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As an arts student, Taehyung has always had a flair for the dramatic. This is probably why, when he barges into the campus apartment he shares with Jimin and cries out, “I’m ruined!”, his roommate barely even glances up from his math textbook.

“Did you hear me?” he says loudly, flinging himself down on the couch beside Jimin and raising a hand to his forehead. “I said, I’m ruined!”

Jimin sighs, setting down his pencil and turning to look at Taehyung. “You’re clearly going to tell me whether I ask or not, so let’s just get it over with. What’s wrong?”

“Mina bailed on being the model for my photography project,” Taeyhung says, voice filled with anguish.

It is kind of a big deal, actually - Taeyhung is a photography major, and for his junior year seminar his professor has tasked them with finding a “muse” and shooting that person in different scenarios throughout the fall semester. Mina is an old friend and someone who’s modeled for him previously, so she’d seemed like the perfect choice.

“Wait, really?” Jimin says, his earlier dismissiveness forgotten. “Why?”

“She says she has too much going on this semester with her music stuff,” Taehyung groans. “Which I totally get, I just wish she had told me that in the first place.”

“Yeah,” Jimin nods, picking up his pencil and poking it against his cheek. “Actually, though - would you be willing to work with a guy instead?”

“Jimin, we’ve been over this, I’m not using you as my mod- ”

“Okay, first of all, that’s your loss,” Jimin snaps, interrupting him. “But I’m not talking about me. You know Jeongguk?”

“Your hot dancer friend?” Taehyung asks, perking up. All he knows about Jeongguk, other than that he’s in Jimin’s dance troupe, is that he’s an incredible dancer and a certified stone cold fox.

Jimin makes a face at him. “Okay, you can’t hit on him if he’s going to be your model.”

Taehyung summons his best affronted expression. “I’m not going to HIT on him,” he says loftily. “I’m a serious artist Jimin, I value my craft.” Jimin blinks at him. “I just am stating facts, the kid is hot.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jimin says, waving his hand. “Well, I know he’s looking to make some extra cash this semester, so if the school is giving the models a stipend he’d probably be down.”

“He’s not very chatty, is he?” Taehyung says thoughtfully. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak.”

“He’s only like that until you get to know him,” Jimin says. “And besides, you talk enough for two people.”

“Mm, one of the many charming facets of my personality,” Taehyung nods sagely, and Jimin rolls his eyes. “But ok, will you ask him if he’d seriously be interested? I can take him out for coffee or something to talk about the project.”

“Yeah, I can tell him about it at our practice tomorrow,” Jimin agrees.

“My savior,” Taehyung coos, and blows him a kiss.

***

As it turns out, Jeongguk is interested, and after a bit of texting they agree to meet at the campus coffee shop to talk through the details. Taehyung gets there deliberately early, and is sitting at a table pondering the menu when Jeongguk walks in. He’s wearing sweats and a white t-shirt, and Taehyung’s first thought is that he really is ridiculously attractive, even dressed down like this. His body is slim and unmistakably strong, like a dancer’s, but he’s a little bulkier than some of the other guys in the troupe. Not that Taehyung has spent a lot of time thinking about this, or anything.

“Hi!” Taehyung says brightly, leaping up from his seat when Jeongguk catches sight of him. “Jeongguk, right?”

“Yeah, hi,” Jeongguk nods. He’s one of those people who keeps his expression guarded, like he’s trying to get a read on the situation before he commits to reacting one way or the other. It comes off as a little cold, but Taehyung reminds himself of what Jimin had said about Jeongguk just being shy around new people.

“I’m Taehyung,” Taehyung says, sticking out his hand. “Nice to officially meet you.”

“Likewise,” Jeongguk replies, shaking his hand. Really not big on the words, this one. Nice, firm handshake though.

“So, do you want something to drink?” Taehyung asks, gesturing towards the counter. The heady scent of coffee grounds surrounds them, and it’s reminding him of how insufficient the single cup of coffee he had chugged this morning had been. “My treat, since you’re doing me such a big favor with this.”

“Oh, umm, thanks,” Jeongguk says. “I’ll just take a plain coffee, black.”

Taehyung blinks at him. “You do realize they have like, 40 different mix-in flavors here, right?”

Jeongguk looks a little taken aback by this, which Taehyung has come to find is a pretty standard reaction when people meet him for the first time. “Yeah, I just don’t really do sugary drinks,” he says with a shrug.

Taehyung wonders how someone so hot can also be so insane, but decides to drop it for now seeing as he barely even knows Jeongguk and doesn’t want to scare him off before they’ve even begun. “Alrighty then, black coffee it is.”

He orders their drinks from the girl behind the counter while Jeongguk sits at the little two person table Taehyung had secured earlier.

“Thanks,” Jeongguk says when he returns and slides the coffee across the table towards him. His eyes widen when they settle on Taehyung’s drink. “What. Is that?”

“Large iced caramel latte with whipped cream and chocolate syrup,” Taehyung chirps happily, popping a heaping spoonful of whipped cream into his mouth. “Want to try it?”

Jeongguk looks appalled at the prospect, and Taehyung wonders if he’s one of those people (cough, Jimin) who thinks his abs will disappear if they eat one bite of sugar. “Umm, no. No thanks.”

Taehyung shrugs, taking another hearty slurp and savoring the sweetness on his tongue. He would probably be a millionaire if he didn’t spend all his money on expensive sugary drinks, but what’s life as a university student without a few poor financial decisions? “You’re missing out,” he says.

Jeongguk looks like he definitively doesn’t think so, but stays silent.

“Well, anyway,” Taehyung says, steering the conversation back to its original purpose. “Thanks again for agreeing to meet with me. I’m not sure how much Jimin told you, but basically for my photography seminar, I need a model to follow around and take pictures of for the whole semester. Not, like, every day, but in different settings and scenarios.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk nods, taking a sip of his coffee.

“You shouldn’t really have to do anything too out of the ordinary,” Taehyung continues. “You just have to be okay with me being there too, and taking pictures. But I would always ask your permission first.”

“That’s fine,” Jeongguk says. “Do I get to see the pictures?”

Taehyung shrugs. “You can, if you want. But I work with my senior mentor to make the final call about what gets included in my portfolio.”

“Who’s your senior mentor?”

“Kim Namjoon?” Taehyung says. He had met Namjoon in one of the first photography classes he had taken at the university, and credits him with his ultimate decision to become a photography major. True to form, he had essentially refused to work with anyone else as his mentor for this project.

To Taehyung’s surprise, Jeongguk’s face lights up. “Oh, I know him! We worked on a project together last year.”

“No way,” Taehyung says. “Was it a photography project?”

“Yeah, I’m a dance major but I took it as part of the general arts requirement,” Jeongguk explains. “I really liked it, actually.”

It makes more sense to Taehyung now why Jeongguk had been willing to work with him on this. Namjoon has the uncanny ability to make literally anyone interested in photography.

“That’s awesome,” Taehyung says, licking a dollop of whipped cream off of his straw. “Namjoon is the best.”

“Yeah, he is,” Jeongguk agrees.

“So, you’re a dance major and also in Bangtan with Jimin?” Taehyung asks. “That’s a lot of dancing.”

Jeongguk chuckles, and it’s surprisingly endearing. “Yeah, I’m exhausted pretty much always? But I really love it, so.”

Taehyung nods sympathetically. It seems like a pre-requisite of being any kind of arts major is to just be constantly sleep-deprived, although he can’t even imagine the kind of physical exhaustion that comes with being a dancer.

“I’ve been to some of the Bangtan showcases,” he offers. “You guys are amazing.”

“Oh, thanks,” Jeongguk says, a faint pink flush rising on his cheeks. “Hoseok hyung is an incredible choreographer.”

Taehyung has hung out with Hoseok a few times with Jimin - he is possibly the most cheerful person Taehyung has ever met, not to mention a truly gifted dancer. Taehyung has never seen someone move quite the way he does.

“So, umm - sorry to bring this up, but Jimin mentioned something about a stipend for the models?” Jeongguk asks, looking embarrassed.

“Oh! Right, sorry, should have mentioned that before,” Taehyung says. “Yeah, I don’t know the exact details but the school is giving the models a stipend for the semester since it’s a pretty big time commitment. I can put you in touch with the department admin to get that set up.”

“Cool, thanks,” Jeongguk says, looking relieved. “I’m, uh, trying to save some money so that I can travel with the troupe to some non-school sponsored showcases.”

“Oh, sweet. Well, I’m glad we can help each other out then.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“So, would you maybe want to hang out a few more times before we start? Like, get lunch or more coffee or something? I feel like it will help if we get to know each other a little better.”

“Sure,” Jeongguk agrees. He glances down at his watch. “Shit, I should probably get to class, but yeah, text me?”

“Will do,” Taehyung says, watching Jeongguk stand and drain the rest of his coffee. He really has very nice, broad shoulders. “See you around.”

“See you.”

***

For all his odd quirks and generally ridiculous personality (not to mention his obsession with obscenely sugary caffeinated drinks), Jeongguk finds he really likes hanging out with Taehyung. He’s smart, and kind, and he makes Jeongguk feel at ease in a way he’s not accustomed to feeling so soon after meeting someone. There’s also the minor detail that he’s gorgeous, but Jeongguk tries not to focus on that part too much.

They get coffee again the following week, which is where Jeongguk learns they have even more in common than he originally thought.

“I thought a lot about seriously pursuing music,” Taehyung confides in him over another caramel something monstrosity, which he had once again tried to push on Jeongguk. He’s wired today, having over-compensated for staying up until 3 AM playing video games with Jimin by chugging two and half cups of coffee before his 9 AM class. “I was really into theater in high school, and I even tried writing some of my own stuff. But in the end an actual degree seemed like the smarter choice.”

“So you sing?” Jeongguk asks curiously. He wouldn’t have guessed that, since photography is such a behind-the-scenes kind of art. Then again, Taehyung doesn’t strike him as a particularly behind-the-scenes type of guy.

“I mean, nothing special, but I can, yeah,” Taehyung says with a shrug.

“Let’s hear it,” Jeongguk says, and he doesn’t know why he’s surprised when Taehyung actually breaks into a verse of Adele’s “Someone Like You” right there in the coffee shop. A few heads turn, giving Taehyung funny looks, but Jeongguk is too gob-smacked by Taehyung’s voice to notice or care. It’s gorgeous, for starters, and way deeper and richer than Jeongguk would have guessed from his speaking voice. Like really, sexily deep, and fuck, this is honestly something Jeongguk would have been better off not knowing.

His mouth is actually hanging open when Taehyung finishes, which he realizes in horror and quickly shuts, clearing his throat. “Damn,” he says. “You’re, like, really good.”

Taehyung waves him off but seems genuinely pleased by the compliment. “I still really love it,” he admits. “There just isn’t really as much room for it in my life anymore.”

“I get it,” Jeongguk says, and it’s happening again - this weird willingness to just share personal details of his life with Taehyung. “I was really serious about singing for a while too. But I picked dance, and school, in the end.”

“So wait, do I get to hear you sing then?” Taehyung asks eagerly.

“Absolutely not,” Jeongguk says, shaking his head, although Taehyung’s puppy dog eyes almost make him consider it.

Taehyung pouts. “But I just sang for you!”

“Sorry.”

“Fine, then you have to take a sip of my latte,” Taehyung says, with the air of someone declaring a checkmate in a game of chess.

Jeongguk stares at him. “How is that even related?”

“My mind a strange and wondrous place,” Taehyung says solemnly. “But come on, it’s only fair.” He pushes his cup across the table towards Jeongguk. The plastic sides are wet with condensation.

“Fine,” Jeongguk sighs, eyeing the drink suspiciously. Closing his eyes, he grabs the straw and takes a small sip. It actually isn’t bad - very, very sweet, but refreshing and kind of delicious too. Not that he’s going to admit that to Taehyung.

“So?” Taehyung says when Jeongguk slides the drink back to him. “You liked it, I can tell.”

Jeongguk does his best to affect a look of indifference. “It’s alright, but I don’t know how you can drink an entire cup of that. It’s literally straight sugar.”

“Because it tastes like heaven and also keeps me awake in my computer science class.”

“Regular coffee will do that too, you know.”

“I drink more than enough shitty regular coffee at home, thanks,” Taehyung says. “Park Jimin has many talents - don’t tell him I said that - but making coffee is not one of them. You can tell him I said that last part.”

Jeongguk snorts. “I don’t doubt that, honestly.”

He learns this the hard way the following weekend, when he goes out with Jimin and the rest of the Bangtan troupe and wakes up the next morning with very little recollection of anything that happened after 11 PM.

“Where the fuck am I?” he croaks, when he opens his eyes and finds himself on a vaguely familiar couch, staring up at a vaguely familiar ceiling. He feels like he’s been run over by a bus, and the taste in his mouth is foul. The last thing he remembers is doing shots of jaeger with Hoseok and Suho, which honestly explains a lot. On the bright side, at least he’s not 1) naked or 2) sticking to the floor of a frat house, both of which have happened before.

“You’re in my apartment,” comes a voice from somewhere to his left, and it takes his supremely hungover brain a second to register that it’s Jimin.

The room starts spinning as soon as he sits up, and his stomach lurches unhappily. “Ugh, fuck,” he groans, clutching at his forehead.

Jimin swims into focus in front of him, looking far more awake and put together than is fair or reasonable the morning after a night out drinking.

“Here, drink this,” Jimin says, shoving a bottle of water into his hands. “I’m going to make coffee.”

“Mmf,” Jeongguk grunts, accepting the water and sipping it tentatively. He takes it as a good sign when he doesn’t immediately feel the urge to vomit. “Why am I here?”

“You were wasted and my place was closer than yours,” Jimin calls from the tiny corner that doubles as their kitchen (the joys of campus housing are innumerable).

Jeongguk is about to ask if he has any Advil when a door to his right opens and Taehyung appears, looking adorably sleepy and disheveled in a giant t-shirt and sweats.

“Oh,” he says, when his eyes land on Jeongguk, who belatedly realizes that he is very much not wearing a shirt. “Umm, hi.” Jeongguk might be kidding himself, but he’s pretty sure Taehyung’s gaze lingers on his chest before moving up to his face.

“Hi,” Jeongguk replies. His voice sounds like someone poured gravel down his throat.

“What - ?”

“Apparently I got too drunk and passed out on your couch,” Jeongguk explains, suddenly feeling somewhat sheepish.

“Ah.”

“He got too drunk and I had to drag his ass to our couch,” Jimin corrects, reappearing with two cups of coffee. He keeps one for himself and presses the other into Jeongguk’s hands.

“Sounds like a fun night,” Taehyung says with a yawn, running a hand through his hair. Jeongguk finds himself wondering if his hair feels as soft as it looks.

“Too fun,” Jeongguk mutters, wishing he could remember more of what actually went on. Then again, if he feels this bad, maybe it’s better he doesn’t know. He takes a sip of the coffee and promptly gags. Taehyung hadn’t been lying about the shitty coffee.

“What’s wrong?” Jimin asks, concerned.

“Just, umm. Sensitive stomach,” Jeongguk lies, setting the coffee mug down delicately. He catches Taehyung’s eye and finds him fighting down a laugh.

“Oh. Well, that’s what you get for trying to go shot for shot with Hobi hyung,” Jimin scolds. “Anyway, I have to go, there’s an extra credit math lecture that I want to go to.” This explains why he’s dressed like an actual human being right now.

“It’s Saturday,” Taehyung says incredulously, giving voice to what Jeongguk is thinking.

“So? It’s extra credit,” Jimin replies, as if this explains everything. “Jeonggukie, feel better, and please don’t vomit on our carpet.”

Jeongguk salutes, and with that Jimin is off, book bag in hand.

“Want some actually drinkable coffee?” Taehyung suggests, grinning. His mouth seems to turn into a rectangle when he smiles, as if his joy is too big to be contained by the standard confines of the human anatomy.

“God, yes,” Jeongguk says gratefully.

“Come on, I know a place.”

Jeongguk locates his shirt on the ground next to the couch, and they set off, Taehyung still dressed in the clothes he had apparently slept it. Not that Jeongguk is one to judge, considering he’s wearing the same button down and jeans he had gone out in the night before. They make quite a pair, he thinks.

It’s a short walk to the diner Taehyung has in mind, and the crisp fall air actually makes Jeongguk feel moderately more alive. Taehyung chatters happily on the way, telling a story about the first time he had tried to drink Jimin’s coffee after a night of heavy drinking.

“You can choke it down if you’re sober and just need some caffeine,” he advises sagely. “But if you’re hungover, forget it. I think I puked after one sip.”

Mercifully, the diner isn’t too packed for a weekend, and they fold themselves into a booth without having to wait. A pleasant waitress with a bob and a floral apron brings them menus, and not long after Jeongguk is inhaling the life-saving fumes of a good cup of coffee. Taehyung, predictably, orders a hot chocolate with extra marshmallows.

“Did you go out last night?” Jeongguk asks, clutching at his cup of coffee like it’s a lifeline. His head is still pounding, but he thinks he’ll be okay once gets some greasy food in his stomach.

“I was going to, but then I took a nap and didn’t wake up until 4 AM,” Taehyung says, laughing ruefully. “Probably for the best anyway, otherwise I’d be in just as bad shape as you.”

“You’d think I’d have learned how to cut myself off by now,” Jeongguk says, resting his forehead on the Formica table top.

“I’m a year ahead of you and I still haven’t learned, so cut yourself some slack,” Taehyung says consolingly, patting his hand. Through the haze of his hangover, Jeongguk registers that his skin is warm and surprisingly soft.

Their food arrives in a greasy, glorious whirl of carbohydrates and calories. Jeongguk takes a few cautious bites, confirms he isn’t going to vomit all over the table, and then inhales the rest of his meal. He only looks up when Taehyung steals a home fry from his plate without asking.

“Better?” he says, smiling around the fry.

“Marginally,” Jeongguk replies. “Why is it that this kind of food tastes so good when you’re hungover?”

“Soaks up all the alcohol,” Taehyung says. “Maybe, I dunno. But it ain’t bad without a hangover either.”

They finish their food and set off back into the fall morning, chatting companionably. The sky is a bright, brilliant blue, with only a few wispy clouds floating by. Jeongguk feels pleasantly full, satisfied, and the pounding in his head has subsided to more of a dull ache.

“I should probably head home,” he says, somewhat reluctantly, when they reach the walkway to Taehyung’s building. “Thanks for taking me out, I’m not sure I would have made it on just Jimin’s coffee.”

“No problem,” Taehyung says with that same boxy smile. “Go sleep it off.”

Jeongguk nods - a nap sounds life-changing right now, and he doesn’t have to be at practice until later this afternoon. He wonders if his housemates have even noticed that he didn’t come home last night, then remembers that Hoseok had probably been the one to pass him off to Jimin for safekeeping.

“Also, I was thinking, maybe I could start shooting you this week?” Taehyung is watching him a little tentatively, an expression Jeongguk isn’t used to seeing on his face.

“Oh!” Jeongguk had honestly kind of forgotten there was a reason he and Taehyung had started hanging out in the first place. He likes knowing, though, that there’s an excuse for them to continue seeing each other in the future. “Yeah, of course.”

“I figure, now that you’ve woken up shirtless in my home, the foundation is kind of there,” Taehyung says slyly.

It feels strangely intimate to hear Taehyung say that, especially considering nothing even remotely intimate had happened between them. Jeongguk decides to pointedly ignore that feeling, and instead laughs ruefully. “That’s fair.”

“Cool, I’ll text you,” Taehyung says, giving him a thumbs up. “See you around, Jeongguk.”

He turns and walks up the path to his and Jimin’s building, and Jeongguk finds himself watching his retreating form until it disappears into the building. He blames it on the hangover and begins his own trek home.

***

“You took him to brunch?” Jimin says dubiously that afternoon, when he returns from his extra credit lecture and finds Taehyung playing video games on the couch.

“Yeah, he was in desperate need of some hangover food,” Taehyung explains. “What?” he adds, when he notices Jimin looking at him suspiciously.

“Is this because you saw him shirtless and want to bang him?” Jimin asks. “I know his abs are nice, Taehyung, but - ”

“Oh my god,” Taehyung cuts him off. “I am not trying to bang him, Jimin, I’m trying to get to know him since I’m going to be working with him all semester.”

So yes, Jeongguk’s abs are so nice that it kind of makes Taehyung to cry a little, but he doesn’t need to admit that to Jimin. He does possess some self control, after all, and he knows it would be a terrible, highly irresponsible idea to start sleeping with his model. He doubts Jeongguk would even be interested in him anyway.

“Mhm,” Jimin intones, looking unconvinced.

“Leave me alone,” Taehyung grumbles, turning his attention back to the game.

Jimin ignores him, obviously. “I’m about to head to practice, should I tell him you say hi?”

“By all means, seeing as we are FRIENDS and that would be a normal thing for a friend to do,” Taehyung yells after Jimin, who has vanished into his room to change. When he reappears, he says: “You know Jimin, maybe you’re the one with the crush here. You did bring him back to our apartment last night.”

Jimin rolls his eyes, tugging his shoes on. “Oh please, he’s like a brother to me at this point.” He looks thoughtful for a moment. “I did think about it when we first met, since he’s so fucking hot, but it would have been a mess with the team and everything. I think he’s more of the hookup type anyway, he’s still only a sophomore.”

Even as someone who typically sticks to just hookups himself, Taehyung can’t fully ignore the slight knock of disappointment he feels in his chest at this last piece of information.

***

All in all, by the time Taehyung actually gets around to taking pictures of Jeongguk, he feels like he knows him decently well. They’ve gotten coffee a few times, lunch once, and then of course there was the notable incident the prior weekend when he had walked into his living room to find a shirtless Jeongguk on his couch, abs on full, glorious display. For a few brief, hysterical seconds, Taehyung wondered if he was having some sort of wet dream, but fortunately he snapped into reality before he climbed into Jeongguk’s lap and started making out with him. The brunch they had shared after that felt like a particularly good bonding experience - Jeongguk, in his hungover state, had seemed a little less guarded than usual, and didn’t even flinch when Taehyung had touched his hand.

For their first shoot, Taehyung decides to keep it simple and private, give Jeongguk a chance to get used to being photographed. One sunny afternoon when they’re both done with classes, they grab coffee and walk to the pond on the university campus, which generally has good lighting this time of day.

“Sip?” Taehyung offers, extending his drink, pumpkin-flavored today, in Jeongguk’s direction. Jeongguk sighs and takes a dutiful pull from the straw without even taking the cup from Taehyung’s hand, which Taehyung finds oddly endearing. Slowly, he thinks, he’s wearing him down - his shyness and his inexplicable aversion to sugary drinks.

The sun is still relatively high in the sky when they arrive at the pond, drenching the water and surrounding greenery in bright, mid afternoon light. No one else is around, so they have free reign, strolling around the gently sloping water’s edge while Taehyung assesses where to shoot. He eventually settles on a small wooden bench, nestled in the grass between a large tree and the pond. He deposits Jeongguk on the bench and has him sit still while he takes a few test shots to check the lighting and backdrop.

“Okay,” he says, once he’s satisfied with this setup. “This’ll work.”

“Should I, like, pose?” Jeongguk asks. He looks a little awkward and stiff, his hands twisting in his lap, and Taehyung realizes he’s probably nervous.

“No, just try to get comfortable and forget that the camera is here,” Taehyung instructs. “Look around, shift how you’re sitting if you want. Be one with nature, you know.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk says, still sounding uncomfortable.

“Have you heard the story of how Jimin and I first met?” Taehyung asks, trying to distract him.

“Do I want to?”

Taehyung winks and launches into the story anyway, detailing the night when, as innocent young freshmen (Jeongguk snorts at this) who happened to live on the same hall, they had both been sexiled by their roommates and ended up sitting in the hallway outside of Jimin’s room talking for two hours. The story also features a pizza delivery boy who was tricked into thinking they were the rightful recipients of the pizza, an escaped pet bunny that belonged to a girl on their hall, and several very drunk selfies (which have since been printed and arranged in a collage on their refrigerator). It ends with the two of them passing out on top of each other on the floor and waking up to Jimin’s roommate’s hookup stepping on them when she made her exit the following morning.

“Literally, her foot landed directly on my face,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk is laughing so hard at this point there are tears streaming down his face. As Taehyung had hoped, he’s loosened up considerably, and there are some great shots of him laughing.

“Turn your face to the side and bring your leg up, yeah?” Taeyhung directs, and Jeongguk obliges, still chuckling. This angle really suits him, the sun illuminating his face as he tips his head up and lets his eyes fall shut. He’s stunning, Taehyung thinks, so much so that it makes his breath catch in his throat, and he’s grateful that he has the camera to at least partly cover his face.

“Umm,” Taehyung says eloquently. “That’s good, yeah. Would you mind standing up, walking around a little bit? Try to pretend like I’m not even here.”

“You’re not really an easy person to ignore,” Jeongguk says, his voice fond, making Taehyung’s heart skip a beat.

Jeongguk does as he’s told anyway, slipping his hands into his pockets as he wanders around the pond. He crouches to examine a flower, dips a hand into the water, stands and spins in place, face tilted upwards. A gentle breeze glides in over the water, lifting the dark hair from his head, and Taehyung observes, not for the first time, how Jeongguk’s hair sometimes seems to move as if separate from his body.

“I never used to want to play outside when I was a kid,” Taehyung comments, watching Jeongguk kick at a tuft of grass with his foot. “I always just wanted to play video games. Now it feels like such a treat to get to spend an afternoon outside.”

“It’s good for the soul,” Jeongguk agrees.

The sun is hanging low in the sky by now, the bright sunshine from before having melted into a warmer, golden glow. It paints the tips of Jeongguk’s hair orange, a gorgeous effect that Taehyung manages to capture on camera.

“Wanna head back?” he asks. “I think we’re good for today. You did great.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“What are you doing now?” Taehyung asks as they start to walk in the general direction of their respective homes.

Jeongguk shrugs. “Homework, I guess.” He makes a face. “What about you?”

Taehyung also has a small mountain of homework waiting for him at home, but he finds he’s not ready to say goodbye to Jeongguk just yet. That feeling is becoming more and more familiar, and he’s blithely continuing to ignore whatever it might mean. “Want to not do that and go get food instead?”

“God, yes, I am so not in the mood for astronomy right now.”

“Good answer.”

***

The thing is, Jeon Jeongguk does not do intimacy. He loves his family, and he has great friends, and when he feels like it he has sex with a stranger that he knows he’ll never have to speak to again. But he doesn’t do intimacy and he sure as hell doesn’t do feelings - he tried that shit once and he’s not going to make that mistake again. He prefers to keep people at a comfortable distance, where they can’t get too much in his space, both literally and figuratively. He knows it makes him sound like some sort of douchey university dude cliche, but it’s been working just fine for him, thank you.

The other thing is, though, that Kim Taehyung does get in his space - like all up in it, all the time. The boy has no boundaries, but it’s so disarmingly charming that Jeongguk can’t even bring himself to be bothered by it or to try to push him away. He’s too much fun to be around, plus there are worse things than a cute boy touching you all the time.

“What’s your sign?” Taehyung asks, taking a loud slurp from Jeongguk’s soda, once again without asking.

“That’s astrology, not astronomy,” Jeongguk says, taking back his soda and suppressing a minor freak out when he realizes his mouth is now where Taehyung’s had just been.

“Whatever,” Taehyung says with a shrug. They’re at dinner, some ramen place that Taehyung had wanted to try, and Jeongguk had been telling him about the courses he’s taking this semester.

“I’m a Virgo.”

“Ohh,” Taehyung says, propping his chin in his hands and examining him curiously. “Super loyal and hardworking, but really hard on yourself, right? And shy. Sounds about right.”

“Umm,” Jeongguk coughs, blinking at him. He knows Taehyung is just reciting the typical qualities associated with the Virgo sign, but he’s also completely spot on. “Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.”

“Are you emotionally repressed too?” Taehyung asks, as if he’s inquiring about the weather.

“Probably,” Jeongguk says with a laugh, aiming for casual. It’s not like he’s been actively repressing his emotions surrounding Taehyung, or anything.

“Mm, that’s too bad. It’s not good for you to not feel your feelings, you know,” he says sagely.

Eager to get off this topic, Jeongguk makes a noncommittal grunt and turns the question on Taehyung. “What about you, what’s your sign?”

Mercifully, this does seem to distract him. “My birthday is the day before New Year’s Eve, so Capricorn.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be like... super serious and disciplined?” Jeongguk asks incredulously.

“Are you saying I’m not those things,” Taehyung deadpans, but then his face breaks into a wide smile. “Yeah, I’m basically the polar opposite of all things Capricorn, it’s weird. I’m supposed to be super negative and inflexible and only thrive in a very structured environment.”

Jeongguk snorts - it’s so far from the Taehyung he knows, someone who constantly seems to be spilling over the edges of regular life.

“I’m glad you’re not that way,” Jeongguk says before he can think about how it might sound. Seriously, something about being around Taehyung messes up his brain-to-mouth filter.

Taehyung beams at him. “Thanks, I’m glad too. My parents, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t have minded me being a touch more disciplined.” But the way he says it, with a sort of rueful laugh, makes it clear that this is more of a joke in the family than anything else.

They talk for a while more, until their drinks are drained and it becomes clear that they’ve procrastinated for an unacceptably long time. Jeongguk is the first to drag himself up from the table, begrudgingly, and he bids Taehyung goodnight on the sidewalk, standing in a square of yellow light shed by the restaurant’s main window. It feels like the end of a date, kind of, except they don’t kiss and it’s not, it’s not.

When he gets home, Hoseok, Yoongi, and Seokjin are seated in the living room, various notebooks spread out across their laps, the TV on quietly in the background. Jeongguk had met Hoseok, then a junior, when he auditioned for the Bangtan troupe at the very start of his freshman year. They had become fast friends, Hoseok’s perpetual cheeriness hard to resist, and Jeongguk had met Yoongi, now a music grad student, and Seokjin, a teaching grad student, through him. After spending freshman year in a cramped double with an unfriendly roommate, he had jumped at the chance when the three of them approached him about an extra room in the small, off campus house they were looking to rent. As the maknae of the group, he takes a lot of shit, but other than Jimin the three of them have become his closest friends.

“The model graces us with his presence!” Seokjin exclaims, which is ironic given that he was once approached by a modeling agency on the street for being THAT damn attractive.

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, dropping his bag on the floor and flopping down on the couch next to Hoseok. He should never have told them that he was going to be modeling for Taehyung.

“Where’ve you been?” Hoseok asks, throwing an arm around Jeongguk’s shoulders. “Seokjin hyung cooked.”

“I got dinner with Taehyung,” Jeongguk replies through a yawn.

“Been spending a lot of time with Taehyung,” Yoongi says casually, doing that thing where you think he’s not paying attention until he chimes in with an uncomfortably accurate observation.

“It’s for his project,” Jeongguk deflects, even though they hadn’t discussed photography once at dinner.

“Sure it is,” Seokjin says with an irritatingly knowing smile.

“Oh, shut up,” Jeongguk says, mortified to feel his cheeks heating up. Before any of them can comment on this, he turns to Hoseok. “Is it okay if he comes to one of our practices next week? He wants to take pictures of me dancing since it’s such a huge part of my life.”

“Sure,” Hoseok says cheerfully. “Also, you’re blushing.”

“I hate you all,” Jeongguk grumbles, and stalks out of the room.

***

Watching Jeongguk dance is, to put it lightly, a distinctly overwhelming experience. In other words, Taehyung nearly dies.

Of course, technically, he’s seen Jeongguk dance before - he’s been in the front row at every Bangtan showcase since freshman year, but that had always been to see Jimin. He had noticed Jeongguk, obviously, because you’d have to be blind not to notice Jeongguk, and even remembers asking Jimin “WHO IS THE FINE AS HELL NEW KID” after one showcase last year. But the first time he really, truly devotes his full attention to Jeongguk dancing is when he goes to a practice with him the week after their shoot by the pond.

He walks over to the practice with Jimin, who grumbles something under his breath about Taehyung never coming to see him rehearse.

“I am like Bangtan’s number one groupie,” Taehyung says, offended. “I literally wore a shirt with your face on it to one of your performances last year, you fuck.”

“Aw, yeah, you do love me,” Jimin concedes, ruffling Taehyung’s hair affectionately.

“Besides, aren’t they usually closed practices?”

“Yeah, you’re lucky Hobi hyung has a soft spot for you.”

This is evident when Taehyung walks into the studio and Hoseok shouts a greeting at him, hugging him tightly. “Taehyung! Welcome! Yoongi hyung is our guest today too, he mixed one of the songs we’ve been working on.”

Somewhere to his left, Jimin makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a squeak, flushing when Taehyung glances over and quirks an eyebrow at him. Taehyung has always been a little intimidated by Yoongi, who he knows is an extremely gifted producer, but he’s often suspected that Jimin’s admiration extends a bit further than just that. Yoongi nods in their direction and Taehyung makes a large mental note to harass Jimin about this later.

Jeongguk is on the other side of the studio, near the mirror, his body folded in half as he stretches. His ass looks really, unfairly nice in the sweats he’s wearing, and Taehyung only just manages to pull his eyes away in time for Jeongguk to look up and see him. His face breaks into a smile, and all Taehyung does is stand there and smile dumbly back at him.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says, jogging over to him. He grabs the iced latte (hazelnut this time, with extra whip and a drizzle of caramel syrup) out of Taehyung’s hands, totally unprompted, and takes a sip. Taehyung gapes at him.

“Oh my god, you’re actually starting to like it,” Taehyung says triumphantly.

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, handing the drink back to him. “Please, I just know by now that resistance is futile.”

“Mhm.”

Before they can argue more about it, Hoseok calls everyone to attention, and Taehyung goes to sit against a wall with Yoongi, camera at the ready, while Jeongguk rejoins the team.

In the time since he’d seen Jeongguk last, Taehyung had managed to convince himself, rather naively, that he had a reasonable handle on his attraction to Jeongguk. Sure, they get along great, and sure, Jeongguk is, objectively speaking, one of the hottest people he’s ever seen, but so what? As long as he doesn’t let his mind go too far down the road of what it might be like to hook up with him, everything is fine. They can be friends and Taehyung has the situation under control.

And then Jeongguk starts dancing, and that all goes straight out the window.

Jeongguk is an exceptional dancer. He moves with practiced ease, one movement slipping easily into the next, each precise and powerful. His body is graceful but strong, and Taehyung catches occasional glimpses of toned stomach when his loose-fitting shirt flies up during jumps and spins. It’s evident on his face how much he loves it, a smile occasionally breaking through his intense focus. This is something Taehyung has always admired about the Bangtan troupe, how a sense of joy and fun imbues even their most difficult choreography.

Jeongguk is at the front for a lot of the dances, which is impressive and unusual considering he’s only a sophomore, but he’s such a good performer that it’s easy to see why. Jimin is heavily featured as well, Taehyung notes with pride, and he thinks it says a lot about Hoseok that, even as a senior and the leader of the group, he steps aside to let the younger members shine.

One particular dance involves a gratuitous amount of hip thrusting (the choreography has goddamn Park Jimin written all over it), and the way Jeongguk snaps his hips, the look on his face cocky and defiant, sets Taehyung’s head spinning. It had been a lot easier not to fantasize about hooking up with Jeongguk when he didn’t have a LITERAL VISUAL of how he thrusts his hips. Not for the first time and sadly, probably not for the last, Taehyung is grateful for the chance to hide behind his camera.

He supposes it’s a testament to his own talents as a photographer that he’s able to keep his head enough to get some great shots during the practice. There’s one in particular, of Jeongguk mid-air during a sort of sideways flip, that looks especially badass. Jeongguk is at the forefront, expression fierce, red t-shirt flying, and the entire crew is in the air behind him, perfectly in sync. He’s going to have to show this one to Hoseok - he thinks it’s good enough to be the program cover for their next showcase.

By the time the practice ends, an hour and a half later, they’re all sweating and breathing heavily. The choreography is rigorous, and Taehyung can understand why Jimin is constantly at the gym with Jeongguk, trying to build up his stamina.

“Get anything good?” Jeongguk asks, walking over to him, water bottle in hand. He takes a swig and seemingly swallows half the bottle in one gulp.

“Yeah, a lot actually,” Taehyung says, ignoring the way Jeongguk’s hair is damp and clinging to his forehead. “You guys look awesome, check out this one.” He taps to the picture of the team in the air, holding the camera out to Jeongguk.

“Oh, sick.” He looks behind him and calls for Hoseok and Jimin to come over and see.

“Damn, that is BADASS,” Hoseok says, chin hooked over Jeongguk’s shoulder. “Jeonggukie, such a stud. Thanks, Taehyung.”

“Thanks for letting me sit in,” Taehyung replies. “I can send this one to you, if you want it.”

“That would be awesome.”

“The choreo is fire, you guys,” Yoongi chimes in. “It’s coming together so well.”

“Which song is yours?” Taehyung asks.

“The one where Jiminie has his solo!” Hoseok exclaims, clapping Jimin on the back.

“Yeah, looking good, Jimin,” Yoongi says, and Jimin looks like he might melt into the floor and die.

“Thanks,” he says, smiling shyly, and he seems to be the living embodiment of the term “heart eyes” right now. Taehyung is going to have so much fun with this when they get home. “The song is amazing.”

While this little love fest unfolds, Taehyung pulls Jeongguk to the side.

“Do you have time to hang back a little after? I was hoping I could get a few pictures of just you.”

Jeongguk nods. “Sure, I have something I want to work on by myself anyway.”

So, when the rest of the team (plus Yoongi, who now has his arm around Jimin’s shoulders) departs to go grab an early dinner, Taehyung and Jeongguk stay behind. The studio feels empty and quiet without a horde of loud, sweaty boys running around, but it’s kind of peaceful.

“I’ve been working on a solo piece,” Jeongguk explains, connecting his phone to the speakers. “You know the song Rainism?” Taehyung nods. “Eventually I’ll probably get Hoseok and Jimin to back me up, but right now I’m still trying to learn it all myself.”

The music starts, the beat sultry and pulsing, and Taehyung knows before Jeongguk even starts moving that this is probably going to ruin his life. The lyrics fucking start with “I’m gonna be a bad boy,” after all. Jeongguk moves as fluidly as ever, the choreography sexy and simple, and Taehyung maintains a tenuous grip on his sanity until the part where he drags his hand down the front of his body, a slight smirk on his lips. It’s possible that he blacks out at that point, but at least when the song is over there are actual photographs on his camera. Small victories, and all that.

“Umm,” Taehyung says, clearing his throat. He’s not used to be rendered literally speechless, but there’s a first time for everything, he supposes. “That was, yeah.” He coughs. “Crowd’s gonna love that one.”

Jeongguk is watching him curiously. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah, just peachy,” Taehyung says, hoping his voice doesn’t sound as hysterical as he feels.

“Okay...” Jeongguk says, not sounding totally convinced. “I’m gonna run through it a few more times, then maybe we can grab dinner?”

“Sounds great.”

If Taehyung is still alive by then.

***

“Park Jimin!” Taehyung shouts the minute he walks through the door to their apartment.

Jimin is sprawled out on the couch, looking very cozy in a too-big sweatshirt, flicking through the channels on their TV. He lifts a hand to Taehyung in greeting.

“Did I see you flirting with Min Yoongi at the rehearsal earlier?!”

“I don’t know, did I see you drooling over Jeon Jeongguk?” Jimin shoots back. Prince of sass, this one.

“I don’t drool,” Taehyung says indignantly, shoving Jimin’s legs out of the way and dropping down on the couch next to him.

“Sure, and I wasn’t flirting,” Jimin retorts.

“Touche.”

“He sat next to me at dinner,” Jimin says abruptly, his expression a little dreamy.

“I went to dinner with Jeongguk,” Taehyung offers by way of response.

“Well, I guess we’re both fucked, huh?”

“Looks like it,” Taehyung sighs. They sit in silence for a moment, then: “Mario Kart?”

“You’re on.”

And if playing video games for 3 hours to avoid talking about your feelings isn’t true friendship, Taehyung doesn’t know what is.

***

>where are you?<

The message, directed at Taehyung, is sent on impulse. Jeongguk has been sitting in the library for the past two hours, struggling through his history notes, and he feels like he might scream.

Taehyung responds almost immediately.

>just leaving class, what’s up?<

>im going crazy at the library lol i need a distraction<

>ah, grasshopper, you have come to the master of distraction<

>lol save me? im at a table on the third floor<

The third floor is the least oppressively silent floor of the library, and the only one Jeongguk can stand to work on. Quiet conversation is allowed, and a row of four-person tables, like the one he’s sitting at now, allow students to sit and study together.

A few minutes pass with no response, during which time Jeongguk is left to ponder why his first instinct had been to text Taehyung, not Jimin or one of his housemates. And then:

>coming<

With a sigh of relief, Jeongguk settles in to wait for him, scrolling through his various social media apps. He’s startled to attention by the sound of Taehyung’s voice, and he looks up to find him standing on the other side of the table, mouth agape.

“Oh my god,” he hisses.

Confused, Jeongguk follows his line of vision, then freezes. Oops.

“I KNEW YOU LIKED THEM,” Taehyung shout-whispers, pointing accusingly at the half-drunk tall iced caramel latte (with whipped cream and sprinkles, no less) sitting next to Jeongguk’s right elbow.

“I,” he stammers, casting around for an explanation. “I got it for you?”

“Liar,” Taehyung says gleefully, dropping down into the seat across from him. “You already drank half of it.”

“FINE,” Jeongguk huffs. “You got me hooked, you menace. Now all my teeth are going to rot and I’m going to die young from consuming too much sugar.”

“I’ll cry at your funeral,” Taehyung says solemnly, snagging the drink and taking a sip.

“Oh, how kind of you.”

“Wow, I feel so vindicated.” He leans back in his seat and props his feet up on the empty chair beside him, watching Jeongguk smugly.

“Ugh, I hate you.” In truth, he’s actually a little relieved that Taehyung had caught him, since it means he won’t have to sneak around anymore. He’s felt like some sort of addict this past week or so, darting into the coffee shop with his hood up and praying that he doesn’t bump into Taehyung. Then again, he feels pretty confident that Taehyung is literally never going to let him live this down.

“If you’re thinking I’m never going to let you live this down, you’re correct,” Taehyung says, beaming. “Here, let me get a photo of you with it, it’ll be the perfect centerpiece for my portfolio.”

He whips out his camera, which always seems to be with him, and snaps a picture. Jeongguk glowers at him.

“I’d prefer a smile, if I’m honest,” he says cheekily, looking at the photo.

Jeongguk flips him the bird instead, and Taehyung gasps in mock outrage even as he takes the photo anyway.

“Jeon Jeongguk, I am APPALLED.” He sets the camera down and starts pulling books out of his bag.

“What are you doing?”

“Well if I’m here, I may as well study with you for a while,” Taehyung says with a shrug, selecting a hot pink marker as his apparent writing utensil.

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, pleased. “Okay.”

***

In the week leading up to the first university dance showcase of the year, Taehyung doesn’t see Jeongguk at all. The Bangtan troupe is rehearsing around the clock, refining their choreography to perfection. It’s a school-only showcase, not an actual competition, but as one of the most popular student events of the year, it’s still a big deal. Jimin is so exhausted when he gets home at night that he barely even blinks in Taehyung’s direction before faceplanting into his bed and passing out.

Taehyung hadn’t even realized how much time he’d been spending with Jeongguk until that pattern is disrupted, and he finds himself missing his company almost as much as he misses Jimin’s. It’s kind of odd, especially considering that it’s only been a month or so since they first sat across from each other in the coffee shop, Jeongguk tight-lipped and obviously bemused by Taehyung. Since then, Taehyung feels he has done a pretty respectable job of cracking his shell, and in return he’s found Jeongguk to be warmer, kinder, and funnier than he had originally expected. He’s also surprisingly good at handling Taehyung’s weirdness, second only to Jimin, who admittedly has two years’ advantage on him.

(The other day, Taehyung had spoken to Jeongguk in a language he made up as a child for a full 8 minutes. When he stopped, Jeongguk had looked at him and said:

“Cool. How do you say, I want pizza?”

Taehyung had recited a string of indecipherable sounds back to him.

“No way, me too.”

So they went and got pizza.)

The morning of the showcase, Jimin wakes up with the flu. In between bouts of vomiting, he insists he’s fine to perform, so Taehyung calls Hoseok over to talk some sense to him. Hoseok takes one look at him, pale and shaky, and says:

“No way. I forbid you.”

“Hyung, I’m fine,” Jimin pleads, trying to stand up and collapsing back into bed instead.

“You are most certainly not fine,” Hoseok says. “Jiminie, I’m sorry, but as your captain I can’t let you. First of all, I think you might pass out on stage, and secondly, your health is most important.”

Jimin pouts, and he looks so sad that Taehyung’s heart breaks a little. It’s not fair, he’s been working so hard for this.

“Look, at least it’s just the fall showcase and not a competition. You know that’s when we need you most, so rest up and feel better, okay?”

“Thanks,” Taehyung says, when they’ve left Jimin in his room so that he can walk Hoseok out.

“Sure,” Hoseok shrugs. “It really sucks, but there’s no way he can perform like this. Take good care of him, yeah? Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Actually,” Taehyung says, an idea occurring to him.

When Min Yoongi shows up at their apartment a few hours later, carrying a giant container of Seokjin’s signature chicken noodle soup and with one Jeon Jeongguk in tow, Taehyung pretends he had nothing to do with it.

They can’t stay very long, with Jeongguk needing to start getting ready for the showcase and Yoongi tagging along to help set up the music, but by the time they leave, Jimin is the most cheerful he’s been all day. He makes a bit of a fuss about how terrible he must look, but Taehyung promptly shushes him by shoving a spoonful of soup into his mouth.

“You should go without me,” Jimin says, settling back against his pillows.

“Go where?”

“The showcase. C’mon, I know you want to.”

This is true - he does want to, he really, really wants to, and it’s because of Jeongguk. He’s always loved the energy of the showcases, loved sitting in the front row and screaming his head off for Jimin and the rest of the troupe. As sorry as he is that Jimin has to miss this performance, he still wants to be there for Jeongguk, feels personally invested especially after Jeongguk had let him watch his solo dance. He even allowed himself to think that Jeongguk had seemed a little disappointed earlier when he’d said he was probably just going to stay home and look after Jimin.

“I don’t want to leave you alone,” Taehyung protests.

“I’ll be fine,” Jimin says, waving him off. “I’m just going to sleep anyway, and if I get hungry I have enough soup to feed a family of five.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Go.”

So Taehyung slings his camera around his neck and goes, squeezing into an empty seat in the second row a few minutes before the showcase starts. Someone passes him a program, and he sees with a flicker of pride that his photo was chosen to represent Bangtan.

The performances are great, as usual - a mix of groups and solo performers, spanning a whole variety of music genres. Bangtan closes the show with two numbers that quite literally bring the house down. One of them is “Rainism,” which starts with Jeongguk alone but eventually expands to include the whole group. Taehyung watches in awe, camera forgotten, as the choreography Jeongguk had shown him a few weeks ago comes to life on stage. He had looked incredible then, but here, in a suit, illuminated by a spotlight, he looks untouchable, almost otherworldly, and Taehyung feels, with a startling jolt of certainty, that he’ll never be able to have him.

The song reaches the part where Jeongguk drags his hand down his body, and somehow, in this exact moment, his eyes find Taehyung’s in the crowd. He holds Taehyung’s gaze for what feels like an eternity, smirking slightly, and it’s so intense that Taehyung feels his mouth go dry. When Jeongguk finally looks away, Taehyung feels shaken, like he might lose his balance if he stood up right now. Maybe he’s coming down with the flu too.

He finds them after the show, sneaking down into the dressing rooms as he’s done in the past to see Jimin. Jeongguk’s face lights up when he sees him, and whatever it is that had happened between them when he was onstage is left unspoken, pushed aside.

“You came,” he says, shoving past the other troupe members to get to Taehyung.

“I wanted to see you perform,” Taehyung replies, wondering if that’s maybe a little too honest of him.

“Thanks,” Jeongguk says, beaming at him. It’s the smile he gets when he’s really happy, where the left side of his mouth tugs up just a touch higher than the right. “I’m really glad you made it.”

Hoseok appears at Jeongguk’s shoulder right then, and Taehyung is honestly grateful for the interruption - he might have said something stupid otherwise.

“Taehyung!” He greets cheerily. “Thanks for coming out! How’s our Jiminie?”

“He’s okay, he sends his love. When I left he was passed out, so hopefully he can sleep this thing off. The soup helped,” he adds with a wink.

“Good, I hope he feels better soon,” Hoseok says. “Hey, do you want to come to our after party? We’re throwing down at our place.”

Taehyung glances over at Jeongguk, who nods eagerly. “You should come.”

“Sure, I’m down,” he says. Taehyung has never been one to say no to a good time, after all.

He catches a ride back to the house with Yoongi, somehow ending up wedged between Hoseok and Jeongguk in the backseat, with Seokjin, their fourth roommate, in the front. Taehyung spends the majority of the car ride trying to slow his racing heart, hyper aware of the place where his thigh is pressed up against Jeongguk’s. In the darkness of the car, everything feels heightened, from the heat of Jeongguk’s body to the sound of his breathing. He can’t get the way Jeongguk had looked at him during “Rainism” out of his head.

“Welcome to our home!” Hoseok announces when they step through the front. It’s a small, two story house, more spacious than Taehyung and Jimin’s tiny apartment but not by much. It’s clear that four young students with better things to do than cleaning (ie drinking, sleeping, playing video games) live here, but Taehyung has seen far worse. He remembers Jeongguk mentioning in passing that Seokjin is a bit of a neat freak, so that probably explains it.

Jeongguk hovers near Taehyung when they first walk in, looking a little like he actually cares what Taehyung thinks of his house.

“I’m glad I finally am getting to see where you live!” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk flashes him an appreciative smile.

“Do you, umm, want to leave your camera in my room?” Jeongguk asks. “Not sure how safe it will be out here.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says, his brain short circuiting somewhere around the words “my room”. He’d forgotten he even had his camera with him. “Yeah, that would be great, thanks.”

So he follows Jeongguk up the narrow staircase, ignoring the way Yoongi raises his eyebrows as he watches them go. His heart is pounding again, which is ridiculous - it’s not like they’re going to Jeongguk’s room to fuck, Jesus - but he can’t seem to get it to stop.

There are three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and Jeongguk leads him to the one at the end of the hall, flicking on a light switch as they enter.

“So... this is my room,” he says, his cheeks faintly pink.

Jeongguk’s bedroom is about the size of a bathroom stall, with the spare, unfurnished look that is a hallmark of most university age boys. A desk is wedged into the far corner, laptop and a neat stack of notebooks resting on top of it, and there are a few music posters on the wall. His bed is just a few feet from the door, light gray sheets rumpled and unmade, and Taehyung can’t help but let his gaze linger on it, wondering how many people Jeongguk has had in that bed, what it would be like to be one of them.

“You really have an eye for interior design,” Taehyung jokes when he realizes he should probably say something. Jeongguk laughs, swatting his arm.

“It’s not like I have much room to decorate,” he says. “My room is the smallest, but I also pay the least, so it works out.”

“I like it,” Taehyung says decisively, setting his camera down on the rickety bedside table. “Especially the Justin Bieber poster.”

Jeongguk snorts, glancing over at the enormous poster taped to his closet door. “Seokjin hyung got it for me as a joke, but I hung it up anyway. I think it weirds people out sometimes,” he says thoughtfully. “But it reminds me to belieb in myself.”

Taehyung laughs out loud at this. “Jeon Jeongguk, you are full of surprises.”

People start arriving at the house shortly after they get there, and it’s not long before the party is in full swing. Hoseok and Jeongguk set up a beer pong table, Yoongi cranks the music, and Seokjin sets up shop in the kitchen, distributing dangerously sweet drinks to anyone who asks (which, obviously, includes Taehyung). Before long, Taehyung is warm and buzzing from the alcohol, flitting from Jeongguk to Hoseok to Yoongi, and then back to Seokjin for more drink. He likes Jeongguk’s friends a lot, and he especially likes Jeongguk, who even indulges him in his drunken clinginess.

Later in the night, after a few cups of whatever Seokjin is mixing, he finds himself on the pong table with Jeongguk, who, obviously, is really good.

“How are you good at literally everything,” Taehyung asks incredulously when Jeongguk sinks his third cup in a row.

“Practice makes perfect, hyung,” Jeongguk says sagely, and it’s meant as a joke but knowing Jeongguk, he probably has actually practiced his shot.

It’s a close match, and by virtue of some miracle, Taehyung is the one who makes the winning shot. He throws his hands up victoriously, and suddenly Jeongguk’s arms are around him, lifting him up in the air and spinning him around.

“You got it!” He cheers. “You got it!”

When Jeongguk sets him down, Taehyung’s knees are a little wobbly, and he suspects it’s not just from the alcohol. This is the first time they’ve been drunk together, he realizes. Jeongguk is looking at him, happy and flushed, and with the alcohol swimming through his veins it’s hard to remember why he shouldn’t just reach out and kiss him.

“You’re so pretty,” he says instead, which, oops, that wasn’t supposed to be out loud. Jeongguk’s eyes go wide, but Taehyung is too drunk to really worry about it right now. “This party is so pretty! Where’s my camera? I should take pictures.”

“Where are you going?” Jeongguk calls, jogging after him as he turns and heads for the staircase.

“To get my camera!” Taehyung says cheerily. Alcohol is so fun, he thinks. “For pictures.”

Jeongguk follows him up the stairs, and then suddenly they’re alone in the hallway outside of his room, the sounds of the party still raging below them.

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk says, catching his wrist. Taehyung turns, looking down at his wrist, encircled in Jeongguk’s hand, and then up at Jeongguk, who is watching him intently.

“Yeah?” Taehyung breathes, his heart pounding in his ears. Jeongguk steps forward, until Taehyung’s back bumps against the wall behind him, and leans in.

When their lips meet, fireworks go off behind Taehyung’s eyes. Not in a gushy, romantic way - more in a HOLY FUCKING FUCK, YOU’RE KISSING JEON JEONGGUK way. The kiss is tentative, like a question, and when Jeongguk pulls away, he looks nervous.

“Shit,” Taehyung says, more to himself than Jeongguk. His thoughts are racing a million miles an hour, crashing wildly around in his head. “Shit, I’m not supposed to do this.”

Jeongguk takes a step back, his face shuttering closed alarmingly quickly. Which, no, that’s not what Taehyung wants. “Sorry, I- ”

“WAIT,” Taehyung nearly shouts. There is a part of his brain that knows, even now, that this is a terrible idea, but right now it’s fighting a losing battle against the part that wants to get his hands on Jeongguk immediately. “Wait, come back.” He reaches out, hands twisting in the fabric of Jeongguk’s shirt, and tugs. Jeongguk comes slowly, his expression still cautious.

“Come back,” Taehyung murmurs again.

The second kiss is deeper than the first, Jeongguk’s mouth hot and insistent against his. His hands come up to fist in Jeongguk’s hair, and Jeongguk hums in response, licking into his mouth. He has Taehyung pinned flat against the wall, his knee nudging at Taehyung’s until he takes the hint and spreads his legs. Jeongguk slots his thigh between Taehyung’s, pressing up against his groin, and Taehyung whimpers, dizzy with arousal. It’s been maybe two minutes and he’s already getting hard, but he’s wanted this for so long he can’t help it.

Without really meaning to, he grinds down against Jeongguk’s thigh, his eyes rolling back in his head at the sensation. Jeongguk groans from where he had been sucking a hickey into Taehyung neck, his grip tightening on Taehyung’s hips.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung pants, his voice raw and urgent. “Your bed, can we - ”

“Yes,” Jeongguk says, cutting him off with a frantic kiss. “Yes, fuck, come on.”

He takes Taehyung’s hand and very nearly drags him down the hallway, Taehyung crowding up behind him and pressing a kiss to the back of his neck. It’s like a dam has sprung loose, and all the desire that Taehyung has been keeping pent up inside of him is finally being set free, spilling out of his mouth and fingertips.

The door to Jeongguk’s room slams shut behind them, muting the music and voices from downstairs. In the quiet, the gravity of the moment seems to settle upon them. They stand, maybe a foot apart, chests heaving, eyeing each other with mussed hair and red lips, and Taehyung just wants, wants, wants. This time, he’s the one to make the first move, closing the distance between them in a single stride and sealing his lips to Jeongguk’s again.

Jeongguk walks them backwards, dropping down onto his bed and pulling Taehyung over him. They kiss like this for a while, Taehyung straddling his lap, until Jeongguk’s hands venture up under his shirt, hot against Taehyung’s skin.

“Off?” Jeongguk asks hopefully. Taehyung nods eagerly, reaching down to help Jeongguk tug his shirt up and over his head.

“Yours too,” Taehyung demands, and Jeongguk obliges with shaking hands.

Chest to chest, it all feels so much more intense, and Taehyung lets his hands roam everywhere, skimming along Jeongguk’s shoulders and over the planes of his back. From his position in Jeongguk’s lap, it become increasingly evident that Jeongguk is also hard, his erection pressing against Taehyung’s ass in a way that makes him frankly delirious. In retrospect, this is probably why he ends up saying:

“I want to suck you off.”

Jeongguk’s entire body jerks, his moan pressed into Taehyung’s chest.

“Holy fuck, hyung,” he says, his voice ragged. Taehyung grabs his jaw and angles his face up, kissing him.

“Can I?” he asks, mostly just to hear Jeongguk say it.

Yes, god.” His teeth sink into Taehyung’s lower lip. “Please.”

Taehyung slides out of his lap and onto the floor. When he looks up, Jeongguk is watching him with wild eyes, and the desire he sees there sets his whole body on fire. He’s never felt this before, never had this sort of frantic, unbridled desire met and leveled back at him.

He fumbles with the fastenings on Jeongguk’s pants, and Jeongguk helps him, their fingers tangling as they tug the material down. In the weak light cast by the lamp on Jeongguk’s bedside table, Taehyung palms him through his underwear, smiling at the sharp intake of breath it earns him. He leans forward and presses a kiss to Jeongguk’s stomach, just because he feels like it, and Jeongguk whines.

“Don’t tease,” Jeongguk pleads weakly.

Taehyung smirks but indulges him, reaching into his underwear and pulling out his cock. He’s hard and heavy in Taehyung’s hand, already leaking, and Taehyung flicks his tongue out to gather some of the pre-come.

“Jesus Christ,” Jeongguk yelps. Taehyung responds by sealing his lips around his cock and sinking down as far as he can go.

Taehyung hasn’t given a ton of head in his life, but he’s done it enough times to know a thing or two. He sucks as hard as he can, flattening his tongue along the underside of Jeongguk’s cock, and closes his fist around the part that he can’t reach with his mouth. Most of all, he listens, pays attention to the way Jeongguk responds to him, and adjusts accordingly.

There are a few things that he learns: for one, he likes the weight of Jeongguk in his mouth, the taste of him on his tongue. He also likes the way Jeongguk's hands scramble at his sides, fisting in the bed sheets until his knuckles are white. And he really fucking likes the way Jeongguk moans when Taehyung catches his hips, pinning him down so that he can take him deeper.

“Taehyung,” he pants, an edge of warning his voice. Taehyung hopes he never forgets the way his name sounds when it’s spoken like that. “Taehyung, I can’t, I’m going to come.”

Taehyung looks up at him and quirks his eyebrows, as if to say, bitch, I know how to swallow. Jeongguk’s eyes widen, the realization crashing over him, and he swears, coming hot and hard down Taehyung’s throat. When he’s done, Taehyung gingerly releases his cock and dabs at his mouth daintily.

“Fuck, get up here,” Jeongguk says, grabbing Taehyung by the shoulders and pulling him onto the bed. He kisses him sloppily, hungrily, and Taehyung whimpers when Jeongguk’s hip presses against his crotch. “Oh shit, you haven’t -”

Taehyung shakes his head, chewing on his lip as he rocks his hips desperately in Jeongguk’s direction.

“Here, let me,” Jeongguk murmurs. He opens Taehyung’s pants swiftly, freeing his cock and closing a firm fist around it. Taehyung whines, licking into Jeongguk’s mouth as his hips buck against his hand. “Fuck, you’re so,” Jeongguk says, as if that statement alone is a complete sentence. His voice is wrecked, and when Taehyung manages to wrench his eyes open, he finds Jeongguk watching him with a shell-shocked expression on his face. That look is enough to send Taehyung spiraling over the edge, and he comes, spilling onto Jeongguk’s stomach.

“Sorry,” he says, collapsing onto his back as Jeongguk reaches for tissues to clean himself up.

“You just let me come down your throat,” Jeongguk says incredulously, and the words hit Taehyung like a freight train. “Do not apologize.”

“Mmk,” Taehyung says through a yawn. His eyes settle on the Justin Bieber poster hanging on Jeongguk’s closet. “I can’t believe Bieber had to see all of that.”

Jeongguk snorts. “I think he would commend us.”

“Yeah, we did pretty good.”

“Go us.”

They high five, giggling. Taehyung is still so buzzed on the alcohol and Jeongguk that it doesn’t even occur to him to think about how this is going to feel tomorrow.

They lie in bed for a while after that, basking in the afterglow of their orgasms and talking about nothing in particular. Taehyung doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but eventually sleep comes for them anyway, and they drift off side by side in Jeongguk’s bed.

***

The first thing Jeongguk is aware of when he wakes up is the light. It’s too fucking bright, and what the fuck, is the sun literally rising in his bedroom? He squints his eyes open, glancing in the direction of the offending light, surprised when he finds it’s just the standard sunlight streaming through his bedroom window.

The second thing he’s aware of is the intense pounding in his head, and oh, right, he’s hungover, and that’s why he wants to crawl into a very dark cave and sleep for the next 16 hours. He really needs to learn his limits when it comes to alcohol.

The third thing he becomes aware of is that there is someone else in his bed, breathing softly beside him. He turns his head, wincing as it gives a particularly nasty throb, and -

“Oh, fuck.”

The night before comes crashing back over him like a tidal wave as Taehyung’s eyes fly open. “Hey there, tiger.”

Fuck, he really wasn’t supposed to do this.

“Hey,” he says groggily.

“Do you also feel like you just crawled out of Satan’s asshole?” Taehyung says with a pained smile. “Because I sure do.”

“Yes, that,” Jeongguk groans. “That is exactly how I feel.”

They lie in silence for a moment, during which time Jeongguk ponders how badly he’s fucked up his own life. He feels judgment raining down on him from Justin Bieber and decides he needs to say something.

“So,” is all he manages to come up with.

“Yeah.”

“We, umm.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung repeats.

“Oops?”

“It’s fine, right?” Taehyung says, turning faintly green as he sits up. “Everything is fine. We just, are friends, and we got drunk, and we hooked up. It’s no big deal. Right?”

“No big deal,” Jeongguk echoes, even though it feels like a big deal that he now knows what Taehyung looks like (and sounds like, Jesus) when he comes. He doesn’t do this, he doesn’t hook up with people he actually likes, and he certainly doesn’t have feelings about it afterwards. Fuck, this is why he wasn’t supposed to do this in the first place.

“So... we’re good, then?” Taehyung asks, his voice a little hollow. “We’re still friends?”

Jeongguk knows, on a very basic level, that a part of him is not good, and that “friends” is never going to be enough for him when it comes to Kim Taehyung. But he also knows, on a more pressing level, that he is 1000% not equipped to deal with that right now, and if Taehyung is giving him an out, he’s going to take it.

“Yeah, of course,” he says, relieved. He just will never think about this night ever again and everything will be fine.

“Cool,” Taehyung says with a nod. For some reason, he looks a little lost, sitting on Jeongguk’s bed with the sheets bunched around his waist and his hair rumpled from sleep. There’s an angry red hickey on his neck that Jeongguk had definitely left last night, oops, but otherwise his skin looks unmarred and flawless. Jeongguk slides his hands under his own body so he doesn’t reach out and touch.

“Want to take like twenty Advil and then go find hangover food?” Taehyung asks. Whatever had been bothering him a moment ago, he seems to have snapped out of it, and Jeongguk is grateful for his ability to turn even the most awkward situations into comfortable ones.

“Maybe like fifty Advil,” he agrees. “But yes. I need food.”

They get dressed in what Jeongguk thinks could probably be accurately described as a “loaded silence,” both of them blushing when Taehyung can’t find his pants and Jeongguk has to hand them to him from the ground next to his bed. Images from the night before are pressing insistently against his eyelids, but he does his best to ignore them, focusing instead on locating the Advil and some water.

Once they are dressed and medicated, they slip downstairs, and Jeongguk shoots a grateful prayer skywards when they manage to make it out of the house unseen. It’s still relatively early for a weekend morning, so Jeongguk assumes his roommates are all still in bed, hopefully sleeping off their hangovers (and hopefully having not accidentally gotten head from one of their friends the night before). The house is about as much of a mess as Jeongguk feels, plastic cups everywhere and the floor sticky with spilled beer. Cleaning all of that up is going to be a project for future, less hungover Jeongguk to deal with.

The sun still seems inhumanly bright, and Jeongguk finds himself wishing he had remembered to grab his sunglasses before heading out. Maybe this is the universe’s way of punishing him for making a move on Taehyung last night. But the thing is, Taehyung had responded, eagerly no less, and Jesus Christ, Jeongguk is never going to forget the way he had looked at him, the way his voice had sounded.

Come here.

He leads Taehyung to the hole-in-the-wall bagel shop around the corner from the house, the scene of many hungover mornings for Jeongguk and his roommates. They order black coffee and bagels and then sit, half-dead, waiting for their food to cure them.

“No sugary drink for you this morning?” Jeongguk asks as Taehyung peers down into his coffee.

“I cannot,” Taehyung says, looking like he might retch. “Nope.”

“I never thought I’d see the day,” Jeongguk teases.

“Every man has his limits, Jeongguk,” Taehyung says seriously.

Their food arrives, and Taehyung stuffs half of his bagel into his mouth in under one minute. His mouth is honestly enormous, and it would be funny and kind of gross if Jeongguk hadn’t watched him swallow down his own cock less than 12 hours previously. Yeah, he is well and truly fucked.

“I should probably go check on Jimin,” Taehyung says, swallowing around a massive bite of bagel. “I’m a terrible roommate, I hope he’s okay.”

“I’m sure he’s fine, he would text if he needed,” Jeongguk says reassuringly. “But yeah, I should probably get back before Seokjin murders me for bailing on cleanup.”

“Bring bagels,” Taehyung advises. “No one murders the guy who brought the bagels.”

So they part ways, Jeongguk armed with a bag of bagels and a variety of spreads per Taehyung’s suggestion. It’s only a little bit awkward when they say goodbye, on the sidewalk outside of Jeongguk’s house. Jeongguk feels like he should maybe hug him, but then decides that might be too much bodily contact for right now.

“See you soon,” Taehyung says, walking backwards to wave goodbye. He sounds like he means it, so there’s that, at least.

Then he’s gone, and Jeongguk is left with a mess in both his house and his head. And also, possibly, his heart.

***

When Taehyung gets back to his apartment, he finds Jimin on the couch, an enormous bowl of soup in his lap. He still looks pale, but slightly less sickly than yesterday, and the fact that he’s even sitting upright seems like a good sign.

“I am the worst roommate ever, I’m sorry,” Taehyung cries, dropping down next to Jimin and hugging him. “Are you alive? How are you feeling?”

“Still not great but better than yesterday, I guess,” Jimin says, sighing. “I haven’t puked yet today so that feels like progress.”

Taehyung cheers. “Do you need anything? Food? Water? A massage?”

“Nah, I’m good. I would, however, like to know where the hell you slept last night.”

The problem with best friends is that they have an uncanny ability to call you on your shit. Even when they’re sick with the flu, apparently.

“Umm.” Taehyung clears his throat. “I went to Hoseok and Jeongguk’s house, for the showcase afterparty.”

“Oh, and you crashed there?” Jimin prods. “Wait.” His eyes have landed on Taehyung’s neck. Taehyung tries to look innocent. “Kim Taehyung. Is that a hickey on your neck.”

“No?” Taehyung tries.

Jimin raises his eyebrows. “Oh god, tell me it wasn’t Jeongguk.”

Taehyung bites his lip guiltily.

“Taehyung!” Jimin cries, exasperated.

“He started it!”

This isn’t actually a lie, not really.

“Oh, what, and then you pushed him away? Was that before or after he left a giant hickey on your neck?” It’s kind of alarming how sassy Jimin is, even in his fragile state. Taehyung can’t even imagine what this would be like if he was in full health.

“And then... I went down on him?” Taehyung says. May as well just lay it all out there.

Jimin looks horrified. “Oh my god, ew, did not need to know that.”

“Sorry.” Taehyung pauses. “It was like, really good though.”

Jimin sighs. “You like him.” It's a statement, not a question.

“No!” Taehyung says defensively. This is a lie, and they both know it. “Well, maybe, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway, it was a one time thing.”

He thinks about how relieved Jeongguk had looked when Taehyung had said it was just a drunk hookup, and his stomach drops.

No big deal.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, trying to convince himself just as much as Jimin. “Yeah, we talked about it.”

“If you say so,” Jimin says. He doesn’t press him further on it, which Taehyung appreciates. He doesn’t want to talk about it, or think about it, to be honest. If he does, he’s going to find himself down a rabbit hole that he can’t get out of, and he’s barely keeping his head above water as is.

Taehyung, I can’t. I’m going to come.

How is he supposed to act like that had never happened? Like he hasn’t tasted Jeongguk on his tongue, heard his own name, raw and desperate, on Jeongguk's lips?

Fuck, get up here.

At least it hadn’t been too awkward between them this morning. More than anything else, he would hate to lose Jeongguk as a friend.

Let me.

He’s just going to have to keep his mouth shut and his hands to himself. He’d done it before they hooked up, and he can do it again.

***

Things go back to normal between them, kind of. Taehyung doesn’t actually feel normal, not at all, but he tamps down his feelings and forces himself to act it, for the sake of their friendship but also his portfolio. It’s nearly halfway through the semester and he can’t let his photography grade tank because he accidentally caught feelings and hooked up with his model.

So they go get coffee, and they study together, and Taehyung pretends that everything fine. Neither of them bring up the weekend before or what had happened between them, even though Taehyung feels it like a weight in his stomach whenever they’re together. Jeongguk, for his part, seems unaffected, and Taehyung has to resign himself to the fact that his feelings are mostly likely one-sided, and that it really had just been a one-time thing.

The balmy, pleasant days of early fall give way to brisker weather, and one morning Taehyung wakes up and finds, to his chagrin, that he can see his breath when he steps outside. He heads straight back into his apartment to grab a scarf (his giant beige one that Jimin insists is actually a blanket) and a hat, grumbling to himself about how it’s too early for this bullshit.

For his next shoot with Jeongguk, he takes him to the campus gymnasium, a huge, echoing room with row after row of spectator seats and big, arching windows lining the walls. He likes the magnitude of it, the juxtaposition of Jeongguk as a lone figure standing in such an enormous space. Compared to the backdrop, Jeongguk looks small, but he exudes something grander, seems to fill up the whole room with his presence.

“I think they make you look powerful,” Taehyung says, skimming through the shots on his camera. Jeongguk is at his shoulder, looking as well. “Especially this one, where you have your hands in your pockets. You look like you’re about to fuck shit up.”

“Too bad I’ve literally never played basketball in my life,” Jeongguk says with a laugh. “You’ve just gotten good at taking my picture.”

Taehyung shrugs it off, but the compliment makes him feel warm all over.

It’s nearly dark when they finally leave, and the chill of the day has slipped into real cold without the warmth of the sun. Taehyung burrows into his scarf and wraps his arms around himself, wishing he had worn a heavier jacket. Jeongguk seems to be in a similar boat, rubbing his hands together and shivering. The urge to take Jeongguk’s hands between his own makes itself known in Taehyung’s mind, but he fights it down and shoves his hands further into his own pockets.

“Want to stop back at my place for a while and warm up?” Taehyung offers when Jeongguk’s teeth start chattering. His and Jimin’s apartment isn’t far from the gymnasium, much closer than Jeongguk’s off campus house.

“That would be good,” Jeongguk says gratefully. “I don’t when it got so freaking cold.”

“Here,” Taehyung says, partially unwinding his scarf and draping it around Jeongguk’s neck. “If we walk close enough we can both wear it, it’s the size of a small child.”

Jeongguk blinks likes he’s not sure what to make of him. “Thanks.”

Their shoulders bump together for the rest of the walk home, and while this is good for sharing body heat it is not good for Taehyung’s sanity. All he wants to do is reach out and link their arms together, but he feels like he’s pushing it enough already with the whole shared scarf thing.

When they get to the door of his apartment complex, Taehyung fumbles with his keys - because his hands are cold, obviously, not because of how closely Jeongguk is pressed against his back, so close that Taehyung can feel the heat of his breath on the back of his neck. The door beeps open, and Taehyung turns, ready to unwind the scarf now that they’re heading inside.

Jeongguk’s face is even closer to his than he expected it to be, his nose and cheeks pink with cold. He’s watching Taehyung intently, his gaze skipping down to his lips in a way that makes Taehyung’s heart stutter and his breath catch in his throat. And then, Jeongguk kisses him.

Their first go at this has been imprinted into Taehyung’s brain, but the memories are shaded by the haze of alcohol. To kiss soberly feels starkly different, more honest and more intense. Taehyung sinks into Jeongguk because he literally can’t help himself, his mittened hands coming up to frame Jeongguk’s face. His lips are soft and warm, a welcome respite from the biting cold surrounding them.

“I,” Taehyung says, eloquently, when they break apart.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk says, looking down at his shoes.

Taehyung slides one hand under his chin, nudging until Jeongguk lifts his gaze again, his eyes hopeful. A familiar heat is curling in Taehyung’s stomach, propelling him forward, and he knows that the rational side of him stands no chance now. He wants too much.

“Let’s go inside.”

***

They do it properly this time, full-blown, dick-inside of him sex, which Taehyung hasn’t actually had in longer than he cares to admit. It’s also possibly the best sex Taehyung has had in his life, period, and he suspects this might be the case for Jeongguk too, at least based on how hard he comes. But then again, Taehyung doesn’t want to be presumptuous.

They fall into each other the moment they get into Taehyung’s (mercifully empty) apartment, discarding their outerwear on their way to his bedroom. Taehyung has never felt this way with a hookup before, never felt his body respond so naturally to someone else. He wonders what that means, if it means anything, or if Jeongguk is really just that good at this. He really fucking hopes it’s the former.

Where their first hookup had been heated, messy, desperate, this one is lighter, slower, more deliberate. They laugh a lot, which is another thing Taehyung hasn’t done much of with people he’s slept with in the past, but he supposes that’s one of the perks of hooking up with someone you’re actually friends with. It’s playful, but still sexy as hell - he’s dizzy with the feeling of Jeongguk hard against his hip, his hand skimming up Taehyung’s inner thigh, with the staccato breaths, shaking hands, and soft noises pressed into each other’s skin.

There’s a brief interlude during which they have to establish whether Taehyung does in fact have non-expired lube and condoms in his apartment. As it transpires, he does, thank god, but Jeongguk has a good laugh at his expense before they reach that conclusion.

“It’s been a while, OKAY,” Taehyung snaps, rummaging hysterically through his bedside table while Jeongguk snickers behind him. The smile slides off his face quickly enough when Taehyung presses the lube into his palm.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter that it’s been a while, because Jeongguk goes slowly, fingering him open carefully until Taehyung gets fed up and pants, “For the love of God, get inside of me >now<.” Jeongguk makes a sort of half-formed choking noise, scrambling to roll the condom on, and Taehyung preens at the indication that Jeongguk is just as affected by this as he is.

Having Jeongguk’s cock inside of him is definitely a top 5 life experience for Taehyung. 10 out of 10, would recommend to a friend - except he doesn’t want to share him, ever. Is that bad? Probably, but he’s too far gone at this point for it to matter anyway.

They come within a few seconds of each other, Jeongguk still riding out the aftershocks of his orgasm as Taehyung’s crashes over him. He slides out of Taehyung gently, discarding the condom, then collapses directly on top of him.

“Fucking hell,” Jeongguk says, his breathing still heavier than normal.

“Mmf,” Taehyung replies.

“Sorry, am I crushing you?” Jeongguk asks, making no effort to move.

He is, but Taehyung doesn’t really mind. “It’s okay.”

Jeongguk rolls off of him anyway, running a hand through his hair. “I’m hungry,” he announces.

“God, you’re such a bro,” Taehyung says, teasing. “Me want sex. Me want food after sex.”

“Are you implying I talk that way.”

Taehyung pretends to consider for a moment. It’s funny to him how easy this is, how they’re lying in bed naked but joking around just like they always do. “Only sometimes.”

Jeongguk whacks him with a pillow. “Whatever, that was a workout.”

“Amen,” Taehyung says. “I actually am hungry too.”

“Oh, so now ‘Taehyung want food’ as well?”

“He does, he does. We could order takeout?” He suggests it a little tentatively, wondering if Jeongguk will spook or feel like this is becoming too date-y.

But Jeongguk just flashes him an easy smile and says, "Sure."

They order from the Korean BBQ place in town, only getting out of bed when the buzzer rings. Taehyung goes to answer the door, Jeongguk following him out into the living area still shirtless. He opens the door and finds, not the delivery man, but Park Jimin.

Shit.

“Hey,” he says, pushing a plastic delivery bag into Taehyung hands, one of the smiley face ones that says “Thank you! Have a nice day!” “Here, I ran into your delivery guy in the h-"

His voice trails off when he steps into the apartment and sees Jeongguk, half-clothed and standing awkwardly in the middle of his living room.

“Umm,” Jeongguk says sheepishly. “Hey, Jimin.”

Jimin looks back and forth between Taehyung and Jeongguk, then sighs.

“I’m not even going to ask,” he says, throwing his hands up. “I have homework to do, if I hear one even VAGUELY suggestive sound I will personally murder you both.”

Taehyung snorts; Jeongguk blushes.

“We ordered a lot of food, if you want some,” Taehyung offers.

Jimin stops short halfway through stalking to his bedroom. “Fine,” he huffs, pivoting back to face them. “But only if Jeongguk puts a shirt on, my god.”

“On it!” Jeongguk says, sprinting out of the room as Taehyung giggles.

In the brief moment that they’re left alone, Jimin rounds on Taehyung.

“You said it was a one time thing!” he hisses.

“Oops?”

Jimin rolls his eyes. “Just - be careful, okay?”

Taehyung shrugs. “Too late for that, I think.”

Before they can press the point any further, Jeongguk reappears, this time fully dressed (regrettably, in Taehyung’s opinion). Jimin shoots him a sympathetic look, and they settle in to eat.

***

And so, Jeongguk starts regularly hooking up with Kim Taehyung. It doesn’t really change that much between them, all things considered - they still text and hang out and work on Taehyung’s portfolio. They just also happen to be sleeping together now.

Jeongguk is surprised at how easily he slips into it - he’s never hooked up with someone consistently before, at least not in university, and what had happened in high school, well. He doesn’t think about that, ever. But Taehyung is exceptionally easy to be around, and the sex is amazing (seriously, Taehyung has a mouth on him that makes Jeongguk’s head spin), and even though Jeongguk’s instincts are screaming at him to cut and run, he just - can’t. Not yet, at least.

“You let him touch you,” Jimin comments thoughtfully, one night when it’s just the two of them studying at Jimin and Taehyung’s apartment. Taehyung had left a little while ago to meet with Namjoon about his progress on his portfolio.

“Who?” Jeongguk asks, even though he knows.

Jimin rolls his eyes. “Taehyung, you idiot.”

“I’m having sex with him, Jimin, of course I let him touch me.”

“No, like.” Jimin pauses. “You let him be affectionate with you.”

Jeongguk thinks back to earlier in the evening, when Taehyung had draped himself around his shoulders and simply hung on while Jeongguk walked around the apartment. Or the other day, when Jeongguk was studying and Taehyung had spent 15 minutes creating an elaborate set of braids in his hair. He supposes Jimin is right, although he hasn’t really thought about it before.

“He’s just a really touchy person, you know that,” Jeongguk says defensively.

“I’m a touchy person and you barely even let me hug you,” Jimin points out.

“I let you hug me!”

Jimin raises his eyebrows skeptically. “Group hugs after our showcases don’t count.”

“Okay, fine,” Jeongguk huffs. “So I don’t really like being touched all the time, sue me.”

“That’s my point,” Jimin insists. “With Taehyung, you don’t seem to mind.”

Jeongguk swallows, rifling with the pages of his notebook just for something to do. Jimin has a point, but he doesn’t really like to think about what it means that he’s gotten so comfortable with Taehyung. It scares him. “I guess I just - got used to him. He’s kind of hard to put off.”

Jimin gives a snort of agreement. “Well, I think it’s sweet.”

Jeongguk groans. “Ugh, stop it.”

“What!” Jimin says. “It’s not a bad thing, Jeongguk.”

“Yeah, I just.” God, he really fucking hates talking about his feelings. “This isn’t really my style, you know. I actively try to avoid this, actually.”

“Look, I know you’ve been burned in the past,” Jimin says kindly, and they both know what he’s referring to even though, bless him, he doesn’t say any more than that. Jeongguk stares hard at his notebook. “But Taehyung is so good, and good for you, I think. Don’t let your history ruin this for you.”

Jeongguk keeps his gaze fixed on the page below him, blinking rapidly. “I know,” he says quietly. “I’m trying.”

“Good. Keep it up.”

“He doesn’t know, right?” he asks, hating how small his voice sounds. “You haven’t told him?”

“Of course not,” Jimin says.

That, at least, is a relief.

Halloween rolls around, and in keeping with previous years’ tradition, Bangtan hosts a costume party at Jeongguk’s house. They go all out, if Jeongguk says so himself, decorating the house with cobwebs, fake tombstones, and a skeleton outside the front door. There are spooky themed drinks and snacks galore, courtesy of resident domestic god Kim Seokjin, and DJ Yoongi even mixes a special Halloween playlist for them. It’s going to be a bitch and a half to clean up, but not until after they throw one sick party.

The entire Bangtan troupe dresses up as a crew of unruly pirates, hooligans under the command of captain Jung Hoseok. In the week leading up to the party, there’s a fierce competition to see who will be dubbed first mate, which Jimin ultimately wins by buying Hoseok a stuffed parrot to perch on his shoulder.

Taehyung shows up at the party with Jimin, and his jaw actually drops when he lays eyes on Jeongguk. “Never thought I’d be attracted to a guy with an eye patch,” he says, curling a finger through Jeongguk’s belt loop. Are these leather?”

Jimin makes a retching sound and goes to find a drink.

“Yeah, and I think they’ve actually sealed themselves to my body,” Jeongguk says, wincing slightly.

“I can tell,” Taehyung says, giving him an appreciative once over. “Damn, you’re all sexy and I’m over here in overalls.”

“You make a very sexy minion,” Jeongguk reassures him. He looks more adorable than sexy, in his yellow sweatshirt, overalls, and giant round glasses, but Taehyung could show up in a garbage bag and Jeongguk would still want to rip it off of him. “Come on, let’s go get drinks. Seokjin made his own version of butter beer, I think you’re gonna like it.”

Seokjin is dressed as a pumpkin, which makes Taehyung laugh. He pours them both healthy servings of butter beer, and Taehyung’s whole face lights up when he takes his first sip.

“Oh my god, it tastes like heaven,” he moans, and Seokjin beams. Taehyung leans forward confidentially, gesturing in Jeongguk’s direction. “You know I got him hooked on sugary drinks?”

“I know! He drank the hot chocolate I made the other night!” Seokjin says happily. They high five.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Jeongguk interrupts, dragging Taehyung away.

The night passes in a blur of laughter and pleasant drunkenness. Taehyung spends a good portion of it hanging off of him, clinging to his forearm or giggling into his shoulder about something ridiculous. Jeongguk remembers what Jimin had said and tries not to think too hard about it when he slips his arm around Taehyung’s waist.

They play beer pong against Yoongi (dressed as “a guy at a party”) and a beaming Jimin, and the two of them are so cute when one of them hits a shot that Jeongguk actually lets them win so that they can stay on the table longer. Then he’s pulled into a rousing round of flip cup with Hoseok and the rest of the team, and he loses track of Taehyung for a while when he wanders off to interrogate Seokjin about his butter beer recipe.

By the time he finds him again, Jeongguk has lost his eye patch and Taehyung is climbing him like a goddamn tree.

“You’re so fucking hot,” he murmurs, pulling at Jeongguk’s tank top as they stumble into the first floor bathroom (it’s the nearest room with a door, and Jeongguk is too drunk and horny to care about what his roommates will say).

Taehyung drops to his knees the second the door locks behind them, and Jeongguk nearly chokes.

“Holy fuck,” he breathes, watching in awe as Taehyung pins his hips against the sink and peels his pants down his thighs. “Fuck, Taehyung.”

“Been thinking about this all night,” Taehyung purrs, pulling Jeongguk’s cock free. “These fucking pants.”

Jeongguk whimpers, his head falling backwards, and loses himself in the heat of Taehyung’s mouth.

They get kicked out of the bathroom about 30 seconds after Jeongguk comes down Taehyung’s throat, his hands fisted in his hair.

“JEON JEONGGUK,” comes Yoongi’s voice from the other side of the door. “I swear to god, if you are having sex in my bathroom -”

The door swings open, and Jeongguk is very nearly punched in the face when Yoongi raises his fist to knock again.

“Relax, relax,” Jeongguk says placatingly, raising his hands in the air. “Taehyung just had something in his, umm, eye.” To his right, Taehyung looks positively debauched, his hair a mess, lips red and swollen.

“What, like your jizz?” Yoongi snarks.

“Nah, he got that all in my mouth,” Taehyung says smugly, and Jeongguk groans as Yoongi’s eyes narrow into a glare.

“Oh my god, I literally hate you.”

“Well, bathroom’s open now,” Jeongguk says, taking Taehyung’s hand and pulling him towards the staircase. “You should go grab Jiminie and put it to good use.” And they flee upstairs while Yoongi splutters indignantly behind them.

There’s not really a sexy way to remove overalls, but Jeongguk strips Taehyung's off anyway, stretching him out on his bed and rimming the fuck out of him. By the time he has Taehyung quivering beneath him, begging for his cock, he’s hard again. They fuck doggy style this time, filthy and loud, both of them swearing when they finish. It’s good, it’s so fucking good, and the last thing Jeongguk wonders as he’s falling asleep is how long he’s going to be allowed to keep this.

***

As a TA, Namjoon has his own office (read: repurposed storage closet), which is something Taehyung teases him mercilessly for but also is kind of jealous of. It’s tiny, and it has no windows, but it’s his own private place to work, and that’s kind of cool. Not surprisingly, he has a lot of photography decorating the walls, a mix of other people’s and his own. Taehyung has always admired his eye, not just for taking pictures but for how he arranges them once they’re printed, elements of one shot bringing out things he never would have noticed in another.

Namjoon is one of those people that defines the expression #goals. He’s smart, and kind, and exceptionally talented, but he’s so passionate and humble about it that you can’t even resent him. He also has a keen interest in helping out younger students, offering them his insight and expertise for no reason other than that he loves it and he genuinely cares. Taehyung had had the good sense to take him up on this when he was first starting out his freshman year, and now he’s lucky enough to count Namjoon as both a mentor and a friend.

At the present moment, he’s seated behind his desk, cool and composed as ever, flipping through the latest photos Taehyung has brought for him to look at. “These are great, Taehyung,” he says, and Taehyung radiates with pride, as he generally does whenever Namjoon compliments him. “Even the progress from the first ones you showed me - they’ve all been really strong, but now. It seems like you’ve really figured out how to photograph him.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung says. Right now, Namjoon is looking at a series of closeups Taehyung had taken the other day. He’d been studying in an abandoned classroom after a lecture, noticed the light coming through the windows was incredible, and texted Jeongguk frantically asking if he could stop by. Taehyung had gotten right up in his face, snapping photos and angling his head to catch different angles, and Jeongguk had just stood their patiently, doing as he was told. Almost immediately after the photos had been taken, he had pushed the camera down and kissed Taehyung, right there in the middle of the psych classroom. “We’re, umm - he’s become a good friend.”

Namjoon looks up, studying him carefully, and Taehyung gets the feeling he suspects there’s more to it than that. Luckily, he doesn’t say anything. “Well, I’m glad. It comes through in the photos.” He lays the picture he had been holding down on his desk. “Can I make one suggestion?”

“Yeah, of course,” Taehyung says. He’s always eager to hear Namjoon’s opinions and advice.

“If you can swing it, try taking him somewhere off campus, a totally new setting. I think it would really add an extra layer of depth to this collection.”

“Okay, yeah,” Taehyung says, nodding. Logistically, he’s not sure how they’re going to pull that off, but he likes the idea. There are only so many places on campus that he can take fresh, innovative pictures of Jeongguk. “That would be awesome, I’ll see if he’s game.”

On his walk home, Taehyung ponders how to bring this up to Jeongguk. The prospect of going away, just the two of them, makes his heart skip a beat, but he doesn’t want Jeongguk to freak out and think he’s being tricked into some kind of couple’s weekend. Things have been going well between them, Taehyung thinks, but they’re certainly not dating and they haven’t even talked about whether they’re exclusive. Taehyung hasn’t hooked up with anyone else, hasn’t even wanted to, but he has no idea what Jeongguk does in his spare time, and he doesn’t know that he has the right to ask - or maybe he’s just afraid of what the answer will be.

Ultimately, he brings it up while they’re in bed, Taehyung lying with his chin propped on Jeongguk’s chest. They’re coming down from a particularly rousing round of sex, Jeongguk pinning his hands above his head and fucking him until he came without his cock even being touched. The sex has been incredible and is somehow continuing to get better, but the moments like these are secretly Taehyung’s favorite, the soft afterglow where for a moment he can pretend they’re more than just friends who fuck.

“I have a question for you,” he says, his recent orgasm making him more relaxed than he typically would be bringing this up.

“Okay...” Jeongguk says slowly. He has one hand behind his head, the other tracing a pattern on Taehyung’s shoulder blade.

“For my portfolio, Namjoon suggested that I get some pictures of you somewhere that’s not here. Like, go somewhere off campus.”

“That would be cool.”

“Yeah, so I did some investigating and there’s this little waterfront town that’s like two hours from here by train - it looks so cute, and there would be the water in the background, which is so different from here.”

“So you want to go?” Jeongguk says. He doesn’t sound freaked out yet, which Taehyung takes as a good sign.

“Would you be okay with that?” Taehyung asks hopefully, working his way up to his elbows. Jeongguk’s hand slips off of his shoulder, landing on the mattress. “I know it’s kind of a lot, but we could go on a Saturday, just like a day trip, and I’ll pay for your train ticket of course.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Jeongguk says. “But yeah, I’m down. If it’s important for your project, we should do it.”

“Thank you,” Taehyung says gratefully, stretching forward to kiss him. “Thank you, I’ll give you all the blow jobs you want, you’re the best.”

Jeongguk snorts, but he does end up getting head that night.

***

Taehyung books their tickets the next day, and spends the following week researching maps and tourist websites to find potential good spots for taking photos. He generally has a pretty good eye for that sort of thing, and he works well on the fly, but he doesn’t want to waste Jeongguk’s time dragging him around the whole village in search of the perfect shot.

The morning of their trip, a Saturday in mid November, dawns chilly but bright. Taehyung wakes up early, having had the good sense not to go out the night before, and makes a coffee run before meeting Jeongguk at the train station.

“Morning,” he chirps, greeting a sleepy-looking Jeongguk, who is bundled in a scarf and jacket and looking like he’s still only half conscious. One of the things Taehyung has learned about Jeongguk in the past few months is that he is definitively not a morning person. “I brought you caffeine,” he says, extending a warm paper cup.

Jeongguk accepts it cautiously, pulling off the lid to examine the contents. There is a healthy dollop of whipped cream on top, obviously. He takes a tentative sip. “Caramel?”

“Mhm! I have hazelnut, if you prefer.”

“Caramel is good,” Jeongguk says, taking another sip. “Thanks.”

“There’s an extra shot of espresso in there,” Taehyung adds with a wink.

“You’re a lifesaver.”

“You’re a champ for waking up this early to come with me.”

They board the train, and within minutes Jeongguk nods off, his head dropping onto Taehyung’s shoulder. It’s such a dumb cliche, but butterflies swoop in Taehyung’s stomach all the same. He rescues Jeongguk’s half-drunk latte from tumbling out of his hands to its doom, then settles in to stay as still as possible.

Once they get to the countryside, the scenery passing outside offers ample distraction, rolling hills dotted by the occasional farm building or herd of livestock. The trees have turned almost fully in the chilly weather, their leaves vibrant arrays of red, orange, and yellow. It’s difficult since the train is moving, but Taehyung manages to capture a few photos whenever they slow down.

Jeongguk wakes up about halfway through the ride, as they’re passing through a small town that seems to only have one intersection. Taehyung is sad to lose the warm pressure of his body, but his arm had kind of been falling asleep.

“Sorry,” he says through a yawn, his cheeks faintly pink. “Didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”

“No worries,” Taehyung says, looking out the window to avoid meeting his eyes. He’s afraid of what Jeongguk might see there if he does.

The rest of the trip passes without incident, the two of them speculating about the towns they ride through and the other people on the train with them. There’s an older man and a little girl who is presumably his granddaughter in the seat across the aisle, and a couple in the row behind them that switches from bitching at each other to loudly making out and back again with seemingly no transition.

“I don’t get straight people,” Jeongguk murmurs, rolling his eyes, and Taehyung has to hide his laughter in his shoulder.

It’s about ten degrees colder by the water than it had been further inland, but the sight of the morning sunshine glancing off of the ocean more than makes up for it. The village itself is also adorable, filled with quaint shops, restaurants, and inns. It seems to be primarily designed for tourists, but given that it’s November, the streets are relatively quiet. They stop into a tiny cafe for a second hit of caffeine, then set out in search of some of the spots Taehyung had found throughout the course of his research.

The first location they come across is a small garden, tucked into the courtyard behind a simple stone church. Most of the flowers have died in the late-fall chill, but the garden still has a haunting beauty to it - gently curving branches, wilted leaves, a roughly hewn stone fountain in the center. It looks like something out of a fairy tale, the once beautiful home of a forgotten princess. Jeongguk wanders, and Taehyung takes picture after picture, capturing his subtle curiosity and awe as he experiences this new place.

On their way to the waterfront, they pass an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a pink and white awning shading two circular tables arranged on the sidewalk outside. A sign in the window that looks homemade indicates that the parlor is called “Licks”; another one announces that they are open. It’s not on the itinerary for the day, but Taehyung shoots a pleading look at Jeongguk, and it is just about lunchtime, after all. They wander inside, a tinkling bell over the door announcing their arrival, and find a row of pink-cushioned barstools in front of a long, white countertop. There’s a chalkboard on the wall behind the counter, a variety of flavors ranging from classic to strange listed out in pink and white chalk, and a glass case in front of them where the ice cream itself is on display.

“It’s so beautiful,” Taehyung says reverently, clutching at his heart as he gazes at the ice cream. “There’s so many choices, how am I going to pick?!”

“You can sample,” the guy behind the counter says, a gangly kid with glasses and a dorky smile. He’s wearing a white apron with “Licks” scrawled across the front in swirly pink font.

Jeongguk groans. “Oh man, you shouldn’t have told him that. We’ll be here for hours.”

Taehyung smacks him, then turns cheerfully back to the guy behind the counter, who is wearing a name tag that says Brian. “Can I try the roasted strawberry dark chocolate? And the salted caramel crunch, and... the coffee hazelnut, that sounds amazing.”

“These are some of our bestsellers,” Brian says, handing them over one by one. Taehyung licks at them happily, savoring each taste and carefully assessing the flavors.

“Here, try,” he says, pressing the coffee hazelnut sample cup into Jeongguk’s hands. “C’mon, I know you want to.”

So Jeongguk tries them all too, and they spend at least five minutes trading back and forth, debating over which flavor they want to go with. They’re the only people in the parlor, and Brian seems to enjoy watching them bicker and tease each other, so Taehyung doesn’t feel too bad about it. He wonders if, from the outside, people think he and Jeongguk are a couple.

In the end, Taehyung goes with the roasted strawberry dark chocolate (in a cone, with chocolate sprinkles), because it’s different, and Jeongguk takes the salted caramel crunch, because he’s turned into a shameless caramel addict and Taehyung honestly couldn’t be prouder about it. He tries to get it in a dish, but Taehyung successfully bullies him into a chocolate dipped cone instead: “What kind of person gets a dish when they have the option of a cone? Don’t you like joy? And laughter?” Jeongguk rolls his eyes but gets the cone anyway.

Back outside the shop, having thanked Brian for his patience (and left a generous tip), he stops Jeongguk and forces him to pose with his ice cream in front of the awning. It’s a great picture, Jeongguk beaming like a 5-year old as he holds his ice cream in front of him, his hair dark against the pink and white backdrop. A stray drop of salted caramel starts leaking down the side of his cone, and Taehyung shrieks:

“Lick it! Lick it!”

“You lick it,” Jeongguk teases, even as his tongue darts out to catch the leak.

“Believe me, I would, but we’re in public,” Taehyung says cheekily, and Jeongguk chokes on his ice cream.

“No, really, come take a lick,” Jeongguk says, advancing on him with a glint of mischief in his eye. “You’re always so eager to share, come on.”

Taehyung backs away hurriedly, not liking that look at all, but Jeongguk catches him, cupping the back of his head and smushing the ice cream against his lips.

“Your loss,” Taehyung says petulantly, licking around his mouth lasciviously to collect as much of the ice cream as possible. He can feel it cold and sticky on his chin, but his tongue can’t reach that far.

“Oh my god, it’s still all over you,” Jeongguk giggles, the left corner of his mouth tugging up as he speaks. Taehyung wants to kiss it.

“So clean me up, then,” he challenges, his voice a little husky.

Jeongguk’s eyebrows shoot up, but he steps forward and grabs the back of Taehyung’s neck, pulling him in and sucking at his chin, his lips, his cheeks. Taehyung hums in response, chasing his mouth until they end up just making out there on the sidewalk, ice cream melting and forgotten in their hands. If Brian didn’t think they were a couple before, well - he sure as hell does now.

They finish their half-melted ice creams on the walk to the beach. A light breeze twists in the air around them, lifting Jeongguk’s hair, and Taehyung is caught by the urge to hold his hand, even though they’re both sticky. Even though they’re not dating. But his heart thumps every time they kiss, and sometimes he’ll catch Jeongguk looking at him in a way that makes him think - maybe. Maybe, this could be more.

The beach is rocky, and the wind whips harder here, but they sit down anyway, gazing out at the water in wonder. It’s been a while since Taehyung has been near an ocean, and he’s forgotten how soothing it can be, the rhythmic ebb and flow and the gentle lapping of the water as it reaches the shore. The vastness is overwhelming, to be sure, but it puts him at peace to remember that there are things far greater than him in this world.

The setting is even better for shooting than he had hoped, and Jeongguk is quietly patient, letting him take picture after picture. He’s gotten pretty good at this by now, has a knack for knowing how to hold himself and angle his body, and if Taehyung didn’t want to inflate his ego he would legitimately suggest he consider modeling.

“Would you mind lying all the way down?” Taehyung asks. “On your back?”

Jeongguk nods, leaning back until he’s splayed out in the cool sand. Taehyung moves around him, adjusting the placement of his arms and legs, just barely restraining himself from brushing the hair back from his forehead. There’s a fleeting moment when Jeongguk looks up at him and his eyes are intensely vulnerable, watching Taehyung’s face as he nudges his body into a pose. Then it’s gone, and Taehyung would think he made it up were it not for the swooping sensation in his stomach.

He stands over Jeongguk and gets a few shots, straight down, before flopping into the sand perpendicular to him and shooting his profile. It comes out beautifully, Jeongguk’s face turned up to the sky, the long expanse of the beach stretching out behind him. His eyes fall shut, and for a minute Taehyung wonders if he’s drifting off, until he looks back through the lens and is startled to find Jeongguk’s face is turned towards him now. He snaps a last picture, and even though the camera is between them he swears Jeongguk can see straight into his soul.

“Alright, I think we’re good,” Taehyung says hoarsely, sitting up. Jeongguk follows suit, shaking the sand out of his hair, and before Taehyung can stop himself he reaches forward to brush away a few stray grains. He loves the thickness of Jeongguk’s hair, has a bit of a thing for getting his fingers tangled in it while they’re in bed, but this time he pulls away quickly. Everything feels so much more intimate between them today, and he can’t put his finger on why. He wonders if Jeongguk feels it too - he’s been unusually quiet today, but it’s always impossible to tell what’s going on in that head of his.

They get to their feet, dusting the sand from their pants. “We still have like two hours until our train,” Taehyung says, checking the time on his phone. “There’s a street along the water that supposedly has some cool stores, want to go check it out?”

Jeongguk agrees, and they set off, finding the street Taehyung was referring to easily. They duck in and out of the little boutique shops, grabbing gourmet popcorn to snack on from one, examining a collection of random knick knacks from another. Jeongguk finds a tiny, delicately carved camera charm and insists on buying it for Taehyung, who protests but ends up happily attaching it to his camera strap. A few doors down they come across a shop that exclusively sells handcrafted, specialized chess sets, and they pretend to play each other with a set of Mario Kart themed pieces while the shop owner stands by giving them both hints.

When they emerge, the shop owner having declared it a tie (even though that is definitely not a thing in chess) dusk is nearly upon them, and it’s time to make their way back to the train station.

“Hang on,” Taehyung says, grabbing Jeongguk’s arm. “One last picture before we go?”

“Sure. Where?”

“Just, stay exactly as you are,” Taehyung instructs, taking a step back. “Keep your side to the water, but turn your head to face me.”

The shot is darker than Taehyung usually prefers, even slightly blurred, but there’s something about it - the gray ocean behind Jeongguk, his profile stark against it. His eyes are shadowed and only just visible beneath his bangs, but there’s an intensity to his expression that makes Taehyung shiver. It’s the kind of shot where you look at it and think the subject and the photographer must have been the only two people in the world when it was taken.

“Wow,” Taehyung says quietly, lowering his camera.

“That good?” Jeongguk asks, walking over to him.

Taehyung swallows, clicking out of the view screen on the camera. For some reason, he’s not sure he wants Jeongguk to see this particular picture, fears what it will reveal if he does. Instead, he leans forward and softly presses his mouth to Jeongguk’s.

“What was that for?” Jeongguk breathes when they break apart. Right, because exchanging tender kisses in public isn’t really something they do on the regular.

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, his stomach twisting itself into overwhelmed knots. “Just - thank you, so much, for this. You’ve been the best partner I ever could have asked for.”

Jeongguk looks a little taken aback by the sincerity of his words, but he smiles and nods. “You’re welcome.”

Taehyung glances down at his phone again and catches sight of the time. “Shit, now we actually really do need to get to the train.”

They arrive back at the station with a few minutes to spare, darting into the small ticket office for shelter when it starts to rain.

“Are you waiting for the 6:07?” The woman behind the counter asks. When they both nod, she says: “Sorry to tell you, but it was cancelled. The weather is worse inland and it’s causing all kinds of issues.”

“Are there any other trains leaving today?” Taehyung asks, already suspecting the answer.

The woman shakes her head, looking genuinely apologetic. “Next one out isn’t until tomorrow morning, 9:15. Sorry hon. They will honor your ticket from tonight though, because of the cancellation.”

“Well, shit,” Taehyung says.

The woman blinks at him, unfazed. “Are you visiting from out of town?”

“Yeah, just for the day.”

She nods sympathetically. “There’s a bed and breakfast just down the road. A few people are stuck here just like you, but they may have a room left.”

“Okay, thank you.” Taehyung turns to Jeongguk. “I guess... we should go check out that bed and breakfast? I have some money with me.”

Jeongguk shrugs, nodding. “Me too. Doesn’t seem like we really have a choice.”

The rain is really starting to come down as they walk back outside, so they pull their jackets over their heads and make a mad dash down the street. Luckily, the bed and breakfast is as close as the train station attendant had made it out to be, and they find themselves hurrying up the front path not two minutes later. It’s a quaint, white building, windows glowing a warm yellow, and were it not for the sign outside Taehyung probably would have mistaken it for someone’s home.

When they step inside, dripping wet, the woman at the front desk glances up and sighs. “More train refugees?” she asks knowingly, adjusting the thin-framed glasses perched on her nose.

“That’s us,” Taehyung says, trying to inconspicuously squeeze some of the water out of his scarf.

“Well, lucky for you, we have one room left,” she nods, glancing back and forth between the two of them. “It’s a queen bed, will that alright?”

Taehyung shoots a sideways look at Jeongguk. They’ve slept in the same bed plenty of times, mostly when they’re too drunk or just too lazy to get up after sex, but it’s always happened organically, almost by accident. This feels more significant, walking into a hotel and getting a bed for the two of them, like a couple might do.

“That’s fine,” Jeongguk says quietly, dropping Taehyung’s gaze quickly.

The woman raises her eyebrows but doesn’t saying anything, busying herself with getting their room keys ready. “Second floor, first door on the right,” she says, handing them over. “Complimentary breakfast starts every morning at 7am, if you’re interested.”

“Thank you,” Taehyung says, taking the keys.

Their room is simple but cozy, with a deep blue carpet and a floral quilt draped over the bed. It’s the biggest bed Taehyung has seen a while, so he does the only reasonable thing - takes a running leap and flings himself directly into the center.

“Oh man, I could get lost in here,” he moans happily, starfishing across the quilt.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” Jeongguk says instead of responding, shrugging off his wet jacket and hanging it on a hook by the door.

Taehyung works himself up on to his elbows to get a proper look at him. “You okay?”

Jeongguk nods, running a hand over the back of his neck. “Yeah, just tired, I guess. And sandy,” he adds with a small smile.

“Okay.”

Taehyung flops back down onto the bed, listening to the splatter of rain on the windowpanes and trying not to overanalyze Jeongguk’s behavior. He hasn’t been standoffish, exactly, but he seems subdued, like he has something on his mind. It feels like it’s not Taehyung’s place to pry, but he wishes Jeongguk would speak his goddamn mind for once.

Before he can get any further down this rabbit hole, he hears the sound of what he swears is singing from the bathroom. He leaps off of the bed as if he’s been burned, hurling himself across the room and pressing his ear up against the door. The notes of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” reach his ears, and yep, that’s definitely Jeon Jeongguk. And he has a damn good voice. Taehyung had almost forgotten what Jeongguk had told him all those months ago, that he used to sing, that he almost tried to pursue it full time. He might have had a solid shot at it, too, with that voice.

Taehyung seats himself back on the bed, cross-legged, and stares at the bathroom door, waiting for the sound of the water shutting off. It does eventually, along with the singing, and then Jeongguk emerges, towel slung so low on his hips that Taehyung momentarily loses his train of thought.

“Oh,” he says, startled when he finds Taehyung staring directly at him. His torso is glistening, literally glistening, and Jesus Christ, Taehyung wants to eat him for dinner. “Umm, hi.”

“You were singing.”

“Oh.” He looks embarrassed. “Yeah, I didn’t even realize, I guess.”

“You’re so good,” Taehyung says. “Like, really fucking good.”

Jeongguk’s face softens, and he chews at his lip. “Umm. Thanks.”

“I’m really glad I finally got to hear you sing.”

Jeongguk smiles and looks down, starting to unroll the ball of clothes he had carried out of the bathroom with him.

“Probably not much point in changing back into your dirty clothes now, hmm?” Taehyung says boldly. “Not when you just showered.”

Jeongguk’s eyes snap to his, and Taehyung grins cheekily.

“You didn’t seriously expect to come out here looking like that and for me to not say anything?”

Jeongguk stammers, and this part Taehyung knows - the flirting, the sex. This part they can do easily by now. If Jeongguk won’t talk to him, maybe he can reach him this way.

“Come here,” he murmurs, and Jeongguk does, walking towards him with dark eyes. Taehyung pulls him down for a kiss, still seated on the bed, and relishes the way Jeongguk seems to melt into him. His chest is damp where Taehyung trails his fingers down it, grazing over taut muscle and the bumps of his ribcage. Jeongguk shivers when Taehyung reaches the edge of his towel and tugs, letting it fall to the ground.

With a loose fist, Taehyung encircles his cock, stroking him to full attention and swallowing the small noises Jeongguk makes in response. Then he scoots back further on to the bed, tugging off his own shirt as Jeongguk crawls after him. Neither of them says much as they rid Taehyung of his pants, the only sound in the room their mingled breaths and the pitter patter of the rain outside. It’s not until Taehyung is fully naked, Jeongguk propping up his legs to finger him open, that they realize.

“Wait, fuck,” Taehyung says, looking down at Jeongguk where he’s situated between his legs. “Lube.”

Jeongguk’s face falls and then brightens again so quickly that it’s almost comical. “Fuck - no, wait. There was Vaseline in the bathroom, would that be - ?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung breathes, squirming on the bed. “Yeah, that’s fine, get that.”

Jeongguk suddenly becomes very still. “What about a condom?”

The question hangs in the air between them, weighing down the silence.

“I don’t care,” Taehyung whispers, heart pounding. Jeongguk’s eyes go wide. “I mean - I’m clean.”

“So am I,” Jeongguk says, the words strangled. Despite what Jimin had told him about Jeongguk sleeping with a lot of randoms, Taehyung finds that he trusts him on this.

“So then do it,” Taehyung says, his voice shaking. “Fuck me bare.”

“Fuck,” Jeongguk chokes, bending down to kiss him desperately. He scrambles off of the bed so quickly that he nearly falls, and Taehyung laughs weakly, too far gone to actually tease him.

It’s different this time. Messier, for starters - the Vaseline gets everywhere, dripping down Taehyung’s legs in a way that feels so filthy his whole body shivers. He’s never had sex without a condom before, but he gets why people make such a big deal about it. The sensation when he slides down on Jeongguk’s cock is breathtaking, the drag of him inside with nothing to separate them. He loops his arms around Jeongguk’s neck and holds on tight, riding him until his thighs shake and he comes across Jeongguk’s stomach. He stays put while he rides out the aftershocks, letting Jeongguk fuck up into him and biting his shoulder when the overstimulation becomes almost too much to bear. Jeongguk’s fingers tighten on his hips when he comes not long after, clutching at Taehyung like he never wants to let go. He’s the other piece of what’s different this time - there’s something closed off in his eyes that sets a finger of dread curling through Taehyung’s stomach.

When their current position becomes too uncomfortable to hold any longer, Jeongguk gently lifts him up and off of his lap. Taehyung startles at the sensation of come leaking out of him and down onto his thighs, and belatedly feels guilty for the mess they’ve made on this lovely quilt.

“Have you ever done that before?” he asks, turning to face Jeongguk. "Like, without a condom?"

“Once,” Jeongguk says quietly, giving a jerky nod. “It was a long time ago, before university.”

His expression is so unreadable that Taehyung decides not to push it any further. “Oh,” is all he says in response. “Well, umm. I should probably go clean up a bit.”

Jeongguk nods, and Taehyung slips away to the bathroom, his mind racing. He stays in the shower for so long that he probably uses up all the hot water in the building, but the scalding stream helps to clear his head, calms the mounting feeling that Jeongguk is starting to turn away from him.

When he finally re-emerges, Jeongguk is on his phone, and the rest of the evening passes quietly but without major incident. They make a meal out of snacks from the vending machine outside, and Taehyung clicks through the images from today on his camera, lingering for a while on the last one he had taken, of Jeongguk looking back at him with the ocean behind him. Something about it makes his heart hurt, and he thinks it might be because, more than any of the others, it’s painfully clear that the photographer has fallen hard for the boy in the picture.

***

Nothing that happens over the course of the next few days comes as a real surprise to Taehyung. It’s more like watching a slow motion train wreck - he can see what’s going to happen, but there’s nothing for him to do but just sit back and watch it unfold.

They wake early on Sunday morning to find that the storm has cleared overnight, and the woman at the front desk of the bed & breakfast informs them that trains have resumed running as scheduled. There’s just enough time to fit in a quick breakfast - the first real meal either of them has had since the previous morning - and then they head off, dressed in the same clothes as yesterday.

It’s not a surprise that Jeongguk is quiet on the train ride home, spending most of the trip staring out the window. When Taehyung tries to make conversation, his responses aren’t rude, but he doesn’t make an effort to engage either. Taehyung wants to take him by the shoulders and shake him until he’ll tell him what the hell is going on, but instead he gives up and retreats into playing games on his phone.

When they get back to school, Taehyung thanks him again, and asks one last time if everything is okay. Jeongguk assures him that it is, and Taehyung wonders if he realizes how obvious it is that he’s lying. But he lets him go anyway, swallows his excuse about needing to get some work done before his afternoon practice with Bangtan, and waves as cheery a goodbye as he can muster.

It’s not a surprise when Jeongguk is barely responsive to his texts over the next few days, apologizing and saying he’s too busy with school and rehearsals to hang out. And it’s not surprise when he finally asks Taehyung if he has time to meet for coffee, saying he wants to talk. Taehyung walks into the coffee shop, takes one look at the mug of black coffee between his hands, and knows.

***

All things considered, Taehyung takes it pretty well. Jeongguk isn’t sure what he was expecting, honestly - it’s not like they’re really breaking up, although it feels that way to him. He didn’t think Taehyung would get upset or yell, but he was just expecting - something. Anything, really, beyond the silent nodding and the single “okay” that he had gotten when he’d said: “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” A small part of him, maybe, had been hoping Taehyung would fight him on it, challenge him on why he would want to end something that feels so natural, so right. Because I’m terrified. But instead he just seems resigned, mostly. Like he had seen this coming. And maybe he had, maybe it really had just been friends with benefits for him all along, and it doesn’t matter much to him that the benefits part has run its course. Which, Jeongguk reminds himself, is why he’s doing this in the first place.

“I hope we can still be friends,” Taehyung says dully, swirling the straw in his iced latte.

“Of course,” Jeongguk replies, even though he doesn’t know if he can be just friends with Taehyung, after everything. He just needs a little time, is all. “And if you need anything more for your portfolio - I can make time, just let me know.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung says. “I think I have everything, though. The beach shots were really the last missing piece.”

And that’s that. He walks out of the coffee shop and even though they say they’ll see each other soon, they don’t. Taehyung doesn’t text him, which Jeongguk can’t really blame him for, and Jeongguk can’t bring himself to reach out. It’s excruciating, but seeing Taehyung in person would be even worse. He needs to break himself out of this habit, this crippling dependence on Taehyung, and that’s only going to happen if he gets some space. Mostly, he just hates himself for getting into this situation in the first place. He knows better.

In the end, the person who takes it the worst (other than Jeongguk himself) is Jimin. He accosts Jeongguk after rehearsal a few days after the “breakup,” his mouth set in a decidedly not amused line.

“What. The hell. Are you doing,” he hisses, smacking Jeongguk’s arm to punctuate each word.

“Ow, what the hell, stop,” Jeongguk complains, twisting out of his reach.

“I will when you tell me why you ended things with Taehyung.”

Jeongguk sighs. He really, really doesn’t want to talk, or think, about this right now. Or ever, preferably. “It just - was time. The semester is ending, the winter showcase is coming up. I need to focus on this and school.”

“Jeon Jeongguk, that is the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard in my life,” Jimin snaps, folding his arms across his chest. He’s too small and adorable to ever really look intimidating, but the glare he’s wearing right now is serious business. “I’m honestly offended that you actually thought I would believe that.”

“What do you want me to say?” Jeongguk asks, frustrated.

“That you freaked out and ran,” Jimin says. He really is not pulling any punches today.

“That’s not - ” Jimin glowers at him. “Look, I can’t go there with him right now, okay? I don’t do that. We weren’t dating, we were hooking up, and it’s over now. That’s it, that’s all it’s going to be.”

“You don’t do that because you don’t let yourself do that,” Jimin says, his tone softening slightly.

“Yeah, and for good reason,” Jeongguk retorts. “Look, Jimin, I appreciate your concern, but how I choose to handle my relationships isn’t really your business.”

Jimin sighs. “It is when it involves my best friend.”

For a minute, Jeongguk feels like his throat is going to close up, but then the words slip out before he can stop them. “Is he upset?”

“He hasn’t really talked to me about it much,” Jimin says, shrugging. He looks sad. “But he hasn’t really been himself either.”

Jimin’s words hit him like a punch in the stomach. It kills him to think of Taehyung hurting because of him, but somewhere in the back of his head, a tiny voice is rejoicing at the thought that he’s not the only one being affected by this. He does his best to silence it.

“He seemed fine with it when we talked,” Jeongguk says defensively. “We didn’t argue, or anything.”

Jimin rolls his eyes. “Taehyung is honest, but he’s not desperate,” he says. “He’s not going to beg somebody to stay with him if they say they don’t want him back.”

Jeongguk lifts his hands in the air, then lets them drop helplessly to his sides. “I’m just trying to protect myself,” he whispers.

“You’re going to have to let someone in sometime, Jeonggukie,” Jimin says gently, patting him on the back. “You should talk to him.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “I don’t think I can do that.”

“Well then, you’re an idiot.” And with that, Jimin grabs his bag and walks out, leaving Jeongguk alone in the studio with nothing but his own regrets for company.

The next week passes in a blur. Jeongguk goes to class, goes to rehearsal, does his homework, goes to sleep. He makes a concerted effort not to deal with or think about his feelings, relegating them to a back corner of his brain, but the only time he feels even remotely like himself is during practice. The winter showcase is fast approaching, and he throws himself ruthlessly into preparing, staying at the studio late and squeezing in extra workouts in the morning. The main perk of this schedule is that it doesn’t leave him with much time to think about how much he misses Taehyung, and at night he’s so exhausted that he passes out before he can remember why he’s sleeping alone.

The winter showcase is the first weekend in December, and it’s a huge success. The troupe executes their performances flawlessly, and Jimin is able to do his solo this time. When they’re taking their bow, Jeongguk looks out into the audience and sees Taehyung on his feet, beaming and clapping loudly. His heart skips a beat, until he remembers that Taehyung is there to support Jimin, not him. Their eyes meet briefly, and Taehyung gives him a small, sad kind of smile before looking away.

A few of the other Bangtan members host the afterparty this time, and Jeongguk goes with the express intention of getting rip-roaringly, shitfaced drunk. All he wants is to forget, about Taehyung and the ache in his chest and what had happened between them at the last afterparty - the night that had started it all. Unfortunately for him, he’s only two shots deep when Jimin shows up with Taehyung in tow, and that plan goes to shit. He promptly pours another two shots and downs them back to back, gagging a little at the burn while Hoseok looks at him in concern.

“You okay bro?” Hoseok asks, eyebrows knit in concern. Jeongguk hates that his eyes dart over to where Taehyung is standing on the other side of the room before refocusing on him.

“Yeah, fine,” Jeongguk says. He can already feel the vodka swimming through his head, and it feels like relief.

“Alright, well - just take it easy.”

Jeongguk definitively does not take it easy. Instead, he keeps doing shots until he loses count, until his head is buzzing and the pain in his chest subsides just a little. He does a pretty good job of avoiding Taehyung as the night wears on, although it could just be that Taehyung is avoiding him too. Eventually, Jeongguk loses track of him completely, and he feels a traitorous tug of disappointment when he wonders if Taehyung has just gone home.

“Gotta pee,” he mumbles to Hoseok after they win yet another round of beer pong. They’re both at that point in the night where they’re just drunk enough to still be good. “Be back in a minute.”

He slips past Jimin and Yoongi, who are seated close together on a couch, splitting a pair of headphones connected to Yoongi’s phone. The two of them are ridiculous, honestly. Once in the hallway, he finds the door the bathroom blocked by a couple in the midst of a heated makeout session.

“‘Scuse me,” he says loudly. The couple breaks apart, and Jeongguk’s stomach drops. “Oh.”

It’s Taehyung. Taehyung, with another guy’s tongue down his throat, another guy’s hands on his body. Another guy touching him the way Jeongguk had touched him, hearing those little noises he makes, feeling his body respond - fuck. Fucking fuck. Jeongguk feels suddenly nauseous.

“Fuck, sorry,” Taehyung says, his eyes widening. He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth, backing away. The guy he’s with - someone Jeongguk vaguely recognizes as a friend of a friend, Hyungsik, maybe - giggles, grabbing at Taehyung’s hand and tugging.

“C’mon,” he says. Jeongguk can’t stop staring at them, even as the guy pulls Taehyung away. Then Taehyung turns, refocusing his attention on Hyungsik, his hand sliding up his arm.

Jeongguk staggers into the bathroom and vomits.

***

Taehyung wakes up to one of the top five worst hangovers he’s ever had in his life. When he opens his eyes, everything is spinning, and he just barely makes it to the bathroom in time to empty the entire contents of his stomach into the toilet.

“Are you alive?” Jimin asks, bustling into his room with a glass of water after Taehyung has crawled (literally) back to his bed.

“No,” Taehyung replies.

“Great, well, you’re breathing, so that’s good enough for me,” Jimin says, plopping down on his bed and looking at him sternly.

Taehyung groans. “Can you save the lecture for when I can’t still taste the vomit in my mouth?”

Jimin makes a face. “You have one hour.” He pushes the water into Taehyung’s hand. “Drink that.”

He returns exactly an hour later, when Taehyung still feels like death but the room has at least stopped spinning.

“Alive yet?”

“Barely.”

“Ok well, your time’s up.”

“Fine, have at it.”

“Kim Taehyung, you ignorant slut.”

Taehyung sighs. “Nothing happened, we only made out.”

In front of Jeongguk!” Jimin half-shouts.

Taehyung’s stomach rolls uncomfortably, the memory of the disgusted look on Jeongguk’s face coming back to him in full force.

“We’re not hooking up anymore, remember?” he deflects. “He ended things, I’m allowed to hook up with other people.”

“Fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it at his team’s afterparty, right in front of his face, you asshole.”

“I didn’t mean for him to see,” Taehyung grumbles honestly. He wishes he could sink into the floor and die right now. “But he’s the one who ended it, not me, so I don’t see why it even matters.”

Jimin rolls his eyes so hard people in space can probably see it. “Taehyung. I’ve known Jeongguk for over a year, and I have never seen him act with anyone the way he acted with you.”

“So?” Taehyung says petulantly, folding his arms over his chest. The words sting, biting little reminders of what Taehyung had once allowed himself to hope for.

“I’ve never seen him sleep with the same person twice, let alone spend actual time with a person he’s sleeping with, or act affectionate with them. Jeongguk doesn’t do feelings.”

Taehyung snorts derisively. “Yeah, I noticed.”

“Are you even listening to what I’m saying to you?”

“Listen, Jimin,” Taehyung says harshly. His head is pounding so hard he feels like it might explode. “I’ll admit that it was fucked up of me to hook up with someone at your guys’ party. I’m sorry for that, and I’m sorry that it happened in front of him. That wasn’t my intention. But this was his decision, okay? Not mine. He called it off, he’s the one who didn’t want more with ME. I’m not going to apologize for trying to move on with my life.”

“Have you MET Jeongguk?” Jimin snaps. “Jeongguk, who doesn’t trust anyone, who doesn’t let himself feel anything, who constantly questions and doubts himself? You really, truly believe that you didn’t mean anything to him?”

“It doesn’t matter, it’s done,” Taehyung says, shaking his head and immediately regretting it when the throbbing worsens. He’s been down this road enough times in his own mind, he doesn’t need to do it again with Jimin. Jeongguk had made his decision, and now they both have to live with it. “All the shit you’re telling me isn’t my problem, it’s his, and it’s not my job to fix his intimacy issues for him.”

Jimin regards him sadly. “Yeah, but if you feel the way I think you do about him, it is your job to be there while he figures it out.”

Taehyung splutters at him indignantly, the hangover slowing his ability to deliver well-formed responses.

“By the way,” Jimin adds, standing up. “I was about five seconds away from making out with Yoongi when I had to take your drunk, crying ass home. So thanks for that.”

Taehyung winces. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

Jimin shrugs. “Whatever.”

“I was crying?” he asks cautiously.

He has no recollection of that - the last thing he remembers from the night before is the look on Jeongguk’s face when he saw Taehyung making out with Hyungsik.

“Yeah. So don’t try to tell me you don’t give a shit about what happens with Jeongguk.”

He stalks out of the room, closing the door roughly behind him. Taehyung flops back against his pillows with a groan. It looks like he has a pretty large mess to clean up.

***

The first stop on the Taehyung Fixes Things express is to try to talk to Jeongguk. Sure, he’s still not really over what happened, and he’s still kind of pissed at Jeongguk about it, but he doesn’t want there to be actual bitterness between them, especially considering Jeongguk is the centerpiece of his entire photography portfolio.

So the next day, he goes and lingers outside the studio where Bangtan rehearses around the time he knows their practice will be ending. The winter showcase may be over, but Taehyung knows they have a few non-university competitions coming up over break, and the preparation for those is even more intense.

Taehyung’s stomach, which had been anxious at best to begin with, transitions into full-scale somersaults when the team members start spilling out of the studio doors, signaling the end of practice. Jimin is among them, of course, and he raises his eyebrows in surprise when he sees Taehyung.

“Are you here for me?” he asks, a little coolly. The two of them can never stay mad at each other for long, but it seems Jimin hasn’t fully thawed out just yet. Taehyung can’t really blame him.

“No, umm.” Taehyung shakes his head, glancing at the door that Jeongguk still has yet to emerge from. “I was gonna try to talk to -”

“He hung back to talk to Hobi hyung,” Jimin says. He pauses to examine Taehyung’s face, then sighs. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Once everyone else has left and there’s still no sign of Jeongguk, Taehyung steels himself and steps into the studio tentatively. Sure enough, Jeongguk is there, going over something with Hoseok. When they notice Taehyung, Hoseok’s eyes widen comically, and a look as cold as ice drops over Jeongguk’s face. It’s like watching an actual wall go up, and suddenly Jeongguk seems like a complete stranger. Taehyung feels sick.

“Umm,” Taehyung stammers. “Jeongguk, I was hoping I could talk to you?”

“I’ll just be going now,” Hoseok says into the silence that follows, glancing back and forth between them. “See you guys.”

“What, do you need more pictures?” Jeongguk says once they’re alone. There’s a coldness in his voice that Taehyung has never heard before.

“What?” Taehyung asks, surprised. “No.”

“So why are you here?” The words are blunt, unforgiving.

Taehyung grits his teeth, pushing on. “I, uh. I wanted to apologize, for the other night? I shouldn’t have done that, not at your party.”

“You can do whatever you want,” Jeongguk shrugs, looking bored, and Taehyung half wishes he would yell instead. This blankness is a million times worse.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to do something that’s going to make you upset,” Taehyung insists.

“I’m not upset.” He doesn’t seem to be anything right now, frankly, but that’s not much better. “I just didn’t know that was your style.”

“What’s that supposed to be mean?” Taehyung retorts, a hint of hostility rising in his own voice.

Jeongguk shrugs again, not meeting his gaze. Taehyung wants to grab him by the jaw and force Jeongguk to look at him. “Jumping from one guy to another so quickly.”

“What the fuck, Jeongguk,” Taehyung snaps, real rage boiling in his blood now, because fuck this. Fuck Jeon Jeongguk. “If you didn’t want to see me with other people, maybe you should have thought about that before you broke things off.”

“I just thought you had more class than to throw it in my face,” Jeongguk shoots back.

Taehyung winces. He had expected Jeongguk to be unhappy with him, even angry, but he hadn’t counted on him being cruel. A small part of him recognizes it’s probably because Jeongguk is hurt, but Taehyung is far too furious and insulted to listen to that part right now.

“I let you fuck me bare,” Taehyung hisses, fighting back tears. Jeongguk’s eyes widen as the words sink in. “Which, despite what you seem to think, isn’t something I do often, or ever. And then you decided the next fucking day that you didn’t want to see me anymore. So sorry if I took that as your cue that you don’t give a single fuck about me or what I do.”

Jeongguk stares at him, seemingly at a loss for words. Taehyung, on the other hand, can’t seem to stop himself, all of the hurt and anger pouring out of him uncontrollably.

“Clearly I misread everything between us, and that’s on me. I’m obviously not the one for you, and that’s fucking fine, but if you keep on running away from every single person that gets close to you, you’re going to have a really fucking lonely life, Jeongguk.”

He can tell he’s hit a sensitive spot by the way Jeongguk’s face goes red with anger, and Taehyung feels a kind of twisted victory at actually getting a response out of him.

“You’re one to fucking talk,” Jeongguk yells. “You’re always behind your camera. Maybe I run, but you were hiding the whole fucking time.”

Even as a million enraged denials spring to his lips, Taehyung knows he’s right. He thinks back to all the photos he’d never shown Jeongguk for fear of seeming too vulnerable, the times he’d hidden his face behind his camera because Jeongguk was taking his breath away. He hadn’t even realized it really, but he hadn’t been fully honest about his feelings the entire time.

When he doesn’t answer right away, Jeongguk smirks. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“Fuck you, Jeongguk,” Taehyung spits out. He storms out and nearly runs all the way home, blood rushing in his ears. It’s not until the door to his bedroom slams behind him, so hard that the whole apartment seems to shake, that he gives in and lets the tears engulf him.

***

Possibly the worst part of everything, aside from the horrific fight and Jimin being mad at him, is the fact that Taehyung still has to put together an entire portfolio full of pictures of Jeongguk. It feels like some sort of cosmic punishment, like the universe is laughing at him for being stupid enough to start sleeping with his model in the first place. He spends hours in the photography department during the second to last week of the semester, developing his photos in the dark room and making his selections for the portfolio. Every second of it is excruciating, every new picture of Jeongguk like a knife in his gut. He can’t even bring himself to use that last photo from their day at the beach, even though he knows it’s one of his best. Looking at it is too painful.

One night, he finds himself leaving the library around 2am, having stayed late to catch up on end of term work for all of the non-photography classes he’s been neglecting. Despite the 5+ caffeinated drinks he’s had today, he’s still completely drained, so much so that he nearly walks straight into Hoseok without realizing it.

“Whoa,” Hoseok says, stepping out of the way just in time and catching Taehyung’s shoulder. “You okay there?”

Taehyung startles, looking up at him and wincing when he realizes who it is. He’s sure Hoseok already hates him enough, he doesn’t need to add “nearly ran over you in the library” to the list. “Shit, sorry,” he mumbles.

“No worries,” Hoseok says kindly, and Taehyung is surprised that he doesn’t sound mad. “You look wiped, do you want a ride home?”

Taehyung blinks at him, wondering if this is some sort of front and Hoseok is going to take him to a dark field where the rest of the Bangtan troupe will be waiting to beat the shit out of him. He’s not sure if he really even cares at this point - he can’t imagine anything making him feel worse than he already does. “Is this a trap?”

Hoseok laughs. “No, I promise. Come on.”

So Taehyung follows him to his car, partly because he believes him and partly because he’s so tired that his self-defense mechanisms are barely functioning.

“I’ve actually been wanting to talk to you,” Hoseok says, once they’re both seated in his car with the heat blasting.

“Oh?” This must be it, Taehyung thinks vaguely, the part where two other Bangtan members pop up in the back seat and jump him.

“Yeah.” No members appear, and Hoseok starts driving. “I know things aren’t great between you and Jeongguk right now.”

Taehyung snorts. “That’s one way of putting it.”

Hoseok chuckles softly. “I love him, but he can be difficult.” He pauses. “I was wondering, though, if he ever told you about the experience he had in high school? His first relationship?”

Taehyung thinks back to the night in the bed and breakfast, when Jeongguk had said he’d had sex without a condom once before, a long time ago. That’s the only reference he’d ever made to a previous relationship.

“No,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “He never mentioned that.”

“He’s not very forthcoming about it,” Hoseok says with a sigh. “I only found out when he got really, really drunk at one of our Bangtan brotherhood events last year.”

Taehyung is genuinely curious now. “What happened?”

“He was pretty seriously involved with his best friend in high school. Like, a friends since childhood type of deal,” Hoseok explains. “Jeongguk was in really deep, but the guy was really struggling with the idea of being gay, so they kept it a secret for a while. And then out of nowhere, he just dropped Jeongguk, stopped talking to him completely. Got himself a girlfriend practically the next day, and that was it.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Hoseok agrees. “As you can imagine, it fucked him up pretty bad.”

“I’m sure.”

It does explain a lot about why Jeongguk is the way he is - Taehyung isn’t sure he’d ever trust anybody again if the person who was both his best friend and boyfriend did that to him. The thought makes his heart break for younger Jeongguk, even though he’s currently still Super Pissed at present day Jeongguk.

“Anyway,” Hoseok says, interrupting Taehyung’s train of thought. “I know it’s not really my place, and I know a lot of shit went down between you guys, but I just felt like maybe you should know. It might help you understand why he handles things the way he does.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung repeats. “Thanks.” He’s startled when he looks out the window and realizes they’re outside his apartment building.

“How did you know where I live?”

“I dropped him off a few times,” Hoseok says with a shrug and a small smile. “Listen, Taehyung - don’t give up on him just yet, yeah?”

Taehyung swallows around the lump in his throat. “I’ll try,” he says hoarsely. “Thanks for the ride.”

***

“This is honestly superb, Taehyung,” Namjoon says during his final review of Taehyung’s portfolio. It’s fully laid out now, and Taehyung is planning on turning it in tomorrow, once he gets Namjoon’s blessing. He’ll be glad to be rid of it. “You know I’ve always been a fan, but you’ve really surpassed yourself.”

“Thank you.” Taehyung is proud of his work as well, on an objective level, but he’s gotten no joy from putting it all together.

“One question,” Namjoon says, rifling through the stack of unused photos that Taehyung had brought along. “Why didn’t you include this one?”

He holds up the now infamous (to Taehyung, at least) photo from the day at the beach. Taehyung flinches.

“I just, umm, couldn’t find a place for it,” he lies.

Namjoon looks down at the picture and back up at him. “I would have suggested using it as the closing shot,” he says. “I think it’s the strongest out of all of them. It captures so much.”

Taehyung stares down at the desk, twisting his hands in his lap.

“What’s your relationship like with Jeongguk?” Namjoon asks carefully, setting the photo down.

“We were pretty good friends,” Taehyung says quietly. “While we were shooting.”

Namjoon raises his eyebrows. “You expect me to believe that you and the person in these photos were just friends?”

Taehyung coughs. Was he really that obvious? “We, uh - we may have also started sleeping together, at one point.”

“Just sleeping together?”

“I thought it could have been more,” Taehyung admits, hoping he doesn’t sound as pathetic as he feels. “I wanted it to be more.” He wonders when this will get easier for him to talk about. “He didn’t.”

“And now?”

Taehyung chews on his lip. “Not really on speaking terms.”

“I see,” Namjoon says with a nod. “Can I show you something?”

Taehyung looks up, confused. “Okay.”

Namjoon rifles through his desk drawer and extracts a slim portfolio, which he hands across the table to Taehyung. He opens it and feels his heart clench - it’s full of pictures of a slightly younger looking Jeongguk.

“That’s from the project I did with him last year,” Namjoon explains. Taehyung stares hard at the photos, willing himself not to get visibly upset. “Sort of a mini version of this semester’s assignment, learning how to shoot a model - we worked together for a week.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says blandly. “They’re good.”

“Thanks,” Namjoon says in a way that indicates that clearly isn’t the point. “Do you notice anything different between mine and yours?”

Taehyung studies them even though he feels like his heart might crack in half, letting the photographer side of him take over. “Umm. Je- Jeongguk." Even saying his name is painful. "He seems more superficial. More like a model, less like a human being.”

“Exactly,” Namjoon agrees. “They lack the emotional intensity that yours have. You figured out how to put him at ease, so that you can really see him in the pictures. That’s a rare talent in a photographer.”

“Thank you,” Taehyung says, flushing. It’s high praise, but he can’t help thinking about the cost that had come with that talent.

“You can’t shoot photos this intimate without there being some kind of feelings involved,” Namjoon continues. “It just isn’t the same.”

“Yeah, well.” Taehyung sighs. “Like I told you, I fell for him. At least one good thing came out of it.”

“I’m not just talking about you.”

When Taehyung responds with a blank stare, Namjoon takes the photo from the beach and slides it across the table towards him. “The boy in this photo?” He taps on it. “He has feelings for you. And if I were you, I would do something about it.”

Taehyung gapes at him.

“Also, it’s ultimately up to you, but I’m going to suggest again that you use this picture as the final piece in your portfolio. It’s some of your best work, and messy feelings shouldn’t get in the way of that. It would be doing a disservice to yourself and all the work you’ve put into this.”

Taehyung knows by now that Namjoon is always right, but it still doesn’t make his advice any easier to swallow. He picks up the photo, heaves a very deep sigh, and then nods. “Okay. Okay, I will.”

***

The Taehyung Fixes Things tour, which had been on indefinite hiatus in the wake of his fight with Jeongguk, picks up again in full force after his meeting with Namjoon. After all, he has a lot to do and only a week left in the semester to do it.

He spends the majority of that night in the photography department, blasting classical music and making a second copy of the portfolio. Per Namjoon’s advice, he adds the photo of Jeongguk against the water on the final page. It still hurts him to look at it, but maybe that’s the point. Good art makes people feel something, after all.

Two things keep him going until the wee hours of the morning: copious amounts of caffeine, and the words of his friends.

If you feel the way I think you do about him, it is your job to be there while he figures it out.

He does, he wants to be.

Don't give up on him just yet, yeah?

He hasn’t, he won’t.

If I were you, I would do something about it.

He’s going to. He is.

Taehyung doesn’t know how he ended up with such wise, honest friends, but it makes him feel very inadequate and very lucky at the same time.

He manages to sneak in a few hours of sleep that night, but he’s up early the next morning, in time to get to Jeongguk’s house when he knows he’ll be in class. He’d thought about doing it in person, but he thinks it has to be this way - Jeongguk has to come to his own decision, even if Taehyung has already made his. It’s a risk, for sure, but Taehyung feels oddly serene about it, even though he knows there’s a good chance the fallout will be brutal.

Seokjin answers the door in a pink bathrobe, and he looks surprised to see Taehyung but not displeased.

“Oh, hey, Taehyung,” he says, stepping back and gesturing him inside. Yoongi is sitting on the couch in the living room, and he raises a hand in greeting. “I’m making breakfast, do you want some?”

“Thanks, I’m good,” Taehyung says. He holds up the second copy of his portfolio. “I actually just needed to drop something off for Jeongguk, do you mind if I run upstairs?”

“No, of course,” Seokjin nods. If he finds anything odd about this interaction, he doesn’t say it, and Taehyung is grateful for that.

Being in Jeongguk’s room again is strange, given the circumstances. It looks pretty much the same, maybe a little messier than usual, Justin Bieber still presiding over everything. Most of Taehyung’s memories of this room involve alcohol, orgasms, and that poster - not a bad combination, all in all. He wishes more than anything that he could just sink into Jeongguk’s bed, breathe in his scent and lie there until he gets home. But he can’t, and he won’t, so instead he drops the portfolio on the bed, asks Justin to wish him luck, and heads back downstairs.

“Yoongi hyung,” Taehyung says when he reaches the living room. “I know I kind of messed things up with you and Jimin, and I’m sorry.”

Yoongi turns bright pink, spluttering something indecipherable. Seokjin suddenly appears in the doorway from the kitchen, still carrying a spatula and grinning like the cat who got the cream.

“But look, I know he really likes you and unless I’m totally off base here, you like him too,” Taehyung pushes on, extending a small wad of cash. “So just, take him to dinner and give it a shot, yeah? My treat.”

Yoongi takes the money, still so red Seokjin could probably fry an egg on his face, while Seokjin cheers from the doorway.

“You’ll do it?” Taehyung presses.

“Yeah,” Yoongi nods, muttering something about how he was getting around to it anyway.

“Cool. Pretty sure he doesn’t have plans tonight,” Taehyung adds with a wink. “See you guys later.”

The last stop on his mission is to the photography department to formally submit his portfolio, which he does after stopping by Namjoon’s office to show him the new and improved last page.

“Proud of you,” Namjoon says, clapping him on the back.

Taehyung is proud of himself too.

After that, there’s nothing for him to do but wait. He heads home, curls himself up on the couch with some ramen, and focuses the best he can on studying for his other finals. He doesn’t get very far, because Jimin bursts into their apartment not half an hour later, completely beside himself.

“Yoongi hyung asked me to get dinner!” he exclaims, smiling so wide Taehyung is afraid his face might crack in half. “Do you think it’s a date?”

“I would venture to say yes,” Taehyung says, returning his smile.

Jimin’s expression slips rapidly into one of alarm. “Oh fuck, I’m going on a date tonight. What the hell am I going to wear?!”

And so Taehyung passes the afternoon sitting cross legged on Jimin’s bed, watching Jimin dismantle his entire wardrobe and offering feedback as needed, such as:

“Too slutty.”

“Not slutty enough.”

“You want your pants to be tight enough that they show off your butt, but not so tight that Yoongi hyung can’t get a hand inside of them.”

Jimin flushes beet red and throws a sock at him, but by the time Taehyung pushes him out the door that night, things are completely back to normal between them, and Taehyung’s world feels a little brighter.

When Jimin returns a few hours later, Taehyung is still up, working his way through a pint of ice cream and waiting eagerly to hear the details. He takes one look at the radiant smile on Jimin’s face and knows it was a success.

“So?”

“You were right about the pants,” Jimin says cheekily, and Taehyung snorts so hard he almost chokes on his ice cream.

***

The next two days pass without any word from Jeongguk, and Taehyung does his best not to let it get to him. He hadn’t told Jimin about leaving the portfolio, so he carries it around like a silent weight in his chest, his hope dwindling with every passing minute. It’s not that he regrets his decision - he knows it was the right thing, regardless of what happens - but he had allowed himself to hope that it would elicit some sort of response, at least. Any reprieve to this constant, aching sadness.

On Thursday afternoon, he decides it’s time for him to get out of the apartment. He only has one final left, and he’s pretty much burnt out on studying anyway, but a last ditch trip to the library can’t hurt. It’s mostly just an excuse for him to go spend $4 on a latte in the library cafe, but no one needs to know that.

He opens the front door and comes face to face with Jeongguk, hand raised as if he was about to knock. Taehyung promptly drops everything he’s holding on the floor.

“Hi,” he says hoarsely.

“Hi.”

Jeongguk looks exhausted - his hair is uncharacteristically messy, and there are dark circles under his eyes that suggest he hasn’t been sleeping. He looks just about as bad as Taehyung feels, but at the very least he looks like himself, not the stranger Taehyung had seen that day in the dance studio.

“What, ah -” Taehyung begins, heart jack hammering in his chest, but Jeongguk cuts him off by holding up the portfolio. “Oh.”

“Why did you leave this for me?” he asks tiredly. He doesn’t sound mad, at least. Maybe kind of defeated, but not mad.

Taehyung swallows. It’s time for phase three of the Taehyung Fixes Things plan - all or nothing. “I thought you should see the finished product.”

Jeongguk looks down at the portfolio. “I hadn’t seen at least half of the pictures in here.”

So he noticed.

“I know,” Taehyung says quietly. Honesty, he reminds himself. “I didn’t show you because I was afraid it would be too obvious.”

Jeongguk stares at him. “Obvious how?”

Honesty, honesty.

“How I felt. About you,” Taehyung admits, clutching the door frame. “You were right, I was hiding. But then you called it off, and - what else was I supposed to think?”

“I called it off because I was falling for you,” Jeongguk says, his voice barely above a whisper. A small balloon of hope inflates in Taehyung’s chest. “And that wasn’t the deal, remember? We were supposed to just be friends. I didn’t think - I didn’t think you would see me as more than that.”

Taehyung’s heart cracks a little at this, and he feels a rush of hatred for Jeongguk’s former best friend, for the person who had made him doubt himself and his feelings so intensely.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung says softly, but Jeongguk keeps his gaze trained on his feet.

“But then, I saw the photos, and I thought, maybe, maybe there was a chance.” He looks up now, and his expression is so vulnerable that Taehyung is taken aback.

Taehyung circles a hand around his wrist, tugging him further into the apartment so that he can close the door. It’s the first time they’ve touched in what feels like ages, and Jeongguk looks just as shocked by it as Taehyung feels.

“Taehyung,” he murmurs, his eyes pleading.

“I want to be with you,” Taehyung says bluntly. No more hiding. “I wanted it then, and I want it now. All I want is to be with you.”

There is a look of shell-shocked wonder on Jeongguk’s face now, his eyes big and round. Taehyung wants to reach out and touch him so badly he can hardly stand it. “I want that too,” he says, finally, his voice cracking. “I want you.”

Taehyung lets himself smile then, even as he blinks back tears, because he can’t help himself. Jeongguk’s answering smile is a small, shy thing, spreading slowly across his face.

“I promise not to hide anymore,” Taehyung says, stepping forward and crowding Jeongguk into the door. “If you promise not to run.”

“I promise,” Jeongguk breathes, his gaze dropping to Taehyung’s mouth. Taehyung leans in then, pressing his lips to Jeongguk’s until he gives a happy sigh and loops his arms around Taehyung’s waist. Fuck, Taehyung had missed his touch. “So we’re really doing this, yeah?” he asks when they break apart.

“Looks like it,” Taehyung nods, and Jeongguk smiles so wide that it turns into a laugh.

“So what now?” Jeongguk asks.

Taehyung quirks an eyebrow at him, pointedly pressing his knee between Jeongguk’s legs. Jeongguk inhales sharply. “Jeon Jeongguk,” Taehyung purrs, dropping another kiss to his mouth. “What kind of dumb fuck question is that?”

“Roger that,” Jeongguk groans, and with that he’s sweeping Taehyung off his feet (Taehyung may let out a rather undignified yelp) and carrying him into the bedroom.

It’s everything Taehyung had missed about him, made a million times better by the knowledge that this is his now, his to keep. Jeongguk can’t stop kissing him, even as they struggle to get their clothes off, even as they topple on to the bed with arms and legs intertwined. Their hands are everywhere, re-learning each other’s bodies, tracing appreciatively over favorite spots.

“Jesus, did you get more jacked?” Taehyung marvels, one hand resting on Jeongguk’s bicep.

“I’ve been working out a lot,” Jeongguk says, pulling back to look at him. “To take my mind off things.”

“No need for that anymore,” Taehyung replies, stroking his jaw. “Although I like the muscles, they can stay.”

As if to prove a point, Jeongguk grabs him around the waist and flips them so that he’s hovering over Taehyung.

“Alright, well, no need to get smug about it,” Taehyung pouts, even though it’s kind of hot that Jeongguk can do that so easily.

When Taehyung presses the bottle of lube into his palm, Jeongguk shudders, hunching over to lick into Taehyung’s mouth. He fingers him open diligently, one of Taehyung’s legs slung over his shoulder, the other draped across his thigh. Taehyung squirms and whines, giving as much encouragement as he can, watching Jeongguk’s teeth sink into his lower lip when Taehyung bears down on his fingers. By the time he’s three fingers deep, Jeongguk is shaking more than Taehyung, and Taehyung reaches for him, running a reassuring hand along his forearm.

“Jeongguk,” he pants. “I’m ready.”

Jeongguk nods jerkily, easing his fingers out and scrambling to hook Taehyung’s other leg over his shoulder. “Condom?”

Taehyung shakes his head. “I haven’t, since you.”

“But - ” Jeongguk cuts himself off, looking embarrassed, and Taehyung’s stomach drops when he realizes what he’s referring to.

“No, I didn’t,” he says in a rush. “We only made out, nothing happened.” Jeongguk looks so relieved that Taehyung’s heart nearly bursts.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “For what I said to you, about that.”

“S’okay,” Taehyung soothes, combing a hand through his hair.

He shakes his head adamantly. “It’s really not.”

“It is,” Taehyung says firmly, his hand sliding to cup Jeongguk’s cheek. “It’s in the past. We figured it out, we’re okay. I’m yours now.”

Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut, turning his face to kiss Taehyung’s palm.

“I haven’t - with anyone, either,” he breathes, and Taehyung beams at him.

“So no condom, then.”

Jeongguk nods fervently, lining himself up and sliding home easily. “Holy shit,” he groans, falling forward and panting against Taehyung’s mouth. “Fuck, I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” Taehyung murmurs, rolling his hips as they set up a pace.

Sex without a condom is just as good as he remembers, except this time Jeongguk actually makes eye contact with him, this time Taehyung doesn’t feel like there are a million things left unsaid hanging in the air around them. This time, it’s just the two of them, completely gone for each other and high on the feeling of being together again.

“Come for me, Tae,” Jeongguk says hoarsely, the rhythm of his hips becoming more frantic, more erratic. His hand closes around Taehyung’s cock, and Taehyung comes with a shout, his head falling back against the pillows. Jeongguk follows him over the edge not long after, feeding Taehyung’s name into his own mouth as he comes.

They barely leave Taehyung’s bed for the rest of the day, emerging only to scarf down some takeout at dinner time. It’s a good thing that Taehyung had had time to study for his last final while he was miserable and alone, because it sure as hell isn’t happening tonight. They go for round 2, and eventually round 3, but they also just lie there and talk, catching up on the past month and basking in each other’s company. Jimin is nowhere to be found, at the library cramming for his last final, which is probably a good thing considering Taehyung passes on dessert in favor of going down on Jeongguk right there in the middle of the living room.

Taehyung wakes up the next morning to the sound of his own alarm, groaning when he realizes he still has a final to take. With steel willpower, he extracts himself from Jeongguk’s arms, sitting up and yawning grumpily. Jeongguk makes a sound of disapproval, grabbing for Taehyung with his eyes still closed.

“Where are you going,” he pouts. Taehyung wonders that same thing, considering he has a very naked Jeongguk with a fairly prominent morning boner in his bed right now.

“Shower,” Taehyung replies, his voice gravelly with sleep. “I still have my last final, remember?”

Jeongguk cracks one eye open. “Boo.”

“Wanna come with?” Taehyung asks, yawning.

“To your final?”

“To the shower, you ass.”

Jeongguk perks up considerably at this. Taehyung has never seen him agree to get out of bed so quickly. “Yes, yes I do.”

“Jeez, now I know how to get you out of bed in the morning,” he laughs.

Jeongguk sticks his tongue out at him but follows him easily anyway.

They grab towels and creep out into the living room, hoping not to disturb Jimin. They’re about two feet away from the bathroom when:

“Morning,” Jimin chirps, emerging from his own bedroom. He stops short when he sees Jeongguk, his eyes going comically wide. “Oh. Hey, Jeongguk.”

“Hey,” Jeongguk says, raising a hand in greeting and blushing.

“What, umm.” Jimin blinks at them. “How... are you guys?”

“We’re good,” Taehyung answers, beaming.

“Really good,” Jeongguk adds.

Jimin claps his hands together happily, and Taehyung makes a mental note to give him a really long hug for dealing with their bullshit all semester. “Yay, I’m glad.” His eyes land on the bathroom door behind them. “Where ya going?”

“Shower,” Taehyung says casually, backing towards the door. Jeongguk follows suit.

“Together?” Jimin asks, the pitch of his voice going up about half an octave.

“Trying to save water,” Taehyung nods, pushing Jeongguk through the door as he snorts. “See ya later, Jimin.”

“Kim Taehyung,” Jimin says dangerously, advancing on him.

“Sorry, love you,” Taehyung replies, closing the door in his face and locking it.

“KIM TAEHYUNG,” Jimin shouts through the door. Jeongguk is shaking with laughter next to him, having already shed his towel. He’s standing there in the middle of Taehyung’s bathroom, already half hard, and Taehyung is finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on Jimin’s words. “IF YOU HAVE SEX IN OUR SHOWER I WILL BANG YOONGI ON YOUR BED. DO YOU HEAR ME?!”

“GOOD, IT’S ABOUT TIME YOU TWO GET IT IN,” Taehyung shouts back, following Jeongguk into the shower.

Then Jeongguk turns on the water and drops to his knees, and any other retort Jimin comes up with is lost to his ears. It’s a goddamn miracle Taehyung even makes it to his final.

***

Friday is a good day. Jeongguk feels lighter than he has in months, maybe years, and a part of him keeps wondering if this is a dream, and when he’s going to wake up. Everything feels surreal - the sloppy hand job Taehyung had given him in the shower, knees still shaking from his own orgasm. The laughing kiss he had pressed to Jeongguk’s mouth as Jeongguk pushed him out the front door, wishing him luck on his final. The fact that he gets to have this with Taehyung now, that they’re together, that Taehyung wants him back. It’s surreal.

Jimin gives him the silent treatment for all of about five minutes after Taehyung leaves, still mortified about what he correctly assumes had happened in his shower (they hadn’t exactly been quiet). Then he caves, storming into Taehyung’s room and snapping:

“So are you going to give me details, or were you just planning on having sex in my shower and then ignoring me?”

Another fifteen minutes later, his eyes are watering and he’s flinging himself into Jeongguk’s arms and murmuring: “I’m so happy for you. Also, don’t fuck it up.”

They head to the gym together and then to practice, and by the time Jeongguk is walking out of the studio a few hours later, drenched in sweat, he has a text from Taehyung.

>hiiii im done with my final wheee :)<

He types out a response immediately, something warm and happy fizzing in his chest.

>!!! how’d it go<

>who cares it’s over<

>that’s the spirit<

He stares down at his phone, then writes >come over?< and hits send before he can stop himself. No more running.

Taehyung’s response is quick:

>ok :)<

And yeah, staying put feels okay.

They spend the afternoon lazing around Jeongguk’s house, playing video games with his housemates and getting Taehyung reacquainted with Jeongguk’s bed. Like, very, intimately well acquainted. Jimin shows up late in the afternoon, blushing a little as he folds himself onto the couch next to Yoongi. Seokjin offers to cook everyone dinner, but Taehyung whispers in his ear asking if they can go out, just the two of them, and Jeongguk happily agrees.

They go to the ramen place where they’d first had dinner together, before anything had really even happened between them. Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung remembers, is contemplating saying something about it when Taehyung says:

“I really wanted to kiss you the night we first came here.”

It’s around a mouthful of noodles, but it makes Jeongguk’s heart stutter all the same.

“I wanted it to be a date the whole time,” Jeongguk replies, and there’s not even time for him to feel embarrassed about it because Taehyung’s answering smile is one of the brightest he’s ever seen.

“Well, now it’s a date,” Taehyung says shyly, and they seal the deal by kissing on the sidewalk outside after dinner.

When they get back to Jeongguk’s house, his housemates (along with Jimin, who they’re pleased to see is still there) are watching a movie. They join for a while, until Jimin’s head droops on to Yoongi’s shoulder (Yoongi looks flustered but not displeased) and Taehyung’s hand gets a little too high on Jeongguk’s thigh for him to pay any attention to what’s happening on the screen. Their mumbled excuses about being tired from a long day don’t do much to stave off the catcalls that follow them up the stairs, but Jeongguk finds he doesn’t care all that much.

“I have to tell you something,” Taehyung says a little while later, his fingers threaded in Jeongguk’s hair while Jeongguk kisses a trail down his chest. The seriousness in his voice is enough to make Jeongguk look up, his stomach clenching.

“Okay, should I be worried?” he replies, fighting to keep his tone even.

“No,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “Just, umm, I thought you should know - Hoseok hyung told me about what happened to you in high school. With your ex?”

“Oh.” This isn’t exactly his favorite topic to discuss, but the knot in his stomach loosens a little. “Yeah.”

“We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Taehyung says gently. “I just didn’t want to hide it from you.”

Jeongguk nods. He’s surprised by how not upset he feels, especially considering this is a secret he’s guarded pretty closely for the past few years. At school, Hoseok and Jimin are the only two people he’s talked about it with, and even that has mostly been at times when alcohol is involved.

“When did he tell you?”

“Just last week,” Taehyung explains. “He gave me a ride home from the library, I thought he was going to beat me up for making out with that guy at your party.” Jeongguk snorts - the idea of Hoseok hurting anyone is laughable. “Please don’t be mad at him, he was trying to help.”

“I’m not mad,” Jeongguk says truthfully. He’s actually kind of touched that Hoseok had gone out of his way to try to fix things between him and Taehyung. “I’m kind of glad you know, actually. I don’t really enjoy telling the story.”

“It’s really fucked up, what happened,” Taehyung says, brushing this thumb over Jeongguk’s palm. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t a great time for me.” It’s still painful for him to think about, but not in the same sharp, searing way it used to be. He’s felt himself healing ever since he arrived at the university with a clean slate freshman year, and especially since he joined Bangtan. But Taehyung is the first person who’s made him feel like he can truly be free of it, like he doesn’t have to carry that shame and self-doubt with him forever. Like he’s enough, just as he is.

Taehyung grips his hand tightly. “I want you to know that that’s not what’s going to happen with me.”

“Taehyung - ”

But Taehyung cuts him off, his voice fierce. “No, I’m serious. I want you to hear me, really hear what I’m saying to you. I’m not going to do that to you, okay?”

“Okay,” Jeongguk nods, his voice strangled. He thinks his heart might explode with the strength of what he feels for Taehyung right now.

“First of all, I’m not even attracted to girls,” Taehyung continues, his voice slipping into something a little lighter. “And second of all, I want the whole fucking world to know that you’re mine.”

Jeongguk surges forward, kissing Taehyung as hard as he can, until they’re both breathless and ripping at what little clothing is left between them.

“Mark me up,” Taehyung breathes, clawing at Jeongguk’s back. Arousal shoots through his body like a white hot flame. “So everyone can see.”

“Fuck,” Jeongguk groans, his hands roaming everywhere, touching as much of Taehyung as he possibly can. “Fuck, you make me crazy.”

“Good,” Taehyung whimpers, tilting his head back so that Jeongguk can suck a bruise into his neck. He works his way down Taehyung’s body, leaving them on his collarbone, his stomach, his inner thigh, until Taehyung is writhing beneath him, begging to be fucked.

Neither of them last very long, which is kind of ridiculous considering how much sex they’ve had in the past 36 hours, but something about tonight is different, the raw intensity sending them both spiraling over the edge. Even as they’re shaking apart in each other’s arms, Jeongguk finds himself wanting to be closer, wants to sink into Taehyung’s skin and stay for as long as he can.

They drift off with their fingers interlaced, Taehyung pressed along Jeongguk’s side so that he can feel his breath against his neck. Jeongguk thinks this might be the closest he’s ever come to sheer, unbridled bliss. If this is what not running is like, he thinks he could get used to the feeling.

***

When Jeongguk wakes up the next morning, he’s alone. His first thought is that it had all been a dream, and an icy wave of dread washes over him. Then he realizes that the sheets on the other half of his bed are rumpled like somebody had slept in them, and his pillowcase smells like Taehyung’s shampoo. Not a dream, then, but that doesn’t change the fact that Taehyung is nowhere to be seen.

Trying not to panic, Jeongguk stumbles out of bed, slipping into the first pair of sweatpants he finds on his floor (probably time to do some laundry, oops). Taehyung is probably just in the bathroom, he tells himself. He wouldn’t leave, he wouldn’t. He repeats this mantra in his head even when he finds the bathroom empty, even when all of his old insecurities start clamoring for attention in the back of his head.

There’s a sudden commotion from downstairs, the sound of clanging followed by a loud thud. Jeongguk freezes, wondering if his luck is bad enough that his house would get broken into the same morning his (maybe?) boyfriend decides to ditch him right after they finally got back together.

He creeps down the stairs, tiptoeing towards the kitchen, where it sounded like the noise had come from. He hears voice as he gets closer, and arrives in the doorway to find Taehyung and Seokjin, who interestingly is covered head to toe in what looks like flour.

“Jeonggukie!” Taehyung greets him cheerily. He’s wearing a large apron in a lurid floral pattern that is legitimately offensive to Jeongguk’s eyes. “Seokjin was teaching me how to make pancakes, but I accidentally made the flour explode.”

“That’s why we wear aprons,” Seokjin says kindly, dusting himself off. “I’m just gonna go rinse off a little, then we can get back to it.”

“Sorry again!” Taehyung calls after him, but Seokjin waves his hand dismissively, chuckling to himself as he slips out of the kitchen.

Once they’re alone, Taehyung refocuses his attention on Jeongguk, and the smile slides off of his face. “You thought I left, didn’t you?”

“I - no,” Jeongguk lies. Taehyung quirks a skeptical eyebrow at him, and he sighs. “Sorry. Old habits die hard, I guess.”

Taehyung frowns, walking across the kitchen and wrapping his arms around Jeongguk’s waist. Jeongguk responds in kind, and Taehyung rests his cheek on Jeongguk’s shoulder. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says quietly. “I’ll keep saying it until you believe me.”

Jeongguk doesn’t trust himself to respond, so he just squeezes Taehyung tighter, hoping that gets the message across. Seokjin finds them like this when he returns to the kitchen a few minutes later, only a few odd smudges of flour remaining on his face.

“Alright, lovebirds,” he says, clapping his hands together. “Who wants pancakes?”

***

Taehyung had been worried about being apart from Jeongguk for a month right after they finally figured things out, but as it turns out they are both only away from campus for about a week. Jeongguk comes back right after Christmas for rehearsals with Bangtan (they have a big competition coming up), and Taehyung returns a few days later to make some extra cash doing filing work for the photography department.

On his birthday, Jeongguk wakes him up with a blow job and then gives him a card that says “I like you a latte,” both of which Taehyung takes as a sign that they are probably soulmates. They spend the day together, Taehyung tagging along to the Bangtan rehearsal and then back to Jeongguk’s house, where they have a small celebration with his housemates, Jimin, and Namjoon, who is also back on campus.

They all get thoroughly drunk the next day, which is New Year’s Eve, and then waste away the first day of the new year playing video games and watching movies while their hangovers slowly subside. A few days later, Taehyung and Jeongguk hole up in the dance studio on a snowy afternoon because Taehyung insists he wants to learn the Rainism dance. This is mostly just a ploy to get Jeongguk to do the dance for him while they’re alone, and he’d say it’s a success because it ends with them having some very hot sex against one of the mirrored walls in the studio.

On the last weekend before classes resume, he piles into Seokjin’s car with Seokjin and Yoongi and they road trip to cheer Bangtan on at their first non-university competition of the year. Taehyung abuses his photography lab privileges to make three t-shirts sporting blown up pictures of Jeongguk, Jimin, and Hoseok. He slides into Seokjin’s car already wearing the Jeongguk shirt, which prompts Seokjin to burst out laughing and Yoongi to blink at him in disbelief.

“I made them for you guys too!” Taehyung announces, whipping the Jimin and Hoseok shirts out of his bag. Seokjin grabs the Hoseok shirt immediately, slipping it on over his sweater and checking himself out in the rearview mirror.

“Absolutely not,” Yoongi says, shaking his head adamantly when Taehyung passes the Jimin shirt to him. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Taehyung pouts. “Okay,” he says sadly. “I mean, Jimin’s feelings might be a little hurt, but I’m sure he’ll get over it... eventually.”

Seokjin flashes him a thumbs up.

“Fine,” Yoongi snaps, grabbing the shirt and tugging it on. “But I want you to know I am NOT happy about this.”

“You might be singing a different tune once Jimin sees you in that,” Taehyung says casually. “He’s a total narcissist, it’ll turn him on.”

Yoongi turns bright red and sinks lower into the passenger seat while Seokjin guffaws next to him.

Bangtan places second at the competition, which is especially exciting because their biggest rival comes in third. Taehyung sits in the front row with Seokjin and Yoongi and screams his head off, thanking every deity he can think of that he landed a boyfriend who is this fine. They sneak backstage after the show to congratulate the team, and the look on Jimin’s face when he sees Yoongi wearing a shirt with his face on it is so priceless that Taehyung wishes he had his camera with him.

“You are the most extra human being on this earth,” Jeongguk says to Taehyung, looking him up and down.

“Too bad you’re stuck with me,” Taehyung retorts, throwing himself into Jeongguk’s arms.

“Too bad,” Jeongguk agrees, but the stupid smile on his face is a dead giveaway.

Jeongguk’s house throws a huge rager that night, a fitting way to ring out winter break. Taehyung insists on wearing his Jeongguk t-shirt all night, which Jeongguk pretends to be mortified by but Taehyung suspects he secretly kind of likes. Regardless, they’re both happy when it comes off later that night, up against the door to Jeongguk’s bedroom, Justin Bieber watching over them with what Taehyung likes to think is an approving gaze.

Their last day of break is spent primarily in Jeongguk’s bed, taking advantage of this final opportunity for totally guilt-free laziness.

“You know, for all the pictures I took of you last semester, I don’t actually have any of the two of us together,” Taehyung realizes out loud. They’re lying side by side, socked feet hooked around each other, paging through Jeongguk’s copy of Taehyung’s portfolio.

“Let’s take one now,” Jeongguk suggests, pulling out his phone and holding it out in front of them. They both cheese for the camera, but at the last second Taehyung turns, pressing a kiss to Jeongguk’s cheek. The outcome is a slightly blurry photo of Jeongguk looking pleasantly surprised, Taehyung’s face smashed up against the side of his.

“It’s kind of blurry,” Jeongguk says.

“It’s perfect,” Taehyung replies. And as the resident photographer in the relationship, what he says goes.

They load the photo onto Jeongguk’s computer, then print off a copy on the dilapidated mini printer that he had inherited from his older brother. Taehyung takes it and tapes it into the back cover of the portfolio, opposite the photo of Jeongguk at the beach.

“Does it throw off the mood of the whole collection?” Jeongguk asks, examining the photo with a smile on his face.

“Nah,” Taehyung says, linking their arms together. “Now it’s complete.”

***

FIN