Chapter 1: streetcar
See I know my destination, I'm just not there.
The bar is smack dab in the middle of Gangnam, a modest seventies structure sandwiched between tightly packed luxury high rises. The area is saturated with nightlife options, demands a little more finesse from an establishment than a faux-Western name like Europa and worn leather stools to attract its haughty residents and executives, and yet somehow the place still lives.
Not one for snooty pubs himself, Jeongguk would've never gone inside had it not been for the hiring sign stuck to the window up front one warm summer afternoon, ugly and unceremonious in a way businesses in the area never are-- Hiring ASAP: bartender.
Jeongguk hadn't been looking for a job then, had been heading to the train station after meeting up with his best friend for some bougie performance art show he'd hated, but on impulse had gone inside the shoddy bar and asked about the sign. Fifteen minutes and one poured wine glass later, Jeongguk was employed.
The gig is deceptively simple: work the bar alone four nights a week serving overpriced cocktails and imported wine by the glass to lonely locals looking to spend an evening listening to jazz on a loop.
The first night he worked the floor, he'd been nervous about everything. Worried he'd taken too long to serve that scotch because he'd been looking up the definition of neat (just to be sure), worried he should've tried to make small talk with that gloomy salaryman before he started violently weeping over the counter, worried he shouldn't have served that third glass of wine to the kid whose legal-age birthday it was. Nervous.
But he gets used to it, used to the frustratingly low lighting that has him struggling to read wine labels and to the incessant hum of jazz seeping through the bar’s tinny speakers.
That had been June after graduation, which had left Jeongguk strapped for cash, with a diploma he was unenthused about, and itching for something to take up the time between submitting lackluster resumes and feeling sorry for himself. He told himself he'd bartend all of June, bulk up his checkings account and then quit to find something better, more permanent.
Find something real.
But time passes and he gets used to it as it becomes easy, and so Jeongguk stays past June, past July, past August and into the fall.
He can feel himself losing his way, a way that had never been particularly clear but certainly doesn't involve mixing cocktails for tips. He doesn't like anything but beer, anyway.
His twenty-second birthday is spent with his best friend at their shared apartment. Jimin had tried to convince him to go out for drinks, but Jeongguk spends a good portion of his time at a bar already and wants absolutely nothing to do with them in his free time, on his birthday. And so they bring drinks to his cramped bedroom, white paint peeling in places and finance textbooks lining the shelves. There's an Iron Man poster taped to the wall above his bed and Jeongguk stares at it as he sips a warm beer, reminding himself to take it down soon.
When the clock strikes midnight and it’s no longer his birthday, Jeongguk cries. Cries about graduation and his bedroom that still looks exactly as it did since sophomore year, about his not-so-temporary job and his apparent inability to quit it. He does that sometimes, shed some tears to blow off steam and drain his anxieties, and Jimin takes it all in stride.
“Well, what do you want to be doing?”
“What do you mean?” Jeongguk demands, brows furrowed, tear tracks drying on his cheeks.
Jimin sits up on Jeongguk's bed and narrows his eyes at his friend, regarding him like someone who's danced his whole life regards someone who never has. “Don't you have something you wish you could do forever?”
Jeongguk balks, shifts uncomfortably in his creaky desk chair. “Forever is a long time.”
Jimin sighs, dropping back against Jeongguk's sunken twin mattress with an arm draped over his eyes. “I give up,” he groans. “What's so bad about the bartending gig then? You’re loaded. Always got way more cash on you than anyone we know. You’re lucky, man.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jeongguk laments, rolling back in the wheeled chair when he kicks his feet. Feeling anything but lucky. “The money’s nice, I know, but I feel like everyone's working towards something and I'm just… I don't know...” he trails off, face pinching like he doesn't know quite how to finish, like he’s about to burst into tears all over again.
His best friend notices immediately, drops his arm to look over at the younger, soft features puckered sympathetically. “Jeonggukie, I know. I understand.” Jeongguk bites his lip, looks over at Jimin like he’s clinging onto his every word. “You're freaking out, that's normal. We just graduated, we’re not supposed to know what we wanna do yet.”
The room goes quiet enough that the squeaky lightbulb in Jeongguk's desk lamp makes itself known, light flickering and threatening to give out. Jimin’s possibly valid point is undermined by the fact that they are both now thinking that he knows, knows exactly what he wants to do for the rest of his life and has known it for a very long time.
Jeon Jeongguk met Park Jimin on their first day at K University, when Jimin was 18, a dance major with a girlfriend in Busan, and Jeongguk was 17 with no major and no girlfriend. Jimin had looked like a friendly face to approach with his sweet eye-smile and cherub cheeks, and when Jeongguk found out they shared a hometown, he'd latched onto him and never let go.
Nothing much has changed four years later, except Jeongguk has a degree in economics and is now the one with a girlfriend.
At least that's what he thinks Lee Jieun wants him to call her. The older girl had approached Jeongguk on the day of their graduation, asked him on a date with flushed cheeks and a sweet smile. Had said they'd taken a photo class together junior year. She’s beautiful, probably the prettiest girl Jeongguk had and has ever seen, and so he said yes to that date and the ones after that, even if he can't exactly say he remembers their first meeting.
Their dates always consist of meals between other commitments, on account of which of them he isn't exactly sure. Jieun works a corporate job at A Big Company that demands much of her time and Jeongguk– Jeongguk doesn't know.
He likes Jieun, finds her beautiful and kind, but in three months of dating they'd kissed only two or three times and hadn't had sex.
They got close to, once. One clammy day in August, Jieun had invited him over to her apartment after their dinner date. They rarely spent time together outside their meal dates but this time when she'd offered Jeongguk hadn't turned her down. They sat on her couch and started watching a movie, and in the middle of it Jieun climbed into Jeongguk’s lap and started kissing him. They’d had wine over dinner and he supposed that's what had emboldened her to do it.
It didn't feel bad, but he still had a vague inkling that having a pretty girl straddle you and make out with your mouth should've felt better than just not bad. He wasn't a virgin, had slept with a handful of people throughout his four years of college, didn't know what was missing now.
Jeongguk had held her in his lap and kissed her back, but after a couple minutes of that Jieun had still crawled back on the couch and stared at him with big, concerned eyes. She didn't ask, but also didn't try to kiss or have sex with him since.
Sometimes Jeongguk wonders if he should break up with her, but then he imagines pretty and kind Jieun crying and vowing to hate him forever and can't bring himself to.
On Tuesday night, it storms. Typhoon season is over, the weather getting drier as it gets colder, and so the rain scares everyone away, keeps people off the streets of Seoul and customers away from the bar.
There’s a regular drinking hot soju quietly in the corner and another guy had come in earlier to do shots, but apart from that the bar is deserted and Jeongguk expects it to remain that way for the whole night.
He doesn't like nights like these, nights where he’s left alone with his thoughts and in his head. He wishes he could replace the perpetual jazz blowing through the speakers with music he likes, something to pass the time until closing, but he doesn't think that’s allowed and doesn't want to risk the owner somehow hearing of it, and so he doesn't.
Instead Jeongguk listens to the patter of the rain, wonders if he should just lock up after the silent regular left. There is no last call, but Jeongguk figures that might happen around three that night. With the weather looking as grim as it does, he decides he will.
It’s nearing two-thirty when the door swings open again.
Jeongguk looks over, sees a tall figure holding the door open for himself as he draws shut a long umbrella outside, the heavy rain still going full blast behind him. The man has hair colored like burnt honey and moves with an air of assurance that commands attention when he steps inside, looking somehow unruffled by the strong wind blowing in.
Jeongguk is immediately entranced.
The stranger is wearing a long black coat, fuzzy wool damp around the bottom from the rain. He props his sleek umbrella against the wall by the door, water dripping from it onto the floor. Jeongguk catches a glimpse of high cheekbones and full lips when the man combs his hair out of his eyes after hanging his coat, and suddenly can't help but think the man is the most beautiful customer to ever walk through that door.
Going back to wiping down the counter, Jeongguk forces himself to look away, to give the newcomer a moment to settle in before he approaches. The man takes the first stool by the door, the unpopular seat at the edge of the bar that always stays empty unless the place is crowded. Like he hasn't fully decided on staying there, like he’s about to leave at any moment.
The man doesn't call for the bartender or wave him over, just sits, pulls out his phone and starts thumbing at the screen.
Jeongguk abandons the damp rag to step over to him, discreetly wiping his hands on his pants as he takes position on the other side of the counter, the bartop between them. Before he can ask the man what he'll have to drink, he tells him:
“A glass of your best Chardonnay, please.”
The man's voice is deep, lower than Jeongguk had expected from a face so delicately pretty. The man isn't looking at him, hasn't once looked up from his phone where it casts a blue-white glow over his perky nose and full lips, and Jeongguk feels a pang as he nods and turns around to fill the order.
Rain pelts steadily on the roof as Jeongguk fetches the most expensive Chardonnay from the wine fridge at the back. When people ask for the best of something they mean the most expensive, Jeongguk figures, although he can't say he's ever received such a request before. He remembers this particular bottle isn't meant to be sold by the glass, but he still brings it out and gets it open, wanting to give the man a wine he is sure to appreciate, the best he can offer.
The customer is still typing on his phone when Jeongguk brings him his glass, and he offers the bartender a quiet thank you when he sets it down in front of him.
Jeongguk waits, lingers, and noticing his presence the man sets his phone down on the bar and produces a handbag from his lap.
Like the umbrella, the clutch is long and sleek, matte black leather that seems to suck in light rather than reflect it, and Jeongguk watches with wide eyes as long fingers peel open the gold latch and fish out a wallet from inside. He hadn't noticed it before, but the customer's nails are painted dark red.
Jeongguk wishes for a credit card, gets a large bill instead, but finally makes eye contact with the man when he lifts his gaze as he hands it over, bill held between two elegant fingers.
His eyes are a deep brown, slightly mismatched with a more pronounced double eyelid on one side, and Jeongguk suddenly feels as if they can read his every thought. He snatches the bill from the customer's fingers, feels the man’s gaze on him as he shuffles back to the register for change, and they meet eyes again when he slides the money over the bar to him.
Jeongguk feels warmth emanate from the stranger's hand when he reaches over and presses fingers over the money, easing it out from under Jeongguk's more pale digits. Despite the nail polish, the man's hands are strong, masculine, wiry veins lining the back of it.
The man is watching him now, Jeongguk realizes with a jolt, and he feels like the guy's about to say something.
The cellphone sitting on the bartop chooses that moment to ring, vibrating obnoxiously as the screen lights up with a name spelled out in roman letters. Jeongguk politely slinks away to give the other privacy to take the call.
It starts quietly, the man's voice rumbling softly into the phone as he sips at his drink. Back to wiping the bar counter, Jeongguk steals glances his way and is so wrapped up in trying to figure out whether the beautiful man likes the wine he picked that it takes him a long moment to realize the other is speaking English, the words foreign and mostly indecipherable to him.
Then it gets louder, the man hissing impatiently into the phone, dark brows knit together and blood red fingernails curled around the bottom of the wine glass. Jeongguk's first thought is that the stranger must be married and arguing with his wife, but he's seen those hands and the rings decorating his fingers and none of them are wedding bands.
Jeongguk is still watching from across the bar when the man ends the call, drops his phone on the counter with a loud clatter, looking frustrated. He watches the man pull out his black handbag and shove his phone inside, then fish out some money that he places on the bar before getting up and leaving without a word or glance Jeongguk's way.
The glass of expensive Chardonnay sits there, half full, the wine inside sloshing gently.
On Friday night, Jeongguk meets Jieun for dinner.
They go to an Italian restaurant she likes, one she insists on going to every couple of weeks. Jeongguk thinks it’s overpriced, doesn't particularly care for paying that much for pasta, but he’s never told her that and so they keep going.
“How is the job?”
“Yes, yours,” she clarifies patiently, giggling behind her glass of Pinot. Her cheeks are flushed, dark eyelashes fluttering. “It's a job, isn't it? Bartending.”
“Yeah, it's a job,” Jeongguk agrees, hesitant, pushing around the gnocchi on his plate. “It's going fine.”
Jieun nods and accepts it and they go back to eating in silence.
Jeongguk pays for dinner as he always does, and afterwards the two of them walk the short distance to the train station together.
The autumn breeze chills the air, blows in gusts their way, and when he sees Jieun shiver in her sleeveless dress Jeongguk takes off his hoodie and offers it to her. She seems pleased about it, takes it with a sweet smile in thanks, and Jeongguk feels sudden dread that she might try to invite him over to her place again.
He braces himself for it at the train station, but Jieun simply waves him bye and goes her own way, Jeongguk's worn hoodie draped over her narrow shoulders.
He can only feel guilt at the relief that floods through him.
The beautiful man comes in again the following Tuesday, around the same time as their first meeting.
He wears gray from head to toe tonight, a buttoned dark suit jacket over meticulously pressed suit pants. A long wool coat of the same color hangs over his wide shoulders, geometric patterns of black and grays stamped across the length of it and the arms hanging loose at the sides. Like the first time, the man looks sophisticated and expensive, stunning.
His face is flushed, honeyed hair fluffed and mussed from the wind, and he is visibly drunk.
Jeongguk is wiping a damp glass and pretends he isn't watching as the man makes his way over to the same seat by the door. Even several feet away, Jeongguk can smell his perfume when he plops down, musk and velvet, liquid gold. It's sweeter than any men's cologne he's ever smelled, and Jeongguk idly wonders if the man is wearing women's perfume.
When he beckons him over with a curl of a finger, Jeongguk is there in an instant.
“A martini, please– and make it dirty.” His voice is rich, deep, just as Jeongguk remembered it. He briefly imagines what it would sound like wrapped around his name, then quickly pushes the thought aside.
“You want an olive, too?” he asks.
“Yes,” the man chuckles like he's heard a joke, probably can tell Jeongguk has only been bartending for a couple months and no one has ever ordered that before. “An olive, too. Thank you, darling.”
Jeongguk spins away, burning. The man props an elbow over the bar, lays his chin on the palm of a hand, watching the bartender with a languid curl of his lips and looking mildly amused. It makes Jeongguk’s fingers clumsy around the vermouth as he pours the liquor into the mixer, makes him reach for the more expensive vodka option they have, one they are only supposed to pour for extra charge.
“How old are you?” the man suddenly asks from his seat, fingers drumming against his cheek, red polish gone.
“Twenty-two,” Jeongguk sniffs, head down, heart pounding.
The man hums, the quiet sound nearly lost under the soft purr of sax, then giggles like they’re sharing a joke again.
“I remember twenty-two,” he muses, voice lilting from intoxication, the hint of an accent Jeongguk can't immediately place. “My second favorite age.”
“What's the first?”
Jeongguk brings the prepared drink over, sets it down in front of him. “And how old are you now?”
The stranger’s laughter is louder this time, like the joke isn't private at all, the sound so infectious and perfect it has Jeongguk's own lips stretching into a smile even if he doesn't understand what’s so funny, thinks the man might be laughing at him.
His attention is diverted by the call of another customer, an impatient regular who never tips, and Jeongguk mumbles a dutiful excuse me and goes over.
When he returns, the beautiful man is gone. The martini is gone as well, replaced instead by a handful of bills looking like they cover and exceed the price of the drink, the glass, and a hefty tip for Jeongguk.
On top of the money is a white slip, a business card.
Thursday is the first of Jeongguk's days off and the day he gathers enough courage to really inspect the business card left behind by that customer.
He is alone in the living room of his apartment, dancer roommate gone on a date. The television is on because Jeongguk appreciates the noise, but he isn't really watching, hasn't been for hours now. All he can think of is the man who'd come into the bar and taken his martini and left him a business card.
Jeongguk's heart lurches as he sounds the name in his head, assured but soft around the edges, just like the man himself. He opens his mouth and catches himself in the last second before saying it out loud, abruptly clenches his fist, crumbling the card in his hand, embarrassed. What is he doing?
His fist comes apart slowly, the card folded over where it's been crushed but still holding its shape. Jeongguk's palm is pink around it, little indents where the sharp corners of the card bit into his skin. He holds it up closer, inspects the senior buyer - women's on the line of text beneath the name.
Jeongguk doesn't understand it, but knows enough to reason that means the man probably works in women’s fashion somehow. It surprises him because he's never met anyone who worked in a world so elusive, glamorous. Fitting, too, although he might've guessed menswear from the way the man had looked like a million bucks himself.
Jeongguk sniffs, moves on. The next piece of text is neatly printed along the bottom, smaller inky letters that read an address, an address in New York, USA. Jeongguk shuffles uncomfortably, suddenly disquieted.
He considers it and concludes that means the man either works at a company headquartered in America or works in America, is here for vacation or to visit someone. The latter possibility is immediately a troubling one because that means the phone number given next might be useless to him as well– could he even text a foreign number? Jeongguk doesn't know.
He purses his lips, feels the weight of his cellphone heavy where it lays on his lap. He wants to call, assumes he's been invited to, but the stranger had been drunk then and hadn't returned to the bar since. Had left abruptly, too. What if he regretted giving Jeongguk his information?
Jeongguk supposed people as beautiful and assertive as that always have places to be and important people to meet, but that does nothing to quell the anxious twist of his gut. What if Kim Taehyung doesn't want him to text?
But Jeongguk is brave, bold, even. He wants to text and so he will. The message will probably bounce anyway, he tells himself.
He types each digit carefully into his phone, then writes a simple message:
Hey. How's it going?
Delivered 02:32 AM
Who is this?
Received 02:32 AM
The reply comes so immediately Jeongguk first thinks he's imagined it.
Then he reads it and is suddenly nervous, second guessing everything from the text itself to the time he's chosen to send it. He should've left it to a more family-friendly hour, to the afternoon, but he does everything too impulsively and hates himself for it and there’s no turning back now.
Jeon Jeongguk. You'll have your martini dirty, please.
Delivered 02:37 AM
Did I give you my number?
Received 02:39 AM
So he doesn't even remember. Jeongguk feels a twinge of disappointment, but tells himself not to let it take ahold of him. He types a reply with steady fingers.
Yeah. Business card.
Delivered 02:40 AM
Text bubbles come and go at the bottom of the thread, but ten minutes later Jeongguk still hasn't received a reply. Nervous, he types in and sends another text.
This must've looked like a 2 am booty call huh lol
Delivered 02:53 AM
Jeongguk physically cringes at the lol as soon as the delivery tone sounds, regretting adding internet-speak that would betray his age, would make the man remember it and possibly dwell on it for longer than Jeongguk would've liked him to. He doesn't know how old Kim Taehyung is, but it certainly isn't twenty-two. It makes Jeongguk feel less, somehow.
Received 02:54 AM
Holy shit my bad lmao
lol I have a gf
Delivered 02:54 AM
His fingers still a moment too late, the last rushed text popping into the screen before he can think it through. Regret washes over him again and he feels as though he should explain, elaborate because Jieun isn't his girlfriend, not really, but as his fingers type another reply, the man’s response to it suddenly appears on screen and makes him stop.
That's settled, then.
Will you be working the bar tomorrow night? I can drop by, give you your glass back.
Would you like that?
Received 02:55 AM
Jeongguk's ears ring as he types out a reply with sluggish fingers.
Delivered 02:55 AM
See you tomorrow, Jeon Jeongguk.
Received 02:56 AM
Jeongguk sends a goodnight message back, stares at his unresponsive phone until the screen goes black, then puts it away and turns off the blaring television and goes to bed, reeling.
never done this before. feedback greatly appreciated!!
Chapter 2: scream
Might as well fall in.
It takes Jeongguk a whole night's sleep to realize he’s majorly screwed up.
Kim Taehyung had asked him whether he would be at the bar tomorrow, Friday, tonight, and he'd answered yes when the real answer should've been no. No, he’s off until Sunday so please come again then.
Jeongguk considers messaging the man again to clarify, but just the thought of having to admit to him that he’d been stupid enough to completely forget his work schedule in the heat of the moment makes Jeongguk burn in embarrassment. He doesn't want to embarrass himself in front of Kim Taehyung.
And so Jeongguk resigns himself to the fact that he'll have to show up at his workplace on his precious day off and somehow make it seem like that’s what he'd intended all along. Considering Taehyung had dropped by the bar relatively late both times he's seen him, Jeongguk figures he will show up rather late tonight as well. Thankfully, he has no other plans that day and so can afford to waste away a couple of hours waiting around for a stranger at the bar. A stranger who, considering his track record, might not even show up.
That night, Jimin walks into the bathroom as Jeongguk fixes his hair in front of the mirror, combing product into his bangs with his fingers. He takes one look at Jeongguk’s button-down and untorn jeans and snickers as he fetches his toothbrush.
“Getting all dolled up for what, Jeon?”
“I'm not getting dolled up,” he mutters, carefully ruffling the part in his hair to make it look more effortless.
“I've never even seen you brush your hair,” Jimin grins as he squirts toothpaste on his brush.
“I brush my hair,” Jeongguk defends, then gets defensive when Jimin arches a disbelieving eyebrow and gives him a look through the mirror. “What? I brush my fucking hair!”
When Jimin laughs, Jeongguk snatches the toothbrush from his hand, drops it into the sink and bursts into laughter himself when that has his friend screeching in protest. He makes quick exit of the bathroom before Jimin can retaliate, bolting to his bedroom across the apartment and shutting the door behind him.
“I hope your Netflix and chill with Jieun blows!” he hears Jimin’s muffled scream. “And not your dick!”
Jeongguk’s smile slips as he turns around, leans back against the door and faces Iron Man above his bed, metal fist poised like he's punching him in the gut.
* * *
The bar is unsurprisingly packed when Jeongguk arrives at midnight, the reasonable amount of time he had given himself to wait for the twice-2 AM customer.
There are more people here than he gets on even his most packed Sundays, bodies huddled around the bar and leaning together against the walls. Jeongguk’s never personally been the bar type, much preferred drinking a cold beer comfortably in front of his own TV, but for the first time since he's worked here he thinks this place might not be too bad. The bars he's been to with his classmates are always loud and obnoxious, drunk college kids falling over each other, but there’s none of that happening here.
The first thing Jeongguk does after hanging his hoodie is check the first seat by the door, and when he finds that stool vacant he assumes that the man isn't there yet, that he would've naturally taken his regular seat like people always seem to do.
And so Jeongguk relaxes, lets out the breath he's been holding and saunters over to the bar, running a hand through his hair.
The second bartender at Europa has bright red hair and a beaming smile to match. Jeongguk figures he’s a couple of years older, in his late-twenties perhaps, but age has never come up in their brief conversations and so he doesn't know for sure. Regardless, Jung Hoseok doesn't act like a man any older than him, he thinks, too loud and unconcerned. When the bar owner first introduced them, Jeongguk feared the ever-sunny redhead might give him a headache, but Bartender B had since won him over with his cheerful good humor.
He is also an excellent bartender.
“Jeonggukie!” Hoseok greets him with a Cheshire grin that seems to say Jeongguk’s presence is the best thing to happen to him all night. “Never seen’ya around when you're off! Mix up your days? Today's Friday.”
“I was in the neighborhood, thought I'd grab a drink,” Jeongguk tells him, the lie automatically rolling off his tongue as he wedges himself in front of the bar.
“Oh yeah? Whatcha doing ‘round these parts? Job interview?” the bartender asks as he comes over, smile unwavering even as he vigorously shakes a cocktail mixer.
Jeongguk’s returning chuckle is sheepish as he silently wonders when he'd told his coworker that he’s looking for another job. He isn't sure, but is strangely happy that the other remembers it. Kind, Jung Hoseok is always kind.
“Nah. I actually have plans to meet someone,” he admits, scratching at the back of his neck. “Here. They might not show up, but I'm just gonna sit and wait if you don't mind.”
“Ooh, hot date,” Hoseok teases, not a question. “Whatcha havin’?”
“A– a dirty martini?”
“Sure thing, coming right up.”
Hoseok shoots him a wink before turning away to pour the drink in his shaker and Jeongguk releases a quiet breath, pushing off the counter. He steps back, pops open the top button of his shirt and rolls up his sleeves. The background jazz is significantly drowned out by the chatter of voices and for a second he envies Hoseok for working the fun weekend nights.
It’s from the corner of his eye that Jeongguk sees movement, catches a glimpse of red that for some reason has him glancing over to the tables at the back of the bar, two cramped booths sitting in the dark.
The red turns out to be the man he’s there to meet, Kim Taehyung's sweater where he sits at a table nursing a drink, already looking Jeongguk’s way. They meet eyes and Jeongguk blanches, heart taking off as he walks over.
“Hey,” he breathes out. “You're here.”
“I am,” Kim Taehyung agrees, smiling against the brim of his wine glass– red, not white today. He motions to the empty seat across from him with an elegant sweep of his fingers and Jeongguk immediately steps over and slides into the booth. “Thought you said you could meet me tonight.”
“I could. Can,” Jeongguk replies quickly.
“But you're not working?”
“Not tonight, no.”
Taehyung doesn't ask anything else, just regards Jeongguk from behind his glass, eyes dark and smile soft. It's the same look he'd given him the last time they'd met.
His knit sweater is a deep red, almost burgundy, and it's a color Jeongguk thinks very well suits his golden skin. His hair falls in brown wisps over his forehead, darker eyebrows peeking through the gaps. Taehyung looks sinful in the low lighting, warm and sultry as he watches Jeongguk.
“Did I hear you say you didn't think I'd show up?” Taehyung asks, tipping the wine glass against already stained lips for a sip.
Jeongguk has a second to feel embarrassed he heard that, curses the place for being so cramped and the music for not drowning his voice and himself for not properly surveying the area when he first stepped in.
“It's not that I thought you'd flake, I just didn't know you'd show for sure,” Jeongguk says as an answer, shifting back in his seat and trying not to let Taehyung’s dark gaze make him nervous as he crosses his arms over his chest. "I was hoping you would, but who knows, things happen.”
“Dirty martini up!”
He’s thankful for the room to breath, excuses himself and stands. As he's shuffling out of the booth, Taehyung holds out his wine glass, nearly empty but not quite.
“Would you please be a darling and get me a refill?" he sighs, easy smile still on his lips as his head rolls to one side, and Jeongguk wonders whether Taehyung’s already tipsy.
He hesitates as he's reaching out for the glass. “Of what?”
“Can't you tell yourself, bar boy?” Taehyung teases, a challenge in his voice and in his arching eyebrow. Jeongguk would’ve probably taken offense if this were anyone else calling him that and giving him that look, but with Kim Taehyung it feels like a game. And if nothing else, Jeongguk loves games, likes the thrill of a challenge.
He takes the glass from Taehyung, fingers slipping around the very top of the stem, then lifts it to his own mouth. He takes an experimental slow sip of the wine, then promptly knocks back what's left. The flavor is intensely dry and bitter on his tongue and teeth, but Jeongguk knew before he tried that he had no chance of correctly naming what grape that was.
“No, sorry, I can't tell.”
Taehyung chuckles, pulls his elbows over the table and folds hands under his chin, looking like he thinks he's won and is pleased by it. "That's alright, bring me whatever you want.”
Choosing not to stay hovering indecisively over Taehyung, Jeongguk nods and walks over to the edge of the bar.
Hoseok is waiting for him with his drink, olive sitting at the bottom of the V-shaped glass. Jeongguk thanks him and takes the martini, handing back Taehyung’s empty glass.
“Do you know what he was having?” he asks in a soft voice, sticking his thumb back as discretely as he can to point out their table behind him. He sees Hoseok look past him, eyebrows raising like he hadn't noticed Jeongguk sitting with another man. Might just be acting polite.
“He the person you been waiting to meet?”
“Yeah. You know him?”
“Guy's come in a couple times,” Hoseok replies, volume thankfully low to match Jeongguk's, turning away and grabbing an open bottle from the counter, bringing it over to pour in the wine. “Lately, though. Never seen him before this month.” The bartender’s face suddenly drains of sobriety and he grins at Jeongguk as he hands back the glass, wine refilled up to the top. “Quite the looker, eh?”
Jeongguk glances over his shoulder at Taehyung, spots him scrolling through his phone, white washing over his flushed face. Turning back to Hoseok, Jeongguk takes the wine glass with only a muttered thanks before returning to the table.
Taehyung glances up from his device when Jeongguk takes his seat and sets the wine solidly in front of him. The man’s languid smile returns as he locks his screen and sets down the phone to take the drink, swirling it expertly before taking a sip.
“It's the same wine,” Taehyung notes immediately, gaze flicking up to meet Jeongguk’s. “You asked the bartender what I was having?” Jeongguk waits for disappointment in his voice, sees only amusement when he nods a confirmation. “I told you to choose, sweetie.”
“Didn't wanna risk giving you something you didn't like,” Jeongguk tells him honestly, lifting his own drink and taking a long sip of liquor. He points at Taehyung’s glass when he sets his down. “You like that one, don't you?”
The other chuckles quietly, seems to make a point of gulping it and filling his cheeks before he swallows with a visible bounce of his Adam's apple.
Taehyung drops back in the booth and Jeongguk sees his gaze fall to his own drink, that passive look of amusement still on his pretty face. If he notices Jeongguk’s drinking the same drink he served him the last time they'd met, Taehyung gives no indication of it.
“I already returned that martini glass I took from you, in case you're wondering,” is what the man says after a moment, smile placid as he carefully fingers a strand of hair out of his eye, looking entirely unapologetic about taking it in the first place. Looks soft but still commanding of Jeongguk’s entire attention. “Handed it right back to the other bartender when I came in. Was surprised it wasn't you.”
“Yeah, I work Sundays through Wednesdays,” Jeongguk replies, draping an arm over the table as he leans in closer, catching a whiff of perfume and needing to close the distance. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you, I should've warned you. Hope I didn't keep you waiting long.”
“That's alright, I quite like this place.” Taehyung looks around the dimly lit bar, all warm wood paneling and framed vintage posters. “Reminds me of home.”
“Where's home?” Jeongguk jumps at the question. “New York City?”
Taehyung turns to face him again, smile still there but somehow more hollow. Might be Jeongguk’s imagination, shadows playing tricks on him.
“Yes, New York.”
Something twists in Jeongguk’s chest, unbearably tight for a moment before it settles, muted. "Ah." He takes a big gulp of the martini, alcohol burning pleasantly on its way down. “So you're American, then?”
“No, I'm Korean, I was born in Daegu,” Taehyung tells him, polite speech slipping to reveal the accent Jeongguk remembers catching a glimpse of the last time. “Lived in Seoul for a while, moved to New York a couple years ago for work. Well– more than a couple now. Nearly fifteen years ago.”
Fifteen years sound like a long time to Jeongguk, and again he wonders how old Taehyung is. He wants to ask again but doesn't want to be rude, doesn't want Taehyung to think that makes him less or might deter him.
But deter him from what?
“And, um, how old were you then?” He goes for it.
Taehyung laughs like the first time, but somehow now Jeongguk can tell he’s seen that coming and is ready to tell him. “I'm thirty-five. Thirty-six in December.”
The mental math falls together. The oldest person Jeongguk’s ever gone out with had still only been a couple of years away. He has to remind himself that's not what this is, a date. “Oh. That's cool.”
“That's cool,” Taehyung repeats in a breath, then breaks into a hearty laugh that has his lips stretching into a rectangle, an expression that makes him look Jeongguk’s age even as it reveals faint lines around his eyes. “And you?” he asks once his laughter has subdued to spaced chuckles. “What's your deal? Where are you from?”
Jeongguk wets his lips, still smiling from the sight of the man laughing. “Busan. Came up for college.”
“Ah, Busan boy. Thought I heard an accent,” Taehyung’s eyes still twinkle with amusement as he sips his dark wine.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk’s chest inflates, preening. Feels like Kim Taehyung is flirting with him, finally responding.
“And you have a girlfriend?”
Taehyung phrases it like a question but immediately sips at his wine again like he's not waiting for an answer, doesn't need Jeongguk to clarify or elaborate.
“Jieun,” Jeongguk supplies, hesitating. “We’ve been going out for a couple months.” Taehyung lowers his glass just enough to peer at Jeongguk over the brim, looking somehow more expectant now. “She asked me out after graduation and I said yes.”
The man hums like he understands, lowers his glass and swirls the wine still inside. It's almost all gone. “And you love her?”
“Love– what? No,” Jeongguk sputters, trips over the question before answering confidently. “No, no. We're not there, not like that.”
“Not like that?” Taehyung presses, looking somewhat bemused. “You've been seeing her for how many months?”
“Just a couple,” Jeongguk defends, shrinking back. “Like three?”
“Three months is more than enough time to fall in love,” Taehyung says it with no hesitation, meeting Jeongguk's gaze for an instant when his eyes flick up before he averts them to the crowd of people.
Jeongguk doesn't quite know what to say, feels like he’s dragged Taehyung down a notch as he watches the side of his face and the straight line of his mouth. Everything’s been going so well before this point, but now a different sort of tension sits thick in the air between them. The fourteen seems to whirl its head, crawl over the table between them and makes itself known. He desperately wants to fix it.
“Yeah, well, then maybe she's not the one for me.”
Taehyung looks back at him, assessing him quietly for a moment before his gaze softens. Still, it doesn't feel the same. Jeongguk’s chest feels like it cracks down the middle a little.
“Maybe not.” The man downs the rest of his wine, sets the empty glass on the table with tender fingers. Jeongguk feels it happen in slow motion, hears his own ears ring as he blindly takes a big gulp of his martini. He knows what's coming before he hears the words. “Well. Nice talk, darling, but now I'm gonna have to get going.”
Taehyung stands in one fluid movement and for the first time Jeongguk sees his full outfit, sees he’s wearing a skirt with the red sweater. It's long and black, delicate pleats swishing as he moves to grab a jacket from his seat. Jeongguk has absolutely never seen a man wearing a skirt in real life and the immediate sight of it stuns him for a moment. Taehyung is painfully beautiful, perfect.
“Can I walk you to the station?” he offers and stands as well, nearly knocking into the lamp hanging over the booth.
“Oh.” Taehyung chuckles, drops his head forward a little as he shrugs the lightweight leather jacket over his shoulders, leaving his arms out of the holes. “Oh honey, are all Busan boys this sweet?”
“Nah, just me,” Jeongguk says to ease the tension, bring back their flirty banter from before now that Taehyung seems somewhat receptive again. He grins when Taehyung laughs and steps out of the booth but doesn't turn to leave.
“Alright, you can walk me home.” When Jeongguk raises an eyebrow, Taehyung chuckles and slips his phone into his purse, a strappy thing slung over his shoulder. “I'm staying right down the street.”
Jeongguk tosses back the rest of his martini, steps past Taehyung to get out of the booth himself. With both of them standing, their shoulders brush and he's only slightly surprised to see Taehyung is taller than him. Jeongguk’s used to being the tallest, but everything about Taehyung has been exceptional, extraordinary.
When he makes to close his tab, Jeongguk shakes his head and tells him he’s got it. He doesn't wait to see if Taehyung will try to stop him before he turns, heads back to the bar and shoulders his way between two people at the counter.
Hoseok doesn't say anything when Jeongguk pays for his drink and all of Taehyung’s, but his eyes are twinkling like he's holding back.
After settling their tab, Jeongguk grabs his hoodie and finds Taehyung already outside, lit cigarette held between long fingers. The ember flares orange as he draws on it, eyeing Jeongguk as he approaches.
“Treating me, huh? What a gentleman.”
Smoke sips out from between Taehyung's lips as he speaks and Jeongguk watches as the wind blows it away. Taehyung seems to be watching him as well, takes Jeongguk eyeing his cigarette for interest and slips fingers into his purse to pull out a pack, hold it out to Jeongguk.
Jeongguk pulls out a cigarette and it's the first time he's ever held one. He sticks it between his lips, shoulders tensing when Taehyung steps closer with his skirt swishing around him and brings a lighter up to the end of his face. Jeongguk sucks on the filter between his lips as Taehyung flicks on the lighter, bright flame licking the end of the cigarette. He smells Taehyung’s sweet perfume as his mouth fills with smoke.
He tries hard not to cough, but when the back of his throat burns it's unavoidable and Jeongguk has to step back and pull the cigarette out of his mouth to let it all out. He hears Taehyung giggle, and when he looks over with teary eyes he sees his red and black image swim.
“I don't really smoke,” Jeongguk provides unnecessarily, coughing into a fist.
“I can see that,” Taehyung tells him, not unkindly. “Good. You shouldn't. Bad habit.”
“But you–” More coughing interrupts him as Jeongguk tries to clear his throat.
“I'm full of bad habits,” Taehyung finishes, smile spreading over his lips.
Jeongguk manages to get his coughing under control but refuses to toss the cigarette when Taehyung suggests it. It's an attractive look on him and Jeongguk wants Taehyung to find him attractive, too, not a kid who can't even handle a smoke.
They start walking down the sidewalk to Taehyung’s hotel, cars zooming past them on the street. The cigarette smoke tastes like bitter ash in Jeongguk’s mouth and he has a slight suspicion he isn't smoking it right, but perseveres nonetheless. It's quiet between them but not uncomfortable, and Jeongguk feels Taehyung looking at the side of his face more than once.
The hotel they arrive at is a nice one, taking up an entire block with a curved driveway for vehicle drop-offs at the front. Taehyung stops at the edge of the pedestrian sidewalk before it, plucking the cigarette from his lips as he turns to Jeongguk. The breeze has swept Taehyung's hair into his eyes and Jeongguk curls a fist at his side to resist the urge to reach over and brush it off.
“Here we are.” Taehyung smiles, blowing a puff of air at his bangs.
When will I see you again?
“Thanks for showing up tonight,” Jeongguk says, ineloquent and inadequate.
“Sure. Nice meeting you, Jeongguk.”
The deep voice swallows his name, coils around it and grabs ahold of it like a vise, giving it meaning as it snares it and makes it his.
Taehyung shoots Jeongguk one last reticent smile before he spins around, putting out his cigarette on the edge of a building before letting it drop to the pavement as he walks off.
comments always appreciated <3
Chapter 3: loose
Most of time, everything's fine.
Jimin is performing at an art gallery opening in Hongdae the following Thursday.
The gallery is apparently run by someone Jimin knew in college, a guy who he calls “his friend” but Jeongguk assumes is actually an old hook-up since he’s met all of Jimin’s friends and has never even heard of this one.
Second semester of sophomore year, after getting dumped via text by his Busan high school sweetheart, Jimin had gone on an art department dating rampage. Lost his virginity to his longtime girlfriend, rediscovered himself in polygamy. Jeongguk remembers those months vividly, stumbling into beautiful people in his apartment on mornings when he’d rise early for an 8 a.m. or wake up hunched over a textbook in the living room.
This is not Jimin’s first dancing gig since graduation but it is the first time he's performing solo and inviting Jeongguk to come watch, the choreography one he's spent weeks developing and perfecting. Jimin’s beyond excited– “can you believe, Jeonggukie? All those rich people looking at me!” – and Jeongguk agrees that it's an incredible opportunity even if the event doesn't at all sound like something he'd be interested in attending.
There might be a feeling other than being happy for his friend that's brewing under the surface, something twisting and ugly, but if it's there Jeongguk refuses to acknowledge it.
“Is Jieun coming?” Jimin asks as they get ready that evening, him in the shower and Jeongguk a few feet away at the sink.
“I, uh. I didn't invite her,” Jeongguk says around his toothbrush, blue foam gathered at the corner of his mouth.
“What?” The disbelief in the word bounces off the bathroom walls and Jimin practically throws the curtain aside to stick out a wet head. “Why not?”
Jeongguk’s not looking at him, his eyes trained at his own reflection in the foggy mirror. He's sure Jimin must at least have a suspicion of why, wishes his friend could just figure it out and be the one to say it back to him.
“I’ve just been thinking that she might not be the one for me, is all,” he mutters, spitting toothpaste out into the sink.
“Whoa,” Jimin laughs, pushing dark wet hair back from his eyes and flicking water at Jeongguk with his fingers when he still doesn't turn to face him. “Where the hell’s this coming from? She do something to piss you off?”
Jeongguk quickly shakes his head, spits out more foam and turns on the tap to rinse off his toothbrush. This makes him nervous, the questions. “No, she didn't do anything. She's nice.”
“So?” Jimin prods in his most prodding voice.
So Jeongguk doesn't really know. Doesn't know why Jimin and Jieun both don't notice that he doesn't think of her when he waits for sleep to come or receives a text message or scrubs wine glasses dry. Doesn’t look at her like that. Doesn't think of her all the time.
Thinks of someone else sometimes.
But Jimin must assume something from Jeongguk's ensuing silence because he lets out another snicker, shakes his head and pulls the shower curtain closed again.
“Don't sabotage yourself, Guk,” he sighs as he resumes his shower, voice once again echoey in the bathroom, disembodied voice of wisdom. “I know you're having an existential crisis right now and dating might sound like a pain in the ass, but knowing you, you're later gonna regret blowing her off for no reason.”
Jimin’s right, he's always right. Jeongguk knows that Jimin knows him like no one else and knows he tends to push people away, close himself in his room and avoid everyone he cares about when he's feeling down. It's happened before, several times in school, and when Jeongguk’s in that depressive purgatory the only way to pull him out of that mood is to force him out of it.
Jimin might be trying to do that now, he realizes. Force him out of a mood, save him from pushing Jieun away.
Why is it that he thinks he doesn't like her, anyway? She's genuinely kind, brilliant enough to land a stellar job right out of college, probably the most beautiful girl in the room wherever they go. Jeongguk couldn't fuck her and she still didn't dump him, didn't point fingers or demand an explanation or look at him like a he's a twenty-two year old with a flagging dick.
Didn't even force him to try fucking again.
Jieun must really like him, he thinks.
The bathroom is foggy enough now that Jeongguk’s reflection is just a collection of colored blurs in the mirror, and he wipes a hand across the condensation on the glass to clear off his damp reflection. He sees there’s toothpaste drying on his chin and he ducks to scrub it off, rinsing thoroughly to make sure it's clean before setting his brush away.
“Don't run the water so hot, hyung, remember the mold on the wall,” he reminds Jimin before stepping out of the bathroom, crossing the apartment to his room.
Jeongguk invites Jieun to the gallery opening.
The show is on the top floor of a small office-like building, completely inconspicuous as an interesting place from the street.
Inside, the floors are a checkered black and white linoleum that sort of looks like it’s moving if Jeongguk stares at it for too long. Wacky lamps hang from the high ceilings in long cords, low enough that someone slightly taller than Jeongguk might brush them. There are metal sculptures dotting the room, warped metal shapes that could be either art pieces or merely decorative.
Jeongguk expects to see color-splashed canvases and abstract designs displayed, but the gallery turns out to be holding a photography exhibit. There are framed prints of all sizes lining the tall blank walls, some color photography and others black and white, all by different artists.
As soon as they arrive, Jimin disappears past a concealed sliding door in the back to prepare for his performance, leaving Jeongguk alone in the empty room. The party didn't start yet, the only other people in there the waiters prepping the bar tucked in the corner, and Jeongguk figures he might as well kill time by checking out the pictures.
He wanders down one of the walls of photography, inspecting each shot but spending longer on some than others. He stops at a monochrome picture of a naked woman dancing at low shutter speed, the composite capture making it look like she has a dozen arms and legs spurting from her body. Insect-like, sort of grotesque.
“You like this one?”
Jeongguk glances over his shoulder at the unfamiliar voice and finds a tall man in black slacks and a white dress shirt with two buttons undone. His hair is silver and falls over his eye on one side, meticulously styled, the attractive sort of hipster.
“Kim Namjoon,” he introduces, holding out a hand that Jeongguk shakes in slight confusion. Namjoon picks up on it and cracks a smile that reveals deep dimples on both sides. “You're Jeongguk, Jimin’s friend, right? I’m glad you could make it.
“Yeah, sure,” Jeongguk greets back, figuring this has to be Jimin’s secret artist friend who curated the gallery.
He doesn't want to be awkward, but is pretty sure now that this guy has to be an old fuckbuddy of Jimin’s. Namjoon sort of exudes a sexual vibe, holds Jeongguk’s hand firmly a little too long and eyes him with blatant interest.
“You want a drink?” Before Jeongguk can answer Namjoon twists around and waves at the busy waiters at the bar, holding up a finger before he turns back and resumes their conversation as if there'd been no pause. “This was one of the more on the nose interpretations of the theme. Almost didn't make the cut.”
“Oh. What's the theme?” he asks curiously.
“Motion,” Namjoon answers, dimpled smile returning with an additional curl. “Movement, sure, but in every other sense of the word. Mobility, fluidity. Anything that subverts essentialist paradigms.”
Jeongguk’s not entirely sure what Namjoon means but offers a noncommittal hum and nod anyway, making a mental note to tease Jimin later about dating a pretentious art snob. He figures he should've expected a person with this job to talk like this, should expect everyone at this event to act overly high brow and exclusive. Suddenly he's glad he invited Jieun to keep him company, give him a familiar face to talk to.
“So that's why you're having Jimin dance, huh?” Jeongguk skirts around the question he really wants to ask, so give me the scoop on you and my friend.
“Yes, I'm hoping his dance will frame much of what this show’s about,” Namjoon says, then turns to the waiter who comes up to them, a single flute of champagne balanced on a round metal tray. Namjoon takes the drink with a thank you, handing Jeongguk the glass.
“Thanks…” He takes the drink and knocks back some of the sparkly alcohol. “You're not having one?”
“I don't drink.”
“Ah, sober for tonight?”
“For life, more like. I'm sober.”
Jeongguk lowers the champagne and meets Namjoon’s gaze with wide eyes. He's never met anyone their age who doesn't enjoy drinking, let alone who's willing to give up alcohol for good.
“Why?” he blurts out with more disbelief than is probably polite, then rushes to cover a potential gaffe with a joke. “You a recovering alcoholic or something?”
Namjoon smiles his dimpled smile again, crosses his arms over his chest and turns to face the abstract dancer on the wall. “Abstaining keeps me creative. Alcohol was just the vice I was most willing to abstain from.”
Jeongguk can't help but snicker. “Pretty big compromise if you ask me.” Now he's thinking this Kim Namjoon really is a character. Keeps me creative , he said. Jeongguk can't believe there are people who actually speak like that. “Maybe it's okay to just be a little less creative?” he jokes.
Namjoon laughs, dimples caving in deeper, then his smile flattens into a mildly amused line.
“Did you know alcohol’s one of the most overlooked causes of erectile dysfunction?”
Jeongguk nearly chokes on his drink, coughs around it and has to twist away to cover his mouth. When he's finally able to straighten from his hunch, wheezing, Namjoon’s moved on from the insect dancer and is walking to the backstage sliding door.
Leaving Jeongguk with that.
Guests start arriving a little while later, mostly older people in extravagant clothes. Shiny watches and tailored blazers, cocktail dresses and long mink coats. Men and women smelling strongly of perfume, a cacophony of designer fragrances that give Jeongguk a mild headache. They all speak in politely hushed tones, standing around the gallery in packs of three that occasionally switch around. The voices are muted for the most part, just a hum of noise in the background, but sometimes a disingenuous laugh will break through. Jeongguk feels more like he's at a networking event than a gallery visit.
He heeded Jimin’s warning and dressed up as much as he ever does, navy button-down tucked into untorn black jeans and a leather belt, but he knows he sticks out like a sore thumb in the sea of affluence. He’s silently thankful that Jimin had at least forced him to wear black Oxfords instead of his usual Timbs.
Those might've gotten a few additional stares.
Jeongguk’s in a corner reading an artist bio under a picture when he's tapped on the shoulder. It's Jieun, wearing a black chiffon dress with a red flower print, short in the front and long in the back, red lipstick to match.
Most beautiful girl in the room? Probably. Has to be.
“This is a nice event,” she greets, tucking a lock of black hair behind her ear with one of her sweet smiles. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“Sure. Thanks for coming,” Jeongguk replies, smiling, too. Jieun looks hot and he waits for his heart to start beating faster.
It doesn't, so he turns to face the picture again.
The photograph he's eyeing shows an elderly lady on a park bench flanked by two girls in high school uniforms, both looking down at their phones as the woman stares straight at the camera, cane held in one hand. Jeongguk stares into her still eyes and tries to figure out how she fits into the theme of motion. A comment on ageing, maybe?
“This reminds me of that class we had together,” Jieun speaks up after a moment of silence. “Looking at photographs like this.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees, sipping his champagne, holding the lady’s gaze.
“This one is really bright, isn't it? That's a… What's that camera setting for brightness again?”
“ISO,” he thinks she means. Photography 101, even though he doesn't think this photo looks particularly exposed. “High ISO.”
“Yes, that's right. I-S-O.” He can hear Jieun smiling. “You always were the best in that class.”
“Nah,” he chuckles, sheepish, turns to glance at her and sees a waiter walking their way. He snags a glass from the champagne tray, holds it out to Jieun. She thanks him with a small smile as she accepts the drink.
“Do you still take pictures?” she asks. “You used to take the prettiest pictures in that class. The professor always praised you.”
“Ah,” Jeongguk laughs again, embarrassed, shakes his head. “Nah, that was just for that class. I haven't really taken photos of anything since then. I'm really not that good at it.”
“Aw, that's a shame,” she mumbles, sipping her drink. “I thought you were good."
Jeongguk hasn't thought of that photography intro class in a long time. First semester of junior year, it'd been one of the few classes he'd taken that didn't fall under his Econ requirements, a full credit class meant to be an easy A and give him time to focus on his difficult business school cores. Despite what Jieun thinks, Jeongguk hadn't taken it seriously at the time, had mostly taken pictures of his friends and teammates for the assignments in a single day. Shot everything in film and attributed the good results to that.
When he finished the semester with a perfect score, Jeongguk had taken it as validation that the class was an Easy A.
Not anything else.
The dimming of the lights pulls him from his reverie, and he and Jieun turn around to see the guests flock to the short platform in the middle of the room, gathering around it.
Jeongguk takes a long sip of his champagne as he follows, stopping at the edge of the group and using his height advantage over most to watch over heads and shoulders. There's a beacon of yellow light lighting the dancer already in position, staring down at his own feet and completely bare save for flesh-toned spandex shorts.
It's Jimin, Jeongguk could recognize his friend’s half-naked body anywhere, but when he knocks his head back and sticks up his chin, his bright red lips match Jieun’s. Jeongguk’s mouth drops open, he's never seen Jimin in lipstick before, how come he didn't mention he'd be wearing girl’s makeup for this, but he has no time to think before the dance begins.
There’s no accompanying music, but Jimin slides his feet apart and moves to some unknown beat, stretching his body one way before doing a sudden twirl and leaning to the other, arms outstretched. He then drops back as if trusting invisible arms, then catches himself before he can fall and rights his body, dipping to the floor in a fluid motion. He rocks on his heels and curls arms around his knees before quickly rocking down into in a push up.
It's an odd dance and stranger still with no music, just the sound of Jimin’s feet on the wood platform, but Jimin moves like water and all eyes in the room appear to be on him.
Jeongguk hears the click of a phone unlocking right beside him and looks down to find that Jieun’s standing at his side, too short to look over people's heads like he is. She's not watching, is typing a message to someone on Line, and Jeongguk looks away, put off.
On stage, Jimin's dance picks up speed, his friend leaping gracefully to one side of the stage before landing solidly on a bent knee, both dainty and strong on his feet. He hops up and lifts a leg, holding it up at a near-vertical axis in an impressive display of flexibility. He holds, then swings his leg down and stands straight, puffing out his chest and swinging his arms back behind himself.
Jimin’s heavy breathing every time he holds a form for a moment is the only sound Jeongguk can focus on along with the occasional tap tap of Jieun’s fingernails on her phone screen. An old lady in a hat standing in front of them looks over her shoulder, eyes flickering down to Jieun and her phone before they rise to meet Jeongguk’s, where they linger for a solid second before the woman turns back to watch the show.
Jimin’s eyes are closed and he isn't smiling as he dances but Jeongguk can see the elation on his face anyway, face of someone who's getting to do what he loves most.
Jieun doesn't look up once.
When it's over, Jimin bows at the waist with curved eyes and a wide smile, the couple dozen people in the room clapping in polite enthusiasm. Jieun finally slips her phone back into her purse, starts clapping alongside the audience.
For some reason, this is what annoys Jeongguk the most.
“Everything okay, noona?” he asks her once the crowd disperses, Jimin disappearing somewhere again. “You were on your phone…”
“Oh, yeah, everything’s alright, I just got a text from my manager...” Jieun looks genuinely embarrassed at having been caught, doesn't look at Jeongguk as she talks. “He gets upset if I don't answer quickly.”
“But you're off the clock right now, aren't you?” Jeongguk insists, furrowing his brows. He doesn't know what’s he’s waiting to hear, maybe an apology, just knows he isn't satisfied with what she's giving him.
Thinks it sounds like a lame excuse.
“No. You're never, really,” Jieun replies with a shrug and turns to face the wall. Doesn't elaborate, like there's no use discussing work business with someone who wouldn't understand.
Real career problems, you wouldn't know.
Jeongguk bites his tongue, drains his drink.
It's tense between the two of them after that, the chatter of the other guests filling the silence as they both grow intensely interested in the pictures on the walls. Jieun tries asking Jeongguk about his day once, but all he provides is a curt fine , arms only briefly uncrossing to trade in his empty champagne for a new glass from a passing waiter.
Jimin joins them some twenty minutes later, coming up beside Jeongguk as he and Jieun silently appraise a large print of a salaryman sprawled on a busy sidewalk as pedestrian legs step around him like he's not there. Motion and non-motion, moving ahead and staying in place.
“Hello friends!” Jimin’s dressed in black pants and a brown sweater and still has the brightest grin on his face. The lipstick is gone but Jeongguk can see a faint trace of the shade on his lips.
“That was an amazing dance, Jimin-ah,” Jieun congratulates immediately, smile on her face. “You really did so well, congratulations.”
It's the first thing she says in ten minutes and it has that annoyance flaring in Jeongguk again. A few glasses of champagne ago, he would've probably let it go.
Now, he can't stand hearing it.
“But you weren't really watching, noona. You were texting on your phone.”
Jeongguk sees Jieun and Jimin both freeze and slowly turn to look at him, sees their smiles get a little wider and harden the way smiles tend to when someone says something they shouldn't. Jieun’s disappears entirely after a second.
“What?” comes Jimin’s chuckled ask, sounding like he thinks Jeongguk’s trying to make a joke.
Jeongguk suddenly regrets having said anything, doesn't like the way the tension between him and Jieun’s now expanded to encompass his friend, too.
The tension in him exploding outwards.
“Nothing, hyung. Never mind,” he mutters, sighing quietly. Can't bring himself to look at Jieun stiff at his side or even at Jimin, who he can tell is now looking past him at her.
Jeongguk isn't looking, but still sees the moment Jimin processes the words and gets hurt by them. His smile fades completely and his shoulders sag an inch. Jeongguk regrets having opened his mouth.
He whirls around and gets away from it, breezing past wafts of pungent perfume and setting down his empty glass on the base of a sculpture as he strides past it on the way to the door. It wobbles unsteadily and falls, shattering on the black and white tile behind him.
He doesn't stop.
“Jeongguk?” he hears a familiar voice call. Kim Namjoon, third person he'd offended that night.
Jeongguk doesn't look back, exits, walks straight to a cab dropping off a couple and gives the address of where he wants to be.
* * *
When he arrives, Jeongguk briefly worries he might be hallucinating when he steps into the bar and spots the back of a head of messy brown hair at the first seat by the door.
Then suddenly that head is turning around and Kim Taehyung is looking back at him, meeting Jeongguk’s gaze like he’d been waiting for him all night.
There's no free seat beside him but Jeongguk walks to Taehyung anyway, smiles back when he smiles at him. Neither a big smile but they don't have to be.
“You really like this bar a lot, don't you?” Jeongguk jokes lightly, wedging himself between Taehyung and another man in the seat beside him.
Taehyung laughs and Jeongguk’s heart flutters, feels like it floats loose in his ribcage.
“You must love it, too, coming over when you're not working,” Taehyung teases back, leaning forward against the counter with an elbow folded over it, hand sliding around his cheek to hold it as he looks up at Jeongguk. The tops of his cheeks are flushed with alcohol, maybe makeup, and his lips are tinged dark red on the inside from the red wine he's drinking.
Jeongguk’s never been tipsy around this guy before and it makes it harder to not imagine sliding a hand into his hair and pulling him into a kiss.
He's almost certain Taehyung wouldn't push him away if he did.
“Maybe I'm just here for the eye candy,” he replies, dropping a hand to the backrest of Taehyung's chair and feeling a jolt of electricity when Taehyung seems to curve towards him in response.
“Jeongguk!” Hoseok greets him cheerfully, furiously shaking a cocktail mixer with his trademark grin. “What’cha having, my man?"
“Whatever my friend here’s having, hyung, thanks.”
Hoseok’s smile widens and he gives Jeongguk a wink before spinning off to comply. Taehyung leans all the way back in his seat so his back meets Jeongguk's arm, soft hair brushing the sensitive skin on the inside of his elbow.
“You look so handsome tonight. Been anywhere interesting?” Taehyung asks, pink tongue wetting stained lips, and suddenly the easy confidence and endorphins slide away to remind Jeongguk of why he's here.
“Yeah. I was at— at a gallery opening,” he tells him, doesn't know why he tells him.
“Mhm. Were you with your girlfriend?” Taehyung murmurs, deep voice knowing and amused.
“Yeah I was. Yeah,” Jeongguk's confirms, lets him prod him.
“But you're not together anymore.”
“You're not with her right now,” Taehyung points out, lifting his wine to his mouth, the long sleeve of his shirt sliding down his slender forearm and pooling around his elbow. The fabric catches in the low light, glistening like glossy satin.
“No, I'm not,” Jeongguk confirms absentmindedly, eyeing the dark blue silk of the shirt, top buttons undone to reveal smooth collarbones.
“So? Why not?”
“Our finest Pinot,” Hoseok presents when he materializes on the other side of the counter, setting the wine glass in front of Jeongguk. “Enjoy it, on the house.”
Jeongguk offers Hoseok a vehement thank you, raises his drink in a salute as the bartender leaves them. Taehyung's sipping at his own drink and eyeing him with somewhat expectant eyes, more emotion than he had betrayed the last time they'd met and the girlfriend topic emerged.
Jeongguk thinks Taehyung might be as happy to see him as he is.
He asks what's on his mind. “Are you wearing pajamas?”
Taehyung bursts out laughing, lips stretching into a boxy grin that shows off white teeth and turns his eyes puffy. “No,” he chuckles deeply, like he's never heard a crazier idea. “This is expensive Chinese silk.”
Jeongguk sips his wine briefly before pulling his hand back from Taehyung's chair, reaching for his chest and pinching the loose fabric of his shirt between two fingers. Taehyung seems surprised by the action but doesn't shy away from the proximity, straightens his back and tilts his chin back to let Jeongguk feel the front of his shirt.
Jeongguk rolls the silk between his fingers, the delicate fabric warm from the contact to Taehyung's skin. He could tear it open easily, he's pretty sure, and Taehyung looks up at him with amused hooded eyes that suggest his mind is there, too.
“Do you like it?” Taehyung asks with his boxy grin, lips shut this time in more subdued amusement.
“Yeah, I like it,” Jeongguk answers, rolling the silk once more before he releases it, knuckle lightly brushing over the flat of Taehyung's chest when he distractedly goes to smooth it down. The angle of Taehyung's head back makes it obvious when the elder swallows thickly, throat bobbing slowly, chest rising beneath Jeongguk's touch.
Taehyung asks it like a challenge. “I have some more in the hotel. Would you like to take a look?”
to everyone who's left comments and kudos, thank you! <3
Chapter 4: chevalier
And I remember how the cloth hung.
They walk shoulder-to-shoulder in silence, Jeongguk on the outside of the sidewalk as cars whizz by on the street. Taehyung has a familiar jacket draped over his shoulders, loose arm of leather brushing over Jeongguk's bare forearm.
When they step into the elevator, golden metal doors sliding solidly shut behind them, Taehyung drops back against a wall and Jeongguk follows like there's a string connecting them. He steps in close, crowds into the other's space, and all Taehyung does is tip his head to the side, red lips parting as he eyes Jeongguk, soothing saxophone blowing in the background.
Jeongguk realizes Taehyung isn't taller than him anymore, their noses almost brushing. Jeongguk's breathing picks up, chest rising and falling, and he wonders if the man can hear him pant like he hears it in his head.
Neither have moved by the time the elevator doors ding and open.
Taehyung pushes against Jeongguk's shoulder to brush past, the younger turning and following him down a hall of dim light and maroon carpeting, identical brown doors with golden knobs on either side. When Taehyung stops in front of a door on the far end and rummages through a handbag, Jeongguk catches a whiff of his perfume.
It reminds him of the event he was just at, glass shattering behind him as flees a room full of people who smelled and dressed like Kim Taehyung.
What would Taehyung have thought if he'd seen him storm out like that? Would he have followed?
Would he just have been someone else in Jeongguk's path of destruction?
The door opens and Jeongguk follows Taehyung in with a mind adrift.
“Ah, excuse the mess. You don't mind, do you?” Taehyung asks it like Jeongguk has no choice but not to mind, not that he does as he steps over a pair of black strappy heels to push off his shoes by the door. The heels are big, too big to fit a woman.
“No, I don't mind.”
Taehyung hums, breezing into the room, but Jeongguk's attention has turned to the suite, the biggest and nicest he's ever been in. It's decorated like a modern studio apartment, kitchenette decked out in stainless steel, round dining table, sleek Nordic sofa and TV in the living space. Frosted glass sliding doors lead to a separate enclosure, big bed against floor-to-ceiling windows, Gangnam sprawled before them.
What keeps the scene from looking straight out of a magazine is the clothes. Clothes everywhere, littered over the carpet floors and scattered over the furniture, a pile as tall as a toddler sitting on one end of the couch. Jeongguk's never seen anything like it. Like an exploded department store, all different colors and textures.
For some reason, it makes him smile, boiling heat tapering into gentle warmth. He briefly wonders what Taehyung's bedroom in New York might look like.
“Are these for your job?” he asks, picking up a brown felt beret from the kitchen bar, turning it around in his hands before trying the hat on.
“Oh no, this is all mine,” Taehyung says with an audible grin, row of white teeth on display when Jeongguk looks at him across the room. His brown hair is windblown from the walk to the hotel, blue silk sagging open at the top of his chest as he toes off black fuzzy slippers.
Not taller than Jeongguk in those. What was he wearing before?
“That looks cute on you.”
Jeongguk blinks in momentary confusion, then scrambles to tug off the beret, smoothing back his hair and pretending he can't feel the heat on his face. He turns away, sets the hat back where he found it and carefully avoids stepping on colorful piles as he makes his way over to the white sofa, sinking down on the clear end.
It doesn't look soft but it is, cushions sinking under his weight, and Jeongguk drapes an arm over the top of the seat and drops his head back against the wall behind him, relaxing. Listening to the hum of the AC and movement around the room, breaths slower but still audible to him. He's in a man's hotel room.
Jeongguk cracks an eye open and rolls his head to the side to look up at the nudge to his leg. Taehyung's standing right there in front of him, tall and slender in the matching silk shirt and loose pants, leather jacket gone.
That pretty face angled down to look at Jeongguk, plump upper lip sticking out a little and one eyelid more hooded than the other. Ridiculously beautiful.
The heat returns.
“You sure those aren't pajamas?” Jeongguk teases, arching an eyebrow with a lazy smile, urge to bully coming out of nowhere. Tongue loose when he's tipsy. Mean drunk, Jimin tells him.
Taehyung doesn't seem to mind. “Yes,” he grins. Smiling more than Jeongguk's ever seen him smile. Not the wine because he's seen Taehyung drunk before. Something else.
Bubble of excitement Jeongguk thinks he also feels.
Taehyung sinks closer, suddenly bracing one knee on the sofa between Jeongguk's spread legs and grabbing the back of the couch when he dips in. His perfume is all over him again, cloud thick and sweet.
Jeongguk's lips part and he tips his head back, holds his breath, thinks Taehyung's about to close the distance and kiss him, realization speeding up his breathing.
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung rumbles, raising goosebumps on Jeongguk's arms with how he makes the name sound, deep and alluring. He's so close, soft voice like a vibration in Jeongguk's chest. “I brought you here to show you the other Charmeuse, remember?”
Jeongguk doesn't know what he just said but nods anyway, wetting his lips. Wants Taehyung to kiss him so bad his whole body aches for it.
“So stand up, darling.”
Jeongguk does, immediately, pushing up and watching as Taehyung moves back in tandem, like it's an elaborate dance and they both know the moves. Jeongguk feels out of the loop, like he doesn't know what they're doing and where this is taking them, but when they're both standing again he swings his hand over and grabs Taehyung's hip.
Taking what he wants and asking permission all in one, hand curling over slippery silk and feeling the heat of Taehyung's skin through the thin material. Taehyung is skinny, curve of his hipbone fitting nicely in Jeongguk's palm when he clamps around it.
A hand suddenly curls around the bottom of Jeongguk's arm, Taehyung's palm and fingers warm as they touch him, ease his arm back until Jeongguk isn't touching him anymore.
“I really want to show you something,” Taehyung murmurs, sincere, and all Jeongguk can do is nod again, try not to reach out for another feel of him.
Taehyung moves back and the scent and heat of him are gone. He waltzes across the room to the doors leading to the bedroom nook and Jeongguk watches on, helpless, hand curling into a fist in a feeble attempt to hold onto the warmth of Taehyung's body.
Wants to touch so bad he feels it stir in the pit of his belly, suddenly aware of all the months it's been since he's bedded someone.
Taehyung grabs something in the bedroom, a clothing rack he slowly wheels out, walking backwards to bring it into the living room. Jeongguk stands and watches on.
There are only a few items hanging from the metal rack, all long pieces of fabric, shades of dark blue and deep green and rusty orange swaying gently in place as they're moved, a delicate luster under the yellow glow of the lamp lights.
“Expensive Chinese silk?” Jeongguk guesses after a second, remembering. Taehyung stops walking and stays at the end of the rack, nodding with a hand poised over the top rod. Like he's safeguarding it, like it's important. “Can I see it?” Jeongguk amends.
“Please,” Taehyung whispers, smile small and fragile.
Jeongguk steps over and picks up one of the hangers to pull out a piece, a rich, forest green long dress. It shifts delicately as he moves it, and with his free hand he runs fingers down the length of it, silk cool and smooth like water. His fingers find a slit discretely parting the fabric at the front, which turns out to be the back of the dress. Jeongguk thinks it's pretty, replaces it on the rack to grab another.
It's a red blouse, thin spaghetti straps holding up the gentle folds of fabric. Sexy, like elevated lingerie.
He puts it back and takes another, silk a dark mustard color, a buttoned shirt not too different from what Taehyung's wearing, sleeves long and bell-shaped at the bottom.
“Are these for your work?” he asks, turning his head to face him.
Taehyung's eyes seem to brighten, smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Yes.”
Jeongguk looks back at the yellow shirt and lifts it higher, gently peeling open one side of the fabric, no visible stitchings hindering the smooth flow of the silk. “Is this why you're here? Choose clothes to bring back to New York?” Another guess.
“...yes.” There's some hesitation before the answer and Jeongguk looks over again, eyebrow raised in question. “I'm on vacation right now, technically,” Taehyung elaborates, chuckle sheepish. “Nobody back home knows I'm here for this.”
That's new information, and Jeongguk latches on, wants to know more.
There's another brief pause before Taehyung speaks again.
“Do you know what I do?”
Jeongguk crinkles his nose, turns back to face the silk shirt. He looked it up, read multiple special interest articles on the job title on Kim Taehyung's crumpled business card, but doesn't want that to be too obvious, pathetic. “You choose clothes for a store to sell?”
Taehyung smiles, looking pleased, and Jeongguk figures he can't tell. “I only buy womenswear, but these, I had a greater plan for these,” the man says.
Jeongguk carefully places the shirt back on the rack with the others, glancing down at the blue iteration hanging over Taehyung's body, loose-fitting and yet moulding itself perfectly to the contours of his shoulders. Guesses:
“You were gonna have them sell them to both men and women?”
Taehyung's hooded eyes widen slightly in surprise, hand slipping from the top of the rack to the end of a hanger. He isn't looking at Jeongguk, but the younger swears he sees the pink on his cheek flush further. For a second, Jeongguk finds it hard to believe his own eyes, the vulnerable expression unlike any he's seen Taehyung wear so far, nothing like the confidence he's exuded in all their encounters.
Seems to pride himself in his work, Jeongguk evaluates. Gets shy about it, and yet here he is, showing it to a lame stranger.
“Yes,” Taehyung answers, thumb swiping across an edge of jet black silk. Jeongguk catches a glimpse of pink tongue when Taehyung wets his lips. He looks so nervous all of a sudden Jeongguk finds another impossible guess on the tip of his tongue.
“Am I the first person to see it?” he asks.
Taehyung answers very quietly.
“Yes, you're the first.”
Something like pride explodes in Jeongguk, warmth that has both nothing and everything to do with the lust that brought him into this situation, in a stranger’s hotel room after a party straight out of his nightmares.
Could it be that Taehyung's been thinking of Jeongguk like Jeongguk's been thinking of him?
“Why are you showing this to me?” The blunt question slips past Jeongguk's lips before he can weigh in his words, alcohol buzzing through his system chipping at his brain-to-mouth filter. Never mind boundaries, never mind how words might be taken, never mind that Taehyung already looks smaller than usual.
Taehyung doesn't reply, hand dropping away from the clothing hanger as he draws back and away. Jeongguk turns to look at him, hand itching to reach out and grab his wrist but he holds back. Taehyung's face is back to the perfect mask Jeongguk found so mystifying and hard to read back at the bar, window to his true feelings sliding back shut.
Listless, Jeongguk watches as Taehyung steps over to the desk to grab his handbag, pushing aside the flap and coming back with his pack and a lighter.
Rude, rude question. Tried to act flirty but ended up offending Taehyung. Mean, tactless.
Jimin is always right.
“I just wanted someone to show it to, I guess.”
The answer cuts off Jeongguk's apology and isn't what he wanted to hear. He tries not to let it disappoint him, though, nods in understanding and steps around the clothing rack of silk to continue into the bedroom, get away from the cloud of tension he's just created.
He tries to figure out what was wrong with his question as he crosses the room to the big windows at the end but comes back empty. He doesn't know Taehyung well enough to know why he'd offended him.
Hardly knows him at all.
They are on a high floor, twenty-something, eye to eye with Gangnam's many skyscrapers. The buildings sit dark against the cloudy night sky, fluorescent lights glowing through office windows close and far. The view from up here is completely different from the street view below, a different city. Less frightening from above, like he's actually a match for Seoul, like he belongs in it. He's never liked the look of high rises, much less what they represent, but he figures they aren't so bad from the inside.
Jeongguk wonders if this is what New York City feels like. If Taehyung feels like he belongs to it.
So much he wants to know.
There are light footsteps behind him and then a hand, a wide palm sliding up the top of Jeongguk's back to settle over the curve of his shoulder. Jeongguk straightens his back at the sudden touch, warmth from the hand seeping through the fabric of his shirt. He can see Taehyung's reflection on the glass of the window, standing behind Jeongguk, backlit by the yellow glow of hotel lamps.
“There's another reason why,” Taehyung murmurs, orange ember flaring on the window in front of Jeongguk when the man brings the lit cigarette to his mouth. Jeongguk thinks he can feel the heat of the burn on the back of his neck.
“Why what?” he asks, heart pounding, staying absolutely still out of fear that the hand on his shoulder will slip away if he doesn’t.
“Why I invited you to see.”
“Oh.” He swallows. “What's that?”
The hand on his shoulder slips down the side, fingers curled around Jeongguk's bicep and tracing it through his shirt as they trail down to the rolled up fabric bunched around his elbow. Smoke billows out around them, tickling the back of Jeongguk's throat. He's hyperaware of the touch, hyperaware of his chest rising and falling beside it as Taehyung's long fingers travel back up his arm and stop just shy of his nipple. Touching his arm, touching him.
“Your body, you’re pretty big,” Taehyung says and Jeongguk furrows his brows in confusion at his tone, like there's more to it than just that, twists around to look at the other. “Strong, that is,” Taehyung continues. “I'm not exactly– well.”
There's a gently smoking cigarette stuck between Taehyung's lips when he smiles, releasing Jeongguk's arm to hold up his own, silk sleeve slipping down his slender forearm as if to prove that he lacks the sinewy muscle on Jeongguk.
As if Jeongguk hadn't already committed to memory the shape of Taehyung's body, tall and lean like a runway model.
“I wanted to see what you'd look like in it.”
Taehyung plucks the cigarette from his lips, thin gust of smoke filtering out through the corner of his mouth.
“It's one thing to pull off clothing when you have no shape, another when you do. I want to make sure this would look good on a man who looks like you,” he explains.
“Oh.” Jeongguk's mind is spinning, the request like nothing he had in mind. This was the reason? This is why Taehyung wanted him in his room?
Jeongguk's thinking, some automatic response inside him saying no but brain trying to override it. Taehyung wants to dress him up in delicate, pretty silk, see what his clothes look like on Jeongguk's body. Jeongguk knows he looks good, spends hours at the gym whenever he can to make sure he does. What would he look like in something other than cotton t-shirts and worn sweatpants?
Maybe he'd look incredible. Maybe Kim Taehyung would finally take notice.
“Will you do it?”
There's no more time to think, but what does he need to think for?
Taehyung's eyes brighten again, whatever angst he felt over Jeongguk’s rude prodding seeming to dissipate entirely. Jeongguk wonders if he had expected him to turn down the request, if Taehyung can read him that well.
“Okay?” he breathes.
“Okay,” Jeongguk repeats, and when Taehyung starts to grin the corners of his own mouth stretch into a smile to reflect it.
“Oh, that's great! You're so sweet,” Taehyung slips his cigarette back between his smiling lips, slapping a hand over Jeongguk's cheek and squeezing the lobe of his ear with long fingers. Jeongguk leans away from the touch instinctively, automatic response to being babied, but Taehyung laughs like he'd expected that, lightly flicking Jeongguk’s earring before pulling away.
He walks back to the living room to stand in front of the clothing rack, browsing through the pieces with one hand, the other settling over his hip.
Jeongguk watches him from the window and is suddenly hit by how picturesque the scene is. Cigarette swirling smoke around him, provocative curve of his spine, elegant hand at his hip as he gets lost in thought, Kim Taehyung is beautiful. Like a vintage French film, old record player sounding in the background.
Taehyung is beautiful, and Jeongguk wants to take his picture. Figure him in a scene, dress him up– down– and have him pose for his camera.
He blinks, wide eyed and startled, surprised at where his mind just was.
“Would you put this one on?”
Taehyung pulls a hanger out from between the folds of fabric, bright red silk blouse spilling downwards. It has small buttons around the v-shaped collar, the rest just a single unobstructed cut of luminous fabric. It's just a long-sleeved shirt, not a dress or a skirt or anything too outrageous, and Jeongguk briefly wonders if Taehyung is trying not to scare him off.
“Yeah, okay,” he nods, walking over slowly and taking the hanger from Taehyung, lingering before him.
Taehyung's watching him with an excited glint to his eye, plucking the cigarette from his lips between two fingers and blowing the smoke to the side.
Jeongguk stays close as he lifts his hand to the front of his navy shirt, popping open the top button before slowly moving to the next, undressing in front of Taehyung.
The elder is the one to turn away first, spinning around to step over to his purse and pull out his phone.
Jeongguk does turn away then, sweeps his gaze over the room before moving to stand at the side of the bed, tossing the silk blouse to the edge. He quickly unbuttons the rest of his shirt, frosted glass doors parted behind him, straight shot to Taehyung across the room.
When he peels the button-down off, tosses it on the bed and stands bare-chested, Jeongguk risks a glance back over his shoulder. Taehyung's watching him, phone in his hand but eyes on Jeongguk. He holds his cigarette in the V of his fingers and takes a drag, orange flaming and smoke filtering out of his nose when he speaks.
“Putting it on, darling?”
Jeongguk twists back around to tug the red shirt off its hanger. It comes off easy, spilling around his hand like solid water, and Jeongguk feels a little unfit as he tries to hold it out and figure the best way to get it on.
“Need some help?”
Taehyung's offer comes from across the room and Jeongguk scoffs only because it sounds like he's just joking.
“You know, if you expect guys to actually wear this you should consider what's difficult for us,” Jeongguk teases back, arching a brow and glancing back at Taehyung to shoot him a cheeky grin.
“You say that like I'm not a guy, too,” Taehyung accuses, pointing his cigarette out at Jeongguk as he steps over a pile on the floor to drop to the couch. Keeping up with Jeongguk’s teasing banter like it's second nature to him.
“I am a guy,” Taehyung laughs, exasperated, like this is something he's actually had to seriously clarify before.
“Sure, yeah, but not a bro guy,” Jeongguk insists with a grin, enjoying this too much, turning around the whole way to face the living room with arms crossed, silk caught between them. That has Taehyung laughing, sound not particularly dainty or elegant, boyish even. Jeongguk is grinning so hard.
“I don't think bro guys are our target market, darling,” he says between chuckles, dropping his head back against the wall to take a drag of his cigarette.
“Then why am I being targeted right now?”
It's only when he says it that Jeongguk connects the dots. Why does Taehyung need to see someone with thick arms in his unisex clothes again?
Taehyung lowers his head and looks at Jeongguk from the corner of his eye like he senses where his train of thought has led him, like he's only mildly perturbed that Jeongguk might be figuring out that this isn't actually beneficial to him.
Figuring out that this isn't work-related to Taehyung, that it doesn't make sense.
Figuring out that Taehyung might just be trying to see Jeongguk in the clothes he likes.
“Put it on, Jeongguk,” he whispers.
Jeongguk’s heart is racing and instead he takes a step towards the living room, towards Taehyung. His arms uncross, hand closing tight around the silk shirt as he strides over and closes the distance. He sees Taehyung's hand reaching up, towards him, landing on his arm and sliding up into the back of Jeongguk's hair when he lowers a knee to the couch, leans down to meet him.
The doorbell rings.
Taehyung stiffens immediately, stops Jeongguk as he's about to kiss him, pushes him away with a hand on his chest. Jeongguk staggers back in a daze, watches cluelessly as Taehyung stands up and breezes past him to get to the door, smoke trailing after him.
Taehyung looks through the peephole, peeling away with a curse after a second. Looks back at Jeongguk, meeting his eyes and holding his gaze for a long moment.
There's something wrong.
Jeongguk's bare chest rises and falls in quiet, shallow pants. They were this close to kissing a second ago, but now he feels as if Taehyung's staring at him like he doesn't know what he's doing there.
Taehyung opens the door.
“Why are you here?” he demands, stepping back as a man crowds into him and pushes his way into the suite. The man is tall, dark, and handsome, charismatic face and presence of a celebrity.
“I needed to see you,” starts the man, who then freezes when he notices Jeongguk in the room, stares at him for a moment and then quickly addresses Taehyung without turning away. “Who is this?”
“Someone I met,” Taehyung answers quickly, stepping around the man to stand between him and the room, back to Jeongguk. “What are you doing here, Bogum?”
“I can just go,” Jeongguk mutters, crestfallen, pulling his shirt over his head because he feels a little silly standing there half naked now.
“No, I invited you here,” Taehyung interjects without looking back at Jeongguk. “You have to go,” he says to the man, Bogum.
“Are you fucking this kid?” Bogum spits out the words. “Are we fucking high schoolers now, Taehyung?”
“Oh please, he's four years younger than you,” Taehyung snorts, taking an angry pull of his cigarette.
“I think I should go,” Jeongguk says again, uncomfortable with witnessing this, uncomfortable with how Taehyung's actor-boyfriend, ex, whatever he is, is eyeing him.
Looking like he's itching for a fight, one Jeongguk might just be inclined to join.
“Yeah, you should,” Bogum quips.
“Bogum.” Taehyung hisses it, but now it sounds like he might agree, like he also wants Jeongguk to leave.
Jeongguk keeps his head down as he makes his way over to the door, Taehyung and Bogum shifting out of the way when he steps through them to get to his shoes. The black sandals are still there and Jeongguk feels a lump wedge in his throat when he sees them by his shiny Oxfords.
Nothing else is said until the door slams behind him, but Jeongguk hears muffled yelling through the walls as soon as it does.
He holds his breath in the walk to the elevator, closes his eyes when he steps in and it shuts behind him.
Jeongguk stumbles into the train with unlaced shoes, takes the priority seat at the far end of the car even if it's the last train and everyone inside has their eyes closed.
He belatedly realizes the shirt he's wearing isn't his own, but the red silk blouse he'd meant to put on for Taehyung. Has a moment to feel embarrassed, angry, then just sad. Hurt.
He's so, so hurt.
His chest is heavy, loaded, and Jeongguk curls forward into his lap and presses fingers into his eyes and cries. Can't even wait until he's alone.
When he arrives home, drops down on his tiny bed in a silk shirt covered with wet streaks, Jeongguk's phone chimes several times in his pocket.
I'm so sorry.
Please let me see you again
Received 12:36 AM
Chapter 5: neu roses
In truth I'm up on my luck, can't stop running amok.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
It's the scolding Jeongguk has been waiting for all morning, since he emerged from his bedroom to find Jimin at the stove silently flipping pancakes, no music or loud greeting when he noticed the younger join him.
It's not often that they have serious fights, Jimin too indulging and Jeongguk always willing to make it up to him, but when they do it's always like this. Jimin's cold shoulder has a tendency to sting more than a million insults.
Jeongguk had set out plates and butter on the wobbly dining table, apologetic in his meek movements and silence, but Jimin's shoulders stayed tense and it was only when they both took seats to eat together that the elder broke the silence.
“I wasn't, hyung,” Jeongguk mutters, elbow on the table and knuckles folded against his cheek as he takes the pancake at the top of the stack and drops it onto Jimin's waiting plate. He doesn't want to talk about this, has spent a sleepless night going over it a million times in his head already and doesn't really feel like reliving it again.
“Yeah, clearly. Do you know how awkward it was for me after you left like that?” Jimin demands. Jeongguk doesn't have to look over to guess what kind of face his friend's making, full lips pressed together and ever-smiling eyes hard. Jimin's angry, justifiably so. No, Jeongguk can't even imagine how it must've been for him to be alone with the mess he created. And it was Jimin's day, too, his special event.
“I'm sorry, hyung,” Jeongguk sighs softly, no fight in him. He lowers his head, cards fingers through his overgrown bangs and wishes he could just stand up and walk away from this scolding, maybe tell Jimin he got the punishment he deserved afterwards, just a couple hours later.
“You have to apologize to her. God— how are you even going to do that? She left, you know, right after you did. Apologized like it was her fault and all. Jesus, Jeongguk.”
Jimin pauses as they both process the thought together, poor Jieun probably tearfully leaving the event Jeongguk had invited her to after he all but verbally harassed her, bullied her for something that didn't matter. Jimin shakes his head wearily and Jeongguk drops his head forward to slide his palm across his face.
For all that he's mulled over the previous night, Jeongguk realizes he hasn't spent much time considering Jieun and her feelings. Too self-absorbed, selfish. No wonder things turned out the way they did, he thinks. Too caught up in his own feelings, he never stopped to consider how one-sided they were. Karma, poetic justice that he'd get pushed aside in the end.
“What even came over you?” Jimin continues, and this time Jeongguk can't even bring himself to keep his head up as he's talking, his throat too tight. “I thought we were over that childish stuff, you getting randomly grouchy. It's like, all of a sudden you were in this horrible mood and—” Jimin pauses again but Jeongguk still can't look, too busy rubbing at his eyes with his fingers.
“Are you crying right now?”
Jeongguk shakes his head futilely, but his runny nose gives him away when he sniffles loudly in an attempt to suck it back in. His eyes still feel swollen from crying the night before, but apparently his body isn't done feeling sorry for itself yet.
The chair across from him scrapes noisily across the floor when Jimin stands and bustles around the table, grabbing Jeongguk's knee when he crouches down beside his chair.
Jimin's indulging, always so ready to forgive. Sometimes they joke that Jeongguk's tears awaken his maternal instincts. Sometimes it doesn't feel entirely like a joke.
“Stop, I'm fine. I'm fine,” Jeongguk insists, pushing away his friend's hand because he's embarrassed, doesn't want to be comforted when this is all his fault.
“Jeonggukie, hyung didn't mean to make you cry. I know you were just trying to defend me in your own way, alright?” his friend croons, near one-eighty from the stern tone he was just using. Like he thinks Jeongguk's a fragile thing, might crack at the lightest harsh word.
Jeongguk usually lets Jimin get away with babying him when he's feeling this small but now it just reminds him of Taehyung for some reason. Of how they were last night, how being around Taehyung had made him feel. How all he'd wanted was to please him, make him smile his pretty grin, happiness a good look on him. One Jeongguk took pleasure in thinking he brought on.
“Guk, what's wrong?”
Taehyung, Jeongguk realizes. He hasn't even told his best friend about Taehyung. Jimin, who he thinks he tells everything to, who knows him better than anyone else.
“Jeongguk, you gotta talk to me.”
But there are important factors Jeongguk has been considering overnight, the unbalanced interest, the age gap, the girl he's been seeing who seems to like and accept him even when he keeps screwing up.
Jeongguk might genuinely not feel like Jieun is the one for him, doesn't think he could be with her after all of this even if he wanted to, but the fact that she's there and exists is a reminder that there are more fish in the sea. He doesn't need to chase after someone who shows no interest back. That a perfect girl like Jieun likes him gives him something to fall back on, a safer bet.
Took another earnest suitor– tall, dark-haired younger man desperate for Taehyung's affection– to make Jeongguk realize he's just wasting his time thinking about something he can't have. The stranger like a reflection of himself, pining and pitiful. Was that how Taehyung saw him?
The grass is always greener on the other side, so be happy with what you have. It's what Jimin's warned him of many times. Jeongguk figures it's time to start listening.
“Nothing, hyung,” he mutters. Clamps up, shaking his head and deciding he's going to keep the secret of Taehyung to himself. No point in discussing a romance that never really was. Over before it ever began.
And Taehyung's unavailable, Jeongguk's known it since reading that address on his business card, but he's been ignoring that bit of information for far too long.
What's the point of grieving for something that could never happen?
* * *
Jimin helps Jeongguk craft an apology text to Jieun. Jeongguk quietly edits out the ‘baby’ and the tearful emoji, sends a message he'd be comfortable sending to any friend. She answers promptly, short response saying she understands, figured Jeongguk had just had a bad day, and promises to not take it personally.
Jeongguk never answers Taehyung's text, leaves it on read.
* * *
Jeongguk's shift at the bar on Sunday comes on another blustery, stormy day. He heard on the news that it's a typhoon on its way, the city in the path of some tropical storm originated in a foreign country and expected to sweep the coast at the beginning of the work week. He can hear the rough patter of rain through the walls, can smell it in the crisp air whenever the front door swings open with another departing customer.
The place is almost empty by the time midnight rolls around, the only bargoer left being an old man Jeongguk recognizes as a regular in one of the booth tables at the back of the bar. Instead of wine he's drinking herbal tea, teabag he'd brought himself and hot water supplied by the bartender. Jeongguk thinks the man might be retired, bed of white hair thinning on his head and tips always generous.
He used to wonder why anyone would spend hours at this bar by themselves, but tonight he thinks he might understand. The murmur of jazz is surprisingly soothing to the turbulent mind.
Jeongguk isn't not expecting it when he shows up that night.
The door opens and the sound of rain floods into the bar and Jeongguk already has a feeling of who it might be before he looks over and confirms it.
Taehyung has the same black umbrella, the long one he'd propped against the wall that first night. He's in faded blue jeans damp at the hems, the first time Jeongguk's seen him in anything resembling regular casual menswear, although the excessively loose striped button-down tucked in behind his leather belt is a reminder of how he usually dresses. Classy and over-the-top, too many buttons undone at the top hinting at the downward slope of his shoulders.
Taehyung's brown hair shines under the dim light, maybe a little puffy from the humidity, and when he looks across the room and meets Jeongguk's gaze and slowly wets pink lips, Jeongguk's suddenly reminded of the hold his presence has on him. Taehyung's aura like a beacon, confidence attractive and face straight out of a movie screen. Without the barrier of other people in the room, Jeongguk feels exposed.
He turns away, ducks under the bar and pretends to sort something around in the glass fridge so he doesn't have to stand there and watch Taehyung saunter over. The counter between them feels like safety, physical barrier where there's little else.
Jeongguk doesn't want to talk to Taehyung. It isn't a good idea to talk to Taehyung.
But does he have a choice?
Eventually Jeongguk feels silly enough he has to stand back up, and when he does Taehyung is right there, exactly on the opposite side of the bar. The floor slopes and gives the bar a slight height advantage, but Jeongguk doesn't feel any taller than him as meets his eyes, warm and brown and concerned.
And it's annoying, frustrating that even disappointed and embarrassed and pissed off Jeongguk still can't help but think the world of this Kim Taehyung, admire him for what he wears and what he looks like and how the slight furrow of his brows and thin set of his lips just make Jeongguk want to kiss him silly.
All so skewed, how much only he wants. Him, only ever him, Taehyung barely showing any real interest back. Just enough to let Jeongguk know the attraction's not entirely unreciprocated, always just enough to keep him hanging.
“What do you want?” Jeongguk asks, trying to sound like he's just addressing another guest but he'd never be this rude.
The furrow between Taehyung's dark brows deepens and a pink tongue swipes over the seam of his lips before it's disappearing behind them again. Jeongguk has to avert his gaze after that, remind himself that even if Taehyung's being so attractive to him it doesn't mean he intends to be, doesn't mean anything. He's mistaken it for flirting before but that's all it ever was, a mistake.
“Are you angry at me?” comes Taehyung's low voice slowly. He says it soft and worried but Jeongguk doesn't like the question, thinks it disingenuous.
“What do you want?” he repeats, crossing his arms over his chest, work blazer pulling around his shoulders, strung tight like his insides.
Taehyung says it and then goes silent as if Jeongguk's supposed to chime in that he isn't. Jeongguk stays quiet and frowns at him, the best scowl he can manage under the circumstances. It's not hard to look pissed when he's spent days brooding and all Taehyung does when he finally reaches out is pretend not to know why he'd be upset.
“Why?” Taehyung continues, then hesitates and adds, “Me and Bogum are not together.”
“Are you gonna order a drink? I'm kind of working right now,” Jeongguk replies icily, jerking his chin in the direction of the single customer sharing the room with them.
His mind is processing what he's just heard, that the tall desperate guy wasn't Taehyung's boyfriend, but Jeongguk already had a suspicion that that might be the case and so the words don't provide much in the way of comfort.
He watches Taehyung look across the room, moisten his lips again as he regards the bar’s final guest for a moment before simply heading over.
Jeongguk's jaw drops in shock as Taehyung walks straight up to the man's table and stops beside it, back to the bar as he says something in a hushed tone, voice a low murmur.
Jeongguk should tell him to back off, leave the customer alone, but he's frozen in place and too embarrassed when the old man looks at him around Taehyung. All Jeongguk can do is bow a wordless apology, mind racing when the hears the man reply something he can't make out.
Jeongguk sees Taehyung reach for the wallet in the back pocket of his jeans, then the man stands and folds his paperback closed, touching Taehyung's elbow as he steps out of the booth with a friendly smile that has wrinkles crinkling around his kind eyes.
Whatever Taehyung's said to him, the man is leaving now.
Jeongguk stutters. “Sir, you don't—”
“Have a good night, son,” the old man says simply, shooting Jeongguk another kind smile and a nod as he passes the bar and grabs his umbrella from the bin by the door before making a swift exit.
The sound of rain amplifies before the door shutting behind him muffles it once again. Leaving Jeongguk completely alone with Taehyung.
He whips his head in the other’s direction. “What are you doing? You can't do that!” Jeongguk shrieks, annoyance and disbelief seeping into his voice and raising it an octave. “This is my job! That guy was a regular! What are you going to do if he never comes back?”
“Relax, Jeongguk, he'll come back,” Taehyung assures him, looking entirely unperturbed that Jeongguk's raising his voice as he approaches the bar again.
“How the hell do you know?” Jeongguk demands, taking a step back as Taehyung closes the distance, the counter between them suddenly not nearly enough. “You kicked him out!”
“I didn't, I asked him very nicely if I could have a word with you after I bought him a drink,” Taehyung replies evenly, brushing hair back from his brow with a finger, the rest of his hand curled around the cuff of his sleeve. “It's not a big deal, it's already late. The guy was nice.”
“You can't just do that,” Jeongguk all but growls, resentment and hurt surging in his chest, backed up against the alcohol shelves like a cornered animal. “You can't just send people packing when it's convenient for you. It's rude and it's shitty and I don't care if that's okay with you rich people in New York because it's not okay to do here, and if you can't understand that then you better just fucking leave.”
His outburst has Taehyung going silent, his face draining of any expression until it's completely blank, a reticent mask Jeongguk's so used to. The yelled words ring out of place when the room goes quiet except for the smooth piano– perhaps not as calming to the soul after all. Just makes the turmoil more starkly obvious.
Jeongguk's heaving, jaw muscles clenched tight as he presses his teeth hard together. For a moment he feels a twinge of regret, unease creeping in as he regrets yelling and feels he took it too far. No point in bringing up the money, the America thing. But it's what he's been thinking, what's been on his mind the last few days, and Jeongguk never could contain himself for long.
But then Taehyung's pursing his lips and stepping closer, hand outstretching slowly to reach over the bar to Jeongguk. His arm isn't long enough to touch him, stays in midair like he's waiting for Jeongguk to take his hand. Jeongguk's jaw slackens, eyes flitting down to the hand held out to him, fingers long and elegant.
“You're right,” Taehyung says softly, even-keeled despite the one-way shouting match. Patient, perhaps remorseful himself. “You're absolutely right. I was horrible to you, so inconsiderate. I shouldn't have let you go.”
Jeongguk could reach out, close the distance and slip his own fingers through Taehyung's waiting ones. It's what part of him has been waiting to hear, a heartfelt apology, and it does feel like something brittle like recognition.
But that isn't enough.
“No.” The word comes out like a half-suppressed cough, choked out and timid. Jeongguk doesn't know where the anger he was holding onto went, feels this harder without it. He turns his head away and lowers it, hair spilling down over his eyes. “You should go.”
It's silent again, just music. Jeongguk listens to the familiar melancholic sax seeping through the speakers, a sound that used to get on his nerves but comforts him now, provides him with some much needed sense of familiarity when everything he's feeling is endlessly uncomfortable and new.
When he leaves, Taehyung doesn't say anything. Jeongguk feels the way he withdraws his hand like he's watching it happen. He doesn't hear footsteps, not with the music and without the sharp clack of heels, but a moment later the front door is opening and the storm roaring in briefly before it all goes quiet again.
Sax and bass, everything else muffled. Jeongguk is alone now.
For a moment, everything is fine. He raises his head and the room is all empty space again, no pretty face to distract him or lead him down the path of no return.
Jeongguk breathes, sniffles, it's all so quiet.
It's what he wanted, what he told himself had to happen next time he and Taehyung saw each other. Nothing between them anyway, no kiss or touches or anything to regret. It's good that he cut it off now, before anything could ever happen. Jeongguk hasn't done anything, can just forget he ever met the man and move on with his life. A clean break.
It's just a vacation for Taehyung, but for Jeongguk it's his life . He'll still be here when the other is gone, which could happen any day now.
Any day. And then Jeongguk will never see him again. Not his warm eyes or boxy grin or the curve of his slender body, shoulders wide and slim. Not his skirts or loose shirts or strikingly odd outfits. He won't hear his voice, low and creamy like the blow of sax itself. Won't ever touch his hair, verify that it's as soft as it looks.
Jeongguk wanted to take his picture. God, how he wishes he'd taken one, at least one.
But he didn't do anything.
“Fuck,” he whispers.
Has to do something.
Jeongguk moves fast, bolting down and out the gap underneath the bar at the side. Miscalculates, hits the top of his head on the counter when he tries to stand too early, but he ignores the sharp pain in favor of rushing across the room to the door. He catches a glimpse of the black umbrella against the wall but ignores that, too, no time.
The downpour is torrential, wind roaring in when Jeongguk pushes the door out, and for a second it's disorienting how loud everything is when he's spent hours in the shelter of the bar. Wind and rain and leaves blow in past him, soaking the front of his shirt and pants, and Jeongguk steps out to let the door swing shut behind him so they don't wet the already creaky floorboards of the old building.
And Taehyung's there, standing just outside the bar. The neon drop sign hangs directly above him, BAR spelled out vertically in glowing red letters that buzz audibly beneath the whistle of the wind, and with the chaos of weather he doesn't seem to notice Jeongguk come out. Has a hand cupped around a lighter, flicking at it insistently as he attempts to light the cigarette stuck between his lips. Orange flame licking up weakly before it promptly dies at the onslaught of the storm. Taehyung's hands are trembling.
Jeongguk's voice gets lost in the wind, but the other still somehow hears it, head whipping around to face the younger at the door. He slowly lowers the hand holding the lighter, stares at Jeongguk in the dark with wide, open eyes, matted hair hanging gracelessly around his cheeks, cigarette dangling from his lips. Bathed in the red glow of the neon sign above him, storm raging all around.
It's the first time Jeongguk's seeing Taehyung anything but perfectly composed, hair flat and wet and drenched button-down hanging heavily from his shoulders, clinging to his chest. Disheveled look like nothing Jeongguk could've ever imagined he'd get to see, and there's a vulnerability in the openness of his expression even in the low light that makes Taehyung infinitely more approachable.
Maybe Jeongguk's not the only one struggling.
Jeongguk closes the distance in long, quick strides and Taehyung doesn't move, just backs himself against the brick wall as the other crowds into his space. Jeongguk's hands go to Taehyung's body, fingers curling around the jut of his hip and slipping into the back of his wet hair, tangling in the weighed down longish strands. Taehyung tips his head back into the touch, damp cigarette brushing the side of Jeongguk's cheek when the younger leans in and only stops when he's got his nose against the side of Taehyung's face.
He whispers it, the proximity the only thing leaving his voice audible over the roaring wind. “Can I kiss you?”
Jeongguk thinks he hears Taehyung groan. “Yes.”
The cigarette between Taehyung's lips is almost soft to the touch when Jeongguk plucks it between his fingers, taking it away as the elder parts his lips to let him have it. He drops it to the pavement and it’s immediately blown away, but his eyes are instead fixed on Taehyung’s mouth in the dark before he moves in and covers it with his.
Taehyung sighs against his face, warm air fanning Jeongguk's wet cheek, breath like mint instead of wine. He kisses gently at first, letting the younger take the lead as he slides a warm palm up Jeongguk's drenched back, blazer stuck to his t-shirt underneath. Jeongguk clamps his hand harder around his hip, feeling the intense heat of Taehyung's skin permeate the soaked cotton.
Jieun was the last person he kissed, a parting kiss goodnight after one of their dinner dates. Her lips had been soft and small and sweet, kiss not timid but somehow not leaving Jeongguk craving more.
Taehyung's lips are fuller, supple upper lip pressing soft over the top of Jeongguk's as he works his mouth against his. Instead of handing over the reins entirely, Taehyung kisses light and unhurried but insistent, not letting the energy die down when Jeongguk slows the movement of his jaw. He's the one to slide out his tongue first, slipping it hot into Jeongguk's mouth and licking at the roof of his mouth. Jeongguk shudders, feels a pang in his lower belly, pushes Taehyung against the wall as he responds in kind, sliding their tongues together.
It feels incredible, the kind of kiss that's perfectly orchestrated and satisfying, the water dripping into their mouths from their faces making it taste of rain, like nothing Jeongguk's ever had before. And it feels good to hold Taehyung close, heat emanating from his chest and the back of his head even when his skin is chilled at the surface. When he presses Taehyung against the wall with the weight of his chest and Taehyung moans into his mouth, Jeongguk’s heart flutters.
His hair and clothes are getting soaked with cold water, but instead of a hinderance it feels to Jeongguk like validation, metaphysical proof that this is right, summer storm makeout like a scene out of a movie. It can't be wrong if it's this cinematic, the quintessential first kiss.
Taehyung's also the one to part first, mouth sliding wet up to Jeongguk's cheek as he breaks the kiss. Jeongguk stays right there against him, hands all over Taehyung and chest heaving against his like skin on skin as they both pant to catch their breaths.
“Taehyung,” Jeongguk says again, like a plea or a prayer. Cranes down to bring his mouth to the elder’s neck, the perfume he always wears strong with how wet his skin’s gotten.
They're both soaked to the bone, cold.
The hand Taehyung has on Jeongguk's back travels down, smoothing down the back of his blazer to the seat of his jeans. Taehyung's palm is wide and warm as it settles over the curve of Jeongguk’s ass, not pulling or squeezing, just a heavy touch.
“Jeongguk,” he murmurs, the way his deep voice laces around the syllables of his name ingraining itself in Jeongguk’s mind, even if it's hard to hear. He slowly raises his face from the crook of Taehyung's neck, their noses sliding damply together as the elder tilts his own head down to knock his forehead against Jeongguk's. “I’m so sorry.”
Their faces are as close as can be, forehead to forehead, nose bridge to nose bridge. Jeongguk’s staring right into Taehyung's eyes, the angle granting him a closeup view of the slight mismatched shape he noticed that first night, one hooded and the other a double lid. They look black in the dark, blown and round, water drops clinging to his straight eyelashes and making them stick together. It's hard to keep his eyes open at the onslaught of rain spilling down over them, but Jeongguk still manages to keep them wide open. He’s never stood this physically close to anyone before, never breathed in the air breathed out by someone else. It’s intense, has his heart thudding against his ribs, hammering he can distinctly feel.
“Okay,” he replies.
Taehyung doesn't move, hand warm on Jeongguk and breath even warmer. “Will you forgive me?”
“Okay,” Jeongguk repeats, without hesitation.
He feels Taehyung's smile, sees it in his eyes. “Let's go back in,” he calls out over the rain.
Chapter 6: hold me down
If you love me baby let me hear you say it, I know I'm your favorite.
Taehyung comes see him at the bar every night after that.
He shows up around ten, orders a different kind of wine every day, and sits at one of the booth tables in the back. More often than not, when Jeongguk looks over between mixing drinks and swiping credit cards, Taehyung is on his phone. Typing or scrolling through or talking into it. Jeongguk thinks he does that a lot. He wonders if those are his business hours running late or if it's all pleasure that has Taehyung stuck to electronics in the middle of the night.
Jeongguk thinks of Taehyung a lot. More, ever since their kiss.
He doesn't have to wonder anymore if Taehyung likes him, can see it clear now in the softening of his eyes when they meet his across the dark room. It's there in how the lines around Taehyung’s eyes disappear, the furrow of his brows smooth out when he catches the bartender looking his way. It's like tension drains from Taehyung's face when he sees Jeongguk, like the sight of him can momentarily do away with whatever's been troubling his mind.
Jeongguk recognizes the feeling because he thinks he feels the same happen to him.
So he knows his presence has a clear effect on the guy, has him coming back everyday, but Taehyung always leaves the bar before it's empty and they can get any alone time.
On the night they kissed, after heading back inside to escape the storm– clothes dripping on scratched hardwood, collecting in puddles Jeongguk would later mop up– Taehyung had cupped Jeongguk's cheek in a big palm, let him lean in and take another kiss. Then he had pulled back, said he needed to go– and Jeongguk had let him, too dazed and flustered to do or say anything else.
Back in his bedroom that night Jeongguk had held his phone to call Jieun, tell her he wanted to break off whatever it is they had, but just as he'd pulled up her contact card he'd been flooded with images of how that call might go. Confusion over why Jeongguk was calling so late, hurt over the request, anger at him for doing it over the phone. And what would he say when she asked why? It wasn't her– wasn't perfect, sweet, friendly Jieun at all– and he didn't want to hurt her by having her think that it was. No, it was him.
But just the thought of ‘it's not you it's me’ had Jeongguk hurling his phone away.
He doesn't know what to say. Doesn't know if he should be honest and tell her there was someone else he was interested in. He wouldn't be breaking up with her if there wasn't Taehyung, would he? But could he even tell her about him? Jieun seemed generally open-minded, but he had no idea how she'd react to that. Maybe it'd be insulting, maybe it would hurt her more.
Jeongguk really doesn't want to hurt her. He might not be interested in Jieun romantically but he doesn't want things to end on a bad note. She’s nice. Maybe they could stay friends after. Jeongguk’s never broken up with anyone before but has a clear idea of how he wants it to go– he just hasn't figured out how to get there yet.
So he postpones it, tells himself the best way to do it is in person next time they meet. They'd never really talked about being in a relationship, didn't text or see much of each other at all, so maybe she'd never been his girlfriend after all. It was possible. Maybe when he suggested they break up she'd laugh at the idea that they'd ever been dating. Maybe she'd continue smiling and tell Jeongguk that yes, they could keep hanging out without the romantic expectations.
Jeongguk wants that to be true. Never thought himself a cheater, doesn't feel like that's what he's been doing to Jieun, who he never thought of as the girl I like. But he knows it's also entirely possible that that's what Jieun had been expecting of him, that cheating is exactly what he's been doing.
He doesn't want to know. Better not to think of it while he figures out how to deal with it.
What he does want to know is what Taehyung thinks of him. Taehyung, who seems bold, assertive and resolute and yet has done nothing about their unresolved chemistry, the way the other bodies in the room fall away so it's just them, the electricity sparking like a downed power line between them when they catch each other looking. Jeongguk knows Taehyung feels it, too.
Taehyung's left it up to Jeongguk to make the first and every move, and yet keeps coming around to his workplace every night only to leave before he can get the chance to talk to him. It's a confusing and frustrating game, one Jeongguk has started getting used to when it comes to Taehyung. One he's no good at and doesn't want to play but ends up getting sucked into anyway.
It takes four nights of that for Jeongguk to finally decide he's had enough. It's Wednesday, last day of his work week, and maybe it's the thought of not seeing Taehyung those next few days that has Jeongguk thinking that this is the night he does something about the man's disappearing act.
The bar is relatively busy, four seats around the bar taken when Taehyung arrives just after ten. He comes dressed in a black head-to-toe look that seems like something out of a funeral-themed editorial, dark and dramatic. Brown hair swept into a black beret, form-fitting turtleneck, cropped pants that swish loose around his legs like a skirt.
“Whatever Pinot you have on hand, please,” Taehyung comes to the bar to order. He has a phone in his hand and isn't looking at Jeongguk. Jeongguk knows because he's staring, Taehyung like a vision in the dim orange light.
“Like that first night, huh?” he chuckles, a little teasing and a little bitter.
“You're not looking at me.”
Taehyung raises his head, phone still poised in his hand. Meets Jeongguk's eyes and— the softening. Jeongguk pretends he doesn't see it. It's not good for him to keep reading too much into that.
“You didn't look at me that first night, either,” Jeongguk supplies. “I kept wanting you to but you wouldn't.” He turns to grab the wine chilling in the back fridge, a bottle he'd set out especially for Taehyung.
Taehyung doesn't say anything and doesn't move, but when Jeongguk returns with the wine and a glass, he hasn't gone back to texting. The phone lays forgotten on the countertop, Taehyung's arms crossed over his chest.
“I looked, I remember looking.” The corner of Taehyung's mouth is slightly curled up as he watches Jeongguk stab the cork with the corkscrew, twist it around. “I thought you had the biggest eyes I'd ever seen.” Jeongguk doesn't know what to make of that and bristles a little, popping out the cork and pulling it from the screw. Taehyung's smile grows. “It's a compliment. People would kill for round eyes like yours,” he says.
Jeongguk considers that for a second as he fills the glass with two-hundred thousand a bottle wine. It's not Pinot Noir. He wonders if Taehyung will be able to tell. “I bet they'd also kill for your eyes,” he replies as he sets the glass on the counter in front of Taehyung, fingers on the foot. Taehyung slips a hand around the bottom of the bowl, stem sliding home between his long fingers, but Jeongguk keeps his own pressed to the base of the glass and doesn't let him take it away.
Taehyung's eyes flick up from the wine, meeting Jeongguk's. He sees it dawn in the man's dark eyes– this is the move.
“No,” Taehyung answers, curl of his lips deceptively amicable.
A bitter taste at the back of his tongue that Jeongguk thinks feels a lot like panic threatens to overwhelm him, but he proceeds as if it's not there at all, as if that response hasn't just been a blow to his confidence. “Yes.”
“Why?” Taehyung's eyes are back on the wine, the dark lines of his eyebrows smooth in one of his impeccably blank expressions. Jeongguk wishes it really were a mask, because then he could reach over and rip it off and see how Taehyung really feels. Why he's acting like this.
“Because I want you to,” Jeongguk answers, just as steadfast. But it sounds childish to his ears, like the stubborn answer he'd give if he cared less than he actually does. So he amends, sincere: “ — because I'm asking. Please.”
Taehyung looks up and holds Jeongguk's gaze, staring into his eyes for so long Jeongguk has to wonder what he sees, what he looks like through them. Before he can worry too much, Taehyung seems to decide in his favor, slowly pulling out the bar stool in front of him and settling down on it. Jeongguk nearly sags in his relief, letting go of the glass.
Taehyung doesn't answer and isn't watching anymore, turns his eyes away as he raises the wine glass to his lips and takes a small sip. He doesn't look too happy about sitting there. Jeongguk wants to say something else but this is pushing his luck already, too personal when they have an audience just one bar stool away. There's only so much lazy jazz can block out.
The man in a business suit who's been at the bar since seven signals the bartender for the check and Jeongguk heads over to settle his tab. There's only one thought in his mind as he works, how there are only three other customers now, three people before he gets to be alone with Taehyung and ask what's up with his behavior. Did he like kissing him or not? He couldn't really just be coming to this bar every night because he liked paying big bucks for wine, right? Jeongguk figures that if people weren't sitting so close he could probably try to talk to Taehyung now. He doesn't know what he'll do if Taehyung tries to leave early again tonight.
Jeongguk sees Taehyung's phone vibrate and light up on the counter. The man picks it up, unlocks it with his fingerprint at the back and resumes his usual practice of reading and texting all night. Just dragging him from his secluded seat wasn't enough to alter the course of things.
Jeongguk eyes the other customers sitting in the dark. Two women chatting over drinks, a depressed-looking man hunched over a nearly empty scotch. There's no one looking, no one needs anything. He pulls out his own phone from the back pocket of his uniform.
What are you doing?
Delivered 10:36 PM
He leans back against the sink below the shelves of liquor, watching and waiting for Taehyung to look up at him. Taehyung doesn't. He types.
Received 10:36 PM
Delivered 10:37 PM
Day has just started in NY.
This is when I work.
Received 10:37 PM
Ohh. Yeah ok.
Delivered 10:37 PM
Jeongguk immediately feels stupid for the question and it must show on his face because he hears Taehyung snicker. His head snaps up, but Taehyung quickly looks back down at his phone, white glow on his face. Jeongguk wants to think the suppressed chuckle was the music playing tricks on him, but the bright light of Taehyung's phone shines like a beacon over the hint of a smile on his lips. Jeongguk licks his and fails to keep from smiling himself.
You laughing at me? Rude.
Delivered 10:38 PM
Taehyung makes another noise of amusement and Jeongguk catches his gaze this time when he glances over. They grin at each other like he and Jimin sometimes do when they share a private joke.
Jeongguk looks back down at his phone and searches through his library of saved memes to send one to Taehyung, a man making a funny face. He's immensely pleased when he hears Taehyung stifle a laugh with his hand.
Did you have this saved on your phone?
Received 10:39 PM
Delivered 10:39 PM
Taehyung replies with the laughing emoji, smiley face squinting with big teardrops on each side. Jeongguk's heart aches a little. He types another message.
You're so cute.
Delivered 10:40 PM
Taehyung stops laughing, and when Jeongguk hesitantly looks over, he finds that he's looking at him, too. He has a soft smile on his face, lips closed and stretched gently. Like he's mollified but still holding back somehow. Jeongguk wants to tell Taehyung he's cute to his face, see if maybe that gets him smiling that boxy grin.
Taehyung licks his lips before his head dips to look back at his phone, thumb tapping across the screen. With his other hand he picks up his wine, lifting the glass to his lips and tipping it back.
This is not Pinot Noir.
You're a naughty bartender.
Received 10:41 PM
Jeongguk lingers on the naughty for longer than he probably should, the word potentially used not as an innuendo but evoking a range of emotions in him. His chest swells a little with the realization that this is flirting, it has to be.
He turns and heads into the back fridge area, his way of putting on a mask over the delight he knows must be showing on his face. If Taehyung can be mysterious then he can, too.
It's Cabernet. I had a taste the other night and thought you might like it.
Delivered 10:42 PM
Jeongguk waits, but the replies stop coming. He can't see Taehyung anymore to check what he's doing, so after a couple minutes of standing alone among buzzing freezers he accepts defeat and tucks his phone away, heading back into the main room. Leave the mystery to Taehyung.
When he emerges from the back, the two women sitting together ask to close their tab. They've been waiting, it seems. Jeongguk hands them back their cards and accepts their generous cash tips with a furtive glance at Taehyung. Maybe this is the reason he stopped texting. Jeongguk's phone vibrates in his back pocket— once, twice.
He checks it when the door swings shut behind the laughing customers.
I like your wine. :)
Received 10:59 PM
There's only one other person left in the bar and Taehyung's wine glass is nearly empty. Jeongguk heads over for a refill.
“How do you like your wine?” He wants to hear the words from his mouth.
“I like it,” Taehyung answers with an amused smile as he watches Jeongguk top up his glass. His phone is locked once more, sitting dark on the counter beside the wine glass. “Thank you. You're truly a great bartender.”
Jeongguk snickers, pressing his lips together over a grin to keep from laughing too loud. Taehyung smiles at him back, big and impish. Taehyung is funny, who would've thought.
“I'm glad,” Jeongguk replies.
Taehyung's phone lights up when it rings. Jeongguk is still standing right on the other side of the counter so he catches a glimpse of the name that flashes across the screen. Park Bogum . There's a picture to go along with it, what looks like a shot taken on a hiking trail with green fields all around, Bogum in sunglasses flashing the camera a winning grin. Taehyung must've taken the photo.
A veiny hand settles over the phone, covering the screen as Taehyung locks the device and declines the call. Jeongguk's eyes flick up and meet his. Neither of them says anything for a long moment. Taehyung's playful smile is long gone. Jeongguk might as well have imagined it.
“How's your girlfriend doing?” Taehyung finally breaks their staring contest.
The deflecting comes like a slap in the face, petty and mean. Jeongguk takes offense. He should've never told him about Jieun.
“I don't have one,” he bites back tersely.
Taehyung's eyebrows shoot up. “You broke up?”
Jeongguk shakes his head. “He isn't your boyfriend either, right?”
Taehyung's eyebrows drop. He stops looking at Jeongguk, picks up his wine and takes a long sip, face— yes, expressionless. Jeongguk moves away, wets a rag in the sink to start wiping off a wine spill he'd ignored earlier. He slaps the damp cloth over the dark puddle with more force than necessary, spattering droplets everywhere. He has to grab the cleaning spray from under the sink, keeps his back to the bar as he scrubs the counter spotless like an act of defiance.
The place falls into silence, low bass and synth backdrop filling the room. Tension sits thick in the air, painful. This is different from the other nights but it isn't quite what Jeongguk had in mind. He's pissed off, but still wonders what sort of text he can send to Taehyung next to take things back to their light hearted banter. Somehow that feels impossible. Jimin would know exactly what to say if he were here to help. Jeongguk feels inadequate.
A chair scrapes over the floor directly behind him. Taehyung is standing up.
“Just the check, please.”
Jeongguk feels like breaking something. He should've seen this coming; no matter how blatant Taehyung's answering flirting is, he always puts a stop to things in the end. He must really not be interested. Must be thinking Jeongguk's just something to play with while he's in town. Jeon Jeongguk, Park Bogum, etcetera. It hurts because he's been acting the same all along but it still hadn't registered in Jeongguk’s brain, he just wants Taehyung more every day. Maybe he deserves this. Maybe it's karma.
He definitely deserves this.
“It's whatever, just— Go.” Jeongguk has to grit it out. He fists a hand around the wet rag, red bleeding through his fingers as he squeezes too hard.
Taehyung is eyeing him, he can feel it, but Jeongguk ignores the weight of his gaze and goes back to polishing circles on the counter until his fingertips feel raw with stained disinfectant. He thinks he hears something like a clasp opening, but by the time it registers with him what that might be and he spins around to stop it, Taehyung is already at the door, pulling it open and stepping out. He left money on the counter, wouldn't even take the damn free drink. Something about that stings.
Jeongguk tells himself he should've known. Nothing much has changed since they kissed, just that as he's getting more obsessed by the day, it's becoming increasingly obvious that Taehyung, for whatever reason, doesn't reciprocate. Jeongguk feels strung along. Like a fool, stalking a guy who isn't interested but keeps flirting back anyway. Keeps coming to see him, keeps watering the crush Jeongguk's trying hard– not hard enough– to uproot.
Jeongguk's never been in this position before. No middle school crush had ever been this miserable, certainly no adult crush. In college, when he found a girl pretty or a boy attractive, Jeongguk had no problem approaching them, no problem getting them to kiss him or like him back. Something's different this time, something that's out of his control.
It's time to stop.
“'—'s not worth it, son,” the lone drunk man sitting in the corner slurs.
It's two a.m. before Jeongguk is able to close up the bar.
It's a chilly night, so he keeps his work blazer on. The wind whistles as he walks down the sidewalk, the buzzing of street lamps and the distant drone of speeding cars on the highway the only sounds in the late night. This part of Gangnam is always dead at night, little nearby nightlife to attract people who'd still be out. It's probably the only reason shoddy Europa is still in business; it's a place for those who have nowhere else to go.
Jeongguk walks with the money Taehyung had left on the counter clutched in one hand. He has a detailed plan: take it back, shove it at the guy, give him a piece of his mind and tell him to find somewhere else to drink as he works. It'll be dramatic, maybe have some hotel neighbors opening their doors to check out the source of the noise, and Jeongguk will stomp away victorious. It will be his catharsis, his last move.
Last move before he lets go.
Jeongguk slows his pace when the looming luxury skyscraper comes into view, fully lit inside with a dutiful valet posted at the door. The man bows at him in greeting when he pushes through the wide revolving doors into the hotel, and Jeongguk tries not to look as angry and upset as he feels when he crosses the opulent lobby to the elevators.
He remembers the floor, the room number, all of it. Remembers when he last stepped into the elevator with Taehyung, the very same one that opens for him now when he presses the button. The same ambient hotel music whistles through the speakers, the same rosewood panels Jeongguk had held Taehyung against and leaned close. He vividly remembers how gorgeous Taehyung had looked that day in his cute silk pajama outfit.
Jeongguk's legs take him to Taehyung's room from a muscle memory that shouldn't exist when he's only walked down these halls once, and drunk. Or twice, really, with the second time being— less pleasant. He figures that maybe it's trauma that has him remembering.
He stops only once he's on the other side of the door. 2413. The hall is quiet, save for the muffled murmur of something that might be a television. It's coming from the very door he's standing behind. Taehyung must still be awake. Maybe working, maybe texting someone else.
None of his business.
Jeongguk knows he'll psych himself out if he hesitates, so he brings his hand down on the door in insistent bangs as soon as he's sure that this is the right room. His heartbeat picks up.
As he's waiting for something to happen, it hits Jeongguk how ironic this is. There he is, showing up at Taehyung's door uninvited to demand things from him, just as that other guy had weeks ago. The worst would be— the worst would be if Taehyung didn't open the door for him, or if Jeongguk found someone else in the room with him when he did. Another of him.
The door opens after a long moment. Taehyung opens it wide, standing barefoot in the doorway in the same all-black ensemble from the bar. His hair is messy and falling over his forehead now, trendy hat gone. He looks so good but Jeongguk reins that thought in, can't keep doing this to himself.
“Jeongguk?” Taehyung's eyes are wide. A small part of the younger takes pleasure in the fact that he's at least surprised to see him. That sets him apart from the others just a little, doesn't it? He catches himself thinking that and gets frustrated.
Jeongguk smacks a hand down against Taehyung's chest, fingers tightly clutching the four 50 thousand won bills. All the words he had planned on saying stay lodged in his throat, a nasty lump obstructing their path. He underestimated how hard this would be. And he still hasn't even said anything.
“—I'm not a–” his voice thins out, unsteady. He's trying so hard not to cry it gets hard to breathe, let alone speak.
“Hey,” Taehyung sounds a little worried this time, but Jeongguk can't look. A hand curls around Jeongguk's wrist where he still has his fist pressed against the elder’s chest. “Are you alright?”
It belatedly occurs to him that Taehyung might be surprised at more than just his presence. Jeongguk feels like a barely controlled mass of emotions. Some of it must show on the outside.
Taehyung steps back and pulls Jeongguk in with him, the two stumbling together into the hotel room when Jeongguk's feet drag feebly behind. It was the TV that was producing the muffled conversation, a black and white film Jeongguk catches a glimpse of illuminating the unlit living space– it doesn't look like there's anyone else in the room with Taehyung. Jeongguk shouldn't care but he does, he cares.
The front door slams shut with a loud bang behind them, the rattling of the doorframe ringing in the silence. The noise snaps Jeongguk back to reality.
“Take your fucking money back, I don't— I don't want your money,” he wheezes, energized, unfurling his fingers from the bills and wrestling his arm out of Taehyung's warm grip. The money drops at their feet and Jeongguk glares at Taehyung, unmoving in the entryway. Standing in his room was never part of the plan but there's still more he has to say before he can leave.
“Should you really be giving away product like that?” Taehyung shoots back, the room too dark without the hallway light to let Jeongguk accurately gauge his expression. He hears something in his voice, though, real emotion Taehyung doesn't always let him see. “Your manager's going to know when he takes inventory, I don't want you getting in trouble for me.”
“Like you care,” Jeongguk snaps back resentfully. It feels awful to acknowledge it out loud. “Like you'd give a fuck if I got in trouble. You don't give a shit about me.”
“That—” Taehyung flinches back. “That's not true.” He sounds hurt at the accusation somehow, but Jeongguk really has to stop trying to see into the stuff he does.
“It is,” he grits. “You keep stringing me along, keep, keep– k-keep making me like you.”
Admitting this much makes Jeongguk feel too vulnerable all at once and he stutters, his grip on his anger slipping. Taehyung watches him with a grimace, chin wrinkled up and bottom lip tucked in like someone who could suddenly burst into tears, too. It's hard to feel anger when he looks like that, but Jeongguk desperately tries to hold onto it because if he doesn't have anger he has only hurt to keep him going, and hurt is what will eventually lead him to tears. Those are for later, for when he's alone in his bedroom, preferably.
“You have to stop,” Jeongguk continues, voice inching higher as it becomes increasingly obvious to him how much he needs this, needs to put some distance between him and Taehyung as soon as possible. Before his crush develops any further— “Stop coming to the bar, I don't want to see you. It's all so much worse when I see you.” He trails off and drops his face in a hand because he feels like he really is about to cry.
This is around when he should be leaving.
But Taehyung moves in and grabs Jeongguk by the forearm. Jeongguk throws that arm aside to yank it from him with a mean strength but Taehyung just clings on tighter, gets his whole lightweight body jerked to the side instead of just letting go. He's doing it again, sending mixed signals and leading Jeongguk on, keeping him stuck in this perpetual cycle of useless pining.
“Get off,” Jeongguk growls, shoving at Taehyung's shoulder with his free hand when the guy just steps closer in the dark. Of all times he's wanted Taehyung to touch him, this is when he finally decides to do it. It's infuriating. “Let go of me!”
Jeongguk shoves Taehyung back too hard and Taehyung gets knocked back against a wall, air rushing from his lungs. It's not too hard a hit but it's a scary thing, Jeongguk seeing himself forcefully smack him away. He gasps, an apology flying from his lips even as Taehyung reaches out and pulls him closer with a hand behind his neck. He pulls Jeongguk in and curls a hand over his tense shoulder.
“It's okay, sweetheart,” he whispers, deep voice low and hushed like someone trying to calm a scared pet. Jeongguk trembles in shock— at how he'd just lost it, at how tender Taehyung is, at how much he loves the feeling of being held by him. He eventually snakes an arm around Taehyung and Taehyung slides his hand into his hair, fingers threading through and lingering.
“Did you hit your head?”
“I'm alright, darling,” Taehyung repeats.
Jeongguk doesn't get the chance to say anything else before Taehyung is enveloping him in a deeper hug. They're about the same height but he tugs the younger down by the back of the head, sliding his other arm around Jeongguk's shoulders to hold him against him on the wall. Jeongguk goes, yielding, and hunches over Taehyung's body to tuck his face in the crook of his neck and shoulder.
Taehyung smells of perfume and cigarettes, a spicy blend that feels both familiar and unique all at once. His body is so warm on his and his hair is longish at the back, tickling Jeongguk's temple. Jeongguk shudders against him, slipping a second arm around the other's slender torso so he's holding him as close as physically possible. He likes him so much.
“I read you all wrong, didn't I?”
Jeongguk's brows furrow, sniffle muffled on the collar of Taehyung's damp turtleneck. “...what?” he asks, voice subdued.
Instead of answering Taehyung slides a hand down Jeongguk's jaw, patiently cradling the side of his wet cheek until the younger reluctantly lifts his head from the warmth of his shoulder. His eyes have adjusted to the dark enough to see that Taehyung has lines between his eyebrows, a sad smile on his lips. Jeongguk wants to ask what's wrong but Taehyung curls his fingers under his chin and tugs his face closer still, slips his eyes shut when he connects their lips.
Air rushes from Jeongguk's lungs in a muffled hum of surprise. Taehyung is kissing him, a warm mould of lips until Jeongguk's part and a wet tongue slips past them. Suddenly he's there, against him and around him and inside. His breath is sweet and alcoholic, dessert wine, and he works his mouth against Jeongguk's in a way that insists he keep up, makes it seem like their first kiss was just a trial. This time Jeongguk isn't kissing, he's getting kissed. There's a difference, somehow. This is how it feels to get kissed by Kim Taehyung.
He kisses slower than Jeongguk but more thorough, tongue coaxing and prodding, insistent and impossible to ignore. It’s sexy, that confidence. Kissing always felt like preamble, but this feels like the whole meal. Jeongguk drops his hands to Taehyung's hips, but Taehyung's hand never moves from his face, keeping him tame and languid. It seems to grow heavier the longer they kiss, the pressure of the fingers vaguely increasing. Then Taehyung pushes his thumb into the soft of Jeongguk's tacky cheek, rubbing tight circles on the bouncy flesh until Jeongguk feels weak in the knees. It's a strange motion, something about it verging on domineering, but Jeongguk likes it so much he feels his body respond.
He pulls his mouth away, lips wet and swollen as he tilts his head back to suck in a breath. Taehyung takes it as invitation to keep exploring lower, his damp mouth following the column of Jeongguk's throat and moving down to his racing pulse. Taehyung's free hand is hooked over Jeongguk's shoulder, kneading the muscle as his soft lips and hot breath skim over Jeongguk's sensitive neck. His hair tickles the side of Jeongguk's jaw again and the sight of his head ducked as he does it— god, it's like stuff out of Jeongguk's dreams.
“Taehyung...” he sighs, squeezing the curve of his hips.
Taehyung stands straight and grabs Jeongguk’s face roughly with his thumb and finger pushed against either cheek. He pulls Jeongguk's mouth back on his to kiss him again, then drops his hand from under his chin to lay it lower, around the side of Jeongguk's neck. Taehyung pushes them both off the wall, and when Jeongguk startles and tries to break their kiss over getting pushed back, Taehyung bites the younger's bottom lip to keep his mouth close. He pushes Jeongguk back against the opposite wall of the entryway and Jeongguk goes with a muffled grunt, back flattening over a keycard holder. Two hands settle heavy over his chest and he blinks wet eyelashes, head tipping back against the wall.
“Wanted you like this for so long,” Taehyung murmurs, heels of his palms gliding over Jeongguk's perked nipples deliberately. Jeongguk's mouth falls open soundlessly, brain barely registering the words with how twitchy he's become from all the heavy petting. All he knows is that Taehyung is feeling him up and it’s so nice.
Taehyung watches Jeongguk's face in the dark for a long moment before he sinks to his knees in front of him. The younger drops his head forward to blink down at him and watches Taehyung lay a hand over his stomach, pushing his black shirt up and exposing skin taut over muscle. Taehyung grabs Jeongguk's hip in his free hand and wrenches his lower half off the wall. Jeongguk slumps lower at an angle, crotch presented to Taehyung, cock pressed against the fly. When the elder ducks and closes a wet mouth around his navel, Jeongguk moans breathily. Taehyung seems to like the sound, stroking the top of his abs with the rolled up shirt as he continues to mouth at the dip of his belly button. Goosebumps flee across Jeongguk's arms and legs.
“Oh...” It’s so hot in his jacket he thinks he might combust. He's never been handled like this, yanked around and felt up with wide, sure hands. The feeling is dizzying.
Taehyung's mouth travels lower, breath hot and mouth wet on the edge of Jeongguk's jeans when his chin comes to a stop against the buckle of his belt. Taehyung keeps holding up Jeongguk's shirt as he slips his other hand to front of his pants. He kneads over the younger’s erection slowly, rubbing it with his palm and fingers through the thick denim. Jeongguk's head thunks against the wall when he drops it back with another airy, high moan.
“I love the sound of your voice,” Taehyung murmurs as he starts to tug the leather of Jeongguk's belt from the loops in the jeans, pushing delicious pressure into his hips as he works the buckle loose. He tosses it aside when he's done, belt dropping with a muffled thump on the carpet by a pile Taehyung's clothes. Jeongguk's so dazed it's taking him longer than usual to process what's happening. It takes Taehyung's fingers dexterously opening the button of his jeans and pulling down the zipper, the fleeting pressure of the metal dragging over his swollen dick through his boxers.
“Tae—” Jeongguk drops a hand over his own crotch, cupping himself over the damp patch on the gray cotton. “What are you doing?”
“I want you,” Taehyung responds, lightly pushing Jeongguk's limp arm out of the way, tugging his jeans down to his knees to bring his mouth to the tent in Jeongguk's underwear. He wraps his lips around the top and sucks at the wet head of his cock through the fabric and Jeongguk whimpers, shuddering and slouching against the wall again. “Good boy,” he hears the thick whisper from below, Taehyung's voice thrumming around his dick and ripping another noise from Jeongguk's throat.
Jeongguk finds it hard to grasp what's happening. He'd come for something else entirely, but now Taehyung is on his knees with his mouth on his dick and he doesn't want him to stop. This is what he wanted, this– Taehyung. He did like him, after all.
“What are you thinking?” Taehyung inches back from Jeongguk's crotch to ask, long fingers caressing the damp patch he was sucking on. Jeongguk's thighs tremble.
“I'm thinking– you’re good with your hands.”
Taehyung’s chuckle is deep when he pushes his thumb under the head of Jeongguk's cock, gently massaging the glans through the boxers as he watches Jeongguk choke on a moan.
They stop talking, then.
Taehyung hooks both hands into the waistband of the underwear, easing it down Jeongguk's thighs as he remains eye-level with his crotch. Jeongguk's cock springs free and bounces up, Taehyung’s hand closing around it firmly before he brings his mouth in. Jeongguk’s hand flies to Taehyung's head, fingers curling into that brown hair– it really is as soft as he had imagined.
The keycard light switch digs into Jeongguk's back as Taehyung sucks him off in the dark room, black and white film still playing in the background.
hello to everyone who's been with me from the beginning and to ppl just joining us!!
as always, thanks for the kudos and comments-- i love hearing your feedback!
(( moodboard ))
It rings four times before she picks up.
“Jeongguk-ssi? Are you alright?”
“I— Yes.” A truck speeds past, tires loud on the asphalt. She must be hearing it all through the receiver. “Please don't worry.”
“What's going on? It's past three already.”
“I’m sorry, this couldn't wait anymore. I have to tell you something.”
Silence. It's heavy. There are no ambient noises on her side of the call, only dead quiet. Something passes between them, a wordless understanding he's never felt with her before. Too little, too late. Maybe in another world they could've worked out.
“You don't have to say it, I already know.” It's whispered, a fragile thing.
More silence. She does.
“I’m really sorry.”
“Don't be. I knew what I was getting myself into.”
He's almost scared to ask. “And what's that?”
“You don't know what you want. You always just go with the flow.”
She's right. He knows he tried to do that with even this, leave it to resolve itself if he ignored it enough. But he's starting to see that things might not work like that.
“I’m sorry. You deserved better.”
“Yeah. But that's not how this works, is it? We don't care about what’s good for us, only what we want.”
He's at a loss for words, what she's saying resounding in his head. “I’m sorry.”
“You said that already.”
“Yeah, I know.”
More silence. Like they both want to hang up but hesitate to too soon— a mutual, silent understanding that this is the last time they'll communicate. Speak now or forever hold your peace. There are no clothes left to pick up, no stray belongings left in each other's apartments. In a way, it's like they've never been together at all.
“Can I ask you something?” he blurts. “You can say no. You can hang up on me, I'll understand.”
She does neither. Just more silence.
“What did you like in me? Like. Why did you choose me?”
A quiet laugh rings through the phone, then a sniffle, and he thinks she might be crying.
“We don't choose who we like. It just happens.”
It just happens. He thinks that might be a good explanation.
“Thank you,” he breathes.
She hangs up.
i'm sorry this ch is so short, it's meant to be like an interlude to Act II.
next one coming soon, i just wanted to get this one out since i have it already. <3
Chapter 8: japanese denim
You're my four leaf clover.
The following morning, Jeongguk wakes up in his own bed, still in his work jeans. His throat is sore, and his belt missing. He realizes he must've forgotten to pick it up when he rushed out of Taehyung's room with a hasty apology.
Jeongguk remembers the exact expression Taehyung made when the younger grunted that he had to go, remembers the small smile on his lips as he wiped the dampness from the corner of his mouth, backing off into his room to give Jeongguk privacy to zip up. Taehyung knew at that moment what he'd done, knew that Jeongguk would break up with his girlfriend as soon as he left that hotel.
He wasn't hurt that Jeongguk was leaving abruptly after his impromptu blow job (the best of his life, Jeongguk thinks, though he realizes his months of celibacy might be skewing the data), he was trying to hide how happy he was about it.
After his call with Jieun, Jeongguk had sent him a single text: “I did it.” His suspicions had been confirmed then, when instead of asking ‘what,’ Taehyung had replied with an, “I’m happy to hear that,” like he knew exactly what Jeongguk had meant. Jeongguk has to wonder if his having a girlfriend was weighing on Taehyung’s mind despite his apparent readiness to be with him anyway.
It was confusing, slightly scary, but what Jeongguk knew was that he hadn't made the jump to romantically pursue Taehyung up until this point. They'd been at an impasse, Jeongguk showing interest and Taehyung feeding it but not encouraging him to advance. But that night Taehyung finally reciprocated, said he wanted Jeongguk back, gave him the unspoken okay to break up with his girlfriend to pursue him, the New York guy who lived thousands of miles away. Jeongguk wasn't just another Bogum to him, he was someone Taehyung wanted.
Now it's the first week of October. Jeongguk is 22, with no full-time job and no– perfect, safe– girlfriend.
He supposes he should be feeling anxious, but instead he feels okay. Settled. Lighter. Driven. He does have a job, one he doesn't like but doesn't entirely hate, has a best friend to talk to and share an apartment with, and the most beautiful person he's ever met getting down on his knees to get him off.
It's not where he imagined life would take him, not at all, but it's by no means bad. It isn't.
And so sore throat be damned, Jeongguk texts Taehyung again as he’s eating breakfast. Daytime text, their first. He wants to try something different.
Hey. Got any plans today?
Delivered 11:34 AM
He goes about his day afterwards, not expecting a response back anytime soon. Maybe Kim Taehyung sleeps during the day, emerges from his slumber in the afternoon to lead his cosmopolitan life over the phone.
Jeongguk has the sudden urge to clean his room, something he hasn’t done in an embarrassingly long while. He changes his sheets, dusts off his shelves, briefly considers taking down the Iron Man poster above his bed before deciding he can't bring himself to do it yet.
He goes through his old Finance textbooks and decides to either donate or put them up for sale online. Jeongguk spent a fortune on those thick hardcovers the past four years, and it’s a shame they’re all going to waste now, along with his diploma. Maybe the books can be of use to someone else, at least. He hopes so.
In the bottom drawer of his desk, he finds his camera. Jeongguk knew it was there all along, hadn’t forgotten about it, but it’s the first time in years that he picks it up with any sort of intention.
He still has some high-speed film in the fridge; he knows because Jimin almost threw it out a couple months ago. Jeongguk had almost let him.
Jeongguk’s phone chimes on his bed where it's sitting plugged in after a night of neglect. He goes over and picks it up. Taehyung's replied to his message.
Hey. Got any plans today?
Delivered 11:34 AM
Received 1:29 PM
Jeongguk heaves out a heavy sigh, devastated. It immediately feels like a shut down, the last one he's prepared to take. But then, a moment later, bubbles pop up at the bottom of the thread and a second text arrives:
Are you free? Would you like to come with me?
Received 1:30 PM
* * *
It’s shopping, how Kim Taehyung spends his days.
“See anything you like?”
They’re at a thrift shop, browsing racks on racks of clothes. Taehyung looks out of place at a discount store in tailored, patterned slacks and a tastefully oversized button-up. Jeongguk recognizes the beret sitting on the back of his head.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. He isn’t talking about the clothes.
Taehyung looks over at him, big, uneven hooded eyes holding his gaze. He looks like he knows what Jeongguk's thinking but says nothing, just returns to his methodical inspection of clothes, pushing through the hangers and pausing on items that catch his eye before moving on. There’s a small smile on his lips now that wasn’t there before, though.
Jeongguk is smiling when he looks away. He starts mimicking Taehyung and pushing through the hangers to scan the pieces in the opposite direction, just to humor him. The rows of clothes seem to stretch infinitely on either side. Jeongguk can’t remember the last time he was at a clothing store. “What’s this for?” he asks. “Scouting the competition?”
“What competition?” Taehyung mumbles, distracted by something he finds. Jeongguk looks over and stares at him with a faint grin until Taehyung meets his eyes and breaks into a sudden laugh. “My work? Oh no, no. This is just for me.”
“...for you?” Jeongguk might not know much about clothing, but he does know that what Taehyung’s wearing is probably expensive, designer. He doesn’t think he's ever seen him in anything that wasn’t.
His skepticism must leak into his voice because Taehyung pulls out one item he’s been eyeing, lifts it in front of his chest. It’s another button-down, deep red with white buttons and subtle pinstripes. Taehyung grabs it by the cuff and stretches the sleeve, holding it loosely along his arm in front of his body.
“So? What do you think?” His pink lips are stretched in a wide smile, expectant.
Jeongguk has the irresistible urge to tease or kiss him. Maybe both.
“I like it,” he answers mechanically, eyes turning back to the rail of clothes to continue looking through them, like he's paying him no mind.
He sees from his peripheral vision Taehyung getting perturbed, shifting his weight from foot to foot like a puppy desperate for attention. Jeongguk tries to keep a straight face, but he cracks when he risks a glance out of the corner of his eye and sees Taehyung scowling.
“Jeon Jeongguk,” he huffs as the younger laughs, but his frown dissolves at the corners until he’s chuckling along with Jeongguk. Jeongguk can hardly believe how cute this guy is. “Don’t leave a man hanging when he's trying to show you a cute outfit. It’s not nice.”
Jeongguk turns to face Taehyung, grin wide and genuine. “That looks great on you,” he tells him honestly, lets his gaze fall to Taehyung’s designer slippers. He drags his eyes up Taehyung's slender body slowly, so he knows he's being checked out. “Very nice.”
Taehyung laughs quietly, smile stretched as wide as Jeongguk's seen it, all lips and straight teeth.
“You and your compliments,” he hears him mutter. Taehyung returns to browsing, tossing the red shirt over an arm.
Jeongguk watches him for a moment before stepping away from the row of secondhand sweaters, reaching for the messenger bag sat snug at his hip. He unzips it, scoops out his camera, already loaded and set, and lifts it to his face.
Taehyung looks over after the click of the shutter. His eyebrows lift in surprise. “What are you doing?”
“Taking a picture,” Jeongguk says simply, nudging the crank at the top of the camera for a second shot. He doesn’t pull his eye away from the viewfinder, framing Taehyung between rows of fabric, crouching down and steadying his elbow on a knee. “Just pretend I’m not here.”
“Oh, please.” Taehyung looks a little flustered, covering his face with a hand and looking away, but Jeongguk can tell he’s not opposed to getting his picture taken. The elder slowly returns to what he’s been doing, back going a little straighter and body slightly angled towards Jeongguk. “How’s this?”
“Not telling. Don't need to pose, just do your thing,” Jeongguk urges, finger poised over the shutter but not pressing. Not until Taehyung forgets he’s there.
Taehyung huffs but doesn't say anything. They grow quiet.
Jeongguk stays crouched on the floor and Taehyung keeps sneaking glances over at him. The glances grow fewer and farther apart as the minutes go by. Jeongguk clicks the button when Taehyung lifts a skirt from the rack, inspecting a flimsy thing of sequins in the middle of his textile temple.
“I didn’t know you were a photographer.”
Taehyung appraises the skirt for just a second before slipping it black in place. Jeongguk stands, wraps the thin strap of his camera around his hand as he holds it, ready.
“I’m not. I just like taking pictures with my film camera sometimes.”
Taehyung looks over, amused smile on his lips. “You look like you know your way around a camera,” he says, tonguing the inside of his lip as he fixes his gaze on Jeongguk, then looks away. “It’s sexy.”
Jeongguk laughs. “Yeah, right.”
“I’m serious,” he insists, “It’s attractive.” Taehyung turns just his head, looks at the younger over his shoulder. “You’re attractive.”
“Okay, okay.” Jeongguk shakes his head. Dishes it out but can’t take it. Compliments from Taehyung make him lightheaded.
“I’m going to try these on,” Taehyung announces, patting the three or so shirts he has over his arm. Jeongguk thinks it’s plain to see that they’ll all fit, but he doesn’t protest, just nods. The older man holds his gaze for a moment, looking like he’s considering something, then walks right over, catching the side of Jeongguk’s free hand gently with his as he stops at his side.
“Come with me.”
Jeongguk’s eyebrows shoot up.
Taehyung doesn’t give him a chance to protest, just tugs him along as he continues down the aisle, making a turn to head to the back of the store.
The dressing rooms aren’t exactly private, just three tall stalls with old looking curtains, but they are unmanned and the back of the shop is deserted. Still— “Taehyung…”
“Relax,” Taehyung laughs, releasing Jeongguk’s hand and glancing back at him over his shoulder as he walks straight into the middle fitting booth. “We’re just trying clothes on, darlin’. Come on.”
Jeongguk steps forward hesitantly, joining Taehyung in the tight stall, but the man rounds on him and shakes his head, pushing Jeongguk backwards with a hand on his shoulder and another laugh.
“No, I’m in here. Find your own.”
“Ah,” Jeongguk sighs, relieved and just slightly disappointed as he backs off, stepping over to one of the free fitting cubicles and dropping onto the stool there, camera balanced on a denim-clad knee. He hears the curtain from the stall beside his drag shut. “So I’m just waiting for you?”
“No, not exactly,” Taehyung answers. A moment later, a shirt is being tossed over the wall separating his stall from Taehyung’s, draped between their rooms. It’s a dark denim button-down. “Try that on.”
Jeongguk stands and takes the shirt by the hanger, holding it up to inspect it. It’s just regular, like one of the nicer shirts he has in his wardrobe. He hangs it on the hook on the wall to set down his camera safely on the stool, pulling the curtain to his booth shut without a word.
Jeongguk hears muffled shuffling through the thin partition as he takes off his messenger bag and takes off his sweatshirt. He imagines Taehyung also getting undressed on the other side of the wall as he unbuttons the denim shirt, then slips it through each of his arms.
“Are you ready?” Taehyung’s voice asks a silent moment later.
“Uh, yeah.” Jeongguk turns to face the full-length mirror, doing up the last couple buttons at the top of the shirt when his curtain is abruptly pulled open and reveals Taehyung standing outside.
“Leave those open,” he instructs, pushing the younger’s hands down and leaving the top two buttons of the shirt undone– not how Jeongguk would’ve styled it. Taehyung’s own shirt is also left unbuttoned at the top, Jeongguk notices, and it’s the red pinstriped one he remembers him selecting. It looks good on him, cute with the clashing trousers. “I don’t like it,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk narrowly realizes he means his denim one. “It’s too tight on you.”
“Yeah,” he agrees, swinging his arm back and forth, tight fabric restricting his movements around the armpit. “Pretty tight.”
“Don’t rip it,” Taehyung warns, grabbing his arm to halt it. His long fingers slide around Jeongguk’s bicep. “Take it off. I want to try it on.”
Before he can say anything else, Taehyung is stepping back out and tugging the curtain closed behind himself. Jeongguk watches the dirty blue thing swing lightly before slowly returning to slipping tiny buttons through tinier holes.
A second shirt is tossed over the wall a moment later, this one off-white with a black polo collar and narrow, widely spaced black stripes. Jeongguk makes a face.
“I don’t like this one,” he says as he replaces the too-small denim shirt on its hanger.
“Doesn’t matter, try it on,” Taehyung insists, his hand popping up over the partition, waving around and clenching and unclenching. “Your shirt, please.” Jeongguk carefully nudges the top of the hanger into his wide palm, the guy grabbing it and yanking it away. “Try it on, Jeongguk,” he orders.
Jeongguk sighs, but complies. He takes the ugly long sleeve and wrestles it off the hanger, popping open the two buttons down the collar and tugging the thing on over his head. It’s comfortable, at least, material thick and soft, fitting well around the shoulders and hanging slightly loose down his arms.
Like he can read his mind, Taehyung’s voice comes. “So?” He already sounds pleased. “Is it on? Do you like it?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” Jeongguk shakes out the baggy arms of the shirt, turning every other way in front of the mirror. “It’s pretty ugly. Like pajamas.”
The curtain snaps open again, but this time Jeongguk doesn’t even flinch. His eyes do go to Taehyung’s torso, though, where the golden skin of his chest and flat stomach are bare, denim shirt left completely unbuttoned.
“It’s perfect,” Taehyung breathes, stepping closer and smoothing down the oversized sleeve of Jeongguk’s striped polo. “It fits you great.”
“The sleeves are kind of long,” Jeongguk points out, fabric falling over his hand as he shakes one of his arms to show him.
“It’s the style,” Taehyung explains, running his hand up and around Jeongguk’s shoulder, can’t seem to keep his hands to himself as he feels where the fabric is taut over his body. “It’s cute.”
“Looks like pajamas,” Jeongguk repeats, though he already decided he’s getting the shirt.
“You say that about everything,” Taehyung chuckles, squeezing the bulge of Jeongguk’s bicep through the oversized sleeve. “What kind of pajamas do you wear? I’d like to see them.”
Jeongguk laughs, bending an arm to cup Taehyung by the elbow where he's touching him. “I’ll show you sometime,” he promises, gathering denim that is not tight around the older guy’s arm as he squeezes his elbow gently. “It’s not that special. Usually just a tee and boxers.”
Taehyung smiles, leaving his arm in Jeongguk’s grip but dropping his gaze to where he’s holding him. “I’d like to see it,” he echoes, then lifts his elbow away. “Let’s get you that shirt.”
“Okay,” Jeongguk agrees easily. “What about that one?” he points to Taehyung’s open denim shirt.
“Oh,” Taehyung says like he'd forgotten, shuffling into the fitting room and slipping in front of Jeongguk to face the mirror. The space is tight, and they almost brush as Taehyung starts closing his shirt from the bottom up, Jeongguk watching his reflection in the mirror. “I don’t know, does it suit me? What do you think?”
“It’s nice,” he tells him, slipping both arms around Taehyung to reach in front of him, sliding his hands beneath his warm ones paused on the buttons to take over for him.
Maybe it’s the close proximity that makes him bold, the familiar scent of Taehyung’s perfume. Maybe it’s the shirt he's wearing that was deemed cute, the way his arms are still warm everywhere the older guy's touched him. Jeongguk steps closer and leans into one side of Taehyung to avoid his hat, carefully slipping the light buttons through their holes. He buttons it nearly all the way to the top, leaving only the very last one open to show a small v of skin under Taehyung’s neck. They make eye contact in the mirror.
“Should I get it?” Taehyung asks.
“I think so. If you like it.”
Taehyung turns his face and the tip of his nose brushes Jeongguk's cheek. Jeongguk keeps staring at their reflection, intently watches Taehyung stare at him up close.
“Do you want me to have it?” Taehyung rephrases, some inflection in his low voice.
Jeongguk blinks. It takes him one heartbeat.
Jeongguk sees half of Taehyung's slow smile through the mirror before the guy turns around in the circle of his arms to show it to him in the flesh. “Good. Me, too.”
He steps away, and they leave with all three shirts.
Taehyung stops at nearly every showy storefront they pass by in Hongdae. Pawn shops, trendy boutiques, luxury stores, secondhand bookshops. They venture into some stores and scrutinize others from the outside, Taehyung gladly leading the way with a cigarette between his lips and Jeongguk following with his trusty camera poised. Taehyung seems in his element getting his photo taken, multicolored shopping bags dangling from his arms.
He's a pile of contradictions, cacophony of interests, gorgeous guy with a great sense of humor and a generous streak.
“Jeongguk, look, it's a camera shop.”
Jeongguk lowers his camera and lifts his gaze, smiling when he spots what Taehyung's talking about– a repair shop selling used lenses and equipment, all high-end and professional.
“Would you like one? We could get you a digital one, one of those DSLRs maybe,” Taehyung says, his own smile wide as he stops in front of the shop, peering down at the camera bodies on display at the window.
Jeongguk's staring at the side of his face, wondering if he's serious, but he doesn't have an ounce of doubt that he is when Taehyung turns over to him with a lift of his brows and an inquisitive “hn?”
“No, no,” he chuckles sheepishly, a little taken aback by how easily he can offer to buy him such a lavish gift out of the blue. “I like my camera. Only need one. Besides, you already got me a gift. The shirt.”
“You didn't even like that shirt,” Taehyung reminds, sounding just a tad gloomy.
“I did,” Jeongguk's quick to correct, vehement. “I love the shirt. I'll wear it all the time.”
Taehyung fully turns from the window to face the younger with his body, shopping bags swaying as he crosses his arms over his chest. He brings a hand up to cage his cigarette, sucking a quick lungful. “Really?”
Jeongguk raises his camera, winds on the film and snaps his picture before Taehyung can move. “Yes. Seriously. You'll get tired of seeing me in it, beg me to throw it out.”
Taehyung laughs, and Jeongguk sees from the viewfinder him stepping close, arm reaching towards him. He winds the film forward, snaps another picture just before the camera is nudged away from his face. Taehyung is closer than he looked through the lens, and Jeongguk's eyelashes flutter when soft fingers trace the edge of his jaw.
“Sweetheart,” Taehyung says simply, low voice soft.
“Do you usually take photos in your free time?”
Later, Taehyung and Jeongguk are in a cafe, sitting across from each other at a window table. People pass them on the street on the other side of the glass, going about their day. Jeongguk waits until there’s nobody in his shot before snapping a picture, Taehyung holding an espresso just beneath his nose, eyes like melted dark chocolate under the warm late afternoon glow.
“Not for a while. I did a little in school,” Jeongguk explains, pushing the crank with a thumb, leaning back in his cushioned chair. He takes another picture as Taehyung sips his coffee. “Kinda felt like picking it back up.”
“Ah.” The man sets down his cup gingerly, propping an arm over the table and curling a hand beneath his chin. When Jeongguk winds on the film for another shot and Taehyung laughs, it’s perfect, his whole being glowing. “Don’t forget your tea, it’s gonna get cold.”
Jeongguk obliges, carefully setting the camera aside to pick up his warm tea, mind on his pictures as he’s taking a sip. “I like it more than I remember.”
“What? Green tea?”
“Photography,” he clarifies. “I like taking pictures more than I remember.”
“Oh,” Taehyung hums. “I can tell you do. Haven't put that thing down the whole day. Why did you ever stop, then?”
Jeongguk has to think about it for a second.
“I didn’t really think there was a point to it,” he says eventually, reflecting. “I thought photography was for photographers and since I’m not one it was kind of like wasting time.”
“Wasting time?” Taehyung lifts his eyebrows, looking amused and teasing. “You must be a busy man, no spare time to waste.”
“Not like that,” Jeongguk blushes, blowing on his tea. “Like there was no point in me getting into it if it wasn’t gonna be my career or something, you know what I mean? Just gonna suffer more if I suddenly decided I wanted to take photos for a living.”
Taehyung chuckles, but he nods. “Yeah, I understand.” The corner of his mouth curls up. “But how did you know that it wouldn't become your career?”
“I mean… only bigshot photographers can make any bank with pictures, right?” Jeongguk replies, scratching the back of his neck. “It’s not really a safe career path.”
“Is that what you like?” Taehyung arches an eyebrow. “Safe?”
Jeongguk furrows his brows, uncertain as he bites on his lip. “Yeah, sort of? For jobs– it’s good to be safe.”
“It’s safe to be safe.”
“Yeah—” Taehyung’s lips are stretched in a flat line, but Jeongguk thinks his eyes are smiling. They twinkle under the orange sunlight. “It’s easy for you to say people shouldn’t be safe, you made it in fashion. That has to be one of the hardest industries to break into.”
Taehyung’s smile slips right from his eyes, lids flitting down as he lifts his coffee to his mouth and takes a very slow sip. “Yeah.” He clears his throat. “Yes. It is a tough business to be in.”
Something about Taehyung’s demeanor seems to go slightly off. He doesn’t seem entirely comfortable anymore, and when Jeongguk picks up his camera, makes to take more photos, he shakes his head and holds a hand in front of his face. Jeongguk sets the camera back down.
“Is everything going alright?” he asks tentatively. “With your work?”
The corners of Taehyung’s lips lift gently, like he doesn’t want to talk about it but can appreciate the question. “Yeah.”
“You’ve been finding more silk fabrics you like?”
“Yes. I have.”
The curt responses are slightly concerning. Taehyung has been very forthcoming in all their conversations up until this point. It is, however, the first time his line of work comes up. He wonders about how long Taehyung’s been in Korea, how much longer he has left. But asking would mean being given an answer, would mean knowing when he’ll lose Taehyung to some distant city, and Jeongguk…
Can't deal with that yet. They just started something, something tender and delicate and fragile.
“I still have your shirt, by the way,” he says instead, flippant. Taehyung raises his eyebrows in silent question. “Your red silk shirt. That one that I tried on at your place. Found it today in my bedroom.”
“Ah.” Taehyung’s smile returns. “You should wear it sometime, I’d like to see you in it.”
“In public? No way,” Jeongguk laughs, shaking his head. “I can’t wear a bright silk shirt like that. I’m not fashionable enough.”
Taehyung laughs with him, not looking at all surprised. “You have it all wrong, darling,” he chuckles, eyes twinkling. “You wear the shirt to be fashionable, not the other way around.”
Jeongguk wrinkles his nose skeptically, and Taehyung’s happy peel of laughter washes all negative feelings away. When Jeongguk reaches for his camera this time, the elder doesn’t block his face from view.
“What you’re missing, Guk, is balls,” Taehyung says, folding an arm over the table and propping his chin on a hand. He poses for the picture with his head tilted gently to the side, looking right at the lens. Stunning.
“Keep it. Wear it when you’re feeling brave.”
thx for the continued support, it's super cool knowing ur all following and enjoying this thing ;-;
if i haven't talked to u in the comments before, hi!! i appreciate u <3
Chapter 9: get you
And I’ll take some time just to be thankful that I had days full of you.
I had a great time last night.
Delivered 12:39 PM
Received 3:40 PM
What are you up to tonight?
Received 6:13 PM
Let's do something
Delivered 6:14 PM
Dinner and drinks?
Received 6:14 PM
Delivered 6:14 PM
Received 6:14 PM
Delivered 6:14 PM
You had that on you all of yesterday!
And the day before too
Received 6:15 PM
Don't tell me you're jealous
Delivered 6:15 PM
I'm very possessive of my things
No good at sharing your attention :(
Received 6:15 PM
You always have all my attention, believe me
Delivered 6:19 PM
So where do we eat?
Delivered 6:58 PM
* * *
—When Jeongguk reaches for the shirt Taehyung got him at the thrift shop, he discovers gnarly grass stains on the elbows from when he wore it to see him last night.
The picnic date had been Jeongguk's idea after he'd spent all of Friday thinking of Taehyung. He'd sent a spontaneous late night “wanna grab food at the river park??" not expecting anything back and Taehyung ended up showing up to meet him with a blanket and a pack of beers.
They ate instant noodles, watched a light show on a bridge in the distance, made out until early morning. Jeongguk couldn't wait to get that film developed—
* * *
Jeongguk dresses up in nice untorn jeans and a dark button-up, makes sure to polish his Oxfords before he leaves his apartment for Gangnam.
It's more effort than he's ever put into clothing, but he remembers fleetingly recognizing he was underdressed sometimes for his dinner dates with Jieun, and although this has never bothered him enough to get him to dress any different before, now he finds himself not wanting to repeat that mistake with Taehyung. He doesn't want the guy to think he's a slob– especially considering what Taehyung does for a living, his obvious passion for it.
But to his surprise, when he arrives at the address, Jeongguk realizes wearing Timbs to this date might not have been such a bad idea after all. For the first time in his life, he is over dressed.
The place Taehyung directed him to was not a restaurant, just a pojangmacha– open air, plastic stools and rising steam. The street food tent is gloriously vacant for a Saturday night, the only other customer at the makeshift curved bar a senior sipping his tea and slurping a bowl of noodles. Dinner guaranteed to be delicious, cheap, and unpretentious on prime real estate.
A dream wrapped up in weathered tarp. And Taehyung's already there at the far-end corner, quietly eating some dumplings.
“Nice shoes,” he greets, his face pink from the steam and heat radiating from the caldron being stirred just a couple feet away.
“Thanks,” Jeongguk grins, plastic stool creaking under his weight as he sinks into the seat beside Taehyung. Their legs barely fit together under the little table. “Did I keep you waiting?”
“Nope, I'm just here early.” Taehyung returns his smile with a wide one, boxy and perfect. He looks happy– maybe to see Jeongguk. Jeongguk's heart does a somersault in his chest.
No one looks their way when Jeongguk leans in to peck Taehyung's cheek, the sheer tranquility and privacy of that something Jeongguk thinks he's never experienced in this part of town before. The dream just keeps getting better, he thinks.
“You look cute...” Taehyung mumbles coyly, like he's about to add a but. Jeongguk sees his gaze drop to the collar of his shirt. “Undo that top one, won't you, honey?”
With dangly earrings, light brown hair delicately framing his pretty face, and an oversized white sweatshirt that shows off his collarbones, Taehyung stands out in the best of ways. Soft, beautiful thing. Jeongguk finds it impossible not to stare at him as speaks. He doesn't feel overdressed when his date looks this gorgeous– not that it matters when there's hardly anyone there to notice.
Jeongguk slides open the first button of his dress shirt without protest, arching an eyebrow. Taehyung pouts like he's trying to be cute and fingers the air for another one. Jeongguk narrows his eyes but relents, pulling one more open and exposing more of his chest than he's used to. Taehyung nods now, brown eyes warm with a smile.
“Bossy,” Jeongguk whispers. Taehyung laughs, doesn't deny it.
The younger glances up at the tent ahjumma when she moves over to set a clean glass in front of him, stepping away and grunting when he thanks her. “How'd you hear about this tent?” Jeongguk voices, watching the cook sit back to watch a soap opera on an old TV. “It seems nice. I didn't find anything on it when I looked it up online.”
“I've been exploring the area on my own, discovering all sorts of hidden gems,” Taehyung boasts with a pleased curl of his lips, picking up the bottle of soju on the table and filling Jeongguk's glass for him. “Happy to hear you like it. You just wait for the food.”
“It smells good, it's making me hungry,” Jeongguk agrees, popping open the buttons of his cuffs to roll his sleeves up his arms too, careful not to knock into the precarious table. “I thought we were going to some fancy restaurant.”
“Ah, why? Because I suggested it?” Taehyung idly asks, sounding distracted. When Jeongguk glances at him, he finds the other closely watching him push a shirt sleeve to his elbow.
“Because it’s in Gangnam,” he answers with a quirk of his lips, then pauses, adding, “And because you suggested it.”
Taehyung's eyes flit up to meet Jeongguk's. “I don't just like expensive things, you know,” he pouts childishly. Not offended, then. Jeongguk's glad– the last thing he wants is to accidentally imply that he thinks Taehyung is a snob.
“I'm not saying you do… but you're still rich,” he reminds. He doesn't want to offend but is curious about Taehyung's lifestyle, feels like he has to actively fish for information sometimes when the older man isn't forthcoming.
On cue, Taehyung's pout dissolves into a polite smile, friendly but vacant. “I have more than enough money, yeah,” he nods once, a confirmation, trepidation obvious when he glances at Jeongguk from the corner of an eye.
Taehyung doesn't like to talk about himself. That much has become crystal clear to Jeongguk the past few days, past few weeks he's known him. He figures pushing Taehyung to tell him about his life will only ruin the mood, and a ruined mood is something Jeongguk does not want.
He's had enough of that.
“You're rich but you also know how to have a good time,” he finishes playfully, clicking his tongue and pumping a fist.
Taehyung grins and giggles, tension dissipating as quickly as it appeared. He nods with a smile that doesn't feel practiced this time. Jeongguk's starting to understand that he sometimes needs to be coaxed out of a funk, gets hesitant and pulls back into himself until Jeongguk's able to avert the tension and get him comfortable again.
There's an underlying vulnerability to Taehyung that's becoming increasingly obvious to him as they've started getting closer, and it's such a one-eighty from the unwavering confidence and assertiveness he'd felt from the man when they first met that Jeongguk can't help but feel like he's getting to know the real Taehyung. It also unleashes all sorts of protective instincts Jeongguk's never felt for anyone before.
He doesn't know why Taehyung has so many walls built around him, but he wants to make it better.
“I do know how to have a good time,” Taehyung agrees with a wiggle of his brows, twisting in the stool to face the younger, earrings sweeping at his chin. He props an elbow on the counter and cups his chin with a hand. “—I'm having one already.”
Jeongguk grins, leaning forward, too. “Me too.”
They drink cheap soju and eat cheaper noodles. Taehyung tucks a napkin into the scoop neck of his white top to make sure it stays clean and somehow pulls off the ridiculous bib. He makes faces at the spiciness of his noodles until Jeongguk wordlessly switches around their bowls.
Jeongguk convinces Taehyung to let him take pictures of him eating. The yellow lamps set up in the tent are harsh, but beating off the red tarp it looks vibrant, graphic and intentional. The stark white of Taehyung's sweatshirt is a beautiful contrast to the tan of his skin.
Taehyung has to physically pry the camera from Jeongguk's fingers to get him to eat as well.
Despite his alcoholic streak, Taehyung gets buzzed well before Jeongguk, his face flushing bright red across the cheeks. He's easier to read when he's tipsy, his natural expressiveness not held back for whatever reason. The satoori lilt Jeongguk only gets to hear sometimes slips into his deep voice more often. His laughter is louder and more breathless– the moments where he hesitates, fewer.
He stops limiting the number of times Jeongguk's allowed to take out his camera, too, and his posing gets better.
“You should be a model,” Jeongguk tells him with a grin when Taehyung leans back against the red tarp with both hands in his lap, demure posture contradicting the smouldering look he's giving the camera. He notices for the first time that Taehyung's been in a skirt beside him all along, beige and loose and thick over his knobby knees. Jeongguk steadies his elbow on the table to take the picture, face and belly warm as he eyes his date through the viewfinder.
“Was scouted by an agency when I was a teenager,” Taehyung confesses with a slow grin, dropping his head on a shoulder and closing his eyes. “But that's never been a life for me,” he sighs, too amused to sound wistful. “Not the right disposition.”
“The right face, though,” Jeongguk murmurs, still focused on his picture, reaching out to gingerly tilt Taehyung's chin up a notch. “—You're a good muse.” Taehyung's eyelashes lift when he opens his eyes and trains them on Jeongguk through the lens. Jeongguk clicks the shutter without pulling his hand out of the shot even if that breaks every rule in the book.
Noodle bowls and soju bottle empty, they split the check after Taehyung refuses to let Jeongguk pay for the whole meal. They stand from the tent to leave with thank you's to the tent owner, and Jeongguk idly watches Taehyung's skirt swing modestly around his knees as they make their way out of the cramped tent. The white slides on Taehyung's feet are also low-key and boyish, but his smooth bare legs are anything but.
The autumn breeze is sharp and crisp away from the heat of the food tent and Taehyung leads the way down the sidewalk to stand by a closed storefront. There's a dark belt hanging low on his hips over the skirt, and Jeongguk sees him reach back into it to pull out a pack of cigarettes.
“Is that a fanny pack?” Jeongguk asks with an amused grin, stepping up close to carefully tug the bag around the curve of Taehyung's hip to inspect it.
“Yeah,” Taehyung grins back around a cigarette, glancing down, and holds the stick between his fingers as he ignites a zippo. “Always liked these. Very convenient. And Gucci.”
“It's a fanny pack,” Jeongguk repeats. “I dressed up for you and you wear a fanny pack.” He sighs in mock disappointment, close enough to pluck the cigarette right from Taehyung's unsuspecting fingers and take it for himself.
“I'm also dressed up for you…” Taehyung's brows furrow slightly as he watches Jeongguk step back and take a slow drag of the cigarette, but there's a little smile on his lips. The smoke burns the back of Jeongguk's throat as the ember flares in front of his eyes, but thankfully it doesn't immediately send him into a coughing fit like last time he tried smoking.
It's not until he voluntarily hands back the cigarette that the coughing begins.
“Agh, ah– really?” he tries hoarsely, choking on tar. “You dressed up for me?”
“You don't think I look good?” Taehyung snorts, raised brows skeptical. He takes an expert pull of his cigarette, undeterred by the younger's violent coughing.
“You look great—” Jeongguk starts, waving off smoke when Taehyung petulantly blows some in his face as reprisal. “I just thought you might say that you dress for yourself.”
That gives the man pause, and he stares at Jeongguk intently before his eyes narrow slightly and his lips curve up. “I do dress for myself. Good point, darling.”
“I don't,” Jeongguk returns. “I dress for you.”
Taehyung laughs heartily and drops his head back, pulling in another lungful of smoke as he watches Jeongguk in silence. It's a plastic surgery clinic they're standing in front of, a girl with a flawless face smiling brightly on a banner behind the glass. Smoking his cigarette in a skirt, Taehyung breaks every norm at its face. Jeongguk takes out his camera and Taehyung holds the stance just long enough for one photo.
“Let's go to your bar,” Taehyung suggests with a jerk of his chin.
“My bar? Like where I work? Why?”
“It's a nice place,” Taehyung shrugs, crossing an arm over his chest and holding his cigarette away from his face, hips at an angle. “Do you not like it there?”
“I don't...” Jeongguk begins tentatively. “I don't know, sort of? But it's weird, that's where I work. I don't know if I like it.”
Taehyung makes a noise that's both disbelief and amusement, tapping off some ash from his cigarette. “It's so funny when you say things like that,” he says. “You either like it or you don't, make up your mind, kid.”
He unfolds an arm to tug Jeongguk closer, dragging him in by the shoulder. They're the same height tonight in flat shoes, and Taehyung drops an easy kiss on the edge of Jeongguk's jaw to lessen the blow of his reproach like he knows the weight his opinion has. Jeongguk slides an arm around the guy's slight body and Taehyung's long fingers go to the back of his hair.
“Yeah, you're more decisive than I am,” Jeongguk agrees softly, squeezing Taehyung in his arm until he sags bonelessly and drops his head back like he did for his camera. Jeongguk leans in to catch the edge of his chin with his lips and feels the metal string of Taehyung's earring brush his nose.
“Let's decide on your bar,” Taehyung sighs, lifting his head. “I want to drink some good wine. That soju we just had left a bad taste in my mouth.”
“Oh yeah?” Jeongguk grins, biting back a comment about Taehyung's preference for expensive booze. He leans in and chases Taehyung's lips when he straightens in the loop of his arm. “Hm, does it taste bad? Lemme check.”
Taehyung giggles deeply and grins, driving Jeongguk's mouth away when the younger pushes their noses together, but he fails to hold the cigarette between his lips when Jeongguk wiggles his fingers around him. “Jeong– !” The cigarette drops from his mouth and hits the pavement below. Jeongguk puts it out under a shiny shoe. “You owe me a smoke,” Taehyung grumbles.
“No.” Jeongguk tightens his arm around Taehyung when the guy tries to wriggle away. He holds him in place effortlessly as he switches his camera to the other hand, trying not to laugh at how weak a struggle Taehyung's putting up. Jeongguk frees up his hand to cup Taehyung's hip, and Taehyung finally stops struggling to pull away. “Pay you with a kiss.”
Jeongguk leans in and Taehyung cups his cheek with a warm hand, long fingers pressing over his ear. He drags Jeongguk’s face in the rest of the way and the younger eagerly slides their mouths together. They breathe through their noses and lock lips for a moment, then Taehyung lets out some muffled sound when Jeongguk slips his tongue into his mouth. The kiss gets hotter, their breaths mingling as they lick at each other. Taehyung cups Jeongguk's ass in a big hand and Jeongguk sags when he squeezes him through the seat of his jeans.
“—fuck,” Jeongguk's breathing is heavy when Taehyung pulls away, licking kiss-bitten lips and easing the younger back with a hand on his chest.
“Your bar,” he reminds. “Good wine.”
“Yeah, whatever you say.”
Hoseok’s face lights up like Christmas when Jeongguk shoulders his way between two people around the bar.
“Jeonggukie, my man!” the bartender greets with a sincere grin, energetically pumping a mixer in one hand. “Don't tell me I get the honor of serving you my fine drinks tonight?”
“You do,” Jeongguk chuckles. He likes Hoseok, reminds himself to invite the guy along next time he goes out, thinks Jimin would like him, too. “Long time no see, hyung.”
“Yeah, kiddo. Drop by more often. Whatcha having?”
Jeongguk looks over his shoulder to check with Taehyung, but the perimeter of the bar is crowded with many people who aren't him. He can barely recognize the place– instead of lonely locals, the bar is crowded with young people, couples, the buzz of conversations louder than the music. Jazz is just a suggestion in the background, not the experience.
“Ah, a whiskey on the rocks for me, something smooth,” he turns back to Hoseok to answer himself. “And maybe like a good Chardonnay?”
Hoseok couldn't have spotted Taehyung with Jeongguk when they came in with how packed and dark the place was, but the bartender grins suggestively like he knows exactly who the second drink is for. He pops the shaker open and pours the drink he's been mixing into a short glass, a concoction Jeongguk knows would've had him shaking in his boots if anyone had ordered during his own shift. Hoseok tops off the glass with a lime wedge and hands the finished drink to a waiting woman, charging her tab on the POS before tucking away his cash tip with a sunny smile that has to be genuine.
It's a weird thing watching someone else perform his job, makes Jeongguk realize how lacking he is at it. He's used to being good at what he does, gets the hang of most things pretty quick, but it's been months since he's been bartending and if Jung Hoseok is anything to go by, Jeongguk is worse than just mediocre at his job.
“Show ya face around sometimes, a’ight?” Hoseok scolds amicably when he hands Jeongguk his whiskey and white wine, his shock of red hair a beacon in the mostly dark room. “Come visit hyung. I'll get lonely if I don't see my dongsaeng more often.”
Jeongguk makes a face and laughs, agreeing to it and meaning it. He pays up front instead of starting a tab so Taehyung can't try to pay for his own drink, too, and shoots the bartender a thank you before pushing away from the bar to let him get back to work.
Jeongguk sneaks past first dates and groups of old friends to find Taehyung against a wall on his phone, typing something. He leans back on the space beside him and holds the wine glass in front of him. Taehyung takes it in one hand and continues typing with the opposing thumb, writing what appears to be an email. Jeongguk looks away to give him privacy, swirling his whiskey to cool it on the ice before taking a sip. It tastes woodsy and smoked, pretty good, and he admires Hoseok for his taste again. Taehyung smells good beside him, his usual perfume lacing the air, and Jeongguk feels good knowing he's in his company even if they aren't talking.
Looking around the room again, Jeongguk is glad he agreed to come to this place. He still finds the vintage decor tacky and the jazz and blues sort of outdated, but it doesn't have to be perfect to be good. Tonight, no one here is drinking alone. Instead of melancholic, the drum of the piano is nostalgic and sexy.
“—I'm sorry,” Taehyung blows out. “Thanks for this.” He raises his glass and slips his phone away in his belt bag. Jeongguk's lips pull up in a smile, pleased he's already putting it away.
“It's fine. Work stuff?”
“Yeah, always work stuff,” Taehyung mumbles, taking a sip of his wine.
“Always?” Jeongguk raises his eyebrows and lolls his head on the wall to face the older man, who just as slowly turns to meet his eyes. “Never the other guys?”
“What other guys?” Taehyung raises his eyebrows, then shakes his head. “There's no other guys. Just you.”
Jeongguk believes him. It sends something warm and dizzying like pleasure washing through him, and when Taehyung blinks at him with wide brown eyes Jeongguk moves in closer, the world falling away somewhere. Up close he can count Taehyung's eyelashes, pretty little things framing his strange eyes. When Jeongguk curls a hand around Taehyung's arm to draw him in, he whispers it:
“Do you like me?”
It's Taehyung who asks it, just a mild brush of their lips right before the kiss, like he doesn't expect a response. But Jeongguk thinks the question is so idiotic he can't help but peel back to reply seriously:
“Yes,” he says. “Of course I do.”
Taehyung looks like he'd rather kiss Jeongguk than keep talking, eyes on his mouth, but he doesn't lean back in to do it and end the exchange. “Why?” he whispers after a breath. “...why'd you like me?”
“How you act–” Jeongguk starts answering before Taehyung's ready to hear it, and he sees the coquettish curl drop from Taehyung's lips. “Your confidence, your vibe. I admire it. You're strong but also not and it makes me want to be around you.”
It's an honest declaration, awfully vulnerable, but in spite of the hesitation he feels from him sometimes, Jeongguk trusts Taehyung enough to lay his cards on the table. If this is the last wall, ‘why do you like me, is it the money,’ then Jeongguk wants it down now.
It's never been about anything but Kim Taehyung.
“Seeing you gives me energy to do things,” Jeongguk continues– liquid courage, familiar environment and past few days making it easy for him to see it with some perspective. “I feel stronger now that I know you exist. Is that weird?”
Taehyung's mouth presses into a straight line, the edges curled downward. Jeongguk thinks the expression is almost guilty. The idea that he might feel undeserving–
“–I'm not this perfect person you think I am, Guk,” Taehyung whispers, finishing the thought for him.
Jeongguk sighs and ponders his response for a moment before he gives it.
“I obviously know you're not perfect. I think you're shady as fuck, for one,” he says, smiling when an abrupt laugh bubbles out of Taehyung. “And you play mind games with me–” Taehyung opens his mouth like he's about to protest but Jeongguk shakes his head and holds a hand up to tell him to let him finish. “–For real, you do. And I know there's gotta be other stuff, too. But I don't care. It's worth it for me.”
Taehyung is staring at Jeongguk. Jeongguk isn't good at reading his expressions, especially not when half of his face is in shadow, but the hint of glitter on Taehyung's cheekbone looks like it might be giving away a smile.
Jeongguk doesn't have much time to consider it before a hand’s curling around his neck and dragging him into a smash of lips.
* * *
"I wanna watch a movie," Taehyung slurs in a too-loud voice as Jeongguk leads him down a hallway to his hotel room. Jeongguk's pretty drunk too, stumbling on the carpet as he holds Taehyung with an arm around the waist, but apparently despite being over a decade younger, he's the more responsible of the two. He shushes Taehyung in a hiss and the two giggle like teenagers sneaking around.
Taehyung finds his room key card in his fanny pack and taps it on the sensor, pushing the door in and holding it open for Jeongguk after he stumbles inside.
“I can't believe you're wearing a fanny pack,” Jeongguk giggles as he follows, holding the door open behind him to let the hallway light in while Taehyung slips the key into the light switch.
“They're back on trend, I told you. What should we watch?” Taehyung says again, kicking off his slides and continuing into the room.
The weight of four walls around them closes in on Jeongguk like hyper-awareness. It's completely quiet apart from the two of them and he can hear Taehyung move across the room. Now that they're alone in a bedroom, there's only one kind of thing Jeongguk wants to do with him.
“Do you really wanna watch something?” A loaded question. Taehyung looks over his shoulder like he understands the implication, switching off the bright lights in the kitchen to leave a solitary lamp on in the living room.
“Yes,” he answers slowly, unclipping the fanny pack from around his hips and tossing it aside to push the sliding doors leading up to the bed open. “Come watch a movie with me, Gukie.”
Jeongguk toes off his dress shoes and follows Taehyung into the room. It smells nice in there, very much a luxury hotel. It’s still like someone's exploded closet, pops of color everywhere, but that doesn't surprise Jeongguk anymore. Knelt on the bed across the room, Taehyung looks over and notices Jeongguk looking around the piles of clothing.
“Don't worry, none of those are allowed in here,” Taehyung tells him, motioning to the doors dividing the bedroom from the living space. “No work past that line. I made sure to get a room that had this division. Out there’s my work space and in here’s my fun space.”
“Your fun space?” Jeongguk grins as he climbs on the king mattress beside Taehyung, laying on his back on the crisp white sheets.
“My fun space,” Taehyung repeats, turning on the small TV in the bedroom with the remote and flooding the room in white-blue light. “My brother said I'd go crazy if I didn't start doing this.”
Jeongguk cranes his neck to look up at him, intending to ask about his family, but Taehyung's just a silhouette of wispy hair and stringy earrings against the bright light of the TV. Jeongguk laments that his camera is in his bag in the entryway, reaches out with a hand to affectionally brush the back of Taehyung's big sweatshirt.
They were appropriately dressed for a brisk October night, but in bed in the climate controlled room it feels like they're both wearing too much. Jeongguk feels restrained in his tight jeans and close-fitting shirt, longing for t-shirts and sweatpants. Taehyung's clothes are thick too, but at least he looks cozy in the oversized pieces. And the skirt looks airy.
Jeongguk drops his hand lower on Taehyung's back to feel the hem of the skirt between his fingers, curious about the heavy fabric. Taehyung doesn't pay him any mind, browsing through the channels and pausing on one playing a classic film. Jeongguk slips his hand under the skirt between Taehyung's thighs, fingers curling to the front of his leg.
Taehyung doesn't look back, but his knees push apart slightly in clear invitation. Jeongguk doesn't wait long before sliding his fingers indecently up his thigh, wrist pushing up the skirt.
“Where are you going with that hand, darling?” Taehyung murmurs, deep voice pitched even lower. “Be careful where you touch.”
“I'll be careful,” Jeongguk promises in a whisper, feeling the heat radiating from Taehyung's core as he fits the side of his hand into the back of his crotch. Jeongguk flips his hand up to rub him between the legs through his underwear, the warm weight of his balls and perky curve of his ass fitting nicely in his palm, and Taehyung lets out a shaky moan and sags lower on his knees, dropping into the hand.
“Baby,” he sighs, pet name heavy on his tongue. “Baby, yes.”
Jeongguk’s mouth is dry and his heart races so fast he can feel his chest heave behind the tight buttons. He pets around the underside of Taehyung's boxers blindly, rubbing him between the legs until the guy arches his spine and twists around to look back at him.
“Take off your shirt,” Taehyung commands in a breath, head rolling forward. He clicks the volume of the television down before dropping the remote and grabbing a bag from the foot of the bed. Jeongguk unpops the buttons of his shirt as quickly as he can, barely managing to pull it off his arms with the sleeves still rolled up tight. He looks up when Taehyung suddenly straddles his legs on the bed, still faced away. “Honey, can I sit on your face?”
“Fuck— fuck, yeah.” That had been exactly where Jeongguk's mind was at, and he can't believe how lucky he is that their mind connection extends to the bedroom. He quickly grabs a pillow and wedges it under his head before laying down.
Taehyung’s heavy skirt pools over Jeongguk's bare skin when he moves back to straddle his chest, the long fabric still covering everything. Jeongguk grabs Taehyung's thighs by the top and drags him back to sit on his chest. Taehyung falls forward with hands on Jeongguk's hips, dropping his weight on him. “Eager boy,” he teases breathlessly.
Jeongguk pulls the skirt by its sides, gathering the thick pleats in both hands to hike up the back. The underwear Jeongguk had been feeling is tight and black, briefs cut off high to cover just half of Taehyung's cheeks– could have just as easily been cut for women. His ass is adorable, round and perky and smooth.
“Gonna just keep admiring it?” Taehyung taunts again. “Eat it, baby boy.”
Jeongguk pulls Taehyung back by the hips, dragging his backside over his chin. He fits his mouth over the dip of Taehyung's ass, pressing around his asshole and holding still to let the heat of his mouth seep through the fabric. He hears Taehyung's breath catch somewhere above, feels the rock of his hips back against his nose. Jeongguk pushes his tongue into Taehyung through the underwear, skirt still gathered in both his hands. Taehyung reaches back to grab at the material still separating them, peeling it aside to reveal the hot skin beneath. Jeongguk doesn't wait before flicking Taehyung's asshole with his tongue, pushing back and forth and closing his lips to suck at the puckered skin.
“Oh, Gukie,” Taehyung moans thickly, gripping Jeongguk's hip upside down and rocking back into his tongue. “You're perfect, yes.”
Jeongguk's dick is straining against the front of his jeans and he folds his legs up to try to get more comfortable. Taehyung answers his silent plea and cups him between the thighs, pressing his erection through the denim. Jeongguk moans and shifts his grip to Taehyung's ass, grabbing him by the cheeks to pull him apart, licking around the hole before pushing his tongue in. Taehyung gasps at the first penetration of tongue, the fingers he has bunching his underwear pressed against Jeongguk's face.
Jeongguk can count on one hand how many times he ate out an ass, but with Taehyung's deep moans filling the room and his hips twitching in his hands, he can't believe he's gone so long without this. He leaves his lips lax and wet and breathes through his nose to let Taehyung rock back into his mouth all he wants, tongue stiff to let him push himself onto it. He could come just from this.
Taehyung’s hands find his fly, undoing his belt and his zipper to push Jeongguk's jeans down his legs. The pants and boxers bunch up around his bulky thighs, but it's enough for long fingers to wrap around his cock. Jeongguk’s groan is muffled when Taehyung starts pumping his cock, the dryness of the touch forgiving with softness of his palm.
Taehyung is the one to end it, climbing off of Jeongguk's face with a sheen of saliva around his asshole. He's completely red in the face and sweaty, his hair sticking up in places. Jeongguk thinks he might be in a somewhat similar state when Taehyung drops on the bed beside him and combs fingers through his sweaty hair. He tips his head into the touch and Taehyung cups his jaw to hold it up for a kiss. It's messy and wet and sloppy, but neither of them seems to mind.
Taehyung and Jeongguk manage to wrestle off the younger’s jeans as they kiss, Jeongguk kicking it off his ankles so he's finally completely naked. Taehyung pulls off his sweatshirt and unzips his skirt, throwing it all aside, too. When he's just in his black briefs, Jeongguk's arm curls around Taehyung to press into his asshole through the fabric, the saliva on his rim wetting the cotton. Taehyung hums appreciatively as Jeongguk pokes his hole through the underwear, rubbing in to feel the ass he just ate open up for him.
“Do you bottom, Gukie?” Taehyung asks breathlessly, pecking Jeongguk's damp lips. “Or do you only fuck?”
“Both,” Jeongguk breathes back. “—I can bottom.”
“Good.” Taehyung kisses his mouth again before moving away to grab the items he'd retrieved from his bag earlier. “Cause I really want to fuck you.”
Jeongguk is surprised but nods eagerly, his heartbeat picking up. He watches Taehyung’s silhouette as the older man pours lube from a bottle onto his hand, rubbing it between his fingers to warm it. He has a condom in his other hand, hands it over to Jeongguk when he moves over to kneel between his folded legs.
Wet fingers brush his perineum before prodding over his asshole, and Jeongguk’s back arches off the bed with a long moan when Taehyung pushes just his thumb over his rim and starts rolling tight circles over him. Jeongguk doesn't touch his ass to masturbate and it's been over a year since anyone’s touched him there.
“Does it feel good, baby?” Taehyung whispers, a smile in his voice. He rolls his thumb around Jeongguk's rim for another moment to make sure it's slick before pushing the tip of it inside. Jeongguk feels him prod him gently for a moment before the thumb is replaced with a longer finger that pushes in all the way.
“Oh,” Jeongguk lifts his hips from the bed and pushes the balls of his feet against the sheets, heat so intense in the pit of his belly he fears he might not last.
Taehyung just coos at him in a way he finds comforting and slides his finger in and out, getting him used to the breach before a second digit is poking right beside it. When Taehyung pushes the two long fingers in together and twists his hand to curl them up, a ring pressing against the stretched rim of his asshole, Jeongguk’s legs fall flat on the bed and he chokes out another cry.
“You're so vocal, honey,” Jeongguk hears Taehyung mumble, the fingers dragging up the walls of his ass never stilling. They scissor him mercilessly and Jeongguk moans loud when Taehyung applies pointed pressure to his prostate like his body’s a map he already knows. “You should be the one in front of that camera, pretty thing like you. Get that condom open for me, baby.”
Jeongguk picks up the packet and tears it open to fish out the slippery condom inside. He lifts his head from the pillow to drop his gaze to Taehyung's crotch and the tent in his briefs is impressive, cock stretching the fabric to its limit. A pang of arousal hits him in the lower belly, and it takes Jeongguk a second to realize that it's because Taehyung is gently rubbing his prostate again.
“Tae,” Jeongguk holds the condom out with shaky fingers and Taehyung's own pull out of his ass to take it.
Taehyung ditches the underwear and Jeongguk stares at his hard cock as long fingers stretch a condom over it, deciding to roll to his stomach on the bed to take it up the ass from an easier angle. Taehyung watches Jeongguk beneath him as he pours more lube over his hand and slicks himself over the latex.
He grabs Jeongguk's hip and aligns his dick to his ass and Jeongguk arches his spine to push his hips in the air and face on the pillow. They both groan when Taehyung slides inside and seats himself deep in.
It's a pressure on his bladder and painful stretch around his rim, but Jeongguk can't remember ever being so aroused by a cock in his ass. He moans and whimpers and chokes on his breath when Taehyung starts rocking back and forth, hears Taehyung say something nice about his ass and feels his hands tender on his butt cheeks, kneading them as he fucks him.
In this moment, everything is perfect.
Chapter 10: best part
You know that I see it, I know you're a star.
When Jeongguk wakes up the next Sunday, it's to midday sun beating on his face, high thread count sheets tangled around his ankles, and Taehyung's nose pressed up to his cheek.
They forgot the blinds open last night and the sunny day has taken residence inside the hotel room, streaming in through the tall windows and washing everything in bright light. The intense sunlight woke Jeongguk up, but Taehyung is still asleep beside him– warm, even breaths rhythmically heating up his cheek.
Taehyung is a cuddler, has made that much clear since the first night they'd slept together, and these days he sleeps latched onto Jeongguk like he's dependent on his body heat. But Jeongguk, used to sleeping alone, is sweaty everywhere their bodies are touching, finds it impossible to go back to sleep.
He inches back slowly, careful not to disturb the arm Taehyung has tossed over his waist. Taehyung makes a sound of protest when he wiggles too far, his arm tightening around Jeongguk to hold him there.
“No,” Taehyung mutters gruffly, still sounding mostly asleep. “Stay.”
“I'm just gonna go lower the thermostat,” Jeongguk whispers back hoarsely, feeling sweat damp on his bare chest. “It's really hot.”
“Mm.” The pressure of Taehyung's arm around him eases up, the furrow of his brows slowly relaxing as he releases Jeongguk. “...okay.”
Jeongguk sits up and slips out of bed to turn on the A.C. by the entrance, laminate floors heated under his bare feet. Taehyung had said he'd tried to clean up a little to receive Jeongguk in the room, but there are still clothes everywhere. Jeongguk accidentally steps on a semi-sharp studded belt on his way back to the bedroom.
Without someone to lean on, Taehyung has rolled to his stomach on the bed, Jeongguk’s pillow clutched under his arm and half buried under his body. Taehyung's pillow isn't under his head anymore either, tucked over the top of Taehyung’s head of messy brown hair to shield his eyes from the sun.
Ignoring the 13:24 lit up in red on the digital clock on the bedside table, Jeongguk crawls back in bed beside Taehyung with a grin.
“That's my pillow,” he says as he slides behind Taehyung, fitting under his sprawled arm and leaning over his naked body. Taehyung can be so cute sometimes, he thinks. “Hey, I'm gonna need it back.”
Taehyung doesn't acknowledge him, breathing evenly and pretending to be asleep. Jeongguk can tell he's pretending, still listening, but he doesn't call him out for it, just props himself up on an elbow and stares down at him. The panes of the window throw narrow shadows on Taehyung's back and the white sheets wrapped around his waist, yellow glow caged in. Jeongguk touches a shadow on Taehyung's back, spreading his fingers far apart to see if he can span both sides of Taehyung's ribcage, running his palm down to follow the taper of his waist until he almost can.
Taehyung continues to pretend to be asleep, but tucks his face into Jeongguk's pillow to hide his face. Jeongguk traces the brown freckles on his skin with his fingers. His camera was sitting on his desk back at home because Jeongguk had finished his two rolls of film and hadn't gotten the chance to buy any more yet, but if he had it handy, he would've been taking pictures right now.
Jeongguk gets a grunt in response, Taehyung's chest rumbling under his palm.
“You know that time you said you read me wrong?” Jeongguk starts in a whisper. “I was wondering… What did you mean?”
Taehyung hums in a long rumble that vibrates through his chest. Jeongguk presses the tiny mole on his shoulder like it'll magically make him open up. He is somewhat nervous to hear the answer to his question, but considering he has the very guy who said that laid in bed with him right now, he figures he's in pretty good shape to hear what Taehyung has to say.
“I meant that I realized that you actually wanted something serious with me,” Taehyung finally speaks, low voice husky and muffled by the pillow on his face. “I never thought that you did. And you're sensitive. A sweet, considerate boy.”
“Wait…So you thought I was a jerk up until that point?” Jeongguk says it sort of teasingly, but when Taehyung just stays quiet, Jeongguk's eyebrows shoot up. “You did? Really? Why?”
“Not a jerk, jerk—Look.” Taehyung pushes off the pillows covering him and twists back to look at Jeongguk over his shoulder. He seems to struggle with the words a little, his eyes still puffy from sleep. Jeongguk almost feels bad that he pulled Taehyung from his peaceful rest to discuss something uncomfortable. “You had a girlfriend, Jeongguk. Okay? You had a girlfriend and you were coming onto me as if you didn't. What else was I supposed to think? Of course I'd think you're some type of player.”
Jeongguk can't deny the facts, doesn't want to, but he still feels like what had happened couldn't have been helped. As soon as he knew he'd have something with Taehyung, he broke up with his girlfriend. He probably shouldn't have flirted with someone else at the end of his relationship, yes, but none of it had been done maliciously. He never meant to hurt anyone-- he'd been struggling immensely ever since first laying eyes on Taehyung. All he was guilty of was breaking up with the person he'd been unofficially ‘dating’ to be with another person he was actually one hundred percent committed to. Was that really so bad?
“...Yeah. You're right. I was seeing someone else. But that was different from a regular relationship, you know? We didn't see each other often, didn't really talk, never had sex.” Jeongguk's eyes stay downcast. It's hard for him to admit all this, but he needs Taehyung to understand that that was never anything like this. Nothing like this. “There was never feelings involved there. I don't think we meshed well. We didn't have enough in common.”
As he says it, Jeongguk realizes that that might not be entirely true. Jieun and her promising corporate career, her mild manner and easy-going nature, her pleasant mask of poise and politeness. She reminded Jeongguk of himself in a lot of ways, perhaps of who he'd become if he ever accepted any of those accounting job offers and led a blandly successful life.
Jeongguk and Jieun might've been kindred spirits in another life, but that wasn't the kind of life Jeongguk wanted for himself. Jeongguk the jokester, the introvert, the short fuse, the artist? Jeongguk craved something else.
“Whose feelings weren't involved? Yours?”
“Nothing.” Taehyung sighs, sounding somehow strained, lays on the pillow on his stomach again. “That's not the point, I never knew the extent of your relationship with your girlfriend. All I knew was that you were in a relationship and looking for something… on the side. But I knew then that you wanted something serious.”
“On the side?” Jeongguk furrows his brows, chuckling in confusion. “Like an affair? You thought I wanted to have an affair with you?”
“Affair, gay one-night stand, something like that,” Taehyung mumbles.
“Whoa…” And you were willing? Jeongguk's mind unhelpfully supplies. He ignores it. “Why didn't you think I wanted something serious with you?”
“You're twenty, Jeongguk.” Taehyung's says that like he thinks it means something.
“Twenty-two,” Jeongguk corrects.
“Twenty-two. When I was twenty-two—”
“—I know, I know, you were slutting it up when you were my age.” Taehyung snickers and Jeongguk grins, curling around him, gathering him in his arms and tugging him back against his chest. “But we are different people, Tae, and I know what I want.”
Taehyung is quiet for so long Jeongguk would've thought he'd fallen back asleep if he didn't know better, his body soft in his arms.
“Let's not talk about this anymore.” Taehyung sighs and breaks free of Jeongguk's loose hold to wrap himself around his pillow again. “I don't want to keep thinking about your other woman.”
“My other woman?” Jeongguk snickers. He realizes that in this scenario Taehyung is technically the other woman, but he doesn't point that out. Instead, he leans over Taehyung's back, sliding his hands underneath him to curl around his chest from the back once again.
Taehyung grunts instead of responding. Jeongguk figures he's sulking. He presses a light kiss to the back of Taehyung's shoulder, just a warm press of lips, and when Taehyung still doesn't move, Jeongguk licks over the spot he kissed. Taehyung makes a noise of fake disgust, squirming like he's trying to get away from Jeongguk but putting in no real effort to.
"You're a dog," Taehyung snorts, voice muffled. Jeongguk inches back and sees that he's hiding a smile. Jeongguk kisses over where he licked him, nose hooking over Taehyung's shoulder.
“I'm a hungry dog,” he says into his skin, giving Taehyung a squeeze. “Let's order room service again. Or I'll have to eat you.”
“We ate breakfast in the room yesterday,” Taehyung complains, ever the outdoorsman. “Let's go out today, we can eat anywhere you want in the city.”
“Anywhere I want would still be right here with you,” Jeongguk tells him. Taehyung melts in his arms, he feels it. “And it's lunchtime right now so nobody’s serving breakfast anymore unless we order in.”
Taehyung agrees, begrudgingly, and Jeongguk rolls to his back on the bed with a grin, dragging Taehyung up with him. Taehyung lets himself be held like a turtle on its back for a second before he breaks free of Jeongguk's hold to shuffle away.
Jeongguk cranes his head to watch as the covers pool around Taehyung's hips when he scoots to the edge of the bed to grab the telephone on the nightstand. He holds out a hand to graze the side of Taehyung's thigh where his leg meets his ass. His body is soft-- now Jeongguk knows it's because Taehyung uses body lotion everywhere.
Taehyung snatches Jeongguk's hand by the wrist and holds it still as he talks on the phone, fingers lingering.
They eat breakfast in bed, a feast of eggs, coffee, fruits and pancakes. Jeongguk had felt bad for the hefty price tag of the meal, but when he'd offered to pay for half, Taehyung had just laughed, shook his head, pinched Jeongguk's ear fondly.
Don't you worry, honey, he'd said, I got it.
Now, the empty food tray sits at the coffee table in the living room, cooling. The sun has gone down in the sky, bright yellow light turning warmer, orange. Jeongguk worried he was keeping Taehyung from his work, but when he'd voiced his concern Taehyung had assured him his schedule was free for the day. Jeongguk hoped for more information, but Taehyung hadn't wanted to linger on the subject.
They've settled into a comfortable silence, the TV in the bedroom playing an animal life documentary in a foreign language. Taehyung is sitting up with his back to the headboard, smoking a cigarette with his coffee, and Jeongguk is laid on the bed with his head pillowed on Taehyung's lap. Taehyung is combing Jeongguk's hair with his fingers and Jeongguk wants every morning (afternoon) to be like this.
“What's your life like in New York?” he asks after a long silence, the bedroom bathed in orange light and long shadows. Taehyung's fingers briefly still in his hair before resuming.
“Busy,” Taehyung says after a second. “I spend a good amount of time working. In the office, at trade shows, visiting our factories... There's barely time for anything else.”
“Ah…” Jeongguk thinks about how that's the complete opposite of his own current situation, his late hours and total freedom when he's not on shift. He was busier as a college student, working part-time to support himself and juggling challenging schoolwork. It was tough sometimes, but it kept his mind constantly working, something Jeongguk thinks is good for him. When he imagines being a little busier, it doesn't sound unappealing to him. “Do you like it?”
“Love it,” Taehyung answers, fingertips scratching Jeongguk's scalp. “It's my dream job.”
“Ah… Must be nice.”
“It is.” Silence again, the bear on the screen rushing into a river to fish for food with his teeth. “Is photography your dream job?”
The question takes Jeongguk by surprise and his eyebrows shoot up a little, eyes defocusing from the image on the TV screen. It's the first time anyone's ever made him think this, that it actually might be.
“I'm not sure. I… I don't think I have a dream job,” he confesses.
“That's alright.” Taehyung shifts in his seat to tap off some ash in the ashtray beside him. His fingers sink back into Jeongguk's hair when he straightens again. “It's alright not to know yet. When I was your age, I didn't know anything for sure either, and if I'd waited until I did, I never would have done anything. What's important is that you surround yourself with people who support you and love you unconditionally. Are you close with your family?”
“Um, sort of? I call home sometimes. Probably should do it more often, actually.” Jeongguk cups Taehyung's knee with a hand over the sheets. Jeongguk thinks it feels good to be so honest and open with Taehyung, finally. “But I have Jimin, my best friend. We live together. He's a dancer.”
“A dancer best friend, huh?” Jeongguk can hear the smile in Taehyung's voice, looks up to see that Taehyung is indeed smiling. “You should ask your Jimin about what he does. It might light up something inside you. And call your family.”
“Hm…” Jeongguk isn't entirely sure what talking to Jimin about dancing would do for him. Maybe Taehyung's suggesting that talking to people following their own dreams will help Jeongguk follow his?
“I've seen how you hold that camera, Guk,” Taehyung adds, curling a finger around the shell of Jeongguk's ear to brush his earlobe with the pad. “I've seen seasoned professionals less comfortable behind a camera than you. You'd always have that thing out if I let you. And you make me comfortable, too. You do it out of love—”
The pillow of Taehyung's thighs suddenly tenses under Jeongguk's head, whatever Taehyung had been meaning to say instantly dying off on his tongue. Jeongguk feels something inside him freeze, an ice fist suddenly grabbing him by the heart.
“I do l-love—” Jeongguk stumbles as he tries to blow it off. “It. I love taking pictures.”
“That's right.” Taehyung's smile is mortified and weak as he pulls his hand back from Jeongguk's hair, crossing his arms. He brings the cigarette to his lips and takes a long drag. “So that must mean something.”
Jeongguk bites his lip and turns his head away, training his gaze on the TV and trying hard not to cringe or show anything on his face.
The room is still lit in warm orange but Jeongguk feels cold now. He slips off the bed and stands to turn off the A.C. across the room.
When he comes back into the bedroom, Jeongguk feels Taehyung's gaze on him, although his eyes can't seem to meet Taehyung's.
He climbs on the mattress and approaches Taehyung on his knees, eyeing the elegant curl of Taehyung's hand as Jeongguk takes the burning cigarette from his fingers.
Taehyung's eyebrows shoot up, but he doesn't fight Jeongguk when Jeongguk starts to bring the cigarette to his own lips, then changes his mind halfway through and leans out of the bed to put it out in the ashtray. Taehyung stays quiet, not breaking the spell of the room, and Jeongguk kisses the pout off his lips when he folds down to sit on Taehyung's thighs. Jeongguk straddles his lap and fits them together until they are just skin pressed to cotton, an overwhelming need to feel close to Taehyung again taking over.
One of Taehyung's hands come up to the side of Jeongguk's thigh, fingernails brushing the edge of Jeongguk's boxers. Taehyung's mouth forms a small smile and Jeongguk leans in to kiss him with a slow breath.
Taehyung tastes like cigarettes and coffee, rough and addicted, opposite of his soft face when Jeongguk cups it between his hands. Taehyung is always blends of soft and harsh, intimidating and approachable, doting and indifferent. Sometimes it's hurtful, often it's confusing, but Jeongguk knows he wants to see all sides of Taehyung, all he has to offer.
Taehyung is soft now as Jeongguk holds him and kisses him deeply, tongue licking into his mouth. He stays pliant and docile as Jeongguk trails his lips to his neck, leaning over Taehyung to mouth at his throat. Jeongguk licks and sucks bruises on Taehyung's skin and Taehyung lets out these quiet moans sometimes that go straight to Jeongguk's cock.
He kisses down Taehyung's chest, licking his dusky nipples until they pebble under the wet brush of Jeongguk's tongue. Taehyung stretches out like a cat on the bed, spreading his legs on either side of Jeongguk to accommodate him in between when he climbs down the bed. Jeongguk curls his fingers into the sheets, tugs them down to reveal Taehyung's naked bottom half.
Jeongguk had put his underwear back on after they fucked last night, but Taehyung had stayed naked. It was pretty obvious what he was flaunting.
“Your cock is big even when it's soft,” Jeongguk murmurs as he wraps a hand around the flaccid length, lifting it from Taehyung's thigh. Taehyung lets out a breathy low moan when Jeongguk starts working it gently in his fist. Jeongguk peers down at it and licks his lips, continuing the gentle, slow pump of his hand around Taehyung's soft cock as he lowers his mouth to it. He licks around the head first, his fingers tugging down at the base.
Taehyung arches his back with a cry, draping an arm over his face to hide his eyes. “Fuck, Gukie.”
Jeongguk opens his mouth wider with his soft tongue out, pillowing the hardening cock as he pulls it into the hot cavern of his mouth. When he's got all he can fit inside, Jeongguk closes his lips around Taehyung's cock and starts sucking. Taehyung's thighs snap closed, clamping around Jeongguk's head as he bobs it up and down.
Jeongguk likes wet blowjobs so that's what he gives Taehyung, letting excess saliva drip down his cock as he jerks it and slurping noisily around the head. He feels Taehyung grow in his hand, his cock getting fatter and hotter with blood, and soon Jeongguk can't take it all easily anymore. He gags when the thick head hits the back of his throat, has to slow down to catch his breath.
He pulls his mouth back, jerking Taehyung's cock with his hand to coat him from base to tip with the mess of spit and precum. Taehyung is a great receiver, his deep moans and heavy breaths like music to Jeongguk. He likes this, likes making Taehyung tremble, strokes the wet head gently with his thumb before ducking down to take Taehyung in his mouth again.
Taehyung groans thickly, grabbing Jeongguk by the back of his hair when Jeongguk sucks his dick back into his mouth. Jeongguk goes down on him slowly, opening as wide as he can to take Taehyung's cock in deeper. He braces himself, expects Taehyung to snap his hips up or yank his head down to fuck his throat, but Taehyung just claws at him and lets him set the pace. He's more gentle than Jeongguk would've been.
“Baby,” Taehyung breathes. “Turn over. Let me see your little asshole.”
Jeongguk rips off and drops his face to Taehyung's hip, swallowing thickly and wiping his mouth with a hand. He wriggles his hips to get out of his boxers, pulling them down to his knees before kicking them off. Once he's naked, Jeongguk pushes up to his hands and knees and rotates in bed to face Taehyung's feet, then drops his leg over Taehyung and straddles his chest. Staying on his knees, Jeongguk drops to his elbows on top of Taehyung and takes Taehyung's hard cock in his hand again.
“Gorgeous,” he hears Taehyung mumble behind him, two hands sliding up the back of Jeongguk's thighs to grab his ass. Jeongguk busies himself with sucking Taehyung off as Taehyung squeezes and kneads him. He gags around Taehyung's cock when Taehyung pulls his ass apart then pushes it together.
“T-Taehyung.” Jeongguk pulls off, heaving, can't focus on sucking Taehyung's cock when he's playing with his ass like that. He arches his back and rocks back into nothing, desperately seeking Taehyung's touch. Taehyung coos and pries Jeongguk's cheeks open again, exposing the raw skin of his rim to the cooler air of the room. They fucked twice last night, multiple times the past few days, and Jeongguk can feel his ass is suffering the consequences.
“That's it, baby, that's my name,” Taehyung murmurs, covering Jeongguk's asshole with the pad of a thumb and rolling it around the circumference until Jeongguk's thighs are quivering, his cock hanging heavy between them. “Big boy, aren't you? Look at you. You're beautiful.”
Jeongguk groans, swiveling his hips and pushing back and forth onto the pressure. He still isn't used to how often Taehyung calls him that, boy. And variations of that: good boy, sweet boy, baby boy. Taehyung has called him this a lot in the last few days, particularly during sex, and Jeongguk figures he should find it weird, but he doesn't, not at all. It makes him fucking hot. When Taehyung moves his hands closer to each other and peels open the sides of his rim with his thumbs, he groans again, feeling empty.
“Taehyung, please–” Jeongguk clenches his asshole so he's not gaping. Maybe he'd be embarrassed if he didn't find this so hot.
Taehyung seems to take pity on him because he stops prying Jeongguk's ass apart and rubs the flat of four fingers over his puffy hole instead. The feeling of being empty intensifies, and Jeongguk shivers when he feels Taehyung move behind him to grab the lube from the nightstand.
He ducks to mouth at Taehyung's cock again, wrapping his lips around the top and curling his fingers around the bottom to hold him up. He hears the sound of the lube cap snapping open and the gasp of the liquid coming out of the half-empty bottle, his nerves tensing in anticipation. Jeongguk closes his eyes and starts bobbing his head faster over Taehyung's cock to make him hum.
A second later, warm fingertips smear lube around Jeongguk's abused asshole, coating the outside generously before a single wet finger pushes in. Jeongguk moans at the breach, flinching a little, but when Taehyung starts sliding his long finger in and out gently, all he feels is pleasure. Taehyung murmurs soft words behind him as he pushes in a second finger, carefully scissoring Jeongguk's opening. He doesn't need much of this, his ass taking the intrusion easily, but Taehyung seems to know Jeongguk enjoys it and fingers him like a girl.
Jeongguk wants to give back, so he puts in extra effort when he sucks Taehyung's cock, slurping loudly and flicking the sensitive slit with his tongue. It turns into what feels like a race to get each other off, Taehyung pushing in a third finger, pumping his hand in and out of Jeongguk fast. Jeongguk moans and clenches around the fingers, fed something similar to what he needs but not quite.
It's abrupt when Taehyung pulls the fingers out, smacking Jeongguk's thigh with a barked come here. Jeongguk collapses on the bed beside Taehyung's hip and slowly manages to crawl around to meet him the right way up on the bed.
Taehyung cups Jeongguk's jaw and brings him down for a kiss, his other big hand pushing on Jeongguk's hip until Jeongguk sits on his lap, legs folded on either side of him. Jeongguk adjusts his position to fit the girth of Taehyung's cock between his ass cheeks, rocking back and forth to rub the lube coming out of his asshole all over Taehyung's dick.
God, he wants Taehyung to fuck him raw one day, he thinks.
Taehyung stills Jeongguk on his lap with a firm hand on his hip, holding out the condom packet he got from the nearly empty box. Jeongguk takes it and tears off the top carefully, pulling out the lubricated rubber with his fingers. He knows Taehyung wants him to put it on him, and Jeongguk doesn't mind being the one to handle Taehyung's thick cock. He carefully fishes it out from beneath him, holding it steady as he rolls the condom down the length of it.
“Good boy,” Taehyung breathes when Jeongguk smooths the edge of the latex down the base. He curls his hand around Jeongguk's hip and guides him over, Jeongguk’s grip on his cock steadying him.
They align and Jeongguk sinks down slowly on his knees, both of them groaning when his ass effortlessly swallows Taehyung inch by inch. He lowers his ass until he's sat on Taehyung's lap again, his cock impaling him deep. Jeongguk's arms go around Taehyung's neck, Taehyung's hands find purchase on his hips, and together they bounce until they're drowning out the nature documentary.
The position allows for very deep penetration, Jeongguk comfortable on Taehyung's soft thighs, and Jeongguk leans back to find the angle where it feels best. Taehyung's hands paw at his sides, squeezing the meat of his ass and thighs, and when he realizes Jeongguk is trying to shift in his lap, he links his fingers behind the small of Jeongguk's back.
“Lean on me,” Taehyung mumbles. Jeongguk leans back until he's caught by the link of Taehyung's hands and the new angle has him crying out when he sinks down next. “That's it, baby. Does that feel good for you?”
“Ngh– yeah.” Jeongguk furrows his brows and keeps riding, his thighs burning like it's a workout. His asshole burns, too, but he's so wet inside it all glides easily. Each rock of his hips has Taehyung's cock brushing past his prostate, and Jeongguk starts gasping breathy ah-ah-ahs.
Taehyung curls a hand around Jeongguk's cock, lifting it from where it's smearing precum all over his stomach. Jeongguk moans, head dropping back, and now every bounce on his knees pushes his cock through Taehyung's hand, too. He rocks up and down until his thighs are quivering and he can't do it without shaking anymore. Taehyung gives his dick a squeeze, pumping Jeongguk faster when the rhythm of his bounces slow and falter. He slides a dainty finger across the glob of precum on the tip of Jeongguk's cock, directly touching the sensitive slit, and Jeongguk moans and feels heat stir in his belly.
“I'm g-gonna cum,” he warns, watery. Taehyung makes an appreciative noise and releases Jeongguk's cock, stroking the tight muscles of his abs instead.
“Come, baby,” Taehyung encourages lowly, rubbing Jeongguk's belly until Jeongguk can feel the pressure of his cock inside him. Taehyung leans in and kisses Jeongguk's throat. “Come on my dick.”
Jeongguk grinds down and does, moaning, and Taehyung must've been holding himself back because he follows shortly after. They collapse together on the bed, both sweaty, and Jeongguk feels Taehyung's cock still inside him long after they're separated.
When Jeongguk next glances at the clock on the nightstand, it's nearing 6 p.m. The blue has overtaken the orange on the sky, the last faint glow of light before total darkness.
“I have to go to work,” he groans into the silence, Taehyung warm in bed beside him.
Neither of them makes a move to leave, their bodies still pressed together side by side on the mattress. The TV is off, the room dark, the sound of their breathing the only thing filling the space.
“I should probably go home and shower, actually.”
“You can shower here. You have your clothes with you, don't you?”
“So get ready here.”
Jeongguk presses his lips together, happy at the offer.
Eventually, they work the courage to get out of bed. Jeongguk stands and heads to the bathroom, pleasantly surprised when Taehyung follows. Both of them load into the small shower, a tight fit for two men.
In the bright lights of the bathroom, the hickeys Jeongguk left on Taehyung's neck are bright red, the color sunk into his tanned skin in little patches. Taehyung grins when Jeongguk touches them gently, drops his head to the side to let him follow the marks up the column of his throat with his nose. Jeongguk can't wait until the bruises are set and purple, his stamp on him for everyone to see.
Taehyung has his own toiletries in the shower, professional-grade shampoos and a million different skincare products Jeongguk can't name. It reminds him of Jimin and of home, makes Jeongguk wonder if Taehyung and his best friend would get along.
It feels domestic to get ready for work at Taehyung's apartment– even if it's just a soulless hotel room. Closing his eyes under the water— Taehyung's soapy fingers kneading his shoulders, nails digging painfully sometimes when he gets enthusiastic— Jeongguk can almost pretend they are somewhere else in the world, in Taehyung's actual home showering together and giving each other head massages.
They haven't done much today, just lazed around in bed, but now Jeongguk feels ready to go outside and face the day. It's an intangible happiness that permeates his mood, makes him feel like he can face anything.
If the grass is always greener on the other side, Jeongguk has come to understand, Jieun was never anything but the greenest grass. Somehow, he had jumped the fence to the proverbial other side without meaning to, used Jimin's advice to reason staying in the relationship he thought ought to be the best one. He'd had it wrong all along, twisted his friend’s sound advice the opposite way in his head until he was trapped, trapped, trapped.
But no more. Now, Jeongguk is free.
He steps out of the shower before Taehyung, leaving Taehyung shaving his legs and humming a pleasant tune in the box.
Jeongguk scrubs a towel through his hair and pads out of the bathroom, flicking on the lamps in the living room as he passes. As he's turning on the lamp on the desk, Taehyung's phone lights up where it's charging, a text message coming through. Jeongguk can't help it– he peeps, wondering what sort of work messages a fashion worker receives.
taehyungie please answer my calls.
But it's not a work text, it's a message from an unsaved number. And the texts keep coming, reeking of desperation.
Jeongguk knows who this is immediately: Park Bogum. Taehyung must've deleted his contact.
These texts would've most certainly bothered him if he'd seen them a week ago, but now Jeongguk can rationalize that this is just some pushy ex-boyfriend who won't accept that Taehyung is over him. And Taehyung is over Bogum, that much is clear in him deleting the contact and the picture and ignoring his calls.
youre here now, can't we be together?
i love you.
does that mean nothing to u?
Jeongguk wills himself not to get upset, flips the phone so the screen is facing down.
He isn't letting his overthinking ruin this, goddammit.
Chapter 11: violet
Just chill, you're made to sing on anything, you golden child.
Days pass in a flurry of work, dates, wine and cocktails.
Bartender B, Jung Hoseok, texts Jeongguk one night saying he got his number from the owner. He and Jeongguk become something of texting buddies, the two trading stories of funny drink orders and especially good tips. As Jeongguk suspected, they get along well over text. It makes him feel guilty for ever thinking Hoseok was too much, for formulating an opinion of him before he spent any time around the guy.
Hoseok is the big brother type, teaches Jeongguk the ropes of service work. Says he's been doing it since he's been of legal age— twenty-five now. He teaches Jeongguk that giving people a smile as he hands them their drinks earns him a bigger tip, sometimes a number scribbled on a napkin, then teases him that it works just because Jeongguk has a sweet smile.
Jeongguk sometimes uses that smiling trick to score better tips, but balls up the napkins and discards the phone numbers he doesn't need.
Taehyung comes by the bar most nights Jeongguk is working, even some nights when he isn't. Jeongguk knows this because Hoseok recognizes Taehyung as "his buddy" and helpfully informs him every time "his man" stops in for a drink. Hoseok says Taehyung always sits alone at the back, texting– sometimes Jeongguk himself– and talking on the phone in another language. Jeongguk tells Hoseok he doesn't need to tell him these things, but the bartender does so anyway, every time. And every time, part of Jeongguk is actually happy to get updates.
It's whole weeks of that. Jeongguk wonders how Taehyung's alcohol tolerance is so low when he drinks most days. Perhaps not quite an addiction but not too far from it. He might start worrying for the man's liver soon, suggest he trade the wine for grape juice.
It's late October when Hoseok asks Jeongguk if he's dating Taehyung.
This is the first time Jeongguk realizes that his coworker might be the only person in the world who knows of his relationship to Taehyung. Jimin would have typically been first, but Jeongguk was so caught up in his guilt over Jieun that he ended up not ever telling him about Taehyung. Jeongguk ends up never answering that text.
Was he dating Taehyung? Jeongguk feels that yes, dating is exactly what he and Taehyung have been doing for the better part of the month. Taehyung, who telecommutes to New York at night and fills his days with different experiences in Seoul.
He takes Jeongguk to coffee shops, city parks, shopping strips, exotic restaurants, places Jeongguk never knew existed. Wants to see everything, he says, like he wants to work the city dry of new things to discover.
And Jeongguk follows and takes pictures until his fingers start to ache. He goes through four rolls of film in three weeks, turning nondescript corners into scenes with real aesthetic purpose, art.
Or so he imagines, as all of the used film stays put on his desk at home, undeveloped and unseen by anyone. Jeongguk knows of a couple photo labs he could take them to, but never ends up taking the film to get processed.
He's curious, yes, but tells himself that the actual photographs don't matter. The results don't matter if it's the act of photography itself that he enjoys the most.
And that he does. Being able to pull out his camera, snag a fleeting moment in time and know that he's saved something beautiful is wholly satisfying to Jeongguk. He loves it, loves the feeling he gets from training his lens on Taehyung and catching him pretending not to pose, sometimes even actually not posing. Looking so perfect either way.
Taehyung looks as if he's made for the spotlight, beautiful from every imaginable angle, beautiful when he doesn't even try. His is an ethereal beauty Jeongguk wants to capture and preserve.
Jeongguk may find it hard to quantify what it is that he likes about photography when he doesn't even get to see his work, but it scratches an itch in him to just make something.
Most importantly, it quiets something in his head, a flurry of anxieties that can get crushing at times.
Maybe everybody has something. Maybe this is his thing.
* * *
On Halloween it's Jeongguk's night off.
Taehyung texts him bright and early that he'll be meeting with a supplier that day but wants to 'hang out with people in spooky costumes later.'
Despite being over a decade younger, Jeongguk wouldn't typically seek out parties, especially not ones meant mostly for college students, but he doesn't have it in him to deny Taehyung much.
—Especially not when Taehyung reveals his plan to dress like a princess. Jeongguk is just a man.
So against his better judgement, he invites Taehyung to drink with him in Itaewon that night, tells him the neighborhood is filled with young people in costume every Halloween, the perfect spot for a themed bar crawl if it's a truly horrific experience that Taehyung wants.
They meet at the mouth of the Itaewon station at 10 p.m.
At his date's insistence, Jeongguk is in costume, a gaudy vampire cape and vest he picked up from the pharmacy across from his apartment. He spots at least three other dudes in the very same costume in the few minutes that he stands waiting for Taehyung.
When he arrives, Taehyung is in a black velvet dress, a fitted thing with a low neckline that he styled over a white dress shirt with oversized bell sleeves. No pink, no costume, not at all what Jeongguk pictured but just that nonetheless.
Princess not a costume on him.
When Jeongguk gives him a toothy grin, Taehyung grins back and promptly reaches over to remove Jeongguk's plastic fangs, kissing him right there in the open.
They end up at a nightclub. Jeongguk exhausts almost a whole roll of film taking pictures of Taehyung dancing, eyeing him, smoking his cigarette. Taehyung forces him to put his camera away all too soon for his liking, says something about no sleep and bags under his eyes. Jeongguk doesn't see them.
All eyes on the dance floor are on them when they dance together, crossdresser and budget vampire. Jeongguk wonders if it's simply on account of them being two men, but it's not prejudice that he sees in the flashes of eyes. It's interest, curiosity, desire. One look at Taehyung's defined jaw, long eyelashes and full lips and it doesn't surprise him, gender just a trivial detail on him. Taehyung is glorious and everybody wants him.
When Jeongguk leans in to tell him as much, Taehyung just laughs and drags him into the deepest of kisses.
They touch and get close, Taehyung slightly taller than Jeongguk in his small pom pom heels. Jeongguk wraps an arm around his waist and caresses his side with his fingers, tickling the velvety seam of his dress as they sway with their noses pushed together. Taehyung hooks a large hand over his shoulder, kneads the muscle through the black cape.
They dance, kiss, don't talk. With everyone around them in costume, masks, Taehyung in a dress and Jeongguk like the undead, no one bothers them.
Afterwards, a few cocktails in each, Jeongguk invites Taehyung over instead of letting him bring him back to his hotel. To his surprise, Taehyung accepts easily, says he doesn't mind that Jeongguk lives with a roommate. Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung secretly wants to meet him, and the thought makes him happy.
But there's no one home when they arrive, Jimin most likely out still partying. Jeongguk leads Taehyung through the dark of the apartment into his bedroom, ushering him inside and shutting the door softly behind them.
With no one around to disturb them, it's like an unspoken agreement: Jeongguk turns around and is met with Taehyung right there, their bodies gravitating together. They leave all the lights off, stumble backwards towards Jeongguk's bed in a flail of limbs. Taehyung's dress comes up and Jeongguk gets in between his legs on the floor, going down on him at the edge of the bed. Taehyung grabs him by the back of the neck as he does, nails digging into his skin with a ferocity Jeongguk is typically the one to wield.
Afterwards, now, he and Taehyung are huddled together in Jeongguk's tiny twin bed, Iron Man hovering on the wall above them. Jeongguk's vampire cape is on the floor, strewn over Taehyung's cutesy heels.
They're spooning, Jeongguk the big spoon and Taehyung the small spoon, the former's laptop on his desk playing some slasher film neither of them is seriously watching. Jeongguk has his arm draped over Taehyung, the palm of his hand over Taehyung's fingers on the bed. It's almost like they're holding hands; he's not sure if Taehyung has noticed.
“When will you show me your pictures?” Taehyung's voice suddenly asks into the dark.
Jeongguk's eyes are on the screen as a woman in the movie goes off to search for the source of a noise in her house. “...the ones I took of you?” he asks, tentative.
“Yeah,” Taehyung whispers. “Are there others?”
“Not really.” They're both whispering now, for whatever reason. Jeongguk wishes he could see Taehyung's face. “You're always there when I take them.”
The implication hangs in the air— Jeongguk only photographs when Taehyung is there. The pictures are often of him. Usually of him. Jeongguk isn't ashamed to admit it, but knowing Taehyung is only now realizing this makes him wonder if he should be.
Taehyung rolls over under his arm to face Jeongguk, brown eyes pitch black in the dark. “When will you show them to me?” he whispers again, voice soft but insistent. Jeongguk sees his eyes searching his like they're asking for something, but he doesn't know what it is.
Someone starts screaming in the background, the woman finding a masked psychopath in her closet.
“I didn't develop them yet,” Jeongguk admits, quietly.
Taehyung blinks slowly a couple times, but doesn't look as surprised as Jeongguk had anticipated. “Why not?”
Jeongguk pulls in a breath, closes his eyes. “I don't know, too lazy?”
“Too lazy?” Taehyung sounds skeptical. Jeongguk is many things, but lazy is not one of them. When he wants something accomplished, he can sit for hours practicing it tirelessly until he's got a decent grip on it. It's how he got through Econ school with mediocre math skills and zero real interest in the subject.
Something flutters in Jeongguk's chest at the knowledge that Taehyung noticed, knows this about him. It opens something up.
“—I-I don't know, honestly,” he admits, whispering, knows his reasons are stupid. “I guess I don't want to see them? Don't want to see if they're bad, I mean.”
This is only the first time Jeongguk is acknowledging this but he already knows that it's the truth. He doesn't want to develop his film because he'd rather not know if his pictures are actually shit, if it's only in his head that he's taken good ones.
It happened to him often in the photography class he took in college, Jeongguk reviewing his photos and being unhappy with the results– never mind that his peers and instructor usually found them good.
And Jeongguk's especially scared to show his pictures to Taehyung, hear his opinion. Taehyung is cultivated, creative and artistic himself, will most likely be able to tell right away that Jeongguk is really just an amateur. He'd find a million flaws in every shot at first glance, be disappointed that Jeongguk isn't as good as he'd expected.
Taehyung would see his pictures and think they're bad and smile and say a polite, nice thing. Jeongguk can't imagine a worse thing.
“Jeongguk, your pictures are not bad.” Taehyung sighs, hesitates like he's trying to figure out the best way to word something. Trying to comfort him, Jeongguk figures. “They're not bad, and you can't just decide that they are before even looking at them. That doesn't make any sense.”
“Hm.” Jeongguk furrows his brows, bites his lip. Thinks of the film rolls on his desk. What would Taehyung do if he knew that they are right there? Would he take them to the lab for him, eliminate all choice, make the decision?
“—hate to see you waste your talent,” Taehyung is continuing, their heads still only inches apart, his face expressive as he talks. Jeongguk watches it silently, a little in awe. “I think you should really just give it a try. I want you to feel fulfilled.”
He would. Taehyung would definitely take his film to get developed behind his back if he thought it would do Jeongguk any good. Jeongguk is almost certain of this.
“But I am fulfilled,” he says confidently. “I am happy.”
“But you're not, though,” Taehyung says it weakly, sighs. He lowers his gaze but Jeongguk still sees so much in his eyes. He never used to let Jeongguk see this much feeling, never let him see him vulnerable, but now he's so delicate, a flower. “I know you're probably trying to tell yourself that you're happy now, that everything's fine, but I know that you don't like bartending. I know it's photography that you want to be doing, and that's what I think you ought to be trying. You're so young, but so hard on yourself... I want to encourage you to just go for it.”
Jeongguk's heart is doing an odd thing, pounding borderline painfully in his ribs. He stares at Taehyung in the dark and finds it incredibly hard to contain the feeling in his chest. It threatens to overflow, spill out of his mouth in a handful of dangerous words.
Does Taehyung feel it, too?
“But I'm happy now,” Jeongguk repeats, his voice thin and strained like it's holding something back, pouring out of his chest to try to grab at a fragile thing. He cups the side of Taehyung's face, scoots in closer to make him see, pushes their noses together. “I'm happy right now, with you. You make me happy. This is enough.”
Taehyung's breath stutters– Jeongguk hears it hitch, sees the slight widening of Taehyung's eyes even with half his face pressed into a graphic-print pillow.
Jeongguk thinks he sees the flutter he feels in his heart recreated, right there on Taehyung's beautiful face. They stare at each other in silence and it's intimate, awfully so. He thinks he gets goosebumps on his arms from just the weight of the older man's eyes.
Taehyung is the one to break their staring contest. It's to move in to slide their mouths together in a kiss. It's heated right away, Taehyung hitching a leg over Jeongguk's hips and Jeongguk grabbing Taehyung by the ass to pull him on top of him. The radiator in his bedroom is weak, but cuddled like this, Taehyung's long slender body warm and solid over him, Jeongguk doesn't feel cold at all.
Taehyung's dress is caught in between them and Jeongguk feels the brush of his shaved legs over his bare ones. They've made out with Taehyung on top of him before, but this time Jeongguk thinks Taehyung feels heavier, at least more than usual. He's really giving him his weight, not bracing any of it off with his knees on the bed. Jeongguk holds him firmly by the hips and keeps him there as they kiss.
No matter how hard it gets to breathe, he keeps holding on.
Taehyung eventually kisses his way down Jeongguk's jaw to suck at the hoop through his earlobe, both of them panting. Chest heaving and cock hard, Jeongguk stares up at the fan in his bedroom, his computer playing long lights across the ceiling.
“I'm happy now, Taehyung,” he seizes the chance to murmur. Taehyung falters when he says it.
“Me, too,” he responds after a moment, voice low and whispered, muffled into Jeongguk's neck.
Taehyung says it back, but he doesn't sound happy. They hold each other and stop moving, say nothing. Jeongguk falls asleep to a quiet room of screaming.
The morning of November 1st brings sunlight, wakes Jeongguk up and makes him roll his head aside to find Taehyung already awake, staring at him. His big brown eyes are puffy, perky nose nestled into the bright graphic pillow. Jeongguk has watched Taehyung sleep many times, but now that their roles are reversed he realizes how freaky that is to wake up to. He laughs sheepishly, rolls his head back up to face the ceiling.
“Could stare at you all day.” Taehyung's voice is gravelly with sleep. “You have a little baby face, you know that? Look so young when you sleep.”
Jeongguk chuckles, wants to kiss Taehyung but feels his own morning breath. He sits up and rubs his eyes with a hand. “Could say the same 'bout you.”
“Me?” Taehyung chuckles, rolling to his back as well to finger at his temple. “Nah, not me. I'm old. I have crow’s feet.”
Jeongguk looks down at Taehyung, brows furrowed. “Don't say that, you're not old,” he chides. Hates hearing that more than anything. Hates it with an intensity that burns hot and vehement in the pit of his belly. “You're crazy beautiful, Taehyung. Never met anyone more beautiful than you.”
Taehyung closes his eyes, smiling. He trails his fingers over the small of Jeongguk's back, the blunt scrape of his fingernails raising goosebumps on the younger's skin. Jeongguk brushes his fingers across Taehyung's cheek, still frowning.
When they go out into the living room, Jeongguk's roommate is there making himself breakfast. Jimin is at the stove, looks over his shoulder at the sound of the bedroom opening and spots Jeongguk with Taehyung. Taehyung's honey brown hair is in total disarray, his bed head almost as bad as Jeongguk knows his must be. Jeongguk can see the shock in Jimin's face at the sight of them together.
“Ah, is this him?” Taehyung breaks the silence, amicable boxy smile spreading over his face.
“That's him,” Jeongguk mumbles. “Jimin.”
Jimin looks even more surprised when Taehyung says calls him that, his small eyes widening. “That's me. Who are you?"
“This is Taehyung,” Jeongguk introduces a little louder, scratching the back of his neck. “Taehyung, this is Jimin.”
“I've heard heaps about you!” Taehyung brushes past Jeongguk to head over, pulls out one of the four wobbly chairs around their tiny dining table and seats himself.
He looks out of place in the bachelor pad, like a beautiful vision. Jeongguk notices that Jimin is still staring at him, knows his friend must think so, too.
“Uh, can't say the same about you,” Jimin returns, arches an eyebrow high at Jeongguk before turning back to the skillet over the flame. “I'm making eggs. You two want some?”
Jeongguk sits down beside Taehyung, who sits combing fingers through his messy hair. Jeongguk's shirt is big and loose on his thinner frame, the collar leaving the top of his chest exposed and showing off his sculpted collarbones.
Jeongguk looks up and catches Jimin staring at them again. He wonders what they must look like to his friend, wonders if Jimin feels anything like Jeongguk felt when he saw his pretty dates leaving his room the morning after. Taehyung doesn't look too different from the people Jimin has dated in the past.
“Jeongguk told me you're a dancer,” Taehyung speaks up again, making conversation. Jeongguk's come to know that he is very outgoing, hates a silent room. As someone who welcomes silence like a close friend, Jeongguk appreciates that about him.
“I am, yes.” Jimin is scooping out the eggs from the pan onto a plate on the counter, his back to the duo. “I'm shooting a music video this week, actually. Meant to tell you sooner, Guk.”
“Oh.” He and Jimin haven't seen much of each other lately, their paths never meeting at home anymore. It's his fault more than Jimin's. “That's awesome, hyung. What kind of music?”
“Hip-hop, I think? I have to dance in 6-inch heels,” Jimin giggles. His endearing laugh makes Jeongguk smile, and when he glances at Taehyung, he finds him smiling, too.
“Sounds tough,” Taehyung says companionably. “Heels are a bitch.”
“They really are,” Jimin agrees, looks over his shoulder. He and Taehyung just smile at each other, have a mental mutual connection of some sort. Jeongguk would've felt left out if he wasn't so stoked that it seems like they'll get along. “But I can handle it.”
“Good luck to you. I hope it goes well.”
“Thanks. I just made enough breakfast for two,” Jimin apologizes, coming over with the plate of eggs. Jeongguk stands to get them serving plates and chopsticks. “There's some rice in the rice cooker, Guk.”
Jeongguk opens the cupboard and takes some bowls to scoop rice into.
“Hyung, I wanted to ask you something,” he says after a moment. He hears Jimin hum an assent from the table. “Do you have any art friends who could get some film developed for me if I handed it to you?”
“Film?” Jimin asks.
“You're taking pictures again?” Jimin sounds surprised but interested.
“Yeah, I guess I am,” Jeongguk bores a hole with his gaze in the rice he's scooping. “Sorta.”
“Sorta?” Jeongguk knows that tone, knows there's a smile growing on his best friend's face. “You taking pictures again or not?”
“I am,” Jeongguk repeats, a little more firmly. Taehyung is giggling back there. Jeongguk is embarrassed for reasons he can't fathom, his face as hot as a furnace. It's like Jimin and Taehyung are on one team, him on another— only their team might also be playing for his. “You think you can get it developed for me or not?”
“Yeah,” Jimin says. “Yes, Gukie. I actually know just the guy. Namjoon, you remember him?”
“Yeah.” Silver hair, charming curator– Jeongguk remembers. Thinks the guy might hate him but doesn't mention it in case Jimin doesn't know. “You think he can do it?”
“Yeah, definitely. Leave your film with me, I'll give him a call.”
Jeongguk carries the plates and bowls of rice back. Taehyung has both elbows propped up on the table, hands cupping the sides of his face. He's grinning, big and happy.
Jeongguk smiles back at him as he sets the dishes down.
Taehyung is busy again that day, leaves Jeongguk's apartment immediately after breakfast to go back to his hotel to get ready for another important meeting.
Jeongguk decides to take the day for himself, packs his bag for the gym and hands his four rolls of film to Jimin on his way out. Jimin gives him a look like he wants to ask him more about Taehyung, but doesn't end up asking anything.
Exercise is something Jeongguk used to always turn to for de-stressing, take out his pent-up frustration on the machines instead of himself. He doesn't need it for the same reasons anymore, school no longer a major stressor in his life, but it still feels good to blow off some steam.
His body craves that outlet now. His days have all been good and he's happier than he's perhaps ever been, but there's a restlessness plaguing him today, an itch under his skin. He suspects it might've been the strange conversation he had with Taehyung the night before that left him slightly shaken– maybe the fact that Taehyung didn't think he was happy, thought it was photography that Jeongguk needed to feel fulfilled and just completely removed himself from the equation.
The sun is starting to set when Jeongguk steps out of the gym again, the sky that rich cobalt it gets when the dark comes in to replace the light.
The streets are busy and lit up as Jeongguk makes his way to the train station, gym bag over a shoulder and hands stuffed in the pockets of his jacket. With his hair still wet from the shower he took at the gym, the night feels extra chilly. People are bundled up for winter around him, all boots and puffy coats.
Some stores are winding down and closing up for the day, others just getting started. Jeongguk used to avoid these busy streets like the plague, but now he finds that he doesn't mind people walking too slow, tourists stopping abruptly for a picture. He imagines him and Taehyung walking down streets like these, wonders if Taehyung's ever explored this particular area before. He should bring Taehyung here, Jeongguk thinks.
Something catches his eye in one of the storefronts. It's a jewelry store, sparkling gems and diamonds catching on the little lights. What has Jeongguk's attention is a pair of pearl earrings, little elegant, delicate things he immediately pictures on Taehyung. The image is strong in his mind's eye: the pearly drops on Taehyung's ears, Taehyung's long fingers fiddling with them.
Jeongguk touches the window in front of him, wishes the store were open so he could go in and buy the pearl earrings. He wants to get them for Taehyung. He takes out his phone from his back pocket, snaps a picture of the display for future reference. Maybe he’ll get the earrings for him on Christmas.
With his phone out in his hands, Jeongguk sees it when he gets a text message from Hoseok.
Guess whos here………… ;) ;)
Received 6:09 PM
Jeongguk snorts to himself, grins as he types out a reply. He's only slightly surprised that Taehyung would show up at the bar at this hour, it still being relatively early. He thought Taehyung would be busy for the whole day.
Dunno who you're talking about :P
Delivered 6:09 PM
Jeongguk doesn't expect an immediate response, Hoseok too good a bartender to waste any time on his phone when he has customers waiting for drinks. And it's Friday, too, Jeongguk can only imagine how busy the bar must be getting.
Jeongguk is underground on the platform waiting for his train home when his phone vibrates with a new message from his friend.
hey man I dont mean to get involved or anything but maybe u should drop by, your friends pretty upset
Received 6:23 PM
The train rushes in, piles of commuters pushing past Jeongguk to head inside as the doors open. Jeongguk stands in place frowning at his screen, a cold feeling growing in his stomach. Someone slams into his gym bag and curses at him for standing in the way, but Jeongguk's attention is all on his phone.
What do you mean?
Delivered 6:24 PM
The metal doors close with a bing, his train home slowly pulling out of the station and leaving him alone on the empty platform. There's no reply from Hoseok.
Jeongguk turns on his heels, walks to the stairs leading back into the station with increasing urgency, heading up to switch to the line with the Gangnam stop. He checks his phone for messages at the vibration of every useless notification, but nothing else from Hoseok comes. Or Taehyung.
Jeongguk arrives at his workplace twenty minutes later, heads straight into the bar in search of Taehyung. It's not quite crowded yet but most seats at the bar are already taken. Instead of the back, Jeongguk finds Taehyung sat at the very front, on the first chair by the door like the very first time Jeongguk saw him.
Hoseok notices him before Taehyung does, shoots Jeongguk a tight smile that might also be a tinge sympathetic before he moves to the opposite end of the bar like he's giving them privacy. Jeongguk can't help but wonder what he saw, or maybe heard.
Jeongguk marches over to Taehyung, who's on his phone typing someone a text. He comes to a stop next to him and lays a hand on his shoulder. Taehyung startles, jolts under Jeongguk's touch and looks up over his shoulder with furrowed brows. His eyes widen when he sees that it's Jeongguk standing there.
His eyes are also glistening with tears. Jeongguk can see them, even in the low light.
“What's wrong?” Jeongguk asks in a hushed tone, leaning closer. He usually isn't one to try to resolve serious issues out in public like this, a stranger a mere foot away on the next seat over, but Taehyung is already crying. A scene has already been made. He might not even care at this point anymore.
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes, quickly wiping the back of a hand over his cheek. “What are you doing here?”
“Hoseok told me you seemed upset,” Jeongguk answers. Taehyung's eyebrows crease in confusion. “He's the bartender.”
“...oh,” Taehyung's voice is small, and he looks embarrassed as he wipes off the water gathered in his eyes, sniffling. He glances over at Hoseok on the other end of the bar, shaking a mixer. “Well that's humiliating. You've been keeping tabs on me all this time?”
Jeongguk furrows his brows. “No, he just knows we're friends, is all.”
“Friends? Is that what you think we are?”
“Forget it,” Taehyung snaps, dabs at his eyes again. His fingernails are blood red. “You can be so fucking daft sometimes.”
“Taehyung, what are you doing? Why are you trying to pick a fight with me?” he asks carefully, frowning. He's a little offended but tries not to take the comment or Taehyung's tone to heart. Taehyung can be harsher than he means to sometimes. Jeongguk keeps his own voice soft, disarming. “I know we're not just friends. I didn't tell him anything, that's just what he thinks because he's seen us together.” Taehyung doesn't say anything, so Jeongguk continues hopefully, “I came to see you when I heard you were upset 'cause I wanted to comfort you.”
Taehyung cracks a smile, shakes his head and lowers it until Jeongguk can't see anything but his brown hair. The jazz in the bar fills the silence so obnoxiously, Jeongguk wishes he could stop it.
Taehyung's phone starts ringing then, lighting up and vibrating on the bar where it's set down. Jeongguk and Taehyung both look at it at the same time and Taehyung has an instant visceral reaction to it. His face crumples and he clicks the red button to reject the call. Quickly, but not quickly enough.
Do not answer, read the caller ID.
It's quiet for a long moment before Jeongguk asks, a little meekly, “Who was that?”
“No one,” Taehyung says, shaky.
“Is it that other guy?” Jeongguk presses. It's getting harder and harder to keep his cool. “Bogum?”
Taehyung laughs, actually laughs. Jeongguk doesn't see what's funny. “Oh, god no. It's not Bogum.”
“Then who?” Jeongguk demands. There are more? How many? His head is spinning.
“It doesn't matter,” Taehyung sighs, wearily rubbing at his damp eyes with two fingers. “You saw that, didn't you? I'm not picking up any of his calls.”
“But he must be important if just getting his calls makes you cry,” Jeongguk bites back, can't hide the bitterness in his voice. He's ignored so much for so long, the weight of it all is starting to weigh on his shoulders.
Taehyung's face is still doing that cross between a smile and a grimace— it's the only expression Jeongguk thinks he might find ugly on him. He doesn't say anything.
“Won't you please just be fucking honest with me?” Jeongguk hisses, balling his hands into fists at his sides. He can't believe he's standing there in street clothes and a goddamn gym bag, begging Taehyung to tell him the most basic things.
Taehyung stays quiet for a long time, staring forward at the glass of white wine in front of him. Just as Jeongguk's about to demand an explanation again, he speaks up:
“He's an ex, my ex. He's been calling me nonstop today,” Taehyung tells him, picking up his wine and taking a big, visible gulp. “He's the last person I dated. The reason I came to Seoul.”
Jeongguk widens his eyes. He didn't know it was a goddamn person that made Taehyung fly all the way to Korea.
“Does he live in Seoul?” he asks, hears himself ask. It feels a little like an out-of-body experience, his mouth speaking on its own while his brain floats elsewhere.
“No, he lives in New York. I came here because I needed to get away,” Taehyung explains, sounding tired. “I loved him. More than anything, really.” He chuckles weakly, humorless. Jeongguk gets a hollow feeling in his chest, in the pit of his stomach. The more he hears, the worse it gets. “I broke up with him and booked a flight to Seoul on the same day.”
Jeongguk stares at the Chardonnay in Taehyung's hands. “Why did you break up with him?”
Taehyung lifts the wine to his lips again. He drinks until the glass is drained of liquid. “He's married.”
Jeongguk's eyes bug out. He straightens his back, body angling itself away from Taehyung's on instinct. “W-What?” he breathes, grabbing the strap of his bag. “And you..?”
“Yes, I knew.” Taehyung chuckles, dark. He reaches for the purse in his lap, fumbles with the flap and the zipper to pull out a pack of cigarettes. “I knew from the moment we met. Slept with him anyway. Many times.”
Jeongguk is at a loss for words. All this time he'd felt like the transgressive one, but it was Taehyung who was hiding the biggest infidelity, one that Jeongguk himself would never dream of committing. He looks down at Taehyung and sees him with new eyes, sees the wrinkles around his mouth and the smudge of eyeliner on the corner of his right eye.
When Taehyung looks up at Jeongguk, Jeongguk thinks he can tell.
Taehyung looks away and pulls out a cigarette, lights it and brings it to his lips. His hands are shaking, badly.
“My flight back to New York is tomorrow,” he says.