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Whispers at Midnight

Chapter Text

Life is a slippery slope.

That’s all that would come to Seokjin’s mind when he thought about the near-apocalyptic disaster his life had become. There were never any major events that tossed him from one path to another like a book character on a hero’s journey - no massive earthquake that drove rifts into his morality or otherwise abruptly changed who he was as a person. Everything started small. Little things happened. Little things built the foundation so slowly and inconspicuously that Seokjin never realized how far his fate had spiraled away from him until it was too late.

It wasn’t a secret that their father was less than ideal when it came to well-rounded parental figures. He was often working late and when he wasn’t, he usually had a bottle of alcohol in hand. The little things. The little changes. It started as just beer. Then it became a shot. Then it became two. Then the glasses were forgotten in favor of the bottles themselves.

Little things. It started as just yelling. Throwing things. Pushing. The first time their father hit Seokjin, Taehyung had been four. Or maybe he’d been five – Seokjin couldn’t remember. Sometimes the details slipped away from him.

Other details stuck with him like stench on a rotting corpse.

Like the day he had to push Taehyung into his closet. He remembered the little boy’s dark eyes wide with fear as Seokjin shut the door, frantically whispering for him to stay put. He remembered how his father pushed him over and pulled at his hair and hit him. He remembered how he was drenched in alcohol when his father threw the mostly-empty bottle at him.

Seokjin could still smell the urine that soaked the carpet in the closet when he finally let Tae out hours later, after their father had passed out on the couch. Even though he needed to go to the bathroom, Taehyung had obediently listened to Seokjin and stayed in the closet. He remembered taking Tae into the bathroom and cleaning him off with a warm washcloth, kissing him and whispering soothing words to calm his little brother. He remembered the young boy’s fingers as they gently touched the bruises swelling on Seokjin’s face, his quiet voice as he asked his older brother if it hurt. Taehyung was six. Seokjin remembered that.

Seokjin felt nothing but anger and hatred for their mother, for her death, for forcing them to live in terror. Taehyung was just a baby, and Seokjin knew he had to protect him like their mother never could. Even if it meant one less meal. Even if it meant two more blows. His father had yet to lay a hand on Taehyung, but Seokjin knew that if he did, it would start small. Those little things. Seokjin would never let their father hurt Tae.

There was a time in which Seokjin thought that their father couldn’t help himself. He believed his lies – that if only he would be good, listen to him, do as he said – then he wouldn’t have to beat him. He thought that the alcohol made him the way he was, like he couldn’t control himself, it wasn’t his fault. Their father would cry as he sobered up, holding Seokjin tight in his arms and begging for forgiveness, promising him that he would be better – that everything would be better.

It never got better.

When teachers started asking questions, the bruises on his face and arms faded away, but the bruises on his chest and back grew darker. That was when Seokjin tossed out any delusion that their father wasn’t perfectly aware of how he treated his eldest son.

Since Taehyung was five, he would sneak into Seokjin’s room and snuggle up with him beneath his ratty comforter. Even after Seokjin spent the next year saving up all the coins he’d been stealing from the dryer or from the pockets of his father’s dirty jeans to buy Tae a nice, soft blanket, the little boy would simply drag it over to Seokjin’s room where the elder brother would burrito Taehyung up and cuddle him until he fell asleep. Seokjin would set his alarm early for the next morning so he could carry Tae back to his room before their father found him out of place.

Seokjin remembered when Taehyung would wet the bed and cry because he was embarrassed, but Seokjin was never mad at him – and he most certainly never punished him for it like their father surely would. He would just kiss Tae’s head and help him clean up the mess. He remembered how Tae promised him that he would work really hard to be a good boy. He remembered that Tae was eleven the last time he wet the bed.

Seokjin remembered the day he’d talked back to his father and how red the drunkard’s face had turned. Seokjin had been angry, so angry – so, he talked back. He told his father no. No, he would not make him a TV dinner. When his father grabbed his arm and twisted it almost to the breaking point, Seokjin screamed as loud as he could, praying that the neighbors would hear, and someone would take him and Taehyung far away from their hell.

Seokjin remembered being dragged into his father’s bedroom and being stripped naked so the man could beat him with a leather belt, leaving red welts across his arms, legs, and back. He remembered blinding pain as the bones in his fingers broke beneath boots in punishment for trying to guard his body from the blows.

He remembered his father had left him dizzy and weak on the bed with a promise to strangle him if he made any noise. He could hear him answer the door, faking his surprise at arrival of the police. He showed off his healthy, happy boy Taehyung and – look how sweet he is, I could never hurt him, he doesn’t have a mark on his body!

Homemade splints didn’t quite do the trick. Crooked fingers served as a reminder of what would happen if he disobeyed their father again.

When Tae was six, he met Jimin. Jimin was always bright and happy. Seokjin knew that Tae needed Jimin, so he made sure to bring Tae to the park so they could play together. The two often just followed Seokjin around like a train of ducklings behind a mother duck. Jimin never came over to their house – he didn’t need to know what went on behind closed doors. Seokjin was willing to do anything to ensure that Jimin and Tae stayed friends. Tae deserved to have something normal in his life.

Seokjin would take care of Taehyung when he had his fits – uncontrollable sobbing that left the young boy weak, sometimes crying until he vomited or passed out. The fits came and went, sometimes triggered by an event – like when Seokjin found a few quarters and bought Taehyung a popsicle that almost immediately slipped out of the younger brother’s hands – but sometimes came out of nowhere. Seokjin would hold him and comfort him and try to muffle the cries so their dad wouldn’t hear.

When Taehyung was seven, Seokjin found out he was ten. He stared down at the tattered paper that was his birth certificate that he’d found while cleaning one day. Their father had never celebrated his birthday – only Taehyung’s. For some reason, Seokjin had come to accept the fact that maybe he didn’t have a birthday. Surely at some point he’d had one, but it must have been taken away from him. The little yellowed page told him otherwise. He was a normal boy, just like Taehyung. That year, he and Taehyung held a celebration for Seokjin in the form of a whispered Happy Birthday song underneath their blanket late at night and a cookie Taehyung had stolen from school.

Seokjin remembered the month their father refused to let them wash their clothes. He had to swallow his pride to bring his and Tae’s laundry to school to ask Hoseok to wash it for them. He was twelve. They stood next to a flowering tree near the far end of the school’s soccer field as Seokjin sobbed in front of his friend with his little bag of dirty clothes, and Hoseok had held him and told him everything was going to be okay.

There was something about letting himself become so vulnerable to Hoseok that Seokjin hated. It shredded at his insides like he’d swallowed a stack of knives. Seokjin started avoiding him. Hoseok had always been his best friend, but by the time a year had passed, the two never spoke. Hoseok moved on, finding a group of new friends, and never spared Seokjin a second glance.

Slowly but surely, the beatings died down. Seokjin wasn’t entirely sure what led to the change. Maybe it was because Seokjin was getting older, a bit taller and broader. Maybe his father was too drunk to bother. There were still occasional fits of rage, but nothing nearly as bad as Seokjin had dealt with in the past.

Seokjin would clean their rooms and wash their clothes before their father got home from work. The older brother would make a small meal for them with whatever food was available in the fridge – not too much though, or his father would notice.  He would help Tae get up in the morning. When he packed his brother’s lunch, he made sure that it was at least twice the amount of food that Seokjin had. He’d found that apples were cheap and kept well even beneath his bed.

By the time Tae had turned eleven, he practically lived in Seokjin’s room. They didn’t bother hiding the fact, either, and their father neither noticed or cared. They would kiss each other good night and fall asleep cuddled comfortably together only to wake up all tangled up in each other’s limbs. As long as they didn’t do anything that drew their father’s attention, the two lived peacefully within their own world together.

It worked out well when Seokjin was in middle school and Tae in elementary, but high school started an hour earlier. Seokjin remembered taking Taehyung with him every morning and dropping him off at Jimin’s house even though it meant it would take an extra thirty minutes to get to school. He remembered kissing his brother a hundred times before he left him, telling him not to cry and that he would come pick him up after school.

And then Seokjin met Yoongi.

Seokjin was fifteen. Yoongi was a broody, dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-clothed teen who transferred to their school in the last half of freshman year. And Seokjin was obsessed. He didn’t understand why he was so keen on getting the other teen’s attention. Yoongi never really seemed to care about anything but listening to music and writing in his journals.

He released butterflies in Seokjin’s stomach in a way he’d never experienced before. At first, he couldn’t recognize his feelings for what they were. He thought the teen was cool, that’s all. That’s what made him attempt small talk every day. That’s what made him blush and fidget when the younger teen turned his gaze towards him.

Or because he was lonely. Definitely because he was lonely. Since he and Hoseok stopped talking, Seokjin never went out in search of a new friend. Who would want to be friends with him, anyway? Everyone knew him as the weird kid who smelled bad and flinched when people stood too close to him, the one who stuttered when he spoke and cried when confronted.

But Yoongi was new; he didn’t know all that about Seokjin. In those first few weeks as Seokjin worked up the courage to talk to the other teen, Yoongi could have yelled at him – could have sent him away for being creepy or stalkerish – but he didn’t. He didn’t say anything when Seokjin began sitting a few seats closer in class each week, or when Seokjin began sitting at his table at lunch despite the fact that Yoongi certainly looked like he wanted to be alone.

Before Seokjin ever managed to say anything, Yoongi started talking. His voice was gruff, speech slow and casual, and it made Seokjin’s heart flutter. Yoongi just talked. For days, he would talk without any response from Seokjin – about music, about the lyrics that he’d been trying to write or his poetry, about books he was reading. He talked about how the new school differed from his old school and how much it sucked to not have any friends.

Seokjin told him that they could be friends. They were the first words he’d ever said to Yoongi, and it was the first time he'd ever seen Yoongi smile.

He wanted to be with Yoongi always. His heart raced whenever they were close, and he was always hoping Yoongi would lean against him. Sometimes when they sat on Yoongi’s couch, Seokjin would sit a little bit too close so that the backs of their hands would brush together. Other times when they were hanging out, he would pretend to fall asleep, letting his head rest against Yoongi’s shoulder.

Despite his rough exterior, Yoongi was kind and thoughtful. After realizing Seokjin never had enough food, during lunchtime Yoongi would complain about how his mother packed too much food and begged Seokjin to take it off his hands otherwise he would get fat and ugly. Seokjin wasn’t so dumb that he didn’t recognize what Yoongi was doing, but he wasn’t about to turn down the food.

When Seokjin had panic attacks after confrontations with other students, Yoongi was there to stand up for him, to hold his hand and say soft words until Seokjin felt better. Seokjin would cry and apologize for being a burden, but Yoongi always assured him that he wasn't. They were friends. Friends took care of each other. Seokjin always felt like Yoongi did a lot more of the caring, but still Yoongi told him it was fine.

As summer came up, Yoongi also suddenly had old clothes that he didn’t want anymore and asked Seokjin to take them off his hands. Seokjin pretended not to notice that some of the ‘old’ clothes were in Seokjin’s size. Then, Yoongi’s mother had unearthed some of Yoongi’s ‘old’ clothes from years ago that were perfectly in Taehyung’s size. Seokjin was convinced that Yoongi was actually an angel in disguise – as close to a blessing a person in hell could receive.

He remembered how his father had backhanded him so hard he blacked out for a few minutes because he’d thought Seokjin had stolen the clothes. It was the first time his father had hit him in over a year. The clothes were thrown out that night.

He remembered the concern on Yoongi’s face when he saw Seokjin’s black eye. That look made Seokjin feel sick to his stomach. He didn’t want Yoongi’s pity. He couldn’t have Yoongi’s pity. He wouldn’t let Yoongi see him as weak as Hoseok had seen him. He and Taehyung had been roughhousing. That was the story he told Yoongi.

It was late summer when Seokjin finally came to terms with his sexuality. He was gay, and he was in love with his best friend Yoongi.

The revelation had come to him in the middle of the night. He remembered the musty scent of his dirty pillow as he choked out sobs as quietly as possible so he didn’t wake Taehyung up who was resting so peacefully beside him. He was ashamed and embarrassed – he wanted to die.

But then Tae tossed his blue blanket over Seokjin’s body and curled up against his back, arms wrapped around his waist. Seokjin grasped Taehyung’s hand. If only Taehyung knew. If he knew the thoughts that Seokjin had about his friend, Taehyung wouldn’t love him. He wouldn’t hold Seokjin. He’d wish he had a new, less-perverted brother. So, Seokjin did everything he could to keep his dark side away from Taehyung.

But then Seokjin went and ruined it all.

It was another one of those detailed memories.

It was early afternoon. The air had a cold bite to it but also had a nice fresh scent. School had been scheduled to let out two hours early, so Seokjin knew he and Tae would have a few hours to themselves before their parents got home. They loved days like those because it gave them more time to hang out with Jimin and Yoongi.

As much as Seokjin loved his brother, he also loved the half an hour he had between getting home and leaving again to pick Taehyung up from school. The relief he found in that time was like a weight lifting off his shoulders. He knew something was wrong with him – no one else pleasured themselves as often as he did. He was sick – perverted – but he couldn’t stop his urges.

With Tae living in his bedroom for the past year and a half and fear of his father hearing him in the bathroom, Seokjin had little to no other opportunities. Of course, that wasn’t counting those shameful nights when he quietly got himself off while his brother slept peacefully beside him.

When he was alone after school, he had a magazine he’d found lying in the street. Seokjin would start with that, but his thoughts always drifted towards Yoongi, and the magazine was left forgotten in favor of fantasies about the pale teen.

After picking up Taehyung, they went straight to Jimin’s house. Whenever they had time, they would go over to play games with him and Yoongi. Usually the younger two would lay stomach down on the ground, fingers mashing on the controller buttons with skill that made Seokjin wonder if Tae had been born with a Playstation in his hands. The two would tease and laugh and their in-game fighting would often lead to them wrestling around.

Seokjin loved days like those. He loved watching his brother play, ignoring all the hardships in their life. He loved sitting on the couch next to Yoongi who was comfortable enough to sit shoulder to shoulder so he could show Seokjin whatever was going on the screen of his phone. Seokjin was thankful that he had managed to work out all his stress earlier. Sometimes being around Yoongi was difficult. Seokjin could smell his friend’s clean scent. He always smelled like he’d just gotten out of the shower and pulled his clothes right from the dryer. Seokjin used to be self-conscious about his own smell, but Yoongi never mentioned it.

Seokjin considered himself lucky that his friend didn’t mind hanging out Taehyung and his friend. Jimin had turned thirteen not too long ago, just two years shy of Seokjin and Yoongi’s fifteen, but few sophomores would be willing to hang out with seventh graders. Ever since they’d introduced Yoongi and Jimin, Taehyung insisted that if he was hanging out with Seokjin and Yoongi, Jimin had to come with, too.

Seokjin knew that sometimes Yoongi and Jimin would hang out even if Tae and Seokjin weren’t there. A part of him was jealous. Yoongi was supposed to be his friend. Being jealous of his little brother’s friend was ridiculous, though. Jimin was a cute kid and almost hilariously opposite from Yoongi’s stoic disposition. Once he got past the stupid possessiveness, Seokjin thought that their friendship was actually quite cute. 

Like every other time when Seokjin and Tae visited, Jimin’s mother supplied them with mountains of food, even stuffing their pockets full of pre-packaged baked goods to hide beneath their beds if they ever got hungry. Seokjin would always blush and insist they didn’t need it, but never protested enough to keep them from walking away with full arms. He always wondered if she knew, or if she just thought they needed to eat more because they were so thin.

The two brothers got home with a bit of time to spare only to realize there was a note on the kitchen whiteboard that showed their father would be out for an event that evening. Seokjin remembered the gleeful look in Taehyung’s eyes when Seokjin told him to go grab his blanket, because they were going to watch a movie before they did homework. Seokjin started cleaning up the living room as Tae rushed down the hall.

The house smelled as awful as ever, the moldy, boozy smell saturating the carpets. Seokjin wished he could open the windows to let in some fresh air, but if he let in the cold, then they’d need to keep the heaters running, and their father hated a house that was too warm. There was a pile of the disgusting man’s clothes on the ground by the recliner that reeked, so Seokjin snatched them up to deposit in the back bedroom.

Taehyung had taken far too long to have just grabbed his blanket, so Seokjin stuck his head into his room to see what he was doing. He stopped short when the boy shot upright, a guilty look on his face. Seokjin frowned before noticing the magazine in Tae’s hands. Dread filled his stomach. Judging by Tae’s expression, he knew exactly what the magazine was for, and what it meant about Seokjin.

Tae whimpered and made a motion to drop the magazine, but Seokjin had already stomped over and snatched it away from him. The boy flinched, his eyes widening in surprise at the aggression he’d never seen from his older brother. He cried out in fear when Seokjin grabbed his wrist, twisting it hard, yelling at him to stay away from his things. The younger boy’s knees gave out immediately, and he shrieked as Seokjin dragged him to the door and threw him into the hallway.

Seokjin slammed the door as hard as he could. His whole body was shaking, trembling with adrenaline. He looked down at the magazine and its lewd images. They stared back at him, mocking him. It was disgusting to think that just a few hours before he had been looking at those pictures for pleasure. Seokjin grit his teeth and muffled a scream of anger, the rough vibrations burning his throat. He shredded the magazine, pulling and ripping the material relentlessly just to leave it in pieces littered across the carpet.

Breathing heavily after his outburst, the white noise that had filled Seokjin’s ears slowly started to fade, and he realized he could hear Taehyung in his room, sobbing.

Shame and regret gripped Seokjin’s heart. Tae had looked up at him with a fear that Seokjin had never seen directed towards him. His eyes had been wide, full of tears, his fingers shaking when Seokjin snatched the magazine away. Seokjin could still feel how his brother had completely ragdolled beneath his grip, letting himself be thrown around like Seokjin used to do when his father came after him.

Seokjin stared down at his hands, a sense of helplessness coming over him. He collapsed on his bed and curled up, crying and silently begging forgiveness from Taehyung. How could he expect Tae to forgive him, though? His father often apologized for hurting him, but Seokjin had learned long ago not to trust his words.

Now Tae would never trust him again. Seokjin wouldn’t blame him. He knew that he’d done the unforgivable. He was no better than his father. Taehyung would fear him. Taehyung would be disgusted with him, knowing what he was.

Seokjin cried so hard he was sure that he was going to shrivel up and die. He cried so hard he didn’t even realize someone had entered his room until a little blue blanket was tossed over his body.

Startled, Seokjin lifted his head. Through tear-blurred vision, he saw his little brother standing by his bed, red streaks down his face. Before Seokjin could say something, Taehyung crawled on the bed and began tucking the blanket around Seokjin’s body, just like Seokjin used to do for him.

Seokjin couldn’t stop the sobs from returning as Taehyung worked, meticulously stuffing the edges of the worn-out material between Seokjin’s chest and the bed before clambering over him to do the same along his back. Seokjin sobbed harder than he ever had in his life, his body wracked with every forceful outcry and gasp for breath. He squeezed his eyes shut as his brother finished tucking him in as best he could with the old blanket.

Taehyung squeezed between Seokjin’s arms and cuddled against his chest, his eyelashes brushing against Seokjin’s collarbone every time he blinked. He waited patiently for Seokjin’s cries to calm until they were nothing but hiccups. Taehyung lifted his head and gently kissed his brother’s cheek. “I love you, Seokjin.”

Chapter Text

“Jin, you have to date Yoongi.”

Seokjin’s fingers froze on the page he’d been turning when his brother interrupted the silence with a rather absurd statement. The two were lounging on Jin’s bed, Seokjin’s back resting against the wall at the head of the bed and Tae’s back against the wall along the side of the bed. Their legs were comfortably crossed together.

The book Seokjin was reading was some high fantasy novel, one that immediately drew you in from the very first paragraph – the sort of book that made it feel like nothing else was happening in the real world. It was Seokjin’s favorite type of book.

Being so immersed into this other world was part of why it took Seokjin a moment to process his brother’s words. He stared down at the page, not really seeing it as he repeated the words in his head. Even after going over them a few times, it still didn’t make sense.

The older brother looked up to meet the younger’s gaze. Taehyung’s brown eyes were wide, his eyebrows turned up slightly in a serious look. He had his own book in hand, but Jin realized that his younger brother hadn’t opened it since he’d settled down with it thirty minutes prior.

Seeing the confusion on Seokjin’s face, Taehyung repeated himself. “You have to date Yoongi.”

Seokjin let out a short laugh and lowered his eyes back to his book. “Yeah, okay.”

“I’m serious.” Taehyung pulled himself up to his knees and took Seokjin’s book away from him.

“Hey, that’s – “

“You have to date Yoongi.”

Seokjin sighed and rolled his eyes. He loved his brother, but there were times he could be obnoxious. “Why do you think I need to date Yoongi?”

“Because if you don’t, Jimin and Yoongi are going to start dating.”

Again, Seokjin found himself staring incredulously at his brother. “Taehyung, just because they’re friends and hang out all the time doesn’t mean they’re gay.”

“But they are gay, so that means they’re gonna start dating!” Tae’s voice raised a bit, and he instinctively ducked, waiting for a reprimand from his older brother for potentially drawing their father’s attention.

The pointed look never came, though. Seokjin sat with an expression of deep confusion, his eyes darting between Tae’s as though searching for some hint of a joke. “They’re not gay.”

Tae’s eyes widened a bit at that. “Yoongi didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Seokjin’s voice became a bit sharper, his patience running thin. He didn’t want to play games about a sensitive subject. He’d never told Taehyung that he had a crush on Yoongi, but Taehyung knew him better than anyone else so Seokjin wouldn’t be surprised if the younger teen had figured it out already.

The younger brother blushed and scratched his head, looking a bit nervous. “Jimin told me that he and Yoongi are gay. I thought Yoongi would have told you already.”

Seokjin let out a soft laugh and rolled his eyes again. “Are you sure he wasn’t joking?”

“He wasn’t. He said that he’s thought he’s been gay for a while now, but he finally got the courage to come out.” Tae shuffled forward, his eyes still boring into Seokjin’s in a way that almost made the elder feel uncomfortable. “He came out to Yoongi first, and then Yoongi told him that he was gay, too.”

Seokjin fidgeted beneath Tae’s gaze, unable to make eye contact. Yoongi couldn’t be gay. Yoongi definitely would have told him first. Right? He and Yoongi were best friends. Of course, Seokjin was conveniently ignoring the fact that he’d known he was gay since the end of summer and had yet to say anything to Yoongi. Every time he wanted to, he got this awful image in his head of Yoongi looking disgusted, maybe yelling at him for taking advantage of their friendship or, even worse, accusing him of trying to seduce him.

To hear that Yoongi might be gay made the teen’s heart flutter uncontrollably in his chest.

“If you don’t date Yoongi, he’s gonna date Jimin and I can’t afford to lose my friend.” A flash of anxiety passed over the younger teen. “He’s my only friend.”

“They’re not gonna date.”

“You don’t know that!”

“Jimin is thirteen. Yoongi is sixteen. They’re not going to date.”

“I can’t afford to lose my only friend!” Taehyung flinched as Jin shot him that piercing look that told him he was being too loud.

“Tae, first of all, you’re not going to lose Jimin. Even if they start dating, they’re still going to be our friends.” Seokjin reached forward and ruffled his fingers through Taehyung’s fluffy hair. “Besides, I’ll always be here for you.”

Taehyung stared at him for a moment longer before his tense expression loosened, and he smiled. “You’re right.” He handed Seokjin his book and settled down beside him, snuggled against his side with his leg thrown over Jin’s. The two brothers hardly knew the meaning of personal space anymore.

Seokjin flipped back to the page he’d been reading when Taehyung started talking, but he found that he couldn’t concentrate. His mind was racing. Was Yoongi really gay? It was possible that Jimin was lying to Taehyung, but usually his jokes were short-lived because he was unable to contain his excitement long enough to keep a joke going.

Seokjin’s heart thudded erratically within his chest. He imagined himself and Yoongi sitting in the little alcove behind unused lockers where they usually spent their lunch hour. They would just be chatting casually, nothing out of the ordinary. But then, Yoongi’s moving a bit closer – they can’t stop smiling at each other – Yoongi’s hand is on his thigh – and then Yoongi’s whispering confessions of true love into Seokjin’s ear while he blushes in that cute way he does whenever he gets embarrassed. Just as Yoongi was about to pull back in fear of being rejected, Seokjin would turn his head and their lips would find each other’s without hesitation.

Heat flushed Jin’s face and chest; it wasn’t the only time he’d imagined his and Yoongi’s first kiss, but it was the first time that it felt like maybe it wasn’t such a farfetched idea as he’d once thought. He closed his eyes and let the fantasy continue, from the kiss that slowly built until Yoongi was under him. The younger teen would be whimpering, trying desperately to be quiet as Seokjin pressed himself down against him, grinding, kissing. In his mind he could feel Yoongi’s heat beneath his body, smell the wonderful clean scent that he associated with his friend, feel his soft lips against his.

A small movement from Taehyung as he adjusted himself against Seokjin made the older brother blush and wrench himself away from such thoughts. With how often he dreamt and thought about sex, Seokjin was certain something was wrong with him. Surely other boys his age didn’t think about sex as much as he did. He knew that Yoongi didn’t. Yoongi was perfect in every way. Perfect face, perfect lips, perfect dip from his stomach into his hips, just above the waistband to his boxers if his pants rode a little low and he was stretching in that perfect way…

Seokjin shook his head.

He really needed to control his fantasies.

 

 

Jin couldn’t control his fantasies. He thought about Yoongi every day since Taehyung had given him the news. That on its own wasn’t anything new, but he found it difficult to even concentrate on anything but Yoongi when the two were together. Each time the younger teen turned to him, Seokjin felt his heart rate spike in anticipation of Yoongi finally coming out to him. When he didn’t, Seokjin eased his disappointment by reminding himself that Yoongi would come out when he felt comfortable and that Seokjin couldn’t rush that.

For the next week, Seokjin waited. He sat with rapt attention as well as he could when they spoke, but he often found himself drifting into another one of his fantasies where Yoongi abruptly stopped speaking and kissed him. Seokjin had always wanted to kiss Yoongi, but the urge had bloomed into an uncomfortable pressure that almost had him leaning in for one on two different occasions.

Which was why Seokjin fidgeted nervously in the other teen’s presence in their little secluded alcove at school during the lunch hour on Friday. Yoongi had yet to tell Seokjin, but that was okay. He would soon enough. Seokjin had prepared a cute little monologue for when he did, complete with loving Yoongi for exactly how he was, and then confessing his own feelings for the pale teen. Even just sitting near the teen, Seokjin found it difficult to focus on anything but Yoongi’s long fingers as they tapped out texts on his phone or on the teen’s tongue as it flitted past his teeth every few minutes to wet his lips.

There was still a bit of doubt hiding in the back of Seokjin’s mind. It was possible that they had it all wrong, and Yoongi wasn’t gay. The doubt was small, but it was present, rearing its head after every shameful time Seokjin had touched himself while thinking of his friend. He couldn’t stop himself. Those few moments were hot and intense, and after his sweet release each time he feared that he’d woken up his brother sleeping beside him. Thankfully, the younger teen was blissfully unaware of his brother’s sex-crazed mind.

“Seokjin.”

A hint of hesitation in Yoongi’s voice brought Seokjin back into reality. He broadened his focus away from the other teen’s lips to his whole face – his blinking eyes unable to make eye contact, wetting his lips multiple times in a row, and a light sweat forming on his brow. Seokjin sat upright – this was it. It had to be.

“Yeah?”

Yoongi swallowed and chewed on his bottom lip and took a deep breath. “I – uh – well – ne-nevermind.” His face was taking on a deep blush that spread from his nose to his ears. Seokjin always thought it was the cutest thing even though Yoongi scoffed whenever he pointed it out.

This time Seokjin wouldn’t tease his friend, not when he was about to entrust Seokjin with such delicate information. He reached forward and took Yoongi’s hand. It was something Yoongi often did to help ease Seokjin’s anxiety, so he hoped it had the same effect even if the roles were reversed. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

Yoongi looked down at their hands and gave a light squeeze, still unable to make eye contact. He stuttered and stammered a few more times before managing, “You – don’t be mad at me. Okay?”

“Why would I be mad at you?”

“Just promise me.”

Jin smiled and tilted his head to the side. “I promise I won’t be mad at you.”

Yoongi glanced around, but there were no other students in their vicinity. He took a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling in a shaky motion. They sat in silence for a moment longer. Yoongi’s eyes shifted back and forth before muttering, “I think I like Jimin.”

With those few words, Seokjin felt like his head had been shoved underwater. He replayed them over again in his head, quickly withdrawing his hand from Yoongi's. That definitely wasn't how he was expecting his friend to start the conversation. "What?" His voice was quiet, disbelieving.

Yoongi cringed and pulled his knees up to his chest, pressing his face between them. "I'm gay," he whispered, his voice muffled and obviously shaking.

Seokjin took a deep breath, staring down at the ground. He didn't know what to say. His mouth was dry and filled with a bitter taste. “Yoongi. You can’t date a thirteen-year-old.”

“I wasn’t going to. It’s just a stupid crush,” Yoongi mumbled. His face was red, and tears welled up in his eyes, but he didn’t cry. “Sorry – I shouldn’t – it’s nothing serious. I shouldn’t have even brought it up.”

“No, no,” Seokjin rushed out, realizing that his suddenly distant disposition made it seem like he disapproved of Yoongi’s sexuality. “I’m glad you did. It's okay that you're gay.” Seokjin sighed and patted Yoongi on his shoulder, trying not to let him drown himself in the sudden ocean of distress that he’d been dunked into before. “Don’t worry, I don’t hate you.”

Jin wished he could just wither away. Throughout his entire shitty life, Yoongi was one of the only things that wasn’t shit, and now their friendship felt soured. It shouldn’t feel that way. If Seokjin was looking at it logically, was there a difference between Straight Yoongi who would never date him and Gay Yoongi who would never date him?

Seokjin’s mild ember of jealousy from Yoongi and Jimin’s friendship roared up like a wildfire. If only Seokjin had done something to mitigate this. If only he had been able to spend more time with Yoongi, more than Jimin. If only Seokjin wasn’t broken. Maybe then Yoongi would like him.

“Jimin is gay, too,” Yoongi continued quietly, blissfully unaware of Seokjin’s internal breakdown. “He came out to me, and I was like, ‘shit, if this kid can come out like that, then I can too.’ So I did.”

Jin held back a derisive scoff. He gritted his teeth and forced out a “I’m glad he could help you.” He found himself longing to curl up in bed with Taehyung, burying his nose into his brother’s fluffy hair and listening to him hum a little tune. Tae would probably press his face against Seokjin’s neck, kiss his collarbone and make him feel like everything was going to be okay. In the end, Seokjin only had his little brother. Although that was something he’d known for a long time, sometimes it hurt to be reminded of it.

“Jin?”

The elder snapped his head up. He didn’t know how long the silence had stretched between the two. Yoongi looked nervous, chewing on the inside of his cheek and glancing at Seokjin only briefly.

“Sorry,” Seokjin mumbled, shaking his head. “Just a bit to take in, I guess.” He didn’t like lying to his friend. Truthfully, he still wanted to confess, beg Yoongi to choose him, choose his best friend over Jimin. But could Yoongi even consider Jin his best friend anymore? He spent more time with Jimin outside of school hours than with Jin.

Besides, it wasn’t like Jin had much going for him. Sure, he had a pretty face, or so he’d been told, but his clothes were ragged, and he knew he smelled terrible even though he’d long become used to the scent. Not to mention his inability to maintain eye contact with anyone but Yoongi. Why would Yoongi think twice about him when he had Jimin? Jimin was cute and friendly and funny and everything that Seokjin was not.

Yoongi nodded, his finger mindlessly tugging on a thread sticking out from the ripped hole in the knee of his jeans. “Thanks for not hating me,” he mumbled.

Seokjin sighed and gave his friend as warm a smile as he could manage. “I could never hate you, Yoongi.”

 

 

That night, Seokjin found himself unable to concentrate on his homework. Thankfully none of it was due the next day, but he still hated procrastinating.

The light from lamp on the floor next to Seokjin’s bed was a warm yellow, casting long shadows along the wall. The sun had set a few hours ago, dipping the house into a bitter cold, but the tiny space heater Seokjin had bought at the beginning of autumn kept them warm.

Taehyung lay on his stomach beside Seokjin, propped up on his elbows as he read from a textbook, his feet lifted in the air and shaking back and forth by habit. Normally Jin would playfully smack Tae whenever he was fidgeting, whether it was shaking his feet or bouncing his knee, and tell him that he’d shake out all his luck. Today Seokjin couldn’t bring himself to be bothered.

Seokjin pressed his nose against Taehyung’s ribcage. His arm was thrown over his little brother’s back. There was never quite enough room for both of them on the twin-sized bed, and it was becoming increasingly difficult as they continued to grow. Neither cared, so Jin lay partially on top of his brother, enjoying the gentle rhythm of the younger teen’s heartbeat as he focused on his homework.

Even beneath the same musky scent that clung to Seokjin, he could smell the comforting scent of his brother. Despite always thinking of himself as the protector, Seokjin had accepted that his brother protected him as well. Whenever he had a bad day, Tae was there for him. When his father unleashed his wrath on him, Tae was there for him.

The older brother drew his hand closer onto Taehyung’s back and began tracing along the faded lines of the graphic tee. He didn’t want to think about Yoongi. He wouldn’t think about Yoongi. He would only think about Tae, and how wonderful Tae was to him. At this point, Seokjin figured he was indebted to his brother for the rest of his life for all the younger had done for him.

“What’s up, Jin?”

Seokjin sighed and continued running his finger against the ragged edges of what used to be white lettering. “Nothing.”

Taehyung let out a soft snort, slowly turning the page of his textbook. “Well, that certainly convinced me. Glad to hear that nothing is up.”

Seokjin made little wordless grumbles and pressed his face tighter against Tae’s side. While he could curse the fact that Taehyung always knew when something was bothering him, he had to be honest with himself by acknowledging the fact that he wasn’t really trying to hide it.

 He didn’t know if he wanted to tell Taehyung, though. Of course Tae would be understanding and supportive and would never judge him, but it still felt shameful. Movement from the younger teen made him lift slightly up so Taehyung could roll onto his back, shoving the textbook aside.

“Did Yoongi come out to you today?”

Jin pouted out his lower lip and rested his chin on Tae’s chest. "Yeah."

Taehyung brushed his fingers through Jin’s hair. He didn’t say anything, just looked down at him with a pensive look on his face. Despite being so young, Tae had a somewhat weathered look to him. He had an adorable little wrinkle between his eyebrows that came from worrying about Jin so much. Jin loved to kiss that wrinkle. He also wondered if he, too, had the same weathered look. It was hard to judge your own appearance. Jin always thought he looked homely anyway, so he supposed that made him look weathered.

“Do you like Yoongi?”

Jin lowered head so he could rest his cheek on Taehyung’s chest. He didn’t want to respond. He didn’t need to, really. As expected, the younger teen made a noise of acknowledgement.

“And Yoongi likes Jimin.”

“Oh come on!” Jin exclaimed, lifting his head so he could aggressively pout at his little brother. “How do you just know everything?”

Tae smiled and ruffled Jin’s hair. “You’re an open book, baby.”

Jin snorted and rolled his eyes at the stupid nickname, letting his forehead drop down onto Tae’s chest again. The two sat in silence, contemplating the situation. The younger’s gentle breathing was like a lullaby. Seokjin could practically feel the time ticking on without them while they were stuck in their own little world encased within Seokjin’s bedroom.

“Did you come out to Yoongi as well?”

Jin grunted and shook his head.

“Why not?”

Jin paused, then shrugged his shoulders.

Taehyung slipped his fingers beneath his chin and pulled up so they could see each other. His brown eyes shifted back and forth between Jin’s as though searching for something. “Why not?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do. You just don’t want to say it.” Tae narrowed his eyes and tapped Jin on the forehead. “What’s going on up there?”

Jin groaned and rolled over, his shoulder digging into Tae’s stomach and causing him to grunt. “I don’t know,” he drawled out, a twinge of annoyance in his voice. “I just didn’t want to.”

Tae wiggled out from under his brother and sat upright, pulling Jin’s head onto his leg. The older brother looked up at him, a pout still clear on his face.

“Is it because you’re still scared of coming out of the closet?”

Seokjin sighed and rolled again, burying his face between Tae’s thighs. “No,” he whined.

Taehyung reached down and rubbed his hand in little circles on Jin’s back. “Are you still ashamed about being gay?”

The elder groaned and shook his head.

“Are you ashamed that you like Yoongi?”

Jin felt himself getting choked up. It wasn’t that he was ashamed that he liked Yoongi. He was ashamed that he fooled himself into thinking the other teen would like him. He let out a soft sob into his brother’s lap as Taehyung ran his fingers through his hair, letting his blunt nails drag against his skull in a way that made goosebumps ripple down his body. Taehyung let out soft hushes as he comforted his older brother, rifling through his hair.

"There's nothing wrong with falling in love with someone," Tae assured him, brushing his fingers along Seokjin’s ear. His words sounded too wise l for a thirteen-year-old. "You can't control who you fall in love with."

Seokjin pulled his head up and let his cheek rest against his brother’s leg, relaxing under his calming touch. The warmth from the younger teen’s body was incomparable to anything else. It was familiar, serene. Seokjin sighed as his stress and frustrations started to melt away. He knew that they weren’t totally gone and that eventually he would have to deal with his heartbreak, but for now he could sit and bask in the pleasant aura that surrounded his brother.

“You know I’ll always love you, right?” Taehyung murmured, his voice almost drowned out by the low hum of the heater sitting on the floor.

Jin turned upward to look at Tae. The younger’s brown eyes were shifting, his gaze moving across Seokjin’s face. “Yeah, I know, Tae.”

“No matter what. Whether you start dating Yoongi or if Yoongi and Jimin start dating. You’ll always have me.”

Seokjin smiled and lifted his head, letting Tae lean down and meet him halfway for a quick kiss. “Yeah, I know that.” He sighed and moved off of Taehyung. The younger teen leaned back, knees up, and propped his book against his thighs, but held his hand out so Jin could continue to hold onto him.

 

 

The wind had a sharp bite to it as it blew through Seokjin’s raw fingers. One hand was gripped tightly around the packages under his shirt and the other tried to work the key into the front door as quietly as possible. The cold metal stung his skin as he finally pressed it in and got the door open, grimacing as it squeaked heavily on its hinges.

The air inside the house was only slightly warmer. If anything, the warmth that Seokjin felt was due to the absence of the wind. He carefully slid the door back into place, hoping that the sound didn’t carry. Sounds of some sports show playing in the living room was drifting into the hallway, but if Jin was lucky then his father was passed out.

Seokjin quietly sneaked down the hall. As he came up to the opening to the living room, he carefully peeked his head around the corner; some stupid made-for-TV movie was playing, and his father was clearly dead to the world on his armchair. The teen took a deep breath and tiptoed past the living room, both hands clutching his packages beneath his shirt.

Walking into his bedroom from the rest of the house was like night and day – literally. While the hallway was cold, dark, and lit with blue hues from the television stretching as far down as it could before diffusing out, Jin’s room was warm and filled with a yellow glow that filled him with a sort of calm that he couldn’t find anywhere else. His room also had Taehyung. Really, his room wasn’t his, it was theirs.

Taehyung jumped up from the bed as soon as Seokjin opened the door. He ran to greet him with a big hug, but the elder held his hand out to stop him from crushing the packages. Tae stopped and eyed him curiously, his eyes wide and adorable. Jin quietly shut the door behind him and wrapped an arm around Taehyung, kissing the top of his head.

“Hey, baby brother. How was your day?” He kept his voice low so it wouldn’t carry beyond the door.

“Fine. What do you have?” Taehyung poked at the boxy shapes beneath Jin’s shirt.

“So impatient. Go sit on the bed.”

Tae rolled his eyes but did as he was told anyway. He bounced onto the side of the bed, pulling his blanket into his lap by habit. His eyes got bigger as Seokjin pulled the boxes from beneath his shirt and set them aside. Seokjin slipped off his shoes and shrugged off his jacket, leaving them in a pile by the door.

“You need a thicker jacket, Jin,” Taehyung said quietly, drawing his feet up under his legs. “It’s way too cold to walk home from work in that.”

“It’s not that bad,” Seokjin lied, snatching up his packages again. “It’s only a few miles. Walking keeps me warm. If I wore a thicker jacket, then I’d sweat.” He took a seat next to Taehyung on the bed.

“What is it?” Taehyung asked again, clearly excited to know what Jin had been hiding.

Jin laughed and shook his head. “Okay, so, as you know, today I got my first paycheck.” He gave one of the boxes to Taehyung.

Taehyung looked down at the nondescript brown packaging. “What is it?”

“Open it up, dummy.”

The younger brother turned the box over in his hands a few times like he was trying to discern its contents by external clues alone before slipping his fingernails into the crack and breaking the seal.

Seokjin watched with secondhand excitement thrumming through his veins as Tae lifted the lid off the box to reveal a sleek black rectangle. The younger stared down at it, either in confusion or disbelief before his head suddenly shot up, eyes wide.

“You got me a phone?” he whimpered, voice quivering with emotion. When Jin nodded, Taehyung threw himself forward to wrap his arms around him in a tight hug, careful not to drop the expensive electronic. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, oh my God, thank you!” Tears pricked his eyes, but they didn’t spill over.

Seokjin laughed and hugged Tae tightly to him. “It’s not a really fancy one,” he admitted with a bit of embarrassment. “I think most apps won’t work on it. But it can take pictures and videos and stuff, and you can text Jimin now.”

Taehyung pulled back and pulled the charging cord from the box. “Oh wait.” He paused and looked down at the second box. “What’s in that one?”

“Oh yeah, that’s my phone.” Jin opened the box to reveal a simple flip phone.

Tae’s face fell when he saw it. “But Jin, why didn’t you get a nice one like you got me?”

Jin smiled and brushed Tae’s bangs away from his eyes. “Don’t be silly. I don’t need all those fancy doohickies. I pretty much just need to use it to get a hold of you or Yoongi.”

He sat back against the wall and Taehyung automatically took his place in between his legs, resting his back against Seokjin’s chest. The older brother watched with interest as Taehyung booted up the phone and began messing with the settings. Even though his only experience with smart phones was from the few times he’d played games with Jimin or Yoongi’s phones, Taehyung was surprisingly adept at navigating the menus. He flipped through them so quickly Seokjin had trouble keeping up, and it almost made him glad he didn’t buy one for himself.

“Smile!”

Taehyung lifted the phone, the image of them sitting together on the screen. Jin wrapped his arms around Tae’s chest and held him close as they both grinned, and Tae snapped the picture.

“That is totally going to be my background,” Tae muttered with a smile. He pressed a few buttons until their goofy mugs were plastered on the screen of his phone. “Perfect.” He snuggled down a bit more comfortably between Jin’s legs, still messing around with the different settings.

“Don’t you want to put phone numbers in?”

Taehyung lifted his head so he could see Seokjin’s face. “Huh?”

“Contacts, remember? You can put in Jimin and Yoongi's numbers. Oh and mine." Jin lifted his hips up, much to the annoyance of his brother and pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket that had his new number on it.

"Oh, sweet!" Taehyung quickly entered the three numbers. "You're listed as 'Totally Awesome Big Brother'."

Seokjin laughed and flipped open his phone to show Taehyung his own contact for him.

"'Little Baby Brother'," Tae read from the screen. He lifted his chin so he could look at Seokjin with a smile on his face. "Will I be your little baby brother forever?"

Jin kissed his forehead. "As long as you want, little baby brother."

Taehyung hummed happily before looking back down at his phone. He pulled up the messaging app and quickly tapped out a message to Jimin.

From: Taehyung

HEY BITCH GUESS WHO!!!!

"Oh my God," Jin laughed, tickling his brother aggressively. "Language!"

Taehyung giggled and squirmed. "Wait, wait, he answered!" He held up the phone so Seokjin could also read the message that had popped up.

From: Jimin

uhhhhhh wtf
tae????

From: Taehyung

YOU FUCKIN KNOW IT

Seokjin laughed again. It was clear that his brother had a different way of interacting with the other teen when he and Yoongi weren't around.

From: Jimin

OMG OMG
DO U HAVE A PHONE
WHAT

From: Taehyung

YESSSS
JIN BOUGHT ME A PHONE

From: Jimin

BLESS THAT BEAUTIFUL MAN

From: Taehyung

yeah...he totally saw that

From: Jimin

fuck

The two brothers couldn't stop laughing. Jin wrapped his arms around Taehyung's chest and kissed his ear. The younger sighed happily and settled more comfortably back against Seokjin. "I love you, Jin. Thank you."

Seokjin smiled and peppered kisses all over Tae's head. "You're welcome. I'm glad you like it."

"Now I can look at all the porn I want on the internet," Taehyung said with a completely straight face.

Seokjin had to cover his mouth to keep himself from laughing too loudly. "God, please, not in here! Go back to your own room for that."

Taehyung looked up at him again, a big, fake pout on his face. "But my room is cold and probably dusty and gross. I haven't been in there in almost a year."

"That's not my fault you decided to move in with me!"

"I mean, you can use my phone for porn, too!"

Seokjin smacked himself on the forehead. "Oh my God, we are not talking about this. What happened to my little baby brother?" Despite his teasing tone, he was legitimately surprised to hear Taehyung talking about that sort of thing.

"Your little baby brother is a horny shit," Taehyung muttered cheekily, but he grinned to show that he was just joking.

“Where are you learning all of this?”

Taehyung shrugged, his focus switching back to his phone. “Kids at school, I guess.”

Seokjin shook his head, concerned about the sorts of things that Taehyung was being introduced to at such a young age. He leaned his head back against the wall, running his fingers through Taehyung's hair as the younger teen continued to tap out messages to his best friend. Occasion chuckles from him filled Seokjin with warmth that made the room seem frigid. His limbs ached from the walk between bus stops, work, the cellular store, and then to home. Tae was right – he did need a better jacket. He would buy one with his next paycheck as long as he could hide the fact that he had a job from their father. He would probably demand Seokjin hand over all his earnings as rent.

He didn't want to think about that, though. All he wanted to think about was the excitement on Taehyung's face when he opened the box. Despite being a different type of gift, his reaction was the same as when Seokjin had given him his blue blanket years ago. Tae had only been six years old, but the look on his face had been the exact same.

"Jin?"

Seokjin gasped and lifted his head. He hadn't realized he had dozed off. "Huh?"

"Oh, sorry." Taehyung rolled over, pressing his nose into Jin's stomach, arms wrapped around his body.

"What's the matter?" Seokjin pet his hair and rested his head back again, trying to fight off the sleepiness.

Taehyung didn't reply right away. His breaths were hot against Seokjin’s skin before he turned his head to rest his cheek against his brother. "Are you mad that I moved in here?"

Seokjin looked down at him, surprised. "What? No, of course not." He leaned forward and drew his legs beneath him, forcing Taehyung into a seated position. His little brother had his head hung low so Jin couldn't see his face. "TaeTae, what's the matter?"

"Sometimes I feel like I'm burdening you," Taehyung admitted quietly, his fingers playing with his old blanket.

"Oh, honey," Seokjin let out a small laugh and drew Taehyung's head against his chest. "I can't even begin to describe how incredibly stupid that is."

The younger teen gave a small huff of a laugh and grabbed his brother's shirt, pressing his forehead into his neck. "I moved into your room. You always pack more food for me than you. And all those times – you – Dad – " his words were interrupted by a hiccup that hinted at inevitable tears.

"No, no." Seokjin pulled Taehyung into his lap, letting him curl up like they did whenever they needed to really comfort each other. "Don't think about that. That's in the past. He doesn't hurt me anymore."

"He hurt you when Yoongi gave us those clothes," Taehyung whimpered, trying to hold back a small sob. "He still yells and breaks your things. It's not fair. Why doesn't he hurt me, too?"

"Hey," Seokjin said in a sharp tone. He pulled Taehyung's face up so he could look into his tear-filled eyes. "Don't think about it like that. There's nothing wrong with you. You're perfect."

Tears slipped down Taehyung's ruddy cheeks as he continued to sniffle. "No, you’re perfect. You’re the best. But you’re stupid too, you know that? You didn't buy yourself a smartphone because you couldn't afford it, right?"

Jin blinked, not expecting to be called out so abruptly. He opened his mouth, but his words caught in his throat.

Taehyung started crying harder, his suspicions confirmed. "Why do you always give up things for me? Why aren't you taking care of yourself?"

His brother's sudden breakdown wasn't uncommon, but his words cut deep. All Seokjin could do was hold on to him and kiss his head. "Honey, it's just a phone. I don't need it, really. All I need a phone for is to talk to you."

Taehyung sniffled and shook his head. "No, I'm boring and stupid."

Seokjin reached over and grabbed Tae's blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders while hushing him. "You're not boring. You're great. You're not stupid, you're smart."

Taehyung let out a quiet wail which Seokjin quickly stifled with the blanket. Tears and snot soaked the fabric as he continued to cry. He let Seokjin hold onto him through his episode until he cried himself dry and his body ached.

Jin carefully released his brother as the sobs died down. He set Taehyung down onto the bed and laid beside him, wrapping his arm around the younger teen. The hiccups slowed until Taehyung was only breathing heavily, obviously spent. "You doing okay now?"

Taehyung nodded and ran his fingers through his sweaty hair. "I'm sorry." He turned his head to the side and nuzzled his nose against his brother's cheek.

"It's okay," Seokjin comforted Tae as he always did. "Nothing wrong with crying." He kissed Taehyung and smiled.

Tae closed his red, puffy eyes and sighed. "Love you."

"Love you, too, little baby brother."

Chapter Text

Seokjin loved spring time the most. He loved the colors of the trees as they bloomed and transitioned into vibrant colors until summer green took over. He loved the cool breezes that kicked up blossoms in the early morning sunlight when the ground was sparkling with dew. A peaceful blanket seemed to cover the world as the two brothers walked over to Jimin’s to drop Taehyung off before Seokjin went to school. While Seokjin was taking in the beautiful surroundings, Taehyung held onto the elder’s hand to ensure he didn’t trip on the sidewalk as he tapped furiously on the screen with the thumb of his other hand.

“Come on, TaeTae, don’t you want to enjoy the fresh spring air?” Seokjin swung their hands back and forth between them. He took a deep breath to emphasize his point.

“Spring happens every year, Jin,” Tae responded in a bored tone, not looking up.

Seokjin stuck his lip out in a pout and pulled Taehyung into a tight hug. “Oh, you poor child!” he exclaimed over his brother’s squawking. “What sort of cruel technological hell was I banishing you to when I purchased that phone? I swear I didn’t mean it! I take it back! Bring me back my brother!”

“Seokjin!” Taehyung whined, flailing his arms in an attempt to get away from his obnoxious older brother.  “Let go! You’re gonna ruin my high score!” As soon as he was released, he immediately returned his attention to the screen, his face lighting up when he realized everything was still good.

Seokjin couldn’t help but smile as he continued to lead Tae along the quiet street. Dramatics aside, buying Tae the phone was probably the best thing Seokjin could have done for his younger brother. They’d always been cut off from the outside world except for whatever they learned through school. Seokjin remembered getting ridiculed in middle school for not knowing how to use a computer – he could barely type, didn’t know how to use search engines or other functions that many might consider “basic.”

When Tae was ten, Seokjin had taken him on a trip to the public library, a journey that had taken them almost two hours via the bus, and Taehyung did not like the bus. It was smelly and noisy and there were far too many people. Tae had sat in Jin’s lap with his nose pressed tight against his brother’s neck until they reached their destination, and then again when they made their way home later. Seokjin had sat Tae down at a computer in the library and taught him everything he’d learned so that Tae wouldn’t go through the same ridicule he had.

Since Seokjin had given him a phone, and his brother had begun to change. Normally Tae would sleep against the wall in their shared bed because he had been terrified of the dark and what could be lurking in the shadows just off the edge of the bed. In the two months since he’d had the phone, however, he’d insisted he slept on the outside so that he could sit and text Jimin or read stories or comics online with the phone still plugged in so the battery didn’t die. He would play on it until he passed out or Seokjin told him to turn it off and go to bed.

There were other changes, too. They were subtle, but still present. Taehyung was more excitable and outgoing. He used to be that way only around Jimin and Yoongi, but something about being connected to the outside world through social media helped him feel more comfortable everywhere else, too.

So even though a part of Seokjin really did think that Tae should reign in his phone use, he couldn’t really bring himself to tell him to put it away.

“What are you playing?” Seokjin leaned over to peer at the screen Taehyung was furiously tapping on. The younger teen hardly spared him a glance before responding.

“I gotta keep pressing it. If I press it, then I get gold, and I can use the gold to upgrade my button so it gives me more gold.”

Jin slowed his steps, processing the description of the game. He wasn’t very good at games so he thought perhaps it was his inexperience that made the point of the game an elusive mystery, but even after thinking about it for a few minutes, he couldn’t figure it out. “Why?”

Taehyung’s thumb paused momentarily before he began tapping again. “Why what?”

“You’re just tapping to get more stuff so you can tap more and get even more stuff?”

Taehyung stared down at his screen for few more steps before he sighed and turned the screen off, stuffing the phone in his pocket. “Boy, you sure do suck the fun out of games,” he grumbled.

Seokjin laughed and pulled Tae into a tight hug again. “No! I’m sorry, I just don’t get it!”

“No, you’re right,” Taehyung admitted, this time leaning into his brother’s embrace. “I guess it is kind of a dumb game. Jimin got me hooked on it. It’s stupid how addicting those games can be.”

“Maybe let me know when you find a good game?” Seokjin suggested as they came up to their friend’s driveway. “I’ll try to play it, too.”

Tae smiled and nodded. “Of course!” He lifted himself onto his toes to give Seokjin their parting kiss before heading up to the front porch. The door swung open almost automatically as he came to it, and Jimin’s mother ushered him inside.

Seokjin smiled nervously as the woman waved at him. Jimin’s mother was kind and she always gave them food, but she still put Seokjin on edge. Seokjin didn't trust any adult, no matter how kind they acted.

Seokjin had only just left the block when his phone buzzed in his pocket. A smile spread on his face as soon as he felt it. Not wanting to give his brother the satisfaction of responding right away, Seokjin walked for another minute or so before he pulled out his phone to see his daily message from Tae:

From: Taehyung
Goodbye! I love you! Miss you already! Have a good day at school! See you later!

Seokjin bit his bottom lip, his heart fluttering with happiness. Without Tae, Jin didn’t think he’d even know what happiness was. Knowing that he’d successfully sheltered his brother from much of the horrors that Seokjin had lived through gave him a sense of accomplishment. Taehyung was completely normal and void of major personality defects that Jin saw in himself.

The teen stopped walking so he could slowly type out the response he knew Taehyung was waiting for:

From: Seokjin
Goodbye! I love you too! Miss you more! Behave! Can’t wait to see you!

An arrow icon in the top left corner of his simple phone blinked a few times before changing to a little check mark indicating that the message had sent. Jin stared down at his phone with a smile before slipping it back into his pocket. He knew that the next time he’d take it out right before third period he’d have another message from Tae, and then again during lunch, and one more time before sixth period.

Seokjin loved having a phone.

 

 

“What’s the matter?” Yoongi motioned to Seokjin’s phone with his spoon. “Waiting for something?”

“Hmm?” Seokjin looked up at his friend and then back down the phone in his hand. “Yeah. You know how Tae always sends me a text at lunch time?”

“Yeah.”

“He hasn’t.”

“Okay.”

Seokjin stared at his friend as though waiting for it to sink in. “Hello? Doesn’t that concern you? Every day he sends it, but he hasn’t today.”

Yoongi shrugged and turned his attention back to his yogurt. “I’m sure he’s fine. He probably forgot his battery pack and let it die again.”

Seokjin chewed on his lip. It was a likely explanation, but it still made him nervous. He flipped open the lid of the phone and stared at the buttons, debating whether or not to type out a message to his brother. Sure, it was normally Tae who initiated their cute little exchanges throughout the day, but breaking that tradition wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

No, the worst thing in the world would be Taehyung dead in a ditch somewhere – or maybe he’d been kidnapped and they were beating and stepping on him, cutting at his skin or raping –

“Dude.”

Seokjin’s head snapped up. Yoongi was looking at him with a concerned expression, eyebrows turned up beneath his dark bangs.

“Are you okay?”

The elder looked back down at the phone in his hand and took a deep breath. He lowered the phone into his lap and nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. I’m fine.”

“Looked like you were about to cry,” Yoongi grumbled, settling back against the wall again.

“I wasn’t about to – oh!” Seokjin snatched his phone back up as it started to vibrate. His outburst earned an eyeroll from Yoongi, but Seokjin ignored him. He flipped open the phone and stared at the screen, unsure of what exactly he was looking at. No message had popped up, but his phone was definitely – oh.

Jin yanked the phone up to his ear, realizing Tae was calling him. “Hello? Tae?”

Jin!”

Relief flooded through Seokjin’s body at the sound of his little brother’s voice. “Hey there, little baby brother. Where was my lunchtime text? I was really worried.”

Jimin and Yoongi kissed.”

Seokjin felt his breath catch in his throat. He glanced up at his friend who was watching him with a mild sort of interest, sucking on his spoon now that his snack was gone. The elder forced his eyes away, trying not to seem too suspicious. “O-oh. What makes you say that?”

“Jimin told me.”

Of course he did. Seokjin wanted to think that it was a lie, but it really would be out of character for the little brat to lie about something like that.

“Is Yoongi there?”

Seokjin’s eyes flickered back up to his bored looking friend and then away. “Yes.”

Go somewhere where I can talk to you.

Seokjin slowly pulled the phone away from his ear and clutched his hand around the mouthpiece. “Um, I need to, um…” he trailed off, unsure of what his excuse should be.

Yoongi didn’t seem to care, though. He waved his hand in a shooing motion. “Whatever.”

Seokjin mumbled a thanks and quickly stumbled to his feet and down the walkway to the other end of the carpeted balcony. He glanced back just to confirm that he was out of Yoongi’s earshot and pulled the phone back up. “They kissed?”

Yeah, like with tongue. Jimin told me just a minute ago.”

Seokjin grimaced at those words and chewed on the skin around his nailbed, trying to resist the urge to look back at Yoongi again. If he spotted Jin looking at him, he would know that they were talking about him, and he would probably know there was only one thing that they could be talking about together that involved him.

Stop chewing on your fingers.

Seokjin let out a huff and rolled his eyes. Taehyung knew him too well. He shoved his fingers in his pocket. “Okay, so, they kissed. That’s not a big deal. Right?”

Right. Yeah. That’s what I was thinking.

In the silence that followed, Seokjin had to accept that it was a big deal. Otherwise Taehyung wouldn’t feel the need to call him, and Seokjin wouldn’t feel the need to throw himself off the balcony. “How do you feel about it?”

I dunno,” Taehyung said in a hesitantly. “Like, maybe I’m jealous? But I don’t know why I’m jealous. I mean, if they like each other then they like each other.”

Seokjin hummed in agreement. “I think it’s okay to be jealous.”

“But I don’t like them – not like that.”

“I don’t think you need to be gay to be afraid of losing your best friend,” Jin pointed out, leaning back against the railing.

“That’s true,” Taehyung mused quietly.

Another silence stretched between them. Jealousy and anger seeped through Seokjin’s body so aggressively he was afraid he’d start sweating it. So what if they kissed? But if it was no big deal, why hadn’t Yoongi told him? Of course, Seokjin had told him not to date Jimin, so there was incentive not to tell him. Were they going to date? Kissing didn’t necessarily mean dating. Though, the idea of Yoongi kissing a thirteen year old made Seokjin’s stomach turn. He could picture it perfectly, unfortunately – their lips locked together, tongues in each other's mouth.

“You okay?”

Seokjin sighed and hung his head. He didn’t know if he was okay. His feelings for Yoongi hadn’t faded at all since he found out Yoongi liked Jimin. He still had fantasies that he would confess everything to his friend, tell him that he was gay and that he was in love with him, and then Yoongi would fall head over heels, sweep him up and away from his horrible life.

But that would mean leaving Taehyung behind. Even in his fantasies, Seokjin couldn’t leave Tae behind.

“Jin?”

“I’m good,” Seokjin said at last. “It’s okay for us to be a bit jealous, but we can’t really stop them from doing what they want, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Next time, don’t forget my lunchtime text,” Seokjin scolded his brother, his voice taking on a tone like an old man admonishing some neighborhood kids. “You really worried me!”

Taehyung’s laughter rang clear through the phone and it brought butterflies to Seokjin’s stomach. “I’m sorry. Jimin had told me on the way to school that he had something really important to tell me, but we didn’t get a chance to talk until right after science.”

“Okay, well, don’t do it again,” Seokjin reiterated. “I love you.”

“Love you, too, big brother.”

When Seokjin made it back over to Yoongi, the other teen looked up from his own phone. An emotion flooded the elder’s body that was both burning and freezing when he noticed his friend was texting Jimin.

“Everything okay?”

Seokjin tried not to flinch at his friend’s question as he sat down. “Uh, yeah. He just got distracted or something.”

Yoongi hummed and went back to his phone, his fingers padding along the screen as he typed out a new message to their young friend. A part of Seokjin felt like he needed to say something, whether it was a comment about what Tae had just told him, or just small talk, but he found his brain was a fuddled mess. The words “I should say something” looped without every giving him something of substance to utilize. He wanted Yoongi to text him as much as he texted Jimin. Sure, they texted every once in a while, generally when setting up times to hang out with the kids, but Yoongi never texted him nearly as often. He didn’t have conversations with Seokjin like he obviously did with Taehyung’s friend. Seokjin sat and watched as Yoongi’s lips turned up in a small smile when his phone vibrated again.

Seokjin shouldn’t hate that smile. He should love that smile. He loved Yoongi and wanted Yoongi to be happy. That’s what he’d always told himself.

Now he realized that what he really wanted was to be the one that made Yoongi happy.

 

 

Seokjin had work that day after school. He hated that he had work. He hated work. He hated that he had to talk to people. He hated that he couldn’t text Taehyung. He’d decided at some point in the last few periods of the day that he would try to text Taehyung as often as Jimin and Yoongi conversed. Obviously it wasn’t going to be as much since they lived with one another, but during school or something like that. In between classes, or during lunch.

As Seokjin sorted secondhand clothes onto racks, he couldn’t help but smile fondly at the little conversation he’d had with Taehyung while he was taking the city bus over to his work. Considering the time, Taehyung had probably been in his last class, but he still texted back every time. A part of Jin knew that he should probably be a better influence on his brother, but he liked talking to him too much.

Taehyung had told him about some obnoxious guy in his class that always interrupted the teacher, telling her why she was wrong. Seokjin had heard about this particular person a few times before, but whenever something new came up, Taehyung just had to tell him about it, and Seokjin loved listening. The elder texted back as well as he could. He was still slow, but he was sure that Taehyung was understanding.

“Excuse me, do you know the price of these?”

Seokjin whipped around,  accidentally yanking some of the clothes off the rack and onto the ground. He burned in embarrassment and quickly knelt at the feet of the customer to pick them up.

“Hello?” The man’s loafers sounded heavy as he tapped his foot. “Price?”

Seokjin stood, avoiding the man’s eyes. He carefully took the shoes away from him and inspected them. The price tag had been ripped off, but a small roman numeral had been written on the bottom of it: XV. He handed it back, whispering, “It’ll be fifteen.”

The man didn’t leave him after taking the shoes back. He stood in front of Seokjin, a hand on his hip.

Seokjin nervously wetted his lips. “Is – is there a problem, sir?”

“Are you retarded?”

The teen blinked and looked up at the man with hurt and confusion. “I’m so-sorry?”

“I don’t mean that to be rude,” the man explained with an obnoxiously arrogant tone. “I was just wondering. You seem slow.”

Tears welled up in Seokjin’s eyes and he quickly turned back to his rack, not responding to the man. Thankfully, he left without another word, but the teen found himself unable to continue working. His hands shook, and he couldn’t find the strength to push the overstuffed clothing to the side to fit more in. He took an unsteady breath and grabbed a hold of the rack, his lower lip trembling.

Before it was too late, Seokjin rushed to the bathroom, a dingy and smelly single person room. He locked the door behind him and sank down to the floor with his back to the wall so he could cry as quietly as possible.

By the time Seokjin made it on the bus home, he was completely worn out. Even if he was only working four hour segments at a time, three or four times a week, he always felt like he’d run a hundred miles. His upsetting encounter with the customer made it a million times worse. He sighed and slouched down in his seat, head lowered to stare at his phone. He’d already sent a message to Tae, but his brother hadn’t responded yet. It had been three whole minutes.

Maybe he was being too clingy. Seokjin couldn’t always expect Taehyung to be available for chatting. Taehyung was his own person with his own life and he didn’t need to – Seokjin jumped when his phone went off and he immediately opened the message, a smile on his face.

From: Taehyung
I’m sorry your day was poop :(
What happened?

From: Seokjin
Don’t worry about it. I think it’s always going to be poop.

From: Taehyung
How can I help make it better? Food? Cuddles? Kisses?

From: Seokjin
Yes yes and yes

From: Taehyung
haha, you got it big bro. Love you!

From: Seokjin
:) So what have you been up to? You’re getting your homework done, right?

From: Taehyung
Nope. Been jerkin’ it to all the porn.

From: Seokjin
Oh my god gross tae!! I don’t need to hear that!

From: Taehyung
Literally all of the porn.

From: Seokjin
You better be joking. I do NOT need to have that image of my little baby brother in my head.

From: Taehyung
Maybe it’s one of those things where you think you don’t need it but you actually need it and you don’t know it

From: Seokjin
No!

From: Taehyung
Haha, okay. I was just joking. Homework almost done. You close to home?

From: Seokjin
Yeah, stop coming up. I’ll see you in 30

From: Taehyung
Okay, love you :) See you

From: Seokjin
Love you too

 

 

Sneaking into the house so late in the evening was always risky. Before he had a job, Seokjin and Taehyung were always home before their dad and were hidden away by the time he showed up. Out of sight out of mind seemed to be his philosophy. It worked well enough for Seokjin and Taehyung, anyway.

Once his father had caught him. The bruise was easily hidden by long sleeves, though, so it wasn’t too bad.

He still didn’t know that Seokjin had a job. Eventually he would have enough money for a deposit on an apartment, and hopefully a better job so he could sustain himself and his brother.

Thankfully, he managed to sneak back into his bedroom without rousing the attention of the violent man.

As soon as the door swung up, Seokjin was greeted by the ever-sunny face of his little brother, bounding up to him for a quiet hug.

“Welcome home,” Taehyung whispered as the door shut again. He wrapped his arms around his big brother and held him tight.

Seokjin sighed and dropped his backpack. His hands rested comfortably on the small of his brother’s back. He was bent slightly so he could bury his nose into Taehyung’s fluffy brown hair. The worries of the day were nothing but fuzzy memories when he held onto the younger teen. The slight motion of Taehyung’s breathing was enough to soothe him.

Taehyung pulled away with a soft smile, trailing his hands down Seokjin’s arms to his fingers as he stepped backwards to the bed. The older brother smiled and let himself be led over to it until they were snuggled comfortably against one another.

“Thanks for talking to me a lot today,” Taehyung said, his eyelashes brushing against Seokjin’s jawline.

Those words almost blindsided Seokjin. Taehyung was thankful that they chatted? It seemed so backwards. The only reason Seokjin texted him was because he was feeling neglected by Yoongi. Seokjin turned over so he was able to look Taehyung directly. There was an innocence in the way Taehyung’s gaze shifted between Seokjin’s eyes, his nostrils flaring slightly with every breath. The elder smiled and pressed their foreheads together. “Thanks for talking to me,” he responded quietly.

Taehyung smiled, flashing his white teeth. “I love talking to you, Jin.” He tilted his head up to give his brother a chaste kiss. “Talk to me more tomorrow, okay?”

Seokjin hummed and narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know. You were texting in class today, weren’t you?”

Taehyung pouted guiltily. “I just wanted to talk to you.”

The elder laughed and poked Tae’s stomach. “How about we text as much as we can between classes, okay? And all throughout lunch and on the way home from school.”

Taehyung pressed his lips together to hold back a laugh, and he nodded enthusiastically.

Seokjin kissed his brother’s forehead and sat up. “Okay, I have to do homework now.”

The younger teen groaned and latched onto his brother’s waist. “Don’t do it! I already had to deal with doing my own homework and now I have to wait for you to do yours? What sort of cruel world is this?”

Seokjin laughed and pried the teen’s arms off him. “I know, I know. Surprisingly enough, though, I want to pass all my classes so I can go to college and maybe get a real job.”

Taehyung shifted as his brother retrieved his backpack and sat back on the bed. “When are you going to go to college?”

“I don’t know,” Seokjin said, flipping open his textbook and adjusting his notebook on his knee. “Most people go right after high school, so I guess when I’m eighteen.” When his brother didn’t reply right away, Seokjin glanced over to see him deep in thought, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. “Tae?”

Large brown eyes snapped up to Seokjin’s face as though startled. “Hmm?”

“Are you okay?”

Tae slowly lifted himself up to sit comfortably next to his brother, leaning slightly against him. “Is college far away?”

The source of his brother’s attitude was suddenly made clear. Seokjin set aside his book and turned to face Taehyung. He took the younger teen’s hands in his own. “It might be. Depends on who accepts me.”

Taehyung opened his mouth, but no words came out. His eyes were shifting back and forth as he tried to sort through all the thoughts and emotions that came from Seokjin’s words. “But you – I need you,” he whimpered, unable to look up at his brother. Tears began filling his eyes, making them look glassy and red.

“Oh, Tae,” Seokjin whispered, cupping his brother’s face in his hands. “If I get a degree, I can get a really good job and you can come live with me. I promise.”

“But – but I don’t want you to go,” Taehyung forced out through gritted teeth, tears slipping down his cheeks. He snatched up his blanket and covered his mouth to mute his own cries.

Seokjin pulled Taehyung into his lap, cooing and hushing him as he stroked his hair. “I won’t leave you,” he assured him. “I’ll only go if it’s close by. Okay?”

Taehyung sobbed out a muffled word that sounded somewhat like “Promise?”

“Of course, I promise.” Seokjin kissed his brother’s head. “I’ll only go to school if it’s nearby. Then I don’t even have to move out.” Considering Seokjin hadn’t known how old he was until he was ten, there was a good chance that his father didn’t know anymore either. If he didn’t draw too much attention to himself, Seokjin could stay until Taehyung was able to move out.

Taehyung clung to Seokjin’s chest and sobbed out what he needed until he exhausted himself. The elder brother hated seeing Tae in the middle of his fits. All he could do was hold onto him and let him know that everything was going to be okay. He prayed that this wasn't one of those times that Taehyung cried so hard he triggered his gag reflex. Perhaps it was selfish, but Seokjin had had a rough day and didn't want to clean up vomit.

Taehyung let out a shuddering breath, his body limp in Seokjin’s arms as he finished crying. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, eyes raw, red and puffy. The sight made Seokjin’s heart ache.

The older teen kissed Tae’s forehead and gently laid him back on the bed. “It’s okay,” he whispered, pressing more kisses against his cheeks. “Nothing wrong with crying.” Seokjin stayed beside his brother, petting his hair until the younger teen’s eyes closed. As much as he wanted to continue comforting him, Seokjin knew that he had to get back to his homework. It was late, and he had a test later that week.

After settling back into bed next to his brother with a textbook in his lap, Seokjin looked down and saw that Tae was dozing off peacefully, his thumb sucked tight between his lips. The older teen sighed and pulled on it.

“No, no Tae,” he reprimanded softly when the younger teen voiced sleepy grumbles. “It’s been three months. You’re doing so well.”

Tae blinked up at him pitifully before opening his mouth and letting the digit pop out. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his eyes still red.  He closed his hand around Seokjin’s fingers and drew them closer to his lips. “Please?”

Seokjin sighed. If he let Tae use him as a crutch then he wouldn’t be able to do his homework, but Tae was looking up at him with such a hurt and precious look. The older brother knew he couldn't resist his request. Seokjin reached over Taehyung to drop his textbook off the edge of the bed and turn off the bedside lamp. “Okay, come here.”

The two settled down with Taehyung’s back against his brother’s broad chest. Seokjin draped his arm over Tae and lifted his hand to the young teen’s face. Taehyung immediately latched onto Seokjin’s thumb, sucking it into his mouth. Seokjin had once wondered if letting Taehyung suck his thumb was strange, but he knew that it helped Taehyung break the habit. If Tae sucked on his own thumb, it would be weeks before Seokjin could get him to stop again.

So, Taehyung sucked on Seokjin’s thumb.

It was a strangely soothing sensation for Seokjin. He would be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy it. There was something about the pressure around his thumb, his baby brother’s tongue pressed against fingernail, even the suckling noises that made Seokjin feel just a bit better.

As the minutes wore on, the rhythmic pressure began to slow, indicating that Taehyung was starting to fall asleep. As soon as Seokjin tried to pull his thumb away, however, Tae’s mouth tightened once again, sucking furiously away. The older teen smiled and pressed his nose into his brother’s hair. He didn’t care that his thumb would be a wrinkled mess by the time Tae finally released him. He loved his brother. He would always take care of Taehyung and Taehyung would always take care of him.

 

Chapter Text

The early summer air was hot and filled with the shrieks of children, some so shrill that Seokjin wondered if they were screams of fear rather than joy. He stood far from the entrance of the school, next to a stone pillar to keep the swarm of students rushing out of the building from running into him. Even in a crowd of children, where they were often a head or more shorter than him, Seokjin could feel anxiety filling him with so many bodies so close to him.

But then he made eye contact with the one person he wanted to see, and it made it all worth it.

Taehyung's face lit up in a wide smile, and he weaved through the crowd over to his older brother. The high school had let out the previous week and Seokjin had taken advantage of the opportunity to personally walk Taehyung to and from school. The younger teen bounded up to him and threw his arms around Seokjin's chest, squeezing him in a tight hug.

"Last day, last day!" Taehyung shouted, adding to the cacophony that filled the school yard. "No more homework! Hang out with Jimin and Yoongi all summer!" He grinned up at his brother in excitement.

Seokjin laughed and ruffled up Taehyung's already messy hair. "Don't get too excited. We have lots of chores to take care of when we get home."

"What?" Taehyung groaned and shook Seokjin from side to side. "No! No chores! Not today! Play today!"

The older teen couldn't stop chuckling as he let his brother wave him back and forth before steeling himself against his movements. He wrapped his arms around Taehyung's shoulders and leaned down to kiss him.

Taehyung made a small noise of discomfort and turned his head, forcing his brother's lips to land on his cheek. He lowered his head in embarrassment when Seokjin pulled back with a startled look. "Let's just get home," he mumbled, barely audible over the crowd.

"Okay," Seokjin stammered in slight uptalk, confused by his brother's reaction. He didn’t know what to say. Taehyung had never denied a kiss from his older brother before.

A strange awkwardness settled between them in a way that they had never experienced before. Taehyung had a bit to say about things he had done on the last day of school which seemed to mostly comprise of parties in every period and school-wide yearbook-signing events, but he was otherwise quiet.

Seokjin wasn't sure what to do. It was unlike Taehyung to act so reserved around Seokjin. He wanted to bring it up, ask what was wrong, but he had difficulties phrasing what he wanted to say – another feeling Seokjin had never experienced before. He'd always been able to talk to Taehyung no matter the situation. Instead, he just listened to Taehyung's scarce chatter, trying not to get distracted by his own thoughts.

Thanks to the early release, they had extra time to spend cleaning up the house before their father got home. Normally it was a bit of a rush, but today it was calm, leisurely almost. They turned on the radio and listened to music, the awkwardness of the walk home melting away as they danced through the house.

Overall, cleaning wasn't difficult because they did it every day. There was always a pile of clothes in the living room where their father stripped immediately after work so he could sit in his armchair in his boxers and stained undershirt, and a mess of bottles around his chair filled with various levels of alcohol. Empty bottles were disposed of, but any bottle that had even trace amounts of liquid were to be stoppered and replaced on the mantel.

With the music pumping in the early summer air, the brothers slipped into their own world again, pretending nothing else existed but each other. They got distracted by the pillow on the couch, taking turns hitting each other as hard as they could, scoring points based on how far they could knock each other off balance. That game transitioned into throwing their father's work clothes at each other, shrieking and dodging the disgusting items as though they were the plague itself.

Jin cackled maniacally, foregoing the premise of throwing the clothes to simply chasing Taehyung around the living room with it. His younger brother was giggling like mad, breathing heavily as they circled the couch, occasionally pausing to taunt each other before darting off again in the opposite direction around the furniture. The older teen dropped the shirt that had been tight in his grip, but didn't stop in his pursuit of Taehyung.

"No, stop!" Taehyung shouted, speeding out of the living room and down the hall. Seokjin followed as quickly as he could, his longer strides taking him farther now that they weren't darting around the couch. He caught Taehyung just as he reached the bedroom door and wrapped his arms around him, pressing aggressive kisses to the side of his brother's face.

The young teen squirmed and made exaggerated sounds of disgust, but giggles still rang through and he never struggled hard enough to get away. That is, until Seokjin ran his tongue from his jaw up to his temple in one gross, slobbery movement. Taehyung made a true noise of disgust and fought against his brother's tight embrace.

"You licked me!" Taehyung exclaimed with a groan. "That's so gross! You licked me!"

Seokjin released his brother and nearly doubled over with laughter as Tae aggressively wiped his cheek off with the edge of his shirt. Tears of mirth blurred his vision, but he caught the way his brother's lips turned up in a smile despite himself.

"You are so disgusting," Taehyung pouted and went to playfully punch Seokjin in the gut.

Seokjin gasped in surprise, instinct taking over. He flinched away, his arms crossing his stomach defensively, knee raising in a quick jerk.

"Oh, fuck, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," the younger teen rushed out, holding his hands up in submission.

Seokjin forced himself to release his tension, but he found it was difficult. His heart was racing, breathing fast. It wasn't as though they never rough housed, but it was usually with pillows or light-hearted wrestling. The sight of closed fists, even from his brother, was more than Seokjin could handle. He flinched as Taehyung stepped closer.

"Jin, I'm sorry," Taehyung whispered, carefully placing a hand on his brother's shaking arm. "I won't hurt you. It's okay."

Seokjin’s eyes darted up to the younger teen's concerned face. He knew Tae wouldn't hurt him – he knew that – but the reaction was involuntary. He had to mentally steel himself, forcing his body to relax. He nodded slowly and took a deep breath, letting his brother step closer again and carefully embrace him.

Taehyung closed his eyes and rubbed little circles around Seokjin’s back, waiting until the older teen's racing heart slowly returned to a normal pace. He pulled back and smiled up at his brother. "You okay?"

Seokjin nodded, fighting his urge to cry. He couldn't show Taehyung that he'd nearly brought him to tears. "Of course. I-I know you won’t hurt me." Despite how much he knew the words to be true, he couldn't stop the shaking of his voice.

"Hey," Taehyung said with a firm voice. He cupped Seokjin's cheek in his hand and made sure the elder was looking at him. "I love you. You're going to be okay." He lifted his own chin and placed a gentle kiss on Seokjin's lips before smiling. "I'm here for you."

The older teen sighed again, feeling the last of the tension melting away. He wrapped his arms around Taehyung, pulling his face into the crook of his neck. "Thanks. I love you, too."

 

 

After they’d finished cleaning the house, the two brothers lounged about on their bed like usual. "Yoongi wants to go to the movies tomorrow," Seokjin said, reading the text he'd just received from his friend.

Taehyung looked up from his phone, eyebrows raised in surprise. "I thought you didn't like going to the movies."

Seokjin didn't respond right away, and of course, Taehyung immediately picked up on it. The younger pulled himself up into a sitting position, curiosity clear on his face. Knowing that Tae was just going to ask, Seokjin sighed and told him, "It's not that I didn't like the movies. I just didn't want Yoongi to pay for us all the time."

"Oh." Tae nodded, accepting his brother’s explanation.

"But now I have a job, so I think it's okay to go to the movies every once in a while. We just can't get popcorn or anything."

Taehyung bounced in place, a gleeful look on his face. "Can Jimin come?"

"Why don't you ask him?"

"Oh, right." Tae quickly tapped out his message to his friend. The phone almost immediately buzzed – the brothers were convinced that Jimin had surgically connected his phone to his hand considering the speed at which he responded to messages. "Yoongi already invited him.”

Seokjin felt the familiar stirring of jealousy in the pit of his stomach, but he forced it away. Yoongi was completely free to do whatever he wanted and Seokjin wasn't about to try to get in his way.

The two sat in silence for a while longer, Taehyung tapping away at his phone as he always did while Seokjin read his book.

"Seokjin?"

The eldest raised his gaze beyond the words before him to focus on his little brother. "Hmm?"

Taehyung played with a little hole in his blanket, looking conflicted. "Can I ask you something? It might be weird. I think. I don't know."

Seokjin sat upright and set his book aside to show that Tae had his full attention. "Go ahead. Ask away."

Taehyung worried his lower lip before looking up at his brother with a curious expression. "Is it weird that we kiss?"

Seokjin blinked. It wasn't the question he'd been expecting. He didn't think it was weird. They kissed all the time – when they said goodbye or hello, or if they were trying to cheer each other up. Little kisses just seemed like what they needed to do. The elder could remember a time when his mother would kiss him if he scraped his knee. Their mother wasn't there to kiss Taehyung, so Seokjin did it for her.

"Why would it be weird?"

Taehyung shrugged a shoulder, a pink bush dusting across his cheeks. "Some guys at school saw you kiss me goodbye yesterday. They made fun of me."

Seokjin leaned forward and pulled Taehyung into a hug. "Oh, honey. Don't listen to what those assholes have to say."

"But, I asked Jimin about it," Taehyung continued with more concern in his voice. "Jimin said that it was weird for brothers to kiss on the lips."

The information felt wrong to Seokjin. He had never in his life questioned his display of affection for his brother. Having assholes tease others in school was common, but to have Jimin reaffirm that it was strange. Discomfort stirred in Seokjin’s belly. "Well, Jimin doesn't have any brothers. Why would he know better?"

Taehyung shrugged, a clueless look on his face. "He said he asked his mom about it a while back and his mom just said not to worry about it."

Seokjin nodded with a smile. "See? If Jimin's mother doesn't think it's wrong, then is it wrong?"

Taehyung debated with that in his head for a few moments, bobbing back and forth as he thought, lips pursed outward. "How come everyone else thinks it's weird?"

The older brother hummed, deep in thought. Was it really that strange to kiss on the mouth? "We could stop kissing if you want."

Tae stared down at his blanket, chewing on the inside of his cheek. "That's not what I want," he mumbled.

"What do you want?"

Large brown eyes looked up at Seokjin with frustration. "I want everyone to leave us alone. I want people to stop making fun of me."

Seokjin smiled and drew Taehyung into his arms. "You're so cute."

Taehyung groaned and pretended to struggle out of Seokjin's embrace. "Gross, don't baby me."

"What? I thought you loved to be babied!" Seokjin laughed and kissed Tae's cheek.

Tae settled down on his back, head pointing towards Seokjin. "I don't want to stop kissing."

"Then we don't have to." Seokjin lowered his head and pressed a kiss against his brother's lips. "But we don't have to kiss in front of other people."

Taehyung smiled and cupped his hand around Seokjin's neck to pull him into another quick kiss. "Awesome."

 

 

Seokjin stared up at the flashing neon signs of the theater, trying to calm his racing heart. He was standing in line with Yoongi, Jimin, and Taehyung, as well as about twenty or so other people. The crowd wasn't the source of his anxiety this time.

The teen glanced down at the large paneled window in front of them. Every teller station was open to compensate for the influx of movie-goers now that the school year was over. Seokjin took a deep breath and looked back up, rehearsing what he was going to say. Name of movie. Time of movie. Number of tickets. Hand over cash. Thank you. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists. He'd considered having Yoongi purchase the tickets for them, but Seokjin wanted to prove that he could do it.

Purchasing things at the store was easy. Select the items, put items on track, let the worker scan them, bag them, then he pays, takes his items, and leaves. Easy. Sometimes if the employee tried to talk to him, he pretended he was deaf. That made things even easier.

Unfortunately that tactic didn't fly when he was at work, but it had taken only one panic attack for his supervisor to accept that the register wasn't the best station for Seokjin.

Seokjin could do this. He managed to do it when he bought his and Taehyung's phones, but that had been as simple as showing the man how much money he had and letting him pick everything out that fit within his budget. Yes, this wouldn't be nearly as stressful.

Other people ordered and paid for their tickets. They all said the same thing Seokjin was repeating in his mind. Name of movie. Time of movie. Number of tickets. Hand over cash. Thank you. He looked at the board inside the ticketing booth to confirm for the fifth time which showing they were going to.

Even if he stuttered, that would be okay. Yoongi always told him that lots of people stutter, so he shouldn't feel self-conscious about it. Despite that, Seokjin always felt embarrassed when he stuttered. He knew he could talk without stuttering. He did it all the time with Tae, Jimin, and Yoongi. Why was it so hard to talk to everyone else? But, Yoongi said it was okay, so he would try his hardest to be okay even if he stuttered.

As they reached the front of the line, Seokjin took deep breaths. The chatter of his brother and friends were nothing but white noise as he continued his mantra. Then Yoongi left them, walking up to an open teller. Seokjin swallowed, digging his fingernails into his palms. Then Jimin left.

Seokjin flinched as someone touched his hand, but it was just Taehyung. His little brother smiled up at him, and Seokjin found himself feeling a bit more relaxed. "You looking forward to the movie?"

Taehyung nodded enthusiastically, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Hanging out with Jimin always had Tae's energy levels skyrocketing. Seokjin knew he'd have to take Taehyung out every day so he didn't go stir crazy locked up in their room without school as an outlet.

Just another moment of anxious waiting, then a teller waved them over. Seokjin hesitated, his feet temporarily frozen on the ground, but he forced himself forward. After the first step, the ones that followed didn't seem so bad. He knew what he needed to say. He had the cash in hand. Nothing to be worried about.

Name of movie. Time of movie. Number of tickets.

Seokjin waited, bobbing his head slightly as though counting seconds as the man behind the glass rang them up. The man said their total, and Seokjin slid the cash into the hole, then received his tickets in return. He whispered his thank you and walked briskly to the side door where Jimin and Yoongi were standing.

Elation had filled Seokjin's chest. He hadn't stuttered once. He'd had the words in his head, he said what he'd needed to say, and then that was it. He'd made it. His relief must have been clear on his features, because Yoongi smiled at him.

"Everything go okay?" he asked, resting his hand on the small of Jin's back as he ushered them all inside the cool building.

"Yeah," Seokjin said, almost breathless, his skin tingling where Yoongi was touching him. Not only had Seokjin gotten through the encounter with no issue, Yoongi had been there to witness it. Soon Seokjin would be better, and maybe then he would ask Yoongi out. Maybe then Yoongi would like him.

Before they could make their way to the concessions, they had to stand in yet another line to get their tickets taken. This line went faster, but it still annoyed Seokjin that it was necessary. Why couldn't they limit all things to just a single human interaction?

The teen taking the tickets looked familiar. Seokjin recognized him as someone from his English class, though he wasn't sure what his name was. Not one of his bullies, thankfully, though the idea of being confronted with someone who knew what a pathetic mess he was made anxiety worm its way back into Seokjin despite his previous success.

The teen took tickets one by one, smiling and offering a simple have a nice night to those who passed. Seokjin took a deep breath and nodded, steeling himself. If he could get through the line, then this was nothing.

"Have a nice night." When the words were said to Jimin, the boy hardly spared the teen a second glance before rushing to get into line for concessions. Seokjin huffed at his impoliteness. Even with his social anxiety, at least he had manners.

"Have a nice night." The working teen smiled at Yoongi, handing him back his ticket.

"Thanks, you too, man." Yoongi grinned back at him before joining Jimin in line.

Seokjin took a deep breath and stepped up, handing his and Taehyung's tickets over. He stared at the teen's fingers as he crisply bent and tore the tickets with skill before they were handed back to him.

"Enjoy the movie."

"Thanks, you too."

As soon as the words left Seokjin's mouth, he froze, mortified. He could hardly breathe as they replayed in his head. Taehyung pushed him forward away from the line since he was too dizzy to do it himself.

"Jin?"

The older brother looked down at Taehyung. "I have to use the bathroom," he mumbled and motioned towards Yoongi and Jimin. "Go with them. I'll find you in the theater." Seokjin watched Taehyung bounce off before turning and rushing towards the bathroom.

The bright room was quiet, save for the sounds of everyone in the lobby drifting in through the open ends. Seokjin nearly ran as far back as he could go, disappearing into the farthest stall and locking the door behind him. His breaths came in sharp pants, and he closed his eyes. He tried to force himself to breathe, slow down, calm down, he didn't need to cry. There was no reason to cry. He pressed his forehead against the cold, tiled wall.

Why had he changed what he said? He told everyone to have a good night. He said that to everyone, except for Jin. Had he done it on purpose, knowing that Seokjin was going to mess it up? He probably did it so he could laugh at Seokjin, laugh at how pathetically inept he was at everything. He would go to school, tell his friends, who would laugh at Seokjin as he passed them in the hallways. Thank God it was summer time so at least he had a few months before dealing with that.

Seokjin sobbed softly, the tears refusing to stay put. He'd done so well and then he went and messed it up. He'd even been so vain as to think Yoongi might like him just because he'd managed to purchase tickets without stuttering. Everyone could do that. Jimin could do that. Jimin didn't even need to practice it, either. He just knew what to do. Jimin was perfect. That was why Yoongi liked him.

Even trying to be as quiet as possible, Seokjin's cries and sniffles echoed in the nearly empty bathroom. He bit one of his fingers and squeezed his eyes shut, but it didn't do much to stifle the sounds. He was so horrendously stupid – he was pathetic and worthless and ugly. Yoongi deserved so much better than him. Maybe Yoongi should date Jimin.

A soft tap at his stall door made Seokjin gasp, head pulling up in surprise. He tried to tell the person to go away, maybe more politely than that, but he couldn't get the words out.

"Seokjin?"

Yoongi.

The crying teen brought his hands up to the sides of his head in distress. No, no! He didn't want Yoongi to see him like this – not again. He didn't want Yoongi's pity. He couldn't handle Yoongi's pity. He whimpered, chewing voraciously at the skin on one of his crooked fingers. He closed his eyes and prayed that Yoongi would give up on him and leave.

Of course, Yoongi never gave up on him. "Can I come in?"

Seokjin stared at the latch on the door for a few seconds before he slowly unlocked it and let Yoongi squeeze his way into the cramped stall with him.

Instead of asking him what was wrong, Yoongi pulled Seokjin into a hug. Seokjin tensed in surprise, but accepted the hug without resistance. Time and time again, Yoongi showed patience and care far more than what Seokjin deserved. Getting over Yoongi would be a lot easier if he was an asshole.

Jin waited for Yoongi to say something, but he never did. He simply held onto him, his cheek next to Seokjin's jaw, his arms wrapped tight around Seokjin's waist. Seokjin slowly relaxed in his embrace before leaning into it, crying harder. He buried his face into Yoongi's neck, hating himself for acting so weak in front of his best friend. He was tired of always relying on Yoongi's support to function outside of his own home.

Yoongi didn't pull away until Seokjin managed to regain his composure. "Are you going to be okay?" Yoongi asked in his comfortingly deep voice. His kind eyes were studying Seokjin with concern. Those gazes always tore Seokjin up inside. He detested that he received them, yet he appreciated his friend's support.

Seokjin nodded, sniffling.

"What happened?" Yoongi finally asked, pulling Seokjin's hand away from his mouth. He hadn't even realized he'd started chewing again. "You looked pretty proud of yourself before."

The older teen let out a quiet whine of anguish, the memory of his stupidity coming back to him, and Yoongi quickly pulled him back into a hug. "I'm so st-stupid, Yoongi," he whimpered. "I was doing go-good, but then I – he – " Seokjin hiccupped and drew in a shaky breath. "He told me to enjoy the movie and I said – I said 'you too.'" Saying it out loud shamed Seokjin even more. It sounded so stupid, so trivial, yet he couldn't think about it without anxiety pressing down on him.

"Oh no!" Yoongi squeezed Seokjin tighter, and the elder was surprised to hear that his friend wasn't being facetious. "God, that's the worst. I hate it when that happens."

Seokjin pulled back, looking at Yoongi through wet eyelashes. "You've done that, too?"

"Yeah." Yoongi sighed, eyebrows turned up in sympathy. "It's so embarrassing. Whenever it happens I just want to shrivel up and die somewhere."

Seokjin blinked a few times, clearing the last of his tears. He laughed softly as Yoongi wiped them away for him with the sleeve of his hoodie.

"It's embarrassing, isn't it?" Yoongi prompted, holding Seokjin's hands tight as they instinctively came up to his mouth.

Seokjin nodded and took a deep breath. "So embarrassing."

"And yet, here you are," Yoongi said, smiling up at him, "still alive and unscathed."

Seokjin laughed again and rubbed his fist into his eye. "I guess so."

"Well, that's better than 'no.'" Yoongi grabbed Seokjin's hand. "You ready to go? Tae and Jimin are saving seats for us."

Seokjin nodded and allowed Yoongi to pull him from the stall. He didn't look in the mirror as they passed – he knew he would hate what he saw. Besides, the theater would be dark, so no one would have to see his ugly, red face.

Yoongi didn't let go of his hand until they got to the row their seats were in. Seokjin could feel the eyes of the men and women that they scooted past to get to the center, but he tried not to focus on them. He only wanted to think about Yoongi, how sweet and attentive he always was. There was always so much shame there in the moment, when Yoongi was holding his hand and telling him everything was going to be okay. Afterwards, when the adrenaline slowed and his tears stopped falling, Seokjin knew that he should feel nothing but gratitude for what Yoongi was willing to put up with for him.

Taehyung and Jimin were already sitting together, leaving two open seats to Jimin's left. That meant Seokjin would get to sit next to Yoongi. His heart fluttered, his affection for the other teen returning with a passion after his care.

They sat and Yoongi shifted a large drink from his right into the cup holder between them. "Got this to share." He motioned to Tae and Jimin who were happily chatting away through the trailers, their own giant cup between them.

Seokjin was thankful for the dimmed lights hiding his blush. No, no. He couldn't let himself start thinking that way. Yoongi didn't like him and never would. There was no sense wasting any time fantasizing.

But fantasize he did.

Seokjin fantasized about reaching for the cup at the same time Yoongi did, their hands coming together and Yoongi smiling at him. He fantasized about holding Yoongi's hand beneath the arm rest. He fantasized about pushing the armrest out of the way and snuggling up beside the younger teen. He imagined Yoongi gently brushing his chin, pulling Seokjin closer, and kissing him softly.

In the middle of that fantasy, Yoongi leaned over the armrest to him. Seokjin flinched, but realized Yoongi was only getting closer to whisper something about the movie. Seokjin could barely process his words, but he saw Yoongi's snarky smile, and Seokjin laughed softly, assuming that was the appropriate response. Thankfully it seemed to fit, for Yoongi grinned and leaned back.

Oh, how beautiful Yoongi was. Seokjin couldn't stop glancing over at him. The lights from the movie shone in Yoongi's eyes as he laughed at the movie along with the rest of the audience. Although he'd never been chubby, his cheeks had been a bit rounder when they'd first met. His lips were still the same, though, soft, perfectly shaped, always held out in a small pout unless he was consciously holding it back. There hadn't been a day that passed since Seokjin accepted his sexual orientation that he didn't think about kissing Yoongi.

Yoongi glanced to the side and saw Seokjin looking at him, but he wasn't weirded out. He was never weirded out by Seokjin. He accepted Seokjin and all his broken, messy flaws. Yoongi smiled and reached over, giving Seokjin's knee a squeeze. The older teen went lightheaded, and he smiled back. Maybe dating Yoongi wasn't impossible.

 

 

Yoongi stayed close to Seokjin even as they left the theater. He even held Seokjin's hand as they stepped out of the building. Compared to the air conditioned interior, the summer air was comfortable and warm. The very last trails of daylight were disappearing in the distance, the brightest of stars already twinkling overhead.

Seokjin stopped at the edge of the sidewalk and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Conversations about the movie drifted around him, from the critics to the enthusiasts, to Jimin and Taehyung who were on their own level. He listened to the chatter, enjoyed the warm breeze that disturbed his hair, enjoyed the feeling of Yoongi's hand in his.

He'd long learned that hand holding was just a thing that Yoongi did. There was no deeper meaning to it – he simply held hands as a way to calm Seokjin down. Of course his heart had jumped to a thousand conclusions the first few times Yoongi had done it, but he'd seen him hold Taehyung's hands too if he was in the middle of an episode. That didn't mean he couldn't enjoy it, though.

Nearby there was a group of particularly rowdy teens, multiple conversations happening in tandem between various pairs. Seokjin wouldn't have thought twice about it if he hadn't heard one of them say in a scathing tone, "Look at those fags."

Seokjin's eyes snapped open, and he tried to pull his hand back, but Yoongi didn't release him. The shorter teen was scowling at the group.

"Yoongi," Seokjin whispered, pulling at his hand again. Still, Yoongi held on.

The chatter from the other members of the group quieted down as the one who'd insulted them drew their attention towards Seokjin and Yoongi. Seokjin's stomach shriveled up, realizing that he recognized most of them from school.

"You got a fucking problem?" Yoongi snapped, making Seokjin flinch.

"Yoongi, please," Seokjin whimpered, trying to avoid looking at the other teens.

"Nope, not a problem." One of the shorter guys stepped closer. He cocked his head to one side, smirking when Seokjin glanced up at him. "Always thought you two would make a perfect couple."

Having noticed something was up, Taehyung and Jimin rushed up to them. Taehyung latched onto Seokjin's arm, holding his other hand. Jimin took a more aggressive stance next to Yoongi, feet held apart, arms crossed over his chest, chin held up defiantly.

The bully looked over their small group, amusement in his eyes. "Fags and babies. Got yourself a nice little family here, Yoongi."

"Fuck off," Yoongi growled, his grip tightening on Seokjin's hand. "I don't give a shit what you think about us."

"Clearly," the bully said, his friends laughing along with him. "Otherwise you wouldn't waste your time with that pathetic excuse of a person." His gaze lingered on Seokjin, who cringed.

Without a second's pause, Yoongi spat on the other teen's shoes.

"What the fuck?" The outraged teen shouted. He growled and took an aggressive step forward, but a sharp yell stopped him in his tracks.

An older employee had stuck her head out of the theater doors. "Don't you dare fight out there. You start something and I'm calling the cops, you hear?"

Yoongi made a noise of affirmation before motioning for his friends to follow him. Seokjin didn't look up at the group of teens as he stayed as close to Yoongi as possible. Seokjin kept his hearing focused on the conversations that had picked up again as they left, fearing that they would follow them. They didn't, though, and they reached the  vehicle with no issue.

"I fucking hate those guys," Yoongi griped as he buckled himself into the driver's seat. "They really piss me off."

"Oh my God, Yoongi," Jimin said with excitement. He leaned forward from his seat in the back and wrapped his arms around Yoongi's headrest and neck to give him a hug. "You are so cool. Did you see the look on his face?"

Yoongi grimaced slightly and shook his head. "You shouldn't think it's cool. We should have just walked away."

"What? No!" Taehyung joined Jimin with his hero-worshiping. "You taught him a lesson!"

Seokjin smiled at Yoongi's eyeroll. "You could have let me go," he said softly.

Yoongi shot him a sharp look, like the suggestion was out of the question. "Don't be stupid."

"Right, right." Seokjin laughed. "Sorry." He wished they could hold hands more, but Yoongi's dad's car was manual.

"You want me to drop you off right at home?" Yoongi asked, driving them out of the parking lot.

Seokjin shook his head furiously. "No, no, that's okay. We'll walk home from your place."

"Are you sure? It's not out of the way or anything."

"I'm sure," Seokjin insisted. He didn't want to risk his dad hearing Yoongi's car pull up and letting them out. It was much easier to sneak back in the house by coming up on foot.

Yoongi relented, and Jimin quickly struck up conversation about the movie. Yoongi had to yell at them twice for trying to reenact the fight scenes in the back seat, though he did so with a smile.

On nights like these, when Yoongi helped him, when Yoongi stood up for him, when Yoongi tried to be the best role model for the younger two, Seokjin couldn't help but imagine what it would be like if he and Yoongi were married. It was a stupid fantasy, but the idea fascinated Seokjin. The only married couple he had contact  with were Yoongi's parents. Seokjin wondered if he and Yoongi could fit together so well, if they could raise kids together. He blushed at the thought.

Seokjin glanced out the window and frowned, realizing they were already in Yoongi's neighborhood. "Don't we have to drop Jimin off?"

Jimin leaned forward, slinging his arms along the back of Yoongi's chair. "Mom's got a date so I'm staying the night at Yoongi's."

"Sit back," Yoongi chided, slapping Jimin's hand.

"Oh." Seokjin stared at his knees, trying to suppress a surge of jealousy. There was no point in being jealous. It wasn't as though Yoongi spent more time with Jimin or that Yoongi admitted to liking Jimin or that Yoongi and Jimin had kissed or anything. His bitter internal sarcasm made him purse his lips.

A soft touch on his shoulder made Seokjin flinch, but it was just Tae from the backseat. The older brother glanced to the sideview mirror where he could just make out Taehyung's face looking back at him. Tae offered a small, understanding smile. Seokjin reluctantly smiled back and reached up, touching Taehyung's fingers before the young teen sat back in his seat.

He wanted to say something – anything – but nothing came to his mind. A part of him wanted to call Yoongi out for kissing Jimin. It wasn't fair that Jimin got what Seokjin so desperately yearned for. Seokjin wanted to know what it felt like to have his friend's lips on his own.

Yoongi grabbed Seokjin's hand and yanked his finger from his mouth. Seokjin let out a startled cry. Again, he hadn't realized he was chewing again. Yoongi placed Seokjin's hand down on the gear stick and put his own hand on top of it. Seokjin blushed as Yoongi's long fingers tightened around him whenever he shifted gears.

Having a crush on Yoongi was an emotional roller coaster. Seokjin was experiencing the worst sort whiplash – affection, jealousy, lust, disappointment, self-hate, then back to affection. It was becoming a bit tiring, but it wasn't enough to deter Seokjin from maintaining their friendship.

Upon arriving at Yoongi's house, Jimin and Taehyung hopped out of the car, excitedly making plans for hanging out over the next week. Having daytime free during the summer made it easier for Seokjin and Taehyung to leave the house, and Taehyung made sure he didn't spare a single second.

Yoongi gently laid a hand on Seokjin's elbow, drawing his attention away from the younger teens. When Seokjin looked at him questioningly, Yoongi jerked his head away from them, leading Seokjin down to the sidewalk away from Tae and Jimin.

"Jin," Yoongi said, looking directly at him, "you know I like you, right?"

Seokjin's heart skipped a beat, and he stared at his friend in shock, sure that he'd misheard. All of his fantasies, all of his hopes, his dreams, were suddenly coming true and he didn't know what to say. He was frozen in spot, unable to speak, barely able to breathe. He seriously considered the possibility that he might actually be dreaming. At some point he'd made it home and fell asleep and now he was dreaming about standing in front of Yoongi's house with Yoongi confessing his feelings for Seokjin.

"You what?" Seokjin asked faintly.

Yoongi laughed softly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry, I don't mean like that. I guess I should be more careful with my words now that I'm out of the closet."

Seokjin's knees went weak, and he wanted nothing more than to fall to the ground and cry as his euphoria was ripped away from him. Not like that. Of course not like that.

"I hope I didn't make you feel weird," Yoongi mumbled, his head lowered, toe digging into the ground.

Seokjin shook his head. "No," he whispered, unable to speak any louder. "You didn't."

Yoongi nodded and took a few seconds to compose himself before getting back to the point. "What I was trying to say was you're one of my best friends. I like you. I mean, you're the longest friend I've had since I moved here."

Seokjin absentmindedly bobbed his head in a half-nod, barely following along with his friend's words. He felt numb, unable to feel sad, unable to feel embarrassed.

Yoongi paused, still rubbing his neck.  He looked back up at Seokjin. "You know I don't care if you're poor, right?"

Seokjin  inhaled sharply in surprise and averted his gaze, shame alight in his chest. No. Not this. Please not this. Don't pity me.

"Sorry," Yoongi said softly. "I know you might think that it's embarrassing, but there's nothing you have to be worried about when it comes to me."

All the times that Yoongi had fed Seokjin and Tae, all the times he'd given them clothes, or gave Taehyung a few dollars to spend on candy – as long as Seokjin could pretend that it was because Yoongi was being nice, as long as he could pretend

"You never want us to come over," Yoongi continued, not realizing the havoc he was wreaking on his friend. "You never want to talk about it, but, Jin – " He reached for Seokjin's arm, but the older teen jerked away. Yoongi stopped talking, concern clear on his face.

Don't look at me like that. For a moment, Yoongi wasn't Yoongi anymore. He was Hoseok, staring at him with those same pitying  eyes as he handed Seokjin his bag of clothes back. Seokjin had pushed Hoseok away – he didn't want to do the same to Yoongi.

"Taehyung," Seokjin called sharply, motioning to his brother. "Let's head home."

"Jin," Yoongi protested quietly, the inner points of his eyebrows curved up, looking distraught. "Hey, man, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have – "

"Come on, Tae," Seokjin said again, ignoring Yoongi. Taehyung came bounding up and latched onto Seokjin's arm, waving and yelling his goodbye to Jimin. Without saying anything  else, Seokjin pulled Taehyung away, down the street.

Taehyung glanced back at Yoongi and then at his brother. "Jin?"

Seokjin looked down at him and smiled. "Did you enjoy the movie?"

Taehyung narrowed his eyes, pursing his lips. "You're not fooling me."

"I wasn't trying to fool you."

"Then why are you pretending nothing is wrong?"

"I'm not pretending. I'm ignoring it."

Taehyung huffed and swung their arms between them back and forth. "You'll tell me," he said matter-of-factly, "eventually."

Seokjin didn't doubt that. He just didn't want it to be right then.

Their walk was slow-going and silent. The sun had only set a short while before, so there were still some kids out playing in front of their houses, running after one another or kicking balls around. They reminded Seokjin of when they were younger and he would take Taehyung to the park so he could play with Jimin.

The memory which had felt happy at first quickly turned sour. Jimin had been Taehyung's friend for years, yet now he was spending all his time with Yoongi. Staying the night at Yoongi's house. Kissing Yoongi. Seokjin gritted his teeth, anger rising within him.

It wasn't fair to be angry at Jimin. For the same reasons Seokjin couldn't spend all his time with Yoongi, Tae couldn't spend all his time with Jimin. It was unreasonable to expect them to avoid hanging out with each other unless the brothers were present.

A squeeze on his hand made Seokjin look down at Taehyung. The younger teen was still looking in front of them as they walked, yet he still seemed to know when Seokjin needed comfort.

With a sigh, Seokjin came to a stop on the edge of a park. "Let's not go home just yet," Seokjin said in a playful tone. He motioned towards a swing set. "Go ahead and play."

Taehyung looked up at him with his lips pressed thin. "I'm thirteen. Not five."

Seokjin smiled. "I know." He motioned again. Maybe if Taehyung stayed busy, then he wouldn't catch on that Seokjin was delaying their return in fear of their father catching them sneaking in.

Taehyung sighed, but he went over to the swings anyway. He'd never achieved his childhood dream of flipping all the way around the pole, and Seokjin was sure that he was still determined to do it one day.

Seokjin sat on the ground and watched his brother sway back and forth, gentle at first, then slowly picking up momentum until his body was practically laying vertical for every swing forward. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that Taehyung wasn't the child he used to be. He was getting taller, his voice a bit deeper. Seokjin had heard it crack a few times and had teased Taehyung relentlessly about it. In Seokjin's mind, Taehyung was still just his little baby brother.

He wondered if Taehyung had a crush on anyone at school. He'd never talked about any girls that had caught his eye – though that was probably because he was an outcast just like Seokjin was. Kids his age weren't supposed to cry. It wasn't Taehyung's fault. It just happened. Seokjin wished he could do something that would help Taehyung become more popular. If he had more friends, then he wouldn't worry about Seokjin so much. He wouldn't worry about Jimin being better friends with Yoongi.

The thought of their young friend was accompanied by the same mix of jealousy and anger he'd felt earlier, and many times before. Ever since Yoongi had admitted his attraction to thirteen-year-old, Seokjin couldn't stop those uncomfortable feelings. He hated it. Jimin was Taehyung's friend – he'd been there for Taehyung at school when Seokjin wasn't around to protect him. He was kind and outgoing and passionate and thoughtful. If Yoongi deserved anyone, it would probably be Jimin.

Seokjin sighed and lay back, looking up at the sky. Within a few seconds, he heard Taehyung leap from the swing, his feet crunching into the bark dust, then footsteps as he rushed over to Seokjin. The boy's face was flushed from his swinging, a smile on his face as he dropped himself on the ground next to Seokjin, who wrapped his arm around his little brother.

Without the creaking of the swing's chains, the frogs and crickets in a distant pond became more apparent. He'd lost track of how many times he'd imagined what it'd be like if he could stargaze with Yoongi.

Seokjin closed his eyes, frustrated. He had to stop thinking about Yoongi like that. He had to stop. It was only hurting him. The more he fooled himself into thinking there was even a sliver of a chance to date him, Seokjin would find himself falling farther and farther into despair. He had to stop liking Yoongi. Maybe he did have to push Yoongi away. Maybe that was for the best.

But if they stopped hanging out with Yoongi, he would still hang out with Jimin and Jimin might stop being Taehyung's friend.

Seokjin huffed and stood up, Taehyung toppling to the side with a tiny whine. He walked, but only a few steps before turning, walking in a short circle around where he had been laying. Taehyung watched him, his large curious eyes sparkling in the darkness from distant streetlights.

It wasn't that Seokjin hated Jimin. He hated everything. He hated his father, he hated his mother. He hated their awful house and their ragged clothes. He hated his crooked fingers and his too-big lips. He hated the pity that Hoseok had given him, the pity Yoongi was giving him. He hated that he couldn't take care of Taehyung as well as he should. He hated that he was a failure in every aspect. He hated that Taehyung didn't have anyone better to look up to.

Seokjin came to a halt, fists clenched at his sides. He didn't want to cry – he couldn't cry. He was usually so good about hiding his tears from Taehyung. He needed to be strong.

But Seokjin was weak. He always had been, and that wasn't going to change any time soon. He lowered his head, bottom lip trembling, tears slipping through his squeezed shut eyelids. He heard Taehyung scramble to his feet before the younger teen threw his arms around Seokjin.

"I'm sorry," Seokjin whispered, holding onto his little brother. He took a few gasping breaths, tears flowing steadily down his cheeks.

"Don't be sorry," Taehyung said, his voice muffled into Seokjin's collarbone. "Nothing wrong with crying."

Seokjin whimpered and buried his face into Taehyung's neck, crying a bit harder. "I love Yoo-Yoongi but he doesn't like me. It's because I'm broken and ugly."

Taehyung hushed him, petting his back, but Seokjin continued on without hesitation.

"It's just so stupid – everything sucks – I try hard – I really do – " Seokjin sobbed and sank to his knees, Taehyung dropping with him to maintain his hold. "I don't know what to do, Tae, I don't know – No  matter how hard I tr-try, nothing works out. Dad's gonna – he's gonna find out I have a job and he's going to take all our money – or he'll make me quit – then I can't take care of you." He held onto Taehyung, desperate for more of his touch.

But if their dad found out he had a job, he would do more than take away his and Taehyung's money. He'd gotten a black eye for coming home with new clothes last summer. Dad would take away the money, then he would punish Seokjin, beat him – or worse. Memories of fingers squeezing around his neck felt all too real. It had been almost three years since their dad had pinned Seokjin on the ground, strangling him until he passed out, yet Seokjin coughed as though it were happening right now.

"I'm sc-scared, Tae," he said between wheezes and sobs. "Dad's gon-gonna kill me. He's gonna kill me." He cowered  against his brother, huddled over, pressing the top of his head against Tae's chest. "I don't – I don't w-wanna die."

Taehyung  leaned over, covering as much of Seokjin's body with his own as he could, his nose touching Seokjin's spine. He, too, was crying, his soft sobs shaking his thin body. "I won't let him," he said firmly, despite the crack in his voice, despite the squeak of emotion. "I won't let him hurt you again. I promise."

Seokjin couldn't respond to that, his tears coming back in full force. Nothing was fair. Taehyung shouldn't have to worry about Seokjin. Seokjin was supposed to be worrying about Taehyung. Seokjin wanted to run away, take Taehyung far away where no one knew who they were, where their father couldn't find them.

Starting anew wouldn't fix Seokjin's stutter, though. It wouldn't stop his panic attacks. It wouldn't magically make it so that he could function on the level of a normal human being. Regardless of where they were or what people knew of them, Seokjin was a failure. Pathetic. Worthless.

Seokjin wasn't sure how long they cried together with Taehyung nearly draped over him. Long enough for his back to go stiff and his legs numb. Even so, as the tears dried out, Seokjin didn't want to move. He was willing to deal with the discomfort for as long as possible if it meant staying in Taehyung's arms.

His body didn't like that idea, though, and he eventually had to pull himself up with a groan. When he looked at Taehyung, he saw the little wrinkle between his eyebrows as defined as ever. Seokjin leaned forward and pressed a kiss against the wrinkle.

Taehyung smiled as they stood. "Jin," he said softly, their fingers laced together between their bodies. His face grew serious again. "I meant what I said. I won't let him hurt you."

Seokjin regarded him carefully. He knew that Taehyung wouldn't be able to do anything if their father happened to be in that sort of mood – but he didn't want to tear down Taehyung's confidence. Seokjin smiled and leaned forward, kissing Taehyung's wrinkle again. "I know, little baby brother."

Taehyung lifted his head and kissed Seokjin, his lips lingering a second longer than usual. When Seokjin pulled back as he always did, Taehyung surprised him by leaning forward, chasing after his mouth. Taehyung pressed two more chaste kisses against Seokjin's smiling lips.

"You trying to cheer me up with a million kisses?" Seokjin asked, bemused. He held Taehyung close against his chest.

Taehyung nodded, then gave him another set of three kisses. "I love you, Jin."

 

Chapter Text

The secondhand clothing store Seokjin worked at was large and musty, but he never had any issue with it. He'd heard his coworkers complain, but it was a far cry better than his own home. He'd been working there for a few months and he was beginning to feel more comfortable with it. Summertime helped with that, since he worked more often than he had when school was still in session.

There was an easy standard to follow when it came to setting things out on the floor. It helped that management wasn't too strict about how they were organized, so Seokjin hadn't needed to ask for help in a long while. His coworkers never bothered him – though he would occasionally hear them talking about him – and his boss was kind enough to accept handwritten notes for basic communication.

When Seokjin was at work, he could busy himself with medial work, sometimes thinking about his books, sometimes thinking about Taehyung. He tried his hardest not to think about Jimin or Yoongi.

It had been a few weeks since that night in the park when he'd spilled his soul to his little brother. The amount of relief that Seokjin experienced after that was something he’d never expected. He thought he’d feel weaker, defeated, like he’d given up. A part of him still held that opinion, but it was easier to deal with. Whenever he was feeling stressed, whenever he wanted to bottle everything up, he had Taehyung.

It wasn’t as though Taehyung had been unaware of the hardships Seokjin went through, but now Seokjin felt like his brother understood him on a deeper level. When Taehyung comforted him, it wasn’t like when Yoongi did it. Yoongi was kind and caring, but he only knew of the panic attacks – he didn’t know why. Taehyung knew why.

Of course, it helped that Taehyung was putting in extra effort to help keep Seokjin’s head above water. When they hung out with Jimin and Yoongi, he would always draw Seokjin’s attention away from the pair if they were being extra flirtatious. Taehyung would come bounding up to Seokjin, pulling his gaze away, and Seokjin felt a little bit better. The younger brother had replaced all their normal kisses with the trio that he liked to call the Delta Kiss, which always made Seokjin smile.

Seokjin grabbed a small handful of white – or white-ish, which was close enough – shirts and carefully stepped around a customer, keeping his eyes to the ground. He was about to shove them into place when the customer spoke, sending his heart up to his throat.

"Not even going to say hi?"

Seokjin whipped around to see Yoongi standing before him with a smirk. Being startled and then smacked with such a gorgeous expression almost made Seokjin swoon. "What are you doing here?" he whispered faintly. His fingers gripped the hangers tightly, his heart racing.

Yoongi's smirk melted into a smile. "I got off work a while ago. Thought I'd come say hi." He looked around the store, and embarrassment made Seokjin's cheeks go red. Yoongi also worked at a clothing store, but it was much nicer than the secondhand store. It had new clothes that people actually wanted to wear – not garbage that only the most desperate needed.

"When do you get off work?" Yoongi didn't say anything about the state of the store. He was always so kind.

"'Bout an hour." Over Yoongi's shoulder, Seokjin noticed one of his coworkers unashamedly gawking at him. Seokjin blushed harder and lowered his head.

Yoongi glanced over to what Seokjin had noticed. "What's her problem?" he asked quietly.

"Pretty sure she's never seen me say a single word," Seokjin admitted. He felt a strange sense of satisfaction at the idea that maybe she thought he was breaking out of his shell. She didn't know Yoongi was his friend.

Yoongi shrugged, then turned back to Seokjin. "Do you want to hang out after work? Just you and me?"

Just you and me. Seokjin stuttered wordlessly a few times before realizing he was forgetting an important detail. "But, Taehyung – "

"Jimin invited him over," Yoongi explained before Seokjin had a chance to articulate his thought. "I figured I'd let them hang out one on one. It's been a long time since we've done that."

Not since you met Jimin. Seokjin clutched the clothing against his chest, mentally berating himself for the stupid thought. If only Taehyung were there to help keep his mind off that. He needed to focus. Yoongi wanted to hang out with him, alone.

Seokjin smiled and nodded. "Yeah, sure."

 

 

Yoongi was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store with his back against a brick pillar. He was writing in his journal with a look of concentration on his face.

Seokjin stepped up to him, trying to put on his best stern expression. "Excuse me, sir, but I can't let you sit here."

Yoongi looked up at him, blinking.

The elder smiled and pointed at the No Loitering sign just a few feet above Yoongi's head.

"Oh, shit." Yoongi laughed and scrambled up, snapping his journal shut. "I didn't even realize."

"That's okay, I'm pretty sure they'd only care if you were smoking or riding your skateboard or something."

"Good thing I do neither, then." Yoongi led Seokjin off to his dad's car. "Want something to eat?"

Seokjin groaned appreciatively. He'd only shared a quick microwave dinner that morning with Taehyung before he'd gone out the door for work and a real meal sounded great.

"So, how've you been?"

The question, which came shortly after climbing in the car, caught Seokjin a little off guard. He blinked and thought for a moment. "Um, good?"

"Just good?"

If Seokjin had to leave out all his secrets – his envy, his anger, his frustration – then yeah, things were good. He was about to have lunch with his best friend, his brother would be there for him when he got home that night, and he was feeling more confident in his job. "Pretty good."

There was a moment of silence, and worry began eating away at Seokjin as he wondered of Yoongi was going to bring up that night. They had yet to talk about it, or even acknowledge it in any way. It had taken Taehyung almost a week of begging before he convinced Seokjin to hang out with them again, and when he had, things felt like normal. Things always felt like normal with Seokjin.

And today, Yoongi still didn't bring it up. He asked about Seokjin's work and lamented about how he wished he also worked there. The rules for organizing clothing at his own store were strict, and he'd gotten in trouble that day for not following their guidelines.

"I mean, really, the difference between blue and purple is subjective." Yoongi scoffed. "It's periwinkle," he mimicked his boss's tone, making Seokjin laugh. "It's blue, that's what it is. But no, she says it's purple. You know what? I looked it up as soon as I was on break. It's blue and purple, so she can shove it for all I care. So what if she fires me?"

"Are you really going to risk your job over a periwinkle blouse?" Seokjin laughed even harder when Yoongi fell silent, a stubborn look on his face. It was impossible not to be in love with Yoongi, but in moments like these, Seokjin didn't feel quite so awful about his affection.

"You're right, that's dumb." Yoongi nodded his head. "I'll have to go all out. Murder her."

That had Seokjin in peels, leaning forward against his seatbelt as he slapped his knee, and the perfect sound of Yoongi's laughter joined in.

The restaurant was a bit more crowded than Seokjin had been expecting. It was one of the downsides of summertime. He didn't know what was worse – the amount of people or the noise they created.

"We'll sit outside," Yoongi said as though he read Seokjin's mind. Before Seokjin could start chewing on his fingers, he grabbed his hand. "Order, grab our food, then sit outside. Sound good?"

Seokjin nodded, trying not to let his anxiousness show. They stood in line, and he stared up at the menu. He already knew what he wanted, but had to check and double check that they hadn't changed the number of the combos. As they reached the front, he pulled out his wallet.

Yoongi took it from Seokjin's hands, and the older teen let out a soft noise of surprise.

"I got this one," Yoongi said in a tone that indicated he would not change his mind.

"Wha – Yoongi, no," Seokjin protested, making a grab for the wallet.

"Hey, don't think I'm a charity," Yoongi chided. He slipped the wallet into his back pocket to keep Seokjin from attempting to snatch it away again. "You'll pay for us next time."

That's what you said last time. Yet once again, Yoongi let Seokjin pretend that he was only being nice and nothing deeper than that, so Seokjin seceded gratefully.

"Are you going to order for yourself?"

Seokjin froze up for a moment, but then nodded. Yes. He could do this. He'd done it at the theater – he could do it here. Yet the moment they walked up to the counter and Seokjin opened his mouth, nothing came out. The memory of humiliating himself came to him in a rush, and he felt like he couldn't breathe. The girl behind the counter stared at him expectantly, her face turning slightly more annoyed as she waited. Panic rose in Seokjin. If he couldn't order, he'd be laughed out of the restaurant.

"Hey." Yoongi stepped closer to Seokjin and tapped his own ear. "What do you want?"

Seokjin hesitated, then leaned over, whispering his order into his friend's ear. How embarrassing. He'd told Yoongi he could do it, but he couldn't. He stared down at the ground as Yoongi ordered their food for them and paid.

Yoongi grabbed Seokjin's elbow and lead him to the side. He hunched down a bit like he always did to force Seokjin to look at him. "It's okay. You don't always need to order."

Seokjin nodded furiously, taking deep breaths. He may not have been able to do it, but he refused to let himself cry in public. "Yeah, I know. I'm good. I'm okay."

Yoongi smiled and raised his fist in a small cheering fashion. "Of course you're okay."

It took a moment to really calm down, but at least he was able to do that. He was nervous that it would be one of his panic attacks where he completely shut down. Yoongi's money would have gone to waste.

When their food came to the counter, Seokjin snatched up the empty cups while Yoongi grabbed the tray. "I got this. I can do this." He didn't miss how Yoongi hid a smile. "Go outside. I'll be out in a minute." If he couldn't order, it was the least he could do.

"Sounds good. Oh." Yoongi pushed his hip out towards Seokjin. "Before I forget, take your wallet."

Seokjin glanced down at the back pocket Yoongi was presenting. He looked up at Yoongi with a startled expression.

"Come on," Yoongi insisted. "If you don't take it now, I'm gonna forget."

Seokjin blinked a few times, then hummed in acknowledgement. As he reached forward, he felt like the whole restaurant's eyes were on him, like as soon as he touched Yoongi everyone would know that Seokjin was gay. Or maybe it would seem more suspicious if he refused to grab it. Yoongi might think it was because of his own sexuality, and Seokjin couldn't allow Yoongi to feel like Seokjin was avoiding him.

So, he slipped his hand into Yoongi's back pocket. His face was so close to Yoongi's, yet the other teen was completely unfazed by it, or by Seokjin's hand sinking deeper.

The pocket was large, so the wallet had slipped down. Despite the thick material of the jeans, the fabric lining the pocket was thin. Seokjin nearly froze, realizing he could distinctly feel the curve of Yoongi's butt. His fingers brushed past it, making Seokjin feel lightheaded. It would be so easy to stop right there, open his hand a little more and press his palm against Yoongi.

He didn't, of course. Seokjin quickly reached enough to snatch out his wallet.

"You get the drinks," Yoongi said. He didn't say or do anything that made Seokjin think he'd picked up on Seokjin's dirty thoughts. "I'll meet you outside."

Once he was left alone, Seokjin stared down at his hand. He'd touched Yoongi's butt. And not in an accidental "whoops, sorry, didn't mean to" sort of way like he occasionally fantasized. No, Yoongi had offered his butt to be touched.

Okay, not exactly, but Seokjin would take what he could get.

He took a deep breath and stepped up to the fountain. He knew which drink Yoongi wanted – he only ever got the one. That made it easy. For Seokjin, it wasn't quite so straightforward. He rarely had a chance to drink soda, so he always tried something new each time. But then, he would forget which ones he'd tried, or which ones he liked the most, so he stared at the options, his chin wrinkled as he contemplated his decision.

"Hi, Jin."

For the second time that day, Seokjin's heart lurched at an unexpected greeting. The person who'd stepped up next to him wasn't Yoongi though.

It was Hoseok.

Seokjin stared at the other teen in shock. It was the first time they'd even looked at each other in years, and Seokjin didn't know how to react. Was he supposed to return the greeting? Ignore him and walk away? No, he still had the empty cups in hand. He had disappointed Yoongi at the counter and there was no way he would do the same this time.

When Seokjin didn't respond, Hoseok fidgeted on the spot, looking visibly uncomfortable. That's what happened to people when they interacted with Seokjin. At least the feeling was mutual.

"How are you?" Hoseok still attempted conversation despite Seokjin's silence.

Still stunned, Seokjin nodded softly. He wanted to respond, but the words were caught in his throat just like earlier. Instead, he raised his hand in a jerking motion and gave the other teen a thumbs up. That was good enough.

Hoseok seemed to think so as well, for he smiled. God, he'd aged well. Seokjin hadn't really noticed it before since he'd put in so much effort in ignoring him.

"Hey, listen." Hoseok looked down, scratching at his neck. "I saw you earlier. At the counter."

Seokjin flushed red and he looked away. Other people had noticed him acting like a complete imbecile. Not just other people. Hoseok. Seokjin was reminded of that day when he was twelve years old. He could still smell the blossoming trees as he sobbed in front of his friend.

"Sorry, I'm going about this the completely wrong way." Hoseok groaned. "I just wanted to say that – I mean – if you need help, I could – I dunno..."

Seokjin grit his teeth and began pouring the drinks. He chose one at random for his own so they could fill at the same time and hopefully be done with the awkward conversation.

"Just let me know if you need help."

How could Hoseok possibly help him out when his mere presence made Seokjin uncomfortable? Why was he even trying? Seokjin pressed his lips into a thin line, trying as quickly as he could to put the lids on his cup. If he was a stronger person, he'd ask Hoseok to leave, but he couldn't. Instead, he turned and left Hoseok by the soda fountain.

Yoongi was right outside the door when Seokjin stepped through, his hand stretched out towards the handle. He had a concerned look on his face, and he glanced inside. "Hey, are you okay?"

Seokjin blinked in surprise, handing Yoongi his drink. "Yeah."

Yoongi glared suspiciously inside again before they went to the table Yoongi had picked out.

"Wasn't that that fuckboy, Hoseok?"

Seokjin blushed and hunched over his food, but he was secretly pleased to know that Yoongi had been keeping an eye on him and had been ready to come save him. He liked the idea of that. Yoongi, his knight in shining armor.

"Were you talking to him?"

Seokjin shook his head. He'd never managed to get a word out to the other teen.

"Was he giving you shit?"

Seokjin shook his head again. He wondered if Yoongi would believe him if he explained that "that fuckboy Hoseok" had been his only best friend before Yoongi. Hoseok was the token rich kid at their school – the one with the shiny sports car given to him on his sixteenth birthday, the one who went on shopping sprees every few months to replace his entire wardrobe with the latest fashions, the one who always seemed to have the most high-tech electronics before anyone else. Hoseok was not the sort of person who would associate with the likes of Seokjin.

The thought made Seokjin cringe. Yoongi was a million times better than Hoseok. Seokjin had always known that he didn't deserve Yoongi's company. Accepting that Hoseok didn't deserve it either made Seokjin pity that Yoongi would bother lowering himself to Seokjin's level.

Yoongi reached over and stole a fry from Seokjin's bag.

"Hey!" the elder protested with a pout. He pointed at the full package of fries sitting right in front of Yoongi. "You have your own."

"Yes, but it's so much tastier when I steal it." Yoongi wiggled his eyebrows, and Seokjin blushed. "Besides, I asked you and you didn't respond so I took it as a yes." He was audacious, for sure, but it was one of his many attractive qualities.

Ignoring the topic of Hoseok, lunch went by smoothly. It was nice to spend time with Yoongi alone. Sure they got some alone time when they were in school, but it wasn't exactly a setting where Seokjin could truly relax. Seokjin loved how Yoongi's eyes were on him and only him.

Even after their meal was done, They found themselves lingering at the table, too busy catching up with one another to call it quits. Seokjin had a constant nagging urge to finally confess, to tell Yoongi, to shout it for everyone to hear that he loved him. He loved his best friend Yoongi, and there was no avoiding that. He wanted to kiss Yoongi. Nothing too much, just one kiss, maybe one last lasted a little longer than it was supposed to so Seokjin could feel his breath on his face.

Unfortunately, Seokjin knew he had chores to tend to before his father got home. He tried not to think about it, but it was an inevitability. Saying goodbye today would be harder than usual, but he would do it anyway.

This time when Yoongi asked if Seokjin wanted to drop him off in front of his house, Seokjin agreed. The other teen had a look of triumph on his face, most likely assuming that he'd managed to gain a bit more of Seokjin's trust. In reality, Seokjin knew that his father wouldn't be home, so it was safe to do so.

Seokjin tried not to be embarrassed when they pulled up to his house, though. The grass was overgrown in some places, dead in others, and overrun by moss in the spots where unkept leaves had fostered its growth. Weeds stuck out everywhere, even from the cracks in the sidewalk. The house itself looked like garbage with its worn out paint and a gutter hanging off the side of the house from when it had broken and his father had never bothered to fix it.

Yoongi didn't say anything about it as he pulled into the empty driveway, as expected. Instead, he pulled the car into park. For one terrifying moment, Seokjin thought he was going to ask to come inside, but Yoongi didn't turn off the car or unbuckle.

"Hey," he said, his kind eyes looking at Seokjin, not with pity or with concern, but with happiness. "I'm really glad you're my friend, Seokjin."

The words hit Seokjin as though he were a bird who'd just flown into a closed window. He didn't know why Yoongi could possibly be grateful for their friendship – but he was, and for right now, that was all that mattered. Seokjin wanted to lean over and kiss Yoongi, the fantasy he'd always had coming back to his mind. Oh, how he longed to kiss Yoongi.

Seokjin smiled and blushed, looking down at his fingers in his lap. "I'm glad you're my friend, too," he mumbled. He unbuckled his seatbelt, then paused with his door on the handle. Dare he say it? Maybe he could say it real fast and then run inside before Yoongi had a chance to respond. Then, if he didn't want to date Seokjin, he could do the noble thing and just never talk to him again rather than turning him down directly.

Saying nothing, Seokjin got out of the car and gave Yoongi a small wave before making his way up to the house. Some other time, he vowed. Some time when he didn't stutter, and he was able to order for himself, then he'd confess to Yoongi.

The water in the kitchen was running when Seokjin stepped into the house. He smiled, his heart fluttering at the idea of telling Taehyung all about his day. "Hey Tae! Did you have a good time with – "

Seokjin stopped short at the kitchen opening, his blood running cold.

His father turned off the water and turned to him. He was not a tall man, but Seokjin felt tiny in his presence.

No, no! Seokjin thought with panic. How? His car hadn't been in the driveway, and it was far too early for him to be home already.

"Where were you?"

The sound of the man's voice was enough to make Seokjin cringe internally, though he fought to keep his expression blank. Was this the sort of day where he needed to look him in the eye or not? Seokjin would be slapped for being a liar if he didn't look at him, or he would be slapped for being obstinate. There was no winning.

"O-out." Seokjin was trembling, but he knew he couldn't cower.

His father hummed disapprovingly, his eyes glancing to the sink. In it sat two plates – one that the older man had used the night before, and the other Seokjin had used for his and Taehyung's breakfast that morning.

Seokjin's clenched his fists tightly, trying not to cry. He should have done them earlier. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Who were you with?"

"Huh?"

"Did I stutter, boy? I asked who you were with."

Seokjin quaked under his father's unyielding gaze, and he finally caved, looking at the floor. "No one."

A sharp slap over his head made Seokjin yelped. His hands came up instinctively, but he forced them down, knowing that trying to protect himself would only incite more violence.

"Don't lie to me, boy." His father stepped closer and grabbed Seokjin's chin, forcing him to look at him. Seokjin whimpered, tears filling his eyes. "I heard the car outside. Who the fuck were you with?"

"A-a-a friend," Seokjin stammered, a few tears slipping down his cheeks. He prayed that it would end with just the one hit. His prayer went unanswered. He let out a cry of pain as his father released his chin only to give him another slap upside his head.

"I said don't lie to me," the man sneered. "You don't have any friends."

"I-I'm not lying, I – " Seokjin yelped again at yet another smack and didn't finish his thought. If he stuck to answering his father's questions and nothing else, then maybe it would be over quickly.

"You ungrateful little shit," his father continued. His breath already smelled like alcohol. "You live in my house, yet all I get is this bullshit rebellion – sneaking out, lying, stealing my shit."

Seokjin's eyes flashed in confusion, and he didn't need to ask for clarification.

"You think I wouldn't notice one of my dinners went missing?" the man snarled, stepping closer.

Seokjin involuntarily stepped back, bumping against the column of the doorway, remembering the breakfast he'd made for himself and Taehyung that morning. Seokjin closed his eyes, tears squeezing out. "I'm sorry," he sobbed quietly. "I won't do it again."

"Damn straight, you won't." The man grabbed Seokjin's shirt and shook him, his head slamming against the wooden frame. The corner of the post caught right in the center of the teen's head, causing an intense pain to radiate down his body. He couldn't even cry out, the shock of the blow too great. "You're lucky I don't kick you out. Maybe I should do that just so I can watch you come crawling back to me once you find out you're a worthless piece of shit and you can't even take care of yourself."

"Please, please," Seokjin gasped, his vision blurry and fingers numb. His head was throbbing so hard he could hardly understand his father's words. "Please stop."

"I'll stop when you've learned your fucking lesson!" the man bellowed. He pulled his hand back and delivered a flat-handed blow right against the side of Seokjin's skull, clapping right against his ear.

There was a loud pop followed by a sudden wash of dizziness, then Seokjin went limp, sobbing pathetically. He would have fallen if his father didn't have a firm grip on the collar of his shirt. A ringing in his right ear reverberated within his skull, working in tandem with the pain from where his father had hit him against the door post.

His father drew his arm back again and Seokjin didn't bother trying to defend himself. There was always a point when he'd give up. He hung limp in his grasp, accepting that there was nothing he could do to appease his father. He would just have to take his abuse without question, so that's what Seokjin did.

Only this time, the blow didn't come. There was a shout and a shove, jostling Seokjin around, then the loud smack of a hand on skin.

The kitchen grew quiet and Seokjin was released, but he was caught in the arms of Taehyung before he could fall to the floor. The younger teen was staring at their father with tears in his eyes, a defiant look on his face. For a moment, Seokjin thought that Taehyung had hit their father, but – no – there was a red mark forming on Taehyung's cheek.

Their father stared back at Taehyung with a startled expression, then down at his hand. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fingers into a fist. "Get the fuck out of my sight," he snarled, pushing past the two brothers.

Seokjin almost slipped down, but Taehyung reinforced his grip, then slowly lead him down the hall to their room.

"I'm sorry," Seokjin sniveled as Taehyung set him on the bed.

"Don't be sorry," Taehyung said. He disappeared into the hallway, then came back with a towel.

"But he hit you."

"There's a first time for everything."

Seokjin sobbed again, grabbing Taehyung's hand before he could start dabbing at him. "I'm sorry."

"Stop it," Taehyung ordered, wiping at his ear. "Your ear is bleeding."

The older teen stretched his jaw a few times, but he couldn't seem to clear away the ringing. He groaned in pain as Taehyung pushed his head to the side, inspecting his ear, then feeling the back of his head. "No cracked skull this time. That's good."

Seokjin hated that Taehyung could tend to his wounds so well. It wasn't fair to rely on him so heavily.

Taehyung disappeared once again. When he returned, he had a frozen TV dinner in his hand. Seokjin's heart skipped a beat.

"What are you doing with that?" he asked, his voice full of terror.

Taehyung looked down at it in surprise, then blinked at Seokjin innocently. "I was gonna use it like an ice pack. Only the box will get dirty."

Seokjin shook his head, ignoring the shooting pain that stabbed into his skull. "No, no no no, go put it back."

"Jin, you need – "

"Please, Tae," Seokjin begged, his body shaking in anxiety. If his father found another dinner missing, there would be no stopping his rage.

Taehyung hesitated, then relented, putting the box back. After cleaning Seokjin up, he grabbed his phone. He chewed on his lip as they sat in silence, Seokjin's breaths shaky and uneven. It had been a while since he'd had to deal with that sort of pain.

"I should have done the dishes," Seokjin whispered. His brain ached whenever he opened his eyes, yet closing them gave him intense vertigo.

"You didn't do anything wrong." Taehyung leaned over him, looking serious. "You didn't do anything wrong," he repeated.

"But if I – "

"No," Taehyung cut him off. He sighed and sat back, looking back at his phone. "Do you have a ringing in your ear?"

"Yeah."

"Dizzy?"

"Yeah."

"And we already know you're bleeding." Taehyung slid off the bed so he could look into Seokjin's ear more closely. "I think he popped your ear drum."

"Wonderful."

"The good news is that it'll heal on its own – it'll just take a while." Taehyung sat on the bed next to Seokjin again, with a smile. A bright red mark outlining the shape of a hand was becoming much more apparent Seokjin reached up and touched it. Taehyung winced, and grabbed Seokjin's hand.

"I'm sorry," Seokjin whispered again. Neither of them knew why their father had never hit Taehyung before. Maybe he didn't really want to know the answer. He hoped that this wasn't the catalyst that lead Taehyung the horrors that Seokjin had gone through.

"I'll survive." Taehyung leaned closer. "Do you want a Delta Kiss?"

Seokjin tried to answer, but his head throbbed particularly bad. Taehyung kissed him anyway, pressing three small kisses against his lips. "I interpreted your silence as a yes." Taehyung grinned, and for the briefest moment, he reminded Seokjin of Yoongi. He'd said the same thing earlier, hadn't he? His head was too foggy to remember.

Taehyung kissed Seokjin again, just once, and a little slower. Seokjin accepted it without question, too distracted by his raging headache. There was a pause, then another slow kiss.

"I'm going to do the dishes, okay?" Taehyung's voice wavered, though Seokjin was sure that was because of his own shoddy hearing. "Go to sleep."

Seokjin grunted in acknowledgement as his brother left him on the bed.

 

 

When Seokjin awoke, it was dark. He was disoriented, still dizzy and his head aching. It took him a second to realize what had woken him up.

Taehyung was sitting upright in bed, saying something. His voice was too muffled to make out the words, but the tone was distraught. Seokjin shot up, and Taehyung's words became clear – Seokjin had been sleeping on his good ear apparently.

"Jin, Jin – something's wrong," Taehyung whimpered, breathing quickly.

"What's the matter, honey?" Despite his pain, Seokjin was ready to take care of his brother.

"I'm sorry," Taehyung cried softly, "I thought – I thought I wet the bed – but it's been so long – " He gasped a few times, trying to calm himself. "But it's not – it's weird – "

Seokjin's head was too muddled to make sense of Taehyung's rambling. "What are you – Oh." Seokjin had touched Taehyung's thigh, and his fingers hit something warm and viscous. He jerked his hand back, flushing bright red. Thankfully the room's ambient blue light from behind bent and broken blinds was dark enough to hide his embarrassed expression.

"What's wrong with me?" Taehyung whined pitifully. "Am I sick?"

"Taehyung, honey – " Seokjin sighed. He leaned over and snapped on the light, throwing the blankets off them. A mess of semen sat on Taehyung's thigh and the sheets between his legs. The younger teen made a disgusted noise, then whimpered again, looking panicked. Seokjin stumbled out of bed, still feeling dizzy, and grabbed a towel, tossing it to Taehyung, who cleaned himself off.

"You had a wet dream," Seokjin said, trying to keep the annoyance from his voice. It wasn't something he really wanted to explain to his brother.

"What's that?"

Seokjin stared at Taehyung in disbelief. He was embarrassed, but he needed to deal with this in a calm, mature manner. Doing otherwise would just humiliate his brother. "It's a sex dream."

Taehyung's eyes widened in shock, gasping quietly.

"Don't they teach you about that stuff in health class?" They had when Seokjin had been in the seventh grade. "Or porn? You always talk about porn."

Taehyung fell quiet and looked down, a blush spreading across his cheeks.

"What is it, Tae?" Seokjin prompted in a stern tone.

"I skipped those classes," Taehyung admitted quietly, "and I only talk about porn because all the guys at school do. I just wanted to fit in."

Seokjin sighed and placed a hand on his forehead, trying to will away the dull throbbing that was getting progressively worse. "Well, now maybe you'll learn your lesson. No more cutting classes." He crawled back into bed with Taehyung, snatching up the younger teen's phone and turning off the light.

After a few minutes of browsing the web, Seokjin found a little educational site. He handed the phone to Taehyung. "Educate yourself." He settled into the comfortable position he'd been in before Taehyung had woken him up, on his side, one arm slung across Taehyung's hips, who was laying on his back so he could see the screen easier.

Seokjin wasn't sure what was worse – the pain from hitting his head, or the ringing in his ear. For all the damage his father had done to him over the years, it was the first time he'd popped Seokjin's ear drum. Thankfully it would heal itself. Hopefully no worries of lasting hearing damage.

Just as he was about to fall asleep, there was a muffled sound. It took a few repetitions before Seokjin realized Taehyung was trying to get his attention. Seokjin opened his eyes and lifted his head so he could make out the teen's voice. "Huh?"

"I was just wondering about something. About the sex dreams." Taehyung's eyes were wide and curious, lit up by the light from his phone.

Seokjin blushed and partially wished he had just pretended to be asleep. "What about them?"

"Well," Taehyung looked back at his phone, "this says that they're completely normal, right? But I was wondering – what if your dream wasn't – um – normal."

Seokjin sighed softly, fighting away the fogginess in his head. "What?"

"Like – what if you were dreaming about something that maybe you're not supposed to be dreaming about? Does that mean something?"

"Dreams are dreams, baby brother," Seokjin said with a yawn. He dropped his head back down on the pillow, then remembered he needed to keep it up to hear. "Everyone has weird dreams. I don't think it necessarily means something." Seokjin had his share of weird wet dreams, but it was the fantasies he had when he was awake that truly shamed him.

"Oh, okay." Taehyung stared at the screen for another minute, then turned it off and set it aside. He turned in Seokjin's arm. "Did you have a good day?"

The change of topic was sudden, but Seokjin was more than happy to stop talking about sex with his brother. As for that day, it was hard to think past the pain and the fear. His father constantly loomed over every memory on days like this. He remembered spending time with Yoongi. He remembered how badly he'd wanted a kiss from his friend. He remembered he'd been happy. But he couldn't remember the happiness itself.

"Yeah, I had a good day. I thought – maybe – I could confess to Yoongi, finally." He chewed on his lip, trying to formulate his thought. "I think this would be too much for him to handle."

"What do you mean?"

"Sometimes people have difficulty dealing with other people's problems," Seokjin explained it as well as he could. "They call it emotional baggage. I thought everything was getting better." I thought he was done beating me. "But I don't think it is." Seokjin sniffled and wiped away a tear that threatened to spill from the corner of his eye.

There was just enough light to see Taehyung regarding him curiously. He caressed Seokjin's cheek with his thumb and whispered, "It's okay. You don't need Yoongi." The young teen leaned forward to kiss Seokjin with the Delta Kiss he'd come to expect over the last few weeks.

Only the third kiss didn't end. One, two, three seconds longer than usual, then still more. Seokjin's heart started pounding, and his foggy mind began racing with confused thoughts.

Seokjin didn't know how long the kiss lasted. At least the span of three slow breaths from Taehyung. Seokjin could feel them on his upper lip. At least long enough for Seokjin to distinctly feel the pressure of his brother's lower lip fitting in the small cleft between his own.

The older teen wasn't sure what expression he'd expected to find on his little brother's face when he pulled back. Taehyung just gave him a soft smile, then snuggled down against Seokjin like he did every night.

Seokjin mentally scolded himself, shaking off any suspicious thoughts. It had been over a year since their father had hit Seokjin, and today had been worse than it had been since middle school. More likely than not, Taehyung was trying really hard to cheer him up in the only way he knew how. Seokjin drew his arms tight around Taehyung's middle.

There was the muffled sound of Taehyung saying something – but it was much quieter this time, like he was whispering. Seokjin lifted his head. "Hmm?"

Taehyung hesitated, then smiled and kissed Seokjin chastely. "Nevermind. Go ahead and sleep."

Chapter Text

The throbbing in Seokjin's head woke him up. Even in the quiet morning, everything felt off. His faulty ear dulled everything, even the ambient white noise that was always present. He opened his eyes and regretted that decision as the light from the window made his headache flare up even worse.

Through years of abuse, Seokjin had thought he'd gotten used to the pain. Not that it had ever stopped hurting, just that he was used to it. His skull hadn't been cracked this time and having an ear popped was painful, but certainly not the worst he'd been through – he grimaced, his crooked fingers tensing at the memory of them snapping.

It had been a while since Seokjin had experienced that sort of pain. Maybe just in comparison to the lull of serenity, this seemed agonizing. Or maybe it was because he'd fooled himself into thinking it was all over. That hurt worse than all.

It seemed hard to believe that it was just yesterday that Seokjin had spent the afternoon hanging out with Yoongi, fantasizing about their potential relationship. They'd eaten junk food and chatted about nonsense things. When it was just the two of them, it was easy to pretend that he and Yoongi were already dating.

But they weren't dating.

And the beatings were not over.

Taehyung stirred in his sleep. His arms were tucked up between their chests, reminding Seokjin once again that they were quickly becoming too big for the twin sized mattress to hold them both. Seokjin tilted his head to kiss his little brother on the top of his head. He didn't want to sleep in separate beds, though. He wanted to stay with Taehyung until he and Yoongi finally started dating. Then he would "graduate" into Yoongi's bed.

That was, perhaps, one of the stupidest thoughts Seokjin had ever had. He sighed and tried to ignore the throbbing in his head again. If he was distracted by his thoughts, the pain didn't seem so bad. His thoughts were just as terrible, though. There was no winning. Same as everything else in his life.

Taehyung rolled onto his back, startling Seokjin. He reached for his phone on the nightstand. His phone must have received a text or something that Seokjin hadn't been able to pick up through his bad ear. Seokjin lifted his head so he would be able to hear Taehyung as he answered the phone.

"Hello?" Taehyung's voice, which had been growing deeper every week, was adorably scratchy first thing in the morning. He kept his eyes squeezed shut and pressed his face against Seokjin's chest. "Hey, Jimin. Yeah, that sounds cool. I'll see you there." The younger teen hung up and dropped the phone off the side of the bed, resuming his position cuddling with Seokjin.

Seokjin tucked a tuft of hair behind Taehyung's ear, running his finger along the outer rim. Taehyung was always there for Seokjin. He would always be there, no matter what, helping Seokjin as much as Seokjin helped Taehyung. Seokjin couldn't deny the support that Taehyung gave him, no matter how much pain it brought to know that his little brother – at thirteen – was taking care of him.

Taehyung sighed and pulled himself up. He said something, but Seokjin only brought his head up in time to catch the last half. " – go to the pool today." He looked at Seokjin. "You can come but you can't swim. That's what the website said about your ear."

Seokjin smiled and ruffled Taehyung's messy hair. "That's okay. I should stay here, anyway. There's some cleaning I need to get caught up on."

The younger brother pouted and laid himself down on top of Seokjin's chest. "You don't need to stay here," he whined. "Come with me!"

"No, no," Seokjin said with a laugh. "Go have fun without me. Trust me, I wouldn't want to blind you all with my pale skin."

Taehyung scoffed but got up and fished a pair of swimming trunks (a gift from Jimin) out of the dresser. He dropped his boxers, nearly tripping in his rush to get changed, threw on a shirt, then headed for the door.

"Whoa, hey, aren't you forgetting something?" Seokjin pointed at the clothes Taehyung had left on the ground. The younger teen sighed and rolled his eyes, dragging his feet to put them in the laundry basket. Before he could make it to the door again, Seokjin stopped him one more time. "Forgetting something else?"

Taehyung pinched his lips together, but the corners of his mouth turned up. He trudged back over to Seokjin and gave him a quick kiss.

"Love you," Taehyung said with a smile and gave Seokjin another kiss. "I'll be back later, okay?"

"Don't drown. Please." Seokjin looked at his brother earnestly. Taehyung knew how to swim but that didn't stop Seokjin from dreading it.

"I won't," Taehyung complained. "I'll be okay. I'll text you later, okay?"

"Okay." Seokjin smiled, watching Taehyung rush from the room before Seokjin could call him back again. He focused what hearing he did have and waited for the front door open and close. With a heavy sigh, Seokjin fell back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.

Life wasn't fair. Or maybe life was fair, and Seokjin really did deserve everything that happened to him. He couldn't protect Taehyung better – he deserved punishment for that. He took advantage of his friendship with Yoongi, never satisfied with what it was and always dreaming of what it could be – he deserved punishment for that, too.

Seokjin curled up into a little ball, drawing his blankets up over him. Once upon a time, their father had told Seokjin he had been the reason their mother killed herself. Maybe that was true. It wouldn't surprise Seokjin at this point.

Left alone for the first time in a long while, Seokjin didn't bother getting out of bed. He stayed beneath his blanket, even as the summer sun heated up the room. He would cry for a few minutes, then take a few minutes to relax, cry some more, fall asleep for a while. He was weak anyway, but at least he could be weak in private now.

After a few hours, he finally pulled himself from bed and went about his normal chores. He paid extra attention to the small things – scrubbing out the window tracks, dusting the blinds, using a toothbrush to get into the grout around the base of the toilet. He didn't want to give his father any reason to hit him again.

Seokjin wondered what it would take to get him and Taehyung out of the house for good. He'd heard about emancipation – but he feared he wouldn't be able to prove that their father hurt him. It had been so long since the worst injuries. Popping his ear drum wasn't that bad in comparison. Everyone would tell Seokjin to suck it up. Everyone was punished by their parents every once in a while.

Seokjin sighed, lowering the towel he'd been in the process of folding. He really needed to stop pitying himself. Sure, the beatings were bad, but they certainly could be worse. All he needed to do was endure the next five years until Taehyung was eighteen. Then they'd be able to move out together.

Five years.

The teen squeezed his eyes shut, his fingers aching as he squeezed them around the towel. It's not that long, he told himself. He could do it. He had to do it. For Taehyung. Anything was worth protecting Taehyung. Their father had never treated Taehyung like he had Seokjin, but if Seokjin wasn't available, who would weather his rage?

There was a noise to Seokjin's right, and he jumped away from it with a shriek, falling against the wall of the laundry room, a figure looming over him. The person leaned down and Seokjin shrieked again, frantically fighting away the blurred figure. His head was throbbing with pain, the world spinning around him. Hands grabbed Seokjin's wrists, and the teen squeezed his eyes shut, crying and begging not to be hit again.

The blow did not come. The hands kept Seokjin from flailing about, and the ringing in Seokjin's ears faded.

"It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."

Taehyung's voice.

Seokjin sobbed, his body deflating. It was just Taehyung. When he opened his eyes, Taehyung's face came into focus. His hair was wet, white shirt sticking to damp skin, and the sharp scent of chlorine still clung to his body.

"I'm sorry," Taehyung whispered. He pulled Seokjin's shaking hands to his chest. "I called your name. I didn't mean to scare you."

"I didn't hear." Seokjin swallowed and took a few shuddering breaths as his cries quieted down.

Taehyung sat next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Your hearing is really bad in that ear, huh?" His voice was loud enough to carry to Seokjin's good ear, but it was unintelligible in the ear closest to his brother. "Can you hear me now?"

Seokjin nodded, still breathing deeply. His body trembled, but he was feeling better now that he was in Taehyung's arms.

"How about now?" Taehyung said the words closer to Seokjin's ear, but they were still audible in the other ear even if just a little. Seokjin nodded. Taehyung moved again. This time when he spoke, Seokjin couldn't make out the words at all. His brother's voice was nothing but a fuzzy mumble.

"I can't hear that one." How long had Taehyung said it would last? Just a few months, if he remembered correctly. He'd have to work on paying close attention to everything from the other ear. Taehyung whispered something against his ear, and Seokjin shook his head. "I said I can't – " Tae cut him off with a kiss to his cheek.

"I know," Taehyung said, and kissed him again.

 

Seokjin stood in front of his dresser, his fingers up by his right ear. He snapped them, fascinated by the dull sound that came through, yet it was still so clear in his other ear. Getting used to his faulty hearing wasn't as difficult as Seokjin thought it would be. Within the last two weeks, he started instinctively turning his left ear towards Taehyung whenever he was talking. The brothers swapped spots on the bed so that Seokjin could sleep with his good ear up.

Taehyung had also become accustomed to approaching Seokjin from his left, or making it obvious if he was coming up on his right, he still whispered words into Seokjin's right ear. Whenever Seokjin asked what he said, Taehyung would just smile and prance away. He was probably insulting Seokjin.

The excuse Taehyung came up with for Seokjin's bad ear was clever – he'd told their friends that a car backfired when he was walking by it. He received a bit of pity, but nothing more than a "that sucks, man" from Yoongi. Seokjin could handle that.

Done messing around with his hearing, Seokjin finished putting away their laundry. Taehyung was sitting on the bed, browsing on his phone. "Time for bed, little baby brother."

Taehyung groaned. "Why do we have a bed time? It's summer."

"Nighttime still happens in the summer."

The teen rolled his eyes. "Oh my God, Jin, you are so dumb. Bedtime and nighttime are literally not the same thing."

Seokjin laughed and kissed the top of Taehyung's head. "Come on, get moving."

Grumbling under his breath, Taehyung dragged himself out of bed. He shed his shirt quickly, but hesitated when he grabbed the hem of his jeans. He glanced at Seokjin. "Don't look at me," Taehyung mumbled, ducking his head down.

Taehyung had become increasingly modest over the past week. Not completely unreasonable considering the changes his body was going through since he officially hit puberty – Seokjin had felt similarly years ago, but he'd quickly gotten over it.

"Why, you think I'm a pervert?" Seokjin teased with a smile.

"No." Taehyung fidgeted, chewing on his lower lip.

"Maybe you should move back to your own room?" The suggestion had been made in jest, yet Taehyung's response was anything but. His head came up, a fearful look on his face.

"No, don't make me – "

"I'm not going to make you," Seokjin assured him, drawing Taehyung to his chest. "But our room is less than ninety square feet. You can't possibly expect me to stand with my back turned every time you get dressed." It wasn't like Tae was going to be completely naked or anything – he still had his boxers on.

Taehyung's eyes flickered to the side, but he nodded. "I guess not," he admitted quietly.

Seokjin cocked his head, regarding Taehyung curiously. "What's wrong?"

Taehyung stepped back with a laugh that was so obviously forced that Seokjin almost thought Tae was mocking him. "Nothing." Taehyung waved his hands in front of him. "Just – feeling a bit embarrassed I guess." He quickly turned his back to Seokjin and pulled pajama pants from the dresser.

Pajama pants? In the summer? Usually they were fine wearing nothing but their boxers. Was Tae really that embarrassed to admit that he was uncomfortable?

If Seokjin hadn't been so bewildered by his brother's actions, he would have missed the hiss and wince from Tae as he dropped his jeans to the ground, his hand jerking towards his thigh before pulling back just as quickly.

Seokjin's heart stuttered, and he grabbed Taehyung's elbow before the younger teen had a chance to put his pajamas on. "Are you hurt?"

Taehyung turned his head away from Seokjin, his face flushing red. "No. I'm okay."

"Tae, if something – "

"I said I'm fine!"

Seokjin flinched at the outburst, retracting his hand from Taehyung's arm. Taehyung let out a frustrated noise and covered his face with his hands. "I'm sorry," the younger brother said. "I didn't mean to yell."

Seokjin's stomach was turning within him, unsettled by the sudden change in his brother's disposition. "Tae, please," Seokjin plead. He cupped his hands beneath Taehyung's chin and brought his face up. The younger teen had his eyes squeezed shut, but a tear escaped the corner of one. "You're scaring me."

Taehyung sniffled, his chin trembling. He opened his eyes, dislodging more tears. "I'm sorry," he whispered, voice wavering.

"Sorry for what?" Seokjin wiped a tear from his brother's cheek with his thumb.

After a few stuttering breaths inward, Taehyung sat on the edge of the bed and opened his knees. Seokjin's heart lurched. He tried not to let his mind race to conclusions, but he'd always feared something terrible would happen to his little brother. Nightmares of Taehyung being kidnapped, tortured, and raped came to him in a nauseating wave as Taehyung grabbed the end of his boxers and lifted it by an inch. He hesitated, letting out a soft sob.

When he couldn't continue, Seokjin knelt before him. He didn't want to know – but he had to. Please, he begged, please don't let it be that. He lifted his boxers towards Tae's groin, revealing a makeshift bandage – a soaked red and pink paper towel taped to his inner thigh.

Seokjin's body went rigid from shock as he realized what he was looking at. It wasn't what he'd feared – in fact, it wasn't anything that he'd even considered. With shaking fingers, Seokjin carefully peeled the tape back.

The paper towel pulled apart as Seokjin tugged on it, but he could already see what was hidden beneath. Three parallel cuts sliced into his inner thigh. The skin was red and inflamed around the wounds. The highest slash looked the most recent – maybe even done that day. The others looked to be a few days old, though none of them were healing as well as they should. Seokjin let out a soft whimper, putting a hand to his mouth.

Taehyung apologized over and over, his body shaking with quiet sobs, but Seokjin could hardly register his words. His mind had gone blank, numb, as he stared at the damage Taehyung had inflicted upon himself.

As surely as the blow to his head, Seokjin was left disoriented and broken. He took a few gasping breaths, trying to keep himself from breaking down entirely. He needed to stay calm. The bandage needed to be changed. Not trusting his legs to fully support him, Seokjin crawled over to the dresser and pulled gauze and saline solution from the lower drawer. Once he was back in front of his brother, Seokjin took a deep breath. Calm. He needed to be calm.

"Are you mad at me?" Taehyung winced as Seokjin started cleaning the gashes.

Mad at Taehyung? Of course not. Seokjin was mad at himself. Three cuts. Taehyung had cut himself three times before Seokjin finally noticed. How could he let something slip past his attention?  "No," he said with difficulty. "No, honey, I'm not mad at you." After he finished redressing the wound, Seokjin's shoulders slumped, and he looked up at Taehyung. His little brother's nose was cherry red, tears still staining his face. "Why?" he finally asked.

Taehyung scrunched up his face, fighting back more tears. "I wanted – t-to know – " He sobbed and hung his head in shame. "I wanted to know what it fe-felt like – when you're hurt."

Until that moment, Seokjin had believed he understood the meaning of pain. Through welts left by leather belts, broken fingers, and burns from a hot iron, none of it compared to the agony those words brought.

"I thought," Taehyung continued, rubbing at his eyes with the back of his wrist, "if I knew, then maybe I could help you better."

"No, no!" Seokjin wailed, covering his face with his hands. He couldn't stand to hear anymore. He was lost and alone in a barren wasteland of anguish. Taehyung had been his beacon of light – the one thing that helped keep Seokjin heading in the right direction. Instead, he'd dragged Taehyung in the wrong direction.

Taehyung slid off the bed to his knees and threw his arms around Seokjin, whispering a constant string of apologies. Seokjin held onto him, sobbing into his neck. Why did everything go wrong? No matter what he did, something terrible would happen. He was helpless – unable to help himself, unable to help Taehyung. Once, Seokjin believed the pain would end, yet he and Taehyung always managed to find themselves fractured a little bit more every day. It was only a matter of time until they shattered.

"I won't do it again," Taehyung said, his fingers curling in Seokjin's shaggy hair.

Hearing his promise didn't erase the fact that it had occurred. Seokjin had already failed. It was the best they had to work with, though, so Seokjin nodded. "Never. Please – God – don't."

"I won't, I won't." Taehyung pulled back, leaving a trail of kisses from Seokjin's ear, past his wet cheeks, and to his nose. He pressed his forehead against Seokjin's.

The older brother closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was exhausted. "What did you use to cut yourself?"

Taehyung pulled back, flushing red. He crawled over to the dresser and reached beneath it, pulling out a cloth with streaks of red on it. Seokjin's stomach was already tied in knots, and he became light headed when Taehyung handed him a straight razor.

"Tae," Seokjin whispered, staring down at it, "where did you get this?"

Taehyung fidgeted, not looking Seokjin in the eye. "Yoongi's dad's bathroom."

The older brother sighed and wrapped it up again. "You stole it?"

"I'm sorry," Taehyung whispered, his chin at his chest.

Seokjin cupped his hand against the back of Taehyung's head and pulled him close for a kiss. "I love you, Tae."

"Why?" Taehyung sniffled.

"Because I love you." Seokjin kissed him again. "And I don't ever want to see you hurt – especially not if you do it to yourself."

Taehyung nodded and rested his head on Seokjin's shoulder. "No more hurt."

Seokjin kissed his cheek and stood up. "I'm going to get rid of this. Get ready for bed."

The garbage can outside seemed like the best place to dispose of the blade. If he put it anywhere in the house, then Taehyung would find it again. On his way back inside, Seokjin paused at the opening into the kitchen. The collection of steak knives sat in their wooden block next to the microwave. Was he supposed to remove all sharp objects from the house? Their father would surely notice.

With great reluctance, Seokjin walked past the kitchen. He would need to check on Tae, keep an eye out for more cuts.

Taehyung was already in bed when Seokjin returned, the light turned off. Seokjin joined him, gathering the thin teen into his arms. They lay closer together than usual – if that was even possible. Seokjin could see Taehyung's eyes were open, though he couldn't make out his expression.

"Why didn't you clean it up properly?" Seokjin asked quietly. God knows Taehyung had plenty of practice cleaning a wound.

"I was afraid you'd notice if the stuff went missing." Shame tinted Taehyung's tiny voice, and he squeezed his eyes shut.

It had worked, unfortunately, though Seokjin wasn't sure if he'd have noticed the missing supplies if Taehyung had taken them. "Did you – " Seokjin hesitated, the question catching in his throat. He knew the answers would continue to stab into his heart, but he needed to know. "Did you do one of those today?"

Taehyung gave a soft squeak in the back of his throat and nodded.

Seokjin fought the urge to cry. "Was it only those three?"

Taehyung nodded again, but worry itched in Seokjin's head. He didn't want to doubt his brother, but the younger teen had already hidden something terrible from him. If he didn't check and Taehyung was lying, he could end up with an infection.

Reaching between their bodies, Seokjin brushed his fingers against the front of Taehyung's thighs. "May I?"

"I said I didn't – "

"I know." Seokjin kissed Taehyung's forehead. "Please?"

Taehyung hesitated, then reluctantly parted his legs just enough to let Seokjin slip his hand between them. Seokjin laid his palm flat and ran it up Tae's thigh. He moved slowly, afraid of what he might find. When his fingers slipped into Taehyung's boxers, the younger teen inhaled sharply, tensing against Seokjin, and for one panicked moment, Seokjin was ready to encounter another wound.

There was nothing there, though. Just smooth, unmarred skin. Seokjin sighed, his racing heart returning to normal, and he pulled his hand back. He pressed his forehead against Taehyung's like the younger teen had done to him earlier. "Thank you." Taehyung grunted in response.

His mind temporarily put at ease, Seokjin kissed Taehyung softly. Memories of the kiss the week before came back to him. Taehyung had been comforting Jin – comforting him in the best way he knew how.

Seokjin cupped Taehyung's cheek, their breaths soft on each other's face. His little brother's eyes were looking back at him, his expression still masked by the darkness. Anyone else looking upon Taehyung wouldn't be able to see the pain that he was in. Much like how Taehyung was the only person there for Seokjin, Seokjin was the only person there for Taehyung.

Brushing his thumb against Taehyung's cheek just like the younger teen had done for him, Seokjin f shifted forward to kiss his little brother. They let it last a little longer than usual, the tips of Taehyung's fingers sliding along Seokjin's chest as he drew them into a fist. If there was something else that Seokjin could do for Taehyung, he'd do it in an instant. He didn't know what to do, though, so he just kissed him, one long kiss that turned into two, then three.

Seokjin ended their kisses by pressing a quick one against where he knew Taehyung's forehead wrinkle was. The younger teen rolled over so quickly that Seokjin made a small noise of surprise. Tae didn't shun him, though – he grabbed Seokjin's arm and pulled it over his stomach, snuggling back into his brother's body.

Seokjin smiled and held Taehyung close, burying his nose into the soft brown hair in front of him. 

Chapter Text

The sheets were wrinkled beyond reason. Seokjin tried to smooth them out as he and Taehyung snapped the fitted one into place. He'd let them sit in the dryer all day while they had hung out with their friends earlier. With a sigh, he placed his hands on his hips and laughed softly. "I guess it can't be helped."

"It doesn't even matter," Taehyung said, wrapping his arms around Seokjin's middle. "We're just gonna cover it up with the blankets, and you're gonna toss and turn and mess it all up anyway."

Seokjin smiled and kissed Taehyung's forehead. "At least I don't talk in my sleep."

"I do not!" Taehyung said indignantly. He always denied the habit, but Seokjin had woken up on more than one occasion to Taehyung's nighttime ramblings. Sometimes it was humorous, like when Taehyung mumbled his plans for trapping Jimin in a Pokeball. Sometimes he had nightmares that Seokjin had to gently rouse him from.

"Come on, hurry up." Seokjin waved the flat sheet – or once-flat sheet – at his brother. "We're going to bed after we're done."

Taehyung gasped, gaping at Seokjin. "But we still have one more day of summer left. Why are we going to bed early?"

"Because," Seokjin said as they threw the wrinkled fabric over the bed, "if we get a head start on getting our schedules back on track, then you won't be tired for the first day of school." The older brother crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Unless you want to come home with a note about how you were falling asleep in class."

"That only happened once," Taehyung grumbled, tucking the sheets in as slowly as possible – no doubt to delay his inevitable bedtime.

A shiver ran through Seokjin's body at his brother's voice, and it took him a few seconds to realize he'd heard it through both ears. It was still muffled, but he definitely heard what Taehyung had said. The sound was foreign to him – he'd barely heard anything but a dull ringing for two months.

"Hey," he exclaimed in excitement, and Taehyung started, his eyes wide. Seokjin was about to break the good news, but looking at his brother reminded him of the secrets that were whispered in his ear on a daily basis. He shook his head, and smiled. "Nevermind. Forgot."

Taehyung rolled his eyes. He'd certainly picked up a lot of attitude since he'd hit teenaged years. Seokjin laughed and hugged the shorter teen. Soon Seokjin wouldn't be able to refer to Taehyung as "shorter." He'd gone through another growth spurt over the summer and was only a few inches shorter than Seokjin. Just two weeks ago Seokjin had brought him to his work to find some school clothes that fit. Thankfully he got them at a discount. "Bedtime," Seokjin said, patting Taehyung on the butt. "Come on, let's take a look."

Taehyung blushed and looked away. "I haven't cut anymore." Despite the quiet protest, he lay on his back, legs parted for Seokjin to sit between them. "How come you don't believe me?"

"I believe you." Seokjin leaned forward, hands on either side of Taehyung's head. "But I read that things like that are kind of like an addiction. Sometimes doing it doesn't feel like a choice." He lowered himself and kissed Taehyung softly, trying to ease his discomfort before sitting back and pulling up the ends of his boxers.

As the younger brother had promised, one thigh was still clear of any marks. The three cuts on the other side were almost completely healed, dead skin flaking off to reveal bright white scars. Part of one, however, had a freshly raw look to it.

"Stop scratching at it," Seokjin admonished. He grabbed some saline solution from the nightstand and dabbed a bit onto it.

"I didn't mean to," Taehyung said, crossing his arms. A faint blush had dusted his suntanned cheeks, and he refused to look down at Seokjin as the small wound was taken care of. "It itches, so I scratch it. I don't even realize I'm doing it until it hurts."

"Should we put another bandage on it?" Seokjin offered. He knew the almost painful discomfort of healing wounds all too well and how difficult it could be to keep his hands off it. "Maybe trim your nails every day."

"No," Taehyung whined, pushing his boxers back into place. "No bandages. The tape is even itchier and it rips out my pubes when I take it off."

"What pubes? You barely have anything down there." Seokjin snapped the elastic hem of his boxers playfully, and Taehyung blushed more, pushing his hand away. The older brother laughed and settled down beside Taehyung. "Okay. No bandages. Yet." He tapped Taehyung's nose but gave him his sternest look. "But if you keep scratching, then I'm putting one on you whether you like it or not."

Taehyung scrunched up his nose and grumbled his agreement as Seokjin snapped off the lamp. "It's too early to sleep," Taehyung muttered as they were covered in darkness. "I'm pretty sure the sun hasn't set yet."

Seokjin laughed and hushed him. "Just think," he said, wrapping his arms around Taehyung, "if you sleep now, then you'll have even more time to hang out tomorrow."

"What do you want to bet Yoongi won't get out of bed until eleven?" Taehyung pouted at Seokjin in the dark.

With a snort, Seokjin shook his head. "I'm not dumb enough to bet against that." His brother giggled, and Seokjin bumped their noses together. "I love you, Taehyung."

"Love you, too."

Instinctively, Seokjin turned his head to the side, hoping that Taehyung wouldn't forget his nightly whispers. As expected, his brother scooted closer, and Seokjin smiled in giddy anticipation.

Taehyung's deep voice gave Seokjin goosebumps, finally able to hear his whispered, "You're the love of my life."

Seokjin's heart swelled with affection at the little confession. It was muddy and almost indistinct, but now he knew what his brother was saying. All this time Seokjin had assumed Taehyung had been insulting him. Maybe he had on occasion – Seokjin wouldn't put it past him – but this time he was just showering Seokjin with love.

Seokjin resisted the urge to respond, not quite ready to give away the fact that he could hear. He could stand to hear a few more sweet things. Instead, he smiled as he always did, holding Taehyung close to his body and kissing him softly. Taehyung sighed and leaned into the kiss, his hand resting on the back of Seokjin's neck, the sides of their noses brushing together.

These long kisses had started as a form of comfort, something they would do for one another when they were particularly upset. At some point, they'd been integrated into their nighttime cuddles, a daily comfort they both enjoyed once the lights were out. The sensation was familiar now, a norm that hadn't been intended. Seokjin found that he had difficulties sleeping if Taehyung fell asleep before they could kiss.

Despite griping about how early it was, the kiss did its job and they fell asleep soon after.

 

 

It wasn't as bright as Seokjin was used to when he awoke the next morning. They'd gotten into the habit of sleeping in until the sun well into the sky, but the room's soft yellow glow told Seokjin that it was just after sunrise.

"Waking up?" Taehyung's sleepy voice sounding as adorable as ever.

"Unfortunately," Seokjin grumbled, rubbing his eye. Taehyung wasn't the only one who didn't want to be up early. He rolled onto his back, and Taehyung latched himself onto his arm, nuzzling into his shoulder.

Seokjin brushed his fingers against Taehyung's arm , rubbing the skin in short, soothing movements. It was okay to sleep in just a little, right? It was the last day of summer, after all. Besides, Seokjin didn't want to be the one to break the morning peace. It was just so comfortable to lay in bed with his brother.

Seokjin's hand slowed to a halt, sleep trying to drag him back down. He knew he shouldn't fall asleep – they had things to do today. They needed to make sure Taehyung had all his school supplies in order, and Yoongi's parents were having a barbeque later on. If they got their chores done quickly, and if Yoongi woke up in time, they'd be able to hang out before then, too.

Taehyung shifted, drawing Seokjin back to full wakefulness, but he didn't open his eyes. The younger teen pressed his lips against Seokjin's ear, and he felt another spike of excitement. "I had another dream about you," Taehyung whispered, his fingers tightening around Seokjin's arm.

"Hmm?" Seokjin smiled, unable to hide it any longer. "What sort of dream, baby brother?"

Taehyung gasped and threw himself backwards with a surprised squawk. He crashed off the side of the bed, dragging all the blankets with him.

Seokjin burst out laughing, holding a hand over his mouth. He couldn't have asked for a better reaction. "What are you doing?" he asked, leaning over to look at his brother on the ground.

Taehyung groaned, rubbing his butt. His face was bright red, and he glanced up at Seokjin with furtive eyes. "You can hear?"

Seokjin nodded, still giggling furiously.

"Since when?"

"Last night."

Taehyung gulped and pulled himself to his feet. "I'm sorry," he whispered, still red as an apple.

"Why? Have you been insulting me? Whispering bad words because you know I can't scold you?" Seokjin swung his legs over the edge of the bed and tapped Taehyung on the shoulder. "I should punish you on principle."

Taehyung brushed his hand away, but he didn't look entirely comforted.

"Oh, I'm just joking," Seokjin said, drawing Taehyung close for a hug. "Don't be all gloomy or you'll waste the last day of summer. You want some breakfast?"

Taehyung perked up, but he shook his head. "No. I'm gonna save myself for barbeque." He smacked his stomach a few times, drawing attention to his visible ribs.

"You can eat breakfast and have barbeque," Seokjin pointed out, not wanting his brother to go hungry.

"No," Taehyung insisted. "If I eat now then I might not be hungry later. I want to eat as much barbeque as possible."

Seokjin sighed in resignation. "Fine. But if your stomach growls even once, I'm going to force food down your throat."

 

 

The first on their to-do list for the morning was collecting school supplies. Seokjin had avoided looking at the list of required items until the last minute possible. That wasn't the smartest way to deal with his stress, but he hadn't wanted to think about how much money it would cost to fully prepare his little brother for school. Looking down at it now, he found himself chewing at the raw skin of his fingers. Hopefully they'd be able to salvage the remainders of last year's supplies.

They scoured the house, collecting everything they could find and depositing it in a pile on the coffee table. Thankfully, Taehyung's three-ring binders were still functional. There was an odd assortment of pencils, and Seokjin spent a few minutes sharpening the few that were broken in half. Three of the five pens they found still had ink in them, so that was good as well. Seokjin would take one and leave the other two for Tae.

"You can't let Jimin draw in your notebooks," Seokjin said as Taehyung pulled pages from one of his partially used notebooks. There were two that still had useable pages left, so Seokjin could probably get away with only buying one new one for now. He'd get another once Taehyung used one up.

"Sorry," Taehyung mumbled, stuffing the two notebooks into his recently mended backpack. The strap had broken when Taehyung had used it to haul video games from Jimin's house to Yoongi's a month ago, but Seokjin had sewed it up just fine. The backpack had lasted three years so far, and it would last another three years if Seokjin had anything to say about it.

Once they found what they could, they took a quick bus trip to the store. The aisles of school supplies were filled with other kids, all excitedly picking out folders and notebooks with their favorite cartoon or movie characters on them and the most colorful items. Seokjin slowly walked down the aisle with the list, chewing on his finger as he checked all the prices. Even with his discount, Taehyung's clothes had taken up quite a bit of the money he'd been saving over the summer.

Last year, Taehyung had been like the other kids, running through the aisle and begging Seokjin for anything and everything. Whenever a particular item drew the interest of more than one child, Taehyung decided that he, too, needed it. He'd told Seokjin that he was trying to be like the cool kids. It broke Seokjin's heart every time he had to turn down the more expensive items in favor of the plain items that cost significantly less.

This time, he held hands with Seokjin, occasionally pulling the list towards him so he, too, could see what he needed. Then, he would seek out the cheapest item and deposit it into the basket. Seokjin didn't know what hurt worse – turning down Taehyung's enthusiastic requests, or seeing him be so mindful of his budget. He couldn't help but feel like Taehyung was starting to lose his childhood like Seokjin had. Begging for the newest and coolest things was something that all kids did, and Seokjin wanted Taehyung to be normal, just like everyone else.

Seokjin grabbed two cheap calculators off the shelf and held them up. "Which one?" Taehyung looked between the two with a cute and thoughtful look on his face before tapping the red one. Seokjin threw both of them in the basket, and laughed at Tae's surprised look. "The blue one's for me."

Taehyung paused in front of a selection of folders. He touched an Iron Man one with a look of longing. Without asking to have it, Taehyung sighed and moved three stacks down and grabbed three plain folders. When he dropped them in the basket, he looked up at Seokjin with a forced smile, and the older brother felt like he'd been punched in the gut. Taehyung didn't deserve this.

Unable to resist, Seokjin grabbed the Iron Man folder and added it to their collection. Taehyung's eyes widened, and his smile stretched into one of excitement. He hugged Jin and thanked him profusely.

"Okay," Taehyung said, looking back at the list. "Now we just need to get art supplies."

"Art supplies?" Seokjin took the list again, but there was nothing on it about art.

Taehyung fidgeted, looking nervous. "I'm sorry," he whispered, lowering his gaze. "I forgot to grab the list, but it's pretty basic stuff, like colored pencils and a sketchbook."

Seokjin looked down into their basket. With those items alone they were already close to their budget. He tried not to let his concern show as he jerked his head towards the end of the aisle where the art supplies were stocked. "Let's go see how much they cost."

Unfortunately, even the lowest end sketchbook and colored pencils cost more than Seokjin had been hoping. "We're gonna have to put a few things back," Seokjin said with regret, tapping the sketchbook. "We're a few dollars short." The knelt and sifted through the basket, trying to locate items that could be sacrificed – a packet of pencils, an extra eraser, and Jin's blue calculator. It was difficult to decide what was necessary and what wasn't, and Seokjin chewed on his finger. Maybe Taehyung would be able to go without a sketchbook. Would they have spares at school? Would Taehyung be laughed at for not having his own sketchbook?

Seokjin's stomach lurched as Taehyung picked out the Iron Man folder. He wanted to yank it back, tell Taehyung that they were buying it no matter what – but there was nothing else that they could justify giving up. Tae looked down at it, his chin wrinkling with a pitiful pout, then stood and returned it to the shelf. Seokjin clenched a hand into a fist, but forced his most comforting look he could manage when Taehyung rejoined him. Being poor sucked.

 

 

"Yoongi says he has to help clean up his house," Seokjin said as they stepped through the front door. "We can start walking over there in about an hour, okay?"

Taehyung nodded, walking into the living room. He'd been morose the entire trip home, though he always smiled when he noticed Seokjin looking at him. He wasn't nearly as good at masking his emotions as he thought he was.

Seokjin sat on the couch as Taehyung emptied the bags onto the table and began packing the stuff into his backpack. When he grabbed the colored pencils, though, Seokjin caught his arm. Tae looked up at him in surprise, but Seokjin just smiled and slid onto the floor next to him. He pulled the plain folders out of Taehyung's backpack and cracked open the pencil case.

"Come on," Seokjin said, handing a red pencil to his little brother, "let's decorate these."

A small smile formed on Taehyung's face, but it quickly grew into a broad grin as they started doodling. "These are going to be the coolest folders ever," Taehyung proclaimed earnestly. "Jimin's going to be so jealous."

"You could always doodle on Jimin's folder, too," Seokjin suggested, working as diligently as possible. Crooked fingers and thick, scarred skin meant that he wasn't as dexterous as Taehyung, but he wasn't about to let that stop him from making a little alpaca doodle.

"Why would I do that?" Taehyung sounded positively baffled. "Then I wouldn't have the coolest folders!"

Seokjin laughed and sat upright, popping his back. He leaned over to inspect the little character drawn all over Taehyung's folder. It had a lopsided heart for a head with a blue body covered in yellow polka-dots. "What is that?"

"Tata," Taehyung said, not looking up from his sixth rendition of the character. "He can transform into anything he wants to. See? Snake, dog, stegosaurus, doctor, Pikachu. And Iron Man." He pointed to each one as he listed them off, pausing for dramatic effect on the last one.

"Oh, that's perfect!" Seokjin hugged Taehyung tightly and kissed his forehead. He lifted his folder and showed off his cartoon alpaca. "This is RJ."

"Does he change shape?"

"No, but he wears pajamas." Seokjin pointed to a tiny doodle in the bottom corner, and Taehyung burst out laughing.

"I love it." Taehyung sighed wistfully and hugged both folders against his chest. "These are the best. Thank you." He knocked Seokjin over in his rush to give him a kiss.

"Whoa there," Seokjin said with a laugh as his brother pinned him to the ground and showered him with kisses.

Taehyung vocalized each kiss with an exaggerated smack of his lips. "You are the bestest, most awesomest brother – no – person who's ever existed." He sat back on Seokjin's lap and looked down at him with a sincere expression. "I'm serious."

Seokjin reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind Taehyung's ear. "I know you are."

A fleeting expression crossed Taehyung's face that Seokjin couldn't identify. He only had a few seconds to process it before Taehyung leaned forward and kissed him. It was one of those long kisses that made Seokjin feel warm inside, and he wrapped his arms around Taehyung. After a few more seconds, the younger brother slid off Seokjin onto the ground, snuggling into his chest, an arm resting over Seokjin's waist.

In that moment, Seokjin didn't care that they were poor. Even without the Iron Man folder, at least he'd managed to make Taehyung smile and laugh. Closing his eyes, Seokjin ran his fingers through Taehyung's hair, enjoying the warmth of his body. The sleepiness from waking up so early in the morning started catching up to Seokjin.

A chime from Taehyung's phone made the younger brother flinch, and he giggled. He, too, had apparently shared Seokjin's need for a nap. Taehyung grabbed his phone from the table. "Jimin says he's on his way to Yoongi's."

Seokjin took a deep breath, smiling as he sat up. "Okay. Let's get going."

 

 

The grill was already fired up when the brothers arrived. As they neared the house, Seokjin took a deep breath, excited to eat the delicious food. He'd have to be careful not to eat too much – it didn't take a lot for him to overeat and give himself a stomach ache.

The sound of his brother's stomach growling drew Seokjin's attention. Taehyung grinned sheepishly, hands over his belly. They definitely should have had something for breakfast, even if it had just been small.

"Tae! Jin!" Jimin shouted at them, waving his arms from the cloth hammock in the front lawn. Seokjin tried to suppress any emotion response that threatened to bubble up when he realized that Yoongi was in the hammock with him. The younger teen struggled to get up, the cloth swing rocking back and forth. Yoongi protested loudly, trying to hold onto the edges for support, but Jimin managed to tilt it enough to send them crashing to the ground.

Seokjin jogged over, chest tight with worry, but the two were just laughing, despite rubbing away any pains they may have had. The eldest sighed in relief as Jimin jumped up and grabbed Taehyung's hand, dragging him to a table of chips and drinks.

Yoongi stood, brushing at grass stains on the side of his shorts. "I asked Dad to work on the hotdogs, first," he said, motioning to a pile of buns near where Jimin and Taehyung were raiding the snacks.

Seokjin's heart skipped a beat. Hotdogs were his favorite. Yoongi knew that. Of course he did – he was Seokjin's best friend. His stomach growled in response and he blushed furiously, but Yoongi just laughed. He looked so beautiful when he laughed.

"My ear is getting better," Seokjin said with excitement. Aside from Taehyung's whispers, it felt nice to hear that laugh through both ears.

"That's great!" Yoongi lit up, clapping Seokjin on the shoulder enthusiastically. "You figure out what Taehyung was saying to you?"

"Just that he loves me," Seokjin said, rolling his eyes, but he couldn't help but smile. "Now that he's older I think he's embarrassed to say it out loud, so he was doing it secretly."

"Aww," Yoongi teased with a playful smirk. "I was kind of hoping you'd catch him calling you an asshole or something."

Seokjin bristled, pursing his lips. "I'm not." He could only pretend to be mad for a few seconds, though – Yoongi's expression was just too radiant.

"I know you're not." Yoongi's smirk grew wider. "You can hardly say 'asshole' without blushing."

Seokjin crossed his arms defiantly. "That's not true. I've said it plenty of times." He huffed when Yoongi raised an eyebrow. "You're an asshole."

Yoongi let out a loud laugh, the sort of laugh that made Seokjin lightheaded and his heart race. "See?" Yoongi said, pointing at Seokjin's cheeks. "You're blushing."

With an embarrassed whine, Seokjin covered his face. Of course he was blushing, but it was for an entirely different reason than Yoongi suspected. Curse him for being so perfect. Yoongi pulled his hands from his face, but now he had a look of concern as he inspected Seokjin's fingers.

"Stressed about school?" he asked, noting the fresh wounds.

Seokjin yanked his hand back, looking away in shame. School, yes, among other things, but Seokjin couldn't admit that he was responsible for buying all of Taehyung's school supplies. "Yeah. I hate school."

Yoongi smiled and took his hand again, this time in a friendly way. "Don't worry. I'll be there for you. Maybe we'll have more classes together."

Seokjin perked up at that thought. That would be lovely. Freshman year they'd only had one class together, and sophomore year they'd had two.

Yoongi's parents came out of the house, one with a large plate of uncooked meat, and the other with a platter of fruit and veggies. With a gleeful laugh, Yoongi joined the two youngest teens at the table, Seokjin following close behind.

 

 

"I'm dying," Taehyung said, flopping onto his back on the grass. His stomach protruded visibly beneath his shirt from all the food he'd eaten.

Seokjin grunted in agreement, sitting next to his brother. He, too, had eaten more than he should have. It was impossible to stop eating when the meat was grilled to perfection, the chips salty and addicting, the fruit sweet, and the vegetables satisfying. He'd continued to munch away even when his stomach had been begging him to stop.

"That was so good," Jimin groaned happily, collapsing on the ground with them. Even his snacking had slowed to grabbing a chip every few minutes from the bag he'd been toting around. The sun was setting above the group, leaving the twilight stars twinkling far above them.

Yoongi came out of the house and crawled into the hammock with a sigh. He smiled when he saw Seokjin looking up at him, and he motioned for the older teen to join him.

Heart jumping, Seokjin scrambled up and over to the hammock. He hesitated, nervous about being so close to Yoongi. They'd sat together on the couch, hugged on occasion, but this was something entirely different. Gingerly setting his weight onto the cloth, he settled down into the space that Yoongi had shifted to clear for him. And just like that, he was laying with Yoongi, just like Jimin had been. With a guilty spike of satisfaction, Seokjin imagined that Jimin was jealous.

It took a few minutes of his mind racing for it to really sink in. He could feel Yoongi's body next to his. The younger teen's arm was beneath Seokjin's head, the swinging cloth almost too small for both of them. His heart was pounding so hard he was sure Yoongi would hear it. Maybe that was okay, though. Maybe Yoongi would hear it and he would know exactly why it was aflutter. Maybe they would even get to kiss.

Seokjin closed his eyes, ignoring the discomfort of his full stomach, and thinking only of how happy he was. His stress from shopping early that day seemed miniscule to the joy he felt when hanging out with his friends. Seeing Taehyung laugh and play with Jimin, spraying each other with the water hose, made everything feel alright. And now he was with Yoongi, pressed up tight against side. It was so similar to how he and Taehyung slept that Seokjin knew he would fall asleep.

Sometimes life was shitty, but for right now it was perfect, and that was good enough for Seokjin.

"Okay, boys!" Yoongi's mother's voice rang clearly through the twilight air as she burst through the front door, three shopping bags in hand. Both Yoongi and Seokjin jumped so violently in surprise that they almost overturned the hammock. "Come on, come on, gather 'round." She waited impatiently with a grin plastered on her face. It was obvious where Yoongi got his adorably gummy smile.

"Here you go," she said cheerily, handing Seokjin a bag, then another to Taehyung, and the third to Jimin.

Confused, Seokjin peered into the bag. His jaw fell, taking in an assortment of school supplies. He looked up in shock, the woman still beaming before him. Embarrassment flickered in his stomach, but he looked to the side and saw Jimin also pulling out his own collection of things. He and Taehyung excitedly showed off the different colorful pens and pencils, fresh notebooks and – Taehyung screeched with joy, standing up – an Iron Man folder.

Seokjin slowly sifted through his own items. They weren't as colorful as the ones his brother got, but they were all the things he needed. It was practical and perfect. He pulled the bag to his chest and emphatically thanked Yoongi's mother. The smile he received in response was one of the most beautiful things Seokjin had ever seen. He wondered if his mother had ever smiled at him like that.

 

 

"Maybe sticker tag was a mistake," Taehyung groaned, sliding into their bed. It was past their bedtime. The walk home had taken longer than usual, their stomachs still full and Taehyung exhausted from chasing Jimin around the yard, slapping stickers onto each other.

"You think?" Seokjin laughed and sat next to his brother, pulling the last of the stickers from the back of his shirt.

"I do, in fact, think," Taehyung retorted with a cheeky smile.

Seokjin kissed his forehead. "Brat." He pushed on his side, trying to get him back up. "Pack your stuff into your bag and lay out your clothes for tomorrow. I want you to be ready first thing in the morning."

Taehyung groaned and rolled off the bed. He took his time putting it all away, inspecting each item with glee before switching it out with whatever old item he currently had. The plastic containers full of leftover food in their fridge gave Seokjin a sense of peace as he got ready for bed. They would make the perfect meal for their first day of school.

"This is my favorite one," Taehyung said softly.

Seokjin looked over, expecting to see the Iron Man folder, but Taehyung was smiling fondly at the one with RJ. It was Seokjin's turned to be overwhelmed with affection for his brother, and he dropped to his knees, tackling Taehyung to the floor. The younger brother giggled and quietly protested, not wanting to wake their father, pushing at Seokjin's shoulders as he rained kisses on his face.

"What was it you said earlier?" Seokjin said, pinning Taehyung to the ground. "The bestest, most awesomest person in the world?" He leaned down and kissed Taehyung softly. "Pretty sure that person is you."

Taehyung shook his head, his face flushed pink. "Nope. It's you."

"Don't you know you're not supposed to talk back to your elders?" Seokjin tickled Taehyung, making him buck and squirm between his legs. His lips were pinched closed, but Seokjin could still hear his muffled squeals and laughter. He managed to roll onto his stomach, and Seokjin promptly sat on the younger teen's butt, effectively trapping him.

Taehyung grunted, his laughter coming to a halt, but he continued to struggle around. A jolt of pleasure shot up Seokjin's body from his groin as his brother squirmed against him. With a gasp, he quickly dismounted the younger teen, burning with shame.

Taehyung breathed heavily, lowering his forehead to the ground. Seokjin quickly stood and pulled out clothes for both of them, trying to pretend as though he hadn't just been aroused by his brother touching him. It wasn't as though he was fully aroused – it was just a split second of sensation. It meant nothing. He didn't have full control over his body, after all.

Seokjin glanced back at Taehyung. He was awkwardly getting up, slowly pushing himself up on his arms and drawing on knee beneath him at a time. Seokjin frowned, worry shooting through him. Had Tae cut himself again? Before he could say something, Taehyung grabbed his groin and adjusted himself – adjusted an erection.

Seokjin whipped his head forward again, gripping the clothes and closing his eyes in embarrassment. It seemed as though their little tousle on the ground hadn't just affected Seokjin. Guilt fell upon his shoulders. He needed to be more careful of how they interacted now that Taehyung had hit puberty. He, too, had no control over his body. The most Seokjin could do for Tae was preserve his dignity by pretending he hadn't noticed.

"I – uh – is this one okay?" Seokjin asked, trying to keep his voice steady. He held a shirt and a pair of jeans to the side, letting Taehyung look at them without Seokjin turning around.

"Yeah, it's fine." Taehyung's response was too quick. Seokjin doubted he'd even taken the time to look at the clothes.

The older brother acted busy until he heard Taehyung undress and climb into bed. Seokjin went to join him, stopping by the bedside table to turn off the lamp.

"Hey," Taehyung said earnestly, laying a hand on Seokjin's to stop him. He looked up at him with curious eyes. "Aren't you going to check me?"

Seokjin hesitated, blushing at the thought of checking his brothers thighs after accidentally arousing him. He couldn't imagine how embarrassing that would be for the younger teen. "Did you cut yourself?" he asked.

Taehyung fidgeted subtly and shook his head.

Seokjin leaned down and kissed the top of his head. "I believe you. I don't have to check you anymore."

Something akin to disappointment flickered on Taehyung's face, but he didn't say anything. They settled down comfortably together in the dark, wrapped up in each other just like any other night. Even with the awkwardness just a few minutes before, at least it didn't have any lasting effects.

"Did you have fun today?" Seokjin asked, reflecting on the busy day they'd had. Despite the melancholy start, the positive far outweighed the negative.

"Oh yeah," Taehyung said enthusiastically. His grin was visible even in the dark. "I almost puked I was so full."

Seokjin snorted. Tickling his brother had been a poor decision. If he hadn't accidentally gotten aroused, he would have made his brother sick. Neither scenario was particularly appealing. If he puked, though, Seokjin would have had to take care of the mess. At least with how things turned out, he didn't have to take care of his brother's erection.

An image crossed Seokjin's mind of the implication of that thought, and he squeezed his eyes shut in a moment of true panic. No – no – no, he would not think of his brother that way. Not that he was thinking about his brother that way, just that it was a random thought. He had random thoughts on his mind all the time – like beating up the bullies at school. Just because he thought about it doesn't mean that he was going to do it.

"...and Jimin is determined to get a boyfriend this year, but I told him to be careful." Taehyung had continued chatting, but Seokjin had been too distracted to pick up what the first part of that thought was. He hummed in response, and thankfully it was the right thing to do. Taehyung went on about the conversations that he and Jimin had until he'd exhausted all his topics. He looked over at Seokjin with a smile. "What about you?"

Butterflies burst in Seokjin's stomach, thinking back to cuddling with Yoongi on the hammock. It had only been a few minutes, but those minutes were enough to last a lifetime. Well, maybe not a lifetime. Seokjin definitely needed to do it again. "It was perfect."

"Yeah, hanging out with friends is nice."

"It's not just that," Seokjin said, drawing his arms tighter around his brother. "There was something that felt different today, you know? I mean, Yoongi and I..." He blushed, trailing off. He and Yoongi what? Was spending a few minutes together really something to gush over. "I really love him, you know?"

Taehyung hummed quietly, and it didn't surprise Seokjin that he didn't have much to say about it. The younger teen still rolled his eyes and made disgusted noises during sappy moments in movies. Still, he couldn't help but gush. The day had been too good. "I was thinking about how nice it would be to kiss him. I think about it a lot. I know it's stupid but – I just really want to kiss him."

This time Taehyung didn't respond at all, and Seokjin blushed in embarrassment. Maybe it was too much to be talking to his little brother about. "Sorry," he whispered.

"It's okay." Taehyung said, his voice low and tone difficult to discern.

For a few minutes, neither of them said anything, and Seokjin was sure that Taehyung had fallen asleep. He'd just started to feel disappointed that they would miss their nighttime kiss when Taehyung sat up and leaned over Seokjin, pressing a hard kiss against his mouth. Seokjin made a muffled noise of surprise, then chuckled. The kiss was more aggressive than usual, pushing Seokjin's head into his pillow, but Seokjin accepted it without question.

Unrelenting in the show of affection, Taehyung shifted, sliding a leg between Seokjin's. The elder drew in a quick breath as a thigh brushed the hem of his boxers. Thankfully it wasn't close enough to touch his groin, but still too close for comfort. It didn't mean anything – Taehyung was just trying to get comfortable. Usually when they kissed they were both on their sides. This was a different position. Much different.

Before Seokjin could carefully push Taehyung from him, the younger teen ended his first kiss and followed it up without hesitation with a second, then a third, a fourth. Their lips barely parted between each one, leaving Seokjin breathless. Having satiated his need for attention, Taehyung drew back and snuggled against Seokjin's chest, his leg still draped over Seokjin's.

"Goodnight, Jin," Taehyung mumbled, sounding truly exhausted. "I love you."

Seokjin licked his lips, uncomfortably aware that he could distinguish the taste of his brother's lips apart from his own. His throat was dry, but he tried not to think too much into it. The kisses were just for comfort. "I love you, too, little baby brother."

Just for comfort.

Chapter Text

It was too early when Seokjin woke up. Even more so than the day before. The brothers let out twin cries of distress when the alarm went off, protesting against the very concept of consciousness.

"I hate school," Taehyung whined, latching onto Seokjin. "Don't make me go."

Seokjin grunted in sympathy and ran his fingers through Taehyung's hair. They caught on a few tangles, which Seokjin attempted to take care of, but there was too much for him to deal with on his own. He pushed Taehyung up. "Go on, go brush your hair."

Taehyung mumbled something in response, but trundled out of the bedroom without protest. Seokjin yawned and sat up, stretching out his sore muscles. The bed was thoroughly worn out, a dip in the center that always drew them towards it even when trying to sleep side by side. The door across the hallway drew Seokjin's attention – Taehyung's old room. That's right, Taehyung had a perfectly good bed in there. He could probably swap them out. Maybe he'd do that after school before Taehyung got home. It'd be a nice surprise.

After getting dressed, Seokjin stopped by the bathroom to see Taehyung standing in front of the mirror, eyes closed, holding his toothbrush unmoving in his mouth. Seokjin giggled and kissed the side of his brother's head. Tae's eyes snapped open with a gasp and began brushing again vigorously, as though he wasn't aware that he'd dozed off standing upright.

"Hurry up. We're leaving for Jimin's in twenty minutes." Seokjin squeezed Taehyung's shoulder before heading out to the kitchen. Humming a quiet tune, he pulled Taehyung's lunchbox from a shelf. All he could think about was the night before. Cuddling with Yoongi had been like a dream. Now that it happened once, it was bound to happen again. If they cuddled again, Seokjin would definitely confess his feelings.

Seokjin opened the fridge and paused, frowning. The containers of leftover barbeque weren't where he'd left them. He looked around, but the fridge was sparse, so it wasn't as though it would be hiding behind anything. Seokjin stood, then sighed. The containers were sitting next to the sink, empty. Their father must have found them before he went to work that morning.

Trying not to let his frustration get the better of him, Seokjin looked back in the fridge. No milk for cereal. That was okay, they had bread. They could have a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and for lunch. That wasn't uncommon. It wasn't the best, but it was better than nothing. When Seokjin opened the bag of bread, the sharp scent of mold wafted out. Seokjin flinched, holding it at arm's length.

For a moment, Seokjin just held it, trying to keep his thoughts on the night before. It had been a good day, and he wasn't about to let this bring him down. He forced the memory of Yoongi to the forefront of his mind as he put Taehyung's lunchbox away.

Seokjin glanced over at the freezer, visualizing the plethora of frozen dinners in there. The ringing in his ear seemed to intensify, and Seokjin shuddered. No. He would not give in to the urge to take on.

He reminded himself of Jimin and Taehyung shrieking as they sprayed each other with water as he pulled out the jar of peanut butter. At least that didn't go bad.

Taehyung trundled in as Seokjin scooped out some of the peanut butter. He looked at Jin, then to the sink. His shoulders slumped when he saw the dishes, more so when Seokjin handed him the spoon. He took it without question, though, and sat at the table to eat his breakfast – a heaping spoonful of peanut butter and a glass of water. It was better than nothing.

 

 

Four classes.

Jin had four classes with Yoongi. He didn't know what was better, having four classes with his friend, or the reaction Yoongi had when they found out. His face lit up like a sunny day and he grabbed in an excited hug, jumping up and down. It was enough of a thrill for Seokjin to forget about the difficult morning, if only for a short while.

Unfortunately, that came back to him at lunch when he remembered to returned the freshly washed containers back to Yoongi. The other teen eyed them suspiciously. "You ate it all already?"

Seokjin laughed in an attempt to hide his nervousness. "Yeah. We were actually pretty hungry this morning. Taehyung ate most of it. I think he's going through a growth spurt." The lunch room was thankfully loud enough to mask the growling of his stomach that would have given away his lie.

"Wish I could get one," Yoongi said bitterly, and Seokjin laughed. "I'm serious! Jimin's going to get taller than me before he hits high school. That'll be humiliating."

"I don't think Jimin will – " Seokjin stopped, noting Yoongi's gaze had locked on to something, his eyes narrowing. The elder turned to see what he was glaring at, but there was nothing special of note. "What?"

Yoongi discreetly pointed at a student walking between some tables nearby. "That's Jinhyung."

"Who?"

"He's an asshole." Yoongi continued watching him. Oddly, when the teen looked their way, Yoongi's face turned friendly with his cute gummy smile, and he waved at him before immediately sinking back down to a scowl when he turned away. "Jimin knows him because of his mom's boyfriend. Jimin has a crush on him."

Seokjin looked down at the table, his finger tracing a small blemish on its surface. "Is that what makes him an asshole?" he mumbled.

Yoongi looked at him, his eyes widening. "What? No – I – " He pale face turned pink, and he started unpacking his lunchbox in a hurry. "I don't like Jimin anymore," he asserted quietly. "That guy's just a dick."

There was nothing wrong with Yoongi being protective of Jimin. It shouldn't have made Seokjin feel uncomfortable. Yet here he was, his empty stomach feeling worse than it had just a few moments before.

"What do you have for lunch?"

Seokjin looked up as Yoongi changed the subject. He hesitated, glancing at Yoongi's lunchbox. If he asked for some, he knew Yoongi would give it without question. "Um, actually," Seokjin whispered, struggling between his pride and his hunger, "I brought some money today. I was going to buy a lunch."

The younger teen scrunched up his nose. "School food? Yuck. Suit yourself."

A pang of envy and frustration hit Seokjin hard as he got up. It wasn't an emotion that often came to him when he was with Yoongi, but there was something about his dismissal of school food that cut him deep. School food was delicious – all food was delicious when there wasn't any. Yoongi didn't know what it was like to be two days from payday without anything but peanut butter to eat.

It wasn't Yoongi's fault, though. Seokjin always reminded himself of that whenever he had those thoughts. Yoongi couldn't help that his parents were well off. Even though Yoongi insisted that they weren't rich, Seokjin was pretty sure he'd never gone a day in his life without a meal.

The scent of food was overwhelming by the counters. Teens lined up in front of the different sections, each one serving something different. When he did have money, Seokjin usually went to the burger section, but only got a serving of fries. The serving was massive, and the conglomeration of salt, grease, and carbs was enough to keep Seokjin satisfied for the rest of the day.

Today he didn't have money, so he could not get the fries. Today, he would make a show of looking at the menu boards before going back to Yoongi and telling him he wasn't all that hungry so nothing looked good. It was a difficult lie to tell – everything looked good. He stared up at the boards but wasn't paying attention to them. He counted, slowly bobbing his head as he did so to maintain a steady beat. Sixty seconds should be enough.

A passing student bumped into Seokjin, and he flinched back. The other teen hardly spared him a look before continuing on his way, not bothering with an apology. As he left, something fell behind him. Seokjin's eyes widened, and he quickly picked up the few dollar bills that had dropped to the ground. He looked up, wondering if he should give the kid his money back, but his stomach growled as though consciously begging him to keep it.

Looking around to see if anyone had seen him pick up the money, Seokjin crumpled them in his fist, terrified that someone would take it away. He shuffled away from the crowded area so he could inspect the stolen money. Three dollars. Not much, but it felt like a fortune. The bills felt like they were burning his skin in his shame for keeping it. He knew it was wrong, but he was starving.

Seokjin glanced at the burger section, the salty scent of the fries calling out to him. He stared for a moment longer, nervously picking at the skin around his nailbeds. No, he had more important things to spend his money on. Steeling himself against his hunger, Seokjin joined the line for the sandwich section.

Still nervous about being caught with money that was not his, Seokjin chewed, his eyes constantly surveying his surroundings. He waited impatiently – as soon as he paid, then no one would be able to take the money away from him. One by one, the other students picked out their food and left until finally it was Seokjin's turn.

The girl behind the counter was a senior, one he'd seen before but never interacted with. That made ordering a bit easier – at least she wasn't one of his bullies. Mouth dry, Seokjin took a deep breath before nervously whispering, "Bagel, please."

"That it?" she asked, eyes bright. She seemed friendly, but that would change if she knew that Seokjin had stolen the money.

Seokjin glanced at the case with plastic-wrapped bagels, noting their cost. "And cream cheese."

"Coming right up." The girl handed both items to Seokjin, exchanging it with his money. She didn't ask him where he'd gotten it.

Feeling exhilarated, Seokjin rushed away, the food clutched tight to his chest. He was starving and would have stopped right there to devour it, but he hadn't purchased it for himself. It was for Taehyung. Seokjin would have to go the rest of the day without food, but it was easier knowing that Taehyung wouldn't go hungry.

A hand grabbed Seokjin's shoulder and shoved him to the side. With a grunt, he slammed against the wall, nearly crushing the bagel. Shaking, he looked up to see three older teens standing with casual poses, cocky grins on their faces. Seokjin cringed away, snapping his eyes back to the ground.

"What have you got there?" The middle one, Jason, had a loud and commanding voice. He'd been Seokjin's bully since he'd entered high school. No matter where he went, Jason attracted followers – even people who'd never met him before.

Seokjin shook his head, clutching his food close to him, internally begging for the bullies not to take it away. Taehyung needed to eat.

"Not gonna tell me?" Jason took a step closer, and Seokjin shrank down against the wall. "Because I'm pretty sure I heard you call it a 'b-b-bagel.'" He and the other two laughed as he mimicked Seokjin's stutter.

Whole body shaking, Seokjin lifted his elbow to block Jason's hand as he reached for the bagel. No, this was Taehyung's. He would not let someone take it from him. He couldn't let someone take it away..

Jason smiled, but his eyes narrowed in anger. "Getting a backbone now, are you?" He leaned closer and Seokjin whimpered, huddling even lower. "Didn't think so." He went to grab for it again, but this time Seokjin knocked his hand away.

"You little shit," Jason growled, sending a shiver of pure terror down Seokjin. Images of his father standing over him flashed in Seokjin's mind. The older teen grabbed Seokjin by the collar of his shirt, yanking him closer. "Don't make this difficult."

Before Jason could do anything else, something rammed into him, sending him stumbling to the side. Seokjin cried out in fear as he was yanked along with him, but was thankfully released before he fell.

"Get the fuck away from him," Yoongi snarled, his fists clenched at his sides. His shoulders rose and fell noticeably as he huffed out angry breaths. He was a good head shorter than the older teen, but that didn't stop him from grabbing Jason's shirt and slamming him against the wall.

Seokjin reeled back, his precious cargo still clutched tight against his chest. "Yoongi," he begged quietly, but his friend didn't acknowledge him at all.

"The fuck is wrong with you?" Jason tried to pry Yoongi's hands away from him, but Yoongi just shoved him against the wall again.

"Don't fucking touch him," Yoongi seethed, "or I swear to God I will beat your fucking ass." The short teen grunted as Jason's friends yanked him backwards, throwing him to the ground. Undeterred, Yoongi shot back up and made for Jason again, but the two grabbed him, the three quickly turning into a mess of thrown elbows, grunts of pain, and swearing.

Petrified, Seokjin slid down the wall, drawing his knees up as high as he could manage and holding his hands over his ears. A crowd had gathered, some shouting in an attempt to stop the fight, others cheering them on, but they parted as a few teachers forced their way through. They each grabbed a teen and pulled them apart, yelling something Seokjin couldn't make out.

Held firmly on the shoulder by one of the teachers, Yoongi was escorted away. He glanced over at Seokjin and gave him a soft smile before disappearing into the crowd. Seokjin watched him go, feeling sick to his stomach – Yoongi was going to be punished because of him.

After the fight had been broken up, the crowd dispersed quickly. Seokjin kept his eyes low, not wanting to see if they were looking at him with pity or with disdain. Once the area in front of him was clear of feet, Seokjin uncurled himself and looked down at his bagel. It was squished, but intact. Ashamed that he had stolen the money and guilty that he'd caused Yoongi to get in a fight, at least Seokjin knew that his little brother wouldn't go hungry. It was better than nothing.

 

 

It had been a few months since Seokjin had used the toaster, so he cleaned it out in preparation for the bagel. Taehyung would be home in a few minutes and Seokjin wanted the bagel to be warm and smothered in cream cheese the moment he walked through the door.

Despite having gotten detention, Yoongi certainly was resilient. He'd sauntered into their class after lunch with a smug look and a bruise on his face, proudly telling Seokjin his punishment, then stared down anyone who even looked their way as though daring them to start something. Seokjin couldn't help but smile even as he chewed on his finger, watching the bagel toast. Feeling bad about Yoongi being protective over Jimin was silly. Yoongi was even more protective of Jin.

As Seokjin had hoped, Taehyung walked through the front door right as he was spreading the cream cheese. "Hey, honey," Seokjin called out to him as the door shut. "Come in here real quick."

Taehyung's steps were lethargic as he came down the hall. There was a crash of his backpack falling to the ground, followed by thumps of shoes Taehyung was probably kicking off as he walked. Despite being excited to feed Taehyung, concern stabbed Seokjin as the younger teen came through the opening. He looked exhausted – dark bags under his eyes, drooping features. When Taehyung saw the bagel in Seokjin's hands, his eyes lit up in an instant. He snatched it away as soon as Seokjin held it out.

"You okay?" Seokjin stood behind Taehyung as he collapsed into a chair and massaged his shoulders.

Taehyung nodded, but was too busy making satisfied noises as he munched away at the food to respond. He leaned back into Seokjin's touch and looked up at him, cream cheese smothered all over his lips.

Seokjin laughed and wiped some of it away with his thumb. "You're a mess. What would you do without me?"

Taehyung shrugged, shoving another bite down. He placed a hand on Seokjin's and held it tight, eyes closed as he finished off the first half of the bagel. "Thank you so much," he finally mumbled through his mouthful. "That was so good."

Seokjin pointed at the other half. "Don't forget that one."

Taehyung looked up at him with curiosity. "Don't you want some?"

"Don't be silly," Seokjin said, and he kissed Taehyung's forehead. "I had one earlier."

Taehyung pounced on the meal, resuming his happy noises while Seokjin chuckled at how adorable he was. The day had been difficult, but his brother always made it worthwhile. He sat beside Taehyung and pinched his cheek. "How was your first day?"

Taehyung shrugged, licking cream cheese from his thumb. "It was okay."

"Just okay?"

"Well, I was really tired," Taehyung said quietly, looking ashamed to admit it. "I didn't fall asleep in class, though."

Seokjin rubbed his arm comfortingly. "That's good. Do you want to take a nap?"

Taehyung scoffed, puffing out his chest. "I'm not a baby, Jin."

"If you think only babies take naps, boy are you going to be surprised when you get older." Seokjin laughed and kissed his brother. "I take naps every day."

"Gross. That means you're a baby," Taehyung teased, then laughed when Seokjin poked his side.

There were a few moments of silence while Taehyung cleaned off the table, and Seokjin seriously contemplated taking a nap as well. Sleeping made it easier to deal with the hunger. That, and the commotion at school had drained what little energy he had.

"You know," Seokjin said, putting away the toaster, "someone tried to take the bagel away from me when I bought it."

Taehyung looked at him with wide eyes. He rushed to Seokjin and grabbed his face, pushing his head from side to side, inspecting him.

Seokjin laughed and took Taehyung's hands. "What are you doing?"

"I'm making sure you're okay." Taehyung grasped Seokjin's hands firmly. "Are you?"

"Of course I am," Seokjin said, kissing Taehyung's knuckles. His brother's overt protectiveness of him was becoming more and more similar to Yoongi every day. Normally Seokjin would have hid stories about his bullies from Taehyung, but it would make the younger teen feel better knowing that Yoongi was looking out for him. "They almost hurt me, but Yoongi fought them off."

Taehyung's hands went stiff in Seokjin's, and the muscles around his mouth tightened just a hair.

"No, no, it's okay," Seokjin rushed to reassure him. "Like I said, they didn't hurt me. Yoongi never gave them the chance."

Taehyung pinched his lips together, but he didn't look convinced. "I could have protected you," he asserted quietly. "If I was in high school, you wouldn't need Yoongi."

Seokjin smiled and squished Taehyung's cheeks, trying to cheer him up. "I know. I just want you to know that for now you don't need to worry about me. Yoongi will take care of me."

To Seokjin's surprise, not only did this not reassure his brother, Taehyung seemed almost annoyed. He rolled his eyes and pushed Seokjin's hands away, leaving the kitchen. Startled, it took Seokjin a few seconds before getting up to follow him.

"Hey," Seokjin said as his brother collected his backpack and shoes, "is everything okay?"

"Yeah." Taehyung didn't look at him as he brushed past on his way to the bedroom. "I just have some homework to do."

Seokjin watched him go, anxiety making his fingers itch with the need to be bitten. He probably shouldn't have told Taehyung about it. It was best if he didn't know about his hardships at school, too.

 

 

Whatever had been bothering his little brother hadn't lasted long. At least not at first. Over the next few months, there were times when the mood suddenly hit him. The mood. Seokjin didn't have a better way to describe his brother's behavior. One minute he might be fine, but the next he was pouty and sullen. He would withdraw into his phone for a while, or sometimes he would snap at Seokjin.

The worst part was that Seokjin couldn't figure out what set him off. They could be spending time with Yoongi and Jimin, or when they were on their own just chatting about their school days.

When the mood ended though, Taehyung was particularly needy for Seokjin's attention. He didn't want to go see Jimin or Yoongi – he just wanted to follow Seokjin around the house, helping with chores and randomly draping himself over Seokjin whenever the older brother was doing his homework.

Seokjin always did what he could to help Taehyung get through the moods – cuddling Taehyung, bribing him with treats, letting him watch TV a little longer than usual. Most of the time it worked, but Seokjin found his patience wearing thin the longer he had to put up with it. It was mid-December when his frustration got the best of him.

"You should put that down every once in a while," Seokjin said, putting away the last of his clothes. Taehyung had been on his phone since he'd gotten home a few hours ago.

Taehyung grunted, but didn't make any indication he would follow Seokjin's suggestion.

"Tae." Seokjin waited for his brother to respond, but he didn't. That shouldn't have surprised him – he'd been brooding since he got home, shunning Seokjin's attempts at telling him about his day. He and Yoongi had spent time studying after school, then Yoongi had walked with him to his neighborhood.

It had been the best way to start the weekend, and Seokjin was not about to let Taehyung ruin that for him. Pressing his lips together, Seokjin took the phone from Taehyung's hands.

"Hey!" The younger teen made a grab for it, but Seokjin held it out of his reach and shushed him. Taehyung huffed and sat back again, aggressively crossing his arms.

Seokjin knelt by the bed and rested his arms on its top, watching his brother sulk. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," Taehyung snapped, tightening his arms in front of himself. He pulled away as Seokjin reached out to comfort him. "I'm fine."

"I don't know how you expect me to believe you," Seokjin said softly, crawling up onto the bed.

Taehyung glared at him, then scooted closer to the wall, drawing his knees up. "I don't care if you believe me or not."

Seokjin watched his little brother, trying to make sense of his behavior. For a few moments, the only sound in the bedroom was the space heater working away. It had been making a rattling noise since Seokjin had pulled it from the closet a few weeks before.

Taehyung grabbed his blue blanket and rolled onto his side, pulling it over his body. "I'm going to bed."

"Tae," Seokjin said with exasperation, "you need to do your homework."

"No, I need to sleep. I'm tired." Taehyung tightened the blanket around himself, refusing to look at Seokjin.

Seokjin scratched his head, completely lost. Sure, there had been times when Taehyung had been younger in which he'd been difficult, but Seokjin thought he'd grown out of that.

Resigning himself to his last resort, Seokjin grabbed Taehyung's backpack off the floor and pulled out his notebooks. He flipped through a few before he found a sheet of math problems. He set it and the math book on the bed next to Taehyung. "Do your homework."

When Tae didn't respond, Seokjin took on a more stern tone. "Taehyung. Homework. Now." Again, Taehyung said nothing. Seokjin stood and grabbed Taehyung's blanket, pulling it right off him.

"Hey!" Taehyung sat upright, scowling at Seokjin.

Seokjin pointed at the homework. "Don't make me tell you again."

Taehyung set his jaw, defiantly staring Seokjin down. Without breaking eye contact, he reached over and pushed the book off the bed.

"Taehyung!" Seokjin was appalled by his brother's behavior. Difficult was the worst he'd been before – this was downright rebellious. "What is the matter with you?"

"Everything, apparently." Taehyung got up and stormed over to the door. "I'm going out."

"Out?" Seokjin grabbed his arm, a cold grip of fear taking his chest. Their father was home, planted on his armchair just like he was every night. They hardly ever left the sanctuary of their room when he was home. "Where are you going?"

"Out!" Taehyung shouted, yanking back his arm. He glowered at Seokjin, his eyebrows furrowed in an expression of animosity that Seokjin had never seen. Seokjin pulled back as though burned, holding his hand to his chest in surprise.

"Taehyung," Seokjin plead softly, "please don't go."

"And what are you going to do to stop me?" Taehyung snapped, his hands balling into fists. "Hit me like Dad hits you?"

Seokjin stared at his brother in shock, his throat closing in distress. For so long, Taehyung had been there for him, helped him through it all – and here he was, throwing it in his face.

Taehyung looked away, turning red. A moment of regret flashed on his face. It passed quickly, though, and he set his jaw before stomping out of the room.

"Tae," Seokjin squeaked, the lump in his throat keeping him from calling out any louder. He snatched up Taehyung's jacket and chased after him. "Tae, Tae, please." The blue light from the television spilled out into the otherwise dark hall. A wave on nausea rolled over him, knowing their dad was sitting in the living room, yet Seokjin followed Taehyung as quickly and quietly as possible.

"Boy!"

Seokjin froze as he stepped into the light, his efforts for covertness proving futile. Taehyung had reached the doorway, but he paused and glanced back when their father called out in his gruff, drunken voice. Seokjin shook as though he were standing outside in the winter air, and he held the jacket out towards Taehyung.

"Make me a dinner," the disgusting man grunted, scratching at his rounded belly.

"Please," Seokjin barely whispered, urging Taehyung to take his jacket. He didn't want Taehyung to leave, but he was right, there was nothing Seokjin could do to stop him. The only thing Seokjin could do now was to try to ensure he was safe.

Creaking from his father's armchair made Seokjin flinch. "Yeah, Dad. I'll make it." He shook the jacket again, but Taehyung didn't come back for it. He opened the door, a gust of frigid air hitting Seokjin from down the hall, and disappeared into the night.

No! Seokjin stared at the spot Taehyung had been standing just a few seconds ago, numb with fear. He was scared for Taehyung, he was scared for himself. He wanted to rush after Taehyung, grab him, drag him home. If he left without making his father dinner, though, Seokjin didn't know if he would be able to return. His father would surely beat him within an inch of death – or worse. Seokjin closed his eyes, tears slipping down his cheeks. He took a few shuddering breaths before doing as he was ordered.

Once the microwave dinner had been made and delivered – and after Seokjin confirmed that his presence was no longer needed – he rushed back to the bedroom and snatched up his phone. He stopped when he saw Taehyung's phone on the nightstand where Seokjin had left it after pulling it from Taehyung's hands.

"No," Seokjin moaned in distress, slumping down to his knees. Visions of Taehyung freezing to death came to him – he could see his blue lips, tears frozen on his face, huddled up out in the cold, all alone. He reached up onto the bed and pulled Taehyung's blanket against his chest. He'd taken that from Taehyung, too. Regret burned within him – regret for being so firm, regret for taking his phone and blanket, and regret for not following him outside. So what if his father hurt him? Taehyung's life was more important than Seokjin's.

Seokjin gasped as an epiphany came to him. He snatched his phone back up and pulled up Jimin's contact.

From: Seokjin
Taehyung just left. We had a fight and he left and it's cold outside. Please let me know if he shows up at your place

From: Jimin
oh shit
yeah I'll let you know
Does he not have his phone?

Seokjin let out another soft cry, not wanting to think about how he was responsible for Taehyung leaving it behind.

From: Seokjin
No. And he doesn't have his jacket, either.

From: Jimin
god damn it Tae

Hands shaking, Seokjin sent the same message to Yoongi. Instead of receiving a text reply, Seokjin's phone lit up with a call from Yoongi.

Seokjin couldn't manage a greeting when he answered. Hell, he could barely breathe. Thankfully, Yoongi didn't bother waiting for him to say something.

"Are you okay?" came the teen's worried voice.

Seokjin tried to take a deep breath, but it got caught around the lump in his throat.

"It's going to be okay," Yoongi assured him. There was no way he could know that, though. It was only a few degrees above freezing outside and it was nearly an hour's walk to Jimin's house – and that was only if Taehyung was heading there in the first place.

"I didn't know what to do," Seokjin finally managed to squeak. "He wasn't doing his homework and he needed to do his homework but he got mad when I told him to do it." He winced at a sharp pain in his finger – he was biting at it again.

To Seokjin's dismay, Yoongi laughed. "He's certainly melodramatic, isn't he?"

"Melo- Yoongi, he went outside without his coat in the middle of December!" Seokjin cried, then gasped and covered his mouth, listening intently in case he'd been heard.

"Fuck, I'm sorry." There was a sigh, and Yoongi fell quiet.

Taehyung's hurtful words came back to him, and anguish mixed with Seokjin's anxiety. Like Dad hits you. Seokjin sobbed, curling up into a little ball. He couldn't respond to Yoongi's repeated attempts to find out what was wrong. Seokjin wanted to talk about it – he wanted to spill it all out, tell Yoongi everything, but he found that he simply couldn't get the words out.

It had been over a year since Taehyung had found out Seokjin was gay – over a year since Seokjin had thrown Taehyung from his room. He'd vowed that he would never raise a hand to Taehyung again – he would never be like his father. Seokjin hardly even raised his voice. Did Tae really believe that Seokjin would treat him like that?

Seokjin flopped over, drawing Taehyung's blanket close again. He'd reached the point where he felt like he couldn't cry anymore. He was too tired. Even though Yoongi had stopped talking, just knowing he was on the other end of the line helped calm Seokjin. He could still feel the panic lurking beneath the surface, threatening to slip through, but at least Yoongi was there for him.

"He'll be okay," Yoongi said again, more firmly this time. "He's probably on his way to Jimin's house. Walking will keep him warm."

"Will it, though?" Seokjin's breathing sped up again. If walking was enough to keep someone that warm, there'd be a lot less people dying of hypothermia.

"Warm enough. It's cold, but not that cold."

Seokjin nodded slowly. He wrapped his free hand with Taehyung's blanket, trying to stop himself from chewing. "I just don't know what to do. He's never been like this before."

"He's probably just going through a rebellious stage."

"Rebellious stage?"

"Yeah." Yoongi's confidence confused Seokjin. "Everyone goes through a rebellious stage. Technically mine hasn't ended yet." He let out a sheepish chuckle.

"I don't get it," Seokjin mumbled. "Why would he be rebellious? Did I do something wrong?"

"Fuck – No, Jin." Yoongi sighed. "Everyone does it at some point. I fight with my mom all the time. It's not like I'm proud of that, but sometimes we just piss each other off. Haven't you ever fought with your dad?"

Seokjin cringed, remembering the day his father had broken his fingers. That was the first and last time Seokjin had ever tried standing up for himself. Arguing with him on a consistent basis was as close to suicide as a gun to his head.

"Okay, guess not." Yoongi interpreted Seokjin's silence correctly. "That doesn't really surprise me."

Seokjin's phone vibrated against his ear, and he yelped quietly – a message from Jimin.

From: Jimin
hey
He's here now
I asked Mom to drive your way
Just in case he was coming over
He was about halfway here

Seokjin let out a soft cry of relief and relayed the information to Yoongi.

From: Jimin
He says he doesn't want to go home yet
Is it okay if he stays the night?

From: Seokjin
Yes, that's okay. Thank you so much. Please tell him that I love him.

From: Jimin
You got it :)

"See? I told you he'd be okay," Yoongi said after Seokjin updated him on the situation.

With an exhausted sigh, Seokjin felt like his whole body melted into the floor. His stress from their argument hadn't yet subsided, but at least Tae was safe. He wasn't frozen, he wasn't lonely. "Thank you, Yoongi," Seokjin mumbled.

"No problem, Jin. You can call me whenever you need to."

Seokjin smiled softly and closed his eyes. He didn't want to think about how they would resolve their argument, but honestly Seokjin couldn't care less. He was willing to forgive it all just to have Taehyung back in his arms. "I think I'm going to go now."

"Okay. I'm serious, though, call me if you need me again."

"No, I'll be fine." Seokjin sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Thanks again."

After saying goodbyes another three times, Yoongi finally relented and hung up. Seokjin crawled up onto the bed, physically and mentally exhausted. He was sure that he'd sleep for three days straight. Curling up with Taehyung's blanket in hand, Seokjin stared wide-eyed at the wall beside the bed. After a few minutes, he rolled over to face the other direction. Then, he shifted onto his back.

Seokjin tossed around a few more times before huffing, tears filling his eyes again. The twin-sized bed had never felt so huge. There was far too much room on it – he could lay on his back without anything touching either shoulder. It left him exposed and uncomfortable. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept alone. One year? Two?

With a whimper, Seokjin squeezed himself as close to the wall as possible. He pulled the pillow from under his head, wrapped Taehyung's blanket around it, and squeezed it against his chest. It wasn't the same, but it was better than nothing.

 

 

Seokjin paced in his room, nibbling as gently on his fingers as he could manage. He'd apparently chewed them raw in his sleep, waking up to blood crusting around the nailbeds. It had been a while since he'd actually made himself bleed – most of the skin was really just thick scar tissue.

It was almost noon. Jimin had texted a little while ago letting him know that they were on their way over to drop Taehyung off. They would be letting him out down the street so their dad didn't hear him coming in the car. Not that it was likely for Taehyung to be punished, but it was better safe than sorry.

The sound of someone entering the house made Seokjin's heart leap into his throat. He whipped around and stared at the bedroom door, wringing his hands anxiously. Just a few moments later, it opened, and Taehyung stepped through. The young teen's head was lowered in shame, one of Jimin's coats wrapped around him. Before he could even close the door, Seokjin rushed up and pulled him into a tight hug.

They stood in silence, Taehyung gripping Seokjin's shirt, forehead pressed against his neck. Seokjin didn't care about their argument, he didn't care that Taehyung didn't do his homework – he didn't even care about the hurtful thing Taehyung had said. For now, his little brother was safe and back in his arms. That's all Seokjin needed.

"Do you hate me?" Taehyung whimpered, a squeak in the back of his throat.

"Oh, no, honey." Seokjin rested his cheek on his brother's head. "I could never hate you."

"If you hated me," Taehyung said, holding Seokjin even tighter, "I wouldn't blame you."

Seokjin shut the door and pushed the coat from Taehyung's shoulders. "I could never hate you," he repeated, brushing his fingers against the miserable teen's jaw. The touch brought Taehyung's head up, and after a moment's pause, they kissed softly. "I love you, Tae."

Taehyung sighed and dropped his head back onto Seokjin's shoulder. Again they stood in silence, simply reveling in each other's embrace for a moment longer. "I'm tired," Taehyung mumbled. "It was hard to sleep. Jimin doesn't cuddle like you."

"The pillow doesn't cuddle like you, either." Seokjin had said it with amusement. He meant for it to be lighthearted, but Taehyung glanced at the bed to see his blanket wrapped around the pillow, and he started to cry.

"No, no, it's okay," Seokjin tried to reassure him. "You're back now. That's all that matters."

"Really?" Taehyung looked up at him with red, wet eyes.

Seokjin kissed him again. "Of course." He pulled Taehyung towards the bed. "Come on, let's take a nap."

"And then homework?"

"And then homework," Seokjin agreed with a soft laugh. Before laying down with Taehyung, he went to the dresser and pulled a small package from the bottom drawer.

"What's this?" Taehyung asked as Seokjin handed it to him. He turned it over in his hands a few times.

Seokjin smiled at his brother's habit of always asking that before even attempting to open it. "Well, your birthday is coming up soon." He sat next to Tae, excited to see him open it. "I was going to wait, but I think now's as good as any time."

Popping open the box was easy – it was only held shut by some scotch tape – and Taehyung threw the top to the floor. Inside sat a pair of headphones. Taehyung gasped and snatched them up, excitement sparkling in his eyes. Jimin had showed him how to put music on his phone not too long ago, but Taehyung always had to play it quietly through the phone's speaker when he wanted to listen to it.

"Oh. My. God." Taehyung snapped them over his ears, grinning. They were fairly cheap, like everything else they had, but Seokjin knew that Taehyung would love them all the same. Taehyung grabbed his phone and plugged them in, then started bobbing his head slowly to the music.

Seokjin laughed and pushed Taehyung back onto the bed, pulling the teen's pants off so they could get ready for their nap. Taehyung blushed, but didn't stop him. He was preoccupied with his music.

Within moments, the two were curled up together – just like they were supposed to be. Taehyung had his nose against Seokjin's collarbone, eyes closed. His headphones were still tight over his ears, and the dull sound of the music drifted out.

"Jin?" Taehyung whispered, pulling one half of the headphones to the side. He didn't look up at the older teen.

"Hmm?"

"Why do you love me?"

Seokjin kissed his brother's forehead, rubbing his hand in small circles on Taehyung's side. "Because."

"That's not a real answer."

"Sure it is," Seokjin countered. "I mean, I could list off all the reasons, but we don't have time for that." There was a huff of air against his chest as Taehyung snorted.

"You're dumb." Taehyung nuzzled into him again. "If I was a kitty, I'd be purring."

It was possibly the cutest thing Seokjin had heard Taehyung say in a long while, and adoration bubbled within him. "If I was a kitty, I'd be licking you because you need a bath."

Taehyung giggled, a calming sound that officially put all of Seokjin's anxiety and concerns to rest. Seokjin pushed the headphone back over Taehyung's ear, then brought his head up for a kiss. It was nice – no – it was perfect. It was just what Seokjin needed, and he hoped Taehyung felt the same way. When their lips were together, everything just felt so right.

The kisses lasted even longer than usual, both brothers aching for comfort after the night before. The sound of each one blended with the muted melody of Taehyung's music. Head foggy from exhaustion, Seokjin felt like he was in a dream. Whenever they pulled away, Seokjin wondered if that would be the end, but they would resume as though intent on kissing until they passed out.

A thought flashed through Seokjin's sleepy mind – a thought of the kiss turning into something just a bit more. He'd always wondered what it would be like to kiss Yoongi, to taste him. He already knew the taste of his brother's lips – would his tongue be any different?

Seokjin's chest grew tight when he realized the direction his thoughts had taken him. It brought him back to full alertness and the distinct awareness of the intimacy of the moment. Taehyung pulled away with a soft sigh, blinking his eyes slowly, exhaustion weighing them down. He was looking at Seokjin's lips and – for a brief, apprehensive moment – the older brother almost expected such a kiss.

Taehyung looked up and saw Seokjin looking at him. He smiled, cheeks turning pink, and cuddled against Seokjin's chest like he always did. Seokjin wondered if the younger teen was unaware of his racing heart or if he was just ignoring it.

Trying to pretend as though the sudden thought of kissing his brother like that hadn't crossed his mind, Seokjin wrapped his arms tighter against Taehyung, kissing his forehead. He chewed on the inside of his cheek, reminding himself that their kisses were innocent – something to comfort them, something to help them sleep at night.

It took Seokjin a bit longer than usual to fall asleep.