“Alright, Taehyung, repeat after me,” said the priest, standing above them under an arch twined with white plastic flowers.
Taehyung nodded, sitting on some emotion that he couldn’t place yet.
“I, Taehyung, take thee, Jeongguk, to be my wedded husband.”
“I, Taehyung. Take thee. Jeongguk. To be my. Wedded husband.”
“To have and to hold.”
It was a little difficult to squeeze words out. “To have and to hold.”
“From this day forward, for better, for worse.”
Outside, someone started screaming. A car honked. “From this day forward. For better. For worse.”
“For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health.”
The sound of a siren passed. The lights in the chapel flickered a little, hardly noticeable. “In sickness and in health.”
“To love and to cherish, til Death do us part.”
That part made Taehyung’s heart lurch a little bit. Death was a long way away, wasn’t it? He spared a look up into Jeongguk’s eyes, but it frightened him. “Til Death do us part.”
“In that case, I pronounce you two married. You may kiss the groom.”
The camera shutter clicked so fast as Taehyung and Jeongguk pressed dry lips together. Every other part of Taehyung’s body was damp and clammy, but this kiss was terribly dry, just weird lips puckered up and pressed. It was uncomfortable. They pulled apart, and Taehyung let go of Jeongguk’s lukewarm hands, and they looked at each other for the first time since being ushered onto the platform together to be wed.
Jeongguk was making that face. Taehyung saw it a lot; he usually made it when control of his life started slipping through his fingers. He was a Virgo, you know, so he liked to think he had everything figured out. He made that face when Taehyung inexplicably beat Jeongguk at pool twice in a row one night when they went out for karaoke, the time Taehyung told Jeongguk he had “small hands,” the night the Taco Bell by Jeongguk’s house was out of quesalupa shells. His eyes went so wide you could see all the way around the irises. His mouth hung open a little. He looked like he needed a mylar blanket, and Taehyung wondered if he hid his own sudden, crushing horror just as poorly.
Though the only people who came here were the five of their closest friends who were able to take a weekend off on short notice, it felt like there were too many eyes on them. The seasoned beef smell and the sense of frantic disorganization that had hung over Taehyung since March, the grinning, sweaty priest. A tear ran down his face and, to capture the gleam, the photographer got too close.
“He’s so happy,” said the priest, to everyone, like this was just a corny, kitschy moment in Taehyung’s life.
Taehyung, however, was not crying because he was happy, or because he was finally married. He was crying because this was the first time in his life that he felt like he’d taken a joke so far that it wasn’t funny anymore.
When Taehyung invited him to his and Jeongguk’s wedding, Seokjin didn’t answer yes or no. He just looked at Taehyung with genuine horror and said, “How did this happen?”
“Did I not tell you we entered that contest?” said Taehyung. He laughed. It sounded fake, but he didn’t know why. It really was funny.
“We so did.”
The contest was thus: submit a photo or a video up to thirty seconds about your relationship, get votes from strangers, and, if you win, be the first couple to get married at Taco Bell.
Taehyung and Jeongguk weren’t actually engaged. They weren’t even actually dating. But one night they were sitting in Jeongguk’s car filling their bodies with hot cheese, and Taehyung mentioned having had to click out of an ad about it on his Taco Bell app.
“I’m jealous of whoever gets married at Taco Bell first. That’s like, my dream,” he said, discarding a taco wrapper and digging for another one.
“Let’s do it,” said Jeongguk, way too easily. Almost measured, almost like it wasn’t just some spontaneous joke that he was playing along with. Anyway, Jeongguk was a Virgo, so he didn’t say things like that unless he meant them.
“You want to MMATB?” Taehyung grinned.
“Marry Me At Taco Bell?” guessed Jeongguk.
“Mhm?” Taehyung grinned. Of course not.
Jeongguk, jokingly, said, “Yes. I can’t wait." They were laughing.
Taehyung thought that would be it, that they’d be done talking about it. But Jeongguk was weird, and he kept bringing it up until it didn’t even feel like Taehyung’s idea anymore. Jeongguk was a strange friend, sometimes hard to interpret.
Sometimes Jeongguk said things like “Let’s get married at Taco Bell,” and other times he didn’t text Taehyung for weeks. Though, more often lately, Taehyung felt like the aloof one, not knowing how to reply to 2am messages that said things like “I miss you.”
Yoongi helped them make the video, and it came out very well. Too well, honestly; Yoongi was a talented director. He told them how to pose and when, and he told Taehyung when to kiss Jeongguk’s cheek and told Jeongguk to say, “That’s when I hid the ring in a crunchwrap supreme,” like he meant it. Watching it back, Taehyung wondered if he and Jeongguk really looked like that when they stood together, or if it was just good editing.
Later, at Jeongguk’s house, Taehyung said, “I think this might be cheating since we’re NAE.”
“Wait,” said Jeongguk. “Not… Actually Engaged?”
“Yeah,” said Taehyung.
Jeongguk shrugged, held out his hand for Taehyung to put his in. Taehyung grabbed it at an angle and played with his fingers. Jeongguk said, “I think it counts.”
“But we lied in the video.”
Jeongguk looked up the rules and found no particular stipulation about lying in the video. Taehyung googled the semantic rules to getting engaged.
“This one says formally ,” said Taehyung. “We have to formally agree to marry. Deciding to get married at Taco Bell doesn’t count.”
Jeongguk just shrugged. “We won’t win anyway.”
“I bet we’ll get like top five.”
“Unlikely. What if a million people enter?”
“What million people want to get married at Taco Bell?” said Jeongguk. “Anyway, I think we’ll get a ton of pity votes for being the only gay couple.”
“How do you know we’re the only gay couple?”
“I’m just assuming. This is basically a slap in the face to the institution of marriage at all. I don’t think gay people who actually want to get married would disrespect it like this.” And there it was. Jeongguk didn’t actually want to get married. He wanted to get married as a joke. And of course it was a joke; he and Taehyung weren’t even dating. There had just been a moment when he watched their video back and the line blurred.
Taehyung reached over with his other hand to play with Jeongguk’s fingers better. He said, “I guess you’re right. But I genuinely want to get married at Taco Bell.”
“No, no, me too,” said Jeongguk. “I do.”
They hung out every day for the last three nights of the contest, refreshing the votes page so often that it became compulsive.
"Okay, we're safe."
The votes added up quickly, and quickly Taehyung also realized that he and Jeongguk were one of the only auditions that had been professionally filmed. In fact, Taehyung started to get this embarrassed feeling at how sincere his and Jeongguk’s entry seemed against a lot of instagram videos that seemed like they were made in ten minutes by people who didn’t really care if they got married at Taco Bell.
Taehyung and Jeongguk looked like they wanted to get married at Taco Bell. The votes added up quickly, and it started to look more and more like they’d be in the top five after all, if not the top three.
Then, they won. By forty votes; hardly anything. They barely beat Gina and Steve, who met ten years ago while working at Taco Bell over the summer in high school.
They realized they had won and rolled around on Jeongguk's bed yelling and laughing for a long time. They had done it. Taehyung said, "This is the biggest achievement of my life," and Jeongguk had to agree.
After they won, some Taco Bell PR person sent Taehyung a personal congratulation e-mail with instructions on how to proceed. Taehyung said, "So, are we really gonna do it? Or should we default to Steve and Gina? I only have 24 hours to reply."
"We have to do it," said Jeongguk. "Right? We've come this far. We can't say we really did it unless we really do it."
"Alright," said Taehyung. "I'm gonna reply to this e-mail. We're GGM."
“G….wait. Gross… Gross Gay Monsters.”
“Ah, that would have been better. Gonna Get Married.”
"Oh,” said Jeongguk. “Yeah. Gonna get married. Great.” It was a little challenging.
"Great," said Taehyung, already leaning back on Jeongguk's pillow and typing a reply on his phone.
They’d talked about it a little, even before they decided to enter the contest. Once, they were driving around at night, some meandering place between late dinner and where they eventually wanted to stop for a drink. They were in Jeongguk's car, Taehyung with his fingers tangled in Jeongguk's strong, smooth, warm hand, both of them facing forward in that way that made it really easy to talk about things that they couldn't say if they were looking at each other, or if the sun was out, or if they weren't alone in some unfamiliar neighborhood sealed into a box together.
"I can't see myself ever meeting anybody I want to marry," said Taehyung. "Like, marry-marry. You know? I can see myself hanging out with somebody for a long time, but I don't think I ever want to like, have a marriage."
"Yeah," said Jeongguk. "I don't know. I had one girlfriend, but I don’t think I was ever official with anybody else."
"What about Yugyeom?" said Taehyung. He knew about Yugyeom; Taehyung and Jeongguk starting hanging around each other right around the time Jeongguk and Yugyeom were breaking up. Taehyung might have been a reason for their breakup, but Jeongguk wouldn't ever talk to him about it.
"Sure," said Jeongguk, looking like he was thinking about it, like there was some nuance to what he and Yugyeom had or hadn't been that was lost on Taehyung. "I just don't think I'm the marrying type."
"Yeah, me neither," said Taehyung. "Which sucks, cause there are such benefits to it. It's such a financially responsible thing to do."
"Since when are you financially responsible?" laughed Jeongguk.
"I haven't paid for a shirt since high school," said Taehyung.
"Right," said Jeongguk, "Because you're a shoplifter."
Taehyung looked over at Jeongguk, grinning forward, eyes crinkling, bluish street light reflecting off his big front teeth and his lip ring. Taehyung said, "Right."
"I guess I'd get married if I knew someone I wanted to hang out with that much," said Jeongguk, looking forward pointedly, turning to drive down a different dark street.
"Yeah," agreed Taehyung. Same. He looked back over at Jeongguk to try to see something on his face, but there was nothing.
There were always odd moments of conversation that felt too close to hitting something legitimate, but they never talked about it past hypothetical dreams. Sometimes it seemed like they wanted a future so similar that they must be talking about the same thing.
One year, Taehyung got Jeongguk a nice jacket for his birthday. He'd seen him pining for it in the window at the mall, so Taehyung went back later for it.
In his room, after Taehyung insisted on putting on Taylor Swift's 22 , Jeongguk pulled it out of the Ralph's bag into which it had been gently shoved. "Oh, wow."
"You like it? I saw you wanted this one. I hope it's your size.”
Jeongguk was standing up from the bed, shrugging the jacket on. "I told you not to spend money on me," he whined, looking up at Taehyung in that way . "I said we should just get food and not make it a big deal."
Taehyung said, "It is a big deal birthday, sorry, a BDBD, or else Taylor Swift wouldn't have written a song about it. Also, I didn't spend money on this."
"Then how did you get it?" said Jeongguk.
"I stole it," said Taehyung. Obviously.
"You what ?" said Jeongguk. He looked upset.
Taehyung said, "You know, I could have sworn you knew I was a thief. Everyone else does."
"That's dangerous,” said Jeongguk, like a parent would.
Taehyung shrugged. "I've been doing it since high school and I've never gotten caught. Okay, well, no. I have gotten caught, but nothing’s on my record.”
"You're telling me you don't have a criminal record?" said Jeongguk.
"I'm not telling you that," laughed Taehyung. "I have a couple public disturbance tickets and I was on probation for a year for underage drinking. Did you not know that? I swear, I thought we knew each other so well."
Jeongguk got kind of thoughtful. He hummed, and then he said, "I feel like I know what you're like. I don't know everything you've ever done, but I know who you are."
Taehyung cleared his throat. "You, too," he said.
"You know?" said Jeongguk.
Jeongguk laid his hand out on Taehyung's bed between them, but Taehyung didn't take it. He had to go change the music. The next track on the album, I Almost Do , had autoplayed.
By three months later, Jeongguk was better at stealing shit than Taehyung was. That was Jeongguk's way; it was infuriating. He walked around like he was so humble, but something (maybe his moon in Leo) gave him this fierce look when he did something better on the first try than Taehyung had learned to do in years.
Not that Jeongguk was better than Taehyung on his first try. Sneaky he was, but he looked guilty for the rest of the day. Taehyung wasn't as subtle about the actual taking part, but he was great at acting like nothing was wrong. Just to brag, the first time he went to Forever 21 with Jeongguk, he said goodbye to the security guard as he walked out with almost a hundred dollars of contraband in his bag.
Becoming a couple of thieves was what turned them from good friends to best friends. They were close before, but sharing that much adrenaline really brings people together. Now they had secrets. Now they had joint custody of a stolen blender.
By the time they were sitting in first class on the plane to Las Vegas to get married at Taco Bell, they'd been best friends for something like two years.
The airplane was too cold, even after Taehyung figured out how to turn the air spout off. He just had a flimsy jacket; it was June and Vegas was as hot as LA this time of year. Jeongguk noticed Taehyung hugging himself and rubbed his arms up and down to warm him up.
Jimin leaned up over their seat from behind them. “Do you think there’s free booze on this airplane?”
Taehyung turned around and gave him a blank look. “I’m not a flight attendant.”
Jimin rolled his eyes and pressed the button to call someone over. Jin whispered something stern-sounding into his ear, and Jimin smiled vaguely back at him.
“I just need to dull the shame I feel for you guys,” said Jimin. “You’re gonna have to remember this forever.”
“It’s a beautiful union,” said Jeongguk without looking up from the rhythm game he was playing on his phone.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Jin.
From across the aisle, Hoseok gave Taehyung an indulgent grin. “I think you guys are cool.”
“Thank you,” said Taehyung, glancing behind him at Jin and Jimin, who both looked like they were above this whole trip (but, after all, were still here, to drink the free airplane booze and sit in the VIP table at the club in Vegas they had reserved for tomorrow night, and to lounge by the pool in the cabana that they didn’t ever earn).
“It’s just,” said Jimin, but Taehyung wasn’t listening. He took Jeongguk’s other earbud and listened to him play his phone game.
Stepping out of the taxi in front of the hotel, Taehyung had to admit that the hotel was more impressive than he expected. He’d looked at pictures online, but they didn't do its tallness much justice. The inside, he expected, wouldn't be this nice.
But then he and Jeongguk got their keys and went to their room, at the end of the same hall as their friends' (Jin and Jimin in one room, and Yoongi and Hoseok and a reluctantly hosted Namjoon in the other). They slid the card in and the red light lit up green, and Taehyung realized that the reason they got the end room was because it was not just a regular hotel room (In the way that Taehyung understood hotel rooms, with the comforter all cigarette-holed, bathroom light all flickery) but a suite . With a plasma-screen TV, multiple rooms, and these two plush velvet bathrobes hung up by the bathroom. Taehyung went to the big window and pulled the flowy silk curtain back to find a balcony overlooking skyline and, far below them, the pool at which they apparently had a reserved covered space all weekend.
Jeongguk said, "Hm."
Taehyung said, "Yeah."
"I've never been somewhere this nice before."
"No, me neither," said Taehyung, throwing his backpack and his shitty old duffel bag (onto the side of which his mom once wrote his initials, so many years ago now that the sharpie marks have since blurred to look kind of like a dog) onto the enormous, plushly bepillowed, golden comforted bed. Then he toed his shoes off and fell back onto the covers. "Oh, that's got some good bounce."
"Oh yeah?" said Jeongguk. He toed off his shoes, too, and set his bag on the ground next to him, and dove in, landing in a reclining pose among pillows and nodding approvingly. "You're right. That's expensive bounce."
"We have a hot tub," said Taehyung quietly. "Did you see?"
"Wow, I'm already sad that we have to leave," said Jeongguk.
Taehyung agreed, but he was more excited than anything. "This is gonna be great."
While Jeongguk was showering, Taehyung texted Jin. did u guys get a hot tub?
Jin didn't reply, but a knock came on the door within minutes. Before Taehyung even had a chance to welcome him, Jin had stormed in, squinting at the balcony and the little room across from the bathroom where the hot tub was, saying, "That's not fair. We should trade rooms."
"But Jeongguk and I are the ones getting married?" said Taehyung, a little vindictively. Who was Seokjin to be bursting into his marital chamber and snooping around like it was his?
"But you two aren't even dating. You should let Jimin and I have this room and you guys can take ours. It's still really nice."
Taehyung laughed. "You guys don't even want to be here."
"All the more reason we should be given the utmost comfort, right?" said Jin. "Cause we're going the extra mile to attend your fake-ass wedding."
Jin liked to act like he could do whatever he wanted, just because Taehyung still owed him like, six hundred dollars. He was chipping away at it, okay? Jin wouldn't accept payment in stolen merchandise, and that was not Taehyung's problem . This was Taehyung's time.
"Okay, I have an idea. How about we switch with Yoongi and Hoseok, and you and Jimin take Namjoon?"
"I don't want Namjoon," said Jin. "He snores."
"Oh," said Taehyung, feigning innocence. "Then I guess we'll just keep the rooms how they are. And me and Jeongguk can utilize our own damn wedding package without our guests trying to usurp us."
Jeongguk came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist. He looked at Jin and narrowed his eyes. "Hey, get out."
"I'm going," said Jin. "But just so you know, one day I'm gonna get tired of your shit, and you have no idea how much you'll miss me."
After everyone was cleaned up (after Taehyung boiled himself in a shower so much hotter than he could get the one at home to go), they talked about ordering food up and inviting everybody to their room, but both agreed that they were tired and deserved some time to hang out on their own. “After all,” said Jeongguk, “Tomorrow is our wedding.”
It still hit Taehyung weird to think about that. It wasn’t real. Getting married at Taco Bell in Las Vegas, acquiring a free weekend of exciting, expensive stuff that they’d never be able to afford (or even want to do) otherwise was not comprehensible. Taehyung didn’t even know how to reply except with a weird little “Yeah.”
So, they ordered a pizza and put on one of the expensive channels that came on the TV, though they didn’t care about what was on.
Eventually, they got in their pajamas and sat close with some snacks, flipping channels, stopping for a moment on a reality show, but nothing was as exciting as talking, and the sound and the flashing got distracting after a while.
Jeongguk turned it off, and they sat there staring at the ceiling fan and talking, and then they were curled up, Taehyung pillowing his head on the armrest, looking at each other.
Then, Jeongguk interrupted Taehyung in the middle of some inane sentence to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t stop thinking about that hot tub.”
“I’m glad you said so,” said Taehyung, relaxed and quiet. “It’s the only thing I’ve thought about since we rolled up.”
“Dope,” said Jeongguk, and then he hopped up, dug his swim trunks out of his bag, swung the door closed to the bathroom and was in the hot tub room getting the tap going before Taehyung had even gotten up off the couch.
Taehyung met him in there, in his own swim trunks (smaller and faded red against Jeongguk’s baggy blue ones), right at the point when he was plugging the tub and easing himself in.
“There’s jets,” said Jeongguk.
“Right,” said Taehyung. “That’s the point, right? Otherwise it’s just a bath.”
“Baths are nice, too,” said Jeongguk.
Taehyung glanced up at Jeongguk, a little startled. Was he the only one who thought there was a difference between a bath with another person and a soak in a hot tub? That seemed almost suggestive. But, Jeongguk sometimes seemed suggestive, and, as far as Taehyung could tell, he never meant anything by it.
Taehyung eased himself into the hot tub, too. After an uncomfortable travel day, the jet against his back soothed some tension, melting him against the edge of the tub.
By the time the tub was full, he was slumped down up to his chin, hugging around his knees on the little bench at the side. Jeongguk was telling him something about a game he was trying to beat these days, and Taehyung was half-listening, mostly just listening to the way Jeongguk’s voice rose and fell, hummed, lulled, blended together. After a minute, Taehyung’s vision focused a little and he realized he’d been studying Jeongguk’s hand, lazily thrown behind him against the edge of the tub, for a long time. Taking in the shadow on a nailbed, and the outline of a vein on his forearm, tracing up to the inside of his elbow. The gradient that the warm light overhead threw on the top of his arm, down to the bluish reflection up from the side of the dark tub. He came back to himself with a sigh.
“And I don’t wanna cheat, but how else am I supposed to get past that?” Jeongguk said.
“Gosh, I don’t know,” said Taehyung, not even convincing himself that he’d been listening. He took his hands out of the water and shook them off, reaching one across to grab Jeongguk’s hand off the place it had been resting in the light that Taehyung accidentally memorized. It easily lifted and followed Taehyung’s light tug back into the water, easily knotted and unknotted fingers with Taehyung in between them.
“Tired?” said Jeongguk.
“Yeah,” said Taehyung.
“Tomorrow’s a big day.” Just then, there. Jeongguk said it, for the first time, in a way that carried a bit of the weight of the binding legal contract he and Taehyung were about to enter.
Taehyung and Jeongguk had gone camping together before and shared a tent. They’d slept over at each other’s places a ton, but one of them always took a couch or slept on the floor. Now, climbing into the tall, well-bounced bed, soft and warm, Taehyung realized that this was the first time he’d ever slept in the same bed as Jeongguk.
He didn’t know what to do, so he just snuggled up into himself, got comfortable on his own side, and Jeongguk did the same. He said, “Good night,” and Jeongguk said, “Good night, Tae.”
Then softly, unmistakably, Jeongguk’s hand fell open-palmed onto the covers between them, and Taehyung took it.
Truth is, there was a time when Taehyung actually thought he and Jeongguk were dating. Under normal rules, hanging out with someone that much, getting one-on-one dinner so often with someone, would have some meaning. But the thing about Jeongguk was that he operated under different rules than everyone else. Early in their friendship, Taehyung never brought it up, thinking they might be getting somewhere, thinking there'd be a time when it became clear.
Instead, one day, Jeongguk mentioned someone he was dating.
"Yeah, I guess we're a thing?" he said, about the girl he said he'd been seeing often for a few weeks now.
"Oh, cool," said Taehyung, more perplexed than jealous.
None of those flings ever lasted very long; Jeongguk never seemed very interested. Taehyung generally wasn't more upset than just surprised that Jeongguk was dating elsewhere. But he couldn't be mad; he dated other people, too, and then he'd hang out with Jeongguk and they'd talk about how they were going to still be going to Taco Bell together when they were old.
Taehyung was not stupid. He realized that he had a crush on Jeongguk; of course he did. He thought Jeongguk probably returned it. They were both aware that they looked like they were dating when they went out together. What stopped them, or Taehyung at least, was just fear of changing what they had that was good, fear of rejection, reluctance to owe Jeongguk anything more than he already did.
Jeongguk was different than other people. He was gracious and patient, and it wasn't something he put on for anyone else. As he and Taehyung got to know each other, a vulnerable side of him (fear of failure, fear of loneliness, fear of looking stupid) became clearer and clearer, un-self consciously. Taehyung felt like he could be honest, too. He felt like Jeongguk really saw him. Nothing else was ever that important.
He and Jeongguk really cared about each other, and they made each other laugh, and they would do anything for each other. They weren't dating, but at a certain point, what really was the difference?
After their wedding, they were given a Taco Bell buffet. Trays on hot plates with every menu item pre-prepared, wrapped in fancy silver paper, a punch bowl of neon Baja Blast. It all seemed as surreal as the fact that he was now legally married to his best friend. To distract the parts of himself that were painfully trying to process this reality, he ate six soft tacos.
"It's really better here, I think," said Jeongguk, plopping down next to Taehyung on the bench he'd settled into off to the side of the small reception room. He loosened his mild sauce-themed bowtie and unwrapped a burrito. "I don't know if regular Taco Bell is gonna hold up after this."
"I don't know if I like Taco Bell anymore," said Taehyung, practically in a fugue state, eating yet another taco with no understanding of the physical reality to which he was subjecting himself.
"No?" said Jeongguk.
Taehyung turned to him. "This is so weird," he said. "I don't think it's funny."
Jeongguk furrowed his brow. "Hm," he said.
"It just doesn't feel like a joke anymore."
Jeongguk looked at Taehyung intensely, pouting, thinking. Then he said, "No, you're right. It doesn't."
"I want to go home." Taehyung put the balled-up taco wrapper next to him and started in on another.
Jeongguk patted Taehyung's leg. He reached for his hand. Taehyung sat on his hand, and Jeongguk pulled back. Then he sat staring forward for a minute before getting up to go to Hoseok, who was leaning against a wall, telling Yoongi and Jimin a story that looked exciting.
That night, Taehyung and Jeongguk were supposed to go to a club. It was nowhere they'd ever go on their own, but part of the wedding package was a VIP table and free drinks all night. Taehyung had been looking forward to drinking a bunch of appletinis with top-shelf vodka, just to be a decadent asshole.
Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling it. At all. He thought he'd probably just tell everyone to go without him and he'd spend the evening in, nursing his stomachache.
Laying in the plush bed, he sent a group text. i have taco sickness! u guys have fun tonight but i think im gonna rest up.
Jeongguk, from the living room of the suite, replied just to Taehyung. u wanna stay in?
"JK," he called into the other room.
It was quiet, except for the sound of cool air blowing through vents and some muted sounds from outside (stifled laughter and screaming carrying even from so many floors above the pool, someone yelling out on a different balcony, maybe below them or across from them), and Taehyung could hear the sound of Jeongguk getting out of the soft upholstered armchair and padding to the open door to the bedroom.
"Hey," he said, leaning on the doorway. They hadn't spoken since the reception. "Can I come in?"
Jeongguk had changed into a clingy, thin white t-shirt and loungy black sweatpants. He was stretched up, hand on the top of the doorway, hair clean and shiny and messy. He tapped the doorframe self-consciously before slinking over to the bed and crawling on top of the covers, next to Taehyung, who was under them.
"You don't wanna go out tonight?"
"No, I don't feel good," said Taehyung.
"I bet Jin and Jimin would love our drink passes."
"I bet," said Taehyung. "But you should go. You don't have to stay with me."
"Do you want me to stay with you?"
Taehyung thought about it. "Well. Yeah."
"Okay, then I will." It was almost a little like a challenge.
Everybody except Jeongguk and Taehyung left in a taxi together before 9, and though the suite they shared was always big and lonely and there was never really any sign of the others through the mostly-soundproofed walls, once they were gone, Taehyung felt strangely left alone with Jeongguk.
Which wasn't something new; they drove all night sometimes, to the very edge of the city where they hit a mountain or an ocean that halted the sprawl, sat on wet sand in the cold and the dark and looked at the moon's reflection on the silky waves. They laid on Jeongguk's bed together looking at the speckled ceiling, they sat in empty theaters at weird matinees at the discount cinema. It was more often that they tried to get away from everything than anything else; though they verged into society sometimes to get a drink in the dark corner of a bar or do a mall loop, Taehyung had never, ever felt uncomfortable before about being alone with Jeongguk.
But, for all the time Taehyung had spent comfortable with the fact that Jeongguk was weird, and for as comfortable as he'd always been knowing that Jeongguk was just his best friend, the terms were different now.
They didn't talk right away when everyone left. Back to their separately claimed rooms of the suite, Jeongguk sprawled out on the couch where Taehyung could almost see him through the open door, watching something on the TV while Taehyung lay in bed scrolling through his phone.
Taehyung could feel an energy between them, like they both knew they needed to talk, but neither of them knew what to say, and breaking the bubble of silence between them was hard.
It was Jeongguk who came in eventually, after getting up off the couch (passing in front of the open bedroom door without looking in), going into the bathroom to put on his pajamas, and coming into the bedroom.
"Can I come in here?" he asked, hovering in the doorway again, in a loose black shirt and dark shorts.
"Sure," said Taehyung sleepily. "It's not just my room."
"Just wanna give you space," said Jeongguk. That struck Taehyung as an uncommonly self-aware and sober thing for him to say.
"No, I'm good," said Taehyung. "Come here."
Jeongguk did. This time, he got under the covers, leaving a living, breathing distance between them. He blinked at Taehyung across it.
"What?" said Taehyung.
"I don't know what I did," said Jeongguk, quiet and vulnerable.
Taehyung sighed. He just said the same thing as before. "I just don't think this is funny."
"I kind of don't either, anymore," said Jeongguk.
Then, finally, anxiously, Taehyung said it. After years, he said it. "Do you like me?"
Even still, in the bursting of the other, smaller bubble of silence that always existed between them, Jeongguk managed to pretend nothing was different. "Of course," he said. "You're my best friend. We're married."
"No," said Taehyung, feeling a little cold. "Do you want to date me."
The living distance between them felt uncomfortably hot, their eye contact felt too deep, but Taehyung couldn't break it and neither would Jeongguk. Jeongguk blinked; Taehyung noticed his eyelashes, and his lips, hanging barely open, and the way his cheekbone threw small shadows down the hollow of his cheek and almost to the side of his nose.
Jeongguk said, "Yeah."
Taehyung exhaled slowly. "Cool," he said.
Across the distance, they still just looked at each other. Taehyung was aware of his own face, a little furrowed, not sure yet what Jeongguk even meant by that. But then Jeongguk took a breath so deep that Taehyung could feel it across the distance, and then he crossed it. On the other side, he met Taehyung's lips with his own, for real this time.
They were asleep before the others got home, naked and lazily thrown around each other. Taehyung had meant to stay up and make sure everyone got home safe; Jin and Jimin in particular were a mighty and competitive force when drinking, but at a certain point, Taehyung trusted some combination of Yoongi, Hoseok, and Namjoon to make sure everyone folded themselves properly into an uber at whatever time (if at all) the bar closed.
In the morning, Taehyung woke up before anyone else. Group chat empty but for a sloppy message from Namjoon ( we got hme safe good NIGHT) , he woke up in a wholly unfamiliar environment.
Slowly, it came back to him. The light coming in from the wrong side was Vegas morning sun. He felt different because he was in a nice bed, not an IKEA mattress with an IKEA pillow and an IKEA duvet. The warm weight on his hip was Jeongguk's arm.
Jeongguk's arm. That was the least jarring part, honestly. That part was comforting and true when everything else about this morning felt surreal.
Jeongguk's arm on his waist and his legs tangled slightly with Taehyung’s, the warmth of him behind Taehyung were all dead weight. His breaths were slow and even. Taehyung didn't want to unwind himself, because he was sure it was early and he didn't want to wake him up, so he just lay there.
He blinked toward the windowed sliding door to the balcony, toward the wall (off-white, with a tasteful wallpaper-border of gold fleur-de-lis, fancy scrolled capitals where the wall and the ceiling met, light flowing curtains). Taehyung worked at a pizza parlor back home; this was the nicest room he'd been in for some time.
This thing with Jeongguk could have just been once, but he really didn't think it was. He really didn't think that Jeongguk would say or do this lightly, and anyway, the weight of his arm felt real in a place that wasn't real; the smell of him didn't really feel like something that meant nothing.
Taehyung lay there for a while, comfortable, waiting for some sign that Jeongguk was waking up. Before that happened, a sharp, rapid knock came on the door.
It sounded like Jimin, and Taehyung knew that, if it was Jimin, he would not stop until someone came to greet him. So, he extracted himself from Jeongguk, and Jeongguk stirred and Taehyung smoothed his hair back and said, "Keep sleeping."
He found his shorts and put them on, looked at himself in the mirror and figured that, shirtless and messy-haired, sleep-puffy and pouting, he was plenty presentable enough to greet the person in his life he'd known the longest.
He closed the bedroom door softly so that Jeongguk wouldn't be bothered and went to the door.
It was Jin, and he went, "Oh."
Taehyung went, "Oh. Sorry. Thought you were Jimin."
"Cool," said Jin. "Well, I was here to ask if you and Jeongguk were going to use your spa voucher later or if Jimin and I could have it."
Taehyung leaned against the doorframe, not inviting Jin in. He pretended to think about it. "Well," he said, "I think we might give it to..."
"Don't say Yoongi and Hoseok. They relax all the time."
"Oh, I was gonna say Yoongi and Hoseok," said Taehyung slowly. "'Cause they're NTY."
"What?" said Jin.
"Nicer than you. But actually I think I'm gonna go with Jeongguk. Hope you guys have a good day, though?"
"Tae, you're not even dating him. It's not fair."
"Oh," said Taehyung. He almost said actually I am , but he didn't know if Jeongguk wanted that getting out, or if he even wanted Jin to know. He tried to just say, "Okay," but Jin saw it in his eyes. He was too perceptive.
"Oh," said Jin, kind of wincing, as if there was anything to be disgusted about. "I didn't think that would ever actually happen. I owe Jimin fourteen dollars."
"Whoa," said Taehyung, grabbing the key card off the table by the door and coming outside with Jin. "You and Jimin had a bet about this?"
“Yeah, and I think Soap and Namjoon had one, too. Namjoon thought you guys would never admit it, but Yoongi and Hoseok believe in true love, so,”
“I feel violated,” said Taehyung.
Jin scoffed. “Imagine how violating it’s been to watch you two make heart eyes at each other for the past fifteen years.”
“I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating,” said Jin.
“Why are you so mean?”
“Because I raised you on my back and all you do is take from me,” said Jin. “You make me so tired.” Jin sounded truly, incredibly exhausted, but his smile was cracking through. He always reached this point, when he went too far and the amount he really cared about Taehyung showed through. It would be easy to get sappy about if getting sappy weren’t something that Jin would make fun of Taehyung for doing.
“Well,” said Taehyung. “I guess you better go pay Jimin fourteen dollars. I’m gonna go wake up JK.”
Taehyung went back inside, closing the door gently behind him, and then he went into the bedroom, opening the door as quietly as possible. It didn’t really matter; Jeongguk was sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes.
Taehyung pretended not to be anxious about what it would be like with Jeongguk now that things were different. Different, twice. Technically married, though their marriage was just supposed to be some kind of fucked up performance art, but now maybe really in it. Maybe not, though. Jeongguk was weird sometimes; though Taehyung was sure they agreed now, there was still the small chance that Jeongguk might pretend it had never happened.
He didn’t. Of course he didn’t. He was weird, not cold, not an asshole, not leading Taehyung on (never on purpose). When Jeongguk smiled at Taehyung in a new way, Taehyung was sure, for once, that they meant the same thing.
Jeongguk was trying to request an uber.
Taehyung was trying to decide if he should take the train home from the airport or just get an uber himself. Jeongguk reached out his free hand for Taehyung to take.
Taehyung took it, and Jeongguk pulled him in, dragged him in toward himself a little, kissed the side of Taehyung’s head while messing with his phone.
“Do you want to just split the uber?” he said to the screen, lacing his fingers with Taehyung’s.
“I’ll have to get another one from your house this late,” said Taehyung. “I don’t think the 81 is still running.”
“Yeah,” said Jeongguk. He locked his phone and put it in his pocket, looked up at Taehyung. “Sleep over.”
“Oh,” said Taehyung. “Definitely."