There’s someone knocking on his window.
The sound is soft, but insistent in a way that’s hard to miss, making Seokjin pause in the middle of getting ready for bed. He knows who it is, of course. For a fleeting moment, he feels his breath catch in his throat. He glances at the clock. It’s almost midnight. Padding softly across the room, he draws the curtains aside and levels his late-night visitor with a reprimanding look.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of this thing called door,” Seokjin says lightly, pushing his window open. “It’s the hot, new trend in human civilization.”
Taehyung grins, but makes no move to enter. The sight of him, with his brown hair falling into his eyes and rectangular smile, twists into Seokjin a sharp feeling of...not longing per se, but something quite close. "That song is really getting old, hyung."
"Maybe it's time you learn a new refrain, then," Seokjin raises an eyebrow, challenging.
“Cool people don’t use doors," Taehyung shrugs, like this bit of information should've been obvious from the get-go. "The concept might be foreign to you, though, because you’re already old,” he wrinkles his nose.
There's a lot of things wrong with his statement that deserves to be pointed out, but Seokjin just settles for a scowl in his direction. “You’re a brat.”
“A cool brat.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes, exasperated. He's never met a person so adamant about being cool before Taehyung. Insistent, like there's something he's trying to prove ― and Seokjin knows, of course he does, but it doesn't matter to him. He needn't try so hard, is what he wants to tell Taehyung. You can drop the pretense when you're with me. But he doesn't, because they hold more truth in it that Seokjin can bear to admit out loud, and he's not entirely sure how Taehyung will handle it. Besides, Taehyung rarely appreciates comments about the way he lives his life, they're like a tripwire that sends him running in the other direction. So Seokjin keeps quiet. He crosses his arms. "What brings you here?"
Taehyung fake-pouts, jutting out his bottom lip in exaggeration. “Your sudden formality creeps me out, hyung. Aren't you glad to see me?"
“Your hair’s growing too long. It’s getting into your eyes,” Seokjin easily deflects.
“Ah, I missed your nagging voice. Texts just don’t do it justice.”
Seokjin huffs. “If you’re not going to tell me what you're doing here, I might as well sleep.”
Instead of answering, Taehyung appraises him, slowly, from top to bottom. Eyes like a laser beam that pins him in place. Seokjin refuses to shiver at the way Taehyung seems to drink in every part of him, refuses to wonder what he’s seeing. He balls his hands into fists.
When Taehyung finally answers, his voice is something dreamlike, expression thoughtful and dazed, “There’s an underground rap battle happening tonight.” He blinks and ― it's gone, like a card disappearing from a magician's hand. “Wanna check it out with me? It’s just a couple of blocks away from here.”
A list of refusals scrolls behind Seokjin's eyelids, but it’s perfunctory. He’s always got them, ready to recite whenever Taehyung decides to appear outside his window and drag him somewhere, but he never actually says them. Not when those mischievous eyes are trained on Seokjin, steady and pressing, full of promise. The rational thing to do here should be to take a step back, but Taehyung has always had a way of making Seokjin feel like he has to come or risk missing something grand. He sighs loudly, just to make Taehyung think he’s being forced despite the both of them knowing the truth. He uncrosses his arms. “Fine. But let me change first, I’m already in my pajamas," he gestures down at his clothes.
Taehyung’s mouth twists into a playful smile. “I think you look cute in your pajamas, hyung. I’m sure no one would mind.”
“I think you should shut the fuck up,” Seokjin retorts primly, because with Taehyung, you never know if it's actually a compliment or a joke. He walks over to his closet.
“I love it when you curse,” Taehyung says, leaning his arms against the windowsill and poking his head inside to watch Seokjin sift through his clothes. “The dirty words that come out of your mouth is so at odds with your pretty face.”
“So you’ve told me,” Seokjin replies dryly, grabbing his baby blue hoodie and his jeans. He heads to the bathroom, not keen on undressing where Taehyung can see.
“Aww, hyung!” Taehyung yells after him, voice teasing. “You don’t have to be so modest. It’s not like I’m gonna peak if you change in front of me!”
Seokjin only rolls his eyes.
He really should go home.
Seokjin sits at the far end of the booth, arms crossed in front of him. It’s three in the morning and he’s in a 24-hour diner, waiting for food. He’s tired. The lighting overhead is harsh, making the yellow walls and red chairs brighter to the point of being lurid. He closes his eyes.
Seokjin reluctantly opens his eyes.
Across from him sits Kim Namjoon. His entire posture screams awkward. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, they move from rubbing the back of his neck to crossing them over his chest to setting them on the table. The whole thing strikes Seokjin as funny; just an hour ago, this guy was spitting fire on stage, his rap lyrics powerful and obscene, and now he’s here, awkward and trying not to squirm. The sight makes him less intimidating.
Beside Namjoon is Min Yoongi, another underground rapper, his hair a stark black against milk-white skin. He elbows Namjoon in the ribs without lifting his eyes away from his phone. “Stop fucking moving, Joon-ah,” he snaps.
Namjoon stills like he’s been caught doing something wrong, and lets out a sheepish smile. The dimples on his cheeks are deep. Cute, Seokjin thinks.
“Seokjin-ssi,” he begins, clearing his throat. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Seokjin raises his eyebrows in surprise. “You know me?”
"Your name always came up whenever Taehyung hung out with us," Namjoon explains. "It made me curious."
Seokjin doesn't like the sound of that, but he presses on, anyway. He tilts his head to the side. "Curious...about what, exactly?"
Namjoon pulls his eyes down the table, expression morphing into something bashful, before meeting Seokjin's eyes again. "From the way Taehyung talked about you, it sounded like you're his boyfriend and I ―" he cuts himself off when he notices Seokjin's face, like suddenly slamming the car's brakes until it skids, violently, into a stop. "Wait, uh. I mean ― are you not...?"
Seokjin ignores the way his words feel like a suckerpunch. He unconsciously darts a glance at where Taehyung is, by the counter, laughing at something Jung Hoseok said while they wait for their order. It isn't slow motion in Seokjin's eyes, nor is there any fanfare in the background, he just sees everything with a startling burst of clarity for a moment. The way a smile spreads slow across Taehyung's lips like syrup until it turns into something infectious; the way it lights up his face, morphing it into something younger, open and momentarily free of the weight he's constantly carrying in his eyes. It's...captivating. Seokjin immediately tears his eyes away when he realizes he's gazing, and silently scolds himself for it. This is why people speculate.
Namjoon is still looking at him, waiting.
Seokjin sets his jaw and hears a faint sound in the distance ― a lowering of curtains, a mask slotting into place. He smiles. "We're just friends."
Namjoon lets out the most awkward smile Seokjin has ever seen, rubbing the back of his neck. He looks like he's ten seconds away from hiding under the table, regretting speaking up in the first place. "Oh," is all he says in the end, voice a deflated balloon. It sounds like an apology.
Yoongi softly snorts at his side without looking up from his phone.
They bask in an awkward silence until Taehyung and Hoseok return to their booth with trays of greasy fries, burgers, and milkshakes. Seokjin keeps quiet about their choice of food, swallowing down his protests. He doesn’t think he’s in any position to, anyway. If they want to be unhealthy, so be it. He can indulge once in awhile.
Hoseok takes his seat beside Yoongi while Taehyung slides next to Seokjin. He is warm from where their shoulders are touching. “You okay, hyung?”
“Just tired,” Seokjin replies, reaching for a burger. The patty is disappointing, the lettuce already wilting, but it's not like he's expecting something stellar in the first place. He finishes the whole thing in three quick bites.
"Not tired enough to demolish burger, though," Taehyung points out, cracking a grin.
Seokjin takes a sip of his chocolate milkshake. Not too bland, not too sweet. He smiles. "Of course not."
“Do you have classes later?”
Seokjin blinks. Taehyung has never seemed to care about how their late night trips might have impacted Seokjin's education before, so it's surprising that he's starting to, now. But, hey, better late than never, right? "No," he replies. "Which is good, because I'd probably sleep through all of them."
“What college do you go to, Seokjin-hyung?" Hoseok’s voice suddenly cuts across their conversation. He pauses, cocking his head to the side. "I can call you hyung, can't I?"
“Feel free,” Seokjin nods. Hoseok flashes him a heart-shaped smile, pleasant and warm, like sunlight on skin. It's strangely comforting. "I go to Konkuk."
“Oh!” Hoseok perks up in his seat. "Namjoonie goes there, too!" he says, pointing at Namjoon with a fry.
Seokjin cuts his eyes to Namjoon, the both of them wearing twin expressions of surprise. "I don't think I've seen you in campus before," he tells him.
"Konkuk's big," Namjoon shrugs, but his eyebrows knit together as if he's scanning his memory for Seokjin. He nods to himself once he's sure. "I've definitely seen you in the library once or twice, though. Your face looks kinda familiar."
"My face is very memorable," Seokjin agrees, jokes, and Namjoon's face splits into a smile empty of awkwardness. Finally. "What's your major?"
“Linguistics,” Namjoon smiles wider, as if he can already predict what his reaction will be.
“That’s...um, surprising? I kind of just assumed you’d be in Music,” Seokjin admits sheepishly. “Linguistics is cool, though.”
“Music’s just, like, a side thing. I dunno, I might pursue it after, but I haven’t really thought about it,” Namjoon shrugs, grins. “I’m glad you think Linguistics is cool. Some people like to claim that it’s very boring.” Hoseok bristles at his obvious jab and throws a fry at him. Namjoon fires one right back.
"I'm going to throttle you both," Yoongi suddenly says, voice dangerously calm. It sounds like what sandpaper feels like.
It's sort of comical how Namjoon and Hoseok immediately stop, like they just realized Yoongi is sat between them. They lean away, nervous smiles in places.
"What about you, Seokjin-ssi?" Namjoon asks, directing himself back into the conversation.
"I'm studying Film."
Hoseok gasps out loud, and Seokjin comes to the abrupt conclusion that Hoseok has a penchant for theatrics. It's fun to watch. "We have an actor in our midst! Hyung, you should give us your autograph."
"Only if you promise to sell it to the highest bidder online," Seokjin quips with a smile before adding, "and I get five percent from your profit."
"Just for that I'm going to illegally download all your future movies, hyung," Taehyung pipes in, grinning around the straw of his milkshake. "You won't get a single coin from me."
"Tae, I'd be more surprised if you actually spend money on them.
"Mean," Taehyung pouts.
Seokjin just laughs quietly.
"How did you and Taehyung meet, by the way?" Hoseok asks, watching them with his chin propped on his open palm. “Taehyungie here says you picked him up and the two of you spent the night together, but honestly I just don’t believe that.”
Seokjin promptly chokes on the fries he's eating. He coughs, pounds a fist on his chest, and takes a long, generous sip of his milkshake.
“I knew I’d see you choke on your food one day,” Taehyung says cheerily. “I just knew it.”
Seokjin silences him with a withering glare, throwing a fry at him. Taehyung easily catches it in his mouth and flashes him a smug grin.
“Taehyung is a liar,” Seokjin tells Hoseok, like it's a fact you can't contend with. “But I guess you can believe his story. It's...the succinct version of how we met ― except there's nothing sexual about it!" he hurries to add, feeling his cheeks grow unbearably warm as Hoseok's mouth drops in a big o.
Taehyung honest to god chortles.
Seokjin shoots him a baleful look. He wishes Taehyung would stop making everything into an innuendo, but that’s basically like wishing for the stove to stop being hot. That's just how they operate. He thinks he understands, though, why Taehyung kept their story vague.
Seokjin still remembers it clearly, like it just happened yesterday instead of four months ago. He remembers the heavy downpour, the sound of it like muffled fists against his umbrella. He remembers the howls of wind around him as he hurriedly walked back to his apartment from the grocery store. He shouldn't have gone out when he knew the weather was going to be bad, but if he didn't he wouldn't have passed by the playground, and he wouldn't have noticed someone hunched on a swing set, alone and soaked to the bone.
He remembers pausing, wondering why the boy ― because it was a boy in a denim jacket ― wouldn’t take cover somewhere. There was something achingly sad about it, the kind that gnawed at him, so Seokjin came up to the boy and tipped his umbrella over his head. He didn't have a plan in mind then, all he knew was that he wanted to help.
The boy looked up, his expression one of wonder and surprise, blinking away the rain from his eyes. They ran down his face in rivulets, but he didn't make a move to wipe them away.
“You’re going to get sick if you continue to stay in the rain,” Seokjin had blurted out, not knowing what else to say.
“Really,” the boy deadpanned, his voice startlingly deep. “I never knew that. Thank you for the information, stranger.”
Seokjin had bristled, feeling irritated at how impolite the boy was. He looked years younger than him, maybe three. I try to help and I get disrespected, he thought, but he didn’t leave. He’d feel stupid if he left just like that. “My apartment is just a few walks away from here. You can stay there until the rain lets up.”
If the boy was surprised at the sudden invitation, Seokjin was just as surprised at saying it. That wasn't the plan (even though there wasn't one, to begin with.)
The boy just shook his head. “Man, at least come up with something more creative when you try to pick people up.”
“I’m not trying to pick you up,” Seokjin had been affronted. He tightened his grip on the handle of his umbrella. “What’s wrong with you?”
The boy grinned lazily. “The right question is what’s not wrong with me.”
Seokjin had the feeling that the boy was enjoying being purposely difficult, and he wanted to whack him in the head for it. He sighed, like the conversation was physically taxing. “I’m assuming that the answer would be nothing. Alright. You can stay here contemplating about your life choices if that’s what you want.”
“I didn’t think it was up to you where I stay or go.” The boy raised his eyebrows.
“No, but I thought I’d give you another option.”
“Why?” The boy was looking at him like he’d lost his mind. Seokjin wondered, too.
He shrugged, feeling the wind lash at him in vicious strikes. He didn’t want to tell him that it made him...sad, just watching him sit there while the rain tried to drown him out. “My conscience wouldn’t let me sleep if I just left.”
The boy stared at him for a long moment, sucked on his teeth, before standing up. Under their shared umbrella, Seokjin could feel the heat pouring out of him despite being drenched. “Wouldn’t want you to lose your beauty sleep over this," the boy said. He inclined his head to the side. "Lead the way.”
Seokjin remembers wondering if he’d made a mistake. There’s a reason why you don’t just invite strangers into your place. But he felt lighter, somehow, with every step that took them closer to his home.
He learned that the boy’s name was Taehyung, but the information ended there. Seokjin let him take a hot shower and found him some dry clothes while he made them kimchi omelette and ramyeon. Taehyung had only raised his eyebrows when Seokjin handed him a bowl.
“Don’t. Don’t even think about it,” he warned, which made Taehyung waggle his eyebrows. He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and thought about life choices.
The rain only got heavier then, with no signs of letting up soon. Seokjin had peered outside the window and watched the city turn into a wet gray blur. “You can sleep on the couch,” he’d relented before getting him his spare blanket.
“Not inviting me to your bed?” Taehyung pressed, voice teasing.
Seokjin snorted. “You wish.”
He will never admit that he didn’t sleep well that night, tossing and turning and sitting up, chewing on his lips as he wondered what kind of person Taehyung is. He was just a boy, but ― he was also not. Seokjin had noticed how his eyes were almost world-weary, and he carried himself with a nonchalant air, as if to distract whoever's looking from the burden he's forced to bear. Taehyung whispered of trouble, of danger lurking in the depths, and Seokjin hoped, fervently, that he didn't make a mistake.
In the morning, Taehyung was already gone when he woke up. No note, no anything. The only sign of him ever being there was the rumpled blanket draped on the couch. (He didn’t take anything, he realized belatedly, and felt embarrassed for assuming Taehyung would in the first place.)
Seokjin had thought that would be the last time he’d encounter Taehyung, but he’s here now, with him and three other people, eating greasy food in the middle of the night. Life’s funny like that.
"How is a one night stand not sexual in any way?" Hoseok wonders out loud, back in reality.
Seokjin hides his cringe behind his glass of milkshake. The diner is almost empty save for them and a pair of students with books laid out between them a couple of tables away, but Seokjin still wishes Hoseok could turn his voice down. Really, he'll be grateful.
"It's not actually a one night stand," Seokjin begins awkwardly. "It's just ―"
"A one night stand without the sex," Taehyung supplies helpfully. Seokjin puts his face in his hands.
"I can't believe this is what we're talking about," Namjoon mumbles under his breath.
"Believe it," Seokjin tells him in a tired voice, at the same time Yoongi says, in a flat tone, "it's Taehyung," like that's the only explanation you need.
The conversation splits into different directions, then. Hoseok asks Seokjin what he thinks about their performances a while ago; "It was intense," he answers, "you were all so good." Taehyung pipes in, showering them in compliments with eyes shining with admiration and pride. Namjoon and Yoongi discuss mixtapes. Hoseok latches on a story about this one dance group hellbent on recruiting him even after he'd already refused twice.
It’s nice, Seokjin thinks, leaning back on his seat. It’s nice to listen to them talk and include him in their conversations, never making him feel like an outsider. By the time they've finished their food and stood up to go home, Seokjin’s feeling warm and comfortable, like he's slipped into one of his favorite shirts, and it takes him a second before realizing that he enjoyed himself.
Namjoon ambles up to him before they part ways, hands deep in the pockets of his hoodie and gives him a kind smile. Friendly. “We should hang out at campus sometime, hyung.”
Seokjin smiles back easily. “Sure.”
Taehyung waves goodbye at his three friends before turning to Seokjin. The early morning air bites at their exposed skin, squinting through their hair, and they walk in companionable silence, pressed lightly against each other.
Seokjin doesn't fail to notice their newfound closeness. They've been doing that lately, he notes, toying with distance and testing skinship. At first, it'd been light, almost like an afterthought, whisper-soft brushes that never lasted long. And then they began to linger until they grew into something that stayed; a warm press of arm against arm, a head leaning soft on a shoulder, and Seokjin finds that he doesn't mind the contact at all.
"You don't have to walk me home, you know. You could've gone with them," Seokjin suddenly says, puncturing the quiet air around them.
Taehyung appears to hesitate, which is new because Taehyung always dives into things headfirst, unafraid and unapologetic, not caring about the splashes he make. "It gives me more time with you, hyung," he finally replies.
Seokjin opens his mouth before promptly closing it. He doesn't know what to make of Taehyung's words, doesn't know if he should take them apart and peer at what's inside. He should just leave it at that, but his mouth betrays him. "What do you mean?"
Taehyung looks away, but his arm stays pressed against Seokjin's. When he speaks again, his voice is hushed, rare in its honesty that it sends Seokjin's mind spinning. "I mean, it's hard to say goodnight, sometimes. I really like hanging out with you, hyung."
Seokjin's heart jumps to his throat, and he has a hard time swallowing it down. Truth is usually hard to come by with Taehyung, who treats everything like a joke, more often than not. Something is changing, Seokjin knows. This night has been a testament of that, from the start when Taehyung appeared to whisk him away, to here and now, where he feels off-kilter at the side of the road. Like he's been placed into a different story, with a different script, and he doesn't quite know how to go through the motions yet.
"Oh. I didn't know you feel that way," Seokjin says, voice a mere whisper. Namjoon's words suddenly loom up inside his head, loud and unwelcome, and Seokjin forces himself to get rid of them. He imagines a mental garbage disposal and lets the obtrusive thoughts run through it until his head clears.
Taehyung just watches him with something indecipherable before lifting his eyes to the sky, oblivious to his internal struggle.
When they reach Seokjin's apartment, Taehyung mills at the side while Seokjin unlocks his door. He should say something, he decides. He turns around to face Taehyung. "You can come in for a bit if you want."
Taehyung smiles, small and inscrutable. Maybe a little insincere. "You don't have to do this just because I told you I liked hanging out with you, hyung. Don't make it weird."
It's already weird, Seokjin wants to point out. But he doesn't. He plays absently with his keys. "I'm not inviting you in just because of what you said."
A thoughtful silence rises up between them, it's not uncomfortable, but it's ― weighted. Finally, Taehyung shrugs. "Maybe next time."
Seokjin nods, even though he doesn't quite believe him. This is the part where he should go in, but he doesn't want to end their night like this. It had been fun, truly, and he'd hate for it to turn sour. He breathes in. "I'm really glad you took me with you tonight."
Taehyung blinks, perhaps not expecting his gratitude, and beams, his entire face lighting up in a way that makes Seokjin's heartbeat pick up. "You're welcome, hyung." He gives Seokjin a two-fingered salute and turns on his heel. "I'll see ya soon."
Seokjin watches him go until he can’t, swallowing the sudden lump of emotion down his throat.
Namjoon’s words sneak up behind Seokjin and attack him when he’s alone. They follow him to school and back, like an insistent, unwanted shadow.
The thing is, Seokjin has never looked closely at his relationship with Taehyung before. He likes to be rational, he likes things neat and lined up, something he can easily catalogue and file, and he knows his friendship with Taehyung is everything but. So instead of questioning the nature of it and subjecting himself to a migraine, the bad sort that permanently resides behind the eyes, he has just simply resigned himself to this...thing they have ― this thing where Taehyung appears outside his window and takes him to places at night, and Seokjin lets him.
Seokjin knows it was Taehyung’s way of thanking him, at the beginning, for what he did at the playground, and it just sort of stuck. They say it only takes twenty-one days to form a habit; do it for twenty one days and your mind starts to pick up on it as a routine, adds it into the mental schedule built inside your head.
Seokjin and Taehyung have been doing this for four months, three days after they met in the rain.
(“Do you want to go with me to the park?” Seokjin remembers Taehyung asking outside his window. The beginning of everything.
Seokjin pauses, pen skittering across the page, and frowns. “It’s, like, eleven o’clock.”
Taehyung shrugs, burying his hands inside his hoodie. “I like parks better at night.”)
He supposes he could’ve stopped after the first night, but there’s something about Taehyung that fascinates Seokjin. Call it perverse curiosity, the kind that makes Seokjin want to pin Taehyung in place and vivisect him. Perhaps cracks his ribs open just to see what’s inside. He imagines unspooling Taehyung, taking off his facades one by one; unwrapping his layers until there’s nothing left but the truth ― the heavy, ugly, broken entirety of it. But Taehyung is a fogged mirror that offers nothing but smudge, never clear enough to show everything.
His visits are sporadic at best, never following a concrete schedule, and Seokjin learns to work with it. Nights with Taehyung have always provided him with a rare view of the other side. The other side where Taehyung doesn’t operate like a fantasy, some distant dream you can never reach; without his propensity to leer and flirt with limits, mostly a defense mechanism.
Taehyung takes him to places, each one new and different; an empty lot, a dark club, a forgotten railway track. And in the dark, he speaks.
(“Stars make me feel tiny and insignificant,” Taehyung shares, once. His hands behind his head, keeping his eyes to the sky. “When I look at them, nothing matters. I like it.”
Seokjin remembers frowning beside him. Back damp from the grass below him. “That’s strange.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand, hyung,” Taehyung replies, voice cheery, ever-pleasant yet quietly hostile. “Life has been good to you.”
Seokjin bites his tongue before he can say no, no it has not.)
It’s as if the shadows swallow Taehyung up, and a new one emerges, comfortable enough to dole out pieces of information about himself. He talks about his life in fragments, never one to recount it in its fullest depths. He’s from Daegu, who ran away as soon as he finished high school. Braved Seoul and the city’s hunger for anything lost, because it’s better than what home had to offer. He doesn’t stay in one place, keeps himself in dingy motels and sometimes, the company of strangers, warm beside him in bed. He tells Seokjin that he loves dogs, and used to have one; that he loves films, and he’s learned to sneak inside cinemas past the narrowed-eyed guards. He tells Seokjin about them like they're secrets, something hushed and said in a whisper, barely heard past the confines of the dark.
If there’s one thing Taehyung doesn’t talk about, it’s his family. He sidesteps the topic, skirts along the edge, and Seokjin can only wonder about the abuse he went through enough to destroy his sense of self-worth and come out like this. Broken yet unapologetic; unafraid but hiding.
Seokjin listens, always, and takes it all in without flinching. He doesn’t prod, doesn’t dig, but merely waits for the next time Taehyung decides to fill in a new gap. And he likes it. The thrill, the reveal; may it be trivial or groundbreaking. At first it really was just curiosity, but now ―
Back in reality, in the hush of Seokjin’s room, Namjoon’s words taunt him once again. Like a broken windup music box that doesn’t how to stop.
There’s a shift in the air, that much Seokjin is sure. In the pressing way Taehyung looks at him, the need to be close. In the way Seokjin reciprocates. It’s the same dance in a different song, charged and pulsing.
Something has changed, is changing, will change. Seokjin just doesn’t know if he wants to look at it directly yet. Or even, at all.
"Taehyung, I'm in class."
"You're in class and you still answered your phone? You must like me a lot."
"Brat, don't flatter yourself. I thought there was an emergency."
"No, there wasn't."
"So why did you call? You never call."
"Taehyung? If you don't answer, I'm going to hang up."
"I just wanted to hear your voice, hyung."
"It's stupid. You can hang up now."
"For someone who keeps calling me weird, you sure are gunning for the top spot."
"No one can take your place at the top, hyung. You have a squeaky laugh."
"I don't know what my laugh's got anything to do with being weird, but I really need to hang up. My professor's gonna catch me."
"Okay ― but Tae, you know you can just come to my apartment if you wanted to talk to me, right?"
"I know, hyung. But you're not in your apartment right now, are you?"
"...No. No, I'm not."
The knock on his window is loud enough to startle Seokjin awake. He’s momentarily disoriented, confused, his heart practically leaping out of his chest, thinking someone might’ve broken into his apartment before he hears the knocks again. He glances at the clock and finds that it’s two in the morning. He presses a hand on his forehead and stays still, calming his heart with every deep breath held and released.
When the knock comes again, a heavy and impatient thump against his window, he drags himself off the bed, ready to tell Taehyung that no, he’s not going with him tonight, not this time. But all his refusals quickly die on his tongue when he sees him.
Taehyung’s drunk, swaying dangerously until he puts a hand out against the wall to steady himself. His mouth is smudged with blood.
Concern seizes Seokjin at once. He practically throws his window open, helping Taehyung climb inside so he won’t fall on the floor in a drunken heap.
“Hyung, you’re so ―” Taehyung slurs, looking at him with hooded eyes, lips grazing the shell of Seokjin's ear, more a ghost than anything. "Fucking pretty."
Seokjin feels his ears go furiously hot despite himself, and he guides Taehyung to his bed, gently lowering him into a sitting position. “What happened?”
“Hyunjae kicked me out,” Taehyung replies, collapsing on his back and curling on his side. “I have nowhere else to go," he adds, voice suddenly small.
Seokjin doesn't ask who Hyunjae is. Asking about Taehyung's current...lover would be betraying a different kind of interest and ― Seokjin has more important things to focus on, such as Taehyung's state. He feels a flare of anger in his chest, tempered by a swell of worry, and wonders why Taehyung let this happen to himself.
“Tae, don’t sleep yet.” He shakes him as gently as he can muster until Taehyung’s eyes flutter open. “You still have to wash up. You have blood on your lips.”
“Hyunjae bit on it too hard while we were ― it’s nothing.” Taehyung raises a fist and drags the back of it heavily across his mouth, but the blood had dried already on his lips. “I’m too tired to wash up, hyung, please don’t make me.”
Seokjin feels a bluster forming at the back of his throat, and swallows any urge to snap. His irritation has no place in here at the moment. He heads to his closet and digs for an old shirt and pajamas that has a huge hole on the left knee. He returns at Taehyung’s side and nudges him with the clothes. “At least change into these. They’re more comfortable to sleep in.”
Taehyung doesn’t move. Seokjin clicks his tongue, exasperated and trying not to be. He considers his options, and before he can really think about it, he’s kneeling down to remove Taehyung’s shoes and setting them at the foot of his bed. He gulps, the sound of it embarrassingly loud in the hush of his room, and unbuttons Taehyung’s jeans next. He works with careful fingers, sliding his jeans off of each long leg, looking away before he gives into the urge to stare. He pulls the pajamas up his legs and tosses a silent thanks when Taehyung cooperates, lifting his hips. As he sits Taehyung up, he takes his time to wonder why he’s going through such an effort, before shaking his head. It’s Taehyung, and leaves it at that. He reaches for Taehyung’s shirt and pulls it over his head.
“This isn’t,” Taehyung mumbles, “exactly how I imagined you taking my clothes off.”
Seokjin ignores him, ignores the sudden flip in his stomach at his admission. The stutter in his chest. Taehyung has always liked to test limits, just to see how much he can get away with. It's the same old thing, only drunker. Seokjin tells himself Taehyung's words don't mean a thing.
When Seokjin's done clothing him, Taehyung lays on his side again, his back against the wall. Seokjin watches him get comfortable, biting the inside of his cheek, and then grabs some of his pillows.
“Where are you going, hyung?” Taehyung asks, his voice on the verge of being incoherent.
“You have the bed. I’m going to sleep on the couch,” Seokjin whispers, though he doesn’t know why he’s whispering.
Taehyung shakes his head wildly, blindly reaching out for Seokjin’s wrist and tugging at him. “Don’t. Don’t leave me alone, hyung,” he says, pleads.
Seokjin swallows the lump of emotion in his throat and nods, ignoring that part of him that's yelling, hollering, to run, run, run. He slowly climbs into bed, settling next to him.
“That was the least sexy experience I have with someone undressing me,” Taehyung murmurs, scooting closer to Seokjin but leaving enough space between them.
“It wasn’t meant to be sexy,” Seokjin replies quietly, his voice raw and shaky, like he's having a hard time getting the words out because of how fast his heart is beating.
“You can do it again next time and make it sexy.”
Seokjin breathes deeply. He wishes Taehyung would stop this. He isn't in the mood to deal with his suggestive remarks. "Why did you get kicked out?"
"Don't ask me that, hyung. You don't want to know," he replies, voice a warning.
Seokjin considers this. Normally, it's enough for him to back off, but this is the first time he's seen Taehyung like this again since that day at the playground. Lost, small, and trying not to be. He turns to face Taehyung. "Why don't I want to know?"
Taehyung's eyes snap open. "Usually you just don't."
"Tae," Seokjin says, voice softer than he'd intended. "Why did this happen?"
Taehyung moves, and in an instant, he's pushing Seokjin on his back and hovering above him. His fist clutching the front of Seokjin's shirt as he leans closer. "You wanna know why, hyung?" he asks, voice hard. His breath smells like liquor, his eyes a smolder in the dark. "I screamed your name while we were fucking. Hyunjae didn't like that."
Seokjin swallows. His heart is pounding so hard in his ears he can't even hear his breathing anymore. He shouldn't have asked. He was fucking stupid to ask. He looks away. "I get it," he grits out. "If you don't want me to know, I'm not gonna ask. You don't always have to resort to this."
Taehyung laughs humorlessly. His fist loosens and he falls back beside Seokjin in a tired heap. "Sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night, hyung."
Seokjin takes a deep breath. Inhale, exhale, until the anger wanes, the concern, everything else. He turns his back to Taehyung and pretends he isn't there. It isn't easy. It takes him a really long time before he can finally fall asleep.
If there’s anything Seokjin has learned about Taehyung, it’s that he’ll do everything to avoid confrontations. Seokjin isn't sure if he wants to deal with what happened last night, too, but he still wakes up earlier than Taehyung.
He sets down a glass of water and hangover medicine at his bedside table, and allows himself a moment to watch Taehyung in his sleep. His mouth is parted, his long eyelashes fanning the tops of his cheeks. Sunlight filters through the window, gifting Seokjin’s room with ample light, turning Taehyung into something golden. He looks so young as he curls into himself; smaller, too. Vulnerable. Seokjin feels a stabbing fondness for him, the impact of it enough to get him on his feet and tear his gaze away.
He goes to the kitchen and hunts inside his cabinet for something to make as a distraction. Cooking has always been a great way to take his mind off of things. He focuses on the ingredients and tunes out his thoughts until they’re just static noise at the back of his head.
He’s just finished making pancakes when Taehyung pads into the kitchen, still half-asleep, rubbing at his eyes. His hair is sleep-mussed and pointing in different directions. He looks ― soft. Seokjin has never seen Taehyung in the morning before, and he feels a terrible thought stir inside him. Like having Taehyung like this is something he wants to see more often.
Seokjin stacks four pancakes on top of each other in a plate and drowns it in a river of maple syrup to shake away his thoughts. Taehyung mumbles a good morning and deposits himself haphazardly into a chair. Seokjin sits to his right and slides the plate in front of him. “Eat,” he instructs simply.
Taehyung quietly obliges, too early to do anything else. His eyes light up as soon as he pops in a forkful of pancakes. “These are good.”
“Of course they are,” Seokjin glows from the compliment, watches Taehyung tuck into his pancakes with enthusiasm. He laughs quietly. “You’re going to choke yourself.”
Taehyung looks like he’s seconds away from making a lewd joke, but he’s interrupted by someone knocking on Seokjin’s door.
Seokjin gets up to answer it and smiles when he sees Jungkook. “JK! What are you doing here?” He opens the door wider to let him inside.
Jungkook ducks inside and abruptly stops when he spots Taehyung, narrowing his eyes. Taehyung blinks, and then raises his fork to wave at him. Jungkook responds by pursing his mouth in a straight line. “Hyung, who’s he?”
“A friend,” Seokjin answers slowly, frowning at Jungkook’s reaction. He’s like an attack dog ready to pounce and fight any second now. He wonders why. “Have you had breakfast? I made pancakes.”
“It’s okay,” Jungkook replies, opening the flap of his bag to reach for a laptop and handing it to Seokjin. His eyes never leave Taehyung. “I only dropped by to return this.”
“Oh!” Seokjin clutches his laptop to his chest. “Right. I forgot to take it home with me yesterday.”
Jungkook nods distractedly. He finally snaps his eyes away from Taehyung and gives Seokjin a tight smile. “I’ll see you in campus, hyung.”
“Oh...kay,” Seokjin responds uncertainly, watching Jungkook turn on his heel and leave without a backward glance. He sets down the laptop on the coffee table and returns to the kitchen, confused at Jungkook’s reaction. He slides the remaining pancakes on a plate and takes his seat again.
“Who was that?” Taehyung asks, slicing the pancakes into tiny pieces and spearing them with his fork.
“Jungkook,” Seokjin answers. He folds one of his pancakes and shoves it entirely in his mouth. They really are good, just the right amount of sweet and fluffy.
“I think he likes me,” Taehyung beams.
“Oh, yeah, he totally does,” Seokjin rolls his eyes. “I can already tell that you two are going to be best friends from the way he was practically glowering at you.”
“Don’t you know that’s the best way to make a new friend, hyung?"
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Seokjin smiles.
Taehyung smiles back before dropping his eyes. Head dipped low and fidgeting in his seat, he says, “I’m sorry about last night.”
Seokjin blinks, taken aback, like someone had just tripped him while walking and he landed on his face. “I think that’s the first time I heard you apologize, Tae.”
Taehyung sniffs in quiet indignation but still refuses to meet Seokjin’s eyes. “I was a mess last night. You didn’t have to help me ― you, you weren’t even supposed to see me like that. I just had…”
“Nowhere else to go,” Seokjin finishes for him, remembering his words.
Taehyung nods. Sunlight begins to pool on the table, and a thoughtful silence emerges in the space between them. Seokjin keeps his eyes on Taehyung, wondering what else he’s thinking about. He runs his tongue over his teeth before speaking. "Honestly, I expected you to sneak out as soon as you wake up."
"I was planning to," Taehyung mumbles. It takes one, two, three beats before he meets Seokjin’s eyes with something gentle and unwavering, and lets it linger. “But I didn't want to go without thanking you. And apologizing for my behavior."
"Who are you and what did you do to Kim Taehyung?" Seokjin jokes, in awe at his admission.
Taehyung glares at him, but there's no bite to it.
Seokjin grins, relishing this moment. It surges through him like a sugar rush. "Yah. You haven't thanked me yet."
The corners of Taehyung's mouth twitch upwards in the softest of motions. "Thank you for taking care of me last night, hyung," he says, sincere and true.
Seokjin relents a small smile, satisfied. "Finish your pancakes."
"They're really good," Taehyung says, popping another forkful into his mouth. "I don't remember the last time I've had something this good."
Something in his words pinches Seokjin in the chest, and he looks down at his remaining pancakes. Then, like opening a window to something new, he decides, "Well...you can come here if you want more pancakes. And other food, as well. I'm a good cook."
Warmth flood in Taehyung's eyes, and something else ― maybe gratitude, maybe relief, whatever it is, Seokjin takes it in all the same. "Thanks," he smiles.
Admittedly, Seokjin has seen a lot of beautiful things in his life (himself included, of course) but this is the first time he's seen a sight that feels like a punch in the throat. His heart squeezes and he thinks, this is a smile he'd like to keep longer.
“Did you know pancakes are just waffles with abs?” Seokjin blurts out.
The smile on Taehyung's face turns wider, into a grin, exasperated yet fond at the same time. He rolls his eyes. "Hyung, you're so weird."
"Are you going to tell me why you acted so weirdly in front of Taehyung?" Seokjin asks Jungkook.
They’re in one of the usual haunts they go to when neither of them are in the mood to eat what the dining hall has to offer. It’s a quiet afternoon, the sunlight weak and watery. Soft, like the cotton of a well-worn shirt, or the first dip into a cup of ice cream. It makes Seokjin feel much lighter; it doesn’t, however, soothe his worries.
Jungkook looks up from his bibimbap. "Taehyung…” He tilts his head to the side. “Is that his name?”
Seokjin nods, crossing his arms as he leans back on his seat. “You look like you were going to tackle him.”
Jungkook looks away, an embarrassed blush dusting his cheeks pink. "I don't think you’d want to hear it, hyung.”
Seokjin raises an eyebrow. “I think I’ll decide that myself. Tell me,” he says with a firm tone. He knows Taehyung. He knows what Taehyung does, so whatever Jungkook knows about him, whatever Jungkook is about to tell him, won’t be a surprise.
Jungkook sighs, facing Seokjin reluctantly. "I saw him at a club. Like, a month ago…? Mingyu and Yugyeom dragged me there, and then Taehyung came and flirted with Mingyu," he pauses, as if to gauge Seokjin’s reaction. When Seokjin returns his look with something placid but urging, he continues. "I think he asked Mingyu if he wanted to get out of the club, but Mingyu didn't really do...one night stands? And he's already got a thing with Wonwoo, so." He shrugs, ending there.
Seokjin nods. Jungkook’s story doesn’t surprise him at all, what surprises him is the sudden odd feeling in his stomach. Something heavy and twisting, enough to make him lose his appetite. “I see,” he replies, because Jungkook is waiting for one. He arranges his face into something unbothered. “Taehyung does that a lot.”
“Is that what he did to you, too?”
Seokjin bulges his eyes before shaking his head. “No, no he didn’t. We ― It’s not like that,” he explains, feeling like he’s back to a few weeks ago in the diner with Namjoon and everyone else. He smiles, albeit slightly embarrassed. “We’re just friends.”
Jungkook peers at him. “Then how come he was in your kitchen? How did you even meet him, hyung?”
“We met at the playground. And he needed a place to stay for the night so I let him,” Seokjin replies, with a hint of finality in his tone that Jungkook doesn’t challenge.
They eat in silence, then. Jungkook keeps biting his lip, a small frown on his face; a gesture that Seokjin has come to learn means he wants to say something but he’s not sure if he should.
"Just spit it out, Jungkook-ah," Seokjin says, not unkindly.
Jungkook colors, freeing his lip from its ministrations. "It's just ― Hyung, I think you should stay away from Taehyung. He’s just trouble.”
Seokjin can’t help but smile at that, feeling a dash of warmth for him. Jungkook’s got this wide-eyed look on him that makes him seem younger, innocent, untouched by the heavy hand of life, and it softens Seokjin every time. “I know what he is, Jungkook-ah,” he says gently. “You don’t have to worry about me.”
I know what I’m doing, is what he wants to add, but he’s not sure if that’s still true.
"So," he smiles, "about you and Eunbi..."
Seokjin is surprised to see Taehyung outside his window again.
“I didn’t expect you to be back so soon,” he says in lieu of greeting. He notices the backpack slung on Taehyung’s shoulders. “What’s with the bag?”
“You’ll find out later,” Taehyung replies. He jerks his chin to the right, as if beckoning Seokjin. “Come on, hyung, we don’t have all night!”
Taehyung dodges Seokjin’s questions about their itinerary as they walk beside each other. He just hums under his breath, lips turned up softly into a smile while Seokjin feels the night breeze on his face. It doesn’t take Seokjin long to figure out where they’re going, though. There’s dread gnawing in his stomach when they reach their destination. All at once, he realizes what’s in Taehyung’s bag and why he has it in the first place.
They’re at the pool.
“It’s closed,” Seokjin says flatly, staring at the building like it’s some kind of beast sleeping in the dark.
“We climb the fence, scale the walls, and enter through the window up there,” Taehyung points with a finger, voice so casual as if he’s talking about the weather and not explaining how they’re going to break and enter into a private property. “The window doesn’t lock so that’s our entrance.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes upwards toward the night sky, watching the thin wisps of clouds float across its bed of stars. He counts one to ten and then backwards in time with his breaths. It’s an efficient way to calm himself. “I fed you this morning and this is how you repay me: by making me commit a felony.”
The moonlight catches Taehyung’s face in silvery splashes and shadows. His smile against the dark looks like a promise. “We won’t get caught.”
Seokjin takes a deep breath, steeling himself. He lets Taehyung climb the fence first, wincing when the fence rattles under his weight. When he clears the top, he jumps soundlessly at the other side. He grins triumphantly at Seokjin.
What am I doing? Seokjin wonders as he climbs next, the metal under his fingers cool to the touch. He sticks the toes of his shoes through the chain links and pushes himself up.
“I’ll catch you, hyung,” Taehyung whispers, holding out his arms when Seokjin reaches the top.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Seokjin rolls his eyes and climbs down slowly, silently, until his feet touch the ground. He wipes his hands against his jeans. “Aren’t there guards here?”
“There is, but he knows me. He’s pretending we’re not here.”
Taehyung grins smugly. “I told you we wouldn’t get caught.”
“That’s still not reassuring,” Seokjin mutters behind him.
It takes them ten minutes to get inside. Seokjin will never have participated in something illegal, but he can admit to himself that it’s nice to have a place devoid of people, of screaming children and grumbling adults, if only for a limited time.
The pool is silent and deathly still until Taehyung dips a finger and watches the water ripple around it. Then he slides his bag off his shoulders and looks up at Seokjin. “Let’s change.”
Taehyung came prepared. There are towels inside his bag and two swimming trunks. He hands the red one to Seokjin. They change right there by the poolside, taking off their shirts and stripping down to their underwear to wear their trunks. Seokjin is never self-conscious about his body, but he’s grateful that the only source of light is from the pool, hiding him in the shadows away from Taehyung’s gaze.
After he’s done changing, Seokjin sits at the lip of the pool and dangles his feet in the water to acclimate himself from its cool temperature. He watches Taehyung jump, shielding his face when the water splashes on him.
“Brat,” is all Seokjin says.
It takes him a few more minutes before he slips in the water. It feels good, so good, to be here. He floats on his back and watches the dark ceiling, imagining that he’s surrounded by the cosmos instead. He feels his muscles slowly relax, his thoughts ebbing into nothing but a soft hum. It's been a long time since he's felt this tranquil.
“Thank you,” Seokjin says softly, when Taehyung starts to swim around him.
Taehyung laughs under his breath and floats on his back, too. “For what? Making you commit a crime? For finally corrupting you?”
Seokjin responds by shoving his head under the water. Taehyung coughs violently when Seokjin lets go and he breaks the surface. “Fuck! You ― I could’ve drowned, hyung!”
He giggles, hiding his smile under the water. “And yet here you are, alive and still breathing.”
“Barely!” Taehyung protests.
Seokjin smiles. He swims the length of the pool and dives at the deepest part of it, until the only thing he can hear is the beating of his heart. He’s light-headed when he surfaces, taking mouthfuls of air into his lungs. He swims to the edge and hangs on, tired, resting his cheek against the cool tiles. A minute later, Taehyung follows him and does the same.
“How does the guard know you?” Seokjin asks quietly.
Taehyung pushes himself up and sits down. He looks out at the far wall, feet kicking lazily at the water. “I come here a lot, especially the first few months. It helped me a lot, relaxed me. Sometimes when I wanted to look for trouble, I went here instead to talk myself out of it.” He looks down at Seokjin, then, reaching out to brush the wet clumps of hair off his face. “The guard caught me one time, and I was so sure I'm screwed until he told me I could only stay until four in the morning. I don’t know why he did it. He never gave me an answer whenever I asked."
Seokjin watches him. Watches the lights play patterns on his face. He’s never seen Taehyung look so serene before ― except when he was asleep. He’s always animated when he’s awake, always in motion. A ball of energy that bounces off the walls. He’s beautiful, Seokjin thinks. He closes his eyes and lets himself drift across the water on his back. “It’s very calming here.”
“Only when the pool’s empty,” Taehyung quips before slipping into the water again.
They float on their backs in silence. Seokjin feels the brush of Taehyung’s knuckles against his, the contact as light as a bird’s feather; feels Taehyung’s finger graze the softest part of his palm, hesitant and waiting. Seokjin swallows, and slides his palms against Taehyung’s, and then he’s clasping them together. Tight, as if never wanting to let go.
Seokjin stares at the ceiling again. For most of his life, he’s felt alone. Lost, and just going through the motions because that’s what people expected him to do. Sometimes, he’d look up at the sky and demand Why? Usually when he does that, life only looks back at it him with uncaring eyes, a careless shrug. Now as he looks up at the ceiling and imagines the stars, it answers him with the warm assurance of linked hands.
Taehyung squeezes Seokjin’s hand and suddenly he doesn’t feel so lost anymore.
Seokjin squeezes back and, for some reason, it feels like coming home.
“We should go,” he says an hour later. Taehyung nods and follows him after Seokjin pushes himself off the pool.
Once they’re dry and dressed, they exit the way they entered ― this time without Seokjin’s complaints.
“Before we go home, can we go to the convenience store first?” Taehyung suddenly asks. Seokjin just nods, and a moment later, holds out his hand. Taehyung takes it with a smile, holding onto him with a steadfast grip.
“Oh! Hey, Taehyungie!” Someone greets as soon as Taehyung pushes the glass door and they enter.
“Hey, Jimin,” Taehyung grins before turning to Seokjin. “Hyung, I’m just gonna stock up on snacks. Keep Jimin company?”
Seokjin casts a glance at the boy behind the cashier before looking back at Taehyung. “Sure, I guess.”
Taehyung gives him a salute, and lets go of his hand, making a beeline to the snack aisle. The convenience store is empty, and Seokjin immediately thinks of liminal spaces. He walks toward the cashier.
“You must be Seokjin-hyung,” Jimin says.
Seokjin blinks in surprise. Jimin is a soft-cheeked boy with bright eyes that remind him of crescent moons when he smiles. “Let me guess, Taehyung talked to you about me?”
Jimin grins, pushing his cheeks up until his eyes turn into warm slits. “He talks about you a lot.”
“So I’ve heard…” Seokjin murmurs, looking out to where Taehyung is. He looks like he’s in deep thought, debating between two bags of chips in his hands. It’s...adorable. He feels the sudden urge to go up to him and give him a hug.
“You like him that much, huh?” Jimin’s voice yanks him out of his thoughts. There’s a playful smile on his lips, verging into something sly.
Seokjin feels his cheeks warm. He doesn’t know how to answer that.
“Tae likes you a lot, too,” Jimin whispers conspiratorially, leaning closer to Seokjin. He even has the gall to wink.
Seokjin feels the light tug of a smile at the corners of his mouth. He lets it bloom across his lips. “He’s alright, I guess.”
“I’m glad he has you, hyung,” Jimin says after a moment, voice soft with gentleness. “Taehyung looks like he can finally breathe better ever since he met you.”
Before Seokjin can answer, Taehyung bounds to them with a basket brimming with snacks. He sets it down the marble of the countertop with a flourish. “Ring these up, Chim!”
Jimin gives Seokjin a knowing look before smiling at Taehyung. Seokjin, for his part, lets himself study Taehyung. The untroubled look on his face, the rectangular smile, the shoulders unweighted because for once he’s not carrying anything. He looks light on his feet, a gale without a brew of storm. It’s with a start that he realizes Jimin isn’t wrong.
“Alright, let’s go hyung!” urges Taehyung, grabbing his convenience store fare with one hand, and Seokjin’s hand with the other. He’s already dragging him out before Seokjin has the chance to blink. “Bye, Jiminnie!”
Seokjin glances back at Jimin, offering a small smile when Jimin waves at them.
Received 08:13 PM
Sent 08:15 PM
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(Is this a joke?) Taehyung who
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(nope) your favorite dongsaeng!!!!
Received 08:16 PM
Who said you’re my favorite dongsaeng?
Sent 08:17 PM
ah, u break my heart hyung
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so cold........say something warm
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Sun. Heater. Boiler
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youre the absolute worst!!!
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Excuse you, I'm the best.
Sent 08:19 PM
ur jokes are the best at being lame too
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How dare you.
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You come into my house, you disrespect me.
Sent 08:20 PM
You take that back, Kim Taehyung.
Sent 08:21 PM
hmmmm tell me a good joke and i just might
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mean!!!! im never taking it back
Received 08:25 PM
Fine. What's the color of a burger?
Sent 08:28 PM
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That was a good joke, shut up.
Sent 08:31 PM
It's not my fault you don't have a good sense of humor.
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WOW i suddenly cant read
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Come here so I can teach you.
Sent 08:33 PM
awww hyung ~ u miss me dont u
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Sent 08:35 PM
ur cute when youre acting like a tsundere hyung
Received 08:35 PM
speaking of cute tsunderes!! i have just GOT the anime for u
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Let's watch it together.
Sent 08:36 PM
!!!!!! im coming in twenty minutes please hide your nasty doujinshi collection
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Oh, fuck you.
Sent 08:37 PM
is that an invitation? ;)
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You are insufferable.
Sent 08:40 PM
im taking that as a compliment :)
Received 08:40 PM
“I can’t believe we’re breaking and entering into a private property again,” Seokjin hisses under his breath. A scowl on the verge of forming at the ends of his mouth. He feels his face getting warmer, working up into an outburst. “Is this your plan, get me to do it once so the next time we ―"
“Sshh,” Taehyung says, voice ever so soothing, placating, laying a gentle hand on Seokjin’s head like a lion tamer to his lion.
“Don’t sshh me, you brat!”
Taehyung’s face cracks into an amused grin. “Hyung, it’s not breaking and entering if I know the security guard.”
Seokjin huffs, unconsciously leaning into the touch of Taehyung’s fingers carding through his hair. Calming, like the smell of your favorite shirt or the sound of water lapping into your ears as you float on your back. He shakes his hand off, a moment later.
They stop at their itinerary and look up. A building looms up in front of them, tall and imposing, and Seokjin feels something drop in his stomach. He gulps, tightening his fists at his side.
Taehyung must’ve sensed the tension in him, because he slowly slips his hand into Seokjin’s, lacing their fingers together. “Don’t you trust me, hyung?”
“I shouldn’t,” Seokjin mutters, which earns him a quiet chuckle from Taehyung.
“Come on,” Taehyung tugs at his hand, coaxing. “I’ll introduce you to Sejin-hyung.”
Before Seokjin can ask who is Sejin, Taehyung’s pulling him forward, towards the front door of the building.
Sejin turns out to be the security guard stationed inside the lobby of the office building. He is broad-shouldered and kind-looking, sat behind a sleek L-shaped reception desk in mahogany. “Taehyung,” he greets, pushing up his glasses on the bridge of his nose.
Taehyung waves a hand. “Hey, Sejin-hyung! This is my friend, Seokjin ―” at this, Seokjin bows, a little awkward, but polite as ever, “We’re going up the rooftop. That’s okay, right?”
“Go ahead,” Sejin nods. “The elevators are down for the night, though, so you have to use the stairs.”
“It’s cool,” Taehyung reassures, and turns to Seokjin. “You don’t mind the climb up? It’s twenty six floors. Your legs might fail you, grandpa.”
Seokjin bristles and pushes him towards the stairwell. “I’ll push you off the rooftop once we get there, just wait, brat.”
Taehyung hums an SNSD song under his breath as they make the climb up. A break in the silence. Seokjin sings along, voice soft and shaky at first, like biking for the first time without training wheels, until he feels comfortable enough to be louder. It’s been a long time since he last sung ― Tell me your wish / I’m genie for your dream, and he thinks the words mean something more with Taehyung there to hear.
The air is a chilly welcome once they reach the rooftop, ruffling their hair and cooling the sweat on their skin from the climb. Seokjin inhales, feeling the air pushing inside his lungs, and briefly closes his eyes.
“You have a lovely voice, hyung,” Taehyung says suddenly and Seokjin’s eyes flutter open. Taehyung's looking out the city sprawling below them, hands firmly planted on the ledge.
Seokjin joins him, taking small steps until he stands beside Taehyung. “Thank you,” he says, letting the tug of smile stretch across his lips.
“Do you like SNSD?”
Seokjin snorts, keeping his sights on Taehyung’s side profile, made softer by the moon. “Who doesn’t? Though, I’m more of a Red Velvet fan these days.”
“Hobi-hyung would love to hear that,” Taehyung says, voice light and maybe a little bit distant, like he’s pulled into a dream, and Seokjin can only wonder what he's thinking in that wildnerness mind of his. “He still likes to dance to Ice Cream Cake up to this day.”
Seokjin smiles at the image, and thinks he’d like to see Hoseok dance to it, once. He lets his eyes linger at the way Taehyung cuts a surprisingly lonely but disturbingly appealing figure in the night, before finally looking ahead.
Seoul gleams with sparkling lights, golden and neon bright ― but not garishly so. Alive, a concrete jungle with high-rise buildings all reaching up at the wide expanse of sky. Seokjin can see alleyways, the intersection on the main street that stretches all the way to Bongeun Temple; Tancheon and Dongbu Expressway, if he turns just so. He catches the howls of rushing cars, the faint cacophony from establishments and streets alike, and Seokjin lets the sounds wash over him.
Taehyung shuffles closer to him.
“It’s beautiful,” Seokjin breathes out, eyes fixed at the city below him. Seoul stares back, proud and glittering.
“Mmm,” comes Taehyung’s assent, noncommittal.
Seokjin chances a glance at him and rolls his eyes. “Don’t be a clichè, Taehyung-ah. At least look at the view.”
Taehyung props his elbow on the ledge and drops his chin on his fist, face fully turned on Seokjin now. “I already am,” he grins lazily, amused, but his eyes shine with sincerity.
Seokjin feels his cheeks heat up despite the chilly air and looks away. “Brat. Do you want me to push you down?”
“You’ll miss me too much when I’m gone, hyung.”
Seokjin opens his mouth to counter that but finds himself unable to because ― it’s true. He tries to shake the thought off, determined to keep the truth out of his face, and represses the urge to run away.
“So,” he starts casually, keeping his eyes at the intersection. “Do you just know every security guard in the city or something?”
“It’s easier to be friends with them instead of learning how to sneak my way inside,” Taehyung answers, shrugs, and Seokjin wonders how much of his ease is practiced and how much of it is sincere.
“One day, I’m going to buy my own building,” Seokjin says, voice resolute and firm.
Taehyung raises his eyebrows. “Doesn’t your dad ―”
“That’s his,” Seokjin cuts him off, feeling something in his chest curl into an ugly sort. “I’m going to make a name for myself, too.”
“That’s nice,” Taehyung responds, leaning his head on the edge of Seokjin’s shoulder. “Maybe I’ll befriend your security guard, too.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Tae,” Seokjin says before grinning down at him, lopsided with mischief. “I’m going to tell all the guards to never entertain you.”
Taehyung mock-gasps, leaning away from him and putting a hand on his chest. “How could you, hyung! Does our friendship mean nothing to you?”
“Nope,” Seokjin feigns an air of nonchalance with a shrug, his grin never faltering. When Taehyung pouts, he starts to giggle. “Alright, I guess it means something,” he relents.
“You’re so mean,” Taehyung tells him, leaning his head on his shoulder again.
“You bring it out in me.”
Seokjin feels Taehyung’s arm encircle around him, latching on his waist and staying there, gentle yet firm. Taehyung squeezes his waist as if to ask Is this okay? and Seokjin wraps his arm around his shoulders, slowly, maybe a bit hesitant before coming into certainty, It is.
They lapse into a comfortable silence, then. Quietly looking out at Seoul while the midnight breeze imparts soothing kisses on their skin. Seokjin hasn’t felt this content for a long time, but standing here, with the city below them, Taehyung beside him, he thinks he’s okay. More than okay, if he’s being honest.
On their way down the stairs, Seokjin suddenly pauses at the landing. A thought forms in his mind, words just at the tip of his tongue, and he turns to face Taehyung.
Hands kept tight to his side, because the banister might be clean, but he still doesn’t want to risk it, Seokjin opens his mouth. “Do you want to stay at my apartment tonight?”
Something passes over Taehyung’s face, too quick for Seokjin to decipher especially in the dark, before he blinks. “Do you want me to?”
“Don’t answer my question with another question, it’s annoying,” Seokjin huffs.
“I think you mean to say charming.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes, but presses on. “So? Do you want to?”
Taehyung purses his mouth, tilting his head to the side. “Why the sudden invitation, hyung?”
Seokjin looks away, gritting his teeth. He knows Taehyung wants him to say it, knows he’s purposely making this difficult because that’s how he works. Thoughts break into a million of permutations before Seokjin finds Taehyung’s voice, a distant memory from a month ago ― I really like hanging out with you. “Because I’m finding it difficult to say goodnight to you, too,” comes his answer, voice a whisper like he’s never let himself admit this before. But truth has a funny way of appearing easily in the dark, and in this Seokjin can finally understand why Taehyung prefers taking him out at night.
“Oh,” is all Taehyung says in a soft voice, achingly so.
Seokjin unfurls his hands at his admission, and finally hazards a look at Taehyung. He finds him with something gentle on his lips, a smile that looks far too pleased. Too pretty to be kept in the shadows. Taehyung meets his eyes, and reaches for him. He laces their fingers together and keeps at his side.
Seokjin wakes up earlier than his alarm, feeling a heavy weight draped across his chest. He’s confused for a moment, cracking his eyes open despite sleep trying to hold onto him tighter, and looks down.
Taehyung is asleep on top of him, cheek smushed against Seokjin’s chest, their legs tangled together in the sheets.
Like something from a dream, an echo of a wish he’d never meant to make, Seokjin marvels at Taehyung’s wonder and weight. He knows he should get up, but there’s no way to gracefully extract himself under Taehyung without him waking. That, and well, he doesn't really want to get up yet. Let me have this for a while. The sun drips outside the windows, reaches for them with its golden fingers, and turns Taehyung into something gilded in Seokjin’s eyes.
Without meaning to, he cards through the soft of Taehyung’s hair. Soft and silky under his fingertips, he tries to pick out the different shades of brown in them.
Taehyung suddenly stiffens and snaps his eyes open. They widen when he takes in Seokjin under him, and they do not break eye contact until Taehyung slowly relaxes.
“I thought it was all a dream,” Taehyung admits, voice deeper and gravelly from sleep. It drops straight down Seokjin’s stomach.
Seokjin smiles. “It wasn’t.”
But Taehyung doesn't appear to be listening. Seokjin's smile falters when he catches the way Taehyung is looking at him. At his lips ― like maybe Taehyung wants to kiss him. He gulps, visibly.
But Taehyung suddenly yawns, and then the look is gone along with the charged atmosphere, as if someone had opened the window and let some fresh air in. "Figures," he says, making himself comfortable against Seokjin's chest. "This is too domestic for my dreams."
“Really,” Seokjin deadpans, but he's secretly relieved from the break of tension (because that's what it was, he's not oblivious.) He takes in a deep, calming breath.
“This is nicer though,” Taehyung says after a moment, thoughtful.
“Come to class with me,” Seokjin blurts out before he can press on the brakes of his mouth.
Taehyung lifts his head in surprise to look at him directly. “Huh?”
“Well, you’re always dragging me to places at night,” Seokjin replies, looking away from his eyes. “It’s only fair that I get to do the same.” And then comes another thought, unbidden and quiet, I want to see how you are in the morning, too. Because they can’t just have the nights, is the thing, no matter how magical they are. Sometimes, they have to have the days, too. The too-bright days with nowhere to hide, just to see how they go through the motions with the sun beating down.
Taehyung knits his eyebrows together. “Won’t your professors mind?”
“Sit-ins are allowed.”
Taehyung sighs, blowing his hair out of his face, maybe a little peeved. “I can’t say no, can I?”
Seokjin grins, wide and resembling something of a victory. “Nope,” he answers, letting the ‘p’ pop off.
“This is manipulation,” Taehyung points out with a pout.
“I’m going to need breakfast,” Taehyung declares, petulant. “I’m going to need lots and lots of pancakes. Strawberry, since that’s my favorite.”
“So demanding.” Seokjin doesn’t bite back the satisfied smile threatening to crack his face. “I’ll make enough for the both of us.”
Taehyung is surprisingly attentive in class. Seokjin had expected him to be restless, a coiled spring about to burst any time, tapping his foot in boredom or staring longingly out the window, but no, Taehyung is polite (well, almost) and he listens well to Seokjin’s professors.
Seokjin’s friends meet them just before his Intermediate Screenwriting class starts, Sangdeul giving him a knowing look, the kind that makes Seokjin feel like he’s indecently exposed, while Jaehwan and Heeyeon latch onto Taehyung. Jungkook seeks Seokjin out before lunch, and he spends all his time vacillating between ignoring Taehyung and glaring at him, resolute in his mission to not trust him. Not at all.
Seokjin keeps a close watch on Taehyung during all of this, something he knows Taehyung must’ve noticed, because Taehyung notices everything. He’s always paid privy to observation ― something Seokjin himself does, too ― taking pride in learning to pick up on things and take them apart.
He notices the muted quality around Taehyung; gone was the breeziness he’s always carried himself with, the gales receding into a mild wind. He’s almost pensive, mellowing him out ― not enough to completely jar Seokjin, but enough to strike a flare of concern in his chest.
There’s a dichotomy between the Taehyung during the day and the Taehyung during the night that’s easy to miss if you do not know where to look, and Seokjin finds himself wanting to see more of this side. Or maybe, just more of Taehyung.
Seokjin likes to imagine his heart as a deep well, working out the amount of water he has to drench up in buckets. Half for loneliness, heavy but not so much as a burden; none for anger, not anymore when he’s built enough walls to withstand its wrecking ball; one-third for love, maybe less, always reserved for the small things like books, and food, and films. A bit for honesty, because Seokjin has never been fully honest, that much he can admit. And now ― a full bucket for want, something he’s never done before, but it’s something he can’t deny to himself anymore.
It’s enough to rattle him, because he’s never allowed himself to want again until Taehyung came. Until he came and made him feel all these things again, things like concern and tenderness. Soft things that leave imprints when you press on them too hard.
“Are you okay, hyung?” Taehyung asks, chopsticks laden with noodles paused in their descent towards his mouth.
His voice yanks Seokjin out of his reverie and sets him back down in some small sit-down place just outside his campus for lunch. He nods, slurping on his noodles loudly. “Just had a thought.”
“That’s dangerous,” Taehyung clicks his tongue before his lips are snagged into a smile, and then he’s eating, too.
Under the table, Seokjin feels Taehyung’s legs press against his. He lets it linger and presses back, neither of them moving away.
“I forgot how fun school can be,” Taehyung admits that night, laying on his back beside Seokjin on his bed.
With the lights turned off, the moon provides them a sliver of light, throwing the room in silvery shadows. Seokjin chances a glances at him before staring at the ceiling. “I’m glad...that you had fun, I mean. I kind of thought you were just going to whine the whole day.”
He doesn’t mention his observations.
“I loved going to school,” Taehyung says in a quiet voice after a stretch of silence. “Every hour I spent studying was an hour spent away from my dad.”
His voice has taken on a distant tone, like he’s caught in a deluge of memories, and Seokjin can only keep quiet as Taehyung parses through them. He does not speak nor move, afraid if he so much as jostle Taehyung, the seriousness of the situation will lose its hold on him, and the bubble will shatter. Seokjin doesn’t want it to shatter.
“My dad,” Taehyung starts, voice smaller than Seokjin’s ever heard. “He made the room small just by being there. When he hurts us, he ― he didn’t apologize. He never promised it won’t happen again. He was a machine, running on alcohol.” He pauses. “My house was a hellhole. Living on the streets is heaven compared to what life was in that place.”
Us? Seokjin wants to ask, because he knows there’s still something Taehyung isn’t telling him. But it’s fine; Seokjin won’t pull off the layer himself. He reaches for Taehyung’s hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. “You’re here now,” he reassures.
Taehyung doesn’t answer, only squeezes back.
Seokjin mulls over the thought shaping in his head before speaking. “I’ve been thinking about you and ―”
“You’ve been thinking about me? What was I wearing?” Taehyung interrupts, his defenses back on again as it wont to do every time he lets himself be vulnerable. Honest.
Seokjin sighs, letting him be. “I’ve been thinking about you and studying. It’s never too late to start again.” To start living your life again, he wants to say. Not the life he had back in Daegu, but something better, here in Seoul. Or at least, something’s that trying to be.
“Maybe,” is all Taehyung replies, like he’s not letting it sink. Seokjin wants nothing more than to lay it all out on him, insistent like he’s never been, and he wonders if this is it ― caring. But no chance comes to deliver any promise; Taehyung steers the conversation away from it. “I’m glad I got to see you in your classes, hyung.”
“You look like you really love what you’re learning.” Taehyung shifts, rolling over on his side to face Seokjin. “It was nice. I always thought you didn’t care much for anything.”
Seokjin looks at him. “Why do you think I don’t care?”
Taehyung’s eyes are contemplative in the dark. He shrugs, ever so slightly, as if careful not to offend. “You’re always hiding something, hyung. Like the moon, some part of you is always hidden away,” he says. “You’re ― distant. That’s what I saw when we were with your friends. You look close to them, but they’re not close to you. You hold everyone at arm’s length.”
Silence emerges after that, and Seokjin allows it to stretch between them. He feels exposed, the kind that makes him want to hunt inside his closet for clothes to hide in, but he stays where he is.
“Why do you do that?” Taehyung asks when the silence gets unbearable for him.
Seokjin’s hand slips out of Taehyung’s. He ignores the sudden coldness in his fingers. “Why do you do the things you do, Taehyung?”
It takes a beat before Taehyung answers, “I’m fucked up, hyung.” There is no lightness in his tone nor any sentiments; it is honest, through and through.
Seokjin digs his fingernails into his palms to try and stop the flood of images of his parents in his mind. They still come, in tidal waves that sweep Seokjin away and under, with a force he can’t contend with. The screaming matches, playing the It’s All Your Fault game when they think Seokjin can’t hear. Sitting him down one afternoon to tell him of their separation. It was so clinical, he remembers, the way there was no warmth in their voices, or maybe just a hint of comfort. He was a child caught in the middle, with nowhere to go because both sides didn’t want him; a reminder of what they tried to keep together and failed. He presses the heels of his palms against his eyes and takes a deep shuddering breath. At last he says, “Maybe I’m fucked up, too.”
Taehyung props himself on his elbow and waits for Seokjin to remove his hands from his face before saying, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Seokjin wants to tell him there is, there’s something fundamentally wrong about the way he can’t seem to stop building walls, brick by brick, until his hands bleed; There’s something wrong about the way he doesn’t want to let other people in and trust them. But all words evaporate when he meets Taehyung’s gaze.
Something shifts in the air between them, turning it into something charged and heavy, almost stifling. A rubber band pulled taut. Seokjin watches Taehyung’s eyes flick to his mouth and stay there. He swallows. All at once, he knows Taehyung wants to kiss him. And all at once, he knows that he is going to let him.
Taehyung leans down, excruciatingly slow, as if he's waiting for Seokjin to turn away. He doesn't. He thinks of magnets and gravity, the tilt and the pull, the distance slowly being crossed. At his side, Seokjin clutches his blanket tightly in his fist.
When he feels the soft press of Taehyung’s lips against his, he thinks he might combust. It’s tentative at first, almost hesitant, and Seokjin takes this time to kiss him right the hell back. It is with something desperate, the way their lips slot against each other, mouths hungry and wanting more, more, more. Seokjin’s heart pounds so hard in his chest until he can no longer hear the whisper-soft thoughts of his mind ― What are we doing?
They stare on after they separate, breaths intermingling in the small space between them. Seokjin feels the slightest bit of claustrophobic but Taehyung is the one who widens the gap, and in one smooth movement, he’s lowering himself beside Seokjin, face turned away.
“Goodnight, hyung,” he says, voice raw and strained. He seems to curl in on himself.
Seokjin swallows, staring at the curve of his back for a moment. He feels his chest tighten with something, and he has to remind himself to breathe. A million thoughts explode in his head. He wants to reach out, because he knows something is wrong, it was there in Taehyung’s eyes just before he turned away, but something pulls him back. He feels the sudden distance between them grow wider, and wider still, until Taehyung feels impossibly far away.
He feels a sharp pinch in his chest, and his heart aches for reasons he can’t begin to understand. He stays there, laid on his back, staring at the ceiling with unseeing eyes. He has a hard time falling asleep, and it takes him hours before he finally succumb to it.
When Seokjin wakes up, Taehyung is gone.
Against his will, Seokjin’s mind begins to categorize everything into two neat columns. An easy segregation, if not a little cruel ― the Before and After.
Before: where he’s okay, head held high, even if he keeps a wide expanse between him and everything else. His life a calm ocean, still and undisturbed just the way he likes it.
After: where he’s trying to be okay, adamant in his mission to be, even if it feels like he’s lost something ― a shadow, maybe; one of his limbs. Something important enough to create ripples in his life. A tsunami, and he doesn’t like any of it.
Seokjin tries to be angry, and he was. The first few days when Taehyung left, he thought it was okay. He appreciated the space, it let him turn his thoughts into something simmering until he could sort them out. But when days turned into weeks, and weeks stretched into a month, he felt it. That swell of anger, hot and flaring as if a miniature sun was installed inside his chest.
“So where is he?” Jungkook had asked, one afternoon as Seokjin was baking cookies in the kitchen.
Seokjin thought ― the sun is too bright for this discussion. He kept his sights firm on his bowl of batter and decided to feign innocence. “Where is who?” he asked, whisking the whole mixture vigorously until it turned into something shiny and smooth. Just like his life, before.
“You know who,” Jungkook huffed, shooting him a look that said Don’t play dumb with me, hyung.
“Taehyung,” Jungkook pressed.
“Hmmm,” Seokjin hummed, ignoring the twinge of something in his chest at the mention of his name. “I don’t think Taehyung is the Dark Lord ―”
“Where is he?” Jungkook asked again, firmly this time, as if to tell him he wasn't taking any of his bullshit until he got to the bottom of this.
Seokjin set his bowl aside and met Jungkook’s eyes with something hard. Closed-off. “I don’t know,” he said, voice controlled.
Jungkook blinked into an understanding, and he dipped his head low, eyes latched on the table, as if apologetic. “I’m sorry.”
Seokjin resisted the urge to scoff. He sucked in a deep breath until that spark of anger mellowed out. “You don’t even like him, Jungkook-ah.”
“I don’t,” Jungkook nodded in confirmation. And then he was looking at him with something sad, a kind of recognition that Seokjin had a hard time meeting. “But you do, hyung.”
Seokjin hadn’t known how to respond to that, but the silence was unbearable, heavy and sticky like sweat he couldn’t wipe away, so he pushed the bowl to Jungkook. “Here, have a taste.”
They never mentioned Taehyung again.
The anger waned after a few more weeks, replaced with a kind of gnawing that left Seokjin feeling hollowed-out in the stomach. That was worse than feeling angry. With anger, Seokjin could ignore it, could temper the flames. Worry set him on edge; his mind a relentless echo of Did something happen to Taehyung? until he could no longer remember the last time he slept well. But the world didn't stop spinning (even though Seokjin's sort of did,) two months passed, and no texts came, nor any knock on his window announcing he’s alive.
Now, he’s just ― empty.
Memories crumble and fade, is what Seokjin tells himself. He keeps them locked inside a box and lets dust gather at the edges. He does not unearth it. He moves on, resolute in trying to set everything back to normal. But it’s just not the same. There’s a gaping hole inside of him that he can’t fill in ― a kind of homesickness that aches. There’s a wild unbidden wish under his skin, a sort of hope that someone would knock in his window again and whisk him away despite everything.
It’s funny because Seokjin knows exactly what Taehyung is. He’s a double-edged sword, a disaster waiting with wanton fingers for the next thing he can destroy. And destroy he did ― strongarming his way into Seokjin’s life and breaking down his walls to carve a place for himself in Seokjin’s heart.
Seokjin knew the dangers of wanting something. Of making homes out of people who can’t even stay still long enough without feeling the itch to run. He knew yet he let himself because, oh god, how good it felt. To not be alone. To have a place you can recognize as home, even if home means boxy smiles and mischievous eyes and the thrill of sneaking into closed places. He knew and he welcomed the storm.
Now he’s just a stupid casualty.
He goes to the pool.
It’s an impulsive decision, formed from his restlessness. He digs in his closet for his swimming trunks, shoves spare clothes inside his backpack, and leaves before the rational part of him kicks in and halts everything.
With his breath held in his lungs, Seokjin sneaks inside the pool with the kind of stealth he does not know he possesses. He heaves a sigh of relief once he’s inside. I just did something illegal by myself, he thinks. And then, uninvited, Taehyung would be delighted to know this.
“You’re officially corrupted!” he’d say with a proud smile.
Seokjin pierces the thought away until it vanishes. He squats down and opens his bag, pawing through what’s inside. He can’t wait to be in the water. Just the sight of the pool is enough to set him at ease already.
Suddenly, he hears something move.
Footfalls. Someone is approaching.
Seokjin feels himself freeze, his heart seized by a sudden terror. It’s the security guard, he thinks.
It's not the security guard.
Air seems to constrict around Seokjin’s throat, choking him, and he has a hard time swallowing. It’s the voice he’s been longing to hear again; it’s the voice he’s desperately trying to forget. He stands up slowly, and when he feels his knees shake and weaken under him, like he might collapse in a heap on the spot, right in front of him, because fuck he’s so dizzy, he inhales all the breath he can to calm himself.
Seokjin clutches his bag tightly, until he can feel the strap in his palms, a hot sting as it is sharp. The pain is welcomed and brings him back to his senses. He has to go. He slides backwards, and allows himself one fleeting glance ― just one ― at Taehyung before he leaves.
He’s standing just a couple of feet away from him.
Seokjin fucking flees.
Seokjin had expected the knock on his window, but the sounds of it still send his heart into overdrive. Pounding in his chest like it’s trying to get out. The anger is back in his chest, a glorious bonfire that threatens to eat away at Seokjin.
Eyes burning holes in the ceiling, he thinks, maybe he’ll let it.
The knocks don’t stop, just grow more insistent, until Seokjin can’t take it anymore and he throws off his blanket. He drags himself to the window with heavy steps, as if he’s made of stone ― maybe lead.
“What the fuck do you want?” Seokjin grits out, throwing the window open.
Taehyung blinks, looking suddenly unsure of himself. Scared. (Good, Seokjin thinks with enough vitriol to poison him. Be scared.) “I ― Can I enter?”
You can’t, Seokjin wants to yell out, but he takes a couple of steps back to make him some space after he climbs in.
Looking at Taehyung hurt. Every memory with him, and every memory spent waiting for him, resurfaces in Seokjin’s mind with a startling burst of clarity. So achingly fresh and bright. But he will not break nor give in to the urge to collapse. He wears his anger like a crown, heavy and blinding to look at, with his head held high. He crosses his arms over his chest, and ignores the earthquakes in his hands.
“How long have you been back?” Seokjin interrupts, voice all hard and chilly like icebergs capable of bringing down ships.
“I just came back tonight,” Taehyung answers. “I wanted...I wanted to come here straight away, but I decided to head to the pool to prepare myself.”
“Prepare yourself? For what?”
“For this,” Taehyung says, raising his hands and letting them fall away at his sides. “I want to apologize.”
“Apologize,” Seokjin repeats slowly. He feels something inside him seethe and he digs his nails into his palms, just enough to break skin. He suppresses the urge to punch something. “Apologize for what? Leaving so suddenly? Without even saying anything? Apologize for making me worry and letting me think you’re dead in a ditch somewhere?” He's panting when he's done. His chest feels tight, so tight, and it hurts so fucking much.
Taehyung swallows visibly before meeting his eyes head on. They carry nothing but unflinching sincerity. “Yes.”
Seokjin inhales sharply through his nose. “Let’s fucking hear it, then.”
Looking around the room, Taehyung’s eyes flit from object to object, never lingering on anything. His hands clench and relax at his sides. “I’m sorry for leaving,” he finally says. “I freaked out. After we kissed, I got scared. I thought I just fucked everything up.”
Seokjin watches him, watches the storm of emotions move across Taehyung’s face.
“Everyone knows I’m a mess,” Taehyung continues, eyes staring at his feet. “People immediately write me off as a hopeless case. I mean ― I am, I know that. I fuck around, I don't stay in one place, I do shit stuff. But you’re different, hyung. You look at me like I can be better.” And at this, he finally raises his eyes to meet Seokjin’s again. “You were the only one who cared enough to save me.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. You still left,” Seokjin replies, his calm voice a jarring counterpoint to the jackhammer beating of his heart.
There are a lot more things he want to say, accusations and obscenities he want to hurl at Taehyung’s face. They sit on Seokjin’s chest like an immovable marble slab. Fuck you. After everything we did, how could you leave. Fuck you. I trusted you. Fuck you. I let you in. Fuck you. How could you just leave me. Fuck you. But they sit there, unspoken.
“I had to leave, just for a while,” Taehyung explains. “It’s fucked up, but you’re important to me, Seokjin-hyung. You ― sometimes, you make me feel invincible. Like I’m more than the sum of my parts.” He pauses, furrowing his eyebrows like he's having a hard time translating his thoughts into words. “You make me want to do better, or, like, try to be. You were like ― fuck ― a dream and a miracle. You’re the one person I don’t ever want to lose, and I thought the kiss would ruin everything.”
“That is fucked up,” Seokjin says, because he doesn’t know what else to say aside from the obvious. “Didn’t it occur to you that I wanted the kiss to happen? That I wouldn’t let you ruin...whatever’s between us?”
Taehyung opens his mouth to reply but Seokjin cuts him off, harshly, his voice raw and angry. “You disappeared for two months, Taehyung. You didn't even bother to call or reply to my texts. You fucking disappeared. That’s what ruined everything.”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung whispers, letting his head fall. His shoulders are weighted, and for a second Seokjin thinks he might curl into a ball, make himself smaller. “I didn’t know what to do. I panicked, so I bolted. I shouldn’t have, but ― I thought I was doing the right thing, hyung. But I realized that it was stupid so ― I’m here now.”
When he takes a small step forward, Seokjin represses the urge to step back. He stays rooted to his spot, hands balled up in fists, like a defiance against the call to run away.
“I’m so sorry, hyung. I felt like the world’s biggest piece of shit when I saw you at the pool.”
“You are,” comes Seokjin’s reply, in a whisper that hurt him to hear.
Taehyung stops in front of him. He does not reach, and neither of them move to cross the distance. “I’m not going to leave again. I don’t know if I’m going to stop fucking up but ― I will try, hyung. I will.”
Seokjin hears the truth in his words, the strength in his resolution, but… “It still fucking hurts, Tae,” he says, voice broken and mangled-up like something you’d find at the side of the road. “It won’t just magically stop just because of your promise.”
“I know, hyung,” Taehyung responds. “I don’t expect it to be. I’m just ― Just give me a chance to fix this.”
Seokjin doesn’t want to be okay with this. He wants to be angry at Taehyung for all eternity, because how could he, but ― he feels exhausted. He tries to look inside himself, past the bitter memories of staying up late at night, waiting for a knock to come, and wonders if he has it in him to give him a chance.
He looks at Taehyung’s eyes, hesitant, but shining with hope, and feels the ridiculous urge to kiss him. Instead, he finally budges and heads towards his bed. “It’s late. I have classes later.”
Taehyung doesn’t move away from his spot. He looks sad and uncertain and confused, like he’s lost and he doesn’t know what to do next. “Should I ― Should I leave?”
Seokjin climbs on his bed and sits. “Do you want to?”
“No,” Taehyung replies, and then in a softer voice, “Never.”
Seokjin nods and pats the space next to him. With something hopeful lilting in his steps, Taehyung follows, toes off his shoes and fills the space next to Seokjin. They lay flat on their backs.
“I’m rooting for you,” is all Seokjin says.
Taehyung turns to his side and looks at him, eyes swimming with something warm and overwhelming. “Thank you.”
Seokjin swallows before turning to face him, too. He takes a long, slow sigh before reaching up to brush Taehyung’s hair away from his eyes. It’s gotten longer again; lighter, too. The gesture makes something inside him ache ― but in a good way. Taehyung scoots closer to him, until his face is buried in the juncture of Seokjin’s neck. He doesn’t move nor push him away.
“I don't want to run anymore,” he whispers, breath ghosting on Seokjin’s skin. Warm and lingering.
Seokjin closes his eyes and refuses to shiver. He welcomes the sensation of Taehyung’s arm around his waist when it comes, and that feeling of calm rushes back in his chest.
“I missed you, Seokjin-hyung.”
He decides to pull Taehyung closer, and ― past any rational objections made ― bestows a kiss on his head, light enough to stir his hair, like an absolution. “I missed you, too, Tae.”
When Seokjin wakes up, Taehyung is still there beside him. Watching him with soft eyes, the color of caramel; something soft and sweet and just a tiny bit golden.
“You’re still here,” Seokjin says thickly, in awe despite promises made last night.
Taehyung laces their fingers together and gives his hand a squeeze. “I’m not leaving.”
His words feel like hope. The beginning of something better, and Seokjin thinks, this is home.