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I Won't Fall (in love with you)

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BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL GYM – SATURDAY (10:00 PM)

OCTOBER, 1985

 

Rock music drifts out open doors into the dark night Livin' on a Prayer barely recognizable beneath the din of voices. Everyone is there. Smart kids, preps, rich kids, heavy metal enthusiasts, jocks, cheerleaders, punk rockers, goths, geeks. Mixing without mixing. Most of the teens are red-eyed and trashed, tipsy smiles dragging across their usually frown-ridden faces. A couple of boys break dance in one of the corners to a boom box.

 

A slick T-top Camaro roars up causing quite the commotion. Tires squealing, loud music blasting. Jeon Jeongguk, your cliche, resident rebel kid, is at the wheel. He is impulsive, troubled, with the nothing-to-lose courage to act on whims that occasionally border on the destructive. He is envied, wanted, copied, and feared by all (teachers and students alike).

 

Empty bottles roll and clink together on the floor of Jeongguk’s car. A tiny plastic skeleton dances eerily as it hangs from the rearview mirror.

 

“Where is he? He's supposed to be here.” Jeongguk exhales impatiently, stamping out a joint carelessly into the middle of his steering wheel. His friend, Minjun, whines from the back seat, “I need to piss.” He’s lanky-tall, high-energy, a leg always jiggling impatiently.

 

“I wanna dance,” Sana implores, looking over at Jeongguk from the passenger seat through batted eyelashes.

 

Sana is Jeongguk's girlfriend. High-maintenance princess, big hair and a big mouth to match. She’s a cheerleader (of course), but Jeongguk’s no jock. He didn’t have the motivation – or rather, the attendance – to be involved in school sports. If he'd attend more often he'd be readily accepted on almost any team. Naturally muscular and athletic without even trying.

 

“So go dance,” Jeongguk mutters uninterestedly, prompting Minjun to erupt into stifled snorts from the back.

 

Sana huffs in annoyance, scowling across at Jeongguk. She’d ask again but the answer would be no, besides, her ego was one to rival Jeongguk’s own. (And that’s saying a lot).

 

They’re about to exit the car, Minjun still whining about his bladder when the all-too familiar sound of sirens resounds somewhere in the distance. It’s as if everything goes in slow motion. Students scramble, cups and bottles fly, someone pulls the plug on the music. Some idiot attempts to get in Jeongguk’s car, the nerve. Cursing under his breath Jeongguk is about to press down hard on the gas, when their friend Jun-young rolls over the hood of the car. Finally. Jeongguk waits, finger tapping with impatience as Jun-young fumbles his way into the backseat beside Minjun. The door barely closes and they're off, wheels spinning up a cloud of dust behind them.

 

They park up on the dirt access road, headlights shining through the locked rear gate. John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town," plays softly.

 

Minjun practically falls out of the car in his efforts to relieve himself. Jeongguk, Jun-young, and Sana sit in silence, smoking weed, the latter drinking a bottle of cheap god awful whisky.

 

Minjun finishes taking a leak, clambering back into the car with a sigh of contentment and reaches out to snatch the joint from Jeongguk’s fingers. The night continues in much the same manner. Light-hearted bickering and banter, one too many joints and plenty of booze.

 

A shadow crosses over the car lights suddenly, interrupting the haze in the car’s interior.

 

“Kim Taehyung,” Jeongguk mutters under his breath, prompting the rest of his ‘crew’ to look up. They do, derisive laughter falling from their lips simultaneously at the sight.

 

A lean, tanned boy, is jumping off the gate, seemingly lost in his own world. His clothes are ill-fitting and not something Jeongguk (or any of them) would be caught dead in. Jeongguk vaguely registers the familiarity of the material due to it being strikingly similar to his grandma’s tablecloth. It’s a hideous brown colour, one Jeongguk recognises as the boy wears it far too frequently. His hair is messy, unstyled, hanging down too low and covering his eyes.

 

“Creep,” Sana jeers quietly under her breath, and the others laugh in agreement.

 

"Bible freak," chimes in Jun-young.

 

Taehyung upon hearing the laughter looks up, approaching them, unlaced sneakers crunching in the gravel. He pulls his brown patterned sweater closer across his chest.

 

“Hey. Hi. Your lights. Any chance you could turn them off?” Sana leans into Jeongguk, calling out his half-open window. “God give you this road?”

 

Taehyung looks up, confused. “No?” he whispers. Jeongguk feels something strange twist in his stomach. The boy looks so damn lost and is so clueless, he almost feels sorry for him. But Jeongguk doesn’t really have time to feel sorry for people.

 

“Then we'll be keeping the lights on,” Sana declares, Minjun erupting into a fit of laughter from the backseat.

 

“If you want the lights off, I'll turn them off,” Jeongguk says, earning him a spiteful glare from his girlfriend. And he does, pitching them all into darkness, Minjun letting out a pitiful wail. In the short second before it blacks out, Jeongguk catches Taehyung’s smile. It was rather nice in contrast to the rest of his general dowdy appearance.

 

“Thank you. Thank you so very much,” he says sincerely backs away from the car, gratefully.

 

Sana growls, “I can't see a freakin’ thing.” Jeongguk switches on the dome lights for her. Jun-young questions his actions, Sana in agreement, mocking.

 

Truth is he doesn’t know why he did it; it’s not like he’s the nicest guy in the world. Especially not for guys like him. Feeling uncomfortable at his own thoughts – must be the weed - Jeongguk quickly flicks on the high beams suddenly, full blast. Sana, Minjun, and Jun-young snicker and snort. Taehyung is startled, and pauses at the top of the fence. But instead of looking scared or angry, he turns around, sticking a tongue out at them. A moment later, he jumps down on the far side. Disappears into the night.

 

Sana, Minjun, Jun-young are still laughing. Jeongguk smiles just a little.

 

He’s fucking weird.

 

Minjun gets into one of his deep and meaningful moods, as he always does after a beer too many. “Ten years. Where're you gonna be?”

 

Sana says “New York or Paris.”

 

Jun-young says “Dead,” prompting laughter and an elbow to the ribs from Minjun.

 

Jeongguk grins, “Right here. With you idiots.” He clinks Minjun's raised beer and tries to ignore the strange unsettlement in his stomach. Maybe this isn’t where he wants to be. He drowns out his inner thoughts, chasing them away with another joint. He’s good at that, blocking shit out. Unnecessary shit. Loses himself in the mellow induced by marijuana, the good shit.

 

Jeongguk loses himself in Sana’s smile, in her mouth and then in her tongue (much to Jun-young’s disgust and Minjun’s whoops of approval). Sana doesn’t look half-bad when she’s drunk, her smile finally appearing genuine.

 

A blinding white light suddenly dances through the car and settles on Jeongguk and Sana's faces.

 

“Shit!” Jeongguk and Sana pull apart abruptly, looking up at the intruding beam. Jeongguk scrambles out of the car looking around in bewilderment. Because where the hell is that coming from? He almost jumps out of his skin when he hears a soft, low cackle, looking up to the gate.

 

Taehyung is sitting atop, holding some sort of hand-held mirror, reflecting the headlights back into the car. They stare at each other, Jeongguk’s mouth falls open, slack-jawed. Taehyung simply raises an eyebrow at him and he feels his initial annoyance fading away to mild respect. He smirks back at him.

 

“Jeongguk!” Sana calls out to him, her voice at that whiny pitch Jeongguk despises. The reflecting light goes out and when he turns around Taehyung is gone, disappearing into the night. Really fucking weird.

 

Deciding to call it a night (or rather, their lack of supplies forcing them to), the Camaro fishtails away. Tires crunching, red taillights bouncing on the rough road.

 

Jeongguk drives recklessly. It suits his image just right and he loves the rush. Rushing. He makes a screeching turn as they spot two fire trucks rumbling by houses, sirens wailing. Instinctively he follows them, Minjun calling out cries of encouragement. He swears he can hear Jun-young snoring. Typical. They make another turn following the trucks down a winding road. There is a flash of light and sudden movement as a figure on the road comes into view. An old man walking his little dog, a small white fluffy thing across the street. Jeongguk turns the wheel hard. Sputtering out curses he jams his foot down on the brake.

The Camaro swerves, tires squealing obscenely. Jeongguk feels his entire chest constrict when he hears a loud, heart-searing thump. The old man -- sideswiped, drops to the asphalt. The car slams into a street light pole, crunching metal and tinkling glass. The inside of the car goes deathly quiet. aside from the aftermath of shattering glass.

 

“Fuck man.”

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Sana's head leans on the dash. Her shoulders shake involuntarily. Jeongguk, bleeding on the forehead, reaches over to her. Scared.

 

“Sana?”

 

She lifts her head and looks at him. She's laughing. The sight is off-putting, slightly maniacal due to the small rivulets of blood running down her left cheek. Jeongguk kicks his door out and runs over to the old man. Kneels and shakes him. His entire heart drops out of his body when he gets no response. The man's dog is jumping about in terror barking incessantly at Jeongguk.

 

Minjun clutches the back of Jeongguk’s shirt, a low anguished growl escaping Jeongguk’s lips. His heart thumps loud against his chest, fear pulsing throughout his body.

 

Police sirens wail in the background, growing louder.

 

Jeongguk breathes a sigh of relief when the old man blinks once, twice, coughing up blood. 

 

---

 

A battered Chevette steers through the neighborhood. Jeongguk's mother is driving. She's weary with wrinkled-worn skin, but still incredibly attractive. She wears a skimpy black-and-white cocktail waitress uniform under her coat.

 

“What if they expel you?”

 

Jeongguk sighs, “They wouldn't do that.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Jeongguk smiles his biggest most reassuring smile, ignoring the nausea swirling in his gut. “Cuz nothing happened at school.”

 

“Don't smile at me. It's not going to get you out of this.”

 

“Why not? It always has before.” Jeongguk winks cheekily, his facial expressions so incredibly far removed from what is going on inside his head.

 

---

 

BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL - MONDAY (7:59 AM)

 

By daylight the school is a modern brick and glass structure, all remnants of underage wrongdoing removed. Jeongguk shuffles awkwardly in the principal’s office, and Mr. Kelly gestures for Jeongguk to sit but he doesn't. His forehead is bruised black and blue.

 

“I had hopes for you.”

 

Jeongguk is snarky, as is his signature. “Like I'd grow up to be president, another Reagan perhaps.”

 

Kelly frowns, “Like you'd make it to June. Even cutting half your classes, you have a B- average.”

 

Jeongguk shrugs his shoulders, showing a bravado he definitely doesn’t feel. “I'm no dummy.”

 

Kelly sighs wearily, “That's right. You just act like one.”

 

Jeongguk cuts straight to the chase, “You expelling me?”

 

“I am.”

 

Jeongguk grins but it doesn’t reach his eyes, his words feel sour in his own mouth. “Now I can do what I want.” The words fall flat into the room.

 

Mr. Kelly smiles back, eyes sad. “That's right. The world is your oyster.”

 

Jeongguk nods, shoving his hands hastily into his pockets and clenching hard against the fabric. Outwardly, he’s the picture of nonchalance.

 

---

 

Jeongguk attempts to slip in the door home, but his mother is sitting and waiting for him, an unreadable expression on her face. She knows.

 

“I want to talk to you. You’re not hanging round here all day.”

 

“I'm not hanging. I'm gonna fix my car.”

 

“You don't need a car because you’re on probation. Could’ve been worse you know. If not for your dad.”

 

Jeongguk winces at the mention of his father.

 

“Go see Marvin about a job.”

 

“I'm not working there.”

 

---

 

Jeongguk is sweating, scouring pots. A crooked cap on his head, a lopsided name tag on his shirt. He's making some headway; only two more to wash. Marvin, the manager, walks over. Beer belly, greasy hair. Dumps another pile of dirty pots and pans in Jeongguk's sink. Jeongguk glimpses his future and balks.

 

---

 

Jeongguk paces, jumpy outside the principal’s office. Mr. Kelly's secretary looks up and down at him disdainfully. They all know him well in the office, and not for good reasons.

 

After what seems like hours the door to Mr. Kelly's office opens. Taehyung exits with his father, the tall stern Doctor Kim, some kind of surgeon Jeongguk supposes. Taehyung eyes Jeongguk as he passes by.

 

“You expelled, too?” Jeongguk quips, Taehyung simply looks on at him, wordless.

 

 

Jeongguk grits his teeth when he gets into the office, attempting his most innocent expression. “I want to come back.”

 

Mr. Kelly looks up surprised. “Back? Were you ever really here?” Jeongguk winces at the words, but he can’t acknowledge the truth that they hold. They both know Kelly has the upper hand. Kelly leans back in his chair, relishing it.

 

“I want to graduate,” Jeongguk mumbles, biting on his lower lip incessantly. A nervous habit he’d never quite been able to rid himself of.

 

“You could grace our hallowed halls again, if, while you're here, you make a sincere effort to be part of our little school community –“

 

Relieved, Jeongguk interrupts him“I'd do that.” Because honestly – as much as he hated school he’d do anything to get back in. Anything at all. He wasn’t ready for the adult world, not just yet. Not washing dishes in a sweaty dilapidated restaurant while his friends all went to College.

 

“How would you do that, Mr. Jeon?”

 

Jeongguk shrugs, clueless.

 

“Shall I give you a few ideas?” Jeongguk smiles bravely, knowing he isn’t going to like the suggestions.

 

“Besides attending all your regular classes, I'd like you to help our janitorial staff after school.”

 

“For pay?”

 

“For the inner satisfaction it will bring.” Jeongguk attempts to swallow a grimace.

 

“Saturday mornings, I'd like you to tutor disadvantaged students at Beaufort West High. Finally, I'd like you to join the drama club. It’d be good to get you in with another crowd. I've heard you were quite an actor, in Junior High.”

 

The last part hurts Jeongguk the most. The fucking drama club? Really? His principal seemed to even be enjoying himself, sadistic old man.

 

“When do I get time for me?”

 

Kelly smiles, “You don't. That's the point.”

 

Their meeting comes to an eventual close, but just as he reaches the door his principal gestures him back in. His voice is soft, sympathetic even – Jeongguk despises it. He hates when anyone feels sorry for him.

 

“Jeongguk, none of us faculty see you the way you see yourself. Some of us remember how your father –“

 

“Then you remember more than I do,” Jeongguk cuts in abruptly, heading quickly out the door without a backward glance.

 

---

 

Jeongguk sweeps at the floor during the Star Club open day. A dozen science nerds, including Taehyung (wearing his infamous brown sweater), stand at astronomy exhibits. Students wander in, listen, look.

 

Taehyung is in the thick of it, answering any and all questions excitedly. Jeongguk snorts, because of course he’d be right here. Voluntarily no doubt.

 

“-- Saturn's 15 degrees to the right of red Antares and much brighter.”

 

To his small audience, Taehyung holds up a contraption made from a wire coat hanger.

 

“This is a very simple device made from a coat hanger, plastic wrap and typewriter correction fluid. Does anyone know what it is?”

 

No one does. Taehyung greeted with silence.

 

Jeongguk mutters under his breath, barely audible “Star frame.” He may have watched a documentary one time about them. He liked documentaries, not a fact he generally disclosed. Movies he watched with Sana or his friends were usually low-budget horrors where he could guess the storyline after a minute, or an equally cringe-worthy comedy. Space was interesting.

 

No one notices, but Taehyung hears. He looks up and regards him interestedly for a moment, then keeps going.

 

“This is a star frame.”

 

Jeongguk allows himself a small smile of contentment.

 

 

Jun-young and Minjun enter to check on Jeongguk (see: laugh at him).

 

“A star frame will help you locate stars and planets with your naked eye –“

 

Jun-young laughs, setting Taehyung up “-- Did God create the sun?” Jeongguk grimaces, knowing exactly what is to follow. He judges Jun-young for a minute, despite the fact that he – himself, is much the same.

 

Taehyung turns to him, all smiles. Jeongguk grimaces further when he detects that he’s taking him seriously.

 

“Yes, God created the universe and all its physical laws. Even Einstein said it's a miracle that our world is comprehensible –“

 

Minjun cuts in, “-- If God can do all that, why can't he get you a new sweater?”

 

Jeongguk laughs loudly in spite of himself. Everyone turns to stare at him. “It was a joke, laugh,” Jeongguk says snidely.

 

He’s surprised to see Taehyung smiling across at him.

 

He can laugh at himself. Maybe he’s not half bad.

---

 

Jeongguk washes up while his mother sets the table. The microwave hums in the background loudly. Microwave dinners were a common occurrence in their household. Jeongguk can barely remember the last time his mother actually cooked something, she was always exhausted from work.

 

“Your father dropped off an extra check.”

 

“I don't want his money.” Jeongguk spits in the sink, as if to emphasize the point. He picks up the envelope with wet hands. Without looking inside, rips it in half.

 

---

 

It’s Saturday morning at ass o’clock, an hour that Jeongguk should be in bed. Preferably in a state of undress with Sana.

 

But here he is, another of those damned extracurricular activities, sitting in the back row of the bus on his way to Beaufort West. Jeongguk stares out the window, his walkman playing at full volume, face the picture of despondence.

 

The bus is full of enthusiastic preppies and other do-gooders, and as if to add to his personal hell, they’re all wholeheartedly singing "Karma Chameleon." Taehyung is there too (of course) but he’s reading, not singing. Today his sweater is baby blue. Jeongguk silently decides he likes this one marginally better than the brown one. The colour complements his tanned skin quite nicely – not that Jeongguk’s noticed or anything.

 

Out the window – Beaufort West gradually comes into view. It’s a shocking contrast to the school Jeongguk’s used to. Bars are on every window, chain-link fence around the parameter, no grass in sight. It looks more like a juvenile youth facility than a place of learning. Jeongguk winces. He would’ve probably ended up in a youth facility if his blasted father hadn’t paid off the cops to bring down his accident to a misdemeanour. He hadn’t asked him to – or wanted him to, of course. He didn’t want anything to do with him.

 

Jeongguk trails behind his ‘team’ into a large bare room with tables and chairs but a noticeable absence of books. The few that were there are dog-eared and well-worn, multiple pages missing. Pairs of heads are bent over textbooks and notebooks.

 

Jeongguk finds himself seated with a smiley boy who introduces himself as Hoseok, a freshman.

 

“So what is the measure of angle x if A and B are similar triangles?” Jeongguk tries out his best teacher voice.

 

Hoseok looks up, lost and clearly intimidated. Jeongguk attempts to rearrange his face knowing he comes off a little scary. He tries again.

 

“Know what 'similar' means?”

 

Hoseok shrugs. He looks down at the book as if for the answer, then at Jeongguk, hopeless. He eventually gets up and walks off. Jeongguk looks up in disbelief and catches Taehyung studying him. He's at a nearby table with his student.

 

Jeongguk sits for the next forty-five minutes listening to his walkman, he contemplates going after the kid – Hoseok was it? But decides against it.

 

Eventually it’s time to go.

 

Thank god.

 

The door swishes shut behind Jeongguk as he hops aboard the bus. He's last on and heads for the rear bench seat. Taehyung is already sitting there. Jeongguk notices with slight apprehension that there no vacant seats save the one next to him.

 

Great.

 

The bus begins to roll prompting Jeongguk to lurch forward clumsily. He hastily sits down next to Taehyung, not sparing him a second glance.

 

“You going to visit Harold?”

 

Jeongguk scowls. What-who is Taehyung talking about?

 

“They let him out of the hospital yesterday. He's in a rest home on Oak Street.”

 

That old man. Jeongguk’s stomach flips uncomfortably.

 

“He goes to my church. He could've died –“

 

“-- This your idea of small talk?” Jeongguk says, shifting uncomfortably in the small space.

 

“I don't make small talk –“ Taehyung replies.

 

“Obviously.”

 

Jeongguk tries to ignore the fact that he always, always finds small talk a boring and frivolous waste of time. Small talk was always so contrived, so pre-planned, people didn’t ask ‘how are you’ to receive a real answer, they just wanted an ‘I’m good’ and a reciprocal question. Meaningless.

 

“I also just wanted to tell you not to give up. Sometimes you've got to back into the teaching from somewhere else.”

 

Hoseok.

 

“What makes you volunteer? Want to know why I tutor reading?”

 

Not really Jeongguk thinks, his face displaying complete disinterest. He knows he’s going to hear regardless. Taehyung continues, undeterred. Jeongguk admires him (just a little bit), it must be nice, to not give a shit about what anyone thinks.

 

“Because, growing up, books were my world.”

 

“Were?” Jeongguk gestures at the book on his lap, mockingly.

 

“You don't know me.”

 

“Your book and your brown sweater and your overgrown hair. What's more to know -- ?” Jeongguk winces slightly at his tone, but it’s what he’s used to. He isn’t used to – well – conversations like this. Real conversations, his brain prompts.

 

“I wear sweaters because I get cold easily. I read because I enjoy it. My hair is my hair. What is it exactly that's bothering you?”

 

“You don't care what people say?”

 

“You mean care what you say? I'm worrying about other things.”

 

Jeongguk can’t help the biting sarcasm of his voice, it’s almost ingrained at this point.

 

“Like what? The moons of Jupiter?”

 

“Can't you have a normal conversation?”

 

“I don't want to have any conversation.”

 

Taehyung huffs and resumes reading. Jeongguk pulls back on his headphones, staring uncomfortably out the window.

 

The bus pulls to a stop in front of Beaufort High. Sana is waiting, leaning on her Cabriolet. Taehyung’s eyes follow as Jeongguk exits the bus, running over to greet Sana with a kiss.

 

---

 

Jeongguk sighs, it feels as though his entire week has been full of sighs – but this one he’d been dreading the most. He opens a side door cautiously and peers in at the Drama Club. A teacher he doesn’t recognize stands there with some drama geek boys, and a dozen girls Jeongguk wouldn’t be seen dead with – and – of course, Taehyung.

 

He actually chooses to be in these places?

 

The teacher looks up from her papers unamused, “We're waiting, Mr. Jeon.”

 

He slides in a row behind the others. Leans forward and pokes a boy, at random, who instantly tenses at the movement. Jeongguk had that effect on people.

 

“What's the play?”

 

The boy hands him a photocopied script. At the top in large bold letters, it says 'Untitled'. Helpful.

 

He stutters uncontrollably, “The-the- teacher has m-made the base of the p-play. B-but she w-wants o-our input! We'll w-write together—“

 

“-- I don't care.” Jeongguk scowls.

 

---

 

Taehyung and Jeongguk sit in folding chairs, reading from scripts. Jeongguk's entire body is frozen, his face the picture of discomfort.

 

JEONGGUK “'I hope your dreams come true.”

TAEHYUNG “They won't.”

JEONGGUK "Let me ask you. Look in the mirror. What do you see?”

 

The teacher cuts in “-- Jeongguk, are you trying to be bad at this?” Jeongguk smiles serenely, “No, it just comes naturally.” Taehyung smiles and the teacher taps her script for them to continue.

 

JEONGGUK  “One day the mirror will be the eyes of the man who loves you. You'll look in that mirror and you'll be more than pretty. You'll be beautiful.”

 

Jeongguk chokes on the words feeling utterly ridiculous. Also, Taehyung was a guy for goodness sake. The parts they were reading seemed as though they were for a boy and a girl. Not that he’d want to trade partners and get one of those girls though. It’s almost scary that he sees Taehyung as the best option.

 

Taehyung looks up into his eyes. Jeongguk swallows uncomfortably. Taehyung’s eyes are piercing, as though he’s looking straight into his soul. Most people avoid eye-contact with Jeongguk.

 

Fuck this shit.

 

TAEHYUNG Is it really me?”

JEONGGUK “Yes. You're-you're b-beautiful.”

 

Hoots and laughter erupt in the background and Jeongguk can feel himself sinking into the stage. Taehyung looks away, humiliated. The teacher hushes them and Jeongguk swears he’s never felt this much relief in his life when she cuts their turn. He zones out as the teacher tries various duos, preoccupied with mapping the zigzagged patterns on Taehyung’s sweater. Today it’s green. It’s an okay green, a Christmas green. Jeongguk would’ve really expected mustard though. His teacher's voice filters through.

 

“Taehyung and Jeongguk will play the main roles. There will have to be a few amendments – of course, the storyline I'd originally set for a female/male dynamic, but we can work with that. It will be an interesting creative process to re-work this further and add in our own contributions but I have full faith in you all.”

 

A main role? And with Taehyung? Jeongguk’s mouth drops wide open in horror. Groans amongst the boys erupt and Taehyung’s face falls simultaneously with Jeongguk’s.

 

Jeongguk stands up abruptly “No way. No thanks. I can't do it!—“

 

His principal’s voice cuts in from the side of the stage. When did he even get there?

 

“-- You can and you will, Mr. Jeon. With all the sincerity and dignity you can muster.”

 

Shit.

 

---

 

It’s raining. Jeongguk exits behind all the others after his second drama practice of the week. He stands under an overhang, lights a cigarette, irritably. Taehyung approaches him slowly.

 

“You're like this fly, buzzing everywhere –“

 

Taehyung dismisses his rudeness – as always. “This play means a lot to me.”

 

“This play?” Jeongguk snorts derisively, kicking at loose stones in the gravel in annoyance.

 

“I know you don't suck at acting.”

 

Jeongguk laughs. Taehyung continues, “I can judge too.”

 

Jeongguk exhales a puff of smoke rudely in Taehyung’s vicinity, eyeing him, daring him to continue. Taehyung lets out a soft breath as if he’s afraid to go on. Jeongguk decidedly does not like where this is going.

 

“You don't care about classes or graduating. But you like school because you're popular and you’re afraid you'll never be on top again.”

 

“That's deep –“

 

“You might not care about school but you like learning. You’re not as stupid as you want to appear.”

 

Jeongguk’s discomfort grows increasingly by the second.

 

Taehyung shrugs, “Your act only works with an audience.”

 

“My act?” Jeongguk spits out, offended.

 

“You’re a good actor,” Taehyung says pointedly, “But it’s an act.” With that he walks off toward his father's old Pontiac. The last car in the parking lot.

 

Jeongguk's eyes twitch as he chews on his lower lip. He scrambles for a retort but nothing comes to mind. He doesn’t allow himself to dwell on Taehyung’s words.

 

Looking upwards, at the rain, he watches Taehyung backing out of the last parking spot and makes a quick decision he believes he’s likely to regret. Swallowing his pride (a sizable amount) he races forward and bangs on the side of his car as Taehyung drives past.

 

“A ride?! Please!”

 

Taehyung turns to look at him. Jeongguk puts on his best puppy eyes, he knows they’re good. “We can talk about you helping me with my lines,” he pleads, tone profoundly insincere.

 

“I know you don't want help,” Taehyung says with a sigh, leaning over to unlock the door by way of invitation.

 

“Then we both know. I'll point. You drive. Faster.” Jeongguk swallows his feeling of unease. One week ago he would not have expected to be sitting here. In a car with Taehyung. In Taehyung’s car. On his way home from drama club of all places.

 

Jeongguk points the way, to the taillights of the fire trucks. The wet road glistens in the moonlight.

 

Taehyung cocks a head inquisitively, “We're following fire trucks?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Why?”

 

Jeongguk shrugs, “Because that's where the fire is?” Jeongguk fishes in his pocket for a tape. Pulls one out. He searches the dash -- no cassette player. Of course. Should’ve guessed.

 

“Fire is like a living thing. Wild. Unpredictable.”

 

Taehyung grins, “Like me.”

 

Jeongguk chokes back a laugh. “No. Definitely not like you.”

 

Taehyung jerks the car across the centre lane so that he’s driving on the wrong side of the road. Jeongguk grips the dash tightly.

 

“What the -- ?!”

 

“So you agree you need help?”

 

Jeongguk looks out the windscreen, headlights looming, a car coming. Closer and closer. Maybe Taehyung is crazier than he initially thought.

 

“Yes!”

 

Taehyung swings the car back to the right lane, smiling. A car zips by in the other direction, horn blaring at them.

 

“Really?”

 

Jeongguk drops his attitude, his act. He toys with the glove compartment knob awkwardly.

 

“Yeah. Kelly'll make me leave school if I screw up the play,” he says quietly.

 

Taehyung whispers to himself. “28 and 42.”

 

Jeongguk acts like he doesn't hear, but he's can’t deny it’s piqued his interest.

 

“What's with the freakin’ numbers?”

 

Taehyung shoots him a sideways grin, and it’s unnervingly bright. “28 is do something illegal. 42 is befriend an enemy.”

 

Jeongguk looks up in mock hurt, “I'm an enemy?”

 

Taehyung smiles sheepishly, “Kinda. Yeah.”

 

---

 

Jeongguk and Taehyung walk around the edge of the house, watching the fire and firemen. Jeongguk tries not to find it adorable how enthralled Taehyung is, stamping down the thoughts a lot faster than the firemen are dealing with the flames.

 

“You got some kind of list?” Jeongguk asks, referring to the aforementioned numbers.

 

“Are you asking to mock me or do you really want to know?”

 

Jeongguk is honest for perhaps the first time, “Maybe a little of both.” They both smile.

 

“It's like a to-do list, but for my life. If you can't imagine the future, you won't have one.”

 

They back away from the scene, the fire now dying embers. Jeongguk lights a cigarette, Taehyung reaches for it. “Having a cigarette. 72.”

 

He grins and takes a drag. They share the cigarette and Jeongguk tries not to admit it to himself, but Taehyung’s really not so bad. The sweaters are even growing on him. God, if the others could hear his thoughts.

 

“So what else is on this list?”

 

“It's private.”

 

“Get very wasted. Lose your virginity –” Jeongguk suggests rudely. Because if he was ever sure of anything, it was of Taehyung’s virginal status.

 

Taehyung corrects him, “Spend a year volunteering. Make a medical discovery –“

 

“Ambitious.” Jeongguk arches an eyebrow, ignores the small twinge of jealousy.

 

“Being negative is a lot more work than being positive,” Taehyung says simply.

 

Jeongguk hums, “Like you'd know.”

 

“I do know. Be two places at once... learn to hit a baseball or turn a cartwheel... eat breakfast with chopsticks...”

 

Jeongguk decides he likes the frivolity of these. Taehyung isn’t so weird, he’s, hmm, Taehyung’s interesting, he decides hesitantly.

 

“What's... Number one?”

 

Taehyung looks away, embarrassed. Jeongguk pretends he isn’t incredibly interested (he is).

 

Taehyung swiftly changes the subject. “If you want help with your lines, I have one condition.” He grins up at Jeongguk, the distant embers of the fire flickering in his eyes. Jeongguk resists the urge not to swipe his goddamn hair out of his eyes.

 

“You have to promise not to fall in love with me.”

 

Jeongguk coughs and retracts his theory of Taehyung not being too weird instantly. He must be joking.

“No problem –“

 

Chapter Text

BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL - FRIDAY (11:19 AM)

 NOVEMBER

 

Friday absolutely drags at school particularly because Jeongguk has been to every single class that week. A feat he hasn’t ever accomplished, not since freshman year. His teachers regard him with thinly veiled surprise as he turns up to every class (and on time at that). It’s safe to say he’s starting to get the going under control, but the actual involvement and learning still has a wee way to go. Right now Jeongguk is sitting in chemistry, his over-worked brain zoning off somewhere out the open window.

 

Four. More. Hours.

 

It’d been an odd week suddenly recognising a lot more people in his classes due to them being involved in his new extracurriculars. None of them were brave enough to approach him though; well, none except one of course.

 

“Partners?” Taehyung smiles up at him, brightly, while Jeongguk grimaces, well aware of the snickering behind him. He shrugs, which Taehyung takes as a yes and slides into the stool next to him. Jeongguk's back stiffens as he feels eyes on him, wondering, watching.

 

Five minutes in and Jun-young is tugging on the back of his hoodie, raised eyebrow demanding an explanation. “He’s smart and will do all the work for me,” Jeongguk whispers by way of justification.

 

Thankfully Taehyung misses the words, too utterly engrossed in a mess of beakers and colourful liquids. He’s wearing a large white lab coat that’s bunched awkwardly at the sleeves (because – sweater) and babbling on about the process, which is entering in through one of Jeongguk’s ears and swiftly out the other. Taehyung gestures wildly while he speaks, so much so that Jeongguk is concerned that he’s going to sweep something off the table.

 

Taehyung clucks his tongue reproachfully when Jeongguk refuses to wear the safety goggles.

 

“You might blind yourself in your attempts to look cool, Jeongguk. Nothing fun about being blind,” he reprimands.

 

“Put on your goggles hun,” Minjun hisses in the background, Jun-young chuckling until Jeongguk turns giving them both a look. A look he’s got down to perfection, one that says shut the fuck up. A look that always, always shuts up anyone. He smiles satisfied as he’s met with silence behind him.

 

Apparently it doesn’t phase Taehyung. Although truth be told Jeongguk is beginning to realise that not much phases Taehyung. It’s admirable really. For all Jeongguk’s ‘I don’t give a shit’ aesthetic, he really does – give a shit. It’s tiring caring so much about what everyone thinks of him. He’s working so hard to make sure people know he doesn’t care, and there’s Taehyung, simply not caring.

 

“You should put yours on as well,” Taehyung turns to scold Jeongguk’s friends seated behind them. Jeongguk bites back a laugh at the sight of him. The goggles sit too high on his face, pushing up his hair at absurd angles. He looks part mad scientist, part unimpressed mother.

 

“And what are you doing anyway?” Taehyung sighs in exasperation. Jeongguk looks behind him noting something bubbling on their table. It looks slightly on the dangerous side. It has an ominous murky green colour and emits a vile smell.

 

“Would you like help?” Taehyung offers to the two, who nod enthusiastically elbowing each other in the ribs.

 

Jeongguk winces as Taehyung launches into an over-detailed explanation completely unaware that the pair could not care less about what he's saying. He seems completely oblivious to their snide remarks. To his secret delight however, Taehyung grabs the completed solution once he’s done, bringing it back to their table with a “Now your turn – you both know what to do now."

 

Jun-young curses under his breath, Minjun reaching out to swipe back the solution. In the process he trips, only for it to shatter on the floor, the liquid splashing back onto his face. He yelps in pain clutching at his eyes and Jeongguk can’t hold back his laughter as he sprints out of the classroom. Side-eyeing Taehyung he can see the other’s eyes brimming with mirth.

 

“Your friends are well – I don’t mean to be rude. Mmm. A little, dumb?” Taehyung whispers.

 

Jeongguk should defend them, he really should. But secretly he agrees and no one would've heard Taehyung anyway so he just smiles with a quick nod so subtle you’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it.

 

“Will you put your safety goggles on now?”

 

---

 

“Babe!”

 

Jeongguk looks up, Sana is striding towards him with Minjun and Jun-young waddling like minions behind her. He swore that sometimes it felt like they were her boyfriends, not him, always ready and willing to run at her beck and call. Not that Jeongguk really gave a shit, at least it wasn’t him that had to do it.

 

Jeongguk gives them a curt nod of greeting, stamping out a cigarette as he eyes a teacher approaching in the distance. – Give him a break, it was the first class he’d cut all week.

 

Sana’s eyelids are covered in thick stripes of blue, faint splotches of glitter on her cheeks. To his dismay she leans in for a smacking kiss, her lips swathed in a candy-pink lip-gloss. Jeongguk hates lipgloss. It’s sticky and uncomfortable and as nice as it smells it tastes revolting. He’d brought it up one day only for Sana to remark that she didn’t wear it for his benefit anyway.

 

Jeongguk swipes his lips with the back of his hand, Sana pouting at the action.

 

“Rude, babe.”

 

Upon closer observation Jeongguk stifles a laugh at the black eye-patch Minjun’s sporting.

 

“Nice patch Min.”

 

Minjun scowls. “Tell your boyfriend to watch it.”

 

“Fuck off.”

 

“Do I have to be worried,” Sana says, throwing her hand over her mouth in mock horror.

 

Jeongguk snorts, “Fuck off,” he repeats. Sana sidles over slinging an arm around Jeongguk’s waist and pulling him in closer. Her perfume is suffocating.

 

“Tonight, drinks at Yuri’s,” Jun-young announces, pulling out a lighter now that the teacher’s passed by. Jeongguk had half-expected her to come by and give them an earful but most didn’t these days, labeling them a ‘lost cause.’ Jeongguk tended to agree with them.

 

Jeongguk nods with feigned interest, accepting a cigarette from Minjun’s outstretched fingers.

 

“Wear your black shirt,” Sana instructs, Jeongguk nodding mechanically in reply.

 

---

 

It’s 8.00pm and Jeongguk has an hour to spare before he’s meant to meet up with the others at Yuri’s. He sits on his crumpled duvet absentmindedly fiddling with a loose button on his black shirt.

 

He’s unsure why but tonight he really doesn’t feel up to partying. Perhaps it was the strange feeling of dissatisfaction that had begun stirring in the pit of his belly ever since that stupid night with Kim Taehyung. Geeky, idiotic (but undeniably intelligent) Kim Taehyung, who’d made him feel uncomfortable, unsettled. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but he couldn’t rid himself of the strange feeling.

 

He wasn’t at all one for deep inner monologues but something in his life was just missing.

 

Minjun and Jun-young had been there since forever. They had fun and all but something about it just suddenly felt so empty.

 

Stretching out on his bed Jeongguk pulls out his script and attempts to recite the lines, grimacing at the sound of his own voice. As much as he does not want to do it, he does not want to look even more like a fool in front of the whole school. He was undecided for a while but being bad in the play may just be worse than being good in it.

 

At 8.50 pm he leaves his house, feet dragging with reluctance.

 

It’s a crisp night and Jeongguk believes wearing a thin black shirt just to please his girlfriend was a monumental mistake. The wind whistles past creating gaping holes by the buttons, freezing him to the core. Grumbling and cursing he attempts to light up, the wind making it impossible.

 

Halfway to Yuri’s Jeongguk detracts, his feet turning in the other direction. He finds himself walking to Kim Taehyung’s house, of all places. Shifting on the doorstep awkwardly Jeongguk pauses hesitantly before knocking on the door in quick succession.

 

Why am I here.

 

To make matters worse, Taehyung’s incredibly intimidating father answers the door.

 

“Hey. Jeon Jeongguk.” Jeongguk offers his hand. Doctor Kim, Taehyung’s father, shakes it reluctantly, eyeing him closely: Jeongguk's army boots, torn distressed jeans, tight black shirt and cigarette odour. His mouth is set in a firm line, unsmiling. He doesn’t say a word of greeting, looking at him as if to say what the fuck are you doing here?

 

Jeongguk could ask himself the same thing really.

 

“I’m here to practice for the play with Taehyung,” he says instead.

 

“You're in the play?” Taehyung’s father doesn’t attempt to hide his surprise.

 

Jeongguk grins thumping his chest, “Lead man.”

 

“Co-lead,” calls out a now-familiar voice, Taehyung sliding out the door. Jeongguk notes the look of pure astonishment on his face. Jeongguk chokes back a laugh at the sight of Taehyung in flannel pyjamas with stars and planets on them. His hair is mussed up and the pant legs are far too short. Clearly they’re a favourite pair he’s hesitant to let go of.

 

“It’s a bit too late for drama practice,” Taehyung’s father says, standing legs spread across the doorframe, as if to block Jeongguk access.

 

“He’s come all the way here, I'll at least get him something to drink –“

 

Jeongguk tries to call out not to bother but Taehyung’s already gone, darting back inside before his father can make any comment on the matter. Mr. Kim gestures toward the open front door which Jeongguk enters with great reluctance. The living room is dark and prim with stiff furniture that looks as though it’s been left to fade. It’s not incredibly warm and inviting but neither is Jeongguk’s own home. He pokes around, stares at a photo of kid Taehyung with his parents.

 

Kid Taehyung is pretty cute.

 

He looks up, aware that Mr. Kim is studying him closely.

 

“Let's get something straight. You don't know me. I don't know you. But I know what boys like you are about. Keep your distance from Taehyung.” His eyes lock with Jeongguk's, message crystal clear. Jeongguk swallows uncomfortably, nods and perches himself right on the edge of an armchair, so he can leave at a moment’s notice.

 

Taehyung enters the room noisily moments later, carrying mugs of hot chocolate, all cheerful.

 

“I miss anything?”

 

Jeongguk gives him a weak smile and shakes his head.

 

“I figured you want marshmallows? Everyone likes marshmallows.”

 

Jeongguk nods.

 

Taehyung chatters amicably about the play and to Jeongguk’s discomfort his father simply stays in the corner, apparently not going to leave the room. Jeongguk drinks faster than he would ever skull a beer in his life, scalding his tongue in the process.

 

“It’s that good huh?” Taehyung asks with a smile.

 

Jeongguk smiles, scrambling for a reason to excuse himself. Why did I come here again.

 

“We could practice tomorrow?” Taehyung offers, Jeongguk nodding his head in agreement. He’s about to stand to leave when Mr. Kim excuses himself to the bathroom. Thank god.

 

“Taehyung?”

 

Taehyung hums in response, looking over at Jeongguk.

 

“Is sneaking out on your ‘life list’?” Jeongguk doesn’t know why he’s asking this. Well he does know. But then again he doesn’t. Figures he’ll deal with his strange behaviour in the morning. Maybe Taehyung laced his hot chocolate.

 

Taehyung’s eyes widen and he shakes his head hesitantly.

 

“Could it be on there?” Jeongguk presses.

 

Aware that they are on a limited time frame without being ‘chaperoned’ Jeongguk blurts out the rest in a hushed whisper. “I do honestly want to practice tonight. Meet me down the block at, say, 11pm?”

 

Taehyung looks conflicted for a split second before breaking out into a grin and nodding.

 

---

 

Jeongguk is waiting when Taehyung appears in the darkness. He has his script tucked firmly into the back pocket of his ripped black jeans. He tries not to smile but fails, when Taehyung practically skips forward, eyes alight with excitement. He can’t quite believe that Taehyung just snuck out. But more so the fact that he, Jeongguk asked him to, to practice – for a fucking play.

 

He really was going crazy.

 

“Don't say anything,” Taehyung implores in a whisper, Jeongguk assumes he’s talking about his dad.

 

He scoffs, “He's a softy. Got him wrapped around my finger.”

 

“You think so.”

 

Jeongguk smirks, “Know so.” Taehyung grins back, arching an eyebrow skeptically.

 

“Where should we practice?” Jeongguk asks, shivering. His thin cream-coloured sweater has nothing on Taehyung’s outfit. The rips in the knees of his jeans although fashionable are now highly impractical, inviting in the cold air. Jeongguk notices with a degree of fondness – yes fondness, that Taehyung has on all three ugly sweaters, blue, green and brown. He almost looks cute. In a rolled up burrito kind of way. And god, he’s still got on the pyjama bottoms.

 

Taehyung leads Jeongguk toward the cemetery rear gate. It’s dead cold outside and a little eerie – as cemeteries usually are.

 

Okay...

 

“People think I'm strange, don't they?”

 

Jeongguk chuckles, “Yes”, but there’s no malice in his tone, the usual smarminess absent.

 

“Because I try to be nice to people?”

 

When he says it like that Jeongguk realizes how stupid it really is. He recalls Taehyung actually trying to help his friends in chemistry, despite their blatant rudeness.

 

“Yeah. Maybe. I dunno,” he says with a shrug.

 

“Do you think I'm strange?”

 

Jeongguk pauses caught off-guard by his frankness. He should be used to it by now but he’s not. He’s so used to everyone being fake, everyone putting up a façade. But not Taehyung. You don’t have to read between the lines with him.

 

“Yeah you’re strange,” He admits with a muffled laugh “But,” he pauses, searching for the right words. “That can be good,” he adds, earning himself a blinding smile in response.

 

“Why are we here Tae?” the nickname slips out unintentionally and Jeongguk’s cheeks feel strangely warm despite the chill in the air. Nicknames usually signify friendship. Is Taehyung my friend? To his concern the idea is not altogether unwelcoming.

 

Taehyung whispers up at Jeongguk theatrically “Cuz it's dark and quiet and you can see into another world.”

 

“The world of the dead?”

 

“Could be...” Taehyung replies, waggling his eyebrows in a mysterious manner.

 

“My mother's buried near here,” Taehyung announces conversationally. From the small (and growing) amount of time they’d spent together Jeongguk had realised that Taehyung just announced what was on his mind. No pretence and no preplanning. It was unnerving at first but he’d grown a little more used to it. He wouldn’t admit it just yet but he liked it.

 

“My father's alive but it's like he's dead,” Jeongguk admits, never before mentioning his real thoughts to a soul. The secret feels safe with Taehyung, which is odd considering he’s basically a stranger. He’d been close with his other friends for years, but never said a word. Even Sana, when they were alone and getting intimate, they weren’t actually intimate. Yet here he was, in a graveyard at 12am, discussing dead parents with Kim Taehyung as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

 

Taehyung looks sideways at Jeongguk, eyes sorrowful, but doesn’t comment further which Jeongguk appreciates. He walks towards a lone storage shed, unlocking it and opening the door. For a second Jeongguk wonders if this is the part where he dies. Taehyung was so goddamn unpredictable he wouldn’t be surprised.

 

It’s a little scary out there alone and he breathes a sigh of relief when Taehyung returns a moment later carrying several pieces of an odd-looking home-made cylindrical device.

 

“It’s my telescope,” he announces, to Jeongguk’s questioning gaze.

 

“Built it myself,” he says and Jeongguk’s not surprised in the least.

 

He positions the ten-inch telescope pointing up at the dark night sky. Jeongguk looks up through the eye-piece with a little more excitement than he wants to show. His face lights up as a beautiful golden planet with a broad, flat ring system come into view. The sky is littered with stars that look incredible this close up.

 

Jeongguk makes a noise of approval, “Saturn. Beautiful.”

 

Taehyung smiles, “Before Voyager we expected maybe a dozen rings, but there are thousands of them, made of floating ice. Maybe debris from a moon that broke apart.”

 

“Or building blocks for a world that never formed,” Jeongguk adds. Taehyung looks up at him, half surprised and half impressed. Jeongguk smiles, embarrassed. Taehyung had mentioned that at Star Club the other day. A talk that Jeongguk had unwittingly found himself rather interested in.

 

“Just a good memory,” Jeongguk explains.

 

Taehyung smiles knowingly and nudges Jeongguk over so he can have a turn.

 

“Sometimes I come here and just scan the heavens.” Taehyung sounds wistful, yearning, “Looking for something -- someone.”

 

“Do you believe you'll see your mother again?”

 

Jeongguk doesn’t know how – why they’re breaching topics like this. But it all feels so comfortable, so natural. It’s as if he’s known Taehyung forever. He can say anything he pleases, no filter. He decides that it’s nice. Very nice. Taehyung is nice.

 

“I hope so. I think maybe she sees me now.” Their eyes meet for a brief moment until Jeongguk averts his gaze.

 

“I'm building a larger one to see the nucleus of Haley's Comet,“ Taehyung gestures at the telescope.

 

Jeongguk nods impressed.

 

He can’t help feeling that this is so much better than what he would’ve likely been doing at Yuri’s. He’d probably tell his friends on Monday that he was sick in bed, but he was here, with Taehyung. He didn’t want to ponder on why he’d chosen him over them.

 

It’s for the play. I have to do it to stay in school, he reasons to himself.

 

An hour later they are both lying side-by-side in the damp grass, staring up at the stars. Jeongguk had grumbled as Taehyung pulled him to the ground, but only half-heartedly. The earth is cold beneath his thin sweater but the side of Jeongguk is warm, Taehyung pressed up ever so slightly against him. Jeongguk fights a blush when Taehyung slips off his outer layer – the blue one – offering it to Jeongguk who is shivering. Wordlessly he slips on the fluffy monstrosity, smiling across at Taehyung.

 

Taehyung is really nice.

 

“You're really into God, right?”

 

Taehyung tilts his head to look at him, his face a little too close for comfort, “Hmm?”

 

“But you think about Him -- It --Her.” Jeongguk struggles over word choice.

 

“Don't you?”

 

“Not really.”

 

Taehyung smiles at him, “I know there's a plan for everyone, but sometimes I don't understand what the message is -- or what the point is.”

 

Jeongguk’s tone is bitter, “There is no point. You live. You die. The end.”

 

“You don't believe in anything?”

 

“The Bible? Why should I read a bunch of dumb stories about some ancient guy who supposedly worked miracles.”

 

“Not just the Bible. I mean I don’t believe everything that’s in there. But like, that there is something out there? Something more?”

 

There’s a momentary pause in conversation.

 

Jeongguk changes the subject, “Your father doesn't like me.”

 

“He doesn't trust you,” Taehyung corrects. “He’s afraid you’ll be a bad influence on me.”

 

“I don’t trust me.” Jeongguk laughs. “I’m afraid I’ll be a bad influence on you too,” he admits.

 

Taehyung chuckles at that, “I'm not afraid of you.”

 

Jeongguk smiles, recalling Taehyung on top of the fence reflecting his high beams back at him. He might be the only person that wasn’t afraid of Jeongguk, ironic really since Jeongguk had given him every reason to be.

 

“Likewise.”

 

---

 

The next day is dreary, thick grey clouds chasing away the blue hues of the sky. Jeongguk lies in bed, flipping the TV channels past Miami Vice and MTV, to a nature documentary. After a moment, he searches for a pen and paper. Titles it "Life List." He pauses, pen hovering over the paper.

 

What do I write?

 

He scribbles down graduate, before screwing up the paper and throwing it across to the other side of his room as if to remove the evidence.

 

---

 

BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL - MONDAY (8:08 AM)

 

Jeongguk, Minjun, Jun-young, and Sana park up in the school lot in Sana’s Cabriolet before school. The radio is blasting the same station as always, same song, John Fogerty’s “Rock and Roll Girls.” Sana is fawning all over ‘sick Jeongguk’ and the rest are filling him in on a night he missed out on.

 

Jeongguk decides silently that he missed out on nothing.

 

“Why is Taehyung staring at us?” Sana chirps up.

 

Jeongguk looks up and indeed Taehyung is watching them. They laugh but Jeongguk finds it difficult to join in. Something uncomfortable twists in his gut. He silently prays that he won't come over.

 

“I think he’s actually crushing on Jeongguk,” Minjun mocks.

 

“This is so pitiful,” Sana cackles “I’d almost feel sorry for him if he wasn’t such a creep.”

 

Jun-young shakes his head, “He thinks they’re friends now, remember. Jeongguk you’ve been too nice to him.”

 

“Given him the wrong idea,” laughs Sana, resting a hand on Jeongguk’s thigh possessively.

 

Jeongguk’s heart drops as Taehyung makes his way over to their car in slow, steady steps. He’s certain the other can now hear the crude remarks spilling out of the others’ lips.

 

Don’t come here don’t come here. Please.

 

Taehyung smiles up at Jeongguk, brightly as always. Jeongguk has no idea how the others’ cruel words just roll right off him. Today he’s wearing the brown sweater again. Jeongguk freezes, thinking of Taehyung’s blue one shoved somewhere in the back of his closet. If my friends found it...

 

“Hi.”

 

Jeongguk’s tongue feels like lead in his mouth and he doesn't respond. Taehyung shifts from foot to foot playing awkwardly with the hem of his sweater. His smile slowly fades into a look of confusion at the lack of response.

 

“The play's going to be really good,” he continues, looking up at Jeongguk questioningly.

 

“I'm really glad you think so.” Jeongguk’s voice is sarcastic, biting, face curled up in an uncomfortable expression of disgust. His friends snicker in the background and Sana leans into him further. Taehyung looks at them, then back to Jeongguk. Jeongguk’s gut twists further when he recognizes a resigned sort of sadness settle beneath the brown orbs. Sympathy almost. Taehyung feels sorry for him.

 

Shit.

 

Taehyung’s voice is incredibly soft, “I guess you don't want to practice lines tonight then huh.”

 

The words are bitter leaving Jeongguk’s mouth, “You guessed right.”

 

Taehyung gives him a funny look clutching his books tighter to his chest and then turns abruptly to walk away, shoulders sagging. Jeongguk watches him until he disappears from view, heart pounding against his ribcage.

 

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

 

“That's one guy who can't take a hint,” Sana laughs, the others murmuring in agreement. “I’ve never met anyone so fucking clueless,” Minjun chuckles. Jeongguk joins in and laughs a little too loudly, the sound screeching painfully in his own ears.

 

---

 

Jeongguk stands awkwardly outside Taehyung’s house for a good twenty minutes, working up the nerve to ring the doorbell. He knows he doesn’t deserve to be here.

 

I’m a complete and utter asshole.

 

Taehyung opens the front door before he has the chance to knock, taking him by surprise. He gives him a once over and shuts the door rapidly. Jeongguk presses the doorbell repeatedly.

 

“Taehyung? Open up. Open the door. Please.”

 

Taehyung flings open the door angrily and Jeongguk stumbles back. He’s never seen him angry before and it’s a little scary if he’s being honest.

 

“What is your problem Jeongguk?”

 

“The play's in a couple of weeks,” Jeongguk says, biting his lower lip.

 

Taehyung raises an eyebrow, one hand on hip. “Yes. And?”

 

Jeongguk coughs, “I was hoping we could run lines together.”

 

“Oh. Just not at school...Or anywhere where people might see us.”

 

“Sana's a very jealous person.” Jeongguk figures that’s the best excuse.

 

“So it's like you want to be secret friends?”

 

Jeongguk can’t believe his luck. “That's it! Exactly! You're reading my mind –“

 

Taehyung smiles, except it’s not his usual one since this one is sarcastic and sits strangely on his face. His nice face that Jeongguk has grown a little – (a lot) used to.

 

“Then maybe you can read my mind,” Taehyung says. He turns around abruptly and walks in the front door with swift strides. Turning to shut it, Taehyung calls out.

 

“I thought I saw something in you, something good. But I was wrong.” His voice cracks towards the end of the sentence and he hurriedly slams the door shut.

 

Jeongguk’s never felt more awful in his entire life.

 

---

 

Jeongguk lies in bed that night watching another nature documentary, this one on astronomy. Not on purpose of course, he reassures himself that he picked at random. He settles further beneath his duvet becoming quite engrossed in the programme.

 

It eventually gets to a section on Venus, Taehyung’s second-most favourite planet – although they changed day-to-day. (“Did you know that one day on Venus is longer than a year on earth? Imagine if we went there Jeongguk! Space is crazy right?")

 

Jeongguk reaches for his school yearbook and flips the pages until he finds Taehyung's photo.

 

Taehyung is smiling widely and looks almost cute (apart from the sweater, a red one Jeongguk doesn’t recognise). Listed under his photo is an array of clubs: Red Cross, Stars and Planets, Drama, Tutoring, Book Club. Ambition: To Witness a Miracle.

 

Jeongguk falls asleep with the look of hurt on Taehyung's face haunting his dreams.

 

Chapter Text

 

BEAUFORT WEST HIGH SCHOOL – SATURDAY (12:00 PM)

NOVEMBER

 

Jeongguk and Hoseok sit huddled over a beat-up geometry textbook with a plethora of names scrawled on the front. Jeongguk attempts to ask various questions only for Hoseok to shrug sadly, averting eye contact. He frowns at the thin jersey wrapped around the boy’s skinny shoulders, the shoes with soles that are more detached than attached. How did I miss that before?

 

He tries again. Hoseok lets out a sigh of frustration when he gets it wrong. He draws a thick black line across his work muttering a soft string of curses.

 

Jeongguk's eyes wander out the window. I’m not getting anywhere.

 

“Let's get outta here,” he says suddenly. Hoseok looks up in confusion.

 

Jeongguk smiles, dragging him by the hand out the door. He catches Taehyung’s questioning gaze following them. He tries to make eye contact but the other dips his head so fast Jeongguk wonders if he was ever looking or it was all in his head.

 

Hoseok and Jeongguk face each other across the basketball court. The weather’s far from pleasant but the rain is only a slight drizzle. Jeongguk pauses, before peeling off his outer hoodie and handing it to Hoseok. The boy looks up at him curiously and then just stares down at the hoodie. “Put it on - it’s cold,” Jeongguk says, Hoseok’s eyes widening as he darts his gaze back and forth between Jeongguk and the hoodie unsure.

 

Jeongguk strides the short distance between them, impatiently yanking it out of the boy’s hands. He clumsily pulls it down over the boy’s head who stands stock still during the entire exchange. Jeongguk reaches out a hand to ruffle at the younger’s hair.

 

“Warm?”

 

Hoseok nods before breaking into a blindingly wide smile. One Jeongguk hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing before.

 

“Keep it,” Jeongguk offers. Hoseok’s eyes light up like a child’s on Christmas morning. Jeongguk realises - albeit a little guiltily, that the boy probably hasn’t ever owned a ‘label’ brand in his life. Not something Jeongguk ever really thought about. He spent a fair chunk of his time complaining about how ‘poor’ he and his mother were. But in comparison, Hoseok was looking up at him like some benevolent benefactor slash billionaire. It made something curl deep inside Jeongguk. A little bit more of his harsh exterior eroded away.

 

“Okay, triangles,” Jeongguk says. Hoseok bounces up and down excitably, the hoodie ridiculously oversized and stretching to just above his knees. Jeongguk’s never thought a lot about a sibling but he figures it must feel a little something like this. It’s nice, he decides.

 

“You, me, and the basket. We're the three corners of a triangle. Take one step in.”

 

They both step forward, Hoseok looking across at him curiously.

 

Hang on buddy, we’ll get there.

 

“Am I at the same angle to you and the basket as before?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Are you?”

 

Hoseok nods with a grin, “Yeah.”

 

“So what did we just make?”

 

Hoseok’s voice is unsure, “A similar triangle?”

 

“What else? What kind of triangle has three sides of different lengths?”

 

“Scalene?”

 

Jeongguk grins with a wink, “Okay. Now make me an isosceles.”

 

Hoseok practically bounces making his way directly opposite Jeongguk.

 

Jeongguk pumps a fist in the air, “Yes! Two sides the same.”

 

They continue in this manner for a while longer, Hoseok becoming more confident as time progresses. Jeongguk glows with a newfound sense of pride. He doesn’t often feel proud of himself. But he’s proud of this. Something about the other brings out a protective side he never knew he possessed. Jeongguk had always been the one hurting others, not helping them. It was safe to say he much preferred the latter.

 

It was easier being positive than negative. Taehyung was right of course.

 

“Can we play now?” Hoseok pleads, looking up at Jeongguk with innocent puppy dog eyes.

 

Jeongguk chuckles, You read my mind.

 

He tosses him the ball and they play, Hoseok chatters more than Jeongguk has heard in the entirety of their visits. He’s nothing like the shy kid he was first introduced to. Jeongguk can’t hold back a smile when Hoseok ushers one of his friends over, excitedly showing them “Math basketball” and his “New favourite hoodie from his new friend.”

 

It’s been a long time since he’s genuinely helped someone, wanted to help someone.

 

Looking up for a second he catches Taehyung watching, through the frosted window-pane. As soon as he meets Jeongguk’s eyes however, he looks away.

 

---

 

It’s a cold night and the wind whistles at a shrill pitch echoing down the empty street. The street lights flicker precariously as Jeongguk scuffs at loose stones with the toe of his boot. It’s a Thursday, which means drama club. Drama means Taehyung. A whole two hours of rehearsal in which Taehyung actually speaks to him. Or tonight it would be three, the final big practice before the show this weekend.

 

Taehyung had skipped the previous drama practice, much to Jeongguk’s horror. The teacher had told them he was sick but Jeongguk couldn’t quite believe it. Taehyung wasn’t the type to miss anything, especially not rehearsal. He’d gotten lumped in with Taehyung’s stand-in, a shy nervous boy whose stutters only increased with each one of Jeongguk’s glares.

 

School wasn’t a lot better. Jeongguk almost feels as though he’s caught up in a game of cat and mouse. Taehyung always seems to now disintegrate into thin air whenever Jeongguk’s in a twenty metre radius. It’s as if there’s an alarm that goes off just as Jeongguk attempts to get close to him, sending him scuttling away.

 

Sana’s still there. Jun-young and Minjun too. Jeongguk feels hollow at every interaction. They all comment that his head’s away in the clouds at the moment and it might just be the first real observation they’ve made about Jeongguk.

 

He slips, ditching hangouts more and more frequently. Luckily he always has an excuse. Tutoring, janitorial work, and drama club take up an obscene amount of Jeongguk’s time. It might be completely incredulous but the more time passes the more he doesn’t mind. It’s almost a relief when he has to excuse himself to leave their company.

 

Jeongguk swallows, feeling as if the stones he kicks are landing directly inside his stomach. To say acting with Taehyung was difficult is an understatement. The latter was amicable, pleasant even, but Jeongguk didn’t have to look too hard to see how the smile no longer quite reached his eyes. The grin he shared with their castmates fell right to the floor when his eyes met Jeongguk’s.

 

Jeongguk wasn’t a lot better. Stumbling over his lines. Teetering on eggshells around the other. He wasn’t exactly used to being apologetic. He’d pissed plenty of people off before. Hurt a lot of people too. As awful as it is he’d never regretted it. Never gave those people a second thought.

 

Fuck. I’m a terrible person.

 

A single drop of rain slides down Jeongguk’s forehead. Not long after, the sky opens up, raindrops pelting down onto the concrete at a deafening volume. Jeongguk shivers, pulling the sleeves of his hoodie down low below his wrists. Picking up the pace he jogs to practice, sneakers squelching on the pavement.

 

Taehyung’s eyes go wide when he sees him hurtle through the door. Jeongguk sees the worry flash momentarily in his eyes but doesn’t dare read too much into it.

 

He does look quite the sight. Soaked to the bone, hair matted and clinging to his forehead. Jeongguk shivers, teeth chattering audibly.

 

“You idiot,” Taehyung clucks his tongue, grabbing him firmly by the wrist to drag him into the hall. Jeongguk follows obediently, the other pushing him into a chair and muttering as he goes to fetch a sweater. The second of Taehyung’s sweaters Jeongguk has borrowed. Not that he’s counting. He won’t deny he’d worn the other in the secrecy of his bedroom on multiple occasions.

 

Jeongguk daren’t say a word afraid he’d break whatever state of peace Taehyung and he are currently in. It’s the first time things have felt okay. The first time Taehyung had looked at him properly in days.

 

“Strip.”

 

Jeongguk’s mouth falls open as he looks at Taehyung with an incredulous expression. Taehyung immediately flushes at the titters in the background realising his inappropriate word choice. He throws the sweater at Jeongguk and it lands on his face as he turns around folding his arms.

 

Jeongguk chucks off his own, and winces a little as he pulls the slightly itchy material onto his bare skin. But he can’t deny its warmth, or more importantly its smell. He couldn’t quite describe Taehyung’s smell but it was a little something like comfort. Something warm and something safe.

 

The practice goes well. Jeongguk delights in the ice finally thawing between the two of them. Apparently the cast can feel it too, everyone falling in sync more easily, the entire play running more smoothly.

 

Jeongguk can feel his nerves dissipating with each passing moment. The more Taehyung is okay, the better he does. Jeongguk tries to catch him after rehearsal, but Taehyung simply waves, excusing himself in a hurry.

 

Jeongguk gets a ride with one of the other boys. He’s nice enough. He tries to bury away the disappointment that he’s not Taehyung.

 

---

 

BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL HALL – SUNDAY (5:00 PM)

 

The night of the play comes around awfully fast. Jeongguk has never felt this nervous – well – ever in his entire life. Jeongguk peeks out around the corner of the sweeping maroon curtain noting with fear that it’s a full house. Parents, teachers, students, shopkeepers, churchgoers, the elderly, children – almost everyone in their community. It was a small town after all so they didn't have a lot to look forward to.

 

Shit.

 

Jeongguk fidgets at the side of the stage as the lights go up, waiting for his cue. His costume is tight and uncomfortable and he tugs at the stiff fabric frantically. He doesn’t show up on stage until a good twenty minutes in and the time stretches out painfully slow. Everyone else is executing their parts perfectly only adding to the mounting pressure he feels on his shoulders.

 

Taehyung’s entrance draws a collective gasp from the audience prompting Jeongguk’s head to jerk up at the noise.

 

The oxygen escapes from his lungs.

 

Taehyung looks incredible. He’s finally had a haircut, his hair now framing his face rather nicely. Did I miss just how nice that face was before? He’s wearing a tight-fitted plain white shirt and dark slacks that cling nicely to his long legs. Jeongguk could just make out the curves of his lean muscles, usually hidden underneath the oversized sweaters. He was smiling, eyes sparkling, practically glowing. Taehyung was ethereal, illuminated by the soft stage lighting.

 

Jeongguk feels as if someone has just kicked him in the stomach.

 

Multiple times.

 

Glancing to the audience he can’t help but notice they are all having a similar reaction. Jeongguk almost misses his cue, barely making it onto stage in time. Taehyung smiles up at him, genuinely, the first time he’s thrown him a blinding grin in weeks. And it’s probably just for the play, probably just acting, but it turns Jeongguk warm inside out.

 

Jeongguk tries to forget about the audience and launches into his performance with more fervour than he’s put into anything school related (or otherwise). The audience is captivated by him, laughing at all the right moments, soft cheers and clapping resounding throughout the hall. He daren’t look at anyone but makes eye contact for the briefest moment with Hoseok, who’s smiling up at him in the front row along with some other kids from tutoring. He notes fondly that the boy is wearing Jeongguk’s oversized hoodie, grinning from ear-to-ear.

 

As the play goes on Jeongguk belatedly realises he’s not actually so bad at this. He surprises himself by possibly even enjoying himself.

 

Taehyung keeps darting glances at him and Jeongguk sees the hint of surprise flickering beneath his eyes. Jeongguk has gotten better over time but he’d never delivered his lines with this much dedication, emotion. Taehyung might have been surprised but no one was as surprised as Jeongguk himself.

 

The initial waiting feels like years , but finally the last scene is coming around.

 

Taehyung’s eyes are shining, he’s positively radiating, looking directly at him. “Is it me?” he sings, voice quavering just the right amount for the scene. He launches into the song, deep velvety baritone ringing out across the room.

 

Jeongguk is dumbstruck.

 

Literally.

 

His next lines after the song fades to a close completely escape him. Although he maintains a calm facade inside he is in sheer panic. He glances hesitantly across at his teacher in the wings who is making some sort of frantic motion with her hands.

 

Shit.

 

Jeongguk turns to look Taehyung in the eye, who reaches out a hand to squeeze gently on his shoulder. Not part of the plan but just the sort of gesture Jeongguk needs.

 

“Yes. You're beautiful.”

 

Jeongguk changes the line completely keeping it to the original script. The line meant for the boy/girl dynamic. There’s no missing it for anyone that knew what he was meant to say. He’s caught up in the moment, the adrenaline of the performance but he hopes Taehyung knows it’s sincere. He hopes the rest of the cast don’t kill him. He doesn’t even want to think about his classmates’ reactions. But most of all he hopes Taehyung knows he thinks he’s beautiful. Not just because he got a haircut and is wearing a nice shirt, but because he’s genuinely the most beautiful person Jeongguk’s ever met. And will ever meet.

 

Taehyung is beautiful.

 

Taehyung’s reaction to the words is visible, real emotion seeping through in his attempt to keep in character. Jeongguk’s heart skips a few too many beats.

 

Beautiful.

 

The curtain falls amidst impossibly loud cheers from the audience. Jeongguk tries to meet Taehyung's gaze but he’s looking steadfastly at the floor, arm dropping from Jeongguk’s shoulder.

 

---

 

Jeongguk runs out of the hall still in full costume, palms clammy. Mr. Kelly stops him in his tracks shakes his hand, proud (and surprised) smile.

 

He spots Sana in the distance getting into her car.

 

“Sana!” Jeongguk calls out.

 

“What?!” her tone is harsh, Jeongguk notes the hard lines stretching across her face. He struggles with what to say.

 

“I-”, he trails off. She looks up at him incredulously. “You actually like him?” Her tone raises at the end but Jeongguk knows it’s not a question. “Oh my god,” Sana is laughing now, staring eyes wide at Jeongguk.

 

Jeongguk feels his fists curl, nails pressing crescents into the palms of his hands.

 

“It was so obvious Jeongguk. I didn’t know you could act but that was more than acting. What the fuck,” Sana trails off whispering curses incredulously to herself.

 

“I-” Jeongguk starts again, before hanging his head looking resolutely at the floor.

 

I like him.

 

Sana rips off the tacky ‘J’ necklace hanging around her neck throwing it unceremoniously at Jeongguk. Still staring at the ground he registers it clank on the pavement next to his shoes.

 

“You’re gay. Oh my god. Oh my god? Gay for Taehyung,” Sana continues, speaking to herself. Jeongguk stiffens at the way she spits out Taehyung’s name, as if he’s garbage. He looks up at Sana unable to voice any opposition to her claims. It’s perhaps the first honest look they’ve shared with each other.

 

“Goodbye Jeongguk,” she says, winding up her window and flipping her hair in the other direction. Jeongguk knows it’s not the ‘see you later’ kind.

 

He’s not sad. Of course he’s not. But he is terrified.

 

Losing Sana’s no real loss. But it does mean losing himself. Or who everyone thought he was. Who he thought he was.

 

It’s a little terrifying to face.

 

---

 

Jeongguk waits by Taehyung's locker the next day. He shuffles impatiently as the bell screeches but no Taehyung is to be seen. It’s not like him to be late.

 

At lunch he walks around the cafeteria, around outside, searching. No Taehyung. Sana spots him, glares and looks away, and Jeongguk doesn’t say anything. He figures that’s that. Two years of his life, done with, over. Sana doesn’t appear too stricken by it all, if the new guy draped across her is anything to go off. Unsurprisingly, Jeongguk feels much the same way. Their relationship had been like most other things in his life, wooden, two-dimensional, fake.

 

Jeongguk finally makes his way to the library, cruising the stacks of books. He can feel curious pairs of eyes watching him, he’s not exactly a library-frequenter. Taehyung is still nowhere to be seen. He blinks back a faint feeling that’s a little something like concern.

 

The cafeteria is loud as lunch rolls around. The thick smell of cheap and unappetizing greasy food permeates the air. Jeongguk slumps down on his usual table ignoring the gnawing feeling he just can’t seem to shake. It’s not hunger.

 

Minjun and Jun-young are quick to comment on Sana’s absence.

 

“Sana's telling everyone that your acting was real,” Minjun laughs.

 

“Been saying you’ve got the hots for Taehyung,” Jun-young adds.

 

“That she dumped you because you’re totally gay for him.”

 

Minjun and Jun-young exchange a look when Jeongguk is a little too slow to hit back at them. For once Jeongguk can’t bring it in himself to care what they think.

 

“Maybe I am,” he says resigned, gets up abruptly and stalks out of the cafeteria. He’s well aware of the whispers that follow. His friends weren’t exactly quiet. Probably weren’t expecting that reaction from Jeongguk.

 

Minjun and Jun-young smirk in utter disbelief. They don’t get up to stop Jeongguk, probably frozen in shock. Jeongguk doesn’t give a shit at this point. Perhaps Taehyung had gotten the whole not caring thing right all along.

 

---

 

Jeongguk's waiting again the next day when Taehyung approaches his locker. He’s completely immersed in inspecting his fingernails and doesn’t see the other approaching.

 

“Hi.”

 

Jeongguk’s head whips up faster than Taehyung’s hand in chemistry class. Taehyung is looking at him closely, faint trace of a smile on his lips. It’s not his usual but it’s something, Jeongguk will take anything at this point.

 

“You weren't in school yesterday.”

 

Taehyung bites his lip, “I went to the doctor with my father.”

 

“He okay?”

 

Taehyung nods. Oh. So, Taehyung is going to leave the talking up to him. Probably not the best idea.

 

“You were great the other night.”

 

Taehyung smiles up at him “Thank you. So were you. Honestly I was a little surprised,” he admits with a chuckle. “Don’t stop acting Jeongguk.”

 

Nice, always so nice. Jeongguk tries to take a step closer only for Taehyung to stumble back into his locker.

 

“I-I haven't been nice to you.”

 

A small smile plays across Taehyung’s lips, “You're hardly nice to anyone.”

 

The words are like a jolt straight to Jeongguk’s chest, but who is he kidding? He’s not the good guy. Taehyung is right. I’m not nice to anyone.

 

“I'm sorry Tae.”

 

Taehyung smiles, a small sad smile, his voice is soft. “I wish I could believe you.”

 

Jeongguk’s heart plummets. But it’s exactly what he deserves, he knows . He walks to his first class feet dragging behind him.

 

---

 

At lunch time Taehyung sits alone, reading. His brow is furrowed in concentration. It’s the green sweater today, pushed up at the sleeves. Jeongguk walks by Jun-young and Minjun at their table.

 

“Guk!”

 

“Later,” he mutters, and to their looks of disbelief walks right past them, puts his tray down on Taehyung's table, and sits.

 

Taehyung looks up and raises his eyebrows, “People can see.”

 

Jeongguk grins, “And that would ruin your reputation how?”

 

Taehyung goes back to his book but not before emitting a soft giggle. The sound giving Jeongguk a well-needed surge of determination.

 

“What’s the book?”

 

Taehyung glances up skeptically, and waves the cover in Jeongguk’s face.

 

“It on your 'Life List' to read uh - that?” Jeongguk gestures at the book.

 

Taehyung looks up questioningly.

 

“Maybe I miss doing that dumb play with you,” Jeongguk admits.

 

“Maybe you inspire me,” he adds.

 

Taehyung breaks out into a laugh that finally sounds genuine, Jeongguk lets out a sigh of relief.

 

“That sounds like bullshit Jeonggukie.”

 

Jeongguk grins at the nickname unable to hide his delight, “Which part?”

 

Taehyung eyes him suspiciously but there’s a glimmer of amusement buried deep in his expression. “All of it.”

 

“It's not.”

 

“Prove it,” Taehyung challenges before getting up and leaving Jeongguk sitting in the cafeteria alone.

 

---

 

Jeongguk follows Taehyung out of the building straight after school.

 

“Taehyung.”

 

“I’m sorry Taehyung. Honestly I want to be friends again.”

 

“You don't know the first thing about being someone's friend,” Taehyung says.

 

“Then maybe I don't want to be just your friend,“ Jeongguk suddenly yells, uncaring as to who is observing the conversation. He vaguely registers gasped whispers in the vicinity. He’s surprised to discover he couldn’t care less.

 

Taehyung stills visibly in his tracks at the half confession, stopping suddenly to gaze at Jeongguk, perplexed.

 

“You w-what-“ his voice comes out choked, uncertain. Jeongguk’s never seen anyone so shocked in his entire life. Unrivaled even to his principal’s reaction to the play.

 

“Um I,” Jeongguk stammers cheeks burning red with embarrassment. He hadn’t exactly planned on saying that.

 

“F-friends?” Jeongguk backtracks, taking an extreme interest in a loose stone in the gravel.

 

Taehyung stares at him curiously before throwing out a hand slowly, “Okay, friends?”

 

Jeongguk grasps his hand far too quickly, “So you’ll talk to me now? You won’t be weird? I’m so sorry Taehyung. I’m honestly so sorry,” he rambles.

 

Taehyung laughs, “I’ll talk to you if I have something to say,” and he winks, leaving a stammering Jeongguk in his wake.

 

---

 

Hoseok runs over to Jeongguk, calling out in excited greeting. Despite initial hesitations (on both parts), they’d ended up being quite close. Without any siblings Jeongguk had taken it upon himself to adopt the other as his younger brother.

 

“Quiet please. As you all know, we're here to celebrate the holidays and to raise money to buy books for our library. The book drive is being led by Beaufort High's Kim Taehyung.”

 

The crowd erupts into applause, Hoseok clapping excitedly along with them. He loved Taehyung, everyone loved Taehyung here. Everyone here was real, genuine , they knew something important when they saw it.

 

Jeongguk would regret treating Taehyung badly for the rest of his life.

 

Taehyung steps up to the microphone clearing his throat and smiling (as always), “Thank you for buying tickets. We've raised two hundred and eighty-five dollars.”

 

Jeongguk whispers down to Hoseok, “About enough to buy maybe five volumes in a set of encyclopedias.” Hoseok grins. Taehyung glances down at them sharply, clearly overhearing. Jeongguk shoots him a sheepish smile.

 

Later, when he’s finished, Taehyung makes a beeline right to them. “Five volumes is a start,” he huffs.

 

“Yeah, with a finish in about a decade,” Jeongguk teases. He looks at Taehyung, “This on your list?”

 

Taehyung grins, “Why do you care so much about my list?”

 

Jeongguk smiles, “What's number one?” Taehyung shakes his head.

 

“My number one would be getting out of here.”

 

As always, Taehyung’s insight is the best. “Getting out won't be your problem. It'll be figuring out what you want when you get somewhere.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

Taehyung grins, “It means you can do anything.”

 

Hoseok nudges him when Taehyung walks out of earshot.

 

“You like Taehyung?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head furiously protesting prompting Hoseok to break into raucous laughter doubled over.

 

“Oh my god. You do.

 

“Shut up brat. I won’t come tutor you anymore.”

 

Hoseok sticks out his tongue in an infuriating manner. “Don’t matter. Taehyung can teach me instead. Won’t you be jealous?” He squeals as Jeongguk chases him out of the hall.

 

---

 

KIM TAEHYUNG’S LIVING ROOM – 7PM

DECEMBER

 

A tall green Christmas tree with blinking coloured lights stands in the living room corner. Taehyung and his father are playing cards as Silent Night drifts into the room from the radio. The doorbell rings shortly followed by urgent banging. Taehyung races to the door, peering out around the corner as he opens it slowly.

 

Jeongguk grins up at Taehyung, slides his backpack off his shoulder. He pulls out a shopping bag and holds it out to Taehyung. He is overcome with a sudden sense of awkwardness.

 

“It's a Christmas present. Take it,” Jeongguk mumbles.

 

Terrible idea. Terrible idea.

 

Taehyung opens the bag hesitantly, pulls out a navy blue sweater. It’s a soft cashmere, nothing like the irritable material of Taehyung’s others. It’s still very Taehyung though, but just - a little better (Jeongguk thinks secretly, and it actually fits ). He breaks out into a chuckle. “I threw away your one,” Jeongguk confides, and Taehyung looks at him scandalized.

 

“What about the other one?” he gasps.

 

“Salvation Army,” Jeongguk grins, “I know how much you love helping people,” he winks.

 

Without another word, Jeongguk hops down the steps with a backward wave.

 

---

 

A nurse points Jeongguk towards a patient room. The hospital is pretty deserted by this hour, what with Christmas Eve in the morning. Jeongguk carries a battered liquor-store box in his arm. He arrives at his destination and pushes the door open hesitantly. An outdated TV flickers loudly in the background playing an old Christmas movie. Jeongguk walks in and opens the box, pulls out an evergreen wreath with a red plaid bow.

 

“For me, Christmas is all about the smells,” he announces.

 

Jeongguk leans the wreath in the window. A wrinkled old man watches from his bed, completely baffled.

 

“Pine's my favourite. That and cider with cloves.” Jeongguk pulls a thermos from his coat pocket, unscrews the cap and finds a drinking cup. Pours in cider and offers the man the cup.

 

The old man looks up in complete confusion, “Who are you?”

 

“Jeon Jeongguk. I was driving the car that –“

 

“You.”

 

“Me,” Jeongguk admits, hanging his head.

 

He takes the cup, looking Jeongguk over.

 

“I'm very sorry –“

 

The man reaches under his pillow. Pulls out a small bottle of liquor and tops off his cider with a wink. Waves a hand as if to shush Jeongguk.

 

“Get yourself a glass.”

 

Jeongguk leaves with a blanket of warmth fuzzing his senses. He stumbles a little walking home. Yes he’s a little tipsy, but mostly he’s happy. He feels a little more of the old Jeongguk slip away and what’s that if not a celebration.

 

Merry Christmas indeed.

 

---

 

It’s an unusually warm day outside. The sky is cloudless, vestiges of frost from the night prior seeping away. Jeongguk shrugs on a light jacket as he leaves his house, striding down the street with purpose.

 

Three months probation has gone by impossibly fast – but also slow, when Jeongguk recalls all that has happened in that time. (All mainly referring to Taehyung).

 

He’d spent his free hours working on his old Camaro, repairing the dents and scratches, removing the junk.

 

Colourful banners and flags flap and fly in the lightwind as Jeongguk approaches a used car salesman. He bickers with him instantly.

 

“The interior is –“

 

Jeongguk cuts him off, “Reconditioned. Completely. Be a collector's someday. Twelve hundred.”

 

The salesman scoffs, “You can't expect me to pay you for your -- attachment to that car.”

 

Jeongguk gazes at another dealership across the street, then adopts the surly, vaguely-threatening attitude of the old and experienced.

 

The Salesman looks from Jeongguk to the car with a sigh. He pulls a wad of cash from his pocket. Wearily counts out twelve bills. Jeongguk takes the money, touches the Camaro's hood, then walks away without a backward glance.

 

---

 

Principal Kelly looks up from some paperwork.

 

“Jeongguk?” His voice is surprised. He probably wasn’t expecting to see the other at school in the holidays of all times. Jeongguk was getting more and more unpredictable as the days went on.

 

Jeongguk drops a folded wad of hundreds on the desk with a flourish.

 

“For Beaufort West High. Where I do tutoring. Hoseok. For books.”

 

The principal looks at him raising an eyebrow suspiciously, “Where did you get - ?”

 

Jeongguk retorts angrily, “It's mine to give. I didn't steal it.” Kelly looks at him in shock.

 

---

 

Jeongguk bumps into Taehyung the next day, colliding in the store.

 

“Ouch – Hey –“

 

“I heard what you did. Thank you,” Taehyung smiles.

 

Jeongguk nods, but quickly tries to change the subject.

 

Taehyung won’t let him, “Why are you doing all this? To impress me?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. Because although yes, yes a part of him really wanted to impress him, surprisingly a larger part of him just wanted to be nice, to be good, to do good. Although yes – he really, really, really liked Taehyung – first and foremost he admired him. He was inspired by him.

 

But of course he can’t help himself asking.

 

“But are you -- impressed?”

 

Taehyung snorts. Jeongguk notes excitedly he’s wearing the navy blue sweater he gave him for Christmas. Maybe there was hope after all. Not to mention the fact that Taehyung looks incredible in it. The colour complements his golden skin tone nicely. Now only if I could do something about his shoes. Jeongguk glances down hesitantly at - could you even call it footwear?

 

“Like fire,” Taehyung says, cryptically, breaking Jeongguk’s inner fashion makeover monologue.

 

“What?”

 

“You.” Taehyung points, before making to leave. Jeongguk latches onto his arm abruptly halting him in his tracks. Taehyung looks at him pointedly as his grip was a little on the strong side. Jeongguk makes no move to loosen his grip.

 

“New Year's Eve. Would you go out with me?!”

 

Taehyung looks surprised. He pauses for just a moment which stretches out like eons for Jeongguk. Cruel really.

 

“Yes,” Taehyung says finally, a slight trace of hesitance in his voice. Jeongguk would do anything to remove that. He will do anything to remove it.

 

“But it's not a date,” Taehyung says, glancing at him warily.

 

Jeongguk raises an eyebrow, “Why not?”

 

“I'm not allowed to date,” Taehyung grins and walks out of the store.

 

Chapter Text

 

BEAUFORT GENERAL HOSPITAL – MONDAY (11:00 AM)

DECEMBER

 

Jeongguk shoves his hands into his jean pockets, leaning back to take a better look at the towering grey structure before him. It’s set against a similarly grey backdrop, the blue of the sky obscured by heavy cloud cover. Winter is really starting to show, all former traces of sunshine vanishing. The ground is covered by a thin layer of frost, and tendrils of condensation escape Jeongguk’s lips whenever he exhales. He vaguely remembers a not-too-distant past in which it was possible to leave the house in a single layer. His mind flits to Taehyung in his sweaters.

 

He’s probably got them all on today.

 

Once Jeongguk is inside the temperature is warm, but he pulls his jacket more closely around him. He shivers involuntarily; the hospital isn’t one of the most appealing places. There is always a heavy sort of tension in the air, walking past unmarked doors with uncertain futures. He eyes dip to the floor as he bypasses a family huddled together. He glances up only to make eye contact with a young girl, perhaps twelve. He reads a pain etched out on her features that none so young should have to endure. Jeongguk sends her a small sad smile which he hopes conveys sympathy.

 

No, hospitals are not Jeongguk’s favourite places, but here he is again, twice in the short span of a week.

 

It’s a labyrinth of corridors and unit names for a myriad of conditions half of which Jeongguk doesn’t recognise. Hopefully he never will. Hesitantly, he makes his way to the information desk. The receptionist is warm and friendly emitting an aura that contrasts with the entire place. She looks curiously at Jeongguk when he queries about Mr. Kim, Taehyung’s father.

 

Third floor, Block A, Two rights and a left.

 

Jeongguk chants the directions like a mantra perhaps to distract himself from the task at hand. His shoes squeak obnoxiously on the linoleum earning him a choice glare from a frightening-looking nurse. He hurries along walking awkwardly on his tiptoes.

 

He eventually reaches a large white door with the words ‘Doctor Kim’ splashed across in bold intimidating letters. Beneath it an impressive array of credentials are inscribed. Jeongguk paces outside the door for a few minutes debating his entire series of life decisions.

 

Finally, he knocks twice, weakly. He half hopes the man behind the door won’t hear. Or better yet, perhaps he won’t even be inside, letting Jeongguk off the hook. Unfortunately for Jeongguk, an authoritative voice calls out “Come in,” almost immediately after he knocks. He pauses before pushing the door open slowly, hesitantly peering around the corner.

 

Doctor Kim, Taehyung’s father, is sitting behind an impressive mahogany desk, examining legal-looking documents and records. He takes his glasses off, rubbing his eyes when Jeongguk enters as if to confirm the identity of his visitor.

 

“Doctor Kim. Can I ask you something?” Jeongguk tries to still the shake in his voice unsuccessfully. He’s standing in the doorway barely a centimetre inside the room.

 

Taehyung’s father stares at him, his eyes displaying a slight flash of recognition before returning to a deadpan expression. He eventually nods twice and makes a small gesturing motion for Jeongguk to come in.

 

Jeongguk walks in at the pace one would take to their execution block.

 

“Does it have to do with Taehyung?” Taehyung’s father asks, eyeing Jeongguk suspiciously.

 

Bad idea. Abort mission.

 

Jeongguk attempts to plaster on his most friendly smile. His chattering teeth ruin the image slightly. His hands curl instinctively within the confines of his jean pockets as if he can squeeze out the tension in that manner.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Taehyung’s father’s eyes narrow ever so slightly. With the fingers on his left hand he begins to drum an uneven rhythm on the desk. The sound reverberates in Jeongguk’s ears. It sounds out something like ‘I don’t have time for this.’ Or perhaps, ‘Who do you think you are?’

 

Jeongguk swallows, “I-I'd like to take Taehyung out tomorrow night. Out for New Year's Eve.” His heartbeat rises to an unnecessarily high volume, thudding in his ears.

 

Taehyung’s father’s eyebrows shoot directly up into his forehead in a manner scarily familiar.

 

“On a date,” Jeongguk hastily clarifies, before he loses his nerve.

 

Worst idea ever.

 

“That won't be possible,” Taehyung’s father responds without missing a beat. He turns his head back down to his work giving Jeongguk a small wave to move away.

 

Jeongguk musters up the courage to press on. Figures he has nothing to lose. Taehyung’s father couldn’t exactly dislike him any more than he did currently. Optimism perhaps? Taehyung was really rubbing off on him.

 

Jeongguk coughs lightly to regain his attention. “I'm sorry I haven't always treated Taehyung the way I should have. H-he deserves better.” He has no idea what Mr. Kim knows about him but he figures he’s not the kind of person one would lie to.

 

Taehyung’s father glances up as if he is surprised Jeongguk is still there. His expression is still unreadable.

 

“I care about him,” Jeongguk says, shifting from side to side awkwardly.

 

Taehyung’s father pauses for potentially the longest moment in Jeongguk’s life. Second only to his first drama rehearsal (which felt approximately the equivalent to an entire month).

 

Taehyung’s father sighs, and looks at Jeongguk apprehensively, “He can go out until one.”

 

Jeongguk nods trying to reign in his enthusiasm with little success. Taehyung’s father doesn’t smile, but simply gives him a small nod of recognition. Jeongguk can feel his eyes boring directly into his skull. He bows low shuffling out of the room with a stuttered thanks and races out of the hospital.

 

If he’s lucky, he’ll never have to go back there again.

 

---

 

The day is still incredibly dreary outside, but Jeongguk walks briskly to the bus stop in high spirits.

 

Taehyung’s father said yes !

 

Jeongguk grins as he gets on the bus to Hoseok’s house, predicting Taehyung’s shell-shocked expression. He can’t wait to convey the news.

 

The bus is relatively empty and Jeongguk sits near the back, legs slung over the seat parallel to his. He watches the streets of Beaufort whip past through a semi-circle he’s drawn in the misted glass. The closer he gets to Hoseok’s house, the more dilapidated the scenery becomes.

 

The bus ride is a little over half an hour, and Jeongguk nods off, head falling against the window. Facing Taehyung’s father felt akin to entering battle with a formidable enemy, and he was tired. Victorious - yes, but tired. He jerks awake when he finally reaches his destination, the bus coming to a halt at the final stop of the route. Jeongguk springs off the bus with an amicable wave at the driver. Taehyung’s father (despite scaring the shit out of him), has really put him in a good mood.

 

Jeongguk pauses when he reaches the exterior of Hoseok’s house.

 

He’s unsure if he’s at the right address for a second, the number on the mailbox hanging off at a precarious angle. The house looks relatively large but extremely run down. The lawn boasts an array of weeds and the fencing has definitely seen better days.

 

A lone bicycle lies in the front yard, silver body turned brown with rust. Jeongguk pauses beside it to inspect it. Yep, can definitely fix it up . He hugs the parcel he’s brought tighter to his chest, striding up to the front door.

 

His fist is in mid-air to knock and the door swings open, Hoseok hurtling outside to wrap his skinny little arms around Jeongguk’s middle.

 

“Merry Christmas Guk!” he singsongs, leaning back with a delighted grin. He reaches out to grab onto Jeongguk’s wrist, pulling him inside.

 

“Merry Christmas,” Jeongguk smiles, allowing himself to be dragged indoors.

 

Hoseok excitably rambles off sibling introductions and mentions his parents are out working. He pushes Jeongguk forward, presenting him proudly. Something warm flickers deep within Jeongguk’s chest.

 

Jeongguk pushes the parcel towards Hoseok whose eyes widen impossibly as he looks up at the other as if he were Santa Claus himself. For perhaps the first time Jeongguk understands those people who rattle on about enjoying giving- not a concept he’s had a lot of experience with. Now he can see that it wasn’t what he’d previously deemed a load of self-righteous bullshit. Jeongguk can’t recall opening a present for himself ever bringing him as much enjoyment as much as the current situation does.

 

“Open it,” Jeongguk chuckles, seeing the impatience dancing in the other’s eyes. And he does, ripping open the paper and unceremoniously tossing it on the floor. A screeching cat appears out of nowhere scrambling for the discarded wrapping paper. It’s all a little chaotic but Jeongguk feels inexplicably at home, completely content.

 

He sinks down onto the couch, the latter's younger sister and brother crowding around the present-opening action excitably.

 

Jeongguk silently thanks Taehyung for the ‘sibling hindsight’.

 

(“ I’m going to get Hoseok a christmas present,” Jeongguk exclaimed proudly. Taehyung smiled up at him, nodding in approval, “Just remember he’s got a younger sister and brother.” Jeongguk stared. He’d been hanging with the younger for weeks now and somehow that information had been missed. “Don’t forget them too,” Taehyung grinned, patting Jeongguk on the shoulder before he walked away ).

 

The parcel finally gives way, Jeongguk just a little too generous with the cellotape. Three smaller individual parcels are inside, each labelled with the kids names. The younger two shriek in delight, the presents inside for them completely unexpected. Hoseok grins up at Jeongguk tearing the wrapping of his parcel. His eyes light up and he runs at Jeongguk for the second time in the span of five minutes, enveloping him in a crushing hug.

 

Jeongguk swears he doesn’t blink back a tear when the younger two launch themselves at him seconds later, proclaiming him their new ‘big brother’.

 

---

 

“Jeongguk, someone’s at the door for you,” his mother calls out. Confused Jeongguk runs downstairs two at a time.

 

“I don’t know who-”

 

Oh.

 

Taehyung is standing in the doorway, smiling and looking more than a little uncomfortable. He’s wrapped up in his new sweater (again), and he has a new large cream scarf enveloping almost half his face. Jeongguk may have memorised his wardrobe, not that it was a particularly large number of items. Taehyung’s cheeks are flushed pink from the cold and he blinks up at Jeongguk expectantly.

 

Jeongguk startles, realising he hasn’t yet greeted him. He blushes instantly at the realisation he’s been standing there staring, most likely open-mouthed.

 

“Invite him in, Guk?” Jeongguk’s mother reprimands with a chuckle, Jeongguk is still yet to find his voice.

 

“C-come in,” Jeongguk smiles, and Taehyung hesitantly walks inside shuddering slightly at the change from cold to hot. “It’s warm,” Taehyung smiles up at Jeongguk in an illegally adorable manner.

 

“Upstairs,” Jeongguk jerks his thumb, guiding Taehyung to his room away from his mother’s prying eyes. He doesn’t miss her confused expression as she looks from him to Taehyung raising an eyebrow surreptitiously. He’ll explain later. Maybe. Probably not.

 

Taehyung sits awkwardly at the edge of Jeongguk’s bed, playing with his fingers. “Uh,” Taehyung starts, still staring intently at his fingers as if they were an unsolvable maths equation. Although Jeongguk’s fairly certain he’s never seen Taehyung stumped on - well - anything.

 

Jeongguk sits down beside him, making sure to leave an unnecessary metre-long gap between them. He regrets his decision instantly, the space only seeming to magnify the awkward tension in the air.

 

“Dad told me,” Taehyung finally says, glancing up at Jeongguk’s face. “I -” Taehyung breaks into a laugh, “I can’t believe you,” he says.

 

Jeongguk blushes, scrunching up the corner of his duvet to occupy his fidgeting fingers.

 

“I mean - you - you asked his permission, ” Taehyung continues incredulously, cocking his head up curiously at Jeongguk.

 

Yeah. I’m crazy, I know.

 

Jeongguk smiles and shrugs, “I wanted it to be a real date.”

 

It’s Taehyung’s turn to blush. He turns his face away burying it more deeply into his scarf. The action only makes him look more adorable if that’s even possible at this point.

 

Jeongguk resists the urge to scoot over closer to him.

 

“So, a real date. Um. Is that cool?” Jeongguk says, and barely makes out a half-whispered “Okay,” muffled beneath the scarf. The top of Taehyung’s cheeks peeking out from the fabric tint pink.

 

Jeongguk grins, “Okay what Tae?” he says cheekily.

 

“Okayadate,” Taehyung mumbles, words slurred together. He peers out at Jeongguk from the top of his scarf.

 

“Cute Taehyungie,” he coos, feeling remarkably more confident than a minute prior.

 

“Shut up,” Taehyung glares, “Don’t call me that,” he says, head emerging from the scarf.

 

“What about baby then?” Jeongguk teases and Taehyung’s eyebrows shoot up sky high.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” Jeongguk reassures quickly, forgetting for a second that Taehyung is not used to this. He has to take it slow.

 

It’s hard, patience was never his strong suit and Taehyung is becoming more damn irresistible as the days go by. Jeongguk wonders again for the fortieth or fiftieth time that week how he was so blind.

 

Taehyung smiles up at him shyly, “It’s okay. I gotta go, but - tomorrow?”

 

“Tomorrow,” Jeongguk smiles, the promise hanging in the air between them.

 

---

 

NEW YEARS EVE (6:00PM)

 

Jeongguk fusses and fusses, although he’s not sure why he cares. The floor of his room is hidden beneath a growing layer of clothes. He pulls of the tenth top he’s tried on (despite them all being indistinguishable from each other) and huffs, collapsing on the bed.

 

It’s not like Taehyung is going on a date with him for his appearance. He’s never met anyone that’s so un-shallow in his entire life.

 

Still, he’s nervous.

 

He decides eventually on a plain black shirt, black jeans and a black jacket.

 

Black is good. Black makes me look good? I think???

 

Jeongguk gently pushes his mother out of the way as he barges into her bedroom claiming place in front of her full-length mirror. Previous to this point he’s been perched on his bed, bending over in half trying to take in his entire outfit in a small mirror. Enough is enough.

 

Jeongguk’s mother holds back a smirk as he dances frantically in front of the mirror. Jeongguk smooths down his shirt, tucks it in, untucks it, tucks it in. He swipes some hair product hastily putting it on as he glances at the time. Untucks his shirt.

 

“Go,” his mother shoos him out with a kiss, smiling in amusement at his antics. "Don't crash my car."

 

Jeongguk’s picked a seafood joint on the waterfront, knowing it’s Taehyung’s favourite cuisine. Not to mention the place screams romance, decked out with an impressive array twinkling fairy lights. The tables are widely spaced and intimate. It’ll be a lot better actually being able to hear Taehyung speak rather than taking him to a New Year’s rager. Plus, he figures it has to be the other’s first date and Jeongguk wants to make it memorable. Memorable enough that he’ll get himself another date (and hopefully another, and another).

 

His mind absentmindedly wanders to his friends. He has barely seen them since school went out. Jun-Young still invited him out for New Years as was customary but it felt more like the gesture was out of obligation. The latter had looked relieved when Jeongguk declined and he felt quite the same way.

 

---

 

It’s a surprisingly still night. The air is chilly but the lack of wind makes it a lot more bearable. The restaurant is lit up with fairy lights and Jeongguk’s snagged a spot right next to the roaring fireplace. The outer walls of the restaurant are made of glass providing a spectacular vantage point to look out to the city across the water. It’s movie-level perfect. Not to mention his date.

 

Taehyung’s wearing his shirt – the one from the play. The one that Jeongguk silently decides makes him look like an angel. Not that he needs much assistance in the matter. If heaven really was all about good deeds Jeongguk is sure that Taehyung would top the list.

 

The soft lighting illuminates Taehyung’s face and Jeongguk tries his best not to stare – and drool. He doesn’t manage so well, only bouncing back to reality when Taehyung’s voice filters through into his daydream.

 

“I still can't believe you asked my father's permission.”

 

Jeongguk reddens ever so slightly, “I told you, I wanted this to be a real date.”

 

Taehyung dips his head at that shyly, preoccupying himself with his food.

 

Jeongguk attempts to eat delicately before breaking into laughter as Taehyung practically wolfs down his food mumbling in appreciation. He swears he doesn’t preen a little when he hears a mumbled “Best date ever." If only he’d known previously that prawns were the way to his heart.

 

Taehyung relaxes a little greatly relieving Jeongguk who had been somewhat stumbling through conversation. They’d never had this layer of tension, of unsurety. Then again, all previous time spent together didn’t have the label ‘date’ staring them in the face.

 

An hour later and they’ve plowed their way through sizeable meals and a sizeable amount of conversation topics. Jeongguk groans a little when their dessert is brought out.

 

“Shit, you eat a lot,” he remarks, eyes sweeping over Taehyung’s decidedly smaller frame with amusement.

 

Taehyung grins with a wink, scooping a sinfully large scoop of dessert and plopping it into his mouth with a contented sigh. Jeongguk attempts to follow suit but falls short, unable to continue halfway through. He rushes Taehyung through his second half who grumbles half-heartedly. “Come on,” Jeongguk urges, pulling a pouting Taehyung away from his last three spoonfuls.

 

Taehyung protests when Jeongguk makes for the bill but he won’t hear a word of it. “We’re going on a mystery drive,” Jeongguk announces, successfully diverting the other’s attention as he swipes his card frantically.

 

---

 

Taehyung’s eyes light up as Jeongguk steers the car into a parking lot. He cranes his neck trying to make out just exactly what their destination is.

 

“Before we do this,” Jeongguk announces dramatically. Taehyung eyes him face a mixture of curiosity and amusement.

 

“Before we do this,” he repeats, “I just want to say that a life's gotta be about more than achieving stuff - like on your list. It's about working with what you already have right now at your fingertips - you know, spontaneously.”

 

Taehyung giggles softly, “What are you talking about Jeonggukie?”

 

“Fun.” Jeongguk smirks with an exaggerated wink.

 

Taehyung's standing with a helmet haphazardly balanced on his head. His hair sweeps out at different angles. His tongue sticks out in concentration. Jeongguk coaches enthusiastically from the side.

 

“Swing! Keep your bat parallel to the ground. Follow through. Follow through!” Taehyung is laughing too hard to hit anything. The balls keep coming. He eventually ducks out of the way sinking into the ground with laughter.

 

Jeongguk patiently tries again, wrapping his arms around Taehyung’s waist in order to ‘show him’. It’s so horribly cliche but Jeongguk completely understands why it’s done.Taehyung is none the wiser, missing the reddening colour in Jeongguk’s cheeks as he grasps Taehyung’s warm hands guiding them.

 

He leans into the other voluntarily, very much taking advantage of their positioning.

 

“Are you trying to cuddle me?” Taehyung queries in amusement, Jeongguk startling. Taehyung twists in the other’s rather firm grasp to look up at him eyes sparkling.

 

“Didn’t peg you as a cuddler,” he says with a laugh.

 

Jeongguk’s face turns a deep shade of red. He prays the darkening sky will obscure it. “Let’s go,” he grabs Taehyung’s hand ignoring the comment. He thrills a little in the interlacing of their fingers as he drags him to the car to make for their next destination.

 

---

 

The car roars into the night, Jeongguk going only slightly above the speed limit. A sign for the approaching state line whips past them.

 

“Did you know the cells in our bodies are always changing. In six or seven years all your cells have changed. You could be a completely new person from the inside out.” Jeongguk watches a lot of documentaries. No one else had ever appreciated his fact spewing before – not before Taehyung.

 

“That what's happening to you, only faster,” Taehyung says with a smile. Jeongguk grins and pulls the car over motioning for Taehyung to get out. Jeongguk takes Taehyung's hand and pulls him toward some invisible place.

 

“Where? What are we doing?”

 

Jeongguk keeps tugging Taehyung and he follows, laughing.

 

“Stand right here,” Jeongguk instructs as he leans down and lifts one of Taehyung’s feet a foot from the other.

 

“You're acting crazy,” Taehyung remarks,

 

“You're straddling the state line. You're in two places at once,” Jeongguk beams.

 

Taehyung blinks, thrice, perhaps in astonishment at the solution to one of his wishes. Or perhaps at the fact that Jeongguk remembered something he’d mentioned in passing weeks ago.

 

Jeongguk smiles as Taehyung runs at him, throwing his arms around his neck in delight. His body is soft and warm against Jeongguk’s in contrast to the cold bite in the air. “Thank you,” Taehyung whispers, into the crook of Jeongguk’s neck, his lips sending a shuddering vibration down Jeongguk’s spine.

 

They stay that way, entwined in each other for a moment until Taehyung pulls away, eyes bright.

 

“You’re really something aren’t you?” Taehyung says. “I knew there was more to you,” he says with a smile that removes any last lingering cold Jeongguk feels. It could damn well be the middle of summer for all he knows.

 

---

 

The last stop of their destination is back down by the water’s edge. It’s a starry night and the moon is out on full display, the water glimmering silver in its reflection. Taehyung and Jeongguk walk onto the bridge amidst the sight of fireworks booming in the near-distance.

 

“It's places like this that make me certain there's a God, or something more,” Taehyung whispers gesturing to the scene in front of them.

 

Jeongguk instinctively pulls closer, “You're sometimes not sure?”

 

“I'm sure. Pretty sure. It's like the wind. I can't see it but I feel it.” Jeongguk closes his eyes. Feeling the wind. Opens them again, rejecting the idea. “We can measure wind though,” he says.

 

“What do you actually know with religion?” Jeongguk asks.

 

Taehyung looks contemplative. Beautiful under the light. The distant fireworks cast a glow of fiery colours that dance in his eyes. Jeongguk watches, mesmerised.

 

“I don't know about religion. But Wonder. Beauty. Joy.” Taehyung’s voice drops a decibel, “Love.” His face crinkles slightly as he blushes a faint pink in embarrassment.

 

“My mother told me God is love, so when you're feeling love, you're feeling God.”

 

Jeongguk leans in closer, their sides brushing, wrapping one arm around Taehyung’s waist. He’s pleased to discover the other doesn’t pull away.

 

“Maybe you're not supposed to understand everything,” Jeongguk says softly as he slowly leans in a little closer toward him.

 

It’s quiet between them after that, an amicable silence. The fireworks have petered out in the distance. The wind has picked up its pace again but the breeze barely registers on Jeongguk’s radar.

 

Taehyung. Taehyung. Taehyung.

 

It’s the only thought passing through his brain as if it’s a broken record.

 

Jeongguk eventually breaks the silence.

 

“I might kiss you,” he warns, his heartbeat changing pace rapidly as the words fall from his lips.

 

Taehyung looks down shyly at his feet, “I might do it wrong,” he whispers.

 

Jeongguk feels overwhelmed with tenderness. “Not possible,” he replies, voice incredibly soft.

 

He reaches in and cups Taehyung’s face, thumb brushing his cheekbone lightly. Taehyung eventually raises his head, looking directly into Jeongguk’s eyes. It’s all very slow, but Jeongguk finally leans in, closing the short distance separating them. Their lips brush ever so slightly and Jeongguk pulls away observing Taehyung’s reaction. He’s careful, gentle. Two adjectives that have never really been used as descriptors for Jeongguk before.

 

“Is this okay?” he asks, wrapping his other arm more tightly around the other’s waist. Taehyung nods, cheeks blushing prettily as he leans in this time and kisses Jeongguk back. The kiss is tender, soft and Jeongguk has kissed a thousand times before but never like this. He’s never felt this.

 

Jeongguk pulls away before leaning in for a third time, gently prying Taehyung’s lips open with his tongue. His lips fall open compliantly and Jeongguk tastes the faint traces of hot chocolate on his tongue. Taehyung’s arms wrap more tightly around Jeongguk pulling them chest to chest.

 

It’s dizzying and amazing all wrapped up in one. Jeongguk reluctantly breaks the kiss before he gets too carried away.

 

“I think I might be falling for you, Taehyung,” he whispers, nose-to-nose, heart thudding frantically in his chest. Something that feels a lot like ‘I love you’ feels lodged in his chest.

 

“You said you wouldn’t,” Taehyung whispers looking up at him eyes shining with unshed tears. He reaches out to stroke a hand through Jeongguk’s hair, brushing it off of his face. Taehyung pulls him in close for another kiss, effectively short-circuiting Jeongguk’s brain. Whatever words he’d intended to say next disappear.

 

After a few moments, Taehyung drops his chin onto Jeongguk’s shoulder. Smiling, glowing even, but slightly aloof, staring down at the water. The moonlight bounces back, his brown eyes reflecting golden glints. Taehyung eventually turns back to face him.

 

He smiles, “You make me feel-” he pauses to search for the right words, Loved. And - less strange.”

 

Jeongguk blinks at the foreign feeling of tears building somewhere behind his eyelids. He kisses Taehyung one more, on his front porch an hour later. Jeongguk leaves, a little dizzy – but a very different high from the last New Year’s Eve.

 

Chapter Text

 

JEONGGUK’S BEDROOM – 8.00PM

JANUARY

 

It’s two weeks after New Year’s Eve. A long two weeks. It’s funny how time is malleable, stretching out slowly or passing by at the speed of light. Taehyung had set off on vacation with his father, the morning of the 1st of January. Since then time seemingly paused for Jeongguk. Minutes ticking over the length of hours. A fortnight in his absence elongated like a cruel winter, who dips its fingers into the beginning of spring.

 

Jeongguk initially struggled to keep himself occupied. The days dragged on painfully slow, his thoughts constantly pervaded by Taehyung, Taehyung, Taehyung. He ended up spending a lot of time with Hoseok’s family, and had drawn himself quite a following with the other younger boys in the area. Jeongguk now felt a responsibility of sorts. The appointed elder brother.

 

For many, maturation is a slow becoming, an unfolding caterpillar’s chrysalis. For Jeongguk it was a near-instant transformation. He’d cast aside so quickly the fictitious self he’d so carefully constructed. To whoever coined the simple phrase ‘be yourself’, Jeongguk was a testament to its importance. Removing the façade had been like lifting a literal weight from his shoulders.

 

Jeongguk had bumped into some old friends a few times, only to encounter awkward, stilted greetings (if not outright blank looks from some of them). It didn’t bother him too much.

 

But now, now that it’s 8pm the night before school starts, apprehension is beginning to build somewhere deep in his stomach.

 

At least I have Taehyung.

 

Being ostracized at school isn’t something Jeongguk has had to deal with – well – ever. As much as he’s grown as a person, there’s still that innate desire to be accepted, to feel welcome. He wonders how Taehyung has put up with it all these years. Jeongguk now understands how truly pathetic it all is. Social standing, the popular and the non. But still, he can’t shake off the nerves of entering school the next morning for the first time as a complete outsider. He tells himself he doesn’t care, because he doesn’t. It still doesn’t stop the nerves tingling in the pit of his belly.

 

His door creaks open, “Guk, phone for you.”

 

Jeongguk leaps out of his bed, nearly tackling his mother in the process as he greedily grabs the phone from her grasp. He nudges her gently out of the room. Shuts the door firmly behind. Flicks the lock with a soft click.

 

“Taehyung?” he breathes, falling onto his back and sinking into the mattress. There’s a pause for a beat. Jeongguk sucks in a gasp, because maybe he was wrong, maybe it’s not…

 

“Gukkie,” sings out a familiar deep voice. A voice Jeongguk’s had the absolute displeasure of missing for two long, long weeks. Taehyung’s voice filters through the phone bringing with it a soothing blanket that envelops Jeongguk’s rickety nerves. Any hesitation he is feeling about entering school the next day seeps away, unimportant. Taehyung is here. Taehyung is with him. And it might be cheesy, but to Jeongguk at present nothing else matters much.

 

Jeongguk lies there wordlessly, revels in the sound of Taehyung’s voice. He brushes a thumb absentmindedly across his lower lip. Recalls the sensation of it pressed up against the other’s mouth. The memory has replayed often in Jeongguk’s head; a continuous, near torturous loop whenever he is close to drifting off to sleep. Each second memorized and replayed with a clarity lacking in many other memories he stores.

 

“You there?” Taehyung queries and Jeongguk sits up abruptly. Realizes with reddening cheeks that he’s simply been lying there. Drinking in the sound of the other’s voice. His face is stretched out into what he presumes is an undeniably sappy grin.

 

He coughs, “Yup, yeah, sorry. I’m here, you’re here?”

 

Taehyung laughs breezily, and Jeongguk can hear him settling into his own bed. He wonders what his room looks like. As he stares at his own blank ceiling, he pictures Taehyung’s covered in stars and planets. Probably glow in the dark.

 

“I just got back an hour ago,” Taehyung informs him, causing Jeongguk to pout involuntarily. Call him prematurely clingy, but surely Taehyung could’ve called earlier – (as in immediately when he got in the door – that would’ve been the considerate course of action). Does he know how much Jeongguk has been suffering?

 

“I missed you,” Jeongguk blurts out. Because he has missed Taehyung so much. Going from what he somewhat smugly defines as the best date in history, to being cut off for two weeks, is difficult to say the least. It’s nice being able to be honest. To say I miss you. With Taehyung he knows that ‘social etiquette’ doesn’t apply. It’s a great relief as that voids the necessity of playing ‘games’ – games of cat and mouse. Who calls first. Who is more interested. Who is more aloof. A common occurrence at their stage of relationship.

 

A relationship? We’re in a relationship right?

 

Taehyung chuckles softly through the phone, “Missed you too.” Jeongguk can imagine his slow, easy smile stretching across his face. His eyes crinkling into crescents. God he’s really really missed him.

 

They talk easily. Taehyung entertains him with little snippets of his holiday. Jeongguk makes him laugh as he relays his antics with Hoseok and his new ‘brothers’. Jeongguk laughs a whole lot. Taehyung laughs even more. It’s easy, so easy, and they talk endlessly, the time fading into the night as if it’s nothing. Jeongguk’s never been an easy talker. He often finds himself struggling for words to say, anxiously searching for common ground in conversations. With Taehyung there is none of that. The words just roll right off his tongue and are accepted with a soft giggle on the other end.

 

Taehyung yawns loudly through the phone, then sputters off into a mumbled apology. Jeongguk ignores the mild burn behind his eyelids. Taehyung yawns again as Jeongguk rolls over and blinks at his alarm clock. It glares at him from the other side of the bed. The neon red numbers 3.21AM stare at him. He groans in synchronization with Taehyung’s third yawn.

 

“It’s late,” Taehyung whispers, voice taking on that husky quality as he heads towards the cusp of slumber. He yawns for a fourth time, this time setting Jeongguk off in tandem. They agree reluctantly that it’s probably time to get some sleep. Just as Taehyung is wishing him a good night, Jeongguk cuts him off hurriedly.

 

“Wait, uh, Tae?”

 

“Mmm?” Taehyung hums. Jeongguk can hear the distinct sleepiness in his tone now, the type that blurs your words together and causes you to repeat your sentences. It’s endearing. He smiles, inviting the image of a sleepy, cuddly Taehyung into his mind.

 

“I’ll meet up with you in the morning? Go to school together?”

 

Taehyung laughs, his voice dropping an octave lower if that were possible, “Don’t make me late,” he slurs slightly. His voice is barely an exhaled breath, but Jeongguk makes out every syllable as if it were uttered slowly to a child learning to speak. That’s how closely he clings onto every word that falls from Taehyung’s lips.

 

Jeongguk promises a thousand times over. He says goodnight cringing a little at himself as he stays, cheek pressed up on the phone until he hears Taehyung end the call with a beep. He wasn’t about to go through the whole ‘you hang up first’ argument, but he does feel a strange sense of satisfaction that it wasn’t him. It’s cheesy and ridiculous. But he kind of gets it. Even if it is only teenagers or protagonists on bad rom-coms. It’s a little bit ridiculous but a whole lot nice. Having someone to talk to that you don’t want to hang up on. Jeongguk lies in bed, staring again at the ceiling. His stomach now more settled at the thought of tomorrow.

 

He has Taehyung, everything will be okay.

 

---

 

Jeongguk paces impatiently outside Taehyung’s house, head darting up every so often to check the front door for his familiar face to emerge. The school day looms before him, and the heightened nerves from the day before have quelled to a low buzz of caution.

 

His head jerks up abruptly at the crash-bang of Taehyung’s front door opening. The latter bounding down the steps towards him. Jeongguk stills as he takes in the other, who is grinning from ear-to-ear. A rush of something fond and familiar hits him. And yeah – he missed him, but seeing him right there makes him realize just how much.

 

God, I’ve got it bad.

 

Suddenly Taehyung is there, mere centimeters away. Within reach. Taehyung prods him in the chest. “Gonna say hello?” he jests, the sound of his voice releasing any remaining caution sitting in Jeongguk’s bones about the day ahead.

 

“S-sorry,” Jeongguk stutters, a rosy pink hitting the top of his cheeks, “Hey.”

 

He feels strangely shy, which is absolutely ridiculous considering they spoke for a good seven hours the night prior. There is just something about the middle of the night that allows people to open up to one another. In a way that’s not quite the same in the daylight. But it’s Taehyung. Taehyung, who is the same no matter what point the sun is at in the sky. Taehyung, who could have the world’s deepest conversation over breakfast. Taehyung, who would casually mumble profound advice in the school parking lot. Taehyung, who is the same whether it’s bright or dark or rainy or sunny. The thought comforts Jeongguk.

 

“Hey yourself,” Taehyung grins. He pushes forward a thermos to Jeongguk, who accepts it with a bright smile. He goes to take a sip. Taehyung latches onto his wrist, muttering about burning his tongue. Jeongguk doesn’t quite hear, fascinated with the brush of the other’s long fingers on his own skin. Taehyung’s fingers are cold in the morning, he discovers.

 

“You remembered?” Jeongguk says when he’s finally allowed a taste. “Black, like your soul, ” Taehyung chuckles, “But a small dash of hot chocolate because you’re sweet.” Jeongguk blushes at that, looks at the other with a small smile. And it might just be how he takes his coffee, but to Jeongguk, it’s that he remembers.

 

They turn side-by-side to head down the street toward school. It’s a pleasant morning. Warm. The sun is escaping out from the remnants of cloud cover, melting away the thin layer of frost that coats the grass. Jeongguk walks in synchronization with Taehyung. A comfortable silence settles over them. Taehyung looks up at him, eyes widening as Jeongguk reaches out to take his hand, interlacing their fingers. Taehyung’s fingers are still cold so it’s only practical.

 

Jeongguk watches him out of the corner of his eye, and silently decides his surprised expression is perhaps his cutest yet. Jeongguk smiles. Mirroring his, Taehyung’s face stretches into a smile of his own. He chatters away to Jeongguk. Swings their arms lightly in an almost juvenile fashion. It’s a short fifteen minute walk to their school, but somehow it’s all over in seconds. Time is playing tricks on Jeongguk again.

 

Jeongguk grimaces as the tall brick buildings come into view. He’d stay with Taehyung alone for the entire day if he could. Maybe?

 

“Well,” Taehyung says with a shrug. He releases Jeongguk’s hand as they cross over into the school parking lot. Jeongguk shakes his head and grasps Taehyung’s hand firmly. Taehyung looks up in surprise, the expression sending a flurry of guilt through Jeongguk. Because of course he’d be surprised. Not so long ago Jeongguk had been ashamed to say ‘ hello’ to him, yet here he was – ready to parade into school hands clasped, as if he was waving a sign that said ‘Hello, yes, I’m with Kim Taehyung’. It scares Jeongguk a little that he’d possibly even do such a thing. He’d do anything to reassure Taehyung. Maybe he should?

 

Taehyung’s voice lowers to a hushed whisper, “Are you my boyfriend?” He drops, as if he were asking the time. Jeongguk chokes and looks sideways with an indignant expression. “Yes?” he huffs, pouting at the other, incredulous. Taehyung stifles a laugh and gives Jeongguk’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Oh, oh okay. I just – you never asked?” He ducks his head shyly in an attempt to hide the blush creeping up his face.

 

“Oh,” Jeongguk smiles, because I mean no he hadn’t, but hey – if this isn’t dating, then what the heck is? “Do you wanna be my boyfriend?” he asks quietly, his indignation receding as it is taken over by a sudden irrational fear. Because if Taehyung didn’t?

 

Jeongguk pauses. Unable to finish the train of thought.

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung exhales, sending a dazzling smile in Jeongguk’s direction that makes him somewhat dizzy. It’s too early for this suffering.

 

They’re half-way through the parking lot by this stage. Jeongguk feigns oblivion to the increasing number of stares he can feel turning in their direction. Taehyung simply laughs, points out a spider crawling by in the grass, compliments Jeongguk’s t-shirt, idly comments on the weather. Jeongguk realizes he’s trying. He’s trying so hard to distract him, to comfort him. With every stare or whisper Taehyung speaks more loudly, an irrelevant observation, a passing comment.

 

“You okay?” Taehyung mutters lowly, when at one point Jeongguk stutters on a reply. Jeongguk turns up the corners of his mouth but it’s a little forced. He wonders – how Taehyung has put up with this. How he has gone through this all these years, and managed to turn out how he is. Tears threaten to form, an uninvited heat building behind his eyelids. The unfairness of it all. For how cruel he had been, for how cruel many of them had been.

 

Jeongguk wonders how someone can be the kindest, most generous, gentle person on the planet in spite of this. He glances over, witnessing the other continue to send everyone else smiles and nods, no matter the response. Some of them openly glare. Others look shyly back as if they want to reciprocate it but don’t. A few smile and wave openly.

 

Everyone’s stupid. So fucking stupid.

 

Jeongguk’s shoulders stiffen as they make their way up the school steps, down the long grey corridor. The hushed whispers feel louder inside, bouncing off the walls and into Jeongguk’s ears uninvited. It’s harder to block it out in the confined space. He focuses on the soft squelch of his sneakers on the linoleum. His free hand clenches instinctively as he tries to curb his anger. Because Taehyung doesn’t deserve this, no one does, but especially not him. Jeongguk can feel his temperature rising and he glances over to Taehyung who is apparently unphased. Guilt kicks in again when Jeongguk again comes to the realization that Taehyung is used to this.

 

They finally arrive at their lockers. Both have been kicked in.

 

“Assholes. This happen to you before?”

 

Taehyung shrugs with a laugh, “Every so often”, he looks at Jeongguk, eyes large and sympathetic.

 

Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut and bang, bang, bang, he unceremoniously kicks in each locker in their row. Taehyung startles a little at the show of anger, eyes widening. Jeongguk turns to face him, panting a little from the exertion. He notes a small grin wavering on Taehyung’s face, watches him try to bite it down and look reproachful.

 

Jeongguk flashes a smile, “Now they all match.” Taehyung openly stifles a laugh at that. And hey, maybe it’s not the whole turn the other cheek response that Taehyung excels in, but Jeongguk’s happy to admit he’s not quite so admirable just yet.

 

--

 

Jeongguk struggles through his first few classes, bemoaning the fact that Taehyung and he were separate for all but chemistry. He heads to the cafeteria hesitantly as lunch comes around, heart rising in his throat as he bypasses his old table. It’s occupied by his former ‘friends’. Some of them give him a nod and forced smile, but none make a move to extend an invitation. Jeongguk doesn’t need to ask to know he’s no longer welcome.

 

He collects his food quickly, eyes darting around to find a glimpse of Taehyung. His breath hitches in his throat when he spots him approaching. Taehyung walks towards him slowly. His face scrunched up slightly. His eyes are devoid of tears but Jeongguk can clearly see they are a little red around the edges. Possibly as the result of a sweater sleeve being pulled across them roughly to remove the evidence. Jeongguk’s guilt spikes as he sees the other approach him with hesitance. Sympathy etches out on Taehyung’s features at the fact that the other’s alone. Jeongguk looks up and attempts to smile brightly. He gestures to a free table for them to sit down at. Takes hold of Taehyung’s arm when he’s close enough, “What's wr-?”

 

The public address system crackles obnoxiously causing the entire cafeteria population to cover their ears with a groan. Jeongguk takes Taehyung's shoulder and nudges him forward as the room falls into murmured whispers.  

 

“Let’s go,” Jeongguk says, gently taking Taehyung’s hand in his own and tugs him out of the cafeteria without waiting for a response. It’s silent for a beat until Taehyung registers they’re making their way towards the back exit. “Where are we going?” he questions. Jeongguk feels him stiffen slightly as they bypass another set of staring eyes. He tunes out the rude whispers he can vaguely make out.

 

“Are we skipping school?” Taehyung queries, Jeongguk simply looks at him sideways with a mischievous grin. He leads him down the road and out of school. Across a nearby field, towards a tall cylindrical tower. Taehyung looks up in confusion, following Jeongguk up the winding staircase. There are gaps in places. Some of the stairs are eroded with rust. Taehyung slips about halfway up and Jeongguk turns around and hoists him on his back. He ignores his feeble attempts of protest and hauls him up the rest of the way.

 

They exit the staircase to a 360 degree overlook of the little town. Jeongguk smiles as he takes in Taehyung’s disbelieving expression. “How do you know this place?” “Old fire spotting lookout,” Jeongguk explains, “and I know just about every place in Beaufort,” he says with a wink.

 

They press against the wall’s concrete exterior, looking off to the curve of the horizon, where sea meets sky. It’s a relatively clear day, the light breeze chasing away any insistent clouds. Something in the air sparkles and Jeongguk could swear the same light dances in Taehyung’s eyes.

 

“On rainy days, up here you’re above the clouds,” he says. Taehyung nods impressed, the faint red around his eyes slowly fading away. They stand there in companionable silence. Jeongguk reaches out an arm to wrap around the other, his thumb brushing up and down Taehyung’s side.

 

“You wanna talk?”

 

Taehyung shakes his head, “Nah, it’s nothing. Usual stuff.”

 

Jeongguk nods, a worried expression furrowing his brow. He pulls a deck of cards from his jacket pocket. They sit, backs to the wall and he starts to shuffle. Not too well. Taehyung reaches out and takes the deck and to Jeongguk’s surprise he shuffles like a Vegas dealer. Jeongguk quirks an eyebrow, Taehyung sending him a smug smile in response.

 

“Still a lot you don’t know about me,” he quips. Jeongguk chuckles, “Do you have a secret gambling addiction?” Taehyung throws back his head at that and laughs. It’s a welcome change from red-rimmed eyes and solemn expressions.

 

Watching him laugh is mesmerizing to Jeongguk. The sun filtering down across half his face, lighting it up. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, maybe Taehyung is the one lighting up the day. “Maybe I do,” Taehyung whispers, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial tone.

 

---

 

Taehyung is already outside waiting when Jeongguk arrives at his house a few days later. Jeongguk gets out and walks over to him. They share a small kiss of greeting. It’s only the third kiss they’ve ever shared, the first on New Year’s Eve, the second a quick peck goodbye the day at the tower. The kiss is soft and chaste. Sweet like Taehyung. Jeongguk doesn’t want to rush anything.

 

Jeongguk pulls away, his hand still lingering on Taehyung’s cheek “What’d you tell your dad?”

 

“The truth. I just left you out of it.”

 

Jeongguk nods and they make their way around the corner, through to the cemetery. A place that has somewhat become their own. It isn’t exactly a stereotypically romantic setting, but they weren’t exactly a stereotypical couple either.

 

Taehyung skips excitedly ahead to the storage shed, running out with the pieces of his telescope. He begins to fit them together with speed and finesse.

 

“How old were you when you built this, again?”

 

Taehyung looks up, bangs falling across his face. His eyes gleam in the moonlight. “I was twelve,” he says, sending Jeongguk a soft smile. There isn’t a trace of boastfulness in it at all. Jeongguk shakes his head, amazed.

 

Taehyung smiles, “It's not that complicated.”

 

Jeongguk sends him a doubtful stare in response, “Where’s the bigger one you’re building?”

 

Taehyung pauses, screws in another bolt and moves away with a clap of his hands to inspect his work. “In my backyard,” he pauses. “I kinda lied before. It's hardly started. But when it's done, it will have twice the power of this one.”

 

Jeongguk clucks his tongue in disapproval, “Wait, you lied?” he says, jabbing a finger in Taehyung’s direction.

 

“Yeah, kinda.”

 

Jeongguk grins, shaking his head, “You’re a bad influence on me Kim Taehyung.”

 

Taehyung winks in response, “Told you I was wild.”

 

Jeongguk places the back of his hand on his forehead in mock horror, “I am so unprepared.”

 

They settle into comfortable silence shortly after, Jeongguk watching as Taehyung continues to set up the telescope. There’s a soft breeze infiltrating the air, but it’s not altogether unpleasant. Jeongguk wouldn’t really mind if it was stronger, cold air always seemed to be a free pass for more cuddling.

 

Taehyung looks back at him, the soft light of the moon falling across his face. He looks beautiful, as always. It’s true what they say about inner beauty. When someone shines from inward out, nothing’s comparable to it.

 

“So what do you want to see?”

 

Jeongguk hums in contemplation, “Mars?”

 

“Mars doesn't rise until about 2:30AM,” Taehyung says. He sits down next to Jeongguk. Nestling in by his side. Jeongguk pulls the backpack off his back and unzips it open. Taehyung leans in, peering over his shoulder with interest as he attempts to make out the contents.

 

“A blanket?” Taehyung enquires, as Jeongguk pulls the item out with a grin.

 

Taehyung picks up one corner of the blanket gingerly, waving it Jeongguk’s face. “Are you trying to seduce me?” he demands, eyebrow raised sky-high.

 

Jeongguk shrugs feigning nonchalance, stifles a laugh. “No. Why? Are you seducible?”

 

“No,” Taehyung shakes his head forcefully.

 

Jeongguk smiles, “That’s what I thought.”

 

“Not yet, ” Taehyung corrects with a grin as he watches with amusement as Jeongguk’s face falls into a shell-shocked expression.

 

“Where’s Pluto?” Jeongguk asks, wordlessly filing the hope of ‘not yet’ somewhere into the depths of his brain. He plucks at a stray blade of grass, distractedly breaking it into little pieces, watches them flutter away in the wind.

 

Taehyung rests his hand on his chin. He looks over at Jeongguk thoughtfully, “Pluto’s in Virgo, but it's about one thousand times too faint to see.” Jeongguk nods. Taehyung’s extensive wealth of knowledge never ceases to amaze him. And not just about space, but about any random topic on the planet.

 

“So what's the best thing I can see tonight?”

 

Taehyung gets a wicked glint in his eye, “Me?”

 

Jeongguk pushes him away softly with a groan. Seconds later he’s begging for him to come back closer. “C’mere,” he implores, pulling Taehyung into his side, wraps the blanket around their shoulders.

 

Yeah, this was a totally good idea.

 

Jeongguk grins in the darkness, Taehyung nuzzling in closer to his side, courtesy of the small-sized blanket. He hadn’t chosen it on purpose, of course not. Then Taehyung leans in. He abruptly presses a small kiss half on Jeongguk’s lips half on his cheek, making the other startle slightly in surprise.

 

“Missed,” Jeongguk chuckles lowly, Taehyung dipping his head shyly away.

 

“Can I-?“

 

Taehyung nods, leaning up to press the answer against Jeongguk’s lips. It’s soft and sweet as always, but Taehyung leans in a little further, a little more at ease with the kiss this time. His lips part pliantly without any suggestion. Jeongguk curls his arms around the other’s waist, pulling him in closer. Jeongguk is lost, floating somewhere in the realm between dream and reality. He is lost in the pink of Taehyung’s cheeks and his lips and the press of his fingers that entwine with his own. Taehyung is in a similar state, eyes falling shut as if in reverent prayer. Every exhale comes out unsteady. Eventually they part, slightly out of breath. Taehyung hums contentedly, head lolling onto Jeongguk’s shoulder. “The second best thing is Jupiter.” He moves slightly. Jeongguk pouts as he emerges from their spot beneath the blanket to swivel the telescope.

 

While he’s waiting, watching, Jeongguk pulls a small piece of paper from out of his back pocket, unfolds it whilst Taehyung is preoccupied with Jupiter.

 

“Can you locate XXI5639I?”

 

Taehyung looks back in confusion, “Yeah?”

 

Jeongguk hands him the piece of paper, a diagram and series of numbers splashed across it that Jeongguk can’t decipher. Taehyung looks at it questioningly, studies it and adjusts the scope.

 

“So, why are we looking at this star?” Taehyung questions. He hums the words to a song Jeongguk doesn’t recognize as he fiddles with the telescope, peering skyward.

 

Jeongguk stutters, suddenly nervous. “B-because I had it named for you. I know it's not an official designation–”

 

Taehyung stops humming, turns to him in obvious shock. He launches himself at Jeongguk effectively cutting off his sentence. Taehyung’s right foot knocks over the telescope in the process.

 

“It's wonderful. I love it. I love you,” he gushes, Jeongguk freezes as the words flow so freely from the other’s mouth. The first time he’s ever heard the words from someone and wanted to, felt it was real. He pauses for a beat, Taehyung’s hair fluffed into the crook of his neck, arms wrapped around his waist. He wants to say something – but silence seems to swallow him whole. He buries his face into Taehyung’s hair, prays he can’t feel the rapid pace of his heart. “Love you too,” he whispers quietly. Jeongguk feels the other’s lips turn up into the shape of a smile pressed against his neck.

 

It’s the first time he fully grasps the meaning behind the word love. It’s the small things, Jeongguk realizes. The sound of Taehyung’s laugh, the fond feeling that creeps across Jeongguk’s chest when the other’s lips curve into a smile. But mostly it’s the way Taehyung makes him feel. The possibilities. That Jeongguk can be anyone he wants to be.

 

It’s the first time Jeongguk admits to himself that it’s not a possibility that he’s falling in love with Taehyung. It’s a reality.

 

Taehyung reaches up for Jeongguk’s chin, thumb brushing across it in a light caress. His touch burns. Taehyung eventually tilts his chin downward as he leans in, eagerly kissing him. It’s even more urgent than the last time, a lot less chaste and a lot more messy. Jeongguk’s supposedly a masterful kisser, but any supposed talent flies out the window when Taehyung licks insistently into his mouth, releasing soft little sighs. Taehyung pulls away suddenly when the kiss grows too heated and Jeongguk’s lips turn to trail down his neck.

 

“It’s okay. I'm stopping,” Jeongguk reassures, pulling away from Taehyung, rubbing a hand on the small of his back, gently. Taehyung breathes out a sigh of relief. The tension visibly seeps away from his shoulders. “It’s nice, I like kissing you a lot,” he admits with a blush, “I’m just not-“

 

“-it’s okay,” Jeongguk cuts him off with a reassuring smile. Taehyung smiles back, nudges one of Jeongguk’s legs. He settles between them with a contented purr-like hum. Jeongguk pulls him close to his chest, winds his arms around Taehyung’s waist.

 

“What's number one?”

 

Taehyung’s voice is soft, shy even, “Fall in love.”

 

Jeongguk strokes his hair, presses a chaste closed-mouth kiss to the nape of his neck. Feels Taehyung shiver at the touch.

 

“Are you falling now?” Jeongguk queries, voice barely audible.

 

Taehyung nods softly, the simple action causing a strange constriction deep in Jeongguk’s chest. “Me too,” he whispers.

 

---

 

Jeongguk enters through the back door to his house shortly before sunrise. His mother, still in her waitress uniform, is sitting at the table, drinking coffee.

 

“A late night or an early morning?” she questions, an eyebrow raised.

 

“Late night,” Jeongguk says, honestly. He walks up to the bench and pours a cup of his own. Settles down opposite his mother.

 

“You?”

 

His mother ignores the question, “Were you with Taehyung?” Jeongguk nods. “You sleeping with him?” Jeongguk frowns and doesn't dignify the question with an answer.

 

“I was cleaning yesterday. I found this.” His mother pulls Jeongguk’s newly revised ‘Life List’ from her pocket. Jeongguk looks up, horrified. She reads it out slowly. “Scuba dive. Go to the moon. Learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphs. Go to college?” She pauses as her eyes glance over the rest of the list. “He talking to you 'bout this stuff?”

 

Jeongguk doesn't answer. He takes the crumpled list from her grasp, smoothes it out on the table.

 

“Honey, some of this is...” she pauses, “farfetched. You take after me. People skills and common sense. Good dependable qualities.”

 

Jeongguk bites back the irritation he feels rising.  “I could take after dad too.” The coffee feels exceptionally bitter as it trickles down his throat.

 

His mother nods, “You do. You're handsome and charming.”

 

“I meant he's a doctor and he has a law degree. I could do something like that.”

 

His mother sighs and Jeongguk flinches as she reaches out to pat his shoulder in a manner he assumes is meant to be reassuring. “That's eight plus years of college and training. And all that doesn't necessarily make you a better human being.”

 

Jeongguk looks at her stubbornly, “I could do it if I tried. Even Principal Kelly thinks so now. And Taehyung.”

 

“That'd be something,” his mother eventually says with a small smile. “But if it doesn't happen, grab for something within reach. Life's tough enough without causing yourself disappointment –“

 

Jeongguk cuts her off, angry now “Whatever my life is, I'm going to be sure I'm never disappointed –“

 

“Disappointment isn't something anyone plans for.” His mother cuts in. Her face creases with lines of sadness one could almost smooth out and read like a book. It’s funny the way pain etches itself visibly across a person’s face, their experiences printed out like a map. Her voice drops a beat, “It catches you by surprise.”

 

There’s a long lull in conversation, the only sound the soft beginning of chirping from the awakening birds outdoors. The dark of the night sky is slowly fading away, the soft pink light of morning seeping through.

 

“Have I told you how proud I am of you?”

 

“Mum, great. But what I want is for me to be proud of me.”

 

---

 

The first school week passes by in a blur. Saturday is finally here. A whole uninterrupted day with Taehyung. After a lot of begging his mother had relented to letting him borrow her car. Selling his own had been an admirable move but it still stung a lot of the time.

 

Jeongguk and Taehyung take a drive, an unknown love song crooning softly on the radio in the background. Accompanied by the soft pitter-patter of light rain. Taehyung reaches out and flips the radio off suddenly. From where he’s sitting Jeongguk can see he's got something playing on his mind. He seems to have drifted a few more times than usual in the conversation today.

 

“You're worried about your college applications?” Jeongguk guesses.

 

“I'm not applying to college.”

 

Jeongguk glances over, stunned, “But you said –“

 

Taehyung shrugs, a small strange smile plays on his lips. A smile Jeongguk’s unfamiliar with. It sends strange unwanted shivers down his spine. “No, you assumed.”

 

Jeongguk looks at him, questioning. Taehyung’s looking out the window, head strained as far as possible in the opposite direction. He traces a stray raindrop with his index finger on the window.

 

“You're going to take a year off? Volunteer?”

 

“No.”

 

“What are you going to -- ?” Jeongguk leaves the sentence hanging in the air. The tension in the car is palpable at this point. Something ugly twists in Jeongguk’s gut. He gets a strange sense of foreboding. Jeongguk drives, eyes intently focused on the white lines of the road, ignoring his erratic heartbeat and breathing that’s turning ragged. But the lines are blurring and his heart won’t steady.

 

“Pull over.”

 

Jeongguk looks up, his panic rising at this point. He can’t imagine what is going wrong. Is Taehyung going to break up with me? Did I do something wrong? What has happened?

 

“Why?” Jeongguk chokes out.

 

Taehyung turns to look at him now, and Jeongguk hadn’t been able to see before, but he can now make out tears glimmering in the corner of his eyes. “Pull over. Now. Please,” Taehyung begs. His tone is laced with desperation. Jeongguk swerves suddenly. He pulls the car over up on a grassy bank.

 

Taehyung gets out of the car, shutting the door behind him with force.  Jeongguk stumbles out quickly following behind him.

 

“Taehyung –?”

 

Taehyung whips around to face him, expression strange, distant. The rain falls more heavily now, as if on cue.

 

“I'm sick.”

 

Jeongguk’s brow creases, “Then I'll take you home. You'll feel better tomorrow.” His heart begins to pound in his chest at an increasing rate. Something feels off, way off. He tries to take his arm. Taehyung shakes off his hand, steps back. Away from him.

 

“Jeongguk. I'm sick - with cancer.”

 

Jeongguk tries to say something. Nothing comes out. His mouth opens and closes like a fish. He wishes he didn’t hang on to every word Taehyung says. Because maybe he wouldn’t have heard that. Maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe if he wasn’t listening so closely to the mumbled confession it wouldn’t be real. His world tilts.

 

“I found out last winter. I'm not really responding well to treatment anymore.” Taehyung’s face crumples.

 

Jeongguk reels, still unable to form a coherent thought. Unable to process anything. The world spins flashes of blue and black in his vision. Tears begin to stream down his face intermingling with raindrops.

 

“Why didn't you tell me?” he manages. The sound of his voice is strangled, unrecognizable, as if it belongs to another.

 

“The doctors said to do everything the same as long as possible.” Taehyung pauses, stares resolutely at the ground. “I didn't want anyone being -- weird around me.”

 

“Including me?!” Jeongguk can vaguely make out shaking, trembling, not quite registering it’s his own body. Taehyung’s face contorts further, a few stray tears escape and slide down his cheeks.

 

“Especially you. God gives me an illness, then you. A cruel joke.” He stalks away from Jeongguk, gets into the car and slams the door shut.

 

Jeongguk stands there unmoving, not knowing what to do. A million thoughts are running through his mind, all too fast for him to decipher except one.

 

 

Taehyung’s sick.

Chapter Text

 

It’s a slow and silent ride back to Taehyung’s house. The radio flickers quietly in the background, rain pelting down on the windshield. Jeongguk’s too distracted to hear anything other than the pounding of his heart, nearly escaping his chest. His grip is tight on the steering wheel. Knuckles whitened. Taehyung looks out the window, Jeongguk can hear his breathing. Shaky. Or maybe it’s his own, he can’t tell.

 

I should say something. What should I say.

 

He says nothing.

 

They eventually pull up outside Taehyung’s house. Neither makes to move and they sit there, the silence unbearable. Heaviness hangs in the air. Silence has always felt comfortable between them before now. But not this.

 

Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut in vain. As if the tighter they are closed the more likely time will rewind and shove the words back in Taehyung’s mouth. Turn back the clock and change the present. But he can’t shift time and he can’t heal the sick. He can’t and he can’t and he can’t.

 

“How bad?” Jeongguk eventually chokes out, not daring to look across at him. Taehyung swallows, his fingers tap an uneven rhythm on the dashboard. “Not good,” he says simply. Jeongguk inhales sharply, his breath catching in his throat. “I’m not letting you die,” his voice cracks. Taehyung turns to look at him, sympathy etched into every line of his face. His eyes are big and searching and sad. So sad.

 

Jeongguk turns slowly to face him, vision hazing over as tears begin to swim. Taehyung ducks his head and averts his gaze as the tears spill freely from Jeongguk’s eyes. Rolling down his cheeks and spilling into his lap. “I’ll give you some time to-” Taehyung pauses, “I’ll call you tomorrow?” Jeongguk vaguely registers his head move up and down. Like a robot, of its own accord. Taehyung pauses with his hand on the door handle, before glancing back at Jeongguk.

 

“Wait,” Jeongguk hops out of the car and walks around to Taehyung. “You’re freezing,” he says, pulling off his hoodie and holding it out. It’s stupid and illogical but he needs to do something. He needs to, he needs to, he needs to.

 

“But I’m home now, I-”

 

“-Please take it,” Jeongguk urges, holding it out to his chest.

 

Taehyung blinks up at him, his hair dampened by the rainfall, sweater clinging to his small frame. He accepts it, pulls it over his head. He could practically swim in it. Jeongguk steps forward and adjusts it. Goes through the motions. Mind blanking.

 

Raindrops roll off Taehyung’s eyelashes onto his cheeks, mirroring Jeongguk’s tears. He smiles, but it’s forced. Jeongguk’s heart lurches. He looks so vulnerable. He rests a hand around Taehyung’s waist, presses a barely-there kiss to his forehead. “I -” he trails off, unable to even formulate words.

 

“Process. Time to process,” Taehyung says, the words sounding dull in contrast to his usual tone. Its deep melody was muted. He turns to leave, walks up to his house without a backward glance. Shoulders sagging.

 

Jeongguk watches through blurred vision as his form grows smaller, eventually disappearing inside. He gets back inside the car. Slams the door shut with so much force the entire car rattles. Leans his head down the steering wheel and screams into the leather.

 

Not Taehyung.

 

He feels numb all over. All feeling lost, nerve-endings cut off. If he could feel he’d realise he is ice-cold. Far enough to be dangerously close to forgetting what warmth feels like.

 

---

 

Jeongguk pulls up at the hospital, tires shrieking on the wet pavement. He marches inside. Pushes forcefully past people, drags the back of his palm across his eyes. Wet. He barges open the door to Taehyung’s father’s office.

 

It’s a far cry from his last entrance. Taehyung’s father appraises him for a second, his expression surprisingly gentle.

 

“How – how long does he have?” Jeongguk croaks, cutting to the chase. His nails draws blood as they press into his palms.

 

Taehyung’s father eyes him sadly, “Two, three months. Maybe less. Maybe more.” He shrugs, resigned, looks down sadly.

 

“So you've given up,” Jeongguk spits. Challenge evident in his voice.

 

Taehyung’s father sighs, “His doctors have. Taehyung and I... We're still praying for a miracle.”

 

Jeongguk appraises him, expression incredulous. “Praying?”

 

“Jeongguk. We've lived with this for over a year now and –”

 

“If there is a God, how could he let this happen?”

 

But by the time Taehyung’s father opens his mouth to explain, Jeongguk's spinning on his heel and headed out the door. He sprints down the corridor blindly. Slams into the side of a wall. Stumbles back.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Jeongguk looks up. A nurse is staring at him, stricken expression. He must look a mess. Does look a mess.

 

“Are you okay?” the nurse repeats, taking a step closer. Jeongguk stumbles backward. Feels himself losing control of his limbs.

 

“N-no,” he stutters, gripping his stomach with his left hand. It hurts. Everything hurts. It’s funny the way one can physically feel sadness. Jeongguk clutches his stomach tighter. Something is piercing at it. Won’t let up.

 

Jeongguk side-steps as the nurse reaches out a hand. Resumes a blind sprint to the exit. The pain spreads from his stomach to his chest. His head pounds. It’s like an amplified migraine. Nails digging into the sides of his head. Nausea and spinning.  He doubles over when he breaks outside. Can’t breathe.

 

---

 

It’s a moonless night, dark. Jeongguk stares up at the sky, expression blank.

 

The stars are swallowed by the eerie darkness. Stars remind him of Taehyung. Tonight there are none to be seen. The now-familiar pain sears through his chest. Taehyung.

 

Jeongguk gets in his mother's car, he hasn't asked but she'll still be asleep by the time he's home. He smoothes out a letter on his lap. It’s torn at the edges, yellowed with age. The ink has faded and it’s barely readable. He pulls out a map to search for an address. Starts up his car, rips down the road. Winds down the window. The air is sharp, brisk, it’s cold, so cold, and Jeongguk invites it in. Relishes in the icy chill that seeps into his bones. Anything to distract him. He shivers, winds down the window to its fullest extent.

 

The streets are relatively empty. Jeongguk is alone.

 

He eventually pulls up at an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Mansions. Big lawns. Wrought iron gates. His car slows as Jeongguk leans forward to read a street sign, and he looks back at the letter. Minutes later he pulls up in front of an impressive house.

 

Jeongguk slams his car door and stands in the street. Stares up. It’s tall, three storeys high. A tall black gate with intricate detailing is wrapped around the outer edge. Jeongguk climbs the fence nimbly, swings over. Shudders at the slight impact as he lands. Walks up to the doorway and pauses before ringing the doorbell.

 

It resounds loudly into the quiet street. Curling his hand into a fist he bangs onto the heavy wooden door. Presses the doorbell again.

 

“Mr. Jeon! Mr. Jeon!” he pauses for a beat, “Dad!” The name is uncomfortable in his mouth, the referred to undeserving of the title.

 

He bangs again loudly. Each knock echoes the loud beating of his heart which feels strangely too large in his chest.

 

The door creaks open slowly. His father stands there, blinking in confusion, red silk dressing gown wrapped around his shoulders. Jeongguk inhales a breath sharply. It’s been a while. But that’s not the point. Taehyung.

 

“Jeongguk?” his father whispers in obvious confusion. “What are you-” Jeongguk steps inside, clutches him. “You have to help me. He’s sick. He’s sick.”

 

His father reaches out to grab him by the wrist.

 

“Jeongguk, who? What is happening?”

 

Jeongguk chokes, “It's Taehyung -- my boyfriend -- he has cancer -- you have to come look at him right now!” His father’s eyes widen and he rubs at them sleepily.

 

“Jeongguk, it's the middle of the night –”

 

“I don't give a shit what time it is!” Jeongguk pulls away, angry.

 

“Jeongguk, that’s not my area of–”

 

“You're a doctor, aren't you?!” Jeongguk backs away from the doorway. Angrily kicks over a decorative planter. It makes a pleasant shattering sound. Break, break. He just wants to break.

 

Why did I come here.

 

“Jeongguk! I'll look into it. Please come back!” his father calls out, voice dissipating into the wind. Useless.

 

---

 

One week in and Jeongguk hasn’t seen Taehyung since the revelation. He’s disappeared but he hasn’t. Dodging phone calls, absent from school, not answering when Jeongguk hammers on the door twice a day.

 

Two days ago he could’ve sworn he saw a glimpse of him in the window upstairs, before the curtains were pulled tightly closed, his heart constricting and mirroring the motion.

 

“Jeongguk, honey.”

 

Jeongguk sits up with a start, his eyes sealed shut with sleep. From beneath heavy lids he can sense the light of early morning filtering into the room.

 

“Jeongguk.” His mother shakes his shoulders gently as he groans. “What’s all this? College applications?”

 

Jeongguk forces his eyes open. They’re red-rimmed with an impressive array of darkened circles situated beneath. His mother takes one look and clamps a hand over her mouth. He figures he must look terrible.

 

“College applications?” she repeats softly, reaches out to grab one closest to her. There’s a littered array covering the table. Jeongguk catches her by the wrist, tries to pry it from her grasp. Too late.

 

“Taehyung?” his mother turns to look at him confused. Reaches out to pick up another. Jeongguk sighs and rubs the back of his head. Lets her pick it up. She picks up another. Takes a look at them all. Jeongguk floats, somewhere between sleep and reality. Tired. So tired. Exhaustion takes on a whole new meaning.

 

“Jeonggukie. Why do you have college applications for Taehyung?”

 

Her words pierce through him as his brain finally rouses from his slumber. Brings him crashing back down. Everything hits him again as if it’s that moment in the rain. The ache beneath his ribs flares up again. Reminding him. Taehyung.

 

“Jeongguk? What’s going on?”

 

Jeongguk manages a garbled reply, scoops the papers into his arms and stumbles out the door. Doesn’t look behind. His mother calls out but he’s already gone.

 

Jeongguk half walks, half runs to the post office. Trips over his own legs multiple times along the way. He’s surprised he’s still up and moving. One step after another. The pavement moves slowly beneath him. He keeps his eyes fixated on his shoes, left foot, right foot . Focus on the mundane. Don’t let your mind wander. Taehyung. Too late. Jeongguk bites down hard on his lower lip, draws blood. Taehyung. He picks up the pace, feet now pounding into the pavement. Left foot, right foot . Faster now. His heart races and stops at the same time. Taehyung. The streets are a blur; he crashes into a man walking by. Chokes out a rushed apology and continues. Run. Don’t stop. Taehyung, Taehyung, Taehyung. His name resounds within his mind with each step.

 

It’s like an open wound he can’t stop picking at. The blood sticky and thick, tainting every thought, every memory. It stings. Burns.

 

Rounding a corner he finally makes it to the post office. Doubles over out of breath. A little elderly lady reaches out a frail hand on his shoulders. He feels himself nod in response to the question “Are you okay?” It’s a lie of course. Okay? Anything but. He’s the farthest from okay you could get.

 

He pulls up, wipes the back of his hand against his sweaty forehead. Blanks to the stares he receives. He must look a mess, doesn’t matter. Taehyung.

 

Jeongguk walks up to the counter, stuffs the applications in a variety of envelopes, scrawls out addresses, barely readable. Slams them on the counter. The girl behind the counter stares at him, “You okay, mister?” Jeongguk glares. Places some bills on the counter. Spins around and hightails it out of the post office. Runs.

 

Running seems to be all he wants to do.

 

He runs and runs. His feet heading towards Taehyung’s. He sprints up the stairs, pounds on the door. Taehyung’s father opens the door, but not enough to let him in.

 

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk calls out, trying to push his head around the corner. He glimpses him, in the lounge, looking up like a startled deer.

 

Taehyung’s father pushes him gently in the chest. “Jeongguk, I’m sorry, you’ll have to-”

 

“Dad, it’s fine.” Jeongguk’s heart stops and restarts at the sound of his voice. Taehyung emerges around the doorframe, pushes the door shut softly behind him. Jeongguk’s brain short-circuits because despite the hell he’s going through, there is just something about Taehyung’s face, his eyes that seem as though they are about to reveal the universe, to Jeongguk and Jeongguk only.

 

Taehyung stares at the ground, “I’m sorry, I just don’t know how to face-”

 

Jeongguk steps in immediately, arms circling him in a crushing hug. Taehyung. He’s wearing Jeongguk’s hoodie. Jeongguk’s heart pulsates erratically.

 

“Are you?” Taehyung stutters, trying to pull Jeongguk back to take a look at him.

 

Jeongguk breaks down into sobs. Clinging onto Taehyung. Tightly. He opens his mouth to speak but nothing aside from a shaky exhale escapes his lips.

 

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung repeats. He disentangles one of his arms and begins to smooth the top of Jeongguk’s hair. “Jeongguk,” he repeats, softly, tenderly. Jeongguk shakes. Taehyung gently pries him away, holds him out at arm’s length.

 

“I-I’m going to find a way,” Jeongguk chokes out, stares intently at the floor.

 

Not Taehyung’s eyes. He can’t look into Taehyung’s eyes. “Jeongguk, there’s no-”

 

“Don’t you dare talk like that,” Jeongguk spits out, angrily. The tears fall freely now, fast. Cascade down his cheeks like a never ending waterfall. You would think there was a limit to how much one could cry. A finite supply. Seems it isn’t the case.

 

Taehyung sighs, reaches out his hand which Jeongguk holds tightly. “I’ll find a way,” Jeongguk repeats. He lets Taehyung’s hand drop loose, makes his way backwards down the steps. Taehyung eyes him, sadly. “I promise,” Jeongguk mutters, as he slowly steps outside. Taehyung nods, pulls a grim smile that barely touches the surface of his usual ones. He’s got one hand out to open the door-

 

“Wait, Taehyung.” Jeongguk runs back up the stairs, crashing into him for a second time. Taehyung wheezes at the impact. “I’m sorry I’m sorry,” Jeongguk stutters, pulling back. Taehyung smiles at that, but it’s still a pale imitation.

 

“I love you,” Jeongguk says, before turning and leaving without waiting for a response. No time, no time. There’s purpose in each step. I will find a way.

 

Taehyung mumbles the words back softly under his breath as he watches Jeongguk’s retreating form. His heart flips in his chest.

 

---

 

A week passes by and Jeongguk doesn’t see Taehyung. He hasn’t turned up at school yet either, not that Jeongguk’s really going these days.

 

He gets two phone-calls, nothing but breathing on the other end of the line. Must count for something.

 

His body feels ill, like he should be bedridden for a week (or a year). It’s as though his lungs have forgotten how to breathe. The motion now conscious and painful. It’s difficult to eat because the food sits at the bottom of his stomach, stale. As it passes through his lips, the taste bitter, bitter.

 

Jeongguk’s mother finds him on the kitchen table for the third time that week, half asleep in the wee hours of the morning. A litter of paper scattered on the table. Library books and magazines. Several phone books. Half-eaten Ramen. An encyclopedia. A map.

 

She surveys the mess and sighs, nudges Jeongguk on the shoulder. He wakes up startled, clutching at the papers strewn in front of him. Mumbling about ‘curing cancer’ and ‘Switzerland.’

 

“Jeongguk,”

 

His head jerks up, hair crazed, eyes the product of the week of sleepless nights.

 

“Your father phoned last night, he told me-”

 

Jeongguk’s standing up now. Scooping papers into his backpack, still mumbling incoherently. Snatches the car keys right out of his mother's hands who calls out after him in bewilderment.

 

“Need money,” Jeongguk’s saying. Sweeps the last of the papers into his bag and is off and out the door without as much as a wave.

 

The drive to his father’s house seems painfully slow and he breaks the speed limit for almost the entirety of the journey. Houses whizz by and the road lines merge into a continuous blur. It’s still not fast enough. Jeongguk eventually pulls up on the bank by his father’s, wheels screeching as they come to a halt. He half-falls out the door in his haste.

 

BANG! BANG! BANG!

 

“Open up,” Jeongguk yells, voice cracking hoarse on the second word. It’s been awhile since he’s slept. Come to think of it, has he even eaten? No time for that.

 

BANG! BANG! BANG!

 

Jeongguk’s father opens the door tentatively, breathes out a sigh of relief when he sees Jeongguk. He’s tried unsuccessfully to contact him all week.

 

“Jeongguk, I-“

 

“-I need fifty grand,” Jeongguk says, sweeping past his father and walking straight into the hallway. He stiffens as he bypasses portraits of people he doesn’t recognize. New family, he supposes.

 

His shoes melt into the plush velvet carpet. The elaborate tapestry and sculptures make his skin crawl.

 

“Excuse me? Jeongguk w-”

 

“Look. You’re not my father. You’re more of a sperm donor,” Jeongguk’s father winces. “But I figure you owe me. I found a clinic.” Jeongguk rustles in his backpack, pulls out an array of papers. They all flutter to the ground. White against the red carpet. “Uh,” Jeongguk shuffles further, throwing the paper wildly, “Here.” He shoves an unassuming piece of paper into his father’s hands, who takes it, baffled.

 

“Clinic in Switzerland. Specialists. The best there is. I have to take Taehyung.”

 

“Jeongguk, that is a lot of money I-“

 

“-it’s his life we’re talking about. My life. You don’t give a shit about me so why don’t you do what you’re best at and pay off your guilt?”

 

“There’s no guarantee it will-”

 

“-Will you do it or not.” Jeongguk paces, hands curling into fists. He shoves them into his pockets willing his temper to subside. He’d love nothing more than to punch a series of holes in the wall. Preferably straight through all the portraits.

 

“Dad,” he pleads, chokes on the word, it feels bitter and vile in his mouth. Doesn’t belong there. “Mr. Jeon,” he corrects.

 

Jeongguk’s father scans the letter intently. “I’ve heard about this place. I guess I can make some enquiries as-”

 

“Enquiries? There is no time for fucking enquiries.”

 

“Jeongguk, don’t cuss.”

 

“See, you removed the privilege of parenting me when you – STOPPED BEING A PARENT. Remember? When you left us and never came back? Thought a cheque in the mail would be sufficient?” Jeongguk’s voice escalates in volume.

 

“Jeongguk.”

 

“Look. Either you’ll do it or you won’t. I don’t have time for this. I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t my only option. I don’t. I should be-” Jeongguk falls onto his forearm on the wall. Tears escape his eyes again. He’s lost count. Probably hasn’t cried this much in his entire life. “I just,” he whispers, words catching in his throat.

 

His father takes a step closer, places a hand on his back. Jeongguk stiffens at the contact. His entire body reels to remove himself from proximity. His father places another hand around his waist. Jeongguk’s brain skips until oh, he’s trying to hug me? He stumbles backward, pushes him roughly away. No fucking way.

 

He’s hit with sentimentality. His father saying goodnight when he was a boy. Bittersweet. Tainted memories. Then he’s six years old again. Standing by the door, waiting for him to come home. Seven years old, blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, wishing for him to appear.

 

“You never came back,” Jeongguk spits out, teeth grinding at his lower lip. I hate him. I hate him.

 

Then he’s twelve again, writing a father’s day card in class. Thirteen, saying bastard in place of the name father. He hates him, he hates him but he needs him. He sucks in a breath. “Taehyung can’t die,” he says.

 

“Jeongguk, I’m so sorry. For everything. I know I can never make up for-”

 

The apology is something he’s fantasised about a thousand times and in reality it’s weak and meaningless. Hollow. The words of a stranger that just so happened to be his father. No rush of warmth or relief. When he was younger he would’ve dreamed of hearing those words spill from his father’s lips. All it does now is quell the burning hatred into somewhat indifference. He’s insignificant.

 

“-No, you can’t,” Jeongguk says. His voice is quiet now, matter-of-fact. Because he can’t. His father nods curtly, swallows. He knows too.

 

“I know I can never make up for it,” he repeats. But I’ll do this. If it will help you. I’ll contact Taehyung’s father and make the arrangements.” Jeongguk’s nodding in reply, thanks lodged somewhere in his throat. He can’t quite spill out the words.

 

The only thing he was ever able to count on his father for was money.

 

---

 

That night it’s Jeongguk’s phone that rings.

 

“Jeonggukie?”

 

Jeongguk exhales, rolls over in his bed. Presses the phone tightly to the side of his cheek as if the action would make the caller on the other line closer. The sound of his voice always sends a series of chills down his spine. It’s intoxicating. Especially after being deprived.

 

Jeongguk stills as he rubs at his eyelids, hopes to god it isn’t a dream. Because with the amount of sleep he’s been having it’d be hard to differentiate.

 

“Tae?” he whispers, hands unconsciously clenching, legs curling up tightly to his chest. His lungs fill with air that he refuses to exhale.

 

Taehyung’s voice is shaky, “M-my father just told me. What you did. What you and your father are – Jeongguk it’s too much I-“

 

“Don’t,” Jeongguk breathes. “If anyone deserves to live it’s you.” Cue the waterworks again. Jeongguk turns to bury his head into his mattress. His pillow absorbs the tears for the umpteenth time that week.

 

“Thank you, I-“ Taehyung’s voice wavers, Jeongguk hears him bite back a sniffle.

 

“I’m sorry I cut you out. I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t face you...” his voice trails off. “But thank you.”

 

Jeongguk’s heart clenches. “Don’t thank me yet. Say thank you when we’re back home and you’re all okay and-“

 

“-We’re?”

 

“You think I’m not coming with you?”

 

He hears Taehyung inhale sharply on the other line. “But school and-”

 

“Fuck school,” Jeongguk laughs. “I’ll repeat if I have to. I’ll repeat it ten times if I have too. I’ll have the best tutor too won’t I?”

 

Taehyung chuckles on the other line, Jeongguk breathes out a sigh of relief. His entire world had been dark without Taehyung’s laugh, Taehyung’s smile. Hope. It’s all they’ve got at this stage. It’s a bit of a role reversal with Jeongguk being the positive one. But he’ll take it. He’ll take anything.

 

“You’re really coming with me?”

 

“I’m already packed,” Jeongguk lies, looks at the tornado that is his bedroom. He really couldn’t care less what he takes. Although he probably should take a shower. He ducks his head to inhale himself – and yep. Did I go to Taehyung’s smelling like this? Probably.

 

Taehyung giggles. “It’s like we’re going on a holiday together.” Jeongguk laughs at that. Because a holiday? Not quite.

 

“Does your father really have to come?” Jeongguk whines, stretches out on the bed.

 

Taehyung laughs again. The sound is rejuvenating, Jeongguk’s tired body and brain eagerly lapping it up. Drinking in the sound of his happiness. “Yeah. But at least dad likes you now. Really, really likes you.”

 

Jeongguk smiles, a lazy grin adorning his features. “Enough to let us share a room?” Taehyung splutters through the line. Jeongguk can picture his cheeks painted a dusky pink. Cute .

 

“Kidding, kidding.” Jeongguk hastily covers up.

 

“You can still cuddle me goodnight though,” Taehyung says. Again with the tears. Jeongguk’s heart jumps in his chest. “Of course,” he promises, cheeks wet.

 

“I don’t like flying,” Jeongguk whispers, Taehyung snorts through the line. “I’ll hold your hand, you big baby,” he quips. And Jeongguk pretends his body doesn’t flush warm with anticipation. Skin prickling with goosebumps. Just at the thought of hand-holding.

 

“I want to see you,” he mumbles instead. Dazes out to the memory of Taehyung’s long fingers entwined in his own.

 

The conversation is mainly light-hearted, positive. It makes Jeongguk’s insides ache. They talk about everything and nothing. Hang up with the promise of tomorrow. But it’s not soon enough.

 

---

 

Jeongguk stumbles into the shower, jerks awake when he slips into sleep, sliding unceremoniously to the floor with a loud thud. He physically strains to keep his eyes open, pulls on some sweatpants and a hoodie, thunders down the stairs.

 

Tomorrow can’t wait.

 

“Jeongguk,” his mother calls out, concern lacing her tone as he scuttles past, hoodie pulled low. Hoping it will hide the fact that his face could double as an extra on a zombie film. “Be right back,” he calls out over his shoulder.

 

He half walks half sprints to Taehyung’s house, the only thing keeping him awake being the more-than-fresh breeze permeating the air. He’s half hallucinating, muscle memory propelling him forward when he finally reaches Taehyung’s doorstep.

 

It’s ten past midnight. Well after a reasonable (respectable) visiting hour. But Jeongguk has been waiting. Waiting and waiting. He pauses for but a moment before hammering on the door.

 

Taehyung’s father opens the door, forehead creasing, rubbing at his eyelids in confusion.

 

“I’m sorry I-” Jeongguk pushes past him and he merely blinks in surprise.

 

“What are you doing? Where-”

 

Jeongguk pauses. Realises he’s never even been into Taehyung’s bedroom before. He stops in his tracks, flushes. “Can I see him just for a second?” Jeongguk turns to ask. Despite having already barged in the front door.

 

Mr. Kim nods sleepily, lips turning upward in a smile. A smile that’s never been sent Jeongguk’s way before. Jerks his thumb in a direction Jeongguk sincerely hopes is Taehyung. “Jeongguk I just want to thank you so m-”

 

But he’s gone. Stuttering a don’t mention it over his shoulder. And it might be a little rude. And he might have wanted to try a little harder to impress his boyfriend’s father.

 

But each second passing is a second wasted.

 

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk whisper-shouts, barrelling into his room. He pauses for a second to glance up at the ceiling, planet and stars, knew it. Taehyung sits up startled, swathed in blankets. Blinking up through his long dark lashes in adorable confusion.

 

And it’s not okay. Everything’s not all okay just yet. But in the moment Jeongguk sees his face, it’s as if all his concerns and fears are obliterated. Even if just for a second. It’s like finally stumbling through the door home after a long and miserable day. Peeling off wet clothes and sinking into a warm bath. Or laughing with your best friend until your sides might burst and your lungs are hoarse. Pure, unadulterated happiness. Taehyung.

 

Taehyung murmurs, voice husky with sleep. “What are y-”

 

Jeongguk runs at him full speed and Taehyung lets out a startled cry as he launches himself onto the bed. Directly ontop of him. Throws his arms around him and squeezes tight. “Taehyung,” Jeongguk whispers, burying his head in the other’s smaller chest. Taehyung is frozen for a second, before he winds his arms around him, holding on just as tightly.

 

“I couldn’t wait,” Jeongguk breathes, his heart and lungs nearing explosion point. “I couldn’t wait,” he repeats, quieter, rolling to one side when Taehyung gently prods him off with a slender index finger.

 

“Can’t breathe,” he chuckles, swatting at Jeongguk’s bicep. “Too heavy.”

 

Jeongguk attempts a mock pout but he can’t quite force his lips to turn downward. For the moment they are permanently skyward in a smile. “I-” he trails off, curling into Taehyung’s side. “Love-” he trails off again, a deep yawn interrupting him.

 

“Me?” Taehyung finishes, smiling down at him in a way that makes Jeongguk’s stomach twist and turn in a simultaneously painful and pleasurable manner.

 

Warmth.

 

Jeongguk raises his head and nods, it falling back down onto Taehyung’s shoulder almost immediately.

 

He drifts off to sleep seconds later. Clinging tightly to Taehyung.

 

Jeongguk misses Taehyung pleading with his father to just leave him there, let him sleep. He misses Mr. Kim looking down at him anxiously, before nodding in agreement and departing. He misses Taehyung staring down at him, eyes shining. He doesn’t catch the tear that starts in Taehyung’s eye and rolls down his cheek, landing on Jeongguk’s own chest. He stirs when Taehyung leans down to press a kiss to his forehead, to his lips. “ I love you ,” Taehyung whispers, pulling the covers over them both. Snuggles down into the bed, their limbs entangled together.

 

Jeongguk sleeps peacefully.

 

He dreams.

 

Dreams of a boy that loves stars in the sky and has stars in his eyes.

 

Chapter Text

 

TAEHYUNG’S BEDROOM – 8.18AM

JANUARY

 

Jeongguk stirs, eyes fluttering open and shut as he fights off the last vestiges of sleep from heavy lids. Something warm and soft presses into his back and he instinctively snuggles closer, chasing the warmth. As the sleepiness starts to fade the soft something starts to feel more like a someone. His eyes blink open and he takes in an arm, draped across his body. Slender fingers are lightly clasping his own. Hushed breaths come from behind, caressing the nape of his neck. He stills, remembers last night, remembers Taehyung. Turns gingerly so not to wake him. His breath catches in his throat. Looking at him is overwhelming. He stares.

 

The early light of morning filters in, illuminating Taehyung’s face in a soft glow. He’s ethereal. An angel. More. Hair soft and mussed up, long eyelashes casting a dainty shadow over tanned cheeks. Pink lips parting ever so slightly to release the gentlest of snores. And maybe it’s strange but Jeongguk feels as though he could lie there and listen to them on repeat forever.

 

He curls closer to Taehyung, carefully brushes the hair out of his eyes. Presses a feather-light kiss to the tip of his nose reverently. Because Taehyung deserves to be worshipped. He freezes when Taehyung’s eyes flicker open, a slow sleepy smile stretching across his face. Half shut and his eyes still sparkle. “G’morning,” he whispers, voice husky with sleep. He shuffles closer to bury his face in Jeongguk’s chest. “Good morning,” Jeongguk replies, softly. Good morning it is.

 

As Taehyung’s eyes blink open, they widen, adorably, when he comes to grips with how close they are. And it’s not like anything happened - far from it. Just waking up together in the morning. Limbs entangled in the sheets with no beginning or end. There’s just something so intimate about it. Something stirs deep in Jeongguk’s chest, a feeling he wouldn’t mind holding onto forever if possible.

 

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung murmurs. His voice.

 

“Yeah,” Jeongguk replies, dreamily. Lost somewhere in the golden brown hues of Taehyung’s eyes. The perfect slope of his nose, the small dainty mole on its tip. Taehyung rubs at his eyes sleepily. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he whispers, reaching up to prod Jeongguk lightly on the chin. “You’re staring,” he remarks.

 

Jeongguk’s too sleepy to care that he most likely looks a lovesick fool. (He does.)

 

(He is).

 

“Looking like what?” he responds, nonchalantly. Reaches out a hand to cup Taehyung’s face, tenderly brushing his thumb across his cheekbone. Taehyung squirms under each stroke, a rosy glow spreading across his cheeks, warming Jeongguk’s fingers. “I dunno,” Taehyung mumbles. He shifts and presses his face back into Jeongguk’s chest. Jeongguk chuckles softly, runs his hand through Taehyung’s hair. It’s soft and messy, falling over his forehead. He brushes it back and runs his fingers lightly across Taehyung’s scalp. Taehyung almost purrs at the action, leaning into Jeongguk’s touch. Jeongguk’s hand pauses, “Looking at you like you’re beautiful? Like I want to kiss you?” he suggests, unphased.

  

Taehyung’s face is buried somewhere in his shirt, but Jeongguk can see the faint red tinting the tip of his ears. “Shut up,” Taehyung whispers, voice muffled by the fabric, nose buried in his chest. Jeongguk chuckles softly, reaches out a finger to crook his head up slightly. “May I though?”

 

Taehyung is silent for a beat, doe eyes searching Jeongguk’s. Jeongguk’s heart freezes on instinct. Because whenever Taehyung looks at him like that, really looks, it’s as if he can see him completely. As if he’s stripped completely bare, completely vulnerable. Heart and soul thrust forward and Taehyung with the power to crush it in an instant. But Jeongguk knows he won’t. Because although it scares him just a little how much he loves him, it’s welcome reassurance when Taehyung looks back at him. Just as much love reflected in his eyes. He knows Taehyung loves him too. Even if he still struggles to know how and why.

 

Taehyung answers him, in actions rather than words. Leans up to press a small chaste kiss to Jeongguk’s lips. He pulls away, eyelids fluttering shut and leans in again, open-mouthed this time, kissing Jeongguk insistently. Lips pressing against his firmly, with intent. Jeongguk smiles into the kiss, his lips parting against Taehyung’s plusher fuller ones. They fall open inviting him in.

 

Jeongguk drowns.

 

Because they’ve kissed before, but somehow it’s different, kissing in the morning, on a bed no less. Taehyung’s soft warm body pressing into his perfectly. Lying on top. Long legs loose and pliant, slotting between Jeongguk’s own. His lips burn with the kiss, radiating an energy that chases throughout his entire body. Toes curling in the sheets, back pressing into the mattress as he resists the urge to arch up into him.

 

God don’t pop a boner.

 

Jeongguk’s vision blurs black as Taehyung licks into his mouth, making soft low sighs of content. The gravelly tone in his voice only amplified by morning is unfairly attractive. He slides his hands slowly up Taehyung’s back, pulls him that little bit closer. Taehyung reaches up to hold Jeongguk’s face, long slender fingers tracing down his jaw. He kisses a line down Jeongguk’s cheek, presses a wet open-mouthed kiss into his neck. Jeongguk pants breathily. Attempts to stamp down the rush of blood south. He’s not very successful.

 

With his free hand Taehyung runs it through Jeongguk’s hair, pulls his head further off the pillow. He tugs him in to resume their kiss. Arms looping lazily around Jeongguk’s neck. The taste of Taehyung on his lips only makes him fall further each time.

 

Taehyung eventually pulls away first, a small whine leaving Jeongguk’s lips. Taehyung looks beautiful. Ruffled bed hair, loose baggy tee, bright-eyed, slick red lips with spit.

 

Taehyung collapses on top of him with a soft giggle, Jeongguk grunting at the movement. Taehyung stills momentarily, strokes a hand through Jeongguk’s hair a pleased hum leaving his lips.

 

Jeongguk stiffens, feeling the hardening growing in his pants. Courtesy of the A+ face-sucking moments prior. Taehyung apparently feels it too, his cheeks flushing a fiery red as he rapidly disentangles himself from Jeongguk with a shy smile. As if he hadn’t been the one to initiate a rather heavy make-out session moments ago. Regardless, Jeongguk sends him a silent look of gratitude for neglecting to address the issue. Taehyung nods uncomfortably, averts his gaze.

 

There’s a sudden knock on the door and Jeongguk sits up abruptly, Taehyung falling off the other side of the bed in his haste to scoot away from the other. He thumps to the ground obnoxiously loud. Jeongguk grimaces. Taehyung’s father coughs, knocks again a little louder.

 

“You awake?” he calls out hesitantly. Jeongguk hastily runs his fingers through his hair, wipes the drool that’s collected on his lips. The taste of Taehyung lingers on his tongue and he tries to drive the thought of it out of his mind. Not now.

 

Taehyung’s soft pink lips, full and plush, pressing against his. His tongue, wet and hot and --

 

“Y-yeah dad,” Taehyung stutters, scrambling to get up off the floor as the door creaks open slowly. Taehyung’s father peers around the corner, cautiously, as if he’s about to witness something he’d rather not. A flash of something resembling relief darts across his eyes as he takes in the reassuring amount of clothing both parties are wearing.

 

“Morning,” Jeongguk greets, hopping out of the bed awkwardly, pulling down the hem of his t-shirt that’s risen slightly. “Hello Jeongguk,” Taehyung’s father responds with a smile.

 

Jeongguk startles a little. He’s still not used to being on his good side. That and he’s exiting Taehyung’s bed, feeling increasingly uncomfortable by the second.

 

“Our flight’s at three, so you guys should probably start getting ready?” Taehyung’s father leaves with friendly nod (Jeongguk takes note that he leaves the door wide open).

 

“Shower?”

 

Jeongguk crinkles his nose suddenly becoming self-conscious of his smell, morning breath and the like. Because somehow Taehyung seems to wake up smelling like vanilla, or strawberries, or caramel, (insert: anything sweet). It’s ridiculous but Jeongguk is hardly surprised.

 

“Uh, yeah, shower please.”

 

Taehyung flings a towel at him and then more shyly holds out a pair of clean boxers. Points down the hallway towards the bathroom. Jeongguk accepts them with a smile, steps in close to drop a small kiss to Taehyung’s shoulder, where the pajama shirt has slipped, exposing tanned golden skin. Taehyung shivers. Jeongguk pulls the shirt back up gently, gives him a loving pat.

 

“Thanks Tae,” Jeongguk turns to leave, but long fingers curl around his wrist, tugging him back. “Wha-”

 

Taehyung launches his arms around him, kissing him. Jeongguk stumbles back in surprise. Taehyung pulls off with a resounding smack of his lips. “I like kissing,” he divulges, as if it’s a newfound revelation.

 

Jeongguk’s not complaining.

 

---

 

Jeongguk squints at himself in the fogged up bathroom mirror, runs his hands through wet strands of hair, pulls through the tangles. He slips on Taehyung’s boxers, resists the strange (and slightly creepy) urge to give them a whiff. Pulls on his t-shirt only to wince at the smell. Sleeping in multiple layers underneath an insane amount of blankets with a human hot-water-bottle is sweaty business.

 

He prefers to sleep naked if anything, but that is precisely the definition of moving too fast for Taehyung. Jeongguk doesn’t want to rush anything, plus he’s content. He could go to his grave happy even if it meant only kissing him. Because kissing him, whether it’s chaste and sweet, or bordering on the heavy, is arguably the top rated experience of his life.

 

Jeongguk mutters curses under his breath, holds out his discarded clothes between pinched fingers.

 

He stumbles into Taehyung’s room, towel slung low over his hip-bones. “Tae,” he mutters, pulling the door closed firmly behind him. Wincing when it closes loudly with a resounding bang. “Can I borrow some clothes mine-”

 

Jeongguk stops speaking mid-sentence when he takes in Taehyung’s comical expression. Eyes wide, jaw slacked, mouth dropped open impossibly wide. “Tae,” Jeongguk frowns, takes a step closer towards him. Taehyung shuffles back on the bed on all fours as if in fright.

 

What’s wrong.

 

“You okay?” Jeongguk asks, forehead creasing further as Taehyung practically presses himself flat against the back wall. Taehyung coughs, drops his gaze, “Yup. Yup f-fine.”

 

Jeongguk frowns some more, pauses for more explanation. There’s a brief silence in which Jeongguk panics. What did I? Was it the-

 

“You look quite nice,” Taehyung eventually offers up weakly. He stares firmly at the floor, heat rising in his cheeks. Draws his full lower lip through teeth. Jeongguk’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. And well, Jeongguk does. Hair wet, skin glistening, stray drops of water rolling down his toned chest. And yeah he knows his body is rather attractive (and also his face), but he never quite expected Taehyung to be so taken aback. To have something that he now recognises as lust glittering in his eyes.

 

Now that’s a new development.

 

Jeongguk takes a step forward places one knee on the bed, winks. Shakes some of the water out of his hair in a way that makes him inwardly cringe, but he clings to the small shred of hope that it may be attractive.

 

Taehyung apparently thinks so if the sharp breath he inhales is any indication.

 

“Stay back!” he calls out panicked, clutches his arms around his chest.

 

Jeongguk dissolves into a chuckle. Because sometimes he wants to cry at how adorable Taehyung is. His boyfriend is. Boyfriend. A warm feeling stirs in his chest. He forgets sometimes how lucky he is.

 

Taehyung covers his eyes with one hand, peers out over it suspiciously at Jeongguk.

 

“I’m not going to steal your virtue, chill Tae,” Jeongguk laughs, drops his towel completely with a wink. Taehyung’s hand drops from his face and he gasps loudly. He looks mildly disappointed upon the revelation that Jeongguk’s wearing boxers underneath. Jeongguk smirks.

 

“Take any clothes you like,” Taehyung calls out, grabs a towel and sprints out of the room.

 

---

 

Jeongguk flies in the door when he gets home, calling out a swift greeting to his mother over his shoulder. “Jeongguk, wait please,” she calls out in vain, sighs and trails behind him up the stairs. He skips them two at a time, tripping in his haste.

 

“Mum, I gotta get ready I-”

 

“Wait Jeonggukie,” she says, following him into his room close behind. Tugs at a hand and he sits down reluctantly next to her on his bed. She pauses and Jeongguk sighs. He’s not in the mood for the kind of discussion he knows she’s going to drag him into.

 

“Look I can’t pretend I know what you’re going through or-”

 

“Then don’t,” Jeongguk interjects, fingers curling into the duvet cover. Clenching. He doesn’t need a pep talk, doesn’t need support. He just needs Taehyung better. Everyone just wastes time.

 

“I’m not love, let me finish.”

 

Jeongguk nods, tilts his head marginally to face his mother. Tries to quell the clenching feeling somewhere in his belly. Being with Taehyung that morning had been distracting, he’d almost been rid of it altogether. But now with him out of his sight, the fear returns, hitting him at full force.

 

“I’m proud of you. No matter what happens. I’ve never,” his mother pauses, rests her hand on top of his. Jeongguk flinches. “Never seen you like this. You’ve really grown up Jeongguk.”

 

Jeongguk nods, pulls his lips into a tight-lipped smile. He feels like he’s grown a lifetime and a half since meeting Taehyung. “Thanks mum, I just hope-” he fades out, tearing his gaze away from her eyes. Stares out the window. The sky reflects his mood, uneasy. Flashes of baby blue streaked with gray. Clouds forming on the horizon, maybe they’ll spring forth rain, maybe they’ll scatter. He doesn’t want to think about it. Can’t think about it. Won’t.

 

“I know,” she says softly, voice dropping to a whisper, squeezes his shoulder reassuringly.

 

“I love you, yeah?”

 

Jeongguk nods again, “Love you too.” His mother stands, exits the room and casts a worried glance behind her.

 

Jeongguk packs quickly, and at random, an assortment of clothes flying into his suitcase. His mind is a mess. He feels on edge, not quite wanting to hope too much , but still incredibly hopeful. He blinks back tears as he recalls Taehyung in the morning. The overwhelming feeling of wanting to protect him floods him.

 

He’s gotta be okay.

 

---

 

Jeongguk fidgets nervously in the back seat of his mother’s car as they wait outside Taehyung’s house. The pungent smell of citrus air freshener permeates the air. It’s nauseating. Jeongguk can’t help comparing it to the smell of the hospital, sterile but fruity. An attempt to disguise the illness, the death.

 

His breath hitches in his throat when the front door finally swings open and Taehyung emerges. He’s wrapped up in an insane layer of jerseys and jackets, two scarves wound around his neck. Jeongguk is out of the car in a flash, bounding up the stairs to relinquish him of his hold on his luggage. He stoops to tear the bags away from Taehyung.

 

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Taehyung protests with a laugh, looking at Jeongguk fondly as he huffs in offense, swiping the bags from him.

 

They pile into the car, Jeongguk’s mother and Taehyung’s father making uncomfortable small talk that Jeongguk tunes out immediately.

 

Feeling eyes on him, he turns, taking in a grinning Taehyung. Taehyung reaches out to interlace their fingers, Jeongguk’s heart swells. It always does, even at the simplest of touches.

 

“I’m a little nervous,” Taehyung whispers, “But kinda -- excited?” Jeongguk nods, shuffles to the middle of the back seat so he’s closer. Drops his voice to a whisper that’s low enough to escape the ears up front.

 

“I’ll be with you the whole time,”

 

Taehyung smiles up at him gratefully, “I know you will.”

 

They both fall silent, Jeongguk’s mind trips over a thousand and one thoughts. He squeezes Taehyung’s fingers intermittently, half to reassure him, but also to reassure himself. That he’s there, that he’s still okay. Because if --

 

Jeongguk can’t finish the thought.

 

---

 

31,000 FEET ABOVE THE GROUND – 4.18PM

SWISS AIR

 

Taehyung’s head is thrown back in laughter, Jeongguk’s knuckles whitened in contrast with the black leather arm rest. Everything in his mind is spinning. Uneasy. He crinkles his nose at the musky smell that fills the cabin. Cold shivers run down his back despite the fact that Taehyung’s switched the A/C onto heating. The plane lurches, Jeongguk’s stomach following in tandem. He lets out a barely audible squeak. High-pitched.

 

“It’s just a little turbulence,” Taehyung remarks with a smile, stifling a giggle as he takes in Jeongguk’s increasingly distressed facial expressions.

 

Jeongguk chokes, blinks his eyes open and stares firmly ahead. Nausea churns in his gut. He hates flying. He hasn’t in awhile and has forgotten just how much. Switzerland has never felt so far away. How many hours to go?

 

He jolts, when Taehyung rests his fingers lightly on his forearm, turns to look at him hesitantly. The smile drops right off Taehyung’s face when he realises just how upset he is.

 

“Hey, are you okay?”

 

Jeongguk grimaces, nods his head robotically up and down, “Peachy,” he sputters. Eyes blinking shut as the plane tilts slightly to the left. One hand slips off the armrest sweaty, he panics, grasps Taehyung’s forearm with an iron grip.

 

Taehyung’s eyes widen further. “Wow you’re really scared, I’m surprised? Like it’s not a bad t-” he trails off when Jeongguk glares at him.

 

“N-not scared,” he manages to choke out, before proceeding to jump out of his seat merely at the Captain’s announcement. Why do they always have those things so loud?

 

“Sure,” Taehyung whispers with a smile, pulling Jeongguk’s arm over into his lap, intertwining their fingers. He pats Jeongguk’s hand soothingly, as if he’s a puppy. Taps out an uneven rhythm on his palm. Hums softly under his breath. Jeongguk’s eyelids flutter closed as he tries not to think of how high - how far - how exposed. 

 

The Ocean. Shit.

 

Jeongguk's eyes blink back open rapidly as he turns anxiously to Taehyung. Leans in to whisper in his ear, “Kay, I’m a little scared,” he admits. Taehyung nods, glances over to his right where his father is sound asleep. He watches him for a moment, as if confirming his sleep status, turns to face Jeongguk.

 

Taehyung leans forward, pressing his lips ever so softly against Jeongguk’s. A subtle brush of the lips. Jeongguk’s eyes close again, as he’s swept up in the utter thrill of Taehyung’s lips against his. They are warm and soft, Jeongguk can taste the faint traces of the sprite Taehyung had ordered earlier. Sweet. It is hard to be afraid, hard to make any coherent thought really, with Taehyung’s lips brushing against his own. They really did command his full attention.

 

It’s funny the powerful impact, such a gentle kiss could have. Everything fading into the background. Insignificant.

 

Taehyung pulls away with a blush, finger tracing down Jeongguk’s face to cup his chin. “I’ll be with you the whole time,” he says softly, echoing Jeongguk’s words from earlier. Eyes large and soft, fond.

 

The nauseous fear in Jeongguk’s gut dissipates into something that feels a lot more safe, secure. They’ll be with each other the whole time.

 

How long that is, he can only hope - that it’s a long, long time.

 

Jeongguk’s head falls naturally onto Taehyung’s shoulder, Taehyung singing a soft tune in his ear, lulling him to sleep. At every bump and jolt he runs a hand through Jeongguk’s hair, or drops a kiss on his lips, his ear, his shoulder. Caresses his fingers. It’s a welcome distraction. I should be scared more often.

 

“What song?” Jeongguk asks, dreamy visions swirling in his peripherals at Taehyung’s heavenly voice. Soothing. “An old favourite,” Taehyung says, resumes his soft singing. And somehow just because it’s his, Jeongguk can’t help but feeling like it’s one of his own now too. Despite never hearing it in full and still not knowing the title or the artist.

 

Because it’s Taehyung’s favourite it’s not just another song in the limitless supply of music. It’s another small piece of himself, one that Jeongguk wants to hold onto. Each day with Taehyung he collects a new piece of information, a small part of Taehyung -- each important to him. Because they all add up to to make him.

 

Jeongguk eventually drifts off to sleep, a feat he’s never yet accomplished in an aeroplane, Taehyung’s soothing melodies floating through his mind.

 

---

 

Jeongguk jolts awake at the ungodly loud crackling that comes through the overhead speakers. The lights are dimmed low in the cabin, shuffling sounds from all around as people are roused from their slumber. Irritable rumbles of discontent. He turns to face Taehyung quickly, who blinks his eyes open sleepily. Taehyung pulls Jeongguk’s head back onto his shoulder without question. Jeongguk sighs, relaxes into Taehyung’s shoulder, eyes squeezing tightly shut as the plane starts to make its slow descent.

 

The lights slowly flicker on, blindingly bright, making Jeongguk feel that much more uncomfortable. It’s only a brief twenty minutes until landing but time seems to drag, each minute passing by like an hour. Jeongguk shuffles, presses his head further into Taehyung’s neck. Taehyung runs a hand through his hair, whispering in his ear.

 

Jeongguk feels dizzy. Taehyung’s babbling on about Venus, or perhaps Neptune. “...rotates in the opposite direction to most other planets. This means that Venus is rotating in the opposite…” Idle facts. Jeongguk can’t quite make out the exact words coming out of Taehyung’s mouth but it doesn’t matter. His voice is soothing, the low gentle tone like a calming lullaby. Taehyung continues in this manner, and Jeongguk slowly starts to feel the tension fade from his system.

 

“Atmospheric pressure on Venus is 9 times greater than the Earth’s. While its size and mass-”

 

There’s a rough bout of turbulence. Jeongguk’s eyes flying open as he clutches onto Taehyung, clings. Taehyung simply strokes him, much like a pet, carries on speaking, “Are similar to earth, the small asteroids are crushed when entering its atmosphere, meaning no small craters lie on the surface of the planet.”

 

Jeongguk leans in closer, breathes in Taehyung’s scent. It’s calming somehow. Taehyung pauses and lets out a low chuckle when he feels Jeongguk practically inhaling him, unabashed. “Venus is the second brightest object in the night sky. Only the Moon is brighter.” Jeongguk hangs on to each word now as if they are a lifeline, pushing back the unsettling feeling swirling in his stomach.

 

“Venus is also known as the morning star and the evening star- why are you laughing?” Jeongguk breaks down into mildly panicked giggles. Because despite his very real flying anxiety, Taehyung calmly petting him and spouting off Venus facts is just too goddamn endearing. Leave it to Taehyung to bring education into it. Maybe he wouldn’t fail after all. I won’t fail astronomy.

 

“You don’t do astronomy,” Taehyung says pointedly. Jeongguk blinking his eyes open in realisation that he’s just voiced his thoughts. Jeongguk stifles a laugh when Taehyung shakes his head at him and resumes, “Early civilisations thought Venus was two different bodies, called Phosphorus and Hesperus by the Greeks…”

 

Jeongguk relaxes his head again, smiles awkwardly at the row across from him, who are staring at them both. Taehyung continues unfazed, it’s like a real live commentary from the nature channel. Jeongguk smiles, I can’t believe I ever wanted to change him.

 

The plane lands smoothly enough, thank god, and Jeongguk opens his eyes slowly. Glances cautiously across the row to confirm they are in fact on the ground. He blushes, darting a look at Taehyung who is watching him intently. Thinly veiled amusement.

 

“Didn’t realise how scared you were of flying,” he whispers. Twinkle in his eye, just the faintest bit of teasing.

 

Jeongguk grimaces, “Not that bad,” to which he receives one highly arched eyebrow in response.

 

“Kinda cute,” Taehyung says with a grin. Standing up as the plane comes to a standstill with a yawn, stretches out his arms. Jeongguk tries to tear his gaze from the sliver of skin on display when his arms are raised. “Nice looking out for you for a change.”

 

Jeongguk smiles. Because how wrong could Taehyung be. If only he knew how much Taehyung had looked after him, saved him. How without him Jeongguk would still be lost, still be alone. Still doing god knows what.

 

A lump rises in his throat as he realises, again, just how much Taehyung means to him. The bitter reality of why they are here flickers in the back of his mind, and he tries to stamp out the negativity.

 

“Don’t say that,” he whispers, shaking his head stubbornly when Taehyung reaches out to grab his own overhead luggage off him.

 

“You-” he trails off, unsure of how to put it exactly into words. Saying you saved me, seems a little bit cheesy. You complete me sounds equally as nauseating, something you’d find printed on a Valentine’s card with obnoxiously curly font and gaudy patterns.

 

His sentence is lost and forgotten in the hustle and bustle of people in a rush to get off the plane.

 

---

 

The customs line is long, winding around the corner, no end in sight. They follow closely behind Taehyung’s father, pressed up against impatient bodies, weary travellers. Jeongguk is restless, jostling from side-to-side and Taehyung falls rapidly silent as they get closer to the front. Taehyung is pressed right into his side, arm slung around Jeongguk’s back. Fingers curling into Jeongguk’s sweater, holding tight. Jeongguk can feel the tension rolling off him in waves. He tries to lessen his own.

 

He’s scared.

 

Jeongguk slides an arm around Taehyung’s waist, ignores the clenching in his gut. Rubs reassuring circles into his side with his thumb. Knowing Taehyung is afraid physically pains him. He wishes more than anything he could take it away. Pulls up his hand to press the briefest of kisses on the back of his knuckles. Turns to face him.

 

“You’ll be okay,” he whispers. Tries to believe the words. They have to be true, there’s no alternative. Taehyung turns to him, offering up a watery smile that sends another bout of arrows directly to Jeongguk’s chest.

 

They shuffle along slowly, a murmured buzz of chatter and the squelch of shoes along the linoleum floor. They don’t talk any further, but words are not needed. Arm around Taehyung almost carrying him, Jeongguk conveys how he feels. Taehyung looks at him, a silent connection, somehow more intimate than words could express. Jeongguk knows they wouldn’t be eloquent if he attempted. “I’m here,” his eyes say, Taehyung’s throwing back appreciation and acknowledgment.

 

People say it takes years to build up that kind of connection, that level of intimacy. But with Taehyung it’s just seems natural. That every time Jeongguk looks into his eyes all he feels is reassurance, safety, love. Because, oh you are here, and suddenly everything seems to make a lot more sense.

 

When they finally get through customs, Jeongguk’s out first, dashing to the carousel to collect their luggage. Taehyung flushes when Jeongguk refuses to let him carry his bag. “I’m not an incomplete invalid,” he scowls. Jeongguk smiles, drops the bags and picks him up despite his protests. Holds him securely in his arms. They most likely look like a picture-perfect reunion scene from a movie.

 

Taehyung melts after a moment of protest, Jeongguk slowly lowering him to the ground, but not letting his grip loosen in the slightest. They stay that way, locked in embrace, Jeongguk feeling Taehyung’s heartbeat against his own. For that brief moment, everything feels like it will be okay. That he can curl his arms around Taehyung and protect him. That he’s safe.

 

Venus rotates in the opposite direction to most other planets,” Jeongguk surprisingly recalls. Despite him being mildly incapacitated when learning the fact. He can’t help comparing it to Taehyung.

 

Taehyung who goes against the norms, the majority. Who continues spinning so steadily, so confident, in a direction most would shy away from. And that’s perhaps what draws Jeongguk the most to him. Because Taehyung is so sure of himself, so sure of the world. So determined to keep on being himself unapologetically. Unafraid. Because he might laugh at Jeongguk being fearful on the plane because he doesn’t think he’s a cowardly person. And he might say Jeongguk takes care of him more than the other way around. But that’s not the truth. Jeongguk is afraid. Hell, everyone is. Hiding behind facades and masks, walking down paths while their hearts tug in the opposite direction. Taehyung is courageous. While others are a mere blimp in the solar system, he’s an entire universe.

 

“Whatcha thinking about?” Taehyung asks, arms falling from Jeongguk’s neck to his side. He eyes Jeongguk curiously, deep brown eyes questioning. Taehyung’s father calls out to them, and they walk side-by-side towards the taxi stand. Jeongguk reaching out easily for Taehyung’s hand.

 

He hums, “Venus or something like that.” Taehyung grins widely and nods in approval.

 

---

 

SWITZERLAND SPECIALIST CLINIC

PRIVATE UNIT, 3.30PM

 

Jeongguk’s room at the clinic is monochrome, slick, decked out with modern furniture. The faint smell of lemon lingers in the air. It’s pleasant, not overpowering. His room is just across from Taehyung and his father’s, but they’re not currently present.

 

He paces the short distance around his room, waiting impatiently for Taehyung to return. It felt silly being so unsettled at just being separated for a mere two hours, Taehyung been taking up immediately for an evaluation.

 

Jeongguk would’ve gone of course, but reluctantly had to concede, Taehyung’s father going with him instead. Some bullshit rule about only one support person allowed. Jeongguk wonders how that will go with the rest of the treatment.

 

He sighs heavily, sits at the very edge of his bed. Crisp stark-white duvet cover with royal blue lining. He sinks into it, it’s comfy. Socked feet press into the carpet. Thick, lush, and completely different to the hospital-type floor he’d expected. Expensive.

 

If he didn’t know any better he would’ve thought the money spent had gone into the furnishings rather than therapy. An uneasiness settles in his stomach, as he lies back, flicks on the television. The first few channels are German, next couple French, he presses the remote idly, barely registering the images reflected on screen.

 

A television program that has something to do with dogs catches his attention. Half because cute dogs, half because they remind him of Taehyung. Although everything does. Remind him of Taehyung. As if Jeongguk’s found himself in an alternate universe stuck in a metaphor of anything Taehyung. Every little thing Taehyung capturing his attention.

 

The bedside phone rings obnoxiously loud, startling him.

 

He picks it up hesitantly, “Hello?”

 

“Jeongguk,” Jeongguk sits up straight, Taehyung’s voice filtering through the crackly phone line. “Tae? What’s wrong is everything okay? Can I come over? Do you need me? Do I-”

 

Taehyung shushes him, “Everything’s okay, I’ll be back in a little while I just-” he pauses, Jeongguk with the phone pressed right up to his ear. Free hand searching blindly in the covers for the remote to shut off the television.

 

“Just wanted to hear your voice before the evaluation starts,” Taehyung says, voice cracking towards the end of the sentence.

 

“Okay baby,” Jeongguk reassures, fighting back the pervading doubt and fear that linger in the back of his mind. “I’m right here,” he reassures. He feels helpless.

 

“What if they can’t-”

 

“Don’t think like that okay?” Jeongguk says, grasping at the hem of his shirt to rub at watery eyes. Taehyung’s voice, small and uncertain, wrenched at his chest. “We’ll get through this together, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Taehyung says, voice shaky and soft, vulnerable. Jeongguk’s heart grows exponentially in size, uncomfortable in the confines of his chest.

 

“I love you,” Jeongguk breathes, the words feeling inadequate. Barely brushing the surface of what he feels.

 

“Love you too,” Taehyung replies, “I gotta go now.”

 

“Wait, Tae?”

 

But the line goes dead, intermittent beeping the only thing Jeongguk hears.

 

He places the phone down with shaky fingers, brings his knees up to his chest. He needs Taehyung to know, wants to tell him, to explain how much he means. But it’s difficult to put into words, what Taehyung means to him. Who Taehyung is.

 

Because while Venus is the second-brightest, Taehyung is undoubtedly the brightest of them all.

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s only a brief forty-five minutes that Taehyung is gone, but it stretches out endlessly for Jeongguk. He’s covered pacing the small space of his room a dozen or so times, taken a trip too many down the long hallway and tried and failed to immerse himself in a television program. When there is a light knock on his door, the rap of knuckles, thrice, he’s over in a split-second almost tripping over his own feet in haste.

 

“Taehyung?” he breathes, insides melting into nothing as always when he catches sight of his face through the opening door.

 

Taehyung’s there, smiling up at him, as always. There’s a slight tiredness pulling at the corners of his eyes, but his smile makes him glow, removing most traces of weariness. Every single time Jeongguk sees him, it’s like this, wonder, awe, amazement. He wonders for the nth time how he could’ve looked at Taehyung for so long, and missed this. Missed him. But there is no point in wallowing in missed past opportunities, when he has the here and now.

 

Jeongguk steps forward, arms encircling Taehyung immediately, who falls into his arms naturally. “How was it?” he whispers, into the crook of Taehyung’s neck, tastes the faint smell of something sterile on his tongue. Blanches. The medicinal aroma so in contrast with every other thing about him.

 

“Don’t want to get my hopes up,” Taehyung says, but there’s no denying the subtle lilt of positivity now lacing his tone. Something he’s definitely been missing as of late. Warmth spreads across Jeongguk’s body, his heartbeat stilling to a more steady rate. He’s been on edge for the entire hour, or perhaps day - or well, ever since he found out. Momentarily he relaxes, knots he’s grown so accustomed to slipping loose in his belly. Relief.

 

“But?” he presses, stepping back slowly into his room pushing the door behind them with a soft click. Taehyung stays put, firmly wrapped around him like a koala, allows himself to be pulled inside. “But yeah,” Taehyung whispers, pulling away from his chest to look at him, small grin curving at the edges of his lips. His voice is soft, but Jeongguk’s hanging on to every syllable that leaves his lips, “It looks positive.”

 

Positive. Jeongguk exhales sharply, breath releasing along with most of the tension in his body. A singular word he’d hoped for, believed for, but hearing it uttered out loud is something entirely different.

 

He nods, unable to hold back the wide smile that lights up his entire face. Hot tears prick behind his eyelids as he blinks them away rapidly. The words are a welcome relief to the array of scenarios that have been flitting through his mind the past hour. Positive. And it’s just the beginning he knows, there’s still such a long way to go - who knows how difficult it will be. But despite whatever the future holds, Jeongguk knows he will always try, will always be there. He couldn’t stay away if he tried.

 

“We can do this you know?” Jeongguk reassures, as they sit down on his bed, shuffle up towards the headboard. Taehyung curls into his side, fingers pulling the fabric of Jeongguk’s sweater. His fingers dance along the length until his arm is looped across his waist, fingers digging into Jeongguk’s side. He lets out a little hum of content, it’s music to Jeongguk’s ears.

 

“We.” Taehyung replies, quietly, his voice wavering ever so slightly as if he’s still not quite certain of the declaration. The hesitance twists something painful in Jeongguk’s gut. Because Taehyung is strong - the strongest, and he’s never needed anyone, doesn’t have empty spaces with the need to be filled by a person, a someone. But there’s something about going at life alone that’s so tiring sometimes, especially at a time like this. It must be difficult to rely on someone, to trust, when most of your life it’s just been you. But Taehyung deserves all of the support and love in the world, and while Jeongguk knows he can’t give him everything, he’s going to damn well try his very best.

 

“Mmhm, we.” Jeongguk reiterates, fingers caressing down Taehyung’s side. Coming to rest on Taehyung’s slight waist. He’s always had a slender build, somehow perfectly proportioned, lithe and lean despite barely a moment’s thought for exercise. A figure that would inspire envy in most, given his lack of attention to it. Jeongguk mentally makes a note to make sure they eat dinner. Food often an afterthought in moments like this.

 

It’s silent for a pleasant few moments as they stay, curled up together, contemplative. Jeongguk’s too overwhelmed to fully organise his thoughts. Instead choosing to bask in the brief moment of hopefulness, a welcome emotion in the midst of it all.

 

But he needs to tell him, needs to get rid of any wavering doubts, any hesitation Taehyung has about him. Explaining his emotions in words isn’t exactly his forte, but for Taehyung he’s gotta try. It’s the least he can do.

 

Jeongguk clears his throat, drags his lower lip through upper teeth as he scrambles to form something coherent to say. Something meaningful.

 

“I’ll be with you always Tae,” he whispers. “I know - I know we’re just young and I know-” he trails off, vision blurring as always when he tries to spill out how he truly feels, what he thinks.

 

But Taehyung needs to know.

 

“I don’t know if we’ll love each other forever,” he says finally, the sentence forming a sharp pain that stabs in his gut. “But it sure feels like we will. Like I will,” he adds hastily. Taehyung’s arm closes around him tighter, a silent reassurance for him to continue.

 

“I-I want to love you always Taehyung,” he finishes. It’s short. It still seems inadequate, but if he boils it down to simplicity that’s all it is. I want to love him forever. Always. And yes, he’s young, yes he’s never been in love until now. And maybe people would ridicule him for believing such a thing possible. But Jeongguk’s never had a lot of certainty in his life, nothing’s ever felt permanent, fixed, until now. If you asked him prior he’d likely scoff at the thought of soulmates or fate, a romanticised notion meant for Hollywood blockbusters. But being with Taehyung makes all the improbable, the impossible, the unbelievable, real. A form of magic, so to speak.

 

Jeongguk falls silent, listening intently to the sound of Taehyung’s breathing. His heart catches in his throat when Taehyung yanks on his sweater, pulls it across his eyes. Looks up at him eyelashes shining with tears.

 

“I hope I’ll love you always too,” Taehyung whispers, voice thick with emotion mirroring Jeongguk’s own. “It’s scary how much I love you,” he admits, voice dropping even further in volume. Jeongguk’s heart thuds loudly, almost covering up the words.

 

Because shit yes, it’s terrifying. Loving someone so much - like this, you have everything to lose.

 

They both fall quiet shortly after, a comfortable silence enveloping the room.

 

“Dinner,” Jeongguk mutters eventually, as he catches Taehyung’s eyelids fluttering shut, the other’s lips turning downward in a pout. “What’s the time?” Taehyung responds, words blurred together thick with sleep, fingers gripping Jeongguk’s waist possessively, as if in a bid to dare him to move.

 

Jeongguk glances over at the clock, rubs his eyes sleepily. “We’ve got fifteen minutes until it’s served, move your ass.”

 

Taehyung rolls over, sprawls out, as Jeongguk unsuccessfully tries to nudge him off the bed. “Not hungry,” Taehyung whines, Jeongguk blinking his eyes closed to shut out his pleading face. Because he’s weak for that shit, and Taehyung knows.

 

Taehyung’s father knocks minutes later which is a much more effective getting up method, and Taehyung puts up a lot less of a fight (see: none), when he escorts them both to dinner.

 

---

 

Jeongguk begrudgingly swallows the little tickle of annoyance that rises in his throat when Taehyung seemingly insists on befriending everyone at dinner. He gulps back a wave of shame as he watches the other, interacting with everyone, walking throug the room leaving a trail of smiles in his wake. A lot of the people there look weary, dull, understandably so, and Jeongguk doesn’t miss the way Taehyung’s presence seems to switch on the light behind their eyes and tug upwards at the corners of their lips.

 

Taehyung had been much the same at High School, but if he thinks hard enough, Jeongguk can put his finger on the year he’d grown a little more reserved, a little more hesitant. His memories prior to High School are vague at best, but he can still conjure up flashes of a small, smiling, bouncy Taehyung. It must of been somewhere near the beginning of High School, Jeongguk muses, in which everyone’s priorities get flipped upside down, in when values like kindness are switched out in favour of being cool , being popular. Such bullshit.

 

Despite the lack of interaction they’d had through most of their schooling years, Taehyung had always been persistently kind, happy. Something clenches around Jeongguk’s heart in a vice-like grip.

 

No one deserves him.

 

He feels selfish a lot of the time, for having someone like him. But despite his personal doubts, his fears of his shortcomings, even Jeongguk cannot deny the smile that lights up Taehyung’s face when they’re together. And yeah, Taehyung smiles brightly at everyone, but to no one does his face light up as much as when he looks at him.

 

To say Jeongguk is grateful is an understatement.

 

---

 

Taehyung emerges from a small crowd, undoubtedly of new fans, plops himself down next to Jeongguk with a small sigh. “Tired,” he mutters, head dropping onto Jeongguk’s shoulder, that’s ready and waiting. “Too much socialising,” Jeongguk chuckles, nudges his plate towards him with a look that says finish it, or else.

 

“Finish it, Taehyung,” his father helpfully drops in, Taehyung grimacing as he scoops up the remnants of his meal in one fell swoop. Cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk as he looks at Jeongguk with such despair in his eyes. Jeongguk dissolves into giggles.

 

They eventually leave the dining room, Jeongguk hesitantly bidding Taehyung an early goodnight as he heads to his own room. It is difficult to let go of Taehyung, his hugs ones that wrapped you up in a lot more than arms. Encompassed by warmth, by love. Hugs that Taehyung always has to pry Jeongguk out of.

 

“I’ll see you real soon,” Taehyung laughs, when Jeongguk looks up at him with an expression so utterly downcast, eyes wide. “Don’t think dad will let me sleep in your room,” he whispers, Jeongguk nodding glumly in response. “Yet, ” Taehyung adds, the singular word stirring a flutter or hope. Jeongguk’s steps falter as he goes in the other direction, unwillingly. Legs dragging behind him like lead.

 

He turns at the door of his room, watches Taehyung with a final wave, waiting until the door is closed firmly behind him.

 

Jeongguk enters his room with a sigh, jaw dropping with a yawn that echoes the tiredness his entire body feels. It feels like the longest day in his existence. He strips off his outer layer, pulling on a more comfy sweater, turning in confusion when there’s a knock at the door.

 

Opening it warily, Taehyung shoves his way inside, slightly breathless. “Tae what-” Taehyung launches himself at him, effectively cutting off any words before the thoughts could even formulate in his mind.

 

“Goodnight,” Taehyung whispers, legs wrapping around his waist, Jeongguk’s arms come to rest beneath his legs, pulling him up with little difficulty. And then Taehyung is kissing him, soft red lips pressing against his. Jeongguk stumbles back slightly, loses his grip for a second, and then he steadies himself, arms securing around Taehyung as he kisses him back, with just as much intensity.

 

It’s a little messy, and there’s a little too much teeth and a lot too much saliva.

 

Jeongguk’s head spins, partially from exhaustion partially because Taehyung’s never quite kissed the very life out of him as he’s doing right now.

 

Taehyung kisses like he approaches everything else in life, passionately. At first their kisses had always been a little more subtle, a lot more shy, but now he seems to have reached a comfort level that lets him really kiss.

 

Shivers ripple along Jeongguk’s spine when Taehyung pulls away to cup his cheek, looking at him with such tenderness in his eyes that he feels stripped bare, naked. Vulnerable. And then Taehyung is kissing him again, tongue sneaking into Jeongguk’s mouth which falls open readily at the action. Licking into the heat of Jeongguk’s mouth with newfound skill that he really shouldn’t possess considering the amount of times he’s kissed.

 

Jeongguk falls back slowly lowering himself onto the bed, Taehyung settled on his lap, legs folded in half on either side of his thighs. Taehyung eventually pulls away breathless, drawing with him a discontented whine from the back of Jeongguk’s throat.

 

“I like kissing,” Taehyung grins, prompting a chuckle from Jeongguk. “I know,” he laughs, arms wrapping around his waist as he presses a chaste kiss to his chin. “Especially you, babe. ” Jeongguk chokes on a flustered laugh, Taehyung’s never called him that before.

 

“What do you mean especially,” he says, “Who else are you kissing,” frowns up at him, pushing down the endearments threatening to spill over at being called babe.

 

“No one, babe,” Taehyung says again, so casually. But Jeongguk can determine the little twinkle in his eye that says he knows it’s the first time.

 

“More kisses,” Jeongguk demands, and Taehyung laughs, carefree, leaning in with a smile and flushed cheeks.

 

Their second goodbye is even more difficult to leave after.

 

---

 

One week into treatment:

 

The first week at the clinic is long and drawn out, the new therapy sessions, treatment and medication leave Taehyung near exhaustion physically and emotionally. Jeongguk isn't much better off. He’s still a teenager after all. For Jeongguk the days are full of waiting, and waiting, and hoping. Some of the time he’s able to be with Taehyung, other days he’s pacing the small space of his room, memorising every thread interwoven into the carpet. When Taehyung’s free he’s mainly resting, he tries (stubborn as ever), to refuse rest, but Jeongguk (along with the entire staff, and his father) don’t let it fly. It’s perhaps Jeongguk’s favourite moments, out of the whole ordeal, Taehyung’s head resting in his lap, deep voice softly telling Jeongguk a tale or two. Whether it be a childhood memory, complete fiction, or random facts about space.

 

If he could take Taehyung to the moon he could, hell he’d buy Taehyung the moon. The universe. He’d pluck every star from the sky and steal the galaxy’s light if it were possible.

 

---

 

JEONGGUK’S ROOM, 12:05PM

 

Today is a rest day for the most part, Taehyung in an over-sized sleep shirt curled up on Jeongguk’s chest. Much like a cat. He still isn’t allowed to stay the night, but his father has grown softer to Jeongguk every day, and now day naps are a thing Jeongguk welcomes with open arms. Literally.

 

Taehyung’s soft hair is falling down into his eyes, eyelids fluttering open and shut in a slightly restless sleep. Drifting between the realms of the awake and the asleep. Jeongguk watches, mesmerised, as always, even if he tried he could never find a flaw.

 

His heart squeezes in his chest, Taehyung looks frail today, especially. His usually tanned skin paling slightly and his weight dropping even lower than it’s already lean state. But despite this, Taehyung is strong, stronger than anyone Jeongguk knows. Stronger than himself. Because a physical condition is not an indication of a mental one. When Taehyung smiles bravely through the treatment, kisses Jeongguk’s forehead and tells him to not worry. When Taehyung makes jokes with the nurses, is a menace to the doctors, and befriends every other patient. Jeongguk knows. Jeongguk knows he’s found the most special person on the planet, and he’s not ever about to let him go. Not ever about to let him forget just how special he is.

 

Even the head doctor has commented on the change in atmosphere in the place. As one would think, it’s a little hard-pressed to keep an air of positivity within a place like this. And although Taehyung cannot always be positive for himself, he is always, always strong for others. That’s what Jeongguk admires perhaps most of all. He is so willing to hide his own fears and insecurities, for the happiness and peace of mind of everyone else. But Jeongguk worries though, that Taehyung won’t fully let him in, won’t allow him to know how he really feels in fear of concerning Jeongguk.

 

It amazes him that Taehyung tries so hard to protect him, when he is the one going through the most difficult time himself.

 

 

“Tae,” Jeongguk whispers, the boy’s eyelids blinking open sleepily, as he nuzzles his head cutely into Jeongguk’s chest.

 

“Mmhm,” Taehyung mumbles back in reply, with his soft deep sleepy voice. A sound Jeongguk will never tire of. Of that he is certain.

 

“How’re you feeling?”

 

“Shitty,” Taehyung laughs, rolling off Jeongguk’s chest onto his back. “I want to go for a run or something, I want to go outside and sprint through grass or, I dunno, roll down a hill?”

 

Jeongguk chuckles, tries unsubtly to bring Taehyung back to his chest, receives a raised eyebrow in response to the gesture.

 

“We’ve got what, two hours?” he whispers, conspiratorially.

 

Taehyung looks up at him, “What are you thinking?” mischievous glint flashing in his eyes. Jeongguk chokes back a laugh, recalling the look from the strange boy that flashed his headlights back into the car that night. Much the same expression.

 

Shit. So much has happened.

 

Jeongguk winks, peels himself reluctantly out of bed and chucks on a hoodie, throws one (of his own) to Taehyung. Something about seeing him swimming in his own clothing never fails to pierce through Jeongguk’s heart. He must be a masochist, or something.

 

Taehyung wiggles his eyebrows in anticipation, shoves his head through the sweatshirt it appearing even larger than usual. Grasps Jeongguk’s hand and pulls him towards the door with gusto.

 

“Shoes?” Jeongguk enquires, to which Taehyung blanches in reply, “Hate shoes,” he mutters, pushing his feet into some sneakers with a look of distaste.

 

They sneak their way down the hallway, and it’s not as if they’re not allowed to leave. But something about creeping along makes it that much more exciting.

 

Taehyung is a little breathless after the small sprint to make it out of the clinic, doubled over, panting slightly. He wipes the sleeve of his jersey through sweaty bangs, clamps a hand over his mouth as if to hide his exhaustion.

 

“Here comes the fun part,” Jeongguk explains wryly, Taehyung shooting him a look of confusion.

 

A second later and he’s scooped Taehyung up, spun him around onto his back, piggy-back style. “Said you wanted to run?” he enquires, when Taehyung lets out a noise of surprise.

 

“Wha-”

 

And before Taehyung can breathe another word, Jeongguk’s taken off. Literally sprinting down the road with Taehyung clinging tightly to his back. They probably look a sight, but Jeongguk could not care less. The Taehyung effect. It was what had initially piqued his interest in the boy but later been the reason he had fell. Because theirs had not been a love at first sight story, and Jeongguk can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment he’d gone from mild admiration to holy shit I love you, but looking back he can map out the wealth of different feelings that led to his current state. Indifference, disgust even, admiration that slowly crept it’s way to respect, fascination, guilt, denial, infatuation, attraction, and love.

 

“Guk,” Taehyung breathes, a twinkle of laughter resounding in the near-empty street. Melodious. Jeongguk pauses momentarily, breathing heavily, but barely breaking a sweat. His well-earned muscular physique was paying off, not to mention Taehyung invented the phrase lighter than a feather.

 

“Grass,” Jeongguk merely grunts, taking off in a direction in which he believes he could spy something green. Taehyung merely giggles again, presses a soft kiss to the back of his neck and hums in amusement. Lightly slaps one of his biceps. “Wish I was big and buff like you,” he laughs.

 

Jeongguk halts again, cranes his neck to try and catch a little eye contact. “You’re perfect,” he huffs, tone spilling out offense. Because how dare-

 

“Wouldn’t say perfect,” Taehyung laughs, “but I guess you’re pretty close, Gukkie.”

 

Jeongguk takes off again, long strides across the pavement. “If I’m perfect you’re perfect uh perfect-er,” he scowls, “Perfectest. Perfection.” Eloquent.

 

Taehyung chuckles again, arms loosely wrapping around Jeongguk’s chest, head dropping down onto his shoulder. “I love you, y’know?”

 

And Jeongguk never pegged himself a softie, but perhaps he could never see himself as clearly as Taehyung could. And those words, no matter how many times mentioned, never fail to make him melt from inside out. Those damned things called eyes filling with water to an alarming level. He blinks rapidly.

 

“I know,” he responds, voice a little gruff in his attempt of disguise. “But not more than I love you.” Taehyung laughs again, presses a soft kiss to the back of his neck. And hey maybe the I love you, no I love you more is a little cheesy, a little cliche. But Jeongguk would go to his grave protesting, that if anyone loves more it’s him.

 

They continue on in relative silence, Jeongguk panting slightly and Taehyung clinging tightly to his neck, murmuring ever so often about their surroundings. Jeongguk’s happy like this, content, listening to the comforting, pleasant sound of Taehyung’s voice. Out in the open not confined by the stark white walls of the clinic, the lingering medicinal, sterile smell.

 

“Here we are,” Jeongguk announces, disentangling himself from a reluctant Taehyung, who slides off his back with a grunt.

 

It’s not a second later that Taehyung’s made short work of his shoes, kicking them off with utter glee that has a side splitting laugh ripping through Jeongguk’s belly. He’s adorable. Ridiculously so.

 

“Ahh,” Taehyung closes his eyes, wriggling his toes in the grass, gesturing wildly for Jeongguk to do the same. Jeongguk does, of course, not so much because he’s a feet-in-the-grass fan, but more so because he’s a Taehyung-fan. Honestly it’s a little frightening the things he would do for Taehyung.

 

Taehyung pulls him down to sit beside him, interlacing their fingers as his head falls onto Jeongguk’s shoulder. The sun is out, shining brightly but there is still a crisp chill in the air, prompting Jeongguk to shed an outer layer and pull it down over a protesting Taehyung. Jeongguk’s fingers idly trace up and down Taehyung’s arm, goosebumps rippling down his spine when said boy press insistent kisses into his neck.

 

“Sensitive huh babe,” Taehyung observes, a wicked smirk lighting up his features as Jeongguk shivers. Jeongguk turns to look at him half a smile, red pinking the top of his cheeks. Because really Taehyung is still a little clueless at just how much of an effect he has on the other.

 

“Something like that,” Jeongguk says, allowing himself to be pulled down so that he’s lying flat down on the grass next to Taehyung. Taehyung traces the inside of his palm with his thumb, humming a low tune under his breath. Jeongguk’s eyelids flutter shut, contentedness and peace, flooding his entire being. It’s been a while. It feels almost normal, back in the cemetery, watching the stars - other than the fact it's broad daylight, they're in fucking Switzerland and his nickname has been upgraded to babe. Jeongguk smiles smugly.

 

“You know,” Taehyung begins, and Jeongguk peeks one eye open at him in anticipation. “A day on Venus is longer than a year on earth.” Jeongguk hums in contemplation, he knew that one, not that he’s going to let on or anything. “Imagine it though, being in Venus and coming back and a whole year has passed, but to you it’s just one day.” Taehyung sighs, curls up into Jeongguk’s chest. Presses his face against the spot he’s long since claimed as his own. Jeongguk wouldn’t be surprised if he looked in the mirror one day too see the word’s Taehyung’s in cursive font, appear right at that spot.

 

“You wouldn’t last long on Venus,” Jeongguk chuckles, just a wee bit proud to share his own knowledge. “What with an average surface temperature of about, 450 °C?” he drops in lightly, tone as casual as he can manage. It doesn’t get past Taehyung of course, whose head emerges, eyes glittering with amusement. “Look at you go, space boy,” he laughs, the sound as always, far too endearing to Jeongguk.

 

“I knew space shit before you,” Jeongguk bites back, pouting at Taehyung, only prompting him to laugh even harder. “Okay, Jeon,” he smiles, lies his head back down on his chest. Where it belongs, thank you very much.

 

“But you have taught me a lot,” Jeongguk continues, voice quieter now, muffled slightly by Taehyung’s hair. “About a lot more than space,” he says.

 

Because although, yes, Taehyung’s fascination with Space had spurred on Jeongguk to pay extra attention to the topic, facts about Venus or Mars held nothing compared to what Taehyung had really taught him.

 

That’s the best thing about their relationship, Jeongguk supposes. Where his old friendships and relationships were toxic, and draining. Taehyung is full of of growth, of learning, of reaching into Jeongguk and pulling out all the best parts of himself. Taehyung makes him be the best possible version of himself.

 

“You teach me,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk blinks.“You make me,” Taehyung pauses, fingers curling around the fabric of Jeongguk’s sweatshirt, holding on tightly. “Want to live,” Taehyung whispers, the words stopping Jeongguk’s heart in his chest.

 

Taehyung sighs, “Like I wanted to before, of course, and I tried. I’ve really tried, to live well, to be positive.” Jeongguk nods for him to continue, any words in his head stuck in his throat. “But sometimes I felt really alone Jeongguk, really lonely. And that’s not always a bad thing, like, I’m great at entertaining myself, at talking to myself, I’m a firm believer that you have to be happy and dependent on yourself first and foremost.” Taehyung pauses, tilts his face up so he’s looking at Jeongguk, sunlight dusting shadows of his eyelashes on his cheeks.

 

He’s handsome when he’s serious. Although he’s handsome when he’s silly, when he’s angry, when he’s sad, when he’s - anything.

 

Taehyung sighs, glances down briefly before looking back up at Jeongguk. “I guess that’s why I was a little afraid of you. I’ve never been scared of anything really? Apart from, well this,” he shrugs, gestures between them.

 

This.

 

It’s almost near impossible to put a label, a description on it.

 

Jeongguk secures his arms around him more tightly, hoping the action will portray the feelings he knows he can never put into words. And if he tries - well that would start up a well of tears he doesn’t quite think he’d be strong enough to stop. And it’s not like he’s afraid of being vulnerable in front of Taehyung, not afraid to cry. But he wants to be strong for him, to be supportive and courageous. Because hell, Taehyung is.

 

“I’ll never hurt you,” he says. And although perhaps it’s unwise to make promises like this, Jeongguk cannot possibly imagine a world in which hurting him would be an option. Taehyung looks at him, wistful. “You always talk like that,” he says, cryptically.

 

Jeongguk blinks.

 

“Like it’s just you,” Taehyung pauses, “Like you’re more in love. I dunno, implying that I’m allowed to hurt you or something.”

 

Taehyung laughs as Jeongguk’s forehead crinkles in confusion.

 

“You really don’t get how much I love you, do you?”

 

The sentence plays on a never-ending loop in Jeongguk’s head for the rest of the day, the rest of the week.

 

---

 

Third week into treatment:

 

It’s day one of week three which is a goddamn blessing because it’s a day of rest, no treatment, no doctor visits, no supervision. An entire day of bliss with just Taehyung and he, although no doubt Taehyung will drag some of the others into their day, stealing Jeongguk’s time.

 

All signs of late have been pointing more and more to the positive, and as a result Jeongguk’s last phone call home had entailed of his mother suggesting that perhaps he return. A slamming down of the phone on Jeongguk’s part had been his response. Until a call moments later with a meek apology, courtesy of a scolding from Taehyung.

 

Just two more weeks, after the one at present, in which they will be able to return home. Taehyung able to slowly but surely resume a semblance of normalcy. Things would be slow, of course, and his body would never quite be the same. But it’s the mind that matters anyhow, and of anyone Jeongguk knows Taehyung’s is the sharpest. While he will likely have to play catch up for awhile school-wise before heading to College, he’s sure Taehyung will sail on through.

 

College.

 

A thought that hadn’t really lingered in Taehyung’s mind not so long ago. Not one Taehyung had even dared entertain, still unaware that Jeongguk had applied to practically every single one in the country.

 

Jeongguk blinks, mind wandering from the words spilling out of Taehyung’s mouth, as he tries to push the thought of College out of his mind. Of course he’s thrilled at the fact it’s likely to be a possibility now, but it also leaves him fairly unsettled, unsure of where Taehyung may choose to go, and when. He’d like to think he’ll be able to take care of Taehyung forever and vice-versa, but he knows Taehyung is stubborn (perhaps more so than him,) and he won’t just let Jeongguk follow him, unless he’s got a plan of his own.

 

Jeongguk sighs, still unaware of what Taehyung is telling him, he wants to do more, wants to make something of himself. But with Taehyung close by, if possible. That’s not so wrong, is it?

 

“Uh,” Jeongguk startles, Taehyung nudging him gently in the ribs. “Sorry babe, shit.” Jeongguk fumbles to apologise, “What was that?”

 

Taehyung ducks his head shyly, whispers. Mumbles. Jeongguk frowns, shuffles closer, wraps an arm around his waist. “Sorry I drifted off my bad, what are you saying?”

 

Taehyung blushes, head still firmly pressed into his chest. “I want to-” he trails off, looks up at Jeongguk, bites his lip. Jeongguk’s forehead crinkles in confusion, “Want to?” Taehyung stammers, blinks up at him, “Fuck,” he mutters. Face tinting a fiery shade of red after the word falls from his lips.

 

Jeongguk’s jaw drops, eyes widen, brain reduces to a pile of mush, because what? He doesn’t even think he’s heard Taehyung swear before let alone use the word in a sexual context. Here he is, sitting thinking of College and Taehyung’s thinking of-

 

That.

 

It’s silent for a beat as Jeongguk tries unsuccessfully to come to terms with what Taehyung has just said.

 

“I’m, -- what?” Jeongguk sputters, cheeks reddening at a pace to marvel Taehyung’s own. Taehyung shifts uncomfortably, “I didn’t mean to say it like that,” he whispers, looking mildly ashamed. “I mean I-,” he trails off again. Jeongguk struggles to collect his thoughts, heart rising in his throat. Beads of sweat break out on his forehead and the room is chilly, freezing.

 

“I mean I’m ready for more, more of you,” Taehyung says, softly. “F-fuck was the wrong word I’m sorry it just came out.”

 

Jeongguk blinks, stares.

 

“I want you,” Taehyung clarifies. Because hell Jeongguk needs all the clarification he can get right now. He’s in complete disbelief.

 

“I’m sorry if I pushed you?” he asks tentatively, arm instinctively tightening around Taehyung’s waist protectively. It’s all he can think of saying. They haven’t even discussed anything close to that at all. Taehyung shushes him, shaking his head vehemently, “No, no,” you didn’t. You haven't even mentioned it?" He pauses, "I just. I think I’m ready,” he says, fingers curling into the hem of Jeongguk’s shirt, head dropping onto his shoulder.

 

Jeongguk is weak.

 

Jeongguk is not ready. (Well, yeah he’s ready, but he is NOT READY).

 

“I,” Jeongguk falters, turns to make eye contact with Taehyung. Falls, and gets lost as always. His eyes a deep abyss and he flounders.

 

“You sure,” he chokes out goosebumps rippling up his spine. Taehyung smiles, soft, “I’m sure. I wouldn’t do something if I felt pressured, or I wasn’t ready - you know that.” Jeongguk nods, attempts to quell the hammering of his heart against his ribcage.

 

“Okay,” he says, in a small whisper. Still in shock. Taehyung beams up at him, pulls an arm out of his sleeve, starts to pull it off his head. Jeongguk grabs at it, panicked. “Stop, stop, what are you-” pulls the jersey back down firmly.

 

Taehyung blinks out of the sweater in amusement, “I wasn’t - oh - you thought I was,” he collapses into a laugh. Doubles over, clutches his chest. Jeongguk reddens.

 

“I’m just hot, ” Taehyung giggles, pulls his sweater off and throws it onto the floor. “I wasn’t trying to - wasn’t. Wasn’t trying to now if that’s what you-”

 

“Oh, oh,” Jeongguk blushes, coughs, sputters, chokes.

 

“Are you that nervous?” Taehyung asks, humour falling away from his tone, amused expression sliding off his face.

 

“Well - yeah,” Jeongguk says, averts his gaze.

 

“I know you’ll take care of me,” Taehyung says simply, “You love me.” He falls back onto the bed, tugs Jeongguk down next to him. Curls into his chest. Jeongguk’s lungs fail him as his arms wind protectively around Taehyung.

 

“I do,” he agrees weakly, pressing a kiss to the top of his forehead.

 

“But not now baby, when you’re a little better? I would never want to hurt you,” Jeongguk whispers, brushing a thumb across his cheekbone, pulling it across his lower lip. Taehyung frowns, “At least let me suck your dick or something.”

 

Jeongguk chokes for a second time, falls into a hacking coughing fit.

 

Taehyung,” he says, in a mildly reprimanding manner. “I’m ready,” Taehyung simply replies, resolutely, trails a finger down Jeongguk’s crotch causing his entire body to stiffen.

 

“O-okay,” Jeongguk mumbles weakly, grabbing Taehyung’s hand and placing it firmly on the other side of his leg. Taehyung shuffles it back and places it on his thigh, slightly better but not really.

 

College? What was I thinking about.

 

“Think, I.” Jeongguk pauses, words loosely floating around in his head that he doesn’t wish to voice aloud. “Bed.”

 

“Bed?” Taehyung winks, tilting his head up. Jeongguk flushes, “Bed no. Bed time. It’s your bedtime, fuck.”

 

Taehyung pouts, “Okay dad, ” Jeongguk slams his hand across his mouth with a little too much force. Looks at him in horror, “Don’t ever call me that, please. ” Taehyung looks at him puzzled, “Well you’re acting like my parent.” He raises an eyebrow, his arms fold across his chest.

 

Jeongguk chokes a little further realising he hadn’t even understood the implication. Best keep that to himself. He flushes although there’s not really a darker shade of red his face is capable of achieving. “Sorry, I just. Just wanna be careful Tae.” Taehyung sighs, stretches out his long legs, head droops down onto Jeongguk’s shoulder. “I know babe,” reaches out to interlace their fingers, presses a kiss onto Jeongguk’s neck.

 

“I’ll go to bed,” Taehyung whispers, turns to make his way off the bed only for Jeongguk to grab him by the wrist, yank him (gently), back. He frowns, “Not yet,” grimaces at the whiny tone of his own voice. Taehyung’s eyebrows dance in amusement.

 

“You were just telling me to-”

 

“Shut up,” Jeongguk huffs.

 

“One more cuddle baby?”

 

Taehyung’s smirk fades to a pleased smile, eyes softening at the edges as he launches himself into Jeongguk’s wide open arms.

 

“Two more,” he whispers, into the crook of Jeongguk’s neck.

 

Two more is even better, Jeongguk decides.

 

 

Chapter Text

Final day of treatment

 

“We can go home,” are the first words Taehyung breathes ou tiredlyt, when Jeongguk reaches his bedroom that morning. He pulls him in close, tears springing into both of their eyes at the news. The last week had been the hardest, the most intense. And they weren’t exactly two to fight, disagree yes, being opinionated - that’s a given. But emotions had been high, and the stress had at times gotten the best of them both.

 

Fighting with Taehyung was excruciating, because even when they argued Jeongguk was just too fond, so fond that he could never stay angry long. Even when he was right. And saying wrong while being right - that’s a feat saints can barely achieve. (Truth be told it was very rare he was, though).

 

Jeongguk sighs - what feels like a thousand sighs simultaneously. He cradles Taehyung’s face in both hands, leans in close to press a soft kiss to his lips. Taehyung shivers in his grasp, kisses him back fervently. All the fear, all the hope, all the support dissolving into the press of lips. The unspoken I love you, I’m here, forever present.

 

Nothing’s 100% just yet, of course, but Taehyung is definitely in remission, on the road to recovery. What he needs most of all now is rest, and rest he can do just fine - at home. Home. The word had never struck strong with Jeongguk, always a place associated with difficult memories, broken family, and promises unfulfilled. But now? Now it feels like a place that resides with Taehyung. Home.

 

Jeongguk smiles at him fondly, the spark in his eyes he knows so well has extra illumination today. Taehyung’s different from the others. It’s been more than difficult to see him growing weaker with treatment, clumps of hair falling out, thin frame becoming more frail. But his eyes haven’t changed. When Jeongguk takes him into his arms and feels a lump grow in his throat at just how light he has become, he only has to pull back and look into his eyes. The same Taehyung residing there as before, but stronger. His body may have become more physically weak, but his spirit is strong.

 

Taehyung’s father enters the room, gives a small fond nod to Jeongguk. Jeongguk surprises himself as he pulls him in for an embrace. It’s not as though they’re still enemies in the slightest anymore, but the tears that spring into Taehyung’s eyes when Jeongguk pulls back and smiles at his father is worth it. So worth it. Home and family may not quite yet have the same deep roots as it does for Taehyung, but for him - he can try. If it’s important to Taehyung, it’s important to him.

 

The rest of the day continues like a rushed blur, it’s a contrast as many of them have dragged out - impossibly slow. Jeongguk cannot wait to see the back of it, but of course Taehyung is saddened to leave behind his many numerous friends. (Practically everyone they’ve come into contact with).

 

They pack relatively quickly, Jeongguk pulling Taehyung along as he’s calling out final goodbye’s and I love you’s. He sees more than a few of the staff in tears as they wave them out the gate. Knows they’ll be missed, Taehyung will be missed.

 

“He’s special,” the head doctor had pulled Jeongguk aside to tell him, moments earlier. Jeongguk had simply nodded, an uncomfortable thickness filling his throat. “I know,” he’d whispered back, because that he knew more than anything.

 

--

 

The flight is long and Jeongguk is exhausted, sleep thankfully depriving him of fear. He awakens barely an hour before landing, Taehyung snuggled comfortably into his side.

 

“What now,” Jeongguk says quietly, feeling strangely discomforted as home slowly comes into view. Taehyung’s quiet, “Anything you want,” is more than a little reassuring. “With you?” Jeongguk asks, unable to hide the concern lacing his tone. “Yeah,” Taehyung smiles. “I think I want to go to college. I can go to college now.” Jeongguk grins at that, lets him in on the secret. That - of course, spurs on a round of soft hours, of held back tears and whispered I love you’s that make their seatmate squeeze his eyes shut in absolute pain.

 

“Can we go, together?” is Jeongguk’s quiet question, heart thudding against his chest as he waits for Taehyung’s “Of course.” And hey - maybe their interests are a little different. Maybe it won’t be the exact same one - although the thought is scary. They’ll be together. “I want to live my life with you,” is Jeongguk’s next whispered confession, causing their neighbour to actually get out of his seat with a noise of disgust. Taehyung giggles at that, “Is that a proposal?” Prompting Jeongguk to question how - why, the idea isn’t terrifying. It’s actually a little tempting - shit.

 

“No, course not,” he coughs, mutters - far too late, as Taehyung’s eyes widen slightly and he gently changes the subject. Thankfully pretends Jeongguk hadn’t totally sat daydreaming about marrying him. Jeongguk shrinks quietly in his seat as Taehyung’s father eyes him across the aisle. Maybe he was too loud.

 

---

 

It’s strange seeing his mother at the airport, it hasn’t been so long - but for all he feels it’s been a lifetime. Jeongguk blinks back the odd feeling of tears when she pulls him in for a hug, wiping away tears of her own. Leaving is the hardest, Jeongguk suddenly hit with a large degree of panic when they go their separate ways.

 

Taehyung had repeated, “I’ll see you soon.” “I’m fine,” and multiple variations, but watching him disappear into the car - down the street, had been more scary than Jeongguk would care to admit.

 

The drive home is quiet, and once inside Jeongguk has a fast meal and gratefully escapes to bed when his mother shoos him away with a knowing nod. His brain runs a mile a minute but as soon as his body hits the mattress, he knows he’s a goner. Sleep overcomes him in seconds.

 

---

 

Six Months Later

 

“Babe,” Taehyung’s familiar voice sings out, through the phone, Jeongguk settling down onto his bed with a soft smile. “Hi baby.”

 

Taehyung laughs, “You’re finally done, how does it feel?”

 

Jeongguk grins, because fuck it feels good. Coming home and Taehyung forcing his ass back to finish school was more than a little difficult. But with the extra credit, tutoring, and Taehyung’s (over the top) assistance, Jeongguk is finally, finally, is done. He’s proud of himself. And Taehyung’s proud.

 

“I’m so proud,” Taehyung gushes, Jeongguk blushing as he can picture the ridiculously large grin he knows is adorning his face. “I’ve got presents for you,” he continues, excitedly.

 

“Sweaters?” Jeongguk enquires, with a soft laugh. A now recurring joke between the two. It always somehow came back to the sweaters, those godawful ones Taehyung still refuses to throw away.

 

Jeongguk would go to his grave with the secret, but they’ve kinda grown on him. Although perhaps it’s only the person in the sweater. Yeah that.

 

“You didn’t need to get me anything, honestly.” Taehyung giggles, light and airy, “I didn’t! It’s me,” pauses dramatically as he waits for Jeongguk to catch up.

 

“Um?”

 

“Sex,” Taehyung hastily clarifies, Jeongguk letting out an embarrassing - and strange sound. Glances around the room because surely that didn’t come from his own mouth.

 

“”My doctor said that I’m good to go! I’m healt-”

 

“You asked your doctor? Taehyung?” Jeongguk coughs, lies out on his bed suddenly weak. Taehyung still never fails to surprise him.

 

“Safety first,” Taehyung berates him. “Besides, you would’ve said I wasn’t ready or-”

 

“I can’t believe you asked your doctor,” Jeongguk interrupts weakly. Stares at the ceiling. Pictures Taehyung earnestly asking his austere doctor.

 

And it’s true, he can’t quite believe his patience, what with Taehyung questioning him so often, if they can yet. But he knows Taehyung. Knows it isn’t something light or casual, and going into that, while he still wasn’t healthy, while he was still physically frail. That wasn’t an option.

 

“Tomorrow,” Taehyung says casually.

 

“Tomorrow?”

 

“Tomorrow,” Taehyung repeats, in a faux suggestive tone that sends Jeongguk’s insides swirling. He erupts into raucous laughter. Jeongguk rubs his temples furiously.

 

“I - you’re serious?”

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, tone back at his usual. “You know I wanted to, since then.” Jeongguk nods to no one in particular, because yes he wasn’t exactly ever going to forget that thought. Taehyung had laughed of course, when he’d later confessed he was worrying about College , while Taehyung obviously had other thoughts going on.

 

Jeongguk sweats a little, after agreeing to sex. It’s a little weird and a little planned. But hell, if they’re anything, they’re weird.

 

Taehyung's taught him to embrace it.

 

---

 

JEONGGUK’S BEDROOM, 7:05PM

 

Jeongguk paces his room, nervously glancing back at his bed every so often. It feels strange, foreign to approach sex like this. His first time was the complete opposite, two drinks too many in someone’s bedroom at a party. The memory is vague at best but what he does remember is the incredible mediocrity of it all. Nothing special. And that is not what he wants for Taehyung.

 

Glancing in the mirror Jeongguk frowns, runs a hand through his hair, fingers tangling to get it looking just right. And well - he’s certain Taehyung’s not gonna reject him for a bad hair day, but he just wants everything perfect.

 

Padding his way over to his bedside dresser Jeongguk slides open the top drawer, tongue going dry in his mouth as he checks (for the tenth, eleventh?) time, to ensure he’s got everything they need. Lube, check, condoms check. There’s even a row of tealight candles along the top that he’d purchased at the store earlier, reddening cheeks as his mother queried what they were for. Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but it’s the thought put in he knows Taehyung will appreciate.

 

Jeongguk startles at a knock on his bedroom door.

 

“Jeongguk-ah,” his mother calls out, as he hastily slams his top drawer shut. “I’ll see you later, and thank you!” Jeongguk races over to the door, catching it as it opens. “Have fun, love you.” His mother beams, pulls him in for a hug, makes her way down the stairs.

 

Her exit allows Jeongguk to breathe a little easily. He’d felt a tiny bit guilty buying her tickets to the cinema as a ‘Thanks for putting up with me but also please stay out of the house so--’

 

That.

 

Jeongguk smoothes down the covers on his bed, sprays copious amounts of cologne, and sits uncomfortably at the end of his bed, waiting. The anticipation is awful.

 

Taehyung arrives moments later, letting himself in with the spare key, his footsteps running up the stairs nearly driving Jeongguk into cardiac arrest.

 

“Babe,” Taehyung breathes, flinging open the door with a wide smile, that hits straight in Jeongguk’s chest.

 

“Tae,” he smiles, walks over to pull him into a tight embrace. “Shouldn’t run up the stairs,” Jeongguk frowns. Taehyung rolls his eyes. “Okay doc, but I’m feeling better each day. The best today,” he exclaims, wiggling his eyebrows in a suggestive manner that only increases the lump that was born in Jeongguk’s throat that morning.

 

“Oh,” Taehyung breathes, pushing past Jeongguk to stare admiringly at the array of candles. Jeongguk blushes, heart hammering in his chest. “Cute,” Taehyung gushes, looking back at him over his shoulder with an expression so fond Jeongguk can’t bear it. He bites down on his lower lip, “Sorry if it’s a bit cheesy or-”

 

“No,” Taehyung grins, reaching for the matches to light the candles, “Perfect,” he murmurs.

 

Jeongguk shuffles from side-to-side awkwardly, temperature rising as each new candle is lit. He should be the calm one in the situation, being the only one with experience, but it feels the complete opposite. “Get the lights,” Taehyung says, so casually, so suddenly and Jeongguk almost feels irritated that he’s so blase about it all.

 

I mean now, they’re just going straight into it?

 

Okay .

 

“Kay,” he calls out, heartbeat pounding at an alarming rate as the room is plunged into darkness, lit up only by the soft glow of the candles. Taehyung claps his hands in delight.

 

Jeongguk allows himself to be pulled by Taehyung onto the bed, lying out beside him as they face one another. His face is beautiful, angelic as always, bathed in the golden glow of the candlelight that serves only to enhance his beautiful golden skin. Since they’ve been back Taehyung’s spent almost every waking moment outside. Working on his telescope, reading books, sleeping, eating - harassing Jeongguk (tutoring). He was born to be outside.

 

“Kiss me,” Taehyung whispers, long slender fingers curling around the nape of Jeongguk’s neck as he tugs him closer. Jeongguk readily complies, one arm draping over to rest on the small of Taehyung’s back as he moves until they’re chest to chest. Taehyung’s eyelids flutter shut prettily and Jeongguk allows himself a moment to stare, appreciatively, until his own fall shut and he presses in close. The kiss slow and sweet as if they have all the time in the world. It’s comfortable, familiar, Jeongguk’s tongue sweeping in the crevice of Taehyung’s warm mouth, prying open his soft plush lips.

 

The kiss builds heat as Taehyung’s grip on his neck tightens suddenly, Jeongguk letting out a low gasp at the movement. “Babe, sorry I-,” Taehyung pulls away breathless, longer slender fingers loosening around Jeongguk’s neck. “It’s okay,” Jeongguk responds, his heartbeat racing in his chest. Taehyung’s eyes are darkening, lips slick with Jeongguk’s spit, tanned cheeks flushed a rosy pink. “I choked you,” Taehyung pouts, eyes widening with adorable concern. Jeongguk stifles a laugh, shushes him. “It’s okay,” he clears his throat, Taehyung grazing a thumb across his adam’s apple apologetically. “Stop,” Jeongguk chuckles, tucking a finger under Taehyung’s chin. “C’mere baby,” he says softly, readjusting himself on the bed as he starts to pull Taehyung into his lap. “What are you?”

 

“Relax babe,” Jeongguk whispers. Taehyung nods, cheeks pinking further as Jeongguk turns him around, pulls him onto his lap. Jeongguk begins slow, pressing the barest butterfly kisses to Taehyung’s neck, reveling in the soft half-moans releasing from his lips. His kisses grow more insistent, arms curling around Taehyung’s thin waist and fingers intertwining with the latter’s own. After a while Jeongguk sucks down particularly hard at the junction of Taehyung’s neck, delighting in the breathy moan it produces.

 

Taehyung twists in his lap Jeongguk blinking as his pert ass unconsciously grinds into Jeongguk’s crotch. “Tell me if I should stop,” Jeongguk breathes again, voice shaky. He inhales deeply as his fingers trace down Taehyung’s sides. His skin is smooth, soft and it burns under his touch as he pulls his shirt off in one swift movement. Taehyung shivers, leans back instinctively into Jeongguk’s muscled chest. “Tae,” Jeongguk chokes out, as he trails his fingers down his chest in slow appreciation. He traces all of the dips and curves, simultaneously pressing open-mouthed kisses onto the nape of Taehyung’s neck.

 

Taehyung’s body is sensitive at his touch, skin hot, nipples hardened as his fingers brush past, lips parting to release low breathy moans. Eventually Jeongguk’s fingers dip just below the waistline where he pauses. Heart beating wildly in his chest. “Don’t stop,” Taehyung whispers, voice taking on a hoarse quality Jeongguk has not had the pleasure of hearing before. His fingers swoop down further, caressing the outline of Taehyung’s length through his boxers. Taehyung shudders, his hips stuttering forward instinctively. "Oh,” he mutters, head falling back onto Jeongguk’s shoulder, eyelids fluttering closed. Jeongguk smiles against the nape of his neck, stretches his head around to drop a kiss onto his bare shoulder. “Jeongguk-ah,” Taehyung moans, soft and low, his voice unbearably sexy as Jeongguk’s fingers curl around his cock. The boxer material is thin, and Jeongguk can feel the wet patch forming at the head of Taehyung’s cock through the white cotton. The blood races to his head. Jeongguk’s tongue feels heavy and dry in his mouth as he feels Taehyung’s length hardening as he traces up and down, slow.

 

Jeongguk’s breath hitches in his throat when Taehyung continues to squirm in his lap, ass grinding down onto his own cock quickly approaching full hardness in his boxers. He finally slips his fingers under to meet skin, Taehyung becoming more vocal in the process. Jeongguk’s pace quickens as he jerks Taehyung off faster, incoherent noises spilling out of his mouth going straight to Jeongguk’s dick. God.

 

Taehyung’s voice muttering a softly spoken “Stop,” cuts through his haze as Jeongguk’s hand slides off his dick, slick with precum, Taehyung’s body shaking in his lap.

 

“I don’t want to,” Taehyung trails off, voice barely audible, chest rising and falling as he lets out a quick succession of shaky breaths. “Not yet,” Taehyung says, body finally coming to a standstill, as he peels himself out of Jeongguk’s lap turns to face him. Jeongguk barely breathes, takes in Taehyung’s naked form, front on, on his knees. He’s beautiful, perfect and he can’t help but stare. Taehyung reddens under his gaze, arms shyly coming to wrap around his soft, slender waist. Jeongguk reaches out immediately, catches his wrists. “You’re perfect Taehyung,” he whispers, voice husky in an odd mixture of adoration and lust. Taehyung’s cheeks pink further as he looks up at Jeongguk shyly.

 

“Can I,” Taehyung pauses, dips his head, “Can I touch you?” he utters softly. The question sounding oddly innocent but also serving as a very-near cause of a heart attack. Jeongguk nods, leans back against the headboard as Taehyung shuffles towards him. Jeongguk blinks in mild confusion as Taehyung abruptly pulls his ankles, until he’s laying flat on the bed. Places himself between Jeongguk’s legs who looks up at him in shock. Taehyung’s hair is more than a little messed up, and Jeongguk’s absolutely certain he’s never seen the wild look in his eyes. He shivers, goosebumps spreading across his exposed skin as Taehyung’s fingers curl around the waistline of his boxers, and he pulls.

 

Jeongguk’s eyes flutter shut momentarily, heart pounding in his chest and he pauses. Body on full alert as he waits for Taehyung’s fingers to encircle his cock. Fingers he’s incredibly familiar with, but not down there. Jeongguk’s eyelids open when the pause drags out a little long, takes in Taehyung’s wide eyes and flushed features. “We can stop,” he says immediately, reaching down to pull up his underwear, only for Taehyung to swat his hand away.

 

“I’m just preparing myself,” Taehyung mutters biting his lower lip. And it’s so adorable Jeongguk can only close his eyes even more tightly, mistimed affection bursting in his chest.

 

A single minute stretches out hours, and Jeongguk sits up suddenly his knee colliding forcefully with Taehyung’s head. Jeongguk lets out a squeal as Taehyung hisses, a small round lump already forming on his forehead. “Fuck,” Jeongguk coughs out, scrambles up to cradle his head in his hands. “What were you doing?” Taehyung blinks up at him, mildly irritated. “Trying to give you a blow job?” Jeongguk chokes promptly at that.

 

“Oh,” he recovers, Taehyung giving him a worried stare as he reaches out to pat his chest. “You don’t have-” Taehyung sighs loudly, interrupting his sentence. “I want to. How many times do I have to tell you? I’m ready okay,” Jeongguk nods, grimacing slightly as Taehyung gives him the mild stink eye.

 

“I’m lying back down,” Jeongguk announces, face contorting as he can see Taehyung stifling a giggle. “Okay,” Taehyung chuckles, barely giving him a moment to collect himself before he swoops down - literally, on Jeongguk’s dick. Jeongguk’s body responds immediately, Taehyung moving without hesitation, engulfing Jeongguk’s dick (which had been softening, but no longer ). He releases a muffled groan as Taehyung licks the head of his cock, taking it full inside his mouth. It’s sloppy and messy and perhaps to a professional it would have lacked finesse. Not that Jeongguk can tell.

 

The only thing going through his mind is Taehyung’s mouth, on repeat.

 

Taehyung is an enthusiastic blow-job giver Jeongguk discovers. Although that’s not such a surprise given the enthusiasm he puts into - basically everything. It’s not long until Jeongguk’s pushing his head away frantically, Taehyung pulling up with a pleased smile, an obscene amount of spit and precum on his lips. Jeongguk almost feels evil, like he’s tainted a real life angel somehow. “How was I?” Taehyung has the audacity to ask a sputtering red-faced Jeongguk.

 

“G-good. Really good,” Jeongguk forces a smile, reaches out and pulls Taehyung until their bodies are flush on one another.

 

They kiss, soft and languid, hands roaming freely over each other's bodies. And first times are meant to be a little awkward, and a little messy. But bar the ‘knee incident,’ all Jeongguk feels right now is at ease. There’s something so safe about giving your body to someone who already holds every non-physical part of you.

 

“Guk-ah,” Taehyung breathes, the tremble of his lips brushing the shell of Jeongguk’s ear. Shivers race down his spine as he hands creep down Taehyung’s bare back. Appreciative, slow, until they come to rest on the perfect curve of his ass. Fingertips squeezing lightly as Taehyung groans into his neck, body grinding down onto Jeongguk’s.

 

It’s sweaty and a little sticky and a lot hot as Jeongguk rolls his hips upwards, gently at first. But as aforementioned Taehyung’s enthusiastic, and a fast learner. And as he grinds down into Jeongguk their pace gets rapid, messy, breath coming out in short sharp bursts. Garbled compliments and moans swallowed by the others kisses.

 

They come to a stop slowly, as Jeongguk gently rolls Taehyung over to his back. He lies there, sweat causing his hair to cling to his forehead, looking up at Jeongguk. Jeongguk’s relieved to find not a hint of hesitation. His entire body posture but mostly his eyes radiating trust. Radiating love. “I love you, okay?” Jeongguk feels the need to remind him, Taehyung reaching out and wordlessly squeezing his hand in his own.

 

Taehyung nods in response to the silent question, as Jeongguk retrieves the lube and a condom from the dresser drawer. He painstakingly warms it up, presses the first finger in slow, so slow, eyes not moving off of Taehyung’s own. Taehyung bites his lower lip hard, face flinching slightly in discomfort and Jeongguk stops. Finger withdrawing immediately as he sweeps him in for a kiss.

 

“I don’t want to hurt you baby,” he breathes against his lips. Taehyung pushing him off lightly. “I can take it,” he asserts, urging him to continue. Beads of sweat break out on Jeongguk’s forehead as he pushes in again slow, repeats the motion again and again and again, until his finger is sliding in and out with ease.

 

At Taehyung’s signal he adds another finger, eyes never leaving Taehyung’s. Drinking in every facial expression, every moment, ears alert to every sound that leaves his lips. The third finger takes a little bit to get going, Taehyung’s face twisted in a mixture of what Jeongguk hopes is mainly pleasure and only a little bit of pain.

 

“More,” Taehyung urges, voice cracking as he utters the word. As Jeongguk presses in a little further, a little harder. And Bingo. Taehyung’s eyelashes flutter open and his body jerks forward, into Jeongguk’s hand as he hits there. His heartbeat quickens as he pushes in again and again, aiming for the same spot, Taehyung’s body responding quickly. His mouth falling open in utterances that fall like magic on Jeongguk’s ears.

 

“Kiss me,” Taehyung stutters, between breaths, and Jeongguk indulges him immediately. Fingers still working inside him, leaning over to catch the moans leaving his mouth. “Now,” Taehyung mutters, not a minute later. Jeongguk’s fingers sliding out with an obscene pop that echoes in the room.

 

His own dick is painfully hard, neglected, and he lets out a hiss of relief when he finally wraps lube-covered fingers around it. The condom is a little tricky to slide down when his hands are so shaky, especially with Taehyung watching him intently the whole time, mouth dropped prettily open, eyes bright but slightly glazed over. He coats it generously, lube running down his thighs. 

 

Jeongguk moves himself up towards the top of his bed, pulls Taehyung in so he’s straddling his lap. “Want to see you,” he whispers, breath hitching as Taehyung sinks down on his cock, slow so slow, until he’s completely full of Jeongguk.

 

And want to see him he does , because Taehyung is mesmerizing. Face falling into an o of pleasure, thighs quivering as he begins to ride Jeongguk. Jeongguk’s hands come under his ass cheeks, pulling his entire weight - it’s not a lot, up and down, up and down. Taehyung’s thighs slap against Jeongguk’s obscenely. As his voice grows in volume almost matching the volume of the slap of skin on skin.

 

Taehyung keens, leaning back, body faltering, causing Jeongguk to flip positions, lay him out on the bed. Taehyung shudders, Jeongguk kissing his face, his eyes, his lips, his neck. Whispered I love you’s into his skin. He gently nudges Taehyung’s legs, and Taehyung wraps them around his waist, hands greedily grabbing at Jeongguk’s locks. Jeongguk pushes in slowly, Taehyung’s eyes falling closed immediately. “Jeong-guk,” he moans, long and drawn out, fingers pulling frantically at Jeongguk’s hair as he grabs wildly, pulling him closer, closer, closer.

 

The sound of his name from Taehyung’s mouth, wrecked, spurs Jeongguk on further as he presses into him. Faster and faster, his own lips falling open to a litter of curses and praise. It’s hard to think straight as he chants baby , like a mantra, he catches glimpses of Taehyung in his blissed out state. And it’s beautiful, unreal.

 

It’s not long after that Taehyung cries louder than before, an impressive shudder running through his body. Jeongguk peaks close after, fingers frantically intertwining with Taehyung’s and he squeezes as he hits orgasm with a drawn out “Taehyung.”

 

Their bodies rock gently, slowly, to a standstill, breathing still ragged and eyes slightly unfocused. Jeongguk collapses in a heap on top of him. Prompting Taehyung to choke, half on a laugh, half because “Jeongguk baby, you’re so heavy.

 

Lethargy hits Jeongguk’s limbs as he slowly pulls out of Taehyung, falls beside him on the bed, arms instinctively curling around him.

 

“We’re sticky,” Taehyung breathes out, voice still unsteady, but he falls into Jeongguk’s embrace all the same.

 

“That was,” Jeongguk tries, loose random vocabulary floating around his head. Nothing cuts it.

 

“I love you,” he goes with instead, Taehyung’s face melting at the words, as he nuzzles his hair into Jeongguk’s cheek.

 

“I love you too,” he says back, and as always the words light up Jeongguk’s smile like no other.

 

“Always?”

 

Taehyung laughs, loops a bare leg over his hip.

 

“I hope so Jeongguk.”

 

Jeongguk frowns, pulls him in closer.

 

“Always?” he repeats again, ignoring Taehyung’s previous response and continued laughter.

 

“Okay,” Taehyung whispers, fingers coming to rest on the nape of his neck.

 

“Good,” Jeongguk mutters, somewhere between the realms of dreams and awake. He should probably blow out the candles. Good.




Chapter Text

 

BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL GYM – FRIDAY (3:10 PM)

JUNE

 

Jeongguk breaks into a wide smile as he walks out the door, down the school steps for the final time, thank god. Taehyung is waiting for him outside, swimming in an oversized hoodie, one of Jeongguk’s

 

“Babe,” Taehyung breathes out, as Jeongguk races - literally, into his arms. Long gone are the days of embarrassment, of caring, because if being with Taehyung, loving Taehyung has taught him anything. It’s that life is precious, and it’s far too precious to waste a single second holding back from loving the greatest person in his life (on the planet, he would claim). “Thank fuck,” Jeongguk mutters, into Taehyung’s shoulder, Taehyung’s sides shake in amusement.

 

“Boys,” Principal Kelly calls out, striding across toward them, large grin plastered on his own face. “Jeongguk,” he nods at the boy, expression fond, proud. “Taehyung,” he smiles, holds out a hand which Taehyung forgoes completely, pulling him in for a hug.

 

“I’m incredibly proud of you both,” he says sincerely, shakes Jeongguk’s hand with a firm grip. (Jeongguk isn't quite up to hugging him). “I’m certain you’ve both got very bright futures ahead of you, can’t wait to see what’s next.”

 

It’s all a bit of a blur as Jeongguk stands there, Taehyung chattering away excitably to their principal, or now former. Discussing their plans, ideas, what he’s been up to, working on. He can’t quite believe they’re finally there - both of them together. Taehyung’s fingers entwine with his own and he gives his hand a soft imperceptible squeeze, always grounding Jeongguk. Taehyung’s hand in his own, a constant silent reassurance.

 

The walk out of school is strange, odd, and it’s a little different as most of his peers had left earlier in the year. Nevertheless Jeongguk can literally feel a sort of weight lift from his shoulders. While so many leave High School with tears in their eyes, all Jeongguk can feel is relief.

 

“Will you miss it,” Taehyung whispers, leaning into his side to bump shoulders, at which Jeongguk shoots him an incredulous stare. “Hell no,” Jeongguk chokes on stifled laughter, glancing back once, twice at the towering structure. Blinks his eyes shut and open in quick succession just to check this is definitely real.

 

“Jeongguk,” a familiar yet unfamiliar voice rings out, when they make their way into the centre of town. Jeongguk stiffens, grip tightening on Taehyung’s hand.

 

“Let’s go,” he mutters under his breath to Taehyung who stays, frozen in position as Jeongguk attempts to break away. “Hello,” Taehyung calls out, friendliness and warmth in his tone - and that’s not unusual, but Jeongguk would not deem the people he’s greeting worthy of such. Taehyung nudges him with little subtlety at which Jeongguk croaks out a gruff “Hi.”

 

He looks up, takes in his two former best friends, ex-girlfriend, Minjun, Jun-young, Sana. Gulps. Minjun looks uncomfortable, Jun-young much the same, Sana is hovering on the sidewalk uncomfortably. Jeongguk gives them a nod, goes to move past them, Taehyung yanking him back. It’s silent for another awkward moment, time ticking by at a painful snail’s pace.

 

“We’re sorry,” Sana blurts out softly, Jeongguk bristling at the apology. She’s looking at Taehyung not Jeongguk as she speaks, glancing down ever so often to fiddle uncomfortably with her own fingers. “We want to-” Minjun trails off, looks over at Jun-young to carry on. Jeongguk finds himself sweating, but Taehyung stands there, still, holding his hand tightly as if to say don’t go, please, and I won’t let go.

 

Jun-young clears his throat, “I know an apology probably means shit all an-”

 

“Yeah it doesn’t mean shit,” Jeongguk spits out, a little more fiercely than intended. He’s not looking his way but he can feel rather than see Taehyung’s reprimanding glare.

 

Jun-young simply nods, knowingly, “We’re still sorry though.” Minjun cuts in, “Really sorry. Hey, um, congratulations on graduating.” Jeongguk swallows uncomfortably, can they leave already? He’s not even sure if those three managed to graduate with their class, or if they just slipped out before the end of the year.

 

“Taehyung I,” Sana says softly, pulls out a book of some sort from her bag, Jeongguk eyes it suspiciously. “Saw this at the store, not anything fancy - just the second-hand shop but I, thought you might like it.” Taehyung reaches out eagerly, accepts it with a wide smile. Goddamn Taehyung and his saint-like personality. Jeongguk casts his eyes downward, it’s a Space book of some kind, he can’t quite make out the title.

 

“I love it, thank you,” Taehyung gushes, clasping her hand with a warm smile. Jeongguk’s heart constricts. Sana nods, looks away something akin to guilt flashing over her features. “And it’s okay,” Taehyung continues, deep voice, soft-spoken, “People can change,” he continues, eyes darting to look at Jeongguk, who blushes. Minjun barks out a laugh at that, and it’s comfortable, friendly, Taehyung shoots him a wide smile. “In his case, I think it’s for the better,” Minjun adds, looking at Jeongguk, who is unable to meet his gaze. Sana and Jun-young nod in amused agreement.

 

Taehyung simply laughs, bright and airy, lets go of Jeongguk’s hand to sling an arm around his shoulder. “He was always good,” Taehyung says, proudly, “People just couldn’t see.” His words burn the tips of Jeongguk’s ears red, and he can’t help like feeling as though he’s somewhat of a spectator in this conversation. But despite that, unmistakable pride and fondness flood him. Taehyung always sees the good in people, always saw the good - even in him.

 

He nods, at his former friends, the stale air now punctuated with something half pleasant, something unmistakably Taehyung’s doing. Pulls lightly on Taehyung’s hand because surely they’ve been gracious enough.

 

“All the best you two,” Sana says, quietly, genuine smile stretching at the corners of her lips. She’s smiling at Taehyung and if Jeongguk didn’t know any better, he’d think that was endearment he could read on her features. He knows that look well, one that he’s himself worn mixed with an awful sense of dread, at how wrong he’d been. He guesses he can’t hate them all that much when he’d been much the same. One of them.

 

“You also,” Taehyung says brightly, “And happy birthday for tomorrow, Minjun,” he adds earning a look of surprise from all present.

 

“It’s your birthday tomorrow?” Jun-young hisses at him. “Um, yeah,” Minjun says, eyes widening in surprise in Taehyung’s direction. “Thanks, see you,” Jeongguk says, a little curtly, but forces his lips upwards into somewhat of a smile. “Good bye,” Taehyung calls out, waving as Jeongguk literally drags him away with all the force he can muster.

 

“That was nice of them,” Taehyung whispers when they’re out of earshot, Jeongguk grunts in response. He wasn’t so selfless as Taehyung. “How’d you know Minjun’s birthday?” Taehyung glances at him sideways, “We were in a lot of classes together. It’s important to remember people’s birthdays, I always try to.” Jeongguk nods at that, unsurprised. Taehyung’s big heart for people coupled with his insane memory would explain that.

 

“You’re perfect,” Jeongguk mutters, pressing a kiss to the crown of Taehyung’s head, who flushes and looks over at him, bright-eyed and giggly. He is.

 

---

 

Hoseok comes barrelling out of his front door before Jeongguk and Taehyung are even up the driveway. He crashes into Taehyung, arms spread open wide for a hug. Jeongguk pauses, amused smile on his lips as Hoseok pulls away, then gives Jeongguk a hug, but it’s a lot shorter.

 

“Thought I was your favourite,” Jeongguk frowns, sulkily, Taehyung smiling in glee as Hoseok sidles up to him, arm slinging around his waist. “You are,” Hoseok giggles, body language completely betraying him. “Let’s go, brat,” he says fondly, as they all pile into Jeongguk’s car. A ridiculously extravagant graduation present, from his occasional part-time father.

 

The drive to the cinema is loud, windows down music blasting as Taehyung and Hoseok sing aloud with as much enthusiasm as pub-goers after ten jugs on a Friday night. Taehyung pokes him in the ribs, continuously, a driving hazard really, until Jeongguk finally concedes, sings along with them both.

 

The film is average at best, but Hoseok never gets to go, and his wide-eyes and variety of expressions is more than enough to keep Jeongguk entertained. That and Taehyung’s whispered commentary that earn them one or two glares from along their aisle.

 

“That was the best,” Hoseok exclaims excitably, eyes shining as they finally exit from the cinema - last, because he hadn’t wanted to leave. Getting him home Jeongguk is met with reluctance, two puppy-eyed faces begging for ice-cream. He agrees, of course.

 

As he’s leaning across the small circular glass table, to swipe a thumb at a bit of strawberry ice-cream that’s settled on Taehyung’s chin Hoseok blurts out, “Will you get married soon?” Taehyung chokes on his ice-cream and Jeongguk pulls back his hand abruptly, as if the gesture had been the cause of the question. Hoseok blinks up at them innocently. “Well you’re old now, you’ve finished High School,” he explains.

 

Jeongguk coughs uncomfortably, glances over at Taehyung in hopes that he will respond.

 

“We’re still young,” Taehyung says lightly, ruffling his hair. Jeongguk laughs, but it comes out a little winded, “Yes we’re young,” he adds weakly. Swears he can see a sly smile forming on that brat’s face.

 

“I’ll be Jeongguk’s best man when you do,” Hoseok continues, shovelling ice-cream into his mouth at an impressive rate. “He’s got no other friends,” Hoseok continues, Jeongguk looks at him, offended.

 

“I’ve got friends,” he grumbles, through a mouthful of mint chocolate chip. Hoseok fixes him a look and Jeongguk pauses until oh. Shit. Maybe I don’t have any friends.

 

“Taehyung’s my friend,” he ends with, aggressively stabbing his spoon into the ice-cream. “But you’re marrying him, he can’t be your best man,” Hoseok continues. Jeongguk opens his mouth to respond but - why they hell are they talking about their fictional wedding anyhow. He glances over at Taehyung who is silently stuffing his face, shoulders shaking in amusement. He’s loving this, Jeongguk realizes, only slightly betrayed.

 

“Taehyung has lots of friends,” Hoseok continues, “Drama friends, science friends, friends from tutoring, friends from volunteering, old people, babies, cats, dogs, that squirrel we met outside the cine-”

 

“I know,” Jeongguk responds irritably, thinking of Taehyung’s habit to pick up friends out of literally - thin air. Ever since leaving High School a lot of people had wised up as well, realising how stupid they’d been to push him away. Jeongguk had snorted in disgust on more than one occasion unsure of whether they deserved Taehyung’s open-armed forgiveness. Not to mention he’d picked up approximately ten pen pals from their time away, and Jeongguk’s sure that if he’d offered there would’ve been more.

 

“I’ll be your best man,” Hoseok reiterates, patting Jeongguk with his tiny hand twice in reassurance. Taehyung coughs on an audible laugh this time.

 

“You’re quiet baby,” Taehyung remarks, after they’ve finally dropped Hoseok home, much to his disappointment. Jeongguk’s quiet for a beat, contemplates holding it in, but it’s Taehyung, his Taehyung - they make a point of telling each other everything. Or most things.

 

“I don’t have any friends,” Jeongguk says, in a small voice, he feels stupid, so stupid. The sympathetic look Taehyung throws him doesn’t help much.

 

Operation: Find Jeongguk Friends makes Jeongguk silently wish he’d never mentioned a thing. Taehyung had made a not-so-subtle point of over enthusiastically introducing Jeongguk to everyone, all 2.4 million of the people in his life, squirrels and all.

 

Jeongguk suffers through obviously set up ‘friend-dates,’ and uncomfortable hang outs in which he stares at Taehyung pleadingly, to not leave goddamnit, but Taehyung does, a wave a smile and a kiss, and Jeongguk just can’t quite stay angry.

 

---

 

College

 

It’s not until College really, when Jeongguk rids himself of blind-friend dates with great intentions by his angel of a boyfriend. His new roommate, Namjoon, just clicks, and what’s more is he absolutely adores Taehyung, which is a must, right at the top of Jeongguk’s friendship-seeking-list. Not that he has a literal one, that Taehyung wrote out for him, stuffed in the bottom of his sock drawer.

 

(“Lists are good, babe,” Taehyung says, sternly, Jeongguk frowns, “This is just embarrassing,” as he writes 1. Must love Taehyung, at the top.)

 

Taehyung’s roommate Jimin, inspires a brief ugly wave of jealousy over Jeongguk, but his trust in Taehyung is too strong and he pushes it aside, begrudgingly. Jimin appears to only enhance Taehyung’s bubbly personality, and the two become inseparable fast.

 

But as things go, what makes Taehyung happy - makes Jeongguk, so he carves a Jimin-sized space in his heart, if only to make Taehyung smile. And later - he guesses he likes him, he’s okay, just a little.

 

College goes by agonizingly slow but ridiculously fast. A contradiction of sorts. As Jeongguk stands, ready to graduate, it feels surreal. As if it had only just begun. He glances down the aisle at Taehyung, who looks illegally adorable swathed in the over-sized gown, cap askew on his head. He’s bouncing in his seat, never one for keeping still.

 

“Dude,” Namjoon slaps him on the head, momentarily knocking Jeongguk out of his reverie. “Zoning out, again, ” he laughs, inclining a head in Taehyung’s direction. Jeongguk blushes, scrambles for a worthy explanation, sputters and fails.

 

“You’re so-” Namjoon trails off, shakes his head. “Smitten. Still. ” Jeongguk can’t really respond, because well - it’s true. Four odd years on and looking at Taehyung still feels as though his heart is dropping out of his body, on the floor. Namjoon teases him good naturedly, but for the most part he finds it endearing. Although most of their friends moaned about how sickeningly couple-like the two were, the all lowkey loved it. Secret bets on marriage dates and all.

 

If Jeongguk wasn’t so goddamn intent on it being the most perfect day of their lives, perhaps it would’ve been sooner.

 

“What next,” Jeongguk mutters, as the ceremony drags out far too long, a sea of faces and names he doesn’t recognize. The thought that Taehyung probably does know them all briefly flits into his head for a moment.

 

“Marriage?” Namjoon suggests with a smirk, earning him a glare from Jeongguk. He thought he’d changed the subject.

 

“I could never propose,” Jeongguk says glumly, accepting his fate and the direction of conversation. Namjoon always got the closest to the truth - well, second after Taehyung. Although perhaps third, because Jimin heard everything via Taehyung, much to Jeongguk’s chagrin.

 

“What would be the ideal?” Namjoon whispers, in a tone as little above the definition of the word, earning them whispered hushes from either side. Jeongguk faintly wonders if he should continue this conversation, knowing the ribbing he will receive later. But god the ceremony is so damn boring and - what the hell.

 

“The moon, proposing on the moon,” Jeongguk pauses contemplative, misses the sly smile that stretches itself across his friend’s face. “Or giving him the moon? Yeah that would be the ideal as well I guess, not that it could happen,” he shrugs. He’s met with silence and glances sideways at Namjoon, immediately regretting every word that’s left his mouth.

 

“Fuck,” Namjoon mutters, mildly impressed, but also very amused. “You’ve obviously thought about this?” Jeongguk shakes his head indignantly, “I haven’t I-” Namjoon chuckles, “Propose on the moon or give him the moon? I mean, I know you’re whipped as hell, no cream straight butter. But-” Jeongguk blushes red as Namjoon trails off, unable to even finish his sentence.

 

“He’s worth it,” Jeongguk goes for, defensively. Namjoon smiles at that, teasing tone dropping out of his voice. “You’re smitten and nauseating but I have to agree.”

 

And when all’s said and done, the most expensive piece of paper he’s ever held, and Taehyung hurtling toward him full speed, knocking him over - literally into the grass. And when Jeongguk’s smiling up at him, the most beautiful person he’s ever seen (and the world would see, he’s adamant), smitten and nauseating are just two adjectives he’s not so afraid of being.

 

---

 

Three years later

 

“It’s perfect, Guk,” Jimin smiles, small hand resting on Jeongguk’s shoulder. Jeongguk turns to him sideways, lips curling into a nervous smile. “Really? I want it to be better, I want to do so mu-”

 

“Shut up,” Namjoon cuts in, waving a hand in Jeongguk’s face. “He’s gonna love it, chill. ” Jeongguk nods, glancing around the room for the thousandth time. “He’d love anything if it’s you,” Jimin chimes in softly.

 

And Jeongguk knows this, I mean it’s been ages now - and he still sometimes feels his heart skip a beat, or multiple when he remembers Taehyung is his. Tonight has to be perfect.

 

His friends leave with a few final words of encouragement, a soft-spoken ‘good luck,” from Jimin, who appeared to be on the verge of tears. And a well-intentioned ‘don’t choke’ from Namjoon.

 

Jeongguk stands in the middle of the room over-analysing every aspect. He’d told Taehyung he’d rented a small cottage by the lake, for a holiday. Little did Taehyung know he’d bought it. Proposing had been in the back of his mind for awhile now, but it had only been 24 hours earlier when he’d definitely decided that today was the day.

 

He’d taken the day off work, much to Taehyung’s distress that he was leaving earlier, getting a day more holiday without him. The lounge he’d stripped bare, gone all out with twinkling fairy lights, crafted space and planet sculptures himself - Taehyung always liked a personal touch. With Namjoon’s lyrical assistance and recording prowess, he’d even composed and recorded an original song, now playing softly in the background. Music had been something he’d come to in College, aided by Taehyung’s gentle assistance (signing him up without his permission).

 

Jimin had patiently strung up lights and planets, placed one thousand - yes one thousand candles, lining the edge of the room. Had oohed and ahhed (and gagged a little), as he put up little notes - an entire wall’s worth, a sticky-note of compliments and praises. Every little thing Jeongguk loves about Taehyung.

 

Hoseok had dropped by for a brief moment, donated a mirror ball he’d stolen from the dance academy he attended. The silver glittering and dancing along the walls. (“Namjoon’s stolen your best man spot, but I’ve still got a place in my line for you.” Hoseok had beamed, thrown his arms around him. “If he says yes,” Jeongguk had quickly added, Hoseok throwing him a look of disgust. “He’ll say yes.”).

 

Jeongguk glances at his watch the faint ticking sound suddenly resounding in his ears. Fifteen left. Fifteen minutes until Taehyung will burst through the door and -

 

Fuck.

 

Jeongguk paces the room, has another swig of some fancy champagne he doesn’t even particularly like - Taehyung won’t either but it’s all for the aesthetic. Or something. He pulls the small velvet navy ring box out of his back pocket, checks the ring inside.

 

The sound of a car pulling into the driveway jolts him to attention, Jeongguk sprinting into the hall, slamming the door firmly behind him shut. Heart hammering in his chest he gives himself a quick onceover in the mirror. Hair done perfectly - courtesy of Park Jimin, a nicely fitted white shirt that’s some designer label he doesn’t recognize - thanks Namjoon.

 

Taehyung’s footsteps heading up toward the door seem to echo with each heartbeat.

 

“Babe,” Taehyung calls out excitedly, leaping forward into his arms with as much enthusiasm as eight odd years earlier. “Finally,” Jeongguk breathes out, pressing a kiss to the tip of his nose, right on the little mole.

 

“I can’t believe you came before me,” Taehyung cries out, indignantly, as he squirms himself free from Jeongguk’s gasp. Steps back with one eyebrow raised. Jeongguk smiles, corner of his lip twitching nervously.

 

“What’s going on,” Taehyung presses, clearly able to read Jeongguk’s mood and outfit. They are so attuned to each other by this point, a tiny shift in emotion, body language, tone and the other picks it up. Able to communicate silently in public if needed,

 

Jeongguk wrings his hands together nervously, “I made dinner.”

 

“I’m starved,” Taehyung announces with a grin, “Students tired me out today. This place is amazing - I’m gonna check it-”

 

“No,” Jeongguk says abruptly, Taehyung’s forehead wrinkling in suspicion. “Okay?”

 

“Dinner first I mean,” Jeongguk says hastily, drags Taehyung by the hand outside to the verandah on the side, where dinner is waiting. If Taehyung notices that it’s not Jeongguk’s cooking (Namjoon’s partner Seokjin had kindly dropped it off), he doesn’t say a word.

 

They eat in relative silence, comfortable, the view amazing.

 

“Why do you look so fancy,” Taehyung asks, through a mouthful of food. Jeongguk shrugs, avoids the question.

 

“Imagine having a place like this,” Taehyung says next, dreamily, and Jeongguk could almost burst right there and then, blurt out the truth.

 

“It would be perfect right?” Jeongguk says, with a soft smile, pleased at how much Taehyung obviously loves it.

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung breathes out, rests his head on his chin as he looks out across the water. “I hate living in the City sometimes. It’s convenient and stuff but, this -” he gestures, sweeping his hand across the horizon. The sun starting to set, sky painted a myriad of pink and gold hues that are more dulled in the City, hidden behind neon lights and smog.

 

Jeongguk swallows more food to hide his secret smile.

 

They stay there outside, Taehyung giving up his seat in favour of Jeongguk’s lap, arms wrapped around his middle. They watch the sun’s miraculous display, as day turns over to night, the sun making way for a glittering of stars.

 

“It’s beautiful,” Taehyung whispers, head falling back onto Jeongguk’s chest.

 

Taehyung’s fascination with space, had extended into his adult years. He’d studied it intensely at College, gone on to become a University Professor. Jeongguk knew he enjoyed teaching, but still, above all, he loved learning. Their apartment with an entire room dedicated to makeshift telescopes and research.

 

“Learning about space is infinite.” Taehyung continues, soft, deep voice forever the most pleasant sound Jeongguk’s ears have ever heard. “That’s why I love it so much, I’ll never be done. That’s beautiful you know?”

 

Jeongguk hums in agreement, arms tightening further around Taehyung’s slim waist. Hands slipping under his shirt to caress soft skin. Taehyung giggles, shivers, “Cold fingers babe.” Jeongguk smiles, unapologetic, “Sorry,” continues his ministrations. It’s not that he has a thing for Taehyung’s soft tummy but well - yeah he does.

 

They stay there, in close embrace, silence washing over them pleasantly as the sky turns completely dark. Jeongguk momentarily forgets what he has planned until Taehyung yawns, moves to go inside.

 

He’s hit with a sudden sense of panic as they walk inside, Taehyung clinging to one side.

 

“Baby?” Taehyung hums sleepily in response. “I’ve got a --- a surprise for you.”

 

Taehyung’s eyes blink open more alert at that, childish delight creeping over his features.

 

Jeongguk pauses by the door of the lounge, heart thudding loudly in his chest. Taehyung looks at him curiously, “Wait here for a bit, please?”

 

Taehyung nods as Jeongguk slides into the room, closes it firmly behind him. Flustered, he begins to light the candles - which is no easy task, one thousand, to be exact. Flicks on the additional lights Namjoon had set up, takes the ring box off the side table, puts it in his pocket.

 

“What’s happening?” Taehyung calls out, unable to hide the excitement in his voice.

 

“Just a sec,” Jeongguk shouts back, turning frantically to check everything is just right. He pauses by the stereo, hits play, instinctively cringing as the beginning of his song, their song, fade into the silence.

 

“Come in,” he greets Taehyung nervously, holding the door open as Taehyung steps in after him, eyes widening in shock as the room comes into view.

 

Jeongguk steps back, allows Taehyung to survey the room, stopping to admire every little detail, oohing and aahing over the gigantic telescope set up by the window. He pauses right by the wall - the one Jeongguk’s spent painstaking hours filling with notes hand-written just for him. Jeongguk blushes as a light gasp leaves Taehyung’s lips, and he moves slowly to stand next to him, hand reaching out to hold his.

 

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung says quietly, voice breaking on the second half of his name as he turns to look at him, eyes glimmering with unshed tears.

 

“Is that you singing?” he exclaims suddenly, taking in the music playing in the background. Jeongguk simply shrugs with a shy smile, and the tears spill over on Taehyung’s cheeks. Jeongguk wills himself to breathe.

 

“Taehyung,” he begins, looking into his eyes with difficulty.

 

He clears his throat, takes a step back.

 

“Taehyung, baby,” slowly gets down on one knee, tears freely streaming down the other’s cheeks at this point.

 

He fumbles in his pocket, pulls out the ring box with a flourish.

 

“Be my forever?”

 

At the words, Taehyung breaks into an audible sob, spurring tears Jeongguk hadn’t realised were building to fall from his own eyes.

 

“Please,” Taehyung responds, falling down into Jeongguk’s arms, who catches him, effortless, stands to his feet with Taehyung clinging onto him, head buried in his shoulder.

 

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes out, between sobs.

 

“Is that a yes?”

 

“Yes a thousand, a million, a trillion, infinity yes.”

 

Jeongguk slowly places Taehyung on his feet, smile spreading across his face as he slides on the ring, Taehyung shaking a little, wide smile through shining tears.

 

“Oh,” Jeongguk adds, almost as an afterthought.

 

“Let’s live here too.”

 

Taehyung looks at him scandalized, unable to process.

 

“You bought us a house?”

 

“Well,” Jeongguk smiles, brings Taehyung’s hand up to the light so he can admire the ring adorning his slender finger. “I bought you a house, but I’d like to live here too, if you let me.”

 

Taehyung laughs at that, arms coming back around to squeeze the life out of Jeongguk.

 

“Forever, please.”

 

And later, after Jeongguk has patiently waited for Taehyung to pull off every post-it note, reading them loudly at the top of his lungs. Performed his song - live, blown out the candles when they’d danced and Taehyung had tripped, nearly setting their new house on fire. Later when they’re curled up in one another, Taehyung’s hand clasping his own, Jeongguk wonders if forever is long enough.

 

---

 

Ten years later

 

“I don’t like him,” Rose scowls, thin arms drawn crossly over his chest. Jeongguk bites back a laugh at her face of indignation, one eyebrow raised in disdain. He isn’t one to play favourites - he loves all his kids, but something about little Rose reminds him so much of himself as a child. Strong and tenacious, a true individual. Jeongguk walks into the room wordlessly, settles himself on the couch as various children pile themselves onto his lap.

 

“Who does Rose like?” he asks, winking cheekily as she throws him a look of betrayal. The other kids all erupt at once and Jeongguk only shushes them as Rose’s cheeks redden further, and he can tell she’s starting to get quite uncomfortable. First crushes and all.

 

“I remember my first love,” Jeongguk begins dramatically, the kids all giggling in prepubescent embarrassment, but he spies Rose prick up a little, suddenly alert to the shift of conversation. “Was it Papa?” Junghyun asks, the others all nodding in agreement. Jeongguk smiles slowly, because obviously. And there’s was not a typical love, no. Many dream of being with their ‘childhood sweetheart,’ their first love - forever and ever. But for most they grow and change, life gets in the way. For Taehyung and Jeongguk they had grown, had changed - a lot, but for the most part they’d done it together. Their older selves only complimenting each other further than the younger versions.

 

“Of course it was,” Jeongguk replies incredulously, lips turning up into a soft smile. “We knew each other since we were kids, but really got to know one another when we were teenagers.” The youngest’s jaw drops in shock at that, “You were teenagers?” Jeongguk coughs on a laugh at that, “Yes sweetheart, we were young once. He settles further into his chair, ready for storytime.

 

“Taehyung was very good looking and smart back then and-”

 

“I’m still good looking,” comes an amused voice from the doorway, “And smart.” Jeongguk twisting in his chair lips forming a surprised oh as he takes in Taehyung standing in the door frame. Arms crossed over his chest, left eyebrow raised. Fond smile on his lips.

 

And well, he’s right.

 

“Aren’t you just,” Jeongguk manages to get out as the kids titter behind him. He blinks back the irritating feeling of warm tears building behind his eyelids. Sue him - it’s Christmas, sappiness is practically a given.

 

“I love you,” Taehyung says taking the two short steps until he’s standing right in front of him. And it’s so familiar, he’s heard it so often, but it never fails to light a spark within Jeongguk’s chest. One that had been born all those years ago. Never distinguished but only illuminated further with time.

 

“I love you,” Jeongguk smiles, reaching out an arm to bring Taehyung’s head to his own, leans in to press a chaste kiss to his lips.

 

The kids all erupt into shrieking groans and horror, hands flinging over their eyes at the intimate display of old people affection.

 

---

 

Three years later

 

“Tae,” Jeongguk calls out, “I found,” Jeongguk pauses, contemplating the box, not entirely sure what he’s found. His eyes widen as he digs through the contents, pulls out the sweater he bought Taehyung for Christmas, back when they were merely kids. Teenagers in puppy love.

 

Its slightly moth-eaten, and damp, but Jeongguk is all smiles as he pulls it out of the box with a flourish. Settling himself down, he continues going through the contents. Taehyung’s school reports, stellar (of course), projects - space books, drama scripts - another sweater. Right near the bottom is a dusty old book, it piques his curiosity, diary perhaps?

 

“Don’t read that,” Taehyung gasps, lunging forward to grab the small brown notebook in Jeongguk’s grasp.

 

Jeongguk pulls it away, looking at it curiously, “A diary?”

 

“Your list?”

 

Taehyung lunges again, Jeongguk side-stepping away. “Baby, please, you know I’ve been dying all those years to read it.”

 

Taehyung sighs with reluctance, sits down in a heap on the floor, “Fine go ahead.”

 

Jeongguk turns open the first page - and yeah it’s the list, but it’s not just that? It’s a diary of sorts. He glances at the year and his heart-beat jumps in excitement. That year. The year they had met - well truly met.

 

 

“Kim Taehyung, eighteen years of age, life list!” Jeongguk reads out in a theatrical voice, Taehyung groaning with his head in his hands on the floor.

 

“One hundred,” Jeongguk pauses, glances up at him - “There are one hundred things?”

 

“Told you not to read it,” Taehyung implores, at which Jeongguk shakes his head firmly.

 

“One hundred, ride a motorbike.”

 

He goes down the list, stopping at certain numbers.

 

“Eighty-five, save someone’s life.”

 

“Seventy-two, publish a novel.” He stops, looks up at Taehyung with a wide smile. “Can tick that one off now babe.”

 

“Sixty-three, open an orphanage.” Taehyung sighs, “Never done that yet. I was obsessed with doing that when I was a kid.”

 

Jeongguk hums, contemplative, “But you have in a way?” Taehyung tilts his head up and him, curious.

 

“We’ve adopted - three kids, orphans, you practically have adopted all the students you’ve had in the past few years. How many of them have we had over for breakfast, lunch, dinner - we’re practically a halfway house.”

 

Taehyung laughs, smiles up at Jeongguk, who has been so, so patient whenever Taehyung has turned up with waifs and strays, announced that they would be staying indefinitely.

 

“I guess,”

 

“Fifty-four, learn a new language. Well, three new languages, so I think that one’s definitely a tick, smarty-pants.”

 

“Forty-one, road trip.

 

Remember our first one, second year of College?” Taehyung chuckles from his seat on the floor, always more than ready to wander down memory lane with Jeongguk. “You forgot the tent!” Taehyung exclaims. Jeongguk grins, “You were lowkey pissed I could tell.” Taehyung smiles at that, shuffles along the floor until he’s seated right at Jeongguk’s feet. “We made it work though, sleeping out under the stars.” Jeongguk winks, “More than sleeping under the stars if I recall correctly.”

 

“Forty-two, befriend an enemy.” Taehyung grins at that, as Jeongguk glances at the page with mock disapproval. Stares at the big tick with the name Jeon Jeongguk scrawled right next to it. Taehyung cackles.

 

“Twenty-nine, graduate.”

 

“Twelve, have children.”

 

“One, aww,”

 

“Shut up Jeon.”

 

“Fall in love.”

 

“Didn’t get that one yet,” Taehyung quips, dodging a foot that comes flying in his direction.

 

“Whatever, Jeongguk says with a smile, walking out the door clutching the book closely to his chest because he sees with delight there is more.

 

A lot of the pages are a little tattered, frayed, some pulled out altogether. Jeongguk sits, on the toilet seat, door firmly locked shut, much to the horror of his disgruntled husband, who bangs on the door for about five minutes, and then gives up.

 

 

 

Monday;

 

I’ve seen Jeongguk around a lot lately. He’s been sentenced to cleaning up at Science club, joining the drama production and tutoring as some sort of punishment. It’s interesting watching him. He’s one of the kids in deep with the ‘crowd,’ some of them are good - i’m sure of it, but it’s pretty hard to see. They seem so concerned with trivial, fleeting things, things that I could never bring myself to care about.

 

He surprised me today. In Science club, blurting out the answers to questions that I - judgmentally I must admit, would not have assumed he would know. I love when people surprise me, reminding me that there is so much more to every person you meet. He seems hidden though, so many layers to uncover. I’m excited.

 

Thursday;

 

Jeongguk is definitely not so bad. I drove him home after drama club and he was - sort of nice to talk too?

 

I’m sure dad wouldn’t approve.

 

Wednesday;

 

I took Jeongguk to the cemetery today - to my spot. I would not of dreamed of taking him, of all people. I mean - I try my best not to judge, because people are such complex creatures, there is always more than one initially assumes. But it was hard not to with Jeongguk. It was so easy for me to assume that we’d never have a thing in common.

 

Dad wouldn’t be pleased with me sneaking out but -- it’s my life to live. And I don’t know how much more of it is left.

 

Thursday;

 

I was wrong about everything. Jeongguk hasn’t changed just a bit. Or he won’t.

 

I’m angry at myself for being hurt when I should’ve seen this all along.

 

Saturday;

 

Play tonight, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m a bit nervous to be acting with Jeongguk.

 

Sunday;

 

I don’t know what I’m feeling.

 

Tuesday;

 

Nebula means cloud in Latin. These are areas in which stars are being created or where a star has died. The cosmic clouds come in all shapes and sizes and are made out of interstellar dust and gases.

 

I can’t help thinking that humans are much the same.

 

Friday;

 

I think I love him. I don’t want to.

 

Monday;

 

Jeongguk bought me a Christmas present, a sweater. I don’t know what to think. My heart feels all sorts of funny when he’s around. He’s cute.

 

Wednesday;

 

JEONGGUK ASKED MY DAD TO TAKE ME ON A DATE.

 

Friday;

 

We kissed. I can’t even write anything tonight I feel drunk even though I don’t know what that feels like. I guess it feels something like this.

 

Saturday;

 

I think I’m falling for him. Or I’ve already fallen.

 

Tuesday;

 

I still don’t know if I know what love is, but it has to be something like this.

 

Jeongguk bites back the foreign feeling of tears as he reads the rest of the entries, he doesn’t cry often - could almost count the times on his fingers.

 

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk calls out, pushing the door open slowly as he finds his husband slumped on the outside, snoring softly. He picks him up with a low chuckle, carries him into their bedroom, Taehyung instinctively wrapping his arms around his neck, nuzzling his face into his chest.

 

“Mmm,” Taehyung mumbles sleepily, grasp on Jeongguk tightening as Jeongguk lowers him to the bed, forcing Jeongguk to go down with him.

 

“You’re the cutest you know?”

 

“You are,” Taehyung mutters back, Jeongguk allowing his arms to flop loose, as Taehyung arranges them around himself.

 

“Did you know,” Jeongguk begins, as they so often have over the years. “That the closest galaxy to us is the Andromeda Galaxy?”

 

And he knows of course, that Taehyung does.

 

“Don’t do it,” Taehyung whispers into his chest, corners of his lips curling in amusement because he knows what’s coming.

 

“I think they’re wrong,” Jeongguk begins, voice taking on a theatrical quality.

 

“Don’t,” Taehyung says weakly with a giggle, burying his face further into his chest.

 

“The closest one is you.”

 

Taehyung smiles, predictably “You’re gross.”

 

“I’m great.” Jeongguk replies with, presses a kiss to his forehead, smoothes out the hair from his eyes.

 

“You know why I think I know more about space than you?”

 

Taehyung blinks open his eyes at that, “I have a PHD, don’t forget Jeon.”

 

“Because while you spend your time studying Space, you forget that it’s all right here.” He taps Taehyung’s chest with a smile. Taehyung rolls his eyes.

 

“My stars, my sun, my moon, all of the galaxies combined.” Jeongguk whispers unabashed, as Taehyung curls into himself and squeals.

 

“You’re so cheesy.”

 

“You love me.”

 

Taehyung grunts, noncommittally, sits up slightly, elbow on Jeongguk’s chest.

 

Jeongguk smiles, loses himself - as always, in Taehyung’s eyes. Because cheesy, or over dramatic or whatever, it’s true. Taehyung is an entire universe and although he’s had years to explore, there is always more to find, to discover, to love.

 

“Don’t look at me like that,” Taehyung finally says, pink blush spreading over his cheeks as though they were still two kids in love.

 

Hell, they basically are.

 

---

 

“Jeongguk?”

 

“Yeah baby?”

 

“Did I ever tell you that you make me the happiest man on the planet? In the universe?”

 

Jeongguk laughs, kisses the nape of his neck. “Only every day.”

 

“Well,” Taehyung says, rolls over to face him, presses a chaste kiss to his lips.

 

“I should tell you more. Starting from now. Ten times a day.”

 

Jeongguk chuckles, kisses him back, thumb running over Taehyung’s cheekbone.

 

 ---

 

Friday

 

I really can’t believe it, they think I’m getting better. I feel exhausted beyond the definition of the word. Like my heart has been wrenched from my chest multiple times, lost somewhere. I can’t even begin to explain how I feel, all I know is this is the most difficult thing to happen in my short eighteen years. And I hope it to forever remain the hardest part.

 

Jeongguk was, is, there. Every second. I love him.

 

I love you.

 

Those three little words almost rendered insignificant due to the amount of times they’ve been uttered in the history of the universe, many insincere. But when I look at him, and he looks back, sees me - really sees me. The breath is stolen right out of my throat and those three words are the only one’s that exist in my vocabulary. Everything else disappears.

 

I hope I’ll love him forever.

 

---

 

Jeongguk smiles in the darkness, presses a kiss to Taehyung’s cheek as the latter snores lightly against his chest, fingers buried in his shirt. He decides in that moment that forever isn’t enough.

 

 

Infinity maybe.