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when i'm ready (i will fly us out of here)

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summertime in seoul feels a lot like a thunderstorm, jeongguk thinks.

school is hectic, his first year of university almost finished, continuously pulsing with essays and notes and exams and dance practice- like steady, warm rain.

making friends is difficult for him, but he dives in head first and is met with a bang- a bright, momentary flash of lightning, and then an ominous crash of thunder- and comes out with park jimin and jung hoseok.

and with friends comes the unsteady, push-pull of adventure. with friends comes one a.m. phone calls and, “ jeongguk, meet us at the edge of campus. let’s sneak out.”

jeongguk’s never been one for adventure. never been one for rain or lightning or thunder. and so this heady feeling of a storm brewing, wrapping around his wrists and holding him tight, feels a lot like suffocation to him.

but then there is the wind.

there is the inconsistent rustling, the strong harsh gusts, and the shivering trees that come along with it. there are random movie nights with his hyungs and skype calls to his mother and iced coffee every morning, and quiet pleas of, “guk, can’t we please watch toy story just one more time?”

and the wind, though erratic, feels like a breath of fresh air. like maybe the rain won’t fill up his lungs and drown him after all. maybe the lightning won’t make his fingers tingle and his hair rise.

he likes the wind’s sudden appearances, when he’s least expecting it.

and so, taehyung is like the wind.

they begin like this;

it’s the end of term and jeongguk wants to let loose, wants to remember what being young is all about. he’s got this itch under his skin, one that he hasn’t been able to scratch for days now, and he doesn’t know what he’s missing, just that he’s missing it bad.

and so when seokjin says that he’s going clubbing, yoongi and namjoon join, too. and where yoongi goes, jimin follows. and jimin’s certainly not going to a club without his “ bestest best friends,” so he drags jeongguk and hoseok along as well.

jeongguk fucking loves clubs, simply because the music is loud enough that he can drown out his own heartbeat for a while, and if his hands shake, he easily blames it on the alcohol.

so he dresses in too-tight, black jeans, and a sweater with gaping holes in the shoulders, and he lets jimin line his eyes in makeup while hoseok runs product through his hair, and they all take a cab to the club together, meeting their friends at the entrance.

seokjin knows the bartender and gets them a free round of drinks, and jeongguk downs his within the thirty seconds it takes for jimin to find a straw. he’s got another one in his hands when hoseok claps him on the shoulder, eyes him warily, and jimin murmurs a gentle, “ take care of yourself tonight, gukkie, ” in his ear, words ringing just loud enough that jeongguk catches them over the heavy music.

and then they’re all separating. yoongi bops through the crowd, makes his way to the front of the club, and jimin and hoseok are right beside him. jeongguk isn't quite drunk enough to miss the way jimin’s holding tightly to yoongi’s shirt sleeve, pressing himself into the left of yoongi’s body,  while hoseok’s got his fingers wrapped around yoongi’s wrist, pressed into the right.

jeongguk turns back to the bar to place his empty glass down. the bartender slides a shot his way, and jeongguk nods gratefully and hands him a bill.

to his right, seokjin and namjoon are discussing music theory, but they’re sitting so close, legs intertwined and faces inches apart, that they might as well be making out instead.

jeongguk’s skin tingles, and he downs the shot easily, ignoring the way his throat burns. as uncomfortable as it is, it’s a feeling he sometimes wishes wouldn’t go away.

there’s still that goddamn itch under his skin, fucking unscratchable and irritating, and it’s not until he stands up that he realizes he’s hard under the layers of tight clothes, and maybe he just really needs a good fuck.

the club is full of pretty people, men and women alike. and jeongguk isn't picky, remembers his first time being in the back of some old, run-down truck with a man almost twice his age. and that- that hadn’t been something he’d wanted at the time, isn’t something he recalls fondly, but he’s okay now, has learned to deal with the ghosts of his past by not actually dealing with them at all.

if he shoves his demons away where no one can see them, he, too, might forget that they exist.

taehyung enters jeongguk’s life at an opportune time.

the younger man is making his way across the dance floor, headed to the men’s room to breathe and maybe scope out potential one-night stands, when he bumps right into someone with light brown hair and eyes to match.

and perhaps he’s a little taken aback because the person says, “ watch where the fuck you’re going, jesus,” but he’s mostly just breathless.

what he means to say is, “ you’re so pretty.”

what he says instead is, “my name isn’t jesus, sweetheart.”

the guy in front of him rolls his eyes, looks like he maybe wants to punch jeongguk in the face, and goes to push past him.

jeongguk’s not sure if it’s the alcohol or the lust or if he’s just a fucking idiot, but he tries his luck anyway and gently snags the man’s wrist.

“i’m sorry,” he says, stumbling forward a little when a drunk girl attempts to grind against him on the dance floor. “i didn’t mean to bump into you.”

“it’s fine,” angry guy says, rolls his eyes again. jeongguk wants to call him petty, but he also wants to get in his pants, so he keeps his mouth shut. “just move, please-”

“taehyung?”

jeongguk spins around to see jimin standing behind him, all soft pink hair and smeared eyeliner and drunken, gentle smile. he pushes through some people until he’s standing right beside jeongguk.

“taehyungie, what are you doing here?” jimin asks, surging forward to pull angry guy into a tight hug.

they embrace for a while, jimin clearly using taehyung to keep steady on his feet. once his heels are settled firmly on the ground again, taehyung smiles and says, “decided to come out and celebrate term ending, but i’m not having much fun. there’s this guy that keeps following me, and my other friend’s ditched m-”

“oh, hey jeonggukkie!” jimin exclaims, effectively cutting taehyung off mid-sentence. taehyung looks a little put off, but he must sense that jimin’s too wasted to realize he’s being rude. “i didn’t know you were friends with taehyung! wait, what are you even doing here?”

jeongguk rolls his eyes and pokes jimin’s nose fondly, taking his glass of alcohol from him all at the same time.

“you’ve had enough of that, i think,” he says, and finishes it for himself. “and taehyung and i aren’t friends. i bumped into him and-”

“and had the audacity to call me sweetheart,” taehyung interrupts, arms crossed over his chest.

“only after you called me jesus,” jeongguk retorts, and jimin’s just looking between them, lips poked out in the the cutest little confused pout.

“you two should be friends,” he says, resting his pink tuft of hair against jeongguk’s shoulder. “gukkie is so bitter all the time, tae,” and jeongguk’s got half a mind to shove him away but he doesn’t because jimin’s drunk and would definitely fall down, “you should be friends with him because then he’ll be happier.”

“your logic is seriously lacking, there, jimin,” taehyung says, but he’s got this fond, half-smile on his face.

“there you are,” comes a voice just behind taehyung, and jeongguk catches the way taehyung’s eyes widen, if only for a moment. he’s not stupid, can spot fear faster than anything else. sees it all over his own face when he stares in the bathroom mirror each morning. “i’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“please,” taehyung turns to face this guy who’s hidden behind bodies and flashing lights, and jeongguk can’t see the guy’s face, but the sharp outline of his cheekbones are enough to make him seem ominous. “can you just leave me alone? i’ve been asking you all night to stay away-”

it’s too dark to really see what happens next.

there’s a sharp cry, just loud enough that it pierces jeongguk’s ears over the thrumming music, and then taehyung’s being yanked forward, stumbling as he fights to stay upright.

jimin’s pushed himself up off of jeongguk’s shoulder now, and he seems to have registered what’s happening, but before he has time to react, jeongguk’s stepping forward, shoving the guy hard, and wrapping an arm around taehyung’s waist.

taehyung doesn’t say anything, doesn’t move to push jeongguk away. in fact, he leans into him, curled up to his side as the guy in front of them recovers and glowers at jeongguk.

jeongguk hates fighting.

there were too many moments as a child, a teenager,  that he’d gone to school with hidden bruises and interior wounds and little whispers of, “if anyone asks, tell them you fell.”

he hates fighting, but he’s learned how to. will do it if need be.

the guy pursuing taehyung decides, apparently, that it’s need be.

jeongguk’s certainly glad he’s half-wasted, because he’s sure the punch aimed at his eye would’ve hurt a lot more had he been sober.

he recovers rather quickly, adrenaline coursing through his veins, and the next five minutes seem like a dream.

jimin’s launching forward, too small to do much damage to the large guy in front of him, but definitely feisty enough to try, anyway. he hops onto his back, covering his eyes with his hands as he tries to keep the guy from seeing where to throw his punches.

taehyung’s grabbing jeongguk’s face between both hands, staring at his injured eye as rushed murmurs of, “ holy shit, are you okay?” and, “ fuck, oh my god,” spill past his lips.

amidst all the chaos, jimin screaming bloody murder and jeongguk trying to shake taehyung’s hands away, yoongi and hoseok find them.

“what happened?” yoongi asks, eyes wide with panic as he stares between jimin and the guy, and taehyung and jeongguk.

“that asshole punched me,” jeongguk explains through gritted teeth, willing the painful throb in his eye to go away.

and just like that, yoongi’s stepping forward, at least five inches shorter than this guy but definitely not afraid.

he puts his entire body into the punch, winds himself up and then launches his fist forward. jeongguk thinks it’s a little similar to his actual personality, so composed until it’s convenient not to be.

jimin flies off the guy’s back as he stumbles from the force of yoongi’s blow, blood gushing from his nose. hoseok rushes forward to help jimin up, pulling the smaller man into his side.

security sees what’s going on, and then two big, buffed men are striding towards them with clenched fists and furrowed brows.

jeongguk thanks his lucky stars for namjoon and seokjin, who catch sight of this from the bar. it’s clear they have no idea what’s going on, faces scrunched up in confusion, but when they see jeongguk and the others, their instincts seem to kick into gear.

they step in front of the security guards, namjoon throwing a punch and seokjin shoving with all his might, and it doesn’t do much, but it’s enough for right now.

jeongguk looks around frantically, makes sure that the guy who was after taehyung is preoccupied with his broken nose, before he takes off running. he doesn’t have to look back to know that everyone else is following him.

as he runs past the security guards, he grabs namjoon’s wrist and tugs him along, seokjin quick to follow, but not before kicking one of the security guards in the shin, his own shoe flying off across the club.

as they head for the exit, all of their hands linked and breaths mingled together, jeongguk finds himself smiling brighter than he has in days.

they’re out of the club and half way around the block before they all come to a stop.

it’s hard to breathe. jeongguk’s got a hand clutched to his side while the other covers his hurt eye, and he’s not sure what just happened, definitely didn’t expect the night to end up like this-

and then hoseok’s laughing.

it’s not long before they all are, their sides hurting for a reason other than exertion, and taehyung wraps an arm around jeongguk’s shoulders, pulls him close. the entire situation is so ridiculous , something only they would get roped into. their voices echo through the eerily empty streets of seoul, pinging off of tall buildings and street lamps and each other.

everything stops being funny when jimin throws up all over the sidewalk and his own shoes and lets out a little pitiful plea of, “i want to go home.”

so, they call a couple of cabs and climb in together, headed off to namjoon’s place for pizza and movies, and maybe a little self-care.

and though jimin smells of vomit, seokjin’s only got one shoe on, and jeongguk’s eye is swollen shut, he thinks that maybe the thunder and lightning that accompany a storm aren’t so bad.

not when he's got the wind pressed to his side to filter clean air back into his lungs.

---

taehyung seems to fit himself into their friend group so flawlessly it’s almost as if he’s always been there.

he quickly wins over the hearts of everyone, aside from jimin, whose heart he’s already had tucked away inside his pocket for months.

even yoongi, who can’t be bothered to smile at anything that doesn’t have to do with hoseok and jimin, finds himself giving way to tae’s persistent nature, spending more than a few nights tucked into taehyung’s side as they watch movies or play video games.

though term is over, none of them go back home. whether it be personal reasons or their own laziness, everyone just decides they’re better off on campus, with each other.

jeongguk doesn’t mind. he thinks that he’d miss the thunderstorm should it suddenly disappear.

they all seem to consider seokjin’s apartment a safe haven. he and yoongi are the only ones who live outside of campus. seokjin’s apartment is beautiful, wide open and lightly colored. yoongi’s place is different, maybe darker. hoseok’s deemed it, ‘the void.’

seokjin always leaves the windows open to let the wind blow in; long, white curtains curling towards them, wavering through the living room.

jeongguk’s reminded of a fairy tale every time he steps through the door.

they’re a month and a half into summer, seven of them piled into seokjin’s apartment. there isn’t enough couch space, so while yoongi, jimin, and hoseok share the sofa, namjoon and seokjin are cuddled together in a giant arm chair, leaving jeongguk and taehyung on the floor.

nothing out of the ordinary has happened, and they haven’t been back to anymore clubs since the incident , which taehyung continuously apologizes for. sometimes it comes out of nowhere, like the guilt engulfs him at the oddest of times until he can’t take it anymore. he spews out words in quick succession, tears clinging to his bottom eyelashes, and he can’t be calmed until all of them pull him into hugs and press kisses to his hair.

taehyung has quickly become jeongguk’s best friend.

no one will ever get him like jimin does, or make him laugh like hoseok does, but there’s something else about taehyung. there is something so raw, something unknown, and jeongguk isn't a curious person, never has been, but he wants to map out the rugged roads decorating taehyung’s skin, wants to trace every route with his tongue.

he wonders if taehyung would let him.

he eyes taehyung, their legs tangled beneath a thin, white blanket, because despite the summer heat, wind will always have some amount of chill to it.

taehyung’s busy staring at the movie playing on seokjin’s television screen, though he seems to be zoning out more than actually paying attention to it.

pretty is the word that always seems to come to jeongguk’s mind when he looks at taehyung.

taehyung’s got this persistent glow about him, like no matter how tired or sick or hungover he is, he still fucking shines.

jeongguk itches to touch him, to brush his fingers through taehyung’s fringe, to tug at it until his eyes flutter closed, and-

“you’re staring, guk,” taehyung whispers, eyes glinting as he flashes jeongguk a teasing smile.

jeongguk shakes his head, cheeks splattered pink, and averts his eyes to something safer; taehyung’s hands picking at the threads of the blanket, twirling string around his long, slender fingers-

he and taehyung have relentlessly teased each other for the past month.

which is fine, mostly. jeongguk likes being able to joke around with him. it’s fine until taehyung makes some smart remark, full of poorly concealed sexual frustration, and jeongguk all but flings himself at taehyung, so close to kissing the life out of him that jimin squeals and makes them jump apart, or namjoon tells them to get a room.

maybe taehyung’s just a touchy person. he’s constantly throwing his arm around jimin’s shoulder, or hugging yoongi from behind. it seems natural for him to be close to people, always touching.

but he’s a bit warier around jeongguk.

he doesn’t hug jeongguk- not often. and it seems that, when their hands touch, whether it be an accident or otherwise, taehyung is quick to yank his away and shove it into his pocket.

jeongguk’s hasn't had many boyfriends before, but he knows what a crush looks like.

when the movie is over, everyone’s fallen asleep in slightly awkward looking positions, besides jeongguk and taehyung. jeongguk feels wide awake, skin tingling where he and taehyung’s legs tangle under the blankets.

“do you think seokjin would mind if we slept in his bed tonight?”

“hm?” jeongguk glances at him, eyes fluttering a little as he yawns. so maybe he doesn’t really feel wide awake.

“well, it’s just,” taehyung stretches, sprawling himself across jeongguk’s lap. it takes the younger man by surprise. “i don’t want to sleep on the floor tonight, and seokjin’s bed is empty.”

“i don’t think he’ll mind,” jeongguk says, and maybe it’s just because he wants to be closer to taehyung, wants to wrap up with him in some warm blankets and soft words and sleep, more soundly than he has in months.

“carry me, then?” taehyung asks, eyelashes fluttering against his cheekbones as he flashes jeongguk puppy dog eyes.

jeongguk scoffs and rolls his eyes. “no way. your legs aren’t broken.”

please, guk?” taehyung reaches up to poke jeongguk’s cheek, lips puckered into the cutest pout. “i’m just so sleepy. i can’t possibly make it all the way to seokjin’s bedroom.”

“it’s like, ten steps, tops.”

taehyung sits up, legs criss-crossed as he stares jeongguk down. his eyes twinkle for a moment, something jeongguk’s come to associate with mischief. taehyung is easy to read.

“if you carry me, i’ll tell you a secret,” tae says, and it’s really, truly tempting. especially when he offers jeongguk a small, wicked smile. when he sees that jeongguk isn’t going to crack so easily, he leans forward, the tips of their noses almost touching, and whispers, “it’s a good secret, too. one you’ll definitely want to hear.”

jeongguk holds taehyung’s gaze for just a moment before he huffs and leans back on the heels of his hands.

“fine!” jeongguk relents. taehyung’s blinding smile is hard to ignore. “i’ll carry you.”

taehyung crawls forward, settles himself in jeongguk’s lap like he’s done it a million times before though he definitely hasn't , and wraps his arms around jeongguk’s neck.

“alright, hercules, come on. i’m getting sleepier by the second,” taehyung teases, wiggling his hips a little.

jeongguk figures that he must be dreaming. there’s no fucking way taehyung is sitting in his lap right now, legs on either side of his waist, shimmying his goddamn hips with a sly smile on his face. no way.

he pinches himself, but he doesn’t wake up. taehyung merely throws him an odd look.

jeongguk presses the palms of his hands to the underside of taehyung’s thighs, grip tight, and then stands up.

taehyung squeals, burying the sound in the crook of jeongguk’s neck. he tenses up, legs squeezing jeongguk’s waist tighter as he fists his hands in jeongguk’s shirt.

“don’t drop me,” taehyung says, warm breath fanning across jeongguk’s neck.

“you have so little faith in me, hyung,” jeongguk says, walking down the long hallway that leads to seokjin’s bedroom. his legs wobble a little (taehyung’s heavier than he appears, probably due to his lanky limbs), but he doesn’t lose his balance.

taehyung hums softly, heels of his feet digging into the small of jeongguk’s back. he’s falling asleep, that much is easy to tell, as his breaths soften to the point where jeongguk can hardly feel them against his neck.

seokjin’s bedroom is spotless, just like the rest of his apartment. though moonlight is the only thing illuminating the room, jeongguk easily finds his way to the bed.

he places taehyung down as gently as possible, the older man whining as he loses the warmth of jeongguk’s body. jeongguk shakes his head, fond smile adorning his lips, and pulls the blanket up over taehyung.

“don’t fall asleep yet,” jeongguk says, kicking off his uncomfortably tight jeans. he climbs into bed next to tae, curling up under the covers. “you still have a secret to tell me.”

it’s a lost cause. taehyung is asleep, chest rising and falling slowly as shallow breaths puff past his lips. his mouth is left partially open, eyelashes occasionally fluttering as they fan across his cheekbones.

he’s so pretty,” jeongguk thinks, and that’s completely unbiased. he’d thought taehyung was pretty even before they’d gotten to know each other. before jeongguk realized that taehyung was his own completely frazzled, chaotic bit of sanity.

jeongguk finds that it’s easier to rest with another body right next to him. his eyelids fall closed, his hand splayed out across taehyung’s arm. he falls asleep soon after, and when he wakes up the next morning to taehyung curled around him like some sort of octopus, he pretends that his heart doesn’t hammer in his chest.

---

autumn brings along its own set of problems.

jeongguk finds himself with hardly any free time at all, what with school starting back up, and the relentless dance rehearsals he has. jimin’s been on his ass about their upcoming showcase.

he hardly sees his hyungs unless it’s during class or in practice, and he’s really starting to miss them, to miss just being around them. he can’t focus, discovers that his chest aches more when they aren’t around.

the thunderstorm fizzles out and disappears, only to be replaced by thick, heavy fog. it surrounds jeongguk, blocks his vision and chokes him until he feels on the verge of passing out.

still, there is the occasional gust of wind.

taehyung doesn’t come around often, not nearly as much as jeongguk would like him to, but his sporadic visits are enough. he mostly stops by on saturdays, pumpkin lattes and muffins in tow.

they don’t talk about school when they’re together. not really. they think about it enough throughout the week, struggle to find time to sleep around their busy schedules. any chance to get away from it, even for a short while, is welcome.

taehyung is a chemistry major, a fucking brilliant mind hidden behind layers of false security and overwhelming optimism. still, with the pretty words that fall from his lips, he may as well be a literature major, too.

the things he says, sentences twirled around a cherry red tongue, make jeongguk feel warm all over. the words engulf him like soft blanket-clouds, sewn of promises and sticky sweet pet names that speed up jeongguk’s heart.

jimin teases them often, thinks it’s funny how they’re always together, limbs tangled as they lounge over seokjin’s couch or yoongi’s floor.

and jeongguk doesn’t mind the relentless teasing, thinks it’s cute the way taehyung’s cheeks flush at the words, anyway. he just wishes he weren’t so goddamn confused.

because taehyung calls him sweetheart, says things like, “do you want me to pick up some food on my way over, babe?” and he sends jeongguk cute snapchats covered in hearts and always, always helps him with his science homework.

he makes it easier to breathe. makes the threads in jeongguk’s head untangle just a bit, as the fog subsides.

dance rehearsals really start to kick jeongguk’s ass, and before he even realizes it, his weekly visits with taehyung diminish into monthly ones.

he finds it hard to function, sometimes, when he’s alone with nothing but piling course work and texts from jimin about the next rehearsal.

when the showcase comes around, he hasn’t seen taehyung, or any of his other hyungs, aside from jimin, in almost a month. he doesn’t get to see them before they go on stage, but knowing that they’re somewhere in the audience instantly comforts him.

he gets lost in himself, performs like it’s the only thing he’s ever known how to do. with jimin by his side, everything is a lot easier.

the loud applause and high-pitched whistles once the showcase ends seem to come from far away. the dance team lines up, bows, and once the curtains pull closed, jeongguk’s rushing offstage in search of his hyungs.

“jeonggukkie, jimin!”

he can’t possibly mistake that voice, knows hoseok too well by now. when he turns around, he sees his friends there, huge smiles on their faces.

hoseok is the first to reach him. he pulls jeongguk into a huge hug, clapping him firmly on the back, and then moves on to hug jimin.

“you guys did so well!” namjoon says, tugging both jimin and jeongguk into a hug. seokjin joins in, ruffling jeongguk’s hair fondly. someone presses a kiss to the top of his head, and he feels his heart swell.

“we’re very proud,” yoongi says, and it’s clear that he’s trying to keep himself composed, but he can’t fight the smile that’s already formed on his face. he stands too close to jimin, places a hand on the small of his back, and when jeongguk meets his gaze, yoongi’s eyes seem to twinkle. he nods once, gesturing to something behind jeongguk.

he turns around just as his hyungs begin walking away, jimin tossing a little, “meet us at seokjin’s house for dinner!” over his shoulder.

taehyung stands there, dressed in a tan jacket, rolled up blue jeans, and striped socks, and he looks absolutely adorable with the way his rounded glasses slip down on his nose.

“here,” he says, eyes soft as he reaches out and hands jeongguk a bouquet of soft, pink roses. “you did really well up there, gukkie.”

jeongguk takes the flowers, holds them up to his nose to breathe them in. he’s already too fond of taehyung, can’t fucking handle the way his chest constricts whenever the older man smiles at him, and this is too much. this makes his hands shake.

jeongguk sets the flowers aside, careful so that none of the petals go falling off, and then surges forward, pulling taehyung into the tightest hug.

taehyung seems to tense up a little, but then he’s wrapping his arms around jeongguk’s waist and hugging him back so close that it gets hard to breathe.

jeongguk is aware of people around them; dance team members packing up their things and leaving, janitorial staff sweeping trash on the floor- and he thinks that maybe they should get going, too.

when he breaks the hug, there is a soft smile on taehyung’s face, but his eyes- always golden brown- shine with unshed tears. jeongguk just wants to understand.

“taehyung?” they’re leaving the building together, jeongguk carting his flowers in one hand.

“hm?” taehyung glances at him for just a second before his gaze drifts back to the asphalt beneath their feet.

“do you want to hold my hand?”

taehyung’s steps falter, so subtly that jeongguk almost doesn’t catch it. it’s quiet for a moment, besides the busy seoul traffic curling between buildings, and jeongguk’s holding his breath. waiting for the breeze to pick up again.

taehyung doesn’t say anything, but he reaches out, fingertips making contact with jeongguk’s wrist. it’s soft, the touch fleeting and maybe a little scared, so jeongguk takes it upon himself to grab taehyung’s hand and tangle their fingers together.

the walk to taehyung’s car feels like the slowest few minutes of jeongguk’s life.

it’s as if everything around them has come to a stop. jeongguk can’t hear anything other than his own heartbeat and taehyung’s brisk breathing, can’t feel anything besides taehyung’s hand in his. it feels like he’s disconnected from everything, mind desperately trying to wrap around what’s happening as the threads in his brain knot even more.

their hands detach as taehyung goes to climb in the driver’s seat of his car. jeongguk finds himself opening the passenger’s door and settling in, clicking his seat belt into place, on autopilot.

he stares out the window as they drive to seokjin’s house and pretends not to notice the way taehyung’s grip on the steering wheel turns his knuckles white and crushes the breath right out of his lungs.

---

it's difficult, jeongguk thinks, to hold on so tightly to the past. but, it's even harder to let go of it.

so he excuses himself, mentally, when he flinches away from taehyung’s touch or blocks out his kind words. he gives himself a pass because soft and gentle are not things that jeongguk is familiar with.

it's halloween night, and his hyungs are having a party at yoongi’s place.

namjoon and seokjin were in charge of food, jimin and taehyung handled the décor, and hoseok and yoongi took care of the music and invitations.

jeongguk has no idea about the party until taehyung is banging at his door, and then letting himself in like he lives there.

“come on, jeonggukkie,” he says, leaning over the back of the sofa to run his long fingers through jeongguk’s hair. jeongguk hasn't so much as moved from the couch since taehyung walked in. “we're going to yoongi’s for a halloween party.”

taehyung isn't dressed up in a costume, so jeongguk figures he's safe with normal clothes. once he's pleased with his appearance- black jeans and t-shirts suit him well- he heads back out to where taehyung is waiting for him.

taehyung smiles as he gives jeongguk a once-over, and then grabs his hand, tugging him out of the dorm room.

the differences between club parties and house parties are really, truly miraculous.

because jeongguk feels okay at clubs, knows that they exist specifically for partying, and drinks and dances and hookups.

but random parties are dangerous, sometimes not allowed, and definitely, definitely suffocating.

jeongguk feels overwhelmed when he walks into yoongi's apartment, the usually open space now cluttered with people jeongguk has never seen before in his life.

he wants to run, wants to head back to the safety of his own dorm, but then taehyung is tugging him forward and into a less crowded corner.

“stay here,” he says, lips pressed too close to jeongguk's ear in order to be heard over the pulsing bass, “i'll go get us some drinks.”

jeongguk barely hears him, consumed in his own thoughts.

he was eleven in busan when his older brother threw a house party.

he remembers how pissed their father had been when he'd found out.

he thinks that maybe childhood is unfair, because it's all about learning and growing and making mistakes as you go, but there are still repercussions. always, always repercussions.

jeongguk's shoulder throbs painfully, ghost memories of scars left there because of a glass vase thrown by the hand of his father.

don't tell anyone, gukkie,” his brother had whispered as he patched him up, desperately trying to stop the bleeding, “ it's not that bad. don't tell anyone, all right? it's okay.”

jeongguk wants to scream that it's not okay, never was, and that he's still not over the things he has no power to change.

you can't alter the past, jeongguk,” yoongi had told him a long, long time ago, back when jeongguk was reckless and silly and stealing things he didn't need, just to get a spike of adrenaline strong enough to blur his thoughts, “ you can't change who you were, or where you came from. but you can decide on how you let it shape you into the person you'll become.”

jeongguk tries to keep this in mind, but it's hard to, sometimes, when all he can think about are too-rough hands and strained voices.

as taehyung goes to walk away, jeongguk wraps a hand around his wrist, holding him in place.

“don't leave,” he says, eyes pleading, as his safety, his home, threatens to abandon him here.

taehyung's entire face softens, brows furrowed with confusion, and then worry.

jeongguk wants to tell him that it's okay, he's just a little fucked up, and he's always been like that, will probably always be, but it's easier when taehyung's around. everything is lighter with him here.

instead, he doesn't say anything at all, just pulls taehyung closer to breathe in the warm scent of his cologne, all familiar and too strong, but still so very taehyung.

taehyung is motionless for a moment, eyeing jeongguk as he bites his lip, clearly deep in thought.

“hm,” he eventually says, “i'm sure yoongi won't mind if we miss his party. let's get out of here, yeah?”

jeongguk isn't sure what love is, exactly, but he thinks it might be something akin to the way taehyung wraps an arm around his waist and leads him out of the stuffy apartment, content to just walk around the empty streets of seoul at 2 am and chatter to jeongguk, with no one to hear them but the stars.

---

the wind bites in the winter time.

jeongguk’s always cold, relentlessly so, even as he dresses in layers of sweaters and hats and scarves.

school has slowed down tremendously, everyone silently awaiting winter break. they all have more time on their hands now, so they find themselves curled up in seokjin’s living room nearly every weekend.

today is no different, the seven of them sprawled out on any available surface. jeongguk’s taken quite a liking to the soft, carpeted floor.

they’re discussing plans for break around mugs of hot chocolate when yoongi says, “i’m going home with jimin this christmas.”

everyone quiets down as gazes drift to yoongi’s face. he’s blushing, cheeks turned a cherry red, and jeongguk finds himself smiling softly. he takes a sip of his hot cocoa.

“me too,” hoseok says, busying himself with the threads hanging off the end of his sweater sleeve.

“i want them to meet my parents,” jimin says. he doesn’t sound embarrassed like yoongi, or sheepish like hoseok. he sounds proud.

“that’s nice,” namjoon says, comforting tone immediately breaking the thick atmosphere.

no one asks any questions. it’s not important what they do or don’t know. they’ll wait patiently, eyes soft, until jimin or yoongi or hoseok decide to explain.

and, if the three of them choose to never explain, well. jeongguk figures that he won’t be angry. not if yoongi keeps smiling at jimin and hoseok like they are sunlight filtering through thick, grey clouds.

jeongguk informs everyone that he won’t be going home. he misses his family, sure, but he feels like he needs to be on campus. his dorm is what he associates with safety, his hyungs the brothers that he’s always wanted.

namjoon worries, of course, says, “you can come home with me if you want, guk.”

but jeongguk shakes his head, offers namjoon a quick smile before forcing his gaze down to the mug in his hands.

nobody else pushes, or asks why he doesn’t want to go home. he’s grateful, really, that they all seem to know him well enough to be able to tell when he just needs time.

“i’ll make you some meals before i go,” seokjin says. “can’t have you eating microwave dinners on christmas.”

taehyung, who has been pressed up to jeongguk’s side for an hour now, watches jeongguk for a moment, even after conversation topics change. jeongguk can feel tae’s gaze, can see it in his peripheral. but taehyung doesn’t ask any questions.

they discuss their favorite christmas movies, while jeongguk pretends to smile and ignores the urge to tangle his hand with tae’s.

the seven of them continue on like this for weeks, finishing up classes and then spending the first couple days of break holed up in seokjin’s apartment, falling asleep on couches and floors and eating homemade breakfast while jimin and hoseok belt out holiday songs.

it’s nice, and jeongguk finds that, though the thunderstorm that is his friends may be loud and booming and hectic, he likes it anyway. likes the way the lightning flashes, hot and bright, and the way the thunder sings as it wreaks havoc around him.

when he and taehyung leave the apartment one afternoon, on the way to the corner store to pick up some hot drinks for everyone, the wind seems particularly bitter. it nips at every bit of his exposed skin.

their footsteps crunch against the frost-glazed sidewalk, the smell of snow in the air. everything is quiet, as if all sound has been muted just a little bit. even the usually busy streets seem hushed.

“jeongguk,” taehyung says after a while, voice muffled under layers of sweaters and scarves, “why aren’t you going home for christmas?”

jeongguk says nothing for a long time, almost considers not answering at all. but then taehyung glances over at him like he expects something , which is funny because jeongguk never even remembers offering .

“you don’t have to tell me,” taehyung adds, which makes jeongguk feel guilty, because he shouldn’t be keeping things from his best friend, anyway. and then, “i’m just worried about you, guk-ah.”

jeongguk sighs, shoving his gloved hands deep into the pockets of his coat.    

“this is my home,” jeongguk finally answers. “seoul is where i’m most comfortable. nothing scares me, here, hyung.”

taehyung grimaces, eyebrows pulling together in confusion. he looks like he wants to ask, “ well what scares you in busan?” but he must think better of it because he snaps his mouth shut, and instead, holds out his hand.

jeongguk takes it, and though he can’t feel taehyung’s skin due to their thick gloves, he still thinks their fingers fit together perfectly.

the wind picks up, icy and harsh, and jeongguk moves closer to taehyung to suck up some of his warmth. his skin prickles, and he’s not sure that he can even blame it on the cold, this time.

---

it's the day before christmas eve that jeongguk realizes how utterly fucked he is.

everyone has gone home except taehyung, who is flying out tomorrow morning.

he calls jeongguk, chipper voice ringing through the tinny phone speakers, and says, “i’ll be over in ten minutes!” he hardly ever waits for an invitation anymore.

ten minutes turn into twenty because kim taehyung is never on time for anything in his life, and jeongguk doesn't think that will ever change. he’s lying on his mustard yellow couch nursing a mug of hot chocolate when taehyung tosses open his front door.

jeongguk's roommates left at the start of break, something he is infinitely grateful for, because along with taehyung comes noise- the sharp whipping of the wind.

taehyung is covered in snow, hair decorated with glimmering chunks of it. he's dressed for the weather though- a long coat, green sweater, and gloves jeongguk recognizes at once as being his own.

he's not surprised that taehyung took them. he's learned that, if taehyung wants something, he gets it.

and maybe that makes jeongguk a little scared for himself.

“i brought things with me,” taehyung says, a big, cardboard box cradled in his arms. “jiminie mentioned that your dorm doesn't have any christmas décor. that's so sad, jeonggukkie.”

jeongguk has never decorated for christmas, not in the two years he's lived on his own. even back at home, he'd merely help his mother hang some baubles on the tree and then be done with it altogether.

taehyung places the box down on jeongguk's coffee table, and begins pulling items out. he hands jeongguk a few strands of icicle lights and some handcrafted paper snowflakes, while he tugs out a miniature, plastic tree for himself.

“hang those up while i decorate your tree,” taehyung says, flashing jeongguk a tiny smile.

jeongguk is weak to anything taehyung might ask- one of his fatal flaws- so he takes the box of thumbtacks taehyung is holding out to him and stalks off to hang up the items.

after he's finishes decking out every doorway with bright, drooping lights, he begins tacking up the paper snowflakes.

it's clear that taehyung had made them, his sloppy handwriting easily deducible as jeongguk reads out the, 'merry christmas,’ and, 'happy holidays,’ jotted down on all of the snowflakes.

he can't help but smile as he hangs them up, heart swelling at the thought of having a bit of taehyung with him, even when the older man is gone.

he's finished his part of the decorating, so he heads back into the living room to see what taehyung is up to.

jeongguk leans against the doorway, observing for a moment.

taehyung in knelt down in front of this tree, which can't be any taller than the length of one of jeongguk's arms, carefully attaching ornaments to its bare branches.

jeongguk can't see his face, but his hands are so gentle, movements boundlessly careful as he slips a tiny, glass bauble over a branch.

“how's the tree coming along?” jeongguk asks, to which taehyung startles, dropping the ornament he was holding.

“it's almost finished,” he answers, turning to glance at jeongguk. “come here, i need your help with something.”

jeongguk walks over to taehyung, looks down at him, and murmurs, “what do you need my help with?”

taehyung doesn't answer at first. instead, he grabs jeongguk's hand and tugs until the younger man is on his knees, too. they're both just a little bit taller than the tree, now.

reaching into the box beside him, taehyung pulls out a shimmering, gold star. it's a tree topper.

he passes it over to jeongguk, glitter transferring on to both of their fingertips.

“i want you to put it on the tree, gukkie,” taehyung says, voice feather-soft and unbearably low, like he doesn't want to break the warm atmosphere they've got going on around them.

jeongguk studies the star, turning it over a few times in his hand. glitter stains his palm, leaving him shining with bits of gold.

“okay,” he whispers, voice lost under the heady air between them.

he reaches forward, star gripped tightly in his hand, and settles it atop the tree. it gleams under the honey glow of the fairy lights.

“it's pretty,” taehyung says, staring at the star.

“yeah,” jeongguk agrees, staring at him.

and then taehyung turns his head, their eyes meeting under the soft lights, and he smells like pine needles and peppermint and earth, something jeongguk has come to identify with safety, with home.

jeongguk brings his hand up to touch taehyung’s cheek, fingertips leaving behind specks of glitter. taehyung's eyes never stray from jeongguk's face.

jeongguk isn't sure which one of them lean in first, just that a moment later, their lips are meeting and he feels as if his heart has leapt into his throat.

taehyung tastes of chocolate and candy canes and warmth, lips soft as they slide against jeongguk's. when jeongguk sucks tae’s tongue into his mouth, he is overcome with spearmint, leaving his own tongue tingling.

the kiss is slow but heavy, the feeling of kissing taehyung weighing deep on jeongguk's tongue and curling warmly around his heart.

he delves forward, hands sliding into taehyung's hair, and nips at his bottom lip, teeth sharp and unforgiving.

taehyung whines into jeongguk's mouth, his own hands coming to hold at jeongguk's waist, fisting at the fabric of his sweater.

jeongguk's not sure how long he's wanted this, just knows that now that he's got it, he's not sure he'll ever be able to give it back.

taehyung's hands slide up the front of jeongguk's sweater, palms warm as they press against the plains of the younger man's chest.

taehyung is seeking, always looking for more, even when jeongguk has nothing left to give.

that thought alone is enough to scare jeongguk, leaving his bones quaking.

jeongguk breaks the kiss to suck at taehyung's neck, covering him in fair blossoms of purples and blues. he uses these kisses, lighter, less dizzying ones, as an excuse to catch his breath.

he likes the way taehyung sounds when he's whimpering, long fingers now tangled in jeongguk's hair as he just tries to hold on.

“gukkie,” taehyung whines, chest heaving as jeongguk runs his tongue along the column of his throat, “gukkie, please.”

jeongguk pulls away for a moment to look at him. taehyung seems unraveled, lips bitten red and neck covered in marks. jeongguk hopes that, when taehyung is back home on christmas, he'll push his fingers against the bruises and remember this. remember jeongguk.

“what do you want, tae?” the question leaves jeongguk's mouth before he's had time to mull it over. it's too imposing, too heavy. jeongguk isn't sure he can give taehyung anything at all.

“i want you,” taehyung breathes out, eyes glassy and genuine, “just you, guk.”

taehyung's hands are soft against jeongguk's skin, always gentle and guiding. he runs the tips of his fingers along jeongguk's neck, the touch patient and kind.

“okay,” jeongguk says, voice small. he feels like a fucking liar, knows that he can't give himself to taehyung. not when he's just figured out how to put his own pieces back together.

still, he nods firmly and says, lies , “okay, taehyung. okay.”

they don't make it to jeongguk's bedroom.

their fingertips tingle too much, stomachs coiling, so they settle for the couch. it's ugly and small and uncomfortable, but jeongguk has fucked in worse places, with worse men.

jeongguk settles on top of taehyung, hips rocking at a frustratingly slow pace. each jolt of pleasure momentarily distracts him, just long enough that he doesn't go crazy from all of this, from taehyung's noises and kisses and touches.

they're both hard, have been for sometime, but neither of them have lost their patience yet. jeongguk wonders which of them will snap first.

taehyung pushes his hips up to meet jeongguk's, and both of them let out tiny, broken groans.

jeongguk feels like a teenager again, thinks that he could probably come just from this, but he doesn't want that.

he wants to see taehyung, to feel him and taste him. he wants to be completely ruined come the time they're finished.

if he's going to throw himself to the sharks, he'll make sure to dive in head first.

taehyung tugs jeongguk down for a kiss, hands smoothing up jeongguk's back all the while. jeongguk's sweater gets bunched up under his arms, so he pulls away to take it off.

taehyung seems fascinated as he stares at jeongguk's chest, hands coming up to thumb at his nipples, and trace along the ripples of his abs.

he gets a little impatient, then, palm pressing against jeongguk's hard length, through the fabric of his sweats.

“take these off, jeonggukkie,” taehyung says, playing with the waistband of his pants.

jeongguk does as he's asked. he tugs down his pants, boxers too, and kicks them onto the floor.

taehyung takes the moment's distraction as an opportunity. once jeongguk is naked, he grabs him by the waist and flips them, so that he's settled on top.

he nearly falls in the process, which jeongguk might find funny if he weren't so busy staring at taehyung, who looks absolutely ethereal above him.

jeongguk has done one night stands and friends with benefits. he's done hate fucking and sex he regrets moments after it happens. and none of those things, not a single one, have terrified him as much as this does now.

because taehyung seemingly knows what he wants, without an ounce of doubt in his mind, like this is all he's ever prepared himself for. like this kind of rushed sex is all he knows. the kind that breaks jeongguk down, eats away at him until there is nothing left but a pile of bones and a throbbing heart.

taehyung knows what he wants as he kisses jeongguk, he knows what he wants as he kicks off his clothes and sucks his own fingers into his mouth, and he knows what he wants as he stretches himself open.

and all jeongguk can do is watch and burn. all he can do is ache and reach out to brush taehyung's hair aside and desperately avoid the older man's gaze in fear that it may break him.

taehyung stretches himself slowly, like they've got all the time in the world. he holds himself up on one arm as the other reaches back, curled to get his fingers in just right.

and he whimpers, head hung and mouth popped open, eyes shut tight. warm breath fans jeongguk's face as taehyung pants out his name.

“there's lube in my bedroom,” jeongguk says as taehyung removes the digits from himself.

“that's too far away,” taehyung says, and then he's got his hands placed on jeongguk's hips and his mouth breathing hot air onto the head of his cock.

jeongguk just barely has enough time to tangle his hands in taehyung's hair before the older man is going down on him, taking his entire cock into his mouth.

jeongguk's stomach twists, a tell tale sign that he's definitely going to come soon. he feels his cock hit the back of taehyung's throat and he lets out a sharp cry, tugging at taehyung's hair.

it's quick, too messy to be anything excellent, but jeongguk loves it anyway. thinks that, maybe, taehyung has found a way to reprogram his heart and fill it with senseless fondness for the older man.

taehyung pulls off, lips glistening with spit, and goddamn, it's a sight that jeongguk could get used to.

he doesn't have time to familiarize himself with it, however, because taehyung is lifting up to his knees and lining jeongguk's cock with his entrance.

it all feels a bit surreal, right up to the point where taehyung sinks down onto him, taking him so well.

they've been running around each other for months now, their relationship striving off of fleeting touches and too-quick hugs. it's a wonder both of them made it this long, really, when jeongguk was aching to shove taehyung up against a wall or a bed or anything after only a few hours of knowing him.

taehyung doesn't give himself nearly long enough to adjust, wincing as he lifts his hips up, leaving just the head of jeongguk's cock inside of him.

jeongguk wants to tell him to be careful, to slow down, because going too quickly makes it hard to breath, and jeongguk is struggling with that enough as it is.

but then taehyung is dropping down into his lap again, and the prospect of going slow gets tossed right out the window.

taehyung fucks like he does literally everything else- too quick, sloppy, and with lots of enthusiasm.

jeongguk wants to say that he doesn't mind- especially when taehyung stops bouncing long enough to roll his hips torturously slow- but he feels his chest aching, even under the layers of sweat and lust.

taehyung feels good around him and looks beautiful above him, but when he kisses jeongguk, it tastes too sweet.

here jeongguk is, losing everything, breath getting stolen by the one thing that is supposed to transfer it into his lungs.

his chest burns, so he breaks their kiss to take in big gulps of air. taehyung, who doesn't ever stop touching him, opts to leave bites down his neck, instead.

jeongguk is close. when he thrusts up into taehyung, the older man cries out, voice low and broken.

“right there, gukkie,” he says, panting, legs beginning to shake with the effort it takes to raise himself up.

jeongguk keeps snapping his hips up into taehyung, relishing in the way taehyung's voice gets even deeper as he nears his climax.

“i can't keep going,” taehyung says, legs about to give out. he's flushed red, all of him, with his cock standing prettily against his stomach.

but if he wants to take everything from jeongguk, then he's going to have to work for it. jeongguk will not accompany taehyung in his own self-destruction.

taehyung lifts himself up once, twice, and then jeongguk wraps a hand around his cock and tugs.

that's all it takes for taehyung snap, orgasm hitting him with a force so hard he nearly curls in on himself.

white strands paint their chests and stomachs. jeongguk runs his fingers through it, collects it in the palm of his hand.

he's only vaguely aware that taehyung is still moving his hips, and when he comes, warm and marking inside of taehyung, he blacks out, the world darkening around him for just a moment as pleasure shoots through his body.

they stay still for a while, taehyung collapsing forward to rest against jeongguk's chest.

everything's a mess, sweaty and sticky, and jeongguk feels claimed with taehyung's body weighing down on him.

it's too much, everything all at once. because taehyung kisses him and calls him gukkie and holds his hand when he gets overwhelmed, like he cares or something. like he's got any right to.

jeongguk shoves at his shoulder until taehyung rolls off of him. he pushes himself up from the couch and goes to get a damp wash cloth.

once he's cleaned himself up, he returns to the living room to gently wipe taehyung off in silence.

the older man looks like he wants to say something, eyes twinkling. when his hand comes up to cradle jeongguk's face, it's too soft, a touch that was once welcomed now burning instead.

jeongguk leans away from his hand, grabs taehyung's clothes from the floor, and tosses them to him.

taehyung looks confused as he stares at the offending pieces of fabric.

“guk?” he ponders, the word barely audible over jeongguk's breathing and the loud, heavy tension between them.

“you've got an early flight tomorrow,” jeongguk says, his back to taehyung as he slips his boxers on. “you should go home and get some rest.”

it's quiet for a moment, like maybe taehyung can't believe what he's hearing. jeongguk can't quite believe it, either.

“what?” he asks, breathy and cracking, like he's unable to hold himself together anymore.

when jeongguk turns to look at him, he's got his bottom lip pulled between his teeth, looking desperately like he's trying not to cry.

jeongguk swallows thickly, chest aching, as he turns away from taehyung. he can't look at him anymore, lest he might take back what he's said.

“you should go,” he forces out, pulling on his sweatpants. the more clothes he wears, the less stinging pain he'll feel across his skin.

he doesn't look back at taehyung, but he hears the rustling of clothing as taehyung presumably gets dressed. the front door clicks open, and then there's nothing. just absolute silence, like maybe taehyung is just standing there, mulling over what to say.

but he doesn't end up saying anything. the door swings shut, rattling hard against the frame. the noise echoes throughout the empty dorm.

jeongguk gives himself a few moments to just breathe, and then he's rushing through the dorm, tearing down all of the decorations, until the only thing left amidst the chaos is their christmas tree.

the gold star doesn't seem to shine as brightly without taehyung standing next to it.

---

jeongguk spends christmas day in relative silence.

he hasn't charged his phone for almost two days now, opting to mull in his brain’s concocted, sloppy sorrow instead of speaking to his hyungs.

the thunderstorm around him has almost subsided entirely, the only evidence that it was ever there at all being seokjin’s homemade meals in the refrigerator.

the wind stopped long ago, and jeongguk feels on the brink of suffocation whenever he does anything relatively strenuous.

still, he finds himself unable to dial tae’s number, or even send him a simple text. like he's too ashamed of himself, of who he is, to attempt to make it better.

he wonders if it even gets better from here. he wonders if this heavy silence is all he was ever meant to endure.

he figures out that being alone is worse when one knows what they're missing.

because he's experienced jimin’s ringing laugh, and he's felt hoseok’s warm hugs, and seokjin's shoulder pats. and he knows of namjoon’s philosophical talks, and the way yoongi likes to chat his ear off about music, tucked into jeongguk's side.

his chest aches because he finds himself unable to pretend for any of them anymore.

had he turned his phone on, he might've seen the missed calls from jimin, and video chat request from namjoon. he might've seen the simple, “ merry christmas, guk,” from taehyung.

but instead, he falls asleep on the couch that night, an old black and white movie playing on his television, just as snow begins to cover seoul.

---

jimin practically kicks down his door when he returns from busan.

school starts back up in a couple of days, and it's clear that jeongguk's hyungs aren't missing the chance to spend time with him before their schedules become busy again.

“seokjin is making dinner right now,” jimin says as he practically drags jeongguk out of his dorm room. “and namjoon is off with taehyung, picking out movies for us to watch.”

jeongguk slides into the back of jimin's car, right next to hoseok. yoongi turns around in the front seat to send him a small smile.

“we missed you, kid.”

jeongguk lets out a big sigh of relief, and finds himself smiling, a rarity, even to himself, anymore.

they arrive at seokjin's apartment in no time. jeongguk spends the entire ride listening to jimin ramble about his trip back home.

“jimin's parents like us,” hoseok says proudly, a big grin adorning his face.

“like?” jimin scoffs. “try adore. they’re insisting that yoongi and hoseok come with me every time i visit busan.”

“that's nice,” jeongguk says, and he means it, too. he meets jimin's eyes in the rear view mirror, and both of them break out into dazzling smiles.

for the first time in weeks, he feels whole again.

---

seokjin's cooking is nothing shy of a blessing.

he's got pots upon pots of food displayed across the dining table, and plates for each of the boys.

he gives jeongguk a big, warm smile when he walks in, ruffling his hair.

“did you have a good christmas, jeonggukkie?” he asks.

jeongguk doesn't feel like lying anymore, especially to his friends, so he chooses not to say anything at all. thankfully, seokjin seems to understand his silence.

they wait until taehyung and namjoon return before they start eating.

taehyung won't so much as glance jeongguk's way, which is expected. still, it does nothing to ease the burning pain in jeongguk's throat.

conversation is lively, but there's something missing. an unspoken recognition that the air around them is tenser than usual. jeongguk can't help but blame himself.

when they finish eating, namjoon and hoseok are stuck with dish duty. jimin and yoongi go to set up a movie in seokjin’s bedroom, where they'll all presumably settle in a few minutes.

taehyung, jeongguk, and seokjin are left on the couch.

usually when jeongguk and taehyung are together, there's never a moment's silence. taehyung builds off of jeongguk, uses his sarcasm and snippy comments to fuel full blown conversation.

now, however, it is quiet. jeongguk feels awkward around his hyungs for, perhaps, the first time since he's met them.

seokjin has never been one to bite his tongue. jeongguk is foolish to think that he would, even for a second.

“jeongguk,” he says, voice cool, “can i talk to you outside for a second?”

“outside?” jeongguk groans, “but it's cold out there.”

seokjin's eyes narrow, clearly leaving no room for argument.

“okay,” jeongguk sighs, pushing himself up from the couch. he follows seokjin outside, shivering as a biting breeze chills him to the core.

“i don't know what's going on with you and taehyung-” jeongguk opens his mouth to interrupt, but seokjin shuts him up with a pointed glare, “-i don't want to know, honestly. but, whatever it is, you need to fix it.”

jeongguk pouts, bottom lip jutting out. he sometimes forgets that he's not a child anymore, that he can't just ignore his problems until they go away because they never go away.

“i know you've got trust issues,” seokjin begins, but jeongguk is quick to cut him off.

“don't,” he says, dark eyes sharp, “don't pretend to understand when you have no idea-”

“taehyung isn't your father, jeongguk,” seokjin hisses, frustration clear and prominent all over his face, “he's not your father, or your old boyfriends-”

“that's enough, seokjin-”

“he's not that sleazy guy who took you home a few months ago, or your ex best friend who let you down-”

“-please, stop.”

but seokjin keeps going, getting redder in the face as his anger builds. “when will you realize that not everyone is out to hurt you-”

“i know that!” jeongguk yells, shoving seokjin away from him, and then taking the apartment steps in stride as he distances himself right after. he can't afford to let anger get the best of him. “i know, hyung. but that doesn't make it any easier.”

“is it so difficult to just let someone love you, jeonggukkie?” seokjin asks, voice tender around the edges.

jeongguk merely turns his back to seokjin and stomps down the slosh-covered pavement, towards campus.

seokjin's question rings through his head the entire trek home, and he finds that, by the time he's tucked away safely in his dorm room, an overwhelming sense of panic has flooded his lungs and finally drowned him.

---

jeongguk is roused from sleep by an obnoxious banging on his bedroom window.

perks of living on the first floor; he doesn't have to carry groceries up exhausting flights of stairs.

cons of living on the first floor; his friends often come around for late-night adventures and know exactly which window leads to his bedroom.

he groans, certainly not in the mood for one of jimin’s munchie runs- he's learned that jimin eats two times his weight when high- but is surprised, instead, to find taehyung there, arms wrapped around his waist to keep himself warm.

“what the hell.”

“let me in,” taehyung hisses, moving closer to the window, presumably to leach some of jeongguk's bedroom’s warmth, “it's fucking freezing out here.”

jeongguk is so confused- and mildly shook- that he doesn't even think twice before stepping aside, allowing taehyung to climb in through his window.

the younger man watches as taehyung sits down on the bed, curling up under the thick duvets, and lets out a little sigh.

jeongguk is left standing by the window, feeling like a stranger in his own home.

“why are you here?” jeongguk asks, mentally kicking himself because his voice sounds bitter, but he doesn't mean for it to. it's a defense mechanism, something he developed way back when to keep anyone from getting too close.

taehyung scoffs, stares at jeongguk in mild disbelief.

“what fucking right do you have to be angry, jeongguk?” he asks, and though he looks cute buried under thick blankets with just his eyes and nose peeking out, his tone portrays him as deadly, instead.

“you just-” jeongguk racks his brain for reasons to be mad at taehyung, but he comes up empty. “you just show up here, uninvited, might i add, at ass-o’clock in the morning-”

“since when have i ever needed an invitation to come visit you?” taehyung asks.

“since we stopped speaking,” jeongguk says, “for weeks.”

“and whose decision was that, jeongguk?”

jeongguk snaps his mouth shut, eyes trained on the lace trimming along the edge of his bedsheets. taehyung's got him there.

he feels like he should apologize, but he also feels like taehyung might throw something at him were he to do that.

“i just,” taehyung lets out a big breath, running a hand through his hair, “i came here on a whim, okay? jimin said i should try talking to you in person, and-”

“he's always fucking meddling-”

“well you weren't going to come to me, were you?” taehyung snaps.

and well, no. jeongguk supposes that he wasn't.

“i'm trying to understand you,” taehyung whispers, and jeongguk finally meets his gaze.

it's dark in the bedroom, the only light coming from jeongguk's window, but taehyung's eyes are so clear, so warm and honest.

“i don't even understand me, tae,” jeongguk tells him. he tries not to sound tired, but god, this- running around his feelings and pretending that they don't exist- is fucking exhausting .

“enough, okay?” taehyung says, and he sounds tired, too. jeongguk picks up on it easily. “fuck, you aren't the only one who's hurting, jeongguk. you aren't the only one with problems.”

“i know that,” jeongguk isn't dense, he understands that the world doesn't revolve around him. “this isn't about that.”

“then what is it about, exactly? because i’ve been thinking about you for weeks -” jeongguk’s heart sinks. he doesn't deserve that much of taehyung’s attention, “-and i just can't figure you out.”

“then stop trying,” jeongguk snaps, and he's not even mad, he's just aching. doesn't understand why all of this- him, them- is so important to taehyung.

because taehyung's got something already.

he's got family, and he's got friends who love him, and good grades, and a bright, happy future.

he doesn't need jeongguk's heart, too.

and jeongguk is too selfish to hand it over, anyway.

“you want me to stop trying?” taehyung asks, eyebrows furrowing. he doesn't sound so angry anymore, but the tired look in his eyes makes jeongguk hurt, either way. “fine, gukkie. i’m done.”

and fuck, jeongguk never wanted this. never wanted to hear taehyung say his name in such an overwhelmingly exhausting sort of way, but now that he's heard it, he can't un hear it, and that makes his hands shake.

“we're good together ,” taehyung had told him a long time ago, during one of their late night, too-tired-to-move but too-awake-to-sleep calls. “ i'm the one that's gonna help you unscramble your brain, guk. i’ll help you figure it out.”

but here jeongguk is, here they are, more confused than before, and definitely a lot more broken.

taehyung goes to the open window and only glances back at jeongguk after he climbs out of it, feet firmly on the ground once more.

“i owe you a secret,” he says. when jeongguk just eyes him, confused, he clarifies, “i promised you one a long time ago, at seokjin's house.”

jeongguk remembers now. remembers that he'd carried taehyung to bed, tucked him up under layers of blankets and maybe he didn't realize it then, but that had been the first moment taehyung had truly stolen his heart.

“so what's your secret?” jeongguk whispers, swallowing around the knot in his throat.

taehyung slowly backs away from the window, hands shoved into his pockets, and says, “i wanted to kiss you the first moment i saw you, jeonggukkie,” and jeongguk isn't sure what to do with that information, “but even more so,” taehyung continues, “i found myself just wanting to be close to you.”

and then taehyung's turning around, back to jeongguk as he walks away, and jeongguk's got half a mind to yell at him, to tell him to come back, but he doesn't.

he stands there, in the aching chill of his room, and says nothing at all.

---

as the weather grows colder, so does taehyung.

he doesn't so much as look at jeongguk, opting to skip out on hangouts at seokjin’s house just to avoid him.

jeongguk wants to be angry, but instead, he feels nothing at all.

he gets through school because he has to, because namjoon would kick his ass if his grades started slipping.

dance practice becomes routine again, but instead of feeling powerful when he dances alongside jimin, he just feels bitter.

jimin tells him to perk up, yoongi tells him to get over it, and seokjin tells him to try harder.

jeongguk isn't sure if he's got it in him to do any of those things anymore.

he's sitting on seokjin's couch, all curled up and tucked into jimin’s side, when he realizes that this, all of it, is too stupid and cliché for him to even care about.

because jeongguk was always going to push taehyung away. he was always going to close himself off, hide himself away, because that's what he does best.

his hyungs know that, and so they don't push him.

but there's an endless loop of unhappiness running through his head. and endless loop of, “ baby,” breathed in taehyung’s soft voice, and touches that he can no longer feel, long, thin fingers that he can no longer hold on to.

what's that saying? you never know what you have until it's gone.

jeongguk feels like an idiot, must seem like one, too, but his hyungs are kind enough not to say so out loud.

it's when jimin tells him that taehyung is going back home, back to daegu , after this school year ends, that jeongguk decides enough is enough.

if taehyung wants to go back home, jeongguk is no one, not a single binding force, and he will not stop him.

but, he doesn't want to let taehyung leave without even saying goodbye.

because even if jeongguk never sees taehyung again, he can't deny the fact that taehyung was his best friend, if only for a little while.

and regardless of how much he tries to forget, he will always have a soft spot for boxy smiles and shining eyes and yellow sweaters.

“he's in the chem lab right now,” jimin tells him. “we're supposed to meet up for lunch whenever he's finished his project, but i can always reschedule it. you just..take your time with him.”

“and fucking watch what you say,” yoongi says, voice hard but always, always caring. “you have a tendency to say shit you don't mean when you're uncomfortable.”

“which you undoubtedly will be,” seokjin calls from the kitchen, “but give him a chance, jeonggukkie.”

“and stop being so goddamned scared,” namjoon pipes up, “just..let it come naturally, dude.”

“any other advice?” jeongguk snaps bitterly, slipping his shoes on.

he knows his hyungs are only trying to help, but still, he isn't sure when him telling taehyung goodbye turned into a different mission, entirely. like maybe now, he's not so okay with just letting go.

“yeah,” hoseok nods, looking up at jeongguk from his place in between yoongi and jimin, “be honest with him, guk. that's probably the most important thing.”

yoongi presses a kiss to hoseok’s temple, while jimin smiles and places a gentle hand on his knee. they look content, undeniably happy.

and he thinks that maybe, underneath his cowardice, he can find that kind of pure, unadulterated happiness, too.

---

the chemistry lab is completely foreign to jeongguk. he's got to stop at least twice and look at campus maps just to locate it.

it's locked from the outside, with a key card scanner being the offending security measure. jeongguk wishes it were a bolt lock. at least he could pick that.

sighing, he circles the building in search of other entrances. there's a fire exit, but he presumes that it's locked from the inside, too. and even if it weren't, he's sure an alarm would sound upon opening it.

it's freezing, snow cascading from the sky in chunks that turn jeongguk's hair white. in his rush to get here, he'd forgotten to grab gloves or a hat, and his hands and ears have almost completely gone numb.

but, luck must be on his side because at the end of the chemistry building, he spots an open window.

he rushes over to it, standing on his tiptoes to peek inside.

and perhaps it's both a blessing and a curse that he sees taehyung there, adorned in a labcoat and safety glasses, bent over some beakers full of colorful chemicals.

he's got something boiling on a portable burner, the window open presumably to let the blue smoke that rolls off it flow outside.

jeongguk attempts to climb in through the window, but he's got very little traction on his shoes, and the fucking siding is too slippery from the snow for him to even steady his footing.

sighing a little, he swallows his pride (what little he has left of it, anyway), and calls taehyung’s name, loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to be passed off as a gust of wind incase jeongguk loses his nerve and gets the fuck out of there.

taehyung hardly looks up from the mixture in front of him, but when he spots jeongguk, he does a double take.

“dude, what the fuck?”

“open the door,” jeongguk says, breath coming out as fog, due to the cold air. “it's freezing out here, and i want to talk to you.”

taehyung stares at jeongguk like he can't quite believe what he's seeing, turns around to slowly, carefully take his concoction off the burner and set it aside, and then heads over to the window.

jeongguk backs up, shoving his hands in his pockets. he heads over to the door just as taehyung slams the window closed.

there's a heavy silence lasting longer than it should as jeongguk waits for the door to be opened. when it still stays shut firmly for another minute or so, jeongguk knocks on it, sharp pain shooting through his knuckles as they make contact with the steel.

“tae?” he calls, loud enough to be heard, “are you going to let me in?”

“no,” comes taehyung's voice from the other side, sharp and bitter. “freeze, for all i care.”

okay. so he's definitely still upset.

not that jeongguk can blame him. he'd just hoped that taehyung might take it easy on him.

but he's done nothing to deserve the easy way out.

“taehyung,” he sighs, knocking on the door again, like that will actually help anything. “please, give me a chance to talk to you. to..to be honest.”

“you had your chance, jeongguk,” taehyung spits, and he's right , yeah, jeongguk has had many, many chances. but he's here now, and that's got to count for something.

“well,” jeongguk sighs, leaning up against the door, cold seeping through his jacket, “i’m not leaving until you agree to talk to me.”

he can practically feel taehyung roll his eyes on the other side of the door.

“looks like you'll be waiting there an awfully long time, then.”

and that's fine. jeongguk will wait as long as it takes, because he owes himself that much, at least, and owes taehyung so much more.

---

jeongguk can't feel his hands.

in fact, he can't feel much of anything at all.

he supposes that it hurts less this way, numb to physical pain but not immune to the emotional kind.

taehyung has been locked away in the stupid fucking chemistry lab for hours. jeongguk gave up talking after a while.

it's snowing, has been for the longest time, flakes coming down thick and large. the ground is covered, enough so that jeongguk’s shoes are almost completely submerged in white.

jeongguk's almost asleep, breaths slowing down as his mind drifts. his hands and feet had hurt so much from the cold, but after a while, the aching pain gave way to nothingness.

he doesn't hear taehyung's footsteps, isn't even aware of where he is, until the chem lab door is thrown open, and he falls backwards, head clunking off of taehyung's shin.

“what the hell?” comes taehyung's slightly panicked voice. “jeongguk, you're still here?”

jeongguk blinks blearily at taehyung, head now resting against the tiled floor. he opens his mouth to speak, but can't find his voice.

“fuck,” taehyung swears, bending down to place his hands under jeongguk's arms and tug him completely into the lab building. “you're such an idiot.”

he props jeongguk up against a lab table, kneeling down so that he's eye-level with him.

“you probably have hypothermia or something,” he reaches out to take jeongguk's hand, warming it between his own.

jeongguk finally finds it in himself to speak. he clears his throat softly, lips hardly moving as he murmurs, “i just wanted to say goodbye.”

taehyung's brows furrow as he leans in closer to hear jeongguk better. “what are you talking about?”

“jimin said that you're going back to daegu,” jeongguk explains, letting his head fall back against the lab table. everything is spinning around him. “but i..i couldn't let you leave without saying goodbye, first.”

taehyung is quiet for a while, eyes taking in all of jeongguk's face.

“you're so selfish, jeon,” he says, words coming out as a whisper, left to flutter throughout the room and curl around jeongguk's ears. “you only care when you’ve got something to lose.”

“i know,” jeongguk agrees, owning up to it because he's tired of all the denial. he's tired of running in circles with no clear end in sight. “i’m selfish, but i'm working on it. i'm working on getting better.”

“well i don't have time to wait around for the end results,” taehyung snaps, bitter voice betraying the softness in his eyes. he's taken off his jacket now, draping it over jeongguk’s legs. “fuck, when i told you to freeze, i didn't actually mean it.”

jeongguk manages a tiny smile, to which the corners of taehyung’s lips twitch up.

“why now?” he asks. “why do you suddenly want to make things right just as i’m leaving. i..i swore that i was done with you. jimin said-” he stops, clearly distressed, and runs a hand through his hair, “he said to give you another chance, but you- you didn't want me, jeongguk.”

jeongguk wants to argue, to disagree, wants to tell taehyung that he's wanted him for weeks, months, now, that all he's ever craved are taehyung’s kisses and smiles and breathy laughter, and god- all of it. all of him.

but, taehyung is clearly not finished speaking yet, tears welling in his eyes as he says, “i kissed you, gave you everything, right from the start, guk, and you didn't care. you don't care.”

“i do care,” jeongguk says, the feeling in his hands back just enough so that he can bring them up to cup tae’s face.

“stop lying,” taehyung jerks away from his touch. “fuck, this is your last chance to be honest with me, jeongguk. you've already-” he sniffles, trying his hardest to stop the tears rolling down his cheeks, “-you’ve already taken everything from me. at least own up to it .”

“taehyung,” jeongguk feels his heart break, crushed right between taehyung's fingers, pieces spilling onto the floor, “i'm trying to be honest with you. just, let me explain-”

“no,” taehyung shakes his head quickly, “i don't want to hear any more of your excuses. just.. just leave, jeongguk.”

“tae-”

taehyung squeezes his eyes shut, palms clamped firmly over his ears like that will somehow silence jeongguk's voice, will somehow change all of this.

“taehyung, just listen-”

“no!” the older man is quick to jump to his feet, voice booming through the quiet of the chem lab, bouncing off the walls and exploding as blinding stars right before jeongguk's eyes, “i don't want to listen anymore! that's all i’ve been doing for weeks now. listening to jiminie, to yoongi, to everyone else about what i should do. how i should feel.”

jeongguk understands his frustration, understands the anger and the aching in his chest and all of it, but- but he can't think past the way taehyung is yelling, waving his arms and spitting out words sharp enough to cut through jeongguk's skin.

he lets out a shaky breath, eyes fluttering closed as he tries to steady his heartbeat. his head throbs, hands going numb again, but not from the cold, this time.

“taehyung, please,” jeongguk pleads, swallowing down a whimper.

“please what?” taehyung snaps, glowering down at him. “please hear you out? please give you another chance?”

“please stop yelling.”

for the first time in weeks, taehyung seems to stop speaking long enough to observe jeongguk.

jeongguk, who's sitting on the floor, knees pulled up to his chest and eyes shut tight, hands balled into fists.

taehyung still looks to be angry, like he wants to yell some more, but he seems to think better of it.

“are you..are you okay?” he asks, concern leaking into his voice.

“when you scream, you remind me of my father,” jeongguk blurts out, “hurtful words and brutal hands and- and everything i've tried to avoid since i was eleven.”

taehyung takes a step back, leaning against the lab table as his bottom lip wobbles, tears threatening to fall again.

“and when you kiss me, i can't breathe,” jeongguk continues, “and that scares me because as long as i'm breathing, i'm alive. you- you steal the breath right from my lungs, keep it collected in a little mason jar to be released at your will. you have all of me, and i hate that.”

jeongguk watches as taehyung slides to the floor, sitting cross legged opposite of him, hand covering his mouth to muffle the broken little whimpers escaping past his lips.

“when you,” jeongguk swallows thickly, choking back tears of his own, but he will not cry because of this, will not let the past break him again, “when you hold my hand, you're holding my heart, too, and you just don't realize it.”

“jeongguk-”

“no, let me finish,” jeongguk says, pleads, because he's too far in to stop now, has been too far in from the start.

“you call me baby like it's my given name, call me sweetheart like it rolls off your tongue too easily, and call me guk like you keep me stored in the bottom of your throat,” jeongguk wipes at his eyes, voice cracking, “and that scares me, even more so than anything else, because i’d like to be there, tucked so close to your pulse.”

taehyung's face is buried in his hands now, sick, echoing sobs slipping through his fingertips. he peeks up at jeongguk, eyes overrun with tears, and it's clear that he wants to say something, but he can't seem to get the words out.

so jeongguk scoots forward, hands reaching out to curl atop taehyung's knee. his fingers are warm now, but his nose still feels like ice, and he takes it upon himself to lean towards taehyung, letting his warm breaths thaw out his features.

“your lips are still blue, guk,” taehyung manages, sobs subsiding in place of a watery smile. he reaches up, hand cupping jeongguk's cool cheek. his thumb grazes across jeongguk's bottom lip. “cold, too.”

“yeah?” jeongguk grins sweetly, eyes flickering down to catch taehyung's boxy smile. “why don't you warm them up for me?”

taehyung freezes for a moment, but then he's closing his eyes, excess tears running down his face, breath hitching as he ghosts his lips over jeongguk's.

jeongguk doesn't want to wait any longer, figures he's been waiting long enough, so much so that stars have probably expired in the time it took him and taehyung to get this far, memories of their names sent off to flitter through the galaxy.

and taehyung is ethereal, even with tears tracked down his cheeks, always shining like he belongs to the goddamn sun, so jeongguk excuses his own impatience.

kissing taehyung is wet, their tears making everything taste of salt.

but kissing taehyung is also beautiful; a concoction of too-long gasps and crushing breaths and earthy essence that jeongguk will always resonate with home.

and maybe the way taehyung slides his hands into jeongguk's hair is a bit painful, like he's holding tightly on purpose, as if to say, “ i will not let you run away again.”

jeongguk swallows down his moans, swallows down his sobs as he starts crying again, and pulls away to kiss the tears from his cheeks.

“you're a big idiot,” taehyung is murmuring through his tears, face buried in jeongguk's shoulder. “you're so stupid,guk. i’ve just been waiting , and-” jeongguk places a kiss to his hair, “how could you keep me waiting for so long?”

sighing, jeongguk pinches taehyung's chin between his fingers and tilts his head back so that their eyes meet.

and then he kisses him, hard on the mouth and anything but fleeting- a kiss that says as much as he feels he's able to convey.

“i'm sorry, baby,” he whispers, nudging his nose against taehyung's cheek, just breathing in his scent. he smells of chemicals and cheap soap and strawberries. he smells so much like himself, like beauty and essence of genuinity and everything. everything jeongguk has ever wanted to hold in his hands. “you don't have to wait any longer. i'm not running ever again. i'm out of breath, anyway.”

taehyung chuckles, a sound that soars straight to jeongguk's heart, all wispy and light, and he says, “good. i love you.” he kisses jeongguk's nose, repeats, “i love you so much.”

jeongguk's breath hitches, lungs crushed under the weight of taehyung's words, but he welcomes the suffocating feeling, this time.

“i love you too,” he says, words breathed right against taehyung's mouth like a promise, “i love you, and that's enough. will always be enough.”

taehyung's eyes twinkle, gold and brown under harsh fluorescent lights. he smiles, cheeks flushed, and leans forward to kiss jeongguk just like he breathes; slow and deep and always, always steady.

---

springtime in seoul feels a lot like a breath of fresh air, jeongguk thinks.

his classes ease up just the slightest bit, professors seemingly having taken mercy on all of them for the time being.

jeongguk skates through dance practice with an eagerness that surprises not only jimin, but himself, too, and they kick ass at the spring showcase.

taehyung buys him flowers again.

jeongguk takes advantage of living through the supposed best years of his life with his hyungs- his best friends, his brothers - and, not for the first time, he's reminded that blood means nothing. that it does not determine one's true family.

seoul cleans up nicely, harsh weather and bitter, freezing snow long gone, dissipated to make room for happier things.

jeongguk finds that he stares out of windows more often than not, always dreaming of thunderstorms and strong, piercing wind. always dreaming of taehyung.

they end like this;

taehyung picks jeongguk up after all of his classes, and together, they head to seokjin’s house, a safe haven of sorts that will always hold jeongguk's best memories.

they hold hands over the gear shift, taehyung's long fingers fitting against his nicely, with the windows rolled down and old, 80’s rock playing on the radio.

jeongguk rests his head against the car door, wind whipping through his hair, flooding his ears until he is engulfed by it, enraptured in it, surfing from gust to gust.

taehyung tells him he looks like a puppy with his head hanging so far out the window, and jeongguk laughs, a sound that no longer seems foreign to his own ears.

they drive to seokjin's, taehyung singing along to songs on the radio, and his voice is breathy but strong; a concept of the wind.

jeongguk leans over to kiss taehyung's cheek, seatbelt buckle digging into his side and taehyung's fingertips digging into his hand, and he thinks that this- them, in seoul- is enough to keep him happy forever.

taehyung glances over at jeongguk, eyes drifting from the road for a split second, just to take in jeongguk's face.

“i love you,” taehyung says, but jeongguk doesn't hear it, only sees his lips move as the words get swallowed up by the wind, “i love you, guk.”

jeongguk nods, doesn't need to hear the words because he feels them just as well, and murmurs a quiet, “i love you, too.”

taehyung grins, soft and sweet and loving , a smile reserved just for him, and the way his palm presses to jeongguk's feels a lot like a promise.

jeongguk remembers hearing that, “ promises are meant to be broken,” but he thinks that this one- the both of them together- is one that he will keep forever, stored in his fingertips and in the way he smiles and in his heart, just for taehyung.

just for them.