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 A day in the life of twenty-nine year old Jung Hoseok goes as follows:

1. Wake up before the sun and brew coffee while the cat weaves herself between his ankles.
2. Drink coffee on the couch with the cat—she’s got a name, it’s Makki—in his lap and scratch her between the ears until she falls asleep.
3. Finish his coffee and reluctantly remove Makki from his lap to get dressed for work.
4. Go to the hospital, where he works as an RN in the pediatric ward.
5. Spend his day administering shots and IV’s, calming sick children, reassuring anxious parents, and keeping his friend and boss Dr. Park Jimin from embarrassing himself in front of the chief of surgery, Dr. Kim Namjoon.
6. Make his way home at the end of his shift, maybe stop by his favorite Thai place for some curry chicken.
7. Get home, eat, shower, mull around his apartment and do laundry, wash dishes, and vacuum.
8. Settle in bed with whatever novel he’s reading at the time with Makki at his feet.
9. Fall asleep too early and dream about weird shit like rivers of frogs and losing his credit card in a jar of peanut butter.
10. Wake up and repeat.

 Sometimes those steps vary. Sometimes he’ll go to Jimin’s place when they have a free night and Jimin will gush about Namjoon while Hoseok listens with a fond smile. Namjoon, quiet and brooding and handsome and so incredibly smart, so incredibly good at his job. He and Jimin served residency together and ended up transferred to the same hospital, where Hoseok had been assigned around the same time nearly three years ago.

 Saying Jimin and Namjoon are in love might be a stretch, but Hoseok doesn’t doubt it could become that, one day. Namjoon obviously adores Jimin, from the way he trips over his words when they run into each other in the hallways of the hospital to how he leaves lingering touches on the shorter man’s shoulders when they speak, but he might adore his job a little more. Jimin practically has hearts in his eyes anytime Namjoon is around, and the number of times Hoseok has had to snap Jimin back to reality to actually make sense of the charts he’s got in his hand is too many to count. Frankly, Hoseok is a spectator of the sport that is Namjoon and Jimin dancing around each other.

 Sometimes, Hoseok is jealous. While Namjoon and Jimin’s courting is a little too subtle for his taste, Hoseok often wishes he had someone to give him attention the way they do.

  “You need to go out more,” Jimin says when Hoseok mentions it. “Meet people, you know.”

 Hoseok gets it, knows that going out and exposing himself would solve the problem, maybe gain him some confidence, at the very least, but he can’t bring himself to do it more than once a month, even less than that. People exhaust him nowadays, and he’s not sure if it’s just his age showing or something else entirely.

 Hoseok spends a lot of time alone, and it didn’t used to be like that.

 In high school, they’d made his senior class take a Meyers-Briggs personality test, and he’d ended up with ESFJ—extroverted, sensing, feeling, judging. Then, he could agree. He was the life of any party in high school, the first to arrive and the last to leave. He’d been popular, if anything. Now, more than ten years later, he couldn’t agree any less. He hasn’t bothered taking the test again because he doesn’t really care all that much, but he can’t say he’s an extrovert anymore.

 He also can’t say that it wasn’t Kim Taehyung that ruined him, although some think they can.

  “I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know you ten years ago,” Jimin says over dinner one night, “But I do know one thing—he’s still fucking you up to this day.”

 Hoseok tries to deny it, curls his lip and pokes at his fried rice. “We haven’t spoken in nearly eight years,” he says. “How can someone I don’t even speak to keep affecting me?”

 Jimin throws back the rest of his soju and leans over the table, looking Hoseok square in the eye. “You love deeper than anyone I’ve ever known, Hoseok,” he other man says. “He hurt you, yeah, but you don’t hold grudges and you don’t stop loving. I know you.”

 Hoseok throws a dirty napkin at him and Jimin sputters before tossing it back.

  “How did I get stuck with you as my doctor?” Hoseok asks, and Jimin sticks out his tongue.

  “We’re meant to be,” he says, resting his chin on a fist. “I’m destined to make you face your underlying issues for as long as we live.”

 Hoseok rolls his eyes but pays for dinner when the check comes.

 That night, he thinks about Taehyung harder than he has in years.

 Hoseok met Taehyung when he was nearly nineteen years old. Taehyung was a year younger, but hardly seemed it; he was broad and tall, grown, really, with a deep voice and even deeper brown eyes. A group of Hoseok’s friends met up with a group of Taehyung’s friends at the lake early in the summer the first day they properly met. The lake was the central hang out spot for everyone at their high school, especially when the heat got as unbearable as it did. When Hoseok first saw him that day, he recognized the younger boy immediately. Their high school wasn’t big, and Taehyung was captain of the soccer team anyway. Everyone knew him. He watched Taehyung wrestle a girl into the water and rolled his eyes. He’d heard rumors of Taehyung from multiple people, how he was a ladies’ man with a taste for men, too. But they were only rumors, after all. Hoseok tended not to believe anything he got from people at his school.

 Later, Hoseok was half a second from doing a backflip off a tree branch into the water when Taehyung stole his thunder, leaping from an even higher branch and executing a rather messy cannonball. Everyone gathered to watch burst into laughter, and when Taehyung surfaced from the water, a blinding grin on his face, Hoseok could hardly find it in him to be mad.

 That evening, after all of the kids said their farewells and headed home, Hoseok climbed high into the biggest tree around the lake. He’d been using the same branch for years to sit on and watch the moon come up and the stars appear. He’d just settled with his legs crossed, leaning against the tree trunk, when he heard a voice from below.

  “Are you stuck?”

 It was Taehyung, peering up at him through the leaves, a towel over his shoulder and his sandals in one hand.

 Hoseok scoffed.

  “No,” he spat back, leaning forward to look down at the boy. “I come up here all the time.”

  “Oh,” he heard Taehyung say. “Can I join you?”

 Hoseok sighed through his nose and glanced up at the sky. The sun was mostly gone and he could see the edge of the moon over the horizon. This was usually something he did alone, but maybe it’d be nice to have someone with him. He would never say no to new friend anyway.

  “Sure,” Hoseok called down. “Careful climbing.”

 Taehyung dropped his shoes and hung his towel on a low branch. “I’m basically a spider monkey,” he bragged as he heaved himself up onto the first branch. “Been climbing trees since I could walk.” Hoseok watched and the boy was quick and sure-footed. It was barely a minute before he’d reached where Hoseok was seated and settled on the branch across from him. He flashed a smile and held out a hand. “Kim Taehyung.”

 Hoseok grabbed his hand and shook it once. “I know who you are,” he said, and Taehyung seemed to blush. “Jung Hoseok.”

  “Ah yeah, the Jung Hoseok,” Taehyung replied, and Hoseok raised an eyebrow.

  “‘The’ Jung Hoseok?” he echoed.

 Taehyung nodded. “Yeah, you’re like, the only guy any of the girls in my class talk about,” he said. “They call you Dimples.”

 Hoseok brought a hand to face to touch where he knew he had dimples on either side of his mouth. “Wow, that’s… news.”

 Taehyung giggled and swung his legs where they hung off the branch he sat on. “Good thing you’re graduated,” he said, looking at Hoseok with some mischief and a cocked eyebrow. “Maybe they’ll all want me next year.”

  “Sorry I’ve been stealing your limelight,” Hoseok said with a laugh. “I’m not going far, though, so the girls might still have it out for me.”

  “You’re going to university here?” Taehyung questioned, tilting his head up to look at the sky.

  “Taking a gap year,” Hoseok explained, doing the same. “I’ll go to school for nursing after that.”

  “Nursing?” the other boy asked, looking at Hoseok again. “Huh. Never thought of you as that type.”

 Hoseok huffed and looked back at Taehyung. “How would you know what type I am?” he said, slightly affronted. “You don’t even know me.”

 Taehyung smirked, almost to himself, and chuckled. “Let’s change that then.”

 Six months later, after starting to see Taehyung everywhere and constantly feeling his eyes burning through his clothes whenever they ran into each other, Hoseok found himself balls deep inside the boy in an extra bedroom at some party where the music was too loud and there wasn’t enough alcohol. After Taehyung came all over both of their stomachs, he finished Hoseok off with the quickest, most intense blowjob of his life. They laid side by side on the bed, barely half a year’s worth of friendship and sexual tension between them. Taehyung leaned over and kissed Hoseok with a gentleness he didn’t know the younger boy possessed.

  “You’re a pretty good fuck, Jung Hoseok,” he whispered, kissing him again along the line of his jaw.

  “Speak for yourself,” Hoseok managed to say back, letting his eyes flutter closed as Taehyung’s lips trailed down to his neck. “Haven’t come that hard since I lost my vibrator.”

 Taehyung pulled back with an uncharacteristic squeak. “Vibrator?” he choked out, and if he was blushing, Hoseok couldn’t tell because his cheeks were still red from the sex.

  “Yeah,” Hoseok replied, pulling himself up onto an elbow. “It’s a shame, really, that I lost it.”

 Taehyung blinked a few times before pressing a wet, open-mouthed kiss to Hoseok’s cheek. “You won’t need a vibrator when you’ve got me, sweet thing.”

 Hoseok didn’t know what they were after that.

 He got a job at the convenience store down the road from his parent’s house and Taehyung would come by after school to buy instant ramen and popsicles and ask for help with his calc homework. They would get takeout on the weekends and play video games in Hoseok’s room until they both lost track of time and it got late and Hoseok would walk him home because no way was he gonna be responsible for anyone’s kidnapping.

 They fucked a lot—in Hoseok’s beat up Honda, in Taehyung’s bed, on the shore of the lake after watching the stars. Hoseok knew he was only leading himself deeper and deeper into the hole that was becoming feelings for Taehyung, but he couldn’t resist him; his waist and his thighs, the way he looked when he got off, how he’d bare his teeth and look Hoseok straight in the eye. Taehyung never said a word about their relationship past sex. They were friends with benefits, it seemed, and Hoseok just did his best to ignore how his heart rate kicked up when Taehyung laughed and how the silence between them as they came down from their orgasms was the most comfortable silence he’d ever felt. There was even one time, on a late summer night, after a particularly long session where Taehyung had nearly bitten a chunk out of Hoseok’s shoulder, Taehyung curled into his side and fell asleep, nose pressed into his cheek, and Hoseok had never felt more simultaneously at peace and in turmoil.

 It continued like that for months, until Taehyung graduated and Hoseok got accepted into university. The last night Hoseok spent in town, he spent in Taehyung’s bed, fucking him into the mattress from behind with a hand in his hair. The sounds the other boy made were muffled into the pillows, but they were no less arousing. Hoseok came quick, too quick, and Taehyung grinded down on the mattress until he was coming, too, turning his head to the side to gasp out Hoseok’s name. After, when Hoseok had cleaned them up and they laid on the bed, Taehyung said, “I’ll miss you.”

 Hoseok turned to look at him and Taehyung was staring at the ceiling, unblinking.

  “I’ll miss you, too, Tae,” he replied. “You’ll call, right?”

 Taehyung broke a smile and glanced at him. “Of course.”

 He didn’t.

 Hoseok spent his first few weeks in school struggling to juggle coursework, cultivate a social life, and try to understand why Taehyung would ignore him. He texted the boy a few times at the beginning, hoping to get something, anything from him, but silence was his only response. He dared to call one night when he was sleep-deprived in his dorm with an unfinished biology assignment in his lap, but it rang and rang until he was sent to voicemail. He listened to Taehyung’s prerecorded message, voice deep and edged with his inherent mischief, until the end, but he hung up before the beep.

 Hoseok met Yoongi in anatomy and physiology and it was nice to have a friend. He was older than Hoseok by a year, but sometimes it felt like a lot more, especially when Yoongi was out cold by 8pm and couldn’t handle more than one beer before losing sobriety. Yoongi was quiet and aloof but smart and sharp, and often let Hoseok use his notes to study. They started to hang out regularly outside of class and Hoseok learned Yoongi wanted to be a plastic surgeon.

  “There’s something satisfying about being able to rearrange certain bits of skin to look like something new, you know?” the older boy said over lunch in the cafeteria one day.

 Hoseok furrowed his eyebrows and offered Yoongi a grimace. “Can’t say I do,” he replied, and Yoongi pursed his lips. “But we’ve all got the things that really get us going.”

 Yoongi kicked him under the table and he cackled.

 Hoseok didn’t forget about Taehyung, not even for a minute. He wondered often what the other boy was doing back in their hometown, even considered taking the two-hour train ride back to visit. That would be weird, he concluded one day, halfway through his second semester. Their relationship had obviously been one of convenience, and with Hoseok so far away, of course Taehyung didn’t want to be involved with him. He’d taken himself too deep and drowned on the way back up, just like he knew he would. It wasn’t until Taehyung’s name showed up on his caller ID one night that Hoseok felt a glimmer of hope about whatever it was they held between them.

 He was in the library when his phone rang, and he nearly fell out of his chair getting up from the table he was sharing with Yoongi to walk into the stacks to answer it.

  “Hello?” he said, pressing the phone tight to his ear.

“Hoseok,” came Taehyung’s voice from the other side of the line. It was deep, just like he remembered it. “Fuck, it’s good to hear your voice.”

  “Taehyung,” Hoseok sighed, leaning against a bookshelf. “What the hell—it’s been months. What have you been—” He paused, running a hand through his hair. “You said you’d call me.”

“I know,” Taehyung said. His voice sounded heavy. “I know, I’m sorry, things just got crazy here and-and I lost track of time. I’m sorry, I really am.”

 There was a brief silence between them before Taehyung spoke again.

“I’ve been missing you, sweet thing,” he said, and Hoseok wasn’t sure if the tenderness he heard was a trick of his ears or not.

  “I’ve missed you, too,” he replied, letting his head fall back against the books behind him. “University’s weird.”

“I bet you’re doing great,” Taehyung said. “Learning a lot?”

  “Yeah, I guess,” he said. “More about bodily fluids than I care to admit, but it’s not all bad.”

 Taehyung laughed and Hoseok smiled at the sound.

 They talked for a while, catching up, before Hoseok told him he needed to keep studying because finals were coming up. Taehyung wished him luck, said he’d call him again soon, and when Hoseok made it back to his study table, Yoongi looked at him with narrowed eyes.

  “Who was that?” he asked.

 Hoseok shrugged. “A friend from back home,” he replied, finding where he’d left off in his notes.

  “It wasn’t that boy that ghosted you, was it?” Yoongi said with some disdain. “He’s the only you ever talk about from there.”

 Hoseok turns a page in his notebook nonchalantly. “So what if it was?” he replied, pretending to be distracted. He hears Yoongi scoff.

  “‘So what?’” he echoes. “So he led you on for close to a year and dropped you like a hot coal when you moved away. C’mon, Seok, have some self-respect.”

 Hoseok looks up at Yoongi to find the older boy looking at him intently, less angry and more worried.

  “I’m a big boy, Yoongi, I can take care of myself,” he said, careful not to make it sound spiteful.

 Yoongi scrutinized him for a little longer before heaving a sigh and turning back to his anatomy and physiology book.

 Taehyung did call him again, late one night when Hoseok was awake on his bed scrolling through Twitter absently. His last final was in less than twenty-four hours and he couldn’t find it in him to sleep.

  “What are you doing up?” Hoseok asked, stretching his legs to the end of his bed.

“I’m thinking about you,” came Taehyung’s reply, and Hoseok recognized his tone. It was one he remembered from all those months ago, when they’d tangle themselves in Taehyung’s bedsheets and kiss until they couldn’t breathe, touch each other until both of them came. Hoseok sat up in bed so fast his eyesight blurred a little. “I miss you.”

 The sound of those words in Taehyung’s deep, cracked voice had Hoseok’s head spinning.

  “Thinking?” Hoseok said. He swallowed thickly, his mouth feeling dry. “Thinking… what about me?”

 Taehyung chuckles but it’s more of a release of breath. “How you used to fuck me,” he said, and Hoseok leaned back against his pillows again. “How good you were with your hands and your mouth and your cock.”

 Hoseok took a shaking breath in, letting his free hand pull at the waistband of his shorts. “Yeah?” he breathed out. “Do you think about that a lot?”

 Taehyung made an affirmative noise, breathing out slow. “A lot,” he said. “I touch myself to memories of you.”

 Hoseok barely had it in him to stifle a moan, slipping his hand into his boxers. “Are you touching yourself now?” he asked. “Thinking about me?”

“Yes,” came Taehyung’s breathless reply. “I’m thinking about how you—you’d press me into the mattress and fuck me till I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t remember my own name—” He moaned then, deep and long, and Hoseok could have sworn he heard the slick sound of skin against skin from the other side of the call. He took his quickly hardening cock in one hand and pumped himself slow.

  “You were so good for me,” he said quietly, almost a whisper. “Took me in so well, and you were so tight—” He inhaled sharply at the pleasure curling in his stomach, images of Taehyung flashing through his head; spread out on his own bed, thighs littered with bruises, lips bitten hellfire red and dark eyes even darker than normal, watching Hoseok’s every move. “Made such pretty noises.”

 Taehyung whimpered and the sound had Hoseok tugging on himself a little quicker, panting into his cellphone. There was precome on his fingers, dripping onto the shaft of his cock.

“Do you think about fucking me still?” Taehyung asked, his voice tight, words slurred. “Do you think about me?”

 Hoseok couldn’t hold back the groan falling from his mouth. “Yeah, Tae, I do,” he replied. “I think about your ass and your mouth—how wet your mouth is.”

 Taehyung moaned at that and Hoseok tried to imagine him, fisting his own cock and biting his lip, hands slick with lube, thinking about him.

“I’m gonna come,” Taehyung said. “I’m gonna—I’m coming, Hoseok—”

  “Moan for me, baby,” Hoseok said, feeling his own release approaching fast. “C’mon, Tae, how’s it feel?”

 Taehyung obeyed, loud and high, and Hoseok arched off the bed as he came, his phone falling from his hand. He felt his own come hot inside his boxers, dripping down his hand, and he let the aftershocks wash over him before pulling his hand out and wiping it on his shirt. He reached for his phone with his cleaner hand, pressing it to his ear.

  “Tae?”

“Yeah, sweet thing,” the other boy replied, sounding exhausted. “Yeah, I’m here.”

  “Fuck,” Hoseok breathed. “That was incredible. You’re incredible.”

 Taehyung laughed on the other end of the call, weak and airy. “No, you,” he said. “You-you’re amazing.”

 Hoseok felt his chest fill up with something he couldn’t name. He couldn’t even begin to describe how good it was to hear Taehyung’s voice again, to hear him say things like that about him. It was almost like how things had been before Hoseok left, before they stopped talking. Maybe they could pick things back up, maybe Hoseok could pull it together and tell Taehyung everything he’d been meaning to say for months.

“I’m going to sleep,” Taehyung said, pulling him out of his head. “I’m fuckin’ beat.”

 Hoseok stuttered, half-ready to pour his heart out right there, but it was late and they’d both just come, for God’s sake. It wasn’t the time.

  “Okay,” Hoseok replied rather lamely. “Yeah, me too.”

 There was a pause.

“Goodnight, Hoseok.”

 Hoseok let his eyes fall closed and his chest grew tight.

  “Goodnight, Taehyung.”

 It kept happening after that, just like the year before. Taehyung became Hoseok’s habit. They would call a few nights a week, exchange pictures and videos of them jerking themselves off, and Hoseok was thinking about him all the time again, even when they weren’t getting each other off over the phone. Sometimes they would text about things that weren’t sex, like dogs or music or how often Taehyung bought takeout instead of eating his mother’s cooking. Sometimes they would stay on the line after both of them already came, listening to each other’s breathing until Taehyung made some stupid joke or started playing video games and Hoseok would just listen to him talk. He ached for Taehyung’s mouth, the touch of his hands, his bright smile and the funny way he looked at things he didn’t understand, how he’d laugh at something that wasn’t even funny until he couldn’t breathe. The hardest part was not knowing if Taehyung missed anything about him that wasn’t his body.

 By the end of his freshman year of university, Hoseok was unsure about multiple things: how he passed microbiology, if he’d make it through the rest of his years in school, and if Yoongi was actually a sloth hiding in human skin. But he was absolutely sure of one thing and it was that he’d fallen in love with Kim Taehyung.

 On the break between semesters, Hoseok took a trip home to see his parents. He missed them, along with the familiarity of his hometown and his own bed. He tried to tell himself he wasn’t going home for Taehyung, but deep down, seeing him again was all he could think about. The entire train ride, his heart was in his throat. He hadn’t told Taehyung he was coming back, half because he wanted to surprise him and half because he was terrified that the other boy wouldn’t give him a reaction. He didn’t know what he would do with himself if he knew that Taehyung couldn’t care one way or another that he was coming home.

 His mother questioned him about Taehyung over dinner the night he got home.

  “Do you still talk to that sweet boy from high school? Taehyung?”

 Hoseok swallowed his kimchi and nodded. “Yeah, I do, sometimes,” he replied, gathering more food onto his chopsticks. He didn’t really want to talk about this with anyone, much less his mother.

  “How is he?” she prodded.

 Hoseok shoved the food into his mouth, chewing hard. “He’s good,” he replied, words muffled.

 His mother eyed him from across the table but dropped it there, serving him another fried egg.

 The next day, Hoseok drove his car to Taehyung’s house, phone gripped tight in his hand. He parked in the driveway and dared to press in Taehyung’s number. The line rang twice before Taehyung picked up.

”Hoseok!” he said, voice bright. “Hey, what’s up?”

  “Hey,” Hoseok said, glancing out his window at Taehyung’s front door. “I’m, uh, in town.”

“You are?” Taehyung replied, his voice jumping an octave. The sound made Hoseok’s stomach warm. “Why didn’t you tell me?! Jesus, Hoseok.”

  “I wanted to surprise you,” Hoseok said quietly, feeling himself blush. “I’m actually on your driveway right now?” He didn’t know why he made it a question, but it didn’t matter a moment later when he saw Taehyung appear in the front door of the house, phone against his ear. The boy lifted an arm in a huge wave, and Hoseok smiled, letting his hand fall from his face and end the call.

 Less than ten minutes later, they were in Taehyung’s room, Hoseok straddling the younger boy’s waist. They hadn’t even made it to the bed, falling onto the ancient futon near the door, one they’d fucked on multiple times. Taehyung had his hands in the back of Hoseok’s jeans, tugging at the flesh of his ass while Hoseok worked a hickey into the space just underneath Taehyung’s ear. He’d missed Taehyung’s skin so much, how it smelled like jasmine and felt like velvet against his lips. He said so, whispered it into Taehyung’s ear. Taehyung exhaled, shaky and long, and his hands skated along Hoseok’s back, fingers hooking into the collar of his shirt around his neck to pull it over his head.

  “Need you to fuck me,” he said when he’d tossed Hoseok’s shirt to the floor. His eyes were dilated, pupils blown as he looked up at Hoseok from underneath him, and Hoseok was sure Taehyung had never looked more gorgeous than he did then, bathed in the mid-afternoon light seeping through the cracks in the blinds.

  “Tell me how,” Hoseok prompted when they’d rid themselves of their clothes. Taehyung was already palming at his dick where they stood in the middle of the room, and Hoseok took his wrist in an attempt to lead him to the bed.

  “No,” Taehyung said, pulling back against Hoseok’s grip. “Against the wall.”

 It took a Hoseok a second to fully process what the other boy said, but the words were twisting his stomach soon enough and he clenched his jaw.

  “Grab the lube, then.”

 It wasn’t long before Hoseok had Taehyung’s front pressed against the nearest wall, two lube-slicked fingers stretching him open. His other hand pulled at Taehyung’s hip, coaxing the arch in his back. He peppered kisses along the bumps of Taehyung’s spine, thrusting his fingers a little deeper when he bit down on a patch of skin. Taehyung gasped at that, reaching a hand behind him to grab at Hoseok’s waist for purchase.

  “Your parents aren’t home, are they?” Hoseok asked after licking a stripe between Taehyung’s shoulder blades.

  “No,” Taehyung choked out. “Out of town.”

 Hoseok chuckled against his skin, twisting his fingers inside Taehyung a little and listening to the catch in the other boy’s breath at the movement.

  “Good,” he said. “Cuz I’m gonna make you scream.”

 The pair of them had slipped easily into their respective roles when they’d started having sex; Taehyung was a natural sub with a dominant streak here or there, and Hoseok gave him whatever he wanted, which was usually to be bitten and pulled on and fucked till he cried. That day was no different when Hoseok thrusted into him for the first time since leaving for university. It was heaven, hot and suffocating, and Hoseok looped an arm around Taehyung’s body to press his chest flush to the other boy’s back. Taehyung’s front knocked against the wall when they repositioned and he brought one of his hands over his own shoulder to thread through Hoseok’s hair.

  “Harder,” he pleaded, and the way his voice cracked had Hoseok thrusting forward with more power, driving himself deeper and deeper into Taehyung in a rhythm. The sound of skin against skin and the thump of the younger’s body against the wall were the only noises, save the constant hum of pleasure rising and falling in Taehyung’s throat.

  “You feel so good,” Hoseok bit out, hyperaware of the way Taehyung was tugging at the roots of his hair. “So good, so good for me, Tae, just like you’ve always been.”

 Taehyung whimpered, his breath leaving his body in ragged pants, and pulled a little harder on Hoseok’s hair. “I’ll always—” he began, the words chased by a moan when Hoseok slowed his pace again. “Always be good for you.”

  “Yeah?” Hoseok breathed out, circling his hips, buried all the way inside him. Through the haze of his arousal, he put the words falling from Taehyung’s mouth together, let them settle.

Always?

  “Yeah,” Taehyung replied, moving his hand from Hoseok’s hair to grip the nape of his neck. “I want—you, just you—”

 Hoseok sped up his thrusts at that, leaned forward to rest his chin on Taehyung’s shoulder and mouth at one of his ears. “Just me?” he echoed, lifting a hand to press two fingers into Taehyung’s mouth. The other boy took them eagerly, let his tongue slide between them. “Say it again.” He removed his fingers so Taehyung could speak and rubbed at one of his nipples, reveling in the moan it pulled from Taehyung.

  “I want you like this,” he choked. “Just you. You’re the only one—”

You’re the only one.

 Hoseok felt like he was on fire from those words, the tell-tale knot in his stomach pulling tighter with each thrust he made.

  “Touch me,” Taehyung said in a rush of breath. “Wanna come, touch me, Hoseok, sweet thing, please.”

 Hoseok let his hand wrap tenderly around Taehyung’s neck, under his jawbone, and pulled him back.

  “You gonna be loud for me if I do?” he asked, and Taehyung nodded frantically. Hoseok could see tears gathering at the corners of his eyes, and he knew Taehyung would tell him to stop if he wanted him to, but affection gripped him suddenly and he slowed his thrusts again. “You okay, baby?” he whispered.

 Taehyung pushed back against him, whined long and low as he nodded.

  “Touch me, Hoseok,” he demanded again, and Hoseok obeyed, reaching a hand around his body to take his cock in one hand. The affection from before lessened as he started timing his thrusts with his hand jerking Taehyung off, but he still felt it, warm and dominant, wrapping around his heart.

 Taehyung didn’t scream when he came, but it wasn’t quiet either. The noise was deep and loud, ripped from his chest and thrown into the dark of the room, and Hoseok was coming not a moment later, stilling his hips against Taehyung’s ass to ride out the pleasure. He was shaken when the feeling passed and Taehyung’s legs looked ready to give out. He was trembling against Hoseok’s chest, breath coming in gasps. Hoseok pulled out with a groan and immediately took Taehyung by the waist, pulling him so they could both fall onto the bed.

 Hoseok let them both breathe for a minute. The air smelled like sweat and sex. He could feel perspiration falling from his forehead down his temple onto the sheets beneath him. When he glanced sideways at Taehyung, the other boy looked to be asleep, lips parted slightly, skin damp, a single tear clinging to the lashes of one eye. Hoseok reached over to tap it gently with his fingertip, and it rolled over his skin to fall away. He lifted his gaze to Taehyung’s face again, and he took his earlier statement back—this was the most gorgeous Taehyung had ever looked: ivory skin flushed maroon, a dark bruise blooming beneath his ear, hair soft and askew, fanned out on the bed. Hoseok watched him breathe, listened to the sound of his lungs taking in air.

God, he loved him.

 He found it in him to go grab a washcloth and boxers for each of them (a pair of Hoseok’s were still stuffed into Taehyung’s top drawer). He ran his fingers through Taehyung’s damp hair and coaxed him awake.

  “Let’s clean you up,” he murmured, and Taehyung’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of his voice. Hoseok swept the cloth over Taehyung’s skin, gathering the sweat and the come and the lube. Taehyung sighed, eyes half-lidded, and watched. When Hoseok brought the clean side of the cloth to his face, Taehyung smiled a little, almost shy, an emotion Hoseok hadn’t seen on him before. “You sure are cute like this,” he told Taehyung, swiping the washcloth over his cheek. “Have I ever told you?”

 Taehyung chuckled, closing his eyes again and keeping his smile. “A few times, maybe,” he said.

 When they were both semi-fresh and in clean underwear, they laid side by side on Taehyung’s bed, like they had countless times before, but Hoseok couldn’t help but feel this time was different. He wondered if he was imagining things, if what was in his heart was projecting on what he saw in real life, or if Taehyung’s words and shy smile were genuine signs that maybe the other boy was starting to love him back.

 He would soon find out.

  “I think we should stop seeing other soon,” Taehyung said, both hands wrapped around his glass of Coke.

 It was the day after they had sex in Taehyung’s room, and the younger boy had asked Hoseok to meet him for lunch. They were seated in a booth at the only place in town that served burgers with bacon, Taehyung with a plate of curly fries and Hoseok with a cheeseburger (extra bacon) in his hands.

 The statement caught Hoseok off-guard and he nearly choked on his food. When he’d cleared his airway, he looked up at the boy, confused.

  “What do you mean?” he asked, and Taehyung shrugged.

  “You know,” he said, pulling at the straw in his drink. “You’re going back to school and it’s only gonna get busier for you, and I…” He trailed off, picking up again after a few moments. “I’ll be moving away soon, to go live with my brother a few hours from here.”

 Hoseok tilted his head, feeling his eyebrows furrow together. He wanted to say something but he didn’t know what.

I love you?

How could you do this?

What will I do without you?

  “Taehyung, I, uh,” he stuttered. The smell of his food was suddenly making him sick and he dropped the burger onto his plate. “I kind of wanted to talk about that—about us.”

 Taehyung was the one tilting his head then, looking at Hoseok like a puppy who didn’t know what he’d done wrong. “Okay.”

 Hoseok clenched his jaw, took a deep breath.

  “We’ve been doing… this—” He lifted a hand to motion to the space between them. “—for almost two years and I-I don’t… understand it.” He looked right into Taehyung’s eyes, hoping he could pull some strength from that dark color he’d fallen so hard for. “What has all of this been?”

 There’s a pause and Hoseok feels like it’s the longest silence he’s ever heard.

  “It’s just sex,” Taehyung said finally, looking at Hoseok from across the table. “It’s always been like that.”

 The words were a punch to Hoseok’s gut, and he found it hard to breathe in. “But—you said, in your room—” He stumbled over his words, thinking back: I’ll always want you, Taehyung had said. I want you, just you.

You’re the only one.

  “You said you wanted me.”

 Taehyung furrowed his eyebrows, thinking as well, before he looked back to Hoseok again.

  “I was… in the moment, Hoseok,” he said. “It was a good moment but…” He paused, gauging Hoseok’s expression before speaking again. “You and I… it’s never been more than sex.” His eyes didn’t look like Taehyung’s eyes anymore—they were too dark, too hard.

 And very suddenly, Hoseok’s world was crashing down around him, silently, and his chest felt like it was caving in. He nodded, inhaling deeply, before daring to make eye contact with Taehyung again. The younger boy’s eyes set on his face, eyebrows still pulled together.

  “I didn’t think you saw it differently than that,” he said quietly, putting an elbow on the table. “Do you?”

 Hoseok couldn’t bring himself to answer, only bit his tongue and looked away. Taehyung got it, though, and when he spoke, Hoseok could hear the pity.

  “I-If I’d known, I would have—you know, I wouldn’t have called you after you left.”

 That hurt even worse, Hoseok thought, and his expression must have changed because Taehyung reached across the table, offering his hand. “Hoseok, say something—”

  “I’m gonna go,” Hoseok said abruptly, getting to his feet.

  “Hoseok—”

  “Tae, just. Please.”

 He really looked at him then, this boy he’d managed to fall so hard for over the past two years, this boy who didn’t love him back, never had, and that was the exact moment Hoseok’s heart fell to pieces, hitting the concrete floor of his chest and shattering into an infinite amount of tiny shards. Taehyung looked back at him, hand still outstretched, eyes round, and Hoseok refused. For the first time since letting Taehyung into his life, he resisted. He swallowed once, thickly, before shaking his head.

  “Goodbye.”

 He left the restaurant and Taehyung didn’t follow.

 Hoseok still talks to Yoongi.

 When they both left university, Hoseok for nursing school and Yoongi medical school, it was the hardest thing he’d done since walking away from Taehyung that day years before. Yoongi had been there for Hoseok through every step of the heartbreak that followed him back to school after that break, from the late night takeout runs and the drunken tears Hoseok would shed on Yoongi’s dorm bed to the days of silence and the absences from class. He knew Yoongi didn’t understand what he was going through and would likely write some kind of dissertation on how Hoseok had done this to himself if anyone asked him what he thought, but no one ever asked, especially not Hoseok, so Yoongi stayed quiet and no dissertation was written.

 When Yoongi was assigned residency at a hospital across the country and Hoseok was hired at Jimin’s hospital, they still talked as often as they could. Yoongi flew over for Christmas one year, and another, Hoseok surprised him on his birthday. Having a long distance best friend isn’t one of the easier things Hoseok has done, but Yoongi was important. He still is.

  “Do you think Taehyung ruined me?” Hoseok asks one winter night, lying on the floor in his living room with Makki curled up on his stomach. “Will I ever be okay? Will I ever fall in love again?”

 It’s half past midnight and he’s stuffed to the brim with Panda Express, food that Jimin would kill him for eating (“That shit clogs your arteries like nothing else!”) but it’s his comfort food. It got him through nursing school. His space heater is on blast and outside his darkened window, snow falls.

“Fuck, Hoseok,” comes Yoongi’s voice on speakerphone, exasperated. “First of all, why are you even thinking about him? He is so far in the past.”

 Hoseok groans because he knows Yoongi is right. He shouldn’t even be thinking about thinking about Taehyung. They haven’t spoken in eight years, and Hoseok hadn’t even had it in him to find the other man on Facebook.

”Second of all, no, you’re not ruined,” Yoongi goes on, munching on something on the other end of the line. “You just love to dwell on the past and don’t take any chances on new people.”

 Hoseok screws his eyes shut and sighs. Makki twitches on his stomach.

  “Why the fuck did I even call you?” he spits out. “Why do I ever bring you any of my problems?”

“Because I’m the only one who’ll be mean to you when you need it,” Yoongi replies without missing a beat.

 Hoseok tries to be angry but he doesn’t have the energy.

“I’m doing it because I worry about you, Seok,” Yoongi says, sounding genuine. “You need to keep moving forward. He fucked you up almost a decade ago.”

 Hoseok brings a hand to his face and rubs a temple. Almost ten years and he’s still hung up on the boy who broke his heart for some dick.

“I know it hurt, I was there to see it,” his friend goes on. “But dwelling on him will only keep hurting you.”

 There’s a pause.

“He could be dead, for all we know.”

 Another pause.

  “Yoongi, shut the fuck up.”

 They catch up a little more from the last time they spoke, and Hoseok asks Yoongi if he’s met anyone.

“I’m fucking that neurologist,” Yoongi says nonchalantly, and Hoseok is hardly surprised.

  “The one whose back you could land a plane on?” Hoseok asks, dragging his fingertips through Makki’s fur.

“That’s the one,” Yoongi replies. “His dick is… out of this world.”

 Hoseok arches an eyebrow. “I thought you said you were fucking him?

 Yoongi makes a noncommittal hum. “We switch,” he says, and Hoseok can imagine him shrugging his narrow shoulders.

  “Kinky.”

“Oh, Hoseok,” Yoongi says, clicking his tongue. “That’s not kinky.”

 Hoseok rolls his eyes. “Spare me the details,” he says. “I gotta get to sleep anyway.”

 Yoongi mumbles a goodnight that Hoseok returns, but before he’s able to hang up, Yoongi is saying his name.

“Don’t think I’m invalidating anything you feel,” he says quietly. “You’re allowed to still be upset.”

 Hoseok smiles. “I know, Yoongi,” he responds. “You mean well, I can feel it.”

“I just wanna see you happy, you know?”

 Hoseok watches as Makki rolls off his lap and stretches her tiny paws out in front of her.

  “I know.”

“I love you.”

  “I love you, too.”

 Hoseok is making faces at a six month old girl with a 102 degree fever when Jimin enters the small exam room, multiple clipboards in hand. He holds one out to Hoseok and with a warning glare, whispers, “Do not look at this paperwork until I come out there with you.” He shakes the clipboard a little, eyes wide and expectant. “I’m serious. I’ll be out in ten.” Hoseok nods, taking the clipboard, turning to wave at the baby and her parents before slipping out of the room.

 He wanders for a while, clipboard in hand. He doesn’t have anywhere to be right now; pediatrics is relatively easy at his hospital. It’s mostly newborns and checkups, some respiratory infections here or there. He’d gotten so good at his job, it was almost like he’s on autopilot some days. Take some blood, give some shots, paperwork, repeat. He wouldn’t have it any other way, really. It’s clockwork, procedure—it fits him well.

 He makes it back to the exam room door and leans against the wall, tapping the edge of the clipboard against it in a steady rhythm. The door opens soon and Jimin is escorting the small family of three to the waiting room, giving them a rundown on infant ear infections. When he comes back, his eyes flit to the clipboard in Hoseok’s hand and back to his face.

  “Let’s go sit.”

 Jimin leads him to one of the lounge rooms for the hospital staff and when he finds it empty, locks it behind them. Jimin grabs a chair from one of the lunch tables and sits in it. Hoseok settles beside him.

  “What’s up?” Hoseok asks, lifting the clipboard. Jimin looks at it like it might be a bomb and leans back in his chair.

  “Namjoon needs your help upstairs today,” he begins. “He’s got like, six patients in post-op and one of his other RN’s is out for maternity leave.”

 Hoseok shrugs. “Okay, fine,” he replies. “I do that all the time.” He takes in Jimin’s expression, the way his brows are furrowed and his shoulders are tense, and glances at the clipboard in his hand. “What is this?”

 Jimin runs a hand over his face and sighs. “Just read through it.”

 Hoseok watches his friend for a moment longer before finally pulling the folder from the clipboard and flipping it open. It’s a normal post-op report, and he skims over the information. Patient age: 28. Patient gender: male. Procedure performed: total knee replacement.

  “A bit young for a knee replacement,” he muses. He’s about to speak again when a new piece of information catches his eye.

Patient name: Kim Taehyung.

 Hoseok stiffens, nearly dropping the folder, before looking up at Jimin. His friend is grimacing at the floor, rubbing at one eye.

  “Absolutely not.”

 Hoseok speaks but it doesn’t sound like his voice. He closes the folder and puts it back on the clipboard, handing it back to Jimin. Jimin sighs, taking it from him and placing it on the table nearby.

  “Hoseok, I know—”

  “You don’t know anything,” Hoseok replies, and he sounds harsh but he meant it.

 Jimin doesn’t look hurt, though, just leans forward with his elbows on his knees.

  “I told Namjoon that you wouldn’t want to do this,” he says. “I tried to get him to find someone else, but he trusts you and there’s no one else today.” Jimin is pleading, shoulders sagging now. “You’re twenty-nine years old, Hoseok, can’t you pull it together and do your job?”

 He probably doesn’t mean to sound so incriminating, but the words wound Hoseok a little, and he clenches his jaw.

  “Fuck you, Jimin—”

  “Hoseok, please.”

 Jimin suddenly sounds exhausted, voice cracking, and when Hoseok looks at him again, his returning gaze is heavy.

  “I’m about to go refer a three-year-old boy to an oncologist,” he says, leaning back in his chair again. “A two month old died in the ICU this morning. I’m this close—” He holds up his thumb and forefinger, almost touching. “—to losing my mind today. Can you just do this and not argue with me? I’m sorry that it’s him, I really am.”

 Hoseok closes his eyes, tries to focus on taking steady, even breaths. Kim Taehyung, the love of his young life and the man who’d broken his heart with a few words, was in this hospital, and Jimin was asking him to take him as a patient. Hoseok didn’t panic very often, in fact, the last time he had a panic attack was after doing CPR on an unconscious baby the year before, but he felt something tight and cold rising in his throat as he thought about his current predicament.

  “Just… fuck, give me like, five minutes,” he said, bringing a hand up to cover his eyes.

  “It’ll be fine, I—”

  “Jimin. Five minutes. Go.”

 He doesn’t see Jimin leave, and when he hears the door of the lounge click shut, he lets his hand fall from his face and gets to his feet. He paces around the room, wringing his hands behind his back. His mind is moving a mile a minute: what does he look like? What has he been doing? Why the fuck is he getting a knee replacement at twenty-eight? He pauses, takes a massive breath in, and goes to grab the clipboard that still sits on the table. He opens it again, reading through the rest of the information.

Procedure time: 9:45am

Inpatient

Discharge: 48 hours post-procedure

 Hoseok checks his watch. It’s almost noon. Taehyung should be in recovery already. He closes the folder again and groans, running both hands through his hair, before straightening up. He’s going to find Namjoon.

 He finds him exactly where he knew he would, hovering outside the pediatric ward, likely looking for Jimin.

  “He’s referring a cancer patient right now,” Hoseok says dryly, and Namjoon turns. “Might wanna give him some space.”

 The other man frowns. “Damn.”

 Hoseok lifts the hand holding Taehyung’s patient folder. “How the fuck could you do this to me?” he asks, and Namjoon’s expression changes to one that might resemble fear.

  “Ah, Hoseok, I’m sorry, really,” he says weakly. “Jimin told me and I get it, I do, but I’m literally empty-handed up there today.” He’s babbling, anxious. That’s something that fascinates Hoseok about Namjoon—he’s almost too jumpy, too clumsy and anxious to be a surgeon, no less the chief of surgery. “He’s in recovery, all you need to do is monitor his vitals and-and make sure he’s stable. Maybe you could even get out of there before he wakes up.”

 Hoseok cocks an eyebrow. “And when he does wake up?” he asks. “I can’t just not go back.”

 Namjoon tugs on his jacket lapels and sighs. “I wish I had someone else, Hoseok, but I don’t. I’m sorry.”

 Hoseok taps the clipboard against his leg and purses his lips.

  “What room is he in?”

 Namjoon hugs him then, and Hoseok doesn’t have it in him to push the other man away.

  “49, third floor,” he says when he leans back, both hands on Hoseok’s shoulders. “I owe you.”

  “If you take my life after he’s discharged, I’ll consider that payment enough,” Hoseok mumbles, and Namjoon squeezes his shoulders tight.

  “You’re a drama queen, Jung Hoseok,” he says, giving him a nudge. “Go make sure the guy’s alive.”

 Hoseok takes the stairs to the third floor, stomping the whole way. Call him immature, but there’s something therapeutic about climbing stairs when you’re angry. When he makes it to room 49, he pauses at the door. The man responsible for nearly a decade of Hoseok’s pain is behind this door, and he might throw up. His stomach is twisting, ready to fall through his ass to the floor, but he pulls it together and breathes in, out, and opens the door.

 It's a small recovery room with a regulation bed on the back wall. He can see a motionless figure beneath the sheets, hair dark against the white pillow beneath its head. His vision is blurring as he makes it to the side of the bed in a few strides. He examines the IV drip and follows the tube to where it’s taped to ivory skin, the needle buried beneath it. His hands are shaking as he places the clipboard on a nearby chair and looks at Taehyung’s face.

 It’s the same one from years before, smooth skin, dark brows and round nose with that freckle right at the tip, but his jaw is square, sharp, grown. His eyes are closed but flickering beneath his lids. His lips are parted and he’s breathing through his mouth, deep and long. Hoseok chews on the inside of his cheek and listens to the pound of his own heart. It’s been eight years and Kim Taehyung is here, in front of him, asleep, and just as beautiful as the last time Hoseok saw him.

 He curses under his breath and shakes his head, grabbing Taehyung’s file again and flipping it open. He pulls a pen from his scrub pocket and records a few things, like how much fluid is left in the IV. He glances at the pulse oximeter clamped around one of Taehyung’s fingers and scribbles the number down. He reaches for it, hesitant, but manages to pull it off and place it somewhere safe. He’s trying to keep his hands from shaking long enough to take more notes when Taehyung stirs. Hoseok nearly jumps out of his skin and even considers making a break for the door, but Taehyung’s eyes are open and focused on his face, and he’s got no choice but to stay.

 Taehyung blinks, and his eyes are still that dark, chestnut brown. Hoseok feels pulled in for a moment, but quickly looks down at the paperwork in his hands. He glances at his watch and jots down the time, hoping to God that Taehyung would fall back into slumber. It wasn’t uncommon for major surgery patients to fall in and out of consciousness in recovery.

  “Hoseok?” comes Taehyung’s scratchy, underused voice, and Hoseok has to keep himself from wincing. His voice sounds the same, maybe a little deeper, and when he looks up, the other man is staring at him in disbelief, his mouth still half-open.

  “Hi, Taehyung,” Hoseok replies with effort, tightening his grip on his pen. “How do you feel?”

 Taehyung looks like he’s seen a ghost, staring at Hoseok unblinkingly, and he doesn’t say anything for nearly a minute. “I-I um, I feel…” He trails off, still staring, and Hoseok lets his eyes fall again. “I feel like shit.”

 Hoseok wants to laugh but it doesn’t come, looking over Taehyung’s paperwork again.

  “It’s the anesthesia,” he says, noting how much they’d given him pre-op. “You were under for two hours so it’ll be a bit until you feel normal again.” He glances up again and Taehyung is still fucking staring at him. He averts his gaze briefly before making eye contact with him again. “Do you need some water?”

 Taehyung seems to snap out of it and looks up at the ceiling, taking a deep breath in. “Yeah, that would be… great, actually,” he says.

  “Okay.”

 There’s a small sink in the room with plastic cups stacked beside the faucets, and Hoseok fills one up halfway before walking back to the bed. He grabs the remote for the bed incline and clicks the up button a few times. As the head of the bed slowly rises with an electronic hum, Taehyung shifts a little and grimaces at the movement.

  “Any pain?” Hoseok asks when he’s sat up a little more, handing him the water.

 Taehyung nods as he takes the cup with a huge, shaky hand. His nails are short, well-groomed, and his knuckles look smooth. Hoseok blinks a few times to distract himself.

  “On a scale of one to ten, how bad is it?” he asks the man, clicking his pen nervously.

 Taehyung gulps the water down in one go, placing the empty cup on his lap when he’s done. “Four or five,” he rasps, clearing his throat a bit. “Mostly numb.”

  “That’ll fade soon,” Hoseok tells him, circling the space between the 4 and 5 on the pain scale in the paperwork. “I’ll bring you painkillers in about half an hour.”

  “Hoseok,” Taehyung says with a little more purpose, his voice less broken.

 Hoseok closes his eyes, swallowing the lump in his throat.

  “What—how are you?”

 Hoseok can’t open his eyes, doesn’t want to see Taehyung looking up at him even though it’s the only thing he’s wanted to see for eight years.

  “Try to get some rest, Taehyung,” Hoseok says, managing to open his eyes and look at the clock on the wall. “I’ll be back at 12:30.” He turns at that, walking as swiftly as he can to the door and grabbing the handle.

  “Hoseok, wait, please—” Taehyung calls after him, but Hoseok ignores him, exits the room and shuts the door with a quiet click. He leans against the wall in the hallway, lets the back of his head hit it with a thump, and releases the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.

 He runs into Jimin later in the staff lounge. His friend is seated at one of the lunch tables, elbows on the surface and head in his hands. Hoseok slips into the chair beside him and settles a hand on his back.

  “You alright?” he asks, and Jimin exhales through his nose.

  “I will be,” he replies, lifting his head to look at Hoseok. His eyes are red-rimmed but Hoseok doesn’t point it out. He knows Jimin well enough by now. “How’s Taehyung?”

 Hoseok shrugs, placing both of his palms flat on the table. “He woke up when I was in there,” he explains. “Looked at me like I had four heads and asked me how I was.”

  “And?”

  “And I ignored him. Took notes, gave him water, told him I’d be back in half an hour.”

  “Hoseok.”

 Jimin is looking at him and Hoseok avoids his gaze.

  “What the hell do you want me to do, Jimin?” he asks, and he sounds tired to his own ears. “I’m not going to just make casual conversation with him.”

 The other man throws his hands up and lets them hit the table. “I don’t know, maybe get some answers? Closure? Kick his ass?”

 Hoseok rolls his eyes. “I won’t do any of those things,” he says.

  “So what are you gonna do when you go back to his room? Keep ignoring him?”

 Hoseok gets to his feet, his chair flying back. “I don’t know what I’m going to do!” he replies, louder than he’d planned. “I want to run away and never come back here!”

 Jimin sighs. “Look, I’m sorry,” he says, turning to look at Hoseok over his shoulder. “I’m being insensitive.”

 Hoseok turns away to start pacing.

  “Hoseok, please, don’t pace, that makes me nervous,” Jimin begs. “Go get some food or something and just—I don’t know, take some deep breaths.”

 Hoseok feels the beginnings of a headache pounding in his temples, and what he really wants more than anything is to go to sleep. “God, I need a nap,” he says, mostly to himself, making for the door. Jimin lifts a hand in farewell.

 He doesn’t eat; even thinking about food makes his stomach hurt more than it already does. He wanders the halls for a while before heading down to the pharmacy, where he grabs Taehyung’s painkillers. He makes his way back to the third floor, taking the elevator this time. He’s relieved when it’s just him the entire ride up and he’s able to lose it for a second, land a weak kick to the wall of the elevator and curse out loud. He’s on his way back to Taehyung’s room and he still has no fucking idea what he’s going to say.

 Hoseok pauses at the door of room 49 just as he did the first time, a vial of Demerol in one hand and Taehyung’s paperwork in the other. He opens the door and steps in to see Taehyung almost exactly as he left him, sitting up in the hospital bed, though he looks a little more awake now, his eyes are a little wider. He watches as Hoseok makes his way to the side of his bed and holds up the vial of clear liquid he’s got in his hand.

  “This is Demerol,” Hoseok explains, shaking it a little. “I’m gonna put it in your IV and it’s gonna help with any pain you’ve got.” He gets it into the IV bag with ease, discarding the empty vial. “What’s your pain scale now?”

 Taehyung is looking at him dumbly, blinking slow.

  “Eight,” he says quietly, eyes unmoving, and Hoseok makes note of it on his chart.

  “This’ll help,” he tells him, tapping the IV bag gently. “It’s gonna make you groggy pretty quick, so don’t be scared to fall asleep.”

 Taehyung nods, his gaze still intense and settled on Hoseok’s face.

  “Taehyung,” Hoseok says quietly. “Please stop—staring at me.”

 The other man raises his eyebrows before letting his eyes fall, some color rising in his cheeks. “Sorry,” he mumbles, pulling at the blanket in his lap.

  “It’s alright,” Hoseok replies. “I, um…” He doesn’t know what he wants to say, but he feel like he has to try something. “This is the last place I thought I’d see you again.”

 That pulls a small smile from Taehyung, still looking down, and Hoseok feels warm, the same warm Taehyung used to make him feel when they were kids. “Yeah, me too,” he replies. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

 Hoseok purses his lips at the words, and steels himself when Taehyung looks up at him again.

  “Do you know how often I’ve thought about you in the past eight years?” Taehyung asks, his voice low and quiet. The smile he wore before has disappeared.

 Hoseok huffs out a humorless laugh, breaking their eye contact and taking a step back from the bed. “I don’t know how to answer that—”

  “Every day.”

 His heart stops. He has to look up then, his blood cold in his veins, and Taehyung is staring at him again, dark eyebrows pulled together into an expression of some heavy emotion Hoseok can’t name.

  “Taehyung, I think—”

  “I’m sorry, Hoseok,” Taehyung is saying, but it’s like Hoseok is hearing everything through a filter; Taehyung sounds distant, like they’re speaking to each other from across a valley. “I was an idiot, I-I…” He trails off, stumbling over his words. His eyelids are starting to get heavy; the Demerol was probably already flowing through his bloodstream. “I was scared shitless of you, I didn’t know what to do so I lied.”

 Hoseok takes another step away from the bed, the words sinking into his head. Lied? “Lied about what?” he manages to ask.

  “That day at the restaurant, I lied about us, about what I thought we were. I always f-felt something for you, since the beginning, even when I didn’t understand it.” Taehyung’s words are getting slurred and he’s trying so hard to fight the sleepiness the painkiller is bringing. “I’m sorry, I should have said something sooner, I shouldn’t have…” His jaw goes a little slack Hoseok sees tears in the other man’s eyes.

 Hoseok shushes him gently, feeling numb. He grabs the incline remote for the bed and Taehyung reaches out to touch his wrist at the same time. His fingers are warm, long and pretty like they’d been before. “Hoseok, please,” he whispers, and the sound is caressing the scars on Hoseok’s heart, the ones that have been just on the verge of healing completely for years.

  “Tae,” Hoseok says, and the nickname is so familiar on his tongue, even after so long. “Go to sleep, okay? I’ll be back to check on you soon.”

 Taehyung’s eyes are pleading, half-closed, and he squeezes Hoseok’s wrist weakly. “Don’t leave.” His voice is barely audible, scratching the back of his throat.

 Hoseok takes Taehyung’s hand and places in gingerly back on the bed.

  “I’ll be back,” he says again, swallowing thickly. “I will, okay?” He’s pressing a button on the bed remote and the head of it moves down slowly, Taehyung going with it. He’s looking at Hoseok with that same heavy stare, eyes filled to the brim with tears. “Go to sleep.”

 The other man closes his eyes and lets his head fall back, taking a shaky breath in. The IV drip is steady, and Hoseok watches it for a while until he’s sure Taehyung is asleep. He sits in the cushioned chair by the bed and listens to Taehyung breathe, watches him fall deeper and deeper into the slumber the Demerol is dragging him into. He sees a tear clinging to the lashes of one of Taehyung’s eyes, and he swears he’s twenty-one again, watching the younger man sleep after fucking him against his bedroom wall. He fights the urge he has to lean over and catch the tear on his fingertip. Taehyung shifts and the tear falls, rolling down his cheek.

 Hoseok’s waiting for his heartbeat to slow down, for all of Taehyung’s words to start making sense, for someone to wake him up and tell him this is all a dream. But Hoseok is awake, Taehyung is in front of him, and he has no idea where he’s supposed to go from here.

 He finds Namjoon and Jimin at lunch in the cafeteria. Jimin is looking in better spirits and Namjoon’s dimples are on full display as he laughs at something the other man is saying. Hoseok slips into the booth beside Jimin with a bowl of rice, not really bothering to touch it despite his stomach growling.

  “The Demerol knocked him out,” Hoseok says, rubbing both of his eyes. “I told him I’d be back but I don’t know if I can.”

 Jimin puts a short arm around Hoseok’s shoulders, tugging him close.

  “If hospitals did employee of the month, you’d get a plaque,” Namjoon says, guiding some noodles into his mouth with chopsticks.

 Hoseok’s got his temple on Jimin’s shoulder, looking at Namjoon with distaste. “I don’t want a plaque, I want you to kill me,” he says, and Jimin squeaks.

  “Stop that,” he says, tapping Hoseok lightly on the back. “What happened?”

 Hoseok sits up straight, running a hand over his face. “He told me he’s been thinking about me every day for eight years and that…” He hesitates. Hoseok isn’t a necessarily private man, but this feels so personal to him to even be telling his friends. “He said that he lied about not feeling anything for me, back then. He did, but he was scared.”

  “Scared of what?” Namjoon asks, mouth full of food.

 Hoseok shrugs. “I don’t know,” he replies. “Commitment? Being hurt?”

 Jimin makes an empathetic noise, leaning an elbow on the table. “Poor dear.”

 Hoseok throws him a glare, and Jimin jumps a little. “Don’t look at me like that,” he snaps. “If what he says is true, the last eight years have been hard for him, too.”

 Hoseok knows Jimin is right and lets his head fall into his hands.

  “I’ll go in there with you next time,” Namjoon promises, taking a sip from his water bottle. “I need to look at his incision anyway.”

 Hoseok nods, unmoving. He finds the energy to lift his head after a few minutes and eat some of his rice. Jimin watches him closely and makes sure he eats all of his meal, even offering him some chicken when he’d finished the rice.

  “I’ll head up there right now,” Namjoon says soon, getting to his feet. “Meet me in fifteen?”

 Hoseok nods again, watching him go. Jimin follows soon after, offering him some gentle encouragements before disappearing around the nearest corner. Hoseok sits there for a while, counting the extra grains of rice left in his bowl and not bothering to fight the images of Taehyung swirling around in his head. When it’s time for him to go meet Namjoon, he heaves what seems like his millionth sigh of the day and makes his way up to the third floor.

 When he enters room 49, Taehyung is sat up almost straight and Namjoon is examining his leg, bare up to the thigh. Hoseok moves closer and sees the fresh incision, stapled together from just above Taehyung’s knee down to the top of his shin. It looks aggravated, a little bruised, but Namjoon is telling Taehyung he’s satisfied with how it’s looking for now. “Hoseok will redress it for you,” he says, looking up at Hoseok as he approaches. “You in any pain?”

 Taehyung shrugs, not looking at Hoseok at all.

  “A little,” he replies. “It’s not too bad.”

 Namjoon nods and hums to himself. “Good,” he says, handing Taehyung’s paperwork to Hoseok. “Everything’s in order. Just patch him back up.”

 Hoseok dips his head and as Namjoon is leaving the room, he lands one of his hands on Hoseok’s shoulder, squeezing briefly before stepping through the door.

  “You came back,” Taehyung says, watching as Hoseok crouches to dig under the bed for the box of fresh dressings and tape they keep there.

  “I told you I would,” Hoseok replies, gathering the supplies he needs and shoving the box back under the bed.

  “I was scared you wouldn’t,” Taehyung murmurs, and when Hoseok is on his feet again, the other man is looking at him with less intensity than before, more pleasantness. “Those drugs knocked me the fuck out.”

 Hoseok nods, pulling a pair of gloves over his hands and ripping open a dressing pack. “It’s a narcotic,” he says, getting to work on cleaning up around the incision on Taehyung’s leg. “Addictive, too, which is why you’re likely not leaving here with it.” The other man winces when Hoseok swipes a cleaning wipe over the wound. “Yeah, that’ll sting a little. It’s normal.”

 Taehyung leans his head back against the bed and lets out a breath through his nose. “Walking is gonna suck, isn’t it?” he asks, and Hoseok laughs a little, quietly.

  “It’s not going to be fun for a while, that’s for sure,” he replies, carefully placing the dressing squares over the incision and making sure they’re aligned before taping them down. “Especially therapy.”

 Taehyung groans. “Why did I agree to do this?” he asks himself.

  “I was going to ask,” Hoseok says, smoothing over the dressings with a gloved hand. “Why on earth did you get a total knee replace at twenty-eight years old?”

 Taehyung rolls his eyes and sighs. “Juvenile arthritis,” he says with some poison. “And too much soccer in high school probably. You remember how bad my knees were.”

 Hoseok nods absently. He does remember.

  “My ortho said it was a replacement or pain management,” Taehyung goes on with shrug. “I wasn’t gonna depend on pills to get me through the day so I chose this.” He lifts a hand to gesture at his redressed knee. “Now I’m gonna have a sick scar and be a cyborg.”

 Hoseok smiles wider than he intended, shaking his head a little at Taehyung.

  “You’re a mess,” he mumbles, and Taehyung smiles too, small, but bright and blinding.

 There’s a silence then, not unlike the comfortable silences that the two of them shared so many times all those years ago. Hoseok finds himself looking at Taehyung for longer than he has the whole day and his heart jumps a little.

  “I really can’t tell you how incredible it is to see you,” Taehyung says, voice low, edged with something like nostalgia.

 Hoseok lets his eyes fall again, down to Taehyung’s chart where he scribbles notes about the dressing change. He doesn’t reply, doesn’t know how. When he looks up again, Taehyung’s gaze is still fixed on him, and he looks like he’s thinking.

  “I hope you’ll accept my apology,” he says. “I didn’t… mean to hurt you like I did.”

 Hoseok feels a sting behind his eyes, and he blinks a few times. “It’s alright,” he says, even though it’s not. “We were kids, you know? Shit happens.”

 Taehyung doesn’t seem to like his response, his eyebrows pulling together. “It isn’t alright,” he says. “I can see it in your eyes, Hoseok.” A pause. “I’ve always been able to read you.”

 Hoseok feels anger flare in his chest and he puts Taehyung’s paperwork under his arm, squaring his shoulders. “You obviously didn’t read me well enough back then,” he says, and he told himself he wasn’t going to engage in a conversation like this but it’s happening and there’s no going back. “I loved you, Taehyung. And you kept stringing me along until things got too hard for you.” He takes a deep breath; he won’t lose his cool. Jung Hoseok doesn’t lose his cool. “I accept your apology, but don’t think you can come in here and tell me what’s alright or not.” He knows his voice is shaking but he clears his throat and lifts his chin. “Dr. Kim will be back in a few hours to talk to you about your discharge day after tomorrow. That black remote works the television. You’ll get more Demerol this evening.” He takes a step towards the door, still looking at him. “Rest well.”

 Taehyung doesn’t speak when he reaches the door and steps through it, and a miniscule part of Hoseok wishes he had.

“This would only happen to you,” Yoongi is saying on speakerphone as Hoseok paces through his kitchen, occasionally checking the pizza he’s got in the oven. “Like, this wouldn’t happen to any normal person. This is drama-level shit.”

  “You’re not exactly making this any easier,” Hoseok replies. He makes eye contact with Makki, who is perched on a counter nearby, watching him pace. Her gaze says something along the lines of it’s okay, dad, I’m here to keep an eye on you and he somehow feels comforted.

“I’m just… in awe,” Yoongi says, though he doesn’t really sound it. “Eight years and the kid is back for you.

  “He’s not ‘back for me,’ Yoongi,” Hoseok scoffs, pausing his pacing to lean against the counter and scratch behind Makki’s ear. She purrs and leans into his touch. “Once he’s discharged from that hospital, I never want to see him again.”

“Hoseok,” Yoongi begins, and Hoseok recognizes his tone; Yoongi is about to give him a life lesson. It happens often. “I’m not a religious man, but you know I believe in fate,” he goes on. “There’s no way in hell he showed back up in your hospital for no reason.”

  “And what would that be?” Hoseok asks, putting on the voice he only uses with Yoongi: sassy, sarcastic. “Redemption? Friendship? Forgiveness?”

“You said you accept his apology,” Yoongi replies matter-of-factly.

  “Doesn’t mean I forgive him,” Hoseok says, resuming his pacing. “There’s a huge difference.”

“One usually happens not too long after the other,” Yoongi says sagely, and Hoseok pauses to check his pizza again. The crust is dark brown, just as he likes it, and he grabs some oven mitts to pull it out.

  “I don’t want any of those things from him,” Hoseok says, placing the hot pizza on the stove to cool. He takes off the oven mitts and throws them onto the counter, startling Makki and sending her flying to the floor. “I want him to disappear and I want to pretend I never saw him again.”

“Hoseok, c’mon,” Yoongi drawls. “You can’t tell me there’s not at least one part of you that was happy to see him.”

 Hoseok sighs, closes his eyes and lets his head fall back so he’s facing the ceiling. “Of course there was,” he replies quietly. “And that’s why he needs to get out of my life as soon as possible before more of me starts to believe that we could have anything that we used to have together.”

 Yoongi clicks his tongue and sighs. “You scared?” he asks.

 Hoseok opens his eyes again and gets to work cutting his pizza. “Of course I am,” he replies. “He’s still gorgeous and funny, and a little… gentler.” He shrugs. “Might have been the Demerol but there was something softer about him. Different.”

“Time’s a funny thing, Hoseok,” Yoongi is saying as Hoseok picks up a slice of pizza and takes a bite out of it. “It changes things in people you never thought would change.”

  “Oh, go write a book,” Hoseok jokes, though his best friend’s words are resonating in him. But, he thinks, Time didn’t change me.

 Namjoon graciously decides to save Hoseok some grief and get an on-call nurse to take Taehyung on the next day. Hoseok is relieved initially, but there’s also a nagging part of him that wants to go up to room 49 anyway. He shakes the feeling away as he keeps an eye on a very, very fresh newborn baby with a head full of dark hair and round, puffy cheeks. It’s rare than he’s on nursery duty, but when Jimin asked if he wanted to take blood from a two-year-old or monitor newborns, his answer was clear. The baby he’s watching stirs in his sleep and makes a short whining noise, something close to a cry, before settling back into slumber again. Hoseok has to smile. He’s reminded quickly of why he loves his job so much.

 Time passes quickly in the nursery. Other nurses come and go, taking babies and bringing them, and soon, Hoseok is relieved for lunch. He’s on his way to the cafeteria when he passes Namjoon in the hall looking flustered, hair kind of askew. They make eye contact and the other man seems to try to pull himself together before speaking.

  “Ah, Hoseok, good, there you are,” he rambles, and Hoseok regards him suspiciously. “You, uh… Taehyung has been asking about you.”

  “Of course he has,” Hoseok replies, exhaling deeply. “Are you… okay?”

 Namjoon raises his eyebrows and shrugs. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he says. “What do you mean?”

 Hoseok shrugs, too, about to speak again, before a door directly behind Namjoon cracks open and Jimin slips out, pulling his lab coat on a little clumsily. His cheeks are bright red. He freezes when he catches sight of Namjoon and Hoseok standing in the hall, jaw slack. He sidesteps and makes eye contact with Namjoon, whose cheeks are now the same color as Jimin’s. Hoseok looks between them twice and closes his eyes, taking a step back.

  “I don’t want to know,” he says, lifting his hands. “Just. Pretend I wasn’t here.”

 He hurries on his way to the cafeteria, hearing Namjoon call behind him, “Taehyung wants to see you!”

 Hoseok eats his lunch outside, beneath a small awning housing a few picnic tables. There’s snow on the ground but it’s a rather sunny day. He stirs his ramen absently and taps his foot on the concrete beneath his feet.

 Taehyung wants to see him. He expected as much. If Taehyung is anything, he’s persistent, dedicated. He remembers how the younger would beg him relentlessly for free ramen from the convenience store, to come over and play video games when he had work early, to fuck him slow and long and hard. Taehyung always got what he wanted from Hoseok. Maybe that was Hoseok’s biggest mistake.

 He manages to finish his ramen but doesn’t get up right away, just sits and looks at the snow, sparkling in the sunlight. He gets a wave of wishing Yoongi was here, if only just to make him get up and do something, whether it’s run away or step forward. Yoongi has always been black and white, no bullshit. He always knows what to say, what to do. For a moment, Hoseok misses him overwhelmingly.

 He gets to his feet eventually and tosses his trash, checking his watch. He’s got fifteen minutes before he’s got to be back in the nursery, and he considers going to see Taehyung. He’s felt a little emptier than normal since leaving him the day before, and he knows it’s because his heart loves to make Taehyung its habit, its comfort. Even after so long, it knows what it wants.

 Hoseok ends up at the door of room 49, staring at the numbers until they don’t make sense anymore. He’s about to reach for the handle when Namjoon’s voice sounds behind him.

  “He’s asleep,” the surgeon says and Hoseok turns. “The night shift told me he was up until past midnight. The Demerol had him rambling.”

 Hoseok scratches at the back of his neck and tilts his head. “What was he saying?”

 Namjoon leans against the wall and crosses his arms. “Kept asking for you, I guess. Apologizing.”

 Hoseok runs a hand over his face. “Fuck.”

 His friend regards him with pity. “He’s dedicated, at least,” he says. “Even his subconscious is trying to get you to forgive him.”

 Hoseok doesn’t reply to that, just glances down at his shoes and breathes in and out once, steady.

  “You still love him, don’t you?” Namjoon asks finally, uncrossing his arms and pushing off of the wall.

 Hoseok nods, not looking up.

  “I do.”

  “So do something about it.”

 He glances up then to see Namjoon’s eyebrows furrowed, watching him intently.

  “If it were that easy, I might have done something already,” he replies quietly, letting his eyes trail to the doorknob once more. “He still terrifies me, after all these years.”

 Namjoon gives him a slow nod. “But maybe you still scare him, too?” he asks, shoving his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “Isn’t that how all of this started in the first place?”

 Hoseok considers what he said, chewing on his lip. “Yeah,” he says absently. “Maybe.”

 Namjoon reaches out to pat Hoseok on the shoulder. They aren’t that close, despite working at the same hospital for nearly three years, but Hoseok feels comforted by Namjoon then. The other man’s eyes are searching his face, but for what, Hoseok doesn’t know. Namjoon offers him a small smile and turns to walk away. Hoseok waits until he can’t hear his footsteps anymore to open Taehyung’s room door.

 He’s asleep, as Namjoon had said. Hoseok doesn’t walk in all the way in fear of waking him, but stands just inside the doorway and peers in. Taehyung isn’t sat up all the way but he’s not lying flat either, and his head has fallen to one side. He looks young like this, Hoseok thinks. Vulnerable, peaceful, quiet. As a kid, he’d spent so much time watching Taehyung, learning his curves and mannerisms and the colors of him. Taehyung was and still is the color of autumn.

 Hoseok shrinks back a little when Taehyung shifts but it’s only to adjust his head, turn it to the other side. He wants so badly to approach Taehyung, to run his fingers through his hair and trace the lines of his face, wake him up and relearn the color of his eyes—

God, he loves him. He loves him still.

 Hoseok leaves as quietly as he can, hoping the click of the door isn’t enough to wake the younger man. He makes it back to the nursery just in time for his shift to start, and he’s on autopilot for the rest of the day, his mind preoccupied with images and memories of Taehyung, the man he can’t let go of.

 The day Taehyung is discharged, Hoseok has the day off. He sleeps in late with Makki curled in a ball in the crook of his neck, keeping him warm. He wakes up thinking about Taehyung, wondering if he was expecting to see Hoseok today. He wonders if he’ll ever see Taehyung again. It hurts to think he won’t, but it’s also a ghost of relief. If he never sees him again, maybe he can keep moving forward. Maybe, one day, he’ll be okay.

 He spends most of the morning in bed, making Makki chase his hand under the blankets and watching the snow fall outside. There’s an ungodly amount of it for so early in the year, but Hoseok hopes it’ll stay for a while. He likes winter a lot; it’s the perfect excuse to stay inside, drink coffee and listen to music and be quiet.

 He finally finds it in him to get up and make breakfast, and Makki watches him with her round blue eyes the whole time, as if monitoring him. When he sits to eat his scrambled eggs, he tosses her a few pieces, smiles when her purrs grow louder. He reads the news for a while when he’s done eating, scrolling through it on his phone. The buses and trains are delayed from the snow, but should be up and running again soon. Even more snow is expected later in the week, but it shouldn’t cause any extra problems. On and on.

 He calls Yoongi later, who’s working on studying for his boards exam over lunch.

“I don’t know why I have to study all of this when the majority of it isn’t even relevant to me,” he’s complaining over the phone as Hoseok folds his laundry. “I don’t care about cardiac ischemia or ventricular fibrillation. None of that is pertinent to my degree.”

  “Yoongi, you have to pass the boards to become a certified MD,” Hoseok says with a laugh. “I don’t think anyone really cares what’s relevant or not.”

 Yoongi grumbles something that sounds like “fuck the system” before moving on.

“You see Taehyung again?” he asks.

 Hoseok finishes folding a pair of scrubs before responding. “Just briefly, yesterday,” he says. “He was sleeping.”

“So he’s discharged today and you guys didn’t even resolve anything?” Yoongi replies in disbelief.

  “If I remember correctly, you were the one telling me just last week to let him go and move on,” Hoseok accuses, piling all of his clean scrubs up on one side of the couch.

“Yeah, before he showed up at your hospital, out of the twenty-plus in this city, and apologized to you after almost a decade of silence,” Yoongi shoots back, sounding irritated.

  “Him coming to my hospital was luck,” Hoseok says, getting started on folding his socks. “His apology may have been sincere but it didn’t change much.”

 Yoongi scoffs over the other side of the call. “You sure are stubborn, Jung Hoseok,” he says, and Hoseok can hear his smile. “What will it take for you to forgive him?”

 Hoseok slumps on the couch, staring at his laundry, and sighs. “A miracle.”

 Hoseok returns to work the next day and Taehyung is gone, as if he’d never been there. Namjoon and Jimin don’t ask him about it, and he doesn’t talk to them about it. He’s almost happy they’re all treating it like it had never happened; it’s easier to forget about, easier to distract himself from.

 Ignorance was bliss, he comes to learn about his situation. It was easier not knowing what Taehyung looked like, how he sounded or what he was doing. It was easier to just remember him or imagine, conjure up images or create a scene of what he’d become. Knowing that he’s got the same brown eyes, the same freckle on his nose, the same deep lilt in his voice—it almost hurts more.

 A week after Taehyung’s discharge date, Hoseok is back to thinking about him second thing in the morning as opposed to first. He’s been dreaming about him, though. That hasn’t changed.

 Jimin is filling him in about a patient coming in later in the day when he hears his name. His heart jumps to his throat and he almost chokes on the words leaving his mouth because he knows that voice. He whips around to find none other than Kim Taehyung, a crutch under each arm, standing in the entrance of the pediatric ward. Hoseok hears Jimin huff out “would you look at that?” but he doesn’t have time to even glare at him because Taehyung is making his way towards them, crutches digging hard into the tile, one leg immobile and stretched out straight as he walks. He comes to a stop in front of Hoseok and offers him a smile, one that is bright, albeit a little tired.

  “Taehyung,” Hoseok says, pressing his lips together in hopes that they’ll make a smile in return. “You’ve, uh, taken a wrong turn, I think. This is pediatrics.”

 Taehyung blinks and laughs. “Oh, I know, I’m headed to physical therapy,” he replies. “I just… thought I’d come say hi.” He tilts his head a little, studying Hoseok’s face for a short time, before making eye contact with Jimin over his shoulder. He nods in greeting and Hoseok hears Jimin shift behind him.

 “I’ll see you at two,” his friend says, and Hoseok looks over his shoulder in a plea. Jimin’s expression is one of quiet amusement. He waves a hand in farewell, nods to Taehyung once, and turns to disappear into his office.

  “That your boss?” Taehyung asks when Hoseok turns back to him.

  “Something like that,” Hoseok replies, giving Taehyung an up and down once. “Have you been getting around all right?”

 Taehyung steadies himself and balances on one foot, letting one of the crutches loosen under his arm. “Well enough,” he says. “The snow’s making it kinda difficult but I’m managing. Thank God it wasn’t my right leg or I couldn’t drive.”

 Hoseok grimaces at the image of Taehyung hobbling through the snow, alone, no less, but he decides to stay quiet about it. He’s supposed to be forgetting about Taehyung’s existence, he’s supposed to be moving on. He swallows his nerves and looks the other man in the eye. “PT’s kinda far,” he says with some hesitation. “Take the elevator, okay?”

 Taehyung seems delighted by the advice as he settles both crutches under his arms again and grins. “Of course,” he says, eyes crinkling at the corners. He turns to make his way out of the ward, but pauses halfway to call over his shoulder, “See you around, sweet thing.”

 Hoseok’s skin prickles with goosebumps and he feels his ears burning hot at the words. He’d nearly forgotten about Taehyung’s affectionate nickname for him from the years before. It had always made him blush, made him melt for the younger man. Taehyung doesn’t look back as he pulls himself through the door, and Hoseok stays rooted where he stands for a long time, wondering if he’ll ever be free of Kim Taehyung, and if he even wants to be.

 Taehyung comes to the hospital for physical therapy three times a week. He almost always stops by pediatrics to see Hoseok, and if Hoseok’s not around, he asks someone to find him. Unless he’s in the middle of something, Hoseok indulges him. At least, that’s what he tells himself he’s doing; he’s too scared to admit that he’s indulging himself. They don’t talk about much, usually just Taehyung’s healing process, and Taehyung always leaves with a dip of his head and a promise to see him next time. Hoseok’s progress is stunted. He’s back to thinking about Taehyung first thing when he wakes up, last thing before he sleeps. He doesn’t know who he trusts less—Taehyung or himself.

 He’s nearing the end of a double shift one evening when Taehyung moseys into the ward, only one crutch under his arm. Hoseok can’t help but smile at the smug expression on his face. “Look at you,” he says. “Graduated to one.”

 Taehyung offers him a small bow, careful not to put too much weight on his leg. “I should be able to throw this one out in two weeks, according to my PT,” he replies with some excitement, wiggling his single crutch a bit. “I’m thinking about burning them both ceremoniously.”

 Hoseok laughs and shakes his head. “Sounds satanic,” he says, and Taehyung winks.

 There’s a silence between them then, not necessarily a comfortable one. Taehyung shifts a little on his good leg and won’t look Hoseok in the eye.

  “Tae, what are you here for?” Hoseok asks quietly, and the other man looks momentarily startled by the question.

  “I, um,” he stammers, looking at something just past Hoseok’s shoulder. “I don’t know what you mean.”

 Hoseok has to huff out a chuckle. “I think you do,” he replies. “I’ve always been able to read you.”

 Taehyung’s eyes meet his then, and a smile pulls at his lips. “Using my own lines against me?” he says, his voice low. “You play dirty.”

 Hoseok smiles a little then, too, shaking his head.

  “I’m trying to make it up to you,” Taehyung goes on. “What I did when we were kids.”

 Hoseok sighs, resting one of his hands in the pocket of his scrub top. “I don’t need you to make anything up to me,” he says.

  “But I want to,” Taehyung replies, eyebrows knitting together. “I—you don’t know how long I’ve been wanting to find you, to tell you I’m sorry and make things right but I was just…” He trails off, taking a deep breath in. “I was scared. I was scared you’d hate me.”

 Hoseok’s chest tightens at the defeat he hears in Taehyung’s voice. Taehyung had always been sure, confident, strong. It’s foreign, even a little painful to hear him sad. His next movement is near involuntary, and it’s only until he feels the warm skin of Taehyung’s cheek under his palm does he realize what he’s done. Taehyung’s eyes widen a little at the touch.

  “I could never hate you, Tae,” Hoseok says, almost in a whisper. “Never, okay?”

 Taehyung nods, eyes boring into Hoseok’s, and it’s like everyone around them has faded away and it’s only the two of them in this room. For what seems like the hundredth time since seeing Taehyung a few weeks ago, Hoseok feels twenty-one again, with the other man in his grasp and his heart unbroken. For the first time in years, Hoseok feels complete.

 The moment breaks when he lets his hand fall back to his side, even though every part of him is screaming to keep the contact. Taehyung’s eyes linger on his face, flickering to his lips, before lowering them to look at his own feet.

 “I’ll see you, Hoseok,” he says, glancing up at him quickly, before turning to make his way a little clumsily out of the ward. Hoseok watches him go, just as he always does, but it hurts more, somehow.

 Hoseok gets drunk that night, drunker than he’s been in a very long time.

 He’s in his apartment, because where else would he go? He paces in his bathroom, alcohol pumping through his blood and the burn of tears behind his eyes. He doesn’t remember turning the bath on but it’s running, steam floating up to fog the huge mirror on the wall. He strips himself of his clothes and steps into the water, wincing at the heat, but he likes it like that. It’s only when he’s seated in the tub, water rising past his waist and the faucet turned off, that he cries.

 Hoseok cries every time he drinks, which is why he almost never drinks. But tonight, there’s something more there than just alcohol. It’s the grief he never dealt with properly when Taehyung was torn from him the way he was. It’s the emptiness he feels, stronger than ever, when he watches Taehyung leave the pediatric ward three times a week. It’s the wound that is still bleeding, deep past the scars that have tried so hard to keep everything in.

 He doesn’t know how long he cries, but he knows he has to stop when his head feels like it’s about to burst. He’s shaking everywhere—his hands, his shoulders, his breathing—and he tries holding his breath to give his diaphragm a break. He leans back and slips under the water, lets the heat surround him, caress his temples and eyelids, push the ache away. His mother used to tell him, “There’s very little a hot bath can’t fix,” and up to today, she’s been correct. When he resurfaces, he takes a huge breath in, the oxygen filling his lungs and clearing his vision for a second. His head is still pounding but it’s numb; the water is scalding, might have burned his skin, but he doesn’t care much. It’s some strange, painful comfort.

 He sits in the tub for a long time then, watching the steam rise. He pulls one of his hands out of the water and his knuckles are bright red, veins prominent under the skin. He traces them with the fingers of his other hand. It feels nice. He’s overwhelmed with the feeling of missing being touched.

 He gets out of the bathtub still drunk but not as emotional. He stands in the front of the fogged up mirror and wipes it with one hand until he can see his reflection. His eyes are swollen, red-rimmed, and his hair is soaking, droplets of water rolling down his temples and cheeks. His dark circles are pronounced beneath his eyes, and his cheeks are flushed and patchy, from the alcohol or the heat or the crying—maybe all of them. It’s hard to recognize himself like this.

 He makes it back to his room and thinks about getting dressed, but he ends up lying naked on his bed, watching the ceiling fan spin. It’s dark in his room but some light from the bathroom filters in. He’d thrown Makki out earlier and he can hear her scratching at the door, mewing quietly. He knows he’ll feel better if he lets her in because she’ll hop onto the bed and curl up by his ear and her purrs will lull him to sleep. But he doesn’t.

 He wraps a hand around his dick and pulls on himself until he’s half hard, and he’s almost whining after a just few minutes because it’s been months since he’s done this and he’s so deprived, so unused to being touched. He doesn’t even have any lube so he has to spit in his hand, and it’s sad and he’ll probably be ashamed in the morning, but he needs this right now. He’s drunk and he’s alone and he misses Taehyung so, so much.

 He comes to the memory of Taehyung tight around him, of his voice deep in his ear, calling him sweet thing. Even after so long, he can remember how it felt to be inside him, to feel his skin, smelling like jasmine, smooth as velvet. He comes so hard he sees white, moaning into the quiet of his apartment until the aftershocks hit him and he gasps for breath. He pulls his hand back and it’s sticky with saliva and come, and he considers getting back into the bath but he can hardly see straight and his limbs are heavy. He left his towel discarded on the floor and he grabs it now, wiping himself off quickly before settling back on the bed.

 He’s half asleep when he hears Makki clawing at the door again. Using what energy he’s got left, he heaves himself up and lets her in. He grabs some boxers on the way back and his cat is already on the bed when he slips under the blankets. She curls up in the bend of his elbow, the vibrations of her purrs making him feel a little more grounded. He falls into a fitful sleep like that, his headache still pounding behind his closed eyes. He doesn’t dream and it’s a relief.

 He calls in sick the next day.

 In the two and a half years he’d been working at the hospital, he’s called in sick once, and it was because he caught a nasty strain of strep throat from an eight year old. He’d never tell Jimin he’s calling in because he’s hungover and can’t pull himself together long enough to get up and make a cup of coffee, but the physician gives him an understanding hum and tells him to rest. He expects him tomorrow. Hoseok nods even though Jimin can’t see and lets his phone slide from his hand to his bed, where he’s laid since he woke up at four in the morning.

 His head feels like it’s filled with cotton and his eyes are so puffy, it’s hard for him to see. He tries to sit up but nausea grips his stomach like an iron fist and he has to settle back down flat and close his eyes with a groan. Makki kneads her tiny paws on his chest and it makes him smile; she’s a lot like him, a good little nurse.

 He sleeps most of the day, not because he’s tired, but because his hangover is so bad he thinks he’ll kill himself if he has to endure it awake. He’d chugged nearly half a handle of rum mixed with an entire can of Coke the night before, and he thinks he can still smell it on his own breath when he wakes up for fifth time that day. With a glance at his phone, he finds it to be almost one in the afternoon.

  “Get out of bed, Hoseok,” he encourages himself, running both hands through his hair. “Eat something, you’ll feel better.” Makki chirps at him from the foot of the bed as if joining in, and he manages to pull himself out of bed and shuffle into the kitchen, where he rummages through the fridge to find some leftover noodles and a solitary hard-boiled egg. Even thinking about the egg makes him feel sicker so he pushes it to the back of the fridge and warms up the noodles, settling on the couch to eat them slowly. Makki curls up beside him, ever-present, and they both watch the snow fall outside. It’s not a very sunny day, the sky covered in a blanket of gray clouds, and Hoseok thinks he feels how it looks outside—a little suffocated, washed out, cold. He spends the rest of the day reading and catching up on a drama he’d started last year but never finished. He cries at the end because it’s about love and redemption and nothing has ever been more relevant.

 Yoongi calls him later.

  “I got too drunk last night,” he’s saying when Yoongi asks why he sounds the way he does. “I’m hungover as fuck.”

“You never drink,” Yoongi says, and Hoseok can almost see his scrutiny. “Are you okay?”

 Hoseok sighs. “I’ll be fine,” he replies, but Yoongi won’t have it.

“You can’t lie to me, you bastard, I know you too well,” he says, and behind the playful tone, Hoseok can hear his best friend’s concern. “Talk to me.”

 Hoseok rubs his eyes and leans back into his pillows. “I don’t want to,” he says, and he hears Yoongi sigh. “I’m sorry, I just don’t. I need to… be alone with it.”

“Then don’t give yourself alcohol poisoning, okay?” the other man replies. “You can’t drink your sorrows away, we’re not in college anymore.”

 Hoseok chuckles at that and tells Yoongi he’ll avoid drinking himself sick. Yoongi tells him about the neurologist at his hospital—Seokjin—and how they went on a date the night before.

“He’s really lovely,” Yoongi says when Hoseok asks what he’s like. “Gentle. Smart. Funny. Good at his job.”

  “You like him?” Hoseok asks.

 Yoongi pauses. “Yeah, I do,” he says finally, and his voice is accented with a smile.

 Hoseok decides not to tease him; Yoongi has always been a little stony, blank, unable to express much more emotion than distaste or neutrality. He’s happy for his friend. Yoongi deserves someone as good and kind as Seokjin sounds.

 They say goodbye and Yoongi tells Hoseok to take care of himself, and he promises he’ll try.

 He drinks a cup of tea before he goes to sleep, with extra honey, and as he settles under his blankets for the night, he lets thoughts of Taehyung float freely through his head. He had physical therapy today—Hoseok briefly feels bad for being absent. He imagines Taehyung hobbling into the pediatrics ward with his one crutch, waiting for Hoseok to turn up. He thinks about Taehyung’s smile, how it’s still as blinding and familiar as it always had been. A small part of his mind reminds him that he’s supposed to be trying to move on from the man, but the larger part of his mind knows that he is likely to be stuck here forever unless he does something. He doesn’t know what that something is, and he has a feeling that no one will be able to tell him.



 As it turns out, Hoseok doesn’t have to do much.

 Taehyung shows up right on schedule the day after Hoseok gets back to work. He’s barely depending on his single crutch anymore, but he tells Hoseok his therapist suggests he use it just a little longer. “‘For stability,’” Taehyung quotes with some sarcasm, and Hoseok regards him with amusement and slight scolding.

  “Listen,” Taehyung says abruptly. “This might be weird or-or inappropriate or something but would you…” He clears his throat, looking straight into Hoseok’s eyes, and Hoseok can’t help but think, cute. “Would you eat dinner with me tonight?”

 Hoseok feels his expression fall blank involuntarily and he hopes it doesn’t make him look upset.

  “Ah, Taehyung,” he says, a little breathlessly. “I, um, I’m not really—”

  “It’s not like, a date or anything,” Taehyung says, adjusting his crutch awkwardly. Hoseok feels a blush rising in his face at the mention of the word “date.” “It’s just, you know, it’s been a really long time and I want to catch up with you and not talk about the bane of my existence.” He motions to his leg with his free hand. “Frankly, I’m fucking tired of my knee. Just.” He laughs, a little too loud. “Remove it, I’m begging you.”

 Hoseok covers his mouth with a hand when he laughs, too, and Taehyung looks satisfied.

  “Please?” he asks, quieter now. “Just dinner. You can pay for your own food. Not a date.”

 Hoseok sighs, fighting a smile, and scrutinizes Taehyung for a long time, shamelessly. Taehyung looks right back at him, still brave. After a few moments longer, Hoseok nods once.

  “How about I come to you?” he asks, and he can’t believe he said that but—“I don’t want you navigating through all this snow more than you have to. You don’t need to fall and end up back in the OR.” He glances down at Taehyung’s leg and back up again. “We can cook. I’ll bring wine.”

 Taehyung looks delighted, dark eyes sparkling. He tells Hoseok his address, who scribbles it on the notepad he keeps in his back pocket. When Taehyung turns to leave the ward, he seems to have some extra energy in his step, and he hardly leans on his crutch as he walks. Hoseok watches him, as always, feeling like he’s on the ledge of a cliff that could have spikes or clouds at the bottom. He has to jump to find out.

 After work is when he feels the anxiety of his decision.

 He paces in his kitchen, Makki watching him from the counter as usual, still in his scrubs. His mind is moving quickly, overthinking and worrying and wondering. After a few minutes of this, he pauses to look at Makki. She tilts her small head and flicks one ear. Hoseok sighs.

  “You’re right,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “You’re right, I just need to… go and stop thinking about it.” He tickles her under the chin for a moment before going to change.

 He finds himself pulling into a large apartment complex a little while later with a bottle of red wine in his lap, snow falling heavily outside his car. He feels snowflakes melting on his scalp when he makes it to the front door of the complex, finding Taehyung’s name on the intercom system and pressing the button once. His deep voice answers in a few seconds.

  “Hoseok?” it asks.

  “Yeah, it’s me,” Hoseok replies, suppressing a shiver.

  “Come on up,” Taehyung says. “Second floor, 205.”

 The door nearby clicks and Hoseok is able to push it open, shuffling inside the warm building and shaking the snow from his clothes. As he slips his jacket off and wipes his feet on the carpet under his boots, he notes the marble of the walls, the chandelier hanging over his head. This complex is a good bit nicer than Hoseok’s, in a better part of town. He realizes abruptly he doesn’t know what Taehyung does for a living now. As he steps into the elevator and presses the button for the second floor, he supposes he’ll find out tonight.

 He knocks his knuckles twice on the door with the number 205 on a small silver slate and a very high yapping noise follows. He rolls his eyes—of course Taehyung has a dog. A moment later, the door swings open and Taehyung is there, free of his crutch, holding the smallest dog he’s ever seen under one arm. “Hi,” he says, smiling big, and Hoseok looks between Taehyung and the dog and back again before replying with a soft hello.

 Taehyung steps back to let him in and the dog wriggles in his hold, tongue lolling.

  “And who’s this?” Hoseok says as he toes off his boots, lifting a hand to let the dog smell him.

  “Yeontan,” Taehyung replies a little sheepishly. He crouches as best he can to let the dog back onto the floor. “Try not to mind him; he’s got little man syndrome.”

 Hoseok eyes Yeontan as he sniffs at his boots. Taehyung takes his coat and hangs it on a hook on the door and invites him farther into the apartment.

 It’s small but spacious, with high wooden ceilings and matching wood floors. There’s not a lot of furniture, but stuff that’s there looks well-loved—a navy blue couch, a matching arm chair, a coffee table made of dark metal. There’s a few piles of papers and a laptop open on the table, but Hoseok doesn’t have time to wonder about it because Taehyung is leading him into the kitchen, where Hoseok can hear something sizzling.

 “My recipe book isn’t very extensive,” Taehyung says as he settles at the stove and grabs a wooden spoon to push at the food in the pan. “I hope chicken and noodles are okay with you?” He glances at Hoseok expectantly, who nods and smiles, lifting the wine he’d brought.

  “Perfect combo,” he says, even though he’s not very sure it is, but Taehyung seems pleased. Yeontan has made his way into the kitchen, hopping around Taehyung’s feet excitedly. “Will the little guy be joining us for dinner?”

 Taehyung chuckles and shakes his head. “His table manners aren’t the best,” he says. He grabs a small piece of chicken from the pan and blows on it before reaching down to let the dog take it from him. When he straightens back up, he winces a bit, shifting weight from his bad knee. Hoseok automatically goes to make a comment about it but catches himself; Taehyung is tired of talking about his knee, he remembers. He leans against the kitchen counter, breathes in and out once. You can do this, Hoseok, he’s your friend.

  “So what do you do these days, Kim Taehyung?” he asks, crossing one of his ankles over the other where he stands. “Besides feed your dog from the stove?”

 Taehyung arches an eyebrow at him as he puts the spoon down and turns to look at him head on. “I’m a editor,” he says. “Freelance mostly, but I think I’m going to take a contract with a fashion magazine soon.” He notes Hoseok’s surprised expression. “I went back to school a few years ago. Pulled myself together long enough to get a degree.”

 Hoseok nods. All he knew of Taehyung before now was he left their hometown to live with his brother. At least, that was what Taehyung had told him that day at the restaurant. “And your brother?” he prompts. The other man’s face changes, only slightly, but Hoseok can see it.

  “He was pretty sick when I went to live with him,” Taehyung says quietly, tapping the counter with one hand. Hoseok is taken aback; he doesn’t remember Taehyung saying anything about his brother being ill. Taehyung seems to read his mind. “He didn’t tell anyone he was sick except me. Didn’t wanna worry anyone, you know. My parents were getting old.”

 Hoseok feels his heart falling in his chest.

  “He passed pretty quickly after I moved in with him,” Taehyung continues. “Not even two years.”

  “Oh, Tae, I’m sorry.”

 Taehyung offers him a smile, small and gentle. “It’s okay,” he replies. “It was almost six years ago now.”

 Hoseok purses his lips and holds out his hand. Taehyung looks at it for a moment and takes it hesitantly with his own. Hoseok squeezes once, an attempt at comfort. “I wish I’d been there for you,” he says. Taehyung scoffs a little but it’s not bitter, squeezing his hand in response before letting go again.

  “It wasn’t your fault that you weren’t,” he replies, holding Hoseok’s gaze for a little longer before turning to stir the noodles again. Hoseok’s hand falls back to his side, feeling empty.

 Taehyung tells him where the dishes and silverware are and Hoseok sets the small table in the space between the kitchen and the living room. Yeontan alternates between following Hoseok around and tugging on the bottom of Taehyung’s pant leg where he stands at the stove, adding some spinach and kimchi to the stir fry last minute. When it’s ready, they sit at the table and Taehyung serves them both while Hoseok pours the wine.

  “I honestly know nothing about wine,” he prefaces, feeling his face warm up when Taehyung picks up his glass to take a sip. “It had a cool name so I picked it.”

 Taehyung tilts his head from one side to the other a few times as he swallows his first sip. “It’s good,” he says finally, going in for another. “A bit dry for my taste but I’ll let it slide.”

 Hoseok bites his lip to hide a smile. “You’re a wine connoisseur now?” he asks.

 Taehyung winks at him over the rim of his glass. “Something like that.”

 Hoseok decides that Taehyung is a pretty good cook; either that, or it’s been so long since he’s had a home-cooked meal that he’ll take pretty much anything he can get. He eats two servings of noodles before sitting back in his chair and exhaling long.

  “I won’t need to eat for twenty-four hours,” he says, and Taehyung looks satisfied.

  “Good,” he says. “If I can feed anyone well, my day is made.”

 Hoseok finishes off his wine and jumps, startled, when he feels something touch his foot. It’s Yeontan, he realizes, the dog’s tiny mouth clamped down on his pant leg. “Ah,” he says with a grimace, looking down. “I caught something.”

 Taehyung bends over to peer under the table at Yeontan, clicking his tongue once. The dog releases Hoseok’s pants and trips over his paws bounding over to the man. “He’s a bit too friendly at times,” Taehyung says, taking an extra piece of chicken off his plate and throwing it far so Yeontan will chase it out of the room.

  “My cat’s a bit like that,” Hoseok says, sitting up straight in his chair again. “Makki isn’t really aware of anyone’s personal bubble.”

 Taehyung grins at the mention of Makki. “That’s the best kind of cat,” he says, and Hoseok agrees.

 They clean up the table and Hoseok insists on washing the dishes, even though Taehyung furrows his eyebrows as he does so, disgruntled.

  “Go sit down and give your fluffball some attention,” Hoseok teases as Yeontan weaves between Taehyung’s legs, his short, curled tail wagging quickly. Taehyung obeys, walking with a slight limp the couch in the living room. Hoseok smiles to himself as he hears Yeontan’s claws clacking on the wood floor.

 Hoseok finds himself laying on the floor of Taehyung’s living room when the dishes are clean, letting Yeontan climb all over his chest and nip at his ears. Taehyung watches from the couch, his left leg propped up on the coffee table, a pillow beneath his heel. They talk a bit about their respective pets, about school and work and everything in between. They catch up on years of lost time, and Hoseok ends up on the couch beside Taehyung soon, Yeontan retired for the evening in his small bed across the room.

  “Thanks for having me here, Tae,” Hoseok says, and Taehyung dips his head in gracious response. “I didn’t know I needed this. With you.”

 Taehyung lets his gaze drift to the nearest window, where snow has piled against the glass. “I did,” he says, somewhat thoughtfully. “I knew I needed this.” He looks back at Hoseok and his eyes are cautious.

 “I didn’t ask you to come here for it but… I hope you can forgive me, Hoseok,” he says quietly, just a moment later. He’s brought his hands to his lap and he’s looking at them. “I just… I’m in love with you, I have been since… a long time.” He looks up then, eyes round and young and innocent, and Hoseok sees him so clearly.

 He sees the same boy he met at nineteen, the confident, rather cocky one he fell in love with over watching the stars at the top of a tree and video games and convenience store ramen and really good sex. He sees the same boy who broke his heart over a lie, one told out of fear. He sees the man who made it back into his life after eight long years, the man Hoseok is still so in love with, who loves him, too. After so long.

  “And even if you don’t love me back anymore, I just wanted—”

  “I’m in love with you, too,” Hoseok says, trying as hard as he can to hold back the tears of relief stinging the backs of his eyes. “After all these years, I’m still in love with you, I never stopped.” He wants to look away but he can’t. He’s stuck in the dark of Taehyung’s eyes, just as he’d been at nineteen, at twenty, at twenty-one.

  “You… are?” Taehyung asks, his expression falling blank in shock.

  “Yeah,” Hoseok replies, tearing his eyes away at last to stare at the wood beneath his socked feet. “Yeah, I am.”

 Taehyung is silent but Hoseok can see him watching him in his peripherals, mouth open slightly, at a loss for words. Hoseok speaks again.

 “But if you think I can just trust you again? Like it’s easy?” He shakes his head. He doesn’t want to cry, it’s the last thing he wants right now, but it seems his drunken episode from a few nights before hadn’t rid him of all his tears; they start to run warm over his cheeks. “I don’t know if I can, Tae, I’ve been heartbroken over you for-for almost ten years.” His voice breaks on the last word and he sniffs once. “I can’t just drop all of that and pretend like it didn’t happen.”

 Taehyung looks anxious, almost upset at the sight of Hoseok’s tears, and he scoots a little closer to him on the couch.

  “Of course not,” Taehyung replies softly. “I wouldn’t ask that of you.” He lifts a hesitant hand to Hoseok’s face then, fingers long and gentle. Hoseok shies away a little at first; the touch of another human, especially one so intimate, is foreign to him, and Taehyung freezes. But the look in Taehyung’s eyes has Hoseok leaning closer to him again, slowly, and when the other man’s fingertips brush his cheek, pushing the tears away, he melts. He melts like he always has and always will for Kim Taehyung. “I’m just asking to know you again, if anything.”

 They sit like that for a little while, Taehyung’s fingertips brushing the tears from his skin until they stop falling. He settles his hand at the side of Hoseok’s neck, big enough to hold one side of his face, and using his thumb to smooth over Hoseok’s cheek.

  “Just seeing you again would have been enough for me,” Taehyung whispers. “I’ve missed you.” He smiles, close-lipped and small but still so pretty. “So, so much.”

 Hoseok had been dreaming those words for years, and nothing could have prepared him for actually hearing them out loud. He huffs out a quiet laugh and presses his face into Taehyung’s palm. “Tell me again,” he murmurs.

 Taehyung blinks and tilts his head.

  “Tell me you missed me, please,” Hoseok says, his voice tight with new emotion. “I went so long thinking you didn’t, thinking you were living fine without me, that you always would.” He inhales a shaky breath. “I wanna hear it again.”

 Taehyung narrows his eyes and lifts his other hand to Hoseok’s face, cradling it and pulling it closer. He looks ardent, determined. “I’ve missed you,” he says again. “I’ve missed your face and your smile and your laugh and the way you say my name and I’ve missed how you never let me down, never let me go, not for anything.”

 Hoseok smiles, Taehyung’s words pulling on the corners of his mouth. Taehyung is very close, closer than he’s been since eight years before, and Hoseok can smell him—jasmine, the same, mixed with something muskier, more grown. He can see the freckle on Taehyung’s nose so clearly, and he wants to touch it.

  “I’ve missed how you smell and how your hair falls and the way you look when you’re happy. Really happy.”

 Taehyung’s breath is warm on his face and Hoseok is certain he could die like this and have no complaints. Taehyung is holding him again and it’s all he needs.

  “I missed everything, all of you,” Taehyung says, his voice soft around the edges. “Sweet thing.”

 Hoseok holds his gaze for what seems like a lifetime before letting his arms lift and curl around Taehyung’s waist to pull him close. Taehyung’s hands fall and make their way to Hoseok’s back, fisting in his sweater. Hoseok buries his face in Taehyung’s shoulder, screwing his eyes shut tight and breathing in deep. This time, it’s Taehyung who melts. His muscles fall slack against Hoseok’s body and he leans in to hook his chin over Hoseok’s shoulder. It’s warm, tight, long-awaited.

 Their embrace could only be described as one thing—coming home.

  “I missed you, too,” Hoseok says into the fabric of Taehyung’s shirt, his words muffled. “I always did.”

 Taehyung squeezes him very tight then, sighing deep and long. “This feels like a dream,” Hoseok hears him say. “Something my head conjured up after eight years of waiting.”

 Hoseok pulls back then, Taehyung holding him a moment longer before leaning back, too. They stare at each other then, and it’s almost funny, how long they just look, like they’re seeing each other for the first time. Hoseok eventually lifts a hand to brush his fingers through Taehyung’s hair, trail them down his temple to his cheek, over the bridge of his nose to touch one corner of his mouth with one thumb.

  “You are beautiful, still,” he says, and color rises in Taehyung’s cheeks, but he doesn’t look down or away.

  “Thank you,” he replies, and Hoseok realizes that though this is the man he loves, the one he’s always loved, there is something different behind his dark eyes. He can’t name it but it’s new, it’s more free and gentle and open.

  “Kiss me soon,” Hoseok says, moving to press his palm to Taehyung’s cheek. “Not now, not today. But soon.”

 Taehyung nods. “Okay.”

 When Taehyung does kiss him, three weeks later under a gentle snowfall, Hoseok tastes the same boy he did almost a decade before, but he’s become the man that mended his heart with tender hands and new light in his dark eyes.