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The Geographical Cure

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“A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.”

Milan Kundera , The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This is officially the smallest plane seat Jeongguk’s ever had to squeeze himself into. It’s too warm. The flight’s not long enough for a free meal. There’s a crying baby around three rows down. He hasn’t gotten a wink of sleep because his layover was barely three hours and that’s not enough to shower properly. If his legs wobbled a little bit on the way to the gate, no one around him had noticed. Or cared.

By the time he’d managed to squeeze past the tiny blonde woman yelling at her much taller husband about how he’d incorrectly stowed away their carry on luggage, Jeongguk feels just about ready to melt into the ground. That is, until he sits down and his knees hit the seat in front of him. He wonders if the window is sturdy enough for him to smash his head in.

Eventually Jeongguk settles for just leaning his temple against the glass, the sunlight pricking at his eyelids. Why do they even have to stay open during liftoff?

Jeongguk hears the seatbelt light turn on, and the flight attendants shuffle along the aisles. Someone settles in the seat next to him, their seatbelt clinking loudly as they shut it. At least they seem to understand the concept of personal space. Jeongguk hears the click of the last overhead compartments closing, and soon the entire cabin goes mostly silent (save for the kid) as the attendants go through the safety instructions in heavily accented English. Jeongguk could never understand the French. American English was hard enough.

How would he fare in Prague?

Jeongguk squirms in his tiny ass seat as the person next to him shifts a little, the person’s elbow getting in his space. He hadn’t expected to have someone else directly next to him — weren’t flights to the less popular European cities this time of year typically underbooked anyway? — but Jeongguk’s not gonna complain. He’s going to take a nap, and he’s going to wake up having arrived safely in Prague, with or without a crying baby threatening to blow the eardrums of everyone in the vicinity.

One hour and forty minutes, according to the first officer’s disembodied voice over the speakers. Jeongguk’s stomach growls loudly in protest.

Maybe he’ll dream of spicy kimbap or his mom’s naengmyeon.  Jeongguk’s head lolls on its socket, and he tries to lean backwards into his upright seat. First order of business when he lands at the airport is getting a full meal.

 


 

The first thing Jeongguk notices when he drifts back into the land of the living is that his eyes are glued shut. How much sand can a single pair of human eyes produce in an hour? Jeongguk groans a little, bringing his hand up to rub some off. He must look like a mess.

The plane rumbles through some turbulence, and Jeongguk’s head bounces against the shoulder he’s leaning against.

Wait, shoulder?

Jeongguk straightens up at the speed of light, nearly hitting his head against the window. Thankfully he doesn’t scream. When Jeongguk’s vision focuses, the stranger’s turned to him, blinking slowly, like he’d been asleep too.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” The boy says, brown bangs falling into his eyes. The deep timbre of his voice doesn’t match how young he looks, just about Jeongguk’s age, give or take a few years. He stares back at Jeongguk’s wide eyes, lips quirked up in an amused smile.

Fuck, he’s gorgeous .

“H-hi,” Jeongguk squeaks, eyes trailing down the slope of the boy’s flawless nose, the jut of his jaw, the way his smooth golden skin disappears under past the collar of his shirt, the top three buttons open. The seats are close enough that Jeongguk can see the hint of chest, and his mouth goes a little dry.

“Did you have a good nap?” The beautiful man asks. His English is lightly accented, and Jeongguk realizes this guy is just as Korean as he is. Jeongguk has to force himself to focus on his breathing. Sure, there are oxygen masks available, but he’d rather he hyperventilated due to the cabin’s shift in pressure than the fact that the sweat dripping down the hot guy’s exposed chest makes him want to pass out.

“Yeah, I—“ Jeongguk swallows, bringing a hand up to stroke his hair, “I did. I’m sorry...Um, I didn’t realize I was — “

The attractive stranger waves him off, “It’s no bother. Your hair smelled nice. Strawberries?”

Jeongguk nearly screams. It was the cheapest shampoo he could find at the airport.

Just as he’s about to say something dumb, and thus embarrassing himself further, the plane touches the ground. For some goddamn reason, the entire plane claps, like they’d just witnessed something out of the ordinary. Jeongguk rolls his eyes. The stranger looks away from Jeongguk and laughs, joining in on the applause. It doesn’t look as stupid when he’s doing it.

“I’m Taehyung, by the way. Kim Taehyung. Nice to meet you.” The guy says suddenly, making Jeongguk jump once again. He really needs to wake the fuck up. It takes two seconds for him to realize he spoke in Korean.

“Ah, hello, Taehyung-ssi” Jeongguk replies formally, “I’m Jeon Jeongguk.” The guy — Kim Taehyung — laughs again, and Jeongguk swears it’s the most beautiful thing he’s seen in this continent so far.

“Oh, drop it. No need to be so formal,” Taehyung says. Jeongguk opens his mouth, maybe to be a brat, when Taehyung stands up, and is momentarily lost in the flurry of people grabbing their suitcases and shuffling out the plane. Jeongguk stays glued in his seat, having formed a habit of letting the crowd go ahead, and Taehyung looks at him once he’s in the aisle, ready to go.

“I’ll see you around, Jeon Jeongguk,” Taehyung yells as he’s carried away by the flow, waving as he goes. Jeongguk manages a weak wave back. Soon, Taehyung’s disappeared from view, and out of the plane

 


 

 “You’re so stupid. You’re so stupid,” Jeongguk mutters under his breath, his backpack slung over his shoulder and his feet slamming unnecessarily hard onto the carpeted floor. This airport isn’t as nice as Charles de Gaulle — or Incheon for the matter — but it’s not horrible. Jeongguk’s seen worse. It’s not Manila.

He hopes he never has to see that guy ever again. Prague is a big city. He’ll be fine. What are the chances?

By the time he’s taken his sweet time in the bathroom, the crowd around the baggage claim isn’t so bad. His suitcase is bright red anyway. It’ll be easy to spot. Jeongguk stands a few feet away, and scrolls through his playlist, reminding himself to buy some sort of tourist SIM so he’ll have data while he’s there.

“Cute bag,” Someone says, fiddling with the metal keychains Jeongguk has on his zipper, and Jeongguk spins around so fast he nearly loses his footing. It’s Taehyung.

“Easy, tiger. It’s just me,” Taehyung says, smiling. Jeongguk wonders how a guy he’s known for a total of five minutes feels like he’s entitled to calling himself “just me.”

“Oh. Um, hi,” Jeongguk says, taking a small step back. Taehyung’s even worse standing up. His shoulder are broad, tapering down to a pretty waist, shirt tucked into some black slacks that look gorgeous on his legs. Jeongguk swallows, and feels sweat drip down the nape of his neck.

“You staying here long?” Taehyung asks, turning towards the conveyor belt. Jeongguk mirrors him on instinct, and suddenly his shoulder is merely inches from the other boy’s. It make him fidgety. He tugs on the ends of his hair. Jeongguk makes a note to himself to get a haircut soon.

Wait, he realizes Taehyung asked him a question.

“Um, well, I dunno yet.”

Jeongguk looks at Taehyung from the corner of his eyes, and the other boy’s eyebrows are raised, lower lip jutting out. It’s pretty and full. Jeongguk wretches his eyes away and stares straight at the conveyor belt.

“You don’t know? Interesting.” Taehyung tilts his head to the side, and then looks at Jeongguk, eyes curious. Jeongguk’s forced to look back, and he still refuses to believe someone with a smile like that lives in this plane of existence. After a second, Taehyung looks away, and it leaves Jeongguk with his heart in his throat.

The suitcases are passing by at a snail’s pace, making Jeongguk tap his fingers impatiently on his arm. It’s not fair, seeing Taehyung immediately afterwards. He should’ve spent more time in the bathroom. Or waited until the plane was empty before getting off.

There a minute of awkward silence, their bags still refusing to show up. But then Taehyung chuckles. It startles Jeongguk, who’d ended up staring into space.

“I don’t know either,” Taehyung shrugs, his own voice sounding a tiny bit shy, “How long I’m staying, I mean. I haven’t decided.”

Jeongguk blinks at him a couple of times, a million thoughts racing through his head, the panic of possibly having to embarrass himself in front of this cute boy for the next few weeks making him sweat.

“Really?” Jeongguk wants to punch himself. His voice is soft, nearly choked, but Taehyung just nods.

Before Jeongguk can think of anything else to say, a massive purple suitcase makes the turn, and Taehyung grabs it quickly. He picks it up like it’s nothing, but from the way it hits the ground it’s clear he must’ve paid for extra baggage allowance. Jeongguk eyes Taehyung’s arms, hidden in the long sleeves of his shirt, and wants to die at the thought.

Taehyung looks at him, eyes wide and sparkling under the gaudy airport lights, and Jeongguk swears he’s never seen a pair of eyes that beautiful in all his years of living.

His suitcase rolls loudly as Taehyung starts walking away.

“Maybe we will see each other soon,” He calls out, and Jeongguk nods. Once Taehyung’s out of sight, and he groans, staring up at the ceiling like God personally cursed him.

“You. Are. So . Stupid.” Jeongguk says slowly, really tasting each word. He slides his palm down his face, scrubbing at his eyes, and then looks back at the conveyor belt.

His giant bright red suitcase is one of the only ones left.

Jeongguk grabs it before it gets too far, and sets it down with far too much force. Thankfully he’s packed everything well. Or at least he hopes so. It’s been a while since he departed from Incheon, and sleeping on planes is usually a horrible experience for him. Usually.

Jeongguk tries not to commit Taehyung’s face to memory. He breezes past the customs counter, and walks out of the glass doors. The cool spring air hits him right in the face, and he takes a deep breathe.

Welcome to Prague, Jeon Jeongguk , he thinks to himself, try not to fuck yourself up.

 


 

 The hotel isn’t too far from the airport, so Jeongguk splurges a little on an overpriced airport taxi. It’s peaceful, considering it’s the early hours of the morning, and he’s grateful for the lack of traffic. The trams are running, blocking the way a couple of times, but it’s bearable. Jeongguk gets to the hotel after a little over half an hour, and the cabbie is nice enough that Jeongguk spares him a bit of a tip.

Once he’s inside, it feels just as homey as the website described. There’s a small hallway leading to a small front desk, with a cozy looking library nearby, and steps going up and down. Everything feels very European, Jeongguk notices, with smooth wooden finishes and painting that are what he remembers might be Baroque. There’s a tall dark haired man with a sharp nose at the desk, and he grins at Jeongguk.

“Good morning! Here to check in?”

Jeongguk nods, and he’s ready to be bombarded with over-the-top friendliness, rehearsed explanations of how the place works, exaggerated gestures for where everything is. It’s all the same, no matter what country you go to. The accents just differ.

And that’s what he gets. Soon enough he’s checked in (second floor, room 2) and he’s been shown where the breakfast room, restaurant, bar, and been given a rundown of all the wonderful services the hotel has to offer. The usual.

“Oh! And you’ve come at a very exciting time,” The man — whose name tag says David — says suddenly, making Jeongguk quirk an eyebrow. The man pulls out a small stuffed rabbit from underneath the front desk; it’s white, with a red tracksuit and a holding some sort of stick. He places it next to the little bell.

“It’s hockey season!” He explains, pulling out another stuffed rabbit of the same kind, only a little bigger. “In case you didn’t know, the Czech Republic takes it hockey very seriously. You might see many fans walking along the streets during game days. And make sure to join in on the drinking should we win! Czech beer is the best beer in the world.”

Jeongguk smiles at him. Beer. That he can get behind.

 


 

 The room isn’t small at all.  There’s a small room right when you end, with a table, chair, and a few cupboards. A mini-fridge and a microwave. There’s a bathtub, so at least Jeongguk knows he’ll have a way to unwind. He’ll have to check if this country has a LUSH. Jeongguk parks his suitcase by the closet, and strides over to the window.

Each room looks likes it goes the long way across the hotel, so that everyone can get a window, which Jeongguk is grateful for. He can’t imagine having to stay here for longer than a week if he was just closed in. The dark salmon wallpaper leaves something to be desired, but Jeongguk figures he can live with it.

Jeongguk’s barely been connected to the Wifi for five seconds when a Kakaotalk call comes through, and he knows there’s no point in ignoring it. He plops himself down on the bed — which is just soft enough, he notes — and answers it.

“How are you, Jeongguk-ah? All settled in?”

Namjoon needs to get out of there fast, because the way he’s picking up a slight British accent in his English sounds absolutely ridiculous.

“Yeah, I just got into my hotel,” Jeongguk stares at the ceiling. It’s pretty clean. “I think I’m gonna chill at the hotel for today.” There’s some shuffling at the end of the line, like Namjoon’s just lying in bed. It’s been a while since Jeongguk checked his schedule. Did he not have a book signing today?

“At least drink at the bar,” Namjoon says, “Don’t wanna look like a fucking loser who drinks alone in their hotel room on your first day.” Jeongguk snorts.

“Like you’re probably doing right now?”

Jeongguk hears a glass clink against a hard surface. He laughs, hard, and rolls around in bed as Namjoon grumbles about brats who have no right .

“Sure, hyung, I’m the only loser here.”

“Listen, I’ve just come for a very tiring day and I needed to unwind. I’m not about to deal with a crowded hotel bar. Besides, it’s not my first night here so— “

“Fine, fine, hyung,” Jeongguk sits up, ruffling his hair with his hand, “I’ll drink at the bar tonight.”

“That’s the spirit. Make some friends or something. No use visiting another country if all you’re going to be looking at are historical landmarks.” Jeongguk wrinkles his nose. Namjoon’s one to talk.

“I do talk to humans sometimes, hyung.”

“Out of necessity,” Namjoon points out, “I know for a fact that if those weird statues that city is known for could talk, they would be the only things you speak to.”

“I didn’t answer the phone to be slandered like this.”

“I’ll call you again tomorrow, kid.” Namjoon laughs, and it’s full of affection, “And your English is better than it used to be. You’ve come a long way.”

Jeongguk remembers how awkward he was when he first met Namjoon in high school, the older was all gangly limbs and hands overflowing with papers, and him just that awkward freshman who didn’t know a lick of English. He’s glad his mother forced him to get lessons. Namjoon’s the best tutor he’s ever had.

“Thanks, hyung. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Even though he’d spent most of the call just bickering with him, the room feels colder without Namjoon’s voice in his ear. Jeongguk locks his phone and tosses it down onto the bed next to him. Maybe some fresh air.

The Spring air is cool enough that he doesn’t feel the need to turn on the air conditioner. The window looks like the kind he sees in all those European movies — large, with a white frame, and it opens all the way. Jeongguk nearly slams it against the hotel when he swings it open. There’s even a little plant box. He wonders if housekeeping waters it. The flowers are in bloom.

He looks out into the street, the sidewalk mostly empty save for the occasional passerby, and he commends himself on choosing a hotel in such a nice location. It’s right by the Vltava river, so walking across the city shouldn’t be a problem. There’s a park nearby too, so even keeping up his fitness routine should be easy.

Just when he’s about to step back from the window, a taxi pulls up right in front of the hotel, and the door swings open . It takes a second for the person to register in Jeongguk’s mind, back going cold from shock, but it’s him.

Taehyung steps out of the passenger side door, slinging his backpack over his shoulders. The taxi man rushes out the door, pulling his suitcase out of the trunk. It lands on the pavement with a thunk, and the taxi man laughs nervously, wiping sweat off his brow.

“Thank you so much, sir! Sorry it’s so heavy, I’m a bit of an overpacker.” Taehyung chuckles as he pulls out a few bills and hands them to the man. He starts to reach into his pockets when Taehyung pats his shoulder, “Oh, no, no, keep the change. It’s fine. Thank you again!”

He still sounds absolutely gorgeous, cheerful, outgoing, charming. Everything Jeongguk was not. He would fit right into the mold of every single guy Jeongguk had a crush on in college but never bothered to ask out. And maybe even half the guys he’d casually slept with. It was horrifying, how well he knew this was going to play out. Just how much he’s going to blush or want to beat himself up at every encounter.

Taehyung turns, and heads into the hotel.

Jesus Christ . Jeongguk presses his forehead against the window frame and takes a deep breath. This is not happening to him. Out of all the chances, Jeongguk managed to embarrass himself to the one attractive Korean guy on that plane. And then saw him again at baggage claim. And then ended up in the same fucking hotel. The same goddamn hotel in this entire city.

Someone up there is conspiring against him, determined to make his life a living hell, trying to use up his quota of embarrassing moments for the month so he’ll have no choice but to hit up Antarctica for his next visit.

He’s definitely going to need a drink tonight.

 


 

 The thing Jeongguk misses the most when he’s away is definitely the food. Nothing abroad ever seem to be spicy enough. Even their spicy dishes are mild to him, and that’s just not fair. He would never even be able to calculate the amount of hot sauce he’s consumed over the last few years. It’s depressing. And the rice . There’s never enough rice. How is he supposed to fill up without rice ?

He’s never tried a risotto before, and even though something in the back of his mind is telling him it might be rice, he’s not taking his chances. There’s a perfectly harmless pasta on the menu. That’ll probably fill him up better than just meat. And an onion soup for good measure.

The table he chose was the farthest from the door, up a small staircase on the second landing. What kind of tiny restaurant has two levels? This one, apparently. Quaint is how Jeongguk would describe it. Very European. More polished wood, straight elaborate clocks on the walls, paintings of farmers and various landscapes. The works.

What matters is if Taehyung were to come eat here tonight, he won’t see Jeongguk unless he decides to be that dick that hides in the corner. He doesn’t seem like the type. He’d probably sit close to the bar and charm both the waiter and the bartender. Probably.

Jeongguk twiddles his thumbs while he orders, refreshing his boring Facebook news feed. It’s usually nothing but politics nowadays, courtesy of his friends from the States, but sometimes he watches the recipe videos his mom shares. The video editing is cute.

The waiter comes with a water, and the most surprising thing is he’s Korean too. Jeongguk swears he is. When he places the glass down, Jeongguk thanks him in Korean, and the waiter just nods and smiles. He’s not sure if that means he understood or not.

When his food arrives, Jeongguk asks for tissue in Korean again, and the waiter gets them for him without a second thought. Jeongguk swears he sees him chuckles a little as he turned away. The smile on him when he comes back is blinding.

“What’s your name?” Jeongguk blurts out when he’s handed the tissues. The waiter smiles wider, if possible.

“My Korean name or my English name?”

Jeongguk exhales, and smiles back. “Korean.”

“Jung Hoseok. Nice to meet you…?” He extends his hand, and Jeongguk shakes it. It’s a good handshake. Firm.

“Jeon Jeongguk.”

“How long are you staying?” Hoseok asks, and Jeongguk wonders how many times he’s going to have to repeat his answer. He should come up with a stock reply, in case any store clerks or tour guides want to make conversation.

“For as long as Prague will have me,” Jeongguk tries to say with a straight face, but then he breaks halfway through, laughing a little. Hoseok just smiles.

“She’s a good city,” Hoseok jerks his head, to gesture to the world outside, “You’ll never want to leave.” It’s a sweet sentiment, but Jeongguk wonders if that answer’s a little too romantic for him.

“Not sure if immigration will allow that.”

“Fair point,” Hoseok laughs, and it’s a nice one. Loud, boyish. Sounds like he’d be a good guy to have a drink with. Just then, the bell to the door rings, and Hoseok looks at him apologetically.

“Enjoy your meal, Jeongguk.”

“Will do, Hoseok.”

Hoseok goes to serve whoever just entered. Jeongguk makes a mental note to ask how old he is. The hotel is rather small, so the likelihood of there being more waiters aside from him isn’t very high. Maybe he can call him hyung. He seems older.

Jeongguk eats his meal in relative silence. The people who had come in were an American couple, and they talked loudly amongst themselves. A few other guests arrived, but they were mostly Europeans, no one too boisterous. By the time Jeongguk finishes eating, the place has cleared out. (He took his time, mostly because he knew if he rushed it he’d get a stomachache. Not the best way to spend your first night in a foreign country.)

When Hoseok comes back to clear his plates, he gives him another warm smile. Jeongguk wonders if he ever runs out of them.

“How about a beer, sir?”

Jeongguk stands up and makes a show of dusting himself off, “I’ll relocate to the bar.”

The bar is really just right there in the restaurant, by the entrance. There are bar stools, and colorful bottles of liquor and beer taps. The bartender is another Korean guy — probably Hoseok’s friend — with black hair and who looks bored out of his mind. At least, that was the impression Jeongguk got when he entered.

Jeongguk’s barely three steps down when he feels like someone’s punched him in the stomach. Right there, sitting on one of the bar stools and sipping on a massive mug of beer, is Taehyung.

Just his luck. Maybe if he makes a run for it, Taehyung won’t notice him. He could pass by right behind him, and hide in his room for the rest of the ni—

“One beer for this one!” Hoseok calls out, in Korean , and both Taehyung and the bartender turn to look up at them. Taehyung’s eyes go wide, like plates, and Jeongguk swears he feels himself shatter into a million pieces and then melt into the ground.

“Oh my gosh,” Taehyung says, voice a little breathy, “I can’t believe this.” He straight up giggles into his beer, pressing his nose into the glass. It’s fucking adorable, but Jeongguk can’t let that thought show. He’s not here to meet boys. He’s tired of boys. Boys are awful. Especially pretty boys like Taehyung. Repeat it ad infinitum, or at least until you believe it. That’s the bullshit phrase Namjoon says a lot right?

“Can’t believe what?” The bartender drawls, placing a coaster on the bartop and then a pint glass. The beer gushes out of the tap, but he pours a full pint like an expert. He places the glass on the counter, right next to Taehyung. Jeongguk wants to scream.

“This guy,” Taehyung says, pointing to Jeongguk with his lips, “I sat next to him on the plane.” The bartender raises his eyebrows, and it’s the first sign of genuine interest from him.

There’s no way around it. Jeongguk goes to sit down at the bar by Taehyung — one seat in between them, because Jeongguk’s not gonna cross that line — and curls his fingers around his beer.

“Really?” Hoseok asks, going behind the counter and sitting next to bartender, “What are the chances, huh, Yoongi hyung? I don’t think I’ve seen this many unrelated Koreans in here since that group of college kids from a year ago.” Yoongi. That’s probably the bartender’s name. Jeongguk takes a sip of his beer and tries to pretend Taehyung’s not there.

“You both from Korea?” Yoongi asks, sitting down himself, leaning forward so he’s shoulder to shoulder with Hoseok.

“I am. Kim Taehyung, at your service.” Taehyung tries to bow, doing what he can with the little space he has. It’s cute. “Just here for a while. I’d always liked this city. I’ve read about it in books.”

Books. Jeongguk has to resist breaking out into a grin. He hates how easily endeared he becomes with people, hates how little it takes to get him interested. Even with him being more awkward that a crab in a ballpit, he always somehow manages to interact with the more adorable of people. It’s stressful.

Yoongi does that stereotypical bartender thing where he wipes a perfectly clear glass with a washcloth over and over. Jeongguk figures it’s so his hands stay busy. He asks Jeongguk next.

“You?”

“Um, yeah. I’m Jeon Jeongguk.” Jeongguk gives them all a small smile, and he has to look away when he sees how fixated Taehyung’s eyes are on him. “Haven’t spent a lot of time there in the past few years. Was in California for a whole year. London. Tokyo. Hong Kong. I travel a lot.”

Yoongi snorts, “Are you one of those rich kids or do you do it for work or something?”

“Are you a government spy?” Hoseok asks, and Jeongguk can’t tell if he’s mocking him, “Do you gather intelligence?”

“Uh…” Jeongguk scratches the back of his neck. What does he say to that? Then Taehyung puts a hand on his back, and all the words fly out of his head.

“Come now, no need to grill him. Besides,” Taehyung removes his hand, and place it on his shoulder, squeezing lightly, “If he was a spy, he wouldn’t tell us.” Jeongguk has to remember how to breathe.

“I just — ” Jeongguk chews on the inside of his cheek. “I want to travel while I’m young, you know?”

“So you’re a rich kid.” Yoongi gets a smack from Hoseok, but Jeongguk just laughs.

“You could say that.”

Yoongi looks satisfied at the fact that he’s right. Jeongguk likes him already. Yoongi cocks his head to the side, a teasing smirk on his lips, “Bet daddy runs one of those big investment companies or something.”

“Actually, he works in tech.”

“One of those big cellphone companies then?” Hoseok asks, “Samsung?”

“Ah, no. More Internet.”

“I’m hanging out with the big leagues here,” Taehyung elbows his lightly, “I’m just a boring liberal arts student.”

The conversation flows naturally from there, like the four of them had always meant to be friends. Jeongguk feels like this is the first time he’s been able to shift so easily between English and Korean in years, without the worry of confusing anyone in the group. Him and Taehyung get a few beers in them before Hoseok and Yoongi give in, only sharing one between them, because they’re technically still on the clock.

Jeongguk learns that they’re Jung Hosoek and Min Yoongi. They’d met randomly after both having lived in Europe since they were teenagers. Similar situations: parents divorced, remarried to foreigners, moved their families halfway across the world. They were lucky to have found each other, Hoseok says, nudging Yoongi’s shoulder lightly, and Yoongi just mumbles in agreement. Jeongguk doesn’t miss the way his cheeks tinge pink.

Taehyung doesn’t take his eyes off Jeongguk the entire evening. At least, that’s what it feels like. Jeongguk wants to melt into the ground, because each time he chances a glance at the other boy, Taehyung’s staring at him like he’s the most important thing in the room, which is, frankly, rude as hell to Hoseok and Yoongi.

Apparently, though, Taehyung studies in Ireland. When he’s talking about himself, he thankfully has the courtesy to look at the other people in their conversation. And if Jeongguk’s mostly grateful because he doesn’t trust himself to control his facial expressions when he learns more and more about Taehyung, well, that’s another story.

“Why Ireland?” Hoseok asks.

“Why not?” Taehyung says, shrugging, “They have one of the best literature programs over there. In Dublin. It’s a great city.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “We’re better.”

“Are you joking?” Taehyung laughs, leaning forward to get into Yoongi’s face,  “The beer here has yet to meet my Irish standards.” He sloshes the remaining beer left in his glass for emphasis. Yoongi sticks his tongue out at him. An adult.

“Czech beer is the best beer in the world.” Yoongi says, and Jeongguk’s not sure if he’s being serious or just mocking the overused phrase. He can’t imagine the amount of times the staff of this hotel have had to say that.

Jeongguk looks down at his empty glass. It was his third. He’s still not as drunk as he’d like to me.

“Isn’t better than Soju.” Jeongguk mumbles, more to himself really, but Hoseok pets his head.

“Kid’s got a point.”

Jeongguk pushes his hand off, and pouts. “I’m not a kid.”

“Sure, you’re not,” Yoongi says, and his small smile is surprisingly affectionate.

Hoseok and Yoongi usher them out a little bit before midnight, insisting that the bar has to close and Hoseok hasn’t even done the dishes yet. Hoseok whines when Yoongi says this, but Yoongi just smacks him upside the head as Taehyung and Jeongguk go up the stairs. They’re cute, Jeongguk decides, and he makes a note to figure out what’s going on between them before he leaves.

“Hey,” Taehyung says, once they’ve reached the second floor, “Your room’s right next to mine.” He taps Jeongguk on the arm, and the points at their rooms. Even the small bit of contact makes him want to die.

Maybe it’s the beer in him making him dramatic, but Taehyung’s close enough that Jeongguk can smell him — something wooden and nutty, maybe hazelnut — and it makes Jeongguk want to bury his face into his neck. It’s a pretty neck too, nice and long and smooth. Jeongguk wonders what it might feel under his fingertips. He almost reaches out, but that might be a little too forward. Jeongguk doesn’t do forward. This Brand New Jeongguk doesn’t act on his impulses. Nope. Not today.

“Jeongguk?” Taehyung asks, waving a hand in front of Jeongguk’s face. Jeongguk snaps out of it, and realizes maybe he had been staring at Taehyung. His cheeks start to feel hot — totally unrelated to the alcohol — and he sputters out an excuse.

“I think I’ll just…I’ll go — “

“Wait.” Taehyung grabs Jeongguk’s hand, fingers curling around his palm. Every braincell in Jeongguk’s head decides to drop dead just then, leaving him helpless as Taehyung looks at him with hopeful eyes.

“Do you want to spend tomorrow together?” Taehyung says, enthusiastically at first, but then maybe he gets a little thrown off by how Jeongguk probably looks like a deer in headlights, because he backtracks a little, nearly letting go of Jeongguk’s hand, “I mean, if you don’t have anything else to do. I didn’t really want to do anything, just walk around the city and maybe something. Since neither of us know how long we’re gonna stay, there’s no rush to see a lot. Just, you know, chill. It’s fine if you don’t —”

“Okay.” Jeongguk blurts out. Taehyung stops. He looks up at Jeongguk for a second, and then grins so wide that all the panic and anxiety drains right out of Jeongguk. Worth it.

“Okay?” He sounds so excited. The way his eyes curve when he smiles makes Jeongguk’s heart stutter in his chest. He’s never drinking around Taehyung ever again.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk replies, his defenses coming down, grinning back, “Yeah. Sure. Meet me for breakfast?”

“Okay.” Taehyung lets go of his hand, and pulls out his phone “Add me on Kakao?”

 


 

 Breakfast is served until 10am. That fact is something Jeongguk is sure he remembers, vaguely, in the back of his head, because it was in the middle of David the front desk dude rattling off about the hotel’s facilities and Jeongguk’s always figured hotels weren’t very different from each other.

What Jeongguk doesn’t expect is a Kakaotalk call blasting from his phone at eight in the morning. It jolts him awake immediately, because he’d been stupid enough to leave his phone by his ear before he went to sleep. ‘Taetae’ his screen says.

“H-hello?” Jeongguk says, voice gravelly from sleep, eyes not even fully opened. Just as he picks up, three knocks resound from the other side of the door.

“Good morning, sunshine. Just wanted to make sure you get up.” Taehyung sounds way too cheerful for someone who had just woken up. How long has he been awake?

“I’m not much of a morning person,” Jeongguk says, forcing himself up. He manages to get into a sitting position, the light coming in through the window a little too blinding for him. Jeongguk gets up and stretches, trying not to groan right into his phone.

“I know. You told me as much last night.”  

Jeongguk pauses on his way to stand up, and ends up flopping back down onto bed. A door closes in the background. Sounds like Taehyung’s gone back into his room.

“I d-did?” Jeongguk forces himself up and realizes he hasn’t even bothered to open his suitcase. Fuck his lazy, procrastinating ass.

“Yeah, don’t you remember? Did you drink that much?” Taehyung laughs, and it sounds like he’s going through clothes. Maybe Jeongguk should focus on trying to wrestle his suitcase open. He doesn’t even know what he’s gonna wear.

“No!” Jeongguk says, pouting. “It must’ve slipped my mind.”

“Sure.” Taehyung sounds amused, and Jeongguk tries not to pout, even though Taehyung can’t even see him. It sounds like Taehyung bumps into something, “ Ow . Stupid closet. Anyway, I’ve got to get dressed. I’ll see you in fifteen?”

Jeongguk doesn’t even suppress the groan this time.

“Maybe twenty.”

“I’ll hold you to that. See you!”

 


 

 Why does Jeongguk have so much black? Did he pack this suitcase when he was fifteen? He’s nearly unpacked his suitcase completely before he finds something suitable, which makes no sense, considering it’s literally his first day. Maybe he should get Namjoon to buy him some clothes while he’s in London.

Eventually he settles on a boring red shirt and a leather jacket, because nothing screams spring like black leather. Would Taehyung give him shit for wearing Timbs? He was wearing his Timbs yesterday. He should be fine. He vaguely remembers Yoongi asking who the fuck wears Timbs to the airport, but Jeongguk didn’t bother defending himself.

Taehyung checks the time when Jeongguk reaches the dining room, and pats him on the head when he sits down.

“Eighteen minutes,” Taehyung says, “I should give you a medal.”

Jeongguk grumbles, pushing Taehyung’s hand away.

“Don’t expect it every day.” He says, and he wishes he didn’t sound like a whiny brat. Mornings are awful. They should be banned.

Taehyung laughs, pinching the younger boy’s cheek. “It’s okay. I get it. I’m not much of a morning person either,” — Jeongguk snorts at that — “But I was excited for today. Sue me.”

Jeongguk tries not to dwell on that, but he can’t help it; Taehyung was excited. To spend the day with him. He’d thought he’d grown out of the dumb teenage lovestruck phase but every single crush is always the same. His heart thuds in his chest. Maybe he shouldn’t drink coffee today.

Because he’s a gentleman and a good hyung, Taehyung lets Jeongguk get his breakfast first, despite Jeongguk’s protests. Breakfast is just a simple buffet with eggs, cereal, fruits, breads, meats, and cheeses. Typical of any European hotel. The room is cozy, though. It’s barely bigger than a regular living room. Jeongguk misses the five star places he’d go to with his parents that sometimes served Korean or Japanese food for breakfast, but this isn’t bad either.

Soon they’re both seated with at least four plates between them. It looks ridiculous, with Jeongguk’s plate piled high with toast, butters, jams, and meats, and Taehyung’s with fruits and a bowl of cereal. They look like they’re ready to feed ten people.

“That’s a lot of food.” Jeongguk stays, blinking. He’s still not fully awake. Maybe that coffee is a good idea.

“Speak for yourself, piggy.” Taehyung says around a mouthful of cereal. He looks about five years younger today than he did yesterday; his is hair a little mussed up, and he looks smaller in a comfortable sweater that’s loose around his shoulders. The collar is wide, and Jeongguk can see his collarbones peaking out from underneath. He swallows his bread before he can choke.

They’re both starving, apparently, because they go through everything in a matter of minutes. There’s no shame in the way Taehyung stuffs the fruits into his mouth, and Jeongguk would find it offputting if Taehyung wasn’t so goddamn attractive. What should look sloppy is just endearing on him, particularly the way he groans around a strawberry, biting it in half first. The sigh that leaves his lips is downright erotic, and Jeongguk hopes no one hears them.

“My grandma owns a strawberry farm,” Taehyung wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, “That’s why I love them so much. Normally I get nervous on flights, but your hair smelled just like them yesterday. It was comfortable.”

Jeongguk must have gone redder than a goddamn strawberry right then. He’d really hoped Taehyung would forget about that.

“Oh, um, you remember — “

“It was literally yesterday, Jeongguk.” Taehyung laughs, and Jeongguk swears if he wasn’t all the way across the table he’d have gone to pinch his cheek. Just how young does he think Jeongguk is? He’s not a baby.

Soon the food is completely gone, and they leave the hotel together. It’s a little cold that day, for some reason, but not unbearable. Jeongguk’s jacket is enough. The streets are a lot like the streets around most older cities in Europe; it’s lined with cobblestones, even the roads, and it feels like Jeongguk’s gone back in time. The buildings aren’t as uniform as in Paris, nor is it as crowded as London. It’s feel peaceful, like the city exists outside of the world.

“What do you want to do today?” Taehyung asks, standing close to Jeongguk’s side. Jeongguk shrugs.

“I dunno. Maybe just walk around. I really wanted to see the bridge, maybe. Charles Bridge?” Jeongguk purses his lips. “The big one, with the statues. I like statues.”

“Isn’t this city known for its weird statues?” Taehyung sounds mildly amused at Jeongguk, but he tries not to dwell on it. He can’t just lose his mind every time Taehyung finds him cute. It’ll drive him bonkers.

“Yeah, I read about them before choosing to come here. I want to see all of them.”

Taehyung grins at him.

“We can do that.”

The ‘we’ echoes in Jeongguk’s head like a gong. This isn’t happening. Jeongguk can’t just let some stranger he met on a plane drag into several impromptu dates in the indistinct future. (Are they dates? What would Taehyung consider a date? Does Taehyung even like guys? Maybe he’s just really friendly.)

“Let’s walk,” Jeongguk says, “To the bridge, I mean. Whichever way that is.”

“I got it.” Taehyung already has his phone out an Google Maps open. He taps in what they’re looking for quickly, and then makes a show of turning in circles to figure out which way the little arrow is pointing.

When he finally settles on the right direction, Taehyung nods, and then smiles. The corners of his lips form such a peculiar shape when he smiles wide, Jeongguk notices; it comes a sort of rectangle, and it’s endearing. When he smiles, he looks a lot less intimidatingly hot, which Jeongguk can handle. Jeongguk can handle this. He’s not five years old.

The area their hotel is in is peaceful. There’s not much attraction-wise aside from a park on a steep hill nearby, but even that seems much farther away than it actually is. The birds chirp and the locals walk right past them. Soon they’re headed down a street lined with small shops and places to eat, the city coming alive as time passes. Something down the street catches Taehyung’s eyes, and Jeongguk shakes his head.

“Ice cream?” Jeongguk asks, not slowing his pace, “Right after breakfast? We just ate?” Taehyung stops in front of the window, peeking inside past the decals of cherries and cones on the glass. He licks his lips slowly, and Jeongguk tries not to follow the movement with his eyes. He fails.

“Well, I was also going to suggest that fancy chocolatier we passed by,” Taehyung smirks for a moment. “But I figured that’d be more suited for a romantic evening.”

Jeongguk nearly chokes.

“I didn’t even noti —”

The rest of the sentence never leaves his mouth. Taehyung grabs him by the elbow and drags him inside. Before Jeongguk can even blink, they’re in line. Taehyung’s hooks his arm with Jeongguk’s, presumably to keep him from escaping. The contact feels warm, though, like Taehyung’s skin is burning him through the fabric.

“What flavor do you want?” Taehyung asks, nudging Jeongguk’s shoulder with his.  

“Mint chocolate chip?” Jeongguk offers, looking at the menu to avoid Taehyung’s eyes. “That’s my favorite.”

“Mine too.” Taehyung says, and there’s a grin in his voice. “Aside from strawberry, but that’s a given. They’re both up there.”

“Wanna split one?”

“Sure.”

Despite Jeongguk’s protests, Taehyung does all the ordering. The lady behind the counter probably thinks he’s cute, because she smiles extra wide at him and hands him the bowl herself instead of letting her coworkers do it like all the other orders. Taehyung doesn’t pay her any mind, though. Instead, he asks Jeongguk where he’d like to sit, and they settle on a table outside, under an awning.

It takes about five seconds before Taehyung realizes how perfect the spot is for people watching. It’s something Jeongguk’s used to doing, as an artist, so his eyes light up at the mention of it.

Jeongguk can’t help but laugh when Taehyung switches to rapid Korean, commenting immediately on how that girl across the street probably has a crush on the guy she’s walking with. He scoops ice cream into his mouth as he talks, noting how her arm is hovering by her side, the back of her hand bumping lightly with his every other step. She wants him to hold her hand, Taehyung says, and Jeongguk just snorts, saying she could do better. He’s not even that cute.

The two of them find their rhythm, throwing guesses about people’s lives back and forth. That old lady who buys a giant sundae for her grandkid is babysitting because it’s their first time visiting her in Prague. Maybe the dad is German.

The young woman next to them is taking her first day off in weeks, and she’s breaking her diet for this. Taehyung has a story for every person that passes by, and soon Jeongguk’s gone and ordered another bowl for them to share, and it’s been an hour since they sat down.

With each story that passes out of his lips, the more Jeongguk understands how much Taehyung loves words, narratives, characters. He heard him talk a little bit about his major last night — details of which he only vaguely remembers — but here, in that moment, Jeongguk can’t stop staring at him. There’s something beautiful about watching someone talk about what they love.

Every now and then Taehyung slips into Satoori without realizing it too, and it’s an effort for Jeongguk not to get too jealous. He lost his Busan a long time ago, pressured to fit in when he moved to Seoul.

Once they’re halfway through their second bowl, they stop, exhausting themselves. Taehyung really digs the spoon into the ice cream, pulling up a big bite. He looks at it for a second before turning it around towards Jeongguk, reaching over to try and feed him.

“Ah?” Taehyung says in the most annoying way possible.

“Shut the fuck up.” Jeongguk tries to say it with a straight face, wrinkling his nose and grabbing the spoon from Taehyung, but a laugh bubbles out of him regardless. Taehyung laughs too. Jeongguk hopes he doesn’t blush too hard. The blood vessels in his cheeks must be overworked by now, with him being constantly around Taehyung.

Soon they’re back on the streets, ready to finish their goal for the day. Jeongguk is tired of using the word, but the city feels very European. It’s difficult for him to describe them in any other way — the people, the architecture, the way their signs are drawn; the streets are paved with cobblestones, but most of it is smoothed over from years of wear and tear from the cars that pass through the streets.

The ice cream shop’s not too far from the bright, and they find their way with ease. There’s a general flow of the people, many of them obviously tourists with their tacky clothing and big cameras. There’s something about vacationing in a foreign country that makes people paranoid, making them itch to prepare for any possible nightmare scenarios. Jeongguk stopped caring after the third country. If it happens, it happens.

The worst thing about Taehyung is that he isn't unprecedented. Jeongguk looks over to the boy walking next to him, enamored by the way his eyes are so fixated, observing the sights around them, and he sees all the boys he's met before, how enchanted he'd been, how easily it was to get swept up.

It’s starting to irritate Jeongguk, how easy it is to talk to Taehyung, how quickly he let the boy push past his walls. Not that his walls were carefully crafted, considering they’d been up for a total of six months, two weeks, and maybe a day, but it was a valiant effort. Jeongguk needs to stop crushing on the next available person.

He’s not sure if Taehyung’s any better than that yet. There’s still a chance he could end up a serial killer. Not that the possibility’s gonna stop Jeongguk from flirting back.

"I think we're close," Taehyung says, standing on his tiptoes to see above the crowd. Jeongguk shakes his head, amused. That might've worked in Korea, but they're at a height disadvantage in this continent.

They're in a side street now, free of cars. There's a man with a circle of string in the middle, creating large soap bubbles with the wind. Children play around him, giggling and screaming. Part of Taehyung looks like he wants to join them, but instead he grabs Jeongguk by the wrist and pulls him towards the bridge, tugging him lightly through through the crowds. When they both look up, Jeongguk has to pause to stare.

The bridge's tower is massive, cutting through the clear blue sky, the bricks discoloring over time. It’s bigger than he’d imagined, grandiose, and it’s as if the city’s culture converges here, in it’s center.  The entire bridge feels the same, with large statues lining the edges; saints and ancient people, all withstanding time’s desire to crumble them into the dust. Taehyung stares up with him for a moment, before pulling Jeongguk out of his daze.

“Come on, Gukkie.” Taehyung’s hand slip down lower, fingers grabbing at Jeongguk’s, and Jeongguk has to remind himself to breath. They walk onto the bridge together.

 


 

 Taehyung twirls a hand painted fridge magnet in his hands. It’s a cartoon cityscape of Prague, with cats all over the rooftops. The colors are bold and bright — oranges and deep blues with yellows — and Jeongguk almost wants to buy a few for the sake of it.

“Do you like cats?” Taehyung asks, putting it back.

“Yeah.” Jeongguk had several pets as a kid. “I’m more of a dog person, though.”

Taehyung’s smile grows then, reaching his eyes, “You and I will get along then.”

“We’ve been getting along for two days, Taehyung,” Jeongguk points out, nudging him so they move onto the next stalls, “A little too late to be making predictions like that.”

“Hah.” Taehyung looks at Jeongguk then, eyes focused, and then declares, “You’re more of a bunny, anyway.”

“A bunny?” Jeongguk knits his brows together. “Why?”

“Your nose. It’s adorable.” Taehyung taps it with his finger, and Jeongguk’s heart jumps. “You wiggle it when you’re confused too.”

Jeongguk frowns. “When have you ever seen me confused?”

“Oh, you did it just no, my dear Jeonggukie. You don’t notice you do it.”

Taehyung walks into the crowd, brown hair and golden skin shining in the afternoon sun. Jeongguk hates how much that boy looks like a dream, impossibly gorgeous, overwhelmingly interesting. My dear Jeonggukie , he’d said. It makes his chest and his head ache, and yet, he follows him all the same.

They take photos with the statues, making funny faces in their shared selfies. Eventually Taehyung asks Jeongguk to take decent photos of him, claiming his family will demand some off his eventually. Jeongguk tries not to smile to much as Taehyung makes the most basic of poses, holding up a peace sign like everyone expects Koreans to do. Somehow he still manages to look cute as a button.

Later, Taehyung sees a group of Asian women climb up onto a statue’s base to take a photo, and he turns into an absolute five year old, determined to get up. Jeongguk watches as he scales the ledge, and manages to be four feet above the ground in a manner of seconds.

Another peace sign is thrown up, and Jeongguk snaps several photos, for good measure.

“Do you want your photo taken up here, Jeonggukie?” Taehyung calls out, and Jeongguk nods. Why not? He thinks, stuffing his phone back in his pocket and trying to hoist himself up with Taehyung’s help.

It happens in slow motion. Jeongguk pushing himself up, attempting to stand, and his foot slipping against the curved stone, smoothed over time. Panic surges through his body, making his ears ring a little. There’s a crowd of fellow tourists below them, and Jeongguk swear this is how he dies.

“Careful — “ Without a shred of hesitation, Taehyung’s arm circles around Jeongguk’s waist, pulling him up towards him. Jeongguk’s hands end up curled into the front of Taehyung’s sweater, fear making him grab onto the nearest available object he could get to.

Jeongguk’s breath shudders out of him. Taehyung’s laugh is hot in his ear as Jeongguk shifts his weight into the other boy, his face nearly pressed against Taehyung’s neck.

“You okay?” Taehyung asks, a little breathless. His nose is in Jeongguk’s hair, and it takes Jeongguk all of ten seconds before he realizes he should be letting go.

“I’m fine!” Jeongguk nearly shouts, hand detaching from Taehyung’s sweater. He almost, almost falls back over the edge, but he manages to steady himself on the statue, feet planted firmly on the ledge now.

“Alright then,” Taehyung says, grinning from ear to ear. He jumps down with all the gracefulness of a baby giraffe, wobbling as little when he lands. It’s adorable, but Jeongguk tries not to think about it, or about how red he must look right now, focusing on posing by the statue so he can get his photo taken and return to solid ground.

Jeongguk can still feel the press of Taehyung’s fingers on his waist an hour later, can still feel the way his breath ruffled his hair, the tip of his nose pressing against his scalp. It’s been so long since he’s properly hugged someone, been properly snuggled, and he wonders if Taehyung’s the type. Wonders if —

Jeongguk sees Taehyung ushering him over, and he jumps back onto the bridge. He sticks the landing, not needing any help whatsoever, and pushes all thoughts of cuddling away. Jeongguk will entertain them later. Or never. Whichever works.

 


 

 There’s so much art. Paintings of the river, detailed ink illustrations of the cityscape, photographs of the sights; all of it packaged neatly into tourist friendly postcards, in carry on suitcase sized frames, on fridge magnets. Jeongguk takes his time checking each one, asking the stall owners about them, turning over the handmade things in his fingers. Taehyung’s probably off somewhere, maybe looking at the other stalls himself.

Instead, Jeongguk finds him watching an artist as he as sketches an American woman. His strokes as fast and precise, borne only out of years of practice. Jeongguk goes to stand next to him, and they stay like that for a few minutes, until the woman leaves satisfied.

“Do you want one of you done?” Taehyung asks, smiling softly at how pleased the woman looks. Jeongguk shakes his head.

“Maybe some other day, but eventually.”

The next customer takes a seat — a burly looking European man in his 30s — and the artist dives straight back into work. Jeongguk’s mesmerized by his concentration, the way his pencil scratches against the paper. He’d never be able to work like that, with so little room for mistakes, and so little time.

“I’ve never gotten a portrait done.” Taehyung says then, casually.

“I could paint you sometime.” Jeongguk blurts out, and he almost regrets it. Almost, until he turns to look at Taehyung. There’s a look of wonder in his eyes, mixed with a bit of shock.  

“You’re an artist? Really?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s part of why I’m here,” Which is the truth, really. Jeongguk thinks back to his suitcase, half filled with paints and sketchbooks, and takes stock of what colors would mix well into Taehyung’s hair. He scratches the back of his neck, wondering when he’ll be able to start drawing Prague. “I’ll probably duck out some days to, you know, just draw. Sit somewhere and sketch. Paint. Might be that cliche that sets up an easel in the park, honestly.”

Taehyung seems endeared by this, or asmued. Jeongguk’s not sure. Either way, it’s not like he’s embarrassed by his art. It’s cute when people stop to watch, but with Taehyung he feels bashful about his craft all of a sudden.

“I’d love to watch,” Taehyung says, tugging him towards the railing. They look out into the river. A bevy of swans idles in the very middle, bright white against the blue.

“Most people get bored.” Jeongguk shrugs, and then gnaws on the inside of his cheek. Taehyung just loops his arm with Jeongguk’s again.

“I’m not like most people.”

“That is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever said.” Jeongguk says, shaking his head in disbelief.

“I can think of worse.”

Taehyung grins at him. Truthfully, he’s lost count of the amount of times he’s been blessed with that smile, but each time still feels like a gift from every god known to man. His eyes glint in the sunlight, and Jeongguk decides then that there’s hope for him yet.

 


 

 There’s a restaurant by the bridge. It’s quaint and simple, with a water wheel that churns slowly as they eat. Jeongguk gets some sort of beef stew — which is supposedly Prague’s specialty — and Taehyung takes spoonfuls of it when it’s clear Jeongguk will let him.

A candle flickers in the middle of the small table. Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung feels this is a little too intimate, wonders if his heart is thudding in his chest. It’s been two days. Jeongguk wishes he didn’t let himself get carried away, but the more he hears about the other boy the easier it is to slip down.

Taehyung talks, about everything and anything under the sun. Jeongguk never has to worry about an awkward silence or a pause; Taehyung fills in every lull, voices every stray throught, and Jeongguk does what he can to keep up.

Over the course of the meal, he learns Taehyung’s the oldest. He has younger siblings he misses more than the world, a dog he cherishes, a strawberry farm back home in Daegu. He learns that despite somehow finding a way to drift to him, Taehyung has a home. And that makes something akin to longing bloom in Jeongguk’s gut, nestles itself there.

Taehyung feels solid against the haze of Jeongguk’s life. It makes him want to get up and leave. But then Taehyung says something that makes him laugh, nearly choke on his drink. For the moment, Jeongguk accepts himself planted where he is — smiling with a boy he’s known for nigh forty-eight hours, drinking wine by a river halfway across the world.

They watch the sunset together on the bridge. It’s the most cliche thing Jeongguk’s ever done in the twenty two years he’s been alive, but he’s not complaining. The sun was warm and soothing in the cooling evening air, and he marvels at the way the colors swirl in the sky. Taehyung makes Jeongguk promise to paint it for him one day.

Taehyung buys another ice cream to go on their way back. It’s strawberry this time. It drips down his fingers even though it’s roughly three degrees Celsius.

Jeongguk’s hands are stuffed in his coat pockets for a reason. He worries that if he lets them loose, he’ll do something stupid like touch Taehyung.

“You said you study literature, right?” Jeongguk asks, to fill the air.

“Mhmm.” Taehyung continues to lap at his mostly finished ice cream. It’s adorable, but Jeongguk would never say that out loud.

“What’s your favorite book?”

Taehyung doesn’t even stop to think. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” He swallows the thin cone nearly whole, the crunch loud and obnoxious. “By Milan Kundera.”

“I haven’t read it.” Jeongguk hasn’t even heard of it, really. “What’s it about?”

“It’s about this guy named Tomas,” Taehyung starts, and without his ice cream he’s ready to speak with his hands, moving them in conjunction with his words, “And he’s torn between his wife Teresa whom he loves, who is sad and insecure and pure and depressing and jealous . And his mistress, who is a free-spirited rebellious sexual deviant who represents temptation and our visceral desires as men.”

Jeongguk didn’t expect such a long explanation. Maybe something like “It’s about a firefighter” or “It’s about the effect of Western Imperialism.” He wrinkles his nose.

“So he’s basically cheating on his wife because she’s not kinky enough or something?”

Taehyung shrugs. “Pretty much.”

“Sounds like a dick.”

“Ah, innocent Jeonggukie.” Taehyung says, going to loop his arm around Jeongguk’s elbow again, “Most men are.”

Jeongguk snorts. “I know.”

Taehyung frowns at him, fiddling with the hem of his sleeve, “Bad experience?”

“Bad boyfriends.”

Taehyung pauses, and for a second or so all they both hear is the sound of their footsteps against the pavement and the wind blowing through their hair. Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut, and then opens them again. Deep breaths.

“Sorry to hear that.” Taehyung says then, and there’s no pity in his voice, but Jeongguk doesn’t want it all the same. He tugs his arm away.

“You don’t have to feel sorry for me.”

“Ah, Guk, that’s not it— “ Taehyung huffs, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets, “I think you deserve good love, is all.”

Jeongguk’s heart seizes in his chest.

“You barely know me.” Jeongguk says, simple. A fact.

“I’ll have you know I’m an excellent judge of character,” Taehyung says, smiling, “It comes with reading a lot of books.”

Jeongguk swallows, trying to still the warm in his stomach, halting all thoughts. If he lets go, he’ll never be able to stop himself. Taehyung doesn’t seem to want to let him.

“I thought people who spent all their time reading were supposed to be shut in recluses who have no social skills.” The moment’s broken. Jeongguk forces his stomach right side up, letting the feelings settle in his bones. He won’t touch them. Taehyung laughs again, and the sound echoes in Jeongguk’s head.

“Speak for yourself, Van Gogh.”

The rest of the walk is peaceful, night settling over Prague in light blues. The street lamps turn on as they approach the hotel. Something in Jeongguk tells him the city won’t sleep for a while, that it’s only their part that goes quiet. He’ll have to find out eventually.

For now, Jeongguk’s hand reaches for the hotel door. Taehyung’s reaches for his wrist, stopping him before it’s opened.

“I was actually going to meet someone for dinner,” Taehyung says, glancing at his watch, “I just wanted to walk you back to the hotel.”

“Oh.” Jeongguk won’t let it affect him. “Thank you.”

“No problem, Jeonggukie.” The wind picks up, sweeping through Taehyung’s hair. He goes to pat it down. “I’ll see you tomorrow? Breakfast again?”

There’s no malice. No expectation. It’s a question, and Taehyung’s voice is hopeful. It reminds him of high school and crushes who were too shy to assert themselves, of elementary school Valentine’s Days, and of the way Jeongguk can never seem to effectively flirt with a man. It’s innocent. It makes Jeongguk want to trust him.

Jeongguk nods, and then watches Taehyung walk back the way they came.

 


 

The next few days happen the same way. Jeongguk meets Taehyung for breakfast at around nine in the morning, both of them a little bleary eyed before their coffee, and they take their time going through the meal.

Taehyung makes a point to go through everything the buffet has to offer. Afterwards, Taehyung asks Jeongguk what he wants to do. If Jeongguk has nothing, Taehyung lists down some options, things he's researched the night before, and lets Jeongguk choose. It's always thoughtful, taking into account both of their interests, and Jeongguk is never disappointed.

Prague has so many things to offer, Jeongguk learns. Each day is new, exciting, and filled with Taehyung's kindness, humor, and brightness.

Because Taehyung's always been a sucker for the Metamorphosis, they visit the Kafka museum. Jeongguk watches as Taehyung reads every single placard to him, takes the time to read every aging letter on display. Jeongguk hears fun facts about different writers, the kind of style that Kafka had tried to emulate, the atmosphere of the country at the time, the different ways his teachers preferred to approach the text.

At the gift shop, Taehyung gets Jeongguk a copy of the book, and an illustrated one for himself. The statue outside the museum was funny -- something involving penises sticking out -- and Taehyung asks Jeongguk to take his picture.

Every time they pass street performers, Jeongguk notices Taehyung slips them a coin or two. Doesn't even hesitate, just does it, regardless of what kind of music it is. Next time they pass by Charles Bridge, there's a group of elderly men playing jazz, and Taehyung makes them stand and watch for a bit. Jeongguk learns Taehyung loves jazz. It reminds him of his father, who’d play records and let the music float through their home on lazy summer afternoons. It reminds Jeongguk of the buskers at Hongdae, and the way crowds would gather around them.

Taehyung takes him to the Prague astronomical clock, which is apparently what the city is known for, right in the middle of Old Town Square. The artist in Jeongguk is awed by it -- the components moving beautifully together, the way the sun and moon mirror each other, the complexity of the pieces forming a whole.

They watch it strike the new hour together, and Jeongguk grins so wide he’s scared he might split his face in half. Maybe one day he'll make something as lovely, something as remembered. Taehyung makes them take a picture at it together, asking one of the locals in flawless English.

Later, they get tube-like pastries from a stall at the edge of the Square. Taehyung pays for them, arriving with them before Jeongguk can object. He says the lady called them Trdelník, though he’s certain he’s butchered the pronunciation.

They sit on the sidewalk, so close that their shoulders touch, and eat them together.

There's something about tourist cities that really gets to Jeongguk; the children always play a little louder, the people are a little more excited, happy, lively, ready to appreciate every little thing about the new place they're in. Jeongguk's seen it in every corner of the globe, and he wishes he'd never stop experiencing it.

When Taehyung finishes his pastry, he asks Jeongguk if he can go do something. Jeongguk tilts his head to the side, but lets him go anyway. Jeongguk watches as Taehyung gets up and heads out to one of the men they'd seen that first day -- with sticks, rope, and soapy water -- and joins the children as they play with the large bubbles formed in the middle of the Square. The smile on Taehyung's face is incomparable, his deep laughter erupting out of his each time a large bubble pops, sprinkling them with soap. The children laugh with him, and he drops a few coins in the man's tin.

Jeongguk feels his heart go warm. Who is this man? He wonders, who plays with children who might not even speak his language, does everything he can to brighten another person's day, and would take a lonely stranger under his wing, showing him around a city neither of them know.

They visit more museums, go on those tacky tours on the brochures Taehyung found at the hotel, eat every kind of street food. Jeongguk nearly falls off a Segway after Taehyung makes a joke during the dumb tour. Taehyung nearly passes out when they go on a night tour to the old underground buildings in the city, where there are what the tour guide calls "old Halloween decorations" but Taehyung insists are dead bodies.

They make a pilgrimage to every weird statue in the city, Taehyung having even picked up a map at the front desk and marked the locations of each one. Whenever they find one, Taehyung is more excited than Jeongguk, pointing at it, grinning, making comments.

He asks Jeongguk for his opinion, is more than happy to listen as he rattled off about composition, about materials, and techniques, about what it could mean, about the shit he's read on the Internet. It makes him swell with pride, every time he says something that makes Taehyung hum in wonder.

In turn, Jeongguk asks him about books. They visit a lot of bookstores. Taehyung's marked those on the map too, and he stops by at every one they pass by. Even though Taehyung's been a bit of a firecracker the entire time Jeongguk's known him, he's truly most alive in a bookstore.

Whenever Taehyung pulls a book off a shelf, Jeongguk knows it's because he recognizes the author, and by god, does Taehyung know a lot. Even though Korea's bookstores are really nice, Taehyung had said, there's nothing like a bookstore in Europe. There are so many obscure titles, so many less popular works from the popular prolific authors, and he doesn't have to pay for any absurd shipping fees.

Jeongguk has to stop him before he goes too far into Western Imperialism and how that's stunted the spread of Non-Western Literature, and how he feels guilty for buying into the notion that Western works of art are more interesting than the things from back home. But Jeongguk knows better than anyone, there's nothing more attractive than watching someone talk about something they love.

One time, Taehyung buys so many books that Jeongguk has to offer to carry them. When they get back to the hotel, Taehyung comments on how strong Jeongguk is, and squeezes his bicep for effect. Taehyung nearly jumps back when he realizes Jeongguk's muscle is kind of rock hard, and Jeongguk has to hide his blush.

The flirting doesn't stop. Not for a second. This doesn't bother Jeongguk, no, not at all. He doesn't want to die every single time Taehyung's hand brushes against his, doesn't want to shrivel up whenever Taehyung calls him cute, or adorable, or handsome, or pinches his cheeks, or boops his nose. Every touch definitely doesn't go all the way to his toes, and each time Taehyung hugs him doesn't leave him warm and pleased.

Jeongguk has this under control, and he's not letting himself get affected.

And still, he flirts back, lets himself go back and forth with Taehyung, their jokes a push and pull against each other, each time tiptoeing the line a little closer than the last. Jeongguk has it under control, he swears, even as he finds himself touching Taehyung unconsciously, when he catches himself leaning into his warmth.

It's difficult. It's so difficult. Everything about Taehyung is endearing, makes Jeongguk more drawn to him. It's like God himself plucked out a list of attractive traits from Jeongguk's head and checked them off one by one when he created Taehyung, doing everything to make sure Jeongguk would like him.

Every time something caught Taehyung's eye, he'd grab Jeongguk by the wrist and drag him over to inspect. Jeongguk lets him. Jeongguk loves it, the way Taehyung's eyes light up. He wishes he knew more people like that.

Taehyung is adorable, but Jeongguk asbsolutely despises how he’s also really fucking hot. It's like he has a switch somewhere, which he can flip on and off at ease. One second he'll be pouting like a puppy, trying to convince Jeongguk to go to another cafe, and the next moment Taehyung's eyes will be molten lava, purposeful, and Jeongguk has to swallow thickly and look away.

It drove him nuts, and Jeongguk would be lying if he said he hadn't jacked off the image of Taehyung at least once, in that shower, muffling his voice against his palm in case the walls were thin.

Before Jeongguk knows it, a week has passed, and then another. He still hasn't spent a single day painting, hasn't had a breather. Usually this would exhaust  Jeongguk; milking a vacation for every second, going on tours every day, exploring the city's every corner, would drain him so fast he'd have to leave in three days, but not with Taehyung. Something about Taehyung makes him come alive, energetic, and ready to go out and use up every second.

Jeongguk has probably spent more time with Taehyung in the last two weeks than Namjoon in the past year. And that's his best friend. (His very very busy and very successful best friend, but that's besides the point.)

And almost every night, they part in the hallway, disappear into their respective rooms. Room 2 for Jeongguk, and Room 1 for Taehyung. Sometimes Taehyung will message Jeongguk after they've gone, sometimes Taehyung goes to have dinner with whoever that other person is. But the days are for Jeongguk, and Taehyung never expects anything of him.

Every night, Taehyung asks. "Tomorrow again?"

And every time, Jeongguk responds, "Sure."

Jeongguk doesn't know when it'll stop, for how long they'll go on. They're both in the city indefinitely, and Jeongguk's not sure what Taehyung's thinking. If the thing that's sizzling between them, just under the surface, will ever develop into something.

Jeongguk's not sure if he wants it to turn into anything. And yet he keeps poking the belly of the beast, keeping the coals alive. Because no matter how much he lies to himself, Jeongguk knows he'll always be the same young naive boy who just wants to fall in love. And maybe this time, it'll be different.