, lower lip jutted out as he looks down, patting his outfit. “I even really thought about it and I’ve always liked denim so I thought why not?” He pats his white shirt down some more, pout becoming more prominent.
Jeongguk looks at Taehyung’s outfit and just rolls his eyes. “I don’t even care what you’re wearing,” he says, making a face at him. “I think you look fine,” he adds when he gets a closer look. Sure, Taehyung’s fashion can be questionable but he looks good anyway so there’s really no problem with that. Taehyung’s expression immediately changes into a happy one, eyes crinkling as he smiles happily at him.
“So then why do you look like that?” Taehyung asks, stepping closer to Jeongguk and putting his pointer fingers on the corners of Jeongguk's lips to lift them to a smile. “Much better,” he comments with a satisfied grin.
Jeongguk bats Taehyung's hands away. “Why am I the one picking you up and walking you to classes?” he demands. “Why can’t you do it?"
Taehyung laughs and puts an arm around Jeongguk’s shoulders, like he always does, as they walk out of Taehyung’s apartment building. “Because you need to be conscious of the effort that will take for this to work,” he tells him with a chuckle.
“Well, what if I forget to pick you up then?” Jeongguk says, frowning a little because what Taehyung said makes sense. He really isn’t into this whole thing yet and keeps on forgetting what he should do. He sighs. “This is why I don’t like relationships."
“Good thing you aren’t in one,” Taehyung reminds him, patting Jeongguk's shoulder. “But until you can do this like clockwork, you’ll be the one to consciously make an effort."
“I think we’re going to have to really discuss this,” Jeongguk says after thinking about it. “Like, really sit down and talk about it.” Because what if he makes a mistake and slips? Then all of this would have been for nothing. It would just be a waste and he’d be right back into square one.
“You want to talk about it?” Taehyung asks, more teasing than anything. “Meaning you’re actually going to make an effort to see this whole thing through with me?” His smile is bigger and Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung’s been stressed or annoyed with him because of his lack of effort.
Jeongguk shoves Taehyung, enough to chide his teasing, but brings him back with an arm around his shoulders this time. He knows he hasn’t really been very agreeable over this whole thing, outrightly rejecting it even though he hasn’t done so vocally.
“I know I haven’t been very supportive even though this is for both our benefits,” Jeongguk starts to explain. “But yeah, let’s do this,” he declares, smiling at Taehyung, even though his heart is hammering in his chest. Where do they even begin? How do they actually do this?
Taehyung is looking at him like he knows what Jeongguk is thinking, and Jeongguk is grateful that Taehyung is always looking to him and caring about what he thinks and how he feels about things. He really isn’t sure how he would have handled this if it wasn’t Taehyung helping him through it.
“Let’s start now,” Taehyung announces, chuckling when Jeongguk trips in surprise. “Don’t worry, we’ll start with something easy.” He winks at Jeongguk and Jeongguk just nods as if to say okay I’m ready. “I really like holding hands,” he tells Jeongguk.
Jeongguk nods, closing his eyes for a second as he repeats it in his head. He should really remember things about Taehyung and things that he likes more often, like how Taehyung’s a touchy person and would probably like to be on the receiving end of touches too. So, yes, hand holding. Jeongguk will make sure to remember that.
“You should be holding my hand right about now,” Taehyung’s amused voice breaks into his thoughts.
Jeongguk’s mouth hangs open. “Now? Why? I have my arm around you,” he says. “Besides, I thought we aren’t a PDA couple.” He presses his lips together to hide his panic.
“Practice makes perfect,” Taehyung reminds him. “You should know that our friends don’t look really convinced. We were lucky during the party. But even if we aren’t into public displays of affection, we should still be touching somehow.” He nudges Jeongguk a little, a small, amused smile on his face. It’s a bit strange on Taehyung’s face because usually his smile is so big. “Is it so scary to hold my hand? You’ve done it before."
But Jeongguk wasn’t thinking then. It seemed like the most logical thing to hold Taehyung’s hand because Taehyung looked like he needed someone to hold his hand that time, literally and figuratively. Jeongguk just gave Taehyung what he thought Taehyung needed.
“It’s not so scary,” Taehyung insists when Jeongguk doesn’t answer. He shrugs Jeongguk’s arm off his shoulders. Jeongguk looks down and watches as Taehyung threads their fingers together, Taehyung’s thinner and longer fingers slotted in between his thicker ones. “There doesn’t have to be a reason for holding hands,” he goes on, his smile widening when Jeongguk doesn’t pull away. “Couples don’t really need reasons to do anything together or for each other. They just do it because they like it, because they like each other and can’t get enough of each other.”
“We’re in the middle of the quad,” Jeongguk says anyway, glancing around and noticing the stares that they’re getting. “Can I show how much I can’t get enough of you somewhere else less public?"
Taehyung giggles, his shoulders shaking, his hand tightening on Jeongguk’s. “It’s now or never, Jeon Jeongguk,” he tells him with a sort of determination that Jeongguk wishes he has. “I really don’t see the problem. You’ve held my hand before,” he repeats.
“That was different,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung pouts and Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “I hate it when you pout.” He squeezes Taehyung’s hand.
“I’m cute when I pout,” Taehyung says, pouting even more, probably to make a point and annoy Jeongguk even more.
“Stop it,” Jeongguk grumbles, untangling his hand from Taehyung’s to poke his cheek. He then sighs and puts his hand down so they can hold hands again, which, Jeongguk has to admit, feels actually nice. Taehyung’s hand is warm against his and grounds him, which really isn’t surprising. Everything about Taehyung seems warm and grounding.
“It’s not so hard, right?” Taehyung beams at him and swings their hands back and forth, which is probably catching even more attention. He leans closer to Jeongguk to whisper in his ear. “People look like they don’t know what to think."
“I hate it that people care. What we do is our business. If two people hold hands and are touchy and want to express that, they should be able to do it freely. If we don’t want to be expressive or date at all, that should be our business too,” Jeongguk grumbles under this breath. “So what if we’ve become one of those gross couples?"
“This isn’t even close to being gross,” Taehyung mutters with a chuckle, squeezing Jeongguk’s hand before dropping it and wrapping his arm around Jeongguk’s instead.
“What could be worse?” Jeongguk wants to know.
“Kissing,” Taehyung answers as he leans his cheek on Jeongguk’s shoulder. “In public."
Jeongguk chokes on his own breath and Taehyung bursts into loud laughter.
“Are we going to have to do that?” Jeongguk asks, eyes wide. “Kiss in public?” He’s not a stranger to kissing, even though it has been a while since he’s kissed anyone, but he hasn’t done it in public either and he’s not sure he wants to. Why is this dating thing so complicated? Relationships seem like they take a lot of work. Why do people even want them, especially when they don’t last?
“Let’s focus on hand-holding for now,” Taehyung tells him, his lower lip in between his teeth as he grins at Jeongguk when he takes his hand in his again. “And worry about the rest later.” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down and Jeongguk narrows his eyes at him because he knows Taehyung is teasing.
Jeongguk opens his mouth to retort when he stops in his tracks, tugging Taehyung back with him. Jimin and Yoongi are beside the doorway of their classroom. Yoongi is handing Jimin his books and Jimin is beaming at his boyfriend like an idiot. Jeongguk’s not sure why he hasn’t really noticed before, but Yoongi probably walks Jimin to his classes all the time. Jimin seems like the type to want to be walked to class, while Yoongi is definitely the idiot who indulges all of Jimin’s needs.
“Well, well, look who we have here,” Yoongi dryly remarks, one corner of his mouth lifting up to a smirk. Jimin turns around and his mouth hangs open in surprise.
“You’re walking him to class?” Jimin asks Taehyung, his eyes traveling down to their clasped hands.
“No, he’s walking me to class,” Taehyung corrects him before Jeongguk can answer. He has a smile on his face and Jeongguk can’t help but smile too because Taehyung’s joy is too infectious sometimes.
“You are?” Jimin asks, clearly surprised. Even Yoongi blinks his eyes open, looking more awake.
“What?” Jeongguk says defensively, taking a step back and unconsciously tugging Taehyung closer to him. “What’s so wrong with me walking Taehyung to class?"
“Yeah, I’m his boyfriend,” Taehyung reminds them and Jimin rolls his eyes.
“So this is what it’s like when Jeon Jeongguk is in a relationship,” Yoongi adds, still smirking, slinking an arm around Jimin, who raises his eyebrows at Jeongguk and Taehyung.
“You guys are gross,” Jimin comments, giving Jeongguk a look before making a face at the both of them.
“Yeah well, mind your own relationship,” Jeongguk retorts, making Taehyung laugh as he pulls Taehyung away from there so he can get him to his class.
“My hero,” Taehyung teases once they’re out of earshot.
“Shut up,” Jeongguk grumbles, but doesn’t fight the smile on his face either.
Jeongguk gets used to Taehyung, more so than before, now that he’s around all the time. He also gets used to being affectionate with him, the way boyfriends are supposed to be. Taehyung has taught him all about the little touches, the discreet looks, and the small smiles. They’ve learned how to act like they’re together without being over-the-top, which is something Jeongguk really likes. Jeongguk has learned that shuffling closer to Taehyung says a lot more than a public lip lock does, that it speaks more of comfort and trust. Whenever he looks to his side, he finds Taehyung always there and, after a while, Jeongguk finds himself automatically reaching for Taehyung without even bothering to check if he’s actually there. Taehyung just usually is. It’s kind of amazing how easy it is to intertwine their fingers together, run his fingers through Taehyung’s hair while he’s lying on Jeongguk’s lap, and smile at him like he’s the sun. Taehyung really makes it easy for Jeongguk and all Jeongguk can do is be grateful.
“Is that Japchae I smell? Are you making Japchae?” are the first words out of Taehyung’s mouth the moment he steps into Jeongguk’s apartment and toes off his shoes.
Jeongguk turns and sees Jimin look up from where he’s sitting on the floor, several books open on the table in front of him. “Jeongguk is,” he tells Taehyung, nodding towards the small kitchen before turning back to his books. Jeongguk smiles when Taehyung approaches him with a similar expression on his face.
“You’re making Japchae?” Taehyung says, stepping into Jeongguk’s open arms and wrapping his arms around him too tightly in excitement. “Why?” he asks as he steps back and lets Jeongguk go back to cooking. He leans on the counter, watching Jeongguk mix.
“Because you had that Anatomy & Physiology exam and that Human Genetics paper and then there's that Microbiology Lab that you’ve been whining about,” Jeongguk says, eyes fixed on the pan. The Japchae is almost done. The beef has turned brown and the mushrooms look soft and shiny. He picks up a clean pair of chopsticks and takes a piece of mushroom to feed to Taehyung when he notices Taehyung staring at him. “What? Everything okay?” he asks, a bit worried with the way Taehyung’s eyes are wide and searching.
“Yeah,” Taehyung says, straightening up and blinking several times as if to catch himself. “It’s nothing. I mean, thank you.” He smiles at Jeongguk and it’s a smile that Jeongguk has come to know as Taehyung’s boyfriend smile. It’s the smile that appears on Taehyung’s face whenever he’s putting on a show for whoever’s around them. He supposes it’s for Jimin this time.
“Here, taste this,” Jeongguk says, proceeding with feeding Taehyung a piece of mushroom and then some beef. Taehyung chews, his eyes twinkling with hunger and excitement. “Good?"
“Very good,” Taehyung agrees. He beams at Jeongguk and presses a kiss to his cheek before moving away to get some plates and utensils. Jeongguk stares at him for a second and then turns the stove off. “How’s your Sociological Theory paper?” he asks, handing Jeongguk a plate to put the Japchae on.
“Finished and forgotten,” Jeongguk answers as he transfers the Japchae to the plate. He adds the egg garnish and a tablespoon of sesame seeds, mixes it, and then places it on the table. “What are you doing? Go take a seat and eat.” He wraps an arm around Taehyung’s waist and pulls him away from where he’s about to pour them glasses of juice. He takes over and places the glasses of juice on the table just as Taehyung sits down.
“Come here,” Taehyung says, opening his arms and reaching for Jeongguk.
“The food’s going to get cold,” Jeongguk reminds him even as he allows himself to be wrapped in Taehyung’s arms, Taehyung pressing his face into Jeongguk’s chest for a second before he’s looking up at him, his chin digging into his breast bone.
“Thank you for this,” Taehyung tells him. “I know you’ve been busy too and you know I can’t really cook for you."
Jeongguk looks down at Taehyung, at his slightly messy, now brown hair, his pinking cheeks, and his red lower lip, which Taehyung is biting in his uncertainty and shyness. “Will you stop?” he says, leaning down and allowing himself to press a kiss on Taehyung’s forehead. It’s not something he would normally do but Taehyung looks so adorably worried, Jeongguk feels like he should reassure him. They’re friends, after all, and anything he can do to make his friends feel better, he’ll do. “You’ve been so stressed these days,” he adds. “It’s the least I can do."
“You’re too good to me,” Taehyung sighs when Jeongguk pulls away.
On the contrary, Taehyung is the one too good for Jeongguk. Jeongguk can be too quiet, too focused on running that he forgets to pick Taehyung up sometimes, and too absorbed on himself and his problems. But Taehyung puts up with him and doesn’t berate him, just teases him and understands. So really, the least Jeongguk can do is do things like remember the things that Taehyung likes, like what his favorite food is and make it for him. It’s nothing compared to everything that Taehyung is doing for him.
“You guys are gross,” Jimin comments as he walks into the kitchen with Hoseok behind him.
Hoseok immediately dives for the Japchae without so much as a proper hello and Taehyung, laughing, hurriedly serves him a plateful. Jimin joins them on the table but doesn’t look like he’s going to eat, shaking his head when Taehyung offers him some.
“Very gross,” Hoseok adds, his mouth full and disgusting.
“I made that for Taehyung,” Jeongguk points out, kicking his shin to make his point. “So don’t finish it all."
“Yeah yeah,” Hoseok says as he rubs his shin. “You know I would never have thought that you two would end up together."
Jeongguk frowns as Taehyung asks, “Why not?” His teammates had voiced out the same thing to him during one of their practices and Jeongguk was almost offended that they presumed to know what Jeongguk’s type is.
Jeongguk had shut the whole conversation down by telling them that Taehyung is great, that he’s funny, sweet, crazy intelligent, and could be a good runner if he wanted to be, which makes him everyone’s type. His teammates look chastised by the time he’s done and Jeongguk doesn’t even feel the least bit guilty going off on a tirade about Taehyung, who isn’t really his boyfriend, because everything he’s said is true.
Jeongguk remembers looking to the stands after that whole conversation and feeling some swell of pride when he sees Taehyung look up from what he’s reading and wave at him. It only emphasized his point about how amazing Taehyung is. Who else would come to track practice to support their boyfriend? Jeongguk is pretty sure Taehyung would really do that for his boyfriend, so Jeongguk is quite lucky to be experiencing it firsthand.
“Is Jieun coming over?” Jeongguk asks Jimin, having tuned the rest of the conversation off.
Jimin blinks at him before shaking his head. “She’s busy with some school stuff,” he says.
There’s something about the way Jimin won’t look at him but Jeongguk doesn’t want to dwell too much on it. He hasn’t seen Jieun in a while, her excuse always being that she’s doing too many things, which Jeongguk understands. Still, they’ve always managed to make time for each other before. But maybe this time it’s really too hectic that she doesn’t that much time to spare. Jeongguk takes a deep breath and wills himself to stop worrying over it. He and Jieun are fine.
“You okay?” Taehyung’s hand is massaging the back of Jeongguk’s head, his fingers brushing the ends of his hair.
Jeongguk looks at Taehyung and sees his worrying smile and wonders how things can ever be not okay when Taehyung makes it seem like everything is.
Jeongguk is in the library, in the middle of typing a paper that’s due at the end of the week, when his phone starts ringing. He doesn’t notice it at first, too engrossed with with figuring out how to phrase his point better, but then Taehyung nudges his foot. Jeongguk looks up at him with tired, droopy eyes and Taehyung nods towards his phone, which is vibrating on the wooden tabletop.
“Your phone’s ringing,” Taehyung adds as if he’s not sure Jeongguk understood.
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, grabbing it and hurrying outside to answer it. “Hi mom."
Jeongguk doesn’t understand what his mother's saying at first. She goes on and on about how far Jeongguk’s school is, how far the city is, and how the track is so bumpy and that the president should invest in cheaper ways to travel. He just lets her drone on for a bit, his mind still on his paper and how he should be done with it soon and that he’ll be able to move on to study for a recitation next week, when she tells him that she’s outside his apartment.
“What?” Jeongguk asks, blinking rapidly to wake himself up and check in to the conversation.
“I’m outside your apartment,” his mother repeats with a sigh that tells him she’s being very patient with him. “I was in the city and I thought I’d drop by and see my son who hasn’t come to visit at all."
Jeongguk swallows and takes a deep breath, leaning against the wall beside the library entrance, hoping that the dread tightening his chest will ease. It’s partly guilt, for not coming back home ever since he left for university. But it’s mostly something else, and one he isn’t ready to face, one he has never been ready to face.
“Mom, I’m in the library and—“ Jeongguk stammers, unsure as to how to get out of this. He’s being rude and a really bad son, but he is just not ready. He doesn’t hate his mother, it’s not that. There are just some things he’s been dealing with that he never wants to burden her with.
“Skip class if you have to,” his mother tells him. “I go back tonight and I really don’t want to go without at least seeing you.” She pauses. “It’s been three years, Jeongguk.”
Jeongguk takes another deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut for a second and nodding. “Okay,” he finally agrees. “I’ll call Jimin and let him know you’re there. I think he’s just about done with his class. I’ll be there as soon as I can."
He ends the call the moment his mother says see you and rushes back into the library as soon as he’s sure Jimin is on his way back to their apartment. When Jeongguk gets back to their table, Taehyung is leaning against the table, eyes focused on his text book, one end of a pen in his mouth. Instead of going back to his seat, Jeongguk goes to the empty one on Taehyung’s left, startling Taehyung.
“Hey,” Taehyung says, arm immediately coming up to go around Jeongguk. Jeongguk rarely ever initiates physical contact like this, in spite of all the touching he and Taehyung do. Taehyung, on the other hand, never hesitates, especially when he feels like Jeongguk needs it. Which he really does right now. “Everything okay? Who called?"
Jeongguk lets out a breath, closing his eyes as he shifts closer to Taehyung, his forehead pressed to Taehyung’s neck. Taehyung is always so warm and cozy that he doesn’t even care that he’s being like a puppy right now. Jeongguk needs to give himself a few seconds of quiet, to clear his brain to really understand what’s happening and what’s about to happen. He thinks Taehyung’s embrace is the perfect place to do that.
Jeongguk's relationship with his mother is quite complicated, in the sense that they talk but don’t really talk at all. They talk about his classes mostly. Sometimes she updates him on her day too. But other than that, they don’t really talk about anything else. Because Jeongguk wouldn’t let them talk about anything else, lest it leads to topics he’d rather not even think about.
“Jeongguk, you’re going to have to tell me what’s going on,” Taehyung says, rubbing a hand up and down Jeongguk’s arm.
Jeongguk thinks he feels Taehyung press his lips to his hair, but he isn’t very sure. Not that he would mind if he did. He and Taehyung have done more things together that Jeongguk wouldn’t have thought of doing with anyone, things like leaning on someone, being expressive, showing emotion. Somehow Jeongguk is learning that with Taehyung and, with Taehyung, Jeongguk doesn’t mind. Taehyung knows their boundaries and respects them. Jeongguk trusts him. But he isn’t sure if he trusts him enough to respond to that.
“Do you want to go out?” Jeongguk asks instead, pulling away from Taehyung. “Like maybe grab an early dinner?” He takes his phone out from his pocket and takes a look at the time. His mother is probably in the apartment by now with Jimin. It should be fine. “What do you think? Do you want to?” he asks again, looking up at Taehyung as he pockets his phone. “Early dinner?"
“Jeongguk, are you sure you’re okay?” Taehyung asks, brows furrowed, lips pressed together in a line.
“Just come to dinner with me?” Jeongguk presses once he’s packed all his things. He puts his backpack on. “Please?” He blinks at Taehyung, whose eyes are searching and worried. For a second, Jeongguk thinks Taehyung is going to say no because sometimes Taehyung says no and Jeongguk understands. But he really doesn’t want to be understanding right now so Jeongguk hopes he’ll say yes.
Taehyung takes a deep breath and nods. “Okay,” he agrees, getting up as well, and packs his things. “I’ll go to dinner with you.” He zips his bag up and turns to Jeongguk. “On one condition,” he decides, “if you’ll come back to your apartment like you’re supposed to.”
Jeongguk’s heart hammers in his chest as he swallows. “Jimin told you,” he says.
“He’s looking for you,” Taehyung says. “He didn’t say why but—"
“I’ll walk you home,” Jeongguk cuts him off, sharper than he intended to so he apologizes for by reaching for Taehyung’s hand and squeezing it.
Taehyung doesn’t ask questions on their way to Taehyung’s apartment. Taehyung never asks questions because he’s learned that Jeongguk always voluntarily shares things he wants known, like how he’s not very fond of people who pry into his private life. Jeongguk knows he should give Taehyung a little more credit. For someone who’s come to Jeongguk’s aid every single time he needed it, someone who had to create a ruse just to be able to get Jeongguk out of the danger zone with people every time, Jeongguk thinks Taehyung’s earned a place in Jeongguk’s inner circle. Maybe.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jeongguk says when they reach Taehyung’s door.
“Are you going to be okay?” Taehyung asks. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?” He has his hand on Jeongguk’s arm, steady and comforting.
“I’m fine,” Jeongguk says, managing to put a smile on his face. “See you tomorrow.” He turns to go but Taehyung calls after him.
“Jeongguk, you know that I’m your friend too, right?” Taehyung says, lower lip in between his teeth again. “Before whatever or anything else, I’m your friend and you can always come to me about anything.”
Jeongguk looks at Taehyung. Out of all the people in the world, how is he lucky enough to have been saddled with Kim Taehyung? How is it that Taehyung found him in that crazy party? How is it that Jeongguk was at the right place when Taehyung needed him? It’s interesting how the pieces came together for them to be friends right now, and Jeongguk has never been so grateful. He can’t help but think that whomever Taehyung chooses to love, they're going to be incredibly lucky and unbelievably happy. For Jeongguk, who’s always thought that love is just like a flash of light that burns really bright for a while but then fizzles into darkness, he kind of sees in Taehyung the unending love that some people talk about, kind of like the way the sun just sets but never really goes away.
It’s past midnight, freezing, and his sneakers are going to get worn out. He’s probably to have blisters too, but Jeongguk doesn’t care. The oval is deserted and quiet, as is expected at this time of the night. The crunch of dirt underneath his shoes echo loudly across the track and Jeongguk just runs harder to make even more noise, his breathing becoming more and more laboured with each push. Right now, all he needs is to run.
His mother is probably halfway to their hometown right now and, still, Jeongguk can’t feel like they’re far apart enough. Seeing her just brought back things he’s never really learned how to deal with. Seeing her by herself, hair greying, looking a little bit thinner than the last time he saw her. He hates that he had to see her like this, without warning, without preparing himself, without having to come to terms with everything in his head. It’s unfair to his mother, who hasn’t really done anything wrong and who hasn’t stopped reaching out to her youngest son.
Jeongguk heaves a breath as he circles the oval for what feels like the hundredth time. His chest hurts, breathing laboured from the overexertion, his leg muscles feel too tight, even his arms are hurting. He hasn’t run like this in a long time, like he’s running out of breaths to take, like his heart is going to explode, like there is nothing to go back to. Jeongguk knows he’s being careless. He’s an athlete and he knows that he’s not taking care of himself very well right now. If Joonmyun sees him, his face is probably going to contort in several different expressions, unsure as to how to deal with an out-of-control Jeongguk. But Jeongguk can’t help himself. Running is the only thing that seemed to help for a while. Running made the yelling fall faint. Running made the tears stop from trying to burst out. Running made him forget. Running makes him okay. He’s not sure what else is there that can do all of those things.
“Jeongguk! What are you doing here?”
Jeongguk turns his head so abruptly in the direction of the call that he misses a step and trips. He hits his knees on the dirt, followed by his hands and arms, and rolls several times on the ground, red bits and pieces of the gravel of the oval sticking to his skin and clothes. Jeongguk just lies on his side, closing his eyes, unwilling to feel anything, especially even more pain.
The rushed footsteps reach his side just seconds after his fall and then there’s someone crouching over him, blocking the faint light of the moon, fingers skimming over his face.
“What are you doing here, Taehyung?” Jeongguk grunts, voice ending up raspy as he shifts and feels the pain of his fall. He blinks several times until he gets a good focus at Taehyung hovering over him, in a plain white shirt and grey track pants, hair tied up like that time during tryouts. His face is a little bit swollen, lips too pink and eyes a bit puffy, like he was startled awake. “It’s got to be two in the morning,” he continues, squeezing his eye shut as he tries to breathe evenly. “What are you still doing up?"
“It’s much later actually,” Taehyung corrects him with a huff. Jeongguk opens his eyes when Taehyung places a gentle hand on his cheek. “What the hell are you doing running at three A.M., Jeongguk?”
“I love to run,” is all Jeongguk answers, and then he’s sitting up and groaning as he realizes that he’d fallen harder than he thought. He has scrapes on both his palms, elbows, and arms, he has a big gash on his right knee, and there’s a blackening bruise on his left shin. “Fuck,” he hisses.
“C’mon, let’s get you sorted out,” Taehyung says, biting his lower lip as he helps Jeongguk up. “My place is nearer.”
Jeongguk tries not to lean on Taehyung so much because he’s a heavy burden. Taehyung was probably in bed, happily asleep, and doesn’t deserve to be woken up only to take care of Jeongguk, who can’t seem to get a handle on himself.
“I’m really fine,” Jeongguk tries to argue. “It’s just a few scrapes and bruises. I’ll just sleep it off.”
Taehyung scoffs. “Well then, you can sleep it off at my place,” he insists. “I’m not going to let you go back home by yourself.” He fits himself better under Jeongguk’s arm and tightens his arm around Jeongguk’s waist. “You’re probably just going to run back there and then run around your apartment block until you collapse or something,” he mutters.
Jeongguk doesn’t say anything because Taehyung is right.
Taehyung deposits Jeongguk to the couch and leaves to get the first aid kit under the bathroom’s kitchen sink. Jeongguk’s been in Taehyung’s apartment often enough that he knows where things are, like how he knows that Taehyung has two other junk food storages, in case people the one in the kitchen and finished everything. Or like how Taehyung has too many books about the outer space and extraterrestrial life or how he has CDs upon CDs of downloaded anime shows stored in a special box under his bed. Jeongguk chuckles at how interesting and ridiculous Taehyung is.
“What are you laughing at?” Taehyung asks, sitting beside Jeongguk, opening the first aid kit. He takes out some cotton, several gauzes, a bottle of alcohol and an ointment of some sort.
“Have you finished Haikyuu!! yet?” Jeongguk asks instead of answering his question, turning to him just as he's soaking a cotton ball with alcohol, his hair making a swooshing sound as it slides across the head of the couch.
Taehyung is staring at him with wide, blinking eyes, pink mouth hanging a little open, his hands frozen in their movement. “How do you know I’m watching Haikyuu!!?” he kind of demands, pressing his lips together afterwards.
Jeongguk rolls his eyes and lifts his head to shake it properly. “Remember? I was telling you to just actually join the track team after you whined, yet again, that you never get informed of meet dates, and then you said that you were actually thinking of joining the volleyball team because you liked that orange-haired protagonist and thought he’s so cool,” he relays, drawing quotation marks in the air with his fingers.
Taehyung opens his mouth and the closes it again like he wants to say something but isn’t sure that he wants to. His face goes through several expressions, most of it Jeongguk is unable to identify because they flit through so fast. But then Taehyung narrows his eyes at Jeongguk.
“And you assumed it was Haikyuu!!?” he says, but Jeongguk gets the feeling that’s not what he means to ask at all.
Jeongguk shrugs. “It’s the only volleyball anime that I know of that has a guy with orange hair as the protagonist,” he tells him. “I don’t watch a lot of anime either, but that’s one I have seen at least.” He leans back on the couch again. “So did you actually try out for the volleyball team?” he asks.
“Yes,” Taehyung says as he takes Jeongguk’s left hand and presses a cotton soaked with alcohol on the wound there. Jeongguk flinches but doesn’t say anything, eyes trained on the way Taehyung is very carefully cleaning the scrape. “I got in actually, but it’s not for me,” he goes on before Jeongguk can ask. “It’s more fun watching it.”
Jeongguk chuckles. “You should just join the track team anyway,” he encourages, for what reason, he isn’t sure. All he knows is that Taehyung can run and they can certainly use someone like him on the team.
“I don’t need to,” Taehyung answers, eyes concentrated on Jeongguk’s arm and elbow. He dabs the scrapes with alcohol and Jeongguk just breathes deeply each time. “You already tell me about the competition schedule and I’m always present during practices anyway."
“As my cheerleader,” Jeongguk comments with a chuckle and Taehyung looks up to smile at him.
“It’s the best position on the team, if I do say so myself,” Taehyung tells him with a proud smile before looking back down to continue tending to Jeongguk.
Jeongguk feels something squeeze at his heart and, although it doesn’t hurt, it does feel weird. He shifts once more in his seat and sighs as Taehyung moves to his other side to tend to his right hand, arm, and elbow.
“I’m sorry I’m keeping you up,” Jeongguk finally says. “I was about to stop and go home when you showed up."
“I’m sure you were,” Taehyung says. It’s should sound sarcastic and even a bit condescending, but that is never how Taehyung is so it just sounds uncertain when it comes from him. He very gently pats Jeongguk's skin, his fingers brushing against it, leaving little pinpricks of warmth.
Jeongguk waits for Taehyung to ask why the hell was he out so late, why he was running so goddamn hard, why he seems so angry. He waits and waits, but the question never comes. Taehyung just keeps on tending on the bruises on his right arm, touch soothing and calming. If it were Jimin, Jimin wouldn’t need to ask because he would already know and he would tell Jeongguk things that Jeongguk doesn’t always want to hear. Jieun, on the other hand… Jeongguk sighs. He’s not entirely sure what Jieun would do anymore. The old Jieun, the one who doesn’t seem like she’s avoiding Jeongguk, would sit with him and tell him soothingly what she thinks he should do, and then she would hug him and hum a song to help calm him down. Taehyung doesn’t do any of that. He just sits there, making sure that Jeongguk isn’t hurting any more than he already is.
“I saw my mom today,” Jeongguk blurts out before he can stop himself. Taehyung stills his dabbing of ointment on Jeongguk’s palm for a second before continuing without a word. Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut as he remembers how big his mother’s smile was when he walked into the apartment. “I saw her today and it—it’s the first time I’ve seen her in three years,” he chokes at saying it out loud but takes a deep breath and reels himself in.
His mother was close to tears when she pulled him in for a hug, Jimin excusing himself and going to his room at the intimacy of the moment. If Jeongguk were to admit it, he really felt like crying too. He hasn’t hugged his mother in so long, he had almost forgotten what it felt like. He thought that just by hearing her voice every so often over the phone, it would compensate for the burden he’s putting the both of them through. But of course it doesn’t. Seeing her and hugging her was proof of that. And Jeongguk felt so sorry.
Taehyung is kneeling on the floor, putting a gauze over the gash on Jeongguk’s knee when he speaks up again.
“She was wearing that blouse with her black slacks,” Jeongguk goes on, eyes opening, and Taehyung looks up at him in curiosity. “It’s light blue with small yellow and pink flowers all over it, it has a collar and it’s pretty, makes her look like she…” He breathes deeply as he meets Taehyung’s gaze. “My dad bought it for her on their first anniversary after they got married,” he shares, smiling a little as he remembers his mom telling him the story. “They were on their honeymoon and my dad wanted to buy my mom something she liked. She didn’t want anything because she already felt so happy, but my dad kept on insisting. So she pointed at the first thing that she saw.” He pauses as Taehyung’s fingers move downward to his ankle, holding on with a kind of reverence and support Jeongguk hasn’t really known. “It was that blouse,” he tells him. “It’s so old but it’s my mom’s favorite article of clothing.” He chuckles a little, blinking rapidly as his eyes well up with tears. “I can’t believe it still fits her,” he says, instead of I can’t believe she still wears it.
Taehyung moves back to sit beside Jeongguk now that he’s done mending Jeongguk’s hurts. Jeongguk isn’t sure why he does it, but he pulls Taehyung to him, wraps his arms around him and holds him. Taehyung stiffens in his arms and Jeongguk’s brain catches up to what he’s just done. He’s about to push Taehyung away when Taehyung wraps his arms around his waist, making it impossible for Jeongguk to do so. Jeongguk’s eyes flutter shut. It feels nice holding onto someone like this.
“Your hair is tickling me,” Jeongguk whispers, suddenly having the urge to laugh despite the current mood. Taehyung pulls away to take the band off his hair and tossing it over to the table. He stops Taehyung from snuggling back in his arms and reaches up to kind of ruffle his hair back down. “You’ve had your hair brown for a while now. I like it,” he whispers, not sure what he’s saying. Taehyung doesn’t really respond. He just smiles a little, lower lip in between his teeth. He even looks down at Jeongguk’s chin for a second, but just goes back to hugging Jeongguk.
Jeongguk closes his eyes and just breathes deeply.
“They were in love, you know,” Jeongguk speaks up after getting used to having Taehyung in his arms. He leans his cheek on Taehyung’s head and he thinks he hears Taehyung sigh. “They’ve been together forever, high school sweethearts. My dad said that he knew my mom was the girl for him the moment he laid eyes on her.” He pauses as he turns his head and buries his face in Taehyung’s hair, which smells like strawberries and balmy summers. “They were in love in the kind of way that made you believe in forever and happily ever after. It was kind of a real life fairy tale. My dad looked at my mom like she was his everything and she looked at him like he was her universe and—“ He cuts himself off. Taehyung fists his shirt and presses even closer.
Somewhere along the line, his parents started being less happy and the fairy tale started to crumble. Jeongguk didn’t notice it at first. He didn’t understand why his father started working more and more late or why his mother suddenly kept to herself more. He wasn’t sure why his brother never wanted to be at home anymore. Until Jeongguk walked into a raging fight, where his father’s face was contorted in anger and his mother’s was wet with tears.
Jeongguk isn’t sure how long he sits there, lost in his thoughts, holding onto Taehyung like his life depends on it. But he knows that it’s long enough to know it’s been too long and too much. He’s said too much too fast and it’s something he’s never wanted anyone to be burdened with. There are reasons why he is the way he is and he thinks it’s not anyone’s business why that is so.
“I should go,” Jeongguk speaks up, voice rough from too much emotion. “You should get some rest. You have a nine A.M. class,” he reminds Taehyung, who pulls away with a frown on his face.
“I’m going to skip it,” Taehyung tells him as he yawns. “Just sleep here.” He gets up and stretches his arms over his head. Jeongguk’s eyes flit to the sliver of skin that gets exposed under his shirt and gets up.
“You have that paper due tomorrow though. You can’t skip that class,” Jeongguk reminds him with a frown. He doesn’t like that Taehyung’s going to skip class because Jeongguk kept him up. Taehyung already does so much for him.
Taehyung blinks at him and smiles through his sleepiness. “Oh Jeongguk,” he says, laughing a little and shaking his head.
“What?” Jeongguk demands when Taehyung links his arm with his and pulls him to the bedroom. “You do!"
“I do,” Taehyung agrees. “But I already sent it in yesterday. I really don’t have to go to class,” he assures him as he flops face down on one side of the bed, the left side because, of course, Taehyung knows that Jeongguk prefers the right side. “Besides, I can afford to skip. I’m acing everything."
“Nerd,” Jeongguk huffs under his breath as he takes his shoes and socks off, hissing because, yes, he’s got blisters.
“I heard that,” Taehyung says, voice muffled where his face is smushed into the pillow. “C’mon Jeongguk,” he kind of whines and Jeongguk smiles a little because Taehyung is such a baby when he’s sleepy. “It’s cold.”
Jeongguk pinks at the implication of the words but he shakes it off because it’s Taehyung and he’s Jeongguk and it’s not like that at all. He takes his shirt off anyway, because he hates it when he wears clothing in his sleep, and moves to the left side of the bed to help Taehyung get under the covers. Taehyung grumbles as he does so, but once he’s safely tucked in, Jeongguk gets right in beside him. Taehyung moves to his side so that he’s facing Jeongguk. Jeongguk faces him and sees that Taehyung’s eyes are open, barely.
“Go to sleep,” Jeongguk tells him. He reaches out to close Taehyung’s eyes, but Taehyung catches his wrist before he can. Jeongguk swallows when Taehyung presses a kiss to his knuckles, his breath catching in his throat. Taehyung’s lips are soft and a little bit moist.
“What,” Jeongguk whispers, not entirely sure if he’s reacting or asking a question.
“You should know that there are people who love you and will love you for a long time,” Taehyung tells him, smiling little, his eyes most disappearing. “I say for a long time because I know forever isn’t a word you believe in. But it’s true, Jeongguk,” he presses on. “And you might not believe it or understand why, but it’s true and it’s reality. So I’m giving you a kiss to remind you of that. There are people who love you. There always will be people who’ll love you if you’ll just let them.”
Taehyung gives him a dopey smile and then he closes his eyes, his breathing evening. Jeongguk watches as the lines of Taehyung’s face clear up and fade as he falls into dreamland. There’s still a little bit of a smile on his face and Jeongguk returns it, closing his eyes because Taehyung is so… he doesn’t even know how to describe him; he isn’t sure there’s a perfect word to do so.
Taehyung shifts in his sleep and moves to probably turn to his other side or something, but Jeongguk’s eyes fly open when he feels Taehyung’s hand slipping from his. He grips it and pulls Taehyung close, even when his heart is hammering in his chest because he doesn’t understand what he’s doing. All he knows that Taehyung makes the tears stop from trying to burst out, makes him forget, and makes him feel okay. And he doesn’t really want to let go of that.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Jimin asks, nudging Jeongguk lightly as he takes a seat beside him.
Jeongguk looks up from where he’s been staring at his notebook and blinks several times before he registers Jimin’s question. “Oh,” he says. “Yeah. Why?” Ever since the incident after his mom’s surprise visit, Jimin always seems to ask this question, even when there’s really nothing wrong. As it turns out, he was the one who called Taehyung and asked him if Jeongguk was with him that evening.
“You’ve been staring really hard at that blank page of your notebook,” Jimin points out as he puts his bag down.
"Yeah I was supposed to do homework, but got distracted," Jeongguk explains, feeling heat creep up his cheeks. Jimin eyes him with raised eyebrows. "It's nothing," he hurriedly adds. "I mean it's just something about Taehyung."
"Where is Taehyung?" Yoongi asks, coming to sit across him and Jimin. He takes out his laptop and a book, opening his laptop and turning it on. "This is the first time I'm seeing you two not attached to the hip." He smirks when Jeongguk flushes.
"We're not always together," Jeongguk defends himself. They really aren't. Sure Jeongguk hangs out at Taehyung's place a lot and Jeongguk walks Taehyung to classes and Taehyung watches Jeongguk's track meets and practices, but they're not together all the time. Although, even if they were, Jeongguk doesn’t mind. Sometimes, he looks to his side and he almost expects Taehyung to be there, grinning at him. He smiles internally at the thought.
"I barely see you and I live with you," Jimin points out, making a face when Jeongguk gives him an apologetic smile. Jeongguk can’t say anything to that. He really hasn’t seen Jimin or spent time with him a lot ever since he met Taehyung. "I suppose it's fine. That way, Yoongi can always come over and we can, you know…" He wiggles his eyebrows up and down.
Jeongguk looks back down at his notebook in an effort to not let his displeasure at that information show too much. Jimin and Yoongi are gross enough as it is that he doesn’t really need to know what else they do when it’s just the two of them. He sighs and rests his chin on his palm.
“Really, what's wrong?" Jimin asks, elbowing him. His brows are furrowed, lips downturned, which is almost his default expression these days when he thinks something is bothering Jeongguk.
"I'm fine," Jeongguk assures him, patting his back. "I'm just thinking of something to do for Taehyung.” He’s been thinking about it ever since Taehyung took care of him so well that night. Taehyung didn’t just tend to his bruises, he listened to Jeongguk too, and that’s more than he could have asked for. He then looks up at Jimin and Yoongi, an idea forming in his head. "Where do you guys go on dates?"
Jimin and Yoongi exchange a curious look before turning to Jeongguk.
"Why?" Jimin asks, biting his lip, glancing at Yoongi with a fond smile. "Well Yoongi takes me to see dance performances sometimes." He smiles that smile that he reserves for when Yoongi makes him happy, which is quite a lot.
Jeongguk realizes that Jimin and Yoongi must have a really good relationship for them to last so long. He had been wary of Jimin immediately going out with Yoongi when Yoongi had asked during their freshman year. But at this point, two years down the line, they are still together. Jeongguk hasn't heard or felt Jimin wanting to break up or end things. From what he can see, Jimin is and has always been happy with Yoongi. Yoongi seems to make sure of that.
"Sometimes we go to photo exhibits or watch concerts," Yoongi shares, returning Jimin's smile.
"That's quite a variety," Jeongguk comments, wrinkling his nose.
"Well we're interested in different things," Jimin says, which Jeongguk has to agree with. Jimin is into dance, while Yoongi is into things like photography and art. One of their common interests, though, is music. "Why are you suddenly curious about this?"
Jeongguk shrugs, sucking his lower lip in between his teeth and look down at the table. "I just want to do something for Taehyung," he explains. Something special, something that will say I am grateful for all you do for me and with me. "But I'm not sure what. I don't think a standard movie and dinner is going to be enough,” he says. He originally thought to do just that, but he and Taehyung have done those before.
"You want to take him out on a date?" Jimin blurts out before he can stop himself.
Jeongguk turns red and coughs because he doesn't. That's not what this is. This is not Jeongguk taking Taehyung out as some romantic gesture. He just wants to do something nice for Taehyung, something that will make him smile, something that will make him happy. Jeongguk likes seeing Taehyung happy. He thinks of a way on how to explain this. But before he can say anything, Yoongi speaks up.
"I sure hope he does," Yoongi says, brows furrowed a bit in confusion, although his eyes are concentrated on his laptop screen. "They've been going out for a while now."
"Right," Jimin is quick to respond, giving Yoongi a smile before raising an eyebrow at Jeongguk. "I just mean what's so special about this particular date?"
"Nothing," Jeongguk says with a half shrug, avoiding Jimin's gaze. It almost feels like Jimin is judging him and trying to tell him something with his pointed gaze, and he knows what it is. But Jimin is wrong. "There doesn't have to be a special occasion for me to do something nice for him, right? I mean you guys do sweet stuff to each other all the time."
Jimin snorts. “Look who’s talking,” he mutters, but presses his lips together in apology when Yoongi gives him a lot. Jeongguk wonders what it means but decides not to dwell on it. “Well Taehyung likes dance too,” he tries to help. “Uh, he’s very into sports if you take into account all the teams he’s tried out for."
“But he never really joined any of those teams,” Jeongguk reminds him. “I don’t think he’s really interested in them.”
Taehyung has tried out for dance, track, volleyball, soccer, and even basketball, and has been accepted into all of them. He also sits in for the homemaking club in school sometimes, as well as auditioned for the school band with his saxophone. Recently, he’s learning how to play the guitar just because he thinks it’s cool. Taehyung tries a lot of things, but never really settles for any of them. It’s almost like he has this interest that fleets away when it becomes serious business or something.
"Taehyung likes dogs,” Yoongi speaks up, lifting his eyes from his laptop to look at Jeongguk. “He has a dog back home named Soonshim.”
“He does?” Jeongguk asks.
“Yeah he was very excited when he got it for his birthday,” Yoongi answers with a shrug, turning his attention back to his laptop. “He even cried when he had to leave it behind for university.”
“I hope you’re not thinking of buying him a puppy,” Jimin says, tone measured when he sees Jeongguk light up.
“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous,” Jeongguk says, rolling his eyes. He straightens up on his seat and shifts in his seat as he thinks of something. “But I can take him to a dog shelter so he can play with the dogs,” he tells them with a big smile. “He’d like that, right?” He kicks Yoongi’s shin to get his attention.
“Taehyung is so easy to please,” Yoongi hisses, not even bothering to look at him. “You can give him a picture of a puppy and he’ll love you forever.”
Jeongguk ignores him. He’s pretty sure this idea is solid. He’ll pick Taehyung up from his apartment and tell him that they’re just going to go out and buy something that Jeongguk needs. Taehyung won’t even be suspicious, Jeongguk is sure of it. Taehyung never asks questions whenever he and Jeongguk go out. He always just says that he’s happy with whatever they do, that he doesn’t even care if they just hang out at home and watch DVDs or even just YouTube videos. Jeongguk grins. Then afterwards they can grab dinner and maybe hang out some more when Jeongguk takes him home. It doesn’t matter what happens afterwards. What’s important is the animal shelter and that Taehyung has fun there. It’s perfect.
“You look really excited about this,” Jimin says.
Jeongguk looks up from where he’s writing down details on his notebook, smile still on his face. He puts his pen down, noticing that Yoongi left. “Of course I am,” he agrees, grinning at Jimin. “If he loves dogs as much as Yoongi says he does, Taehyung is going to love it. He’s going to be so happy and that’s all I really need right now.”
Jimin is quiet for a second, lips pursed. “Jeongguk, do you hear yourself?” he asks. “I mean,” he continues, leaning closer to Jeongguk. “Don’t you think you’re taking this pretend thing too far?”
Jeongguk leans back and frowns. “How?” he asks. “We and Taehyung haven’t been doing anything that we aren’t supposed to do.”
Jimin gapes at him, disbelief clear in his features. “Not doing anything… Jeongguk, you and Taehyung have been acting like you two can’t get enough of each other, what with you guys touching each other all the time and cuddling and sleeping over at each other’s apartments,” he elaborates. “You’re acting like you’re actually dating."
“Well there’s a reason that we are,” Jeongguk says, shifting uncomfortably in his seat and closing his notebook. “So people would leave us alone because we’re together. It’s working really well, you know,” he goes on, smiling a little. He hasn’t had a confession in the two months he and Taehyung have been at this whole fake relationship thing. He’s even managed to actually make small talk with other people in his classes without worrying about their agenda. It’s been quite refreshing.
Jimin looks like there’s so much more that he wants to say, things that Jeongguk probably already knows but doesn’t really want to hear. He holds his breath, hoping the words never come because he knows what pretend relationships do to the people involved. Sometimes it becomes too real, feels too real, and it just destroys whatever friendship there is from the beginning. It’s either that or they actually fall in love. Jeongguk and Taehyung had an agreement: they’re not the type of people who get into relationships, which is the premise of this whole thing. They got together because they wanted to be left alone. There’s no way this is going to end up with them falling in love. Taehyung can’t even commit to a sports team. How is he going to commit to a relationship with Jeongguk? They’re fine the way they are and they will be fine when all of this is over. There is nothing to worry about.
“As long as you know what you’re doing,” Jimin finally says, finishing with a sigh.
“Don’t worry. We’re friends. No one is going to get hurt,” Jeongguk assures him with a resolute nod, even as a tinge of doubt keeps sneaking in. It would be stupid for them to get hurt when that’s the very reason why they’re doing this, so they won’t. He pauses for a beat to shake that thought away and focus on the task at hand. “So you think Taehyung will have fun at the animal shelter?” he asks, not entirely sure why Jimin glares at him.
“Are you ever going to tell me where we’re going?” Taehyung laughs as Jeongguk slides into the seat on the bus beside him with a flourish and a big smile on his face. “You seem so excited. I feel jealous that I don’t know what’s making you so excited,” he adds, unable to help himself but laugh some more at how Jeongguk is being.
“You’ll see,” Jeongguk says, grinning as he wiggles his eyebrows up and down. He’d asked Taehyung to go somewhere with him the moment he saw him after talking to Yoongi and Jimin about it. Why wait any longer? They were both busy with school and Jeongguk was busy with track as it is. Any time to spend outside of obligations is an opportunity. “But don’t expect so much,” he suddenly says, thinking about the possibility of Taehyung not liking the surprise.
“Jeongguk, it’s literally making you vibrate in your seat,” Taehyung remarks, laughing some more when Jeongguk wiggles as he looks out of the window to check where they are. “How can I not expect anything?” he teases.
“But what if it’s fails your expectations?” Jeongguk says, suddenly a little worried. He doesn’t have a contingency plan if Taehyung ends up not having fun. He takes a deep breath. It should be fine. Taehyung likes dogs.
Taehyung takes Jeongguk's hand in his and brings it to his lips, a smile on his face that Jeongguk sees more often. “I’m going to like it,” he assures him. “I already like it even though I don’t know what it is. The fact that you even thought of it for me…”
Jeongguk clears his throat, unable to say anything, his eyes on his hand now pressed to Taehyung’s cheek. There’s something that he’s feeling, somewhere in his gut, something he’s not sure of. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s foreign. Before he can delve further into this line of thought, he glances out of the window and takes his hand from Taehyung’s grip to press the stop button. He then smiles at Taehyung, who has this look in his eyes that makes him want to keep looking but forces himself to look away from, and takes his hand so they can get off the bus.
“So…” Jeongguk stops and turns to face Taehyung. “I heard that you have a dog back home named Soonshim,” he says and Taehyung’s face lights up at the name.
“Soonshimie!” Taehyung gushes. “Oh Jeongguk, she’s the best dog! I love her so much.”
“I heard,” Jeongguk chuckles. “And I’m sure you miss her a lot but since I can’t bring her to you…” He turns around and gestures to the structure behind him. “One of the guys who work here is in one of my classes and I called in a favor,” he explains. “We can have about an hour or so to play with the dogs by ourselves.”
Taehyung looks up at the signage and Jeongguk sees the joy bloom right across his face, how his mouth hangs open before it spreads into a wide smile, his eyes disappearing into crescents. He looks at Jeongguk, who can’t help but grin. How can he help himself when Taehyung looks like Christmas just came early? This is exactly what he wanted, to have Taehyung smiling like this.
They go in and Jeongguk’s classmate ushers them to where the dogs are, telling them that they’re free to play any one of them as long as the staff by the door is present. Jeongguk thanks him just as Taehyung immediately rushes to one of the cages, opening it and taking out the cutest little Beagle. It immediately starts licking Taehyung’s face and Taehyung laughs, nuzzling his face to the puppy’s. Jeongguk sits beside him, crossing his legs and takes out white Jack Russell Terrier with brown spots from the nearest cage to him. It slips through his fingers and runs around. Taehyung puts the Beagle in Jeongguk’s arms and runs after the Jack Russell Terrier. When Taehyung catches it, laughing breathlessly, he sits back down beside Jeongguk and pets it.
“So who told you about Soonshimie?” Taehyung asks, eyes bright and twinkling as he places a kiss on the nose of the Terrier. He laughs when it licks his cheek.
“I asked around,” Jeongguk answers, trying to go for mysterious. “You should tell me these things, you know, things like you liking dogs.” He makes a face at the Beagle on his lap, who keeps on wiggling around, probably wanting to run around. Jeongguk lets him go.
“Why?” Taehyung asks, mouth open a little in surprise. He looses his grip on the Jack Russell Terrier and it goes after the Beagle.
Jeongguk shrugs. He’s not sure why either, but he thinks it’s important that he knows things about Taehyung. “Why not?” he responds. “I mean, you know a lot about me. You know that I like to sing, especially when I get stressed. You know what my favorite colors are, that I live and breathe running…”
“None of those things are actually a secret, Jeongguk,” Taehyung teases, scooting closer to him so he can nudge him. The Beagle runs in front of him and he reaches out to pull it back to his chest. He chuckles when Jeongguk makes a face at him.
“The point is,” Jeongguk says, resisting the urge to poke a tongue out at Taehyung. He’s not childish so he won’t do that. “You know stuff about me and I want to know more about you.” He leans forward to make what he thinks are cute faces at the Beagle. The puppy barks at his face and he grins looking up at Taehyung, who has this small smile on his face.
“Well you know that I love dogs now,” Taehyung starts and Jeongguk kicks him. He laughs. “Okay, okay. I like… food,” he giggles when Jeongguk glares at him. “Japchae! I love Japchae! But you already know that. My favorite colors are black, white, and green. Well you know that I’m very curious and I like to read a lot about the unknown, like the outer space and aliens and stuff like that.” He grins, his smile a wide rectangle. “Is that enough?”
Jeongguk pretends to think about it but Taehyung shoves him, almost dropping the puppy on his lap. Taehyung lets it run around just as Jeongguk gives in, “For now. Just… I like knowing about you so you can tell me anything about you any time or all the time.”
Taehyung bites his lower lip as his smile dims a little. He moves even closer and leans his head on Jeongguk’s shoulder before Jeongguk can ask what’s wrong. “The last time someone said that to me…” Taehyung trails away and laughs the least happy sounding laugh that Jeongguk’s heard from Taehyung. “He was a guy whom I was friends with for a while. I didn’t think that it could happen to me, falling in love with a friend, someone whom I’ve practically grown up with,” he shares. “But it did.” Jeongguk can feel Taehyung’s sad smile on his shoulder. “It was wonderful,” he whispers. “We did so many things together. We even traveled as often as we could when money and time permitted. I thought he was it for me. He said it so himself as well.” He chuckles and it sounds frayed at the edges. “Until he broke up with me, of course, and told me I was too talkative, too weird, too much.”
Jeongguk doesn’t realize his hand is clasped with Taehyung’s until Taehyung shifts closer to him. He can’t imagine anyone doing all those things to Taehyung, practically promising him the world and then pulling the rug from under his feet. He knows that’s how relationships happen sometimes. It never just ends well, even when you think everything is fine and perfect. Nothing ever is. But Jeongguk would never have wanted someone like Taehyung, who is everything that is bright and beautiful in this world, to feel heartache like that. He reaches up and wraps an arm around Taehyung’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk softly says, not knowing how else to make Taehyung feel better.
Taehyung laughs and pulls away from Jeongguk. His face is devoid of the sadness of the story he just told. Instead, there’s a smile on his face, the same one from earlier. “Don’t be sorry,” he tells him. “That guy was a dick. Even Yoongi doesn’t really like him now.”
“Still,” Jeongguk says. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung chuckles, linking their arms together. “It’s just a fact that the more you give of yourself away, the bigger chance that it’ll come back to hurt you. And I know that’s what you want, but…” He pauses and looks at Jeongguk. “Isn’t that what you’re trying to avoid? Isn’t that the whole point of what we’re doing, so you don’t give any part of yourself away and get hurt?” Taehyung’s tone is so careful and uncertain that Jeongguk wonders how long Taehyung has been worrying about this.
“I…” Jeongguk stammers. He knows Taehyung is right, but at the same time he doesn’t understand what the concern is. “But it’s you,” he says, looking right at Taehyung. “I don’t think… you won’t hurt me, right?” Taehyung lets out a soft gasp that has Jeongguk hurrying to explain. “I mean, I don’t even get why things about ourselves are used to hurt each other. Why can’t we just use it to make people happy? Knowing things about another person gives you the chance to better make them happy. That’s just what I want to do.”
“You want to make me happy?” Taehyung repeats, voice raspy as if he’s trying to catch is breath.
Jeongguk doesn’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to make Taehyung happy. “Don’t make it weird,” he says instead, rolling his eyes. “Of course I want to make you happy. Why would I want to make you sad?” He finds himself with a lapful of Taehyung. Taehyung nuzzles his cheek, almost like one of the puppies in the shelter.
“You’re so…” Taehyung takes a deep breath. “Thank you for doing this for me,” he tells him and Jeongguk smiles because Taehyung’s eyes dancing the way it is now is all the thanks that he needs. Taehyung chuckles, shaking his head. “You’re so ridiculous, Jeon Jeongguk. Ridiculous.”
Jeongguk wants to say the same about him but keeps quiet instead.
Jeongguk thinks he’s doing really great right now. He's doing well in all his classes, his running times keep on improving, he and Jimin are talking more (but avoiding the topic with Taehyung), he and Taehyung are doing really well, and even his relationship with his mom has improved. Jeongguk makes sure to call his mom at least every other day now, as compared to before when he'd only talk to her when she would call him. It makes him feel really good about his life. What he thinks will make things even better is if Jieun would finally stop avoiding him.
Jieun never stops by the apartment anymore, never visits him during practice, doesn’t even hang out with them during lunch breaks. She keeps saying that she has a ton of schoolwork to do, but Jeongguk doesn’t really believe her. Jieun has always, always made time for him and Jimin even when she was extremely busy. It was just how their friendship worked. They made time for each other. Not this time, though. It seems there’s really something that’s keeping Jieun away. Jeongguk just hasn’t figured out what it is yet. So he decides to just ask.
“There you are.”
Jieun jumps, her books almost falling out of her arms, as she walks out of the classroom. She drops a hand to smooth her skirt down, a move that Jeongguk knows means she’s nervous. Jeongguk pushes himself off the wall and smiles at her, a smile that he hopes doesn’t look uncertain. He wants to seem like he thinks nothing is wrong, like he doesn’t suspect Jieun disappearing on him.
“Jeongguk,” Jieun says, sounding breathless. She glances around, arms tightening their embrace on her books. “Where’s Jimin?”
“Dance practice,” Jeongguk says. “Just me and you today. I was thinking we could hang out at the apartment and I’ll make some of those pancakes that you like so much. What do you say?” He smiles, hoping against hope that Jieun will prove him wrong and say yes. He hopes that with this, it would just mean that they are actually okay and he wouldn’t have to ask her anything.
Jieun hesitates and then shakes her head, her long, shiny hair moving in waves down to her back. “I can’t, sorry,” she says, although she sounds more relieved than apologetic. “I have a paper to write.”
“You can do it at the apartment,” Jeongguk suggests, offering to carry her books, which she declines. He stops walking and catches her arm. “C’mon, Jieun, at least give me a chance to apologize for whatever it is that I did to make you avoid me.” He lets her go and sighs. “Let’s just talk here,” he offers. “Just tell me what I did wrong.”
“Do you think there’s anything you did wrong?” Jieun asks him, pursing her lips and looking like she’s annoyed at being cornered like this.
“I don’t know, Jieun,” Jeongguk repeats. “That’s why I’m here asking you.”
Jieun looks even more upset with this. She shifts her books to her other arm and flips her hair back with her free hand. “I’m surprised you even noticed,” she scoffs. “What with you being busy dating and all.”
Jeongguk takes a step back at the surprising attack at his supposed dating life. But maybe that’s just Jieun’s way of saying that she wishes he had told her in the first place about Taehyung, that she shouldn’t have had to find out from other people. Really, he had intended to tell her, but he hadn’t had the chance to, what with her evading all his invitations to meet up.
“I’m not that busy,” Jeongguk says, trying to make light of the situation by smiling a little. “Not like you at least. I can barely get a hold of you these days.”
“And that matters to you?” Jieun asks, looking away and staring at something at the floor. All students seems to have left the building, the hallways empty.
“C’mon, Jieun, you know that it matters,” Jeongguk says, running a hand through his hair. A gesture that Jieun follows with her eyes before she looks away and takes a deep breath. “You’re one of my best friends. And Jimin won’t tell me anything. All he keeps on saying is that you’re busy.” He swallows and takes a deep breath. “Why have you been too busy to spend time with me?”
Jieun takes a step backward and another and then shakes her head. “I can’t do this right now,” she suddenly says. “I have to go.” She turns to go. Jeongguk grabs onto her wrist, knocking her books to the floor in the process. “Damnit, Jeongguk,” she huffs, crouching down to pick them up, but Jeongguk doesn’t let her.
“Is this about Taehyung?” Jeongguk demands, starting to get a little annoyed at the lack of answers that he’s getting. “Why are you so upset with him or me dating him? Is it because I didn’t tell you, that you had to find out at the party? Is it—"
“Oh I don’t know, Jeongguk,” Jieun snaps, taking her hand from him. “You never really tell me anything anymore anyway. I understand you like avoiding things, but did you really have to tiptoe around me after you left my dorm that day? You could’ve just told me you felt uncomfortable instead of making me feel like…” She takes a deep breath.
Jeongguk blinks at her. “What are you talking about?” he asks. Sure, he was uncomfortable, but when did he ever make her feel like shit? When did he ever avoid her and treat her like that? “I’ve never—“ He takes a deep breath and decides he’s not going to fight her on this. If that’s how she felt… “I’m sorry I made you feel that way,” he starts. “I didn’t realize… I’m sorry.”
“That’s not even…” Jieun sighs. “Stop apologising. I didn’t mean—just, let’s stop talking about this. I wasn’t supposed to say that. That wasn’t really what I was upset about. Sure, it was in the beginning, but… Never mind. Just forget it.” Jeongguk has never heard Jieun out of words like this before, unable to really express how she feels, especially with him.
“I’m sorry anyway,” Jeongguk insists. “I’m not sure what else I did wrong. If it’s about Taehyung or me dating, I don’t know why that’s something you’d be upset about. I mean—"
“I really don’t want to talk about this, Jeongguk,” Jieun cuts him off and crouches to finally collect her books. “I really don’t want to talk at all anymore. Please leave me alone.”
Jeongguk watches her walk away, not having any heart to go after her after that conversation. It’s obvious there’s something more going on that she’s letting on. What it is, he’s not sure yet, although he wishes he knew so that he can fix it and get things back to the way they were. All he has to do is get her to talk to him again. He’ll apologize and then try to understand what else she’s upset with him about. It’ll be okay. It should be. He can’t lose Jieun too.
But even as he tries to convince himself of it, Jeongguk can’t help but think that he already has.
Jeongguk arrives at Hoseok’s apartment an hour after Taehyung invited him to come over. He hadn’t known what to do after fighting with Jieun. He was sure that he didn’t want to hang out with anyone, but didn’t want to be alone either. So he called Taehyung. Because Taehyung is his friend and, these days, he practically calls him for anything.
When he gets there, the apartment is empty and quiet, save for a clanging coming from the kitchen, as well as a slightly burning smell. Jeongguk toes his shoes off, as well as his sweatshirt, only leaving him in a plain, white shirt. He finds Taehyung pattering around in the kitchen, moving around and moving plates here and there, chopping ingredients, all the while leaving whatever is in the pot on the stove smoking.
“What are you doing?” Jeongguk asks as a way of announcing his arrival.
Taehyung jumps, turning around, the spatula in his hand dripping something like yellow goo on the tiled floor. “Jeongguk,” he yelps, his free hand on his chest. His expression immediately brightens up and he gestures for Jeongguk to come closer. “Come taste this.” He dips the spatula back in the pot and waves Jeongguk over.
“Are you sure you should be in Hoseok’s kitchen while you cook?” Jeongguk teases, knowing that Taehyung’s kitchen is too small for anything other than a mini stove. But he opens his mouth and tastes what he thinks is supposed to be smoother, less thick, and a lot less spicy than it should be. “Um,” he comments. “It’s good?” He hopes he sounds more convincing than he feels.
Taehyung laughs, putting the spatula back in the pot, and makes a face as he turns the stove off. “Don’t lie,” he says. He sighs and leans against the counter. “I learned how to make yellow chicken curry with the homemaking club today and I figured I’d put it to practice. I was going to just bring you some but since you wanted some company… Well it’s lucky that you’re here to immediately taste how bad it is.” Pushing himself off the counter, he smoothens Jeongguk’s furrowed brow when Jeongguk stays quiet. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asks.
Jeongguk just shakes his head and takes Taehyung’s hand off his face, intertwining their fingers together just because he knows it will make him feel better. Holding Taehyung’s hand always makes him feel light and comforted. “You joined the homemaking club already?” he asks instead, a smile forming on his face.
Taehyung scrunches his nose. “Hmmm not exactly,” he says, grinning. “I just heard that they were going to teach how to make curry so I wanted to go and check it out.” He shrugs. “I was thinking that maybe I could make it for you since you made Japchae for me.” His rectangle smile appears on his face, eyes disappearing into crescents, and Jeongguk has this sudden urge to take Taehyung’s face in his hands and, maybe, find out what that smile tastes like.
Jeongguk drops Taehyung’s hand and moves to the stove. “How about I make you some of this curry?” he says, chuckling when Taehyung gasps in excitement behind him.
“Will you really?” Taehyung sounds giddy.
“Yes,” Jeongguk says, laughing as he dumps what’s on the pot in the stove and rinses it. There are still a lot of the ingredients left that Taehyung hasn’t mangled with his less than stellar chopping skills so he can work with that. He needs this. Anything to get his mind focused on something else. “I’ve cooked curry before,” he shares.
Taehyung lets out something like a squeal and wraps his arms around Jeongguk from the bad, his chin hooked over Jeongguk's shoulder. “Can I stay and watch you then? Like this?” he chuckles, his breath tickling Jeongguk’s ear.
Jeongguk chuckles, even as his heart jumps in his chest. Sometimes, more often recently, it happens whenever Taehyung would touch him and show affection. It’s ridiculous how much it’s starting to affect Jeongguk because it’s not like it’s a secret that Taehyung likes to touch. Taehyung has always been touchy and Jeongguk hasn’t really cared. He even returns the affection because he likes how Taehyung’s eyes light up when he does. These days, though, it feels amplified for a reason Jeongguk has yet to figure out.
“You could,” Jeongguk hedges with a laugh, patting Taehyung’s hands clasped together on his tummy. “Or you can help me cook,” he suggests. “Chop some of the ingredients?” He wrinkles his nose. “Pineapples in curry, Taehyung? Really?” he comments when he sees a can of sliced pineapples.
Jeongguk feels his shrug behind him. “I just followed what we did during the class,” he tells him, snuggling even closer that their cheeks are now pressed against each other. “They taste pretty good in it. But if you don’t want them, of course we can take them out.” He turns his head and grins against Jeongguk’s cheek.
“Nah,” Jeongguk says as he starts chopping, making sure not to elbow Taehyung. “We’ll leave it in. I trust you.”
Taehyung snorts, his arms around Jeongguk’s waist loosening. “Yeah, with pineapples in your food,” he chuckles.
“No,” Jeongguk responds, shaking his head. “I trust you with everything.”
Taehyung keeps quiet and, for a second, Jeongguk thinks he said something wrong. But then Taehyung rests his forehead on Jeongguk’s shoulder. “If you keep saying things like that, I just might start to believe you,” he says. It’s a whisper but one that Jeongguk hears loud and clear.
Jeongguk frowns as Taehyung pulls away and grabs another knife to start helping with the chopping. “You don’t believe me?” Jeongguk almost demands, feeling even more affronted when Taehyung just chuckles in response. He does trust Taehyung with everything. Is that something hard to believe? “Why don’t you believe me?”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Taehyung assures him. “It’s just that—oh shit.” He drops the knife and when Jeongguk looks over he can see the blood pearling on Taehyung’s pointer finger.
Jeongguk grabs Taehyung’s injured hand and puts it under the faucet, letting the water wash away the blood and cleaning it. “Does it hurt?” Jeongguk asks with a pointed look at Taehyung, one that Taehyung returns with a sheepish smile. “I’m surprised you managed to kill yourself when I wasn’t around.”
“Well I wasn’t exactly nervous then,” Taehyung mutters.
Jeongguk doesn’t know what he means but he turns the faucet off. He watches as Taehyung cradles his hand, a pout on his lips. “I’m going to find Hoseok’s first aid kit,” he tells him. “Sit down and don’t move. Don’t touch anything.” Taehyung nods. “I mean it, Taehyung,” he repeats and Taehyung just laughs and shoos him away.
When Jeongguk comes back from practically ransacking Hoseok’s bathroom, Taehyung is sitting on the counter, blowing on his finger. He winces every time he does so and Jeongguk shakes his head as he puts the first aid kit down on the counter, taking out the antiseptic and some cotton.
“It’s just a scratch,” Jeongguk tells him as he takes Taehyung’s hand and starts dabbing it with the cotton soaked with antiseptic. Taehyung kicks Jeongguk’s knee on reflex.
“Sorry,” Taehyung smiles at him, fluttering his lashes, and pulls Jeongguk in between his legs. “Sorry. I won’t try to kill you while you cure me, I promise.” He laughs when Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “It really is just a scratch,” he then says, his laughter dying down when Jeongguk leans forward to blow on his finger very gently.
“You never know if it will be infected,” Jeongguk insists as he wraps a Band-Aid around the finger and, just because he feels like it, gives it a kiss. Taehyung’s breath hitches and Jeongguk looks at his face in concern. “What?” he asks. “Does it hurt?”
“I’m going to kiss you now,” Taehyung says instead of answering the question.
“Oh,” Jeongguk replies, mouth hanging open. Taehyung follows the movement with his eyes, and Jeongguk suddenly realizes that this just might be what he meant earlier when he said he wanted to taste Taehyung’s smile. This should be okay. Kissing is okay. They haven’t really talked about doing this, although Taehyung did joke about kissing in public. But kissing in private is okay too. He wonders what it means that they’re going to kiss without an audience. “Okay,” he agrees before Taehyung opens his mouth to say something, frowning.
“Okay?” Taehyung asks, eyes widening.
Jeongguk leans closer, deciding to forgo a verbal response. his hands find Taehyung’s waist, just as one of Taehyung’s arms circle Jeongguk’s neck slowly, as if he’s unsure this is what he should do. Taehyung places his other hand on Jeongguk’s cheek, cupping it. It’s more determined and Jeongguk has to remember how to breathe because Taehyung is so close now. He can feel Taehyung’s breath on his face, the lips that gives such warm smiles so close to taste.
When their lips touch, there’s a few seconds where neither of them do anything, just keeping steady, their lips pressed together. But then Jeongguk thinks about how soft Taehyung’s lips are, how amazing it feels and how warm and tingly he feels all over. Jeongguk takes a step closer, his hands fisting Taehyung’s shirt, so he can feel more of it, and Taehyung gasps as a reaction.
Their lips move against each other in slow, measured presses. Jeongguk tries not to sigh with each slide of their lips, not wanting to seem like he’s being swept off his feet. But Taehyung kisses so well. Jeongguk’s body feels starved for something he didn’t even know he needs. Jeongguk pushes even closer, ignoring all he voices in his head that’s telling him he shouldn't, and reaches up to cup Taehyung’s face just like how he wanted to do earlier. He tilts his head to gain better access to Taehyung’s kisses and Taehyung makes a sound from the back of his throat, like a grumble or a groan, that just urges Jeongguk on. He just want to keep on doing this, just wants to keep on kissing Taehyung. He just wants more.
“Whoa whoa whoa.”
There’s a yelp and then a thud that makes Jeongguk jump back. Jeongguk gapes at Taehyung, who looks right back at him, hair mussed and lips pink and swollen. A surge of satisfaction goes through Jeongguk at the thought that he had caused that and that maybe he should do it some more. Until Taehyung looks towards the doorway and Jeongguk remembers that there’s a reason why they stopped. Because they apparently had an audience and that audience has finally acknowledged them. Oh.
“When I said that you could use the kitchen,” Hoseok says, slowly walking in. “I meant for cooking.” He smirks when Taehyung bows his head, cheeks red, as he hops off the counter. Jeongguk’s pretty sure his face is red, as well, if how it feels hot is any indication.
Jimin walks in after Hoseok, arms crossed on his chest as he leans against the fridge. “What were you guys doing?” he asks, although it sounds almost like a demand to Jeongguk’s ears.
“We were just…” Taehyung clears his throat when his voice sounds too rough. “We were just… Jeongguk was helping me make curry.”
“Oh is that what kids call it these days?” Hoseok teases as he pushes Jimin off the fridge so he can take out the carton of juice in it.
Jeongguk makes a face at him. “It’s not like you’re any older than us,” he retorts and, beside him, Taehyung chuckles. Jeongguk grins at him. “What are you guys doing here anyway? I thought you guys have practice.”
“We do,” Jimin says, eyebrows raised. “Hoseok just needed the mix of the next piece we’re working on so we had to go get it.”
“Sorry for disturbing you guys making curry,” Hoseok says, wiggling his eyebrows up and down. “We’ll go now so you can carry on.” He pulls Jimin out of the kitchen. “Don’t spill anything and make sure to clean up after,” he calls from the doorway before it sounds shut.
Jeongguk glances at the floor then at the unfinished cooking before he turns towards Taehyung, who’s watching him with bright eyes. “Um,” he stammers. “Do you want to continue?” He’s not entirely sure what he’s asking, if he means the cooking or the kissing because they don’t have an audience now and there really is no need to keep kissing. But he thinks he’ll let Taehyung decide anyway.
Taehyung’s eyes glance at Jeongguk’s face and then at the cooking. “Let’s finish the curry,” Taehyung decides, and Jeongguk slowly lets out a breath.
Jeongguk forces himself to believe that he’s not disappointed with that answer.
“Jeon, you’re up,” Minho calls, not even looking up from the clipboard in his hands.
Jeongguk gets up from his seat and starts stretching a little. He’s already run the five kilometer run earlier; He’s not really worried about the three kilometer run. Taehyung follows him down to the oval anyway, skipping beside him.
“You’re going to win the gold again, I’m sure of it,” Taehyung says, running his hand through his hair, probably to keep it from sticking to his forehead due to the sweat.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jeongguk says with a light chuckle. “It’s just a competition.” Somehow, winning medals has mattered less to him that year, his focus having shifted to other things.
Taehyung tuts beside him and puts an arm around Jeongguk’s shoulders. “So what,” he says. “It’s a huge honor to the school. You’re probably going to get banners all over school again.” He laughs.
“I doubt that,” Jeongguk says, shaking his head as he remembers the banners that his suitors, if he could call them that, put up all over school every time he won something at a competition. “I have you now,” he reminds Taehyung when he gives Jeongguk a questioning look. “You’re my boyfriend, remember? Would they dare flirt like that when I obviously don’t look at anyone else?”
Taehyung pulls Jeongguk to a stop and faces him. There’s something different in Taehyung’s eyes, something that he catches whenever Taehyung thinks Jeongguk isn’t looking. The problem is, Jeongguk is always looking and he sees a lot more than maybe Taehyung doesn’t want Jeongguk to see.
“The things you say, Jeon Jeongguk,” Taehyung says, chuckling, the seriousness from earlier gone. “You’re going to be great.” He takes Jeongguk’s hand and presses a kiss to his knuckles. Jeongguk’s heart skips a beat.
“Of course he is.” Jieun seems to just appear from behind Jeongguk, wrapping an arm around Jeongguk’s waist. “Jeongguk always does so well,” she adds, smiling.
“Jieun,” Jeongguk says, blinking at her, and then looking at Taehyung with furrowed brows. Taehyung shrugs at him. “What are you doing here?” The last time they talked Jieun told him to leave her alone. And he has. Because he figured that they both needed the space to think before they talked again.
“What, I’m not allowed to cheer you on your meets anymore?” Jieun asks, giving him an innocent smile. She drops her arm from around his waist and links her arm with Taehyung’s instead. “Taehyung and I will cheer on you,” she tells him, grinning at Taehyung, who uncertainly returns it. “Maybe next time we’ll have banners.”
His event number is announced across the stadium and Jeongguk looks towards the starting line. The other runners are starting to assemble, stretching and chatting with each other.
“Go,” Taehyung tells him before he can say anything. “Good luck.” He smiles and Jeongguk nods, feeling confident. Glancing at Jieun and then at Taehyung once more, he nods at them and he’s jogging off.
Jeongguk forces himself to focus on the task at hand. Three kilometers is practically a walk in the park for him. It’s an endurance run, but it’s pretty short and fast, compared to 10 kilometer runs that he wants to do more. But, for some reason, he’s feeling nervous. He’s not entirely sure what it is, but there’s something nagging at him and crawling under his skin, making him fidgety and on edge.
“You okay?” the runner on the lane next to his asks. He’s taller than Jeongguk and one that Jeongguk remembers paces himself at the beginning before going all out at the end. “You look a bit peaked.”
“I’m fine,” Jeongguk says. He looks to the side, where Jieun and Taehyung are standing, both smiling as they talk. Taehyung looks up at that moment and grins at him. Jeongguk smiles back, feeling a bit appeased. Turning back to the starting line, he jumps up and down, shaking his muscles to relaxation. Everything’s fine.
Each runner is announced, along with their universities. The cheers are loud and he allows the ones that come after his name is called to wash over him. Normally, he tunes things out, not even really hearing anything even if he tried. But this time, he thinks he needs to if only to grasp at all the energy that he needs.
Jeongguk closes his eyes, feeling the rush of the breeze, as he crouches down to starting position. On your mark. He takes a deep breath and opens his eyes, eyes trained on the stretch of red that he has to run on. Get set. He stretches his legs a bit, pushing his bottom up in the air.
The moment Jeongguk pushes off, he immediately knows that it’s not going to be a good run. His legs almost feel wobbly, almost like this is his first run and he’s terrified as hell at screwing up. Which is ridiculous because Jeongguk didn’t even feel like this during his first run. He’s never felt like this, like he’s afraid he’s going to fall any moment and hurt himself. But he pushes on anyway and soon enough the first lap is done.
He sees Taehyung and Jieun still standing by the side where Jeongguk left them earlier. He passes by them and sees the way Taehyung waves and claps for him, Jieun smiling as well. Jeongguk breathes as evenly as he can and, for the first time, becomes aware of the runners beside him. He’s at the head of the pack as far as he can tell. How ahead, he’s not sure. It’s not like it really matters; it doesn’t, but he’s also never really noticed other runners whenever he ran before. He takes another deep breath and tells himself to just look ahead. The last lap is approaching.
When Jeongguk turns to look, he sees Jieun still standing there, clapping and smiling, but Taehyung is nowhere in sight. He doesn’t really have time to dwell on it, but Jeongguk wonders just where Taehyung went. It’s not that Jeongguk keeps track, but Taehyung always stays to watch the entirety of his events. Maybe he needed to go to the bathroom badly, Jeongguk thinks, in an effort not to think too much of it. But it is weird no matter how he looks at it. In all his meets, he sees Taehyung jumping up and down with each lap, no matter that it’s a long distance even and that he gets tired cheering for so long.
Jeongguk knows he shouldn’t do it, but he looks back to the spot where Taehyung should be.
In that one second of split decision, he trips and falls to the ground.
Jeongguk coughs, bruised palms and knees resting on the gravel. Everything in his body feels like it hurts. His chest is heaving, trying to catch a breath that he can’t seem to find, and his head is throbbing from where it hit the ground, albeit not that hard. But he’s hurting and, strangely, the first thing that he still does is look for Taehyung. Only, Jieun is the only one standing there. She doesn’t have a smile on her face this time and she only looks at him for a second, something flashing in her eyes, before she’s walking away. Jeongguk wonders where Taehyung is and why he didn’t even see Jeongguk fall.
“Jeongguk, get up,” someone yells from the stands. He thinks it’s Jimin.
Jeongguk pushes himself off the ground and runs. He’s not sure what place he is now or if there are even runners behind him. It probably doesn’t matter anymore since he’s already screwed up. But he runs and runs and runs, just like those early days when he just really wanted to run away and never look back, when his mother's and father’s yells where too much for him, when his tears can’t be stopped because the fairy tale is ending and his family is falling apart.
He crosses the finish line at fifth place, something that has never happened before. Jeongguk never finishes anything lower than second. But Jeongguk doesn’t care because when he looks up, Taehyung still isn’t there.
Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut when he feels the bed dip and the hand on his thigh. It’s the day after the meet and Jeongguk has decided that burying himself in his bed is the best way to make him forget about what happened. He can’t very well resort to running because, well, he did just fall and he feels pretty bruised.
“I’m fine,” Jeongguk grunts when Jimin taps his thigh.
“I didn’t say you weren’t,” Jimin says, voice soft. He doesn’t say anything for a while and Jeongguk tries to breathe easily, hoping that Jimin doesn’t push this too hard. “The team is out celebrating later today,” he continues. “You should go. They’ve been asking about you. Joonmyun looks like he’s going to shit himself worrying about you.”
“He would,” Jeongguk snorts. He takes a deep breath. “But no. I’m fine right here,” he says, muffling his voice as he buries his face further into his pillow.
“Is this about Taehyung?” Jimin asks. There’s more shifting on the bed and Jeongguk knows that his best friend is now lying down beside him. “I heard that he wasn’t feeling well that’s why he left.”
Jeongguk knows that’s a lie and he knows that Jimin knows it too. It’s possible that there isn’t something wrong. But he knows that not everything is okay either. There’s something bothering Taehyung, which is why he left, which is why he hasn’t answered Jeongguk’s calls. Taehyung always answers Jeongguk’s calls.
“I’m fine, Jimin,” Jeongguk tells his best friend. “Really. You should go out with Yoongi or Jieun. I’m sure she’s talking to you.” He immediately regrets the words the moment they come out of his mouth. He’s never said anything to Jimin about the misunderstanding he and Jieun are having. Jeongguk didn’t think it was imperative for Jimin to be dragged into it, no matter how much it would affect their friendship.
Jeongguk is still confused about Jieun’s behavior. She avoids him and when he finally gets to talk to her, she shuts him down. And then she’s suddenly at his track meet, cheering him on and even talking to Taehyung like they’ve always been friends. Jeongguk is pretty sure that Jieun isn’t very fond of Taehyung if only for the fact that Jieun doesn’t seem to approve of Jeongguk steadily dating. Which is understandable because she knows Jeongguk isn’t the dating type. But he supposes it must’ve really hurt her when he didn’t tell her about Taehyung. Sighing, Jeongguk shifts on the ed and pulls the covers tighter around him.
“I would think that because of what happened,” Jimin starts. Jeongguk braces himself because he’s the one who opened this topic for discussion between the two of them. “Because you were there, you would understand why Jieun is so upset with you, why she’s avoiding you.”
Jeongguk sighs and opens his eyes, staring at the wall in front of him. “I didn’t mean for it to happen,” he says, feeling like he’s explained himself too many times. “Jieun needed someone and, of course, I was there. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t just want to leave her even if—”
“Maybe you should have just left her,” Jimin interrupts. There’s a rustling of the sheets and Jeongguk knows Jimin is facing him, his eyes boring on his back.
Jeongguk feels confused at Jimin’s response. He sits up and looks at his friend. “Jieun needed someone to be there for her and you would have wanted me to leave her?” he asks in disbelief. “Of course I wouldn’t leave her. She needed a friend.”
“Yes, she needed a friend. Not a one night stand,” Jimin argues. He sits up as well, his eyes hard on Jeongguk. “Of all people, Jeongguk. I would think that Jieun is off limits. I didn’t think I needed to tell you this. This is Jieun we’re talking about. Of course it would mean something to her so of course she’d be upset you just brush it aside like it’s nothing afterwards. You do know that not everyone sleeps with someone without meaning it, right?”
Jeongguk opens his mouth and the closes again, at a loss for words. “What are you talking about?” he blurts out once he’s gathered his thoughts. “A one night stand? With Jieun?”
Jimin stares at him and Jeongguk has never been on the end of that angry stare, the one that Jimin has given to people who had made fun of Jeongguk, people who tried to make light of his family situation, and even Jeongguk’s brother. Jeongguk never thought that Jimin would ever look at him that way, like Jimin is disappointed in him. It feels worse than if Jimin just punched him.
“Are you really going to act like it didn’t happen?” Jimin asks. He gets off the bed and takes a couple of steps back, opening and closing his fists. “Are you going to act like it was a drunken mistake?”
“No, I’m not going to act like it was a drunken mistake. We were drunk but nothing happened. She came on to me, but I didn’t—” Jeongguk says, getting off the bed as well. “Jimin,” he says, going to his friend, not caring if Jimin might suddenly hit him. “I didn’t sleep with Jieun.”
Jimin looks into Jeongguk’s eyes and Jeongguk looks back, determined, knowing that Jimin would see that he’s telling the truth. Jimin grabs Jeongguk’s shirt and wraps his arms around him in a hug. “I was this close to hitting you,” Jimin says, voice muffled on Jeongguk’s shoulder.
Once Jimin has calmed down, they sit side by side on the bed, backs on the wall, legs stretched out in front of them. Jimin has his arm around Jeongguk with Jeongguk snuggled to his chest. Jeongguk misses this. He’s pretty sure that he hasn’t been ignoring his best friend, the way Jieun has insinuated that he was, but they really haven’t spent as much time by themselves. Having relationships really tends to change things. Except Jeongguk is not in a relationship.
“I would never do that to Jieun,” Jeongguk says, yet again, even though he’s said it too many times by now. “I would never take advantage of her like that. Jieun is one of my best friends. She’s like a sister to me and I would never intentionally hurt her.” He sighs and Jimin tightens his arm around him. “I was just trying to comfort her,” he finishes.
“Maybe you should clear things up with her,” Jimin suggests. “She has this impression that you guys did. She was probably too drunk to remember otherwise.”
I’ve tried talking to her, Jimin,” Jeongguk says and he must sound really sad because Jimin starts to run his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair. “She shut me down. She won’t even look at me.”
Jieun has always looked out for Jeongguk, even when he specifically told her that she didn’t need to. But she did it anyway. She made sure he and Jimin didn’t forget to eat, she herded away all the girls and boys that teased them or the ones that got too close for comfort. In turn, Jeongguk has made sure that Jieun’s boyfriends got a bit of a scare before they got around to dating her. Jimin is usually too nice to be threatening, but Jeongguk made sure that if any of them hurt Jieun, they would hear from him. And some of them have. He’d punched a guy or two for breaking Jieun’s heart.
“She’ll come around, “Jimin says, sounding confident. “She always does.”
Jeongguk sighs and straightens up, stretching his arms over his head. “I think I’m going to go for a run,” he says as he stands and grabs his backpack, shoving some clothes into it. He makes sure his wallet and phone are there as well.
“Are you sure?” Jimin says, hesitant. “That was quite a fall, Jeongguk. You should probably just rest.”
Jeongguk purses his lips and nods, sighing. “I should,” he says. “I’ll just go see Taehyung then. Maybe if I show up at his place he’ll talk to me.” He shrugs. “I don’t think Taehyung will turn me away. Besides, he always knows how to cheer me up.”
“Jeongguk,” Jimin starts, pausing like he’s deciding on how he should say things, something Jeongguk doesn’t realize because he’s too busy putting his books into his backpack. Maybe he can get some studying done over at Taehyung’s too. “You do know that Taehyung isn’t really your boyfriend, right?”
Jeongguk freezes when he hears the question. “Of course I do,” he says, his throat suddenly feeling dry. “We’ve already talked about this, remember? You told me that as long as I knew what I was doing, it was fine, and I told you that I do.” He knows he sounds like he doesn’t care about this, but he does. He just doesn’t want to think about it too hard the way he knows Jimin is doing.
Jimin clasps his hands together on his lap, looking at Jeongguk with eyes wide with concern. “Sometimes I’m not sure you do anymore,” he admits. “Jeongguk, you were making out with him in Hoseok’s kitchen,” Jimin reminds him when Jeongguk shakes his head. “That’s not something you just do.”
“It was because Hoseok was there,” Jeongguk says, remembering how Taehyung had indirectly declined to kiss him again when Hoseok and Jimin left. If that isn’t a clear indication that they really aren’t boyfriends then he doesn’t know what else is. Not that Jeongguk cares. He and Taehyung have an agreement: they’re not the relationship type. Which is why this whole thing is working out so perfectly. Taking a deep breath, he mentally chides himself for running the same argument in his head over and over.
“What are you talking about?” Jimin asks, sliding towards the edge of the bed, watching Jeongguk move about the room. “Jeongguk, you don’t just make out with anyone like that for other people.”
“I told you,” Jeongguk says as he changes into his running shoes. “Taehyung and I have talked about this really well.” Except they really hadn’t. “And we both know what we want out of this,” he adds, although Jeongguk is afraid that he’s not sure of that anymore and he hates himself for it. “Besides, Taehyung isn’t really one for settling down or committing and I totally understand why that is. I mean, I don’t get why people commit to one person when it’s never going to last.”
“Sometimes, getting ahead of yourself like that is the reason why things don’t last,” Jimin interjects, although he’s not angry. He rarely gets angry with Jeongguk.
Jeongguk knows Jimin is trying to make him see reason, to which Jeongguk doesn’t need to. He already knows his stand on this, much more Taehyung’s. There is really nothing to talk about. “Yeah well, my parents didn’t think like that and look what happened anyway,” Jeongguk mutters. It’s a weak argument, he knows, but he doesn’t care. It’s one that he believes in.
“Jeongguk, I’m not trying to fight with you,” Jimin tells him, standing up and stopping Jeongguk from avoiding looking at him. He tilts his head until he’s sure Jeongguk is meeting his gaze. “I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Jeongguk scoffs, untangling himself from Jimin’s grasp. “How am I going to get hurt from something that’s not real?” he says. “It’s not real, Jimin. Taehyung and I aren’t dating so no one is going to get hurt. That’s the whole point of it all.” He takes a deep breath when Jimin looks like he’s still not done talking, like he wants to say more. “You know what, I think I’ll go for a run anyway,” Jeongguk announces. “Better that I don’t see Taehyung since he’s a sensitive topic between us. That way I’m staying away from him. That good with you?”
“Jeongguk, you know that’s not what I mean—"
Jeongguk doesn’t stay to hear the rest of what Jimin has to say and just gets out of there. His feet are itching to get moving.
Training is harder than usual that day, what with his knee still feeling a bit sore after his accident. Jeongguk remembers that he’d taken a fall not too long ago as well. Although, that was infinitely better than the recent one because, well, Taehyung had taken care of him. Nevertheless, right now his knee is aching quite a bit so their coach is giving him a bit of a leeway and only letting him do short and slow runs, just enough to keep his rhythm and just to keep him exercising.
“What happened that day, anyway?” Joonmyun asks and it should be annoying—Jeongguk knows he would be annoyed if it were anyone else—but Joonmyun only always means well. He sounds concerned more than anything else. “You usually don’t really think much about the three kilometer run. That’s your strongest event.”
Joonmyun would know this best and Jeongguk hates knowing that he let him and the team down somehow. Jeongguk isn’t entirely sure what happened that day, as well, but he knows it wasn’t because he wasn’t prepared enough. He was. He is always prepared. He attends practices everyday. There is no reason for him to have had an off day or event, especially not a three kilometer one.
“Hey, it happens,” Joonmyun speaks up before Jeongguk can apologize. “Even when you don’t want it to or when you don’t expect it to, it does. No one is faulting you for it. You’ve only done well, Jeongguk.”
“So I’m allowed a free pass?” Jeongguk says, only half joking. He sits down on the grass, leaning back on his arms and looking up at the sky. The sky is a nice, light blue that day with white cottony clouds. It’s a nice day, but somehow Jeongguk still feels gloomy.
“No one is allowed a free pass,” Joonmyun states, shaking his head, his lips pursed. Jeongguk laughs. “But people are allowed to have problems that can be bigger and be more important than running.”
“Nothing is more important to me than running,” Jeongguk assures his team captain, dismissing the idea. Running is the only thing that’s keeping him sane, keeping him focused, and keeping him happy. There’s nothing better than running for him out there.
“What about people?” Joonmyun hedges, crossing his legs in an indian sit. “I hear relationships are one of the most important things to a person.”
“People are fickle,” Jeongguk replies, shaking his head. “They leave when they get tired. Running is running. Even if I run, it’s still there.”
“Do you leave when you get tired, Jeongguk?” Joonmyun asks him and Jeongguk still, slowly turning to look at Joonmyun. There’s an earnest expression on his face, one that shows that he just truly wants to understand Jeongguk.
“I never leave,” Jeongguk says, looking away when Joonmyun searches his eyes.
“But you never stay either,” Joonmyun responds, tone soft and gentle. Talking to Joonmyun always feels like he’s being enveloped in a warm blanket on a cold day. The cold can be biting but he knows there’s protection all around him.
Jeongguk turns to him and narrows his eyes. “What do you know?” he demands.
“I’m not sure I know anything,” Joonmyun tells him with a shrug. “But…” He hesitates, breathing deeply. “Taehyung tells me things sometimes. I just listen.”
“He does?” Jeongguk asks, surprised. He didn’t realize that Taehyung was friends with anyone on the team. Sure, he was always present during practices. But Taehyung was always on the stands. Jeongguk hasn’t really seen him talking to anyone on the team either. Joonmyun smiles at him. It’s fond and indulgent and makes Jeongguk feel like a little boy starved for affection. “What does he tell you?” he wonders.
“I can’t really say,” Joonmyun says and Jeongguk nods, looking back up at the sky.
Of course. Jeongguk shouldn’t have asked. He doesn’t have to know anything about Taehyung. He and Taehyung aren’t even really talking right now. Jeongguk decided that since Taehyung disappeared during the track meet without a word and since he hasn’t been answering his calls, that maybe it’s a good time for them to have space from each other. Jeongguk isn’t entirely sure that this is a good idea because it’s weird not having Taehyung around, even though it’s only been a few days. But after his conversation with Jimin, he thinks this is okay. It’s not like they’re going to stop talking forever. It’s just for now.
“Although,” Joonmyun continues, catching Jeongguk’s attention. “I doubt that they’re things you don’t already know.” He winks at Jeongguk before pushing himself off the ground, dusting his shorts. “Bambam and Yugyeom look like they’re dawdling,” he then says. “I’m going to go tell them off.”
“I’ll go with you,” Jeongguk says, getting ready to stand up.
“No, stay,” Joonmyun insists. “Just sit around for today.”
“But it’s practice,” Jeongguk says, frowning at the thought that he’s being told that he can’t run.
“You know what I’ve learned from being on the track team?” Joonmyun asks and Jeongguk waits. “Sometimes, it’s okay to stop running,” he tells Jeongguk with a smile before he’s jogging off towards the rest of the team.
Jeongguk runs anyway. When the rest of the team has gone home, Jeongguk laces his shoes up and takes several turns around the track. He goes at a slower, more leisurely pace so as not to aggravate his aching knee. He basically just jogs around, skipping here and there, trying his best not to do too much. He’s heard of athletes who forced themselves during injuries and ended up in much worse states. It’s not like his injury is serious. Jeongguk just doesn’t want to force it. Besides, if anything, his ego is the one that’s really bruised.
Jeongguk doesn’t know why Taehyung not being there bothers him so much, doesn’t know why it feels like he’s been left hanging, almost as if he was led on with nothing to hold on to. It’s a tad bit dramatic to feel that way, but it is how he feels and it’s annoying. He wishes it would go away. He doesn’t want to feel upset with Taehyung. Everything associated with Taehyung reminds him of something happy. Jeongguk doesn’t want that to change.
He stops and starts stretching, deciding that maybe he should stop, just like Joonmyun said. Maybe he’ll just get something to eat. There’s no food at the apartment. Cooking sounds like a good idea. Jimin won’t mind. In fact, it’s probably a good idea for Jeongguk to cook so they have something to do while they patch things up. They haven’t really been okay for the past few days. Jeongguk really didn’t mean to go off on him like he did. But things with Jieun have been making him frustrated and sad, and then there’s this weird thing with Taehyung, and Jimin just had to rub everything in his face. Jeongguk already knows he’s messed up somewhere. He already knows that there’s something here that he shouldn’t be doing. He just wants to be able to deal with it in his own pace and think about what it really is.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
Jeongguk whirls around. Taehyung is standing there wearing clothes similar to the ones he was wearing when they first met. He’s wearing all black. Jeongguk thinks his jacket is actually leather.
“Nice outfit,” Jeongguk comments, smirking a little.
Taehyung chuckles and Jeongguk breathes it in. “Yeah,” he says, tugging on a belt loop. “I was supposed to go out. But I ended up here.” He shrugs as if to say he doesn’t know how.
“I was actually just going to go to get changed,” Jeongguk says, gesturing towards the locker room. “Wait for me? Maybe we can go get some food.”
When Jeongguk comes out of the locker room, freshly showered and feeling much better, Taehyung has taken off his leather jacket and is leaning against the wall. It’s been a while since Jeongguk has seen Taehyung made up like this, his hair gelled back, kohl artfully smudged around his eyes. He’s been so used to the warm, soft, and cuddly Taehyung that he always has around, wearing a baggy pants and a shirt too big for him, hair floppy on his head and face bare except for his bright smile.
“Where were you going to go?” Jeongguk asks in lieu of announcing that he’s back.
Taehyung jumps off the wall, glancing down at his shoes before looking at Jeongguk. “Oh,” he mutters with a half shrug. “Just out with some of the seniors in our course. Some of them just wanted to do some bonding thing. I don’t know why they chose to do it in a club of all places.”
“Well that’s where you really get to know someone,” Jeongguk laughs and winks. Taehyung makes a face at him. “After a few drinks, everything is laid out in the open. And more.” He laughs some more when Taehyung snorts. “Not up for some partying?”
Taehyung sighs and shakes his head. It’s so uncharacteristic of Taehyung to be so quiet. He’s usually bouncing off walls and jumping on his feet. It’s one of the things Jeongguk likes about him. “I actually wanted to talk to you,” Taehyung says, looking at Jeongguk from where he’s been staring at the pavement. He kicks a pebble as they walk and Jeongguk feels nervous at the tone of his voice. “There’s something I want to tell you,” Taehyung adds.
“Oh sure,” Jeongguk says. “What is it?” He tries not to hold his breath because no matter what Taehyung says, he already knows it. He’s prepared himself for these kind of speeches before, having heard other people talk that way early on in his life.
Taehyung doesn’t say anything for a while, the sound of their walking quiet in the nearly deserted path on the way out of the university. But then he takes a deep breath and Jeongguk kind of braces himself. “I wanted to apologize for leaving during your meet,” he says, voice husky with uncertainty.
“It’s fine,” Jeongguk tells him, waving it off. “Jimin said you weren’t feeling well. It’s really okay. You’re feeling better, right?” He glances at Taehyung, who just stares straight ahead.
Taehyung purses his lips as if to say something else, but then he shakes his head. “I’ve just been having a hard time these days,” he admits, letting out a breath as he chuckles and shakes his head.
Jeongguk furrows his brows at the realization that he didn’t know that Taehyung is going through something. “Taehyung, you could have said something—“
“Nah,” Taehyung cuts him off. “It’s not really a big deal. It’s just probably just me. I’m just thinking too much.” He then turns to Jeongguk, a big grin on his face. Jeongguk blinks at the suddenness of it. “Want to go get some street food? I’m not really feeling sitting down at a restaurant right now.”
Jeongguk laughs and nods, feeling the tightening in his chest loosen. For some reason, he thought that this conversation was going to go differently, like maybe something will have to change. He’s relieved that’s not the case. Jeongguk doesn’t want anything between him and Taehyung to change.
After they binge on a lot of street food, Jeongguk and Taehyung end up walking around before going back to university. Jeongguk is laughing at something Taehyung is sharing about one of his classes, Taehyung gesturing all over and making the most animated of faces. They’re just about to enter campus again when they run into a group of girls, Joohyun included.
“Hey,” Joohyun greets them with a much more cheery smile than the last time they talked. She glances at Taehyung and grins at him before looking back at Jeongguk. “You guys headed back? There’s a party in some engineering major’s apartment near by. You guys want to come?”
Jeongguk already knows he doesn’t want to go, but he looks to Taehyung just in case he does. Taehyung is already shaking his head however and Joohyun chuckles.
“Figures,” Joohyun comments with a smile. “Everyone knows you’re the kind of couple who likes to stay in. I haven’t really seen you guys at a party since the last time.” She shrugs as she starts to go back to her friends. “We should hang out some time, though,” she suggests. “No hard feelings, right?”
“Right,” Jeongguk is quick to agree because he’s just so glad that Joohyun is cool with everything. He glances at Taehyung, who only has a hint of a smile on his face. “Maybe we’ll take you up on that some time,” he says.
Whatever cheerful atmosphere they had, Joohyun had taken it with her when she left with her friends. Jeongguk isn’t exactly sure what’s wrong, but it feels like Taehyung is uneasy. Taehyung keeps fiddling with the zipper of his jacket, which he’s wearing again.
“Okay, what’s the matter?” Jeongguk asks, unable to help himself.
Taehyung lets out a breath, his cheeks puffing out. He stops walking and faces Jeongguk. “I lied,” he starts and Jeongguk stares at him. “I didn’t just want to talk to you because I wanted to apologize. There’s something else I wanted to tell you.”
“Then tell me,” Jeongguk encourages him, smiling a little. Taehyung presses his lips together. “It can’t be that hard,” he teases a little and Taehyung chuckles, although it sounds broken and helpless. “Taehyung?”
Taehyung shoves his hands inside his jacket pockets and glances up at the sky before looking back at Jeongguk. “I think we should stop,” he blurts out. Jeongguk tries to breathe as normally as he can. “This,” he adds, in case Jeongguk doesn’t understand. Except Jeongguk understands all too well. “We should stop this, pretending to be together in front all of our friends and other people. We should stop.”
Jeongguk isn’t sure what he was expecting. It was something to this effect, but he didn’t expect it to actually hurt. It’s ridiculous that it hurts because it was never real. They both knew what they were getting into. It was to drive away all the unwanted attention. It was clear as day. Jeongguk supposes that now that they got that, now that they have the result that they wanted, they don’t really need to do it anymore.
“You’re right,” Jeongguk says, shifting his gym bag higher on his shoulder. He forces a smile on his face and Taehyung frowns at him. “We really didn’t talk about a break up date. I think that’s something we forgot to discuss,” he continues with a chuckle. He glances at Taehyung’s clothes and wonders something. “Any reason why you couldn’t wait to do this tomorrow? You were supposed to go out.” He gestures to Taehyung’s clothes but shrugs. “I supposes it’s better now than later. I was actually thinking of talking to you about this very thing, actually,” Jeongguk goes on, not sure why he’s saying what he’s saying.
“You were?” Taehyung asks, voice a whisper. There’s something else in his tone but Jeongguk doesn’t really want to analyze it. He doesn’t have to anymore. He shouldn’t have ever wanted to.
Jeongguk shrugs. “After the meet, I realized that this has gone on long enough. I had some time to think when we weren’t talking,” he explains and Taehyung kind of whimpers. “You know Jieun and I fought about you?” The thought of his fight with Jieun still really makes his heart ache. Maybe with this break up, things will start to get better between them. “She couldn’t understand why I was dating you because she knew I didn’t date,” he relays. “Well she’s right. I really am not one for a relationship. And so are you.”
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung starts. His eyes are wide. Jeongguk isn’t sure why he looks like he’s about to cry. He’s the one who started this after all. He’s the one who wanted this. “Nothing’s going to change, right?”
“I think…” Jeongguk says, pausing for a second to make sure that his voice won’t wobble from emotion because he’s not feeling emotional. “I think something has to, don’t you?” Jeongguk smiles and he’s starting to hate himself for acting like this is nothing. “It’s funny,” he says, chuckling a little, although he’s pretty sure it doesn’t sound happy.
“What is?” Taehyung asks and something in his eyes flash when Jeongguk looks at him.
“Not even fake relationships last,” Jeongguk answers.
Not too many things change. Jeongguk’s grades are still nothing less than stellar, he still hangs out with his friends, especially Jimin, more so now than before, and his running times keep improving. It would really take a lot to change Jeongguk’s routine and, as far as he’s concerned, nothing major has happened to do that.
“You don’t look so good,” Hoseok comments when Jeongguk stumbles into the dance studio.
Jeongguk ignores his comment and slides down to the floor, back resting on the way. He closes his eyes after he catches Hoseok’s disapproving look through the mirror on the other side of the room and leans his head back. Jeongguk’s really tired. Track practices are more tiring than usual these days, which is probably due to the fact that they have another meet coming up soon. Their coach has gotten them to do a bit more gym and stretching work to make sure there are no pulled muscles during their runs. Jeongguk has been assigned a physical therapist too, to help with his strained muscles and knee during his fall.
“You sure it’s okay for me to be here?” Jeongguk asks without opening his eyes. He would walk back to the apartment, but he really feels like he’s about to keel over. The dance studio is quite near the field so he's decided to just hang out there for a while until he feels a little less like dying.
“And what leave you to pass out in a ditch somewhere?” Hoseok scoffs.
“Don’t be dramatic,” Jeongguk retorts, letting out a light chuckle. “I’d probably just pass out on a sidewalk or a walkway. There aren’t really any ditches around campus.” His head lols to the side and he shifts a little to make himself more comfortable.
“Like that’s any better,” Hoseok returns. “Just lie down, Jeongguk. My neck is hurting just looking at you.”
“Then don’t look at me,” Jeongguk’s speech slurs. But he takes Hoseok’s advice and lies down on his side, his head pillowed on his gym bag. He’ll just sleep for a bit. Just a little bit and then he’ll leave. “Wake me up when you’re about to start practice.” He falls asleep before he hears Hoseok’s reply.
Jeongguk isn’t sure how long he sleeps on the wooden floor of the dance studio. But when he comes to, he feels the thrumming of the bass on the floor, hiphop blasting from the speakers. He keeps his eyes closed for a few more minutes before he decides that he should really get up and sleep in his own bed.
Stretching his legs, Jeongguk sits up and stifles a yawn. Looking around, he notices that the rest of the dance team are all present and in formation.
“Look who’s awake,” Jackson announces from the side, grinning at him through the mirror. The other guys turn around to look at him, similar smiles on their faces. Someone even yells a good morning. It sounds like Namjoon.
“Hey!” Jimin bounds over to him. “You okay?” He looks at Jeongguk up and down, a downturn to his lips. “You look really tired.”
“I’m fine,” Jeongguk assures him as he stands. “Hoseok told me I could crash for a bit before I went back to our place.” He turns to the other guys, opening his mouth to apologize for sleeping on their space when the words catch in his throat.
Taehyung is right there, standing near the mirror, right beside Hoseok. Jeongguk, unable to help himself, just looks at him. They really haven’t seen each other in several days now, Jeongguk strictly adhering to a new, safer routine, that allows him to not see Taehyung. Because he knows that it’s the best thing for both of them. A clean cut is always the way to go in break ups, even though what they did isn’t really a break up. Jeongguk looks anyway. Taehyung looks pretty much the same in his basketball shorts and baggy white shirt, except his hair is different. Gone is the warm, rich chocolate brown from before. Hello, flaming orange hair. Jeongguk isn’t sure how he didn’t catch him first before everyone else.
“Sorry,” Jimin says under his breath, making Jeongguk look away from Taehyung and his piercing gaze. “Hoseok didn’t tell me you were coming and I would have—“
“Stop,” Jeongguk says, waving his apology away. “It’s fine.” He hasn’t exactly told Jimin what’s going on between him and Taehyung. Jeongguk suspects that Jimin has an idea anyway. Besides, Jeongguk knows that Taehyung is friends with the dance team and hangs out during their practices sometimes. “I shouldn’t be here anyway,” he adds, knowing perfectly well that there’s always a chance for him to run into Taehyung when it comes to the dance team.
“You’re always welcome here,” Jimin insists, earnest with his wide eyes and pouting lips. Jeongguk chuckles and ruffles his hair in response.
“Sorry guys,” Jeongguk apologizes to the rest of the dancers. He avoids the way Seokjin is staring right at him, arms crossed over his chest. “I’ll get out of your hair.” They all yell their no problems as he picks up his gym bag and slings it over his shoulder. Turning to Jimin, he says, “I’ll see you back home?” When Jimin nods, he leaves the studio. He doesn’t glance at Taehyung and his orange hair as he walks out.
Jimin gets home a little after ten o’clock in the evening and by then, Jeongguk is wide awake, having slept for three hours straight. He’s sprawled in the living room, laptop open and books scattered on the table. He has Jimin’s black, non-prescription frames on, pushing it up his nose when Jimin walks in.
“I’m surprised you’re awake,” Jimin says as he pads to the living room.
“I’m nothing but awake,” Jeongguk responds, not looking up from his books. He flips through several pages until he finds what he’s looking for and starts typing on his laptop. “Thanks for letting me crash in your studio, by the way. I know that was weird, but I just needed to rest for a bit.”
“Maybe you should stop training so hard,” Jimin comments, walking to the kitchen. “Hoseok said you fell right asleep the moment you laid down. And you wouldn’t wake up when I tried to when I arrived. It doesn’t seem like it’s very healthy, tiring yourself like that.”
“Another meet is coming up,” Jeongguk says, eyes focused on his laptop screen. “I have to do better than the last one, which honestly sucked.” He has a lot of feelings involving that last competition, most of them not related to the actual run.
“That was an accident,” Jimin reminds him. He comes back to the living room with a mug of what smells like hot cocoa. He takes a seat on the sofa across from Jeongguk.
“Aren’t you going to shower?” Jeongguk asks. He glances up at Jimin when he doesn’t answer. He's staring at Jeongguk with a thoughtful expression on his face. “What?”
“You and Taehyung broke it off, didn’t you?” Jimin says, catching Jeongguk off-guard. He drinks some more of his hot cocoa before continuing. “That’s why you guys are suddenly acting like you don’t know each other.”
Jeongguk scoffs a little, just shaking his head as he goes back to his paper. “Is that what he told you?” he asks, actually curious about what Taehyung has been saying.
“That’s the thing,” Jimin kind of whines. “He’s not telling me anything, so I’m asking you.” He leans towards the table, putting his mug down on the table, on top of one of Jeongguk’s textbooks. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Jeongguk says. He’s been wondering when Jimin would start asking questions because no one has really asked so far and it’s been quite a surprise. Sometimes he sees Namjoon or Hoseok wanting to ask, but never quite getting around to it. Jeongguk is actually surprised that Seokjin hasn’t said anything yet.
“Jeongguk,” Jimin presses with a light chiding to his tone.
“We just talked, that’s all,” Jeongguk tells him, which is the truth anyway.
“About what?” Jimin questions, leaning back on the sofa. “Are you going to make me ask about every single detail? Because you know I will.” He gives Jeongguk a pointed look that clearly says that he’s not joking and that he won’t stop until Jeongguk gives him answers.
“We talked,” Jeongguk repeats, sighing as he pushes away from his laptop and leans back on the foot of the couch behind him. “About how we should stop doing this thing and I agreed because it’s the right thing to do,” he shares. “You were right,” he adds, gesturing towards Jimin, who just looks at him and listens. “He wanted to stop pretending in front of everyone and I said yes.”
“So why aren’t you talking?” Jimin wants to know. He lifts feet off the floor and shifts it under him. “Why are you guys acting like you don’t know each other?”
“I don’t know,” Jeongguk says. “It just feels weird to go back how things were when all we were was pretend.”
Now that Jeongguk thinks about it, the entire basis of their friendship was to pretend being together. That’s how they got to know each other. That’s how they got to be friends. That’s how Jeongguk ended up thinking that he likes everything about Taehyung, even his weird quirks, even his loudness, everything.
“But didn’t you tell me that you guys are friends and that no one’s going to get hurt?” Jimin points out and Jeongguk has to give him props for remembering everything. “Seems to me like there are two people hurting in this equation.”
“We’re not hurt,” Jeongguk corrects him, even though he knows that it’s not exactly true. Because Jeongguk isn’t hurting. So what if he misses Taehyung and so what if he hates that they’re not speaking to each other? That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s hurting. “We’re just taking some space. To think things through. It’s just taking time.”
“For how long? Because you’re going to lose him, Jeongguk,” Jimin states. “If you keep on doing this, not talking to him, giving him space or whatever it is you think you’re doing, you’re going to lose him completely.” Jeongguk stares at him with wide eyes. “Do you want that?”
“I don’t know,” Jeongguk mutters, staring at his hands.
“You don’t know or you don’t?” Jimin urges. “Because there’s a big difference.”
There’s a pause where Jeongguk thinks Jimin has stopped talking. He’s feeling a bit like he’s being told off for doing the right thing. Stopping the whole ruse is the right thing to do. Jeongguk is sure of it. So why is Jimin mad at him for it? Why did Taehyung look like he was going to cry when they agreed to do it? Why does it feel like Jeongguk’s heart is being squeezed in his chest when he thinks about it? Something seems to have gone wrong along the way because Jeongguk knows it’s not supposed to feel like this. The reason why he doesn’t get into relationships because he’s not supposed to feel like he can’t contain the hurt in his heart. That’s why he didn’t get into a relationship. What he had with Taehyung wasn’t like that.
“Jeongguk,” Jimin starts, slowly, carefully, like he wants Jeongguk to listen very well and hear him out. “I think you should stop to consider what Taehyung really means to you.”
“Don’t be silly,” Jeongguk retorts even as he knows it’s a lie. “Taehyung means nothing to me. I may have thought of him as a friend, but that’s it. That’s all we were. I mean, would he have broken it off it that wasn’t the case? And he would have kissed me again when I asked.” His breath catches in his throat as the words he just said catch up to him.
“You asked to kiss him again?” Jimin asks after a short pause.
Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut, takes off the glasses, and presses the heels of his palms on his eyes. “After you and Hoseok left, I kind of… I implied that I wanted to,” he confesses, cringing as he remembers how embarrassing it was, how awkward and vulnerable he felt. “But he said no. And I understand,” he insists, putting his hands down and opening his eyes to stare up at the ceiling. “Of course I understand. Why would we kiss without an audience?”
“But you didn’t have an audience in the first place,” Jimin points out, his brows furrowed when Jeongguk looks at him. “You guys usually don’t have an audience when you’re together anyway.”
“You guys were right there,” Jeongguk scoffs, sighing at how annoyed he feels with himself. What are these feelings? He’s not supposed to feel like he just broke up with his friend. It’s not a break up.
“No, we weren’t,” Jimin says, looking even more confused. “You were already making out when we walked in. I was really surprised because I didn’t think that you guys—“ Jeongguk lifts his head up to stare at him and something on Jimin’s face clears up. “You didn’t have an audience, Jeongguk. You guys were alone in that apartment,” he resolves.
Jeongguk looks away at this, his heart pounding in his chest. So they were alone. Taehyung kissed him without an audience. What could that have meant? It probably still doesn’t mean anything. Taehyung didn’t want to do it again when Jeongguk indirectly asked to. And Taehyung was the one who wanted to stop so it still doesn’t mean anything. Jeongguk lifts his knees up to his chin and buries his face in them. Why is he stressing over what things could have meant? It’s not supposed to matter. Jeongguk doesn’t do relationships. He doesn’t believe in them. Relationships never last because feelings, like love, never do and they destroy everything in their wake. He and Taehyung weren’t even really in one and now look what happened. Jeongguk shouldn’t be thinking about this too much. There isn’t anything to think about.
“Jeongguk, are you…” Jimin stops and hesitates. “Do you have feelings for Taehyung?”
Jeongguk doesn’t want to answer. He doesn’t even lift his head up to acknowledge the question. Because he knows the answer should be no.
It’s not that far of a walk, but Jeongguk makes it feel like he is. He takes his time, noticing every little thing that he never bothered to look at before. Like how grass is barely maintained because everyone just steps on it anyway, or how the buildings in this area look a tiny bit older because it’s one of the first campus residences built, or how there are actually a lot people milling about at this time of day, which is just a little bit after three in the afternoon. It’s not that late and it’s not too early a time for a talk, maybe even an apology, and he’s sure that Taehyung will be there. At least he hopes he will be. Jeongguk isn’t really sure what he’s going to do when he gets to Taehyung’s apartment, but it’s probably going to be along those lines. Because, right now, it really feels like they’re in a fight. After thinking about his conversation with Jimin, one thing really stuck out to him: he doesn’t want to lose Taehyung and whatever it is that they had. Jeongguk doesn’t even really know what it is that they had and he’s truly terrified to know, but he thinks it’s better to talk about it than to just keep ignoring each other like they’ve been doing.
When he gets to Taehyung's building, he takes a deep breath and goes up the stairs. He wonders if Taehyung is home and if he’s studying in his track pants and his hair tied up in that apple hair style again. Grinning, he reaches the second floor landing, turns the corner to the hallway where Taehyung’s door is and then stops.
Taehyung is standing right outside his door. With another guy, who’s a little bit shorter than Taehyung. The guy has baby pink hair that matches Taehyung’s now purple locks. Jeongguk blinks because the last time he saw Taehyung, Taehyung had orange hair. Now it’s purple. It seems like Taehyung has gone back to changing his hair color again, like before. But he doesn’t have time to dwell on that because Taehyung and that pink-haired guy is laughing at something, the guy’s hand resting on Taehyung’s waist.
Jeongguk is just about to dismiss the idea brewing in his head when the guy suddenly tilts his head up and cuts off whatever Taehyung is saying with a kiss to his cheek. Taehyung’s mouth hangs open in surprise and he looks at the guy and—Jeongguk backs away, hurries out of the building and doesn’t bother finding out what happens next.
Of course Taehyung is seeing someone. Because they weren’t really together. Jeongguk’s not really bothered. Why should he be? Taehyung isn’t his boyfriend. They were pretending and pretending means it’s not real, which means they are free to see other people. Which is what Taehyung is doing. Taehyung is seeing other people because he’s unattached because he doesn’t have a boyfriend. Jeongguk berates himself for feeling like this. He’s not really mad. He’s just surprised. He doesn’t care. Jeongguk doesn’t believe in relationships. He doesn’t want a relationship. He’s learned at a young age that love isn’t enough and that nothing lasts forever and that people don’t stay the same. If Taehyung wants to go through all of that, then that’s his decision. Jeongguk doesn’t care.
When Jeongguk feels like his chest is going to burst, he stops running and bends over, resting his hands on his knees. He squeezes his eyes shut, trying to let the slight dizziness he’s feeling pass. Other than that, he feels fine. He doesn’t feel anything, which is exactly why he loves running. In spite of the aching muscles and the catching of breath, he doesn’t feel pain. In fact, he even feels happier.
After a few moments, he straightens up and blinks as he looks around. He walks around for a bit, wondering what he’s doing there. He just kept on running that he didn’t even really know where he was going. Now, he’s at a KTX terminal. What the hell is he doing there? He turns to go back where he came from, back to school, and back to… But he can’t. Jeongguk doesn’t want to go back. Right now, there is nothing that Jeongguk wants from where he just came from. He turns right back around, walks to the ticketing booth, and, in a fit of cowardly spontaneity, buys a one-way ticket.
He gets several missed calls and receives bundle of messages that keep coming in. There are a few from Hoseok, Namjoon, and Seokjin. But most of them are from Jimin and, surprisingly, from Jieun. Instead of reading and answering them, Jeongguk pockets his phone and stands outside the house that he hasn’t been to in three years. He misses it, he realizes. A lot has probably changed inside. His room must be a storage room of some sort now. There are things there that he’s been wanting to take to university with him but just hasn’t had the chance to get, like some of his action figures and one of his childhood blankets that he used sleep with all the time. Jeongguk even had a hard time sleeping without it for a while when he started sleeping at the apartment. He wonders if they did any renovations, if they’ve replace that dingy sofa in the living room that looked like it was going to collapse if more than two people sat on it. He thinks about his mother and hopes that she doesn’t feeling too lonely in a house by herself. Jeongguk told himself that he’s not going to feel sorry for a decision that he thought was best for him. But looking back now… how could he have thought of himself alone?
“Can I help you?” A pretty lady stands behind the small, rickety gate, holding on to one of the bars and peering at him. She has long, wavy black hair, big eyes, and an even bigger smile.
Jeongguk stumbles back and looks up at the house. “Uh, sorry,” he says, blinking. “I might have the wrong house.” He takes a few more steps back and looks up and down the road. He’s pretty sure this is their house, but he doesn’t recognize this woman. His mother could have very well moved and Jeongguk just didn’t know it.
“Which household are you looking for?” she asks with a welcoming smile. “Maybe I can help you. I mean, I haven’t lived here for very long but I think I know everyone living on this street.” She smiles at him again and Jeongguk finds himself smiling back even though he’s panicking inside.
“The Jeons, actually,” Jeongguk tells him, glancing at the other house. “I was pretty sure this is their house, but I’ve been away for a few years so they could have moved away.” The thought that his mother moved without telling him makes him feel like he’s been left behind. Although he supposes he deserves it. Jeongguk left first.
“Are you…? Jeongguk?” the lady asks as she looks closely at him. Jeongguk gapes at her, wondering how she could know who he is. He’s sure that he hasn’t seen her before. She half laughs, half screams, hand covering her mouth. “Jeongguk!” she repeats. “Junghyun’s brother.”
“Yes,” Jeongguk responds, looking at her again just to make sure that he hasn’t seen her somewhere. “Do you know him? Do you know where they moved?”
“I’m Miyoung, Junghyun’s wife,” she responds with such a pretty eye smile that Jeongguk has a hard time not chuckling. Of course Jeongguk doesn’t know what his brother’s wife looks like. He skipped the wedding as well because he really has been a brat. Miyoung opens the gate and ushers him in. “He’s been telling me all about you,” she adds with another grin. “Come in.”
Jeongguk walks into the house, holding his breath. Nothing has changed. The curtains are still the yellow ones that were hanging the last time he was there. Now they’re faded, but looks like they’ve been recently washed. The couch is the still the exact same one, only covered with a cloth on the seat for the holes. Jeongguk chuckles and moves to follow Miyoung further into the house, where the dining table is. He stands in the middle of the quaint abode and takes a deep breath. It almost feels like it hasn’t been three years.
“Junghyun is at work,” Miyoung tells him, moving around in the kitchen, taking some bowls and plates out. “He works at one of the hospitals downtown. He’ll be home soon.” There’s something that smells good. Jeongguk misses home-cooked meals. He misses his mother’s cooking and he hopes that his stomach’s grumbling isn’t too loud.
“What about my mom?” Jeongguk asks, looking around. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else home, aside from Miyoung.
“She goes to church at six,” Miyoung says with a fond smile. She goes to the dining table and starts setting the table. Jeongguk notices that she automatically sets the table for four people. “She’s probably on her way back by now. Please sit, Jeongguk,” she says, pulling one of the chairs from the dining table out. “You’re just in time for dinner. We’ll start once everyone gets home.”
Miyoung is so nice and so sweet and so pretty. Junghyun is a good-looking guy himself so it’s not a surprise that he landed himself such an amazing girl. There’s a tinge of regret that he feels once Miyoung starts telling him all about what’s been happening, how his mother has been helping out more and more at the church and how his brother’s practice has been doing really well. She goes on to tell him about the church events and fundraisers that his mother has been handling in partnership with the hospital his brother works at, and Jeongguk feels guilty for having missed so much.
“So they’re doing well? You’re all doing well? You’re all healthy?” Jeongguk immediately corrects himself. He may not know Miyoung, but he doesn’t want to be rude on their first meeting.
Miyoung smiles at him. “We’re doing pretty well,” she assures him. Jeongguk nods, leaning back on his seat. That’s all he really wants to hear. Even if he wasn’t around to witness anything, at least they’re all fine. She leans back on the counter and just looks at Jeongguk with a smile. It should be weird, but it isn’t coming from her. She almost looks like she’s really happy to see him even if they have never met before. “It’s so nice that you’re here, Jeongguk,” she says. “Junghyun has told me so much about you.”
Jeongguk raises his eyebrows. “Really? I have to say I’m surprised. We’re not really close,” he admits, frowning a little. He and his brother haven’t really been talking. If he talks to his mother rarely, he talks to Junghyun even less.
Miyoung laughs. “He did tell me you’re way too frank sometimes,” she confirms. “But he really does talk about you a lot, especially when you have your track meets.” She tucks her hair behind her ears.
“He knows that I run?” Jeongguk asks, straightening up a little in his seat, a wee bit shocked. “In university?” He used to run in high school but he didn’t even really tell his mother that he joined the track team in university.
She pauses, pressing her lips together as if deciding whether to answer his unasked question. “Well, he and Jimin talk pretty often,” Miyoung shares. “Jimin always tells him what’s going on with you.” Jeongguk stills at this. “He’s very proud of you.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Jeongguk finally says, tracing the checkered patterns of the tablecloth with his fingertips.
Miyoung goes back to preparing food in the kitchen, making sure that everything is still warm and freshly cooked by the time everyone comes home. Jeongguk talks a little bit about his classes and his track career, answering questions that Miyoung has. She keeps telling him that he sounds like he’s having a lot of fun, that Jeongguk must do really well in school and that he has a lot of medals.
“I’m sorry I didn’t go to your wedding,” Jeongguk exclaims when Miyoung turns her back on his once more to tend to the food and he can’t contain it anymore. Anything to ease the guilt that’s been building up ever since he arrived.
Miyoung turns to him and just smiles. “It was a small affair,” she shares, looking wistful. “Only our families and a few of our friends were present. Your brother and I figured we didn’t really need too many people there, just the important ones.” Jeongguk’s heart squeezes in his chest. “It was very lovely, everything I’ve ever wanted in a wedding,” she gushes.
“I’m glad,” Jeongguk says, hoping he doesn’t sound strangled. “It’s been two years, right?”
“We just celebrated our second anniversary last month,” Miyoung confirms. “We went out to the sea and had dinner by the shore with candlelights and everything.”
Their marriage seems so perfect with the way Miyoung sounds completely smitten and in love with his brother. It amazes Jeongguk how there doesn’t seem to be an ounce for fear in her on the relationship. It’s almost like she’s very sure and confident with her choice and that nothing is going to go wrong. Jeongguk doesn’t understand.
“You guys seem very happy,” Jeongguk remarks. Miyoung nods, a big smile on her face. “Not to be rude, but… aren’t you afraid that maybe things won’t always be this happy and perfect?”
“All the time. Things are far from perfect,” Miyoung shares with a laugh. “We aren’t always happy with each other either. Especially when your brother forgets things he needs for work here and home and I have to go all the way to downtown to bring it to him.” She makes a face but shrugs afterwards. “But we learn to accept and compromise and communicate. That’s just how it is in relationships.”
Jeongguk has heard all of this before. Relationships are all about communication and compromise; love is a decision and all that crap. It just doesn’t seem true and they don’t seem to work anyway. It still doesn’t make any sense to Jeongguk why people think relationships are worth it.
“You know,” Miyoung speaks up again when she’s taken a seat across Jeongguk. “The wedding almost never happened.”
Jeongguk’s gaze flies to her. “What?”
“I got really cold feet,” Miyoung admits, looking sheepish. “Junghyun and I talked about it and almost decided we won’t get married, that we’d just live together. Because what if marriage screwed things up? What if it didn’t work out? What if we end up hating each other?” She chuckles and shakes her head as if remembering how ridiculous it was. “But then your brother said, ‘so what?’ He said he would rather have tried and found out what the future had in store for us, than regret not having done anything about it. He said that he’s not going to allow fear to dictate what he wants for his life when it’s clear to him that he wants me to be in it.”
Miyoung’s eyes are watery when she finishes and she grins at him. Jeongguk feels a surge of pride for his brother, for everything that he did and said to keep Miyoung by his side and love her the way she deserved to be. It’s still confusing to him, but maybe Jeongguk kind of understands what Miyoung was saying. Maybe it’s not relationships that are worth it. It’s the people, the person you want to be in a relationship with that is.
Jeongguk steps out of the house to get some air. There is so much going on in his head that he needs to be alone to kind of process it all. That, and he doesn’t want Miyoung to be there in case he has some sort of breakdown from overthinking. They’ve only just met and she’s so kind, that he wants her to think of him in a positive way. Jeongguk wants him to like her because, whether or not they know each other well, they are family now.
He breathes the cool night air and wraps his arms around himself. What if Jeongguk made a mistake by avoiding Taehyung? Sure, they were ending their relationship, but they are friends. It’s the reason why they got into it in the first place, because they trusted each other enough to not screw things up in the end. Jeongguk thought he could do it. He thought he could keep at it. He thought he could keep receiving affection and giving it away without any consequences. Now he’s stuck in the very same dilemma similar people have gone through and he’s drowning in something he acknowledges now as feelings.
Jeongguk is pretty sure now that he does have feelings for Taehyung. Why else would he want Taehyung by his side all the time? Why else does he look for Taehyung whenever he needed someone to cheer him up? Why else would Jeongguk want to kiss Taehyung again? Why else would it hurt so much now that he knows Taehyung is seeing someone? Taehyung has been by his side throughout this whole thing, supporting him and holding his hand, literally and figuratively. Jeongguk doesn’t know who else would have done such a thing for him. He wasn’t the only one who had to sacrifice and pretend; Taehyung did too. And while Jeongguk has been making this all about him this entire time, it’s probably about time that he considers how Taehyung feels. Sure it was Taehyung’s idea, but that doesn’t mean that Jeongguk can blame this all on him. Jeongguk barely did anything to stop things from getting out of hand. If anything, Jeongguk kind of hoped that things could stay that way for a while. Which really isn’t fair to Taehyung.
So it really is the right decision to end things. But Jeongguk probably shouldn’t have treated Taehyung like he doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Because, if Jeongguk was being completely honest with himself, he wants everything to do with Taehyung.
Jeongguk is so screwed. Because it’s too late. He’s too late because he’s stupid with his fear of getting hurt, fear of nothing lasting forever, fear of being left behind. He hates that something that’s happened so long ago still affects him as much as he does now. Jeongguk has allowed it to distort a lot of his decision-making and has made him ruin a friendship and a relationship with a person that he now realizes he cares so much about.
“Fucking hell,” he mutters to himself, burying his face in his hands.
Jeongguk puts his hands down and barely has time to look who it is, although he already knows, when he’s ensconced in a tight hug. His arms stick to his sides as Junghyun squeezes him tightly, his cheek resting on Jeongguk’s hair.
“Hi,” Jeongguk greets him, a bit uncertainly, when Junghyun pulls away to get a good look at him. Junghyun is so much taller than Jeongguk remembers. His black hair is also longer, bangs almost covering his eyes. “Are you sure you’re supposed to have hair that long? You look like an idol.” He’s sure that’s not how he’s supposed to greet his brother whom he hasn’t seen in too long, but Jeongguk can’t help himself.
Junghyun laughs and hugs him again. “It looks good, though, right? All the patients say so. I’m one of the handsome and cool doctors at the hospital,” he says when he pulls away again, giving Jeongguk a wink.
“Right,” Jeongguk scoffs, rolling his eyes. Of course his brother is still full of himself. He smiles at his brother anyway because he looks healthy and happy. “You look good.”
“So do you,” Junghyun says, putting an arm around his shoulders. “What are you doing out here? Dinner’s probably ready by now.”
“Just thinking,” Jeongguk says, shrugging. “I met your wife.” He grins this time as he elbows his brother. It’s interesting how they don’t feel awkward around each other. Years of not seeing each other, yet it almost feels like they just saw each other yesterday. “How did you manage to get so lucky?”
Junghyun laughs, a real, full one, that has him tilting his head back. It’s nice to see. Jeongguk doesn’t remember his brother laughing like this, even before. “I don’t know either,” he admits. “Even I am amazed.” He shakes his head, still grinning. “Is mom home yet?”
“Not yet,” Jeongguk says, shaking his head. “You should go inside and greet your wife.” He chuckles when Junghyun beams like an excited kid. “Seems like she made something really delicious for dinner,” he adds.
“She’s an amazing cook.” He winks at him. “Come inside soon, okay?” Junghyun says, giving him another quick hug before going back inside.
The moment his brother goes back inside, Jeongguk’s phone starts vibrating in his pocket. He takes it out and stares at the screen. Taehyung is calling him. Jeongguk’s thumb hovers over the answer button before he puts it to the side of the phone and waits for the call to be over. When the call ends up being a missed call, he unlocks his phone and types a message to Jimin. Jeongguk just tells him that he’s fine and not to worry. Jimin reply is swift.
You bastard. You have us all worried. Where the hell are you?
Jeongguk looks up at the sky and breathes deeply. “I’m home,” he whispers.
Jeongguk gets up early despite having slept past midnight. It’s been so long since he slept in his own bed that he could barely sleep at all. He was even surprised that it was still there, sheets clean and changed, which, he finds out from Miyoung, that Jeongguk’s mother still changes. His mother even still cleans his room regularly. Just like how they always set four places at the table just in case Jeongguk comes home. Which is another reason why he couldn’t sleep. He was too busy crying and drowning in guilt to do so. Jeongguk hopes his eyes aren’t too swollen.
He finds his old pair of running shoes under his bed and puts it on. It’s a little bit small for him but it will do the job. The house is quiet when Jeongguk comes out of his room. Everyone is probably going to be up in a minute or two, knowing that Junghyun leaves for the hospital early and that his mother is a natural early riser, so he hurries out of the house before anyone can catch him.
The air feels so different over here. Somehow it smells fresher, cooler, and feels more freeing. Jeongguk jogs past neighbor’s houses, homes he’d played in when he was a kid, and smiles a little as he remembers how friendly he had been when he was younger, how so much happier he was. He passes rows and rows of trees than thin as he goes further. Eventually, he reaches the beach.
Jeongguk stops just as the sand touches his shoes. Without thinking about it, he takes his shoes and socks off and walks barefoot on the sand. He curls and uncurls his toes with each step towards the water, a certain sense of anticipation building in him. It’s been so long since he’s been to the beach. Yoongi keeps on saying that they should all go to the beach during one of their holidays but plans never pull through. It would be nice if they were all here. They would love it. Taehyung would love it.
Sighing, he puts his shoes down and plops down on the sand. He has got to stop remembering Taehyung in every single thing that he sees. It’s probably not healthy to be pining for someone he kind of had (but really didn’t) and now has lost. Jeongguk wonders why Taehyung was calling him. Jimin must have called each and every one of their friends to make sure Jeongguk hasn’t contacted them and told them where he went. Jeongguk shakes his head, smiling a little. Jimin has always looked out for him and no matter how Jeongguk messes up, Jimin is there every time, helping him clean up. Jeongguk should buy him a souvenir before he goes home this afternoon.
“You should have waited for me.” His mother sits down on the sand beside him. “Then again, you always liked to run alone.”
“Mom,” Jeongguk startles, glancing behind them to find that she’s alone. “Did you walk here by yourself?” He unzips his jacket and places it around his mom’s shoulders, hoping it doesn’t smell from his sweat.
“I walk to the beach every morning,” she assures him, patting his arm in affection and thanks.
“If you’re sure,” Jeongguk says as they fall into comfortable silence, just sitting beside each other, waiting for the sun to rise. It was a good thing he and his mother have kind of patched things up when she came to visit. He isn’t sure how he would act if that isn’t the case.
“I’m so glad you came home,” his mother speaks up and Jeongguk sighs, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and bringing her close. “I was so sure you would eventually.” She smiles at him, eyes glassy. “I was right.”
“I’m sorry it took me so long,” Jeongguk whispers in his mother’s hair, pressing a kiss.
“I understand why you’ve been running away, Jeongguk,” she assures him. “I’ve always understood. I’m so sorry that I haven’t done enough to stop you from doing so and make you come back."
Jeongguk shakes his head, squeezing his mother lightly. “Mom, this isn’t your fault,” he insists. “It’s mine, so please don’t apologize.” He shuts his eyes and makes a promise to himself to come home more often, as often as he can manage with his schedule. It’s the least he can do after making his family suffer for his brattiness. “I’m going to come home more often,” he voices it out.
“That would be nice,” she says, chuckling. “Bring Jimin and Jieun too. And that boy…what’s his name? Taehyung?”
Jeongguk stiffens, his arm dropping away from his mother’s shoulders. “How do you know about Taehyung?”
“Jimin told me about him,” his mother replies and Jeongguk kind of wishes Jimin is there so that he can kick him. “He didn’t really tell me much, but I just knew he was special. There was something about the way Jimin talked about you and him.” She looks at Jeongguk. “So am I right?” she asks, smiling at him widely. “Is he special?”
“He’s a good friend,” Jeongguk manages to say. He wraps his arm around his legs, his knees touching his chin.
The sun’s rays are starting to peek over the horizon, the sky turning a light purplish blue. It’s beautiful and peaceful. He wishes everything was like this, beautiful and peaceful. And easy. Right now, things are none of that. But, at the very least, he’s glad that his relationship with his family is improving. At least he has that.
“Oh, Jeongguk,” his mother remarks, reaching out to squeeze his forearm. He looks at her and thinks about how beautiful his mother still is in spite of the lines and years on her face. She still looks radiant and happy, he realizes belatedly. “What happened between your father and I—"
“What are you saying?” Jeongguk cuts her off, shifting away a little. “Why are you suddenly talking about that?” This is one of the reasons why he doesn’t want to come home. There is nothing about his parents’ relationship that he wants to discuss. “We’re going to have to talk about it eventually, Jeongguk. So you can be at peace with it. So you won’t be so afraid to come back here.” She links her arm with his and shakes it a little. “Not everything is going to end badly.”
Jeongguk sighs, giving in. “I know that,” he responds, still looking out at the horizon. The sky is much lighter now, much brighter.
“But do you believe it?” his mother wants to know. Jeongguk presses his lips together and doesn’t say anything. “My little boy,” she sighs. “Our story doesn’t have to be yours.” She pauses and shakes her head. “In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be,” she corrects herself.
“How—how can you be so sure?” Jeongguk stammers, cursing himself inwardly. “You and dad loved each other very much. He looked at you like you hung the moon and starts and look what happened.” He bends his head forward and rest his forehead on his knees.
“Love stories aren’t perfect, Jeongguk,” his mother states, nudging him so he would look at her. “There isn’t any story that is. Ours wasn’t any different. But we loved each other and we worked at it everyday as much as we could, because the reality is relationships take work. I’m not perfect and neither is your father.” She pauses and looks at him as if searching his face for something before she smiles. “I would do it all over again if I could.”
“You would?” Jeongguk asks, feeling like his breath is caught in his throat. “Why?”
She smiles at him. “Your father leaving doesn’t change the fact that he’s the great love of my life,” she tells him.
Her eyes are sparkling just like the way Jeongguk remembers they would whenever she would look at his father. This just confirms what he’s learned from Jimin and from Miyoung. Relationships don’t always last. So what? Jeongguk takes a deep breath. Because that’s a lot to take. It’s terrifying.
“Do you see Taehyung as someone who hangs the moon and the stars?” From her tone, it’s almost like she already knows the answer. But she’s wrong.
Taehyung doesn’t hang the moon and the stars. Far from it. Because Taehyung is the sun, and Jeongguk is the sunflower that looks towards him.
The first thing Jeongguk does when he returns to the city is call Jimin. He gets a bit of a scolding, with Jimin talking for about five minutes straight without letting Jeongguk get a word in. It’s understandable and Jeongguk hates that he made Jimin worry. He really doesn’t like it when he makes people worry about him. Jeongguk should just really stop being stupid, that way everyone will just stop fussing.
“I bought you a souvenir,” Jeongguk says once Jimin finally takes a breath.
“If it’s another lighthouse figurine…” Jimin trails away, somewhat threateningly. “I think I have at least five of those and three are probably from you. In fact, that’s all you’ve given me on my last three birthdays. We’re practically neighbours back home, you know. I know where you buy these things.”
Jeongguk chuckles. “Not last year,” he corrects his best friend. “I gave you those river cruise tickets so you can snuggle with your Yoongi under the flash of lights.” He makes a face in disgust in spite of Jimin not seeing his face. “Besides,” he goes on, his voice turning a little bit serious. “I’ve been trying to drive home a point with those lighthouse figurines. I just don’t want you to forget.” Because, honestly, Jeongguk really doesn’t know where he would be if he didn’t have Jimin.
Jimin sighs. Jeongguk can imagine him shaking his head. “Just because you pull out this card every time you screw up, doesn’t mean that we’re done talking about this,” he tells him, sounding softer and gentler.
“It’s not a card, though,” Jeongguk responds, biting his lower lip. He feels a little awkward, telling Jimin how important he is to him and how grateful he is like this, but he has to. Because he doesn’t want Jimin to think that he’s taking him for granted.
“Yeah yeah,” Jimin huffs, pretending like they’re not having a moment. “I hope you bought Jieun one too because she’s not happy with you either,” he then says. “Although, I suspect she’s less mad than I am.”
“I bought her the snow globe one,” Jeongguk says, looking down at the paper bag that he’s holding. “Do you want that instead?”
“You better be at Hoseok’s tonight,” Jimin says, instead of responding to Jeongguk’s teasing. “I’m going to get the guys to strangle you one by one in your sleep if you don’t.”
“Ooh sounds kinky,” Jeongguk teases. “But yes,” he adds before Jimin can get even more irritated. “I’ll be there. I promise.” He glances up at the signage of the coffee shop he just arrived at and peers in through the windows. “I’ll see you later.”
The scent of coffee wafts through him as Jeongguk walks into the cafe. He runs his hand through his hair, pats it back down before ruffling it again, as he looks around for Jieun. He’s not exactly sure what he’s expecting now that he's asked to meet up with her, even though he knows that it’s something he should do. There’s a lot between them that’s unsaid that’s just causing this whole misunderstanding to grow even more. Jeongguk doesn’t want it to get to point of no return. Jieun is one of the best people in his life and he needs her in it, so he’s going to try to keep her.
Jeongguk weaves his way through the tables to go to stand by the counter for a better view of the place when he sees Jieun sitting on one of the tables by the corner. As expected, she’s already there. She’s never late, especially since Jeongguk has pulled an inadvertent disappearing act on them. She looks up at the exact same time that he spots her and she grins at Jeongguk, much to his relief.
Jieun practically assaults him when he gets to their table. She slaps his arm before launching onto him and hugging him really tight. “You jerk,” she tells Jeongguk, her voice muffled through his shoulder. “I’ve been so worried about you.” Jeongguk tightens his hold on her and presses a kiss to the crown of her head, feeling very relieved that he gets to do this again, that he gets to do this still. “I can’t believe you just hopped on a train and went home without telling anyone about it,” she goes on, slapping his arm again when she pulls away.
“It was an impulsive decision, I know,” Jeongguk says, apologetic, as they sit across each other. “But it made sense to do it.” Jieun nods with a smile on her face. Jeongguk feels like he hasn’t seen her smile at him, or even so much as just look at him, for so long that he just wants to make things right with her. “Listen, I know you really hate me right now,” he says, jumping right to it. “But I wanted to talk to you and apologize again for whatever—"
“Jeongguk, stop,” Jieun hurries, putting her hands up. “I should be the one apologizing to you.” She shakes her head when Jeongguk tries to interrupt her. “For several things. I…” She takes a deep breath and smiles, as if she’s chiding herself. There’s a pink to her cheeks and Jeongguk already knows what she’s referring to. “I misunderstood what happened between us. I thought that we…” she trails away, chuckling a little and running her fingers through her hair. “I thought wrong and it confused me and…”
“It’s perfectly okay,” Jeongguk rushes to pacify her. He tries to reach for her hand across the table but she pulls it away from his touch.
“I’ve been crazy in love with you for a while now, Jeongguk,” Jieun confesses, giving him a helpless smile. Jeongguk’s hand stills on the table before he pulls it back to his lap. “I never said anything because you’re you,” she continues, laughing a little. “You hate relationships, you hate being tied down, and you hate being in love. But after that, when I thought we did something…” She covers her eyes with her hand for a second before dropping them and shaking her head. “I thought, maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance there somewhere, that maybe you could feel something for me too. Because I know you. I don’t think you would have slept with me if it didn’t mean anything. I just figured I was that important to you.”
“You are,” Jeongguk says, his voice sounding raspy from the surprise. “That’s why I didn’t—"
“I know,” Jieun cuts him off with a smile. It’s surprisingly grateful. “Jimin and I talked and… I understand what you did and… I appreciate it. I think I wouldn’t be able to handle it if something really did happen and you ended up in love with someone else.” She chuckles. “Which is the case, isn’t it?” she says, part sad, part teasing. Jieun’s gaze on him makes Jeongguk want to look away, but he doesn’t. “When I heard that rumour about you being on a date, I thought that made me have a bigger chance with you. But then you announced that you were with Taehyung.” This time, she reaches for Jeongguk’s hand and squeezes it. “I was so mad, Jeongguk. I was so hurt and upset that you didn’t like me. I know now that I was stupid and selfish.”
“Jieun,” Jeongguk speaks up, not really sure what he should say. What can he say to his best friend of many years, one who has been in love with him without him realizing it? He would apologize but he knows Jieun would hate that. There is nothing he should be apologizing for and they both know it. So he just squeezes her hand back and she smiles at him, eyes a little glassy with unshed tears. “Taehyung and I—“
“I know the truth, Jeongguk,” Jieun tells him, chuckling a little. “Jimin told me and I know you wouldn’t have let me know otherwise—"
“I wanted to tell you,” Jeongguk assures her. “But we got into that fight and I just didn’t get the chance to. I’m sorry.”
Jieun smiles at him and he finally sees the Jieun that he grew up with, the one who is patient with him, the one who looks after him and listens to him, and Jeongguk knows that they’re okay. “You should really talk to him, Guk,” she says.
“What?” he asks, a little bit surprised to hear that coming from her.
Jieun lets go of Jeongguk’s hand and clasps her hands together on her lap. “I said some things to him,” she admits, leaning back a little on her seat when Jeongguk’s gaze on her sharpens. “They weren’t very nice and…” She sighs, biting her lip. “I’m really sorry that I meddled.”
Jeongguk closes his eyes for a few seconds, if only to allow himself not to feel upset over something that’s already been done. He knew there had to be a reason for Taehyung to start acting the way he did. He just didn’t realize that it would be triggered by one of his best friends. When he opens his eyes, Jieun is looking at him, lips downturned, eyes sad and Jeongguk decides to just not say anything.
“Do you know how he’s doing?” Jeongguk asks instead because it would be nice to hear how Taehyung is. Maybe she knows.
“Jimin just said that he hasn’t talked to Taehyung,” Jieun answers with a shrug. “I think they see each other but Taehyung doesn’t really tell him anything or talk to him. But then again, Jimin said that Taehyung hasn’t been attending dance practices.” Taehyung’s probably been busy with that guy, Jeongguk can’t help but think. It makes Jeongguk’s heart clench with regret. “I think you should really talk to him, Jeongguk. No matter what’s happened, you owe each other a conversation.”
Run like hell and get the agony over with. Once upon a time, not too long ago, Jeongguk believed in that. He believed it so much that he didn’t even care about anything he left behind. What mattered to him was that he kept his heart in tact and made sure that it was always in one piece. Now, Jeongguk feels like he’s been doing a lot more slowing down and letting people and things catch up to him. He’s even turned back a lot and faced the wreckage he usually leaves behind. After everything else, he’s learned that running alone is lonely. It never really bothered him before. But now that he’s known what it feels like otherwise, it’s even lonelier going back to how it was before.
“The prodigal son has returned!” Hoseok announces the moment he steps into the apartment.
Jeongguk is hounded by his friends. Hoseok and Namjoon give him loud slaps on his back and arms, almost like revenge for letting them worry. Meanwhile, his older friends, Seokjin and Yoongi kind of glare at him for a bit before Seokjin sighs and hugs him, while Yoongi ruffles his hair. Through all of it, Jeongguk wonders how he had ever thought that only Jimin and Jieun were all that mattered to him.
“Good to see you again, kid,” Yoongi drawls like he’s in some western cowboy film. “If Jimin wouldn’t hate me for it, I would have punched you by now. You know, for making him worried sick.”
“I wouldn’t have minded,” Jimin says, pushing through everyone else and pulling Hoseok away from Jeongguk. “Come here, asshole,” he grumbles, pulling Jeongguk and hugging him. He stands on his tiptoes just so he can be the one cradling Jeongguk’s head and not the other way around. “If you disappear like that again, I don’t care if you buy me a dozen more lighthouse figurines, I’m going to kick your ass.”
They hug for a little bit more, which Jeongguk doesn’t really mind because he hasn’t hugged Jimin since they were in high school, he thinks. Jimin may be affectionate and touchy, but Jeongguk isn’t and Jimin knows that. Jimin’s put up with so much from Jeongguk that he thinks it’s time he give a little, maybe a lot more, back to him.
“Okay, this is getting weird,” Namjoon speaks up. “Do you guys need a room?”
“I’m right here,” Yoongi adds, sounding disgruntled.
Jeongguk pulls away and just grins at Jimin, who shoves him off. He turns to his friends and grins at all of them. “Well this has been fun and all, but I think I’m gonna go,” he announces. He moves towards the door.
“Where are you going?” Seokjin asks, eyebrow raised. “You practically just got back.” Jeongguk thinks he exchanges a look with Jimin, but ignores it.
“Back to the apartment,” Jeongguk lies. Taehyung should be back in his own apartment, probably studying or watching Haikyuu!! if he hasn’t finished it yet. He could be doing something else entirely or be out, but Jeongguk thinks he should check anyway. “I’m going to, uh, rest. It’s been a long trip back and I’m really tired. So, uh, bye!”
Jeongguk turns around and he hiccups in surprise. Taehyung is standing right there in khaki pants and a black long-sleeved shirt, hair brown, except a bit lighter, and an equally surprised look on his face.
“Taehyung,” Jeongguk exclaims the same time that Taehyung blurts out, “You’re back.”
“Oh would you look at the time,” Namjoon says, glancing down at his non-existent wristwatch and making a show of looking like he’s late for something. He grabs the nearest person next to him, who happens to be Yoongi and grabs him towards the door. Jimin rushes after them because his boyfriend is being dragged away, but not before shooting Jeongguk a wink.
Seokjin just gives them a smile, although he pats Taehyung’s shoulder before he follows the rest out of the door. Hoseok, meanwhile, stares them both down with a very serious expression on his face.
“Okay, I know you guys know how to make curry and love doing it,” Hoseok stares and Jeongguk turns red, while Taehyung coughs. “But please, please don’t spill anything. Anywhere. I mean it. I’m offering my apartment for peacekeeping out of the goodness of my heart but—"
“Hoseok, will you shut up and leave them alone?” Seokjin yells from the hallway.
“I mean it!” Hoseok calls even as he rushes out the door.
The door clicks shut and Jeongguk and Taehyung are alone. Taehyung looks nice. If this were a drama and they were the leads, Jeongguk would think that Taehyung would look just as bad as he feels, because of heartbreak and lack of sleep. But Taehyung isn’t heartbroken and this isn’t a drama. This is Jeongguk’s life, where he keep on learning how to live a life where falling in love and living happily ever after doesn’t seem to be in the cards for him.
“They’re not subtle at all,” Taehyung comments, chuckling a little. Jeongguk appreciates him trying to make the mood a little less awkward.
“When have they been subtle?” Jeongguk comments, forcing a smile on his face.
They fall back into silence. Jeongguk doesn’t really know where to begin. He knows he should start the conversation. He’s the one who has a lot of things to say, a lot of things to admit to and confess. His objective is to only let Taehyung hear it and then they can go their separate ways. At the very least, Jeongguk can follow Joonmyun’s advice on this. He’s going to stop running and admit to his feelings for once. And then he’ll run. Because he doesn’t really want to feel the embarrassment and pain that comes from unrequited affections.
“So… your disappearing act,” Taehyung starts, chuckling once more. He’s twisting the hem of his shirt. Jeongguk notices that the Band-Aid on Taehyung’s finger is gone. Of course it would be. It’s been a while since then. “You had everyone worried.”
“Were you worried?” Jeongguk asks before he can stop himself. He sucks his lower lip in between his teeth.
Taehyung’s smile falters but he shrugs, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Of course, you idiot,” he answers. “If any one of my friends disappeared without a word, I would worry. I have to tell you, though,” he babbles on. “Jimin and Jieun weren’t doing so well. It was a good thing your brother called Jimin so they finally managed to calm down.”
“My brother called Jimin?” Jeongguk asks, surprised. He wonders when that happened. Maybe Miyoung messaged Junghyun, who in turn, let Jimin know. Taehyung just nods. “How—“ Jeongguk cuts himself off, taking a deep breath. Taehyung tilts his head, waiting for him to continue. “How are you?” he asks. “We haven’t really… I mean I know it’s my fault, but—what have you been up to? I heard you haven’t been dancing with the team as much.”
Taehyung smiles but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Why keep on dancing with them when I can’t commit anyway?” is all he says.
Jeongguk swallows because that is the Taehyung who came up with the idea of pretending to be together because they both didn’t like relationships, because they’ve both been hurt and don’t want to get hurt. That’s the Taehyung who thinks that romance is overrated, who doesn’t want to expect anything from people because expectation just leads to heartbreak. But Jeongguk is pretty sure that’s not who Taehyung is now. At least, he hopes he isn’t.
“Taehyung,” Jeongguk starts. He looks around the empty apartment and wonders how he can even begin to say what he wants to say without cutting himself off and deciding to just run away instead. The latter option seems so much more appealing and he’s so good at it too.
“What is it?” Taehyung asks, moving a little to catch Jeongguk’s gaze.
“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk just goes for it. “For not talking to you. For taking what you said the wrong way. Of course you would want to stop pretending to be together in front of our friends. The whole thing was just absurd and stupid for us to have carried it on for so long.” He pauses, sucking on his lower lip before pressing his lips together. “That wasn’t an excuse for me to be childish and stop being your friend. I mean, of course you would have to stop pretending to date me so you could actually date. And I should have just understood that and agreed and then stayed being your friend.”
“I’m a bit confused,” Taehyung says, brows furrowed. “You’re saying that you’re sorry because you should have been more understanding of the fact that I wanted to stop pretending to be with you so I can actually date.” Jeongguk nods and Taehyung tilts his head a little as if trying to make sense of that. “But then you wanted to have stayed being my friend.”
“Yes,” Jeongguk says, nodding some more. “I mean, you must have been wanting to go out with that guy.” A fist, probably his fist, squeezes his heart in his chest, but he has to say this. Because he cares about Taehyung, because he’s supposed to be his friend. “And I should have realized. If I was paying enough attention, I would have known and I would have broken it off at once.”
“What are you talking about?” Taehyung asks, eyes wide, looking bewildered. “What guy?”
“That guy,” Jeongguk says, swallowing. He hates that he has to spell it out. “I saw you guys. He, uh, he walked you to your door and he—he kissed you.” Taehyung’s eyes widen and Jeongguk looks everywhere else but at him. “On the cheek,” Jeongguk is quick to amend. “I didn’t see anything else, I promise. I wasn’t spying and I didn’t so I left because, I mean, it’s none of my business. You were smiling and you looked happy and that’s—that’s good.” He forces a smile because that really is all he wants for Taehyung. Jeongguk is sure of it now. All he wants is for Taehyung to be happy. “It’s good that you’re happy,” he says. “I mean, I know you know this already. I’ve always wanted that for you. Happiness. So yeah, you should be happy with a real boyfriend and a real relationship and not like, you know…” What we had. He laughs helplessly because his chest is hurting, almost like he’s been running really fast and really hard. Except this time the numbing doesn’t come. The pain is just there and doesn’t go away.
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung whispers. “You almost sound like you’re…”
“Like I’m what what?” Jeongguk asks, chest heaving from all the talking he’s done.
“Like you’re jealous,” Taehyung responds, even softer than his last words.
Jeongguk purses his lips and looks away because, yes, he is jealous. He’s jealous because here he is, finally admitting to something he would have never allowed himself to feel a few months ago, but now that he is, he is just a tad bit too late because he’s stupid and an idiot, who takes running too seriously and too literally sometimes.
“He better be treating you well,” Jeongguk says, instead of acknowledging Taehyung’s words out loud. It’s not important how he feels. Jeongguk and his feelings aren’t important. He’s not even supposed to feel like this. He and Taehyung weren’t in a relationship. “I mean, it’s good that you finally found someone you’re willing to go back into dating for.”
Taehyung looks at Jeongguk, blinking several times as he does so. “What about you?” he asks. “Do you think you’ll ever start dating seriously?” Pausing, he plays with the hem of his shirt again. “I mean, what about Jieun—"
Jeongguk bursts into unexpected laughter at this, not meaning to be unkind, but the irony of everything makes him laugh. He shakes his head. “Jieun and I are friends,” he tells Taehyung. “We’ve already talked and we’re good. Besides, she already knows how stupid it would be to try to get into a relationship with me. Anyone would be,” he says. “I’d probably just end up hurting them and making them unhappy in the process because I’m so terrified of something going wrong.” He chuckles and clenches his fists so that they hide under his sleeves.
“That’s not true,” Taehyung says after quite a silence, making Jeongguk lift his head up and look at him. “I mean, I was happy when we were together.” He gives Jeongguk a smile, the first real one who’s given him all evening, and Jeongguk’s heart flips because he knows that smile. It’s the smile that Taehyung uses whenever Jeongguk does something that makes him happy.
“You were?” Jeongguk thinks this is too good to be true, but he wants to know anyway. If, at the very least, he made Taehyung happy while they were pretending, that should be okay for him.
“Yeah,” Taehyung confirms, still smiling. “And I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m terrified of something going wrong too.”
Jeongguk purses his lips. “That pink-haired guy seems like he’s okay. I’m sure he wouldn’t—“
“Oh my god, Jeongguk,” Taehyung interrupts, sounding half amused and half exasperated. “Baekhyun is not my boyfriend. He’s just one of the seniors in Biology and he’s the type who’s overly affectionate and sweet. He’s more like an older brother than anything else really.”
Jeongguk feels the first around his heart loosen, leaving it rapidly beating and vulnerable. Taehyung isn’t dating that pink-haired guy. He’s not dating anyone, which means he’s single and possibly free to… Jeongguk really wants to know what this means for both of them.
“You know, when you said that you weren’t really into relationships, I didn’t think you were that serious,” Taehyung speaks up again, smiling a little at the memory. “Because I wasn’t into relationships either and I didn’t really want to be single forever, at least until I find the guy I want to be with. But then Jieun told me a little bit about you,” he goes on and Jeongguk straightens up his stance. “And I began to understand that you weren’t just hurt over your parents separating. You truly were devastated and, because of that, have never really been in a serious relationship.” He shakes his head.
“What did Jieun tell you?” Jeongguk asks, clenching and unclenching his fists in uncertainty.
“She said that you get tired easily,” Taehyung relays, looking away and looking down at his feet. “She said that I wasn’t special and that you’d eventually leave me too.” Chuckling a little, seemingly to dispel his unease, he continues, “Obviously, she didn’t know we weren’t really together so I didn’t say anything.”
“Why did you leave then?” Jeongguk asks, shoving his hands in his pockets because they’ve started to shake. “When I looked up, you weren’t there.”
“Because I’m only a person, Jeongguk,” Taehyung says with something like a scoff. “There’s only so much I could feel before it gets to me. But it wasn’t fair to you, me leaving that day and then me avoiding you afterwards, so I came to talk to you.” He laughs a little bit more, looking up at the ceiling. “That conversation was a disaster, as well as everything else that followed after that,” he says.
“You were the one who wanted to stop things,” Jeongguk says, defending himself a little.
“Yes, because I wanted to date you, Jeongguk,” Taehyung declares, gesturing towards him. “I wanted to date you for real.” Jeongguk gapes at him and Taehyung looks right into his eyes. “But before I got to that part, you went on about wanting to stop it too and I thought I figured it out all wrong. I thought I had just read the signs wrong and that you didn’t like me back after all. Of course it was also then that I remembered what Jieun told me and… It made sense. You already said from the beginning that you weren’t ever going to want to be in a relationship.” He chuckles and it sounds so sad, Jeongguk wishes Taehyung won’t do it again. Jeongguk won’t let him laugh like that again.
“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk rasps. “I was caught off guard and I didn’t want to trap you into anything you didn’t want. After that, I knew I couldn’t just be your friend, which is stupid, because if we really were just friends, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But I couldn’t do it and so I just…”
“You ran away,” Taehyung finishes for him. “Literally, too.” A smile tugs at the corners of his lips. “That’s a thing that you do, isn’t it?”
“Well, I am a runner,” Jeongguk remarks, a smile itching to form on his lips as well.
“What about now?” Taehyung inquires.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” is all Jeongguk can think of as a response to that. Taehyung smiles at him. “I’m a beginner at this and I know it’s not an excuse, but I don’t know what to do.” He takes a deep breath and hopes that things will actually work out. “What I do know is I was happy whenever we were together and it made me wonder what it could be like if it were real and not pretend and…” He shrugs, smiling a little because he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. “It wasn’t hard to imagine with you, Taehyung,” he professes. “I think if it were anyone else, it would be much harder. But with you, it felt like I could do it.”
“Oh Jeongguk, you’re not the only one who’s scared,” Taehyung reveals. “I am too. You know me. I’m not really the type to go all the way with things, so I dabble here and there, and the last time I’ve been in a relationship… Well, you know how that went.” He takes a step forward. “But I am willing to try if you are.” Taking another step forward, he reaches out his hand and offers it to Jeongguk. “I really like you, Jeongguk. You made it really hard for me not to like you.”
“You made it so easy for me,” Jeongguk counters in disbelief, taking Taehyung’s hand. It’s warm and comforting and safe. Jeongguk lets out the breath he’s been holding, feeling relief. “I mean, how can anyone not like you, Taehyung? You’re so… bright and beautiful and—I couldn’t look away. Which is funny because I never like anyone and then you come waltzing in, saving me from a girl, and just… You kind of swept me off my feet.” His cheeks burn at the admission.
“I know, I’m pretty great and unbelievable,” Taehyung says, chuckling, although his cheeks are pink.
“You really are,” Jeongguk is quick to agree, taking another step forward to be even closer to Taehyung. “You know, Joonmyun told me that it’s okay to stop running,” he goes on and Taehyung smiles, eyes forming into crescents and hiding the tears that are lurking behind his eyelids. “But, of course, I can’t stop all the time. So I was thinking that maybe it’s okay to keep running.” Taehyung stares at him and waits. Jeongguk takes a leap of faith. “As long as you run with me.”
Taehyung laughs, shaking his head, mirroring Jeongguk’s feelings at how incredulous this whole thing is. “You’re ridiculous,” he whispers.
Jeongguk watches, his heart in his throat, as Taehyung lifts his hand to press a kiss to knuckles, a gesture that he now knows is Taehyung’s way of telling him that he loves him.
“Of course I’ll run with you.”
Jeongguk stands with his feet together, arms straight overhead, and fingers clasped together with pointer fingers extended. He inhales as he reaches upward and then breathes out as he bends his body to the right. Counting to five, he returns to the center, and then bends his body to the left. Beside him, Taehyung grunts as he does some lunges.
“You know,” Jeongguk says, dropping his arms back to his sides. “When I said I wanted you to run with me, I didn’t mean it literally.”
Taehyung straightens up and glares at Jeongguk, looking haughty despite the sweat beading at his forehead just because of stretching. “I am offended at the insinuation that I can’t handle a fun three kilometer run,” he tells him.
Jimin snorts and Taehyung is quick to shift his glare at him. Jimin merely raises his hands up in immediate surrender, taking a few steps back and bumping into Yoongi.
“Just so you know,” Jimin says. “Even during fun runs, Jeongguk is quite competitive. He’s probably going to end up placing in the top three anyway.”
“He doesn’t really know what fun means when it comes to running and always leaves us all behind as we gasp for our last breaths,” Namjoon complains. “Even if he knows that we’re all not runners.”
“Hey, I can run,” Jimin interjects.
“Yeah, baby, but not long distance,” Yoongi pacifies him, fixing the sweatband around his forehead. “And I’m the one who ends up having to slow down and wait for you.” Jimin stares at him with something akin to betrayal.
Meanwhile, Hoseok bursts into laughter. “You talk like you can actually run more than 500 meters without dying,” he snorts.
Yoongi lunges at Hoseok, but Jimin pulls Yoongi back, while Seokjin slips an arm around Hoseok’s waist to pull him away.
“You are all adults. Stop fighting like children,” Seokjin says, pursing his lips. “This is supposed to be a bonding activity.”
“How are we going to bond when we’re all going to die and only Jeongguk will live?” Namjoon voices out. “No one bonds by himself. That’s just weird.”
“I am not going to die,” Taehyung insists as he starts doing lunges again with new ferocity. “I’m going to make sure that I’m right beside Jeongguk when he crosses the finish line.”
“By dragging you there, you mean?” Hoseok comments almost sweetly.
“Hey, don’t be like that,” Jeongguk snaps, quick to defend Taehyung. “I’m not going to have to drag him to the finish line.”
“You mean, you’ll carry him instead?” Jimin asks.
Jeongguk takes a very deep breath because his friends are all idiots. “No, because we’re going to run together, side by side,” he explains with an eye roll. “I would have actually wanted to win if I was just with you guys. But Taehyung is here and I’m not going to let him run alone.”
Seriously, do his friends think Jeongguk’s an idiot for allowing Taehyung to join a run and not assist him at all? Of course Jeongguk is going to be by his side to make sure that Taehyung doesn’t get too tired or get dehydrated. If anything, they could even walk, even though he detests walking during a run so much.
“What?” Jeongguk demands when he finds all his friends have fallen silent and are staring at him. Taehyung, meanwhile, has a small, fond, and kind of besotted smile on his face. “What?”
“Well, it’s nice to see you actually caring for something other than running for once,” Seokjin comments. Jeongguk turns red. “And for real this time too.”
“What?” Jeongguk and Taehyung sputter at the same time.
Jeongguk glares at Jimin.
“I didn’t say anything,” Jimin immediately defends himself, shaking his head.
“Jimin didn’t have to,” Seokjin stresses, raising an eyebrow at Jeongguk. “You barely know what a relationship is and for you to have gone into one with Taehyung, whom you barely know, was suspicious.”
“Yeah, I knew something weird was going on,” Hoseok pipes in. Seokjin gives him and look and Hoseok turns pink.
“And I was going to say something about it,” Seokjin continues, then shrugs. “Then we thought why intervene? Something good had to come out of it somehow and we were right.”
Jeongguk continues coughing so much that Taehyung has to get him a bottle of water. All this time, he thought they were being so discreet and had been so damn proud of how they were fooling everyone. In the end, he and Taehyung were the fools.
“We’re not idiots,” Yoongi states, sighing as if already bored with the conversation. Jeongguk takes a deep breath, his coughing finally having stopped. “And, if you think that I’m going to let that comment about you leaving us in the dust if Taehyung weren’t here slide, you’re wrong. I’m going to dominate you, Jeon Jeongguk.”
Hoseok snorts, Taehyung tries hard not to laugh, Jeongguk makes a face, while Seokjin buries his face in his palms. Meanwhile, Jimin is staring at his boyfriend.
“Oh my god, you are so hot when you get all aggressive. Please dominate me now,” Jimin says, grabbing Yoongi by the arm and dragging him away from the starting line and to the direction of where the bathrooms are.
“There goes his winning streak,” Hoseok comments under his breath. Seokjin quirks an eyebrow at him and then Hoseok starts mumbling about getting something from his bag in the bag storage area before walking away. Seokjin follows him shortly afterwards.
“I hate you all. This is supposed to be friends bonding time and not couples retreat,” Namjoon comments, walking away from Jeongguk and Taehyung and going right to the very front of the starting line.
Jeongguk lets out a breath as his gaze meets Taehyung’s. There are many things he wants to say, starting from how their friends are all gross and ending with how they really should give their friends more credit. But Jeongguk decides those are not important anymore. Instead, he takes Taehyung’s hand in his, lifts it up and kisses the knuckles, just as the countdown to the start of the run begins.
“Ready?” Jeongguk asks.
“Get set,” Taehyung returns teasingly.
“Go,” they echo each other, and they run.