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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.